― 37 ―

Chapter VII.

Colloquy between Bob Stubble and his sister, which clearly proved that she was in love with Ben Goldstone, the son and heir of a rich citizen of Sydney.

WHILE their parents were having the jarring colloquy described in my opening chapter, Bob Stubble and Maggie were jogging homeward on their horses. They had been to Daisybank to get the letters and newspapers at the post-office, and also to do a little shopping. Bob had a large parcel strapped before him on his saddle; and his sister carried a band-box, containing a new bonnet, and sundry other delicate articles, which she was unwilling to entrust to other hands.

“Come, Mag! brighten up a bit, and talk to a fellow. What is the use of sighing?” said Bob, after a rather long silence. “Don't be so moody, Mag.”

“I can't always be laughing and talking, you know, Bob; and I don't know why you and father think me moody because I am a little quieter than usual. I am not very well, so don't you make me worse.”

“Ah! you look poorly!” said Bob, with a merry glance at his sister's rosy face. “I'll be your doctor for once, Mag, and I'll cure you without physic. Here is a prescription. Sing this bit of old song as if you meant it:—

‘Men, I'm sure, were born to please us,
 Such their words and looks imply;
And we're dolts to let them tease us—
 If you would, so would not I.’

Ha, ha, ha! why, you are looking better already, Mag. But, joking aside, tell me, sissy: when you get a grand lady, and ride in your town carriage with a flunky behind you, will you be too proud to notice your big awkward brother Bob from the country, in his strapped Colonial tweed trousers, and cabbage-tree hat?”

“What a queer boy you are, Bob! You think of such out-of-the-way things. But I hope and trust you will not say

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anything to me about Mr Goldstone when any one else is by. I don't so much mind what you say when we are by ourselves; though of course it is silly of you to make such remarks as you have just made.”

“I didn't mention Goldstone's name at all; so that shows what your quiet thoughts are about. But I won't tease you, Mag. I am sure he is in love with you, and that's all about it.”

“What nonsense you talk, Bob! He has been riding about every day this week with Miss Hawkins, and hasn't been near our place since last Friday.”

“Oh, ho! that's what is the matter with you, is it? Jealousy! Now I understand it all. But you need not let that spoil your rest, for you have bewitched Ben's heart as certainly as I trapped the ‘dingo’ last night. I'll bet a guinea that neither Miss Hawkins nor any other miss in the district will cut you out, Mag; so, cheer up.”

“I should like to know how you can tell the state of his heart, clever as you think yourself.”

“Well, I'll tell you. When Ben has been out shooting with me lately, he has praised you up to the moon. ‘Where there is smoke there is always fire,’ as father says; and Ben is ‘sweet’ on you, or he wouldn't say so much in your favour.”

“He is a great spoony,” said Mag, with a short sigh.

“Well, if I don't tell him what you say, may I never burst my gun! By the by, Mag, I forgot to tell you Goldstone has given me his double-barrelled ‘Joe Manton,’ and such a stunning shot-belt.”

“I am sure he is very liberal. But where does he get all the money that you say he sports about with in such grand style?”

“Where! Why his father is as rich as a banker, and Ben says he will come in for all the property by and by; and there is nobody to share it with him, for he has neither brother nor sister, nor a single relative to claim the worth of a bullet.”

“He is very fortunate indeed. But I can't make him out exactly—he is so poetically flighty. What trade is he, Bob?”

“Trade, eh!” exclaimed Bob, with a shrug. “What is the use of a trade to a young fellow with half a city-full of houses all his own? He wouldn't like it, Mag, if he heard you ask that question. I think he has been in the navy a little while, for he talks sea lingo sometimes; but he knows no more about trade or business, in the common way, than my cob does.”

  ― 39 ―

“How ever came he to fall in love with me, Bob—that is to say, if he has really done so?” said Mag, with a coquettish toss of her sunny ringlets. “I am sure there are hosts of handsome girls in Sydney; and if he is so very rich, I suppose he may almost pick where he chooses.”

“Well, I will tell you one thing that he said to me, Mag; I could tell you fifty more if you wish to hear them. Says he to me, ‘Bob, I never saw any one sit a horse as your sister does.’ He saw you riding across the moors after that Wallaby that gave us the double at old Cobbera's cross-fence ‘She looks just like Dinah, the goddess of the chase,’ says he.”

“Diana, you goose!” suggested Maggie, laughing.

“Very well, anything you like, sissy. Ben is right enough anyhow, for I'd back you against all the Dianas that ever sat in a saddle; and I do believe that, if you were not my sister, I should tumble in love with you, head over heels, if I only saw you canter half a mile.”

“I should like to know how Sophy Rowley would feel if she heard you say that there was even a possibility of your loving any one on earth but herself, if it were only your sister Mag.”

“And I should like to know what Sam Rafter will say, when he finds you have cut him all to chips,” rejoined Bob, laughing.

“Faugh! gluepot! what do I care for him,” said Mag; “don't mention him to me again, Bob.”

“Ah, you didn't call him gluepot a month ago, Mag; and I don't like to hear you nickname him now, though you have almost caged a goldfinch. Sam is a better looking chap than Ben, nobody can deny that; still if you can get a rich man for a husband, you would be a simpleton to have one who has only his trade to depend on, and his old mother to keep besides. But give him up civilly, Mag; that's all I have got to say.”

“I never was engaged to Sam Rafter,” said Mag, in a tone of remonstrance. “He has thought proper to follow me home now and then, and to bring me nosegays and wooden money-boxes, and other trumpery; but I never even thanked him for anything, let alone told him that I loved him. Indeed I think it is very presumptuous of him to imagine such a thing.”

“Oh, ho, Mag! Come, now. Fair play is my motto. Didn't you encourage him to follow you home? Of course you did. You drew him after you with your eyes, if your tongue had nothing to do with it. All girls know how to bewitch the boys

  ― 40 ―
in that way. Take my word for it, Mag, Sam would not follow a girl about if she did not look sweet at him; for he is a manly, straight-up-and-down sort of fellow, though he is poor. I don't say that you were actually engaged to him, but you liked him above a bit, and you let him see it too, until Goldstone began to wheedle. Mind, I don't blame you for preferring Ben, but don't show contempt for poor Sam, or I'll stand up for him in a minute.”

“Why, I declare you are almost as warm about Sam as father is,” said Mag. “You are surprisingly fond of him all at once. I don't want to say anything against him—not I, indeed. He is a nice young man in his way, I daresay; but if I don't choose to have him for a husband, you can't make me, you know.”

“I have sometimes tried to knock down two birds at a shot, and have missed them both,” said Bob, dryly. “Take care you don't miss both your men, Mag, while trying to make a double smite.”

“By the by, Bob, when are you going out duck-shooting again?” asked Maggie, as though she were desirous of changing the conversation.

“Why don't you ask me when I am going to see Goldstone again? for that's what you mean, Mag. I can see what is in the corners of your eyes, as plainly as I see my horse's ears.”

“You are a provoking boy,” said Mag, giving him a playful flick on the shoulder with her little riding whip. “Well then, tell me when you are going to see Mr Goldstone again, if you will have it so.”

“I have promised to go with him on Wednesday, to have a pop at the Nankeen birds on Barnacle Island; but don't say anything about it at home. I shall have to take the cart in with a keg of butter in time to meet the morning's steamer to Sydney; and I want to get Jogger shod, and a few other odd jobs done at the blacksmith's; and in the meantime, I can go and have a little sport. I don't want father to know that I am going shooting, for he is as particular about my wasting time as if he were dependent upon my earnings. But do you want me to say anything to Ben for you, Mag?”

“Of course not, you silly fellow! I only wanted to know how much longer he is going to stay at the Major's.”

“Ah, yes, I understand. I'll find out for you, Mag. Don't you fret your little heart any more about Annie Hawkins, for you have caught Ben fast enough, never fear. But touch up

  ― 41 ―
your mare, Mag; and let us get over the boggy road at the end of the fences before dark.” Mag thereupon said, “Gee up, Jenny,” to her spirited little palfrey, and away she cantered, while Bob kept beside her with his cob at full trot.

The foregoing colloquy will indicate the state of Miss Stubble's heart, and a few words will explain the cause of the unusual moodiness which her father had observed with so much concern. The fact is, that Mag had been instigated by her mother to “set her cap” at Mr Goldstone; for the reputation of his immense wealth had quite fascinated the latter lady, and had indeed blinded them both to defects of character, which were too glaring to escape the most casual observer. For many nights, after Mr Stubble had retired to rest, unconscious that anything unusual was going on in his household, Mag and her mother were sitting up till a late hour “building castles in the air” with Goldstone's money, and devising plans of operation to draw him into a formal declaration of love; for though his manner had been very familiar, considering their short acquaintance, he had not actually “come to the point,” as Peggy called it.

“You do exactly as I have told you, my dear, and you've got him as safe as a cooped turkey-cock,” said Peggy, with a peculiar ogle of her little black eyes, which in her youthful days was probably a rather killing expression. “And mind, Mag, when he says snip, you say snap, directly minute.”

“Ah, but perhaps he won't say snip, mother,” sighed Mag.

“Never you fear, girl; he'll pretty soon out with what he feels, I'll warrant. If he bean't in love with you, Mag, I never knew what love is, that's all.”

Mag thought so too, and encouraged the idea, and a hundred other ideas springing therefrom, all favourable to herself as the bride elect of a wealthy man who had preferred her to the pick of the rank and fashion of the metropolis. But, alas! her bright hopes had lately given way to misgivings which saddened her pretty face, for Goldstone had absented himself from Buttercup-glen for nearly a week, and had been seen riding out every day with a niece of Major Hawkins. It is true that Miss Hawkins was quite a fright compared with Maggie—or so Maggie thought; but that fact could not chase away her fears that she had lost him, though she was unwilling that even her mother should know she felt so deeply on the subject.