Dom Casmurro Chapter 44


‘Give it to me. I want to write something.’

Capitu looked at me in such a way as reminded me of José Dias’s description: sly and cunning. She looked up, but without raising her eyes, and in a somewhat strained voice, she asked, ‘Tell me one thing. But tell me the truth. I don’t want you to pretend. You must be absolutely honest.’

‘What is it? Tell me.’

‘If you had to choose between your mother and me, who would you choose?’


She nodded.

‘I’d choose … But why should I have to choose? My mother would never ask me a question like that.’

‘I agree, but I’m asking you. Suppose that you are at the seminary and you get news that I am dying …’

‘Don’t say such a thing.’

‘Or that I’m going to kill myself in desperation if you don’t come soon, and your mother doesn’t want you to come. Tell me, would you come?’

‘Yes, I’d come.’

‘Against your mother’s orders?’

‘Against my mother’s orders.’

‘You’d leave the seminary, leave your mother, leave everything to come to me when I’m dying?’

‘Don’t talk about dying, Capitu.’

Capitu gave a brittle, disbelieving laugh and wrote a word on the ground with her bamboo. I leaned forward and read: Liar.

It was all so puzzling I could find no answer; neither the written word nor the spoken ones made any sense to me. If I had taken it as an insult, slight or otherwise, it is possible I should have replied in kind with the same bamboo, but no ideas came. My mind was a complete blank. Yet at the same time I was fearful lest anyone should overhear us or read what was written. Who, if we were on our own? Once Dona Fortunata came to the door of the house but went in again almost immediately. We were quite alone. I remember that some swallows flew over the yard in the direction of Santa Teresa Hill; that was all. There was a confused murmur of voices in the distance, the sound of a mule train passing by, and from the house the twittering of Pádua’s birds. Nothing more, unless it be a curious phenomenon: the word she had written not only stared up at me from the ground but also seemed to re-echo in the air. It was then that a cruel thought came to me: I told her that, after all, the life of a priest was not all that bad and I could adapt to it without much trouble. As a means of revenge it was childish, but I nursed the secret hope that she would burst into tears and throw herself into my arms.

All Capitu did was open her eyes wide and say, ‘It’s a good thing to be a priest, there’s no doubt. The only thing better than a priest is a canon on account of his purple stockings. Purple is a very pretty colour. When you come to think of it, it’s better to be a canon.’

‘But to be a canon you have to be a priest first,’ I said, biting my lip.

‘Well, you can start off with the black stockings and then move on to the purple. What I don’t want to miss is your first mass. Give me plenty of warning so I have time to make a fashionable dress with a wide skirt and plenty of lace … But maybe by then the fashion will have changed. It will have to be a big church – Carmo or São Francisco.’

‘Or Candelaria.’

‘Candelaria perhaps. Anywhere will do so long as I hear your first mass. I shall cut a fine figure. Everyone will be asking, “Who is that charming girl over there wearing such a lovely dress?” “That’s Dona Capitolina, who used to live in the Rua de Matacavalos.”’

‘Who used to live? Are you going to move?’

‘Who knows where we’ll be living tomorrow?’ she replied with a touch of sadness. Then, resuming her sarcastic manner, she went on, ‘And you there at the altar, all in white, with your gold cloak, chanting … Pater noster …’

Ah! How I regret not being a romantic poet to be able to describe the irony of that verbal duel. I would tell of my thrusts and hers, of the wit of one and the sharpness of the response, of blood flowing and tempers rising, until I delivered my final cut: ‘Well, Capitu, you shall hear my first mass, but on one condition.’

To which she replied, ‘Name it, most reverend senhor.’

‘Promise me one thing.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Say you’ll promise.’

‘Not knowing what it is, I won’t promise.’

‘To be honest, it’s two things,’ I said, another idea having occurred to me.

‘Two? Tell me what they are.’

‘The first is that you will only make confession to me, for me to give you penitence and absolution. The second is …’

‘The first is granted,’ she said, seeing me hesitate and waiting for the second. The words almost choked me, and it would have been better had they never been spoken; then you would not hear what I heard, and I would not now have to write something you will find difficult to believe.

‘The second … ah yes … it’s just … Promise me that I’ll be the priest who marries you.’

‘Who marries me?’ she said, a little unsteadily. Then the corners of her mouth dropped, and she shook her head. ‘No, Bentinho,’ she replied, ‘that would be too long to wait. You won’t be made a priest from one day to the next. It takes many years … But look, I’ll promise you something different: I promise that you will be the one to baptize my first child.’