In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

THE RISING Lambert had anticipated in August did not come off. For a few days the country trembled on the verge of civil war, but the blow did not fall. The trouble was averted; the anger remained in men’s hearts. During the lovely spring weather that followed Done saw much of the Bush. He and Mike spent weeks prospecting about the Jim Crow district. They loitered away a few restful days among the ranges, and for the first time Jim saw a wattle-gully in full blaze, a stream of golden bloom sweeping along the course of a little mountain creek as far as the eye could see, each tree a huge bouquet, the whole mass foaming in the gentle breeze, a rich feast of colour, lit up by a glowing noonday sun, and bordered by the subdued green of the mountain gums. The delicate perfume stole up to where the mates lay on the side of the range in peaceful enjoyment of the scene, and Done, looking with half-closed eyes, day-dreaming, felt the inspiration that has since driven about twenty-five per cent of the native-born population of Australia desperately to poesy.

Beyond and below them stretched the Bush, an ocean of tree-tops, as level as the windless sea, and over this green expanse shadows of fleecy clouds chased each other. Presently Jim discovered a brown space in the distance, and detected a thin column of smoke rising on occasions between the vagrant winds. He called Burton’s attention, and Mike turned experienced eyes in that direction.

‘A settler’s clearing,’ he said. ‘No; by Jove, it’s Macdougal’s homestead!’

‘What!’ cried Done, sitting up with a jerk. ‘Donald Macdougal’s station?’

‘Yes, Monkey Mack’s.’ Burton rose to his feet and looked about him. ‘There isn’t a doubt,’ he continued. ‘That’s Boobyalla all right. I was over the country to the west once with cattle.’

‘And since we came to Jim Crow I have been so near.’

‘’Bout twenty mile as the crow flies. Why, old man, you look all caved in.’

‘I’m greatly surprised. I thought Boobyalla was right away in the wilds.’

‘A pity this isn’t wild enough for you.’

‘Yes; but cut off completely from the people.’

‘The people have been distributin’ themselves a good deal o’ late. Boobyalla was far enough out o’ the runnin’ till the rushes broke out at Forest Creek an’ Jim Crow. As ’tis, I’ll bet my boots the Macdougal’s as lonesome down there as a sick sheep.’

‘Why do you think that?’

‘’Cause you can’t keep white men on the runs these times; they prefer the rushes. Squatter, J.P., ain’t the little god almighty he used to be when he held his hands as if they were niggers bought an’ paid for.’

Done was silent and thoughtful for a few minutes. The knowledge of his proximity to Lucy Woodrow awakened mixed feelings, and contrition was prominent. He had promised to write to her. He remembered how anxious she seemed to win the promise, and how deep her interest in him had been. Suffused with a melancholy tenderness, he told himself he had never forgotten her; her image had lived in his heart as in a shrine, screened perhaps, but only for sanctity’s sake. No thought of Aurora stole in to disturb his unconscious hypocrisy. He had an unexpected longing to see Lucy again.

‘Fact is, Mike,’ he said presently, ‘there is a ship mate of mine down there at Macdougal’s I should very much like to meet again. What do you say?’

‘I’m on. This shipmate, is she married or single?’ Mike accented the third person feminine.

‘Single. She is teaching Macdougal’s youngsters. I had no other friend aboard.’ Aurora obtruded now, and he looked into his mate’s face. It was suspiciously vacant. ‘What the devil are you thinking of, Mike?’ he said with warmth.

‘A friend o’ mine,’ answered Mike.



‘The devil you are? It’s an infernal impertinence, then, let me tell you.’

‘That Irish girl would tear hair like a mountain cat,’ continued Mike serenely.

‘You’re wrong, Mike, quite wrong,’ said Jim impressively. ‘This girl is—well, absolutely different.’

Done found the trip to Boobyalla very much longer than he had expected, but the mates reached the homestead at about two o’clock. The place was almost deserted. Two or three wolfish cattle-dogs ran from the huts, and barked at them in a half hearted kind of way; a black boy shouted from the shed, and two gins came to the kitchen door, watching them. On the shady side of the same structure a dilapidated, miserable-looking white man of about fifty lay in a drunken sleep, buzzed over by a swarm of flies. The dwelling-house was a wandering weather-board structure with shingle roofs and iron chimneys; a deep veranda, partly latticed, ran round three sides, and ebullient creepers of many kinds swarmed over the house at their own wild will. The homestead faced into a big garden spreading into an orchard, now green and gay with the verdancy and the blooms of spring.

‘Didn’t I tell you? Not a white man round but the motherless drunk there,’ said Mike.

One of the cattle-dogs had returned to the side of the sleeper, and employed himself snapping at the greedy flies, yapping impatiently to keep them from the man’s face.

‘No boss sit down there, Mary?’ said Mike, addressing the eider of the gins.

The aborigine grinned cheerfully. ‘Boss him bin gone sit down longa Porkpine,’ she said. ‘Missus ride by Longabenna. Bill dam drunk, White feller all gone make it hole, catch plenty gold. Gib it ’bacca!’

Burton threw his half-plug of tobacco to the gin; she caught it deftly, the second one snatched, and the two set up a shrill yabbering, like excited monkeys.

‘Miss Woodrow?’ said Jim interrogatively.

‘Teachy missie longa garden,’ answered the gin, with illustrative pantomime.

‘Better go and hunt her out,’ Mike said. ‘I’ll find the black boy, and work him for drinks if possible.’

Done passed through a side-gate into the garden, found his way to the main walk, and looked about him.

‘Well?’ called a voice from the veranda.

He turned quickly. Within a few feet of him, in the space between the vines where the steps led up to the doorway, a little dark-eyed girl of about seven, the miniature of Mrs. Macdougal, peeped round her skirts at the stranger. Lucy did not recognise Jim in a moment.

‘Lucy!’ he said.

‘Jim!’ Her face crimsoned; she sprang down the steps, extending two hands.

He took both in his, and looked at her. She had changed and strengthened—he could see that. Evidently she had lived much in the sun; the pallor had gone from her face, and it had warmed to a tender olive-brown, pure and soft, deepening to a ruddier tint on the cheeks. She was much stouter, too, and carried herself with more character. There was a swing in her movements, hinting at hearty exercises in the open. She was looking at him, and saw a wonderful difference. There was a short, thick, youthful beard upon his chin, a slight moustache upon his lip, both heightening the Grecian quality of his face; his tan had taken a deeper tone; he was the picture of health and strength, she thought.

Done saw that she was greatly disturbed, and regretted having come upon her so suddenly. There was no questioning her delight; her colour came and went half a dozen times as they stood thus, hand in hand; her eyes were misty with tears, but she laughed through all.

‘Well?’ he queried.

‘Oh, I am so glad to see you—so very glad!’

‘And is it to be Jim and Lucy still?’

‘Yes, to be sure. How changed you are! Come, come, sit down and talk. Talk till my senses come back to me. I am bushed!’ She laughed a little hysterically.

‘I have startled you.’

‘No, no, it’s pure gladness—it is indeed. It was good of you to come.’

‘You are changed, too. Have you stood to your determination to be happy?’

‘I am not unhappy.’ She had seated herself beside him, and passed an arm about the shy child, of whom little more than one dark eye was visible, peeping at Jim from the other side, and yet that one eye recalled humorous impressions of Mrs. Donald Macdougal of Boobyalla. He expected to see it start revolving coquettishly.

‘You are stronger. You have grown,’ he said.

‘Yes, I ride a lot with the children. It is good for me. I love it. This life agrees with me well. But it is not only a change in you, it is a transformation. Why, you can laugh!’

‘Come, come! I could always laugh.’

She shook her head. ‘Not convincingly. You love the new land? You have prospered?’

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I have had a wonderful spell of life.’

‘And the people—you find you can like them?’

The question gave him rather a shock; he had to think a moment to recall her optimistic advice and his old frame of mind.

‘Like is too feeble a word,’ he said presently. ‘The thought of them warms my heart.’

‘Ah, that is good!’ She clasped his hand impulsively. ‘That is best of all. I was afraid you might cling to your mistrust, and shut the kindly people out of your life.’

‘Before it was the people shut me out.’

‘Are you sure?’

He had never doubted, now the question set him wondering for a minute. He looked at her again. Certainly she had developed observation, acuteness. Or had he? Once more he wondered. He watched her with new interest. She was not so pretty as she had seemed on the Francis Cadman; the ethereality was gone, but Done liked her the better for it. He felt his whole physical being to be in sympathy with vital things, and, after all, how often the poets, in their rhapsodies on spirituelle and unearthly women, were merely rapturously apostrophizing the evidences of dissolution! He met her now without a doubt in his heart, with a soul free to respond to his natural emotions, and she filled him with delight. Unconsciously he was wooing her—not with words, but with accents more eloquent, and the girl felt it instinctively, with a sense of triumph.

‘I can’t take my eyes off you,’ he said. ‘In what are you so different?’

She smiled pleasantly. ‘I am dreadfully sunburnt; I am no longer thin; I do not brood.’

‘No, no; it is a difference of spirit. Where is that constraint we felt?’

‘The constraint was wholly with you.’ She blushed again.

The kissing episode had been recalled to both. He laughed gaily, feeling very comfortable, quite forgetful of his mate.

‘Yes, I was certainly a humourless, gloomy young fool.’ he said.

‘Only an unhappy boy,’ she murmured, ‘and my wonderful hero.’ She, too, spoke as if it were a matter of long years ago, when she was a silly slip of a girl.

‘And is there no hero now?’

‘I have found no other.’

‘Ah, that is something! Do you still pray for the old one, Lucy?’

‘But you have no faith in prayers.’

‘I may have in the prayer.’

‘Well, then, I do. You see, you can never be wholly undeserving in my eyes.’ With Lucy, as with many girls in whom gratitude is the precursor of love, most of the sentiments due to the kindling affection were credited to gratitude.

‘You have not blamed me for neglecting to write.’

‘No; I have had no anxiety for some time. I knew where you were and how you were.’

‘You knew!’

‘I knew that you had made friends, that you were on pay dirt at Diamond Gully, and that the good Australian sunshine had warmed your heart.’ She smiled mysteriously.

‘Ah, I know,’ he said after a moment’s thought—‘Ryder.’

‘Yes, Mr. Walter Ryder. He wrote me that he had come across you at Diamond Gully. He seemed quite interested in you.’

‘And I am interested by him. He is a peculiar personality.’

‘Yes, so flippant; and behind it all you seem to feel something iron-like, strong and impenetrable.’

Flippant! Ryder had appealed to Jim as anything but a flippant character.

‘He is a man of good family. He came to Australia seeking change and adventure. He is rich—very. He did Mr. Macdougal some service, and we saw a good deal of him in Melbourne. Mrs. Macdougal thinks he is an earl at least, and has woven quite a romance about him. She will be glad to see you.’

Done’s mind had flown to Burton’s estimate of Ryder, and Lucy’s evident admiration of, him gave him a little uneasiness.

‘Is Mrs. Macdougal of Boobyalla quite well?’ he asked.

‘Quite. But you must not laugh at her. One gets to like her.’

‘If one is quite determined.’

‘Whether or no,’ persisted Lucy. ‘One would care for nobody if one were resolved to see only the bad points.’

‘That serves me right. The little girl is very like her.’

‘Eva is my boon companion, my confidante, my guide, philosopher, and friend—aren’t you, dear?’

‘My oath!’ said the child in a grave, sweet voice. Jim started at the incongruous expression, and looked inquiringly at Lucy.

‘Your teaching?’

‘How dare you? No; that is the teaching of rouseabouts and gins. I am trying to unteach it. Poor kiddies! I found them queer, wild, little Bush animals, with no childish companions, so I became a child myself, and we are the best mates in the world. The other is a boy, a monkey and a rip, but we are civilizing together. Do you know the funniest things in the world? Children like these and half-grown dogs. I discovered that at Boobyalla.’

‘The world is a pretty good sort of place, after all eh?’

‘Yes.’ She did not wonder at its seeming so very delightful to her just then. ‘But you do not tell me. Talk, talk! I want your Australian history.’

He talked, describing his life, pleased with his own fluency, and not a little surprised at it. In half an hour she knew his story since the day he left the Francis Cadman, with certain judicious reservations and emendations. Aurora’s name did not appear once in the narrative. This suppression was quite instinctive? Lucy told something of her existence on the station, and they chatted cheerfully of the people on shipboard and the incidents of the voyage, avoiding only the most sensational incident of all—the rescue from the sea.

‘Dear me I’ cried Lucy; ‘I am playing the hostess badly. I have offered you nothing, and you must have had a long tramp.’

‘And I’ve forgotten poor Burton.’

‘Go, bring him while I get tea. I must know your mate. Of course you drink tea? Here everybody drinks tea at all hours.’

Jim found Mike admiring a wonderful big bay horse, the astounding virtues of which stimulated the black boy to an incoherent flow of yabber.

‘Don’t mind me,’ said Burton. ‘I’ve had a drink an’ a sleep, and I’ve seen the loveliest animal that was ever lapped in horse-hide. Look at him!’

‘We were chatting away in there, and I forgot you, old man. But come along; we are to have tea and grub on the veranda.’

‘Not me!’ Mike looked wildly for a way of escape.

‘Here, here! but you must, Mike—I promised.’

‘There’s a dirty trick to serve a man!’ Burton was genuinely alarmed. ‘Yarding him up with a mob of old women! I’m hanged if I do it!’

‘There’s no mob. There’s only one, and she’s young and pleasant. Come along, I’ll stand by you.’

‘Gi’ me your solemn oath you’ll break away as soon as possible.’

‘I do, I do.’

Mike was led on to the veranda and introduced to Lucy, who gave him a pleasant welcome. He placed his hat by his chair, drank his tea quietly, said very little and ate less, flipped his fingers once or twice at the little girl in a friendly way, looked quite imperturbable, and all the time was painfully ill at ease, and raging inwardly at Jim’s delay. When Lucy left them in quest of fruit, he turned furiously on his mate.

‘What’s that she says about staying?’

‘She wants us to take a shakedown in one of the huts for to-night. Mrs. Macdougal will be home before dark. She wishes to see me.’

‘By the big blue Bunyip, if you stay I’ll bush you in the next scrubby gully, an’ leave you to do a three days’ perish!’ Mike’s tribulation was pitiful, but Jim laughed derisively.

Done did not accept Lucy’s invitation, however. To tell the truth, although it would have been a great pleasure to remain near the girl, he had no desire to meet Mrs. Macdougal. He made suitable excuses. Mike said it would require smart travelling to bring them to the camp where their tools and swags were left, and, having shaken hands with Lucy, sauntered away.

‘You will come again?’ said the girl to Jim.

‘Yes, if I have the chance; but Burton is the Bush man. I could never find you without his help.’

‘In any case you will write?’

‘I am bound to.’

They parted with a handshake, but fingers unclasped reluctantly and with a clinging appeal.

Done and Burton, on returning to Jim Crow, found that Harry Peetree, quietly prospecting in the vicinity of the rush, had opened up a new gully. The ‘find’ was kept dark pending Mike’s return, and when the Peetrees had secured their ground, the mates were given the pick of the lead. The discovery leaked out as soon as the friends started operations, and a little rush from the original field followed. Jim was now a mile and a half from Mrs. Kyley’s shanty, and derived some satisfaction from that fact. His feelings towards Aurora had undergone another change. Lucy’s image loomed to the almost total eclipse of that of her rival, and yet he could not spend ten minutes in the company of the girl at the shanty without being won by her buoyant spirits and the kindliness of her soul. He had some dread of growing to hate Aurora now that Lucy had reestablished herself—a dread founded more on some familiarity with popular fiction than on a knowledge of his own heart.

Christmas came, and there was a rough attempt to celebrate it on Jim Crow, an attempt by which Mrs. Ben Kyley profited largely, as she and Aurora were kept working at high pressure for two days, making Christmas puddings, for which the diggers cheerfully paid half a guinea apiece. Rich plum-pudding, hearty eating, and heavy drinking, the proper concomitants to an English Christmas as the miners understood it, were not compatible with merriment during an Australian Christmas-time, with the glass at one hundred degrees in the shade; but trifling considerations of that kind were not allowed to interfere with the uproarious festivities at Jim Crow. January passed quietly. The dirt at One Tree Gully proved highly remunerative, and the mates worked hard. Done had discovered an object beyond the rapturous enjoyment of the moment, and showed himself more anxious to win gold. He was living a comparatively quiet life, and the locket containing Lucy Woodrow’s picture was restored to its rightful place next his heart. There was a time when the thought of such an act of flagrant and foolish sentimentality would have made him groan aloud.

One night in the following March, returning to their tent from the shanty, where he had left Burton deep in a game of euchre, Jim was startled to see a stream of light flash momentarily across the canvas wall. His first thought was of thieves, and, drawing his revolver, he stole noiselessly to the entrance and peeped in. He saw the figure of a man seated at the head of Mike’s bed. On the small table between the two bunks at the end of the tent was a lighted candle, which the man was screening with his hat. Before the intruder the small tin-box in which Done’s few heirlooms and papers were stored lay open, and the man was absorbed in its contents.

‘If you stir a hand I’ll fire!’ said Jim, presenting his revolver.

Instinctively the other smothered the light, but after that he sat quite still.

‘I can see you distinctly,’ said Jim, ‘and I’m a fair shot!’

There was silence for a moment, the thief making no attempt to escape.

‘I am going to light the candle,’ said a voice.

‘Light it, then; but no tricks! I’ll shoot to kill!’

In the Roaring Fifties - Contents    |     XV

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