Australian Tales

by Marcus Clarke

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Chapter 2

Gentleman George's Bride

The soft-goods firm of Marrable and Davis was a wealthy one. The Marrable interest consisted of Thomas Marrable (the brother of the station-owner) with his son Harry, and Mr. Israel Davis, once chief clerk, now partner. The office was in Flinders Lane--a big stuccoed building of four soreys, having swing-doors embellished with double plates of brass. Mr. Marrable was a politician and an importer. His son dressed in the latest London fashions, played loo and billiards equally badly, and cherished a secret ambition to belong to the Melbourne Club. He was a thin young man, with a blotched face; rode fairly to hounds, had large private expenses of a disreputable sort, and avowed a profound contempt for cads--which was unselfish. Mrs. Thomas was the daughter of a buttonmaker of Birmingham; she brought 'money' into the business, painted her face daily, had four unhealthy children, and compelled Marrable to reside at Toorak, in case she should ever 'go into society.'

Mr. Davis lived in a cottage at St. Kilda, and was remarkable for his bachelor parties. He was a tall, slim man of irreproachable manners, and the slightest suspicion of an accent. He drank the best wine procurable, smoked the best cigars, was a patron (and a judicious one) of the fine-arts, owned a cultivated musical taste, and flattered himself that he was utterly without principle. 'My dear fellows,' he would say to the guests (gentlemen who ate his admirable dinner and d----d him going home 'for an infernal Jew, sir'), 'I have no principle, and no religion. My father was a slopseller in Monmouth Street. What's that to me? I am myself with a good dinner, and a good digestion. You call yourself Christians--bah--you're asses. Every man his own creed, that's my motto. I am Israel Davis--that's my religion. Harry, here, who has been drinking too much claret, thinks himself superior to me. Let him--that's his religion, and quite sufficient for him.'

Flinders Street respected Mr. Davis. 'He's a crafty beast, that beast Davis,' said Mr. Podosokus, the bill-broker. 'He did me out of £50 as easy as kiss my hand. Dam him. I like that fellow. He's such a beast.'

'A thorough business man,' said Cammolard, of the Border Bank. 'A hard head. A hard heart. A thorough business man.'

'I don't like that Mr. Davis,' said Milly Smith, who met him at the Marrables' once. 'He's so polite.'

'What do you mean, dear?' asked Mrs. Smith, but Milly couldn't explain.

'I wonder if he has as large an interest in the firm as young Mr. Marrable,' said the mother.

'I don't like young Mr. Marrable, either,' said poor Milly. 'He's so rude.'

'That wasn't what I asked you, Miss,' said the old lady sharply, and fell into a financial reverie.

Now, despite his hard-headed and hard-heartedness, Mr Davis had done one kind thing. He had 'taken up' a bill signed 'Marrable and Davis,' which was written by Mr. Harry. This bill was for £250 and had been discounted by Mr. Davis's unacknowledged brother, Zebulon Davis, the proprietor of the Victorian Loan and Discount Company, capital £300,000,000, offices 29 Elizabeth Street East. Mr. Zebulon Davis was the 'Company,' and the capital was supplied by Mr. Israel. When some poor devil of a borrower took his miserable acceptance to the offices at 29 Elizabeth Street, he would be received by Zebulon, who would scan the oblong slip doubtfully, saying, 'It ish an unushual transhaction, Mr. Blank, but I'll lay it before the Board,' and so send a messenger round to Israel, with particulars. If Israel said 'Yes,'the cash, less 90 per cent., was handed to applicant. If Israel said 'No,' Zebulon would put off the transaction for a day or two, on pretence of making inquiries, and then suggest that, perhaps, 'with another namesh'--&c.

When a bill for £120, with the signature of the firm, was presented to Israel, he saw the state of the case at once, and being a business man he directed it to be discounted on easy terms. 'It is a forgery,' said he to his brother when they met that evening. 'It is sure to be taken up.' Sure enough it was taken up by Mr. Harry in person, who had borrowed £120 from Davis 'just for twenty-four hours.' The next day Harry brought the company another bill for £250-- 'I don't like to put it through the bank,' he said, 'but it's all right.' By his brother's directions, the 'Company' cashed this second forgery, and on the day it fell due, Mr. Davis called Harry into his private room and showed him the document.

'Do you see this?'

Harry turned very pale.

'The money-lender to whom you took it had his suspicions, and brought it here. Fortunately I saw him, and not your father. I have paid it.'

Harry, stammering thanks and excuses, stretched out his hand for the document, but Mr. Davis twitched it away.

'Oh, no,' he said. 'Excuse me, dear boy, I shall keep this until you repay me the £250.'

It was after this transaction that Harry Marrable's face became blotchy, and that he had that awkward fit. Dr. Dignato knew it was brandy, so he said it was blood, and ordered the boy to go into the country. Thomas Marrable sent him to his brother's station.

At last Harry Marrable saw a way of paying his debt to the hated Davis--the very way by which he had incurred it. Honest Jack Griswold's 'Trumpeter' was certain to win the steeplechase, and as the 'talent' didn't think so, Harry could get 20 to 1 about him. A simple outlay of £12 10s. would free him from Mr. Israel Davis at once and for ever. Honest Jack Griswold was a man of honour (so the sporting world thought), and his horses ran straight, which was more than did those of some other men. The 'talent,' --consisting of Mr. Blackadder, Mr. Samuelson, Mr. Barnabas, Mr. Mephisto, and little Tobyman--had been assured that the horse for 'this event' was 'Bandoline' (by 'Cosmetic,' out of that famous mare 'Bearsgrease'), and laid their 20 to 1 accordingly. Harry got on his money, and being informed by some broken-down hanger-on of the 'Ring' that 'Trumpeter' was 'meant,' felt happy. Mr. Israel Davis (who betted a little also) had invested against Honest John Griswold's stable, simply because he believed that a man who was called Honest must necessarily be a rogue.

Such were the conflicting interests that revolved round the house at Toorak in which old Keturah was upper nurse.

Now there is--or was--a place called the Casino de Carambole. It stands midway in the street of Bourke, and is frequented by wicked people. Its pillars are mock-malachite, its glass is mock-crystal, its gooseberry-juice is mock-champagne, and its love-making is mock-turtle. The ostensible landlord of this saloon was one Oily O'Connor, a fighting man; the real owner was Zebulon Davis, and behind him was the gentlemanly partner of Marrable and Co. Not that Israel ever went there. Not he. His taste was too refined for such vulgar debaucheries, he simply drew a share of the profits. The sort of people who went were overseers of stations, juvenile owners of the same young men of fashion (Heaven help them!) who came out from England superfluously oxygenated, betting-men, card-sharpers, day-waiters at hotels, and now and then some stray newspaper-man, or officer of the Frolicking Five Thousandth.

'It isn't that I am a moral man,' said Davis, when urged to visit this scene of revelry, 'but the place is so deuced unwholesome.' He was right, it was very unwholesome. Perhaps one of the most unwholesome elements in it was the perpetual presence of the 'Talent.' Mr. Blackadder, shiny of eye, and Rat of head; Mr. Samuelson, small of stature, and red crimpy of hair, freckled and moist of countenance. Mr. Barnabas, cold and reserved; Mr. Mephisto, perpetually grinning at the world through the horse-collar of his own whiskers; and little Tobyman, that loathsome pretender to childish gaiety and innocence. These worthies would knot in corners like vipers, would lean over bars until the crowns of their bran-new hats were the only objects visible to the spectator, would hoarsely 'shout' champagne, or dance on the waxed floor with exuberance of gesture. A variety of dimly-lighted barrooms surrounded this delightful spot, and to these such pigeons as Harry Marrable were admitted--as into traps. The 'talent'--presumedly under the influence of gooseberry-juice--were wont to drop awful hints of 'stable secrets,' upon the knowledge of which 'pots' of money could be put with absolute safety. When Mr. Davis spoke of the Casino to his brother, he always wiped his hands with his handkerchief.

'I wish that confounded den of yours was burnt down,' he said one day. 'It is positively a disgrace to the city.'

'Oh, no, yer don't, Israel,' said Zebulon, grinning with all his yellow fangs (the teeth of this honest fellow were ringed near the gums, as though they were posts stuck into a spongy soil, which had sunk since their first embedding). 'Oh, no, yer don it. It's worth five thousand pounds any day.'

'I do with all my heart,' repeated Israel, earnestly. 'It's a disreputable hole, that's what it is, and--and I've just insured it for ten.'

'I can't understand how that ruffian O'Connor keeps that sink of iniquity going,' remarked Tom Provis the same evening at the dinner-table of Mr. Davis, 'I suppose the Jews--' and then he felt his host's keen eye upon him, and paused.

'Go on, dear sir,' said Davis; 'you would say the Jews help him. So they do. O'Connor isn't his name. His name is Levison. I am connected with his family. We are all connected; we all help each other. Do you ever see a Jew dig, or beg, or do menial service? Did you ever have a Jew servant? Did you ever know a Jew, however poor, who hadn't a sovereign to lend at interest? My dear sir, we Jews rule the world. Freemasonrystuff! Priestcraftbosh! When we were turned out of that ill-built and inconvenient town, Jerusalem, we made a vow to take possession of the Universe--and we've done it, too.'

'But how?' asked Provis, 'how?'

'By sticking together,' said Mr. Davis. 'All Jewry my dear Provis, is one great firm--a huge bank which keeps the table against all Christendom. By the way, talking of banks, shall we cut the light pack or call the rattling main?'

'All right,' said Provis, and presently proved his birthright as a Christian by losing £50.

Now into this Casino there strolled one evening Mr. Finch, the gentleman who was to ride 'Bandoline.'

'Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Blackadder,' said he 'I want to see him immediately.'

Harry Marrable, who, in company with a cigar and a friend (of equally bad odour in different ways), was gleaning 'information,' heard the question, saw that the long coat and neat boots belonged to a horsey-man, and guessed that something was wrong with Mr. Blackadder's property.

Blackadder came out of an adjoining pigeon-hole, and bent to hear the news. 'I'll be out in the morning, Finch,' he said, and as Finch turned to go, Harry jumped up with an exclamation of surprise.

'George Harris, by Jove!' said he, and clapped him on the back.

Gentleman George turned very red and then very pale when he saw who it was--the pair had often ridden together at Seven Creeks and made as though he would fain get away. Harry held him fast, 'Look here, George,' he said, 'your old woman's living nurse at my mother's, do you know that?'

'Don't say you saw me,' said the other. 'Well,' returned Harry, 'I don't see why I shouldn't. Come in here, and let us have a talk.'

Here was the Yorick's Head, a theatrical tavern kept by one Porboy, and a place not likely to be visited by members of the Ring.

'Sit down and have a drink,' said the young man, pointing to a chair situated beneath a portrait of G. V. Brooke. 'So you are going to ride 'Bandoline.' Two whiskies, Mrs. Porboy, please. Hot? No; cold. Cold, my girl. Now, George, look here. Where have you been hiding? There's been a jolly row over this bolting.'

'I don't see what business that is of yours, Mr. Harry,' said the stockman, his false eyes drooping. 'It won't do you any good to set my wife on to me.'

'Well, no; it wouldn't do me any good,' returned the boy, sipping the whisky: 'but it ain't right, you know, George. 'Pon my soul it ain't. The old soul's awfully cut up about it.'

'What does she say?' asked Gentleman George, looking very hard at James Anderson as Ingomar.

'She don't say much,' replied the other, 'but she thinks a lot. She'll make it hot for you when she meets you, you be bound. It'll put you on the roads, my boy, or something like it,' he added with a shiver.

Gentleman George seemed to read all the petty soul of the wretched young profligate in the evil glance he cast at him.

'Would you like to make some money, Mr. Harry?' he asked.

'Should I? By Jove, I should!' said Harry, thinking of the accursed bill, and the thrice-accursed Davis. 'Do you know a way?'

'I ride "Bandoline" next week. Lay against him.'

'I have.'

'Then you'll lose.'

'Well, you're a queer fellow. If I shall lose, why tell me to risk my money.'

'If you won't say anything about me to the old woman, you shan't lose your money, for "Bandoline" shan't win!'

'You are a pretty scoundrel!' said the young forger, feeling quite indignant at the mention of a sin to which he was unaccustomed.

'Think of the money you can make,' said Gentleman George.

'If I pull "Bandoline," you can put the pot on "Trumpeter," and make money both ways. It's only holding your tongue for a week after all.'

Harry Marrable took a turn up and down the room.

'I won't tell your wife until after the race, at all events,' he said 'and if "Bandoline" wins--'

'He won't win, Mr. Harry,' returned the man. 'I've no wish to meet that old skeleton any more, I can tell you.'

With this tacit agreement, they then parted.

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