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Chapter VI.

Mr Simon Goldstone's courtship and marriage with Lydia Swan.

MR SIMON GOLDSTONE'S introduction to Lydia Swan, the merry bridesmaid, has been described in a previous chapter. It is but fair to acquit that young lady of a deliberate design to smite the old gentleman's heart when she began to coy with him in company with Maggie and her frolicsome maids. Though Lydia was fond of a bit of fun, and was leader of innocent feminine mischief among her youthful associates, she was not a flirt or a determined angler for a rich husband. Had Simon been half-a-century younger, with all his money, she would not have dared to throw off her maidenly reserve for a moment, much less call him endearing names to coax him to sing, or say all sorts of merry things to make him laugh. Many young ladies who are out of their teens think it quite safe to frolic, in a sisterly way, with a boy in a round jacket, or with an old bachelor of seventy winters, when they would stand tip-toed on their dignity if a man of twenty-five were to presume in any way to transgress the established rules of etiquette in his approaches to them.

I do not mean to say that frolicking, even with a boy in a jacket, is either safe or decorous conduct for a young maiden, but it is sometimes practised, and innocently enough too. But if it be safe sport for the girl, which is questionable, it is not always so for the boy; and I have known a youth of sixteen lose his heart through a course of platonic coying with a damsel of twenty-two, who was as virtuous as she was beautiful, and who had no more idea of enslaving the affections of her boy-lover than she had of marrying the Duke of Wellington.

Lydia Swan was an orphan, and was left to the guardianship of a bachelor uncle, who was clerk in an office in Sydney. Her income was about £100 a year, the rent of a house left her by her late father. She had been well educated, and, notwithstanding her frolicsome humour, she was a young lady

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of superior mental endowments. She was generous to an extreme; and out of her limited income she contributed to the support of two infirm widows. In her sprightly way she has often remarked, as many other girls have playfully done, “I wish I could captivate some rich old nabob. What a lot of good I might do with his wealth! I should like to have plenty of money to give away, if it were only to save me from heart-ache, when I see so many sick persons around me destitute of common comforts.”

When Simon rapped at the door of the house in Kent Street on the memorable day before referred to, his heart was cold as the iron knocker; in fact, it had never been very warm. And when he entered the drawing-room, had the young ladies sat with dignified stiffness, and talked to him in a becomingly reverent manner, it is doubtful if he would have had any other feeling than a desire to get away again as soon as possible, for he had always felt a creeping diffidence in female society, and a morbid idea that he was an object of disfavour and ridicule. If Lydia had been alone, or even in the presence of a few sedate companions, it is not likely that she would have had any perceptible influence on Simon's heart, for she would not have presumed to be funny or familiar. But the encouraging support of six other lively lasses, and being withal in a frolicking mood, she let her merry tongue loose, and her gamboling fancy fly; and, without the least idea of doing it, she made Simon's heart simmer like a roasting pippin.

The effect was as surprising as it was pleasing to him. A new-born gladness seemed to tingle his old system like dance-music. He had never before been called a dear old darling, or a merry old duck, by such pretty pouting lips. Never in his recollection had a pair of flashing black eyes looked at him in that loving way. Not a solitary once, in his whole lifetime, had he been coaxed to “sing a song of sixpence” by such a bewitching voice; in fact, nobody had ever done him the honour of supposing him capable of singing a song of any sort. Female eyes had usually looked at him with coldness or disdain, if ever they deigned to look at him at all; and female faces were drawn into sombre longitude at his approach, as if in mockery of the stony old miser who could not love anybody but himself. It is no wonder, then, that he laughed so uncommonly while the seven lively girls

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grouped around him; no wonder that his long frozen-up feelings were thawed by such genial influences; nor is it strange that he should lie and revolve the whole pleasing scene over and over again in his mind after he got into bed that night.

“Heigho!” sighed Simon, as he adjusted his flannel nightcap, and took another cough lozenge from a box beneath his pillow. “If my poor dear wife who is dead and gone had been as lively and cheerful as that pretty lass whom I saw at Stubble's this afternoon, what a happy life I should have lived with her! But she never even smiled in my presence, and that used to make me look gloomy. She was always peevish and fretful, which kept me from being kind and loving to her, when I wished to be so. But, poor dear, she was not strong, either in body or mind; and perhaps I was in fault for not removing from that dingy house, and allowing her a little more cheerful society. Half-a-dozen merry lasses for companions would have made a difference in her temper, I'll be bound. Yes, I was in fault; but not wholly so, for her mother was to blame too. She ought to have had more sense than to interfere in our domestic matters; that sort of thing usually leads to a rupture. Well, poor Granny Farden is dead and gone; so I need not grumble at her now. I wonder if that lassie would have me if I asked her? What a remarkable change it would make in my dreary life! But I am too old for her. If I could adopt her as a daughter, I should hear her merry voice in my house. No, no, no; that won't do at all; it is impracticable. Envious tongues would talk about it, and injure her reputation; and I would not have that for the world.

“Heigho!” sighed Simon again, after a few minutes' meditation. “I don't know when I have enjoyed myself so much as I have done this afternoon. A good genuine laugh is a blessed thing. I wish I could enjoy one every day. My money does not make me laugh, nay, it does not even excite me as it used to do when I was engaged in making it; and I am troubled with the unpleasant reflection that it may make some poor mortals in the world cry, if I should die suddenly, and that thriftless son of mine should begin to scatter it.” Simon then fell into a solemn reverie, and finally dropped off to sleep, and dreamed that he saw ten thousand ragged boys and girls scrambling for threepenny-bits, which he was throwing to them from his front attic window. He woke up with an unusual fit of laughter, took another lozenge, then dozed

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off again and dreamed that he was riding to church in Scully's wedding-coach, with Lydia by his side, and his son Ben on the box.

I have already described Simon's smart attire and his jaunty air at Maggie's wedding. His marked attention to Miss Swan was observed by other persons besides Ben; and she was subjected to a more than customary share of banter and quizzing on that account, for it was the general opinion that she had fascinated the old gentleman; or, as it was facetiously expressed, drawn the old snail quite out of his shell.

“You must be joking,” said Lydia, laughing till her merry eyes sparkled in tears of fun, when an experienced matron, in solemn mood, said she was certain old Mr Goldstone thought she (Lydia) was in earnest with her familiarity. “I have had a bit of fun with him certainly, but in the same spirit that I should have played with my grandfather; nothing more, I assure you, Mrs Dix; and I cannot believe that he looks at me in any other way than as a giddy girl. Perhaps he thinks I deserve to be whipped for my mad-cap behaviour. It is impossible that he can be so silly as to think of me for his wife—ha, ha, ha! Nonsense, Mrs Dix!”

But if such were Lydia's real sentiments respecting Simon's feelings or intentions, she was soon undeceived; for, a few days afterwards, he drew up to her uncle's house in a cab, and solicited an interview with Miss Swan.

Lydia was in the kitchen making pastry when the servant brought Mr Goldstone's card; and her surprise and trepidation may be imagined. Without changing her dress, she entered the drawing-room, and received her visitor with an easy grace which she had some difficulty in assuming; but her manner was sedately becoming her position as mistress of the house, and in company with a gentleman alone.

After a few minutes' conversation on general topics, Mr Goldstone, with wonderful calmness, and in his usual gentlemanly style, told Lydia the object of his visit, which was to make her an offer of marriage. Observing that she changed colour, and looked embarrassed, he added, in a kind tone, “I daresay you are surprised at my presumption. You might with good reason doubt my judgment, or even question my seriousness, on account of the great disparity in our ages; but, I assure you, I have carefully considered the subject, and, from my point of view, the obstacles do not appear to be so formidable as to mar your happiness, or I should not make

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this proposal. I would willingly explain my views more clearly to you; but I will not stay now, for I can see that I have embarrassed you, my child. This visit was unexpected by you, I am sure. I wish you to take time to consider my proposal, and to consult your guardian. I will only ask you to allow me the privilege of another visit, to receive your verbal answer; and whatever your decision may be, I trust that, at all events, you will ever regard me as your sincere friend.”

Lydia was only able to articulate a few words, which Simon took for an assent to his last proposition; so, with the most delicate desire to spare her further excitement, he shook hands with her and departed. When he had left the house, she ran up to her bedroom, and burst into tears. The merry, frolicsome, romping girl was for a few minutes overcome with sorrow for her folly in flirting with the kind old gentleman, and thoughtlessly leading him to hope for an impossibility.

When her uncle came home in the evening, her serious face showed that something unusual had occurred, and, in reply to his affectionate inquiries, she told him of the visit of Mr Goldstone, and the object of it. After hearing her story, her uncle laughed heartily, and Lydia could not help laughing with him, though she did not feel in a merry humour.

“You should have said ‘boo!’ to him, and scared him away,” said her uncle. “I wish I had been here to talk to the old goose. Report says that he is the most inveterate miser in the land; so if you were to link yourself to him, it is very likely he would starve you to death. 'Tis true I have never spoken to the man, but I have heard his character long ago. Marry you, indeed! Pooh, pooh! I have not patience enough to think of such a thing for a moment.”

“His manner this morning was very gentle and dignified, uncle. There was nothing of the doting old lover in his address or demeanour. I must say that for him.”

“Do you want my consent to the match, Lyd? You know that is not necessary, for you are your own mistress now. You are twenty-two years old, come Sunday.”

“Consent! Oh, dear no! uncle; I have no idea of accepting his offer. Of course not. But I do not want to offend him, or to cause him unnecessary trouble, for his manner was exceedingly kind; and it is only right, you know, for me to treat him with respect. I have brought this about by my silly, thoughtless fun, but really I had no wish to do mischief. I thought I could be as familiar as I pleased with such a very

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old man, and he was so funny himself that he led me on;— you know what a romping mad-cap I can be, uncle.”

“You are right there, Lyd; and you had better be sedate in future. But I will suggest an easy way to get rid of your old beau. When he comes here again, tell him that you are the most expensive girl in the city. I daresay you would be so Lyd, if you had plenty of money to give away. If that confession does not scare him, tell him that if you have him, he must settle, say £5000 on you, as private pocket-money, to spend as you please—ha, ha, ha! I'll warrant that will be enough to scare away all his love for you in a twinkling; he will hobble off home, and you will never see him here again. Now brighten up, my dear, and don't think any more about it.”…

Three days afterwards, Mr Goldstone called again at Lydia's house. He was dressed in a new suit of black clothes, of a becoming cut; and he looked very genteel, without any of the old dandy appearance which he had shown in his modish attire at Maggie's wedding. Lydia received him without any visible embarrassment. She had prepared herself for the interview, and she assumed a sprightly demeanour. After a while, Simon, in a calm, collected tone, asked her if she had sufficiently considered his proposal.

“Yes, Mr Goldstone, I have thought a good deal about it; but it is only fair to tell you, first of all, that you would find me the most costly, noisy, wild, troublesome creature you ever heard of; in short, I should be most dreadfully extravagant and a terrible fidget, and I don't know what besides.”

Simon smiled pleasantly, and said he should be only too happy to call her his wife, even if she had twice as many failings as she really possessed. His reply took Lydia somewhat by surprise; but she soon recovered her self-possession, and, putting on her arch look again, she said, “But you know, Mr Goldstone, I should want a pocketful of money to spend every day.”

“You shall have it, my child, and anything you wish for besides, that is in my power to procure for you.”

“Oh, but I want a great lot of money in my own purse. I shall require at least £5000 made over to me absolutely, placed in my uncle's hands for me to spend as I like, for I am monstrously expensive.”

“I will most gladly give you ten, aye, twenty thousand pounds, my child, for that is less than a quarter of what I

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possess. I will secure that sum to you, for your own special use, to spend as you please; and when that is spent, you shall have more; I am sure you will not waste it. Moreover, you shall be the sole legatee of my property at my decease, for I am determined it shall not pander to the idleness and dissipation of my spendthrift son. Every shilling that I possess shall be yours, my child.”

“Oh! don't say any more to me, Mr Goldstone, if you please,” said Lydia, looking imploringly into his face. “Pray, don't say any more to me! Your kindness oppresses me. I am truly sorry I have trifled with you. Forgive me, sir; it was thoughtless folly, and not design, I assure you. I did not intend to mislead you into the belief that I could ever marry you. I cannot do it, sir. You are”——She hesitated, and blushed deeply.

“Too old,” suggested Simon. “Yes, my dear child, I know it. It would be a very unequal match. I know too much of human nature to believe that any old man, verging upon seventy, is likely to engage the affections of a bright young girl upon a short acquaintance. Your present candour increases my confidence in you, and confirms the estimate I had formed of your character from personal observation and otherwise. Pardon me for checking you,” he added, as Lydia was about to speak. “Hear me for a few minutes; then I will depart, for it grieves me to cause you so much embarrassment. I deeply considered this matter before I resolved to speak to you. You will make a sacrifice, no doubt; but I have allowed myself to hope that the power, in a pecuniary sense, of dispensing succour to so many objects of need will outweigh what might otherwise be to you insurmountable. A surprising change has taken place in me of late, and I can trace it partly to your happy influence. Your dear, cheerful voice has opened a new joy-spring in my heart, and forced me to shake off my long-cherished avarice; and now I see the world around me with other eyes. I believe I shall live to be beloved and respected, instead of being shunned and pointed at as a selfish, money-loving old hermit. I could explain much more of my recent experience, but I dread being prolix. At some other time I may tell you all. I have hoarded money for a son who, to my sorrow, has proved himself unworthy to be trusted with it. It would be a sin to leave it to him, for he would do mischief with it. It shall be yours, Lydia, if you will accept of it; and the remainder

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of my life shall be devoted to promoting your happiness, and in helping you to make others happy. Consider again about it, my dear child, calmly and dispassionately. I will wait a week longer for your decision.” Simon then shook hands with the agitated girl, and considerately withdrew.

“Well, well! you have thoroughly astounded me, girl,” said Mr Balmer, Lydia's uncle, when, on his return home in the evening, she had related the whole particulars of her interview with Mr Goldstone. “What do you think about it, Lyd?”

“I have been so excited all day, uncle, that I dare not tell you my thoughts, lest you should think me crazy.”

“I can see you are looking anxious, my girl; so you had better not say any more about it at present. You will be able to consider the affair calmly by the time Mr Goldstone calls again, and I will ponder over it too; for it is only fair to him to think seriously about it, though at first I was inclined to treat it as a joke. His behaviour has been very gentleman-like, and his confidence and liberality are truly wonderful. He must have been terribly belied, or else you have wrought a marvellous change in him, Lyd.” Her uncle then began to chat in his liveliest strain upon current news of the day, the most exciting of which was the arrival in Sydney of a lady of the Bloomer persuasion, who was going to reform the tastes of the currency lasses in the important matter of dress.

Nearly a week had elapsed, when one evening, as Mr Balmer was reclining in his arm-chair by the fire, his niece seated herself on a carpeted foot-stool, and placing her hands on his knees, said she was going to speak to him respecting Mr Goldstone, as she expected him to call the next day. “You know, dear uncle, I have always had a desire for plenty of money, so that I could help those who are suffering from poverty and sickness; but I never had an idea of owning such an immense sum as I have now within my reach. I think I should do right in accepting Mr Goldstone's offer.”

“For the sake of his money, Lyd?”

“Principally so, I admit, uncle, for the sake of the good I might do with it. How many sad hearts I may be able to cheer in the course of a year! How many poor outcast children I may be able to clothe and educate! How many charitable institutions, that are now languishing for want of funds, I may be able to assist from my heavy purse! And lastly, though it will be my first object, how comfortably I

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can settle you for life, dear uncle, and save you from the necessity of sitting in a cold office all day when your rheumatism is so severe.”

Tears stood in Mr Balmer's eyes as he gazed at the upturned face of his beautiful niece, and it was some time before he could speak; at length he said, “You must leave me out of your reckoning, Lyd. I will never consent to your bartering your happiness on my account.”

“Bartering my happiness, dear uncle! Will it not be happiness to do good in the world with money which would otherwise remain locked up in an iron box? Indeed, it will; and I shall have so much good work to do that I shall not find leisure to be unhappy. As regards yourself, you must live with me; and if you object to that part of the bargain, my decision is made at once. I shall want your experienced judgment to help me in laying out my money carefully and usefully. I would not incur the responsibility of doing it all myself, I am such a little goose, you know, and designing people would impose upon me.”

Uncle Will smiled pleasantly at the idea of having nothing else to do but spend money; then remarked, “Well, my dear, you know I appreciate your generosity; but we will not argue the point concerning myself just now; it is the least important part of the matter. Have you duly considered how you will be able to bear the quizzical banter of your old playfellows, and the cynical remarks of disappointed young beaux, and tattling gossips? It is only reasonable, you know, to expect that your marriage with a rich old gentleman will set a lot of tongues talking and heads wagging. It will certainly be said that you have married for money.”

“As for all that, uncle, I don't know that it is worth much consideration, when we look at the many advantages in the other scale,” said Lydia, with a merry look. “At any rate, those things shall not influence me, if you approve of my marriage. I shall never be able to please everybody, marry whom I may, or if I live an old maid. There is this comforting idea, after all; I shall not hear what is said of me, for envious folks are generally considerate enough to say spiteful things out of the hearing of the person spoken against; and mere saucy words aimed at my back will not pierce me like arrows or air-gun bullets. Besides, don't you see, uncle Will, I may hear some nice soft words, for folks are often very polite to rich men's wives.”

“So far so good, Lyd; you are a sensible little puss, though

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you are such a romping plague to me at times,” said Uncle Will, kissing her fondly. “Now comes the most important question of all, and there must be no joking over it: Can you honestly make the solemn vow to ‘love, honour, cherish, and obey' Mr Goldstone for life?”

Lydia's face looked thoughtfully serious as she replied, “I believe I shall love Mr Goldstone dearly, for love begets love, you know, uncle. He is so kind and gentle, and so scrupulously delicate in his demeanour to me, without a particle of the monkeyfied manner which some old men affect; then he is so learned and clever you know; he can teach me such a lot of wisdom, and there is nothing I so much need as that. I daresay many people will think that it is impossible I can make a dutiful wife to a man so much older than myself; but I think they will be all mistaken. I shall be happy, uncle, if you approve of what I do.”

A long discussion ensued, which I need not relate; but the result was, that Mr Balmer assented to the plans of his niece, and the next day Mr Goldstone was overjoyed at hearing a decision quite opposite to the one he had anticipated.

Ben Goldstone was violently opposed to the match, and even threatened to make application to the judges for a writ of lunatico inquirendo; but his undutiful opposition was treated with calm indifference by his father; and Ben was almost lunatic himself with rage and disappointment. Gossiping neighbours also had a good deal to say about the young belle and her old beau, and some of them professed to be quite shocked at the connexion; nevertheless, preparations for the wedding went on, perhaps as smoothly as if no one had been shocked at all over it.

Lydia had explained to Simon that she did not wish for a very large house, and he kindly bade her please herself; so, with the aid of her uncle, she found a suitable villa residence about a mile from Sydney, and had it furnished to her own taste. After it was all in order, Simon went to see it, and said he was delighted with everything she had done.

In due course the promised deed of settlement was executed, and Simon and Lydia were married.