Chapter 20708661

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-07-30
Page Number137
Word Count3304
Last Corrected2018-03-05
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleThompson's Claim
article text

The Storyteller.

Thompson's Claim.



WE had been introduced in Brisbane, had travelled to the North together, and had to some extent become intimate. "Just the man to show you round the goldfields," my friend had

told me: adding, in a confidential aside, "and to put you on to a good thing, if there is one going." The first part of the recommendation was in course of being justified. My companion had taken me quietly in hand and had devoted much of his time to the task of showing me what to a stranger were the most interesting: featares of the busy active scene I was visiting. In the course of our acquaintance I had found much to respect and admire in him. He was not what he himself would have called a "swell." His large hands told of the toil, his rugged weather-beaten countenance of the hardships, he had endured. But, although evidently possessed of that wealth which in these crude colonial societies is the main basis of social distinction, he was free from pretentiousness, and main tained his natural simplicity of speech and manner. It is true that when speaking calmly and without exoitement he evidently tried to choose his language with some care, yet when excited and moved he dropped unconsciously Into the simpler and more rugged speech of his fellow-miners. In repeating the tale he told me I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to preserve the language in which it was conveyed. We had just gone over the quartz-mill in which he was specially interested. The thunder of twenty stampers hard at work pounding lumps of quarto into fine sand still seemed to fill my head. We had inspected the appliances for catching and saving gold, the new kind of ripple tables, the latest variation in blankets, and the machinery for treating the tailings so that not a speck of metal should be left in the heaps accu mulated outside, and I left the mill with a slight headache, and a doubt whether my sense of hearing would recover the shook it had received. " It is an unusual name for an important mine—'Thompson's claim'—isn't it?" I queried. " Yes," he replied with a smile. "They generally give the claims fancy names, such as the * Who'd have thought it , Just in Time,' • Erin,' ' Vul can,' ' Homeward Bound,' and so on. But this was called ' Thompson's claim' at the first, and it never got any other name. The machine inside is called the ' EtheL" " That is an unusual name too, isn't it ?" " May be; but it's a pretty one. We- never altered either name. Perhaps the luck hangs to them." " It has been a lucky mine, this one?" " Ah—you may say so. A hundred thousand ounces it has given first and last; and there's plenty more where that came from." "Have you been long connected with it?" I hazarded." "Me?" and he glanced at me. " I put the first pick in the ground, before a tree had been out down." ,

He paused for a moment, wrapped in thoughti and then went on: " It was a most wonderful thing how this reef was found. I didn't find it, you know," he con tnued, seating himself on a bit of timber under the shade of a portion of the shed covering part of the workings, and cutting up some tobacco. "I In fact I had nothing to do with finding it, Joe Thompson was a friend of mine, and we came here to this field just when it opened ten years, ago. Joe and I weren't mates, although it always eeemed to me that we ought to have been, for we were generally working on the same field or near about it. Perhaps Joe thought my luck was too bad—just as bad as his own—and that if we went mates it wouldn't run to tucker between us. Not that it did much more any way. We'd come to a new field—Joe with his mate and I with mine—and we'd peg out as far away from one another as possible. Sometimes I'd bottom first, and sometimes he would ; but, as sure as death, he'd come over to my claim". "' Well. Bill, have you bottomed?" " I have." "'What's it look like, Joe?" "' Juat about the colour, and precious little more." "' Same here,' I'd say, and • blank it" " The boys used to call our parties the Jonah crowd ; I never could stick to a mate long. "'Bill,'they'd say to me, one after another, ' I like you, old man, but darn your luck. I think you are enough to frighten the gold out of the Bank of England." But Joe stuck to his mate. I don't think the poor beggar could have found another if Joe had given him up. He was a weak sickly young chap. Been a clerk in a London office, I think, and got all the marrow sucked out of him by late hours and penning up in an office. He had taken to digging, Joe said, because he had read in a book that the diggings were romantic So he came out to Australia, and Joe picked him up on one of the fields down south, with his hands all blistered into sores, very sick, without any money, and trying to sell a new-fangled revolver, a bowie knife, and a dagger, that he'd brought out to keep off the bushrangers. The poor fellow hadn't thought about bringing out any thing to keep off an empty stomach, and he was about to try to make his way down to Melbourne, and to beg or work his passage home again. But Joe told him if he would stop he might go in with him as his mate. So the young ohap stopped, and stuck to Joe wonderfully close. Not that he was ever much good at work, but he was willing, and he was a fine scholar, and played the concertina beautifully. The boys liked the young fellow, and he was all there to play for the dancing whea there was a spree at night Joo'b mate stuck to him, and Joe seemed very fond of the young fellow. So when we came up here, and the young ohap got the dysentery, Joe was very bad about him. He nursed him like a woman would have done, but the young fellow got worse. I think he had been on the spree and drunk bad grog, so that the dysentery laid hold of him. By-and-by he got worse, and then they called it fever. Mostly up here in Northern Queensland, when a man gets very bad with grog, or dysentery, or what not, they call it fever. Anyway, the young fellow (tot worse and worse, and last of all he died, and they buried him on the other side ef yonder ridges where the old workings are. " I never saw a man cut up so bad as Joe. You know we diggers think a lot of our mates, and we stand by them in any trouble. Naturally when your mate dies you are out up. Bat Joe took on, worse and worse, instead of getting better, as time passed after the funeraL He never went near his claim, and any man might have' jumped it Not that any man on the field would have jumped it, seeing how it happened to be left. Besides, being Joe's, it was bound to be no good. However, time passed and Joe never showed up, so I went over to his hut "' Joe,' said I,' this won't do, old man. you've got to shape. 1 "' I know it Bill, but I can't' "'Oh, that's nonsense. Frank was a good fellow »nd a good mate, but you aint a woman, you know, Joe.' '"Ah, you don't know what's the matter," aays he. ' I never told a- living soul but poor Frank that's dead and gone, and it's got to coma out now.' "' Good heavens I Joe, you haven't been doing anything, have you—not "hooting somebody on the sly!' "' Not that, old man, but it's near upon as mean.' "' Well, if it's any comfort to you, out with it. Ton know me, old pard, and if there's hang ing in it I'll stand to you.' "' You are right, BUI; I know that I'll tell you all about it; though how you. are to help me I don't know.' * " With this he began fumbling about in his awag and pulling out old letters. . '"Did you ever hear I'd been married, Bill!' he asked. "'No.' " < Well, I was then, just when I first went digging. That was my wife.' " Ha handed me an old photograph-in a gilt frame with glass over it. The frame was bruised and the glass was cracked, and the picture was dirty, as if Joe had been handling it too much, and perhaps trying to clean it But the picture waafthat of a sweet pretty face, and a real lady. "' Why, she was a lady, Joe!' I said. "' So she was, God bless her 1 She had come out to be a governess, poor thing. There is a lot of old fools in England who sends out poor girls, educated like ladies, and not used to hard work and hard living, telling them they will get on in the colonies. What becomes of the poor creatures—some of them—l don't rightly know, but I can guess. I found my poor darling at a boarding-house, her money all •pent, and nearly desperate. I made love to her—as what youcg fellow wouldn't who saw her I—venturing only because I saw she needed some one to help her. She saw what I meant at onoe, There had been plenty anxious to make love to her—God forgive them!—after their fashion; but I was ready to kiss the ground under her feet She didn't love me. How could she, a dainty sweet creature like her, and me juat a common fellow ? But •he married me. "Take me if you will, Joe," she said—she called me " Joe," old man, and ever since I've thought it was the prettiest name there is—" Take me if you will. I fear I don't

ove you as I ought to do. But you are a brave good man"—she aaid it, Bill, true as I'm Bitting here—''and I'll try to be as good a wife as I can, though not so good as you deserve." I was only too glad te take her. I thought she might love me afterwards, you know, Bill, after she got over the roughness and had Been how I loved her. And she did. Rough as I was, mind you, I wasn't quite so rough then as lam now. She was frightened and shy at first, and there were times when she would sit looking straight before her, and her brown eyes would grow softer and deeper, as if she saw far away. But she got fond of me, and I think — yes, I think I might have grown to be good enough for her, if she had stopped. But she didn't She sickened and got weak, and soon after our baby girl was born she drooped terribly. I did what I could for her. I think she was happy. "Joe," she would say, " I was a silly girl not to fall in love with you when you first came courting, for I love you dearly now. But I was too silly to know my dear old rough diamond then." Oh, wasn't it maddening to lose her jußt when we could have been so happy? But she died. Just before her death she seemed uneasy,- and I begged her to tell me what it was. " Joe, dear," she whispered, " yeu are a brave good man, and you are strong enough to fight your way into a good position in this strange wonderful land. Try and bring up our little Ethel to be a lady." And I swore, holding her hand in mine, by the Heaven she was going to, that I would. And that,' he continued, breaking off, 'is my trouble now.' "'Why, Joe,' I said, ' what a close chap you are! Did you ever tell anyone ?' "He knew,' he answered, pointing over his shoulder to the empty bunk where his mate used to sleep. M' And where is the child—is she alive V "' That's just the trouble, don't you see.'"

Chaftkb IL M Job f ambled about a good bib before he went on again. '"The child ia alive right enough,' he con* tinned at last, ' and she is a grown girl now— seventeen last birthday. That's her.' "And he handed me another picture. This one was a very different sort of thing from the last; prettily got up and freahly taken. It waa the picture of a very handsome girl She looked like a lady; anyone could see it at a glance. And she had her mother's sweet face too. I handed back the picture to Joe. "'Ton have kept your promise, old man. Where is ahe V " 'In England. There was an old friend of mine, the wife of a steward on board one of the big ships sailing from Melbourne, who took the baby to England and left her with an aunt of my wife's, who kept a boarding school, where she has lived ever since. I send home what money I can, and, although my luok is very bad, it does. England is a cheap place anyhow. " * Do you always know how she is getting on ?' "' Always. First, when she was a little thing, the old lady used to write and send me photo graphs. But when she got bigger she wrote her self. I've got them all here, letters and photo* graphs.' tTt And do you write to her?' M Joe didn't answer for a while; then straight ening up a bit he said : " r That's where I feel so mean. You see, old! pard, I wanted my little girl to be a lady, as I promised my wife she should be, and I waa afraid she would despise her father if Bhe knew what a poor scholar he was. I,ain't a scholar, you know, BilL These hands,' and he spread them out, ' they are all there for hard work, but they never were any good with the pen. So I've been put ting a trick on my little girl all these yean. I made out what I had to say, and Frank, that's dead, he used to write it out all proper for me. That's what's troubling me, Bill That little girl of mine has been pouring out all her inno cent heart in these letters, and I know her, bless her! just as if she was with me every day of mf life ; but she doean't know her old father from a crow. It did seem mean to me at times, but I thought it would all come out right. Maybe the luck would turn, and I might strike it rich, and then I was going to Bend for her. Her mother knew I was no scholar, and she learned to love me, and I thought my little girl would do the same if Bhe saw me, and heard me talk instead of seeing my writing. And now, it isn't me she knows at all; it's Frank. She will think it's all a hoax if I write, and perhaps ahe will turn against me. Look here, old man, if she does that I'll jump down a shaft. It's been a hard life with me, but I've never lost hope. All the time I was working away I kept on thinking it was just with me like one of those showery days in the wet season. In the morning there's a blink of sunshine, and then the clouds settle down and the rain falls regular and steady all day. But near evening it generally clean up a bit, and the blessed sun shines out all the more welcome for having been so long missed. I've been happy, and I had hoped I was going to be happy, and I didn't care for the bad luck be tween. Look at this!' "He threw me over a letter. It was the last one he had received from his daughter. I am a rough working man, as you see, but we diggers know a lady when we see one, and we take off our hats to her. So I read that letter, looking over to Joe between whiles, and wonder ing how he could be the father of the girl who wrote it "' You are right, mate,' he said, seeing me ! looking ; ' that's just it I ain't fit to be her father—any more than I was fit to marry hei mother. But she mightn't have known it if she had got to be fond of me. Just look at the end of her letter.' MI did so. It ran :— ' Do you know, papa, I think you murt be living In the loveliest country in the world. That description of the Scrub (Solly—why do you bore inch horrid name* in Australia?—has made me so anxious to see the place. What wouldn't we give to have those beautiful creepen and ferns and flower* growing here I I tell Aunt Martha I am to proud of being an Australian-bora girl, and I read to her all the biu in your letters describing my beautiful oountry. Ob, how I wish I was there with you! Do you know, dear papa, I think you must be a little bit of a poet I know how good and brave and strong you are, because mamma tells me so, in that fare well letter she left for me to read when I was old enough to read it. I keep it as a sacred relic, and I often read it, though it always makes me sad. But I cannot under stand what the means by saying that she did not apprd-

elate you enough, and warning me not to judge by out tide appearances. I have no fear that I iliall need any warning of that kind, or that I shall not honour and lore you as I ought. Do I not know you thoroughly from your letters f although you cannot get a photograph done in tho far-off diggings wheru you work so liard, i>oor dear papa. Never mind, I am seventeen vow, and I shall booh be lent for, ahull not I ? You will not keep me hew after lam eighteen—you will not, dear, dear p«pa. I love Aunt Martha. She is very good to ma But she ia not the dear papa whom constant society is the oue thing most longed for by hia loving daughter, • Ethkl.' "' There,' Baid poor Joe with a groan,' yon see how lam fixed. That poor young chap used to work in some of his pretty fancies, and she takes them for mine. Believes lam a bit of a poet I Qood heavenß !' " Wei), you know I could almoßt have laughed, looking over at Joe, in hiß working clothes, hia rough hair and his two big hands one on each knee of his patched clay-atained breeches. "' It's no laughing matter, mate,' ho said re proachfully. [TO BE CONTIKUBD.]