Edward Dyson.

In the Roaring Fifties online

. (page 9 of 21)
Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 9 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

young man was as nimble as a cat, and no matter how Pete pushed him, he
always broke ground and slipped away when it seemed that his towering
opponent had him at his mercy.

'Why don't you fight, blast yer!' stuttered Pete, swinging on the runaway
for the third time in two minutes.

'Yes, stand up to it. This ain't a dancing lesson!' his second growled.

Jim's answer was a quick feint and a hard drive on the nose with the
left, following up quickly with the right on Quigley's ear. Both blows
sank in deeply, and Jim eluded Pete's rush, jumped out of his reach, and,
coming at him from the side, punched him heavily in the neck, whereat
Mike and his friends clamoured joyously. Quigley rushed at Jim, spitting
oaths, but he was a better fighter than he appeared to be, and was
prepared for the other's swift, cutting left hand by this, and, ducking,
he landed both fists on Jim's body. Jim countered on the ear and neck,
there was a fierce rally that set the crowd jumping and shouting madly,
and Jim slid out and skipped away, then got back at Pete before he had
quite realized what had happened with a powerful blow over the kidneys.

Pete's blood was up; he set his teeth, and went at Done with hungry
passion. The young man's style of fighting was new to most of the
onlookers, and few of them appreciated it. What they liked was to see
combatants stand up to each other, giving punch for punch, a system in
which the strong brute had all the advantage. Adroitness in avoiding
punishment was not regarded with favour; but, in spite of the derisive
cries of Quigley's backers, Jim kept strictly to his methods.

'Shut up, you!' cried Kyley. 'The lad's fightin' his own battle, an'
fightin' it well. He could wipe the floor with a bunch of you.'

Breathing heavily, and looking extremely ugly under his blood and
bruises, Pete followed Jim round, watching for an opportunity to rush in
and grip him. He felt that it was only necessary for him to get the
smaller man in his arms to settle the contest once and for all; but Jim
fought him warily, sparring, ducking, and dodging, cutting Pete again and
again with left-hand punches, or clipping him neatly with a swinging
right when an opening offered. Taking advantage of an instant when Done
was driven against the line of men, Quigley bore in, shaking his head
from a blow that might have felled a bullock, and, clasping Jim round the
waist, deliberately carried him into the centre of the ring, making
nothing of the short-arm punches that cut like a hammer. Three times he
tried to dash Done to the ground, but the latter was lithe as a serpent,
and his limbs writhed themselves about Quigley and clung tenaciously. The
crowd was shouting the two men's names, and exchanging cries of triumph
and abuse. Suddenly an arm shot across Pete's breast, an elbow was driven
into his throat, the two men wheeled, and the big one was sprung from his
feet and sent down, with a stunning shock. The yelling ceased suddenly,
every eye was upon Quigley.

'My God! he's killed!' said one awed voice.

They dragged Pete to his corner, and Jim submitted himself to the
attentions of his seconds. All the passion had gone out of his heart
before the first round was finished: there remained no emotion but the
lust of conquest. Aurora, who had watched the fight lying across the
counter under the washer-woman's restraining arm, her dark eyes shining,
her face ablaze, beat the boards with her knuckles, and cried out
incessantly, a prey to a fever of excitement that quivered in all her

'Time!' cried Ben Kyley, and the men came to the scratch for the third
round, Pete badly shaken, but game and still eager.

'Stand in an' fight me, an' I'll belt the hide off you!' he said

Jim laughed mockingly, and pushed his face forward, inviting the other to
lead, and when Pete lunged at it he ducked, and got right and left on to
his enemy's ribs, slipping, away under Pete's arm when he endeavoured to
return the blows. For a time Jim simply led the big man a dance round the
ring, landing a stinging blow now and then, to add to Pete's
discomfiture; but the latter got him cornered at last, and the thud,
thud, thud of the blows stirred the crowd to enthusiasm once more. Pete
got after Jim smartly when the latter broke ground, and landed his best
blow, a heavy right swing on the temple that sent Done down, and left him
confused for a few seconds. Quigley's friends shouted themselves hoarse
as Mike helped his mate to the chair.

'How goes it, Jim?' asked Burton anxiously.

'He's beaten, but my hat won't fit me for a day or two,' answered Done,
smiling through the water.

Quigley showed his bad condition very markedly when he came up, and Jim,
excepting for a cut chin and a big lump over his temple, appeared none
the worse. Pete maintained his wild policy, rushing the young man about
the ring, wasting energy in terrible blows that were rarely within a foot
of their object, while Done, who scarcely seemed to be fighting at all,
slipped in every now and again and battered Pete's body, chary of hitting
his cut and swollen face. This was maintained for two rounds more, and
three times Quigley went down. When time was called for the seventh round
Jim said decisively:

'I'll fight the man no more! He's beaten!'

There was a yell from Quigley's corner, and Pete rushed Jim, forcing him
back among the men. Again they clinched, but Jim broke away, and Quigley
followed, almost blind, and scarcely able to stagger. Done put him off
with the left, and drove in a right-hand blow that took Pete on the point
of the chin, sending him to earth, helpless and hopelessly beaten.

'Jimmy Done's the winner,' said Kyley authoritatively, when a measure of
quiet was restored, 'an' I don't mind sayin' I ain't seen a prettier bit
o' fightin' this five year. You've got a lot o' Tom Sayers's dainty
tricks, my lad!' he added, shaking Done by the hand.


THE miners pressed about the victor, eager to shake hands with him, and
invitations to drink were showered upon him. Aurora clamoured on the out
skirts of this crowd, trying to fight her way through, still half
delirious with excitement and exultation, calling Jim's name. Her rapture
was uncouth, half savage; she had many of the instincts of the primitive
woman. But Mike dragged Done's shirt over his head and led his mate away.
Burton prepared a hot tub for Jim that night, and after nine hours' sleep
the hero awakened on Sunday morning with only a bruise or two, a lump on
his forehead, and a stiff and battered feeling about the ribs, to remind
him of his fight with Quigley.

It was a pleasant morning, the winter was already well advanced; but only
an improved water-supply, an occasional wetting at the windlass, and the
need of a rug on the bunk, marked the change of season, so far as Jim
could see. There was no place for verdure on Diamond Gully; the whole
field turned upside down, littered with the debris of the mines, washed
with yellow slurry, and strewn in places with white boulders and the
gravel tailings sluiced clean by the gold-seekers. The creek, recently a
limpid rivulet, was now a sluggish, muddy stream, winding about its
tumbled bed; but a bright sky was over all, and a benignant sun smiled
upon the gully, scintillating among the tailings and burnishing the muddy
stream to silver. The tents looked white and clean, and the smoke from
the camp-fires rose straight and high in the peaceful atmosphere. A
strange quiet was upon the lead; it needed only the chastened clanging of
a church-bell to complete the suggestion of an English Sabbath.

Jim was sitting on the foot of his bunk reading. Mike had gone up the
creek on a prospecting expedition. Presently a magpie in a dead tree at a
little distance burst into full-throated melody. Done dropped his book to
listen. That clarion of jubilation always delighted him. It seemed to him
that if the young Australian republic men were talking of ever came into
being its anthem must ring with the wild, free notes of its bravest

'So the bold hayro was not kilt intoirely?' Aurora was smiling in at him,
her eyes full of sunshine, her cheeks suffused with more than their
wonted colour. 'Are ye axin' me in? Thank ye, kind sir.' She slipped into
the tent, and, placing a hand upon each shoulder, examined him
critically, while he smiled back into her face, and wondered why she
brought with her suggestions of a bounteous rose-garden. 'Ah, Jimmy, I
thought I'd hardly know ye!

'"Where are your eyes that looked so mild?
Hurroo! Hurroo!
Where are your eyes that looked so mild
Hurroo! Hurroo!
Where are your eyes that looked so mild,
When my poor heart you first beguiled?"

She sang no more, but sank upon his knee, and her arms were about his
neck. Her accent was mischievious, but there was the fire of rubies in
her eyes.

'They're both there fast enough,' laughed Jim. 'An' niver a black one
among them. The big fellow didn't spoil your picture, then? Ah, Jim, it
was fine! fine! fine! It maddened me with delight to see you beating him.
You - you sprig of a fighting devil, I love you for it!'

Jim's heart took fire at hers. He strained her to him, and his lips sank
upon her handsome, eager mouth in a long kiss that transported him.

'Dearest, you have kissed my heart,' she whispered. 'You fought him for
the love of me, didn't you?'

Only twice in his life had he kissed a woman, and as if greedy from long
fasting he kissed her now, lips, cheeks, eyes, and neck. His lips
searched the deep corners of her mouth.

'But you don't say you love me, ma bouchal!' Aurora murmured, and her
arms tightened about his neck.

'You are beautiful! You are beautiful!' he said fiercely.

'But you don't say you love me!'

'I love you! I love you! I love you!' There was not now in the young
man's mind any self-questioning; there was no probing for logical
reasons, no doubting, no examining emotions in a suspicious, pessimistic
spirit. Done abandon himself to the delicious intoxication of the moment,
and Aurora was transfigured under his caresses her aggressiveness, her
bonhomie, her bold independence of spirit, were all gone; she developed a
clinging and almost infantile tenderness, and breathed about him a cloud
of ecstasy.

When Burton returned in two hours' time, Done said nothing about Aurora's
visit, but Mike did not fail to mark his mate's demeanour, which was
unusually thoughtful.

'Not feelin' too bright, old man?' asked Mike

'Nonsense, Mike; I'm all right.'

'Thought p'r'aps those rib-benders o' Quigley's were pullin' you up.'

'Not a bit of it. I haven't a thought to spare for Quigley.'

Burton understood better later in the evening, when he saw Jim and Aurora
sitting together at Kyley's in the dim corner furthest from the wide
fireplace, and the Geordie touched him on the arm and jerked his thumb in
their direction.

'She was down to your tent to see after her champion this mornin',' he

'Spoils to the victor!' said the Prodigal.

Mike's eyes drifted towards Jim and Aurora several times during the
evening, and he thumbed his chin in a troubled way. He had been thinking
it was almost time to try fresh fields; but it was not going to be so
easy a matter to shift as he had imagined.

A few nights later, seizing the opportunity when he was alone in the
tent, Jim cut the stitches that secured the locket containing Lucy
Woodrow's portrait in the breast pocket of his jumper, convenient to his
heart; and drawing from under his pillow the tin box that held his
mother's brooch and picture, and the few papers and heirlooms he
cherished, he placed Lucy's gift somewhat reverently amongst his
treasures, and hastily stowed the box away again. He had formulated no
definite reason for doing this, and experienced some contrition in
performing the act, and a sense of relief when it was done.

The young man's complete victory over Quigley made his reputation
throughout Diamond Gully. Pete Quigley had two or three hard-won battles
to his credit, and it was thought there was no man on the field so hard
to handle, with the exception of Ben Kyley, whose showing against a
professional of Bendigo's calibre set him on a plane above the mere
amateur. Pete confessed himself beaten without equivocation.

'I ain't got any patience with this blanky new fangled style o'
fightin',' he said. 'A man ought to toe the scratch an' take his gruel
like a man. With those Johnnie-jump-ups it's all cut an' run, an' I admit
it licks me. I ain't neither a foot-racer nor a acrobat, an' Done gave me
as much as I cared about.'

Indeed, Quigley looked it. The fact was patent on the face of him, and he
would not be in a condition to dispute the thoroughness of his trouncing
for three weeks at least.

Jim was regarded as a celebrity. Strangers even went to him, and gravely
asked to be permitted to shake hands with him as such. He was pointed out
to newcomers, and observed on all hands with a serious respect that had
all the comedy of piquant burlesque.

''Pon my soul, Mike!' said Jim, 'if your republic comes while my
popularity lasts, I shall be first President.'

'Well,' answered Mike soberly, 'if you could talk as well as you fight,
I'd like your chances.'

Done's opportunity of increasing his popularity came on the following
Saturday. The Saturday afternoon off was strictly observed on the rushes.
The miners were nearly all batchers - that is, bachelors keeping house for
themselves - and the tidy men amongst them needed one half-day for washing
and cleaning and putting their tents in order. Only the more prodigal
spirits cared to pay Mrs. Kyley's exorbitant rates for laundry work, and
for the others who cherished a respect for cleanliness - the nearest the
ordinary digger came to Godliness - Saturday afternoon was washing day,
and scores might have been seen after crib outside their tents performing
the laundress's office, usually astride a log, on which 'the wash' was
spread to be alternately splashed and soaped and rubbed. Saturday was the
great 'settling day,' too. If there were any differences to be fought
out, or any disputes requiring the nice adjustment of the prize-ring,
they were almost in variably made fixtures for Saturday afternoon.

For a month past Aurora had forcibly taken over the mates' washing, and
as they were well-disciplined batchers who performed their domestic
duties effectually from day to day, for them Saturday afternoon was
really a holiday; and on this particular afternoon they were sitting in
the open, sunning themselves, and talking with the Prodigal of the latest
news from Ballarat, where the leaders of the diggers' cause were
agitating resolutely for alterations in the mining laws and reform of the
Constitution, when a party of about twenty men approached them from the
direction of Forest Creek. The party halted at a distance of about fifty
yards, and after a short conference two of the men came on.

'Hello!' said Mike, 'here's trouble.'

'Five ounces to a bone button they are looking for fight, added the

'Good day, mates!' The foremost of the two strangers greeted them with
marked civility, and the friends replied in kind. 'One of you is the man
that beat Pete Quigley, we're told.'

'This is Jim Done,' said Mike, giving an informal introduction,
indicating Jim with the toss of a pebble.

'Glad to know you,' the other said, with some show of deference. 'Fact
is, we've got a man here who's willing to fight you for anything you care
to mention up to fifty pounds.'

'What!' cried Done in amazement.

'Oh, quite friendly, and all that. He hasn't anything against you.'

'Confound his cheek! Does he - do you think I've nothing better to do than
to offer myself to be thumped by every blackguardly bruiser who comes

'Softly, mate; no need for hard names. We come here as sportsmen, making
you a fair offer, thinking, perhaps, you'd be glad of a bit of a rough-up
this fine day.'

'Then you can go to the devil!' said Jim, laughing in spite of himself.

'You won't fight?'

'I will not. I'm no fighting man. I only fight when forced, and then with
a bad grace, I can assure you.'

The two men looked quite pathetic in their disappointment as they turned
to rejoin their companions.

'Well, of all the outrageous - ' gasped Jim.

'Price of fame! said the Prodigal.

Mike grinned. 'Don't be selfish, Jim. I've got nothing to do this
afternoon, an' would just as soon watch a good scrap. Why not oblige the
kind gentleman?'

'You and the kind gentleman can go hang!'

'They've got Brummy the Nut there,' the Prodigal said. 'Brummy is a lag
who had all the sensibilities battered out of him in the quarries. He has
no science, but hits like the kick of a cart-horse, and is humbly
grateful for punishment that would knock the hide off an old man

'Look here, you won't disappoint poor Brummy the Nut,' pleaded Mike, with
mock gravity.

The deputation of two returned after another conference.

'How would you take it,' asked the first speaker - . 'mind, we're just
asking, being anxious to bring about a friendly meeting - how would you
take it if our man gave you a bit of a clip over the ear?'

This was put as a reasonable possibility, and as a simple and pleasant
method of establishing a casus belli that might satisfy Done's ridiculous

'I'd take it very badly,' said Jim warmly, 'and probably knock your man's
confounded head off his shoulders with this pick-handle.'

''Twouldn't be done unfriendly,' said the second man in a hurt tone.

'Why doesn't your man show himself?'

'They guessed his beauty would prejudice you,' said the Prodigal. 'You
might have conscientious scruples, and refuse to do anything to mar so
perfect a specimen of Nature's handiwork.'

One of the strangers beckoned, and his party advanced with their
champion. Done gazed wonderingly at the man they brought against him.
Brummy the Nut was perhaps five feet nine inches in height, but walked in
the stooping attitude of a person under a burden, his long arms swinging
in a manner that strengthened the hint of gorilla in his broad, battered
face; he dragged his feet as if the ball and chain were still at his
heels, and, despite the enormous strength suggested by his massive limbs
and great trunk, bore himself with a childish meekness in ludicrous
contrast with his sinister appearance. All that long years in a convict
hell could do to rob a man of the grace of humanity and harden him to
pain and labour had been done for Brummy the Nut. The Nut favoured Jim,
Mike, and the Prodigal each with a duck of the head and a movement of his
hand towards the forehead.

'This is our man, Brummy the Nut,' said the party's spokesman.

'Well, Brummy, I won't fight you,' replied Done. Brummy ducked his head
again, and muttered something in a husky voice about being 'proud to hey
a fr'en'ly go with any gent ez is a gent.'

'He's a gentleman amateur like yourself,' said the spokesman persuasively
'and a fairer fighter never stripped.'

'Oh, make tracks!' retorted Burton with some impatience. 'We're tired.
Set your man-eater at a red-gum butt or a bull - something in his class.'

'It's very disappointing after coming so far to oblige you.'

'You didn't receive a pressing invitation from any body here,' said Jim.

'Any other day,' ventured the Nut deferentially in his small, hoarse
voice, intelligible only at intervals. 'Way o' friendship - no
ill-feelin's - gent ez is a gent - no 'arm did.'

'I'll not fight you at any time,' Done replied. 'You see, Brummy, my
friend hesitates to raise false hopes in your heart,' said the Prodigal.
'He might promise to punch the hair and hide off you at some future date,
and then disappoint all your tender, joyful anticipations; but he's not a
man of that sort: he tells you straight he wouldn't attempt to 'spoil
beauty like yours for all the gilt in the Gravel Pits.'

'Gent don't wanter fight,' whispered Brummy; 'tha's all right - no 'arm
did.' Brummy was the only man of his party who betrayed no feeling
whatever in the matter.

There was a further conference, and the spokesman turned to Jim again.

Brummy claims the championship of Diamond Gully,' he said.

'That's no business of mine. He's welcome to claim anything he takes a
fancy to for me,' replied Jim.

'No ill-feelin's - - way o' frien'ship,' said the husky champion; and he
made his curious salutation again, and went shuffling off with his
keepers, who had the airs of sorely ill-used citizens.

'Well,' gasped Jim, 'if this is what a man brings down on himself by
waging a casual battle in his own defence, I'll be careful to keep out of
fights in the future.'

However, Jim Done was not again called upon to do battle while he
remained on Diamond Gully. The reputation he had won was a guarantee
against further molestation and Aurora's open and unabashed devotion
prevented any approach to serious rivalry. The girl still preserved her
manner of a boon companion in the presence of Mrs. Ben Kyley's customers,
but no man of them was given occasion for the ghost of a hope of
supplanting Jim in her tempestuous heart. She now assumed towards Done an
attitude of happy submission; the quizzical insistence on his boyishness
was abandoned: she acknowledged her master with an exuberant rapture that
had not the faintest suspicion of coyness, and although Jim often blushed
under it, and experienced a great uneasiness in the course of a public
demonstration, Aurora showed a barbaric disregard for contemporary
opinion. She felt no shame in the presence of her emotions, and
consequently had no impulse to hide them. She beguiled Jim from his work
to take long rambles; she devoted herself to him, to the neglect of Mrs.
Ben Kyley's patrons.

Mike Burton was often lonely in his tent, and often Mrs. Kyley stormed at
Jim, highly vociferous and wildly pantomimic, but good-natured and
sympathetic at bottom, for there was a vagabondish harmony between the
two women that made them fast friends, and caused Mary Kyley to feel a
share in Aurora's happiness.

The writing of the letter to Lucy Woodrow was now indefinitely postponed,
and Jim found himself reluctant to open the box containing Lucy's locket.
When his hand fell upon it by chance he put it by hastily, as if it were
just possible that the face in the trinket might force itself upon his
attention. He never lived to understand this fugitive idea, for the
thoughts were cast aside just as hastily, and with an absurd touch of

The young man had given himself up to Aurora's influence. The plenitude
and the ardour of her love carried him along; he felt at times like a
twig in a torrent, but the sensation was luxurious, and another joy of
life was with him. He opened wide arms to it. Once again he saw the world
with new eyes, and for having despised and mistrusted it so found it the
more adorable. He squared his shoulders and experienced a curious
sensation of physical growth and accrued manhood. Two years ago he might
have weighed his feelings for Aurora and hers for him, and sought out
motives; to-day he went along the flow of life, unresisting, with a
leaping heart, and had he been questioned would have said that not he but
the world had changed.

Mike Burton watched the development of events in a judicial way, without
offering any comment. There had not been a waste month in his life for as
long as he could remember. In spite of his busy days and his Bush
breeding, he had been much in touch with the humanities, and he knew men
and women well enough to expect no startling surprises from them; but Jim
was a curiosity. With a certain robustness of character, no little
knowledge, and considerable worldly wisdom in abstract matters, the
younger man yet seemed to bring a boy's mind to bear upon actualities,
and excited himself absurdly over matters which, from Mike's patriarchal
point of view, were merely the expected events of existence - the things
that happen to all men, and about which no man need distress himself. He
had seen a good deal of the women of the camps, and thought he knew the
types well. He summed up Aurora to his own satisfaction: 'Like an
eel - easy to catch, but hard to hold!' Amongst other pleasant qualities,
Mike had the comfortable human one of often being wrong in his estimates
of men and women and things. He expected the girl's infatuation to wear
itself out quickly, and meanwhile possessed his soul with patience,
prospected here and there, tried new claims, and found a few payable and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 9 of 21)