previous
no next



  ― 169 ―

Mr. Barcoo at Kensington Gore.

Sebastian Oldmixonnote

“A great deal of London flesh is Australian grass.”—Sir Archibald Michie.

THERE was no little commotion in Phillips-land when it became known that Mr. Tobias Barcoo, the well-known, wealthy, and widely-respected Squatter, intended to remove his household gods from the shores of Hobson's Bay to the more murky but more fashionable atmosphere of Kensington Gore. The announcement had appeared in the Port Phillip Plutocrat, so there could be no doubt about it. The Editor further observed that “Phillipian Society was about to lose one of its most cultured and characteristic Ornaments.” But the Delphic Devastator, that great organ of the masses, after quoting its aristocratic rival's eulogistic “par,” printed beneath it a ribald verse, barely, if at all, intelligible to the


  ― 170 ―
non-Phillipian reader. These lines, however, appeared to afford huge delight to the oi polloi of Fawkner's-Town, who revelled in the coarse allusions to the great Mr. Barcoo's early Colonial career. Under the heading,

AUSTRALIAN GRASS AND LONDON FLESH,

the democratic journalist made some cutting remarks on “Wealthy absentees” and “Land monopolists,” and on those whom it denounced as “having no nobler ambition than to flaunt their Plutocratic pride in Rotten Row”—a somewhat tame description, it must be allowed, of Colonial arrogance in the Mother-land. But the “pith,” as little Mr. Ruby Wren, the comic versifier of the local Punch, put it, was in the Devastator's verse, and which, therefore, he was thought to have inspired:—

“O! deary me,
What different blokes we be
To when we ‘punched’ the bullocks
On the plains of Wer-ri-bee.”

This, Mr. Wren declared, was enough to “pulverise Barcoo;” and, coming after the Plutocrat's allusions to the departing Colonist's ornamental culture, the verse certainly produced the effect of an anti-climax.




  ― 171 ―

Perhaps, after all, it only hastened Mr. Barcoo's departure for Europe. For almost immediately, and amidst such neutralising doses of gibe and laudation, the great Phillipian Squatter steamed away, out between the narrow Heads, through which five-and-thirty years before he had sailed, a poor and eager fortune-seeker, from the Old World to the New. Now he was returning, literally a millionaire, to that far-off, famous, foggy little isle, which had borne his departure, and his long desertion, with a fortitude amounting to callousness. His busy brain was full of bright visions of the kind of life he intended to live when, with his Australian sovereigns at call, he found himself once more in the Centre of the British Empire. For Mr. Barcoo, as the friendly Editor of the Port Phillip Plutocrat had indicated, was a man of some social and intellectual ambition, as well as the happy possessor of princely wealth. What a glorious field would London present! What real good he might be able to effect, Macænas-like, among the needy wits and men of genius of the great Metropolis! What enjoyment he would reap in the speculations of the Scientist, the apothegms of the Sage, the warblings of the Bard!

So silently soliloquised Mr. Barcoo, as he paced the spacious deck of the magnificent s.s. Yackandandah.




  ― 172 ―

Alas for poor humanity, its cup of bliss is ever tinctured with the inevitable gall! The gallant Austral liner which now bore the Phillipian Cæsar and his fortunes, carried also a small, dwarfish person of the name of Timothy Tadpole, whom Mr. Barcoo vaguely remembered at the “Home Station” some years ago, vainly trying to vend some rabbit-destroying nostrum. The millionaire Squatter would not have remembered so trivial an incident and so humble a personage, but for a variety of circumstances which had tended to keep this Tadpole in the public mind. Quite a little stir had been lately caused even in the serene and lordly Octopus Club of Fawkner's-Town, by a rumour that a “distinguished New Hollander” had been elected to the British House of Palaver as the representative of Craigenputtoch, that world-renowned Scottish village, to which all who pay their votive offerings at the shrine of true genius repair even from the uttermost parts of the earth. That a New Hollander should have succeeded in getting into the Imperial House of Palaver was a remarkable circumstance; that he should represent Craigenputtoch was little short of a miracle; but that he should be Timothy Tadpole actually thinned the roll of the Octopus—two old but decidedly apoplectic members falling lifeless on hearing the intelligence in the card-room. It was these circumstances which


  ― 173 ―
had kept the erstwhile agent of the Patent Rabbit Exterminator fresh in the mind of Mr. Barcoo. Still, he might well have had some difficulty in recognising the cerie little elfin who flitted about the deck of the Yackandandah, dressed or undressed in kilts, and wearing the historic tartan of the Clan MacGillicuddy. The strangely metamorphosed New Hollander was determined to attract the great Squatter's attention, and Mr. Barcoo, who had the keen eye of the pioneer Colonist, was not long in doubt as to the identity of his fellow-voyager.

“Ah,” mused the Squatter, as he watched the antics of the dwarfish Highlander, “I begin to see how he did the trick at Craigenputtoch. It's the garb of old Gaul!

So pleased was Mr. Barcoo with his discovery that he straightway retired to the saloon, and indited an epistle to his protégé, the Editor of the Plutocrat, though he somewhat spoilt the effect of his happy phrase by spelling it “Gall.”

When he again appeared on deck, the redoubtable little Member for Craigenputtoch boldly approached him, and, without further parley or preamble, exclaimed, in a voice of thunder—

“It's a richt braw day, the day, Mr. Barcoo. Do ye no ken me? Eh! mon, gie us your hond—




  ― 174 ―
“ ‘A King can mak’ a belted knight,
A Marquis, Dook, and a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he mauna fa' that!' ”

It was an unexpected and, by no means, felicitous outburst, but, as Mr. Barcoo afterwards discovered, it was Tadpole's inevitable peroration, whether in the House of Palaver, or, as he phrased it, on the “Heathery wilds of Craigenputtoch.”

With an inspiration of true genius, Mr. Barcoo saw there was only one way out of the social difficulty, and, being a man not devoid of moral courage, he at once adopted it.

“I don't know you, sir,” he said to the quivering Highlander, “and I may add that I don't wish to know a person who, I suppose, is engaged as the ‘advance agent’ of a Scotch Circus.”

These were the last words that ever passed between these two equally remarkable, equally ambitious, but utterly different types of the genus New Hollander. Each retired after this shock of arms to his own cabin, but Mr. Tadpole's superior elasticity was shown by his rapid rebound. He was soon on deck again, the centre of an admiring throng, as blithe and busy as a bird in spring. So he continued, day after day, until the Austral liner Yackandandah entered Plymouth Sound.

Mr. Barcoo, on the other hand, seemed strangely


  ― 175 ―
depressed, and not even the sight of the magnificent Hoe, and the subsequent exhilarating spectacle of the Duke of Westfolk, assisted by two Servite Fathers, unveiling a gigantic statue to Queen Elizabeth, with the Pope's full and hearty blessing, could arouse the great Phillipian from his moody reveries.

“It's a strange world,” he said; “and shall I,” he sadly mused, as he saw the neo-Highlander Tadpole trip jauntily up to the Duke and slap him familiarly on the shoulder, “shall I be any happier here than in dear old Fawkner's-Town, where little Snooks—dear little Snooks of the Plutocrat—would drop in at the Octopus, and afterwards record my brightest sayings, and describe my late wife's dresses from Worth, with a beautiful fulness of language that, considering his small frame and his frequent whiskies, was highly creditable—highly so?”

Musing thus sadly, Mr. Barcoo, a stranger on a strange railway platform, entered a Great Western first-class carriage alone. As his keen eye swept the Plymouth Station, he beheld the preposterous Tadpole arm-in-arm with the Servite Fathers, preceding the Duke to a special compartment, which they all merrily entered.

In a few brief hours the mighty but miserable millionaire was at the Paddington Terminus, his long journey from Fawkner's-Town to Cockayne completed.




  ― 176 ―

“Really,” he remarked, as he emerged on the crowded platform, “our Hobson's Bay Station is in every way superior.”

It was a simple remark, but it showed how deeply the iron had entered his soul.

As he stood, bewildered, amidst the noise and confusion, the crash of luggage, and the swaying forms of porters in velveteens, the brooding Barcoo caught a last glimpse of the bustling Tadpole, who was taking leave of the Duke and the Servite Fathers with his favourite but, in this instance, decidedly offensive quotation from the poet Burns.

“Some years,” as Miss Braddon, like a goddess of High Olympus, would exclaim, “had rolled on.” Mr. Barcoo now resided in a superb mansion at Kensington Gore. The intermediate interval indicated by the foregoing “Stars” may not have brought the Phillipian the “philosophic mind,” but Mr. Barcoo was a very different man to the lonely, disappointed voyager whom we sadly tracked from Plymouth Sound to Paddington Station. He was now one of the recognised leaders of Artistic Society in the great Metropolis, and his rooms in the season were the resort of the most famous people. One wise and determined resolve Mr. Barcoo had from the first decided on—to admit very few itinerant New Hollanders within


  ― 177 ―
the princely portals of Kensington Gore. I do not say that Mr. Barcoo might not have relaxed his iron rule if little Snooks of the Plutocrat had ever carried out his cherished intention of paying a visit to Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey and the tomb of Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon. But Snooks was daily growing older, and as yet no chance had wafted him from Fawkner's-Town after his patron; and he grew moody and bitter, and even joined the ribald Wren in a stave to the ridicule of both Tadpole and Barcoo. Of this the great man was happily in ignorance, and Snooks, had he ever come to London, would have been dazzled with a glimpse of the glories of Kensington Gore. But, save in his case, and in that of one or two of the oldest and wealthiest Octopi, the motto over the Barcoo portals might well have been—“No New Hollander need apply.”

It was a sagacious resolve. Above all, it kept away the kilted Tadpole, whose existence Mr. Barcoo strove to climinate from his consciousness.

Alas! this was not altogether possible. One evening Mr. Barcoo found himself in the Speaker's Gallery of the House of Palaver, and the spectacle of the little half-nude dwarf, hopping over the Ministerial benches, like some newly discovered Marsupial as yet uncatalogued by Modern


  ― 178 ―
Science, all but alienated his reason. Ever afterwards, when he drove past the great river-side Palace, the memory of that evening would revive, and he would shiver so that the windows of the carriage rattled again.

Yes, Tadpole was the Mordecai of this modern Haman from Phillip's-land, causing him constant misery, filling his soul with envy, and his heart with bitterness. On the memorable evening that Mr. Barcoo went to the House, the Member for Craigenputtoch made his great speech (of two lines and a-half, not including the peroration, “a King can mak,” etc.) on the “Introduction of the Thistle into New Guinea as a means of exterminating Bismarck's intrusive Countrymen.” Mr. Barcoo, fortunately, had retired before the honourable member had caught the Speaker's eye—or the effects might have been serious. Next morning, at breakfast, he opened the Thunderer, and found Tadpole's speech reported verbatim. Putting his cup down, he quickly left the room, as though suffering a sudden and hardly-to-be-borne agony.

Mr. Barcoo sought sweet solace for this, and all other sublunary ills, in what he was pleased to call the Society of Men of Mind. He was no æsthete, yet he favoured that strange cult, feeling sure that no true disciple could tolerate a dwarf in kilts. He, in fact, was much pleased with a


  ― 179 ―
flickering poetess of this school, who declared that “her Muse would feel the presence of Tadpole in an adjacent street—would resent it,” she mildly intoned, “and would fold her gossamer wings and fly away, and I should be henceforth dumb, and know not why.” This gifted lady (authoress of “Dewdrops of the Divine One”) was ever afterwards a welcome guest at Kensington Gore.

But to do Mr. Barcoo justice, he entertained much more widely-known celebrities in the world of Literature, Science, and Art.

“No game,” said little Breezer of Fawkner's-Town, who had once been invited to the superb town mansion during his visit to England—“no game is too high for him to shoot at.”

“But does he hit them, sir?” queried Snooks, of the Port Phillip Plutocrat, whose fidelity had sadly waned.

Hit them!” ejaculated Breezer. “Why, sir, if I was once at Toby Barcoo's beautiful place, I was there a hundred times. ‘Breezer,’ said he, ‘come and stay with me as long as you're in the Old Country.’ In fact, no Reception at Kensington Gore was complete without me. Poets, painters, sculptors, and all such fellows, in strings, sir, like beads. I often had a yarn with old Matthew Browning and Swinburne — capital fellow Swinburne, but rather bigoted, I fancy—rather bigoted, sir.”




  ― 180 ―

Mr. Snooks, who had a poetic soul, which had wilted under the sirocco of daily journalism in Fawkner's-Town, was much impressed.

“On two occasions,” continued Breezer, “the Poet Laureate sat next me at dinner. But I found him silent, sir—no flow of ideas—none whatever. Don't think he knows a ewe from a wether.”

Such were the stories that reached the Octopus Club concerning the distinguished social career in London of their old millionaire member, Mr. Barcoo.

As usual, there was a slender basis of fact, and an alarming superstructure of fable.

Of all Mr. Barcoo's new-found intellectual friends, none were more frequent or more honoured at Kensington Gore than Mr. Florizel Prune, the distinguished Historian, author of the Marital Bond of Philip and Mary. The reader is, of course, acquainted with that pair of vivid historical portraits.

It was in Mr. Florizel Prune's Philip and Mary that the remarkable letter of the Princess Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of England, first appeared in print—the letter which entirely shattered the dastardly theories of Dr. Theophilus Bogg as to the theology of the Tudors. (“Though Arius be a bitte of a wind-bagge,” wrote the Princess, “by my halidame, I prefer him to his Arch-enemie” — meaning


  ― 181 ―
pointed out Mr. Prune, with rare discernment, Athanasius).

Mr. Florizel Prune was a constant visitor at Kensington Gore. He had a really charming manner, a kind of affectation removed from all vulgarity, and, in its way, as artistic as his literary style. Instead of talking History and the Record Office to the Phillipian Squatter, Mr. Prune preferred to listen while his host expatiated on his pioneering experiences in the Australian bush. On this subject the Historian declared that Mr. Barcoo was “quite Homeric.” And in so saying he was more than half in earnest.

“You must,” he would softly remark, “if you wish to find out what a man is like, test him on the subjects by which he has conquered in the ceaseless Warfare of Life. Judged by such rational standards, our New Hollander is one of the most intellectual men of my acquaintance—and quite the most entertaining.”

No wonder the Phillipian Squatter reciprocated the good-will of the English historian. Often after a tête-à-tête, he declared that Mr. Prune was “the best talker in all England,” when that astute gentleman had all the time been playing the much more difficult rôle of the attentive and interested listener.

“So I hear,” observed Mr. Prune, in his low,


  ― 182 ―
purring, pleasant tones, “that you are going to have quite a Bardic Reception—all the Sweet Singers are coming to-morrow evening.”

“Yes,” said the Squatter; “there will be a few poets, but I hope you will be able to come also.”

“No; you must excuse me. I detest the pen-and-ink fraternity—even my fellow-craftsmen. But poets are appalling. As Carlyle, in his pleasant way, used to tell them, Why can't the brutes say what they have to say, not sing it.”

“I'm rather afraid of a scene,” said the Phillipian. “I never before had so many poets in one evening, and they may not mix well.”

“Oh! they are sure to quarrel or be very moody. But I really can't undergo such an ordeal;—my brother, now, would be delighted.”

“Do you mean the Clergyman?” asked Mr. Barcoo, who was always interested in the Prune family.

“The ex-Clergyman you mean,” said Mr. Prune. “Yes! he would be just the thing; but he's not available. Poor Horatio! he was so afraid of being made a Bishop that he wandered off one morning, and joined the Monks of Mount Athos, and as I never hear from him, I presume he occupies his time in the ceaseless contemplation of his navel,—‘thereby inducing Visions of ineffable Bliss’—vide Gibbon.”




  ― 183 ―

Mr. Barcoo was fast getting out of his depth. The only person of that name he had ever known was one William Gibbon, a diabolical radical, a member of the Croajingalong Road Board, who sent scandalous letters constantly to the Delphic Devastator. Mr. Barcoo could only hope that “Vidy” was not of the same hateful tribe. But he quickly dismissed the crude fancy—no Gibbon even remotely related to William would waste his time in the way referred to, while there was anyone in the neighbourhood of Mount Athos with more land or money than himself.

“Yes,” continued Mr. Prune, “I greatly miss Horatio. A Jaques-like fellow, of a most melancholy yet delectable wit. He even had more genuine humour than my younger brother Lorenzo, the low comedian, whom I was thinking of as a social solvent for to-morrow evening.”

Mr. Barcoo was again non-plussed. He was constantly made to feel how difficult it was for a Phillipian to live up to the social altitudes attained in the Centre of the British Empire. His old fellow-members of the Octopus would as soon think of referring to their brother, the “sun-downer,” as to their brother, the low comedian; even a monk in the family would hardly be deemed respectable in Phillips-land.

“I didn't,” he stammered “know that you had—


  ― 184 ―
that the stage had—I mean, that your brother was a play-actor.”

To do Mr. Barcoo justice, he instinctively disliked Thespians, and recognised no difference between a fashionable tragedian and the clown at a Richardson's show, and he never listened to that futile gossip of the coulisses, which has vulgarised our drawing-rooms, and slopped over into the light ephemeral literature of the day. Only thus can it be accounted for, that he did not know that Mr. Larry Figg, of the Popinjay, was really Mr. Lorenzo Prune, younger brother of his friend, the eminent English historian.

“Yes,” fluted on Mr. Florizel Prune, “I christened him ‘Figg,’ and the ladies of the theatre, merry little minxes, dubbed him ‘Larry.’ He made his first appearance in the Greek monk's cast-off Anglican garments, as a comic High-church Curate, and was decidedly amusing—once in a way. But like all professional jesters, he is very depressing as a constant companion. Whereas the wit and humour of Horatio are perennial. But Lorenzo might really be turned to use to-morrow evening.”

Mr. Barcoo pressed the Historian to bring his brother by all means, but Mr. Prune left the house without making a definite promise.




  ― 185 ―

The great Bardic Reception at Mr. Barcoo's mansion in Kensington Gore was described in all the fashionable prints of the day; but the strange sequel was somehow omitted, which proved to me, at least, that the prevailing opinion, that these “society” sketches are done by the footmen, is a mistake.

It was after that appalling scene between the Yellow-haired Bard and his great Raven-locked rival, and the company, which had become somewhat demoralised, were singing in chorus the former's pæan of jubilation:—

“Though the mirror may murmur at midnight,
And the waves wash the welkin on high,
I feel in my soul that I did right,
To smite Alfred T. in the eye.

His songs are a pallid putrescence;
He maunders with mimic and moan;
His fame is a Social Excrescence;
O! doubt not, Dolores, my own.

He sings, and he sighs, and he sickens
His readers, who reel and retrace.
No maiden's young blood ever quickens
As she marks with her pencil the place.

But I, when I sing, make them flutter;
They fume on the threshold and swoon;
They crave not for bread then, nor butter,
But moan for the Man in the Moon.




  ― 186 ―
Tenny's verse is not clever, but cloying;
Yet lovers who leer in the lane,
Fond lovers, while foolishly toying,
Quote him over and over again.

And the Publisher pays him with pleasure,
And tenders him Drink on the cheap;
While I, with my Musical Measure,
Am left here to whimper and weep.”

Taking up the preposterous refrain, “Though the mirror may murmur at midnight,” the Lady Augusta Highflyer seized Mr. Barcoo, and began waltzing him round the room. But in the middle of this wild performance a strange figure suddenly entered the room, which transfixed the genial host, who gazed with a look of terrified horror. It was a dwarfish clansman in full regalia.

“Your hond, Barcoo,” he exclaimed, rushing into the centre of the exquisite apartment—

“ ‘A man's a man for a’ that,
For a' that, and a' that.' ”

With one wild leap Mr. Barcoo hurled himself upon the intruder, and most certainly the results might have been fatal, but at that moment there interposed the calm, well-bred, imperturbable Mr. Florizel Prune.




  ― 187 ―

“Pardon me,” he said to the palpitating Phillipian; “but why eliminate from this interesting universe my brother Lorenzo, the low comedian?”

“Your brother?” gasped Mr. Barcoo. “But whence this hideous and barbaric costume?”

“Permit me,” said Mr. Larry Figg (for it was he), in a voice like, and yet unlike, that of his distinguished brother, “a little dress Rehearsal for my new character, the title rôle in the forthcoming farcical comedy, ‘The Member for Craigenputtoch.’ ”

“The Member for Craigenputtoch?” hissed Mr. Barcoo. “How came you by his ridiculous garments? Explain, sir, I demand.”

“By purchase, sir, from Sir Timothy Tadpole, K.C.M.G., the newly-appointed Governor of British New Guinea.”

The last blow was too much. The agitated Mr. Barcoo fairly swooned away in the capacious lap of the Duchess of Creamshire.

previous
no next