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   Chapter 3 No.3

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 11532

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Breakfast was served punctually at eight o'clock, and Tom Gerrard, whose equanimity was now quite restored, took his seat opposite his sister with a smiling face, and in a few minutes, under the sunshine of his genial manner, Mrs Westonley, much against her own inclination, began to thaw, and presently found herself chatting quite pleasantly with him.

"I've sprung myself on you two or three days before you expected me, Lizzie, but I'm sure you don't mind."

"Indeed no, Thomas. I am very glad I wish Edward was here, but the mailman may bring me a letter from him this morning. He said in his last letter he would be sure to return home by Saturday, and to-day is Thursday. But what brought you here so quickly, Thomas?"

"Well, I was very lucky in getting a passage in one of the new Dutch mail steamers, instead of having to wait for the slow old Eagle so I reached Melbourne a week earlier than I expected. Then at Melbourne I caught the steamer for Port Albert, just as she was leaving. At Port Albert, instead of waiting two days for the coach for Marumbah, I bought a couple of horses, a gun, and some other gear, and came the ninety odd miles comfortably, instead of being shaken to pieces in one of Cobb's awful coaches."

"But what an unnecessary expense, Thomas. The two horses--"

"Oh! the whole thing, gun and all included, didn't run into fifty pounds."

"Fifty pounds! Oh, Thomas! And your coach fare would have been but three pounds! You really are dreadfully extravagant."

"Not at all, Lizzie. I shall not lose much in the end. Ted will buy the horses, and all the gear from me. I think I can jew him into giving me something for them, even if it is only thirty quid."

"Thirty what?"

"Thirty quid-thirty pounds. Now my dear old Lizzie, don't pretend to be shocked at the word 'quid.' You know you've heard all the colonial expressions-and poor dad used them pretty frequently."

"Indeed he did, Thomas-too frequently, I'm afraid."

"Ah, well, Lizzie my dear, it doesn't matter now. By-the-way, doesn't little Mary breakfast with you?"

"Oh yes, usually; but this morning I told Janet to give her her breakfast in her bedroom, then after she has made herself presentable she can join us. I'm sure she and that dreadful boy Jim will get you to inspect their 'cubby house' down on the river bank in the course of the day. Sometimes Edward makes me quite cross by the way he yields to their stupid whims. He actually spent a whole day in helping them build their precious cubby house."

Gerrard laughed: "Good old Ted-just as much of a boy as he was twenty years ago! But who is this youngster Jim?"

"Oh, I quite forgot to tell you about him when we wrote to you. He is another of Edward's extravagances. You will remember that when the Cassowary was lost, the only survivors were one seaman and a child of four years of age. Well, about eight months ago, when Edward was travelling to Sydney in the Balclutha, he-as he always does-made the acquaintance of every seaman on board. One of them, a quartermaster, turned out to be the man who had been washed on shore from the Cassowary. Of course Edward was very much interested, and the man, whom he says is a very respectable steady person, told him that he had taken care of the child, who was his fellow-survivor. Well, the end of it was that Edward went to see the boy, and brought him home with him. He will do those extraordinary things."

"Who were the boy's parents?"

"No one knows. Coll, the quartermaster, said that there were a great number of steerage passengers on board, and that he remembers seeing a young woman and her husband with this child, whom they called Jim, but what was their name was never ascertained. It was believed that they were newly-arrived emigrants, for no inquiries were made from any quarter about them, and so Coll, who seems to be a very kind man, took the child to his own home, although he has quite a large family, and actually did not want to part with him. Of course, Edward, as usual, went to extremes, and gave the Coll family fifty pounds."

"It was a generous action, Lizzie," said Gerrard gravely, "and shows him to be a good fellow-and a Christian."

Mrs Westonley looked at her step-brother in surprise. "But, Thomas, you don't seem to understand. These Coll people are really very poor-the father, I suppose, earns about seven pounds a month as quartermaster, and there are nine children. I think it was ridiculous of Edward giving them any money at all, considering the fact that he was lightening their cares by taking this boy, Jim, off their hands."

"Ah! Lizzie, we don't know. They may have been very fond of the kid-in fact they must have been, or they would not have kept him for six years, when they could have sent him to the Government Orphanage at Parramatta."

"I think that is what they should have done."

"No, you don't, Lizzie. You would not have let the youngster go into an Orphanage had you known of the matter. You have father's heart, Lizzie, under that pretty blouse of yours, although you pretend to be so cold, and put on the 'keep-off-the-style'-even to me."

"I'm not cold-hearted, Thomas."

Gerrard rose from his scat, and in another moment, Mrs Westonley found herself in his arms, and seated upon his knees.

"Now, look here Lizzie," and he kissed her, "I'm going to do my level best to please you, for you are my sister. I daresay I have done many things to displease you, but I love you, old woman, I do indeed. And whatever I may have said in the past I 'take back' as we bushmen say, and I want you to give me some of your affection. I know you have tons of it concealed under that prim little manner of yours, but you are too proud to show it. And see, Lizzie,

old girl, I'm not really the reckless scallawag you think me to be," and he stroked her hair, and looked so earnestly and pleadingly into her eyes, that her woman's heart triumphed, and she leant her head on his shoulder.

"I never thought you cared for me, Tom," she said "and I daresay that I have been to blame in many respects. Edward is one of the best husbands in the world, but he is careless and all but irreligious, and I cannot-I really cannot change my nature and be anything more than politely civil to the friends he sometimes brings here-they are rough, noisy and bucolic. I am always urging him to leave a manager at Marumbah and retire from squatting altogether. I do not like Australia, and wish to live in England, but he will not hear of it, although we have ample means to enable us to live in comfort, if not luxury."

Gerrard smiled as he gazed around the handsomely furnished room, and, mentally compared it with his own rough dining room on his station in the Far North.

"I should call this a pretty luxurious diggings, Lizzie," he said; "there are not many such houses as Marumbah Head Station in Australia."

His half-sister shrugged her shoulders. "You should see some of the country houses in England, Thomas. And then another reason why I dislike bush life is the utter lack of female society."

Gerrard raised his brows. "Why, there are the three Gordon girls at Black River station, only ten miles away; they certainly struck me as being graceful, refined girls."

"Mrs Gordon is not a lady, and makes no secret of it. Her father was a fishcurer at Inverness, and before that a herring fisher."

"But she speaks, acts, and bears herself like a lady," protested Gerrard.

"It doesn't matter-she is not one. How Major Gordon, who comes from an old Scottish family, could marry her, I cannot understand. She was a nursery governess, or something like that."

"Yet Gordon seems a very happy man, and the girls--"

"The girls are all very well, although too horsey for me. I cannot tolerate young women bounding about all over the country after kangaroos, in company with a lot of rough men in shirts and moleskins, attending race meetings, and calling the Roman Catholic clergyman 'Father Jim' to his face. It's simply horrible."

"Well! what about Mrs Brooke and Ethel Brooke?" asked Gerrard; "surely they are ladies in every sense of the word?"

"I admit that they are better than the Gordons, but Ethel Brooke is a notorious jilt, and her mother has absolutely no control of her; then Mr Brooke himself is more like one of his own stockmen in appearance than a gentleman by birth and education."

Gerrard looked up at the ceiling-then gave up any further argument in despair. "I'll tell you what you want, Lizzie," he said, cheerfully, "you want about six months in Melbourne or Sydney."

"I detest Melbourne; it is hot, dusty, dirty, noisy, and vulgar."

"Then Sydney?"

"Of course, I like Sydney; but Edward never will stay there more than a week-he is always dying to be back among his cattle and horses."

"I'll try my hand with him, and see what I can do with the man," then he added,

"Now, let us get on with breakfast. Then we'll see this cubby house, and I'll diagnose the bear's complaint."

As soon as breakfast was over, Mrs Westonley left the room to put on her hat, and Gerrard stretched himself out in a squatter's chair on the verandah to smoke his pipe. Presently he heard his sister calling, "Jim, where are you? I want you."

"Yes, Mrs Westonley!" came the reply in a boyish treble, and the owner of it wondered what made her voice sound so differently from its usual hard, sharp tone.

"Jim, come here and see my brother. He, you, and Mary, and I are all going down to the cubby house."

Suppressing a gasp of astonishment, the boy came to her to where Gerrard and she were now sitting.

"Thomas, this is Jim."

Gerrard jumped up and held out his hand.

"How are you, Jim? Glad to see you," and he smiled into the boy's sunburnt face. "By Jove! you are a big chap for a ten year old boy. What are you going to be-soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, eh?"

"I did want to be a sailor, sir; but now I'm going to be a stockman."

Gerrard smiled again, and surveyed the boy closely. He was rather tall for his age, but not weedy, with a broad sturdy chest, and his face was almost as deeply bronzed as that of Gerrard himself, and two big, honest brown eyes met his gaze steadily and respectfully; the squatter took a liking to him at once, as he had to his sister's child.

"Well, Jim, I'm going to stay here a week, and you'll have to tote me around, and keep me amused-see? You and Mary between you."

"Yes, sir."

"Any fish in Marumbah River?"

"Lots and lots-two kinds of bream, Murray cod, jew fish, and speckled trout, and awful big eels."

"Ha! that's good enough. Got fishing lines and hooks?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then bring 'em along. Where is Mary, Lizzie?"

"Here she is," and Mrs Westonley brought her forward, the child's eyes dancing with pleasure; "she was too excited to eat any breakfast, until I insisted. Thomas, they'll worry you to death. You don't know them."

Gerrard threw his feet up in the air, like a boy, and rapped his heels together-"I'm fit for anything-from fishing to riding bull calves, or cutting out a wild bees' nest from a gum tree a mile high. Oh! we're going to have a high old time. I say, Mary, where's the invalid Bunny?"

"In the saddle-room."

"Then come along, and I'll prescribe for the poor, tailless gentleman," and he jumped to his feet. "We shall not be long, Lizzie-are you ready?"

"I shall be in ten minutes, Thomas," and the children looked wonderingly at her, for she actually smiled at them.

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