Dom Casmurro Chapter 18


Neither her father nor her mother was with us when Capitu and I, alone in the living-room, discussed the seminary. Looking straight at me Capitu wanted to know what the news was that had so upset me. When I told her she turned as pale as a ghost.

‘But I don’t want to go,’ I added quickly. ‘I don’t want to go to any seminary. I won’t go, and it’s no good them insisting. I won’t go.’

At first Capitu said nothing. She withdrew her gaze from me and remained still, her eyes expressionless, her mouth half open. Then, to give greater force to my protestations, I swore to her that I would not be a priest. In those days it was the custom to swear up hill and down dale, by one’s life and by one’s death. I swore by the hour of my death that at the moment of my death the light would be taken from me if I went to the seminary. Capitu seemed neither to believe nor disbelieve me; she seemed not even to hear me but stood there like a block. The girl who had played with me, who had jumped and danced and I even think had slept with me, left me now helpless and half scared. Finally she recovered her composure, but her face was livid, and she spat out furiously, ‘Sanctimonious simpleton! Priestled innocent! Mass lover!’

I was dumbfounded. Capitu was so fond of my mother, and my mother of her, that I could not account for such a violent outburst. It was true that she was also fond of me and naturally more so, or in a different way, which would explain the anger produced by the threat of our separation. But what could justify such insults, such bitter words and particularly her disparaging the religious observance which she herself practised? She also went to mass, and on three or four occasions it was my mother who took her in our old carriage. She had also given her a rosary, a golden cross and a prayer book. I wanted to speak up for her, but Capitu wouldn’t let me, repeating those names in such a loud voice that I was afraid her parents would hear. I had never before seen her so worked up as she was then; she seemed capable of speaking her mind to anyone and everyone. She gritted her teeth and shook her head. I was so scared I didn’t know what to do. I repeated my oaths, swearing that I would go home that very night and declare that nothing in this world would make me go to the seminary.

‘What, you? No, you’ll go.’

‘I won’t.’

‘You’ll see whether you go or not.’ She became silent once more. When she spoke again she had changed; she was not yet the old Capitu but almost. She was serious, composed and spoke in a low voice. She wanted to know what had been said in my house. I told her everything, omitting only the references to her.

‘And what is José Dias’s interest in bringing this up now?’ she asked, when I had finished.

‘None at all as far as I can see. It was just to cause trouble. He’s a scoundrel, that man, but don’t worry, I’ll get my own back. When I’m master of the house he’ll be out on his neck, you’ll see. With me in charge he won’t stay one minute. My mother is too kind-hearted. She gives him too much consideration. It seems tears were shed.’

‘By José Dias?’

‘No, by my mother.’

‘What did she cry for?’

‘I don’t know. I just heard them telling her not to cry, that it wasn’t a matter for tears. He apologized and came out of the room, so in order not to be caught I left my hiding-place and ran to the veranda. But don’t worry, I’ll get my own back.’

I said this clenching my fists and proffering more threats. Looking back now I don’t consider myself to have been ridiculous; in this respect childhood and adolescence are not ridiculous, that is one of their privileges. This fault, or tendency, begins in our youth, grows as we mature and reaches its maximum point in our old age. When we are fifteen there is a certain charm in uttering violent threats and executing none.

Capitu was deep in thought. This was not unusual with her, and one could tell by the narrowing of her eyes. She asked me for some further details, the exact words used by one or the other and the tone of their voice. As I did not want to tell her what had set off the conversation, the reference to her, I could not make everything clear. Capitu was particularly struck by my mother’s tears and was quite unable to account for them. She admitted that it was not through ill will that my mother wanted me to be a priest; it was her former promise, which she, being a God-fearing woman, did not dare to break. I was so pleased to see the spontaneity with which Capitu made up for the insults she had so recently uttered that I seized her hand and squeezed it tight. She gave a laugh, and the conversation died away until it broke off altogether. We were now standing by the window.

Outside, a black man, who had for some time been selling cocadas, coconut sweetmeats, stopped in front of us and said, ‘Senhorita, do you want some cocadas today?’

‘No,’ replied Capitu.

‘They’re very good.’

‘Go away,’ she said but not harshly.

‘Give me two,’ I said, reaching down to receive a couple.

I paid for them but had to eat them both myself as Capitu refused hers. I noted that in the midst of the crisis she kept a separate place reserved for cocadas, which may be considered a virtue or a defect, but this is not the moment for such definitions. Let’s just say that my friend, though level-headed and in her right mind, would have nothing to do with cocadas, even though she loved them. On the contrary, the jingle that the man was singing, the jingle that was so well known in the neighbourhood, sung every afternoon when we were children, now annoyed her.

Cry, little girl, cry,

Cry because you haven’t any

Penny …

It was not the song itself; she knew it by heart long ago and used to repeat it in our childhood games, laughing, jumping and changing roles with me, first buying, then selling a non-existent sweetmeat. I think it was the words, intended to stir the vanity of the children, that annoyed her now, for a moment later she said, ‘If I were rich you could run away, jump on a steamer and go to Europe.’

When she said this I stared at her, though I think my eyes expressed nothing more than gratitude for her good intentions. These were in fact so well-meaning that I could overlook her extraordinary proposition.

As can be seen, Capitu at fourteen already had extravagant ideas, though much fewer than in later days. But they only appeared to be extravagant; in practice they were clever, insinuating, secretive and achieved their purpose not in one fell swoop but little by little. I don’t know whether I am explaining myself very well. Without departing from her vague, hypothetical wish to send me to Europe, Capitu, if it were within her power, would not have me embark on a steamer and sail away; she would extend a line of canoes from here to there, over which floating bridge I would proceed apparently to the Laje Fortress but really to Bordeaux, leaving my mother waiting on the beach. Such was this particular feature of my friend’s character. So it is not surprising that she overcame my projected resistance by subtle means, by persistence, arguments and long-drawn-out persuasion, examining first of all those upon whom we could count. She rejected Uncle Cosme as too ‘easy-going’; if he didn’t approve of my ordination he wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent it. Cousin Justina was better than him, but better than both of them would be Father Cabral, who carried considerable authority. But the priest would do nothing against the Church; only if in confession I told him I had no vocation …

‘Can I say that in confession?’

‘Yes, but that would be to declare yourself. There’s a better way. José Dias …’

‘What about José Dias?’

‘He could be very useful.’

‘But it was he who brought the subject up …’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ went on Capitu. ‘He’ll sing a different tune. He’s very fond of you. Don’t be shy when you speak to him. It’s important not to be afraid but to show him that you will soon be the master of the house and to let him know what you want and what you are capable of. Make him understand that it is not a favour you are asking. Give him a few words of praise; he likes to be praised. Dona Glória listens to him, but that’s not important. The main thing is that being obliged to serve your interests he will speak with greater warmth than anybody else.’

‘No, I don’t think so, Capitu.’

‘Then go to the seminary.’


‘But what’s to be lost by trying? Try it. Do what I say. Maybe Dona Glória will change her mind, and if she doesn’t you can try something else, Father Cabral, for instance. Don’t you remember how it was you went to the theatre for the first time two months ago? Dona Glória didn’t want you to go, and normally that would be enough for José Dias not to insist. But he wanted to go, too, so he made a speech, remember?’

‘I remember. He said that the theatre was a school of correct behaviour.’

‘That’s right. And he talked so much that your mother ended up by agreeing and bought the tickets for both of you. Come on, ask him – order him to. Look, tell him that you’re willing to study law in São Paulo.’

I trembled with delight. Compared with the thick, eternal, spiritual wall, São Paulo was a fragile screen, destined one day to be knocked aside. I promised to speak to José Dias in the terms she suggested. Capitu repeated them, emphasizing some as being the most important, and then questioned me about them to make sure I had fully understood and not got them mixed up. She insisted that I should make the request politely but in the manner of someone asking for a glass of water from a person who is obliged to bring it. I recount all these details that you should understand the better that morning of our relationship. Soon will come the afternoon, and from morning to afternoon will make the first day, as in Genesis, where there were seven in succession.