Dom Casmurro Chapter 16


Pádua was employed in a department of the War Ministry. He didn’t earn much, but his wife spent little and the cost of living was cheap. Moreover, the house where he lived, a two-storeyed one like ours, though smaller, belonged to him. He bought it with the first prize in the lottery, which he won with a half ticket – ten contos. Pádua’s original idea when he won the prize was to buy a horse for himself, a set of diamonds for his wife, a permanent sepulchre for the family and to order some birds from Europe, etc. But his wife, the same Dona Fortunata who is standing over there at the back door talking to Capitu, tall, strong and buxom like her daughter, with the same head and light-coloured eyes, she it was who declared that the best thing was to buy the house and keep what was left to help them through any serious illnesses. Pádua, after much hesitation, was finally obliged to give way before the advice of my mother, to whom Dona Fortunata had turned for help. This was not the only time when my mother was of assistance to them. One day she even saved Pádua’s life. I’ll tell you the story. It won’t take long.

The director of the department where Pádua worked was sent away to the north on business. Pádua, either through normal seniority or special appointment, stood in for the director, being paid the equivalent salary. This change in his fortune went to his head; it was before the ten contos. Not content with renewing his wardrobe and renovating the kitchen, he went on a spending spree, gave jewels to his wife, killed a sucking-pig at festival time, was seen in the theatres and even took to wearing patent-leather shoes. Assuming his temporary directorship to be eternal, he lived like that for twenty-two months. Then one evening he came to our house wild-eyed and in deep distress: he was going to lose his position because the director had arrived back that morning. He begged my mother to look after the poor wretches he was leaving behind, as, unable to bear the disgrace, he intended to kill himself. My mother comforted him with soothing words, but he paid no attention to her.

‘No, senhora, I cannot accept such a humiliation. For my family to sink to this, to go back … I’ve made up my mind – I’ll kill myself. I can’t bring myself to tell them of such a disaster. And the others? What will the neighbours say? And my friends? And the public?’

‘What public, Senhor Pádua? Put that out of your head. Be a man. Remember that your wife has no one else. What will she do? Now, for a man … Come on now. Be a man and face up to it.’

Pádua dried his eyes and went home, where he remained prostrated for several days, shut up silently in his room or else in the yard close to the well, as if still intent on suicide.

Dona Fortuna scolded him, ‘Are you a child, Joãozinho?’

But he talked so much about killing himself that one day, in desperation, she came to beg my mother to save her husband, who was about to commit suicide. My mother went round and found him at the edge of the well and ordered him to stay alive. What nonsense was that to feel degraded because he had lost a gratification and a temporary position? No, he should be a man, the father of his family, be like his wife and daughter … Pádua obeyed her and declared that he would find the strength to comply with my mother’s wishes.

‘No, not my wishes. Your own obligation’

‘Well, my obligation then. I am not unaware that that is what it is.’

In the days that followed he would enter and leave the house glued to the wall, with his head down. He was no longer the same man who wore out his hat in greeting the neighbours, beaming round him happily, even before his temporary directorship. As the weeks passed Pádua slowly recovered. He began to interest himself in domestic matters, to care for his birds, to sleep peacefully every night and afternoon, to converse and bring back news from town. His serenity returned and with it some cheerfulness apparent when two friends came one Sunday to play solo for counters. Once again he was laughing, joking in his old habitual manner. The wound was completely cured.

Some time later there occurred an interesting phenomenon. Pádua began to talk about his temporary directorship not only without regret for the salary or disappointment at losing it but with a certain complacency, even pride. The directorship became to him the hegira by which he measured time before and after.

‘When I was director …

Or else: ‘Ah yes, I remember now. It was before I became director, one or two months before … Let me see now, my directorship began … That’s right, a month and a half before. It was a month and a half before, not more.’

Or else: ‘That’s quite correct. I’d been director then for six months…’

Such were the posthumous fruits of temporary glories. José Dias complained that it was merely vanity that survived, but Father Cabral, who turned to the scriptures for everything, declared that from our neighbour Pádua we should learn the lesson that Eliphas gave to Job: ‘Despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty; He woundeth and His hands make whole.’