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Edward Dyson.

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Crow, an attempt by which Mrs. Ben Kyley profited largely, as she and
Aurora were kept working at high pressure for two days, making Christmas
puddings, for which the diggers cheerfully paid half a guinea apiece.
Rich plum-pudding, hearty eating, and heavy drinking, the proper
concomitants to an English Christmas as the miners understood it, were
not compatible with merriment during an Australian Christmas-tune, with
the glass at one hundred degrees in the shade; but trifling
considerations of that kind were not allowed to interfere with the
uproarious festivities at Jim Crow. January passed quietly. The dirt at
One Tree Gully proved highly remunerative, and the mates worked hard.
Done had discovered an object beyond the rapturous enjoyment of the
moment, and showed himself more anxious to win gold. He was living a
comparatively quiet life, and the locket containing Lucy Woodrow's
picture was restored to its rightful place next his heart. There was a
time when the thought of such an act of flagrant and foolish
sentimentality would have made him groan aloud.

One night in the following March, returning to their tent from the
shanty, where he had left Burton deep in a game of euchre, Jim was
startled to see a stream of light flash momentarily across the canvas
wall. His first thought was of thieves, and, drawing his revolver, he
stole noiselessly to the entrance and peeped in. He saw the figure of a
man seated at the head of Mike's bed. On the small table between the two
bunks at the end of the tent was a lighted candle, which the man was
screening with his hat. Before the intruder the small tin-box in which
Done's few heirlooms and papers were stored lay open, and the man was
absorbed in its contents.

'If you stir a hand I'll fire!' said Jim, presenting his revolver.

Instinctively the other smothered the light, but after that he sat quite
still.

'I can see you distinctly,' said Jim, 'and I'm a fair shot!'

There was silence for a moment, the thief making no attempt to escape.

'I am going to light the candle,' said a voice.

'Light it, then; but no tricks! I'll shoot to kill!'

XV

A MATCH was struck, and in its glow Done recognised his visitor. It was
Ryder. The latter lit the candle, and then turned towards Jim. He was
quite composed, apparently. Not so Done; the revelation amazed him. The
hand containing the revolver sank to his side. He stood for some moments
awaiting an explanation. None was offered.

'Is Mr. Walter Ryder a tent thief?' he asked bitterly.

Ryder shook his head. 'No,' he said.

'It looks strangely like it.'

'It does.'

'And I purpose raising the camp, and submitting the matter to the men.'

'You won't do that.'

'Why not?'

'Because I can satisfy you that I have a very excellent excuse for being
here and for prying into your affairs.'

'I'll wait two minutes for that.'

'It won't take one, Jim. I am your brother, Richard Done!'

The revolver dropped from Jim's hand. He did not speak; every particle of
him thrilled with intense emotion. For half a minute he stood rooted,
speechless, and then he strode forward and seated himself on the bunk,
staring closely into Ryder's face by the dim light of the candle.

'You will want proof?' said Ryder.

Jim shook his head. Ryder's declaration, abrupt and dramatic as it was,
had struck him with absolute conviction. He was amazed, but he did not
doubt. He understood now the origin of the deep impression this man had
made upon him.

'That is proof enough,' he said, laying a trembling hand upon the
miniature of his mother upon the table.

'Almost,' answered Ryder, 'but not enough. We are both very like poor
mother.'

'We are very like each other.' Jim's faculties were stunned for the time;
there was a dreamlike unreality in their positions.

Ryder nodded. 'We are.'

'It must have been that and your resemblance to my mother impressed me. I
was impressed without consciousness of the reason.'

'Miss Woodrow noticed the resemblance, and when I heard your name and
your age I thought it very likely that you were my brother. When I saw
you that night in the shanty I was almost convinced. These satisfied me.'
He indicated the scattered articles upon the table.

Jim made no demonstration; he sat with his eyes fixed upon the miniature,
still dazed by the blow. There was something in his had - something he
wished to know, but his ideas were all out of control. The thought
centred with a shock.

'Good God, no!' he cried, clutching Ryder with a nerveless hand. 'They
hanged my brother!'

Ryder's face was perfectly bloodless; it looked cold. He shook his head
slowly.

'I was condemned to be hanged. They altered it to transportation for
life.'

'But they all believed - '

'Mother must have known. It would have made little difference. The horror
of it was a little greater than the horror of hanging. It probably gave
her no comfort.'

'She died of it all.' Jim spoke without volition. 'Yes,' responded Ryder
dully. 'She was the kind of woman who would. I was transported, and for
all those years I lived in hell.'

'For murder!' said Jim sharply.

Ryder shook his head again. His voice was quite even. 'I did no murder.
There was no murder done.'

'The body - what of the body?'

'There was none. The man for whose murder I was condemned still lives.
Stony is the man!'

'Stony!' Jim peered into the other's face again. 'Stony!' he cried. 'It's
not possible. You are lying. It's utterly incredible. Stony! Then this
explains?' He did not doubt even while the words of unbelief were on his
lips.

'This explains. My coming upon you that night in the Black Forest was not
so extraordinary as it seemed. I was following you both. I had been to
Melbourne on Stony's track, having caught a glimpse of him one night at
Ballarat. I ascertained that he had started for Forest Creek. Meanwhile
Mrs. Macdougal and Miss Woodrow had told me of you. It was reasonable to
assume that you also had started for the field everybody was talking of.
At our first meeting I did not see you: I was too deeply interested in
Mr. Stony.'

'Stony was not the name.'

'Stony is an assumed name. Cannon is his real name - Peter Cannon.'

'That is the name. But I cannot understand. My head fails me. I am
utterly bewildered!'

'You'll hear Stony's story? He is in his tent.'

'Not now. You have overwhelmed: me. For God's sake, give me time to
straighten things out!'

Jim sat in silence for some minutes, but the excitement lingered. He
drifted into questions, and plied the other like a cross-examining lawyer
eager to trap a witness; but Ryder knew every detail of the family
history. He told Jim of a birthmark on his own body. He described the
furnishing of the home in Chisley much as it remained within Jim's
memory.

'You have not mentioned our sister,' he said.

'She killed herself.' Jim spoke with blunt brutality. He had no energy
for equivocation.

Ryder accepted this piece of news in the spirit of a man steeled to the
keenest strokes of Fate.

'She was a beautiful girl,' he said. 'I remember I loved her dearly.'

'You speak as if it were fifty years ago.'

'I have been in hell since, I tell you.'

Jim looked closely into his brother's face again, but it baffled him; it
betrayed no more feeling than a stone.

'Why have you divulged this now?' he asked.

'You forced it from me. I did not expect you to return. I saw you playing
cards at the shanty. But it is as well. I should have told you later.'

'There is something behind?'

'Much; but till you have heard Stony tell his part I shall say no more.
And for the present let this be our secret.'

'Burton may come in at any moment.'

'Good-night, then.'

'No; I'll go with you. I cannot face Mike in this condition. He would
think me mad.'

'To Stony's tent?'

'If you like. In Heaven's name, man, why are you so cold? Why am I like a
stunned brute? We are brothers. We may shake hands.'

Ryder made no advance. 'Better hear the story out,' he said.

It was a two-mile walk from where Jim and Mike were now camped to Stony's
tent, and the hour was midnight. The two men walked in silence, Jim with
his head bowed, racked with nervous excitement, his mind running from
point to point, grasping nothing wholly, seeing nothing clearly, the
other erect and calm. When the tent was reached Ryder entered
unceremoniously, and, striking a match, looked about him for a candle.
There was a slush-lamp on a box by the bunk, and this he lit. Jim saw
Stony start up in bed, and stare at the intruder with a look of mortal
terror.

'I have brought you a visitor,' said Ryder.

The apprehension faded from the hatter's face when he Jim.

'A nice hour!' he grumbled.

'I have not studied your convenience,' answered Ryder. 'Here is the man
to whom you are to tell the story of Richard Done and Peter Cannon. Tell
it briefly, as you told it to me.'

Ryder seated himself on a block near the tent entrance, his back half
turned to the others, and neither spoke nor moved throughout the
narration. Stony looked from one to the other, and then commenced his
story. He told it in a monotonous voice, with a dull face and eyes heavy
with drink.

'We were always enemies, Dick Done and I - enemies as boys at school at
Chisley, fighting over everything, picking at each other from morn till
night. As young chaps we remained enemies. It seemed as if God or the
devil had sent us to plague each other. Our enmity grew with us. In
manhood we were as bitter as death. Then the woman came. We both wanted
her. It was just natural of us to get set on the same girl. She liked
him - she didn't care a snap of her fingers for me; but I didn't give up.
I followed her, plagued her, persecuted her, and hated Done worse than
poison. With all my soul I hated him! Of course, we quarrelled over her,
and Done went so far as to talk of killing. He didn't mean it, perhaps,
but it told against him later. One bright night I came on him and her
sitting on Harry's Crag. 'Twasn't an accident. I'd been told they'd gone
down to the sea, and I followed. I interfered, furious at heart, but
making a show of civility, knowing that would madden him. He was soon up
in arms. He tried to drive me off, struck me. I used my stick, and we
fought there and then - fought like madmen on the cliff edge, two hundred
feet above the sea. The girl, frightened almost to death, ran away. Done
got my stick from me, and we fought with our hands. He could beat me at
that game, and at length struck me a blow that stunned me; then he left
me lying there, and went after the girl.'

Stony paused for a moment, and, drawing a bottle from the back of his
bunk, took a long drink. Then his eyes wandered to Ryder again, and he
went on:

'When I came to I was alone. I crept a little further from the edge of
the cliff, and lay down again. I was pretty badly knocked about; my nose
was bleeding freely. Presently, moving my hand, I struck a knife - his
knife! It was closed. I opened it, looking at the long blade. The idea
had already formed in my mind. I smeared the blade with blood, and
dropped the knife, open as it was, over the cliff, being careful that it
should fall on the ledge about twenty feet below. Then I smeared blood
upon the brink, tore a scrap from my coat, and left it there, throwing
the coat with the hat into the sea. I was never seen in Chisley again. I
walked all that night. In London I read of the arrest of Done on a charge
of murder. They had found my hat and my coat and the knife. The girl had
told her story. Done was condemned to death; and then I stowed away in an
Australian boat, and was allowed to work my passage out I thought Richard
Done had been hanged till I saw him that night at the camp in the Bush.
The man sitting there is Richard Done.'

Stony fell back upon his grimy pillow again, and was silent; his eyes
were fixed upon Ryder, but at that moment he had more to fear from Jim,
who looked down upon him, fierce with disgust, his fingers itching to be
at the thin neck of the brute.

'Let us get out of this!' he gasped.

'Have you no questions to ask?' said Ryder quietly.

'None, none! And when I think of what this dog has brought upon me and
mine I feel murderous.'

Ryder left the tent without another word, and Jim followed him. As they
walked away, Done was stirred with deep sympathy for his companion.
Ryder's reiteration of the words, 'I have been in hell!' recurred to him.
He felt that there were years of suffering and a fathomless hatred behind
the phrase, and his blood ran hotly.

'I wonder you have not killed that man!' he blurted after a few minutes'
silence. 'I regret ever having raised a hand to prevent it.'

'I needed him,' answered Ryder.

'You intend to establish your innocence?'

For the first time that night a smile moved Ryder's stark lips - a hard,
mirthless smile.

'No,' he said; 'where's the use?'

'How is it you are free?' asked Jim with surprise. This view had not
occurred to him before.

They were standing between the stunted and twisted gums. The Bush here
was spare and dwarfed, and the moonlight shone clearly upon Ryder's face.

'I am an escaped convict!' he replied

A bitter curse leapt from Done's tongue. He felt himself bound to this
man by a common wrong, a wrong that had clouded with misery the greater
part of their two lives.

'You may be retaken,' he said.

'I may, but I do not think it likely.'

At that moment recollection flashed upon Jim. He recalled the adventure
with Long Aleck in the Bourke Street bar, and the robbery of Brigalow,
the gold-buyer, at Diamond Gully. His hand was upon Ryder again: he gazed
at him with a new apprehension.

'Sit,' he said. Ryder seated himself on a stump by the side of the young
man, and Jim continued:

'You say Miss Woodrow noticed a strong resemblance between us. Others
have remarked it.'

'I am not surprised. There is no difference in our faces but that which
years have made.'

'It was in Melbourne on the night of my arrival. I was attacked in a bar
by a man who mistook me for Solo.'

The brothers looked into each other's eyes for some little time, Jim
anxiously, Ryder with no appearance of concern in his strong, handsome
face.

'I am the man they call Solo.'

'Solo the robber!' Instinctively Jim had moved back from the other, but
Ryder took no notice of the action.

'My boy,' he said, 'there are two kinds of men - the active criminal and
the passive. I am fairly active.'

'But the blind folly of it - here, where fortunes are made so easily!'

'Are they? You have had a bit of luck. There are thousands on the rushes
who do not make tucker. In any case I could not afford to place myself
directly under the supervision of the troopers. Not that I had any weak
desire to earn an honest living, by the way.'

'What are you hoping for? Where is it all leading?' Jim felt an emotion
of despair.

'Perhaps you would rather hear no more to-night.'

'I must hear all. For God's sake, speak!'

'I have been in hell. For fifteen years I remained in the convict
prisons. It might have been fifteen centuries, an eternity. Everything
beyond is so distant that my youth seems a mere dot in the perspective.'

Ryder was talking in a clear, even, unemotional voice.

'I cannot hope to give you anything approaching a true idea of the horror
of that life. I know I can only faintly comprehend it myself now. Taken
from happiness, a comparative boy, I was plunged into a state of absolute
torment, an existence of brutalizing labour, ceaseless cruelty, and
blackest infamy. I herded with men who had degenerated from criminals
into brutes under the influence of the infamous system. Those fifteen
years served to burn out of me most of the fine emotions and sentiments
on which civilized men pride themselves, and then, during the blackest
year of all, a wild craving to preserve something of humanity arose
within me. That was my salvation. I had always before me the hope of
escape. I fought now cease to retain some qualities of clean manhood,
that I might appear amongst fellow as a man, and not like one of the
lowering monsters by whom I was surrounded - men upon whose every feature
and limb were stamped the repulsive brands of the lag. During that first
period I maintained an attitude of fierce revolt, then, recognising my
helplessness, I brought cunning into play, and practised dissimulation
night and day. This saved me in some measure, but the ghastly life
continued year after year, and I was thirty-eight before a reasonable
chance of escape presented itself. My plans had been perfected, and when
the opportunity came I seized it, with the resolution of a man for whom
there was only one alternative to liberty - death.'

Jim never took his eyes from Ryder's; he sat as if fascinated by the
ivory-pale face of his companion.

'I had one friend in Hobart Town, a freed convict named Wainewright. He
provided me with the clothes of a gentleman. The beard I wore, and which
has since served me as a disguise in my many enterprises, was given to me
in the first place by Wainewright. To perfect that beard and destroy
every semblance of artificiality, I had worked at it for three years in
the cunning, patient way old prisoners toil at such a task. Wainewright
helped me to get to the mainland, and I was safe, with a forged
ticket-of-leave in my pocket in case the marks of the chains should be
discovered by prying official eyes.'

'Did you make any effort to live honestly?' asked Jim.

'Almost my first action on reaching the neighbour hood of Melbourne was
to bail-up a prominent resident, whom I robbed. That act afforded me
absolute joy. He was a decent, orderly citizen, a pillar of the State, a
powerful upholder of the law. No robbery I have since committed has given
me quite the same delight. I stole then because I needed money. I rob now
because I am a keen sportsman, and that is the particular sport I affect.
Possibly you would not appreciate the pleasure of the game; you have not
had the humbug of the world eaten out of your heart with live flame.
Having wilfully exposed itself to me, and translated my respect for it
into a magnificent hatred, society cannot reasonably expect to find me
docile. I prey upon society.'

'It will avenge itself.'

'True, it may. Robbery under arms is a hanging matter, but I have
graduated in a marvellous school for cunning, and have perfect
confidence.'

'Yet you place yourself in my hands. What can the ties of blood count for
between us two? For as long as I can remember I've thought of you only as
something evil hovering over the door, silencing the home, darkening
life.'

'I counted on finding in you a mind not wholly at variance with my own.
What those two women told me gave me some insight into your character. I
perceived that at least the flame had scorched the bloom from your soul.'

'Here I am a new man. I have known happiness, I have tasted love, and
made friends with good men. Here I can live!'

Ryder looked at him closely. 'You must tell me of your life,' he said - '
the life in Chisley after my supposed hanging. No, no; not now. Go to
your tent and sleep.'

'Sleep! I shall not sleep.'

'Think over what I have told you.'

'There is more behind?' 'There may be.'

'You think I will join you?'

'In my present career? No. For the time being, let us say no more. I need
not ask you to be silent. Meet me here to-morrow night at nine. While you
are thinking, bear always in mind the fact that Peter Cannon is there
' - he pointed in the direction of Stony's tent - ' a living man.
Good-night.'

The reminder was well timed; pity stirred warmly in Jim's heart again,
and he offered his hand.

'So long,' he said, dropping into the vernacular of mateship.

Ryder took his hand with no demonstration of emotion. 'So long,' he
replied.

XVI

BURTON found his mate gloomy and taciturn all next day, a condition so
remarkable in Done that it gave Mike some little concern, but he made no
comment; and Jim was too absorbed in the strange, new development in his
life to discover his friend's uneasiness. Ryder's story brought Jim's
youthful sufferings back to him with painful vividness; it awakened some
animosities he had thought dead, and he recognised, though shrinking from
the idea with actual terror, in Ryder's attitude towards his kind the
frame of mind into which he was drifting when he broke away from Chisley
and its associations. Remembering well his own heart up to the time when
human interests and sympathies began to awaken kindred emotions within
him, he understood that the resemblance between himself and his brother
was as close on the moral side as it was on the physical, but with Ryder
the demoralizing influences had worked their utmost. How like their
sufferings had been! differing only in degree; but his own sufferings
looked pale and fanciful now beside those of his brother. His afflictions
were of the spirit only. He and Ryder were of a supersensitive race and
every soul-pang he endured had been augmented a thousand times in his
brother's case, and driven in by the prison cell, the leg-irons, the
loathsome associations, the animalizing toil in the quarries - the lash!
Jim had heard enough of the infamy of the system to understand, if not
the worst, sufficient to make his skin creep at the thought of it. He
realized to what state of heart and mind Ryder had been driven, knowing
how he himself had developed under the stress of comparatively trivial
wrongs, and the whole man ached with sympathy. It required a strong
effort to restrain his inclination to tears, a weakness of the flesh he
had surprised in himself before now.

And Ryder had suffered all this, knowing himself to be guiltless of the
crime of which he was convicted. Stony was there in his tent. If Jim had
known where to find his brother he would have gone to him in the morning,
prompted by the generous affection that had sprung in his heart, feeling
that Ryder might be won over by new friendships and new interests. It
seemed to him that the wholesome effects worked in his case might be
repeated in that of his brother, forgetting their disparity in years. The
change had come to him while he was yet little more than a boy; Ryder was
a man in middle life, and no longer capable of youth's saving
enthusiasms.

Jim was early for the appointment, but Ryder was already at the
rendezvous, seated on the log, smoking, and apparently deriving placid
enjoyment from his cigar. The young man's greeting was warm, but the
elder showed no emotion. If any liking for Jim existed in him it was
carefully hidden away. Throughout their previous meeting he had borne
himself with seriousness, as if something of importance to him were at
stake; to-night he was in a wholly different humour, more like the man
who had encountered Jim in Mary Kyley's bar.

'Are we to consider the relationship established?' he said.

'I am quite convinced,' answered Jim. 'I have not doubted it from the
moment you declared yourself.'

'You are much too confiding, my boy. As an impostor I might have gathered
all these details from the real Richard Done.'

'With what object?'

'Well, I have an object, an ulterior motive. I want you to share a large
fortune with me.'

Jim laughed. 'You may pick up a large family of brothers on those terms,'
he said.

'You will do. Is it a bargain?'

'What is this fortune? Where is it? How was it come by?'

'The fortune is mainly in virgin gold; it is in an untried alluvial
field.'

'If the field is untried, how do you know the gold is in it?'

'I put it there.'

Jim looked at Ryder sharply. 'You have not answered one of my questions,'
he said. 'How was the gold come by?'

'There's no objection on that score,' Ryder answered lightly. 'It was
come by dishonestly, every grain of it.'

'To me that is a serious objection. I am an honest man, my instincts are
all for fair dealing, and I believe, as a simple everyday working
principle, honesty is the best policy.'

'Honesty is not a policy, my boy: it is a misfortune.'

'Why do you wish to share your loot with me?'

'Seventy or eighty thousand ounces of gold is not easily accounted for
nor easily disposed of by a guest of the Queen who is on leave without a
ticket that will bear the closest investigation. You could dispose of it
safely enough.'

'And if I were asked to account for it?'

'That is provided for. I have discovered a field within a day's journey
that nobody else knows of - that nobody else is likely to know of. You and
I go there, we work it for a few months, and the gold I have mentioned is
to be represented as the result of our labours if it becomes necessary to


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 13 of 21)