ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07

The Silver Mines (a Novel) Part One

Author | Autor: José de Alencar

Translated by Matthew Rinaldi

Here we make the acquaintance of two finely gifted youths.

Day broke on the year 1609.

Shedding serene light on the pure, silken horizons, the first morning of January

gilded the heads of the mountains that girdle the lovely Salvador of Bahia and

drew a tint of opal and crimson upon the superb panorama of Brazil’s old capital.

A mere nascent city at the time, though graceful and gentile, raising the

heights of its towers into the air and looking upon the sea that polished its feet

like a carpet of velvet, it was, by virtue of its beauty and by right of its offspring,

the queen of the wild empire that yet slumbered in the bosom of the virgin forests.

On the set of crowded hilltops, nature had prepared a throne of turf from

which the lovely city reigned over the ocean, smiling upon the sailor who, at the

end of the horizon, saluted it with friendly eyes to bid him good morning when he

arrived, and send him his last farewell when he departed.

Awakening with the first rays of daybreak, the Bahian population resumed

their activities after their rest. Houses opened to let in the air and light of the

morning; little by little, the thousands of whispers of the day, which are the voice

of cities, filled the space formerly occupied by silence and darkness.

The tradesmen and villains now swarmed the streets, not with the calm and

evenness of men going to work or tending to their daily duties, but with the sweet

excitement and jovial eagerness of those seeking pleasure and pursuing some joyous


Dressed more smartly than in their Sunday outfits, men and women greeted

one another so gushingly, wishing each other well with the departure of the old

year and debut of the new; pressing hands with such cordiality that in the general

disposition of emotions one could detect the sweet influence of a certain reason

for public rejoice.

Indeed, the New Year’s festivities were not the only reason for the jovial expansiveness;

there was another. This was the day on which the celebrations were

scheduled for Bahia to commemorate the arrival of the new Governor-General of

the State of Brazil, Dom Diogo de Menezes e Siqueira, who, after a stay of one year

in the Captaincy of Pernambuco presiding over administrative matters, had finally

docked in the capital on December 17, 1608.

Never before had there been such demonstrations in a city where governors

and captains general, endowed with absolute powers, were received with suspicion,

and often bid farewell with joy. But Dom Diogo de Menezes, later the Count

of Conde da Ericeira, one of the competent men to govern the State of Brazil, for

his noble character and superior spirit, was deserving of a special demonstration

on the part of the Bahian people.

Still, this circumstance alone would not have been enough to instill the wealthy

class with a desire to receive the new governor with public festivities, if interest,

the first law of human action, had not inspired the same thought regarding this

capable expedient of colonial policy.

During the time he had lingered in Pernambuco, Dom Diogo de Menezes had

revealed the force of his will, and shown a firm intention to stave off the influence

that Bishop D. Constantino Barradas and the Society of Jesus had previously

exerted on the secular government. The struggle was conducted as a matter of

etiquette and precedence, giving way to the celebration of the Corpus Christi procession

in Olinda.

It was precisely at this time that the plantation owners, who comprised the

wealthy, noble class in Bahia, found themselves up against the Jesuits on the great

question of Indian servitude, and understood the advantage of having a man like

Dom Diogo de Menezes on their side, a man whose authoritative vote would hold

sway in the decisions of the Council of India and the mood of the King Dom Filipe III.

As such, with the arrival of the governor, they colluded to give him a brilliant

reception. In fourteen days, all the necessary preparations and furnishings

had been finalized to celebrate, along with the start of the new year, the benefits

of the new government.

The lineup of celebrations placed importance on variety and good taste. After

the mass was said, followed by the Te Deum, there was an inspection of troops

and companies of ordinance in front of the palaces; in the afternoon, a stately

cavalcade paraded on the academy grounds, engaging in games, tournaments

and carousel jousts with balls of clays; at night, dances in the streets and arches of

lamps fastened with palm trees or garlands of flowers at the Praça do Governador.

Such fanfare was more than enough to excite the vivid imaginations of Bahia’s

young ladies and make the devoted midwives and gossipy spinsters, of which the

Brazilian metropolis was then abundantly populated, twirl like pinwheels.

At the time, Bahia was little more than a small town inhabited by roughly 1500

souls; but its neighbors were well-heeled and had a taste for luxury; there were

many rich settlers with working farms, pieces of silver and gold, harnesses for their

horses and household implements; some had incomes of over 5000 cruzados, and

according to Gabriel Soares, “they treated their people quite honorably with many

horses, servants and slaves.”

These means, which seem meager by today’s standards, were at that time substantial;

the ease with which they were acquired and the natural gifts of the population

inclined toward pageantry and lavishness nourished in Bahia and Pernambuco

a luxury superior to that of Lisbon, and fueled a taste for parties and amusement.

It was therefore no wonder that the Capital of Brazil awoke on Thursday, January

1, 1609 possessed by a pleasant chorus that forges a hope soon to be realized,

and precedes the satisfaction of a longing lulled in our soul.

At six o’clock, the small bell of Sé, quickly tolled, let off joyous chimes, which,

due to its Argentine sound, resembled the restless voices of the angels of the

Lord, calling the faithful; the echoes vibrating in the air hastened the pace of many

hearts who had awaited it with impatience.

Nearly at the same time, the carillon at the Jesuit academy resounding

through the space accompanied the morning sound of the Episcopal tower; its

deep, somber and plangent notes, joining with the chimes from other churches,

formed a majestic concert with which the religion of light and truth greeted the

birth of the day.

When the first tolls of the bell resounded in the air and the broad gates of Sé

opened wide, the group of old women parishioners, who had passed the daybreak

in the churchyard draped in long mantillas and shawls, slunk through the network

of naves and took their places within the cathedral.

Soon, the stone slabs of the vast pavement were covered by those black and

brown rags of silk and wool, far from having the appearance of human contours;

from the enormous mass arose a whisper, undetectable at first, which grew as if a

swarm of wasps were buzzing throughout the church interior.

At that instant, the altar was invaded by a collective, which today has lost

much of its earlier social importance, but which in the 17th century played a distinct

role in all areas of devotion and mockery of the time; twelve chorus boys,

wrapped in sacks of red wool, spread throughout the church’s body accompanied

by the competent candle lighter.

There was an uproar: the mischievous boys, laughing like mad, intentionally

stepped on the dresses of the old devout women, who huddled together muttering

a litany of imprecations; the imprudent youths refused to respect their elders;

emotions ran high, blood boiled; finally, with the rosario of the day’s fashionable

expletives exhausted on both sides, the two camps mutually cast the last and most

terrible insults.

The boys unleashed the slanderous word “cockroach,” to which the old women

retorted with the equally derogatory epithet “ant”: and, after this, as there was

no possible retaliation for such a strong provocation, except for the actual means

which respect for the place impeded, each of the enemy regiments retracted and

silently returned to their occupations.

It was time; because the church was filled with the faithful, and the churchyard

was peopled with small chairs and the litters which had brought the wives and

daughters of Bahia’s wealthy gentlemen to the mass.

Two young men had paused on the sidewalk, both in the prime of their lives,

both elegant and good-looking, but each equally dissimilar in their dress as in the

mold of their manly beauty.

The elder, 23 years old, was dark. His frank and open posture, his fresh, pinkish

colors, the firm and direct poise of his even stature, showed a complexion of vigor;

while his expression exuded such grace, the smile that splayed across his lips was

so flashy, his movements so debonair, that his muscular power vanished beneath

the flower of happy organization, like the robustness of a tree trunk covered with

verdant leaves.

He wore a pearl-colored grosgrain vest garnished at the edges by a thin gold

thread with evenly threaded passementerie, and indigo velvet trousers fringed in

back by a fine silver trim. A tassel of scarlet silk hung from the left side of his smallsword;

a plush blue velvet cap with a ruby brooch curbed the rings of his black

hair; pine comb colored stockings hugged his well-contoured legs, and low shoes

with tapered spurs covered his fine, aristocratic feet.

At that time, when a profusion of bright colors and embroidery was the height

of fashion, you certainly could not find a gentleman groomed with more gentility

and splendor; the wealth was discreetly displayed, in order to not outshine the

good taste in the artful combination of lovely colors, and the elegance of the cut

and trim of his clothing.

And in Bahia there was no dandy quite like Cristóvão de Garcia de Ávila, the

master of a plantation which earned over 50,000 cruzados, and descendent of

one of the noble families that had come over from the Kingdom with Tomé de

Sousa in 1549.

At that moment, facing the Praça do Governador, he cast his gaze on the street

that led to Largo da Sé, where he hoped for something of visual interest to appear.

The other young man was just 19 years old. Dressed all in black in extreme

simplicity, but with exquisite elegance. A single pearl shone on his black velvet cap;

folds of the finest tunic linens hung on him dazzlingly; the light spurs that gripped

the heels of his boots and the cross of his sword were steel, but so well-polished

that they gleamed like precious jewelry.

The black satin of his garments accented his handsome head held with haughty

posture, and the pinkish paleness of his complexion. His large mulatto eyes had

a glint of depth and reflection that and reflexive that exuded intelligence at moments

of pause; his upper lip, covered in silky peach fuzz, curled graciously in an

expression of seriousness; he was tall in stature, and, like his companion, had a

svelte figure and supremely groomed hands and feet.

But he was especially characterized by an unnoticeable shadow, which cast

upon his high and intelligent brow at times, subtly weighting down the lines of

his profile and imprinting his countenance with a mark of tenacious willpower; at

these moments, one got the sense that calm, firm and inflexible reason was capable

of taming the unruly nature of youth, if need be.

The two gentlemen continued the conversation they had begun in the churchyard.

— You are wasting your time, said Cristóvão de Ávila without taking his eyes

off of his favorite target.

— I know of no better way to employ it than by practicing with a friend, the

gentlemen replied smiling.

— Disguises that do not fit you are of no use, for the truth is there for all to

discover. I say you are wasting your time when you insist that, amidst so many

kindly maidens, there is not one for whom you would wish to try your hand at a

joust or a passage of arms on this afternoon.

— And is there one for you? Asked the other, deflecting attention from himself.

— You well know there is. I am not one for secrets; so sacred is the love that

God places in our souls that I have no shame in wearing it on my face for all to see.

— So it must be for those who are noble and wealthy, and do not fear rejection;

while others have not the right to raise their sights, no matter how much

higher their hearts may be.

The last words were pronounced with a hint of offended pride, which was

immediately smothered and vanished with a melancholy smile.

— I swear I do not understand you, Estácio. You are as noble as the best

of them, and as wealthy; because no one has more right to the lands that your

grandfather Diogo Álvares honorably conquered for the king, from whom they are

granted to us and our parents.

The young man was about to respond when a small chair with a golden dome,

which had come from the grounds of the schoolyard, carried by two negroes dressed

in Moorish garments with cloaks of scarlet wool, keenly excited his attention.

Cristóvão feigned that he had not noticed the shudder of pleasure that passed

through his companion and turned his smiling face.

Neither of them noticed a certain maiden who at that very instant passed by

them heading to the church, accompanied by an old chaperone. She was entirely

veiled by a thick, crepe mantilla so that it was impossible to distinguish her features.

Seeing Estácio’s gesture, he cast a quick, furtive glance to discover the cause

of his emotion and entered Sé murmuring to himself:

— He is already conquered by love!

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