Dom Casmurro Chapter 21


I found Cousin Justina walking up and down on the veranda. She came to the landing and asked me where I had been.

‘I’ve been next door talking to Dona Fortunata and forgot the time. It’s late, isn’t it? Has my mother been asking after me?’

‘Yes, but I told her you had come back.’

I was surprised no less by the lie than by the openness with which she admitted it. Not that Cousin Justina was in any way timid; she was outspoken enough to tell Peter frankly what she thought about Paul, and Paul what she thought of Peter – but to confess to telling a lie, that was something new. She was in her forties, pale and thin with a small mouth and inquisitive eyes. She lived with us by favour of my mother, whom it suited to have a confidante in the house – and better a relative than a stranger.

We walked together for a while on the veranda, which was lit by a single lamp. She asked whether I had forgotten my mother’s plans for me to enter the Church, and when I said I hadn’t she enquired what I thought of the life of a priest.

‘A priest’s life is very nice,’ I replied evasively.

‘Yes, it’s very nice, but what I want to know is whether you would like to be a priest,’ she explained, with a laugh.

‘I like whatever my mother likes.’

‘Your mother is very keen that you should be ordained. But even if she weren’t, there is someone else here in the house who is always putting the idea into her head.’


‘Oh, come now, who? Who is it likely to be? It isn’t Cousin Cosme, who doesn’t care about such things, and neither do I.’

‘José Dias?’ I concluded.

‘Of course.’

I wrinkled my brow thoughtfully, as if I knew nothing of the matter. Cousin Justina completed what she had to say by telling me that that very afternoon José Dias had reminded my mother of her old promise. ‘It could be that as the days pass your mother might forget her promise, but how can she forget when there’s always someone harping in her ear about the seminary? And those speeches he makes in praise of the Church, saying a priest’s life is this, that and the other, with those high-sounding words that only he understands … And he only does it out of spite, because he’s about as religious as that lamp. That’s the truth of the matter. Don’t pretend you don’t know … You can’t imagine what he said this afternoon …’

‘Was it just gossip?’ I asked, to find out whether she would mention his accusation about my relations with Capitu.

She didn’t say but merely gave a gesture to indicate that there was something else about which she could not talk. Once again she recommended that I shouldn’t pretend not to know and repeated all the bad things she knew about José Dias, which was not a little, calling him a schemer, a flatterer, a cadger and, in spite of his veneer of politeness, a boor.

After a few moments, I said, ‘Cousin Justina, do you think you could do something for me?’


‘Would you … Suppose I didn’t want to be a priest … Would you ask my mother …’

‘No, not that,’ she replied immediately. ‘Your mother has this idea firmly fixed in her head, and there’s nothing in the world will make her change her mind – only time. She told all our friends and acquaintances when you were still very young. I won’t keep reminding her of it because I don’t wish anyone any harm, but to advise her against it, that I won’t do either. If she asked me, that would be different. If she said, “What do you think, Cousin Justina?” I would answer, “Cousin Glória, it’s my opinion that if he wants to be a priest he should go, but if he doesn’t want to he should stay.”

That’s what I would say, and I will do if the day comes that she asks me. But I shan’t speak up unless I’m asked to.’