Dom Casmurro Chapter 35


Finally I picked up my books and ran to my lesson. I didn’t exactly run; halfway there I stopped, thinking that it must be very late and my appearance might arouse suspicions. I had the idea of making up a lie, saying I had come over dizzy and fallen to the ground, but I knew the alarm that would cause my mother, and so rejected it. I thought of promising a few dozen paternosters, but my previous promise was still unfulfilled and I had another favour to ask. What to do? As I approached I heard loud voices engaged in cheerful conversation, and when I entered the room no one scolded me.

The previous evening Father Cabral had been summoned by the internuncio and from him learned that by pontifical decree he had been nominated Apostolic Protonotary. He and all of us were delighted by this distinction from the Pope. Uncle Cosme and Cousin Justina repeated the title in admiration; it was the first time we had heard of it, accustomed as we were to canons, monsignors, bishops, nuncios and internuncios. But what was an apostolic protonotary? Father Cabral explained that he enjoyed the honours but not exactly the responsibilities of the Curia.

Uncle Cosme, who saw himself dignified through his partner at voltarete, repeated, ‘Apostolic protonotary!’ Then, turning to me, he added, ‘Be prepared, Bentinho. One day you may be an apostolic protonotary.’

Cabral was delighted to hear his title repeated. He walked up and down, smiling and drumming his fingers on his snuff box. It seemed that the length of the title doubled his own importance, though linked to his name it was much too long. It was Uncle Cosme who made this second observation. Father Cabral agreed that it was not necessary to say all of it; it was sufficient that he should be referred to as Protonotary Cabral. The apostolic was taken for granted.

‘Protonotary Cabral.’

‘Yes, that’s right. Protonotary Cabral.’

‘But, Protonotary,’ said Cousin Justina, to accustom herself to using the title, ‘does that mean you have to go to Rome?’ ‘No, Dona Justina.’

‘No, it is just an honorary title,’ commented my mother.

‘That is not to say’, said Cabral, continuing his reflections, ‘that on more formal occasions, public events, ceremonial letters, etc. the full title should not be used: apostolic protonotary. But for everyday use protonotary is sufficient.’

Exactly, we all agreed.

José Dias, who had come in shortly after I did, was loud in his praises and called to mind the first political decrees of Pius IX, which Italy had set so much store by. But no one was interested; the place and the moment belonged to my old Latin teacher. Now recovered from my fears, I realized that I should compliment him, too, and he received my congratulations no less warmly than those of the others. He gave me a fatherly pat on the cheek and ended up by awarding me a holiday. That was too much happiness for one day. A kiss and a holiday! I think my face must have betrayed me because Uncle Cosme, with a shake of his paunch, called me a lazy fellow; but José Dias interrupted the laughter that followed.

‘Laziness should never be rewarded. Latin will always be useful to him even if he never becomes a priest’.

Now I knew my man. It was the first word, the seed planted in the soil, off-handedly, as if to accustom the ears of the family to the idea. My mother gave me a fond, sad smile and immediately said, ‘He has to be a priest. And a fine one, too.’

‘Don’t forget, Sister Glória, and a protonotary as well. An apostolic protonotary.’

‘Protonotary Santiago,’ said Cabral, with emphasis.

I am not sure whether my Latin teacher’s intention was to accustom us to using the title with the name, but what I do know is that when I heard my own name linked with that title I had the urge to say something rude. But the urge was little more than an idea, one without words, which allowed itself to remain silent, dumb, just as later other ideas … But these require a chapter to themselves. Let us conclude this one by saying that my Latin teacher spoke at length about my future ordination, though without any particular enthusiasm. He was trying to change the subject so as to demonstrate his own indifference to his new glory, though it was this that now dazzled him. He was a thin, placid old man, with many good qualities. He had some bad ones, too, the most notable being that he was greedy, if not exactly a glutton. He ate little, but he appreciated the finest, choicest dishes, and our table, though simple, was less austere than his own. So when my mother invited him to dine with us by way of celebration the expression in his eyes when he accepted may well have been that of a protonotary, but it was certainly not apostolic. And to please my mother he returned to me, discussing my future in the Church and wanting to know whether I was going to the seminary the following year. He offered to speak himself to ‘my Lord Bishop’, all this punctuated by references to Protonotary Santiago.