I thought, too, how we might have been ten times, twenty times, as happy if we'd only kept on steady ding-dong work, like George Storefield, having patience and seeing ourselves get better off -- even a little -- year by year. What had he come to? And what lay before us? And though we were that fond of poor mother and Aileen that we would have done anything in the world for them -- that is, we would have given our lives for them any day -- yet we had left them -- father, Jim, and I -- to lead this miserable, lonesome life, looked down upon by a lot of people not half good enough to tie their shoes, and obliged to a neighbour for help in every little distress.

Jim and I thought we'd chance a few days at home, no matter what risk we ran; but still we knew that if warrants were out the old home would be well watched, and that it was the first place the police would come to. So we made up our minds not to sleep at home, but to go away every night to an old deserted shepherd's hut, a couple of miles up the gully, that we used to play in when we were boys. It had been strongly built at first; time was not much matter then, and there were no wages to speak of, so that it was a good shelter. The weather was that hot, too, it was just as pleasant sleeping under a tree as anywhere else. So we didn't show at home more than one at a time, and took care to be ready for a bolt at any time, day or night, when the police might show themselves. Our place was middling clear all round now, and it was hard for any one on horseback to get near it without warning; and if we could once reach the gully we knew we could run faster than any man could ride.

One night, latish, just as we were walking off to our hut there was a scratching at the door; when we opened it there was old Crib! He ran up to both of us and smelt round our legs for a minute to satisfy himself; then jumped up once to each of us as if he thought he ought to do the civil thing, wagged his stump of a tail, and laid himself down. He was tired, and had come a long way. We could see that, and that he was footsore too. We knew that father wasn't so very far off, and would soon be in. If there'd been anybody strange there Crib would have run back fast enough; then father'd have dropped there was something up and not shown. No fear of the dog not knowing who was right and who wasn't. He could tell every sort of a man a mile off, I believe. He knew the very walk of the police troopers' horses, and would growl, father said, if he heard their hoofs rattle on the stones of the road.

About a quarter of an hour after father walks in, quiet as usual. Nothing never made no difference to him, except he thought it was worth while. He was middlin' glad to see us, and behaved kind enough to mother, so the poor soul looked quite happy for her. It was little enough of that she had for her share. By and by father walks outside with us, and we had a long private talk.

It was a brightish kind of starlight night. As we walked down to the creek I thought how often Jim and I had come out on just such a night 'possum hunting, and came home so tired that we were hardly able to pull our boots off. Then we had nothing to think about when we woke in the morning but to get in the cows; and didn't we enjoy the fresh butter and the damper and bacon and eggs at breakfast time! It seems to me the older people get the more miserable they get in this world. If they don't make misery for themselves other people do it for 'em; or just when everything's going straight, and they're doing their duty first-rate and all that, some accident happens 'em just as if they was the worst people in the world. I can't make it out at all.

'Well, boys,' says dad, 'you've been lucky so far; suppose you had a pretty good spree in Melbourne? You seen the game was up by the papers, didn't you? But why didn't you stay where you were?'

'Why, of course, that brought us away,' says Jim; 'we didn't want to be fetched back in irons, and thought there was more show for it in the bush here.'

'But even if they'd grabbed Starlight,' says the old man, 'you'd no call to be afeard. Not much chance of his peaching, if it had been a hanging matter.'

'You don't mean to say there ain't warrants against us and the rest of the lot?' I said.

'There's never a warrant out agin any one but Starlight,' said the old man. 'I've had the papers read to me regular, and I rode over to Bargo and saw the reward of 200 Pounds (a chap alongside of me read it) as is offered for a man generally known as Starlight, supposed to have left the country; but not a word about you two and me, or the boy, or them other coves.'

'So we might as well have stayed where we were, Jim.' Jim gave a kind of groan. 'Still, when you look at it, isn't it queer,' I went on, 'that they should only spot Starlight and leave us out? It looks as if they was keepin' dark for fear of frightening us out of the country, but watching all the same.'

'It's this way I worked it,' says father, rubbing his tobacco in his hands the old way, and bringing out his pipe: 'they couldn't be off marking down Starlight along of his carryin' on so. Of course he drawed notice to himself all roads. But the rest of us only come in with the mob, and soon as they was sold stashed the camp and cleared out different ways. Them three fellers is in Queensland long ago, and nobody was to know them from any other road hands. I was back with the old mare and Bilbah in mighty short time. I rode 'em night and day, turn about, and they can both travel. You kept pretty quiet, as luck had it, and was off to Melbourne quick. I don't really believe they dropped to any of us, bar Starlight; and if they don't nab him we might get shut of it altogether. I've known worse things as never turned up in this world, and never will now.' Here the old man showed his teeth as if he were going to laugh, but thought better of it.