― 214 ―

Chapter XIII.

The Stubbles receive fashionable visitors.—Joe's awkwardness before company.—Engage a coachman.—Joe agrees to go to school to learn grammar.—Biddy Flynn and the carter.

THE ensuing fortnight was remarkable for events as new as they were exciting to the erst rustic family. Numerous fashionable visitors called on them from day to day. Some were Ben's friends, who were desirous of showing respect for him, as a rising man, by recognising his bride-elect and her relations. Others were neighbours, who had been induced to observe the etiquette of refined life by rumours of the wealth and respectability of the Stubble family; which flattering rumours, I may state, might have been traced by any pains-taking person to Benjamin himself as their author.

Mrs Stubble and her daughter were vastly pleased with these marks of polite attention, and deported themselves before their guests as well as could be expected. Mr Stubble usually contrived to get out of the way when visitors called; in which act he pleased himself, and his wife and daughter also. On one occasion, however, two ladies came in a phæton when Joe was in the house alone; and, as he was always mindful to show hospitality to strangers, he bade them walk in and sit down, for “his missis had only just gone up to the barber's to get her head frizzled, and her would be back again in half-an-hour or so.” The ladies walked in and sat down, though they politely declined Joe's pressing offer to get them a cup of tea, in accordance with bush hospitality; and when Mrs Stubble and Maggie returned shortly afterwards, they, to their great chagrin, found the strange visitors sitting in the dining-room, listening to Joe's graphic account of his early struggles in the far interior, when he was overseer for Mr Drydun.

Jack Slash, of Daisybank, had been engaged as coachman and groom to the family; but he came to Sydney in moleskin trousers, digger's boots, red juniper and cabbage-tree hat;

  ― 215 ―
and as he doggedly refused to alter his costume, or to get his hair shortened, he was discharged again, and an experienced town coachman was hired the same day. Mr Stubble would not hear a word about livery; so, the new man was supplied with a becoming suit of black, and white gloves, and a hat which nobody could doubt was made for a flunkey. Mrs Stubble, with her son and daughter, usually took an airing every day, and always went shopping in the carriage; but Joe could seldom be persuaded to ride in it. His family were very willing to indulge his obstinate crotchet, but they unanimously protested against calling the carriage “the machine,” which he was accustomed to do whenever he spoke of it. They also objected to his occasional passion for grooming the horses, and bringing hairs and stable odours into the house.

Goldstone had returned to Sydney, rejected by the electors of Muddleton, instead of being returned by them as their representative in Parliament. It was a severe blow to his pride; indeed, it influenced the whole family in various degrees, and none more sensitively than Bob, who had counted upon getting a “snug Government billet” through Ben's political power with the heads of departments.

Ben's defeat was more distressing to him on account of its being wholly unexpected, he having been led to hope that he would distance his Tory opponent by two to one, through the combined influence of tip and tipple, carefully administered. In as few words as possible, I will explain how the linch-pin was taken from a wheel of Ben's political coach, and he was let down into the mire of popular disfavour. It appears that he had wounded the feelings of one of the leading men on his local committee, by innocently putting up at the house of another leading man on his visit to Muddleton shortly before the day of nomination; and though he explained, in his most conciliatory style and with logical clearness, that he could not stay at two inns at one and the same time, the jealous ire of the man was unappeased, and he emphatically promised to “cook Ben's goose.”

Any person less familiar with the poetical figures of speech of country publicans in general, might have supposed that the ruffled committee-man generously intended to roast the said bird for a grand festival after Ben's triumphant return; but Ben understood the current meaning of the trope, and his hopes began to fade away from that moment. He knew full

  ― 216 ―
well that the man could wield a mighty influence over a large mass of the population around, that he had only to “shout,” and hundreds of able-bodied men would roar like tigers; and would fight like Turks too, if he only “tipped them the wink.” On perceiving the critical state of affairs, Ben wrote immediately to his political backers in Sydney, imploring them to come to his aid with their powerful logic. They would doubtless have done so, and have made a desperate effort to secure so handy a man; but as luck would have it, the mailbag was stolen by bush-rangers, who had not consideration enough to send on Ben's important letter, but burnt it with all the other letters that contained nothing valuable.

On the morning of the day of nomination, Ben looked as downcast as a culprit going to be hanged, for it was plain to him that he was deserted by his friends, both in town and country. He had been rehearsing his speech the whole night, consequently he felt rather sleepy. To brighten himself up for his appearance on the hustings, when he had solemn reasons for expecting to meet a very noisy mob, he had recourse to brandy. Many other men have tried the same thing in immoderate doses, though but few have testified to having derived much real strength therefrom, moral or otherwise. Ben's own prior experience might have suggested that the expedient was not a reliable one; perhaps it did; but if so, he did not heed it, for he tried brandy, both pale and dark, in oft-repeated doses, growing more bold, or more blind, at each nobbler, until he had dosed himself into thorough talking trim; or, in other words, he got tipsy, and when on the hustings, he quarrelled with the few supporters that he had left, while his non-supporters playfully pelted him with stale eggs and other matter of an odorous nature. The grand result of the day was, that Ben got wofully beaten about his person, and the next day he was beaten at the poll by his political opponent, who had an overwhelming majority of votes. Thus he lost his election, and returned to Sydney, bruised in body and disturbed in mind, for he was suffering from the “horrors” in a mitigated form.

His own private opinion coincided with public opinion at Muddleton, namely, that he had made an ass of himself; but he was too cunning to tell the unvarnished facts to his friends the Stubbles; and as black lies or white lies were all the same to him, he soon invented a story which afforded a temporary plaster to his wounded pride, and procured for him

  ― 217 ―
unlimited sympathy. His visible bruises were laid to the account of a vicious horse, and his defeat at the poll was put down to bribery and corruption, against which no personal merit could be expected to cope. But after all, he said, he was not sorry at his non-success, for legislators were usually the victims of ingratitude and abuse from the very persons for whose benefit they devoted their time and talents. Of course, he had to tell a different story to his political friends in the city; but I shall not weary the reader with details of matters which are not worth mentioning.

At length Maggie's marriage-day was fixed for three weeks hence, and active preparations were begun forthwith. It would not be in good taste to give all particulars thereof. No young lady would like to have her wedding trousseau minutely described in a book, nor would any sensitive mamma be pleased to see all her little domestic manœuvres publicly explained; so I forbear to go into particulars. I may state, however, without fear of wounding anybody, that they all put forth their very best efforts to make the coming event as grand as possible.

“I say, measter, we ought to keep some wine and stuff in the house,” said Mrs Stubble, one afternoon as her husband was taking his lounge. “If we don't drink it ourselves, many of the folks who call to see us like a little drop, you know. It looks stingy not to give 'em something, and we haven't got any nice new milk to offer them now.”

“Give 'em a cup of tea. That is the best tack, Peggy.”

“Oh, that's nonsense, you know, Joe. It would never do to be taking cups of tea into the drawing-room at all hours of the day, same as we used to do in the bush when folks called to see us.”

“I doan't see why not, Peggy. But if thee can't do that, give 'em some water if they be dry. It's prime water in Sydney, and that be's about the purest thing us get here, to my thinking. It won't pay to 'dulterate that.”

“You are very provoking, Stubble. How it would look to ask fashionable visitors to have a draught of water! Why we should be talked about from one end of the town to t'other. Besides, you know Benjamin likes a little drop of something.”

“I be afeared he likes a big drop, Peggy; that is telling the truth. When he was here t'other night after he coom'd

  ― 218 ―
down from Muddleton, if he worn't close up drunk, I be pretty far out in my reckoning.”

“Oh, Joe, what are you talking about? I am shocked at you for saying such a thing. You should say tipsy, if it be right to say it at all; but I'm certain sure that Benjamin was no more the worse for liquor than I am now.”

“Ah, well, thee nose was out of tune, Peggy, or thee'd have scented him as soon as he coom'd into the house, and specially when he kissed thee. Ugh! I be glad he doan't take a fancy to kiss me. Howsomever, there's this to excuse 'en; he'd been 'lectioneering. But there bean't so much fear of his getting drun”——

“Hush! don't say that nasty vulgar word again, Stubble,” interrupted Peggy, with a pettish look. “And now you've put me in mind of another thing I have been going to speak to you about a many times. I will tell it now afore I forget again.”

“What be's that, lass? Speak up, but doan't 'ee get cross. Try to look at me allers same as thee does when grand folks come to see us. Thee looks as sweet as a cookoo eating cherries at them times.”

“Well, don't you say things to vex me, Joe; then I shall look pleasant enough, I am sure. This is what I was going to say, and mind I don't want to find fault with you; so don't you get cross. You bean't very particular in your grammar, measter, and that looks bad, you know; and makes me feel as if I'd got live eels in my pocket, when I hear you begin to speak afore company.”

“Where did thee learn to talk so mighty smooth, Peggy? Us both went to Dame Dubble's school, and bang'd if her know'd more about grammar nor Geordie Loot, the born fool. I know'd how to talk to please thee at one time, and thee didn't say naught about my plain speech in days what's gone by.”

“There, I was afeared you'd get touchy, Joe, and I didn't mean to say aught to vex you. I know I haven't had more schooling than you have, but I have lived in sarvice with gentlefolks, you know, and I've picked up a good bit of larning that way, doan't'ee see, measter?”

“Oh—ay—yes; I daresay thee hast picked up a thing or two about manners; but thee never larnt how to write a letter to thee poor old feyther; so there I beat'ee. Thee can't write no more than thee can talk French.”

“I know I can't write, Joe, and that is what I be's most sorry for. But I mean to learn to do it.”

  ― 219 ―

“That's right, Peggy lass; it bean't never too late to larn to do a right thing. Thee know'st old widow Totty larnt to write after her was sixty years old. It be's easy enough to do't when one has a mind for it. Many folks waste more time in fretting because 'em don't know how to read and write, than it would take to make scholars of 'em.”

“Well, what do you say, Joe? If I set to work to learn to write, will you go to school for a bit, and learn grammar?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Joe. “Go to school, eh! My wig! wouldn't the little boys grin! Hold on a bit, Peggy; let me read 'en summat what I se'ed t'other day in one of Bob's books; it tickled me, sure enough.” Joe thereupon fetched from his son's room “Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words,” and read therein the following little story, which seemed to excite his fancy exceedingly:—

“THE CORNWALL SCHOOL-BOY.—An ould man found one day a young gentleman's portmantle, as he were a going to 'es dennar; he took'd et en and gived et to 'es wife, and said, ‘Mally, here's roul of lither, look, see, I suppoase some poor ould shoemaker or other have los'en, tak'en, and put'en a top of the teaster of tha bed, he'll be glad ta hab'en agin sum day, I dear say.’ The ould man, Jan, that was 'es neame, went to 'es work as before. Mally then opened the portmantle, and found en et three hundred pounds. Soon after thes, the ould man not being very well, Mally said, ‘Jan, I'av saaved away a little money, by the bye, and, as thee caan't read or write, thee shu'st go to school' (he were then nigh threescore and ten). He went but a very short time, and comed hoam one day and said, ‘Mally, I waint go to school no more, 'caase the childer do be laffen at me; they can tell their letters, and I can't tell my A, B, C, and I wud rayther go to work agen.’ ‘Do as thee wool,’ ses Mally. Jan had not been out many days, afore the young gentleman came by that lost the portmantle, and said, ‘Well, my ould man, did 'ee see or hear tell o' sich a thing as a portmantle?’ ‘Portmantle, sar, was't that un, sumthing like thickey?’ (pointing to one behind es saddle). ‘I vound the toth'r day zackly like that.’ ‘Where es et?’ ‘Come along, I carr'd en and gov'en to my ould 'ooman, Mally; thee sha't av' en nevr vear. Mally, where es that roul of lither I broft en tould thee to put en a top of the teaster of the bed, afore I go'd to school?’ ‘Drat thee emperance,’ said the young gentleman, ‘thee art bewattled; that were afore I were born.’ So he

  ― 220 ―
druv'd off, and left all the three hundred pounds with Jan an' Mally.”

After Mr and Mrs Stubble had laughed heartily over the fortunate experience of the old Cornish pair, they began to discuss, in serious mood, the feasibility of their improving their very limited education; and finally resolved that they would both set to work in earnest with that commendable object, as soon as the excitement of Maggie's wedding was over.

A few days afterwards a wine-merchant's cart drove up to the door with sundry cases of wine, beer, spirits, liqueurs, &c. Biddy Flynn would have sent the carter away again, in the belief that he had come to the wrong house; but her mistress, who happened to be at home, told Biddy it was all right, and to take it in.

“All right, is it?” quoth Biddy, as she trotted to the front door. “If it don't turn out all wrong, I'll be wrong in me calculation, that's all, an' I hope it'll be so. Save us all! and what are the craythers up till at all? Goin' to poison themselves now, is it? I daresay it's all doctored rubbidge, as 'll breed blue divils in the house. Sure, then, that ould parson in the bush know'd what he was talkin' about whin he tould his congregation that there ‘wasn't a dhrop ov good dhrink to be had in the country.’ An' what's inside this?” she asked, as the carman carried in a small case.

“That is old Tom,” said the man, with a sly grin at Biddy.

“Ould Tom is it? Fegs, then, it'll play ould Jerry wid'em, I'm thinkin'. I have heard tell what that stuff is made of. And what de ye call this comical consarn?

“That's a demijohn of real Irish whisky; the sort of stuff that you've had a taste of many a time, I'll bet a wager.”

“Don't ye belave no such thing,” replied Biddy. “I've got a spite agin that same stuff for murtherin' me brother Mike, an' shure I'll niver touch it; it's only for that rayson. What's in them big tubs?”

“Why, port and sherry wine. Lend me a hand to lift them out of the cart, will you?”

“Onshugh! what next? Do ye think I'm goin' to crack me back over that job? Not I, faith!”

“Get out of the way then. Mind yer crooked limbs!” said the man, as he prepared to lift the casks out by himself.

“Tut! bad manners to yiz, ye spalpeen! What do ye mane at all? Crooked limbs, indeed! They'd be crooked

  ― 221 ―
enough no doubt, iv I was to help to empty yer cart-load ov mischief down me own throat.”

“Mischief do you call it? Ha, ha!”

“What is it as does most ov the mischief in the worrld, if it isn't grog, and Sathan himself who invented it?” asked Biddy.

“Was Satan a distiller then, Judy?”

“Sure ye know a dale more about him nor I do. Be afther rollin' yer tubs into the cellar, an' thin ye can go off as quick as ye plase.”

“thank'ee, Judy. When shall I come and see you again?”

“Ye can wait till I send for yez, an' ye'll have plenty ov time to polish up yer manners. There now, aff ye go wid yer barrow.”

“Barrow! mine is a cart, Judy.”

“Thin, put yer ugly carcase intil it, an' drive aff out ov this, for I don't want any more ov yer imperence.” Biddy then slammed the door, and went away to her work, muttering her disapproval of that “fresh step that the family were taking on the broad road to ruin.”