The grown-ups of the great Ventura family had said time and again how absolutely imperative it was to get an early start that morning, almost at sun-up, if they wanted to reach their destination at an hour that would justify making the trip. But the children just smiled and winked at this talk, without looking up from their bouts of chess or backgammon that seemed to drag on all summer long.
The night before the excursion which I propose to use as the crux of this fiction, Wenceslao left his mother snoring from the laudanum she took to help her sleep after the ferment of the preparations, and slipped from his bed to go snuggle in next to Melania. In a hushed voice, he bet her a crown that their parents, who always made things so complicated, would never get going before eleven the next morning if indeed they left at all, and that all the preliminary commotion would give way to that hollow rhetoric with which they habitually covered up their failures. Melania yanked his curls to punish him for this saucy prediction: in the intimacy of the bedsheets she would have liked to make him cry so she could dry the tears from his blue eyes with kisses, wipe his china-doll cheeks with her black braid.
But since he would neither take it back nor start crying, Melania refused to pay him so much as a single copper of the bet the next morning, when the little boy’s prophecy proved true: it struck twelve before the grown-ups had finished locking the wrought-iron gate of the rail fence encircling the park, and fastening the grated windows in the market yard through which Casilda, Colomba and Uncle Hermógenes attended the naked natives balancing baskets of fruit on their heads, dangling strings of fowl, toting bundles of hammered gold or, strung from a pole between two shoulders, a deer or wild boar killed on the plain.