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Authors: Graham Greene

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BOOK: Monsignor Quixote
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‘What have you done?'
‘I have given wrong instruction. The Holy Ghost is equal in all respects to the Father and the Son, and I have represented Him by this half bottle.'
‘Is that a serious error, father?'
‘It is anathema. It was condemned expressly at I forget which Council. A very early Council. Perhaps it was Nicaea.'
‘Don't worry, father. The matter is easily put right. We will throw away and forget this half bottle and I will bring a whole bottle from the car.'
‘I have drunk more than I should. If I hadn't drunk so much I would never, never have made that mistake. There is no sin worse than the sin against the Holy Ghost.'
‘Forget it. We will put the matter right at once.'
So it was they drank another bottle. Father Quixote felt comforted and he was touched too by the sympathy of his companion. The manchegan wine was light, but it seemed wiser to them both to stretch out on the grass and sleep the night away where they were, and when the sun rose Father Quixote was able to smile at the sadness he had felt. There was no sin in a little forgetfulness and an inadvertent error. The manchegan wine had been the guilty party – it was not, after all, quite so light a wine as they had believed.
As they set off he said, ‘I was a little foolish last night, Sancho.'
‘I thought you spoke very well.'
‘I did make you understand, perhaps, a little about the Trinity?'
‘Understand, yes. Believe, no.'
‘Then will you please forget the half bottle? It was a mistake that I should never have made.'
‘I will remember only the full three bottles, friend.'
Perhaps, light though the wine had been, it was the three and a half bottles which made them next day travel for a while in silence. At last Sancho remarked, ‘We shall feel better after a good lunch.'
‘Ah, poor Teresa,' Father Quixote said. ‘I hope Father Herrera will appreciate her steaks.'
‘What is so wonderful about her steaks?'
Father Quixote made no reply. He had guarded the secret from the Bishop of Motopo: he would certainly guard her secret from the Mayor.
The road curved. For an inexplicable reason Rocinante put on a spurt of speed instead of slowing down and nearly bumped into a sheep. The road ahead was full of its companions. They were like a disturbed sea of small frothing waves.
‘You may as well sleep a bit more,' the Mayor said. ‘We shall never get through this.' A dog came charging back to round up the delinquent. ‘Sheep are stupid beasts,' the Mayor exclaimed with venom. ‘I have never understood why the founder of your faith should have compared them with ourselves. “Feed my sheep.” Oh yes, perhaps after all like other good men he was a cynic. “Feed them well, make them fat, so that they can be eaten in their turn.” “The Lord is my shepherd.” But if we are sheep why in heaven's name should we trust our shepherd? He's going to guard us from wolves all right, oh yes, but only so that he can sell us later to the butcher.'
Father Quixote took the breviary from his pocket and began ostentatiously to read, but he had fallen on a singularly dull and unmeaning passage which quite failed to exclude the words of the Mayor, words which pained him.
‘And he actually preferred sheep to goats,' the Mayor said. ‘What a silly, sentimental preference that is. The goat has all the uses that a sheep has and in addition many of the virtues of a cow. The sheep gives wool all right – but the goat gives its skin in man's service. The sheep provides mutton, but personally I would rather eat kid. And the goat, like the cow, provides milk and cheese. A sheep's cheese is fit only for Frenchmen.'
Father Quixote raised his eyes and saw the way was clear at last. He put away his breviary and started Rocinante on the road again. ‘The man without faith cannot blaspheme,' he said as much to himself as to the Mayor. But he thought: All the same, why sheep? Why did He in His infinite wisdom choose the symbol of sheep? It was not a question that had been answered by any of the old theologians whom he kept on the shelves in El Toboso: not even by St Francis de Sales, informative as he was about the elephant and the kestrel, the spider and the bee and the partridge. Certainly the question had not been raised in the
Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana
by that holy man Antonio Claret, a former Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, which he had read as a child – though he seemed to remember that a shepherd and his lambs had figured among the illustrations. He said irrelevantly, ‘Children have a great love for lambs.'
‘And goats,' the Mayor said. ‘Don't you remember the little goat carts of our childhood? Where are all those goats now? Condemned to the eternal flames?' He looked at his watch. ‘I suggest that before we buy your purple socks we give ourselves a good lunch at Botin's.'
‘I hope it's not a very expensive restaurant, Sancho.'
‘Don't worry. On this occasion you're my guest. The sucking-pigs are famous there – we won't have to eat any of the good shepherd's lambs, which are such a favourite in our country. Botin's was a restaurant very much favoured by the secret police in the days of Franco.'
‘God rest his soul,' Father Quixote said quickly.
‘I wish I believed in damnation,' the Mayor replied, ‘for I would certainly put him – as I am sure Dante would have done – in the lowest depths.'
‘I suspect human judgement, even Dante's,' Father Quixote said. ‘It's not the same as the judgement of God.'
‘I expect you would put him in Paradise?'
‘I've never said that, Sancho. I don't deny that he did many wrong things.'
‘Ah, but there's that convenient escape you've invented – Purgatory.'
‘I've invented nothing – neither Hell nor Purgatory.'
‘Forgive me, father. I meant of course your Church.'
‘The Church depends on written authority as your Party depends on Marx and Lenin.'
‘But you believe your books are the word of God.'
‘Be fair, Sancho. Do you not think – except sometimes at night when you can't sleep – that Marx and Lenin are as infallible as – well, Matthew and Mark?'
‘And when
can't sleep, monsignor?'
‘The idea of Hell has sometimes disturbed my sleeplessness. Perhaps that same night in your room you are thinking of Stalin and the camps. Was Stalin – or Lenin – necessarily right? Perhaps you are asking that question at the same moment when I am asking myself whether it is possible . . . how can a merciful and loving God . . .? Oh, I cling to my old books, but I have my doubts too. The other night – because of something Teresa said to me in the kitchen about the heat of her stove – I reread all the Gospels. Do you know that St Matthew mentions Hell fifteen times in fifty-two pages of my bible and St John not once? St Mark twice in thirty-one pages and St Luke three times in fifty-two. Well, of course, St Matthew was a tax collector, poor man, and he probably believed in the efficacy of punishment, but it made me wonder . . .'
‘And how right you were.'
‘I hope – friend – that you sometimes doubt too. It's human to doubt.'
‘I try not to doubt,' the Mayor said.
‘Oh, so do I. So do I. In that we are certainly alike.'
The Mayor put his hand for a moment on Father Quixote's shoulder, and Father Quixote could feel the electricity of affection in the touch. It's odd, he thought, as he steered Rocinante with undue caution round a curve, how sharing a sense of doubt can bring men together perhaps even more than sharing a faith. The believer will fight another believer over a shade of difference: the doubter fights only with himself.
‘The thought of the sucking-pig at Botin's,' the Mayor said, ‘reminds me of that pretty fable of the Prodigal Son. Of course I realize the difference, for in that story I think it was a calf the father slaughtered – yes, a fatted calf. I hope our sucking-pig will be as well fattened.'
‘A very beautiful parable,' Father Quixote said with a note of defiance. He felt uneasy about what was to come.
‘Yes, it begins beautifully,' said the Mayor. ‘There is this very bourgeois household, a father and two sons. One might describe the father as a rich Russian kulak who regards his peasants as so many souls whom he owns.'
‘There is nothing about kulaks or souls in the parable.'
‘The story you have read has been probably a little corrected and slanted here and there by the ecclesiastical censors.'
‘What do you mean?'
‘It could have been told so differently and perhaps it was. Here is this young man who by some beneficent trick of heredity has grown up against all odds with a hatred of inherited wealth. Perhaps Christ had Job in mind. Christ was nearer in time to the author of
than you are to your great ancestor, the Don. Job, you remember, was obscenely rich. He owned seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels. The son feels stifled by his bourgeois surroundings – perhaps even by the kind of furniture and the kind of pictures on the walls, of fat kulaks sitting down to their Sabbath meal, a sad contrast with the poverty he sees around him. He has to escape – anywhere. So he demands his share of the inheritance which will come to his brother and himself on their father's death and he leaves home.'
‘And squanders his inheritance in riotous living,' Father Quixote interrupted.
‘Ah, that is the official version. My version is that he was so disgusted by the bourgeois world in which he had been brought up that he got rid of his wealth in the quickest way possible – perhaps he even gave it away and in a Tolstoyian gesture he became a peasant.'
‘But he came home.'
‘Yes, his courage failed him. He felt very alone on that pig farm. There was no branch of the Party to which he could look for help.
Das Kapital
had not yet been written, so he was unable to situate himself in the class struggle. Is it any wonder that he wavered for a time, poor boy?'
‘Only for a time? How do you make that out?'
‘The story in your version is cut short rather abruptly, isn't it? By the ecclesiastical censors undoubtedly, even perhaps by Matthew, the tax collector. Oh, he is welcomed home, that's true enough, a fatted calf is served, he is probably happy for a few days, but then he feels again the same oppressive atmosphere of bourgeois materialism that drove him from home. His father tries to express his love, but the furniture is still hideous, false Louis Quinze or whatever was the equivalent in those days, the same pictures of good living are on the walls, he is shocked more than ever by the servility of the servants and the luxury of the food, and he begins to remember the companionship he found in the poverty of the pig farm.'
‘I thought you said there was no Party branch and that he felt very alone.'
‘Yes, I exaggerated. He did have one friend, and he remembered the words of this old bearded peasant who had helped him carry the swill to the pigs, he began to brood on them – the words, I mean, not the pigs – back in the luxurious bed in which his bones yearned for the hard earth of his hut on the farm. After all, three thousand camels might well be enough to revolt a sensitive man.'
‘You have a wonderful imagination, Sancho, even when you are sober. What on earth did the old peasant say?'
‘He told him that every state in which private ownership of the land and means of production exists, in which capital dominates, however democratic it may claim to be, is a capitalist state, a machine invented and used by the capitalists to keep the working class in subjection.'
‘Your story begins to sound almost as dull as my breviary.'
‘Dull? Do you call that dull? I'm quoting Lenin himself. Don't you see that the first idea of the class struggle is being lodged by that old peasant (I see him with a beard and whiskers like Karl Marx's) in the mind of the Prodigal Son?'
‘And what does he do?'
‘After a week of disillusion he leaves home at dawn (a red dawn) to find again the pig farm and the old bearded peasant, determined now to play his part in the proletarian struggle. The old bearded peasant sees him coming from a distance and, running up, he throws his arms around his neck and kisses him, and the Prodigal Son says, “Father, I have sinned, I am not worthy to be called your son.”'
‘The ending sounds familiar,' Father Quixote said. ‘And I'm glad you left in the pigs.'
‘Talking of pigs, couldn't you drive a little faster? I don't think we are averaging more than thirty kilometres an hour.'
‘That's Rocinante's favourite speed. She's a very old car and I can't make her strain – not at her age.'
‘We are being passed by every car on the road.'
‘What does it matter? Her ancestor never got up to thirty kilometres an hour.'
‘And your ancestor never got further in his travels than Barcelona.'
‘What of it? He remained almost in hailing distance of La Mancha, but his mind travelled very far. And so did Sancho's.'
‘I don't know about my mind, but my belly feels as though we had been a week on the road. The sausages and the cheese are a distant memory now.'
It was a little after two when they mounted the stairs to Botin's. Sancho gave the order for two portions of sucking-pig and a bottle of the Marqués de Murrieta's red wine. ‘I'm surprised that you favour the aristocracy,' Father Quixote remarked.
‘They can be temporarily accepted for the good of the Party, like a priest.'
‘Even a priest?'
BOOK: Monsignor Quixote
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