Dom Casmurro Chapter 41


The rest caused me to remain a little longer in the corridor, deep in thought. I saw Dr João da Costa arrive, and preparations were made for the usual game of voltarete. My mother left the room, and on seeing me asked whether I had gone with Capitu.

‘No, she went on her own.’ Then, almost aggressively, I said, ‘Mamma, there’s something I wanted to tell you.’

‘What is it?’

In her alarm she wanted to know where the pain was, my head, my chest or my stomach, and felt my forehead to see if I had a fever. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me, Mamma.’ ‘Then what is it?’

‘It’s just something, Mamma … But listen, look, let’s leave it till after tea. In a little while … It’s nothing serious. You get scared over nothing at all. It’s nothing to worry about.’

‘You’re not sick?’

‘No, Mamma.’

‘Oh yes, you are – you’ve got your cold back. You’re pretending so as not to have to take your medicine, but you’ve got a cold. I can tell by your voice.’

I tried to laugh it off to show there was nothing wrong with me. But even so she did not allow me to postpone my confession; she seized me by the hand, took me to her bedroom, lit a candle and ordered me to tell her everything. So to begin with I asked her when I was to go to the seminary.

‘Not till next year, after the holidays.’

‘Will I … Will I have to stay there?’

‘What do you mean, stay there?’

‘Won’t I be coming home again?’

‘You’ll come home on Saturdays and in the holidays, that’s the best thing. When you are ordained a priest you’ll come and live with me.’

I wiped my eyes and my nose. She caressed me and attempted a mild reproof, but I think her voice was unsteady and her eyes seemed wet. I told her that I, too, would feel our separation. She denied that it would be a separation, that I would merely be away for a few days on account of my studies. In a short time I would get accustomed to my fellow students and my teachers and end up liking it with them.

‘I only like you, Mamma.’

These words were unpremeditated, but I was glad I spoke them since by making her believe she was the only object of my affections I diverted any suspicion away from Capitu. How much mischief is contained in a simple, innocent phrase! It is enough to make one believe that lying comes to us as naturally as breathing. On the other hand, please note, dear reader, that I was trying to draw my mother’s suspicions away from Capitu just when I had approached her with the very purpose of confirming them. But this is a world of contradictions. The truth is that my mother was as innocent as that first dawn before the first sin. Not even by simple intuition would she have been able to deduce one thing from another or, in other words, conclude from my sudden opposition that I was having secret meetings with Capitu, as José Dias had declared. For a few moments she said nothing, then she answered mildly, without imposing her authority, which had the effect of stiffening my resolution. At that point I brought up the matter of vocation, which had been discussed that afternoon, and confessed that I did not feel it.

‘But you were so keen on being a priest,’ she said. ‘Don’t you remember how you used to ask to go and see the seminarists at São José in their cassocks? At home, when José Dias called you “Right Reverend” you were so pleased you used to burst out laughing. How is it that now … ? No, I can’t believe it, Bentinho. And then … Vocation? Vocation comes with habit,’ she continued, repeating the arguments used by my Latin teacher.

When I tried to argue with her she reproached me, not harshly but sufficiently firmly to make me once again the obedient son I was. Then, still speaking seriously, she talked at length about the promise she had made, but without mentioning the circumstances, the occasion or her own motives – things I only discovered later. She emphasized the main point, which was that her promise to God had to be kept.

‘Our Lord heard me bringing you to life, so I cannot lie or fail Him, Bentinho. Such things cannot be done without sin, and God, who is powerful and almighty, would not let matters rest, Bentinho, oh no. I know that I should be punished and severely punished. It is a fine and holy thing to be a priest. You know many, like Father Cabral for instance, who lives so happily with his sister. I had an uncle who was a priest, too, and they say he was nearly made a bishop … Don’t be so peevish, Bentinho.’

I think the look I gave her was so pitiful that she immediately took back the word. Peevishness, no, it couldn’t be peevishness. She knew I loved her too much to be capable of feigning something I did not feel. Indolent was what she meant; that I should stop being indolent, become a man and fulfil my obligations for her sake and the good of my own soul. All this and more was spoken somewhat confusedly, and her voice was not firm but gentle and pleading.

I saw that her emotion was getting the better of her again, but I did not give up and ventured to ask her, ‘Mamma, what if you asked God to release you from your promise?’

‘No, no, I wouldn’t ask Him. Are you crazy, Bentinho? How would I know that God had released me?’

‘Perhaps in a dream. I sometimes dream about angels and saints.’

‘So do I, my child. But it is useless. Come on, it’s late. We’ll go back to the living-room. Now let it be clearly understood: in January or February next year you’ll be going to the seminary. What I want you to do is to study hard with the books you have; that will be a good thing not only for you but for Father Cabral, too. They are anxious to meet you at the seminary because Father Cabral speaks so well of you.’

She walked to the door, and we both left. But before we did so she turned towards me, and I felt she was on the point of hugging me to her and telling me I did not have to be a priest. As the time drew nearer this was her most heartfelt wish. She had wanted to find another way of paying the debt she had contracted, some other coin of equal or greater value, but there was none to be found.