THE VILLAGE CONCERT

The viols sound in festal hall
Where come the merry mummers all,
The minstrels sing their roundelay
Of doughty knights and ladies gay,
And as the carol music swells
The jester shakes his cap and bells,
While lords and dames of high degree
Approve the Christ-tide revelry
And happy in the pleasant din
Amazed the foolish rustics grin.

The school-room was a long, old-fashioned apartment, with plain oak
walls and a high roof. The wide windows were set low down, and when
seated at their desks the scholars could look out and see the old
stone cross of the market-place and the heavily foliaged elms that
waved their green leaves in front of the queer red-tiled houses. The
walls were hung round with maps of the five divisions of the world,
and above the teacher’s desk, which was set on a raised daïs, appeared
a map of the world itself. On this occasion the ink-splashed desk of
the teacher was removed and in its place stood a small cottage piano.
Dark red curtains hung down from brass rods on either side so that the
dais was transformed into a very fair stage, while at the back
decorative effect was obtained by a Union Jack being gracefully
festooned over the Royal arms, painted by the village artist.

The desks of the scholars being immovable were left in their places,
and the audience–which comprised nearly the whole population of the
village–sat like rows of elderly pupils ready to be instructed. Forms
and desks were ranged in the centre of the room and there was a narrow
walk on either side leading down to the wide door at the end of the
building which was continually opening and shutting to admit late
arrivals and exclude a view of the festive preparations from the
penniless crowd outside who could not afford the necessary coppers for
entrance fee. Illumination was provided by six oil lamps, three on
each side, set in metal brackets, and from the centre of the roof over
the stage hung a larger lamp, while the piano was further adorned with
two weakly-looking tallow candles for the convenience of the musician.

The school-mistress, Miss Busky, a dried-up prim-looking little woman,
who resembled a cork fairy more than anything else, had further
ornamented the bare room by wreathing round the maps and lamps strings
of coloured paper flowers manufactured by artistically inclined
pupils, and even the legs of the piano were swathed in these tissue
paper decorations. Over the stage there was also a large placard
bearing the word “Welcome” wreathed with artificial flowers, so that
Miss Busky on surveying her handiwork felt quite content with the
general effect of luxury produced by herself and her satellites. The
programme was neatly written out by the best writers in the school,
and handed only to favoured visitors as these efforts of penmanship
were few in number. The visitors themselves, red, lusty country folk,
had come from far and near to the concert, and the little school-room
was uncomfortably full, but owing to the fierce efforts of Miss Busky,
who bounced about like an india-rubber ball, everyone was at last
comfortably settled.

Mrs. Larcher and Pumpkin taking no part in the performance were
accommodated with front seats, together with many of the country
gentry, who always patronised these entertainments at the urgent
request of the vicar, who greatly believed in good feeling and
friendliness existing between the lords of the soil and their tenants.

And now amid a great clapping of hands and stamping of heavily shod
feet the popular vicar himself appeared on the stage as chairman, and
took his seat beside a small table adorned with a jug of water, a
glass and a programme.

Dr. Larcher made a short speech, ending with a quotation from his
favourite poet:

“Et thure et fidibus juvat
Placare,”

which hardly anyone understood, and then the serious business of the
evening commenced.

The concert was opened by the indefatigable Miss Busky and Cecilia,
who played a duet by a popular composer on popular airs, in which said
airs were almost smothered in variations, and blended one with the
other in a most surprising manner, for just as the audience recognized
“Rule Britannia” and had settled themselves down for an intellectual
treat the players broke off into “The Last Rose of Summer,” and thence
bursting into “Auld Lang Syne,” melting, amid a perfect fire-work of
runs, into “The British Grenadiers,” which latter being played with
full force by four hands, the loud pedal pressed down, brought the
overture to an end in a noisy manner which delighted the audience.

Reginald then sang “Come into the garden, Maud,” but this number
evidently did not please them very much as they could not make out
what it was all about and, preferring noise to delicacy, did not
appreciate the beauty of the singer’s voice. Beaumont, however, who
was present, admired the item greatly, and said as much to Mrs.
Larcher who, armed with a fan and a smelling bottle, sat next to him
fighting with “The Affliction.”

“Oh yes,” sighed Mrs. Larcher when she had got “The Affliction” well
under and did not feel inclined to faint, scream, or kick, or give way
to any other eccentricities which “The Affliction” was fond of doing
at unseasonable hours, “his voice is beautiful, no doubt, but so loud,
it goes through my head and rattles my nerves. I love soft songs that
soothe me–something cradle-like–a Berceuse, you understand. I’m
afraid you find me rather hard to please, but it’s my affliction and
not myself. I assure you, Mr. Beaumont, that a loud voice often
prostrates me for days and leaves me a perfect object, does it not,
Eleanora Gwendoline?”

Eleanora Gwendoline, alias Pumpkin, assented with alacrity to this
remark, upon which Beaumont observed that he never should have thought
it to look at her, thereby inciting Mrs. Larcher to a weakly spasm of
coquetry for she tapped Basil feebly with her fan and said he was a
naughty man, then settled herself to listen to a glee by the choir.

The choirmaster, Simon Ruller, a long, thin individual, in a frantic
state of excitement, having reduced his chorus to a state of abject
nervousness started them off in the glee “Glorious Apollo,” and after
two or three false starts they managed to begin. Having begun, their
great aim was to get over the ground as rapidly as possible, and they
rushed it through at lightning speed, Mr. Ruller imploring them in
fierce whispers to observe the rallentando, which advice, however,
they did not take. On disappearing from the stage, chased off by the
excited Ruller, they were succeeded by Miss Cassy, attired in a
startling costume of blue and yellow.

This lady’s contribution to the proceedings was a milk and water
ballad of a semi-jocular kind, called “Almost a Case,” and the way in
which she leered and smirked at the audience from behind her music in
order to point the meaning of the verses, was quite alarming. She paid
no attention to time, and poor Cecilia was obliged to stop one minute
and play furiously the next in order to follow Miss Cassy’s spasmodic
idea of rendering the song.

“So flippant,” commented Mrs. Larcher when the fair songstress had
retired, “a great want of decorum–she makes my nerves jump.”

“It’s the style of song, mama,” said Pumpkin generously.

“Then why doesn’t she choose less hoppy music?” retorted the matron
fanning herself vigorously, “it makes me twitch to hear her. Ah, if
she only had my affliction she wouldn’t sing at all.”

Beaumont privately thought this would be an excellent thing for
everyone, but did not say so, knowing Mrs. Larcher to be a great
friend of Miss Cassy’s.

Dick Pemberton gave a sea song with great vigour, and received genuine
applause, then Una and Reginald sang “Oh, that we two were Maying,”
which the audience did not care about. The vicar then read Poe’s poem
of “The Bells” in a ponderous manner, which crushed the airy lines,
and after another song from Reginald, Mr. Ferdinand Priggs appeared to
recite an original poem “My Ladye Fayre.”

Mr. Priggs was ushered in by a melancholy strain from the piano, and
placing one hand in his breast and tossing back his long hair with the
other he burst into a series of questions about the fayre lady.

“Was it a dream of sadness
That reeled my brain to madness,
Or how
Did I see her brow
With its crown of golden gladness?”

After asking these questions Mr. Priggs proved conclusively that it
was no dream, but

“A wild, weird, wandering, warning dame
Who set the ears of all aflame
With loud acclaim.”

The poet treated his audience to about twenty verses of this gruesome
production, and having ended with a long sigh stood on the stage for
fully a minute. Everyone waited to hear what he was going to say next,
but the poetic Ferdinand doubled up his limp body into what he called
a bow, and slowly drifted out of sight, his legs apparently taking him
wherever they chose to go.

On the conclusion of this dismal poem the full company sang “God save
the Queen,” and the concert ended amid the congratulations of all
concerned, as they decided it was a great success.

The vicar heartily congratulated the performers on the receipts, as
after paying all expenses there remained fully five pounds for the
almshouse fund, to aid which the concert had been got up.

“Where is Doctor Nestley, to-night?” asked Beaumont as they went out.

“He had to stay with the squire,” replied Una, who was leaning on
Reginald’s arm, “he’s not at all well.”

“Nerves?” asked Mrs. Larcher anxiously, taking a medical interest in
the case.

“Oh, dear no,” said Miss Cassy lightly, “though he has got nerves–so
very odd, isn’t it? but this time the dear doctor says it’s
lungs–something gone wrong–a kind of what’s-his-name thing, you
know–if he doesn’t take care he’ll get that disease–so
odd–something about a moan.”

“Oh, pneumonia,” observed Beaumont gravely. “I hope not, it’s very
dangerous, and to an old man like the squire, doubly so.”

“I have had it,” said Mrs. Larcher, who by her own showing possessed
every disease under the sun. “Acute inflammation of the lungs, it left
me a wreck–a prostrate wreck–did it not, Eleanora Gwendoline?”

“It did, mama,” replied the dutiful Pumpkin.

“It might come on again,” said Mrs. Larcher, opening her
smelling-bottle. “I’ll have a cup of hot tea when I go home, and a hot
bottle to my feet.”

“I wonder she doesn’t have a mustard plaster and a fly blister,”
whispered Dick to Una, “might draw some of the bosh out of her.”

Una laughed, and the great lumbering barouche of the Grange having
arrived, driven by the stony Munks, she preferred to enter it,
followed by the chattering Cassy.

“So cold, isn’t it?” said that lady, “quite like the North Pole.
Captain what’s-his-name, you know, Parry, puts me in mind of
Paris–French style–so odd. I’ll see you to-morrow, Mr. Beaumont, and
oh, Mrs. Larcher, will you come to tea next week–Thursday–what do
you say, Una? Friday, oh yes–Friday.”

“If my affliction permits me,” said Mrs. Larcher in a stately tone, “I
will try.”

“So glad,” replied the volatile Cassy, “and you come also Mr. Blake,
and of course Mr. Pemberton, not forgetting Mr. Beaumont; so
very nice to see one’s friends. Oh, yes, Munks, we’re quite ready,
good-night–so pleased–delightful concert–odd–very odd.”

Further talk on the part of Miss Cassandra was checked by the sudden
start of the barouche, and what with the uneven road and the worn-out
springs of the coach, Miss Cassy had enough to do to look after
herself without talking.

Mrs. Larcher, leaning on the vicar’s arm, walked home, followed by
Pumpkin and the three pupils, Dick chaffing Ferdinand over his poem
till that poetic soul was nearly out of his mind with anger.

Beaumont, left alone at the school-room door, lit a cigarette, and was
about to go when he heard a faint sigh behind him, and on turning saw
Cecilia and the lively Busky.

“I enjoyed the concert very much, Miss Mosser,” he said gracefully as
they passed him.

“I’m glad of that, sir,” said Cecilia, who looked tired, “it went off
very well. Was–was Doctor Nestley here?”

“No, he had to stay with Squire Garsworth.”

The blind girl sighed again, and after saying good-night, went away
followed by Miss Busky, who bounded along in the moonlight like a
marionette.

“Poor girl,” said Beaumont thoughtfully, “she loves Nestley, and won’t
have the slightest chance with him, he’s too much in love with Una
Challoner. By-the-way, I must see Nestley; if I want to find out the
squire’s secret, I’ll have to arrange matters with him–I hate
watch-dogs.”