Whatever thoughts was in her mind, she roused up the old pony, and came towards us quick as soon as she catches sight of us. In two seconds Jim had lifted her down in his strong arms, and was holding her off the ground and hugging her as if she'd been a child. How the tears ran down her cheeks, though all the time she was kissing him with her arms round his neck; and me too, when I came up, just as if we were boys and girls again.

After a bit she wiped her eyes, and said --

'How's father?'

'Very bad,' I said; 'off his head, and raving. It'll be a close thing with him. Here's your horse now, and a good one too. We must let the old pony go; he'll make home fast enough.'

She patted his neck and we turned him loose. He slued round and went away steady, picking a bit as he went. He'd be home next day easy enough, and nobody the wiser where he'd been to.

We'd brought a bit to eat and a glass of wine for the girl in case she was faint, but she wouldn't take anything but a crust of bread and a drink of water. There was a spring that ran all the year round near the cattle-yard; and off went we, old Lieutenant holding up his head and showing himself off. He didn't get such a rider on his back every day.

'What a dear horse,' she said, as she pulled him together a bit like and settled herself fair and square in the saddle. 'Oh, how I could enjoy all this if -- if ---- O my God! shall we ever know a moment's peace and happiness in this world again? Are we always to be sunk in wretchedness and misery as long as we live?'

We didn't lose much time after that, you be sure. Up and down, thick and open, rough or smooth, we made the pace good, and Aileen gave us all we knew to keep ahead of her. We had a good light when we got to the drop down into the Hollow. The sun was just setting, and if we'd had time or thought to give to the looks of things, no doubt it was a grand sight.

All the Hollow was lighted up, and looked like a green sea with islands of trees in it. The rock towers on the other side of the range were shining and glittering like as if they were made of crystallised quartz or diamonds -- red and white. There was a sort of mist creeping up the valley at the lower end under the mountain that began to soften the fire colours, and mix them up like. Even the mountain, that mostly looked black and dreary, frowning at our ways, was of purple and gold, with pale shadows of green and gray.

Aileen pulled up as we did, and jumped off our horses.

'So this is the Hollow,' she said, half talking to herself, 'that I've heard and thought so much about. What a lovely, lovely place! Surely it ought to have a different effect on the people that lived there.'

'Better come off, Ailie, and lead your horse down here,' says Jim, 'unless you want to ride down, like Starlight did, the first time we saw him.'

'Starlight! is he here?' she said, in a surprised sort of way. 'I never thought of that.'

'Of course he is; where else should he be? Why don't you lead on, Dick?'

'Won't you get off? It's not altogether safe,' I said, 'though Lieutenant's all right on his old pins.'

'Safe!' she said, with a bitter sort of laugh. 'What does it matter if a Marston girl does break her neck, or her heart either?'

She never said another word, but sat upright with a set face on her, as the old horse picked his way down after ours, and except when he put his foot on a rolling stone, never made a slip or a stumble all the way down, though it was like going down the side of a house.

When we got to the valley we put on a spurt to the cave, and found Warrigal sitting on the log in front of us. He'd got home first, of course, and there was Aileen's bundle, a biggish one too, alongside of him. We could hear father raving and screaming out inside dreadful. Starlight wasn't nigh hand anywhere. He had walked off when Warrigal came home, and left him to watch the old man.

'He been like that all the time, Warrigal?'

'No! Captain say big one sleep. Him give him medicine like; then wake up and go on likit that. I believe him bad along a cobra.'

Aileen had jumped off her horse and gone in to the old man the moment we came up and she heard his voice.

All that long night we could hear him talking to himself, groaning, cursing, shouting, arguing. It was wonderful how a man who talked so little as father could have had so many thoughts in his mind. But then they all are boxed up together in every man's heart. At a time like this they come racing and tumbling out like a flock of sheep out of a yard when the hurdle's down. What a dashed queer thing human nature is when you come to think of it. That a man should be able to keep his tongue quiet, and shut the door on all the sounds and images and wishes that goes racing about inside of his mind like wild horses in a paddock!

One day he'll be smiling and sensible, looking so honest all the time. Next day a knock on the head or a little vein goes crack in the brain (as the doctor told me); then the rails are down, and everything comes out with a rush into the light of day -- right and wrong, foul and fair, station brands and clearskins, it don't make no difference.

Father was always one of the closest men that ever lived. He never told us much about his old life at home or after he came out here. Now he was letting drop things here and there that helped us to a few secrets he'd never told to no man. They made poor Aileen a bit more miserable than she'd been before, if that was possible; but it didn't matter much to us. We were pretty tired ourselves that night, and so we got Aileen all she wanted, and left her alone with him.

While we were away to meet her some one had taken the trouble to put up a bit of a partition, separating that part of the cave from the other; it was built up of stone -- there was plenty about -- and not so roughly done either. It made Aileen feel a lot more comfortable. Of course there was only one man who could have done it; and that was Starlight.