― 291 ―

Chapter IV.

Bob Stubble's courtship and marriage with Miss Blunt.—His disappointment at finding that she has not a fortune.—Ben Goldstone's legerdemain.

BOB STUBBLE'S marriage has been before alluded to; but I will now explain how it was brought about.

Ben Goldstone had some difficulty in convincing his doubting pupil that a match with Betsy Blunt would be the best spec he could possibly make. Bob could not see it for some time; perhaps his heart was stubborn; but when his scruples had been subdued, Ben began “to work the oracle.” I need not tell all his manœuvres, some of which were as mysterious as necromancy; but the result of them was, that in less than a month Bob was the accepted suitor of Miss Blunt, with the cordial assent of her mother. His own mother and father he had not deemed it expedient to consult, lest they should raise certain family questions which Ben facetiously suggested “would be sure to puncture Mrs Blunt's pride, and upset Bob's apple-cart in a trice.”

A part of Ben's grand scheme was to impress Mrs Blunt with the belief that Bob had plenty of money in possession, and that he would come in for a large fortune on the death of his father. To aid in carrying out that little deception, Ben advanced £500 to Bob on his note of hand at four months; and as he argued it would not fall due till after his marriage, he would have ample funds to meet it. It was an agreeable novelty to Bob to carry a cheque-book in his pocket, and he took it out to look at it as often as a boy looks at his new watch. He did not scruple to use his cheques neither; and the costly presents of jewellery which he made to his gratified Betsy had perhaps more effect in cementing her attachment to him than any personal virtue which he possessed, for she inherited her late sire's practical turn of mind. Ben had reminded Bob, with an insinuating nudge in the ribs at the same time, that making prenuptial presents was not like sinking money, for such little things, articles of jewellery

  ― 292 ―
especially, were handy at any time for raising the wind, if necessary; and, of course, they would be his own after the knot was tied, the same as everything else that his wife possessed, in the absence of any legal instrument defining her own special rights, and appointing trustees to guard them.

“Has the old lady said anything about a deed of settlement?” asked Ben when Bob informed him that the wedding-day had been fixed.

“Not a syllable, Goldstone.”

“Bravo, Bob! Your fortune is made, old fellow! But you must still go gingerly to work till the job is completed; mind that, whatever you do. Don't make a mistake at any time, and forget your innocent deportment, for it all hinges upon that. My word! if the old woman were to twig our little game, we should have to run, for she has a tongue in her head that would frighten a policeman. How do you like Miss Betsy by this time, Bob?”

“Only so-so,” replied Bob with an affected drawl. “In fact—aw—I'm sorry we have gone so far with the joke, for I don't believe I can ever actually like her, let alone love her, you know.”

“Nonsense, Bob! You will like her well enough after you are married. She is a nice little nuggety article if she isn't handsome; besides, she is literally worth her own weight in gold three times over, and that should recommend any judy in the world to a man of mettle.”

“Ah, it's very well for you to talk, Goldstone; but it will be no nonsense for me to be tied for life to a judy that I don't fancy a bit, even though she had a ton weight of gold. Besides, Betsy's peppery temper will not agree with mine very long, and we shall quarrel like wild dingoes.”

“That is nothing when you are used to it, Bob—ha, ha, ha! She is naturally high-spirited like her mother, but I don't think she is a sour-tempered girl. Not at all.”

“Oh, ho! don't you think so? Then, you should have seen her the night before last when the old lady asked her to play her poor dear father's favourite song, ‘Roley poley, gammon and spinach!’ She flopped down on to the piano-stool with her mouth screwed up to her left ear; and, my word, she looked as grim as one of those stone heads on the University gables. I almost loathed the sight of her.”

“Pooh! You are mistaken altogether, Bob. That was not an exhibition of temper—not at all. I know her little

  ― 293 ―
ways better than you do. She has a modish habit of making grimaces which are meant to look interesting. She was aiming soft blandishments at your heart then, and you should have looked spooney. Blow it all! you are not half-awake, Bob. I have seen other girls make rum faces when they were in their merriest mood; it is only an interesting way of giving expression to their features when they want to be very funny or unusually striking. That's it, Bob. I am sure you have seen Mag ogle often enough; in fact, I rather like to see her come out in that way, when she does not do it too strikingly.”

“Yes, yes, Goldstone; but Mag is a pretty girl, with fine eyes and good teeth, and that makes all the difference, you know. Let her twist her face about as she likes, she can't make it look hideous; but you remember how interesting old Dolly Dottz used to look when she was imitating Mag's expressive twists, and stretching open her mouth and eyes like a cat with a bone in her throat.”

“Ha, ha, ha! Don't mention it again, or I shall faint,” said Ben. “I hate to see old women ogling and grimacing in girl fashion, though they often do it. Dolly Dottz did not know what a fright she looked, or she would not have screwed her old face about in such style for a dollar a twist.”

“Well, if Betsy ever makes any of her queer grimaces again in order to strike me spooney, I am certain I shall run off directly like a scared colt, even if it should be on my weddingnight.”

“You may bold then if you like, Bob,” remarked Ben, with a portentous wink. “But don't run away before, whatever you do. You will never get another such chance of making a fortune right off the reel; so don't lose it through any silly squeamishness. That is my advice, Bob, if you choose to take it.”

“I would ten times sooner have Lydia Swan, though she has only got a brick house for her portion. I could love her. In fact, I would rather have her without a shilling.”

“Yes, a loveable wife is very desirable, I grant you, Bob; but a domestic circle without any shillings in it would be awfully cold and comfortless.”

“Hang it all, Goldstone! I could do something to earn the wherewithal to keep a wife, surely,” said Bob, with rising warmth.

“Of course you could. I didn't say you could not. There was a billet vacant a few days ago at Burt's horse bazaar

  ― 294 ―
would have suited you to a T. Three pounds a week! Give up Bet if you like. I don't care so long as you meet your bill when it falls due. Your marriage will not benefit me, any more than the pleasure of seeing you in a position corresponding with my own. Marry Lyddy if you like; in fact, I should be pleased to see you do it, for I verily believe my old dad is going crazy after her; but, by Jerry, if he attempts to marry her, I'll have him put in the mad-house.”

“Don't be cross, Goldstone,” said Bob, softening in tone. “I am sorry I said so much. I am engaged to the girl, and it would be unfair to break the engagement. I am much obliged for your advice and help. I will try to like Betsy. Love springs up like mushrooms sometimes; and it may be so in my case after I am married.”

Preparations for the wedding went on actively on both sides. Bob took a convenient house at Darlinghurst, and entrusted the furnishing of it to an upholsterer in Sydney, who charged fancy prices for his chattels, but was not particular as to the time of payment, provided his “marks” were first-rate. Goldstone had assured him that Bob was right as the bank; so the trusting tradesman went to work, and furnished the house from the kitchen to the attic, in fashionable style, and to the complete satisfaction of Miss Blunt and her mother, who paid a visit of inspection when the house was in order.

As the important day drew near, Bob's conscience became uneasy, and would not allow him to take so momentous a step in his life's history without informing his parents; so, contrary to Ben's advice, he broke the news to them a few days before the event. In the first excitement which the unexpected disclosure created, Mrs Stubble spoke very unguardedly, and even declared, with startling vehemence, that she would see him dead and buried sooner than her only living son should form such a horridly low connexion; and added so long a string of bitter invectives against the whole generation of Blunts, that Bob's fiery temper was at length aroused, and he emphatically declared that he would marry Betsy in spite of his mother and his father too, and that not one of his family should be invited to the wedding.

Mr Stubble was far less excited than his wife, and repeatedly suggested that they should talk the matter over smoothly, and not rate out so that the servants in the kitchen could hear all about it. He urged that it was no good

  ― 295 ―
trying to bounce Bob, as if he were a boy in a pinafore; that if he loved the young girl, and she was all right and straight, it wasn't for them to say he shouldn't have her, if he had a mind to. Furthermore, he argued, that for aught he knew, the Blunts were as high up as the Stubbles, so far as their pedigree was concerned; but if they were ever so bad, abusing them would not make them better; at any rate, he did not see any fun in kicking up a row about them in his house; he wouldn't have it neither; and that was all about it.

But notwithstanding Mr Stubble's pacific arguments and his emphatic ultimatum, his wife still persisted in saying damaging things about the Blunts, especially referring to a tradition about a hocussed digger, which again excited Bob to such an extent, that he at length took up his hat and left the house in a rage. His mother then sat down, and cried aloud with sorrow and vexation.

Bob was compelled to explain part of the family dissent to Betsy and her mother; and in turn their pride and wrath were stirred together in such a whirl that, only for Ben's skilful interposition, it is probable that the match would have been abruptly broken off; and, as Ben remarked, Bob would have been humbled to the dust in the eyes of the world, and his bran-new furniture would have become the spoil of a lot of dusty brokers.

At length, they were married in a quiet way, or, as Mrs Blunt tritely remarked, “without any fuss and nonsense.” The only guests present were Mr Barrelton, the wine merchant (Mrs Blunt's sister's husband), with his wife and three daughters, who acted as bridesmaids. Ben Goldstone, and a mercantile gentleman who had been confidential clerk to the late Mr Blunt, were the bridegroom's men.

After the ceremony came the breakfast, of course; and when that was eaten, the youthful pair started for Manly Beach, to spend the honeymoon.

Ben Goldstone returned to his house that night rejoicing, for one great cause of anxiety was gone. He had dreaded up to the last hour lest Bob should turn sulky and “shy off” the match, for it was clear that he did not love his bride in the least, and he had told his devoted brother-in-law that it was purely to oblige him that he was thus sacrificing himself, which pointed declaration Ben affected not to understand.

Although the fund of useful information which the young bride possessed was very small, she had a strong disposition

  ― 296 ―
to talk: it is no wonder, then, that her conversation was more of a domestic than an intellectual character. As is commonly the case with such poorly-cultured minds, her stock of talking matter was pretty well exhausted before the honeymoon was at its full; but in the course of her garrulous exposition of family affairs, it became evident to Bob that he had made a serious miscalculation in the amount of fortune which his bride inherited in her own right, for she did not own anything at all in actual possession, though she was heir-apparent to her mother's property. I will explain the matter in fewer words than Bob learned it from his wife.

The late Mr Blunt, though the ostensible owner of a good deal of city and country property, was in a similar position to other owners of property this day; that is to say, his estate was heavily mortgaged. He had been lured out of his own lucky line of business by a plausible broker with a greedy eye to commission, and had bought a whole cargo of rice, molasses, bamboo-chairs, and pickled ginger, by which he lost an immense sum of money, and had to borrow on his real estate to pay his debts. His widow, who was wonderfully sharp in money matters, had been gradually paying off incumbrances upon some properties by selling others, and she had lately encouraged a hope that through the pecuniary assistance of her new son-in-law she might redeem the residue of her houses from the clutches of her powerful enemy, the mortgager.

Though Mrs Blunt's income was sufficient to enable her to live in comfortable style, it was not a tithe of the amount which Ben had been led to suppose. He got his information respecting the family affairs from a discarded clerk of the late Mr Blunt, who had been witness to his will, made seven years before. But since that time real property had very much decreased in value,—so much so, indeed, that poor Mr Blunt was supposed to have died of a broken heart in consequence. A few months prior to his death he had made another will (with his own hands, to save expense) by which he bequeathed the whole of his property to his wife, absolutely during her widowhood, and appointed her sole executrix. The discarded clerk knew nothing about the second will, and sharp as Benjamin Goldstone was, it did not occur to him to ask his informant the date of the will he had witnessed, or to find out if a subsequent will had been made. It is not surprising that Ben knew nothing of Mr Blunt's heavy loss

  ― 297 ―
on the Indian cargo, for mercantile men are usually pretty close on the subject of losses, except when they want to show a good excuse for breaking; and in Mr Blunt's case it was not expedient to break, because he would have lost by it; so he buried his troubles in his own breast, and current report said they killed him.

Bob had been carefully reticent about money matters to his bride-elect and her mother, lest it might be suggestive of a deed of settlement; and Mrs Blunt's dread, lest her daughter should lose the chance of a rich husband through his discovering that she was dowerless, made her equally shy of speaking about business, or asking Bob any particulars respecting his source of income, until the nuptial knot was tied. Ben's crafty inuendoes, and the more direct evidence of Bob's cheque-book, had seduced her into the belief that the young man was rich; and from his apparent ductility, she had no doubt of being able to do as she liked with him by and bye; so she remained silent and hopeful.

The first evening after Bob's return to town, his mother-in-law, with a pleasant candour which she had never before shown, explained to him every particular respecting her affairs, including her income and expenditure. Her statement tallied so closely with what he had previously heard from the lips of his wife, that there was not the slightest room to doubt that he had made a miserable mistake. Mrs Blunt's manner seemed to indicate that she expected an equally explicit disclosure of his financial condition, which he was not prepared to afford her till he had consulted his trusty brother Ben; so he adroitly evaded the matter by asking his wife to sing “Roley poley,” and he would try to play an accompaniment on his brass Jew's harp.

Poor Bob passed a sleepless night after that family reunion, and bitterly did he reproach himself for encouraging a spirit of despicable covetousness and idleness, which had led him into perplexities from which he could see no pleasant way of extricating himself. Immediately after breakfast next morning, he left his home for the purpose of meeting Ben as he came into town.

“I say, Goldstone, here's a pretty go!” exclaimed Bob, seizing Ben's arm at the corner of King Street.

“What's up, old fellow? You look regularly scared. Has your wife been combing your hair with the claws of her piano-stool?”

  ― 298 ―

“No fear! Tell me who informed you that Betsy has £40,000 in her own right, Ben?”

“Who? Why, Jack Carss, the broker at Bridge Street, Blunt's old clerk. I promised to give him quarter per cent upon the”——

“Pooh! quarter per cent upon nothing; how much is that?”

“Don't be playing the fool with me, Bob, for I am not in the humour to stand it this morning. I have worry enough already.”

“I think you have been playing the fool with me, Ben, and I shall have to hop to the tune of “Gammon and spinach” all the days of my life.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ben, turning pale with excitement.

“I mean that my wife is not worth a dump.”

“'Tis false, Bob! If that is the way you are going to repay me my £500, I'll—I'll soon put somebody on your scent.”

“How dare you talk to me in that way?” interrupted Bob fiercely, at the same time shaking his riding-whip in Ben's face. “I'll knock your nose off, if you say that again.”

“Here, come into the café, Bob. Don't let people in the street see us quarrelling,” said Ben, in a mollifying tone, which contrasted strangely with his bullying manner a minute before. “Make haste. Here comes long John, and I don't want to meet him this morning, for special reasons.” He then passed his arm through Bob's, and led him to the French café in George Street.

Bob's temper was not so accommodating as that of his wily relative, and it was some time before his ruffled spirits were softened down sufficiently to enable him to speak. When he had grown calmer, he explained to Ben the substance of Mrs Blunt's disclosure on the previous night. While Ben sat and listened, he was evidently making a violent effort to suppress his outraged feelings; at length he said, “Let us go to Carss's office, and hear what he has to say about it.”

“What is the good of going to him? I tell you, I have seen a copy of old Blunt's will with my own eyes. Every stick he had is left to his wife.”

“If Jack has wilfully deceived me, I'll massacre him this blessed morning,” said Ben, striking the table with his huge fist.

  ― 299 ―

“Be quiet, Ben; the waiters are grinning at us. I don't believe Carss knew anything about old Blunt's affairs of late. As far as I can make out, Jack was discharged for drunkenness seven years ago, and has never entered Blunt's office since then. The old man lost £65,000 in three years by unlucky speculations and bad debts, let alone depreciation of his house property.”

“Whew!” whistled Ben. “Then the old woman can't be worth very much now.”

“She has about £700 a year from rents.”

“Is the property all hers absolutely?”

“Every stick and stone of it, unless she should marry again; in which case it is to be equally divided between herself and Betsy—share and share alike, the will says.”

Ben swallowed the small residue of liquor in the tumbler before him, and then remarked with a forced laugh, “I wish we could make up a match between her and my old dad; but I'm afraid that is no go, for he is cranky after Miss Swan.”

“Poor Lyddy!” sighed Bob. “You did not let me finish what I was talking about, Ben. The several shares are to be vested in trustees for Betsy and her mother, individually, for their own sole and separate use and benefit, free and clear of and from all and singular”——

“Tush! I don't want to hear all the legal jargon. It is plain that we are done brown,” exclaimed Ben with a savage oath.

“It strikes me, that I am done brownest of the two; and it is not unlikely that I shall be done black and blue before I pacify Mrs Blunt for my part in this cheating transaction.”

“Mrs Blunt be blowed! She is the greatest cheat of the lot. She led me all along to believe that Blundleton Terrace belongs to Bet, and now it appears that she sold it two years ago, to pay off mortgages.”

“But it is no use whining over it. How much money have you in the bank now, Bob!”

“Not any to spare at present, I assure you,” replied Bob, carelessly.

“Well, I must raise £1000 in some way by this day week, or it is all U P with my credit. By the bye, Bob, is your household furniture insured?”

“I am sure I don't know—at any rate, I have not insured it; I never thought of it. Why, Ben?”

  ― 300 ―

“Eh—oh—nothing; only, it is not safe to run risks, you know; there was a house burnt down a month ago.”

“Yes; and there are thousands of houses in Sydney that have never been burnt at all.”

“That is a nonsensical argument. You might be burnt out to-night. It is safer to insure.”

“I should not care very much if I were burned myself,” said Bob, despondingly. “The fact is, I dread to go home lest Mrs Blunt should be there. I must tell her my position, and then there will be a comical scene, I know. I wish I was a sailor, and I would be off to sea.”

“You need not go home till late to-night, Bob, then the old dame will be gone to Newtown; and in the meantime we can consider what is best to be done. The sudden news has taken me slap-aback, and I cannot think clearly about anything just now. Waiter! another cocktail!”

“Ah, that is refreshing! You are a fool not to try one, Bob,” said Ben, when he had drunk the mixture which the waiter placed on the table before him. “Now, then, let me first of all explain to you how I am fixed at present, and show you how you can help me, and then I will help you to consider a safe way to bamboozle Mrs Blunt. I have a heavy bill to meet this day week in favour of your father, and my credit hinges upon its being punctually met. I think it is the very first bill the governor has ever taken, and if it were dishonoured, there would be a grand kick-up, and, worse than all, he would be dead set against bills for ever after. I can see the way clear to do a rattling stroke of business if I can keep on the right side of our daddy, and I shall let you in for a share in the speculations. But nobody must know our true positions; mind that, Bob. You crack me up, and I'll crack you up— you understand? How much money have you got in the bank now?”

“About £140; but I really cannot spare any of that, Goldstone.”

“My word! you have been doing it pretty extensively, Bob. £360 in less than three months, and all for nothing! Well, never mind—can't be helped; other fellows as wide-awake as ourselves have been nipped before to-day. I don't want your balance, old fellow; you must eke that out, and take care Betsy doesn't see your pass-book. I daresay your bank will melt one of my bills, say for £300. You must slip it into the pot and try. I can get your bill to me done at my

  ― 301 ―
bank for £200. That will make £500, less discount, which is neither here nor there. Then you must get an advance of £500 on your furniture, and that will make up the sum I want as right as ninepence.”

“How am I to get an advance on the furniture, Ben?” asked Bob, with a look of concern.

“Simply enough. Leave that to me; only give me a written authority, and take your wife and Mother Blunt to Parramatta for a day's fresh air. I will manage it all right.”

“But you know the furniture is not paid for, Ben.”

“What does that matter? If I buy a horse from you on credit, am I not at liberty to sell it till I pay you for it? Foogh! how would commercial men manage their large concerns if your squeamish notion were to become mercantile law? Besides, you will only want the advance for a week or two. I shall soon have plenty of funds in hand, and you can wipe off the advance, and pay for the traps as well. Don't you see?”

“I suppose it is all right, Ben. I am very willing to help you in any way I can; but pray don't involve me in pecuniary difficulty. And now tell me what I shall say to Mrs Blunt when I go home; for the fact is, I am in a quaking, nervous fever.”

“I'll turn the whole matter over in my mind to-day, Bob, and we will discuss it over a hot supper at the ‘crib.’ Nabal has just returned from Melbourne in the Governor-General, and he is sure to go to the ‘crib’ to-night to see Susan. I hear he has sold his Collins Street property; so I hope to do a useful stroke with him, if the sporting Victorians have not cleaned him out. Keep your collar up, old fellow, and don't look so dismal. I'll put you on a track that will carry you along smoothly enough for a month or two, and we must trust to chance for what will turn up in the interim. Why don't you try a nobbler?”

“I would rather not, thank you, Ben; my head is aching.”

“Sparkle up then, and let us go over to Rumball's office, and do this little bill business; we can get blank forms there; then I must go and attend to some other delicate affairs that I have in hand, and I will meet you at the ‘crib’ at eight o'clock.”

“Do you see this card, Bob?” said Ben soon after they met in the evening at the appointed rendezvous. “Twig it well. Do you see anything green about it?”

  ― 302 ―

“I can see a tiny piece of blue paper sticking on the back of it,” replied Bob, after he had scrutinised it carefully.

“Just so. Now keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and you may learn something to-night that will be better than a trade to you. Hush!—shut up! Here come Nabal and his cousin Gregory!”

A little after midnight, Bob, who had been growing very uneasy, whispered Ben that he must go home; whereupon Ben arose from the card-table, at which several young men were seated with flushed faces, and remarking that he would be back in less than ten minutes, he left the house with his dispirited brother-in-law.

“Ha, ha, ha!—glorious sport! Luck has been on my side to-night, and no mistake!” exclaimed Ben exultingly, when the two friends got on to Hyde Park.

“Luck, do you call it?” said Bob. “I think it was sleight-of-hand. What perfect fools those fellows are to sit there, and see you pocket their money in that style.”

“They think they are going to win it back; that is always the way, you know. Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Ben, slapping his pocket. “I shall not want you to pawn your furniture this time, Bob. But I must go back before those sporting blades have time to cool down. My word! I have done a stroke to-night.”

“What shall I say to Mrs Blunt, Ben, if she asks me any questions?”

“Say? why, bamboozle her you know. I have not time to go into particulars now; but I'll see you in the morning. Talk largely about the station at New England, and the farm at the Hunter, and you may have my estate in Cumberland to make a noise with. If she asks any pointed questions, refer her to me for information, or take the huff and turn sulky. You can tell Betsy you don't like to feel that you are an object of suspicion and vulgar doubts. Can't stay any longer, Bob. I must clear out Nabal and his cousin to-night, while they are in a sporting humour; somebody else will do it to-morrow, if I let the chance slip. Ta, ta! give my love to Betsy. Keep your pecker up, old fellow. Good-night.”

Ben then hastened back to the “crib,” and Bob pursued his way home, hoping as he went that his inquisitive mother-in-law would not be there.