Dom Casmurro Chapter 15


Another sudden voice made itself heard, this time the voice of a man.

‘Are youp laying at staring each other out?’

It was Capitu’s father, who was standing at the back door beside her mother. In our embarrassment we let go our hands. Capitu went to the wall and casually scratched out our names with the nail.


‘Yes, Papa!’

‘Don’t spoil the plaster on the wall.’

Capitu scratched over the marks to rub out completely what was written. Pádua came out into the yard to see what it was, but his daughter was already drawing something else, a portrait, which she said was of him but might equally well have been of her mother. However, it served its purpose, which was to make him laugh. By the time he reached us his anger was gone and he was all smiles, despite the suspicious – or more than suspicious – attitude in which he had caught us. He was a small, burly man, with short arms and legs and a curved back, which earned him the nickname of the Tortoise, given him by José Dias, though no one else in the house called him that.

‘Were you playing at staring each other out?’

I remained gazing at an elder bush that was near by.

Capitu replied for both of us. ‘Yes, we were. But Bentinho soon laughed – he can’t keep a straight face.’

‘He wasn’t laughing when I came to the door.’

‘He’d already been laughing. He can’t help it. You watch, Papa.’ With a serious face she fixed her eyes on mine, inviting me to play.

But I had had a severe shock, and, being still under the influence of what had brought Pádua into the yard, I was quite incapable of laughing, no matter how necessary it was to justify Capitu’s answer. Tired of waiting, she looked away, saying that I couldn’t laugh that time because her father was near. Even then I didn’t laugh. There are things that one learns only late in life. In order to practise them early it is necessary to be born with them; and better still to do so early and naturally than late and artificially. After a couple of turns in the yard Capitu went to speak to her mother, who was still standing at the back door, leaving her father and me lost in admiration.

Her father, looking at her and then at me, said tenderly, ‘Who would think that girl is only fourteen? She looks seventeen. Is your mother well?’ He turned fully towards me.

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘I haven’t seen her for many days. I’ve been wanting to come and give your uncle a drubbing at cards, but I haven’t been able to. I’ve had to do a lot of office work at home. I’m kept busy every night, writing away like mad: a report that has to be written. Have you seen my new tanager? It’s down at the bottom of the yard. I was just on my way to fetch the cage. Come and see it.’

It is unnecessary to state that I had no desire whatever to accompany him. What I wanted was to follow Capitu and discuss with her the threat that loomed over us. But her father was her father, and in any case he was particularly fond of birds. He kept a wide variety, of different colours and sizes. In the middle of the house there was an area completely surrounded with cagefuls of canaries, which made a hellish noise when they sang. He exchanged birds with other amateurs, bought some and even caught others in his own yard, setting traps for them. And when they were ill he tended them just like human beings.