When we got the notion into our heads, we set to work to carry it out. We didn't want to leave Aileen and mother behind. So it was settled that I was to go over and see them, and try and persuade them to go down to Melbourne and stop with Jeanie after Jim had started.

Then, if we all got safe over to San Francisco, Jeanie and they could come over by the first ship that sailed. There was no down upon them, so they could do anything they liked. The main thing was to get Jim off safe and me and Starlight. After that the rest might come along when they pleased. As for dad, he was to take his own road; to go and stay as he chose. It wasn't much use trying to make him do anything else. But he was more like to stop at the old Hollow than anywhere else. It wouldn't have seemed home to him anywhere else, even where he was born, I believe.

The first thing of all was to go to the old place and see mother and Aileen. They were both back at the old cottage, and were a bit more comfortable now. George Storefield had married a lady -- a real lady, as Aileen said -- and, though she was a nice, good-tempered young woman as ever was, Aileen, of course, wouldn't stay there any longer. She thought home was the best place after all.

We took a couple of days figuring it out at the Hollow. Starlight had a map, and we plotted it out, and marked all the stages which could be safely made -- went over all the back tracks and cross-country lines; some we had travelled before, and others of which we knew pretty well from hearsay.

After we'd got all this cut and dry, I started away one beautiful sunshiny morning to ride over to Rocky Flat. I remember the day as well as yesterday, because I took notice of it at the time, and had better cause to remember it before all was over. Everything looked so lovely as I began to clear the foot hills of Nulla Mountain. The birds seemed to chirp and whistle gayer than they ever did before. The dewdrops on the grass and all the twigs and shoots of the trees looked as if it was covered with diamonds and rubies as the sun began to shine and melt some of them. My horse stepped along limber and free. 'O Lord,' I says to myself out aloud, 'what a happy cove I might be if I could start fresh -- knowing what I know -- and not having all these things against me!'

When I got on to the tableland above Rocky Flat I took a good look at the whole place. Everything was as quiet and peaceful as if nothing had ever happened within miles of it -- as if I hadn't had Goring's handcuffs on me -- as if Jim hadn't had the bullets whistling round him, and risked his life on an unbridled horse -- as if the four dead men had not lain staring up to the sky in the gully up yonder for days before they were found and buried.

But now it looked as if only two or three people had ever been there from the beginning of the world. The wild ducks swam and splashed in the little waterhole above the house. Two or three of the cows were walking down to the creek, as quiet and peaceable as you please. There was some poultry at the back, and the little garden was done up that nicely as it hadn't been for many a day.

After I'd pretty well settled in my own mind that there was no one anext or anigh the old place, I drew up by degrees, bit by bit, and sneaked across the creek. I was just making for the barn when I saw two horsemen pop up sudden round the back of the house and ride towards the front gate. I saw with half an eye they were Sir Ferdinand Morringer and a trooper.

Lucky for me they were looking up the gully instead of my way, and, though my heart nearly stood still, I rode as hard as I could lick for the gate of the barn, which was betwixt me and them. They never looked round. They were too much taken up with watching the spot where Hagan and his lot were found. I had just time to chevy straight into the barn and pull off my saddle and bridle and hide under the hay when they shifted full towards where I'd been and then hung up their horses. The trooper tied his to a dead branch of a tree, and then went moving about. I was mortally afraid of his stumbling against something and spoiling the whole affair.

It seems Sir Ferdinand had never given up the notion of our turning up at Rocky Flat some day or other; so he used to take a turn himself that way every now and again on the chance, and a very good chance it nearly turned out to be. Besides this, it seems since he'd heard of her being at the ball at Turon he'd taken a great fancy to Aileen, and used to talk to her as much as she'd let him, when she was at George Storefield's and any other place where he met her. He wouldn't have had much chance of saying the second word, only he was a good-natured, amusing sort, and always as respectful to her as if she'd been a lady. Besides, Aileen had a kind of fancy that it might make things no worse for us if she was civil to him. Any way, she thought, as women will do, that she might get something out of him perhaps once in a way that would be of use to us. I don't believe as it would make a scrap of difference one way or the other. And, like people who try to be too clever, she was pretty near being caught in her own trap this time. Not that I blame the poor thing, she did all for the best, and would have given the eyes out of her head, I believe, to have done us real good, and seen us clear of all our troubles.

Well, she brings a chair out on the verandah, and Sir Ferdinand he sat down on a bench there for half-an-hour, talking away and laughing, just as gentlemen will to pretty girls, no matter who they are. And I could see Aileen look up and laugh now and then, pleased like. She couldn't help it. And there was I stuck in the confounded barn among the straw all the time looking out through one of the cracks and wondering if he was ever going to clear out. Sometimes I thought the trooper, who was getting tired of dodging about doing nothing, couldn't be off seeing my horse's tracks leading slap into the barn door. But he was thinking of something else, or else wasn't much in the tracking line. Some men would see a whole army of fresh tracks, as plain as print, right under their noses and wouldn't drop down to anything.