Dom Casmurro Chapter 61


Those first days away from home were dreary and painful despite the comforting words of the priests and the seminarists, not to mention those of my mother and Uncle Cosme, brought to the seminary by José Dias.

‘They all miss you,’ he said, ‘but the one who misses you most is the one with the most tender heart. And who do you think that is?’ he asked, indicating the answer with his eyes.

‘My mother,’ I replied.

José Dias squeezed my hands warmly and told me how miserable my mother had been, that she spoke of me every day, almost every hour of the day. He had always thought highly of her, talking affectionately of the gifts God had endowed her with; now he found it impossible to describe her grief. He told me this with tears of admiration in his eyes. Uncle Cosme, too, had been much moved.

‘An interesting thing happened only yesterday. When I told your dear mother that God had given her not a son but an angel from heaven, the doctor was so overcome that he only held back his tears by making one of those jokes of his, praising me. Needless to say Dona Glória secretly wiped away a tear. What mother wouldn’t? She has the most tender of hearts!’

‘But, senhor, what about getting me out of here?’

‘Leave that to me. A trip to Europe is the thing, but it can only be done in one or two years’ time, in 1859 or 1860.’

‘As long as that!’

‘This year would be better, but we must give it time. Be patient and carry on studying. There’s nothing to lose by learning something while you are here. And even if you don’t end up a priest, the experience at the seminary is useful; it is always an advantage to enter into the world anointed with the holy oil of theology.’

At this point – I remember it as if it were today – José Dias’s eyes blazed so intensely that I was filled with amazement. Then he lowered his lids and held them like that for a moment or two before opening them again and fixing his eyes on the wall of the yard as if fascinated by something. Finally his gaze switched from the wall and began to stray round the yard. I might compare him to Homer’s cow, which wandered, mooing, round its newly born calf. I did not ask him what the matter was, partly out of shyness and partly because two lecturers, one of them a theologian, were coming in our direction. As they passed by, my companion, who knew them, greeted them formally and asked how I was progressing.

‘It’s too early to say yet,’ replied one of them, ‘but I think he’ll do well.’

‘That’s what I was saying just now,’ added José Dias. ‘I’m counting on hearing his first mass. But even if he never gets to be ordained, there is no better place for him to study than here. In the journey of life’, he concluded, drawing out his words, ‘he will travel anointed with the holy oil of theology …’

This time his eyes blazed less brightly; he did not lower his eyelids, nor did the pupils repeat their earlier movements. On the contrary, he remained alert and attentive, merely allowing a genuine, friendly smile to play on his lips. The lecturer in theology liked his metaphor and told him so. He thanked him, saying that these were just ideas that came to him in the course of the conversation; he was neither writer nor orator.

I was the one who was not pleased, and as soon as the lecturers had gone I shook my head and said, ‘I want nothing to do with the holy oil of theology. What I want is to get out of here as soon as possible or right away.’

‘Right away, my dear boy, is out of the question – but it could be much earlier than we imagine. Perhaps even this very year of ’58. I’ve already thought up a plan, and I’m now considering how best to put it to Dona Glória. I’m sure she will give way and travel with us.’

‘I don’t think my mother will agree to travel.’

‘We shall see. Mothers are capable of anything; but with her or without her I am convinced we shall travel, and you can be certain that I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that we do. What we need is patience. Don’t do anything here that might give cause for censure or complaint – be on your best behaviour and make it seem that you’re happy. Didn’t you hear how the lecturer praised you? You’ve done very well. Keep it up.’

‘But 1859 or 1860 is a long way off.’

‘It will be this year,’ replied José Dias.

‘In three months?’

‘Maybe six.’

‘No, three months.’

‘All right then. Now I have a plan which seems to me the best. It is to combine your lack of vocation for the priesthood with the need for a change of air. Why don’t you cough?’

‘Why don’t I cough?’

‘No, no, not now. I’m saying it would be a good idea for you to give a little cough occasionally, a dry, irritating cough. Meanwhile I’ll prepare your dear mother. Oh, it’s all for her own good. Since her son cannot serve the Church as it ought to be served, the best way to fulfil God’s will is to dedicate him to something else. For the virtuous the world, too, is a church …’

It seemed to me another case of Homer’s cow, as if this ‘For the virtuous the world, too, is a church’ were another calf, the brother of ‘holy oil of theology’. But I interrupted his reflections on maternal affection, and replied, ‘Ah, I understand! I’m to appear to be ill in order to be able to travel. Is that it?’

José Dias hesitated a moment, and then replied, ‘To appear what you really are, because, to be honest, Bentinho, for some months now I’ve been worried about your chest. Your chest is not all that strong. When you were little you were hoarse and feverish. That’s all past now, but there are days when you look pale. I’m not saying that’s what it is, but you could have a sudden relapse. Things can happen so quickly. And so if your dearest mother does not wish to go with us … or in order to get away more quickly, I think a good cough … If the cough is really going to come we might as well hasten it along … Don’t worry, I’ll let you know …’

‘Well, we don’t have to embark the moment I leave here. First, let me get out, then we can think about sailing. We can leave the journey till next year. Don’t they say that the best time is April or May? It can be May then. To start with, I’ll get out of the seminary in a couple of months …’

Then, because her name was on the tip of my tongue, I rapidly changed the subject and asked abruptly, ‘Capitu, how is she?’