João Romão was, from the age of thirteen to twenty-five, the employee of a salesman who became rich within the four walls of a dirty and obscure tavern in the swamps of the Botafogo district; and he saved so much from the little he had earned in those dozen years that, when the boss left for the land, he left him, in payment of overdue wages, not only the sale with what was inside, but also a tale and five hundred in cash.
Owner and established on his own, the boy threw himself into toil even more ardently, possessing himself with such a delirium of getting rich, that he faced the most severe privations with resignation. He slept on the counter of his own store, on top of a mat, making a pillow out of a burlap sack filled with straw. The food was provided for him, at four hundred réis a day, a greengrocer of his neighbor, Bertoleza, a thirty-year-old Creole, slave of an old blind man residing in Juiz de Fóra and friendly with a Portuguese who had a hand cart and made freights in the City.
Bertoleza also worked hard; his grocery store was the most popular in the neighborhood. In the morning he sold angu, and at night fried fish and liver baits; he paid his owner twenty milreis a month for his newspaper, and despite that, he had almost enough for his manumission. One day, however, his man, after running half a league, pulling a load greater than his strength, fell dead in the street, beside the wagon, crashed like a beast.
João Romão showed great interest in this misfortune, he even made himself a direct participant in the neighbor’s sufferings, and he regretted it with such commitment that the good woman chose him as a confidant of her misfortunes. He opened up to him, told him about his life of troubles and difficulties. “His lord was eating the skin off his body! It was no toy for a poor woman to have to spit twenty thousand réis in cash every month!” And she then secreted to him what she already had in her possession for her freedom and ended up asking the salesman to keep her savings, because she had once been stolen by thieves who entered her grocery store through the back.
From then on, João Romão became the cashier, attorney and advisor to the Creole. After a short time, he was the one who took care of everything she produced, and he was also the one who put and disposed of her savings, and who was responsible for sending the twenty thousand réis monthly to you. I immediately opened a checking account for him, and the greengrocer, when she needed money for something, would go to the store and receive it from the salesman, from “Seu João,” as she said. Seu João methodically debited these small sums in a little notebook whose brown paper cover read, badly written and in letters cut from a newspaper: “Bertoleza’s assets and liabilities.”
And in this way, the tavern keeper gained confidence in the woman’s spirit, who, after all, did nothing on her own, and blindly accepted any and all arbitrary decisions from him. Finally, if anyone needed to deal with any business with her, they didn’t even bother to look for her anymore, they went straight to João Romão.
When they believed they were friends.
He proposed that they live together, and she agreed with open arms, happy to get back together with a Portuguese, because, like all cafusa, Bertoleza did not want to subject himself to blacks and was instinctively looking for men in a superior race. yours.
João Romão then bought, with his friend’s savings, a few feet of land on the left side of the sale, and built a two-door house, divided in half parallel to the street, with the front part destined for the grocery store and the back part for a dormitory that was arranged with Bertoleza’s junkyards. In addition to the bed, there was a very old rosewood chest of drawers with yellowed metal knobs, an oratory full of saints and covered in colored paper, a large chest of taxed raw leather, two small wooden stools made of one piece and a formidable hanger to hang on the wall, with its competent chintz patchwork cover.
The salesman had never had so much furniture.
—Now, he told the Creole, things will go better for you. You’re going to be broke; I come in with what’s missing.
On those days he went out a lot, and a week later he appeared with a sheet of paper, all written on it, which he read aloud to his companion.
“You have no more lord now!” she declared after the reading, that she heard it between grateful tears. Now it’s free! From now on, whatever you do is yours alone and more of your children, if you have them. The captive has finished paying the twenty mil réis to the blind man!
-Underdog! People complain about luck! Elle, like my lord, demanded the newspaper, demanded what was hers!
“Yours or not yours, it’s over!” And new life!
Against all custom, a bottle of port wine was opened that day, and the two drank it in honor of the great event. However, that letter of freedom was the work of João Romão himself, and not even the seal, which he understood to stick on top of it, to give the fraud more formality, represented an expense, because the clever man had taken advantage of a stamp already served. Señor de Bertoleza was not even aware of the fact; what he did know was that his slave had run away from him to Bahia after his friend’s death.
—The blind man who comes here to fetch her, if he can!… challenged the innkeeper to himself. Let him fall for it and see if she has it or not for pears!
However, he was not completely calm until three months later, when he learned of the old man’s death. The slave had naturally passed on in inheritance to any of the dead’s children; but there was nothing to fear for them: two more famous pandegos who, excited and legitimate, would take care of everything, except to throw themselves on the trail of a Creole whom they had not seen in that part for many years. “Now! enough, and it was not little, what had been sucked out of him for so long!”
Bertoleza now played, alongside João Romão, the triple role of clerk, servant and lover. She worked hard, but with a happy face; at four in the morning she was already doing her daily chores, making coffee for the customers and then preparing lunch for the workers at a quarry that was beyond a large grassland at the back of the store. She swept the house, cooked, sold at the bar in the tavern, when her friend was busy outside; he did his grocery store during the day in between other services, and at night he went to the door of the store, and, in front of a clay stove, he fried liver and fried sardines, which Romão went in the morning, in his shirt sleeves. , in clogs and without socks, buy it at Praia do Peixe. And the woman’s devil still found time to wash and fix, in addition to her, her man’s clothes,
João Romão never went out for a walk, nor went to mass on Sundays; everything that yielded its sale plus the greengrocers went straight to the savings bank and from there to the bank. So much so that, a year after the Creole’s acquisition, going to public auction some plots of land located at the back of the tavern, he immediately bought them and proceeded, without wasting time, to build three small houses with doors and windows.
What miracles of ingenuity and economy did he not perform in this construction! He worked as a bricklayer, kneaded and carried clay, broke stone; stone, which the rogue, out of hours, together with his friend, stole from the quarry at the back, in the same way that they subtracted material from the houses under construction that were nearby.
These thefts were carried out with all the care and always crowned with the best success, thanks to the circumstance that at that time the police did not show themselves much at that time. During the day, João Romão observed the works in which material was left for the next day, and at night he was there, close to Bertoleza, removing boards, bricks, tiles, sacks of lime, to the middle of the street, with such skill that one heard no glimmer of rumor. Then one would take a load and leave for home, while the other would stay in packs with the rest, ready to give a signal in case of danger; and when the one who had gone came back, so followed his companion, carried in his turn.
Nothing escaped them, not even the bricklayers’ ladders, the bread horses, the bench or the joiners’ tools.
And the fact is that those three houses, so ingeniously built, were the starting point of the great tenement of São Romão.
Today four fathoms of land, tomorrow six, then more, the seller was conquering all the land that extended to the back of his cellar; and, as he conquered it, the rooms and the number of residents were reproduced.
Always in his shirtsleeves, without Sunday or holy day, never missing the opportunity to dominate others, failing to pay as often as he could and never failing to receive, deceiving customers, stealing in terms of weight and measurements, buying for ten réis of strained honey what the slaves stole from their masters’ houses, squeezing their own expenses more and more, piling privations on deprivations, working and his friend as a team of oxen, João Romão finally came to buy a good part of the beautiful quarry, which he, every day, at dusk, sitting for a moment at the door of the shop, gazed from afar with a resigned look of covetousness.
He put six men there to break stone and another six to make slabs and parallelepipeds, and then he began to earn in bulk, so in bulk that, within a year and a half, he had already finished off the entire space between his little houses and the quarry, that is. that is, about eighty fathoms in depth over twenty in front on a dry and magnificent plan to build.
Precisely for that occasion, a two-story house was also sold, which was to the right of the sale, separated from it by only those twenty fathoms; so that the entire left flank of the building, some twenty or so meters long, spilled its nine sill windows onto the farmer’s land. It was bought by a certain Miranda, a Portuguese merchant, established on Rua do Hospicio with a wholesale store. After a general cleaning of the mansion, he would move there with his family, since his wife, Dona Estella, a pretentious lady with nobility smoke, could no longer afford to live in the center of the city, as well as her daughter. , the Zulmirinha, grew very pale and needed ampleness to stiffen and take shape.
This is what Miranda told his colleagues, but the real cause of the change lay in the need, which he recognized as urgent, to remove Dona Estella from the reach of her clerks. Dona Estella was a little woman taken from the fraca: she had been married for thirteen years and during that time she had given her husband all sorts of sorrows. Even before the end of the second year of marriage, Miranda caught her in the act of committing adultery; he was furious and his first impulse was to send her to the devil along with her accomplice; but her commercial house was guaranteed with the dowry she had brought, some eighty contos in buildings and public debt shares, which the unfortunate man used as much as the dowry regime allowed. Besides, a sudden break would be scandalous work, and in his opinion, any domestic scandal was very bad for a businessman of a certain order. Above all, he prized his social position and trembled at the idea of finding himself poor again, without resources and without the courage to start life anew, after having gotten used to so many perks and attached to the manhood of a rich Portuguese who no longer has a homeland in Europe.
Cowardly in the face of these reasonings, he contented himself with a simple separation of beds, and the two began to sleep in separate rooms. They did not eat together, and hardly exchanged a single embarrassed word with each other, when some unexpected chance brought them together reluctantly.
They hated each other. Each felt a deep contempt for the other, which little by little turned into complete disgust. The birth of Zulmira made the situation even worse; the poor child, instead of serving as a link between the two unfortunates, was rather a new insulator that established itself between them. Estella loved her less than her mother’s instinct asked for her to assume her husband’s daughter, and he hated her because he was convinced that he was not her father.
One fine night, however, Miranda, who was a man of smart blood and was then about thirty-five years old, felt himself in an unbearable state of lubricity. It was late now and there was no maid in the house to help him. He thought of the woman, but I soon dismissed the idea with scrupulous repugnance. He still hated her. However, this very fact of obligation in which he placed himself of not using her, the responsibility of despising her, as it were, made his desire for the flesh even more intense, making the unfaithful wife a forbidden fruit. In the end, a singular thing, since it did not in any way diminish his repugnance for perjury, he went to her room.
The woman slept soundly. Miranda tiptoed in and approached the bed. «I should go back! … she thought. That didn’t suit her!…” But her blood pounded, demanding her. She still hesitated a moment, motionless, contemplating her in her desire.
Estella, as if her husband’s gaze was groping her body, twisted on her left hip, pulling the sheet forward with her thighs and revealing a strip of white, upholstered nudity. Miranda couldn’t resist, he threw himself at her, who, with a small start, more in surprise than in revolt, turned away, immediately returning and facing her husband. And she let herself be carried away by her kidneys, with her eyes closed, pretending that she was still sleeping, without the slightest awareness of all that.
Oh! She took it for granted that her husband, since he didn’t have the courage to leave the house, would sooner or later have to look for her again. He knew her temper, strong to desire and weak to resist desire.
The crime being consummated, the honorable merchant felt himself swamped with shame and regret. He didn’t have the heart to say a word, and withdrew sad and withered to his bedroom.
Oh! how it pained him now what he had just practiced in the blindness of her sensuality.
“What a headbutt!” he said excitedly. What a terrific header!…
The next day, the two saw each other and avoided each other in silence, as if nothing extraordinary had happened between them the day before. It was even said that, after that event, Miranda felt his hatred for his wife growing. And on the night of the same day, when he found himself alone in his narrow bed, he swore a thousand times to his pride never again, never again, to practice such madness.
But a month later, the poor man, seized with a new fit of lust, returned to his wife’s room.
Estella received him this time like the first, pretending that she didn’t wake up; on the occasion, however, when he feverishly took possession of her, the flighty woman, unable to contain herself, uttered a laugh full against his face, which she struggled to suppress. The poor devil became bewildered, quite scandalized, getting up abruptly in a sleepwalking shudder violently awakened.
The woman realized the situation and didn’t give her time to run away; she quickly swung her legs over him and, clinging to his body, blinded him with a cannonball of kisses.
They didn’t fail.
Miranda had never had her, had never seen her, this violent in her pleasure. She found it strange. It seemed to him that he was in the arms of a passionate lover; I discovered in it the captivating charm with which courtesans trained in the science of venereal enjoyment make us drunk. I discover her in the smell of her skin and in the smell of her hair, perfumes that she had never smelled on her; she noticed another breath, another sound in the moans and sighs. And he came, he came madly, with delirium, with the true satisfaction of an animal in heat.
And she too, she too enjoyed, stimulated by that stinging circumstance of resentment that disunited them; she enjoyed the dishonesty of that act which embarrassed them both in each other’s eyes; she writhed all over, grinding her teeth, grunting, beneath that hated enemy of hers, finding him even now, as a man, better than ever, smothering him in her naked embraces, putting her damp tongue through his mouth and on fire. Then, in a full-body jerk, with a guttural and strangled sob, gasping and convulsive, she sprawled in an abandonment with her legs and arms open, her head to the side, her eyes dying and weeping, all of her in agony, as if they had crucified her in bed.
From that night, when Miranda left his wife’s room only in the morning, the habit of sexual happiness was established between them, as complete as they had not yet enjoyed it, since in the depths of each one persisted. against the other the same moral repugnance in no way weakened.
For ten years they were very happily married; now, however, so long after the first marital infidelity, and now that the businessman was no longer affected so often by those crises that threw him out of hours into Dona Estella’s dormitory; Now, here’s the flippant woman who seemed ready to relapse into guilt, winding up her husband’s clerks when they went up to lunch or dinner.
That’s why Miranda bought the building next door to João Romão.
The house was good; his only fault was the scarcity of the yard; but there was a remedy for that: with very little money could be bought about ten fathoms of that land at the bottom, which went all the way to the quarry, and another ten or fifteen palms on the side where it was for sale.
Miranda immediately went to understand Romão and proposed a deal. The innkeeper formally declined.
“You’re wasting your time and your Latin!” retorted Bertoleza’s friend. Not only do I not give up an inch of my land, but I still buy him, without wanting to sell it, that piece of land at the back of the house!
—So you want me to have no farm, no garden, nothing?
“It was to my advantage…
“Now, get over it, man, and say what you want for what I’ve proposed.
“I’ve said what I had to say.
“Give me at least the ten fathoms of the bottom, then.”
—Not even half an inch!
“That’s mean of you, you know? If I make such an effort, it’s for my little one, who needs, poor thing, a little space to stretch out.
“And I don’t give in, because I need my land!”
—Now what! What the hell could you do there? A damn piece of land almost stuck to the hill and the back of my house! when, by the way, you still have so much space!
“I’ll show you whether or not I have something to do there!”
“It’s just that you’re stubborn!” Look, if you gave me the ten fathoms from the bottom, your part would be cut in a straight line all the way to the quarry, and I wouldn’t have to be left with a flap of other people’s land getting in my way. Wants to know? I don’t fence the backyard without you making up your mind!
—Then you’ll have the yard forever without a wall, because what I had to say I already said!
“But, man of God, what the hell! think a little! You couldn’t build anything there! Or will you think I’ll let you open windows on my backyard?…
“I don’t need to open windows on anyone’s backyard!”
—I won’t even let you put up the wall, blocking my left windows!
—I don’t need to build a wall on that side…
“So what the hell are you going to do with all this land?”
—Oh! this is now with me!… Whatever will sound!
—Well, believe me, you regret not giving me the land!…
“If I regret it, be patient!” All I can tell you is that it will be very bad for anyone who wants to interfere with my life!
A close and deaf struggle then ensued between the Portuguese merchant of wholesale farms and the Portuguese merchant of dry goods. That one couldn’t make up his mind to build the backyard wall, without having reached the piece of land that separated it from the hill; and the other, for his part, did not give up hope of catching him at least two or three fathoms at the back of the house; this part that, according to his calculations, would be worth gold, once the great project that had been worrying him lately had been carried out—the creation of an enormous inn, a monster inn, without an example, destined to kill all that smattering of tenements that sprawled by Botafogo.
This was his ideal. João Romão had lived exclusively for this idea for a long time; he dreamed of her every night; he attended all building materials auctions; finished off woodwork already served; bought second-hand tile; he made bargains on lime and bricks; what was all laid down on its extensive empty floor, whose appearance soon took on the strange character of a huge barricade, such was the variety of objects that were piled up there: cattails and slats, tree trunks, ship’s masts, rafters , remains of wagons, clay and iron chimneys, dismantled stoves, piles and piles of bricks of all shapes, cement barrels, piles of sand and red earth, agglomerations of old tiles, broken stairs, lime deposits, the devil finally; to what he,
This dog was a pretext for eternal squabbling with Miranda’s agent, to whose backyard no one from home could go down after ten o’clock at night, without running the risk of being assaulted by the wild beast.
“It’s building the wall!” said João Romão, shrugging his shoulders.
-I do not do! replicated the other. If it’s a matter of whim, I also have whim!
On the other hand, there was no chicken or chicken in Miranda’s yard, fleeing the stallholder’s pen, that did not disappear immediately. João Romão protested against the theft in violent terms, swearing terrible revenge, speaking of shooting.
—It’s like building a wall in the chicken coop! Estella’s husband replied.
A few months ago, João Romão, after making a last-ditch effort to get a few fathoms from his neighbour’s yard, decided to start work on the inn.
—Let it be, he was talking in bed with Bertoleza; Let it be known that I will still have to enter through the back of the house, if not through the front! Sooner or later I’ll eat it, not two fathoms, but six, eight, the whole yard and maybe even the house itself!
And he said this with the conviction of someone who can do everything and expects everything from his perseverance, from his unbreakable effort and from the prodigious fecundity of his money, money that only came out of his fingernails to return multiplied.
As soon as the fever to possess took possession of him completely, all his actions, even the simplest, were aimed at a pecuniary interest. She had only one concern: to increase her assets. From her gardens he would gather the worst vegetables for himself and for his companion, those that no one would buy with his hands; her hens produced a lot and he would not eat an egg, which she nevertheless enjoyed immensely; she sold them all and contented herself with the workers’ leftovers. That was no longer ambition, it was a nervous annoyance, madness, a desperation to accumulate, to reduce everything to currency. And his short, cropped type, with cropped hair, his beard always unshaven, he went back and forth from the quarry for sale, from the sale to the gardens and the grass, always in shirt-sleeves, in clogs, without socks, looking at everyone. the sides, with their eternal air of greed,
However, the street outside was admirably populated. It was built badly, but a lot; chalets and little houses appeared overnight; rents went up; properties doubled in value. An Italian pasta factory and a candle factory had been set up, and the workers passed in the morning and at Ave Marias, and most of them went to eat at the eating house that Joao Romão had arranged at the back of his sale. New taverns were opened; none, however, could be as popular as hers. Never had his business done so well, never had the finario sold so much; it was selling more now, much more, than in previous years. He even had to hire clerks. The goods didn’t stop at the shelves; the counter was getting more and more polished, more worn. And the money dripping, twenty by twenty, inside the drawer, and flowing from the drawer to the donkey,
After all, it was no longer enough for him to sort out his establishment in the supplier warehouses; she began to receive some goods directly from Europe: the wine, for example, which she used to buy by the fifths in wholesale houses, now came to her from Portugal by barrel, and from each one she made three with water and cachaça; and she dispatched invoices for barrels of butter, boxes of preserves, coffins of phosphoros, oil, cheeses, crockery, and many other goods.
It created warehouses for storage, abolished the grocery store and transferred the dormitory, taking advantage of the space to expand the sale, which doubled in size and gained two more doors.
It was no longer a simple tavern, it was a bazaar where you could find everything: haberdashery items, ironmongery, porcelain, office utensils, striped clothes for workers, fabric for women’s clothes, straw hats suitable for working the sun, cheap perfumeries, horn combs, scarves with love verses, and ordinary metal rings and earrings.
And all the riffraff in those neighborhoods would hang out there, or next door, in the eating house, where factory workers and quarry workers gathered after work, and stayed drinking and talking until ten o’clock at night. , between the thick smoke of pipes, fish fried in oil and kerosene lamps.
It was João Romão who provided them with everything, everything, even money in advance, when someone needed it. There was no newsboy there, whose salary was not entirely for the rogue’s hands. And on this copper, almost always loaned for pennies, he charged interest of eight percent per month, a little more than he charged to those who guaranteed the debt with gold or silver pledges.
However, the tenement houses, as they became clogged, filled up quickly, without even giving the paints time to dry. There was great eagerness to rent them; that was the best spot in the neighborhood for people from work. The quarry employees all preferred to live there, because they were within walking distance of their obligation.
Miranda was bursting with rage.
— A tenement! he exclaimed, possessed. A tenement! Damn that salesman of all devils! Make me a tenement under the windows!… You’ve spoiled my house, the bad guy!
And he spewed curses, swearing that he would take revenge, and screaming at the dust that invaded his rooms in waves, and against the infernal noise of the masons and carpenters who were hammering from dawn to dusk.
Which, by the way, did not prevent the little houses from continuing to appear, one after another, and soon filling up, spreading out together all over the place, from the sale to almost the hill, and then bending over to the Miranda side and advancing on the backyard of this one, which seemed threatened by that serpent of stone and lime.
Miranda immediately ordered the wall to be built.
Anything! that demon was capable of invading his house and even the living room!
And the tenement rooms finally stopped against the merchant’s wall, forming with the continuation of the merchant’s house a large quadrilong, a kind of barracks courtyard, where a battalion could be formed.
Ninety-five little houses housed the immense inn.
Promptly, João Romão ordered the construction of a thick wall ten palms high, crowned with shards of glass and bottle bottoms, in front, in the twenty square yards that separated the sale from the Miranda house, and with a large gate in the center, where he hung a red-paned lantern above a yellow sign on which the following was read, written in red ink and without spelling.
«San Romão Inn. Houses and tubs for washerwomen are rented.”
The houses were rented by the month and the tubs by the day: everything paid in advance. The price of each vat, including the water, five hundred réis; soap aside. Tenement dwellers had preference and did not pay anything to wash.
Thanks to the abundance of water that was there, as nowhere else, and thanks to the plenty of space available in the tenement to hang out clothes, the competition for the vats was not long in coming; Laundresses came from all over the city, including some from far away. And as soon as one of the little houses wandered around, or a room, a corner that could fit a mattress, a cloud of suitors would appear to dispute them.
And it developed into a large laundry room, bustling and noisy, with its fences of sticks, its green vegetables and its three-and-a-half-foot gardens, which appeared like happy spots amid the blackness of the overflowing mud tubs and the reverberation of the bright, raw cotton tents set up on the gleaming washing benches. And the dripping whirls, covered in wet clothes, glistened in the sun, like lakes of white metal.
And in that sodden and steaming land, in that hot and muddy dampness, a world, a living thing, a generation began to worm, to bubble, to grow, a generation, which seemed to sprout spontaneously, right there, from that marsh, and multiply like larvae in the dung.