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Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood

Part 9 out of 11

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who sat patiently waiting as if some wonderful show were going to take place.
Aileen and Gracey had come in early and got a pew next to the top almost.
I stood outside. There was hardly a chance for any one else to get in.

By and by up comes old Jonathan, driving a respectable-looking carriage,
with his wife and Bella and Maddie all in white silk and satin,
and looking splendid. Out he gets, and takes Bella to walk up
the middle of the church. When he went in with Bella,
Maddie had one look in, and it seemed so crammed full of people
that she looked frightened and drew back. Just then up comes
the Mr. Dawsons and Starlight, with the Commissioner and a few more.

Directly he sees Maddie draw back, Starlight takes the whole thing in,
and walked forward.

`My dear young lady,' says he, `will you permit me to escort you up the aisle?
The bride appears to have preceded you.'

He offered her his arm, and, if you'll believe me, the girl didn't know him
a bit in the world, and stared at him like a perfect stranger.

`It's all right, Miss Maddie,' says the Commissioner. He had a way of knowing
all the girls, as far as a laugh or a bit of chaff went,
especially if they were good-looking. `Mr. Lascelles is an English gentleman,
newly arrived, and a friend of mine. He's anxious to learn Australian ways.'

She took his arm then and walked on, never looking at him, but quite shy-like,
till he whispered a word in her ear which brought more colour into her face
than any one had seen there before for a year.

`My word, Lascelles knows how to talk to 'em,' says Jack Dawson.
`He's given that girl a whip that makes her brighten up. What a chap he is;
you can't lick him.'

`Pretty fair all round, I should say,' says the other brother, Bill.
`Hullo! are we to go on the platform with the parson and the rest of 'em?'

The reason was that as we went up the church all together, all in a heap,
with the Barneses and the bride, they thought we must be related to 'em;
and the church being choke-full they shunted us on to the place
inside the rails, where we found ourselves drafted into the small yard
with the bridegroom, the bride, the parson, and all that mob.

There wasn't much time to spare, what with the racing and the general bustle
of the day. The miners gave a sort of buzz of admiration
as Bella and Maddie and the others came up the aisle. They looked very well,
there's no manner of doubt. They were both tallish girls,
slight, but well put together, and had straight features and big bright eyes,
with plenty of fun and meaning in 'em. All they wanted was a little more
colour like, and between the hurry for time and Bella getting married,
a day's work that don't come often in any one's life, and having about
a thousand people to look at 'em, both the girls were flushed up a good deal.
It set them off first-rate. I never saw either of them
look so handsome before. Old Barnes had come down well for once,
and they were dressed in real good style -- hadn't overdone it neither.

When the tying-up fakement was over everything went off first-rate.
The bridegroom was a hardy-looking, upstanding young chap
that looked as if work was no trouble to him. Next to a squatter
I think a Government surveyor's the best billet going.
He can change about from one end of the district to another.
He has a good part of his time the regular free bush life,
with his camp and his men, and the harder he works the more money he makes.
Then when he comes back to town he can enjoy himself and no mistake.
He is not tied to regular hours like other men in the service,
and can go and come when he likes pretty well. Old Barnes would be able
to give Bella and her sister a tidy bit of money some day,
and if they took care they'd be comfortable enough off after a few years.
He might have looked higher, but Bella would make any man she took to
a slashing good wife, and so she did him. So the parson buckles them to,
and the last words were said. Starlight steps forward and says,
`I believe it's the custom in all circles to salute the bride,
which I now do,' and he gave Bella a kiss before every one
in the most high and mighty and respectful manner, just as if
he was a prince of the blood. At the same time he says, `I wish her
every happiness and good fortune in her married life, and I beg of her
to accept this trifling gift as a souvenir of the happy occasion.'
Then he pulls off a ring from his little finger and slips it on hers.
The sun glittered on it for a moment. We could see the stones shine.
It was a diamond ring, every one could see. Then the Commissioner
steps forward and begs to be permitted the same privilege,
which made Bella laugh and blush a bit. Directly after
Mr. Chanewood, who had stood quiet enough alongside of his wife,
tucked her arm inside of his and walked away down the church,
as if he thought this kind of thing was well enough in its way,
but couldn't be allowed to last all day.

When they got into the carriage and drove off the whole church was cleared,
and they got such a cheer as you might have heard at Tambaroora.
The parson was the only living soul left near the building in five minutes.
Everybody was in such a hurry to get back to the course
and see the big race of the meeting.

Starlight slipped away in the crowd from his two friends,
and managed to get a quiet few minutes with me and Gracey and Aileen;
she was scolding him between jest and earnest for the kissing business,
and said she thought he was going to leave off these sort of attentions
to other girls.

`Not that she knew you at first, a bit in the world,' Aileen said.
`I watched her face pretty close, and I'm sure she thought you were
some grand gentleman, a friend of the Commissioner's and the Mr. Dawsons.'

`My dearest girl,' said he, `it was a promise I made months since
that I should attend Bella's wedding, and I never break my word,
as I hope you will find. These girls have been good friends
and true to us in our need. We all owe them much. I don't suppose
we shall cross each other's path again.'

There wasn't much more time. We both had to move off.
He had just time to catch his drag, and I had to get my horse.
The Dawsons bullied him a bit for keeping them waiting,
and swore he had stayed behind to flirt with some of the girls in the church
after the wedding was over.

`You're not to be trusted when there's temptation going,' Jack Dawson said.
`Saw you talking to that Marston girl. If you don't mind
you'll have your head knocked off. They're a rum lot to deal with,
I can tell you.'

`I must take care of myself,' he said, laughing. `I have done so
in other lands, and I suppose yours is no exception.'

`This is a dashed queer country in some ways, and with deuced strange people
in it, too, as you'll find by the time you've had your colonial experience,'
says Bill Dawson; `but there goes the saddling-bell!'

The course had 20,000 people on it now if there was one.
About a dozen horses stood stripped for the race, and the betting men
were yelling out the odds as we got close enough to the stand to hear them.
We had a good look at the lot. Three or four good-looking ones among them,
and one or two flyers that had got in light as usual.
Rainbow was nowhere about. Darkie was on the card, but no one seemed to know
where he was or anything about him. We expected he'd start at 20 to 1,
but somehow it leaked out that he was entered by old Jacob Benton,
and that acted as a damper on the layers of the odds. `Old Jake's
generally there or thereabouts. If he's a duffer, it's the first one
he's brought to the post. Why don't the old varmint show up?'

This was what I heard about and round, and we began to get uneasy ourselves,
for fear that something might have happened to him or the horse.
About 8 or 9 to 1 was all we could get, and that we took over and over again.

As the horses came up the straight, one after the other,
having their pipe-openers, you'd have thought no race had been run that week,
to see the interest all the people took in it. My word,
Australia is a horsey country, and no mistake. With the exception of Arabia,
perhaps, as they tell us about, I can't think as there's a country
on the face of the earth where the people's fonder of horses. From the time
they're able to walk, boys and girls, they're able to ride, and ride well.
See the girls jump on bare-backed, with nothing but a gunny-bag under 'em,
and ride over logs and stones, through scrub and forest, down gullies,
or along the side of a mountain. And a horse race, don't they love it?
Wouldn't they give their souls almost -- and they do often enough --
for a real flyer, a thoroughbred, able to run away from everything
in a country race. The horse is a fatal animal to us natives,
and many a man's ruin starts from a bit of horse-flesh not honestly come by.

But our racing ain't going forward, and the day's passing fast.
As I said, everybody was looking at the horses -- coming along
with the rush of the thoroughbred when he's `on his top' for condition;
his coat like satin, and his legs like iron. There were
lots of the bush girls on horseback, and among them I soon picked out
Maddie Barnes. She was dressed in a handsome habit and hat.
How she'd had time to put them on since the wedding I couldn't make out,
but women manage to dress faster some times than others.
She'd wasted no time anyhow.

She was mounted on a fine, tall, upstanding chestnut,
and Joe Moreton was riding alongside of her on a good-looking bay,
togged out very superior also. Maddie was in one of her larking humours,
and gave Joe quite enough to do to keep time with her.

`I don't see my horse here yet,' she says to Joe, loud enough for me to hear;
but she knew enough not to talk to me or pretend to know me.
`I want to back him for a fiver. I hope that old Jacob hasn't gone wrong.'

`What do you call your horse?' says Joe. `I didn't know your father
had one in this race.'

`No fear,' says Maddie; `only this horse was exercised for a bit
near our place. He's a regular beauty, and there isn't a horse in this lot
fit to see the way he goes.'

`Who does he belong to?' says Joe.

`That's a secret at present,' says she; `but you'll know some day, when you're
a bit older, if you behave yourself. He's Mr. Jacob Benton's Darkie now,
and you bet on him to the coat on your back.'

`I'll see what I think of him first,' says Joe, who didn't fancy
having a horse rammed down his throat like that.

`If you don't like him you don't like me,' says Maddie. `So mind that,
Joe Moreton.'

Just as she spoke there was a stir in the crowd, and old Jacob
came along across the course leading a horse with a sheet on,
just as easy-going as if he'd a day to spare. One of the stewards
rode up to him, and asked him what he meant by being so late.

The old chap pulls out his watch. `You'll stick to your advertised time,
won't you? I've time to weigh, time to pull off this here sheet
and my overcoat, time to mount, and a minute to spare.
I never was late in my life, governor.'

Most of the riding mob was down with the racehorses, a distance or so
from the stand, where they was to start, the course being over two miles.
So the weighing yard and stand was pretty well empty,
which was just what old Jacob expected.

The old man walks over to the scales and has himself weighed all regular,
declaring a pound overweight for fear of accidents. He gets down
as quiet and easy as possible to the starting point, and just in time
to walk up steadily with the other horses, when down goes the starter's flag,
and `Off' was the word. Starlight and the Dawsons were down there
waiting for him. As they went away one of the ringmen says,
`Ten to one against Darkie. I lay Darkie.' `Done,' says Starlight;
`will you do it in tens?' `All right,' says the `book'. `I'll take you,'
says both the Dawsons, and he entered their names.

They'd taken all they could get the night before at the hotel;
and as no one knew anything about Darkie, and he had top weight,
he hadn't many backers.

Chapter 43

Mr. Dawson drove pretty near the stand then, and they all stood up
in the drag. I went back to Aileen and Gracey Storefield.
We were close by the winning post when they came past;
they had to go another time round.

The Sydney horses were first and second, the diggers' favourite third;
but old Rainbow, lying well up, was coming through the ruck
hard held and looking full of running. They passed close by us.
What a sight it is to see a dozen blood horses in top condition come past you
like a flash of lightning! How their hoofs thunder on the level turf!
How the jockeys' silk jackets rustle in the wind they make!
How muscle and sinew strain as they pretty near fly through the air!
No wonder us young fellows, and the girls too, feel it's worth
a year of their lives to go to a good race. Yes, and will to the world's end.
`O you darling Rainbow!' I heard Aileen say. `Are you going to win this race
and triumph over all these grand horses? What a sight it will be!
I didn't think I could have cared for a race so much.'

It didn't seem hardly any time before they were half-way round again,
and the struggle was on, in good downright earnest. One of the Sydney horses
began to shake his tail. The other still kept the lead.
Then the Turon favourite -- a real game pebble of a little horse --
began to show up.

`Hotspur, Hotspur! No. Bronzewing has it -- Bronzewing.
It's Bronzewing's race. Turon for ever!' the crowd kept yelling.

`Oh! look at Rainbow!' says Aileen. And just then, at the turn,
old Jacob sat down on him. The old horse challenged Bronzewing,
passed him, and collared Hotspur. `Darkie! Darkie!' shouts everybody.
`No! Hotspur -- Darkie's coming -- Darkie -- Darkie! I tell yer Darkie.'
And as old Jacob made one last effort, and landed him a winner
by a clear head, there was a roar went up from the whole crowd
that might have been heard at Nulla Mountain.

Starlight jumps off the drag and leads the old horse into the weighing yard.
The steward says `Dismount.' No fear of old Jacob getting down before
he heard that. He takes his saddle in his lap and gets into the scales.
`Weight,' says the clerk. Then the old fellow mounts and rides past
the judge's box. `I declare Mr. Benton's horse Darkie
to be the winner of the Turon Grand Handicap, Bronzewing second horse,
Hotspur third,' says he.

Well, there was great cheering and hollering, though none knew exactly
whose horse he was or anything about him; but an Australian crowd
always likes to see the best horse win -- and they like fair play --
so Darkie was cheered over and over again, and old Jacob too.

Aileen stroked and petted him and patted his neck and rubbed his nose,
and you'd raly thought the old horse knew her, he seemed so gentle-like.
Then the Commissioner came down and said Mrs. Hautley,
the police magistrate's wife, and some other ladies wanted to see the horse
that had won the race. So he was taken over there and admired and stroked
till old Jacob got quite crusty.

`It's an odd thing, Dawson,' says the Commissioner, `nobody here
knows this horse, where he was bred, or anything about him.
Such a grand animal as he is, too! I wish Morringer could have seen him;
he's always raving about horses. How savage he'll be to have missed
all the fun!'

`He's a horse you don't see every day,' says Bill Dawson.
`I'll give a couple of hundred for him right off.'

`Not for sale at present,' says old Jacob, looking like a cast-iron image.
`I'll send ye word when he is.'

`All right,' says Mr. Dawson. `What a shoulder, what legs, what loins he has!
Ah! well, he'll be weighted out now, and you will be glad to sell him soon.'

`Our heads won't ache then,' says Jacob, as he turns round and rides away.

`Very neat animal, shows form,' drawls Starlight. `Worth three hundred
in the shires for a hunter; if he can jump, perhaps more; but depends
on his manners -- must have manners in the hunting-field, Dawson, you know.'

`Manners or not,' says Bill Dawson, `it's my opinion he could have
won that race in a canter. I must find out more about him and buy him
if I can.'

`I'll go you halves if you like,' says Starlight. `I weally believe him
to be a good animal.'

Just then up rides Warrigal. He looks at the old horse
as if he had never seen him before, nor us neither. He rides close
by the heads of Mr. Dawson's team, and as he does so his hat falls off,
by mistake, of course. He jumps off and picks it up, and rides slowly
down towards the tent.

It was the signal to clear. Something was up.

I rode back to town with Aileen and Gracey; said good-bye
-- a hard matter it was, too -- and sloped off to where my horse was,
and was out of sight of Turon in twenty minutes.

Starlight hails a cabby (he told me this afterwards) and gets him
to drive him over to the inn where he was staying, telling the Dawsons
he'd have the wine put in ice for the dinner, that he wanted to send off
a letter to Sydney by the post, and he'd be back on the course in an hour
in good time for the last race.

In about half-an-hour back comes the same cabman and puts a note
into Bill Dawson's hand. He looks at it, stares, swears a bit,
and then crumples it up and puts it into his pocket.

Just as it was getting dark, and the last race just run,
back comes Sir Ferdinand and all the police. They'd ridden hard,
as their horses showed, and Sir Ferdinand (they say) didn't look
half as good-natured as he generally did.

`You've lost a great meeting, Morringer,' says the Commissioner.
`Great pity you had to be off just when you did. But that's just like
these infernal scoundrels of bush-rangers. They always play up
at the most inconvenient time. How did you get on with them?'

`Get on with them?' roars Sir Ferdinand, almost making a hole in his manners
-- he was that tired out and done he could hardly sit on his horse --
`why, we've been sold as clean as a whistle. I believe some of the brutes
have been here all the time.'

`That's impossible,' says the Commissioner. `There's been no one here
that the police are acquainted with; not that I suppose Jackson and Murphy
know many of the cross boys.'

`No strange men nor horses, no disguises?' says Sir Ferdinand.
Here he brings out a crumpled bit of paper, written on --

If sur firdnand makes haist back heel be in time to see Starlite's Raneboe
win the handy capp. BILLY THE BOY.

`I firmly believe that young scoundrel, who will be hanged yet,
strung us on after Moran ever so far down south, just to leave the coast clear
for the Marstons, and then sent me this, too late to be of any use.'

`Quite likely. But the Marstons couldn't be here, let alone Starlight,
unless -- by Jove! but that's impossible. Impossible! Whew!
Here, Jack Dawson, where's your Indian friend?'

`Gone back to the inn. Couldn't stand the course after the handicap.
You're to dine with us, Commissioner; you too, Scott; kept a place,
Sir Ferdinand, for you on the chance.'

`One moment, pardon me. Who's your friend?'

`Name Lascelles. Just from home -- came by India. Splendid fellow!
Backed Darkie for the handicap -- we did too -- won a pot of money.'

`What sort of a horse is this Darkie?'

`Very grand animal. Old fellow had him in a tent, about a mile
down the creek; dark bay, star in forehead. Haven't seen such a horse
for years. Like the old Emigrant lot.'

Sir Ferdinand beckoned to a senior constable.

`There's a tent down there near the creek, I think you said, Dawson.
Bring up the racehorse you find there, and any one in charge.'

`And now I think I'll drive in with you, Dawson' (dismounting,
and handing his horse to a trooper). `I suppose a decent dinner
will pick me up, though I feel just as much inclined to hang myself
as do anything else at present. I should like to meet
this travelled friend of yours; strangers are most agreeable.'

Sir Ferdinand was right in thinking it was hardly worth while
going through the form of seeing whether we had waited for him.
Lieutenant Lascelles, on leave from his regiment in India,
had taken French leave. When inquiry was made at the hotel,
where dinner had been ordered by Mr. Dawson and covers laid for a dozen,
he had just stepped out. No one seemed to know exactly where to find him.
The hotel people thought he was with the Mr. Dawsons,
and they thought he was at the hotel. When they surrounded the tent,
and then rushed it, all that it contained was the body of old Jacob Benton,
lying dead drunk on the floor. A horse-rug was over him, his racing saddle
under his head, and his pockets stuffed with five-pound notes.
He had won his race and got his money, so he was not bound in honour
to keep sober a minute longer.

Rainbow was gone, and there was nothing to be got out of him
as to who had taken him or which way he had gone. Nobody seemed
to have `dropped' to me. I might have stayed at Turon longer if I'd liked.
But it wasn't good enough by a long way.

We rode away straight home, and didn't lose time on the road, you bet.
Not out-and-out fast, either; there was no need for that.
We had a clear two hours' start of the police, and their horses
were pretty well knocked up by the pace they'd come home at,
so they weren't likely to overhaul us easy.

It was a grand night, and, though we didn't feel up to much
in the way of talking, it wasn't bad in its way. Starlight rode Rainbow,
of course; and the old horse sailed away as if a hundred miles or a thousand
made no odds to him.

Warrigal led the way in front. He always went as straight as a line,
just the same as if he'd had a compass in his forehead. We never had
any bother about the road when he led the way.

`There's nothing like adventure,' says Starlight, at last.
`As some one says, who would have thought we should have come out so well?
Fortune favours the brave, in a general way, there's no doubt. By George!
what a comfort it was to feel one's self a gentleman again and to associate
with one's equals. Ha! ha! how savage Sir Ferdinand is by this time,
and the Commissioner! As for the Dawsons, they'll make a joke of it.
Fancy my dining at the camp! It's about the best practical joke
I ever carried out, and I've been in a good many.'

`The luckiest turn we've ever had,' says I. `I never expected
to see Gracey and Aileen there, much less to go to a ball with them
and no one to say no. It beats the world.'

`It makes it all the rougher going back, that's the worst of it,' says he.
`Good God! what fools, idiots, raving lunatics, we've all been!
Why, but for our own infernal folly, should we be forced to shun
our fellow-men, and hide from the light like beasts of prey?
What are we better? Better? -- nay, a hundred times worse. Some day
I shall shoot myself, I know I shall. What a muff Sir Ferdinand must be,
he's missed me twice already.'

Here he rode on, and never opened his mouth again till we began to rise
the slope at the foot of Nulla Mountain. When the dark fit was on him
it was no use talking to him. He'd either not seem to hear you,
or else he'd say something which made you sorry for opening your mouth at all.
It gave us all we could do to keep along with him. He never seemed
to look where he was going, and rode as if he had a spare neck at any rate.
When we got near the pass to the mountain, I called out to him
that he'd better pull up and get off. Do you think he'd stop or make a sign
he heard me? Not a bit of it. He just started the old horse down
when he came to the path in the cliff as if it was the easiest road
in the world. He kept staring straight before him while the horse
put down his feet, as if it was regular good fun treading up
rugged sharp rocks and rolling stones, and turf wasn't worth going over.
It seemed to me as if he wanted to kill himself for some reason or other.
It would have been easy enough with some horses, but you could have
ridden Rainbow down the roof of a house and jumped him into the front balcony,
I firmly believe. You couldn't throw him down; if he'd dropped into a well
he'd have gone in straight and landed on his legs.

Dad was glad enough to see us; he was almost civil, and when he heard
that Rainbow had won the `big money' he laughed till I thought
he'd do himself mischief, not being used to it. He made us
tell him over again about Starlight and I going to the ball,
and our seeing Aileen and Gracey there; and when he came to the part
where Starlight made the bride a present of a diamond ring
I thought he never would have done chuckling to himself.
Even old Crib looked at me as if he didn't use to think me much of a fellow,
but after this racket had changed his mind.

`Won't there be a jolly row in the papers when they get
all these different characters played by one chap, and that man the Captain?'
says he. `I knew he was clever enough for anything; but this beats all.
I don't believe now, Captain, you'll ever be took.'

`Not alive!' says Starlight, rather grim and gloomy-looking;
then he walks off by himself.

We stabled Rainbow, of course, for a week or two after this --
being in training it wouldn't do to turn him out straight at once.
Hardy as he was, no horse could stand that altogether;
so we kept him under shelter in a roughish kind of a loose box
we had knocked up, and fed him on bush hay. We had a small stack of that
in case we wanted to keep a horse in -- which we did sometimes.
In the daytime he was loose in the yard. After a bit, when he was
used to the weather, he was turned out again with his old mob,
and was never a hair the worse of it. We took it easy ourselves,
and sent out Warrigal for the letters and papers. We expected to knock
a good bit of fun out of them when they came.

Sure enough, there was the deuce and all to pay when the big Sydney papers
got hold of it, as well as the little `Turon Star' and the `Banner'.

Was it true that the police had again been hoodwinked, justice derided,
and the law set at defiance by a gang of ruffians who would have been run down
in a fortnight had the police force been equal to the task entrusted to them?
Was the moral sentiment of the country population so perverted,
so obliterated, that robbers and murderers could find safe harbourage,
trustworthy friends, and secret intelligence? Could they openly
show themselves in places of public resort, mingle in amusements,
and frequent the company of unblemished and distinguished citizens;
and yet more, after this flagrant insult to the Government of the land,
to every sacred principle of law and order, they could disappear at will,
apparently invisible and invulnerable to the officers of the peace
and the guardians of the public safety? It was incredible, it was monstrous,
degrading, nay, intolerable, and a remedy would have to be found
either in the reorganisation of an inefficient police force
or in the resignation of an incapable Ministry.

`Good for the "Sydney Monitor",' says Starlight; `that reporter
knows how to double-shot his guns, and winds up with a broadside.
Let us see what the "Star" says. I had a bet with the editor,
and paid it, as it happened. Perhaps he'll temper justice with mercy.
Now for a start: --

That we have had strong casts from time to time and exciting performances
at our local theatres, no one will deny; but perhaps the inhabitants of Turon
never witnessed a more enthralling melodrama than was played during
the first two days of our race meeting before a crowded and critical audience,
and never, we can state from a somewhat extended experience
of matters dramatic, did they gaze on a more finished actor
than the gentleman who performed the leading part. Celebrated personages
have ere now graced our provincial boards. On the occasion of
the burning of the Theatre Royal in Sydney, we were favoured with
the presence in our midst of artists who rarely, if ever before,
had quitted the metropolitan stage. But our "jeune premier" in one sense
has eclipsed every darling of the tragic or the comic muse.

Where is there a member of the profession who could have sustained his part
with faultless ease and self-possession, being the whole time
aware of the fact that he smiled and conversed, danced and diced,
dined and slept (ye gods! did he sleep?), with a price upon his head --
with the terrible doom of dishonour and inevitable death hanging over him,
consequent upon a detection which might occur at any moment?

Yet was there a stranger guest among us who did all this and more
with unblenching brow, unruffled self-possession, unequalled courtesy,
who, if discovered, would have been arrested and consigned to a lock-up,
only to be exchanged for the gloom and the manacles of the condemned cell.
He, indeed, after taking a prominent part in all the humours
of the vast social gathering by which the Turon miners celebrated
their annual games, disappeared with the almost magical mystery
which has already marked his proceedings.

Whom could we possibly allude to but the celebrated, the illustrious,
we grieve to be compelled to add, the notorious Starlight,
the hero of a hundred legends, the Australian Claude Duval?

Yes, almost incredible as it may seem to our readers and persons at a distance
imperfectly acquainted with exceptional phases of colonial life,
the robber chief (and, for all we know, more than one of his aides-de-camp)
was among us, foremost among the betting men, the observed of all observers
in the grand stand, where, with those popular country gentlemen,
the Messrs. Dawson, he cheered the winners in the two great races,
both of which, with demoniac luck, he had backed heavily.

We narrate as a plain, unvarnished truth that this accomplished
and semi-historical personage raced a horse of his own, which turns out now
to have been the famous Rainbow, an animal of such marvellous speed,
courage, and endurance that as many legends are current about him
as of Dick Turpin's well-known steed. He attended the marriage,
in St. Matthew's Church, of Miss Isabel Barnes, the daughter of
our respected neighbour, Mr. Jonathan Barnes, when he presented the bride
with a costly and beautiful diamond ring, completing the round of his vagaries
by dining on invitation with the Commissioner at the camp mess,
and, with that high official, honouring our race ball with his presence,
and sunning himself in the smiles of our fairest maidens.

We are afraid that we shall have exhausted the fund of human credulity,
and added a fresh and original chapter to those tales
of mystery and imagination of which the late Edgar Allan Poe
was so masterly a delineator.

More familiarly rendered, it seems that the fascinating Captain Starlight --
"as mild a mannered man" (like Lambre) "as ever scuttled a ship or cut
a throat," presented himself opportunely at one of the mountain hostelries,
to the notice of our good-hearted squires of Wideview,
Messrs. William and John Dawson. One of their wheelers lay
at the point of death -- a horse of great value -- when the agreeable stranger
suggested a remedy which effected a sudden cure.

With all their generous instincts stirred, the Messrs. Dawson
invited the gentleman to take a seat in their well-appointed drag.
He introduced himself as Mr. Lascelles, holding a commission
in an Indian regiment of Irregular Horse, and now on leave,
travelling chiefly for health.

Just sufficiently sunburned, perfect in manner, full of information,
humorous and original in conversation, and with all the "prestige"
of the unknown, small wonder that "The Captain" was regarded as a prize,
socially considered, and introduced right and left. Ha! ha!
What a most excellent jest, albeit rather keen, as far as Sir Ferdinand
is concerned! We shall never, never cease to recall
the humorous side of the whole affair. Why, we ourselves, our august
editorial self, actually had a bet in the stand with the audacious pretender,
and won it, too. Did he pay up? Of course he did. A "pony", to wit,
and on the nail. He does nothing by halves, "notre capitaine".
We have been less promptly reimbursed, indeed, not paid at all,
by gentlemen boasting a fairer record. How graciously
he smiled and bowed as, with his primrose kid gloves,
he disengaged the two tenners and a five-pound note
from his well-filled receptacle.

The last time we had seen him was in the dock at Nomah,
being tried in the great cattle case, that "cause celebre".
To do him justice, he was quite as cool and unconcerned there,
and looked as if he was doing the amateur casual business
without ulterior liabilities.

Adieu! fare thee well, Starlight, bold Rover of the Waste; we feel inclined
to echo the lament of the ancient Lord Douglas --

"'Tis pity of him, too," he cried;
"Bold can he speak, and fairly ride;
I warrant him a warrior tried."

It is in the interests of justice, doubtless, that thou be hunted down,
and expiate by death-doom the crimes which thou and thy myrmidons
have committed against society in the sight of God and man.
But we cannot, for the life of us, take a keen interest in thy capture.
We owe thee much, Starlight; many a slashing leader, many a spicy paragraph,
many a stately reflection on contemporary morals hast thou furnished us with.
Shall we haste to the slaughter of the rarest bird -- golden ovaried?
We trow not. Get thee to the wilderness, and repent thee of thy sins.
Why should we judge thee? Thou hast, if such dubious donation may avail,
an editor's blessing. Depart, and "stick up" no more.

Well done, the "Turon Star"!' says Starlight, after he read it all out.
`I call that very fair. There's a flavour of good feeling
underneath much of that nonsense, as well as of porter and oysters.
It does a fellow a deal more good than slanging him to believe
that he's human after all, and that men think so.'

`Do you reckon that chap was sober when he wrote that?' says father.
`Blest if I can make head or tail of it. Half what them fellows puts down
is regular rot. Why couldn't he have cut it a bit shorter, too?'

Chapter 44

`The "Banner" comes next,' says Starlight, tearing it open.
`We shall have something short and sweet after the "Star". How's this?


This mercurial brigand, it would appear, has paid Turon
another visit, but, with the exception of what may be considered
the legalised robbery of the betting ring, has not levied contributions.
Rather the other way, indeed. A hasty note for Mr. Dawson,
whom he had tricked into temporary association by adopting
one of the disguises he can so wonderfully assume, requested that gentleman
to receive the Handicap Stakes, won by his horse, Darkie, alias Rainbow,
and to hand them over to the treasurer of the Turon Hospital,
which was accordingly done.

Sir Ferdinand and the police had been decoyed away previously
nearly 100 miles by false intelligence as to Moran and his gang.
Our town and treasure were thus left undefended for forty-eight hours,
while a daring criminal and his associates mingled unsuspected
with all classes. We have always regarded the present system
-- facetiously called police protection -- as a farce.
This latter fiasco will probably confirm the idea with the public at large.
We, unlike a contemporary, have no morbid sympathy with crime --
embroidered or otherwise; our wishes, as loyal subjects,
are confined to a short shrift and a high gallows for all who dare
to obstruct the Queen's highway.'

`That's easy to understand, barrin' a word here and there,' says father,
taking his pipe out of his mouth and laying it down; `that's the way
they used to talk to us in the old days. Dashed if I don't think
it's the best way after all. You know where you are. The rest's flummery.
All on us as takes to the cross does it with our eyes open,
and deserves all we gets.'

`I'm afraid you're right, governor; but why didn't these moral ideas
occur to you, for instance, and others earlier in life?'

`Why?' says father, getting up and glaring with his eyes, `because I was
a blind, ignorant dog when I was young, as had never been taught nothing,
and knowed nothing, not so much as him there' (pointing to Crib),
`for he knows what his business is, and I didn't. I was thrashed and starved,
locked up in a gaol, chained and flogged after that,
and half the time for doing what I didn't know was wrong,
and couldn't know more than one of them four-year-old colts out there
that knocks his head agin the yard when he's roped,
and falls backards and breaks his neck if he ain't watched.
Whose business was it to have learned me better? That I can't rightly say,
but it seemed it was the business of the Government people to gaol me,
and iron me, and flog me. Was that justice? Any man's sense 'll tell him
it wasn't. It's been them and me for it since I got my liberty,
and if I had had a dozen lives they'd all have gone the same road!'

We none of us felt in the humour to say much after that. Father had got
into one of his tantrums, and when he did he was fit to be tied;
only I'd not have took the contract for something. Whatever it was
that had happened to him in the old times when he was a Government man
he didn't talk about. Only every now and then he'd let out
just as he did now, as if nothing could ever set him straight again,
or keep him from fighting against them, as he called
the swells and the Government, and everybody almost
that was straightgoing and honest. He'd been at it a good many years,
one way and another, and any one that knew him didn't think it likely
he'd change.

The next dust we got into was all along of a Mr. Knightley,
who lived a good way down to the south, and it was one of the worst things
we ever were mixed up in. After the Turon races and all that shine,
somehow or other we found that things had been made hotter for us
than ever since we first turned out. Go where we would, we found the police
always quick on our trail, and we had two or three very close shaves of it.
It looked as if our luck was dead out, and we began to think
our chance of getting across the border to Queensland,
and clear out of the colony that way, looked worse every day.

Dad kept foraging about to get information, and we sent
Warrigal and Billy the Boy all over the country to find out how it was
things were turning out so contrary.

Sir Ferdinand was always on the move, but we knew he couldn't
do it all himself unless he got the office from some one who knew the ropes
better than he did.

Last of all we dropped on to it.

There was one of the goldfields commissioners, a Mr. Knightley,
a very keen, cool hand; he was a great sporting man, and a dead shot,
like Mr. Hamilton. Well, this gentleman took it into his head
to put on extra steam and try and run us down. He'd lost some gold by us
in the escort robbery, and not forgotten it; so it seems he'd been
trying his best to fit us ever since. Just at first he wasn't able for much,
but later on he managed to get information about us and our beat,
whenever we left the Hollow, and he put two and two together,
and very nearly dropped on us, as I said before, two or three times.
We heard, too, that he should say he'd never rest till he had
Starlight and the Marstons, and that if he could get picked police
he'd bring us in within a month, dead or alive.

We didn't care much about blowing of this sort in a general way;
but one of dad's telegraphs sent word in that Mr. Knightley
had a couple of thousand pounds worth of gold from a new diggings
lodged at his private residence for a few days till he could get the escort
to call for it; that there was only him and a German doctor,
a great scholar he was, named Schiller, in the house.

Moran and Daly knew about this, and they were dead on
for sticking up the place and getting hold of the gold.
Besides that, we felt savage about his trying to run us in.
Of course, it was his duty and that of all magistrates and commissioners
in a general way. But he wasn't an officer of police,
and we thought he was going outside of his line. So when all came to all,
we made up our minds to learn him a lesson to stick to his own work;
besides, a thousand ounces of gold was no foolish touch, and we could kill
two birds with one stone. Moran, Daly, and Joe Wall were to be in it besides.
We didn't like working with them. Starlight and I were dead against it.
But we knew they'd tackle it by themselves if we backed out.
So we agreed to make one thing of it. We were to meet at a place
about ten miles off and ride over there together.

Just about ten o'clock we closed in on the place, and left
Billy the Boy and Warrigal with the horses, while we sneaked up.
We couldn't get near, though, without his knowing it, for he always had
a lot of sporting dogs -- pointers, retrievers, kangaroo dogs, no end.
They kicked up a deuce of a row, and barked and howled enough
to raise the dead, before we got within a quarter of a mile from the house.

Of course he was on his guard then, and before long the bullets
began to fly pretty thick among us, and we had to take cover
to return fire and keep as dark as we could. No doubt this Dr. Schiller
loaded the guns and handed them to him, else he couldn't have made
such play as he did.

We blazed away too, and as there was no stable at the back
we surrounded the house and tried hard to find an opening.
Devil a chance there seemed to be; none of us dared show. So sure as we did
we could hear one of those Winchester rifle bullets sing through the air,
almost on the top of us. We all had a close shave more than once
for being too fast.

For more than half the night he kept cannonading away,
and we didn't seem able to get any nearer the place. At last we drew lots
which should try and get up close to the place, so as to make a rush
while we poured in our broadside and open a door to let us in.

The lot fell upon Patsey Daly. `Good-bye, all,' he said. `I'm dashed
if I don't think Knightley will bag me. I don't half like charging him,
and that's God's truth. Anyhow I'll try for that barrel there;
and if I get behind it I can fire from short range and make him come out.'

He made a rush, half on his hands and knees, and managed to get
behind this barrel, where he was safe from being hit as long as he kept
well behind it. Then he peppered away, right and left.

On the left of the verandah there was a door stood partly open,
and after a bit a man in a light overcoat and a white hat,
like Mr. Knightley always wore, showed himself for a second.
Daly raps away at this, and the man staggers and falls.
Patsey shows himself for a moment from behind the cask,
thinking to make a rush forward; that minute Mr. Knightley,
who was watching him from a window (the other was only an image),
lets drive at him, cool and steady, and poor Patsey drops like a cock,
and never raised his head again. He was shot through the body.
He lingered a bit; but in less than an hour he was a dead man.

We began to think at last that we had got in for a hot thing,
and that we should have to drop it like Moran's mob at Kadombla.
However, Starlight was one of those men that won't be beat,
and he kept getting more and more determined to score. He crept away
to the back of the building, where he could see to fire at a top window
close by where the doctor and Mr. Knightley had been potting at us.

He had the repeating rifle he'd won from me; he never let it go afterwards,
and he could make wonderful shooting with it. He kept it going so lively
that they began to be hard pressed inside, and had to fire away
twice as much ammunition as they otherwise would. It always beat me
how they contrived to defend so many points at once. We tried back and front,
doors and windows. Twenty times we tried a rush, but they were always ready
-- so it seemed -- and their fire was too hot for us to stand up to,
unless we wanted to lose every second man.

The shooting was very close. Nearly every one of us had a scratch --
Starlight rather the worst, as he was more in the front
and showed himself more. His left arm was bleeding pretty free,
but he tied a handkerchief over it and went on as if nothing had happened,
only I could see that his face had that set look he only got now and then,
and his eyes began to show out a fierce light.

At last we began to see that the return fire was slacking off,
while ours was as brisk as ever.

`Hurrah!' says Starlight, `I believe they'll give in soon. If they had
any cartridges they would have had every man of us in that last rush.
Let's try another dodge. Here goes for a battering-ram, Dick!'

He pointed to a long, heavy sapling which had been fetched in
for a sleeper or something of that sort. We picked it up,
and, taking a run back, brought it with all its weight against the front door.
In it went like a sheet of bark; we almost fell as we ran forward
and found ourselves in a big, dark hall. It seemed very queer and strange,
everything was so silent and quiet.

We half expected another volley. But nothing came. We could only
stand and wait. The others had gone round the side of the house.

`Get to a corner, Dick; they're always the safest places. We must mind
it isn't an ambush. What the devil's the matter? Are they going to suicide,
like the people in the round tower of Jhansi?'

`There are no women here,' I said. `There's no saying
what Mr. Knightley might do if his wife had been here.'

`Thank God, she's away at Bathurst,' said Starlight. `I hate seeing women
put out. Besides, everybody bows down to Mrs. Knightley. She's as good
as she's handsome, I believe, and that's saying a great deal.'

Just then Moran and Wall managed to find their way into the other side
of the house, and they came tearing into the hall like a pair of colts.
They looked rather queer when they saw us three and no one else.

`What in thunder's up?' says Moran. `Are they all gone to bed,
and left us the spare rooms? Poor Patsey won't want one, anyhow.'

`Better make some search upstairs,' says Starlight. `Who'll go first?
You make a start, Moran; you like fighting people.'

`Couldn't think of going before the Captain,' says Moran, with a grin.
`I'll follow where you lead.'

`All right!' says Starlight; `here goes,' and he started to walk upstairs,
when all of a sudden he stopped and looked up as if something
had surprised him above a bit. Then he stepped back and waited.
I noticed he took off his hat and leaned against the wall.

It was an old-fashioned house for that part of the world,
built a good many years ago by a rich settler, who was once the owner
of all that side of the country. The staircase was all stone,
ornamented every way it could be. Three or four people could walk abreast
easy enough.

Just about half-way up was a broad landing, and on this, all of a sudden,
appeared four people, inclined by their ways to come down to where we were,
while we were all wondering, for a reason you'll see afterwards.

It was Mr. Knightley who took the lady's arm -- it was his wife,
and she had been there all the time, firing at us as like as not,
or at any rate helping. The others followed, and they all walked
quite solemn and steady-like down the stairs together.

It was a strange sight. There we were standing and leaning
about the dark hall, staring and wondering, and these people
walking down to meet us like ghosts, without speaking or anything else.

Mr. Knightley was a tall, handsome man, with a grand black beard
that came down to his chest. He walked like a lord,
and had that kind of manner with him that comes to people
that have always been used to be waited on and have everything found for them
in this world. As for his wife, she was given in to be the handsomest woman
in the whole countryside -- tall and graceful, with a beautiful smile,
and soft fair hair. Everybody liked and respected her, gentle and simple --
everybody had a good word for her. You couldn't have got any one
to say different for a hundred pounds. There are some people,
here and there, like this among the gentlefolk, and, say what you like,
it does more to make coves like us look a little closer at things
and keep away from what's wrong and bad than all the parsons' talk twice over.
Mrs. Knightley was the only woman that ever put me in mind of Miss Falkland,
and I can't say more than that.

So, as I said before, it was quite a picture to see them
walk slowly and proudly down and sweep into the hall as if they'd been
marching into a ballroom. We had both seen them at the ball at the Turon,
and everybody agreed they were the handsomest couple there.

Now they were entering their own hall in a different way.
But you couldn't have told much of what they felt by their faces.
He was a proud man, and felt bitterly enough that he had to surrender
to a gang of men that he hated and despised, that he'd boasted
he could run down and capture in a month. Now the tables were turned.
He and his beautiful wife were in our power, and, to make matters worse,
one of our band lay dead, beside the inner wall, killed by his hand.

What was to be his doom? And who could say how such a play might end?

I looked at our men. As they stepped on to the floor of the hall
and looked round Mrs. Knightley smiled. She looked to me
like an angel from heaven that had come by chance into the other place
and hadn't found out her mistake. I saw Starlight start as he looked at her.
He was still leaning against the wall, and there was a soft, sorrowful look
in his eyes, like I remember noticing once before while he was
talking to Aileen about his early days, a thing he never did but once.
Part of her hair had straggled down, and hung in a sort of ringlet
by her face. It was pale, but clear and bright-looking,
and there was a thin streak of blood across her forehead that showed
as she came underneath the lamp-light from the landing above.

I looked over at Moran. He and Wall sat in a corner,
looking as grim and savage as possible, while his deadly black eyes
had a kind of gloomy fire in them that made him look like a wild beast
in a cage.

Mr. Knightley was a man that always had the first word in everything,
and generally the best of an argument -- putting down anybody
who differed from him in a quiet, superior sort of way.

He began now. `Well, my men, I have come down to surrender,
and I'm sorry to be obliged to do so. But we have fired our last cartridge
-- the doctor thought we had a thousand left -- in which case,
I may as well tell you, you'd never have had this pleasure.
Captain Starlight, I surrender my sword -- or should do so if I had one.
We trust to receive honourable treatment at your hands.'

`I'm sure the Captain will never permit any harm to come to me,'
says Mrs. Knightley, with a look in her eyes that, in spite of herself,
said a deal more than words. `Why, I danced "vis-a-vis" to him
in a quadrille at the Turon ball.'

`I shall never forget the honour,' says Starlight, walking forward
and bowing low. `Permit me to offer you a chair, madam; you look faint.'

As he did so she sank down in it, and really looked as if
she would faint away. It wouldn't have been much wonder if she had
after what she'd gone through that night.

Then Mr. Knightley began again. He wanted to know how he stood.
He didn't like the look of Moran and Wall -- they were a deal
too quiet for him, and he could read men's faces like a book.
The other two prisoners were the German Dr. Schiller -- a plucky old chap,
who'd been a rebel and a conspirator and I don't know what all
in his own country. He'd seen too much of that kind of thing
to trouble himself over much about a trifle of this kind. The old woman
was a family servant, who had been with them for years and years.
She was a kind of worshipper of theirs, and was ready to live or die
with her mistress.

Chapter 45

So Mr. Knightley stood up and faced them all like a man.
He was one of those chaps that makes up their mind pretty quick
about the sort of people they've got to deal with,
and if there's anything to be said or done lets 'em have it
`straight from the shoulder'. As he stood there -- straight and square --
with his head thrown back, and his eyes -- very bright and sharp they were --
looking every man's face over as if he was reading a notice and had no time
to spare, you couldn't have told, from his look, or voice, or manner,
whether he was afraid that things would go wrong, or whether he was dead sure
they'd go right. Some men are like that. Others you can tell every thought
that's passing through their minds just as if it was printed in big letters
on their breasts, like a handbill: `200 Pounds reward,' and so on.

Well, Mr. Knightley wasn't one of that sort, though I saw him keep his eye
a trifle longer on Moran than the rest of 'em.

`Now then, boys,' he says, `we've had our flutter out.
I've done my best, and you've done yours. I've bagged one of your lot,
and you've done your best to pot me. See here,' and he lifts up
the collar of his coat and shows a hole through it, touches his head
on the side, and brings away a red mark; and takes out his watch
with the case all battered in by a revolver bullet. `You can't say
I hadn't cause to show fight,' and he points to his wife.
`Where's the man among you that wouldn't have done the same?
An Englishman's house is his castle. What am I to expect?'

He looked over at Starlight, but he didn't take no notice, and made no sign.
I saw Mrs. Knightley look over at him too. It was the first time
I ever seen him look hard when there was a woman in the case, and such a one!
But he kept his face set and stern-like.

Then Moran breaks in --

`Expect, be blowed! What the ---- do you expect now we've got yer to rights;
are we going to let you off after knocking over Daly?
No dashed fear, mister, we'll serve you the same way as you served him,
as soon as we've had some grub and another glass or two of your grog.
You've got some fairish stuff here.'

`Why, Moran,' says Mr. Knightley, still making believe to joke --
and, by George! if he could laugh then, he could sing a song
with a bullet through him -- `you're getting bad-tempered
since you used to be horsebreaking for Mr. Lowe. Don't you remember
that chestnut Sir Henry colt that no one else could ride,
and I backed you not to get thrown, and won a fiver?
But I'm a man of the world and know how to play a losing game at billiards
as well as most men. Look here now! Daly's dead. We can't bring him
to life again, can we? If you shoot me, you'll be nothing to the good,
and have every spare man in the three colonies at your heels.
This is a game of brag, though the stakes are high. I'll play a card.
Listen. You shall have a hundred fivers -- 500 Pounds in notes --
by to-morrow at four o'clock, if you'll let Mrs. Knightley and the doctor
ride to Bathurst for the money. What do you say?'

`D--n you and your money too,' growled Moran. `We'll have your blood,
and nothing else. D'ye hear that? You're a dead man now;
if you're not buried by this time to-morrow, it won't be because
you're not as ready for it as Patsey is.'

I saw Mrs. Knightley turn round and clasp her hands; her face grew
as white as death, but she said nothing, only looked over at Starlight,
and her eyes grew bigger and bigger, while her mouth trembled
just the least bit.

`You're off your head, Moran,' says Mr. Knightley, pulling out a cigar
and lighting it. `But I suppose you're the chief man, and all the rest
must do as you tell them.'

`Suppose we talk it over,' says Starlight, very quiet,
but I knew by the first word that he spoke something was coming.
`Daly dropped, and it can't be helped. Accidents will happen.
If you play at bowls you must take rubbers. It has been a fair fight;
no one can say otherwise. Let us put it to the vote. I propose
that Mr. Knightley's offer be accepted. Not that I intend to take
a shilling of the money.'

`Nor me either,' says I. `So you three chaps will have it to share
between you. I don't see that we can do better. A fight's a fight,
and if Patsey got his gruel it might have happened to Mr. Knightley himself.
As for shooting in cold blood, I'm not on, and so I tell you.'

`I suppose you think you and Starlight's going to boss the lot of us,
because you've been doing it fine at the Turon races
along with a lot of blasted swells as 'ud scrag us if they had the chance,
and we're to take so much a head for our dashed lives,
because we're only working chaps. Not if Dan Moran knows it. What we want
is satisfaction -- blood for blood -- and we're a-goin' to have it,
eh, mates?'

Wall and Hulbert hadn't said anything before this. They were not
bad chaps underneath, but Moran was such a devil when he was raised
that they didn't like to cross him. Besides, they had a down
on Mr. Knightley, and wanted to sheet it home to him somehow.
They had got to the brandy too, and it didn't make matters any better,
you take my word for it.

Starlight didn't speak for a minute or two. I couldn't think what he was at.
If Jim had been there we should have been right, three to three.
Now we were two to three. I knew Starlight had a good card to play,
and was ready to play it, but he was waiting on the deal.
Mr. Knightley must have had some sort of notion of the hand;
he was wonderful quick at picking up the points of the game.

He said nothing, and looked as cool as you please, smoking his cigar
as if he had nothing on his mind and wanted a rest. The lady sat
quite still and pale, but her beautiful eyes kept wandering round
from one to another, like some pretty creature caught in a trap.
Dr. Schiller found it hard lines on him to keep quiet all this time --
he couldn't hold it in no longer.

`Good heafens!' he says, `are you men, and will not say nodings
when you haf such an ovver as dis? Subbose you shood us all, what then?
Will not the whole coundry rice and hund you down like mat docks?'

`That won't make it any better for you, mate,' says Moran, with a grin.
`When you and he's lying under that old tree outside,
it'll make no odds to yer whether our rope's a long or a short 'un.'

`Quite right, Moran,' says Mr. Knightley. `Doctor, he has you there.'

Starlight moved a step or two over towards him, as if he was uncertain
in his mind. Then he says to Wall and Hulbert --

`See here, men; you've heard what Moran says, and what I think.
Which are you going to do? To help in a brutal, cowardly murder,
and never be able to look a man in the face again, or to take
this money to-morrow? -- a hundred and seventy each in notes, mind,
and get away quietly -- or are you going to be led by Moran,
and told what you are to do like children?'

`Oh come, Dan, let's take the stuff,' says Wall. `I think it's good enough.
What's the use of being contrary? I think the Captain's right.
He knows a dashed sight more than us.'

`He be hanged!' says Moran, with eyes glaring and the whole of his face
working like a man in a fit. `He's no Captain of mine, and never was.
I'll never stir from here till I have payment in blood for Daly's life.
We may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I've sworn to have
that man's life to-night, and have it I will.'

`You'll have ours first, you bloodthirsty, murdering dog,' says Starlight;
and, as he spoke, he slipped his revolver into Mr. Knightley's hand,
who covered Moran that moment. I drew mine, too, and had Wall under aim.
Starlight's repeating rifle was up like lightning.

Mrs. Knightley covered her eyes, the old woman screamed,
and the doctor sat down on a chair and puffed away at his meerschaum pipe.

`We're three to three, now,' says Starlight; `you've only to move a finger
and you're a dead man. Wall and Hulbert can have a hand in it
if they haven't had shooting enough for one evening. Do your worst,
you black-hearted brute! I've two minds to take you and run you in myself,
if it's only to give you a lesson in manners.'

Moran's face grew as black as an ironbark tree after a bush fire.
He raised his revolver, and in one second we should have been
in the middle of a desperate hand-to-hand fight; and God knows
how it might have ended hadn't Hulbert struck up his arm,
and spoke out like a man.

`It's no use, Dan, we won't stand it. You're a dashed fool
and want to spoil everything for a bit of temper. We'll take the notes
and let Mrs. Knightley and the doctor clear out for Bathurst
if you'll say honour bright that you'll be at the Black Stump
by to-morrow evening at five, and won't give the police the office.'

Moran, slow and sulkily, put down his hand and glared round
like a dingo with the dogs round him -- as if he didn't know
which to snap at first. Then he looked at Mr. Knightley
with a look of hellish rage and spite that ten devils
couldn't have improved upon, and, throwing himself down on a chair,
drank off half a tumbler of brandy.

`Settle it amongst yourselves, and be ---- to you,' he said.
`You're all agin me now; but, by ----, I'll be square with some of ye yet.'

It was all over now. Mr. Knightley took a match out of the silver match-box
at his watch-chain, and lit another cigar. I saw the tears
trickling through Mrs. Knightley's fingers. Then she turned away her head,
and after a minute or two was as calm and quiet as ever.

`You know your way about the place, Wall,' says Mr. Knightley,
as if he was in his own house, just the same as usual; `run up the horses,
there's a good fellow; they're in the little horse paddock.
Mrs. Knightley's is a gray, and the doctor's is a mouse-coloured mare
with a short tail; you can't mistake them. The sooner they're off
the sooner you'll handle the cash.'

Wall looked rather amused, but went out, and we heard him rattle off
to go round the paddock. The doctor went upstairs, and buckled on
a long-necked pair of old-fashioned spurs, and Mrs. Knightley walked away
like a woman in a dream to her own room, and soon afterwards returned
in her riding-habit and hat.

I foraged about and found the side-saddle and bridle in the harness-room.
Everything was in tip-top order there -- glass sides for keeping the dust
off the four-in-hand harness and all that kind of thing.
All the bits and stirrup-irons like silver. There wasn't much time lost
in saddling-up, you bet!

We watched pretty close lest Moran should take a new fancy into his head,
but he stuck to the brandy bottle, and very soon put himself from fighting
or anything else. I wasn't sorry to see it. I was well aware
he was as treacherous as a dingo, and could sham dead or anything else
to gain his ends and throw people off their guards.

Well, the horses were brought out, and when Mr. Knightley lifted his wife
up on to her saddle on the high-crested gray thoroughbred
with a dash of Arab blood from an old Satellite strain,
I guess he was never better pleased with anything in the world.
They looked in each other's eyes for a minute, and then the old horse
started off along the road to Bathurst with his fast, springy walk.
Starlight took off his hat and bowed low in the most respectful way.
Mrs. Knightley turned in her saddle and tried to say something,
but the words wouldn't come -- she could only wave her hand --
and then her head went down nearly to her saddle. The doctor scrambled
on to his horse's back, and trotted off after her. The gray moved off,
shaking his head, at a beautiful, easy, springy canter. We raised a cheer,
and they swept round a corner of the road and out of sight.

`You'll find these rather good, Captain,' says Mr. Knightley,
handing Starlight his cigar-case. `There's a box upstairs
in my dressing-room. If you'll allow me I'll order in dinner.
There ought to be something decent if my old cook hasn't been frightened
out of his life, but I think he has seen too much to be put out of his way
by a little shooting.'

`Now I think of it,' says Starlight, `I do really feel disposed
for refreshment. I say, Wall, see if you can't get that ferocious
friend of yours into a room where he can sleep off his liquor.
I really must apologise for his bad manners; but you see how the case stands.'

`Perfectly, my dear fellow,' says Mr. Knightley. `Don't mention it.
I shall always feel personally indebted to you for far more
than I can express. But let that pass for the present. What shall we do
to pass the evening? You play picquet and hazard, of course?'

`Do I not,' says Starlight, his eyes lighting up in a way I didn't remember.
`It's many a day since I've met with any one near my old form.'

`Then suppose we have a game or two,' says Mr. Knightley,
`after dinner or supper, whichever we choose to call it. I have cards;
they luckily came up the other day. In the meantime you will find the claret
very fair, and this cold wild turkey -- I shot a brace last Thursday --
is not to be despised.'

We had a rattling good feed, and no mistake, whatever it was.
The turkey was a grand bird, and weighed 21 lb., he told us.
The cook had sent in some hot potatoes, and chaps like us
that had been riding, walking, and fighting for twenty hours right on end
had just the sort of appetite that a bird of that kind deserved.
He was as fat as butter, too. They feed on dandelion seeds
at that time of the year. It gives 'em a sort of gamy flavour
such as no other bird, wild or tame, has. To my liking
the wild turkey beats the black duck even. He's the best game bird
that flies in the bush.

Mr. Knightley, too, now his wife was safe on her way to Bathurst,
and things seemed going well, was full of fun, and kept us all going.
He helped everybody twice over, and wouldn't hear of any one
keeping the bottle standing. The night was close rather,
and we were all that thirsty it went down like mother's milk.
Wall and Hulbert got pleasant enough and joined in, now that Moran
was out of the way. He was snoring in a back room, and, like a man
in the deadhouse of a bush shanty, not likely to wake before sunrise.
Mr. Knightley told us some out-and-out good yarns, and Hulbert and Wall swore
that if they'd known he was such a good sort they'd never have thought
of sticking up the place. He said he had been quite mistaken about them,
and that another time he should know better than to volunteer for work
that was not part of his duty. By that time the claret had gone round
pretty often; and without being screwed we'd all had our tongues
loosened a bit.

After that we lit our pipes, and we three began to play all-fours and euchre,
sometimes one pair, sometimes another. As for Mr. Knightley and Starlight,
they got out a curious filigree sort of a little card-table and began to play
some outlandish game that I didn't know, and to look very serious over it.

They had notes for counters, and I could see, as I looked over
every now and then, that each man was doing all he knew
to best the other. Sometimes one had the show; sometimes the other.
We got tired and had another smoke and turned in. The beds were
snug and comfortable. Mr. Knightley showed us where to go,
and we wanted a good night's rest bad enough.

Just before I turned in I went up to the table. They looked as keen at it
as if they'd just began, and I heard Starlight say, `I owe you a hundred now.
I'll play you double or quits.' So I left them to it. I could see they were
not on for bed just then. Both men were cool enough, but I could see
that Starlight (and I'd never known him to touch a card before)
was one of those men that would never rise from the table as long as he had
a shilling left, and would stake everything he had in the world
upon the turn of a card.

We all slept sound, but most of us were up at sunrise.
It doesn't do for chaps in our line to be caught napping,
and the police might have got wind where we were at work.
We had our horses to look to, and to give a look round in a general way
to see if things were right.

Starlight and Mr. Knightley didn't turn out, they took it easy,
perhaps they'd been up later than us; anyhow, they didn't show till breakfast,
when they both made pretty fair time over the eatables.

My word! it was a breakfast, though we'd got a bit tired waiting for it.
The old cook had hashed up the turkey; it was stunning,
almost better than the day before. Then bacon and eggs, grilled steak,
fresh bread and butter, coffee and tea, watercresses.
Really, I thought we never should stop. It was lucky the police didn't come,
or we shouldn't have done much in the fighting line, or the runaway either.
As it turned out, Sir Ferdinand wasn't so very far off the line,
but he took another road. He never had any luck somehow in following us up,
though he had some first-rate chances. Moran was off his feed,
and wouldn't come in. He took a nip and walked down to the creek.
We were all glad enough to get shut of him.

After breakfast and a turn round the stables, blest if
Starlight and Mr. Knightley didn't have out the cards again,
and at it they went as fresh and keen as ever. We didn't know
what in the world to do with ourselves till it was time
to start to ride out to the Black Stump, where we were
to meet the doctor and collar the 500 Pounds. They didn't waste
a minute of their time, till about half-past twelve
Starlight puts down his cards very gently, and says he --

`I'm afraid we have no more time to spare. I've enjoyed the play
more than I have done anything for years. I leave you 100 Pounds now
in notes, and you must take my I O U for the balance. What bank
shall I pay it into?'

`The Australian,' says Mr. Knightley. `At your convenience, of course.'

`Within a month,' says Starlight, bowing. `And now a glass of wine
and a biscuit, it's time to be off.'

We had something as good, nearer the mark than that,
and Moran sat down too, and played a good knife and fork.
He'd come to, after his booze, and was ready for any fresh villainy,
as usual. He didn't let on to be nasty, but he looked sulky enough,
and I saw his eye fixed on Mr. Knightley and Starlight now and then
as if he'd have given a good deal to have had them where they hadn't so many
at their backs.

Chapter 46

We ate well and drank better still at the lunch, although we had
such a regular tuck-out at breakfast time. Mr. Knightley
wouldn't hear of any of us shirking our liquor, and by the time we'd done
all hands were pretty well on. Moran himself began to look pleasant,
or as good a sample of it as I'd ever seen in him. Mr. Knightley
could get round the devil himself, I believe. I never saw his equals
at that business; and this particular time he was in great feather,
seeing that he was likely to get out of an ugly business all right.
He was as sure of the 500 Pounds in notes being there at the appointed hour
as he was of the sun setting that particular evening.

`I think it's a fair thing,' says Starlight at last, looking at his watch.
Mr. Knightley wasn't the first to speak, no fear. `Take us all our time
to get to the Black Stump. We shall have to ride, too.'
Moran and Wall got up and fetched their horses. Mr. Knightley's was led up
by one of his men. He was a big handsome roan, in top condition,
and the man was riding a black horse with a tan muzzle
that looked a trifle better, if anything. Mr. Knightley turned out
in boots and breeches, with a gold fox's head on his scarf,
swell hunting fashion, as they do it at home, Starlight said.

When Starlight's horse came up he was as lame as a tree,
couldn't put his foot to the ground; got a kick or a strain,
or trod on a glass bottle or something. Anyhow he had only three legs
that he could rise a move out of. Starlight looked rather glum.
He wasn't his second best or his third best either. All the same,
a horse is a horse, and I never saw the man yet that a lame horse
didn't put out a bit.

`Confound it,' says he, `what a nuisance! It's just the way
with these infernal half-bred brutes; they always let me down
at the wrong time.'

`Look here, old fellow,' says Mr. Knightley, `leave him behind
and take this black horse the boy's on; he's one of the finest hacks
you ever crossed. I refused sixty guineas for him the other day
from Morringer.'

`Thanks, very much,' says Starlight, brightening up a bit;
`but I hardly like to deprive you of him. Won't you want him yourself?'

`Oh, I can manage without him,' says Mr. Knightley.
`I'll let you have him for fifty and allow you ten pounds for your screw.
You can add it on to your I O U, and pay it in with the other.'

We all laughed at this, and Moran said if he was dealing with Mr. Knightley
he'd get him a pound or two cheaper. But Starlight said, very serious-like,
that the arrangement would suit him very well. So he had his saddle shifted,
and the groom led back the bay and turned him loose in the paddock.

We mounted then, and it looked as if we were all matched for a race
to the Black Stump. Moran had a good horse, and when he set him going
in the first bit of thick timber we came to, it took a man, I tell you,
to keep him in sight. Starlight made the black horse hit out in a way
that must have been a trifle strange to him unless he'd been
in training lately. As for Mr. Knightley, he took it easy and sailed away
on one side with Joe Wall and me. He played it out cool to the last,
and wasn't going to hurry himself for anybody.

Half-an-hour before sundown we rode up to the Black Stump.
It was a rum-looking spot, but everybody knew it for miles round.
There was nothing like it anywhere handy. It was within
a reasonable distance of Bathurst, and not so far from a place
we could make to, where there was good shelter and hiding too,
if we were pushed.

There were two or three roads led up to it, and crossed there --
one from Bathurst, one to Turon, and another straight into the forest country,
which led range by range to Nulla Mountain. We could see on a good way ahead,
and, though there was no one at the tree when we came, a single horseman
was riding along the road for Bathurst. We all drew rein round the stump.
It had been a tremendous big old ironbark tree -- nobody knew how old,
but it had had its top blown off in a thunderstorm, and the carriers
had lighted so many fires against the roots of it that it had been
killed at last, and the sides were as black as a steamer's funnel.
After a bit we could make out the doctor's short-tailed, mousy mare and him
powdering along at a sort of hand gallop.

When he came up close, he took off his hat and made a bow.
`Chentlemen of the roat, I salude you,' he says. `You haf kebt your bromise
to the letter, and you will fint that Albert von Schiller has kept his.
Hauptman!' says he to Starlight, `I delifer to you the ransom
of dies wothy chentleman and his most excellend and hoch-besahltes laty,
who has much recovered from her fadigues, and I demant his freetom.'

`Well done, most trust-repaying and not-ever-to-be-entirely-forgotten herald,'
says Starlight. `I hand over to these worthy free companions the frank-geld;
isn't that the term? -- and when they have counted it (for they won't take
your word or mine), the Graf here -- most high-born and high-beseeming,
but uncommonly-near-ending his glorious career magnate --
will be restored to you. Very pleasant company we've found him.
I should like to have my revenge at picquet, that's all.'

While this was going on Starlight had collared the bundle of notes
from the doctor, and chucked it over quite careless-like to Moran.
`There it is for you,' says he. `You can divide it between you.
Dick and I stand out this time; and you can't say you've done badly.'

Moran didn't say anything, but he and Wall got off their horses
and sat down on their heels -- native fashion. Then they turned to,
counting out the notes one by one. They were all fivers -- so it took
some time -- as they neither of 'em weren't very smart at figures,
and after they'd got out twenty or thirty they'd get boxed, like a new hand
counting sheep, and have to begin all over again. It must have been
aggravating to Mr. Knightley, and he was waiting to be let go,
in a manner of speaking. He never showed it, but kept smoking and yarning
with Starlight, pointing out how grand the sun was just a-setting
on the Bulga Mountains -- just for all the world as if he'd given a picnic,
and was making himself pleasant to the people that stayed longest.

At long last they'd got to the end of the conning, and divided the notes.
Moran tied his up in a bunch, and rolled 'em in his poncho;
but Wall crammed his into his pocket and made 'em all stick out
like a boy that's been stealing apples. When they mounted their horses,
Mr. Knightley shook hands with me and Starlight. Then he turns round
to Moran and Wall -- `We're parting good friends after all's said and done,'
he says. `Just as well matters have been settled this way. Come, now,
in cool blood, ain't you rather glad, Moran?'

`Dashed if I know,' growls he. `All I know is, you're deuced well out of it;
your luck mayn't be so good another time.'

`Nor yours either, my friend,' says Mr. Knightley, drawing up his bridle-rein.
`I had only a snap-shot at you when that bullet went through your poncho,
or you'd be lying alongside of Daly. However, I needn't waste my breath
talking to that brute,' he says to Starlight. `I know well all I owe
to you and Dick Marston here. Some day I may repay it.'

`You mean what I owe you,' says Starlight, turning it off with a laugh.
`Never fear, you'll find that paid to your credit in the bank.
We have agents in all sorts of places. Good-bye, and a safe ride home.
My respectful compliments to Mrs. Knightley. Perhaps you'd better
follow the doctor now.' The old gentleman had got tired waiting,
and ridden on slow and easy.

Two or three weeks after, Starlight and I were taking a ride
towards the Bogan Road, not that we was on for anything particular,
but just having a turn round for want of something else to do,
when we saw a big mob of cattle coming along, with three or four stock-riders
behind 'em. Then we met a loaded dray and team in front,
that had rations and swags and a tent. The driver asked us
if we knew a good place to camp. He was a talking sort of chap,
and we yarned away with him for a bit. He told us how the boss
was behind in a dogcart and tandem, with two led horses besides.
The cattle were going to take up a new run he'd bought on the Lower Bogan,
an out-and-out wild place; but he'd got the country cheap,
and thought it would pay in the end. He was going ahead after a stage or two,
but just now he was camping with them.

`My word, he's well in, is the cove,' says the horse-driver;
`he's got half-a-dozen stations besides this one. He'll be
one of the richest men in Australia yet.'

After we saw the cattle (about a thousand head) we thought it would be
a middling day's work to `stick up' the cove and put him through.
Going to form a new station, he'd very like have cash about,
as he'd have to pay for a lot of things on the nail just at first.
If he was such a swell too, he'd have a gold watch and perhaps
a few more trifles. Anyhow, he was good for the day's expenses,
and we thought we'd try it on.

So we passed the cattle and rode quietly along the road
till we saw his dogcart coming; then we stopped inside a yarran scrub,
just as he came by -- a square-built man he seemed to be,
muffled up in a big rough coat. It was a cool morning. We rode up sharpish,
and showed our revolvers, singing out to him to `bail up'.
He pulled up quick and stared at us. So we did at him. Then the three of us
burst out laughing -- regular roared again.

Who should it be but old George Storefield.

`Well, this is a prime joke,' says he. `I knew you were out
somewhere on this road; but I never thought I should live
to be stuck up by you, Dick Marston.'

I looked foolish. It was rather a stunner when you come to think of it.

`I beg a thousand pardons,' says Starlight. `Ridiculous mistake.
Want of something to occupy our time. "For Satan finds
some mischief still," etc. Isn't that the way the hymn runs?
Wonderfully true, isn't it? You'll accept our apologies, Mr. Storefield,
I trust. Poor Dick here will never get over it.'

`How was I to know? Why, George, old man, we thought it was the Governor
turned squatter, or old Billy Wentworth himself. Your trade pays better
than ours, let alone being on the square. Well, shake hands; we'll be off.
You won't tell the girls, there's a good fellow, will you?'

`I can't promise,' says old George; `it's too good a joke.'
Here he laughed a good one. `It isn't often a man gets stuck up
by his friends like this. Tell you what; come and have some lunch,
and we'll talk it over.'

His man rode up then with the spare horse. Luckily, he was a good way behind,
as fellows will keep when they're following a trap, so that they can't be
any good when they're wanted. In this case it was just as well.
He hadn't seen anything.

`Hobble the horses out and put on their nose-bags, Williams,' says he,
`and then get out the lunch. Put the things under that tree.'

They took out the horses, and the chap got out a basket with cold beef
and bread and half a tongue and a bottle of good whisky and water-bag.

We sat down on the grass, and as we'd been riding since sunrise
we did pretty well in the feed line, and had a regular good bit of fun.
I never thought old George had so much go in him; but good times had made him
twice the man he used to be.

After a bit he sends the groom down to the Cowall to water the horses,
and, says he --

`Captain, you'd better come and manage Willaroon down there,
with Dick for stockman. There's a fortune in it, and it's a good way off yet.
Nobody would think of looking for you there. You're a new chum,
just out from home, you know. Plenty of spare country.
I'll send you some cattle to start you on a new run after a bit.'

`If we could throw our past behind us, I'd do it, and thank God on my knees,'
said Starlight. `It would make me almost a happy man again.
But why think of that or any other honest life in this colony now?
We've debarred ourselves from it now and for ever. Our only hope is in
another land -- America -- if we can get away. We shan't be long here now;
we're both sick of this accursed work.'

`The sooner the better,' says George, taking his hand and giving it
a hearty grip. `And, look here, you work your way quietly down to Willaroon.
That's my place, and I'll give you a line across to the Queensland border.
From there you can get over to Townsville, and it's easy to sail from there
to the islands or any port out of reach of harm from here.'

`We'll tackle it next month if we're alive,' says I. So we parted.

Not long after this we got a letter from Jim. He'd heard all about
the way to do it from a man he'd met in Melbourne that had worked his way down
overland from the North. He said once you were there, or near there,
there was little or no chance of being interfered with.
Jeanie was always in a fright every day Jim went away
lest he might be taken and not let come back. So she was always
keeping him up to the mark, making him inquire here and look out there
until he got a bit of information which told him what he wanted.

This man that worked in the store with him was a fast sort of card,
who had been mate of a brig cruising all about and back to Sydney
with sandalwood, beche-de-mer, and what they call island trade.

Well, the captain of the craft, who was part owner, had settled in his mind
that he'd trade regular with San Francisco now, and touch at Honolulu
going and coming. He was to be back at Gladstone in about three months,
and then start for California straight away.

This was the very thing, just made to suit us all to pieces.
If we could make out to one of the Queensland northern ports
it would be easy enough to ship under different names.
Once in America, we'd be in a new world, and there'd be nothing to stop us
from leading a new life.

Chapter 47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew what she was thinking of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was getting on dusk when we started. They wanted us to stop,
but I daren't do it. It was none too safe as it was, and it didn't do
to throw a chance away. Besides, I didn't want to be seen
hanging about George's place. There was nobody likely to know
about Aileen and me riding up together and stopping half-an-hour;

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