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Chapter V.

Mr Stubble's early struggles to keep his station.—The boiling-pot reaction.—Gold discovery.—Mr Stubble sells his station, and buys a dairy farm near Daisybank.

ALTHOUGH Mr Stubble was for a time highly elated at his fortunate purchase, he soon found himself surrounded by difficulties which he had not foreseen. He required some ready money to carry on his large establishment; and it was not easy to borrow from bankers or merchants in that season of general mistrust; at any rate, Joe did not know the right way to apply for a loan, or it is possible he might have obtained it. To sell cattle was to sacrifice them. Some of his neighbours had driven fat bullocks to Maitland—the nearest market —and sold them for twenty-five shillings a-head. At that juncture, when graziers were foreboding total ruin, though their runs were overrun with fat stock, some wise-headed colonist propounded the expedient of “boiling down,” and demonstrated by figures—the result of experiments—that it would pay. That project, barbarous as it may seem, burst like sunshine on the squatter's gloomy prospects, and showed clearly that their flocks and herds possessed a tangible value; for the most unmercantile head knew that tallow, and hides, and sheepskins would fetch ready money all the world over. Some of the bankers began to look gracious, and merchants were glad—in fact, the great slaughter throughout the land had an enlivening influence on the whole community; things in general began to look up, and everybody grew hopeful.

Joe Stubble saw through the “boiling down scheme” the moment it was explained to him, and only wondered that he had not first thought of it himself. A large draft of his fat stock “went to pot” forthwith, and that expedient saved him from utter ruin with a plethora of wealth around him.

Think of that, ye horse-eating antipodeans! Tens of thousands of sheep and cattle were boiled down for their fat and skins; and hundreds of tons of wholesome edible matter were thrown to pigs, or cast on to the land as refuse, utterly wasted.

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It is a saddening reflection too, that perhaps at the same time thousands of poor persons in our fatherland were suffering from hunger. Legs of mutton, prime enough for the shambles of Leadenhall or Whitechapel, were sold for sixpence each, and prime rounds of beef at one penny a pound. Tails and shins for soup, or kidneys, hearts, livers, or heads, might have been had for nothing, as they were not fat enough for the pots.

The “boiling pot” is necessarily resorted to to a limited extent at the present time, for stock increases much faster than our population can consume it. But, thanks to the scientific skill and enterprise of some of our leading colonists, it is probable that before these pages are issued from the press that “the million” of Great Britain may feast upon fresh mutton and beef from Australia, and thus the almost sinful waste of boiling down will be avoided. I would here say to my British readers, Do not let continental purveyors of horseflesh, or any other interested persons, prejudice you against Australian mutton and beef, before you have tasted it; at any rate, give it a fair trial for your own sakes. If some of the experiments of preserving carcases by chemical process which are now being made prove successful, and I believe they will, we shall be able to supply you with an unlimited quantity of wholesome meat, at a moderate price. My impartial advice to you, friends, is to let those persons eat horses whose tastes incline thereto, but do you eat Australian beef and mutton, and be grateful for it.

Joe's struggles for the next seven years were severe; and it was often a grave consideration with him whether, after all, he would not have been better off had he remained in service, and saved his wages, rather than to encumber himself with an extensive property and its concomitant liabilities, which caused him much anxiety as well as bodily exertion. Many men who have hastened to become masters have felt similar anxieties to those which often weighed down Mr Stubble's spirits, and helped to prematurely wrinkle his honest face. A succession of troubles and disasters proved to him that wealth was not the unmixed good which he had at one time supposed it to be. A long season of drought thinned his herds, and stopped his recourse to the boiling pots, for there was no fat in his cattle. A lawsuit too, with a litigious neighbour, over the disputed right of a dry water hole, lightened Joe's purse considerably, and made him confess to the old truism, “That in a thousand pounds of law there is not an ounce of love.”

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Nevertheless, he did not cease to hope for better times; though Peggy was very desponding, and could not derive any comfort from the little distich which Joe often quoted—

“This truth of old was sorrow's friend,
Times at the worst will soonest mend.”

She was certain sure it was an unlucky change when he became his own master, for he had never been the same man since then. As for times mending, she did not believe in it at all; and she saw no better prospect than to be buried in the bush all her life, and then to leave her bones there for ever.

Poor Joe was even more perplexed with his wife's repining than with all his other difficulties; and he was seriously thinking of re-selling his station for what it would bring, and going into service again, when the news of the discovery of gold in the colony electrified the whole population. For a time Joe's troubles seemed to be overwhelming, and he fancied himself totally ruined by the discovery of the precious metal, for nearly all his men ran off to the diggings, and there was a prospect of his cattle running wild for want of proper herding. In a very short time, however, a wonderful reaction took place, and livestock rose to an unprecedented price. Urged on by Peggy's entreaties, Joe at once took advantage of the sudden turn, and sold his station, with all the stock upon it, for a large sum of money; part of which was paid down, and the balance was secured to him by legal instrument. He then started down the country with his wife and three children, in the hope of living quietly in some rural nook, where he could recruit his somewhat impaired energies, and educate his children; for they were growing up almost as untutored as the little blacks in the bush. Joe knew the value of education from the lack of it, and it had often caused him uneasiness that he had no means of getting his children instructed, for there was not a school within many miles of his homestead. If he had never read the following remark of a wise writer, his opinion was in harmony with the sentiment,—viz., “That if the spring put forth no blossoms, there will be no beauty in summer, and in autumn no fruit; so if youth be trifled away without improvement, riper years will be contemptible, and old age miserable.”

After looking about him for some time, Mr Stubble bought a small dairy farm a few miles from the pleasant village of

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Daisybank, on the lower Hunter River; and there he went to reside. The farm was prettily situated, and had been tolerably well taken care of by its previous owner. The house was comfortable and roomy, though by no means stylish; but Joe cared very little for fashion. The sudden improvement in his financial position made no perceptible difference in him, and he continued to work nearly as hard as he had wrought all his lifetime—in fact, he used to say that it was penance for him to be idle. His wife, however, did not retain her original humility, and Joe often laughed aside, to see how she tried to ape the lady-like grace of Mrs Drydun; which, he said, “her managed about as nicely as a working bullock wuld imitate the paces of his blood horse, Brutus.”

It was plain that Peggy could not bear the change of fortune with the calm thankfulness of her more philosophical spouse; and many petty sources of annoyance made her dissatisfied with her lot. For instance, if any of the genteel neighbours around their new home called to see them in accordance with fashionable etiquette, Peggy's heart would throb with pride, and her face sometimes blushed with vexation at the bad manners of Joe, who would perhaps thoughtlessly walk into the parlour without his coat. At other times he would begin to talk about the five pounds he earned at cobbling when coming out in the Flying Buck. All the private tuition which Peggy volunteered to him on social etiquette (and which she had learnt when living in service) was thrown away, and her patience was often upset in the midst of a lesson on manners, by his making some dry remark about her antecedents; or saying, “What a lark it wor that his Peg should live to be a fine lady!”

As their children grew up, they imbibed the spirit of their mother, which is often the case in families; and after many long and fruitless arguments, Joe was obliged to own to himself that he was powerless to wholly arrest the growing ambition of his family; so for the sake of peace and quietness, he yielded up his rule in minor matters, and seldom interfered with their doings, except where there was some flagrant attempt to set aside his authority altogether. He had an affectionate disposition, and loved his wife and children as he loved his life, and their frequent little acts of opposition gave him more pain than they were aware of, for he usually bore his troubles patiently and without complaining. Peggy was affectionate too, but she had not much strength of mind, and, yielding to little

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encroachments of ill-humour, had gradually changed her disposition; and purse-pride, at the same time, growing up unchecked, had spoiled her wonted smooth temper, and made her at times disposed to murmur at the best of everything in life— and to be as unreasonably pettish as she appeared to the reader at the close of my first chapter.