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Chapter II.

Reflections on the wandering disposition of humanity.—Mrs Stubble's and Maggie's dissatisfaction with their new city home.—More of Biddy Flynn's philosophy.

CRISPIN WELTER, the journeyman shoemaker, as he sat in his dingy off Kirri-billi Point, fishing for bream, could not imagine what induced Mr Luckieman to leave that palatial dwelling of his in Honeysuckle Bay, to face the icy blasts off Cape Horn, and to endure the general discomforts of a life on ship-board for three tedious months.

“There is no accounting for taste,” said Mr Welter, soliloquisingly. “But if I had Luckieman's princely habitation, and only half as much money as he owns, I should prefer to stay here, and go out schnapper-fishing or parrot-shooting every day, or to enjoy myself in some other rational way, instead of roving to the frosty side of the world to be shrivelled up like a stale carrot by cold easterly winds. Ugh! Go home, indeed! Not I. I'd stay here where I can see sunshine and hear bird-music every day in the year—where I can live warm and die straight. Catch me hurrying off to a region where, I am told, for half the year there is nothing to be seen but snow-balls, yellow fog, and dead trees, and where a poor unlucky bachelor like myself could not even go to bed without a warming-pan at my back, a water-bottle at my feet, and my knees coiled up to my nose. Luckieman may search the world over, and not find a more enchanting spot to locate himself than the one he has left, yonder; I wonder he was not content to stay there.”

It is plain that Mr Welter is not a philosopher, though he is a shoemaker; at any rate, he has not studied human nature very closely, or he would not wonder so much at the migratory whim of Mr Luckieman, neither would he be so sure that he himself would be contented, even if he had yonder grand house and its owner's fortune as well.

It is very likely that a few years ago, when Luckieman was a struggling man, he looked at that mansion as the ultimatum


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of his earthly ambition; but encompassed as it is with all that is lovely and enticing, he grew weary of it after he had possessed it for a while. He doubtless expects to be happier in England, whither he has gone; but when he gets there, he will not be wholly satisfied, and probably he will wish he were back in his fine house in Honeysuckle Bay, with its sunny aspect, its evergreen gardens, and sloping lawn; and in this genial climate too, where hard frosts and withering winter storms are unknown.

But the solution of what appears enigmatical to Crispin Welter is simply the inherent desire in the human heart for something more than it at present possesses. The following short extract from “Central Truths” will better explain it. “Give! give! is the ceaseless cry of the spirit. Is the child happy? He will be when he is a man. Is the peasant satisfied? He will be when he is rich. Is the rich man satisfied? He will be when he is ennobled. Is the nobleman satisfied? He will be when he is king. Is the king satisfied? Listen, for one is speaking—‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away, and be at rest.’ ”

If Mrs Stubble, when she first came to the colony, had had such a home to call her own as the one she had just entered upon, she would have thought herself more fortunate than any of her ancestors, for not one of them had ever had such a dwelling; indeed, any person of moderate desires would have considered it a snug little house, and tolerably well-furnished. It was small certainly, and not at all stylish either internally or externally, and the little tenements opposite did not add to its gentility of position; but if it had been directly opposite to Mrs Burdekin's town mansion, it would not have saved it from condemnation in the judgment of Mrs Stubble and her equally dissatisfied daughter. They wanted a grander house, and that craving marred their appreciation of present conveniences, which were threefold more than they would have presumed to hope for at one period of their lives.

No sooner did they open their eyes on the morning after their unpleasant entry, before described, than, instead of saying their prayers, they began to notify all the faults they could see without raising their heads from their pillows. Maggie opined that the sheets had been rinsed in a tan-pit, while her mother picked holes in the moth-eaten blankets, and called the dimity curtains dowdy rags. The bed they unanimously declared was stuffed with old millet brooms and peach-stones,


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and they were surprised that they had not awakened to that fact in the middle of the night. They suspected, too, that they had been visited in their sleep by certain nocturnal creatures that poets seldom refer to, and which often haunt town-beds, even in dwellings where the chamber-maids are as vigilant as detective officers, and for which a hammer, or some such instrument, is the only effectual exterminator.

“It's no good lying here shuckening any longer; let us get up, Mag,” said Mrs Stubble. So they got up, and while performing their toilet duties they each moment discovered some new source of discontent. Mrs Stubble found that the ewer was minus a handle, and the towel-horse was unscrewed in its legs, for it tumbled down directly she touched it. Maggie, about the same time, loudly condemned the looking-glass, which was of a cheap sort, and not a truthful article, for it made her mouth seem as wide as the breast-pocket of Bob's shooting-coat; or, to quote her own words, “turned her into a perfect fright,” which was certainly not fair, for Mag was a pretty girl, as I have before explained. After a general exploration of the two up-stairs rooms, and discovering many more things to grumble at than I shall mention, they descended to the back-parlour, where Bob was sitting before the fire taking his first lesson on the bellows, and laughing like a savage at an automaton drummer, while Biddy explained the philosophy of that domestic wind-instrument, which Bob had never before handled.

Mrs Stubble could not fail to notice that the room was full of smoke; but Biddy explained “that the flue was choke-full of soot, and that was the rayson why the smoke cudn't find its way up to the chimbley-pot; but she'd soon cure that complaint wid the firsht shweep she cud cotch goin' by.” Mrs Stubble thought that the people who let the house ought to have seen that the chimneys were all swept, and that the house was clean and tidy in every other part, including the windows, which looked as if they had been last dusted with a greasy mop. A shriek from the kitchen interrupted Mrs Stubble's tirade against the rusty fire-irons, and almost simultaneously Maggie rushed into the parlour in great trepidation, having seen a rat on the dresser eating a candle.

“Shure, that's nothin', darlint. Iv ye'd jist sed ‘hoosh’ to the crayther, it'ud ha' bolted off like a runaway horse,” said Biddy, soothingly. “There's allers lots o' rats in Sydney, an' it's a good job too, I'm thinkin', or we'd pritty soon be


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pisoned intirely wid the hapes ov rubbidge that they ate up, poor wretches. Tut, don't say that agin, Miss Maggie, bekase it's nonsense. The landlord isn't a ha'porth to blame for the rats anyhow, for the varmint won't take a civil notice to quit. My word for it, ye'll rin a long way afore ye'll find a house in town widout rats in it, unless there's a good sharp cat to scare 'em away, or bite their heads off. Afther all, the rats ain't nigh hand so bad as the shnakes in the bush; 'an shure, didn't I find one great long varmint coiled up in me best bonnet last Good Friday, forbye the big ugly bear under me hed, and no end ov triantilopes an' centipees, that ye may allers find iv ye go lookin' for 'em.”

While Biddy prepared breakfast, Mrs Stubble and Maggie continued their investigation of the house in general, and the best parlour in particular; and the result was, that they became thoroughly dissatisfied with their dwelling, and decided that they would not stay in it a day longer than they were absolutely obliged to do. It was fortunate for Mr Stubble's peace that he remained behind at Buttercup Glen to sell the cows, and perhaps well for the character of the whole family, for his wife and daughter were, by their own confession, downright cross; and as they regarded “father” as the immediate cause of their perplexities, he would doubtless have received a scolding severe enough to have made the lion within him roar, and thus let their family dissension be known to all the listening gossips in the locality. But as Joe was beyond reach, Biddy came in for the full explosive force of their ill-humour; and the poverty-stricken appearance of the breakfast-table having reminded her mistress of the lost basket of edibles, that served as a pretext for scolding Biddy for her carelessness in leaving the basket on the wharf at Daisy-bank.

“Och, missis, darlint! be aisy, can't yez? an' let a poor body have a morsel of pace an' quietness. Shure it's little enough of that same I'm afther gettin' for a week or more, forbye what I cotched last night itself,” exclaimed Biddy supplicatingly, after her mistress had “blown her up” till she was short of breath herself.

“Don't tell me, indeed!” quoth Mrs Stubble. “I'll let you know that if I pay you wages, I have a right to say what I please to you.”

“I don't care at all what ye say to me in rayson, missis; but what on airth is the good ov kickin' up a rumpus about


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an ould basket that's a hundred miles, or more, away from us? Dear knows, that won't fetch it a ha'porth nigher ta yez.”

“That's the way you always try to excuse your blundering, Biddy,” said Mrs Stubble, seating herself with the air of a deeply-injured woman resigning herself to circumstances.

“Well, dash it all, missis, it's betther to say somethin' sensible than to be blatherin' away in your style, axin' yer pardin. An', good luck ta yez, ma'am, don't be afther frittin' an' fumin' any more about this old house, or, be gawnies! I'll rin right straight away back to Daisybank, an' hire meself for life to Mrs Rowley. I will so: an' she'll be plased enough for me to do it, I'll bet a penny. Whisht a bit now, missis dear!” she added, as she saw that Mrs Stubble was about to reply, “hear me shpake a word or two ov common sinse. This isn't the house for yez, that's plain enough; for it's too little altogether, an' there isn't a room for me to sleep in, barrin' the crib jist over the kitchin, about half as big as a baker's oven, and pritty nigh as warrm too; but that's naythir here nor there, for I'm nobody at all. The house is ill convanient for yerself; an' it's my belief, if the masther had seed it afore he hired it, he wouldn't have had any truck wid it at no price. Still an' all, ma'am, frittin' an' grumblin' won't alter it the laste bit in life. All the tears in the worrld wouldn't mend a cracked mug; any fool cud see the rayson in that bit ov sinse. Aisy another minute, ma'am. Don't shpake yit. I haven't quite done. I'm goin' to tell yez a thrue fact to show what I mane. Listen now.

“There was two Irish bhoys as lived nixt door neighbours on a bit o' ground up Cockadingy Creek,” continued Biddy, “and a flood came an' ruined their young crops ov early corrn out an' out. Troth it did no end ov mischief forbye that; but niver mind shpakin' about that at presint. ‘Och, Pat, me jewel, how mortial thin ye're lookin',’ said Mike to his unlucky neighbour, a week or two aftherwards. ‘An' what's up widge yer, honey? Shure ye're lookin' as bony as a bullock's tail, so ye are.’

“ ‘I've bin frittin' about me corrn what the flood spiled on me, till I'm close up broken-hearted, and Judy's worser nor myself, poor sowl!’ said Pat. ‘But I say Mike,’ ses he, ‘yer corrn is sproutin' up agin green as young leeks, so it is; an' I thought it was drownded intirely, same as me own was. How's that now, will ye tell me?’ ses he.

“ ‘Why,’ said Mike, ‘this is it, me bhoy. As soon as iver


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the flood wather rin off me ground, I sets to work an' put in some ninety day corrn, an' I was jist in time ye see, for it's comin' up illigantly, an' I'll have a good crop afther all, plase God.’

“ ‘Troth!’ sed Pat, ‘I wisht I'd bin puttin' in ninety-day corrn too, 'stead ov sittin' down an' frittin' over me bad luck; but I never onst thought of it, an' now it's too late to do it, soh! What a great guffy I've bin, to be shure.’

“Now ye see, missis,” added Biddy, “if ye'll take my advice, ye'll jist give over botherin' yerself about this little crib, wid its dhirty windees, an' shmoky chimneys, an' bad drain under the parlour floor, an' all them other nasty things what ye're allers tryin' to smell. Niver say another worrd about 'em at all, good or bad, but go out and look for another house to-morrow. Thin, whin the masther comes home, iv ye'll put a swate face on yez, an' ax him tinderly, I'll ingage he'll let you move out of this one in harf a jiffy. That's all I've got to say, ma'am.”

Mrs Stubble was about to tell her faithful servant to mind her own business; but she was interrupted by Bob, who laughingly declared “that Biddy talked like a Christmas-book;” whereupon Maggie laughed, and Mrs Stubble was obliged to laugh too, because she could not help it. They then sat down to breakfast, looking quite pleasant, while Biddy shuffled to the kitchen, as happy as a prime minister who had just signed a treaty of peace.

After a long discussion, it was unanimously resolved to follow Biddy's counsel, to do their utmost to get father into the humour to move them into a better house.

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