In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

MONKEY MACK stood for a few seconds gazing down upon the dead man, unconscious of the fact that at the moment his shot was fired Lucy Woodrow and Jim Done had come suddenly upon the scene around one of the huge boulders with which the gorge was strewn. He was recalled to himself by the exclamation of horror uttered by the girl, and discovered Jim, revolver in hand. Turning, he fled up the right side of the gorge, where the timber offered good cover. Jim raised his revolver, and took deliberate aim at the flying figure, but Lucy seized his arm and bore it down, and, clinging to him, she cried:

‘No, no! for God’s sake, not that!’

Jim tore himself from her with bitter words, and the next moment they saw Macdougal riding furiously along the side of the gorge, swinging his apparently maddened horse through the thick timber with marvellous dexterity. Done uttered a cry, and ran for the horses, and Lucy followed him, calling piteously. She saw Jim spring upon Wallaroo and turn his head down the gully, and, knowing his intention, snatched the revolver from Yarra’s hand and fired at the stallion. The shot took effect in the horse’s neck, and he plunged forward, throwing Jim heavily, and, rolling on his side, lay half submerged in the water of the creek.

Done was stunned and shaken by the fall, and it was some minutes before he quite recovered. Then, turning upon Lucy in the blind fury that filled his soul, he said:

‘You have saved that foul murderer, and while he lives I swear I’ll never forgive you!’

She made no reply, but followed Jim to Ryder’s side, trembling in every limb, with a bursting pain at her heart and a feeling of utter desolation upon her. Done knelt by the dead outlaw, looking into the white face, and remembered standing as a boy gazing into another dead face wonderfully like this, the face of his mother. He felt no sorrow; there was room in his soul only for his black wrath. For some minutes he remained kneeling, with set teeth, his hands clenched, his blood hot with rage. When he arose Lucy was by his side, but her eyes were bent upon the dead man.

‘You stood between me and my brother’s murderer,’ he said.

She looked at him vaguely, as if she had not heard aright, and passed a faltering hand across her eyes.

‘Your brother’s murderer?’ she said.

‘The man lying there is my brother. For no crimes for no wrong against man or woman, his life was made a horror to him. And this is the end, butchered by a foul beast.’

‘Don’t!’ she murmured. She put out her hands appealingly, and continued in a choking voice: ‘I can bear no more. All my strength is gone. For pity’s sake, no more, no more!’ She turned from him, and, falling to her knees, sank her face upon Ryder’s breast, and gave way to a fit of sobbing that shook her from head to foot. Her attitude was one of complete abandon; one hand lay upon the cheek of the dead outlaw, suggesting an ineffable caress.

Done sat upon a rock, watching her without understanding. Yarra, who had stolen near to Ryder’s body, crouched upon the rock, staring intently at the face of his friend. Presently Jim noticed that Lucy was lying inert, and he lifted her to the pool and bathed her forehead with the cool water. Yarra brought a pannikin and a bottle containing brandy from the cave, and Jim poured a little of the spirit between the girl’s lips. Lucy revived after a few minutes, and lay for a time in the shade before she was strong enough to walk.

‘I must go,’ she said with a strange listless ness.

‘Take the boy with you,’ Jim answered. ‘He will see you safely to Boobyalla.’

‘And you?’ she asked.

‘There is something for me to do here.’

She looked at the body, and said, ‘Yes, yes, of course,’ but the only expression in her face was one of utter weariness.

He helped her on to the horse. She did not thank him. No words of farewell were spoken, but as the horse moved away he said:

‘Contrive to let Yarra bring me a shovel.’


‘At least the brute beast shall not have the price of his head

‘No.’ She repeated the word quite mechanically. ‘No, no!’

Done returned to his brother. He lifted the body into the shade, and composed the limbs, and then seated himself and gave his mind over to bitter reflection. Ryder’s face exerted a strong influence upon him. In death it had assumed a delicacy almost effeminate. It was the face of a saint and an ascetic. What was most evil in him had been grown in the forcing-house of vice and crime society had set up, and for being the thing it had made him society had butchered him like a mad dog. Jim recognised Monkey Mack only as the instrument of society. His logic may not have been perfect: his mind was in no state to deal with ethical nuances; he saw only the ruined life, remembered what Ryder had endured, and, above all, that he had been an innocent man, crushed, tortured, brutalized into an enemy of the law and the existing order. He felt himself capable of taking up his brother’s fight. In his heart he was resolved to seek out Macdougal and kill him. That much must be done. He never questioned his capability for murder, and it is probable that had the chance come to him in cold blood his spirit would have failed him.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon when Yarra returned with pick and shovel, and Jim had already selected the spot for Ryder’s resting-place, beside a great boulder above the waterfall. There he started to dig the grave.

‘Him brother belonga you?’ asked Yarra.

‘Yes,’ said Jim.

‘Good feller,’ continued Yarra, and his black eyes gleamed maliciously. ‘Boss belonga me kill him. You kill mine Boss?’ Perhaps it was the remembrance of the many kicks and cuts he had received at the hands of Monkey Mack that inspired the impish eagerness in Yarra’s face, perhaps his affection for the dead man moved him.

Jim Done looked at the boy curiously. ‘Boss belonga you sit down by Boobyalla?’ he asked.

Yarra shook his head. ‘No fear,’ he said. ‘Yarra stop ’way pretty quick when Boss bin there.’

‘Suppose Yarra catch up track of Boss belonga him, come back when sun jump up, tell me.’

‘My word! Budgery that! Mine tink it Boss yabber-yabber longa trooper.’

Yarra set off at once, and Done continued his work. He was determined that the grave should be deep enough to protect the body from burrowing animals, and secret enough to save it from human brutes eager for the price on Solo’s head. This task was not complete when Yarra returned, his eyes ablaze with excitement.

‘Hell bin jump up, mine tink it!’ he cried. ‘Boss belonga me sit down there all right. You come!’

‘You know where Macdougal is?’

‘My word! Come longa me.’

Jim took up his revolver and followed the half caste, leaving the body between the sheets of bark with which he had fashioned a rude coffin.

‘Boss close up here,’ said Yarra as they scrambled up the side of the gorge, after following the creek for about a quarter of a mile. The boy proceeded with out caution, and presently they came upon a saddled horse lying under a big white gum. The animal’ neck was broken; evidently it had collided with the tree when at a gallop.

‘Boss make big smash up here,’ said Yarra. He pointed to a huddled, shapeless heap lying amongst the scrub-ferns at a distance of about twenty feet.

Done stood over the body of Macdougal, and felt for a moment a resentment against the Fates that had robbed him of his revenge. The squatter had dreaded the probability of confederates coming to the assistance of the outlaw, and his ride for safety had been absolutely desperate. He lay within a quarter of a mile of the waterfall, and had been killed on the spot. His head was crushed and hideous. Done turned from the sight with a shudder.

Jim buried Ryder by the light of the moon. He spent the night in the gorge, but slept little, and Yarra, who had all the superstitions of his mother’s race, crouched close to the white man, and his teeth chattered with fear the whole night through. He had conceived the idea that the spirit of Macdougal had taken possession of the gorge, and for the future the place must be a haunt of terror to him. After daybreak, with the boy’s assistance, Done hid all traces of the new-made grave, and by this time he was grateful for the food Yarra brought from the cave. Breakfast strengthened him greatly. He had eaten nothing for close upon twenty hours, and the exhaustive experiences of that time told heavily upon his enfeebled frame. As a result of his night’s reflection and the judgment that had come with cooler blood, he was determined to visit Lucy at the station. Yesterday’s bitterness towards her had been real enough, but he assured himself that it was the effect of the extraordinary excitement worked in his brain by the events of the day. This morning there was upon him a physical and moral apathy: the reaction left him without interest. The invalid lassitude possessed him again, and he stood over his brother’s grave for a few minutes, without feeling any recurrence of the resentments that had so recently blazed within him.

Lucy met him in the garden; she was still pale, but showed no sign of physical weakness.

‘I treated you brutally,’ he said abruptly. ‘I am sorry; I was mad with rage.’

‘I know; I understood then. You know I am sorry for you.’

‘You saved Macdougal for my own sake, not for his,’

‘Yes. Innocent or guilty, your brother was an outlaw, Legally, Macdougal was justified in killing him, but if you kill Macdougal it will be murder. Ah! that terrible thought has gone from your mind?’

‘Yes; Macdougal is dead.’

‘Dead!’ She caught his hand, and looked into his face with terror. ‘You have killed him!’

‘No. His horse must have collided with a tree as he galloped down the gorge. Yarra found him.’

‘Thank God vengeance was not left to you!’

‘It is best. I have buried my brother. The whereabouts of his grave must be kept secret.’

‘Tell me where he lies.’ She spoke with eagerness. ‘I swear none shall know from me!’

Done was impressed by her emotion, and the picture of her sobbing figure prostrate over the body of the outlaw was recalled to his mind. ‘Under the great round boulder above the waterfall to the left, just where the shadow falls at noon,’ he said. ‘Better never speak of his death even. I have warned Yarra, and I think he will be faithful.’

‘You can trust me.’ She paused for a moment falteringly, and then continued with an effort and in a low voice: ‘I must respect the grave, for in it my heart is buried. More than my heart,’ she continued with passion—‘a part of my very soul. I loved him!’ She had made this confession, feeling that it was her duty to let Jim know that the tenderness she had felt for him had been swept away in the tide of an overwhelming love for the other.

Whatever Done’s feelings may have been, neither face nor voice betrayed him. ‘Good-bye,’ he said, and turned away.

She followed him a few paces, and seized his arm.

‘You are not going with unkindness in your heart?’ she pleaded.

‘No,’ he answered. ‘I am very sorry for you.’

‘I want your friendship always.’

‘It is yours.’

He held her hands in his, and noticed that there were tears upon her cheeks. He was certainly sorry for her; it was pitiful to think that her new happiness had been wrecked in this way, but he could not overcome the coldness that was about him; and so they parted on the spot where a few months earlier Jim had said good-bye with a heart full of love and longing.

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