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feeble light of the dawning day. A wounded soldier near the logs writhed
in his agony, with worm-like movements terrible to see. Confusion
remained within the stockade. The killing was ended, but the prisoners
were to be collected and guarded. Many of the insurgents had escaped,
some by hiding in the claims, others by making a run for the surrounding
diggings. A few brave friends who had hidden Peter Lalor under slabs
sloped against a log succeeded in carrying the wounded leader away under
the noses of the soldiers, and he escaped.

The fight had not lasted half an hour, and by the time the people of
Ballarat fully realized what was happening it was too late to give help
to the devoted few within the stockade; and the men gathered as near the
miniature battlefield as they were permitted to go, with white faces,
awed and penitent, many feeling the keenest pangs of remorse, knowing how
bitterly the earnest souls had paid for their neglect.

One woman had made her way into the stockade within a few minutes of the
firing of the last shot. She passed unnoticed in the confusion; her face
was hidden in a shawl, and she went quickly amongst the fallen rebels.
Some of the wounded men lay in puddles - these she helped; but it was
evident that she was seeking someone she knew as she passed from one to
another, peering into their faces, seeking to identify them in the feeble
light.

This was Aurora Griffiths, and she was seeking Jim Done, cherishing an
agonized hope that she might not find him. One wounded man dragged
himself to a puddle to satisfy his craving for drink, and died with his
face in the thick water; another, a mere boy, was sitting with his back
to a log, staring with a puzzled expression at the gory fingers he had
dipped in his wound. Presently, coming to a man lying face downward where
the soldiers had broken through, Aurora uttered a sharp cry. The figure
was familiar. Quickly she turned the face to, the light. It was pale and
bloodless; the only disfigurement was a small purple wound in a slight
depression near the temple, but the man was dead.

'It's Mike!' murmured Aurora. She knelt in the mud; her trembling hand
sought his heart. 'Dead!' she cried. She looked about her in terror,
then, rising to her feet, she ran to others lying near. They were
strangers. 'Thank God!' she cried - ' thank God!' Aurora returned to
Mike's side, and, kneeling there, gazed upon him with streaming eyes.
Burton's face had assumed a Spartan dignity in death. 'Poor, poor boy!'
she said, and with her fingers upon his eyelids she whispered a prayer
for his soul. It was long since she had minded to pray for her own, but
the dead are so helpless. They invite even the intercession of the
faithless.

A soldier touched her on the shoulder.

'You'll have to get out of this, miss,' he said. Glancing at the dead
face, he corrected himself, and called her Mrs.

Aurora went with him. She looked closely at the prisoners as they passed,
but Jim Done was not amongst them. Beyond the cordon of troopers she was
liberated, and returned wearily to Mrs. Kyley's tent, for the Kyleys had
shifted their prosperous business to the vicinity of Bakery Hill a month
before. At the tent-door she was met by Mary.

'He is not amongst the dead, thank God!' said Aurora, 'and he's not with
the prisoners. Jim is safe, but poor Mike Burton - '

'Wounded, is he?'

'Dead. Shot through the head.'

Mrs. Kyley threw up her hands. 'My God!' she said. 'The poor lad! Oh,
Aurora, my dear girl, it's a bad, bad business!' The tears were trickling
down Mrs. Ben's plump cheeks.

'Why, Mary, what else has happened?'

Mrs. Kyley had set her large bulk before the girl, barring the door.

'You'd better not go in yet awhile, Joy darling.'

'What is it - is it Ben?'

'No, no, it's not Ben, but someone is in there who is hurt pretty badly.'

Somebody I know?' Aurora clutched Mary Kyley's arm, and stared into her
face with a sudden new fear.

'Yes, deary, somebody you know.'

It's Jim!'

Mary Kyley nodded her bead, and mopped her tears. 'Yes, it's Jimmy Done.'

Aurora paled to her eyes, her lips tightened to thin purple lines across
her white teeth, and she fought with Mary for a moment, seeking to make
her way into the tent; but Mrs. Kyley was a powerful woman, and in her
grasp, when she was really determined, Aurora was as a mere child.

'For God's sake, let me see him!' said the young woman.

'You mustn't be a fool, Aurora,' the washerwoman said firmly. 'I can't
let you go blundering in on to a sick man - and this one is a very sick
man.'

'He's dying!'

'No, no; he'll not die easily - he's tough stuff; but he's got two ugly
wounds, and we'll have to handle him fine and gently. Pull yourself up,
Aurora dear.' She wound her strong arms fondly about the girl and kissed
her cheek, and, with a restraining arm still about her, led her into the
tent.

Jim Done lay on Mary Kyley's comfortable white bed. His face was ghastly.
Aurora uttered a little cry of pain and terror at the sight of him. There
was blood upon the sheets and the pillows, and Wat Ryder, working in his
shirt-sleeves, was deftly closing a gaping scalp wound with horsehair
stitches.

Ryder had carried Jim straight to Kyley's tent, and Mrs. Ben received the
wounded man with open arms.

'We may be followed,' he said. 'I've brought him out of the thick of it.
Keep watch, please, and give me warning if you see anything of the
troopers. May I use your bed?'

'My bed! Yes, and my blood and bones if they're any good to you.'

'Your eyes can do me better service. I'm a done man if the police lay a
hand on me, and Jim here needs attention.'

'Then, go to work with an easy mind.'

So Mary kept watch while Ryder worked over Jim with the quickness and
decision of a surgeon. It was not the first time by many that he had
dealt with ugly wounds.

'Don't neglect the watch,' he said, a minute after Aurora's entrance.

Mary looked at Aurora. The girl was now apparently quite composed; she
had cast aside the shawl, and was hastily tying on an apron. So Mrs.
Kyley slipped out again, quite reassured.

'It would be better, perhaps, if I held his head,' said Aurora.

'Yes,' answered Ryder shortly.

She seated herself on the bed, and took Done's head between her hands,
raising it, and Ryder continued his work rapidly. No further words were
spoken till the scalp wound was stitched, and Aurora, gazing into the
seemingly lifeless face of the patient, had a strange feeling of
insensibility, as if all her emotions were numbed for the time. There was
not a tremor in her fingers; she felt that under the influence that
possessed her she could have suffered any trial without a cry.

'Now hunt up anything that will do for bandages,' said the man.

She lowered Jim's head gently to the pillow again, and made haste to
obey, while Ryder examined the bullet-wound. He showed her how to tear
the material, and then bandaged the patient's head.

'I was assistant in a hospital for a time,' he said, in explanation of
his masterly work, but he did not say that it was a gaol hospital in
which he had gathered his experience.

Aurora watched the man's hands. They were extraordinary hands, long and
very narrow - wonderfully capable they seemed. They inspired her with
complete faith. He was feeling for the ball in Jim's shoulder. She helped
him to turn the young man upon his face, and the slim, dexterous fingers
probed the flesh above the shoulder-blades.

'Ah!' he said, with a sigh of relief; and taking his knife, he cut
boldly, and, behold - the bullet! It was like a feat of legerdemain. This
cut was washed with fluid from a small bottle on the table, smartly
stitched, and then, after the wound in front had been treated, the
shoulder was firmly bandaged, and Ryder seemed satisfied. He was none too
soon, for at that moment Mary Kyley darted in.

'Half a dozen troopers are coming along the hill,' she said.

'Bluff them!' said Ryder quickly. 'If they insist on searching, swear the
boy was hurt at a blast. Cover his shoulders. Show no surprise in any
alteration in my appearance. I am a customer.' 'He snatched his coat and
revolver, and sprang into the next tent.'

At that moment the sound of horses' hoofs was heard on the gravel, and a
voice cried 'Halt!' Mrs. Kyley's broad figure filled the doorway.

'How many of those blackguard rebels are you hiding in your tent, Mother
Kyley?' said the sergeant.

'Is that you, Sergeant Wallis? Was there ever so attentive an admirer?
You'd follow me to the world's end for the love you have of me. I've a
dozen rebels inside. Come and be introduced.'

A tall bearded digger with a loaf of bread under his arm had slouched
from the business tent, and stood watching the scene with incurious eyes.

'Who the devil are you, and where did you spend last night, my man?' said
the trooper.

'I'm a party by the name of Smith, Ephraim Smith - called Eph. I spent
last night in my bunk, bein' too damn drunk to join the boys down there,
worse luck!'

'Your license, Mr. Ephraim Smith.'

The license was handed up, and found correct. 'You had too much
discretion to burn your license with the rest of the seditious
blackguards, at any rate, Mr. Smith.'

As it happens.'

'And your ruffianly husband, Mrs. Kyley?'

'I haven't such a thing about me; but if you mean Ben Kyley,' said Mary,
'come down in your private capacity, sergeant, and put the question to
him in the same gentlemanly way. I'll hold your coat and see you get fair
play, if I have to referee the argument myself.'

'Where is Kyley, you harridan?'

'He went out an hour ago to watch the murder and manslaughter going on
down at Eureka, Sergeant Wallis, and if you miscall me again, you
Vandemonian pig-stealer, I'll drag you from your horse and drown you in a
tub of suds!'

Wallis struck his horse with his open hand, and rode away, followed by
his men, laughing back at the seemingly furious Mrs. Kyley, whose assumed
anger, however, suddenly gave place to a broad grin as they passed from
sight, and she winked a mischievous aside at the bearded digger.

'My oath, but that's a beautiful beard you have,' she said. 'I've a mind
to see how it would suit me.'

'Get a doctor to Done as quickly as you can. There are several among the
diggers who'll stand by you,' said Ryder, disregarding Mary's levity.
'You'll look after him? You can draw on me for money to any amount.'

'I'll look after the poor boy, and I won't draw on you for a sixpence.'

'He's with good friends, I know.'

'He is. There's a girl in there who would work the fingers off her two
hands to serve him.'

'I will call again when I can, and as often as I can, but I'm in no
little danger myself.

I understand. You were one of Lalor's men.' Ryder nodded. That idea would
suit him very well.

Then, if it wasn't that I love the boy in there, I'd do it for your sake
as a good man and true,' continued Mary.

Ryder gave a few directions as to the treatment of the patient and then
turned and sauntered away, carrying the loaf under his arm. Mary
reentered the tent, and found Aurora, very pale but apparently quite
calm, busying herself about the patient. She had removed all the blood
articles, and they lay in a heap on the floor. These Mrs. Kyley would
have gathered up, but the girl interfered.

'No, no,' she said, 'leave it to me - leave it all to me! I must work - I
must be busy! If I stopped now my heart would break. Look at him!'

'My God! it is very like death,' whispered Mrs. Kyley.

It was not easy to get a doctor in Ballarat that day. Ben was entrusted
with the mission, and warned to proceed cautiously. He found the doctors
in urgent demand. There were wounded men hidden away in many places, and
the authorities had obtained a monopoly of the services of the practising
physicians. At ten o'clock that night Ben led a young Scotchman named
Clusky in triumph to the tent. Clusky had qualified but gold on the
rushes had proved more attractive than the wearisome hunt for fees in a
Scottish villages and on Ballarat Dr. Clusky was a working miner.

'He's the third to-day,' Clusky said to Mary, 'and the worst - by far the
worst. No fool did that, though,' he continued, referring to the
bandaging of the shoulder, as he rapidly removed the linen. 'The damage
is not so very great here, after all,' he said a moment later; 'but
there's no blood to spare left in his veins, poor devil!'

The doctor refused to interfere with Ryder's stitching in the scalp
wound, and gave a long prescription and much advice, and Jim was left to
the tender mercies of Aurora, Mary, and Ben. Ryder called every night for
a week, and then, having received a favourable verdict from the doctor,
disappeared, his disappearance being satisfactorily accounted for by the
earnest inquiries of a police officer who called upon Ben a few days
later. Meantime, Harry Peetree, who had remained in Ballarat to try and
discover the whereabouts of Jim and Mike, hunted the Kyleys out, and
learned the truth. He left a message for Jim, and then followed his
father and brother, who had made for Simpson's Ranges again immediately
after their escape from the stockade. But ere this, and long before Jim
Done was again conscious of the world about him, poor Mike Burton had
been buried with the rest of the slain insurgents in a common grave.

Fever supervened on Jim Done's injuries, and December passed as he lay
helpless in Mary Kyley's tent, babbling of Chisley, of life on the
Francis Cadman, and of Diamond Gully and Boobyalla. The injury to his
head proved the most serious wound, and there were moments when despair
filled the heart of Aurora; but she nursed him with a devotion that
overlooked nothing, and Mrs. Kyley, and Ben, and the business were all
sacrificed to the patient's needs. Mrs. Kyley and Ben made the sacrifice
gladly, the former because of the big soft heart she hid under her
formidable bulk, and Ben because gall and wormwood were sweet compared
with the bitterness he felt in being one of the many whose neglect had
contributed to the sacrifice of the rebels in the stockade. Business was
practically suspended in the shanty while Done lay in the adjoining tent,
only peaceful drinkers being permitted to refresh themselves with Mary's
wonderful rum. Mrs. Ben, too, was indefatigable in her care of the
wounded man; but Aurora was jealous of her labour of love, and Mary was
sometimes compelled to force her to take rest, and to go out in the open
air and make some effort to drive the pallor from her cheeks.

Aurora's beauty was entirely the beauty of perfect health and fine
vitality; under the influence of her long labours and the wearing anxiety
she endured her good looks faded. She was apparently years older than she
had seemed a month before.

'Your prettiness is all dying out of you, dear,' said Mary; 'you must
rest yourself, you must go into the air and let the roses freshen again,
or the boy won't look at you when he wakes.'

''Twill all come back fast enough when he is well,' Aurora would answer;
and it was into her pale face that Jim gazed with a long look of
childlike gravity when he opened his eyes to consciousness. She detected
the light of reason in his gaze, and her fingers clasped his hand. From
her face his eyes went slowly round the apartment, lingering with an
intent look on familiar objects, and then they went to the roof, and for
fully twenty minutes he watched the glowing patch where a sunbeam struck
the canvas cover, and there was in his face something of the wonder of a
creature born into a new world. Aurora was very grave: she did not smile,
her heart felt no elation - it was numb and old. Jim had a perplexing
sensation of feathery lightness; he felt like a frail snowflake in an
unsubstantial world. The bed under him was a bed of gossamer, if not
wholly visionary. He might fall through at any moment, and if he did he
might go on falling endlessly, a pinch of down in a bottomless abyss. He
tried to close his fingers on Aurora's strong hand. He knew she was
there, and she was real, substantial, although something of the wanness
of this mysterious world was about her.

'Joy,' he whispered. She bent her head to him. 'Where - what - ' He
relapsed with a sigh. After all, it did not matter.

'You have been very ill, Jimmy,' she said.

His eyes moved to her face again, and he tried to nod, but found that
that was too much trouble too. It was too much trouble to pretend to
understand even. Aurora would hold him and prevent his floating out into
the fantastical, fairy atmosphere. It seemed right and natural that she
should be there. He had quite expected it. But had he? The train of
thought was too laborious: he abandoned it. Joy gave him something to
drink. She poured it into his mouth, and it ran down his throat. It was
good, wonderfully good - nectar, surely. Had he been told it was water he
would have resented the lie with as much energy as he was capable of
putting into any thought, and that was just the thin, silken line, next
to none at all. As a matter of fact, Joy had given him nothing but water.
It seemed to add to his weight, to give some little quality of substance
to his being. He thought he might thank her with a pressure of his
fingers presently, but the necessary power did not come, and he drifted
into sleep.

XX

THE Christmas of 1854 was the gayest ever known at Boobyalla; never had
Mrs. Donald Macdougal been so prodigal, never had such lavish hospitality
been dispensed under Macdougal's roof-tree, and the squatter wore a dour
and anxious look as he saw the liquor flowing, and heard the music, and
the laughter, and the clatter of dishes, and found himself in collision
with his wife's guests in all the passages and windings of his large,
wandering homestead. Macdougal, who, in addition to his sobriquet of
Monkey Mack, was known as Old Dint-the-Tin by the sundowners, shearers,
and miscellaneous swagmen to whom he sold pints of flour out of a
pannikin dinted in to shorten the measure, was not miserly in his
dealings with his wife and his children. He was reputed to be mean enough
to steal the buttons off a shepherd's shirt for his own use, and yet
permitted his wife to indulge in all the extravagances of purple and fine
linen, and paid, if not cheerfully - for it was not in his nature to be
cheerful over anything - at least without open complaint, for social
indulgences that ate up a large part of the results of his miraculous
economies in station management, and a sedulous penuriousness in
everything beyond his wife, his children, and his few favourite horses.

But on this occasion Mrs. Macdougal had outdone herself, and had exceeded
all her previous efforts to shine as a generous hostess. Her aim had been
to make Boobyalla the centre of attraction for thirty miles round
throughout the merry Yuletide, and for nearly two weeks Donald had gone
about with an air of lively trepidation, due to an idea that he was being
brought precipitately to ruin by all this wasteful and ridiculous excess.
When Mrs. Macdougal's guests came upon her lord and master laboriously
casting up sums with a stab of carpenter's pencil on bits of waste-paper,
or smooth chips, or even on the walls, they understood perfectly that he
was satisfying himself, with accurate calculations, that the shameful
increase in the household expenses their presence entailed had not
dragged him over the jealously guarded margin between income and
expenditure.

Mrs. Macdougal's guests did not mind Macdougal in the least, however; the
eccentricities of Old Dint-the-Tin were well known to the neighbouring
squatters, and from their point of view, as visitors at Boobyalla on
pleasure bent, he did not count. They bumped against him in the dark
passages of his absurdly disjointed house, and found him on occasions in
the drawing-room and the dining-room, but nothing was done or left undone
out of consideration for his feelings. If they were content to talk about
sheep and cattle, he would converse with them, and he was even capable of
enthusiasm on the subject of horses, but evidently had no interests apart
from these matters. Nobody outside the family circle had known him to
address more than half a dozen words to his wife at one time, and his
average remark contained one monosyllable. He behaved a good deal like a
stranger towards his own children. Occasionally he went so far as to
place a hand on a curly head, with an uncouth show of interest, or to say
a few words of kindness; but it was done diffidently, and a close
observer might have detected in the man a sensitive shrinking from the
idea of bringing his misshapen figure and weird ugliness into contrast
with the peculiar beauty of the youngsters. The only human creature about
Boobyalla in whose company he seemed to be quite at home was Yarra, the
half-caste aboriginal boy, scandalously reputed in the neighbourhood - not
without excellent reason, it must be admitted - to be his own son.

We have seen Donald Macdougal, J.P., as he appeared in Melbourne, but
that was on one of the few very special occasions when he condescended to
'dress up.' At home on Boobyalla his usual attire comprised a heavy pair
of water-tights, old trousers, much the worse for wear more senses than
one, hanging in great folds, a dark gray jumper tucked into the trousers,
and a battered felt hat, pulled, after long service, into the shape of a
limp cone. The only concession to 'company manners' Mack would make was
in drawing on a despised black coat over his collarless jumper.

In addition to the peculiarities already mentioned, Donald Macdougal had
an extraordinary trick of chewing his tongue, and a most disconcerting
habit of allowing his trousers to drift down, wrinkle after wrinkle, till
chance strangers fell into an agony of apprehension, and then suddenly
recovering them with a with a convulsion of his body that was entirely
instinctive.

And yet nobody with a pinch of brains ever made the mistake of supposing
Donald Macdougal to be a fool. Old Dint-the-Tin was a wealthy man, and
had made his fortune out of the land by exercising a shrewdness that was
the envy of half the squatters in the colony, and had no apparent desire
in life but to go on increasing that fortune in the same way, although
there were some who credited him with a great if secret satisfaction in
seeing his wife outdo the wives of his neighbours in the social graces, a
satisfaction superior to the gratification he derived from adding to his
great accumulation in the Bank of New South Wales.

Mrs. Macdougal spent a merry Christmas, if not a New Year. She was
extremely fond of company, particularly the company of young people, and
that amiable trait was indulged to the utmost. She had drawn her guests
from far and wide, and the most superior people amongst the 'squatocracy'
had not hesitated to accept her invitations, although there were a few
who in her absence occasionally referred to her as the cow-girl, to show
they had no intention of forgetting the fact that she was once dairymaid
to Mrs. Martin Cargill at Longabeena. But society at this stage could not
very well afford to be punctilious in the matter of parentage and
pedigree, and Mrs. Mack derived no little satisfaction from the mystery
surrounding her birth. Her father had carried her to Longabeena, a child
just able to toddle; he described himself as a widower, and asked for
work, and it was given him, but a week later he disappeared, leaving
little Marcia, and the Cargills never heard of him again.

This Mrs. Macdougal found ever so much nicer than having prosaic parents
who could be produced at any moment; it left a wide field for the
imagination, and Marcia was free to think herself a misplaced princess,
or, at the very least, the daughter of a distressed earl. Naturally,
being a sentimental soul, she provided herself with a sufficiently
romantic history up to the moment of the disappearance of her nondescript
papa; and if she could not substantiate it, there was much satisfaction
in knowing that no body could disprove it. That she had been christened
with an aristocratic and poetical name like Marcia she held to be
convincing testimony of her inherent gentility.

Not a little of the extra merriment of Mrs. Macdougal's Christmas and the
happiness of her New Year was due to the fortunate circumstance that she
had a lion to present to her guests in the person of the Honourable
Walter Ryder. It was Marcia herself who insisted upon giving Mr. Walter
Ryder the title of quality; he merely implied that at the most he was a
man of good family, eccentric enough to prefer the rough-and-ready


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 17 of 21)