Translation by Christopher Schindler

Twenty: Night


     It was seven o'clock in the evening.  Benito had to wait for the aged Frei Lothar to finish his soup before he could speak.  The friar, weak, with an embittered expression, had to be lifted so he could then fall, prostrate, onto a nearby sofa.  Benito lit a cigarette and listened:

     “The Caxinauá.  You have to find Maria Caxinauá.  Only she knows,” he said, passing his arthritic fingers over the cheek of the young man.

     An Indian woman brought him coffee - he drank coffee day and night.  Benito accepted a cup.  The cup shook in the friar's hand with its long, thin fingers, like twigs.

    “She must have returned to Hell's Bayou.  What...Paxiúba tried to kill you?”, asked the friar.

     Benito responded: “Yes.”

     “But, Paxiúba, why?”  Frei Lothar was still shaking his head.

     “Well, he was coming at me. I fired a shot, but I don't think I killed him.”

     “Thank God...thank God.  Wasn't he with Conchita del Carmen?”

     “No,” replied Benito, “he killed her.”

     There was a pause.  Silence, the friar sighed, his eyes tearful.

     “Maria should be on the Praia do Cuco, if I know her.  That's where Zequinha Bataillon disappeared.  You must reach her.  You won't know anything without her.  Listen, my son.  Before Pierre came to Brazil he lived in Paris.  He must have relatives there.  The last time I saw him was at Manixi.  He must have brought that pistol from Paris,” he was silent for quite some time.

     “She is the proof of the crime,” he added, finally.

     It was a Belgian pistol from the end of the century, silver.  Very popular at the time.  A relic.  I saw it several times on Bataillon's belt.

     “I saw it at Rio Ji-Paraná,” Benito said.  “Personalized.  It had the initials “PB” in gold...”

     “I saw it near the Richuelo Bayou,” continued the friar, “in the hands of the Indian Iurimã, who was married to Caciava, an Indian woman, who told me that he got it from the dying Zequinha Bataillon.  But I know they were lying.  Iurimã was a warrior.”

     He went on:

     “Zequinha's fortune today would be worth 20 million dollars.”

     And after a silence:

     “Pierre was a good musician.  I played the Kreutzer Sonata with him, failing to keep up with his tempo.  Those were unforgettable nights in the middle of the densest forest, in that well-lit music room full of curtains and carpets, playing Beethoven's Kreutzer.  He at the piano, an authentic Pleyel, a baby grand, though.  That sonata has a motif that repeats and on this pair of notes Beethoven constructs his plot, a warp and weft of questions and answers, examinations, a series of loving queries, passionately transcendent, that the violin takes up and prolongs, developing into quick and loud phrases in dialog with the piano...  the second movement tells a short and simple story, a consequence of what came before, that the violin repeats, retells, reinforces, harmonizes, supports and resumes.  The violin enters with soul...”

     Frei Lothar was hearing the music in his imagination, his eyes tearing up.  He was more of a musician than a mystic.  As a mystic, he was a physician. 

     “That palace,” he said, “was a museum of paintings and crystal, silver, Limoges china.  What happened to Dona Ifigenia's jewels?  Her jewels, big ones, were the showpiece of the house.  One day Ifigenia went to Belém to see Pavlova with whom she dined at her hotel.  She was a friend of intellectuals.  She came to Manaus to see that author of best-sellers at that time...what was his name?”

     “Coelho Neto...”

     “Yes.  Ifigenia corresponded with him; he had wonderful handwriting.  She often visited at the house of Thaumaturgo Vaz.  In 1889 she gave a reception for the the Count d'Eu at the Municipal Villa.  But she liked to stay at the Hotel Cassina.  I remember her in 1883 accompanying Paes Sramento à Conceição to the ceremony conferring the distinction for which he was honored by the Emperor - Induction as an Officer into the Imperial Order of the Rose.  Another coffee?”

     Frei Lothar was lost in reminiscences.

     “But who ended up with the pounds of gold?”, Benito asked returning to the main topic of his visit.

     “I don't know.  Nor the paintings.”

     “The paintings are at Ferreira's house,” said Benito.

     “Really?  There was a Fromentin in the music room.  They took over the Bataillons' assets...but how are you going to prove that?”

     There was a long, deadly silence in the room.

     “How are you going to prove that they killed Zequinha Bataillon?”

     No one said anything more.  Until the friar sighed:

     “Oh, much has happened!  Near the Crystal Waterfall, Pierre constructed a Japanese chalet.  Everything has disappeared.  The same also with the Marinchões' rubber plantation, at Calama.  At Ayucá the owner, I don't remember his name, personally set fire to everything he couldn't take, before leaving.  Ah, terrible!  Ah, yes, it was Rigoberto.  He lived in a struggle against gnats, strong men, the country, snakes.  At Ponta do Poedeira, I had to attend a childbirth, near Ayucá.  The mother died in my arms, but I was able to save the child.  On the Rio Jantiatuba, which runs very swiftly...”

     And there followed a prolonged silence.

     “And the gold, Father, the pounds of gold?” Benito asked.  “Who ended up with the pounds of gold?”

     But the friar was sleeping.