Aileen threw her arms round my neck and sobbed and cried like a child; she couldn't speak for a bit, and when she looked up her eyes seemed to have a different kind of look in them -- a far-away, dreamy sort of light from what I'd ever noticed in them.

'It may come about,' she said, 'Dick. I've prayed whole nights through and vowed my life to the Blessed Virgin. She may accept the service of my years that are to come. It may be permitted after all the sins of our people.'

After this she dried her eyes and went to her room for a bit, while I had a quiet, easy sort of talk with mother, she saying a word or two now and then, and looking at me most of the time, as if that was enough without talking.

Then Aileen came out of her room with her habit and hat on. 'Run up my horse, Dick,' she says, 'and I'll take you over to see George Storefield's new place. A ride will do me good, and I daresay you're not tired.'

I caught her horse and saddled him for her, and off we went down the old track we knew so well all our lives.

I told her all about our lark with old George, and how good he'd been through it all; besides promising to give us a lift through his country when we made the grand start. She said it was just like him -- that he was the kindest soul in the world, and the most thoughtful. The new Mrs. Storefield had been very civil and friendly to her, and told her she knew George's feeling towards her, and respected it. But Aileen never could feel at home in the grand new house now, and only would go to see old Mrs. Storefield, who still lived in the family cottage, and found it the best suited to her. So we yarned away till we got in sight of the place. When I saw the new two-story stone house I was regular struck all of a heap.

Old George had got on in the world and no mistake. He'd worked early and late, always been as steady as a rock, and had looked ahead instead of taking his pleasure straight off when he got the first few hundred pounds together. He'd seen fat cattle must be dear and scarce for years to come. Noticed, too, that however cheap a far-away bit of country was held, sometimes bought for 200 or 300 Pounds, it always rose in value year by year. So with store cattle. Now and again they'd fall to nothing. Then he'd buy a whole lot of poor milkers' calves about Burrangong, or some of those thick places where they never fattened, for 1 Pound a head or less, and send them away to his runs in the Lachlan. In six months you wouldn't know 'em. They'd come down well-grown fat cattle in a year or two, and be worth their 6 or 8 Pounds a head.

The same way with land; he bought up all the little bits of allotments with cottages on them round Paramatta and Windsor way and Campbelltown -- all them old-fashioned sleepy old places near Sydney, for cash, and cheap enough. The people that had them, and had lived a pokey life in them for many a year, wanted the money to go to the diggings with, and quite right too. Still, and all this land was rising in value, and George's children, if he had any, would be among the richest people in the colony.

After he'd married Miss Oldham -- they were Hawkesbury people, her grandfather, old Captain Oldham, was one of the officers in the first regiment that came out -- he didn't see why he shouldn't have as good a house as any one else. So he had a gentleman up from Sydney that drew plans, and he had a real stone house built, with rooms upstairs, and furniture to match, a new garden, and a glass house at the side, for all the world like some of them grand places in Darling Point, near Sydney.

Aileen wouldn't go in, and you may be sure I didn't want to, but we rode all round the place, a little way off, and had a real good look at everything. There wasn't a gentleman in the country had better outbuildings of all sorts. It was a real tip-top place, good enough for the Governor himself if he came to live up the country. All the old fencing had been knocked down, and new railings and everything put up. Some of the scraggy trees had been cleared away, and all the dead wood burned. I never thought the old place could have showed out the way it did. But money can do a lot. It ain't everything in this world. But there's precious little it won't get you, and things must be very bad it won't mend. A man must have very little sense if he don't see as he gets older that character and money are the two things he's got to be carefullest of in this world. If he's not particular to a shade about either or both of 'em, he'll find his mistake.

After we'd had a good look round and seen the good well-bred stock in the paddocks, the growing crops all looking first-rate, everything well fed and hearty, showing there was no stint of grub for anything, man or beast, we rode away from the big house entrance and came opposite the slip-rails on the flat that led to the old cottage.

'Wouldn't you like to go in just for a minute, Dick?' says Aileen.

I knew what she was thinking of.

I was half a mind not, but then something seemed to draw me, and I was off my horse and had the slip-rail down before I knew where I was.

We rode up to the porch just outside the verandah where George's father had planted the creeping roses; big clusters of bloom they used to have on 'em when I was a boy. He showed 'em to me, I remember, and said what fine climbers they were. Now they were all over the porch, and the verandah, and the roof of the cottage, all among the shingles. But Mrs. Storefield wouldn't have 'em cut because her old man had planted 'em. She came out to see us.

'Well, Ailie, child,' says she, 'come along in, don't sit there on your horse. Who's this you've got with you? Oh! it's you, Dick, is it? My eyes ain't as good as they were. Well, come along in too. You're on the wrong road, and worse 'll come of it. But come along in, I'm not going to be the one to hunt you. I remember old times when you were a little toddling chap, as bold as a lion, and no one dreamt you'd grow up to be the wild chap you are. Gracey's inside, I think. She's as big a fool about ye as ever.'

I very near broke down at this. I could stand hard usage, and send back as good as I got; but this good old woman, that had no call to think anything of me, but that I'd spoiled her daughter's chance of marrying well and respectably -- when she talked to me this way, I came close up to making a fool of myself.

We walked in. Gracey was sewing away in the little parlour, where there always used to be a nosegay when I was a boy, and it was that clean and neat I was afraid to go into it, and never easy till I got out again. There she sat as sober-looking and steady as if she'd been there for five years, and meant to be for five years more. She wasn't thinking of anybody coming, but when she looked up and saw me her face changed all of a sudden, and she jumped up and dropped her work on the floor.

'Why, whatever brings you here, Dick?' she said. 'Don't you know it's terribly dangerous? Sir Ferdinand is always about here now. He stayed at George's new house last night. Wasn't he at Rocky Flat to-day?'

'Yes, but he won't be back for a week. He told Aileen here he wouldn't.' Here I looked at them both.

'Aileen's carrying on quite a flirtation with Sir Ferdinand,' says Gracey. 'I don't know what some one else would say if he saw everything.'

'Doesn't he talk to any one when he comes here, or make himself pleasant?' I said. 'Perhaps there's more than one in the game.'

'Perhaps there is,' says Gracey; 'but he thinks, I believe, that he can get something out of us girls about you and your goings on, and where you plant; and we think we're quite as clever as he is, and might learn something useful too. So that's how the matter lies at present. Are you going to be jealous?'

'Not a bit in the world,' I said, 'even if I had the right. I'll back you two, as simple as you look, against any inspector of police from here to South Australia.'

After this we began to talk about other things, and I told Gracey all about our plans and intentions. She listened very quiet and steady to it all, and then she said she thought something might come of it. Anyhow, she would go whenever I sent for her to come, no matter where.

'What I've said to you, Dick, I've said for good and all. It may be in a month or two, or it may be years and years. But whenever the time comes, and we have a chance, a reasonable chance, of living peaceably and happily, you may depend upon my keeping my word if I'm alive.'

We three had a little more talk together, and Aileen and I mounted and rode home.

It was getting on dusk when we started. They wanted us to stop, but I daren't do it. It was none too safe as it was, and it didn't do to throw a chance away. Besides, I didn't want to be seen hanging about George's place. There was nobody likely to know about Aileen and me riding up together and stopping half-an-hour; but if it came to spending the evening, there was no saying who might have ears and eyes open. At home I could have my horse ready at a minute's warning, and be off like a shot at the first whisper of danger.

So off we went. We didn't ride very fast back. It was many a day since we had ridden over that ground together side by side. It might be many a day, years perhaps, before we did the same thing again. Perhaps never! Who was to know? In the risks of a life like mine, I might never come back -- never set eyes again upon the sister that would have given her life for mine! Never watch the stars glitter through the forest-oak branches, or hear the little creek ripple over the slate bar as it did to-night.