I was about to enter the drawing room when I heard my name mentioned and hid myself behind the door. The house was the one on Matacavalos, the month November, the year — it’s a trifle remote, but I’m not prepared to change the dates of my life solely to please people who don’t like old stories — the year was 1857.
“Dona Glória, are you still set on the idea of sending our Bentinho to seminary school? It’s past time he went, and there might now be a complication standing in the way.”
“A big complication.”
My mother wanted to know what it was. José Dias, after a few moments in deep thought, went to see if anyone was in the hall; he didn’t notice me, returned and, lowering his voice, said that the complication was next door, in the house of the Páduas.
“I’ve wanted to tell you this for a while, but I didn’t dare. It doesn’t seem right to me that our Bentinho should hide away in nooks and crannies with the daughter of old Turtleback. And this is the complication, because if they should start to fall for each other, you’ll have a struggle on your hands to separate them.”
“I don’t think so. Hiding away in nooks and crannies?”
“In a manner of speaking. Whispering in secret, always together. Bentinho hardly leaves that place. The girl’s scatterbrained. The father pretends not to notice; he’d be more than happy if things went so far as… I recognise your gesture. You don’t believe people are so scheming; everybody seems to you open, honest…”
“But, Senhor José Dias, I’ve seen the kids playing together, and I’ve never noticed anything mysterious. Their ages alone say enough: Bentinho is barely fifteen; Capitu just turned fourteen last week; they’re both kids. Don’t forget: they’ve been brought up together, ever since that great flood ten years ago in which the Páduas lost so much. That’s how we came to know one another. And now I’m to believe…? Cosme, my brother, what do you think?”
Uncle Cosme replied with a “Well!” that, translated into ordinary speech, meant “José Dias and his imagination. The kids are having fun, I’m having fun — where’s the backgammon set?”
“Yes, I think you’re mistaken, Senhor.”
“Maybe so, Senhora. God willing you’re right; but believe me, I spoke only after a lot of careful thought…”
“In any case, time is getting beyond us,” interrupted my mother. “I’ll go about enrolling him into the seminary right away.”
“Well, as long as the idea of making him a priest hasn’t been given up, that’s the main thing. Bentinho has to satify his mother’s wishes. Besides, the Brazilian church has a grand destiny. Let’s not forget that a bishop presided at the Constituent Assembly, and that Padre Feijó governed the empire…”
“Governed as badly as his face is ugly!” cut in Uncle Cosme, giving way to old political rancours.
“Pardon me, doctor, I’m not defending anyone, just stating facts. What I want to say is that the clergy still has an important role to play in Brazil.”
“What you want is a sound beating: go get the backgammon set. As for the young lad, if he has to be a priest, really it would be better if he didn’t start saying mass behind closed doors. But look here, Glória, is it really necessary to make a priest out of him?”
“It’s a promise; it must be kept.”
“I know that you made a promise… but a promise like that… I don’t know… I believe, when you really think about it… What do you think, Justina?”
“The truth is everyone knows what’s best for themselves,” continued Uncle Cosme. “Only God knows what’s best for everyone. Still, a promise made so many years ago… But what’s this, Glória? You’re crying? Come now, is this anything to be crying about?”
My mother blew her nose without answering. I think Justina, her cousin, got up and went to her. There followed a profound silence during which I was on tenterhooks to enter the room, but some other greater force, some other emotion… I couldn’t hear what Uncle Cosme had begun to say. Justina exhorted: “Cousin Glória! Cousin Glória!” José Dias was apologising: “If I had known, I wouldn’t have spoken, but I did so out of veneration, out of esteem, out of affection, to fulfil a harsh duty, the harshest of duties…”
Chapter 3 in the original Portuguese.