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Chapter XI.

Mr Stubble buys a bargain.—Dissatisfaction of his family.—He gets wroth, and damages his toe.—Applies to Mr Gobble, an advertising quack, for a cure.

“WELL, well! look at that now! Anybody in the worrld who cud bate that for a blunder, I'd like to see 'em do it, soh. Iv ould Biddy Flynn had done half sich a crack-brained trick as that, wudn't they have said, ‘Arrah, that's Paddy all over.’ They wud so, an' no wondher nayther. Shough! only think of that comical consarn stuck straight up in the doorway like a conjurer's tool-chest, or a harlequin's coffin. Ha, ha, ha! I can't help laughing, though it's crass I am to see the like.”

Biddy was standing opposite to a tall antique cabinet pianoforte in the drawing-room of the new house in Slumm Street, as she gave vent to the above ebullition of mingled mirth and vexation. She had been sent to clean the grates and to give the drawing-room a final sweep out for the reception of the new suite, which was to come the next day. The instrument in question was one of Joe's bargains; indeed, it was the only household article he had ventured to select. He had heard his wife and daughter agree that a pianoforte was absolutely necessary in their new house; for although no member of the family understood a single note of music, it was argued that some of their visitors might be able to play, and it would look very vulgar not to have an instrument in the drawing-room; in fact, no house could be considered genteel without one or two pianos in it, as the fashions go in Sydney.

One day, when Mr Stubble was sauntering through the city, he noticed in a broker's shop a ponderous six-octave cabinet pianoforte, which had doubtless been a fashionable affair forty years ago. The price asked for it, thirteen pounds, struck Joe as being so astoundingly cheap that he was almost startled into buying it there and then, lest it should be pounced upon by some other discerning buyer with an eye for music. He reasoned that if his family must have a piano, they would not

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be able to beat that at the price; anyway, he was certain it could not be all the money too dear. But though his musical fit was unusually strong, it did not overpower his caution; so, at the instance of a happy thought which suddenly came into his head, he took the measure of the instrument, and told the broker that he would call again very soon and see if they could make a deal.

In the long room up-stairs (the drawing-room) was a doorway into a back room which had been closed up, leaving a chasm the whole depth of the massive wall. Joe thought if his piano would fit into that unsightly gap, his wife would be much more pleased with the room. Upon measuring the recess, he found that it was the exact size to a hair; so back he hastened to secure the instrument.

The broker was very glad to see him, and began to expatiate on the virtues of the piano, which he could strongly recommend, doubtless on the score of old acquaintanceship. He firmly resisted Joe's attempts to persuade him to make even money of it, or take a pound less than the price asked; “indeed, he was sorry that he had asked so low a sum; nevertheless, he would stick to his word, and if Mr Stubble liked to say ‘done,’ the piano was his, and he would have a bargain not to be met with every day.”

Joe stood for a few minutes irresolutely pulling his whiskers, and wondering whether the thing would please Maggie; he had no doubt at all that Peggy would be delighted with it. Meanwhile, the broker's little daughter, who had just come from school, at the request of her father, sat down to the instrument, opened her exercise-book, and strummed over that plaintive melody, “In my cottage near a wood,” which touched Joe's softest feelings, and carried his heart all the way back to Chumleigh, and his happy honeymoon in Dab Cottage, near the Copse. Almost before he could wipe his eyes dry, a bargain was completed, and the money paid down. The instrument was forthwith sent home in a spring-cart, with Joe sitting upon it to keep it steady; and it was found to fit into the recess, flush with the wall, as nicely as if it had been made on purpose. Nothing could fit more snugly. The broker's men hinted that it was dry work getting it into its hole, but Joe referred them to the iron pump by the stable door, for he was rather vexed with them for giggling all the time they were fixing the piano.

After the men were gone, Joe sat down and tried his hand

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on it, but finding that he could not play it satisfactorily, he shut it up and locked it, lest other unpractised hands should injure its tone. He had said nothing to his family about his purchase, for he contemplated giving them a pleasant surprise, and hoped to receive their commendations on his clever device for filling up an ugly chasm in their best room. Joe had solemnly cautioned Biddy to be careful, when she swept the floor, not to kick up too much dust, nor to knock the music with her broom, and he had no sooner gone out than she hurried up-stairs to see what the music was like. I have already described part of her impressions at first sight.

“Well, well, well!” continued Biddy, soliloquisingly. “I wudn't have belaved that the masther was sich a goof, iv anybody had sweared to it, for to go and put a panney choke-a-block intil the middle ov a brick wall! Ha, ha, ha! iv he had filled the consarn itself wid bricks an' morthar, it wud be pritty nigh as clever. It'll sound as nice as a hand-organ inside a bean-stalk, I'm thinking; or a kettle-drum choke-full ov tater palin's—ha, ha, ha! Och, Mike! I cudn't help larfin iv I was goin' to be shot for it; still an' all, it's crass I am to see them craythers foolin' away their money, afther they've been workin' like black niggers all the best days ov their lives to get what they've got. They are goin' cranky, that's a fact; lasteways, the ould cove himself is, an' no wonder nayther, poor sowl! Shure, nothin' can be more like a cracked fellow's trick, than to bury a panney in a brick wall—ha, ha, ha! Crickey me! what next will I see?”

“Hallo! Nora-creena! Don't cry; mother's better! What have you got inside here—Punch and Judy?” said a painter, looking in at the doorway, having been attracted by Biddy's merry laughter, which echoed through the whole house.

“Oh, good luck ta yez, Misther Potts! come an' take a squint at this whizimejig, what the masther has shoved inside the wall to make it sound nice and lively. Did ye iver see the like afore?”

“Ha, ha!” laughed the painter, “the governor is touched in his cobbera;—a bit cranky, I guess. I thought as much t'other day when he axed me to paint the stable pump light blue. Ho, ho, ho! he puts me in mind of an old chap I've heard my wife speak of, where she lived in service before we were married. Let me see, what was his name again—I forget it—but everybody knows him. He lives a mile or

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two t'other side of the old toll-bar yonder, down by the waterside. He was the rummest old codger that ever I heard tell of for playing monkey tricks that nobody else would ever think of. And he didn't care what the price was neither.”

“Troth, thin, he niver did a nater trick nor this, I'll bet a pinny, though he be an' out-an'-out Paddy from the biggest bog in ould Ireland.”

“A Paddy! not he: he is a born native, which is quite as good, and a jolly old cock too, when you come to know him. My word, how he used to make all the maids grin to see him come driving home with his yellow dog-cart choke-full of all sorts of jimcracks that he had been bamboozled into buying though he didn't want 'em no more than I want a wooden leg. My wife says he fetched home a musical consarn one day, something like this one, only it worked with a handle, so that the old cove himself, or any other fool, could play it without bothering to learn music; and it had a squad of dancing dolls in it too. Another time he drove home with his trap half-full of shoe-horns, boot-jacks, and scrubbing-brushes, that he had bought cheap at some auction-shop. But the best joke of all was—— Hallo! I say, Nora, here comes your old cove, and we mustn't let him catch us in here grinning at his thingemee.” The painter, whose narrative was interrupted by the sudden return of Mr Stubble, then popped through the window on to the balcony, and Biddy went to work with her broom.

In a few days more the house was furnished, and the Stubble family were in possession. The upholsterer had certainly shown his taste and skill; and if he also showed that he had done his best to make the most out of a good pliant customer, let those of my readers censure him who are guiltless of doing anything of the sort. Mrs Stubble and her children were highly pleased, when, on the day prior to their occupation of the house, Goldstone escorted them through each room, and modestly assured them that no effort on his part had been wanting to do the correct thing,—a fact which each shining chattel seemed to corroborate, for everything was stylish in the extreme.

It has been said that “there is a Mordecai at every man's gate.” The saying is figurative, of course. The joy of the family trio was marred, even when it ought to have been overflowing, considering the outlay, not by an objectionable

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person at their gate, but by an ugly old pianoforte in their grand drawing-room, which Joe obstinately refused to have removed, although he had been tried with remonstrances, entreaties, sharp arguments, and ridicule. The truth is, Mr Stubble had been sullen and low-spirited during the busy time of furnishing, for he could not but see that he was being run to most unnecessary expense, and he dreaded the upholsterer's bill as much as he had dreaded his lawyer's bill of costs for two trials over one corner-post. But he had promised not to say a word to check his wife's taste in furnishing the house, and he respected his promise, however much he might have blamed himself for giving it. Great was his surprise and chagrin when he saw a handsome new walnut-wood piano carried into the drawing-room, to match the tables and chairs and “what-nots” in every corner of the room. He had seen many annoying proofs of reckless extravagance before, but that was the climacteric. It was well known to his family that he had already bought a piano, and the idea that there was a combination to ruin him, as well as to show contempt for his taste, rushed into his mind and so much upset his patience that, had there been a hammer at hand, it is very probable he would have cracked the walnut piano. He restrained his fury, however, before the upholsterer's men; but the moment after they had left the house, he kicked the new music-stool with such force that it bounded across the room, and overturned a little fancy table upon which stood the three Graces in Parian marble.

His wife was exasperated, and his daughter was shocked at such an unprecedented display of bad temper, but Joe did not stay to hear their comments; he walked down to the stable to smoke himself calm, and on the way thither, he became conscious that he had hurt his big toe. As his excitement dulled down, the pain in his toe was more acute, till at length he thought it was broken; so he resolved to go straightway to a doctor as fast as he could limp.

He had often noticed an advertisement in the newspapers setting forth the wondrous skill of a certain medicine-monger, who, by a process confined to his own knowledge, effected cures of all kinds in no time at all, compared with the tedious routine of the regular faculty. Like many other persons of a certain stamp of mind, Mr Stubble had but little confidence in doctors as a body, and in his opinion their profession was half humbug. He was just the sort of subject for quackery to influence;

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he had a bad pain in his toe, and he wanted to get rid of it by the most summary process; so he went straightway to the great advertising “professor.”

“Ugh, ah! dear me!” shrugged Mr Gobble, when Joe pulled off his sock, and showed his damaged member. “That looks bad, very bad. How did you do that, my good friend?”

“Well, it's no odds how I did it, doctor. What's done can't be undone; but can 'ee cure it,—that's the talk?”

“I'll try what I can do for you, mister; but it is a dangerous part to treat. I have known a less injury than that cause tetanus.”

“What is that, doctor?” asked Joe, with some show of alarm.

“Why, lock-jaw, and certain death in the most dreadful torture imaginable. But don't be shocked; I have cured worse cases than this with three or four bottles of my celebrated Ikepuphetimus. It is well that you have not lost any time in coming to me, or very serious consequences might have ensued, for I can see that your nervous system is very much deranged. You will excuse me for putting the question, as you are a stranger to me; but will the nature of your occupation allow you to lie by for a while—in other words, can you afford to go through the course of treatment which is absolutely necessary for you?”

“Ees, I s'pose so, if I must do't. I've got naught to do in particular; and I s'pose I can afford to pay thee, if that is what 'ee want to know.”

“Exactly so. Pray don't misunderstand me, sir; you know I have a multitude of patients every day, and it is part of my system to study their individual circumstances. I strive to be conscientious in all my doings; in short, sir, I am a religious man.”

“That's all right, doctor; but do 'ee make haste and put summat on my toe, for it smarts uncommon.” The doctor thereupon dipped a strip of lint into some dark fluid and applied it to the toe, which made Joe roar with pain.

“It is all correct, my friend. You must bear a little pain for a time, but I will undertake to cure you in a week or ten days. Come and see me again to-morrow—but stay, you had better not come out of your house. Tell me where you live, and I will call upon you. You must be very careful.”

“Never mind, doctor. I be moving just now; so I can't tell'ee where I live; besides, I don't want my missis to know

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I be doctoring. I'll come and see thee myself, and if I can't walk, I'll ride in a cab. What is there to pay, sir?”

“I'll charge you a guinea, which includes a bottle of medicine. Take care of it: there is very precious stuff in it.”

“So I should guess,” said Joe, paying the fee; and after wishing the smirking professor good-day, he hobbled away, grumbling as he went. Before he had gone far he met a gentleman who had spent several days at Buttercup Glen a few months before. He accosted Joe very warmly, and one of his first inquiries was as to the cause of his lameness, when Joe explained that he had hurt his toe, and had just been to Mr Gobble for his professional aid.

“Gobble! What on earth did you go to that quack for? He will keep you lame, and half scare you to death, till he has made a little fortune out of you. I know some of his tricks upon simple folks who have been gulled by his impudent advertisements. Come along with me, and I will introduce you to my family physician. If there is anything serious the matter with you, he will try to cure you; but if there is nothing wrong with you, he will tell you so honestly.”

“This communication is libellous, you know, in the eye of the law, Mr Stubble,” continued the gentleman, as Joe hobbled along by his side. “If Mr Gobble knew what I have said about him, he would be very glad of the chance of increasing his popularity by bringing an action against me; so you had better not tell him if he should call on you, as he is very likely to do. He will find out where you live, depend upon it.”

“But he told me he was a religious man, and if that be's the case, he wouldn't be so wicked as to ruin my toe.”

“I fear his religion is the spurious kind, which Shakespeare makes King Richard the Third confess to, Mr Stubble:—

‘But then I sigh, and with a piece of Scripture
Tell them that God bade us do good for evil;
And thus I clothe my naked villainy,
With old odd ends stolen forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint when most I play the devil.’

A friend of mine was led to fancy there was something the matter with him, after reading one of Gobble's exciting advertisements; so he called on Gobble, who tried to persuade him that he had some terrible disorder, and wanted to operate on him forthwith. But Mr Quack was a little too fast on that occasion, for my friend was confident he had not the ailment mentioned, and resolutely refused to be operated upon. It

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was fortunate for him that he was so firm, for Gobble would probably have injured him for life. There are many highly respectable medical gentlemen in Sydney,—men of established reputation for talent and integrity,—and I would strongly advise you, Mr Stubble, if anything ails yourself or your family, to call in one of those duly qualified practitioners, and eschew quacks of the Gobble class as you would shun snakes in the bush.”

After examining Mr Stubble's toe, the doctor, to whom Joe had been introduced by his friend, pronounced it a simple bruise; but it was likely to be made into a serious wound by the caustic lotion which had been applied to it. He tore off Gobble's bandage, and applied another one, which gave momentary ease. The precious mixture he advised Joe to throw away, unless he had rats about his house that he wished to poison with it.