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Chapter XVIII.

Adieu to city life.—Settlement of the family at Unity Vale, Illawara.—Mr Stubble is persuaded to give an oration at the School of Arts.

WHEN Bob Stubble arrived in Sydney, he found that his father and mother had gone to their new farm, so he went straightway out to Mrs Simon Goldstone's house. Lydia and her uncle received him very kindly, and prevailed upon him to stay the night.

From Biddy Flynn Bob learned a good deal about the various sad occurrences in his family during his absence from Sydney, and he saw with bitter regret, that, if he had not allowed his sullen temper to estrange him from them, he might have prevented many of the disasters which had overtaken them.

The next day Bob took steamer for Illawara. His meeting with his parents was a touching scene: they wept and smiled alternately, and then they all reverently thanked God for His goodness in again uniting them after their long separation and their many trials.

Mr Stubble's farm was situated at Illawara, that romantic district which has especially invoked the muse of one of Australia's most gifted poets. The late owner of the farm was about to leave the colony, and Mr Stubble bought it, with all its appurtenances, at a moderate price. The proceeds of sale of his household effects in Sydney, and the cash in the old chair, enabled him to complete his purchase without borrowing money from any one, and he once more felt himself an independent man; for although the farm was small, he believed that it would yield him a respectable living, and that was all he wanted. The house was not large, but it was snug and comfortable. It was charmingly situated in the midst of a shrubbery, and when Joe and his wife had got fairly settled in it, they confessed that they had never felt so contented before. Bob decided to stay and help to work the farm, and his father agreed to give him a share in the profits of it. It was not far from a township where there was a

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mechanics' institute with a good library attached to it; also a young men's mutual improvement association. Bob united himself to all those institutions, and the whole family joined themselves to a church in the same town.

Bob was both surprised and delighted at the change in his mother's disposition and demeanour. He had expected to find her pining herself to death at their humbled position and their loss of fortune, instead of which, she was uniformly cheerful and contented; nor had he ever seen her looking in better health. She did all the dairy work, and a good deal of the house work too, for they kept only a little girl from the orphan school as servant. She frequently spoke in affectionate terms of Mrs Rowley, and often referred to the happy time she spent at Briar Burn after poor Maggie's death, and she acknowledged herself greatly indebted to Mrs Rowley for her Christian-like advice and her consistent example.

Mrs Stubble was almost always cheerful, and Bob often heard him, in his quaint way, express his gratitude to God for taking away his money, and giving him in return a heart full of peace and contentment. There never was seen a more happy old couple than Joe and Peggy. Seldom indeed was a note of discord heard in their home, and never was there uttered by either of them a word of reproach for past misdoings or mistakes. Bygones were bygones with them. They “lived and loved together,” and they lived, too, in preparation for, and in joyful hope of, “the life of the world to come.” No busybody ever presumed to whisper a word to Peggy about her husband's folly or lack of judgment in losing his money; her manifested respect for him checked any unwarrantable interference in their affairs, and if she ever thought he was blameable, she would dispel the idea in a moment by the reflection, that God had permitted their reverses and trials for good and wise purposes no doubt, and “the judge of all the earth would do right.” Besides, she knew that she herself was largely to blame in inducing her husband to go to Sydney, and she had been extravagant and proud, and idle too. She knew that Joe had not gambled away his money, or wasted it in riotous living; and the bitter anxiety he had endured was punishment enough for him, if he deserved punishment, for being too kind and too credulous, without reproaches or unkind looks from her, to wound his sensitive spirit, and to check the new energy which was gradually evidencing itself in his life.

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The arrival of an ex-member of Parliament to the district, as a permanent resident, caused quite a sensation in the rural community, and Joe received many marked tokens of veneration and respect whenever he went into the neighbouring township, not only from tradespeople who were anxious for his custom, but also from people who had nothing to sell. Soon after he had got fairly into his new homestead, he was waited on one day by a deputation from the mechanics' institute, with a request that he would favour them by giving a lecture in aid of the funds of the institution. Mr Stubble smiled pleasantly at the applicants, and told them that they had over-rated his powers altogether; that he was not capable of giving a lecture, nor had he ever attempted such a task in his life. He would subscribe as much as he could afford to their institution, but he might as well try to hop over Mount Keira as attempt to deliver a lecture.

But the deputation were not to be put off even by that difficult figure. There were some very persevering men among them,—men who had had large experience on similar delicate missions, and in collecting for public charities,—and they were prepared with more arguments than Joe could answer. It would be tedious to give all their pros and cons, their strongest proposition, which Joe could not refute, was, “that it was the duty of every man to do what he could to benefit his fellow-creatures,” and on that point they concentrated their united stress. “It would be very instructive,” they said, “if Mr Stubble would favour them with some hints and reflections from his costly experience of city life; and as they were all plain country folks, it would be peculiarly interesting.”

After a vast deal of persuasion, Joe reluctantly consented to give them an hour's talk about town affairs in his simple, homely way; and he thought he might throw out a few hints worth thinking about, if folks would have patience to listen to him.

“We are very much obliged to you, sir. What shall we call your lecture?” said the spokesman of the deputation.

“Lecture! Ha, ha! Don't you be calling my gabble a lecture, or I won't go at all. It will be a plain matter-of-fact discourse, suitable only for plain people, for I am no hand at speaking, though I have been a ‘member;’ so don't you make a mistake.”

“Yes, sir, I understand,” said the man with a deferential

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smile; “but will you please to tell us what will be the nature—that is to say, the title—of your discourse.”

“I don't know, I'm sure,” replied Joe; “I have never thought of the thing: call it what you like. So long as you don't make too much fuss about it, it is no matter to me what name you give it.”

“Beg your pardon, sir, but we would rather that you gave a title to your subject,” said the spokesman modestly. “Any name will do, you know, sir. We are not particular. Most of us are plain dairy-farmers in this part, sir.”

“I can't think of a name all at once,” said Joe, stroking his beard and looking puzzled. Just then his little servant-maid walked past with a bottle of pickles in her hand, to put on the dinner-table. “Here is a title for you, all ready corked up and bladdered over,” added Joe, taking the bottle from the girl's hand. “Call my discourse ‘Piccalily;’ it is a pretty name, and not very common—Ha, ha! There is plenty of mustard in this mixture.”

The deputation smiled, and said that title would do very nicely. They then thanked him and went away.

A few days afterwards Bob rode into the township to get the newspapers, and to his great surprise he saw posted up on the School of Arts, and in various other places, large placards headed—“Oration by Joseph Stubble, Esq., late M.L.A. Subject, Piccalily! Admission, one shilling.”

On the evening appointed for the “oration,” Mr Stubble drove his wife into the township in a spring-cart, and Bob followed on horseback. The School of Arts was lighted up, and a small crowd had assembled at the door. As Joe approached there was a general buzz of conversation, and he overheard one lad say to another, “That is old Piccalily in the white hat.”

When Joe entered the building he saw that it was tastefully decorated with festoons of bush flowers and wreaths of grasstree and fern leaves. The secretary met him at the door, and politely escorted him to the platform, where there were several ministers and other influential residents of the town, one of whom was to take the chair. They all received Mr Stubble very respectfully, and made some complimentary remarks on the honour he was conferring on their institution.

Joe felt anything but elated, and he afterwards confessed to his wife that he would very gladly have exchanged positions

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with a solitary shepherd in the far bush, sitting under a tree and howling with the toothache. As the time drew near for him to begin, all the ideas in his head seemed to jumble up together like prizes in a lucky-bag. To add to his discomfiture, there sat just in front of him a city gentleman of the Dundreary type, with a glass stuck in his eye, and he directed an incessant stare at Joe, while his lips curled contemptuously and his nose was turned up to keep his glass steady, and to snub the presumptuous orator at the same time. Poor Joe thought he would have given anything if that quizzical gentleman had had the good manners to put his eye-glass into his pocket, for he surely could not need it to see a full-grown man only six or seven yards from him.

The chairman at length took his seat, and Joe's heart began to tick like a turret-clock. Suddenly an idea came into his head to plead sickness and go home, but a better idea soon encouraged him to stand his ground like a man. He silently reasoned with his qualms: “What have I to be afraid of? I bean't going to break the law in any way, as I know of. All the folks be looking pleasant at me except that dandy chap with the bull's-eye, and why should I let him scare me? His glass won't shoot me, and if it would, why, many a man has faced a rank of musketry in a worse cause than I be engaged in to-night. I did not seek this position—that's certain; and I have no selfish or vainglorious object in view. I am pledged to talk a bit to-night; so it would be unmanly to run away. I will do the best I can. Good Lord, help me!”

When the chairman sat down, after his introductory remarks, Joe got up with modest boldness; he coughed a little, as a matter of form, and then began his extemporaneous discourse, a summary of which may be seen in my next chapter.