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Chapter Eight - Crime and Punishment

      ON EASTER morning, Don Camillo, leaving his home at an early hour, was confronted at the door of the presbytery by a colossal chocolate egg tied up with a handsome ribbon of red silk. Or, rather, by a formidable egg that resembled a chocolate one, but was merely a two-hundred-pound bomb shorn of its fins and painted a rich brown.
     The war had not omitted to pass over Don Camillo's parish, and planes had visited it on more than one occasion, dropping bombs. A number of these had remained un-exploded, half buried in the ground or actually lying on the surface, since the planes had flown low. When all was over, a couple of engineers had arrived from somewhere or other, exploded the bombs lying far from any building and dismantled those too close to occupied places. These they had collected to be disposed of later. One bomb had fallen upon the old mill, destroying the roof and remaining wedged between a wall and a main beam and it had been left there because the house was derelict and the dismantled bomb no longer dangerous. It was this bomb that had been transformed into an Easter egg by unknown hands.
     "Unknown," let us say, as a figure of speech, since there was the inscription: "Happy Eester" (with two e's), and there was also the red ribbon. The business had been carefully organized, because when Don Camillo turned his eyes away from the strange egg, he found the church square thronged with people. These scoundrels had all conspired to be present in order to enjoy Don Camillo's discomfiture.
     Don Camillo felt annoyed and allowed himself to kick the object, which, naturally, remained immovable.
     "It's pretty heavy!" someone shouted.
     "Needs the bomb-removal squad!" suggested another voice.
     There was a sound of sniggering.
     "Try blessing it and see if it doesn't walk off of its own accord!" cried a third voice.
     Don Camillo went pale and his knees began to tremble. Slowly he bent down and with his immense hands grasped the bomb at its two extremities. There was a deathly silence. The crowd gazed at Don Camillo, holding their breaths, their eyes staring in something akin to fear.
     "Lord!" whispered Don Camillo desperately.
     "Heave ho, Don Camillo!" replied a quiet voice that came from the high altar.
     The bones of that great frame literally cracked. Slowly and implacably Don Camillo straightened his back with the enormous mass of iron welded to his hands. He stood for a moment contemplating the crowd and then he set out. Every step fell like a ton weight. He left the church square and step by step, slow and inexorable as Fate, Don Camillo crossed the big square. The crowd followed in silence, amazed. On reaching the far end of the square, opposite the Party headquarters, he stopped. And the crowd also stopped.
     "Lord," whispered Don Camillo desperately.
     "Heave ho, Don Camillo!" came a rather anxious voice from the now distant high altar of the church.
     Don Camillo collected himself, then in one sudden movement he brought the great weight up to the level of his chest. Another effort and the bomb began slowly to rise higher, watched by the now-frightened crowd.
     Now Don Camillo's arms were fully extended and the bomb poised above his head. For one moment he held it there, then he hurled it from him and it landed on the ground exactly in front of the door of the Party headquarters.
     Don Camillo looked at the crowd: "Returned to sender," he observed in a ringing voice. "Easter is spelt with an A. Correct and re-deliver."
     The crowd made way for him and Don Camillo returned triumphantly to the presbytery.
     Peppone did not re-deliver the bomb. With two helpers he loaded it on to a cart and it was removed and thrown down a disused quarry at a distance from the village. The bomb rolled down a slope but did not reach the bottom, because it was arrested by a tree stump and remained wedged in an upright position.
     Three days later it happened that a goat approached the quarry and discovered an alluring patch of fresh grass at the roots of the tree stump. In cropping the grass, it pushed the bomb which resumed its descent and, having traveled some two yards, struck a stone and exploded with terrific violence. In the village, at a considerable distance, the windows of thirty houses were shattered.
     Peppone arrived at the presbytery a few moments later, gasping, and found Don Camillo going upstairs.
     "And to think," groaned Peppone, "that I spent an entire evening hammering at those fins!"
     "And to think that I ..." moaned Don Camillo, and could get no further because he was visualizing the scene in the square.
     "I'm going to bed . . ." gasped Peppone.
     "I was on my way there . . ." gasped Don Camillo.
     He had the crucifix from the high altar brought to him in his bedroom.
     "Forgive me if I put You to this inconvenience," murmured Don Camillo, whose temperature was raging, "but I had to thank You on behalf of the whole village."
     "No need of that, Don Camillo," replied the Lord with a smile. "No need of that."
     One morning shortly after this, on leaving the house, Don Camillo discovered that during the night someone had defaced the white wall of the presbytery by writing upon it in red letters two feet high the words: Don Camalo, which means stevedore, and undoubtedly referred to his recent feat of strength.
     With a bucket of whitewash and a large brush Don Camillo set to work to efface the inscription, but in view of the fact that it was written in aniline red, the application of whitewash was completely useless and the letters only glared more balefully through any number of coats. Don Camillo had to resort to scraping, and the job took him quite half the day.
     He made his appearance before the Lord above the altar as white as a miller all over but in a distinctly black frame of mind. "If I can only find out who did it," he said, "I shall thrash him until my stick is worn away."
     "Don't be melodramatic, Don Camillo," the Lord advised him. "This is some urchin's doing. After all, no one has really insulted you."
     "Do You think it seemly to call a priest a stevedore?" protested Don Camillo. "And then, it's the kind of nickname that, if people get hold of it, may stick to me all my life."
     "You've got broad shoulders, Don Camillo," the Lord con¬soled him with a smile. "I never had shoulders like yours and yet I bore the Cross without beating anybody."
     Don Camillo agreed that the Lord was in the right. But he was not satisfied, and that evening, instead of going to his bed, he took up his station in a strategic position and waited patiently. Towards two o'clock in the morning an individual made his appearance in the church square and, having placed a small pail on the ground beside him, set to work carefully upon the wall of the presbytery. But without giving him time even to complete the letter D, Don Camillo overturned the pail on his head and sent him flying with a terrific kick in the pants.
     Aniline dye is an accursed thing, and Gigotto (one of Peppone's most valued henchmen), on receiving the baptism of red paint, remained for three days concealed in his house scrubbing his face with every conceivable concoction, after which he was compelled to go out and work. The facts had already become generally known and he found himself greeted with the nickname of "Redskin." Don Camillo fanned the flames until a day came when, returning from a visit to the doctor, he discovered too late that the handle of his front door had received a coating of red. Without uttering so much as one word, Don Camillo went and sought out Gigotto at the tavern and with a blow that was enough to blind an elephant liberally daubed his face with the paint collected from the door handle. Naturally, the occurrence immediately took on a political aspect and, in view of the fact that Gigotto was supported by a half a dozen of his own party, Don Camillo was compelled to use a bench in self-defense.
     The six routed by the bench were seething with fury. The tavern was in an uproar and the same evening some unknown person serenaded Don Camillo by throwing a firework in front of the presbytery door.
     People were getting anxious and it needed but a spark to set fire to the tinder. And so, one fine morning, Don Camillo received an urgent summons to the town because the bishop wished to speak to him.
     The bishop was old and bent, and in order to look Don Camillo in the face he had to raise his head considerably. "Don Camillo," said the bishop, "you are not well. You need to spend a few months in a beautiful mountain village, Yes, yes; the parish priest at Puntarossa has died recently, and so we shall kill two birds with one stone: you will be able to reorganize the parish for me and at the same time you will re-establish your health. Then you will come back fresh as a rose. You will be supplied by Don Pietro, a young man who will make no trouble for you. Are you pleased, Don Camillo?"
     "No, Monsignor; but I shall leave as soon as Monsignor
     "Good," replied the bishop. "Your discipline is the more meritorious inasmuch as you accept without discussion my instructions to do something that is against your personal inclinations."
     "Monsignor, you will not be displeased if the people of my parish say that I have run away because I was afraid?"
     "No," replied the old man, smiling. "Nobody on this earth could ever think that Don Camillo was afraid. Go with God, Don Camillo, and leave benches alone; they can never constitute a Christian argument."
     The news spread quickly in the village. Peppone had announced it in person at a special meeting. "Don Camillo is going," he proclaimed. "Transferred to some God-forsaken mountain village. He is leaving tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock."
     "Hurrah!" shouted the entire meeting. "And may he croak when he gets there. . . ."
     "All things considered, it's the best way out," said Pep¬pone. "He was beginning to think he was the King and the Pope rolled into one, and if he had stayed here we should have had to give him a super dressing-down. This saves us the trouble."
     "And he should be left to slink away like a whipped cur," howled Brusco. "Make the village understand that there will be trouble for anyone who is seen about the church square from three to half-past."
     The hour struck and Don Camillo went to say goodbye to the Lord above the altar. "I wish I could have taken You with me," sighed Don Camillo.
     "I shall go with you just the same," replied the Lord. "Don't you worry."
     "Have I really done anything bad enough to deserve being sent away?" asked Don Camillo.
     "Then they really are all against me," sighed Don Camillo.
     "All of them," replied the Lord. "Even Don Camillo himself disapproves of what you have done."
     "That is true enough," Don Camillo acknowledged. "I could hit myself."
     "Keep your hands quiet, Don Camillo, and a pleasant journey to you."
     In a town fear can affect 50 per cent, of the people, but in a village the percentage is doubled. The roads were deserted. Don Camillo climbed into the train, and when he watched his church tower disappear behind a clump of trees he felt very bitter indeed. "Not even a dog has remembered me," he sighed. "It is obvious that I have failed in my duties and it is also obvious that I am a bad lot."
     The train was a slow one that stopped at every station, and it therefore stopped at Boschetto, a mere cluster of four houses three or four miles from Don Camillo's own village. And so, quite suddenly, Don Camillo found his compartment invaded; he was hustled to the window and found himself face to face with a sea of people who were clapping their hands and throwing flowers.
     "Peppone's men said that if anyone in the village showed up at your departure it meant a hiding," the steward from Stradalunga was explaining, "and so, in order to avoid trouble, we all came on here to say goodbye to you."
     Don Camillo was completely dazed and felt a humming in his ears, and when the train moved off the entire compart¬ment was filled with flowers, bottles, bundles and parcels of all sizes, while poultry with their legs tied together clucked and protested from the baggage nets overhead.
     But there was still a thorn in his heart. "And those others? They must really hate me to have done such a thing! It wasn't even enough for them to get me sent away!"
     A quarter of an hour later the train stopped at Bosco, the last station of the Commune. There Don Camillo heard himself called by name, and going to the window beheld Mayor Peppone and his entire gang. Mayor Peppone made the following speech:
     "Before you leave the territory of the Commune, it seems to us proper to bring you the greetings of the population and good wishes for a rapid recovery, the which will enable a speedy return to your spiritual mission."
     Then, as the train began to move, Peppone took off his hat with a sweeping gesture and Don Camillo also removed his hat and remained standing at the window with it posed in the air like a statue of the Risorgimento.
     The church at Puntarossa sat on the top of the mountain and looked like a picture postcard. When Don Camillo reached it he inhaled the pine-scented air deeply and exclaimed with satisfaction:
     "A bit of rest up here will certainly do me good, the which will enable a speedy return to my spiritual mission."
     And he said it quite gravely, because to him that "the which" was of more value than the sum of all Cicero's orations.
Go on to chapter nine, Return to the Fold     on this website.


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