Frédéric Boutet: The Amateur (conclusion)
A Few Blackmails
“But I tell you I’m not a thief!” moaned Marcel.
“Oh! Enough of jokes,” interrupted the jeweler wearily. “Your story! Isn’t it plain? Caught with its hand in the bag…why the dear little saint! You are a professional and you know your work! And if I were in the countryside, then…stripped clean! You tell me you are a man of the world. Is it probable your family does not make the rents this way?”
“What are you saying?” cried Marcel, revolted.
“Don’t move or I shoot! Oh, it is a moment, merely, before I call the police! Hmm? Breaking and entering by night, into a private residence…”
“Let me go,” pleaded Marcel. “I am innocent. I swear to you I’m innocent!”
“How I go back and forth!” The jeweler kept silent for a moment. Then he said, thoughtfully: “You are young. Perhaps you may still repent of yourself, and return to the right path. And you have plenty of money. I don’t know how you got it, but one can do much good with… Much good. Leave what you’ve put on the table. It will go to the poor.”
He seemed to reflect further. “I am too kind…but, so be it. I have never been able to stop myself. Open the secretary! There, to your right. Pen, ink, and paper. Write! Give the truth, recount your burglary. Swear to all…date, sign.”
Marcel, distraught, wanting only to be outside, obeyed.
“There, it’s done,” said the jeweler, taking the paper from Marcel. “Very good, you may leave. I will see you tomorrow.” And he pushed the intruder out.
Marcel was stunned by the horror of his situation, and made off saying to himself in anguish: “What is he going to do now?”
An interior voice answered prophetically: “He is going to blackmail you!”
For the jeweler in straits, Marcel had come as a gift of Providence.
And from leaving him on that fateful night, the unfortunate young man knew no rest. He had payments to make. This of the jeweler’s…his rent. That of the jeweler’s…his vices to satisfy. Those of the jeweler’s…a lodger to maintain, and the jeweler’s own father—for the good son kept them near each other lest the old man be bored in the countryside.
On Marcel’s shoulders weighed the cares of a struggling business. He gave all he had and it wasn’t much, because he was a minor and his mother held him on a tight rein. He sold, promised, borrowed, knew all the torments of money…
Under the pressure of such, which lasted for five months, his life became one of bitterness and fear, a burden to him. He hated the jeweler with a savage loathing. Every day he saw him arrive, insatiable, hypocritical, intermixing his accusing extractions with moralistic jeremiads wherein came the eternal refrain:
“Honest people work, miscreants take it easy. If I were a cruel man, you would be in prison!”
And his hand indicated his pocket, the fatal paper he would not let go.
But he had gone too far, in trying his victim unsparingly. The moment came when Marcel said to himself, one way or another this must end.
One night the jeweler, who had left his excellent father in charge of the store, returned after some debauchery of the lowest sort, very late. As he rounded the corner of his deserted street, a shadow rose behind him. A scarf caught him by the neck. He was strangled, pulled backwards; a hail of blows half-stunned him, a hand ripped the purse from his pocket and rifled it with spirit.
And under his breath Marcel, who that evening no longer played the amateur, growled: “That’s it! I have it! And now, my good man, attention! At the first peep I’ll have you jugged for defamation and blackmail!”
The jeweler understood the strength of this argument. He rose and answered in a tone of reproach and affliction, that of a benefactor ill-used:
“If this is all your thanks for the benevolence I’ve shown you in not making a complaint…”
And he made his way home sadly, while Marcel, triumphant, felt the clear sun of deliverance illuminate a foggy night.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster)