Frédéric Boutet: The Garden of the Pirate (part two)
The following evening, the vigil recommenced at the top of the pigeoncote. But barely past twelve had the two men waited when, in the silence of a provincial night, they heard a muted noise, a prolonged creaking. The gate that gave access from the street onto the Pirate’s garden, opened itself, and a man entered furtively.
“It’s him. Get back!” Gripped by a lively agitation, the stranger whispered in the ear of M. Duvaudois. They withdrew a little, so that their heads were obscured by the leafy branches surrounding the window.
The man below moved ahead with caution. He carried a short spade, rested this against the sundial, and took from his pocket a huge sheet of paper. He unfolded and stared at it in the gleam of a little electric torch. He put the paper back in his pocket, as well as the torch, and with only the light of the moon directed himself towards the house.
He turned his back to the entry steps; departing from the bottom of these, he made in measured paces for the sundial. At a dozen, he stopped and plugged a small stake into the ground.
“That’s it! That’s it! The misery, he has found the plan!” In the pigeoncote the stranger, seeming at the pitch of excitation, seized the arm of M. Duvaudois and squeezed it hard.
“Hush! He’ll hear you!” ordered Duvaudois, quivering with intrigue.
But the man in the garden seemed too preoccupied to hear. He went towards the wall opposite the pigeoncote, to the place where the well could be seen. Turning his back to the coping, he counted ten steps, in the direction of the center pond, and plugged into earth another stake. Then he unrolled a ribbon from this stake to the first, measured with care one-third of its length, and placed another stick of wood just at the foot of a great chestnut tree. He took his spade, and taking pains, pried up a rectangle of lawn, then eagerly began to dig.
The stranger in the pigeoncote gasped.
After digging for about an hour, the man in the garden came out of the hole he’d made, wiped his brow and looked around him with disappointment. Again he took out his plan, read it by the light of his electric torch. He retraced his steps and his measurements, which carried him to the same spot. Then appearing animated by a new courage, he commenced with fresh energy to dig his hole.
All at once he made a low exclamation. A metallic noise of iron sounded under his spade. Feverishly, he struck four or five blows with this, threw aside his tool and began to dig with his hands. They saw him take out his torch, bend to illuminate the bottom of the hole and whatever he’d found there. He made a cry of joy, leapt from the excavation…and began to dance like a fool.
“He has it! He has it! The pirate! He stole it from me! He ruined me! But he will know who he’s dealing with!”
The stranger at the side of M. Duvaudois seemed as overwrought as the stranger in the garden. But the latter, in the midst of his gambols, made a false step. He stumbled, put a leg in the hole he had made, and fell heavily.
He had done himself a cruel injury, for he gave a stifled groan, righted himself with difficulty, sat on the ground holding his ankle and cursing between his teeth. At the end of a few minutes, he tried again to get on his feet, and nearly fell. He made a gesture of helpless anger. Dragging himself with pain, he sought to collect his spade from where he’d thrown it. He went back to the hole and began to fill it, without having removed anything of what he’d found.
He worked on in apparent pain, bit by bit, muffling the cries that his suffering tore from him, stopping frequently to rest. When the hole was almost leveled, he replaced the turf of grass, scattered the dirt that remained; then planted twigs and dead leaves to conceal all trace of his digging. Crouched very low, he limped along the trunks of trees, went to the well and threw in his spade, gained the gate to the street, and disappeared as furtively as he’d come.
“Monsieur,” said the stranger to Duvaudois, “thanks to you a great injustice has been thwarted. I know all now. This accident of fate has interrupted a criminal enterprise. What we have witnessed gives me the chance to make my move. You may believe me eternally grateful that, as I hope, I have seen this in time.”
M. Duvaudois walked him back to the garden gate. The stranger, urbane in manner, took his leave and departed.
Duvaudois did not sleep that night.
After the stranger left, he stayed a full hour, seated in his garden, unmoving, prey to an interior struggle…postulating, calculating, constructing plans…
Then he went to get a hammer and a large screw, going noiselessly into the street, in the soft darkness that precedes the dawn, reaching the door of the Pirate’s House. With a blow of the hammer (wrapped in his handkerchief to soften the noise), he forced the screw into the old lock. Certain, then, that this house could be entered no more, he returned to his own.
Before noon, he was in conference with his lawyer.
“The House of the Pirate…indeed, I have been charged with selling it. It belongs to the Dupray brothers, you know, the two nephews of the mysterious fellow.”
“He must have left them a considerable inheritance,” M. Duvaudois remarked, with an air of detachment.
The Garden of the Pirate
(2019, Stephanie Foster)