previous
next



  ― 68 ―

Chapter XII.

Mr Peter Rowley's model farm.—Mrs Rowley's domestic economy.— Mrs Stubble's disdainful remarks on her thrifty neighbour.— Biddy Flynn's reflections on the growing pride of the family.

ADJACENT to Buttercup Glen lived Mr Peter Rowley, who owned a section which he had bought many years before, when the upset price of land was only five shillings an acre. Half of his lot was swampy, but the remainder was rich brush land, which, to quote a saying of a celebrated wit, “only required to be tickled with a plough to laugh into a harvest.” Mr Rowley, however, was not so much a poet as he was a practical farmer; so he did not believe in merely tickling the ground with a plough and harrow, and then sitting down till harvest began to laugh, and let the grubs and weeds laugh at him in the meantime. He knew that the Divine edict which, in creation's infancy, decreed that “man should eat bread in the sweat of his face,” had never been rescinded, and he cheerfully submitted to it, believing it to be a part of the infinitely wise economy of the great Creator.

Mr Rowley farmed his ground well; and though he did not make what a squatter would consider a satisfactory income out of it, he made a comfortable living, and could save a little money besides. It is rare to meet with a man in New South Wales who has grown rich by merely cultivating his land; indeed, farmers, as a class, are poor at the present time. Various calamities have befallen them for several successive years, such as floods, droughts, rust, &c.; and some of them are well-nigh disheartened. But I believe that better times are already dawning on them; and there is no doubt in my mind that eventually this colony will be as great in agriculture as it is in pastoral and mineral resources.

I need not minutely explain how carefully Mr Rowley drained his land, nor the attention he paid to the alternation of crops; but those matters were important parts of his system which puzzled some of his farming neighbours, who had


  ― 69 ―
long been wedded to the practice, so common in the colony, of enforcing two crops a year off their land without any variation, and in most cases with mere surface-ploughing. His economical arrangements, too, for saving every atom of manure, liquid or otherwise, was a joke to many around him, who did not believe that what they called virgin soil would need such artificial help in their time. But results may be seen this day, and they clearly testify to the advantage of skilful method. Mr Rowley's farm is in a high state of cultivation, and yields a good return for his industry, while many of the adjacent farms are so impoverished and overgrown with noxious weeds, that they are scarcely fit for grazing draught-cattle; and some of the late occupants have been literally starved out.

The storekeepers in Daisybank were glad to buy wheat or maize the produce of Mr Rowley's farm, for they knew it was always well cleaned and free from ryegrass seeds or broken cobs and damaged grains. His dairy produce, too, commanded the highest market prices, and the butchers almost raced after his fat calves and porkers. Peter had planted a lot of rosecuttings behind a three-rail fence, which enclosed about two acres of ground adjacent to his house; and in a few years he had a splendid hedge, which defied the ingress of boys or cattle, besides being ornamental and delightfully fragrant. He was also saved the expense of a new fence, for by the time the old posts were rotted in the ground the hedge had become impenetrable.

Within that enclosure was a variety of fruit-trees, including orange, lemon, citron, and banana; and as Peter had been careful to plant the best of the respective kinds of trees, his fruit was of superior quality, and would always sell when the produce of other orchards would not. He planted a few hundred vines, and usually made two casks of wine and a cask of vinegar each year, besides sending a good many grapes to market. He was as careful in the choice of his breeding-stock as he had been in the selection of trees for his orchard; his maxim being, that a bad tree will occupy as much space as a good one, and an ill-bred beast will eat as much, or sometimes more, than a well-bred one; and his horses and cattle usually met with ready buyers when he had any to sell. In short, Mr Rowley was a sensible, far-seeing man, who, having chosen farming as his calling, devoted his best energies to acquire a knowledge of it, and he had been amply repaid for his trouble. Similar results will generally follow


  ― 70 ―
an intelligent perseverance in any other occupation in life, of which abundant testimony is to be seen in this land and elsewhere.

Mrs Rowley was a quiet, inoffensive woman, and the grateful aspiration of her heart each day was—

“Oh may I still contented be
With what kind Heaven has given me:
And though I may not seem so blest
As others, think my lot the best.”

She was scrupulously cleanly, and economical almost to a fault. She could not bear to see anything wasted, and that feeling had nearly grown into a disposition to hoard before she was aware of it. Still, she was not mean in any way. If sudden disaster affected either the health or the circumstances of any of her neighbours, no one was more ready to run to their relief than Mrs Rowley, and her help was given ungrudgingly, though with a calm judgment which was not always appreciated; and while she was ever ready to help the helpless, she set her face like a flint against idleness or extravagance of any kind. Gossiping housewives often ridiculed her “cheese-paring economy;” but it would have been better for them had they profited by her thrifty example; their homes would have been rendered more comfortable, and perhaps their husbands would have been less often seen wasting their time and money in public-house taprooms.

Those of my readers who have visited some of the rural homesteads in the interior of this colony have doubtless observed an abundance of empty bottles and jars which had contained delicacies of various kinds, imported from distant lands. A few years ago, during the height of the extravagance which was so general after the grand discovery of gold, those discarded bottles and jars were more particularly noticeable. Not only in the vicinity of rural homes, but also in towns, those empty trophies of bygone luxuries were to be seen, and heaps of bottles and jars were as common in backyards as dust-bins. Perhaps there is not much to be said against the consumption of imported pickles, fruits, jams, and the like, by persons living in the city, because few of them have the advantage of garden grounds attached to their dwellings; consequently they are dependent upon the shopkeeper for everything they consume, down to the simple pot-herbs with which they season their broth. But in the majority of homes in the country, there can be very little excuse for


  ― 71 ―
spending money for such articles as can be easily produced by careful housewives—

“Dainties unbought, the produce of the farm.”

When the writer was on a visit to London, in 1854, he heard a manufacturer of oilman's stores remark, “that the Australians must be amazingly fond of pickles and preserves.” His whole staff of employés had been busy day and night, for many weeks, executing orders for thousands of cases of those luxuries for the Sydney market.

Well the London oilman might wonder, and, doubtless, some of the American exporters wonder, and perhaps laugh too, while they are coopering up barrels of their dried apples for our market. In the name of common thrift, it may be asked, Why not dry our own apples, if we want such leathery edibles? Surely our summer sun is warm enough for the operation, and there is no scarcity of pippins. It is a fact, which a glance at our commercial statistics will reveal, that even in these comparatively hard times we colonists expend a large sum of money annually for foreign vegetables and fruits, when our own rich land is capable of producing all that we can reasonably wish for in that way. I am not going to give an essay on protection, nor on free-trade, but I would gladly recommend the study of domestic economy in general.

Mrs Rowley's store-room was a nice, cool, brick-paved apartment, adjoining the dairy, with a simple arrangement for excluding flies and dust, but admitting a current of air. The sun could seldom get a peep at the shingles through the thick branches of acacia which overshadowed the roof. Her shelves were not very showy, but they were strong, as they had need to be, for they held many jars and bottles of pickles, jams, honey, ketchup, marmalade, vinegar, wine, lemon-syrup, and other home-made delicacies. From the beams of the ceiling were suspended bladders of lard, hams, chaps, and flitches of bacon, in tempting profusion; also, ropes of onions, and bunches of herbs. In the coolest corner was a keg of ginger-beer on tap. In another corner was a boxful of home-made candles, and beside it was a harness-cask filled with prime pickled pork.

After showing any intelligent visitor through her store-room, Mrs Rowley would usually say, with modest pride, “I'll warrant all those things are good and wholesome, for I made or preserved them with my own hands; and if they don't look quite so tempting, or are not bottled up so smartly, as the


  ― 72 ―
shop wares, I can be sure they are free from adulteration. And another recommendation is, that they don't cost me much ready money, for they are nearly all produced on our own farm, except the bottles and jars.”

Mr Rowley was a kind man, ever ready to oblige in any way in his power, and quite free from petty querulous notions, which so often make near neighbours enemies to each other. If Mr Stubble's troublesome bull broke down a weak panel in their dividing fence, and committed a trespass, Peter would merely drive the beast out again, and send a good-natured message to his friend Joe to mend the fence; or, if any of Peter's cattle wandered into Joe's enclosures, he would act in a similar neighbourly way. There never were any disagreeable words between them, or threats of impounding, or Court of Request suits for damages. In short, they were sensible, peace-loving men, and were better disposed than to cause each other loss or annoyance about trifling matters, which are common enough in the country, and are sometimes unavoidable.

Mrs Stubble and Mrs Rowley did not agree so well as their husbands. Though they never actually quarrelled, they held such opposite views on many domestic subjects that their pleasant intercourse was thereby marred. Peggy often expressed uncomplimentary opinions of her neighbour's general management; and she was more particularly eloquent if Joe innocently lauded anything that had struck his fancy when paying a visit to the house of an evening, to smoke a friendly pipe with Peter and chat over the affairs of the world.

“Pooh! I don't believe in stewing snakes to buy soap with the fat,” exclaimed Peggy one day, when her husband had explained some little economical arrangement which he had observed that morning in Mrs Rowley's store-room.

“If her ever stewed down a snake, I'll warrant her didn't put the fat in with her kitchen-stuff, mother,” said Joe, smiling. “Her put it away safe enough in a gallipot. The blackfellows' scroggies (doctors) say it's a real good remedy for sprains or bruises. But who told thee about her stewed snakes?”

“Never mind; I shall not tell you who told me. She is too much of a nipper for me to copy, I can tell you that. I know how to manage my house without going to her for advice; and it isn't very nice for me to hear you everlastingly praising up all you see her do. There is no butter like Mrs


  ― 73 ―
Rowley's make, and as for her bacon, one would think she fattened her pigs on raspberries and cream.”

“Come, come, lass; doan't 'ee be so captious. Mrs Rowley be's always axing kindly after thee, and bothering me to take thee over to see her.”

“I don't care if I never darken her doors again; for go when I will, she is sure to begin prating to me about a new way of making some trumpery old mess or other, or about religion, or something else that isn't agreeable. If she likes to live in the linny to save dirting the floor of her house, I don't and won't; so that's plain. I mean to have comfort so long as I can pay for it. But don't say any more to me about her, Stubble, or we shall have words.”

“I don't want to say any more about her if thee don't like it, Peg; but barn it all! doan't'ee say her house bean't comfortable, for that is wrong, anyway; and I don't like to hear folks spoken ill of, no matter who 'em be.”

“Well, I mean to say that our house is comfortable, and, what's more, it is fit for any respectable friend to come into, and no brass kettles on the best parlour sideboard,” said Peggy, warmly.

“Our house was a plaguey deal more comfortable to my mind, Peggy, afore thee turned it upside down, and stuffed it full of fashionable jimcrackery, what's not half so useful as brass kettles and such like. I can't go and take a nap on the sofa, on a warm afternoon, without being hooshed at like a cat in a bonnet-box. Bang'd if I can see the good of having rooms that are too grand to be used.”

“That's just exactly what ould Andy Blake sed whin his new wife wudn't let the donkey sleep in the skillion,” muttered Biddy, who had entered the room unnoticed. She was always ready to have her say on the current topic of conversation.

“How many times have I told you to keep your tongue still when you come into this room, Biddy?” asked Mrs Stubble, sharply.

“Dear knows how many times, missis; but shure ye're allers tellin' me somethin' or other that I forgit to remember. I ax yer pardin'; but it's true enough ye've spoilt the convanience ov this ould house, tryin' to make it look jintale, an' ye'll niver do that same, no more nor ye cud make a baker's cart into a doctor's gig.”

“I will not allow you to pass your remarks on what I do.


  ― 74 ―
Well I'm sure! How dare you? Go into your kitchen this instant, and mind your work.”

“I'm just goin', ma'am. Troth, an' there's nothin' else to mind in this place but work, work; an' I knows who it is as makes most of it too,” soliloquised Biddy, as she re-entered the kitchen. “Dash it all! I mustn't shpake at all now but missis ruffles up as if I was goin' to rob her. She thinks she's mighty like a lady all the while, no doubt; but she's no more like a lady nor I'm like a jintleman, not a bit. Ayah! the pride of the crayther puts me in mind ov King Calabash, the black-fellow in Colonel Bullrush's ould red jacket, an' nothin' else on him at all, barrin' a brass plate slung round his neck wid all his dignity printed on it. Ha, ha, ha! This is a rum worrld, so it is; an' dear knows, there's mighty little ov the fun that's in it that poor craythers like myself wud git, if upstart folks cud have everything their own way, an' iv slavery was lawful.”

“Whatever are you muttering about, Biddy?” asked Mrs Stubble, imperatively, as she followed her maid to the kitchen.

“I was jist shpakin' to meself a bit, ma'am, that's all.”

“You have no business to speak to yourself in my hearing.”

“Save us all, missis! wud ye be afther tyin' me tongue down, like the cork in a bottle ov ginger-pop? Shure, I niver heard ov the like, even in Norfolk Island itself.”

“I will not be spoken to, Biddy.”

“Well ma'am, wid respect to yez, iv ye can shtop a tongue in a live head, ye'll be more cleverer nor all the mimbers ov Parliament in the worrld, an' the Emperor of Roosher forbye; manin' no offince.”

“I tell you again I will not allow you to answer me in my own house,” vociferated Mrs Stubble, at the same time stamping her foot.

“Thin I won't shpake another worrd, ma'am, good or bad; anythin' for pace and quietness,” said Biddy; and then she softly whispered, as her mistress returned to the parlour, “shure, thin, ye can't shtop me from thinkin', any way; an' iv ye know'd what I am afther thinkin' about yerself jist now, ye'd be ropeable, so ye wud. Ha, ha! I can't help laughin', but I suppose I'll be gagged for doin' that same, by an' bye. Ha, ha! It's a free counthry now, so it is; an' it's a pity that old 'ooman didn't come here awhile agone, for she wud have made a rale out-an'-out matron for the Parramatta factory.”

previous
next