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Chapter X.

More trouble.—Mrs Stubble's grief and anger.—Arrival of a stranger from Melbourne.—Letter from Ben Goldstone.—Bursting of the storm-cloud.

ON Monday morning, Biddy Flynn put on her best bonnet and shawl, and told her mistress that she was going straight into Sydney.

“What are you going there for, Biddy?” asked Maggie, in a feeble voice.

“I am going to fitch a docther to see ye, Miss Maggie. Arrah! don't ye say nay, darlint! I'll be grieved to go aginst yer will, an' I must do it; for shure, I can't shtop here an' see ye dying ivery day, an' maybe my medical tratement wull be blamed for doin' all the mischief, for the profession are allers mighty jealous iv anybody but themselves loses a patient.”

“You know you have often cured me of little aches and pains before, Biddy.”

“That's thrue enough, honey! but ye niver had a bout like this afore. I can docther any mortial thing in common rayson wid cowld wather an' herb-tay; but how can a simple ould woman, who doesn't know a single word ov Latin, trate internal wounds an' bruises inside, what she can't see at all? I shtopped from going for the docther on Saturday, bekase the masther was at home, an' I didn't want a row in the house; but now he is gone agin, I am goin' to see that ye git proper tratement; so don't ye say nay to it iv ye plase, honey!”

“O Biddy! what shall I say to the doctor if he asks me how my side was injured?”

“Say to him? Why, it's allers the bist plan to shpake the truth; but iv ye won't tell him all the true facts, ye won't tell him a lie, I'll ingage. Troth, I don't know what ye'll say at all, an' I can't shtop to invint an honest story at prisint; but I won't tell him about it, niver fear. Now, darlint, be as aisy as you can till I come back. I must hurry, for there's the

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omblibus-boy blowin' his brains out wid his norn. Och! what an ugly nuisance thim bus-horns are, whin a sick patient wants to be paceable.” Biddy then hastened away, and in less than an hour she returned with the family doctor, who found that Maggie was suffering from acute inflammation of the liver. After giving certain instructions to Biddy respecting the patient, and leaving a prescription, the doctor departed.

He had scarcely left the house when Mrs Stubble arrived in her carriage. Of course she was anxious to know the object of the doctor's visit, for though Maggie had been an invalid for some time, she had seldom sought medical aid. “What is the matter with your mistress, Biddy?” asked Mrs Stubble.

“She is not well, ma'am.”

“Why did you not send for me immediately?”

“Bekase I knowed the docther wud do her more good nor yerself; so I fitched him firsht an' foremost, ma'am.”

“That is more of your impudence; but I will soon see if I am to be treated in this way by you,” said Mrs Stubble, angrily. She then went straightway to her daughter's bedroom, grumbling at Biddy's lack of respect for her.

“Ugh! you proud, stuck-up owld thing! I wish ye had yer daughter's kick in yer side—shtop! that's wicked, so it is, an' I don't mean it; but I wish ye'd got her soft heart in yer, or one jist like it;—there is no sin in sayin' that much, anyway.—Shure, I wonder now, who that chap is at all? He has bin walkin' afore the house iver since sunrise. He doesn't look like a thief or a robber, but he may be one for all that; there's no tellin' who is honest by the cut ov his coat; so I'd betther be tellin' Mary to look afther the linen on the lines.” At that moment a man walked up to the front gate, and asked Biddy if her master was at home.

There was something in his manner which made Biddy instinctively shudder, though he was not at all an ill-looking man, and was respectably dressed. He was about fifty years of age, and had the appearance of having come off a journey and to be suffering from want of rest. Biddy briefly replied that her master was not at home.

“It is no use telling me that, if it be merely to put me off; for see him I must and will.”

“An' what else cud I tell ye, unless I towld ye a lie? Troth, I wudn't try to shtop ye from looking at him iv he was here, niver fear.”

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“I will stay here till I do see him,” said the man, with a sort of frenzied determination in his utterance.

“Thin, ye'll get cowld an' hungry enough, I'm thinkin', iv ye do that same. Anyway ye can plase yerself, misther; this is a free country now, thank God; an' I suppose nobody wull charge ye nothin' for sleepin' in the road for a week or two.”

Biddy then walked into the house and found Mrs Stubble in a high state of excitement, and poor Maggie sobbing hysterically.

“The monster! The fiend in human form! The—the— the—slaughterman! I would tear his eyes out, if I were near him!” shrieked Mrs Stubble.

“Whisht, now, mistress! Noisy words will niver pass for strong rayson; nor they won't hale wounds naythir.”

“Hold your tongue this minute! How dare you presume to talk to me in that way?” said Mrs Stubble, turning fiercely upon Biddy. “And pray, why did you stand by and see my daughter maimed in this cannibal style without letting me know it? Why did you not call in the police?”

“The very last words the docther sed to me were these, ‘Be sure you kape your mistress quiet,’ ses he; an' jist look at her now, poor darlint! Och, Mistress Stubble! for the love of marcy, be aisy, or ye may soon call in the undertaker, so ye may. What on earth is the good ov yer kicking up this racket? Can't ye see that ye are scaring away the little bit ov life there is left in yer unfort'nate darter? Why don't ye wait till the masther comes back, and thin tell him all ye've got to say?”

“Wait till he comes back, indeed? I will do nothing of the kind. I'll have him brought back this very night and tried for wilful murder! Oh, dear, dear! To think that my poor dear girl should come to this—to be kicked like a football! I wish she had never been born! What shall I do? what shall I do?—Hoo, hoo, hoo!” Mrs Stubble then sank into a chair and gave vent to a flood of tears, which had as smoothing an effect on her tongue as heavy rain-showers have upon a rough sea. In the meantime, Biddy gently undressed Maggie and assisted her into bed; and after saying all the soothing things she could think of, she hurried into the kitchen to make some gruel, leaving Mrs Stubble rocking herself calm in a nursing-chair.

“Oh, Biddy! my poor heart is almost breaking!” whined

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Mrs Stubble, as she entered the kitchen a few minutes afterwards, with her face drawn into sorrowful longitude.

“Not a bit o' fear ov that, ma'am,” responded Biddy, coldly.

“To think I should have reared up my only daughter to be treated in this shocking way, and by her lawful husband too! Oh, dear, dear! It is dreadful! You have never been a mother, Biddy.”

“No, indeed, ma'am, niver.”

“Oh, Biddy! you must have known months and months ago that my poor dear child was being shamefully ill-used; why did not you come and tell me?”

“Bekase I know'd very well iv I did that same, I should only have bin makin' bad worse. That's jist it, ma'am. Besides, I wud as soon think ov carryin' the silver spoons out ov the house, as to carry out family secrets for all the town to be talkin ov'em. Shure there is no end ov mischief that tattlin' sarvants make; and I've sane a pretty lot ov it too, in me time. It isn't a bit ov good ov yer cryin' about it now, ma'am, no more nor it wud be sinsible for me to tell yez what ye might have done years agone to save yer darter from this cruel tratement; but iv ye'll take my simple advice for once't, ma'am, ye'll see it wull be all the betther for iverybody belonging till yer.”

“What is it, Biddy? I am sure I will do anything I can. This terrible disclosure has shocked me so much that I really do think I am going crazy.”

“I thought as much meself awhile agone, ma'am. If ye'll listen to me, ye'll say no more to Miss Maggie about what's gone and past, an' can't be mended. Don't shpake a word till her, ma'am, 'cept it be soft, an' kind, an' tinder. Let us try an' save her life, an' thin talk about family brawls afterwards. She is dangerously ill, that is my belief, ma'am, an' I know the docther thinks so too, though he didn't say as much.”

“Do you really think so, Biddy? Oh, my poor dear girl! Whatever shall I do if I lose her? I think I will go home and get a few things for myself, and then come and stay here to help you, Biddy, for you are looking fagged and worn out.”

“As you plase, ma'am; but let me tell ye agin not to say any more about the masther afore Miss Maggie, bekase it only makes her cry, poor crayther! No woman wid a heart likes to hear her husband called ugly names, no matter what he has done till her. An' my word for it, ma'am, that poor

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child has had enough to bear widout being bothered to death now.”

Mrs Stubble soon afterwards left the house, promising to be back in an hour or so. As she was about to get into her carriage, the man before mentioned stepped up to her, and lifting his hat respectfully, asked if she could inform him whether the master of that house were at home or not. Not liking the peculiar manner of the stranger, she cautiously replied by asking him why he wanted to know.

“Are you Mr Goldstone's mother, madam?”

“No, indeed, I am not,” said Mrs Stubble, sharply. Seemingly encouraged by the tone of her last answer, the man said, “Will you allow me to speak a few words to you, madam. Have you a daughter?”

“Yes, I have a daughter,” replied Mrs Stubble, while tears filled her eyes as she thought of poor emaciated Maggie.

“So have I, madam,” said the man, his voice tremulous from suppressed emotion. “Pray hear me tell my sad story; I will not detain you long. My wife died about five years ago and left me an only child, who was the solace of my loneliness, the only being I had in the world to love. She is now seventeen years of age. I reside in Melbourne, madam, and am a commercial traveller. About twelve months ago, I was commissioned to go to India and China by the mercantile house that I am connected with; so I gave up housekeeping, and my daughter took a situation as pupil-teacher in a respectable school at Collingwood, and resided with her aunt at North Melbourne, where I also lodged when I was in town.

“Five days ago I returned from my Eastern voyage, and judge of my feelings, if you can, madam, when I found my once bright-eyed, beautiful, innocent girl a mere wreck, both in body and mind. She was daily expecting to become a mother. The infamous treatment she had been subjected to by a filthy quack, together with grief and shame at her fallen position, had so altered her that I did not know her when I first saw her. Poor, dear, unhappy girl! I cannot shake off the gloomy presentiment that I shall never see her again, for she has not physical strength for the trial which awaits her. My poor, ruined, darling girl!” Here the unhappy man sobbed aloud.

Mrs Stubble said “she was very sorry to hear his affecting story, but she had troubles of her own which would not allow her to stay any longer.” She was moving away, when the man,

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with his former peculiarly wild look, said, “Pray wait one minute more, madam. I have come up from Melbourne for the sole purpose of seeing face to face the author of my poor girl's ruin. He lives in that house.”

“What! Mr Goldstone!”

“Yes, madam, that is his name. He is a married man, I am told: but my poor infatuated girl was led to believe otherwise.”

“Oh, the vile wretch!” shrieked Mrs Stubble.

“Will you be kind enough to tell me if he is at home. I have reason to believe that he expects a visit from me, and he may be shutting himself up, in the hope that I will soon go away. If so, he is mistaken; for never will I rest my head upon a pillow till I have confronted the base destroyer of my happiness, and the rifler of my blighted child's honour. I will stay here and watch for him while I have a spark of life remaining.”

“Oh, pray don't stay here, my good man. My poor daughter is dangerously ill; and if she knew what you have just told me, it would be the death of her. I am the mother of Mr Goldstone's unfortunate wife. He is now away from home, at Newcastle.”

“May I depend upon the correctness of that information, madam? Pray excuse my abruptness.”

“Yes, of course you may; he went away by the steamer the night before last.”

“Thank you madam,” said the man lifting his hat, and again bowing respectfully, he then turned and walked hastily away. Mrs Stubble got into her carriage, and drove homeward in a state of mind not easily described.

Nothwithstanding Mrs Stubble's silly pride and her troublesome temper, she had a strong affection for her children; she really loved her husband too, but his submission to her dominant spirit had lessened her respect for him. As I have already intimated, she suspected that Ben was not kind to his wife, and she had remarked to Joe, that “she never could have believed it possible for a man to change so quickly, for Ben was no more like what he was when he first fell in love with Mag, than a canary-bird is like a toad; indeed, his bearing towards the whole family was totally changed to what it was on the first night he called to see them in the little house at Redfern, and seemed to be so proud of them all.” But Peggy's closest observation had failed to detect anything more than extreme gruffness of manner and lack of outward

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show of affection for his wife; she had no idea that he had been guilty of the unmanly acts of beating and kicking poor Maggie. Mrs Stubble's unexpected appearance that morning, and her direct questions to her daughter as to the cause of her illness, led to the confession which had so terribly aroused all her wrathful passions, and made her for a time unconscious that she was adding to the sufferings of her ill-used child.

On reaching her home, Mrs Stubble went direct to the library, where Joe was sitting thoughtfully scanning a letter, which he threw upon a table at her entrance. His countenance might have told her the disturbed state of his mind, and warned her not to increase his perplexity by disclosing her newly-found troubles just then; but she was seldom disposed to soften matters to her husband; on the contrary, she usually tried to make petty trials into large ones, when talking to him about them. Perhaps this did not spring so much from positive unkindness towards him, as from the indulgence of a thoughtless pettishness, until it had become second nature to her; moreover, when she was in trouble she never could see anything but the trouble itself, which always made her trouble double. She might with good reason have spared poor Joe's feelings as much as possible, if she had reflected that it was her own self-will and pride which had been the primary cause of all their disasters in city life; but she did not reflect in that way. Without pausing a minute, she, in excited tones, told Joe all she had seen and heard that morning, including the startling story of the man at the gate.

“That explains this letter,” said Joe, starting up and pacing the room with his hands pressed to his forehead. “It is all out now, and we are ruined! Us will have to begin the world again, Peggy.”

“Ruined! ruined!” whatever do you mean, Stubble?”

“Don't shriek at me in that way, Peggy, 'cept you want to drive me mad. Read that letter from Ben, that I have received by this morning's post. I have been afraid there was something wrong going on for six weeks past; there has been a load on my mind that I could not shake off.”

“I have told you over and over again, Stubble, that you were very foolish in bothering your head so much with business things that you knew naught about; but you never would mind what I said to you, and now this is the end of it—we are ruined. Well, it does not matter to me; I shall soon be in my grave. Is this the letter from Ben? What a nasty-looking

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smudged thing.” Mrs Stubble then read the following epistle, while her husband continued to pace the room, looking the image of despair.

  “Ship Screaming Eagle,

  “NEWCASTLE, Sunday evening.

“DEAR FATHER,—I have no doubt this letter will shock you. It grieves me to write it. Circumstances, which I cannot fully explain, impel me to leave the colony for a time. I shall sail to-morrow at daylight for San Francisco. My departure will cause a stir among some of our friends in Sydney, and I shall be cursed by them in their own style; but I don't care a jot for that. I am sorry I have involved you, and I am sorry for poor Mag; but it will not be so bad if you will follow the advice I am now about to give you.

“When you get this letter, lose no time in quietly scraping together every pound you can lay your hands on, and plant it in some snug place. I am vexed that you gave your deeds to the bank; I have told you before you were a fool for doing so; you should have secured your house property to mother; but it cannot be helped now. If you keep your head cool, and manage carefully, you may secure two or three thousand pounds before the grand smash-up. I could work it so as to secure twice as much for you; but I cannot stay in the colony any longer with safety to myself. I expected to have been away a month ago, but this cursed ship heeled on to a rock and injured her rudder.

“Bragg and Co. must burst up before the fourth of next month, unless their particular friend helps them on a little longer. When they go smash, half-a-score of other bubblemongers will go too, and I regret to say you are mixed up with them all. No doubt I shall be made the scape-goat, and be blamed for bursting the bellows. It is an old colonial dodge to put the blame upon some absent partner; but I don't care what they say of me. They are all as rotten as old Nobbley's collier fleet; but I did not know it until I had got too far into their clutches to get out. My late heavy losses in Melbourne and at Homebush have floored me; in fact, luck has been dead against me for the last nine months, and I could not recover myself even if it were possible for me to remain in the colony, unless my father died intestate; but his wheedling young wife will take care of that chance.

“You will find all the account-books in my office, but you

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cannot understand them; so do not bother your head with them. There is nothing to show that you and I were partners, unless you choose to admit it; and you are a fool if you do. Admit nothing at all,—that is the safest way. You will find a lot of bills signed for blank amounts in the private drawer of my desk. They are all shicers, and will not melt, except perhaps the one of T. Fawner and Co. I think that would go down still; you can fill it up for £498, 12s 9d. You must not make it even money; discount it at once, and stick to the money. I enclose a cheque for the balance in my bank; draw it out immediately and give it to Mag. Tell her she had better plant all the plate, and say I have got it. The creditors will not take her furniture, nor yours neither; they never think of such a thing in large failures.”

“I forgot to tell you the certificates of rum are held by Grabb as security for a loan. I do not think you will ever hear of the brig in which we shipped the tea and tobacco to Dunedin. You may be able to make the insurance policy over to mother; but you had better consult Jack Carss,—he will work it if it is to be done. I am taking a little money with me, and will send for Mag when I get settled. If she goes softly to work, she may get a good lift from my father; but he is an old——or he would not have kept his son short of money, and forced him to scheming. There is a madman on his way from Melbourne; he is coming up purposely to talk to me about some imaginary wrong he fancies I have done him. It would not be safe for me to stay to argue with him. I cannot write any more, for my head is bewildered. Again I advise you to keep cool and look out for yourself. Give my love to mother and poor Mag.—Your affectionate son,


I need not try to describe Mrs Stubble's excitement while spelling over the foregoing letter; but after she had read it through, she broke out in a whining strain of complaint, blaming every one but herself for the calamities which had befallen them, and which she was sure would be the cause of her sudden death from “flutteration of the heart.”

“O Peggy lass! what is the use of going on in that way?” said Joe, appealingly. “If disasters have come upon us, you ought to try to help me to bear up against them, and not make things worse by distressing me with your complainings. When the Flying Buck was in that hard squall which scared us all

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on to our knees to pray to God for help,—you remember the time, lass,—suppose, then, the chief mate, instead of going to work like a man to save the ship from capsizing, had begun to grumble at the captain for not seeing the squall coming, what sense would there have beeen in that, think you?”

“That is a different thing altogether Stubble, and I never want to hear again about that old Flying Buck; I wish she had sunk in the squall. What are you going to do to get out of this mess? that is the question.”

“Don't ask me any questions now, Peggy, for pity's sake. Can't you see that I am nearly bothered out of my senses? Tell John to saddle my horse, and I'll go into town;—stay, I will not go out of the house. I don't know what to do. Leave me to myself a bit, Peggy; and do'ee try to be soft and kind to me, or my head will go wrong.”

Soon afterwards Joe sat down, and with trembling hand wrote a few lines to his friend Mr Rowley, and sent the letter to the post forthwith.