previous
next



  ― 146 ―

Chapter V.

A family argument.—Mr Stubble and Bob go to a fashionable tailor.—Ben Goldstone's presents.—Philosophy of a pipe.—Search for a genteel residence.

FOR some time after Goldstone had gone, the Stubbles sat in cheerful conference on the subject of Maggie's coming grandeur, and the correlative exaltation of the whole family. Honest Joe smiled pleasantly while Peggy reminded him of the summer afternoon in their courting days, when they met the gipsy woman at the “Northern Burrows,” and she told her (Peggy) that she would ride in her carriage and have gentle-folks related to her. It was clear to Peggy that the prediction was coming true to a tittle. She was not aware, however, that fortunetellers usually tell all their silly customers the same flattering story,—that it was a mere trick of their trade.

“But when be thee going to be married, Mag?” asked Joe, who had been for some time nodding a drowsy assent to every proposition. “I forgot to ax Mr Goldstone that when he wor saying such a lot of sweet things about thee, as if thee wast made of barley-sugar.”

“Oh, my patience, father! You surely would not be so sil——so—so—unwise as to ask him such a terrible question!” said Maggie, very excitedly. “For pity's sake, don't make such a mistake as that, papa, or I shall die with shame. Benjamin has not yet asked me to name the day, but I can understand his reason for not doing so. He knows that we have not yet got a suitable house; he is aware, too, that we have many preparations to make; and he is anxious to spare us all the embarrassment he can. Any one can see his delicate consideration. I am quite sure it is not because he is apathetic—far from it—for, of course, I know what he has said to me in private, and no poet in the colony could more beautifully express affectionate longing than you all heard him utter here to-night. For you to ask him bluntly when he is going to marry me, would be shocking bad manners, father; and I hope


  ― 147 ―
and trust you will not forget yourself so much, or I don't know how I shall feel; but I am sure I shall faint.”

“All right, Mag! All right! I'll twist my words twice over in my mouth, and bite the rough edges off 'em, afore I speak 'em out, when Ben comes here again. I won't say naught to make 'ee 'shamed; so doan't 'ee look so skeered—

‘'Taint every man can be a poet,
Nor more nor sheep can be a go-at.’

But I shouldn't wonder a bit if us all get slangy, for its natural to copy any one who is high above us, and us be all ready to worship your grand man, and to think all he says is first-rate talk. My word! didn't'ee hear 'en call our victuals “grub,” and let out a lot of poetry of that sort, as nice as our stockman, Jack Slash, could do't? Ha, ha, ha!”

“Yes, yes; but that was only humoursome talk, you know, master,” said Peggy, in an apologetic tone. “I've heard lots of gents up-country say them sort of funny things, and laugh like pixies at the wit of it.”

“I bet a penny thee never heard Mr Drydun talk that lingo, nor his wife neither,” said Joe. “He never called me ‘Old Flick,’ or ‘Old Blowhard,’ same as Ben did to-night, after he had drained his pot of swizzle. Howsomever, I won't grumble, for I bean't over-nice myself; only when Mag is so mighty 'feard of my not talking foine enough afore her shiny sweetheart, it's time to let 'en see that I know what's what as well as her does, if her has larnt grammar. I can tell a carrion crow from a cock pheasant, if I only hear 'en open his mouth once. Though I bean't much of a scholar, I've lived a-nigh fifty years in the world with my eyes and my ears open; and if I haven't larnt a thing or two about men and manners in all that time, I must be a born fool,—that's all about it. But it is the fashion now-a-days for bumptious youngsters to think that an ould chap knows naught, if he hadn't the good luck to be sent to school for a year or two when he was a boy, and if he bean't quite up to the mark in his spelling.”

“I am very sorry indeed that I have grieved you, papa,” said Maggie, kissing her ruffled sire. “You did not understand me exactly. I only meant to tell you that it is not usual for a young lady's papa to ask a young gentleman when he is going to marry his daughter. You know it would look as if we were in a hurry, father; and that would not be proper


  ― 148 ―
at all. Nobody is supposed to be in a hurry about such a thing; at least, genteel people are not.”

“I bean't in a hurry, so I tell'ee, whether I be genteel or t'other thing; and what's more than that, I doan't care a snap if Goldstone won't have 'ee at all. Thee wouldn't have far to run to find a better man than he—that's my notion, though he be's such a mighty big chap, and can gabble like a sea-lawyer.”

“Come, come, measter! You are tired and rather sleepy too; so we had better go to bed, all of us,” said Mrs Stubble, rising from her seat, for she saw that Bob's temper was rising, and he was clearing his throat to speak up for his absent friend. She foresaw a noisy scene, for Joe was too weary to reason calmly, and Bob would have fought, if necessary, for the honour of his brother sportsman; so she told yawning Biddy to bolt up the doors, and “mind she did not set fire to the house again;” and then they all retired for the night.

After seven hours' slumber, Mr Stubble's system was so much invigorated that, to use his own figure, he felt as fresh as a cart-horse after a fortnight's spell in a clover paddock, and there was not a shadow of last night's pettishness on his smiling face when he sat down to the breakfast-table.

“What be us all going to do to-day?” he asked, looking round at his family. “There be's no cows to milk, nor pigs to feed, nor bullocks to yoke up, and nothing at all to do but play with one another. I'll take the lot of thee to see the house that the governor lives in, if thee be'st a-mind. What dost say, mother?”

“You will let me speak out what I think is best to be done, Joe, won't you?” asked Peggy, deferentially.

“Ees, to be sure, lass. Haven't thee allers done it ever since the day after us was first married? Doan't 'ee think I've brought 'ee to Sydney on purpose to gag thee. Say what thee lik'st, all of thee, but doan't'ee talk slang, because it ain't pretty.”

“Well, I think we ought to go out and look for a house; but, first and foremost, Bob wants to go to the tailor's to get some new clothes, and you had better go with him, Joe. Your best colonial tweed suit is shrunk up ever so much too tight for you since that stupid thing Biddy boiled it all night with the blankets in the washing-copper. Mag and I think you will look much better in a nice black cloth suit, and we will


  ― 149 ―
go with you to be measured, if you like; then we can see that you are well fitted.”

“Very well, missis; so be it. Thee shall rig me out how thee lik'st; but I bean't sure that thee'll fancy the look of me afterwards, for I never wear'd a black coat in all me life. To my fancy, colonial tweed beats all that fine stuff, for it's good and cheap; besides, you haven't got to be allers rubbin' yerself down with the dandy-brush, for it doan't show the dust. I'm thinking the main thing that tailors have got to find fault with it for is, that everybody knows the price of it; so the tailors can't bamboozle ye with long bills, same as they can when they sell broad-cloth, and such like stuff, that nobody knows the value of 'cept the snip himself. Ha, ha! everybody likes to have a little mystery in his trade, else how could he live and make money? Howsomever, thee shall have thee own way, Peggy, as I tell'd thee before. Rig me out as black as a parson, if thee likes it; I doan't care how ugly I look.”

An hour or two afterwards the Stubble family alighted from an omnibus, and entered the shop of a fashionable tailor in George Street, whose card of address they had received from Benjamin.

“Mister Goldstone tould 'en that yours was the best shop to go to, to get a first-rate rig-out,” said Joe, addressing the primly-dressed master of the establishment, who had looked rather dubiously at his customers on their entry, as if he fancied they had come to the wrong shop.

“Very happy to serve you, sir. Would you like to look over these fashions?” said the tailor, bowing politely.

Joe glanced over the book of fashions, while a quizzical smile played over his face. Fearing he might say something which would lessen the respect which the tailor seemed to feel for them all, Mrs Stubble came to the relief, and explained, in mincing accents, that Mr Stubble wanted a suit of the very best superfine black cloth clothes.

“Certainly, ma'am: shall be very happy. Will you do me the favour to step this way, sir, and I will take your measure? Forward, Mr Serge!”

The latter short sentence was addressed to an assistant in a back-shop, who speedily came to the front-shop.

“Ready, Mr Serge?”

The assistant replied that he was quite ready, and his master then applied the tape to Joe, and took his length and breadth from neck to heel, meanwhile expressing (parenthetically)


  ― 150 ―
the usual compliments on the shape and make of his customer. He then smilingly said, “That will do, sir; thank you,” whereupon Joe slipped into his country-cut coat again, and felt as much relieved as a sailor just let out of irons.

“What'll be the price of this 'ere new suit as you are going to make, mister?” asked Joe, in his simplicity.

“Oh, sir!” said the tailor, rubbing his hands and looking slightly wounded; “gentlemen never ask the price of an article at my establishment.”

“It's all right, father,” whispered Peggy, with a reverential side-glance at the tailor. “Benjamin said he knows the gentleman, and we could put down all we bought to his account, and he'd settle it for us.”

“I be satisfied, Peggy. Thee could allers drive a better shop bargain than I could,” said Joe, who was highly amused at the change which city life had wrought upon his wife in so short a time. Had she been buying a garment from a Daisybank storekeeper, she would have haggled over the price for ten minutes at least: but she was too much over-awed in the presence of a town tailor even to ask what she had to pay for a suit, much less try to abate the price a single shilling.

“I think I ought to have a smart hat of some sort to match these new consarns, Peggy,” whispered Joe. “This old cabbage-tree tile looks rather greasy.”

“Of course, dear, I am going to get you a new one. Do you sell black hats, sir?” she asked of the tailor, who politely assured her that he did sell hats of the very best London and Paris makers, and forthwith he began to exhibit some of the latest fashions.

“Whew! Thee bean't going to put my head in a long-faced hat, Peggy, surely? Nobody belonging to me ever wear'd one of them consarns,—ho, ho, ho!”

“Hush, Joe. Doan't 'ee laugh so loud. You must have a black hat with superfine clothes. Leave it to me; I know what I'm about.” Maggie at the same time said, “Of course, father.” So Joe waived his objections, and tried on a new glossy Gibus; but on looking at himself in the cheval glass, he burst into such a roar of laughter that his wife and daughter were quite shocked at him, and Mr Serge giggled himself purple behind his desk, while Bob beat his own leg with his riding-whip to chasten his mortified pride, and mentally vowed that he would never go tailoring again with his father and mother.




  ― 151 ―

“Had you not better let me make you two suits of clothes, sir?” asked the tailor, who began to apprehend that his customer was rich, although not so refined as he hoped to make him look in a few days.

“I doan't know naught about it; ax the missis,” replied Joe. Whereupon Mrs Stubble told the tailor that he might make two suits if he pleased, but she hoped he would make them well, and not fail to send home one suit on Saturday night. Some neck-ties and gloves were next selected for Joe, and then Peggy said she thought he was furnished all but his boots, which she must buy at Mr Lobb's shop.

The task of suiting Bob was not quite so simple as it had been to fit out his sire, for Bob was extremely fastidious in the selection of material, and positively tiresome with his instructions to the tailor to make his clothes of the newest cut. After a while he appeared to be satisfied that justice would be done to his symmetrical figure; and when Mr Serge had written down their address “No. 2 Bull-in-a-ring Street,” the tailor bowed his customers out.

“I say, Peggy, I wish I'd a-thought of it to ax the tailor if he knows where there be's a house that'll suit us,” said Joe, after he had got a little way from the shop.

“I'll go back and ask him,” said Peggy; “I daresay he'll tell us in a minute, for he is a very civil man. Not a bit like old Deedle the tailor at Daisybank.”

“Quite a gentleman,” said Maggie. “Did you see him offer me a chair, ma? I daresay Benjamin has told him who I am, and that is the reason why he was so respectful to us all.”

“Hold hard, Peggy, I'll run back. Stop 'ee here all of thee, aside this apple-stall,” said Joe; and away he trotted back to the shop. On entering, he found the tailor and his assistant with very red faces and their eyes moist with emotion of some sort, but Joe did not suspect that they had been laughing at him till they were tickled to tears. “I say, mister, can 'ee tell 'en where I can get a good house to rent?”

“Let me see,” said the tailor, after coughing away his smirks. “I don't know of one myself just at present, but you can't do better than go to Mr Craig the house-agent,—a very honest man, sir,—came out in the same ship with me. His office is just round the corner. He'll suit you, if it is to be done.”

“thank'ee, sir. Good-day.”

A few minutes afterwards, Joe entered Mr Craig's office,


  ― 152 ―
followed by his family. He opened his business by giving the agent a running account of his recent visit to Sydney, and the bad bargain he had made with Mr Clinch, while Mr Craig listened attentively, and seemed much grieved at the greedy anxiety of his brother agent to secure a commission rather than to see his client comfortably housed.

“Ah, I am very sorry you did not come to me, sir, in the first instance, instead of going to Clinch,” said Mr Craig, with a virtuous shrug. “I don't like to say anything against a person in the same line as myself; but I may simply remark, sir, that if you had consulted me first of all, you might have saved yourself a good deal of trouble and expense. However, I think I can satisfy you now,” he added, opening a big book, and beginning to look more cheerful.

“It's a thousand pities you did not think of this gentleman before, Stubble, instead of going to t'other tricky fellow,” whispered Peggy.

“How could I think of 'en, thee silly goose!” said Joe, tartly. “Didn't Goldstone himself tell t'other chap to write to us?”

“Oh, to be sure! I forgot that, Joe. Yes, it ain't your fault after all, measter. I daresay you did your best, and it can't be helped. This gentleman will find us a house, I'll warrant.”

Mr Craig said that family residences were very scarce just then; still, after scrutinising his register, he found that he had not less than five eligible houses to let, either of which he thought would suit his new clients nicely. So they got cards to view, and then hired a cab and drove to see the tenements in the order in which the agent had numbered them.

The first one they stopped at was a large house certainly, but it looked so dilapidated that Peggy was afraid it was haunted, and would not even get out of the cab to take a peep through the grimy windows at the inside of it. The next house on their list was a commodious one too, but its back part overlooked a burial-ground, and that was a decided objection in Maggie's eyes, for superstitious reasons which I need not explain. Other two of the family houses to let were in elevated sites of “the rocks;” but Peggy said she preferred Macquarie Street North to that locality, and Bob positively refused to live on the rocks “at any price.” The last house they viewed, which was near Fort Street, was a very good one, and cheap for its size. It was in a cool situation,


  ― 153 ―
under a rock, or rather it had a precipitous cliff in its rear, with a trickling stream of water falling from it into the back-yard. Mag thought that was very romantic, and her mother suggested that they might grow their own water-cress; but Bob damped their poetical ideas in a minute by asserting that the tiny cataract was wholly dependent, in dry weather, upon the liquid contributions of the denizens of the alley above. There was a perceptible savour of alley refuse, not only in the back-yard, but in the back-rooms of the house itself, which unmistakably proved the correctness of Bob's observations.

It was also observed that a brass band of musicians occupied a little cottage on the top of the cliff, and they happened just then to be practising several new tunes all at once, which made Peggy desire to hasten away lest she should get sick headache; but Joe smiled, and said he rather liked the row, as it put him in mind of his old stock-yard at branding time. After a little discussion, they resolved to wait till to-morrow before seeing Mr Craig again; and having grown rather hungry with their long morning's work, they drove straight homeward to dine.

“Hey, day! what are all these things, Biddy?” asked Mrs Stubble, as she entered the front parlour and found the table covered with paper parcels.

“Troth, I can't tell ye what they are, missis; for I never looked into 'em. It ain't pepper anyhow, for I took a smell at every one of 'em. A man brought 'em wid a cart an' horse, an' here 's a letther he left too.”

The letter was addressed to Miss Stubble, and explained that the parcels contained trifling presents for each member of the family, with Benjamin's devoted love and respect. Of course they were all extremely anxious to see what the presents were; so the largest one, addressed to Maggie, was opened first, and proved to be a very handsome dressing-case, which they all declared to be the loveliest thing they had ever seen. The next parcel contained a beautiful work-box for Peggy, which was also rapturously admired. Joe's present was a pound packet of cut tobacco, and a silver-mounted meerschaum pipe. Bob's parcel contained a pair of solid silver spurs, a pocket-pistol (or dram-bottle), and a massive gold breast-pin. The head of the pin represented a horse's ear, quite a new design by a colonial jeweller of a sporting turn of mind. It was much admired by Mag and her mother,


  ― 154 ―
and Bob was proud of it too. Father thought that a donkey's head would look more natural, but he was too considerate to say a word that would damp their exultation, or raise a noisy argument.

“Hey! here's another parcel. Who is this for? Oh, it's for Biddy, to be sure. Where is she?”

“Here am I, miss,” said Biddy, who had been behind the door all the while. “Shure, an' didn't he forget me naythir, the dear man!”

Biddy's present was a white crape shawl and a delaine dress, striped something like a barber's pole. In a postscript to the letter, Benjamin expressed a hope that they had not decided about a house, as he thought his father had one to let that was “just the thing.” He intended to see the old gentleman about it, and would call upon them that evening, and let them know the result of his interview.

While his family and servant were examining their treasures, and loudly expatiating on the merits of each article, Mr Stubble, who had been longing for a smoke all the morning, filled his new pipe with the fragrant mixture of negrohead and pigtail, and went into the back-yard to blow a cloud, and at the same time to ponder over certain anomalies in Mr Goldstone's character which were puzzling to Joe's mental philosophy.

The flavour of the tobacco was rich and rare, and though the pipe had that peculiar bran-new taste which old smokers always object to, it was a very smart pipe, a real meerschaum, and not a sham article made of mere clay. Moreover, it had a large capacity, and bore twenty minutes' hard puffing before it began to splutter, or to give any other unpleasant signs of exhaustion, such as sending a draw of hot ashes up its amber tube. A few hours' abstinence had also tended to heighten Joe's relish; for even a pipe ceases to be a luxury if it be indulged in too often.…

After writing the last sentence, I felt at a loss how to express Joe's sublimated feelings in words of my own; so I sought counsel in a volume which was sent to me two days ago by my courteous friend, Francis Campbell, M.A., M.D. It is entitled “A Commentary on the influence which the use of Tobacco exerts on the Human Constitution.” The name of its learned author is a guarantee that the book is well worth reading, but I have not yet had time to read it through. The first page that I opened a few minutes ago contains a quotation


  ― 155 ―
from a work written by a no less exalted personage than King James I. I thought I need not search the book for a higher authority, so I copied the extract. Here it is verbatim:

“Tobacco being a common herb which (though under diverse names) grows almost everywhere, was first found out by some of the barbarous Indians to be a preservative or antidote against a filthy disease whereunto these barbarous people are, as all men know, very much subject, what through the uncleanly and adust constitution of their bodies, and what through the intemperate heat of the climate. So that as from them was first brought into Christendom that most detestable disease, so from them likewise was brought this use of tobacco as a stinking and unsavoury antidote for so corrupted and execrable a malady, the stinking suffumigation whereof they yet use against that disease, making so one canker or vermine to eat out another.”

If that is not enough to put out the finest pipe that was ever lighted, I know not what is. I dare not presume to controvert the registered opinion of a great monarch by saying much on the other side of this subject at present; still, I must be truthful in recording the influence which Mr Goldstone's present, on the whole, had upon his unsophisticated old friend. It proved, in that instance, to be the pipe of peace, for it dulled Joe's brain to the remembrance of various little acts which had excited his suspicion of Ben's honesty, and before the pipe was restored to its morocco case, all prejudice was puffed away, and Goldstone had regained thorough possession of Joe's susceptible heart.

The little indefinable misgivings which Biddy had harboured against Ben had also been removed by the crape shawl and the striped dress: in short, there remained not the shadow of a doubt in the mind of one of that household that Benjamin's friendship was pure as filtered water.

previous
next