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Chapter XIV.

Introduces Simon Goldstone, the city capitalist, and Ben Goldstone, his son.—A glance at the early history of that fast youth.—His school-days, and his travels.

MR GOLDSTONE, senior, lived in an old-fashioned house on the Parramatta Road, whither he had gone, after retiring from business, a short time before the date of my story. There was a lugubrious look about the dwelling, and its grounds around were as barren as a sea-beach; but it suited its owner, who had always manifested a contempt for fashion; and though he liked flowers, he had never tried to cultivate any.

Mr Goldstone (or old Simon, as he was generally styled) was a man of spare proportions, approaching to seventy years of age. From his every-day dress, which looked almost as aged as himself, he might have been mistaken for a respectable beggar; but a mere glance at his countenance would dispel the illusion, for it bore unmistakable marks of superior intellect; and his abstracted air proved that he was not on the alert for the alms of the philanthropic, nor for objects whereupon to exercise his own dwarfed charity. He was not often seen walking in company with any person, but he seemed to make up for the lack of society by talking to himself. If all the citizens were of his mind, cab and omnibus owners would have been starved into some other calling, for he never patronised them. His gait was quick for his age, and he usually chose the most secluded streets to walk in. He apparently took very little notice of passing objects, and seldom accosted any person he met; but if he were spoken to he would reply with gentlemanly courtesy, and if he could be drawn into a conversation upon books, his extensive knowledge was a marvellous contrast to his insignificant externals. Indeed, Simon was a learned man, but he was niggardly even of his wisdom, and no one was enlightened by it.

Mr Goldstone had been in the colony nearly half-a-century, and was as well known in Sydney as the obelisk in Macquarie Place. At one time he held an office of distinction under

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Government, in which he laid the foundation of his fortune. Rumour said he had dabbled a good deal in commissariat contracts. I have no evidence of that, however; in fact, legal proofs of such jobbery were not often procurable, though there can be no moral doubt that jobs were done on an extensive scale. For many years Simon lived in Slumm Street, in a large house of his own, the frowsy exterior of which was more than matched by its internal odours; but he seldom went out of it for sanitary purposes, though his appearance showed that he needed fresh air.

The nature of his vocation was not intimated by any visible sign about his dwelling; still he did business to a considerable extent, and many needy tradesmen and luxurious young sparks found their way to Simon's house, and he was always glad to see them, though he seldom asked any one to eat or drink with him.

If he were not worth the “mint of money” which public opinion credited him with, he certainly owned a good many houses, which had fallen into his possession through the inability of mortgagers to redeem them. At one time, this accumulation of real property caused him more restless tossing about in his bed than some of his humble neighbours would have felt at the loss of all they owned. His extreme caution had prevented his lending, in any case, more than half the current value of the houses and tenements which were given as security; but when bad times came, the majority of his clients were unable to redeem their properties, and Simon found himself the unwilling owner of houses in almost every street in Sydney. That circumstance preyed on his mind, and induced an obstinate attack of dyspepsia, which nearly shrivelled him to death. To insure all his property against fire cost him an aggravating amount of ready money —and not one of his houses had ever been burned down, to encourage him a bit; but he could not insure at all against the over-reaching of mercenary assessors or tricky tenants. A hard shower in the night would give him a cold sweat, for he was certain to have visits at day-dawn from drenched-out tenants, with exaggerated reports of leaky roofs and fallen plaster, or blocked-up drains, and cause a further drain on his funds. A heavy hail-storm one day smashed all his sky-lights and his north-west windows; and a glazier, who tried to look sorry for the mishap, asked forty-five pounds to repair the damage. His tenants sometimes ran away without paying

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little matters of rent due; and when the houses were untenanted, petty thieves usually stole the fixtures, and “Tom and Jerry boys” wrenched his knockers off. Those additional trials might have been obviated by employing an agent to look after his property; but he was afraid the agent might run away, or otherwise rob him—he had heard of such unlawful doings. Altogether, Simon looked upon himself as the most unfortunate of men, for during a season of severe commercial distress, when he ought to have been rejoicing—for he might have got almost anything he liked to ask for his ready coin—to know that so much of it was locked up in unsaleable houses was grievous in the extreme; and it was cynically remarked by one of his prejudiced clients, that “Old Simon would have poisoned himself, only that drugs were dear.”

But a good time was coming, though he could not see it beforehand any clearer than his neighbours did. The gold, which had slumbered undisturbed for ages in the bed of Summerhill Creek, suddenly aroused from its long nap, and set all the New South Welshmen dancing “the perfect cure.” Up went the price of everything like magic, and Simon went halfcrazy with joy, for his despised houses began to let at fabulous rentals, and he became as rich as a nabob. In his first transport of delight at such unlooked-for good luck, he resolved to retire from business, which had in a great measure retired from him since he had parted with his ready money. He removed into his house on the Parramatta Road, which had been untenanted for a long time; and there he hoped to enjoy himself for life, over the thousands of volumes which he had accumulated, or in watching the increasing value of his houses, and totting up his daily income.

Many years before, when suitable wives were not so easy to find as they are at present, Simon married a young woman who had been his servant. The union was not a happy one; for as Sarah Farden was uneducated, she was not a companion for her husband, and her sullen intractable temper made her particularly disagreeable to him, insomuch that before he had been a month married, he wished himself single again. In addition to other infirmities of character and habit, she had a fondness for stimulants, which all the sober reasoning of her husband failed to check, and at length he was reluctantly compelled to publicly caution “all persons not to give credit to any one on his account without his written authority.” After that ominous announcement, some of the busy-body

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neighbours stepped in, for the ostensible purpose of making peace between the jarring pair, and of course made matters worse by their interference. Mrs Farden, his wife's mother, came out strongly on her daughter's side, and used to tell Simon her mind with a candour that was sometimes quite startling. So, between wife, and mother-in-law, and gossiping neighbours, the poor man's life was made thoroughly miserable; and he was seriously planning a separation when death stepped in and cancelled the conjugal bond which had been so galling to both parties.

Mrs Goldstone died soon after giving birth to a child, which was taken charge of by her mother, who lived near Pennant Hills. Simon loved his little son, but he did not reverence the grandmother; and though he punctually remitted a stipulated sum for the maintenance of the infant, he did not see it very often, because he must needs have seen its nurse at the same time, and, as I have before intimated, he had already seen too much of her.

At ten years old, Master Benjamin was as perfect a specimen of a spoiled boy as ever was seen on Pennant Hills or elsewhere; and he became at length such a nuisance in the homestead, that his peace-loving old grandsire vowed he would go shepherding if his wife did not either get rid of the boy or teach him manners. A smart argument followed that declaration, in which grandfather got the worst of it, and the result was, that Benny became more obstreperous than before, and teased the poor old man to such an extent, that, finding soft words and hard arguments were alike inoperative, he had recourse to a stick, and that brought about a climacteric which was not anticipated by any one. The following brief account of the incident will show the boy Ben's playful proclivities, and his taste for thrilling amusement.

One day his grandfather was pruning the topmost shoots of a pear-tree in his orchard, when a neighbour fortunately walked up just as Master Ben had begun to saw off the limb of the tree upon which his unconscious old relative was standing. In another minute or two grandfather would have fallen like a blighted bergamot, and perhaps have been seriously injured.

“Oh, such fun!” exclaimed the urchin, running to his grand mother in high glee, after the neighbour had taken the saw from him. From his funny report, granny was of opinion that it was only a childish freak, not worth making a fuss about, but grandfather took a different view of it, and, with unprecedented

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firmness, declared that it was a piece of premeditated mischief which called for a solemn recognition, and he forthwith gave Ben what is commonly called “a good hiding” with a pear-tree switch. Being the first hiding Ben had ever felt, it was strange to him, and he did not like it; he wriggled about like a hooked eel, and roared for mercy, while grandfather held him tightly by the arm; but as soon as he was let free, he flung a tomahawk at the old gentleman's head, and then ran away as fast as he could, without stopping to see if he had committed murder.

Grandmother's grief at the flight of her precocious pet was deep and noisy; but we must not stay to sympathise with her and lose sight of Ben, who started for Sydney direct, riding behind a coach, and poured into his father's ears a detail of the painful affair from his own point of view, which showed that he had been brutally punished merely for his desire to acquire a practical knowledge of pruning trees. Simon's parental feelings were all aroused by a sight of grandfather's marks, which Ben had not been able to rub out; and he at once decided that it was expedient to take his son under his own guardianship. But in a very short time he found that the presence of his heir was ruinous to his own quietude, and that to live in the same house with him was wholly impracticable. If Mr Goldstone's moral responsibilities to his son were ever considered, there was no tangible evidence of the fact. What he might have done if the boy had been tractable, of course nobody knows; but his rollicking tendencies hastened his sire's decision that a thorough training away from home was essential to cure his bad habits, and break him in to good ones. Accordingly he was sent to a boarding-school about seven miles from Sydney, but he usually spent his holidays at home with his father, who always rejoiced when the holidays were over, for Ben was still a noisy boy, after all the pains that had been taken to improve him.

At sixteen years of age, Ben was expelled the school for kicking the master; and being too bashful to face his father directly after his disgrace, he went to his grandparents, who gladly received him, and “asked no questions.” Their circumstances had very much improved since Ben had last seen them, for lucky diggers were as free with their money as “Jack tars” just off a cruise. It mattered not to them how much plums were a pint, or apples were a dozen; they liked them, and were able and willing to pay for what they liked;

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so Mr Farden, in common with other fruiterers, found his orchard very profitable, and he made money apace. Ben was glad at his grandfather's good luck; and the doting old gentleman, who still carried the graze of the tomahawk on his bald head, was lavish in supplying the lad with pocket-money, perhaps to show him that he was a better friend than his father, who never gave him sixpence without grumbling.

“Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.”

That proposition, which, alas! was true thousands of years before Dr Watts' penned it, was exemplified in Ben Goldstone, who was a thorough idler, and an adept in mischief of all sorts. Satan had a lot of choice young friends in the neighbourhood of Parramatta, rare rollicking blades, who were ready for anything in the sporting way, from chuck-farthing to horse-stealing, or from picking their mother's pockets to bushranging. Ben soon found some of these “jolly dogs;” and for the next twelve months, under their tuition he devoted his energies to the study of sport in general, including the mysterious art of gambling, card-trickery, and other devilry of the times.

About this period, owing to an occurrence which I had better not mention, Ben was induced to try a sea-voyage; and such was the urgency of the case that he could not wait to pick and choose a vessel, but embarked in the first one that was ready for sea, which was a whaler bound for a cruise in the South Seas. I shall not trouble myself about his proceedings on that voyage. I may state, however, that he did not catch many whales, though he often caught the rope's end from the chief mate, who soon discovered that Ben was a skulker; indeed, his messmates used to say that the only work he was good at was working his jaws.

In a little less than four years he returned to Sydney, a fullgrown man, looking a sort of composite of sailor, jockey, and city dandy. His grandparents had died during his absence, and left him the whole of their property, which yielded an income of about £400 a year. This he regarded as a most lucky occurrence, as it saved him from the hardships of a sailor's life, which he loathed, or of going to work at some other calling, which was also objectionable. He had no hope of receiving the smallest voluntary help from his father; and it was not easy to rob the “old man,” for he kept nothing portable in his house that would fetch ready money. Forgery,

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Ben knew, was not allowed by law. But he was spared the risk of carrying into execution any of the schemes which his fertile brain had concocted while rolling about in his greasy bunk in the forecastle of the Juno, by the “lucky windfall,” the death of his grandparents.

Some of my readers may fancy that £400 a year is a tolerably good income, and wish they could get it. Ben Goldstone thought it was “not so bad,” when he had just come off a long voyage, with the prospect of having to work hard either on sea or on shore for a livelihood; but in less than twelve months of a sporting life, he found that it was quite inadequate to his wants, and he was obliged to mortgage his late grandfather's estate, to meet pressing liabilities at Tattersall's, and enable him to carry on a little longer in the fast style which his taste induced.

It was about this time that he paid a visit to Major Hawkins, at Daisybank, for a few weeks' shooting with his old school-fellow, Ned Hawkins. I have already told how he first saw and admired Maggie Stubble, and that he was accepted as her affianced lover. It may seem improbable that any parents who were not insane should give their ready assent to the engagement of their daughter with a man of whom they knew so little; but a look round at every-day life will show many parallel cases, where the glitter of wealth has blinded the judgment, bedazzled common sense, and gagged the mouth of principle. Ben's father was known to be very rich, and the hasty conclusion was, that Ben must be rich also. That was enough for silly Mrs Stubble, who, as I have shown, was the managing partner. Then the fact of his being a visitor at Hawkville highly excited her veneration, and she never once thought of inquiring into his antecedents, or questioning his moral character for a moment. Major Hawkins was a most respectable man, but he was by no means careful of his family, or he would not have allowed Ben to associate with his son, much less to ride about with his niece. All he knew about the youth he had learned from his son, who knew but little of Ben's career since he left school.

In surrendering his heart so promptly, Ben was not influenced altogether by love; other considerations had weight with him, for he was a calculating youth in his way. He certainly had to some extent the desire, which has always been common to young men, to get married, and he was not insensible to the charms of the fair sex; but he had a sort of

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“fast man's” dread of buying connubial joys at the price of liberty. Several young ladies in Sydney had slightly smitten him, and he had been twice refused by discerning mammas; at any rate, no girl had ever impressed his heart so deeply as Maggie Stubble had done. When first he saw her, she was riding a spirited horse—a position, by the way, in which most ladies show to the best advantage; and he thought her the most dashing-looking girl he had ever seen—a splendid match for a sporting man! one who would astonish his friends at Homebush, and stagger the citizens as he drove tandem through the streets of Sydney in his new dog-cart.

His inquiries in the neighbourhood gained him the encouraging information that Maggie was an only daughter, “with lots of tin.” He judged from the description he had heard of her parents that he should easily gain their favour, or, as he pleasantly expressed it, “walk round the old folks.” His father had long ago threatened to cut him off with a shilling, and Ben would have taken eighteenpence for his chance at one time, but he had begun to hope that his irascible sire might be brought to reason through Maggie's tender influence. She was likely to please him, if any woman could do it, on account of her domesticated habits, and her innocence of fashionable foibles. But if luck deserted him, and his father should bequeath all his money to found an asylum for idiots, as he had solemnly vowed to do, Ben reasoned that Mag's father had money (thirty thousand pounds he was told), and that was almost as good as having half of it in his own pocket. It will be observed that Ben was a sanguine youth. He had great confidence in his own skill in “working the oracle,” as it is called by fast men and conjurers; and he used to boast that his cool blarney was equal to any emergency.

He began operations by getting acquainted with Bob Stubble, and hailing him as a brother sportsman. Bob's vanity was inflated by the polite attention and familiarity of a gentleman from Sydney, a friend of the Major's, and, by general repute, a rich man. Bob was very sensitive to a little flattery; he liked the encomiums which his new friend bestowed on his skill as a shot; and he liked the presents which Ben made him, with a show of off-hand liberality which was very fascinating. Mrs Stubble was as susceptible to soft attention as her son; and Ben's happy allusion to her juvenility, one day, was as operative as “tip” to a wicked exciseman. Thus it may be seen that his course to the heart of Maggie

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was as smooth as he could wish, and the result has been briefly told before.

After Ben's formal acceptance as a member-elect of the family, he was a daily visitor at Buttercup Glen; and at such times he put on his very best manners, and succeeded in removing the strong prejudice which Mr Stubble had at first conceived against him; in fact, Joe could not see that there was so much amiss in the young chap when he came to know him better. This he was honest enough to confess to Peggy, who, instead of applauding her husband's candour and love of fair-play, half-tauntingly told him she hoped it would be a warning to him in future not to be so ready to say wicked things of people behind their backs, and teach him to pay a little more respect to her judgment of character.

In about ten days Goldstone took a loving farewell of Mag and her mother, shook hands with Bob and his father, and with Biddy Flynn too, and departed for Sydney, taking with him half a cart-load of wallabi and wild ducks as presents for his numerous friends in town.