THE CHAPLET

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 Tschaikowsky’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

non-musical; 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 school-boy 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 never acknowledged the fact.

In his own domain he was a potentate, hedged around with the

cold brutality that Genius expects rather than excuses in

her children; he never forgave, and those who served him

were careful that there should be little to forgive. In the

outer world, the world which devoured his creations, he was

an influence; how profound or how shallow an influence he

never attempted to guess. It is the penalty and the

safeguard of genius that it computes itself by troy weight

in a world that measures by vulgar hundredweights.

Once in a way the great man would be seized with a desire

to watch the effect of his master-efforts, just as the

guiding brain of Krupp’s might wish at a supreme moment to

intrude into the firing line of an artillery duel. And such

an occasion was the present. For the first time in the

history of the Grand Sybaris Hotel, he was presenting to its

guests the dish which he had brought to that pitch of

perfection which almost amounts to scandal. Canetons a

la mode d’Ambleve. In thin gilt lettering on the creamy

white of the menu how little those words conveyed to the

bulk of the imperfectly educated diners. And yet how much

specialized effort had been lavished, how much carefully

treasured lore had been ungarnered, before those six words

could be written. In the Department of Deux-Sevres

ducklings had lived peculiar and beautiful lives and died in

the odour of satiety to furnish the main theme of the dish;

champignons, which even a purist for Saxon English would

have hesitated to address as mushrooms, had contributed

their languorous atrophied bodies to the garnishing, and a

sauce devised in the twilight reign of the Fifteenth Louis

had been summoned back from the imperishable past to take

its part in the wonderful confection. Thus far had human

effort laboured to achieve the desired result; the rest had

been left to human genius—the genius of Aristide Saucourt.

“And now the moment had arrived for the serving of the

great dish, the dish which world-weary Grand Dukes and

market-obsessed money magnates counted among their happiest

memories. And at the same moment something else happened.

The leader of the highly salaried orchestra placed his

violin caressingly against his chin, lowered his eyelids,

and floated into a sea of melody.

“ `Hark!’ said most of the diners, `he is playing “The

Chaplet.” ‘

“They knew it was `The Chaplet’ because they had heard it

played at luncheon and afternoon tea, and at supper the

night before, and had not had time to forget.

“ `Yes, he is playing “The Chaplet,” ‘ they reassured

one another. The general voice was unanimous on the

subject. The orchestra had already played it eleven times

that day, four times by desire and seven times from force of

habit, but the familiar strains were greeted with the

rapture due to a revelation. A murmur of much humming rose

from half the tables in the room, and some of the more

overwrought listeners laid down knife and fork in order to

be able to burst in with loud clappings at the earliest

permissible moment.

“And the Canetons a la mode d’Ambleve? In

stupefied, sickened wonder Aristide watched them grow cold

in total neglect, or suffer the almost worse indignity of

perfunctory pecking and listless munching while the

banqueters lavished their approval and applause on the

music-makers. Calves’ liver and bacon, with parsley sauce,

could hardly have figured more ignominiously in the

evening’s entertainment. And while the master of culinary

art leaned back against the sheltering pillar, choking with

a horrible brain-searing rage that could find no outlet for

its agony, the orchestra leader was bowing his

acknowledgments of the hand-clappings that rose in a storm

around him. Turning to his colleagues he nodded the signal

for an encore. But before the violin had been lifted anew

into position there came from the shadow of the pillar an

explosive negative.

“ `Noh! Noh! You do not play thot again!’

“The musician turned in furious astonishment. Had he

taken warning from the look in the other man’s eyes he might

have acted differently. But the admiring plaudits were

ringing in his ears, and he snarled out sharply, `That is

for me to decide.’

“ `Noh! You play thot never again,’ shouted the chef, and

the next moment he had flung himself violently upon the

loathed being who had supplanted him in the world’s esteem.

A large metal tureen, filled to the brim with steaming soup,

had just been placed on a side table in readiness for a late

party of diners; before the waiting staff or the guests had

time to realize what was happening, Aristide had dragged his

struggling victim up to the table and plunged his head deep

down into the almost boiling contents of the tureen. At the

further end of the room the diners were still spasmodically

applauding in view of an encore.

“Whether the leader of the orchestra died from drowning

by soup, or from the shock to his professional vanity, or

was scalded to death, the doctors were never wholly able to

agree. Monsieur Aristide Saucourt, who now lives in

complete retirement, always inclined to the drowning

theory.”