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feeling. 'Kiss me!'

'Knock off!' cried Burton, whose head appeared suddenly at the mouth of
the shaft. 'I reckoned you'd had time to get through with that.'

'Och! we've been a long time gittin' through wid it, an' we're not
through yet,' said Aurora, shaking Mike warmly by the hand. 'You may have
one for yourself - there.' She placed her finger on a dimple, and Mike
kissed her gallantly enough. 'Ah!' she sighed, 'you love another. The
kiss betrays you.'

Something that might have been a blush, had the deep tan of his skin
permitted such a thing, warmed Burton's cheek.

'And where's Mrs. Ben?' he asked.

'Somewhere about the field.'

'They are with you?' said Jim.

'To be sure; and the whole business - bakery, laundry, and light
refreshments - has followed at my skirt with proper humility.'

'They pitch tents here?'

'Ben and Mary are now seeking a good business site.'

'Adjacent to a hollow tree?'

'The same bein' a convanyint haunt fer Mary Kyley's familiar evil
shpirits.'

Done laughed, giving Aurora a one-armed, parenthetical hug. 'They
wouldn't part with you, then?'

'They would not, nor I with them. Dan's been as good as a mother to me.
But how is the luck, boys?'

'Great,' answered Mike. 'We dropped on a patch here.'

'Come and see us cradle the last tubful, and I'll give you the prettiest
bit in the hopper,' said Jim.

'Not a colour! The heart nugget you gave me long ago has worn tender
places all over me.' She tugged at the thin ribbon about her neck. 'I'll
carry no more.'

Done did not press the point, although he knew that she took gifts of
quaintly-shaped nuggets from the other men with the indifference of a
queen accepting tribute.

Mrs. Ben Kyley greeted the mates with noisy joviality when they met, and
Ben took his pipe from his mouth, and said he was 'right down blarsted
glad,' which amounted to quite a demonstration, coming from him. Within
two days the tents were up, and Mrs. Kyley's business was resumed, and
was carried on as at Diamond Gully, and with much the same success. But
here for some time Ben's services as 'chucker-out' were more in
requisition, spirits being more unruly on Jim Crow. One night he even had
to fight a five-round battle with a riotous young Cousin Jack, in which
engagement Done seconded him by special request. Ben triumphed, but came
out of the contest with a black eye and an inflamed nose of a
preposterous size, at which Mary was virtuously indignant.

'You, a professional, fighting for diversion like any fool of a
gentleman!' she said scornfully.

'Man mus' keep his hand in,' replied Ben.

'If you can't attend to your duties without making such a mess of
yourself, you'd better have a month's notice. What was the good of me
taking on a pugilist if I'm to have fighting about the place
continually?'

'Come, come, Mrs. Ben,' said Jim; 'if you treat him like this when he
wins, what would you do if he lost?'

'Divorce him and take up with the Cornishman!' replied the raffish
washerwoman, exploding into Gargantuan laughter.

Done had often thought of Ryder since the night of the troopers' raid on
Mrs. Kyley's grog-store, but had seen nothing of him in the meantime.
Mike recalled him to his mind again as they were lying out in the
moonlight on a Sunday night about two weeks later.

'Remember the chap that tried to throttle Stony that night in the Black
Forest?' he said. 'Saw him on the lead to-day.'

'You did? Ryder was hunting Stony on Diamond Gully.'

'He's gettin' pretty warm, then. Stony's here too. That's his tent above
the bend to the left. He's a hatter, an' works a lone hand in the shallow
ground.'

'Then trouble's brewing for Mr. Stony.'

'You seemed to feel for him. Better drop him the word, hadn't you?'

'No. My sympathies are with the other man, and as he means something
short of manslaughter, Stony can take his chances.'

It was not long after this that Jim encountered Stony in Mary Kyley's
tent. He was drinking alone, and drinking with the feverish haste of a
man who deliberately seeks intoxication. He was more tremulous than when
Done first met him, and his face had the colour, and looked as if it
might have the consistency, of putty. The man was an instinctive hater:
he lived alone, worked alone, and desired no companionship. Previous to
the gold discoveries he had served for years in the capacity of shepherd
on one of the big Australian sheep-runs, and had lived cut off from
communion with his kind in the great lone land, absorbing into his blood
the spirit of solitude that broods in the Bush and in time robs man of
his gregarious impulses.

Jim had been in the shanty about an hour, and was standing with his back
to the counter; Stony was sitting in the corner, his hands clasped
between his knees, his eyes fixed upon the floor, unconscious of his
surroundings, when the flap of the tent was lifted, and Ryder stepped in,
running a keen, searching eye over the company. Jim saw him start as his
gaze encountered Stony. He paused for a moment, and then slipped back
into darkness, dropping the tent-door after him. Done understood his
intention. 'He will wait,' he said to himself, and determined to watch
events. Ryder had awakened in him an extraordinary interest.

Stony sat in a state of abstraction for close upon half an hour, and when
he arose and left the place Jim followed him. The night was dark, and
Stony had disappeared, but the young man walked quietly in the direction
of the hatter's camp. He could see nothing of either man, and had decided
that he was mistaken regarding Ryder's intention, when a low but
blood-chilling sound - the noise made by a man fighting against
strangulation - broke upon his ear. He had been seeking for this, but the
shock unnerved him for a moment.

XIII

PEERING through the darkness, Done discovered the shadowy figures of two
men. The figures were rigid upon the ground. There was no further sound.
The young man approached closely and stood by Ryder, dropping his hand
upon his shoulder. There was just light enough for him to see a revolver
snatched from the belt, or a movement of such suggestiveness, but he
fastened on that right arm with a grip to which it succumbed instantly.

'It is I, Jim Done!' he said.

'Save me! Save me!' cried Stony in accents of supreme terror.

'Why do you interfere?' asked Ryder with a ring of anger. 'What interest
can you have in this hound?'

'None,' replied Jim. 'I followed from the shanty, guessing something
would happen. I'm shamefully curious.'

'You are a fool! It might have cost you your life.'

'You certainly do not show any particular respect for human life.' Jim
released the other's arm.

'For Christ's sake don't leave me!' moaned Stony. 'He means murder!'

'I have told you I value this man's life. I tell you again I have no
intention of killing him, but I hate him so that the ravenous desire to
crush the soul out of him is hard to resist. There is a story he must
tell me; when that is told he may go. If he refuses to tell there is no
power on God's earth to keep me from my vengeance. But he shall tell - the
craven shall tell! There'll be no further mischief done, I promise you.
Leave us.'

'For the love of Heaven!' pleaded Stony. 'He'll kill! He'll kill!'

'I have your word,' said Jim.

'My word of honour,' answered Ryder.

'If it's broken, I swear to help you to your hanging.'

'I tell you, I want this man alive.'

'Good-night!'

'Help!' screamed Stony; but the other's hand was at his throat again.

'Listen, you foul cur!' Ryder said. 'I mean to spare you, but you must
tell - tell all!'

Jim Done turned and walked away, leaving the enemies alone. Next morning
he saw Stony moving about his tent, and experienced a feeling of relief.
He had been unable to divest himself of a sense of responsibility for the
safety of the miserable hatter.

By this time quite a strong friendship had grown up between the three
Peetrees and Done and Burton. Joshua Peetree, whom the twins called Josh,
with a friendly absence of formalities, was found in his sober moments to
share the moral qualities of his sons, and had the same quiet,
deliberative manner of speech, as if every sentence, even those of the
most insignificant character, were subjected to two or three successive
processes of investigation internally before delivery. Indeed, the men
spoke so little en famille that they might have lost ordinary power of
easy articulation. Speech was hardly necessary between the three; they
understood each other by something very like telepathic divination. At
least, so it appeared to Done, who was puzzled again and again to see the
ideas of one brother anticipated by the other, and his wishes met without
any communication, audible or visible, to the third person. Men who have
lived together in the Bush for the better part of their lives, cut off
from other society and outside interest, often develop this quaint
instinct of mutual apprehension. The Peetrees were not unsociable, but
with them conversation was not essential to human intercourse. They were
content to sit on a log, or spread themselves on the dry grass in company
with friendly diggers, smoking composedly through a whole evening,
without contributing more than an approving 'My word!' or 'My colonial!'
to the night's debate. Mike was in full sympathy with their neighbours.
Like him, they were deeply imbued with the spirit of revolt stirring in
the land, and they were as eager to participate in the struggle that was
to overthrow the rule of the nominees of Downing Street and strangle the
hydra of official tyranny; but Done, although his sentiments were just as
strongly on the side of the miners, was too profoundly concerned with the
actions and interests of the moment to content himself with the society
of the Peetrees and the discussion of possibilities. He liked them; they
were amusing elements in the varied life around him, but he wanted to see
and to hear. His blood ran too hotly for camp-fire argument. When the
time for fighting came, well and good: none would be more eager than he;
but meanwhile love and laughter, play and strife, invited a man, and Jim
responded with the impetuosity of an impish boy just escaped from
parental control.

The mates continued to do well at Jim Crow, and Jim Done found himself
growing tolerably rich without any marked gratification. He could not see
what more gold could confer upon him. He was now a nightly visitor at
Mrs. Ben Kyley's tent, but gambled with rather more spirit of late, and,
finding himself a much less easy victim to Mary's rum, drank more than
formerly. A certain stage of intoxication - an intoxication of the blood
rather than the senses - threw a roseate glamour over the gaieties of the
shanty, and robbed him of that remaining reticence of manner and speech
that would have kept him an observer rather than a participant.

Police supervision was fitful and weak at Jim Crow, and there were wild
nights at Mary Kyley's. Aurora appeared in a new character - that of
popular musician. Seated with her heels tucked under her on the end of
the shanty bar, she rattled off lively dance-music on an old violin; or,
mounted on an inverted tub, she sang songs of rebellion and devilment to
a crowd of diggers warm with rum and rampant with animal spirits. Mary
Kyley, whose gay heart responded readily to the conviviality of her
guests, danced at these times, contesting in breathless jigs and reels,
displaying amazing agility and a sort of barbaric frenzy, while the men
yelled encouragement and applause, the pannikins circulated, and the
smoke gathered in a cloud along the ridge-pole. Sitting above the crowd
in a gay gown, with a splash of artificial red roses in her mass of black
hair, flushed with animation, her eyes beaded with fire, Aurora was a
striking queen of the revels, and Done exulted over her, and called her
Joy. It was the new name he had given her, Aurora sounding too formidable
for a lover's lips.

One such night Aurora played them 'The Wearing of the Green,' breaking in
upon a moment of exuberant merriment with the quaint melancholy of the
music. She wrung from the strings a pathetic appeal, and played the crowd
into a sudden reverent silence. They were rebel hearts there to a man,
and many exiles from Erin were in the company. The simple tune went right
home to them all. The men sat still, gazing into their pannikins, and big
bearded diggers had a chastened pensiveness that might have been comic
had there been any there to laugh at them. Just as suddenly the girl
swung into a rollicking dance-step, abandoning her tender mood with a
burst of happy laughter; but Tim Carrol, a young new chum; fresh from
'the most distressful country,' sprang to the counter beside her, and,
clasping Aurora and her fiddle in a generous hug, kissed the girl on the
cheek.

'Shtop!' he cried. 'Niver another word will ye play till the hold iv
that's gone from us!'

Done, who was standing near, saw the action, saw Aurora laughing in the
man's arms, and experienced a revulsion of feeling that turned him giddy,
and blurred the lights and the figures about him. He sprang at Carrol
savagely. It seemed to him that what followed occurred in darkness. A few
blows, a scuffle, and then he was torn away. The next moment he found
himself in Kyley's hands, and Aurora before him, her eyes flashing anger,
her white teeth bared, her hands clenched - exactly the termagant she had
appeared on the night she confronted Quigley in her wrath; but to-night
her fury was directed against him.

'How dare you interfere?' she said. 'How dare you meddle with my
affairs?' She struck herself upon the breast. She blazed with passion.

'He kissed you!' said Jim. 'I couldn't stand that!'

'And what of me? If I do not object, what then?'

'Aurora!'

'Am I my own mistress? Are my inclinations to count for something?'

Jim had recovered himself. He felt cold, sobered. He shook the hands off
him, 'Your inclinations count for everything!' he said with composure. 'I
acted on impulse. I beg your pardon, Aurora. I'll apologize to Carrol if
he wishes it. I've had too much rum, Tim; I acted like a fool.'

'Tush, man, 'twas nothin'! You didn't hit me,' said the Irishman
cheerfully. 'Don't shpake iv it. I disarved what I didn't get fer kissin'
your sweet, heart, any-how.'

Aurora's anger fell from her suddenly, and she moved away. She played no
more that night, and was markedly subdued in her manner, turning an
anxious eye upon Done every now and again, and Jim, to carry off the
situation, was much too free with the liquor and uncommonly friendly with
everybody.

'You took my temper like a gentleman, Jimmy dear,' said Aurora, coming
behind him when he sat alone. She was bidding for reconciliation.

'I ought to have known better, Joy,' he answered. I was an idiot!'

'No, dear, you were jealous, and that is an easy thing for a woman to
forgive.'

'I don't think I was even jealous.'

'Then you should have been!' she said, with a flash of anger.

'Then, if I should have been, I was jealous - furiously, murderously
jealous!'

'Sure, how could you blame the poor boy,' she murmured, winding an arm
about his neck, 'wid the love of the dear ould sod hot in the heart iv
him? 'Twasn't a lover's kiss he gave me, darlin', but a patriot's.'

'This is a lover's, Joy!' He kissed her softly.

All the same, flushed with liquor though he was, he was conscious that
his attack on Carrol had been prompted by a meaner impulse than jealousy,
and was more a manifestation of the rum-flown arrogance of a man fighting
for a prize in the possession of which he felt a large conceit. He was
conscious, too, that there was little of a true lover's ardour in the
kiss he gave her. But men are deceivers ever, and never so cunning in
deceit as when love has slipped from their hearts. To be sure, Jim had
the grace to be ashamed of all this in certain moods, but acknowledgment
of the sin was not followed by renunciation. Aurora's flash of passion
was probably due to the instinct that warned her of the fading of Done's
love for her.

Mike took his mate home that night, and had to help him into his bunk,
and Jim awoke in the morning with feelings of mistrust and bitterness, a
craven consciousness of having been untrue to him self. For a moment
there was a belief that his new life was nothing but a dream. He stepped
out into the sunshine with a childish fear upon him, and looked about
him, breathing deeply, and relief came, but there remained a
consciousness of loss of power. Drink was not for him: he was a hale man,
full of vitality; in his normal state his sensibilities were capable of
drawing the most generous emotions from the events of existence; excess
of liquor gave him, in place of that natural gratification, a set of
feverish and unreal sensations. He could understand others, from whom
Nature withheld the joy of life, finding in intoxication a pale
substitute, but for him it was a sacrifice of self, a sacrifice he could
not afford, for it was only the other day that self had become sweet to
him. How could he exchange his rich reality for the pale, misty, groping
unreality he had become last night - give up the exhilaration he derived
from the stir of life and friendly contact with men for the fantastic,
fleeting emotions of the reveller in drink, emotions that fly through the
darkened brain like shooting stars, the stir of a blatant egotism, the
prickly heat of tiny, aimless joys that never penetrate below the skin!
He determined to be content with sobriety for the future.

This very excellent and virtuous resolution did not keep Done from Mary
Kyley's tent, however, and he retained his relish for the revels there:
the boisterous horseplay of the diggers, the dancing, the gay spirits of
Aurora, her beauty and her music. He believed Aurora still loved him, but
the recollection of her appearance that night, and the fury with which
she had repudiated his right to interfere, contrasted with her attitude
on the occasion when he championed her cause against Quigley, gave him
moments of dubious reflection. Coming up from their claim one evening at
sundown after a particularly hard day, the mates found Aurora busy at the
fire preparing their tea. They hailed her with shouts of thankfulness and
welcome. She was bare-armed and bare-headed; a snowy-white apron of Mrs.
Kyley's covered her frock, and was, if anything, an additional adornment
to her trim figure. The tea was made, and the big billy stood by the
embers, while Aurora attended to the grilling of the steak. She made a
charming picture, with the firelight on her face and gleaming in her
hair, and the men watched her for some minutes in quiet admiration, Josh
Peetree being particularly moved by the glamour of domesticity her
presence threw over the camp, and throughout the evening ejaculated a
fervent 'My colonial!' every time his eyes encountered the girl.

'Hello!' said Aurora. 'I've invited myself to tea, boys.'

''Pon my soul, you're good to see,' cried Burton feelingly.

'That's mighty kind for a man who doesn't waste much breath in
compliments.'

This is magnificent!' said Jim. 'Why have you never thought of it
before?'

'Hear him! Little he knows I'm just here to convince him what a model
wife I'd make. Would you believe it, boys, all the time I've known the
villain it never occurred to him to ask me?'

'I'd ask yer quick enough, b'gosh!' blurted Con.

Jim blushed. 'She wouldn't have me,' he cried in self-defence.

'At laste ye might have given a poor girl the refusal.'

'Take me, then,' said Jim through the soapsuds. He was washing over a
bucket.

'I will not. You know you're safe, anyhow, when there's not priest or
parson to be got for love or money. Come, hurry up, there's enough for
all, and my contribution is an armful of Mary Kyley's hot scones.'

The butt of a tree lying a few yards from the fire served the diggers as
table and on to this Jim lifted Aurora.

'That's your place,' he said, 'at the head of the board.'

'No, no!' cried the girl, slipping to the ground again. 'I am mistress. I
mean to attend at table.' She served the men with the manners of a kindly
hostess. 'There's milk for the tea!' she cried.

'Milk! I haven't seen the colour of it in Australia. Who work the
miracle?' said Jim.

'Mary sent to a station out there by the ranges. She got a quart, and I
cabbaged half for my tea-party.'

'You're an angel, Aurora!'

'There!' she laughed; 'and the trouble I've taken to keep it dark.'

'We'll be the envy of the whole field,' said Mike; and Con uttered a
corroborative 'My colonial oath!' that was eloquent of a grateful heart.

Aurora poured out the tea and buttered the scones, and then, sitting on a
gin-case with her plate in her lap, ate a good meal in cheeriest
fellowship, adding to the felicity of the party with gay badinage and
happy laughter. Aurora's laugh was a delightful thing to hear; it had
never ceased to give Done a peculiar stir of joyance, whilst awakening
something of surprise. It was the laugh of a merry child; its mirth was
strangely infectious, strangely suggestive of an unsullied soul. Hearing
it, Jim turned to her wonderingly, but he had long since acquitted her of
the suspicion of dissimulation. She was the least self-conscious creature
living, the least calculating. If she had really set herself the task of
displaying to the best advantage the more gentle and womanly side of her
nature, she would certainly not have succeeded as well as she did this
evening, moved by one of the thousand vagrant impulses that lent such
varying colour to her character. Her humour was more subdued, her gaiety
was restrained within the limits of an almost conventional decorum. She
helped the men with a graciousness that was wholly effeminate, and the
diggers responded to its influence.

'Blast me if it don't make a cove feel religious!' was Harry Peetree's
sober comment, after he had lit his pipe and settled his back comfortably
against the log.

The night came while they were still at their meal, and sticks were
thrown on the fire to provide light. Other diggers, attracted by the glow
and the cheerful atmosphere of the party, sauntered up, and modestly
disposed themselves in the shadows, where they lay smoking. Women of any
kind were few on Jim Crow, and a scene like this was sufficient to stir
the deeper feelings of many of the miners, particularly those in whose
hearts long absence from hearth and home had served to invest domesticity
with a reverent sentimentality.

Aurora insisted on washing up, but Josh dried the dishes, while the
others lit their pipes, and, lying on their backs, with knees drawn up
and hands clasped under their heads, gave themselves over to quiet
enjoyment of the night. A big moon was stealing through the tree-tops;
the denuded gully still lay in the lower gloom, dotted with camp-fires
and illumined tents. But Aurora threw aside her domestic mood with her
apron, and reappeared as the enemy of reflection and repose. Throned on
her gin-case, where the ruddy light of the wood-fire glowed upon her, she
chattered in her delectable brogue for an hour or more, the picture of
animation. Then came Mary Kyley storming upon the scene.

'Do I pay a girl the wages of a princess to run a temperance meeting
among my customers?' she cried.

'Go away, Mother Kyley, an' work yer own ould shebang,' replied Aurora,
'or else bring me fiddle wid ye, an' give us a step on the turf!'

'Not a step will I.'

'Then I'll lave divil a man in the shanty, dthrunk or dthry!'

Aurora sprang upon her box, and began to sing a rousing nonsensical song
of the moment. The chorus was caught up, and swelled in the shadows.
Waving her scarf as she had done in the dance-room in Melbourne on the
night when Done first saw her, she sang again, and her clear soprano rang
in the gullies like the call of a bird, and brought the miners from their
tents and their arguments. When the song ended half the diggers on Jim
Crow were gathered about Burton's camp-fire, and the loudest roar of
applause came from Mary Kyley! Presently somebody out in the crowd
commenced to play a flute, and slid from a few bars of' Home, Sweet
Home!' into a rollicking jig. Half a dozen strong hands - Jim's
first - were laid upon Mrs. Ben, and she was dragged to the front.

'Dance, alauna machree!' cried Aurora.

The flute piped higher, a hundred voices took up the cry, and Mary was
conquered. Gathering a bunch of skirts in either hand, the big woman
commenced a step. Aurora enlivened it with quaint, melodious Irish cries,
the men roared encouragement, and presently Mary Kyley was dancing with


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 11 of 21)