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Edward Dyson.

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'Your unfortunate friend,

'WALTER RYDER.'

'The half-caste boy at the station, who knows where Mr. Ryder is hidden,
brought that to me,' Lucy said. 'He met me at a gorge leading into the
range this morning with this horse. The boy is to meet us at the mouth of
the gorge and take us to him. He escaped from Boobyalla when the troopers
came, and hid in the Bush. He was seen and shot in the neck, but found
another hiding-place, and is waiting for you. You will come?'

She had spoken in a hard, unimpassioned voice, as if repeating a lesson;
only her eyes betrayed the intense feeling that possessed her.

'I will go,' he answered. 'Hadn't you better have some tea and something
to eat? It is a long ride.'

'No, no,' she said; 'we cannot spare a moment.'

'I insist.' He put up his hands to help her. His words were quiet, but
his tone was masterful. She looked into his face, and obeyed him. 'Better
rest a while now than break down later - and I do not know the way.
Harry,' he called, turning to his mate, 'will you give the horses a
drink? You have not pressed them?' he said to Lucy.

'No; I was afraid, knowing they would have to carry us back.'

'My mate will change the saddles. I must ride the stronger horse.
Meanwhile, get something to eat. We have just breakfasted; there is tea
in the billy.'

He showed neither hurry nor agitation, he displayed no feeling, but,
watching him narrowly, Lucy was convinced of his great earnestness, and
the strain of anxiety that had gripped her heart like a band of steel
relaxed. She breathed freely. Part of the burden had gone to him, and he
would bear it.

Jim felt himself strong again in the face of this great need. Apart from
the tie of blood, he owed Ryder the best service of which he was
capable - his very life, if need be - but he did not question the matter,
even in his own heart, and it was not till Blanket Flat lay four or five
miles behind them that he sought further information from his companion.
They had ridden in silence, Lucy overwrought, thinking only of the
wounded man hunted like a beast, perhaps dying in the Bush, Jim
endeavouring to decide upon a plan of action. The news had not greatly
surprised him; ever since Ryder's declaration of his identity Done had
foreseen some such possibility.

'Do you know the reason of the attempt to arrest Ryder?' said Jim,
breaking the long silence.

'The troopers called him Solo. I have heard of a notorious gold robber of
that name. Mrs. Macdougal says a new shepherd called Brummy recognised
him.' She gave Done a concise account of the arrest and Ryder's escape.
'That is Wallaroo you are riding,' she said in conclusion, 'and Mr.
Macdougal is furious over his loss. I believe it was he who shot Mr.
Ryder.'

'If Ryder dies, I'll kill Macdougal!'

Lucy turned sharply, and looked at Jim. He had spoken the words in a tone
sounding almost casual, curiously incongruous with their grim
significance. She knew that he meant what he had said, and her heart
sank.

'You would not be so mad,' she said.

'Let us push on,' he replied, disregarding her comment.

Lucy had experienced no difficulty in finding Jim. Since his visit to
Boobyalla she had been three times to Jim Crow with parties on horseback,
and knew the country well.

They reached the mouth of the gorge at about eleven o'clock, and had
ridden only about two hundred yards along the bed of the creek, when
Yarra arose from a clump of scrub-ferns at Lucy's side.

'Come longa me,' he said. 'Boss Ryder plenty sick.'

Yarra had left the outlaw two hours earlier. Ryder was then tossing
feverishly on his rough couch. The small cave in which he lay was
situated some thirty yards up the side of the gorge, and the hot morning
sun reached it early, converting it into an oven of stone. The wounded
man was suffering acutely; his wound had become a burning agony that had
no longer a limit: the pain of it penetrated his whole being. Soon after
the black boy's departure Ryder ceased to toss and turn, movement only
increasing his torment. He now lay very still on the floor of the cave;
his eyes had a feline lustre in the dim light, his face was as white and
hollow as that of a corpse, saving for the fever spot that burned in
either cheek. Gradually his mind was drifting from his danger and his
sufferings - it was fashioning strange images, mere dreams, but
startlingly realistic. From the first one or two he reverted to sanity
and to a fleeting sense of his position, and then the images trooped in
again, the visions reappeared - beautiful visions of coolness, and
sweetness, and shade that, it seemed later, only came to tantalize him.
He was now a soul in hell, tortured with the sight of clustering green
trees and flowing streams. Through all these dreams one sweet sound
prevailed. He recognised it at length: it was the music of falling
water - beautiful, cold, clear water, falling in thin sheets from the high
rock and breaking into snow on the edge of the deep stone basin. He
lifted himself upon his hands and listened. Yes, there was a waterfall
below him, so near that he might almost reach and dip his fingers into
it, and he was set in flame that lapped him round, licking his face,
dipping its forked tongue into the hollows of his eyes, penetrating to
his heart, and coursing in all his veins. He was mad to stay there and
suffer, when he might slip from the grip of the fiend, and lave his limbs
in the pool and drink from the cascade. Ryder dragged himself from the
cave, upsetting the water the half-caste had placed near his bed as he
did so. The water ran over his fingers, but he did not heed it. Outside
he raised himself to his feet with the help of a tree, and, staggering a
few paces down the slope, pitched on his face, cutting his mouth badly on
the stones. The wound in his neck opened, and the blood oozed from the
bandages, smearing his hands as he dragged himself along.

It was like some wild beast with a mortal wound in its breast slowly
crawling to the water to die. Every few yards he thought the stream was
reached and dipping his mouth to drink, cut his lips oh the granite. He
had come to the level ground banking the creek, and was almost at the
edge of the basin, when a figure appeared on the brink of the waterfall
above him. The figure looked hardly human, bent down, watching Ryder's
movements in the attitude of a curious ape.

Macdougal sprang down the rocks with an agility in keeping with his
apelike appearance, and interposed between the creeping man and the
water.

Ryder turned aside, and again Macdougal interposed. Three times this
happened, and the squatter had a grin on his small terrier's face; he was
deriving malicious amusement from the bewilderment of the fever-stricken
wretch at his feet. In his left hand he held a revolver.

Ryder raised a hand, and, clutching Monkey Mack, made an effort to regain
his feet. The other helped him, and clinging to his enemy for support,
the outlaw looked at Macdougal. The latter thrust his face forward, and
again there was a red gleam under the shadows of his heavy brows.

'Ye know me, man,' he said.

Ryder was staring with eyes in which there was a dawning of
consciousness, and, steadying him with one hand, the squatter dipped some
water in his hat, and dashed it in the other's face.

'Ye know me!' he said with fierce eagerness. 'Ye know me! Man, ye must
know me - Macdougal! Look at me. Ay, ye know me well!'

There was recognition in Ryder's eyes; they were intent upon those of his
foe, and, clutching him by the shoulder, Macdougal continued:

'Well ye know me, and well ye know what I mean to do by ye. I'm about to
kill ye, Mr. Walter Ryder, an' no harm will come to me for the killin'.
Man, man, but it's a sweet thing to kill your enemy, an' to be paid well
for the doin' of it! Ah, I'm right sure ye know me now. I would na' have ye
die by another hand, for 'tis me ye wronged most. I know my wrongs, ye
foul villain, an' it's in my mind to carry your carrion head to Melbourne
for the money they've set upon it. Ye mind me! ye mind me! Good! good!'

Macdougal's face was literally convulsed with the fury of his hate; he
spat at Ryder as he spoke, and then, with the swiftness and the strength
that had marked them in health, the outlaw's fingers fastened upon his
hairy throat. The long, thin hands clamped themselves upon his neck, and
for a moment Monkey Mack was helpless in the agonies of suffocation. Then
his left hand pointed the revolver at Ryder's ear; there was a sharp
report, and the outlaw fell limply, and rolled back upon the flat
water-worn rock, his shattered head to the stone, his arms out thrown,
his lifeless face turned up to the blue sky.

XXIII

MONKEY MACK stood for a few seconds gazing down upon the dead man,
unconscious of the fact that at the moment his shot was fired Lucy
Woodrow and Jim Done had come suddenly upon the scene around one of the
huge boulders with which the gorge was strewn. He was recalled to himself
by the exclamation of horror uttered by the girl, and discovered Jim,
revolver in hand. Turning, he fled up the right side of the gorge, where
the timber offered good cover. Jim raised his revolver, and took
deliberate aim at the flying figure, but Lucy seized his arm and bore it
down, and, clinging to him, she cried:

'No, no! for God's sake, not that!'

Jim tore himself from her with bitter words, and the next moment they saw
Macdougal riding furiously along the side of the gorge, swinging his
apparently maddened horse through the thick timber with marvellous
dexterity. Done uttered a cry, and ran for the horses, and Lucy followed
him, calling piteously. She saw Jim spring upon Wallaroo and turn his
head down the gully, and, knowing his intention, snatched the revolver
from Yarra's hand and fired at the stallion. The shot took effect in the
horse's neck, and he plunged forward, throwing Jim heavily, and, rolling
on his side, lay half submerged in the water of the creek.

Done was stunned and shaken by the fall, and it was some minutes before
he quite recovered. Then, turning upon Lucy in the blind fury that filled
his soul, he said:

'You have saved that foul murderer, and while he lives I swear I'll never
forgive you!'

She made no reply, but followed Jim to Ryder's side, trembling in every
limb, with a bursting pain at her heart and a feeling of utter desolation
upon her. Done knelt by the dead outlaw, looking into the white face, and
remembered standing as a boy gazing into another dead face wonderfully
like this, the face of his mother. He felt no sorrow; there was room in
his soul only for his black wrath. For some minutes he remained kneeling,
with set teeth, his hands clenched, his blood hot with rage. When he
arose Lucy was by his side, but her eyes were bent upon the dead man.

'You stood between me and my brother's murderer,' he said.

She looked at him vaguely, as if she had not heard aright, and passed a
faltering hand across her eyes.

'Your brother's murderer?' she said.

'The man lying there is my brother. For no crimes for no wrong against
man or woman, his life was made a horror to him. And this is the end,
butchered by a foul beast.'

'Don't!' she murmured. She put out her hands appealingly, and continued
in a choking voice: 'I can bear no more. All my strength is gone. For
pity's sake, no more, no more!' She turned from him, and, falling to her
knees, sank her face upon Ryder's breast, and gave way to a fit of
sobbing that shook her from head to foot. Her attitude was one of
complete abandon; one hand lay upon the cheek of the dead outlaw,
suggesting an ineffable caress.

Done sat upon a rock, watching her without understanding. Yarra, who had
stolen near to Ryder's body, crouched upon the rock, staring intently at
the face of his friend. Presently Jim noticed that Lucy was lying inert,
and he lifted her to the pool and bathed her forehead with the cool
water. Yarra brought a pannikin and a bottle containing brandy from the
cave, and Jim poured a little of the spirit between the girl's lips. Lucy
revived after a few minutes, and lay for a time in the shade before she
was strong enough to walk.

'I must go,' she said with a strange listless ness.

'Take the boy with you,' Jim answered. 'He will see you safely to
Boobyalla.'

'And you?' she asked.

'There is something for me to do here.'

She looked at the body, and said, 'Yes, yes, of course,' but the only
expression in her face was one of utter weariness.

He helped her on to the horse. She did not thank him. No words of
farewell were spoken, but as the horse moved away he said:

'Contrive to let Yarra bring me a shovel.'

'Yes.'

'At least the brute beast shall not have the price of his head

'No.' She repeated the word quite mechanically. 'No, no!'

Done returned to his brother. He lifted the body into the shade, and
composed the limbs, and then seated himself and gave his mind over to
bitter reflection. Ryder's face exerted a strong influence upon him. In
death it had assumed a delicacy almost effeminate. It was the face of a
saint and an ascetic. What was most evil in him had been grown in the
forcing-house of vice and crime society had set up, and for being the
thing it had made him society had butchered him like a mad dog. Jim
recognised Monkey Mack only as the instrument of society. His logic may
not have been perfect: his mind was in no state to deal with ethical
nuances; he saw only the ruined life, remembered what Ryder had endured,
and, above all, that he had been an innocent man, crushed, tortured,
brutalized into an enemy of the law and the existing order. He felt
himself capable of taking up his brother's fight. In his heart he was
resolved to seek out Macdougal and kill him. That much must be done. He
never questioned his capability for murder, and it is probable that had
the chance come to him in cold blood his spirit would have failed him.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when Yarra returned with pick and
shovel, and Jim had already selected the spot for Ryder's resting-place,
beside a great boulder above the waterfall. There he started to dig the
grave.

'Him brother belonga you?' asked Yarra.

'Yes,' said Jim.

'Good feller,' continued Yarra, and his black eyes gleamed maliciously.
'Boss belonga me kill him. You kill mine Boss?' Perhaps it was the
remembrance of the many kicks and cuts he had received at the hands of
Monkey Mack that inspired the impish eagerness in Yarra's face, perhaps
his affection for the dead man moved him.

Jim Done looked at the boy curiously. 'Boss belonga you sit down by
Boobyalla?' he asked.

Yarra shook his head. 'No fear,' he said. 'Yarra stop 'way pretty quick
when Boss bin there.'

'Suppose Yarra catch up track of Boss belonga him, come back when sun
jump up, tell me.'

'My word! Budgery that! Mine tink it Boss yabber-yabber longa trooper.'

Yarra set off at once, and Done continued his work. He was determined
that the grave should be deep enough to protect the body froth burrowing
animals, and secret enough to save it from human brutes eager for the
price on Solo's head. This task was not complete when Yarra returned, his
eyes ablaze with excitement.

'Hell bin jump up, mine tink it!' he cried. 'Boss belonga me sit down
there all right. You come!'

'You know where Macdougal is?'

'My word! Come longa me.'

Jim took up his revolver and followed the half caste, leaving the body
between the sheets of bark with which he had fashioned a rude coffin.

'Boss close up here,' said Yarra as they scrambled up the side of the
gorge, after following the creek for about a quarter of a mile. The boy
proceeded with out caution, and presently they came upon a saddled horse
lying under a big white gum. The animal' neck was broken; evidently it
had collided with the tree when at a gallop.

'Boss make big smash up here,' said Yarra. He pointed to a huddled,
shapeless heap lying amongst the scrub-ferns at a distance of about
twenty feet.

Done stood over the body of Macdougal, and felt for a moment a resentment
against the Fates that had robbed him of his revenge. The squatter had
dreaded the probability of confederates coming to the assistance of the
outlaw, and his ride for safety had been absolutely desperate. He lay
within a quarter of a mile of the waterfall, and had been killed on the
spot. His head was crushed and hideous. Done turned from the sight with a
shudder.

Jim buried Ryder by the light of the moon. He spent the night in the
gorge, but slept little, and Yarra, who had all the superstitions of his
mother's race, crouched close to the white man, and his teeth chattered
with fear the whole night through. He had conceived the idea that the
spirit of Macdougal had taken possession of the gorge, and for the future
the place must be a haunt of terror to him. After daybreak, with the
boy's assistance, Done hid all traces of the new-made grave, and by this
time he was grateful for the food Yarra brought from the cave. Breakfast
strengthened him greatly. He had eaten nothing for close upon twenty
hours, and the exhaustive experiences of that time told heavily upon his
enfeebled frame. As a result of his night's reflection and the judgment
that had come with cooler blood, he was determined to visit Lucy at the
station. Yesterday's bitterness towards her had been real enough, but he
assured himself that it was the effect of the extraordinary excitement
worked in his brain by the events of the day. This morning there was upon
him a physical and moral apathy: the reaction left him without interest.
The invalid lassitude possessed him again, and he stood over his
brother's grave for a few minutes, without feeling any recurrence of the
resentments that had so recently blazed within him.

Lucy met him in the garden; she was still pale, but showed no sign of
physical weakness.

'I treated you brutally,' he said abruptly. I am sorry; I was mad with
rage.'

'I know; I understood then. You know I am sorry for you.'

'You saved Macdougal for my own sake, not for his,'

'Yes. Innocent or guilty, your brother was an outlaw, Legally, Macdougal
was justified in killing him, but if you kill Macdougal it will be
murder. Ah! that terrible thought has gone from your mind?'

'Yes; Macdougal is dead.'

'Dead!' She caught his hand, and looked into his face with terror. 'You
have killed him!'

'No. His horse must have collided with a tree as he galloped down the
gorge. Yarra found him.'

'Thank God vengeance was not left to you!'

'It is best. I have buried my brother. The whereabouts of his grave must
be kept secret.'

'Tell me where he lies.' She spoke with eagerness. 'I swear none shall
know from me!'

Done was impressed by her emotion, and the picture of her sobbing figure
prostrate over the body of the outlaw was recalled to his mind. 'Under
the great round boulder above the waterfall to the left, just where the
shadow falls at noon,' he said. 'Better never speak of his death even. I
have warned Yarra, and I think he will be faithful.'

'You can trust me.' She paused for a moment falteringly, and then
continued with an effort and in a low voice: 'I must respect the grave,
for in it my heart is buried. More than my heart,' she continued with
passion - ' a part of my very soul. I loved him!' She had made this
confession, feeling that it was her duty to let Jim know that the
tenderness she had felt for him had been swept away in the tide of an
overwhelming love for the other.

Whatever Done's feelings may have been, neither face nor voice betrayed
him. 'Good-bye,' he said, and turned away.

She followed him a few paces, and seized his arm.

'You are not going with unkindness in your heart?' she pleaded.

'No,' he answered. 'I am very sorry for you.'

'I want your friendship always.'

It is yours.'

He held her hands in his, and noticed that there were tears upon her
cheeks. He was certainly sorry for her; it was pitiful to think that her
new happiness had been wrecked in this way, but he could not overcome the
coldness that was about him; and so they parted on the spot where a few
months earlier Jim had said good-bye with a heart full of love and
longing.

XXIV

A BITTER time followed with Jim Done. He had rejoined Harry Peetree at
Blanket Flat, and continued working there; but his strength returned
slowly, and the joy of life had fled from his heart again, leaving him
more miserable than he had been as a youth in his native village. In
those days his resentments helped to sustain him; he took pride in the
spirit with which he faced the enmity of the people, and not a little
comfort came to him from the egotism he had cultivated as a refuge from
the common contempt. Now the fighting spirit was gone all hatred had gone
with it, and his self-confidence had degenerated. For a few weeks after
Ryder's death he made a deliberate effort to stir himself into a state of
passionate revolt, dwelling long upon the barbarous sufferings his
brother had endured, drawing upon his affection for Mike Burton to
stimulate his fading emotions; but he failed to lift himself out of the
slough of despond into which he had fallen.

Jim fled from his nurses too early, and the trials he subsequently
endured served to retard his restoration. He had pretty good health,
without either strength of body or spirit. Half an hour's work at the
windlass wearied him, and this weariness irritated him with a dull,
abiding anger. He spent much of his time when not at work lying on his
bunk. The life on the field was not different from that which had
delighted him at Diamond Gully; there was the same cheerfulness amongst
the men, the shanties flared at night, and the diggers roared, and
gambled, and drank with no less enthusiasm. He alone was changed.

These moods and the manner of life he was leading fostered a most
unhealthy habit of introspection. He was for ever examining his emotions.
He thought much about Lucy Woodrow, and of the love he had borne her, but
without sorrow for the loss of her. He tried to account for the fact that
there was no grief in his heart on Lucy's accounts whilst keeping Aurora
jealously in the background. He was unconsciously dishonest to himself in
these self-examinings, and one day this dawned upon him. He laughed over
the discovery, laughed aloud at himself, but the amusement was grim.

'So, then, it is Aurora I need after all,' he said in satirical
soliloquy, 'and my soul has been playing the hypocrite these few weeks.
What a marvel of constancy is man! Lucy is lost to me, and secretly the
baffled heart sneaks back to the other love.'

Behind all this was a fretful longing for the past happiness to which the
new country, the new conditions, Aurora Mike, and his own abounding
vitality, had contributed. He shunned the conditions, and was angry
because the object eluded him. Done, in his sick desire to know himself
ceased to be truly himself. Had he been content with the fact that he
loved Aurora and needed her - needed her love, her beauty, her fine
joyousness and splendid vitality - the rest would have been easy.

He had written from Ballarat to Mike Burton's family in New South Wales,
and at about this time there came a letter from a relative, asking his
assistance in Melbourne to secure the money lying to Burton's credit in
the bank. Jim went to Melbourne, and a quiet trip and the change improved
him considerably. When he returned again there was a letter from Mary
Kyley, It was brief:

'DEAR JIMMY,

'We are at Tarrangower. Joy is back with us, well and strong again, and
as pretty as a picture; but the mischief is she doesn't forget the boy
who isn't fit to kiss the boots she wears - meaning your self, you scamp!
'Tisn't a far ride! Maybe you'll come one of these fine Sundays.

'Your middle-aged friend,

'MARY KYLEY.'

Jim spent nearly three days over that letter, and then determination came
suddenly on top of much contrary argument. He would go. No sooner had he
made up his mind than a consuming eagerness to see Aurora seized him. All
other considerations were lost. He must go at once, take her in his arms,
plead with her with all the fervour of his heart, compel her with every
argument love could advance, beseech her with all the humility of the
conquered to be his wife.

Now his love of Lucy appeared as a mere aberration. His overwhelming
eagerness for life, for new faces, scenes, sensations, had whirled him
from the true path of his happiness. Thank God, it was not too late! Joy
alone was his true mate, his true love, the real need of his being, and
he had never loved her as now. The passion came back upon him like a


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 20 of 21)