Dom Casmurro Chapter 11


As soon as José Dias disappeared down the corridor I left my hiding place and ran to the veranda at the back. I had no wish to see my mother’s tears or know the reason for which she shed them. No doubt the reason was her ecclesiastical plans for me, the explanation of which I shall now relate since it is already an old story, going back sixteen years.

These plans date from the time when I was conceived. Since her first child was stillborn, my mother made a compact with God, promising that if the second one lived and was a boy he should be a priest. Perhaps she was hoping for a girl. She said nothing to my father, neither before nor after my birth; she planned to do so when I was of school age, but she was widowed before then. Being a widow she was terrified at the idea of being separated from me, but such was her devotion and her fear of God that she confided her promise to relatives and friends, making them witnesses of her obligation. Nevertheless, to delay as long as possible the moment of separation, she had me taught my first letters, Latin and doctrine at home by Father Cabral, an old friend of Uncle Cosme’s, who came to play cards at night.

Long delays are eagerly accepted, and the imagination makes them infinite. My mother waited and watched the years pass. Meanwhile she accustomed me to the idea of entering the Church: children’s games, religious books, images of saints, everyday conversation, all centred upon the altar. When we went to mass she always said that it was for me to learn to be a priest and that I should never take my eyes off the priest. At home we played at saying mass, though very discreetly since my mother said that mass was not a subject for games. Capitu and I made up an altar. She served as sacristan, and we changed the ritual so as to divide the host between us; the host was always a cake. When we played those games I often used to hear my young neighbour enquire, ‘Will there be mass today?’ Knowing what she meant, I would reply affirmatively and go and ask for the host by another name. When I returned with it we would arrange the altar, mumble the Latin and rush through the ceremony. Dominus non sum dignus … I was supposed to say that three times, but I think I only said it once, such was the greed of the priest and the sacristan. We drank neither wine nor water; the first because we hadn’t any, and the second so as not to spoil the taste of the sacrifice.

Since no one had mentioned the seminary lately I supposed the subject had now been forgotten. At fifteen, and having no vocation, the seminary of the world seemed more indicated than that of São José. My mother would frequently gaze at me like a lost soul or hold my hand for no apparent reason, just to squeeze it.