Frédéric Boutet: The Garden of the Pirate (part one)
The unknown visitor seated himself on the chair indicated by M. Duvaudois.
“Monsieur,” he said, “you will forgive my insisting on being received in this way, presenting myself without telling my name, but there are grave reasons that oblige me to do so. Never otherwise would I have dared to act thus, but before of a man of your high intelligence, and further, one who exemplifies the most perfect honorability.”
M. Duvaudois was a fat man of fifty years, rich and vain. In a city of the west, he lived in a beautiful mansion, surrounded by a grand garden, and he considered himself a personage of great importance. The preamble, mysterious and laudatory, of his visitor, a correct young man of thirty, flattered him; and equally, it set him at defiance. He did not answer, but majestically fanned himself with his pocket handkerchief.
It was summer, and very hot.
The unknown visitor spoke again. “Monsieur…here is the thing than needs doing. At the bottom of your superb garden, at the back of the wall that encloses it, is an abandoned pigeoncote, the base of which holds your domestic rabbits, the top, bales of hay…one of your former gardeners told me this detail…
“At the roof are cut two dormers opening onto your garden, and facing these windows is a large bay that opens onto the neighboring garden. Well, monsieur, I come to ask a favor…it’s singular, I know, but of paramount importance to me…that you let me stay at this window tonight, and for the two nights following, that I may watch the neighbor’s garden.”
“Do you mean the House of the Pirate? That garden?” said M. Duvaudois.
“Yes, monsieur, since they name it so. I dare hope you will not refuse me, however bizarre this seems. I appeal to you…but I have imperatives that must remain secret. If you will excuse me, I beg you ask me no further questions.”
Having spoken, the young man waited with dignity for the answer of M. Duvaudois.
Duvaudois sat a moment in silence. This insolent request, addressed to him by a stranger, seemed to him terribly out of the way; but inordinately, at the same time, it intrigued him. The house next door had for a few years been occupied by a mysterious man, whose retired life was spent in fierce isolation, his only company an elderly black man who served him, and was never heard to speak. To account for this, strange stories had taken flight. They called this fellow the Pirate and said that he’d enriched himself by crime, through distant voyages, underhanded forays…
And they said that he’d passed his nights counting his treasure, wishing to forget the remorse that haunted him. He’d been dead for three years, the servant had departed, and the house was for sale…but no one had ever cared to buy it.
All these details returning to the mind of M. Duvaudois, made for him a passionately felt mystery. But the fear of compromise and a wish to force down what he judged an indiscreet question, struggled against curiosity. This was, however, devouring.
“Monsieur.” He gathered himself. “Your accents seem to me those of an honest man.”
“Believe me, monsieur,” interrupted the other in haste, “an honest man almost become a vic… But no, I must not say it.”
“And, I consent to allow what you ask, but one condition is necessary for my peace of mind. I will watch at your side for three nights. I will observe what you observe and will witness your acts. You understand, that given the mystery with which you surround yourself, I must feel assured that any reprehensible attempt…”
To this the stranger first sketched a gesture of contrariety, but he suppressed it at once. “Monsieur, you have reason. This prudence is worthy of your character, and I prefer of all things that you render account for yourself of the purity of my motives. I will come this night at eleven o’clock.”
That night, at eleven o’clock, both kept vigil in the attic of the pigeoncote, which was nearly empty of hay. M. Duvaudois had opened the door himself to his mysterious guest, and guided him through the beautiful garden, fresh and fragrant. But the visitor was too preoccupied, and M. Duvaudois too intrigued, to enjoy the charm of a summer night. They climbed the ladder of the pigeoncote and opened, not without difficulty, the worm-eaten shutter.
In the uncertain gleam of a waning moon, the neighboring garden appeared between leaves and branches savage, abandoned, full of wild herbs and shoots pushing up freely. In the middle was a pool, half-filled, farther off a sundial, and facing them, against an enclosing wall, a well. Leaning from the window, they could see at the right, the wall that bordered the street; and at the left, the limits of the garden, the house itself, long and low, all dilapidated under invasive ivy.
They waited without speaking. Midnight sounded from a nearby bell tower, then one o’clock, two o’clock…
Nothing occurred. M. Duvaudois slept where he stood. Finally morning lightened the horizon.
The stranger, serene, now said to his host, “You will accept my apologies and my thanks. Tonight…!”
The Garden of the Pirate
(2019, Stephanie Foster)