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Chapter XII.

Mr Rowley's sympathy and help to his friend Stubble in his distress.—Joe jumps into the life-boat.

MR ROWLEY hired a cab, and drove out to Stubbleton as soon as he arrived in Sydney. He found poor Joe in a pitiable state of mental depression. His wife was looking sorrowful, but her manner was quiet and subdued, for she had begun to have serious fears for her husband's health, and that had aroused all her latent kindness; in short, the legitimate fruits of trouble were beginning to show themselves.

Mr Rowley was too cool a tactician to further excite Joe's perturbed mind with discussions upon his business affairs immediately; so, after tea, he proposed that they should smoke a quiet pipe together, as they had often done in “days lang syne.” Joe willingly acquiesced; and presently they were sitting in the library, and Mr Rowley was trying to engage his friend in cheerful conversation, and at the same time was indirectly gaining little scraps of important information, without letting him perceive his drift.

“By the bye, Joe, my wife is going to trim up your old arm-chair for you, and she wished me to ask if you would like a new cover for it, or if you preferred to have the old one cleaned up,” said Peter, after a short pause in their conversation.

“It is very kind of Mrs Rowley; but I don't care what she does with the old chair. If you have a fancy for it, Peter, you may have it, and welcome. I would not sell it with my other effects, you know, because Mr Drydun gave it to me.”

“Did he bring it out from England with him, Joe?”

“Not at all. He bought it when old Jack Shellbag's traps were sold off after he died.”

“Who was Jack Shellbag? It is a funny name for a man.”

“He was a queer old fellow who used to live at Geebungie in a little cottage all alone, and it was said he starved himself

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to death to save his money. Anyway he lived upon nothing but dry damper and Jack-the-painter tea, though it is believed that he had lots of dollars planted away somewhere; besides, he had a good few head of cattle in the bush, and the house he lived in was his own.”

“He was a miser, then, Joe?”

“Aye, he was a miserable old beggar, sure enough! A few minutes before he died he asked the old man who was nursing him to hand him five threepenny-bits that were hidden in a crack of the mantelpiece.”

“His ruling passion was strong to the last;” remarked Peter. “How very sad to hear of a poor unhappy mortal leaving the world in that way! Still, it is far from being a solitary case. Was he married, Joe?”

“Not he. Married, indeed! What woman would have such a dirty old crawler? He had neither kith nor kin in the colony.”

“Who got his property, then?”

“The government sold it off, and kept the money, I suppose, for I never heard of anybody coming forward to claim it. Mr Drydun happened to be at Geebungie when the chief-constable was selling off Jack's furniture, and he went out of curiosity to see what it was like. The only thing in the cottage worth carting away was that old chair; so Mr Drydun bought it for a pound, and gave it to me. You may have it, Peter, if you like.”

“Thank you, Joe; I will accept of it, for it is a comfortable old chair. I will get my wife to restuff it, and clean it well; I daresay there is some dust inside it.” Having satisfied himself that Joe knew nothing of the hoard in the chair, Mr Rowley started some other topic; but his lively efforts to draw his friend's thoughts away from his perplexing affairs for a while were not wholly successful, and his heavy sighs, now and then, showed that he had a troublesome load on his heart. Presently he asked, “Have you seen the newspaper to-day, Peter?”

“No! I have not, Joe; for I started out here directly after I landed from the steamer. Is there anything particularly new in it?”

“There is so,” replied Joe, with a groan. “Look at this!” He then handed the newspaper to Peter, who read a short paragraph headed “ANOTHER BOLTER.” There was no person's name mentioned, but it stated that the absconder, who

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had gone to California with a married woman, was well known in sporting circles, and also was closely connected with an honourable member of the Lower House.

“Have you been into the city to-day, Joe?”

“No, I have not been in for four days, but I must go tomorrow. I wanted to see you first of all to tell me what to do, for I am in a regular quandary.”

“Have you any of your account-books here?”

“No; they are all at Ben's office, except a small book with the dates of bills I have to pay each month dotted down in my own simple way.”

“When are your next payments due?”

“To-morrow week, Peter. I have a lot of money to pay then, and I was expecting to pawn the horses that Ben said he had bought, but he has not bought a single head or tail. Read this, Peter, and it will show you the miserable predicament I am in.”

Joe then handed him Ben's letter, which Mr Rowley read over with evident disgust and sorrow.

“What do you think of that, Peter?” asked Joe, after his friend had finished reading the letter.

“I dare not trust myself to say all I think of it, Joe; but it is very plain to me that you have been sadly victimised. However, do not worry yourself about it to-night, if you can help it; we will go in to Goldstone's office to-morrow, and endeavour to find out the amount of your liabilities, for that is an important thing to arrive at. Cheer up, my friend! Things may not turn out so disastrously as you imagine; and even if the worst should happen, that is to say, if you should lose all your money, you will not lose your good name, or the consciousness of having acted in a way that you thought was right, which is a comforting assurance that many men in Sydney cannot lay claim to.”

“I have not wilfully done anything that is wrong, Peter; though I have foolishly allowed myself to be talked into several speculations that I am ashamed of; that is, I have found money for Ben and other schemers to work with. But whatever I have done wrong, I want to do what is right now, even if I have to give up everything I own. I think I had better resign all my offices of trust at once, Peter. I ought never to have taken such important duties upon me.”

“Have patience, Joe, my boy! Let us do one thing at a time; and the best thing we can do now is to ask Almighty

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God to guide us aright, for without His help we can do nothing. If you have done anything that is wrong, and are truly sorry for it, God will forgive you; and if you humbly desire to do what is right in future, God will help you. Let us pray to Him!”

Joe willingly knelt down beside his good friend, who offered up a prayer in language simple but fervent; and when they arose from their knees, Joe said he felt his heart ever so much easier.

“To tell you the truth, Peter, I never before felt a prayer do me so much good.”

“ ‘God is a very present help in trouble.’ He knows all about your affairs, Joe, and He can send you help in a thousand ways that you know nothing about. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.’ ”

“I wish I could do that, Peter,” said Joe, with a sigh. “I wish I could really trust in Him.”

“You evidently trust me, for you told me just now, that you were waiting for me to come to town to tell you what to do in your perplexing affairs.”

“Yes, that is right, Peter; I ought to trust you certainly, for you have always been a friend to me.”

“And can you not trust Almighty God?”

“I know I ought to do so, Peter; but I do not seem to be able to, while my mind is in such a whirl of anxiety.”

“Nothing but Divine influence can calm your troubled mind, Joe; and that will be vouchsafed to you the moment you ‘cast your burden upon the Lord,’ as He himself has invited you to do. An observant friend of mine told me that he was voyaging from Tasmania to Sydney, some time ago, in a sailing vessel. When in Bass's Straits they encountered a severe storm, and were in some danger of being wrecked. In the height of the gale, while the vessel was struggling, under storm-sails, in the heavy sea that was running, my friend observed a little bird asleep on the water with its head beneath its wing. He said that the peaceful repose of the bird in the midst of the roaring waters seemed to convey a reproof to him for his fears, which had denoted lack of trust in the Omni-potent God who rules the raging sea. That same God can make your mind calm and placid amid all your perplexing trials. He surely can; and He will do it too, if you trust in Him, and do not let unbelief drag you along the dreary road to despair.”

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“Yes, Peter; I know that God can do all things, and I am sure that nothing can happen without His knowledge and permission. I have not sat under Mr Goodwin's preaching for three years without learning about true religion. I know a good deal more than I talk about.”

“I am sure of that, Joe; but have you appropriated the gospel truths you have heard enunciated. In plain terms, have you accepted Christ as your Saviour from the guilt of past sin, and as your present living Saviour from the power and dominion of sin? That is the point; and it is a most important point for you to decide.”

“I cannot say that I have, Peter; so I will not deceive you nor myself neither; but I am more than ever resolved to seek to get religion, for I am certain there is no real happiness in life without it. I have had convincing proofs enough of late that solid peace of mind is not to be found in riches, nor in worldly honours and distinctions. As soon as I get my mind settled a bit so as to think clearly, I mean to set to work about religion in real earnest; I promise you that, Peter.”

“I see, Joe, you are resolved to get your mind set at rest by your own efforts. That is like proud human nature; but it will be a failure. Thousands of poor lost souls have found that out. You may as well try to fly.”

“No; that is not what I mean exactly. The fact is, I don't feel that I be fit to profess religion. I have not been living as I ought; and many times lately I have stopped away from church on Sunday nights to talk to Ben about business; and I have often been thinking about money matters while I was listening to a sermon. I know that is wrong; but I cannot help it at present. I feel my need of Christ, but I also see my own inconsistency, and that keeps me back; by and bye, when I get my affairs put straight, you see, Peter, then I shall be able to attend better to my religious duties.”

“That amounts to the same thing, Joe. You want to make yourself a little better before you accept of Christ's loving invitation, ‘Come unto Me!’ ”

“Well, I certainly want to live a better life you know, Peter. I do not see how I can go to Christ as I am now. I wish I could do it!” added Joe, with tears in his eyes. “God knows I am weary and heavy-laden, and that I want rest for my soul. Oh! I do wish I could find it.”

“I remember you telling me a long while ago about the providential escape you had from being drowned when you

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were going to Sydney once from the Clarence River, in a small schooner,” said Peter.

“Aye, indeed! I got a sad fright that time. Only for the pilot I should have been lost for certain; and I was not so well prepared for death as I am now, for I knew nothing about religion then.”

“When the vessel was bumping on the Clarence bar, surrounded by breakers, you did not stay below in the cabin to smarten yourself up, I'll be bound, Joe.”

“No; that I did not, you may be sure. I was up in the main rigging, holding tightly enough till the pilot-boat came alongside, and then I had to jump into it pretty smartly the moment the pilot sung out, now. It was a wonderful escape, and I shall never forget it. The ship went to pieces soon after I had got safe out of her.”

“Suppose, Joe, that when the pilot bade you ‘jump now,’ you had told him to keep his boat alongside, and wait while you went below to put on your best clothes?”

“I should have been a fool to do that, Peter, for I could feel the vessel breaking up under me. When the pilot sung out ‘now is your time!’ I jumped into the boat that instant.”

“Can you not see, Joe, my boy, that you are telling the great pilot of your soul to wait with his life-boat till you are properly clad, before you will jump and be saved?” asked Peter, with affectionate earnestness. “In less figurative words, Joe, are you not waiting till you do something to merit the salvation which is offered you through faith in Christ? Do you not see that you are virtually ignoring God's free grace, by relying on your own merits, instead of on the merits of Christ's atonement?”

Joe looked solemnly thoughtful for a minute, then suddenly exclaimed with earnestness, “Yes, I do see it, Peter. Thank God, I do see it as I never saw it before. I do believe in Christ Jesus, and in His willingness to save me this very moment. Without waiting to try to change my own wicked heart, I cast myself on the merits of Christ alone for salvation. He is the pilot. Jesus, take me now! Just as I am! Save me, or I perish!” added Joe, falling on his knees.

“Thank God?” exclaimed Mr Rowley.

“I am saved!” shouted Mr Stubble. “Oh! I never felt so happy in all my life! Thank God! I have jumped into the life-boat, and I am saved!”

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On hearing such unusual sounds from the library, Mrs Stubble entered it without knocking, when, to her amazement, she beheld her husband's face glowing with joy, though tears were streaming from his eyes, and Mr Rowley was similarly affected.

“Oh, Peggy I am so happy!” said Joe, embracing his wife fondly. “Let the money go, lass; it won't fret me now. I have got what is worth all the money in the world, the peace of God in my heart; and I want you to have it too, Peggy. Mr Rowley will tell you the way to obtain it now, directly.”

Peggy gave an anxiously inquiring look at Mr Rowley, who, thus encouraged, began in a simple way to explain the plan of salvation through Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life;” while Peggy listened with evident signs of strong feeling. “But you have heard all this before, Mrs Stubble,” added Peter; “Mr Goodwin has often expounded the gospel way of peace to you.”

“Oh, yes, sir; I have often heard it, and have often wished I could enjoy it; but my temper is so bad, and that stops me, I know. It is getting worse and worse instead of better, for everything is going against me, and I have nothing but worrit, worrit, worrit every day; and now I am going to lose poor Maggie, for the doctor has given her up.” Here Mrs Stubble's voice faltered, and she burst into tears. Mr Rowley gently told her “the only way to gain the mastery over evil temper and all other besetments, and to get comfort in all her trials and afflictions, was to cast herself wholly upon Jesus, and resolve to live a life of faith in Him.”

After a while Mrs Stubble became more composed. She thanked Mr Rowley for his good counsel, and promised to try to follow it. They then reverently knelt down, and Peter offered up an appropriate prayer; after which they all retired for the night.