Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655
As the story opens, Sandor Speck is locking up his art gallery in the Faubourg Saint-Germain neighborhood of Paris. He contemplates his respectable and conservative neighborhood and reflects on the melancholy rainy evening. Speck sits down to his solitary, simple dinner in a neighborhood restaurant and takes out his yellow pad and pencils. He begins to plan his May-June show. Paris art critics are hinting that the time has come, but for what? Speck believes he has the answer, a French painter, who lived from about 1864 to 1949, mostly forgotten, someone whom Speck can reintroduce to the art world. Speck is at work writing the artist’s biography and a commentary on his work, envisioning the show. He is stuck, however, on the identity of the artist for his show.
Speck moves on to his meeting of the Masons. At the lodge, he rubs shoulders with the bankers, ambassadors, and politicians who are wealthy potential art buyers. On the sidewalk outside, he overhears Senator Antoine Bellefeuille speaking about the beautiful wife of the artist Hubert Cruche. Speck remembers that the wealthy senator has a house full of the paintings of Cruche. There is the answer to Speck’s quest. Cruche overlaps to an astonishing degree with the painter in the yellow notebook and is just the sort of respectable, minor Parisian artist for whom Speck is looking.
Speck has a knack with artists’ widows; he is tactful, courtly, and a good listener. A week later, Speck is sitting in the home of Lydia Cruche. He proposes a major Cruche retrospective, “just an idea of mine.” He needs the widow’s cooperation, for she is the owner of a studio full of her deceased husband’s paintings.
Lydia proves difficult and elusive. She is willing to let Speck see the paintings, but she will not let him have them for the show. She reveals that she belongs to an obscure sect, the Japhethites, and believes that there is a commandment forbidding graven images. Speck is crushed. Business and the economy are in a decline. He badly wants and needs this show. He has already spoken to Senator Bellefeuille, who has shown Speck his personal collection of Cruches and agreed to sign the catalogue notes that Speck has ghostwritten, lending the prestige and status of his name and connections to the show.
Lydia Cruche appears to change her mind, and Speck goes back to her villa in the suburbs with paperwork in his briefcase, ready to negotiate an agreement with her. He finds a guest in her house, Signor Vigorelli of Milan. Lydia is now cordial and cooperative, helpful with details for the catalogue. However, Speck is crushed while driving home from the widow’s house. He hears Signor Vigorelli on the car radio, discussing the rediscovery of Hubert Cruche!
Speck makes a U-turn, crashes his car into a tree, and begins to walk back to Lydia Cruche’s house. She calmly admits that Signor Vigorelli, with her cooperation, is organizing a big Cruche show in Milan in March. Speck protests in dismay: Cruche is his idea. He insists that he must have the show first. Utterly defeated, he trudges to the bus stop to make his way home.
In another sudden reversal, Lydia appears at the bus stop and offers to let Speck be the first to hold a show. Milan is better for money, she says, but we are not talking about money, are we? Speck is confused but recovers quickly. Lydia has a talent for money, he realizes, and he is no match for her. His mind clears, “a yellow notebook fluttered and lay open at a new page.” The show will likely go to Milan in the autumn now, he thinks. He begins to write a new note for his exhibit catalogue. Cruche will travel with Speck’s blessing. He will sign this note himself. Cruche will cross borders and so will Sandor Speck.