From here it was but a moment's drive to Villela's home. He stepped out, thrust the iron garden gate open and entered. The house was silent. He ran up the six stone steps and scarcely had he had time to knock when the door opened and Villela loomed before him.
"Pardon my delay. It was impossible to come sooner. What is the matter?"
Villela made no reply. His features were distorted; he beckoned Camillo to step within. As he entered, Camillo could not repress a cry of horror:—there upon the sofa lay Rita, dead in a pool of blood. Villela seized the lover by the throat and, with two bullets, stretched him dead upon the floor.
By Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
End of time. Ahasverus, seated upon a rock, gazes for a long while upon the horizon, athwart which wing two eagles, crossing each other in their path. He meditates, then falls into a doze. The day wanes.
AHASVERUS. I have come to the end of time; this is the threshold of eternity. The earth is deserted; no other man breathes the air of life. I am the last; I can die. Die! Precious thought! For centuries of centuries I have lived, wearied, mortified, wandering ever, but now the centuries are coming to an end, and I shall die with them. Ancient nature, farewell! Azure sky, clouds ever reborn, roses of a day and of every day, perennial waters, hostile earth that never would devour my bones, farewell! The eternal wanderer will wander no longer. God may pardon me if He wishes, but death will console me. That mountain is as unyielding as my grief; those eagles that fly yonder must be as famished as my despair. Shall you, too, die, divine eagles?
PROMETHEUS. Of a surety the race of man is perished; the earth is bare of them.
AHASVERUS. I hear a voice.... The voice of a human being? Implacable heavens, am I not then the last? He approaches.... Who are you? There shines in your large eyes something like the mysterious light of the archangels of Israel; you are not a human being?...
AHASVERUS. Of a race divine, then?
PROMETHEUS. You have said it.
AHASVERUS. I do not know you; but what matters it that I do not? You are not a human being; then I may die; for I am the last and I close the gate of life.
PROMETHEUS. Life, like ancient Thebes, has a hundred gates. You close one, and others will open. You are the last of your species? Then another better species will come, made not of clay, but of the light itself. Yes, last of men, all the common spirits will perish forever; the flower of them it is which will return to earth and rule. The ages will be rectified. Evil will end; the winds will thenceforth scatter neither the germs of death nor the clamor of the oppressed, but only the song of love everlasting and the benediction of universal justice....
AHASVERUS. What can all this posthumous joy matter to the species that dies with me? Believe me, you who are immortal, to the bones that rot in the earth the purples of Sidonia are worthless. What you tell me is even better than what Campanella dreamed. In that man's ideal city there were delights and ills; yours excludes all mortal and physical ailments. May the Lord hear you! But let me go and die.
PROMETHEUS. Go, go. But why this haste to end your days?
AHASVERUS. The haste of a man who has lived for thousands of years. Yes, thousands of years. Men who existed scarcely scores of them invented a feeling of ennui, tedium vitae, which they could never know, at least in all its implacable and vast reality, because it is necessary to have journeyed through all the generations and all the cataclysms to feel that profound surfeit of existence.
PROMETHEUS. Thousands of years?
AHASVERUS. My name Is Ahasverus; I dwelt in Jerusalem at the time they were about to crucify Christ. When he passed my door he weakened under the burden of the beam that he carried on his shoulders, and I thrust him onward, admonishing him not to stop, not to rest, to continue on his way to the hill where he was to be crucified.... Then there came a voice from heaven, telling me that I, too, should have to journey forever, continuously, until the end of time. Such was my crime; I felt no pity for him who was going to his death. I do not know myself how it came about. The Pharisees said that the son of Mary had come to destroy the law, and that he must be slain; I, ignorant wretch, wished to display my zeal and hence my action of that day. How many times have I seen the same thing since, traveling unceasingly through cities and ages! Whenever zealotry penetrated into a submissive soul, it became cruel or ridiculous. My crime was unpardonable.
PROMETHEUS. A grave crime, in truth, but the punishment was lenient. The other men read but a chapter of life; you have read the whole book. What does one chapter know of the other chapter? Nothing. But he who has read them all, connects them and concludes. Are there melancholy pages? There are merry and happy ones, too. Tragic convulsion precedes that of laughter; life burgeons from death; swans and swallows change climate, without ever abandoning it entirely; and thus all is harmonized and begun anew. You have beheld this, not ten times, not a thousand times, but ever; you have beheld the magnificence of the earth curing the affliction of the soul, and the joy of the soul compensating for the desolation of things; the alternating dance of Nature, who gives her left hand to Job and her right to Sardanapalus.
AHASVERUS. What do you know of my life? Nothing; you are ignorant of human existence.
PROMETHEUS. I, ignorant of human life? How laughable! Come, perpetual man, explain yourself. Tell me everything; you left Jerusalem ...
AHASVERUS. I left Jerusalem. I began my wandering through the ages. I journeyed everywhere, whatever the race, the creed, the tongue; suns and snows, barbarous and civilized peoples, islands, continents; wherever a man breathed, there breathed I. I never labored. Labor is a refuge, and that refuge was denied me. Every morning I found upon me the necessary money for the day ... See; this is the last apportionment. Go, for I need you no longer. (He draws forth the money and throws it away.) I did not work; I just journeyed, ever and ever, one day after another, year after year unendingly, century after century. Eternal justice knew what it was doing: it added idleness to eternity. One generation bequeathed me to the other. The languages, as they died, preserved my name like a fossil. With the passing of time all was forgotten; the heroes faded into myths, into shadow, and history crumbled to fragments, only two or three vague, remote characteristics remaining to it. And I saw them in changing aspect. You spoke of a chapter? Happy are those who read only one chapter of life. Those who depart at the birth of empires bear with them the impression of their perpetuity; those who die at their fall, are buried in the hope of their restoration; but do you not realize what it is to see the same things unceasingly,—the same alternation of prosperity and desolation, desolation and prosperity, eternal obsequies and eternal halleluiahs, dawn upon dawn, sunset upon sunset?
PROMETHEUS. But you did not suffer, I believe. It is something not to suffer.
AHASVERUS. Yes, but I saw other men suffer, and in the end the spectacle of joy gave me the same sensations as the discourses of an idiot. Fatalities of flesh and blood, unending strife,—I saw all pass before my eyes, until night caused me to lose my taste for day, and now I cannot distinguish flowers from thistles. Everything is confused in my wearied retina.
PROMETHEUS. But nothing pained you personally; and what about me, from time immemorial suffering the wrath of the gods?
PROMETHEUS. My name is Prometheus.
AHASVERUS. You! Prometheus!
PROMETHEUS. And what was my crime? Out of clay and water I made the first men, and afterwards, seized with compassion, I stole for them fire from the sky. Such was my crime. Jupiter, who then reigned over Olympus, condemned me to the most cruel of tortures. Come, climb this rock with me.
AHASVERUS. You are telling me a tale. I know that Hellenic myth.
PROMETHEUS. Incredulous old fellow! Come see the very chains that fettered me; it was an excessive penalty for no crime whatever; but divine pride is terrible ... See; there they are ...
AHASVERUS. And time, which gnaws all things, does not desire them, then?
PROMETHEUS. They were wrought by a divine hand. Vulcan forged them. Two emissaries from heaven came to secure me to the rock, and an eagle, like that which now is flying across the horizon, kept gnawing at my liver without ever consuming it. This lasted for time beyond my reckoning. No, no, you cannot imagine this torture ...
AHASVERUS. Are you not deceiving me? You, Prometheus? Was that not, then, a figment of the ancient imagination?
PROMETHEUS. Look well at me; touch these hands. See whether I really exist.
AHASVERUS. Then Moses lied to me. You are Prometheus, creator of the first men?
PROMETHEUS. That was my crime.
AHASVERUS. Yes, it was your crime,—an artifice of hell; your crime was inexpiable. You should have remained forever, bound and devoured,—you, the origin of the ills that afflict me. I lacked compassion, it is true; but you, who gave me life, perverse divinity, were the cause of all.
PROMETHEUS. Approaching death confuses your reason.
AHASVERUS. Yes, it is you; you have the Olympic forehead, strong and beautiful Titan; it is you indeed ... Are these your chains? I see upon them no trace of your tears.
PROMETHEUS. I wept them for your humankind.
AHASVERUS. And humanity wept far more because of your crime.
PROMETHEUS. Hear me, last of men, last of ingrates!
AHASVERUS. What need have I of your words? I desire your groans, perverse divinity. Here are the chains. See how I raise them; listen to the clank of the iron ... Who unbound you just now?
AHASVERUS. Hercules ... See whether he will repeat his service now that you are to be bound anew.
PROMETHEUS. You are raving.
AHASVERUS. The sky gave you your first punishment, now earth will give you the second and the last. Not even Hercules will ever be able to break these fetters. See how I brandish them in the air, like feathers! for I represent the power of millennial despairs. All humanity is concentrated within me. Before I sink into the abyss, I will write upon this stone the epitaph of a world. I will summon the eagle, and it will come; I will tell it that the last man, on departing from life, leaves him a god as a gift.
PROMETHEUS. Poor, ignorant wretch, who rejects a throne! No, you cannot reject it.
AHASVERUS. Now it is you who are raving. Kneel, and let me manacle your arms. So, 'tis well you will resist no more. Bend this way; now your legs ...
PROMETHEUS. Have done, have done. It is the passions of earth turning upon me; but I, who am not a human being, do not know ingratitude. You will not be spared a jot of your destiny; it will be fulfilled to the letter. You yourself will be the new Hercules. I, who announced the glory of the other, now proclaim yours; and you will be no less generous than he.
AHASVERUS. Are you mad?
PROMETHEUS. The truth unknown to man is the madness of him who proclaims it. Proceed, and have done.
AHASVERUS. Glory pays nothing, and dies.
PROMETHEUS. This glory will never die. Have done; have done; show the sharp beak of the eagle where it is to devour my entrails. But hear me ... No, hear nothing; you cannot understand me.
AHASVERUS. Speak; speak.
PROMETHEUS. The ephemeral world cannot understand the world eternal; but you will be the link between the two.
AHASVERUS. Tell me everything.
PROMETHEUS. I speak nothing; fetter these wrists well, that I shall not flee,—so that I shall be here on your return. Tell you all? I have already told you that a new race shall people the earth, formed of the chosen spirits of the extinct humanity; the multitude of others will perish. A noble family, all-seeing and powerful, will be the perfect synthesis of the divine and the human. The times will be others, but between them and these a link is necessary, and you shall be that link.
PROMETHEUS. You yourself; you, the chosen one; you, the King. Yes, Ahasverus. You shall be King. The Wanderer will find rest. The despised of men shall rule over mankind.
AHASVERUS. Wily Titan, you are deceiving me ... King,—I?
PROMETHEUS. You, King. Who else, then? The new world needs to be bound by a tradition, and none can speak of one to the other as you can. Thus there will be no gap between the two humanities. The perfect will proceed from the imperfect, and your lips will tell the new world its origin. You will relate to the new humanity all the ancient good and evil. And thus will you live anew like the tree whose dead branches are lopped off, only the flourishing ones being preserved, but here growth will be eternal.
AHASVERUS. Resplendent vision! I myself?
PROMETHEUS. Your very self.
AHASVERUS. These eyes ... these hands ... a new and better life ... Glorious vision! Titan, it is just. Just was the punishment; but equally just is the glorious remission of my sin. Shall I live? I myself? A new and better life? No, you are jesting with me.
PROMETHEUS. Very well, then; leave me. You will return some day, when this vast heaven will be open to let the spirits of the new life descend. You will find me here at peace. Go.
AHASVERUS. Shall I again greet the sun?
PROMETHEUS. The selfsame sun that is about to set. Friend sun, eye of time, nevermore shall your eyelids close. Gaze upon it, if you can.
AHASVERUS. I cannot.
PROMETHEUS. You will be able to, when the conditions of life shall have changed. Then your retina will gaze upon the sun without peril, for in the man of the future will be concentrated all that is best in nature, energizing or subtle, scintillating or pure.
AHASVERUS. Swear that you are not lying.
PROMETHEUS. You will see whether I lie.
AHASVERUS. Speak, speak on; tell me everything.
PROMETHEUS. The description of life is not worth the sensation of life; you shall experience it deeply. The bosom of Abraham in your old Scriptures is nothing but this final, perfect world. There you will greet David and the prophets. There will you tell to the astounded listeners, not only the great events of the extinct world, but also the ills they will never know: sickness, old age, grief, egotism, hypocrisy, abhorrent vanity, imbecility, and the rest. The soul, like the earth, will possess an incorruptible tunic.
AHASVERUS. I shall gaze ever on the immense blue sky?
PROMETHEUS. Behold how beautiful it is.
AHASVERUS. As beautiful and serene as eternal justice. Magnificent heaven, more beautiful than the tents of Caesar. I shall behold you forever; you will receive my thoughts, as before; you will grant me clear days, and friendly nights ...
PROMETHEUS. Dawn upon dawn.
AHASVERUS. Ah, speak on, speak on. Tell me everything. Let me unbind these chains ...
PROMETHEUS. Loosen them, new Hercules, last man of the old world, who shall be the first of the new. Such is your destiny; neither you nor I,—nobody can alter it. You go farther than your Moses. From the top of mount Nebo, at the point of death, he beheld the land of Jericho, which was to belong to his descendants and the Lord said unto him: "Thou hast seen with thine eyes, yet shalt not pass beyond." You shall pass beyond, Ahasverus; you shall dwell in Jericho.
AHASVERUS. Place your hand upon my head; look well at me; fill me with the reality of your prediction; let me breathe a little of the new, full life ... King, did you say?
PROMETHEUS. The chosen king of a chosen people.
AHASVERUS. It is not too much in recompense for the deep ignominy in which I have dwelt. Where one life heaped mire, another life will place a halo. Speak, speak on ... speak on ... (He continues to dream. The two eagles draw near.)
FIRST EAGLE. Ay, ay, ay! Alas for this last man; he is dying, yet he dreams of life.
SECOND EAGLE. Not so much that he hated it as that he loved it so much.
THE VENGEANCE OF FELIX
By Jose de Medeiros E Albuquerque (1867- )
Member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
Old Felix had followed his trade of digger in all the quarries that Rio de Janeiro possessed. He was a sort of Hercules with huge limbs, but otherwise stupid as a post. His companions had nicknamed him Hardhead because of his obstinate character. Once an idea had penetrated his skull it would stick there like a gimlet and the devil himself couldn't pull it out. Because of this trait there arose quarrels, altercations on points of the smallest significance, which the man's acquaintances would purposely bring up, knowing his evil humor. But Felix, despite his vigorous and sanguine constitution, was by no means quick to anger, nor immediately responsive to injury; on the contrary he was exceedingly patient in his vindictiveness. For the longest time he would ruminate upon his vengeance, most astutely, and he would carry it out at the moment when he believed himself perfectly secure. Oh! His ruses were not of very great finesse and required very little talent; but by dint of considering and reconsidering the case, by dint of waiting patiently for the propitious opportunity to present itself, he finally would play some evil trick upon his comrades. So that nobody liked him.
Felix had married, but his wife did not long survive. Just long enough to leave him a son and a daughter, who grew up knowing little restraint, chumming around with all the good-for-nothings of the vicinity, plaguing all the neighbors, who on their part, were not slow to punish the rascals. Thus several years went by. The son became a notorious character, the daughter an impudent, cynical little runabout who, on certain occasions, would fill their rickety abode with her chatter about affairs concerning the "man" of so-and-so or such-and-such. And thus things were going when the old man took it into his head to fall ill. An excruciating rheumatism attacked both his legs, rendering him incapable of moving about, and confining him to an old, lame armchair that was balanced by a complicated arrangement of old boxes that could never be got to remain steady. The illness became chronic. The daughter helped out the finances of the house with her earnings as laundry-woman ... and perhaps by earnings of a different nature. Anyway, they got along. The old fellow, willy-nilly, spent his days invariably riveted to his armchair, groaning with pain at the least movement, swearing, fretting and fuming, despairing of life. And, since his daughter simply refused from the very beginning to let him have even a drop of brandy, he was perforce cured of his vice.
Just about this time there happened to them the worst of all possible adventures. The son, whom the father had not seen for several weeks, one fine day attacked a peaceful citizen and, with a terrible knife thrust in the stomach, despatched him to a better world; as to which event circumstances seemed so contrary that the son allowed himself to be arrested.
The old man was in the habit of reading his gazette religiously, from the first line to the last; thus he learned the news. And it was through the same newspaper that he followed the trial and learned of his son's conviction. This made him furious, not so much because of the sentence as because of a special circumstance. The policeman who had arrested his son was—just think of it!—Bernardo,—yes, Bernardo, his own neighbor—the same chap who would greet him daily with the ironic words: "How are things, Felix old boy? And when will you be ready for a waltz?"
Even on the day of imprisonment and during those that followed Bernardo had permitted himself these witty remarks.
Bernardo was a cabra of Bahai, a pretentious mulatto whose enormous head of hair, carefully parted in the middle into two flourishing masses, was kept so only through the services of odorous pomade that cost four sous a pot. He had been, in his day, a dishonest political henchman, well-known for his exploits; then, supported by the liberal leader whose election he had worked for, he escaped prison and entered the police service. At that time police officers were called "bats",—a sobriquet that troubled Bernardo very little. And it had been he—what anger flashed in old Felix's eyes as he thought of it!—he, whose past activities would well bear examination, he who had arrested Felix's son!...
From that moment one preoccupation alone filled Felix's hours—vengeance! This hatred dominated his existence and became the only power that could vanquish the ever-growing misery of his broken-down body. The mere thought that he could not grow well, while the cabra would daily continue to live in insolent impunity, was enough to give him convulsions of rage; he would foam at the mouth, gnash his teeth and, in that obtuse brain of his, concoct scheme upon scheme of vengeance, almost all of them impracticable, for he was chained to the spot in stupid impotence.
At times he would wish to call Bernardo and with thunderous violence pour torrents of insult upon his head. But what end would that serve? Felix's treacherous, cowardous nature counselled him to have prudence. So, on the first days after the arrest, when the mulatto would go by, the old man feigned slumber. Then, in the continuing uncertainty as to what method of vengeance to pursue, and in order not to let his hatred betray itself, he spoke to the policeman as if nothing had happened. Nevertheless there was one thing that puzzled him greatly: his daughter had said nothing to him about the entire affair. Did she know nothing about it? It was almost impossible that the mulatto, with his chatterbox habits, had not spoken of the matter. Had his daughter feared to shock him with the news? This was all the less probable since she had never had any particular love for him. Scarcely did a day pass that she did not call him a "good-for-nothing," "a lazy lout," and other similar tendernesses. So he breathed not a word, and continued to ruminate upon his vengeance.
Months rolled on. Far from getting better the illness increased. As soon as the old fellow tried to move, horrible pains seized him at every joint. His daughter maltreated him, and at the height of his attacks she would reply to his complaints that he'd do better if he left the house, and she even threatened to send him to the hospital. It was now June. The weather was one long succession of heavy rains; the invalid suffered atrociously from the cold and the damp, and his daughter, disgruntled at the bad weather, which interfered with her washing, lived in unbroken sulkiness. She treated him worse than a dog, and it was truly with the patience of a dog that he endured everything, so much did he fear being sent away. A plan of vengeance had arisen in his brain, and slowly, during the months, ever since he had learned that his case was incurable, his project had absorbed his entire mental activity,—indeed, his whole existence. He breathed only for his plan, for the sure, propitious opportunity.
At last it came, and a terrible day it was. At dusk his daughter had left, closing the door, as was her habit, and had not returned at night. The old man was parched with thirst and his physical torture had doubled. He resolved upon quick action.
In the morning,—it might have been about seven o'clock—his daughter returned, or rather, rolled into the room, and with her, pell-mell came "Jane", Bernardo's "friend". Jane was roundly berating his daughter. "You rotten thing!" she cried. "I'll show you! Trying to take away somebody else's man." And the two women came to blows, rousing the entire neighborhood. They tried at last to separate the combatants, but it would have been easier to break them to bits, so fiercely did they struggle against each other. There was a whistle; the police arrived, and the women were taken to the lock-up. All this as quick as a flash.
The old man had not had time to utter a word. But an extreme rage, blind,—an anger such as only savage beasts can know, overpowered him. What! His daughter, the mistress of Bernardo! This was the last straw!
Towards noon the mulatto came back. He had spent the night away from home, under the pretext of a special patrol; he returned, ignorant of the morning's events. He came in smiling, in that measured walk of his, waddling along. He approached Felix and asked him the classic question: "Now then, how goes it?"
Felix did not reply and merely made a sign with his hand. The policeman entered. When he had come near, Felix said to him in a low voice that he had something very serious to tell him. But first of all he insisted that Bernardo go and bring his large knife.
"Why that, Felix? What do you want to do with a knife?" asked the other.
The old man smiled mysteriously. "Quick, my boy, I'll tell you afterwards, and you'll see that my story will be worth the trouble."
"All right, I'll get it," replied the officer. And a minute later he was back with the knife, which he gave to the invalid.
"Now," continued the latter, "go and close the door, so that nobody will hear. Close it well, and turn the key."
Bernardo felt some mistrust at all this mystery, but knowing for certain that the helpless old man could do him no harm, he obeyed, curiously waiting to learn what the other was up to.
"So, you want to tell me now?—Not yet! Here, first put this watch in your pocket." And the old man drew from his pocket an ancient nickel watch which he gave to the cabra.
"What am I to do with this, Felix?" asked the mulatto.
"Keep it, I tell you," was the reply.
"The old duffer is crazy for sure," thought Bernardo, nevertheless doing as he was told. Then, seeing in what manner the invalid had grasped the knife he discreetly withdrew a few paces.
Well, almost immediately Felix made a sudden movement that caused his pain to increase anew, and he began to groan, to utter most terrible cries, almost shrieks.
"I am dying! I am dying!"
Bernardo had never heard such awful groaning; his mistrust grew, and, seeing that the old man still clutched the knife, he thought the invalid would kill him if he should attempt to approach. He therefore again stepped back a few paces and awaited developments, persuaded that he had a lunatic in front of him. The groaning became louder and louder, so that it was easily to be heard outside. Finally, the cabra, tired of waiting, said, "I'll be back right away, Felix." And he was about to leave.
Brusquely, the old man uncovered his own breast, and with a rapid movement, right over the heart, he thrust in the blade with all his might, up to the hilt. Not a drop of blood spurted out, the thick blade obstructing the wound. His face convulsed with an expression of excruciating torment; his hanging arms grew rigid.
The officer rushed to the door, opened it, called for help and returned to pull the knife from the wound, and to see whether it was yet possible to save the unfortunate man. Men and women, wildly excited, ran up to the house crying loudly, and, seeing this man with a long knife whence the blood was dripping, seeing also the pierced breast of old Felix, the whole populace rushed upon Bernardo, disarmed him, crying "Kill him! Kill him!" Bernardo was punched and kicked and cudgelled from one infuriated person to the other in the crowd, and led to the police-station by a multitude which every moment waxed greater and more threatening.
Several months later the trial came to an end. Bernardo was sentenced to hard labor for life. Nobody would believe his story. The proofs were overwhelming. Had he not been caught red-handed? The presence of the nickel-watch in his pocket indicated sufficiently that the motive of the crime was robbery. The vengeance of old Felix had been well calculated: the result was there. The old man had conquered.
By Coelho Netto
Member Brazilian Academy of Letters
When the pigeons leave, misfortune follows. —Indian superstition.
When Joanna appeared at the door yawning, fatigued after the long sleepless night spent at her son's bedside, Triburcio, on the terrace, leaning against his spade, was watching the pigeon-house closely.
The sun was already setting and gilded the moist leaves. At the edge of the ravine, turtle-doves and starlings were circling in the air, making a joyous noise above the high branches of the neighboring trees.
The caboclo Indian did not remove his eyes from the pigeon-house. The wrinkles on his forehead bore witness to an inner struggle—, grave thoughts which were clouding his spirit. A pigeon took to flight, then another, and still another; he turned his head, following them with his gaze until they were out of sight, and then returned to his melancholy contemplation.
 Caboclo signifies copper-colored. Indigenous tribes of Brazil are so called from the color of their skin.
The birds came and went, entered the pigeon-house and left in agitated manner, cooing loudly; they circled above the dwelling, sought the trees, alighted on the thatch of the cabin, descended to earth in spiral flight.
Some seemed to be getting their bearings, to seek a route: they gazed across the clear stretches of space and penetrated to the distant horizons. Others would fly off, describing vast circles, and would return to the pigeon-house. Then all would come together as if for a discussion, to plan their departure.
Some, undecided, opened their wings as if about to fly away, but soon would close them again. Still others would dart off, only to come back aimlessly, and the noise increased to a hubbub of hurried leaving.
The Indian gazed fixedly. Well he knew that the life of his little son was at stake, and depended upon the decision of the birds. "When the pigeons leave, misfortune quickly follows."
Joanna noticed his preoccupation. "What is the matter?" she asked.
The caboclo scratched his head and made no reply. The woman insisted. "What is the trouble, Tiburcio?"
"The pigeons have taken a whim into their heads, Joanna."
"And you are lost in the contemplation of it? I have not cared to speak, but I know well the meaning of what I see."
The caboclo slung the spade across his shoulder and walked slowly up the road that led to the plantation, through the wet hay which exhaled a piquant odor.
Some hens were clucking, hidden in the high grass, and a little ribbon of water which flowed gently along sparkled here and there through the openings in the brushwood.
Tiburcio, head bowed, spade on his shoulder, could not shake off the deep impression that had been made upon him by the sudden migration of the birds.
It was the fatal sign.
To be sure, he had heard the owl's screech for many and many a night; but he had seen no cause for fear in this: everything was going along nicely; their little son was in good health and they, too, knew no illness. But now the warning of the evil omen was confirmed. The pigeons which he had himself brought up were flying away. They were leaving, thus forecasting the arrival of death.
He turned back; he raised his eyes. There were the birds high above, still circling about, and Joanna was at the threshold of the cabin, leaning against the jamb, her arms crossed, her head hanging. The poor woman was surely weeping.
Within him he felt a mute explosion of hatred and revolt against the ungrateful birds. Never had he had the courage to kill a single one of them. He lived only for the purpose of keeping the pigeon-house in order, thinking only of making it larger so that it might accommodate more pairs. And the little child, was it not he who crushed the millet for the fledglings, who climbed the mango-tree, going from branch to branch to see whether there wasn't some crack through which the rain came in? Who knows? Perhaps the pigeons were leaving their dwelling because they no longer saw him?
He shrugged his shoulders and continued on his way. As he crossed the dam his heart palpitated wildly. He stopped. The water, held back in its course, threw back a motionless reflection of him. But although he looked down upon it he saw not his image; his thoughts were entirely with the little child who, burning with fever, was in delirium.
He chose a side path. The millet stems were so high that he disappeared within them with a crumpling of dry leaves. The soft ant-hills which it was his daily custom to level off failed to attract his attention. He walked straight on. Parrots flew by, chattering, with their green wings shining in the sun, and huge grasshoppers were jumping in the leaves.
He came upon a straw hut,—here the child was wont to play with its toys;—there was even now a boot of wild sugar-cane. But already the grass was beginning to invade the abandoned shelter.... For a month the little child had not visited the place. When the father came to the field of manioc he sat down, bent almost in two. The spade weighed upon his shoulders like a burden. The strength had oozed out of his legs. His whole body was broken with fatigue, as if at the end of a long journey. He sat down upon a hillock and began to trace lines upon the earth, with a distraught air.
At times it seemed as if he heard the echo of his wife's voice. He would raise his head and strain his ears to catch the sound. But only the rustling of the leaves stirred by the breeze and the chirping of the insects in the sun came to him. All earth seemed to perspire. A diaphanous vapor rose tremblingly from the hot soil; the leaves hung languidly, and through the intense blueness of the sky passed some urubus in search of distant lodgings.
 Urubu: the black vulture of South America.
Suddenly a pigeon winged through the air, then another, and still another. They were leaving ... they were leaving!... A beating of wings,—more on the way. They would never return, never! They were fleeing in horror, feeling the approach of death.
For a long time he gazed about him, but could see only the rich verdure waving to the wind in the warm transparency of the atmosphere. He should have taken his child to town as soon as the illness had appeared. But who could have foretold this? He raised his eyes to heaven and they lingered upon the luminous azure; then came another pigeon. He shook his head and, striking his fist against his thigh, slung his spade back upon his shoulder and turned in the direction of his house.
When Joanna saw him on the terrace she appeared to divine his thoughts.
"It is well you returned, my dear! All alone here I am at a loss as to what to do."
He looked at the pigeon-house, saw that it was deserted, and ominously silent. As evening fell Tiburcio sat down upon the threshold of the cabin and began to smoke, waiting for the pigeons. The grasshoppers were shrilling; all the birds who had their nests in the tree nearby retired and, as it was still light, they lingered in the branches to trill their good-night cadences.
The sky grew pale. The landscape was veiled in a light mist. The evening breeze scattered the gentle odor of lilies. Not very far off a dog barked now and then. At times a grave lowing saddened the silence. Tiburcio did not remove his eyes from the pigeon-house, unless it was to pierce the shadows and try to discover in the distance one of the birds. Perhaps some of them would return.
Where could they find a better shelter? The forest was full of dangers and domestic pigeons could scarcely live in the brushwood. What other pigeon-roost could have attracted them? If he had but followed the line of their flight ... Some had taken the direction of the fields, others had flown towards the mountains, and there was no sign of any returning.
It was now quite dark. Joanna lighted a candle. Already the frogs were croaking in the marshes. A star shone in the sky. Tiburcio fixed his gaze upon it and began to pray in low tones. The silence was scarcely broken by the murmuring of the water as it ran and broke over the stones in the ravine not far away, just behind the cabin.
Tiburcio sighed, arose, leaned against the jamb and lacked courage to go inside. Joanna came near the door.
"The same thing," he replied.
He stepped down, called her, and together they went towards the terrace. Near the mango-tree, directly under the pigeon-house, they stopped, and the Indian, as if in fear of being heard by the child, asked softly, "Joanna, don't you know any prayers for this?" And he pointed to the deserted pigeon-roost.
"Only Lina knows," she answered.
"She can pronounce the proper spells?"
"So they say."
Tiburcio stood as if in a dream. Suddenly, in a firm voice, he announced, "I am going to her."
"Certainly!... Haven't you just said that she was a sorceress?"
"I have never seen it, Tiburcio.... That's what people say."
"I? No. And I am afraid that it is too late. You have seen your self how far gone he is! He is no longer interested in anything. I move about, I speak, I go here and there, I come back again into the room,—but it is all nothing to him. Ah! God in heaven!"
Her voice died out Suddenly she melted into tears. Tiburcio withdrew and commenced to pace slowly up and down the terrace. The white moon was rising. The fields became less obscure and, in the light, the shadows of the trees, very black, stretched across the ground.
"Patience, dear woman, patience!"
The strident crickets were chirping. The caboclo murmured, "Yes, I know ..."
Of a sudden Joanna shuddered. Quivering she turned towards the cabin, from whose wide door shone a ray of livid light; for a moment her astonished gaze lingered and then, with a bound she was gone.
Tiburcio, motionless, without understanding what his wife had just done, quietly awaited her return, when a piercing cry rang out. The caboclo rushed to the cabin and made for the room where the candle was burning. The woman, on her knees before the little bed, leaning over the child, was sobbing desperately.
"What has happened, Joanna?"
She gave a hoarse cry and threw her arms across the corpse of her son.
"Look! It's all over!"
She bent down, her face brushed a cheek that was burning; her trembling hands felt a little body that was still aflame. She touched the sunken chest, where the ribs showed through like laths, and the hollow abdomen.
"Listen to his heart, Tiburcio!"
He could only reply, "It is all over!"
The mother arose with a leap, disfigured, her hair dishevelled, her eyes sparkling. She tried to speak, stretched her hands out to her husband, but fell limp upon a basket and, bowed down, bathed in tears, she began to repeat the name of her son with an infinite tenderness that was rent by sobs.
"My Luiz! My little Luiz! But a moment ago living, oh blessed Virgin!"
Tiburcio turned away and in the room, before the table, he stopped, his eyes wandering, his lips trembling, the tears rolling in big drops down his bony face. Joanna left the chamber, wavering as if drunk, and seeing him, threw herself into his arms; he held her without uttering a word, and they stood thus in embrace for a long time, in the dark, narrow room where the crickets were chirping.
Joanna went back to the chamber. Tiburcio remained leaning against the table, his eyes fixed upon the candle which flickered in the breeze. Slowly the light of the moon came in, white, climbing upon the walls. He arose with a sigh, went to the door, sat down upon the threshold, lighted his pipe and looked leisurely out upon the country, which was growing brighter beneath the moon. Suddenly it seemed to him that he heard the cooing of pigeons. Above, the stars were shining, the tree tops glittered in the moonlight. Could it be an illusion?
Motionless, he concentrated his attention. The cooing continued. He arose impetuously, walked straight to the pigeon-roost and leaned against the trunk of the mango-tree.
"Could it be the pigeons who were returning after the passing of death?" he began to mutter in fury, replying to his thoughts. "Now it's too late! A curse upon them!"
A beating of wings, a tender cooing, and little cries came from the pigeon-house. There was no doubt now. He went forward and, from the middle of the terrace watched the pigeon-house, walking resolutely towards the cabin.
Joanna was sobbing hopelessly. He took the candle, went to the kitchen, and seeing the axe in a corner he seized it, still muttering. He then turned back to the terrace and, having reached the mango-tree, rolled up the sleeves of his coarse shirt so that he might swing the axe.
At the first blow against the post which supported the pigeon-house the birds grew still. Tiburcio redoubled his efforts. A crack now weakened the structure, but still it resisted. He leaned the axe against the trunk and, grasping the branches, raised himself to the top of the tree. From there he supported himself between two boughs and gave the large box a furious kick. The pigeon-roost fell shattered to the ground.
Two pigeons flew off in great fright, dazed. Uncertain of their direction in the clearness of the night, they lit upon the roof of the hut.
The caboclo slid down lightly along the trunk and saw two little bodies who were whining, staggering, dragging themselves along. They were two little pigeons. He bent over them, took them in his hands and began to examine them. They were ugly, still without wings, having only a thin down to cover the muscles of their soft, wrinkled bodies. The Indian turned them over this way and that in his shrivelled hands. He felt their fragile bones, and the little things struggled to fly away, moving the stumps of their wings; they stretched out their necks and whined.
Gnashing his teeth, Tiburcio squeezed the fledglings and crushed them. Their tender bones cracked like bits of wood. The blood gushed forth and trickled, warm, through the tightened fingers of the man.
Under the impulse of his fury he threw them to the ground; they flattened out, soft as rotten fruit. And the caboclo, growling to himself, trampled upon them. The parent-birds were cooing dolorously upon the thatched roof, flying hither and thither.
Joanna, embracing her dead child, was still sobbing when Tiburcio entered the chamber. He stopped before the little bed, and looked down. Of a sudden the woman shook, arose with a start, seized her husband's arm, her eyes distended and her mouth wide open, her head bending over as if to hear voices, faraway sounds.
"What is it, Joanna? What is the matter with you?"
In terror she stammered reply. "The pigeons, dear husband. Don't you hear them?"
It was their sad cooing that came from the roof of the house. "They are returning! Who knows? He is yet warm!" she cried.
And in the heart of the woman arose a great hope.
Tiburcio shrugged his shoulders.
"Now it's their turn to mourn!" he answered. "They are sobbing, like us. It's a pair that remained behind because of the little ones. I dashed the pigeon-house to earth, I have killed the fledglings. See!"
And he showed his bloody hands.
"They flew away; they're on the house. Do you want to see?"
He went out; she followed. They walked to the terrace. Tiburcio pointed to the ruined pigeon-house. Then he grasped the crushed bodies of the little birds. "Look!"
Without breathing a word Joanna looked on. In her horror she had stopped weeping. She gazed upon her husband, whose burning eyes flashed fire. He threw the first little pigeon upon the roof bellowing, "'T is well!"
He threw the second.
"'T is well!" he repeated.
The pigeons, frightened, flew off into the dark foliage.
"'T is well," he said once more.
Joanna, dumb, terrified, could not remove her eyes from her husband, who was now crying with sobs, his opened hands stained with blood.
"Come, dear husband. It was the will of God. Our little son is in heaven!" And slowly she heartened him. They entered their cabin and, before the pallet of the dead child, the tears gushed from their eyes, while, on the roof above, the pigeons, who had returned, were cooing dolorously.
AUNT ZEZE'S TEARS
By Carmen Dolores
(Emilia Moncorva Bandeira de Mello, 1852-1910)
Pale and thin, for eighteen years she had lived with her youngest sister, who had married very early and now possessed five children: two young ladies of marriageable age, a third still in short dresses, and two little boys.
Maria-Jose, whose nickname was Zeze, had never been beautiful or winning. Upon her father's death it was thought best that she should go to live with her sister Engracigna's family. Here she led a monotonous existence, helping to bring up her nephews and nieces, who were born in that young and happy household with a regularity that brooked small intervals between the births.
A long, pointed nose disfigured her face, and her lips, extremely thin, looked like a pale crack. Her thoughtful gaze alone possessed a certain melancholy attractiveness. But even here, her eyes, protruding too far for the harmony of the lines upon her face seemed always to be red, and her brows narrow and sparse.
Of late, an intricate network of wrinkles as fine as hairs, had formed at the corner of her eyes. From her nose, likewise, two furrows ran along the transparent delicacy of her skin and reached either side of her mouth. When she smiled, these wrinkles would cover her countenance with a mask of premature age, and threatened soon to disfigure her entirely. And yet, from habit, and through passive obedience to routine, Maria-Jose continued to dress like a young girl of eighteen, in brightly colored gowns, thin waists and white hats that ill became her frail and oldish face.
She would remain for a long time in painful indecision when it was a matter of picking out some piece of goods that was of too bright a red or blue,—as if instinctively she understood the disharmony of these hues with her age, whose rapid oncoming they moreover placed in all the more noticeable contrast. And at such times Engracigna and her daughters would say to her with a vehemence whose effect they little guessed, "Why, Zeze! Buy something and be done with it!... How silly! Do you want to dress like a widow? What a notion!"
And at bottom they meant it.
None of them saw Maria-Jose as she really was. Living with her day by day had served to efface the actual appearance of the faded old maid. For, in the minds of the mother and her daughters, who were moreover of a frivolous and indifferent sort, Zeze had grown to be the type, very vague, to be sure, but the eternal type of young girl of marriagable years who always should be well dressed and smiling.
When she would be out walking with her nieces, of sixteen and seventeen years, who wore the same clothes as she herself did, but whose graceful and lively charm became their gay colors of youth so well, Zeze's intelligence saw only too plainly the contrast between her and them; she would hold aloof from the laughing set, morose, wounded, as if oppressed by an unspeakable shame.
Ah! Who can depict the secret chagrin of an old maid who sees pass by in useless monotony her dark, loveless, despairing days, without hope even of some event of personal interest, while about her moves the busy whirl of happier creatures whose life has but one goal, who feel emotions and tendernesses, and who look upon her simply as an obscure accessory in the household's affairs! They all loved her, of course, but not one of them suspected that she, too, could cherish those aspirations that are common to all human beings.
Her self-denial seemed to be a most natural thing; indeed, they hardly considered her in the light of a living person; she was no longer of any consequence.
This was an attitude that satisfied the general egotism of the family, and to which they all had grown accustomed, never suspecting the grievous aspect of her sacrifice which was hidden by a sentiment of proud dignity.
So, when they would go to the theatre, and the box held only five—Engracigna, her husband, Fabio, and the three young ladies,—Maria-Jose knew beforehand that her sister, snugly wrapped in her opera-cloak, would come to her and say gently, in that purring voice of hers: "You'll stay at home with the children tonight, won't you, Zeze? Little Paul isn't very well, and I wouldn't think of leaving him with anybody else...."
And she would remain behind, without betraying the revolt within her which, upon each occasion of these evidences of selfishness, would make the anemic blood in her veins tremble with agitation.
Alone in the dining-room she would ply her needle mechanically, while her nephews would amuse themselves with the toys scattered upon the table,—colored pictures and lead soldiers. Every other moment they would call her.
"Aunt Zeze, look at George pinching me!"
"I am not! Paul hit me first!..."
And the good aunt would quiet them. Then, after both had been put to sleep in their little twin beds, she would rest her elbows upon the window-sill of her gloomy old-maid's room, and placing both hands beneath her sharp chin, her gaze directed towards heaven, she would lose herself in contemplation of the stars that shone in the limpid sky, less lonely, surely, than she upon earth. In vain did her eyes seek in the eyes of another that expression of sympathy and tenderness which alone would console her....
The truth is that Maria-Jose was suffering from the disappointment of unrequited passion. She had fallen in love with Monjardin, a poet and great friend of her brother-in-law, Fabio. Monjardin came to the house every Sunday.
Older than she, almost forty, but having preserved all the attractiveness of youth,—a black moustache, a vigorous, yet graceful figure, eyes still bright, charming and wide-awake,—Monjardin, without knowing it, had conquered Zeze.
This had come about in a rather curious manner. Finding the conversation of Fabio's wife and daughters too commonplace, Monjardin, when he would recite some of his poems or tell some story connected with his literary life, preferred to address Maria-Jose, whom he saw to be of a serious and impressive nature.
"Let's have another poem, please, Mr. Monjardin!" she would ask in supplicating tone. "For instance, that one you call 'Regrets.' You know?"
And then he would describe in his verse the grief of a heart, disillusioned and broken by the cruelties of fate, that evoked in vain the remembrance of yesterday's lost loves, vanished in the mists of eternal despair.
He recited these bitter griefs in a strong, healthy man's voice, erect in the center of the parlor, looking mechanically, distractedly at Maria-Jose with his dreamy eyes; the concentrated effort of his memory brought to his face an involuntary immobility which Maria-Jose, most deliciously touched, drank in.
The poet had announced that he had written a poem which he would recite at Zeze's anniversary dinner. The date for this was but a few days distant, and ever since the poet's announcement the whole family had taken to teasing the old maid, christening her "the muse of inspiration," and asking her when the wedding would take place....
She smiled ingenuously; at such times her face would even take on an air of unusual happiness; her features grew animated, less wrinkled and more firm.
On the day of the celebration Maria-Jose came out of her room radiant with hope. At the belt of her white dress bloomed a rose; a little blood, set pulsing by her agitated heart, brought a feeble color to her marble cheeks, from which now protruded her long nose in a manner less displeasing than usual.
"See, mamma," remarked one of the nieces, "doesn't Zeze look like a young girl today?"
They dined amidst merry chatter. Seated directly across from Monjardin, Maria-Jose, hiding her glances behind the fruit-bowls that covered the table, looked at him furtively without surfeit. Her poor heart beat as if it would burst, waiting in agonized suspense for the poem in which the poet, without doubt, was to declare his intimate feelings for her. Monjardin had already pointed to his pocket as a token that he had the verses with him, and Zeze had trembled with gratification as she bashfully lowered her long face.
Champagne sparkled in the glasses and toasts were given. Several guests of distinction spoke first, then followed the hosts and their children,—frolicsome little things. Finally Monjardin arose and unfolded a manuscript, asking permission to declaim the verses which he had composed in honor of Maria-Jose, the central figure of the occasion. The guests greeted his remarks with noisy and enthusiastic approbation.
Engracigna and her daughters leaned over and cast malicious glances in the direction of Maria-Jose, but she was paying no attention to them. Her ears were buzzing; it seemed that everything was turning round.
Monjardin, the center of all eyes, made pompous preparation; he pulled down his vest, arranged his sleeves and, in sonorous, cadenced voice began to recite his alexandrines, scanning the lines impeccably.
His poem opened with a eulogy of the ineffable virtue, compounded of self-abnegation and chastity, that distinguished the angelic creature who, with her white tutelary wings, watched over the happiness of his dear friend's love nest. He then recalled that the date of this day commemorated the happy birth of a being of immaculate purity, Maria-Jose, a veritable saint who had renounced all her own aspirations so that she might consecrate herself entirely to the duties of her sister's family; gentle figure of the mother-guardian, who would soon be the beloved grandmother sharing with her sister the joys of younger households which would soon be formed, offsprings of that home which her devoted tenderness as aunt and sister at present cultivated. As he came to a close, the poet raised his cup of sparkling wine and, in exalted voice, drank to the health of Zeze amidst the loud huzzahs of all present.
"Long live Aunt Zeze! Hurrah for Aunt Zeze!" cried the children, glass in hand, while the nieces laughed loudly, blushing to the ears, for they had understood very well the poet's reference to future "younger households."
Fabio and his wife, their eyes somewhat brightened by the strong champagne, proposed in turn their toast to Zeze.
"Here's to Zeze and the eighteen happy years we've lived together!..."
Maria-Jose, as soon as she had seized the significance of Monjardin's verses, had grown deathly pale; stricken by sudden disillusionment, she felt a glacial chill overwhelm her body to the very marrow; she feared that she would faint straightway and provide a spectacle for the guests, who were all drinking her health, their eyes focussed upon her. A veil of tears spread before her sight.... In vain she tried to repress them, to force a smile of thanks upon her face. The smile wrinkled into a dolorous grimace; she succeeded only in convulsing her contracted visage with the sobs that she sought to restrain. Overcome at last, humiliated, powerless, she broke into tears, and this unforeseen denouement put an end at once to all the pleasure of the dinner.
"Zeze! Zeze! What ails you?..."
Engracigna had rushed to her side in alarm; everyone rose, seeking the reason for the outburst; they surrounded the poor creature, whose head had sunk upon the table, in the midst of the rose petals, the fruits and the glasses which were strewn in charming confusion.
"What is the trouble?..."
A nervous attack, perhaps?... Confusion produced in her by the touching poem?...
Finally they raised Maria-Jose's head and bathed it in cool water; whereupon the face of the poor old maid stood revealed in all the ugliness that her spasms of convulsive weeping cast over it, with her large aquiline nose, her protruding eyes and her livid lips ...
And now Monjardin drew near. Delicately raising the icy fingers of Maria-Jose he lifted them to the edge of his perfumed moustache and placed upon them a grateful kiss; then, turning to Engracigna's daughters he said, with a solemn, self-complacent tone, "Aunt Zeze's tears are the most beautiful homage that could be rendered to my poor verses."