Fiction

Mr. Benturian and the beautiful palimpsest

Some paintings made Mademoiselle nervous; others caused unpleasantness at the customs house. So it behooved a connoisseur to exercise caution and even guile when choosing a work of art

Donald Heiney January 5 1957
Fiction

Mr. Benturian and the beautiful palimpsest

Some paintings made Mademoiselle nervous; others caused unpleasantness at the customs house. So it behooved a connoisseur to exercise caution and even guile when choosing a work of art

Donald Heiney January 5 1957

Mr. Benturian and the beautiful palimpsest

Fiction

Some paintings made Mademoiselle nervous; others caused unpleasantness at the customs house. So it behooved a connoisseur to exercise caution and even guile when choosing a work of art

Donald Heiney

THE Benturians arrived in Florence shortly before noon, drove straight to the Savoia and took a suite with connecting rooms for the maid and the secretary. As soon as the Mercedes had been put away in the garage and the suitcases had been unpacked. Mr. Benturian and Mlle. Séraphique changed into afternoon clothes and went off to lunch at Baldini's. Their entry provoked universal admiration. Mr. Benturian, his greying mustache neatly trimmed. wore an alpaca suit, a black string tie. and a Panama hat with the brim turned down all around; he had achieved the ultimate dignity possible to a gentleman who is only five feet five inches tall and whose stomach has grown slightly too large. As for Mlle. Séraphique (as she had continued to think of herself in preference to the matronly sounding “Madame Benturian"), she wore a black Balmain afternoon dress with a sweeping neckline and, as far as anyone could tell, very little else. Her face was virtually hidden under a cone-shaped Daché hat that came down

to the very end of her nose, and which she wore for two reasons: first because it was very smart, and second because she was sulking at Mr. Benturian for taking her off to Florence when all she wanted to do was stay in Paris and go to the spring collections. Mr. Benturian, on the other hand, felt that Mlle. Séraphique's physical being was quite splendid enough as it was. He was a man who could afford the best, and who knew and appreciated it when he saw it; the fact that he had been forced to resort to marriage to acquire this extravagant and exquisitely irrational mechanism bothered him not at all. At the same time, he had the insight to realize that Mile. Séraphique might still be improved in certain inward matters. She had no appreciation of art. for example, and she lacked the historical viewpoint. "After all." he told her as they picked up their menus, "it is all part of one's education. Paris is all very well, but Florence is a beautiful city too. Let me see, would you like minestrone or chilled viehyssoise'/ “How' can you sec the Ponte Vecchio by staying in Paris? Or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, with a dome by Brunelleschi and a tower by Giotto? And then there is the beautiful

Italian language. You should really take an interest in languages, my dear: it is useful in speaking to the waiters. Waiter, viehyssoise for the lady and minestrone for myself. Via. via. we ll order the entree later. You see how easy it is? It is only French vers badly mispronounced. "The Italians arc a wonderful people; to them art is as easy as sneezing. Waiter, some ice water. How do you say that in Italian? Dell'aequu ÿhiaeeiata. There is no continued on page 30

continued from page 11

“I have a marvelous idea,” said Mlle. Séraphique. “I’ll meet you in the eighteenth century”

satisfaction like the acquisition of knowledge. After all, what arc material possessions? When you have seen the view from Fiesole. or learned how to say ice water in Italian, you have something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.” But Mlle. Séraphique went on brooding under her hat, chewing pensively on an olive. “Besides." said Mr. Benturian, “Florence is a well-known centre of fashion. Florentine couturiers are said to be excellent. Don't forget, Schiaparelli herself was once an Italian.” Whether or not he had any reason for making this particular remark, it was a shrewd one. Mlle. Séraphique went on eating her olive, but a distant and contemplative look came into her eyes, as though a set of tiny gears and sprockets had started to mesh inside her mind. “Florence has something for everyone,” said Mr. Benturian, who had not noticed this. “It is like a beautiful palimpsest.” "A what?” “A palimpsest,” he explained patiently, “is a medieval parchment that has been painted over several times by the monks, so it can be written on again.” "How thrifty,” said Mlle. Séraphique. "Likewise.” said Mr. Benturian, "Florence is a beautiful palimpsest upon which each century has written its distinctive message. Or,” he added, “if you are not impressed with the metaphor of the palimpsest, think of it as a mille-feuille pastry. which is also composed of layers.” "I think 1 will have an éclair for dessert,” said Mlle. Séraphique. "1 have been thinking.” said Mr. Benturian, "that we might spend the afternoon going to the art galleries. The Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, for example. One cannot leave Florence without paying homage to the Renaissance. It is all part of one’s education.” Mlle. Séraphique took another olive. “Afterward,” he went on. “we might shop around for some small but perfect souvenir to take back with us as a reminder of our stay." “You may be right.” said Mlle. Séraphique. “As a matter of fact, 1 do need a basic black dress, something simple but expensive-looking, with the new waistline.”

“That is not exactly what I had in mind,” said Mr. Benturian. “I was thinking of something of more lasting value — a painting, for example. Not too large, of course; something suitable for a small apartment, but of the finest quality. It will be expensive, but after all it is an investment.” “Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, sitting up, “I have a perfectly marvelous idea. You want to go to museums and I want to look at clothes. But are these two desires incompatible? Why should we make each other miserable? After all we are not Siamese twins. Why don’t you go off to your museums, and meanwhile I’ll shop around for a good basic black dress?” “But my dear,” said Mr. Benturian,

“what about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the seventeenth century? This way you are only skimming over the top layer of the palimpsest.” “Let us be systematic." said Mlle. Séraphique. “I’ll begin with the fashions of today and you begin with the Renaissance, and I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle of the eighteenth century.” Her logic was unshakable; after all she was French. “Bibi,” she said as she pulled on her gloves, “1 will positively have to have some of those fantastic Italian banknotes. The big ones, not the little ones. In Milan you gave me a lot of the little ones, and they didn’t last five minutes.” Mr. Benturian went to the Uffizi, and then to the Pitti and the National Mu-

seum. He consulted his catalogue frequently, and from time to time he made notes in a small pocket notebook. After a while he folded up the notebook, put it back in his pocket, and went out on the street and hailed a taxi. “Dove volete?” said the driver. Mr. Benturian took a business card out of his wallet and consulted it. “43. via Calzaioli,” he said. The taxi stopped in a crowded street in front of a shop with a large gilded sign reading “Enrico Ladrino. Art Dealer and Antiquarian.” “This is it.” said Mr. Benturian. Signor Ladrino was standing behind the counter, a small bald man with the face of a cheerful and intelligent pygmy. "I am interested.” said Mr. Benturian. “in buying a small painting to take back with me to Paris, something suitable for an apartment of limited size, but of the finest quality.” “At your service,” said Signor Ladrino. rubbing his hands. “Do you have any Caravaggios?” “Dozens.” “Raphaels?” “A few, although Raphaels tend to run larger than Caravaggios. Seusu. what is the color scheme of your apartment?" “Olive, with white woodwork,” said Mr. Benturian. “Perhaps a small Greco would be nice.” “But Greco was a Spanish painter!” "It doesn’t matter,” said Signor Ladrino. "We can supply anything.” “Very well, I would like to look at some small Caravaggios, about this size." said Mr. Benturian, holding his hands about two feet apart. “Scusa.” said Signor Ladrino. He went into the back room, there was a noise of scraping and bumping, voices were heard arguing in voluble Italian, and after a while Signor Ladrino came out with a pile of five or six paintings. "How about a nice Crucifixion, ninety centimeters by seventy-four centimeters?” he said. "Nothing religious,” said Mr. Benturian. "It makes my wife nervous. Haven't you something suggesting conjugal love, in a blue or a green?” "Lady with Mandolin perhaps—ninety-

eight centimeters by eighty centimeters?” “Too chaste,” said Mr. Benturian.

“1 know just what you want,” said Signor Ladrino, triumphantly pulling a painting out of the bottom of the pile. “Love Chastised, seventy-six centimeters by fifty-nine centimeters!”

“It’s a little smaller than 1 thought,” saxi Mr. Benturian. "How much is it?” “One million two hundred thousand lir£,” said Signor Ladrino without turning a hair.

“I’m afraid I get confused when the numbers get over a million,” said Mr. Benturian. "How much is that in dollars?”

“Two thousand two hundred,” said Signor Ladrino rapidly, "and then, of course, there is six hundred dollars for the frame.”

“I’m not sure I care for the frame,” saixl Mr. Benturian.

“Scusasaid Signor Ladrino politely, laving down the painting. "You are an American?”

“By citizenship,” said Mr. Benturian. "By descent 1 am an Armenian.”

The distinction was wasted on Signor Ladrino. “I am surprised at you,” he said. “Everyone knows that the Americans are the most generous people in the world. In America everyone drives a motorcar and smokes thousand-lire cigars. What is six hundred dollars to an American? Nothing. Americans have gold bathtubs and drink champagne every night for dinner. In Italy all the little children are hungry and have to go to bed without any supper. I have two nephews, three nieces, and four grandchildren in Calabria who have never had a square meal in their lives. And what do you Americans send them? Tractors! 1 ask you in the name of God, can a little child eat a tractor? If your little child was starving, would you give it a tractor?”

“Actually I am an Armenian by extraction,” said Mr. Benturian. “Armenians are very kind to children.”

“And so,” continued Signor Ladrino, "you Americans come here like princes with your motorcar, with your cigar, with your fountain pen. with the diamond on your finger and the gold tooth in your mouth, and what do you do? You refuse to pay a mere six hundred dollars for a frame! But,” he added, “to please you, I'll make it five hundred.”

Mr. Benturian got out his chequebook. “By the way,” he asked as Signor Ladrino wrapped up the painting in newspapers, “can you recommend to me the name of a good artist?”

"What do you want him for?” said Signor Ladrino laying his finger thoughtfully alongside his nose.

“I want to have my portrait painted to surprise my wife,” said Mr. Benturian.

"In what style?”

"I don’t know yet,” said Mr. Benturian. "I would like a versatile painter, one who can paint in any style.”

“I understand perfectly,” said Signor Ladrino. “I know just the artist for you.” He pulled a small printed card out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Benturian.

"Maestro Carlo Senzapantalone, Versatile Painter,” Mr. Benturian read. “But his address is the same as yours!”

“We allow him to work in the back room,” said Signor Ladrino, taking the card back. “He is absolutely honest, and can paint in any style. In short, a genius.” “I’ll come back later this afternoon,” said Mr. Benturian.

WHEN he got back to Baldini’s Mile.

Séraphique was already waiting for him, with three packages in her left arm and two in her right arm and one hanging from a string on her elbow.

“I bought a Caravaggio,” he told her.

“I bought a basic black dress, a gold lamé evening gown in the new length, two hats and three pairs of shoes,” she said. 'Bibi, you were right. Florence is a very nice place. What was it you said you bought?”

“A Caravaggio,” he said. “A small one, but of the very finest quality. It will look very nice in our apartment.”

“I have news for you,” said Mlle Séraphique. “1 found out this afternoon that there is an Italian law against exporting national treasures out of the country.” “Well?” said Mr. Benturian.

“Well,” said Mlle. Séraphique. "Renaissance paintings, according to the law 1 just mentioned, are classified as national treasures. So. although you undoubtedly own the painting, you will not be allowed to take it out of the country.”

“How interesting.” said Mr. Benturian. “However. I believe there is no restriction on the exportation of modern painting?” “Not that I know of," said Mlle. Séraphique.

“Aha.” said Mr. Benturian.

They got into a taxi and drove off. and Mr. Benturian settled back with an air of

mysterious satisfaction. “Bibi,” said Mile. Séraphique suspiciously. “1 swear you are thinking of something.”

In ten mintues they were standing in the presence of Maestro Carlo Senzapantalone. the Versatile Painter.

"1 believe you paint pictures to order?" said Mr. Benturian.

"Absolutely.” said Senzapantalone. He smiled winningly, as much, it appeared, to Mlle. Séraphique as to Mr. Benturian.

“Does he speak French?” said Mile. Séraphique.

“No," said Mr. Benturian.

“Il a des beaux yeux,” said Mlle. Séraphique.

Mr. Bcnturian was unwrapping his package. “What do you think of this Caravaggio?” he asked.

“A beautiful piece of work.” said Senzapantalone, looking at it appreciatively.

“Very well,” said Mr. Benturian, “I want you to paint another painting on top of it.”

“I understand you perfectly,” said Senzapantalone. “What style of painting do you prefer?”

“What are the possibilities?” said Mr. Benturian.

‘‘To begin with,” said Senzapantalone, “we have the mediaeval or Gothic, then pre-Renaissance, Renaissance or quattrocento, late Renaissance or Seicento, then baroque, neoclassic, pre-romantic, romantic. late romantic, pastoral-romantic, classical-romantic, sociological - naturalistic, impressionistic, expressionistic, symbolistic, surrealistic and cubist.”

“What’s he saying?” said Mlle. Séraphique.

“My dear,” said Mr. Benturian, “you should learn Italian. It is a beautiful language.”

“I also do montages, collages, and mobiles to order,” said Senzapantalone.

“What would you charge for a painting this size?” said Mr. Benturian.

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On the style, for one thing.”

“Which style is the cheapest?”

“To begin with, the mediaeval is the most expensive. It is very difficult; 1 have to make the cracks in the paint. From the mediaeval to the modern period the prices go down steadily, ending with cubism, the cheapest of all.”

“Personally I detest cubism,” said Mr. Benturian.

“I agree with you,” said Senzapantalone. “Has it ever occurred to you that the degeneracy of modern painting is due to the influence of distilled liquors?”

“I have never heard the theory,” said Mr. Benturian, “but it sounds like a plausible one.”

“If you are not too busy I will explain it to you,” said Senzapantalone. “As everyone knows, during the Renaissance the artists drank nothing but wine. As a result they saw clearly, and their paintings had line, form, color, balance, symmetry and perspective. Then came the industrial revolution and the invention of distilled liquors, especially absinthe. As you know, all the modern artists in France are addicted to absinthe. As a result there occurs a degeneration of the central nervous system, the eyesight is affected, and their paintings become distorted, unbalanced, warped and impossible to understand.”

“What’s he saying?” demanded Mile. Séraphique impatiently.

“He says all modern artists drink absinthe,” said Mr. Benturian. “I believe you,” he said to Senzapantalone in French, since he was getting a little confused by this bilingual conversation in which neither of the languages was his own. “Scusa, elevo parlare italiano. I say, I believe you. I detest cubism personally. Still, in this case the style is not important. The main thing is to cover up this Caravaggio as cheaply as possible. I’ll take cubism, since it seems to be the least expensive.”

“I understand you perfectly,” said Senzapantalone. “However, there are several different kinds of cubism: cubism proper, cubo - modernism, crypto - cubism, and cubo-surrealism. The prices are all the same.”

“Which can you get done the quickest?” said Mr. Benturian.

“Cubo-modernism, crypto-cubism or cubo-surrealism would take three days.

If you want cubism proper I can have it for you tomorrow. I use a straightedge, and this speeds up the process greatly.” “Very well, cubism,” said Mr. Benturian.

“Fine,” said Senzapantalone. “A nice cubist landscape. Two hundred and forty thousand lire, plus the cost of materials.” “What’s he saying?” said Mlle. Séraphique.

“He is talking about art,” said Mr. Benturian. “My dear, you really should learn Italian. It is a beautiful language, especially the numbers.”

FBTHE Benturians left Florence shortly JL after noon the next day. Mr. Bcnturian called for the painting at eleven, it was packed carefully into the Mercedes along with Mlle. Séraphique, the maid, the secretary, a number of packages and hatboxes, and a great many pieces of luggage; the doors were shut with great difficulty by a crowd of small boys and policemen, and they drove away leaving a cloud of fifty-lire notes blowing along the pavement. At the border all went smoothly. It was not felt necessary to open the luggage. The Italian, inspector looked at Mr. Benturian’s painting and merely shrugged slightly, as though he

had his opinions on the matter but preferred to maintain a tactful silence. Finally everything was packed back into the car, Mr. Benturian shook hands all around, and the Mercedes whisked away, leaving the inspector smoking a cigar and thoughtfully folding and unfolding a tenthousand-lire note in his hands.

That night they stopped in Nice, the next night in Lyons, and the third night they were home in their apartment on the Boulevard Raspail.

“Now you have your Caravaggio,” said Mlle. Séraphique with faint derision, “but no one can see it, since it is completely hidden under that insufferable jigsaw puzzle.”

“Still,” said Mr. Benturian, “there is some satisfaction in knowing that one owns a Caravaggio.”

“Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, “I swear you are thinking of something. I can always tell; you go around pulling your mustache in that clever manner. Anyhow, the whole thing is a terrible waste of money. There are other things it might have been spent for. As you know very well, I need a new handbag, or perhaps several new handbags.”

“What about all the nice clothes you bought in Florence?” said Mr. Benturian. “Did I buy a handbag?”

“No, but . . .”

“Very well.”

“But . . .”

“I don’t see why you insist on asking questions about things you don’t understand. And don’t tell me you can’t afford it. 1 suppose you would not deny that, if you liquidated all your assets whatsoever and converted them into cash, you would have enough money to buy me a small handbag?”

“No, but . . .”

“No. but you prefer to keep me here, confined in this cubicle of an apartment

like a wretched Turkish odalisque, knowing very well that 1 cannot leave the apartment without a new handbag, which you have already admitted you can very well afford.”

Mr. Benturian realized that essentially Mlle. Séraphique was casting aspersions on his generosity, and he rallied bravely to defend himself. “My dear . . . ,” he began.

“Will you or won’t you?” she cried.

“My dear . . .”

“You are nothing but a parsimonious old trout,” she shouted, stamping her foot, “and I am going to move into the maid’s room.”

There was a short silence, after which Mr. Benturian began over again. “My dear,” he told her, “I would gladly buy you any number of handbags if I thought it would make you happy. I am interested only in your welfare. It is not wise to rush off in all directions buying handbags until we decide exactly what it is best to do. Let us kiss and make up, and have a quiet dinner at home. Tomorrow we can decide about the handbag.”

"Dinner at home again!” declaimed Mlle. Séraphique hysterically. “We never go out anywhere. It is bad enough to marry an American millionaire in the first place, but. to be subsequently deprived of the fruits of one’s ignominious bargain is intolerable!”

"Very well,” conceded Mr. Benturian, “we’ll go out to dinner. It is now four o’clock. I have an appointment at five with a man on the Quai Malaquais, and when I come back we will get dressed and go off to dinner at the Tour d’Argent.”

Mlle. Séraphique was somewhat mollified at this, although she complained that she would not cut a very smart figure if she had to carry her lipstick and compact with her in a paper bag.

“My dear,” said Mr. Benturian, “do not concern yourself about it. Everything will be taken care of.”

ON the second floor of an eighteenthcentury hotel on the Quai Malaquais, not far from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, was the studio of M. Emile Charterin, Expert Art Restorer and Renovator. M. Charterin had been recommended to Mr. Benturian by a friend of his who was. a professor in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and who had assured him that M. Charterin was frequently called in by the Louvre for its most delicate jobs of restoration. It was M. Charterin, according to the professor, who had recently astonished the art world by detecting and removing the clothes that a narrow-minded monk of the eighteenth century had added to a superb nude of Botticelli. M. Charterin’s very appearance, in fact, inspired confidence; he was tall and thin, with the cold eye of a true scientist. He scarcely nodded when Mr. Benturian came in with his painting under his arm.

“What do you think of this?” Mr. Benturian asked him, removing the wrappings.

“M’mm,” said M. Charterin.

“I agree,” said Mr. Benturian. “Personally I detest cubism. However, there is more than meets the eye. You can restore paintings to their original condition?” “Sometimes,” said M. Charterin.

“Very well,” said Mr. Benturian, “I would like you to restore this painting to its original condition. Cost is no object. Are you sure you can do it without harm to the original?”

"I will do my best,” said M. Charterin, “but in the restoration of paintings each case is unique, and the results are always uncertain. Will you sign the authorization, please?”

"When will it be finished?” asked Mr. Benturian.

“I can’t hurry my work,” said M. Charterin. “I am a craftsman. If you are in a hurry, please take it to a planing mill.”

"Not at all,” said Mr. Benturian. "I wouldn’t dream of hurrying you. Please take all the time you need to do a careful job.”

"Come back in three weeks,” said M. Charterin.

On the way home Mr. Benturian stopped in at a shop on the Boulevard Montparnasse and bought an Algerian leather handbag with a chamois lining and a gold clasp. “It is true that Algerian leather costs a little more,” said the saleslady, “but it is very chic. Monsieur has only to look in the fashion magazines.” “I believe you,” said Mr. Benturian.

nURING the next three weeks Mr.

Benturian went about looking like a cat who knows where there is a canary he can go and swallow whenever he wants to. Mlle. Séraphique grew more and more annoyed, although she showed no sign. "Why do you keep pulling your mustache like that?” she demanded.

Tt makes it grow," he said.

Three weeks later to the day, at nine o’clock in the morning, Mr. Benturian presented himself at M. Charterin’s, smoking a cigar and as calm as a judge. “Is the painting finished?” he asked. “Yes,” said M. Charterin.

"I hope everything went well?”

“Quite well.”

"You had no difficulty in removing the paint?"

“The cubist landscape came off with no trouble at all,” said M. Charterin. “The paint was still soft. The imitation Caravaggio and the portrait of Mussolini were more difficult.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Benturian.

“I then removed the panorama of the battle of Austerlitz,” continued M. Charterin imperturbably, “and the pastoral scene in the manner of Gustave Courbet. Next, a romantic idyll after Watteau, two Vermeers, and a Giotto. The last three were the most difficult; some of the paint had been on there for twenty years.” Mr. Benturian was silent for a long time. Then he shrugged, pulled the lobe of his ear, and produced his chequebook from his coat pocket. “I see,” he said philosophically. “You have done a splendid job. I am impressed. What is your fee?”

“My usual price for removing a painting from a canvas is seventy thousand francs,” said M. Charterin. “In this case I was obliged to remove nine layers in all. Nine times seventy thousand comes to six hundred and thirty thousand francs, plus the usual five thousand francs for cleaning the frame.”

“That sounds reasonable,” said Mr. Benturian. “How much is that in dollars?”

‘Exactly one thousand eight hundred and fourteen dollars and twenty-eight cents,” said M. Charterin, figuring on a slip of paper.

Mr. Benturian made out the cheque in a round Spencerian hand, laid it on the counter, and picked up his hat and gloves. I have only one more question, dear M. Charterin,” he said, “and then 1 will take no more of your time.” “Yes?”

"When you removed the nine layers of paint that you have described, what did you find at the bottom?”

A cubist still life, in the manner of Braque,” said M. Charterin. "Not badly done, if you like that sort of thing.” “Personally I detest cubism,” said Mr. Benturian.

"It is all a matter of taste,” said M.

Charterin. “Would you like to see it?” He led Mr. Benturian into the studio and unveiled the painting on an easel.

“Always pineapples and guitars,” said Mr. Benturian sadly. “So very monotonous. By Jove, you know, it is in the school of Braque. It says .right there at the bottom, Georges Braque.”

"I beg your pardon?”

“I say, it says right there at the bottom, Georges Braque.”

M. Charterin put on his steel-rimmed glasses and peered with a certain hostile scepticism at the signature. “Nom d’un nom,” he muttered “I was so busy examining the painting with a magnifying glass that I never took time to look at it. Now what can this mean?”

"A flagrant forgery, no doubt,” said Mr. Benturian.

“Un moment, un petit moment.” said M. Charterin.

He pulled several tattered catalogues down from his shelf and examined them. Then he screwed a little eyeglass, such as jewelers use to examine fine watches, into his eye and scrutinized the painting from a range of half a centimeter.

“It is,” he sighed, removing the little eyeglass, “indubitably and absolutely a Braque. Nature morte avec musique, painted in 1911, missing since 1934,

when it was bought by an Iraquí collector and shipped to Baghdad. How I failed to recognize it I cannot imagine. I pray you, Mr. Benturian, do not tell anyone about this incident, or I will be an object of merriment throughout the entire art world.”

“I will be the soul of discretion,” promised Mr. Benturian. ''The painting is valuable?”

"Only last week,” said M. Charterin, "I had a visitor, an American, an inhabitant of the Province of Texas, who begged me to find him a small Braque for which he offered to pay thirty-five thousand dollars.”

“He shall have it for that price,” said Mr. Benturian generously. "Plus six hundred and thirty thousand francs for removing old paint, and, of course, five thousand francs for cleaning the frame.”

/\N HIS way home Mr. Benturian V-T stopped at an art store in the Boulevard Saint-Michel, where he bought a reproduction of Caravaggio’s Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and a box of thumbtacks for two thousand francs. When he got home he pinned the print up on the wall and contemplated it with some satisfaction.

"It makes me nervous,” said Mile.

Séraphique. “Where is your real Caravaggio?”

"It turned out to be spurious,” said Mr. Benturian, “so I sold it to an inhabitant of the Province of Texas.”

“I gave my lamé gown to the maid," said Mlle. Séraphique. "It was too small around the hips.”

“After all,” said Mr. Benturian. "what are material possessions? We still have each other, and life holds many good things. Let us go down to the Quai Voltaire and have dinner at Laperouse.”

"Don't be ironic.” said Mlle. Séraphique. “What do you expect me to carry for a handbag? Algerian leather has been out of fashion for months. Perhaps you expect me to carry my lipstick and compact tied up in a bandanna, like a pickaninny?”

"Sweetheart!” protested Mr. Benturian, slipping his arm around her waist. “Why should we quarrel, when we have each other?”

"And don't think you can nuzzle your way out of it,” said Mlle. Séraphique.

"My dear,” said Mr. Benturian. "tragedies involving material substance are seldom irreparable. Please do not concern yourself about it. The shops are still open, and everything will be taken care of.”