Mr. Benturian BUYS A JAGUAR
Well, he didn’t exactly buy it. . . his exotic Séraphique wanted it and a rival tried to cheat him out of the money it cost. What was Mr. Benturian to do?
The Benturians arrived toward evening and drove straight to the Carlton, where they had reserved a suite with a rug three inches thick in the salon and a bed ten feet square in the bedroom. Many waiters bowed, and Mr. Benturian distributed baksheesh. There was more! On the balcony was a small wroughtiron table with two chairs and a potted palm so you could take your breakfast while looking out over the Mediterranean. The bathroom was positively sybaritic; Mme. Benturian, catching sight of herself in a grandiose Empire mirror with a gilded frame, declared herself to be utterly content with everything.
As for Mr. Benturian, these surroundings
made him feel rather triste; he was a philosopher at heart, and voluptuousness always embarrassed him. “So, so . . . here we are,” he muttered, pacing restlessly around the suite with his hands behind his back. After a while he got out his fencing foils and began making a few desultory ripostes at the drapery, crying, “Ha . . . ha!” at his imaginary opponent. But he did not cut a heroic figure; he was plump, partly bald, slightly less than average height, and his dapper grey mustache gave him rather the air of a cheerful troll out of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. After a while he gave up, put away the foils, and sent downstairs for a copy of the London Daily Express with the racing news in it.
Actually Mr. Benturian had not wanted to go to Cannes at all; he had wanted to go to England to the Derby, and wear a black suit and a bowler and look at the horses through his Zeiss binoculars. But toward the end of May a vague restlessness had come over his wife who, out of some whim even after her marriage, continued to refer to herself as Mlle. Séraphique. Nothing would do but that she should go to Cannes and lie in the sun until she was baked to the color of Etruscan terracotta, a delicate and translucent beige with touches of umber around the edges. Mr. Benturian sighed; he knew there are some female impulses it is folly to resist. It was, after all, the season in which a kind of madness comes over Paris, and every right-minded woman is seized with the irresistible impulse to rush off to the Côte d’Azur. There is no use applying reason to women struck with this hysteria; it is really a kind of benign epidemic, set off by the appearance of sport clothes in the shops along the Boulevard des Capucines.
Besides, Mr. Benturian had long ago found out a very good plan for maintaining peace in his little family, which was simply to give Mile. Séraphique whatever she wanted before she had time to fly into a pet about it.
So here they were in Cannes. The Derby, he thought wistfully to himself as they went down to dinner, was the day after tomorrow.
The next morning the Benturians awoke late, crawled on their hands and knees to the edge of the ten-foot bed, and rang for the waiter, who presently appeared with a small silver table on wheels and served breakfast on the balcony. Then Mlle. Séraphique went off shopping (there were a few things, it appeared, she had overlooked in Paris, although this seemed incredible)
and Mr. Benturian went downstairs and sat at a table on the terrasse to read his Express. When he had finished it he ordered a Times and a Daily Mail, and read these loo. Toward the middle of the afternoon he grew so bored that he ordered a Cinzano with soda, but this only got up into his nose and made him sneeze. Finally, about four o'clock, Mlle. Séraphique came back, carrying a number of packages and wearing a pair of mauve dark glasses with what appeared to be genuine zircons embedded in the frames. With her was a dark-haired young man in a grey-flannel suit, who carried his hands in his pockets and gazed around at the hotel ruminatively as though he were thinking of buying it.
"Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, setting down the packages, “the taxi man is waiting; send a waiter to pay him. How do you like my sun glasses? The zircons are genuine. I have bought everything; simply everything. This is Señor Bagos de Feredia. His name is Jaime, which is the same as James. He is a count, except they won’t let him go back to Spain right now because of some political thing. Aren’t politics a bore? C'est tout à fait ennuyant. I’m sure I don't know what they are good for. Bibi, I have the thirst of seven camels. I will have a Pink Lady. What will you have, Zheemee?”
“Champagne cocktail,” pronounced Señor de Feredia without altering his expression.
Mr. Benturian called a waiter and ordered a Pink Lady for Mlle. Séraphique, a champagne cocktail for Zheemee, and a Cinzano without soda for himself.
Zheemee, meanwhile, had taken out a pocketknife and was carefully trimming his fingernails; when he finished the right hand he held it out before him and gazed at it reflectively, turning it from side to side as though it were an exquisite objet d'art he was examining in a studio.
“Zheemee,” said Mlle. Séraphique brightly, “this is Bibi.”
"Benturian,” said Mr. Benturian, offering his hand.
Zheemee stared at the hand with evident curiosity for perhaps ten seconds, and then he reached out and pressed it briefly with the ends of his fingers. “Bagos,” he said.
“Bibi.” said Mlle. Séraphique. “The taxi man.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Benturian. He felt through his pockets and produced an enormous wad of money, which he began to sort out; he dropped several bank notes,
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picked them up and put them back with the rest, spread the pile out on the table, and finally found a thousand-franc note to send to the driver. Zheemee observed this ceremony with some interest. He sat up, put away his pocketknife, and seemed to take notice of Mr. Benturian for the first time. When his cocktail came he leaned back in his chair and sipped it slowly, examining Mr. Benturian speculatively over the rim of his glass.
“1 see you are reading an English newspaper,” he said politely after a while. “Are you English? I admire the English very much.”
“Actually I am American,” said Mr. Benturian, “but I admire the English very much too.”
“I admire the Americans very much,” said Zheemee.
“Now, Bibi,” suggested Mlle. Séraphique, “you say you admire the Spanish very much, and we will all shake hands.” “Why should we shake hands?” said Mr. Benturian. “We have already shaken hands.”
“All right,” said Mlle. Séraphique wearily.
“But your name,” Zheemee persisted, “does not sound like American.”
“Actually I am of Armenian descent,” explained Mr. Benturian. “There are many Armenians in America. Have you ever heard of William Saroyan, the writer? Have you ever heard of A. T. Bashkirian, the salvage and scrap-iron tycoon? A friend of mine.”
“Is he?” said Zheemee, raising his eyebrows. “I am impressed. Actually I admire Armenians very much.”
“I will go crazy,” muttered Mlle. Séraphique.
“Excuse me,” frowned Zheemee, “you are American, and yet you are reading an English newspaper. How can that be? Perhaps you have business interests in England? Factories?”
“Hardly,” said Mr. Benturian modestly. “As a matter of fact, I was only reading the racing page. It has the starting line-up for the Derby.”
“The Derby!” cried Zheemee. “So you are a sporting man?”
“Hardly that either,” apologized Mr. Benturian. “I take great pleasure in watching the horses run around—Longchamps, Saint-Cloud, Auteuil—but I seldom bet more than a few thousand francs. Unless, of course, 1 know before the race which horse is going to win.” “I beg your pardon?” said Zheemee. “Last year, for example,” explained Mr. Benturian, warming up to his subject, “I went to Auteuil on Easter Sunday for the President’s Cup, and just before the sweepstakes a pigeon flew down and landed on my lap. Not remarkable, you say, and perhaps it is not. Well! examining this particular pigeon, I discovered that it had been banded with a small metal band by some society for the protection of birds. There were seven numbers on the band. The first number was five, the number of the race that was about to begin. The next two numbers were one and four, so I immediately went to the betting window and
placed a large sum on number fourteen, which as it happened was a horse named Resurrection. Resurrection, of course, won by four lengths, although before the race his prospects had been viewed pessimistically by the handicappers.”
‘■Remarkable,” said Zheemee. “What were the other four numbers on the band?”
“The odds,” said Mr. Benturian. “One hundred to eight.”
“Incredible!” said Zheemee.
“Indeed it is,” said Mlle. Séraphique, “and I for one choose not to believe it.” “Sweetheart!” said Mr. Benturian, hurt.
“Bibi,” Mlle. Séraphique complained, “my Pink Lady is all gone, and besides I am hungry.”
“Un autre cocktail pour madame, and some peanuts,” Mr. Benturian told the waiter. “Another time,” he continued to Zheemee, “I had gone to Saint-Cloud in a pouring rainstorm, and the dampness had made my feet hurt . . . Oh! I am sorry. Your drink is all gone, too. Will you have another?”
“Thank you,” said Zheemee.
“Un autre cocktail pour monsieur,” said Mr. Benturian. “As I was saying, I had gone to Saint-Cloud in a pouring rainstorm, and the dampness had made my feet hurt. Reaching down to loosen my shoelaces, I discovered that I was inexplicably wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe. Well! what was my surprise to discover that there was a horse in the sixth race named Bizarre Chaussé. The horse, of course . . .”
"Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, “you are as superstitious as an old woman.”
“Not at all,” said Mr. Benturian. “Superstition and intuition are by no means the same thing. All Armenians are more or less intuitive. Strange and wonderful things happen to them. In my opinion it is a compensation for the terrible persecutions they have suffered in their history. My grandfather was killed by an eagle dropping a tortoise onto his head from a great height. The eagle was trying to break the tortoise’s shell so he could eat it, and he mistook my grandfather’s bald head for a rock.” It was not clear whether he considered this an instance of persecution or a strange and wonderful happening.
“Did this take place in America?” said Zheemee politely.
“In Greece,” said Mr. Benturian, “on the island of Samos.”
“Remarkable,” said Zheemee.
“Are you also a sporting man?” enquired Mr. Benturian, feeling that the conversation was centering too exclusively upon himself.
“Comme si, comme ça,” said Zheemee. “I sometimes amuse myself by accepting bets from my friends.”
“Ah! so you are a bookmaker!” cried Mr. Benturian, who had been secretly wondering how he could find a person of just this profession.
Zheemee looked pained; he broke off the conversation and began staring off thoughtfully over the trees in the opposite direction.
“Really, Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, “sometimes your way of expressing yourself is excessively crude.”
"What did I say?” protested Mr. Benturian.
“Perhaps he meant no offense,” said Zheemee tolerantly. “You see,” he explained to Mr. Benturian, “since I take bets only from my personal friends, I hardly consider myself a bookmaker. One doesn’t need the money, after all. But without a certain element of risk life would be too dull. So I bet upside down with my friends, so to speak. If they lose, I win, and vice versa. Naturally, in order
“Your paper will reveal the Derby winner — before the race,” said Zheemee. “It must fool Benturian”
to make the thing interesting for myself, 1 deal only in very large sums.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Mr. Benturian, "I was thinking of putting a few thousand francs on the Derby myself . . .” . . and only in very large sums,” Zheemee repeated rather distantly, as though he were losing interest in the conversation.
“Oh,” said Mr. Benturian.
AFTER the Benturians had gone Zheemee remained sitting at the table, surrounded by the litter of peanut shells, empty glasses and cigarette stubs. Mr. Benturian, he noticed, had left two oncthousand-franc notes on the table for the waiter, which was extravagant; he picked up one of them and slipped it absently into his coat. After a moment’s thought he also picked up Mr. Benturian’s Daily
Express, folded it, and put it into his pocket. Then he hailed a taxi and gave it an address in the Rue des Barbiches, a district of third-rate hotels and shabby shops beyond the Boulevard d’Alsace. It was a section of Cannes that Zheemee visited only infrequently and only on matters of business; he personally found the district repugnant. But this was no moment to be fastidious. When a prize
imbecile like Mr. Benturian falls into one’s lap, time is of the essence; he must positively be separated from his money before someone else should catch sight of him and beat one to the game.
He had arrived. “Voilà, monsieur,’' said the driver.
Zheemee got out and went into a small printing establishment, the kind of a shop that prints calling cards and funeral announcements for the poor and does a small clandestine business in false passports. The proprietor, whom Zheemee found, at his usual station with his elbows propped on the counter and his chin resting on his hands, was an Algerian, a round cheerful Berber named Mahmoud ben Yousseff. Mahmoud was patently a rascal; one had only to look at him to tell that; but there was something engaging about him with his small piglike eyes and his round face with its complacent expression of a lizard basking in the sun.
"Hello, dear Mr. Bagos de Feredia,” he called as Zheemee entered.
Zheemee, who knew him well from previous transactions, was rather annoyed at this familiarity, and preferred to give no sign of recognition. He nodded, a little coldly. Then he opened up Mr. Benturian’s Express and spread it out on the counter.
“Can you make a newspaper like this?” he asked.
“Difficult,” said Mahmoud, "but not impossible.”
"1 suppose that is your subtle Bedouin way of insinuating that it will be expensive?” said Zheemee sarcastically.
Mahmoud smiled indulgently, and named a figure.
“It’s too much,” said Zheemee, "but I’ll pay it, provided you can have the paper done by tomorrow morning.” He opened the Express to the sporting page. "Listen carefully. The paper I want you to make is to be dated the twenty-sixth of May. By this time the Epsom Derby will be over, therefore your paper will contain the name of the winner. Since you are going to deliver this paper to me at least four hours before the race is run, this will be a piece of information of considerable value. Do you follow me?”
"You are a miracle of clarity, dear Mr. Bagos dc Feredia,” said Mahmoud. “There is only one more thing you must tell me. Which horse is going to be the winner?”
"I haven’t decided yet,” said Zheemee, frowning. “Let me think.”
He ran his forefinger down the starting line-up in the paper before him. Acropolis and Our Babu were out; as three-to-one favorites they were too risky. On the other hand the fifty-to-one shots were too implausible; even a prize-winning simpleton like Mr. Benturian would be unlikely to swallow that. He finally decided on ' Phil Drake. The horse looked reasonably, even convincingly good on the form chart, but it was obvious to anyone who knew the facts that he didn’t have a chance. The Volterra stables were not what they used to be since the death of M. Volterra, and it was known that Phil Drake had injured his leg in practice a few weeks before, although the fact had not been made public. Besides, a French horse is always at a disadvantage in England; they get seasick coming across the channel and feel giddy for days.
“Phil Drake,” he told Mahmoud.
"And the odds?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Zheemee. “Make it ten to one.”
He departed. It was already after six, and he still had certain arrangements to
make with another acquaintance of his, a waiter who worked in the room-service pantry of the Carlton Hotel.
THE next day was magnificent: the breeze blew lazily from the general direction of Morocco, and the sea spartied like platinum under the burning sun. After lunch Mlle. Séraphique prepared to go down to the beach for the first of her sunbaths. She donned an expensive but practically invisible bathing costume, and then she began applying suntan lotion to her nose with the end of her forefinger, frowning at herself in the Empire mirror. As for Mr. Benturian, he felt rather drowsy. He decided on a long siesta, which he hoped would fill up the afternoon so that when he woke up it would he late enough to go down on the terrasse and drink a Cinzano. With a little care he could make this last until it was time to go to dinner. Thus Mr. Benturian’s d!ay. Was he happy? The question is absurd. He was in Cannes, he was rich (are not all Americans rich?) and he had for his companion one of the most beautiful, witty and extravagant women in Paris. If, surrounded by all this glory, he could think of nothing better to do than take a nap, that was his business. He had paid for the suite, and it was his to do with as he pleased.
First, however, he decided to look into the Express to check on the final odds on the Derby.
When he opened the paper he was astounded to find that the Derby had already been run. Phil Drake had won at ten to one.
Mr. Benturian felt very strange; he had a queer sensation on the top of his head, as though a blue light were playing over him. He wondered whether he hadn't had a fit of amnesia during which twenty-four hours had slipped away from him. “I could have sworn,” he said, half to hintself, “that the Derby was today.”
“And isn't it?” said Mlle. Séraphique from the bathroom.
"Not according to this paper,” said Mr. Benturian. “It was yesterday.”
“Very well,” conceded Mlle. Séraphique, “it was yesterday.”
“The date on this paper is the twentysixth,” said Mr. Benturian, examining it suspiciously. “What day is today?”
“Oh, it’s the twenty-sixth or the twentyseventh or something. Bibi, you will really have to figure all this out for yourself. What is all this to me? The Derby has been run, the Derby has not been run. 1 positively cannot take time to decide whether a bunch of horses has or has not run around a track in England. It is after two already and there are only three more hours of sun.”
“Well, it’s very queer,” said Mr. Benturian.
Finally he picked up the telephone and called the hotel office. It was indeed the twenty-sixth.
“If this is the twenty-sixth of May,” he asked himself after he had hung up, “how can I be in possession of an English newspaper that was allegedly published in London on the evening of the twentysixth?”
Then the truth struck him like a thun-
derbolt. It was the Gift of the Armenians.
“Sweetheart! A miracle!” he cried.
But Mlle. Séraphique was already gone; she had left while he was telephoning.
Mr. Benturian ransacked the suite for his chequebook, stuck it in his pocket, and went out, pulling on his coat as he went.
HE had no great difficulty in finding Zheemee; he was sitting at a table near the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette. It was a table he had selected with great care, taking numerous tactical factors into consideration.
When he saw Mr. Benturian coming he permitted himself a faint ironic smile. He remained seated, drawing casually at the end of a cigarette, until Mr. Benturian had almost reached him; then he arose, crushed out the cigarette with exaggerated leisure, and walked away.
Mr. Benturian had some difficulty extricating himself from the maze of tables: Zheemee had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile before he caught up with him. Jogging along on his short legs, he waved and cried out weakly. At last Zheemee noticed him and turned, raising his eye-
brows in mild surprise to find there was somebody following him.
“Excuse me,” said Mr. Benturian, taking out his handkerchief and patting his brow, "I was about to speak to you in the hotel . . . but you left just as I was coming up.'’
“Did I?” said Zheemee, assuming a look of intense sorrow and concern.
It took Mr. Benturian some time to recover his breath. "Shall we sit down?” he suggested, indicating a nearby café.
“If you like.”
“Would you care for some slight re-
“She had what?” asked to match her ensemble
Mr. Benturian. “A jaguar said Mlle. Séraphique
fresment? I feel the need myself.”
As a matter of fact Zheemee had had three drinks during his long wait for Mr. Benturian on the terrasse, but it was a matter of principle with him never to refuse a voluntary gift pressed upon him by a victim. “Champagne cocktail,” he said.
Mr. Benturian ordered a champagne cocktail for Zheemee and a Dubonnet for himself. When he reached for his money to pay for them he discovered he had his chequebook clutched awkwardly in his left hand; he passed it to his right hand, took it back in his left, and finally stuck it awkwardly into his coat. Zheemee watched him, with a faint expression of amusement. There was a silence. “1 enjoyed our conversation of yesterday,” Mr. Benturian said after a moment.
“So did I.”
"1 am glad,” said Mr. Benturian.
“How is your charming wife?”
"She is fine,” said Mr. Benturian.
“I am glad,” said Zheemee.
There was another silence.
“Am I wrong,” said Zheemee, “in thinking you have some special reason for wanting to see me?”
“1 believed you mentioned yesterday,” began Mr. Benturian, “that you sometimes accept bets on horse races from your friends?”
"Only in very large amounts,” said Zheemee apologetically.
Mr. Benturian pulled his mustache and leaned forward with a conspiratorial air. “Would you consider a hundred thousand francs to be a large amount?”
Zheemee lifted his shoulders slightly in a tolerant but noncommittal gesture.
“I mention the figure only as the first that comes into my head,” said Mr. Benturian. “Let us take, for example, the figure one hundred and fifty thousand francs.”
“That is a very nice figure,” said Zheemee.
“Let me see,” said Mr. Benturian. “In dollars that would be . . .”
“Four hundred twenty-eight dollars and fifty-seven cents,” said Zheemee without apparent mental effort.
“Would you accept a bet of that amount on the Epsom Derby, which is to be run this afternoon?”
"In just about an hour, I believe,” said Zheemee, consulting his wrist watch. “Exactly,” said Mr. Benturian.
“For a friend,” Zheemee conceded.
Mr. Benturian got out his chequebook. “If so,” he said, “I would like to put a hundred and fifty thousand francs on Phil Drake.”
“A fine choice,” said Zheemee. “I congratulate you. I can see you are not only a gentleman, but a man who understands horses.” He folded the cheque in four and slipped if into his pocket.
“But I am sorry,” cried Mr. Benturian. “Your drink is all gone. Will you have another?”
“Thank you,” said Zheemee. “You are too kind.”
MR. BENTURIAN, feeling a little feverish, went back to the hotel and lay down on the bed, where for an hour or so he indulged himself in the wildest mental fancies. About four o’clock Mile. Séraphique came back, perspiring faintly and tanned a pale apricot. Mr. Benturian was hardly aware of her entrance.
"Bibi,” she said from the bathroom as she rubbed cold cream into her face, “do
you know what I saw on the Croisette today?”
“A woman with a jaguar that matched her ensemble!”
“Not her dress, of course—just her shoes and accessories. It was very chic. Absolutely everybody on the Croisette was staring at her; the traffic had come to an actual standstill and three policemen were trying to untangle the cars. As soon as I saw it, of course, I became positively chartreuse with envy.”
"What did you say she had?” said Mr. Benturian, sitting up on the bed.
“A jaguar to match her ensemble!” Mr. Benturian lay back down again. “I believe they are rather expensive,” he said dubiously.
“But so chic!”
“Aren’t they rather hard to handle?” “Not if they are kept firmly under control.”
“Sweetheart,” said Mr. Benturian, sitting up again, “my mind is rather occupied with something else right now. When the evening papers come out I may have some startling news to reveal, and then we will talk more about the Jaguar.” “What is the startling news?” demanded Mlle. Séraphique suspiciously.
“Sweetheart,” said Mr. Benturian, “you remember this afternoon when I was asking you what day it was? Well . . .”
He opened the Daily Express and began turning to the sports page. But when he got as far as the editorial page something else caught his eye. Under the masthead, in type so small as to be practically invisible, was a small notice in French: “Printed by Mahmoud ben Yousseff, 95, rue des Barbiches, Cannes.”
“Well?” said Mlle. Séraphique, waiting. “Nothing,” said Mr. Benturian, folding up the paper and lying back down on the bed. >
“But what was this thing you were going to tell me?”
“Never mind,” said Mr. Benturian. “And the jaguar?” she reminded him ominously.
But Mr. Benturian had another idea. He sat bolt upright and began looking around for his panama. “What time is it?” he demanded. “Ah, where is my hat? Sweetheart, I will be back in an hour. Go downstairs and enjoy yourself. Drink a Pink Lady. Eat some peanuts. But under no circumstances,” he added, putting on his hat with both hands, “say anything to Señor Bagos de Feredia.”
"Why not?” she demanded.
But he was gone.
MR. BENTURIAN got out of the taxi and took out the newspaper to make sure of the address; then he put it back in his pocket and walked into the shop. Mahmoud was at his customary station, leaning on the counter, blinking complacently out of his round face.
“How do you do?” said Mr. Benturian, lifting his hat. “I am Alfred Benturian.” Mahmoud was visibly startled by this courtesy; it was not what he was used to. He straightened up and began backing down the counter as though he were afraid Mr. Benturian was going to apply a judo grip to him, or arrest him for counterfeiting.
“Is tobacco forbidden by the Moslem religion?” enquired Mr. Benturian. “If not, have a cigar.” He got out two of his Flora Fragrantes, which a Paris tobacconist imported especially for him from
Venezuela and of which he had only three left. They exuded a subtle exotic fragrance, an aura as of honey and palm trees.
‘The Koran forbids alcoholic beverages, but it says nothing about tobacco,” said Mahmoud cautiously. “Besides,” he added, "I am a Christian.”
“Indeed?” said Mr. Benturian.
Mahmoud lit the cigar and clouds of violet smoke rose around him. “I will tell you something,” he explained, warming up. “If I decided to do business in Africa, I would become a cannibal. In Algiers 1 am a Moslem, in Cannes I am a Christian. Do you want to know my motto? When in Rome, pretend to do like the Romans.”
“An excellent motto,” said Mr. Benturian.
They puffed their cigars silently for a moment.
“And now,” said Mahmoud, “in what way may I be of service to you?”
Mr. Benturian took the Express out of his pocket and spread it out on the counter. “Did you make this paper?” he enquired.
“Yes,” said Mahmoud, his uneasiness returning.
"A beautiful job,” said Mr. Benturian.
“Thank you,” said Mahmoud.
“Not at all,” said Mr. Benturian. He reached back into his coat and produced another newspaper, the previous day’s edition of Midi-Sport. “Can you make a paper like that?”
“Difficult,” said Mahmoud, “but not impossible.”
“Cost is no object,” said Mr. Benturian. “But I will have to have it in an hour’s time.”
“For a gentleman like you,” said Mahmoud, “I can do it.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Benturian.
“Not at all,” said Mahmoud.
Mr. Benturian opened up the MidiSport to the racing page and explained his requirements in some detail.
“Say no more,” said Mahmoud. “I understand you perfectly. You have come to the right man.”
He took the newspaper into the shop in the rear. Shouts and imprecations were heard in broken French, certain persons were referred to as pigs and as lumps of ordure, and presently a weary clanking was heard, as though some gigantic and slovenly monster were arising reluctantly from repose.
Mahmoud came back and took up his place at the counter. “Your paper will be ready in twenty minutes,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Benturian. “Not at all,” said Mahmoud.
They remained silent for a moment. Presently Mr. Benturian said, “Do you want to know my motto?”
“What is it?” said Mahmoud.
“Live fairly dangerously,” said Mr. Benturian.
“That is a fine motto,” said Mahmoud. They puffed, and the smoke rose in aromatic clouds around them until it filled the room.
IN the taxi Mr. Benturian examined his freshly printed Midi-Sport with satisfaction. On the editorial page, as he expected, he discovered the small legend, “Printed by Mahmoud ben Yousseff, 95, rue des Barbiches, Cannes,” and cut it out with his penknife. Then he put the paper back in his pocket.
He found Zheemee exactly where he expected him: sitting in an outdoor café on the Croisette, watching the passing crowd. His table was in the very first row, separated from the sidewalk only by a low hedge, and standing with his back to the hedge was an immaculate and elegant policeman in a black uniform with a white képi and white gloves. The proximity of the policeman made Zheemee nervous; he was of the race to whom the sight of a representative of justice is always disquieting, on mere principle. Besides, his papers were not quite in order: his identity card had been incompetently forged, and he was carrying passports in two different names, both of them with his picture in them. He was just trying to catch the waiter’s eye to pay his bill when, to his distinct annoyance, he saw Mr. Benturian approaching him.
"Good afternoon,” said Mr. Benturian, raising his hat.
“Hello,” said Zheemee.
“My horse won,” said Mr. Benturian proudly.
“Phil Drake won. That is the horse I bet on.”
“I don’t believe you,” said Zheemee hoarsely.
Mr. Benturian got out his Midi-Sport, keeping his thumb carefully over the hole he had cut with his penknife. Phil Drake’s victory was announced with a two-inch headline; there was even a picture of a horse with the right number on it galloping across the finish line.
“incredible,” muttered Zheemee, distracted. “That is to say, as a matter of fact,” he added, mentally reviewing train
schedules, “my affairs are in an awkward . . . certain obligations which I . . . could you wait a couple of days?”
“To tell the truth,” said Mr. Benturian, “I was planning on buying a little present for my wife . . . tonight.”
Zheemee cast a desperate glance over the hedge; the policeman was still standing with his white-gloved hands folded behind him.
“If you don’t mind,” Mr. Benturian added.
Zheemee shrugged, got out his chequebook, and began writing out a cheque for one million eight hundred seventy-five thousand francs.
IT was almost five; the shops would soon be closed. Mr. Benturian put the cheque in his pocket and drove straight to the Jaguar agency in the Rue d’Antibes. The doors were still open, but there seemed to be no one on duty in the showroom. Mr. Benturian amused himself for five minutes or so by examining the cars on the floor, feeling the leather upholstery in a roadster and running his finger over the excellent chrome plate on a Mark VII sedan. After a while there was a sound of cheering from the repair shop in the rear, and a very British young man in a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows came through the doors into the showroom. Mr. Benturian by this time was sitting bolt upright in a maroon roadster, his panama square on his head, turning the steering wheel experimentally from side to side.
“I do beg your pardon, sir,” said the Very British Young Man, “but I was back with the chaps in the shop, listening to the finish of the Derby.”
“Who won?” asked Mr. Benturian, still turning the wheel back and forth.
“Phil Drake,” said the Very British Young Man.
“What a coincidence!” said Mr. Benturian.
“Most of the chaps in the shop are French,” explained the Very British Young Man, “and they were rooting for the Volterra horse. That was the cheer you heard a minute ago. I had Acropolis myself.”
“My condolences,” said Mr. Benturian. “But I beg your pardon, sir,” said the Very British Young Man. “What can I show you?”
“Do you have a white Jaguar XK140 roadster, with black-leather upholstery?” “Indeed we do, sir,” said the Very British Young Man.
“I’ll take it,” said Mr. Benturian. “How much is it?”
“One million seven hundred and fifty thousand francs, plus license,” said the Very British Young Man.
Mr. Benturian got out Zheemee’s cheque and endorsed it on the back with his fountain pen. “I am Alfred Benturian,” he said. “You can enquire about me at the Crédit Lyonnais.”
“It isn’t necessary, sir. Where would you like the car delivered?”
“I’ll take it with me,” said Mr. Benturian, putting away his fountain pen.
“Very well, «ir; I’ll have the chaps wheel it out,” said the Very British Young Man. “You must have had luck in the Derby, sir.”
“Strange and wonderful things have always happened to me,” said Mr. Benturian. “It is the Gift of the Armenians.”
MR. BENTURIAN left the roadster with the attendants in the Carlton garage and walked around to the front of the hotel, where he found Mlle. Séraphique looking annoyed at a table on the terrasse. “Where have you been?” she demanded. “You go off without saying where you are going, and you stay for
two hours. I must say you are acting very strangely today.”
“Come with me,” said Mr. Benturian. He led her around to the garage and up to the white roadster.
“Behold!” he said.
“What is that?” said Mlle. Séraphique. “That is a Jaguar XK140 roadster, white with black-leather upholstery,” said Mr. Benturian. “It will go very nicely with your accessories.”
"Bibi,” said Mlle. Séraphique, painstakingly, “you really should make some effort to learn the grammar of the French language. Une Jaguar, feminine gender, capital “J,” is an automobile, c’est une voiture. Un jaguar, masculine gender, small “j,” is a small animal of the feline family, indigenous to Brazil.”
“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Benturian dazedly.
“The woman on the Croisette,” Mile. Séraphique explained, “was leading a small spotted wildcat on a leash.”
Mr. Benturian was silent for a moment. "I was trying to please you,” he said.
“You are a species of idiot.” said Mile. Séraphique. “Why, oh why, didn t I marry somebody with brains? Somebody with savoir faire! Someone like Zheemee!"
“Let us kiss and make up,” suggested Mr. Benturian plaintively.
"You give me a pain,” said Mile. Séraphique, “a real physical pain, right here between my eyes, in the bridge of my nose.”
Later they went to dinner in a taxicab, leaving the Jaguar in the garage. The restaurant had a number of asterisks after it in the Michelin guide, but the celery had brown spots and the soup was cold. Mile. Séraphique had sunk into a dangerous brooding. “There are flies in here.” she complained. “Call the waiter and have them driven out.”
“Most women would love to have a Jaguar roadster,” said Mr. Benturian.
"Oh, shut up!” burst out Mlle. Séraphique. It was too much for her. She flung down her napkin, and flounced through the tables toward the door, but found she had forgotten her evening wrap and had to come back for it.
"Sweetheart,” began Mr. Benturian. “Go play with your Jaguar!” she flung over her shoulder as she left.
The waiter had finally come up. “There are flies in here,” said Mr. Benturian.
“Flies?” said the waiter. “Impossible.” Mr. Benturian pointed to the tablecloth, where two flies were walking around the sugar bowl and a third was circling for a landing.
The waiter shrugged. “All I can say,” he replied, “is that monsieur must have brought them in with him.”
Their exit resembled a procession. First came Mlle. Séraphique, stalking along carrying her own wrap; Mr. Benturian followed a dozen paces behind her, pulling on his coat, and last of all came the waiter, shooing the flies after them with his napkin.
"Sweetheart,” Mr. Benturian told her on the sidewalk, “please remember that my only thought was for your happiness. I will take the Jaguar back tomorrow.” “I did not say I did not want it,” said Mlle. Séraphique, pronouncing each word distinctly. “The point is that I said I wanted something else.”
“Sweetheart,” said Mr. Benturian, “believe me, all will be arranged.”
And so it was, except that the jaguar gnawed a hole in the leather upholstery of the roadster, necessitating some rather expensive repairs, and also the jaguar ate some of the leather and had to be taken to the veterinary. But neither of these was the fault of Mr. Benturian.