It was a beautiful warm evening, though summer was over, and we were getting into the cold nights and sharp mornings again, just before the regular winter weather. There was going to be a change, and there were a few clouds coming up from the north-west; but for all that it had been quite like a spring day. The turf on all the flats in the Hollow was splendid and sound. The grass had never been cut up with too heavy stocking (which ruins half the country, I believe), and there was a good thick undergrowth underneath. We had two or three little creeks to cross, and they were pretty full, except at the crossing places, and rippled over the stones and sparkled in the sun like the brooks we'd heard tell of in the old country. Everything was so quiet, and bright and happy-looking, that we could hardly fancy we were the men we were; and that all this wild work had been going on outside of the valley that looked so peaceful and innocent.

There was Starlight riding alongside of Aileen on his second-best horse, and he was no commoner either (though he didn't come up to Rainbow, nor no other horse I ever saw), talking away in his pleasant, easy-going way. You'd think he hadn't got a thing to trouble him in the world. She, for a wonder, was smiling, and seemed to be enjoying herself for once in a way, with the old horse arching his neck, and spinning along under her as light as a greyhound, and as smooth as oil. It was something like a pleasant ride. I never forgot that evening, and I never shall.

We rode up to the ruined hut of the solitary man who had lived there so long, and watched the sun go down so often behind the rock towers from his seat under the big peach tree.

'What a wonderful thing to think of!' Aileen says, as she slipped down off her side-saddle.

We dismounted, too, and hung up our horses.

'Only to think that he was living here before we were born, or father came to Rocky Flat. Oh! if we could have come here when we were little how we should have enjoyed it! It would have seemed fairyland to us.'

'It always astonishes me,' said Starlight, 'how any human being can consent to live, year after year, the same life in the same place. I should go mad half-a-dozen times over. Change and adventure are the very breath of my nostrils.'

'He had the memory of his dead wife to keep him,' said Aileen. 'Her spirit soothed the restless heart that would have wandered far into the wilds again.'

'It may be so,' said Starlight dreamily. 'I have known no such influences. An outlaw I, by forest laws, almost since the days of my boyhood, I shall be so till the day of my death,' he added.

'If I were a man I should go everywhere,' said Aileen, her eyes sparkling and her face regular lighted up. 'I have never been anywhere or seen anything, hardly so much as a church, a soldier, a shop-window, or the sea, begging his pardon for putting him last. But oh! what a splendid thing to be rich; no, not that altogether, but to be able to go wherever you liked, and have enough not to be troubled about money.'

'To be free, and have a mind at ease; it doesn't seem so much,' said Starlight, talking almost to himself; 'and yet how we fools and madmen shut ourselves out of it for ever, for ever, sometimes by a single act of folly, hardly crime. That comes after.'

'The sun is going down behind the great rock tower,' Aileen says, as if she hadn't heard him. Perhaps she didn't. When people have a lot on their minds they're half their time thinking their own thoughts. 'How all the lovely colours are fading away. Life seems so much like that -- a little brightness, then gray twilight, night and darkness so soon after.'

'Now and then there's a star; you must admit that, Miss Marston,' says he, cheerful and pleasant again; he was never down for long at a time. 'And there's that much-abused luminary, the moon; you'll see her before we get home. We're her sworn votaries and worshippers, you know.'

We had to ride a bit to get home with any kind of light, for we didn't want father to be growling or kicking up a row with Warrigal that we left to look after him. But a few miles didn't matter much on such a road, and with horses in such buckle as ours.

The stars came out after a while, and the sky was that clear, without a cloud in it, that it was a better light to ride by than the moon throws. Jim and I sometimes rode on one side and sometimes the other; but there was old Rainbow always in the lead, playing with his bit and arching his neck, and going with Aileen's light weight on him as if he could go on all night at the same pace and think nothing of it; and I believe he could.

When we got home dad was grumpy, and wondered what we wanted riding the horses about when there was nothing to do and nothing to see. But Warrigal had made him a pot of tea, and he was able to smoke now; so he wasn't so bad after all. We made ourselves pretty comfortable -- Aileen said she'd got a good appetite, for a wonder -- and we sat chatting round the fire and talking away quite like old days till the moon was pretty high.

Father didn't get well all at once. He went back twice because he would try to do too much, and wouldn't be said by Starlight or Aileen either when he took a thing into his head; then he'd have to be nursed and looked after day and night again just the same as ever. So it took near a month before he was regularly on his pins again, and going about as he did before he was hit. His right arm was a bit stiff, too; it used to pain and make him swear awful now and again. Anyhow, Aileen made us that comfortable and happy while she was there, we didn't care how long he took getting well.

Those were out and out the pleasantest days we ever spent in the Hollow -- the best time almost Jim and I had had since we were boys. Nearly every day we rode out in the afternoon, and there wasn't a hole or corner, a spring or a creek inside the walls of the old Hollow that we didn't show Aileen. She was that sort of girl she took an interest in everything; she began to know all the horses and cattle as well as we did ourselves. Rainbow was regular given up to her, and the old horse after a bit knew her as well as his master. I never seen a decent horse that didn't like to have a woman on his back; that is, if she was young and lissom and could ride a bit. They seem to know, in a sort of way. I've seen horses that were no chop for a man to ride, and that wouldn't be particular about bucking you off if the least thing started them, but went as quiet as mice with a girl on their backs.