F. C. (Francis Cowley) Burnand.

Quite at home online

. (page 1 of 32)
Online LibraryF. C. (Francis Cowley) BurnandQuite at home → online text (page 1 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook






Quite at Home.




^rom "iunclj."


kl itOMg <*~




3fIlusiratiotts from " "Bunch "











* tr*«~*<r\'~«r~- a







AVE N'T seen

you for an age !

Name your day,

and come down. Place

looking lovely."

This was from Boo-
dels of Boodels. He
is quite right. I have
not see him for an age ;
or, at all events, for a
considerable time. It
is, in fact, some years
since I was invited to
his place, to assist in
dragging the pond.
That ceremony was
deferred sine die, and
we did not drag that
pond, brave boys, and
" we did not catch that
Whale " — or, rather,
that Eel. There has
been a big Eel — a tremendously big Eel — in Boodels' pond.


It's a traditional Eel — : it is to Boodels' pond what the Sea
Serpent is to the ocean.

The Eel in Boodels' pond has been seen more than once :
in fact, it must have been seen to have been appreciated ; but
it is difficult to arrive at the fortunate person who has seen
hirn. The Head Gardener hasn't, but he knows he's there."
But why should a Head Gardener see an eel more than any-
body else? He has nothing to do, professionally, with the fish-
pond. Boodels' Head Gardener wears moustachios, and has a
military air. He evidently delights in planting all his vegetables
and fruit in lines. He passes along the lines, reviewing, as it
were, his troops. When the right moment arrives, he will say,
" Up, Strawberries, and at 'em ! " The Under Gardener, who is,
somehow, officially connected with the ducks, is reported to have
seen the Eel.

This individual, however, is of a taciturn disposition, and
if he has seen the Eel, he won't tell. When asked about the
Eel, he smiles, wags his head (a sign of pleasure with him
when addressed, and is, probably, a habit acquired from having a
good deal to do with the animals on the establishment), and
mutters something about there being a big " Eel " somewhere (he
is unintelligible beyond this), and walks on. My private im-
pression, after awhile, founded upon observation, is that if this
Under Gardener has seen the Eel, he has eaten him. Hence his
silence, and hence the smile. Hence, also, the mysterious legends
still current at Boodels', and in the neighbourhood, about the
marvellous Eel. The Butler, in idle moments (of which, I fancy,
he has several at command), has set lines for this Eel.

[Happy Thought. — The Butler and the Eel, a fine subject for a

No result. The Eel, if there, stayed where he was, and the
Butler retired.

Everybody having nothing better to do at Boodels', wanders
down to the pond, hears from some one (generally from Boodels
himself), who finds this subject likely to interest his visitors —
visitors being always interested where there is a probability of
their getting something by it, and that something, eatable) — about


the Eel, and immediately says, meditatively, as if it were quite a
new and original idea, " I should like to catch that Eel."

" Why," the visitor diffidently adds, turning to his host, " why
don"t you set lines ? "

Boodels smiles at this. It is what every visitor has said to him
from the first day he took the house with the fish-pond. He only
replies, in a guarded manner, that, from what he has heard (as the
Police say, "from information received,") he believes that anyone
fond of the sport can have capital fishing in the pond.

[Happy Thought. — To say to Boodels ; " There may he ' capital
fishing,' but is there ' capital catching ? ' "

' That depends on the fisherman," replies Boodels, drily.
/ don't think so. It seems to me to depend upon the fish.]

There was a Poet stopping at Boodels' who made this suggestion
about setting lines. I seconded the motion, for several reasons.
First — Because it was something to do. Secondly— Because I had
often heard of "lines," and wanted to find out what they were.
Thirdly — Because I wished to find out if the Poet, who tried to
appear so sporting, knew any more about it than I did. Judging
from his blank look, when Boodels, pointing to something on the
ground that appeared to me like a very large and very dirty- white
tee-totum wound round with thick cord, said, " Here's the
Trimmer and the lines," I am convinced that the Poet had not
the smallest idea what he had been talking about.

The Poet said " Oh ! " and looked at the Trimmer, then at me. '
I had only found out a few minutes before that he was a Poet.
I should have thought from his general appearance that he was
clerk in something — not "in orders" but something official. The
only outward sign of genius about him is his nose. He has a low
forehead (I don't believe in foreheads), and a very large nose.
What he loses in forehead he makes up in nose. Most poets are
strong in the nose. Boodels, who is always enthusiastic about his
friends, specially if only recently made, tells me that Hamlin
Miunley is a very clever man, simply " the cleverest man," he
(Boodels) " had ever met." This sounds as if Boodels' circle of
acquaintances were limited. A consoling thought is "present
company always excepted." "He has," adds Boodels vaguely,

B L"


" something coming out very soon ; and he's had some wonderful
reviews in the papers."

" What papers'? " I ask, as I don't remember to have seen the
name of Hamlin Mumley anywhere.

" Oh," replies Boodels, evidently not expecting to be cross-
examined on the subject, " I don't know. You can read 'em for
yourself." And so the subject drops.

I eye Mumley distrustfully. At present "the cleverest man
that Boodels ever knew " is throwing bits of stick into the pond,
and frightening the ducks. Our attention is now centered on the
Trimmer. It looks to me such an awkward antiquated piece of
machinery that I cannot understand any eel, associated as he is
with slipperiness, wriggling, and low cunning generally, could be
caught by such a very apparent trap as this Trimmer. It occurs
to me that, as a boy, I used to learn " easy lessons " out of a
Trimmer. These were, if I remember rightly, Trimmer's Guide to
the Alphabet" — (By the way, I wonder at what distance from the
Alphabet one would require a Guide?) — and so, perhaps, a
Trimmer, piscatorially, is a sort of Little Angler's First Step to
Fishing. The second title might be Line up>on Line.

There is another friend (new to me) of Boodels staying here —
a fresh-coloured, round-faced, light-moustached, small stout man,
always ready to smile. His expression seems to be saying beseech-
ingly, " Do, please, make me smile ! I'm only waiting to be asked
to smile ! " I set him down at once as a Gentleman Farmer. I
propose talking to him about crops. I will lay myself out to get
some information about corn, hay, pigs, poultry, and turnips. I
begin by a few remarks on the weather being bad for the
country. He smiles, and fancies that it is worse in some parts
than others.

" It's bad for crops," I suggest, throwing much sympathy with
his supposed losses into my tone.

"Is it 1 ?" he replies; then adds, inquiringly, " Do you know this
part of the country well 1 "

" No," I say ; but I thought he did. No, he doesn't : in fact,
it's his first visit. The conversation flags. Getting Boodels alone,
I ask him,

"Who's that?"


" Oh ! " replies Boodels, " I thought you knew. " That's Pogmore
the Composer."

" What does he compose ? " I ask.

"Why music, of course," retorts Boodels, rather testily. He
never likes to be pressed too closely as to his friends' accomplish-
ments. He accepts a clever friend as a genius, en gros, and
disdains details as a disloyalty.

" He's one of the cleverest men I ever met," says Boodels, still
speaking of the Composer. " He's got something coming out."
He says this as if Pogmore was going to exemplify, personally, a
Darwinian Theory. He explains, however, " an Oratorio, I think
— Sims Beeves, Santley ; in fact," adds Boodels, rather vaguely,
and being a little tired of the subject, " everybody's going to sing
in it."

It occurs to me that the Oratorio must be a work of gigantic
proportions. We all walk down the garden to the fish-pond. As
a matter of fact, the walks in Boodels' garden are limited. You
either go to the fish-pond or you don't. The walks are : — Towards
the fish-pond, which means loitering in a beautiful flower-garden ;
to the fish-pond, round the fish-pond, which includes chance inter-
views with curious-looking creatures and big rats ; half-round the
fish-pond, and back the same way, nervously ; and when you don't
go to the fish-pond, you go to the kitchen-garden.

As a rule, every one on arriving for the first time at Boodels',
looks out of the drawing-room window, and immediately exclaims,

" Oh ! let's walk as far as the fish-pond ! "

There has never been an exception to the rule, except in the
instance of a grumbling old Gentleman, who on his arrival in the
middle of summer, begged that all the windows and doors might
be shut ; growled out that the place lay very low ; that the beauty
of the flowers, specially the roses, was only a clear sign of the
dampness of the atmosphere ; and, on being asked if he would like
to walk as far as the fish-pond, replied, surlily,

" No ; he didn't want to catch his death of cold, for the sake of
looking at a duck-puddle ! "

Boodels never forgave this old man. " In fact," said Boodels,
justly irritated, " if it hadn't been for his age, I'd have ordered a
fly, and had him taken back to London at once."


As we walk to the fish-pond, Boodels and Mumley first, then
Pogmore and myself, I start Pogmore on the subject of music, in-
stead of crops. He informs me that he is composing an Oratorio
on the subject of The ArTc. " A grand subject 1 " he suggests, in-
quiringly, as if he had some lurking doubt about it himself.

" Very," I reply. " Only "

" Only what ? " he asks.

" Only," I say, " aren't the animals a difficulty? "

"Ah ! " he exclaims, with the air of being evidently relieved by
this being my only objection, " but I see my way to that. All I
want is a good libretto. That's what I'm sticking for now — a
good libretto. I wish you'd try your hand."

I feel highly complimented, but, with innate modesty, I suggest
that he should ask Hamlin Mumley. "He," I point out, "is a
Poet." I don't infer from this that I'm not. " And," I add, " he
would write you a magnificent libretto." Implying that mine
would be a more magnificent one. Pogmore has asked him.
Mumley has replied that good poetry is quite thrown away on
music : that the librettist gets no fame — only abuse ; and that no
one ever yet heard the words of any song, or ever cared to ask
who wrote them.

" I rather agree with him," says Pogmore.

So do I. But then why ask me to write the libretto ?

"See what you can do for me, will you?" says Pogmore, care-
lessly. You might strike out something."

He says this much as he would have suggested that I might
catch the Eel, if I only lived long enough, and fished regularly.
I promise, however, — to think of it.

Tom Milburd, — younger brother of our old friend the Jester, —
has run down to Boodels for a few days. Boodels says he likes to
have him there because he's " invaluable in a country-house — he
makes everything so lively " — which is not much of a compliment
to us ; as if we made everything so dull, and he had to be invited
to counteract our depressing influence.

Tom Milburd, coming down the walk from the house, hears
Pogmore say, a propos of the Oratorio, that there's so much
" character in it." Milburd, Junior, is a very loud man, and his
laugh is overpoweringly noisy. He has got a trick of bursting


into his loudest laugh, generally about nothing, or about some-
thing that only he himself sees the fun of, close by your ear. He
keeps his laughs, as it were, in shells, and suddenly explodes them.
He comes down between us, and exclaims, in a stentorian voice,
" Oh, I know what he's talking about. His old Oratorio." Here
he roars : No one can get a word in, and he continues, still roar-
ing, " Capital subject — ha ! ha ! ha ! Noah and all his little men
— ha ! ha ! ha ! — with long coats, and sticks, and flat hats. Which
are the wives, and which are the sons ? Eh ] Whichever you
like, my little dear ; you pays your money and you — ha ! ha !
ha ! "

And here he is off again, as if this venerable quotation were
one of the raciest things he had heard for years. "We look serious.
Pogmore is annoyed. But Milburd doesn't care. He takes Pog-
rnore by one arm and me by the other, shaking us both as if to
get a laugh out of lis by sheer force — he is very muscular — and
begins again, just as loudly as ever.

"Then the music !— ha ! ha! ha! The March Past of the
Animals into the Ark ! and the songs ! — ha ! ha ! ha ! I say,
though, how do you get over their being all duetts 1 " Here Mil-
burd goes into convulsions of laughter, but he won't leave go of
our arms, which he shakes and squeezes during his laughter. And
this is the man whom Boodels says "is invaluable in a country-
house, and keeps everything lively " ! Why he'll drive me wild
with his voice alone. As to Pogmore, he'll be mad before he
reaches the fish-pond. Milburd shouts out, still bursting with
laughter, " They must be duetts, because they went in in couples.
Ha! ha! ha! ha!"

" Nonsense ! " says Pogmore, irately. " The music will be

" Of course," exclaims Milburd. " I see it. Bassoon for the
Elephant," — here he makes noises which he thinks represent the
instruments in question, and, thank heaven, releases our arms, in
order to pretend to be playing first double bass, and then the
ophicleide, — " ophicleide for Lion ; the Black-beetles will be a
difficulty. The Donkey's easy enough."

" Yes, you can play that," cuts in Pogmore, quickly.

I feel this retort was weak on Pogmore's part.


" No objection to leam, if you'll teach me," returns Milburd.
Then he suddenly seizes my arm again, and squeezes it roughly,
as if to point his repartee, which he repeats three times, and roars
and shakes with laughter.

At this point I should like to come to Pogmore's aid, and put
Milburd down, only I haven't got the right thing to say. Milburd
never knows where to stop, except at Boodels', where he certainly
knows how to stop.

This is the first half hour after my arrival (we are expecting
dinner), and we are all down by the fish-pond. The fish-pond has
a quieting effect, momentarily, on Milburd. He is silent. Then
the influence of the place overcomes Hamlin Mumley, the Poet ;
and, turning to Boodels, he says, solemnly,

" There must be a great many fish here. Why don't you set
some lines ? "

Happy Thought. — (Suggested politely to both the clever men.)
If Mr. Mumley will compose the lines, Pogmore will set them.
Both eminent men much pleased. So is Boodels. He considered
this compliment, he tells me afterwards, very neat, and " so epi-
grammatic." Milburd (who is evidently jealous, and who never
turned a smile when he heard it, though I feel sure he'll go and
use it afterwards as his own) says, "Oh, very epigrammatic!
What's ' epigrammatic ' mean ? ha ! ha ! ha ! eh ? "

This offends Boodels, as it implies that he (Boodels) has used a
long word without knowing its meaning. We walk silently
towards the house. Boodels begins to doubt whether Milburd is
as funny as he had once thought he was, and whether he hasn't
become rather coarse.

"How about the Trimmer?" calls out Pogmore from the pond,
and he is seconded by the Poet.

Boodels turns. Personally he doesn't care about fishing, con-
sidering it dirty work, and, from long experience, he does not (I
am convinced) believe in his own pond, or in the Eel. But these
doubts he keeps to himself.

" If you like to go and dig for worms," he replies — (this to Pog-
more and the Poet ! — fancy the two cleverest men Boodels had
ever met being sent to dig for worms ! — so thoughtless of Boodels.



If you do have a Poet and Composer staying with you, they ought
to be treated properly and not sent to dig for worms. I am quite
hurt by it : and I'm sure they must feel it, though they say
nothing) — " you can get some very fine ones near the Pig-stye,
and then you can set the lines yourselves. But," he adds,
looking at his watch, "you won't have much time now, as the
gong for dinner will sound in five minutes. See about it

So nothing is settled about the catching the Eel in the pond.
But we've got at least a week before us at Boodels'.





fl R S T Night—
Everyone to bed
early, except Boodels,
who didn't ask his visi-
tors into the country to
go to bed early. They
say they've had enough
of late hours in town.
Boodels disappointed.

First Morning in the
Country House. — Every
one up and out very
early, except Boodels.
The Poet and Composer
go out separately; pro-
bably for inspiration
and respiration. Mil-
burd Junior summoned
to town by telegram.
I lounge on a garden-seat, wondering at my own immense capa-
bilities for doing nothing. Masterl} 7 inaction.

First Summer Morning. — Shall I open the window while dressing,
and admit the balmy air ? I will. I find that if I had opened it
I should have admitted a wasp, or something of that sort, which at
this moment comes burring, not buzzing, and flopping itself
against the glass. Lucky I didn't open it. Nothing more un-
pleasant than a big wasp in your dressing-room when you're not
prepared to receive visitors.

I mention this to Boodels when he does appear. He wishes it
had been a wasp, as that would be a sign of fruit.


What I admire about Boodels' place is that there are lots of
living things wandering about. There is repose, but animation.
There are dogs and cats, ducks and bees, poultry, pigeons, a
parrot, and birds everywhere.

" How happy one could be here," I say to Boodels. " I envy
you, always living in the country."

Boodels, however, replies that I have no idea of his troubles
and bothers, and that he has had serious thoughts of giving up the

I protest (in the name of hospitality) against any such proceed-
ing. If the other guests were here, they would join me.

" Ah," says Boodels, " you don't know."

Then we walk to the pond.

Boodels is melancholy and reserved. I admire everything ; but
whatever excites my admiration, only draws from Boodels a tale
of woe.

"You ought to have excellent fishing," I say, repeating what
I'm sure I've heard a dozen times from Boodels himself when in a

"Ah ! " he replies. " I don't know what's the matter with this
pond. It was an awfully dull winter, and the fish were found all
floating about dead."

Horrible ! As ghastly as the Ancient Mariner's story. "What an
appalling view T of the dulness of Boodels' place in the winter, that
even the fish should commit suicide, and drown themselves in
sheer desperation. Boodels thinks they must have been poisoned.
But, I ask, who would poison a fish ? Who could have a grudge
against the fish 1 Perhaps, I observe, in order to take a cheerful
view of matters and enliven Boodels, perhaps the fish wanted
thinning : too many fish spoil the pond. Can't he consult some
fish-doctor 1 I suppose there is such a person for dealing with
diseases in fish, just as there is a Veterinary and a Cow-Doctor.
What is the professional name for a fish-doctor? A Piscinary ']

The Troubles of Boodels. — He can't get the pets to answer to
their names. There's a Peruvian goose — I think it is a Peruvian
goose — waddling about that ought to answer to the name of
Doddles. But whenever Doddles is called, a little toy -terrier, with


bells round its neck, rushes up barking-. The terrier's name is
Squig, but he prefers being Doddles. The Peruvian goose rejects
both Squig and Doddles as inappropriate, and has elected to answer
only to Tittikins, which appellation belongs by right to a stealthy
white cat with a very pink nose.

All this is a source of deep annoyance to Boodels, who prides
himself on his extraordinary influence over animals. Whenever
Squig appears, Doddles utters a sound between a grunt and a
quack, and waddles off, shaking his tail with an air of grave dis-

The Peruvian goose is a remarkable bird. His natural pecu-
liarity is a bright scarlet carbuncular excrescence over the beak,
just as if he had been in the habit of taking more port wine than
was good for him. I congratulate Boodels on the specimen, when
I discover that this goose is another of Boodels' troubles. He
ought, it appears, to eat the slugs, but he prefers the strawberries.
This, perhaps, accounts for what I had set down to port wine.
Then, another thing, this goose will not join the ducks on the
" big pond," but will (with another goose whom he has induced to
join him) insist on bathing in the small pond exclusively devoted
to gold fish.

From time to time Boodels, and the Gardeners, drive him
away — everyone drives him away from the pond ; but crafty
goose watches his opportunity, generally squatting by^a tree
within easy walking distance of the pond, and pretending, artfully,
to be fast asleep ; then, when no one is near, he summons the
other goose (of a very weak character, and easily led), and they
both waddle down to the gold-fish pond, and are into it, with a
flop, before anyone can get at them. Squig, the nervous black
and tan terrier with the fool's bells round his neck, generally gives
the alarm on these occasions by rushing to the edge of the pond,
making vigorous feints of jumping in at the geese, for which they
don't care a straw, being far too old birds to be taken in by this
sort of chaff, and barking with all his might and main until some-
one arrives to see what on earth is the matter, when he assists in
chiveying the Peruvian goose, who sometimes, forgetting his figure
and his dignity, takes, literally, to flight. His flying is a very
awkward performance, his movements being as unsteady and as


noisy as those of the " property " dove in Lohengrin. However, he
doesn't go far — about twenty yards — just enough to astonish the
terrier, to whom this sudden levitation of a heavy body evidently
savours of the supernatural. Squig turns tail, and retires into the
house, shaking his head with a puzzled air, as though there were
something wrong somewhere.

I admire the pond : the smaller one, where the gold-fish disport
themselves. No, it won't do ; nothing is satisfactory.

" Why," says Boodels, pointing to a something sticking up in
the centre of the pond, that looks as if an umbrella had taken a
header into the water, had stuck in the mud handle downwards,
and left only its ferule visible above the surface. " Look there ! —
that is a fountain. I mean," he explains ; and the explanation is
necessary, " it ought to be. That fountain won't work."

I suggest that he means " won't play," which, he replies, is the
same thing. It may be the same thing to a fountain, but not
to me.

Another great trouble of Boodel's is a duck that won't sit on
eleven eggs. The Gardener is of opinion that Squig, the terrier
with the bells, "harries" her, and drives her away. Squig comes
up, gambolling, at this very moment, when we are standing by the
bush, where the eggs are, and assumes an air of total indifference
to the subject, as much as to imply,

" I really don't know what you are talking about. I wouldn't
hunt or harry a poor duck, or prevent her sitting ! Absurd ! "

" She must be made to sit," says Boodels, angrily, to the Under-
Gardener, who thereupon appears hurt.

Online LibraryF. C. (Francis Cowley) BurnandQuite at home → online text (page 1 of 32)