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heart and soul and every ounce of energy. Dancing was a passion with Mrs.
Ben; she experienced a sort of delirium of movement once the swing of the
melody took hold of her, and at such moments, despite her uncommon size,
the woman became animated with a wild dignity and grace. Now, with head
thrown back and face uplifted, her crimson petticoat flashing in the
firelight, she danced like something wild, till she could dance no more,
and Done took her in his arms and half carried her to the log, where he
fanned her gallantly with his cabbage-tree, while the audience cheered
again and again.

Aurora found a partner for a reel in Tim Carrol, and the fun grew warmer,
a liberal digger having contributed a keg of rum, which was rolled from
Kyley's shanty into the illumined circle. But at this point a man stepped
forward from the crowd, and stood where the light fell full upon him, a
strongly-built digger of about five foot nine, not yet thirty years of
age, with a powerful face, not handsome, but uncommonly attractive in its
blend of kindliness and rugged force. Done recognised Alfred Lambert, a
voice of the disaffected - one of the little band of men who, animated
with that ardent love of freedom which is bred of tyranny and fed on
oppression, were ever busy fanning the embers of discontent, and striving
to work the diggers up to the point at which it would be impossible for
the Government to withhold from the vast majority of the people their
liberties and civil rights. Lambert held up his hand to impose silence.

'I have a great bit of news, men,' he said. 'The day before yesterday, at
five in the afternoon, the M'Ivor escort was stuck up on the corduroy
road in the Black Forest, and the gang got away with all the gold.'

This information was greeted with a yell of amazement, in which Jim
thought he detected no little exultation. It was the greatest coup
executed by the gangs since the opening of the goldfields; its magnitude
astounded everybody.

'The robbers came on the escort suddenly, shot their horses under them,
and carried off the whole swag,' Lambert continued.

'Whose gang?' 'Who 're suspected?' A score of voices shouted questions.

'It is believed that the raid was headed by Solo!'

'No, no; Solo goes alone!' cried a foremost miner with absolute
conviction.

'He has always worked alone before, but it is pretty certain that this
raid was planned and carried out by Solo, and that he had behind him a
gang of the coolest and most daring robbers in the colony He outwitted
the troopers at every point; they had no more chance with him than so
many sheep. The fools had their carbines strapped behind them, as usual.
Before they could fire a shot they were at the mercy of the thieves.' The
crowd yelled again-a yell of derision. The discomfiture of the troopers
was a source of grim satisfaction. Lambert held up his hand once more.

'This Solo is a ruffian and a robber. When we say that he stops short of
murder we say the best we can for him; but the Government that denies to
citizens the rights of men, and enforces laws the people have no voice in
making through a vicious and brutal constabulary, cannot look to citizens
to respect those laws or feel any sympathy with its officers.'

'You're right, old man!' The crowd took advantage of the pause that
followed to raise a clamour of fierce words.

'I have more news for you,' said the orator. 'The cause of liberty is
spreading, deepening, strengthening. We are on the verge of civil war.
Latest information from Ballarat, Bendigo, and all the large centres
shows that the hour of strenuous resistance, of resistance to the death,
has almost come. Even now it may have struck. As I speak, the men of
Ballarat may be shedding their blood to rescue our adopted country from
the foul and foolish rule of that pitiful handful of nominees in
Melbourne, the despicable instruments of a far-off power that is as
ignorant of our needs as it is careless of our sufferings. We are
commanded to stand ready - commanded by God, I believe with all my
soul - and those of us who have the aspirations of men and the spirit of
true Britons must look to our arms. The commissioners of the various
fields have been particularly venomous in their treatment of the poorer
diggers of late. On all the fields license-hunting has been pushed to
such an extremity of oppression that only dingoes and Chinamen could bear
it. We must fight! Men, no human creature detests bloodshed more than I,
but what else can your leaders ask of you but to fight? Every channel of
peaceful progression is closed to you. You are a great population of
strong men, the adventurous spirits of the world, and you are held under
the lash by a stupid minority so weak that one free movement of your
limbs may dash them to perdition. You are asked to confine yourselves to
peaceful and legal forms in conducting this agitation, while those who
ask you deny you a breath of power, an iota of right, and manifest their
goodwill by riding you down like wallabies, or rounding you up like
scrub-cattle, and tearing from you the scandalous taxes that go to pay
the expenses of a robber Government that represents only your enemies.'

The spirit of the crowd had undergone a surprising revolution; the gaiety
of a few minutes since had fled from every heart, and Lambert confronted
a great crowd, the faces of which glowed whitely in the moonlight, a
crowd that broke into vehement cheering and a babel of oaths and yells at
every pause.

The quoted words were the opening sentences of a speech that lasted
nearly an hour, and held the diggers by their heart-strings every second
of the time. Done felt himself strongly moved - the vehemence, the lusty
eloquence, and the unquestionable honesty of the speaker possessed him.
He was filled with a longing for strife; the fighting spirit strong
within him was up in arms. Like many another in the crowd, he was ready
to carve out a republic with a pick-handle, even though a score came to
resist him with rifles.

Lambert spoke of the simple rights of manhood, of the demands of the new
democracy in the Old World, and the growing belief in the sacred right of
a people to govern themselves according to their light, and finished with
an impassioned description of a recent digger-hunt on Forest Creek, in
the course of which a man had been killed. The crowd was slow to depart
when the speech was ended, and broke into knots, the men feverishly
discussing the great news of the robbery and the possibility of a riot
extending over the whole of the rushes. Whilst sitting on the log
thinking of what he had heard, Jim saw Aurora approach Lambert. She was
visibly excited, and offered him an eager hand.

'Did I do well?' she asked.

Lambert seized her hand and pressed it warmly. 'Splendidly, my girl,' he
said. 'A man couldn't want a better audience. Like a true Irishwoman,
you're the twin sister of Liberty, Miss Aurora.'

Done drew Aurora to his side a few minutes later. 'So,' he said lightly,
'my Joy is a conspiratress.' 'It's the hard name, me darlin',' she
answered, taking his hand between hers. 'I just promised Lambert to have
the half of Jim Crow here to hear him an' I'm afther keepin' me word.'

XIV

THE rising Lambert had anticipated in August did not come off. For a few
days the country trembled on the verge of civil war, but the blow did not
fall. The trouble was averted; the anger remained in men's hearts. During
the lovely spring weather that followed Done saw much of the Bush. He and
Mike spent weeks prospecting about the Jim Crow district. They loitered
away a few restful days among the ranges, and for the first time Jim saw
a wattle-gully in full blaze, a stream of golden bloom sweeping along the
course of a little mountain creek as far as the eye could see, each tree
a huge bouquet, the whole mass foaming in the gentle breeze, a rich feast
of colour, lit up by a glowing noonday sun, and bordered by the subdued
green of the mountain gums. The delicate perfume stole up to where the
mates lay on the side of the range in peaceful enjoyment of the scene,
and Done, looking with half-closed eyes, day-dreaming, felt the
inspiration that has since driven about twenty-five per cent of the
native-born population of Australia desperately to poesy.

Beyond and below them stretched the Bush, an ocean of tree-tops, as level
as the windless sea, and over this green expanse shadows of fleecy clouds
chased each other. Presently Jim discovered a brown space in the
distance, and detected a thin column of smoke rising on occasions between
the vagrant winds. He called Burton's attention, and Mike turned
experienced eyes in that direction.

'A settler's clearing,' he said. 'No; by Jove, it's Macdougal's
homestead!'

'What!' cried Done, sitting up with a jerk. 'Donald Macdougal's station?'

'Yes, Monkey Mack's.' Burton rose to his feet and looked about him.
'There isn't a doubt,' he continued. 'That's Boobyalla all right. I was
over the country to the west once with cattle.'

'And since we came to Jim Crow I have been so near.'

''Bout twenty mile as the crow flies. Why, old man, you look all caved
in.'

'I'm greatly surprised. I thought Boobyalla was right away in the wilds.'

A pity this isn't wild enough for you.'

'Yes; but cut off completely from the people.'

'The people have been distributin' themselves a good deal o' late.
Boobyalla was far enough out o' the runnin' till the rushes broke out at
Forest Creek an' Jim Crow. As 'tis, I'll bet my boots the Macdougal's as
lonesome down there as a sick sheep.'

'Why do you think that?'

''Cause you can't keep white men on the runs these times; they prefer the
rushes. Squatter, J.P., ain't the little god almighty he used to be when
he held his hands as if they were niggers bought an' paid for.'

Done was silent and thoughtful for a few minutes. The knowledge of his
proximity to Lucy Woodrow awakened mixed feelings, and contrition was
prominent. He had promised to write to her. He remembered how anxious she
seemed to win the promise, and how deep her interest in him had been.
Suffused with a melancholy tenderness, he told himself he had never
forgotten her; her image had lived in his heart as in a shrine, screened
perhaps, but only for sanctity's sake. No thought of Aurora stole in to
disturb his unconscious hypocrisy. He had an unexpected longing to see
Lucy again.

'Fact is, Mike,' he said presently, 'there is a ship mate of mine down
there at Macdougal's I should very much like to meet again. What do you
say?'

'I'm on. This shipmate, is she married or single?' Mike accented the
third person feminine.

'Single. She is teaching Macdougal's youngsters. I had no other friend
aboard.' Aurora obtruded now, and he looked into his mate's face. It was
suspiciously vacant. 'What the devil are you thinking of, Mike?' he said
with warmth.

'A friend o' mine,' answered Mike.

'Oh!'

'Aurora!'

'The devil you are? It's an infernal impertinence, then, let me tell
you.'

'That Irish girl would tear hair like a mountain cat,' continued Mike
serenely.

'You're wrong, Mike, quite wrong,' said Jim impressively. 'This girl
is - well, absolutely different.'

Done found the trip to Boobyalla very much longer than he had expected,
but the mates reached the homestead at about two o'clock. The place was
almost deserted. Two or three wolfish cattle-dogs ran from the huts, and
barked at them in a half hearted kind of way; a black boy shouted from
the shed, and two gins came to the kitchen door, watching them. On the
shady side of the same structure a dilapidated, miserable-looking white
man of about fifty lay in a drunken sleep, buzzed over by a swarm of
flies. The dwelling-house was a wandering weather-board structure with
shingle roofs and iron chimneys; a deep veranda, partly latticed, ran
round three sides, and ebullient creepers of many kinds swarmed over the
house at their own wild will. The homestead faced into a big garden
spreading into an orchard, now green and gay with the verdancy and the
blooms of spring.

'Didn't I tell you? Not a white man round but the motherless drunk
there,' said Mike.

One of the cattle-dogs had returned to the side of the sleeper, and
employed himself snapping at the greedy flies, yapping impatiently to
keep them from the man's face.

'No boss sit down there, Mary?' said Mike, addressing the eider of the
gins.

The aborigine grinned cheerfully. 'Boss him bin gone sit down longa
Porkpine,' she said. 'Missus ride by Longabenna. Bill dam drunk, White
feller all gone make it hole, catch plenty gold. Gib it 'bacca!'

Burton threw his half-plug of tobacco to the gin; she caught it deftly,
the second one snatched, and the two set up a shrill yabbering, like
excited monkeys.

'Miss Woodrow?' said Jim interrogatively.

'Teachy missie longa garden,' answered the gin, with illustrative
pantomime.

'Better go and hunt her out,' Mike said. 'I'll find the black boy, and
work him for drinks if possible.'

Done passed through a side-gate into the garden, found his way to the
main walk, and looked about him.

'Well?' called a voice from the veranda.

He turned quickly. Within a few feet of him, in the space between the
vines where the steps led up to the doorway, a little dark-eyed girl of
about seven, the miniature of Mrs. Macdougal, peeped round her skirts at
the stranger. Lucy did not recognise Jim in a moment.

'Lucy!' he said.

'Jim!' Her face crimsoned; she sprang down the steps, extending two
hands.

He took both in his, and looked at her. She had changed and
strengthened - he could see that. Evidently she had lived much in the sun;
the pallor had gone from her face, and it had warmed to a tender
olive-brown, pure and soft, deepening to a ruddier tint on the cheeks.
She was much stouter, too, and carried herself with more character. There
was a swing in her movements, hinting at hearty exercises in the open.
She was looking at him, and saw a wonderful difference. There was a
short, thick, youthful beard upon his chin, a slight moustache upon his
lip, both heightening the Grecian quality of his face; his tan had taken
a deeper tone; he was the picture of health and strength, she thought.

Done saw that she was greatly disturbed, and regretted having come upon
her so suddenly. There was no questioning her delight; her colour came
and went half a dozen times as they stood thus, hand in hand; her eyes
were misty with tears, but she laughed through all.

'Well?' he queried.

'Oh, I am so glad to see you - so very glad!'

'And is it to be Jim and Lucy still?'

'Yes, to be sure. How changed you are! Come, come, sit down and talk.
Talk till my senses come back to me. I am bushed!' She laughed a little
hysterically.

'I have startled you.'

'No, no, it's pure gladness - it is indeed. It was good of you to come.'

'You are changed, too. Have you stood to your determination to be happy?'

'I am not unhappy.' She had seated herself beside him, and passed an arm
about the shy child, of whom little more than one dark eye was visible,
peeping at Jim from the other side, and yet that one eye recalled
humorous impressions of Mrs. Donald Macdougal of Boobyalla. He expected
to see it start revolving coquettishly.

'You are stronger. You have grown,' he said.

'Yes, I ride a lot with the children. It is good for me. I love it. This
life agrees with me well. But it is not only a change in you, it is a
transformation. Why, you can laugh!'

'Come, come! I could always laugh.'

She shook her head. 'Not convincingly. You love the new land? You have
prospered?'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I have had a wonderful spell of life.'

'And the people - you find you can like them?'

The question gave him rather a shock; he had to think a moment to recall
her optimistic advice and his old frame of mind.

'Like is too feeble a word,' he said presently. 'The thought of them
warms my heart.'

'Ah, that is good!' She clasped his hand impulsively. 'That is best of
all. I was afraid you might cling to your mistrust, and shut the kindly
people out of your life.'

'Before it was the people shut me out.'

'Are you sure?'

He had never doubted, now the question set him wondering for a minute. He
looked at her again. Certainly she had developed observation, acuteness.
Or had he? Once more he wondered. He watched her with new interest. She
was not so pretty as she had seemed on the Francis Cadman; the
ethereality was gone, but Done liked her the better for it. He felt his
whole physical being to be in sympathy with vital things, and, after all,
how often the poets, in their rhapsodies on spirituelle and unearthly
women, were merely rapturously apostrophizing the evidences of
dissolution! He met her now without a doubt in his heart, with a soul
free to respond to his natural emotions, and she filled him with delight.
Unconsciously he was wooing her - not with words, but with accents more
eloquent, and the girl felt it instinctively, with a sense of triumph.

'I can't take my eyes off you,' he said. 'In what are you so different?'

She smiled pleasantly. 'I am dreadfully sunburnt; I am no longer thin; I
do not brood.'

'No, no; it is a difference of spirit. Where is that constraint we felt?'

'The constraint was wholly with you.' She blushed again.

The kissing episode had been recalled to both. He laughed gaily, feeling
very comfortable, quite forgetful of his mate.

'Yes, I was certainly a humourless, gloomy young fool he said.

'Only an unhappy boy,' she murmured, 'and my wonderful hero.' She, too,
spoke as if it were a matter of long years ago, when she was a silly slip
of a girl.

'And is there no hero now?'

'I have found no other.'

'Ah, that is something! Do you still pray for the old one, Lucy?'

'But you have no faith in prayers.'

'I may have in the prayer.'

'Well, then, I do. You see, you can never be wholly undeserving in my
eyes.' With Lucy, as with many girls in whom gratitude is the precursor
of love, most of the sentiments due to the kindling affection were
credited to gratitude.

'You have not blamed me for neglecting to write.'

'No; I have had no anxiety for some time. I knew where you were and how
you were.'

'You knew!'

'I knew that you had made friends, that you were on pay dirt at Diamond
Gully, and that the good Australian sunshine had warmed your heart.' She
smiled mysteriously.

'Ah, I know,' he said after a moment's thought - 'Ryder.'

'Yes, Mr. Walter Ryder. He wrote me that he had come across you at
Diamond Gully. He seemed quite interested in you.'

'And I am interested by him. He is a peculiar personality.'

'Yes, so flippant; and behind it all you seem to feel something
iron-like, strong and impenetrable.'

Flippant! Ryder had appealed to Jim as anything but a flippant character.

'He is a man of good family. He came to Australia seeking change and
adventure. He is rich - very. He did Mr. Macdougal some service, and we
saw a good deal of him in Melbourne. Mrs. Macdougal thinks he is an earl
at least, and has woven quite a romance about him. She will be glad to
see you.'

Done's mind had flown to Burton's estimate of Ryder, and Lucy's evident
admiration of, him gave him a little uneasiness.

'Is Mrs. Macdougal of Boobyalla quite well?' he asked.

'Quite. But you must not laugh at her. One gets to like her.'

'If one is quite determined.'

'Whether or no,' persisted Lucy. 'One would care for nobody if one were
resolved to see only the bad points.'

'That serves me right. The little girl is very like her.'

'Eva is my boon companion, my confidante, my guide, philosopher, and
friend - aren't you, dear?'

'My oath!' said the child in a grave, sweet voice. Jim started at the
incongruous expression, and looked inquiringly at Lucy.

'Your teaching?'

'How dare you? No; that is the teaching of rouseabouts and gins. I am
trying to unteach it. Poor kiddies! I found them queer, wild, little Bush
animals, with no childish companions, so I became a child myself, and we
are the best mates in the world. The other is a boy, a monkey and a rip,
but we are civilizing together. Do you know the funniest things in the
world? Children like these and half-grown dogs. I discovered that at
Boobyalla.'

'The world is a pretty good sort of place, after all eh?'

'Yes.' She did not wonder at its seeming so very delightful to her just
then. 'But you do not tell me. Talk, talk! I want your Australian
history.'

He talked, describing his life, pleased with his own fluency, and not a
little surprised at it. In half an hour she knew his story since the day
he left the Francis Cadman, with certain judicious reservations and
emendations. Aurora's name did not appear once in the narrative. This
suppression was quite instinctive? Lucy told something of her existence
on the station, and they chatted cheerfully of the people on shipboard
and the incidents of the voyage, avoiding only the most sensational
incident of all - the rescue from the sea.

'Dear me I' cried Lucy; 'I am playing the hostess badly. I have offered
you nothing, and you must have had a long tramp.'

'And I've forgotten poor Burton.'

'Go, bring him while I get tea. I must know your mate. Of course you
drink tea? Here everybody drinks tea at all hours.'

Jim found Mike admiring a wonderful big bay horse, the astounding virtues
of which stimulated the black boy to an incoherent flow of yabber.

'Don't mind me,' said Burton. 'I've had a drink an' a sleep, and I've
seen the loveliest animal that was ever lapped in horse-hide. Look at
him!'

'We were chatting away in there, and I forgot you, old man. But come
along; we are to have tea and grub on the veranda.'

'Not me!' Mike looked wildly for a way of escape.

'Here, here! but you must, Mike - I promised.'

'There's a dirty trick to serve 'a man!' Burton was genuinely alarmed.
'Yarding him up with a mob of old women! I'm hanged if I do it!'

'There's no mob. There's only one, and she's young and pleasant. Come
along, I'll stand by you.'

'Gi' me your solemn oath you'll break away as soon as possible.'

'I do, I do.'

Mike was led on to the veranda and introduced to Lucy, who gave him a
pleasant welcome. He placed his hat by his chair, drank his tea quietly,
said very little and ate less, flipped his fingers once or twice at the
little girl in a friendly way, looked quite imperturbable, and all the
time was painfully ill at ease, and raging inwardly at Jim's delay. When
Lucy left them in quest of fruit, he turned furiously on his mate.

'What's that she says about staying?'

'She wants us to take a shakedown in one of the huts for to-night. Mrs.
Macdougal will be home before dark. She wishes to see me.'

'By the big blue Bunyip, if you stay I'll bush you in the next scrubby
gully, an' leave you to do a three days' perish!' Mike's tribulation was
pitiful, but Jim laughed derisively.

Done did not accept Lucy's invitation, however. To tell the truth,
although it would have been a great pleasure to remain near the girl, he
had no desire to meet Mrs. Macdougal. He made suitable excuses. Mike said
it would require smart travelling to bring them to the camp where their
tools and swags were left, and, having shaken hands with Lucy, sauntered
away.

'You will come again?' said the girl to Jim.

'Yes, if I have the chance; but Burton is the Bush man. I could never
find you without his help.'

'In any case you will write?'

'I am bound to.'

They parted with a handshake, but fingers unclasped reluctantly and with
a clinging appeal.

Done and Burton, on returning to Jim Crow, found that Harry Peetree,
quietly prospecting in the vicinity of the rush, had opened up a new
gully. The 'find' was kept dark pending Mike's return, and when the
Peetrees had secured their ground, the mates were given the pick of the
lead. The discovery leaked out as soon as the friends started operations,
and a little rush from the original field followed. Jim was now a mile
and a half from Mrs. Kyley's shanty, and derived some satisfaction from
that fact. His feelings towards Aurora had undergone another change.
Lucy's image loomed to the almost total eclipse of that of her rival, and
yet he could not spend ten minutes in the company of the girl at the
shanty without being won by her buoyant spirits and the kindliness of her
soul. He had some dread of growing to hate Aurora now that Lucy had
reestablished herself - a dread founded more on some familiarity with
popular fiction than on a knowledge of his own heart.

Christmas came, and there was a rough attempt to celebrate it on Jim


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 12 of 21)