Dom Casmurro Chapter 20


I raised my eyes to the sky, which was now growing dark, but not to see whether it was cloudy or clear. My spirit soared to that other heaven, my refuge and my friend. Then to myself I said: I promise to say a thousand paternosters and a thousand Ave Marias if José Dias arranges it so that I don’t have to go to the seminary.

It was an enormous number. The reason was that I was already encumbered with unfulfilled promises. The last had been two hundred paternosters and two hundred Ave Marias if it didn’t rain on the afternoon we planned an outing to Santa Teresa. It didn’t rain, but I didn’t say my prayers. Ever since I was a child I had begged favours of heaven, promising to say prayers if they were granted. The first ones were duly said, but later ones got postponed, and as they grew in number they came to be forgotten. In this way I arrived at twenty, thirty, fifty. I entered the hundreds, and now a thousand. It was a way of bribing the divine will by the sheer number of prayers; but more than that, each new promise was made and formally avowed with the intention of paying off old debts and, it was to be hoped, curing me of an indolence I had possessed from the cradle and which life as yet had not corrected. Heaven granted me the favour and I postponed the payment, until finally I lost count.

A thousand, a thousand, I repeated to myself.

Of course the importance of the favour I was now asking was enormous, nothing less than saving or destroying my whole life. A thousand, a thousand, a thousand. It had to be a figure that paid off all my past debts. In His anger at my remissness God might very well refuse to listen to me without substantial payment … The grown man may possibly find these childish preoccupations boring if not ridiculous. Sublime they certainly were not. I meditated profoundly on the means to pay off my spiritual debt. I could think of no other currency with which, considering my intention, I could accomplish everything and at the same time close the moral account in my own conscience without a deficit. To have a hundred masses said; to climb the steps of the Glória church on my knees to hear one; to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: all that the old slaves had told me of famous promises – I considered everything but could decide on nothing. It was very painful to climb steps on one’s knees, which were certain to be injured. The Holy Land was far away. It was a great number of masses, and I might find my soul once again in pawn.