A cob like that of your life!

And for two years the tenement prospered from day to day, gaining strength, thrashing around with people. And next door Miranda was frightened, uneasy by that brutal exuberance of life, terrified in front of that implacable forest that grew near the house, under the windows, and whose roots, bigger and thicker than snakes, undermined by everywhere, threatening to burst the ground around her, cracking the ground and shaking everything.

Although his business didn’t go wrong on Rua do Hospicio, it was hard for him to suffer the scandalous fortune of the salesman “that type! a wretch, a dirty one, who had never put on a coat, and who lived on a bed and table with a black woman!”

At night and on Sundays, his bitterness intensified even more, when he, retiring from his work, allowed himself to be stretched out on a lazybones, next to the dining-room table, and listened, against his will, to the rude rumor that came from the inn in a strong exhalation of tired animals. She couldn’t get to the window without receiving that hot, sensual breath on her face, which made him drunk with his abundance of beasts in coitus.

And then, shut up in his bedroom, indifferent and used to the clumsy flesh of his wife, now free from the primitive shocks that made his blood boil and lose his temper, it was still his neighbor’s prosperity that obsessed his spirit. , blackening his soul with an ugly resentment of spite.

He was envious of the other, of that other Portuguese who had made his fortune without having to gnaw any horns; of that other man who, in order to be three times richer than he, did not have to marry the master’s daughter or the bastard of some farmer who frequented the house!

But then, he, Miranda, who was supposed to be the ultimate expression of thievery and cleverness; he, who, shortly after his marriage, responding to Portugal to a former colleague who congratulated him, had said that Brazil was a horse loaded with money, whose reins a fine man easily excited; he, who considered himself an invincible trickster, was after all a piece of ass compared to his neighbor! She had thought of making herself master of Brazil and had made herself the slave of an ill-educated Brazilian with no scruples of virtue! He had imagined himself cut out for great conquests, and was nothing but a ridiculous and suffering victim!… Yes! after all, what was your Africa?… It had enriched a little, it is true, but how? at what price? hypothesizing himself to a devil, who had brought him eighty contos de réis, but untold millions of sorrows and shames! He’d arranged his life, yes, but he’d had to put up with a woman he hated forever! And what had all this profited him anyway? What, after all, was her great existence? From the hell of the house to the purgatory of work and vice versa! Envious luck, there was no doubt!

In the painful uncertainty that Zulmira was his daughter, the bastard didn’t even enjoy the pleasure of being a father. If she, instead of being born to Estella, had been a little girl taken in by him, it is natural that he would love her, and then his life would have turned out differently; but, in those conditions, the poor child represented nothing more than the living document of the maternal deception, and Miranda extended the hatred he sustained against his wife to the innocent.

A cob like that of your life!

“I was a beast!” he summed it up, aloud, getting off the bed, where she had withdrawn uselessly.

And he began to walk around the room, not wanting to sleep, feeling that the fever of that envy was burning his brains out.

Happy and smart was João Romão! this one, yes sir! That’s what life was supposed to be for!… Son of a bitch, who was as free and resourceful today as the day he arrived from earth without a penny of his own! that one, yes, who was young and could still enjoy a lot, because when he even got married and his wife came out with another Estella, all he had to do was kick her to hell! I could do it! That’s what Brazil was for!

“I was a beast!” he repeated, unable to come to terms with the happiness of the shopkeeper. A great beast! After all, what the hell do I own?… A business house, from which I cannot part without compromising what is buried there! a capital involved in a network of transactions that never settle, and become more and more complicated and glue me more and more to the stupor of this land, where I will leave the shell! What do I have of mine, if the soul of my credit is the dowry, which brought me that shameless one, and which holds me to it like the plague of the commercial house holds me to this Costa d’Africa?…

It was from the fetid suppuration of these ideas that a new ideal was formed in Miranda’s empty heart—the title. Lacking a temper for the strong vices that fill a man’s life; With no family to love and no imagination to enjoy with the prostitutes, the shipwrecked man clung to that board, like a dying man, conscious of death, who clings to the hope of a future life. Estella’s vanity, which at first had put in disbelief smiles of mockery from her lips, now pleased her a lot. He sought to ascertain that she had indeed inherited noble blood, and that he, in turn, if he had not inherited it, had brought it by his own nature, which must have been even more valuable; and since then he began to dream of a barony, making it the dear object of his existence,

Such preoccupation changed him in the extreme. He soon pretended to be a slave to conveniences, affecting social scruples, strutting himself as much as he could, and disguising his envy of his neighbor with a contemptuous air of condescending superiority. As he passed by the store every day, he greeted him protectively, smiling without laughing and then frowning, very seriously.

Having taken the first steps towards purchasing the title, I opened the house and threw parties. The woman, although her white hair was already showing, rejoiced at this.

Zulmira was then twelve to thirteen years old and was the finished type of the Fluminense; pallida, skinny, with tiny purple spots on the mucous membranes of the nose, eyelids and lips, cheeks lightly dotted with freckles. He breathed in the humid tone of night flowers, the cold whiteness of magnolia; light brown hair, almost transparent hands, soft and short nails, like her mother’s, teeth a little lighter than the skin of her face, small feet, narrow hips, but large, black, lively and mischievous eyes.

It was precisely at that time that he arrived from Minas, recommended to his father, the son of a very important farmer who made handsome profits for the commercial house in Miranda and who was perhaps the best customer he had in the interior.

The boy’s name was Henrique, he was fifteen years old and was about to finish some preparatory work he needed to get into the academy of medicine at court. Miranda put him up in her house on Rua do Hospicio, but the student complained, after a few days, that he was uncomfortable there, and the businessman, who was not to be displeased with him, took him to his house. private residence in Botafogo.

Henrique was cute, full of shyness, with girlish delicacies. He seemed very careful with his studies and so unextravagant and spendthrift that he didn’t spend a penny outside the first urgencies. Besides, except in the morning for classes, when he always went with Miranda, he never left the house except in the company of Miranda’s family. Dona Estella, after a short time, showed an almost maternal esteem for him and took it upon herself to take care of his allowance, an allowance paid by the merchant, since Henriquinho had a free order from his father.

He never asked for money; when she needed something, she claimed it from Dona Estella, who in turn ordered her husband to buy it, the object being released into the farmer’s account with a usurer’s commission. Her lodging cost two hundred and fifty thousand réis per month, which he, however, was not aware of, nor did he want to have. He lacked nothing, and the servants of the house respected him as a lord’s son.

At night, sometimes, when the weather was fine, Dona Estella would go out with him, her daughter and a boy, Valentim, to take a walk to the beach, and, having an invitation to any party at her friends’ houses, she would take them to the beach. or in your company.

The servants of Miranda’s family were made up of Izaura, a mulatto girl who was still a young woman, a wimp and a fool, who spent all her twenty-five dollars on buying capilé at João Romão’s shop; a black virgin, called Leonor, very light and lively, smooth and dry like a brat, knowing by ear, without missing a word, the vast technology of obscenity, and saying, whenever the clerks or the customers of the tavern, just to mess with her, they gave her berths: “Oia, I’m complaining to the judge of Orphe!” and finally that Valentim, son of a slave who belonged to Dona Estella and whom she had freed.

Miranda’s wife had an unlimited affection for this boy: she gave him all the freedom, money, gifts, took him with her for walks, brought him well dressed and many times she even made her daughter jealous, she was so solicitous that showed up with her. For if the capricious lady scolded Zulmira about the little black man! For if, when the two complained against each other, she never gave her daughter the right! For if the best in the house was for Valentine! Well, if when he was attacked by smallpox and Miranda, despite his wife’s pleas and protests, sent him to a hospital, Dona Estella cried every day and during his absence he didn’t play the piano, sing, or sing. Did you show your teeth to anyone? And poor Miranda, if he didn’t want to suffer from his wife’s impertinence and listen to no taste in front of the servants,

There was still, under the tiles of the dealer, another guest besides Henrique, the old Botelho. This one, however, as a parasite.

He was a poor devil on his way to seventy; antipathic, white hair, short and stiff as a brush, beard and mustache of the same theor; very emaciated, with round glasses that increased the size of his pupil and gave his face a vulture’s expression, perfectly in keeping with his hooked nose and lipless mouth; all his teeth were still visible, but they were so worn that they looked as if they had been filed down to the middle. He always wore black, with an umbrella under his arm and a Braga hat tucked into his ears. He had been in his time an employee of commerce, then a broker of slaves; he even said that he had been to Africa more than once, trading blacks on his own. He threw himself into speculation; during the Paraguay war he still won strong, becoming very rich; but his wheel went awry, and from failure to failure, everything escaped him through his bird-of-prey claws. And now, poor thing, already old, eaten up with disillusionment, full of hemorrhoids, he found himself totally without resources and vegetated in the shadow of Miranda, with whom he worked for many years as a boy, under the same boss, and from whom he had remained friend, at first by chance and later by necessity.

Night and day, an implacable bitterness devoured him, a dull sadness of defeat, an impotent despair, against everything and everyone, for not having been able to enthrall the world with his now useless and trembling hands. And, as her current state of misery did not allow her to open her mouth against anyone, she vented, reviling the ideas of the time.

Thus, Miranda’s desserts were sometimes very hot, when, among other exciting issues, the abolitionist movement that was beginning to form around the Rio Branco law came to the fore. Then Botelho became possessed and vomited terrible phrases, to the right and to the left, like someone firing shots without aiming, and ranting curses, taking advantage of that valve to vent the old hatred accumulated inside him.

– Bandits! screamed apoplectic. Cafil of robbers!

And his rancor radiated from his eyes in poisoned arrows, trying to penetrate all whiteness and all brightness. Virtue, beauty, talent, youth, strength, health, and above all fortune, this was what he forgave no one, cursing everyone she got what he didn’t get; that she enjoyed what he had not; that she knew what he had not learned. And, in order to individualize the object of her hatred, she turned against Brazil, that land which, in her opinion, had only one use: to enrich the Portuguese, and which, in the meantime, had left him in penury.

His days were spent in the following way: he woke up at eight in the morning, washed himself in his room with a towel soaked in the spirit of wine; then he would read the newspapers in the dining room, waiting for lunch; he would have lunch and go out, take the tram and go straight to a cigar shop on Rua do Ouvidor, where he used to sit until dinnertime, amused by saying bad things about people who passed by outside, in front of him. He intended to get to know the whole of Rio de Janeiro and the rotten features of each one in particular. Occasionally, Dona Estella would put him in charge of making small haberdashery purchases, which Botelho did better than anyone else. But his great passion, his weakness, was the uniform, he loved everything that had to do with militarism, since he had always had an invincible fear of weapons of any kind, especially firearms. He couldn’t hear a rifle firing near him, but he was enthusiastic about everything that smacked of war; the presence of an officer in full uniform brought tears of emotion to his eyes; he knew the tip of his tongue about barracks life; he could distinguish at the first glance the rank and body to which any soldier belonged, and, despite his ailments, hearing the bugle or drum playing in the street leading the battalion was immediately in the air, and often, when he found himself, he was part of those accompanying the troop. So he didn’t go home until the military had retired. He almost always came back from this madness at six in the afternoon, crushed to death, unable to stand up to his legs, pounded from marching for hours and hours to the sound of beat-up music. And the most interesting thing is that he, upon seeing his reaction,

—It only seems, he lamented, that the evil man’s intention was to kill my skin! Now look! Three hours of marching through a hell of a sunny day!

One of Botelho’s most comical tantrums was his hatred for Valentine. The brat caused him a fever with his petulants of pampering, and, the rogue, realizing how much they irritated him, he abused him even more, safe in Dona Estella’s protection. The parasite would have strangled him, had it not been for the need to please the mistress of the house.

Botelho knew Estella’s faults like the back of his hand. Miranda himself, who saw him as a faithful friend, had confided in her over and over again on desperate occasions of outbursts, frankly declaring how inwardly he despised her and the reason why he didn’t kick her out on the street. And Botelho was absolutely right; he also understood that serious commercial interests were above all.

—A woman in those conditions, he said with conviction, represents nothing less than capital, and capital in no case do people despise! Now, what should you do was never get close to her…

-Now! explained the husband. I use it like a spittoon!

The parasite, happy to see how much his friend demeaned his wife, agreed with everything, giving her an affectionate hug of admiration. But on the other hand, when he heard Estella talk about her husband, with infinite disdain and even disgust, he glowed even more with joy.

-Do you want to know? she affirmed, I can understand how much that rubbish of you, my husband, hates me, but that is as true of me as the first shirt I wore! Unfortunately for us women of society, we cannot live without a husband when we are married; so that I have to put up with what happens to me, whether I like it or not! I swear to you, however, that if I allow Miranda to come up to me sometimes, it’s because I understand that it pays more to give in than to argue with a beast of that order!

Botelho, with his gray experience of the world, never conveyed to either of them what each said to him against the other; so much so that, on one occasion, retiring to the house uncomfortably, at a time that was not his custom, I heard, as I passed through the yard, whispers of muffled voices that seemed to come from a corner drowned in greenery, where usually no one went. .

He walked towards it on tiptoe and, without being noticed, he discovered Estella wedged between the wall and Henrique. He let himself watch, without wheezing or mooing, and it was only when the two parted ways that he showed himself.

The lady gave a little cry, and the boy, in his red, turned the color of wax; but Botelho tried to reassure them, saying in a friendly and mysterious voice:

—This is reckless what you are doing!… These things are not the way they are managed! Like I was, it could be someone else… Because in a house, in which there are so many rooms, is it necessary to come and get in this corner of the yard?…

“We weren’t doing anything! Estella said, regaining her cool.

—Oh! replied the old man, appearing with great respect: so sorry, I thought they were… And look, if that were the case, it would be the same for me, because I think that’s the most natural thing in the world and I understand that from this life we ​​only take what you eat!… If I saw, believe me, it was as if I saw nothing, because I have nothing to smell with the life of each one!… The lady is young, she is in the strength of the years; her husband doesn’t satisfy her, it’s only fair that she replaces him with another one! Oh! this is the world, and if it’s crooked, we didn’t make it crooked!… Up to a certain age we all have a little carpenter inside us, which we have to kill before it kills us! They don’t hurt their hands!… I just think that, for another time, they should be a little more careful and…

-Is good! enough! ordered Estella.

-Pardon! I, if I say this, is to make them very calm about me. I don’t want, not even for a shadow, to be persuaded that…

Henrique cut in, with his voice still moved:

—But believe me, Mr. Botelho, that…

The old man also interrupted him in his turn, putting his hand on his shoulder and pulling him away with me:

“Don’t be afraid, I won’t compromise you, boy!”

And as they were already far away from Estella, he whispered to her in a protective tone: Don’t do it like that again, you’ll be spoiled… Look at how your legs are shaking!

Dona Estella followed them at a distance, slowly, affecting her preoccupation with composing a bouquet, whose flowers she was picking with great grace, sometimes bending over the low plants, sometimes standing on tiptoe to reach the heliotropes and manacas.

Henrique followed Botelho to his room, talking without changing the subject.

“You didn’t talk about it then, did you?” swear? she asked him.

The old man had already declared, laughing, that he had caught them in the act and that he had been on the lookout for quite some time.

Fallar what, you fool?… Well then who do you think I am?… I’ll only open my mouth if you give me reason to, but I’m convinced you won’t… You know what? I even sympathize a lot with you, Henrique! I think you are an excellent boy, a flower! And I tell you more: I will protect your business with Dona Estella…

Falling like that, he’d taken her hands and stroked them.

“Look,” she continued, caressing him all the time; don’t mess with maidens, you know?… They’re the devil! That straw leaves a man in trouble! Now as for the others, talk to them! Don’t send any to the vicar, nor does your head hurt, because, after all, in Dona Estella’s circumstances, it’s even a great service you do her! My rich little friend, when a woman is over thirty and snatches a boy her age, it’s like discovering powdered gold! you know the bagpipes! Know then that it is not only for her that you do the favor, but also for the husband: the more you brush his wife, the better her temper will be, and therefore the better it will be for the poor man, poor thing! who already has enough to be bored with down there, with his business, and he needs a little rest when he gets back from work and goes home! Brush it, brush it! that will make it soft as velvet! It takes a lot of judgment, you see? Don’t make another child like today’s and keep going, not only with her, but with all those who fall under her wing! Go through! minus the open house, that this is dangerous because of the diseases; not so little maidens! Don’t mess with Zulmira! And believe me, I talk to her like that, because I’m her friend, because I find him sympathetic, because I find him handsome! not so little maidens! Don’t mess with Zulmira! And believe me, I talk to you like that, because I’m your friend, because I think you’re sympathetic, because I think you’re handsome! not so little maidens! Don’t mess with Zulmira! And believe me, I talk to you like that, because I’m your friend, because I think you’re sympathetic, because I think you’re handsome!

And he caressed him so vividly this time, that the student, escaping from his hands, walked away with a gesture of disgust and contempt, while the old man said to him in a compressed voice:

-Look! Wait! Come here! You are suspicious!…

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