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MACHADO DE ASSIS, Joaquim Maria

Dom Casmurro

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III

The Accusation

I was about to enter the drawing room, when I heard my name spoken, and hid behind the door. This was in the Matacavalos house, in the month of November: the year is a trifle remote, but I have no intention of changing the dates of my life just to suit people who don't like old stories--it was in 1857.

"Dona Gloria, madam, are you still set on the idea of sending our Bentinho to the seminary? It's past time he went, and there may be a difficulty in the way." "What difficulty?"

"A great difficulty."

My mother wanted to know what it was. Jose Dias, after a few moments' careful thought, came to see if there was anyone in the corridor; he didn't notice me, went back and, subduing his voice, said that the difficulty lay in the house next door, the Paduas.

"The Paduas?"

"I've been going to tell you this for some time, but I didn't dare. It doesn't seem right to me that our Bentinho should be hiding away in corners with Turtleback's daughter: that's the difficulty, because if the two of them start flirting in earnest, you'll have a struggle to separate them."

"I don't think so. Hiding away in corners?"

"In a manner of speaking. Always whispering to one another, always together. Bentinho is never out of their house. The girl is a scatter-brain; the father pretends he doesn't see; wouldn't he be pleased if things went his way ... I can understand your gesture; you don't believe people are so scheming, you think everyone is open and honest ..."

"But, Senhor Jose Dias, I've seen the two children playing together, and I've never seen anything suspicious. Look at their ages: Bento's hardly fifteen. Capitu was fourteen last week; they're two children. Don't forget, they've been brought up together, after that great flood, ten years ago, when the Paduas lost so much; that's how we came to know one another. And now you expect me to believe...? What do you think, brother Cosme?"

Uncle Cosme replied with a "Hmmph," which, translated into the vernacular, meant: "This is all in Jose Dias' imagination; the youngsters are having fun, I'm having fun. Where's the backgammon?"

"Yes, I think you are mistaken."

"It may be, madam. It is to be hoped you are right; but believe me that I only spoke after a great deal of careful thought ..."


"In any case, time's getting on," interrupted my mother; "I'll go about putting him into the seminary straight away."

"Well, so long as the idea of making him a priest hasn't been abandoned, that's the main thing. Bentinho must do as his mother wishes. And in any event, the Brazilian church has a glorious destiny. Let us not forget that a bishop presided over the Constituent Assembly, and that Father Feijo governed the Empire ..."

"Governed with his ugly mug!" interrupted Uncle Cosme, giving rein to old political rancor.

"I'm sure I beg your pardon, Dr. Cosme: I'm not defending anyone, just stating facts. What I mean is that the clergy still have an important role to play in Brazil."

"What you want is a sound drubbing: go on, go and get the backgammon. As for the lad, if he's got to be a priest, it really would be a good idea if he didn't start saying mass behind doors. But look here, sister Gloria, is it really necessary to make a priest of him?"

"It's a promise, it must be kept."

"I know you made a promise ... but a promise like that ... I don't know ... When you think about it ... What do you think, cousin Justina?"

"Me?"

"Well, I suppose everybody knows what's best for himself," went on Uncle Cosme, "Only God knows what's best for everyone. Still, a promise made so many years ago ... What's this, sister Gloria? Crying? Come now! Is this something to cry about?"

My mother blew her nose without answering. I think cousin Justina got up and went over to her. Then there was a profound silence, during which I was on tenterhooks to go into the room, but another stronger urge, another emotion ... I couldn't hear the words that Uncle Cosme began to say. Cousin Justina tried to cheer her: "Cousin Gloria, cousin Gloria!" Jose Dias kept apologizing: "If I'd known, I wouldn't have spoken, but I did so out of veneration, out of esteem, out of affection, to fulfil a harsh duty, the harshest of duties...."

IV

The Harshest of Duties!

Jose Dias loved superlatives. It was a way of giving an impressive aspect to his ideas; or, if these latter were lacking, they made the sentence longer. He got up to fetch the backgammon, which was in the back of the house. I flattened myself against the wall, and watched him go by with his starched white trousers, trouserstraps, jacket, and cravat. He was one of the last people to use trouserstraps in Rio de Janeiro--perhaps in the whole world. He wore his trousers short so that they would be stretched very tightly. The black satin cravat, with a steel ring inside, immobilized his neck: it was the fashion at the time. His jacket, which was made of cheap cotton, lightweight and for indoor use, on him looked like a formal frock coat. He was thin, emaciated, and beginning to go bald; he must have been about fifty-five. He got up with his usual slow step: not the lethargic gait of a lazy man, but a logical, calculated slowness, a complete syllogism, the premise before the consequence, the consequence before the conclusion. The harshest of duties!

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