|Chapter Number||I, II|
|Newspaper Title||The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)|
|Trove Title||Thompson's Claim|
BY THE AUTHOR OF "DIVIDING MATES."
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 features 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 excitement 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 quarts into fine sand still seemed to fill my head. We had iuspected 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 shock it had
" It is an unusual name for an important mine—'Thompson's claim'—isn't it !" I queried.
" Yee," 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
" 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 yon been long connected with it ?" I
" Me !" and he glanced at me. " I put the first pick in the ground, before a tree had been cut
He paused for a moment, wrapped in thought,
and then went on :
"It was a most wonderful thing how this reef was found. I din't find it, you know," he con- tinued, 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. " 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 1 weren't mates, although it always seemed to me that we ought to have been, for we were generally working on the same fields, 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 betweon 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 !'
" ' Just about the colour, and precious little
"'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 Mel- bourne, 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 chap 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 when there was a spree at night. Joe's mate stuck to him, and Joe seemed very fond of the young fellow. So when we came up here, and the young chap 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 got worse and worse, and last of all he died, and they buried him on the other side of 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 cut up. But 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.'
" ' I know it Bill, but I can't.'
' Oh, that's nonsense. Frank was a good fellow and a good mate, but you aint a woman,
you know, Joe.'
Ah, you don't know what's the matter," says he. ' I never told a living soul but poor
Frank that's dead and gone, and it's got to come
" 'Good heavens ! Joe,you haven't been doing anything, have you—not shooting somebody on
the sly ?'
Not that, old man, but it's near upon as
. Well, if it's any comfort to you, out with it. You know me, old pard, and if there's hang- ing in it I'll stand to you.'
" ' You are right, Bill ; 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 swag and pulling out old letters.
' Did you ever hear I'd been married, Bill ?'
'"Well, I was then, just when I first went digging. That was my wife."
'' He 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 was that of a sweet pretty face, and a real lady.
" ' Why, she was a lady, Joe !' I said.
So she was, God bless her ! 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—I don't rightly know,
but I can guess. I found my poor darling at a boarding-house, her money all spent, and nearly desperate. I made love to her—as what young fellow wouldn't who saw her!—venturing only because I saw she needed some one to help her. She saw what I meant at once. 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 just a common fellow ? But she 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 love you as I ought to do. But you are a brave good man"—she said it, Bill, true as I'm sitting 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 to take her. I thought she might love me afterwards, you know, Bill, after she got over the roughness and had seen how I loved her. And she did. Rough as I was, mind you, I wasn't quite so rough then as I am 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 just 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, "you 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
" ' 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.
" ' And where is the child—is she alive ?'
"' That's just the trouble, don't you see.' "
"Joe fumbled about a good bit before he went
"'The child is alive right enough,' he con- tinued 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 freshly taken. It was 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.
"'You have kept your promise, old man.
Where is she ?'
" ' In England. There was au 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 luck 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.'
" ' And do you write to her ?'
" Joe didn't answer for a while ; then straight- ening up a bit he said :
" ' 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 was afraid she would despise her father if she 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 years. 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 my life ; but she doesn'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 send 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 she 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 she will turn against me. Look here, old man, if she docs 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 clears 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
" ' 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 her 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.'
"I did so. It ran :—
' Do you know, papa, I think you must be living in the loveliest country in the world. That description of the Scrub Gully—why do you have such horrid names in Australia ?—has made me so anxious to see the place. What wouldn't we give to have those beautiful creepers and ferns and flowers growing here! I tell Aunt Martha I am so proud of being an Australian-born girl, and I read to her all the bits in your letters describing my beautiful country. Oh, 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 she means by saying that she did not appre- ciate you enough, and warning me not to judge by out- side appearances. I have no fear that I shall need any warning of that kind, or that I shall not houour and love you as I ought. Do I not know you thoroughly from your letters ? although you cannot get a photograph done in the far-off diggings where you work so hard, poor dear papa. Never mind, I am seventeen now, and I shall soon be sent for, shall not I ? You will not keep me here after I am eighteen—you will not, dear, dear papa. I love Aunt Martha. She is very good to me. But she is not the dear papa whose constant society is the one thing most longed for by his loving daughter,
"'There,' said poor Joe with a groan, 'you see how I am fixed. That poor young chap used to work in some of his pretty fancies, and she takes them for mine. Believes I am a bit of a poet ! Good heavens !'
" Well, you know I could almost have laughed, looking over at Joe, in his working clothes, his rough hair and his two big hands one on each knee of his patched clay-stained breeches,
" ' It's no laughing matter, mate,' he said re- proachfully,
[TO BE CONTINUED ]
Local item from the Courrier de San Fran- cisco:-"One man at Bea. Yesterday, toward two hours of the after-midday, as tho ferry-boat of Oakland accmplished its voyage regularon the bay, one young man there was of which the carriage strange attracted the attention of the other passengers. All-of-a-blow, the unhappy mounted upon tho poop, from whence ho was lanced hiuir.elf by overboard. The captain made to arrest the march of the steamer, and put a canoe at the water. Then ho continued his voyage to Oakland. At bia voyage of return, ho retook the embarcation, of which the men had made useless efforts. They had not refouud, dead ! or living, the unknown which waa hurled himself
at the water."