Category Archives: Artur Azevedo

From Portuguese: The Prettiest Girl in Rio, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A moça mais bonita do Rio de Janeiro, which was published in Contos cariocas in 1928.)

I

t was 1875. In a small house in the suburb of Engenho Novo lived the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, together with her parents. Because she was born on the second of May, she’d been given the name of Mafalda at the baptismal font, simply because it was the feast of St Mafalda; but no one knew her by that name – ever since she’d been little, everyone in the house had called her Fadinha, a diminutive and corruption of Mafalda, meaning Little Fairy. And those three syllables suited her well because, when she was eighteen, she possessed all the charms that the faries have, or should have; and in her extraordinary beauty there really was something supernatural and magic.

Coffee-coloured – but that sort of fluid coffee colour that only Murillo could find on his wonderful palette – with dark, twinkling eyes, dilated nostrils, big but elegantly contoured lips that opened, once in a while, to reveal the most beautiful teeth, with abundant, slightly wavy hair as dark as her eyes, always arranged in an untidy, but aesthetically pleasing way so as to give a glimpse of her little ears, which were so faultlessly designed that it would have been a crime to cover them, and with all these aspects completing each other in the oval harmony of her face, there could be no doubt that Fadinha would win first prize by the unanimous decision of the most rigorous jury if it had only occurred to someone, in those days, to run a beauty contest in Rio de Janeiro. The rest of her body was a fitting complement to her head: slim, without being tall, robust without being fat, and her figure represented an extraordinary correctness of line. Her hands and feet were exemplary.

Perhaps you’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say that, in addition to these physical gifts, her character was outstanding; but the truth is, she was good, affectionate, submissive and understanding. She had a touch of vanity, I admit, but which other woman wouldn’t, were she so pretty?

However, there were two things she regretted: having been born on the second of May and thus being called Mafalda, when she could have been born on the tenth of July and been called Amélia – and not having been born rich, very rich, so as to enhance her beauty even more. Nevertheless, she cheerfully resigned herself to the precarious situation of being the daughter of a very poor public servant. Yes, that’s how it was, because her father, Raposo, had reached the age of fifty as a simple clerk at the secretariat and found himself obliged to supplement his wages by doing the books in a bakery or a shop or a pawn brokers. And his sedentary life caused him to become enormously fat. Dr Souto, the family doctor, used to say ‘Raposo is an apoplexy waiting to happen.’

Fadinha wasn’t the only child: she had an older brother who’d got a place in business, and another who was still very young and was studying to be a doctor, because his father considered him ‘the talented one.’

Their mother was forty-five years old and didn’t look anything like her daughter. I don’t know what physiological phenomenon caused this splendid specimen, this sculptural creature, this impossible beauty, to issue forth from such an ugly couple (because Raposo, poor fellow, was another one who’d not been blessed by nature)! Note also that the two boys were equally ugly, particularly the future doctor, who was big nosed, big-eared, rickety, anaemic, insignificant.

Not content with dedicating part of her existence to the saints of her private oratory, Sra. Firmina – the name of Fadinha’s mother – would constantly be visiting churches to adore yet more saints; but, despite all that piety, she could not forgive her daughter for being beautiful and was deeply bitter about the singular monopoly the girl had received from nature, as if it were something scandalous; nevertheless, all her hopes for good luck and better times resided in her daughter. Given that a prince didn’t come into the equation, her dream was to be the mother-in-law of a rich man. If Raposo hadn’t been a proper head of family, this woman would have dominated him, usurping all domestic authority; fortunately he put his foot down and wouldn’t agree to anything he didn’t like.

But our Fadinha has a boyfriend. It’s time to introduce him to the reader.

II

B

eautiful as she was, she had no shortage of admirers, of all ages and categories. Many decamped to Engenho Novo from the city centre just for the pleasure of contemplating her, many of them out of simple curiosity, many others spurred on by the vague hope of a promise hidden in a smile or a glance. It could be said that, for a long time, Fadinha’s famous beauty contributed to the increase in the profitability of the suburban trains and to the hustle and bustle of the district, which had a much smaller population in those days. Many of those admirers got as far as speaking, declaring their intentions to be of the purest, and among them were some who really were worthy of marrying Fadinha; she, however, rebuffed them all, with the greatest delicacy and composure.

One day, Raposo invited Remígio to come to his house for dinner. Remígio was his colleague, a good lad, employed in the same section in which Raposo carried out his official functions. This Remígio was one of the stars of the secretariat, a paragon of dedication, intelligence and assiduity, an official with ‘a very promising future,’ as everyone said; but he was neither good-looking nor elegant, nor was there anything else exceptional about his exterior. But, of all those who passed in front of Fadinha’s beautiful eyes, this was the only man who merited her attention. Accredited, wealthy traders, well-placed functionaries, lawyers, doctors, officials of the Army and Navy etc. – all of them had to give way, in Fadinha’s heart, to this pallid, clumsy, badly dressed amanuensis who earned just 166.666 reais a month.

The young lady seemed anxious to let her heart speak; she immediately gave Remígio to understand that it would be he – among her numerous admirers – who would be victorious. The clerk, who was modest by nature, and had never even dreamt that he’d marry the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, was amazed by this preference that he’d never sought, and duly fell head over heels in love with Fadinha.

No sooner had the first symptoms of that love appeared than there was a commotion in the home. Sra. Firmina had seen the danger approaching and, after breakfast one day, when her husband was getting ready to leave the house and drag his obesity to the train station, she told him of her fears; but Raposo, who had a fatherly affection for Remígio, and didn’t look at all askance at the prospect of his marrying Fadinha, merely smiled and said:

‘It’s only natural they should be attracted to each other and get married.’

‘You mean that seriously?’

‘What a question! Of course I do! Who could possibly say Remígio isn’t worthy of our little girl!’

‘He’s a clerk!’

‘And what am I?.. And what was I when we went to the church?.. Fadinha will marry whoever she likes; if she prefers a clerk to a government minister, so be it! She doesn’t want to be rich, which is a good thing, because money doesn’t bring happiness. And anyway, Remígio isn’t some poor devil lugging all his possessions around in a carpetbag; his father left him a bit; he’s got two or three little houses, some insurance policies and, most importantly, lots of common sense. He’s so highly thought of in the secretariat I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not head of section in five years’ time. Even if you go looking with Diogenes’s lamp, you won’t find a better son-in-law.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense! Our daughter is very pretty and…’

‘Off you go again about how pretty our daughter is! That means nothing, absolutely nothing! She’s very pretty, that she is, but she hasn’t got two cents to rub together, and if she was forced to marry some rich fellow the marriage would look more like a business deal than anything else. Anyway, it would be embarrassing for us: we could hardly be poorer. Damn it! I don’t want to speculate with my daughter’s beauty, and I don’t want to make her unhappy by opposing her wishes. I might have expected you, being so religious, to agree with me…’

‘But we could make Fadinha see that…’

‘That’s enough! It’s clear we’re not going to see eye-to-eye about this. In my opinion, Remígio is an excellent fellow, and I don’t see any reason why our little girl should want someone else!’

‘But…’

‘No buts! We’ll let her decide, because – and I want you to mark my words – Fadinha won’t marry who you or me want her to marry; she’ll marry the man she chooses of her own free will, whether he’s a clerk, a tradesman, the Tsar of Russia or the Shah of Persia!..’

‘I…’

‘Not one word more, Firmina! You know very well this house isn’t Gonçalo’s! Under this roof, no voice will be louder than mine!’

‘But you’re talking twaddle!’

‘Twaddle?!.. Twaddle?!.. How dare you say that to me?!..’

‘Yes, I do… Twaddle! I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle in this house.’

‘In that case, why don’t you put on my trousers and I’ll put on your skirt! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m going to tell Remígio today that our little girl is his!..’

‘But I’m telling you she can’t be! I want good fortune for my daughter!’

‘Don’t lie!.. What you want is good fortune for yourself, not for her! Don’t force me to say what I think, because if I do I’ll create such a scene as you never ever saw!’

And Raposo forced himself, with difficulty, to whisper, so as not be heard by others in the house:

‘You never thought as much of her as you should have; you never loved her, never gave her a real mother’s love!.. And now you want to sell her… That’s good!.. I’m going to tell Remígio this very day!..’

‘This is scandalous! I know I’m her mother. Can you be sure you’re her father?..’

‘Eh?!.. What do you mean?..’

Raposo squared up to Sra. Firmina, but the blood rushed up to his head, his eyes and his mouth opened unnaturally wide, he waved his arms about and fell as if hit by lightning.

By the time Dr Souto arrived, having been summoned urgently, he was already dead.

‘Didn’t I say he was an apoplexy waiting to happen!’

III

R

emígio showed himself to be a real gentleman: he asked Sra. Firmina to let him take care of the funeral, and neither she nor the children have ever found out, right up until today, how much it all cost.

This great kindness, together with the bitter tears the young man shed over his old colleague’s corpse, enhanced Fadinha’s feelings for him even more; now it wasn’t just affection, it was also gratitude that drew those two hearts together. After Raposo’s death, they both felt like orphans, and this equivalence in their situations cemented still further the mutual sympathy that had taken hold of them.

Sra. Firmina didn’t have a word of thanks for such kindness, but Remígio attributed this omission to the extremity of the widow’s grief, which she demonstrated through unending tears and groans. When the funeral took place, it needed three men to pull her away from the coffin and, seven days later, when the mass was over, she had such a violent attack of nerves in the sacristy of the church of São Francisco de Paulo that it seemed her last hour had arrived.

Nor did the boys, neither the student, nor the one employed in business, thank Remígio for arranging the funeral and the mass; it was as if everyone in the house considered it his duty.

Or rather, not everyone: Fadinha praised his generosity at every turn, but her words, to which no one replied, were heard with indifference by her mother and brothers.

The older one, Alexandre, a lad of twenty-two, who worked for Baron Moreira’s firm, felt flattered beyond words by the fact that his boss had deigned to attend the funeral personally. He could scarcely believe his eyes when, in an aisle of the church, he came across the Baron standing there, holding his hat behind his back with one hand, with his head raised, examining closely a portrait by Fragoso of one of the benefactors of the religious order. At first, the counter clerk assumed the Baron had come to attend some other mass but, despite his sadness, he felt as pleased as Punch when, once the ceremony had begun, the nobleman took his place among those who had come to pay their last respects to the deceased Raposo.

When the mass was over and the priest, accompanied by his acolyte, had returned to the sacristy, genuflecting at every altar along the way, the Baron was the first to embrace Alexandre, who was standing near his mother.

‘Courage! We all have to pass through these trials… That’s how it goes…’

‘Thank you, Baron.’

‘I don’t know your family – would you introduce me to the ladies?’

It wasn’t possible to introduce the widow, because she was shedding an ocean of tears and didn’t have time for anything except her spectacular grief; but the Baron, stupefied by Fadinha’s beauty, gave her a long handshake.

‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘your brother is an employee of my firm, and I greatly appreciate those who serve me well. Please tell your mother that Baron Moreira is at her disposal for anything at all she may wish to request.’

‘Thank you very much, Baron Sir.’

This offer surprised Alexandre, who wasn’t used to his boss being friendly – although the Baron was still young, he was humourless, severe, cold, proud of his education, his elegance, his title and his wealth; in his subordinate humility, Alexandre imagined the Baron wouldn’t even say ‘Hello’ to him, were they to meet in the street; so he was duly amazed that this rich egoist should have come all the way from Botafogo to attend mass for an obscure clerk and should show so much interest in the family. This phenomenon will be explained, for the benefit of the reader, a little later.

When all those invited had left and the Raposo family remained alone in the sacristy, the two boys took their leave of their mother and sister: the older went off to his workplace, which is where he also had lunch, and the younger to the medical school: the exams were coming up and he couldn’t afford to miss lectures; he took lunch at Rocher de Cancalle, just off Ouvidor Street.

Remígio offered to accompany the ladies to Engenho Novo, but the widow who, in the absence of spectators, no longer looked so grief-stricken, gave him an ornate refusal: ‘No, sir; I don’t want to put you to that trouble; you need to go to your workplace too.’

Fadinha interrupted:

‘One day won’t make any difference. Come and have lunch with us, Remígio.’

‘I’ve already said “No”!’

The clerk bowed and accompanied the two ladies to their tilbury: he helped them enter and closed the door.

‘Come and visit us,’ said Fadinha sadly, and she waved him a delicate little ‘Adeus.’

For her part, Sra. Firmina didn’t utter a word; but when the tilbury had drawn away, in the direction of Teatro Street, she pronounced the following, with an indescribable look of anger in her eyes:

‘What you’re going to do now is forget all about that fellow! You don’t have your soft-brained father with you anymore! I’m the one who gives the orders now, do you understand?..’

IV

A

nd now for the explanation of the phenomenon:

Baron Moreira had come to the office earlier than usual and was enjoying a conversation with his friend Pimenta, who occasionally came to have a chat with him and to remember the good old days when they’d both been students at Vitório College.

Pimenta had also gone into business, but he hadn’t been as fortunate as his old colleague. Over the years, he’d worked for a large number of firms, but in none of them had he found the fortune his prodigious activity merited. Already over thirty, he still didn’t have a definitive position in business, but he’d always managed to do a bit of goods brokerage, and the resulting sales, through an intermediary, brought him a profitable return.

Fifteen years of employment in a haberdashery store in Ouvidor Street, which he’d left with his hopes and dreams unfulfilled, infuriated with his bosses, and none the richer, had at least bestowed on him unrivalled knowledge in two areas: that particular branch of business, and comings and goings in Rio de Janeiro. There was no event, scandalous or not, that Pimenta hadn’t stored away in his memory, and that he couldn’t avail himself of at an opportune moment.

He was a backbiter and, without that defect, he’d perhaps have been rich and free like Baron de Moreira, with no need to hawk samples, bills and gossip from door to door, up and down, sweating blood. Some people said: ‘Pimenta’s not a bad sort, if it wasn’t for his tongue’; others: ‘For all his being busy and clever, nothing seems to go right for him.’ But, as he was still single and didn’t have any family obligations, he put up with his ill-fortune cheerfully and contented himself with earning enough to live on without being a burden to his friends.

As I’ve already mentioned, on that day he’d appeared in Baron Moreira’s office for a bit of a chin-wag with his childhood friend and, if he was lucky, a free lunch.

They were both chatting when Alexandre entered the office to inform the Baron that he’d just received the news of his father’s sudden death and to ask for a few days of compassionate leave.

The Baron, who maintained an autocratic hauteur towards his firm’s employees, said, without lifting his eyes:

‘That’s a matter for Sr. Motta; have you spoken to him?’

‘Sr. Motta’s not in.’

‘Alright, you may go.’

And Alexandre left, without hearing a single word of condolence.

‘Do you know that employee?’ Pimenta asked the Baron.

‘No; it was my partner, Motto, who took him on; I think that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him; as you well know, I don’t generally pay much attention to the clerks.’

‘That’s why I asked if you know him.’

There was a pause.

‘In that case, you won’t have known his father, Raposo, who’s just died suddenly?’

‘No, I didn’t know him.’

‘And you don’t know that his sister’s the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro?’

‘No!’

‘How strange! You’ve never heard of Fadinha from Engenho Novo?’

‘I think, perhaps…’

‘Well, that’s her!’

‘And is she really pretty?’

‘What a question! She’s beautiful! She’s more than beautiful!.. Take my word for it!’

‘You’re whetting my appetite, damn it! How can I get to see her?’

‘Simple! Go to the mass of the seventh day. Because her brother works in your firm, you can use that as a pretext for offering your services to the family, right there in the church, and you’ll be able to get a close look at her.’

‘Good point. That’s the only way I could go to the mass for the father of Sr… what’s the boy’s name?’

‘Alexandre.’

And that’s how it came about that Baron Moreira appeared at the mass: simple sacrilegious curiosity.

When the aristocrat returned from the church, he found Pimenta waiting for him in the office.

‘Well?’

‘She isn’t the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, my friend, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world!..’

V

I

f Alexandre had been amazed to see Baron Moreira appear at the church, he was even more amazed when, from that day forward, his boss began treating him kindly and affably, which didn’t take long to turn into familiarity. He summoned him to help in all the office work, entrusted important tasks to him, let him handle large sums of money or take them to the bank and, one day when the young man was making the fair copy of a letter – a confidential letter, a very important letter –, his boss offered him one of his magnificent Havana cigars, with the words: ‘Have a puff, Alexandre.’

Motto, the Baron’s partner and his antithesis, being good company, affable, friendly towards the staff, was nonplussed and had no idea what could have caused this favouritism; but the book-keeper and the other clerks, who’d become jealous and had perhaps picked up a thing or two from Pimenta’s caustic remarks, murmured: ‘There’s nothing like having a pretty sister…’

The Baron was constantly asking for news of the family and showed great solicitousness for the widow, repeating, almost daily, his offer of help and friendship, in order to prevent, remove or resolve any difficulties resulting from old Raposo’s sudden demise. The lad couldn’t thank him enough and, when he got home, he’d tell his mother all the marks of kindness he’d received from his boss that day.

Perspicacious and crafty, Sra. Firmina soon realised it was the effect of Fadinha’s beauty that was causing the Baron to find every means he could of inveigling himself into the family; so one day she advised her son to invite him home and tell him that she, Sra. Firmina, was very grateful for all the Baron’s kindness and would be very happy if she could thank him personally.

She couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of Alexandre’s missive: the Baron wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity which, as we’ve seen, he’d been fishing for during the past two months. One fine Sunday he decided to go for lunch to Engenho Novo. To give extra solemnity to the visit, Sra. Firmina went to wait for him at the station, accompanied by her two sons, because Fadinha, knowing that the Baron was coming, had shut herself in her room on the pretext of a terrible migraine, and neither pleading nor chiding, neither kindness nor threats, could make her come out.

The girl was desperate: she hadn’t seen her dear Remígio for more than a month. Firmina and the boys were so rude to him that, understanding their wish to be rid of him, and seeing the impossibility of standing firm against that pack of ingrates, he did as they wanted, without, however, abandoning his marriage plans, because Fadinha was still the same and he considered her worthy, in all respects, of his affection and constancy.

‘They can do what they like, I’ll be yours, just yours – I promise you on the soul of my father! The more they constrain me, the more they offend you, the stronger, were it possible, will my love for you burn. I’m your betrothed!’

Uplifted by these ardent words, in which Fadinha had put all the energy of her soul, all the sincerity of her heart, Remígio waited resignedly for an opportunity to secure the rights that his love merited; but – it has to be said – his vacillating and timorous spirit didn’t have enough strength for the battle being fought against him. He really was in love, but he began silently to curse the singular beauty that turned Fadinha into an object to be coveted, a pledge of good fortune, a type of life assurance for a whole family. Notwithstanding the venerable Raposo’s last wish, his ultimate and sacred desire, Remígio was afraid that his insistence would bring disunity and disgrace to the family. Meanwhile, whenever she managed to escape her mother’s vigilance and write to him, Fadinha repeated over and over again her vehement promises of fidelity.

But let’s return to Baron Moreira who, at Engenho Novo station, in his light flannel suit, his white straw hat, his multi-coloured cravat, his bejewelled tie-pin and an enormous rose in his lapel, contrasted markedly with that matron and her two boys, who were dressed in the most severe mourning, so that even their cuffs and collars were black.

VI

W

hen he entered the Baron’s office the next day, Pimenta found him in a bad mood.

‘Well? Did you go?’

‘I did. I went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Engenho Novo is Rome and Fadinha is the Pope; do you understand now?’

‘You didn’t see her?’

‘As I’ve already said. She was unwell; she didn’t make an appearance.’

‘Really?’

‘How stupid is that? To have lunch with Sra. Firmina and her sons, and not even catch sight of her! “Have lunch” in a manner of speaking, because I didn’t eat anything. I was desperate!’

‘And what did the old woman say?’

‘She was even more annoyed than I was. I could see it in her eyes. She kept apologising for her daughter’s absence and telling me – but completely without conviction – that she really was unwell.’

‘You don’t think she was.’

‘Of course I don’t think so.’

‘You’ve got a rival.’

‘I thought as much.’

‘A serious rival. They told me everything this morning.’

And Pimenta told the Baron what the reader already knows: about the love of Remígio and Fadinha, old Raposo’s last wish, the kindness shown to the family, the opposition of Sra. Firmina and her sons, Remígio’s retreat – and he added:

‘The girl suspected they wanted to force her to marry you, and she shut herself in her room. So that’s how you went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘What’s your advice?’

‘Before I can answer that question, I need to know, first of all, what your intentions are.’

There was a long silence.

‘Do you like her?’

‘A lot. I liked her already and, after that wretched lunch, I liked her even more!’

‘Are you prepared to be her husband?’

There was another silence, even longer than the first.

‘If you don’t want to make her a baroness,’ Pimenta continued, ‘forget about her. Devil take it! She might well be happy with that Remígio, seeing he’s an honest fellow.’

‘But who told you my intentions weren’t good?’

‘You didn’t say anything…’

‘I didn’t say anything because marriage scares me. My liberty is so deliciously complete! Yes, I admit that marriage has never figured in my plans, but were it necessary…’

‘What do you mean, “were it necessary”? You haven’t been thinking that Fadinha could belong to you without the intervention of a priest?! The family is poor, but it’s just as respectable as yours! If you want to be her husband, fight for her and – perhaps – you’ll win her; if not, abandon an idea that’s unworthy of you!’

The Baron had a good, long look at the Havana cigar he was holding between his fingers, let the ashes fall into a spittoon, stuck the cigar in his mouth, stood up and announced resolutely, amid a cloud of cigar smoke:

‘I shall fight!’

When Pimenta left the office, he met Alexandre in the store and muttered to him in passing:

‘He’s going to marry her.’

TRANSLATIONS FROM PORTUGUESE

From Portuguese: Estanislau’s Widow, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A viúva do Estanislau, which was published in Contos ligeiros in 1974)

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A

after the death of her husband – poor Estanislau who’d been finally defeated by tuberculosis after a long and terrible struggle –,  it seemed that Adelaide would die as well. People said she loved her husband so much that she’d done everything possible to catch the same disease and lie near him in her grave. She got visibly thinner and everyone said that sooner or later God would grant her wish; but time, which smooths over and repairs everything, was stronger than the pain and, a year and a half later, Adelaide was rosier-cheeked and more beautiful than she’d ever been. Estanislau had left her destitute. The poor boy had not expected to have to put his things in order so soon or, to put it another way, had no way of preparing for the future. While he lived, nothing was lacking; after he died,  everything was lacking and Adelaide, who fortunately didn’t have children, accepted the hospitality offered by her parents. ‘Come and live with us again,’ the old couple said; ‘we’ll pretend you never married.’

Continue reading From Portuguese: Estanislau’s Widow, by Artur Azevedo

From Portuguese: Top Down, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story De cima para baixo)

 

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O

ne day the minister arrived in his office in a bad mood and immediately sent for the director general of the Secretariat.

The latter, as if propelled by an electric battery, promptly appeared before His Excellency, who received him with clenched fists.

“I’m furious!” the minister shouted. “I’ve just been humiliated in the presence of His Majesty the Emperor. And all because of you!”

Continue reading From Portuguese: Top Down, by Artur Azevedo

From Portuguese: The Prettiest Girl in Rio, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A moça mais bonita do Rio de Janeiro, which was published in Contos cariocas in 1928.)

I

t was 1875. In a small house in the suburb of Engenho Novo lived the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, together with her parents. Because she was born on the second of May, she’d been given the name of Mafalda at the baptismal font, simply because it was the feast of St Mafalda; but no one knew her by that name – ever since she’d been little, everyone in the house had called her Fadinha, a diminutive and corruption of Mafalda, meaning Little Fairy. And those three syllables suited her well because, when she was eighteen, she possessed all the charms that the faries have, or should have; and in her extraordinary beauty there really was something supernatural and magic.

Coffee-coloured – but that sort of fluid coffee colour that only Murillo could find on his wonderful palette – with dark, twinkling eyes, dilated nostrils, big but elegantly contoured lips that opened, once in a while, to reveal the most beautiful teeth, with abundant, slightly wavy hair as dark as her eyes, always arranged in an untidy, but aesthetically pleasing way so as to give a glimpse of her little ears, which were so faultlessly designed that it would have been a crime to cover them, and with all these aspects completing each other in the oval harmony of her face, there could be no doubt that Fadinha would win first prize by the unanimous decision of the most rigorous jury if it had only occurred to someone, in those days, to run a beauty contest in Rio de Janeiro. The rest of her body was a fitting complement to her head: slim, without being tall, robust without being fat, and her figure represented an extraordinary correctness of line. Her hands and feet were exemplary.

Perhaps you’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say that, in addition to these physical gifts, her character was outstanding; but the truth is, she was good, affectionate, submissive and understanding. She had a touch of vanity, I admit, but which other woman wouldn’t, were she so pretty?

However, there were two things she regretted: having been born on the second of May and thus being called Mafalda, when she could have been born on the tenth of July and been called Amélia – and not having been born rich, very rich, so as to enhance her beauty even more. Nevertheless, she cheerfully resigned herself to the precarious situation of being the daughter of a very poor public servant. Yes, that’s how it was, because her father, Raposo, had reached the age of fifty as a simple clerk at the secretariat and found himself obliged to supplement his wages by doing the books in a bakery or a shop or a pawn brokers. And his sedentary life caused him to become enormously fat. Dr Souto, the family doctor, used to say ‘Raposo is an apoplexy waiting to happen.’

Fadinha wasn’t the only child: she had an older brother who’d got a place in business, and another who was still very young and was studying to be a doctor, because his father considered him ‘the talented one.’

Their mother was forty-five years old and didn’t look anything like her daughter. I don’t know what physiological phenomenon caused this splendid specimen, this sculptural creature, this impossible beauty, to issue forth from such an ugly couple (because Raposo, poor fellow, was another one who’d not been blessed by nature)! Note also that the two boys were equally ugly, particularly the future doctor, who was big nosed, big-eared, rickety, anaemic, insignificant.

Not content with dedicating part of her existence to the saints of her private oratory, Sra. Firmina – the name of Fadinha’s mother – would constantly be visiting churches to adore yet more saints; but, despite all that piety, she could not forgive her daughter for being beautiful and was deeply bitter about the singular monopoly the girl had received from nature, as if it were something scandalous; nevertheless, all her hopes for good luck and better times resided in her daughter. Given that a prince didn’t come into the equation, her dream was to be the mother-in-law of a rich man. If Raposo hadn’t been a proper head of family, this woman would have dominated him, usurping all domestic authority; fortunately he put his foot down and wouldn’t agree to anything he didn’t like.

But our Fadinha has a boyfriend. It’s time to introduce him to the reader.

II

B

eautiful as she was, she had no shortage of admirers, of all ages and categories. Many decamped to Engenho Novo from the city centre just for the pleasure of contemplating her, many of them out of simple curiosity, many others spurred on by the vague hope of a promise hidden in a smile or a glance. It could be said that, for a long time, Fadinha’s famous beauty contributed to the increase in the profitability of the suburban trains and to the hustle and bustle of the district, which had a much smaller population in those days. Many of those admirers got as far as speaking, declaring their intentions to be of the purest, and among them were some who really were worthy of marrying Fadinha; she, however, rebuffed them all, with the greatest delicacy and composure.

One day, Raposo invited Remígio to come to his house for dinner. Remígio was his colleague, a good lad, employed in the same section in which Raposo carried out his official functions. This Remígio was one of the stars of the secretariat, a paragon of dedication, intelligence and assiduity, an official with ‘a very promising future,’ as everyone said; but he was neither good-looking nor elegant, nor was there anything else exceptional about his exterior. But, of all those who passed in front of Fadinha’s beautiful eyes, this was the only man who merited her attention. Accredited, wealthy traders, well-placed functionaries, lawyers, doctors, officials of the Army and Navy etc. – all of them had to give way, in Fadinha’s heart, to this pallid, clumsy, badly dressed amanuensis who earned just 166.666 reais a month.

The young lady seemed anxious to let her heart speak; she immediately gave Remígio to understand that it would be he – among her numerous admirers – who would be victorious. The clerk, who was modest by nature, and had never even dreamt that he’d marry the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, was amazed by this preference that he’d never sought, and duly fell head over heels in love with Fadinha.

No sooner had the first symptoms of that love appeared than there was a commotion in the home. Sra. Firmina had seen the danger approaching and, after breakfast one day, when her husband was getting ready to leave the house and drag his obesity to the train station, she told him of her fears; but Raposo, who had a fatherly affection for Remígio, and didn’t look at all askance at the prospect of his marrying Fadinha, merely smiled and said:

‘It’s only natural they should be attracted to each other and get married.’

‘You mean that seriously?’

‘What a question! Of course I do! Who could possibly say Remígio isn’t worthy of our little girl!’

‘He’s a clerk!’

‘And what am I?.. And what was I when we went to the church?.. Fadinha will marry whoever she likes; if she prefers a clerk to a government minister, so be it! She doesn’t want to be rich, which is a good thing, because money doesn’t bring happiness. And anyway, Remígio isn’t some poor devil lugging all his possessions around in a carpetbag; his father left him a bit; he’s got two or three little houses, some insurance policies and, most importantly, lots of common sense. He’s so highly thought of in the secretariat I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not head of section in five years’ time. Even if you go looking with Diogenes’s lamp, you won’t find a better son-in-law.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense! Our daughter is very pretty and…’

‘Off you go again about how pretty our daughter is! That means nothing, absolutely nothing! She’s very pretty, that she is, but she hasn’t got two cents to rub together, and if she was forced to marry some rich fellow the marriage would look more like a business deal than anything else. Anyway, it would be embarrassing for us: we could hardly be poorer. Damn it! I don’t want to speculate with my daughter’s beauty, and I don’t want to make her unhappy by opposing her wishes. I might have expected you, being so religious, to agree with me…’

‘But we could make Fadinha see that…’

‘That’s enough! It’s clear we’re not going to see eye-to-eye about this. In my opinion, Remígio is an excellent fellow, and I don’t see any reason why our little girl should want someone else!’

‘But…’

‘No buts! We’ll let her decide, because – and I want you to mark my words – Fadinha won’t marry who you or me want her to marry; she’ll marry the man she chooses of her own free will, whether he’s a clerk, a tradesman, the Tsar of Russia or the Shah of Persia!..’

‘I…’

‘Not one word more, Firmina! You know very well this house isn’t Gonçalo’s! Under this roof, no voice will be louder than mine!’

‘But you’re talking twaddle!’

‘Twaddle?!.. Twaddle?!.. How dare you say that to me?!..’

‘Yes, I do… Twaddle! I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle in this house.’

‘In that case, why don’t you put on my trousers and I’ll put on your skirt! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m going to tell Remígio today that our little girl is his!..’

‘But I’m telling you she can’t be! I want good fortune for my daughter!’

‘Don’t lie!.. What you want is good fortune for yourself, not for her! Don’t force me to say what I think, because if I do I’ll create such a scene as you never ever saw!’

And Raposo forced himself, with difficulty, to whisper, so as not be heard by others in the house:

‘You never thought as much of her as you should have; you never loved her, never gave her a real mother’s love!.. And now you want to sell her… That’s good!.. I’m going to tell Remígio this very day!..’

‘This is scandalous! I know I’m her mother. Can you be sure you’re her father?..’

‘Eh?!.. What do you mean?..’

Raposo squared up to Sra. Firmina, but the blood rushed up to his head, his eyes and his mouth opened unnaturally wide, he waved his arms about and fell as if hit by lightning.

By the time Dr Souto arrived, having been summoned urgently, he was already dead.

‘Didn’t I say he was an apoplexy waiting to happen!’

III

R

emígio showed himself to be a real gentleman: he asked Sra. Firmina to let him take care of the funeral, and neither she nor the children have ever found out, right up until today, how much it all cost.

This great kindness, together with the bitter tears the young man shed over his old colleague’s corpse, enhanced Fadinha’s feelings for him even more; now it wasn’t just affection, it was also gratitude that drew those two hearts together. After Raposo’s death, they both felt like orphans, and this equivalence in their situations cemented still further the mutual sympathy that had taken hold of them.

Sra. Firmina didn’t have a word of thanks for such kindness, but Remígio attributed this omission to the extremity of the widow’s grief, which she demonstrated through unending tears and groans. When the funeral took place, it needed three men to pull her away from the coffin and, seven days later, when the mass was over, she had such a violent attack of nerves in the sacristy of the church of São Francisco de Paulo that it seemed her last hour had arrived.

Nor did the boys, neither the student, nor the one employed in business, thank Remígio for arranging the funeral and the mass; it was as if everyone in the house considered it his duty.

Or rather, not everyone: Fadinha praised his generosity at every turn, but her words, to which no one replied, were heard with indifference by her mother and brothers.

The older one, Alexandre, a lad of twenty-two, who worked for Baron Moreira’s firm, felt flattered beyond words by the fact that his boss had deigned to attend the funeral personally. He could scarcely believe his eyes when, in an aisle of the church, he came across the Baron standing there, holding his hat behind his back with one hand, with his head raised, examining closely a portrait by Fragoso of one of the benefactors of the religious order. At first, the counter clerk assumed the Baron had come to attend some other mass but, despite his sadness, he felt as pleased as Punch when, once the ceremony had begun, the nobleman took his place among those who had come to pay their last respects to the deceased Raposo.

When the mass was over and the priest, accompanied by his acolyte, had returned to the sacristy, genuflecting at every altar along the way, the Baron was the first to embrace Alexandre, who was standing near his mother.

‘Courage! We all have to pass through these trials… That’s how it goes…’

‘Thank you, Baron.’

‘I don’t know your family – would you introduce me to the ladies?’

It wasn’t possible to introduce the widow, because she was shedding an ocean of tears and didn’t have time for anything except her spectacular grief; but the Baron, stupefied by Fadinha’s beauty, gave her a long handshake.

‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘your brother is an employee of my firm, and I greatly appreciate those who serve me well. Please tell your mother that Baron Moreira is at her disposal for anything at all she may wish to request.’

‘Thank you very much, Baron Sir.’

This offer surprised Alexandre, who wasn’t used to his boss being friendly – although the Baron was still young, he was humourless, severe, cold, proud of his education, his elegance, his title and his wealth; in his subordinate humility, Alexandre imagined the Baron wouldn’t even say ‘Hello’ to him, were they to meet in the street; so he was duly amazed that this rich egoist should have come all the way from Botafogo to attend mass for an obscure clerk and should show so much interest in the family. This phenomenon will be explained, for the benefit of the reader, a little later.

When all those invited had left and the Raposo family remained alone in the sacristy, the two boys took their leave of their mother and sister: the older went off to his workplace, which is where he also had lunch, and the younger to the medical school: the exams were coming up and he couldn’t afford to miss lectures; he took lunch at Rocher de Cancalle, just off Ouvidor Street.

Remígio offered to accompany the ladies to Engenho Novo, but the widow who, in the absence of spectators, no longer looked so grief-stricken, gave him an ornate refusal: ‘No, sir; I don’t want to put you to that trouble; you need to go to your workplace too.’

Fadinha interrupted:

‘One day won’t make any difference. Come and have lunch with us, Remígio.’

‘I’ve already said “No”!’

The clerk bowed and accompanied the two ladies to their tilbury: he helped them enter and closed the door.

‘Come and visit us,’ said Fadinha sadly, and she waved him a delicate little ‘Adeus.’

For her part, Sra. Firmina didn’t utter a word; but when the tilbury had drawn away, in the direction of Teatro Street, she pronounced the following, with an indescribable look of anger in her eyes:

‘What you’re going to do now is forget all about that fellow! You don’t have your soft-brained father with you anymore! I’m the one who gives the orders now, do you understand?..’

IV

A

nd now for the explanation of the phenomenon:

Baron Moreira had come to the office earlier than usual and was enjoying a conversation with his friend Pimenta, who occasionally came to have a chat with him and to remember the good old days when they’d both been students at Vitório College.

Pimenta had also gone into business, but he hadn’t been as fortunate as his old colleague. Over the years, he’d worked for a large number of firms, but in none of them had he found the fortune his prodigious activity merited. Already over thirty, he still didn’t have a definitive position in business, but he’d always managed to do a bit of goods brokerage, and the resulting sales, through an intermediary, brought him a profitable return.

Fifteen years of employment in a haberdashery store in Ouvidor Street, which he’d left with his hopes and dreams unfulfilled, infuriated with his bosses, and none the richer, had at least bestowed on him unrivalled knowledge in two areas: that particular branch of business, and comings and goings in Rio de Janeiro. There was no event, scandalous or not, that Pimenta hadn’t stored away in his memory, and that he couldn’t avail himself of at an opportune moment.

He was a backbiter and, without that defect, he’d perhaps have been rich and free like Baron de Moreira, with no need to hawk samples, bills and gossip from door to door, up and down, sweating blood. Some people said: ‘Pimenta’s not a bad sort, if it wasn’t for his tongue’; others: ‘For all his being busy and clever, nothing seems to go right for him.’ But, as he was still single and didn’t have any family obligations, he put up with his ill-fortune cheerfully and contented himself with earning enough to live on without being a burden to his friends.

As I’ve already mentioned, on that day he’d appeared in Baron Moreira’s office for a bit of a chin-wag with his childhood friend and, if he was lucky, a free lunch.

They were both chatting when Alexandre entered the office to inform the Baron that he’d just received the news of his father’s sudden death and to ask for a few days of compassionate leave.

The Baron, who maintained an autocratic hauteur towards his firm’s employees, said, without lifting his eyes:

‘That’s a matter for Sr. Motta; have you spoken to him?’

‘Sr. Motta’s not in.’

‘Alright, you may go.’

And Alexandre left, without hearing a single word of condolence.

‘Do you know that employee?’ Pimenta asked the Baron.

‘No; it was my partner, Motto, who took him on; I think that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him; as you well know, I don’t generally pay much attention to the clerks.’

‘That’s why I asked if you know him.’

There was a pause.

‘In that case, you won’t have known his father, Raposo, who’s just died suddenly?’

‘No, I didn’t know him.’

‘And you don’t know that his sister’s the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro?’

‘No!’

‘How strange! You’ve never heard of Fadinha from Engenho Novo?’

‘I think, perhaps…’

‘Well, that’s her!’

‘And is she really pretty?’

‘What a question! She’s beautiful! She’s more than beautiful!.. Take my word for it!’

‘You’re whetting my appetite, damn it! How can I get to see her?’

‘Simple! Go to the mass of the seventh day. Because her brother works in your firm, you can use that as a pretext for offering your services to the family, right there in the church, and you’ll be able to get a close look at her.’

‘Good point. That’s the only way I could go to the mass for the father of Sr… what’s the boy’s name?’

‘Alexandre.’

And that’s how it came about that Baron Moreira appeared at the mass: simple sacrilegious curiosity.

When the aristocrat returned from the church, he found Pimenta waiting for him in the office.

‘Well?’

‘She isn’t the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, my friend, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world!..’

V

I

f Alexandre had been amazed to see Baron Moreira appear at the church, he was even more amazed when, from that day forward, his boss began treating him kindly and affably, which didn’t take long to turn into familiarity. He summoned him to help in all the office work, entrusted important tasks to him, let him handle large sums of money or take them to the bank and, one day when the young man was making the fair copy of a letter – a confidential letter, a very important letter –, his boss offered him one of his magnificent Havana cigars, with the words: ‘Have a puff, Alexandre.’

Motto, the Baron’s partner and his antithesis, being good company, affable, friendly towards the staff, was nonplussed and had no idea what could have caused this favouritism; but the book-keeper and the other clerks, who’d become jealous and had perhaps picked up a thing or two from Pimenta’s caustic remarks, murmured: ‘There’s nothing like having a pretty sister…’

The Baron was constantly asking for news of the family and showed great solicitousness for the widow, repeating, almost daily, his offer of help and friendship, in order to prevent, remove or resolve any difficulties resulting from old Raposo’s sudden demise. The lad couldn’t thank him enough and, when he got home, he’d tell his mother all the marks of kindness he’d received from his boss that day.

Perspicacious and crafty, Sra. Firmina soon realised it was the effect of Fadinha’s beauty that was causing the Baron to find every means he could of inveigling himself into the family; so one day she advised her son to invite him home and tell him that she, Sra. Firmina, was very grateful for all the Baron’s kindness and would be very happy if she could thank him personally.

She couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of Alexandre’s missive: the Baron wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity which, as we’ve seen, he’d been fishing for during the past two months. One fine Sunday he decided to go for lunch to Engenho Novo. To give extra solemnity to the visit, Sra. Firmina went to wait for him at the station, accompanied by her two sons, because Fadinha, knowing that the Baron was coming, had shut herself in her room on the pretext of a terrible migraine, and neither pleading nor chiding, neither kindness nor threats, could make her come out.

The girl was desperate: she hadn’t seen her dear Remígio for more than a month. Firmina and the boys were so rude to him that, understanding their wish to be rid of him, and seeing the impossibility of standing firm against that pack of ingrates, he did as they wanted, without, however, abandoning his marriage plans, because Fadinha was still the same and he considered her worthy, in all respects, of his affection and constancy.

‘They can do what they like, I’ll be yours, just yours – I promise you on the soul of my father! The more they constrain me, the more they offend you, the stronger, were it possible, will my love for you burn. I’m your betrothed!’

Uplifted by these ardent words, in which Fadinha had put all the energy of her soul, all the sincerity of her heart, Remígio waited resignedly for an opportunity to secure the rights that his love merited; but – it has to be said – his vacillating and timorous spirit didn’t have enough strength for the battle being fought against him. He really was in love, but he began silently to curse the singular beauty that turned Fadinha into an object to be coveted, a pledge of good fortune, a type of life assurance for a whole family. Notwithstanding the venerable Raposo’s last wish, his ultimate and sacred desire, Remígio was afraid that his insistence would bring disunity and disgrace to the family. Meanwhile, whenever she managed to escape her mother’s vigilance and write to him, Fadinha repeated over and over again her vehement promises of fidelity.

But let’s return to Baron Moreira who, at Engenho Novo station, in his light flannel suit, his white straw hat, his multi-coloured cravat, his bejewelled tie-pin and an enormous rose in his lapel, contrasted markedly with that matron and her two boys, who were dressed in the most severe mourning, so that even their cuffs and collars were black.

VI

W

hen he entered the Baron’s office the next day, Pimenta found him in a bad mood.

‘Well? Did you go?’

‘I did. I went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Engenho Novo is Rome and Fadinha is the Pope; do you understand now?’

‘You didn’t see her?’

‘As I’ve already said. She was unwell; she didn’t make an appearance.’

‘Really?’

‘How stupid is that? To have lunch with Sra. Firmina and her sons, and not even catch sight of her! “Have lunch” in a manner of speaking, because I didn’t eat anything. I was desperate!’

‘And what did the old woman say?’

‘She was even more annoyed than I was. I could see it in her eyes. She kept apologising for her daughter’s absence and telling me – but completely without conviction – that she really was unwell.’

‘You don’t think she was.’

‘Of course I don’t think so.’

‘You’ve got a rival.’

‘I thought as much.’

‘A serious rival. They told me everything this morning.’

And Pimenta told the Baron what the reader already knows: about the love of Remígio and Fadinha, old Raposo’s last wish, the kindness shown to the family, the opposition of Sra. Firmina and her sons, Remígio’s retreat – and he added:

‘The girl suspected they wanted to force her to marry you, and she shut herself in her room. So that’s how you went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘What’s your advice?’

‘Before I can answer that question, I need to know, first of all, what your intentions are.’

There was a long silence.

‘Do you like her?’

‘A lot. I liked her already and, after that wretched lunch, I liked her even more!’

‘Are you prepared to be her husband?’

There was another silence, even longer than the first.

‘If you don’t want to make her a baroness,’ Pimenta continued, ‘forget about her. Devil take it! She might well be happy with that Remígio, seeing he’s an honest fellow.’

‘But who told you my intentions weren’t good?’

‘You didn’t say anything…’

‘I didn’t say anything because marriage scares me. My liberty is so deliciously complete! Yes, I admit that marriage has never figured in my plans, but were it necessary…’

‘What do you mean, “were it necessary”? You haven’t been thinking that Fadinha could belong to you without the intervention of a priest?! The family is poor, but it’s just as respectable as yours! If you want to be her husband, fight for her and – perhaps – you’ll win her; if not, abandon an idea that’s unworthy of you!’

The Baron had a good, long look at the Havana cigar he was holding between his fingers, let the ashes fall into a spittoon, stuck the cigar in his mouth, stood up and announced resolutely, amid a cloud of cigar smoke:

‘I shall fight!’

When Pimenta left the office, he met Alexandre in the store and muttered to him in passing:

‘He’s going to marry her.’

From Portuguese: Grandad Andrade, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story Vovó Andrade, which was published in Contos Cariocas in 1928)

H

e turned up one fine day at Mrs Eugênia’s lodging house, accompanied by three trunks and a small iron chest. He’d asked for the cheapest room and had haggled about the price of meals on the grounds that he was used to just one a day, and a very, very modest one at that.

No one knew whence the old man came, nor did he tell them, although he wasn’t exactly taciturn. He liked a chin-wag, but if some nosey parker asked personal questions all he’d do would be give them to understand, one way or another, that he’d had a hard life, had suffered a lot and had moved far from his home so that no one could remind him of the past.

All that was known was that he was called Andrade, was Portuguese and had emigrated, as a little child, to one of our provinces, where he’d lived for almost sixty years.

He didn’t allow anyone to come into his room: he dusted and swept it himself, spending hours and hours there on his own, with the door locked, opening and reorganising the chest and the trunks over and over again.

One of the guests, Braguinha, a book-keeper for an important firm, said he could hear the clink of gold coins in the old man’s room.

‘He’s like Uncle Gaspar in the The Chimes of Normandy,’ said this Braguinha with a conviction that transmitted itself to the other guests.

***

And he might well have been! Old Andrade’s clothes were threadbare, his hat was battered, his shoes were coming apart, and it was with a deep sigh that he paid his modest rent at the end of each month.

***

The landlady, who was a widow with three lovely sons, the oldest of them thirteen, also became convinced that old Andrade was an out-and-out miser; she’d probably have suggested he look for accommodation elsewhere, were it not that he’d shown himself unusually affectionate to the three boys right from the start, telling them highly entertaining stories. Who’s kind to my kids, my best friend is, as they say.

‘I love children,’ he’d say to Mrs Eugênia. ‘Which is no surprise, given that I’ve got no one in the whole wide world: I’m all on my own.’

‘Completely?’ Not one relative?..’

‘Not even relatively speaking, Mrs Eugênia! Death’s taken all my loved ones and left me all alone in this vale of tears.’

***

Barbosa, a middle-aged trader and a friend of Mrs Eugênia’s late husband, often visited her and – man of the world that he was – gave her practical advice. The gossips said it was something more than simple advice, but I don’t have any additional information on that point, nor is it important to the story.

The truth is that, after her husband’s death, Dona Eugênia had found herself in a tricky situation, and it was her late husband’s friend who’d provided the necessary capital for her to establish the lodging house, which was now prospering.

One day, Mrs Eugênia told him how the presence of the mysterious old man bothered her, and how she’d have sent him packing if he hadn’t been so friendly to the boys. Barbosa replied:

‘Send him packing?! What an idea! On the contrary: hold on to him. Good luck walked into your house the moment he turned up!’

‘Good luck?’

‘Yes, good luck! He’s old, miserly and without heirs… Send him packing?! What an idea! Be more than kind to him and make your boys love and respect him.’

Barbosa always had the last word in that house. A few days later, Mrs Eugênia offered old Andrade a bigger room for the same price – not only bigger, but more spacious, more airy, better furnished, with a sprung mattress and with two windows looking out on the garden.

What’s more, she more or less forced him to have two meals a day, like the other guests, and in the morning she sent him hot chocolate or café au lait, with biscuits.

The old man wept tears of gratitude, amazed – as he said – at so much kindness towards a poor, useless old devil who didn’t even have anywhere to drop dead.

With the skill of a diplomat, Mrs Eugênia managed to find out when the old man’s birthday was and, when the day arrived, he was given a present of new clothes and shoes. He no longer lacked for anything.

Seeing that the old man seemed to like him, and in the hope of being left something after his death, Braguinha, too, began being extra nice to him, giving him expensive cigars, interesting books, illustrated magazines etc.

But the old man didn’t change his solitary habits. No one entered his room, where he’d still spend hours and hours each day – opening and shutting the chest and the trunks.

One day, when he went to pay his rent to Mrs Eugênia, she said to him:

‘Please don’t be offended if I ask you to keep your money; you don’t need to pay anything at all; your rent’s not going to make me richer or poorer; all I want is for you to be like one of the family in this house.’

***

This situation lasted quite some time. Old Andrade was treated like a lord, nothing but the best.

He’d got to the stage of expressing his likes and desires, and the slightest hint was enough for either the widow or Braguinha to supply them.

But, on the advice of the prudent Barbosa, Braguinha was kept at a distance: he was a dangerous rival. Thanks to the efforts of the widow and Barbosa, the book-keeper found himself obliged to move. Nevertheless, he continued to visit the old man whenever he could, but it was difficult, given that the widow liked to keep her precious guest to herself.

***

Andrade had already been in the house for two years when, one night, finding himself alone with Mrs Eugênia, he said to her:

‘I’d like to tell you something, my dear protectress. I’m old – I could die at the drop of a hat…’

‘Don’t say that; you’ve got many years ahead of you!’

‘I always keep with me the key to an iron chest that’s in my room. The chest is ridiculous, a fantasy, because all I’ve got is four cents and some worthless bits and pieces. Anyhow, I want you to know that my will’s in that chest…’

‘Your will!’ said the lady; ‘but you don’t have anything to leave!’

‘That’s where you’re wrong, dear lady – in those trunks I’ve got lots of things – of no value, that’s true, but, if I passed away without making a will, they’d be seized by the Portuguese consulate and sold at public auction. That’s what I want to avoid, by making my own dispositions.’

This revelation caused the kindnesses heaped on the old man to be multiplied. They took him to the theatre, to parties, on walks; they filled him with quince jam and fine wine. The boys became accustomed to calling him ‘Grandad Andrade.’

And he became expensive. The only reason they didn’t provide a doctor and apothecary for him was that, being as healthy as a horse, he didn’t need them.

And he was still just as reticent about his past; there was still the same mystery about it; and there was still no way of getting him to tell.

***

Mrs Eugênia was beginning to get impatient.

‘That old fellow’s quite capable of outliving all of us!’

‘Patience; you’ll just have to put up with him; all it means is that his capital will be gaining interest,’ said Barbosa. ‘And, at his age, he can’t last much longer.’

And he didn’t.

On the very day when he’d been a guest of the house for five years, Grandad Andrade was struck dead by a stroke. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of their relationship, Mrs Eugênia had laid on a magnificent dinner, with plenty of wine – and he’d overdone it.

The boys, who were grown up now – the oldest was almost eighteen –, wept tears of real sadness. The widow was eager to open the chest and would have done so if the discrete Barbosa hadn’t stopped her.

‘Don’t touch anything. I’ll call the authorities.’

An official came from the consulate and opened the chest. What it contained was an envelope on which were written the words ‘My last will and testament,’ together with about three hundred thousand reais in Treasury notes and silver and gold coins, the ones Braguinha had heard clinking.

Two of the trunks were full of old metal, rags and other useless stuff, and the other one contained objects of some value: the clothes and other things that Grandad Andrade had been given as presents during his five years in the lodging house.

His last will and testament said:

‘Finding myself reduced, in my seventies, to penury, without family or friends, and after a whole life of work and ill fortune, I was faced with a choice between begging and suicide. I opted neither for the one nor the other: I moved away from my home, I pretended to be rich and miserly, two old trunks and an iron chest – the last relics of better times – being sufficient for that. Thanks to that ploy, I managed to get everything I lacked and more. Some will say I was a scoundrel; others, a philosopher. It’s all one to me.

‘In the chest you’ll find sufficient for my burial.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Artur Azevedo (A. Nabantino Gonçalves de A.), journalist and playwright, was born in São Luís in the State of Maranhão on 7 July 1855 and died in Rio de Janeiro on 22 October 1908. Alongside his brother Aluísio de Azevedo, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

His parents were David Gonçalves de Azevedo, the Portuguese Vice-Consul in  São Luís, and Emília Amália Pinto de Magalhães, a courageous woman who, having separated from the trader to whom she had been married against her will, was already living out of wedlock with David Gonçalves when her children were born: three boys and two girls. They got married later on, after the death of her first husband, from yellow fever, in Rio de Janeiro. Artur was already showing a taste for the stage at eight years old, experimenting with adaptations of texts by authors like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, and soon afterwards he began writing dramas that included roles for himself. Very early on, he began working in business and then he was employed in provincial administration, but was dismissed for publishing satires aimed at the authorities. At the same time, he was putting on his first comedies in the theatres of São Luís. When he was fifteen, he wrote Amor por anexins (Love through Proverbs), which was a great success, being staged more than a thousand times in the 19th Century. Having fallen out with the provincial government, he successfully sat a public examination for clerical posts in the Ministry of Finance, moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1873, where he got a job in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Initially he also taught Portuguese in the Pinheiro College. But it was in journalism that he was able to develop the activities that made him one of the greatest Brazilian playwrights and short-story writers. He founded literary publications, such as A Gazetinha, Vida Moderna and O Álbum. He collaborated, alongside Machado de Assis, on A Estação, and on the newspaper Novidades, where his colleagues were Alcindo Guanabara, Moreira Sampaio, Olavo Bilac and Coelho Neto. He was one of the great campaigners for the abolition of slavery, via his fiery newspaper articles, pieces in theatre magazines and works for the stage, such as O Liberato (The Freedman) and A família Salazar (The Salazar Family), which he wrote together with Urbano Duarte, and which was banned by the imperial censorship, being published later under the title O escravocrata (The Slave-owner). He wrote more than four thousand articles about artistic – mainly theatrical – events in the columns that appeared successively in O País (A Palestra [The Lecture]), in the Diário de Notícias (De Palanque [From the Rostrum]) and in A Notícia (O Teatro [The Theatre]). He had numerous pseudonyms: Elói o herói, Gavroche, Petrônio, Cosimo, Juvenal, Dorante, Frivolino, Batista o trocista, amongst others. From 1879 he edited the Revista do Teatro, alongside Lopes Cardoso. For more than thirty years, he kept up a campaign – eventually successful – for construction of the Municipal Theatre, but he was unable to attend its inauguration.

Although he had been writing short stories since 1871, it was only in 1889 that he resolved to collect some of them in a volume, called Contos possíveis (Possible Tales), which he dedicated to Machado de Assis, his colleague in the transport department, and one of his severest critics. In 1894 he published his second book of short stories, Contos fora de moda (Unfashionable Tales) and another two volumes, Contos cariocas (Rio Tales) and Vida alheia (Other People’s Lives), comprising stories he had written for various newspapers.

Both in his short stories and in his plays, he showed himself to be a great observer of the day-to-day life and habits of Rio de Janeiro. Courtships, marital infidelity, relationships within families, friendships, celebrations – whether festive or funereal –, everything that went on in the streets and in the houses provided subjects for his stories. In the theatre, he carried on from Martins Pena and França Júnior. His plays provide us with a documentary on the evolution of the quondam Brazilian capital. During his life, about a hundred of his plays, of various genres, and thirty of his translations and free adaptations from French plays were staged in Brazil and Portugal. He remains, today, the most permanent and expressive Brazilian playwright ever, in works such as A jóia (The Jewel), A capital federal (The Federal Capital), A almanjarra (The Wardrobe) and O mambembe (The Street Actor).

He also dedicated himself to poetry, where he was considered a representative of parnassianism, but simply on the chronological grounds of belonging to the generation of Alberto de Oliveira, Raimundo Correia and Olavo Bilac, who were all influenced by French poets such as Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Coppée and Heredia. But Artur Azevedo’s expansive and cheerful temperament actually had nothing in common with that school. A lyric and sentimental poet, his sonnets fall perfectly into the tradition of the Brazilian love sonnet.

Works: Carapuças, poetry (1871); Sonetos (1876); Um dia de finados, satire (1877); Contos possíveis (1889); Contos fora da moda (1894); Contos efêmeros (1897); Contos em verso (1898); Rimas, poetry (1909); Contos cariocas (1928); Vida alheia (1929); Histórias brejeiras, selected and prefaced by R. Magalhães Júnior (1962); Contos (1973).

Theatre: Amor por anexins (1872); A filha de Maria Angu (1876); Uma véspera de reis (1876); A jóia (1879); O escravocrata, in collaboration with Urbano Duarte (1884); A almanjarra (1888); A capital federal (1897); O retrato a óleo (1902); O dote (1907); O oráculo (1956); Teatro (1983).

Translator’s note:

Humberto de Campos wrote as follows in his preface to Azevedo’s Contos cariocas (1928):

He was the most popular short-story writer of his age and he is the one – of his generation – who is still remembered most fondly and with the most spontaneous admiration… His straightforwardness and good-humour has won him, and will continue to win him, the reputation of being the preeminent – and most affable – portraitist of Rio de Janeiro in its period of transition, i.e. in the period that saw the rise and fall of Ouvidor Street.

From Portuguese: Food and Drink, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story Comes e bebes, published in Contos cariocas in 1928)

W

hen he was young and free, i.e. some time before he definitively embarked upon life proper, so to speak, Dr Sesostris – not a medical doctor – had literary ambitions. (Nowadays he’s the father of a family, and a magistrate to boot.) His literary ambitions were all-encompassing: poetry, short stories, newspaper articles, novels and theatre.

It was the manuscript of his one and only play that gained him entry backstage and brought him into the presence of Rosalina who, at that time, was the first of our actresses in beauty, and the last in talent. This Rosalina, whom the impresario kept in the company purely on account of her physical virtues, had married an actor who, for his part, was kept in the company solely on account of being her husband.

To say she was a second Penelope when it comes to marital fidelity would be to flout the duty of truth I owe to the readers of my little stories, i.e. the bad-mouthers didn’t spare her, neither did the good-mouthers: more than one habitue of the theatre where she performed was pointed out as having sought, and obtained, her more intimate favours.

Having been invited by the impresario to read his play after the rehearsal one afternoon, Dr Sesostris sat himself down at a small table on the stage, surrounded by almost all the company – with Rosalina on his immediate right –, and opened the manuscript.

It was in the middle of the first act, and enveloped by a silence worthy of a tragedy, that the writer of this humorous piece felt a transference of heat from Rosalina’s left knee. This threw him off his stride so much that God only knows how the lad managed to finish reading that first act!

These equivocal – or, rather, unequivocal – manifestations continued during the second act, this time causing the doctor to come out in a cold sweat and to start trembling and making silly asides; as a result, the comical effect of the play – with respect both to situations and to dialogue – was lost. His audience, which was becoming more and more disgruntled and restless, attributed the reader’s discomfort to awestruck awareness that the work was being submitted to the judgement of so many artistic eminences.

It was not until the third act that Rosalina completed – with her little, admirably shod foot – the work of seduction she’d commenced with her knee.

Once the reading was over, and as soon as he heard those consoling words ‘the curtain falls,’ the impresario, who’d rudely interrupted the first two acts with loud yawns and had been away with the fairies during the third, woke up and said to the playwrite:

‘Well, a nice little comedy, Dr Sesostris… but not for my theatre… too refined, not ribald enough… That’s not to say I wouldn’t put it on… I will, but not till the theatre’s on a sounder footing. You’re very talented, Doctor: write another comedy, but make it saltier… plenty of cooking salt.’

‘Cooking salt?!’

‘Yes, cooking salt, Doctor! Table salt’s not going to make us even ten reais!’

Dr Sesostris, who had the inestimable good fortune of being only twenty-two years old, allowed the wool to be pulled over his eyes; but even if he’d had it put to him straight, why worry, when Rosalina – the beautiful Rosalina, so coveted of men – was there to make up for the dire struggles of this incipient author?

Once the impressario had finished recommending cooking salt to him, he turned round and fixed his eyes upon her – except she wasn’t there any more, having left without even saying goodbye…

From that point on, the young doctor started frequenting the theatre, especially Rosalina’s dressing-room; but there were no further manifestations of the knee and the foot, as if she wanted to warn him not to get his hopes up.

There was an old actor in the company who made himself out to be a big friend of Sesostris, thus gaining his confidence, and it was to him that the young man duly chose to unburden his heart, not omitting to mention how the actress had come on to him.

The old actor gave a malicious smile.

‘How can it be,’ asked the doctor, ‘that she’s changed her behaviour towards me so suddenly?’

‘Easy! you were presenting a comedy and she wanted to be the leading lady. As soon as she realised it wouldn’t be accepted, you were of no more significance than her first nightdress.’

‘You mean to say, if my comedy had been accepted…?’

‘If your comedy had been accepted, Rosalina would have been yours! And that’s the only way you’d have got her for free – she’s rather fond of money.’

Three months passed and, far from getting on to a sounder footing as hypothesised by the impresario, the theatre sank into one of those crises that are so common in our thespian life. After five or six flops, the audience fell away and the impressario stopped paying the artistes regularly. The situation was desperate.

Rosalina and her husband suffered just as much as the rest, and considered themselves lucky when they picked up the odd ten or twenty thousand reais by way of back pay.

Such was the state of affairs when, once more, the foot and the knee of the actress began to disturb the doctor’s peace of mind.

The old actor’s opinion hadn’t diminished her in the young man’s mind; a twenty-two-year old heart is blind to the defects of the woman for whom it beats, and even if, perchance, it decides to analyse those defects, it ends up finding them virtues.

One night, when he left her, Sesostris put a note into her hand. The note requested a meeting and told her he’d come to her dressing-room for the reply during the following night’s performance.

And so he did.

After seeing the hairdresser out, she said to her admirer: ‘Careful! Not a word about the message in the note.’

‘But… your reply?’

‘Just pretend… It’s there on the window… under the jug and dish… Make out you’re having a drink of water… Look! The dressing-room door’s open and there’s lots of people coming and going who wonder what you’re up to.’

So Sesostris pretended. He went to where the jug was, lifted the dish, found the note, put it in his pocket, talked – aloud – for a few moments, about the heat, all the empty seats etc. … and then left, anxious to read her reply.

In order to escape from prying eyes, he slipped into the gentlemen’s lavatory at the theatre and it was there – half-suffocated by ammonia fumes – that he read the following:

Doctor,

Before responding to your lovely message, I’d like to beg a great favour of you. As you know, the company owes us six weeks’ pay, the 15th is coming up and it’s highly likely we won’t get paid this time either, because the theatre’s not making any money. My husband and I, we’re on our uppers. Hard as it is for me to ask this, please send us, tomorrow, to our house, you know where it is, the items listed herewith, which we need for our larder. Forgive me for troubling you.

Your dear friend,

Rosalina

And there is was, attached as stated, a groceries-and-miscellaneous list: so many kilos of beans, so many kilos of dried meat etc. Nothing was missing: oil, macaroni, olives, wine, packets of candles, lamps, butter – you name it!

The next day a handcart arrived outside Rosalina’s door, carrying all that food and drink etc. Meanwhile, despite his tender years, Dr Sesostris had got the message: the stupid woman was best avoided.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

The qualification about Dr Sesostris’s title – ‘not a medical doctor’ –, and which also applies to Dr Figueiredo in ‘Sabina,’ is mine. In Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha, Lima Barreto satirises, in the person of Caminha, what he saw as the exaggerated reverence accorded to the title of ‘Dr’ in Brazil:

Ah! Doctor! Doctor!.. It was a magic title, with a power and a reach that was multiple and multiform. It was a sort of sacred cloak, woven with a fine and almost invisible thread, but one that repulsed the elements, the evil eye and exorcisms […] Oh! To be a graduate, a ring upon my finger, an overcoat and a top hat, fat and inflated like the horned frog before it lets forth its drum-roll croak at the edge of the swamp; to walk like that through the streets, through the squares, down the highways, through the rooms, receiving compliments from right, left and centre: ‘How did it go, Doctor?’ ‘How are you, Doctor?’ It was the same as being super-human!..    

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Artur Azevedo (A. Nabantino Gonçalves de A.), journalist and playwright, was born in São Luís in the State of Maranhão on 7 July 1855 and died in Rio de Janeiro on 22 October 1908. Alongside his brother Aluísio de Azevedo, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

His parents were David Gonçalves de Azevedo, the Portuguese Vice-Consul in  São Luís, and Emília Amália Pinto de Magalhães, a courageous woman who, having separated from the trader to whom she had been married against her will, was already living out of wedlock with David Gonçalves when her children were born: three boys and two girls. They got married later on, after the death of her first husband, from yellow fever, in Rio de Janeiro. Artur was already showing a taste for the stage at eight years old, experimenting with adaptations of texts by authors like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, and soon afterwards he began writing dramas that included roles for himself. Very early on, he began working in business and then he was employed in provincial administration, but was dismissed for publishing satires aimed at the authorities. At the same time, he was putting on his first comedies in the theatres of São Luís. When he was fifteen, he wrote Amor por anexins (Love through Proverbs), which was a great success, being staged more than a thousand times in the 19th Century. Having fallen out with the provincial government, he successfully sat a public examination for clerical posts in the Ministry of Finance, moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1873, where he got a job in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Initially he also taught Portuguese in the Pinheiro College. But it was in journalism that he was able to develop the activities that made him one of the greatest Brazilian playwrights and short-story writers. He founded literary publications, such as A Gazetinha, Vida Moderna and O Álbum. He collaborated, alongside Machado de Assis, on A Estação, and on the newspaper Novidades, where his colleagues were Alcindo Guanabara, Moreira Sampaio, Olavo Bilac and Coelho Neto. He was one of the great campaigners for the abolition of slavery, via his fiery newspaper articles, pieces in theatre magazines and works for the stage, such as O Liberato (The Freedman) and A família Salazar (The Salazar Family), which he wrote together with Urbano Duarte, and which was banned by the imperial censorship, being published later under the title O escravocrata (The Slave-owner). He wrote more than four thousand articles about artistic – mainly theatrical – events in the columns that appeared successively in O País (A Palestra [The Lecture]), in the Diário de Notícias (De Palanque [From the Rostrum]) and in A Notícia (O Teatro [The Theatre]). He had numerous pseudonyms: Elói o herói, Gavroche, Petrônio, Cosimo, Juvenal, Dorante, Frivolino, Batista o trocista, amongst others. From 1879 he edited the Revista do Teatro, alongside Lopes Cardoso. For more than thirty years, he kept up a campaign – eventually successful – for construction of the Municipal Theatre, but he was unable to attend its inauguration.

Although he had been writing short stories since 1871, it was only in 1889 that he resolved to collect some of them in a volume, called Contos possíveis (Possible Tales), which he dedicated to Machado de Assis, his colleague in the transport department, and one of his severest critics. In 1894 he published his second book of short stories, Contos fora de moda (Unfashionable Tales) and another two volumes, Contos cariocas (Rio Tales) and Vida alheia (Other People’s Lives), comprising stories he had written for various newspapers.

Both in his short stories and in his plays, he showed himself to be a great observer of the day-to-day life and habits of Rio de Janeiro. Courtships, marital infidelity, relationships within families, friendships, celebrations – whether festive or funereal –, everything that went on in the streets and in the houses provided subjects for his stories. In the theatre, he carried on from Martins Pena and França Júnior. His plays provide us with a documentary on the evolution of the quondam Brazilian capital. During his life, about a hundred of his plays, of various genres, and thirty of his translations and free adaptations from French plays were staged in Brazil and Portugal. He remains, today, the most permanent and expressive Brazilian playwright ever, in works such as A jóia (The Jewel), A capital federal (The Federal Capital), A almanjarra (The Wardrobe) and O mambembe (The Street Actor).

He also dedicated himself to poetry, where he was considered a representative of parnassianism, but simply on the chronological grounds of belonging to the generation of Alberto de Oliveira, Raimundo Correia and Olavo Bilac, who were all influenced by French poets such as Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Coppée and Heredia. But Artur Azevedo’s expansive and cheerful temperament actually had nothing in common with that school. A lyric and sentimental poet, his sonnets fall perfectly into the tradition of the Brazilian love sonnet.

Works: Carapuças, poetry (1871); Sonetos (1876); Um dia de finados, satire (1877); Contos possíveis (1889); Contos fora da moda (1894); Contos efêmeros (1897); Contos em verso (1898); Rimas, poetry (1909); Contos cariocas (1928); Vida alheia (1929); Histórias brejeiras, selected and prefaced by R. Magalhães Júnior (1962); Contos (1973).

Theatre: Amor por anexins (1872); A filha de Maria Angu (1876); Uma véspera de reis (1876); A jóia (1879); O escravocrata, in collaboration with Urbano Duarte (1884); A almanjarra (1888); A capital federal (1897); O retrato a óleo (1902); O dote (1907); O oráculo (1956); Teatro (1983).

Translator’s note:

Humberto de Campos wrote as follows in his preface to Azevedo’s Contos cariocas (1928):

He was the most popular short-story writer of his age and he is the one – of his generation – who is still remembered most fondly and with the most spontaneous admiration… His straightforwardness and good-humour has won him, and will continue to win him, the reputation of being the preeminent – and most affable – portraitist of Rio de Janeiro in its period of transition, i.e. in the period that saw the rise and fall of Ouvidor Street.

From Portuguese: The Widow, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A viúva)

T

hey were inseparable. Previously unacquainted, they’d met by chance one day. They’d exchanged a few words and felt attracted to each other by a strange, violent sympathy. After that, they never parted.

They had different occupations. The older one, Leopoldo Borges, was a book-keeper; the younger one, Epifânio Braga, a civil servant. Both of them bachelors and without family.

One day, one of them suggested living together, and the other accepted. They found a convenient first-floor apartment in Resende Street and both of them moved in, establishing a real communism in furniture, clothes and other everyday objects.

As if it had wanted to bring them together and blend one with the other, nature had given them the same physiques, the same heads, the same feet. Leopoldo would put on Epifânio’s shoes; Epifânio would wear Leopoldo’s hats. They both wore each other’s clothes, willy-nilly. There was not a single object that belonged to the one and not to the other. Everything belonged to both.

After they’d read the papers each morning, the two friends would have a cosy chat before lunch, which was cooked at home by a black man, who was butler and valet as well as cook. After lunch they’d go their separate ways, meeting up in the evening and dining together. After dinner each of them took a cigar from the same box, lit it and sat down by the window, where they remained chatting away until nightfall.

There was only one thing in which they differed: Leopoldo was a night bird, Epifânio a home bird. Leopoldo would leave the apartment and be out till midnight, often much later, and Epifânio would stay at home, reading or getting on with some office work. But he was discreet: he didn’t ask Leopoldo where he spent the night.

That’s how these two friends lived, in the most perfect harmony, renewing the heroic times of Pylades and Orestes, when one evening, looking out of the window, they saw, in the window of the house opposite, a beautiful woman who’d moved there the previous day.

‘We’ve got a new neighbour,’ said Leopoldo.

‘We have, and a very pretty one,’ Epifânio replied.

‘Who might she be?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘She’s not all that young.’

‘No, she must be over thirty.’

‘But she’s pretty.’

‘She certainly is.’

‘Do you think she’s with her family?’

‘Must be. Looks like it. A respectable lady.’

The next morning, the black man passed on, without having been asked, the information he’d gleaned from the stall down the way. The neighbour was called Mrs Henrique: she was the widow of a trader who used to run a china shop in Sete Street; she was living with a sister-in-law; she had a brother who worked at the Treasury and two sons at college in Friburgo.

Leopoldo seemed indifferent to the neighbour’s charms, but Epifânio began to take an interest in her, to the extent that he tried to catch sight of her whenever he could and that he felt something lacking if he left the apartment without seeing her.

One day, in the morning, he said ‘Hello’ to her, and she gave him a half-smile in return.

That half-smile, in which masculine conceit, to which Epifânio was not immune, caused him to discover a complete smile, stirred his emotions and, from that moment forward, the widow was all he thought of. He thought about her when he went to bed, he dreamt about her and, when he opened his eyes and got out of bed, he saw her even before he saw the daylight.

The poor boy envied Leopoldo his tranquillity – Leopoldo didn’t even remove his hat on meeting the widow. Embarrassed on account of his love – if that was what it was –, he didn’t dare say anything to his companion and did everything he could, in Leopoldo’s presence, to hide his feelings as far as was possible.

Because Leopoldo used to go out every night, it was mainly at night that Epifânio indulged himself in contemplating the widow. She’d go to the living room, on her own, sit down in front of the piano and play some works by Mendelsohn and Chopin. During that time, Epifânio, at the window, wouldn’t take his eyes off the pianist and, of course, that divine music helped to inflame still further the passion that had taken hold of him.

This lasted a month, with the civil servant feeling himself more and more attracted by the widow until, one night, he saw a man in the open window that looked out on the street. The man carefully closed the window.

Can you imagine how Epifânio felt when, by the light of the streetlamp, he realised that the man was Leopoldo.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

This story was ‘rediscovered’ by Mauro Rosso, an expert on writers of the Belle Époque in Rio de Janeiro. Before he included it in his 2009 book Contos de Arthur  Azevedo: os ‘efêmeros’ e inéditos (‘Ephemeral’ and Unpublished Short Stories by Arthur [the spelling varies] Azevedo), it had appeared only in the Correio da Manhã newspaper, in 1906. As Ricardo Oiticica points out in the introduction to the book, the circumstances of its publication in the newspaper were bizarre:

Azevedo sent a short story under a pseudonym to the Correio da Manhã – where he used to write a Sunday article – as part of a competition for his own job, given that the newspaper had decided to replace him. After being declared the winner, he revealed his identity and resigned…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Artur Azevedo (A. Nabantino Gonçalves de A.), journalist and playwright, was born in São Luís in the State of Maranhão on 7 July 1855 and died in Rio de Janeiro on 22 October 1908. Alongside his brother Aluísio de Azevedo, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

His parents were David Gonçalves de Azevedo, the Portuguese Vice-Consul in  São Luís, and Emília Amália Pinto de Magalhães, a courageous woman who, having separated from the trader to whom she had been married against her will, was already living out of wedlock with David Gonçalves when her children were born: three boys and two girls. They got married later on, after the death of her first husband, from yellow fever, in Rio de Janeiro. Artur was already showing a taste for the stage at eight years old, experimenting with adaptations of texts by authors like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, and soon afterwards he began writing dramas that included roles for himself. Very early on, he began working in business and then he was employed in provincial administration, but was dismissed for publishing satires aimed at the authorities. At the same time, he was putting on his first comedies in the theatres of São Luís. When he was fifteen, he wrote Amor por anexins (Love through Proverbs), which was a great success, being staged more than a thousand times in the 19th Century. Having fallen out with the provincial government, he successfully sat a public examination for clerical posts in the Ministry of Finance, moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1873, where he got a job in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Initially he also taught Portuguese in the Pinheiro College. But it was in journalism that he was able to develop the activities that made him one of the greatest Brazilian playwrights and short-story writers. He founded literary publications, such as A Gazetinha, Vida Moderna and O Álbum. He collaborated, alongside Machado de Assis, on A Estação, and on the newspaper Novidades, where his colleagues were Alcindo Guanabara, Moreira Sampaio, Olavo Bilac and Coelho Neto. He was one of the great campaigners for the abolition of slavery, via his fiery newspaper articles, pieces in theatre magazines and works for the stage, such as O Liberato (The Freedman) and A família Salazar (The Salazar Family), which he wrote together with Urbano Duarte, and which was banned by the imperial censorship, being published later under the title O escravocrata (The Slave-owner). He wrote more than four thousand articles about artistic – mainly theatrical – events in the columns that appeared successively in O País (A Palestra [The Lecture]), in the Diário de Notícias (De Palanque [From the Rostrum]) and in A Notícia (O Teatro [The Theatre]). He had numerous pseudonyms: Elói o herói, Gavroche, Petrônio, Cosimo, Juvenal, Dorante, Frivolino, Batista o trocista, amongst others. From 1879 he edited the Revista do Teatro, alongside Lopes Cardoso. For more than thirty years, he kept up a campaign – eventually successful – for construction of the Municipal Theatre, but he was unable to attend its inauguration.

Although he had been writing short stories since 1871, it was only in 1889 that he resolved to collect some of them in a volume, called Contos possíveis (Possible Tales), which he dedicated to Machado de Assis, his colleague in the transport department, and one of his severest critics. In 1894 he published his second book of short stories, Contos fora de moda (Unfashionable Tales) and another two volumes, Contos cariocas (Rio Tales) and Vida alheia (Other People’s Lives), comprising stories he had written for various newspapers.

Both in his short stories and in his plays, he showed himself to be a great observer of the day-to-day life and habits of Rio de Janeiro. Courtships, marital infidelity, relationships within families, friendships, celebrations – whether festive or funereal –, everything that went on in the streets and in the houses provided subjects for his stories. In the theatre, he carried on from Martins Pena and França Júnior. His plays provide us with a documentary on the evolution of the quondam Brazilian capital. During his life, about a hundred of his plays, of various genres, and thirty of his translations and free adaptations from French plays were staged in Brazil and Portugal. He remains, today, the most permanent and expressive Brazilian playwright ever, in works such as A jóia (The Jewel), A capital federal (The Federal Capital), A almanjarra (The Wardrobe) and O mambembe (The Street Actor).

He also dedicated himself to poetry, where he was considered a representative of parnassianism, but simply on the chronological grounds of belonging to the generation of Alberto de Oliveira, Raimundo Correia and Olavo Bilac, who were all influenced by French poets such as Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Coppée and Heredia. But Artur Azevedo’s expansive and cheerful temperament actually had nothing in common with that school. A lyric and sentimental poet, his sonnets fall perfectly into the tradition of the Brazilian love sonnet.

Works: Carapuças, poetry (1871); Sonetos (1876); Um dia de finados, satire (1877); Contos possíveis (1889); Contos fora da moda (1894); Contos efêmeros (1897); Contos em verso (1898); Rimas, poetry (1909); Contos cariocas (1928); Vida alheia (1929); Histórias brejeiras, selected and prefaced by R. Magalhães Júnior (1962); Contos (1973).

Theatre: Amor por anexins (1872); A filha de Maria Angu (1876); Uma véspera de reis (1876); A jóia (1879); O escravocrata, in collaboration with Urbano Duarte (1884); A almanjarra (1888); A capital federal (1897); O retrato a óleo (1902); O dote (1907); O oráculo (1956); Teatro (1983).

Translator’s note:

Humberto de Campos wrote as follows in his preface to Azevedo’s Contos cariocas (1928):

He was the most popular short-story writer of his age and he is the one – of his generation – who is still remembered most fondly and with the most spontaneous admiration… His straightforwardness and good-humour has won him, and will continue to win him, the reputation of being the preeminent – and most affable – portraitist of Rio de Janeiro in its period of transition, i.e. in the period that saw the rise and fall of Ouvidor Street.