However, last of all I saw him unhitch his horse and take the bridle on his arm, and then Aileen put on her hat and walked up to the top of the ridge along the stony track with him. Then I saw him mount and start off at a rattling good bat along the road to Turon and the trooper after him. I felt all right again then, and watched Aileen come slowly down the road again with her head down, quite thoughtful like, very different from the way she went up. She didn't stop at the house, but walked straight down to the barn and came in at the door. I wondered what she would do when she saw my horse. But she didn't start, only said --

'You may come out now, Dick; I knew you were here. I saw you ride in just as Sir Ferdinand and the trooper came up.'

'So that's why you were making yourself so pleasant,' says I laughingly. 'I mustn't tell Starlight, I suppose, or we shall be having a new yarn in the newspapers -- "Duel between Sir Ferdinand Morringer and Captain Starlight."'

She laughed too, and then looked sad and serious like again.

'I wonder if we shall ever have an end to this wretched hide-and-seek work. God knows I would do anything that an honest girl could do for you boys and him, but it sometimes looks dark enough, and I have dreadful fears that all will be in vain, and that we are fated to death and ruin at the end.'

'Come, come, don't break down before the time,' I said. 'It's been a close shave, though; but Sir Ferdinand won't be back for a bit, so we may as well take it easy. I've got a lot to say to you.'

'He said he wouldn't be back this way till Friday week,' says she. 'He has an escort to see to then, and he expected to be at Stony Creek in a couple of hours from this. He'll have to ride for it.'

We walked over to the house. Neither of us said anything for a bit. Mother was sitting in her old chair by the fire knitting. Many a good pair of woollen socks she'd sent us, and many's the time we'd had call to bless her and her knitting -- as we sat our horses, night after night, in a perishing frost, or when the rain set in that run of wet winters we had, when we'd hardly a dry stitch on us by the week together, when we had enough of them and the neck wrappers, I expect plenty of others round about were glad to get 'em. It was partly for good nature, for mother was always a kind-hearted poor soul as ever was, and would give away the shoes off her feet -- like most Irish people I've met -- to any one that wanted them worse than herself, and partly for the ease it gave her mind to be always doing something steady like. Mother hadn't book-learning, and didn't always understand the things Aileen read to her. She was getting too old to do much in the house now. But her eyes were wonderful good still, and this knitting was about the greatest pleasure she had left in the world. If anything had happened to stop her from going on with that, I don't believe she would have lived a month.

Her poor old face brightened up when she seen me, and for a few minutes you'd have said no thought of trouble could come anigh her. Then the tears rolled down her cheeks, and I could see her lips moving, though she did not speak the words. I knew what she was doing, and if that could have kept us right we'd never have gone wrong in the world. But it was to be, I suppose.

Mother was a deal older-looking, and couldn't move about as well as she did. Aileen said she'd often sit out in the sun for an hour together and watch her walking up the garden, or putting up the calves, and carrying in the water from the creek, and say nothing. Sometimes she thought her mind was going a bit, and then again she'd seem as sensible as ever she was. To-day, after a bit, she came round and talked more and asked about the neighbours, seemed more curious like, than she'd done, Aileen said, for many a long day.

'You must have something to eat, Dick,' says Aileen; 'it's a long ride from -- from where we know -- and what with one thing and another I daresay you've an appetite. Let me see what there is. Mrs. Storefield sent us over a quarter of veal from the farm yesterday, and we've plenty of bacon of our own. Mother and I live half our time on it and the eggs. I'm making quite a fortune by the butter lately. These diggings are wonderful places to send up the price of everything we can grow.'

So she got out the frying-pan, and she and I and mother had some veal chops, with a slice or two of bacon to give it a flavour. My word! they were good after a forty-mile ride, and we'd had nothing but corned beef in the Hollow lately. Fresh butter and milk too; it was a treat. We had cows enough at the Hollow, but we didn't bother ourselves milking; bread and beef and tea, with a glass of grog now and then, was the general run of our grub.

We had a talk about the merry time at the Turon races, and Aileen laughed in spite of herself at the thought of Starlight walking down the ballroom to be introduced to her, and being taken up to all the swell people of the place. 'He looked grander than any of them, to my fancy,' said she; 'and oh! what a cruel shame it seems that he should ever have done what keeps him from going among his equals as he was born to do. Then I should never have seen him, I suppose, and a thousand times better too. I'd give up every hope of seeing him again in this world, God knows how cheerfully, if it would serve him or help his escape.'

'I'm down here now to see you about the same escape,' I said; and then I told her about Jim's letter, and what he said about the mate of the ship. She listened for a good while patiently, with her hand in mine, like we used to sit in old days, when we were young and happy and alive -- alive, not dead men and women walking about and making believe to live. So I told her how we made it up to meet somewhere near the Queensland border. Jim to come up the Murray from Melbourne, and so on to the Darling, and we to make across for the Lower Bogan. If we could carry this out all right -- and it looked pretty likely -- the rest of the game would be easy; and once on blue water -- O my God, what new creatures we should all be!