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Chapter XV.

Mr Simon Goldstone and the bridesmaids.—Mr Stubble tries whisky toddy.—Biddy Flynn's reflections on her master's defection.—Ben Goldstone's conviviality.

BEN GOLDSTONE gradually recovered from the effects of his excesses; and at the end of a fortnight, none but a Muddletonian would have supposed him to be the identical blusterer who had so lately offered to fight all the Conservatives in the electorate, “one down, and another come on.”

Ben had not been inactive during his convalescent season, though he had kept away from his accustomed haunts, from a modest dislike to be condoled with on his late inglorious defeat. He had in the meantime taken a cottage ornée at Waverley, and given Hunt & Co. orders to furnish it in becoming style. He had also been measured for his wedding-suit, and had made other necessary preparations for the approaching nuptial ceremony. After his blue bruises had toned down sufficiently to escape the notice of a short-sighted man, Ben called to see his father, who smiled when his humbled son explained how “that he had been sold by a clique of Muddletonian savages, who had been bought by the unscrupulous agents of his political opponent.”

Mr Goldstone expressed a hope that it would be a salutary warning to his son not to attempt again to mount into a position for which everybody but himself could see his utter unfitness. He politely thanked Ben for an invitation to his wedding, but was not sure that he could attend on account of his cough; but he promised to call on the Stubbles, as they were now his tenants, and he could, at the same time, pay his respects to his daughter-in-law elect. Ben said she would be exceedingly proud to see him; and after a little more conversation on nothing in particular, he departed.

The next afternoon Mr Goldstone called to see his new tenants. He was shown up into the drawing-room, and quite unexpectedly found himself in the presence of Maggie and half-a-dozen of her young female friends, who had met to discuss

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certain matters connected with the forthcoming bridal ceremony, in which they, as bridesmaids, were interested.

Frigid indeed must any old gentleman be who could sit in the presence of seven comely maidens without showing some outward sign of satisfaction. From divers causes, Mr Goldstone was in an unusually placid mood that day. In the first place, he had been relieved of an annoying mental load by the news of his son's political defeat; then the change from his murky room to the sunshine and fresh air was exhilarating to his shaken system; furthermore, he had been cheered, on his entrance to the house, to see how nicely it had been put in order at the tenant's expense; and lastly, the presence of the blooming lasses was not the least of the influences which had all combined to make his heart glad: in fact, he had not felt so pleasingly excited for many a long day, and his yellow face looked as cheerful as a fog-lantern.

“And pray, which is the young lady that my son has been fortunate enough to win?” asked Simon, in his pleasantest tones.

“This is the fortunate young lady, sir. Allow me to introduce her, as I am to have the honour of being her chief bridesmaid,” said a roguish-looking lassie with black eyes and brown ringlets, as she led Maggie up to her smiling father-in-law, who shook hands with her very cordially, and seemed as if he were half-inclined to salute her in a more loving way.

“I am very glad to see you, my dear. If Ben were here, I should offer him my honest congratulations on his choice. He is a lucky fellow. I hope you may be happy, my child.”

Maggie felt relieved of a depressing influence which had struck her dumb at the first entrance of Mr Goldstone. She had formed a dreadful opinion of him from little rumours which had reached her from time to time, and from certain hints which Ben had given her to mind her P's and Q's when his father called on her. She had expected to see a sour-looking, snarling old fellow, who would freeze her with his first touch, whose cynical sayings would wound all her susceptibilities, and whose scowling looks would shrivel her back to her native insignificance in a minute; and she was the more embarrassed on account of the absence of her parents. But Simon's affectionate manner had quite reassured her, and the timidity she felt at his entry to the room gave place to a feeling of real delight at seeing such a very different person to the one whom she had expected to see. Her young companions

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were equally pleased; and Simon presently astonished himself at the funny things he was encouraged to say, and which set all the lasses laughing like elves.

Girls usually feel licensed to take innocent liberties with a merry old man; and their rapid progress in good fellowship may be estimated by the fact, that when Ben arrived, half-an-hour afterwards, he was not a little surprised to see his father sitting on a couch, with all the girls clustered around him, trying to coax him to sing; while the old gentleman, with tears of laughter in his eyes, was protesting that he had never sung a song in his life, and did not know one.

“Oh, here is Mr Benjamin!” cried the roguish lassie with black eyes, and who was the merriest of the merry girls. “You have just come in time; do, pray, try to persuade your father to sing us a song. He has been saying such funny things—ha, ha, ha! I am sure he must be able to sing. Now, Mr Goldstone, sing us a song—do, there's a dear old ducky!”

“Aye, father, sing ‘Old dog Tray,’ ” said Ben, laughing.

“Tut, tut, boy! what nonsense you talk! You know very well that I have no more voice for singing than a fish-hawk has.”

“Oh, yes; do sing about dog Tray, Mr Goldstone,” giggled all the girls in chorus, while they clustered more closely round the old man, who actually laughed till he cried, though no moral pressure could induce him to sing. Ben was highly amused at the scene, and was enlightened also, for he had never before seen his father in such a happy mood. It was clear to him that feminine fun had more effect on the crusted nature of his sire than any influence which he, Ben, was acquainted with; and he sagaciously resolved to trust to Maggie's winsome ways, instead of his own logic, in his future appeals to his father's feelings, or his future attempts on his father's pocket.

After a while, Mr Goldstone took his leave, and walked homeward with a more elastic step than he had done for years. As he went along, he reflected that, after all, a little genial society was more exhilarating to the animal spirits than were even the profoundest studies in mental philosophy; and the girls were, in the meantime, unanimous in their declaration that he was a “dear old darling.” The roguish lassie, before alluded to, went so far as to say that she was downright in love with him, which made her companions exclaim, “O Lydia!” She was only in fun, of course; but Ben thought it

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was too serious a matter to joke about, and secretly hoped the young lady would not say that again, for he did not like to encourage even the shadow of an idea that his father would be silly enough to marry again.

Mr and Mrs Stubble returned home a short time after Mr Goldstone left the house, and Maggie got a mild scolding for not asking him to stay to tea. Mrs Stubble was in a ruffled mood. She had been to a photographer's to sit for her likeness, and had trimmed herself up extra smart, as most ladies do for such interesting operations. It had been decided by a family conference that father and mother should be taken together; so they started out that afternoon for the purpose. But the difficulty of the task could only be appreciated by the artist himself; and his patience was so sorely tested that, in order to relieve his feelings, he had several times to go into his dark room and blow up his boy. Two fine pictures had been spoiled by Mr Stubble moving his arms or legs after he had been screwed into a becoming pose; a third had been marred by his winking at his wife when the artist put his head into the baize bag; and the fourth, in which Peggy was taken to perfection, represented Joe in the act of stifling a yawn, with his mouth drawn towards his left ear. He had refused to sit again, for which obstinacy his wife had rated him all the way home.

After tea, Ben and Mr Stubble adjourned to a little room, which was called the “snuggery,” there to smoke their pipes over a glass of whisky-toddy (which Joe was learning to sip without coughing), and to discuss sundry topics of interest. In the first place, Ben produced a proper statement of monies expended by him on Mr Stubble's account, for repairs to the house; also the tailor's and upholsterer's bills, all duly receipted. The commercial abbreviations, “per pro. note at 3 mos.,” were unintelligible to Joe. Still, he did not like to show his ignorance by asking questions; so he merely said, “I daresay 'em be all right, Benjamin,” and put them into his pocket without further examination, lest he should be supposed to have a doubt on the subject. The balance in his favour, Ben told him, he could have the next day, if he chose to keep his own bank accounts. Joe had previously been cogitating over the uncertainty of life and other contingencies, and had arrived at the conclusion that the money would be as well in his own hands as under the sole control of his intended son-in-law; so he replied, “Well, perhaps thee

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may as well hand me over the money, if it be's all the same to thee, sir.”

“Just so,” said Ben, with a look which might have caused uneasiness to a keener observer than Mr Stubble, or to one more accustomed to the ways of the world. In truth, Ben was not so willing to hand over the balance as he wished his companion to suppose, for his electioneering expenses had been heavy, and the cost of furnishing his cottage ornée would not be light; besides, luck had been dead against him at the late Hombush races. Still, it was no part of his policy to explain these matters. “Just so, father; I am glad you have decided so, as it will relieve me of a little anxiety. I think you had better open a bank account, say in the Commercial. I'll go with you to-morrow, and introduce you to the manager. Nice fellow, Ingoldby. I know him intimately. Won't you try another nobbler of toddy?” he added, as he replenished his own glass.

“Noa, thank'ee, Benjamin; I be young at this game. I feel this glass that I have just drink'd tingling all the way down to my little toes. I woan't take any more, or mayhap it'll get into my head and capsize me altogether.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Ben; “you will soon be able to stand a second glass. I have been thinking, father, that you and I might make money like winking by uniting our capital, as it were, and going in for a bold spec now and then, say in flour, or”——

“Noa; I bean't going to spec in making bread dear, for that 'ud speckle my conscience,” replied Joe, with far more boldness than usual, for which the whisky-toddy was accountable. “I seed that game carried on years agone by a lot of dodging chaps in Sydney, who ‘raised the wind' atween themselves by some sort of hocus-pocus what Master Rowley tried to explain to me; and bless'd if 'em didn't run the price of flour up to £3 a hundred. It didn't stop long at that price, thee may be sure; no thanks to them though, for they would have runned 'en up to £6 if 'em could. Down it came again; but these greedy beggars held on to their stuff till it got full of worms, and worn't wholesome for pig's meat. Then, in course, 'em was glad to sell at any price; and for months and months folks were half-poisoned with bad bread, especially the poor chaps far away in the bush, where 'em wor forced to eat it, or go without. No, no, Benjamin; I bean't going to turn famine-monger, if I know it.”

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“I mentioned flour, father, incidentally; but I don't approve of monopolising the staff of life any more than you do; in fact, I believe there is a curse hanging over the practice,” said Ben, with a virtuous air. “There are scores of other things that we might go in for, and make money without risk. By the bye, I'll tell you something that I heard of yesterday, but you must not mention it to a soul. I know a gentleman—an intimate friend of mine in fact—who has a private still, and”——

“Well, he may keep his still, and all the luck he'll brew out of it too, for it's sartain to be bad luck,” interrupted Joe. “I won't have naught to do wi 't, anyway. I'd sooner deal in dead horses and feed cats.”

“I did not ask you to have anything to do with it, father; so you need not be so precious sharp with me all at once,” said Ben, rather tartly.

“Beg your pardon, Benjamin. Didn't mean to say naught to vex thee. I wor thinkin' just then of a yarn as neighbour Doddle told me about a cove as he knew who kept a private still, and drove himself mad with it.”

“That is very likely,” said Ben. “Sly grog-making has done lots of mischief. It was common enough before the excise duties were reduced. It used to be called ‘wicked willany;’ and I have heard my father tell some queer stories about old Bob R—er—what's his name?”

“Bob Dickells,” suggested Joe.

“Not at all. He was in quite another line; and let me warn you, that it is not safe to say there is ‘wicked willany’ in his profession, though poor Bob is dead and gone.”

“Hold on a bit, Benjamin; that puts me in mind of a true story as Mr Rowley told me about that very same gentleman, and thee had better let me tell it now, afore I forget 'en. One day Bob Dickells had the bailie put in his house for a debt of fifty pounds. I suppose it was for rent, though it might have been for summat else, for he was pretty often run into straits through being too free in lending or giving away his money; anyway, he was five pounds short of the sum he wanted to pay off the bailie; so out he goes to borrow it. As luck would have it, the first friend he called on to ax for the money had a bailie in his house too, so he couldn't lend naught. ‘I be sorry to see thee in the same fix as myself,’ said Bob, looking at the chap in the kind, jolly, careless way

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that he always had with him. “What is the amount of yer debt?”

“Seven pounds ten,” said the poor man, who was close up crying, because his wife was ill in bed, and the bailie's bellman was outside her widow, ringing away like fire.

“Here it is, old fellow!” said Bob, taking the money out of his pocket, and counting it down on the table. “We needn't both be in trouble at once; so pay your bailie off, and stop that beggaring bell.”

“Bravo! Bob,” exclaimed Ben. “That was joanac; and yet I have heard some superfine people say wicked things of poor Dickells after he was dead.”

“Yes; that's natural, Benjamin, because it's safer to backbite a dead man than a live one, you know; and it's likely enow them chaps as run him down would have seed the bed sold from under the sick woman afore 'em would have paid down seven pounds ten shillings to save it. I mean to say Bob was a brick, whatever his enemies say against it.”

“I say ditto,” remarked Ben.

“There are other men in the colony too who are said to be first-rate bad,” continued Mr Stubble, with warmth; “and blamed if I don't believe 'em 'll astonish a lot of the good ones at the grand squaring-up day for us all.”

“Well, there is good in everybody and everything, I suppose,” said Ben, with a philosophical look. “There are jewels in a toad's head, the poets say.”

“Perhaps so, Benjamin, though I never seed any; but I know there be's prime soup in a kangaroo's tail, and tripe isn't bad tack when it's nice and clean.”

“There is not much poetry in it anyway, father.”

“Ha, ha! that old fellow with a cart who cries out ‘Tripe O!’ doesn't look much like a poet neither. But I say, Benjamin, I don't feel the whisky tickling me now as it did awhile ago when I first drink'd it. How is that?”

“You should keep the steam up, daddy. You cannot expect one glass of whisky to make you frisky all night long.”

“I s'pose it won't then; but I bean't much used to 'en. I never drinked grog afore in my life 'cept one time, and that was at a harvest supper at whoam. Measter gived us a glass of old Tom all round, and et made some of our chaps wicked sure enough, for 'em had been drinking sharp cider afore that. But I heard tell of a sailor as went into a grog-shop in Sydney t'other day, and says he to the landlord, ‘I say, gov'nor, give

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us another nobbler of the same tack as I had here on Saturday night; it tickled my limbers like hot bullets for three days. The landlord looked scared, as if it was a ghost at his bar, for he know'd before that he had made a mistake and gived the chap a glass out of the bottle of vitriol, or some other stingeree stuff what he kept to 'liven his rum with, and he was afeard he'd be hanged for killing his customer out and out.”

“Ha, ha, ha! That fellow was used to it, father, and that shows what practice will do. Let me mix you another tot,” said Ben, who thereupon prepared a second glass of toddy for Joe, and a third for himself.

“Codlins! this be's woful strong, though, Benjamin,” said Joe, after taking a few pleasant sips. “There be's plenty of tickle in this, for I begin to feel all alive already.”

“That is what I call mixing it on the square, or fair and equal parts of water and whisky. Suck it up, daddy; it will make you talk pure Devonshire.” …

Half-an-hour afterwards Mrs Stubble tapped at the room-door to remind her husband that it was bed-time, when he called out in loud stammering tones, such as she had never before heard from him. “Coom in, Pe-Pe-Peggy lass! Drabbit, what be thee ra-rappin' at the door for? (hic.) Coom in, an' welcome, old 'ooman.”

“Why, measter, what have you been about? Your nose is as red as a carrot!” exclaimed Peggy, as she entered the room, and gazed with unfeigned surprise at her spouse, who was grinning and nodding and winking in that facetious style which usually marks an early stage of inebriety, when the patient is disposed to be playful in the extreme.

“Here, ta-take a sup of this, mother,” said Joe, pulling his wife on to his knee. “This will warm thee heart like friendship, and make thee love thee enemies. Give us a buss, Peg. Tut, doan't 'ee be shy, lass; I knowed thee forty years gone and more—(hic.) What's the odds if Ben be's looking at us? He's our own boy now, close up—(hic)—ha, ha, ha! I be as happy as a rat in a granary—ho, ho, ho! That's right, Peg; take another sip, lass—(hic)—plenty more in the cellar—ha, ha, ha! I be so out-and-out jolly.

‘O there was an old 'ooman in Darby,
And in Darby her did dwell.’ ”

“Why, bless my heart, Joe, I never heard you sing afore in all my born days,” said Peggy, laughing.

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“I don't know no more of that song—(hic)—but I'll give thee the same over agin as long as thee likes. Us used to sing it at harvest supper in the old country.” Joe forthwith began to sing it again in a style which doubtless astonished the pawnbroker over the way, and probably the watch-house keeper too, at the corner of the next street.

“Save us all! what on airth is that row?” exclaimed Biddy, running up from the kitchen. Bob and Maggie were equally astonished; and on hastening into the snuggery they beheld their mother sitting on father's knee, and Goldstone sitting opposite, looking highly amused at what he called a “jolly domestic scene.” As Benjamin was laughing, Bob and his sister laughed too, though the scene might have made them weep, for their father was intoxicated, and their mother was smirking or laughing aloud at his grossly absurd sayings and doings.

“Ochone! an' it's come to this, is it? They wull pritty soon settle themselves now,” whined Biddy, as she shuffled back to the kitchen. “The ould feller is singin' dhrunk, an' them are all grinnin' at him, as if it wor mighty witty for him to make a fool ov himself, an' a baste too. Well, well! didn't I say to meself what wud be up, when I seed that carrt-load ov grog comin' into the house? I did so; for I've sane forty hundred poor sowls, or more, ruined intirely by that same stuff since I fisht came to the colony. Ah, shure! I am sorry enough for these craythers; so I am, for they'll go post-haste to the divil from this out, unless the good Lord himself sinds some blissed trouble to shtop 'em. But I'll go to bed, an' git out ov the way, anyhow, for I can't bear to see the like; an' for sartin, I shall offind 'em all iv I let my gabbling tongue loose.”

Two hours afterwards, Biddy was aroused from her sober slumbers by a great noise on the stairs, and she was not long in learning the cause of it. Mrs Stubble and her children were carrying Mr Stubble up to bed.

“Och musha!” sighed Biddy, as she drew her night-cap over her ears to stifle Joe's incoherent whinings. “The poor ould masther is cryin' dhrunk now, an' I'll ingage he'll look as dismal as a smoky Chinaman to-morrow morning. Ochone! what misery that horrid grog is makin' in the worrld to be shure, an' nothin' at all can stop it. Yis, there is though—I make a mistake—the grace of God can stop it, for it stopped

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it from ruining meself years agone, whin many ov the gals who came out in the ship wid me went to the bad altogether, through dhrinkin' rum.”

“I don't mane to say that, if I had a pig, I wadn't let the baste ate grains from a brewery or a still-house; I ain't sich a boiling-hot tay-tottler as all that,” continued Biddy, after a few minutes' silent meditation on her own merciful deliverance from the curse of drink. “Nor I won't say that iverybody who takes a dhrop of drink in moderation is a haythin; not at all. I niver sed that, though I have heard somebody say as much; but I mane to say that them as never tastes a smell ov it are safest. Troth, I wish from me heart that all the bright boys and gals in this land wud say they niver wud touch it at all. Ah! well, well! this dhrinkin' bout in the house to-night will be a lesson to Masther Bob an' his sister, anyhow; an' afther seeing what a fool grog has made ov their poor old father, naythir ov them will have the bad sinse to taste a single sup ov it, no more nor they wud go within a chain's length ov Teddy, the butcher's bull-dog.”

After that somewhat comforting reflection, Biddy shut her eyes and soon snored herself to sleep.