Dom Casmurro Chapter 67


Now I won’t get the invalid from her bed before describing what happened to me. After five days my mother woke up in such a state that she ordered I be sent for at the seminary.

Uncle Cosme pleaded with her in vain. ‘Sister Glória, there’s no reason to upset yourself. The fever will soon go …’

‘No, no! Send for him! I may die, and my soul will not be saved if Bentinho is not here beside me.’

‘We shall frighten him.’

‘Then don’t tell him anything. But send for him now, right away. Don’t wait any longer.’

They thought she was delirious, but since it cost nothing to send for me José Dias was entrusted with the task. He arrived in such a state that he startled me. He told the rector in private what was going on, and I received permission to return home. In the street we did not speak, and he walked at his usual pace – the premise before the inference, the inference before the conclusion – but heaving heavy sighs, while I was terrified of reading in his face the sign of some impending tragedy. He spoke of my mother’s illness as nothing out of the ordinary, but the fact that I had been sent for, his silence and his sighs, seemed to signify something more. My heart was beating violently, my legs were unsteady, and more than once I nearly fell.

My anxiety to know the truth conflicted with my fear of discovering it. It was the first time that death had loomed so near, pressing close and fixing me with its dark, empty eyes. The further I walked along the Rua dos Barbonos the more fearful I became at the idea of arriving home, going inside, hearing the sobs and seeing a dead body … Oh, I cannot express here all that I went through during those terrible minutes. In spite of José Dias’s superlatively slow pace, the road seemed to slide beneath my feet, the houses on both sides flew past and a bugle that happened to be playing in the barracks sounded to me like the last trump.

I walked on, arrived at the Arcos and turned into Rua de Matacavalos. Our house was not at the beginning of the street but well past Rua dos Invalidos, near the Senate. Three or four times I had tried to question my companion but did not dare open my mouth; now I no longer wanted to. As I walked along I came to accept the worst as a stroke of destiny, a necessity of the human condition, and then it was that Hope, in order to overcome Terror, whispered to my heart not these words – for nothing was actually expressed in words – but an idea that might be rendered as: If Mamma dies, goodbye, seminary.

Believe me, reader, it was like a flash of lightning. No sooner had it lit up the night than it vanished, leaving the darkness even more impenetrable as a result of the remorse that remained. It was the prompting of my own lust and selfishness. Filial piety lapsed for an instant at the prospect of certain liberty through the disappearance of the debt and the debtor; it lasted an instant, less than an instant, the hundredth part of an instant, but sufficient to overwhelm me with remorse.

José Dias was still sighing. Once he looked at me with such pity that it seemed he had guessed, and I wanted to ask him not to tell anyone, that I would do penance and so on. But his pity was so mingled with love that it could not be sorrow at my sin; it must be the death of my mother. I was overcome with grief. I felt a knot in my throat and, unable to control myself, I burst into tears.

‘What’s the matter, Bentinho?’

‘My mother … ?’

‘No, no! Whatever put that idea into your head? She is most seriously ill, but it is not a fatal disease, and God is all-powerful. Dry your eyes. It’s not right for a boy of your age to cry in the street. It’s nothing serious; just a fever … And fevers can go just as quickly as they come. No, not with your fingers – where’s your handkerchief?’

I dried my eyes, though of all the expressions used by José Dias one alone pierced me to the heart: it was that ‘most seriously’. I realized later that he meant only ‘seriously’, but the use of the superlative added sonority, and for the sake of effect José Dias aggravated my misery. If you find examples of a similar nature in this book, dear reader, please let me know so that I can correct them in the second edition. There is nothing worse than giving the longest of legs to the smallest of ideas. I repeat, I dried my eyes and walked on, by now anxious to reach home and beg pardon of my mother for my wicked thoughts. We arrived at last, walked in, climbed with trepidation the six steps of the staircase, and before long I was leaning over the bed and listening to the tender words of my mother as she squeezed my hands, calling me her son. She was as if on fire, her eyes burning into mine, her whole body consumed by a furnace raging within her. I fell to my knees beside the bed, but since it was high I was out of reach of her caresses.

‘No, no, my son. Get up! Get up!’

Capitu, who was in the room, was pleased by my arrival and also by my manner, my words and my tears, as she told me afterwards, though naturally she didn’t suspect the cause of my distress. Back in my bedroom I thought of confessing everything to my mother as soon as she was well, but it was just an idea, a passing fancy, for it was something I could never bring myself to do, no matter how much pain my sin caused me. So, prompted by remorse, I returned to my old habit of making promises, asking God to forgive me and save my mother’s life and I would say two thousand paternosters. If any priest should read this I ask pardon for resorting to this stratagem; it was the last time I employed it. The critical moment at which I found myself, no less than my habit and my faith, explains everything. They were two thousand more. What happened to the earlier ones? I paid neither those nor the others, but coming from pure honest hearts such promises are like fiduciary currency – even though the debtor never pays, they are still worth their face value.