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Chapter XVII.

Bob's visit to the opera with Ben Goldstone.—Sees Miss Blunt, a young lady with £40,000.—Ben's advice to Bob on matrimonial matters.

“LOOK across to the second box there, Bob, at that girl beside the old lady with heavy jewellery and a rainbow turban. Take a good quiz at her through my opera-glass, and tell me what you think of her.”

“Rather plain article in my eyes,” drawled Bob, after he had scrutinised the young lady for several minutes. “Who is she, Goldstone?”

“I'll tell you all about her presently. Tut! don't let her see you quizzing her, or the old woman will be down on you like pewter pots. You are not half up to the mark as a lady-killer, Bob, though you are so clever at bringing down a bird.”

The above colloquy took place in the dress-circle of the Prince of Wales' theatre. Ben Goldstone had undertaken to show his unsophisticated young friend a little of life in Sydney; so of course he took him to the opera. Bob Stubble had never been in a play-house before; and on his first entry he felt so bedazzled by the gaudy display around him, that Ben rather brusquely told him not to put on such a jolly green look, or he would be sure to get his pockets picked. Bob thereupon blushed for his ignorance of town-life, and began to smell the silver top of his cane, and to practise a few other current fopperies, in imitation of certain knowing youths whom he observed promenading the upper circle, and in the wings of the pit, and looking as much in their glory as goats in a flower garden.

When the first act of the opera was over, the two friends adjourned to a neighbouring café for refreshments, and then Ben confidentially informed Bob that the young lady to whom he had called his attention in the theatre was a Miss

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Blunt, only daughter of the late Jacob Blunt, who died about a year ago, worth two or three bushels of sovereigns, heap measure, which he left to his wife and daughter, share and share alike. “There's a chance for you, my boy!” added Ben, “and you may smite her as easily as knocking down a parrot, if you go the right way to work about it.”

“I would not have her at any price!” exclaimed Bob. “She is such a queer-looking girl, and a regular kicker in harness, I'll warrant.”

“Pooh! what does that matter? She is worth £40,000 at least. If you like to go in for that spec, Bob, I know the way to work it. That will be better than any Government billet I could have got for you, if I had been returned for Muddleton.”

“I would rather have a girl I was fond of, without a pennypiece. It would be horrible to be tied for life to a woman whom I could not love; indeed, I have no idea of selling my liberty.”

“Balderdash! selling your liberty! You would have the handling of the money just as legally as if your own father had made it; and what liberty and licence is there that cash will not procure? I tell you, in strict confidence, Bob, that I happen to know a party who has seen old Blunt's will, and the money is left without any of those abominable restrictions which some surly fathers insist upon. Old Blunt drew up his will himself, for he was a saving man, and got his own clerks to witness it. It is short and sweet, without any legal lumber, and not a single word in it to prevent either his wife or daughter disposing of their share of the money in any way they like—that is to say, it is theirs absolutely; so of course it is their husband's property if they marry. Any good-looking young fellow who will go gingerly to work with the mother, may soon become her worthy son-in-law; but she is a cunning old Judy, and if she suspects any one has an eye to the money more than to the girl, it would be all U.P. with him directly. Now, it strikes me you are the very fellow to manage her, Bob. You have an innocent look about you, and can talk soft nonsense as natural as life. If you will follow my directions to the letter, your fortune is made; but you must be as careful as if you were going to handle a young thorough-bred filly; I will get you an introduction in a day or two, if you like. It won't do to take you to their box just now; there are too many eyes on the look-out; they would

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twig our little game, and perhaps spoil it; for these rich wife-hunters are a jealous lot of snobs.”

“Do you know the Blunts intimately, Goldstone?”

“Oh, yes,—that is to say, moderately so. My father and old Blunt used to do business together a few years ago. You saw the ladies bow to me the other day when we were driving in the Domain. They were in a brougham, with a copper-coloured coachman in dun livery.”

“There were so many persons who recognised you then that I scarcely remember any one in particular. How is it that you did not stick up to Miss Blunt yourself?” added Bob, with some hesitation, lest the question should be considered too bold, or be in some way damaging to his sister's interest.

“Hum—er—aw. Why, you see, Bob, having plenty of money of my own in possession or expectancy, I did not want to look after a rich wife: I chose to please my fancy, you know. Love before money, is my motto.”

“Well, I am not in a hurry for a wife; but I should like to please my fancy too, if I ever get married.”

“Of course; and so you can, if you have lots of money, Bob. You noticed that young fellow driving a pair of iron grays in a sociable up William Street, as we came into town this evening. You saw me wink at him?”

“What, the dashing-looking chap with a Turkish turban round his hat, and a girl something like Maggie sitting beside him?”

“Yes; slap-up girl, wasn't she? Well, he married a widow worth four thousand a year; no cross children, and no crabbed trustees to bother his life out.”

“She is a very young widow, if that was she in the sociable.”

“Tut! widow, indeed!” exclaimed Ben, with a facial twist which Bob could not understand. “That was his cousin! His wife is up at her farm. How jolly green you are, Bob! Ha, ha, ha! Crisp as young spinach. But let us go and see the opera out; we can talk about this afterwards. I'll put you up to a move or two, my boy, if you will make use of your mother-wit: but, mind you, mum's the word, Bob,—not a single syllable of this must be mentioned at home, you know. Keep your own counsel and stick to me, and I'll show you how to make money a hundred times easier than working for it. Since you have been figged up by my tailor, you are a

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jolly smart-looking fellow, and you may make a fortune by your good looks. I don't see why men should not do a little in that line as well as women.”

“ ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander,’ I suppose,” said Bob, whose smirky looks at Ben's sophistical speech showed that he thought there was some force in it, and a voluptuous field of sentiment seemed to present itself which his fancy had never yet explored. Ben noted the effect of his remarks on his pliant young pupil, but he deemed it premature to detail his scheme for Ben's matrimonial advancement just then.

Whether it was coyness, or any other virtue, the reader must judge; but Ben did not disclose to Bob all he knew of Miss Blunt and her spirited mamma; neither did he confess to the failure of his own bold attempt on the heart or the fortune of that young lady. But the truth is, Ben had proposed to her, and was sternly repulsed, or, as Mrs Blunt tritely remarked, “She had sent him away with a flea in his ear,” for she happened to know him better than she cared to trust him.

“Who was that girl whom you nodded to just now, Goldstone?” asked Bob, as they sauntered along, arm-in-arm, after leaving the café.

“Eh—er—oh! a girl I've merely seen across a counter. I don't know her, of course. By the bye, you twig that little shop over the way, Bob? Now, if you want to see a nice batch of pretty modest girls, just pop in there some evening.”

“I would rather not, thank'ee,” replied Bob, blushing. “I never went into a place of that sort yet, and I don't mean to begin neither. I've heard too much about the misery that has befallen young fellows who have been lured into such dens. I have a good constitution, and I intend to take care of it. Charley Swallow is as rickety as an old man, and he is not thirty years old.”

“Tush! what are you talking about, Bob? Do you think I would induce you to enter a brothel?” said Ben, with virtuous warmth. “That is a respectable shop—merely a house of call for young girls who are in places of business—a sort of trysting-place where their sweethearts meet them to see them home. That is all. Lots of modest girls call there.”

“If I had a sister in a place of business in Sydney, I would take care to see her home myself, if she could not leave business before dark,” replied Bob.

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“Yes, yes; you would be quite right too, Bob. But every young girl has not got a big brother to see her home. At any rate, all of them have not got brothers who are so wise as yourself, or so careful of their sister's honour. But I hope you don't think that I have ever been into any of those improper places that you have hinted at, Bob?”

“Oh, dear no, Goldstone; I did not mean to insinuate such a thing. I beg pardon for the mistake I made.”

“Just so; but don't you make another mistake, and mention at home anything that I have said to you to-night. I am only desirous of putting you up to an innocent trick or two; nothing more, I assure you; I hate immorality. Come away into the play; I'm afraid the second act is half over by this time, we have had such a long gossip at the café. Stay a minute, Bob. Excuse me, but don't stick your hat so far down on the back of your head. That is better; incline it a little to the left side. Now you look twice as knowing. And mind you don't be quizzing Betsy Blunt again through the opera-glass. You can look straight at her, you know; but when she twigs you, take your eyes off her and look modest, like a ram with a tick in his tail. If you manage it naturally, she will think she has struck you comical. Ha, ha, ha! I'll pilot you to a snug berth, if you keep your luff—as we used to say in the navy.”