Dom Casmurro Chapter 5


He did not always walk with that stiff, languid gait; he could also be lively in his gestures, swift and active in his movements. Moreover, there were times when he had a full-throated laugh, such a spontaneous, infectious laugh that it seemed his cheeks, his teeth, his face, his whole being, all the world, were laughing through him. But when he was serious he was gravity itself.

He had been one of the family for many years; my father was still at the old fazenda at Itaguai, and I had just been born. He appeared there one day claiming to be a homoeopathic doctor, with a manual and portable dispensary. At that time there were many people down with the fever. José Dias cured the overseer and a slave, refusing to accept any payment. So my father proposed he should remain there, living with us and receiving a small salary. José Dias refused, declaring it was his duty to bring health to the poor man’s hut.

‘What’s to stop you travelling? Go where you like, but live here with us.’

‘I’ll be back in three months.’

He returned after two weeks, accepting board and lodging but no remuneration other than what was given him at festivals. When my father was elected deputy and came to Rio de Janeiro with the family, he came, too, and was given his own room at the bottom of the yard. One day, when the fever made its appearance again in Itaguai, my father told him to go there and attend to the slaves. José Dias said nothing for a few moments; finally, with a sigh, he confessed that he was not a doctor. He had assumed the title to help spread the new methods but had not done so without very considerable study. However, his conscience would not allow him to accept more patients.

‘But you cured them before.’

‘Perhaps I did, though it would be truer to say it was the medicines prescribed in the books. Those are what did it – those and the grace of God. I was a charlatan … There’s no denying it. My motives may have been worthy – they were: homoeopathy is truth, and to serve the truth I lied. But the time has come to put matters straight.’

He was not dismissed, as he requested at the time; my father could not do without him. He had the knack of ingratiating himself and becoming indispensable; to lose him would be like losing one of the family. When my father died his grief knew no bounds – so they told me; I myself have no recollection. My mother was extremely grateful and would not allow him to give up his room in the garden. After the seventh-day mass he came to take his leave of her.

‘Stay with us, José Dias.’

‘As you wish, senhora.’

There was a small legacy for him in the will, a bequest and a few words of appreciation. He copied out the words, framed them and hung them in his room over the bed. ‘That is the finest bequest,’ he said once. As time passed he acquired a certain authority in the family or at least a certain influence, which he never abused, giving his views with proper submission. In short, he was a friend; I will not say the best, since not everything in this world is of the best. Nor must you think him servile; his acts of courtesy were more the result of policy than habit. His clothes lasted him a long time: unlike people who soon wear out their new garments, his old clothes were always neat and well pressed, buttoned up and in good repair with the humble elegance of the poor. He was well read, though haphazardly, but sufficiently so to entertain us of an evening and over dessert or to explain some phenomenon or discourse on the ill effects of heat and cold, the poles or Robespierre. He often talked about a visit he once made to Europe, admitting that had it not been for us he would have returned there by now. He had friends in Lisbon, but our family, he declared, was first and foremost to him, excepting only God.

‘Excepting or including?’ asked Uncle Cosme one day.

‘Excepting,’ repeated José Dias, reverently.

And my mother, who was very religious, was pleased to see that he placed God in His due position and gave a smile of approval. José Dias thanked her with a motion of his head. From time to time my mother would give him some pocket money. Uncle Cosme, who was a lawyer, gave him his documents to copy.