Dom Casmurro Chapter 87


When I arrived at the top step an idea came to me as if it had been there at the gate waiting for me. I remembered Manduca’s father’s words inviting me to attend the funeral the following day. I paused on the step to think. Yes, I could go to the funeral. I’d ask my mother to hire a coach for me.

Don’t imagine that it was the wish to ride in a coach, no matter how much I enjoyed that form of transport. As a child I remember that I would often travel in one with my mother when she went to call on friends for formal visits or to mass if it happened to be raining. It was an old tilbury of my father’s which she had kept on as long as she could.

The coachman was a slave of ours, as old as the tilbury, and when he saw me all dressed up, waiting at the gate for my mother, he used to laugh and say, ‘Old João’s going to take the little master!’

And I would usually answer, ‘João, rein in the mules. Go slowly.’

‘Senhora Glória won’t like it.’

‘But go slowly anyway.’

I should explain that this was to enable me to enjoy riding in the tilbury, not through vanity, for the people inside remained hidden. It was an ancient, old-fashioned, two-wheeled tilbury, short and narrow and with two leather curtains at the front which slid to either side when you entered or left. Each curtain had a glass spy-hole through which I liked to peep out.

‘Sit down, Bentinho!’

‘Let me look outside, Mamma!’

And when I was very little I would stand up with my eye glued to the glass in order to watch the coachman with his enormous boots, sitting astride the left-hand mule and holding the reins of the other, while also carrying his long, heavy whip. Everything looked clumsy and uncomfortable, the boots, the whip and the mules, but he was happy and so was I. On either side I saw the houses pass by, shops open or closed, crowded or empty, people coming and going, crossing over in front of the tilbury with long strides or short, quick steps. Whenever we were held up by the press of the people or animals the tilbury would stop and the spectacle became even more interesting: those who were standing on the pavement or at the doors of their houses would look at the tilbury and talk among themselves, no doubt discussing who was inside. When I was older I used to imagine them guessing and saying, ‘It’s that lady from the Rua de Matacavalos, who has a son called Bentinho …’

The tilbury suited my mother’s withdrawn habits so well that when we had no other carriage we continued to use this one, which became known in our street and in the neighbourhood as ‘the old tilbury’. Finally my mother agreed to get rid of it, but she only did so when the expense of its upkeep forced her to sell it. Her reason for keeping it on unused was purely sentimental: it was a memento of her husband. Everything that had been my father’s was kept as if it were a piece of himself, a remnant of him, imbued with his own virtue and integrity. But its use was also determined by her excessive conservatism, as she freely admitted to her friends. My mother openly displayed her fondness for old habits, old customs, old manners, old ideas, old fashions. She had her own museum of relics – disused combs, a piece of lace, some copper coins dated 1824 and 1825 – and so that everything should be equally antiquated she attempted to make herself look old, but, as I have said, in this respect the result was not entirely to her satisfaction.