Vítor did not forget Genoveva's request: 'I want you to write! me a sonnet a day.' He remembered the hero of the novel Don Juan de Pasini, who, every evening after supper, would sit quietly smoking a cigar on the terrace of his castle by the edge of a wood and write a sonnet to his current lover. Italian gentlemen of the Renaissance, whom Titian had painted and who had dined with Cesare Borgia, used to do the same. And he thought it very elegant to write a sonnet each morning and send it to her like a bouquet of flowers. Later, he would publish the poems as a collection and entitle it Caresses; the book would gain great notoriety and he would become famous, but a prospect had only to open up before him and his imagination would gallop away into it like a racehorse, only to lie down after a few jumps, its flanks heaving, like an exhausted nag.
And the following morning, after breakfast, he shut himself up in his room and sat down in his slippers, with a packet of cigarettes on the table and a glass of water to clarify his ideas, and prepared himself to write. For hours he paced the floor and, by supper time, he had produced the first eight lines.
When Clorinda came to call him for supper, he appeared at the table with the wild eyes and animated face of a man newly emerged from the world of ideas. 'Have you been asleep?' asked Uncle Timóteo.
'No, I've been writing,' he said with all the reserve of an initiate speaking to the uninitiated.
After supper, he shut himself up in his room again until nine o'clock, when he at last finished the final two tercets and went out to get some air.
It was a windy, rather gloomy night, with large clouds wandering the sky, occasionally revealing the pale moon. The gusts howling about him made him shudder to his very soul; the houses were all shut up, the gaslights sputtered fearfully, and as he roamed the streets, he was filled by premonitions of terrible misfortunes and mysterious murders. He walked along the Aterro; the water beat sadly against the quays, and over the glittering expanse flickered the narrow lights of boats whose masts, lit by a sudden, icy light, stood out like spectres against the sky.
But that backdrop did not coincide with his luminous state of mind, and so he returned home to make a fair copy of his sonnet with almost paternal delight.
He went to bed with a book by Alfred de Musset, feeling that life was good; at last he felt that ideal, noble, picturesque passion he had read about in books and poems and which had so enchanted him. And fortune had favoured him by giving that passion a dazzlingly glamorous wrapping, which seduced both his mind and his imagination. What other woman in Lisbon could compare to Genoveva? Who else had such clothes, such admirable ideas, such experience of love, so much knowledge of the world and of society?
Of course she had had lovers, but that simply made him appreciate her love all the more. It's so easy to please a poor bourgeois woman who sees only her husband's slippers and her ill-tempered children; it's so easy to seduce a girl of eighteen with her schoolgirl imagination and ideas about motherhood derived from playing with dolls. But what a glorious thing to be able to interest a woman who knows men so profoundly, a woman whom repeated disappointments have made sceptical, who has grown weary of sensation. It must be akin to the austere pleasure an atheist might feel on becoming a Catholic. One would possess not merely a beautiful body, but a whole complex being. Each of her lovers, each of her relationships, had shaped her, leaving in her spirit or her sense of remorse some part of their personality; holding her in one's arms, possessing her, would be like possessing the refinement of all the elegant people she had known, the wit of dramatists, the polished manners of diplomats, and all the civilisations of which they are the flower, the essence, the delicious, artificial epitome.
How his life had changed. Only a month ago, his existence had been as stupid and banal as the macadam surface of the road, traipsing from the tedium of Dr Caminha's office to the vulgar pleasures of Aninhas' bedroom: he had been a dullard, a nonentity!
Now, though, Genoveva's love had idealised him, ennobled him, lined his soul with sweetness inside and clothed it with glory outside. And he stretched out proudly on the bed, listening to the wind moaning and brushing against the walls of the house.
How she would admire his sonnet, how pleased she would be that he had obeyed her; how could she resist giving him a kiss; and that hope filled his soul with a fierce languor.
The next day, with his sonnet in his wallet, he went to Rua de Sao Bento. Melanie opened the door and said:
'She's not in. She went off to Queluz this morning with Senhor Dâmaso. But Miss Sarah's here ... do come in.'
She opened the door and called Miss Sarah. Vítor went in, like a man fallen from a great height. Saddened, a vague smile on his lips, his heart cold, he entered the salon. He heard the swish of stiff silk over the carpet and Miss Sarah was by his side, red-faced and erect; she too told him that Madame and Mr Dâmaso had left very early for Queluz.
Eça de Queirós, The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, London, Dedalus, 2000, translated by Margaret Jull Costa