Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Grif: A Story of Colonial Life

Chapter IX. A Banquet is Given to the Moral Merchant

page 115

Chapter IX. A Banquet is Given to the Moral Merchant.

The world is full of shams. As civilization advances, shams increase and multiply; indeed, they multiply so fast that human nature in the nineteenth century might be likened to a pie, with very little room inside for the fruit, so thick is the crust of shams with which it is overlaid. And as a chief lieutenant of shams—as a sham which takes precedence from its barefaced monstrosity—may be ranked the toast of Our Guest, or Our Host, proposed at public dinners and entertainments. The unblushing fibs that are told in the speeches are dreadful to contemplate. Surely, some day a fearful retribution will fall upon that man who is in the habit of rising when the dessert is on the table, and endowing Messrs. Smith, Brown, Jones, and Robertson with every virtue under the sun, and who unctuously dilates upon their sublimities, their virtues, and their goodnesses. Beware! thou weak and false platitudinarian! Think not to escape thy fate, because the word which describes thee is not to be found in the dictionary. Beware! and reform thy evil courses ere it be too late!

It is not to be supposed that any such thoughts as these entered the mind of Mr. Zachariah Blemish, as he sat on the right hand of the chairman at a grand public dinner given in his (Blemish's) honor. For public enthusiasm with regard to this great and good man had risen to such a pitch that, to speak vulgarly, it must page 116 have had vent, or it would have burst. Therefore, it was resolved to give Mr. Zachariah Blemish a banquet; and more than two hundred gentlemen, representing wealth and position, sat down, and ate and guzzled to do him honor. The guest himself ate sparingly, but, as in duty bound, took wine with everybody. The Honorable Mr. Peter Puff was in the chair; another Honorable undertook the Vice; and a Bishop said grace before meat. Fish of river and sea, game of forest, fruit of hothouse, were cunningly served up in every possible variety in honor of Blemish. For long weeks, celebrated cooks had ransacked their brains to invent new dishes, and every one admitted, when the dessert was laid, and the wine was passing, that the result produced was glorious, and worthy of the occasion.

Thump—thump—thump! Rattle—rattle—rattle! Gentlemen, Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen! Proposed with patriotic enthusiasm. The Queen! Each gentlemen, standing, drains his glass, and sits down again with becoming solemnity. Buzz of conversation. Thump—thump—thump! Rattle—rattle—rattle! Gentlemen, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family; may he and they, etc., etc., etc. Enthusiasm and general geniality. Thump—thump—thump! Rattle—rattle—rattle! Gentlemen, His Excellency the Governor! With appropriate flunkeyism. As Her Most Gracious Majesty's Representative—-most important and. flourishing portion of Her Most Gracious Majesty's dominions—upon which the sun never sets—and so on—and so on; with The Army and Navy, The Clergy, etc., until the impor- page 117 tant moment arrives when the toast of the evening is to be proposed.

“Gentlemen, are your glasses charged?”

“All charged iii the East,” responds an indiscreet Freemason, and then there is a shifting and shuffling, until the Honorable Mr. Peter Puff rises. He looks round upon the guests, blows his nose, lifts his glass, puts it down again, coughs, and proceeds to speak.

“Gentlemen, it is now my proud task to perform a duty, which is no less a duty than it is a pleasure. (Hear, hear.) I wish that it had fallen to the lot of some more eloquent speaker than myself—(No, no!)—to propose the toast of the evening, but being asked to preside on this memorable occasion, I felt that I should have been wanting in respect to myself, and in respect to the gentleman who sits upon my right hand, if I had not at once joyfully and gratefully accepted the honorable position. Gentlemen, some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. (Considerable doubt here intrudes itself into the minds of fifty per cent. of the guests, whether tins is an original observation or a quotation.) Gentlemen, I have, in this instance, had greatness thrust upon me; for no one can doubt that the devolvement upon me to propose the toast I am about to propose, reflects honor and greatness upon—upon the proposer. We have amongst us this evening, a gentlemen—(here every one looks at Mr. Zachariah Blemish, who looks up to the ceiling, as if wondering who is the gentleman about to be referred to)—a gentleman whose undeviating rectitude, whose integrity, whose moral character page 118 whose wealth, whose position, are not only creditable and honorable to himself, but creditable and honorable to the city, which he has made his dwelling-place. (Hear, hear.) We might say, with Hamlet, that in this gentleman (in a moral sense), may be seen a combination and a form indeed, where every god doth seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man. (Great rattling of glasses and thumping of knives; Mr. Zachariah Blemish looks curiously and unconsciously interested, as if still wondering who is the individual indicated; and the honorable Mr. Peter Puff gives a sigh of relief, having delivered himself correctly of a quotation which he had taken great pains the day before to learn by heart.) Need I say, gentlemen, that I refer to our guest, Mr. Zachariah Blemish? (Prolonged applause; the thumping and rattling are terrific.) Gentlemen, we all know him (Cries of “We do!”) and we are all proud to know him (Cries of “We are!”) Say that we know him only as Chairman of the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals, and he is entitled to our approval; say that we know him only as President of the Moral Bootblacking Boys' Reformatory, and he is entitled to our respect; say that we know him only as the Perpetual Grand Master of the Society for the Total Suppression of Vice, and he is entitled to our esteem; say that we know him only as the head of the Association of Universal Philanthropists, and he is entitled to our admiration; say that we know him only as a leading member of the Fellowship of Murray Cods, and he is entitled to our veneration. But say that we know him as all these combined, and as a merchant of in- page 119 tegrity, and as a gentleman of honor, and words fail us in speaking of him. Gentlemen, words fail me when I speak of him. Far better for me to stay my speech, and leave what is unsaid to your discrimination and your intelligence. Suffice it for me to say that I am proud to know him, and that I am proud of this opportunity of expressing my sentiments. With these few remarks—inadequate as they are to the occasion—I conclude, and propose the health of our guest, Mr. Zachariah Blemish—in bumpers!”

Hurrah! In bumpers! Our guest, Mr. Zachariah Blemish! No heeltaps! Three cheers for Mr. Zachariah Blemish! with a hip, hip, hip, hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! Three cheers for Mrs. Zachariah Blemish! Three cheers for the little Blemishes (which fell flat, for the little Blemishes were in futuro). For he's a jolly good fellow—for he's a jolly good fellow—for he's a jolly good fellow—which nobody can deny—with a hip, hip, hip, hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! And a little one in—hurrah!

All which being enthusiastically performed, the guests sat down with the consciousness of having nobly done their duty.

Mr. Zachariah Blemish, in a voice which trembled with emotion, rose to thank the gentlemen who had so enthusiastically responded to the toast of his health.

“Mr. Chairman, Vice-chairman, and Gentlemen,” he said, “this is the happiest moment of my life. When I look around and see the leading members of every profession and every important interest in the Colony, and when I consider that they are assembled here to render page 120 a tribute of respect to so unworthy an object as myself (cries of “No, no!”)—yes, I repeat, so unworthy an object as myself, I am lost in wonder as to what I have done to entitle me to such an honor. I am conscious, gentlemen, of having only performed my duty. It is no very hard task, and yet it is not always done. As a merchant, as a citizen, and as a public man, this has been my endeavor. In the performance of my duty I may have done some little good. (Cries of “A. great deal.”) You are kind enough to say so. The good I have done reflects but small credit upon myself; for it has been, as I may say, evoked by my position as a not inconsiderable merchant in this city. Gentlemen, I am proud of my position as a merchant; and never in my hands shall commerce be degraded—never in my hands shall the spirit of fair and honest dealing which characterises the British nation be abused. (Thumps and rattles.) I am naturally much affected by this demonstration. You will excuse me if my emotion overcomes me, and you will pardon the little incoherences you may detect in my speech. It is usual on such occasions as these to give a brief resumé of the movements and acts of the individual upon whom is conferred an honor like the present; and I, with your permission, will touch upon one or two little matters in which. I have taken a somewhat prominent position. Our worthy chairman, my friend, the Honorable Mr. Peter Puff—(a beaming smile from that individual)—has mentioned the names of a few societies and associations with which I am connected. You all know, gentlemen, the difficulties with which the formation of the United Band of Temperance Aborigi- page 121 nals was attended. When the white man first set his foot upon these shores, he found the native savage wallowing in ignorance and immorality. Although attempts have been made to throw a doubt upon their practice of cannibalism, we are all perfectly well aware that the Australian aboriginals were in the habit of eating and enjoying one another. Their predilection for plump infants is well known. (Laughter.) Then again, they were given to habits of intemperance, and would sacrifice anything for a pint of rum. What was the duty of a Christian and a citizen when these things became known? To reform the savage. For this purpose the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals was formed, and I am proud to be able to state my opinion, founded upon statistics, that in the course of fifty years from the present time, not a single intoxicated aboriginal will be found in the length and breadth of the colony. (Loud applause.) As for the Society for the Total Suppression of Vice, we do our best. Vice is not yet totally suppressed; but we look forward to the time when we shall view (perhaps in the spirit) the successful accomplishment of the work we have initiated in the flesh. The operations of the Moral Bootblacking Boys' Reformatory, of which I am President, are well known. The institution of boot-stands in the streets of Melbourne has been attended with inconceivable blessings. A large number of boys, who did not even know the meaning of morality, have been made moral through the influence of boot-stands. You will scarcely believe, gentlemen, that one lad, who had never before worked at any honest employment, actually told me that his soul would go to immortal perdition, and page 122 could not be saved. The saving of this lad's soul dates from the moment when he received from the Reformatory a set of blacking brushes and a boot-stand; and he may now be seen, daily, in the streets, waiting for customers. (Cheers.) What shall I say, gentlemen, of the Murray Cods of You are acquainted with the gigantic difficulties with which we had to contend, and which we have successfully overcome. In our hearts, gentlemen, we are all Murray Coddians. The energy which the Murray Cods threw into their task reflects credit upon the colony—(here the Honorable Mr. Peter Puff whispers to the speaker)—and I am informed by our honorable Chairman, that on this very dinner table was placed a Murray cod which was not caught in the River Murray. (Frantic applause.) I look upon the cod placed upon the dinner table this evening as a mark of respect paid to me for my efforts in its cause; and looking upon, it in that light I am naturally much affected. Gentlemen, here I pause. The remembrance of this happy evening will always be with me. You have imposed upon me a debt of gratitude, which is the only debt, gentlemen, which I doubt of ever being able to pay. Heaven bless you!”

In the next morning's papers appeared glowing accounts of the dinner, and verbatim reports of Mr. Blemish's speech. But if the reporters, while they were transcribing their shorthand notes, could have seen the object of the night's adulation, they might have been puzzled to account for the singular change that had come over his appearance. For, say it was two o'clock in the morning when they sent away the printer's devil page 123 with the last slip, at that very hour Mr. Zachariah Blemish was locked in the private room of his mansion near the sea, his table strewn with papers and documents and his head resting wearily on his hands. Surely that was not the face of Mr. Zachariah Blemish: its freshness and roundness had departed from it; it looked positively thin and haggard. Did the great Blemish possess a skeleton, and was it even now staring him in the face in his own sanctum? It looked uncommonly like it. Or, perhaps, the triumph of the evening had been too much for him, and he was thinking of his own unworthiness. Under any circumstances, it was well for Mr. Zachariah Blemish that he kept such expressions as his face then wore for his own private use, and that he did not exhibit them in public.

It was about two o'clock in the morning, also, that Mr. Nicholas Nuttall was wending his way, somewhat unsteadily, homeward. He had been at the Blemish banquet, and had lingered until the very last moment. Then he had been cajoled into joining half a dozen gay fellows, in “just another glass,” which just another glass having been submitted to a multiplication process, rendered him a decidedly unfit companion for a lady with such a strong sense of the proprieties as Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall. Some notion of this sort floated across his mind, and produced therein considerable disturbance, inasmuch as he stopped suddenly in the midst of the chorus—“We won't go home till morning,” which was being trolled out by himself and a couple of young gentlemen, who had volunteered to see him home, and shook his head gravely and reproachfully.

page 124

“Ni—hic!—cholas Nuttall!” he observed, leaning his back against a lamp-post, “Ni—hic!—cholas Nuttall, you are a wretch.”

The two young gentlemen, one of whom was the Something in the Civil Service, and the other, Something in the Military, graciously acquiesced, in Mr. Nuttall's proposition.

“My wife!—hic—gentlemen,” observed Mr. Nuttall, blinking at the gaslight—“my wife—hic!—is probably waitingupforme” (he said this with a rush), “for the purpose—for the purpose, gentlemen, of giving me a—C—hic!—Caudle lecture.”

The two Somethings, who had been induced to see Mr. Nuttall home solely because he had a pretty daughter, endeavored to get him to walk on.

“Haw—haw—hic!” said the Something in the Civil Service. “Come home—haw—old fellaw!”

“Home!” scornfully exclaimed Mr. Nicholas Nuttall, and regarding the Something in the Civil Service with an expression of deep disdain. “Home!—hic!—do you know what home is—hic! Home is a—hic!—place where you're badgered—hic!—and nagged—hic!—and worried. I wish you were married to Mrs. Nuttall!”

Here Mr. Nutall began to cry, and called himself a villain, and a destroyer of domestic hearths. He allowed himself, however, to be prevailed upon to resume his homeward course, and in a very miserable condition he arrived at his street door.

“Gentlemen! “he then said, “my wife—hic!—does not not allow me a latch—hic!—key. Pull the bell. When you are married—hic!—have a latch key put page 125 down—hic!—in the settlements. This—hic!—is the advice of a miserable wretch.”

The sound of steps along the passage drove Mr. Nuttall into a condition of abject despair. “Don't go—hic!” he exclaimed, affectionately clinging to his companions. “Don't go—hic!—come in and have a glass—toddy.” The person who was unfastening the door, had evidently heard strange voices, for the door was suddenly thrown open, and a glimpse of a white night gown beating a hasty retreat, flitted across the vision of the three inebriates.

“Come in,” said Mr. Nuttall, with a mingled feeling of exultation and dismay, for he knew that the figure in white was the figure of the wife of his bosom “Hic!—come in, and we'll make a night of it.”

But when they got in, they were doomed to disappointment. The cupboards were locked, and not a bottle or a glass could be found. The Something in the Civil Service and the Something in the Military were therefore compelled to beat a retreat. Left to himself, Mr. Nicholas Nuttall sank into a chair. He was in the enemy's camp, and he felt that there was no hope for him. With his head sunk upon his bosom, he waited doggedly for the blow.

What a pity it is that very small women do not wear crinoline beneath their night dresses—it would add to their dignity. Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall, in her nightgown, looked ridiculously diminutive; but her moral power was tremendous. Mr. Nuttall felt its effects the instant she made her appearance; and he shivered. When she seated herself opposite to him, he had not the courage to raise his head.

page 126

“So, sir,” she said, “this is a nice time to come home!”

Nicholas murmured something about its being a very nice time.

“A nice time indeed,” she said, “to keep your lawful wife out of her bed, and to bring tipsy companions home to destroy her peace and comfort.”

“Why did you lock up all the de—hic!—canters?” asked Nicholas.

“Because I knew the state you would come home in,” returned his spouse; “and I have some regard for your health, little as you deserve it,”

“You've no right, Mrs. Nuttall, to make me look—hic!—ridiculous in the eyes of my friends.”

“Ridiculous!” said Mrs. Nuttall, with lofty sarcasm. “A s if you don't make yourself look ridiculous enough without my help. You may outrage my feelings as much as you like, sir, but you shall not turn the parlor into a tap-room.”

“The two young gentlemen who came home with me are very respec—hic!—table.”

“Don't tell me, Mr. Nuttall,” said Mrs. Nuttall; “they can't be respectable, and I am certain they are not married men.”

“Lucky dogs!” murmured Nicholas.

“That's right, Mr. Nuttall; insult me. You know I am a woman, and cannot defend myself. Oh, I wish I had been a man!”

“Hic!—I wish you had, my dear.”

“And this,” said Mrs. Nuttall, the frills of her nightcap fluttering in sympathy with her agitation, “this is page 127 the reward a slaving wife gets from a brute of a husband for sitting up for him patiently all the night, while he is eating and drinking with his friends, and making a beast of himself!”

“Why didn't you—hic!—go to bed?”

“Bed! when I was eaten up with anxiety at your absence, and when I heard noises at the back of the house as if some one was breaking into it. I am sure that burglars were trying to get into the house to-night, Mr. Nuttall, and I shouldn't wonder if they were hiding somewhere now.”

“Pooh—pooh! Nonsense—hic!”

“Of course. Pooh, pooh, nonsense! How manly of you to say that! But what would you care if we were all murdered in our beds? What would you care, I say”——

“Not a bit,” murmured Nicholas, recklessly.

“And this man I married!” exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, in a horror-struck voice, appealing to the chairs and tables. “This is the man I sacrificed myself for. This is the man I sit up for night after night, while he is dissipating and destroying the happiness of his family!”

“Don't be stupid—hic!—Maria!” said Mr. Nuttall, rising, and staggering to the door. “I am going to bed. Where's the door handle? You haven't locked that up, have you?”

Mrs. Nuttall made no reply, but walked after him, statelily, with the chamber candlestick in her hand.

“A nice example you are to your children,” she said, when she got between the sheets; “a nice example. I wonder you don't want to come to bed with your boots on! Oh, I had known this before I was married”—— page 128 “It's too late now, Maria,” observed Mr. Nuttall, maliciously, tugging at his boots.

“That's right,” sobbed the lady. “Taunt me with my folly! But I deserve it. I brought it all on myself. Mamma warned me of the consequences, when I told her that I had accepted you; but I wouldn't listen to her, and now I am justly punished. Oh! Turn your head the other way. How you smell of tobacco! Take my word for it, mamma said, if you marry that ninny, you will repent it all your life.” Here Mrs. Nuttall jumped up suddenly in the bed, and said, “Mr. Nuttall, I am certain there is some one trying to break into the back of the house.”

“I don't care,” murmured Nicholas, digging his head into his pillow. “He won't find much to eat and drink, that's one comfort.”

“And do you mean to tell me that you are going to lie snoring there”——

“I'm not snoring; you won't let me.”

——“while robbers are breaking into the house? Get up and see if there is any one there, or I shan't be able to sleep a wink all the night.”

“Get up yourself, and see,” suggested Nicholas, drowsily.

“Is it possible,” indignantly continued Mrs. Nuttall, “that any man can be so unmanly! Nicholas! Do you hear me?”

“Don't bother; let me go to sleep.”

“Sleep! while robbers are breaking into the house? No, never, Nicholas, never! I know my duty as a wife, and as the mother of a family, better.”

page 129

In an agony of desperation, Nicholas sprang up like a Jack-in-a-box, and drove his fist fiercely into his pillow half-a-dozen times, and then fell back exhausted.

“Very pretty! “exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, sarcastically. “Very pretty, indeed! I wonder you don't beat me. You're brute enough for anything.”

Nicholas groaned.

“I suppose your head aches, Mr. Nuttall, that you groan so dismally. I'm sure I don't wonder at it, from the state you are in; and here you come home, and never tell me a word about the dinner, although you know I am dying with anxiety to hear all about it.”

“It was a very nice dinner,” said Mr. Nuttall.

“And how many people were there, Nicholas?”

“A room full.”

“No, Nicholas, you shan't evade me in that manner. How do I know what sized room it was—it might hold twenty, or it might hold a thousand—how many sat down to dinner?”

“A hundred—a hundred and fifty—two hundred—two hundred and fifty,” said Mr. Nuttall, vaguely.

“Was your brother there, Nicholas?”


“Did Mr. Blemish make a speech?”


“What did he say?”

“All sort of things.”

“Nicholas, you will break my heart. Tell me instantly, what did Mr. Blemish say?”

Instead of replying, Mr. Nuttall groaned, and screwed himself [gap — reason: unclear] in the bed-clothes.

page 130

“That's right,” said Mrs. Nuttall, tugging at the sheets. “I'd take up the whole bed, if I were you!” Mr. Nuttall partially unscrewed himself. “I'm much obliged, I'm sure. And now, Nicholas, answer me one question. Are we and the dear children going up to your brother's station to spend Christmas?”

“Will you let me go to sleep if I say yes?”

“Of course I will, Nicholas. It's what I have been, trying to get out of you all night.”

“Well, yes, then. Good-night.”

“Good-night, Nicholas,” murmured his spouse.

After a short pause, and just as Mr. Nuttall was on the turning point between waking and sleeping, she said:

“Nicholas, dear.”

“Well,” he groaned.

“I shall want a new bonnet, and so will Marian. Our old ones are quite shabby.”

“Go and buy them,” he murmured.

“You're a dear soul, Nicholas. Good-night. Say good-night, dear.”

“Oh, good-night.”

And sleep then descended upon the conjugal Nuttalls.