Dom Casmurro Chapter 13


Suddenly I heard a voice call out from the house next door:


Then from the yard:

‘Yes, Mamma!’

And once again from the house:

‘Come here!’

I had no choice in the matter. My legs took me down the three steps into the garden and walked me to the neighbouring yard. It was their habit in the morning and in the afternoon, too. Legs have their own individuality, inferior only to that of the arms, and move of their own accord whenever they are not directed by instructions from the head. Mine arrived close to the wall, where my mother had had a small interconnecting gate put in when Capitu and I were little. The gate had neither lock nor latch; it opened by pushing on one side or pulling on the other, closing itself by the weight of a stone suspended on a rope. It was almost exclusively ours. When we were children we used to visit each other by knocking on one side and being received on the other with many bows or curtsies. Whenever Capitu’s dolls fell sick I was the doctor. I would walk into her yard with a stick under my arm in imitation of Dr João da Costa’s walking-stick; I would take the pulse of the invalid and ask her to show her tongue. ‘She’s deaf, poor thing,’ cried Capitu. Then I would scratch my chin like the doctor and finally prescribe leeches or a vomitory, which was the doctor’s usual cure.


‘Yes, Mamma!’

‘Stop scratching holes in the wall and come here.’

Her mother’s voice was now closer, as if she had come to the back door. I wanted to pass through into the yard, but my legs, formerly so active, now seemed glued to the ground. Finally, with an effort, I pushed open the gate and walked in. Capitu was standing facing the wall in front, scratching on it with a nail. The sound of the gate closing made her look round, and on seeing me she backed against the wall as if she wanted to hide something. I walked towards her, and I must have had a strange look because she came up to me and said in a worried voice, ‘What’s the matter with you?’

‘With me? Nothing.’

‘It’s not nothing. Something’s the matter.’

I wanted to insist that it was nothing, but I lost my tongue. I was all eyes and heart, a heart that this time I was sure was going to leap out of my mouth. I could not tear my eyes away from the girl, fourteen years old, tall, strong and well built, wearing a tight, faded cotton frock. Her thick hair hung down her back divided into two plaits with the ends tied together as was the fashion at the time. She was dark, with large pale eyes, a long straight nose, a thin mouth and broad chin. Her hands, despite rough household work, were well cared for: they did not smell of expensive soap or toilet water, but she kept them spotless with well water and ordinary soap. She wore old flat shoes made of coarse cloth, to which she herself had added a few stitches.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ she repeated.

‘It’s nothing,’ I managed to stammer. Then I added hastily, ‘Just some news.’

‘What news?’

I thought of telling her that I was going to enter the seminary and of observing her reaction. If she was upset, it was because she really loved me; if not, then she didn’t love me. But this was no more than a vague, fleeting calculation. I had the feeling that I should not commit myself; I had no idea what I must have looked like.


‘You know …’

At that moment I glanced at the part of the wall where she had been scratching, writing or making a hole as her mother had said. I saw the scratches and remembered her sudden movement to conceal them. Wanting to have a closer look I took a step forward, but Capitu seized hold of me; then afraid I might escape, or wishing to prevent me by other means, she darted forward and rubbed out what she had written. That was enough to excite my curiosity to know what it was.