It was pretty late that night when we got home, and poor mother and Aileen were that glad to see us that they didn't ask too many questions. Mother would sit and look at the pair of us for ever so long without speaking, and then the tears would come into her eyes and she'd turn away her head.

The old place looked very snug, clean, and comfortable, too, after all the camping-out, and it was first-rate to have our own beds again. Then the milk and fresh butter, and the eggs and bacon -- my word! how Jim did lay in; you'd have thought he was goin' on all night.

'By George! home's a jolly place after all,' he said. 'I am going to stay ever so long this time, and work like an old near-side poler -- see if I don't. Let's look at your hands, Aileen; my word, you've been doin' your share.'

'Indeed, has she,' said mother. 'It's a shame, so it is, and her with two big brothers, too.'

'Poor Ailie,' said Jim, 'she had to take an axe, had she, in her pretty little hands; but she didn't cut all that wood that's outside the door and I nearly broke my neck over, I'll go bail.'

'How do you know?' says she, smiling roguish-like. 'All the world might have been here for what you'd been the wiser -- going away nobody knows where, and coming home at night like -- like ----'

'Bush-rangers,' says I. 'Say it out; but we haven't turned out yet, if that's what you mean, Miss Marston.'

'I don't mean anything but what's kind and loving, you naughty boy,' says she, throwing her arms about my neck; 'but why will you break our hearts, poor mother's and mine, by going off in such a wild way and staying away, as if you were doing something that you were ashamed of?'

'Women shouldn't ask questions,' I said roughly. 'You'll know time enough, and if you never know, perhaps it's all the better.'

Jim was alongside of mother by this time, lying down like a child on the old native dogskin rug that we tanned ourselves with wattle bark. She had her hand on his hair -- thick and curly it was always from a child. She didn't say anything, but I could see the tears drip, drip down from her face; her head was on Jim's shoulder, and by and by he put his arms round her neck. I went off to bed, I remember, and left them to it.

Next morning Jim and I were up at sunrise and got in the milkers, as we always did when we were at home. Aileen was up too. She had done all the dairying lately by herself. There were about a dozen cows to milk, and she had managed it all herself every day that we were away; put up the calves every afternoon, drove up the cows in the cold mornings, made the butter, which she used to salt and put into a keg, and feed the pigs with the skim milk. It was rather hard work for her, but I never saw her equal for farm work -- rough or smooth. And she used to manage to dress neat and look pretty all the time; not like some small settlers' daughters that I have seen, slouching about with a pair of Blucher boots on, no bonnet, a dirty frock, and a petticoat like a blanket rag -- not bad-looking girls either -- and their hair like a dry mop. No, Aileen was always neat and tidy, with a good pair of thick boots outside and a thin pair for the house when she'd done her work.

She could frighten a wildish cow and bail up anything that would stay in a yard with her. She could ride like a bird and drive bullocks on a pinch in a dray or at plough, chop wood, too, as well as here and there a one. But when she was in the house and regularly set down to her sewing she'd look that quiet and steady-going you'd think she was only fit to teach in a school or sell laces and gloves.

And so she was when she was let work in her own way, but if she was crossed or put upon, or saw anything going wrong, she'd hold up her head and talk as straight as any man I ever saw. She'd a look just like father when he'd made up his mind, only her way was always the right way. What a difference it makes, doesn't it? And she was so handsome with it. I've seen a goodish lot of women since I left the old place, let alone her that's helped to put me where I am, but I don't think I ever saw a girl that was a patch on Aileen for looks. She had a wonderful fair skin, and her eyes were large and soft like poor mother's. When she was a little raised-like you'd see a pink flush come on her cheeks like a peach blossom in September, and her eyes had a bright startled look like a doe kangaroo when she jumps up and looks round. Her teeth were as white and even as a black gin's. The mouth was something like father's, and when she shut it up we boys always knew she'd made up her mind, and wasn't going to be turned from it. But her heart was that good that she was always thinking of others and not of herself. I believe -- I know -- she'd have died for any one she loved. She had more sense than all the rest of us put together. I've often thought if she'd been the oldest boy instead of me she'd have kept Jim straight, and managed to drive father out of his cross ways -- that is, if any one living could have done it. As for riding, I have never seen any one that could sit a horse or handle him through rough, thick country like her. She could ride barebacked, or next to it, sitting sideways on nothing but a gunny-bag, and send a young horse flying through scrub and rocks, or down ranges where you'd think a horse could hardly keep his feet. We could all ride a bit out of the common, if it comes to that. Better if we'd learned nothing but how to walk behind a plough, year in year out, like some of the folks in father's village in England, as he used to tell us about when he was in a good humour. But that's all as people are reared, I suppose. We'd been used to the outside of a horse ever since we could walk almost, and it came natural to us. Anyhow, I think Aileen was about the best of the lot of us at that, as in everything else.

Well, for a bit all went on pretty well at home. Jim and I worked away steady, got in a tidy bit of crop, and did everything that lay in our way right and regular. We milked the cows in the morning, and brought in a big stack of firewood and chopped as much as would last for a month or two. We mended up the paddock fence, and tidied the garden. The old place hadn't looked so smart for many a day.