In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

A BITTER TIME followed with Jim Done. He had rejoined Harry Peetree at Blanket Flat, and continued working there; but his strength returned slowly, and the joy of life had fled from his heart again, leaving him more miserable than he had been as a youth in his native village. In those days his resentments helped to sustain him; he took pride in the spirit with which he faced the enmity of the people, and not a little comfort came to him from the egotism he had cultivated as a refuge from the common contempt. Now the fighting spirit was gone all hatred had gone with it, and his self-confidence had degenerated. For a few weeks after Ryder’s death he made a deliberate effort to stir himself into a state of passionate revolt, dwelling long upon the barbarous sufferings his brother had endured, drawing upon his affection for Mike Burton to stimulate his fading emotions; but he failed to lift himself out of the slough of despond into which he had fallen.

Jim fled from his nurses too early, and the trials he subsequently endured served to retard his restoration. He had pretty good health, without either strength of body or spirit. Half an hour’s work at the windlass wearied him, and this weariness irritated him with a dull, abiding anger. He spent much of his time when not at work lying on his bunk. The life on the field was not different from that which had delighted him at Diamond Gully; there was the same cheerfulness amongst the men, the shanties flared at night, and the diggers roared, and gambled, and drank with no less enthusiasm. He alone was changed.

These moods and the manner of life he was leading fostered a most unhealthy habit of introspection. He was for ever examining his emotions. He thought much about Lucy Woodrow, and of the love he had borne her, but without sorrow for the loss of her. He tried to account for the fact that there was no grief in his heart on Lucy’s accounts whilst keeping Aurora jealously in the background. He was unconsciously dishonest to himself in these self-examinings, and one day this dawned upon him. He laughed over the discovery, laughed aloud at himself, but the amusement was grim.

‘So, then, it is Aurora I need after all,’ he said in satirical soliloquy, ‘and my soul has been playing the hypocrite these few weeks. What a marvel of constancy is man! Lucy is lost to me, and secretly the baffled heart sneaks back to the other love.’

Behind all this was a fretful longing for the past happiness to which the new country, the new conditions, Aurora, Mike, and his own abounding vitality, had contributed. He shunned the conditions, and was angry because the object eluded him. Done, in his sick desire to know himself ceased to be truly himself. Had he been content with the fact that he loved Aurora and needed her—needed her love, her beauty, her fine joyousness and splendid vitality—the rest would have been easy.

He had written from Ballarat to Mike Burton’s family in New South Wales, and at about this time there came a letter from a relative, asking his assistance in Melbourne to secure the money lying to Burton’s credit in the bank. Jim went to Melbourne, and a quiet trip and the change improved him considerably. When he returned again there was a letter from Mary Kyley, It was brief:


‘We are at Tarrangower. Joy is back with us, well and strong again, and as pretty as a picture; but the mischief is she doesn’t forget the boy who isn’t fit to kiss the boots she wears—meaning your self, you scamp! ’Tisn’t a far ride! Maybe you’ll come one of these fine Sundays.

‘Your middle-aged friend,


Jim spent nearly three days over that letter, and then determination came suddenly on top of much contrary argument. He would go. No sooner had he made up his mind than a consuming eagerness to see Aurora seized him. All other considerations were lost. He must go at once, take her in his arms, plead with her with all the fervour of his heart, compel her with every argument love could advance, beseech her with all the humility of the conquered to be his wife.

Now his love of Lucy appeared as a mere aberration. His overwhelming eagerness for life, for new faces, scenes, sensations, had whirled him from the true path of his happiness. Thank God, it was not too late! Joy alone was his true mate, his true love, the real need of his being, and he had never loved her as now. The passion came back upon him like a dammed torrent. His impatience made his mate open his eyes in grave wonder.

‘I want to reach Tarrangower before noon tomorrow, Harry,’ he said. ‘Can it be done?’

‘You could cover the distance in ’bout five hours on a decent horse. But what’s struck you, ole man?’

‘The idea that I’ve been playing the melancholy fool. I’ve been questioning life, bargaining with it like a suspicious huckster—suspecting, doubting, rejecting, instead of opening wide my arms and taking the good to me wherever it offered.’

‘I dunno what you’re drivin’ at, Jim; but if it means you’re goin’ to cheer up I’m all-fired glad to hear it. You’ve been as miserable as a dingo in a springer since Eureka.’

‘It means that, Harry. Can we get horses?’

‘We—meanin’ me too?’

‘Yes; you’ll come with me? I don’t know the lay of the country, and I must go.’

‘Oh, I’ll go fast enough. You can get horses from Croker, but they’ll cost you a bite.’

This was on Saturday. Jim was in Tarrangower an hour before noon on Sunday. The first digger they met directed them to Mary Kyley’s tent. Mary was busy preparing dinner, but dropped everything, and rushed at the visitors, half smothering Jim in a motherly hug.

‘Murder! you’re looking peeky and thin, Jimmy!’ she cried.

‘Never mind me, Mrs. Ben; I’m all right. Where’s Joy?’

‘She’s gone for a bit of a walk in the sun.’

‘Could I find her?’

‘Deuce take your impatience! This isn’t flattering to me!’

‘Harry will comfort you. I want Aurora, and I want her badly. If she doesn’t want me, you’d better have left me to die when I had the good chance down there at Eureka, Mary Kyley.’

‘That’s good to hear. On my soul, I like the ring of it! Keep round the bend of the hill to the left. You’ll see her among the saplings.’

He found her within a few minutes. Seeing her in the distance, he ran like a schoolboy, and arrived at her side breathless. She was sitting on a log; her hat was at her feet. She was radiant with health and colour again. It seemed to him that she had a peculiar affinity with the sunshine. He sank on his knees, seizing her hands, speaking nothing, seeking a verdict in her face. She slipped her hands from his and clasped them about his neck, and her face sank down to his.

‘Oh, ma bouthal, you have come back to me,’ she murmured.

‘Yes, I’ve come back, Joy.’ he said hoarsely.

‘And with the true light in eyes.’

‘With my soul full of love for you, my Joy.’

‘And the other?’

‘There is no other! There never was another! There was a childish waywardness, a summer madness—God knows what! But I know now Joy, that you are mistress and master of me, that without you I am worthless. I want you, my darling.’

‘You have me!—you have me, Jim! Every beat of the heart of me!’

She pressed her face to his, and their first kiss had not the rapture of that kiss. In it mingled the old sweet emotions, and new ones born of sorrow that were sweeter still.

‘I only understood one side of my love for you,’ he said presently. ‘I had to be taught the rest in a hard school.’

‘I knew you would come back to me, sooner or later. You have come soon.’

‘You knew?’ He looked at her wonderingly for a moment, but the surprise passed. It only seemed strange that he had not recognised all along how inevitable was his return. ‘Now that I have come I go no more,’ he said. ‘I cannot spare you from my side. I want the ties. I would clamp you to my heart with iron if I could.’

‘Arrah! ’tis a happy girl I am, Jimmy,’ she whispered. ‘Hush! d’ye hear the song in heart?’

He laughed at the brogue, and pressed his lips amongst her thick hair.

‘I want you for my wife,’ he said.

She clung to him closely in silence for a moment and then he raised her gently and they walked back to the tent, hand in hand.


Nearly a year later Mr. and Mrs. Done were in Melbourne together when the Petral sailed for England. Amongst the ship’s passengers were Mrs. Donald Macdougal, her two children, and Lucy Woodrow. Mrs. Macdougal, a wealthy and attractive widow, had sold Boobyalla, and intended to make her home in England. Lucy was still her companion, and, bidding them farewell, Jim was glad to know that the girl was well and not unhappy.

Jim and Aurora followed the rushes for some years after their marriage, and when they settled down in a substantial house at Ballarat, Done long regretted the canvas walls and the stir and gaiety of the tented fields.

By this time Ballarat was a prim town of many churches and strong Wesleyan proclivities, and Eureka had been justified by the concession of nearly all that the diggers fought for. One-armed Peter Lalor was a staid Parliamentarian and a stout Constitutionalist now, and the grave in which Micah Burton and the other rebels lay buried was an honoured spot. But by this time, too, new interests had been born into Done’s life, new existences had been incorporated with his own, and he had a quaint fellowship with the youngsters, for in his heart remained a sneaking delight in the folly that is the scorn of fools. There were people who called Joy a hoyden at forty, but she retained the invincible soul of the woman who laughs.


In the Roaring Fifties - Contents

Back    |    Words Home    |    Edward Dyson Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback