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Chapter IX.

Maggie's illness.—Biddy's gentle nursing and soothing counsel.—Poor Percy.—Ben Goldstone's villany.—Heavy trouble looming over the Stubble family.

“NOW, Miss Maggie, sip a small tashte ov this nice beef-tay, what I've jist made meself,” said Biddy Flynn, one afternoon a few weeks after the scene described in the last chapter, as she entered a bed-room in Ben Goldstone's house, where Maggie sat, propped up with pillows, in an arm-chair.

“Whisha! What, cryin' agin, is it, honey? Ah! don't ye kape on doin' that same, or ye'll break me poor ould heart intirely; so ye will. An' what is it as is frittin' ye now, darlint?” continued Biddy, with a look of tender interest.

“Shure, I see what's the matther widout axin' yez. Ye've bin to the bottom drawer beyont, an' I thought it was locked up safe enough. An' didn't I ax yez not to stir half-an-inch till I came back agin?”

“Poor Percy!” exclaimed Maggie, bursting into tears; at the same time a little velvet cap dropped from under her wrapper. During the brief absence of her faithful attendant, Maggie had opened a drawer in her wardrobe which was full of precious relics, the clothing and toys of her late beloved boy, her only child and her heart's idol, who had died very suddenly about five weeks before. The velvet cap was a birth-day present from Maggie to little Percy when he attained his second year.

“Hush! a-cushla! Don't think ov him at all till ye git strong again,—but it's onpossible for ye not to do that, I'm thinkin', for none ov us can't conquer natur' intirely; but don't ye frit so sorrowfully, honey! Poor Percy is all right, an' safe, an' happy, niver fear; aye, an' tin times more honoured nor if the mighty Queen of England had got him nursed to sleep in her lap.”

“The last words he spoke were, ‘Dood-night, mamma!’ ” sobbed Maggie. “I felt a sad presentiment when I put him

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into his cot that evening, that something would happen to him very soon. He was too beautiful to live long: too much like an angel to stay in this cruel world. Poor little Percy!”

“Hush, darlint! Don't cry so harrd. 'Deed, thin, he was a beautiful boy,” said Biddy, wiping her eyes. “But shure, Miss Maggie, he's twinty hundred times more beautifuller now, for God's glory is shining on him. He is up in heaven, safe enough, out of the way ov trouble altogether; an' it's aisy he got there too, for he died whin he was asleep. Yis, yis; he's safe, not a doubt of it, for he didn't stay long enough in the worrld to larn wickedness, not the laste bit in life; so there was nothin' for him but to go to glory in a twinkling, and not a worrd sed till him at all, save lovely words of welcome; and isn't that a happy thing for him, honey?”

“Oh, yes, indeed; that is a great comfort,” sobbed Maggie. “But do you think that all little children go to heaven, Biddy?”

“Troth, I do think so, darlint! an' I've wished all me lifetime that I had died whin I was a little innocent babby. Hisht now, whiles I tell yez what our good parson sed t'other day in the church, ony I'm fear'd I can't remember the illigant way he sed it. Ses he, ‘When all the people that iver lived in the worrld shall stand before God's awful bar at the great judgment-day,—and some on 'em looking mighty scared, no doubt,—thin there will be a wide opening made up the middle of the crowd; the big folks will have to stand back right and left, and thin millions of little shining children will come flying up the open space, singing like birds of heaven; an' God Almighty will smile at 'em, an' bid 'em come up close beside Himself, for there is no judgment for thim to hear, bekase they niver did no sin.’ Isn't that a nice pleasant thought, Miss Maggie? It is so. So all the young children will be right enough, an' darlint little Percy will be amongst that blessed flock; and ye'll see him there too. Now isn't that lovely to think about? Doesn't it comfort yer heart, honey? That it does, I'll ingage.”

“Yes, Biddy, it is very consoling. I know he is better off than he could possibly be with me.”

“Betther off! 'Deed, thin, he is so, a million times or more; for supposin' he had growed up to be the 'Torney-General, or the right reverend Bishop himself, he wouldn't be nigh hand so safe as he is now. An' thin, on the other hand, suppose he had growed up to be like his——like no end of poor

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craythers who are crawling along to perdition, through a lifetime of misery. Och! I can't bear to think ov that for half a minute,—to picture precious Percy an awful wicked man. I can't do it at all; an' yit many unlucky parents have lived to see the like: God help 'em. But your blessed boy is safe enough, thank God. So don't ye grieve any more about him, jewel.”

“I will try to think of your comforting words, Biddy; and I will not cry any more, if I can help it. From the lessons I have had in the world, I should feel happy that my dear child is thus early removed from it; but we cannot always make reason overcome feeling, you know.”

“That's true enough, honey. All the rayson in the worrld wudn't cure rheumatism; an' be the same token, it isn't raysonable to expect a mother not to feel the loss ov her child. I know that well enough; 'deed, thin, she wudn't be very tinder iv she didn't do that. Still an' all, it's betther to be lookin' up at yer living treasure in heaven, nor it is to be thinkin' ov the marble-cowld body underground.”

“Yes, that is very true, Biddy; and I will try to look upwards instead of looking downwards. I wish you would put that black dress of mine away somewhere. I cannot wear it, you know, and I do not like to see it.”

“Nor I don't like to see it naythir, Miss Maggie,” said Biddy, as she hung the dress in the wardrobe, and closed the door. “What on earth folks want to wear black dresses for whin their friends go to heaven, bates my understanding intirely; so it does. Our parson sad t'other day, ses he, ‘People wear black at funerals when they ought to wear white, an' strew the grave wid flowers. Angels were at the grave of Jesus; and shure, angels are often at the graves ov our friends too; only we can't see 'em, bekase our eyes are full ov tears.’ It's my opinion that crape an' the like was only invinted to pick the pockets ov poor unfort'nate widees an' orphans. But I won't shpake any more now, Miss Maggie, bekase I want ye to have a nap; ye didn't sleep a single wink last night.” Biddy then drew the window-curtains, so as to darken the room; and sat down to watch in silence beside her suffering mistress.…

“How long have I been asleep, Biddy?” asked Maggie, opening her eyes and gazing on her faithful attendant, who had moved to a seat by the window, and was sewing.

“How long is it, darlint? Why, not more nor an hour.

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Hisht now! try and sleep a little bit longer; it wull do ye a power ov good.”

“I cannot sleep again now, Biddy; my side is very painful. Will you change the wet bandage for me?”

“To be shure I wull, honey! I was jist thinkin' to ax ye to let me do it, soh. Och, musha! an' this place looks worser an' worser, so it does,” exclaimed Biddy, as she applied a wet cloth to a large bruise on Maggie's right side. “Ye'd betther be lettin' me fitch a docther to look at this, honey! It's gittin' beyont my gumption.”

“No, no, Biddy! pray don't get a doctor. Ma would be sure to hear of it, and I could not then prevent her knowing the cause of my illness, and there would be dreadful work. I think it will get well if I keep wet cloths constantly applied to it.”

“Yis, ye sed that ten days agone, jewel; but it's my belief it's beyond the power ov simple cowld wather to cure ye ov that ugly kick anyhow. It's a spiteful looking”——

“Hush, Biddy. Don't call it a kick again,” said Maggie, with tears in her eyes. “I would not have anybody know it for the world.”

“Shure, I'm not goin' to tell anybody about it, darlint, for yer own sake. Not I indeed; an' I won't say it agin; so don't ye frit. There now, that's nice an' cool. How do you feel now, dear?”

“I think I am a little easier now, thank you. Which way is the wind blowing, Biddy?”

“It's blowing mighty shtrong, Miss Maggie; an' the masther wull have a rale knockin' about iv he is on board the shtamer now, so he wull. He'd raythir be ridin' a horse widout a saddle, I'll ingage.”

“Is it a fair wind, Biddy?”

“Not it, honey! It's foul enough for anythin', an' it's rainin' like peas an' beans. This is the right sort ov weather for wicked sinners to go to sea, bekase they sometimes say their prayers when they are afear'd ov being drownded. I've sane 'em at it meself; an' perhaps it wud have been a good thing for some ov 'em iv they had gone straight down to the bottom jist thin, poor sowls; for, maybe, they niver prayed agin, afther 'em got on shore.”

“Benjamin said in his letter that he would be in Sydney to-night, for he has some particular matter to see papa about;

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but he will probably go away again to-morrow night, to finish his business in the country.”

“Ugh! more luck ta him!” muttered Biddy to herself as she drew up the blinds to lighten the room. “An' iv he'd shtop away till I sind for him, he'd have a pritty long spell in the country.”

“You had better go and get the tea ready Biddy; and tell Mary to light a fire in the breakfast-parlour, and to put her master's slippers on the fender. He will be wet and cold if he comes home.”

“Aye, and as snappish as a trapped dingo, forbye,” muttered Biddy, but she audibly replied, “yes, honey! I'll go and attend to it all this minute, an' I'll bring you a cup ov tay in here firsht an' foremost.” Away went Biddy on her errand, leaving Maggie reclining on a chair with her hand pressed to her aching side.

The bruise, which Biddy said was the exact shape of a boot-heel, was caused by the brutal kick from Ben which I have before alluded to. Though Biddy was witness to the act, and had remarked, “it was a marcy it did not kick the life out ov the poor crayther intirely,” she was not aware that Maggie suffered so severely from its effects, until a fortnight afterwards, when she could no longer conceal it. She firmly refused to call in medical aid, and Biddy had perseveringly applied her sovereign specific, cold water. The pain continued to increase, however, and inflammatory symptoms appearing, Biddy had a strong doubt if it were right for her to treat the case any longer, and resolved that if the patient were not better the next day, she would fetch a doctor, whether her mistress sanctioned the act or not.

About ten o'clock that evening Goldstone arrived home, very wet and suffering from the effects of sea-sickness. He said the steamer had had an awful rough passage, and was under water half the time. To the joyful surprise of all in the house, he was unusually passive, and nobody heard him swear. There was even a show of tenderness in his manner at meeting his emaciated wife, who gave him a loving embrace, and said not a word to him about her bruised side.

After partaking of some refreshment, Ben explained that he had come to Sydney for the purpose of getting money to pay for a large mob of horses which he had bought in the Hunter district, and which he was making arrangements to ship direct for the Indian market. It was necessary, he said, for him to

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return to Newcastle by the next evening's steamer, as the venders of the horses would be there to meet him. He further stated that he should not be away more than a week, and on his return to Sydney he would take her (Maggie) to the Currajong for a change.

Early on the following morning Ben rode over to Double Bay to see his father-in-law before he went into town. Mr Stubble was startled when Ben told him the large sum of money he wanted to pay for the horses, and said he could not see how to manage it and meet all the bills coming due at the end of next week.

“In less than a week's time all the horses will be on board ship, and then you can hypothecate them.”

“Do what to them?” asked Mr Stubble.

“Not skin and eat them, daddy,” said Ben, laughing at Joe's inquiring look. “I mean that you can draw against the bills of lading, through your bank.”

“I tell you what it is, Benjamin,” said Mr Stubble, firmly; “I be almost sick and tired of drawing upon the bank, as you call it. I would as soon have a tooth drawn out as draw anything from anybody on credit. I am not used to this sort of thing, and it bothers my head more than I can bear. I am going off my appetite, and can't sleep at night, and am getting as thin and miserable as a blackfellow's dog; and it is all caused by anxiety of mind. I wish I had never seen a bill in my life, or had naught to do with city business.”

“It is nonsense talking in that way, father. Bills have been very handy to you in raising money to carry on with. Have you not made £12,000, or more, since you came to Sydney?”

“I don't know what I have made or what I have lost, Benjamin; but if I had the money that I brought to Sydney safely in my pocket, I should be glad enough to go back to the country again; and if I did not live in style, I should have peace and comfort.”

“I cannot believe that you have any cause to complain of city life, daddy. See the position you have made.”

“Well, it's no use argifying with me, Ben. I bean't fit for my position, and I have found that out before to-day. Put me on a farm or a station, and I know how to manage as well as many men; but the constant worry of money concerns, and puzzling business that I be got into, has pretty nearly withered my head; and if I don't soon alter my way of life, I shall go crazy altogether.”

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“You will not have any worry after I have shipped off the horses; so cheer up, old man! I will return to Sydney as soon as I can, and take all the mercantile affairs off your hands, and leave you to go on with your social reform and your parliamentary work, for which you are so well adapted.”

“I don't believe I be adapted for it at all, Ben; and I was a simpleton to be talked into it. There bean't no more think in my head than there is in a horse's hoof. I have been wofully upset, day and night, ever since Mr Ingoldby made me give him my title-deeds. I never parted with a deed before in my life, nor never borrowed twopence, till I got wheedled into signing a lot of plaguey bills for Tom, Dick, and Harry. Mr Ingoldby said to me a day or two ago, that I had better mind what I was doing.”

“Ingoldby is a hum”——

“It is all very fine to talk bounce behind his back,” interrupted Joe; “but you must speak softly enough to his face, when he knows he has got his thumb upon you. Blamed if it don't make my knees knock together like roguery when I go inside that bank now, for Zachary looks at me as suspiciously as if I was going to steal all his notes. There is ‘knuckle down, my boy’ on his brow, as plain as printing.”

“Nonsense, daddy! you are too sensitive. It is his natural look when he does not put on his board-room smirks. I'll go in and talk to him; and you will not see my knees knock, I'll warrant. Get your horse, and let us go into town, for I have a good deal to do to-day; and I must go up by the steamer to-night, for all the horses will be in Newcastle to-morrow. A splendid mob! I should like you to go up and see them before they are shipped. Come on, daddy! Brighten up, old boy! I will take all the business affairs off your hands in a week's time; and you can go up and visit your constituents at Muddleton.”

“I wish you would stay in town for a day or two, Benjamin, and just explain to me, in a straightforward way, how I stand; for I don't know no more than a fool.”

“Don't know how you stand, father? Why there are all the books in my office for you to examine at any time you please.”

“Yes; but what is the use of my examining the books, Ben? I don't know aught about accounts in the way you keep 'em.”

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“It is a regular system, father, that I learnt at school, plain as a milestone!”

“That may be; but I cannot understand it no more than I can see into a milestone. I never was wrong a threepennybit when I used to keep my own accounts, up in the bush; but then I had naught to do with bills, and cross-bills, and exchange, and drafts on bills of lading, and all the rest of it. It is Dutch to me; and I can't say whether it is right or wrong.”

“I hope you do not doubt my honour, father?” said Ben, with a look of deep concern.

“No, Benjamin; I don't exactly say that—leastways, I don't like your gambling; I have told you that before; but you may be deceived yourself, for there are some reg'lar rogues in Sydney, and I am afraid we are in with some of them too. I heard, only yesterday, that Bragg & Co. are shaky again, and they bought all our flour, you know.”

“That firm shaky! Pooh! Don't you believe it, daddy. Bragg & Co. are as solid as the ‘Sow and Pigs’ rocks; for it is not six months since they smashed up, and paid four and ninepence in the pound.”

“They are as solid as sow and pig's bladders, I am thinking,” said Joe, dubiously; “anyway, I wish I had naught to do with them.”

“I can see you are getting nervous, daddy; so I will come back to Sydney the day after to-morrow, and go into figures with you—square the yards, as we used to say at sea; and then, if you like to take a good lump sum, cash down, to go out of the concern, I can get it for you in a crack.”

“That is just what I should like to do, Benjamin,” said Joe, brightening up a little. “I will give up all my profits if you hand me back my own money; then I will invest it, and live upon the interest. I do not want to make more money; in fact, I would not have the harass of mind that I now feel if I could make enough money to buy all the grand houses at Darling Point.”

“I know that, father. You want your mind free from care and perplexities, which are ever attendant on large commercial speculations, so as to enable you to carry out your praiseworthy schemes of philanthropy. That is it! I see what you are sighing for, and I will manage it for you in less than a week; so cheer up and look plucky.”

“I don't believe that great heaps of money will make a

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man happy, you know, Benjamin,” continued Mr Stubble, who was evidently affected by the sympathy of his son-in-law. “There is many a common sailor at sea, eating cat's meat, who is ten times merrier at heart than his miserly owner on shore; and lots of poor shepherds, smoking mouldy 'baccy in the bush, who are more free from care than their wealthy masters, who are riding about town in shiny carriages.”

“You are right, daddy; money always makes a man miserable: but I say, let us be off and see Zachary before board time. I daresay he will let you draw £2000 against the bills and other securities lying in the bank; but if he hesitates you can offer to hypothecate the horses.”

“I don't know whether he will do it, Benjamin; but we will see.”

“If you brush up, and look jolly independent, he will think you are in a position to shift your account to some other bank, and he would let you have twice as much as you are going to ask for. But come on, daddy; your horse is all ready.”

I need not tell of all the negotiations which followed, but simply state that Ben got the money he wanted, and all in sovereigns too, for he explained that those country horsedealers were precious chary of paper money, and if he had not gold to pay them, they might cry off their bargains, which would be a pity.

That night Goldstone started by steamer for Newcastle, and Mr Stubble went to bed with a lighter heart than usual, for Ben had again assured him that he would return to Sydney in two days, and set him free from all his commercial liabilities, by buying out his interest for a lump sum, cash down.