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Queensland Cousins

Eleanor Luisa Haverfield

  Produced by Nick Wall, Jacqueline Jeremy and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at (Thisfile was produced from images generously made availableby The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


  It was the great native chief.]







  _I. Home_, 9

  _II. Bob_, 22

  _III. The Barefoot Visitor_, 39

  _IV. A Night of Terror_, 49

  _V. The First Shot_, 60

  _VI. Bob's Verdict_, 69

  _VII. Peter's Nightmare_, 80

  _VIII. The Witch_, 91

  _IX. A Riderless Horse_, 102

  _X. A Voice from the Scrub_, 114

  _XI. Black-fellows_, 124

  _XII. The Secret of the Thicket_, 136

  _XIII. A Great Surprise_, 148

  _XIV. A Moonlight Disturbance_, 158

  _XV. Who is in the Boat?_ 168

  _XVI. What the Tide brought in_, 177

  _XVII. Mother's Home_, 188

  _XVIII. Peter makes a Diversion_, 201

  _XIX. The Last Straw_, 212

  _XX. Breaking the News_, 225




  "It has come, it has come, it has come! Oh, do be quick, father!"

  The cry rang out lustily from three young voices, three eager headswere thrust over the veranda railings. Below, on horseback, was abig, brown-haired, brown-bearded man, who looked up from under hissoft slouch hat with a laugh, and exclaimed,--

  "What has come, you outrageously noisy youngsters? One would thinkI had a family of dingoes, to hear you."

  Then another head appeared over the railings--a gentle-faced,fair-haired woman looked down.

  "It is the parcel from home, Jack," she said. "Hadji brought it upan hour ago."

  "Yes, yes, father; it is the parcel from England at last, andmother wouldn't open it till you came, so we have been waiting awhole hour--the longest hour I have ever lived."

  Nesta Orban, to whom one of the first heads over the railingbelonged, shook back her masses of fair, fluffy hair with animpatient little toss.

  "Stuff, Nesta; you always say that," exclaimed Eustace, her twin offourteen. "You said it yesterday coming through the scrub becauseyou were tired; and the day before when mother made you sew for anhour instead of reading; and the day before--"

  "Oh, shut up!" Nesta retorted. "You needn't quote pages from mybiography like that. Let's think about the parcel.--Hurry up, dad,darling."

  This last she called after her father, for Mr. Orban had not stayeda second after his wife's explanation of the excitement.

  "The parcel from home," he repeated, all the laughter dying out ofhis face, and he spurred his horse into a trot round the housetowards the stable.

  The heads all came back into the veranda, and there fell a hush ofexpectancy as every one listened for Mr. Orban's footsteps comingup through the house.

  "La, la, la! look, Nesta. Dolly downside up; Becky done it," pipeda little voice from the floor.

  "Oh, do be quiet, Becky. Think about the parcel from England.Perhaps there is something in it for you," said Nesta.

  Mrs. Orban had seated herself again in a low wicker chair, and wasbusy sewing--patching a well-worn shirt with utmost patience.

  "Don't be cross with Becky," she said gently. "She can't beexpected at two years old to realize the meaning of a parcel fromhome. I don't believe you do yourself, Nesta. It is just a lot ofnice things from England to you--only to father and me is it 'aparcel from home.'"

  Nesta flushed a little and looked grave as she stood by the tablefingering the string of the wonderful parcel. Such a lot of stringthere was, and so much sewing and writing! Whatever it mightcontain, at least the parcel looked interesting.

  The owner of the third head that had looked over the verandarailing to shout the news was ten-year-old Peter. It always seemedto Nesta and Eustace that he was ever so much younger than theywere--perhaps because he had been the baby for so many years, tillBecky came.

  "Mother," said Peter, setting himself right in front of her, andstaring at her with wide blue eyes, "why don't you and father livein England when you want to so much?"

  Peter was fair, and very like his mother and Nesta. Eustace andlittle Becky were the two who were like their father, brown-hairedand brown-eyed. Peter had a delicate, sensitive face, and he wasalways wondering about things in a queer, dreamy sort of way.

  "It is easier said than done, my little son," Mrs. Orban answered,bending low over her sewing that the child might not see the tearshis question had brought to her eyes. "Father must work."

  "But couldn't he work in England just as well as Queensland?" askedPeter.

  "Unfortunately not," said his mother sadly. "Work is not easy toget in England, or anywhere for the matter of that."

  Eustace caught the note of sadness in his mother's voice, andstrolling behind Peter he gave him a kick on the ankle with all theair of its being accidental.

  "Ow-wow-wow!" exclaimed Peter, hopping on one leg and holding on tothe other. "You hurt me."

  "Sorry," said Eustace carelessly, following him across the veranda.

  "La, la, la! dolly upside downey," crooned Becky from the floor,where she sat deeply engaged in trying to make her boy doll standon its head as she had seen Eustace do.

  "Look here," said Eustace under cover of Becky's singing, "don'task stupid questions, Peter. It always makes mother feel bad totalk about England--any silly could see that without being told, Ishould think."

  But Peter looked surprised.

  "Then you kicked me on purpose," he said, no louder than Eustacehad spoken.

  "Of course," said Eustace.

  "What for?" demanded Peter, flushing hotly.

  "To make you shut up, that's all," Eustace said coolly.

  Peter dropped his injured leg and flung himself upon his brotherwith doubled fists.

  "How dare you, you--you horrid boy!" he said chokily, for Peter'stemper always sprang out like a sheet of flame up muslin curtains.

  With a queer little smile, Eustace gripped his slender wrists, andheld them so that the little chap could do nothing but wriggleabout like an eel.

  "Let me go, I say," he said; "let me go, I tell you. I won't beheld like a baby."

  He had about as much strength as a baby in Eustace's grip, for theelder boy was a well-built, square-shouldered fellow, and powerfulfor his age.

  Mrs. Orban looked up at the commotion, and wondered what it couldbe all about so suddenly.

  "As you are strong, be merciful, Eustace," she said quietly--thatwas all.

  Eustace instantly let go, and Peter stood for a second staring downat the two red rings round his wrists, then, as Eustace turnedunconcernedly away, dashed at his back and pommelled it.

  "Go on," said Eustace with seeming carelessness, but the words werejerked out by the thumps; "my coat hasn't had a brushing for aweek. Glad to get the dust out of it."

  "Peter, Peter," said his mother warningly, "you surely don't wantto be sent away before the parcel is o
pened, do you?"

  This stopped Peter effectually; a minute later he had forgotten hisgrievance, which was also Peter's way.

  "So the great day has come at last," said Mr. Orban, coming outfrom the house on to the veranda, which was so large and spaciousthat it was as useful to the household as several extra rooms.

  Mrs. Orban put away her sewing, and every one gathered round thetable as Mr. Orban began carefully undoing the string.

  "Here's my knife, father," Eustace said, with a pleading note inhis voice.

  "Plenty of time, my lad," Mr. Orban said quietly. "One doesn't geta bit of string like this every day."

  Becky had become infected by the excitement at last, and nowinsisted upon being held up in her mother's arms. All the eagereyes were bent on Mr. Orban's hands as he skilfully untied knotafter knot.

  "You won't unpick the sewing on the American cloth too, will you?"asked Nesta anxiously.

  "No; I think we can cut that, Miss Impatience," laughed her father."Mother could hardly use it again even for hemming floor-cloths."

  "I'm not so sure, Jack," said Mrs. Orban; "my stock of cottons isrunning very low. It is time you went away and brought me a freshsupply."

  Mr. Orban undid the last knot, but instead of taking the knifeEustace was still patiently holding out, he began winding up thestring into a neat coil. The children glanced up in desperation, tofind his face grave and preoccupied. He looked as if he hadentirely forgotten the parcel.

  "What is it, dear?" said Mrs. Orban, with sudden alarm in hervoice. "Is anything wrong?"

  Mr. Orban roused himself with an effort.

  "Oh no," he replied slowly; "nothing wrong exactly. Only your wordsstruck me oddly, for, as a matter of fact, I have to go away, andsoon too."

  Eustace glanced quickly at his mother, and the look in her eyesmade him forget the parcel too.

  "Not far, Jack, I hope," she said.

  "Rather, I'm afraid," was the answer. "I hope you won't mind beingleft for a week or two."

  "A week or two!" exclaimed Mrs. Orban in a tone that wasunmistakably disturbed.

  "I can't do it in less," Mr. Orban went on. "I am obliged to godown to Brisbane on business."

  "To Brisbane!" Nesta cried. "O dad, couldn't you take us all withyou? It would be lovely!"

  "If you will find the fares, young woman, I shall be delighted,"said her father, pinching her ear. "The journey to Brisbane israther an expensive matter. I couldn't afford to take myself therejust for the fun of the thing."

  "When must you go, Jack?" asked Mrs. Orban, trying hard to speaksteadily and naturally.

  "Next week--as soon as possible, that is," Mr. Orban said; "and Iwill get back just as quick as I can. You will be all right, dear.I will tell Farley or Robertson to sleep up here in the house, andyou won't feel so lonely at night."

  "Oh no, no," Mrs. Orban said, "don't do that. They have both gottheir wives and families to look after. Eustace will be anefficient man of the house and companion to his mummie--won't you,son?"

  "I'll do my best," Eustace said soberly.

  To be quite honest, he was as startled as his mother at hisfather's announcement; he did not like the idea at all. He hadcaught that curious look in his mother's eyes, and it troubled him.

  But Nesta was too much taken up with the thought of the parcel tonotice anything except the delay in opening it.

  "Couldn't we go on?" she pleaded.

  "Poor Nesta," said Mr. Orban, beginning to cut the sewing, "is itgetting beyond your patience altogether? Well, here goes then!"

  Inside the American cloth was yet another wrapper, this time oflinen sewn up most carefully, and within that paper after paper.The excitement grew more and more tense, till at last, when theycame to a series of neat packages, each with a label to say fromwhom and to whom the gift was, every one except Becky was beyondspeaking point.

  The joys that parcel contained were indescribable, because no childborn and bred in England could be made to understand how wonderful,how undreamed of, how surprising were the most ordinary things tothose four Bush children. They lived right out of the world, andhad spent most of their lives on a sugar plantation in NorthQueensland; the common things of our everyday existence weremarvels to them.

  A clockwork train sent out to Peter with a hope that "he was nottoo old for it" fascinated Eustace, despite his four years'seniority; the exquisite little doll's dinner service for Becky setNesta longing to play with it and cook pretence dinners for it.

  There was something for every one, and the children's eyes shonewith pleasure; but Mrs. Orban's were dim as, the unpacking over,she turned quietly away and disappeared into the house.

  In the midst of turning the pages of his new book to look forpictures, Eustace missed her, and shortly after Mr. Orban went awaytoo.

  "Oh!" Eustace exclaimed, slamming his book together with a bigsigh, "I do wish parcels from England didn't always make mothersad."

  "I guess she wants to see grannie and Aunt Dorothy badly," Nestasuggested.

  "Oh, it is more than that," Eustace said, getting up and movingrestlessly about. "I sometimes think she simply hates this placeand everything to do with it."

  "Do you, Eustace?" asked Peter, his eyes round with wonder.

  "Well, it is fearfully dull, isn't it?" Nesta said. "England mustbe quite different. English stories always make me ache to gothere. It must be so awfully interesting, mustn't it?"

  "Wouldn't it be splendid if father said suddenly one day we couldall go to England!" Peter cried excitedly.

  "I don't think there is the least chance of that," Eustace said."You heard what he said about its being too expensive to take useven to Brisbane. It would cost ten times as much to go toEngland."

  "I say," Nesta said quickly, "I wonder why father has to go toBrisbane in such a hurry? Don't you, Eustace?"

  "I haven't thought about it," Eustace answered. "But, anyhow,mother doesn't like his going--that's very clear."

  "Doesn't she?" Nesta asked in a surprised voice. "How _do_ youknow?"

  "Didn't you see her face when father said he must go?" Eustaceasked with a touch of impatience.

  Nesta shook her head.

  "Oh!" was all Eustace exclaimed; then he turned, and resting hiselbows on the railings, stared straight ahead with unseeing eyes.

  The Orbans' house was built on the top of an isolated hill threehundred feet above a valley which, except where the scrub had beencleared for the growing of sugar-cane, was thickly wooded. On threesides of the valley, stretching round like a great horse-shoe, layrange upon range of hills, now softest purple. The fourth side, onwhich the boy gazed, was bounded by the sea--a shimmering patch ofblue. No scene could have been grander, none more infinitelylonely. But Eustace was not thinking about it either admiringly orotherwise.

  Nesta joined her brother, and stared curiously at his unusuallyserious face.

  "What do you mean, Eustace?" she demanded.

  He did not speak, so she put her hand on his shoulder and gave hima little shake.

  "What are you thinking about?" she asked.

  "Mother," Eustace said quite shortly.

  "Yes, I know," Nesta said; "but what about her?"

  "Father's going away," Eustace said.

  "Of course," Nesta said, rather scornfully; "you told me thatbefore. And I know mother will be dreadfully dull without him."

  "Dull!" exclaimed Eustace, knocking the tips of his toesimpatiently against the woodwork.

  "Yes, dull," said the girl.

  "Worse than dull," Eustace responded soberly.

  "But we can do our best to cheer her up till he comes back."

  Eustace turned slowly round until he was staring right into Nesta'seyes, and his look was so queer that she was startled.

  "Do you mean to say you don't understand?" he said solemnly.

  "No, I certainly don't," Nesta replied.

  Eustace wheeled quickly back to the railing, gazing seaward again.

  "Then I'm not going to tell you,"
he said decidedly.

  Nesta stood blankly wondering for a moment.

  "Well, it's hateful of you," she began; then suddenly herexpression changed. "Eustace," she exclaimed, grabbing his arm withboth hands, "do you mean mother will be frightened?"

  "I'm not going to tell you," repeated the boy with seemingobstinacy.

  But Nesta's face was full of certainty.

  "It _is_ that!" she said with conviction. "You think she will bescared at being left."

  Now Eustace had suddenly begun to repent of having said so much. Hehad not the least desire to frighten Nesta; he had honestlybelieved that she must have noticed what he did in their mother'stone and look, but now he realized Nesta had not understood. Hestood silent, regretting his carelessness.

  "O Eustace," Nesta cried, "of course it is that. How dreadful! Iremember now what father said--he knew mother might be frightened,and that is why he offered to have Farley or Robertson up."

  There was terror in Nesta's voice now, and Eustace rounded sharplyupon her.

  "I say, shut up!" he said, with a glance towards Peter, who was tooengrossed with his train at the other side of the veranda to belistening. "You don't want to frighten the kids, do you? Besides,father said we should be all right, and he knows."

  "But mother was frightened," Nesta said, looking unconvinced.

  "She didn't say so," Eustace argued. "She refused to have eitherof the men up, you see. That doesn't look much like funking it."

  "Then what did you mean?" demanded Nesta.

  "Oh, never mind," Eustace said, throwing himself into a chair andreopening his book. "Don't let's talk about it."

  "That is nonsense," Nesta said. "How can I help minding about athing like that?"

  "Well, but what's the good of talking?" Eustace exclaimed. "Dad hasto go; we can't prevent that if we talk for ever."

  "Yes; but if it is dangerous--" Nesta began in a low, awe-struckvoice.

  "Dangerous!" Eustace repeated. "What could there be dangerous aboutit?"

  "You know as well as I do," Nesta replied. "Supposing the blackswere to come down on us in the night when we were here all alone!"

  "Oh, do shut up!" Eustace said sharply. "Why should the blackshappen to come just because father is away? They may not even be inthe neighbourhood."

  "Yes; but you remember that horrid story Kate told us," Nesta said,almost whispering. "The father was away--there were nothing butwomen and children in the house--"

  "Oh, stop, Nesta!" Eustace said. "Of course I remember all aboutit. I don't want to hear the beastly thing all over again. What isthe good of frightening ourselves all for nothing? Don't you knowthat father wouldn't go if he could possibly help it? And if hemust go, we've got to make the best of it, that's all. Now I'mgoing to read, so do shut up."

  Nesta stood silently staring at him a moment, but he seemedalready to have forgotten her very existence.

  "Well, you are a queer boy," she said, in what the boys alwayscalled her "huffy" voice.

  Still Eustace took no notice.

  "Perhaps you will be sorry some day," Nesta said with a littlegulp, and turned away to Becky, who was calling her.

  Eustace was apparently engrossed in his book, but not a word didhe see on the page he stared at so intently. He had done a stupidthing, and he regretted it, for the mischief was past remedy now.Quite unintentionally he had made Nesta as nervous as he washimself, and he knew that nothing he might say would reassure her.He was quite right that there was no use in talking about it; hefelt sure that his father would say he ought not to have said somuch, and he was vexed with himself for his carelessness. Silenceseemed the only course open to him--silence on the subject for thepresent, and for the future a great, whole-hearted resolve to playthe man come what might.