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Chapter XI.

Efforts of Mrs Stubble to make their old house look stylish.—Bob's sport on Barnacle Island.—Biddy and the bear.—Bob's reflections on practical joking.

AFTER doing her business in the township, Biddy Flynn walked home again, with her shoes tucked under her arm, for, being new, they galled her feet, and made her “onaisy.” On her arrival at the Glen, she found “the ould house close up turned into rubbidge intirely, an' sorra a tidy place in it where she could sit down in pace, and rist her bruised bones.”

It is necessary to explain the movement which had so marred Biddy's comfort, and drawn forth the above impatient remark. Mrs Stubble and Maggie had put their heads together to effect certain alterations in the interior of their house. They were doubtful if father would favour their plans, but they resolved to try their persuasive influence with him, and they knew that they would have a better chance of success if Biddy were out of the way, for upon such an important matter she would most certainly obtrude her opinion; and her judgment often influenced Mr Stubble, for the simple reason that she usually displayed a good deal of practical wisdom, although she had a quaint way of expressing it. Their house contained a good many rooms, but they were all small; and Maggie had suggested that, by merely knocking down a lath-and-plaster partition, they could make two apartments into one, which would do nicely for a drawing-room. Her mother was delighted at the idea, and said she knew no reason why they should not have a little bit of style about their house as well as other folks, who had not half as much money as themselves, consequently had less cause to be proud.

“Humph! drawing-room, indeed! I don't see the good of it, Peg; for none of us knows how to draw, if us had time to spare for it,” said Joe, after his wife had explained the plan in her most persuasive manner.

“You don't exactly understand the thing, master,” said

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Peggy. “A drawing-room is a sort of bettermost room, you know, to put visitors in when they come to see us; the same as Mrs Drydun had at Luckyboy.”

“Well, it's my notion, Peg, that us have got plenty of rooms, good enough for anybody who isn't too proud for such homely folks as us be; and any room in the house is plenty big enough to hold all the friends us have got hereabouts.”

“But you know, Joe, that you have written to Mr Goldstone, and told him that he may court Mag.”

“Ees, that's right enough, missis; but surely thee doan't want to knock two rooms into one on purpose for two young uns to coart in. Us didn't want so much room as all that in days agone. Mr Goldstone bean't such a mighty big chap in size, and Mag isn't nigh hand as fat as her mother.”

“You are very provoking, father,” said Peggy, in a rather petulant tone. “You know what I mean well enough. I don't see why we should live in this plain pauperish way, when we have ever so much more money than some of our neighbours who live in style, and enjoy themselves. It is high time for us to get out of this beggarly way of living.”

“Oh, aye! now I begin to see what thee means, Peggy. Thee wants to be grand-like; that's it, is it? I be afeard I shall spoil thee, though; for it bean't in my grain to take a high polish. But please theeself, lass; knock down the partition, if that will make thee happy. I doan't care what thee dost, so long as thee looks sweet.”

Barney, their handy-man, was called in forthwith; and in a short time the partition was down, and the comfort of the house was annihilated. Myriads of white ants were exposed to view at the same time; and when Biddy returned, the house was in the state of confusion which she graphically described in her own vernacular:—

“Save us all! and what an ugly mess ye are making here!” said Biddy, addressing Barney, but intending her remarks to reach other ears too. “What on airth are ye doin' at all? Thryin' to cotch all the varmin at onst? or are ye ony jist scaring away the rats by makin' 'em belave the owld house is goin' to tumble down althegether? Troth, it looks likely enough to do it; so ye'd betther take care ov yer cobbera, Barney.”

“We are going to make a drawing-room,” replied Barney, with a quiet chuckle at the astounded looks of Biddy.

“Och Mike! a drawin'-room is it they want? It'ull be as handy to 'em as a four-post bed 'ud be to owld Polly out in the

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stock-yard yinder. Ha, ha, ha! Dash'd, if I can help laughin', though I'm rale crass. Poogh! what a dhirty dust ye're kickin' up, Barney. Can't ye strike aisy? But never mind, sorra a hair I care; hit out how ye like, and ye'll clane yer muck up afther ye too, for niver a broom or a brush will I fist this blissed day to plase anybody alive, and ye may take my worrd for that same.” Biddy then trotted to the kitchen, grumbling, as she went, about the pride of some folks, “who were allers breakin' their backs to appear grander nor nature meant 'em to be, and makin' every poor body under 'em as miserable as a sick beggar.”

Biddy did not mention the disasters of the morning to any one in the house; for, indignant as she had been with her young master, she liked him too well to get him into trouble, and when her anger had subsided, she was more inclined to blame herself than him. Kindness of heart was one of her prominent characteristics: and though she was quick in her temper and sharp enough in her denunciation of wrong-doing, she was always more ready to praise than to blame; and, in her own words, “she wudn't hurrt a hair ov a rat's tail if she know'd it, especially if the varmint didn't come anigh her at all.”

A short distance from Daisybank is a very picturesque little island, overgrown with mangrove bushes and swamp oak-trees. Bob Stubble had had many dainty meals of teal, plover, black ducks and other game from Barnacle Island. Occasionally he shot a black swan, which is not a particularly tender bird, and requires more curry-powder to disguise its carrion flavour than is agreeable to delicate stomachs; consequently it is not regarded as a very desirable dish for the table. But if nothing better was to be met with (which rarely happened), the sportsman could always count upon bagging plenty of nankeen crane (night-heron), if he were not fastidious about the quality of his game. Hundreds of those nocturnal birds were to be seen any day dosing among the branches of the oak-trees, and might be knocked down by the most ordinary marksman.

After leaving the inn that morning, Bob started in a small boat for Barnacle Island, in company with his three friends and two blackfellows, who were very expert boatmen as well as keen sportsmen. Each man carried a double-barrelled gun with plenty of ammunition. As the tide was low, the boat could not get within a hundred yards of the island; so the gentlemen were carried on shore by the blacks, who sank so

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deeply in the mud at times that it was doubtful if they would not have to drop their heavy burdens in order to extricate themselves; however, they struggled manfully onward, laughing merrily all the while, and at length landed their passengers dry-shod.

A flock of black ducks took wing at their approach, and flew away far down the river; but the disappointment at not being able to have a pop at them was soon forgotten in the excitement of seeing hundreds of night-heron opening their drowsy eyes to see who were invading their little island home, and disturbing their morning slumbers. Bang! bang! bang! went the guns, and down fell the birds almost as fast as the delighted blackfellows could pick them up; and every one seemed pleased at the sport except Bob, who had missed his first bird, and in his chagrin and over-anxiety to hit the second one, he missed that also. He could not reasonably blame his gun, for he had previously praised it beyond its due; and he could not excuse his blundering by accusing the birds of coyness, for the poor sleepy-headed creatures had not sense enough to fly even beyond pistol-shot; so while he muttered out some half-intelligible excuse to his laughing friends, he mentally blamed Biddy Flynn for unsettling his nerves, and thus spoiling his reputation as a crack shot in the eyes of the young Swallows, who did not forget to twit him for his awkwardness. It is very probable that his unusual libation at the inn that morning had more to do with his failure than poor Biddy had; but Bob forgot that in his excitment, while he secretly resolved to be revenged on the unsuspecting old woman the first opportunity he had. It is no wonder, then, that he was sullen when he reached home soon after dusk that evening.

Biddy ran out with a lantern when she heard him drive up to the slip-rails; and by way of showing that she had forgotten or forgiven his disagreeable behaviour in the morning, she said in a cheerful tone, “I'm rale glad to see ye home agin safe an' sound, Masther Bob. An' have yez had any shport to-day, sir?”

“Yes; I knocked down an old cackling goose,” said Bob, sharply.

“ 'Deed, fegs! An'ye don't call that shport for a gintleman what any ould 'ooman cud do wid a broomstick?” replied Biddy, who knew very well what Bob meant.

“Don't talk to me. Put down the lantern, and go and mind your pots and pans,” growled Bob.

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“Ah, ma bougha! thin me pots an' pans are purtier things to look at nor your surly face, anyhow; so take the lantern an' light yerself, an' ye can let me know whin ye want me nixt time,” retorted Biddy; and forthwith she trotted back to her kitchen in a ruffled mood.

I have not thought it necessary to follow Bob and his companions through all their exploits that day. They had no lack of sport, however; for when they grew tired of knocking down nankeen birds, they left the island for a thick brush on the river-bank, where wallabi and other wild animals abounded. Amongst their captures was a full-grown native bear (koala). One of the blacks cut his way to the top of a tall gum-tree, and brought down the bear alive. Bob had secured that as his share of the day's spoil, and had taken it home with him in the cart, intending to stuff it for his curiosity shop.

Bob's anger was aroused at Biddy's last retort; so, without pausing for reflection, he dragged the bear from the cart, and pushed it quietly into the kitchen, the door of which was invitingly ajar. “See if that is a purtier thing to look at than my surly face,” he muttered to himself as he walked away.

But it is only fair to say that Bob had too much good sense to delight in mischievous practical jokes; and he had no sooner put the bear inside the door than he regretted doing so, for he knew that Biddy had been very timid of bush animals ever since the day she was clawed by an “old man” kangaroo. He stood for a minute or two, irresolute whether to go into the kitchen and drag the bear out again; but he reasoned that if he did so, Biddy would certainly scold him for putting it in, and he thought it would very likely run out of its own accord. So he put his horse into the stable, and then went into the house, and soon forgot Biddy and the bear in the excitement of listening to his mother's animated account of the honour that was about to fall upon the family, and in hearing his sister read Goldstone's letter aloud for the seventh time that day.

Soon afterwards he retired to bed, but it was some time before he could compose himself to sleep, for his conscience troubled him. He felt grieved for his unmanly attempt to frighten a poor old woman, who was always ready to do a kind act for him when he treated her properly. Heartily he hoped that the bear had escaped to the bush, though he wanted it for his museum. He was just dozing off when loud shrieks

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from Biddy aroused him, and every one else in the house besides. In another second he heard his father's voice asking, “What's the matter now?”

“Whaa-a! hurry, masther! hurry! an' bring a gun or a pishtle widge yer! Some ugly rascal is under me bed, so he is! Whaa-a! make haste, masther dear!”

“Hallo! hallo! What's up?” asked Bob, who had hastily donned part of his clothing, and run to Biddy's room door before any other person could get there.

“Oh, macree aisthig! I'm skeer'd to death intirely. Come in, Masther Bob; for the dear life o'ye, come in, an' cotch this great big fellow under me bed.”

“What is it, Biddy?” asked Bob again, entering the room, his face drawn into a most unnatural shape with his efforts to suppress his laughter, although he really felt ashamed of himself. “Where is it? What is it?”

“Dear knows what it is at all; but it's under me bed, shure. For the love ov marcy, don't let it come anigh me agin, Masther Bob,” whined Biddy, who was coiled up under the bed-clothes.

“Here he is! here he is! don't be afraid, Biddy. I've got him tightly enough,” shouted Bob, as he seized the bear by the nape of the neck, and dragged him from his corner.

“Arrah! blissings on ye, Masther Bob. I'm iverlastinly obliged to yez, so I am. Pull him out, sir, iv ye plase. Who is he, sir?”

“It's only a bear,” said Bob.

“A bear! Och, murther! It's a marcy the dhirty baste didn't bite the legs clane off me. How in the worrld did the crathur come to git in here, I'd like to know? Thankee kindly, Masther Bob; plase to shut the door tight, sir. Dear life, what a fright I'm afther gittin'!”

The next morning Biddy was overflowing with gratitude to Bob for his timely help in her distress, and at the same time she humbly begged his pardon for her shocking bad manners on the previous morning. Bob felt his conscience twinge, while a blush of shame covered his honest face, and he was about to confess that her thanks were undeserved, when the dirty butter rose to his memory; so he mentally cried “quits.”

“The boy who threw a stone at a dog, which missed the dog and struck his cruel stepmother, thought that, though he otherwise intended it, the stone was not thrown away.” So Bob, with his bear, did not mean to frighten Biddy so

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thoroughly, yet he consoled himself with the thought that she was not wholly undeserving of punishment. But notwithstanding that reflection, he could not acquit himself for his thoughtless trick; and he resolved that he would in future eschew practical jokes, from a conviction that they usually began in mischief and ended in disaster. His manly resolution is worthy of imitation by all young folks; and both young and old would do well to remember the motto of Cicero the sage—“Moderation should be used in joking.”

The letter which had been despatched to Mr Goldstone shortly led to an interview, and to his acceptance as the affianced lover of Miss Stubble. In view of the forthcoming alliance, the importance of every member of the household, save Joe and Biddy, was enhanced a hundredfold in their own estimation, if not in the eyes of their gossiping neighbours, some of whom enviously declared, “the match was all for money on one side, but what it was for on the other side they could not imagine, for Mag had nothing to commend her to the notice of a rich gentleman, except it was her pride; and as for her connexions, the less said about low people the better!”