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Edward Dyson.

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make explanations. A few thousand ounces in nuggets which might 'by some
unhappy chance be recognised by previous owners we shall batter into
slugs and reserve for sale in other lands.'

And then?'

'Then all that life in London and Paris means to men with great
fortunes.' Ryder was smiling as he spoke. 'Then to seize and enjoy all
that smug respectability is willing to give to the wealthy, and much that
it is unwilling to give, but which it shall be our pleasure to take. Then
to exact our revenge for all we have endured at the hands of society by
making it in some measure the slave to minister to our needs and our
desires. I positively tremble, my brother, when I think of the little
mischief one man can work; but with money and ingenuity, combined with
devotion to purpose, we may succeed in accomplishing quite a decent
vengeance.'

'I have no desire for revenge upon society.'

'To be sure, you have not sat through the long black night in, a cold
cell with the rats, a wet rag thrown over your lacerated back, the chains
eating into your flesh like the nibbling of tiny teeth, thinking of the
good people who rule England, sitting at their blazing fires or smiling
round the laden tables.'

'No, thank God!'

'If you had you might appreciate the subtle delight of sinning against
your enemies. I am going back to England to devote what arts I know, what
cunning I have, and what attractions I can assume, to the gratification
of the only passion left me. When I think of the fair daughters and the
fair sons of the comfortable middle class, Jim, I have exquisite hopes.'
Ryder rolled the cigar between his fingers, and smiled at his brother in
a gentle, kindly way. 'If I can bring an honoured son of reputable
parents to taste the joys of the hulks and feel the caresses of the
leaded cat, I shall, I feel, be almost reconciled to my past. They talk
of stopping transportation and abolishing the system. I never cease to
pray that the system may be spared to us. If it is done away with before
I have gratified the magnificent malice I have stored up in this breast,
morsel by morsel, hoarding it with the greed of a miser, I am afraid I
shall lose my faith in a just Providence.'

'This is simply hideous exclaimed Jim. 'But you are joking. You speak
without bitterness.

'I speak without bitterness because I would not waste any jot of it. When
my moments come (and I have had a few) I desire to experience the perfect
emotion. Revenge is only sweet when it opens the flood-gates of a pent-up
hatred.'

'Richard!' cried the young man, 'for God's sake put this black evil out
of your heart! Here is a clean world - come into it, take part in it with
the good men. Your soul is poisoned - purge it. Open your eyes to the
sun. I'll help you!'

Ryder placed his cigar on the log beside him, and turning back the left
wrist of the silk undershirt he wore, struck a match, and showed Jim a
broad red wheal encircling the arm like the scar of a deep burn.

'Would you like to see my ankle?' he said. 'Or my back? It's a pretty
sight. I am a hunted man. But if I were not, I would not consent to
sacrifice my exquisite desires merely because the sun shines and girls
are merry.'

'But I have been happy. I'll have none of this ugly gospel of hatred and
revenge.'

'Happy! Because you are free for a moment; because you are not treated
quite as a pariah because that black-eyed houri down at the shanty smiles
at you? You'll sicken of this presently. I tell you you must come back to
your healthy hatred. The spirit of revolt is in your blood; the contempt
is with you. I shall win you over.'

Never! Never!'

'Happy! Son of a mother tortured to death by a Christian people; brother
of the girl driven to suicide by hate; brother of the man whom society
set in hell.' Ryder's voice was low and musical, and his words were more
dreadful than curses. 'You have not told me all,' he continued. 'Sit
down, man - tell me of your life at home there.'

Jim demurred, but Ryder led him on to the narrative, and eventually he
described his past, and as he talked of the old troubles and
tribulations, his former prejudices awoke, and something of the early
hatred and disdain. Ryder, quick to detect the effect of the revival of
his boyish grievances, kept the young man's thoughts on the more painful
features of the story, and worked upon his feelings guilefully probing
his soul, finding his weaknesses with an unerring touch, prompted, no
doubt, by his knowledge of Richard Done, the man he had been, whose
youthful character he found faithfully reflected here.

'You'll come with me?' said Ryder.

'No, I couldn't do it,' answered Jim. 'Your idea of vengeance strikes me
only as the dream of a madman.'

'But you'll think it over?'

'You don't suppose a man can get this sort of thing out of his mind in a
day.'

'Remember, I bind you to nothing, and there is a big fortune at stake.'

Got by crime.'

'By open, honest daylight robbery.'

Jim looked at his brother with a feeling of despair; he recognised the
utter hopelessness of argument based on accepted ideas of right and
wrong. In disputing he felt like a child blowing bubbles against a stone
wall. Ryder's attitude implied that he had tested everything in the fire
of a terrible experience.

'Man, man!' cried Done, 'how can you hope to beat the world?'

'For four years I have beaten it. And I am appreciated. The Government of
Victoria has just raised the price of my head to one thousand pounds.'

'Why not leave the country at once?'

'As soon as you are ready.'

'Impossible. I will not go.'

'I remain until you change your mind, unless, in the meantime, some safe
and convenient means of transporting my hard-earned gold presents itself.
I have an alternative scheme, but it means greater risks, and, besides, I
find I am still capable of the preposterous folly of liking. I like you.'

'Then give up this brutal scheme, join with me, make an effort to work
the poison out of your blood, to revive a clean, honest interest in
existence, and I'll stand by you through thick and thin, against the law
and all your enemies, while I've a heart-beat left in me. It's worth the
effort, Dick; the world is fair, men are decent, and women are sweet.'

Ryder sat nursing a foot, smiling a smile of kindly interest. 'My boy,'
he said, 'you have the ardent sentimentality of a good mother's
pink-cheeked cub of nineteen. Has it occurred to you that I have run a
very great risk in being seen for five minutes in your company? Your name
is Done, and you made the name rather familiar along Forest Creek; we are
alike, as you have noted, and although Richard Done, the escaped convict,
is not much thought of at this date, it is certain that hearing your name
awakened recollection amongst the old Vandemonians in the police here,
and they have probably run the rule over you more than once. If I were to
join with you, they'd clap the darbies on me within a week.'

Jim spread his hands in a gesture of despair. 'I have been mistaken for
Solo once; that risk must always follow you,' he said.

'I am prepared; but the Government shall never pay their thousand pounds
for a live man. I appear as little as possible in the diggings in this
guise, however. You did not know me as the chief performer in that little
comedy with Brigalow on Diamond Gully. You did not recognise me in the
dark man who talked with you and Burton while the madcap from Kyley's was
leading the troopers a merry dance along the lead. By the way, I admire
your taste in women, Jim. She's a fine, unshamed barbarian, this Aurora.'

The subject was distasteful to Jim. He put it aside hastily. 'If I worked
with you in this scheme for disposing of the gold you would run the same
risk,' he said.

'No; I need not appear in the matter. The field I speak of, which is
probably very rich in itself, is so situated that we might work it for a
year without being discovered. Meanwhile, by making frequent trips to
Ballarat and Bendigo, you could sell a great deal of my gold along with
such as we may earn. Then I should sail for England, taking with me as
much gold as I could safely handle, leaving you to sell more, and
eventually join me with the remainder. In this way we can, if we choose,
rid ourselves of three hundred thousand pounds' worth without attracting
any particular attention.'

'You reckoned on finding me greedy for gold.'

'I reckoned more on finding you willing to seize an opportunity of
exacting from society some return for death, torture, and infamy!'

'There was a time when you might have prevailed.'

'That time may come again. It needs only a new grievance - the law to
bruise you, the women to betray.'

Jim shook his head. He felt the disc of Lucy's locket pressing against
his breast under his folded arms. 'I cannot believe it,' he said.

The other was silent for some moments, and Jim watched him with troubled
eyes. None of the cruelty and the viciousness to which Ryder had given
utterance found expression in his features, which were marked with
sensitive lines and some refinement. Done thought of Brummy the Nut, and
it seemed to him little short of miraculous that this man had been able
to come through similar experiences and yet show no evidence of it in his
face. Ryder arose and moved away a few paces.

'If you go from here to another field,' he said, 'leave word for me at
one of the stores.'

'Are you going?'

'I may not leave Jim Crow for a few days.'

'You have something in hand?'

'Meaning some robbery? No; it is possible Solo has made a dramatic
disappearance from contemporaneous history.'

You'll drop the game? Good! Good!'

'It all depends. I have the gold I need, but the sporting instinct may be
too strong for me. Just now there is other work in view. Be assured, my
intentions are not honourable, however. We shall meet again. My
proposition may appeal to you later. You will not forget it.'

'Put it out of your head,' said Jim appealingly. 'Leave the country, take
the gold if you must, live luxuriously if you care to, but dig out of
your heart this devilish malice against people who have done you no
conscious wrong. Do this for your own sake; the course you have decided
upon is one of desolation and despair.'

'Least of all did I expect to find my brother a pulpiteer and a moralist
with all the popular faith in the domestic virtues, and the quaint
conviction that misery dogs the sinner,' said Ryder dryly.

'I have used no cant,' answered Jim, 'and I said nothing of sin or
virtue. I don't ask you to trust God, but to trust man. Be at peace with
your kind!'

'And this is the man they called the Hermit on board the Francis Cadman!'

'Yes; and I was wretched aboard simply because I met the free and hearty
men around me in a spirit of sullenness and suspicion. But my sick
misanthropy was not proof against the heart-quickening sunshine and the
grand enthusiasm of those fine sane men.'

'Evidently your philosophy sprang from a disordered liver. The
sea-voyage, in stimulating that, cured you of your cherished beliefs.
Another trip would probably make a devout Wesleyan of you,' said Ryder
banteringly. 'Now, my liver is a perfect instrument, and you couldn't
alter a single opinion of mine with a long course of antibilious
treatment. In defiance of all Sunday-school precedents, I can be cheerful
though wicked, and, having attained the splendid isolation of perfect
selfishness, my happiness is not dependent on the gaiety or gloom of the
crowd, My boy, you might remember that your experience is not so wide as
to justify you in asking mankind at large to accept you as the touchstone
for all human emotions. Good-bye.'

Jim gripped his brother's hand and held it. 'Good bye!' he said. 'I wish
I could do something for you, but you leave me helpless.'

Ryder went off with a laugh, and a moment later his voice came back
through the trees - a light, musical baritone, singing an Irish love-song,
and Jim, listening, troubled in spirit, wondered how much of the true man
he had been permitted to see.

Throughout the quiet months that followed Done lived a sober, methodical
life. He saw no more of his brother while they remained on the Jim Crow
diggings, but thought of him constantly, dreading to hear of some further
daring escapade on the part of Solo, fearing more the possibility of his
capture. Burton was perplexed by the note of gravity that had developed
in his mate, until he made an accidental discovery of Lucy Woodrow's
locket, and then he thought he understood all, especially as Jim's visits
to Kyley's shanty were comparatively rare of late. Meanwhile, Jim had
written once to Lucy, but had received no answer - a fact that did not
disturb him, however, as the postal service on the fields and in the Bush
was extremely erratic. He was quite satisfied now that he had been in
love with his shipmate all the time, but it was not easy to account for
Aurora. Certainly he had been very fond of her: he was fond of her still,
and could not bring himself to regret having known her. He strove
resolutely to refrain from applying conventional standards of judgment,
with which, he assured himself, he had no sympathy, but little
uneasinesses and awkward moments would obtrude. It was difficult to
maintain the fine idea of rationalism. 'I won't have you bind the strange
man you may be to-morrow with oaths,' Aurora had said; yet it was evident
the change in him was a source of great distress to her.

'I haven't seen you for a fortnight, Jim,' she said one evening, with a
tinge of reproach that she was striving to repress.

'No,' he said shortly.

'And absence hasn't made you particularly fond.'

He was leaning on the counter, and took her hand between his own, but was
silent.

'At least, you don't lie to me,' she continued.

Jim did not plume himself on that; he knew in his heart that if he had
not lied it was because a thoroughly satisfactory fiction had not
presented itself. He kissed her knuckles, which, in itself was a lie of
inference. Aurora pulled her hand away, and robbed him of his one
resource. He felt abashed and defenceless without it. He thrust his hands
in his pockets, and turned his shoulders to her, gazing moodily on the
floor, having a dawning sense of the differences that may suddenly
afflict two hearts that have beat as one, realizing that the ardent
affection of yesterday and yesterday's kisses count for nothing in the
present estrangement. He could, not essay the role of friendship: it was
as if they were strangers without a single affinity.

'The fact is, Aurora,' he said desperately, 'I'm a good deal changed.
I've experienced a great shock lately, and it has pulled me up short.'

'And the woman?'

He turned upon her again with genuine surprise. 'The woman! The woman!'
he cried. 'It has nothing to do with a woman. Upon my soul, no! Something
has been revealed to me that has hit me hard. I don't get over it easily;
it clings in my mind. If I could tell you, old girl, you'd sympathize;
but I can't - the secret is not my own.' He spoke with emotion, and
Aurora, watching him sharply, was touched. She put a hand on his arm.

'Not another word, Jimmy,' she said. 'I won't bother you. Sure,' she
continued lightly, we weemin 're niver contint wid the throubles of the
day. We're that curious we must be wonderin' how much more's comin'. We
may boast iv bein' sensible an' sthrong, but we're alwiz pushin' our
tentacles out to feel the sorrow iv to-morrow. I reckoned you'd be hatin'
me in a week, ma bouchal.'

Done felt himself justified in kissing her there and then, but the kiss
partook a good deal of the nature of a benediction.

This explanation did not serve to restore confidence; the constraint
remained, and increased with time. Jim noted its effect on Aurora with
some misgiving. His appearance in the tent was the signal for a display
of boisterous animation on her part. If she had been depressed before,
she suddenly became gay; if she had been animated, she became jubilant.
She sang, and joked, and danced, and played, with an excess of jocosity
that jarred him painfully. He gave her credit for uncommon intelligence,
and undoubtedly she had been educated above the position in life she was
content to occupy. Why should she resort to the shallow and obvious
subterfuges of the most foolish and frivolous of her sex? He had no
perception of the extent of her sufferings, and would not, in any case,
have understood how independent are the workings of the head and the
heart of a loving woman. On such occasions she flirted audaciously with
the miners, and her blood burned in her veins because Done showed no
disposition to be moved by it.

Tim Carrol imagined himself to be the specially favoured man, and was
Aurora's most devoted slave, and the girl played upon his big,
affectionate heart, with no object but to awaken in Done a sparkle of the
recent fire. One night Aurora danced with him through a lively reel, and
at its conclusion, in a spirit of mirthless mischief, put up her red
mouth to be kissed. Not for all the powers of good and evil would Tim
have foregone that delight. He kissed her, but this time Done offered no
objection. Indeed, he gave no indication of having seen what was passing,
although in reality he had been watching Aurora, impressed with the idea
that she was drinking. Never since the first night he met her had she
seemed to him to be under the influence of drink, and he admitted to
himself that he might have been mistaken then, and was probably deceived
now by the fervour of her character.

Done's indifference struck a chill to the girl's heart. She went back to
her place silent, but feeling within her the stirring of a tempest. A
quarter of an hour later she confronted Jim as he stood talking with
Harry Peetree. For a moment she looked into his face, and all eyes were
upon her. Then she struck him in the mouth with her right hand, and her
eyes, cheeks, and whole being seemed to blaze into passion at the same
moment.

'I have something belonging to you. Is it that you are waiting for?' She
threw the small nugget in his face with her other hand.

The gold cut his temple, but he did not flinch; his eyes met hers without
passion; his cultivated power of control helped him now. Taking out a
handkerchief, he wiped the blood from his eye, and then, picking up the
nugget, offered it to her.

'Aurora,' he said, 'you know in your heart that is a lie.'

His quietness made her action ridiculous, whatever his intention may have
been, and the girl felt it with an access of frenzy; but at this point
Tim Carrol felt himself called upon to intervene in his new character as
knight-errant.

'D'ye mean to call the lady a liar?' he cried hotly.

Jim, who had a real liking for the cheerful young Irishman, evaded the
awkward blow aimed at his head, and stood back, and Ben Kyley saved
further trouble by seizing Tim and hustling him into a corner.

'I'm the on'y man what's permitted to punch the customers in this tent,'
said Ben.

At the same time Mrs. Ben descended upon Aurora and bore her off with a
mighty hug, much as if she were a rebellious infant.

XVII

IT was some time before Jim Done visited Mrs. Kyley's tent again. He bore
Aurora no animosity, he had the kindliest feelings for her, but
recognised that in frequenting the shanty he increased the difficulty of
the situation and prolonged the task he had set himself. A letter had
come to him from Lucy Woodrow - a bright, breezy letter, about Bush-life,
about herself and the youngsters, and a good deal about him. Certainly a
pleasant enough letter, but, considered as a literary production merely,
not deserving of Jim's high appreciation of it. Alter receiving it Jim
sat down in a reverent humour and decided, with the formality of a
meeting carrying a resolution, that Lucy was the only woman in the world
for him, the one possible woman. The resolution practically abolished all
other women so far as he was concerned. He could never think of another
with patience, and his longing for her was so great that it left him
little mind for Ryder, and scarcely any for Aurora. He was eager to pay
Boobyalla another visit, but Mike was deaf to all insinuations, and Jim
consoled himself with pretty imaginative pictures in which Lucy was
vividly represented sitting on the shady veranda at Macdougal's home
stead, spotted with flakes of golden sunshine filtered through the tangle
of vine and creeper. How sweet she was, how gentle, how tender, and yet
brave of heart and keen-witted withal. She had understood him better than
he had understood himself. That was very gratifying; it showed her deep
interest in him, but he did not put it to himself in that bald way. Why
hadn't he taken her up in his arms and kissed her when they parted in the
garden? Every drop of his blood prompted him to it, and something told
him she would not have resented it. He had been a fool. He should have
told her then that he loved her. Of course, it had hardly occurred to him
then that he really did love her, but he was a fool in any case for not
seeing it and understanding it.

Burton and the Peetrees had resolved to try a new rush before Done called
at the shanty again.

'I have come to say goodbye, Mrs. Ben,' he said to the big washerwoman,
'and to thank you for a thousand kindnesses.'

'Thank me for nothing!' cried Mrs. Kyley. 'Is it true you are off on the
wallaby again?'

'We shall start for Simpson's Ranges in the morning.'

'It is so long since we've seen you that you won't mind if we don't break
our hearts at parting.' She glanced towards Aurora, who had turned her
back to them.

'That's the least I expect of you, Mrs. Ben.'

'Well, you're not a bad lad, though inconstant. Give me a kiss, and good
luck go with you. Be a man,' she added in a whisper. 'Say a few kind
words to the poor girl.' She nodded towards Aurora.

'I came wishing to.'

'You ruffian!' she said aloud; 'and you pretending you cared a copper
dump about Mother Kyley. She pushed him towards Aurora, and rolled from
the tent with one of her great gusts of laughter.

'I'm off, Joy!' said Done.

She turned and looked at him. She was in one of her quiet humours. If she
had felt much grief, it had left little impression upon her. She was
neatly dressed and looking very fresh and girlish to-day.

'I heard you were going,' she answered.

'Joy!' He put out an open hand. 'Let us part friends; I'm fond of you - I
am, upon my soul!'

She caught his hand in both of hers and pressed it to her breast. 'I was
wondering if you would come to see me before leaving.'

'Ah, that's better,' he said. 'I'd be pretty miserable if I went thinking
I'd left you an enemy, because - because - ' He had a heart full of
gratitude and big, generous emotions towards her, and could not express
himself. 'God bless you, Joy! he murmured, kissing her hair. 'Don't think
me an utterly selfish kind of brute, dear.'

'I haven't one ill thought of you, Jimmy. Didn't I woo you with every
trick I know, but with my whole heart, too, for all that? It's been a
fair deal, old man.'

'I'll never cease to wish you happiness, and I'll always regret any
trouble I may have caused you.'

'Regret nothing - nothing! You've been a big joy to me, and you bore my
tantrums like a brick. I'm sorry I struck you, Jimmy.' She drew his head
down and kissed the scar over his right eye.

'There was another blow here.' He touched his left cheek, and she kissed
that too, but she was showing no sign of sentimentality. Her attitude was
that of a good friend, and in this pose she was delightful, Jim thought.

'We are certain to meet again, Joy,' he said. 'If ever I could do
anything for you, would you ask me?'

She looked into his eyes for a moment. 'Yes,' she answered, 'before
anyone else in the world.'

'That's good. You're one of the best, Joy. We go to Simpson's Ranges, but
may find our way down to Ballarat in the course of a few months if things
don't pan out well.'

'When you hear of anyone coming this way, you'll send a message, Jim?'

They were interrupted by three or four diggers, and in the course of half
an hour the tent filled. Aurora was very charming that night, very
gracious, very like the Aurora who supervised their open-air tea the
night of Lambert's big speech, but less buoyant. Jim felt her soft touch
upon him many times, and watched her with curiosity. She had retained
this peculiar quality of provoking faint wonder. He felt that he had not
known her thoroughly, and drifted into the building of the suitable
future for her with many 'ifs' and 'buts.'


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 14 of 21)