Dom Casmurro Chapter 30


You will have realized that the Emperor’s suggestion concerning medicine was prompted solely by my disinclination to leave Rio de Janeiro. Day-dreams, like our other dreams, are weaved according to our inclinations and our memories. To go to São Paulo was one thing, but Europe … It was a long way off, both in distance and time. Up with medicine! I’d talk to Capitu about my new hopes.

‘It looks as if the sacrament procession is about to leave,’ said someone on the bus. ‘I can hear the bells. Yes, they’re from Santo Antônio dos Pobres. Coachman, stop the bus.’

The conductor pulled the cord, which was attached to the coachman’s arm, the bus came to a halt and the man got off. José Dias gave a quick look round, then, seizing me by the arm, made me get off with him. We, too, were to accompany the procession. The bells were in fact summoning the faithful to the service of the last rites, and there were already some people in the sacristy.

It was the first time I had been present on such a solemn occasion; I obeyed him, unwillingly at first, but later I was pleased not so much by the charitable nature of the church service but because I performed the duties of an adult. As the sacristan was about to distribute the surplices a fellow rushed in completely out of breath; it was my neighbour, Pádua, who had also come to accompany the procession. Seeing us he came over to greet us. With an offended air José Dias gave a brief word of reply, keeping his eyes fixed on the priest, who was washing his hands. Then, as Pádua was whispering to the sacristan, he moved closer and I followed. Pàdua was asking to hold one of the shafts of the canopy. José Dias asked for one for himself.

‘There’s only one free,’ said the sacristan.

‘Then I’ll take it,’ said José Dias.

‘But I asked first,’ put in Pàdua.

‘You asked first, but you arrived late,’ retorted José Dias. ‘I was here already. You can carry a torch.’

But though he was in awe of the other, Pàdua insisted that he wanted the shaft, this dialogue being conducted in a low, muttered voice. To put a stop to their dispute the sacristan took it upon himself to ask one of the other canopy bearers to give up his shaft to Pàdua, who was well known in the parish, as was José Dias. This was done, but José Dias upset even that arrangement. No, since there was another shaft free he demanded it for me, ‘a young seminarist’ who had more right to such a distinction. Pàdua turned as pale as the torches. It was enough to try the heart of a father. The sacristan, who knew me through seeing me there with my mother, was curious and wanted to know whether I was really a seminarist.

‘He isn’t yet, but he soon will be,’ replied José Dias, winking at me with his left eye. Though I understood what he meant I was still angry.

‘Well, I’ll give my place to our Bentinho,’ said Capitu’s father with a sigh.

For my part I would have let him have the shaft. I remembered that he used to accompany these processions carrying a torch, but on the last occasion he had secured a shaft of the canopy. The special distinction conferred by the canopy arose from the fact that it covered the priest and the sacrament. Any Tom, Dick or Harry would do to carry a torch. He himself told me this, full of pious enthusiasm as he gleefully explained the matter. This accounted for his headlong entry into the church; it was his second chance to take a shaft, so he lost no time in making his request. All for nothing! He was back to being an ordinary torch bearer. Once again his temporary promotion came to an end; the director returned to his former post … I wanted to give him the shaft, but José Dias forestalled this act of generosity by asking the sacristan to give us, himself and me, the two front shafts, so that we led the way before the canopy.

With surplices donned, torches distributed and lit, the priest and pyx ready, the sacristan with aspersorium and bell in his hands, the procession set off into the street. When I saw myself holding one of the shafts, passing through the kneeling crowds of the faithful, I was profoundly moved. Pàdua swallowed his torch in anguish. It is a metaphor, but I can think of no more vivid way of describing my neighbour’s humiliation and distress. However, I was unable to look at him for long, nor at José Dias who, beside me, held his head as proudly erect as if he himself were the Lord of Hosts. After a short while I felt tired and my arms ached, but luckily the house was near by in the Rua do Senado.

The sick woman was dying of consumption; she was a widow and had a daughter of fifteen or sixteen who was standing at the bedroom door, crying. The girl was far from pretty, not even comely-looking; her hair was in disorder and her eyes screwed up with weeping. But the sight of her moved one to compassion. The priest heard the sick woman’s confession and administered the sacrament and holy oil. The girl’s sobs grew so loud that I felt my own eyes moisten and hastened away. I stood close to a window. Poor girl!

Her grief communicated itself, made more intense by my thoughts of my own mother, and when I finally came round to thinking of Capitu I felt such an urge to burst into tears that I slipped into the corridor, where I heard someone say, ‘Don’t cry like that.’

The vision of Capitu stayed with me, and just as my imagination had then pictured her in tears, so now it showed me her laughing face. I saw her writing on the wall, talking to me, walking about with her arms in the air; I distinctly heard her voice saying my name with a sweetness that left me dizzy with joy. The burning candles, so lugubrious on that occasion, now took on the appearance of a nuptial torch … What was a nuptial torch? I had no idea, except that it was something the very opposite of death, and now I could think of nothing but weddings.

So absorbed was I by this new idea that José Dias came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t laugh like that.’

I quickly composed myself. It was time to leave. I took hold of the shaft, and as I already knew the distance, and also because we were returning to the church (which made it seem even shorter), the weight of the shaft was insignificant. Moreover, the sun outside, the crush of people in the street, the lads of my own age who gazed at me enviously, the women who crowded the windows and the alleyways and knelt down as we passed – all this served to raise my spirits the higher.

Pàdua, on the other hand, looked ever more mortified. Though it was I who had taken his place, he found no consolation in his torch, his wretched torch. Yet there were others who also carried torches and were perfectly satisfied; if they did not demonstrate excessive joy, neither did they appear dispirited. They walked with dignity.