After the Ballabri affair we had to keep close for weeks and weeks. The whole place seemed to be alive with police. We heard of them being on Nulla Mountain and close enough to the Hollow now and then. But Warrigal and father had places among the rocks where they could sit up and see everything for miles round. Dad had taken care to get a good glass, too, and he could sweep the country round about almost down to Rocky Flat. Warrigal's eyes were sharp enough without a glass, and he often used to tell us he seen things -- men, cattle, and horses -- that we couldn't make out a bit in the world. We amused ourselves for a while the best way we could by horse-breaking, shooting, and what not; but we began to get awful tired of it, and ready for anything, no matter what, that would make some sort of change.

One day father told us a bit of news that made a stir in the camp, and nearly would have Jim and me clear out altogether if we'd had any place to go to. For some time past, it seems, dad had been grumbling about being left to himself so much, and, except this last fakement, not having anything to do with the road work. 'It's all devilish fine for you and your brother and the Captain there to go flashin' about the country and sporting your figure on horseback, while I'm left alone to do the housekeepin' in the Hollow. I'm not going to be wood-and-water Joey, I can tell ye, not for you nor no other men. So I've made it right with a couple of chaps as I've know'd these years past, and we can do a touch now and then, as well as you grand gentlemen, on the "high toby", as they call it where I came from.'

'I didn't think you were such an old fool, Ben,' said Starlight; 'but keeping this place here a dead secret is our sheet-anchor. Lose that, and we'll be run into in a week. If you let it out to any fellow you come across, you will soon know all about it.'

'I've known Dan Moran and Pat Burke nigh as long as I've known you, for the matter of that,' says father. 'They're safe enough, and they're not to come here or know where I hang out neither. We've other places to meet, and what we do 'll be clean done, I'll go bail.'

'It doesn't matter two straws to me, as I've told you many a time,' said Starlight, lighting a cigar (he always kept a good supply of them). 'But you see if Dick and Jim, now, don't suffer for it before long.'

'It was as I told you about the place, wasn't it?' growls father; 'don't you suppose I know how to put a man right? I look to have my turn at steering this here ship, or else the crew better go ashore for good.'

Father had begun to drink harder now than he used; that was partly the reason. And when he'd got his liquor aboard he was that savage and obstinate there was no doing anything with him. We couldn't well part. We couldn't afford to do without each other. So we had to patch it up the best way we could, and let him have his own way. But we none of us liked the new-fangled way, and made sure bad would come of it.

We all knew the two men, and didn't half like them. They were the head men of a gang that mostly went in for horse-stealing, and only did a bit of regular bush-ranging when they was sure of getting clear off. They'd never shown out the fighting way yet, though they were ready enough for it if it couldn't be helped.

Moran was a dark, thin, wiry-looking native chap, with a big beard, and a nasty beady black eye like a snake's. He was a wonderful man outside of a horse, and as active as a cat, besides being a deal stronger than any one would have taken him to be. He had a drawling way of talking, and was one of those fellows that liked a bit of cruelty when he had the chance. I believe he'd rather shoot any one than not, and when he was worked up he was more like a devil than a man. Pat Burke was a broad-shouldered, fair-complexioned fellow, most like an Englishman, though he was a native too. He'd had a small station once, and might have done well (I was going to say) if he'd had sense enough to go straight. What rot it all is! Couldn't we all have done well, if the devils of idleness and easy-earned money and false pride had let us alone?

Father said his bargain with these chaps was that he should send down to them when anything was up that more men was wanted for, and they was always to meet him at a certain place. He said they'd be satisfied with a share of whatever the amount was, and that they'd never want to be shown the Hollow or to come anigh it. They had homes and places of their own, and didn't want to be known more than could be helped. Besides this, if anything turned up that was real first chop, they could always find two or three more young fellows that would stand a flutter, and disappear when the job was done. This was worth thinking over, he said, because there weren't quite enough of us for some things, and we could keep these other chaps employed at outside work.

There was something in this, of course, and dad was generally near the mark, there or thereabouts, so we let things drift. One thing was that these chaps could often lay their hands upon a goodish lot of horses or cattle; and if they delivered them to any two of us twenty miles from the Hollow, they could be popped in there, and neither they or any one else the wiser. You see father didn't mind taking a hand in the bush-ranging racket, but his heart was with the cattle and horse-duffing that he'd been used to so long, and he couldn't quite give it up. It's my belief he'd have sooner made a ten-pound note by an unbranded colt or a mob of fat cattle than five times as much in any other way. Every man to his taste, they say.

Well, between this new fad of the old man's and our having a notion that we had better keep quiet for a spell and let things settle down a bit, we had a long steady talk, and the end of it was that we made up our minds to go and put in a month or two at the diggings.

We took a horse apiece that weren't much account, so we could either sell them or lose them, it did not make much odds which, and made a start for Jonathan Barnes's place. We got word from him every now and then, and knew that the police had never found out that we had been there, going or coming. Jonathan was a blowing, blatherskiting fool; but his very foolishness in that way made them think he knew nothing at all. He had just sense enough not to talk about us, and they never thought about asking him. So we thought we'd have a bit of fun there before we settled down for work at the Turon. We took old saddles and bridles, and had a middling-sized swag in front, just as if we'd come a long way. We dressed pretty rough too; we had longish hair and beards, and (except Starlight) might have been easy taken for down-the-river stockmen or drovers.