Dom Casmurro Chapter 6


Uncle Cosme had lived with my mother ever since she became a widow. He was widowed himself, as was Cousin Justina. It was the house of the three widows.

Fortune frequently gives way before nature. Though apparently destined to the serene life of a capitalist, Uncle Cosme never grew rich in the law courts: what he earned he spent. His office was in the former Rua das Violas, near to the courts, which were in the now-extinct Aljube. He worked in criminal law. José Dias never missed one of Uncle Cosme’s speeches for the defence, and it was he who helped him on and off with his gown, with profuse compliments at the end. He recounted the debates at home, and Uncle Cosme, despite his pretence of modesty, would give a satisfied smile.

He was fat and heavy, short of breath and with sleepy eyes. One of my oldest memories was seeing him every morning mount the mule given him by my mother, which took him to the office. The black man who fetched it from the stable would hold the reins while he lifted his foot and placed it in the stirrup. This would be followed by a minute’s rest or reflection. Then he would give an upward thrust; at the first one his body threatened to rise but didn’t; a second thrust produced an identical result. Then, after a long pause, Uncle Cosme exerted all his strength, both physical and moral, finally launched himself from the earth and this time landed in the saddle. The mule rarely failed to behave as if all the weight of the world had landed on its back. Uncle Cosme adjusted his carcass, and the mule trotted off.

Nor have I ever forgotten what he did to me one afternoon. Though I was born on the farm (having left there when I was two), and in spite of the custom in those days, I did not know how to ride and was afraid of horses. Uncle Cosme picked me up and sat me astride the mule. When I found myself up there (I was nine years old) alone and unassisted, the ground so far below, I began to scream frantically, ‘Mamma! Mamma!’ Pale and trembling, she came running up, imagining that someone was killing me. She lifted me down and comforted me, while her brother said, ‘Sister Glória, can a great lad like him be afraid of a tame mule?’

‘He’s not used to it.’

‘Then he’d better get used to it. He may well be a priest, but if he gets a country parish he’ll have to ride a horse. And even here, though he’s not yet a priest, if he wants to cut a figure like the other lads and doesn’t know how to ride, he’ll have good cause to complain of you, Sister Glória.’

‘Let him complain if he wants to. I’m scared.’

‘Scared! I like that. Scared!’

If the truth be known it was only later that I learned how to ride and then less out of a wish to do so than from shame at saying I didn’t know how. When I started having lessons people said, ‘Now he’ll really be off after the girls.’ They wouldn’t say the same of Uncle Cosme. With him it was a matter of habit and necessity. Love affairs no longer interested him, though it is said that as a young man he won the hearts of many ladies and was an outspoken party man. But with the passage of the years he lost his sexual and political ardour, and his corpulence effectively put an end to any social or political ambitions. Nowadays he merely performed his duties, leading a loveless life. His leisure hours he spent observing others or playing cards. From time to time he would crack a joke.