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Chapter VIII.

A summary of Ben Goldstone's doings since his marriage.—His commercial transactions with Mr Stubble.—Poor Maggie's domestic misery.—Biddy Flynn's sympathy.

TO attempt a clear and comprehensive explanation of Ben Goldstone's financial progress for the three years succeeding his marriage would be fruitless, for he himself boastfully declared that he would defy a lawyer to fathom his schemes, and in his poetical moods he has often exclaimed, “Deep as the d——l is Benjamin?” Assuming that Ben was right for once, it would scarcely be a pleasant investigation, if it were practicable, to get to the bottom of his affairs; so, I shall take a mere surface glance at them, which will be deep enough for my purpose.

The cash which he held as private banker for Mr Stubble, and his winnings from Nabal Samms, had, by a little jingling manipulation, gained him the reputation of being a capitalist. How he had acquired the money, no one took the liberty to inquire; that was of but little consequence compared with the fact that he had money, which no one could doubt who was in his company for five minutes. He soon became a man of mark in sporting and in commercial circles, especially as he manifested a lively disposition to sport or to speculate with his capital. All the brokers in town regarded him as a desirable client; and though for a time directors were as shy of his paper as sly old fish are of a bare hook, after a while any of the banks would discount his bills as eagerly as a red bream would bite at a yellow-tail. He was on familiar terms with all the “horsey” men in the metropolis, and was better known at Tattersall's than Tattersall himself.

His active superintendence of repairs to the old house in Slumm Street had been helpful to him, inasmuch as it showed that he was on good terms with his wealthy sire; and he contrived to induce the current belief that he had the supervision of the whole of his father's property. It was also quietly

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rumoured that he had got £5000 cash down with his wife. Mr Stubble was quite prepared to give £2000 to his daughter for a marriage-portion; indeed he had a notion that money was always expected to be forthcoming at marriage in high life; but as Ben did not even hint at it, Joe refrained from opening the subject. It was not extreme modesty, however, which kept Ben silent; but he was desirous of impressing his father-in-law with the idea that he had plenty of money of his own. He shrewdly estimated that he would get whatever cash he wanted from Joe if he went carefully to work; in short, all Ben's acts showed him to be a calculating youth. The carriage and horses, for instance, cost him nearly £200; but he received more than that sum as quiet commission from the upholsterer, the tailor, and the contractor who repaired the house. Thus he made Mr Stubble pay for the turn-out; while he, Ben, had the credit of being uncommonly liberal, and considerate in the extreme. The additional prestige which the carriage gave to the family was a collateral advantage to Ben, and helpful to his plans for getting his name up.

Bob Stubble, although aware of Ben's difficulty in raising money to meet the bills payable to Mr Stubble, did not suspect him of being more than temporarily short of cash. Bob's disagreement with his parents, and his subsequent departure from the colony, prevented him from knowing anything more of Ben's movements; and his desire to spare his sister's feelings prevented him from explaining what he did know of Ben's disreputable method of making money, and of his general lack of moral principle.

The bill for £2500 was duly honoured, and thus a dead weight of prejudice was removed from Mr Stubble's mind against that species of paper currency; and sundry minor speculations which he entered upon having turned out profitable, he was stimulated to launch out upon his credit, instead of nervously confining himself to simple cash transactions, which Ben designated as a mere cheap-butcher's style of doing business. Mr Stubble was induced to go largely into store cattle, which were then selling at a temptingly low figure. To obtain the ready cash, it was deemed necessary to resort to a common device well known as “kite-flying,” which Ben assured his credulous relative was all right so long as his bank directors did not find it out; but even if they did know it, it was no matter, provided he were well into their books, or stood well in their opinion as a man of capital.

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The cattle were sent, in convenient mobs, overland to Melbourne, and arrived there at a favourable time of scarcity; and the speculation netted nearly £7000 profit. Mr Stubble was naturally elated at that piece of good luck; and it gained him considerable éclat with certain sharp men of business, who usually respect men who make money.

Another venture in shipping cattle to New Zealand, when Ben went as supercargo, was not so fortunate, for expenses were enormously heavy; nevertheless, the transaction left a small profit, which was better than a loss, as Ben facetiously remarked.

The next speculation was the purchase of a vessel for a trading voyage to the South Sea Islands. Ben predicted large gains from that venture, as he had some knowledge of the islands; but he never cared to give the particulars of his experience for special reasons not delicate to mention. Mr Stubble did not enter heartily into that venture, because the principal article of trade was inferior spirits, and he had seen a good deal of mischief caused by that commodity in the bush. It was some time before he would be persuaded that there was any difference, in a moral point of view, between the sly grog-cart of the bush-hawker and the spirit-laden schooner of the island trader; but Ben, with his peculiar logic, demonstrated that the distinction was as clear as “Old Tom” itself; for the former traffic was confined to a low class of fellows, whose only capital were their carts and the rubbish in their kegs; whereas the latter trade was made respectable by the countenance and support of men who carried high heads in the community, and who helped to make wholesome laws for us all. As for what was said and written about the demoralising influence of the trade on the poor islanders, that was all bosh; a mere missionary outcry that nobody heeded. The natives in general were free and independent men, though they were half-naked; and they had as much right to drink what they pleased as the enlightened citizens of Sydney, for whose convenience the Government sanctioned the licensing of more than half-a-thousand public-houses. “Besides, daddy, you surely don't mean to set yourself up as a greater moralist than Mr Gall Deacon, or a more profound political economist than Mr Bobton?” said Ben, as a wind-up to his argument.

“Not I, Ben. I bean't half as good or as knowing as either of them. I never said I was.”

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“Very well, then; Bobton has I don't know how many vessels in the island trade, and has been making money hand over fist, as sailors say, for many years past; and as for Gall Deacon, everybody knows that he is a large importer of spirits; and I should like to know who would presume, on any Sunday morning, to say black is the white of his eye.”

At those two veritable examples Mr Stubble's conscientious scruples began to waver; Ben's confident assertion, too, that the spec was like coining money, was a powerful stimulus to the love of gain, which lurks in every heart; and finally Joe's scruples were silenced, if not wholly removed.

“Hooker has a brig to sell dirt cheap, daddy; and we can get her on terms. She is an old clumbung; but never mind, she will answer our purpose as well as if she were A 1. It is the fine-weather season, you know, and we are not going to load her as deep as a collier; besides, she has first-rate pumps, and a life-boat on her port davits.”

The Bumbee was bought, and afterwards was “thoroughly refitted;” that is to say, she was smartened up with paint and pitch, and her rigging was rubbed down with the best tar. A sailor had a severe fall to the deck, through boldly trusting his whole weight on the foot-rope of the fore-top-gallant yard; but he was carefully carried to the accident ward of the infirmary. The marine surveyor was not quite satisfied with the Bumbee's ground-tackle, and ordered another cable to be put on board; so Ben bought an old one very cheap, and chuckled at his cleverness in cheating the surveyor, for the chain was not strong enough to tether a cow, though it looked nice and heavy.

The Bumbee had a light cargo, judiciously stowed on her ballast, though her published manifest showed that she had a prodigious load for her tonnage. That discrepancy could only have been explained by Ben and a few of his allies, if any inquiry had been made about it. The ship and cargo were comfortably insured, and Ben started on his voyage with an old school-fellow for a skipper, a young gentleman who knew more nautical manœuvres than are referred to in “Norrie's Epitome of Navigation,” and as jolly a dog as ever kicked a common sailor.

The Bumbee never returned to Sydney; but Benjamin returned in about six months, with his captain and crew, and demonstrated, beyond all legal controversy, to the underwriters, that the brig had struck a rock, “not laid down in

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any chart,” off Tonga-taboo; and as she soon afterwards sank in deep water, a survey was impracticable. The insurance was duly paid; and though Mr Stubble thought the transaction entailed a slight loss, Benjamin secretly knew that it left a large profit; and he had had a pleasantly exciting cruise into the bargain. How it was possible to make profit out of a total wreck, I shall not stay to consider; but I daresay there are both shippers and ship-owners in this part of the world who could explain the process, anomalous as it may seem.

An extensive shipment to California of sour beer, with a forged label on the bottles, purporting it to be the double-stout of a well-known London brewer, did not turn out a favourable speculation in any way. The sailors, with the proclivity which their class have for testing liquid cargo, broke bulk on the voyage, and got the cholera morbus for their pains; so the whole parcel of pseudo XXX was condemned by the Board of Health at Honolula, having previously been terribly becursed by the surviving sailors on board ship. Mr Stubble really knew nothing of that nefarious transaction beyond bearing his share of the loss; the whole affair was managed by Benjamin and a certain agent in town, whose turn for polished knavery was only equalled by Benjamin himself, and by their mutual ally, whose name it is not polite to write in plain English.

A clearing-out speculation in American ware, which Blarney the broker coaxed Mr Stubble to enter upon, gave him a good deal of anxiety, for he knew nothing about “Yankee notions,” and subsequent heavy importations of similar goods had so glutted the market that, to quote a broker's phrase, “they could not be placed so as to leave a favourable margin.” The bright faces of Joe's wooden clocks were getting dulled with mildew, and his fresh lobsters began to smell suspiciously stale; the rats were eating his dried apples by wholesale, and store rent was gradually eating up everything, to say nothing of interest of money lying dead. Altogether it was a very depressing affair, when, as if to crown Joe's troubles, a disastrous fire one night consumed the building in which the unfortunate goods were stored. Poor Joe was in a sad state of excitement while the fire was blazing, and burnt his fingers badly in carrying hot “notions” from the building; for as he did not know they were covered by insurance, he exerted himself like a salvage thief to save what he could. But Ben

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presently eased his mind by calling him a fool for trying to save the goods, as they were fully insured. “The origin of the fire was unknown.”

Benjamin's efforts to sell his father's house in Slumm Street to Mr Stubble were unsuccessful. Mrs Stubble firmly opposed the purchase at any price, for it was in an intolerably low neighbourhood, and not fit for any genteel family to live in. To Ben's reminder that he was born in the house, Peggy sharply replied she did not doubt it; and it was also clear to her that she should die in the house if she stayed there much longer, for the stench from the drains was strong enough to kill a pig. Furthermore, she remarked, “if Mr Stubble wanted to get rid of her, the safest way he could do it would be to buy the house, and she would say no more about it.”

That, of course, settled the question; but it did not affect Ben as much as it might have done under other circumstances, for he had contrived to get Mr Stubble mixed up with him in so many extensive transactions that he knew it was impossible for that gentleman to withdraw his capital, if he were ever so much inclined thereto. Ben had several accommodating friends in town, who were willing at any time to lend him their names in exchange for his own or Mr Stubble's; thus he found no difficulty in raising money to any extent he wished, and his swaggering importance was more than ever manifest. Mr Stubble was so much engaged with his political and social reform movements, that he did not look carefully into Ben's transactions; and as he managed to show a profit on almost every venture by a “cooking” process in which he was skilled, Joe was lulled into a fancied security, and actually believed he was making money in an easy way, quite as fast as some of the Sydney merchants, who were plodding with body and mind at their legitimate calling.

It soon became known to the astute Zachary that Mr Stubble was entangled in the nets of a coterie of kite-flyers, who were notoriously rotten, and some of them were roguishly inclined too. The commercial relationship between Mr Stubble and his son-in-law was not clearly understood; but it was not deemed expedient to sift the mystery, lest Joe might take umbrage, and shift his account. Bankers have a peculiar delicacy in making obtrusive inquiries into the dealings of clients of whose present stability there are tangible evidences; and it is not their business to caution rash customers, and run

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the risk of actions at law for defamation. That would never pay dividends and bonuses!

In the meantime, Benjamin had been doing what he called a stroke or two in various ways, of which Mr Stubble knew nothing at all. In the first place, he had helped to clear out Nabal Samms; and that young spendthrift retired into obscurity with a blotched face, a broken constitution, and an allowance of a pound a week from his mother. Ben had also made his appearance on the Melbourne turf as an amateur book-maker, but the sporting Victorians were too knowing for him; he was “hit hard,” and lost a large sum of money. In trying to win some of it back at the billiard-table, he lost more. His skill at cards had never failed him in ordinary society; so he tried his sharpest tricks, but was detected in a minute by men who knew twice as much as himself in that way. He was unmercifully kicked and bonneted, and only escaped scalping or gouging by his superior powers of running. Those mishaps, and many other mishaps and exploits during his ten weeks' stay in Victoria, he kept secret from Mr Stubble, who believed that his zealous son-in-law went to Melbourne solely for the purpose of seeing after an agent to whom they had consigned a quantity of horse feed. The agent in question was so tardy in making a return for the corn, that Mr Stubble began to fear it had slipped his memory, or that he had slipped off himself, never to return; so Benjamin volunteered to go and “touch him up.”

Poor Maggie's connubial experience was an unhappy one indeed. Scarcely had a month elapsed from her weddingday ere she was the object of an unlooked-for outburst of passion on the part of her husband which almost broke her heart. Anxiety for his personal safety had induced her to set out very late one night, in company with Biddy, in search of him. She met him a short distance from their house, staggering homeward intoxicated; and his wrath at being, as he said, “watched by his wife,” was so furious that even courageous Biddy tremblingly muttered that she “had niver heard the like afore from any sane man who worn't stark mad.’

That was the beginning of Maggie's sorrows. A record of her subsequent sufferings would not be pleasant reading to any one; so I shall not write more of it than the interest of my story demands.

The day after the stormy ebullition just noticed. Ben

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seemed sorry for his conduct, but tried to excuse it by saying that he always got ruffled if he felt that prying eyes were upon him. Maggie hung upon his neck, and with choking utterance promised never to go out to look for him again, if he were ever so late; and implored him not to say such dreadful things to her again, for she could not bear them. He said he was very sorry, and would never do so any more; so Maggie dried her tears, and tried to look happy again.

But Ben was a tippler, and his disease had reached that chronic stage which is marked by a perpetual craving for alcoholic excitement. At the first blush of morning light he took a dram from a bottle at his bedside, and throughout the day he kept up the steam with nobblers out of number. It is pretty well known that steam will have vent in some way or other; and Ben's alcoholic vapour often blew off in noisy jets of choler, and especially if those near to him were not able or willing to retort upon him in his own abusive style. He usually kept the lever of policy on the escape-valve during his intercourse with business men of influence, or with his sporting associates, whom it was expedient to avoid offending; but when he entered his home, the most insignificant cause, the smallest screw loose in the domestic machinery, was enough to lift the valve and let the steam off with a vengeance, and then his wife and the servants had to flee for their lives and limbs. The walls of his dining-room had many marks of broken tumblers, and other dangerous missiles, which he had thrown at the heads of the scampering objects of his sudden outbursts; and fractured furniture bore palpable indication of the destructive power of the high-pressure steam which I have figuratively alluded to. Before six months of wedded life passed, Ben had, in his seasons of temporary madness, torn his wife's treasured bridal attire into shreds, and demolished many of the valued presents which she received on her wedding-day; but worse than all, the bright girl, whom he had solemnly vowed to love and cherish, had more than once been smitten to the floor by blows from his heavy fist.

After the birth of her son, Maggie's health began to fail. For a short period her husband was less violent in his demeanour, and treated her more kindly; but it was only a brief season of peace, for he soon relapsed into his old courses, and she became a neglected, broken-spirited wife. Like a fragile flower blasted by a cold wind, her beauty was gone, and her poor thin face was prematurely wrinkled by sorrow

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and suffering. It is true that she had sometimes shown her old sullen temper, which is not surprising; but Ben coarsely vowed to stamp that out of her, and he succeeded in doing it. Very soon she was thoroughly subdued—cowed down, as he called it; and then her pensive looks were usually attributed to sullenness, which he assayed to cure by absenting himself from home for a week or more, to give her time to have her sulky fit out.

Amid all her troubles Maggie never spoke of them to any one except to Biddy, who she knew was too shrewd not to observe all that was going on in that unhappy home. Biddy had often interposed to shield her mistress from violence, and at such times she gave the “masther” a bit of her mind in her own style, which made him quail before her. She had many times been ordered to leave the house instanter, but she resolutely declared that she would “stop and be murthered forty times afore she wud lave Miss Maggie.” On one memorable occasion, after savagely knocking his wife down, and then kicking her, Ben attempted to put Biddy out of the room by main force, when she turned on him like an infuriated cat, and he was glad to escape from her teeth and nails, which he found were even sharper than her tongue.

“Och! dash it all, Miss Maggie! Where is all yer spirit gone to at all?” exclaimed Biddy, in an excited manner, after the fierce contest above alluded to, and Ben had left the house. “Shure I've sane the day whin ye wudn't sit still to be knocked down and kicked by the like of”—— Here the little woman checked herself, and running up, clasped Maggie in her arms with a mother's fondness. “Ah, acushla! I didn't mane to say half as much as that, but it slipped out onknown'st to me. I know ye're ill and downhearted, honey; and ye've got no more pluck in yez nor a little kid, God help ye. I won't shpake agin in that way, whatever comes; so chare up, jewel, and don't ye frit about me the laste bit in life. I won't rin away from yez, niver fear, though I sed as much awhile agone, when I was close up cranky.”

“You are very, very kind, Biddy; and I am sure you would not willingly say a word to wound any one.”

“That's true for ye, honey! I wudn't say half a word, iv it didn't slip out afore I cud stop it. Still an' all, I ain't so out an' out particular as the ould lady I heard tell ov once't. She was niver known to say a bad word against anybody at

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all, black or white. One day some ov her boys an' gals were talkin' about the ould lady's vartues, an' one of 'em sed, ses he, ‘I sartinly belave our dear ould granny wud have summat good to say even ov Satan himself.’ ‘Here she comes, an' I'll tell her what you say,’ sed another broth of a boy. So whin the ould lady came in, he up an' told her that brother Jack had had the imperence to say that she wud shpake a good word for the d——l. ‘Well, my dear children,’ sed the darling ould crayther, widout stopping to think for an instant, ‘I wish we all had Satan's industry and perseverance.’

“Now, that's jist what I say meself,” added Biddy. “Satan is all there for work—bad luck to him! an' it's busy enough he's been lately wid your own unfort'nate family, Miss Maggie. But I won't shpake any more, honey, lest I say summat sharp agin him, for I don't like him a morsel, an' that's a fact; an' sure I've got a strong wakeness for sayin' out what I've got aginst anybody, 'stead ov kapin' a lot ov savagery in me brist to make me look as sour as pickled cabbage.”