Brazilian Tales by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
SOME INFORMAL PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
THE ATTENDANT'S CONFESSION. By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
THE FORTUNE-TELLER. By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
LIFE. By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
THE VENGEANCE OF FELIX. By José de Medeiros E Albuquerque (1867-)
THE PIGEONS. By Coelho Netto
AUNT ZEZE'S TEARS. By Carmen Dolores
TRANSLATED FROM THE PORTUGUESE WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
Author of Studies in Spanish-American Literature, etc.
Boston The Four Seas Company
Copyright, 1921, by THE FOUR SEAS COMPANY Boston, Mass., U.
The Four Seas Press
J. D. M. FORD
SMITH PROFESSOR OF THE FRENCH AND SPANISH LANGUAGES, HARVARD
SOME INFORMAL PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
The noted Brazilian critic, José Verissimo, in a short but important
essay on the deficiencies of his country's letters, has expressed
serious doubt as to whether there exists a genuinely Brazilian
literature. I do not know, he writes, whether the existence of an
entirely independent literature is possible without an entirely
independent language. In this sense Verissimo would deny the existence
of a Swiss, or a Belgian, literature. In this sense, too, it was no
doubt once possible, with no small measure of justification, to deny
the existence of an American, as distinguished from an English,
literature. Yet, despite the subtle psychic bonds that link identity of
speech to similarity of thought, the environment (which helps to shape
pronunciation as well as vocabulary and the language itself) is, from
the standpoint of literature, little removed from language as a
determining factor. Looking at the question, however, from the purely
linguistic standpoint, it is important to remember that the Spanish of
Spanish America is more different from the parent tongue than is the
English of this country from that of the mother nation. Similar changes
have taken place in the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. Yet who would now
pretend, on the basis of linguistic similarity, to say that there is no
United States literature as distinguished from English literature?
After all, is it not national life, as much as national language, that
makes literature? And by an inversion of Verissimo's standard may we
not come face to face with a state of affairs in which different
literatures exist within the same tongue? Indeed, is not such a
conception as the great American novel rendered quite futile in the
United States by the fact that from the literary standpoint we are
several countries rather than one?
The question is largely academic. At the same time it is interesting
to notice the more assertive standpoint lately adopted by the charming
Mexican poet, Luis G. Urbina, in his recent La Vida Literaria de
México, where, without undue national pride he claims the right to use
the adjective Mexican in qualifying the letters of his remarkable
country. Urbina shows that different physiological and psychological
types have been produced in his part of the New World; why, then,
should the changes stop there? Nor have they ceased at that point, as
Señor Urbina's delightful and informative book reveals. So, too,
whatever the merits of the academic question involved, a book like
Alencar's Guarany, for instance, could not have been written outside
of Brazil; neither could Verissimo's own Scenes from Amazon Life.
Brazilian literature has been divided into four main periods. The
first extends from the age of discovery and exploration to the middle
of the eighteenth century; the second includes the second half of the
eighteenth century; the third comprises the years of the nineteenth
century up to 1840, while that date inaugurates the triumph of
Romanticism over pseudo-Classicism. Romanticism, as in other countries,
gave way in turn to realism and various other movements current in
those turbulent decades. Sometimes the changes came not as a natural
phase of literary evolution, but rather as the consequence of pure
imitation. Thus, Verissimo tells us, Symbolism, in Brazil, was a matter
of intentional parroting, in many cases unintelligent. It did not
correspond to a movement of reaction,mystical, sensualist,
individualist, socialistic or anarchistic,as in Europe.
Two chief impulses were early present in Brazilian letters: that of
Portuguese literature and that of the Jesuit colleges. At the time of
the discovery of Brazil only Italy, Spain, France and Portugal
possessed a literary life. Portugal, indeed, as the Brazilian critic
points out, was then in its golden period. It boasted chroniclers like
Fernao Lopes, novelists like Bernardim Ribeiro, historians like Joao de
Barros, and dramatists of the stamp of Gil Vicente. The Jesuit
colleges, too, were followed by other orders, spreading Latin culture
and maintaining communication between the interior and the important
centers. It is natural, then, that early letters in Brazil should have
been Portuguese not only in language, but in inspiration, feeling and
spirit. Similarly, we find the early intellectual dependence of the
Spanish American countries upon Spain, even as later both the Spanish
and the Portuguese writers of America were to be influenced greatly by
French literature. Brazilian poetry, says Verissimo in the little
essay already referred to, was already in the seventeenth century
superior to Portuguese verse. He foresaw a time when it would
outdistance the mother country. But Brazilian literature as a whole, he
found, lacked the perfect continuity, the cohesion, the unity of great
literatures, chiefly because it began as Portuguese, later turned to
east (particularly France) and only then to Brazil itself. In the early
days it naturally lacked the solidarity that comes from easy
communication between literary centers. This same lack of communication
was in a sense still true at the time he wrote his essay. The element
of communicability did exist during the Romantic period (1835-1860),
whereupon came influences from France, England, Italy, and even
Germany, and letters were rapidly denationalized. What was thus needed
and beneficial from the standpoint of national culture prejudiced the
interests of national literature, says Verissimo. He finds, too, that
there is too little originality and culture among Brazilian writers,
and that their work lacks sincerity and form (1899). Poetry was too
often reduced to the love of form while fiction was too closely copied
from the French, thus operating to stifle the development of a national
dramatic literature. Excessive preoccupation with politics and finance
(where have we heard that complaint elsewhere?) still further impeded
the rise of a truly native literature.
Perhaps Verissimo's outlook was too pessimistic; he was an earnest
spirit, unafraid to speak his mind and too much a lover of truth to be
misled by a love of his country into making exaggerated claims for
works by his countrymen. We must not forget that he was here looking
upon Brazilian letters as a whole; in other essays by him we discover
that same sober spirit, but he is alive to the virtues of his fellow
writers as well as to their failings.
It is with the prose of the latest period in Brazilian literature
that we are here concerned. From the point of view of the novel and
tale Brazil shares with Argentina, Columbia, Chile and Mexico the
leadership of the Latin-American republics. If Columbia, in Jorge
Isaacs' Maria, can show the novel best known to the rest of the
world, and Chile, in such a figure as Alberto Blest-Gana (author of
Martin Rivas and other novels) boasts a South American Balzac,
Brazil may point to more than one work of fiction that Is worthy of
standing beside María, Martin Rivas or José Marmol's
exciting tale of love and adventure, Amalia. The growing
Importance of Brazil as a commercial nation, together with a
corresponding increase of interest in the study of Portuguese (a
language easily acquired by all who know Spanish) will have the
desirable effect of making known to the English reading public a
selection of works deserving of greater recognition.
 I am aware of the recent objection to this term (See my
Studies in Spanish American Literature, pp. 233-237), but no
entirely satisfactory substitute has been advanced.
Just to mention at random a few of the books that should in the near
future be known to American readers, either in the original or through
the medium of translations, I shall recall some of the names best known
to Brazilians in connection with the modern tale and novel. If there be
anything lacking in the array of modern writers it is a certain broad
variety of subject and treatment to which other literatures have
It is not to be wondered at that in surroundings such as the Amazon
affords an Indian school of literature should have arisen. We have an
analogous type of fiction in United States literature, old and new,
produced by similar causes. Brazilian Indianism reached its highest
point perhaps in José Alencar's famous Guarany, which won for
its author national reputation and achieved unprecedented success. From
the book was made a libretto that was set to music by the Brazilian
composer, Carlos Gomez. The story is replete with an intensity of life
and charming descriptions that recall the pages of Chateaubriand, and
its prose often verges upon poetry in its idealization of the Indian
race. Of the author's other numerous works Iracema alone
approaches Guarany in popularity. The dominant note of the
author, afterward much repeated in the literary history of his nation,
is the essential goodness and self-abnegation of the national
Alfred d'Escragnolle Taunay (1843-1899) is among the most important
of Brazil's novelists. Born at Rio de Janeiro of noble family he went
through a course in letters and science, later engaging in the campaign
of Paraguay. He took part in the retreat of La Laguna, an event which
he has enshrined in one of his best works, first published in French
under the title La Retraite de la Laguna. He served also as
secretary to Count d'Eu, who commanded the Brazilian army, and later
occupied various political offices, rising to the office of senator in
1886. His list of works is too numerous to mention in a fragmentary
introduction of this nature; chief among them stands Innocencia;
a sister tale, so to speak, to Isaacs's María. According to
Verissimo, Innocencia is one of the country's few genuinely
original novels. It has been called, by Mérou (1900), the best novel
written in South America by a South American, a compliment later paid
by Guglielmo Ferrero to Graça Aranha's Canaan. Viscount Taunay's
famous work has been translated into French twice, once into English,
Italian, German, Danish, and even Japanese.
The scene is laid in the deserted Matto Grosso, a favorite
background of the author's. Innocencia is all that her name implies,
and dwells secluded with her father, who is a miner, her negress slave
Conga, and her Caliban-like dwarf Tico, who loves Innocencia, the
Miranda of this district. Into Innocencia's life comes the itinerant
physician, Cirino de Campos, who is called by her father to cure her of
the fever. Cirino is her Ferdinand; they make love in secret, for she
is meant by paternal arrangement for a mere brute of a mule driver,
Manaçao by name. Innocencia vows herself to Cirino, when the
mule-driver comes to enforce his prior claim; the father, bound by his
word of honor, sides with the primitive lover. The tragedy seems
foreordained, for Innocencia makes spirited resistance, while Manaçao
avenges himself by killing the doctor. A comic figure of a German
scientist adds humor and a certain poignant irony to the tale. Such a
bare outline conveys nothing of the mysterious charm of the original,
nor of its poetic atmosphere. Comparing Innocencia with what has
been termed its sister work, María, I believe that María
is the better tale of the two, although there is much to be said for
both. The point need not be pressed. The heroine of María is
more a woman, less a child than Innocencia, hence the fate of the
Spanish girl is tragic where that of the other maiden is merely
pitiful. Innocencia, on the other hand, is stouter in texture.
In María there is no love struggle; the struggle is with life
and circumstance; in Innocencia there is not only the element of
rivalry in love, but in addition there is the rigid parent who sternly,
and at last murderously, opposes the natural desires of a child whom he
has promised to another. Where María is idyllic, poetic, flowing
smoothing along the current of a realism tempered by sentimentalism,
Innocencia (by no means devoid of poetry) is romantic,
melodramatic, rushing along turbulently to the outcome in a death as
violent as María's is peaceful. There is in each book a similar
importance of the background. In Innocencia the point of honor
is quite as strong and vindictive as in any play of the Spanish Golden
Age. María shares with Innocencia relieving touches of
humor and excellent pages of character description.
Taunay's O Encilhamento is a violent antithesis to the work
just considered. Here the politician speaks. In passages of satire that
becomes so acrimonious at times as to indicate real personages, the
wave of speculation that swept Argentina and Brazil is analyzed and
held up to scorn. The novel is really a piece of historical muck-raking
and was long an object of resentment in the republic.
Everything from Taunay's pen reveals a close communion with nature,
an intimate understanding of the psychology of the vast region's
inhabitants. His shorter tales, which I hope later to present to the
English-reading public, reveal these powers at their best. Now it is a
soldier who goes to war, only, like a military Enoch Arden, to return
and find his sweetheart in another's arms; now it is a clergyman, the
vicar of sorrows, who, in the luxuriant environment of his charge
suffers the tortures of carnal temptations, with the spirit at last
triumphant over the flesh. Whatever of artifice there is in these tales
is overcome, one of his most sympathetic critics tells us, by the
poetic sincerity of the whole. Taunay, too, has been likened to Pierre
Loti for his exotic flavor. In Yerecé a Guaná we have a
miniature Innocencia. Yerecé and Alberto Monteiro fall in love
and marry. The latter has been cured, at the home of Yerecé, of swamp
fever. The inevitable, however, occurs, and Montero hears the call of
civilization. The marriage, according to the custom of the tribe into
which Montero has wed, is dissolved by the man alone. He returns to his
old life and she dies of grief.
A work that may stand beside Innocencia and Verissimo's
Scenes from Amazon Life as a successful national product is Inglez
de Sousa's O Missionario. Antonio de Moraes, in this story, is
not so strong in will as Taunay's vicar of sorrows. Antonio is a
missionary with the vocation of a martyr and the soul of an apostle,
on duty in the tropics. The voluptuous magnetism of the Amazon seizes
his body. Slowly, agonizingly, but surely he succumbs to the
enchantment, overpowered by the life around him.
Since Machado de Assis (who should precede Azevedo) and Coelho Netto
(who should follow him, if strict chronological order were being
observed) are both referred to in section three, which deals
particularly with the authors represented in this sample assortment of
short tales, they are here omitted.
With the appearance of O Mulato by Aluizio Azevedo
(1857-1912), the literature of Brazil, prepared for such a
reorientation by the direct influence of the great Portuguese, Eça de
Queiroz, and Emile Zola, was definitely steered toward naturalism. In
Aluizio Azevedo, says Benedicto Costa, one finds neither the poetry
of José de Alencar, nor the delicacy,I should even say, archnessof
Macedo, nor the sentimental preciosity of Taunay, nor the subtle irony
of Machado de Assis. His phrase is brittle, lacking lyricism,
tenderness, dreaminess, but it is dynamic, energetic, expressive, and,
at times, sensual to the point of sweet delirium.
O Mulato, though it was the work of a youth in his early
twenties, has been acknowledged as a solid, well-constructed example of
Brazilian realism. There is a note of humor, as well as a lesson in
criticism, in the author's anecdote (told in his foreword to the fourth
edition) about the provincial editor who advised the youthful author to
give up writing and hire himself out on a farm. This was all the notice
he received from his native province, Maranhao. Yet Azevedo grew to be
one of the few Brazilian authors who supported himself by his pen.
When Brazilian letters are better known in this nation, among
Azevedo's work we should be quick to appreciate such a pithy book as
the Livro de uma Sogra,the Book of a Mother-in-Law. And when
the literature of these United States is at last (if ever, indeed!)
released from the childish, hypocritical, Puritanic inhibitions forced
upon it by quasi official societies, we may even relish, from among
Azevedo's long shelf of novels, such a sensuous product as Cortiço.
I have singled out, rather arbitrarily it must be admitted, a few of
the characteristic works that preceded the appearance of Graça Aranha's
Canaan, the novel that was lifted into prominence by Guglielmo
Ferrero's fulsome praise of it as the great American novel. For
South America, no less than North, is hunting that literary will o' the
wisp. Both Maria and Innocencia have been mentioned for
 Issued, in English (1920) by the publishers of this book.
There is a distinct basis for comparison between Innocencia
and the more famous Spanish American tale from Colombia; between these
and Canaan, however, there is little similarity, if one overlook
the poetic atmosphere that glamours all three. Aranha's masterpiece is
of far broader conception than the other two; it adds to their lyricism
an epic sweep inherent in the subject and very soon felt in the
treatment. It is, in fact, a difficult novel to classify, impregnated
as it is with a noble idealism, yet just as undoubtedly streaked with a
powerful realism. This should, however, connote no inept mingling of
genres; the style seems to be called for by the very nature of the vast
themethat moment at which the native and the immigrant strain begin
to merge in the land of the futurethe promised land that the
protagonists are destined never to enter, even as Moses himself, upon
Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, beheld Canaan and died in the throes of
the great vision.
Canaan is of those novels that centre about an enthralling
idea. The type which devotes much attention to depictions of life and
customs, to discussions upon present realities and ultimate purposes,
is perhaps more frequent among Spanish and Portuguese Americans than
among our own readers who are apt to be overinsistent in their demands
for swift, visible action. Yet, in the hands of a master, it possesses
no less interest than the more obvious type of fiction, for ideas
possess more life than the persons who are moved by them.
The idea that carries Milkau from the Old World to the New is an
ideal of human brotherhood, high purpose and dissatisfaction with the
old, degenerate world. In the State of Espirito Santo, where the German
colonists are dominant, he plans a simple life that shall drink
inspiration in the youth of a new, virgin continent. He falls in with
another German, Lentz, whose outlook upon life is at first the very
opposite to Milkau's blend of Christianity and a certain liberal
socialism. The strange milieu breeds in both an intellectual langour
that vents itself in long discussions, in breeding contemplation,
mirages of the spirit. Milkau is gradually struck with something wrong
in the settlement. Little by little it begins to dawn upon him that
something of the Old-World hypocrisy, fraud and insincerity, is
contaminating this supposedly virgin territory. Here he discovers no
paradise à la Rousseauno natural man untainted by the ills of
civilization. Graft is as rampant as in any district of the world
across the sea; cruelty is as rife. His pity is aroused by the plight
of Mary, a destitute servant who is betrayed by the son of her
employers. Not only does the scamp desert her when she most needs his
protection and acknowledgment, but he is silent when his equally
vicious parents drive her forth to a life of intense hardship. She is
spurned at every door and reduced to beggary. Her child is born under
the most distressing circumstances, and under conditions that strike
the note of horror the infant is slain before her very eyes while she
gazes helplessly on.
Mary is accused of infanticide, and since she lacks witnesses, she
is placed in a very difficult position. Moreover, the father of her
child bends every effort to loosen the harshest measures of the
community against her, whereupon Milkau, whose heart is open to the
sufferings of the universe, has another opportunity to behold man's
inhumanity to woman. His pity turns to what pity is akin to; he effects
her release from jail, and together they go forth upon a journey that
ends in the delirium of death. The promised land had proved a
mirageat least for the present. And it is upon this indecisive note
that the book ends.
Ferrero's introduction, though short, is substantial, and to the
point. It is natural that he should have taken such a liking to the
book, for Aranha's work is of intense interest to the reader who looks
for psychological power, and Ferrero himself is the exponent of history
as psychology rather than as economic materialism. The critics, he
says, will judge the literary merits of this novel. As a literary
amateur I will point out among its qualities the beauty of its style
and its descriptions, the purity of the psychological analysis, the
depth of the thoughts and the reflections of which the novel is full,
and among its faults a certain disproportion between the different
parts of the book and an ending which is too vague, indefinite and
unexpected. But its literary qualities seem to me to be of secondary
importance to the profound and incontrovertible idea that forms the
kernel of the book. Here in Europe we are accustomed to say that modern
civilization develops itself in America more freely than in Europe, for
in the former country it has not to surmount the obstacle of an older
society, firmly established, as in the case of the latter. Because of
this, we call America 'the country of the young,' and we consider the
New World as the great force which decomposes the old European social
organization. That idea is, as Ferrero points out, an illusion due to
distance. He points out, too, that here is everywhere an old America
struggling against a new one and, this is very curious, the new
America, which upsets traditions, is formed above all by the European
immigrants who seek a place for themselves in the country of their
adoption, whereas the real Americans represent the conservative
tendencies. Europe exerts on American societythrough its
emigrantsthe same dissolving action which America exertsthrough its
novelties and its exampleon the old civilization of Europe. The
point is very well taken, and contains the germ of a great novel of the
United States. And just as Canaan stands by itself in Brazilian
literature, so might such a novel achieve preeminence in our own.
Ferrero is quite right in indicating the great non-literary
importance of the novel, though not all readers will agree with him as
to the excessive vagueness of the end. Hardly any other type of ending
would have befitted a novel that treats of transition, of a landscape
that dazzles and enthralls, of possibilities that founder, not through
the malignance of fate, but through the stupidity of man. There is an
epic swirl to the finale that reminds one of the disappearance of an
ancient deity in a pillar of dust. For an uncommon man like Milkau an
uncommon end was called for. Numerous questions are touched upon in the
course of the leisurely narrative, everywhere opening up new vistas of
thought; for Aranha is philosophically, critically inclined; his
training is cosmopolitan, as his life has been; he knows the great
Germans, Scandinavians, Belgians and Russians; his native exuberance
has been tempered by a serenity that is the product of European
influence. He is some fifty-two years of age, has served his nation at
Christiania as minister, at the Hague, and as leader in the Allied
cause. He is, therefore, an acknowledged and proven spokesman. The
author of Canaan has done other things, among which this book,
which has long been known in French and Spanish, stands out as a
document that marks an epoch in Brazilian history as well as a stage in
Brazilian literature. Whether it is the great American novel is of
interest only to literary politicians and pigeon-holers; it is a
great novel, whether of America or Europe, and that suffices for the
lover of belles lettres.
In considering the work of such writers as these and the authors
represented in this little pioneer volume one should bear continually
in mind the many handicaps under which authorship labors in Portuguese
and Spanish America: a small reading public, lack of publishers,
widespread prevalence of illiteracy, instability of politics. Under the
circumstances it is not so much to be wondered at that the best work is
of such a high average as that it was done at all. For in nations where
education is so limited and illiteracy so prevalent the manifold
functions which in more highly developed nations are performed by many
are perforce done by a few. Hence the spectacle in the new Spanish and
Portuguese world, as in the old, of men and women who are at once
journalists, novelists, dramatists, politicians, soldiers, poets and
what not else. Such a versatility, often joined to a literary
prolixity, no doubt serves to lower the artistic worth of works
produced under such conditions.
In connection with the special character of the tales included in
the present sample of modern Brazilian short stories,particularly
those by Machado de Assis and Medeiros e Albuquerqueit is interesting
to keep in mind the popularity of Poe and Hawthorne in South America.
The introspection of these men, as of de Maupassant and kindred
spirits, appeals to a like characteristic of the Brazilians. Such inner
seeking, however, such preoccupation with psychological problems, does
not often, in these writers, reach the point or morbidity which we have
become accustomed to expect in the novels and tales of the Russians.
Stories like The Attendant's Confession are written with a
refinement of thought as well as of language. They are not, as so much
of Brazilian literature must perforce seem to the stranger's mind,
exotic. They belong to the letters of the world by virtue of the human
appeal of the subject and the mastery of their treatment.
Chief among the writers here represented stands Joaquim Maria
Machado de Assis. (1839-1908). Born in Rio de Janeiro of poor parents
he was early beset with difficulties. He soon found his way into
surroundings where his literary tastes were awakened and where he came
into contact with some of the leading spirits of the day. The noted
literary historians of his country, Sylvio Roméro and Joao Ribeiro (in
their Compendio de Historia da Litteratura Brazileira) find the
writing of his first period of little value. The next decade, from his
thirtieth to his fortieth year, is called transitional. With the year
1879, however, Machado de Assis began a long phase of maturity that was
to last for thirty years. It was during this fruitful period that
Memorias Postumas de Braz Cubas, Quincas Borbas, Historias Sem Data,
Dom Casmurro, Varias Historias and other notable works were
produced. The three tales by Machado de Assis in this volume are
translated from his Varias Historias. That same bitter-sweet
philosophy and gracious, if penetrating, irony which inform these tales
are characteristic of his larger romances. Four volumes of poetry
sustain his reputation as poet. He is found, by Roméro and Ribeiro, to
be very correct and somewhat cold in his verse. He took little delight
in nature and lacked the passionate, robust temperament that projects
itself upon pages of ardent beauty. In the best of his prose works,
however, he penetrates as deep as any of his countrymen into the abyss
of the human soul.
The judgment of Verissimo upon Machado de Assis differs somewhat
from that of his distinguished compatriots. Both because of the
importance of Machado de Assis to Brazilian literature, and as an
insight into Verissimo's delightful critical style, I translate
somewhat at length from that writer.
With Varias Historias, he says in his studies of Brazilian
letters, Sr. Machado de Assis published his fifteenth volume and his
fifth collection of tales ... To say that in our literature Machado de
Assis is a figure apart, that he stands with good reason first among
our writers of fiction, that he possesses a rare faculty of
assimilation and evolution which makes him a writer of the second
Romantic generation, always a contemporary, a modern, without on this
account having sacrificed anything to the latest literary fashion or
copied some brand-new aesthetic, above all conserving his own distinct,
singular personality ... is but to repeat what has been said many times
already. All these judgments are confirmed by his latest book, wherein
may be noted the same impeccable correctness of language, the same firm
grasp upon form, the same abundancy, force and originality of thought
that make of him the only thinker among our writers of fiction, the
same sad, bitter irony ...
After this there was published another book by Sr. Machado de
Assis, Yayá Garcia. Although this is really a new edition, we
may well speak of it here since the first, published long before, is no
longer remembered by the public. Moreover, this book has the delightful
and honest charm of being in the writer's first manner.
But let us understand at once, this reference to Machado de Assis's
first manner. In this author more than once is justified the critical
concept of the unity of works displayed by the great writers. All of
Machado de Assis is practically present in his early works; in fact, he
did not change, he scarcely developed. He is the most individual, the
most personal, the most 'himself' of our writers; all the germs of this
individuality that was to attain in Braz Cubas, in Quincas
Borbas, in the Papeis Avulsos and in Varias Historias
its maximum of virtuosity, may be discovered in his first poems and in
his earliest tales. His second manner, then, of which these books are
the best example, is only the logical, natural, spontaneous development
of his first, or rather, it is the first manner with less of the
romantic and more of the critical tendencies ... The distinguishing
trait of Machado de Assis is that he is, in our literature, an artist
and a philosopher. Up to a short time ago he was the only one answering
to such a description. Those who come after him proceed consciously and
unconsciously from him, some of them being mere worthless imitators. In
this genre, if I am not misemploying that term, he remained without a
peer. Add that this philosopher is a pessimist by temperament and by
conviction, and you will have as complete a characterization as it is
possible to design of so strong and complex a figure as his in two
strokes of the pen.
Yayá Garcia, like Resurreiçao and Helena, is a
romantic account, perhaps the most romantic written by the author. Not
only the most romantic, but perhaps the most emotional. In the books
that followed it is easy to see how the emotion is, one might say,
systematically repressed by the sad irony of a disillusioned man's
realism. Verissimo goes on to imply that such a work as this merits
comparison with the humane books of Tolstoi. But this only on the
surface. For at bottom, it contains the author's misanthropy. A
social, amiable misanthropy, curious about everything, interested in
everything,what is, in the final analysis, a way of loving mankind
without esteeming it...
The excellency with which the author of Yayá Garcia writes
our language is proverbial ... The highest distinction of the genius of
Machado de Assis in Brazilian literature is that he is the only truly
universal writer we possess, without ceasing on that account to be
When the Brazilian Academy of letters was founded in 1897, Machado
de Assis was unanimously elected president and held the position until
his death. Oliveira Lima, who lectured at Harvard during the college
season of 1915-1916, and who is himself one of the great intellectual
forces of contemporary Brazil, has written of Machado de Assis: By his
extraordinary talent as writer, by his profound literary dignity, by
the unity of a life that was entirely devoted to the cult of
intellectual beauty, and by the prestige exerted about him by his work
and by his personality, Machado de Assis succeeded, despite a nature
that was averse to acclaim and little inclined to public appearance, in
being considered and respected as the first among his country's
men-of-letters: the head, if that word can denote the idea, of a
youthful literature which already possesses its traditions and
cherishes above all its glories ... His life was one of the most
regulated and peaceful after he had given up active journalism, for
like so many others, he began his career as a political reporter,
paragrapher and dramatic critic.
Coelho Netto (Anselmo Ribas, 1864-) is known to his countrymen as a
professor of literature at Rio de Janeiro. His career has covered the
fields of journalism, politics, education and fiction. Although his
work is of uneven worth, no doubt because of his unceasing
productivity, he is reckoned by so exacting a critic as Verissimo as
one of Brazil's most important writers,one of the few, in fact, that
will be remembered by posterity. Among his best liked stories are
Death, The Federal Capital, Paradise, The Conquest, and
Mirage. Netto's short stories are very popular; at one time every
other youth in Brazil was imitating his every mannerism. He is
particularly felicitous in his descriptions of tropical nature, which
teem with glowing life and vivid picturesqueness.
Coelho Netto is considered one of the chief writers of the modern
epoch. He is really an idealist, writes Verissimo, but an idealist
who has drunk deeply of the strong, dangerous milk of French
naturalism. He sees nature through his soul rather than his eyes, and
has been much influenced by the mystics of Russia, Germany and
Scandinavia. His style is derived chiefly from the Portuguese group of
which Eça de Queiroz is the outstanding figure, and his language has
been much affected by this attachment to the mother country. His chief
stylistic quality is an epic note, tempered by a sentimental lyricism.
In his book Le Roman au Brésil (The Novel in Brazil, which I
believe the author himself translated from the original Portuguese into
French) Benedicto Costa, after considering Aluizio Azevedo as the
exponent of Brazilian naturalism and the epicist of the race's sexual
instincts, turns to Coelho Netto's neo-romanticism, as the eternal
praise of nature, the incessant, exaggerated exaltation of the
landscape... In Netto he perceives the most Brazilian, the least
European of the republic's authors. One may say of him what Taine said
of Balzac: 'A sort of literary elephant, capable of bearing prodigious
burdens, but heavy-footed.' And in fact ... he reveals a great
resemblance to Balzac,a relative Balzac, for the exclusive use of a
people,but a Balzac none the less.
Despite his lack of ideas, his mixture of archaisms, neologisms, his
exuberance, his slow development of plots, his lack of proportion
(noticeable, naturally, in his longer works rather than in his short
fiction) he stands pre-eminent as a patron of the nation's intellectual
youth and as the romancer of its opulent imagination.
Medeiros e Albuquerque (1867-) is considered by some critics to be
the leading exponent in the country of the manner of de Maupassant,
enveloped by an indefinable atmosphere that seems to bring back Edgar
Allan Poe. He has been director-general of public instruction in Rio
de Janeiro, professor at the Normal School and the National School of
Fine Arts, and also a deputy from Pernambuco. With the surprising
versatility of so many South Americans he has achieved a reputation as
poet, novelist, dramatist, publicist, journalist and philosopher.
The part that women have played in the progress of the South
American republics is as interesting as it is little known. The name of
the world's largest riverthe Amazon, or more exactly speaking, the
Amazonsstands as a lasting tribute to the bravery of the early women
whom the explorer Orellana encountered during his conquest of the
mighty flood. For he named the river in honor of the tribes'
fighting heroines. Centuries later, when one by one the provinces of
South America rose to liberate themselves from the Spanish yoke, the
women again played a noble part in the various revolutions. The statue
in Colombia to Policarpa Salavarieta is but a symbol of South American
gratitude to a host of women who fought side by side with their
husbands during the trying days of the early nineteenth century. One of
them, Manuela la Tucumana, was even made an officer in the Argentine
 This derivation of the river's name is by many considered
fanciful. A more likely source of the designation is the
word Amassona, i.e., boat-destroyer, referring to the tidal
phenomenon known as bore or proroca, which sometimes
tress and sweeps away whole tracts of land.
If women, however, have enshrined themselves in the patriotic annals
of the Southern republics, they have shown that they are no less the
companions of man in the more or less agreeable arts of peace. When one
considers the great percentage of illiteracy that still prevails in
Southern America, and the inferior intellectual position which for
years has been the lot of woman particularly in the Spanish and
Portuguese nations, it is surprising that woman's prominence in the
literary world should be what it is.
The name of the original seventeenth century spirit known as Sor
Inés de la Cruz (Mexico) is part of Spanish literature. Only recently
has she been indicated as her nation's first folklorist and feminist!
Her poems have found their way into the anthologies of universal poesy.
The most distinguished Spanish poetess of the nineteenth century,
Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, was a Cuban by birth, going later to
Spain, where she was readily received as one of the nation's leading
literary lights. Her poetry is remarkable for its virile passion; her
novel Sab has been called the Spanish Uncle Tom's Cabin for its
stirring protest against slavery and its idealization of the oppressed
race. She was a woman of striking beauty, yet so vigorous in her work
and the prosecution of it that one facetious critic was led to exclaim,
This woman is a good deal of a man!
But South America has its native candidate for the title of Spanish
Uncle Tom's Cabin, and this, too, is the work of a woman. Clorinda
Matto's Aves Sin Nido (Birds Without a Nest) is by one of Peru's most
talented women, and exposes the disgraceful exploitation of the Indians
by conscienceless citizens and priests who had sunk beneath their holy
calling. It seems, indeed, that fiction as a whole in Peru has been
left to the pens of the women. Such names as Joana Manuele Girriti de
Belzu, Clorinda Matto and Mercedes Cabello de Carbonero stand for what
is best in the South American novel. The epoch in which these women
wrote (late nineteenth century) and the natural feminine tendency to
put the house in order (whether it be the domestic or the national
variety) led to such stories as Carbonero's Las Consequencias, El
Conspirador and Blanca Sol. The first of these is an indictment of
the Peruvian vice of gambling; the second throws an interesting light
upon the origin of much of the internal strife of South America, and
portrays a revolution brought on by the personal disappointment of a
politician. Blanca Sol has been called a Peruvian Madame Bovary.
Although Brazil has not yet produced any Amazons of poetry or
fiction to stand beside such names as Sor Inés de la Cruz or Gertrudis
Gómez de Avallaneda, it has contributed some significant names to the
women writers of Latin America. Not least among these is Carmen Dolores
(Emilia Moncorvo Bandeira de Mello) who was born in 1852 at Rio de
Janeiro and died in 1910, after achieving a wide reputation in the
field of the short story, novel and feuilleton. In addition to these
activities she made herself favorably known in the press of Rio, Sao
Paulo and Pernambuco. Her career started with the novel Confession. Other works are The Struggle, A Country Drama, and
Brazilian Legends. The story in this volume is taken from a
collection entitled The Complex Soul.
* * * * * * *
The present selection of tales makes no pretense at completeness,
finality or infallibility of choice. This little book is, so to speak,
merely a modest sample-case. Some of the tales first appeared, in
English, in the Boston Evening Transcript and the Stratford
Journal (Boston), to which organs I am indebted for permission to
THE ATTENDANT'S CONFESSION. By
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
First President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
So it really seems to you that what happened to me in 1860 is worth
while writing down? Very well. I'll tell you the story, but on the
condition that you do not divulge it before my death. You'll not have
to wait longa week at most; I am a marked man.
I could have told you the story of my whole life, which holds many
other interesting details: but for that there would be needed time,
courage and paper. There is plenty of paper, indeed, but my courage is
at low ebb, and as to the time that is yet left me, it may be compared
to the life of a candle-flame. Soon tomorrow's sun will risea demon
sun as impenetrable as life itself. So goodbye, my dear sir; read this
and bear me no ill will; pardon me those things that will appear evil
to you and do not complain too much if there is exhaled a disagreeable
odor which is not exactly that of the rose. You asked me for a human
document. Here it is. Ask me for neither the empire of the Great Mogul
nor a photograph of the Maccabees; but request, if you will, my dead
man's shoes, and I'll will them to you and no other.
You already know that this took place in 1860. The year before,
about the month of August, at the age of forty-two, I had become a
theologianthat is, I copied the theological studies of a priest at
Nictheroy, an old college-chum, who thus tactfully gave me my board and
lodging. In that same month of August, 1859, he received a letter from
the vicar of a small town in the interior, asking if he knew of an
intelligent, discreet and patient person who would be willing, in
return for generous wages, to serve as attendant to the invalid Colonel
Felisbert. The priest proposed that I take the place, and I accepted it
eagerly, for I was tired of copying Latin quotations and ecclesiastic
formulas. First I went to Rio de Janeiro to take leave of a brother who
lived at the capital, and from there I departed for the little village
of the interior.
When I arrived there I heard bad news concerning the colonel. He was
pictured to me as a disagreeable, harsh, exacting fellow; nobody could
endure him, not even his own friends. He had used more attendants than
medicines. In fact he had broken the faces of two of them. But to all
this I replied that I had no fear of persons in good health, still less
of invalids. So, after first visiting the vicar, who confirmed all that
I had heard and recommended to me charity and forbearance, I turned
toward the colonel's residence.
I found him on the veranda of his house, stretched out on a chair
and suffering greatly. He received me fairly well. At first he examined
me silently, piercing me with his two feline eyes; then a kind of
malicious smile spread over his features, which were rather hard.
Finally he declared to me that all the attendants he had ever engaged
in his service hadn't been worth a button, that they slept too much,
were impudent and spent their time courting the servants; two of them
were even thieves.
And you, are you a thief?
Then he asked me my name. Scarcely had I uttered it when he made a
gesture of astonishment.
Your name is Colombo?
No, sir. My name is Procopio José Gomes Vallongo.
Vallongo?He came to the conclusion that this was no Christian name
and proposed thenceforth to call me simply Procopio. I replied that it
should be just as he pleased.
If I recall this incident, it is not only because it seems to me to
give a good picture of the colonel, but also to show you that my reply
made a very good impression upon him. The next day he told the vicar
so, adding that he had never had a more sympathetic attendant. The fact
is, we lived a regular honeymoon that lasted one week.
From the dawn of the eighth day I knew the life of my
predecessorsa dog's life. I no longer slept. I no longer thought of
anything, I was showered with insults and laughed at them from time to
time with an air of resignation and submission, for I had discovered
that this was a way of pleasing him. His impertinences proceeded as
much from his malady as from his temperament. His illness was of the
most complicated: he suffered from aneurism, rheumatism and three or
four minor affections. He was nearly sixty, and since he had been five
years old had been accustomed to having everybody at his beck and call.
That he was surly one could well forgive; but he was also very
malicious. He took pleasure in the grief and the humiliation of others.
At the end of three months I was tired of putting up with him and had
resolved to leave; only the opportunity was lacking.
But that came soon enough. One day, when I was a bit late in giving
him a massage, he took his cane and struck me with it two or three
times. That was the last straw. I told him on the spot that I was
through with him and I went to pack my trunk. He came later to my room;
he begged me to remain, assured me that there wasn't anything to be
angry at, that I must excuse the ill-humoredness of old age ... He
insisted so much that I agreed to stay.
I am nearing the end, Procopio, he said to me that evening. I
can't live much longer. I am upon the verge of the grave. You will go
to my burial, Procopio. Under no circumstances will I excuse you. You
shall go, you shall pray over my tomb. And if you don't, he added,
laughing, my ghost will come at night and pull you by the legs. Do you
believe in souls of the other world, Procopio?
And why don't you, you blockhead? he replied passionately, with
That is how he was in his peaceful intervals; what he was during his
attacks of anger, you may well imagine!
He hit me no more with his cane, but his insults were the same, if
not worse. With time I became hardened, I no longer heeded anything; I
was an ignoramus, a camel, a bumpkin, an idiot, a loggerheadI was
everything! It must further be understood that I alone was favored with
these pretty names. He had no relatives; there had been a nephew, but
he had died of consumption. As to friends, those who came now and then
to flatter him and indulge his whims made him but a short visit, five
or ten minutes at the most. I alone was always present to receive his
dictionary of insults. More than once I resolved to leave him; but as
the vicar would exhort me not to abandon the colonel I always yielded
in the end.
Not only were our relations becoming very much strained, but I was
in a hurry to get back to Rio de Janeiro. At forty-two years of age one
does not easily accustom himself to perpetual seclusion with a brutal,
snarling old invalid, in the depths of a remote village. Just to give
you an idea of my isolation, let it suffice to inform you that I didn't
even read the newspapers; outside of some more or less important piece
of news that was brought to the colonel, I knew nothing of what was
doing in the world. I therefore yearned to get back to Rio at the first
opportunity, even at the cost of breaking with the vicar. And I may as
well addsince I am here making a general confessionthat having
spent nothing of my wages, I was itching to dissipate them at the
Very probably my chance was approaching. The colonel was rapidly
getting worse. He made his will, the notary receiving almost as many
insults as did I. The invalid's treatment became more strict; short
intervals of peace and rest became rarer than ever for me. Already I
had lost the meagre measure of pity that made me forget the old
invalid's excesses; within me there seethed a cauldron of aversion and
hatred. At the beginning of the month of August I decided definitely to
leave. The vicar and the doctor, finally accepting my explanations,
asked me but a few days' more service. I gave them a month. At the end
of that time I would depart, whatever might be the condition of the
invalid. The vicar promised to find a substitute for me.
You'll see now what happened. On the evening of the 24th of August
the colonel had a violent attack of anger; he struck me, he called me
the vilest names, he threatened to shoot me; finally he threw in my
face a plate of porridge that was too cold for him. The plate struck
the wall and broke into a thousand fragments.
You'll pay me for it, you thief! he bellowed.
For a long time he grumbled. Towards eleven o'clock he gradually
fell asleep. While he slept I took a book out of my pocket, a
translation of an old d'Arlincourt romance which I had found lying
about, and began to read it in his room, at a small distance from his
bed. I was to wake him at midnight to give him his medicine; but,
whether it was due to fatigue or to the influence of the book, I, too,
before reaching the second page, fell asleep. The cries of the colonel
awoke me with a start; in an instant I was up. He, apparently in a
delirium, continued to utter the same cries; finally he seized his
water-bottle and threw it at my face. I could not get out of the way in
time; the bottle hit me in the left cheek, and the pain was so acute
that I almost lost consciousness. With a leap I rushed upon the
invalid; I tightened my hands around his neck; he struggled several
moments; I strangled him.
When I beheld that he no longer breathed, I stepped back in terror.
I cried out; but nobody heard me. Then, approaching the bed once more,
I shook him so as to bring him back to life. It was too late; the
aneurism had burst, and the colonel was dead. I went into the adjoining
room, and for two hours I did not dare to return. It is impossible for
me to express all that I felt during that time. It was intense
stupefaction, a kind of vague and vacant delirium. It seemed to me that
I saw faces grinning on the walls; I heard muffled voices. The cries of
the victim, the cries uttered before the struggle and during its wild
moments continued to reverberate within me, and the air, in whatever
direction I turned, seemed to shake with convulsions. Do not imagine
that I am inventing pictures or aiming at verbal style. I swear to you
that I heard distinctly voices that were crying at me: Murderer;
All was quiet in the house. The tick-tick of the clock, very even,
slow, dryly metrical, increased the silence and solitude. I put my ear
to the door of the room, in hope of hearing a groan, a word, an insult,
anything that would be a sign of life, that might bring back peace to
my conscience; I was ready to let myself be struck ten, twenty, a
hundred times, by the colonel's hand. But, nothingall was silent. I
began to pace the room aimlessly; I sat down, I brought my hands
despairingly to my head; I repented ever having come to the place.
Cursed be the hour in which I ever accepted such a position, I
cried. And I flamed with resentment against the priest of Nichteroy,
against the doctor, the vicaragainst all those who had procured the
place for me and forced me to remain there so long. They, too, I
convinced myself, were accomplices in my crime.
As the silence finally terrified me, I opened a window, in the hope
of hearing at least the murmuring of the wind. But no wind was blowing.
The night was peaceful. The stars were sparkling with the indifference
of those who remove their hats before a passing funeral procession and
continue to speak of other things. I remained at the window for some
time, my elbows on the sill, my gaze seeking to penetrate the night,
forcing myself to make a mental summary of my life so that I might
escape the present agony. I believe it was only then that I thought
clearly about the penalty of my crime. I saw myself already being
accused and threatened with dire punishment. From this moment fear
complicated my feeling of remorse. I felt my hair stand on end. A few
minutes later I saw three or four human shapes spying at me from the
terrace, where they seemed to be waiting in ambush; I withdrew; the
shapes vanished into the air; it had been an hallucination.
Before daybreak I bandaged the wounds that I had received in the
face. Then only did I pluck up enough courage to return to the other
room. Twice I started, only to turn back; but it must be done, so I
entered. Even then, I did not at first go to the bed. My legs shook, my
heart pounded. I thought of flight; but that would have been a
confession of the crime.... It was on the contrary very important for
me to hide all traces of it. I approached the bed. I looked at the
corpse, with its widely distended eyes and its mouth gaping, as if
uttering the eternal reproach of the centuries: Cain, what hast thou
done with thy brother? I discovered on the neck the marks of my nails;
I buttoned the shirt to the top, and threw the bed-cover up to the dead
man's chin. Then I called a servant and told him that the colonel had
died towards morning; I sent him to notify the vicar and the doctor.
The first idea that came to me was to leave as soon as possible
under the pretext that my brother was ill; and in reality I had
received, several days before, from Rio, a letter telling me that he
was not at all well. But I considered that my immediate departure might
arouse suspicion, and I decided to wait. I laid out the corpse myself,
with the assistance of an old, near-sighted negro. I remained
continually in the room of the dead. I trembled lest something out of
the way should be discovered. I wanted to assure myself that no
mistrust could be read upon the faces of the others; but I did not dare
to look any person in the eye. Everything made me impatient; the going
and coming of those who, on tip-toe crossed the room; their
whisperings; the ceremonies and the prayers of the vicar.... The hour
having come, I closed the coffin, but with trembling hands, so
trembling that somebody noticed it and commented upon it aloud, with
Poor Procopio! Despite what he has suffered from his master, he is
It sounded like irony to me. I was anxious to have it all over with.
We went out. Once in the street the passing from semi-obscurity to
daylight dazed me and I staggered. I began to fear that it would no
longer be possible for me to conceal the crime. I kept my eyes steadily
fixed upon the ground and took my place in the procession. When all was
over, I breathed once more. I was at peace with man. But I was not at
peace with my conscience, and the first nights, naturally, I spent in
restlessness and affliction. Need I tell you that I hastened to return
to Rio de Janeiro, and that I dwelt there in terror and suspense,
although far removed from the scene of the crime? I never smiled; I
scarcely spoke; I ate very little; I suffered hallucinations and
Let the dead rest in peace, they would say to me. It is out of
all reason to show so much melancholy.
And I was happy to find how people interpreted my symptoms, and
praised the dead man highly, calling him a good soul, surly, in truth,
but with a heart of gold. And as I spoke in such wise, I convinced
myself, at least for a few moments at a time. Another interesting
phenomenon was taking place within meI tell it to you because you
will perhaps make some useful deduction from itand that was, although
I had very little religion in me, I had a mass sung for the eternal
rest of the colonel at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. I sent out
no invitations to it, I did not whisper a word of it to anybody; I went
there alone. I knelt during the whole service and made many signs of
the cross. I paid the priest double and distributed alms at the door,
all in the name of the deceased.
I wished to deceive nobody. The proof of this lies in the fact that
I did all this without letting any other know. To complete this
incident, I may add that I never mentioned the colonel without
repeating, May his soul rest in peace! And I told several funny
anecdotes about him, some amusing caprices of his ...
About a week after my arrival at Rio I received a letter from the
vicar. He announced that the will of the colonel had been opened and
that I was there designated as his sole heir. Imagine my stupefaction!
I was sure that I had read wrongly; I showed it to my brother, to
friends; they all read the same thing. It was there in black and white,
I was really the sole heir of the colonel. Then I suddenly thought that
this was a trap to catch me, but then I considered that there were
other ways of arresting me, if the crime had been discovered. Moreover,
I knew the vicar's honesty, and I was sure that he would not be a party
to such a plan. I reread the letter five times, ten times, a hundred
times; it was true. I was the colonel's sole heir!
How much was he worth? my brother asked me.
I don't know, but I know that he was very wealthy.
Really, he's shown that he was a very true friend to you.
He certainly washe was....
Thus, by a strange irony of fate, all the colonel's wealth came into
my hands. At first I thought of refusing the legacy. It seemed odious
to take a sou of that inheritance; it seemed worse than the reward of a
hired assassin. For three days this thought obsessed me; but more and
more I was thrust against this consideration: that my refusal would not
fail to awake suspicion. Finally I settled upon a compromise; I would
accept the inheritance and would distribute it in small sums, secretly.
This was not merely scruple on my part, it was also the desire to
redeem my crime by virtuous deeds; and it seemed the only way to
recover my peace of mind and feel that accounts were straight.
I made hurried preparations and left. As I neared the little village
the sad event returned obstinately to my memory. Everything about the
place, as I looked at it once again, suggested tragic deeds. At every
turn in the road I seemed to see the ghost of the colonel loom. And
despite myself, I evoked in my imagination his cries, his struggles,
his looks on that horrible night of the crime....
Crime or struggle? Really, it was rather a struggle; I had been
attacked, I had defended myself; and in self-defence.... It had been an
unfortunate struggle, a genuine tragedy. This idea gripped me. And I
reviewed all the abuse he had heaped upon me; I counted the blows, the
names ... It was not the colonel's fault, that I knew well; it was his
affliction that made him so peevish and even wicked. But I pardoned
all, everything!... The worst of it was the end of that fatal night ...
I also considered that in any case the colonel had not long to live.
His days were numbered; did not he himself feel that? Didn't he say
every now and then, How much longer have I to live? Two weeks, or one,
This was not life, it was slow agony, if one may so name the
continual martyrdom of that poor man.... And who knows, who can say
that the struggle and his death were not simply a coincidence? That was
after all quite possible, it was even most probable; careful weighing
of the matter showed that it couldn't have been otherwise. At length
this idea, too, engraved itself upon my mind....
Something tugged at my heart as I entered the village; I wanted to
run back; but I dominated my emotions and I pressed forward. I was
received with a shower of congratulations. The vicar communicated to me
the particulars of the will, enumerated the pious gifts, and, as he
spoke, praised the Christian forbearance and the faithfulness which I
had shown in my care of the deceased, who, despite his temper and
brutality, had so well demonstrated his gratitude.
Certainly, I said, looking nervously around.
I was astounded. Everybody praised my conduct. Such patience, such
devotion. The first formalities of the inventory detained me for a
while; I chose a solicitor; things followed their course in regular
fashion. During this time there was much talk of the colonel. People
came and told me tales about him, but without observing the priest's
moderation. I defended the memory of the colonel. I recalled his good
qualities, his virtues; had he not been austere?...
Austere! they would interrupt. Nonsense! He is dead, and it's all
over now. But he was a regular demon!
And they would cite incidents and relate the colonel's perversities,
some of which were nothing less than extraordinary.
Need I confess it? At first I listened to all this talk with great
curiosity; then, a queer pleasure penetrated my heart, a pleasure from
which, sincerely, I tried to escape. And I continued to defend the
colonel; I explained him, I attributed much of the fault-finding to
local animosity; I admitted, yes, I admitted that he had been a trifle
exacting, somewhat violent....
Somewhat! Why he was as furious as a snake! exclaimed the barber.
And allthe collector, the apothecary, the clerkall were of the
same opinion. And they would start to relate other anecdotes. They
reviewed the entire life of the deceased. The old folks took particular
delight in recalling the cruelties of his youth. And that queer
pleasure, intimate, mute, insidious, grew within mea sort of moral
tape-worm whose coils I tore out in vain, for they would immediately
form again and take firmer hold than ever.
The formalities of the inventory afforded me a little relief;
moreover, public opinion was so unanimously unfavorable to the colonel
that little by little the place lost the lugubrious aspect that had at
first struck me. At last I entered into possession of the legacy, which
I converted into land-titles and cash.
Several months had elapsed, and the idea of distributing the
inheritance in charity and pious donations was by no means so strong as
it had at first been; it even seemed to me that this would be sheer
affectation. I revised my initial plan; I gave away several
insignificant sums to the poor; I presented the village church with a
few new ornaments; I gave several thousand francs to the Sacred House
of Mercy, etc. I did not forget to erect a monument upon the colonel's
gravea very simple monument, all marble, the work of a Neapolitan
sculptor who remained at Rio until 1866, and who has since died, I
believe, in Paraguay.
Years have gone by. My memory has become vague and unreliable.
Sometimes I think of the colonel, but without feeling again the terrors
of those early days. All the doctors to whom I have described his
afflictions have been unanimous as regards the inevitable end in store
for the invalid, and were indeed surprised that he should so long have
resisted. It is just possible that I may have involuntarily exaggerated
the description of his various symptoms; but the truth is that he was
sure of sudden death, even had this fatality not occurred....
Good-bye, my dear sir. If you deem these notes not totally devoid of
value reward me for them with a marble tomb, and place there for my
epitaph this variant which I have made of the divine sermon on the
Blessed are they who possess, for they shall be consoled.
THE FORTUNE-TELLER. By Joaquim Maria
Machado de Assis
Hamlet observes to Horatio that there are more things in heaven and
earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. This was the selfsame
explanation that was given by beautiful Rita to her lover, Camillo, on
a certain Friday of November, 1869, when Camillo laughed at her for
having gone, the previous evening, to consult a fortune-teller. The
only difference is that she made her explanation in other words.
Laugh, laugh. That's just like you men; you don't believe in
anything. Well, let me tell you, I went there and she guessed the
reason for my coming before I ever spoke a word. Scarcely had she begun
to lay out the cards when she said to me: 'The lady likes a certain
person ...' I confessed that it was so, and then she continued to
rearrange the cards in various combinations, finally telling me that I
was afraid you would forget me, but that there were no grounds for my
She was wrong! interrupted Camillo with a laugh.
Don't say that, Camillo. If you only realized in what anguish I
went there, all on account of you. You know. I've told you before.
Don't laugh at me; don't poke fun at me....
Camillo seized her hands and gazed into her eyes earnestly and long.
He swore that he loved her ever so much, that her fears were childish;
in any case, should she ever harbor a fear, the best fortune-teller to
consult was he himself. Then he reproved her, saying that it was
imprudent to visit such houses. Villela might learn of it, and then ...
Impossible! I was exceedingly careful when I entered the place.
Where is the house?
Near here. On Guarda-Velha Street. Nobody was passing by at the
time. Rest easy. I'm not a fool.
Camillo laughed again.
Do you really believe in such things? he asked.
It was at this point that she translated Hamlet into every-day
speech, assuring her lover that there was many a true, mysterious thing
in this world. If he was skeptical, let him have patience. One thing,
however, was certain: the card reader had guessed everything. What more
could he desire? The best proof was that at this moment she was at ease
He was about to speak, but he restrained himself. He did not wish to
destroy her illusions. He, too, when a child, and even later, had been
superstitious, filled with an arsenal of beliefs which his mother had
instilled, and which had disappeared by the time he reached twenty. The
day on which he rid himself of all this parasitic vegetation, leaving
behind only the trunk of religion, he wrapped his superstition and his
religion (which had both been inculcated by his mother) in the same
doubt, and soon arrived at a single, total negation. Camillo believed
in nothing. Why? He could not have answered; he had not a solitary
reason; he was content simply to deny everything. But I express myself
ill, for to deny is in a sense to affirm, and he did not formulate his
unbelief. Before the great mystery he simply shrugged his shoulders and
The lovers parted in good spirits, he more happy than she. Rita was
sure that she was loved; but Camillo was not only sure that she loved
him, but saw how she trembled for him and even took risks, running to
fortune-tellers. However much he had reproved her for this, he could
not help feeling flattered by it. Their secret meeting-place was in the
old Barbonos street at the home of a woman that came from Rita's
province. Rita went off through Mangueiras street, in the direction of
Botafogo, where she resided; Camillo entered Guarda-Velha street,
keeping his eye open, as he passed, for the home of the card reader.
Villela, Camillo and Rita: three names, one adventure and no
explanation of how it all began. Let us proceed to explain. The first
two were friends since earliest childhood. Villela had entered the
magistracy. Camillo found employment with the government, against the
will of his father, who desired him to embrace the medical profession.
But his father had died, and Camillo preferred to be nothing at all,
until his mother had procured him a departmental position. At the
beginning of the year 1869 Villela returned from the interior, where he
had married a silly beauty; he abandoned the magistracy and came hither
to open a lawyer's office. Camillo had secured a house for him near
Botafogo and had welcomed him home.
Is this the gentleman? exclaimed Rita, offering Camillo her hand.
You can't imagine how highly my husband thinks of you. He was always
talking about you.
Camillo and Villela looked at each other tenderly. They were true
friends. Afterwards, Camillo confessed to himself that Villela's wife
did not at all belie the enthusiastic letters her husband had written
to him. Really, she was most prepossessing, lively in her movements,
her eyes burning, her mouth plastic and piquantly inquiring. Rita was a
trifle older than both the men: she was thirty, Villela twenty-nine and
Camillo twenty-six. The grave bearing of Villela gave him the
appearance of being much older than his wife, while Camillo was but a
child in moral and practical life.... He possessed neither experience
The three became closely bound. Propinquity bred intimacy. Shortly
afterwards Camillo's mother died, and in this catastrophe, for such it
was, the other two showed themselves to be genuine friends of his.
Villela took charge of the interment, of the church services and the
settlement of the affairs of the deceased; Rita dispensed consolation,
and none could do it better.
Just how this intimacy between Camillo and Rita grew to love he
never knew. The truth is that he enjoyed passing the hours at her side;
she was his spiritual nurse, almost a sister,but most of all she was
a woman, and beautiful. The aroma of femininity: this is what he
yearned for in her, and about her, seeking to incorporate it into
himself. They read the same books, they went together to the theatre or
for walks. He taught her cards and chess, and they played of
nights;she badly,he, to make himself agreeable, but little less
badly. Thus much, as far as external things are concerned. And now came
personal intimacies, the timorous eyes of Rita, that so often sought
his own, consulting them before they questioned those of her own
husband,the touches of cold hands, and unwonted communion. On one of
his birthdays he received from Villela a costly cane, and from Rita, a
hastily pencilled, ordinary note expressing good wishes. It was then
that he learned to read within his own heart; he could not tear his
eyes away from the missive. Commonplace words, it is true; but there
are sublime commonplaces,or at least, delightful ones. The old chaise
in which for the first time you rode with your beloved, snuggled
together, is as good as the chariot of Apollo. Such is man, and such
are the circumstances that surround him.
Camillo sincerely wished to flee the situation, but it was already
beyond his power. Rita, like a serpent, was charming him, winding her
coils about him; she was crushing his bones, darting her venomous fangs
into his lips. He was helpless, overcome. Vexation, fear, remorse,
desire,all this he felt, in a strange confusion. But the battle was
short and the victory deliriously intoxicating. Farewell, all scruple!
The shoe now fitted snugly enough upon the foot, and there they were
both, launched upon the high road, arm in arm, joyfully treading the
grass and the gravel, without suffering anything more than lonesomeness
when they were away from each other. As to Villela, his confidence in
his wife and his esteem for his friend continued the same as before.
One day, however, Camillo received an anonymous letter, which called
him immoral and perfidious, and warned him that his adventure was known
to all. Camillo took fright, and, in order to ward off suspicion, began
to make his visits to Villela's house more rare. The latter asked him
the reason for his prolonged absence. Camillo answered that the cause
was a youthful flirtation. Simplicity evolved into cunning. Camillo's
absences became longer and longer, and then his visits ceased entirely.
Into this course there may have entered a little self-respect,the
idea of diminishing his obligations to the husband in order to make his
own actions appear less treacherous.
It was at this juncture that Rita, uncertain and in fear, ran to the
fortune-teller to consult her upon the real reason for Camillo's
actions. As we have seen, the card reader restored the wife's
confidence and the young man reproved her for having done what she did.
A few weeks passed. Camillo received two or three more anonymous
letters, written with such passionate anger that they could not have
been prompted by mere regard for virtue; surely they came from some
violent rival of his. In this opinion Rita concurred, formulating, in
ill-composed words of her own, this thought: virtue is indolent and
niggardly, wasting neither time nor paper; only self-interest is alert
But this did not help to ease Camillo; he now feared lest the
anonymous writer should inform Villela, in which case the catastrophe
would follow fast and implacably. Rita agreed that this was possible.
Very well, she said. Give me the envelopes in which the letters
came, so that I may compare the handwriting with that of the mail which
comes to him. If any arrives with writing resembling the anonymous
script, I'll keep it and tear it up ...
But no such letter appeared. A short time after this, however,
Villela commenced to grow grave, speaking very little, as if something
weighed upon his mind. Rita hurried to communicate the change to her
lover, and they discussed the matter earnestly. Her opinion was that
Camillo should renew his visits to their home, and sound her husband;
it might be that Villela would confide to him some business worry. With
this Camillo disagreed; to appear after so many months was to confirm
the suspicions and denunciations of the anonymous letters. It was
better to be very careful, to give each other up for several weeks.
They arranged means for communicating with each other in case of
necessity and separated, in tears.
On the following day Camillo received at his department this letter
from Villela: Come immediately to our house; I must talk to you
without delay. It was past noon. Camillo left at once; as he reached
the street it occurred to him that it would have been much more natural
for Villela to have called him to his office; why to his house? All
this betokened a very urgent matter; moreover, whether it was reality
or illusion, it seemed to Camillo that the letter was written in a
trembling hand. He sought to establish a connection between all these
things and the news Rita had brought him the night before.
Come immediately to our house; I must talk to you without delay,
he repeated, his eyes staring at the note.
In his mind's eye he beheld the climax of a drama,Rita cowed,
weeping; Villela indignant, seizing his pen and dashing off the letter,
certain that he, Camillo, would answer in person, and waiting to kill
him as he entered. Camillo shuddered with terror; then he smiled
weakly; in any event the idea of drawing back was repugnant to him. So
he continued on his way. As he walked it occurred to him to step into
his rooms; he might find there a message from Rita explaining
everything. But he found nothing, nobody. He returned to the street,
and the thought that they had been discovered grew every moment more
convincing; yes, the author of the previous anonymous communications
must have denounced him to the husband; perhaps by now Villela knew
all. The very suspension of his calls without any apparent reason, with
the flimsiest of pretexts, would confirm everything else.
Camillo walked hastily along, agitated, nervous. He did not read the
letter again, but the words hovered persistently before his eyes; or
else,which was even worsethey seemed to be murmured into his ears
by the voice of Villela himself. Come immediately to our house; I must
talk to you without delay. Spoken thus by the voice of the other they
seemed pregnant with mystery and menace. Come immediately,why? It was
now nearly one o'clock. Camillo's agitation waxed greater with each
passing moment. So clearly did he imagine what was about to take place
that he began to believe it a reality, to see it before his very eyes.
Yes, without a doubt, he was afraid. He even considered arming himself,
thinking that if nothing should happen he would lose nothing by this
useful precaution. But at once he rejected the idea, angry with
himself, and hastened his step towards Carioca square, there to take a
tilbury. He arrived, entered and ordered the driver to be off at full
The sooner the better, he thought. I can't stand this
But the very sound of the horse's clattering hoofs increased his
agitation. Time was flying, and he would be face to face with danger
soon enough. When they had come almost to the end of Guarda-Velha
street the tilbury had to come to a stop; the thoroughfare was blocked
by a coach that had broken down. Camillo surveyed the obstruction and
decided to wait. After five minutes had gone by, he noticed that there
at his left, at the very foot of the tilbury, was the fortune teller's
house,the very same as Rita had once consulted. Never, as at this
moment, had he so desired to believe in card-reading. He looked closer,
saw that the windows were closed, while all the others on the street
were opened, filled with folks curious to see what was the matter. It
looked for all the world like the dwelling of indifferent Fate.
Camillo leaned back in his seat so as to shut all this from view.
His excitement was intense, extraordinary, and from the deep, hidden
recesses of his mind there began to emerge spectres of early childhood,
old beliefs, banished superstitions. The coachman proposed another
route; he shook his head and said that he would wait. He leaned forward
to get a better look at the card-reader's house ... Then he made a
gesture of self-ridicule: it had entered his mind to consult the
fortune-teller, who seemed to be hovering over him, far, far above,
with vast, ash-colored wings; she disappeared, reappeared, and then her
image was lost; then, in a few moments, the ash-colored wings stirred
again, nearer, flying about him in narrowing circles ... In the street
men were shouting, dragging away the coach.
There! Now! Push! That's it! Now!
In a short while the obstruction was removed. Camillo closed his
eyes, trying to think of other things; but the voice of Rita's husband
whispered into his ears the words of the letter: Come immediately ...
And he could behold the anguish of the drama. He trembled. The house
seemed to look right at him. His feet instinctively moved as if to
leave the carriage and go in ... Camillo found himself before a long,
opaque veil ... he thought rapidly of the inexplicability of so many
things. The voice of his mother was repeating to him a host of
extraordinary happenings; and the very sentence of the Prince of
Denmark kept echoing within him:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
What could he lose by it, if...?
He jumped out to the pavement, just before the fortune-teller's
door; he told the driver to wait for him, and hastened into the entry,
ascending the stairs. There was little light, the stairs were worn away
from the many feet that had sought them, the banister was smooth and
sticky; but he saw and felt nothing. He stumbled up the stairs and
knocked. Nobody appearing, he was about to go down; but it was too late
now,curiosity was whipping his blood and his heart beat with violent
throbs; he turned back to the door, and knocked once, twice, three
times. He beheld a woman; it was the card-reader. Camillo said that he
had come to consult her, and she bade him enter. Thence they climbed to
the attic by a staircase even worse than the first and buried in deeper
gloom. At the top there was a garret, ill lighted by a small window.
Old furniture, somber walls, and an air of poverty augmented, rather
than destroyed, the prestige of the occupant.
The fortune-teller told him to be seated before the table, and she
sat down on the opposite side with her back to the window, so that
whatever little light came from without fell full upon Camillo's face.
She opened a drawer and took out a pack of worn, filthy cards. While
she rapidly shuffled them she peered at him closely, not so much with a
direct gaze as from under her eyes. She was a woman of forty, Italian,
thin and swarthy, with large, sharp, cunning eyes. She placed three
cards upon the table, and said:
Let us first see what has brought you here. The gentleman has just
received a severe shock and is in great fear ...
Camillo, astonished, nodded affirmatively.
And he wishes to know, she continued, whether anything will
happen to him or not ...
To me and to her, he explained, excitedly.
The fortune-teller did not smile; she simply told him to wait. She
took the cards hastily once more and shuffled them with her long
tapering fingers whose nails were so long and unclean from neglect; she
shuffled them well, once, twice, thrice; then she began to lay them
out. Camillo's eyes were riveted upon her in anxious curiosity.
The cards tell me ...
Camillo leaned forward to drink in her words one by one. Then she
told him to fear nothing. Nothing would happen to him or to the other.
He, the third, was aware of nought. Nevertheless, great caution was
indispensable; envy and rivalry were at work. She spoke to him of the
love that bound them, of Rita's beauty ... Camillo was bewildered. The
fortune-teller stopped talking, gathered the cards and locked them in
The lady has restored peace to my spirit, he said, offering her
his hand across the table and pressing that of the card-reader.
She arose, laughing.
Go, she said. Go, ragazzo innamorato ...
 Italian for love-sick boy, young lover, etc.
And arising, she touched his head with her index finger. Camillo
shuddered, as if it were the hand of one of the original sybils, and
he, too, arose. The fortune-teller went to the bureau, upon which lay a
plate of raisins, took a cluster of them and commenced to eat them,
showing two rows of teeth that were as white as her nails were black.
Even in this common action the woman possessed an air all her own.
Camillo, anxious to leave, was at a loss how much to pay; he did not
know her fee.
Raisins cost money, he said, at length, taking out his
pocket-book. How much do you want to send for?
Ask your heart, she replied.
Camillo took out a note for ten milreis' and gave it to her. The
eyes of the card-reader sparkled. Her usual fee was two milreis.
 In United States money ten Brazilian milreis are
to about $5.50.
I can see easily that the gentleman loves his lady very much ...
And well he may. For she loves the gentleman very deeply, too. Go, go
in peace, with your mind at ease. And take care as you descend the
staircase,it's dark. Don't forget your hat ...
The fortune-teller had already placed the note in her pocket, and
accompanied him down the stairs, chatting rather gaily. At the bottom
of the first flight Camillo bid her good-bye and ran down the stairs
that led to the street, while the card-reader, rejoicing in her large
fee, turned back to the garret, humming a barcarolle. Camillo found the
tilbury waiting for him; the street was now clear. He entered and the
driver whipped his horse into a fast trot.
To Camillo everything had now changed for the better and his affairs
assumed a brighter aspect; the sky was clear and the faces of the
people he passed were all so merry. He even began to laugh at his
fears, which he now saw were puerile; he recalled the language of
Villela's letter and perceived at once that it was most friendly and
familiar. How in the world had he ever been able to read any threat of
danger into those words! He suddenly realized that they were urgent,
however, and that he had done ill to delay so long; it might be some
very serious business affair.
Faster, faster! he cried to the driver.
And he began to think of a plausible explanation of his delay; he
even contemplated taking advantage of this incident to re-establish his
former intimacy in Villela's household ... Together with his plans
there kept echoing in his soul the words of the fortune-teller. In
truth, she had guessed the object of his visit, his own state of mind,
and the existence of a third; why, then, wasn't it reasonable to
suppose that she had guessed the rest correctly, too? For, the unknown
present is the same as the future. And thus, slowly and persistently
the young man's childhood superstitions attained the upper hand and
mystery clutched him in its iron claws. At times he was ready to burst
into laughter, and with a certain vexation he did laugh at himself. But
the woman, the cards, her dry, reassuring words, and her good-byeGo,
go, ragazzo innamorato, and finally, that farewell barcarolle,
so lively and gracious,such were the new elements which, together
with the old, formed within him a new and abiding faith.
The truth is that his heart was happy and impatient, recalling the
happy hours of the past and anticipating those yet to come. As he
passed through Gloria street Camillo gazed across the sea, far across
where the waters and the heaven meet in endless embrace, and the sight
gave him a sensation of the future,long, long and infinite.
From here it was but a moment's drive to Villela's home. He stepped
out, thrust the iron garden gate open and entered. The house was
silent. He ran up the six stone steps and scarcely had he had time to
knock when the door opened and Villela loomed before him.
Pardon my delay. It was impossible to come sooner. What is the
Villela made no reply. His features were distorted; he beckoned
Camillo to step within. As he entered, Camillo could not repress a cry
of horror:there upon the sofa lay Rita, dead in a pool of blood.
Villela seized the lover by the throat and, with two bullets, stretched
him dead upon the floor.
LIFE. By Joaquim Maria Machado de
End of time. Ahasverus, seated upon a rock, gazes for a long
upon the horizon, athwart which wing two eagles, crossing each
other in their path. He meditates, then falls into a doze. The
AHASVERUS. I have come to the end of time; this is the threshold of
eternity. The earth is deserted; no other man breathes the air of life.
I am the last; I can die. Die! Precious thought! For centuries of
centuries I have lived, wearied, mortified, wandering ever, but now the
centuries are coming to an end, and I shall die with them. Ancient
nature, farewell! Azure sky, clouds ever reborn, roses of a day and of
every day, perennial waters, hostile earth that never would devour my
bones, farewell! The eternal wanderer will wander no longer. God may
pardon me if He wishes, but death will console me. That mountain is as
unyielding as my grief; those eagles that fly yonder must be as
famished as my despair. Shall you, too, die, divine eagles?
PROMETHEUS. Of a surety the race of man is perished; the earth is
bare of them.
AHASVERUS. I hear a voice.... The voice of a human being? Implacable
heavens, am I not then the last? He approaches.... Who are you? There
shines in your large eyes something like the mysterious light of the
archangels of Israel; you are not a human being?...
AHASVERUS. Of a race divine, then?
PROMETHEUS. You have said it.
AHASVERUS. I do not know you; but what matters it that I do not? You
are not a human being; then I may die; for I am the last and I close
the gate of life.
PROMETHEUS. Life, like ancient Thebes, has a hundred gates. You
close one, and others will open. You are the last of your species? Then
another better species will come, made not of clay, but of the light
itself. Yes, last of men, all the common spirits will perish forever;
the flower of them it is which will return to earth and rule. The ages
will be rectified. Evil will end; the winds will thenceforth scatter
neither the germs of death nor the clamor of the oppressed, but only
the song of love everlasting and the benediction of universal
AHASVERUS. What can all this posthumous joy matter to the species
that dies with me? Believe me, you who are immortal, to the bones that
rot in the earth the purples of Sidonia are worthless. What you tell me
is even better than what Campanella dreamed. In that man's ideal city
there were delights and ills; yours excludes all mortal and physical
ailments. May the Lord hear you! But let me go and die.
PROMETHEUS. Go, go. But why this haste to end your days?
AHASVERUS. The haste of a man who has lived for thousands of years.
Yes, thousands of years. Men who existed scarcely scores of them
invented a feeling of ennui, tedium vitae, which they could
never know, at least in all its implacable and vast reality, because it
is necessary to have journeyed through all the generations and all the
cataclysms to feel that profound surfeit of existence.
PROMETHEUS. Thousands of years?
AHASVERUS. My name Is Ahasverus; I dwelt in Jerusalem at the time
they were about to crucify Christ. When he passed my door he weakened
under the burden of the beam that he carried on his shoulders, and I
thrust him onward, admonishing him not to stop, not to rest, to
continue on his way to the hill where he was to be crucified.... Then
there came a voice from heaven, telling me that I, too, should have to
journey forever, continuously, until the end of time. Such was my
crime; I felt no pity for him who was going to his death. I do not know
myself how it came about. The Pharisees said that the son of Mary had
come to destroy the law, and that he must be slain; I, ignorant wretch,
wished to display my zeal and hence my action of that day. How many
times have I seen the same thing since, traveling unceasingly through
cities and ages! Whenever zealotry penetrated into a submissive soul,
it became cruel or ridiculous. My crime was unpardonable.
PROMETHEUS. A grave crime, in truth, but the punishment was lenient.
The other men read but a chapter of life; you have read the whole book.
What does one chapter know of the other chapter? Nothing. But he who
has read them all, connects them and concludes. Are there melancholy
pages? There are merry and happy ones, too. Tragic convulsion precedes
that of laughter; life burgeons from death; swans and swallows change
climate, without ever abandoning it entirely; and thus all is
harmonized and begun anew. You have beheld this, not ten times, not a
thousand times, but ever; you have beheld the magnificence of the earth
curing the affliction of the soul, and the joy of the soul compensating
for the desolation of things; the alternating dance of Nature, who
gives her left hand to Job and her right to Sardanapalus.
AHASVERUS. What do you know of my life? Nothing; you are ignorant of
PROMETHEUS. I, ignorant of human life? How laughable! Come,
perpetual man, explain yourself. Tell me everything; you left Jerusalem
AHASVERUS. I left Jerusalem. I began my wandering through the ages.
I journeyed everywhere, whatever the race, the creed, the tongue; suns
and snows, barbarous and civilized peoples, islands, continents;
wherever a man breathed, there breathed I. I never labored. Labor is a
refuge, and that refuge was denied me. Every morning I found upon me
the necessary money for the day ... See; this is the last
apportionment. Go, for I need you no longer. (He draws forth the
money and throws it away.) I did not work; I just journeyed, ever
and ever, one day after another, year after year unendingly, century
after century. Eternal justice knew what it was doing: it added
idleness to eternity. One generation bequeathed me to the other. The
languages, as they died, preserved my name like a fossil. With the
passing of time all was forgotten; the heroes faded into myths, into
shadow, and history crumbled to fragments, only two or three vague,
remote characteristics remaining to it. And I saw them in changing
aspect. You spoke of a chapter? Happy are those who read only one
chapter of life. Those who depart at the birth of empires bear with
them the impression of their perpetuity; those who die at their fall,
are buried in the hope of their restoration; but do you not realize
what it is to see the same things unceasingly,the same alternation of
prosperity and desolation, desolation and prosperity, eternal obsequies
and eternal halleluiahs, dawn upon dawn, sunset upon sunset?
PROMETHEUS. But you did not suffer, I believe. It is something not
AHASVERUS. Yes, but I saw other men suffer, and in the end the
spectacle of joy gave me the same sensations as the discourses of an
idiot. Fatalities of flesh and blood, unending strife,I saw all pass
before my eyes, until night caused me to lose my taste for day, and now
I cannot distinguish flowers from thistles. Everything is confused in
my wearied retina.
PROMETHEUS. But nothing pained you personally; and what about me,
from time immemorial suffering the wrath of the gods?
PROMETHEUS. My name is Prometheus.
AHASVERUS. You! Prometheus!
PROMETHEUS. And what was my crime? Out of clay and water I made the
first men, and afterwards, seized with compassion, I stole for them
fire from the sky. Such was my crime. Jupiter, who then reigned over
Olympus, condemned me to the most cruel of tortures. Come, climb this
rock with me.
AHASVERUS. You are telling me a tale. I know that Hellenic myth.
PROMETHEUS. Incredulous old fellow! Come see the very chains that
fettered me; it was an excessive penalty for no crime whatever; but
divine pride is terrible ... See; there they are ...
AHASVERUS. And time, which gnaws all things, does not desire them,
PROMETHEUS. They were wrought by a divine hand. Vulcan forged them.
Two emissaries from heaven came to secure me to the rock, and an eagle,
like that which now is flying across the horizon, kept gnawing at my
liver without ever consuming it. This lasted for time beyond my
reckoning. No, no, you cannot imagine this torture ...
AHASVERUS. Are you not deceiving me? You, Prometheus? Was that not,
then, a figment of the ancient imagination?
PROMETHEUS. Look well at me; touch these hands. See whether I really
AHASVERUS. Then Moses lied to me. You are Prometheus, creator of the
PROMETHEUS. That was my crime.
AHASVERUS. Yes, it was your crime,an artifice of hell; your crime
was inexpiable. You should have remained forever, bound and
devoured,you, the origin of the ills that afflict me. I lacked
compassion, it is true; but you, who gave me life, perverse divinity,
were the cause of all.
PROMETHEUS. Approaching death confuses your reason.
AHASVERUS. Yes, it is you; you have the Olympic forehead, strong and
beautiful Titan; it is you indeed ... Are these your chains? I see upon
them no trace of your tears.
PROMETHEUS. I wept them for your humankind.
AHASVERUS. And humanity wept far more because of your crime.
PROMETHEUS. Hear me, last of men, last of ingrates!
AHASVERUS. What need have I of your words? I desire your groans,
perverse divinity. Here are the chains. See how I raise them; listen to
the clank of the iron ... Who unbound you just now?
AHASVERUS. Hercules ... See whether he will repeat his service now
that you are to be bound anew.
PROMETHEUS. You are raving.
AHASVERUS. The sky gave you your first punishment, now earth will
give you the second and the last. Not even Hercules will ever be able
to break these fetters. See how I brandish them in the air, like
feathers! for I represent the power of millennial despairs. All
humanity is concentrated within me. Before I sink into the abyss, I
will write upon this stone the epitaph of a world. I will summon the
eagle, and it will come; I will tell it that the last man, on departing
from life, leaves him a god as a gift.
PROMETHEUS. Poor, ignorant wretch, who rejects a throne! No, you
cannot reject it.
AHASVERUS. Now it is you who are raving. Kneel, and let me manacle
your arms. So, 'tis well you will resist no more. Bend this way; now
your legs ...
PROMETHEUS. Have done, have done. It is the passions of earth
turning upon me; but I, who am not a human being, do not know
ingratitude. You will not be spared a jot of your destiny; it will be
fulfilled to the letter. You yourself will be the new Hercules. I, who
announced the glory of the other, now proclaim yours; and you will be
no less generous than he.
AHASVERUS. Are you mad?
PROMETHEUS. The truth unknown to man is the madness of him who
proclaims it. Proceed, and have done.
AHASVERUS. Glory pays nothing, and dies.
PROMETHEUS. This glory will never die. Have done; have done; show
the sharp beak of the eagle where it is to devour my entrails. But hear
me ... No, hear nothing; you cannot understand me.
AHASVERUS. Speak; speak.
PROMETHEUS. The ephemeral world cannot understand the world eternal;
but you will be the link between the two.
AHASVERUS. Tell me everything.
PROMETHEUS. I speak nothing; fetter these wrists well, that I shall
not flee,so that I shall be here on your return. Tell you all? I have
already told you that a new race shall people the earth, formed of the
chosen spirits of the extinct humanity; the multitude of others will
perish. A noble family, all-seeing and powerful, will be the perfect
synthesis of the divine and the human. The times will be others, but
between them and these a link is necessary, and you shall be that link.
PROMETHEUS. You yourself; you, the chosen one; you, the King. Yes,
Ahasverus. You shall be King. The Wanderer will find rest. The despised
of men shall rule over mankind.
AHASVERUS. Wily Titan, you are deceiving me ... King,I?
PROMETHEUS. You, King. Who else, then? The new world needs to be
bound by a tradition, and none can speak of one to the other as you
can. Thus there will be no gap between the two humanities. The perfect
will proceed from the imperfect, and your lips will tell the new world
its origin. You will relate to the new humanity all the ancient good
and evil. And thus will you live anew like the tree whose dead branches
are lopped off, only the flourishing ones being preserved, but here
growth will be eternal.
AHASVERUS. Resplendent vision! I myself?
PROMETHEUS. Your very self.
AHASVERUS. These eyes ... these hands ... a new and better life ...
Glorious vision! Titan, it is just. Just was the punishment; but
equally just is the glorious remission of my sin. Shall I live? I
myself? A new and better life? No, you are jesting with me.
PROMETHEUS. Very well, then; leave me. You will return some day,
when this vast heaven will be open to let the spirits of the new life
descend. You will find me here at peace. Go.
AHASVERUS. Shall I again greet the sun?
PROMETHEUS. The selfsame sun that is about to set. Friend sun, eye
of time, nevermore shall your eyelids close. Gaze upon it, if you can.
AHASVERUS. I cannot.
PROMETHEUS. You will be able to, when the conditions of life shall
have changed. Then your retina will gaze upon the sun without peril,
for in the man of the future will be concentrated all that is best in
nature, energizing or subtle, scintillating or pure.
AHASVERUS. Swear that you are not lying.
PROMETHEUS. You will see whether I lie.
AHASVERUS. Speak, speak on; tell me everything.
PROMETHEUS. The description of life is not worth the sensation of
life; you shall experience it deeply. The bosom of Abraham in your old
Scriptures is nothing but this final, perfect world. There you will
greet David and the prophets. There will you tell to the astounded
listeners, not only the great events of the extinct world, but also the
ills they will never know: sickness, old age, grief, egotism,
hypocrisy, abhorrent vanity, imbecility, and the rest. The soul, like
the earth, will possess an incorruptible tunic.
AHASVERUS. I shall gaze ever on the immense blue sky?
PROMETHEUS. Behold how beautiful it is.
AHASVERUS. As beautiful and serene as eternal justice. Magnificent
heaven, more beautiful than the tents of Caesar. I shall behold you
forever; you will receive my thoughts, as before; you will grant me
clear days, and friendly nights ...
PROMETHEUS. Dawn upon dawn.
AHASVERUS. Ah, speak on, speak on. Tell me everything. Let me unbind
these chains ...
PROMETHEUS. Loosen them, new Hercules, last man of the old world,
who shall be the first of the new. Such is your destiny; neither you
nor I,nobody can alter it. You go farther than your Moses. From the
top of mount Nebo, at the point of death, he beheld the land of
Jericho, which was to belong to his descendants and the Lord said unto
him: Thou hast seen with thine eyes, yet shalt not pass beyond.
You shall pass beyond, Ahasverus; you shall dwell in Jericho.
AHASVERUS. Place your hand upon my head; look well at me; fill me
with the reality of your prediction; let me breathe a little of the
new, full life ... King, did you say?
PROMETHEUS. The chosen king of a chosen people.
AHASVERUS. It is not too much in recompense for the deep ignominy in
which I have dwelt. Where one life heaped mire, another life will place
a halo. Speak, speak on ... speak on ... (He continues to dream. The
two eagles draw near.)
FIRST EAGLE. Ay, ay, ay! Alas for this last man; he is dying, yet he
dreams of life.
SECOND EAGLE. Not so much that he hated it as that he loved it so
THE VENGEANCE OF FELIX. By José de
Medeiros E Albuquerque (1867-)
Member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
Old Felix had followed his trade of digger in all the quarries that
Rio de Janeiro possessed. He was a sort of Hercules with huge limbs,
but otherwise stupid as a post. His companions had nicknamed him
Hardhead because of his obstinate character. Once an idea had
penetrated his skull it would stick there like a gimlet and the devil
himself couldn't pull it out. Because of this trait there arose
quarrels, altercations on points of the smallest significance, which
the man's acquaintances would purposely bring up, knowing his evil
humor. But Felix, despite his vigorous and sanguine constitution, was
by no means quick to anger, nor immediately responsive to injury; on
the contrary he was exceedingly patient in his vindictiveness. For the
longest time he would ruminate upon his vengeance, most astutely, and
he would carry it out at the moment when he believed himself perfectly
secure. Oh! His ruses were not of very great finesse and required very
little talent; but by dint of considering and reconsidering the case,
by dint of waiting patiently for the propitious opportunity to present
itself, he finally would play some evil trick upon his comrades. So
that nobody liked him.
Felix had married, but his wife did not long survive. Just long
enough to leave him a son and a daughter, who grew up knowing little
restraint, chumming around with all the good-for-nothings of the
vicinity, plaguing all the neighbors, who on their part, were not slow
to punish the rascals. Thus several years went by. The son became a
notorious character, the daughter an impudent, cynical little runabout
who, on certain occasions, would fill their rickety abode with her
chatter about affairs concerning the man of so-and-so or
such-and-such. And thus things were going when the old man took it into
his head to fall ill. An excruciating rheumatism attacked both his
legs, rendering him incapable of moving about, and confining him to an
old, lame armchair that was balanced by a complicated arrangement of
old boxes that could never be got to remain steady. The illness became
chronic. The daughter helped out the finances of the house with her
earnings as laundry-woman ... and perhaps by earnings of a different
nature. Anyway, they got along. The old fellow, willy-nilly, spent his
days invariably riveted to his armchair, groaning with pain at the
least movement, swearing, fretting and fuming, despairing of life. And,
since his daughter simply refused from the very beginning to let him
have even a drop of brandy, he was perforce cured of his vice.
Just about this time there happened to them the worst of all
possible adventures. The son, whom the father had not seen for several
weeks, one fine day attacked a peaceful citizen and, with a terrible
knife thrust in the stomach, despatched him to a better world; as to
which event circumstances seemed so contrary that the son allowed
himself to be arrested.
The old man was in the habit of reading his gazette religiously,
from the first line to the last; thus he learned the news. And it was
through the same newspaper that he followed the trial and learned of
his son's conviction. This made him furious, not so much because of the
sentence as because of a special circumstance. The policeman who had
arrested his son wasjust think of it!Bernardo,yes, Bernardo, his
own neighborthe same chap who would greet him daily with the ironic
words: How are things, Felix old boy? And when will you be ready for a
Even on the day of imprisonment and during those that followed
Bernardo had permitted himself these witty remarks.
Bernardo was a cabra of Bahai, a pretentious mulatto whose
enormous head of hair, carefully parted in the middle into two
flourishing masses, was kept so only through the services of odorous
pomade that cost four sous a pot. He had been, in his day, a dishonest
political henchman, well-known for his exploits; then, supported by the
liberal leader whose election he had worked for, he escaped prison and
entered the police service. At that time police officers were called
bats",a sobriquet that troubled Bernardo very little. And it had
been hewhat anger flashed in old Felix's eyes as he thought of
it!he, whose past activities would well bear examination, he who had
arrested Felix's son!...
From that moment one preoccupation alone filled Felix's
hoursvengeance! This hatred dominated his existence and became the
only power that could vanquish the ever-growing misery of his
broken-down body. The mere thought that he could not grow well, while
the cabra would daily continue to live in insolent impunity, was
enough to give him convulsions of rage; he would foam at the mouth,
gnash his teeth and, in that obtuse brain of his, concoct scheme upon
scheme of vengeance, almost all of them impracticable, for he was
chained to the spot in stupid impotence.
At times he would wish to call Bernardo and with thunderous violence
pour torrents of insult upon his head. But what end would that serve?
Felix's treacherous, cowardous nature counselled him to have prudence.
So, on the first days after the arrest, when the mulatto would go by,
the old man feigned slumber. Then, in the continuing uncertainty as to
what method of vengeance to pursue, and in order not to let his hatred
betray itself, he spoke to the policeman as if nothing had happened.
Nevertheless there was one thing that puzzled him greatly: his daughter
had said nothing to him about the entire affair. Did she know nothing
about it? It was almost impossible that the mulatto, with his
chatterbox habits, had not spoken of the matter. Had his daughter
feared to shock him with the news? This was all the less probable since
she had never had any particular love for him. Scarcely did a day pass
that she did not call him a good-for-nothing, a lazy lout, and
other similar tendernesses. So he breathed not a word, and continued to
ruminate upon his vengeance.
Months rolled on. Far from getting better the illness increased. As
soon as the old fellow tried to move, horrible pains seized him at
every joint. His daughter maltreated him, and at the height of his
attacks she would reply to his complaints that he'd do better if he
left the house, and she even threatened to send him to the hospital. It
was now June. The weather was one long succession of heavy rains; the
invalid suffered atrociously from the cold and the damp, and his
daughter, disgruntled at the bad weather, which interfered with her
washing, lived in unbroken sulkiness. She treated him worse than a dog,
and it was truly with the patience of a dog that he endured everything,
so much did he fear being sent away. A plan of vengeance had arisen in
his brain, and slowly, during the months, ever since he had learned
that his case was incurable, his project had absorbed his entire mental
activity,indeed, his whole existence. He breathed only for his plan,
for the sure, propitious opportunity.
At last it came, and a terrible day it was. At dusk his daughter had
left, closing the door, as was her habit, and had not returned at
night. The old man was parched with thirst and his physical torture had
doubled. He resolved upon quick action.
In the morning,it might have been about seven o'clockhis
daughter returned, or rather, rolled into the room, and with her,
pell-mell came Jane", Bernardo's friend. Jane was roundly berating
his daughter. You rotten thing! she cried. I'll show you! Trying to
take away somebody else's man. And the two women came to blows,
rousing the entire neighborhood. They tried at last to separate the
combatants, but it would have been easier to break them to bits, so
fiercely did they struggle against each other. There was a whistle; the
police arrived, and the women were taken to the lock-up. All this as
quick as a flash.
The old man had not had time to utter a word. But an extreme rage,
blind,an anger such as only savage beasts can know, overpowered him.
What! His daughter, the mistress of Bernardo! This was the last straw!
Towards noon the mulatto came back. He had spent the night away from
home, under the pretext of a special patrol; he returned, ignorant of
the morning's events. He came in smiling, in that measured walk of his,
waddling along. He approached Felix and asked him the classic question:
Now then, how goes it?
Felix did not reply and merely made a sign with his hand. The
policeman entered. When he had come near, Felix said to him in a low
voice that he had something very serious to tell him. But first of all
he insisted that Bernardo go and bring his large knife.
Why that, Felix? What do you want to do with a knife? asked the
The old man smiled mysteriously. Quick, my boy, I'll tell you
afterwards, and you'll see that my story will be worth the trouble.
All right, I'll get it, replied the officer. And a minute later he
was back with the knife, which he gave to the invalid.
Now, continued the latter, go and close the door, so that nobody
will hear. Close it well, and turn the key.
Bernardo felt some mistrust at all this mystery, but knowing for
certain that the helpless old man could do him no harm, he obeyed,
curiously waiting to learn what the other was up to.
So, you want to tell me now?Not yet! Here, first put this watch
in your pocket. And the old man drew from his pocket an ancient nickel
watch which he gave to the cabra.
What am I to do with this, Felix? asked the mulatto.
Keep it, I tell you, was the reply.
The old duffer is crazy for sure, thought Bernardo, nevertheless
doing as he was told. Then, seeing in what manner the invalid had
grasped the knife he discreetly withdrew a few paces.
Well, almost immediately Felix made a sudden movement that caused
his pain to increase anew, and he began to groan, to utter most
terrible cries, almost shrieks.
I am dying! I am dying!
Bernardo had never heard such awful groaning; his mistrust grew,
and, seeing that the old man still clutched the knife, he thought the
invalid would kill him if he should attempt to approach. He therefore
again stepped back a few paces and awaited developments, persuaded that
he had a lunatic in front of him. The groaning became louder and
louder, so that it was easily to be heard outside. Finally, the
cabra, tired of waiting, said, I'll be back right away, Felix.
And he was about to leave.
Brusquely, the old man uncovered his own breast, and with a rapid
movement, right over the heart, he thrust in the blade with all his
might, up to the hilt. Not a drop of blood spurted out, the thick blade
obstructing the wound. His face convulsed with an expression of
excruciating torment; his hanging arms grew rigid.
The officer rushed to the door, opened it, called for help and
returned to pull the knife from the wound, and to see whether it was
yet possible to save the unfortunate man. Men and women, wildly
excited, ran up to the house crying loudly, and, seeing this man with a
long knife whence the blood was dripping, seeing also the pierced
breast of old Felix, the whole populace rushed upon Bernardo, disarmed
him, crying Kill him! Kill him! Bernardo was punched and kicked and
cudgelled from one infuriated person to the other in the crowd, and led
to the police-station by a multitude which every moment waxed greater
and more threatening.
Several months later the trial came to an end. Bernardo was
sentenced to hard labor for life. Nobody would believe his story. The
proofs were overwhelming. Had he not been caught red-handed? The
presence of the nickel-watch in his pocket indicated sufficiently that
the motive of the crime was robbery. The vengeance of old Felix had
been well calculated: the result was there. The old man had conquered.
THE PIGEONS. By Coelho Netto
Member Brazilian Academy of Letters
When the pigeons leave, misfortune follows.
When Joanna appeared at the door yawning, fatigued after the long
sleepless night spent at her son's bedside, Triburcio, on the terrace,
leaning against his spade, was watching the pigeon-house closely.
The sun was already setting and gilded the moist leaves. At the edge
of the ravine, turtle-doves and starlings were circling in the air,
making a joyous noise above the high branches of the neighboring trees.
The caboclo Indian did not remove his eyes from the
pigeon-house. The wrinkles on his forehead bore witness to an inner
struggle, grave thoughts which were clouding his spirit. A pigeon
took to flight, then another, and still another; he turned his head,
following them with his gaze until they were out of sight, and then
returned to his melancholy contemplation.
 Caboclo signifies copper-colored. Indigenous tribes of
are so called from the color of their skin.
The birds came and went, entered the pigeon-house and left in
agitated manner, cooing loudly; they circled above the dwelling, sought
the trees, alighted on the thatch of the cabin, descended to earth in
Some seemed to be getting their bearings, to seek a route: they
gazed across the clear stretches of space and penetrated to the distant
horizons. Others would fly off, describing vast circles, and would
return to the pigeon-house. Then all would come together as if for a
discussion, to plan their departure.
Some, undecided, opened their wings as if about to fly away, but
soon would close them again. Still others would dart off, only to come
back aimlessly, and the noise increased to a hubbub of hurried leaving.
The Indian gazed fixedly. Well he knew that the life of his little
son was at stake, and depended upon the decision of the birds. When
the pigeons leave, misfortune quickly follows.
Joanna noticed his preoccupation. What is the matter? she asked.
The caboclo scratched his head and made no reply. The woman
insisted. What is the trouble, Tiburcio?
The pigeons have taken a whim into their heads, Joanna.
And you are lost in the contemplation of it? I have not cared to
speak, but I know well the meaning of what I see.
The caboclo slung the spade across his shoulder and walked
slowly up the road that led to the plantation, through the wet hay
which exhaled a piquant odor.
Some hens were clucking, hidden in the high grass, and a little
ribbon of water which flowed gently along sparkled here and there
through the openings in the brushwood.
Tiburcio, head bowed, spade on his shoulder, could not shake off the
deep impression that had been made upon him by the sudden migration of
It was the fatal sign.
To be sure, he had heard the owl's screech for many and many a
night; but he had seen no cause for fear in this: everything was going
along nicely; their little son was in good health and they, too, knew
no illness. But now the warning of the evil omen was confirmed. The
pigeons which he had himself brought up were flying away. They were
leaving, thus forecasting the arrival of death.
He turned back; he raised his eyes. There were the birds high above,
still circling about, and Joanna was at the threshold of the cabin,
leaning against the jamb, her arms crossed, her head hanging. The poor
woman was surely weeping.
Within him he felt a mute explosion of hatred and revolt against the
ungrateful birds. Never had he had the courage to kill a single one of
them. He lived only for the purpose of keeping the pigeon-house in
order, thinking only of making it larger so that it might accommodate
more pairs. And the little child, was it not he who crushed the millet
for the fledglings, who climbed the mango-tree, going from branch to
branch to see whether there wasn't some crack through which the rain
came in? Who knows? Perhaps the pigeons were leaving their dwelling
because they no longer saw him?
He shrugged his shoulders and continued on his way. As he crossed
the dam his heart palpitated wildly. He stopped. The water, held back
in its course, threw back a motionless reflection of him. But although
he looked down upon it he saw not his image; his thoughts were entirely
with the little child who, burning with fever, was in delirium.
He chose a side path. The millet stems were so high that he
disappeared within them with a crumpling of dry leaves. The soft
ant-hills which it was his daily custom to level off failed to attract
his attention. He walked straight on. Parrots flew by, chattering, with
their green wings shining in the sun, and huge grasshoppers were
jumping in the leaves.
He came upon a straw hut,here the child was wont to play with its
toys;there was even now a boot of wild sugar-cane. But already the
grass was beginning to invade the abandoned shelter.... For a month the
little child had not visited the place. When the father came to the
field of manioc he sat down, bent almost in two. The spade weighed upon
his shoulders like a burden. The strength had oozed out of his legs.
His whole body was broken with fatigue, as if at the end of a long
journey. He sat down upon a hillock and began to trace lines upon the
earth, with a distraught air.
At times it seemed as if he heard the echo of his wife's voice. He
would raise his head and strain his ears to catch the sound. But only
the rustling of the leaves stirred by the breeze and the chirping of
the insects in the sun came to him. All earth seemed to perspire. A
diaphanous vapor rose tremblingly from the hot soil; the leaves hung
languidly, and through the intense blueness of the sky passed some
urubus in search of distant lodgings.
 Urubu: the black vulture of South America.
Suddenly a pigeon winged through the air, then another, and still
another. They were leaving ... they were leaving!... A beating of
wings,more on the way. They would never return, never! They were
fleeing in horror, feeling the approach of death.
For a long time he gazed about him, but could see only the rich
verdure waving to the wind in the warm transparency of the atmosphere.
He should have taken his child to town as soon as the illness had
appeared. But who could have foretold this? He raised his eyes to
heaven and they lingered upon the luminous azure; then came another
pigeon. He shook his head and, striking his fist against his thigh,
slung his spade back upon his shoulder and turned in the direction of
When Joanna saw him on the terrace she appeared to divine his
It is well you returned, my dear! All alone here I am at a loss as
to what to do.
He looked at the pigeon-house, saw that it was deserted, and
ominously silent. As evening fell Tiburcio sat down upon the threshold
of the cabin and began to smoke, waiting for the pigeons. The
grasshoppers were shrilling; all the birds who had their nests in the
tree nearby retired and, as it was still light, they lingered in the
branches to trill their good-night cadences.
The sky grew pale. The landscape was veiled in a light mist. The
evening breeze scattered the gentle odor of lilies. Not very far off a
dog barked now and then. At times a grave lowing saddened the silence.
Tiburcio did not remove his eyes from the pigeon-house, unless it was
to pierce the shadows and try to discover in the distance one of the
birds. Perhaps some of them would return.
Where could they find a better shelter? The forest was full of
dangers and domestic pigeons could scarcely live in the brushwood. What
other pigeon-roost could have attracted them? If he had but followed
the line of their flight ... Some had taken the direction of the
fields, others had flown towards the mountains, and there was no sign
of any returning.
It was now quite dark. Joanna lighted a candle. Already the frogs
were croaking in the marshes. A star shone in the sky. Tiburcio fixed
his gaze upon it and began to pray in low tones. The silence was
scarcely broken by the murmuring of the water as it ran and broke over
the stones in the ravine not far away, just behind the cabin.
Tiburcio sighed, arose, leaned against the jamb and lacked courage
to go inside. Joanna came near the door.
The same thing, he replied.
He stepped down, called her, and together they went towards the
terrace. Near the mango-tree, directly under the pigeon-house, they
stopped, and the Indian, as if in fear of being heard by the child,
asked softly, Joanna, don't you know any prayers for this? And he
pointed to the deserted pigeon-roost.
Only Lina knows, she answered.
She can pronounce the proper spells?
So they say.
Tiburcio stood as if in a dream. Suddenly, in a firm voice, he
announced, I am going to her.
Certainly!... Haven't you just said that she was a sorceress?
I have never seen it, Tiburcio.... That's what people say.
I? No. And I am afraid that it is too late. You have seen your self
how far gone he is! He is no longer interested in anything. I move
about, I speak, I go here and there, I come back again into the
room,but it is all nothing to him. Ah! God in heaven!
Her voice died out Suddenly she melted into tears. Tiburcio withdrew
and commenced to pace slowly up and down the terrace. The white moon
was rising. The fields became less obscure and, in the light, the
shadows of the trees, very black, stretched across the ground.
Patience, dear woman, patience!
The strident crickets were chirping. The caboclo murmured,
Yes, I know ...
Of a sudden Joanna shuddered. Quivering she turned towards the
cabin, from whose wide door shone a ray of livid light; for a moment
her astonished gaze lingered and then, with a bound she was gone.
Tiburcio, motionless, without understanding what his wife had just
done, quietly awaited her return, when a piercing cry rang out. The
caboclo rushed to the cabin and made for the room where the candle
was burning. The woman, on her knees before the little bed, leaning
over the child, was sobbing desperately.
What has happened, Joanna?
She gave a hoarse cry and threw her arms across the corpse of her
Look! It's all over!
She bent down, her face brushed a cheek that was burning; her
trembling hands felt a little body that was still aflame. She touched
the sunken chest, where the ribs showed through like laths, and the
Listen to his heart, Tiburcio!
He could only reply, It is all over!
The mother arose with a leap, disfigured, her hair dishevelled, her
eyes sparkling. She tried to speak, stretched her hands out to her
husband, but fell limp upon a basket and, bowed down, bathed in tears,
she began to repeat the name of her son with an infinite tenderness
that was rent by sobs.
My Luiz! My little Luiz! But a moment ago living, oh blessed
Tiburcio turned away and in the room, before the table, he stopped,
his eyes wandering, his lips trembling, the tears rolling in big drops
down his bony face. Joanna left the chamber, wavering as if drunk, and
seeing him, threw herself into his arms; he held her without uttering a
word, and they stood thus in embrace for a long time, in the dark,
narrow room where the crickets were chirping.
Joanna went back to the chamber. Tiburcio remained leaning against
the table, his eyes fixed upon the candle which flickered in the
breeze. Slowly the light of the moon came in, white, climbing upon the
walls. He arose with a sigh, went to the door, sat down upon the
threshold, lighted his pipe and looked leisurely out upon the country,
which was growing brighter beneath the moon. Suddenly it seemed to him
that he heard the cooing of pigeons. Above, the stars were shining, the
tree tops glittered in the moonlight. Could it be an illusion?
Motionless, he concentrated his attention. The cooing continued. He
arose impetuously, walked straight to the pigeon-roost and leaned
against the trunk of the mango-tree.
Could it be the pigeons who were returning after the passing of
death? he began to mutter in fury, replying to his thoughts. Now it's
too late! A curse upon them!
A beating of wings, a tender cooing, and little cries came from the
pigeon-house. There was no doubt now. He went forward and, from the
middle of the terrace watched the pigeon-house, walking resolutely
towards the cabin.
Joanna was sobbing hopelessly. He took the candle, went to the
kitchen, and seeing the axe in a corner he seized it, still muttering.
He then turned back to the terrace and, having reached the mango-tree,
rolled up the sleeves of his coarse shirt so that he might swing the
At the first blow against the post which supported the pigeon-house
the birds grew still. Tiburcio redoubled his efforts. A crack now
weakened the structure, but still it resisted. He leaned the axe
against the trunk and, grasping the branches, raised himself to the top
of the tree. From there he supported himself between two boughs and
gave the large box a furious kick. The pigeon-roost fell shattered to
Two pigeons flew off in great fright, dazed. Uncertain of their
direction in the clearness of the night, they lit upon the roof of the
The caboclo slid down lightly along the trunk and saw two
little bodies who were whining, staggering, dragging themselves along.
They were two little pigeons. He bent over them, took them in his hands
and began to examine them. They were ugly, still without wings, having
only a thin down to cover the muscles of their soft, wrinkled bodies.
The Indian turned them over this way and that in his shrivelled hands.
He felt their fragile bones, and the little things struggled to fly
away, moving the stumps of their wings; they stretched out their necks
Gnashing his teeth, Tiburcio squeezed the fledglings and crushed
them. Their tender bones cracked like bits of wood. The blood gushed
forth and trickled, warm, through the tightened fingers of the man.
Under the impulse of his fury he threw them to the ground; they
flattened out, soft as rotten fruit. And the caboclo, growling
to himself, trampled upon them. The parent-birds were cooing dolorously
upon the thatched roof, flying hither and thither.
Joanna, embracing her dead child, was still sobbing when Tiburcio
entered the chamber. He stopped before the little bed, and looked down.
Of a sudden the woman shook, arose with a start, seized her husband's
arm, her eyes distended and her mouth wide open, her head bending over
as if to hear voices, faraway sounds.
What is it, Joanna? What is the matter with you?
In terror she stammered reply. The pigeons, dear husband. Don't you
It was their sad cooing that came from the roof of the house. They
are returning! Who knows? He is yet warm! she cried.
And in the heart of the woman arose a great hope.
Tiburcio shrugged his shoulders.
Now it's their turn to mourn! he answered. They are sobbing, like
us. It's a pair that remained behind because of the little ones. I
dashed the pigeon-house to earth, I have killed the fledglings. See!
And he showed his bloody hands.
They flew away; they're on the house. Do you want to see?
He went out; she followed. They walked to the terrace. Tiburcio
pointed to the ruined pigeon-house. Then he grasped the crushed bodies
of the little birds. Look!
Without breathing a word Joanna looked on. In her horror she had
stopped weeping. She gazed upon her husband, whose burning eyes flashed
fire. He threw the first little pigeon upon the roof bellowing, 'T is
He threw the second.
'T is well! he repeated.
The pigeons, frightened, flew off into the dark foliage.
'T is well, he said once more.
Joanna, dumb, terrified, could not remove her eyes from her husband,
who was now crying with sobs, his opened hands stained with blood.
Come, dear husband. It was the will of God. Our little son is in
heaven! And slowly she heartened him. They entered their cabin and,
before the pallet of the dead child, the tears gushed from their eyes,
while, on the roof above, the pigeons, who had returned, were cooing
AUNT ZEZE'S TEARS. By Carmen Dolores
(Emilia Moncorva Bandeira de Mello, 1852-1910)
Pale and thin, for eighteen years she had lived with her youngest
sister, who had married very early and now possessed five children: two
young ladies of marriageable age, a third still in short dresses, and
two little boys.
Maria-José, whose nickname was Zézé, had never been beautiful or
winning. Upon her father's death it was thought best that she should go
to live with her sister Engracigna's family. Here she led a monotonous
existence, helping to bring up her nephews and nieces, who were born in
that young and happy household with a regularity that brooked small
intervals between the births.
A long, pointed nose disfigured her face, and her lips, extremely
thin, looked like a pale crack. Her thoughtful gaze alone possessed a
certain melancholy attractiveness. But even here, her eyes, protruding
too far for the harmony of the lines upon her face seemed always to be
red, and her brows narrow and sparse.
Of late, an intricate network of wrinkles as fine as hairs, had
formed at the corner of her eyes. From her nose, likewise, two furrows
ran along the transparent delicacy of her skin and reached either side
of her mouth. When she smiled, these wrinkles would cover her
countenance with a mask of premature age, and threatened soon to
disfigure her entirely. And yet, from habit, and through passive
obedience to routine, Maria-José continued to dress like a young girl
of eighteen, in brightly colored gowns, thin waists and white hats that
ill became her frail and oldish face.
She would remain for a long time in painful indecision when it was a
matter of picking out some piece of goods that was of too bright a red
or blue,as if instinctively she understood the disharmony of these
hues with her age, whose rapid oncoming they moreover placed in all the
more noticeable contrast. And at such times Engracigna and her
daughters would say to her with a vehemence whose effect they little
guessed, Why, Zézé! Buy something and be done with it!... How silly!
Do you want to dress like a widow? What a notion!
And at bottom they meant it.
None of them saw Maria-José as she really was. Living with her day
by day had served to efface the actual appearance of the faded old
maid. For, in the minds of the mother and her daughters, who were
moreover of a frivolous and indifferent sort, Zézé had grown to be the
type, very vague, to be sure, but the eternal type of young girl of
marriagable years who always should be well dressed and smiling.
When she would be out walking with her nieces, of sixteen and
seventeen years, who wore the same clothes as she herself did, but
whose graceful and lively charm became their gay colors of youth so
well, Zézé's intelligence saw only too plainly the contrast between her
and them; she would hold aloof from the laughing set, morose, wounded,
as if oppressed by an unspeakable shame.
Ah! Who can depict the secret chagrin of an old maid who sees pass
by in useless monotony her dark, loveless, despairing days, without
hope even of some event of personal interest, while about her moves the
busy whirl of happier creatures whose life has but one goal, who feel
emotions and tendernesses, and who look upon her simply as an obscure
accessory in the household's affairs! They all loved her, of course,
but not one of them suspected that she, too, could cherish those
aspirations that are common to all human beings.
Her self-denial seemed to be a most natural thing; indeed, they
hardly considered her in the light of a living person; she was no
longer of any consequence.
This was an attitude that satisfied the general egotism of the
family, and to which they all had grown accustomed, never suspecting
the grievous aspect of her sacrifice which was hidden by a sentiment of
So, when they would go to the theatre, and the box held only
fiveEngracigna, her husband, Fabio, and the three young
ladies,Maria-José knew beforehand that her sister, snugly wrapped in
her opera-cloak, would come to her and say gently, in that purring
voice of hers: You'll stay at home with the children tonight, won't
you, Zézé? Little Paul isn't very well, and I wouldn't think of leaving
him with anybody else....
And she would remain behind, without betraying the revolt within her
which, upon each occasion of these evidences of selfishness, would make
the anemic blood in her veins tremble with agitation.
Alone in the dining-room she would ply her needle mechanically,
while her nephews would amuse themselves with the toys scattered upon
the table,colored pictures and lead soldiers. Every other moment they
would call her.
Aunt Zézé, look at George pinching me!
I am not! Paul hit me first!...
And the good aunt would quiet them. Then, after both had been put to
sleep in their little twin beds, she would rest her elbows upon the
window-sill of her gloomy old-maid's room, and placing both hands
beneath her sharp chin, her gaze directed towards heaven, she would
lose herself in contemplation of the stars that shone in the limpid
sky, less lonely, surely, than she upon earth. In vain did her eyes
seek in the eyes of another that expression of sympathy and tenderness
which alone would console her....
The truth is that Maria-José was suffering from the disappointment
of unrequited passion. She had fallen in love with Monjardin, a poet
and great friend of her brother-in-law, Fabio. Monjardin came to the
house every Sunday.
Older than she, almost forty, but having preserved all the
attractiveness of youth,a black moustache, a vigorous, yet graceful
figure, eyes still bright, charming and wide-awake,Monjardin, without
knowing it, had conquered Zézé.
This had come about in a rather curious manner. Finding the
conversation of Fabio's wife and daughters too commonplace, Monjardin,
when he would recite some of his poems or tell some story connected
with his literary life, preferred to address Maria-José, whom he saw to
be of a serious and impressive nature.
Let's have another poem, please, Mr. Monjardin! she would ask in
supplicating tone. For instance, that one you call 'Regrets.' You
And then he would describe in his verse the grief of a heart,
disillusioned and broken by the cruelties of fate, that evoked in vain
the remembrance of yesterday's lost loves, vanished in the mists of
He recited these bitter griefs in a strong, healthy man's voice,
erect in the center of the parlor, looking mechanically, distractedly
at Maria-José with his dreamy eyes; the concentrated effort of his
memory brought to his face an involuntary immobility which Maria-José,
most deliciously touched, drank in.
The poet had announced that he had written a poem which he would
recite at Zézé's anniversary dinner. The date for this was but a few
days distant, and ever since the poet's announcement the whole family
had taken to teasing the old maid, christening her the muse of
inspiration, and asking her when the wedding would take place....
She smiled ingenuously; at such times her face would even take on an
air of unusual happiness; her features grew animated, less wrinkled and
On the day of the celebration Maria-José came out of her room
radiant with hope. At the belt of her white dress bloomed a rose; a
little blood, set pulsing by her agitated heart, brought a feeble color
to her marble cheeks, from which now protruded her long nose in a
manner less displeasing than usual.
See, mamma, remarked one of the nieces, doesn't Zézé look like a
young girl today?
They dined amidst merry chatter. Seated directly across from
Monjardin, Maria-José, hiding her glances behind the fruit-bowls that
covered the table, looked at him furtively without surfeit. Her poor
heart beat as if it would burst, waiting in agonized suspense for the
poem in which the poet, without doubt, was to declare his intimate
feelings for her. Monjardin had already pointed to his pocket as a
token that he had the verses with him, and Zézé had trembled with
gratification as she bashfully lowered her long face.
Champagne sparkled in the glasses and toasts were given. Several
guests of distinction spoke first, then followed the hosts and their
children,frolicsome little things. Finally Monjardin arose and
unfolded a manuscript, asking permission to declaim the verses which he
had composed in honor of Maria-José, the central figure of the
occasion. The guests greeted his remarks with noisy and enthusiastic
Engracigna and her daughters leaned over and cast malicious glances
in the direction of Maria-José, but she was paying no attention to
them. Her ears were buzzing; it seemed that everything was turning
Monjardin, the center of all eyes, made pompous preparation; he
pulled down his vest, arranged his sleeves and, in sonorous, cadenced
voice began to recite his alexandrines, scanning the lines impeccably.
His poem opened with a eulogy of the ineffable virtue, compounded of
self-abnegation and chastity, that distinguished the angelic creature
who, with her white tutelary wings, watched over the happiness of his
dear friend's love nest. He then recalled that the date of this day
commemorated the happy birth of a being of immaculate purity,
Maria-José, a veritable saint who had renounced all her own aspirations
so that she might consecrate herself entirely to the duties of her
sister's family; gentle figure of the mother-guardian, who would soon
be the beloved grandmother sharing with her sister the joys of younger
households which would soon be formed, offsprings of that home which
her devoted tenderness as aunt and sister at present cultivated. As he
came to a close, the poet raised his cup of sparkling wine and, in
exalted voice, drank to the health of Zézé amidst the loud huzzahs of
Long live Aunt Zézé! Hurrah for Aunt Zézé! cried the children,
glass in hand, while the nieces laughed loudly, blushing to the ears,
for they had understood very well the poet's reference to future
Fabio and his wife, their eyes somewhat brightened by the strong
champagne, proposed in turn their toast to Zézé.
Here's to Zézé and the eighteen happy years we've lived
Maria-José, as soon as she had seized the significance of
Monjardin's verses, had grown deathly pale; stricken by sudden
disillusionment, she felt a glacial chill overwhelm her body to the
very marrow; she feared that she would faint straightway and provide a
spectacle for the guests, who were all drinking her health, their eyes
focussed upon her. A veil of tears spread before her sight.... In vain
she tried to repress them, to force a smile of thanks upon her face.
The smile wrinkled into a dolorous grimace; she succeeded only in
convulsing her contracted visage with the sobs that she sought to
restrain. Overcome at last, humiliated, powerless, she broke into
tears, and this unforeseen denouement put an end at once to all the
pleasure of the dinner.
Zézé! Zézé! What ails you?...
Engracigna had rushed to her side in alarm; everyone rose, seeking
the reason for the outburst; they surrounded the poor creature, whose
head had sunk upon the table, in the midst of the rose petals, the
fruits and the glasses which were strewn in charming confusion.
What is the trouble?...
A nervous attack, perhaps?... Confusion produced in her by the
Finally they raised Maria-José's head and bathed it in cool water;
whereupon the face of the poor old maid stood revealed in all the
ugliness that her spasms of convulsive weeping cast over it, with her
large aquiline nose, her protruding eyes and her livid lips ...
And now Monjardin drew near. Delicately raising the icy fingers of
Maria-José he lifted them to the edge of his perfumed moustache and
placed upon them a grateful kiss; then, turning to Engracigna's
daughters he said, with a solemn, self-complacent tone, Aunt Zézé's
tears are the most beautiful homage that could be rendered to my poor