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Edward Dyson.

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Paddy's Market. Here scores of tents of all sorts and sizes were huddled
together. All cooking was done out of doors. Fires were everywhere, their
glow, reflected brightly on the canvas of the 'flies,' giving a fantastic
brilliance to the scene. Life stirred around him, jubilant, bounteous,
pulsing life. The levity of the people was without limit. Their
childishness astonished Done, but he lived to find this a characteristic
of the diggers in all parts; even the roughest men in the roughest camps
exhibited a schoolboy's love of horseplay and a great capacity for
primitive happiness. It was as if the people, having thrown off the more
galling restraints of civilization and order, felt their limbs and
spirits free for the first time, and exercised both with the freedom and,
the austere critic may say, the foolishness of mountain goats.

Jim's whole being was infected with the spirit of the place, his blood
danced. He had discarded his cap for a well-seasoned cabbage-tree, and
wore a blue jumper under his coat, and now passed unheeded, excepting
when a jovial digger, flown with brandy and success, roared a 'Good luck,
mate!' or commanded him in to drink. Social restraints were gone;
equality ruled the road; all men were brothers, and friendships of ten
minutes' standing were as sacred as the ties of kinship.

The night was young, but already turbulent. The hot wind had passed, and
the air was sweet and free from dust. As he moved along the street,
Done's ear caught the squeak and the twang of fiddle and banjo coming
through the confusion of voices. Step-dancing and singing were the most
popular delights. The ability to sing a comic song badly was passport
enough in digger society. The streets were lit with kerosene. Here and
there a slush lamp or a torch blazed before an establishment seeking
notoriety, shedding a note of lurid colour upon the faces of the bearded
men thronging the footpath. If there were laws controlling all these
elements, Jim failed to discover a sign of them; neither did he see sign
of the flagrant lawlessness he had been led to expect. The absence of
arms surprised him most of all. He looked to find knives and revolvers in
every belt, but saw no display of weapons, and noting the bluff,
lumbering kindliness animating the crowd, he thought of his own small but
carefully selected arsenal with some contempt.

Jim Done walked about the streets for two hours, interested in
everything, disappointed with nothing. All this satisfied the craving
that had driven him from home. Here he was one of the people, a man
amongst men, accepted at his face and physical value by fellow-creatures
who respected most the fearless eye and the strong arm. Moreover, there
were no signs of those hated forces, respectability, piety,
conventionality, all of which had seemed to range themselves
automatically on the side of his enemies.

He came to a large wooden hall with a row of lamps blazing along its
front and a foreign sign over the door. From within floated strains of
music and the beating of many feet. Jim entered. The place was crowded
with hairy diggers - mostly successful, he learned presently. The
atmosphere was heavy with smoke. A wild dance was going on, and several
sets held the floor. Half a dozen of the most fortunate of the men had
female partners, the others danced 'bucks,' man and man, and the pounding
of their heavy boots and the yells of laughter provoked by their clumsy
movements quite drowned the music of the feeble orchestra, crowded away
in the far corner of the room. Along one end ran an unplaned wooden
counter, where two or three barmen were kept busy serving gin, brandy,
and rum to the parched dancers. When the dance was ended there was a rush
for the bar, and Jim found now that dancing did not go by favour, the
hands of the fair being bestowed upon the highest bidders. One tall,
lack-haired, laughing girl, with the figure and face of a Bacchante,
sprang upon a chair, shaking aloft a yellow scarf, and was auctioned for
the next dance amidst a storm of bidding and a hurricane of merriment.
She was borne down the room in the arms of the triumphant digger, who had
paid thirty 'weights' for his bouncing partner - six pounds for ten
minutes' dancing, and the proud purchaser couldn't dance a step!

Jim watched the women curiously; they were a new type to him - young,
virile, red-lipped, flushed with wine, shameless in the face of the
crowd, their faces kindled with laughter. They led the men in their wild
revel - pagans absolute. One in particular attracted Done; she was tall,
dark-eyed, and black-haired. This, in conjunction with the bold
combination of red and black in her costume, gave him the belief that she
was Spanish. There was about her some suggestion of character and
strength that pleased him. She romped like a child; her merriment was
clean and unforced. He saw nothing of the corruption that Vice is
supposed to stamp upon the faces of her votaries. These women, despite
the feeble kerosene lights, the tobacco-smoke, and the bare, ugly walls,
might have been participants in the revels of Dionysus.

Several times, passing him in the dance, the eyes of the Spaniard flashed
into his own, and she smiled. When the dance was ended she confronted
him.

'Sure, you're goin' to dance wid me, ain't ye now?' she said in the most
mellifluous brogue.

Done shook his head and laughed with diffidence.

'No, thanks,' he said. 'I'm not a rich digger. Only a poor new chum,' he
added, hoping to carry conviction.

'Straight from the Ould Country, is it?' asked the girl eagerly. 'Have ye
the word of ould Ireland, an' how does she stand? The dance is yours for
the shmallest token.'

'I'm sorry I don't know Ireland,' said Jim.

'Then I'll give you the dance fer natural love an' affection.'

Done protested that he could not dance, but the laughing girl dragged him
into the thick of it.

'Come along!' she cried, dropping the brogue. 'I'm a patriot, and I love
you for the green in your eye.'

Jim danced. He was literally forced into it, and presently found himself
getting along quite decently in a barbaric sort of polka. When the music
ceased he followed the custom of the country, and shouted for his
partner. She drank sherry. He left the hall a few minutes later, with the
girl's kiss, lightly given, tingling on his lips, and walked away
quickly, treading on air. Presently he began to question himself. Why
this growing exuberance? Was it drink? Never before had he felt its
influence. He pulled himself together. He was crowding his sensation: it
was time to cry a halt.

The young man returned to the hotel where he had left his belongings. The
long bar was crowded with men. The hotel was little more than a large
tent with a pretentious wooden front. It was illumined by a single lamp
suspended above the counter. This lamp lit up the faces of the men
gathered under it, but beyond the countenances of the customers faded
into a mist of tobacco-smoke, deepening into darkness in the corners.

Done leant against the bar, watching the scene, still curious, content to
wait till the busy barman had leisure to attend to him. After a few
moments he found himself an object of most marked interest to a tall,
thin digger, perched on an up-ended barrel, drinking porter. The man was
watching him narrowly, and at length, as if to leave no doubt of his
attentions, he stepped down, and, standing squarely in front of Done,
looked him closely in the face. Jim returned the stare, finding curiosity
deepen into surprise, and surprise into conviction, in the countenance
confronting him.

'Solo!' cried the man. 'Solo, by all that's holy!' As he spoke he sprang
between Jim and the door way, as if to cut off escape. 'Bail up!' he
said; 'we've got you tight this trip.'

'You're making a mistake, I think, mate,' said Jim. 'Anyhow, my name is
not Solo.'

'That's a bluff! I know you too damn well! Boys,' continued the miner,
addressing the crowd, 'it's Solo. I'll wager my soul on it. Get at him!
There's five hundred cold guineas on his head!'

'I tell you you're wrong!' blurted Done.

The tall man waited for no further argument, but jumped at Done, and they
closed. There was a short struggle, and Jim put his opponent down with an
old Cousin-Jack trick that he had often tried on better men.

'The man's drunk!' said Jim, as the crowd narrowed in on him. He set his
back against the counter, prepared to make a good fight.

A raw-boned, brown-faced native of about twenty-six grappled with him, but
only as a pretence, as Done speedily found.

'Bolt, or you're a done man!' whispered the Australian at his ear. 'When
I smash the lamp, over the counter and under the tent, and skedaddle for
your life!'

This young fellow allowed himself to be thrown off, and backed into the
crowd. The long man, who had recovered his wind, turned to address the
men.

'It's Solo, mates,' he said, 'and there's five hundred waiting for us if
we take him.'

The men moved forward in a body, but just then a pewter crashed into the
lamp, and there was darkness. Acting on his new friend's advice, Done
cleared the counter at a bound, and dived under the canvas. Picking
himself up, he ran into the darkness. He heard footsteps following him,
and increased his pace, stumbling on the strange ground. But a voice
assured him.

'Keep to the right! Make for cover!' panted his pursuer.


VII

FINDING only one man following, Jim Done ceased running on reaching a
clump of trees, and presently he was joined by the young Australian who
had aided him.

'My colonial, you sprint like an emu!' gasped the latter. 'All the same,
that was a mad sort o' thing to do.'

'What was?'

'Why, showin' yourself 'bout here with the cheek of a dashed
commissioner, while there's five hundred on your head, hot or cold, live
or dead, an' every trooper in the country whim' to give his long ears to
pot you.'

'But you are quite wrong; I'm not this Solo.'

'Not Solo! That won't wash. Wasn't I there with Long Aleck when you got
away with the gold Hoban hid in our nosebag other side o' Geelong?'

'You're on the wrong scent. My name is Done. I'm a new chum, landed only
this morning off the Francis Cadman.'

'Here, let's look you over again.' The stranger struck a match, and,
shielding it with his hands, examined Jim's face. 'Dunno,' he said, 'but
p'r'aps you are a bit young. Still, rig a beard around that chiv of
yours, and it's Solo to the life.'

'If it's worth while, walk down to the ship with me, and I'll satisfy you
in two minutes.'

Your word's good enough for me. Solo or no, taint my deal.'

'Well, you've gone to some trouble to help me out of a hole, and I'm
obliged.' Done offered his hand, and the other shook it heartily. 'You
might tell me who and what this Solo is,' continued Jim.

'Smartest, coolest, most darin' gold-thief in Australia. Outlawed for
robbery under arms, wanted by all the police 'tween here and the Murray,
and his head's worth five hundred to you 'r me, 'r any yob that can rob
him of it. He works alone. What his right name is no one knows.'

'That's all a bright look-out for me!' laughed Jim. 'But if he's such an
infernal scoundrel, and he's robbed you among the rest, why come to his
rescue?'

''Pon my soul, I dunno I' replied the Australian, scratching his head
dubiously, ''less it's 'cause of his pluck 'n' the dashed pleasant,
gentlemanly way he has o' doin' things. By the way, what 're you out for?
Goin' diggin'? Got a mate? Where 're you makin'?'

'I'm going digging. I have no mate. I can't say what field I'm making for
till I know more about them.'

'Look here, take in my points.' The native struck another match, and held
it that Done might make an inventory of his perfections. 'Five foot ten
high, strong as a horse, sound in wind and limb, know the country, know
the game, been on three fields, want a mate. Name's Micah Wentworth
Burton - Mike for short. Got all traps, pans, shovels, picks, cradle, tub,
windlass, barrow. Long Aleck - chap that attacked you - was my mate; he's
turning teamster. Take me on, an' here's my hand. We're made for a pair.'

Burton stopped for lack of wind. He jerked his words with a slight nasal
intonation, and his manner and his action indicated a characteristic
impetuosity. Done was astounded at his own seeming good fortune and the
other's rash confidence.

'Come,' he said doubtingly, 'do you mean to say you'll go into
partnership in this desperate way with a man you don't know, but whom you
suspect of being a notorious rogue, and give him all the advantages of
your property and your knowledge?'

'Will I? My oath! Is it a deal? All that about Solo is off. I might 'a'
known he had too much horse-sense to mooch about Melbourne disguised only
in a daily shave. As for the rest, blast it! we're men. I take you on
chance, you take me on spec. We can look after ourselves, I s'pose. Well,
what say?'

'I couldn't ask for anything better. The only objection to the
arrangement is that I take all and give nothing.'

'Done, then! But don't you run away with a wrong idea. There 're heaps o'
decent men an' good miners in Melbourne who'd jump at a mate of your
stamp. Come along to my tent up Canvas Town to-night. There's a spare
bunk. Aleck started on a jamboree that won't mature for a week. We can
talk things into order.'

Jim Done awoke next morning with a fear in his heart that he had made a
fool of himself. His mate was sitting just without the tent, grilling
chops on a piece of hoop-iron twisted into a grid. Jim's head felt new to
him, and ached badly; old doubts, old prejudices, possessed him. Why
should all the regard this stranger expressed have developed in an
acquaintanceship of minutes? Why should Burton be so eager to bestow
benefits upon him? That was not the customary way of men. He got up,
dressed and washed, and took breakfast with his mate, and the sullen
suspicion lingered; but Mike talked volubly, questioning nothing, and as
the morning wore on his obvious sincerity won on Done, and ere they
turned their backs upon Melbourne the Australian's spontaneous, careless
confidence in him and his open-hearted cordiality planted in Done the
seeds of one of those strong, lasting friendships which are never half
expressed in words, although they may sometimes be attested in eloquent
and heroic actions.

On the afternoon of his second day in Melbourne Jim saw Lucy Woodrow once
more. She passed in Macdougal's trap as Done and his mate were walking
along Swanston Street. She looked very pretty, and was laughing gaily at
something her companion had said. The sight of that companion affected
Jim in a peculiar way. He looked a man of about forty, strongly but
sparely built; his face, clean-shaven but for the triangle of hair coming
just below the ears, had a cameo-like correctness of outline; the lips
were firm and full, the eyes deep. He wore one of the flat-brimmed
bell-toppers fashionable at the time, a skirted coat, and a high collar.
In a flash the whole man was photographed on Jim's mind - why he could not
understand. The sensations given him by the sight of that face were quite
apart from the pang he experienced on noting Lucy's apparent interest in
the man. Jim felt for the miniature in his pocket. It was hard to believe
that only about twenty-four hours had sped since their parting. Looking
back now over so much that was strange, he thought as many weeks might
have gone in the interval.

'Monkey Mack,' said Mike, following the direction of Jim's eyes.

'Do you know him?'

'Everybody knows of him. Owns the best-stocked station out of New South.
Made a pile through the rushes, selling stock at famine prices. Richest
squatter in Vic, an' that dirty mean he won't wash 'cause o' the ruinous
wear and tear on soap. Used to go round collecting the wool the sheep
scraped off on his fences an' trees, an' for years cadged his toby,
(tobacco, you know) off passing teamsters; then, when the teamsters shied
at him, gave up smokin'. Owns thousands of acres an' hundreds o'
thousands o' pounds, an' wears toe-rags, an' yet lets his wife have what
she likes, an' spend what she pleases. That was his wife 'long side him.'

'Yes, she came over in our ship.'

'Shipmates, eh? That's as good as first-cousins.'

'Who was the other man?'

'Donno. Looked like something just blown ashore. Very superior, likely.
Mrs Mack's got a weakness for gentility. She was a neighbourin'
squatter's milkmaid, they say.'

'Well, Macdougal's not mean in the matter of horseflesh.'

'Right. That's his other great extravagance. See, he gets about badly on
those spider-legs of his, and makes up for his misfortune when he splits
across a horse. He breeds the best, drives like a fiend, an' can ride
anythin' lapped in hide.'

A week later Done and Burton were on their way to Forest Creek diggings.
Everything worth working on Ballarat was pegged out, Mike said. Forest
Creek was the new Eldorado. Their tools and stores were four days ahead,
in the care of an experienced teamster whom Mike knew well, and whom he
could trust to pull through, despite the abominable roads and the
misfortunes that had knocked up many a well-found team and marked the
track with crippled horses and stranded wagons. For two days Jim had
carried his swag through the Australian Bush, and one night he had slept
on the brown grass, using his folded blanket for a pillow, the camp-fire
flickering palely at a distance, the wide-branching, dreamy gum-trees
spreading their limbs above him, the warmth of summer in the scented air
Already the instincts of the Bushman were developing in him. He began to
feel a friendship for the towering gums in their flaunting independence;
their proud individuality pleased him. To his mind they reflected the
spirit of the people - it must be the spirit of the land. Nowhere in their
feathery elegance did he find a law of conformity; each tree was a law
unto itself, tall and strong and slender, youthful and buoyant, opening
fond arms to the blue sky. The absence of the sap-greens of England
conveyed at first an impression of barrenness, but that wore off, and the
artistic side of his nature fed upon the soft harmonies of faded grass
and subdued green foliage nursing misty purples in its shade. The ground
was his bed and chair and table; never had he been so intimate with
Mother Earth. Here she was uncontaminated, the soil was sweet, and it
gave no hint of untold generations of dead fattening the grass upon which
he couched as in sweet hay. From the earth he drew an ardent patriotism.
He was already a more enthusiastic Australian than the loose-limbed
native with whom he fraternized.

They camped five miles beyond Miner's Rest on the second night,
preferring the comparative solitude of the Bush to the scant
accommodation and some what boisterous company at the shanty lately
established to cater for the fortune-hunters streaming to the new rushes.
Mike selected the spot and dropped his swag.

'We've tramped far enough to-day,' he said. 'You'll find water just over
that rise there. I'll light the fire.'

'So you've been over this part before,' said Jim, unstrapping the billy
from his mate's swag.

'No; this is new country to me.'

'Then, how do you know I shall find water beyond that hillock?'

''Pon my soul, I don't know why I know,' Mike answered; 'but I'll wager
my share of our first tub it's there.'

Jim found the water. There was a water-hole in a small creek at the spot
indicated. His mate's knowledge of things about him in the Bush, things
unseen and unheard, had seemed uncanny at first; he was getting used to
it now. Mike was born in the Bush, and the greater part of his life had
been spent in it. He knew it as thoroughly as its familiar animals did,
and much in the same way, without being aware of his knowledge, which was
mainly instinctive. The billy was on the blazing fire, and Done sat
watching Mike smartly mixing a damper in the lid. To Jim this, too, was a
wonderful accomplishment. Water and flour were deftly manipulated until a
ball of dough that quite filled the small lid resulted. It was done with
the cleanness and quickness of a conjuring trick. The dough was divided
into two pats, to be cooked under the hot ashes. Then Mike improvised his
wire grid again, and in a few minutes the steak he had carried in a
dilly-bag from Miner's Rest was sizzling and spitting over the embers.

Done's admiration for his mate was growing rapidly. Mike looked like a
model in new copper, kneeling by the fire, his face thrown back,
reflecting the glow of the flame in the surrounding dusk. Jim realized
what had gone to the making of that hard, lean frame, and, proud as he
was of his own strength, envied the other his endurance. He knew that
Burton had been making concessions to him throughout their journey, that
he could have walked miles further in the time without fatigue, carrying
his swag as jauntily as if it were a butterfly poised on his back. His
boyish exuberance of manner when stirred was in direct contrast to the
quiet assurance with which he went about ordinary affairs. He was never
in difficulties, never at a loss; the Bush was his living-room, bedroom,
and larder. He had already shown himself independent of what the stores
could provide when a meal was wanted. Mike might have been a pink Adonis
in another climate and under other conditions; his gray eyes and fair
moustache were in almost ludicrous contrast with his tanned hide - he
appeared to be bound in morocco.

After their meal Jim spread himself upon the ground, his head pillowed on
the swag, stretching his tired limbs. Mike sat smoking, and there was
silence over and about them. One of those brief hushes, when all the
night voices are stilled and the trees merge into black, motionless
masses, was upon the Bush, and it infected the men. All day they had
marched with the throng; their tramp had never been lonely, thousands of
men were moving upon Forest Creek, and every now and again they passed a
toiling party burdened with tools and utensils, or were passed in turn by
more enthusiastic spirits pushing on, eager for a share in the treasure
of Red Gully, Diamond Gully, and Castlemaine. The shouts of the joyous
travellers were still echoing in Done's ears.

He had seen diggers on the track under varying fortunes, cursing
dreadfully by broken-down teams, urging on their dull bullocks - slow, but
very sure - singing exuberantly as they paced by, carrying heavy swags
with light hearts, shouting as they went, under the impulse of a common
hope that begot friendliness in all; and yet each man was armed
now - there was a revolver or a pistol in every belt. They came out of the
Bush, and the Bush swallowed them again - strange groups. Two Jim passed
he recognised as sailors off the Francis Cadman: one was in the shafts of
a loaded wheel barrow, the other, with a rope over his shoulder, trudged
ahead, towing manfully, both as merry as boys at play, despite the ten
days' journey ahead of them.

'Good luck, mate!' 'Good luck!' The trees showered kindly wishes, and
hearty compliments danced from lip to lip. A spirit of irrepressible
jollity laughed in the land. Drays, waggons, buggies, cabs, vehicles of
all kinds, were pressed into the service of the adventurers. Four diggers
went roaring by in a dilapidated landau that had seen vice-regal service
in Hobart Town, driven by a fifth blackguard dressed in an old livery,
and they brandished champagne bottles, and scattered the liquid gold like
emperors - lucky pioneers from Buninyong. A ragged, bare-footed, hatless
urchin, a stowaway fresh from the streets of London, whipped behind, as
he might have done a few weeks earlier on a Bishop's carriage in Rotten
Row. The mates next encountered a band of Chinamen carrying their burdens
on bamboos, covering the ground smartly with their springing trot and
cackling gaily as they went; then a 'hatter,' drunk as a lord rolling
heavily, his hands in his pockets, his hat jauntily set on the back of
his head, bellowing the latest comic song, a lonely soul; then a dray,
piled high with cradles, pans, picks, shovels, swags, and a miscellaneous
cargo, on the top of which perched a bulky Irishwoman, going to the
diggings to make her fortune as the proprietress of the Forest Creek
Laundry. This and much more in the depths of a pathless forest, the grave
solitude of which was disturbed only for the moment as each jocund
company hastened on into the mysterious vastness ahead, or fell back into
the dense Bush that lay behind. That anybody could have a definite idea
whither he was going in this ocean of trees, that engulfed them all like


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 5 of 21)