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Chapter Twenty-eight - Blue Sunday
OLD MAN Grolini turned up at the presbytery to show Don Camillo a letter. Under the watchful eye of his dog Thunder, Don Camillo was greasing cartridges for his shotgun. Even before he read the letter he threw a questioning look at Grolini.
"The usual thing," Grolini sputtered. "That little wretch is in hot water again."
The Headmaster of young Grolini's boarding-school was thoroughly dissatisfied with him and wanted his father to do something about it.
"You'd better go in my place," Grolini said. "If I go, I'm likely to hit him over the head. When you see him, Father, tell him that if he doesn't behave I'll kick him out of the house."
Don Camillo shook his head.
"That would be even more stupid than hitting him over the head," he muttered. "How can anyone kick a boy out of the house when he's only eleven years old?"
"If I can't kick him out of the house, then I'll send him to the reformatory," shouted Grolini. "I don't want to see him again!"
Seeing that the father was not to be appeased, Don Camillo finally said: "I'll go and talk to him on Sunday afternoon."
"Then I authorize you to kick him about the school grounds," Grolini shouted. "The worse you treat him the better pleased I'll be."
After Grolini had gone, Don Camillo turned the letter over and over in his hands. The matter troubled him, because he had been the one to advise Grolini to encourage the boy in his studies and send him away to school. Grolini was a rich man. He tilled the soil, but the soil was his own. Moreover, it was fertile soil, and he had livestock in his stable and as many tractors and other agricultural machines as he could desire. Giacomino, his youngest son, was a quick witted fellow who had always done well at school, and his father was attracted by the idea of having a university graduate in the family. Not to mention his wife, who gave herself very great airs. So it was that as soon as Giacomino finished elementary school he was bundled off to the city. Don Camillo had filled in his application papers and escorted him there in person. Giacomino was one of the mildest and best boys Don Camillo had ever known. He had been an acolyte for years and never got himself into the least trouble. So now the priest could not understand why he had turned out so badly.
When Sunday came, Don Camillo appeared at the boarding-school at the visitors' hour. When the Headmaster heard the name of Grolini he held his head in his hands. Don Camillo threw out his arms in a gesture of hopelessness.
"I'm amazed," he said with mortification. "I always knew him to be a good, obedient boy. I can't understand why he should be so wild."
" 'Wild' isn't exactly the word for it," the Headmaster put in. "His conduct doesn't give us any worry. But we're more concerned about him than about the worst boys in the school."
He took an envelope out of his desk drawer and drew forth a sheet of paper.
"Look at this composition," he said.
Don Camillo found himself looking at a clean paper, bearing on it in neat writing: Giacomino Grolini. Class 1B. Theme: My favorite book. Exposition.
Turning the page, he came upon a perfect blank.
"There you are," said the Headmaster, holding out the entire envelope to him. "All his class work follows the same pattern. He neatly puts down the theme subject or problem, then sits back with folded arms and waits for the time to go by. When he's asked a question, he makes no answer. At first we thought he must be a perfect idiot. But we've watched him and heard him talk to his companions, and we find that he isn't an idiot at all. Quite the contrary."
"I'll talk to him," said Don Camillo. "I'll take him to some quiet place outside, and, if necessary, I'll give him a proper dressing-down."
The Headmaster looked at Don Camillo's big hands.
"If you can't bring him round that way, I'm afraid there's nothing more to do," he mumbled. "He has no right to leave the premises after the way he's behaved, but I'll give him permission to stay out with you until five o'clock."
When Giacomino arrived on the scene a few minutes later, Don Camillo did not even recognize him. Quite apart from his school uniform and closely clipped hair, there was something entirely new in his manner.
"Have no fear," Don Camillo said to the Headmaster. "I'll work on him."
They walked in silence through the empty streets, typical of a tedious Sunday afternoon, and beside the bulky priest Giacomino looked smaller and skinnier than ever. When they had reached the outskirts, Don Camillo looked round for a place where they could talk freely. He turned on to a thoroughfare leading out into the country and then fifty yards later on to an unprepared road running beside a canal. The sun was shining, and although the trees were bare the landscape was pleasant to the eye. Finally, Don Camillo sat down on a tree trunk. He had in mind the speech he intended to make to the boy, and it was ferocious enough to make an elephant quiver. Giacomino stood in front of him and suddenly said:
"May I have a run?"
"A run?" said Don Camillo severely. "Can't you run during recreation at school?"
"Yes, but not very far," the boy answered. "There's always a wall in the way."
Don Camillo looked at the boy's pale face and clipped hair.
"Have your run, then," he said, "and then come here. I want to talk to you."
Giacomino was off like a bolt of lightning, and Don Camillo saw him cross the field, duck under a fence and run parallel to it under some bare grapevines. A few minutes later he came back, with his eyes and cheeks glowing.
"Rest a minute and then we'll talk," mumbled Don Camillo.
The boy sat down, but a minute later he jumped to his feet and ran over to an elm nearby. He climbed it like a squirrel and made for a vine among its top branches. He explored among the red leaves and then came down with something in his hand.
"Grapes!" he exclaimed to Don Camillo, showing him a cluster that had survived the autumn picking. He proceeded to eat the grapes one by one and when he had finished he sat down beside the trunk.
"May I throw a stone?" he asked.
Don Camillo continued to lie low. "Go ahead and amuse yourself," he was thinking, "and we'll talk business later."
The boy rose, picked up a stone, brushed the dirt off it and threw it with all his strength. Don Camillo had a feeling that the stone had flown behind the clouds, never to return. A cold wind had blown up, and Don Camillo began to think they had better repair to some quiet cafe, where he wouldn't have to shout in order to make the boy hear him. As they walked away Giacomino asked permission to race ahead, and found another cluster of grapes left from the autumn.
"That's just a small part of what there must have been on the vine!" he murmured as he ate them. "At home now, they must have hung up the grapes to dry ..."
"Never mind about the grapes," Don Camillo mumbled.
The outskirts of the city were squalid and melancholy. As they walked along they met a man selling roast chestnuts and peanuts. Giacomino opened his eyes wide.
"Silly stuff," said Don Camillo ill-humoredly. "I'll get you a piece of cake when we sit down."
"No thanks," said the boy in a tone of voice that set Don Camillo's nerves on edge.
The nut-vendor knew his business and had stopped a few yards behind them. And the proof of his astuteness was that Don Camillo turned round and grudgingly tossed him a hundred-lire note.
Don Camillo put the bag of silly stuff into the boy's hand, and they continued to walk along the deserted thoroughfare. The priest held out as long as he could, and then finally stuck his hand into the bag. The taste of the nuts called up memories of the melancholy Sunday afternoons of his own youth, and filled him with a sudden sadness. A church bell rang, and when Don Camillo pulled out his heavy gold watch he saw that it was twenty minutes to five.
"Hurry," he said to the boy. "You must be back promptly on the hour."
They quickened their pace, as the sun sank below the houses around them.
When they arrived, without a minute to spare, the boy held the bag out to Don Camillo.
"When you come back from outside they take everything like this away," he explained in a low voice.
Don Camillo put the bag into his pocket.
"That's where I sleep," said the boy, pointing to a barred second-storey window with a box-like protuberance under it that blocked the sight of the ground below. Then he hesitated for a moment before pointing to a window on the ground floor, barred in the same way but affording a view of the world outside.
"In that hall are the cupboards where we hang our clothes," he said. "I'll try to walk along it on my way upstairs and in that way I'll be able to wave goodbye."
Don Camillo went with him to the heavy front door; then he came back and waited on the pavement outside the ground-floor window, which gave on to a side street. Nervously he lit a cigar. After what seemed like an endless time, he heard a whisper. Giacomino had opened a window and was waving to him from behind the bars. Don Camillo walked over and handed him the bag of nuts. Then he started to walk away, but something made him turn back. He could see nothing of Giacomino but a pair of eyes, but these were so filled with tears that Don Camillo broke out into a cold perspiration. By some mysterious process his dangerously powerful hands found themselves twisting the iron bars, and the iron bars bent and gave way. When the opening was large enough, Don Camillo stretched out an arm, grasped the boy's collar and pulled him through. It was dark by now, and no one saw anything strange in the sight of a priest and a schoolboy walking together.
"Wait for me," Don Camillo said, "while I get my motorcycle."
By eight o'clock they were back in the village, and Giacomino had eaten all the nuts on the way.
"Come into the presbytery by the back door," Don Camillo told him as they got off the motorcycle, "and don't let anyone see you."
By nine o'clock Giacomino was sleeping on a couch in the hall while Don Camillo finished his supper in the kitchen. At a quarter past nine Grolini turned up, waving a telegram in one hand.
"That rascal has run away from school," he shouted. "If I lay my hands on him, I'll kill him for sure."
"Then I hope you don't lay hands on him," Don Camillo murmured.
Grolini was beside himself with anger.
"At least you gave him a good scolding this afternoon," he added.
Don Camillo shook his head.
"No, not I. That boy was made to follow in your footsteps and live on the land. He simply can't stay away from the country. A good little fellow, too . . . But perhaps he's dead by now."
"Dead?" Grolini shouted.
Don Camillo sighed.
"I found him in a very bad state of mind, and he talked to me in a most alarming way . . . You'd more or less given him up for lost, hadn't you? I told him what you said, that rather than see his face again you'd send him to the reformatory."
Grolini sank on to a chair and finally managed to say:
"Father, if God brings him home safe and sound I'll foot the bill for repairs to the bell tower."
"That's not necessary," said Don Camillo gently. "God will be satisfied with your grief. Go back home, and don't lose heart. I'll go and look for your boy."
Giacomino came home the next day, and Don Camillo was with him. His family were gathered in the yard, but no one said a word. Only Flick, the old dog, barked and jumped like a kangaroo because he was so happy. Giacomino threw him his school cap and Flick ran off, holding it between his teeth with Giacomino running after him.
"The Headmaster called me up this morning," said old man Grolini. "He can't understand how the boy could have twisted two heavy iron bars."
"He's an able boy, I tell you," said Don Camillo. "He'll make a very good farmer. And it's better to farm for love than to study for fear of a beating."
And Don Camillo went away very fast, because he had just felt a peanut in his pocket and couldn't wait to eat it.
Go on to chapter twenty-nine, Don Camillo Gets Into Trouble on our site.