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Chapter XVII.

Bob Stubble meets Sam Rafter in Melbourne.—Sam's lecture.—His prosperity.—Bob's sorrow for the misfortunes of his family.—Goes to Sydney.

BOB STUBBLE got a good deal of wordy sympathy from his landlady and others after the loss of his money in the Tiddliwink venture, especially as they learnt that he had not lost his all. He had only about twenty pounds left in the bank; but he did not tell any one the state of his account. He was, perhaps, in quite as good a financial position as many persons who were speculating largely in the share market, and he might have “gone in” again with greater boldness, as he had so little to lose, but Bob never had a taste for gambling of any sort, and he wisely resolved to seek some steady employment, as the safest and surest way of retrieving his fallen fortune.

He searched the columns of the newspapers every morning, and replied to many advertisements headed “Wanted a strong, active young man,” but unfortunately he was always too late; some other active young man had secured the berth before him. At that time there were scores of men walking about the streets of Melbourne seeking for employment; indeed there are at all times many persons who seem to have an unconquerable disposition to lounge about the metropolis in preference to going into the country, where they would have a better chance of finding employment, and where, too, they could, in general, live at much less expense than they can do in a crowded city. Bob Stubble's motive for remaining in Melbourne was certainly a praiseworthy one; he was desirous of availing himself of the advantages of the splendid free library, and also of uniting himself to some of the young men's mutual improvement classes in the city.

It was evident that Bob was not lofty in his ideas of an occupation, and that he had no notion of allowing his pride to starve him, for he applied one morning for the appointment

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of cart-driver to a baker; but he was considered ineligible for the post on account of his not being sufficiently acquainted with the city. He was offered a job to hawk onions and potatoes by a produce-dealer in Flinders Lane; but “advance Australia” was always Bob's motto, and he thought it would be more advantageous to the commonwealth for him to grow vegetables rather than to hawk them; so he decided that if at the end of that week he had not succeeded in getting suitable employment, he would either go back to the diggings at Bendigo, or else return to New South Wales, and go to farm work again.

As he was looking through the Argus one morning, he chanced to see an advertisement headed “Lecture to Young Men this evening, by Alderman Rafter, at the Temperance Hall, Russell Street; admission free.” The name of the lecturer could not fail to attract Bob; still, he did not for a moment suspect it was his old playmate Sam, the sawyer's son. He was not aware that Sam was in Melbourne, much less did he expect to see him elevated to the dignity of alderman. However, the subject was an encouraging one, and there was nothing to pay for it; so Bob determined to go and hear it. His surprise may be imagined when he saw a fine-looking man walk with a dignified step on to the platform, and at once he recognised the identical Sam Rafter whom the vulgar boys of Daisybank used to call “chips”; and in one of the reserved seats sat the object of Bob's early love, Sophy Rowley (now Mrs Rafter), gazing proudly at her honoured husband.

The hall was well filled with a respectable audience, and from the way in which they cheered the lecturer from time to time, it was evident that his subject was highly appreciated. The lecture contained a variety of useful hints to young men in every walk of life, showing the advantages that will eventually accrue to them by wisely applying their vigorous young days to the acquirement of useful knowledge. Many examples were adduced of young men who had by steady perseverance and effort risen in the world, and had been made instrumental in benefiting tens of thousands of their fellow-creatures. Perhaps the most striking of Sam's illustrations was from the experience of the Rev. Thomas Binney, as told by himself at the concluding part of a lecture which he delivered to young men in London. It is so very instructive and encouraging, that I give the extract verbatim.

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The reverend gentleman said:—“You are young men engaged in business, but have to improve your minds as best you can in your leisure hours. Well, I was once in the same position. I was seven years in a bookseller's concern (the late firm of Angus & Son), and during that time my hours were, for two years, from seven to eight, and for five years from seven to seven—under great pressure, I have sometimes been engaged from six till ten. But somehow, all the time, and especially from my fourteenth to my twentieth year, I found opportunities for much reading and a great deal of composition. I did not shirk, however, my Latin and Greek, for I went for some time two evenings in the week to an old Presbyterian clergyman, to learn the elements of the two languages, and could read Cæsar and St John; but my great work was English. I read many of the best authors, and I wrote largely both poetry and prose; and I did so with much pains-taking. I laboured to acquire a good style of expression, as well as merely to express my thoughts. Some of the plans I pursued were rather odd, and produced odd results. I read the whole of Johnson's ‘Rambler,’ put down all the new words I met with—and they were a good many—with their proper meanings, and then I wrote essays in imitation of Johnson, and used them up. I did the same with Thomson's ‘Seasons,’ and wrote blank verse to use his words, and also to acquire something of music and rhythm. And so I went on, sometimes writing long poems in heroic verse; one on the ‘Being of a God,’ another, in two or three ‘books,’ in blank verse, in imitation of ‘Paradise Lost.’ I wrote essays on the immortality of the soul, sermons, a tragedy in three acts, and other things, very wonderful in their way, you may be sure. I think I can say I never fancied myself a poet or philosopher; but I wrote on and on to acquire the power to write with readiness; and I say to you, with a full conviction of the truth of what I say, that, having lived to gain a little reputation as a writer, I attribute all my success to what I did for myself, and to the habits I formed during those years to which I have thus referred. I have never before mentioned these things, and I do so now simply to urge you young men to laborious self-improvement. I think that a fact drawn from one's own experience may have more weight than a hundred arguments.”

After the lecture was ended, Bob waited till the audience had dispersed, and then he walked forward to the platform

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with a timid air. Mr Rafter recognised him instantly, and his cordial greeting to his old playfellow showed that he had the heart of a boy, though he had the mind of a man. Mrs Rafter seemed equally pleased to see Bob. They gave him a pressing invitation to return with them to their house, and stay the night. To that he modestly demurred; he felt his position to be so different from theirs, that he shrunk from a close intimacy; but the kind-hearted pair would not receive his excuses; their phaeton was waiting at the door of the hall, and there was a seat for him; so go he must.

An hour afterwards, Bob was sitting with his good friends at the supper-table in their house at Emerald Hill, and was by degrees losing that reserve which had at first been so painful to him, for he could not but feel that Sam's friendship was as real as ever, although he had risen in the world. After they had chatted a while on family affairs, Sam remarked, with a pleasant smile: “I had not the least idea that you were amongst my audience to-night, Bob. I should not have got on so composedly with my discourse if I had known that you were listening.”

“Why not, Mr Rafter? I am sure I am not competent to criticise your lecture, even if there were anything in it to cavil at.”

“Competency is not always deemed a necessary qualification for censorship, Bob; but I say, please to call me Sam when I am not engaged at aldermanic duties; it sounds less formal and more friendly, you know. I could not help smiling to-night,” continued Sam, “when my audience cheered me so heartily, and especially after the complimentary remarks of the chairman at the conclusion, for I remembered that the last time I delivered that lecture, at Daisybank, I was hooted at by a crowd of unruly boys, and laughed at too by several foolish old folks, who would not do me the justice of hearing what I had to say before they sneered me down.”

“Is that actually the same lecture that old Mr Sleeky called ‘stuff and nonsense,’ Sam?” asked Bob with a look of surprise.

“The very same, I assure you. The only addition is that little bit of the Rev. Mr Binney's experience, which I thought was too good to be omitted. I have several other lectures which are much more pretentious than that one; but I was desirous of seeing how my first effort at composition would pass with a respectable audience. You have accidentally been

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there to-night, Bob, to witness my triumph over the despisers of my early efforts in my native village. Ha, ha, ha! Is not that a capital illustration of the principle which I was trying to lay down to-night, viz., that a young man should not be discouraged if his merits are not soon appreciated, but should work on perseveringly, for assuredly his reaping-time will come, if he is sowing good seed?”

“I think if I had been snubbed as you were by the Daisybank audience, Sam, I should never have had the courage to stand up again as a lecturer.”

“I believe you wrong yourself there, Bob. If you felt convinced that you could do a certain thing, and it was right for you to do it, you would not be deterred by a single failure. I am sure of that from my knowledge of your characteristics. How many times have I seen you risk your neck by mounting a fiery young colt, which had thrown itself down under you! Lecturing may not be your forte, Bob; we are not all cut out for the same work, you know; there must be masons and joiners, and plasterers and painters, in the erection of a dwelling-house; but if you had been inclined to come out as a public speaker, a roomful of noisy boys and old fogies would no more have permanently cowed you than they have cowed me. There is too much Australian pluck in you, Bob, to be scared at trifles. That is my real opinion of you.”

“Well, I think it would have taken some of the conceit out of me, at any rate.”

“Possibly so, Bob, and a good thing, too; that would have been helpful, so long as it was not all taken out of you, for a little conceit, or rather self-esteem, is as useful to every man as spirit is in a horse. My first snubbing was not pleasant to me, I assure you. It caused me to lie awake at night, though I feigned to laugh at it when spoken to on the subject; but I now know that it was a salutary ordeal, which did me far more real good than if I had been applauded as loudly as I was to-night.”

“I cannot exactly understand that, Sam.”

“Cannot you? Then I will try to explain what I mean by it. If I had been overwhelmed with praise at my first start-off, I might have grown vain and self-confident; it is only a reasonable hypothesis, judging from what we can see around us every day. Perhaps I should have become careless, and presuming on my popularity, I might have bestowed less thought and study on the next subject I lectured upon, and

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so have become at length a mere superficial talker. If I had been ‘led out’ prematurely, as many half-educated youths are, and made too much of,—become a general favourite, as it is called,—I should have had far less time for the diligent study which is necessary to acquire a solid ground-work, or foundation, whereupon to rear a superstructure of usefulness in after-life. Depend upon it, Bob, it would be a happy thing for many of the smart, promising young men around us, if they got a good-natured snubbing now and then; not to cow them down, or to wound their feelings rudely, but to put them on their mettle, and stir their mental powers into active exercise. Some of them would then, perhaps, become real men, fit to take the helm of affairs, if need be, in a political hurricane; whereas they now run a risk of being flattered and coddled into mere smooth-water sailors, and would be afraid to look on deck in bad weather. You know what I mean by that nautical figure. But you smile at my old-mannish remarks, Bob,” added Sam. “Ha, ha, ha! well, you may smile, when you remember that it is not much more than a dozen years since I was a barefooted little urchin. You know I would not venture to say quite so much before the promising young men that I have alluded to, or they would probably think me presumptuous; nevertheless, I think there is common sense in my remarks, though I have not reached the defined philosophic age.”

“I think your remarks are very sensible, Sam; and I wish young Australians in general would follow your wise example as well as your precepts,” said Bob, with earnestness. “Do you know I felt terribly self-condemned to-night, when I saw you standing up with such manly firmness before a large audience, who were attentively listening to every word you said; for I reflected that I have had far superior advantages to you, if I had made proper use of them. But I have wasted my time, and slighted my opportunities; and now I feel that my mind is as barren as a dry swamp. For the last four years I have scarcely even looked into a book, except a sporting novel, or some such work; and I feel such a humbling sense of my own deficiency, that I actually shrink from the society of enlightened young men, or if I am thrown amongst them by accident, I am made miserable by seeing my own defects.”

“Come, come, Bob, you must not talk too much in that gloomy strain, or I shall begin to fancy that my lecture to-night

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has done you harm instead of good,” said Sam, kindly.

“No fear of that, Sam; but I was going to remark what a privilege it would have been to me if I had rightly valued your friendship years ago. If I had diligently applied my energies to self-culture as you did, and as you wished me to do, I might now feel myself of some use in the world, instead of being a drone or a know-nothing, only fit to drive a baker's cart, and worse than all, to be always teased with miserable regrets for having wasted my best years in prideful frivolities, if not in positive mischief. How much I would give to recall even the last four years of my life! What a very different course I would pursue!”

“ ‘Time past can never be recalled!’ I remember that axiom was a round-text heading in my copy-book when I went to Mr Phillip's evening class at Daisybank,” said Sam. “But, thank God, the time present may be improved; so cheer up, Bob, my boy! You are not quite twenty-six years old, and if you set to work diligently now, by the time you are thirty you may gain a surprising amount of wisdom, and at forty you may be a philosopher.”

Bob smiled faintly, and said “his ambition did not soar so high as that, and he must be content to hop about on the ground like a broken-winged magpie.”

“Your present humble feelings are hopeful indications for the future, Bob; for a sense of past errors usually precedes an attempt to set out on a new course of action. At the same time, you should not allow morbid feelings to master you, for it is a miserable waste of time to fret over misdoings or disasters which cannot be remedied. Be thankful, Bob, that you have so soon awakened to a sense of your position, and that you are determined, with God's help to redeem the time in future, so that you may not have to look back, when your head is frosted by age, over a wasted life.”

“Your words are very comforting, Sam,” said Bob, looking more cheerful. “I consider it is providential that I have met with you to-night, for my mind seems wonderfully relieved. I am resolved not to waste any more time in sorrowing over what cannot possibly be mended, but to strive earnestly in future to make up for lost opportunities. I will get you to give me a course of study for the next twelve months, Sam, and you shall see that I will pursue it with all my energies.”

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“I will most gladly advise you to the best of my ability, Bob. I need hardly remind you that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ The great Teacher himself has said, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you:’ all needful things, you know, including wisdom, strength, and energy.” …

A long and serious conversation ensued, which my space will not allow me to give in detail. At a late hour, Bob retired to rest with his heart much lighter than it had ever been before, for he had solemnly resolved, in the strength of the Lord God, that he would henceforward walk in newness of life, and strive to be in some degree useful in the world.

The next morning, after breakfast, Sam told Bob that he wished to have some private conversation with him; so they adjourned to Sam's little study, in a quiet part of the house. When they were seated, Sam said, in his kindest tone, “Bob, my dear friend, I have some saddening news to communicate to you. I ascertained by your casual remarks last night that you had not heard of or from your family for nearly three years; but I purposely refrained from telling you what I know respecting them, for I did not wish to spoil your night's rest. I knew it would be time enough to tell you this morning. I do not think it right to withhold the information any longer from you, because there is a steamer going to Sydney to-day, and you may see it expedient to go by it.”

Sam then, as gently as possible, told his agitated friend of the bankruptcy of his father, of the absconding of Goldstone, and of his poor sister Maggie's death.

The news seemed overwhelming, and Bob's grief was intense. After a while, Sam considerately left him alone, ostensibly for the purpose of attending to some business matters. In about an hour Sam returned, when he found Bob's grief had softened down to some extent, and he said that he had prayed to God for grace to bear his heavy trials with patient submission, and also to guide him aright.

“You might have thought last night, when you were telling me of your present position, that I was unkind in not offering to help you in some way, Bob,” said Sam. “I have no doubt that I have influence enough to procure you a situation in Melbourne, and I should offer to interest myself in your behalf now, but I think it is clearly your duty to go to Sydney at once, and comfort your parents in their complicated

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misfortunes. If you should afterwards decide upon settling in this colony, come, and make my house your home until you get into suitable employment, and I will do all in my power to further your interests. If you want any money now, Bob, don't scruple to tell me, for I have some to spare, thank God, for a friend in need.”

Bob thanked his generous friend, but declined his offer of pecuniary assistance. Shortly afterwards he took an affectionate farewell of Sam and his worthy wife, and went straightway to his lodgings to pack up his luggage.

That afternoon he embarked in the steamer Telegraph for Sydney.