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   Chapter 19 No.19

Tom Gerrard By Louis Becke Characters: 10511

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


As Mrs Westonley had told Gerrard in her letter that she and Mary would not leave Marumbah for quite two months and proceed direct to Somerset, where she hoped he would meet them, he decided to lose no more time at Port Denison; and so a week after the abandonment of Fraser's Gully, he and his friends found themselves on board a steamer bound to the most northern port of the colony, just then coming into prominence as the rendezvous of the pearling fleet, although Thursday Island was also much favoured.

Before leaving Port Denison, he had written to his sister, and told her that he would meet her on her arrival at Somerset. "Jim is off his head with delight," he added; "in fact we both are, at the prospect of seeing you and Mary so soon. In one way I am glad that it will be barely three months before you get to Ocho Rios, for I want to get a new house put up; the present one isn't of much account"-this was his modified way of saying that there was no house there at all, it having been reduced to ashes, but he did not wish her to have the faintest inkling of any of his misfortunes, for fear that she would then refuse to add to his troubles and expenses by becoming a charge upon him. "And I have already bought some decent furniture, which I will take round with me in one of the pearlers. I do hope you will like the place, but you will look upon it at its very worst, for there have been heavy bush fires all about the station, which have played the deuce with the country for hundred of miles about. But the annual rains will begin to fall in four months, and then you will see it at its best. I am also going to make a garden, and plant no end of vegetables and flowers and things. There is a lovely little spot on one of the creeks; and Jim and I have been going over a thumping big box of seeds which I bought yesterday. You can consider that garden as made, with rock-melons and watermelons, and 'punkens' and other fruit growing in it galore."

When Elizabeth Westonley read the letter she smiled-the first time almost since her husband's death. "How nice of your uncle, is it not, Mary? I should miss a garden dreadfully, and it is very thoughtful of him when he has so much work to do with his cattle. And see, he has sent me a draft for one hundred pounds for our expenses up to Somerset."

"Are we very, very, poor now, Aunt?"

"Very, very poor, Mary," and she sighed, "But still it might have been much worse for us if the people to whom Marumbah now belongs had not let me keep the furniture. Mr Brooke has bought it, and paid me three hundred and fifty pounds for it. And I am sure he only did it because he was sorry for us; I am certain he does not want it."

Brooke, indeed, had been very kind to the wife of his dead friend, and had pressed her to accept a loan of money, but this she had gratefully declined.

"How glad Uncle Tom must be that he has money to send you!"

"I am sure he must be. He is always thinking of others; and you and I, Mary, must do all we can for him. I shall be housekeeper and cook and all sorts of things, and you shall be chief housemaid, and help me, and we will try and make the house look nice."

"Yes, Aunt. And won't it be lovely to see Jim again! I can just imagine his staring eyes when he sees that I have brought Bunny. You'll keep it a dead secret, won't you?"

"Quite secret. I did not even mention Bunny in my letter. Now we must go on sewing these mosquito curtains; your uncle says that in the rainy season the mosquitoes nearly eat one alive, so I am going to make six, as I am sure he has none at Ocho Rios. He says they don't bite him, as his skin is too tough."

An hour before the steamer in which Gerrard and the Frasers had taken passage cast off her lines from the jetty, Lacey came on board to say farewell, bringing with him Mrs Woodfall. The kind-hearted woman was almost on the verge of tears as she sat down beside Jim, and folded him to her ample, motherly bosom.

Gerrard presently drew her aside, and put two five pound notes in her hand.

"Indeed I won't, sir. I like the lad too much! No, sir, not even as a present. But I do hope you won't mind his writing to us sometimes. And will you mind my saying, Mr Gerrard, that me and my husband are very sorry to hear that your station has been burned, and that you have lost nearly all your cattle. And we have taken a liberty which I hope won't offend you-it is only a present for Jim, and won't give you any trouble on board the steamer, and the freight is paid right on to Somerset, and my husband put five hundredweight of best Sydney lucerne hay on board, so you won't have no trouble in feeding him; and, although I say it myself, there's not a better bred bull calf in North Queensland."

"Do you mean to say, Mrs Woodfall, that you have given Jim that Young Duke bull of yours? Why, he's worth fifty pounds! Oh no, I can't allow you to be so generous as that."

"You can't help it now, Mr Gerrard," said the good woman triumphantly; "my husband brought him on board last night, and he is now in his stall on the fore-deck as happy as a king, and I hope he will prove his good blood when you once have him at Ocho Rios. Come and look at him," and she smiled with pride as she le

d the way out of the saloon.

The animal was comfortably established in a stall on the fore-deck, and beside him was Woodfall feeding him with the "Sydney lucerne."

"Woodfall, that bull is going ashore right away unless you take fifty pounds for him," said Gerrard; "he'll be worth five hundred pounds to me in a couple of years."

"Can't take it, Mr Gerrard. He's a present to Jim, so it's no use talking. But I would take it as a favour if you'd send me a line, and tell me how he bears the journey."

"Indeed I will, Woodfall," replied Gerrard, who was greatly touched by this practical demonstration of their regard for him; for he knew that their excuse of giving the bull to Jim was a shallow one, and that both husband and wife were aware that the animal would prove of the greatest value to him, now that Ocho Rios was practically without cattle. And such sympathy went to his heart. "The world is full of kind people," he thought. Then he turned to Mrs Woodfall and her husband with a smile. "Come back to the saloon with me. The steamer will leave in half an hour, and we shall not have much time to talk together. And the steward is giving us tea there."

The big woman's face flushed with pleasure. "That is kind of you, Mr Gerrard. I can drink a cup of tea, but would be afraid to ask that swell steward for it; he looks like--"

"Like a duke in disguise, eh? But he'll take a shilling tip from any one, I can assure you."

"Well, I never! He ought to be ashamed of himself. English fashions are a-coming in, aren't they, Mr Gerrard? Just fancy any respectable man taking a shilling for doing the work he is paid for! Fifteen pound a month these steamer stewards get, so Mr Lacey tells me. My! But he won't get no shilling from me."

"Indeed he shall not, Mrs Woodfall. You are my guest. Now come along, please, as Miss Fraser and the others will be waiting for us."

"Mr Gerrard, isn't Miss Fraser a bonny girl-and can't she ride! I don't want to be rude, sir, but you will have to have a mistress for Ocho Rios; and she is one of the sweetest girls in the country, and right to your hand, so to speak."

"Mrs Woodfall, you are surprising me. First you give Jim a bull calf worth hundreds of pounds, and then you try to fill my head with the idea that a young lady whom I have only known for a few weeks--"

"Ah, Mr Gerrard! Trust a woman for knowing things that men don't see. I saw her looking at you in the saloon-and, well, I know a thing or two."

"I am sure you do," said Gerrard laughingly, as they re-entered the saloon, "but I should have to get another face before I ask any one to marry me."

"Not at all. Why, Mr Gerrard, in a year or so all those red scars will have gone, and you'll be the nice same nutty brown all over."

"How are you, Gerrard?" said a little white-haired man in uniform. "I am glad to see you on board the Gambler once more. You'll share my cabin, of course?"

"Thanks, Captain MacAlister, I shall be delighted," and then the master of the steamer, after an admiring glance at Kate, and a look of wondering sympathy at the left side of Gerrard's face, hurried on deck to the bridge.

"Two big bottles of Pommery, steward; never mind the tea. Quick, please," cried Lacey to the steward; "the skipper has gone on the bridge, and we'll just have time for a doch and dorrish, Miss Fraser." The steward soon had the bottles opened.

"Gerrard, me boy, I wish you lashings of luck, and you too, Miss Fraser. Jim, my son, don't forget to write. Come, Mrs Woodfall; you really must, or I'll not speak to ye for a month. Here's to the bright eyes of the ladies! Miss Fraser, don't be after playing with any more alligators-they're nasty things for ladies to handle. Now I must be going; there's the last bell," and shaking hands all round once more, the genial Irishman left the saloon with the Woodfalls to go on shore, leaving Gerrard and his party to make their way on deck.

The engines throbbed, and the great hull of the steamer slid slowly along the pier, and Gerrard and his friends went to the rail to see the last of Lacey. He, however, for the moment did not see them, as he was hurriedly writing in his pocket-book. Then tearing out the leaf, he looked up, and pushing his way through the crowd to the edge of the pier, was just in time to reach out and place the paper in Gerrard's hand.

"Don't read it now," he cried, as he drew back; "put it in your pocket. Good-bye, and good luck."

A few minutes later Captain MacAlister asked Gerrard and Fraser to come up on the bridge, and Gerrard unfolded Lacey's missive and read:

"Just recognised one of your fellow-passengers-tall, stout,

good-looking, yellow moustache, jewellery. Look out for him-

noted card-sharper, and all-round blackguard. Calls himself

Honble Wilburd Merriton, but has heaps of aliases-ex-gaol

bird."

Gerrard showed the note to Fraser, who nodded, and said he had noticed the man.

"I think there is a party of them. See, there they are together at the companion; and, by Jove, I can swear to one of them! I tried him at Araluen for being concerned in gold-stealing, and gave him three years 'hard.' That is he with the black moustache and Jewish features-Mr Barney Green."

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