Dom Casmurro Chapter 118


Everything comes to an end, reader; it’s an old truism, to which one can add that not everything that lasts does so for long. This addition is not so readily believed; on the contrary, we like to think that a castle in the air lasts longer than the air with which it is built, which is a good thing since in this way we do not lose the habit of building structures that are almost eternal.

Our castle was solidly built, but one Sunday … The day before, we had spent the evening at Flamengo, not just the two inseparable couples but also José Dias and Cousin Justina. It was then that Escobar spoke to me by the window, inviting us to have dinner with them next day to discuss a family project; a project for the four of us.

‘The four of us? A quadrille.’

‘No. You can’t guess what it is, and I’m not saying. Come tomorrow.’

Sancha never took her eyes off us during our conversation in a corner of the window. When her husband left she came to speak to me and asked what we had been talking about. I told her it was some project, but I didn’t know what it was. Begging me to keep it secret, she told me – none other than a trip to Europe in two years’ time. She spoke almost with a sigh, her back to the room. Outside it was stormy, with waves thundering on the beach.

‘Are we all going?’

‘Yes, all of us.’

Sancha raised her head and looked at me with such a pleased expression that on account of her friendship with Capitu I might well have given her a kiss on the brow. But instead of arousing brotherly instincts her eyes appeared warm and appealing, saying something quite different before they drifted away from the window, where I was still deep in thought, gazing at the sea. It was a clear night.

It was from there that I sought Sancha’s eyes – she was by the piano – and met them halfway. All four halted in front of each other as if waiting for the others to pass on; but none passed on. It was like two stubborn people meeting in the street. Caution made us separate, and I turned my gaze outside once more. Standing there I searched my memory to discover whether I had ever before looked at her with the same expression and could not be sure. The only thing I was sure of was that one day I had thought of her as one does of a pretty girl, a stranger one sees in the street. But could she have guessed … Perhaps my thoughts made themselves obvious, and at the time she had avoided me, either angry or shy, and now, by some irresistible force … Irresistible! The word was like the blessing a priest gives at mass and which people receive and repeat to themselves.

‘It’ll be a brave man who ventures in the sea tomorrow,’ said the voice of Escobar at my shoulder.

‘Are you going in the sea tomorrow?’

‘I’ve been in worse, much worse than this. You have no idea what it’s like swimming in a rough sea. You have to be a good swimmer like me, have lungs like these’, he said, patting his chest, ‘and arms like these. Feel them.’

I felt his arms as if they had been Sancha’s. It is not easy to make this confession, but I won’t suppress it; it would be to detract from the truth. Not only did I feel them with this idea in mind, but there was something else, too: I found them thicker and stronger than mine and felt envious. Added to which they could swim.

When we left I again spoke with my eyes to the lady of the house. Her hand squeezed mine tightly and held on to it for longer than usual.

Modesty required then, as now, that I should see in Sancha’s gesture no more than assent to her husband’s project and an expression of thanks. That is how it should have been, but a strange sensation in my whole body rejected the conclusion I have just written. I still felt Sancha’s fingers pressing themselves into mine. A moment of madness and sin. By the clock it was gone in a flash: when I held the clock to my ear the only ticks I heard were those of reason and virtue.

‘… a most charming lady,’ said José Dias, concluding a speech he had been making.

‘Most charming,’ I repeated warmly. Then, moderating my language, ‘Really a beautiful night.’

‘Like every night in that house,’ went on José Dias. ‘But not out here. Out here the sea is wild. Listen.’

We could hear the heavy sea, as we had heard it from the house; a storm was blowing, and in the distance we could see the waves building up. Capitu and Cousin Justina, who had gone on ahead, waited for us at one of the curves of the beach, and the four of us walked on together, talking. I said little; I could not entirely forget Sancha’s hand, nor the looks we had exchanged. First I interpreted them one way, then another. Moments with the Devil alternated with minutes with God, and the clock moved on showing now my damnation, now my salvation. José Dias left us at our door. Cousin Justina was spending the night with us and would go home next day after lunch and mass. I withdrew to my study, where I stayed longer than usual.

Escobar’s portrait, which I had hung next to that of my mother, spoke to me as if it were he himself. I made an honest effort to combat the feelings I had brought with me from Flamengo, thrusting aside the vision of my friend’s wife and calling myself disloyal. Besides, who could be sure there was any intention of that nature in her farewell gesture or in those previous ones? It might just have been excitement at the thought of our trip. Sancha and Capitu were such close friends that it would be an additional pleasure for them to travel together. If there had been some sexual element in it, who could prove that it wasn’t some flash-in-the-pan feeling destined to die that very night in her sleep? Remorse can spring from sins no greater than this, and its duration is equally short. I clung to this hypothesis, which reconciled me to the touch of Sancha’s hand, which I still remembered within my own, warm and lingering, pressing and being pressed …

Frankly I was far from happy, caught between friendship and the attraction I felt. Timidity may have been another reason for my distress. Heaven is not the only source of our virtues; there is timidity, too, not to mention chance, but chance is merely accidental – their finest source is still heaven. However, since timidity comes from heaven, which gives us this disposition, the virtue it engenders is genealogically of the same celestial blood. That, had I been able, is how I would have reasoned; but at first my thoughts were confused. It was not passion, neither was it inclination. It could be a whim – what else? After twenty minutes it was nothing, nothing whatever. Escobar’s portrait seemed to speak to me, and seeing his frank, simple manner I shook my head and went to bed.