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