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Chapter V.

A glance at the history of Mr and Mrs Blunt.—Bob Stubble's discomfiture.—His insolvency.—Departure for Melbourne.—Various other matters of interest.

A FULL account of Bob Stubble's career for the three years ensuing would fill up my book; so, I must summarise his doings in one chapter. But first of all, it will be necessary to glance back at the history of his wife and her parents.

Mr and Mrs Blunt had, before their marriage, lived fellow-servants in a gentleman's family at the Glebe; the former as coachman, and the latter as cook. After a proper season of courtship, they were united in holy wedlock; and then, with their joint savings, they opened a house in the public line at one of the most thirsty corners of the city. There they did “a roaring trade;” notwithstanding which, the “Jolly Dingo” was considered a respectable house, and a favourite shop for getting a noon-day nobbler on the quiet, for it had a private entrance to the bar screened off nice and snug for the encouragement of bashful tipplers.

The second engineer of a coasting steamer had not harder work in his department than Mrs Blunt had behind the bar from day-dawn till midnight; but she was as active a woman as ever handled a pewter pot: moreover, the stimulus of making money dulled her sense of aching limbs, and cheered her spirits with the hope of ease and happiness when “the pile” was made. Mr Blunt had busy times of it too in the underground department, which he managed wholly himself by the light of a safety-lamp; but after he had finished his mysterious operations of mixing-off for the day, he was always ready to stand by the beer-engine, and let his wife attend to the lighter duties of the spirit-taps and the chalktally.

Almost every successful man is an object of envy; and Mr Blunt was not an exception. There was a peculiarly attractive influence about the angular doorway of the “Jolly Dingo,”

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and customers were whirled inside as they were rounding the corner like sticks and straws in a tide-eddy. Several brother tapsters longed for Jacob's lucky stand; but his landlord could never be induced to turn him out of it, though he was offered more than double the rent which Jacob paid. The fact of his having a lease of the house was probably the cause of his landlord's favouring firmness; and though this is mere hypothesis, it could be supported by many examples from colonial life, where tenants at will have been turned out of house and home to make room for others in whom the landlord felt greater interest.

But envy is not easily foiled, and it soon began to show itself in another form, which furtively aimed at muzzling or shutting up the “Jolly Dingo,” and diverting the strong current of traffic in another direction. Jacob was repeatedly fined for Sunday selling, at the instance of a virtuous policeman, who had his eye to promotion, and whose zeal for the decency of the particular locality was perhaps stimulated by the circumstance of the houses at two opposite corners being owned by an influential J.P. Mrs Blunt was in favour of turning strict Sabbatarians, lest they should lose their licence; but Jacob, though not less pious than his wife, did not like to lose custom, and he said “he'd chance it.” He did so, was again summoned by the vigilant constable, and his licence was cancelled forthwith, as a solemn warning to other publicans to mind what they were about. The “Jolly Dingo” never wagged his tail again.

Though it was a shocking blow to Mr Blunt, it was not what is called “a settler,” for he was a made man, having bought a good deal of property very cheap, when the exodus to California threw so many small houses into the market. He retired in disgust from the retail liquor trade, and started in the wholesale way, in which he soon began to make money like dirt. His wife rétired into private life, but with a spirit soured by mortal hatred to the persecuting policeman, and the arbitrary J.P. who cancelled the licence.

Their only daughter Betsy was sent to a second-rate boarding-school a short distance from Sydney, where she learnt many more things than were noticed in the quarterly bulletin of progress, for some of her schoolfellows were very precocious young ladies. Perhaps the main reason why Betsy did not become a finished flirt was, that she was remarkably plain, and not a favourite with the adventurous youths who,

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by means which the governess failed to guard against, used to hold nocturnal communications with other girls in the school.

At the death of her father, Betsy left school, for she had “finished her education,” and went to reside with her mother at Newtown. She was not wholly slighted by the other sex; far from it; for she had had several brisk beaux, including Ben Goldstone; but her keen-sighted mamma could read their mercenary motives, and she started them off as sharply as she dismissed street-beggars. But when Bob Stubble presented himself, his modest mien impressed Mrs Blunt at once that he was not a matrimonial juggler; and the pleasant belief that he had plenty of money of his own, forbade the idea that he was seeking her daughter with sordid eyes. His comely person and harmlessly rollicking manner soon won upon the heart of Betsy, and she confessed to her mother that she loved him tremendously; so he was accepted without any scrupulous questions being asked.

For several weeks after the last interview with Ben, noticed in the preceding chapter, Bob continued to keep his wife and her mother in ignorance of the true state of his financial affairs. He occasionally alluded to his station up-country and his farm on the Hunter River, in accordance with Ben's counsel; but it was done in such a bunglingly bashful manner that it is no wonder he felt conscious Mrs Blunt's searching look was tinctured with suspicion; and the misery he endured in her presence can only be estimated by those who have been lured into a similar course of deception and trickery. His confidence in Ben was entirely gone since he had been eye-witness to several of his recent schemes for raising money, including his gross fraud upon the imbecile young spendthrift, Nebal Samms; indeed, he had come to the forced conclusion that Ben was a thorough blackleg. Bitterly he bemoaned his folly in yielding to evil counsel, and bartering his liberty, and honour, and peace of mind, for a life of wretched thraldom with a wife whose disposition was dreadfully contrary to his own, and with whom he was daily growing more disgusted. He felt that an exposé of his affairs must inevitably take place, and he never could shake off the dread which it created. He grew so wretchedly nervous, that the well-known rat-tat of Mrs Blunt at his front-door, would startle him more than the bang of a carronade under his bed would have done a few months before.

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In a state of extreme mental depression, he one day appealed to Ben, whom he met on the street, for pecuniary help, as his balance in the bank was nearly expended, and his first quarter's rent was due the next day. Ben explained that, in consequence of his luck having taken a turn, and losses resulting, he was unable to furnish him with any of the “ready rhino;” but offered “to melt” another bill for him, as his last one had “gone down like a bladder of lard.”

Bob replied that “he would not sign any more bills; for, as he saw no way of paying them, it was positive cheating. Besides, the idea of being encumbered by debt made him intolerably wretched.”

Ben then suggested that Bob should ask his father for a small loan; but he vehemently declared he would rather die than let his parents know of his humbled position, after what had recently passed between them.

“I tell you what you can do, Bob, as easily as skinning a snake,” said Ben, lowering his voice to a whisper. “You can write a cheque for Nabal, you know; he is always muddled, and would not know anything about it. And even if he should perchance find it out by and bye, I can make it all right, for he is under my thumb completely.”

“What! do you want me to commit forgery, Goldstone?” asked Bob, with a look of horror.

“What a blessed muff you are, Bob! Why do you speak so loudly? We shall have a mob round us in a minute. Look you, you may as well have a few hundreds out of Nabal as let other sharks have it all; in fact, it will be doing him a kindness to borrow a little from him in the way I suggest; for you will pay him back, of course, and it will come in handy for him after he is cleaned out, which he certainly will be before long.”

“I tell you, Ben,”—

“Hold on a minute, and hear what I have to say. The thing can be done without the least risk, for I'll guarantee Nabal would not miss £400. He never checks his passbook, and I doubt if he even keeps a rough account of the cheques he draws.”

“You have led me into misery enough already, Goldstone, without tempting me to finish up by committing felony,” replied Bob, drawing himself up in a manner which made Ben wince. “I shall go home at once, and declare my real position to my wife and her mother, and that

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will rid me of some of the anxiety which is eating my heart away.”

“More fool you!” interrupted Ben savagely. “You can easily stave them off for a month or two longer. My luck will surely turn in the meantime, and I shall be able to help you. I have several little dodges in hand; and, as I told you before, if you will stick to me and show yourself plucky, I will pull you through your difficulties. But if you prefer to take your own way, and go home whining about your poverty, look out; that's all. Old Mother Blunt will tattoo your face with her dirty nails; so mind your eyes.”

“Better to run that risk than be a convict for life, as you want to make me,” said Bob, bitterly. “I tell you again, Goldstone, I cannot keep up a system of deceit and falsehood, however well you may manage to do it. I won't be a rogue any longer, if I know it; and I will starve before I have recourse to your disreputable schemes and plots for raising money.”

That taunting remark was immediately followed by a heavy blow from Ben's fist, which Bob promptly returned; and a scuffle ensued, in which the latter got his face severely bruised, and his coat torn off his back. The combatants were soon separated by some passers-by, when Bob slunk away home in a state of mind not easily depicted.

His battered condition of course elicited inquiries from his wife and her mother; when Bob, with sobbing utterance, explained the cause of it, and also confessed the deception which he had been persuaded to practise upon them, and wound up his startling disclosure by a pathetic appeal to their good-nature for forgiveness, and a promise that he would go to work, and earn a livelihood for himself and wife in any honest way that offered itself to him.

I shall not give a full account of the domestic scene which ensued, but will simply record that poor Bob was mute to all the invectives which Mrs Blunt discharged at him with the full force of her practised tongue. To her threats of a criminal prosecution for conspiracy, Bob made no remark, for he felt he deserved it; but when she showed a furious disposition to dispense summary justice with her own hands by means of the parlour poker, he plucked up effort to evade it, for which nobody can blame him. Seizing a spare coat that hung on a peg in the hall, he fled from the house, leaving his wife screaming with hysterical tantrum, and his mother-in-law swearing like a common sailor.

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Bob would have gone home in a thoroughly humbled mood, and sought sympathy in his distress from his parents, but he dreaded a disclosure of Ben's infamous doings, which he knew would shock his parents terribly, and perhaps be the death of Maggie, who was in a very low nervous state. He therefore resolved to keep away from his family altogether, and as soon as practicable to leave the colony and seek his fortune elsewhere.

A few days afterwards a sheriff officer found out his secluded lodgings at Prymont, and served him with a writ at suit of the accommodating upholsterer before mentioned, who had become suddenly impressed with the idea that Bob was a bad mark. The next process was to lodge him in the debtors' prison, from whence he could only extricate himself by filing his schedule.

I forbear to follow Bob in his trying passage through the Insolvent Court, lest I arouse shuddering recollections in the minds of some of my honest readers, who would doubtless prefer a passage round Cape Horn in a leaky ship to another liquidating process before the Commissioner. But at length a day of deliverance came, and Bob issued from the court with his certificate in his pocket, and his heart eased of more than half its load of trouble. As he walked down the “valley of humiliation” into Pitt Street, he mentally resolved that he would henceforward eschew prodigality in all its forms, and would work to earn an honest livelihood, even at the humblest calling, rather than again run into debt, and undergo the misery attendant thereupon. His wearing apparel had been considerately allowed him by the Commissioner. His gold watch had been overlooked by his surly opposing creditor, and it was at the bottom of his fob; so he took it out, and a friend of the needy, named Molloy, lent him £6 upon it. Bob forthwith took a steerage passage to Melbourne under an assumed name, to prevent his friends discovering his whereabouts, and when the steamer cleared Sydney Heads, he felt that he was free, although miserably sea-sick.

He did not stay in Melbourne, but started on foot for Bendigo. He worked for a fortnight on the road, breaking stones, at which he saved £4, for stone-breakers were paid better wages in those days than they are now. As he was very frugal, he had cash in his pocket when he arrived at Sandhurst. He had entertained some hope of finding his lost brother, but he soon judged that it would be lost time to look

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for Dick amongst the crowds of diggers at Bendigo; so he began to look out for himself.

Fortunately for him, he fell in with three young men who had recently opened up a small claim; two of them were sailors, the third, who was by no means fond of hard work, was the prodigal son of a clergyman in England. He was very glad to sell his share in the claim to Bob for a pair of decent trousers and the balance of his cash in hand; and it was a bargain which gave much satisfaction to his mates, who were, in plain terms, glad to get rid of him, and were equally glad to get Bob for a partner, as he was both able and willing to work.

Bob experienced the usual vicissitudes of a digger's life, but he enjoyed it, for he was comparatively free from harass of mind. His partners were intelligent young men, full of nautical fun; and they agreed well together, for they were all industrious and saving. They opened several claims, some of which turned out tolerably well, others were “shicers” (i.e., worthless); but on the whole, they had reason to be satisfied, and grumbling was never heard in their camp. Sailors in general are handy fellows at almost any kind of work on shore, and they usually appreciate a position where they have “their watch below” all night.

“No turning out to reef topsails or to take your turn at the wheel, to-night,” one of Bob's sailor friends would sometimes laughingly say to the other, as they lay coiled up in their snug bunks, while the winter wind howled round the tent. “And no cross mother-in-law to make me shudder directly I get up in the morning, or dunning creditors to dog me as soon as I put my head into the open air,” muttered Bob, as he snuggled up in his corner of the tent. So they were all happy in the enjoyment of liberty; and they worked away at their claim with the exciting hope that they might at some lucky stroke of the pick-axe turn out a nugget heavy enough to make them independent men for life.

After about two years, one of Bob's mates was unfortunately killed by the sudden caving-in of the shaft; so the partnership was dissolved, and the claim was sold. Bob found himself in possession of £450, with which he started for Melbourne direct. A few days before, he wrote to his wife, asking her forgiveness for his long neglect, and for all his other misconduct. He told her of the success of his industrious efforts, and expounded his future plans, as far as he could see

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them. It was his intention, if she approved of it, to rent a small dairy-farm on the Hunter, or elsewhere; he had enough money to stock it, and to furnish a house comfortably, and hoped he would be able to afford her a dog-cart; at any rate, she should have a nice horse, and he would teach her to ride. He drew a fanciful picture of their future rural homestead, and finished his letter by expressing a sincere hope that they would be able to live happily together, as man and wife should do.

By return of post he received a black-margined note from his mother-in-law, coldly informing him that his wife had died seven months before of scarlatina. The writer significantly hinted that she had been thus prompt in replying to his communication, in order to save him the trouble and expense of coming to Sydney.

“Poor Betsy!” sighed Bob, as he put the letter into his pocket. “Perhaps it is all for the best. We never should have lived happily together. Impossible!”

That was about the height or depth of his heart-mourning for his lost wife; but he had been taught by his mother the propriety of exhibiting the outward symbols of respect and grief for departed relatives in whatever part of the world they had died. On one occasion, when they lived in the country, his mother had spent more than forty pounds for family mourning on hearing of the death of her eldest brother, who, for nine months prior to his decease, had scarcely common necessaries, let alone delicacies suitable for a sick man. Undoubtedly, the forty pounds might have been more kindly expended in ministering to the comfort of the sufferer; but perhaps Peggy did not think of that; whether or not, it is but reasonable to infer from her acts, that she thought it of less importance than to put on sable apparel, and “bear about the semblance of woe,” after his decease. Bob was not disposed to disrespect his wife's memory, however much he had slighted her personally; so he went forthwith to a tailor and ordered a suit of superfine mourning, and put a band on his hat four and three-quarter inches deep; he could not get a five-inch band. He also tried to keep his face in a becomingly serious shape, and carefully watched against his acquired habit of whistling popular airs in the street.

He had not received a letter from his parents since he left home; so he concluded that they were irreconcilably offended with him, and he decided not to go to Sydney to see them,

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but to “take a spell” for a month or two, and in the meantime see a little of quiet life in Melbourne. He accordingly took lodgings at a respectable private boarding-house near Carlton Gardens, and lodged his money in the Bank of Victoria.

There were several young gentlemen lodging at the same house with him; but as they were of a decidedly frolicsome turn, he avoided a close intimacy with them, for he thought it would never do for a man in deep mourning to look merry; nevertheless, he quietly enjoyed some of their fun at the table, and now and then picked up a bit of interesting information from their remarks, for they were well acquainted with Melbourne men, and with the manners and customs of that cosmopolite community.

The usual topic of discussion at the tea-table was the state of the gold share market during the day, and much excitement was manifested, for all in the house, including the landlady, were shareholders. Bob heard many stimulating examples of sudden fortunes being made by men and women, and even by boys, who had never even seen a gold-field, but who had made lucky purchases of gold-quartz reef shares on the Melbourne Mining Exchange. In short, the speculative fever was then at its height, and almost everybody in the city was anxious to try his luck.

“I say, Morris, will you sell your Tiddliwinks?” asked a young man of his friend at the opposite side of the table, one evening, while Bob sat by silently sipping his tea, but with his ears wide open.

“No fear,” replied Morris; “they fetched £3 10s. today.

“That is a clear £150 in my pocket. They will be up to £6 by this day week; and then I mean to sell out, and go in for something else.”

“I will bet you five notes that they don't go up to £6 within a month,” said his friend, whose name was Jobson.

“Done!” cried Morris, and forthwith the two spirited young gentlemen drew out their betting-books, and each one, after making an entry, said “All right.”

The next morning Bob coolly walked down to the Mining Exchange in Collins Street, and after a little negotiation with a bustling sharebroker, he succeeded in buying one hundred shares in the Tiddliwink gold-quartz reef for £4 a share. He

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was only just in time to secure the bargain, for the shares were £4 15s. at three o'clock that afternoon,—indeed, he was offered £4 16s. for his lot if he would take a bill, which he declined doing lest the bill should turn out a “shicer.”

“Well, this is about the best day's work I ever did,” thought Bob, as he rolled about in his bed that night, forming plans what to do with his money after he had sold out his Tiddliwink shares at £6. “Many a day I have been delving deep under ground, up to my knees in mud, without getting even the colour of gold, and here I have made, say £75, without any harder labour than merely writing a cheque! My word! that is the way to make money; and it is perfectly honest, too,—not like Master Ben's trickery with marked cards. Ha, ha, ha! Diggers may dig if they like; but they will not catch me slaving my flesh off again so long as I can do the correct thing at this rate. Let me see: if I sell out even at £5 10s., I shall make £150: but if I get £6, I shall make £200, slap. Ha, ha! that's the way to do it!” With that comforting reflection he lulled himself to sleep.

Alas for poor Bob's golden harvest! His shares had reached their maximum on that very day. They could not be puffed up higher by any sort of hocus-pocus that was being secretly practised. The next week it was currently rumoured that the Tiddliwink reef had been “peppered” or “salted,” and the shares were not saleable at any price.

The unexpected news had a distracting effect upon Messrs Morris and Jobson, who were fellow-clerks in a large mercantile house in the city. A fortnight afterwards they were fellow-prisoners in the stockade at Pentridge, having been convicted of embezzlement. Their pathetic plea, that “they had simply borrowed the money, and fully intended to restore it,” though believed by both judge and jury, was not held sufficient in law to justify even the temporary appropriation of their master's money.

Bob Stubble lost all his hardly-earned capital except about £20; but he was thankful that he had not lost his liberty or his character. He at once made up his mind to seek some honest employment in Melbourne, and firmly resolved that he would never again dabble in gold-mining shares, unless he were thoroughly acquainted with the mine itself, or had undoubted proof of the respectability of the projectors or directors of the mining company in which he was induced to invest his money.

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I would commend Bob Stubble's wise resolution to the consideration of any of my youthful readers who may be tempted to believe that speculation of any kind is a better way to make money than by working for it at their proper honest trade or calling.