under the willow tree

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
father and son are out walking when some history comes into play.

Submitted: June 19, 2016

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Submitted: June 19, 2016

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Behind Naseby Township, as evening fell, Henry and his Dad stepped off the walking track to rest under an ancient willow tree. Dad reached into his pack and pulled out the scroggin mixture that he liked to munch on whenever he was walking. Henry picked through it for the chocolate pieces and scrummaged further for the half pieces of cashew nuts.

Although there was no hint of a wind, the tussocks around them waved as if there was a breeze and the leaves in the willow tree rustled, as if greeting each other.

‘Did you hear that?’ Henry asked, wide eyed.

‘You heard it too eh?’ Dad replied.

There it was again, softly. Each knew they were completely alone in the rarified, still country air.

‘There it is again.’ Henry had little goose bumps rising on his arms.

‘Listen to it Henry,’ Dad advised, ‘it is a rare and wonderful sound.’

The humming continued softly, pleasantly mingling with other background sounds of their breathing, the rustle of leaves, slight tussock movement and a distant sky lark. 

‘You remember Henry,’ Dad began, ‘there was a time when this area teemed with goldminers.’

‘Yes I recall.’ Replied the boy.

‘Well times were tough,’ continued Dad, ‘some people found gold and others did not. Many of those who found gold lost it again through foolishness, gambling, or were robbed.

‘Men from all corners of the world came to seek their fortune and many were picked on because of the colour of their skin or because they spoke differently. One night some drunks put a Chinese man into a barrel and bowled down the hill! He was found dead in the morning still in the barrel at the bottom of the hill.’

‘Really?’ Asked Henry, incredulous.

‘Yes, he was.’ Dad replied, and continued. ‘There were no police or doctors or anything like we have today so if people had accidents, they may well have died. Some even died from the winter’s cold!

‘Tom Le Breton arrived with his little girl just before there a while outbreak of smallpox. He was no doctor and he had come to find gold, but he knew something about doctoring and had brought some medical books with him.’

‘What about Tom’s wife?’ Henry wanted to know.

‘Nobody knew, or remembers.’ Replied Dad. ‘Tom could sew up wounds, pull bad teeth and lance boils. He could even make coffins, if there was timber, or otherwise he would do his best to bury the dead with dignity. He knew the value of cleanliness and how to use local plants for remedies, but when the smallpox started, he knew of no cure.

‘When old Max the German was killed in a rock fall, the miners decided to give his tent to Tom as a sort of an infirmary to tend the men who were dying from the pox. There was not much he could do for them, but give them soft bedding and to sponge them to keep the fever down.

‘Tom’s little girl.’ Dad began.

‘What was her name?’ Henry interrupted, wanting to know.

‘Nobody knew.’ Answered Dad. ‘But the miners called her Hummingbird. She helped with the care of the sick, sponging them down, trying to be positive and all the time humming to them, just softly. Her little acts of kindness endeared her to all the miners, and some of them stayed close to the infirmary tent just to hear her humming.

‘She accepted the death of the patients, not crying but solemnly covering the dead man’s face and continuing to hum her little tune to him.

‘Tom must have known it was inevitable, because smallpox is so contagious. He had taught the miners about cleanliness, and not sharing things and keeping apart. And those lessons would eventually see the end of the outbreak.

‘But Hummingbird died. She caught the disease and they buried her in a wooden coffin and marked the corners of her grave with rocks.’

Henry felt sad and had a tear in his eye.

‘Tom was heartbroken,’ continued Dad, ‘perhaps that's why he too died just three weeks to the day after the little girl.

‘The miners buried Tom beside his daughter and marked his grave also with a rock on each corner to match his daughter’s. One of the miners fashioned a cross from a green willow branch and erected it between the graves.

‘Some say that a willow tree grew from that very branch.’

The pair stood up, and Dad brushed away some of the dead willow leaves from where they had been sitting.  He exposed eight stones, marking two oblongs.

Nothing was said.

The next day Henry fashioned a sign and took it back to the tree. With his tongue poking out the corner of his mouth in concentration he nailed the sign to the tree.

The sign read, Hummingbird Tree.

He stood back and admired his handiwork.

‘Hum on little Hummingbird.’ He said and bowed his head respectfully.

 


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