French Perspectives - Curious Company
( Originally Published 1916 )
" UN, deux, trois, quatre — one, 'two, three, four," chanted the doctor, with a strong accent on the first beat to emphasize the rhythm. " Slowly, slowly, M. l'Abbé, dragging the feet, bending the knees: one, two, three, four, that 's right. We 'll soon have you doing forty miles without stopping, like the Indian messengers from whom I learned my secret. Look, who is that, Mademoiselle?" he interrupted his lesson to his latest recruit, a young abbé, to ask me over his shoulder. Our band of runners, gesticulating and philosophizing as usual, had emerged from one of the sheltered paths, just opposite the main building of the Sanitarium, to the obviously amazed and diverted interest of a lady who stood on the steps. She was tall and red-haired, and the distinction of her bearing and the flash of her smile immediately aroused Dr. Arnauld's keen human curiosity.
"She must be a new patient," I answered, "but she has a familiar look. Oh, yes, I remember! She was at that sanitarium in Auteuil, where I was sent immediately after my accident. I never happened to meet her there."
"She's worth knowing, I'll wager," said the doctor, disappointed; and I heard him mumble, "très distinguée, très fine ! " as the wicked, smiling eyes of the lady followed our disappearance between the shrubbery borders of another pebbled alley. Most of the patients who sunned them-selves in the garden in the morning had grown accustomed to our eccentricities, but people who walked or drove down that side street near the Bois, and caught sight of us through the iron fence, used often to stare at the open gate, with its sign, "Maison d'Hydrothérapie et de Massage" — and very evidently wonder whether we were not really a band of lunatics, running two by two, in rhythmical, concerted swing over the narrow paths. We, on our side of the fence, used greatly to enjoy their astonished countenances, and in order to make them gape the wider, would raise above our heads the wands that we held against our chests, with the majestic sweeping movement advocated by Mme. Gibert, the doctor's assistant; take deep breaths, lift our chins, and leaning back in delicious relaxation against our spines, sail down one of the gentle slopes of the garden.
We ran in quaintly assorted pairs, varying from day to day as chance or the doctor's caprice would have it. One could count, however, on finding my American friend — "Victory in green," they called her, because of the fine, free movement of her long limbs and the noble poise of her head — at the front of the line. She was not as strong as she looked, and was trying to offset her studies in socialism by this novel form of exercise. The wholesale jeweller from Rouen, incensed but fascinated by her views, always ran as near her as he could, in order to have the pleasure of calling Jaurès names. The person who sought M. Bloc out, on the other hand, was Mme. de Sully, our femme du monde, a very dainty and mocking aristocrat. Mme. de Sully came to the garden, we inferred, to recover from one soirée and manu-facture brilliancy for the next.
"It's a type, my dear child, whom Flaubert neglected to depict," she would whisper to me with dancing eyes, after she had dragged out of the guileless man the history of the business failure from which he was recuperating. I fear that Mme. de Sully did not hesitate to repair Flaubert's omission and that the familiars of her salon had a pretty clear picture of a stout, greasy jeweller, his provincial frock coat flapping, his ornate watch-chain dangling, and his breath and his temper failing, as he shouted into the ear of a nonchalant young woman in green: "He's a good-for-nothing, I tell you, your eloquent Jaurès — humbuggery, all your socialist cant! "
The doctor took pleasure in frustrating Mme. de Sully's attempts to win M. Bloc's private confidence. He himself was a narrow-chested little man, with a round beard that was turning gray, and pale, squinting, spectacled eyes, and had a sort of wriggling manner which combined apology and conceit. But that did not prevent him from raising our talk to the level of les idées générales, and harmonizing our odd crew of runners on philosophic heights. It was a strange way to make acquaintance with the great French art of general conversation. Our discussions often gave the doctor hints, he said, for the medical journal that he edited. Anything was grist to the mill of an editor who wrote all his own articles. He once brought me a copy of the journal and pointed out, with the naïve pleasure of a young actor who whisks from one rôle to another, the three names under which he figured there.
"`Arnauld' —that's of course my psychological self; `Schmidt' — he's a learned, bacteriological personage: German terre-a-terre, you under-stand; and as for 'Rabot,' poor fellow, he has to be a little of everything, an all-round medical man!"
"Arnauld" had an excellent professional reputation, and the Indian running was a by-product of some of his psychological researches in the East. Mme. Gibert, the assistant, whose well-worn crêpe marked her estate, shared his cult for the universal panacea. La course indienne was, indeed, the great inheritance of her impoverished widowhood, and she took pains to tell one — encouraging one to fall behind the others — how large a part in its discovery really belonged to her dear dead husband, who had been the doctor's companion on the famous journey. Dr. Arnauld's freethinking views were another of the poor lady's grievances. As a devout Catholic, she could not help running in terror of our discussions, especially after the abbe had been added to our number; the separation of Church and State was the question of the hour and feelings were violently intense. Mme. Gibert singled me out, in the end, as the safest companion for her frightened young ecclesiastic, because I had, she re-minded me, no right to any opinion whatever. I can still recall with a certain sympathy the agony that distorted his blue, smooth-shaven face, if anybody mentioned Briand.
My distinction was that of an interpreter, or connecting link between the Sanitarium and "la course." I was the only one of the runners who lived in the Establishment. The others, like Dr. Arnauld himself, came from the big world of Paris and went back to it at the end of the morning. But my injured knee required the massage and sprays of the hospital. It fell to me, accordingly, to explain, while we ran, the real patients, the inmates of the Institution: the Italian princess who glowered at us as she darkly hurried by with her prim English companion; or Mme. Y Vada, the pretty, elaborately flirtatious South American, sometimes accompanied through the alleys by a handsome, bronzed gentleman, presumably a husband, to whose gestured protestations she listened with a show of reluctance, turning away her head disdainfully, and holding her skirt as if she were afraid of his brushing its hem. In the Sanitarium, on the other hand, I had to play protagonist for Dr. Arnauld and his system.
That very night I was accosted in the salon, where we gathered after dinner, by the satirical lady who had caught the doctor's attention on the steps. She was sitting in a corner, pretending to read, but really taking in the big room and its groups of people, with the same subtly amused flash of blue-green eyes and white teeth that had seemed so caustically to appraise us in the morning. She bowed to me and came forward, trailing her severely modish frock.
"We met or rather we did not meet in Auteuil, Mademoiselle?" she began, holding out her hand. "So you could not stand the other place, either? Old and dingy it certainly was, and so few of the modern appliances. In America, you're used to better things."
Thus Mme. Vernet introduced herself, somehow conveying the impression that a need of massage and electric currents made a bond between a clever Frenchwoman and a quiet young American. She asked me to sit down beside her and tell her about that curious "sport." Did it truly heal broken bones, make the fat thin, and the thin fat, and turn blue devils into joie de vivre, as they said? Without her hat and veil she looked older than I had supposed her, and almost ugly. Her heavy masses of straight, copper-red hair, dressed high above her forehead, brought out the worn, sharpened lines of her dead-white skin; her narrow eyes had a repellent inscrutableness in their greenish depths, and her teeth protruded a little when her lips rolled back in that wicked little laugh. But hers was a genuine if rather a sinister fascination, and it became our habit to sit together, every evening, and hold an impersonal conversation about life and literature. I never understood what won me Mme. Vernet's attention, unless it were precisely our common detachment from the strange world in which we found ourselves. She had met a good many American girls, she said, but never one before whose first French initiations had come behind the walls of sanitariums.
"The Paris you Americans like to think you have learned in hotels near the Boulevards, in Neuilly schoolrooms, or even in the ateliers, is far from being the Paris of the Parisians," she remarked, with her mysterious smile. "I don't believe, you know, that you need regret your more bizarre experience."
Just how bizarre the place was, how different from what I was later — in spite of Mme. Vernet — to conceive as the Paris of the Parisians, I did not then realize. I had already spent a month in a small sanitarium at Auteuil, but this larger establishment, with its group of buildings, its extensive hydropathic arrangements, its staff of resident doctors and white-robed nurses, had much more to stir my foreigner's curiosity. I had had there, on the depressing winter afternoon of my arrival, the warmest welcome from Soeur Marie-Thérèse, whose part it was to sit in the office and write out, in a great ledger full of her delicate script, a detailed account of each new patient.
"You are from Massacusek?" — so she pronounced my native State. "Ma Mère, just think of it, Mademoiselle is from the very place where our poor, driven-out Sisters have been so well received!" Mère Ernestine smiled dimly, over folded hands. It was hard, she impassively murmured, that the grace of God should no longer be manifested to her Order except in distant countries.
Soeur Marie-Thérèse's ideas about America were exceedingly definite - were they drawn, I wondered, from the letters that the outcasts wrote from Lowell, Massachusetts? — and she had assigned me to the "châlet," because the rooms there had the metallic furniture, the sanitary walls, and the round, dustless corners to which, she said, I must be accustomed. How grim it all was, and in what a submarine gloom those green, chilly walls seemed to envelop me, when Soeur Marie rustled away, jingling her keys and her rosary, through the glass door that opened on a wooden platform, above the pebbled court. The head doctor would make his ceremonial visit in a small half-hour or so, she warned me, and meanwhile I might unpack.
The shiver of the moment is with me yet, and that is perhaps why I so clearly remember how much my unpacking was enlivened by a dramatic bubbling of tears that soon declared itself in the next room. Even a brief acquaintance with sanitarium life is enough to teach one that if ladies' smiles sometimes mean tragedy, ladies' tears may often be taken as a key to romantic comedy. So I was cheered, on the whole, to hear, in spite of myself, this sound of weeping mingled with shrill consolations and reproaches.
"Dry your eyes, ma petite," — I could not help eavesdropping, — "you must see your fiancé to-day. Do you not hear him, poor dear, pacing up and down the court, like a caged lion?"
The impatient rattle of spurs and a sword reached several pairs of ears tensely eager to catch the leonine tread.
"Oh, oh, Maman, je t'en prie —"
"No, Louise, I shall call him this minute. Now, Georges," encouraged a conciliatory voice as the window of the next room opened. Heavy footsteps echoed on the wooden platform and a military silhouette passed across the lace of my curtain. But the doctor's knock at the corridor door prevented me from following the next stage of the romance.
The doctor's polite and well-groomed air was borne out by the easy confidence of the apology with which he entered. Of course, he said, as I was under the care of an outside doctor, as (he understood) I had merely come to the Establishment for the sake of the massage and the running, he should not often need to see me. It was customary, however, to make a preliminary visit in all cases, and unless I were different from the others I should not mind? Women needed a confessor, and those who had outgrown the priests had to fall back on the psychologists. So he complacently began, seating himself in one of the gray metallic chairs, stretching out his thin, neat legs, stroking his full, brown beard, and turning his sharply penetrating eyes upon me. Had I been brought up on a bottle, in infancy? His eye-brows rose at my involuntary smile. "A fundamental point, Mademoiselle, I assure you." Though I was used to French analytical methods I was more than usually interested by the rapier-like attack of this specialist who knew how, with a few clever questions, to extract a life history, from the cradle up to date, omitting, as he thought, no significant mental or moral or physical reaction. A mind well stocked with psycho-logical labels and convenient pigeon-holes found ten minutes quite sufficient for the purpose.
"Are you a socialist, too, like your friend who runs?" inquired the doctor, rising to take his leave at the end of that time. "No? I am one myself, naturally, but I should not dare to admit this to every one. Let me give you a hint that the subject's not well regarded in the Establishment. It's not yet a fashionable doctrine the name of Combes is anathema here, you understand.
These excellent Sisters, with their charming superstitions !"
Perhaps his laughing warning was meant to include an etching of a nymph gazing at her image in a woodland spring that I had happened to pin up on one of the blankest spaces of my wall. Madeleine, the elderly chambermaid, was more explicit. She stood before it next morning, her arms akimbo, after she had opened my shutters.
"She is not overdressed, this lady. Tout de même, elle n'est pas mal; no, she is not at all bad-looking," she continued, still critically examining. "Louis agrees with me. Louis is my husband, Mademoiselle knows? — the little valet de chambre. We had a good view of the picture last night, while Mademoiselle was at dinner. Louis advised me to warn Mademoiselle that Mère Ernestine would be displeased. `With Soeur Marie it might perhaps go down,' said he, `but not with the good Mother.' Why, when a former patient out of gratitude to the hospital sent a jardinière with some innocent Cupids on it, Mère Ernestine wept that we had harbored such an infidel in our midst. Well, I must go," she ended, as a bell rang in the distance. "Mademoiselle will not mind if I send my little Louis in with her breakfast? He likes to help me with my trays. A married man, quoi! Une dame en peignoir, ça lui est tout a fait égal."
This was several weeks earlier than my meeting with Mme. Vernet in the salon, and long before she came I had learned the customs of the place and established the order of my days. Philosophic running and massage filled the mornings; drives with friends and relatives took me to the real world in the afternoons; and in the evenings I dined in the central pavillon, and became a part of the Sanitarium life.
On the strength of my race I had been put at the "American" table, but the United States shrank to very small proportions on the map when l'Américaine du Nord found herself surrounded by families from Guatemala and the Argentine, and opposite a young doctor from Venezuela. The Argentine family, which was made up of a swarthy father, a monumentally lifeless mother, glittering with jet, and two handsome, dark twin daughters of the same overripe and prematurely fading type, was apparently abounding in good health. One of the girls wore a large diamond on her left hand. Her button-black eyes sparkled, too, and she was full of busy chatter of the great dressmakers. In the other twin, sulkiness was the dominant characteristic. She explained, one evening, that they were living at the Sanitarium for the sake of an invalid brother — "So we say," she added with pique. "You know my sister has become engaged to one of my brother's doctors? She was bound to marry in Paris" — Her voice faltered as Mme. Y Vada gave her a pointed glance across the table. Mme. Y Vada was advising the fiancée about the intricacies of the trousseau. This very pretty lady from Gautemala seemed also in great health and spirits, except when husbands were mentioned; then she drooped her curly eyelashes, sighed heavily, and planted a languorous kiss on the forehead of her precocious little girl, who had been taught, in response, to droop her eyelids, too, and exclaim with doll-like precision, "Pauv' p'tite maman chérie!"
Dr. Maximo Sebastiano Gonzalez, my vis-a-vis, never failed, at the recurrence of this little episode, to blush all over his fat, pallid face, and blink his tiny blue eyes with embarrassment. He was a much nicer young man than he looked, and developed a worried eagerness for intellectual discourse. He did not dream, he ingenuously confided, that a woman lived who had read Nietzsche! I must admit that we approached philosophy by way of the Boulevards, for Senor Gonzalez always opened fire by asking me, with a downward glance at his plaid waistcoat and his necktie, which were of a new pattern every evening, what I had seen in the way of nouveautés that day. He was frankly enjoying the "novelties " of Paris, and it was some time before I made out that he was living in the Maison d'Hydrothérapie to pursue his medical studies, and watch the progress of an invalid friend.
But if the South Americans did not seem to belong to the invalid class, neither, at first sight, did most of the other inmates of the Sanitarium. As Mme. Vernet and I used to say to each other, they might have been taken for the patrons of an exceptionally quiet and distinguished hotel, going in and out, dining sociably and at length, walking up and down the corridors in gossiping lines afterwards, and then scattering into conversational groups in the salon. At one end of the room, you would always find the Italian princess playing cards with her English companion; about the bookshelves, with their very innocuous con-tents, often gathered a few literary souls who were absorbed in never-ending differences as to what the jeune fille should or should not read. Others turned the pages of L' Illustration, drummed on the piano, or wrote letters. What, we asked ourselves, was the secret of those who were not here for massage or for some personal reason — like finding a husband? It did not take us long to discover.
The Italian princess was given away by her red hands and her black looks. She was a beautiful girl, whose dusky hair and olive cheeks gave a rich bloom to her air of race; but her heavy eyebrows were always drawn together in a scowl, and her hands were rough and swollen, "like those of the traditional washerwoman," Mme. Vernet re-marked. It appeared that she had a passion for washing them, her clothes, the floor, or anything else, and had, besides, smashed so many priceless heirlooms over the head of an unoffending father that he had decided to send her here for a cure before her marriage. A noble prince, more concerned with her fortune — she had had an American mother — than with her tantrums, or with her overcleanliness, was claiming his bride next month.
"I asked her," Mme. Y Vada said, with her simpering giggle, "what getting married was, anyhow. `It's wearing a veil, and carrying orange blossoms,' she told me. Ah, la malheureuse!"
In the end, all the "tics" revealed themselves, in one way or another. The shy and melancholy gentleman from the Midi, who had been the di-rector of an orchestra, and always carried a score, bound in shiny black leather, under his arm, persistently avoided walking on the cracks of the parquet. In the corridors he advanced with his eyes down, now taking a mincing step, now a giant stride, and only seemed to breathe freely and hold up his head when he found himself on the carpeted floor of the salon. He was very fond of talking over the operas with Mme. Bigot, a mild, white-haired lady who used to play solitaire in a corner, for hours at a time. One rainy morning during la course indienne — we always ran under umbrellas on wet days, and the more bedraggled and wet we got, the more argumentative we became — Dr. Arnauld pointed out a patient figure, standing in the downpour at one of the side doors of the main building.
"Quelle drôle de femme — she's been there for an hour," he said, "with no umbrella. A queer way to take the air!" When, after the lesson was over, I went to investigate, I found gentle Mme. Bigot, with water dripping from her bare head and running in streams off her shoulders and down her back.
"Is it locked? Have you rung?" I asked in surprise. She shook her head, and as I opened the door she scuttled past me and up the stairs, leaving a puddle at every step.
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed Soeur Marie-Thérèse, coming out of her office, and stirred from her usual calm: " they 'retiresome, all the same, these people with their ` fears.' Poor Mme. Bigot daren't turn a door-handle, or ring a bell, and she must eat with a wooden spoon. You know she was hurt by a knitting-needle last year, and can't bear the touch of metal. But the doctor guarantees that he will send her away cured, as he did a similar case just now, to the point that she can hold the handle-bars of a bicycle through the streets of Paris."
How the patients with one sort of idée fixe loved to deride the peccadilloes of the others! That very evening I heard Mme. Bigot and the little musician chuckling together over the news that Mile. Louise had put on and taken off her blouse fifteen times that day, before she could decide between the blue and the pink.
"To go to so much trouble, too, cher monsieur, over blouses that reek of the provinces," laughed Mme. Bigot, with uncommon ill-nature.
Mlle. Louise, an anaemic girl of my own age from Clermont-Ferrand, was the person, after Mme. Vernet, who most sought my society, and used to lure me out for walks in the garden, hoping to discover that I, too, was the victim of an unfortunate love affair. I believe she was sceptical to the end, and still thinks of me as unkindly reserved. She was always trying new tactics; she read me love poems by de Musset; she told me how unfeelingly Mme. Durand, a rotund Parisian bourgeoise of forty, spoke of the petites amourettes of young girls; and as a last resort, gave significant hints about her own broken heart.
"Ah, without doubt, it is prudent to keep one's own counsel," she would say, tossing her head with an offended and incredulous air, when I was unable, for my part, to produce a cracked organ. That least pleasing attribute of the French, their méfiance, their suspicion of one's motives and policies, was in Mlle. Louise very strongly marked. She revenged herself by casting doubts on a string of amethysts I sometimes wore.
"What do you see in such purple glass, I wonder! You realize that in my part of the world those stones are too common for ladies to wear? And of course the setting 's not real gold? Indeed? You surprise me." She warned me against Mme. Vernet too. "Il y a quelque chose — there 's certainly something there. Very comme il faut she seems, but believe a Frenchwoman, my dear, who scents a mystery."
A mystery — of course! If Mme. Vernet and I discussed the mysteries of our companions, their origins and their cures, hers was always even more present to us both. She was looking for apartments; she had rendezvous with lawyers; she was called for and whirled swiftly away by elegant worldlings, in polished limousines. The fact, moreover, that she was sometimes preoccupied and morose, sometimes triumphantly talkative, made one realize the unsettled condition of her present; and her habitual irony savored bitterly of past disillusions. She evidently belonged to a conspicuous literary milieu; her way of slandering popular novelists, and throwing an over-bright light on the figures of great Academicians betokened, it was clear, some actual initiation.
Of her personal life I had had, nevertheless, no definite knowledge till the evening when, having by chance finished dinner early, and reached the salon at the same time, we sat together watching the other people straggle in: the princess, scowling and red-handed; Mlle. Louise, looking indecisively love-lorn in her bright pink blouse, with a volume of poetry in her hand; and a dozen others, in whom we were now unable not to discern the flaw under the conventional surface. Mme. Vernet's face, chalk-white and weary, wore, I observed, a peculiarly detached and malign expression, and when she saw the little musician down the long vista of the corridor approaching the door with his hybrid gait, she spoke out, at last.
"To think," she said, with a concentrated venom in her light Parisian inflection, — "to think that for ten years I have lived with a man who has every one of these foibles — to give them a pretty name — in an even more marked degree. Thank Heaven, it's over now! Didn't you know," she went on, her lips curling back in that sophisticated smile, "did n't you really know that I am divorcing my husband? What a discreet young person! Any one would have told you. Ten years is enough, believe me. I did not propose to bear it any longer, to sacrifice my whole life. Nor, please God, shall I ever be caught again. When my father, a hard-headed business man, you know, went with me today to see an apartment I am taking in the Champs Élysées, and began to shake his head over the expense, I brought him up short. `I want,' I told him, `to be comfortable and happy enough not to make a fool of myself a second time.' He had nothing to say to that."
To get a divorce, however, seemed to be a slower business than to cure a bad knee, and I left the Establishment before Mme. Vernet did. Yet by the time I went there had been many changes. The girl in the next room to mine had stopped weeping, and become reconciled to her military lover; Mme. Bigot was using a silver spoon instead of a wooden one, and was expected to advance to the door-handle stage very soon. Among the South Americans, there had been veritable revolutions; the young doctor had been recalled by cable to fill a post in Venezuela, and the Argentine twins had apparently exchanged rôles: the unaffianced sister was less sulky, and the eyes of the other were suspiciously red. Her dilemma was explained when she took me aside, on the eve of my own flight, to ask me if I did not want to buy something from her trousseau. What, she inquired, did I think of a man who would leave you with dozens of handkerchiefs on your hands, none of which cost less than twenty francs; and any number of Paquin frocks? It had been broken off; Senorita Maria Maddelena dissolved in tears on my shoulder. Nobody sympathized, said the unhappy girl, not even Mme. Y Vada, who had decided to pardon her husband, and was going off to Guatemala.
I was glad, myself, to escape to the Ravignacs' and the everyday atmosphere of a French bourgeois family, which brought one so much closer to the springs of French life and character than this abnormal internationalist milieu could do. Mme. Vernet expressed regret at my going, and invited me to drink tea with her later, on the Champs Élysées. But the Ravignacs were inclined to disapprove, and made a point of speaking of her to a literary friend, who often came to lunch. He gave a small whistle of amusement.
"Tiens, tiens, so you have found Mme. Vernet's retreat — while we've all been puzzling over it! A brilliant woman, but devoured by ambition. And méchante! — what a biting tongue! Though she is getting a divorce for incompatibility, it is well known that she has no real grievance, except thwarted ambition; that charming and sensitive fellow, Vernet, has not turned out the successful novelist she thought he was going to be when she married him."
This news put an end to any possibility of my seeing Mme. Vernet again, for a guest of the Ravignacs, where we are very clear about the status and duties of a wife, could not even pay her a call. But Mme. Vernet was not a person whom one forgets; a smile like hers never altogether fades. I was not prepared, however, for the manner in which it was again to be made vivid to me on my return to Paris, several years later.
I had arrived in the early spring, and found, it seemed to me, only one subject of conversation besides aeroplanes: a new play, called Janus. One must not put off going, every one urged. It was very powerful, the extraordinary success, not only of the year, but of the decade. The author's name was unfamiliar — Adolphe Vernet. To me, in any case, it meant nothing till Dr. Arnauld dotted the i's.
The Sanitarium garden was not far from my apartment, and I remembered that my old psychological friend was always glad to welcome his "cures." So I wandered in, one morning, and waited at the corner of an alley, where the patients were strolling, just as they used to do, until he should discover me. His near-sighted eyes are quicker for human recognitions than any I know; he saw me from far away, and hurried forward.
"Well, Mademoiselle ! " — but he did not waste much time over trivial amenities; he could hardly wait to open a subject of thrilling mutual interest.
"You've been to Vernet's play, of course? A great modern drama, at last, you agree? Vernet is n't the first man who has grown under misfortune. What a retribution for his late wife though! Do you remember how I speculated about her, and that inscrutable look of hers, the first day when we saw her watching us from the steps? Well, consider what added gall it must hold now; she married a nonenity a year after her divorce. There's a subject for Molière, who loved to show up human tricks. Yes, yes, hers was a sorry trick —or was it a tic?" queried the doctor dryly. " Why not? For myself, I'd rather under-take to cure the fear of a door-handle than the fear of mediocrity."
A shuffling of feet, an indrawing of breaths, and a shrill babble of argument, in which the word "modernism" seemed to dominate, heralded the approach of the runners. I heard Mme. Gibert's plaintive voice: "No animosity, I beg, mes amis. You 're losing the rhythm, Monsieur. Allons, allons, all together, un, deux, trois, quatre, one, two, three, four." With a fine flourish of wands, the band emerged from the shrubbery and loped past us, over the crunching pebbles.
"Diverse and argumentative as ever, you see," commented Dr. Arnauld, smoothing his round stubble of gray beard with a satisfied air. "Tics and tricks, tics and tricks, it's an odd world, psychologically, in or out of sanitariums."