The Stickpin

The Stickpin
(El alfiler)
by José María Barreto

It was ten at night. With the raised collars of the elegant capes that hid our broad and immaculate shoulders, and irreproachable tailcoats with large silk lapels, we waited impatiently in the newsroom for the typesetters to bring us the final proofs of the articles that were to go out the next day in the newspaper columns, so that we might leave immediately for the dance being given that night in the aristocratic salon of a notable public figure.

With us was Bonardi, a valiant soldier who from time to time contributed to the paper scientific studies on the organization of the military, and whom we loved dearly, for his wit was matched by few people, and his exceptional memory by none, and he always had something new and entertaining to relate to us.

That night, he had a tale to tell.

* * *

I don’t know how Justino Larrier discovered the infidelities of his wife, whom he loved deliriously. What is certain is that he had sufficient evidence to verify his misfortune, and made up his mind to avenge himself, not on her lover, who in the end as a man and no friend of his, was not as much to blame; but on her, to whom he had given so many numerous demonstrations of his love, and who well knew—despicable woman!—that he adored her.

He wanted, yes, calmly and quietly, as befit his character, to create no scandal, nor to let the world impose itself on his wife’s perfidy, and he resolved to carry out his vengeance in secret.

And sure enough, one night when the adulteress, perhaps thinking of her lover, showered her husband with mendacious caresses in bed, he, unable to contain himself any longer and filled with contempt, with disgust for the woman whom he loved so much, forced her to confess her offense. At once, implacable and possessed of a terrifying calm, he plunged a large gold stickpin precisely into the center of her heart, a stickpin with an imperceptible head, which some days before he had ordered to be made expressly for this purpose. Her death was instantaneous.

The next day the doctors established that the dead woman had succumbed to a stroke, and all the formalities for her burial were fullfilled without fuss. Needless to say, the most distingushed members of society in the town, who knew of Justino’s love for his wife, hurried to shower him with their consolations amidst this great and unexpected tragedy.

Only the dead woman’s father, who some days previously had received an anonymous letter making known to him his daughter’s misconduct, suspected that this death was not happenstance.

So taking advantage of a moment when the body was unattended, he feverishly and anxiously searched the alabaster and statuesque body of his daughter, a task that the doctors—who never suspected a crime—had not taken the trouble to do. And indeed, his gaze, more indignant than distressed, eventually fell on the imperceptible little head of the stickpin, hardly noticeable under her buxom left breast.

Taking possession of it, he cleaned it carefully and put it away in his wallet.

He was, afterwards, the one who most consoled and lavished care on the widower, and from that day become more than ever his friend. He treated Justino like a true son, and his greatest goal was to make him forget the past, always finding for him new and novel distractions. And Justino, who at first accepted his father-in-law’s attentions with some repugnance and only to keep up appearances, began imperceptibly to feel a great affection for him; he never felt more at home than at his father-in-law’s house, and at last, with the frequency of his visits, he fell hopelessly in love with the younger sister of his unfaithful wife. He asked for and obtained her hand, and when the period of mourning ended, they held their wedding.

After the ceremonies, and when the guests had begun to retire, the father of the bride took Justino to his office:

“My son,” he said, “with this stickpin, which I have lovingly preserved, you knew to wash away the stain that my daughter hurled upon your honor, while at the same time your prudence prevented my name, that of my sons, that of the woman who today is your new wife, from being covered with mud. I return this stickpin that belongs to you, so that you may keep it, not as a memento of a past that can no longer and should no longer exist for you, but so that, if some day the daughter that today I joyfully hand over to you should do the same to you as her older sister did, this stickpin, always just and never vindictive, should pierce again another ungrateful heart.”

* * *

From the depths of a comfortable armchair, I had listened silently to Bonardi’s story. Then I lit a cigarette and went to my desk to correct the proofs that the typesetter handed me.

Published in Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales No. 53, Montevideo, August 10, 1897.

Translated by Nina Zumel.

Daniel C. Scroggins speculates that this story was an inspiration, whether conscious or unconscious, for Horacio Quiroga’s “El solitario” (The Solitaire). Read more about this, as well as about why author José María Barreto has been named a Righteous Among the Nations, at my companion article on Multo(Ghost).

Scroggins, Daniel C. “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, and García Calderón”, Romance Notes, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Autumn, 1973), pp 47-51.

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