|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Tommy's Abduction|
The river had been, rolling and tumbling down in a brown flood for days and Jabe, : leaning on a long-bandied Shovel, with a i
short black pipe in his mouth, stood watch- j ing it with his shaggy browB puckered into ! two black frowns. 'Abe heaped up charcoal j
log that looked like a great mouud of earth
was hissing and sputtering after the last | shower, aud Jabe was in a bad temper for ]
all his tires were out. lie stood a few feet from the bank watching the passing debris, broken boughs, small limbs, bits of dry wood caught up with leaves went swirling
past on the brown tide that sent out a"l
white froth along the sides. Presently a j kerosine case came down, washing in near
the side, and Jabe, anxious to obtain it, ]
raced along the edge, shovel in hand, but; it got beyond hia reach, aud caught in a ] large palignum bush, swaying this way I ana that, but cheeked in its onward course i till the current caught it again. Nearer the bank now Jabe still stood watching
the debris sweep past, when something lar- J ger than had yet caught his eye came
down. It was a big water-rotted"log that j came floating like a cork on the current, j and something was clinging to it. Jabe in , his excitement threw away his shovel and J ran on ahead, as though to intercept the fearful progress of that log and the doomed boy that sat astride of it. There must have been a twist in the current at that particular spot, for it took the same turn as the lcerosine case, and caught in t)ie
palignum bush. The ease formed,
swaying _ .
as it were, a ram, and the two held firm against the bush.
'"Hold on for your life, sonny, hold on!" shouted Jabe. "Stick to the log, and hold the bush. That's it, catch the bush. Oh, nevc-r mind the prickles," as he saw the small hands wince. But the child was numbed villi cold, as well as frenzied with terror, and had got beyond speech.
Jabe w;is one of those fortunate indivi duals not troubled with- nerves, but some thing ran riot in his brains at sight of that small, helpless, clinging object 011 the log thai- fairly filled him with excitement. He caught up the long-handled shovel again, and tried to reach the log, but it was full three feet beyond him. Then throwing it down once more, he shouted to the child, "Hold on, for God's sake, sonny, while I run for a rope. I won't be a minute. Only keep your hold till I come back, and I'll have you on tllie bank,-" The little chap closed his eyes and crouched lower, while the edge of the current swayed the Jog, and old Jabe raced frantically to the tent for a rope.
Tie was back in a few seconds with the rope in a large round coil on his arm. He could throw with that unerring precision o!f bush men accustomed to heaving ropes over trees. The small atom ou the log had opened its eyes, and was warily watching. The first tremendous heave went yards be yond the palignum iiusli, and lay sideways on the log.
"Now, then, catch it. Hold for your life. Never mind the waiter while 1 draw you through," warned Jabe.
The boy made a grasp at the rope. The impetuosity of bis movement sent the swaying log into the boiling current. The kerosine case went with it, and the next moment they were swept out of sight. There was a faint cry as be felt himself disappear into the brown frothing waters, but the small benumbed hands still clung to the rope, and in a second the little wet head had reappeared, and was close to land, where Jabe was hauling him hand over-hand. The next minute the small, wet, dripping figure was in .lube's great strong arms, where he was borne swiftly up to the tent, and laid on Jabe's own bunk. There was 110 boots nor stockings, only a blouse and small pair of pants, and an apology for a shirt. Jabe bad Jtim soon disrobed, and gave 'lum a vigorous rubbing, then rolled him into the folds of a heavy blue blanket, and leaving him there, went out to make some hot rum punch, and in less than an hour lie was able to sit up and give au account of himself.
"His name was Tommy. He didn't, know what the other name Mas. Wasn't sure if he bad one. His father's name was 'Old Tom,' and they called Ids mother 'Missus.' He got astride the log, and punted it into the flood ltimself, and it just went and went, and never stopped till old Jabe saw it. No one saw him, and he never saw any one till he saw Jabe. He wasn't sure how far away they lived, but he guessed it must be close 011 a hundred miles."
He was a wonderful specimen of a small Australian boy, and in a few terse words gave a graphic description of his descent down the river.
"We just slicked down like a shooting rainbow, and never snagged once till we saw that old paling."
Ii was the first break in a long, lonely round of charcoal burning for old Jabe, and he sat, and smoked, and talked to Tommy while the pants and little ragged shirt dried. He was inwardly wishing that Tommy had no such useless impediment as a father and mother, and that he might stav on at his camp for ever.
The day passed and the night came, and Tommy went the round of the charcoal logs with Jabe, not a whit the worse for bis ducking. Jabe had manufactured a small coat out of a large one, and had fitted him up with a double pair of woollen socks and an old felt hat.
Tommy was a wonderful apparition, but
/he waB warm and happy. So was Jabe. He took a most surprising and intelligent interest in charcoal burning, never miss ing a word that fell from'the scientific lips of Jabe. Never -once did he express .a desire for father, mother,, or home. When bed -time came, Jabe made room Cor Tommy at the foot of his own bunk, and he coiled up there as though he had-never slept anjbvhere else all his life. * •
And that is the story of how Tommy came to be installed in old Jabe's camp. It's not a long story, and there is nothing cither very bright nor pathetic about it, but old Jabe grew to love that boy as-the days and weeks and months went by, and no one came to claim him. This was the first living being that Jabe had ever loved. It seemed to take root in his heart, and turned round and eat into it till he couldn't bear the boy out of his sight. 'And Tommy grew to love Jabe better than he could ever have loved his own father, though he had lived with him a hundred years. The finding of this small child that warmed up his old heart so, was better to him than tnc finding of a gold mine. Tommy did not settle down as an ornamental appendage t.o vhe camp, but became useful. He would boil the billy and watch the damper, and help old Jabe to round up the fires. He would fill Jabe's pipe, and take surrepti tious whiffs, while Jabe watched with the corner of his eye and a sly twinkle.
Tommy being a small boy could not help being mischievous, and when he did any thing that outraged Jabe's feelings that worthy would never scold, but just sit and glare into the fire, while Tommy would come and crouch at his feet and look sad, like a whipped dog waiting for the first kind word to wake him into fresh mischief again. All these little things helped to endear the two and draw them closer.
It was nearly two years since Tommy had come down on the flood, and they had shifted camp several times, when one morning Jabe said, "Old Tom French 'II be here to-morrow with his bullocks to cart off charcoal, Tommy, and, my word, we'll have to be astir in time and get brealdust over, for Tom's bound to show up soon after daylight, cursing and swearing at his bullocks, and. cracking that whip of his."
Tommy stirred uneasily, and lifted his chin from his knees as he sat gazing into the fire. There was a far-away look in his eyes,that were beginning to fill with the •dawning light of remembrance.
"lie's a drunken, swearin' old cuss, is Tom," went on Jabe, not noticing the look on the boy's face, "An' if it hadn't been that old Dave is laid up again, Tom'd never ha' got the job."
Tommy moved his position, and came
closer to Jabe.
"Course we'll ^ have to get the charcoal away, 'cause it's time we shifted camp again, Tommy."
Tommy gave a little shiver, and leaned lip against Jabe.
"Why, what's took the boy?" said the man, looking down. "You ain't sick, are you, Tommy?" anxiously. Tommy shook
"Then what's gone wrong?" still more anxiously. Another little shake. Jabe lilted the boy by the shoulders and drew him in between his knees. The small face had gone grey, while there was a look of deadly fear in the eyes. He lifted the boy
to bis knees and put an arm about him. * j
"Now, Tommy, tell old Jabe what's wrong?"
"I don't like that swearin' old cuss, Tom French," he said, with a dry sob as lie hid
his face under Jabe's arm.
"But you ain't never seen him, Tommy,"
said Jabe, with a look of mystification i deepening on his face. "He ain't been ] charcoal carting for me for two year, just a little while 'fore you shot down the river." The boy nodd«d.
"Oh, you don't know him," said Jabe confidently. "An', if you're afraid to hear him cussin', just lay low. You ain't no good, anyhow, to load charcoal. Old Tom don't know I've got you—nobody do, bar Dave. t You just lay low till Tom goes,
But With the usual perversity of a small boy, Tommy couldn't lie low for any length of time. He was active, restless, and con sumed with curiosity to have a peep at
Tom and the bullocks, though his young _ mind was filled with a haunting fear that it was Tom's whip that used to lash round liis small body years ago, and Tom's terrible curses that still rang in his ears.
^ Shortly after daylight came the rattle of I Tom's old dray, accompanied by a ringing • fire of cracks and a running volley of oaths tliat seemed as familiar to the ears of Tommy as the memory of a bad dream. Tlie repetition of the names "Brandy" and "Fund)," two steady old iiolers, interlarded with many oaths, recalled the memory of a past that made Tommy shudder. He won dered were they still the same colour, one brindle, the other red and white. He crept
cautiously from, the tent. The first sight ; of old Tom French was enough to sweep j away from Tommy's brain, the cobwebs of two years' forgetfulness and the first sound of the awful voice to chill the blood in his
young veins, for once more Tommy beheld ! liis father. Once more, ashen-grey with fear the small head withdrew to the shelter of old Jabe's tent, and stayed there fully an
hour, scarcely daring to breathe. Then I arose sueli a racket and din of roaring and ? swearing and whip oracled lg, that no small
boy could be expected to lie still and listen j
and not have a look.
If Tommy had only stayed under cover
for another. ten minutes, all would have |
been well, for Tom was jUstwaking up the bullocks for a Start. But Tommy took the fatal peep ae Tom turned with an oath to the near-side - poler, caitdiing sight at) once , of the ghost of what he had lost, grown taller and stouter, but -stall-TSmmy. The oath, froze on the veteran swearers lips, and from his steel grasp the whip fell to the ground. v ? ,
"Have you seen a ghost, Tom?" queried Jaibe, as be saw the pallor that crept oyer the man's face.
"I raytlier think I have," he answered slowly^ "How long iTa' you had that .kid o' mine here, .Jake?" A hand like ice seemed
to fall on Jake's heart as it suddenly flash ed on him that this was Tommy's rightful owner.. The memory of the boy's abject fear the night before came back to him, and turning, lie saw that Tommy had collapsed and sank a helpless heap on the ground, bereft of all strength to move. Before svicli a monster should get possession of him again he would move heaven and. earth to
"What kid's that you're talking about, Tom French?" said Jabe sharply. "Do you mean the boy that's mine? and don't you
thought was drowned last big flood two
"And why didn't you look and find bim?" sneered Jabe. "You was too precious "mean. Fear you'd find him, an' have to bury him. Now, I tell you that boy's mine. Never you mind how I got him—he's mine."
They were between the tent and the river, that ran a strong current their side. Tom French was known round for an un scrupulous, desperate villain when roused, and Jabe at that moment was just as despe rate foi love of the boy and determination to keep him. They kept eyeing each other and. edging nearer, till unconsciously Jabe stood within a foot of the river, his back to it, and facing the evil-browed Tom.
"The youngster's your's, do you say?" roared Tom. "I tell you I'll make sausage meat of him 'fore your eyes, and carry his hide home for the missus to "stuff. Your kid, eh! Your kid! You'd swear it in a
Court o' Law, wou]<l you? You thieving hound, you'd hide m.v kid here for a couple o' vear, an' never tell ine. You great thundering" The end of the speech was cut short by a well-directed blow at Jabe tlint caught him under the ribs. With a u ild roar and a savage lurch he heaved forward with both hands outspread. It required but n touch, as Jabe stood on the very brink. With a piercing cry lie sank, with both arms extended above his head.
Tom stood still, and looked down as the bubbles rose. Something shot between him and the sunlight, but he did not notice it. As Jabe rose for the first time the two men gazed helplessly into each other's eyes,
and gazed so till he sank again. Once' more he rose, this time lower down stream, but something white was near him, a drip ping oar was held out, and he grasped it. WlienTommy rowed him to shore Tom had gone, and the two came out and dried them selves. Jabe set mechanically about pack ing up, Tommy helping him without a word.
"You see, Tommy," he said, _ "niy okkipation's gone, clean gone. Tain'tno use slaying here any longer. 'Sides' Tommy, you don't want to stay—do you?" anxiously.
"No," said Tommy, with vigorous shake, "I don't want to stay,"
"Course you don't, Tommy; nayther do I. As I said, my okkipation's gone, an' I must go, an' you don't want me to go 'thout you. Tommy?"
"No, no, 110," cried Tommy.
"Ah, I thought so, Tommy. Jabe an.' Tommy ain't going to part that easily. Ilow'd you like the goldfields, Tommy?" Tommy's eyes grew bright, and his tongue loosened and ran on to the delight of Jabe.
As night fell, and the stars came out, there was no longer any tent at Jabe's old camp, and something white and noiseless shot down the river and out of sight.
But will) the disappearance of that white boat Tom's troubles began. Old Dave sickened and died.- Tom was arrested on suspicion of doing away with Jabe and stealing the charcoal. His story of finding his lost son was considered a pack of trumped-up lies. But at the trial he came out with his usual luck, the ease falling through for want of evidence to prove the charge.
Button a scattered goldfield far away from the glow of a charcoal log, or thq sweet roll of a river, there stands a tent inhabited by a man and a. boy, who are never away from each other more than an hour at a time, who live in the light of each other's love, that never fails nor grows dim. The sound of that boy's step and the ring of his voice is the^ sweetest music Jabe ever wants to hear. The sight of him beftrfe the camp fire, boiling the billy and frying the meat is the brightest picture Jabe ever wants to see. And at night, when the pickle bottles are brought out, and the last one filled with fresh gold, it is all for Tommy.