― 273 ―

Chapter II.

Interview between Mr Stubble and Mr Rowley.—Their conversation on many topics of interest.—Some of Mr Stubble's parliamentary experience.

MR STUBBLE was sitting in the library at his house overlooking Double Bay one morning, about three years after his induction to city life, and was spelling over a parliamentary document, in which he seemed much interested, when his manservant announced a visitor, and the next minute Mr Rowley entered the room, with the nervous step of a disrated official seeking an interview with the premier.

“What! Rowley, my boy! How are you? Glad to see you,” said Mr Stubble, rising and shaking his friend's hand with genuine warmth.

“I am pretty well, thank you, Joe—hem—a—Mr Stubble. Beg pardon, sir; I forgot myself for a minute.”

“Come, come, none of this ceremony, Peter,” said Joe, laughing. “I am Joe Stubble still to my old friends, though I be a little bit higher up in the world than I used to be. There is no silly pride about me; so don't be stiff and formish, Peter, or you'll make me feel uneasy. Hang your hat up in the hall, or put it down on you table, and make yourself at home.”

“I am pleased to hear you talk in that neighbourly strain, Joe,” replied Mr Rowley, smiling. “I don't see why a change of position should alter a man's bearing towards his old friends, though it does do so pretty often. It is said that a man when he is poor is able to discern objects at the greatest distance with the naked eye, which he could not see, though standing at his elbow, when he is rich.”

“That is true enough, Peter, and I've seen plenty of that uppish pride in the men that I have to mix with every day; not that they show it to me, you know, for I must say everybody treats me with uncommon respectfulness.”

“Of course they will do that, Joe. Position will generally gain a man respect, or at any rate the outward form of it,

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irrespective of his moral worth. But I am forgetting to ask after Mrs Stubble and the family. How are they all?”

“Nicely, thank'ee, Peter; and how are all your folks? Hearty, I hope. I haven't heard of you for I don't know when, and I think it is nearly three years since I saw you last. When did you come to town?”

“I came down by yesterday's steamer, but did not reach Sydney till this morning, for our boiler burst on the passage.”

“Hi, hi! that was a rum go. Was anybody killed?”

“No, thank God! there was no one killed, but one of the firemen was badly scalded. The captain happened to overhear a remark I made to Sam about the necessity for keeping the boiler in good order, when he got quite cross, and insisted ‘that his boiler was all right, for his six months' certificate had three weeks more to run.’ Fortunately for us, the weather was fine, and we sailed to Sydney; but my wife was frightened a bit.”

“Oh, the missis is down, is she? Why didn't you bring her out with you? Mrs Stubble would be glad to see her, never fear. You should not make yourself so strangified, Peter. I tell you again we are not aristocracks, though we live in a more stylish way than we did when you knew us in days agone.”

“Mrs Rowley and I have come down to see Sophy and her husband off; they will sail for Melbourne this afternoon. You heard that my girl married young Rafter, of course.”

“Yes, yes, Peter; and I was very glad to hear it; but how is it they are going to leave you?”

“Sam has had an offer of partnership from a gentleman who is in a large way of business in Victoria. He knew Sam before he was out of his time; and as he wants a trustworthy working partner, he wrote to Sam making certain propositions, which after due consideration he has accepted. I dare not persuade him not to go, because I can see it will be to his advantage, for his partner is an excellent man and is in a thriving position.”

“I am very pleased to hear this, Peter. I always liked Sam; and I knew he would rise in the world, for he is a knowledgeable chap. I only wish my boy Bob had taken pattern from Sam when they were boys together.”

“By the bye, how is Bob getting on, Joe?”

“Ah, don't say aught to me about him, for it makes my heart ache. He has gone and married a girl without brains

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or heart either. It's nation hard, Peter, after rearing a son up to manhood, to see him throw himself away, as it were; for I look upon a young fellow as done for, if he marries a fool, though she may be worth her dead weight in sovereigns.”

“I am grieved to hear this of Bob. He was a fine-spirited lad; only I always thought he wanted a tighter rein kept on him than he had at home.”

“Bob was always a bit skittish, though there was no vice in him, as I could see. He liked cracking a stock-whip a deal better than studying his school-books; and skinning 'possoms and snakes was better fun to him than learning Latin and such like head-work. I couldn't always keep the bearing-rein on him, Peter; and you know the reason why.”

“Pray excuse my remark, Joe; I did not mean it as a reproach, you know. And how is Maggie—beg pardon, Mrs Goldstone, I mean?”

“Poor girl, she bean't in such first-rate health as she used to have; town life doesn't suit her at all. I am uneasy about her too; so you see, neighbour, that with all my honours and stylish set-out, I bean't over and above happy. I have got my share of trouble, though I don't cry about it to everybody, or put on a dismal look to excite people to pity me.”

“ ‘Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.’ That is a sacred truth from the Bible, you know, Joe. Any man who expects to get through life without trouble, no matter how high his social position may be, must discredit God's own word to the contrary; and troubles terribly gall a man who does not believe that they are amongst the ‘all things’ that God sees it necessary to send to him, to make him set his heart on a better world than this one.”

“That is pretty much like what our good minister said last Sunday night; and it's true enough, no doubt,” replied Joe, with a sigh.

“You go to church then, Joe?”

“I do so, Peter. I have had a pew in your old church for close up three years.”

“I am glad of that, Joe. I'm sure you cannot sit under Mr Goodwin's preaching without profit; for he is an earnest man, and evidences his piety ‘not only with his lips, but in his life.’ ”

“By the bye, I saw your name in the Government Gazette among the new magistrates, Peter,” said Joe, who was desirous of changing the topic of conversation.

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“I suspect I am indebted to your political influence for that honour, Joe. I am much obliged to you; but I did not expect such a distinction, and should not have sought it.”

“I don't know who has a right to expect such a distinction if an honest sensible man has not. A stick fit for a besomshank don't stay long in the wood. But don't say aught about the obligation to me; I didn't know you would think I had a hand in it, or I wouldn't have named it to you. It was my friend the Secretary who managed it.”

“I never was more surprised at anything than at seeing you offer yourself as a candidate for a seat in the Assembly, Joe.”

“Ha, ha, ha! I guess you were astonished, and I bet a guinea you laughed at me a bit. But I have heard you say yourself, Peter, that a man doesn't know what he can do till he tries; and how was I to know that I wasn't able to legislate till I had a try at it? But, joking aside, you know, I had no more notion of being an M.L.A. when I first came to Sydney than I had of being a sodger officer, and if anybody had told me I should, I'd have thought he worn't sober. But it is wonderful how soon a man, even a plain country yokel, will change his opinion of himself, if half-a-dozen sharp fellows set to work to convince him that he is clever. Ha, ha, ha! It's human nature, I suppose, Peter; for I can see that I am not the only yokel who has been persuaded that there is dormant knowledge in his head, which ought to be roused up for the benefit of the country.”

“I thought you had been pressed into the service, Joe. Tell me how you overcame your natural diffidence.”

“It would take too long to tell you all I said against the thing, Peter; but I told the deputation who came to me that I worn't a fit and proper man for the post either by education, political knowledge, or power of speech, in plain English; but they wouldn't take all that for an answer. They said I had got colonial experience, and common sense, and a stake in the country, and a tongue in my head. I could not deny those facts, you know, Peter; and while I was considering what to say next, they went hard at me on the tea and sugar racket, and argued that it was my bounden duty to stand up and protect the poor man from having his common necessaries of life taxed, which was a burning shame. There they nailed me, for I haven't forgotten the time when I was down in the world. They saw I was beginning to feel their logic, so they went at

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it again, and in such a touching way, that blessed if I could bear it; so I said I wouldn't stand by and see the poor man's tea-pot taxed if my going into the House would stop it. So they went to work, and I was returned for Muddleton.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Mr Rowley. “Excuse me for interrupting you so rudely, Joe; but I am just reminded of a story I heard a minister tell the other day. Two Scotchmen had had a long night's fuddle together, and when daylight was appearing, one of them, who was ‘unco fou,’ began to cry. ‘Eh, Sandy, ma freend, dinna fret. What ails ye mon?’ asked his fellow-fuddler. ‘It's this muckle national debt mak's me weep,’ sobbed Sandy, rubbing his eyes. Now,” continued Mr Rowley, “I think the anxiety of the tea and sugar ranters, in general, is about as earnest as the fuddled Scotchman's grief for his country's large debt of honour. But I should have thought you were up to that old clap-trap cry of political adventurers, Joe. The poor man's tea and sugar!—Ha, ha!”

“I am up to it now, Peter; and I wonder that poor men, as they are called, cannot see that it is all bunkum. A tea and sugar tax would bear less upon the poor than upon the rich, and that is as clear to my mind as that four farthings make a penny.”

“How did you get on in the Assembly at the first set-off? I should like to have seen you take your seat ‘amongst the rulers of the land, Joe.’ ”

“At first start-off I was as shy and skeered as a young colt in the branding yard; but I soon saw that I wasn't the only ‘new chum’ in politics; so I began to take heart, and thinks I to myself I'll show some of these customers a thing or two by and bye that I have learnt in the bush. A little before that you know, Peter, I went to school for a bit to learn to talk straight. I daresay you have observed that I have dropped a lot of my old Devonshire lingo, and learnt a few fashionable words. Then I began to study politics, and though it's precious little of that science I've learnt yet, everybody don't know that I bean't a reg'lar wiseacre, for I never attempt to make a set speech, and I never open my mouth to speak at all unless I know what I am going to talk about. I don't mean to say that I am in my right place, Peter; but, right or wrong, I am a duly-elected member of the House; so it is my duty to make myself as useful as I can, and I'll do it too, as soon as I have learnt the way.”

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“That is the way to talk, Joe. You cannot expect to take a leading part in the debates; but you may use your experienced judgment in giving your vote on divisions, and you may render good practical service in committees. I know you will act honestly, and will not connive at wrong-doing.”

“I have been reading a paper this morning that is just issued from the Government printing-office; I wish you would get a copy, Peter, and read it carefully, for it contains some of the most startling things I have ever heard of.”

“What paper is it, Joe?”

“It is called ‘Report from the Select Committee on the Condition of the Working Classes of the Metropolis.’ ”

“I should like to see it, for I have heard something about it. Where can I get a copy, Joe?”

“You can get it for 5½d. at the Government printing-office; but I'll see if I can get a copy for you to-morrow. It makes some saddening disclosures of the state of the poorer classes in Sydney, and especially in relation to juvenile prostitution. It is a lengthy affair, for the committee have had twenty-two meetings and examined forty-one witnesses.”

“What is the practical object of the report?”

“Well, that remains to be seen, Peter; but if I stop in the House I'll try to get something done with it, though I expect the chairman of the committee will not lose sight of the matter,note for he is a real worker.”

“I wish there were more workers in the House, and fewer talkers, Joe.”

“You are right, Peter; and it would be a good thing for the country if you had your wish. I once saw an old hen on my farm standing over her nest of eggs, which were covered by flood-waters; and I have often been reminded of the silly bird when I have heard men gabble for hours on a stretch about some matter not worth a nest of addled eggs, and thinks I to myself, I wish you talkative gentlemen would set about doing something useful, and you needn't look far to find a job, if you are willing to adapt your work to your capacity, or your capacity to your work.”

“Well done, Joe! You talk like a philosopher.”

“I don't know about the philosophy of it, but I think it's common sense, Peter; and perhaps one is as good as the other

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for every-day use. There are several matters that I mean to see after, if I be spared, and nobody else forestalls me. In the first place, I am going to try to bring in a bill to bung up all the cesspits in the city; and that would be a blessing for every citizen's nose and his lungs too. I'll be bound there bean't many members in the House who know more about muck than I do, Peter, however they may talk. I know the value of it when it is rightly applied to the land; but it is deadly stuff to sleep amongst; and my word for it, if something is not done in the matter, we shall have typhus fever, and perhaps cholera morbus in the city, one of these hot days. I have got a lot of calculations about it; some of them are out of my own head, and others from doctors' reports; and I mean to try to get a law to compel owners of houses to erect earth closets,— ah, you may laugh, Peter, for you live in the country, where the air is sweet; but perhaps you wouldn't have spirit enough to laugh if you lived for a few months in the heart of the city, where there are thousands of pestilent cesspits, to say nothing of the open drains.”

“Beg your pardon, Joe. I was smiling at your earnestness in taking up such a troublesome matter, not ridiculing the idea; far from it; for I am quite of your opinion as to its importance, and have wondered that it has not been legislated upon long ago.”

“I am not the man to sit down and do nothing you know; and I am willing to do little odd jobs that come within the scope of my knowledge, and that other men would not care to put their hands to for fear of getting a nick-name. But I say, Peter, it is dry work talking: what will you take to drink? Beg pardon for not asking you before.”

“I never drink anything stronger than my wife's ginger-beer, Joe. I thought you were a teetotaller of twenty-years' standing.”

“Yes, so I was till I came to Sydney, Peter. But it's all the go here to drink nobblers; so I be got into the fashion; and I ain't easy now without my reg'lars, though I feel pretty sure I should be better without them. You'll stay and dine with us, of course; so, if you have no objection, we will go and take a stroll for an hour through the Government gardens, and then we can have a quiet chat about the best way to put the world to rights, and smell the sweet flowers at the same time. What do you say?”

Mr Rowley cheerfully acquiesced in the proposal; so Joe

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rang the bell, and ordered the carriage round to the front door, and soon afterwards the cosy pair started for their drive.

As the carriage bowled along the level road past Rushcutters' Bay, a group of aborigines were observed a little distance ahead. There were three men, dressed in various articles of European left-off apparel, and three women, each wrapped about with a blanket. As the carriage drew near, one of the men lifted an old black hat off his woolly head, and with a low bow he exclaimed, “Hallo, massa! Good morning!”

Mr Stubble told the coachman to stop, and then with an assumed sternness in his look, he asked, “Who are you, sir? How dare you stop me on the Queen's highway?”

The blackfellow looked puzzled for an instant; then, with another bow and a grin, he exclaimed, “You know me, massa! Billy, Port Stebens! Sit down your place long while ago— you know.”

“How should I know you, sir?”

“Yah! Gammon! You know me, Massa Tubble. You know Billy.”

“What do you mean by calling me Massa Tubble? Isn't my name Brown?”

“Baal that Brown—Ha, ha, ha! Gammon! You Massa Tubble—Old Joe! Yah! ha, ha! I know you long time ago. Gib me tikee-pence, massa, if you please, sir.”

The two friends then burst into a hearty laugh, and were joined by the merry group of natives, who were too keen-sighted not to recognise Mr Stubble, even though he had tried to disguise his face by austere looks. It appeared that the natives had lately come to Sydney from the Hunter River, and had been camping on the domain of a worthy son of the soil at Darling Point, a gentleman whose hearty good nature is plainly discernible in his every look and action, and who has always been ready to administer to the material necessities of the aborigines on their occasional visits to the metropolis.

“If I give you sixpence, you will buy betalligo (grog) with it,” remarked Mr Stubble, taking out his purse, and addressing grinning Billy.

“Baal, massa, baal. Me buy loaf and 'bacca. Baal me buy betalligo, Massa Tubble. Gib me tikee-pence, if you please, sir.”

“Here you are, then—here is a shilling. Now, mind you don't spend it in grog.”

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“Baal, that buy grog, massa. Tank'ee, sir; much 'bliged to ye, sir. Ha, ha, ha! No gammon. Massa murra good man, sir.”

“I perceive that you advocate strict temperance sometimes, neighbour,” said Mr Rowley, laughing, as the carriage drove away from the rejoicing group in the road.

“It was right to caution that fellow, was it not, Peter?”

“Yes, yes; quite right, my friend. I am not making game of your good counsel; but it struck me at the same time that your ‘reg'lars’ for one day are perhaps more than Billy drinks in a month. Don't be uneasy at my remarks, Joe; I do not insinuate that you are an excessive drinker nevertheless.”

“But that fellow will perhaps go and get tipsy, in spite of my good advice.”

“Very likely he will; but if he were as much accustomed to grog as a daily beverage as you say you are, a shilling's worth of the stuff would not suffice to make him even half tipsy. Billy has not a convenient sideboard to keep his supply in; so he drinks all he can get right off, and its effects are seen at once; but if he divided his annual consumption into equal daily portions, his moderation would excel that of thousands of reputable citizens, who would be shocked at being compared with him.”

“Ha, ha, ha! I never calculated the thing in that way, Peter; but I daresay you are right. Poor Billy! I have known him for many years. He used to camp for weeks together on my run, and he often went out shooting with Bob. He is an honest, good-natured creature; and his wife can wash linen with any white woman.”

“Did you ever reflect that Billy has got an immortal soul, Joe?”

“I never thought much about it one way or the other, Peter; but I have heard many people say that our blackfellows are only a single degree above the monkey family.”

“Yes, I have heard that said too, Joe; and it has been argued by educated colonists that our aborigines are incapable of enlightenment of a moral or religious nature. I am sorry to add that many persons who know better than to believe that heathenish doctrine act towards the poor blacks as if it were true, for they neither try to instruct them themselves, nor are they willing to support a missionary who is competent for the good work, and anxious to be engaged in it.”

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“To tell you the plain truth, Peter, I don't believe that our black fellows are capable of learning anything about religion, or any such difficult subject.”

“I wish you would have half-an-hour's chat with the Rev. Mr R——, a gentleman, a scholar, and a devoted Christian. He lives in Sydney, and is as well known as the Speaker of the Assembly. He would be delighted to see you, or any one else who is interested in the welfare of the poor neglected natives; and you might get some admirable lectures and papers which he has published at various times on the subject. A few years ago that reverend gentleman went as a missionary to the blacks in the north; but, to the shame of the Christians of this great land, he was compelled to relinquish the work in which he laboured with all his energies and talents, because he was not supported even in the homely way in which he was contented to live. By the bye,” continued Peter, “I recollect I have amongst my papers at home an interesting account of a visit which a friend of mine made to the deathbed of an aborigine in the Melbourne Hospital. I will send you the paper,note Joe; and after reading it, I am sure you will be no longer sceptical of the capacity of the Australian aborigine to comprehend divine truth. Bah! such an idea is dishonouring to our Almighty Father, who made the race, and endowed them with immortal spirits such as you and I have, Joe.”