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Title: Invasion
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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"INVASION"



By Arthur Gask



Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 1954), Thursday 27 May 1943.




ALL the long and sweltering afternoon, from under the bank of a small creek some 20 miles inland off one of the most desolate stretches of the north-west coast of Western Australia, the three Japanese airmen had been watching the lonely little homestead. The whole time they had been chattering like monkeys, with their ape-like faces contorted in excitement.

They were ravenously hungry and the house meant food for them. Four days previously their plane had crashed some 20 miles behind the Ninety Mile Beach, and all they had had to eat in their wandering since then had been two small parrots which, with a prodigious expenditure of ammunition, they had managed to bring down with the one automatic pistol they possessed between them.

The house, however, meant more to them than food, for they would be able to learn from its inmates exactly where they were. They were sure they could not be very far from the mouth of the de Grey river and, if they could reach the coast there, they thought they would be able to steal a boat and escape out to sea where their submarines were always lurking.

Still, they dared not approach the house until darkness had well fallen, because there were from three to four hundred yards of open ground to be crossed, and they knew they would almost certainly be seen by the tall lanky man who had come into view several times. They were sure he would have a gun or rifle of some kind, and they had only one cartridge left in their pistol.

They had soon been confident they knew everyone who was living in the house. Besides the man, there was a young woman whom they took to be his wife, a small child, and an old woman who might be the mother of either of the parents. Several times they had seen all the four together, sitting in the shade on the verandah.

They had a good pair of binoculars with them, and they smiled and nodded quite a lot as they noted the younger woman was comely and of a good figure.

They guessed what the occupation of the man must be, for the house was situated only a short distance away from a high vermin-proof fence stretching to beyond sight over the barren wilderness of sand. They had heard of this fence and knew it to be the one running for thirteen hundred and fifty miles across Western Australia. So a certain length of it would be under the man's care for him to see it was always in good enough repair to keep out the rabbits. They guessed, also, that the next habitation would be many miles distant, perhaps even half a day's journey by car, and that the telephone they saw connected to the house would probably lead there.

For a long while they had wondered angrily why the man had not gone off upon his daily work in the car, which they could see through the open door of a shed at the side of the house, but, with a curse, they suddenly remembered that the day was Sunday, the day upon which the fool Australians did nothing except eat huge meals and loaf about.

Still for a short time at all events, the man had been doing some kind of work, as they had heard sounds of hammering coming from somewhere at the back of the house. The hammering, however, had soon stopped and they had seen the man come slouching on to the verandah and slump down on to a bench there close to the two women and the child.

All unaware of the danger threatening them, the girl and her mother had been talking animatedly together, finding quite a lot to talk about, as indeed so often happens with people living in very lonely places, notwithstanding that from one month to another they see no new faces to relieve the monotony of their lives.

Now the young wife turned to her husband. "You've been quick in mending that gutter, Jim," she said. "Have you made a good job of it?"

"No job at all," grunted Jim. "I haven't got any nails long enough. I'll have to ring up old Sandy to give me some. He'll be at the end of his beat tomorrow, and I'll meet him at the hill. I'll go and ring up now before I forget," and he got up and went into the house. He was back again in a few minutes and resumed his seat upon the bench. He had now got a rather rusty-looking gun with him and he proceeded to polish it up vigorously with a piece of oiled rag.

"Now if you had not been so careless as to run out of cartridges," said the older woman severely, "you could have got us a pigeon or two. There were a lot down among the trees by the creek this morning——" she looked across into the distance "—though they seem all to have flown away now."

"Yes, I mustn't run short again," said the man, "but as I've told you I thought I'd got another box."

"The war news is pretty good, isn't it?" remarked his wife. "The wireless says the Japs didn't do much harm with that raid on Wyndham." She looked troubled. "But I'm always thinking we shall have them here one day, and not a door in the house locks. We should be quite helpless if they came."

Her husband guffawed. "What would they want to come here for," he asked, "and what good would any flimsy doors do if they did come."

"Oh, they might want to come to blow up the fence and let the rabbits through," broke in his mother-in-law, "anything to frighten us and do harm. At any rate I shan't feel happy until we've killed them all and the war's over." She nodded vigorously. "Somehow I don't feel easy today. That big rooster was crowing at one o'clock this morning and that's a bad sign. It means there's going to be a death somewhere."

"And it'll be him who's going to die," grinned Jim. "I'll be killing him on Thursday, so that he'll be nice and tender for Sunday." He scowled at the old woman. "But don't you talk such nonsense, Mother. You'll be frightening Mary with your rotten ideas."

An hour, nearly two, passed and, dusk approaching, the wife went inside to prepare the evening meal. The Japanese saw a light appear in one of the windows of the house, and, a few minutes later, the family all sitting round the table. With their binoculars the airmen could see quite plainly through the wire screen of the open window.

The moment they had been waiting for had at last arrived and, climbing up over the bank of the creek, they ran stealthily up to the house. They opened the wire door very quietly and, traversing a short passage, burst into the living-room.

The younger woman shrieked and sprang up to seize her child. The elder woman jumped to her feet, too, but from her tightly pressed lips came no sound. Only the man remained seated where he was. He seemed stunned, and his mouth gaped and his face paled, even under its heavy tan.

"Hold up your hands," shouted one of the Japanese in perfectly good English, pointing his pistol at the man, and the latter, recovering from his surprise, obeyed instantly.

"Stand up," ordered the Japanese sharply. "Turn round," and again the man obeyed. Then very quickly his wrists were tied tightly together behind him with part of a torn teacloth and he was pushed back into his chair. Next, his ankles were tied to the rails of the chair. The Japanese now took some notice of the women.

"Don't be frightened, ladies," said their leader with an ugly smile. "All we want is plenty to eat and drink." He leered at the young wife. "We mean you no harm."

"But you shan't have anything," called out the old woman with blazing eyes. "We won't——"

"Be quiet, Mother," said the husband sternly, "or you'll only make things worse." He nodded to his wife. "Give them everything we've got, Mary. It'll be best for us if we do."

The Japanese spokesman now started to question the man. "How far are you from the next house?" he demanded.

"About forty miles. My mate, Sandy, lives there. He works on the fence, same as I do."

"And how far are you from the de Grey River?"

"Nearly fifty, not quite."

"Is your car in good running order?"

"Yes, I could take you to the de Grey in a couple of hours."

"Which way should we go?"

"You can't make any mistake. You follow the track going west."

"Could we get a boat there without being seen?"

The man hesitated. "Yes, if you turn off south into the bush directly you come in sight of the township and work your way round to the wharf. You'll find several boats tied up there, and there's no one looking after them at night."

The old woman burst out angrily. "You're a traitor, Jim! These men are our enemies, and you're going to help them to escape."

The man shrugged his shoulders. "Can't help it, mother. They've got the upper hand of us and if we treat them fair they'll go away and leave us. You heard him say they're not going to hurt us."

"You fool," shouted the old woman savagely, "can't you see they're only——"

"Shut your mouth, woman," ordered the Japanese sharply, "and bring us all you've got to eat in the house. We'll be taking some of it away with us."

The old woman subsided mutteringly into her chair, but the wife did as her husband had told her to and put more food on the table.

The Japanese, seating themselves down, proceeded to eat hastily, talking, however, among themselves most of the time. Every now and then they eyed the younger woman in a way which made her feel sick with fear. She was clutching her child again and choking back her tears with a great effort. Presently the Japanese who was, apparently, the only one of three who could speak English, remarked smilingly to her, "It's a pity there are not three of you, young lady. Still . . .,' but he shrugged his shoulders and said something to his companions in their own language which, from their expressions, seemed to them to be a good joke.

So the intense drama proceeded in that little room. The old woman was like a baffled tigress who knew she had neither teeth nor claws; the young wife was terrified at the thought of what might be going to happen to them all, and the Japanese were pleasurably excited, with more than even murder in their hearts. Only the bound man in the chair was calm, though his forehead was now pricked out in little beads of sweat.

His eyes kept wandering to the clock upon the mantelshelf as if he were considering how much longer he had to live, for, notwithstanding the promise of the Japanese who spoke English, he was under no delusion that he could expect any mercy from him. They would just take him out and kill him when they had finished their meal, and his child and his wife's mother would meet the same fate. He shuddered when he thought what would happen to his wife.

He watched the three men intently. They were just like animals in the way they took their food. Their small yellow faces were hard and cruel, their arms were long like ape's, and their strong bony hands looked the very hands for throttling people. He wondered how he would have to die; the bullet, the knife or those dreadful hands about his neck.

Their hunger and thirst at last satisfied, with meaning nods to one another, the three Japanese rose simultaneously to their feet. Their leader said a few quick words to his companions and then turned to the others in the room, "You," he said to the man, "are to go out with these gentlemen and show them how to start the car. We shall drive it ourselves and shan't want you to come. Take the old woman out with you to carry the lantern. The child can go with her, too." He made a smiling bow to the wife. "You will remain here."

The girl shuddered and went white as death, and for the first time there was terror upon the husband's face, but the old woman was undaunted and prepared to show fight. "You yellow beasts," she shouted, "I'll not leave my daughter alone. I'll . . ." She made a dash towards a big carving knife on the table, but one of the Japanese was too quick for her and seized her roughly by the arm. His leader gave him a sharp order and the man pulled out an ugly-looking knife from his belt. The old woman struggled fiercely.

Then the avalanche descended.

In quick succession three rifle bullets came tearing through the wire screen of the window, and two of the Japanese crashed on to the floor. They had both been shot in the head, and after a few convulsive movements lay quite still where they had fallen, but the third man, their leader, had been missed, and, taking in like lightning that the danger was coming from the window, he darted to the door to escape from the room.

But the old woman was between him and the door, and, though looking as ghastly as if she were dead, had yet got all her wits about her. Exactly at the right moment she put out her foot and tripped him heavily. Then, before he could get up, she had snatched a chopper off the dresser and given him a vicious blow upon the back of his head. He groaned and lay still.

A few moments of dreadful silence followed, and then an elderly red-haired man with a still smoking rifle in his hand burst into the room. "Gude for you, mother," he shouted gleefully as he took in the old woman with her chopper standing over the prostrate Japanese. He bent down. "Yes, you've done for him, all recht," he went on in the broadest Scotch. "But if not, I'll finish him off outside," and with no ceremony he grabbed him by the heel and dragged him out along the passage to the front entrance of the house.

He was back again very quickly and patted the old woman on the back. "But you're a bonny lassie, you are," he exclaimed admiringly. "It were a gude blow, and he's as dead as a herring." He turned to the trembling wife. "Dinna ye fash yerself, ye poor gal. Them yeller deils can do no harm no more." He regarded the two bodies on the floor with obvious satisfaction. "But I were taking no chances, as I were not sure what pistols they had got. So I just put ma bullets furst."

"But Jim was talking to them quite friendly," choked the old woman. "He was telling them how to escape to the de Grey River. He's a traitor and a coward."

"Nay, nay," reproved the Scotchman, "he war a brave mon and full of sense. He war keeping them talking 'till I got here with ma gun. He knew what he were aboot all the time."

"But it was touch and go for us all, Sandy," said Jim reproachfully. "You cut it very fine."

"But I didn't," laughed the other, "not near so fine as ye think. I was biding ootside some wee minutes till I could get 'em quite clear without hurting any of ye. I were watchin' over ye, dinna fear."

He untied Jim quickly, and the latter gave him a warm clasp of the hand before throwing his arms round his wife. "I was sure you'd come, Sandy. I knew you wouldn't fail us."

"Not I," exclaimed Sandy stoutly, "but I had to leave ma car a gude mile away so that they shouldna hear it, and run the rest of the way for ma verra life." Then turned to the old woman. "That mon you hit with the chopper war a verra bad fellow. Ye ken I picked up a bit of their beastly language when the pearling boats war in and I heard him tell they others to stick a knife in Jim's back when they got him ootside and give ye a stick, too."

"But Jim," gasped the wife, lifting her tear-stained face from his shoulder, "how did you know Sandy was coming?"

"Because I had phoned him," laughed her husband happily. "When I went up on that ladder to mend the gutter I saw the three devils hiding in the creek, and I guessed they were only waiting until it got dark to rush the house. So it was Sandy and his gun that I phoned for, and not any big nails. That's why, too, I brought my old gun on to the verandah, to let them see it. They weren't to know I'd got no cartridges for it. Then when we all came inside I knew it would be no good barricading the place because they'd have broken in easily or shot at us through the windows somewhere."

"And I coom at wunce," nodded Sandy, "after I'd had a wee talk with de Grey station an told 'em what war oop. They'll no be long in gettin' here, either. Hark, hark, there be a car cooming the noo. Let's bide for 'em ootside, awa from these dead pigs."

They went out at once as he suggested, the old woman, however, lagging behind just long enough to acquire a pair of laces from the shoes of one of the dead men.

"They're just what Jim wants so badly," she muttered darkly, "and I owe him something for calling him a traitor."

She smiled grimly to herself. "Yes, I'll give them to him as a present, and he'll never know where I got them."



THE END.