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.
At last father got well, and said he didn't see what good Aileen could do stopping any longer in the Hollow, unless she meant to follow up bush-ranging for a living. She'd better go back and stay along with her mother. If George Storefield liked to have 'em there, well and good; things looked as if it wasn't safe now for a man's wife and daughter, and if he'd got into trouble, to live peaceable and quiet in their own house. He didn't think they need be afraid of any one interfering with them for the future, though. Here dad looked so dark that Aileen began to think he was going to be ill again. We'd all start and go a bit of the way with her next day -- to the old stockyard or a bit farther; she could ride from there, and take the horse back with her and keep him if she liked.
'You've been a good gal to me,' he says to her; 'you always was one; and your mother's been a good woman and a good wife; tell her I said so. I'd no call to have done the things I have, or left home because it wasn't tidy and clean and a welcome always when I came back. It's been rough on her, and on you too, my gal; and if it'll do her any good, tell her I'm dashed sorry. You can take this trifle of money. You needn't boggle at it; it's honest got and earned, long before this other racket. Now you can go. Kiss your old dad; like as not you won't see him again.'
We'd got the horses in. I lifted her up on to the saddle, and she rode out. Her horse was all on the square, so there was no harm in her taking him back with her, and off we went. Dad didn't go after all. We took it easy out to the old stockyard. We meant to camp there for half-an-hour, and then to send her on, with Warrigal to keep with her and show her the way home.
We didn't want to make the time too short. What a lovely day it was! The mountain sides were clogged up with mist for an hour after we started; still, any one that knew the climate would have said it was going to be a fine day. There wasn't a breath of air; everything was that still that not a leaf on any of the trees so much as stirred.
When we came to the pass out of the valley, we none of us got off; it was better going up than coming down, and it would have tired Aileen out at the start to walk up. So the horses had to do their climbing. It didn't matter much to them. We were all used to it, horses and riders. Jim and I went first, then Warrigal, then Aileen and Starlight. After we got up to the top we all stopped and halted a bit to look round.
Just then, as if he'd waited for us, the sun came out from behind the mountain; the mists lifted and rolled away as if they had been gray curtains. Everything showed clear out like a playhouse, the same Jim and I used to see in Melbourne. From where we stood you could see everything, the green valley flats with the big old trees in clumps, some of 'em just the same as they'd been planted. The two little river-like silver threads winding away among the trees, and far on the opposite side the tall gray rock-towers shining among the forest edges of the high green wall. Somehow the sun wasn't risen enough to light up the mountain. It looked as black and dismal as if it was nightfall coming on.
'Good-bye, old Hollow!' Aileen called out, waving her hand. 'Everything looks bright and beautiful except the mountain. How gloomy it appears, as if it held some dreadful secret -- doesn't it? Ah! what a pleasant time it has been for me. Am I the same Aileen Marston that went in there a few weeks since? And now I suppose there will be more misery and anxiety waiting for all of us when I get back. Well, come what will, I have had a little happiness on this earth. In heaven there must be rest.'
We all rode on, but none of us seemed to care to say much. Every step we went seemed to be taking us away from the place where we'd all been so happy together. The next change was sure to be for the worse. What it would be, or when it would come, we none of us could tell.
Starlight and Aileen rode together most of the way, and talked a good deal, we could see. Before we got to the stockyard she rode over to Jim and cheered him up as much as she could about Jeanie. She said she'd write to her, and tell her all about him, and how happy we'd all been together lately; and tell her that Jim would find some way to get down to her this spring, if he could manage it any road.
'If I'm above ground, tell her I'll be with her,' says poor old Jim, 'before Christmas. If she don't see me then I'll be dead, and she may put on black and make sure she's a widow.'
'Oh, come, you mustn't talk like that, Jim, and look to the bright side a bit. There's a good chance yet, now the country's so full of diggers and foreigners. You try your luck, and you'll see your wife yet.'
Then she came to me, and talked away just like old times.
'You're the eldest, Dick,' she said, 'and so it's proper for me to say what I'm going to say.' Then she told me all that was in her heart about Starlight. He and she had made it up that if he could get away to a foreign country she would join him there, and take mother with her. There was to be no marrying or love-making unless they could carry out that plan. Then she told me that she had always had the same sort of feeling towards him. 'When I saw him first I thought I had never seen a man before -- never one that I could care for or think of marrying. And now he has told me that he loves me -- loves me, a poor ignorant girl that I am; and I will wait for him all my life, and follow him all round the world. I feel as if I could die for him, or wear out my life in trying to make him happy. And yet, and yet,' she said, and all her face grew sad, and put on the old look that I knew so well, so hopeless, so full of quiet bearing of pain, 'I have a kind of feeling at my heart that it will never be. Something will happen to me or to him. We are all doomed to sorrow and misfortune, and nothing can save us from our fate.'