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Edward Dyson.

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one rich before the summer came again; but he wanted to try the other
rushes, and the winter passed without his having broached the matter to
Done.

Jim was quite ignorant of the fact that he was making unfair demands upon
his mate's loyalty. They were doing well on the whole; the life on
Diamond Gully had lost none of its attractiveness - it was still vigorous
and eventful. There had been a riot in Forest Creek during May, providing
a stirring week, and many alarms and excursions on the part of the miners
and the license-hunters. Solo had visited Diamond Gully again, and neatly
victimized Cootmeyer - a gold-buyer at one of the stores - gagging his
victim with his own bacon-knife, and imprisoning him in a salt-pork
barrel. The revolutionary feeling in the hearts of the men had increased
in intensity, and the talk about the camp-fires stirred the bad blood to
fever-heat. To Done time had gone on wings so swift that he could not
mark its flight. Burton, a nomad in blood and breeding, thirsted for
change, and in ordinary circumstances would have rolled his swag and gone
on alone long ago; but the liking he had for Jim was the strongest
emotion that had crept into his stolid soul, excepting only the affection
he bore for a certain black-browed boss-cockie's daughter on the Sydney
side, and be found it hard to break away. But Aurora's hold on Jim had
not weakened so far as he could judge, and the time came at length when
his restless spirit drove him on. He broke the news to Jim one night as
they lay in their bunks, he smoking, Jim reading.

'I'm full o' this, old man,' he said abruptly.

'Of what?'

'Oh, of Diamond Gully! I reckon it's played out or thereabouts.'

'And we got twelve ounces a man for the last week's work.

'Not enough, Jimmy. Not more 'n wages, an' men like you 'n me should be
in the thickest an' richest of it. I'm gettin' along to-morrow.'

'You mean to say you are going?' Done jerked himself on to his elbow and
stared across the tent at his mate.

'Um - m Mean to try a new rush.'

'Anything wrong, Mike? Have I been getting on your raw lately? You want
to break up this partner ship of ours.'

'My oath, no!' Mike had raised himself eagerly, and was looking at Jim.

Then you reckoned on having me along?'

'No; I thought maybe you wouldn't care to pad out from here jes' yet
awhile.

'If it rests with me, mate, where you go I go. You've given me a bit of a
jolt, old man.'

'You'll come, then?' cried Mike.

'Why, yes! What should keep me?'

The two men gripped hands, and a few minutes of, silence followed, during
which Mike's pipe went out and Jim's book fell to the floor. Both were
more moved than they cared to show.

'This makes things much more comfortable,' said Burton presently.

'Where do we go?'

'To Jim Crow, an' from there we may make tracks to Ballarat.

'To Ballarat!' The name epitomized all that Done knew of mining life and
the aspirations of the diggers.

'Yes, Jim. If there's goin' to be fightin', we must be in it.'

'Mike,' said Jim, breaking the thoughtful silence that followed, 'what
put into your head the mad idea that I would want to break with you? God,
man, I'd be a desolate, helpless wastrel without you!'

'Aurora!' said Mike sententiously.

'Aurora!' Jim sat up abruptly, and then sank slowly back upon his pillow
again. It was very curious, but till this moment no thought of Aurora had
occurred to him.

Mike blew out the candle, and it was quite half an hour later when he
said, speaking as if the conversation had just been dropped: 'You'll go
all the same, Jimmy?'

'Yes,' said Jim, with the emphasis of a man making a resolution.

XII

AURORA! What would she say? What would she do? It was less the thought of
his losing Aurora than the picture of her great distress that worried
him. She would be broken-hearted. And yet go he must, there was no
question of that; he had not come to Australia to tether himself to a
woman's apron strings, even though that woman be the brightest and
winsomest of her sex - excepting one. He smuggled that saving clause in in
a cowardly way. He had carefully masked his treachery even to his own
eyes, and yet it was treachery that was in his bones. Of course, he must
assure her that they would meet again: they were not necessarily parting
for ever; but even as these thoughts worked in his mind he was not
conscious of any anxiety at the prospect of a lasting separation. Jim did
not realize to what extent the passion for Aurora had fastened upon his
blood; he still liked her, there remained a decided tenderness, and he
hated the idea of hurting her or causing her grief. This was the better
part of his liking for the girl, but the vehement selfishness seemed to
have gone from his love, and without a fierce note of selfishness love
becomes as pale as friendship. She had been a wonder, a revelation, a
great glory; she had become merely an attractive, handsome girl, rather
exuberant in her affection. If Done were our villain we could show him
unmanly, ignoble, and vile for all this, but not one voluntary impulse
went to the making of his present attitude; it was a development entirely
foreign to his will, and that much at least must be remembered in the
defence of our hero.

Mike put off their departure a day. He had intended leaving the tools and
camp-ware with his mate, but now it was necessary to make arrangements
with a teamster to follow them to the new rush with their property.

Done approached Aurora with great misgivings; he expected a passionate
demonstration. There had been no sign of waning affection on her part; on
the contrary, she had seemed to grow more devoted to him.

'Burton thinks this field is pretty well worked out,' said Jim, as a
preparatory announcement.

'Well, I suppose it is, Jimmy. Been panning out badly of late?'

'Not very badly, old girl; but not good enough compared with what we hear
of from the other fields.'

She was sitting on the counter, holding his arm, and turned and looked
sharply into his face.

'You're off?' she said.

Done nodded his head, and watched her apprehensively. She was not
disturbed; next moment there was merriment in the eyes turned up to him
from where her head nestled on his breast.

'Mike thinks we are wasting valuable time here.'

And you are, too. Good luck go wid you, ma bouchal' She kissed the point
of his chin.

'You don't mind, Aurora?' He had come in shivering with apprehension at
the prospect of a passionate outburst, knowing the possibilities of her
fervid temperament, and now experienced some sense of disappointment at
finding her unmoved.

'Mind, darlin'? Cud I expect to be keepin' you here all the days of your
life? Where are you going?'

'To the new diggin's, Jim Crow.'

'It's a wild field, they tell me, Jimmy. No fighting, mind. Leastwise,
none for other girls.'

'We start early in the morning.'

'I'll be up to throw an old shoe after you.'

'I came to say good-bye to-night.'

'Good-bye, is it?' She flashed upon him, her face crimsoned, and a look,
half fearful, half angry, glowed in her splendid eyes. But the feeling
was only momentary; laughter rippled into her cheeks again, and she wound
her arms about his neck. 'Good-bye?' she said. 'And isn't it breakin'
your heart you are to be sayin' good-bye to me?'

Done clasped her closer, and kissed her, stirred by her warmth and her
beauty.

'Ah, my dear, dear boy, you may say good-bye to me a thousand times if
you'll cure the sting with such kisses,' she said softly.

When Jim returned to their tent he found Burton already abed. Mike
continued to read his paper, smoking placidly, but he was feeling no
little concern. He had feared the result of that last interview with
Aurora, and now waited the word from Done, who seated himself on his bunk
and unlaced his boots in silence.

'She took it without a whimper,' he said presently.

'No!'

'She didn't speak a word or raise a finger to keep me.'

'Well, I'm blowed!' Burton was openly delighted; not so Done, who, true
to the contrariness of poor human nature, was apparently quite depressed.

Jim Crow, maddest of fields, like Tarrangower, which came later, resort
of the most turbulent spirits, and a favourite centre with runaway
convicts, gold-robbers, and the riffraff of the rushes, was still young
when Burton and Done went, hastening down the hills on to the lead, with
the thin but turbulent stream of diggers, but its character was already
formed. Here the revolver was counted among the necessities of life, and
although the main body of the diggers, as on all the other fields, were
sober, industrious, and decent men, there was so strong a leaven of
dare-devils and so varied an admixture of rogues and vagabonds that Jim
Crow quickly won itself an unenviable reputation on all the rushes, from
Buninyong to Bendigo, and, rich as it was, diggers found it as difficult
to keep their gold as to win it. The Jim Crow ranges were within an
hour's flight, and offered splendid cover for the members of Coleman's
gang, or the friends of Black Douglas, or any other rapscallion who
preferred stealing gold to seeking it.

On the day of their arrival at Jim Crow the mates pegged out a claim and
pitched their tent, which Mike had added to his swag. With the help of
Mrs. Ben Kyley, they had succeeded in depositing the larger part of their
earnings at Diamond Gully in a Melbourne bank, and now they were hampered
with no great responsibility in the way of riches. That night Jim and
Mike walked over the field, through the clustering tents, and Jim
discovered that what he had taken for a wild life at Diamond Gully was
peace itself compared with the devilment and disorder of a new field. Jim
Crow had opened well, the first discoveries were enormously rich, and the
restless diggers were pouring in from all quarters, and glare and
confusion and a babel of music and tongues rioted in the camp. Here,
again, Jim was struck with the untamed boyishness of the miners; their
levity was that of coarse, healthy children. 'Is it civilization that is
choking gaiety out of the souls of men?' he asked himself.

Done had a curious experience on the following day. He had gone to the
tent to light the fire, boil the billy, and prepare the mid-day meal, and
was carrying water from a convenient spring, when, in passing the tent of
their nearest neighbours, twin brothers named Peetree, the first
prospectors of Jim Crow, he was startled by a furious yell, more like the
howl of a madman than the cry of a sentient creature. Jim turned and
looked about. There was nobody within sight from whom the amazing sound
could have come, but as he stood the cry was repeated. Done set down his
billy, and, approaching the tent, peeped in. There was nobody there, but
again the wild cry rang out. He looked under the bunks, and then walked
round the tent, but discovered nothing to explain the mystery. He paused
dubiously, suspecting a trick, when for the fourth time he heard the
marrow-chilling scream, and this time so near that he sprang aside in
real alarm. Against the side of the tent, chocked to prevent its rolling,
was a barrel, brought to Jim Crow by the Peetrees to be cut into two
puddling-tubs, no doubt. Jim examined it suspiciously.

'Le' me out, yer swines! le' me out!' cried a shrill old voice, following
the words with a long dolorous howl, not unlike that of a moonstruck cur.

'Who the devil are you?' asked Done. 'What are you doing in there?'

His words only served to enrage the man in the cask; he had a paroxysm of
linguistic fury, and curses spouted from the bunghole a geyser of
profanity.

'I'll be the death o' you when I get loose!' screamed the prisoner.
Another long-drawn yell followed, and then sounds as of a terrible
struggle going on inside, with occasional cries and curses.

Done was greatly perplexed, but there was, he thought, only one course
open to him. A fellow-creature was pent in the barrel, and it was
manifestly his duty to go to the rescue. He had seized the Peetrees' axe
with the intention of knocking in the head of the cask, when a warning
shout from the direction of the lead caused him to desist. One of the
Peetree brothers was running up from their claim. He arrived angry and
breathless.

'What in thunder 're you up to?' he panted.

'There's a man in that barrel,' answered Jim.

'Well, I'm likely to know all about that, ain't I? Drop that axe and
mooch along after your own business.'

'I don't know,' said Done, 'but it seems to me that this is almost any
man's business. You're not at liberty to keep a fellow-creature cooped in
a barrel at your own pleasure, even on Jim Crow.'

'That's just so, but the man in there's my father, which makes a
dif'rence, perhaps.'

'Your father? Are you keeping the old man in pickle?'

'No; we're keeping him outer mischief, an' that ought to be enough for
you.'

'Of course, I don't want to interfere with your family arrangements, but
this is a bit out of the ordinary, and you'll admit my action was only
natural.' Jim picked up his billy and crossed to his own tent, the man in
the barrel breaking into fresh clamour, and calling down Heaven's
vengeance on his son's head through the bunghole.

'Shut up, you infernal ole idiot!' cried the dutiful son. While Done was
busy over the fire, Peetree junior drove the bung into the barrel, and
then rejoined our hero.

'Naturally, you wouldn't understan',' he said, jerking his thumb towards
the barrel, 'but the ole man's such a dashed nuisance when he's on we
gotter do somethin' with him.' The tone was apologetic.

'I dare say you are quite justified,' Jim answered. 'A man doesn't keep
his father in a barrel for mere amusement.'

'No, he don't ordinary, does he?' answered the native gravely. 'Fact is,
the dad goes on a tear now 'n again, an' we pen him up to sober off. We
can look after him all right after knocking off, but if we was to let him
loose while we was at work he'd go pourin' Bill Mooney's fork-lightnin'
gin into him till he had his bluchers full o' snakes 'an the whole lead
swarmin' with fantods. So when he starts to work up a jamboree we pull
off his boots an' tuck him in the tub, fastens the head, an' leave him
till he's willin' to think better of it.'

'Well, that's bringing up a father in the way he should go,' laughed Jim.
'I apologize for attempting to break into your inebriates' retreat.'

'Inebriates' retreat!' A wide grin slowly developed on Peetree's gaunt
face. 'That's a first name for it,' he said. 'Hanged if we don't have it
painted up!'

'A sign of some kind is necessary. But isn't the old man likely to
suffocate with that bung in?'

'Not he; there's heaps o' breathin' in the cask. That bung's just to gag
him awhile.'

That evening after tea the two sons, with old Peetree under guard between
them, joined the mates at their fire. Harry, Jim's friend of the
morning's adventure, was about twenty-eight, tall and bony, with the
shoulder stoop of a hard worker. Con and the father had the same general
peculiarities. The three were identical in height and complexion, and in
their mannerism and tricks of speech; but to-night the old man had a
vacant, helpless expression, and seemed for the greater part of the time
unconscious of the company he was in, and looked furtively about him into
the night, muttering strangely to himself, and picking eagerly at his
shirt-sleeves. The sons pressed their father to a sitting position, and
then seated themselves one on each side, mounting guard.

'See, we got him loose again,' said Harry.

'He's milder to-night,' answered Done. 'What's the matter with him?'

'Only a touch o' the jims. He's liable to howl a bit now 'n again, but
don't mind him. He's all right. Ain't you, dad?' He gave the old man's
head an affectionate push.

'Once he takes to smoke he's comin' round,' said Con Peetree, making a
vain attempt to induce the old man to draw at his pipe.

'There ain't a finer ole tough walkin' when he's off the licker,' said
the elder proudly, 'an' not a better miner-ever lived.'

Done watched the group with keen delight. The young men's respect for
their bibulous parent was quite sincere, their care of him was marked
with a rough but unmistakable liking. The conversation turned upon the
characteristics of the lead at Jim Crow, and drifted to the inevitable
subject, the development of the agitation for the emancipation of the
miners and the doings and sayings of the insurgent party at Ballarat, and
every now and again Peetree senior would whisper ambiguously: 'There
ain't such a thing ez a drop of gin? No, of course not.'

Once Harry drew a small flask from his pocket, poured a little spirit
into a pannikin, and gave it to the old man. 'Hair off his dog, you
know,' he said. And two or three times Con made an effort to induce his
father to take a whiff of smoke, but old Peetree shook his head
disgustedly, and returned to his mutterings and the picking of imaginary
tarantulas off his sleeves.

In the morning Jim noticed that the wards 'Inebrits' Retreet' had been
printed on the barrel with pipeclay.

The good luck that had marked their initial effort on Diamond Gully
followed the mates to Jim Crow. They struck the wash-dirt in their first
claim, and Jim, in sinking through the alluvial, stuck his pick into the
largest nugget he had yet seen, a lump of rugged gold, pure and clean,
which Mike estimated to be worth four hundred pounds. It glowed in the
sunlight with the lustre of a live ember, and, gazing upon it, Done
trembled again with the vehement joy that thrills in the veins of the
least avaricious digger at the sight of such a find.

'If there's a large family o' these we're made men,' said Burton,
fondling the nugget.

'Unless some of Douglas's men take a fancy to them when we've unearthed
them.'

'Or Solo chips in an' lifts the pile. We must keep it dark till this
field sobers up a bit.'

The tub of dirt taken from the bottom of their hole - that is, the deepest
part of the strata of alluvial deposit, to which the best of the gold
almost in variably gravitates - was extremely rich. The dregs in the tub,
after all the clay and dirt had been washed away, blazed with coarse
pieces, and Done carried away at least five hundred pounds' worth in
nuggets wrapped in his gray jumper. The coarse gold was picked out of the
washed gravel, and then the remainder of the stuff was put through the
cradle, the slides of which captured and retained the smaller gold, with
a certain amount of sand, and this was washed again in the tin dish, the
last grains of base material being got rid of by shaking the gold on a
sheet of paper after it had been thoroughly dried, and blowing with the
mouth, a process at which the diggers became so expert that very little
of even the finest gold-dust was lost in the operation.

The mates finished their third day's work on Jim Crow, wet to the hips,
smeared from top to toe with yellow clay, dog-weary, but quite jubilant.
They were as well satisfied with their next day's work, and the next.
They had succeeded in keeping the knowledge of their big find to
themselves; but returning to their camp one night about a week later,
Done was amazed to find the earthen floor of the tent dug up to a depth
of about a foot. Burton grinned.

'Someone's bottomed a shicer to-night,' he said.

'What's the meaning of this?' asked Done.

'We've had a little visit from some damn scoundrel who thought we'd buried
our gold here. Must 'a' taken us for a pair o' Johnnie-come-latelies.'

At that moment a shot rang out on the night air, and sounds of angry
voices and scuffling came from the direction of the Peetrees' tent.

'By the Lord Harry, they've nabbed him!' said Mike. 'Come along!'

They found Con Peetree holding a man down with a persuasive revolver,
while Harry, with a burning match sheltered in his palm, examined the
captive.

'Cot him diggin' in our tent. He broke 'way, but I've winged him,' said
Harry.

'He gave us a look in, too,' said Mike.

'Lose any stuff?'

'Not a colour.'

'Same here; but we can't let him go scot-free. That kink in the calf
counts for nothing, and handin' him over to the beaks means too much
worry. Here, give's a light, Burton.'

Mike struck a match, and, taking the thief by the ear, Harry Peetree drew
a knife.

'Good God!' cried Jim, 'you don't mean to - ' Jim's intervention was too
late to help the prostrate man; Peetree had already slashed off the lobe
of his left ear. He threw the fragment in the man's face.

'Now scoot!' he said, 'an' don't show yer ugly chiv on Jim Crow again, 'r
you'll catch a fatal dose o' lead.

The crippled thief limped away without a word, pressing a palm to his
streaming ear.

'That seemed an infernally brutal thing to do,' said Jim to his mate,
when they were discussing the incident.

'Not a bit of it,' answered Burton. 'We've got to mark his sort, an' a
brand like that's known every where. A bloke with an ear stripped off
can't pretend to be a honest man here; he's got to be either a trooper or
one of Her Majesty's commissioners.'

'But you weren't at all bitter about Solo.'

'Solo ain't a tent-robber; he generally robs the people who rob us. A
tent-robber is the meanest kind of hound that runs.'

Jim was grateful for this lesson in diggers' ethics, and went peacefully
to sleep on it, having by this time acquired complete confidence in
Burton's hiding-place.

When the mates had more gold than they could carry in their belts with
comfort, and trustworthy gold-buyers were not available, choosing a
suitable hour long after midnight, Burton dug a hole near the tent, Jim
keeping careful watch the while to make sure they were not observed. The
gold was placed in a pan, and buried in this hole, and after that the
camp-fire was built on the spot, and kept burning day and night. It never
occurred to anyone to look under the fire for hidden gold.

Their first claim was nearly worked out, and the two young men were busy
below digging out the last of the wash-dirt, when a voice calling down
the shaft caused both picks to be suspended simultaneously, and the mates
looked curiously into each other's faces in the dim candle-light.

Hello below, there!'

'Aurora!' said Mike.

Jim went up the rope suspended in the shaft hand over hand. Aurora was
standing by the windlass smiling down at him. The girl was remarkably
well dressed. The gown she wore was too florid, perhaps, for that sickly
refinement which abhors colour, but it suited her tall figure and her
hale and exuberant good looks. As he came up the shaft the picture she
made standing in the sunlight, with a background of sun-splashed,
vari-coloured tips, and one drowsing gum-tree fringed with the gold and
purple of young growth, gave him a thrill of joy, so vivid she seemed, so
fresh. She had occupied his mind little since the departure from Diamond
Gully; but seeing her again so radiant, he was glad through and through,
and laughed with pure delight when she met him at the shaft's mouth with
a kiss. Once upon his feet, he clasped her in his arms. Her walk along
the lead had attracted a good deal of attention, and the embrace was the
signal for a sympathetic cheer from the miners about, and the men whirled
their hats in the air.

'Arrah! Won't ye sarve the bla'gards all alike, darlin'?' cried a young
fellow on the left.

Aurora bowed low, and scattered kisses over the field with both hands,
winning another cheer. Jim watched her with pride. After all, she it was
who stood as his goddess of gaiety in the twelve months of absolutely
happy life that had marked the reaction from the brutal stupidity and
sourness of that other existence. He owed her much gratitude, much
tenderness. He kissed her again almost reverently.

'Did you think I was never coming, Jimmy?' she asked softly.

Jim practised the virtue of equivocation. It had never occurred to him
that she would come, but he would rather have bitten a piece off his
tongue than have said so just then.

'So you made up your mind to follow the moment I told you I was going?'
he said.

'What else? Could I have bid you good-bye so glibly? Could you have
walked off with a smile and a kiss, and never a word of coming again?'

'Darling, I can never want to lose you.'

'Whist' no words fer the future!' she said, reverting to her whimsical
brogue. 'We're weak mortals, an' every one iv us is born again wid the
new sun. I'd not have ye bind the strange man ye may be to-morrow wid
oaths, an' I won't bind the unknown colleen I may be for the likes iv
ye.'

'But to-day?'

'To-day? To-day I love you with a big, big heart!' she said, with deep


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 10 of 21)