Dom Casmurro Chapter 56


I saw rise from the leaves of the Panegyric, with its old-style type and Latin quotations, many a profile of a seminarist: the Albuquerque brothers, for example, one of whom is a canon in Bahia, while the other went into medicine and apparently discovered a specific against yellow fever. I saw Bastos and his skinny legs – he’s now a parish priest in Meia-Ponte, if he is not already dead. Luiz Borges, though he became a priest, too, went into politics and ended up a senator of the empire… How many other faces stared up at me from the cold, impassive pages of the Panegyric! No, they were not impassive. They bore the warmth of budding youth, the warmth of the past, my own warmth. I wanted to reread them; here and there I caught the meaning of the text. It seemed as fresh to me as on the first day, though more brief. The little book cast a spell: at times, unconsciously, I turned the page as if I were actually reading. And then … I believe that it was when my eyes fell on the last word on the page and my hand, accustomed to assist them, did its office …

Here was another seminarist. His name was Ezequiel de Sousa Escobar. He was a slim lad, with clear, light-coloured eyes that were somewhat restless, like his hands, his feet, his speech, everything about him. Those who were not used to him sometimes felt uncomfortable, not knowing how to take him. He did not look you in the face and spoke haltingly and evasively. His hands never gripped those of others, nor allowed themselves to be gripped: his fingers were so thin and short that when you felt you were holding them they had already slipped away. The same could be said of his feet, which were here one moment and there the next. Perhaps it was this difficulty in keeping still that prevented him from adapting himself easily to life at the seminary. He was quick to smile and had a loud, ready laugh. But one thing about him was not so volatile as the rest: his habit of meditation. We would often come upon him, his eyes pensive, lost in thought, and he would tell us that he was meditating on some spiritual matter or else remembering yesterday’s lesson. As our friendship developed he would often ask me for detailed and repeated explanations, and he had such a good memory that he was able to remember everything word for word. Perhaps this faculty was in some way prejudicial.

He was three years older than me, the son of a lawyer in Curitiba who was related to a businessman in Rio de Janeiro who acted as his representative. His father was a strongly devout Catholic. Escobar had a sister who, he declared, was an angel.

‘It’s not just that she is as beautiful as an angel; she’s the soul of goodness, too. You can’t imagine what a sweet creature she is. She writes frequently. I must show you some of her letters.’

True enough, they were simple and affectionate, full of endearments and advice. Escobar told me interesting stories about her, all serving to illustrate her goodness and sweet nature, so much so that I might well have ended up marrying her had it not been for Capitu. She died a short time later. Enchanted by his words I was on the point of telling him my own story. At first I was timid, but little by little he won my confidence. He could control his restless movements when he wanted to, but with time, and as he adjusted to his surroundings, they became less noticeable. Escobar opened his soul entirely, from the front door to the bottom of the garden. A man’s soul, as you know, is like a house; often it will have windows all round, which let in plenty of light and fresh air. But there are also those that are dark, shut up, with no windows at all, and some that are barred like convents or prisons. Likewise there are chapels and shops, simple huts and sumptuous palaces.

What mine was I do not know. I had not then been dubbed taciturn, nor even ‘Lord Taciturn’. It was timidity that prevented my candour, but as the doors had neither locks nor keys all that was needed was to give them a push. Escobar pushed and walked in. I found him inside, and here he remained, until …