Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639
The narrator sits in a bar telling a story to a man identified only as Monsieur, and he begins with a dream of Miriam, the countess of Terrail, he had the night before, seeing her walking on the beach at Biarritz. The dream prompts him to recount the whole riddle of his journey with her, but first he reminisces about his experiences with Albert, a race car driver whom he met in Saint-Denis, and the car that Albert claimed had belonged to Agostinelli, Marcel Proust’s driver. Albert and the narrator, a mechanic, soon team up in running an auto repair shop, with Albert finding the vintage cars to restore and the narrator handling sales. The narrator then tells of having met Miriam at Chez Albert, a bistro near the Porte Saint-Denis in Paris.
After Miriam introduces herself, the narrator jokingly says that he is the marquis of Carabas. Miriam tells him not to joke about being the marquis, announces that someone wants to kill her, and walks out after leaving her name and phone number on a matchbox. The narrator does not call her, but a few days later, her husband, the count of Terrail, arrives at the narrator’s office, explaining that his wife wants to take their 1927 Bugatti Royale to Biarritz and proceed to a car rally in San Sebastián, Spain. The count thinks that his wife has asked the narrator to drive her to Biarritz, and he presents him with a large check and a request that he refuse the countess’s proposal. The narrator refuses the check and truthfully denies any knowledge of such an offer, and the count leaves. This arouses the curiosity of the narrator, who has admitted to being “stuck in a morass of boredom,” and he immediately calls the Hôtel de Paris and leaves a message for the countess.
The narrator picks up the Bugatti and has it repaired to perfection, even having an elephant hood ornament carved from wood and chrome-plated. He calls for the countess at the Hôtel de Paris. The count says he will meet her in Biarritz in a week, and the narrator and the countess depart in the Bugatti but, at the countess’s insistence, follow a long route that takes them to Limoges, where they spend a night in a hotel as a married couple, under the narrator’s name. The next day means another irregular route and a night in Pau. In Biarritz on the third day, Miriam promises the riddle of their journey will be explained after the race.
The course follows a winding route around curves that overhang the water, and the narrator and Miriam play tag with a young couple in a 1922 Lambda. When the Lambda deliberately swerves toward them, the narrator brakes, accelerates, and knocks the Lambda off the road but with no harm to the occupants. After minor car repairs in San Sebastián, they drive back to France, where the narrator notices that the wooden elephant has been replaced by a metal one, but when he moves to open it, Miriam turns “ashen grey” and dissuades him.
They spend the night in Biarritz, making love. In the morning, the narrator confiscates a revolver he finds in Miriam’s handbag and then leaves in a taxi with Miriam’s promise to meet him at the beach. When the narrator looks for the count at the train station, he learns that he did not arrive as he had promised and has not checked in at the Hôtel des Palais. Finally, a phone call to the Hôtel d’Angleterre reveals that Miriam has already checked out and driven away. Musing on his odd adventure, the narrator confesses to having once put an ad in Le Figaro: “Lost elephant looking for 1927 Bugatti.” Thus ends the riddle.