“The thing is, Tondo,” said investigating magistrate Slavík to his best friend, “it’s a question of experience. I don’t believe any excuses, any alibis or any blah-blah-blah. I don’t believe either the accused or the witnesses. People lie, even when they don’t mean to. Say a witness swears blind he’s got nothing against the accused… it’s quite possible that, deep down, so deep down he’s not even aware of it himself, he hates him for whatever deep-down reason. And everything the accused says has been plannned to the last jot and tittle. And everything the witness says might very well be governed by a conscious or unconscious desire to help or hinder the accused. You can’t believe anyone, that’s what I say.
“Rubner!” said the editor-in-chief. “Go and take a look at that graphologist, Jensen. He’s doing a demonstration tonight for members of the press. They say he’s quite a sensation, that Jensen. Write me a few lines about it.”
nyone with half a brain will realise that this incident couldn’t have happened here or in France or Germany. As is well known, here and in those countries judges are required to punish wrong-doers according to the letter of the law rather than according to their ineffable acuity as superior gentlemen. This story involves a judge who made a judgement based not on the relevant sections of law but on his trusty common sense. So, as you will see, it has to do with England or, to be more precise, London, or, to be even more precise, Kensington; or perhaps Brompton or Bayswater – anyway, somewhere thereabouts. The judge was His Honour Judge Kelly and the woman who was the object of his ineffable acuity was Miss Edith Myers.
(My translation of the short story A viúva do Estanislau, which was published in Contos ligeiros in 1974)
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.’
hen I met Knight Commander Luiz de Faria, he was waiting for his carriage at the door of the funeral directors. It wasn’t long since he’d closed the eyes of the old Marchioness of São Justino, having sweetened the moment of her death with the auspicious – if untrue – news that her grandson, Guilherme de Araújo, a student, was now a completely reformed character. Still downcast by the emotions of that moment, when he’d had to resort to a falsehood to perfume the last breath of a life of virtue and suffering, the former peer of the Portuguese realm accepted a lift in my vehicle and confided in me along the way:
‘A lie is necessary at times, my friend. The lie I availed myself of half an hour ago, to soothe the death of a saint, of a lady whose main hope was the future of a grandson who’d renounced his home, was just as necessary as the lie the Carthusian prior told to assuage the death throes of the famous monk Bussaco.’
o let me tell you – said old Fulinus – how Klára came into the world. It was that time when I was managing Prince Lichtenberg’s park in Lubenec. And the old prince, he was some connoisseur, Mr Čapek, believe me! He used to get mature trees sent over from Veitsch in England, and when it came to Dutch tulip bulbs – seventeen thousand! But that’s by the by. It was when I was walking down the street in Lubenec one Sunday that I met Klára. She was the village idiot – a deaf-mute and as mad as a hatter, but wherever she went she hee-hawed, but hee-hawed like the happiest person in the world. What is it, Mr Čapek, that makes those village idiots so happy? I was just going to get out of her way, so that she wouldn’t give me a kiss, when I noticed she was carrying a bouquet. Just some dill and some common-or-garden weeds from the meadows but, all of a sudden, I noticed something that made me stop in my tracks. In amongst it all, Mr Čapek, that nutty woman had a big, blousy chrysanthemum, which was blue! And what a blue, Mr Čapek! A bit like Phlox Laphamii, but with a touch of slate-grey and with a deep-pink border. And the inside was a beautiful saturated blue, like Campanula Turbinata. But even that’s not everything. The point is, Mr Čapek, in the case of the Chrysanthemum Indicum, a colour like that was – and to all intents and purposes still is – completely unknown! Some years ago I visited old Veitsch, and Sir James was boasting about how, the year before, they’d had a chrysanthemum – imported from China – that had bloomed with a touch of lilac but unfortunately it had died in the winter. And here was this cackling scarecrow of a woman with a chrysanthemum as blue as the bluest blue you can think of!
(My translation of the short story Případ Dr. Mejzlíka, which was published in Povídky z jedné kapsy in 1929.)
A pub in Prague. Mr Mejzlík, a young police constable, is having a drink with his elderly friend Mr Dastych.
M: (Frowning) It’s like this, Mr Dastych. I need your advice. I’ve had a case I can’t make head or tale of.
(My translation of the short story O homem que sabia javanês, which was published in the Gazeta da Tarde in 1911)
was in a coffee shop, telling my mate Castro how I’d conned people in order to earn a living. Once, when I was in Manaus, I’d even had to pretend I hadn’t been to university so that my clients wouldn’t think me unqualified for being a fortune-teller-cum-magician.
(My translation of the short story Cantiga de esponsais)
magine it’s 1813. You’re in the Carmelite Church, listening to one of those marvellous old masses that used to be the essence of public entertainment and musical artistry. You know what a sung mass is; you can imagine what a sung mass would have been in those far-off times. I’m not asking you to concentrate on the priests and sacristans, nor the sermon, nor the eyes of the Cariocan girls (already beautiful in those days), nor the mantillas of the dour senhoras, nor the shoes, hairdos, pelmets, lights, incense… none of that. I’m not even talking about the orchestra (which is excellent). I’m just pointing out the white-haired old man who—with all his devoted soul—is conducting the orchestra.
(My translation of the short story Marcha Fúnebre)
ne night in August 1866, Senator Cordovil was having difficulty sleeping. He’d come away early from the Fluminense Casino, soon after the Emperor had left, and had felt perfectly well, both mentally and physically. Indeed it had been an excellent evening, especially as one of his enemies, who had a heart problem, had died at about ten o’clock, the news arriving at the Casino shortly after eleven.