Frédéric Boutet: The Garden of the Pirate (conclusion)
“But no, not at all. That is an error. All the city believed we would find enormous sums… Not in the least! Nothing! Barely four or five thousand francs… The two brothers were furious and accused each other of looting. They left for Paris completely baffled. You don’t remember them? You must have met them when they were here.”
“Oh, yes, I have seen them, it seems to me… Blond, are they?”
“No, dark, very dark. The older one has a monocle, and a large moustache.”
(That is my gentleman, M. Duvaudois said to himself.)
“The younger one is taller, and has a beard.”
(That is the man in the garden, thought M. Duvaudois. I’m sure of it!)
“The latter,” the lawyer went on, “came back to see me three days ago. He had asked me for a key to open the house. This very morning, he comes again at the opening of the office, before leaving on the ten o’clock train. The unlucky fellow has lamed his foot to the point of not being able to take a step, and I had to go down for him to summon a car. He insisted, against my counsel, on raising the price of the house. That is folly. Already we couldn’t find a purchaser. Now it will be impossible.”
“Why so? The house is pretty and the garden would suit me perfectly for the enlarging of mine. I would like to buy it…”
M. Duvaudois was, despite himself, becoming a little flushed. The whole story seemed clear as crystal to him, and an insuppressible hope swelled his greedy heart.
The lawyer was surprised.
“My faith, M. Duvaudois, if you’d like to buy it, I’d be delighted. It is, to be sure, a beautiful house, except that the price…excuse me… I’m sorry to say, the price is a little high. At first, it was twenty thousand, but since this morning, I am forbidden to sell it for less than forty-five.”
Duvaudois jumped to his feet. “Forty-five thousand!”
“Sorry, yes. It has shot up! But, perhaps, if you’re talking seriously…”
“Oh, my faith!” M. Duvaudois resumed his seat. “The property has become expensive. And then, this is only a caprice. But…if you can sell it… Oh well, I’ll buy!”
The notary seemed somewhat bewildered. “M. Duvaudois,” he said at last, “I have the power of attorney, and I can arrange the sale whenever you like.”
When M. Duvaudois returned with the keys which, thanks to him, were useless, and clutching the document that made him owner of the house, the garden, and all that it contained (he had insisted on this stipulation), he sighed with an unspeakable joy, and waited impatiently for the night to come, as he deemed mystery necessary to his operations.
Around one o’clock in the morning, having misgivings that a storm threatened, he went down to his garden. He carried a spade slung over his back, and with the aid of a ladder, scaled the wall that separated his old from the new property. In the wild garden, at the foot of the tall chestnut tree, he had no trouble finding the place he’d watched the stranger dig. He dug in his own right, with all his strength. He worked passionately for what seemed more than an hour, not allowing himself to be stirred by flashes of lightning and the roar of thunder, any more than by the deluge of rain that soon spilled in.
All at once, the spade struck a metallic object. Drunk with exaltation, he shoveled earth from a carefully closed box, in appearance like a biscuit tin. He grabbed this and fled to the ladder under torrents of rain, passed over the wall with all speed, and as little noise as possible. He gained his own house, and in his office fell on the box, breathing hard, soaked to the bone, covered in mud to the belly. A puddle of water formed at his feet.
Placing his find on his desk near his lighted lamp, M. Duvaudois, more emotional than he had ever been in his life, cut the wire that encircled the box, lifted the lid, tore the lead sheet enclosing a folded packet, drew out a second tin curio box, and from this a large parchment, covered in writing. He unrolled it.
From the brothers Dupray
For the sale at forty-five thousand francs, of an old house worth twenty thousand.
You take a Duvaudois susceptible of believing in hidden treasures, and willing to steal them from their legitimate owners…
M. Duvaudois read no more. He became livid, then violet. He made a convulsive inhalation that sounded like a rattle, put a hand to his throat and fell in a faint, his nose on the recipe.
The Garden of the Pirate
(2019, translation, Stephanie Foster)