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Chapter XVI.

Morning reflections.—Squaring up with Ben Goldstone.—Unhappy tiff over it.—Mr Stubble opens account with the Commercial Bank.

“Ha, ha, ha! Do you really say that you don't remember kissing Benjamin last night, father?”

“Not I, indeed, gal! Never kissed a man in my life as I know of, nor I doan't want to, neither. I remember dancing a fandango with mother round the snuggery table, and singin' about the ould 'ooman in Darby; but that's all the harm I did, 'cept getting drunk, and I be sorry enow I did that.”

“Oh, Joe, I saw you kiss Benjamin with my own eyes,” said Peggy; “and you told him to his face that he was a regular gentleman, though when you first saw him you thought he was a rogue-rascal, who was going to teach your gal the first step in the ruination gallop.”

“I tell'ee I doan't remember aught about 'en, Peggy. But doan't 'ee bother me any more just now, there 's a good soul; my head ackes like whopping.”

“I remember that you promised me a new saddle and bridle, father; and I mean to call at Smart's this morning and order them,” said Bob, with a sly look at his sister.

“Well, well, boy, if I did promise 'en, it's all right; thee shall have 'en; but I doan't remember that neither.”

“You surely don't forget that you promised me that nice large piano that you bought so cheap, father,” said Maggie, with a persuasive look at her father, and a side-glance at her mother.

“Noa, lass, I doan't recollect it no more than I do being born into the world; howsomever, thee shall have the panney safe enow. I meant to make thee a handsome present for yer new house; so that'll do nicely. Give us a cup of coffee, Peggy, and doan't 'ee say any more any of yer, for I be 'shamed of myself, and that's all about it. I tould thee how it would be, missis, when thee first telled about getting such a lot of drink in the house, for I've seen this sort of thing afore today,

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and so hast thee too. Old Daddy Wood, as us knowed up country, was a happy man till he began to keep a case of gin under his bed, and that pretty soon settled 'en.”

“I didn't get all that liquor, you know, Joe; I should never have thought of buying a whole cart-load.”

“But thee telled Ben to buy et though; and he allers does things by wholesale. For my part, I wish it wor all spilled into the drain; and I'll go and do't too, if thee 'll say the word. Us never had a sup of grog in our house afore since us have been in the land; and that's why us made so much money, I believe. Us have allers been healthy and happy without it; but now us have both broken our pledges—more shame for us—what us kept more nor five-and-twenty years. I be fit to cry.”

Us, you say! Why, I didn't get tipsy, father,” said Peggy, warmly

“Noa, I didn't say thee did, Peggy; but thee took a sip or two, and that's enow to break the promise us made when us stood up, hand in hand, afore dear old fayther and mother in Dab cottage, and said us would never taste strong drink as long as us lived.”

“Oh, that's such a long time ago, that I forgot it, Joe; besides we couldn't afford anything but skim milk in them days. Times are altered, you know, and it is only common sense that we should alter too. We can afford to live as other folks do now; and as I said before, it is necessary to have wine and stuff in the house for our visitors, unless we want to be talked about everywhere. We are not bound to drink it ourselves, unless we like. I never dreamt of you getting tipsy, father, at no time, especially on the very first night you tapped the demijohn of whisky.”

“Neither did I dream about et, I can tell'ee. I didn't mean to touch the stuff at all, but Ben kept on coaxing me to take just a little sup to keep him company, and I thought it looked bad manners not to do't in my own house; so I took a sup more to oblige Ben than to please myself. Then after I tooked one tot, I was easily persuaded to take another, and that upset me, for Ben made et woful strong. But the best thing us can do, Peggy, is to shake hands again now directly, and promise afore Bob and Mag not to taste any more. That's the safest way to deal with dangerous stuff, for if us don't drink the first glass, there is no danger of the second, or the floorer. What dost thee say, lass!”

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“What is the good of doing that, measter? I am sure we should not keep our words with all this liquor in the house, and Mag's wedding coming off next week. We must drink her health, I suppose, same as other folks do, if we only take a sip; and how shabby it would look for us to drink it in water! Benjamin wouldn't like that, I am sure, and other friends would laugh at us. But you may depend on it that I will never get tipsy; and if you promise not to do it again, I shall be satisfied. You made a mistake last night, but I don't see why you should grieve yourself to death about it; better men that you have made mistakes of that sort. I bean't a bit afeard of you getting tipsy again, measter.”

“Thee be's right there, Peggy. I shan't do't again in a hurry, I'll bet a guinea. It'll be a long day afore I forget this splitting headache. Give us another cup of coffee, lass.”

The foregoing colloquy took place at the breakfast-table on the morning after Mr Stubble's unprecedented debauch. Some of my readers may probably understand his peculiar sensations; I trust, however, that but few, if any of my youthful friends have an experimental knowledge of the enervating reaction of strong drink. Young Australians are comparatively free from the degrading vice of intemperance; and however much our excise returns may seem to contradict that statement, I firmly adhere to it. The currency lads and lasses do not aid much in making up the enormous aggregate which statistics of the liquor traffic exhibit; and though recent analysts have shown a startling average expenditure, it is certain that there are thousands of young persons in the land who have never spent a penny in strong drink. This reflection may help to reanimate the dispirited faggers of temperance reform, who certainly want a little more encouragement. Though the miasma of intemperance sadly distempers our social atmosphere, there is a good time coming; for when the hosts of children who are now associated with our Sunday schools and bands of hopenote grow up to men and women, their influence will be mighty in dispelling this moral pestilence.

“I say, missis, art thee going to use the machine to-day?” asked Joe, as he arose from the table, after breakfast was over.

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“I have begged of you, I don't know how many times, Stubble, not to call our carriage the machine. It sounds so shockingly vulgar, and you know very well it annoys Mag and Bob.”

“Beg pardon, Peggy; I forgot. Didn't mean to vex thee. I'll recollect next time. If thee wert going out this arternoon, I'd like thee to give me a lift as far as Ben's place.”

“I would rather you asked for a drive, father; a lift sounds so much like a carman's talk. But I heard you promise Benjamin to meet him this morning at eleven o'clock, to go to the bank about something or other.”

“My wig! so I did, and I'd clean forgot it. Glad thee hast told me, Peggy. Bring me my boots, Biddy. Look sharp, will 'ee! Bang the maid! what ails her this morning, I wonder?”

Biddy shortly appeared with the boots, and explained that “it wor unpossible to polish 'em at all, bekase summat was split on 'em last night, what took ivery bit ov the shine out ov the leather.”

Joe sighed as he drew on his dull boots, for he reflected that the same stuff had taken the shine off his character for sobriety. As soon as he had left the house, his wife and daughter began to laugh at the clever way in which they had managed to get rid of the odious old cabinet piano from their grand drawing-room. A furniture van was sent for at once; and Bob undertook to see the objectionable instrument snugly stowed away in the stable at the rear of Ben's lodgings, and covered up with clean straw.

“How are you this morning, daddy?” asked Ben, as Joe walked into Tattersall's long room, about eleven o'clock.

“I be sick and sorry, Benjamin,” replied Joe, with a slight groan. “My head be's as sore as if it had been thrashed with a bean-flail, and my narves be's all twiddling about like skinned eels.”

“Ha, ha, ha! You look rather seedy. You had better take a hair of the dog that bit you. Hey, waiter! bring some soda-water and brandy.”

“Two sodas and brandy, sir—yes sir,” said the waiter, and away he hurried to execute the order.

“I doan't want any more strong stuff to make me weaker than I be, Benjamin,” said Joe, after the waiter had left the mixture sparkling in the glasses before them. “I promised the missis I'd never get drunk agin.”

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“Drunk! Of course not, father. You took one glass too much last night, and that is what always does the mischief; but this is sober tipple, the established panacea for morning creeps. If you are going to the bank with me, you will want your hand steady enough to sign your name in the depositors' book; so, drink this up while it fizzes. Here's luck!”

After that popular hob-nobbing toast, Ben tossed off his reviver; and Joe with trembling hands raised his tumbler to his lips. The first sip was wonderfully refreshing, so he took a second sip, which made him bold enough to drink it all; and he felt, as he confessed, ever so much better directly.

“Now then, old man, we will go and see my friend Zachary at the Commercial. But stay a minute,—don't be in a hurry; sit down, while I show you how I propose to square our little money matters. Here is my cheque, you see, for £472, 3s. 2d.; you must pay that into current account, which you will open with the bank. I'll show you how to do it by and bye.”

“Thee don't mean to say thee has spent all 'cept this?” said Joe, with extreme wonderment and alarm in his countenance.

“Not at all. I'll explain in a minute or two. Here is my promissory-note for the balance, £2350. You will find that is right to a penny. It is drawn at four months—merely a nominal thing, you know; you can get the cash for it at any time you like, that is to say, on any discount-day; but you don't want it at present, I know.”

“Be's this thing what 'em call a bill?” asked Joe, shrinking back as though Ben were handing him a stinging nettle or a tame snake.

“It is not generally styled a thing by polite people, sir. Sometimes it is called a bill, at other times a promissory-note; but it is all the same. What are you afraid of?”

“Well, I've heard so much talk about these consarns that I be scared to have aught to do with 'em; that's a fact, Benjamin. Master Rowley has telled me of such a heap of roguery, and”——

“Rowley be blowed!” interrupted Ben, with a vehemence which made Joe jump, for he was unusually nervous that morning. But recovering his temper as suddenly as he had lost it, Ben straightened himself up, like lofty principle towering over vulgar prejudice, and replied with stately emphasis. “I am very glad you have expressed your doubts of my honour and my solvency to myself, Mr Stubble, It would

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have been a far more severe blow to my honest pride if you had let Mr Ingoldby see that you regarded my bill as a mere thing; in fact, as an instrument of roguery.”

“I didn't say that at all; leastways, I didn't mean it.”

“Hitherto I have had the proud satisfaction of knowing that bankers and the public in general regarded me as a gentleman of capital as well as principle; as a man worthy the suffrages of a great constituency,” continued Ben, without appearing to notice Joe's stammering attempts at explanation. “My bill has never been questioned before for an instant; in fact, any thoroughly sane person would as soon think of objecting to a bank-note. But it appears that I have miscalculated the extent of your confidence in me, sir. I am certainly grieved at it for domestic reasons; but it will not otherwise affect me, for it is as easy for me to raise ten thousand pounds as to toss up twopence. If you will stop here for an hour or so, Mr Stubble, I will go and get the cash for you. But stay; upon second thoughts, you will perhaps pardon me for saying that I would prefer paying it to you in the presence of your highly-esteemed family. My motive for this is to enable me to produce documentary proofs which I trust will satisfy all parties, that you have no tangible grounds for stigmatising my honour and my credit in the way you have done, sir.”

“Humbly beg pardon Benj—er—Mr Goldstone,” stammered Joe, who was really concerned at the idea of having hurt his friend's feelings, which was far from his intention. Ben's wordy address, too, frightened him like a lawyer's letter. “I didn't say naught against yer honourable credit, sir. I'd rather be skinned than”——

“Do you mean to insinuate that I want to skin you, sir?” interrupted Ben.

“Not I, Benjamin; never thought of such a thing. I was going to say I'd rather be flayed alive than say aught to offend thee; that's it, Benjamin.”

“When I volunteered to take charge of your money, Mr Stubble,” continued Ben, with increasing emotion, “I was actuated by the purest motives of interest in your family, and anxiety for your personal safety in a city which, I blush to say, contains some persons unscrupulous enough to knock a man's brains out for the mere convenience of picking his pockets quietly. I transferred that risk to myself, sir; and for my kindness in so doing, I have been wounded in the severest manner possible by the very person whose life and

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money I have been so anxious to guard from robbery and violence. Is it any wonder, then, that I exhibit strong feeling? Hey, waiter! bring me a nobbler of pale brandy.”

While Ben was swallowing the nobbler, Joe explained, in the most pathetic terms, that he had not the slightest intention to cast doubt on the honour of his beloved young friend; and laying his hand affectionately on the wounded youth's shoulder, Joe told him he might give him his bill, or he might keep the whole toto if he liked; but by no means was he to say a word at home about their little unhappy tiff, for it would make Maggie sulk for a month.

“I felt hurt last night, father,” said Ben, in softened accents, “at the abrupt way in which you spoke to me when I merely hinted at our going into business speculations for our mutual benefit. Your manner was as sharp as if I had actually proposed to you to start a sly groggery, or to conspire to make poor people eat mouldy bread, when my very soul abhors such doings. My motive was to benefit you principally —I need not try to make money for myself; and I was going to propose some honest speculation or other, if you had permitted me to speak. I shall soon have the honour of being related to you, and I naturally feel as much interest in your affairs as I do in my own—more, in fact, because”——

“Yes, yes; I know all that, Benjamin. I be very much obliged to thee. Now, doan't 'ee say any more about it; there's a good ma—gentleman. I be mortal sorry that I vexed thee; but I wor drunk last night, thee know'st, and I be stupid this morning. Shake hands, now, and make it all up; I'll never do't agin. That's right, me boy. Now us be good friends. Come away to the bank, and see Mr Zachary —what's his name? and only tell me what to do, and I'll do't in a crack.”

They forthwith proceeded to the bank, and after a short private conference, Goldstone introduced Mr Stubble to the manager, who shook hands with him in the pleasant manner he usually showed to independent customers, for Ben had explained Mr Stubble's financial position in flattering terms. Joe had never been inside such a big bank before; and the awe which the various monetary manipulations induced actually made him perspire. His excessive humility, manifested in every look and action, was an interesting contrast to the deportment of monied men in general; and the junior clerks might have fancied that he was seeking accommodation

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of some kind. But Zachary's experience in the more responsible routine of financial life had taught him to look sharp; so he could tell, by merely half a glance from one eye, that Joe's genuine rustic modesty was quite foreign to the creeping diffidence of a needy customer, whose heart was aching with anxiety, and quaking too with a consciousness of the tremendous crushing powers of the little man in the morocco chair. He could read Joe's character in a minute; and though he had long before mentally set Ben Goldstone down as one of his natural enemies, he had no misgivings about Mr Stubble ever attempting to draw a penny more out of the bank than he had previously paid into it. Nor would he (Zachary) ever have to look suspiciously at Joe, and formally promise “to lay his application before the board.” Such customers as Mr Stubble do not contribute much to satisfactory dividends; still, banks must have depositors; and in times of active competition it is considered good policy to treat them deferentially.

Joe's business was speedily settled. He deposited the cheque to current account, lodged the bill for collection, and affixed his signature to the bank register as usual; then said, “I wish 'ee good day, sir,” to the complaisant manager, bowed timidly to the messenger at the door-way, and departed with his new cheque-book coiled inside his hat