Dom Casmurro Chapter 25


We walked on to the Promenade. There were the usual melancholy faces of the old, the sick or the merely idle to be seen along the path that led from the gate to the terrace.

We moved towards the terrace, and to work up courage I talked about the garden. ‘I haven’t been here for a long time, maybe a year.’

‘Pardon me,’ José Dias put in, ‘but it’s less than three months since you were here with our neighbour Pádua. Don’t you remember?’

‘That’s right, but it was such a quick visit.’

‘He asked your mother for permission to bring you here, and being as good-hearted as the mother of God, she agreed. But listen, since we’re talking about that, it’s not right for you to go walking in the street with Pádua.’

‘But I’ve been out with him several times …’

‘When you were younger. You were a child, so it was natural; people would take him for a servant. But you are a young man now, and he’s becoming a little too intimate. After all, Dona Glória wouldn’t like it. They’re not a bad lot, the Páduas. Capitu, in spite of those devilish eyes of hers … Have you ever noticed her eyes? They’re sly and cunning like a gypsy’s. But apart from those she’d be all right if it weren’t for the airs she gives herself and her flattery. Oh, her flattery! Dona Fortunata is a fine woman, and I don’t deny that he is honest, has a good job and owns the house they live in. But honesty and respect aren’t everything, and his other qualities are overshadowed by the bad company he keeps. Pádua has a fondness for common people. Any low, vulgar fellow, and he’s all for him. I don’t say this out of spite or because he speaks ill of me and laughs at me, as he did the other day, at my down-at-heel shoes …’

‘Pardon me,’ I interrupted, stopping in my tracks. ‘I never heard him speak ill of you. On the contrary, when I was with him the other day I heard him say to someone that you were a very capable man and could speak as well as any deputy in the Chamber.’

José Dias gave a self-satisfied smile, then with an effort composed his face and replied, ‘I owe him no thanks. Better people than him have distinguished me with their high opinion. Nothing of this alters what I have just said.’

We set off again, walked up on to the terrace and gazed out over the sea.

‘I can see that you have only my best interests at heart,’ I said after a few moments.

‘What else do you expect, Bentinho ?’

‘In that case I have a favour to ask of you.’

‘A favour? Speak up. Tell me, what is it?’

‘My mother …’

For some time I could not complete the rest, though it was not much and I had learned it by heart. José Dias asked me again what it was, shaking me gently, lifting my chin to gaze at me, as curious as Cousin Justina had been the day before.

‘Your mother? What about your mother?’

‘My mother wants me to be a priest, but I can’t be a priest,’ I said finally.

José Dias straightened up in astonishment.

‘I can’t,’ I went on, no less astonished than he was. ‘I’m not cut out for it. I don’t like the life of a priest. I’ll do anything she wants. My mother knows that I do whatever she tells me. I’ll be whatever she likes, I’ll even be a bus coachman. But not a priest. I can’t be a priest. It’s a fine career, but it’s not for me.’

These words were not spoken like that, all at one go, naturally, hastily, as it might seem from the text, but tumbled out broken up, little by little, in a weak, timid voice. Nevertheless, José Dias listened to them in amazement. No doubt it had not occurred to him that I might show any resistance, however feeble, but what left him even more astounded was my conclusion:

‘You are the only one who can help me.’

José Dias’s eyes widened, his eyebrows arched and his features in no way reflected the pleasure at having his protection solicited that I had confidently expected. His face registered only disbelief and bewilderment. It is true that the subject of my request revealed a different person, one whom I myself did not know, but it was my final words that provided the principal shock. José Dias remained dumbfounded. When his eyes returned to their normal size, he said, ‘But what can I do?’

‘You can do a lot. You know that at home everyone respects you. Doesn’t my mother often come to you for advice? Uncle Cosme says that you are a most talented person …’

‘They are just being kind,’ he said, highly flattered. ‘Kind words from worthy, deserving people. Your mother is a saint and your uncle a perfect gentleman. I have known many distinguished families but none superior to yours in nobility of sentiments. As regards the talent your uncle finds in me, I confess to only one – it is the talent of knowing what is good and worthy of admiration and respect.’

‘And surely also that of helping friends, like me.’

‘My dearest child, what is my help worth? I wouldn’t be able to dissuade your mother from a project that as well as being a promise has been her ambition and dream for many a long year. And even if I could, it’s too late. Only yesterday she was kind enough to say, “José Dias, it is time I sent Bentinho to the seminary.”’

Timidity is not such a bad quality as it may seem. Had I been bolder it is probable that the indignation I felt would have caused me to charge him with being a liar, but then I would have been obliged to confess that I had been listening behind the door, and one action was no worse than the other. I contented myself with replying that it was not too late. ‘It’s not too late if you are willing.’

‘If I am willing? What else could I want but to be of service to you? What do I seek if not to see you happy, as you deserve?’

‘But there is still time. Look, it’s not because I want to be idle. I’m prepared to do anything. If she wants me to study law, I’ll go to São Paulo.’