DONA PAULAShe couldn't have come at a better moment. Dona Paula came into the room, just as her niece was drying her eyes, worn out with crying. We can understand her aunt's astonishment the niece's, too, when we realise that Dona Paula lives up in Tijuca, and seldom comes down to town. The last time was at Christmas, and it's now May 1882. She came down yesterday afternoon, and went to her sister's house on the Rua do Lavradio. Today, as soon as she'd had lunch, she dressed and hurried to visit her niece. The first slave she saw was going to let her mistress know, but Dona Paula told her not to, and went on tiptoes, very slowly so her dress wouldn't rustle, opened the drawing-room door and went in.'What's this?' she exclaimed.Venancinha threw herself into her arms, and her tears burst out again. Her aunt kissed her, embraced her, spoke words of comfort, and begged her to tell her what the matter was, if it was an illness...'I wish it was! I wish I was dead!' the girl interrupted.'Don't be so silly; what's the matter? Come on, what's happened?'Venancinha dried her eyes and began to speak. At the fifth or sixth word, she had to stop; the tears came back, so abundant and unrestrained that Dona Paula thought it best to let them have their way first. Meanwhile, she started taking off her black lace cape and removing her gloves. She was an attractive lady, elegantly dressed, proud owner of a large pair of eyes, which once upon a time must have been infinite. While her niece was crying, she carefully went to shut the door, and returned to the sofa. After a few minutes, Venancinha stopped crying, and told her aunt what the matter was.
It was nothing less than a quarrel with her husband, violent enough for them to have talked about separation. The cause was jealousy. Her husband had taken a dislike to a certain individual; but the previous evening, in C 's house, seeing her dance with him twice and converse for some minutes, he'd concluded they were flirting. He'd been sullen on the way home; in the morning, after breakfast, his anger exploded, and he said harsh, cruel things to her, which she rebuffed with others.'Where is your husband?' asked the aunt.'He's gone out; to his office, I think.'Dona Paula asked if it was still the same one, and told her to relax, it was nothing; two hours from now it'd all be over. She quickly put her gloves on.'Are you going there, auntie?''Yes Why not? I'm off. Your husband's a good man; this is just a tiff. 104? I'm off; wait for me, and don't let the slaves see you.'All this was said rapidly, confidently and gently. Once her gloves were on, she got her cape, and her niece helped her, talking as well, and swearing that, in spite of everything, she adored Conrado. Conrado was the husband; he'd been a lawyer since 1874. As Dona Paula left, the girl showered her with kisses. It was true: she couldn't have come at a better moment. On the way, however, it seems she began to look at the incident a little sceptically, not exactly mistrustful, but a bit concerned about what might really be happening; at any event, she was determined to re-establish domestic harmony.She got there; Conrado wasn't in, but he soon came back, and once the first surprise was over, Dona Paula didn't have to tell him what the object of the visit was; he guessed everything. He admitted that he had overstepped the mark in some ways; in any case, he wasn't saying his wife was perverse or vicious in any way. That much was true; but she was a giddy creature, who loved idle chatter, tender looks and words softly spoken, and frivolity is one of the doors leading to sin. As far as the person in question was concerned, he had no doubt they were flirting. Venancinha had only recounted yesterday's events; she'd said nothing about other times, four or five, the last one at the theatre, when they'd even created a bit of a scandal. He wasn't about to cover up for his wife's ineptitude. If she wanted to flirt, she'd better do it on her own.Dona Paula listened to all this in silence: then she spoke in her turn. She agreed that her niece was frivolous; it was natural at her age. A pretty girl can't go out in the street without attracting attention, and it's only natural she should be flattered by the admiration of others. It's also natural that her reaction should look to others, and to her husband, like the beginning of an affair: foolishness on the one side, jealousy on the other, and everything's explained. For her part, she'd just seen the girl weeping genuine tears; she'd left her inconsolable, saying she wanted to die, overwhelmed by what he'd said to her. If even he only thought her frivolous, why not proceed with caution and tact, using advice and observation, sparing her the opportunities for temptation, pointing out how much damage is done to a lady's reputation by appearing to be pleasant and affable with other men?The good lady spent fully twenty minutes saying these gentle words, so agreeably, that Conrado felt less agitated. True, he did resist; two or three times, so as not to slip too easily into forgiveness, he told Dona Paula it was all over between them. And, to spur himself on, he brought to mind all the reasons he had to mistrust his wife. Her aunt, however, ducked her head to let the wave pass, then surfaced again with her large, wise, insistent eyes. Conrado gave way reluctantly, little by little. Then Dona Paula proposed a compromise.'You forgive her, make it up between you, and she can come and stay with me, in Tijuca, for a month or two; a kind of exile. During that time, I'll take it upon myself to put her mind in order. Agreed?'Conrado accepted. Dona Paula, as soon as she had his word, took her leave to go and take the good news to her niece; Conrado took her as far as the stairs. They shook hands; Dona Paula didn't let go of his until she'd repeated her advice to be gentle and prudent; then, she made this comment, natural enough in the circumstances:'You'll see the man in question isn't worth of moment of our thoughts ''He's one Vasco Maria Portela 'Dona Paula went pale. What Vasco Maria Portela? An old man, an ex-diplomat, who No, he's in Europe, has been for a few years, retired, and he's just been made a baron. It's his son, recently come back, a scoundrel Dona Paula grasped his hand, and hurried downstairs. In the corridor, though she didn't have to adjust her cape, she did so for some minutes, her hand trembling and her features somewhat perturbed. She even looked at the ground, reflecting. She left; she went to see her niece, bringing the reconciliation and its extra clause with her. Venancinha accepted everything.Two days later they went to Tijuca. Venancinha wasn't as happy as she'd promised; probably it was the exile, or maybe she felt a bit of nostalgia. In any case, Vasco's name came up to Tijuca, if not in both their heads, at least in the aunt's, where it was a kind of echo, a distant, soft sound, something that seemed to come from the times of Rosina Stoltz and the Paraná ministry.* The diva and the minister, fragile things, were no less fragile than the happiness of youth itself where had those three eternities gone? Ruins, nothing more, these thirty years. That was all Dona Paula had inside her, all she could see in front of her.It's no secret, then, that the other Vasco, the older one, was once young too, and in love. They loved each other, got their fill of each other, in the protective shadow marriage, for some years, and as the passing breeze keeps no record of men's words, there's no way of telling what was said of the affair in those days. The affair ended; it was a succession of sweet and bitter moments, of delights, of tears, of anger and ecstasy, various potions that filled the lady's cup of passion to the brim. Dona Paula drank it dry and then turned it over so she could drink no more. Satiety brought abstinence, and with time, it was this last phase that left its mark on public opinion. Her husband died, and the years came and went. Dona Paula was now an austere, pious person, well respected and esteemed.
The niece brought these thoughts of the past with her. It was the analogous situation, together with the name and the blood of the same man, that brought some old memories back. Don't forget they were in Tijuca, they were going to live together for a few weeks, and the one had to obey the other; it was a temptation, and a challenge to the memory.'Is it really true we're not going back to town for a while?'Venancinha asked laughing, the next morning.'Are you bored already?''No, no, of course not, I'm just asking 'Dona Paula, laughing too, said no with her finger; then she asked her if she was missing the city below. Venancinha said no, not at all; and to underline her answer, she lowered the corners of her mouth, as if in indifference or disdain. She was insisting too much. Dona Paula had the good habit of not reading in a hurry, as if her life depended on it, but slowly, her eyes burrowing between the syllables and the letters, so as not to miss a thing she thought her niece's gesture too emphatic.'They're in love!' she thought.The discovery brought the spirit of the past back to life. Dona Paula struggled to shake off these importunate memories; but they came back, surreptitious or impetuous, just like the young girls they were, singing, dancing, up to all kinds of tricks. Dona Paula went back to the dances of old, to the eternal waltzes that had everyone gasping in astonishment, to the mazurkas, which she insisted to her niece were the most graceful thing in the world, and to the theatre, the letters, and vaguely to the kisses; but in all honesty all this was like a dead chronicle, the skeleton of the story, without its soul. It all took place in her head. Dona Paula tried to bring her heart into tune with her head, to see if she could still feel something beyond pure mental repetition, but, however much she evoked these extinct passions, none of them came back to her. They were dead and gone.If she could spy into her niece's heart, maybe she would see her own image, and then When this idea penetrated Dona Paula's mind, it complicated the business of repair and cure somewhat. She was sincere, her care was for the girl's soul; she wanted her restored to her husband. Sinners might well want others to sin too, so as have company on the way down to purgatory; but in this case the sin was over. Dona Paula stressed Conrado's superiority, his virtues but also his passions, which could lead the marriage to a bad end worse than tragic, he might disown her.Conrado, on the first visit he made to them, nine days later, confirmed the aunt's warning; he was cold when he came in and left the same way. Venancinha was terrified. She'd hoped that the nine days of the separation might have softened him, as, in fact, they had; but he put on a mask when he came in and held back, so as not to give way too soon. And this was more salutary than anything else.The terror of losing her husband was the main element in her restoration. Even exile had less effect.And lo and behold, two days after the visit, when both of them were at the garden gate, ready for their usual walk, they saw a horseman approaching. Venancinha stared, gave a little cry, and ran to hide behind the wall. Dona Paula understood, and stayed where she was.She wanted to see the horseman closer to; she saw him two or three minutes later, a gallant young man, well dressed with his elegant shiny boots, dashing, upright in the saddle. He had the same face as the other Vasco; the same turn of the head, a little to the right, the same wide shoulders, the same round, deep eyes.That same night, Venancinha told her everything, after the first word had been dragged from her. They'd first seen one another at the races, soon after he'd arrived from Europe. Two weeks later, he was introduced to her at a dance, and he looked so handsome, with that Parisian air about him, that she mentioned him to her husband the next morning. Conrado frowned, and this was the gesture that gave her an idea she hadn't had till then. She began to feel pleasure when she saw him; soon after, a certain agitation. He spoke respectfully to her, said nice things, that she was the prettiest young lady in Rio and the most elegant, that he'd heard her praises already in Paris, from some of the ladies of the Alvarenga family.He was amusing when he criticised others, and knew how to say things with feeling, like no one else. He didn't speak of love, but he followed her with his eyes, and she, much as she tried to remove hers, couldn't do it altogether. She began to think of him, repeatedly, with a certain interest, and when they met, her heart beat faster; perhaps he saw the impression he was making on her in her face.Dona Paula, leaning towards her, listened to this account, of which this is just a coherent summary. All her life was in her eyes; her mouth half open, she seemed to drink her niece's words, eagerly, as if they were a cordial. She asked for more, for her to tell her all, absolutely everything. Venancinha became more assured. Her aunt looked so young, her encouragement was so gentle, as if she were forgiving her beforehand; she found a confidant and a friend, in spite of some severe words, mixed in with the others, motivated by an unconscious hypocrisy. I won't call it calculation; Dona Paula was hoodwinking herself. We might compare her to a retired general, struggling to find a little of his old ardour, by listening to accounts of other campaigns.'Now you see your husband was right', she said, 'You've been rash, very rash 'Venancinha agreed, but swore it was all over.'I'm not so sure. Did you really come to love him?''Auntie ''You still do!'"I swear I don't. I don't like him; but I confess yes I confess that I did Forgive me; don't say anything to Conrado; I'm repentant at the beginning, like I said, I was a bit fascinated But what do you expect?''Did he say anything to you?''Yes; it was at the theatre, one night, at the Teatro Lírico, as we were coming out. He used to come by our box and accompany me to the carriage; it was as we were coming out three words '
Out of modesty, Dona Paula didn't ask what the suitor's actual words were, but she imagined the circumstances, the corridor, the couples leaving, the lights, the crowd, the noise of voices, and with this picture, she could experience a little of her sensations; and she asked about them cunningly, with interest.'I don't know what I felt,' the girl rejoined, as her feelings loosened her tongue, 'I don't remember the first five minutes. I think I looked serious; in any case, I didn't say anything to him. It seemed as if everyone was looking at us, they might have heard, and when someone greeted me with a smile, I had the idea they were laughing at me. I've no idea how I got down the stairs; I got into the carriage without knowing what I was doing; when I shook his hand, I let my fingers go limp. I swear to you I wished I hadn't heard anything. Conrado told me he felt sleepy, and leant back in the carriage; it was better that way, because I don't know what I'd have said, if we'd have had to go on talking. I leant back too, but not for long; I couldn't keep still. I looked out of the windows, and all I could see was the glare from the streetlamps, and after a while not even that; I saw the corridors at the theatre, the stairs, all the people, and him right next to me, whispering those words, just three words, and I can't say what I thought all that time; my ideas were mixed up, confused, a revolution going on inside me'But when you got home?''At home, as I was undressing, I could think a little, but only a little. I got to sleep late, and slept badly. In the morning, my head was confused. I can't say if I was happy or sad; I remember I was thinking about him a lot, and to put him out of my mind I promised myself I'd tell Conrado everything; but the thoughts came back again. From time to time, I thought I could hear his voice, and shuddered. I even remembered that when I was leaving, I'd let my fingers go limp, and I felt, I don't know how to put it, a kind of regret, a fear I'd offended him then the desire to see him again came back I'm sorry, auntie; you want me to tell you everything.'
In reply, Dona Paula squeezed her hand hard and nodded her head. At last, she'd found something of times past as she came into contact with these sensations, naively recounted as they were. Her eyes were half shut at one minute, as her memories lulled her then, the next moment, sharpened with curiosity and warmth, and she listened to everything, day by day, meeting by meeting, the scene at the theatre itself, which her niece had at first hidden from her. And then everything else came along; hours of anxiety, of longing, of fear, hope, despondency, duplicity, sudden urges, all the turmoil of a young woman in circumstances like this the aunt's insatiable curiosity let nothing pass. It wasn't a novel about adultery, not even a chapter, just a prologue but it was interesting and violent.
Venancinha ended. Her aunt said nothing, withdrew into herself for a moment; then she awoke, took her hand and pulled it towards her. She didn't speak at once; first she looked closely at all that restless, palpitating girlhood, her fresh mouth, her eyes still infinite, and only came to herself when her niece asked pardon of her once more. Dona Paula said everything that a gentle, severe mother might had said, talked of chastity, of love for her husband, of public reputation; she was so eloquent that Venancinha couldn't hold back, and began to cry.Tea arrived, but there are some confidences that make tea impossible. Venancinha soon retired, and as the lights were now brighter, she went out of the room with her eyes lowered, so the servant wouldn't see how upset she was. Dona Paula stayed, facing the table and the servant. She spent twenty minutes, not much less, drinking a cup of tea and nibbling a biscuit, and as soon as she was alone, she went to lean against the window, looking out over the garden.There was a little wind, the leaves moved and whispered, and even though they weren't the same ones as years back, they still asked her: 'Paula, do you remember the old days?' Leaves have this particularity, you see the past generations tell the later ones the things they've seen, so that they know everything and ask about everything. Do you remember the old days?She did remember, yes; but that sensation she'd just had, a mere reflection, had stopped now. In vain she repeated her niece's words, breathing in the raw night air: it was only in her mind that she found some vestige, memories, ruins. Her heart had slowed down again; the blood was flowing at its usual rate. She needed the contact with her niece. And she stayed there, in spite of everything, looking out at the night, which was no different from any other, and had nothing in common with those of the time of Stoltz and the Marquis of Paraná; but there she stayed, and indoors the slaves kept sleep at bay by telling stories, saying, over and again, in their impatience:'Ol' missy's off to bed real late tonight!'
---------------------------------------------------------------------Machado de Assis short story translated to English by John Gledson. This wonderful masterpiece the translator has sent me himself just to sent me flying again...It´s published in "A Chapter of Hats and other stories", a book with some of Machado de Assis´s short stories translated by John Gledson, Bloomsbury, 2008.