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The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers

Author: Eça de Queiroz

Translator: Margaret Jull Costa   Cover design: Marie Lane  

It was in the Teatro da Trindade, at a performance of Bluebeard.
The second act had already begun, and the chorus of courtesans were just bowing and retreating in an arc to the back of the stage, when, in a box to the left of the circle, the rusty creak of a stiff door lock and the scrape of a chair drew a few distracted glances. A rather tall woman was standing in the box, slowly undoing the silver clasps on a long black silk cape lined with fur; the hood of the cape was still up, but nevertheless afforded an impression of large, dark eyes in an oval, aquiline face; whether natural or artificial, the faint shadows beneath her eyes lent seriousness and profundity to her gaze. With her was a thin woman, wearing a gold watch chain strung across a vulgar silk bodice; the thin woman took her companion's cape from her, and she, with a light, delicate movement, turned and stood very still, studying the stage.
The lethargic audience immediately stirred into life. Opera glasses were trained on her - 'a veritable fusillade', to quote Roma, the esteemed author of Idylls and Dreams; a fat fellow, standing just below her box, was so anxious to get a look at her that he turned round rather too suddenly, slipped on a step and fell over, to loud guffaws; while the fat man, very angry and red in the face, was rubbing his rear, the woman leaned forward and spoke to her thin companion, who remained perched on the edge of her chair, respectful as a maidservant, stiff-backed as a religious zealot. She had a large red nose, her hair was combed flat to her head, and her submissive smile revealed long, carnivorous teeth; in order to view the stage, she carefully donned a pair of spectacles. She was clearly some sort of ageing English governess.
The talk in the circle was that the beautiful unknown woman must be the Princess of Breppo, a poor, distant relative of the House of Savoy. The withered old Countess de Triães, sporting a white camellia in her grey hair, even wondered if 'the king would notice'; but the king sat motionless, leaning on the edge of the box; he was wearing blue-tinted pince-nez and an admiral's uniform with vast gold epaulettes; the queen, looking lovely in purple, her bejewelled fingers resting on her cheek, was still smiling at the grotesque stage antics of 'Count Oscar'. They did not even notice 'the princess'. Some said she had been expected to stop off in Lisbon on her way to Brazil, where she was going in order to escape importunate creditors or to pursue an interest in the flora of the Americas or to shake off the tedium of Europe.
That night was a benefit performance, and the theatre was packed. In another box, in a lilac dress, her hair like a stiff helmet, sat the plump, white Viscountess de Rosarim, whose virtuous nature was the talk of Lisbon and caused people to mutter angrily and impatiently: 'The woman must be stupid!'
Beside her, hiding behind a large, black fan, was Miss Ginamá from Bahia, a glimpse of whose silk stockings was enough to provoke uncontrolled lubricity amongst the populace. Opposite, sitting in the midst of her devout, respectable family, was Mercês Pedrão, whose habit, so it was rumoured, was to bestow on any man under fifty-five who came near her the knowing but prudent caresses of a voluptuary. And in the farthest-flung box sat two sad negroes with diamond pins in their shirtfronts.
Slender Father Agnaldo was up in the circle, wearing gold-rimmed pince-nez and with his hair combed carefully over his bald pate; he was a great success in the Café Martinho where he would spend the nights making mock of church dogma and drinking chartreuse; there too was Carvalhosa, now a deputy, but who still bore the traces on his jaundiced skin of the vices he had loved too well at university; also present was the esteemed poet, Roma, who, when he was happy, would invent comical words and, when in more splenetic vein, would sing of the moonlight in the valleys and of his love for certain duchesses, and who, whether sad or gay, was always running grimy fingers through his scurf-ridden hair.
Dear, kind Baldonísio, clean-shaven and bald, teetered from one box to another, his hips swaying, his voice trilling out soft as a cricket's; he observed all the fast days and was much loved by devout aristocrats. The ladies beamed at the illustrious pianist, Fonseca, who kept fiddling with his glasses and who, the day before, had published a waltz called 'The Throne Waltz', which he had dedicated to their majesties. Padilhão, sociable as ever and much in demand for his ability to imitate actors, animals, the whistling of a train and the sad sound of an oboe, was also much in evidence.
One noisy box was packed with heavily made-up Spanish women, whilst in the stalls down below, amidst the drab of army uniforms, one caught the occasional faint glimmer of an officer's insignia. The heat and the mingled breath of so many people crammed together made for a suffocating atmosphere. The more obese members of the audience were perspiring and fluttering their fans. Hands wearing gloves made of oxblood, bottle green or mustard yellow leather smoothed trim goatee beards. In the balcony, a child was crying obstinately. And the anonymous masses - people who eat, procreate and die anonymously - looked blankly about them with dark eyes.
The unknown woman took up her opera glasses and trained them for a moment on the queen, on the stiff, flowery coiffures of the ladies, on the fine, gallant profile of Dom João da Maia and on the Spanish girls. Occasionally, she would smile and talk to the scrawny governess. She was blonde, either natural or dyed, and was wearing a dress in pearl-coloured silk, with a modest, square neckline; a black enamel pendant set with tiny diamonds and threaded onto a pale ribbon nestled on her breast, which was the colour of warm milk.
Two men in the circle seemed particularly fascinated by her. One of them kept smiling broadly, fidgeting in his seat, polishing the lenses of his opera glasses and staring up at her, elbows akimbo; he was a short, chubby man in his thirties, with a fuzz of black beard on his plump face. His name was Dâmaso Mavião, but he was known to everyone as Dâmaso. He was rich and well respected. His father had been a moneylender, but Dâmaso wore a ring bearing a coat of arms; it was, almost without modification, the coat of arms of the Count de Malgueiro, a decrepit gambler and hardened drinker, to whom Dâmaso, believing it the chic thing to do, gave the occasional silver coin. He was wearing beige trousers, and beneath his waistcoat gleamed a shirtfront with coral buttons in the form of little hands each holding a golden pencil.
The other fellow, a young man of twenty-three, stood motionless, his arms folded, studying her as intently as one might a famous painting. He was doubtless thinking that he had never before seen such alluring, desirable beauty, such splendid, warm, white skin, such long eyelashes so gracefully lowered and raised. The curve of her throat and breast was lovelier than anything he had seen in statues or engravings, and her mass of golden hair must, he thought, be silken and heavy to the touch and have the soft warmth of living things. Her flesh must exude a subtle perfume and be so exceptionally sensitive and supple as to make any man tremble. He imagined that the silk dress she wore would have its own vitality, as if it were another skin. He marvelled at the smoothly elegant way she turned her head, and when she removed her long eighteen-buttoned glove, he stared in wonderment at her bracelet - a snake which coiled five times about her arm and seemed to rest its flat head, set with two large rubies like two bloodshot eyes, on her white flesh.
Dâmaso had stated categorically that 'she must be a princess' and that idea made her feel infinitely distant from the young man, as if she were lost in some glorious long ago, with all the haughty pride of an historic family and the inaccessibility of queens. What had her past life been? What would her voice be like? What feelings did she have? Had she ever been in love? With whom? He could only imagine her lavishly dressed, striking stately poses; he could not even think of her in a bedroom, wearing a simple white nightgown; she belonged in high-ceilinged, damasked salons hung with standards, where phalanxes of pages bowed as she passed.
What was she doing there, then, in a box at the Teatro da Trindade, with an ugly paid companion? Would she have the candour of a poetic soul? Could she love just anyone? What form would her love take? What delicate gestures would she make when she gave herself to a lover, what fine words would she utter? Surely she would inspire a fanatical, almost religious devotion. Who could possibly ever possess such a creature?
These vague thoughts came naturally to a young man of a sentimental, melancholy turn of mind. His name was Vítor da Silva, a law graduate, who lived with his Uncle Timóteo and worked in the offices of the lugubrious Dr Caminha. He had brought back with him from university, and from his literary acquaintances there, a kind of hazy romanticism, a morbid sadness, a dislike of all activity and a distaste for his profession. He had read a great deal of Musset, Byron and Tennyson; he himself wrote poetry and had had some poems published in newspapers and magazines: The Dream of Dom João, Flowers of Snow, a few sonnets. He had recently been working on a short poem about King Arthur and the Round Table, the Holy Grail and Lancelot. The brute imperfection of everyday life filled him with melancholy. He still lived in hope of finding a lover like Juliet and, although contact with blunt reality had made him lose some of his romantic ideas, his complete lack of any sense of irony allowed him to continue to venerate the ideal. He got up late, loathed the legal profession in which he worked, was a republican and a dandy.
'Look, she understands Portuguese,' Dâmaso suddenly exclaimed, elbowing Vítor.
'How do you know?'
'Can't you see, she's laughing at Isidoro.'
The second act was drawing to an end. The conductor was bouncing up and down, brandishing the baton, the violin bows rose and fell as the violinists sawed away; the piccolos sang out shrilly, while the bespectacled man playing the bass drum, with a scarf over one shoulder, dealt the drumskin soft, sleepy blows with his drumsticks. On stage, Carlota, in a terrible state, the train of her dress all dirty, was dragging herself through the court, whining:
I bet that fat old fishwife
Was once the bane of his life
And the ladies of the chorus, their hair dishevelled, pretended to be deeply shocked, raising now one arm, now the other, as stiffly as puppets. The fat, scarlet 'queen' was sweating; 'El-Rei Bobeche' was drooling; and the audience burst into laughter and applause when he and 'Count Oscar', playing the fool on the royal armchairs on stage, suddenly swung round and put the soles of their feet together to form the converging legs of a ludicrous W.
The curtain fell. There was a rising murmur of voices; people puffed out their cheeks in the heat; fans fluttered, and the people in the boxes and the circles gradually fell silent and stared into space, hot and weary; people yawned or peered vaguely round the theatre through their opera glasses.
A group of men standing at the door to the circle were examining the unknown woman; speculative comments were made: Was she really a princess? But someone said that the princess in question was a little old lady with a chignon. Perhaps she was the new leading lady at the Teatro de São Carlos. Then a grey-haired man with a slight stutter joined the group and said knowledgeably:
'She's a tart!'
Since he was a person who had visited both Madrid and Paris on government business, his opinions, whether on debauchery or cuisine, were always highly respected. And two broad-backed Brazilians left the group disconsolately, muttering:
'She's one of those French women on the make. Rio's full of them.'
But everyone agreed that she was certainly a tasty piece, and her décolletage was highly praised. A pale gaunt youth, jacket tightly buttoned, narrow-brimmed hat flat on his head like a plate, and carrying a murderous-looking walking stick, made all eyes glitter when he muttered hoarsely:
'I wouldn't mind getting her alone!'
They discussed loudly whether her hair was natural or dyed. They were all good friends and so addressed each other as 'old fool' and 'idiot'. One lawyer got very irate and bet two libras that her hair was dyed.
She, meanwhile, had gone to sit at the back of the box, talking now and then to the Englishwoman and looking rather tired, smothering yawns with one small hand, the rings on her fingers glinting in the semidarkness. Vítor da Silva, who could not now see her from his seat, was about to get up and sit further forward, at the front of the circle, when he saw a man he knew, Joaquim Marinho, go into the box.
Marinho was from Trás-os-Montes in the far north of Portugal, but had lived in Paris for years. He had inherited a strip of impoverished land near Bragança, but according to his friends - who said of him respectfully and with a lift of the eyebrow: 'He's a sly one, Marinho!' - he had got rich in Paris, and people spoke gravely of 'Marinho's fortune'. He was short, slightly built, almost bald and sported a fine blonde beard; he had small feet and moved almost noiselessly; he smiled easily and, when he spoke, had a habit of rubbing his hands together. He was so extravagantly polite, it was almost embarrassing. He called everyone 'my dear friend' and always had a few chocolate bonbons in his pockets for the ladies. He was so eager to please that he would quite happily post a letter for someone or deliver a package to the customs office. Should a peer of the realm or a director-general speak to him of the weather or about the latest bullfights, he would listen, eyes wide, biting his lower lip, as if astonished at such rare words of wisdom. He would buy beer for the capitalists in Balthreschi's patisserie and say a few paternal words to the younger men, slipping his arm around their waist and whispering lubricious comments about dancers. He always wore magnificent overcoats, and if anyone complimented him on this, he would immediately take off the coat and display the cloth in a favourable light, showing off the lining and the excellent seams, and say quietly:
'A bargain. It's the first time I've worn it - it's yours for five libras.'
He was always doing deals. People said of him: 'Marinho has a very sharp eye for business!' He almost always dined out and claimed to suffer from neuralgia.
Vítor was surprised at his familiarity with the stranger. Marinho had grasped both her hands, smiling broadly. He had picked up her opera glasses and muttered something to her that made her laugh. She was certainly no princess, and the thought made Vítor feel suddenly strangely happy.
Dâmaso agreed and, standing at the circle door with the others and stroking his beard, he said:
'If she's so very friendly with Marinho, she's clearly no princess.'
And they all decided that she must be the new leading lady at the Teatro de São Carlos.
'We've got ourselves a woman, then,' exclaimed Dâmaso. 'If she tries to play the fine lady, she'll be booed off.'
And turning to the gaunt young man with the murderous walking stick, he said:
'Are you dining afterwards, Viscount?'
'Hmm,' the Viscount said in his nasal tones, which meant 'Yes'.
But the stocky, illustrious pianist Fonseca said that the new leading lady was thin and short, with jet-black hair.
Marinho would enlighten them. And since he was at that very moment emerging from the unknown woman's box, they gathered round him in the corridor.
'Who is she? Who is she?'
'Wouldn't you like to know!'
'Come on, Marinho!'
He stroked his beard, laughing to himself. Then, head on one side, he said confidentially:
'A lady of the best society, the very best!'
'Is she French?'
'Oh, really...'
He smiled, warding off their questions. People stood on tiptoe around him; one of the king's courtiers, a pleasant, witty fellow, put his hand to his ear; a decrepit, deaf old gentleman, wearing an enormous top hat, asked a great hulk of a man with a pointed goatee beard to tell him what Marinho had said. The hulk bowed respectfully and addressed him as 'Count'.
Finally, Marinho, hemmed in, pressed up against a wall beneath a gaslamp, scraping the whitewash with the sole of one of his shoes, told them everything. He had met her in Paris, in the house of Baroness de Villecreuse, a most respectable lady, separated from her husband, who lives in the Champs-Elysées, near Madame de Sagan. Turning to a pompous, potbellied man with a grey beard, he said:
'You know the place, don't you, Vasconcelos?'
The man replied in the shrill tones of a cricket:
'I adore it.'
'Well, that's where I met her. She invited me to dine at her house a few times. Her name is Madame de Molineux. She's Portuguese, from Madeira. Molineux, the old devil, was a senator of the Empire. God, you ate well in that house!' And he rolled his eyes in delight. 'The Molineux are a very old Normandy family. After that disastrous business at Sedan, the old chap went to Belgium, where he died. And that's all I know about her. She's called Genoveva.'
Then someone asked:
'Who's the other woman?'
'A companion, a kind of maid. An Englishwoman. I'm coming, I'm coming!' he said in response to Dâmaso, who was beckoning to him.
The bell was ringing; the group dispersed. And Marinho, putting his arm about Dâmaso's waist, said:
'What is it?'
'That woman, is she with anyone?'
Marinho opened his arms wide and, lowering his voice, said:
'Chi lo sa?'
And Dâmaso, in a still quieter voice and grasping Marinho by the lapel of his jacket, said:
'You couldn't introduce me, could you?'
'Why, of course. She even asked me to bring someone along in the next interval! It's not strictly etiquette to introduce anyone at the theatre...but here...and, besides, she did ask me.'
The orchestra was accompanying the aria:
Fresh young loves,
I plucked them like flowers...
'I'll see you later, then,' said Dâmaso.
But Marinho held him back and walked the length of the corridor with him, arm in arm, bending towards him, talking urgently.
'But when do you need it?' asked Dâmaso.
'If possible, tomorrow,' replied Marinho. 'I'll drop by your house. I do apologise, but I'm really strapped for cash And it's all a complete fuss about nothing. It could only ever happen here. A hotel in France would never pester a gentleman, a person known to them, for the miserable sum of 62,000 mil réis. Ridiculous! So tomorrow it is, eh? And we'll go and see that woman at the end of the next act. And, remember, don't hold back!'
He rubbed his hands vigorously, laughing silently, then, with a bow, went back into the box belonging to the Viscountess de Rosarim, 'our virtuous beauty', as he called her.
Dâmaso returned to the circle triumphant; he eyed Madame de Molineux as if taking possession of her, and began putting on his gloves. Leaning towards Vítor, he said:
'Marinho's going to introduce me!'
And he told Vítor that she was a countess from Paris and very chic! And she was Portuguese too! Who would think it? 'What a woman, though. I'd give her anything she wanted!'
He was very sure of himself. Generally speaking, he was thought to be a bit of a dandy and people said of him: 'That lucky devil Dâmaso is never without a woman!' A fat actress from the Teatro Príncipe Real, a magician's assistant, had tried to kill herself by eating the heads of matches, and all because of him. He was much in demand amongst the Spanish girls, and his sentimental curriculum vitae even included an aristocratic episode in Sintra, where he was caught in flagrante with the Countess de Aguiar in the Capuchin monastery. The countess was, and still is, like a dish served at table, which you received from the person on your right and passed to the person on your left. Since then, Dâmaso had looked women straight in the eye, pulling at his beard, and when, at three o'clock each afternoon, he pranced across Largo dos Mártires on his horse, he felt that Lisbon was his to command.
Vítor, who said nothing, now found her even more captivating. She had lived in Paris, he thought, amongst lofty, original beings; she had visited the Tuileries; and the weary, defiling gaze of the old Silent Emperor had doubtless fallen on her beautiful shoulder blades. She had met famous authors, visited notable artists' studios, and everything he had read or heard about Paris clustered around her like a natural adornment, and she became associated vaguely in his mind with the spirit of Dumas fils, with Doré's engravings and Gounod's music, with the old generals of the Jockey Club and the refinements of the Café Anglais - the whole wonderful framework of a superior civilization.
Meanwhile, on stage, five grubby women, with inelegantly curled hair and low necklines revealing bony clavicles, were standing in a line shrilly singing to a jerky rhythm:
Left for dead in the grave
I came straight back to life,
Straight back to life, back to life...
Then from the door of the circle, Marinho, on tiptoe, was signalling to Dâmaso. In his haste, Dâmaso stumbled over a child, who started to cry, and knocked the opera glasses out of the hand of an extremely large woman. He was very pale.
An old lady, slumped in her seat behind Vítor, remarked with satisfaction:
'He must have got the colic.'
'It's those sorbets they eat,' muttered her neighbour sourly.
And the five scrawny women standing in a line, once more took up the shrill refrain:
Left for dead in the grave,
I came straight back to life,
Straight back to life...
Marinho led Dâmaso into Madame de Molineux's box, introduced him and left discreetly. She bowed her head gracefully and, indicating the Englishwoman, said:
'Miss Sarah Swan.'
Dâmaso bowed again. His face was now bright red.
'Do you speak English?' asked Miss Sarah.
'I learned at school, but I've forgotten it all.'
Miss Sarah bared her teeth in a smile, coughed, and adjusting her glasses, looked back at the stage.
Madame de Molineux turned slightly towards Dâmaso, who asked her hurriedly:
'Are you enjoying yourself?'
'Oh, yes, very much.'
She affected a slight foreign accent.
'Have you seen the operetta before?'
'Yes, I think I have, at the Varietés in Paris, I believe.'
'A very different experience, I imagine,' remarked Dâmaso.
She agreed politely, smiling.
There was a silence. Dâmaso, who had grown still redder, was slowly stroking his beard; sweat was trickling down his back. Then the curtain was lowered, and the interval hubbub started up again. Madame de Molineux withdrew to the back of the box and, as she brushed past Dâmaso, the noble beauty of her person, the rustle of silk, her penetrating perfume, made him bow slightly.
He saw that several pairs of opera glasses were trained on him; he wanted to appear animated, chic, and in an over-loud voice and making a sweeping gesture, he asked:
'Have you been in Lisbon long?'
She conferred with Miss Sarah and said:
'Just five days.'
And Dâmaso, in a sudden verbal flurry, plied her with questions:
Was this her first time in Lisbon?
It was. She had gone straight from Madeira to London and from there to Paris...
Did she like Lisbon? 'Very much!' Had she been to the gardens in the Passeio Público, to the Teatro de Sâo Carlos? 'Yes.' Had she been to Sintra? 'No.'
She was sitting slightly slumped in her chair, her hands in her lap, holding her closed fan. Her hands were slender and white, but strong, as if accustomed to holding the reins of a horse and to an active life.
Dâmaso then offered her his house in Colares, should she wish to visit Sintra. It was a student's house... But seeing her slightly surprised look, he blushed and added:
'I myself am living in Lisbon at present; I always spend the winter in Lisbon.'
'I'm sorry,' she said, interrupting him, 'but who's that lady in dark blue opposite us?'
It was the Countess de Val-Moral. Dâmaso pretended he was an intimate friend of hers. 'I could tell you about everyone in Lisbon,' he declared. 'Oh yes, I know absolutely everyone.'
He was growing animated. He mentioned a number of ladies; he thought it witty to speak of scandals; he pointed out a few well-born young men; he spoke of bullfighting; he even imitated the actor Isidoro.
Opening her fan with a weary gesture, she murmured:
'Hm, interesting...'
Dâmaso was convinced he was making an excellent impression. He grew excited; he pulled off his gloves; he asked to have a look at her fan. And, leaning on the edge of the box, he half-turned his back on the circle.
'Of all the ladies here,' she was saying, 'the only real lady is the Queen.' Putting one finger to her brow and frowning slightly, she asked: 'Now what family is she from?'
Dâmaso was quick to remind her that the Queen was the daughter of Victor Emmanuel, from the House of Savoy,.
'Of course, how silly of me! She's the sister of Humberto. Such a fine young man, don't you think?'
'So people say, so everyone says.'
'Two years ago in Paris, I often used to go riding with him in the mornings. Isn't it the custom in Lisbon to go riding in the morning?'
'It certainly is!'
He then listed his own horses; he had three: one for riding, one for the phaeton, and one for the coupé, at night.
They discussed horseracing. She had been to the Derby, at Epsom. Dâmaso praised the course at Belém. He had heard foreigners say there was no better view from the stands in the world; it was as good as anything anywhere.
'They even speak English at the weigh-in.'
And leaning back, he smoothed his moustache.
Then Madame de Molineux wanted to know who the ladies were in 20 in the second row. They were the Spanish girls, who wore camellias in their monstrous coiffures and layers of powder on their small, round faces. There were constant bangings on the door of the box, which would fluster the girls and set them whispering. They would fan themselves furiously and, leaning forward, scrutinise the circle and the stalls with devouring eyes and then, suddenly, for appearance's sake, freeze in ridiculously rigid poses.
Dâmaso looked, smiled, pretended to be embarrassed and then, hoping to be witty, said in mangled French:
'They're the demi-mondes.'
'Ah!' And Madame Molineux calmly picked up her opera glasses to get a good look at the Spanish contingent. 'One of them's not bad-looking,' she said.
'Oh, that'll be Lola!' Dâmaso exclaimed involuntarily, then bit his lip and blushed scarlet.
Madame de Molineux merely asked:
'Are there restaurants where one can dine after the theatre, something like the Café Anglais at the Maison d'Or?'
'Alas, no. We're a very backward country. There's Silva's of course, and the Malta.'
'And what mass do people attend?'
Dâmaso recommended the one o'clock mass at the church of Loreto. A lot of people went there.
The Englishwoman had remained silent all this while. Sometimes, for no reason, she would turn to Madame de Molineux and bestow on her a humble smile, or she would peer through her opera glasses at one particular man, before returning to her strict immobility, fixing her dull blue eyes on some point in space. Madame de Molineux yawned.
'I'm afraid I'm rather tired. I got up very early to see off a friend on the ship bound for Brazil.'
'Ah, of course, it left today.'
Then, since the orchestra was tuning up, Dâmaso prepared to leave:
'Your humble servant, madam.'
'I receive visitors at the Hotel Central between two and four,' she said with a curt nod.
Dâmaso returned to the circle, radiant, and dropping into his seat beside Vítor, muttered:
'I've got myself a woman.'
Then, leaning back, he started 'giving her the eye'.
But Madame de Molineux was standing up and, in an instant, she was wrapped in her silk pelisse, the hood again almost covering her face.
Dâmaso leaped to his feet, very agitated.
'Come on,' he said to Vítor, 'come on, man.'
They ran downstairs and stood by the door. The lanterns on the waiting carriage lit the dark street; young lads, each with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, were also waiting; the colonnade was deserted, its walls plastered with cheap advertisements, offering translation services; in the café, a waiter was leaning against a column, reading a crumpled newspaper by the light of the gaslamp; another waiter was stretched out on one of the marble-topped tables, dozing; and from the back came the monotonous click of billiard balls. Then there was a rustle of silk; it was Madame de Molineux. She was quite tall and the pelisse she wore was very full; picking up the train of her dress, she revealed the lace of her petticoats and the black silk of her stockings.
Dâmaso stepped forward, and they stood chatting at the door while a boy raced desperately down the street, calling for the coachman for the Hotel Central.
Vítor, standing out of the wind, his heart pounding, was fumbling nervously with a cigarette. The whiteness of the petticoat, as well as the woman's noble stature, the lavish embroidery on her pelisse all troubled him as if he were in the presence of some superior being. Dâmaso was swaying back and forth, beating his stick against his trousers; he was apparently talking about the weather; it was a dark night of shivering stars.
But then Madame de Molineux turned and appeared to notice Vítor for the first time; for a moment she rested on him her dark, shining eyes, which seemed even larger beneath her hood. But the boy came running back, out of breath, in the wake of the hotel coupé. Dâmaso bowed and she, on the pretext of getting a better grip on her train, turned again and looked directly at Vítor.
He stood there in suspense, surprised. The carriage door closed and the carriage bore her away.
Dâmaso said to Vítor: 'Let's go and have supper at the Malta, shall we?' said Dâmaso. And as they walked down the street, he was smugly whistling the march from Faust.
Vítor said nothing. He could feel the blood flowing unusually fast in his veins. Carriages were leaving the Teatro de São Carlos, groups of people passed them, women's cloaks gleamed white in the night. And he found Lisbon interesting; he wanted to publish a poem, or be applauded in a theatre and generally be considered an important person.
When they entered the Malta, the waiter approached them, yawning, and turned up the gaslight; a crude, tremulous light struck the walls and the low ceiling; in a bored voice, he asked:
'And what can I do for you, gentlemen?'
Dâmaso was studying himself in the mirror opposite, fiddling with his beard; he felt bohemian, alive and full of energy.


RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 346

Publication date: 27.08.2000

Re-print date: 17.06.2009

ISBN numbers:
978 1 873982 64 8
978 1 907650 25 3

World English language in this translation.