At first, I had felt the need to get out of there, for despite my Aunt’s kindness and good will, I still felt like I was imposing. Diogo’s situation wasn’t much different, for although he was there as a servant, he knew Aunt Francisca’s staff was more than enough and that she had only taken him in out of generosity. He tried several times to find employment in other households but without success.
Besides, after my Father and Luz had left, both Diogo and I had been the target of several provocations and even aggressions, and not even Aunt Francisca was spared, for one night they tried to burn the house down. Happily, we managed to stop the fire from spreading before it hurt someone or caused any irreparable damage, but it became clear that our presence in that house jeopardized the safety of all who lived there.
The next day, after discussing the matter with Diogo, I informed Aunt Francisca of our decision to leave.
«But where will you go?», she asked, concerned. «Everyday, people in my situation are taking refuge in the Azores. The Count of Vila Flor has managed to keep the absolutists at bay and stop them from entering the Terceira Island. Perhaps that’s the only safe place for a liberal right now». «But you can’t just leave so suddenly...» «Probably, there won’t be a boat for a week, so it won’t be so sudden. Besides, you saw what happened tonight. We can’t stay any longer». «But we’re not sure if that was because of you. There are so many people in this world capable of evil deeds for no reason...» «But you know that Diogo and I have been receiving threats». «All right. I understand you cannot stay. But it’s silly to leave so suddenly. Listen to me for a moment. We are at the end of November. It’s less than a month to Christmas. Why don’t you stay for Christmas and the New Year and travel after that?» «The longer I stay, the more you will be in danger». «It’s just a few weeks. I have been spending my Christmases alone for so long... Of course I have the servants. They’re very affectionate with me, but it’s not the same as having family here. Please, Pedro...»
I could see that she was being sincere. She was aware of the danger that my presence meant, but she was willing to risk it, just to feel a little less alone that Christmas.
I admit the idea of spending Christmas in a strange land, without Luz and my Father, scared me too. I had talked with Diogo about the possibility of going to the Azores, and we had decided that if we did, it would be to try and join the troops of Vila Flor, for it was the best way we could think of helping the cause. If that happened, God only knew how our Christmas that year would be like.
«Maybe you’re right, Aunt. I’ll tell Diogo about it and if he agrees, we’ll leave after the New Year».
Diogo accepted my Aunt’s proposition and we decided to leave after Twelfth Day. We wrote to Luz and Cecília to wish them Happy Holidays and let them know of our decision. The reply came one week before Christmas. Besides wishing us a merry Christmas, Cecília – and especially Luz – urged us not to rush ourselves, for although they knew we were not safe in that house, they also knew that we were going to the islands to fight, and they feared even more for our safety there.
But the most surprising came next: Luz was going to get married. I felt as if stunned as I read the news. For me, Maria da Luz had not yet stopped being the little girl whose blond braids I used to pull and with whom I used to chase the animals around the gardens of the Roseiral. Even when I thought about the possibility of her union with Diogo, it was something in the long run.
Luz explained the details: Álvaro Sousa Dias, son of an old friend of the family, had proposed, which had immediately pleased my Father. Although Luz didn’t say it in so many words, I could understand that my Father had induced her to accept because he saw in it a way to save his financial situation, which was getting worse by the day. I could also see that Luz didn’t love him, despite all the good qualities she mentioned about him, and that she was only willing to accept to please my Father.
I felt like travelling immediately to the Roseiral and stopping her from doing something as crazy as handing her whole life to someone she did not love for the happiness of a selfish old man.
However, perhaps already anticipating my reaction, Luz urged me not to worry about her and declared that she had only accepted because she didn’t love anyone else and so her sacrifice would not be so great. Perhaps with time, she said, she would in fact eventually love him. But that wasn’t what made me change my mind about travelling to stop that marriage. The wedding would only take place in two years time. Álvaro should respect a year of mourning for his Mother’s death before officially announcing the engagement and after that, for some hypocritical demand of my Father, another year should pass before they would actually get married. That made me give up my intent. It seemed ridiculous trying to stop something that was only going to happen after two years anyway. Deep down, I hoped that during that time, Luz would end up refusing.
Reading that Luz was going to get married under those conditions, I had felt deep anger, but I believe it was true sadness that the news caused in Diogo.
Diogo was too reserved to admit he was hurting but not so cold that he could hide from his best friend such deep pain. I believe that up until that moment, Diogo did not know that he loved my sister. He had truly believed that he cherished her in the same way that he cherished me. The awareness that she was off limits to him had never bothered him. Only now, that she was willing to give herself to someone else, he realised that he wanted her for himself and that he couldn’t bear picturing her in the arms of another man.
Diogo didn’t say a word when he finished reading the letter, but I could see all that in his eyes. I wanted to comfort him, but without telling him that I knew he was suffering, for I knew how uncomfortable he was when people could see through him. «I’m sure she’ll end up changing her mind», I said. «Why should she? She is 16. She found a good catch. Nothing more natural than getting married».
I could detect a certain bitterness in his voice, as if he wanted to force himself to hate Luz, so that her loss couldn’t hurt him. However, he eventually admitted: «I always knew that Maria da Luz was out of my reach, but I had never realised how much that hurt me...»
And pulling himself together: «You shouldn’t let me speak like this. Who am I to ever...»
Diogo didn’t finish his sentence, but I knew what he meant and I said: «You’re the only man that I’m sure would never hurt my sister, but if she is too blind to see that...»
We remained silent for a moment. Aunt Francisca knocked on the door of my room, where Diogo and I had been reading the letter. «So?», she asked. «Are there any news? Is everyone alright at the Roseiral?» «Luz is getting married», I declared, guessing that to her, it was probably happy news. «Married?! Really? God, I keep forgetting that my nephews are all grown up... But why those faces? It’s the best news I’ve heard in years! Who’s the lucky gentleman? When are they getting married?»
Despite everything, we could not help but smile at the joy with which my Aunt greeted the news.
«Here’s the letter», I said, to avoid having to tell her all the details. «You may read it».
Diogo and I sneaked out of the room, for we knew how boring it could be listening to an old widow chat about marriage.
Until Christmas, time seemed to drag on, despite Aunt Francisca’s gentleness. Diogo and I were anxious to fight. The idle life we led in that house made us eager for the end of the season. However, when Christmas did come, both my friend and I were glad we had decided to stay. Unlike what happened in the Roseiral, Aunt Francisca – perhaps because she was a lonely woman – gathered all her servants around her table and so I fulfilled the old dream of having Diogo at my dinner table on Christmas Eve.
In certain moments of the evening I felt melancholy. I missed Maria da Luz, Cecília, Father Ricardo and although I tried to convince myself of the contrary, I missed my Father. I wondered if he felt the same and how that first Christmas without me would be for him. I must confess I was selfish, for I could not help wishing that he felt the same void as I did.
In the week between Christmas and the New Year, Diogo and I made arrangements for our departure. We wouldn’t be taking much. Just the clothes we had brought from the Roseiral and some basic personal effects.
We found out that a boat to the Azores would leave the city on January the 8th and we wanted to be ready when the time came. So that week seemed to pass relatively quickly, since we were always busy. But the same cannot be said of the days that followed the arrival of 1982, for with everything ready, the expectation of the journey took hold of us just like the expectation of the moment to open the presents used to when we were little. Still, we took advantage of the time to write the last letter we would send from the mainland to the Roseiral.
When the day finally came, Aunt Francisca insisted on seeing us off at the harbour and so we went in her carriage, driven by old Quim, the coach driver.
Before going on board, I said goodbye to Aunt Francisca, who hugged me with true emotion and took Diogo’s hands with sincere affection. «You’re a very kind lady», my friend said to her. «I don’t know how we can ever thank you enough». «You have nothing to thank me for», she said. «You have been the children I never had for these past few months. You made me happy. All I ask is that you are happy too. And that you don’t forget me». «We’ll never forget you, Aunt Francisca», I assured. «And when it’s all over, we’ll come visit as soon as we can», Diogo added. «Well, you better be going», she said, trying to disguise her emotion. «Or you’ll miss the boat».
After the last goodbyes, Diogo and I paid our passages and climbed on board. From the deck, we saw Aunt Francisca, who seemed determined not to go anywhere before the boat left. She didn’t have to wait long, for shortly after we had climbed on board, the deep sound of the horn cut through the dawn and the ship started to move slowly. We waved at Aunt Francisca until she was no longer visible to us.
During the first half hour of the journey, Diogo and I just stayed there, leaning over the railing, admiring the immense stretch of water ahead of us. Despite my limited knowledge about the matter, it seemed to me, from the look of the sky, that the weather was favourable to navigation. «I don’t think the weather will be playing pranks on us, don’t you agree?» I said to Diogo.
A middle aged gentleman who was passing by and happened to year our conversation, said: «Nowadays, storms are just a secondary danger. What I really fear is an attack on the boat». «Why should there be an attack on a passenger ship?» «Don’t you know these vessels are full of political fugitives? Ever since the men from the Belfast were defeated, liberals keep arriving in the islands... Those agitators!»
Diogo and I exchanged looks. When that man talked to us like that, we were alerted to the danger of revealing our identities on board ship. «And the ships are attacked because there are liberals on board?», Diogo asked. «Exactly!», said the man, sounding really annoyed. «The good Portuguese, loyal to D. Miguel, want – and rightly so, if you want to know my opinion – to catch the evildoers and give them the punish they deserve before they arrive in Terceira Island. Once they get there, nobody can lay their hands on them, for the Count of Vila Flor keeps constant patrol of the place!»
Already annoyed and somewhat recklessly, I retorted: «Are you telling us that the absolutists attack passenger ships without even thinking of those who are innocent?» «You speak as if His Majesty’s men were criminals! Can’t you see there is no other way?»
I still hadn’t learned that prudence was at times better policy than a frankness that could be taken as boldness, and I had not learned either that sometimes it is best not to show your feelings. That man’s words angered me. I felt the blood rushing to my face and I felt like shouting to him that D. Miguel was nothing but a traitor forced to exile by his own family and that I recognized the title of Majesty only to D. Pedro who, as the eldest son of D. João VI, was the rightful heir to the throne. I would have certainly said all of those things to him if I hadn’t felt Diogo grasp my arm firmly as he said to the man: «Never mind my friend. He was nervous when you mentioned we could be attacked. After all, the presence of those liberals puts all in danger». «For a moment, I thought you were liberals too...»
And the man walked away, still suspicious. With a jerk I freed myself from Diogo’s grasp.
«Whey the hell did you speak of the liberals as if they were the enemy? I’m not afraid of some old absolutist!» «Why are you always so edgy? This journey can take a long time. Do want to spend everyday afraid you might get murdered? I’ve heard that’s quite common in these voyages». «I told you I’m not afraid». Diogo grabbed my arms as an older brother would have done and he said in grave tone: «Sir Pedro, it’s not about measuring how brave you are! This is serious, now! If you want to be ready to vanquish the absolutists, it’s not enough to take a weapon and slaughter them. First of all, if you want to survive in this war, learn to walk in their midst without being noticed». «But that’s cowardice!», I said, unable to accept that things are not always as clear as we idealize them. «Listen to me, Sir Pedro. If that old man finds out who we are – what we are – we will be in danger. You say you are not afraid. Very well, what do you intend to do? Kill a man old enough to be your grandfather? That’s no more ethical than trying to remain unnoticed...»
I finally understood where Diogo was getting at. It wasn’t always simple to know what decision was the most correct one, and not always the one that seemed the most noble was, in fact, the most just.
«I hadn’t thought about it like that...»
For a moment, we are silent. Then, looking around, Diogo said, as if he was thinking out loud: «Have you thought that many of the men on board this ship are fugitives like us?»
I looked around too. Although most of the passengers were in the lower deck, there were still plenty men there on the upper deck. I watched them with a certain curiosity, trying to read in their faces which of them were there for the same reason as me.
The first four days of the journey were lived under permanent stress, due to the fear of attacks from the miguelites, but after that, both the crew and the passengers who had taken the trip more than once and knew how things usually happened, seemed more at ease and so Diogo and I felt relieved too.
The ship was fairly large and sometimes we didn’t see some of the passenger for days. Maybe that’s why only on the third day we noticed that on board was one of the young men who had been in the same cell with us on the day we were arrested for helping a wounded liberal. Diogo and I thought about introducing ourselves but fear kept us silent. However, our travelling companion had recognized us too and he was the one who approached us one morning, when we were having the bland tea that was served as breakfast, at one of the tables in the deck.
Rodrigo – that was his name – sat casually at our table and in a confiding tone he said: «I suppose we are here for the same reasons...» «I didn’t think you’d recognize us», Diogo replied.
Rodrigo smiled. There was a certain mockery in his eyes, but it didn’t come from an evil personality, it came only from the life of fugitive that fate had brought upon him.
«I have lived these past few months like a wild animal. My eyes never deceive me and my memory never fails me. I saw you coming on board and I recognized you immediately». «Why didn’t you say something to us?» «It wouldn’t have been wise. There are people on board this ship who are on the side of the enemy and who know who I am. If they realised that we had met before this trip, they would easily arrive at the conclusion that you are liberals too. If they see us together know, they’ll think we met on board the Esperança and we are just chatting. Or at least, they won’t be sure of the contrary». «Those people who know you...», I asked. «Why don’t they arrest you?»
Rodrigo smiled again. There was a mixture of mockery, tenderness and bitterness in his eyes.
«Because they think I can lead them to a lot more of our men». «And can you?» «Yes, I could. But that will never happen! Even if they torture me, even if they kill me, they won’t get a word out of me!»
From what he said, Diogo and I gathered that Rodrigo was probably in charge of a group of liberals, but before we had a chance to ask any more questions, our new companion turned to me and said: «I wasn’t expecting to find you here, after that incident in the Police Station. I thought your Father...» «You thought the same as that boy who accused me of false heroism», I said, finishing the sentence for him. «That when the moment of truth came, I would hang on the nobility of a title. Well, as you see, you were wrong». «I suppose I can’t blame you for being sarcastic. But please understand that for someone who is used to being trampled by people like your Father...»
A strange feeling took over me. Nobody knew my Father’s faults better than I did but it was the first time I heard someone else talking about him in those terms. And in a way, it made me feel uncomfortable. «I’m sorry», Rodrigo said. «I didn’t mean to offend you». «It’s alright», I told him, trying to convince myself that what I was saying was true. «My Father didn’t show the least respect for what I believe in or for my feelings when he kicked me out of his house and forbade me to see my own sister. No one recognizes his faults better than me».
Diogo must have sensed that the conversation was leaving me uncomfortable, for he changed the subject: «Tell us, Rodrigo. What are your plans when you get off this ship?» «That, you’ll know when the time is right», he said, sounding vaguely mysterious.
During the days that followed, Rodrigo, quite more experienced than us in a life as a fugitive, introduced us to some of his companions, men whom he knew to be trustworthy; some invaluable to the cause. In a short time, we came to know exactly who on board that ship was a liberal and who was an absolutist; which were the ones we should be nice to, and which we should keep our distance from, which were the liberals whose cowardice might turn into miguelites, and which were the miguelites which we might, without danger, lure to our side and thus find out about theirs secrets.
The more united we were, the more invincible we felt. Although we were, despite everything, a minority among the passengers of the Esperança, we were no longer afraid of an enemy attack. We felt like we could defeat the world.