Copyright
Edward Dyson.

In the Roaring Fifties online

. (page 19 of 21)
Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 19 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


'They're callin' the new man yonder at the five-mile Brummy the Nut;
maybe ye mind him.'

'I do not. I - '

He was interrupted by the report of a revolver out in the darkness. The
trooper at the French window remained upright for a moment, then fell to
his knees, and then forward upon the carpet. For two or three seconds all
eyes but Lucy's and Ryder's were fixed upon the window, and there was
apprehension in every face. Lucy's eyes were upon Ryder's hands; she saw
the handcuff fall from one, saw him swing with a sudden, swift movement
of the right arm, and the heavy manacle struck the trooper at his side on
the temple, and the man fell without a groan. Then Ryder made a dash for
the French window, and was gone before a hand could be raised to stay
him. Lucy, who had had some understanding of his plan before he acted
upon it, followed him swiftly, closing the windows after him; and she
stood there, confronting the people, pale, but with determination in her
face and the flash of courage in her eyes. The trooper from the other
side dashed across the room, faltered for a moment, perceiving that time
would be lost in a struggle with the girl, and then turned and rushed
back through the door. The suddenness of all this had robbed the majority
of the guests of their wits; they stood as if petrified. The wounded
trooper rose slowly from the floor - it occurred to no one to offer to
help him - staggered a few steps into the room, and fell again, and lay
amongst the guests, his blood dyeing the carpet at their feet. Mean while
Marcia had not moved; but now her white face had the expression of one
listening with the intensity of an unspeakable fear for the message of
death, and the sergeant in command was groping for the door, still dazed
from the blow he had received, and almost blinded by the blood flowing
from his wound.

Outside two troopers had jumped into their saddles, and were off in hot
pursuit of the fugitive, who had galloped out of the thick cover of the
orchard on Galah, Ryder's beautiful gray, and was riding at a breakneck
pace for the heavily-timbered country to the east. It was a stern chase,
and once Trooper Casey came so near to overhauling the gray horse that he
ventured a revolver shot; but after that the hunted man drew away, and
the troopers lost sight of him in the timber. The pursuit was maintained
for about an hour, and then the pursuers came upon Galah trotting quietly
back towards Boobyalla, riderless and without a saddle. Imagining that
Solo had been swept from the horse by the limb of a tree, the troopers
made a long search, and while they sought, Yarra - for it was he who had
led the police away on this wild-goose chase - had doubled on his
pursuers, and was making a bee-line for the station again on foot. He was
found in his bed at home two hours later, cowering under the blankets,
pretending an overpowering fear of the shooting and the blood.

Walter Ryder, when he passed through the window, sprang from the veranda,
and dashed into the garden. A voice called to him to stand in the name of
the law, and a revolver bullet clipped his shoulder, but he ran on until
the thick growth of trees and shrubbery quite covered him, then, turning
sharply to the left, he hid in the hollow of an old gum-tree, the creeper
overgrowing which offered a perfect screen. From here he uttered the
mopoke's call, repeating it twice. He had made himself familiar with all
the advantages the garden and orchard offered a hunted man ere he had
been a week at Boobyalla. Ryder remained in this hiding-place for some
time. He heard the thunder of Galah's hoofs and the cries of the
troopers. Yarra had timed his break from cover to a second. When the
sound of the chase died out in the distance, Solo walked quietly to the
corner of the orchard opposite to that from which the black boy had
started, where a horse was standing. This was Wallaroo. The saddle had
been hastily thrown on to the entire's back, and the bridle was looped
over a post. Ryder fastened the girths, buckled the bridle securely, and,
mounting the horse, walked him to the slip panels, keeping well under
cover of the trees. When about a quarter of a mile off, he stirred
Wallaroo to a canter, but kept to the track thickly seared with new
hoof-prints, so that it should be impossible for any but a clever tracker
to follow him. After riding for about three miles, he bore to the right
along the course of a small creek, and made his way into the ranges up a
deepening gorge, the sides of which were clothed with heath and scrub,
and ribbed thickly with the trunks of tall gums as straight as lances,
shooting high into the air, and spreading their branches in the moonlight
over two hundred feet above him. He turned from this gorge into a
narrower ravine, which widened into a gully. Ryder continued for another
half-mile to where three or four gigantic rocks thrown together formed a
sort of natural stronghold with a rampart of white gums. Here he
dismounted. Having rolled a boulder from a niche in the rocks, he drew
out a rope, and with this tethered Wallaroo. Then, after removing the bit
from his mouth and loosening the girths, he left the horse to graze.

The niche in the rocks was well stocked with food, and contained a rug, a
bottle of brandy, several small parcels of ammunition, two revolvers, a
few other articles, a miner's 'rig-out,' and the false beards Ryder had
been in the habit of using as disguises.

Having removed the suit he was wearing, Ryder bathed and dressed the
wound in his shoulder as best he could. He put on the digger's clothes,
and, wrapping himself in the rug, lay under the sloping rock on a couch
of dry bracken, and slept as if in a comfortable bed and at peace with
the world.

The sun was throwing oblique rays into the heath on the side of the gully
when Ryder awoke. He found his bridle-arm very stiff and painful, and
dressed the wound again. He breakfasted on biscuits and smoked fish, and
drank water flavoured with brandy. The greater part of that day he spent
collecting fodder for Wallaroo, and leading the horse about to those
spots where the grass was most luxuriant. He was waiting with absolute
confidence and the greatest composure. The vicissitudes of his life had
taught him patience.

At about a quarter past ten that night Ryder was sitting on the rug with
his back to the rock, smoking reflectively, when a voice called almost at
his elbow:

'Hist! Yarra bin come, boss!'

'Good boy!' Ryder replaced his revolver on a convenient ledge, and as
Yarra appeared before him, grinning in-the moonlight, he added a few
words of thanks and of praise in the native tongue.

'What happen by Boobyalla?'

'Mine bin chase it that feller all day.' Yarra pointed at Solo, and his
white teeth glittered like tiny mirrors. 'Track him longa trooper plenty
far.' He pointed beyond Boobyalla 'My word, Yarra make it big one damn
fool that trooper.' The thought of the manner in which he had tricked the
police tickled the black boy, and he emitted a yell of laughter that
startled the Bush sleepers for a mile round, and filled the trees with
movements and murmurs of complaint. Ryder, knowing the susceptibilities
of the race, to gratify the boy laughed too.

'Yarra plenty clever,' he said.

'My word! Yarra follow track all away topside Shepherd's Scrub. Go this
way, that way, make much plurry humbug. Say: "This feller gone lame, limp
it bad. Some time he creep by scrub, lie down." Trooper go search it
scrub all day, nex' day, nex' day. They catch it that fellar by'n-by.'
Again he pointed at Ryder, and again his laugh echoed in the gorge. 'Mine
tink it trooper search him scrub plenty long time. Boss tink I go hunt by
scrub to-morrow, mine come sit down longa here.'

All of which meant that Yarra had been employed by the troopers to follow
the track of Ryder, and had led them as far astray as possible, and left
them with the impression that the fugitive was wounded and lying in
hiding in Shepherd's Scrub, a dense ti-tree growth to the north-east of
Boobyalla, extending for two or three miles.

Ryder rewarded his accomplice with a nobbler of brandy and a cigar, and
the black sat smoking with a grand air, while the former explained that
he would remain where he was until his arm was in a more serviceable
state, trusting to Yarra to keep him apprised of what was going forward,
and to warn him instantly danger threatened. During the last few hours
the idea of inducing Lucy Woodrow to visit him there in the Bush had been
stirring in Ryder's mind, and he reckoned upon turning his wound to good
advantage. For the troopers he had the greatest contempt, and his
confidence in Yarra was absolute. The half-caste remained with him for
about an hour, and then returned into the gorge, and keeping to the bed
of the creek picked up his horse, a sober old cattle nag, where he had
left him at the foot of the range.

Yarra returned to Wat Ryder early in the forenoon of the following day.
The trooper the boy shot at the window was being nursed at Boobyalla, the
others were away beating the scrub. The half-caste brought with him a
wild duck he had trapped, and set about cooking this in its feathers. The
two dined together shortly after mid-day, and the sun was streaming into
the gully, the air was heavy with the odour of wild musk, and the Bush
was as silent as if no life remained in the intense heat. Ryder had
risen, and was looking at Wallaroo standing with his nose in the shade of
a gum-butt, fighting the avaricious flies with his tail. At that instant
a loud report rang along the gully, and Ryder staggered a few paces, and
fell with his back to one of the boulders, stunned. A bullet ricocheting
from the rock had struck him in the neck. Yarra threw himself forward,
face downward, at a space between the boulders. He saw a wreath of smoke
in the gully and a slight movement in the thick growth, and fired twice,
but the distance was too great for a revolver. The enemy, whoever he was,
was armed with a gun. The half-caste listened for a moment, and his black
eyes searched the gully. Then he heard the beat of a horse's hoofs. A
look of enlightenment came to his face. There was one horseman only; he
was riding at a pace which, in such country, threatened death at every
stride.

The boy looked at Ryder, pointing back in the direction from which the
shot had come.

'That feller mine boss,' he said, and fear tinged his blackness a slaty
gray.

Ryder had slipped to a sitting position - one hand held a blood-stained
handkerchief to his neck, the other clutched a revolver. He was white to
the lips, but his eyes blazed with life and the passion of a wounded
lion.

XXII

RYDER knew himself to be badly hurt; he realized that he was in a
desperate situation, a situation from which it would require all his
cunning to extricate himself. The plans he had formed were abandoned, and
even while suffering the first shock of the wound his mind was busy. He
had been attacked by one man; his enemy knew he was not alone, and was
not sure of the effect of his shot, otherwise he would not have fled. The
outlaw felt that he might rely upon immunity from further attack for some
time, and meanwhile all the strength and energy remaining to him must be
devoted to the task of reaching another refuge. In Macdougal be had met
an enemy of a kind he had never before been called upon to deal with. The
squatter was indefatigable in pursuit of his vengeance, evidently an
expert Bushman, and bent upon dealing retribution with his own hand. Wat
Ryder wasted no time in fruitless lamentation over his folly in not
having made good his escape while the opportunity offered. Already he had
lost much blood. The muscle on the right side of the neck was badly
lacerated. First of all, the wound must be dressed. For years he had been
prepared for an exigency of this sort, and was never without materials
for the treatment of serious hurts. With Yarra's assistance, the wound
was washed with a lotion, closed as well as possible, and then carefully
bandaged, without the waste of a moment.

Ryder lay with his revolver by his side. He knew perfectly that he might
be engaged in a life or death struggle at any moment, and was prepared to
die by his own hand the instant the fight became hopeless.

'Go, Yarra; pick up his track; find which way he has gone; come back one
minute.'

He knew there was no occasion to warn the half-caste, in whom the
instincts of his mother's people were paramount. Yarra was a child of the
Bush; nothing would escape his eye or his ear, and at the same time he
would be as swift and as secret as a snake.

While the boy was away Ryder wrote a note in pencil addressed to Lucy
Woodrow. Yarra was back within five minutes.

'Him Boss belonga me all right. Him run longa gully, catch up horse by
ole man blackbutt, ride longa gorge same debble chase him,' reported the
half-caste.

'Right, right! Yarra plurry fine feller!' said Ryder. 'Now we go up over
small spur, down by gorge, sit down little stone cave near big splash.
Pretty quick you come back, catch Wallaroo, lead him down to the gorge
along down the creek. Make a track by the bank some time, turn him in
pool where black fish sit down, and ride back up creek again, and tie
horse up by big rock same monkey bear. Then to-night you creep down by
Boobyalla, knock on Miss Lucy's window, gib Miss Lucy this letter. No one
else must see. If Miss Lucy say yes, when sun jumps up to-morrow you take
Wallaroo down by wattle track, gib her horse, come back sit down by me.
Yarra catch hold all that?'

Yarra nodded brightly. 'My word, mine know him all right,' he said.

'Yarra always good friend by me?'

'My word!'

The climb over the spur that divided the outlaw's first retreat from the
gorge proved a terrible task for the wounded man. For some distance the
boy followed him, obliterating his tracks; but before the journey was
half completed Ryder required all the assistance the half-caste could
give him, and he reached the small cave in the side of the gorge, about a
mile and a half from its entrance, in an exhausted and feverish
condition. There Yarra gave him drink, and, having made him a comfortable
bed, left him with a revolver by his side, and returned for Wallaroo and
Ryder's belongings. The boy followed the instructions he had received
faithfully, and was with the outlaw again before sundown, watching over
him with an interest he had never before felt in any human creature.
Ryder knew now that his life depended upon the boy's fidelity, and that
there was only one other person in the world upon whom he could rely in
his extremity - Jim Done.

We left Done in a poor condition to help any man - lying in Kyley's tent,
enfeebled by sickness, clinging to Aurora's fingers as some sort of
anchorage in a fragile world. When he awoke again Aurora was still by his
side. He grew quite accustomed to waking and finding her there, and in
his waking moments for two or three days he clasped her fingers with an
almost infantile helplessness. The first stages of recovery were slow,
and in them his chief delight was to lie watching his nurse, scarcely
conscious of anything beyond. He found her very worn, and she looked old.
Few of the qualities that had impelled him to call her Joy remained in
this anxious face. She attended to him assiduously; but she was only a
nurse, nothing of a lover, and presently he found himself wondering at
her lack of emotion, fretting for the absent caress with an invalid's
petulance. As his strength returned, Aurora permitted Mary Kyley to
assume the larger share of the nursing, and Jim was told what news there
was, excepting the truth about poor Mike. It was Ryder who had informed
Aurora that Done and his friends were in the stockade, where he had seen
them during the Saturday afternoon. Mary read a letter from the Peetrees
inviting Jim to join them at Blanket Flat - where they had taken his and
Mike's belongings - when he was strong enough to get about. According to
Mrs. Ryley's version of this letter, Mike was with the Peetrees.

Eventually Jim was strong enough to sit up for a while, and in the course
of a few days Ben helped him out into the open, and the pure, hot
sunshine seemed to pour new life into his veins. It was after this that
Done missed Aurora. Mrs. Ben said she had gone away for a few days to
recruit; but eventually, when Jim was hobbling about, she admitted that
she did not know where the girl had gone, and believed that she might not
come back.

'But why?' said Jim - ' why go away without a word, without giving me a
chance to thank her for what she has done?'

'Thank her!' said Mary, with some contempt. 'Are you thinking the poor
girl wanted thanks from you?'

'It is strange that she should leave in this way,' answered Done
impatiently.

'There's nothing strange in it, man; it's just natural. You never
understood how much that girl cared for you, Jimmy. If you did, perhaps
you would know what it meant for her to be working herself to a ghost
over your bed there while you babbled of love to another woman.'

'I did?'

'Did you? Night and day. It was Lucy, Lucy, Lucy - always Lucy. Lucy with
the brown hair and the beautiful eyes - Lucy the pure, and sweet, and
good. Never a word of Joy - never the smallest word of the woman who was
beating the devil off you, you blackguard!'

'But I was delirious! Surely - - '

'True, you were wandering; but it's only when a man's mad or drunk that
one gets the truth out of him about women. "There's not a thought of me
left in his heart, Mary!" said the poor girl.'

'She was wrong - wrong!' he protested.

'Not a bit, boy! 'Twas the pure girl had all your soul. Heavens! and how
you rubbed it in about her purity and goodness! Mother of us! let a man
be so infernally bad that the very fiend sniffs at him, but he'll bargain
with the impudence of an archangel for the pure girl.'

'And she went away for this?'

'Sure enough. Aurora's the sort to hide her hurts. When she can't fight
over them, she'll not cry a whimper.'

'That's true; and I've hurt her deepest of all.'

Mary detected the expression of his face with quick alarm. She had said
too much.

'There, there, Jimmy boy,' she said anxiously; 'we mustn't be forgetting
that Joy's the strong sort. She'll come again, fresh and rosy and merry
as ever - bet your life on it.'

Jim went into the tent that had been his sick-room, and sat for over an
hour in deep thought, and his thoughts were all of Aurora. He missed
her - missed her at every turn, and in every hour of his convalescence. As
a reward for her love and tenderness, he had afflicted her with the
greatest bitterness her brave heart could bear. His eyes were fixed upon
the floor, and eventually discovered two oval objects half buried in the
hard earth. He stooped to pick them up, and found them to be the halves
of the locket that contained Lucy Woodrow's miniature. The case had been
stamped into the floor with the heel of a boot, the pieces were torn
apart, and the portrait ground off the ivory on which it was painted.
With the fragments of the locket in his hand, Jim pursued a new train of
thought, but there was no comfort in it. He recalled Joy's words: 'I
won't bind the strange man you may be to-morrow.' Her love had been too
strong for her philosophy. What of his? Had he ever seriously considered
the possibilities of a life wholly apart from her? His mind flew to Lucy,
but by no effort could he devote his thoughts to either of the women who
had so deeply influenced him.

It was no longer possible to keep the truth about Mike Burton from the
invalid, and Mary broke the news to him as gently as she could, The shock
seemed to stun Jim's sensibilities for a time. As the numbness wore off,
a bitter, blind hatred grew in his heart against the men he chose to
regard as Mike's murderers, and he had a ferocious longing for vengeance.
Again law and order, the forces of society, had intervened to embitter
him. His subsequent sorrow over his mate was deep and lasting. He felt
now that although their friendship had been free of demonstrativeness, it
had been warmed with a generous sincerity.

Done awakened one day, with some sense of fear, to the knowledge that he
was drifting back into a morbid condition. He found he had bred a
disposition to brood over his weakness. The loss of Mike and the
disappearance of Aurora were becoming grievances that he cherished with
youthful unreason. He determined to rejoin the Peetrees at once, and,
although far from being his old self physically, began to make
preparations for the return to Jim Crow.

'There's somethin' I'd like you to be doin' fer me afore you go, mate,'
said Ben Kyley to Jim one evening.

'Well, you know I'll do it.

'I reckoned you would. You see, I've been thinkin' of marryin' my wife,
an' I'd like you to be bes' man.'

'You've been thinking!' cried Mary. 'No, Jimmy, I've been doing the
thinking: Kyley merely agrees. One of these days we're going to build a
big hotel in Ballarat, and settle down. It won't be till the rushes peg
out, as they're bound to do in time; but certificates of marriage are
getting quite common amongst married people here, and we thought it would
be as well to be in the fashion.' Mrs. Ben laughed boisterously.

'Well,' said Jim, smiling, 'a couple who disagree as pleasantly as you do
can't go far wrong in marrying.'

'The customers at a decent family hotel would expect it, I think,' Mary
added soberly.

'Jonathan Prator married his wife a week 'r two back, an' he's skitin'
about it,' grumbled Ben.

So Jim remained for the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Kyley, which was
quite a public ceremony. He was Ben's best man, and he gave the rosy
bride the prettiest brooches, rings, and bangles he could buy in
Ballarat, and left, the blushless couple to the enjoyment of their
honeymoon with his warmest blessing. Mary nearly smothered him in a
billowy hug as he was trying to thank them for their goodness.

'Leave a kind word for my poor girl,' she said, 'and the minute she comes
back I'll write you.'

'Tell her I shall be a miserable devil till I hear of her dancing jigs on
Mary Kyley's bar counter again,' said Jim. 'And tell her she wrongs me
when she says there is nothing of her in this heart of mine. She is an
ineradicable part of it.'

Done found the Peetrees working a fairly profitable mine at Blanket Flat,
a sort of tributary field to Jim Crow, and situated about three miles
distant from the original rush. Harry stood in with Done, and the two
pegged out a claim and set to work; but Jim did not derive the
satisfaction he had expected from this return to his friends and his
familiar pursuits. His weakness clung to him, and he was subject to pains
in the head. His missed Mike more than ever now, and permitted the idea
that he had blasted Aurora's happiness to worry him a good deal. He
remembered the blithe heartiness of the girl in the early days of their
acquaintance, and the image of the pale, worn face he had last seen
haunted him with an abiding reproach. He could not enjoy the life, the
scenes, and the companionship that had delighted him, and believed the
capacity would never come back to him.

He had been on Blanket Flat less than a fortnight when one morning Harry
thrust his head into the tent.

'Blowed if there ain't a lady here to see you, Jim!' he said.

'A lady?' Jim's first thought was of Aurora. 'Don't you know her?'

He stepped from the tent as he spoke, and was astonished to find that his
visitor was Lucy Woodrow. She was riding a splendid bay horse, and
leading a small, sturdy-looking chestnut, and was dust-stained and tired.
Her face was gray with anxiety. She did not smile as he approached her,
but held a letter towards him.

'Read,' she said. 'He says you will understand.'

'But, Lucy, won't you dismount? You are tired.'

'For pity's sake, waste no time! Read!'

He unfolded the note, and read:

'DEAR MISS WOODROW,

'I am seriously wounded, and lying helpless. My life is in danger. There
is one man who will save me; there is one woman whom I can trust to go to
him. You are that woman. I appeal to all that is good, kind, and merciful
in you to help me. Believe nothing you have heard. I am the victim of
circumstances - circumstances of the most terrible kind. Only be the
sweet, tender woman you have always seemed to me. Ride to Jim Done at
Blanket Flat as soon as possible in the morning; bring him to me. I know
he will not hesitate when he knows that I am crippled in the Bush, and at
the mercy of my enemies. The boy will explain the rest.



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21

Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 19 of 21)