by J.-H. Rosny
published in The Chickasha Daily Express, December 21, 1900
[W]e were strolling along the shore of the bellowing sea. The waves were magnificent. They advanced in caravans, crested with foam, singing crystal songs, they came with great cries and falling upon the rocks left long trails of snow. Rapid, irritable, angry, numberless, they assailed the cliffs, sometimes like a gorgeous garden of white and green flowers, sometimes roaring like ferocious troops of bears, elephants and lions.
“Look,” exclaimed Landa. “There goes Lavalle.”
All turned. In a little carriage, they saw a man still young by whose side was a woman of the Iberian type; one of those ravishing beauties who arouse desire, hate and jealousy in every man’s breast.
“He’s in luck that fellow,” murmured the banker Langrume when the carriage had passed. “By a single stroke be became owner of 90,000,000 francs, and the prettiest woman to be found from pole to pole. And I have worked thirty years to get my beggarly half dozen millions.”
“You are envious,” answered Landa.
“Don’t you know that Lavalle owes his fortune and his wife to a good speculation. It all came from an investment of exactly 1,000 francs.”
Fifteen years ago our friend Pierre Lavalle was a lucky young fellow of 20 years. He was rich, robust in health, and of a nature to avail himself of his advantages. His father sent him around the world. In Chile he had as a guide a most intelligent man of excellent family and between them a friendship arose. The guide pretended to have discovered rich veins of silver in the mountains, but he feared to be forestalled and dared trust no one.
At the moment of their separation Pierre offered him a thousand francs. Jose Alvarado thanked him with a dignified air and said:
“In ten years I shall be rich and you are my partner.”
Then he wrote in the young man’s journal this memorandum:
“In ten years I promise to share my property with my partner, Pierre Lavalle. Jose Alvarado Santiago, Nov. 20, 1885.”
Ten years later Pierre Lavalle was completely ruined. His father died of despair after unlucky speculations and left the son only a heritage of debt. The poor boy was forced to accept clerkship in a government office. None the less he still went about in society. As he did not try to borrow money from anybody, as he talked well and looked well the best hostesses asked him to their houses. One evening he attended a ball given by a rich Argentinian, Don Estevan Zuloaga. The affair was dazzling. All the South Americans in Paris were there, including many ravishing beauties. Pierre admired Spanish beauties with the enthusiasm of the old romancers. Those eyes where voluptuousness distilled their magic, those delicious curves of the figure, those little feet light and trembling, those magnificent mouths created for kissing aroused in Pierre an ecstatic drunkenness. Don Estevan had sought to bring together the richest human flowers of the Plata, Peru, Chile, and Mexico. The scene nearly turned the head of Pierre when he entered. But the grace and beauty of all the other women was dimmed in his eyes when he perceived a young Chilean on the arm of a young and handsome Spaniard. With a skin as clear as blonde’s out of a wonderful smoothness, with eyes that absorbed the light and emitted it again in dazzling electric rays; with a divine mouth as innocent as voluptuous; with graceful rhythmic walk, and the sweep of her undulating curves she seemed to possess the quintessence of, the charms and seductions of twenty exquisite women. Pierre was overcome with the despair that follows too violent admiration. The love of such a creature seemed to him something unattainable, a thing to which a man could aspire only by genius heroism or some other great quality. During the entire evening each time she passed near the place where he sat watching her dancing or walking, a wave of passionate adoration and sadness surged through his being. He saw her again. He was introduced to her and in time to her mother. During the winter he loved her silently and without the least hope. What right had he to covet such a love, hundred men, the elite of Paris, would have killed themselves for her. And she was fabulously rich. So he loved her as one loves inaccessible things, the clouds, the stars or the sun. She welcomed him as she did others and her mother seemed to like him. What did that signify? Pierre was an impossibility. In debt up to his neck he passed through the most humiliating period of his life. The chief of his bureau warned him that he must either settle, with his creditors or the bureau would be compelled to dispense with his services.
One evening the poor boy sat with his head is his hands reflecting upon his situation. The thought of suicide entered his brain. A tiny fire burned in his stove; the lamp with little oil flickered. He was cold and hungry, and he felt himself alone and without a sympathetic friend like an animal dying in a cave. In the midst of of the distress there came a vision of the Chilean belle and knowing that his clothes were no longer presentable, that his patent leather boots were cracked and that no tailor would give him credit, his desire for death became greater as he realized that he could not again meet his goddess.
Mechanically he raised himself and went to the box where he kept his souvenirs in the hope that he might find some jewel that be could sell. Some portraits, yellowing letters, locks of hair, notes, and leaves and dry flowers were crushed under his hand. He encountered the journal of travels and turned over the pages. The notes on Chile awakened his interest.
‘I was twenty years old then,” he sighed, “How could I have known or the misery in store for me?” He read the lines written by Alvarado: “In ten years I promise to share my property with partner Pierre Lavalle.”
He smiled sadly.
“This very evening the ten years. If the good Alvarado wishes to keep his promise he has not much time left.”
Two knocks were heard on the door. Pierre said to himself ironically:
“There he is now.”
He opened the door. He saw before him a man of large stature, white hair and beard with the mien of a cowboy and the color of cinnamon. The visitor addressed him in Spanish:
Excuse me,” he said. “I am late. You are Mr. Lavalle?”
“Yes,” replied Pierre astonished.
“I am Alvarado.”
The young man nearly dropped the the lamp.
Alvarado continued: “I have come to pay my debt.”
“Good,” thought Pierre, “It will enable me to buy some clothes so I can see her again.”
Alvarado continued: “I have made my fortune, I bring you our accounts as we are partners. Aside from my personal property which I deduct, we possess between 90,000,000 and 100,000,000 francs. The half of these have been realized and 25,000,000 francs are at your disposal.”
The the lamp fell.
“Good,” continued Alvarado, “you are content. It is natural. That encourages me to demand something of you. I prefer that the money remain in my family and my family is composed of my sister and my niece.”
Disappointment. Pierre had a vision of his magnificent Chilean and remained silent. “I wish that you marry my niece. You know her already. She is named Anita Fena.”
Pierre threw himself upon the cowboy and covered his white head with kisses, while he sobbed for happiness.
“And this,” concluded Landa, “is what it is to give 1,000 francs to a Chilean who seeks his fortune.”
“I wish I could find one like him to stake,” groaned Langrume. A beggar passed and asked alms in a piteous voice. Langrume turned away. “Why do not the police arrest these vagabonds?” he growled.
“It will bring you good luck to give him money.” said Landa.
The banker took a franc from his pocket.
“Make him write a memorandum in your Journal,” said Songeres.
translated by Mrs. Moses P. Handy (she died in 1933)