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Chapter I.

The entry of Mrs Stubble and her son and daughter to city life.—Their early disasters in the furnished cottage.—Bravery of Bob and Biddy.

MOST persons who have travelled by steamers know something about the hubbub that usually prevails at the termination of a voyage; so it is not necessary to describe the scene on board the Wallaby, in order to excite enough sympathy for Mrs Stubble and her children on the night of their arrival in Darling harbour. Whatever it might be to persons who were used to it, Mrs Stubble felt that voyaging by steamer on a windy day was by no means pleasurable to her; and the cheese-coloured faces of her son and daughter were palpable evidences of similar feeling; in fact, none of them were used to the sea, nor did they seem as if they wished to be.

Though Bob acknowledged that he was ever so much better “since the steamer had left off back-jumping,” he shook his head sideways when the steward kindly offered to make up a berth for him for the night, and laconically replied, “No, thank'ee;” adding, sotto voce, as he collected his luggage, “Catch me in a berth again, if you can, now that I have the option of stepping on to dry land.”

Mrs Stubble declined a similar offer from the stewardess, and shruggingly declared that the whirligig motion and the horrible noises on board the steamer, when at sea, were worse than anything she could think of, except the smell of the cabin, which beat all the world; and she further declared that she would go on shore for change of air, even if it were raining rag-stones. The stewardess, in order to obviate the suspicion that there was a lack of cleanliness in her department,

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explained that the peculiar scent at which Mrs Stubble had so often turned up her nose was merely the fragrance of the lucerne hay with which the steamer was laden; whereupon Biddy Flynn remarked “that she liked the smell of new hay a dale betther whin it wasn't mixed up wid shtinks from the shteam-engine, and the dhirty wather in the bottom of the ship, to say nothin' of the green hides and the pigs on deck. Shure, ye'll be a mighty sight aisier on the land, missis dear; so be afther puttin' on yer bonnet an' cloak while I rin for a car. I'll find one, niver fear, for cabmen niver go to bed at all, poor mortials!”

Biddy's advice was for once unhesitatingly adopted by her mistress, who languidly said, “Yes, I think your plan is best, Biddy.” On any other occasion Mrs Stubble would have argued more or less before acting upon any suggestion of her shrewd little domestic, no matter how valuable it might be; but at that time she was as helpless as a patient in a hydropathic pack, for the brief season of sea-sickness had made her very weak, and she was proportionately humble. Moreover she mentally admitted that her knowledge of the city was inferior to Biddy's, who had lived several years in Sydney, and boasted that she knew all the ins and outs of it as well as she knew the holes and corners in Buttercup Cottage.

Maggie, too, was almost as subdued as her mother; and as she gazed at herself in a mirror while arranging her touzled ringlets, she decided that nobody should ever persuade her to take a short sea-trip with a view of improving her complexion; and she was thankful that there was no probability of meeting with her lover that night, for he did not know she was in Sydney.

In a short time a cab was procured, and the whole party drove off, with Biddy on the box beside the driver. After stopping a good many times to make inquiries—for their direction-card was not very explicit—the cab finally drew up before two snug-looking little houses in Bullanaming Street, Redfern.

“Here you are, ma'am,” said the cabman, opening the door of the vehicle. “Found it out at last.”

“This can't be the place, surely” whined Mrs Stubble. “Father said it was a cottage, and this is an up-stairs house.”

“Yes, this is it, ma'am. Number two; all right,” replied the cabman, knocking loudly at the door, after he had scrutinised the number and the name of the house, written against a side

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wall, “I know the house well enough now, ma'am; Old Towser, the barber, used to live here.

“Well, I never!” muttered Maggie, as she alighted from the cab. “I can't think what could have possessed father to take such a miserable little poking place for us. But I wish we could get inside it, for I am cold as ice-cream, and tired to death too. Knock again, Bob.”

Bob knocked again and again, but there was no other response than dull echoes. Biddy looked through the keyhole, but could see “nothin' but blackness like a coal-cellar, widout a single tint of light at all.”

“Pay me my fare, and let me be off, ma'am, if you please,” said the cabman, as he placed the last trunk on the pavement before the door; “my horses are catching cold, and it's no good of my stopping here.”

“Well, but what are we to do if we can't get into the house?” asked Mrs Stubble. To which query the cabman said he didn't know, “but he would drive them to some other place if they liked, only they must look sharp about it.”

“It is terribly provoking,” said Mrs Stubble, talking aloud to herself. “Stubble told me that he had left a woman in charge of the house, and that everything would be all ready for us, snug and comfortable. I expected to see a good fire, and the kettle on the hob. I am dying for a cup of tea and something to eat, for I have tasted nothing all day but lemonade. Mercy me! I wish we had stayed on board the steamer; or I wish a hundred times that we had never thought of coming to town at all. Knock again, Biddy, can't you? Keep on knocking. Perhaps the lazy woman inside has gone to sleep—drat her! I'll give her a talking to when I catch her.”

Biddy did knock with a vengeance, for she was getting as cold and cross as her mistress. Presently an upper window in the next house was thrown open, and a gruff voice asked, “What's all that row about?” Mrs Stubble explained, in the mildest manner she could assume, that she was the new tenant come to take possession of her house, but she could not get in.

“Oh, I suppose, Mrs Grumm has gone home to see after her old man; he tumbled off his dray yesterday. But she'll be back soon, I daresay. She told me she expected some folks from the country one night this week. You need not keep on hammering at the door, missis. I tell you there

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is nobody at home, and you are waking all my young 'uns up.”

“I wonder if you have a key that will open the door, mister,” said Mrs Stubble, appealingly.

“I don't know. Perhaps my front-door key will do it, but I never tried it.”

“Well, hand it out here, an' we'll thry it for yez,” said Biddy. “The doors look as much alike as twin brothers, an' maybe they've both got the same kayhole. Good luck to ye, misther. Look alive an' pitch down the kay; thin ye can go to bed agin. If we can't get intil the house, we'd betther get into the cab agin, an' drive to the ‘Day and Duck.’ I know'd ould Jerry, the landlord, years agone, an' he'll let us in in a jiffy, I'll ingage.”

The man flung down the key; and to the great relief of them all, when Biddy turned it, she declared it was the identical thing itself, for it opened the door at once.

“That's lucky,” said Bob. “What is your fare, cabman?”

“Say six half-crowns, sir. That won't hurt you.”

“What! fifteen shillings! That's too much by half,” said Bob, with the warmth of a thorough native, who was not going to be silently cheated. “Come, come; you mustn't fancy we are ‘new chums.’ ”

“Why, I've been kept standing here for close up an hour; and look at the time o'night, sir. Besides, there is half-a-ton of luggage,” appealed cabby. “You can't grumble at fifteen bob, sir; I'm a poor man, sir.”

“Give it him, give it him, Bob. Don't stand there argufying, and catch your death o' cold. Let us get the boxes into the house,” said Mrs Stubble, who was more disposed for indoor comforts than for saving shillings just then. Bob thereupon paid the demand, and the cabman drove off, laughing, no doubt, at the victims of his extortion.

Bob was too much of a bushman to be without a matchbox in his pocket; so a light was soon procured, and the luggage was deposited in a front room, which they supposed to be the best parlour. Maggie was beginning to break out into another grumble, but was checked by her mother, who proposed that they should go to bed, before they saw anything to spoil their sleep; adding, that “they would have plenty of time in the morning for finding fault, and no doubt there were plenty of faults in the house for them to find.” The up-stairs rooms were bed-rooms; so it was arranged that Maggie

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and her mother should occupy the front one, and Biddy the back one; Bob agreed to make up “a shake-down” on the table in the back-room down-stairs. Accordingly, they bade each other good-night, and retired to their several apartments, hungry, and not very high-spirited.

Bob had scarcely got himself comfortably spread on the table, when he heard a loud whisper from Biddy on the stairs, warning him of danger in the rear. “Arrah, for the dear life o' yez, Masther Bob; kape yerself quiet, an' don't show yer nose at the windee. There's thieves in the back-yard, an' we'll all be kilt an' murthered, for the Sydney robbers are the biggest blaggirds in the worrld. Whisht, honey! don't be skeered. Blow yer light out, an' thin they won't see to shoot yez. I'll get yer somethin' to hit 'em wid.”

Bob extinguished the light instantly, and peered through a hole in the blind, when, to his great dismay, he saw three men armed with something, but whether bludgeons or carbines, he could not distinguish. In another minute Biddy was beside him with a poker in her hand. “Here take this, Masther Bob,” she whispered; “I'll go and get the tongs, an' iv they put their heads in here, we'll slaughter 'em in a crack. Hisht! don't make a bit o' noise, or the missis wull be skeered to death, poor soul. Save us! here come the vaggibins right up to the windee.”

Presently the sash was hastily lifted, and a man's head and shoulders were thrust into the room, but were as quickly withdrawn, for Bob's poker descended with a force which might have cracked the intruding skull, had it not struck a glazed hat, which fell off into the room.

“Burst open the door, Jenkins. We'll have 'em;” said an excited voice, and the next moment the back-door was forced open, and two policemen rushed into the room.

“Ownshugh! This is a mistake althegether!” cried Biddy, dropping the tongs when she saw that the supposed robbers were honest constables.

“No mistake about our catching you, old nutcracker,” said one of the men, who seized her, while his comrade caught Bob and united him to Biddy by means of a handcuff.

“Look after them, Jenkins, while I grab the other fellows. I think there are more in the house yet.”

“Och, murcy on yez, good man, don't go up-stairs at all,” shouted Biddy, who was peremptorily ordered to hold her tongue under pain of being choked with a constable's staff.

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The hubbub down-stairs aroused Mrs Stubble, who was just beginning to doze, and she immediately nudged Maggie, who was soundly asleep. The surprise of Mrs Stubble was extreme, when, on descending the stairs in the dark to learn what Bob and Biddy were quarreling about, she was grasped by a pair of muscular arms clad in rough cloth. Of course she shrieked, which it was only natural for her to do, and Maggie fainted away; so she could not comfort her mother. Bob and Biddy were pinioned in a corner of the kitchen, and were not even permitted to speak. How this highly exciting affair would have ended, it is hard to say, had not the man next door, who was awakened by the shrieking and scuffling, hastened in to see what was the matter with his new neighbours; and his timely arrival saved the besieged family from a forced march to the watch-house.

A few words will suffice to explain the mysterious occurrence which had so unexpectedly marred the quiet repose of the weary travellers. It appeared that Mrs Grumm had not been apprised of the exact day on which the Stubble family intended to take possession of the house, and it was very reasonable for her to suppose that they would not come after eleven o'clock at night; so about that time she locked up the house and started homeward to see her husband, who had met with an accident on the previous day. She had not been at home long before her son-in-law ran in with the alarming news, that in passing the furnished house he had observed lights flitting about in the rooms both up-stairs and down-stairs. Mrs Grumm immediately opined that thieves had watched her away, and broken into the house; so she procured the assistance of two policemen, and with her son-in-law hastened to the house, in the hope of catching the burglars, as they supposed the inmates of the house to be. The constables and the son-in-law climbed over the back palings and approached the house, while Mrs Grumm waited at the front door to give the alarm if the thieves should attempt to escape that way. I have already shown the reception they met with from the poker and tongs of Bob and Biddy, who were afterwards complimented for their tact and courage by the police serjeant, whose hat they had fractured.

The neighbour next door soon made Mrs Grumm understand the mistake she had committed; and the honest old woman was almost demented at the idea of having caused so much annoyance to her new mistress and family through her

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own lapse of duty in leaving the house. While she was humbly begging pardon from the ladies, a policeman was disuniting Bob and Biddy. The son-in-law also penitently expressed his regret that he had made such an unlucky mistake, and having been freely pardoned, he asked to be allowed to supply the family with milk from the cow at tenpence a quart.

Right heartily did Mrs Grumm go to work to make a fire and put the kettle on. She then knocked up the pork butcher and got some chops for supper. Mrs Stubble declared that her appetite was completely scared away; however, it returned with full vigour about the time that Mrs Grumm had placed the edibles on the table, and a little while afterwards all the family were laughing at their late alarm. Biddy said it was “a rale lucky rowdedow afther all, for it saved her from going to bed hungry, which was the most ill-convanient thing in life, barrin' the want of a bed to go to, whin a poor sowl was hungry, and didn't want to kape awake, frittin' bekase there was nothin' to ate.”