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Chapter IV.

The brief Colonial career of Mr Drydun, and his downfall.—Joe Stubble becomes owner of Luckyboy station, on the Big River.

THE name of Joe Stubble's new master was Drydun. His history has not much to do with my story; still I must glance at it, for reasons which will be apparent.

Mr Drydun had taken a degree at Cambridge, and studied a short time for the bar. During a vacation he went to Scotland for a few weeks' shooting, and whilst there he fell in love with an accomplished young lady, the daughter of his host, a retired merchant in Aberdeenshire. The result was, that Mr Drydun gave up his profession, and went to live with a farmer in that county, for the purpose of gaining a practical knowledge of farming, of grazing especially. It is very likely the idea of being within a few hours' ride of the young lady who had captivated his heart had something to do with the change of his pursuits; but that is mere hypothesis. Soon after the death of his father he married the object of his choice, and a few months afterwards they sailed for Sydney, taking with them a capital of £8000, and some valuable breeding stock, including a very fine blood horse.

Mr Drydun was about thirty years of age, of prepossessing exterior; and his frankness and affability won him a good many new friends as soon as he landed in Sydney. His choice stock was even more attractive than himself to the sporting fraternity, and introduced him to more society than he found profitable to him; so he resolved to settle himself on a station as soon as possible, for he felt in danger of being drawn into fashionable extravagances, for which he had not yet acquired a taste. He had brought with him many letters of introduction, some of which were of less value than a “ticket for soup,” for they did not induce even a single invitation to dinner: others were addressed to persons in remote parts of the colony, and as Mr Drydun did not feel encouraged to incur

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expense and trouble in delivering the letters in person, he put them into the post-office box, with his card of address enclosed in each.

By return of post he received a very kind note from a Mr Rashleigh, an old schoolfellow of his late uncle's, acknowledging receipt of letter of introduction, and inviting him and his wife to spend a week or two at his house. That was something like the correct thing, thought Mr Drydun; and he was glad he had posted the letters instead of throwing them into the fire, as he had been almost tempted to do one day, after a freezing interview with the Honourable Mr Ball, his mother's cousin. A few days afterwards he and his wife were honoured guests at Folidom, near Maitland.

Mr Rashleigh was a gentleman of cultivated taste, which was evidenced by numberless silent witnesses about his mansion and grounds, and he was the centre ornament of an élite circle. He had the reputation of being very wealthy, and his wisdom was supposed to be proportionate to his riches by the honest rustics around.

There were some enterprising spirits in Maitland in those frolicsome days—men with “hearts of oak,” or iron-bark, which is more colonial, and faces like brass-pans or anchor buttons. All they lacked, as men of mettle, was money; but that was merely a temporary inconvenience, and by no means a disqualification for great designs. Mr Rashleigh had always taken a sort of paternal interest in most of the popular movements in the district; so he was easily induced to encourage with his influential name some of the patriotic schemes which were projected by those fertile heads, including the Grand Riverside Railway, the Mutton-ham Company, and the Pure Portable Soup Association. Other influential men followed Mr Rashleigh's example, and very soon the share market was as lively as the old market-wharf in Sydney used to be, when the fishing boats arrived.

Perhaps the most promising local institution was the “Hunter River Auction Company.” It is still a disputed question whether Maitland or Sydney heads first concocted that scheme, which was quite new in mercantile economy; at any rate, there was a rival auction company in Sydney about the same time. But the latter was a mere hum-drum commercial concern, with an ordinary staff of clerks, who were not distinguishable from mercantile employés in general; whereas the “officers” of the former company were “thorough bricks,” and all wore

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top-boots, from Mr Thomas Tosser, the head auctioneer, down to the junior sales clerk.

Stock and stations, shares and estates, were the items which these sporting auctioneers glorled in manipulating. They also liked wool and well-cured hides, or even sheep-skins, but mere merchandise was below the ideas of the white-fingered staff. It is true they did not decline it (though Mr Tosser would rather have knocked down a hundred fat bullocks than a single bale of shirting or a crate of cups and saucers); and they gradually relaxed their lofty bearing until they declined nothing at all, except payment to consigners and creditors in general. But I am anticipating their undignified finale.

The flourishing prospectus of the Hunter River Auction Company concluded with the announcement, in effect, that the earliest applicants for shares would have the preference, but some of the sage old Hunter men looked at that encouraging sentence with one eye partially closed, like sly birds peeping into a brick trap, until it was publicly rumoured that Mr Rashleigh had taken a hundred shares. Then there was quite a rush at the office door, in which many persons got their toes injured, and a few of the up-countrymen had their pockets picked, before they got inside.

Mr Rashleigh was honest above an average, and at one time he had a very humble opinion of himself, which was quite right; but the popular voice had actually persuaded him that he was endowed with wonderful financial forethought and sagacity, and in exercising his talents he had learned to believe that he was doing good double-handed; that is to say, benefiting the colonists in general, and himself as well. It was no wonder, then, that Mr Drydun sought counsel from his experienced friend, nor is it surprising that, after the purchase of a cattle station on the Big River, he should confidently invest the balance of his capital in Auction Company's shares.

After a month's sojourn in Maitland, Mr Drydun found himself almost fascinated by the gay society to which he had been introduced. His daily routine in prospective was slow indeed compared with his present life of fun. To console himself under the approaching trial of parting with his jovial friends, he reflected that the merry days and convivial nights he had spent in Maitland would furnish a multitude of reminiscences when on his distant squattage, and serve to enliven his wife when she was dreary, though of course he would not tell her of all his frolickings—that would never do. His

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losses at the card table or on the grand stand had exceeded his gains by what sporting men call “long odds,” still he had formed friendships of a refined solidity which he had scarcely hoped to meet with in this then unpopular part of the world. So he had a quid pro quo for his money; and after all, what is money to a man without friends to enjoy it with him?

But all sublunary joys have an end, and it usually comes too soon for us. Domestic reasons, which could not be slighted, urged Mr Drydun to depart; so he bade adieu to merry Maitland with all its attractions, and hied to his new homestead in the distant wilds, as fast as a bullock dray would carry him and his appurtenances. I shall not trouble the reader with a description of the early difficulties of this young pair in their new life. The pioneers of the bush did not enjoy the privileges of select society, which are procurable now that numberless highly respectable families have settled on their pastoral estates, and towns and hamlets have sprung up in many places which were formerly the haunts of the aborigine and the kangaroo. Mr Drydun was well adapted for the vocation which he had chosen; and his wife was a helpmeet indeed, a lady endowed with “graceful ease and sweetness, void of pride.” Trials of a minor kind they patiently endured, and they enjoyed their nomadic life with its freedom and healthful excitement.

But before two years had passed, they were overtaken by disasters which, with all their resources, they could not surmount, for the “great panic” came, and, along with scores of other trading concerns, the Hunter River Auction Company failed, and involved every one connected with it who had anything to lose. To be brief, Mr Drydun was hopelessly bankrupt; for in addition to his liability as a shareholder in that company, he had “lent his name” to a few of his luxurious friends in Maitland, “merely as a matter of form;” and as a preliminary matter of legal form he was served with “writs” for the payment of every bill which bore his endorsement.

Joe Stubble was much grieved when he heard of his master's downfall. Peggy was grieved too, for Mrs Drydun had been very kind to her; indeed, they were employers of a sort that always secure the affection of their servants. After a consultation with his wife, and again totting up his assets, which had considerably increased in the last twelve months, Joe went straightway to the house with his savings'-bank book and his

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purse in his pocket, and without a word he handed them over to his master.

Mr Drydun, with tears in his eyes, declined to take the money, and candidly stated that he was embarrassed beyond hope of recovery, and all he possessed must be sold. “But I don't see why you should not buy the whole concern, Joe; as you have some ready money,” added Mr Drydun, brightening up a little. “You have been a trustworthy servant, and perhaps, if the place gets into strange hands, the next owner of it might not appreciate your honest services. Take my advice, Joe; go to Sydney and buy the station; it must be sold, and it will go for a mere song, as Brown's station did the week before last.

It would be tedious to tell all Joe's proceedings; but he acted throughout in an upright way, and according to his master's counsel. In a short time he went to Sydney, and with the ready money which he had saved in three years, he bought “Luckyboy station” and all the stock upon it, including horses and working bullocks, also drays, stores, &c.; and after getting his title-deeds, he returned home to tell Peggy that she was for the first time in her life her own mistress.

When she heard the news, Peggy sat down and cried, partly for joy at her own good fortune, and partly for sorrow at the misfortunes of her mistress, whom she loved very much. “I tell you what it is, Joe, I will never take the master's property; so you had best go and give it back to him,” said Peggy, sobbing.

“I've offered it to 'en already, lass, and he woan't have it, 'cos he says it bean't no good at all to him. Somebody 'ud pounce upon it agin directly, for he owes a lot of money; or, any odds, he's got to pay it, whether he owes it rightly or not, and I suppose it be's much about the same to them chaps as have got to receive it. Howsomever, I'll let 'en take what he likes, and stop here as long as he likes, as master too, and I can't say any fairer than that, as I see.”

Some men are mean enough, when they have risen in the world, to look with selfish indifference upon the friends who have helped them up, especially if those friends happen to have grown poor in purse. But it was not so with honest Joe Stubble. He was really sorry for his master's mishaps, though he had profited by them in so unexpected a manner; and he gave him substantial help as well as sympathy.

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“Doan't 'ee fret, sir!” said Joe one day, when Mr Drydun was looking very dispirited. “A good name keeps its shine in the dark, and it is worth heaps of money to a man. Though you have been unlucky, sir, thee hast not been tricky, I'll warrant; and that's a thought as wud help to soothe a man to sleep if he went to bed hungry. Help theeself, sir, to anything on the station thee hast a mind to, and doan't 'ee say thank'ee to me for it neither, for it be's more yourn than mine, though I've bought it fair and square.”

But Mr Drydun was not the sort of man to encroach upon any one's generosity. He soon removed to Sydney, in the hope of getting a government situation, but found, on his arrival in the metropolis, that there were scores of needy persons there before him on the look-out for “billets.” He also discovered that his personal qualities did not counterbalance his poverty, in the estimation of his former friends. In dread that he would want to borrow money from them, and always owe it, after the habit of broken-down men in general, they showed him the “cold shoulder,” which chilled his sensitive spirit more than the loss of his station had done.

Yielding to his wife's wishes, he shortly afterwards returned to England, after undergoing the liquidating process, waggishly yclept “Burton's Purge”