― 108 ―

Chapter XVII.

Excitement of Mrs Stubble and her children over the furnished cottage.—Sale of household effects, and final departure of the rustic family to Sydney.

“WELL done, master! I didn't think you could have managed it half so cleverly,” said Peggy, after Mr Stubble had informed his family circle that he had taken a house containing everything they wanted, from a wardrobe to a nutmeggrater, and that “they had nothing to do but walk in and make themselves at home, and not say thank'ee to anybody.”

“But you haven't told us where the house is, father,” said Maggie, who had been listening with breathless interest. “What part of Sydney is it in? I hope it is in a nice genteel neighbourhood.”

“It's at Redfern, lass; and a real pretty place 'tis, no doubt.”

“Redfern! Redfern! Where is that, Joe? I never heard tell of it afore, as I know,” said Peggy, who had begun to look rather dubious.

“Why, it's up Parramatta River a bit, I think,” replied Joe, looking dubious too.

“Not it, father,” remarked Bob, whose local knowledge was superior to all the rest, as he had stayed a whole week in Sydney. “I remember the place very well, because one dark night I walked right into a big ditch that runs across a paddock at Redfern. It is out beyond the railway terminus.”

“Yes, yes; Parramatta Railway I meant, of course. Thee be'st right, Bob, my boy; it's out there somewhere, sure enough.”

“But haven't you been to the house, father?” asked Maggie.

“Noa, I can't say as I've been inside 'en dezackly. I've been outside of 'en, thee knows, and”——

“And what does it look like, father?” interrupted Mag.

“Well, that's more than I can tell'ee just at present, lass,

  ― 109 ―
for I haven't seen 'en yet; but I'll warrant it looks right enough.”

“What! been to Sydney and hired a house full of furniture, and never so much as looked at it first?” said Peggy, excitedly.

“Ha, ha, ha! That's jist like Barney M‘Gee, the blind piper, who wint and got married widout seein' his wife a bit in the worrld,” chuckled Biddy Flynn, who had trotted into the room with “the masther's clane boots,” but purposely to hear what was going on. She might have stayed there unnoticed by any one in the general excitement; but she could no more restrain her tongue when her fancy was tickled than a well-bred cat could resist catching a bird if it came within reach.

“Go into the kitchen this instant moment, and cut up the pumpkin, you saucy old thing!” shrieked Mrs Stubble; whereupon Biddy went out again at full trot, muttering her own private opinions as she went.

“But it never can be possible, Stubble, that you have been such a—a—a—so very thoughtless as to take a house without looking at it. No, no, I won't believe that of you anyway,” said Peggy, in softened tones, and evidently trying to persuade herself that Joe was joking. “Come now, be serious, master; tell us what is the size of the house, and whether there is an up-stairs and down-stairs, and cupboards and all the rest, you know.”

“Here, missis; this'll tell'ee all I know about it,” said Joe, pulling the receipt from his pocket, and handing it to his wife, who glanced at it hastily, and then exclaimed, with stately emphasis, while wrath was simmering in her eyes, “A furnished cottage of five rooms! the whole about as big as our hen-house, I suppose! And you actually mean to poke your family into such a hole as that, do you? Thank'ee, Mr Stubble—much obliged to you. May I ask you if you broke your pledge while you were in Sydney?”

“Oh, doan't 'ee talk to me in that style, Peggy, lass! It makes my marrow twiddle like cutting my corns with a rusty old razor. Thee know'st well enough I'll do anything in the world te make thee and the children happy. I'll get thee the biggest house in the bill, if thee'll only look sweet and speak cheerily to me. But I be sartain sure thee'll like the cottage uncommon. Didn't thee like Dab Cot”—

“There, stop, stop, Stubble! For patience sake, don't be always bringing that dowdy old Dab Cottage to my memory.”

  ― 110 ―

“All right, lass! I woan't say another word about 'en. But I was going to tell'ee that five rooms be quite as many as us want, and it's likely enough they be great big rooms.”

“How do you know that, Stubble? and how do you know that all the furniture is not dingy rubbish, overrun with vermin?”

A slight shudder was observable in Joe's frame at that last terribly suggestive question, but he gave no audible reply. Various other important inquiries as to the kitchen accommodation, water, drainage, smoky chimneys, &c., were alike unanswerable; neither could he inform Mag whether the neighbourhood was noisy or genteel. There he sat during his cross-examination, looking as humble as an old rogue in the dock. He had some faint hope of exciting their pity, for they could not but see that he was weary after his late tossing about in the steamer; at any rate, he knew that the best plea he could offer would not help him a bit, but would only prolong an argument in which he was sure to be beaten. He was conscious that he had managed his important commission very clumsily, notwithstanding the encomiums of Mr Clinch. I have shown that he had mentally owned to his omissions before he left Sydney, and the nearer he got to his home the stronger became the conviction that “he had made a pretty mess of it, and was sartain to get a wiggin' from his wife.”

That he was willing to endure a moderate “wigging” is, I think, evident from the colloquial extracts which I have already given; but a man is not always most disposed to bear reproof when he knows it is most deserved, and though patience was one of Joe's prominent virtues, it was not inexhaustible. Perhaps, growing hopeless of exciting their sympathy by silence and sea-sick looks, he had resolved to try the ruse so often resorted to by politicians and learned counsel when their cause is too bad to be helped by solid arguments. Joe knew a good many of the ways of the world, and it is clear that he knew that old-fashioned trick too, for to the surprise of his wife, long before he had heard all the sharp things she meant to say, he seemed to be in a terrible rage, and vociferously declared that “not one of them should go to Sydney at all till they had larned better manners.”

“Bang it all! what dost thee mean by scolding my ears off?” he exclaimed, starting up and kicking his slippers off. “This be's my house, and I'll be master in it too; I'll keep

  ― 111 ―
my standing if I doan't sell a ha'porth, as Sam the pieman said. Sure as death, if any one of thee say half a word more to me about the cottage, I'll make thee stay in the bush all thee days.” He then pulled on his boots and went into the garden to cool down, leaving his family all aghast at his unusually wrathful ebullition.

It has been remarked that, “in troubled families, there often arises some servant or gentle friend, powerful with both sides, who may moderate or compound the differences of the family, to whom, in that respect, the whole house, and the master himself, are beholden. This mediator, if he aim only at his own ends, cherishes and aggravates the divisions of a family, but if he be sincere, faithful, and upright, he is indeed invaluable.” Biddy Flynn's incurable bluntness often led her into disfavour, and she seldom got credit for the good motives which prompted her to interfere in the occasional domestic strife at Buttercup Glen; still, she was a faithful friend of the family—of the master especially—and it would have been well for them all had they paid more heed to her quaintly-expressed advice.

On hearing Mr Stubble's vehement ultimatum on the occasion just alluded to, Biddy, who had again entered the room on some trifling errand, pulled her mistress by the sleeve, and whispered, “I want to shpake to ye, ma'am, iv ye plase. Arrah, what's the good ov tazing the masther any more about the cottage as he's taken, missis?” said Biddy, appealingly, when Mrs Stubble had been led into the kitchen. “Shure, iv it has only got five rooms in it, all the talking in life won't make 'em into six. Can't ye see that the masther's say-sick an' tired too, poor crayther? an' it'ud be aisy enough to make a parson crass at sich times. Take my honest worrd for it, missis, iv ye'll ony lave him alone till he's shmoked his pipe, an' maybe had a nap too, he'll look as plisant as a sunshiny Sunday mornin', for he niver sulks a ha'porth—God bless him! Then iv ye'll ony look swate, all ov yez, an' give him a kind worrd or two—for that's what ivery man wants his family to do to him—an' it's only raisinable,—if ye'll do that same, I'll ingage he'll git ye a house wid tin rooms in it, in harf a jiffy, if that's what yer wantin'. But, be the hokey! let me tell ye, missis, iv yez go rowing wid him agin, same as yer jist afther doin', he'll kick out like a donkey wid a hornet on his tail—an' no blame till

  ― 112 ―
him nayther. Axin' yer pardin, ma'am, for shpakin' out what's in me mind.”

Mrs Stubble seldom acknowledged the value of Biddy's hints, though she often scolded her for presuming to speak at all. On the present occasion she merely said “hum” to the faithful counsel. But there had been such a decided meaning in her husband's last threat, that she deemed it prudent not to say any more about the furnished cottage, but to devote her energies to getting rid of the furniture in their present home, prior to leaving it for good. In that opinion Bob and Mag moodily acquiesced, for they did not want to stay in the bush for life.

After a few turns up and down the garden path, Joe was sufficiently composed to light his pipe, and by the time he had smoked it out, his anger had vanished with his last whiff, and he laughingly congratulated himself that he had got out of his difficulty without a severe domestic brawl, which he dreaded more than he did the “American blight” in his orchard.

Those of my readers who have experienced the perplexity of selling off their household effects will sympathise with the Stubble family during the few days of preparation for the auction sale, when the accumulated odds and ends had to be hunted up and put into the catalogue of lots, and all the furniture rubbed up and arranged with its smartest sides in the best light. At any rate, had any of my quiet readers been at Buttercup Glen just then, it is probable they would have felt moved by the excessive fidgetiness of Mrs Stubble to get out of her company as soon as possible. Mr Stubble would gladly have done so, but special reasons influenced him to stay and see the sale over, though he took very little part in the general cleansing operations, being under the impression that it was superfluous work.

“What's the good of fagging theeself into a bad temper to polish up them traps, Peggy? They will be mauled about by scores of dirty hands to-morrow, and 'em woan't fetch a penny more for all thee labour,” said Joe one day as he entered the drawing-room, where his wife and daughter, scented strongly with bees'-wax and turpentine, were rubbing away at the tables and chairs like French polishers working by the job.

“Well, never you mind, Stubble; if we like to do it, you needn't interfere. It is precious little you do to help us; so

  ― 113 ―
don't hinder us, if you please. I don't want all the people in the district to come and see dirty things in my house; and I won't let 'em neither, while I have any strength left in my arms. Hand me that hard brush, if you have done with it, Mag. Now just be off, Stubble, and don't worrit me, or we shall have words.”

“All right, missis, rub away; I don't care. But thee needn't be bees'-waxing my old arm-chair.”

“I'm quite sure it will look all the brighter for a good rub, father,” said Mag, appealingly; “and it will fetch ever so much more, I'll be bound.”

“I bean't going to sell that for no price,” said Joe; “and I doan't want 'ee to rub 'en up, and make 'en smell like horse physic.”

“Not sell it!” exclaimed Peggy, pausing in her work. “What on earth are you going to do with it, then? You are never going to take that lumbering old thing to Sydney, sure-ly? I shall be ashamed to see it carried into my house.”

“Well, then, it sha'n't go into thee house, if thee be'st 'shamed of 'en; but I woan't sell 'en for all that, missis. I have had many a comfortable snooze in that old chair, and I like 'en forty times better than that gingerbread thing in the corner yonder, what thee be'st always skeered to see me sit in. Master Drydun gave 'en to me up at Luckyboy; so I mean to keep 'en for his sake, and I'll ax neighbour Rowley to take care of 'en for me. I may as well take 'en out of thee way directly.” Joe then put the chair on his head and walked away with it to Briarburn, being glad of a good excuse for getting out of his house, which was full of confusion and disagreeable odours.

But the day of the sale was the most trying time for poor Mrs Stubble. She could not be persuaded to go over to Mrs Rowley's, which would have spared her the mortification of seeing her nice clean house invaded by a host of bargain-hunters in dirty boots, and the more serious annoyance of hearing her shiny chattels scandalously run down by competing bidders before they were knocked down by the auctioneer.

A petulant mother has sometimes been heard to call her lively little boy, “a tormenting young monkey,” or her infant girl, “a good-for-nothing little cat,” and at the same time look cross enough to mean all she said; but had even an intimate friend of the family merely insinuated that the said children were only half as bad as their mother had emphatically declared

  ― 114 ―
them to be, it is almost certain that she would be permanently offended. Mrs Stubble had, but a few days before, called her household furniture “old rickety combustibles,” in order to induce her husband to sell it off; but it touched her to the heart to hear Jack Truckle, the dealer, and others who had come to buy bargains, abuse her goods in similar language, and she would have gone into her bedroom, and “had a good cry,” only that it was, like all the other rooms in the house, full of troublesome customers.

The excitement of Biddy Flynn at seeing so many handy kitchen utensils “knocked down for nothin' at all,” was a comical contrast to the smiling composure of Mr Stubble, and his apparent indifference whether the things were cheap or dear to the noisy buyers. Maggie was several times almost melted to tears, when some venerated household article was put up to be subjected to the rude jokes of the motley company, and finally to become the property of Blowsy the blacksmith, or Nick Shanks the butcher; and her mother nearly fainted away at hearing old Jerry Whacks the cobbler grossly insinuate that there were insects in her best four-post bedstead. Bob Stubble was not free from grievance on that day either; and he received an unpleasant knock on the nose from a travelling hawker for plainly contradicting the atrocious assertion that their favourite eight-day “Frodsham” clock was full of wooden wheels.

But the exciting day ended, about the same time as the sale; and by the light of the moon Bob drove his mother and sister and Biddy, with their personal baggage, to Daisybank, and safely lodged them at the inn for the night. Mr Stubble was left behind to lock up the house, and to attend the sale of his cattle and farming implements; and to finally settle all his business before he joined his loving family in the great metropolis.

As the departing ones waited on the wharf next morning for the arrival of the steamer which was to carry them to Sydney, their feelings were again highly excited; not that they regretted leaving, but they did not like the fraternal demonstrations of the villagers, who had assembled to say good-bye, according to the general custom in New South Wales when any person is leaving a locality where he has long resided. Maggie was particularly fidgety lest any of Mr Goldstone's grand acquaintance should happen to be on board the steamer and see her shaking hands with so many rustics, who, with genuine friendliness,

  ― 115 ―
had crowded round her; and Bob was almost ready to fight when old Mrs Carney, the baker's wife, in the warmth of her heart, actually kissed him, because she was his nurse when he was a little baby.

But those trials were soon over, and the travellers began to feel more easy in their minds when they embarked, and the steamer had pushed off and was paddling away; the only drawback just then was the vexing discovery that Biddy had left a basketful of eggs and butter, and other housekeeping comforts, on the wharf in the excitement of parting with her friends, who were more numerous than Mrs Stubble's.

The day turned out stormy, and the steamer tossed about, as Bob remarked, “like a kicking colt with the tackle about its heels.” It being the first time that Maggie had been at sea, she did not like the sensation which the violent motion of the ship aroused. Bob did not enjoy his experience either, but he was silent over it. Mrs Stubble thought she would have died, though her loud expressions of feeling, especially when the vessel gave an extra pitch into the head sea, might have encouraged any one to hope that she would not die on that day. Biddy, who was as lively as a sea-gull, did her utmost to soothe them all. Her assurance that the ship would be as steady as a barn when she got inside of Sydney harbour produced no outward sign of consolation in Bob or Maggie; and Mrs Stubble said that such talk as that made her worse; in fact, she refused to be comforted in any way. Biddy at length grew pettish, and muttered to herself “that her mistress's gwarks were beyont all raisin intirely; an' shure it was no wonder that the other lady passenger had axed the stewardess to make up a bed for her on the sky-light.”

After a prolonged passage, the steamer reached the wharf at Sydney a little before midnight.