Chapter Nineteen - Fear
PEPPONE FINISHED READING the newspaper and then spoke to Smilzo, who was perched on a high stool in a corner of the workshop awaiting orders.
"Go and get the truck and bring it here with the squadron in an hour's time."
"Hurry up!" shouted Peppone.
Smilzo started up the truck and within three quarters of an hour he was back again with the twenty-five men of the squadron. Peppone climbed in, and they were very soon at the People's Palace.
"You stay here and guard the car," Peppone ordered Smilzo, "and if you see anything queer, shout."
When they reached the Assembly Room, Peppone made his report. "Look here," he said, thumping with his big fist upon the newspaper which bore enormous headlines, "matters have reached a climax: we are going to get it in the neck. The reactionaries have broken loose, our comrades are being shot at and bombs are being thrown against all the Party headquarters." He read aloud a few passages from the paper.
"And note that we are told these things not by one of our Party papers! This is an independent newspaper and it is telling the truth, because you can read it all clearly printed under the headlines!"
Lungo said that they ought to make the first move before the others got going—they knew every single reactionary in the district. "We ought to go to their houses one by one and pull them out and beat them up, and we ought to do it right now."
"No," Brusco objected, "that would put us in the wrong from the start. Even this paper says that we should reply to provocation but not invite it. Because if we strike, we give them the right to retaliate."
Peppone agreed. "If we beat up anybody, we ought to do it with justice and democratically."
They went on talking more quietly for another hour and were suddenly shaken by an explosion that rattled the windows. They all rushed out of the building and found Smilzo lying full length behind the truck, as though dead, with his face covered with blood. They handed the unconscious man to his family and leaped into the truck.
"Forward!" shouted Peppone, as Lungo bent to the wheel. The truck went off at full speed, and it was not until they had covered a couple of miles that Lungo turned to Peppone.
"Where are we going?"
"That's a good question," muttered Peppone. "Where are we going?"
They stopped the car and collected themselves. Then they turned around and went back to the village and drew up in front of the Demo-Christian headquarters. There they found a table, two chairs and a picture of the Pope, so they threw them out of the window. Then they climbed into the truck again and set out firmly for Ortaglia.
"Nobody but that skunk Pizzi would have thrown the bomb that killed Smilzo," said Pellerossa. "He swore he'd get even with us that time we had the fight during the strike."
When they reached the house, which was isolated, they surrounded it and Peppone went in. Pizzi was in the kitchen stirring the polenta. His wife was setting the table, and his little boy was putting wood on the fire.
Pizzi looked up, saw Peppone and immediately realized that something was wrong. He looked at the child who was now playing on the floor at his feet. Then he looked up again.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"They have thrown a bomb in front of our headquarters and killed Smilzo!" shouted Peppone.
"Nothing to do with me," replied Pizzi. The woman caught hold of the child and drew back.
"You said you'd get even. You reactionary swine!" Peppone moved toward him menacingly, but Pizzi stepped back and grabbing a revolver from the mantelpiece he pointed it at Peppone.
"Hands up, Peppone, or I shoot you!"
At that moment someone who was hiding outside the house threw open the window, fired a shot and Pizzi fell to the floor. As he fell his revolver went off, and the bullet buried itself among the ashes on the hearth. The woman looked down at her husband's body and put her hand in front of her mouth. The child flung himself on his father and began screaming.
Peppone and his men climbed hastily into the truck and went off in silence. Before reaching the village they stopped, got out and proceeded separately on foot.
There was a crowd in front of the People's Palace, and Peppone met Don Camillo coming out of it. "Is Smilzo dead?" Peppone asked.
"It would take a lot more than that to kill him," replied Don Camillo, chuckling. "Nice fool you've made of yourself, throwing that table out of the window at the Demo-Christian headquarters. People are really laughing at that one."
Peppone looked at him gloomily. "There isn't much to laugh at, when people begin throwing bombs."
Don Camillo looked at him with interest. "Peppone," he said, "one of two things: you are either a crook or a fool."
Actually Peppone was neither. He just did not know that the explosion had been caused by one of the re-treaded tires of the truck, and a piece of rubber had struck the unfortunate Smilzo in the face. He went to look underneath the truck and saw the disemboweled tire, and then thought of Pizzi lying stretched out on the kitchen floor, of the woman who had put her hand to her mouth to stifle her screams and of the screaming child.
And meanwhile people were laughing. But within an hour the laughter died down, because a rumor spread through the village that Pizzi had been wounded.
He died next morning, and when the police went to question his wife the woman stared at them with eyes that were blank with terror.
"Didn't you see anyone?"
"I was in the other room; I heard a shot and ran in and found my husband lying on the ground. I saw nothing else."
"Where was the boy?"
"He was already in bed."
"And where is he now?"
"I've sent him to his grandmother."
Nothing more could be learned. Pizzi's revolver was found to have one empty chamber, the bullet that had killed him was identical with those remaining in the gun. The authorities promptly decided that it was a case of suicide.
Don Camillo read the report and the statements made by various persons that Pizzi had been worried for some time by the failure of an important deal in seeds, and had been heard to say that he would like to end it all. Then Don Camillo went to discuss the matter.
"Lord," he said unhappily, "this is the first time in my parish that someone has died to whom I cannot give Christian burial. And that is right enough, I know, because he who kills himself kills one of God's children and loses his soul and, if we are to be severe, should not even lie in consecrated ground."
"That is so, Don Camillo."
"And if we decide to allow him a place in the cemetery, then he must go there alone, like a dog, because he who renounces his humanity lowers himself to the rank of a beast."
"Very sad, Don Camillo, but so it is."
The following morning (it happened to be a Sunday), Don Camillo in the course of his Mass preached a terrible sermon on suicide. It was pitiless, frightening, and implacable.
Pizzi's funeral took place that same afternoon. The coffin was followed by the dead man's wife and child and his two brothers in a couple of two-wheeled carts. When the family entered the village, people closed their shutters and peeped through the cracks.
Then suddenly something happened that struck everybody speechless. Don Camillo, with two acolytes and the cross, took his place in front of the hearse and preceded it on foot, intoning the customary psalms. On reaching the church square, Don Camillo beckoned to Pizzi's two brothers and they lifted the coffin from the hearse and carried it into the church, and there Don Camillo said the Office for the Dead and blessed the body. Then he returned to his position in front of the hearse and went through the village, singing. Not a soul was to be seen.
At the cemetery, as soon as the coffin had been lowered into the grave, Don Camillo drew a deep breath and said in a powerful voice: "May God reward the soul of his faithful servant, Antonio Pizzi."
Then he threw a handful of earth into the grave, blessed it and left the cemetery, walking slowly through the village, depopulated by fear.
"Lord," said Don Camillo when he reached the church, "have You any fault to find with me?"
"Yes, Don Camillo, I have. When one goes to accompany a poor dead man to the cemetery, one should not carry a pistol in one's pocket."
"I understand, Lord," replied Don Camillo. "You mean that I should have kept it in my sleeve so as to be handier."
"No, Don Camillo, such things should be left at home, even if one is escorting the body of a ... suicide."
"Lord," said Don Camillo after a long pause, "I'll bet You that a commission composed of my most assiduous bigots will write an indignant letter to the Bishop, to the effect that I have committed a sacrilege in accompanying the body of a suicide to the cemetery."
"No," replied Christ, "I won't bet you, because they are already writing it."
"So now everyone in the village hates me—those who killed Pizzi, those who, while they knew like everybody else that Pizzi had been murdered, found it inconvenient that doubts should be raised regarding his suicide. Even Pizzi's own relations wanted it believed that he had killed himself. One of his brothers asked me: 'But isn't it forbidden to bring a suicide into the church?' Even Pizzi's own wife must hate me because she is afraid, not for herself but for her son, and is lying in order to defend his life."
The little side door of the church creaked, and Don Camillo looked round as Pizzi's small son entered. The boy came forward and stopped in front of Don Camillo.
"I thank you on behalf of my father," he said in the grave, hard voice of an adult. Then he went away as silently as a shadow.
"There," Christ said, "goes someone who doesn't hate you, Don Camillo."
"But his heart is filled with hatred of those who killed his father, and that is another link in an accursed chain that no one, not even You who allowed Yourself to be crucified, can break."
"The world has not come to an end yet," replied Christ serenely. "It has just begun and up There time is measured in millions of centuries. Don't lose your faith, Don Camillo. There is still plenty of time."
Go on to chapter twenty, The Fear Spreads on the meaning of life website.