Dom Casmurro Chapter 142


I should explain that José Dias did not go with me on the journeys I made to Europe, not for lack of inclination but to keep my Uncle Cosme, now almost an invalid, company, as well as my mother, who had aged suddenly. He himself was old, too, though still fit. He went on board to see me off, chatting, waving his handkerchief and drying his eyes so that I, too, felt distressed. The last time, however, he refused.

‘Come on …’

‘I can’t.’

‘Are you afraid?’

‘No, I can’t. I’ll say goodbye now, Bentinho. I don’t know whether you will see me again. I think I shall embark for that other Europe, the eternal one.’

He didn’t embark right away. My mother went first. If you look in the São João Batista cemetery you will find there a grave with just this inscription: ‘A Saint’. It’s there. The inscription caused some difficulty. The sculptor found it unusual, and the administrator of the cemetery consulted the parish priest, who objected that saints are to be found either at the altar or in heaven.

‘Pardon me,’ I said, ‘I don’t mean that there is a canonized saint in that grave. My idea in using the word is merely to express clearly all the virtues she possessed in life. And since modesty was one of them, I have retained it after her death by not including her name.’

‘Nevertheless, her name, her parentage, the dates …’

‘Who will worry about dates, parentage or names once I am gone?’

‘So what you are saying is that she was a saintly lady?’

‘Exactly. If Protonotary Cabral were still alive he would confirm what I am saying.’

‘I don’t doubt the truth of what you say – it’s the formula that worries me. So you knew the Protonotary?’

‘Yes, I did. He was a model priest.’

‘A good canonist, Latinist, pious and charitable,’ went on the priest.

‘And not lacking in social virtues,’ I said. ‘At home I was told that he was an outstanding partner at backgammon.’

‘He threw a very good dice,’ said the priest with a drawn-out sigh. ‘A master with the dice.’

‘So you think … ?’

‘Seeing there is no other implication, nor could there be, yes, senhor, I think it can be allowed …’

It was a melancholy José Dias who listened to these arrangements. When we finally left he ran down the priest, calling him too meticulous. The only excuse he allowed him was that he hadn’t known my mother, neither he nor the other men in the cemetery.

‘They didn’t know her. If they had done, they would have written “the saintliest”.’