Unwelcome Invader

By: Angela Devine

To L.B.





CHAPTER ONE


‘LOOKS as though your dad has let you down,’ said Brett mildly.

Gazing up and down the rapidly emptying airport, Jane felt inclined to agree with him. It was after eleven o’clock and most of the passengers had already disappeared hurriedly into the chill autumn night. After being delayed for several hours by engine trouble in Melbourne nobody wanted to linger any further. Only a few airline employees and a single family with some problems about missing luggage were still left in the small Hobart air terminal. There was no sign of her father anywhere.

‘I think you’re right,’ she admitted ruefully. ‘Although I don’t know why he hasn’t shown up. I wrote to him two weeks ago and told him when I was arriving. I even reminded him to phone and check that the flight was on schedule, which it wasn’t! But you know Dad…he’s so unreliable. I’m afraid I won’t be able to give you a ride home after all, Brett.’

‘Well, it’s not the end of the world, mate. Tell you what, I’ll see if the bloke down at the Hertz desk can rustle up a hire-car for us, then I’ll give you a ride home.’

‘Thanks, Brett, you’re a real sweetie.’

With a sigh of relief that she didn’t have to make any further effort, Jane sat down in one of the blue seats with her luggage scattered untidily around her. She was almost reeling with fatigue after the long flight from Thailand, the almost equally long wait in Melbourne and the final flight home to Tasmania, so that for once she was quite happy to let Brett make decisions for her. As she gazed after his stocky figure ploughing purposefully towards the car rental desk Jane smiled affectionately. Dear Brett, with his red face and thick, capable hands and milky-blond hair already growing sparse across his scalp, although he was only twenty-seven—a year older than Jane herself. What a shame it was that she could never feel anything more than a sisterly affection for him! Ever since they had started school together, more than twenty years ago, Brett had been her admirer and protector. But without that mysterious, indefinable spark she knew he would never be anything more than that. She had made that clear to him, time after time, but that didn’t prevent Brett from going on hoping. In addition to being good-natured he was infinitely stubborn. A tremor of doubt went through Jane as she wondered whether it had been wise to offer him even the lukewarm encouragement of a ride home from the airport. Then she dismissed her misgiving. What else could she have done? After all, they were neighbours, with Brett’s farm only two miles down the road from her own home. Besides, she had expected her father to be with them.

‘All right, mate, all sorted out. Give me some of your gear and we’ll get moving.’

Ten minutes later they had left the airport behind and were on the winding road which led to the small village of Richmond. Jane lolled in her seat, halfway between waking and sleeping, enjoying the peaceful, moonlit countryside which unrolled slowly past them. Brett drove at an unhurried pace, as he did everything else. She had plenty of time to admire the bare, stark branches of dead gum trees, the dense masses of living bushland, the tiny blobs of sheep as motionless as children’s toys in their paddocks, the ghostly outlines of farmhouses already dark and silent for the night. Then a wind must have arisen in the west, for the sounds of rustling leaves came to them above the purr of the car’s engine and scuds of flying clouds went sailing over the moon’s bright face, so that for a moment the moon itself seemed to be hurtling across the dark sky. Brett drove even more slowly through the village with its sandstone Georgian buildings and carefully tended gardens. Here there were a few reassuring signs of life—firelight, street-lamps, even a snatch of laughter and music from a restaurant open late—then they were out into the stillness of the countryside again. With a quickening of her heartbeat, Jane sat forward in her seat for the first glimpse of her vineyards and the old farmhouse called Saddler’s Corner where she had spent her childhood. There they were! Row upon leafy row of them, all along the river’s edge and climbing the slopes of the hills beyond. The sheep which had been the mainstay of the farm for generations had all been banished to distant paddocks long ago.

‘Your vines are looking good,’ remarked Brett. ‘I was talking to your overseer, Charlie, about a month ago, just before I went on my holidays. He said you’d be ready to harvest just after Easter.’

‘That’s right,’ agreed Jane. ‘That’s why I came back, really. I was learning so much in France that I could quite happily have stayed away for another six months.’

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