In the minds of most Brazilians, the São Jorge dos Ilhéus is a semibarbarous country ruled by a handful of rich planters who style themselves colonels. These men rose, almost without exception, from humble origins by means of courage, bravado, and murder. The two most important planters are Colonel Horacio da Silveira and Colonel Sinhô Badaró. Between their lands lies a large forest, upon which both men have long cast covetous eyes. The forest, actually a jungle, could be cleared to uncover almost fabulous cacao-growing soil.
Among the strangers who pour into the region in search of wealth at the time are several people who are to range themselves on one side or the other in the coming struggle. Dr. Virgilio Cabral, a cultured and talented lawyer, allies himself with da Silveira. With the lawyer comes Margot, a beautiful prostitute who fell in love with him and became his mistress while he was a student. Another arrival is Captain João Magalhães, a professional gambler and a courageous opportunist who calls himself a military engineer. Among his admirers are Juca Badaró, Colonel Badaró’s younger brother, and Doña Ana Badaró, the colonel’s daughter, who is also the heir to the Badaró fortunes.
Soon after his arrival, Cabral falls in love with Ester, da Silveira’s beautiful wife. The woman, who hates her semibarbarous husband, quickly returns the affection of the more cultured man. When she becomes his mistress, both know that they will be killed if the husband finds them out. As his ardor for Ester increases, the lawyer’s affection for his former mistress wanes, and soon Margot finds herself unwanted by her lover. In retaliation, and because she needs someone to support her, Margot becomes the mistress of Juca. Out of spite, she also furnishes him with scandal about the opposition, gossip that he turns to account in the newspaper that favors the Badarós.
Professionally, as well as amorously, Cabral is a success, for he finds an old survey of the contested lands and registers the title in da Silveira’s name after he bribes the registry officials. The Badaró family quickly retaliates by burning the registry office and all the records on file. In addition, the Badarós hire Magalhães to run a survey for them. He makes the survey, even though he lacks the proper knowledge to do so. His presence at the Badaró plantation earns him the respect of the Badaró brothers and the love of Doña Ana Badaró. The self-styled captain, always an opportunist, permits himself to fall in love with the woman and pay court to her.
The Badaró family is the more powerful of the two factions, so da Silveira goes to several small planters and promises to let them divide half of the forest land if they, as...
(The entire section is 1123 words.)