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Chapter XVI.

Arrival of a letter from Sydney.—Mr Stubble goes to Sydney and hires a furnished cottage for his family.—His visit to Museum and Botanical Gardens.

“THIS bean't for me, I be sartain sure!” exclaimed Mr Stubble, as he closely examined a letter which had just arrived express from the post-office, addressed “——Stubble, Esquire, Daisybank.”

“What is it, master? Let me see it,” said Mrs Stubble, peeping over her husband's shoulder, while Bob and Mag looked as interested as if their father had just discovered a new species of bird.

“I bean't a squire; Joe Stubble is my name, and that was my feyther's name too. My grandfeyther was a groom to a squire's uncle, and that's about as nigh as I can get to the honour. It's a lagging matter to open a letter as doan't belong to us, so thee'd best send it back to the postmaster, Peggy, then us'll be safe from the law.”

“Stuff and nonsense, Joe! I'd open it as soon as crack an egg, for it's ours, sure enough. There is no other Stubble hereabouts as I ever heerd tell on. Give me the letter, I'll read it; then if there is any lagging to be got, I'll be in for it; I bean't skeered a bit. There now, didn't I tell you so? Of course, it is for us. It is from the gentleman that Benjamin said he would ask to look out for a house for us,” added Peggy, when she had opened the letter and glanced at its purport.

“Well read 'en out loud for the benefit of the company,” said Joe, smirking under the peculiar stimulus which the new title had given to his latent vanity. Peggy thereupon read as follows, with strong emphasis on the first line:—

“——STUBBLE, Esq.

“DEAR SIR,—At the kind recommendation of Mr Goldstone, jun., I take the liberty of sending you herewith a list of suburban family residences which I have at present in

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my hands for sale, or to let; and I shall be happy to treat with you on the most liberal terms for the purchase or lease of either of the properties specified.—Awaiting your esteemed commands, I have the honour to be, your most obedient servant,


“What do you think of that, now?” asked Peggy, with her eyes full of glee.

“It's a nation civil letter, sure enough,” replied Joe.

“Civil! Is that all? Did you ever see such a one afore in all your days, Stubble? I mean to say, it's a beautiful letter, that we all ought to be proud of.”

“You had better get it framed and hung up in the best parlour, like old Mark Browny did the big blue electioneering placard of the candidate who bought all his measly pigs. “Bluster for ever!” suggested Bob, with an ironical grin; whereupon his father frowned, and his mother said she was astonished at him.

“Well, what had we best do about it?” asked Peggy, after they had all given the subject several minutes' silent consideration. “There is a fine lot of houses in the list, but I wish he had sent pictures of 'em. I don't see how we can choose the best without seeing them all. What do you say, father?”

“Blamed, if I know dezackly what to say about it, Peggy. If I were going to choose a cart, or anything in that line, I'd know how to go about it as well as here and there a one; but it's mortal little I know about fine houses. One thing, us don't want a great big house to hold our bits o' traps.”

“Traps! You don't mean to say you are going to take our old rickety furniture to Sydney? Surely, you don't intend to do that, Joe? Why, old Dame Rowley would giggle her wig off, if she see'd us carting away all our combustibles. That would be a joke!”

“Well, well, doan't 'ee get cross, Peg. I doan't care a shot what thee dost so long as thee 'rt happy and quiet. Have a survey of the old things, and buy new ones in Sydney with the money if thee likes.”

“Of course; that is the proper way, father,” chimed in Mag, with a pleasant smile; and Bob said “certainly;” so that matter was decided. The next consideration was, who should go to Sydney to select the house; and after many propositions had been rejected, it was resolved that father should go himself. Peggy strongly urged her right to go with him;

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but as she was not supported by her son and daughter, she, for once, was outvoted, so obliged to yield her point and stay at home. After tea that evening the discussion on the choice of the new house was resumed, and continued until a late hour. Joe began to fancy that a new and happy era was dawning upon him, for his wife and children were so uncommonly amiable and kind. Maggy actually said “dear” to him once, but she coughed after it, and Bob winked at his mother, to show that he had noticed Mag's mistake.

When Joe retired to bed that night he had so many warnings, injunctions, and pleadings from his wife and daughter echoing in his ears, that he could not sleep a wink until about an hour before it was time to get up; so he naturally felt rather drowsy while the instructions were being repeated in the morning. After dressing himself in his best colonial tweed suit and cabbage-tree hat, his son drove him to Daisybank, and saw him safely on board the steamer for Sydney.

“Sarvant, sir!” said Joe, with a humble bow, as he entered the little office of Mr Hiram Clinch, on the following morning.

“Well, mister! what can I do for you?” asked Mr Clinch in a brusque tone, for he thought he was speaking to a poor man.

“I be called to see thee about a house,” said Joe, producing from his pocket the list which the agent had forwarded to him.

“Oh, ah, yes! Beg pardon, sir. You are Mr Stubble, I presume: very happy to see you, sir. Please to take a seat, Mr Stubble.”

Joe seated himself, placed his hat under the chair, and began to wipe his dusty face with his handkerchief; he then remarked that it was “uncommon warm in Sydney.”

“Very sultry, sir. When did you come to town, Mr Stubble?”

“I come down by the Colloroy last night; and it war rough weather sure enough. I thought us was all going to the bottom, and I felt as if I'd be glad to go there too, for I was so mortal sea-sick. I would never sell my farm to buy a ship to sail in myself, anyway.”

“Ha, ha, ha! Curious sensation sea-sickness, isn't it? Hum—ah—yes; about the house, Mr Stubble. Have you decided which one on my list is likely to suit you?” said Mr Clinch, in a manner which nicely blended sympathy and humour with business push.

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“Noa, sir; can't say as I have dezackly. My missis wanted to come down with me, and I wish her had done it too, for my head be's so dazed with the confounded racket of the town, and the dust to boot, that whipped if I know what I be about rightly. I only wish her 'ud bide easy in the house us have got; her 'ud be a plaguey deal more comfortable up there than her'll be in Sydney, that's my notion. What rent might ye ax for this house now, mister—the one on top of yer bill?”

“Yes, a beautiful house that, Mr Stubble, and I should say it will just suit you. Nice convenient distance from town, good neighbourhood, first-rate roads, and only one turnpike. The rent of that one, sir, if you will take it for a term, will be £300 a year; it was let for £450, but the tenant went insolvent, and”——

“Whew-w!” whistled Joe, while his eyebrows touched his forelock. “Three hundred pound a year! I can't afford no such rent, and thee must look me out summat a mighty deal cheaper than that, mister, or else I shall toddle back and titivate the old house up.”

Mr Clinch smiled at the simple bluntness of his new client; at the same time he mentally resolved not to let him go home again until he had earned a commission out of him in some way or other. After describing several other enticing properties, to all of which, however, Joe shook his head and said “he couldn't afford it,” the agent seemed to be suddenly struck with a new idea, and he exclaimed, “By the bye, Mr Stubble, I have just the very thing that will suit you. I think you said that you were going to sell off your furniture?”

“Ees, sure, every stick of it, if anybody will buy it.”

“Well, sir, I can let you a snug five-roomed cottage at Redfern, all ready furnished to hand, and nothing to do but walk in and sit down comfortably. You can buy all the furniture if you like, and save yourself no end of trouble and expense.”

“The very 'dentical thing to my mind, sir,” said Joe, with a sigh of relief. “It'll save a heap of bother. What's the price of that consarn, mister?”

“Only twenty pounds a month, or say £240, if you take it for a year certain.”

“All right, sir. I'll have it; it's just the ticket. My missis will be pretty soon glad to get out of Sydney again; and then us won't have the trouble of selling our traps afore us start, nor of buying new ones when us come down neither.

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We'll all be into it this day fortnight, if that'll suit 'ee, sir?”

“Oh, yes, Mr Stubble, I'll study your convenience; but perhaps you will not object to leave me a deposit—a matter of form, you know—or suppose we say you pay a month's rent in advance?”

“It's no odds to me when I pay, so long as I doan't pay twice,” said Joe, drawing out his leathern pouch, and depositing a twenty-pound note with the agent, who gave him a receipt, and made a few pleasant remarks on Joe's prompt way of doing business. After a short chat on the state of the crops in the country and the price of farm produce in town, Joe said “good-day” to Mr Clinch, and walked away for the purpose of finding Ben Goldstone to tell him of his lucky bargain. He had not gone far from the office, however, when it suddenly occurred to him that it would have been more business-like if he had inspected the said cottage and furniture before closing for it; so back he hastened to the office, but found it closed, and a ticket on the door, “Gone to lunch.”

“Never mind, it can't be helped,” soliloquised Joe, as he walked away again. “I daresay everything is right enough; at any odds, it wouldn't be much good of me looking at a houseful of furniture. Peggy will be the best hand for that, and I'll warrant her'll soon find out what's missing, and let Mr Thingamee know it. Put me in a stable, and I know a thing or two; but, bang it all, I bean't up to managing consarns of this sort, and I'll take good care they don't catch me out foraging like this agin. Now I'll go and find Benjamin, and mayhap he'll go with me to see the monkeys in the Gardens and to some of the other grand sights in town that he was always talking about.” Away he trudged to Ben's address at Wooloomooloo, but was told that Mr Goldstone had gone to Botany Bay on a fishing excursion, and would not be back for three days.

“Whipped if I'd stay in Sydney three days without my old woman to see all the monkeys in the world,” muttered Joe, as he made his way to a pastry-cook's shop in William Street, where he refreshed himself with sausage-rolls and lemonade. After that he walked slowly up the hill to the Museum, and having entered his name in the visitors' book, he began to gaze with wonder and awe at the varied and well-arranged specimens of natural history which that vast building contains.

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“My wig! this be's a place worth looking at, and no mistake,” said Joe to himself, as he stood in the middle of the great hall, wiping his perspiring face and trying to stare at everything at once. “There be's more rum things here than I ever seed afore in my life; and all to be seen for nothing too. It's queer to me how they do it so cheap. My word, won't Bob be pleased to come and see them stuffed snakes and what-you-call-'ems, and them whopping big sharks up in the glass case yonder, with their bellies full of straw. I be glad I come in, for it's fine and cool, and I be better in here than trudging about the warm streets in these plaguey tight boots. I reckon I may as well sit down and rest my legs a bit, for I be nation tired.”

But it is not easy to find a seat in the Museum (or it was not in those days; it is to be hoped that these are better days in that respect), and Joe searched first down-stairs and then up-stairs without seeing a single chair, except the one with which the doorkeeper was accommodated; and his relish for those accumulated wonders of the physical world was spoiled by his pettish reflections on “the bad manners and stinginess of the Museum men, for not getting a few stools or chairs for country folks to sit down and rest their limbs when they come to see what's to be seen.”

“I'll fetch down a few iron-bark fillets for our folks to sit on. They'll let me roll 'em in here, I guess, for they bean't very partiklar what they keep in this shop. Bang it all! look at that!” he added in an audible murmur. “If there bean't two 'spectable old ladies sitting down on the door-step in yon gallery! Well, well; what a shame of the Museum keepers not to give 'em chairs! 'Em don't deserve to have people come to look at their whizamagigs. But I'd better go and sit down on t'other door-step, afore some other tired chap comes up to take a rest.”

When Joe had seen enough of the Museum, he walked to the Botanical Gardens, where he could not reasonably complain of want of seats, or want of anything else which thoughtfulness, taste, and scientific skill could provide or accomplish for the edification and enjoyment of the visitor. There he sat under the shade of a gigantic pine-tree, and gratefully sniffed the fragrance which was wafted from ten thousand flowers on the drowsy afternoon air; while the birds in the adjacent aviary sung sweet soothing lullabies, until he gradually dozed off into forgetfulness of his weariness and his chafed feet. He

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dreamt that he was lolling in his old chair at Buttercup Glen, with his feet in his carpet slippers, and his family were sitting around smiling joyfully at his acute bargaining with Mr Clinch, when their happiness was interrupted by Biddy Flynn entering the room and shouting in his ear that Mr Goldstone's bull terrier had killed the turkey-cock.

Joe started up in a pet, and became conscious that one of the gardeners was shaking him by the shoulder. “Hallo, master! wake up, if you please,” said the man. “It is past sundown, and I am just going to shut the gates.” Joe woke up accordingly, and again a twinge of conscience reminded him that he had better take a look at his cottage and furniture, in order to be able to delight his family with a description from personal survey, but when he reached Mr Clinch's office again he found it was closed for the day. “Well, never mind, it's no good fretting or fidgeting myself. I've hired a house, that's sartain, for I've got the receipt in my pouch. That's the very thing I came to Sydney to do, and if they don't like it when they see it, why, let 'em go and look for another one; that's all about it.” Joe then limped along to the inn where he had slept the previous night, with his eyes full of dust.

That night he embarked in the smart steamer Jimalong Josey; and soon after breakfast next morning he was again sitting in his easy-chair by the chimney-corner, relating with characteristic deliberation the particulars of his journey to his family, who were grouped around him, impatient to hear all about their future habitation in the gay city of Sydney.