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Chapter Twelve - Nocturne with Bells

      FOR SOME time Don Camillo had felt that he was being watched. On turning round suddenly when he was walking along the street or in the fields he saw no one, but felt convinced that if he had looked behind a hedge or among the bushes he would have found a pair of eyes and all that goes with them.
     When leaving the presbytery on a couple of evenings he not only heard a sound from behind the door, but he caught a glimpse of a shadow.
     "Let it be," the Lord had replied from above the altar when Don Camillo had asked Him for advice. "Eyes never did anyone any harm."
     "But it would be useful to know whether those two eyes are going about alone or accompanied by a third, for instance one of 9-calibre," sighed Don Camillo. "That is a detail not without its own importance."
     "Nothing can defeat a good conscience, Don Camillo."
     "I know, Lord," sighed Don Camillo once more, "but the trouble is that people don't usually fire at a conscience, but between the shoulders."
     However, Don Camillo did nothing about the matter and a little time elapsed, and then late one evening when he was sitting alone in the presbytery reading, he unexpectedly "felt" the eyes upon him.
     There were three of them, and raising his head slowly he saw first of all the black eye of a revolver and then those of Biondo.
     "Do I lift my hands?" inquired Don Camillo quietly.
     "I don't want to do you any harm," replied Biondo, thrusting the revolver into his jacket pocket. "I was afraid you might be scared when I appeared unexpectedly and might start shouting."
     "I understand," replied Don Camillo. "And did it never strike you that by simply knocking at the door you could have avoided all this trouble?"
     Biondo made no reply; he went and leaned over the windowsill. Then he turned round suddenly and sat down beside Don Camillo's little table. His hair was ruffled, his eyes deeply circled and his forehead was damp with sweat.
     "Don Camillo," he muttered from behind clenched teeth, "that fellow at the house near the dyke; it was I that did him in."
     Don Camillo lighted a cigar. "The house near the dyke?" he said quietly. "Well, that's an old story; it was a political affair and came within the terms of the amnesty. What are you worrying about? You're all right under the law."
     Biondo shrugged his shoulders. "To hell with the amnesty," he said furiously. "Every night when I put my light out I can feel him near my bed, and I can't understand what it means."
     Don Camillo puffed a cloud of blue smoke into the air. "Nothing at all, Biondo," he replied with a smile. "Listen to me: go to sleep with the light on."
     Biondo sprang to his feet. "You can go and jeer at that fool Peppone," he shouted, "but you can't do it to me!"
     Don Camillo shook his head. "Firstly, Peppone is not a fool; and, secondly, where you are concerned there is nothing that I can do for you."
     "If I must buy candles or make an offering to the church, I'll pay," shouted Biondo, "but you've got to absolve me. And in any case I'm all right legally!"
     "I agree, my son," said Don Camillo mildly. "But the trouble is that no one has ever yet made an amnesty for consciences. Therefore, so far as we are concerned, we muddle along in the same old way, and in order to obtain absolution it is necessary to be penitent and then to act in a manner that is deserving of forgiveness. It's a lengthy affair."
     Biondo sniggered. "Penitent? Penitent of having done in that fellow? I'm only sorry I didn't bag the lot!"
     "That is a province in which I am completely incompetent. On the other hand, if your conscience tells you that you acted rightly, then you should be content," said Don Camillo, opening a book and laying it in front of Biondo. "Look, we have very clear rules that do not exclude the political field. Fifth: thou shalt not kill. Seventh: thou shalt not steal."
     "What has that got to do with it?" inquired Biondo in a mystified voice.
     "Nothing," Don Camillo reassured him, "but I had an idea that you told me that you had killed him, under the cloak of politics, in order to steal his money."
     "I never said so!" shouted Biondo, pulling out his pistol and thrusting it into Don Camillo's face. "I never said so, but it's true! And if it's true and you dare to tell a living soul I shall blow you to pieces!"
     "We don't tell such things even to the Eternal Father," Don Camillo reassured him; "and in any case He knows them better than we do."
     Biondo appeared to quiet down. He opened his hand and looked at his weapon. "Now look at that!" he exclaimed, laughing. "I hadn't even noticed that the safety catch was down."
     He raised the catch with a careful finger. "Don Camillo," said Biondo in a strange voice. "I am sick of seeing that fellow standing near my bed. There are only two ways for it: either you absolve me or I shoot you." The pistol shook slightly in his hand and Don Camillo turned rather pale and looked him straight in the eyes.
     "Lord," said Don Camillo mentally, "this is a mad dog and he will fire. An absolution given in such conditions is valueless. What do I do?"
     "If you are afraid, give him absolution," replied the voice of the Lord.
     "No, Biondo," said Don Camillo. Don Camillo folded his arms on his breast.
     Biondo set his teeth. "Don Camillo, give me absolution or I fire."
     Biondo pulled the trigger and the trigger yielded, but there was no explosion.
     And then Don Camillo struck, and his blow did not miss the mark, because Don Camillo's punches never misfired. Then he flung himself up the steps of the tower and rang the bells furiously for twenty minutes. And all the countryside declared that Don Camillo had gone mad, with the exception of the Lord above the altar, who shook His head, smiling, and Biondo, who, tearing across the fields like a lunatic, had reached the bank of the river and was about to throw himself into its dark waters. Then he heard the bells.
     So Biondo turned back because he had heard a Voice that he had never known. And that was the real miracle, because a pistol that misfires is a material event, but a priest who begins to ring bells of joy at eleven o'clock at night is quite another matter.
Go on to chapter thirteen, Men and Beasts     on this website.


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