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The Attendant`s Confession part 4

Very probably my chance was approaching. The colonel was rapidly getting worse. He made his will, the notary receiving almost as many insults as did I. The invalid`s treatment became more strict; short in-tervals of peace and rest became rarer then ever for me. Already I had lost the meager measure of pity that made me forget the old sufferer s excesses; inside of me seethed a cauldron of aversion and hatred. At the beginning of the month of August I decided definitely to leave.

The vicar and the doctor, finally accepting my explanations, asked me but a few days` more service. I gave them a month. At the end of that lime I would depart, whatever might be the condition of the invalid.

I he vicar promised to find me a substitute.

Now for what happened. On the evening of the 24th of August the colonel had a violent attack of anger; he struck me, he called me the vilest names, he threatened to shoot me; finally he threw a plate of porridge that was too cold for him square in my face. The plate struck the wall and was shattered into a thousand fragments.

“You`ll pay me for it, you thief!” he bellowed.

For a long time he grumbled. Towards eleven o`clock he gradually fell asleep. While he slept I took a book out of my pocket, a translation of an old d`Arlincourt romance which I Jiad found lying about, and began to read it in his room, at a small distance from his bed. I was to wake him at midnight to give him his medicine; but, whether it was due to fatigue or to the influence of the book, I too, before reaching the second page, fell asleep.

Apparently in a delirium

The cries of the colonel awoke me with a start; in an instant I was up. Apparently in a delirium, he kept shrieking the same cries; finally he seized his water-bottle and threw it at my face. I could not get out of the way in time; the bottle hit me in the left cheek, and the pain was so acute that I almost lost consciousness. With a leap I rushed upon the invalid; I tightened my hands around his neck; he struggled several moments; I strangled him.

When I beheld that he no longer breathed, I stepped back in terror. I cried out; but nobody heard me. Then, approaching the bed once more, I shook him, to bring him back to life. It was too late; the aneurism had burst, and the colonel was dead. I went into the adjoining room, and for two hours I did not dare to return. It is impossible for me to express all that I felt during that time. It was intense stupefaction, a kind of vague and vacant delirium.

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The Attendant`s Confession part 3

But that came soon enough. One day, when I was a trifle late in giving him a massage, he took his cane and struck me with it two or three times. That was the last straw. I told him on the spot that I was through with him and I went to pack my trunk. He came later to my room; he begged me to remain, assured me that there wasn`t anything to be angry at, that I must excuse the ill-humoredness of old age. … He insisted so much that I agreed to stay.

“I am nearing the end, Procopio,” he said to me that evening. “I can`t live much longer, I am upon the verge of the grave. You shall go to my burial, Procopio. Under no circumstances will I excuse you. You shall go, you shall pray over my tomb. And if you don`t,” he added, laughing, “my ghost will come at night and pull you by the legs. Do you believe in souls of the other world, Procopio?”

“Nonsense!”

“And why don`t you, you blockhead?” he replied passionately, with distended eyes.

That is how he was in his peaceful intervals; what he was like during his raging attacks, you may well imagine!

He struck me no more with his cane, but his insults were the same, if not worse. With time I became hardened, I no longer heeded anything; I was an ignoramus, a camel, a bumpkin, an idiot, a loggerhead

Dictionary of insults

I was everything! It must further be understood that I alone was favored with these pretty names. He had no relatives; there had been a nephew, but he had died of consumption. As to friends, those who came now and then to flatter him and indulge his whims made him but a short visit, five or ten minutes at the most. I alone was always present to receive his dictionary of insults. More than once I resolved to leave him; but as the vicar would implore me not to abandon the colonel I always yielded in the end.

Not only were our relations becoming very much strained, but I was in a hurry to get back to Rio de Janeiro. At forty-two years of age one does not easily accustom oneself to perpetual seclusion with a brutal, snarling old invalid, in the depths of a remote village. Just to give you an idea of my isolation, let it suffice to inform you that I didn`t even read the newspapers; outside of some more or less important piece of news that was brought to the colonel, I knew nothing of what was doing in the world. I therefore yearned to get back to Rio at the first opportunity, even at the cost of breaking with the vicar. And I may as well add—-since I am here making a general confession—that having spent nothing of my wages, I was itching to squander them at the capital.

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The Attendant`s Confession part 2

Arriving there, I heard bad reports concerning the colonel. He was pictured to me as a disagreeable, harsh, exacting fellow; nobody could endure him, not even his own friends. He had used more attendants Ilian medicines. In fact he had broken the faces of two of them. But to all this I replied that I had no fear of persons in good health, still less of invalids. So, after first visiting the vicar, who confirmed all that I had heard and recommended to me charity and forbearance, I turned toward the colonel`s residence.

On a chair and suffering greatly

I found him on the veranda of his house, stretched out on a chair and suffering greatly. He received me fairly well. At first he examined me silently, piercing me with his feline eyes: then a kind of malicious smile spread over his features, which were rather hard. Finally he declared that all the attendants he had ever engaged hadn`t been worth a button, that they slept too much, were impudent and spent their time flirting with the servants; two of them were even thieves.

“And you, are you a thief?”

“No, sir.”

Then he asked me my name. Scarcely had I uttered it when he made a gesture of astonishment.

“Your name is Colombo?”

“No, sir. My name is Procopio Jos£ Gomes Vallongo.”

Vallongo?—He came to the conclusion that this was no Christian name and proposed thenceforth to call me simply Procopio. I replied that it should be just as he pleased.

If I recall this incident, it is not only because it seems to me to give a good picture of the colonel, but also to show you that my reply made a very good impression upon him. The next day he told the vicar so, adding that he had never had a more sympathetic attendant. The fact is, we lived a regular honeymoon that lasted one week.

From the dawn of the eighth day I knew the life of my predecessors -—-a dog`s life. I no longer slept. I no longer thought of anything, I was showered with insults and laughed at them from time to time with an air of resignation and submission, for I had discovered that this was a way of pleasing him. His impertinences proceeded as much from his malady as from his temperament. His illness was of the most complicated : he suffered from aneurism, rheumatism and three or four minor affections. He was nearly sixty, and had been accustomed since his fifth year to having everybody at his beck and call. That he was surly, one could well forgive; but he was also very malicious. He took pleasure in the grief and the humiliation of others. At the end of three months I was tired of putting up with him and had made up my mind to leave; only the opportunity was lacking.

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The Attendant`s Confession part 1

Brazil

J. M. Machado De Assis (1839-1908)

Born at Rio de Janeiro of poor parents, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis began his literary career at an early age, although it was not for some years that he succeeded in establishing a reputation. Long before his death he was regarded as the chief exponent of modern Brazilian literature. About 1880 he first became generally known, and until the end of his life he wrote industriously. He is best known for his rather pessimistic but finely conceived and well- written psychological novels and short stories.

The Attendant`s Confession is one of his characteristic tales. The present version, translated by Isaac Goldberg (and revised for this collection), is reprinted by permission of the translator and publisher, from the volume, Brazilian Tales, translated by Isaac Goldberg. Copyright, 1921, by George Allen and Unwin.

The Attendant`s Confession

So you really think that what happened to me in i860 is worth while writing down? Very well. I`ll tell you the story, but on the condition that you don`t divulge it before my death. You`ll not have long to wait—a week at most; I am a marked man.

I could have told you the story of my whole life, which holds many other interesting details: but that would require time, courage and paper. There is plenty of paper, to be sure, but my courage is at low ebb, and as for the time that is yet left me, it may be compared to the life of a candle-flame. Soon to-morrow`s sun will rise—a demon sun as impenetrable as life itself. So good-bye, my dear sir; read this and bear me no ill will; pardon me those things that will appear evil to you and do not too much complain if there rises a disagreeable odor which is not exactly that of the rose. You asked me for a human document. Here it is. Ask me for neither the empire of the Great Mogul nor a photograph of the Maccabees; but request, if you will, my dead man`s shoes, and I`ll will them to you and none other.

You already know that this took place in i860. The year before, about the month of August, at the age of forty-two, I had become a theologian—that is, I copied the theological studies of a priest at Nictheroy, an old college-chum, who thus tactfully gave me my board and lodging. In that same month of August, 1859, he received a letter from the vicar of a small town in the interior, asking if he knew of an intelligent, discreet, and patient person who would be willing, in return for generous wages, to serve as attendant to the invalid Colonel Felis- bert. The priest proposed that I take the place, and I accepted it eagerly? for I was tired of copying Latin quotations and ecclesiastic formulas. First I went to Rio de Janeiro to take leave of a brother who lived at the capital, and from there I left for the little village of the interior.

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The Story of Ming-Y part 11

Did she not sing the songs of Kao- pien? And upon the brush-case and the paper-weight’she gave your son, are there not characters which read, `Pure object of art belonging to Kao of the city of Pho-haV? That city no longer exists; but the memory of Kao-pien remains, for he was governor of the province of Sze-tchouen, and a mighty poet. And when he dwelt in the land of Chou, was not his favorite the beautiful wanton Sie—Sie-Thao, unmatched for grace among all the women of her day. It was he who made her a gift of those manuscripts of song; it was he who gave her those objects of rare art. Sie-Thao died not as other women die. Her limbs may have crumbled to dust; yet something of her still lives in this deep wood, her Shadow still haunts this shadowy place.”

Mists of the morning

Tchang ceased to speak. A vague fear fell upon the three. The thin mists of the morning made dim the distances of green, and deepened the ghostly beauty of the woods. A faint breeze passed by, leaving a trail of blossom-scent—a last odor of dying flowers—thin as that which clings to the silk of a forgotten robe; and, as it passed, the trees seemed to whisper across the silence, “Sie-Thao.”

Fearing greatly for his son, Pelou sent the lad away at once to the city of Kwang-tchau-fu. And there in after years, Ming-Y obtained high dignities and honors by reason of his talents and his learning; and he married the daughter of an illustrious house, by whom he became the father of sons and daughters famous for their virtues and their accomplishments. Never could he forget Sie-Thao; and yet it is said that he never spoke of her—not even to his children when they begged him to tell them the story of two beautiful objects that always lay upon his writing table; a lion of yellow jade, and a brush-case of carven agate.

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The Story of Ming-Y part 10

Then Ming-Y produced the gifts that Sie had given him—the lion of yellow jade, the brush-case of carven agate, also some original compositions made by the beautiful lady herself. The astonishment of Tchang was now shared by Pelou. Both observed that the brush-case of agate and the lion of jade bore the appearance of objects that had lain buried in the earth for centuries, and were of a workmanship beyond the power of living man to imitate; while the compositions proved to be veritable masterpieces of poetry, written in the style of the poets of the Dynasty of Thang.

“Friend Pelou,” cried the High Commissioner, “let us immediately accompany the boy to the place where he obtained these miraculous things and apply the testimony of our senses to this mystery; the boy is no doubt telling the truth; yet his story passes my understanding.” And all three proceeded toward the place of the habitation of Sie.

Most pinkly

But when they had arrived at the shadiest part of the road, where the perfumes were most sweet and the mosses were greenest, and the fruits of the wild peach flushed most pinkly, Ming-Y, gazing though the groves, uttered a cry of dismay. Where the azure-tiled roof had risen against the sky, there was now only the blue emptiness of air; where the green-and-gold facade had been, there was visible only the flickering of leaves under the aureate autumn light; and where the broad terrace had extended, could be discerned only a ruin—a tomb so ancient, so deeply gnawed by moss, mat the name graven upon it was no longer decipherable. The home of Sie had disappeared.

All suddenly the High Commissioner smote his forehead with his hand, and turning to Pelou, recited the well-known verse of the ancient poet Tching-Kou:

“Surely the peach-flowers blossom over the tomb of Sie-Thao.”

“Friend Pelou,” continued Tchang, “the beauty who bewitched your son was no other than she whose tomb stands there in ruin` before us! Did she not say she was wedded to Ping Khang? There is no family of that name but Ping-Khang is indeed the name of a broad alley in the city near. There was a dark riddle in all that she said. She called herself Sie of Moun-Hiao; there is no person of that name, there is no street of that name; but the Chinese characters Mown and Hiao, placed together, form the character, `Kiao.` Listen! The alley Ping-Khang, situated in the street Kiao, was the place where dwelt the great courtesans of the dynasty of Thang!

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The Story of Ming-Y part 9

She brushed the bright drops away, and brought wine and music and the melodious kin of seven silken strings, and would not suffer Ming-Y to speak for one moment of the coming separation. And she sang him an ancient song about the calmness of summer lakes reflecting the blue of heaven only, and the calmness of the heart also, before the clouds of care and of grief and of weariness darken its little world. Soon they forgot their sorrow in the joy of song and wine; and those last hours seemed to Ming-Y more celestial than even the hours of their first bliss.

But when the yellow beauty of morning came their sadness returned, and they wept. Once more Sie accompanied her lover to the terrace steps; and as she kissed him farewell, she pressed into his hand a parting gift—a little brush-case of agate, wonderfully chiseled, and worthy the table of a great poet. And they separated forever, shedding many tears.

Patron standing on the porch

Still Ming-Y could not believe it was an eternal parting. “No!” he thought, “I shall visit her to-morrow; for I cannot live without her, and I feel assured that she cannot refuse to receive me.” Such were the thoughts that filled his mind as he reached the house of Tchang, to find his father and his patron standing on the porch awaiting him. Ere he could speak a word, Pelou demanded:

“Son, in what place have you been passing your nights?”

Seeing that his falsehood had been discovered, Ming-Y dared not make any reply, and remained abashed and silent, with bowed head, in the presence of his father. Then Pelou, striking the boy violently with his staff, commanded him to divulge the secret; and at last, partly through fear of his parent, and partly through fear of the law which ordains that “the son refusing to obey his father shall be punished with one hundred blows of the bamboo,” Ming-Y faltered out the history of his love.

Tchang changed color at the boy`s tale. “Child,“`exclaimed the High Commissioner, “I have no relative of the name of Ping; I have never heard of the woman you describe; I have never heard even of the house which you speak of. But I know also that you cannot dare to lie to Pelou, your honored father; there is some strange delusion in all this affair.”

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The Story of Ming-Y part 8

So the summer waxed and waned upon their love, and the luminous autumn came, with its vapors of phantom gold, its shadows of magical purple.

Then it unexpectedly happened that the father of Ming-Y, meeting his son`s employer atTching-tou, was asked by him: “Why must your boy continue to travel every evening to the city, now that the winter is approaching? The way is long, and when he’ returns in the morning he looks foredone with weariness. Why not permit him to slumber in my house during the season of snow?” And the father of Ming-Y, greatly astonished, responded: “Sir, my son has not visited the city, nor has he been to our house all this summer. I fear that he must have acquired wicked habits, and that he passes his nights in evil company—perhaps in gaming, or in drinking with the women of the flower-boats.” But the High Commissioner returned:

“Nay! that is not to be thought of. I have never found any evil in the boy, and there are no taverns nor flower-boats nor any places of dissipation in our neighborhood. No doubt Ming-Y has found some amiable youth of his own age with whom to spend his evenings, and only told me an untruth for fear that I would not otherwise permit him to leave my residence. I beg that you will say nothing to him until I shall have sought to discover this mystery; and this very evening I shall send my servant to follow after him, and to watch whither he goes.”

Great bewilderment

Pelou readily assented to this proposal, and promising to visit Tchang the following morning, returned to his home. In the evening, when Ming-Y left the house of Tchang, a servant followed him unobserved at a distance. But on reaching the most obscure portion of the road, the boy disappeared from sight as suddenly as though the earth had swallowed him. After having long sought after him im vain, the domestic returned in great bewilderment to the house, and related what had taken place. Tchang immediately sent a messenger to Pelou.

In the meantime Ming-Y, entering the chamber of his beloved, was surprised and deeply pained to find her in tears. “Sweetheart,” she sobbed, wreathing her arms around his neck, “we are about to be separated forever, because of reasons which I cannot tell you. From the very first I knew this must come to pass, and nevertheless it seemed to me for the moment so cruelly sudden a loss, so unexpected a misfortune, that I could not prevent myself from weeping!

After this night we shall never see each other again, beloved, and I know that you will not be able to forget me while you live; but I know also that you will become a great scholar, and that honors and riches will be showered upon you, and that some beautiful and loving woman will console you for my loss. And now let us speak no more of grief; but let us pass this last evening joyously, so that your recollection of me may not be a painful one, and that you may remember my laughter rather than my tears.”

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The Story of Ming-Y part 7

The birds awakened, the flowers opened their eyes to the rising sun, and Ming-Y found himself at last compelled to bid his lovely enchantress farewell. Sie, accompanying him to the terrace, kissed him fondly and said, “Dear boy, come hither as often as you are able—as often as your heart whispers you to come. I know you are not of those without faith and truth, who betray secrets; yet, being so young, you might also be sometimes thoughtless; and I pray you never to forget that only the stars have been the witness of our love.

Speak of it to no living person, dearest; and take with you this little souvenir of our happy night.” And she presented him with an exquisite and curious little thing—a paper-weight in likeness of a couchant lion, wrought from a jade-stone yellow as that created by a rainbow in honor of Kong-fu-tze. Tenderly the boy kissed the gift and the beautiful hand that gave it. “May the Spirits punish me,” he vowed, “if ever I knowingly give you cause to reproach me, sweetheart!” And they separated with mutual vows.

Beautiful Sie

That morning, on returning to the house of Lord Tchang, Mihg-Y told the first falsehood which had ever passed his lips. He averred that his mother had requested him thenceforward to pass his nights at home, now that the weather had become so pleasant; for, though the way was omewhat long, he was strong and active, and needed both air and healthy exercise. Tchang believed all Ming-Y said, and offered no objection. Accordingly the lad found himself enabled to pass all his evenings at the house of the beautiful Sie.

Each night they devoted to the same pleasures which had made their first acquaintance so charming: they sang and conversed by turns; they played at chess—the learned game invented by Wu-Wang, which is an imitation of war; I hey composed pieces of weighty rhymes upon the flowers, the trees, the clouds, the streams, the birds, the bees.

But in all accomplishments Sit far excelled her young sweetheart. Whenever they played at chess, It was always Ming-Y`s general, Ming-Y`s tsiang, who was surrounded “nd vanquished; when they composed verses, Sie`s poems were ever luperior to his in harmony of word-coloring, in elegance of form, in classic loftiness of thought. And the themes they selected were always the most difficult—those of the poets of the Thang dynasty; the songs ey sang were also the songs of five hundred years before—the songs Youen-tchin, of Thou-mou, of Kao-pien above all, high poet and ruler the province of Sze-tchouen.

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The Story of Ming-Y part 6

“The honor and gratification, dear lady,” replied Ming-Y, “will be mine; and I feel helpless to express the gratitude which the offer of so rare a favor deserves.”

The serving-maid, obedient to the summons of a little silver gong, brought in the music and retired. Ming-Y took the manuscripts, and began to examine them with eager delight. The paper on which they were written had a pale yellow tint, and was light as a fabric of gossamer; but the characters were antiquely beautiful, as though they had been traced by the brush of Hei-song Che-Tchoo himself—that divine Genius of Ink, who is no bigger than a fly; and the signatures attached to the compositions were the signatures of Youen-tchin, Kao-pien, and Thou-mou—might poets and musicians of the dynasty ofThang! Ming-Y could not repress a scream of delight at the sight of treasures so inestimable and so unique; scarcely could he summon resolution enough to permit them to leave his hands even for a moment.

“O Lady!” he cried, “these are veritably priceless things, surpassing in worth the treasures of all kings. This indeed is the handwriting of those great masters who sang five hundred years before our birth. How marvelously it has been preserved! Is not this the wondrous ink ofwhich it was written: `After centuries I remain firm as stone, and the letters that I make like lacquer` ? And how divine the charm of this composition!—the song of Kao-pien, prince of poets, and Governor of Sze- tchouen five hundred years ago!”

Dear Ming-Y

“Kao-pien! darling Kao-pien!” murmured Sie, with a singular light in her yes. “Kao-pien is also my favorite. Dear Ming-Y, let us chant his verses together, to the melody of old—the music of those grand years when men were nobler and wiser than to-day.”

And their voices rose through the perfumed night like the voices of the wonder-birds—of the Fung-hoang—blending together in liquid sweetness. Yet a moment, and Ming-Y, overcome by the witchery of his companion`s voice, could only listen in speechless ecstasy, while the lights of the chamber swam dim before his sight, and tears of pleasure tickled down his cheeks.

So the ninth hour passed; and they continued to converse, and to drink the cool purple wine, and to sing the songs of the years ofThang, until far into the night. More than once Ming-Y thought of departing; but each time Sie would begin, in that silver-sweet voice of hers, so wondrous a story of the great poets of the past, and of the women whom they loved, that he became as one entranced; or she would sing for him a song so strange that all his senses seemed to die except that of hearing. And at last, as she paused to pledge him in a cup of wine, Ming-Y could not restrain himself from putting his arm about her round neck and drawing her dainty head close to him, and kissing the lips that were so much ruddier than the wine. Then their lips separated no more;—the night grew old, and they knew it not.

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