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Chapter Four - Night School

      IN THE EMPTY CHURCH by the faint light of the two altar candles, Don Camillo was chatting with Christ about the outcome of the local elections.
     "I don't presume to criticize Your actions," he wound up, "but I would never have let Peppone become Mayor, with a Council in which only two people really know how to read and write properly."
     "Culture is not important, Don Camillo," replied Christ with a smile. "What counts are ideas. Eloquent speeches get nowhere unless there are practical ideas at the back of them. Before judging, suppose we put them to the test."
     "Fair enough," conceded Don Camillo. "I really said what I did because if the lawyer's party had come out on top, I had assurances that the bell tower of the church would be repaired. Now if it falls down, the people will have the compensation of watching the construction of a magnificent People's Palace for dancing, sale of alcoholic liquors, gambling and a theater."
     "And a jail for venomous reptiles like Don Camillo," added Christ.
     
     Don Camillo lowered his head. "Lord, You misjudge me," he said. "You know how much a cigar means to me? Well, look: this is my last cigar, and look what I am doing with it."
     He pulled a cigar out of his pocket and crumbled it in his enormous hand.
     "Well done," said Christ. "Well done, Don Camillo. I accept your penance. Nevertheless I should like to see you throw away the crumbs, because you would be quite capable of putting them in your pocket and smoking them in your pipe later."
     "But we are in church," protested Don Camillo.
     "Never mind that, Don Camillo. Throw the tobacco into that corner." Don Camillo obeyed while Christ looked on with approval, and just then a knocking was heard at the little door of the sacristy and Peppone came in.
     "Good evening, Mr. Mayor," said Don Camillo with deference.
     "Listen," said Peppone. "If a Christian were in doubt about something that he had done and came to tell you about it, and if you found that he had made some mistakes, would you point them out to him or would you simply leave him in ignorance?"
     Don Camillo protested indignantly. "How can you dare to doubt the honesty of a priest? His primary duty is to point out clearly all the penitent sinner's mistakes."
     "Very well, then," exclaimed Peppone. "Are you quite ready to hear my confession?"
     "I'm ready."
     
     Peppone pulled a large sheet of paper out of his pocket and began to read: "Citizens, at the moment when we are hailing the victorious affirmation of our party . . ."
     
     
      Don Camillo interrupted him with a gesture and went to kneel before the altar. "Lord," he murmured, "I am no longer responsible for my actions."
     "But I am," said Christ promptly. "Peppone has outsmarted you and you must play fair, and do your duty."
     "But, Lord," persisted Don Camillo, "You realize, don't You, that You are making me work for the Party?"
     "You are working in the interests of grammar, syntax and spelling, none of which is either diabolical or sectarian.
     
     Don Camillo put on his glasses, grasped a pencil, and set to work correcting the speech that Peppone was to make the following day. Peppone read it through intently.
     "Good," he approved. "There is only one thing that I do not understand. Where I had said: 'It is our intention to extend the schools and to rebuild the bridge over the Fossalto' you have substituted: 'It is our intention to extend the schools, repair the church tower and rebuild the bridge over the Fossalto.' Why is that?"
     "Merely a question of syntax," explained Don Camillo gravely.
     "Blessed are those who have studied Latin and who are able to understand niceties of language," sighed Peppone. "And so," he added, "we are to lose even the hope that the tower may collapse on your head!"
     Don Camillo raised his arms. "We must all bow before the will of God!"
     
     After seeing Peppone to the door, Don Camillo came to say good night to Christ.
     "Well done, Don Camillo," said Christ with a smile. "I was unfair to you and I am sorry you destroyed your last cigar. It was a penance that you did not deserve. Nevertheless, we may as well be frank about it: Peppone was a skunk not to offer you even a cigar, after all the trouble you took!"
     "Oh, all right," sighed Don Camillo, fishing a cigar from his pocket and preparing to crush it in his big hand.
     "No, Don Camillo," smiled Christ. "Go and smoke it in peace. You have earned it."
     "But . . ."
     "No, Don Camillo; you didn't exactly steal it. Peppone had two cigars in his pocket. Peppone is a Communist. He believes in sharing things. By skillfully relieving him of one cigar, you only took your fair share."
     "You always know best," exclaimed Don Camillo.
     
     Go on to chapter five, Out of Bounds     on this website.
     
     
  • Or go to chapter one, "The Little World of Don Camillo"

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  • Or go to the second book, "Don Camillo and his Flock"

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