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Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 12430

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When Captain Richard Gerrard-the father of Mrs Westonley-came to Australia from India, he first settled in Gippsland, in Victoria. A retired military man, with ample means, he devoted himself successfully to pastoral pursuits, and soon took a leading part in the advancement of the colony. He had married the daughter of an English chaplain, by whom he had but one child-Elizabeth-and when she was but an infant of two years of age, Mrs Gerrard died. For thirteen years her husband remained faithful to her memory, and then did what all his neighbours regarded as a very sensible thing-he married the daughter of a neighbouring squatter, and sent his child to England to be educated. His second wife was a beautiful, vigorous, and well-trained woman, mentally and physically, and although her parents were English, she was a native of the colony, and, naturally enough, took the deepest interest in all that concerned the station, the advancement of her husband's interests, and the colony in which she was born. Two children were born to them, a twin son and daughter, and as time went on, Captain Gerrard's station became one of the best in Victoria, and the "R over G" brand of cattle brought "top" prices in the Melbourne market.

After completing her education in England, Elizabeth Gerrard returned to Australia. She was a remarkably handsome girl, but cold, even to chilliness, in her manner, especially to her step-mother, for she had much resented her father's second marriage. The six years she had spent in England seemed to have entirely changed her character and disposition, and when soon after her return, Edward Westonley, a young squatter, who was the owner of Marumbah Downs, fell violently in love with her pink and white beauty, and she accepted him, even her father, although he loved her-was secretly pleased.

Marumbah Downs was over a hundred miles from Captain Gerrard's station, and there Westonley took his bride. He was a cheerful, somewhat careless man, very "horsey" in his tastes, and fond of good company. Both his father-in-law and Mrs Gerrard liked him greatly, and the two children by the second marriage, Tom and Mary, gave him their affection the first time they saw him.

The boy Tom grew up like most Australian-born boys of his class of life and surroundings, and before he was twenty years of age, was managing one of his father's stations in Queensland, and managing it prosperously. Soon after he had taken charge, he heard from his father that his twin sister Mary was to be married to a local medical man-a Doctor Rayner, who had been her steady admirer since she was a girl of fifteen.

"It will be a very happy union," wrote Captain Gerrard to his son, "of that I am certain, and although he's too young a man to have much of a practice for some time, he'll get along all right. And even if things do go against him, it won't matter to him and Mary-I'll stand to them. Mary is writing to you by this mail." Then after alluding to some business matters in connection with his various stations he went on to say. "Westonley comes over to see us now and then-Lizzie never. Poor Westonley! Lizzie has crumpled him up altogether, although when he comes to see us he is the same cheery Ted of yore, and he, Rayner, and I had some grand kangarooing together when he was here last. Lizzie, during the past five years has become more and more crotchety, and has given herself up to 'religious thought and work,' as she calls it, from which I surmise that her's is a reign of terror at Marumbah Downs. She has built a little tin-pot chapel in which there is not enough room to swing a cat by the tail, and had it opened a few months ago by some swagger curate from Melbourne-poor old Preston, the Scotch parson at Marumbah township not being considered good enough, and having incurred her wrath by openly stating that when he had a cold he took whisky toddy at bedtime! then the silly woman-who rules poor Westonley with a rod of iron-had a notice put up in the men's quarters that all hands, from the head stockman down to the black boys, were to attend service every future Sunday morning and evening, Westonley-whom she wanted to conduct the service-bucked, and said he could not make an ass of himself before his employés, and the next day the entire crowd-stockmen, fencers, sawyers, etc.-rolled up to the station and gave Westonley a week's notice, and the poor fellow had to effect a compromise, they agreeing to come into the 'Chapel' and let Lizzie read them a chapter 'of suthin' outer the Bible,' if they could have the rest of the day for their usual Sunday recreations-euchre or kangarooing. I never thought Lizzie would turn out to be a crank, but a crank she is, and I'm afraid Westonley is not at all a happy man, though he yields to her in almost everything.

"Your mother has not been at all well for the post six months. She will be very lonely when Mary leaves the house, and you must come to us for a month or two next year; 'twill cheer her up. She doesn't want Lizzie-neither do I; she'd depress a dead bull calf, by just looking at him."

And then within a twelvemonth, came the tragedy of the Gerrard family.

Captain Gerrard, by Dr Rayner's advice, decided to take his wife to Sydney to consult a specialist, and Rayner went with them. They took passage on a coastal steamer named the Cassowary-a small paddle-wheel vessel of three hundred tons, old, ill-found, and utterly unable to cope with the savage easterly gale that met her as she rounded Cape Howe, and doots north for Sydney.

A fortnight later, Mary Rayner, as she was putting her two months' old baby girl to sleep, was called from her bedroom to see a stranger in the sitting-room. He was a stockman from a station seventy miles away on the coast.

He silently handed her a letter, and then turned away, She opened and read it. It was from die Police Inspector of the Cape Howe district, and in a few sympathetic words told her that the Cassowary had been lost near Cape Howe, and that every soul on board but one seaman and a child of four years of age had perished, and that her husband, her father and her mother had been buried three days previously.

She never su

rvived the shock, and when Tom Gerrard made his long journey down from North Queensland to Victoria, to comfort and aid his loved sister, he found that she had died a month before.

It took some months to settle up Captain Gerrard's affairs. He had made a will devising his head station to his wife, together with (less a certain reservation) the sum of ten thousand pounds. His two other stations-one in Central Queensland, and the other in the Far North of that colony,-he bequeathed, the former to his "dear daughter, Mary Rayner" and the latter to his "son, Thomas Gerrard, together with such moneys as might be at his (the testator's) death, lying to the credit of the two stations." Then-and here came the sting of the "certain reservation" to Elizabeth Westonley-to his "dearly esteemed son-in-law, Edward Westonley, of Marumbah Downs, I give and bequeath the sum of one thousand pounds, to be by him used in the manner he may deem best for the benefit of the Marumbah Jockey Club, of which for ten years he has been patron. To his wife (my daughter Elizabeth) I bequeath as a token of my appreciation of her efforts to improve the moral condition of illiterate and irreligious bushmen, the sum of one thousand pounds, provided that she first consults and has the approval of my wife Eleanor, as to the manner in which the said money shall be expended."

Then, as if to show that despite this gentle sarcasm towards the cold-hearted daughter who had never forgiven him for his second marriage, and had so long alienated herself from her stepbrother and sister, he still bore her a parental affection, he added another clause (also with an unintended sting in it) to the effect that if Mrs Westonley should have issue, male or female, five thousand pounds was to be invested for her first child, to be paid upon coming of age, "also the like sum for the first child of my beloved and affectionate daughter, Mary Rayner."

"Poor Lizzie!" said Tom Gerrard to his brother-in-law, Westonley, after the contents of the will were made known, "she won't be pleased at this, I fear, Ted."

"She won't, Tom," replied Westonley frankly, as he placed his hand on Gerrard's shoulder with a kindly gesture, "but, between you and I, she has nothing to be angered at. I am pretty well in, and if I died to-morrow, she would be well provided for. And I don't think-I'm not disloyal to my wife-I don't think that she was quite as kind as she might have been to your mother and to you, and to poor Mary."

Of course the death of Mrs Gerrard simultaneously with that of her husband, somewhat complicated matters, for she had made no will, and was evidently not aware of the nature of that made by Captain Gerrard; for she was of too gentle and kindly a nature to have permitted him to have written anything that could have aroused a feeling of resentment in the mind of his first-born child, although that child, from the day she returned from England had treated her with unconcealed hauteur and coldness.

At last, however, matters were finally settled, and Mrs Westonley, although she did resent most bitterly what she called her father's "wicked will," consented, at her husband's earnest request, to take charge of and educate Mary Rayner's orphan child.

"It will be a disgrace to us, Elizabeth, if we send the poor child to strangers," Westonley had said to her, almost sternly. "Tom, although he is a bachelor, would be overjoyed if we let her go to him."

"He is most unfitted to have the care of a child," said Mrs Westonley, icily; "from his conversation I should imagine he would be a most decidedly improper person."

"But he means well, you know; but, like your poor father, he's a bit too outspoken and rough. And... and Elizabeth, we have no children of our own, and you will get to love the poor little one."

"I will make no guarantee as to conferring my affections upon a child whose disposition may prove to be utterly unworthy of the tuition and Christian training I have undertaken to give her-at your request," was the acidulous reply.

Westonley groaned inwardly, but made no answer.

A few months after this conversation, Tom Gerrard made a short visit to Marumbah Downs to see Westonley and his dead sister's child. He had just returned from the little bay near Cape Howe, where the Cassowary had been castaway, and where his father, mother, and Dr Rayner had been buried, together with all the other passengers and members of the crew whose bodies had been washed ashore. After dinner, he, Westonley, and his step-sister, were discussing Captain Gerrard's will, when just then there came in a neighbour of Westonley's-a squatter named Brooke-who was one of the executors. Mrs Westonley received him rather coldly, and when Tom Gerrard began describing to him the situation of the place where his father and mother were interred, she listened with an ill-concealed impatience.

"Well! Mrs Westonley," said Brooke, stretching out his spurred and booted feet, "your father and mother died together-as they lived, hand in hand, and heart to heart."

"The late Mrs Gerrard was not my mother."

There was a dead silence, and then Tom Gerrard rose, and looked his step-sister in the face with undisguised and bitter contempt.

"No, thank God! she was not, but she was mine, I am proud to say."

Then he held out his hand to Westonley, "Good-bye, Ted, I'm leaving."

"For heaven's sake, Tom!... Elizabeth, you forget yourself! Oh, I say, Brooke, don't let him go."

But Tom Gerrard, his heart aflame with anger, pushed Brooke and his brother-in-law aside, went to the stables, saddled his horse, and rode off to the Marumbah township, fifteen miles away, and next morning Westonley received a note.

"Dear old Ted,-You and I will always be the same old pals. I know you will be kind to Mary's little one, and will write to me from time to time, as I shall to you. But I can't forgive Lizzie. You will say I write in anger. I do. And yet I am a man quick to forgive an ordinary affront, even from a woman. You understand, old boy. TOM."

And so for many years, Tom Gerrard kept away from Marumbah, till his step-sister and Westonley wrote, and urged him to visit them.

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