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Chapter I.

Elevation of the Stubbles in fashionable life.—Joe becomes Member for Muddleton.—Mrs Stubble's experience with domestic servants.

AFTER the excitement of Maggie's wedding was over, Mr Stubble went to school to learn English grammar, in fulfilment of the compact which he had previously made with his wife. What he might have accomplished if he had been more persevering, it is not easy to estimate, but at the end of six weeks he impatiently declared that “he had had enough of verbs and other puzzling consarns, and he would not bother his head any more, whether he spoke plain English or not.” But he thought his recent exercise had polished his lingo a bit, for he had learned a good many new words, and was trying to forget a lot of old ones which the schoolmaster said were vulgar. Peggy had respected her part of the compact by taking private lessons in writing from Miss Dottz; but that lady sailed for England to print her budget before her dull pupil had done with “pot-hooks and hangers,” so the copy-book was thrown aside for a convenient season to begin on the higher branches of caligraphic art; and poor Mrs Stubble continued to waste much time in lamenting over her early disadvantages, and blaming herself for not beginning five years ago “to learn to be a scholar.” She had grown more painfully conscious of her deficiencies since she became intimate with Mrs Smatter, and other fashionable ladies, who knew everything in the world; still, her outward and visible pride did not diminish a single tittle.

After their year of tenancy expired, the Stubbles removed from the house in Slumm Street to one of far greater pretensions to style. It was situate in the fashionable purlieus of Double Bay. Peggy had set her heart on

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that identical house six months before, because it had a semi-circular carriage drive right up to the door, or, as she remarked, “You could go in at one gate, and out at the other, without turning round.” Mr Stubble gradually grew out of his dislike to city life, and his self-confidence expanded to such a cheering extent, that he could walk into the dining-hall at Entwistle's (even on a baron-of-beef day) carrying his head as erect as a lordly squatter from Beardy Plains, and without showing the least sign of sheepishness, though a hundred eyes were taken off fifty plates to gaze at him. He soon became quite “at home” with the rollicking habitués of the “smoking crib,” and the intimacy with some of them soon ripened into financial transactions of no ordinary kind. Mr John Murrabig, the jovial Hunter River squire, and Mr Stubble sometimes had a mild tipple together, and would grow as sentimental as gipsies while they talked of the lanes and hedges of old Devon, and compared their early experiences in garden, field, or stable, or the softer recollections of their apple-picking exploits amid a scrambling bevy of rosy-faced lasses, for which their native county is so famous. The highly-cultivated “Count” Sticky has deigned to take hold of Joe's arm, and strongly recommend him to buy a nice estate on the Nimrod, and to talk to him upon other matters, which clearly showed his confidence in the man. Cannie Jock was like a brither to him, and on two occasions made him a present of some prime smoked tongues and bullocks tails. The great wool-man, of champagne-breakfast celebrity, often shook hands with Joe, and asked after his wife. Other men of less renown, though perhaps equally worthy, testified their affection for Joe in various ways. Moreover, he became a man of mark to the liveliest of the Sydney brokers, and the bargains, or “snug little specs,” that were brought to his notice from day to day, were sometimes too good to be slighted.

To guard in some measure against the encroachment of pride, which such varied attentions were calculated to induce, Mr Stubble would sometimes come out in an old country-cut coat, and he occasionally carried a rough sapling or stick, such as blind men use as feelers; but he dropped his stick and doffed his old coat on being told that that “humble dodge” had been tried by a worthy civic councillor, and it did not answer any other end than to excite the satire of Punch.

Success has a wonderful influence in inspiring even the

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meekest of men with confidence in their own tact, and also in gaining for them the approbation of their keen-sighted neighbours. Mr Stubble had made several very profitable speculations, which were currently talked about, and had such an exalting influence on his reputation for sagacity and money, that after a while he was powerfully pressed to stand as Member of Parliament for Muddleton, which seat had become vacant through the resignation of Mr Morrison, who “went home” to enjoy himself with the fortune he had made in Australia, after the example of many others who have “morris'd off,” after making their “pile.”

A Dublin jury was once sitting on the body of an Irish hodman, who had fallen from a ladder, and, by the doctor's report, had broken his neck. The coroner was summing up the evidence preparatory to receiving a verdict, when Patrick suddenly raised himself up from the shell in which he was placed, and exclaimed in a faint voice, “Fegs, I think I'm alive yit!”

“Arrah! lie down ye crayther!” growled a hungry juror, who was impatient to get home to his dinner. “Lie down, sir, this minute! Do you mane to say ye know betther nor the docthor, who ses ye're dead?”

Mr Stubble's honest assertion that he knew no more about politics than he did about steering a ship was smilingly taken as an indication of praiseworthy modesty by his enthusiastic supporters, and they were so loud in their opinions of his fitness for the post of dignity and trust, that at length he began to suspect that he had all through his life underrated his own powers; at any rate, it was only reasonable to believe that a deputation of seven intelligent electors must surely know better than his own humble self, so he agreed to leave himself in their hands, and promised to do his best for the constituency if they made a Member of him.

After a sharp contest, he was returned by a majority of nine. His election cost him £500, but he was assured by friends, who knew what they were talking about, that it was a cheap seat after all, considering the manifold advantages that might accrue therefrom, if he kept his eyes open to his own interest.

As a matter of course, his elevation to the Legislative Assembly gained him abundant honour of an indirect kind, and his name was often seen in the public prints as well as seen posted on all the old walls in town. “Joseph Stubble,

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Esq., M.L.A., has kindly consented to take the chair,” was an announcement to be seen sometimes twice in one column of advertisements of public meetings of a moral or social character. He was highly esteemed as a chairman, for he usually put a cheque in the plate; and as he never attempted to say much, his reticence was properly regarded as a mark of wisdom. Almost every speaker on the programme would remark, as usual, “I am happy to see you in the chair, sir—et cetera;” and as honest Joe did not know anything about stock phrases of public orators, he used to believe every word they said, and would look as smirky as a blackfellow in a new blanket. His name was also placed on many local committees, sometimes without previously asking his leave, for, on the assumption that he had nothing particular to do, everybody was willing to find him a job. In his stammering reply to a complimentary vote of thanks for his ability in the chair, he on one occasion remarked, “that he was always ready to help any good cause with his personal efforts, and with his purse also.” After that encouraging sentiment, it was sagely argued by collectors, that to neglect to call on him for a subscription was virtually to admit that the cause they were collecting for was a bad one, which would never do; and the number of “good causes” he was solicited to subscribe to was enough to cheer any one of a philanthropic turn of mind. Professional beggars found out where he lived, of course; and though they occasionally got a scolding from the mistress of the house, they were sustained under it by the certain hope of an alms, if the master happened to be at home, and they were lucky enough to catch him alone, to tell him their tales of sorrow.

Mr Stubble's native modesty made him shrink from the numerous posts of honour or responsibility which were thrust upon him; but his objections were always joked away by his partial admirers, who could not be so ill-mannered as to accept a plea of incapacity, and after a while he was lulled into the belief that he really did possess latent talent of a popular kind. If some of my readers should doubt the possibility of any man being so befooled, let them look around them, and if they happen to be in a civilised community, they may see many analogous cases, where men have been lifted almost above their own individual recognition by the syren voice of public flattery and private wheedling.

Ben Goldstone's social position had naturally improved

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since his marriage. Apart from higher considerations, he was more patronised by fashionable friends, which was a source of glorification to him; but receiving visitors and returning calls was so irksome to poor Maggie, that she often sighed for the quietude of a country life, and wished from her heart that Ben would take a farm and remove her away from the embarrassing routine of city fashion, and the choking influence of city dust.

It was often a matter of wondering conjecture with gossipping neighbours what profession or calling young Goldstone followed, but no uninitiated one could solve the mystery. He had an office in town, and kept a sporting-looking clerk; and he mixed a good deal with sharp speculators, sea-captains, money-lenders, and horse-dealers; but as he always seemed to be flush of money, people did not give themselves much trouble to investigate his business affairs.

Although Mr Stubble was not aware of it, he was largely indebted to his son-in-law for his rapid advancement in public and social life; for Ben, to use his own words, “was up to all the moves on the board,” and was intimately acquainted with some of the sharpest men in Sydney. He had “worked the oracle” so successfully, that Mr Stubble was generally believed to be a man of very large means, and of a great depth of wisdom also, which he tried to hide beneath his rustic manners. It was through Ben's secret influence that Joe had been led out by the Liberal party to stand for Muddleton, and it was through Ben's hints and inuendoes that Joe was supposed to be the owner of bricks and mortar (i.e., houses) all over the country, and plenty of ready money beside.

Mrs Stubble's veneration for Ben had diminished, for she shrewdly suspected that he was not so fond of his wife as he had professed to be before he married her: still, Maggie never complained of anything, and the strictest cross-examination failed to elicit a word from her condemnatory of her husband; so Peggy was silenced, though not cured of her suspicions.

Biddy Flynn had been summarily dismissed the service, for threatening to crack the housemaid's head with a blacking brush. One morning very early Mrs Stubble overheard Biddy scolding Dolly, and, with her usual impetuosity, the irate mistress descended the stairs in her night-cap, and told Biddy to “march off, bag and baggage, that blessed minute.” Biddy took the hint, and started off, without her breakfast, to Maggie's house, where she was gladly sheltered.

It was soon ascertained that Biddy's wrath had been excited

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by seeing the housemaid wash her face and hands in the water-butt. Mrs Stubble admitted that the nasty wench deserved a worse scolding than she had got, and asked Biddy to return to her old station: but she declined the invitation, stating that “she wanted pace and quietness, an' shure she hadn't had much of that same since she left Buttercup Glen. Still an' all, she didn't mane to lave the family intirely, so she'd shtop wid Miss Maggie” (as she still called Mrs Goldstone). Biddy added a little advice to her late mistress, to the effect, “that if she didn't want to be pisoned out an' out, she had betther kape a sharp look-out after that same Dolly Slapp, for she'd seen her carry the water for the toilet bottles up-stairs in the covered bucket, and do a lot of other neat tricks, for the convanience ov savin' herself a little bit ov work; an' she wore dungaree aprons, 'cos they hide the dirt.”

Mrs Stubble was so excited by that disclosure, that she discharged the slovenly maid at a minute's notice, and without half-a-minute's reflection on the inconvenience she was causing herself by her petulant act. After Dolly Slapp was gone, Mrs Stubble sat down to repent of her hastiness, and to “wonder whatever she should do without a single servant in the house, and company coming to dinner the day after tomorrow.”

Mr Stubble was appealed to for counsel in the emergency, and he calmly suggested “that they should give their expected guests a leg of mutton and a figgy pudding for dinner; and he thought Peggy might manage to cook that much, for once and away.”

Mrs Stubble pettishly replied, “that was just like him, always annoying her when she was worried, instead of trying to help her.” He then advised her to go to one of the registry offices in Sydney, and pick out a couple of servants: there were always lots of girls sitting in those places waiting to be hired.”

Mrs Stubble objected to that course, and said “she did not choose to go running after servants, which would make them think too much of themselves. The proper way was to make them come to her.”

“Very well, Peggy; I be agreeable;” said Joe; “but I wish you would not fidget yourself so much, for that won't help you a bit.”

An advertisement was sent to the Herald and Empire, for a cook and laundress, and a housemaid; and the next day

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two full-grown women presented themselves at Stubbleton to offer their services. After examining their testimonials (which were very flattering ones, although written on very common paper), Mrs Stubble engaged them, and they agreed to come that evening. They had lived in service together; and Mrs Stubble reasoned that, as they doubtless understood each other's ways, it would save her no end of bother.

The next day there was much bustle and preparation for the dinner-party, which was to be an extra grand one. Mrs Stubble was beginning her old fussy, domineering ways, which poor Biddy had so long borne with, when the new cook sternly intimated that “she did not like her mistress to be buzznagging about in the kitchen.” Peggy was startled at that early symptom of an insubordinate spirit; but she resolved to bear it silently for that day, as she could not help herself, but “she would talk to the saucy thing to-morrow, and let her see who was mistress in that house.”

About an hour before dinner-time, a strong scent of overroasted meat ascended to the parlour, so Mrs Stubble ventured down-stairs, and peeped into the kitchen to see what was burning. There was the quarter of lamb blackening before the fire, in consequence of the roasting-jack having run down, and there was the cook lying on the floor, with a gravy-spoon in her hand, and with her nose looking highly inflamed. The alarmed mistress thought the maid was in a fit, so shook her roughly, to arouse her out of it, when she half-opened her eyes and mumbled, “Hallo! Wh-wh-what's up now, m-missis?”

“Mercy! What have you been drinking?”

“Gin-gin-ginger-beer, m-missis, that's all—hic.”

“Oh, you vile woman! You have been stealing the whisky!” exclaimed Mrs Stubble. “However could I have been so silly as to leave that cellar door unlocked? Get out of the house this instant, or I'll send for a constable. Here Charlotte! Charlotte, go for a policeman, directly. Where are you, Charlotte?”

“Ye-ye-yes, mum; here am I,” said the housemaid, staggering from her bedroom adjoining the kitchen.

“Gracious me! why, you are drunk too, you nasty creature!” shrieked Mrs Stubble, with disgust and indignation distorting all her features. “Oh, that I should be imposed upon by two such dreadful women!”

A description of the noisy scene which ensued during the

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process of expelling the unfaithful servants from the house, and the subsequent troubles of that exciting day, would fill a long chapter; but as I cannot afford the space, the reader may imagine it all. With the help of a charwoman, Mrs Stubble managed to prepare a tolerably good dinner; and she was somewhat consoled at learning, from the experience of some of her lady-guests, that she was not the only mistress in Sydney who had been plagued with bad cooks and housemaids.

Seven servants were engaged during the ensuing month, and were all summarily discharged for failings of various kinds, including klepto-mania, tipple-mania, and dirt-mania. At length Mrs Stubble resolved that she would not hire another girl without first inquiring her character from her last mistress. The result of that sensible plan was, that she eventually got two really good servants, and her late troublesome experience incited her to strive to keep them. To that end, she ceased to nag them perpetually, as she had nagged poor Biddy, and she soon found that kind, encouraging words were far more effective than sharp ones in getting work done well, and in securing the respect of her domestics.