This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
Towards morning father went into a heavy sleep; he didn't wake till the afternoon. Poor Aileen was able to get a doze and change her dress. After breakfast, while we were having a bit of a chat, in walks Starlight. He bowed to Aileen quite respectful, as he always did to a woman, and then shook hands with her.
'Welcome to the Hollow, Miss Marston,' he said. 'I can't say how charmed I am in one sense, though I regret the necessity which brought you here.'
'I'm glad to come, and only for poor father's being so bad I could delight in the life here.'
'How do you find your father?'
'He is asleep now, and perhaps the rest will do him good.'
'He may awake free from fever,' says Starlight. 'I took the risk of giving him an opiate before you came, and I think the result has been favourable.'
'Oh! I hope he will be better when he wakes,' says Aileen, 'and that I shall not have to watch through another dreadful night of raving. I can hardly bear it.'
'You must make your brothers take their share; it's not fair to you.'
'Thank you; but I feel as if I couldn't leave him to anybody but myself. He seems so weak now; a little neglect might kill him.'
'Pardon me, Miss Marston; you overrate the danger. Depend upon it, your respected parent will be quite a different man in a week, though it may be a month or more before he is fully recovered. You don't know what a constitution he has.'
'You have given me fresh hope,' she said. 'I feel quite cheered up -- that is' (and she sighed) 'if I could be cheerful again about anything.'
Here she walked into the cave and sat down by father to watch till he awoke, and we all went out about our daily work, whatever it was -- nothing very wonderful, I daresay, but it kept us from thinking.
Starlight was right. As luck would have it, father woke up a deal better than when he laid down. The fever had gone away, his head was right again, and he began to ask for something to eat -- leastways to drink, first. But Aileen wouldn't give him any of that, and very little to eat. Starlight had told her what to do in case he wanted what wasn't good for him, and as she was pretty middling obstinate, like himself, she took her own ways.
After this he began to get right; it wasn't easy to kill old dad. He seemed to be put together with wire and whip-cord; not made of flesh and blood like other men. I don't wonder old England's done so much and gone so far with her soldiers and sailors if they was bred like him. It's my notion if they was caught young, kept well under command, and led by men they respected, a regiment or a man-of-war's crew like him would knock smoke out of any other thousand men the world could put up. More's the pity there ain't some better way of keeping 'em straight than there is.
He was weak for a bit -- very weak; he'd lost a deal of blood; and, try how he would, he couldn't stand up long at a time, and had to give in and lie down in spite of himself. It fretted him a deal, of course; he'd never been on his back before, and he couldn't put up with it. Then his temper began to show again, and Aileen had a deal to bear and put up with.
We'd got a few books, and there was the papers, of course, so she used to read to him by the hour together. He was very fond of hearing about things, and, like a good many men that can't read and write, he was clever enough in his own way. When she'd done all the newspapers -- they were old ones (we took care not to get any fresh ones, for fear she'd see about Hagan and the others) -- she used to read about battles and sea-fights to him; he cared about them more than anything, and one night, after her reading to him about the battle of Trafalgar, he turned round to her and says, 'I ought to have been in that packet, Ailie, my girl. I was near going for a sailor once, on board a man-o'-war, too. I tried twice to get away to sea, that was before I'd snared my first hare, and something stopped me both times. Once I was fetched back and flogged, and pretty nigh starved. I never did no good afterwards. But it's came acrost me many and many a time that I'd been a different sort o' chap if I'd had my will then. I was allays fond o' work, and there couldn't be too much fightin' for me; so a man-o'-war in those days would have been just the thing to straighten me. That was the best chance I ever had. Well, I don't say as I haven't had others -- plenty in this country, and good ones too; but it was too late -- I'd got set. When a man's young, that's the time he can be turned right way or wrong. It's none so easy afterwards.'
He went to sleep then, and Aileen said that was the only time he ever spoke to her in that way. We never heard him talk like that, nor nobody else, I expect.
If we could have got some things out of our heads, that was the pleasantest time ever we spent in the Hollow. After father could be left by himself for a few hours we got out the horses, and used to take Aileen out for long rides all over the place, from one end to the other. It did her good, and we went to every hole and corner in it. She was never tired of looking at the great rock towers, as we used to call 'em, where the sandstone walls hung over, just like the pictures of castles, till, Starlight said, in the evenings you could fancy you saw flags waving and sentinels walking up and down on them.
One afternoon we went out to the place where the old hermit had lived and died. We walked over his old garden, and talked about the box we'd dug up, and all the rest of it. Starlight came with us, and he persuaded Aileen to ride Rainbow that day, and, my word, they made a splendid pair.
She'd dressed herself up that afternoon just a little bit more than common, poor thing, and put a bit of pink ribbon on and trimmed up her hat, and looked as if she began to see a little more interest in things. It didn't take much to make her look nice, particularly on horseback. Her habit fitted her out and out, and she had the sort of figure that, when a girl can ride well, and you see her swaying, graceful and easy-like, to every motion of a spirited horse, makes you think her handsomer than any woman can look on the ground. We rode pretty fast always, and it brought a bit of colour to her face. The old horse got pulling and prancing a bit, though he was that fine-tempered he'd carry a child almost, and Jim and I thought we hadn't seen her look like herself before this for years past.