I brought it out sudden-like to Aileen before I could stop myself, but it was all true. How we were to make the first start we couldn't agree; but we were bound to make another big touch, and this time the police would be after us for something worth while. Anyhow, we could take it easy at the Hollow for a bit, and settle all the ins and outs without hurrying ourselves.

Our dart now was to get to the Hollow that night some time, and not to leave much of a track either. Nobody had found out the place yet, and wasn't going to if we knew. It was too useful a hiding-place to give away without trouble, and we swore to take all sorts of good care to keep it secret, if it was to be done by the art of man.

We went up Nulla Mountain the same way as we remembered doing when Jim and I rode to meet father that time he had the lot of weaners. We kept wide and didn't follow on after one another so as to make a marked trail. It was a long, dark, dreary ride. We had to look sharp so as not to get dragged off by a breast-high bough in the thick country. There was no fetching a doctor if any one was hurt. Father rode ahead. He knew the ins and outs of the road better than any of us, though Jim, who had lived most of his time in the Hollow after he got away from the police, was getting to know it pretty well. We were obliged to go slow mostly -- for a good deal of the track lay along the bed of a creek, full of boulders and rocks, that we had to cross ever so many times in a mile. The sharp-edged rocks, too, overhung low enough to knock your brains out if you didn't mind.

It was far into the night when we got to the old yard. There it stood, just as I recollect seeing it the time Jim and I and father branded the weaners. It had only been used once or twice since. It was patched up a bit in places, but nobody seemed to have gone next or nigh it for a long time. The grass had grown up round the sliprails; it was as strange and forsaken-looking as if it belonged to a deserted station.

As we rode up a man comes out from an angle of the fence and gives a whistle. We knew, almost without looking, that it was Warrigal. He'd come there to meet Starlight and take him round some other way. Every track and short cut there was in the mountains was as easy to him as the road to George Storefield's was to us. Nulla Mountain was full of curious gullies and caves and places that the devil himself could hardly have run a man to ground in, unless he'd lived near it all his life as Warrigal had. He wasn't very free in showing them to us, but he'd have made a bridge of his own body any time to let Starlight go safe. So when they rode away together we knew he was safe whoever might be after us, and that we should see him in the Hollow some time next day.

We went on for a mile or two farther; then we got off, and turned our horses loose. The rest of the way we had to do on foot. My horse and Jim's had got regularly broke into Rocky Flat, and we knew that they'd go home as sure as possible, not quite straight, but keeping somewhere in the right direction. As for father he always used to keep a horse or two, trained to go home when he'd done with him. The pony he rode to-night would just trot off, and never put his nose to the ground almost till he got wind of home.

We humped our saddles and swags ourselves; a stiffish load too, but the night was cool, and we did our best. It was no use growling. It had to be done, and the sooner the better. It seemed a long time -- following father step by step -- before we came to the place where I thought the cattle were going to be driven over the precipice. Here we pulled up for a bit and had a smoke. It was a queer time and a queer look-out.

Three o'clock in the morning -- the stars in the sky, and it so clear that we could see Nulla Mountain rising up against it a big black lump, without sign of tree or rock; underneath the valley, one sea of mist, and we just agoing to drop into it; on the other side of the Hollow, the clear hill we called the Sugarloaf. Everything seemed dead, silent, and solitary, and a rummier start than all, here were we -- three desperate men, driven to make ourselves a home in this lonesome, God-forsaken place! I wasn't very fanciful by that time, but if the devil had risen up to make a fourth amongst us I shouldn't have been surprised. The place, the time, and the men seemed regularly cut out for him and his mob.

We smoked our pipes out, and said nothing to each other, good or bad. Then father makes a start, and we follows him; took a goodish while, but we got down all right, and headed for the cave. When we got there our troubles were over for a while. Jim struck a match and had a fire going in no time; there was plenty of dry wood, of course. Then father rolls a keg out of a hole in the wall; first-rate dark brandy it was, and we felt a sight better for a good stiff nip all round. When a man's cold and tired, and hungry, and down on his luck as well, a good caulker of grog don't do him no harm to speak of. It strings him up and puts him straight. If he's anything of a man he can stand it, and feel all the better for it; but it's a precious sight too easy a lesson to learn, and there's them that can't stop, once they begin, till they've smothered what brains God Almighty put inside their skulls, just as if they was to bore a hole and put gunpowder in. No! they wouldn't stop if they were sure of going to heaven straight, or to hell next minute if they put the last glass to their lips. I've heard men say it, and knew they meant it. Not the worst sort of men, either.

We were none of us like that. Not then, anyhow. We could take or leave it, and though dad could do with his share when it was going, he always knew what he was about, and could put the peg in any time. So we had one strongish tot while the tea was boiling. There was a bag of ship biscuit; we fried some hung beef, and made a jolly good supper. We were that tired we didn't care to talk much, so we made up the fire last thing and rolled ourselves in our blankets; I didn't wake till the sun had been up an hour or more.