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  ― 283 ―

Chapter III.

Visit of Mr Stubble and Mr Rowley to Government Gardens.—Joe explains his financial affairs to his friend.—Fulsome pride of Mrs Stubble.

“I THINK, if I lived in Sydney, I should visit this pleasant retreat every day, Joe,” remarked Mr Rowley, as he and his friend entered the Botanical Gardens by the eastern gate.

“So I used to think, Peter, before I came to live in town; but I don't seem to be able to find time to enjoy a quiet ramble here very often. If somebody were to advertise that there was a pig in yon corner with two heads, or a monkey with two tails, no doubt there would be a regular rush of folks to see it, even if there was something to pay for the sight. Now, there are oceans of things in these gardens more wonderful and much more pleasing than monstrous pigs or monkeys to be seen for nothing; and yet there are hundreds of folks in Sydney who seldom or never look at them. That is queer, isn't it, Peter?”

“It is like human nature in general, Joe. Millions of people are running after monstrosities and nonsense, while they are blind and deaf to a world full of music and beauty. These gardens certainly contain the most charming variety of scenic and floral beauties that I have ever seen in a like space elsewhere; and nothing presents so much inducement to me to leave the country as the pleasure of visiting this place occasionally. The residents of Sydney have many privileges of which they ought to be proud.”

“And some of the folks are proud too, Peter. Ha, ha!”

“Yes; some of them have more pride than principle; but we must not be cynical, Joe; we are not perfect ourselves. I have been thinking, since we came into the gardens, that, with deference to the talented manager, if the names of the various plants and flowers were given in plain English, it would very much add to the pleasure and instruction of ordinary visitors, such as you and me. I do not object to classical terminology for those who can appreciate it; but let


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us have the common names as well, for the advantage of those persons who are not classically educated.”

“That is just what I have said to my wife, when she has been bothering her head to find out what those foreign names signified. Lots of these things might as well be ticketed in Chinese lingo as far as I am concerned; for I haven't learned Latin, nor never shall learn it now. It is my opinion, Peter, that”——

“Excuse me for interrupting you, Joe; but here is a sensible arrangement, and a capital illustration of our argument,” said Mr Rowley, stopping before an immense cluster of creaking bamboos, labelled thus—

  GRAMINACEÆ.

  BAMBUSA ARUNDINACEA.

  (Common Bamboo.)

“The scholar and the simple servant-maid are studied in this label.”

“Yes; that is plain enough, Peter—the last line of it, anyhow; though almost any simpleton would know a bamboo if it wasn't ticketed at all. I can't see how the gardeners don't mark everything else in the same common-sense way, instead of bamboozling unlearned folks with their long spifflicating names, that not many of the scientific gentlemen themselves thoroughly understand. I tell'ee what it is, neighbour, I'll make a motion about it in the House, after I've put them other concerns to rights; and that common bamboo will help me with a lively argument to stir up sleepy members.”

“Ha, ha! you are planning plenty of work for yourself in the House, Joe. I hope you may be spared to carry out some of your practical schemes. But tell me, now we are quietly together, what are your ideas of city life, after your three years' experience?”

“Do you want to come to Sydney to live, Peter?”

“Not I, indeed. I am not tired of a peaceful life, Joe; but I should like to know what you think of it; and whether you find yourself happier in town than you were in the country.”

“I'll tell you candidly, Peter, as you have asked me,” replied Mr Stubble, with a sigh. “I have never been comfortable since I left my old farm at the Glen; and I don't believe my missis has either, though perhaps she would not confess


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it so plainly as I do. It was a move in the wrong direction, Peter; and I feared as much when I first decided on it. A man who has lived all his days in the country, especially a man of my uneducated mind, isn't much fitted for a fashionable life in town, either by taste, or habit, or anything else. It is true enough I have risen in the social scale, as it is called, and I have been overloaded with offices of honour; but there is not much solid comfort in all that—at any rate, I can't find it if there is.”

“You would be the cleverest man that ever lived in the world if you could find it, Joe.”

“Well, I am not half so clever as folks say I am, Peter; and the effort to bring myself up to the mark for the duties that have been forced upon me is almost too much for me at my time of life, and considering the disadvantages I have against me, in the lack of early training and my inexperience of public life. I have done my best so far, honestly and zealously, and I will continue to do it; but I often think I am standing in the way of some better man. It isn't comforting for a fellow to feel himself a sham, you know, Peter.”

“I sympathise with you to some extent, Joe. A becoming humility is at all times commendable; but there is a danger of its assuming a morbid character, and by yielding to it a man is soon unfitted for the positive duties of life. I judge that you have improved your position in a pecuniary sense by coming to Sydney?”

“Yes, Peter; there is no doubt about that, if my debtors pay up honestly, and I am not wrong in my calculations. I made close up £7000 in two ventures in cattle, let alone other lucky specs. It's a fact that almost everything I have had a hand in has turned out profitable; but none of us know how soon luck may turn on us, and that thought often makes me fidgety. Though I didn't seek to get so high up in the world, I should not like to tumble down again, you know; for the higher a man is up before he tumbles, the more he will feel his fall.”

“So long as you confine your dealings to cattle, and such things as you thoroughly understand, I have not much fear of your making any serious mistake, Joe. Still, continued success is apt to make a man over-sanguine; and though you should try to avoid troubling yourself about mishaps which may never occur, it is well to mind that you do not grow careless.”




  ― 286 ―

“I have gone into other things besides cattle, Peter; but I cannot tell you all my speculations just now.”

“I have no desire to pry into your affairs, or to obtrude my advice upon you. I hope I have not appeared to do so, Joe?”

“Not at all, my boy! Say what you like to me, and I shall be much obliged to you, for there is not a man in the land whose advice I would sooner take than yours, Peter. I have often thought of the pleasant chats we used to have, as we smoked our pipes by your snug fireside in the bush; and many times I have wished I were beside you again to ask your counsel, especially when I've been in a quandary about bill consarns.”

“Then, you have had something to do with bills, Joe?”

“I have so, neighbour; and I'll defy you to go in for large speculations in Sydney without paper transactions, unless you have pockets like Bill Dash or Archy Midge.”

“I never objected to genuine trade bills, Joe; they are legitimate enough; but bills representing sham transactions, called ‘accommodation paper,’ or ‘kites,’ are as dangerous to handle as blasting powder; in fact, they have blasted many young traders' prospects for life. Those are the things I wished to warn you against when we used to have the cosy chats that you have referred to.”

“Just so, Peter; and you regularly scared me; for when I came first to Sydney, I was as shy of all sorts of bills as a young horse is of a wheelbarrow, but by degrees I got more plucky. I used to see men who carried high heads borrow their neighbours' names as coolly as I'd ask you for the loan of a rake, and after a bit I got talked into doing a little in the sham way. But I had a practical caution the other day which will do more towards curing me of the weakness than all your sensible hints beforehand. A chap failed all of a sudden, and I had to take up a little bill that I lent him to oblige him. I don't expect to lose anything, for he says he will pay twenty shillings in the pound all right, as soon as he swings round; but it's made me vow to myself that I'll never do so any more—leastways, I won't if I can help it.”

Mr Rowley quietly smiled at the simplicity of his friend; but he did not like to depress him by giving his own experience of sanguine debtors who had promised to pay him in full. After a few remarks on the danger of suretyship in general, Mr Rowley, by way of changing the subject, which


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was becoming embarrassing to Joe, asked how Ben Goldstone was getting on.

“I can hardly tell you, Peter,” replied Joe, with a sigh. “Ben beats all my calculations; still, he is clever—there's no mistake about that. I have been in a good many speculations with him, and most of them have turned out first-rate; but he is too venturesome to please me, and he is as obstinate as a donkey. It is no use for me to try to influence him.”

“I hope he is steady, Joe.”

“Well, he is not over-steady, I am sorry to say. He drinks an awful lot of grog every day; but I would not care so much about that, for he can stand any amount of drink, and look sharp all the while; but he is such a terrible fellow to gamble, and I know what that usually leads to. But what grieves me more than all, I am afraid he isn't over-kind to his wife; though, poor girl, she never will own to it.”

“Dear me! you have more trouble than I thought you had, neighbour,” said Mr Rowley, in a sympathising tone. “I am very sorry for you.”

“Yes; I have more on my mind than I have told you of yet, Peter. I am a good deal mixed up with Ben in business concerns, and I shall have to deal very gently with him in order to get a squaring-up; but when I get that done, I'll take care to drive my own cart in future.”

“Where is Ben now, Joe?”

“He is in the country to the north, buying horses to ship to India.”

“You have proper account-books, I presume; and they ought to show how you stand with Ben.”

“Yes, we have a lot of books; but you know I don't understand much about accounts, and I have trusted those matters to Ben. He has totted up the profits on each of our transactions, and made everything look fair and square; but I have lately heard it rumoured that he lost a sight of money at the last races in Melbourne, so I feel uneasy till he comes back to explain his affairs to me. What has made me more fidgety than anything else is this, Peter——I know I can tell you all my troubles without fear of you talking about them.”

“You may depend I shall not mention what you tell me to a soul, Joe; and if I can help you by my counsel or otherwise, I will do it gladly.”

“Thank you, Peter; you are very kind. This is what is bothering me a good deal, and upsetting my head for going


  ― 288 ―
at the work I have planned to do in the House. A few days ago, when I went to my bank to pay in some money, the manager asked me to step into his private room for a few minutes, so in I went, cheerfully enough, for he has always been mighty civil to me. ‘Take a chair, Mr Stubble,’ says he, and then he opened a book full of figures, and says he, ‘I wanted to suggest to you, sir, as your liabilities to this bank are rather heavy, that you allow me to be the escritoir of your title-deeds. A mere matter of form, you know, sir; but I have been requested by the directors to make the suggestion, and I hope you will not object to it.’ I felt regularly taken aback, Peter, for I did not expect anything of the sort. So I told him I would see about it, and came away; but I have been very uneasy ever since, because I can't understand the thing.”

“Of course you know the extent of your liabilities to the bank, Joe.”

“Well, not exactly; and that bothers me, for I don't like to ask the manager, and let him think that I have not been keeping careful tally. I shall soon find out when Ben comes back. You know, Peter, I have had so many jobs in hand, in the House and on committees, and presiding at public meetings, and all the rest, that I haven't had much time for looking sharp after money matters; and, as I told you before, I have trusted to Ben. I know I ought to have more than £20,000 to the good, if everybody pays me honestly; so you may imagine how queer I felt when the manager talked to me in that uncommon way. Mind you don't say a word about this before the missis, Peter, for she can't bear the least sign of trouble; and I don't know that there is anything to be afraid of after all.”

“I shall be careful not to say a word, Joe. I would advise you to write to Ben, and request him to come to Sydney to assist in a thorough investigation of your accounts, and then give up speculating altogether. You have money enough for all your wants, if you take care of it; and by trying to make more of it, you run a fearful risk of losing all, for in these days of sharp competition in commercial circles, it stands to reason that a man who has such a limited business knowledge as you have, can have but little chance of making money by speculating in merchandise or things of the kind.”

“You are right, my boy; and I'll take your advice as soon as I can,” said Joe, assuming a more cheerful look. I heard a little story the other day that made me merry for a minute. I


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don't know if I can tell it exactly, but I'll try. A rather eccentric divine was trying one day to convince an argumentative clodpole of the truth of miraculous agency, which the man obstinately denied.

“ ‘Will you tell me what is a miracle, your reverence?’ asked the man, after cavilling a long time about it.

“ ‘It is not easy to make you understand anything by logical rules,’ replied the parson, whose patience was running short. ‘But I'll try another method. Step in front of me a pace or two, will you?’ The man obeyed, when his reverence lifted his best leg and gave him a sturdy kick. ‘Hallo!’ roared the clodpole, turning round, and angrily confronting his preceptor; ‘what did you do that for?’ ‘Simply to illustrate my answer to your question,’ said the parson. ‘If you had not felt my foot, that would have been a miracle.’

“Now, thinks I to myself,” continued Joe, “after I heard that story, it would have been a miracle if I had not felt the moral kick that the bank manager gave me, and a wonder too, if I don't get perplexed a bit with all the business affairs that I have in hand, especially if anything should happen to Ben; so I made up my mind to have a final squaring up with that fast young gentleman as soon as he comes back to Sydney; and after that is done, I shall invest my money in some way that will insure me a steady income without annoying my head with merchant's work or banking concerns that I know naught about. When that is all settled comfortably, my brain will be clear to set to work about some of the social improvements of the city that I have been talking about. Ben will be back in a month I daresay; so if the manager wants my title-deeds, I may as well let him have them till then; they will be as safe in the bank as they are in my lawyer's box. Now I think we may as well go home to dinner, Peter. You have heard enough of my town troubles; but I feel a good deal more comfortable since I have opened my mind to you.”

The two friends then got into the carriage, and returned to Stubbleton, which was the name of Joe's villa.

Although Mrs Stubble received her guest cordially, and inquired very kindly after his family, Mr Rowley did not feel at ease in her company, and he was glad of having a good excuse for declining to take his wife out to spend a day at Stubbleton. He was going to return home the following night, so he could reasonably plead want of time to pay another visit.




  ― 290 ―

During dinner, Mrs Stubble behaved with a stately propriety which was anything but composing to the diffident feelings of her country guest, though it was not intended to make him feel ill at ease, but merely to impress him with her lady-like manner. There was withal a scowling expression on her face, which showed that though she was surrounded by luxury, she was not satisfied. Her sharp domineering tone when she addressed her good-natured spouse, did not betoken becoming respect, much less affection for him. Her impatient looks, too, when he indulged in any little merry allusion to old times, were too plain to escape the notice of Peter; and while he pitied his old neighbour's hen-pecked condition, he was anxious for dinner to be over, to take his leave of his exacting hostess, whose intolerable pride was manifested in her every word and action.

“Stubble, do for patience sake take your elbows off the table,” said his wife sharply, as Joe was sitting at ease, and telling a little incident of bush life to his smiling friend after the second course had been removed.

“I don't so much care about it before Mr Rowley, for I know he will excuse it,” added Peggy; “but it does look so boorish when strangers are here; and I wish, too, that you would use your table-napkin instead of your pocket-handkerchief.”

“All right, missis, I won't do it again. Don't 'ee flurry yourself.—Well, as I was saying, Peter,” continued Joe, resuming his story, “the dray was stuck as tight as wax, and the bullocks were bogged right up to their bellies, and”——

“Hem—hem! Stubble, do not tell those vulgar stories while the servants are coming into the room,” interrupted Peggy.

“Bang the servants! what do I care for 'em. I bean't going to tell anything wicked,” said Joe, warmly; whereupon his wife retorted in still warmer style, and in a few minutes there was a domestic cyclone which threatened to sweep the table; but during a temporary lull, Mr Rowley discovered, by referring to his watch, that it was time for him to go, as he had to see his son and daughter off by the four o'clock steamer; so he took his hat and departed.

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