Castello's aunts rarely appeared in Botafogo. Dona Itelvina did not leave the house, spurring on Sancha's service, annoyed with her sister's wastefulness and beatitude; this is that, from time to time, she would sit at Milla's table for a short lecture, in between her devotions.
Nina, still flustered by her uncle's warning, was putting the cockatoo's cage on the terrace when she saw Dona Joanna walking through the garden with her slow, fat, tired steps.
-What a miracle! the lady over here!
The old woman smiled at him and it was only after she had sat down on a bench on the terrace that she spoke, with her customary grace, untying the knot of her black mantilla with her puffy hands.
"You can hardly imagine where I've been!"
Look: at five o'clock I was already in São Bento, listening to the mass of NS da Conceição; then I went around the city many times, collecting alms.
—In poor neighborhoods, life begins at dawn. Speaking of alms, yesterday I was at the Bragas house, on Rua dos Ourives. Do you know them?
—It's a pity; they are very God-fearing souls. I found them very troublesome, preparing sweets to offer to Vicar Alves, who has his birthday today. Can't imagine how they are...
"Sorry, Aunt Joanna," Nina interrupted; and turning inwards:
—Oh Dionysio, take the coffee to Mr. Mario, did you hear?
“Are you still sleeping?!
—Uncle Francisco has already left.
—Laziness is a sad sin... anyway, here I am praying for everyone... Because the Bragas gave me ten cards for a great concert that will take place at the Casino, in benefit of the church of Monte Serrate... For the end that it is, no one can deny it; Camilla must take Ruth to those musicians' parties... I pay for my chair, but I'm not going there, and the other nine I hope to leave them here. You go to so many indecent shows that you don't do anything to go to this one, which is for a good end. Sing a certain... Marcondes, or... I don't know what...
“You speak to Aunt Milla. Your John! she called, interrupting the conversation again, facing the gardener who was passing by: look! a new branch must be made for the dining room; since there are no roses, make them foliage... Have you noticed the palm trees at the entrance?
—The rain tore them apart; she defoliated the flowers, and dug holes in the beds, may God help us!
"See if you can remedy that today..."
The gardener passed; D. Joanna said:
“It's a pity there aren't any roses; I'd like to take some to Vicar Alves. Yesterday the wife and daughters of Dr. Mendes spent the day there, nailing curtains, rugs, helping D. Maria to decorate her son's room... Those are also very good people...
"Would you like coffee, Aunt Joanna?"
—I accept... You are one of those women who never go to mass... you will regret it...
"I don't have time... Want more sugar?"
—I want... Who doesn't have time!... because look, you have sins behind you, which you must purge, if you want to deserve the name of good daughter...
Nina frowned and, looking away from her aunt's white face, looked at the garden, still soaked with water, very green, strewn with leaves thrown by the wind.
Dona Joanna was enjoying her coffee, not noticing the girl, who was still standing, her face contorted with an expression of anger and melancholy.
Ruth found them like this. Ella came fresh from the shower, with her wavy black hair loose over her narrow shoulders, and her white dress, with a wide belt, which thickened her waist and gave her body the look of a cathedral angel.
“How grown up! exclaimed Dona Joanna when she saw her.
Ruth showed her white teeth in a gleeful smile.
-Good days! You know, Aunt Joanna? Just yesterday I thought of you!
—Because I've been wanting to go to the Castello observatory to see the moon and stars.
—What a memory! I thought it was to take her to some church party...
-No; it wears me out, and then I've seen so many! The other day the musicians were out of tune at the Cathedral, which was horrible! If only they sang well... Captain Rino reminded me of going to the observatory. Seeing the light and the color of the stars well is what worries me now. Take me there, Auntie, will you?
“You'd better think about knowing heaven from the inside.
“It would be too much to want. Have you read the Snow Flower today , Nina?
Nina shook her head, no.
"What's this snow flower story?" asked Dona Joanna.
—It's a novel from the Journal , very beautiful. I'm dying to know if Magdalena is dead... also if she is dead I won't pick up the Journal again !
Dona Joanna was about to fail her reading when Camilla appeared on the terrace, pretty, in a pink peignoir , all fragrant, holding hands with her two young daughters.
Nina took her aunt's blessing and, to escape the presence of the old woman, who at that moment had become hateful to her, went straight into the dining room.
—It's very damp here; Why didn't you go inside, Aunt Joanna?
“This bench is dry. Nina was here...
Camilla, after greeting her aunt, took the cockatoo out of its cage and kissed it on the head.
Then to the old lady:
"What brought you so soon?"
D. Joanna returned to the history of Bragas, of the mass in S. Bento, and presented to her niece the ten chairs for the concert in benefit of the chapel of Monte Serrate.
—As it is for a reason of religion, I stay, otherwise not; because on Sunday I have an invitation to a party.
—Today, Vicar Alves is birthday; don't you send him a ticket?
-I can send.
“I think it's good. Elle prays a lot for her intention. He is a holy father and a perfect man.
“Elle is beautiful, and she treats herself well. Have you had coffee, auntie?
"Already...why do you let Ruth read the newspapers?" Ella spoke there in a serial; these are unclean works; you have to watch over your daughter's soul.
—Dad doesn't care, what should I do?
"Haven't you made your first communion yet?"
“It's not such. Will she not want to?
—If you want! even if it was only to put on a crown and a veil... All girls dream of their first communion. It's a rehearsal for the wedding.
—Heresies... And Mario... how is Mario?
“He's a handsome boy.
"And... more sensible?"
Camilla blushed slightly, brushed her cheeks with the white wings of the cockatoo in disguise, and replied with a smile:
"Like all twenty-year-olds...
Lia and Rachel had grappled in a corner because of a green skunk, knocked over by the rain and which they were both fighting over. Milla called Noca to intervene and take the contenders inside. Miss Joanna got up with a groan and went to sit in a corner of the dining room.
She was broken, her legs were heavy; She felt the sagging of the armchair well, which immediately enveloped her in a caress of sleep. She dozed pleasantly, barely hearing the children's running and laughter, the clinking of the dishes being placed on the table, and the footsteps of the servants moving. Through the sleep it was all subtle and good like distant music. When she woke up, lunch was being served. Nearby, in a windowpane, Dr. Gervasio, in pale clothes and flowers in his lapel, was talking quietly to Camilla.
Dona Joanna coughed to warn them of her presence; she didn't want to take advantage of the moment for indiscretion. Luckily, Nina came into the room from the pantry, carrying a small basket of white grapes.
Upstairs Ruth attacked the bass and treble of the violin with a frenzy.
“Praise be to Our Lord Jesus Christ, it sounds like the braying of a donkey!” the old woman thought to herself, stretching surreptitiously.
At lunchtime, Dionysio brought a tray to serve Mario in the room, as he only came to the family table when Dr. Gervasio was not.
Camilla barely covered her despair, veiling that offense with flimsy excuses, just so the doctor wouldn't notice. And he saw no such thing; she accepted the pretexts without suspicion. Mario deserved little attention.
Meanwhile, Nina kept the best steak, the cutest piece of bread, and the most perfect eggs for her cousin. Dona Joanna noticed that very quietly, afraid to mess with the hornets' house, drawing short sighs from her chest, which she drowned in bordeaux ...
Dr. Gervasio observed to Ruth that the exercises he'd heard were not going right. He should go over them before the lesson; then he advised Camilla to call an English or German handmaiden for the twins, who were wasting their time, perverting themselves with the language of boçae servants. Elle had an opinion for the Germans; they are disciplinary, laughing and more accessible than the others. After giving Nina a couple of jokes, the doctor looked intently at the pale, humble face of Miss Joanna, who was very silent beside Ruth. He recalled in a flash the encounter he'd had with her at the top of João Homem's slope, on the greasy cobblestones, between groups of curious kids and the dirty walls of old buildings.
All her reproach had remained in his ear, and then there was an urge to grab Milla and kiss her there, before the old woman's chaste and prudish eyes.
It was only after coffee, as he lit his cigar, that he heard Dona Joanna, in her sugary tone, complain to her niece:
"Why don't you at least teach your daughters to cross themselves when they sit down and get up from the table?" Giving thanks to God for the goods they receive is no shame... Your conscience, Milla, is too troubled by bad advice and examples of uncharitable atheists... I didn't want to speak, but I have too much friendship with you to remain impassive. ; Don't you think it's time to teach these girls to respect our religion?
Dr. Gervasio smiled; he had understood the remonstrance; Milla protested:
—Everyone in the house was religious, no one missed Mass on Sunday, except Nina, who never had hours for anything, and the occasional maid who was more overworked; at night, no one fell asleep without having prayed at least one Our Father. Ella did not forget her duties.
This was said in a dry tone, which somewhat irritated the aunt's gentle temper; to get revenge on the doctor, from whom she supposed all the change in that family of hers to emanate, she exclaimed with irony, turning to him:
"I bet the doctor also prays every night?"
"My gods," he replied calmly, "why not?"
"What are your gods called?"
—Camões, Dante, Shakespeare... I never fall asleep without having read some poet, and from some I mentally recite divine verses. This is the reason why I explain myself having such beautiful dreams, since this ugly man who is here, extremely excellent, has dreams that would perfume the existence of the most beautiful of women. Yesterday I read Dante. I've been to hell, Miss Joanna, and what a beautiful hell!
"Bring these ideas over here..."
—Rest; this religion is not taught; It's for the beginners. Have you ever heard of Byron?
"Some enemy of our Church, like you?"
"But I don't mean harm to your Church!" I just think she's very sad, all turned towards death... I don't wish her ill, because for her glorification she has created cathedraes that are true apotheoses of art.
“Just for that?
“It's one of the reasons, and the only one that's easy to explain.
“You think I'm very angry.
—On the contrary, I am speaking to you like a litterateur! Now, if you like, let's discuss religion and philosophy. Do you know Comte?
“It's the term.
—I know, they worship him in a little chapel on Benjamin Constant Street. What a sin!
—Oh! There's already news... We're well advanced.
"Are you one of the taes who don't miss these sessions?"
“I never go there. I told you, I hate philosophy. Medicine is enough to annoy me and my rosebushes to distract me. Do you know any good remedy to kill rose hips aphids? I have a nearly lost Yellow Persian !
"Is your medicine not even good for plants?"
—Not even for the plants, the wretch!
— Aunt Milla! said Nina hurriedly, between the hall doors.
—Lage's baroness and her sister are there...
-My God! and I of dressing up !
Dr. Gervasio turned and said:
—Well, it is very well; anyone looking for a lady at these hours is subject to being received like this. I tell you more; for me there is no dress so beautiful.
"Then I'm going anyway..."
Dona Joanna smiled bitterly; even in that the devil's opinion of man was followed!
—Well, Milla, we said goodbye, she said, I'm leaving. Ticket money?
-It is true! Nina! give Aunt Joanna a hundred thousand reis for the ten chairs. See you again, Aunt Joanna. Memories.
The girl left.
-Jesus! exclaimed the old woman at once, it's been one hour and Milla has forgotten to give me the card for Vicar Alves!
The doctor turned quickly, curiosity showing on his face. What would Milla want to say in writing to Father Alves? The old woman realized the strangeness of the gesture and turned her back on him before he asked for an explanation, burying her flaccid face in Ruth's black mane, with many hugs, tenderness and memories of Mario.
When Camilla entered her salon, the baroneza da Lage, all in black satin, was on her feet, gazing at an insignificant, richly framed painting.
The sister, seated near the sofa, with a bored air of an anemic blonde, was distracted playing with her gloved fingers with the trinkets of her gold chain.
The lady of the house immediately apologized for introducing herself in that way...
“But you're at your house, you're doing very well. Look, Paquita, this peignoir is almost the same as the one I bought yesterday at Raunier, isn't it?
Paquita shook her head languidly, yes.
—Guess now the reason for my visit! said the baroness through a beautiful smile.
-Is easy. Come join me at your wedding!
“Marry me, will I? which!
-Why not? She is the most coveted widow in this Rio de Janeiro.
-Unfortunately. Imagine: I now have a lady at home, a kind of lady-in-waiting, you know? only in charge of receiving and dismissing my suitors... Don't laugh, know it's true. Isn't that true, Paquita?
Paquita shook her head, yes.
“Well see. But where did you hear that I was engaged?
—On a bond .
“I was late. Bond is the eternal gossip of this land. Even you, when you don't want to compromise your informants, attribute all indiscretions to the poor bond ... That's why I abhor him. I only go out in the car... No! I don't come to participate in anything; I come to ask your Ruth to brighten up a concert that we, protectors of the Sacred Heart, intend to give on the fifteenth. If it weren't for religion, I wouldn't be involved in this. I have already been asked to organize parties for the benefit of schools and hospitals for the poor, as if there were poverty in our America... Believe me, my friend, in Brazil there are no wretches, there are atheus. We need to regenerate the people with examples of the Christian faith.
Camilla agreed; Paquita dared to pass a sentence.
There was a pause.
—Paquita gave me news of her son one of these days; he says he is very handsome lad.
Paquita shot her sister a reproachful look; but the words were already out, and no power could bring them back to where they started.
—It is…but a little lazy; don't like to work...
—Oh! don't even need it! It's very distinct. I, in her case, would do the same.
—Yes, but the father is not resigned to that.
Paquita managed a smile that went unnoticed. The baroness continued:
"Have you received an invitation to our ball yet?"
“We hope that Mario is the one who sets the cotillon for us . Papae really likes Mario.
The father of the Baroneza and Paquita was an old Portuguese man, a former cowboy, who had become a capitalist by good fortune. The whole town knew his anecdotes and simplicities. Moreover, he boasted of his rough and heavy principles.
—We also prepared a ball; only the date is still uncertain, Camilla said.
“That's already failed.
The baroness talked volubly, barely touching on topics. She had failed a lot and would have talked even more if Paquita didn't suddenly interrupt her with a secca phrase:
“Yes, let's go.
When they said their goodbyes, with the promise that Ruth would play at the concert, Camilla had her hands full with matinee tickets .
The baroness, in the midst of the glazing of her black satin dress, walked as if she were carrying music with her; her steps were cadenced, her bosom held high, a sweet heat in her beautiful brown brunette eyes.
Paquita followed her, in her vague way, in which everything seemed to escape observation. Camilla noticed, as she shook his hand, the thinness of the wrist, a white, thin wrist, like a sick child, glimpsed between the glove and the sleeve.
Down in the vestibule, the girls bumped into Dr. Gervasio, who was also leaving, tired of waiting for Camilla.
There was then an exchange of significant glances between the baroness and the silent Paquita, who gave the doctor an almost imperceptible nod of her head. His sister, very outgoing, held him back, spoke to him with joy, finding a way to fill his pockets with tickets to her religious concert.
That afternoon the captain appeared in Botafogo. They were beginning to notice his absence; Lia and Rachel, when they saw him, jumped to his knees.
Ruth came in an uproar, calling him ungrateful, asking for news of Neptune . Nina always welcomed him with sympathy, finding in him an air of a good friend, to whom, in a moment of danger or anguish, a woman's heart could pour out a confidence and ask for comfort; Francisco Theodoro opened his arms to her: Why didn't she show up, there was so much? Only Camilla smiled with effort and reserve, extending her cold fingertips.
And that was why he was now running away from that house, where his thoughts were trapped, like a stubborn animal. Her love for Camilla grew as he refrained from seeking her out, or as he found himself mistreated by her. She couldn't find an explanation for that change; Had he not received her on her ship as a princess?
The children embraced him with enthusiasm.
-Girls! what's that? then! Francisco Theodoro exclaimed, laughing, very weak from the twins' derangements.
Camilla looked and felt sorry. Captain Rino was thinner; all his clothes, dark and disheveled, seemed to dance on his body; there was a resigned sadness in his grinning eyes. Ella got up, claiming a headache, and went upstairs to her room.
Rino thought: "Ella runs away from me... maybe it's for the best."
He was desperately listening to the sound of his footsteps up the stairs and no one noticed that he was listening and his lips were pursed in a bitter smile.
Lia and Rachel waved her arms laughing a lot, comparing her big hands to theirs, so cute...
"Captain Rino, why don't you ever bring your sister to us?" asked Ruth.
Calmly, as if no grief could shake him, he replied:
—Catharina is exquisite; She goes out every day, but to walk around the hill picking plants... she Rarely goes to the city or makes visits. We're unsociable, both of us. My father was a sailor, my stepmother was always very sick, and that, I think, is the origin of our evil... or our good, who can tell us?
Making a comical face, and pointing to the sky, Ruth answered solemnly: - Only God!