We hadn't been long at home, just enough to get tired of doing nothing, when we got a letter from Bella Barnes, telling us that she was going to get married the day after the Turon races, and reminding Starlight that he had promised to come to her wedding. If he didn't think it was too risky, she hoped he'd come. There was going to be a race ball, and it was sure to be good fun. It would be a good wind-up, and Maddie was coming out a great swell. Sir Ferdinand would be there, but there'd be such a crowd anybody would pass muster, and so on.

'Yours sincerely,

'Isabella Barnes.

'P.S. -- There was a big handicap, with 500 added; hadn't we a good horse enough?'

'Well done, Bella!' says Starlight. 'I vote we go, Dick. I never went to a hop with a price on my head before. A thousand pounds too! Quite a new sensation. It settles the question. And we'll enter Rainbow for the handicap. He ought to be good enough for anything they're likely to have.'

'Captain Starlight's Rainbow, 9 st. 8 lb.,' I said, 'with Dick Marston to lead him up to the judge's box. How will that wash? And what are the police going to be about all the time? Bella's gone out of her senses about her marriage and thinks we are too.'

'You're a good fellow, Richard, and stanch, but you're like your father -- you haven't any imagination. I see half-a-dozen ways of doing the whole thing. Besides, our honour's concerned. I never made a promise yet, for good or for evil, that I didn't carry out, and some have cost me dearly enough, God knows. Fancy running our horses and going to the ball under the noses of the police -- the idea is delicious!'

'I daresay you're about tired of your life,' I said. 'I'm pretty sure I am; but why we should ride straight into the lion's mouth, to please a silly girl, I can't see. I haven't over much sense, I know, or I shouldn't be here; but I'm not such a dashed fool as all that comes to.'

'My mind is made up, Richard -- I have decided irrevocably. Of course, you needn't come, if you see objections; but I'll bet you my Dean and Adams revolver and the Navy Colt against your repeating rifle that I do all I've said, and clear out safe.'

'Done!' I said. 'I've no doubt you'll try; but you might as well try to pull down the walls of Berrima Gaol with a hay-rake. You'll make Sir Ferdinand's fortune, that's all. He always said he'd die happy if he could only bag you and the Marstons. He'll be made Inspector-General of Police.'

Starlight smiled in his queer, quiet way.

'If he doesn't rise to the top of the tree until he takes me -- alive, I mean -- he'll die a sub-inspector. But we'd better sleep on it. This is an enterprise of great pith and moment, and requires no end of thought. We must get your sister to come over. That will crown all.'

'Good-night,' I said, rather hasty. 'We'd better turn the Hollow into Tarban Creek, and advertise for boarders.'

Next morning I expected he'd think better of it -- we'd had a glass or two of grog; but no, he was more set on it than ever, and full of dodges to work it to rights. He certainly was wonderful clever in all sorts of ways when there was any devilment to be carried out. Half as much in the straight way would have made a man of him. But that's the way of the world all over. He ain't the only one.

As for father, he was like me, and looked on the notion as rank foolishness. He swore straight on end for about twenty minutes, and then said he expected Starlight would have his own way as usual; but he'd play at that game once too often. He supposed he'd be left in the Hollow all by himself, with Warrigal and the dog for company.

'Warrigal goes with me -- might want him,' says Starlight. 'You're losing your nerve, governor. Perhaps you'd like to go to the ball too?'

Father gave a sort of growl, and lit his pipe and wouldn't say no more. Starlight and I regular talked it out, and, after I'd heard all he had to say, it didn't look quite so impossible as it did at first. We were to work apart. He was to get in with some of the betting men or sporting people that always came to country races, and I was to find out some of our old digger mates and box up with them. Warrigal would shift for himself and look after the horses, and have them ready in case we had to clear at short notice.

'And who was to enter Rainbow and look after him?'

'Couldn't we get old Jacob Benton; he's the best trainer I've seen since I left home? Billy the Boy told us the other day he was out of a job, and was groom at Jonathan's; had been sacked for getting drunk, and so on. He'll be all the more likely to keep sober for a month.'

'The very man,' I said. 'He can ride the weight, and train too. But we can't have him here, surely!'

'No; but I can send the horse to him at Jonathan's, and he can get him fit there as well as anywhere. There's nearly a month yet; he's pretty hard, and he's been regularly exercised lately.'

Jacob Benton was a wizened, dried-up old Yorkshireman. He'd been head man in a good racing stable, but drink had been the ruin of him -- lost him his place, and sent him out here. He could be trusted to go right through with a job like ours, for all that. Like many men that drink hard, he was as sober as a judge between one burst and another. And once he took over a horse in training he touched nothing but water till the race was run and the horse back in his box. Then he most times went in an awful perisher -- took a month to it, and was never sober day or night the whole time. When he'd spent all his money he'd crawl out of the township and get away into the country more dead than alive, and take the first job that offered. But he was fonder of training a good horse than anything else in the world; and if he'd got a regular flyer, and was treated liberal, he'd hardly allow himself sleep or time to eat his meals till he'd got him near the mark. He could ride, too, and was an out-and-out judge of pace.