Dom Casmurro Chapter 39


Father Cabral was at that initial stage of freshly received honours when even the humblest congratulations are worth laudatory odes.

Later these dignitaries regard such praise as a natural tribute, receiving it with neither emotion nor thanks. The first thrill is the best – that state of mind, which sees in the sapling bowed by the wind the homage of universal nature, inspires finer and deeper feelings than any other. Cabral listened to Capitu’s words with infinite pleasure.

‘Thank you, Capitu. Thank you very much. I am sure you are as pleased as I am. Is your father keeping well? And your mother? There’s no need to ask after you – that face of yours shows you are bubbling over with health. Do you say your prayers regularly?’

Capitu answered all his questions easily and without hesitation. She was wearing a better frock and her walking-out shoes. When she entered she did so not in her usual informal way but paused for a moment at the door before coming in to kiss the hands of my mother and the priest. Within five minutes she had treated the latter twice to the title of protonotary, which spurred José Dias to retaliate by making a short speech in honour of ‘the most august and paternal heart of Pius IX’.

‘You really have the gift of the gab,’ said Uncle Cosme when he had finished.

José Dias smiled but was not offended. Father Cabral confirmed the orator’s praises, omitting the superlatives, to which José Dias added that Cardinal Mastai had obviously been destined for the papal throne from the very beginning of time. And with a wink to me, he concluded, ‘Vocation is everything. The ecclesiastical state is the most perfect of all, provided the priest is destined for it from the very cradle. Where there is no vocation, I mean a real, sincere sense of vocation, a young man may just as well study letters, which is also a useful and highly respected profession.’

‘Vocation counts for a great deal,’ Father Cabral replied, ‘but the power of God is sovereign. A man may feel no inclination for the Church and even persecute it; then one day the voice of God speaks to him and he becomes an apostle. Think of St Paul.’

‘I don’t deny that, but what I am saying is something different. What I maintain is that one can perfectly well serve God outside the Church without being a priest. Is that true, or isn’t it?’

‘It’s true.’

‘Well then!’ exclaimed José Dias, gazing round him in triumph. ‘Without vocation you can’t have a good priest, and in any of the liberal professions we can serve God, as is our common duty.’

‘Perfectly true, but vocation is not just something we have from birth.’

‘But that’s the best kind.’

‘A young man with no inclination for the Church can turn out to be a very good priest; all is as God determines. I don’t wish to set myself up as an example, but it happens that I was born with a vocation for medicine. My godfather, who was coadjutor of Santa Rita, insisted that my father should send me to the seminary, and my father agreed. Well, senhor, I found so much pleasure in my studies and the company of the priests that I ended up being ordained. But suppose things hadn’t worked out like that and I hadn’t changed my vocation, what would have happened? I should have studied some subjects which it is useful to know and which are always better taught in those schools.’

Cousin Justina interrupted him: ‘What’s that? Do you mean that you can study at the seminary without becoming a priest?’ Father Cabral replied that you could. Then, turning to me, he said that my vocation was obvious: my toys were all connected with the Church and I loved the divine services. This proved nothing: all the children in those days were devout. Cabral added that the rector of São José, whom he had recently informed of my mother’s promise, regarded my birth as a miracle, and he himself was of the same opinion. Capitu, who remained glued to my mother’s side, paid no attention to the anxious looks I cast at her, nor did she appear to be listening to the conversation about the seminary and its implications, though she fully remembered the main topics, as I afterwards learned. Twice I went to the window in the hope that she would join me, and the two of us be alone together until the end of the world, if the world ever came to an end, but Capitu never appeared. She stayed with my mother until she left. It was time for her prayers, so she said goodbye.

‘Go with her, Bentinho,’ said my mother.

‘Oh no, it’s not necessary, Dona Glória,’ she said, with a laugh. ‘I know the way. Goodbye, Protonotary.’ ‘Goodbye, Capitu.’

Obviously, now that I had begun to cross the room, my duty, my inclination, every impulse of age and opportunity, urged me to cross it completely, follow her into the corridor, go down into the garden, pass into the yard, give her a third kiss and say goodbye. I attached no importance to her refusal, which I believed to be a ruse, and set off down the corridor. But Capitu, who was walking fast, suddenly stopped and signed to me to go back. Refusing to obey, I walked up to her.

‘No, you mustn’t come. We’ll talk tomorrow.’

‘But I wanted to tell you …’




She spoke in a low voice, then seizing me by the hand she put a finger on my lips. One of the female slaves, who had come to light the corridor lamp, saw us together almost in the dark and gave a sympathetic chuckle, murmuring something that I couldn’t quite catch. Capitu whispered that she was suspicious and might perhaps tell the others. Once again she told me to stay behind and then ran off. I remained where I was, motionless, my feet glued to the floor.