In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

RYDER knew himself to be badly hurt; he realized that he was in a desperate situation, a situation from which it would require all his cunning to extricate himself. The plans he had formed were abandoned, and even while suffering the first shock of the wound his mind was busy. He had been attacked by one man; his enemy knew he was not alone, and was not sure of the effect of his shot, otherwise he would not have fled. The outlaw felt that he might rely upon immunity from further attack for some time, and meanwhile all the strength and energy remaining to him must be devoted to the task of reaching another refuge. In Macdougal be had met an enemy of a kind he had never before been called upon to deal with. The squatter was indefatigable in pursuit of his vengeance, evidently an expert Bushman, and bent upon dealing retribution with his own hand. Wat Ryder wasted no time in fruitless lamentation over his folly in not having made good his escape while the opportunity offered. Already he had lost much blood. The muscle on the right side of the neck was badly lacerated. First of all, the wound must be dressed. For years he had been prepared for an exigency of this sort, and was never without materials for the treatment of serious hurts. With Yarra’s assistance, the wound was washed with a lotion, closed as well as possible, and then carefully bandaged, without the waste of a moment.

Ryder lay with his revolver by his side. He knew perfectly that he might be engaged in a life or death struggle at any moment, and was prepared to die by his own hand the instant the fight became hopeless.

‘Go, Yarra; pick up his track; find which way he has gone; come back one minute.’

He knew there was no occasion to warn the half-caste, in whom the instincts of his mother’s people were paramount. Yarra was a child of the Bush; nothing would escape his eye or his ear, and at the same time he would be as swift and as secret as a snake.

While the boy was away Ryder wrote a note in pencil addressed to Lucy Woodrow. Yarra was back within five minutes.

‘Him Boss belonga me all right. Him run longa gully, catch up horse by ole man blackbutt, ride longa gorge same debble chase him,’ reported the half-caste.

‘Right, right! Yarra plurry fine feller!’ said Ryder. ‘Now we go up over small spur, down by gorge, sit down little stone cave near big splash. Pretty quick you come back, catch Wallaroo, lead him down to the gorge along down the creek. Make a track by the bank some time, turn him in pool where black fish sit down, and ride back up creek again, and tie horse up by big rock same monkey bear. Then to-night you creep down by Boobyalla, knock on Miss Lucy’s window, gib Miss Lucy this letter. No one else must see. If Miss Lucy say yes, when sun jumps up to-morrow you take Wallaroo down by wattle track, gib her horse, come back sit down by me. Yarra catch hold all that?’

Yarra nodded brightly. ‘My word, mine know him all right,’ he said.

‘Yarra always good friend by me?’

‘My word!’

The climb over the spur that divided the outlaw’s first retreat from the gorge proved a terrible task for the wounded man. For some distance the boy followed him, obliterating his tracks; but before the journey was half completed Ryder required all the assistance the half-caste could give him, and he reached the small cave in the side of the gorge, about a mile and a half from its entrance, in an exhausted and feverish condition. There Yarra gave him drink, and, having made him a comfortable bed, left him with a revolver by his side, and returned for Wallaroo and Ryder’s belongings. The boy followed the instructions he had received faithfully, and was with the outlaw again before sundown, watching over him with an interest he had never before felt in any human creature. Ryder knew now that his life depended upon the boy’s fidelity, and that there was only one other person in the world upon whom he could rely in his extremity—Jim Done.


We left Done in a poor condition to help any man—lying in Kyley’s tent, enfeebled by sickness, clinging to Aurora’s fingers as some sort of anchorage in a fragile world. When he awoke again Aurora was still by his side. He grew quite accustomed to waking and finding her there, and in his waking moments for two or three days he clasped her fingers with an almost infantile helplessness. The first stages of recovery were slow, and in them his chief delight was to lie watching his nurse, scarcely conscious of anything beyond. He found her very worn, and she looked old. Few of the qualities that had impelled him to call her Joy remained in this anxious face. She attended to him assiduously; but she was only a nurse, nothing of a lover, and presently he found himself wondering at her lack of emotion, fretting for the absent caress with an invalid’s petulance. As his strength returned, Aurora permitted Mary Kyley to assume the larger share of the nursing, and Jim was told what news there was, excepting the truth about poor Mike. It was Ryder who had informed Aurora that Done and his friends were in the stockade, where he had seen them during the Saturday afternoon. Mary read a letter from the Peetrees inviting Jim to join them at Blanket Flat—where they had taken his and Mike’s belongings—when he was strong enough to get about. According to Mrs. Ryley’s version of this letter, Mike was with the Peetrees.

Eventually Jim was strong enough to sit up for a while, and in the course of a few days Ben helped him out into the open, and the pure, hot sunshine seemed to pour new life into his veins. It was after this that Done missed Aurora. Mrs. Ben said she had gone away for a few days to recruit; but eventually, when Jim was hobbling about, she admitted that she did not know where the girl had gone, and believed that she might not come back.

‘But why?’ said Jim—‘why go away without a word, without giving me a chance to thank her for what she has done?’

‘Thank her!’ said Mary, with some contempt. ‘Are you thinking the poor girl wanted thanks from you?’

‘It is strange that she should leave in this way,’ answered Done impatiently.

‘There’s nothing strange in it, man; it’s just natural. You never understood how much that girl cared for you, Jimmy. If you did, perhaps you would know what it meant for her to be working herself to a ghost over your bed there while you babbled of love to another woman.’

‘I did?’

‘Did you? Night and day. It was Lucy, Lucy, Lucy—always Lucy. Lucy with the brown hair and the beautiful eyes—Lucy the pure, and sweet, and good. Never a word of Joy—never the smallest word of the woman who was beating the devil off you, you blackguard!’

‘But I was delirious! Surely——’

‘True, you were wandering; but it’s only when a man’s mad or drunk that one gets the truth out of him about women. “There’s not a thought of me left in his heart, Mary!” said the poor girl.’

‘She was wrong—wrong!’ he protested.

‘Not a bit, boy! ’Twas the pure girl had all your soul. Heavens! and how you rubbed it in about her purity and goodness! Mother of us! let a man be so infernally bad that the very fiend sniffs at him, but he’ll bargain with the impudence of an archangel for the pure girl.’

‘And she went away for this?’

‘Sure enough. Aurora’s the sort to hide her hurts. When she can’t fight over them, she’ll not cry a whimper.’

‘That’s true; and I’ve hurt her deepest of all.’

Mary detected the expression of his face with quick alarm. She had said too much.

‘There, there, Jimmy boy,’ she said anxiously; ‘we mustn’t be forgetting that Joy’s the strong sort. She’ll come again, fresh and rosy and merry as ever—bet your life on it.’

Jim went into the tent that had been his sick-room, and sat for over an hour in deep thought, and his thoughts were all of Aurora. He missed her—missed her at every turn, and in every hour of his convalescence. As a reward for her love and tenderness, he had afflicted her with the greatest bitterness her brave heart could bear. His eyes were fixed upon the floor, and eventually discovered two oval objects half buried in the hard earth. He stooped to pick them up, and found them to be the halves of the locket that contained Lucy Woodrow’s miniature. The case had been stamped into the floor with the heel of a boot, the pieces were torn apart, and the portrait ground off the ivory on which it was painted. With the fragments of the locket in his hand, Jim pursued a new train of thought, but there was no comfort in it. He recalled Joy’s words: ‘I won’t bind the strange man you may be to-morrow.’ Her love had been too strong for her philosophy. What of his? Had he ever seriously considered the possibilities of a life wholly apart from her? His mind flew to Lucy, but by no effort could he devote his thoughts to either of the women who had so deeply influenced him.

It was no longer possible to keep the truth about Mike Burton from the invalid, and Mary broke the news to him as gently as she could, The shock seemed to stun Jim’s sensibilities for a time. As the numbness wore off, a bitter, blind hatred grew in his heart against the men he chose to regard as Mike’s murderers, and he had a ferocious longing for vengeance. Again law and order, the forces of society, had intervened to embitter him. His subsequent sorrow over his mate was deep and lasting. He felt now that although their friendship had been free of demonstrativeness, it had been warmed with a generous sincerity.

Done awakened one day, with some sense of fear, to the knowledge that he was drifting back into a morbid condition. He found he had bred a disposition to brood over his weakness. The loss of Mike and the disappearance of Aurora were becoming grievances that he cherished with youthful unreason. He determined to rejoin the Peetrees at once, and, although far from being his old self physically, began to make preparations for the return to Jim Crow.

‘There’s somethin’ I’d like you to be doin’ fer me afore you go, mate,’ said Ben Kyley to Jim one evening.

‘Well, you know I’ll do it.

‘I reckoned you would. You see, I’ve been thinkin’ of marryin’ my wife, an’ I’d like you to be bes’ man.’

‘You’ve been thinking!’ cried Mary. ‘No, Jimmy, I’ve been doing the thinking: Kyley merely agrees. One of these days we’re going to build a big hotel in Ballarat, and settle down. It won’t be till the rushes peg out, as they’re bound to do in time; but certificates of marriage are getting quite common amongst married people here, and we thought it would be as well to be in the fashion.’ Mrs. Ben laughed boisterously.

‘Well,’ said Jim, smiling, ‘a couple who disagree as pleasantly as you do can’t go far wrong in marrying.’

‘The customers at a decent family hotel would expect it, I think,’ Mary added soberly.

‘Jonathan Prator married his wife a week ’r two back, an’ he’s skitin’ about it,’ grumbled Ben.

So Jim remained for the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Kyley, which was quite a public ceremony. He was Ben’s best man, and he gave the rosy bride the prettiest brooches, rings, and bangles he could buy in Ballarat, and left, the blushless couple to the enjoyment of their honeymoon with his warmest blessing. Mary nearly smothered him in a billowy hug as he was trying to thank them for their goodness.

‘Leave a kind word for my poor girl,’ she said, ‘and the minute she comes back I’ll write you.’

‘Tell her I shall be a miserable devil till I hear of her dancing jigs on Mary Kyley’s bar counter again,’ said Jim. ‘And tell her she wrongs me when she says there is nothing of her in this heart of mine. She is an ineradicable part of it.’

Done found the Peetrees working a fairly profitable mine at Blanket Flat, a sort of tributary field to Jim Crow, and situated about three miles distant from the original rush. Harry stood in with Done, and the two pegged out a claim and set to work; but Jim did not derive the satisfaction he had expected from this return to his friends and his familiar pursuits. His weakness clung to him, and he was subject to pains in the head. His missed Mike more than ever now, and permitted the idea that he had blasted Aurora’s happiness to worry him a good deal. He remembered the blithe heartiness of the girl in the early days of their acquaintance, and the image of the pale, worn face he had last seen haunted him with an abiding reproach. He could not enjoy the life, the scenes, and the companionship that had delighted him, and believed the capacity would never come back to him.

He had been on Blanket Flat less than a fortnight when one morning Harry thrust his head into the tent.

‘Blowed if there ain’t a lady here to see you, Jim!’ he said.

‘A lady?’ Jim’s first thought was of Aurora. ‘Don’t you know her?’

He stepped from the tent as he spoke, and was astonished to find that his visitor was Lucy Woodrow. She was riding a splendid bay horse, and leading a small, sturdy-looking chestnut, and was dust-stained and tired. Her face was gray with anxiety. She did not smile as he approached her, but held a letter towards him.

‘Read,’ she said. ‘He says you will understand.’

‘But, Lucy, won’t you dismount? You are tired.’

‘For pity’s sake, waste no time! Read!’

He unfolded the note, and read:


‘I am seriously wounded, and lying helpless. My life is in danger. There is one man who will save me; there is one woman whom I can trust to go to him. You are that woman. I appeal to all that is good, kind, and merciful in you to help me. Believe nothing you have heard. I am the victim of circumstances—circumstances of the most terrible kind. Only be the sweet, tender woman you have always seemed to me. Ride to Jim Done at Blanket Flat as soon as possible in the morning; bring him to me. I know he will not hesitate when he knows that I am crippled in the Bush, and at the mercy of my enemies. The boy will explain the rest.

‘Your unfortunate friend,


‘The half-caste boy at the station, who knows where Mr. Ryder is hidden, brought that to me,’ Lucy said. ‘He met me at a gorge leading into the range this morning with this horse. The boy is to meet us at the mouth of the gorge and take us to him. He escaped from Boobyalla when the troopers came, and hid in the Bush. He was seen and shot in the neck, but found another hiding-place, and is waiting for you. You will come?’

She had spoken in a hard, unimpassioned voice, as if repeating a lesson; only her eyes betrayed the intense feeling that possessed her.

‘I will go,’ he answered. ‘Hadn’t you better have some tea and something to eat? It is a long ride.’

‘No, no,’ she said; ‘we cannot spare a moment.’

‘I insist.’ He put up his hands to help her. His words were quiet, but his tone was masterful. She looked into his face, and obeyed him. ‘Better rest a while now than break down later—and I do not know the way. Harry,’ he called, turning to his mate, ‘will you give the horses a drink? You have not pressed them?’ he said to Lucy.

‘No; I was afraid, knowing they would have to carry us back.’

‘My mate will change the saddles. I must ride the stronger horse. Meanwhile, get something to eat. We have just breakfasted; there is tea in the billy.’

He showed neither hurry nor agitation, he displayed no feeling, but, watching him narrowly, Lucy was convinced of his great earnestness, and the strain of anxiety that had gripped her heart like a band of steel relaxed. She breathed freely. Part of the burden had gone to him, and he would bear it.

Jim felt himself strong again in the face of this great need. Apart from the tie of blood, he owed Ryder the best service of which he was capable—his very life, if need be—but he did not question the matter, even in his own heart, and it was not till Blanket Flat lay four or five miles behind them that he sought further information from his companion. They had ridden in silence, Lucy overwrought, thinking only of the wounded man hunted like a beast, perhaps dying in the Bush, Jim endeavouring to decide upon a plan of action. The news had not greatly surprised him; ever since Ryder’s declaration of his identity Done had foreseen some such possibility.

‘Do you know the reason of the attempt to arrest Ryder?’ said Jim, breaking the long silence.

‘The troopers called him Solo. I have heard of a notorious gold robber of that name. Mrs. Macdougal says a new shepherd called Brummy recognised him.’ She gave Done a concise account of the arrest and Ryder’s escape. ‘That is Wallaroo you are riding,’ she said in conclusion, ‘and Mr. Macdougal is furious over his loss. I believe it was he who shot Mr. Ryder.’

‘If Ryder dies, I’ll kill Macdougal!’

Lucy turned sharply, and looked at Jim. He had spoken the words in a tone sounding almost casual, curiously incongruous with their grim significance. She knew that he meant what he had said, and her heart sank.

‘You would not be so mad,’ she said.

‘Let us push on,’ he replied, disregarding her comment.

Lucy had experienced no difficulty in finding Jim. Since his visit to Boobyalla she had been three times to Jim Crow with parties on horseback, and knew the country well.

They reached the mouth of the gorge at about eleven o’clock, and had ridden only about two hundred yards along the bed of the creek, when Yarra arose from a clump of scrub-ferns at Lucy’s side.

‘Come longa me,’ he said. ‘Boss Ryder plenty sick.’

Yarra had left the outlaw two hours earlier. Ryder was then tossing feverishly on his rough couch. The small cave in which he lay was situated some thirty yards up the side of the gorge, and the hot morning sun reached it early, converting it into an oven of stone. The wounded man was suffering acutely; his wound had become a burning agony that had no longer a limit: the pain of it penetrated his whole being. Soon after the black boy’s departure Ryder ceased to toss and turn, movement only increasing his torment. He now lay very still on the floor of the cave; his eyes had a feline lustre in the dim light, his face was as white and hollow as that of a corpse, saving for the fever spot that burned in either cheek. Gradually his mind was drifting from his danger and his sufferings—it was fashioning strange images, mere dreams, but startlingly realistic. From the first one or two he reverted to sanity and to a fleeting sense of his position, and then the images trooped in again, the visions reappeared—beautiful visions of coolness, and sweetness, and shade that, it seemed later, only came to tantalize him. He was now a soul in hell, tortured with the sight of clustering green trees and flowing streams. Through all these dreams one sweet sound prevailed. He recognised it at length: it was the music of falling water—beautiful, cold, clear water, falling in thin sheets from the high rock and breaking into snow on the edge of the deep stone basin. He lifted himself upon his hands and listened. Yes, there was a waterfall below him, so near that he might almost reach and dip his fingers into it, and he was set in flame that lapped him round, licking his face, dipping its forked tongue into the hollows of his eyes, penetrating to his heart, and coursing in all his veins. He was mad to stay there and suffer, when he might slip from the grip of the fiend, and lave his limbs in the pool and drink from the cascade. Ryder dragged himself from the cave, upsetting the water the half-caste had placed near his bed as he did so. The water ran over his fingers, but he did not heed it. Outside he raised himself to his feet with the help of a tree, and, staggering a few paces down the slope, pitched on his face, cutting his mouth badly on the stones. The wound in his neck opened, and the blood oozed from the bandages, smearing his hands as he dragged himself along.

It was like some wild beast with a mortal wound in its breast slowly crawling to the water to die. Every few yards he thought the stream was reached and dipping his mouth to drink, cut his lips oh the granite. He had come to the level ground banking the creek, and was almost at the edge of the basin, when a figure appeared on the brink of the waterfall above him. The figure looked hardly human, bent down, watching Ryder’s movements in the attitude of a curious ape.

Macdougal sprang down the rocks with an agility in keeping with his apelike appearance, and interposed between the creeping man and the water.

Ryder turned aside, and again Macdougal interposed. Three times this happened, and the squatter had a grin on his small terrier’s face; he was deriving malicious amusement from the bewilderment of the fever-stricken wretch at his feet. In his left hand he held a revolver.

Ryder raised a hand, and, clutching Monkey Mack, made an effort to regain his feet. The other helped him, and clinging to his enemy for support, the outlaw looked at Macdougal. The latter thrust his face forward, and again there was a red gleam under the shadows of his heavy brows.

‘Ye know me, man,’ he said.

Ryder was staring with eyes in which there was a dawning of consciousness, and, steadying him with one hand, the squatter dipped some water in his hat, and dashed it in the other’s face.

‘Ye know me!’ he said with fierce eagerness. ‘Ye know me! Man, ye must know me—Macdougal! Look at me. Ay, ye know me well!’

There was recognition in Ryder’s eyes; they were intent upon those of his foe, and, clutching him by the shoulder, Macdougal continued:

‘Well ye know me, and well ye know what I mean to do by ye. I’m about to kill ye, Mr. Walter Ryder, an’ no harm will come to me for the killin’. Man, man, but it’s a sweet thing to kill your enemy, an’ to be paid well for the doin’ of it! Ah, I’m right sure ye know me now. I would na’ have ye die by another hand, for ’tis me ye wronged most. I know my wrongs, ye foul villain, an’ it’s in my mind to carry your carrion head to Melbourne for the money they’ve set upon it. Ye mind me! ye mind me! Good! good!’

Macdougal’s face was literally convulsed with the fury of his hate; he spat at Ryder as he spoke, and then, with the swiftness and the strength that had marked them in health, the outlaw’s fingers fastened upon his hairy throat. The long, thin hands clamped themselves upon his neck, and for a moment Monkey Mack was helpless in the agonies of suffocation. Then his left hand pointed the revolver at Ryder’s ear; there was a sharp report, and the outlaw fell limply, and rolled back upon the flat water-worn rock, his shattered head to the stone, his arms out thrown, his lifeless face turned up to the blue sky.

In the Roaring Fifties - Contents    |     XXIII

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