'It's come just as I said, and knowed it would, through Starlight's cussed flashness and carryin's on in fine company. If he'd cleared out and made for the Islands as I warned him to do, and he settled to, or as good, afore he left us that day at the camp, he'd been safe in some o' them 'Merikin places he was always gassin' about, and all this wouldn't 'a happened.'

'He couldn't help that,' says Jim; 'he thought they'd never know him from any other swell in Canterbury or wherever he was. He's been took in like many another man. What I look at is this: he won't squeak. How are they to find out that we had any hand in it?'

'That's what I'm dubersome about,' says father, lightin' his pipe again. 'Nobody down there got much of a look at me, and I let my beard grow on the road and shaved clean soon's I got back, same as I always do. Now the thing is, does any one know that you boys was in the fakement?'

'Nobody's likely to know but him and Warrigal. The knockabouts and those other three chaps won't come it on us for their own sakes. We may as well stop here till Christmas is over and then make down to the Barwon, or somewhere thereabouts. We could take a long job at droving till the derry's off a bit.'

'If you'll be said by me,' the old man growls out, 'you'll make tracks for the Hollow afore daylight and keep dark till we hear how the play goes. I know Starlight's as close as a spring-lock; but that chap Warrigal don't cotton to either of you, and he's likely to give you away if he's pinched himself -- that's my notion of him.'

'Starlight 'll keep him from doing that,' Jim says; 'the boy 'll do nothing his master don't agree to, and he'd break his neck if he found him out in any dog's trick like that.'

'Starlight and he ain't in the same cell, you take your oath. I don't trust no man except him. I'll be off now, and if you'll take a fool's advice, though he is your father, you'll go too; we can be there by daylight.'

Jim and I looked at each other.

'We promised to stay Chris'mas with mother and Aileen,' says he, 'and if all the devils in hell tried to stop us, I wouldn't break my word. But we'll come to the Hollow on Boxing Day, won't we, Dick?'

'All right! It's only two or three days. The day after tomorrow's Chris'mas Eve. We'll chance that, as it's gone so far.'

'Take your own way,' growls father. 'Fetch me my saddle. The old mare's close by the yard.'

Jim fetches the saddle and bridle, and Crib comes after him, out of the verandah, where he had been lying. Bless you! he knew something was up. Just like a Christian he was, and nothing never happened that dad was in as he wasn't down to.

'May as well stop till morning, dad,' says Jim, as we walked up to the yard.

'Not another minute,' says the old man, and he whips the bridle out of Jim's hand and walks over to the old mare. She lifts up her head from the dry grass and stands as steady as a rock.

'Good-bye,' he says, and he shook hands with both of us; 'if I don't see you again I'll send you word if I hear anything fresh.'

In another minute we heard the old mare's hoofs proceeding away among the rocks up the gully, and gradually getting fainter in the distance.

Then we went in. Mother and Aileen had been in bed an hour ago, and all the better for them. Next morning we told mother and Aileen that father had gone. They didn't say much. They were used to his ways. They never expected him till they saw him, and had got out of the fashion of asking why he did this or that. He had reasons of his own, which he never told them, for going or coming, and they'd left off troubling their heads about it. Mother was always in dread while he was there, and they were far easier in their minds when he was away off the place.

As for us, we had made up our minds to enjoy ourselves while we could, and we had come to his way of thinking, that most likely nothing was known of our being in the cattle affair that Starlight and the boy had been arrested for. We knew nothing would drag it out of Starlight about his pals in this or any other job. Now they'd got him, it would content them for a bit, and maybe take off their attention from us and the others that were in it.

There were two days to Christmas. Next day George and his sister would be over, and we all looked forward to that for a good reminder of old times. We were going to have a merry Christmas at home for once in a way. After that we would clear out and get away to some of the far out stations, where chaps like ourselves always made to when they wanted to keep dark. We might have the luck of other men that we had known of, and never be traced till the whole thing had died out and been half-forgotten. Though we didn't say much to each other we had pretty well made up our minds to go straight from this out. We might take up a bit of back country, and put stock on it with some of the money we had left. Lots of men had begun that way that had things against them as bad as us, and had kept steady, and worked through in course of time. Why shouldn't we as well as others? We wanted to see what the papers said of us, so we rode over to a little post town we knew of and got a copy of the 'Evening Times'. There it all was in full: --


We have heard from time to time of cattle being stolen in lots of reasonable size, say from ten to one hundred, or even as high as two hundred head at the outside. But we never expected to have to record the erecting of a substantial stockyard and the carrying off and disposing of a whole herd, estimated at a thousand or eleven hundred head, chiefly the property of one proprietor. Yet this has been done in New South Wales, and done, we regret to say, cleverly and successfully. It has just transpired, beyond all possibility of mistake, that Mr. Hood's Outer Back Momberah run has suffered to that extent in the past winter. The stolen herd was driven to Adelaide, and there sold openly. The money was received by the robbers, who were permitted to decamp at their leisure.