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Chapter XVIII.

Maggie's wedding-day.—Rudeness of the Slumm Street rabble.—Mrs Stubble's troubles, and her husband's expedients.—Various exciting occurrences.—Arrival of the bridal pair at the “Red Cow.”

THE sun arose in unclouded brightness to gild Maggie's wedding-day, but she was up an hour before its priming tints were visible on the eastern sky. It is not marvellous that a young girl should be wakeful on a morning so momentous in her life's history; indeed, it would be an unfavourable symptom if it were otherwise. The day had been long anticipated by all the household; but though preparations had been going on for several days, there was much to be done on the identical morning before church-time; and Mrs Stubble was more than usually fussy and peevish, though it was clear enough that every one around her was striving to do the work in style. She was, in fact, suffering from the efforts of long continued excitement, which the coming exaltation of her family provoked, and was more fit to be in bed than to be bustling about in the smoke and steam of the kitchen; but she would not have believed that, even if a doctor had told her so.

“What a plaguey nuisance those bawling brats of children are outside!” whined Mrs Stubble, alluding to a gathering of all the little boys and girls in the neighbourhood, who were attracted to the spot by the extraordinary event of a grand wedding in Slumm Street, although they would have seen quite as much of the ceremony if they had gone to Rose Bay or Coogee Beach. But children are always pleased to look even at the outside of a building if anything exciting is going on inside. “The worst of this house is, that you can't possibly do anything in it, but you are overlooked by gawking, gossiping neighbours, who say all sorts of things about us. That pawnbroker's horrid daughter is always spying across through a long telescope from their attic window; and I know she hates Mag. Do, for patience sake, go out, and send those yelping little savages away, Stubble. I declare there is a lot of them

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playing at ‘king of the castle' in the front verandah! Their impudence is past all bearing, and I won't put up with it any longer.”

“What is the good of bothering yer head about 'em, missis? It's as natural for young 'uns to make a noise as it is for old uns to want to be quiet. Us liked to kick up our heels a bit when us was young, Peggy; and thee know'st us used to play king o' the castle on the tombstones at Chumleigh, and laugh at old Diggs, the sexton, too, when he tried to cotch us. Let 'em alone, poor things! 'em don't often see anything out of the common way.”

“Ugh! poor things, indeed! There's forty of 'em, or more, in our nice clean verandah, drat 'em! If you don't choose to send 'em away, Stubble, I will. I'll poor things 'em, with a vengeance.”

Mrs Stubble then trotted into the verandah with the coach whip in her hand, and began to slash away right and left, making the boys flee like cats in a hail-storm.

“I'll let you see that you have no right to come making this uproar in front of my house, you young monkeys! Don't let me catch any of you here again, or I'll skin you alive, I will!”

Mrs Stubble delivered this short address in very excited tones, emphasising each word by a shake of the whip-stick; but instead of making the naughty boys quake with terror, it made them laugh, or dance, or shout according to their several fancies, while one little shoeless urchin actually had the temerity to mock Mrs Stubble, by shaking a cabbage-stalk at her, and imitating her vociferous utterance.

Finding that the boys utterly disregarded her commands to go away, and that the more she scolded the more they laughed at her, she went in-doors and began to cry. On learning the cause of his mother's grief, Bob grew spiteful, and rushed out with his fists doubled up for action. The nimblest of the boys ran away, for they suspected that Bob would hit hard; but he caught the little urchin with the cabbage-stalk, who happened to be lame, and after cuffing him sufficiently, Bob returned to the house to receive his mother's commendation on his chivalry.

But their triumph at the flight of their foes was only temporary, for the mother of the beaten boy, excited by his pathetic cries, was disposed to take his part, as the mildest of mothers sometimes are, when their offspring are the victims

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of cruelty. In a few minutes the vexed woman was in front of the house, sparring like a man, and breathing out a most unpoetical effusion of street eloquence, while the noisy boys and girls had reassembled, and attracted with them a dozen or two of adult stragglers, to whom a street row is always a welcome excitement.

“Oh, my patience!” exclaimed Mrs Stubble, with a very impatient look at her husband. “Did you ever hear such dreadful things as that woman is saying, Stubble? For mercy's sake, go out and get a constable to take her up. The carriages will be here directly, and only think! such a disturbance in front of the house! I shall go crazy—I certainly shall! My poor head will never stand this noise. Hark! do you hear that, Stubble? She says we were both lagged out here for body-snatching. Why don't you deny it, instead of sitting there grinning like an old—old—I—don't—know what? Oh dear, dear, dear! however could you bring your family into such a nasty disagreeable neighbourhood, Stubble? I wish I were in my grave?”

“Ah, thee art allers wishing theeself in some place where thee shouldn't be, missis. I have telled thee above forty times, that if thee had been contented to stop at the old house at Buttercup, thee wouldn't have had the bother thee hast had for months past. Thee wanted to be mighty fine; and us have paid for it, Peggy, more than it is worth a long deal, for whipped if I think thee hast had a day's comfort since thee came to town, and thee hasn't let me have much neither. As for taking this house, thee can't blame me there, anyhow, for Ben and Bob had more to do wi't than I had; and that's lucky for me.”

“How can you sit there prating, Stubble, while that wicked woman is scandalising us all in this dreadful way? Can't you hear her? She says our Mag was trained by old Mother Brown! If Benjamin should hear that, what will he think?”

“Let her rave. Her slang won't hurt us, no more than a broadside of boiled taters would knock down Fort Macquarie,” said Joe, calmly. “Thee will allers have yer own way, missis, and ye bean't often satisfied with it neither. I tould 'ee to let them boys alone; and it would have been better if thee had minded what I said to thee for once. I'd soon have sent 'em off quietly enow; but thee must go out with the whip to 'em, and make theeself look silly afore all the neighbours. Thee ought to have knowed better than that, Peg. Suppose when

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us were youngsters, any ould 'ooman had runned after us with a whip, wouldn't us have made fun of her? In course us would. But I bean't going to say any more; so doan't 'ee let us have a rumpus in the house this morning, there's a good soul. I'll go and see if I can stop that creeter's tongue, and do'ee try to look good-tempered for a bit; us will have a houseful of company presently, and it wouldn't be nice for 'em to hear us argufying in this style on our darter's wedding-day, and with our grand new clothes on. Do'ee cheer up, Peggy, lass.”

After that mollifying speech, Mr Stubble went outside, and in a few minutes the noisy mother was as quiet as a slumbering infant. Biddy told her fellow-servant that she “seed the masther give the woman a silver somethin'.” Whatever it was that he gave her, it stopped her noise immediately, and she hurried off to the inn at the corner for refreshment.

Joe then addressed the assembled boys and girls in his usual good-natured tones. “I tell'ee what it is, children, it bean't manners to be kicking up this noise afore my front door; it's against the law too; but I bean't goin' to law, so ye needn't be skeered. Hearken to what I say now. If thee all like to behave decently for the rest of the day, I'll give 'ee a reg'lar treat to-morrow of all the nice things us have left after the feast; there'll be a pretty lot, I'll be bound. And look 'ee here, Jerry, or what else yer name is,” he added, speaking to one of the elder boys. “You trot to the market yonder, and buy a bushel or two of peaches with this crown, and share 'em out fair an' square amongst the lot. Off ye go now, every Jack and Jill of ye; and mind ye don't come here agin to-day, making a rumpus, or ye'll get no treat to-morrow,—no, not so much as a dry bone. Do ye hear what I say, children?”

“All right, sir! all right, master!” shouted the delighted boys and girls. “We won't come anigh yer house agin to-day; never fear, sir. Hooray!” After that parting salute, away scrampered Jerry with the crown-piece and the host of little ragamuffins after him towards the fruit market, to feast upon peaches, while Joe returned to the house smiling at the successful ruse for getting rid of their noise.

“Shure, thin, that's the right way to conquer human natur', masther dear,” said Biddy. “Kindness afore cruelty, any day. A penn'orth ov peaches 'ull do a mortial sight more to quiet a cantankerous gossoon nor a great big horse-whip— that's plain enough, sir.”

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“You please to hold your tongue, Biddy, and go and baste those turkeys,” said Mrs Stubble, sharply; and then she went up-stairs to dress for church.

It would be tedious to detail the whole of that day's proceedings; so I briefly state that the happy pair were married at St James's Church, and after the ceremony they drove back to the house in Slumm Street, followed by five carriages and cabs, containing the six bridesmaids and other friends who had been invited.

“Æsopus Clodius, a celebrated Roman actor, is said at one entertainment to have had a dish filled with singing and speaking birds which cost £800.” If that was not the height of extravagance, it surely must have been nearly up to it.

The Stubbles were not so silly as the Roman actor; still, they were lavish beyond all family precedent; and nothing was lacking which reason or fancy could suggest to make the wedding-feast an uncommon one. The quality of the cookery and the style of dishing-up were less noticeable than the superabundance of food prepared; and if any dining-table in the colony might be excused for groaning before company, Stubble's table certainly might, for it was wonderfully overladen; and that it did not actually break down is a circumstance which proves the staunch quality of well-seasoned Australian cedar.

The writer has seen great feasts among the natives of New Zealand, Friendly Islands, and Fiji, where four times as much food was prepared as could possibly be eaten by the guests before it got putrid. A distressing waste was the result; and perhaps hundreds of persons went on short allowance for many weeks afterwards. If Mrs Stubble had not seen similar entertainments, she had doubtless heard of civic banquets. At any rate, her notions of a display of food were as large as the notions of any uncivilised person in Polynesia or elsewhere.

Mr Stubble could not help quietly contrasting the costly banquet spread before him with the humble appearance of his festive board on his own wedding-day, when a hough of bacon, a dish of broad beans, a squab pie, a figgy pudding, and a big brown jugful of cider, comprised the whole bill of fare, and very good fare it was then considered. He felt relieved by the reflection that the food they could not consume would not be wasted, for he had promised the street children a treat

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next day; and his heart glowed as he fancied how much the poor things would enjoy it.

The breakfast, which by the way was a hot dinner, progressed without any mishap of consequence. All the guests seemed pleased, and the host and hostess were proud beyond measure. Biddy Flynn was at the head of the domestic staff, and was as active as the boatswain of a dismasted ship.

Benjamin looked sternly thoughtful at times; but fortunately no one noticed it. At any rate, no person but himself could have known the cause, which was simply on account of his father appearing at the table in a fashionable coat and a white waistcoat, and sitting next to the roguish young bridesmaid mentioned in a previous chapter. Ben had never before seen his sire dressed so smartly, nor had he ever before seen his hair oiled. He remarked also that the old gentlemen did not so much as hint at his lumbago, and always tried to stifle his cough; in short, he looked as brisk as a boy.

Those little things, simple in themselves, had a dispiriting influence on Ben, though as a dutiful son he might have had opposite feelings. He tried to cheer himself with the idea that no young girl would be simple enough to marry such a rickety old man of seventy; but that belief was not sustained, for he suddenly remembered that he had seen several instances of such unequal yoking; indeed, only a few days before, when on a visit to a well-known watering-place near Sydney, he had seen a merry old man of seventy-five playing with his little son, about three years old, while his wife, a buxom-looking woman of about twenty-seven years, was suckling an infant. Those reflections tended to becloud Benjamin's brow, even with his blushing bride by his side.

After the knives and forks were done with, some appropriate toasts were given, and several speeches were made; but it would not proper to make them public. Mrs Stubble wept while Benjamin expatiated on his present happiness, and on the honour he felt at being surrounded by so many good friends whom he highly prized, and especially at having by his side one whom he could now call his darling wife, the charming partner of his future fortunes.

Old Mr Goldstone, too, made a neat little speech, from which nobody would have judged that he was in any way miserly; and at the wind-up, he dilated so tenderly on the blissful associations of wedded life, that all the bridesmaids were tickled

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exceedingly, or at any rate they laughed as if they were so; and Biddy quietly remarked to the housemaid “that the roguish young lady's eyes flashed fire, like brass tinderboxes.”

Mr Stubble's speech was short and rather incoherent, for drinking bumpers had not improved his diction. He would have got on better, as he afterwards confessed, if his wife had not kept on making faces at him from the other end of the table. Peggy's explanation of the matter was, that “she wasn't making faces at him; only she was afraid he was going to take the company all the way back to Chumleigh, and she was merely giving him a silent hint now and then, with her eyebrows, to warn him not to do it.”

At length the cab arrived to take the happy pair to the railway station; so the festive party broke up, and after the usual leave-taking ceremonies the bride and bridegroom stepped into the vehicle, while a crowd of bonnetless women stood by to witness the departure, and to pass a few jocose remarks among themselves.

“Who has got an old shoe?” asked Simon, who had been immoderately merry since the last toast. “Ho, ho, ho! Give me an old shoe to throw after them for luck.”

“Here is one of my son Bob's best boots, sir,” said Mrs Stubble, who was more solemnly excited than Simon, for she really believed in the luck of the act.

“A shoe would be better,” chuckled Simon; “but never mind, we will make this do.” He then hurled the boot into the cab—alas, with too much earnestness, for it went through the glass pane of the opposite door.

“Bravo! this will be as good as a pair of boots to my old man, 'cos he's got a wooden leg!” exclaimed one of the untidy women, as she picked up the boot, and stuffed it into her pocket. “That's luck in my way, anyhow. Ha, ha, ha! Bravo! old skin-and-bone! Do it agin!”

Cabmen in general are seemingly as tender of their vehicles as sea-captains are of their chronometers. It would be a happy thing indeed for cab horses if they were half as well cared for. This curious fact in town life might be borne out by the experience of numberless passengers who have at times accidentally injured the blinds or lining of a cab, and have been obliged to listen to the forcible appeals of the driver for prompt reparation.

It is no wonder, then, that Ben's Jarvey was hurt to see his

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off-side pane smashed in that silly manner. He had frequently seen a boot thrust through his cab window by a high-spirited fare going home from the play, or from some other house of amusement; but there was always a foot in the boot, and its owner was usually in a rollicking mood, and was easily induced to pay liberally for the glazier. Had the cabman been of a more philosophical turn of mind, he would have reflected that the boot was thrown for luck; and it might be made a lucky throw for him, for the giggling old gentleman who threw it would never refuse to pay for the damage while so many pretty girls were beside him smiling at his facetiœ. But the cabman was a surly man, and instead of touching his hat and asking Simon for a sovereign, he called him sundry names, not at all polite, and threatened “to pull him to the police court, for wilfully damaging the vehicle.”

“Hallo! what do you mean by this impudence?” shouted Ben; at the same time he sprang from the cab with the ferocity of a cannibal chief. “Get on to your box, sir; and drive me off this instant, or by gemini, I'll knock your head off in two minutes.”

As I have before stated, Benjamin was strong. He had often knocked down cabmen, and other men too; and he was just then in prime alcoholic trim for hitting an adversary very hard, although he might not strike scientifically. The driver seemed more hardened than softened by Ben's emphatic address, and began to reply in true cabby style; but ere he had utterred more than ten words, or five oaths, he was knocked down by a blow from Ben's right fist, while the left fist was clenched, ready to knock him up again, if need be.

But though floored, cabby was not conquered; and the agility with which he got on to his feet again showed that the blow had not much affected his head. He had had the privilege of being an early pupil of “deaf Burke,” the famous London bruiser—a circumstance which he briefly explained as he sparred up to Ben, and, in the language of the ring, “fetched him a reg'lar smeller,” and “tapped his claret,” to the sad disfigurement of his wedding-waistcoat.

“Yah! Hooray! Bravo, cabby! That's hooked his konk like the snout of the market pump!” exclaimed the vulgar woman with the boot in her pocket, whose sympathies were evidently strong on the cabman's side. “Hit him again, whippy! Bung up his peepers!”

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Thus encouraged, the cabman warily sparred round his bulky opponent, who was striking out left and right with a tremendous display of power, but without hitting his foe. The odds were decidedly in favour of science, when Bob Stubble rushed up, and his warmth of feeling for his brother-in-law's damaged nose scotched his sense of fair-play for a moment, and he struck the unlucky cabman a blow from behind, which knocked him down again.

Never, perhaps, since the days when the late Captain Cook was a baby, and Slumm Street was in undisputed possession of the primitive aborigines, was there heard such a yelling as burst from the lungs of the bonnetless women, to mark their disapproval of Bob's cowardly attack. It is highly probable that they would have proceeded at once to carry out their savage threat of scalping him, had not the general attention been diverted by the sudden bolting of the horses.

It is seldom, indeed, that cab-horses can muster spirit enough for a voluntary gallop, and in general they are more prone to lie down in harness; but no horses in the world, however stiff and bony, could have heard that awful yelling without making an effort to run away from it. Off they started, with poor Maggie inside the cab, and her personal luggage outside; and as it whirled round the corner into a cross street, her distracted friends could see her leaning out of the near-side window, and waving both her hands.

It would be a rather stirring moral exercise to reflect on the strange vicissitudes of life which this case presents. Only a few brief minutes before, Maggie had been the object of admiration, perhaps of the envy too, of six bridesmaids, to say nothing of what any of the matrons felt. She had sat at the festive board, and with prideful feelings had heard the most glorifying things said of herself and her devoted husband at her side, and the most exuberant wishes expressed for her future happiness. Alas! how changed the scene! In the turn of a sand-glass, how startling the contrast! What matron would secretly envy Maggie now? What bridesmaid in her senses would wish to exchange places with the bride in a cab drawn by a pair of runaway horses?

A strange spectacle it was, no doubt, to see all the males of that gay wedding-party rushing through the streets without their hats, and Benjamin and the cabman racing neck-and-neck, the one trembling for the fate of his young wife,

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and the other for the soundness of his coach and horses. Simon Goldstone kept up a brisk trot, and though he was a long way behind the rest of the runners, he pluckily resolved to see the end of it. His old neighbours were equally surprised at his smart attire and his smart paces, and as but few of them knew what he was running for, it was generally believed that some of his tenants had flitted, and that the old man had run mad.

The cab-horses took a straight course towards their owner's stables at Strawberry Hills, fortunately without coming in contact with anything on their route; so, although Maggie was terribly frightened, she was not otherwise hurt.

A little skilful negotiation on the part of Mr Stubble soon smoothed down the cabman's feelings; and for a handsome consideration he agreed to drive to Parramatta forthwith, as he had missed the four o'clock train. A fresh pair of horses were put in the cab, and in due course the bridal pair arrived safely at the Red Cow Inn. After all the excitement and danger, the only tangible marks of mischief were on Benjamin's nose, which looked very like a ripe fig.

After tea that evening, Mr Stubble and Simon Goldstone took a tumbler of punch together in the snuggery, and Simon grew marvellously confidential and talkative. Among other things, he told Joe that he had fully resolved to enjoy himself for the rest of his days, instead of living miserably and hoarding up his money for somebody to squander after he was dead; but he could not exactly see the force of Joe's suggestion, that he should enjoy himself by pulling down a lot of the old rickety tenements that he owned in the city, and building model dwellings for the working-classes, and thus leave a name to be gratefully remembered long after he was dead. He was just about to explain what he really did mean to do, when the door of the snuggery was opened, and in ran the six blooming bridesmaids, and by pleasant force they hustled the two old gentlemen up-stairs to the drawing-room to play a game of forfeits.

After supper everybody seemed to grow more funny than ever. Mr Goldstone waltzed with the roguish bridesmaid, and Mr Stubble danced a rural fandango with Mrs Stubble, and after he had finished it, he fell down on the hearth-rug muttering, “I be reg'larly done up.” He was straightway carried to bed, singing in a lofty key, “There was an old 'ooman in Darby.”

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The company left as the clock was striking two; and as soon as they were gone, Mrs Stubble discovered that whilst they had been dancing in the drawing-room, some dishonest person or persons had entered an open window of the dining-room, and stolen all the silver forks and spoons, and the silver cake-basket, with the wedding-cake in it.