― 29 ―

Chapter VI.

Introduces Mr Stubble's children, Dick, Bob, and Maggie; and his eccentric little domestic, Biddy Flynn.

DICK STUBBLE, Joe's eldest son, was what is sometimes called “a ne'er-do-weel;” or a “black sheep.” His education had been totally neglected, for there was not a school within thirty miles of his father's station; and as he grew up a stout, tall lad, he was as mischievous as a “native dingo,” and caused his parents endless trouble. Soon after they removed to Daisybank, all their children were sent to school, and Joe's mind was relieved of one great source of anxiety. But Dick had been too long accustomed to the freedom of the bush, and the unrestrained exercise of his own strong will, to patiently bear the discipline of the schoolmaster; and he often expressed his abhorrence of learning.

Archbishop Whately says, “Labourers who are employed in driving wedges into a block of wood are careful to use blows of no greater force than is just sufficient. If they strike too hard, the elasticity of the wood will throw out the wedge.”

Perhaps Dick's schoolmaster had not studied Whately's works. Whether or no, he did not practically endorse the principle embodied in the above homely figure, when imparting instruction to the stubborn mind of the neglected youth. He believed in the efficacy of hard blows in driving learning into dull or obstinate heads, and he beat Dick without either mercy or judgment; and the result was, that the boy became viciously inclined to revolt.

One morning Dick decamped with his father's favourite thorough-bred horse and his mother's purse; and from that day no tidings had been heard of the runaway, beyond a rumour that he had gone to the new diggings at Bendigo. It was a sad trial to his parents to part with their eldest son in that way, and deeply they lamented their folly in omitting to provide in some shape for his early mental and moral culture. All their wealth failed to assuage the sorrow which resulted to them from that neglect of parental duty.

  ― 30 ―

Bob Stubble was a fine specimen of an Australian youth, tall, broad-shouldered, and apparently as hardy as one of the iron-bark saplings of the forest. His well-formed face, bronzed with exposure to the sun, indexed honest good nature; and his whole mien betokened an independence and fear-naught self-reliance, which is so characteristic of “currency lads,” and of bush-bred lads especially. To quote Bob's own expression, “He had never seen a horse that he was afraid to mount, or a cow that he could not break into bail.” To have seen him mounted on his spirited hack, dashing through some of the formidable gullies of his rugged district, after a herd of young heifers or a straying colt, would have made an English fox-hunter shudder. He was as thorough a bushman as ever made “quart pot tea,” and could push his way across a new country with the intuitive tact of a black-fellow. Bob was very expert too with the rifle or fowling-piece. His stock of opossum and platypus skins and stuffed parrots was a little fortune. He had also a variety of snakes and other reptiles in his curiosity shop, as he called it—all of which he had killed and cured himself; and he was very proud when any intelligent visitor would look over his collection and tell him the name of any new object which had baffled his scientific research.

Bob was twenty-one years of age, and had lived under his parental roof nearly all his days. He went to Sydney once for a treat; but he missed his horse so much, and used to get so tired and foot-sore with walking about the dusty streets and dodging from the crowds of busy pedestrians, that long before his holiday term expired he “rolled up his swag,” and took steamer for home; and felt as rejoiced as a freed slave, when he once again beheld the old house on the green slope, encircled with orange trees and clustering vines, and heard the neighing of his frisky cob, “Cherrystone,” as he galloped across the clover paddock to welcome his master back again, and get his nose rubbed by Bob's fondling hand.

Bob had always been his mother's pet; but he had a spirit above the effeminacy which is usually the characteristic of those social pests, called spoilt boys. For all that, he was not the most dutiful youth in the land; he had a will of his own and a temper too, which was sometimes manifested in a way not at all encouraging to his parents. I do not notice the shady side of Master Bob's character in a fault-finding spirit. I am very proud of our Australian youths, and honestly believe them to be both physically and intellectually equal to the youth of

  ― 31 ―
any other nation on the earth. Of course they have failings; and perhaps the most distinguishable of their weaknesses (I speak of native lads in general) is a disposition to have their own way in spite of obstacles, moral or otherwise—in fact, some of them are as difficult to manage as their hardy bush horses. However, I do not mourn so much as some folks do over that indication of spirit; for now that the “schoolmaster is abroad,” and the ministers of the Gospel are abroad too, their influence will be mighty in training the indomitable energies of the “currency lads and lasses” into right directions; and then Australia will rapidly advance towards its destined status as the great Empire of the South. On this very morning I read, in the Sydney Herald, a most pleasing history (epitomised into six lines) of an Australian lad, one of the “Sydney Arabs.” A humane captain of a ship picked up a boy from the streets, and took him as apprentice. He was apt to learn, and his benefactor was willing to teach him. He rose rapidly in his profession, and he is now captain of a clipper ship in the China trade. I hope he will have the heart to throw “a tow-line” to many a poor friendless boy, whom he may fall in with on life's ocean, in grateful remembrance of his own kind helper.

I drop my pen for a few minutes to gaze from my window upon our lovely harbour. Its blue rippling waters are sparkling in the sunshine of this bracing winter's morning. Yonder lies the Vernon training ship, quietly anchored in the little bay before me. On board of that ship there are more than a hundred boys, who have been reclaimed from vagrancy, and are not only receiving a solid education, but are being taught a useful trade or calling. My heart swells with emotion as I reflect that many of those lads have been rescued from squalid poverty and vice; some perhaps from a prison life, or a felon's awful fate. And I feel grateful, too, to those kind philanthropists who have, at so much personal effort, established the “Training Ship.” It does not stretch my fancy overmuch to picture some of those bright boys, a few years hence, as captains or owners of ships sailing out of this port,—ay, possibly one of those striplings, whom I see nimbly mounting to the fore-top-sail yard of the Vernon, may fill the distinguished post which his friend and patron now occupies, as Premier of New South Wales! Who knows? Thanks for our glorious constitution! there is no positive barrier to check the ambition of any bright lad, even for that exalted office.

The following little incident will show Bob Stubble's wayward

  ― 32 ―
proclivities. It will also indicate the diverse opinions of his parents on the matter of discipline, and at the same time show the difficulties which beset Mr Stubble in the moral training of his family.

One day, when Bob was about fourteen years of age, Mrs Stubble saw him about to tear up his silk neck-tie to make a cracker for his stock-whip, and in a not very silvery key she shouted, “Hey, Bob! Drabbit the lad! If you rip up that neckerchief, I'll scat the ears off you, I will!”

“No fear!” replied Bob, in real currency slang; and forthwith he slit the neck-tie into three pieces, and began to twist them up, while his eyes flashed defiance.

“Barn 'ee! I heerd thee, young brat!” ejaculated his father, as he turned the corner of the cow-shed just in time to witness Bob's flagrant act of disobedience, and to deal him a backhanded slap on the head. “Take that now, and larn better manners; or I'll skin thee in half a minute.”

But timely as was that punishment, and richly as it was deserved too, Mr Stubble got no honour for its administration. Of course Bob objected to it, and howled as loudly as if his father were actually skinning him in the summary manner he had threatened. In a few seconds his sister Mag and Biddy the maid were on the spot, sympathising with him; while his mother, instead of seconding her husband's motion, began to scold him for hitting the boy too hard. To escape from the general grumble, Joe retired, as was his usual custom, and quietly smoked his pipe under the green wattle trees by the cow-bails. Bob, seeing that he had such a powerful majority with him, imagined, not only that he was right, but that he was greatly wronged by his sire; and his feelings were so deeply wounded, that more than a week elapsed before he could return even a monosyllabic answer when his father spoke to him.

Margaret Stubble, or Mag as she was familiarly called, was a tall, well-proportioned girl, with pleasing features, sunny hair, and laughing blue eyes—that is to say, her features were pleasing, and her eyes laughed lovingly, when she was in a good humour; but she sometimes disfigured her handsome face by pouting, which was a pity. She was about two years younger than her brother Bob, and had been educated with him at Daisybank, or she had been taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, which was all that was usually taught in country schools in those days. She was very fond of Bob, and always took

  ― 33 ―
his part whether he was right or wrong, and no matter who was in the opposition. She often accompanied him in his bush excursions, for she could ride a horse, kill a snake, or play a jew's harp with any lass in the district; she had also some little skill in skinning birds, and was useful to Bob in his ornithological experiments.

She had been tolerably well disciplined in domestic matters by her mother, who was a very tidy housewife. Mag could make a damper as light as a baker's loaf, and her pumpkin pasties were wonders in their way; but her sponge-cakes were almost perfection itself. She also knew how to salt a pig, to make candles, ketchup, jam, ginger-beer, and many other nice things. She was not a bad dairy-maid, and could milk a cow; but she had not done anything of the kind since she had been promoted to long frocks and was supposed to be “grown up.” Like Bob, she was petted by her mother, and could always ensure safe shelter under the maternal wing if her father scolded, as he sometimes did when his patience was over-tried by the exhibition of some act of extravagance or trumpery pride, or when his wife encroached too much on his right of rule.

The only female servant they kept in their establishment was Biddy Flynn; indeed, it was only since Mag had matured into a fine young lady that they had seen the necessity for an in-door servant. Biddy, though nearly fifty years of age, was as active as a girl; and was, as Joe remarked, “a rare hand to make work scarce.” She had lived for many years with a respectable family in the district, who, much to Biddy's regret, went to England, “lavin' her all alone in the worrld.” Gladly would she have accompanied them, but circumstances which she did not like to talk about prevented her; and being well known to Mr and Mrs Stubble, she hired with them as maid-of-all-work; “and indeed she found it all work and no play in that house,” as she sometimes grumblingly apostrophised.

Biddy was a native of the “Green Isle,” and quite an original in her small way. Though of diminutive stature, she was very strong and healthy.

“Shure thin I niver was sick in me life; and I don't want to be naythir,” was her usual reply if asked by strangers as to the state of her health. Though by no means handsome, there was something attractive in her sun-freckled face; and at times there was a comical twist about her mouth, and a twinkle in her little gray eyes, which no kindly person could help smiling at.

  ― 34 ―

Biddy had been nearly thirty years in the Colony, and when she was in a communicative mood, she showed that she had been pretty observant of passing events; indeed, her remarks occasionally evinced more than ordinary acuteness, “seeing as how she niver had a hap'orth of schoolin' in her life-time.” Her attire was in keeping with her character, and was odd enough. She usually wore a blue dungaree petticoat, and a “shower-of-hail” jacket, a coarse Holland sun-bonnet, or a cabbage-tree hat, and thick leather shoes. She always wore stockings on Sundays and holidays. When she went into the neighbouring township, which was not often, she wore her green merino gown, a crape shawl dyed brown (the gift of her late mistress), and her little rugged face inside a large Leghorn bonnet looked like a rock melon in a market basket.

Biddy was, in general, very reticent respecting her early history; and if asked by any inquisitive person how she came to the Colony, she would reply, while her mouth twitched comically, “Ah, thin, it was the King himself as sint me, so he did, bekase he knowed there was a lot ov haythins out here as wanted to be tached manners.” At another time she would say in reply to a similar impertinent question, “Well, ye see, as the ould song says, ‘some love to roam,’ an' thim sort ov folks don't often shtop at home, and make their minds aisy. Troth! an' if I'd done that same thing, I wudn't be here now, in this blazin' hot counthry, bothered intirely wid moskatees an' other varmint, all a-thryin to suck me as dhry as a back log. But niver mind. Sorra a hair I care for nothin'. I've got contintment in me heart; an' dear knows that's a blessin as many rich crathers 'ud like to buy if they cud, poor sowls!”

“I've sane a thing or two in me time, that I wudn't wish the likes o' you to see, Miss Maggie,” she once remarked when in one of her softest moods. “Ah! may God Almighty help all the poor little childers as are cast adrift on the worrld widout faathers an' mothers as I was! An' it's no wondher at all that I rin inta mischief an got ‘lagged for life;’ not a bit. Och, musha musha! I've had hapes ov throble since thin, so I have; an' some o' these days I'll tell ye a lot as I've gone through, Miss; 'cos I knows ye won't go blatherin' it agin to all the counthry—and maybe it'll do ye good to hear it: any way it won't do ye no harrm I'll ingage, for I wudn't sphake half a worrd as 'ud make ye blush, honey! no, not if all the fools in the land wud larf at it, an' shout, Bravo, Biddy!”

Biddy could never be induced to tell the fault for which she

  ― 35 ―
was transported, but it was generally supposed that it was for some hasty act of revenge upon a faithless lover. She had never been married; and when once asked why she had not, she replied, “Fegs thin, men are jist like young cows in the bail, niver to be depinded on, unless ye've got a rope on their leg.” She was thoroughly trustworthy, and affectionate to a degree, and never felt it a trouble to do anything either by day or by night for those who were kind to her. She was not averse to a little playful banter, and was seldom put out of temper by anything that was said to her in a good-natured way; but if she saw a design to insult her, her sharp little eyes would flash fire, and her active tongue would put any ordinary opponent to the rout.

She was not actually extravagant in her department of the household; still, having had the command of unlimited stores in the service of Squire Bligh, she felt a disagreeable restraint in Mrs Stubble's more homely establishment, and was conscious of the overlooking eyes of her mistress, perhaps oftener than was necessary. It was some time before she could appreciate the economy of her new mistress, and she often manifested pettishness, or resorted to expedients to evade the rules and by-laws which Mrs Stubble was over-fond of enacting, in the first overflow of her pride at having a maid-servant of her own to order about, and conscious that she was the first in her family who had had that honour.

“I have told you half a dozen times, Biddy, that I can't allow more than one candle alight at once out here,” said Mrs Stubble, suddenly entering the kitchen one night where Biddy was sitting darning worsted stockings with two lights on the table beside her.

“Shure, I've ony got one candle, missis!”

“Patience me! Do you mean to say I'm blind? what's this, and what's that? Don't they make two?”

“To be shure they don't, an' that's plain enough, for didn't I cut one candle in half? Here ye can see where I did it, soh,” exclaimed Biddy, at the same time taking the pieces out of the sockets and holding them up exultingly before the eyes of her irate mistress.

“Ha, ha, ha! the ould crather!” chuckled Biddy, as Mrs Stubble walked back to her sitting-room, grumbling all the way she went. “She'd betther be aisy wid Biddy Flynn, or she'll get her match, an' half as much agin. Dash it all! I don't want to waste her candles, not I; but I'd like to know

  ― 36 ―
what ould woman in the worrld can thuddle a worsted needle in the dark an' widout spectacles too? Poogh! there. I'll shtop till the moon gets up; nobody 'ull grudge me a bit ov moonshine, I'm thinkin,” she added, as she blew the lights out. Then drawing her stool near to the fire, she began to sing, “Erin go bragh,” to “kape herself from gittin' downright crass.”