'Aileen, dear,' I said, 'you are old enough to know what's best for yourself. I didn't think Starlight was on for marrying any woman, but he's far and away the best man we've ever known, so you can please yourself. But you know what the chances are. If he gets clear off, or any of us, after what's been done, you're right. But it's a hundred to one against it.'

'I'll take the odds,' says she, holding up her head. 'I'm willing to put my life and happiness, what little there's left of it, on the wager. Things can't well be worse.'

'I don't know,' I said. 'I ought to tell you -- I must tell you something before we part, though I'd a deal rather not. But you'll bear it better now than in a surprise.'

'Not more blood, more wickedness,' she said, in a half-whisper, and then she looks up stern and angry-like. 'When is this list of horrible things to stop?'

'It was none of our doing. Moran and Daly were in it, and ----'

'And none of you? Swear that,' she said, so quick and pitiful-like.

'None of us,' I said again; 'nor yet Warrigal.'

'Then who did it? Tell me all. I'm not a child. I will know.'

'You remember the man that was rude to you at Rocky Flat, and father and he fired at one another?'

'Of course I do, cowardly wretch that he was. Then Moran was waiting for them up the gully? I wondered that they did not come back next day.'

'They never came back,' I said.

'Why, you don't mean to tell me that they are all dead, all four? -- those strong men! Oh, surely not, Dick?' and she caught hold of my arm, and looked up into my face.

'Yes, Aileen, all. We came after and followed up dad, when we got home; it's a wonder he did it by himself. But we saw them all four lying stretched out.'

She put down her head and never spoke more till we parted.


We turned back, miserable enough all of us, God knows. After having Aileen to make the place bright and pleasant and cheer us all up losing her was just as if all the little pleasure we had in our lives was dropped out of them -- like the sun going out of the sky, and the wind rising; like the moon clouding over, and a fog burying up everything -- dark and damp, the same as we'd had it many a time cattle-driving by night. We hardly spoke a word to one another all the way home, and no wonder.

Next day we all sat about, looking more down on our luck, dad said, than any day since we'd 'turned out'. Then Starlight told him about him and Aileen, how they'd made it up to be married some day or other. Not yet, of course; but if he could get away by Melbourne to some of these places -- the islands on the Pacific coast, where vessels were always sailing for -- he didn't see why his luck shouldn't change. 'I have always thought your daughter,' he says to father, 'one of the grandest women I ever met, in any degree, gentle or simple. She has had the imprudence to care for me; so, unless you have some well-grounded objection -- and I don't say you haven't, mind you, I should if I were in your place -- you may as well say you're contented, and wish us luck!'

Father was a long time before he said anything. He sat there, looking very sullen and set-like, while Starlight lit a cigar and walked quietly up and down a few paces off.

Dad answers at last. 'I don't say but what other lads would have suited better if they'd come off, but most things goes contrary in this world. The only thing as I'm doubtful of, Captain, is your luck. If that's bad, all the trying and crying won't set it right. And it's great odds as you'll be caught or shot afore the year's out. For that matter, every one of us is working for Government on the same road. But the gal's a good gal, and if she's set her fancy on you I won't block her. You're a pair of dashed fools, that's all, botherin' your heads with the like at a time like this, when you boys are all more likely to have a rope round your necks than any gal's arms, good or bad. Have your own way. You always managed to get it, somehow or other, ever since I knowed ye.'

After this father lit his pipe and went into the cave.

By and by he comes out again and catches the old mare.

'I ain't been out of this blessed hole,' he says, 'for a month of Sundays. I'm dead tired of seeing nothin' and doin' nothin'. I'll crawl over to old Davy's for our letters and papers. We ain't heard nothing for a year, seems to me.'

Dad was strong enough to get about in the saddle again, and we weren't sorry to get shut of him for a bit. He was that cranky at times there was no living with him. As for ourselves, we were regular wild for some sort of get away for a bit of a change; so we hadn't talked it over very long before we made up our minds to take a run over to Jonathan Barnes's and have a bit of fun, just to take the taste out of our mouths of Aileen's going away.

We had to dress ourselves very quiet and get fresh horses -- nags that had nothing particular about them to make people look, at the same time with a bit of go in them in case we were pushed at any time.

No sooner said than done. We went to work and got everything ready, and by three o'clock we were off -- all three of us, and never in better heart in our lives -- for a bit of fun or devilment; it didn't matter which came first.

When we got to Jonathan's it was latish, but that didn't matter to us or to the girls neither; they were always ready for a bit of fun, night or day. However, just at first they pretended to be rather high and mighty about this business of Hagan's.

'Oh! it's you, is it?' says Bella, after we walked in. 'I don't know as it's safe for us to be knowing such dangerous characters. There's a new law against harbouring, father says. He's pretty frightened, I can tell you, and for two pins we'd be told to shut the door in your faces.'

'You can do that if you like now,' says I; 'we shan't want telling twice, I daresay. But what makes you so stiff to-night?'