Chronicles of Clovis
A strange stillness hung over the restaurant; it was one of those rare moments when the
orchestra was not discoursing the strains of the Ice-cream Sailor waltz.
"Did I ever tell you," asked Clovis of his friend, "the tragedy of music at mealtimes?
"It was a gala evening at the Grand Sybaris Hotel, and a special dinner was being served
in the Amethyst dining-hall. The Amethyst dining-hall had almost a European reputation,
especially with that section of Europe which is historically identified with the Jordan
Valley. Its cooking was beyond reproach, and its orchestra was sufficiently highly
salaried to be above criticism. Thither came in shoals the intensely musical and the
almost intensely musical, who are very many, and in still greater numbers the merely
musical, who know how Tchaikowsky's name is pronounced and can recognize several of
Chopin's nocturnes if you give them due warning; these eat in the nervous, detached
manner of roebuck feeding in the open, and keep anxious ears cocked towards the
orchestra for the first hint of a recognizable melody.
"'Ah, yes, Pagliacci,' they murmur, as the opening strains follow hot upon the soup, and if
no contradiction is forthcoming from any better-informed quarter they break forth into
subdued humming by way of supplementing the efforts of the musicians. Sometimes the
melody starts on level terms with the soup, in which case the banqueters contrive
somehow to hum between the spoonfuls; the facial expression of enthusiasts who are
punctuating potage St. Germain with Pagliacci is not beautiful, but it should be seen by
those who are bent on observing all sides of life. One cannot discount the unpleasant
things of this world merely by looking the other way.
"In addition to the aforementioned types the restaurant was patronized by a fair sprinkling
of the absolutely nonmusical; their presence in the dining-hall could only be explained on
the supposition that they had come there to dine.
"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off. The wine lists had been consulted, by
some with the blank embarrassment of a schoolboy suddenly called on to locate a Minor
Prophet in the tangled hinterland of the Old Testament, by others with the severe scrutiny
which suggests that they have visited most of the higher- priced wines in their own
homes and probed their family weaknesses. The diners who chose their wine in the latter
fashion always gave their orders in a penetrating voice, with a plentiful garnishing of
stage directions. By insisting on having your bottle pointing to the north when the cork is
being drawn, and calling the waiter Max, you may induce an impression on your guests
which hours of laboured boasting might be powerless to achieve. For this purpose,
however, the guests must be chosen as carefully as the wine.
"Standing aside from the revellers in the shadow of a massive pillar was an interested
spectator who was assuredly of the feast, and yet not in it. Monsieur Aristide Saucourt
was the CHEF of the Grand Sybaris Hotel, and if he had an equal in his profession he had