Edward Dyson.

In the Roaring Fifties online

. (page 7 of 21)
Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 7 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

weapon, tossing it to and fro carelessly, and twirling it through his
fingers with remarkable rapidity.

'That's a pretty clever trick,' said Thorn.

'This is no great shakes.' The owner of the beautiful beard twirled his
revolver more rapidly. 'Lend me another.'

Thorn threw his, and the stranger caught it smartly, and juggled with the

Brigalow Dick, the gold-buyer, rode up. A particularly bright ex-trooper
from Sydney, Brigalow Dick had a reputation as a safe man, and the horse
he rode was one of the finest on the field. On one side of the front of
his saddle was strapped the stout leather case carrying the gold, on the
other was a bag containing money.

'Any gold to sell to-day, Burton?' asked Dick.

'Yes, in half a minute, old man,' replied Mike, deeply interested in the
tricks of the juggler.

Brigalow Dick drew his horse up closer and watched the performance.

'Bet you're Californian, Whiskers,' he said.

The stranger nodded. 'Let me have another shooter,' he said.

A third was thrown to him, and he twirled the three in the air,
discharging each into the tip as it reached his hand.

'Bravo! bravo!' The performance was growing quite exciting.

'That's simply nothing,' said the amateur prestidigitateur modestly.
'Throw me another, and I'll show what I call a damn good trick.' He cast
his eye around the group. It lit upon the gold-buyer casually.

'Here you are.' Brigalow drew his revolver from his belt, and threw it.

'Very good, and many thanks,' said the stranger. He coolly placed the
other revolver in his shirt, turned the gold-buyer's long six-shooter on
its owner, and said: 'Come down off that horse, Richard, my boy!'
Brigalow laughed uneasily, but did not stir. 'Comedown, curse you!' cried
the other with sudden ferocity; and, springing to his feet, he seized
Dick, and brought him heavily to the ground over his horse's rump. 'Lie
there, or, by God, I'll scatter your brains on the grass!' said the
juggler. 'The first man that moves will peg out a claim in hell
to-night,' he continued, leading the horse away, and walking backwards
himself, with the revolver pointed. No man doubted his word. Dick
crouched on the ground, staring after him, furious, but quite beaten.
Suddenly the robber sprang to the horse's back with a clean jump. 'Now,
that is what I call damn good sleight of hand, Brigalow!' he cried; and,
producing a short, heavy green-hide whip from his shirt, he lashed the
horse mercilessly, and went riding at a breakneck pace down the gully,
heading for the distant timber.

'Tricked!' cried the ex-trooper, jumping to his feet - ' tricked by the
great Blue Bunyip! Tricked like a kid!' He turned and ran for the

'I surmise Mr. Solo was lurkin' behind them there whiskers,' said a tall,
thin Californian, when the party had somewhat recovered the surprise.

Jim started, recalling the encounter with Long Aleck in the Melbourne

'Was that Solo, do you think?' he asked.

'Dead cert' replied the Californian. 'Them's his playful ways.'

'If you guessed it, why didn't you give a hint?'

'Not knowin', can't say; but it's just pawsible I ain't pushin' myself
forward as a target this spring.'

Done found this indisposition to interfere in 'other people's business'
very marked amongst the diggers; and their toleration of notorious
evildoers was a pronounced feature of their easy-going character,
encouraged, no doubt, by their contempt for the law, which appealed to
them only as an instrument of oppression.

'This means a gallop for the troopers,' said Mike.

'They'll run him down!' ejaculated Jim at a venture.

'The man occupyin' my socks is bettin' ten ounces agin all the feathers
off a wart-hog that they don't,' answered the Californian.

'But look at the weight he carries!'

'You're a bright boy - a most remarkably bright boy!' drawled the
American, 'an' I guess you'll pick up a heap o' knowledge afore you die
out, but up to now you don't know much about Solo. He kin ride like the
devil, an' fight like the hosts of hell, an' he's ez full o' tricks ez a
pum'kin's full o' pips. I tell you, Amurka's proud of her son.'

'Who sez he's American?' asked a digger, resenting the appropriation.

'Well, sir, if he ain't he's that good an imitation he might's well be
the real thing.'

About half an hour later three troopers came cantering through Diamond
Gully, looking very smart in their Bedford cords and shining top-boots,
and the diggers yelled derisive orders, and greeted them with cries of
contempt, jeering them from every hole along the lead. 'Jo!' was the
favourite epithet hurled at the troopers and all representatives of
constituted authority. Done never discovered the origin of the term, but
into it the diggers compressed all the hatred they felt for unjust laws,
domineering officials, and flagrant maladministration.

'I thought you knew this Solo,' said Jim to his mate that evening.

'Well,' replied Mike, 'I reckoned I did; but he changes his disguises
pretty smartly, 'r else that was another party in the same line o'


IN the four days and a half of their first week on the field Burton and
Done cleared close upon seven hundred pounds. By the end of the second
week they had worked out their first mine, and Jim possessed eight
hundred pounds. They tried another claim, and bottomed on the pipeclay.
The hole was a duffer. They tried a third, and cut the wash once more.
This claim was not nearly so rich as their first, but rich enough to pay
handsomely, and Mike, young as he was, was too old a miner to abandon a
good claim on the chance of finding a better. By this time Jim was
feeling himself quite an experienced digger; he could sink a straight
shaft, knock down wash-dirt with the best, and pan off a prospect as
neatly and with as workmanlike a flourish as any man on the field. He was
rapidly coming into close touch with the life about him, adopting the
manners of his associates, and slowly wearing down that diffidence which
still clung to him in the society of strangers. He was reticent, but
there remained no suspicion, no animosity towards his kind. Looking back
a year, he could hardly recognise himself; the Jim Done of Chisley seemed
an old man by comparison. Already Jim of Forest Creek could laugh at Jim
o' Mill End, but the consciousness of an escape from a horror remained.
How serious he had been in those days! How he had permitted himself to
suffer! Thank God, it was all gone!

Going into the tent on the afternoon of the second Sunday, Jim found his
mate asleep on one of the bunks. In the hollow of his out-thrown hand lay
a cheap lacquered frame containing a daguerreotype of a girl's face. A
sudden contrition smote Jim; he turned anxiously to his bunk, throwing
the clothes left and right. The vest he had worn when he left the Francis
Cadman lay under the pillow. He dived his finger into the watch-pocket,
and heaved a sigh of relief. Yes, it was there, safe and sound. He held
Lucy Woodrow's miniature, gazing on it, suffused with chastened emotions.
Heavens! how beautiful she was, and so gentle and generous! What an ass
he had been! He kissed the picture very tenderly, and with a bit of twine
secured it in the pocket of his jumper in dangerous proximity to his

Jim Done had now seen much of the fanciful night life of the camps. A
populous lead presented a picturesque appearance by night. The
illuminated tents and the flaring camp-fires dotted the field thickly,
and where the tents of the business people were drawn in line and
something like a main street formed, slush lights and kerosene torches
flamed and swinging oil-lamps lit up the scene. Here the wilder spirits
assembled and drank square gin, and gambled in the canvas shanty bars, or
danced with fine frenzy to music provided by some enterprising German
Fräulein stolidly grinding a hurdy-gurdy. There were numerous sly
grog-shops amongst the tents, and most of the storekeepers sold illicit
drink with open impudence. These places were often centres of roaring,
ribald life after nightfall; but the majority of the diggers lay in
groups about their camp-fires, chatting quietly or reading the most
recent papers available, and were peaceably inclined, easy-going

It was the fiercer side of existence on the fields that appealed most
directly to Jim; he loved the strong colour, the exultant animation, the
devil-may-care character, that marked the gatherings in the bars and the
gambling-saloons. He took little active part in the playing and the
drinking, but the feverish energy of the men and the stirring scenes
provided such vivid contrast to what he had hitherto known and seen of
life that his soul was greedy for it all. To Mike these scenes were all
familiar; his attitude towards them was one of quiet indifference, and he
regarded Jim's rapture with the amused tolerance a sedate, elderly
gentleman feels for the enthusiasm of a little boy.

The mates had shifted their tent to a convenient position near the claim
they were now working, and were camped within two hundred yards of the
establishment of Mrs. Ben Kyley, laundress and baker. Mrs. Kyley was a
big-limbed, fresh-coloured, dimpled woman, whose native canniness did
not, militate in the least against an amazonian joviality that made her
hail-fellow-well-met with half the diggers on the field. Her voice was
the loudest amid the clamouring tongues in her large tent at night, and
her guffaw overbore everything; it was one of the wonders of Forest
Creek. Many a time its echoes, rebounding from Boulder Hill, had set all
Diamond Gully grinning in sympathy. It was not known whether Mrs. Kyley
and Ben were married or merely mates, but popular opinion tended to the
latter belief, legal unions being incompatible with a nice adjustment of
forces at the rushes. The exigencies of life on the diggings made sudden
changes of scene necessary to the men, and a woman like Mrs. Kyley
couldn't be expected to abandon her business for the sake of a husband,
seeing that it was so much easier to set up another husband than another
establishment. But the most important branch of the business, that of sly
grog-selling, made a man who could handle the riotous and evil-disposed
quite essential. Ben Kyley's appearance, broad, thickly-set, solid as a
gum-butt, broken-nosed and heavy-handed, and his reputation as the man
who was beaten by Bendigo only after an hour's hard fighting, marked him
as the fittest man on the field for the position he held. For the rest,
Ben was a quiet, mild man, whose voice was seldom heard, and whose
subjugation to Mrs. Ben was almost comical. Ben worked on his claim by
day, and at night he officiated as 'chucker-out' in Mrs. Kyley's bar - for
a bar it was, to all intents and purposes. Ben's duty was not to suppress
disorder, but merely to see that the common disorder did not develop into
licentiousness, to the danger of Mrs. Kyley's property or the detriment
of her trade.

Mrs. Ben Kyley made bread because bread-baking at three shillings a loaf
was an exceedingly profitable business. For the same reason she washed
shirts at twelve shillings the half-dozen. But selling rum at a shilling
a nobbler to 'flash' diggers who despised change was much more profitable
still. The industrious woman, who washed and baked all day, was kept busy
for the greater part of the night retailing rum to insatiable diggers,
and the mystery was that, although nobody could see rum in the bottle or
in bulk anywhere about the place, it was rare that the supply ran short.

Jim had visited the tent on one or two occasions, walking from the other
side of the gully; he went again on the Saturday afternoon following
their removal to buy bread. Mrs. Kyley's big camp-ovens were nestled in
the fires outside the tent, three of them in a row; Mrs. Kyley herself,
half smothered in suds, was washing with the rapidity and the
indefatigability of a machine.

'Aurora will attend to you, my boy,' blared Mrs. Kyley, blowing a storm
of suds out of her mop of hair.

Aurora! Jim entered the tent wondering, and found three or four men at
the counter, conversing with a young woman, twenty-three perhaps, tall,
black-haired, dark-eyed, flushed with colour, happy in temperament, free
in manner, a striking representative of a not uncommon type of the time,
meeting men on a mutual footing, asking no concessions and making
none - Jim's 'Spaniard' of the Melbourne dance saloon. She recognised him

'Hello!' she cried. 'Look now! if it ain't the boy wid the blushes, an'
there's the blush to prove it agin' him.'

Jim was blushing; his rebellious blood gave the lie to his assumption of
easy indifference.

'How are you?' he said. 'I knew you at once.'

'To be sure. 'Twould be indacent to forgit, seem' it's my debtor ye are,
for the price of a dance.'

'Which you gave me for natural love and affection.'

''Deed, then 'twas because you were poor an' motherless in a strange
land, but now the gold's a worry to you, I doubt.'

Jim laughed and shook his head. 'I want a loaf,' he said. 'My mate is
hungry and waiting.'

'Heigho!' sighed Aurora; 'devil a scrap of gallantry have these slips of
boys, Quigley! You wouldn't leave me for all the mates on earth, would
you, now?'

The big bearded digger banged his fist on the counter, and swore a firm,
fluent oath that he would not.

'Worse luck,' added Aurora, with a twinkling eye. 'Here's yer bread,
Teddy-was-me-darlin', an' ye'd have it fer love if 'twas me own to give.'

Aurora assumed and dropped the musical brogue according to her whim.
Ordinarily her English was as pure as Mrs. Kyley's, and Mrs. Kyley had
the reputation of being a lady of vast attainments.

'There's the money,' said Jim, 'and will you take this for the dance?' He
offered her a nugget he had picked from the week's yield, a flat,
heart-shaped slug, curiously embossed.

''Deed, an' it's mighty fine,' said the girl, 'but I'd rather have ye me
debtor for life.'

'Take it for natural love and affection, then.'

'Ah, if it's the heart you're givin' me, I'll be uncommon greedy, so I
will.' She kissed the nugget, and slipped it into her breast.

Jim went away, glowing with the satisfaction a very young fellow feels in
having provoked the admiration of a woman and the jealousy of a man.
Aurora's of interest was open and unabashed. Quigley's jealous passion
was just as artless and free from disguise. Done had intended to send
that nugget as a natural curiosity to Lucy Woodrow. He put the shade of
regret the recollection provoked hastily out of his mind. Mike had heard
a good deal of talk about the new girl at Mrs. Kyley's, now Jim swelled
the chorus of admiration. Both young men spent that evening at the
washerwoman's tent.

The Kyley establishment consisted of a tent some fifty feet long, divided
into two compartments with a canvas partition. This screen ran just
behind the counter, and through it Mrs. Kyley dived to replenish her jug
of rum; but that room at the back represented the sanctity of the Kyley
home-life, and to it the diggers never penetrated. The public portion was
furnished with two long deal tables, at which the men sat on the Bush
stools and diced and drank, or played monotonous, if noisy, games of
euchre and forty-fives.

That night Aurora - surnamed Australis by a facetious digger - was
particularly attentive to Done. Jim was flattered by her open preference,
dazzled by her bright eyes and glowing cheeks, and piqued by her
bantering manner, for she still implied that he might be allowed
indulgences because of his beardless, boyish face and his seeming
ingenuousness. As a protest against this attitude, Done was impelled to
drink rather more rum than was good for him, and under the influence of
the fiery spirit he lost some thing of his habitual reserve, and a fight
with Quigley was only averted by the tactful intervention of Burton.

'Didn't like interferin', Jim,' said Mike next morning, 'but Quigley's a
hard nut and an ugly fighter. He'd have eaten you if you'd taken him on
as you stood.'

'I'm much obliged, old man,' answered Done mournfully. 'I suppose I made
an outrageous ass of myself.'

But he went back to Mrs. Kyley's bar again on the Monday evening, and
there got good advice from Aurora.

'You don't like this rubbish, Jimmy,' she said, serving him with the
drink he had asked for. The remark was made with an air of positive
assurance. They were alone.

'Well, no, I don't particularly,' he admitted.

'Then, don't be a fool. Don't gammon you do. You need not drink it. I
don't want you to. See here, Jimmy,' she continued gravely, 'Quigley
doesn't like you; he is looking for a chance to do you a mischief, and he
would have had his chance the other night if I hadn't overlooked you like
a mothering hen, and sold you good creek water at a shilling the nip.'

'I did act the fool, I admit.'

'Never a bit; but don't give Quigley his chance by numbing your good
sense with Mary Kyley's rum. Sure,' said Aurora, dropping into her honied
brogue, 'it's fer the love of me ye're comin', not for the dthrop o'
drink. Murther! would ye kill me wid denyin' it?' She was sitting on the
counter; she pressed her fingers on his lips, and laughed in his face
with happy impudence, her large handsome mouth full of pearls, her eyes
flashing a challenge. Jim's arm stole to her waist of its own initiative.

Then Mrs. Ben Kyley came roaring into the tent. 'Inveigling my girl
away!' she cried. 'Get out, you kidnapper! Where's your taste, anyhow,
philandering with a slip of a girl when there's a fine woman about with a
heart as empty as a big sieve?' And the bouncing washerwoman bore down
upon him, and bombarded him out of the place with gusts of laughter.

As yet, Done had seen little of the trials and tribulations of the
diggers. Diamond Gully was a prosperous rush, and the impositions under
which the Victorian miners complained so bitterly had not come home to
many on this field; but he had heard a great deal. The political and
social wrongs of the diggers were the staples of conversation about the
camp-fires. To Jim's great surprise, he found these men, surrounded with
the exciting conditions of their peculiar life, allowing their minds to
be occupied with aspirations after political freedom. The failure of
Chartism in England had driven thousands of hot-blooded champions of
popular rights to Australia, and these were the leaven that leavened the
whole lump. They talked of people's parliaments, manhood suffrage, and
payment of members in a country governed by a pack of British nominees
who had no knowledge of the bulk of the people and no sympathy with their
aspirations. The ideas stirred the miners; they found a lodgment in every
breast, and already men spoke of an Australian Republic south of the
Murray, governed on the liberal principles enunciated by Fergus O'Connor.

Jim had supposed the tolerance of man towards man, the absence of petty
prejudices, and the large appreciation of individual liberty that
belonged to the character of a brave, self population to be
manifestations of an absolute freedom; he found the men fired with a
passionate aspiration for liberty, just as the masses in England had been
five years earlier, and possessed of even more substantial reasons for
revolt. The idea of the young republic delighted him; he was already
prepared to shed his blood in establishing that glorious ideal. Stories
he had heard of the indignities to which the miners were subjected by an
insolent bureaucracy, of men being hunted down like dingoes and beaten
with the drawn swords of the troopers because of their failure to comply
with the outrageous licensing decrees, bred in him a hatred akin to that
felt by the diggers who had suffered in person.

But Done's first experience of a license-hunt was largely farcical. Mr.
Commissioner McPhee had chosen a sweltering hot day for his hunt. Most of
the diggers on Diamond Gully were below, sheltered from the mordant rays
of a sun that blazed in the cloudless sky, so close to earth that its
heat struck the face like a licking flame. Jim had just brought some
picks from the smithy, when he saw the troopers, headed by the magnate on
a fine chestnut, descend upon the gully, their glazed cap-peaks and their
swords flashing gaily in the sun. The mounted men divided at the head of
the gully, and came down on each side of the lead; the foot police
followed Commissioner McPhee, head Serang and cock of the walk from
Sawpit Gully to Castlemaine. The duty of the foot police was to rouse the
diggers out of their drives, and enforce the orders of the high and
mighty McPhee. On Diamond Gully the wash was so shallow that the police
had no difficulty in getting the men to the surface, and the inrush of
the troopers was the signal for a swarming The men poured from the
crowded claims, and in a few seconds the gully was awakened to violent
action, and given over to tumult.

The air resounded with the yells of the miners, raised in warning and
derision. 'Jo! - Jo! - Jo!' The cries travelled the whole length of the
lead, like a salute of musketry. Mike came up the rope, hand over hand.

'A license-hunt,' he said. 'Now you'll see how these gaol warders amuse

'What are we supposed to do?'

'Have your license handy. Show it to Huntsman McPhee, and keep your hands
off his hounds.'

Mr. Commissioner was not having much trouble; he came through the claims
like a monarch demanding obeisance and tribute, and the shouts of the
miners followed him. 'Jo! - Jo! - Jo!' The men made a sort of chorus of the
jibe. A fistful of wet pipe-clay thrown from the cover of a tip struck
the sergeant of troopers in the face, and he spurred his horse furiously
towards the spot. There was a rush of police and diggers, and a bit of a
melee resulted, but Sergeant Wallis received no satisfaction. Four or
five unlicensed diggers had been captured, luckless workers for whom
Fortune had spread no favours, and these were handed over to the mounted
police, who guarded them with drawn swords, accelerating their movements
with blows of the blade and not infrequent prickings, for the hatred in
which the diggers held the troopers was not more fierce than the
troopers' hatred for the men.

Done and Burton stood on the little hillock of mulluck about their shaft,
watching the course of events, when the Grand Serang rode at them. He was
a fine stamp of a man, and loved an effect in which he was the central
figure. It was becoming in a mere digger to make way for the horse of Mr.
Commissioner. Burton, however, stood his ground, the flush burning
through his tan, and, rather than give way an inch or be run down, raised
his hand and struck the noble nag of the big official on the nose with
his palm, with the result that the chestnut went up on his hind-legs,
pawing the air, and rattled down the tip on his heels, while the crowding
diggers, to whom any indignity inflicted upon a commissioner, however
trivial, was a joy and a solace, set up a shout of scornful laughter.

'What the devil, sir, do you mean by striking my horse?' thundered the
irascible McPhee.

'I don't care to be ridden down like a thieving dingo' replied Mike.

'Sergeant, search this impudent jackanapes, and if his license isn't
O.K., jam the beggar into the logs!'

At this point another handful of white clay was thrown from the back of
the crowd, and this time McPhee was the target. The clay struck hint in
the breast, and clung to his black cloth. Again there was a rush of
indignant and amazed under-strappers, and the Commissioner, crimson with
wrath, raised himself in his stirrups and shouted orders, the execution
of which it was beyond even his great power to enforce. They enjoined the
immediate precipitation of the offenders into the Bottomless Pit.

A diversion was created by the sudden appearance of a new quarry. A slim
youth had darted from behind one of the piles of mullock, and was running
at full speed up the lead towards the head of the gully, followed by
three foot police.

'After him!' shouted McPhee.

A couple of troopers and two more foot police joined in the chase, but
the youngster was a good runner and very cunning. He kept to the mined
ground, where the troopers would certainly have broken their necks had
they put their horses after him, and springing like a wallaby he cleared
the holes, and darted in and out amongst the tips, to the utter confusion
of the lubberly and ill-conditioned pursuers. Straight up the lead he
ran, and now all the foot police were hunting him, while the troopers
rode along the right and the left of the gully to keep him from breaking

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 7 of 21)