Chapter 20708872

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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20708872
Full Date1881-08-06
Page Number169
Corrections0
Word Count4885
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleThompson's Claim
article text

The Storyteller.

Thompson's Claim.

CHAPTER III.

BY THE AUTHOR OF "DIVIDING MATES."

" I TOLD him I would try to fix up a letter, so he got out his dead mate's writing things, and we fixed a board on the bunk for a desk just as he had done. Then I picked out a sheet of

paper and the beat pen I could find and made a Btart It wu hard work, you know, and worse because Joe Bfcood over me looking ao terribly anxious, and I had only juat started when he knocked my elbow and made a blot. However, we got out another sheet and began again. "' Dear Ethel,—Your father writeß to you by another hand,' I began. "'Hold on, Bill 1* Joe cried. *Ib won't do, mate. I can't let on what I've been doing by letter. Can't you make it somehow that she will come out and see me. If she could only see me, perbapa she wouldn't mind.' " There waa no getting him from that, so we went over it all again. First we agreed that we would go mates. His show was as good—or, for the matter of that, as bad—aß mine, and I waa without a mate. So I agreed to go in with him. Then we cast up to see what money we had. Joe always kept a few pounds saved up, and as for me I generally had an ounoe or two Btowed away against a run of worse luck than usual I Baid that Joe had better bring the girl out. It was a poor place, a digging camp, for a girl like that, but it would have to come to it sooner or later. And perhaps if she came the luok might turn. Ab for the letter sending for her, I thought how to do that. I would write, making out that Joe had hurt his hand or something. There would only be need for one letter, and when that was sent away, why, we would just have to work as hard aa we could. Joe was on a reef with gold in it. Not much—nothing like the reefs men were working all round us—but still the stone was payable, and by working hard and living close we reckoned we could make out a orushiug big enough to give Joe a start in housekeeping somehow. For the rest we had to trust to luok. Not that it troubled us much. Six or eight months is a long time ahead for a digger, and he alwajß expect* that he may be s rich man before it is over. "So we settled it that way, and Joe and I went to work at his claim. It turned oat better than we expected. The stone waa easily got out and soft to work, and whea we tried a prospect now and again it looked like two ounoea. "We had a crushing before the answer came to the letter, and the stone went better than we had calculated. There waa 120oz. banked, and the reef looked welL And the camp waa growing. More women came, and the storekeepers built good houses. It wouldn't be ao bad a place for the young lady after aIL "' The luok has turned, old man,' Joe said to me. • I don't like to be over aure, you know, but it looks like it Those were good specimens we picked out to-day.' "At last the letter came. Joe read it trem> blingly. It waa all right, though. She waa coming, and mad pleaaed to come. Her aunt Martha wu going to put her on board a ship that waa to sail in a month or two. Joe let a contract of a little cottage to be built near the claim, and it waa known on the field that Joe Thompson had a daughter, and that she was coming out to live with him. " I never aaw a man take on ao about bis daughter. If Joe had been expecting a sweet* heart he couldn't have been more fidgety. I think, may be, it was a little of both—the girl that he waa expecting waa to him the old dead sweetheart coming back from the grave. Any* how, he would sit smoking bis pipe and watching the rafters of his new cottage against the sky in the moonlight, without ever a word. How he did worry that builder! And he wanted a garden all at once, and got into a regular rage with me for laughing at him when he asked if there was no way of buying ready.grown flowers to put in it. " At length the time came for him to go down to the port and wait for the vessel. The cottage was finished and painted, and there waa enough money in the bank to furnish it The reef too looked pretty fair—not a pile, but a living. And nothing would do Joe but that I should go down with him, putting on men to work the claim. So I agreed, not being unwilling to have a bit of a spell, especially aa things were going on fairly right with us. " The night before we had fixed to start Joe was more restless than ever. We weren't living in the cottage—Joe wouldn't have anyone live in it till he had furnished it for his daughter— but he took me with him and rambled over it with a candle. Then he came out in the verandah and sat down on the edge of it, talking about what his girl would do. "' There she will ait, bless her, of an evening, and talk to her old dad. And may be it '11 run to a piano by-and-by if the gold in the stone holds. She won't want to leave her old dad yet awhile. They aren't of much account, the young chaps out yonder'—pointing over his shoulder to the main township—'not fit to hold a candle to her. She won't look at them, no fear! Of course she will marry some time. But she's got to have a swell. A banker may be—that is if he don't play too much 100 and isn't likely to come to grief. Or, maybe, a P.M. or a warden. Perhapß a lawyer, though there's not many of them any account Perhaps ahe might'—he went on, as if he was thinking—'marryyou, Bill, and stop with me all the time. She would have married Frank fast enough, poor chap; that is mainly what I was keeping him for. But I'm afraid you won't do, Bill; you are too old— and not good-looking enough—for a young girl, mind you, Bill, a very young girL "'What a blamed old fool you are, Joel' I laughed. ' Hadn't you better turn in ? I'm off.' "' I believe I am an old fool, BilL Bnt it seems too good to be true—it's enough to turn my head.' "In the morning Joe got up early. There was a little mare of his running with some other horses out at the edge of a big scrub, seven or eight miles from the field, which he wanted to get in. She was a gentle little thing, and he thought if he took her down to town he could

break her to carry a lady during the time we would have to wait for the ship. We reckoned to make a start in the afternoon and get over a Bhort stage the first day. "I wasn't in any hurry that morning. We had settled all our business, and I had only to get ready to start. Naturally, too, I wasn't as fidgety as Joe. However, when dinner-time came, and Joe not back, I thought it a bit strange. There really wasn't anything in it, for the mob of horaeß might have got into another pocket of the aorub, and away from their uaual feeding-ground. But I couldn't shake off an uneasy feeling. I broke my pipe, and cursed over it the same as if I had lost something that was valuable. As time went on I got worse, and mooned about saying to myself over and over again, like the words of a song, ' Luck's turned—luck's turned.' I Bwore at myself for a fool, but it was ao good. The same words kept making an infernal sing-Bong in my head. "' Thank Qod!' I said at last, jumping up as I heard the Bound of a horse'B feet near the hut. I ran out. It was Joe right enough, but he was galloping like mad, and there was no mare with him. He hadn't even brought back the bridle he took with him to lead her. " • What the d—l has kept you—and where's the mare ?' I sung out as he pulled up. I noticed he looked strange. There was a regular glare in his eye, and he sat unsteady in his saddle, and made a olumsy mess of it taking his foot out of the stirrup. I saw also that the horse he was riding looked vicious and was showing the white of his eyes. ' Take care, Joe !' "There I can't tell you now rightly how it happened, but in a minute the horse was galloping off, dragging Joe along the ground with his foot oaught in the stirrup. He wasn't dragged many yards, but when I had reached him he lay still as death, and bleeding from a score of gashes. "It wasn't long before I had carried Joe into the hat and sent a man who had caught and brought up the riderless horse for a doctor. There was only one doctor on the field, and he was mostly drunk, but when he was right—not sober, mud you, but with just enough liquor to steady him—he was a first-rate one. He came and looked Joe over very carefully, feeling his head. "'lt's a pretty case,' he said, speaking to himself,'avery pretty case. It's most likely the man will die. I wonder if I have the nerve to save him ? Gad, I'll try. Look here you— what's your name!*—this to me; 'just you stick to me like wax. Let me have just six nips a day of rum—no, brandy will be better. Not a nip more. If you ace me trying to get any more stop me—knock me down if you can't stop me any other way. Don't lose sight of me for the next week, and I think I'll save your mate. It's a splendid chance, 1 he went on, rubbing his hands, • to see if I've lost my old form.' "'So it is, doctor.' said I, humouring him, * and I'Usee you through.' "' And now,' he went on, taking off his coat, «before we begin work I think I'll take a nip. I flee you have a bottle in the corner.' 14' No you don't, doctor. You have just got about enough for work. There will be a nip before supper time, and another after.' '"Oh, nonsense. I didn't mean that,' he answered, moving towards the bottle. v ' Don't drive me to it!' I said, jumping up and squaring. " He stared at me and swore to himself. Then he made as if he would put on his coat, flung it down, and turned to where my mate lay. It was pretty to see how he rigged up the bunk, with me helping, so as to make a comfortable sick bed, sending some of the men who had come round to hear the result for the things he wanted. When everything was snag and com fortable I went to the bottle and poured him a good three fingers of brandy. "•That's right,' he said as he tossed it off; my hand was beginning to tremble. Beg pardon for Bwearing at you just now, but you were right not to let me have the grog. You'll do.' "'Look here, doctor,' I said; 'you may say what you like or do what you like if you'll only pull Joe round—and you needn't be frightened for your fee.' " Well, to make a long story short, the doctor oamped at our hut; I watched him, and he watched Joe. Any other patients he had were bound to come for him or do without; for I wouldn't let him go from the place. And he pulled Joe round. That is, he kept the life in him. "' He will be Bafe now, Bill,' the dootor said, 'if looked after a bit. I expect he will be as strong and hearty as ever he was, but he's gone here,' touching his forehead, ' and he may never be right again.' "That was just it. Poor Joe lay there weak •till, but getting bettor fast, and as silly as could be. He knew me, but n for his daughter he had forgotten all about her. He just rambled on in a weak voice about one thing and another, but as for anything that had passed he might as well have been a new-born baby. "It was with a sorrowful heart I took horse for the port, where I expected the ship would be in before I could reach it. As I rode out of the camp I came across the doctor, sitting at the foot of a big stump, without hia hat and waving his hand to me. "' Wasn't it shplendid op'ration, Joe's mate ?' he shouted. 'Show me the man in N-thern Queensland could have done it but me. All pack of ... quacks—every mother's son. But he's cracked, you know, cracked. Can't mend that Can't minister to mind diaheased, ehf "

Chaftkb IV. "I had been expecting to Bee a pretty girl and a yoang lady, but I was flurried when, having aaked for Miss Thompson, my old mate Joe's daughter came across the deck to me. These were just the words which I kept saying to my* self—'my mate's daughter'—so as to keep me up, for there wasn't a grander lady in the town than the tall slip of a girl who stood before me. Not grand by reason of her clothes, which is what many of the ladies seem to depend on, but the sort of girl who would make a man take off bis hat to her whatever dress she wore. "' V\ here is my father V she asked, opening her big brown eyes very wide. " * He's all right, miss—at least he isn't, he is very ill.' " Sh« tamed very white, and clasped her hands.

"' Not dangerous, miss, by no means. But he had a fall from hia hone and was very bad.' "' So he sent you ?" she asked. "' I came. He wasn't fit to send anyone.' "' I beg your pardon. You are ?' " ' His mate—BiU—at least William Watson,' 11' Tell me the truth, Mr. Watson—the real truth,' she implored, suddenly stepping forward and taking one of my hands; 'is my father dying or dead V " ' Lord bless you, my dear—at least, miss no. It's the solemn truth I'm telling. He was fairly out of danger, the doctor said, and mend ing fast. But not well enough to talk much. 1 411 put this last in because I wasn't ready to tell her that her father was silly. It took me some little time to get accustomed to her, but by the time I had got her few traps ashore we became better acquainted. She was very gentle and good, only sad because afraid for her father, I could see that she looked upon me as a good honest sort of fellow that her father might have picked up for a mate, but who could not be evened with him. I'm not a coward but it frightened me when I thought of what was coming. " However, there was no holding back. They had started a coach to the field and we took it. The booking office was the best hotel there, and Mrs. Blattery, the wife of the man who kept it, was a decent kind sort of a woman, but with a free tongue of her own. She came out as the coach drove up. I jumped down, and she asked me in a whisper loud enough for everyone to hear : 11' And who's that purty gurl ye've got in the coach wid yez, Bill?' "' Hush • That's Miss Thompson.' '"And who's Miss Thompson at all?' she asked still louder. " ' Joe Thompson—confound you? M' And is it Joe's darlin' ? Come out wid yon, poor thing ; and yer poor father as wake and silly as a baby. Come out wid ye, my dear. Faith ye're a foine girl, and it's welcome ye are, and mighty glad I am to see me ould friend Joe's darter.' "' This is Mrs. Slattery, Miss Thompson,' I said, helping her out; 'a decent woman,' I whispered. " 'None of your joking, now,' she shouted still louder ; ' I don't want you coming between me and poor Joe's daughter now that he's in trouble.' "The girl went on very quietly with Mrs. Slattery into the hotel, the confounded woman chattering away like a magpie. I got down the boxes and things, hardly knowing what to do next, out Bhe soon came out to where I was standing. "'Take me to where my father is,' she.said very quietly. ' I believed you, and you have deceived me;' and there was something like a choked tob in her voice. "' I said nothing but led her over to the hut; the men we met staring at her, and she not minding any more than if ahe had been blind. I opened the door of the hut. The old man I had paid to look after Joe was there, and Joe himself was sitting up looking a bit weak but quite well. I hoped for a minute. "' Oh, BUl—that you ?' he broke out ' Where have you been ? Aint it work time now ? Seems as if I've been idle. And who's that gal V " She went quietly over and knelt down by the bonk. °' Father!—papa I—don't you know me—youf daughter ?' '"Don't cry now, pretty dear,' said I smooth* ing her hair : ' Don't cry.' "'Don't you know me—papa? Oh dear darling papa—your own daughter Ethel!' "'What pretty eyes. Where did I see eyes like them V he said—puzzled like for a bit; then, shaking his head, he went on, * Take her away, Bill—take her away, and don't let her cry.' " She remained kneeling, and then sank slowly on the ground. I rushed forward. '"It's all right, dobs,' eaid the old man; ' she's only fainting.' "She was some time before she recovered, and, when she came to with a shivering sigh, she sat upon a stool and seemed to be pulling herself together. Joe kept on talking away about all sorts of things. "I asked her if she would go back to the hotel. Without heeding me she asked: "' Was he—was my father always like this V "'No, certainly not,' I answered, not making out what she meant; " there was no more sensible man on the field.' "' I don't mean that. I know he is not right in his mind just now: but did he always talk talk like that!' "I saw then what she was aiming at. Poor Joe was no soholar, and it showed plainly enough in his talk. I tried to tell a lie, but I could not. '" Yes—he always talked like that.' "' Did he write much ?—did you ever see a letter V " There it came—the whole trouble was come. There was nothing for it but to tell the truth, and I told it as well as I could, poor Joe rambling on all the time. She grew white again as I went on, and thinking she would faint I stopped. "' Don't stop,' she said; ' Don't Btop; I won't be foolish again.' "So I finished my story—thinking that hanging would have been better. She heard me right out. "' Thank you. Will you be good enough to get my things for me from the hotel V "' But Burely you won't stop here V "' Where else should I be but with my— my father V " I said nothing, but went over to the hotel Mrs. Slattery got hold of me and made me tell her what had happened. '" Poor dear cratur,' she said; 'I'll just step over and see her comfortable.' " And so she did. I carried over her traps, and Mrs. Slattery brought over a ' bit of some* thing to eat' The girl seemed glad to see her, and I left them. "After that she took things into her own hands. She turned away the old man who had been nursing Joe, and took care of him herself. To me she would say very little, and would sometimes repeat what questions she put in a way that cut me to the heart, for ie was plain she doubted what I told her. To Mrs. Slattery she took very kindly, and it was wonderful how that woman, with all her free way of talking, kept her tongue to herself about this girL ' Miss Ethel* she called her—and I don't think she would have put * Miss' before the name of any other young woman in the country—no, not the > Governor's daughter. If the boys had anything

to say about her new friend she shut them up. 'la it yeraelf that would go coorting her, Mick f Let me tell ye, me boy, that it would be too good for the like of ye to ate your viotuals off her dirthy plate.' "Of course there was plenty of chaff about her. 'Lady Thompson* the boys called her; ' Biddy Slattery'a princess,' and names like that. Not that (She meanest of them would have said a word or done a thing to anger herself, and if ever any of them met her out about the field they made way as respectfully as diggers alw»ys do for a lady. But men will talk, and they talked aggravatingly. So it seemed to me ; and I got into a bit of a quarrel with the ' Jumping Peddler,' a flash sort of fellow who kept mostly on the outside diggings, and wasn't altogether a square man. "' What's the gal to you ?' he asked ; ' mayn't a man speak—as good a man as yourself, and maybe better V "It was arid in an aggravating sorb.of way, and I felt nasty. So I thought to get even with him by casting up something he had done to one of his mates; and, before I could Bay ' knife,' there he was with his coat off outside the shanty, and threatening to dance on my grave before morning if I was game to go out to him. Of course I went out, and it waa hard work licking him. The wont was that the boys got talking about me and Joe's daughter, and of course Biddy Slattery told her. That was, I reckoned, what made her more stiff with me than ever. " One day she asked me suddenly: " < What was Frank Smithson like ?' "' He was a nice quiet-spoken young fellow — not much good for work.' "' He wrote all the letters that I thought came from my father f' "' I think he did—at least so Joe told me.' "' Will you show me where his grave is some day? It is'—she went on to herself like— ' where my dead father lies.' " This was too muoh for me. * Don't say that, Miss Ethel. You dcn't know your own father ; you don't know what a good brave true man he was before his wits were shaken. Tou don't know how he spent his whole life working hard for your sake, and looking on to the time when you might be with him. Tou are forgetting what your dead mother told you.' "' How do you know what my mother said V ahe fluag at me ; ' how dare you speak of her!' Then after a bit: "I beg your pardon, Mr. Wataon. You are right; lam a hard-hearted girL " Then she left me to go into the hut, and before I waa out of earshot I could hear her sobbing, and Joe's voice mumbling : • Poor dear! Never mind, don't cry.' " She came to me soon after that and said, 1 Mr. Wataon, I should like to see Frank Smith son's grave.' " I took her over to the place where Joe's mate lay. It was a quiet spot, away altogether from the workings, and Joe had put him at the edge of a bit of scrub, under a tree—l don't know its name—with dark glossy green leaves and large flowers like yellow cups at the enda of the little branches. It was Bhady and damp under the great tree, for the branches hung low and kept the sun away, in different fashion from the trees that grow in the South, so that a few pretty little flowers grew round the grave even at that time, which was near the end of the dry season. "' It was a favourite place with poor Frank, Miss Ethel,' I said ; 'he used to come and sit here on Sundays when the sun waa hot; so Joe would have him laid here, though it isn't where they are making the regular burying-ground for the field." "' I can understand it," she answered quietly, looking round with a little shiver. It did seem almoßt as if Frank had got the best place in the cool shade, for around the earth was dry and dusty and baked, and the few tufts of grass that hadn't been eaten by the half-starved horses were white and dead, just, as the poor boy had once said, like the locks of hair on the head of a feeble decrepit old man. And it Beemed worse being a sandy flat, for even the bushes looked burnt up, and the trees hung aa if they were tired of the hot dry sun pouring down upon them all day long, without a cloud to give them a rest. Besides, all that were any good had been out down ; and bare stumps are not pretty. " Seeing her Btand, leaning on the rough fence round the grave, I thought well to go aside a bit, making aa if I wanted to chip some rock. But I saw her stoop and gather one or two flowers carefully and put them in her bosom. When I went up to her again her eyes were full of tears —she had been crying quietly. "' Oh, isn't it ugly ?' she said under her breath, shuddering as she looked over the dusty flat at the dusty trees and the bare unsightly stumps. "' Wait a bit, Miss Ethel,' it came to me to ?ay ; ' wait till the rain comes, a»d then you will see more pretty things in a square yard here than you will in an acre in the old country. There are some now,' I went on, stopping at a mean looking tree from which one of those queer-look* ing things—orchids I think they call them— was hanging. It waa a Btnng of fiat round green things, looking just like bite of leather stamped out to a size, but growing on it waa one of the prettiest and most delicate flowers you ever saw. "'Oh, how perfectly lovely !' the girl cried when I pointed it out to her. "' Yea, Miss Ethel; but, mind, you have to look close if you want to spy such pretty things as those.' " She glanced sharply at me, and then walked on without saying anything. "To make things worse the reef began to duffer out. We had made some fair crushinga out of it, but the stone was getting poorer and poorer as we went down. And there wasn't much money laid by to pay wages. We hid spent most of what had been made before in building the cottage, and in expenses and one thing and another. So it came to this at last that I had to throw it up. What to do about keeping Joe and his daughter I didn't clearly see. There was a pound or two left, however, and wages ran high on the field; so I hired out at £1 a week. Mrs. Slattery kept me as a boarder at her hotel for 30s. a week, seeing after my clothes and all. The rest I paid over to Miss Ethel, making out it waa dividends from the claim. In this way I kept on well enough till I got down with a bit of fever, and went off my head. [to be contlsued.]