Monsignor Quixote, p.1Graham Greene
About the Author
Also by Graham Greene
I. How Father Quixote became a Monsignor
II. How Monsignor Quixote set off on his travels
III. How a certain light was shed upon the Holy Trinity
IV. How Sancho in his turn cast new light on an old Faith
V. How Monsignor Quixote and Sancho visit a Holy Site
VI. How Monsignor Quixote and Sancho visit another Holy Site
VII. How in Salamanca Monsignor Quixote continued his studies
VIII. How Monsignor Quixote had a curious encounter in Valladolid
IX. How Monsignor Quixote saw a strange spectacle
X. How Monsignor Quixote confronted Justice
I. Monsignor Quixote encounters the Bishop
II. Monsignor Quixote’s second journey
III. How Monsignor Quixote had his last adventure among the Mexicans
IV. How Monsignor Quixote rejoined his ancestor
Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on The Times. He established his reputation with his fourth novel, Stamboul Train. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in Journey Without Maps, and on his return was appointed film critic of the Spectator. In 1926 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote The Lawless Roads and, later, his famous novel The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the Spectator. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel, The Heart of the Matter, set in West Africa.
As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography – A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape and A World of My Own (published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections Reflections and Mornings in the Dark. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and The Third Man was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in April 1991.
ALSO BY GRAHAM GREENE
The Man Within
It’s a Battlefield
The Confidential Agent
The Ministry of Fear
The Third Man
The End of the Affair
Loser Takes All
The Quiet American
A Burnt-out Case
Travels with my Aunt
Dr Fischer of Geneva or
The Bomb Party
The Human Factor
The Tenth Man
England Made Me
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter
The Fallen Idol
Our Man in Havana
The Honorary Consul
A Gun for Sale
The Captain and the Enemy
The Last Word and Other Stories
May We Borrow Your Husband?
Journey Without Maps
The Lawless Roads
In Search of a Character
Getting to Know the General
Mornings in the Dark
A Sort of Life
Ways of Escape
Fragments of an Autobiography
A World of my Own
Lord Rochester’s Monkey
An Impossible Woman
The Little Train
The Little Horse-Bus
The Little Steamroller
The Little Fire Engine
For Father Leopoldo Durán,
Aurelio Verde, Octavio Victoria
and Miguel Fernández,
my companions on the roads of Spain,
and to Tom Burns who inspired my
first visit there in 1946.
I acknowledge with gratitude my debt to J. M. Cohen’s translation in the Penguin Classics of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
HOW FATHER QUIXOTE BECAME
It happened this way. Father Quixote had ordered his solitary lunch from his housekeeper and set off to buy wine at a local cooperative eight kilometres away from El Toboso on the main road to Valencia. It was a day when the heat stood and quivered on the dry fields, and there was no air-conditioning in his little Seat 600 which he had bought, already second hand, eight years before. As he drove he thought sadly of the day when he would have to find a new car. A dog’s years can be multiplied by seven to equal a man’s, and by that calculation his car would still be in early middle age, but he noticed how already his parishioners began to regard his Seat as almost senile. ‘You can’t trust it, Don Quixote,’ they would warn him and he could only reply, ‘It has been with me through many bad days, and I pray God that it may survive me.’ So many of his prayers had remained unanswered that he had hopes that this one prayer of his had lodged all the time like wax in the Eternal ear.
He could see where the main road lay by reason of the small dust puffs raised by the passing cars. As he drove he worried about the fate of the Seat which he called in memory of his ancestor ‘my Rocinante’. He couldn’t bear the thought of his little car rusting on a scrap heap. He had sometimes thought of buying a small plot of land and leaving it as an inheritance to one of his parishioners on condition that a sheltered corner be reserved for his car to rest in, but there was not one parishioner whom he could trust to carry out his wish, and in any case a slow death by rust could not be avoided and perhaps a crusher at a scrapyard would be a more merciful end. Thinking of all this for the hundredth time he nearly ran into a stationary black Mercedes which was parked round the corner on the main road. He assumed that the dark-clothed figure at the wheel was taking a rest on the long drive from Valencia to Madrid, and he went on to buy his jar of wine at the collective without pausing; it was only as he returned that he became aware of a white Roman collar, like a handkerchief signalling distress. How on earth, he wondered, could one of his brother priests afford a Mercedes? But when he drew up he noticed a purple bib below the collar which denoted at least a monsignor if not a bishop.
Father Quixote had reason to be afraid of bishops; he was well aware how much his own bishop, who regarded him in spite of his distinguished ancestry as little better than a peasant, disliked him. ‘How can he be descended from a fictional character?’ he had demanded in a private conversation which had been promptly reported to Father Quixote.
The man to whom the bishop had spoken asked with surprise, ‘A fictional character?’
‘A character in a novel by an overrated writer called Cervantes – a novel moreover with many disgusting passages which in the days of the Generalissimo would not even have passed the censor.’
‘A trap for tourists. Why,’ the bishop went on with asperity, ‘Quixote is not even a Spanish patronymic. Cervantes himself says the surname was probably Quixada or Quesada or even Quexana, and on his deathbed Quixote calls himself Quixano.’
‘I can see that you have read the book then, Your Excellency.’
‘I have never got beyond the first chapter. Although of course I have glanced at the last. My usual habit with novels.’
‘Perhaps some ancestor of the father was called Quixada or Quexana.’
‘Men of that class have no ancestors.’
It was with trepidation then that Father Quixote introduced himself to the high clerical figure in the distinguished Mercedes. ‘My name is Padre Quixote, monsignor. Can I be of any service?’
‘You certainly can, my friend. I am the Bishop of Motopo’ – he spoke with a strong Italian accent.
‘Bishop of Motopo?’
‘In partibus infidelium, my friend. Is there a garage near here? My car refuses to go on any further, and if there should be a restaurant – my stomach begins to clamour for food.’
‘There is a garage in my village, but it is closed because of a funeral – the mother-in-law of the garagist has died.’
‘May she rest in peace,’ the bishop said automatically, clutching at his pectoral cross. He added, ‘What a confounded nuisance.’
‘He’ll be back in a few hours.’
‘A few hours! Is there a restaurant anywhere near?’
‘Monsignor, if you would honour me by sharing my humble lunch . . . the restaurant in El Toboso is not to be recommended, either for the food or for the wine.’
‘A glass of wine is essential in my situation.’
‘I can offer you a good little local wine and if you would be contented with a simple steak . . . and a salad. My housekeeper always prepares more than I can eat.’
‘My friend, you certainly prove to be my guardian angel in disguise. Let us go.’
The front seat of Father Quixote’s car was occupied by the jar of wine, but the bishop insisted on crouching – he was a very tall man – in the back. ‘We cannot disturb the wine,’ he said.
‘It is not an important wine, monsignor, and you will be much more comfortable . . .’
‘No wine can be regarded as unimportant, my friend, since the marriage at Cana.’
Father Quixote felt rebuked and silence fell between them until they arrived at his small house near the church. He was much relieved when the bishop, who had to stoop to enter the door which led directly into the priest’s parlour, remarked, ‘It is an honour for me to be a guest in the house of Don Quixote.’
‘My bishop does not approve of the book.’
‘Holiness and literary appreciation don’t always go together.’
The bishop went to the bookshelf where Father Quixote kept his missal, his breviary, the New Testament, a few tattered volumes of a theological kind, the relics of his studies, and some works by his favourite saints.
‘If you will excuse me, monsignor . . .’
Father Quixote went to find his housekeeper in the kitchen which served also as her bedroom, and it must be admitted the kitchen sink was her only washbasin. She was a square woman with protruding teeth and an embryo moustache; she trusted no one living, but had a certain regard for the saints, the female ones. Her name was Teresa, and nobody in El Toboso had thought to nickname her Dulcinea, since no one but the Mayor, who was reputed to be Communist, and the owner of the restaurant had read Cervantes’ work, and it was doubtful if the latter had got much further than the battle with the windmills.
‘Teresa,’ Father Quixote said, ‘we have a guest for lunch which must be prepared quickly.’
‘There is only your steak and a salad, and what remains of the manchego cheese.’
‘My steak is always big enough for two, and the bishop is an amiable man.’
‘The bishop? I won’t serve him.’
‘Not our bishop. An Italian. A very courteous man.’
He explained the situation in which he had found the bishop.
‘But the steak . . .’ Teresa said.
‘What about the steak?’
‘You can’t give the bishop horsemeat.’
‘My steak is horsemeat?’
‘It always has been. How can I give you beef with the money you allow me?’
‘You have nothing else?’
‘Oh dear, oh dear. We can only pray that he doesn’t notice. After all, I have never noticed.’
‘You have never eaten anything better.’
Father Quixote returned to the bishop in a troubled state of mind, carrying with him a half-bottle of malaga. He was glad when the bishop accepted a glass and then a second one. Perhaps the drink might confuse his taste-buds. He had settled himself deeply in Father Quixote’s only easy chair. Father Quixote watched him with anxiety. The bishop didn’t look dangerous. He had a very smooth face which might never have known a razor. Father Quixote regretted that he had neglected to shave that morning after early Mass which he had celebrated in an empty church.
‘You’re on holiday, monsignor?’
‘Not exactly on holiday, though it is true I am enjoying my change from Rome. The Holy Father has entrusted me with a little confidential mission because of my knowledge of Spanish. I suppose, father, that you see a great many foreign tourists in El Toboso.’
‘Not many, monsignor, for there is very little for them to see here, except for the Museum.’
‘What do you keep in the Museum?’
‘It is a very small museum, monsignor, one room. No bigger than my parlour. It holds nothing of interest except the signatures.’
‘What do you mean by the signatures? May I perhaps have another glass of malaga? Sitting in the sun in that broken-down car has made me very thirsty.’
‘Forgive me, monsignor. You see how unused I am to being a host.’
‘I have never encountered before a Museum of Signatures.’
‘You see, a Mayor of El Toboso years ago began writing to heads of state asking for translations of Cervantes with a signature. The collection is quite remarkable. Of course there is General Franco’s signature in what I would call the master copy, and there is Mussolini’s and Hitler’s (very tiny, his, like a fly’s mess) and Churchill’s and Hindenburg’s and someone called Ramsay MacDonald – I suppose he was the Prime Minister of Scotland.’
‘Of England, father.’
Teresa came in with the steaks and they seated themselves at table and the bishop said grace.
Father Quixote poured out the wine and watched with apprehension as the bishop took his first slice of steak, which he quickly washed down with wine – perhaps to take away the taste.
‘It is a very common wine, monsignor, but here we are very proud of what we call the manchegan.’
‘The wine is agreeable,’ the bishop said, ‘but the steak . . . the steak,’ he said, staring at his plate while Father Quixote waited for the worst, ‘the steak . . .’ he said a third time as though he were seeking deep in his memory of ancient rites for the correct term of anathema – Teresa meanwhile hovered in the doorway, waiting too – ‘never, at any table, have I tasted . . . so tender, so flavoursome, I am tempted to be blasphemous and say so divine a steak. I would like to congratulate your admirable housekeeper.’
‘She is here, monsignor.’
‘My dear lady, let me shake your hand.’ The bishop held out his beringed palm down as though he expected a kiss rather than a shake. Teresa backed hurriedly into the kitchen. ‘Did I say something wrong?’ the bishop asked.
‘No, no, monsignor. It is only that she is unaccustomed to cooking for a bishop.’
‘She has a plain and honest face. In these days one is often embarrassed to find even in Italy very marriageable housekeepers – and alas! only too often marri
Teresa came rapidly in with some cheese and retired at the same speed.
‘A little of our queso manchego, monsignor?’
‘And perhaps another glass of wine to go with it?’
Father Quixote began to feel warm and comfortable. He was encouraged to press a question which he wouldn’t have dared to ask his own bishop. A Roman bishop after all was closer to the fount of faith, and the bishop’s welcome to the steak of horsemeat encouraged him. It was not for nothing that he had called his Seat 600 Rocinante, and he was more likely to receive a favourable answer if he spoke of her as a horse.
‘Monsignor,’ he said, ‘there is one question I have often asked myself, a question which is perhaps likely to occur more frequently to a countryman than to a city dweller.’ He hesitated like a swimmer on a cold brink. ‘Would you consider it heretical to pray to God for the life of a horse?’
‘For the terrestrial life,’ the bishop answered without hesitation, ‘no – a prayer would be perfectly allowable. The Fathers teach us that God created animals for man’s use, and a long life of service for a horse is as desirable in the eyes of God as a long life for my Mercedes which, I am afraid, looks like failing me. I must admit, however, that there is no record of miracles in the case of inanimate objects, but in the case of beasts we have the example of Balaam’s ass who by the mercy of God proved of more than usual use to Balaam.’
‘I was thinking less of the use of a horse to its master than of a prayer for its happiness – and even for a good death.’
‘I see no objection to praying for its happiness – it might well make it docile and of greater use to its owner – but I am not sure what you mean by a good death in the case of a horse. A good death for a man means a death in communion with God, a promise of eternity. We may pray for the terrestrial life of a horse, but not for its eternal life – that would be verging on heresy. It is true there is a movement in the Church that would grant the possibility that a dog may have what one may call an embryo soul, though personally I find the idea sentimental and dangerous. We mustn’t open unnecessary doors by imprudent speculation. If a dog has a soul, why not a rhinoceros or a kangaroo?’
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