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- Back To Billabong - 1/45 -


BACK TO BILLABONG

by

MARY GRANT BRUCE

1921

"Beyond the distant sky-line (Now pansy-blue and clear), We know a land is waiting, A brown land, very dear: A land of open spaces, Gaunt forest, treeless plain: And if we once have loved it We must come back again."

(Dorothea Mackellar.)

CONTENTS

CHAP.

I. LANCASTER GATE, LONDON, W

II. THE RAINHAMS

III. PLAYING TRUANT

IV. COMING HOME

V. THE TURN OF FORTUNE'S WHEEL

VI. SAILING ORDERS

VII. THE WATCH DOGS

VIII. HOW TOMMY BOARDED A STRANGE TAXI

IX. THE WELCOME OF AUSTRALIA

X. BILLABONG

XI. COLONIAL EXPERIENCES

XII. ON INFLUENZA AND FURNITURE

XIII. THE HOME ON THE CREEK

XIV. THE CUNJEE RACES

XV. HOW WALLY RODE A RACE

XVI. BUILDING UP AGAIN

BACK TO BILLABONG

CHAPTER I

LANCASTER GATE, LONDON, W

"Do the beastly old map yourself, if you want it. I shan't, anyhow!"

"Wilfred!"

"Aw, Wil-fred!" The boy at the end of the schoolroom table, red- haired, snub-nosed and defiant, mimicked the protesting tone. "I've done it once, and I'm blessed if I do it again."

"No one would dream that it was ever meant for Africa." The young teacher glanced at the scrawled and blotted map before her. "It-- it doesn't look like anything earthly. You must do it again, Wilfred."

"Don't you, Wilf." Wilfred's sister leaned back in her chair, tilting it on its hind legs.

"You have nothing to do with Wilfred's work, Avice. Go on with your French."

"Done it, thanks," said Avice. "And I suppose I can speak to my own brother if I like."

"No, you can't--in lesson time," said the teacher.

"Who's going to stop me?"

Cecilia Rainham controlled herself with an effort.

"Bring me your work," she said.

She went over the untidy French exercise with a quick eye. When she had finished it resembled a stormy sky--a groundwork of blue- black, blotted writing, lit by innumerable dashes of red. Cecilia put down her red pencil.

"It's hopeless, Avice. You haven't tried a bit. And you know it isn't hard--you did a far more difficult piece of translation without a mistake last Friday."

"Yes, but the pantomime was coming off on Saturday," said Wilfred, with a grin. "Jolly little chance of tickets from Bob if she didn't!"

"You shut up!" said Avice.

"Be quiet, both of you," Cecilia ordered, a spot of red in each pale cheek. "Remember, there will be other Saturdays. Bob will do nothing for you if I can't give him a decent report of you." It was the threat she hated using, but without it she was helpless. And the red-haired pair before her knew to a fraction the extent of her helplessness.

For the moment the threat was effective. Avice went back to her seat, taking with her the excited-looking French exercise, while Wilfred sullenly recommenced a dispirited attack upon the African coastline. Cecilia leaned back in her chair, and took up a half- knitted sock--to drop it hastily, as a long-drawn howl came from a low chair by the window.

"Whatever is the matter, Queenie?"

"I per-ricked my finger," sobbed the youngest Miss Rainham. She stood up, tears raining down her plump cheeks. No one, Cecilia thought, ever cried so easily, so copiously, and so frequently as Queenie. As she stood holding out a very grubby forefinger, on which appeared a minute spot of blood, great tears fell in splashes on the dark green linoleum, while others ran down her face to join them, and others trembled on her lower eyelids, propelled from some artesian fount within.

"Oh, dry up, Queenie!" said Wilfred irritably. "Anyone 'ud think you'd cut your silly finger off!"

"Well--it'th bleed-in'!" wailed Queenie. She dabbed the injured member with the pillow case she was hemming, adding a scarlet touch in pleasant contrast to its prevailing grime.

"Well--you're too big a girl to cry for a prick," said Cecilia wearily. "People who are nearly seven really don't cry except for something awfully bad."

"There--I'll tell the mater you said awfully!" Avice jeered. "Who bites our heads off for using slang, I'd like to know?"

"You wouldn't have much head left if I bit for every slang word you use," retorted her half-sister. "Do get on with your French, Avice--it's nearly half-past twelve, and you know Eliza will want to lay the table presently. Come here, Queenie." She took the pillow case, and unpicked a few stitches, which clearly indicated that the needle had been taking giant strides. "Just hem that last inch or two again, and see if you can't make it look nice. I believe the needle only stuck into your finger because you were making it sew so badly. Have you got a handkerchief?--but, of course, you haven't." She polished the fat, tear-stained cheek with her own. "Now run and sit down again."

Queenie turned to go obediently enough--she was too young, and possibly too fat, to plan, as yet, the deliberate malice in which her brother and sister took their chief pleasure. Unfortunately, Wilfred arrived at the end of Africa at the wrong moment for her. He pushed the atlas away from him with a jerk that overturned the ink bottle, sending a stream of ink towards Avice--who, shoving her chair backwards to escape the deluge, cannoned into Queenie, and brought her headlong to the floor. Howls broke out anew, mingled with a crisp interchange of abuse between the elder pair, while Cecilia vainly sought to lessen the inky flood with a duster. Upon this pleasant scene the door opened sharply.

"A nice way you keep order at lessons," said Mrs. Mark Rainham acidly. "And the ink all over the cloth. Well, all I can say is, you'll pay for a new one, Cecilia."

"I did not knock it over," said Cecilia, in a low tone.

"It's your business to look after the children, and see that they do not destroy things," said her stepmother.

"The children will not obey me."

"Pouf!" said Mrs. Rainham. "A mere question of management. High-


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