|Chapter Number||III, IV|
|Newspaper Title||The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)|
|Trove Title||Thompson's Claim|
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 best pen I could find aud made a start. It was hard work, you know, and worse because Joe stood over me looking so terribly anxious, and I had only just started when he knocked my elbow and made a blot. However, we got out another sheet and began again.
" 'Dear Ethel,—Your father writes to you by another hand,' I began.
'"Hold on, Bill!' Joe cried. 'It 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, perhaps she wouldn't mind.'
" There was 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—as mine, and I was 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 ounce or two stowed away against a run of worse luck than usual. I said 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 luck might turn. As 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 as 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 crushing big enough to give Joe a start in housekeeping somehow. For the rest we had to trust to luck. Not that it troubled us much. Six or eight months is a long time ahead for a
digger, and he always expects that he may be a
rich man before it is over.
"So we settled it that way, and Joe and I went to work at his claim. It turned out better than we expected. The stone was easily got out and soft to work, and when we tried a prospect now and again it looked like two ounces.
" We had a crushing before the answer came to the letter, and the stone went better than we had calculated. There was 120oz. banked, and the reef looked well. And the camp was growing. More women came, and the storekeepers built good houses. It wouldn't be so bad a place for the youug lady after all.
" ' The luck has turned, old man,' Joe said to me, ' I don't like to be over sure, 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 was all right, though. She was coming, and mad pleased to come. Her aunt Martha was going to put her on board a ship that was to sail in a month or two. Joe let a contract of a little cottage to be built near the claim, and it was known on the field that Joe Thompson had a daughter, and that she was coming out to live with him.
"I never saw a man take on so about his daughter. If she 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 was expecting was to him the old dead sweetheart coming back from the grave. Any- how, he would sit smoking his 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 aud painted, and there was 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 as 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 sit, bless her, of an evening, and talk to her old dad. And may be it 'll 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 loo and isn't likely to come to grief. Or, maybe, a P.M. or a warden. Perhaps a lawyer, though there's not many of them any account. Perhaps she might'—he went on, as if he was thinking—' marry you, 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, Joe!' I laughed. ' Hadn't you better turn in ? I'm off.'
" ' I believe I am an old fool, Bill. But 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 short stage the first day.
"I wasn't in any hurry that morning. We had settled all our busiuess, 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 horse might have got into another pocket of the scrub, and away from their usual 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 swore at myself for a fool, but it was no good. The same words kept making an infernal sing-song in my head.
" 'Thank God !' I said at last, jumping up as I heard the sound of a horse's 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 clumsy 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 caught 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 hut 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, mind yon, but with just enough liquor to steady him—he was a first-rate one. He came
and looked Joe over very carefully, feelmg his
" 'It's a pretty case,' he said, speaking to himself, 'a very 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 see 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,' 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'll see you through.'
" ' And now,' he went on, taking off his coat, ' before we begin work I think I'll take a nip. I see you have a bottle in the corner.'
" ' No you dou'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.
" ' 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 snug 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 swearing 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 camped 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 safe uow, Bill,' the doctor 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 still, but getting better fast, and as silly as could be. He knew me, but as 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 his 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 disheased, eh?' "
" I had been expecting to see a pretty girl and a young lady, but I was flurried when, having asked for Míss 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 his hat to her whatever dress she wore.
" ' Where is my father?' she asked, opening her big brown eyes very wide.
" ' He's all right, miss—at least he isn't, he is very ill.'
" She turned very white, and clasped her hands. " ' Not dangerous, miss, by no means. But he had a fall from his horse 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—Bill—at least William Watson.'
" ' Tell me the truth, Mr. Wataon—the real truth,' she implored, suddeuly stepping forward and taking one of my hands ; 'is my father dying
or dead ?'
" ' 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.'
" I put this last in becauae 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. Slattery, 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 :
" ' And who's that purty gurl ye've got in the
coach wid yez, Bill ?'
'" Hush! That's Míss Thompson.'
" ' And who's Miss Thompson at all ?' she
asked still louder.
" ' Joe Thompson—confound you.'
" ' And is it Joe's darlin' ? Come out wid you, 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
" ' 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 she 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 sob 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 she 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, Bill—that you ?' he broke out. ' Where have you been ? Aint it work time now ? Seems aa if I've been idle. And who's that gal ?'
" She went quietly over and knelt down by the
" ' Father ! —papa !—don't you know me—your 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 ?' 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, boss,' said 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 ?'
" ' 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 scholar, 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
" 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 stop ; 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 ?'
" ' But surely you won't stop here !'
" ' Where else should I be but with my—— my father ?'
" 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 it 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. ' Is it yerself that would go coortiug her, Mick ? Let me tell ye, me boy, that it would be too good for the like of ye to ate your victuals off her dirthy plate.'
" Of course there was plenty of chaff about her. ' Lady Thompson' the boys called her ; ' Biddy Slattery's princess,' and names like that. Not that the meanest of them would have said a
word or done a thing to auger herself, and if ever any of them met her out about the field they made way as respectfully as diggers always 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 ' Jumpiug Peddler,' a flash sort of fellow who kept mostly on the outside diggings, and wasn't altogether a
" ' What's the gal to you ?' he asked ; ' mayn't a man speak—as good a man as yourself, and maybe better ?'
" It was said in an aggravating sort 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 say ' 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 was hard work licking him. The worst 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
" 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 !'
" ' 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 much for me. ' Don't say that, Miss Ethel. You don't know your own father ; you don't know what a good brave true man he
was before his wits were shaken. You 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. You are forgetting what your dead mother told you.'
" ' How do you know what my mother said ?' she flung at me ; ' how dare you speak of her ?' Then after a bit : " I beg your pardon, Mr. Watson. You are right ; I am a hard-hearted girl.'
" Then she left me to go into the hut, and before I was 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, ' Mr. Watson, 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—I don't know its name—with dark glossy green leaves and large flowers like yellow cups at the ends of the little branches. It was shady 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 was hot ; so Joe would have him laid here, though it isn't where they are making the regular burying-grouud for
" ' I can understand it," she answered quietly, looking round with a little shiver. It did seem almost 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 seemed worse being a sandy flat, for even the bushes looked burnt up, and the trees hung as if they were tired of the hot dry sun pouriug down upon them all day long, without a cloud to give them a rest. Besides, all that were any good had been cut down ; and bare stumps are not pretty.
"Seeing her stand, leaning on the rough fence round the grave, I thought well to go aside a bit, making as 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 say ; ' wait till the rain comes, and 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 was a string of flat round green things, looking just like bits of leather stamped out to a size, but growing on it was 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.
" ' Yes, Miss Ethel ; but, mind, you have to look close if you want to spy such pretty things
" 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 crushings 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 had 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 £4 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 was 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 CONTINUED.]
Good Advice.-A darkie named Jim AVebster waa brought up before an Austin justice of the peace. It was the samo old charge that used to bother him so much in Galveston. After the
evidence was all in, the judge with a perplexed look said : " But I do not comprehend, AVebster, how it was poaaible for you to steal those chickena when they were roosting right under the owner'a window, and there were two vicious dogs in the yard." " Hit wouldn't do yera bit of good, jedge, fer me to Bplain how I cotched dem chickens, fer yer couldn't do it yerself if ye tried it forty times, and yer might get yer hide full of buckshot de berry fust time yer put yor leg ober de fence. De bes way fer yer ter do judge, is fur yer ter buy yer chickens in de market."-Texas Si/tings.
Curban was once pleading, when an asB began to bray, and the Chief Justice interrupted the orator in bia address to the jury, Baying : "One at a time, Mr. Curran, if you please." Curran Baid nothing in reply, but when he had finished his speech the Judge began to read his instruc- tions to the jury, Arery soon the ass began once more to bray, and Curran Bpoke up : "Doeä your lordship hear a very remarkable
echo in the court !''