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for the tents, or for Boulder Hill, where there were hiding places
amongst the big rocks and in the wombat-holes under them.

'Run him down!' shouted McPhee, furious after the indignities that had
been put upon his high office. 'Five pounds to the man who nabs him!'

The diggers shouted a grand chorus of encouragement to the lad, and added
a cry of contempt for Mr. Commissioner and all his horde. A number of the
men joined in the chase, to add to the confusion of the police. The rest,
crowded on the higher ground, formed a large audience, and a more
enthusiastic audience, or a more vociferous one for its size, had never
witnessed a sporting event in wide Australia. The excitement grew with
every successful trick of the runaway, and now he was leading his hunters
in and out amongst the claims at the gully's head, apparently quite
indifferent to the heat of the day or the stress of the chase. The miners
were giving the youth all the assistance they could by devising
hindrances for the police. Barrows, picks, shovels, buckets, and
hide-bags found their way under the legs of the pursuers, windlass-ropes
were stretched to trip them up, and preoccupied miners jostled them at
every turn, and endeavoured to detain them in argument.

Presently the prisoners, in the charge of three troopers, finding
attention diverted from them, seized the opportunity to make a bolt for
the hunted digger's haven of refuge, Boulder Hill, and the confusion of
tongues swelled to one rapturous howl at the sight. The unlicensed
diggers spread, running their best, and dodging smartly to avoid the
horses. One poor devil went down under the hoofs of a big roan, and there
arose another roar of different portent.

The youngster was being hemmed in amongst a few claims on the extreme
left. The troopers had stationed themselves beyond, and the police were
closing in on him, while the crowd yelled encouragement and advice. With
a rush and a reckless spring from a mullock-heap, the youth cleared his
enemies again, and came racing up the gully once more, the baffled police
and a number of miners following pell-mell, the troopers cantering on the
wings of the hunt. If the boy could reach the crowd where it was thickest
there was a chance for him, but he was running straight at Commissioner
McPhee, who sat upon his horse watching the chase, and relieving his
official feelings with a flow of elegant objurgation.

On came the young digger, the cheers swelling as he advanced. The men of
Diamond Gully had never so thoroughly enjoyed anything in the nature of a
chase. It seemed that the race was to be to the swift. The crowd parted
to take the runner to its heart, when Sergeant Wallis threw himself from
his horse, and the young digger simply sank panting into his arms. Wallis
put on a grip that had reduced many a recalcitrant convict to order, and
looked inquiringly at McPhee, who had ridden to the spot. The crowd
closed round, overlooking the scene from mullock-heaps and
windlass-stands.

'Produce your license, you rascal!' roared the Commissioner.

The youth was too short of breath to speak, and remained panting under
Wallis's hand.

'He has no license, sergeant. Run him in!' said McPhee.

'Sure, Commissioner dear, what'd I be doin' wid a license whin I'm only a
woman?' The captive plucked the billycock from her head, and a mass of
black hair fell over her shoulders.

Done, who had pressed to the front, recognised Aurora. That section of
the crowd which saw and understood sent up a shout of surprise and
jubilation. Wallis retained his grip on the girl, and the sight of his
hands upon her stirred a savage resentment in Jim. He made a rush at the
sergeant, but Mike was beside him and held him.

'Don't be a fool, Jim. Don't give them a chance,' he said. 'She's right
as rain. McPhee can do nothing to her; he'll lumber you if you only open
your mouth!'

'What'll I do with him - her, sir?' asked Wallis.

'A pretty chase you've led us, you vixen!' blurted the Serang. 'For two
pins I'd chain you to the nearest log, and give the flies a treat.'

'Would hairpins do, Mack dear?' panted Aurora, thrusting an impertinent,
flushed, handsome face up at the Serang, and feeling amongst her tangled
hair.

There had been an expectant hush upon the men for the last few moments.
On this broke a great bovine roar of merriment from the opulent lungs of
Mrs. Ben Kyley, who stood foremost in the ring surrounding McPhee, the
sergeant, and the girl, her strong white hands, suspiciously pipeclayed,
supporting her shaking sides. The familiar guffaw was infectious; the
diggers caught it up, and, laughing like madmen, closed in on Wallis,
snatched his prisoner from his hands, and, hoisting her shoulder high,
bore her off in triumph.

Commissioner McPhee, surrounded by his minions, rode from Diamond Gully
that afternoon with one prisoner - the man who had been run down, and the
crowd that ushered him out bore Aurora Griffiths aloft, and sang a long
chant of derision, which, keenly as he felt it, the Serang did not dare
resent.

X

NATURALLY, Aurora's popularity was greatly increased, and the tent of
Mrs. Ben Kyley became a favourite rendezvous. The girl's good looks and
her good and Mrs. Kyley's own breezy, genial disposition, were sufficient
to assure a large interest on the part of the men; but Aurora, in taking
action against the troopers, had identified herself with the enemies of
officialdom. Thenceforth she was a public character. There were not so
many women about the rush but that scores of sober, reputable diggers
would have travelled far and drunk much indifferent rum merely for the
privilege of gazing upon the merry, handsome face of a girl like Aurora
Griffiths. Now she was in some measure their championess there was more
reason for offering devotion at her shrine, and Kyley's saw busy nights.

'Why did you do it?' asked Jim a few nights later, throwing into his
words a hint of reproach. Done was unconsciously assuming some little air
of proprietorship over Aurora. Whenever the girl noticed it smiles
sparkled in the corners of her brown eyes.

'Pure devilment! What else?' she answered.

'Wasn't it a little - just a little - ' He was at a loss to express
himself, and Aurora's laugh chimed in.

'The dear boy's brought his sinse iv propriety wid him!' she cried.
'Maybe ye' have a few words to say on moral conduct an' the dacent
observances iv polite society, an' ye'll be axin' me to put on a proper
decorum before the min. Arrah! ye have some purty maxims for young
ladies, an' a heap iv illegant an' rare ideals iv yer own as to what's
good an' becomin' in young persons iv the other sex, haven't ye, dear?'

'No, no, no!' cried Done, shocked to find how easily he had slipped into
the attitude of the common moralist.

'I stand on my merits and my lack of them, Jimmy. There's only one of me
here!' She touched her breast. 'And good, bad, or indifferent, my friends
must take me whole.'

'Whole, then.'

'Wait, boy, you don't know a fifth of it yet.'

'Do your worst, and test my devotion, Aurora. I defy you!' Jim was
getting on.

'Devil doubt you. You're a bold man, Mister Jimmy Done, an' I like your
cheek, for all it's as smooth as my own.' She touched his face
caressingly with her fingers, and turned to serve clamouring customers at
the other end of the counter.

'Good-night, mate,' said a quiet voice at Jim's elbow. Done turned
quickly, and started back a step with some amazement on beholding the
pale, impassive face of the stranger who had attacked Stony at their camp
in the Black Forest. The man was smoking a cigar. He was dressed after
the manner of a successful digger, with a touch of vanity. He regarded
Jim earnestly, and the young man experienced again the peculiar feeling
the first sight of this stranger had provoked.

'Good-night,' he said.

'I see you recollect me.'

'Oh yes. Did Stony quite escape you that night?'

'He did, thank's to you, Done.'

'A man couldn't see murder done under his very nose without stirring a
hand.'

'Don't apologize. I have no grievance. If I had killed him I should have
regretted it more than the death of my dearest friend, although no man
from the time of Cain had better excuse for murder. I suppose you have
not seen the man since?'

'No!' answered Jim with emphasis.

'Meaning that you would not tell me if you had. You need not fear being
an accessory before the act. I want Stony alive, Mr. Done.'

'Mister Done!' Jim laughed. 'I did not think there was a Mister on the
camp. But how do you know my name?'

'I have heard it here to-night half a dozen times. My name is Wat
Ryder - Walter Ryder, but mono syllabic Christian names are insisted on
amongst our friends.' He pointed his cigar towards the diggers at the
tables. 'Forgive me,' he continued in an even voice, 'but your scrutiny
of me is suggestive. May I ask what there is in my appearance or my
manner that disturbs you?'

The question was put without feeling of any kind, but it startled Jim a
little. He was surprised to find that he had betrayed any trace of his
emotion.

'Well,' he said, 'my experience of you has not been commonplace.'

'You mean that affair in the Bush? - a casual fight, with the usual loud
language merely, for all you know.' Ryder maintained silence for a few
moments. He was studying his cigar when he spoke again. 'By the way,' he
said abruptly, 'I know a good deal about you, Done, if you came out in
the Francis Cadman. He expected this announcement to have some effect.

'I saw you one day in Melbourne,' Jim replied. 'You were driving with
Mrs. Macdougal.'

'Mrs. Donald Macdougal of Boobyalla,' said Ryder gravely.

'She was a shipmate of mine.'

Yes; and you saw my face for a moment in Melbourne and remembered it. You
observe narrowly and quickly, Mr. Done. It was not Mrs. Macdougal who was
most communicative on the interesting subject I have broached, however,
but a very charming young friend of hers, Miss Woodrow. The young lady's
concern was excusable in view of certain services, but nevertheless
flattering. She asked me to constitute myself a sort of foster-Providence
over you if we ever met, Mr. Done.'

Jim laughed to smother a pang.

'Do I need it, Mr. Ryder?' he asked. He fancied there was a flutter of
the other's eye towards Aurora, but Ryder did not reply to the question.
'Miss Woodrow told me of the rescue,' he said, 'of your solitary
disposition, and spoke of a life of suffering in England.'

Done's lips tightened; he squared his shoulders. The fear that had
possessed him on leaving his birthplace was no longer upon him, but he
desired no revelations, no digging into the past, and there was a hint of
motive in the other's tone - he was inviting confidence. For a few moments
Ryder bent a keen glance upon the younger man, his face bowed and in
shadow, toying with his cigar.

'Jo!' yelled a voice out in the darkness.

Instantly every pannikin was emptied on the floor, and thrust into a
digger's shirt.

'The traps!' cried Mrs. Ben, and her rum-jug flew into a tub of water
behind the counter. Several bundles of washing were tossed out, a loaf of
bread was thrust upon Done, and at the same moment the door was thrown
back, and in marched Sergeant Wallis, followed by five police. Mrs. Ben
Kyley was not surprised, and had expected that Aurora's imposition would
bring a raid down upon her sooner or later, and here it was.

'You're selling sly grog here, ma'am,' said Wallis, sniffing like a
retriever.

Ben Kyley rose silently from his stool and approached Wallis.

'Sit you down, Ben Kyley!' roared Mrs. Ben; and Kyley returned as
silently to his seat, and sat smoking throughout the scene that followed,
apparently quite listless.

'Am I selling sly grog, Mr. Sergeant? Then it's a miracle where it comes
from. I haven't a drop in the place, or I'd stand you a nobbler gladly.
It's my opinion there are worse-looking men than Sergeant Wallis in
gaol.'

'Rubbish, ma'am! the place reeks of rum,' said Wallis.

'A bit of a bottle Quigley shouted for the boys, this being his
birthday.'

'Quigley has too many birthdays. Search the place, boys!'

The police commenced a systematic search of the tent, examining both
compartments, and trying the earthen floor for a secret cellar. They
found nothing, and meanwhile Mrs. Kyley was bantering Wallis with
boisterous good-fellowship.

'The idea of an officer of your penetration, sergeant, mistaking a poor
washerwoman's tent for a grog-shop.'

The poor washerwoman does a big business, Mrs. Kyley.'

'Not amongst the police, Sergeant Wallis. It is a miserable living a
washerwoman would make out of them. I hear they beat their shirts with a
stick once a month, as we dusted the carpets in the old Country.'

'We can find nothing, sergeant,' said one of the police.

'Remember how Imeson tricked you all at Bendigo, Wallis, with a hollow
tent-pole that held ten gallons of brandy.'

'I do, Mrs. Kyley. You were Mrs. Imeson then.'

'And if you have the luck I may be Mrs. Wallis one of these days.'

'Heaven forbid, ma'am!'

'Don't waste your prayers on me, sergeant. Maybe I deserve even that, my
sins being many and various.'

'And sly grog-selling is one of them. But I'll have you there yet, my
good woman.' Wallis turned his thumb down.

'Remember I am only a poor weak woman when that happens, sergeant. Will
you have a drink before going? There's a nip left in Quigley's bottle.'

'No, ma'am, I don't drink,' answered Wallis from the door.

'Then, sergeant, commit your nose for perjury. It's bearing false witness
against you all over the field.'

There was a yell of laughter, interspersed with the usual cries of 'Jo!'
as Wallis passed out after his men, and the diggers bombarded Mrs. Kyley
with the bundles of washing that had been hastily distributed amongst
them. Ben Kyley followed the police out, and presently returned and
nodded to Mary, who seized her jug and dived through the canvas
partition. She was back again in a minute with a jug full of spirits.

'My shout, lads!' she cried. 'Roll up, and drink the health and long life
of Mary Kyley!'

The device that enabled the washerwoman to deceive the police was known
to a few of the diggers, but they kept the secret well. Her tent was
pitched close to a big hollow gum-tree. High up in the butt nestled a
barrel of rum, the bottom coated with cinders, like the interior of the
burnt tree. From this barrel a pipe came down under the bark to a neatly
disguised little trap-door where the canvas lay against the butt. A
hidden slit in the tent corresponded with the trap-door. It was Ben's
office to replenish the barrel at night, with kegs brought from their
safe hiding-place in an abandoned claim, over which was pitched the tent
of his mate, Sandy Harris. Mary had adopted this plan on three rushes,
and her savings, regularly banked in Melbourne, already assumed the
proportions of a modest fortune.

When the police were gone Jim looked about him in search of Ryder, but
his acquaintance had disappeared. As his friendship with Aurora Griffiths
ripened, Done shook off thoughts of Lucy Woodrow, since they never came
without an underlying sense of accusation. He was enjoying his present
life to the full. In his heart was a great kindness towards the people
with whom he mingled. He was naturally sociable, a lover of his kind, and
recognised now that half the torment of his life since coming to manhood
had arisen from his isolation, from the lack of opportunities of
gratifying this affection. He admired Aurora, comparing her with his
youthful ideal, the strong animal, self-reliant, careless of custom.
True, she lacked the intellectual superiority with which he had endowed
his defiant Dulcinea, but he had even forgotten to take delight in his
own mental excellence of late, so that did matter. He only concerned
himself with living now. He was quite at his ease in Aurora's society,
and the atmosphere on the Kyley establishment pleased him. The place was
full of interest, but his warmest interest was in the full-blooded pagan
who officiated as Hebe to the assembled diggers.

He had quite respectable qualms at times, seeing her the object of so
much rough gallantry - qualms he stifled instantly as being in flat
rebellion to his fine philosophy of individualism as applied to
behaviour. His rights of man must be rights of women too. But, for all
that, there was much comfort in the belief that Aurora showed no
preference elsewhere. Quigley's prominence as a suitor was not due to any
partiality on the part of the girl, but rather to Quigley's own
aggressive character, and his imperturbability under her eloquent banter.
To be sure, she persisted in treating Jim as an interesting boy, a line
of conduct he found somewhat absurd, but which was partly the vein of her
humour, and partly due to his inexperience in the role of Don Juan.

So the merry months passed, and the mates worked claim after claim on
Diamond Gully, doing much prospecting work and sinking sundry duffers,
but unearthing sufficient gold to make Done's riches a good deal of a
nuisance to him, although translated into the biggest bank-notes
available. During all this time Quigley's dislike for Jim was only kept
within bounds by the vein of flippancy that ran through Aurora's
demonstrations of preference for the younger man. The quarrel was
inevitable, however, and it was precipitated by a half-drunken
demonstration of affection towards Aurora on Quigley's part, which the
girl resented with a savageness that betrayed an unexpected trait.

One Saturday night Done and Burton were partners in a four-handed game of
euchre going on at one of the tables, when a sudden disturbance arose at
the counter. Mrs. Ben Kyley's familiar rum-jug crashed and flew to pieces
on the table amongst the men. The players were on their feet in an
instant. At the other end of the compartment Aurora was struggling in the
hands of Pete Quigley. Pete held her wrists firmly, and Aurora's fingers
clutched the neck of a bottle. Her face was distorted with passion, no
trace of its habitual humour remained; the fury of a mountain cat blazed
in her eyes, her lips were drawn back from her large white teeth, which
were clenched with a biting vindictiveness. The other men reseated
themselves, watching the struggle without much concern. Mrs. Kyley
shouted an uncomplimentary summary of Quigley's character from behind the
counter. Jim alone advanced to interfere.

'Drop it, Quigley,' he said quietly, but his warmer feelings stirred.
'Blast it, man, let the girl be!'

'An' have my brains knocked out with a bottle? I'll see you flaming
first!'

Done pressed Aurora's fingers apart, and threw the bottle behind the
counter.

'Now release her!' he said in a tone conveying a threat.

'Mind your own infernal business!' answered Pete. 'I'll deal with you in
half a minute.'

'Release her!' Done was at Quigley's throat with a grip that started
Pete's eyes from their sockets, and the elder digger abandoned his hold
on Aurora to fight for his own breath. There was a brief struggle, and
Jim sent Pete sprawling over a stool.

Quigley picked himself up. He did not rush at Done: he was apparently
composed. He undid the wrist and collar buttons of his jumper, drew the
garment over his head, and threw it on the floor at Jim's feet.

'I suppose you'll take it fighting!' he said. 'If you won't I'll thump
the soul out of you, anyhow.'

Aurora rushed between them, and endeavoured to grapple with Pete again.

'You shall not fight!' she cried. 'You coward! You brute!'

At this juncture Kyley, who had been away replenishing the rum-barrel,
entered the tent. He took in the situation at a glance.

'Look after Aurora, Ben!' ordered Mrs. Kyley, and Kyley calmly took the
struggling girl in his arms, and handed her bodily over the counter into
the washer-woman's gentle care.

Mike was promptly at his mate's back. 'Stave him off, Jim,' he said. 'Use
your straight left, and if he gets in throw him. He's a dirty
in-fighter.' Mike had boxed a good deal with Done lately, and did not
tremble for his friend.

Kyley came forward again. It was no part of his duty to prevent an
honourable settlement of a quarrel between man and man, and very far from
his inclination.

'If yer meanin' fight,' he said, it's got to be fair, square, an' in
order. First man that fouls 'll hear from me. Are you ready?'

The men had formed themselves into ranks along the sides and the end of
the tent, leaving a clear space about eighteen feet square. Jim threw
aside his shirt, and stood erect and composed. The flannel he wore was
sleeveless, and his uncommon length of arm excited the attention of the
cognoscenti, and if there was a miner on Diamond Gully who did not know
the points of a fighter, he was ashamed to admit it. Done had done most
of the windlass work since coming to the field, and his forearm was
corrugated with muscle, while the flexors responded to movements like
balls of iron starting under the brown skin. His shoulders were broad and
set well back, his poise buoyant, and his air of absolute confidence gave
a dubious tone to the words of the quidnuncs who were allowing Quigley
three minutes to whip him out of all recognition. Done looked slight and
small before his big opponent, but Pete's bigness was due largely to
surplus material, and Pete had been anything but a temperate man of late.
Jim recollected this in calculating his chances and determining his
methods.

'Time!' cried Kyley.

Done took his ground easily, with his left arm well up, and his right in
for defence, a style so unusual at that date as to provide a little
derision amongst the onlookers. Mike, standing with his arms outspread
and his shoulders to the crowd, keeping the ring, smiled complacently.
Pete, confident in his height, weight, and strength, was determined to
make a short, hot fight of it, and went straight at Jim, both hands up,
and launched his right for the young man's face with terrific force. This
must have been a decisive blow had Jim's face remained there to receive
it, but Done ducked neatly, and the next moment his left was shot into
Quigley's cheek, sending the big man staggering, and raising a purple
wheal under the eye almost instantly. Pete's composure forsook him at the
first set back, and uttering a furious oath he rushed in again, swinging
both fists; but that shooting left hand met him full in the mouth, and
balked him again, his own sledge-hammer blows falling short of his
opponent. He pushed in recklessly, punching right and left, but Jim
dodged smartly, slipped under his arm, and jumped to the other end of the
ring. Quigley swung round and dashed at him, and once more Done's hard
left shot into his face, while the heavy blow of the giant was neatly
parried, and again Jim bewildered his man by ducking and slipping from
him.

'Why don't you stand up and fight him like a Briton?' cried one of the
supporters of the big digger.

'He's fightin' fair, an' as long as he fights fair he'll fight as he dom
well pleases!' said Ben Kyley, who had constituted himself referee.

Already Quigley was bleeding freely and panting from his exertions, while
Done, who betrayed no excitement and conserved his energies with miserly
care, was no more disturbed than if he had been taking a hand at cards.
He faced his foe as before, presenting as little as possible of his body
for a target, and met Pete's rush this time with an adroit side movement
and a heavy lifting blow in the body that made Quigley gasp, and robbed
him of the little bit of sense that had remained. He went blundering at
Jim, lashing out with left and right. There was a rapid exchange, and
using his guard arm in offence for the first time, Jim sent in a swinging
blow that crashed on Pete's chin; and Pete dropped as if his legs had
suddenly broken under him, and lay in a grotesque attitude, his cheek
pressed to the earthen floor, while the assembled miners sent up yells of
excitement that presently settled into a babel of criticism.

Quigley made an effort to rise, but collapsed, and was lifted into his
corner, and freely sprayed and towelled by his seconds. Jim sat unmoved,
while Mike and an aristocratic digger, known as the Prodigal, fanned him
with the towels Mrs. Kyley had thoughtfully provided.

Quigley came up again at the call. He was still blinking and a little
dazed, but far from being beaten, and the first round had taught him a
lesson. He advanced more warily, displaying some little respect for his
enemy's darting left, but Jim's tactics puzzled and disgusted him. The


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 8 of 21)