― 53 ―

Chapter X.

Bob Stubble and Biddy Flynn's disastrous ride to Daisybank.—Bob's humiliation before his grand young friends.—A sample of Biddy's philosophy.

BOB STUBBLE took no part in the discussion related in the preceding chapter. He had risen from his bed that morning before the magpies began to make the bush vocal with their matutinal melody, or the cockatoos and king-parrots awoke up for their customary gabbling conference as to what unlucky farmer they should lay under contribution for a breakfast of milky young maize. With a lighted lantern in his hand, Bob hastened to the stable, and gave old Jogger, the cart-horse, a feed of corn and a comforting rub down with a wisp of straw. He then tapped at Biddy Flynn's bedroom window, and bade her get up directly if she wished to go to Daisybank with him.

“Botheration! What for did ye wake me up when it 'aint nigh daylight? Yawgh! I don't want to go to town in the dark, an' maybe break me bones among the stumps, or git bogged in a mud-hole,” grumbled Biddy.

“Hold your cackle, can't you? I don't want father to see us start. It will be sunrise before we can get away, for I want my breakfast first. Come, get up, Biddy; there's a good old soul.”

“Och! an' ye're allers gettin' over owld Biddy wid yer blarney, so ye are. Jist go an' stir up the back log, and sling the tay-kettle over it, an' I'll be out wid yer in a jiffy, if I don't fall asleep agin while I'm wakin' up.”

Away went Bob, and soon he had charred the iron-bark log in the huge kitchen chimney, and made a blazing fire. Before the kettle had begun to sing, out came Biddy from her bedroom in simple morning attire, and busied herself in preparing breakfast for her young master and herself.

“Ye'll ate yer male in the kitchen this mornin', won't ye, Masther Bob?”

“Yes, of course; and don't you begin fizzing away with

  ― 54 ―
your frying-pan, or you'll wake up everybody in the house. What have you got cold in the cupboard, Biddy?”

“There's a peach-pie, an' a damper an' butther; nothin' more, barrin' a knuckle bone ov pork, what's polished pretty nigh as clane as the handle ov a knife.”

“Hand it all out, Biddy, and then go and polish yourself, for I want to be off at the first streak of daylight.”

“An' what for are ye in sich a mortial hurry-skurry this mornin', Masther Bob?” asked Biddy, as she placed the viands on the table.

“Never you mind; that's my business. Hand up the teapot, Biddy, and then go and get ready. I won't wait a minute after I get Jogger in the cart.”

“Save us all! what a flustration ye're in, an' nobody knows a ha'porth about it. But ye'd betther take care ye don't scalt yer teeth out wid this bilin' hot tay, or choke yerself wid a peach-stone.” Biddy then shuffled back to her chamber to put on her best gear while Bob ate his breakfast. Meanwhile I will explain the cause of his haste, which was so very unusual that Biddy “cudn't make it out at all, at all.”

During the last few weeks a fulsome pride had sprung up in Bob's breast, to which he had heretofore been a stranger. His reputation as a sportsman, such a crack shot with his long duck gun, and one who knew the haunts of all the game in the bush, had attracted Mr Goldstone, who, as I before stated, was on a visit to a gentleman residing not far from Daisybank. The result was, that in visiting Buttercup Glen, Goldstone saw and was smitten with Maggie at first sight; and Bob became so fascinated with his new friend's jaunty address and demeanour, that, although scarcely conscious of the fact, he began to imitate him in many ways, and to ignore his own natural free and easy manner for the assumed airs of a city dandy. He was highly elated, too, at the companionship of a gentleman who was generally believed to be very wealthy, and with whom all the young “nobs” in the neighbourhood associated.

Among the first indications of the unhealthy ambition which inflated Bob's heart was dissatisfaction with his lot and station in life, a growing disrespect for his unpolished parents, his father especially, and a distaste for his humble home. His contempt for the tip cart in which he had so often whistled on his way to the village, or home again, was increased every time he heard his fashionable friend speak of his “turn out” in Sydney, which Bob imagined was a very stylish one. He

  ― 55 ―
would almost have suffered scalping sooner than allow Goldstone to see him driving old Jogger in the “lumbering rattletrap,” which he began to think was hardly smart enough for a city greengrocer.

Bob had agreed to meet Goldstone at Daisybank that morning, and was most anxious not to do so until he had delivered his dairy produce to the steamboat agent, and had got rid of the loathsome cart, and the objectionable companionship of Biddy Flynn. It had been arranged by his mother and Mag the previous night that Biddy should go with him to Daisybank to buy a few new kitchen utensils, and to do a little shopping on her own account. She undertook to walk home again after she had completed her purchases, and Bob was to bring the things home in the cart when he returned in the evening. Bob had another reason for starting at such an early hour, which was a desire to avoid his father, knowing that he was going shooting for the day, or he would have grumbled at so much time being wasted in sport, when there was plenty of work to do on the farm. Bob's conscience was rather tender on that point, for he was aware that he had done little else but sport about with Goldstone for the last fortnight or more.

By the time the horse was harnessed Biddy was ready to start, though she was not in her most amiable humour, and her outward appearance was unusually rugged through dressing “in sich a red-hot hurry as if the house was on fire.” The sun was just rising as Biddy scrambled into the cart by the near wheel, after putting up the slip-rails; and before she could comfortably seat herself on a box of eggs, Bob had whipped Jogger into a trot, which turned the little woman over in a second, and further ruffled her disposition and slightly damaged her bonnet.

“Bad manners to yez, Masther Bob! did ye want to kill a crather out an' out? What for are yez in sich a mortial hurry that ye can't give a body time to sit down, nor to take a morsel ov breath without chokin' herself intirely. Troth, if I'd know'd ye'd be afther drivin away like a fire ingin, be dash'd iv I'd a got in the cart at all. Not I. Aisy, sir, aisy! I tell yez! Shure as death the wheels wull be off in a minute an' we shall be knocked into dead corpses. Shtop the baste, an' let me git out I say, iv ye won't drive along dacently. Fegs, I'd rather walk all the way there, iv I crawled on me knees, thin be boxed about in this haythinish way an' git me clothes

  ― 56 ―
spoilt, an' all me bones cracked, forby the life bein' scared clane out ov me.”

“Hold your noise, and sit still Biddy. You'll frighten the horse directly,” shouted Bob.

“Howld me noise, is it? Faix, then, I won't, an' that's plain enow, anyhow. If ye don't shtop the baste this blessed minute I'll scrache murther, so I will,” said Biddy, growing quite red with wrath and fear combined.

Bob could see that Biddy's temper was up, and he knew it would not be wise to trifle with her under such circumstances; so he very reluctantly reined Jogger into a more sober pace. But it was too much to expect that Biddy's ire would soften down as speedily as Jogger's paces; and there she sat on the egg-box, grumbling out her dissatisfaction at being “trated worser nor a fat calf goin' to markit,” and wishing that she had “shtopped in her bed comfitably instead of gittin' up in the middle ov the night to have all the sinse bumped out ov her in a dhirty owld cart.”

They jogged along tolerably easy for some time, when Bob, who had begun to grow impatient of their slow progress, broke out with wrathful emphasis,—“I can't go crawling along at this rate any longer, Biddy; I want to get to the township early; so hold tight, I am going to trot again.”

Slash went the whip, and off went the horse at a brisk trot, which soon freshened into a canter, and as the cart had no springs and the road was rough, Biddy was soon jolted off her seat again, notwithstanding her attention to Bob's hint to “hold tight.”

“Bedad, thin, do ye think I'm goin' to sit still an' be damaged for iver widout havin' a squeak for it?” said the little woman, in a rage, at the same time getting up and snatching the reins from Bob's hands. “I'll soon shtop the brute meself—woa! woa! woo!”

“Sit down, you old gingerbread-nut!” roared Bob, giving her a push which seated her on the bottom of the cart; but unluckily she clutched one rein in her hand, which she pulled with all her might. The consequence was, that the horse swerved aside, when the off-wheel came in contact with a stump, and in a twinkling the cart was upset, and Biddy and her master were lying on the road beside the overturned box of eggs and the keg of butter.

Biddy's loud shrieks as she fell from the cart vibrated through the clear morning air, and reached the ears of a knot

  ― 57 ―
of loungers on the steamboat wharf a mile away, and soon they were hurrying to the rescue. It happened that Mr Goldstone had that morning ridden in to the post-office with letters for Sydney, and on the way thither met Dick Swallow and his brother Fred. Seeing a crowd running in the direction of Biddy's cries, and being always ready for a little excitement of any sort, the three young gentlemen, who were well mounted, put spurs to their horses, and arrived first at the scene of disaster.

“Hullo, Stubble! I am sorry to see you have had a spill,” said Goldstone, jumping off his horse and going up to Bob to shake hands. At the same time, the young Swallows briefly expressed their sympathy.

“Oh, it is nothing,” stammered Bob, trying to laugh, but colouring intensely with wounded pride and confusion at being seen by his aristocratic friends in such a humiliating position.

“Ugh! nothin', do ye call it? Bad luck to yez for a cranky young spalpeen!” roared Biddy, who was by no means improved in appearance by the mud with which she was begrimed. “Here's a lovely keg o'butther all sprawlin' in the dirrt, an' a big box of eggs knocked into flip; forbye dashin' the brains out of meself pretty nigh; an' ye call that nothin', do ye, yer haythin?”

“Well, it can't be helped; so hold your noise, Biddy,” said Bob, picking up his gun, and preparing to leave the spot. “You had better go on to Daisybank, and I'll get one of these men that's coming to take charge of the horse and cart.”

“An' did yez want me to lave the butther lyin' in the road?” asked Biddy, with a sneer, while she began to roll up her sleeves for action.

“Yes, yes; it is dirty. Let it lie where it is; the man will pick up the keg. Here, my man, I'll give you a crown if you will take charge of this—aw—horse and concern; leave them at the blacksmith's yonder, and—aw”——

“Be the powers, I'll niver lave this beautiful lock ov butther to waste, whiles I've got two fists on me. Not I; so yez naydn't be tellin' the man to take away the impty keg till I fill it. Shure the missis wud brawl the ears aff o' me, if I did that same, soh!” said Biddy, beginning to gather up the butter with her hands, and putting it into the keg, to the extreme annoyance of Bob, who could not but observe that his three fashionable friends were unable to restrain their mirth at his comical predicament.

  ― 58 ―

“You are an obstinate old creature!” exclaimed Bob, in an affected tone of voice.

“Bad scran to yez, Bob Stubble! what do ye mane at all?” vociferated Biddy, thoroughly aroused, and standing up with a defiant air, and her hands covered with butter. “An' am I to be tumbled upside down, an' me neck a'most broke, an' thin to be called ugly names by the likes o' you. Ugh! git out widge yer! Don't ye be comin' the boss over Biddy Flynn, or ye'll only be showin' them grinnin' gossoons there that I don't care a ha'porth for yez.”

“How dare you presume to speak to me in that style, you saucy old bush-cat?” shouted Bob, forgetting his assumed haughty air for an instant; at the same time he gave Biddy an unceremonious push out of his way.

“What do ye mane at all by pushing me? Yah! be off wid ye!” she yelled, with her face at white heat, as Bob was about to give her a second push; at the same time she shook the dirty butter off her hands at his head, and immediately prepared to administer a larger doze, if necessary to do so in self-defence.

It is hard to say what summary vengeance Bob would have taken in the savageness of his soul; and it is probable that Biddy would have found her head inside the butter-tub, had not Goldstone seized the arm of the bespattered youth, and led him to a cottage near at hand; while the crowd were laughing loudly at his expense, and at the same time were lauding Biddy for her pluck in basting her domineering master.

Never before had Bob's sensitive feelings received such a shock as they did on that unlucky morning, though he had experienced above an average share of casualties in the course of his lifelong residence in the bush. He had been horned by a wild heifer, speared by a hostile black fellow, and half-drowned on two occasions when crossing swollen rivers. He had been lost in the bush for three days, and subsisted on a kangaroo rat and fern-root. He had been fired at when galloping away from bushrangers, and had had numerous minor disasters from bolting or back-jumping horses, and was once upset in a mailcoach. But the whole of those mishaps combined did not cause him so much mental discomfiture as the upset in the cart that morning, together with the unprecedented abuse from Biddy. The reason for his chagrin I have before hinted at; and it will be judged that it was not the mere tumble out

  ― 59 ―
of the vehicle, or even the eccentric behaviour of Biddy. Those occurrences would not have troubled him over much had there been no quizzical spectators at hand; but to be thus debased in the presence of Goldstone and the young Swallows, to be called “Bob Stubble,” and to be bespattered with butter before those friends whom he was most anxious to impress with a sense of his importance, and in the midst of a laughing street crowd, was more than his fortitude could bear, and wrath was beginning to master his prudence and all his other virtues too.

“Never mind, Stubble; don't bother yourself any more about it, old fellow! I understand it all; the woman is mad,” said Goldstone, consolingly, as Bob was giving a stammering explanation of the mishap, and cleansing his face at the same time. Bob was especially anxious for his friends to know that it was a very uncommon event for Biddy to ride in a cart with him, and that her rude familiarity in addressing him was an unlicensed liberty which she had never before taken. Goldstone and the Swallows appeared to sympathise with him, and warmly expressed their opinion that Biddy was an old savage who deserved to be ducked to death in a swill-tub. Still Bob could not but suspect from their smirky looks that they were longing to laugh out their suppressed merriment.

In order to show his young sporting friends how indifferent he was to such common trifles as a horse and cart, and a few pounds' worth of dairy produce, Bob, after washing his face, accompanied his friends to the Daisybank Inn for refreshments, leaving Biddy to repair damages in any way she chose. Some of the bystanders had righted the cart and rubbed the dust off the horse; others separated the sound eggs from the broken ones; while Biddy gathered up the butter and gradually regained her good temper.

“Troth, thin, it won't be wasted afther all,” quoth Biddy, as she dabbed the last handful into the tub. “And if there shud be a little tint or two ov clane mud in it, it won't pison nobody, I'll warrant; an' may be it'll all shake to the bottom ov the keg. There aint a morsel of home dirt in it anyhow, an' that's more nor some ov the slap-dash butther-makers on this side of the counthry can say—more shame for 'em.”

“What are you going to do with it, Biddy?” asked the man whom Bob had hired to take charge of the horse and cart.

“Do wid it? Why, sind it to markit, to be shure. So be

  ― 60 ―
afther puttin' the tub in the carrt, an' let's be off out ov this pritty quick, or we'll miss the shtamer, an' thin I'll be bothered. Everybody in Sydney won't know that the butther has been scraped up out of the mud, and it wull be harrd if somebody won't ate it. By the same token, it's a good job for a lot of us poor unfortinate mortials, that all the worrld don't know the scrapes we've bin in, or don't see the little bits ov dirt there are sticking to our characters; an' maybe that's the very rayson why the worst ov us will find a friend sometimes. Here, honies! ye may suck all thim cracked eggs, if ye like; an' look out for chicks!” she added, addressing a lot of young urchins, who had gathered round to see the fun, or to share the spoil.

“Arrah, Judy! me darlint! let me lift you into your chariot,” said Mr Snubby, the pompous little district constable (a man of immense importance in his own way); at the same time he took hold of Biddy's arms, with mock gallantry.

“Kape yer slippery paws off me, iv ye plase, Misther Trap! I've got money in me pocket,” exclaimed Biddy, who saw that he was trying to make fun of her.

“You are an ugly old woman!” said Mr Snubby, standing back with offended dignity.

“It's a good job for me I'm not an ugly ould man, for that 'ud be a mighty dale worse,” replied Biddy, with a significant look at the sour-faced functionary. She then climbed into the cart beside her new driver, and away they jogged, while the crowd were laughing at the discomfited Mr Snubby.