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Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

Part 4 out of 11

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we had sold in Adelaide. They had fetched some of the farmers up
that had been at the sale. They swore straight enough to having bought cattle
with certain brands from Starlight. They didn't know, of course, at the time
whose they were, but they could describe the brands fast enough. There was
one fellow that couldn't read nor write, but he remembered all the brands,
about a dozen, in the pen of steers he bought, and described them one by one.
One brand, he said, was like a long-handled shovel. It turned out to be --D.*
TD -- Tom Dawson's, of Mungeree. About a hundred of his were in the mob.
They had drawn back for Mungeree, as was nearly all frontage and cold
in the winter. He was the worst witness for us of the lot, very near.
He'd noticed everything and forgot nothing.

* In the original text, the horizontal bar is represented by a capital "I"
rotated 90 degrees, and a bit lower than centre -- but from the description,
`--D' may be better, where the `--' represents the upright of the T in TD.
-- A. L., 1997.

`Do you recognise either of the prisoners in the dock?' he was asked.

`Yes; both of 'em,' says he. I wish I could have got at him.
`I see the swell chap first -- him as made out he was the owner,
and gammoned all the Adelaide gentlemen so neat. There was a half-caste chap
with him as followed him about everywhere; then there was another man
as didn't talk much, but seemed, by letting down sliprails and what not,
to be in it. I heard this Starlight, as he calls hisself now,
say to him, "You have everything ready to break camp by ten o'clock,
and I'll be there to-morrow and square up." I thought he meant
to pay their wages. I never dropped but what they was his men
-- his hired servants -- as he was going to pay off or send back.'

`Will you swear,' our lawyer says, `that the younger prisoner is the man
you saw at Adelaide with the cattle?'

`Yes; I'll swear. I looked at him pretty sharp, and nothing ain't likely
to make me forget him. He's the man, and that I'll swear to.'

`Were there not other people there with the cattle?'

`Yes; there was an oldish, very quiet, but determined-like man
-- he had a stunnin' dorg with him -- and a young man something like
this gentleman -- I mean the prisoner. I didn't see the other young man
nor the half-caste in court.'

`That's all very well,' says our lawyer, very fierce; `but will you swear,
sir, that the prisoner Marston took any charge or ownership of the cattle?'

`No, I can't,' says the chap. `I see him a drafting 'em in the morning,
and he seemed to know all the brands, and so on; but he done no more
than I've seen hired servants do over and over again.'

The other witnesses had done, when some one called out, `Herbert Falkland,'
and Mr. Falkland steps into the court. He walks in quiet and a little proud;
he couldn't help feeling it, but he didn't show it in his ways and talk,
as little as any man I ever saw.

He's asked by the Crown Prosecutor if he's seen the bull outside of the court
this day.

`Yes; he has seen him.'

`Has he ever seen him before?'

`Never, to his knowledge.'

`He doesn't, then, know the name of his former owner?'

`Has heard generally that he belonged to Mr. Hood, of Momberah;
but does not know it of his own knowledge.'

`Has he ever seen, or does he know either of the prisoners?'

`Knows the younger prisoner, who has been in the habit of working for him
in various ways.'

`When was prisoner Marston working for him last?'

`He, with his brother James, who rendered his family a service
he shall never forget, was working for him, after last shearing,
for some months.'

`Where were they working?'

`At an out-station at the back of the run.'

`When did they leave?'

`About April or May last.'

`Was it known to you in what direction they proceeded after leaving
your service?'

`I have no personal knowledge; I should think it improper to quote hearsay.'

`Had they been settled up with for their former work?'

`No, there was a balance due to them.'

`To what amount?'

`About twenty pounds each was owing.'

`Did you not think it curious that ordinary labourers should leave
so large a sum in your hands?'

`It struck me as unusual, but I did not attach much weight
to the circumstance. I thought they would come back and ask for it
before the next shearing. I am heartily sorry that they did not do so,
and regret still more deeply that two young men worthy of a better fate
should have been arraigned on such a charge.'

`One moment, Mr. Falkland,' says our counsel, as they call them,
and a first-rate counsellor ours was. If we'd been as innocent
as two schoolgirls he couldn't have done more for us.
`Did the prisoner Marston work well and conduct himself properly
while in your employ?'

`No man better,' says Mr. Falkland, looking over to me
with that pitying kind of look in his eyes as made me feel
what a fool and rogue I'd been ten times worse than anything else.
`No man better; he and his brother were in many respects, according to
my overseer's report, the most hard-working and best-conducted labourers
in the establishment.'

Chapter 18

Mr. Runnimall, the auctioneer, swore that the older prisoner
placed certain cattle in his hands, to arrive, for sale in the usual way,
stating that his name was Mr. Charles Carisforth, and that he had
several stations in other colonies. Had no reason for doubting him.
Prisoner was then very well dressed, was gentlemanly in his manners,
and came to his office with a young gentleman of property whom he knew well.
The cattle were sold in the usual way for rather high prices,
as the market was good. The proceeds in cash were paid over to the prisoner,
whom he now knew by the name of Starlight. He accounted for there being
an unusual number of brands by saying publicly at the sale
that the station had been used as a depot for other runs of his,
and the remainder lots of store cattle kept there.

He had seen a short-horn bull outside of the court this day
branded `J-E' on the shoulder. He identified him as one of the cattle
placed in his hands for sale by the prisoner Starlight.
He sold and delivered him according to instructions. He subsequently
handed over the proceeds to the said prisoner. He included the purchase money
in a cheque given for the bull and other cattle sold on that day.
He could swear positively to the bull; he was a remarkable animal.
He had not the slightest doubt as to his identity.

`Had he seen the prisoner Marston when the cattle were sold
now alleged to belong to Mr. Hood?'

`Yes; he was confident that prisoner was there with some other men
whom he (witness) did not particularly remark. He helped to draft the cattle,
and to put them in pens on the morning of the sale.'

`Was he prepared to swear that prisoner Marston was not a hired servant
of prisoner Starlight?'

`No; he could not swear. He had no way of knowing what the relations were
between the two. They were both in the robbery; he could see that.'

`How could you see that?' said our lawyer. `Have you never seen
a paid stockman do all that you saw prisoner Marston do?'

`Well, I have; but somehow I fancy this man was different.'

`We have nothing to do with your fancies, sir,' says our man, mighty hot,
as he turns upon him; `you are here to give evidence as to facts,
not as to what you fancy. Have you any other grounds
for connecting prisoner Marston with the robbery in question?'

`No, he had not.'

`You can go down, sir, and I only wish you may live to experience
some of the feelings which fill the breasts of persons
who are unjustly convicted.'

. . . . .

This about ended the trial. There was quite enough proved
for a moderate dose of transportation. A quiet, oldish-looking man got up now
and came forward to the witness-box. I didn't know who he was; but Starlight
nodded to him quite pleasant. He had a short, close-trimmed beard,
and was one of those nothing-particular-looking old chaps.
I'm blessed if I could have told what he was. He might have been a merchant,
or a squatter, or a head clerk, or a wine merchant, or a broker,
or lived in the town, or lived in the country; any of half-a-dozen trades
would suit him. The only thing that was out of the common was his eyes.
They had a sort of curious way of looking at you, as if he wondered
whether you was speaking true, and yet seein' nothing and tellin' nothing.
He regular took in Starlight (he told me afterwards) by always talking about
the China Seas; he'd been there, it seems; he'd been everywhere;
he'd last come from America; he didn't say he'd gone there
to collar a clerk that had run off with two or three thousand pounds,
and to be ready to meet him as he stepped ashore.

Anyhow he'd watched Starlight in Canterbury when he was
riding and flashing about, and had put such a lot of things together
that he took a passage in the same boat with him to Melbourne.
Why didn't he arrest him in New Zealand? Because he wasn't sure of his man.
It was from something Starlight let out on board ship. He told me
himself afterwards that he made sure of his being the man he wanted;
so he steps into the witness-box, very quiet and respectable-looking,
with his white waistcoat and silk coat -- it was hot enough to fry beefsteaks
on the roof of the courthouse that day -- and looks about him.
The Crown Prosecutor begins with him as civil as you please.

`My name is Stephen Stillbrook. I am a sergeant of detective police
in the service of the Government of New South Wales.
From information received, I proceeded to Canterbury, in New Zealand,
about the month of September last. I saw there the older prisoner,
who was living at a first-class hotel in Christchurch.
He was moving in good society, and was apparently possessed of ample means.
He frequently gave expensive entertainments, which were attended
by the leading inhabitants and high officials of the place.
I myself obtained an introduction to him, and partook of his hospitality
on several occasions. I attempted to draw him out in conversation
about New South Wales; but he was cautious, and gave me to understand
that he had been engaged in large squatting transactions in another colony.
From his general bearing and from the character of his associates,
I came to the belief that he was not the individual named in the warrant,
and determined to return to Sydney. I was informed that he had taken
his passage to Melbourne in a mail steamer. From something which
I one day heard his half-caste servant say, who, being intoxicated,
was speaking carelessly, I determined to accompany them to Melbourne.
My suspicions were confirmed on the voyage. As we went ashore
at the pier at Sandridge I accosted him. I said, "I arrest you on suspicion
of having stolen a herd of cattle, the property of Walter Hood, of Momberah."
Prisoner was very cool and polite, just as any other gentleman would be,
and asked me if I did not think I'd made a most ridiculous mistake.
The other passengers began to laugh, as if it was the best joke in the world.
Starlight never moved a muscle. I've seen a good many cool hands in my time,
but I never met any one like him. I had given notice to
one of the Melbourne police as he came aboard, and he arrested the half-caste,
known as Warrigal. I produced a warrant, the one now before the court,
which is signed by a magistrate of the territory of New South Wales.'

The witnessing part was all over. It took the best part of the day,
and there we were all the time standing up in the dock, with the court crammed
with people staring at us. I don't say that it felt as bad
as it might have done nigh home. Most of the Nomah people
looked upon fellows stealing cattle or horses, in small lots or big,
just like most people look at boys stealing fruit out of an orchard,
or as they used to talk of smugglers on the English coast,
as I've heard father tell of. Any man might take a turn
at that sort of thing, now and then, and not be such a bad chap after all.
It was the duty of the police to catch him. If they caught him,
well and good, it was so much the worse for him; if they didn't,
that was their look-out. It wasn't anybody else's business anyhow.
And a man that wasn't caught, or that got turned up at his trial,
was about as good as the general run of people; and there was no reason
for any one to look shy at him.

After the witnesses had said all they knew our lawyer got up and made
a stunning speech. He made us out such first-rate chaps that it looked as if
we ought to get off flying. He blew up the squatters in a general way
for taking all the country, and not giving the poor man a chance --
for neglecting their immense herds of cattle and suffering them to roam
all over the country, putting temptation in the way of poor people,
and causing confusion and recklessness of all kinds. Some of these cattle
are never seen from the time they are branded till they are mustered,
every two or three years apparently. They stray away hundreds of miles
-- probably a thousand -- who is to know? Possibly they are sold.
It was admitted by the prosecutor that he had sold 10,000 head of cattle
during the last six years, and none had been rebranded to his knowledge.
What means had he of knowing whether these cattle that so much was said about
had not been legally sold before? It was a most monstrous thing that men
like his clients -- men who were an honour to the land they lived in --
should be dragged up to the very centre of the continent upon a paltry charge
like this -- a charge which rested upon the flimsiest evidence
it had ever been his good fortune to demolish.

With regard to the so-called imported bull the case against his clients
was apparently stronger, but he placed no reliance upon
the statements of the witnesses, who averred that they knew him so thoroughly
that they could not be deceived in him. He distrusted their evidence
and believed the jury would distrust it too. The brand was as different
as possible from the brand seen to have been on the beast originally.
One short-horn was very like another. He would not undertake
to swear positively in any such case, and he implored the jury,
as men of the world, as men of experience in all transactions
relating to stock (here some of the people in the court grinned)
to dismiss from their minds everything of the nature of prejudice,
and looking solely at the miserable, incomplete, unsatisfactory nature
of the evidence, to acquit the prisoners.

It sounded all very pleasant after everything before had been so rough
on our feelings, and the jury looked as if they'd more than half
made up their minds to let us off.

Then the judge put on his glasses and began to go all over the evidence,
very grave and steady like, and read bits out of the notes which he'd taken
very careful all the time. Judges don't have such an easy time of it
as some people thinks they have. I've often wondered as they take
so much trouble, and works away so patient trying to find out
the rights and wrongs of things for people that they never saw before,
and won't see again. However, they try to do their best,
all as I've ever seen, and they generally get somewhere near
the right and justice of things. So the judge began and read --
went over the evidence bit by bit, and laid it all out before the jury,
so as they couldn't but see it where it told against us, and, again,
where it was a bit in our favour.

As for the main body of the cattle, he made out that there was strong grounds
for thinking as we'd taken and sold them at Adelaide, and had the money too.
The making of a stockyard at the back of Momberah was not the thing
honest men would do. But neither of us prisoners had been seen there.
There was no identification of the actual cattle, branded `HOD',
alleged to have been stolen, nor could Mr. Hood swear positively that
they were his cattle, had never been sold, and were a portion of his herd.
It was in the nature of these cases that identification of live stock,
roaming over the immense solitudes of the interior, should be difficult,
occasionally impossible. Yet he trusted that the jury would give
full weight to all the circumstances which went to show
a continuous possession of the animals alleged to be stolen.
The persons of both prisoners had been positively sworn to
by several witnesses as having been seen at the sale of the cattle
referred to. They were both remarkable-looking men, and such as if once seen
would be retained in the memory of the beholder.

But the most important piece of evidence (here the judge stopped
and took a pinch of snuff) was that afforded by the short-horn bull,
Fifteenth Duke of Cambridge -- he had been informed that was his name.
That animal, in the first place, was sworn to most positively by Mr. Hood,
and claimed as his property. Other credible witnesses testified also
to his identity, and corroborated the evidence of Mr. Hood in all respects;
the ownership and identity of the animal are thus established
beyond all doubt.

Then there was the auctioneer, Mr. Runnimall, who swore that this animal
had been, with other cattle, placed in his hands for sale
by the older prisoner. The bull is accordingly sold publicly by him,
and in the prisoner's presence. He subsequently receives from the witness
the price, about 270 Pounds, for which the bull was sold.
The younger prisoner was there at the same time, and witnessed
the sale of the bull and other cattle, giving such assistance
as would lead to the conclusion that he was concerned in the transaction.

He did not wish to reflect upon this or any other jury,
but he could not help recalling the fact that a jury in that town
once committed the unpardonable fault, the crime, he had almost said,
of refusing to find a prisoner guilty against whom well confirmed evidence
had been brought. It had been his advice to the Minister for Justice,
so glaring was the miscarriage of justice to which he referred,
that the whole of the jurymen who had sat upon that trial should be struck
off the roll. This was accordingly done.

He, the judge, was perfectly convinced in his own mind
that no impropriety of this sort was likely to be committed
by the intelligent, respectable jury whom he saw before him;
but it was his duty to warn them that, in his opinion, they could not bring in
any verdict but `Guilty' if they respected their oaths.
He should leave the case confidently in their hands,
again impressing upon them that they could only find one verdict
if they believed the evidence.

. . . . .

The jury all went out. Then another case was called on, and a fresh jury
sworn in for to try it. We sat in the dock. The judge told Starlight
he might sit down, and we waited till they came back.
I really believe that waiting is the worst part of the whole thing,
the bitterest part of the punishment. I've seen men when they were being
tried for their lives -- haven't I done it, and gone through it myself? --
waiting there an hour -- two hours, half through the night,
not knowing whether they was to be brought in guilty or not.
What a hell they must have gone through in that time -- doubt and dread,
hope and fear, wretchedness and despair, over and over and over again.
No wonder some of 'em can't stand it, but keeps twitching and shifting
and getting paler and turning faint when the jury comes back,
and they think they see one thing or the other written in their faces.
I've seen a strong man drop down like a dead body when the judge
opened his mouth to pass sentence on him. I've seen 'em faint, too,
when the foreman of the jury said `Not guilty.' One chap,
he was an innocent up-country fellow, in for his first bit of duffing,
like we was once, he covered his face with his hands when he found
he was let off, and cried like a child. All sorts and kinds of different ways
men takes it. I was in court once when the judge asked a man
who'd just been found guilty if he'd anything to say why he shouldn't pass
sentence of death upon him. He'd killed a woman, cut her throat,
and a regular right down cruel murder it was (only men 'll kill women
and one another, too, for some causes, as long as the world lasts);
and he just leaned over the dock rails, as if he'd been going
to get three months, and said, cool and quiet, `No, your Honour;
not as I know of.' He'd made up his mind to it from the first, you see,
and that makes all the difference. He knew he hadn't the ghost of a chance
to get out of it, and when his time came he faced it. I remember seeing
his worst enemy come into the court, and sit and look at him then
just to see how he took it, but he didn't make the least sign.
That man couldn't have told whether he seen him or not.

Starlight and I wasn't likely to break down -- not much --
whatever the jury did or the judge said. All the same,
after an hour had passed, and we still waiting there, it began to be
a sickening kind of feeling. The day had been all taken up
with the evidence and the rest of the trial; all long, dragging hours
of a hot summer's day. The sun had been blazing away all day
on the iron roof of the courthouse and the red dust of the streets,
that lay inches deep for a mile all round the town. The flies buzzed
all over the courthouse, and round and round, while the lawyers
talked and wrangled with each other; and still the trial went on.
Witness after witness was called, and cross-examined and bullied,
and confused and contradicted till he was afraid to say
what he knew or what he didn't know. I began to think it must be
some kind of performance that would go on for ever and never stop,
and the day and it never could end.

At last the sun came shining level with the lower window,
and we knew it was getting late. After a while the twilight began
to get dimmer and grayer. There isn't much out there when the sun goes down.
Then the judge ordered the lamps to be lighted.

Just at that time the bailiff came forward.

`Your Honour, the jury has agreed.' I felt my teeth shut hard;
but I made no move or sign. I looked over at Starlight. He yawned.
He did, as I'm alive.

`I wish to heaven they'd make more haste,' he said quietly;
`his Honour and we are both being done out of our dinners.'

I said nothing. I was looking at the foreman's face. I thought I knew
the word he was going to say, and that word was `Guilty.' Sure enough
I didn't hear anything more for a bit. I don't mind owning that.
Most men feel that way the first time. There was a sound like rushing waters
in my ears, and the courthouse and the people all swam before my eyes.

The first I heard was Starlight's voice again, just as cool and leisurely
as ever. I never heard any difference in it, and I've known him speak
in a lot of different situations. If you shut your eyes you couldn't tell
from the tone of his voice whether he was fighting for his life or asking you
to hand him the salt. When he said the hardest and fiercest thing
-- and he could be hard and fierce -- he didn't raise his voice;
he only seemed to speak more distinct like. His eyes were worse
than his voice at such times. There weren't many men that liked
to look back at him, much less say anything.

Now he said, `That means five years of Berrima, Dick, if not seven.
It's cooler than these infernal logs, that's one comfort.'

I said nothing. I couldn't joke. My throat was dry,
and I felt hot and cold by turns. I thought of the old hut by the creek,
and could see mother sitting rocking herself, and crying out loud,
and Aileen with a set dull look on her face as if she'd never speak
or smile again. I thought of the days, months, years that were to pass
under lock and key, with irons and shame and solitude all for company.
I wondered if the place where they shut up mad people was like a gaol,
and why we were not sent there instead.

I heard part of what the judge said, but not all -- bits here and there.
The jury had brought in a most righteous verdict; just what
he should have expected from the effect of the evidence upon an intelligent,
well-principled Nomah jury. (We heard afterwards that they were six to six,
and then agreed to toss up how the verdict was to go.)
`The crime of cattle and horse stealing had assumed gigantic proportions.
Sheep, as yet, appeared to be safe; but then there were not very many
within a few hundred miles of Nomah. It appeared to him that the prisoner
known as Starlight, though from old police records his real name
appeared to be ----'

Here he drew himself up and faced the judge in defiance. Then like lightning
he seemed to change, and said --

`Your Honour, I submit that it can answer no good purpose to disclose
my alleged name. There are others -- I do not speak for myself.'

The judge stopped a bit; then hesitated. Starlight bowed.
`I do not -- a -- know whether there is any necessity to make public
a name which many years since was not better known than honoured.
I say the -- a -- prisoner known as Starlight has, from the evidence,
taken the principal part in this nefarious transaction.
It is not the first offence, as I observe from a paper I hold in my hand.
The younger prisoner, Marston, has very properly been found
guilty of criminal complicity with the same offence. It may be
that he has been concerned in other offences against the law,
but of that we have no proof before this court. He has not been
previously convicted. I do not offer advice to the elder criminal;
his own heart and conscience, the promptings of which I assume
to be dulled, not obliterated, I feel convinced, have said more to him
in the way of warning, condemnation, and remorse than could
the most impressive rebuke, the most solemn exhortation from a judicial bench.
But to the younger man, to him whose vigorous frame has but lately attained
the full development of early manhood, I feel compelled to appeal
with all the weight which age and experience may lend. I adjure him to accept
the warning which the sentence I am about to pass will convey to him,
to endure his confinement with submission and repentance, and to lead
during his remaining years, which may be long and comparatively peaceful,
the free and necessarily happy life of an honest man.
The prisoner Starlight is sentenced to seven years' imprisonment;
the prisoner Richard Marston to five years' imprisonment;
both in Berrima Gaol.'

I heard the door of the dock unclose with a snap. We were taken out;
I hardly knew how. I walked like a man in his sleep. `Five years,
Berrima Gaol! Berrima Gaol!' kept ringing in my ears.

The day was done, the stars were out, as we moved across from the courthouse
to the lock-up. The air was fresh and cool. The sun had gone down;
so had the sun of our lives, never to rise again.

Morning came. Why did it ever come again? I thought. What did we want
but night? -- black as our hearts -- dark as our fate -- dismal as the death
which likely would come quick as a living tomb, and the sooner the better.
Mind you, I only felt this way the first time. All men do, I suppose,
that haven't been born in gaols and workhouses. Afterwards they take
a more everyday view of things.

`You're young and soft, Dick,' Starlight said to me as we were rumbling along
in the coach next day, with hand and leg-irons on, and a trooper
opposite to us. `Why don't I feel like it? My good fellow,
I have felt it all before. But if you sear your flesh or your horse's
with a red-hot iron you'll find the flesh hard and callous ever after.
My heart was seared once -- ay, twice -- and deeply, too.
I have no heart now, or if I ever feel at all it's for a horse.
I wonder how old Rainbow gets on.'

`You were sorry father let us come in the first time,' I said.
`How do you account for that, if you've no heart?'

`Really! Well, listen, Richard. Did I? If you guillotine a man
-- cut off his head, as they do in France, with an axe that falls
like the monkey of a pile-driver -- the limbs quiver and stretch,
and move almost naturally for a good while afterwards.
I've seen the performance more than once. So I suppose
the internal arrangements immediately surrounding my heart
must have performed some kind of instinctive motion in your case and Jim's.
By the way, where the deuce has Jim been all this time? Clever James!'

`Better ask Evans here if the police knows. It is not for want of trying
if they don't.'

`By the Lord Harry, no!' said the trooper, a young man who saw no reason
not to be sociable. `It's the most surprisin' thing out where he's got to.
They've been all round him, reg'lar cordon-like, and he must have disappeared
into the earth or gone up in a balloon to get away.'

Chapter 19

It took us a week's travelling or more to get to Berrima.
Sometimes we were all night in the coach as well as all day.
There were other passengers in the coach with us. Two or three bushmen,
a station overseer with his wife and daughter, a Chinaman,
and a lunatic that had come from Nomah, too. I think it's rough on the public
to pack madmen and convicts in irons in the same coach with them.
But it saves the Government a good deal of money, and the people
don't seem to care. They stand it, anyhow.

We would have made a bolt of it if we'd had a chance, but we never had,
night nor day, not half a one. The police were civil, but they never left us,
and slept by us at night. That is, one watched while the other slept.
We began to sleep soundly ourselves and to have a better appetite.
Going through the fresh air had something to do with it, I daresay.
And then there was no anxiety. We had played for a big stake and lost.
Now we had to pay and make the best of it. It was the tenth day
(there were no railways then to shorten the journey)
when we drove up to the big gate and looked at the high walls and dark,
heavy lines of Berrima Gaol, the largest, the most severe,
the most dreaded of all the prisons in New South Wales. It had leaked out
the day before, somehow, that the famous Starlight and the other prisoner
in the great Momberah cattle robbery were to be brought in
this particular day. There was a fair-sized crowd gathered as we were helped
down from the coach. At the side of the crowd was a small mob of blacks
with their dogs, spears, 'possum rugs and all complete.
They and their gins and pickaninnies appeared to take
great notice of the whole thing. One tallish gin, darker than the others,
and with her hair tucked under an old bonnet, wrapped her 'possum cloak
closely round her shoulders and pushed up close to us. She looked hard
at Starlight, who appeared not to see her. As she drew back
some one staggered against her; an angry scowl passed over her face,
so savage and bitter that I felt quite astonished. I should have
been astonished, I mean, if I had not been able, by that very change,
to know again the restless eyes and grim set mouth of Warrigal.

It was only a look, and he was gone. The lock creaked, the great iron door
swung back, and we were swallowed up in a tomb -- a stone vault where men
are none the less buried because they have separate cells. They do not live,
though they appear to be alive; they move, and sometimes speak,
and appear to hear words. Some have to be sent away and buried outside.
They have been dead a long time, but have not seemed to want putting
in the ground. That makes no change in them -- not much, I mean.
If they sleep it's all right; if they don't sleep anything must be happiness
after the life they have escaped. `Happy are the dead' is written
on all prison walls.

What I suffered in that first time no tongue can tell. I can't bear now
to think of it and put it down. The solitary part of it was enough
to drive any man mad that had been used to a free life. Day after day,
night after night, the same and the same and the same over again.

Then the dark cells. I got into them for a bit. I wasn't always
as cool as I might be -- more times that mad with myself that I could have
smashed my own skull against the wall, let alone any one else's.
There was one of the warders I took a dislike to from the first, and he to me,
I don't doubt. I thought he was rough and surly. He thought I wanted
to have my own way, and he made it up to take it out of me,
and run me every way he could. We had a goodish spell of fighting over it,
but he gave in at last. Not but what I'd had a lot to bear,
and took a deal of punishment before he jacked up. I needn't have had it.
It was all my own obstinacy and a sort of dogged feeling that made me feel
I couldn't give in. I believe it done me good, though. I do really think
I should have gone mad else, thinking of the dreadful long months and years
that lay before me without a chance of getting out.

Sometimes I'd take a low fit and refuse my food, and very near
give up living altogether. The least bit more, and I'd have died outright.
One day there was a party of ladies and gentlemen came to be shown over
the gaol. There was a lot of us passing into the exercise yard.
I happened to look up for a minute, and saw one of the ladies
looking steadily at us, and oh! what a pitying look there was in her face.
In a moment I saw it was Miss Falkland, and, by the change that came
into her face, that she knew me again, altered as I was. I wondered
how she could have known me. I was a different-looking chap from when
she had seen me last. With a beastly yellow-gray suit of prison clothes,
his face scraped smooth every day, like a fresh-killed pig,
and the look of a free man gone out of his face for ever --
how any woman, gentle or simple, ever can know a man in gaol beats me.
Whether or no, she knew me. I suppose she saw the likeness to Jim,
and she told him, true enough, she'd never forget him
nor what he'd done for her.

I just looked at her, and turned my head away. I felt as if
I'd make a fool of myself if I didn't. All the depth down that I'd fallen
since I was shearing there at Boree rushed into my mind at once.
I nearly fell down, I know. I was pretty weak and low then;
I'd only just come out of the doctor's hands.

I was passing along with the rest of the mob. I heard her voice
quite clear and firm, but soft and sweet, too. How sweet
it sounded to me then!

`I wish to speak a few words to the third prisoner in the line --
the tall one. Can I do so, Captain Wharton?'

`Oh! certainly, Miss Falkland,' said the old gentleman,
who had brought them all in to look at the wonderful neat garden,
and the baths, and the hospital, and the unnatural washed-up,
swept-up barracks that make the cleanest gaol feel worse
than the roughest hut. He was the visiting magistrate,
and took a deal of interest in the place, and believed he knew
all the prisoners like a book. `Oh! certainly, my dear young lady.
Is Richard Marston an acquaintance of yours?'

`He and his brother worked for my father at Boree,' she said, quite stately.
`His brother saved my life.'

I was called back by the warder. Miss Falkland stepped out before them all,
and shook hands with me. Yes, SHE SHOOK HANDS WITH ME,
and the tears came into her eyes as she did so.

If anything could have given a man's heart a turn the right way that would
have done it. I felt again as if some one cared for me in the world,
as if I had a soul worth saving. And people may talk as they like,
but when a man has the notion that everybody has given him up as a bad job,
and has dropped troubling themselves about him, he gets worse and worse,
and meets the devil half-way.

She said --

`Richard Marston, I cannot tell how grieved I am to see you here.
Both papa and I were so sorry to hear all about those Momberah cattle.'

I stammered out something or other, I hardly knew what.

She looked at me again with her great beautiful eyes like a wondering child.

`Is your brother here too?'

`No, Miss Falkland,' I said. `They've never caught Jim yet,
and, what's more, I don't think they will. He jumped on a bare-backed horse
without saddle or bridle, and got clear.'

She looked as if she was going to smile, but she didn't.
I saw her eyes sparkle, though, and she said softly --

`Poor Jim! so he got away; I am glad of that. What a wonderful rider he was!
But I suppose he will be caught some day. Oh, I do so wish
I could say anything that would make you repent of what you have done,
and try and do better by and by. Papa says you have a long life before you
most likely, and might do so much with it yet. You will try, for my sake;
won't you now?'

`I'll do what I can, miss,' I said; `and if I ever see Jim again
I'll tell him of your kindness.'

`Thank you, and good-bye,' she said, and she held out her hand again
and took mine. I walked away, but I couldn't help holding my head higher,
and feeling a different man, somehow.

I ain't much of a religious chap, wasn't then, and I am farther off it now
than ever, but I've heard a power of the Bible and all that read in my time;
and when the parson read out next Sunday about Jesus Christ dying for men,
and wanting to have their souls saved, I felt as if I could have
a show of understanding it better than I ever did before.
If I'd been a Catholic, like Aileen and mother, I should have settled what
the Virgin Mary was like when she was alive, and never said a prayer to her
without thinking of Miss Falkland.

While I was dying one week and getting over it another,
and going through all the misery every fellow has in his first year of gaol,
Starlight was just his old self all the time. He took it quite easy,
never gave any one trouble, and there wasn't a soul in the place
that wouldn't have done anything for him. The visiting magistrate
thought his a most interesting case, and believed in his heart
that he had been the means of turning him from the error of his ways --
he and the chaplain between them, anyhow. He even helped him
to be allowed to be kept a little separate from the other prisoners
(lest they should contaminate him!), and in lots of ways made his life
a bit easier to him.

It was reported about that it was not the first time that he had been
in a gaol. That he'd `done time', as they call it, in another colony.
He might or he might not. He never said. And he wasn't the man,
with all his soft ways, you'd like to ask about such a thing.

By the look of it you wouldn't think he cared about it a bit.
He took it very easy, read half his time, and had no sign about him
that he wasn't perfectly satisfied. He intended when he got out
to lead a new life, the chaplain said, and be the means of keeping other men
right and straight.

One day we had a chance of a word together. He got the soft side
of the chaplain, who thought he wanted to convert me and take me
out of my sulky and obstinate state of mind. He took good care
that we were not overheard or watched, and then said rather loud,
for fear of accidents --

`Well, Richard, how are you feeling? I am happy to say
that I have been led to think seriously of my former evil ways,
and I have made up my mind, besides, to use every effort in my power
to clear out of this infernal collection of tombstones when the moon
gets dark again, about the end of this month.'

`How have you taken to become religious?' I said. `Are you quite sure
that what you say can be depended upon? And when did you get the good news?'

`I have had many doubts in my mind for a long time,' he said,
`and have watched and prayed long, and listened for the word that was to come;
and the end of it is that I have at length heard the news
that makes the soul rejoice, even for the heathen, the boy Warrigal,
who will be waiting outside these walls with fresh horses.
I must now leave you, my dear Richard,' he said; `and I hope my words
will have made an impression on you. When I have more to communicate
for your good I will ask leave to return.'

After I heard this news I began to live again. Was there a chance
of our getting out of this terrible tomb into the free air and sunshine
once more? However it was to be managed I could not make out.
I trusted mostly to Starlight, who seemed to know everything,
and to be quite easy about the way it would all turn out.

All that I could get out of him afterwards was that on a certain night
a man would be waiting with two horses outside of the gaol wall;
and that if we had the luck to get out safe, and he thought we should,
we would be on their backs in three minutes, and all the police
in New South Wales wouldn't catch us once we got five minutes' start.

This was all very well if it came out right; but there was an awful lot
to be done before we were even near it. The more I began to think over it
the worse it looked; sometimes I quite lost heart, and believed
we should never have half a chance of carrying out our plan.

We knew from the other prisoners that men had tried from time to time
to get away. Three had been caught. One had been shot dead
-- he was lucky -- another had fallen off the wall and broke his leg.
Two had got clear off, and had never been heard of since.

We were all locked up in our cells every evening, and at five o'clock, too.
We didn't get out till six in the morning; a long, long time.
Cold enough in the bitter winter weather, that had then come in,
and a long, weary, wretched time to wait and watch for daylight.

Well, first of all, we had to get the cell door open.
That was the easiest part of the lot. There's always men in a big gaol
that all kinds of keys and locks are like large print to.
They can make most locks fly open like magic; what's more,
they're willing to do it for anybody else, or show them how.
It keeps their hand in; they have a pleasure in spiting those above them
whenever they can do it.

The getting out of the cell was easy enough, but there was a lot of danger
after you had got out. A passage to cross, where the warder, with his rifle,
walked up and down every half-hour all night; then a big courtyard;
then another smaller door in the wall; then the outer yard for those prisoners
who are allowed to work at stone-cutting or out-of-door trades.

After all this there was the great outer wall to climb up and drop down from
on the other side.

We managed to pick our night well. A French convict, who liked
that sort of thing, gave me the means of undoing the cell door.
It was three o'clock in the morning, when in winter most people are sleepy
that haven't much on their minds. The warder that came down the passage
wasn't likely to be asleep, but he might have made it up in his mind
that all was right, and not taken as much notice as usual.
This was what we trusted to. Besides, we had got a few five-pound notes
smuggled in to us; and though I wouldn't say that we were able to bribe
any of the gaolers, we didn't do ourselves any harm in one or two little ways
by throwing a few sovereigns about.

I did just as I was told by the Frenchman, and I opened the cell door
as easy as a wooden latch. I had to shut it again for fear
the warder would see it and begin to search and sound the alarm at once.
Just as I'd done this he came down the passage. I had only time
to crouch down in the shadow when he passed me. That was right;
now he would not be back for half-an-hour.

I crawled and scrambled, and crept along like a snake until little by little
I got to the gate through the last wall but one. The lock here
was not so easy as the cell door, and took me more time.
While I stood there I was in a regular tremble with fright,
thinking some one might come up, and all my chance would be gone.
After a bit the lock gave way, and I found myself in the outer yard.
I went over to the wall and crept along it till I came to one of the angles.
There I was to meet Starlight. He was not there, and he was to bring some
spikes to climb the wall with, and a rope, with two or three other things.

I waited and waited for half-an-hour, which seemed a month. What was I to do
if he didn't come? I could not climb the thirty-foot wall by myself.
One had to be cautious, too, for there were towers at short distances
along the wall; in every one of these a warder, armed with a rifle,
which he was sure to empty at any one that looked like gaol-breaking.
I began to think he had made a mistake in the night. Then, that he had been
discovered and caught the moment he tried to get out of the cell.
I was sure to be caught if he was prevented from coming; and shutting up
would be harder to bear than ever.

Then I heard a man's step coming up softly; I knew it was Starlight.
I knew his step, and thought I would always tell it from
a thousand other men's; it was so light and firm, so quick and free.
Even in a prison it was different from other men's; and I remembered
everything he had ever said about walking and running, both of which
he was wonderfully good at.

He was just as cool as ever. `All right, Dick; take these spikes.'
He had half-a-dozen stout bits of iron; how ever he got them I know no more
than the dead, but there they were, and a light strong coil of rope as well.
I knew what the spikes were for, of course; to drive into the wall
between the stones and climb up by. With the rope we were to drop ourselves
over the wall the other side. It was thirty feet high -- no fool of a drop.
More than one man had been picked up disabled at the bottom of it.
He had a short stout piece of iron that did to hammer the spikes in;
and that had to be done very soft and quiet, you may be sure.

It took a long time. I thought the night would be over and the daylight come
before it was all done; it was so slow. I could hear
the tick-tack of his iron every time he knocked one of the spikes in.
Of course he went higher every time. They were just far enough apart
for a man to get his foot on from one to another. As he went up
he had one end of the coil of the rope round his wrist.
When he got to the top he was to draw it up to fasten to the top spike,
and lower himself down by it to the ground on the other side.
At last I felt him pull hard on the rope. I held it, and put my foot
on the first spike. I don't know that I should have found it so very easy
in the dark to get up by the spikes -- it was almost blackfellows' work,
when they put their big toe into a notch cut in the smooth stem of a gum tree
that runs a hundred feet without a branch, and climb up the outside of it --
but Jim and I had often practised this sort of climbing when we were boys,
and were both pretty good at it. As for Starlight, he had been to sea
when he was young, and could climb like a cat.

When I got to the top I could just see his head above the wall.
The rope was fastened well to the top spike, which was driven
almost to the head into the wall. Directly he saw me,
he began to lower himself down the rope, and was out of sight in a minute.
I wasn't long after him, you may be sure. In my hurry I let the rope
slip through my hands so fast they were sore for a week afterwards.
But I didn't feel it then. I should hardly have felt it
if I had cut them in two, for as my feet touched the ground in the darkness
I heard the stamp of a horse's hoof and the jingle of a bit --
not much of a sound, but it went through my heart like a knife,
along with the thought that I was a free man once more; that is,
free in a manner of speaking. I knew we couldn't be taken then,
bar accidents, and I felt ready to ride through a regiment of soldiers.

As I stood up a man caught my hand and gave it a squeeze
as if he'd have crushed my fingers in. I knew it was Jim. Of course,
I'd expected him to be there, but wasn't sure if he'd be able to work it.
We didn't speak, but started to walk over to where two horses were standing,
with a man holding 'em. It was pretty dark, but I could see Rainbow's star
-- just in his forehead it was -- the only white he had about him.
Of course it was Warrigal that was holding them.

`We must double-bank my horse,' whispers Jim, `for a mile or two,
till we're clear of the place; we didn't want to bring a lot of horses about.'

He jumped up, and I mounted behind him. Starlight was on Rainbow in a second.
The half-caste disappeared, he was going to keep dark for a few days
and send us the news. Jim's horse went off as if he had
only ten stone on his back instead of pretty nigh five-and-twenty.
And we were free! Lord God! to think that men can be such fools
as ever to do anything of their own free will and guiding that puts
their liberty in danger when there's such a world outside of a gaol wall --
such a heaven on earth as long as a man's young and strong,
and has all the feelings of a free man, in a country like this.
Would I do the first crooked thing again if I had my life to live over again,
and knew a hundredth part of what I know now? Would I put my hand in the fire
out of laziness or greed? or sit still and let a snake sting me,
knowing I should be dead in twelve hours? Any man's fool enough to do one
that'll do the other. Men and women don't know this in time,
that's the worst of it; they won't believe half they're told by them
that do know and wish 'em well. They run on heedless and obstinate, too proud
to take advice, till they do as we did. The world's always been the same,
I suppose, and will to the end. Most of the books say so, anyway.

Chapter 20

What a different feel from prison air the fresh night breeze had
as we swept along a lonely outside track! The stars were out,
though the sky was cloudy now and then, and the big forest trees
looked strange in the broken light. It was so long since I'd seen any.
I felt as if I was going to a new world. None of us spoke for a bit.
Jim pulled up at a small hut by the roadside; it looked like a farm,
but there was not much show of crops or anything about the place.
There was a tumble-down old barn, with a strong door to it, and a padlock;
it seemed the only building that there was any care taken about.
A man opened the door of the hut and looked out.

`Look sharp,' says Jim. `Is the horse all right and fit?'

`Fit enough to go for the Hawkesbury Guineas. I was up and fed him
three hours ago. He's ----'

`Bring him out, and be hanged to you,' says Jim; `we've no time for chat.'

The man went straight to the barn, and after a minute or two
brought out a horse -- the same I'd ridden from Gippsland,
saddled and bridled, and ready to jump out of his skin.
Jim leaned forward and put something into his hand, which pleased him,
for he held my rein and stirrup, and then said --

`Good luck and a long reign to you,' as we rode away.

All this time Starlight had sat on his horse in the shade of a tree
a good bit away. When we started he rode alongside of us.
We were soon in a pretty fair hand-gallop, and we kept it up.
All our horses were good, and we bowled along as if we were going
to ride for a week without stopping.

What a ride it was! It was a grand night, anyway I thought so.
I blessed the stars, I know. Mile after mile, and still the horses
seemed to go all the fresher the farther they went. I felt I could
ride on that way for ever. As the horses pulled and snorted
and snatched at their bridles I felt as happy as ever I did in my life.
Mile after mile it was all the same; we could hear Rainbow snorting
from time to time and see his star move as he tossed up his head.
We had many a night ride after together, but that was the best.
We had laid it out to make for a place we knew not so far from home.
We dursn't go there straight, of course, but nigh enough to make a dart to it
whenever we had word that the coast was clear.

We knew directly we were missed the whole countryside would be turned out
looking for us, and that every trooper within a hundred miles
would be hoping for promotion in case he was lucky enough to drop
on either of the Marstons or the notorious Starlight. His name had been
pretty well in every one's mouth before, and would be a little more
before they were done with him.

It was too far to ride to the Hollow in a day, but Jim had got a place
ready for us to keep dark in for a bit, in case we got clear off.
There's never any great trouble in us chaps finding a home for a week or two,
and somebody to help us on our way as long as we've the notes to chuck about.
All the worse in the long run. We rode hardish (some people
would have called it a hand-gallop) most of the way; up hill and down,
across the rocky creeks, through thick timber. More than one river
we had to swim. It was mountain water, and Starlight cursed and swore,
and said he would catch his death of cold. Then we all laughed;
it was the first time we'd done that since we were out.
My heart was too full to talk, much less laugh, with the thought of being
out of that cursed prison and on my own horse again, with the free bush breeze
filling my breast, and the free forest I'd lived in all my life once more
around me. I felt like a king, and as for what might come afterwards
I had no more thought than a schoolboy has of his next year's lessons
at the beginning of his holidays. It might come now.
As I took the old horse by the head and raced him down the mountain side,
I felt I was living again and might call myself a man once more.

The sun was just rising, the morning was misty and drizzling;
the long sour-grass, the branches of the scrubby trees,
everything we touched and saw was dripping with the night dew,
as we rode up a `gap' between two stiffish hills. We had been
riding all night from track to track, sometimes steering by guesswork.
Jim seemed to know the country in a general way, and he told us
father and he had been about there a good deal lately,
cattle-dealing and so on. For the last hour or so we had been
on a pretty fair beaten road, though there wasn't much traffic on it.
It was one of the old mail tracks once, but new coach lines had knocked away
all the traffic. Some of the old inns had been good big houses,
well kept and looked after then. Now lots of them were empty,
with broken windows and everything in ruins; others were just good enough
to let to people who would live in them, and make a living
by cultivating a bit and selling grog on the sly. Where we pulled up
was one of these places, and the people were just what you might expect.

First of all there was the man of the house, Jonathan Barnes,
a tall, slouching, flash-looking native; he'd been a little
in the horse-racing line, a little in the prize-fighting line
-- enough to have his nose broken, and was fond of talking about `pugs'
as he'd known intimate -- a little in the farming and carrying line, a little
in every line that meant a good deal of gassing, drinking, and idling,
and mighty little hard work. He'd a decent, industrious little wife,
about forty times too good for him, and the girls, Bella and Maddie,
worked well, or else he'd have been walking about the country with a swag
on his back. They kept him and the house too, like many another man,
and he took all the credit of it, and ordered them about
as if he'd been the best and straightest man in the land.
If he made a few pounds now and then he'd drop it on a horse-race
before he'd had it a week. They were glad enough to see us, anyhow,
and made us comfortable, after a fashion. Jim had brought fresh clothes,
and both of us had stopped on the road and rigged ourselves out,
so that we didn't look so queer as men just out of the jug mostly do,
with their close-shaved faces, cropped heads, and prison clothes.
Starlight had brought a false moustache with him, which he stuck on,
so that he looked as much like a swell as ever. Warrigal had handed him
a small parcel, which he brought with him, just as we started;
and, with a ring on his finger, some notes and gold in his pocket,
he ate his breakfast, and chatted away with the girls
as if he'd only ridden out for a day to have a look at the country.

Our horses were put in the stable and well looked to, you may be sure.
The man that straps a cross cove's horse don't go short of his half-crown --
two or three of them, maybe. We made a first-rate breakfast of it;
what with the cold and the wet and not being used to riding lately,
we were pretty hungry, and tired too. We intended to camp there that day,
and be off again as soon as it was dark.

Of course we ran a bit of a risk, but not as bad as we should by riding
in broad daylight. The hills on the south were wild and rangy enough,
but there were all sorts of people about on their business in the daytime;
and of course any of them would know with one look that three men,
all on well-bred horses, riding right across country and not stopping
to speak or make free with any one, were likely to be `on the cross' --
all the more if the police were making particular inquiries about them.
We were all armed, too, now. Jim had seen to that. If we were caught,
we intended to have a flutter for it. We were not going back to Berrima
if we knew it.

So we turned in, and slept as if we were never going to wake again.
We'd had a glass of grog or two, nothing to hurt, though;
and the food and one thing and another made us sleep like tops.
Jim was to keep a good look-out, and we didn't take off our clothes.
Our horses were kept saddled, too, with the bridles on their heads,
and only the bits out of their mouths -- we could have managed
without the bits at a pinch -- everything ready to be out of the house
in one minute, and in saddle and off full-split the next.
We were learned that trick pretty well before things came to an end.

Besides that, Jonathan kept a good look-out, too, for strangers
of the wrong sort. It wasn't a bad place in that way.
There was a long stony track coming down to the house,
and you could see a horseman or a carriage of any kind nearly a mile off.
Then, in the old times, the timber had been cleared pretty nigh
all round the place, so there was no chance of any one sneaking up
unknown to people. There couldn't have been a better harbour for our sort,
and many a jolly spree we had there afterwards. Many a queer sight
that old table in the little parlour saw years after,
and the notes and gold and watches and rings and things
I've seen the girls handling would have stunned you.
But that was all to come.

Well, about an hour before dark Jim wakes us up, and we both felt
as right as the bank. It took a good deal to knock either of us out of time
in those days. I looked round for a bit and then burst out laughing.

`What's that about, Dick?' says Jim, rather serious.

`Blest if I didn't think I was in the thundering old cell again,' I said.
`I could have sworn I heard the bolt snap as your foot sounded in the room.'

`Well, I hope we shan't, any of us, be shopped again for a while,' says he,
rather slow like. `It's bad work, I'm afraid, and worse to come;
but we're in it up to our neck and must see it out. We'll have another feed
and be off at sundown. We've the devil's own ride before daylight.'

`Anybody called?' says Starlight, sauntering in, washed and dressed
and comfortable-looking. `You told them we were not at home, Jim, I hope.'

Jim smiled in spite of himself, though he wasn't in a very gay humour.
Poor old Jim was looking ahead a bit, I expect, and didn't see anything much
to be proud of.

We had a scrumptious feed that night, beefsteaks and eggs,
fresh butter and milk, things we hadn't smelt for months.
Then the girls waited on us; a good-looking pair they was too,
full of larks and fun of all kinds, and not very particular
what sort of jokes they laughed at. They knew well enough, of course,
where we'd come from, and what we laid by all day and travelled at night for;
they thought none the worse of us for that, not they. They'd been bred up
where they'd heard all kinds of rough talk ever since they was little kiddies,
and you couldn't well put them out.

They were a bit afraid of Starlight at first, though,
because they seen at once that he was a swell. Jim they knew a little of;
he and father had called there a good deal the last season,
and had done a little in the stock line through Jonathan Barnes.
They could see I was something in the same line as Jim.
So I suppose they had made it up to have a bit of fun with us that evening
before we started. They came down into the parlour where our tea was,
dressed out in their best and looking very grand, as I thought,
particularly as we hadn't seen the sight of so much as a woman's
bonnet and shawl for months and months.

`Well, Mr. Marston,' says the eldest girl, Bella, to Jim,
`we didn't expect you'd travel this way with friends so soon.
Why didn't you tell us, and we'd have had everything comfortable?'

`Wasn't sure about it,' says Jim, `and when you ain't it's safest
to hold your tongue. There's a good many things we all do
that don't want talking about.'

`I feel certain, Jim,' says Starlight, with his soft voice and pleasant smile,
which no woman as I ever saw could fight against long, `that any man's secret
would be safe with Miss Bella. I would trust her with my life freely --
not that it's worth a great deal.'

`Oh! Captain,' says poor Bella, and she began to blush quite innocent like,
`you needn't fear; there ain't a girl from Shoalhaven to Albury
that would let on which way you were heading, if they were to offer her
all the money in the country.'

`Not even a diamond necklace and earrings? Think of a lovely pendant,
a cross all brilliants, and a brooch to match, my dear girl.'

`I wouldn't "come it", unless I could get that lovely horse of yours,'
says the youngest one, Maddie; `but I'd do anything in the world to have him.
He's the greatest darling I ever saw. Wouldn't he look stunning
with a side-saddle? I've a great mind to "duff" him myself
one of these days.'

`You shall have a ride on Rainbow next time we come,' says Starlight.
`I've sworn never to give him away or sell him, that is as long as I'm alive;
but I'll tell you what I'll do -- I'll leave him to you in my will.'

`How do you mean?' says she, quite excited like.

`Why, if I drop one of these fine days -- and it's on the cards any time --
you shall have Rainbow; but, mind now, you're to promise me'
-- here he looked very grave -- `that you'll neither sell him, nor lend him,
nor give him away as long as you live.'

`Oh! you don't mean it,' says the girl, jumping up and clapping her hands;
`I'd sooner have him than anything I ever saw in the world.
Oh! I'll take such care of him. I'll feed him and rub him over myself;
only I forgot, I'm not to have him before you're dead.
It's rather rough on you, isn't it?'

`Not a bit,' says Starlight; `we must all go when our time comes.
If anything happens to me soon he'll be young enough to carry you
for years yet. And you'll win all the ladies' hackney prizes at the shows.'

`Oh! I couldn't take him.'

`But you must now. I've promised him to you, and though I am a -- well --
an indifferent character, I never go back on my word.'

`Haven't you anything to give me, Captain?' says Bella;
`you're in such a generous mind.'

`I must bring you something,' says he, `next time we call. What shall it be?
Now's the time to ask. I'm like the fellow in the "Arabian Nights",
the slave of the ring -- your ring.' Here he took the girl's hand,
and pretending to look at a ring she wore took it up and kissed it.
It wasn't a very ugly one neither. `What will you have, Bella?'

`I'd like a watch and chain,' she said, pretending to look a little offended.
`I suppose I may as well ask for a good thing at once.'

Starlight pulled out a pocket-book, and, quite solemn and regular,
made a note of it.

`It's yours,' he said, `within a month. If I cannot conveniently call
and present it in person, I'll send it by a sure hand, as they used to say;
and now, Jim, boot and saddle.'

The horses were out by this time; the groom was walking Rainbow up and down;
he'd put a regular French-polish on his coat, and the old horse was
arching his neck and chawing his bit as if he thought he was going to start
for the Bargo Town Plate. Jonathan himself was holding our two horses,
but looking at him.

`My word!' he said, `that's a real picture of a horse;
he's too good for a -- well -- these roads; he ought to be in Sydney
carrying some swell about and never knowing what a day's hardship feels like.
Isn't he a regular out-and-outer to look at? And they tell me his looks
is about the worst of him. Well -- here's luck!' Starlight had called
for drinks all round before we started. `Here's luck to roads and coaches,
and them as lives by 'em. They'll miss the old coaching system some day --
mark my word. I don't hold with these railways they're talkin' about
-- all steam and hurry-scurry; it starves the country.'

`Quite right, Jonathan,' says Starlight, throwing his leg over Rainbow,
and chucking the old groom a sovereign. `The times have never been
half as good as in the old coaching days, before we ever smelt a funnel
in New South Wales. But there's a coach or two left yet, isn't there?
and sometimes they're worth attending to.'

He bowed and smiled to the girls, and Rainbow sailed off with
his beautiful easy, springy stride. He always put me in mind of the deer
I once saw at Mulgoa, near Penrith; I'd never seen any before.
My word! how one of them sailed over a farmer's wheat paddock fence.
He'd been in there all night, and when he saw us coming
he just up and made for the fence, and flew it like a bird.
I never saw any horse have the same action, only Rainbow.
You couldn't tire him, and he was just the same the end of the day
as the beginning. If he hadn't fallen into Starlight's hands as a colt
he'd have been a second-class racehorse, and wore out his life
among touts and ringmen. He was better where he was. Off we went;
what a ride we had that night! Just as well we'd fed and rested
before we started, else we should never have held out.
All that night long we had to go, and keep going. A deal of the road
was rough -- near the Shoalhaven country, across awful deep gullies
with a regular climb-up the other side, like the side of a house.
Through dismal ironbark forests that looked as black by night
as if all the tree-trunks were cast-iron and the leaves gun-metal.
The night wasn't as dark as it might have been, but now and again
there was a storm, and the whole sky turned as black as a wolf's throat,
as father used to say. We got a few knocks and scrapes against the trees,
but, partly through the horses being pretty clever in their kind of way,
and having sharpish eyesight of our own, we pulled through.
It's no use talking, sometimes I thought Jim must lose his way.
Starlight told us he'd made up his mind that we were going
round and round, and would fetch up about where we'd started from,
and find the Moss Vale police waiting there for us.

`All right, Captain,' says Jim; `don't you flurry yourself.
I've been along this track pretty often this last few months,
and I can steer by the stars. Look at the Southern Cross there;
you keep him somewhere on the right shoulder, and you'll pull up
not so very far off that black range above old Rocky Flat.'

`You're not going to be so mad as to call at your own place, Jim, are you?'
says he. `Goring's sure to have a greyhound or two ready to slip
in case the hare makes for her old form.'

`Trust old dad for that,' says Jim; `he knows Dick and you
are on the grass again. He'll meet us before we get to the place
and have fresh horses. I'll bet he's got a chap or two that he can trust
to smell out the traps if they are close handy the old spot.
They'll be mighty clever if they get on the blind side of father.'

`Well, we must chance it, I suppose,' I said; `but we were sold once,
and I've not much fancy for going back again.'

`They're all looking for you the other way this blessed minute,
I'll go bail,' says Jim. `Most of the coves that bolt from Berrima
takes down the southern road to get across the border into Port Philip
as soon as they can work it. They always fancy they are safer there.'

`So they are in some ways; I wouldn't mind if we were back there again,'
I said. `There's worse places than Melbourne; but once we get to the Hollow,
and that'll be some time to-day, we may take it easy and spell
for a week or two. How they'll wonder what the deuce has become of us.'

The night was long, and that cold that Jim's beard was froze
as stiff as a board; but I sat on my horse, I declare to heaven,
and never felt anything but pleasure and comfort to think I was loose again.
You've seen a dog that's been chained up. Well, when he's let loose,
don't he go chevying and racing about over everything and into everything
that's next or anigh him? He'll jump into water or over a fence,
and turn aside for nothing. He's mad with joy and the feeling of being
off the chain; he can't hardly keep from barking till he's hoarse,
and rushing through and over everything till he's winded and done up.
Then he lies down with his tongue out and considers it all over.

Well a man's just like that when he's been on the chain.
He mayn't jump about so much, though I've seen foreign fellows do that
when their collar was unbuckled; but he feels the very same things
in his heart as that dog does, you take my word for it.

So, as I said, though I was sitting on a horse all that
long cold winter's night through, and had to mind my eye a bit
for the road and the rocks and the hanging branches,
I felt my heart swell that much and my courage rise that I didn't care
whether the night was going to turn into a snowstorm like
we'd been in Kiandra way, or whether we'd have a dozen rivers to swim,
like the head-waters of the M`Alister, in Gippsland, as nearly drowned
the pair of us. There I sat in my saddle like a man in a dream,
lettin' my horse follow Jim's up hill and down dale, and half the time
lettin' go his head and givin' him his own road. Everything, too, I seemed
to notice and to be pleased with somehow. Sometimes it was a rock wallaby
out on the feed that we'd come close on before we saw one another,
and it would jump away almost under the horse's neck, taking two or three
awful long springs and lighting square and level among the rocks
after a drop-leap of a dozen feet, like a cat jumping out of a window.
But the cat's got four legs to balance on and the kangaroo only two.
How they manage it and measure the distance so well, God only knows.
Then an old 'possum would sing out, or a black-furred flying squirrel
-- pongos, the blacks call 'em -- would come sailing down
from the top of an ironbark tree, with all his stern sails spread,
as the sailors say, and into the branches of another,
looking as big as an eagle-hawk. And then we'd come round
the corner of a little creek flat and be into the middle of a mob
of wild horses that had come down from the mountain to feed at night.
How they'd scurry off through the scrub and up the range, where it was like
the side of a house, and that full of slate-bars all upon edge
that you could smell the hoofs of the brumbies as the sharp stones
rasped and tore and struck sparks out of them like you do the parings
in a blacksmith's shop.

Then, just as I thought daybreak was near, a great mopoke
flits close over our heads without any rustling or noise,
like the ghost of a bird, and begins to hoot in a big, bare, hollow tree
just ahead of us. Hoo-hoo! hoo-hoo! The last time I heard it,
it made me shiver a bit. Now I didn't care. I was a desperate man
that had done bad things, and was likely to do worse.
But I was free of the forest again, and had a good horse under me;
so I laughed at the bird and rode on.

Chapter 21

Daylight broke when we were close up to the Black Range, safe enough,
a little off the line but nothing to signify. Then we hit off the track
that led over the Gap and down into a little flat on a creek
that ran the same way as ours did.

Jim had managed for father and Warrigal to meet us somewhere near here
with fresh horses. There was an old shepherd's hut that stood by itself
almost covered with marsh-mallows and nettles. As we came down
the steep track a dog came up snuffing and searching about
the grass and stones as if he'd lost something. It was Crib.

`Now we're getting home, Jim,' says Starlight. `It's quite a treat
to see the old scamp again. Well, old man,' he says to the dog,
`how's all getting on at the Hollow?' The dog came right up to Rainbow
and rubbed against his fetlock, and jumped up two or three times
to see if he could touch his rider. He was almost going to bark,
he seemed that glad to see him and us.

Dad was sitting on a log by the hut smoking, just the same as he was
before he left us last time. He was holding two fresh horses,
and we were not sorry to see them. Horses are horses, and there wasn't
much left in our two. We must have ridden a good eighty miles that night,
and it was as bad as a hundred by daylight.

Father came a step towards us as we jumped off. By George,
I was that stiff with the long ride and the cold that I nearly fell down.
He'd got a bit of a fire, so we lit our pipes and had a comfortable smoke.

`Well, Dick, you're back agin, I see,' he says, pretty pleasant for him.
`Glad to see you, Captain, once more. It's been lonesome work --
nobody but me and Jim and Warrigal, that's like a bear with a sore head
half his time. I'd a mind to roll into him once or twice,
and I should too only for his being your property like.'

`Thank you, Ben, I'll knock his head off myself as soon as we get settled
a bit. Warrigal's not a bad boy, but a good deal like a Rocky Mountain mule;
he's no good unless he's knocked down about once a month or so,
only he doesn't like any one but me to do it.'

`You'll see him about a mile on,' says father. `He told me he'd be behind
the big rock where the tree grows -- on the left of the road. He said
he'd get you a fresh horse, so as he could take Rainbow back to the Hollow
the long way round.'

Sure enough after we'd just got well on the road again Warrigal comes
quietly out from behind a big granite boulder and shows himself.
He was riding Bilbah, and leading a well-bred, good-looking chestnut.
He was one of the young ones out of the Hollow. He'd broken him
and got him quiet. I remembered when I was there first
spotting him as a yearling. I knew the blaze down his face
and his three white legs.

Warrigal jumps off Bilbah and throws down the bridle.
Then he leads the chestnut up to where Starlight was standing smoking,
and throws himself down at his feet, bursting out crying like a child.
He was just like a dog that had found his master again.
He kept looking up at Starlight just like a dog does, and smiling and going on
just as if he never expected to see such a good thing again
as long as he lived.

`Well, Warrigal,' says Starlight, very careless like,
`so you've brought me a horse, I see. You've been a very good boy.
Take Rainbow round the long way into the Hollow. Look after him,
whatever you do, or I'll murder you. Not that he's done, or anything near it;
but had enough for one ride, poor old man. Off with you!'
He changed the saddle, and Warrigal hopped on to Bilbah, and led off Rainbow,
who tossed his head, and trotted away as if he'd lots to spare,
and hadn't had twelve hours under saddle; best part without a halt or a bait.
I've seen a few good 'uns in my time, but I never saw the horse
that was a patch on Rainbow, take him all round.

We pushed on again, then, for ten miles, and somewhere about eight o'clock
we pulled up at home -- at home. Aileen knew we were coming, and ran out
to meet us. She threw her arms round me, and kissed and cried over me
for ever so long before she took any notice of Starlight,
who'd got down and was looking another way. `Oh! my boy, my boy,' she said,
`I never thought to see you again for years. How thin you've got and pale,
and strange looking. You're not like your old self at all.
But you're in the bush again now, by God's blessing.
We must hide you better next time. I declare I begin to feel quite wicked,
and as if I could fight the police myself.'

`Well spoken, Miss Marston,' said Starlight, just lifting his hat
and making a bit of a bow like, just as if she was a real lady;
but he was the same to all women. He treated them all alike
with the same respect of manner as if they were duchesses;
young or old, gentle or simple -- it made no odds to him.
`We must have your assistance if we're to do any good.
Though whether it wouldn't be more prudent on your part to cut us all dead,
beginning with your father, I shouldn't like to say.'

Aileen looked at him, surprised and angry like for a second. Then she says --

`Captain Starlight, it's too late now; but words can never tell
how I hate and despise the whole thing. My love for Dick
got the better of my reason for a bit, but I could ----
Why, how pale you look!'

He was growing pale, and no mistake. He had been ill for a bit
before he left Berrima, though he wouldn't give in, and the ride
was rather too much for him, I suppose. Anyhow, down he tumbles
in a dead faint. Aileen rushed over and lifted up his head.
I got some water and dabbed it over him. After a bit he came to.
He raises himself on his elbows and looks at Aileen.
Then he smiles quietly and says --

`I'm quite ashamed of myself. I'm growing as delicate as a young lady.
I hope I haven't given you much trouble.'

When he got up and walked to the verandah he quite staggered,
showing he was that weak as he could hardly walk without help.

`I shall be all right,' he said, `after a week's riding again.'

`And where are you going when you leave this place?' she asked.
`Surely you and my brothers never can live in New South Wales
after all that has passed.'

`We must try, at all events, Miss Marston,' Starlight answered,
raising up his head and looking proud. `You will hear something of us
before long.'

We made out that there was no great chance of our being run into
at the old place. Father went on first with Crib. He was sure
to give warning in some way, best known to father himself,
if there was any one about that wasn't the right sort.
So we went up and went in.

Mother was inside. I thought it was queer that she didn't come outside.
She was always quick enough about that when we came home before, day or night.
When I went in I could see, when she got up from her chair, that she was weak,
and looked as if she'd been ill. She looked ever so much older,
and her hair was a lot grayer than it used to be.

She held out her arms and clung round my neck as if I'd been raised
from the dead. So I was in a kind of a way. But she didn't say much,
or ask what I was going to do next. Poor soul! she knew it couldn't be
much good anyway; and that if we were hunted before, we'd be worse hunted now.
Those that hadn't heard of our little game with the Momberah cattle
would hear of our getting out of Berrima Gaol, which wasn't done every day.

We hadn't a deal of time to spare, because we meant to start off
for the Hollow that afternoon, and get there some time in the night,
even if it was late. Jim and dad knew the way in almost blindfold.
Once we got there we could sleep for a week if we liked,
and take it easy all roads. So father told mother and Aileen straight
that we'd come for a good comfortable meal and a rest,
and we must be off again.

`Oh! father, can't Dick and Jim stop for a day?' cries out Aileen.
`It does seem so hard when we haven't seen Dick for such a while;
and he shut up too all the time.'

`D'ye want to have us all took the same as last time?' growls father.
`Women's never contented as I can see. For two pins I wouldn't have
brought them this way at all. I don't want to be making roads
from this old crib to the Hollow, only I thought you'd like one look at Dick.'

`We must do what's best, of course,' said poor Aileen;
`but it's hard -- very hard on us. It's mother I'm thinking of, you know.
If you knew how she always wakes up in the night, and calls for Dick,
and cries when she wakes up, you'd try to comfort her a bit more, father.'

`Comfort her!' says dad; `why, what can I do? Don't I tell you
if we stay about here we're shopped as safe as anything ever was?
Will that comfort her, or you either? We're safe today
because I've got telegraphs on the outside that the police can't pass
without ringing the bell -- in a way of speaking. But you see to-morrow
there'll be more than one lot here, and I want to be clean away
before they come.'

`You know best,' says Aileen; `but suppose they come here to-morrow morning
at daylight, as they did last time, and bring a black tracker with them,
won't he be able to follow up your track when you go away to-night?'

`No, he won't; for this reason, we shall all ride different ways
as soon as we leave here. A good while before we get near the place
where we all meet we shall find Warrigal on the look-out.
He can take the Captain in by another track, and there'll be
only Jim and I and the old dog, the only three persons that'll go in
the near way.'

`And when shall we see -- see -- any of you again?'

`Somewheres about a month, I suppose, if we've luck. There's a deal
belongs to that. You'd better go and see what there is for us to eat.
We've a long way and a rough way to go before we get to the Hollow.'

Aileen was off at this, and then she set to work and laid a clean tablecloth
in the sitting-room and set us down our meal -- breakfast, or whatever it was.
It wasn't so bad -- corned beef, first-rate potatoes, fresh damper,
milk, butter, eggs. Tea, of course, it's the great drink in the bush;
and although some doctors say it's no good, what would bushmen do without it?

We had no intention of stopping the whole night, though we were tempted
to do so -- to have one night's rest in the old place where we used to sleep
so sound before. It was no good thinking of anything of that kind, anyhow,
for a good while to come. What we'd got to do was to look out sharp
and not be caught simple again like we was both last time.

After we had our tea we sat outside the verandah, and tried to make
the best of it. Jim stayed inside with mother for a good while;
she didn't leave her chair much now, and sat knitting by the hour together.
There was a great change come over her lately. She didn't seem
to be afraid of our getting caught as she used to be,
nor half as glad or sorry about anything. It seemed like as if
she'd made up her mind that everything was as bad as it could be,
and past mending. So it was; she was right enough there.
The only one who was in real good heart and spirits was Starlight.
He'd come round again, and talked and rattled away,
and made Aileen and Jim and me laugh, in spite of everything.
He said we had all fine times before us now for a year or two, any way.
That was a good long time. After that anything might happen.
What it would be he neither knew nor cared. Life was made up of short bits;
sometimes it was hard luck; sometimes everything went jolly and well.
We'd got our liberty again, our horses, and a place to go to,
where all the police in the country would never find us.
He was going in for a short life and a merry one. He, for one,
was tired of small adventures, and he was determined to make
the name of Starlight a little more famous before very long.
If Dick and Jim would take his advice -- the advice of a desperate,
ill-fated outcast, but still staunch to his friends -- they would clear out,
and leave him to sink or swim alone, or with such associates
as he might pick up, whose destination would be no great matter
whatever befell them. They could go into hiding for a while --
make for Queensland and then go into the northern territory.
There was new country enough there to hide all the fellows that were `wanted'
in New South Wales.

`But why don't you take your own advice?' said Aileen, looking over
at Starlight as he sat there quite careless and comfortable-looking,
as if he'd no call to trouble his head about anything. `Isn't your life
worth mending or saving? Why keep on this reckless miserable career
which you yourself expect to end ill?'

`If you ask me, Miss Marston,' he said, `whether my life
-- what is left of it -- is worth saving, I must distinctly answer
that it is not. It is like the last coin or two in the gambler's purse,
not worth troubling one's head about. It must be flung on the board
with the rest. It might land a reasonable stake. But as to economising
and arranging details that would surely be the greatest folly of all.'

I heard Aileen sigh to herself. She said nothing for a while;
and then old Crib began to growl. He got up and walked along the track
that led up the hill. Father stood up, too, and listened.
We all did except Starlight, who appeared to think it was too much trouble,
and never moved or seemed to notice.

Presently the dog came walking slowly back, and coiled himself up again
close to Starlight, as if he had made up his mind it didn't matter.
We could hear a horse coming along at a pretty good bat
over the hard, rocky, gravelly road. We could tell it was a single horse,
and more than that, a barefooted one, coming at a hand-gallop
up hill and down dale in a careless kind of manner. This wasn't likely
to be a police trooper. One man wouldn't come by himself
to a place like ours at night; and no trooper, if he did come,
would clatter along a hard track, making row enough to be heard
more than a mile off on a quiet night.

`It's all right,' says father. `The old dog knowed him; it's Billy the Boy.
There's something up.'

Just as he spoke we saw a horseman come in sight; and he rattled
down the stony track as hard as he could lick. He pulled up
just opposite the house, close by where we were standing.
It was a boy about fifteen, dressed in a ragged pair of moleskin trousers,
a good deal too large for him, but kept straight by a leather strap
round the waist. An old cabbage-tree hat and a blue serge shirt
made up the rest of his rig. Boots he had on, but they didn't seem
to be fellows, and one rusty spur. His hair was like a hay-coloured mop,
half-hanging over his eyes, which looked sharp enough to see
through a gum tree and out at the other side.

He jumped down and stood before us, while his horse's flanks
heaved up and down like a pair of bellows.

`Well, what's up?' says father.

`My word, governor, you was all in great luck as I come home last night,
after bein' away with them cattle to pound. Bobby, he don't know a p'leeceman
from a wood-an'-water joey; he'd never have dropped they was comin' here
unless they'd pasted up a notice on the door.'

`How did you find out, Billy?' says father, `and when'll they be here?'

`Fust thing in the morning,' says the young wit, grinning all over his face.
`Won't they be jolly well sold when they rides up and plants by the yard,
same as they did last time, when they took Dick.'

`Which ones was they?' asks father, fillin' his pipe quite business-like,
just as if he'd got days to spare.

`Them two fellers from Bargo; one of 'em's a new chum -- got his hair
cut short, just like Dick's. My word, I thought he'd been waggin' it
from some o' them Gov'ment institoosh'ns. I did raly, Dick, old man.'

`You're precious free and easy, my young friend,' says Starlight,
walking over. `I rather like you. You have a keen sense of humour,
evidently; but can't you say how you found out that the men
were her Majesty's police officers in pursuit of us?'

`You're Cap'n Starlight, I suppose,' says the youngster,
looking straight and square at him, and not a bit put out.
`Well, I've been pretty quick coming; thirty mile inside of three hours,
I'll be bound. I heard them talking about you. It was Starlight this
and Starlight that all the time I was going in and out of the room,
pretending to look for something, and mother scolding me.'

`Had they their uniform on?' I asked.

`No fear. They thought we didn't tumble, I expect; but I seen their horses
hung up outside, both shod all round; bits and irons bright.
Stabled horses, too, I could swear. Then the youngest chap
-- him with the old felt hat -- walked like this.'

Here he squared his shoulders, put his hands by his side,
and marched up and down, looking for all the world like one of them chaps
that played at soldiering in Bargo.

`There's no hiding the military air, you think, Billy?' said Starlight.
`That fellow was a recruit, and had been drilled lately.'

`I d'no. Mother got 'em to stay, and began to talk quite innocent-like
of the bad characters there was in the country. Ha! ha! It was as good
as a play. Then they began to talk almost right out about Sergeant Goring
having been away on a wrong scent, and how wild he was,
and how he would be after Starlight's mob to-morrow morning at daylight,
and some p'leece was to meet him near Rocky Flat. They didn't say
they was the p'leece; that was about four o'clock, and getting dark.'

`How did you get the horse?' says Jim. `He's not one of yours, is he?'

`Not he,' says the boy; `I wish I had him or the likes of him. He belongs
to old Driver. I was just workin' it how I'd get out and catch our old moke
without these chaps being fly as I was going to talligrarph,
when mother says to me --

`"Have you fetched in the black cow?"

`We ain't got no black cow, but I knowed what she meant. I says --

`"No, I couldn't find her."

`"You catch old Johnny Smoker and look for her till you do find her,
if it's ten o'clock to-night," says mother, very fierce.
"Your father'll give you a fine larrupin' if he comes home
and there's that cow lost."

`So off I goes and mans old Johnny, and clears out straight for here.
When I came to Driver's I runs his horses up into a yard
nigh the angle of his outside paddock and collars this little 'oss,
and lets old Johnny go in hobbles. My word, this cove can scratch!'

`So it seems,' says Starlight; `here's a sovereign for you, youngster.
Keep your ears and eyes open; you'll always find that good information
brings a good price. I'd advise you to keep away from Mr. Marston, sen.,
and people of his sort, and stick to your work, if I thought there was
the least earthly chance of your doing so; but I see plainly
that you're not cut out for the industrious, steady-going line.'

`Not if I know it,' said the boy; `I want to see life before I die.
I'm not going to keep on milling and slaving day after day all the year round.
I'll cut it next year as sure as a gun. I say, won't you let me
ride a bit of the way with ye?'

`Not a yard,' says father, who was pretty cranky by this time;
`you go home again and put that horse where you got him. We don't want
old Driver tracking and swearing after us because you ride his horses;
and keep off the road as you go back.'

Billy the Boy nodded his head, and jumping into his saddle,
rode off again at much about the same pace he'd come at.
He was a regular reckless young devil, as bold as a two-year-old colt
in a branding-yard, that's ready to jump at anything and knock his brains out
against a stockyard post, just because he's never known
any real regular hurt or danger, and can't realise it.
He was terrible cruel to horses, and would ruin a horse in less time
than any man or boy I ever seen. I always thought from the first
that he'd come to a bad end. Howsoever, he was a wonderful chap
to track and ride; none could beat him at that; he was nearly
as good as Warrigal in the bush. He was as cunning as a pet dingo,
and would look as stupid before any one he didn't know,
or thought was too respectable, as if he was half an idiot.
But no one ever stirred within twenty or thirty miles of where he lived
without our hearing about it. Father fished him out,
having paid him pretty well for some small service, and ever after that
he said he could sleep in peace.

We had the horses up, ready saddled and fed, by sundown,
and as soon as the moon rose we made a start of it.
I had time for a bit of a talk with Aileen about the Storefields,
though I couldn't bring myself to say their names at first. I was right
in thinking that Gracey had seen me led away a prisoner by the police.
She came into the hut afterwards with Aileen, as soon as mother was better,
and the two girls sat down beside one another and cried their eyes out,
Aileen said.

George Storefield had been very good, and told Aileen that, whatever happened
to us or the old man, it would make no difference to him or to his feelings
towards her. She thanked him, but said she could never consent
to let him disgrace himself by marrying into a family like ours.
He had come over every now and then, and had seen they wanted for nothing
when father and Jim were away; but she always felt her heart growing colder
towards him and his prosperity while we were so low down in every way.
As for Gracey, she (Aileen) believed that she was in love with me
in a quiet, steady way of her own, without showing it much,
but that she would be true to me, if I asked her, to the end of the world,
and she was sure that she could never marry any one else as long as I lived.
She was that sort of girl. So didn't I think I ought to do everything I could
to get a better character, and try and be good enough for such a girl?
She knew girls pretty well. She didn't think there was such another girl
in the whole colony, and so on.

And when we went away where were we going to hide? I could not say
about particular distances, but I told her generally
that we'd keep out of harm's way, and be careful not to be caught.
We might see her and mother now and then, and by bush-telegraphs
and other people we could trust should be able to send news about ourselves.

`What's the Captain going to do?' she said suddenly.
`He doesn't look able to bear up against hardship like the rest of you.
What beautiful small hands he has, and his eyes are like sleeping fires.'

`Oh, he's a good deal stronger than he looks,' I said;
`he's the smartest of the lot of us, except it is dad,
and I've heard the old man say he must knock under to him.
But don't you bother your head about him; he's quite able
to take care of himself, and the less a girl like you thinks
about a man like him the better for her.'

`Oh, nonsense,' she said, at the same time looking down in a half-confused
sort of way. `I'm not likely to think about him or any one else just now;
but it seems such a dreadful thing to think a man like him,
so clever and daring, and so handsome and gentle in his ways,
should be obliged to lead such a life, hunted from place to place
like -- like ----'

`Like a bush-ranger, Ailie,' I said, `for that'll be the long and short of it.
You may as well know it now, we're going to "turn out".'

`You don't say that, Dick,' she said. `Oh! surely you will never be so mad.
Do you want to kill mother and me right out? If you do, why not take
a knife or an axe and do it at once? Her you've been killing all along.
As for me, I feel so miserable and degraded and despairing at times
that but for her I could go and drown myself in the creek
when I think of what the family is coming to.'

`What's the use of going on like that, Aileen?' I said roughly.
`If we're caught now, whatever we do, great or small,
we're safe for years and years in gaol. Mayn't we as well be hung for a sheep
as a lamb? What odds can it make? We'll only have bolder work
than duffing cattle and faking horse-brands like a lot of miserable crawlers
that are not game for anything more sporting.'

`I hear, I hear,' says sister, sitting down and putting her head
in her hands. `Surely the devil has power for a season
to possess himself of the souls of men, and do with them what he will.
I know how obstinate you are, Dick. Pray God you may not have
poor Jim's blood to answer for as well as your own before all is done.
Good-bye. I can't say God bless you, knowing what I do;
but may He turn your heart from all wicked ways, and keep you
from worse and deadlier evil than you have committed! Good-night.
Why, oh why, didn't we all die when we were little children!'

Chapter 22

I brought it out sudden-like to Aileen before I could stop myself,
but it was all true. How we were to make the first start we couldn't agree;
but we were bound to make another big touch, and this time the police
would be after us for something worth while. Anyhow, we could take it easy
at the Hollow for a bit, and settle all the ins and outs
without hurrying ourselves.

Our dart now was to get to the Hollow that night some time,
and not to leave much of a track either. Nobody had found out the place yet,
and wasn't going to if we knew. It was too useful a hiding-place
to give away without trouble, and we swore to take all sorts of good care
to keep it secret, if it was to be done by the art of man.

We went up Nulla Mountain the same way as we remembered doing
when Jim and I rode to meet father that time he had the lot of weaners.
We kept wide and didn't follow on after one another so as to make
a marked trail. It was a long, dark, dreary ride. We had to look sharp
so as not to get dragged off by a breast-high bough in the thick country.
There was no fetching a doctor if any one was hurt. Father rode ahead.
He knew the ins and outs of the road better than any of us,
though Jim, who had lived most of his time in the Hollow
after he got away from the police, was getting to know it pretty well.
We were obliged to go slow mostly -- for a good deal of the track
lay along the bed of a creek, full of boulders and rocks, that we had to cross
ever so many times in a mile. The sharp-edged rocks, too, overhung low enough
to knock your brains out if you didn't mind.

It was far into the night when we got to the old yard. There it stood,
just as I recollect seeing it the time Jim and I and father
branded the weaners. It had only been used once or twice since.
It was patched up a bit in places, but nobody seemed to have gone
next or nigh it for a long time. The grass had grown up round the sliprails;
it was as strange and forsaken-looking as if it belonged
to a deserted station.

As we rode up a man comes out from an angle of the fence and gives a whistle.
We knew, almost without looking, that it was Warrigal.
He'd come there to meet Starlight and take him round some other way.
Every track and short cut there was in the mountains was as easy to him
as the road to George Storefield's was to us. Nulla Mountain
was full of curious gullies and caves and places that the devil himself
could hardly have run a man to ground in, unless he'd lived near it
all his life as Warrigal had. He wasn't very free in showing them to us,
but he'd have made a bridge of his own body any time to let Starlight go safe.
So when they rode away together we knew he was safe whoever might be after us,
and that we should see him in the Hollow some time next day.

We went on for a mile or two farther; then we got off,
and turned our horses loose. The rest of the way we had to do on foot.
My horse and Jim's had got regularly broke into Rocky Flat,
and we knew that they'd go home as sure as possible, not quite straight,
but keeping somewhere in the right direction. As for father
he always used to keep a horse or two, trained to go home
when he'd done with him. The pony he rode to-night would just trot off,
and never put his nose to the ground almost till he got wind of home.

We humped our saddles and swags ourselves; a stiffish load too,
but the night was cool, and we did our best. It was no use growling.
It had to be done, and the sooner the better. It seemed a long time
-- following father step by step -- before we came to the place
where I thought the cattle were going to be driven over the precipice.
Here we pulled up for a bit and had a smoke. It was a queer time
and a queer look-out.

Three o'clock in the morning -- the stars in the sky, and it so clear
that we could see Nulla Mountain rising up against it a big black lump,
without sign of tree or rock; underneath the valley, one sea of mist,
and we just agoing to drop into it; on the other side of the Hollow,
the clear hill we called the Sugarloaf. Everything seemed dead,
silent, and solitary, and a rummier start than all, here were we --
three desperate men, driven to make ourselves a home in this lonesome,
God-forsaken place! I wasn't very fanciful by that time,
but if the devil had risen up to make a fourth amongst us
I shouldn't have been surprised. The place, the time, and the men
seemed regularly cut out for him and his mob.

We smoked our pipes out, and said nothing to each other, good or bad.
Then father makes a start, and we follows him; took a goodish while,
but we got down all right, and headed for the cave. When we got there
our troubles were over for a while. Jim struck a match and had a fire going
in no time; there was plenty of dry wood, of course. Then father rolls a keg
out of a hole in the wall; first-rate dark brandy it was,
and we felt a sight better for a good stiff nip all round.
When a man's cold and tired, and hungry, and down on his luck as well,
a good caulker of grog don't do him no harm to speak of.
It strings him up and puts him straight. If he's anything of a man
he can stand it, and feel all the better for it; but it's a precious sight
too easy a lesson to learn, and there's them that can't stop, once they begin,
till they've smothered what brains God Almighty put inside their skulls,
just as if they was to bore a hole and put gunpowder in.
No! they wouldn't stop if they were sure of going to heaven straight,
or to hell next minute if they put the last glass to their lips. I've heard
men say it, and knew they meant it. Not the worst sort of men, either.

We were none of us like that. Not then, anyhow. We could take or leave it,
and though dad could do with his share when it was going,
he always knew what he was about, and could put the peg in any time.
So we had one strongish tot while the tea was boiling.
There was a bag of ship biscuit; we fried some hung beef,
and made a jolly good supper. We were that tired we didn't care to talk much,
so we made up the fire last thing and rolled ourselves in our blankets;
I didn't wake till the sun had been up an hour or more.

I woke first; Jim was fast asleep, but dad had been up a goodish while
and got things ready for breakfast. It was a fine, clear morning;
everything looked beautiful, 'specially to me that had been locked up
away from this sort of thing so long. The grass was thick and green
round the cave, and right up to the big sandstone slabs of the floor,
looking as if it had never been eat down very close. No more it had.
It would never have paid to have overstocked the Hollow.
What cattle and horses they kept there had a fine time of it,
and were always in grand condition.

Opposite where we were the valley was narrow. I could see
the sandstone precipices that walled us in, a sort of yellowish, white colour,
all lighted up with the rays of the morning sun, looking like gold towers
against the heavy green forest timber at the foot of them.
Birds were calling and whistling, and there was a little spring
that fell drip, drip over a rough rock basin all covered with ferns.
A little mob of horses had fed pretty close up to the camp,
and would walk up to look curious-like, and then trot off
with their heads and tails up. It was a pretty enough sight that met my eyes
on waking. It made me feel a sort of false happiness for a time,
to think we had such a place to camp in on the quiet, and call our own,
in a manner of speaking.

Jim soon woke up and stretched himself. Then father began,
quite cheerful like --

`Well, boys, what d'ye think of the Hollow again? It's not a bad earth
for the old dog-fox and his cubs when the hounds have run him close.
They can't dig him out here, or smoke him out either. We've no call
to do anything but rest ourselves for a week or two, anyhow;
then we must settle on something and buckle to it more business-like.
We've been too helter-skelter lately, Jim and I. We was beginning
to run risks, got nearly dropped on more nor once.'

There's no mistake, it's a grand thing to wake up and know you've got
nothing to do for a bit but to take it easy and enjoy yourself. No matter
how light your work may be, if it's regular and has to be done every day,
the harness 'll gall somewhere; you get tired in time and sick of
the whole thing.

Jim and I knew well that, bar accidents, we were as safe in the Hollow
as we used to be in our beds when we were boys. We'd searched it
through and through last time, till we'd come to believe
that only three or four people, and those sometimes not for years at a time,
had ever been inside of it. There were no tracks of more.

We could see how the first gang levied; they were different.
Every now and then they had a big drink -- `a mad carouse',
as the books say -- when they must have done wild, strange things,
something like the Spanish Main buccaneers we'd read about.
They'd brought captives with them, too. We saw graves, half-a-dozen together,
in one place. THEY didn't belong to the band.

We had a quiet, comfortable meal, and a smoke afterwards.
Then Jim and I took a long walk through the Hollow, so as to tell one another
what was in our minds, which we hadn't a chance to do before.
Before we'd gone far Jim pulls a letter out of his pocket and gives it to me.

`It was no use sending it to you, old man, while you was in the jug,' he says;
`it was quite bad enough without this, so I thought I'd keep it
till we were settled a bit like. Now we're going to set up in business
on our own account you'd best look over your mail.'

I knew the writing well, though I hadn't seen it lately. It was from her --
from Kate Morrison that was. It began -- not the way most women write,
like HER, though --

So this is the end of your high and mighty doings, Richard Marston,
passing yourself and Jim off as squatters. I don't blame him --
[no, of course not, nobody ever blamed Jim, or would, I suppose,
if he'd burned down Government House and stuck up his Excellency
as he was coming out of church] -- but when I saw in the papers
that you had been arrested for cattle-stealing I knew for the first time
how completely Jeanie and I had been duped.

I won't pretend that I didn't think of the money you were said to have,
and how pleasant it would be to spend some of it after the miserable,
scrambling, skimping life we had lately been used to. But I loved you,
Dick Marston, for YOURSELF, with a deep and passionate love
which you will never know now, which you would scorn and treat lightly,
perhaps, if you did know. You may yet find out what you have lost,
if ever you get out of that frightful gaol.

I was not such a silly fool as to pine and fret over our romance
so cruelly disturbed, though Jeanie was; it nearly broke her heart.
No, Richard, my nature is not of that make. I generally get even
with people who wrong me. I send you a photo, giving a fair idea
of myself and my HUSBAND, Mr. Mullockson. I accepted his offer
soon after I saw your adventures, and those of your friend Starlight,
in every newspaper in the colonies. I did not hold myself bound
to live single for your sake, so did what most women do,
though they pretend to act from other motives, I disposed of myself
to the best advantage.

Mr. Mullockson has plenty of money, which is NEARLY everything

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