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Chapter VII.

How Ben Goldstone was induced to stand for Muddleton.—His touching interest in the financial affairs of the Stubbles.—Becomes their banker.

I WILL now briefly tell how Ben Goldstone got the money of which he boasted so much to his father and to others; and also explain how and why he was induced to offer himself as member for Muddleton.

Mr Joshua Samms was an old colonist, and a very honest plodding man, whom anybody would trust. From small beginnings in the slop trade, he gradually acquired wealth. He owned a good deal of house property, and a large stock-in-trade besides. He was sanguine of being able to make “twice as much” in a few years, and then he intended to settle down comfortably and enjoy himself for life. One day, while he was busy in his warehouse, death touched his heart, and in a moment he was gone from the world and from all his hardly-earned substance. Two days afterwards a cortège (a quarter of a mile in length) of friends and neighbours followed the late Mr Samms to the cemetery at the customary mournful pace. They saw his mortal remains deposited in the grave, and sighed “Poor fellow!” as they heard the earth fall on the coffin, when the solemn words “dust to dust” were pronounced; then away they hastened to their respective homes or houses of business as fast as their horses could trot.

Mr Samms had been so much engrossed with his mercantile concerns, and in “adding house to house, and field to field,” that he neglected several matters of lasting consequence to himself and to his family, including the important duty of making a will. He fully intended to do it, for he was too shrewd a business man not to foresee the difficulties which would beset his wife and daughters if he happened to die intestate. He was also aware that no person knew so much about his affairs as he himself did, and that he was the fittest person to partition his own estate to his family,

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and thereby guard as far as he could do against litigation and disputing amongst them after he was in his grave. Mr Samms knew all that. He was aware, too, that the mere act of making a will would not expedite his death one moment. No man could be more scrupulously careful than Mr Samms was to insure his houses against fire risks, and to cover by open policies all his merchandise afloat against loss by perils of the sea; still, strange to say, he neglected to make his will, forgot to insure his beloved family against future trouble, which he might have done by a few hours' serious thought and the outlay of a trifling sum to his solicitor. If he had been asked why he did not make a will, he perhaps could have given no better reason than thousands of persons who are alive at this moment can give for putting off that serious duty; still he deferred it from day to day—put it off till tomorrow, until it was too late. He died suddenly, and a large portion of his real property fell into the uncontrolled possession of his only son, a lively youth about twenty-two years of age, who had always loved play much better than he loved work.

Young Nabal Samms had been educated at the same school with Ben Goldstone. They had often played truant together, and had spent many hungry days picking “geebungs” and “five-corners” in Botany scrub, or “bogging” on the beach at “Little Coogee,” or catching crabs and cray-fish off the rocks at “Bondi.” A strong fraternal bond unites school-fellows and ship-mates. That fact is particularly noticeable in Australia, as witness the convivialities of the “Blues” (Christ Church scholars) in Sydney, and the marked partiality which most voyagers from distant lands manifest for anybody who came out in the same ship with them. It is likely enough that Nabal's sudden accession to wealth (he had always been short of cash before), had a revivifying influence on Goldstone's dulled friendship for his young schoolfellow; at any rate, Ben was amongst the foremost of the crowd of rollicking blades who hastened to congratulate Nabal on his fortune, and help him to spend it.

I shall not try to explain the process by which Ben effected a transfer of about £500 from Nabal's pocket to his own in the short space of ten days. Ben could doubtless have satisfied a good many of the initiated that it was all “fair-play,” and Nabal did not dispute it for an instant, much less did he fret over his loss. He admired Ben's skill

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as a billiard-player, and hoped in time to become almost as expert, and he was quite content to pay for his practice. He had “oceans of money,” which his industrious sire had toiled to the last minute of his life in making, and Nabal's adopted motto was, “Eat, drink, and be merry;” in short, he did not value money beyond the price of dumps or stony marbles.

Although Ben Goldstone never took a prize at school for mathematics, he had a turn for figures, inasmuch as he could always contrive to make his cash on hand appear five times as much as the sum was in reality, or to swell it to any amount that suited his purpose. He made such a jingle with the £500 which he had won from Nabal, that it was soon currently believed he had coaxed £5000, at least, from his father. The speedy result was, that Ben found himself raised quite beyond his common sphere, which was especially gratifying to him at that time, as he was wishful to make a telling impression on the simple minds of his friends, the Stubbles, on their first arrival in Sydney.

An old and highly respectable resident of Muddleton was the only candidate for that constituency at the forthcoming general election, and it was inferred by some of the Radical leaders that Mr Morrison would not be on their side of the House if he got into it, so they resolved by all means to keep him out, and a fit and proper person was sought for to oppose him. Goldstone was the man selected, principally because he was morally supple enough to be bent in any direction his patrons were inclined to; but he had other qualities which they hoped to turn to useful account. For instance, he could talk for an hour, or more if need be, on any simple subject in the world, and he was thoroughly blush-proof against solemn rebukes, satirical shafts, rasping banter, or downright abuse. His general physique, too, was favourable to his party, and awe-striking to all opponents. He was exactly a fathom in height, nautical measure; and he boasted that he could knock down a cab-horse with his fist. He had broken the nose of the second mate on board of the Juno whaler at one knock, and had seriously damaged the ribs of a Samoan chief, who had shown his disapproval of Ben's attentions to his daughter by tapping him on the head with the paddle of his own canoe. In one of Ben's most frisky moods, he had carried a new cast-iron lamp-post from Exchange corner, and dropped it over the Circular Quay into a waterman's boat; thus showing his great strength as well as his taste for pure fun. Altogether, he was,

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as Biddy Flynn remarked, “a rale building of a man.” Moreover, he was a gentleman by virtue of his cash in hand, as well as in view of what he would get when his father had done with it. Taking him for all in all, the Radical leaders thought they might go far without finding a more fit and proper man for the Muddletonians; so one of their party was deputed to “bring Ben up to the scratch.”

It did not cost Mr Wheedle much argumentation to induce Ben to stand for Muddleton. He looked upon it in the light of a “lark.” Besides, he knew it would glorify him in the eyes of the Stubbles, and astonish other weak minds in town; and he hoped it would help his dutiful designs upon his father's good-nature. In the latter calculation, however, he was somewhat mistaken in the offset, as I have shown. It was an easy matter to get a strong requisition from Muddleton, for there were seventy-five independent electors in that town who liked beer; there were a few men there, too, who had had long experience in measuring out liquids, and who also took an active part in other public measures which bore directly on their own interests. A requisition was duly signed and sent from Muddleton, couched in the usual complimentary terms, and Ben replied to it in a touching address, part of which I have already transcribed. It was advertised in the leading newspapers, of course, and then Ben's concern ended for the present. He had nothing to do with the fighting and brawling which were practised at Muddleton during the active canvassing season. That was not his business; and if the electors chose to break one another's bones about him, more fools they. All he was answerable for was the beer, and sundry other luxuries in that line. He cunningly judged that he would stand a better chance of being triumphantly returned if he stayed away from the electorate until the day of nomination, having in mind the axiom that “familiarity breeds contempt.” His braggart assurance was as helpful to him in general as pipe-clay moulds are to “professional smashers,” and might serve him to answer any random questions put to him when on the hustings, or to make a long speech when the material was immaterial, but he knew it would not stand the test of ten minutes' private analysis by some of the matter-of-fact Muddletonians. So, after satisfying the local committee that his absence from the country was unavoidable, on account of the pressing necessity for looking after his property in town, he began to turn his attention to various other matters, and

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notwithstanding his bedazzling prospect, he kept as cool as a sailor lashed to the helm in a snow-storm.

After his interview with his father, he went straightway to Redfern, and reached No. 2 Bullanaming Street as the Stubbles were sitting down to tea. He was not expected till supper-time; so Mrs Stubble was indulging her taste for eschalots, contrary to Maggie's expressed wish, for she said, as Benjamin always kissed her mother at meeting and parting, he would be sure to smell them, and most gentlemen of taste hated onions, especially as an article of diet for ladies.

Mrs Stubble blushingly apologised for the presence of the vulgar vegetables on her table, but Ben put her at ease directly by assuring her that he did not object to them—in fact, that he liked them even better than garlic. He said, too, that when he was on his travels, he dined one day with a prince, and that noble personage ate a large raw Spanish onion without salt. Ben omitted to explain that the exalted personage was Prince Jabberaway of the Solomon Islands, whose best dining-table was a mat spread on the ground, without knives and forks or plates upon it, and whose state-costume was a simple waistband of coloured flax, and a chaste collaret made of sharks' teeth.

After tea a pleasant discussion took place respecting the house in Slumm Street, and both Maggie and her mother felt so sure that it would suit them if Benjamin could recommend it, that a bargain would have been concluded for it at once; but Ben suggested that it would be more satisfactory to him if father and Robert would go and inspect it, and then, if they liked it, he would set men to work to put it in good order. “If you will come and dine with me to-morrow,” said Ben, addressing Mr Stubble and Bob, “I will drive you to the house in the afternoon; or stay—let me see—meet me at Entwistle's hotel at one o'clock. You will get a first-rate dinner there, and see something of real life in Sydney at the same time. You know where it is, I suppose?”

“Noa, sir. I doan't know where it be at all. It's a rum name; but I'll find 'en out I daresay.”

“It is in York Street. Anybody will show you the place, or you can smell the dinner nearly half-a-mile off at one o'clock.”

“I'll scent 'en out, then, I'll warrant; for my nose is allers nation sharp about that time o' day. I remember when I was at whoam, in the ould country”——

“A-hem—hem, if it's all the same to you, Benjamin, I think

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father had better meet you on Monday at one o'clock,” said Peggy, purposely interrupting Joe's reminiscences of the old country, which were too much associated with poverty to please her, or her children either. “To tell you the truth, Benjamin, the tailor will not have father's and Bob's new clothes ready till to-morrow night, and their country suits look shabby—hem.”

“Oh, that is no matter. ‘A man's a man for a' that.’ However, please yourself, mother; let us say Monday at one o'clock, sharp. That is all settled, then. And now I hope you will excuse me for what I am going to say next,” added Ben, looking very affectionately at them all round. “You know we are all one family now, as it were, and there ought not to be any shyness between us. Our interests are identical; all one and the same thing in fact. I have been thinking that as you have just come from the country, you might want some change. Pray, don't be offended now; I have plenty of money by me that I have no use for at present. Do you want any? Say the word, and don't mince matters. You can have any sum you like from five pounds to five thousand.”

“Noa, thank'ee kindly,” said Joe, smiling. “I've got a heap of money in my pocket here; leastways, 'taint money dezackly, but it's all as one when I goes to the bank. Much obliged to thee all the same, sir.”

“I am glad you are not vexed with me for making you such an offer. But I say, mother, you ought not to let father carry a lot of money about in his pocket in that way,” added Ben, shaking his head despondingly. “It really is not safe, for there are scoundrels in Sydney who would pick a man's pocket as soon as they'd pick a bone.”

“That's right, Benjamin, speak to him,” said Peggy, looking proudly at her sagacious son-in-law elect. It's no good of me talking to him; if I've told him once, I've told him a dozen times about that very thing, and he always winks his eye, and says, ‘No fear.’ I have no patience with such bravado, and I shouldn't wonder if he gets murdered. But he thinks, because he never gets tipsy, that he is as safe as if he was fitted with a full suit of brass—er—er—thingemees.”

“Armour! Yes—ha, ha! You are too unsuspecting, daddy; too nobly credulous for common life. Where do you bank, old man?” said Ben; at the same time he slapped Joe on the back, which additional mark of familiarity and filial interest sent a thrill of reverence through Maggie and her mother, and made Bob feel that they had found in Ben a friend indeed.

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“I never kept much ready money by me,” said Joe. “I allers got Mr Knox to buy shares of some sort for me; and I had a bank of my own under a heap of slabs in the garden at the Glen. Nobody ever found out that bank, 'cept perhaps the snakes; but they never steal a man's money.”

“You had better open an account with a bank in Sydney, for you will want some ready money now, of course. But I tell you what, daddy; if it is any advantage to you, you can lodge your money in my bank till you decide what you will do with it, and I can easily give you a cheque when you want it, you know. It won't inconvenience me the least in life if you like to do it; but please yourself, you know.”

“Ah, you had better do that, father; then you will know it is all right. It is very kind of Benjamin to think of it,” said Peggy. Maggie and Bob immediately indorsed their mother's sentiments; whereupon Joe said he didn't care so long as it was all safe; then drew out his pouch, and produced a bank-draft at three days' sight for £3300, the purchase-money of the farm, and Mr Knox's cheque for £425, the proceeds of sale of furniture and farming stock.

“I see these drafts are on the Bank of Australasia,” said Ben, affecting to scrutinise the documents closely, to see that Joe had not been duped. “They are all right I have no doubt. I will pay them into my bank to-morrow, and I can give you a cheque when you want one. We will see by and bye when we all get to rights how we can invest the money to bring in interest. Do you want any loose cash now, mother?”

“No, thank'ee, Benjamin. We don't want any till we begin to furnish our new house. I am sure we are very much obliged to you for the trouble you are taking, Benjamin.”

“Pray, don't mention it, dear mother! It is my duty to do what is in my power for you all, and that duty is a pleasure. When we are united by the golden chain of wedlock,” added Ben, passing his arm tenderly round Maggie's waist; “then the link of love which now holds us together as a family will be firmly riveted, and nothing but the sledge-hammer of Death can knock the rivet out again.”

Soon after that touching delivery Ben took an affectionate leave of them all, and departed.

Mr Rogers, in his admirable work, “The Eclipse of Faith,” tells a story of a soldier-sentinel and the prisoner whom he was guarding holding an animated dialogue on the subject of

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the threatened invasion of England by Bonaparte. The prisoner, in lamenting the probability of the French forces marching into London, remarked, “that it would be a sad blow to their liberties.” “Ah!” said the soldier, with a profane oath; “it is the injury to our religion that I am most afraid of.”

Ben Goldstone's zeal for the safety of Mr Stubble's money was as anomalous as the anxiety of the cursing soldier for his religion, or the fettered prisoner for his liberty; but honest Joe and simple Peggy felt as full of confidence as if they had invested their cash in city debentures.