I remember the whole lot of bad-meaning thoughts coming with a rush over my heart, and I laughed at myself for being so soft as to choose a hard-working, pokey kind of life at the word of a slow fellow like George, when I might be riding about the country on a fine horse, eating and drinking of the best, and only doing what people said half the old settlers had made their money by.

Poor Aileen told me afterwards that if she'd thought for a moment I could be turned she'd have gone down on her knees and never got up till I promised to keep straight and begin to work at honest daily labour like a man -- like a man who hoped to end his days in a good house, on a good farm, with a good wife and nice children round him, and not in a prison cell. Some people would call the first, after years of honest work, and being always able to look every one in the face, being more of a man than the other. But people have different ways and different ideas.

'Come, Ailie,' I said, 'are you going to whine and cry all night? I shall be afraid to come home if you're going to be like this. What's the message from father?'

She wiped away her tears, and, putting her hand on my shoulder, looked steadily into my face.

'Poor boy -- poor, dear Dick,' she said, 'I feel as if I should see that fresh face of yours looking very different some day or other. Something tells me that there's bad luck before you. But never mind, you'll never lose your sister if the luck's ever so bad. Father sent word you and Jim were to meet him at Broken Creek and bring your whips with you.'

'What in the world's that for?' I said, half speaking to myself. 'It looks as if there was a big mob to drive, and where's he to get a big mob there in that mountainous, beastly place, where the cattle all bolt like wallabies, and where I never saw twenty head together?'

'He's got some reason for it,' said Aileen sorrowfully. 'If I were you I wouldn't go. It's no good, and father's trying now to drag you and Jim into the bad ways he's been following these years.'

'How do you know it's so bad?' said I. 'How can a girl like you know?'

'I know very well,' she said. 'Do you think I've lived here all these years and don't know things? What makes him always come home after dark, and be that nervous every time he sees a stranger coming up you'd think he was come out of gaol? Why has he always got money, and why does mother look so miserable when he's at home, and cheer up when he goes away?'

'He may get jobs of droving or something,' I said. 'You have no right to say that he's robbing, or something of that sort, because he doesn't care about tying himself to mother's apron-string.'

Aileen laughed, but it was more like crying.

'You told me just now,' she said -- oh! so sorrowfully -- 'that you and Jim were old enough to take a line of your own. Why don't you do it now?'

'And tell father we'll have nothing more to do with him!'

'Why not?' she said, standing up straight before me, and facing me just as I saw father face the big bullock-driver before he knocked him down. 'Why not? You need never ask him for another meal; you can earn an easy living in half-a-dozen ways, you and Jim. Why should you let him spoil your life and ruin your soul for evermore?'

'The priest put that into your head,' I said sneeringly; 'Father Doyle -- of course he knows what they'll do with a fellow after he's dead.'

'No!' she said, 'Father Doyle never said a word about you that wasn't good and kind. He says mother's a good Catholic, and he takes an interest in you boys and me because of her.'

'He can persuade you women to do anything,' I said, not that I had any grudge against poor old Father Doyle, who used to come riding up the rough mountain track on his white horse, and tiring his old bones, just 'to look after his flock,' as he said -- and nice lambs some of them were -- but I wanted to tease her and make her break off with this fancy of hers.

'He never does, and couldn't persuade me, except for my good,' said she, getting more and more roused, and her black eyes glowed again, 'and I'll tell you what I'll do to prove it. It's a sin, but if it is I'll stand by it, and now I'll swear it (here she knelt down), as Almighty God shall help me at the last day, if you and Jim will promise me to start straight off up the country and take bush-work till shearing comes on, and never to have any truck with cross chaps and their ways, I'll turn Protestant. I'll go to church with you, and keep to it till I die.'

Wasn't she a trump? I've known women that would give up a lot for a man they were sweet on, and wives that would follow their husbands about like spaniels, and women that would lie and deceive and all but rob and murder for men they were fond of, and sometimes do nearly as much to spite other women. But I don't think I ever knew a woman that would give up her religion for any one before, and it's not as if she wasn't staunch to her own faith. She was as regular in her prayers and crossings and beads and all the rest of it as mother herself, and if there ever was a good girl in the whole world she was one. She turned faint as she said this, and I thought she was going to drop down. If anything could have turned me then it would have been this. It was almost like giving her life for ours, and I don't think she'd have valued hers two straws if she could have saved us. There's a great deal said about different kinds of love in this world, but I can't help thinking that the love between brothers and sisters that have been brought up together and have had very few other people to care about is a higher, better sort than any other in the world. There's less selfishness about it -- no thought but for the other's good. If that can be made safe, death and pain and poverty and misery are all little things. And wasn't I fond of Aileen, in spite of all my hardness and cross-grained obstinacy? -- so fond that I was just going to hug her to me and say, 'Take it all your own way, Ailie dear,' when Jim came tearing out of the hut, bareheaded, and stood listening to a far-off sound that caught all our ears at once. We made out the source of it too well -- far too well.

What was the noise at that hour of the night?

It was a hollow, faint, distant roaring that gradually kept getting louder. It was the strange mournful bellowing that comes from a drove of cattle forced along an unknown track. As we listened the sound came clearly on the night wind, faint, yet still clearly coming nearer.

'Cattle being driven,' Jim cried out; 'and a big mob too. It's father -- for a note. Let's get our horses and meet him.'