THE DIPLOMACY OF BASIL BEAUMONT

Astute is he who mere brute force despises
And gains by subtle craft all worldly prizes.
When the three gentlemen were comfortably seated in the vicar’s study,
Beaumont, without further preamble, explained his errand.
“You know, sir,” he said to genial Dr. Larcher, “that Blake has a very
fine voice–a phenomenal tenor voice, which, when properly trained,
will make his fortune. Blake tells me he has not decided what line of
life to take up, so I propose he should be a singer.”
“Oh, I should like it above all things,” cried Reginald with the usual
thoughtless impulse of youth.
“Wait a moment,” observed the vicar cautiously. “I am not much in
favour of a theatrical career for you, Reginald, and, this is too
important a matter to be decided lightly, so I would like to hear Mr.
Beaumont’s views on the subject.”
“Oh, my views are easily explained,” said Beaumont coolly. “I know
very well your objections to a theatrical career, Doctor Larcher,
and no doubt it is full of temptations to a young man, still,
Blake need not sing on the stage, but make his appearance on the
concert-platform–good tenors are rare, so he will soon have plenty of
work and make an excellent income.”
“And what do you propose to do?” asked the vicar thoughtfully.
“That is the point I am coming to,” explained Beaumont quickly. “I am
not a rich man myself, but I know many people in Town who are wealthy;
if Blake will come up to Town with me, I will undertake to find
sufficient money to give him a first class training as a singer; when
he makes a success–and I have very little doubt he will do so–he can
pay me back the money advanced and a certain percentage for the loan
and risk: then of course he will have an excellent profession and be
able to earn his own living.”
“London is full of temptation to a young man,” observed Dr. Larcher
doubtfully.
“A young man must take his chance about that,” replied Beaumont
satirically. “Of course Blake will be with me and for my own sake I
will do my best to keep him out of harm’s way; but you surely don’t
want him to stay in this village all his life, wrapped up in cotton
wool?”
“I’m not in the habit of being wrapped up in cotton wool,” cried
Reginald, piqued at the artist’s tone, “and I daresay if I was in
London I could look after myself without anybody’s help.”
“I’ve no doubt you could,” replied Beaumont cordially, “all I offer
you is assistance. Now what do you say, Dr. Larcher?”
“At present, I can say nothing,” answered the vicar slowly. “Reginald
is as dear to me as if he was my own son, and the choice of a career
is not lightly to be decided upon. I had hoped he would become a
curate, and then there would have been no necessity for his leaving
me.”
“I don’t think I would have made a good curate,” said Blake shaking
his head, “and though I love this dear old village very much, yet I
want to see a little of the world–my voice is my only talent, so the
sooner I make use of it the better.”
“_Quod adest memento componere aquus_,” quoted the vicar
significantly.
“_Dum loquimur, fugerit invida ætas_,” replied Reginald quickly.
“Fairly answered,” said the vicar with a half sigh. “Yes, I suppose
you must take advantage of flying time and it is no use for you to
waste your life in idleness. Would you like to be a singer?”
“I think so,” said Blake after a pause. “Of course I am anxious to
make my own way in the world, and unless I make use of my one talent I
do not see how I am to do so.”
“I wish I had your one talent,” observed Beaumont, rather enviously;
“I would not rail against fate–well Doctor Larcher, and what is your
decision?”
“I cannot give it to you now,” said the old man rising, “it is too
important a matter to be dismissed lightly. I will let you have an
answer in a few days. Still, Mr. Beaumont, I must thank you for your
kind intentions regarding Reginald.”
“Only too glad to be of service,” replied Beaumont, with a bow.
“Meantime,” said the vicar genially, “you must stop and have some
dinner with us.”
“Delighted,” responded Beaumont, and went away with Reginald, very
well satisfied with the result of the interview.
After dinner, hearing that a visitor was in the house Mrs. Larcher,
who had been lying down all day under the influence of “The
Affliction,” made her appearance and greeted Beaumont with great
cordiality.
“So pleased to see you,” she said graciously, when she was established
on the sofa amid a multiplicity of wraps and pillows; “quite a treat
to have some one to talk to.”
“Come, come, my dear, this is rather hard upon us,” said the vicar
good-humouredly.
“I mean some one new,” explained Mrs. Larcher graciously. “I am so
fond of company, but owing to my affliction see very, very few people;
it’s a great deprivation to me I assure you.”
“No doubt,” assented Beaumont, rather bored by the constant flow of
Mrs. Larcher’s conversation, “but I hope you will soon quite recover
from your illness and then you can mix with the world.”
“Never, ah never,” murmured Mrs. Larcher, looking up to the ceiling.
“I’m a wreck–positively a wreck–I will never, never be what I was–I
suffer from so many things, do I not, Eleanor Gwendoline?”
“You do, mama,” replied that damsel who was seated at the piano. “But
you would not object to a little music, would you, dear?”
“If it’s soft, no,” answered the invalid wearily, “but dear Reginald,
do not sing loud songs, they are so bad for my nerves.”
“All right,” replied Reginald, and forthwith sang a sentimental ditty
called “Loneliness,” which had dreary words and equally dreary music.
“I do wish song writers and their poets would invent something new,”
observed Beaumont when this lachrymose ballad came to an end, “one
gets so weary of broken hearts and all that rubbish.”
“I quite agree with you, Mr. Beaumont,” said Dr. Larcher emphatically.
“I observe in the songs of the present day a tendency to effeminate
bewailings which I infinitely deplore. We have, I am afraid, lost in a
great measure, the manliness of Dibdin and the joyous ideas of the
Jacobean lyricists.”
“What about the sea songs?” asked Dick, “they are jolly enough.”
“No doubt,” replied Beaumont, “‘Nancy Lee’ and the ‘Three Jolly
Sailor Boys,’ have a breezy ring about them, but this sugar and water
sentimentality now so much in vogue is simply horrible–it’s a great
pity a reaction does not set in, then we would have a more healthy
tone.”
“Still there is a fascination about sorrow which neither poet nor
musician can resist,” observed Ferdinand Priggs, who was anxious to
read one of his poems to the company.
“I dare say,” said Beaumont quickly; “but there is a great tendency to
morbidness, too much use of broken hearts and minor keys, in fact the
whole tendency of the age is pessimistic–we are always regretting the
past, deploring the present, and dreading the future.”
“I think that has been the case in all ages of the world,” observed
the vicar; “man has invariably talked of the prosperity of the past,
and the decadence of the present.”
“The past is past, and the dead are dead,” murmured the poet
thoughtfully.
“A quotation?” asked Beaumont, struck with the remark.
“From a poem of my own,” said Ferdinand quickly, “which I would like
to read.”
“By all means, my boy,” asserted the vicar heartily. “Read on.”
All the company glanced at one another and Dick groaned audibly, while
Mrs. Larcher settled herself in her pillows with a sigh of
resignation. But the poet rejoiced that he had succeeded in gaining a
hearing, and producing from his pocket a carefully written manuscript
read the following poem in a carefully modulated voice:–
A BALLADE OF DEAD DAYS.
I.
Oh, I am weary of idle songs
Of lords and ladies and olden time,
All their mirth to the past belongs,
Sorrow sounds in our present rhyme.
Joy-bells change to the death-bell’s chime,
Age is bitter and youth hath fled,
Gone is the season of hope sublime,
The past is past, and the dead are dead.
II.
Ladies I loved in those far-off days,
Where are ye now with your golden hair?
My locks are white neath a crown of bays,
But youth’s rose-crown was to me more fair.
My heart was captured in many a snare
Enmeshed in ringlets of gold outspread,
Now in my heart lurks a bleak despair.
The past is past, and the dead are dead.
III.
Many the goblets of wine I quaffed
To health of dames who were fair and frail,
A kiss of the hand and a plumed hat doffed.
Then away to the wars in a coat of mail.
But, ah, that armour could not prevail
Against your eyes and your lips so red,
Nay, but such thoughts are a twice-told tale,
The past is past, and the dead are dead.
ENVOI.
Time, wilt thou never let me forget
Those perished days till I’m cased in lead?
Folly to dream with such vague regret,
The past is past, and the dead are dead.
“The style is Villon, I see,” observed Beaumont, when the poet ended.
“It’s more than the genius is,” muttered Dick, who cherished a deadly
hatred of Ferdinand’s poetry.
“I like your refrain, my dear Ferdinand,” observed the vicar
graciously; “it has a certain pleasant lilt about it, but I’m afraid
your verses are somewhat gruesome. Still, they have merit. Oh, yes,
they have merit.”
“I’m glad you think so,” said the modest poet humbly, to whom praise
was as rain on thirsty flowers. “I hope to do better soon.”
“I’ve no doubt you will,” said Beaumont, rather sorry for the poor
youth, who was blushing painfully. “Your verses are, to a certain
extent, an echo of Villon, still you have a musical ear, and that is a
great thing. If I may be permitted to give an opinion I rather think
your views are a trifle pessimistic.”
“Just what we were talking about,” cried Reginald gaily. “A regret for
the past and a lament for the present.”
“It is the spirit of the age,” sighed Ferdinand, putting the poem in
his pocket. “It is hard to escape its influence.”
“If any one had a chance of escaping it you ought to be the
individual,” said Beaumont, with a smile. “In London, where the latest
ideas are floating in the air, it is difficult to be original, but out
here, where the work is standing still, you ought to have struck out a
new line. I’m afraid your poetry comes from books, not from Nature.”

“Why so?” demanded Ferdinand, rather nettled.
“By the very fact that you used in that ballade an exotic form of
rhyme, and the ideas therein are the dreary, hopeless sorrows of a
worn-out world. Sing, like Herrick of the things around you,
‘Of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers,
Of April, May, of June and July flowers,’
then you will probably strike a new note.”
“I don’t think much of Herrick,” muttered Ferdinand proudly.
“Too cheerful, perhaps?” said Beaumont sarcastically. “That’s a pity,
as I see you are in danger of joining the dyspeptic school of poets,
of whom we have been talking. Don’t have too much gaslight about your
muse, my dear boy, but let her be the buxom nymph of that charming old
pagan, Robert Herrick.”
“Your remarks are very sensible,” observed the vicar heartily, as
Beaumont rose to go. “If poetry must be written, let it be natural
poetry. There is too much of the dissecting-table and charnel-house
about our modern rhymists.”
“It’s the dead world of the past which presses on the dying world of
the present,” said Ferdinand, gloomily.
“Oh, bosh!” cried Dick, in disgust. “Your liver’s out of order, my
dear chap, that’s what’s the matter with you.”
The outraged poet withdrew in haughty dignity, while Beaumont took his
leave of this kindly family circle, who pressed him to come again, so
much had they enjoyed his company.
“Come again,” muttered Beaumont to himself, as he strolled back to the
inn, with a cigarette between his lips. “I should rather think so.
I’ve won the vicar’s heart by my disinterested affection for his
_protégé_. It’s wonderful, the effect of a little diplomacy–so much
better than outward defiance. I think, my dear Patience, that should
you take it into your foolish head to malign me, you will find it a
more difficult task than you think. Diplomacy is the only weapon I can
use against a woman like you, and it’s an uncommonly useful weapon
when properly used.”