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Chapter III.

Mr Peter Rowley's experienced opinions upon sundry important social and commercial matters.—Mr Stubble sells his estate at Buttercup Glen, and takes his departure for Sydney with a pocket full of money.

IT had been decided that Mr Stubble should stay at the Glen for a few days to watch the sale of the live stock and farming implements, and also to find either a tenant or a purchaser for the farm itself. He most willingly acquiesced in that plan, for he wished to give his family the privilege of discussing the merits of their new city home, unembarrassed by his presence: he had a shrewd idea, too, that his own personal quietude would be enhanced by that arrangement. After Bob had departed in the cart with his mother and sister and their appurtenances, Mr Stubble locked up his lonely dwelling, put up all the slip rails, and then walked slowly over to Mr Rowley's house, where he had been invited to stay until his final departure from the district.

He was unusually dull that evening; and though Mrs Rowley had provided a nice hot supper, and everything else she could think of to make him comfortable, even to a pair of sheepskin slippers and the easiest arm-chair in the house, he still looked dispirited, and tears stood in his eyes as he remarked, “that he felt awfully sorry at leaving the old house, and wished with all his heart that his folks could have made themselves contented in it, instead of moving away into a noisy, dusty city, where he was certain they would have less comfort, if they had more style.”

“Somehow or other, I can't feel easy about this change that I be making, Peter; I never felt so uncertain before in anything I took in hand, for I can't see any good luck ahead of me. Howsomever, the job's done now, and it's no good crying over dead chicks. My folks be all gone, and I must follow 'em pretty soon; for whipped if I'd live away from my wife and young 'uns, if anybody would give me a big castle choke-full of marble figures and other fashionable ornaments.

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But I want to know what thee'st got to say about my selling the farm, Peter,” continued Joe, trying to brighten up a little. “Since I seed 'ee last, Sam Plodder has offered a middlinish rent for 'en; but my missis says her won't come back here agen long as her lives, so I doan't see the good of keeping it. Mr Wiseman's estate, over the river beyond, sold like gold nuggets t'other day, when it wor cut up into little farms, and no doubt mine would sell fast enough; in fact, Mr Knox, the auctioneer, tould me he'd get a customer for me in a crack, if I only said the word. Now is the time to get shut of it, if I want to, for buyers are as eager for sellers as gals are for sodgers. What dost thee think I ought to do, neighbour?”

After a few minutes' silent cogitation, Mr Rowley replied, “I daresay the farm would sell now, and fetch its full value, Joe; but I don't see how you could invest the money to bring you in better interest than you can get in the shape of a rental. Money is wonderfully plentiful at present, and there is as sharp competition going on in Sydney between the colonial and the English banks as there is among the Daisy-bank dealers when there is a sudden rise in the price of eggs. Some of the banks have reduced the rate of discount to three per cent. per annum, which is lower than I ever knew it to be before in the colony; and if you have any bank stock, you will probably find your next dividend smaller than usual. I think Sam Plodder is a man who will take care of your property, Joe, and pay his rent regularly; but you might have some trouble in investing the money safely and profitably.”

“I forgot to tell'ee, Peter, Master Goldstone says he will show me how to 'vest my money first-rate, and get a deal more interest than my steam shares fetch.”

“Many persons will undertake to show you that trick, Joe,” said Mr Rowley, smiling. “But I have often heard of money-jobbers making investments for country clients which have never returned either interest or principal. I don't mean to insinuate any such scheming to Mr Goldstone, for I do not know much about that gentleman; but I would have you be very careful whose advice you take in such matters, and to look well to your security, rather than to the temptation of a high rate of interest, which is often held out as a bait to catch the unwary. Consult a respectable solicitor before you decide upon an investment; then you will be pretty safe. As a rule, I begin to suspect that something is wrong with the security when I hear of more than current rates of interest

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being offered for money. Mr Goldstone is but a young man, you know, Joe, and he cannot have had much experience in investing money in the way that you would like to place your capital; so you had better be cautious in taking his advice. Remember that money is like a man's fair reputation, not always an easy matter to regain after it is parted with.”

“That is just what my ould measter, Mr Drydun, used to say. ‘Joe,’ says he to me one day, ‘if I had all my money in my pocket now, I'll warrant I'd hold it tighter than I did before.’ ”

“Yes, most people say that when they have lost their money, Joe. I have been thinking a good deal over the matter since I last saw you, and if you were not so fully bent upon selling your farm, I would advise you to settle it on your wife by a legal instrument. Then you will secure a comfortable home for yourselves, if things should go wrong in your new mode of life, and reverses overtake you, as they have done many wiser men than you or me. It would only be an act of justice to your wife to see that she is provided for, for you know she worked to help you to make your fortune; and it would be hard upon her if you should be unlucky enough to lose it, and thus compel her to go to work again when she is getting up in years. I suppose you are not in debt, Joe? Excuse my bluntness.”

“Debt! not I, indeed; thank God. I be as free from debt as I be from disease. Leastwise, I tell a story; I owe Master Raspin, the farrier, a pound or two, and eighteenpence to the puntman,—that's all as I know of; but it bean't much to be scared at, anyhow.”

“I knew you were the wrong mark to run far into debt, Joe, or I should not have been so free with my advice. It would be wrong—nay, positively fraudulent—for you to convey the farm to your wife, to the prejudice of your creditors, or if you intended to trade on the reputation of being the owner of the property which you had thus legally parted with. But as you can do it with a clear conscience in the sight of God and man, I would strongly urge you to consult with your lawyer on the subject as soon as you get to Sydney, and in the meantime leave the farm alone. It will not run away, you know; but I am not so sure about the money that you might get by the sale of it.”

“Hast thee made this farm over to the missis, Peter?” asked Joe, with a knowing look.

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“No, I have not done so, Joe; and I am not in a position to do it now, if I would. When I foolishly went to Sydney a few years ago to begin a business that I did not understand, I had more than two thousand pounds cash, and this farm to the good, and I did not owe a shilling. Then I might honestly have made the farm over to my wife, and traded to the extent of my ready money. That would have been all fair and square, and I ought to have done it, but I did not give it a thought. A year or two afterwards, I got into difficulties, as you have heard me explain, and I was in some danger of being sold off altogether, only I had one good friend who knew I was an honest man, and he stood by me. At that time I deeply regretted that I had not secured my poor wife from poverty, but it was too late to remedy my omission. Many men in my position would have done it even then, and taken the chance of their creditors not looking sharply into the transaction. That sort of thing is very often done, I am sorry to say; but I knew it was best to do what was right, and then I could ask Almighty God to help me. I struggled on, and after a while I weathered the storm; but I am not quite clear of debt yet.”

“When thee gets all straight, will thee give the farm to the missis then, Peter?”

“There is not the same necessity for my doing it now, Joe, for I shall probably never move from here again while I live; certainly, I shall not be tempted to meddle with business matters that I know nothing about; nor is it likely that I shall be persuaded to back bills for any of my needy friends, and ruin myself in that way, as our old neighbour Roslyn has done. But I tell you what I did a few years ago, Joe. I invested in what is called a deferred annuity; so, after I am sixty years old I shall receive two pounds a week for life, and if I should die in the meantime, all the money that I have paid to the assurance society will be paid back to my wife. That provision is quite secure from the claims of creditors.”

“That is what my ould dad would call ‘preparing for a rainy day,’ ” said Joe; “nation good sort of overcoat that, Peter.”

“It is so, friend, for none of us knows in this uncertain world what reverses may overtake us. I was induced to take that step by the example of one of the richest men in Sydney. I heard him tell at a public meeting how he had provided against future poverty by a deferred annuity. So thinks I to myself, there are not many safer men in the land than that

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gentleman is in every way, for he is as wise as he is rich, and if he thinks it is prudent to make such a provision for himself, surely there must be more reason for me to look out. So I took out a policy the very next day, and I endowed my girl at the same time.”

“What did thee do to her, Peter?” asked Joe, with a look of amazement.

“Why, made an endowment for her in the same office that I took out my annuity policy. I will try to explain it to you, as you don't seem to understand it. Sophy was at that time about thirteen years of age; and by paying a little over thirty pounds a year, I secure £300 to be paid to her when she is twenty-one years old, and a good lump sum besides in the shape of bonus; and if she should die in the meantime, I shall receive back all the money I have paid into the assurance office. So you see that is a good deal better provision than putting money by in the savings-bank for her, which would only bear simple interest.”

“My word, it be'st, Peter. I never heard tell of that scheme afore. Howsomever, I've got lots of money for my young 'uns, so I doan't see as I want to do anything in that line; besides, I shouldn't fret much if 'em were forced to work for their living. I've taken care to give 'em a good bit of schooling, and that's better than money for boys and girls any day. But as for giving the farm to the missis, I don't dezackly like the notion, governor; and I'll tell'ee for why. Doan't 'ee think I be going to say aught against my ould woman; I'll never do that, Peter. Her be's as honest a wife as ever wore a gown; but her might fancy her had a right to wear the other concerns as belong to the master if her was owner of the property and could do as her liked with it. It's human nature, you know, to make others knuckle down, as the saying is. I knowed an easy-going old chap up the country, named Sam Hoony, who made his property over to his wife, every stick he had, and banged if her didn't stick to it all like wax. Her wouldn't let poor Sam have a shilling to buy 'baccy, without grumbling like as if he wor pinching her; and their boys and girls used to treat their old dad as if he wor a reg'lar cadger.”

“But that is an extraordinary case, Joe; and you need not apprehend similar treatment from your family.”

“Noa, I don't expect I should, Peter, for my wife and children are very good all of 'em; and though 'em be a bit contrary now and again, not one of 'em would be cruel to a horse,

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let alone to me. But there's such lots of roguery in that way that I be reg'larly set against it. I've heard tell of fellows making over property to their wives, when 'em hadn't an honest shilling to call their own, and were over head and ears in debt besides. Now, afore I'd let any one say that Joe Stubble was a rogue of that sort, I'd run the risk of being as poor as old Mutton, the blackfellow. That's the way to say it, Peter.”

“If I were sure I was planning what is lawful and right, I should not be turned aside by dread of what ill-natured persons might say or think, Joe; for scandal never yet broke a man's bones. You would only be using a prudent precaution in a straightforward way; and I don't think you ought to be deterred from it by dread of backbiters, who will say anything but their prayers. All good measures are liable to be abused; nevertheless, a good thing is good for all that. It is true enough that unprincipled persons have often made away with property which belonged to their creditors, and I have seen many glaring examples of the sort; but in most cases the creditors themselves were to blame for not looking sharper after their own rights, and at the same time protecting society in general from the dangerous influence which must result if such frauds are allowed to be perpetrated with impunity.”

“Thee seems to know a thing or two about schemers, Peter.”

“I don't think you have heard me say so much about them before, Joe, though I might say ten times more; but all I could say would not cure them, and it would only harass my own mind. There is a day of reckoning coming for them, and I should like to see them all squaring up for it. I lost a lot of money during that commercial crisis when folks were going insolvent, half-a-dozen every day. I daresay you remember the time; Mr-r-r—I forget his name (he is dead now, poor man) was commissioner. Debtors of the “happy-go-lucky” sort used to walk up King Streetnote as jauntily as if they were going to a levee, and a month or two afterwards you might have seen them starting in business again, brisker than ever.”

“I don't see how 'em managed that rightly, Peter.”

“Of course you don't, Joe; but many persons did it legally, and scores of small creditors like myself had to suffer loss. By some sort of conjuration, only known to the initiated, an insolvent of the happy sort usually managed to get a few of the large creditors on his side, and then it was useless for any

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of the small fry to interfere; at any rate, very few of them had the presumption to do so. The larger the amount failed for, the better chance the debtor had of getting off easily, and of course his pickings were proportionate. The man who “burst up” for a “plum” or so, was usually treated with marked deference by all the officials concerned, and the learned commissioner himself used to look as sympathetic as a good old lady doctoring a scalded limb. Few, if any, of the small creditors had the pluck to say a word to such an important insolvent, for they knew he would soon be in an influential commercial position again, and he might remember their opposition, and pay them off in the wrong coin.”

“That looks nation queer, Peter.”

“I could tell you of still queerer things,” continued Peter. “But I was going to remark, on the other hand, only just let a poor honest struggling man break for a few hundred pounds, and ten to one, if he would not be nearly worried to death by opposing creditors. In the first place, the fat insolvent would most likely be allowed his costly household effects without a dissentient voice being heard; and in the latter case, the humble debtor's application for a similar allowance would perhaps be stoutly opposed by a merciless money-lender, or by some unlucky tradesman, whose patience had been over tried by repeated losses, and who had resolved to make an example of the next insolvent who ‘let him in.’ I must say, however, that the commissioner was a kind man, and it was not often that he allowed a poor man to be deprived of all his furniture. Creditors who lived out of the colony seldom troubled themselves about an insolvent's affairs, being indisposed to incur expense or to throw good money after bad; they usually left the management of an estate to the local creditors, and took whatever dividend they could get, as so much salvage from a wreck, and were joyful over it. The local creditors, too, were in general careless about looking after ‘dead horses,’ and that duty often devolved upon one or two of the more pushing creditors, who usually effected an amicable wind-up by selling the assets to the insolvent. Of course he got his release at the same time, and off he would go again with full sail and flying colours.”

“But, blow it all! folks wouldn't trust these shavers again in a hurry, I reckon!” said honest Joe, looking quite pugilistic.

“Bless your innocence, Joe, my boy! some traders would trust old Bozy himself if he came to them in his best clothes.

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There are many keen commercial men who would trust Jerry Wrackem almost to any amount he liked to ask for at his first start off on the new, for they know he is too shrewd a manœuvrer to go to pot again within a reasonable time; at any rate, they consider his bills at four and five months safe enough. Well, you see, after it becomes known that the great firm of Murry, Carbonn, and Co. trust him largely, the”——

“I say, Peter, excuse me, dear, for interrupting you, but I think you have chatted quite enough for the present,” softly chimed in Mrs Rowley. “I am afraid you will lie awake all night, as you usually do after talking on these exciting subjects. Suppose we prepare for bed, dear; I am sure Mr Stubble is weary.”

“You are right, mother, and I thank you for your gentle hints. I don't often let my tongue run so fast about other people's doings; but as our old neighbour is going to Sydney with his pockets full of money, it is but right to give him a little friendly caution, for he does not know half as much of city life as we do.”

“I fancy 'em be all rogues together in Sydney, Peter, sure enough.”

“Don't you go away with any such idea in your head, Joe, my boy; far be it from me to make you think so. I believe that the morality of Sydney, viewed either commercially, socially, or in any other way, would compare favourably with that of any capital in the world. You do not incur any more risk in going to Sydney than you would in going to London; perhaps not so much. Men from the country are always considered fair game for town sharpers, everywhere.”

“No fear about me, Peter, if that is all,” said Joe, nodding his head very knowingly. “Sharpers will have to look double sharp to catch me, I'll warrant. It's my old clothes as make me look like a yokel; but I mean to shine up a bit—as Peggy says—when I get to town. I bean't afeard of being robbed.”

“Pray, don't misunderstand me, my friend,” said Peter. “I don't think you are lacking in common sense—quite the contrary; but you are too apt to think that men whom you meet with are all as honest as yourself. That is what I meant by warning you, Joe. But I will say no more on the subject, lest I tire you out. Hand me the Bible, mother, and call in the maid to prayers.”

Mr Stubble pondered over the advice of his good friend,

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and had almost resolved to let his farm to Sam Plodder, and convey it to his wife as soon as he went to Sydney. But the next day, after the sale of the cattle and farming implements, Mr Knox, the auctioneer, with the persuasive eloquence peculiar to his calling, quite altered Mr Stubble's views on the subject; and before he started for Daisybank that night he had received instructions from his client to sell Buttercup Glen if he could get anything like £3000 for it. A day or two afterwards, Mr Knox brought a purchaser for £300 over the reserve price; and on that day week Joe started for Sydney, highly elated at having sold every item of his property in the district, and for ready money too,—for the buyer of his farm preferred paying cash down even to allowing two-thirds of the money to remain on mortgage at five per cent interest.