Ce fascicule de la série Pluck and Luck porte le N° 198. Il a été publié à New York le 19 mars 1902. Voir dans la même série A young Monte Cristo.
Fred devient esclave dans une tribu de méchants Arabes. Ces épreuves l’affectent tant que son aspect se transforme au point de le rendre méconnaissable, ce qui se révélera bien pratique par la suite.
Comme il a de la ressource, il s’enfuit au bout de quatre ans, avec deux compagnons: un autre jeune Américain lui aussi prisonnier, et Fatima, une ravissante esclave à la peau claire, tombée folle amoureuse de lui.
Il a bien fait d’emmener celle-ci, car il se trouve qu’elle a dans la poche le plan de la cachette des petites économies d’un négociant capturé jadis par les Arabes. Celui-ci, qui avait sans doute des lettres, a enfoui une malle pleine de diamants dans une petite île de la Méditerranée, l’île de Monte-Cristo. Si!
Du coup, Fred se retrouve encore plus riche que son méchant oncle. Quelques mois de cours particuliers, et il fait irruption dans la bonne société européenne, éblouissant tout le monde par sa fortune et son omniscience. Quant à sa femme, Fatima, qui, six mois plus tôt n’était jamais sortie du désert et ne parlait que l’arabe – au point de se faire passer pour muette à son arrivée en Europe – elle éblouit les salons grâce à ses bonnes manières et sa maîtrise de toutes les langues.
Fred retourne aux Etats-Unis, va voir son oncle et lui explique qu’il va lui en faire baver. De fait, il enlève ses enfants, cause la faillite de sa banque et l’oblige à fuir. Crafton, qui a vraiment un mauvais fond, tombe de plus en plus bas: il se fait voleur, mendiant, tombe dans la misère noire et finit par se suicider. Le voilà bien puni!
Fred, pour sa part, découvre finalement, en lisant les papiers de son oncle, que bien des années auparavant, ce dernier avait fait le même coup de la disparition d’un enfant qui lui était confié. Cette fois, il s’agissait d’une jeune et riche héritière. Où cela? Dans le Sahara. Et c’est… Fatima, mais oui! Ouf, Fred aura donc évité la mésalliance.
Mal écrit, décousu, parfaitement incohérent, ce petit roman destiné aux adolescents est d’une nullité absolue. Heureusement qu’il y a la couverture!
There was a new sensation in the social circles of Europe, and every polite court was on the tiptoe of curiosity.
A new luminary had arisen which promised to eclipse all the former society meteors in brilliancy, and set all tongues to wagging, discussing his antecedents, his wealth and his claim to attention.
Some said that he was a prince in disguise; others averred that he was an American millionaire seeking recognition and a polish in Europe, while others declared that he was simply an impostor, and that before long the bubble would burst, and the new wonder would be forgotten.
Who this Mr. Auval was or whence he came, no one seemed to know, but it was certain that he lived in the most sumptuous style, scattered money with the prodigality of a Fortunatus, traveled in the most magnificent state, and had a greater retinue of servants than an Eastern rajah.
He occupied two entire suites of rooms at the hotels when he remained, if for a short time only, and rented magnificent villas if his stay was at all protracted, his horses and carriages were without number, and his dinners were grander and more luxurious than even those given by kings and emperors.
He occupied a state box at the opera, appeared at all the court receptions, drove in the parks at the fashionable hours, entertained most royally, and left nothing undone that a man of distinction should do.
Now he was in Paris, dazzling even that gay capital, anon he appeared in Vienna, and turned the heads of all the Austrian ladies; again he was in Berlin, captivating even the emperor and his court, and then he was in St. Petersburg, outshining the magnificence of czars and millionaire princes.
From Rome to Copenhagen, from Athens to London, from Moscow to Dublin, now here, now there, but always in sight, he flashed like a meteor across the heaven of high life, and in six months' time his fame, had spread all over two continents, and was even now on its way to a third.
This Mr. Auval was certainly no impostor in the way of money matters, for all his bills were paid promptly, no matter how large, and often having paid the rental of a house three months in advance, he would suddenly change his plans and go away after an occupancy of less than a week.
Wherever he went he was accompanied by a lady whom he introduced as his wife, a most radiantly beautiful creature, dressed in the utmost magnificence, and yet with rare good taste, and whose manners were most charming, except that she never spoke, and scarcely seemed to listen, although her wondrous eyes showed the delight she felt in the attentions showered upon her husband.
Mr. Auval had stated that his wife was a deaf mute, but that he entertained hopes of teaching her to speak and to converse with others, the difficulty of his position being enhanced by the fact that from no one but himself could she receive instructions.
All the learned professors of Europe had offered their services, but they were declined with polite graciousness and an acknowledgement of the honor due him by Mr. Auval, who certainly, if his wife were not gifted with speech, possessed a remarkable fluency himself.
He conversed in all the languages of Europe, and was reputed one of the best Arabic scholars outside of Asia, his attainments not ceasing with his linguistic knowledge by any means, for he danced, rode, drove, hunted, fenced and did everything that an accomplished gentleman should do better than the best of them.