DICK'S OPINION

“I like him not–his subtle smile
Conceals beneath some purpose vile,
Tho’ bland his gaze and fair his speech
Oh trust him not, I do beseech;
For as a seeming simple flower
May hide a scent of evil power,
Which lures with its envenomed
The trusting wearer to his death;
So tho’ his tongue may kindly prate,
He oathes thee with undying hate.”
Now that Basil Beaumont had succeeded in gaining Una’s gratitude, if
not her friendship, he determined to next win over Dr. Larcher to his
side. He had already managed to gain a certain influence over Reginald
Blake, but he saw plainly that the worthy vicar was not prepossessed
in his favour, and, as he would prove an invaluable ally should
Patience prove dangerous, Beaumont was anxious to impress him with a
good estimate of his character.
The cynical man of the world seemed to have changed altogether since
his interview with Patience Allerby, and no one seeing the interest he
took in the simple pleasures of village life would dream that behind
all this apparent simplicity he concealed a subtle design. His acting
was in the highest degree artificial, yet so thoroughly true to nature
that everyone was deceived and never saw the ravenous wolf hidden
under the innocent skin of the lamb.
Of course, Patience Allerby had too minute a knowledge of his real
nature to be deceived by the mask of innocence and gaiety he now
chose to assume, and as Basil Beaumont knew this only too well, he
was anxious to lose no time in raising up to himself an army of
well-wishers against the honest indignation of the woman he had
deserted should she interfere with his schemes. Mrs. Larcher, Miss
Cassy, Una and Reginald had now all an excellent opinion of him, so he
was anxious to secure the good wishes of Dr. Larcher, thus leaving
Patience to fight her battle single-handed against the crowd of
friends he had so dexterously secured.
Notwithstanding the lateness of the season it was a very pleasant day,
with a certain warmth and brightness in the air despite the keen wind
which was blowing, and on his arrival at the vicarage Beaumont found
the young people playing lawn-tennis; Pumpkin and Ferdinand Priggs
holding their own in a somewhat erratic fashion against Reginald and
Dick Pemberton.
Beaumont sauntered on to the lawn with his everlasting cigarette
between his lips, but threw it away as he was hailed joyously by
Reginald and the four players, who paused for a moment in the game.
“How do you do, Miss Larcher?” said Beaumont, lazily raising his hat,
“this is a comprehensive greeting, and includes everybody. I’ve called
to see the vicar.”
“Papa’s out just now,” observed Pumpkin, “but he will be back soon.
Will you wait, Mr. Beaumont?”
“Thank you–I will,” answered Beaumont, sitting down on a garden
bench.
“Have a game?” cried Reginald, flinging his racquet into the air and
catching it dexterously in his hand.
“Too much like hard work.”
“Then have some tea,” suggested Pumpkin persuasively.
“Ah, that is better, Miss Larcher,” replied Beaumont gaily; “yes, I
should like some tea.”
“Bring it out here,” said Dick, who had thrown himself down on the
soft green grass, “it will be jolly having a spread outside.”
“How you do misuse the Queen’s English,” murmured Mr. Priggs as Miss
Larcher went inside to order the tea.
“Only in prose,” retorted Dick coolly, “think how you mutilate it in
poetry.”
“I’m afraid you’re rather severe on Priggs,” said Beaumont, who was
anxious to conciliate everyone, even the poet, for whom he had a
profound contempt.
“You wouldn’t say so if you saw his poetry,” replied Pemberton
laughing.
“Oh, come now, Dick,” said Reginald lightly, “that’s rather hard–some
of Ferdinand’s poetry is beautiful.”
“And gruesome.”
“Dick cares for nothing but music-hall songs,” explained the poetic
Ferdinand loftily.
“Oh yes, I do–for cake and tea, among other things, and here it
comes. Make a rhyme on it, Ferdy.”
“Don’t call me Ferdy,” said Priggs sharply.
“Then Birdie,” observed Dick, in a teasing tone, “though you’re more
like an owl than any other bird.”
“Now don’t fight,” said Pumpkin, who was now seated in front of a
rustic table on which the tea-things were set out. “Milk and sugar,
Mr. Beaumont?”
“Both, thank you,” said Beaumont, bending forward. “By-the-way, I saw
Miss Challoner to-day–we were talking about you, Blake.”
“Were you indeed?” observed Reginald, rather irritated at the free and
easy manner of the speaker.
“Yes–about your voice. I got a letter from a friend of mine in Town,
of which I will tell you later on.”
“I suppose Reggy will be leaving us all for London soon,” said Dick
enviously.
“Lucky Reginald,” sighed Ferdinand, “I wish I were going to London.”
“What, with a bundle of poems in your pocket?” said Reginald laughing.
“I’m afraid you wouldn’t set the Thames on fire–poetry doesn’t pay.”
“Nor literature of any sort,” observed Dick, “at least, so I
understand.”
“Then you understand wrong,” said Beaumont coolly, “you go by Scott’s
saying, I presume–that literature is a good staff but a bad
crutch–all that is altered now.”
“Not as regards poetry.”
“No–not as regards poetry certainly, but success in literature
greatly depends on the tact of a writer; if a young man goes to London
with a translation of Horace or Lucian in his pocket he will find his
goods are not wanted; if Milton went to Paternoster Row at the present
time, with the MS. of ‘Paradise Lost’ in his hand, I don’t believe he
would find a publisher. We talk a great deal of noble poems and
beautiful thoughts, but it’s curious what unsaleable articles even the
best of them are.”
“Then what does sell?” asked Ferdinand.
“Anything that pleases the public–a sensational novel–a sparkling
Society poem–a brilliant magazine article–a witty play–you’ll get
plenty of chances to make money with these things; you see people live
so rapidly now that they have no time to study in their play hours,
therefore they want the very froth and foam of the time served up to
them for their reading, so as to take their thoughts off their work.
We praise ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Clarissa’ immensely, but who reads them
when they can skim the last three volume novel or the latest pungent
article on the state of Europe?–no one wants to be instructed
now-a-days, but they do want to be amused.”
“How do people live in London?” asked Pumpkin, who, being an
unsophisticated country maiden, was absolutely ignorant of anything
connected with the great metropolis.
“They live with a hansom cab at the door and their watch in their
hand,” retorted Beaumont cynically; “they give two minutes to one
thing, five minutes to another, and think they are enjoying
themselves–get a smattering of all things and a thorough knowledge of
nothing–the last play, the last book, the last scandal, the latest
political complication–they know all these things well enough to
chatter about them, but alas for the deep thinker who puts his views
before the restless world of London–he will have a very small circle
of readers indeed, because no one has any time to ponder over his
thoughtful prose.”
“Still the power of the stage as a teacher,” began Ferdinand, “is
really—-”
“Is really nothing,” interrupted Beaumont sharply; “the stage of the
present day is meant to amuse, not teach–no one cares to go to school
after school hours; we are not even original in our dramas–we either
translate from the French stage, or reproduce Shakespeare with fine
scenery and tea-cup and saucer actors.”
“Well, you cannot object to Shakespeare,” observed Reginald, who was
much interested in Beaumont’s remarks.
“Certainly not. Shakespeare, like other things, is excellent–in
moderation. I quite agree that we should have a national theatre,
where the Elizabethan drama should be regularly acted, but our
so-called National Theatre devotes itself to gingerbread melodramas,
and tries to hide its poverty of thought under a brilliant
_mise-en-scene_; but when you have Shakespeare’s plays at three or
four theatres and French adaptations at a dozen others, where does the
local playwright come in?”
“But from what I hear there are so few good local playwrights,” said
Dick quickly.
“And whose fault is that?” asked Beaumont acidly, “but the fault of
the English nation. France has a strong dramatic school because she
produced her own drama to the exclusion of foreign writers; if the
English people, who pride themselves on their patriotism, were to
refuse to countenance French and German adaptations, the managers
would be forced to produce English plays written by English
playwrights, and though, very likely, for a time we would have bad
workmanship and crude ideas, yet in a few years a dramatic school
would be formed; but such an event will never happen while one of our
leading playwrights adapts Gallic comedies wholesale and another
dramatises old books of the Georgian period. England has not lost her
creative power but she’s doing her best to stamp it out.”
“How terribly severe,” said Ferdinand.
“But how terribly true,” retorted Beaumont carelessly. “However, I
will not preach any more as I’m sure you must all be tired of my
chatter–and see, there is Doctor Larcher coming.”
He arose to his feet as he spoke, for the vicar came striding across
the little lawn like a colossus.
“Tea and scandal, I suppose,” he roared in his hearty voice as he
shook hands with the artist.
“‘Hic innocentis pocula Lesbii
Duces sub umbra.'”
“Certainly innocent enough sir,” observed Reginald lightly, “but the
fact is we have been listening to Mr. Beaumont.”
“And the discourse?” asked the vicar, taking a cup of tea from
Pumpkin.
“The decadence of Literature and the Drama in England,” replied
Beaumont with a smile.
“Ah, indeed. I’m afraid, Mr. Beaumont, I know nothing of the drama,
except the Bard of Avon—-”
“Whom Mr. Beaumont likes, in moderation,” interrupted Pumpkin
mischievously.
“Certainly,” assented Beaumont gravely. “I like all things in
moderation.”
“Even Horace,” whispered Dick to Reginald, who laughed loudly and then
apologised for his untimely mirth.
“As to literature,” said Dr. Larcher ponderously, “I’m afraid there is
rather a falling off–we are frivolous–yes, decidedly frivolous.”
“I wish we were anything half so pleasant,” remarked Beaumont, “I’m
afraid we’re decidedly dull.”
“The wave of genius which began with this present century,” said the
vicar pompously, “has now spent its force and to a great extent died
away–soon it will gather again and sweep onward.”
“If it would only sweep away a few hundred of our present writers, I
don’t think anyone would mind,” said the artist laughing.
“_Sed omnes una manet nox_,” observed Dr. Larcher with a grim smile.
“What, all our present day scribblers? What a delightful thing for the
twentieth century.”
Dr. Larcher smiled blandly as he set down his cup, for he liked his
Horatian allusions to be promptly taken up, and began to think
Beaumont rather good company. He nodded kindly to the whole party, and
was about to turn away when a sudden thought struck him.
“Do you want to see me, Mr. Beaumont?” he asked looking at the artist.
“Yes, I do,” replied that gentleman, rising leisurely to his feet. “I
wish to speak to you about Blake, and also I wish Blake to be
present.”
“Oh, I’ll come,” cried Reginald, springing forward with alacrity, for
he guessed what the conversation would be about.
“Come then to my study,” said Dr. Larcher. “Pumpkin, my child, you had
better come inside, as the night is coming on.”
As the three gentlemen walked towards the house, Pumpkin commenced
putting the tea-things together in order to take them inside. Dick,
who had risen to his feet, was staring after Beaumont with something
like a frown on his fresh, young face.
“What’s the matter, Dick?” asked Pumpkin, pausing for a moment.
“Eh?” said Dick, starting a little, “oh, nothing, only I don’t like
him.”

“Whom?”
“Mr. Beaumont,” said Pemberton thoughtfully. “I think he’s a humbug.”
“I’m sure he’s a most delightful man,” observed Ferdinand loftily.
“Oh, you’d think anyone delightful who praised your poetry,” retorted
Dick rudely, “but I do not like Beaumont; he’s very clever and talks
well, no doubt, but he’s an outsider all the same.”
“What makes you think so?” said Pumpkin, looking at him with the tray
in her hands.
“Oh, I can size a man up in two minutes,” observed Dick in his usual
slangy manner, “and if I was Reggy I wouldn’t give that chap the slant
to round on me; he says a lot he doesn’t mean, and if he’s going to
run Reggie’s show the apple-cart will soon be upset.”
Owing to Dick’s lavish use of slang, Pumpkin was quite in the dark
regarding his meaning, so with a quiet smile walked indoors with the
tray.
“Reggy can look after himself all right,” observed the poet in a
placid tone.
“And a jolly good thing too,” cried Dick, eyeing the poetic youth in a
savage manner, “but prevention’s better than cure, and I wouldn’t let
Beaumont have a finger in my pie if I were Reggy.”
“Ah, you see you’re not Reggy.”
“I’m uncommonly glad I’m not you,” retorted Dick politely. “It must be
an awful disagreeable thing for you to know what an arrant idiot you
are.”
“I’m not an idiot,” said Priggs haughtily.
“Not an idiot!” echoed Dick derisively, “why you are such an idiot you
don’t even know you are one.”