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   Chapter 15 No.15

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 9051

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Poor, dear, old Tommy boy!" said Westonley to his wife, as they sat at their breakfast table some weeks after the mishap to Gerrard. The mail had just arrived at Marumbah, and brought a letter from his brother-in-law, and one from Fraser, His eyes glistened as he laid them down upon the table, and looked at his wife, who, he could see, was also visibly affected, whilst little Mary sobbed unrestrainedly.

"I wish this Mr Fraser had telegraphed to us, Edward. I would have left Marumbah the same day, and gone to poor Tom to nurse him."

"Would you, old girl?" and the big man rose from his seat and kissed her, his thick, heavy beard spreading out over her shoulders.

"Indeed, I would. And now it is no use my going, is it?"

"Not a bit, Lizzie. You hear what Fraser says-'He is getting on splendidly, and the left eye is saved.' Let me read it all over again; shall I?"

"Do," and her pale, clear-cut features flushed; "it makes me feel as if I were there and saw the whole dreadful sight. Don't cry any more, Mary dear. Uncle Tom is getting better."

"If Jim had been with him, it wouldn't have happened," said the child, suppressing her sobs, and wiping her streaming eyes; "Jim would have been sure to have seen the alligator coming before any one else, and done something. I am quite sure that even if he met a bunyip he would not be afraid; but would fight it."

"I'm dead certain of it, Mary," said Westonley, as he put his big hand upon the child's head, and then taking up Fraser's letter, he again read it aloud. It described in simple language Gerrard's desperate struggle with the alligator, then went on about his courage and fortitude under agonising pain, for the wounds caused by alligators' claws invariably set up an intense and poisonous inflammation, and take a long time to heal, and concluded by saying, "as long as life lasts, I shall never forget that only for his heroic conduct I should now be a childless man, and my daughter have died a death too fearful to contemplate."

Gerrard's letter was in his usual laconic style.

"Dear Ted,-I have bought a little station here called

Kaburie-good cattle country with about 2500 head on it. In

getting a mob across a creek I was mauled by an alligator'

and if it had not been for my friend Fraser-in whose house

I am now staying for a week or so-shooting the beast, it

would have had me. It is nothing serious, so don't worry

over me-some deep cuts on my face, that is all, and Mr

Fraser and his daughter (a charming girl) are coddling me

up. Jim is with me. I left him with your old friend Lacey at

Port Denison, but the young beggar wouldn't stay when he

heard that I had had an accident. He is making great running

with pretty Miss Fraser. Give my love to Lizzie and Mary,

and tell the latter that I trust her bear is now thoroughly

convalescent Jim will write to Mary by next mail. He went

out early this morning fishing with Miss F---, and did

not know that the mailman was calling to-day.-Yours ever,

Tom."

Mary's face brightened at the prospect of a letter from her dearly-beloved Jim, and Mrs Westonley smiled. Ever since Gerrard's visit to Marumbah Downs, her once icy and austere manner to the child had, bit by bit, relaxed, until at last she had thawed altogether, and had been amply repaid by such a warm response of affection that she now made a companion of the little one, and found herself a much happier woman now that the sweet sunlight of childish love had penetrated and melted her former frigid reserve. Westonley had noted the change with unalloyed delight, but, like a wise man, had pretended not to notice; but one day, soon after Gerrard's letter had arrived, he could not suppress himself. He had been away on a business visit to his squatter neighbour Brooke, to whom he had sold his cattle station in Central Queensland at a very satisfactory figure, and as he rode up to the slip-rails of the home-paddock, he saw the one time "incubus" coming flying towards him, her sun-tanned face wreathed in smiles.

"Oh, Uncle Ted, Uncle Ted!" she panted, as she took down the slip-rails, and let Westonley pass through, "just fancy, Uncle Ted!"-and as she spoke, she lifted the slip-rails in place again and turned to him with a beaming face, out of breath, and so wildly excited that she could scarcely speak.

"What is the matter, young 'un?" and the big man bent down and swooped her up into the saddle in front of him.

"Oh, Uncle Ted, this is the very

, very first time in my life that I was glad you were away!"

"How's that?"

"Aunt Lizzie let me sleep with her last NIGHT."

A great joy came into Westonley's heart. "Did she? Really and truly?"

"Really and truly! And oh, Uncle Ted, it was lovely! We talked and talked and talked for such a long time, and she told me such a lot of things about the school she was at in England, and about the girls there-some were very nice, but there were some horrid ones. Oh, she told me heaps of things. It was lovely, and we had Bunny in the room, too"-here she paused to catch her breath-"he tried to get in through the mosquito curtains, and got all tangled up, and tore a most enormous hole in them, and Aunt Lizzie only laughed, and said it didn't matter!"

"You must have had a bully time."

"Splendid! And Aunt Lizzie and I are going to the beach together one day next week to get pippies, and she says she won't mind if she gets sopping wet right up to her face."

When they reached the house they found Mrs Westonley awaiting them on the verandah, and when her husband put his arms around her and kissed her repeatedly, she blushed like a young girl. And as the days went on he saw with delight that she had at last taken the child to her heart.

* * *

Breakfast was over, and Westonley in his study was talking to his head stockman when he saw Brooke riding up.

"Lizzie," he called to his wife, "here is Brooke. I expect he will have some breakfast, so tell Mrs Patton."

Brooke, a tall, powerfully-built man, and usually as boisterous as a school-boy in his manner, seemed very quiet as he dismounted, shook hands with Westonley and his wife, and patted Mary's head.

"Just in time for breakfast, Mr Brooke."

"No, thank you, Mrs Westonley. I had mine at five o'clock-I made an early start, as I wanted to get here as soon as possible, thinking that very likely Westonley might be going out on the run somewhere, and that I might miss him. I want to have a talk with you, old man."

Mrs Westonley and Mary at once left the room, both wondering what was the matter with Brooke-he looked so worried and depressed.

"Westonley, old fellow," he said, as he sat down, "give me a big brandy and soda. I've ridden hard all the way from my place." Then he looked at the letters and newspapers still lying upon the breakfast table. The latter, he saw, were unopened. Drinking off the brandy and soda, he said:

"You haven't opened your Argus yet, I see?"

"No, we had some bad news about Tom Gerrard-he's been mauled by an alligator, and we haven't bothered about newspapers this morning."

"Not seriously hurt, I trust?" anxiously asked the squatter, who had a sincere regard for Gerrard.

"No, I am glad to say. I'll show you his letter presently. But what is the matter, Brooke? You look worried."

"I am-most infernally worried. Tell me, old man, what did you do with that cheque of mine for eight thousand?" (The cheque to which he alluded was the price of the station in Central Queensland which he had bought from Westonley a few weeks previously.)

"Paid it into my bank," replied Westonley, instantly surmising that Brooke's financial affairs had gone wrong.

"Dacre's?"

"Yes."

"Westonley, old chap, I have bad news for you. I got a telegram from Melbourne last night-Dacre's Bank has smashed, and smashed badly-hopelessly, in fact."

Westonley's florid face paled.

"Smashed!"

"Utterly smashed. Will it hit you hard?"

"Break me! I had thirty thousand pounds on fixed deposit, a current account of about fifteen thousand-including the eight thousand you paid me, and every penny of my wife's money, little Mary's, and Jim's were in Dacre's," and, man as he was, his voice trembled.

"It won't break you-by heavens, it shall not break you, Westonley! I bought Comet Vale from you for my boys, but I'll give it back to you for three-for five-years to help you to pull up."

"Thanks, Brooke," and the big man grasped his friend's hand mechanically. "This has dazed me a bit. Come outside, and well talk it over."

He rose unsteadily, placing his hand on the edge of the table, and then fell forward upon his face, and lay still-his big, generous heart had ceased to beat.

When Brooke rode away late that night on his way home thinking of his dead friend, he reproached himself for so often having spoken of Elizabeth Westonley as "a pretty automaton, with as much heart in her as a doll." For her silent grief had showed him that she had loved her husband.

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