Chapter Six - The Treasure
ONE DAY SMILZO CAME to the rectory. He was a young ex-partisan who had been Peppone's orderly during the fighting in the mountains and now worked as a messenger at the Town Hall. He was the bearer of a handsome letter, printed on handmade paper with the Party heading in Gothic lettering, which read:
"Your honor is invited to grace with his presence a ceremony of a social nature which will take place tomorrow at ten o'clock A.M. in the Plaza of Liberty. The Secretary of the Section, Comrade Bottazzi, Mayor, Guiseppe."
Don Camillo looked severely at Smilzo. "Tell Comrade Peppone Mayor Guiseppe that I have no wish to go and listen to the usual imbecilities against reaction and the capitalists. I already know them by heart."
"No," explained Smilzo, "there won't be any political speeches. This is for patriotism and social activities. If you refuse, it means that you don't understand democracy."
Don Camillo nodded his head slowly. "If that's it," he said, "then I have nothing more to say."
"Good. And the Mayor says you are to come in uniform and to bring all your paraphernalia."
"Yes—a pail of holy water and all that stuff; there is something to be blessed."
Smilzo got away with talking this way to Don Camillo precisely because he was Smilzo, that is, the lean one. He was so skinny and quick that during the fighting in the mountains he had been known to slip between the bullets.
Therefore, by the time the heavy book Don Camillo hurled at him reached the spot where his head had been, Smilzo was already on his bike pedaling away for all he was worth.
Don Camillo got up, rescued the book and went to the church to let off steam. When he reached the altar he said, "Lord, I must find out what those people are planning to do tomorrow. I never heard of anything so mysterious. What is the meaning of all those preparations? All those branches that they are sticking into the ground round the meadow between the drugstore and Baghetti's house? What kind of deviltry can they be up to?"
"My son, if it were deviltry, first of all they wouldn't be doing it in the open and secondly they wouldn't be sending for you to bless it. Be patient until tomorrow."
That evening Don Camillo went to have a look around but saw nothing but branches and decorations surrounding the meadow, and nobody seemed to know anything.
When he set out next morning, followed by two acolytes, his knees were trembling. He felt that something was not as it should be, that there was treachery in the air.
An hour later he returned, shattered and with a temperature.
"What happened?" asked Christ from the altar.
"Enough to make one's hair stand on end," stammered Don Camillo. "A terrible thing. A band, Garibaldi's hymn, a speech from Peppone, and the laying of the first stone of 'The People's Palace'! And I had to bless the stone while Peppone chuckled with joy. And the ruffian asked me to say a few words, and I had to make a suitable little address because, although it is a Party affair, that dog dressed it up as a social undertaking."
Don Camillo paced back and forth in the empty church. Then he came to a standstill in front of Christ. "A mere trifle," he exclaimed. "An assembly hall, reading room, library, gymnasium, dispensary, and theater. A skyscraper of two floors with ground for sports and bowling. And the whole lot for the miserable sum of ten million lire."
"Not bad, given the high cost of building today," observed Christ.
Don Camillo sank down in a pew. "Lord," he moaned, "why have You done this to me?"
"Don Camillo, you are unreasonable."
"No, I'm not unreasonable. For ten years I have been praying to You on my knees to find me a little money so that I could build a library, an assembly hall for the young people, a playground for the children with a merry-go-round and swings and possibly a little swimming pool. For ten years I have humbled myself to bloated landowners when I would have preferred smacking them between the eyes every time I saw them. I must have organized two hundred bazaars and knocked at easily two thousand doors and I have nothing at all to show for it. Then this excommunicate dog comes along, and behold ten million lire drop into his pockets from Heaven."
Christ shook His head. "They didn't fall from Heaven," He replied. "He found them underground. I had nothing to do with it, Don Camillo. It is entirely due to his own personal initiative. Don Camillo spread out his arms. "Then the obvious deduction is that I am a poor fool."
He went off to stamp up and down his study in the rectory, roaring with fury. He had to exclude the possibility that Peppone had got those ten million by holding people up on the roads or by robbing a bank.
He thought of the days of the liberation when Peppone came down from the mountains and it seemed as if the proletarian revolution might break out at any moment. "Peppone must have threatened those cowards of gentry and squeezed their money out of them," he said to himself. Then he remembered that in those days there had been no landowners in the neighborhood, but that there had been a detachment of the British Army which arrived simultaneously with Peppone and his men. The British moved into the landowners' houses, replacing the Germans who had stripped them of everything of any value. Therefore, Peppone couldn't have got the ten million by looting.
Maybe the money came from Russia? He burst out laughing; was it likely that the Russians should give a thought to Peppone?
At last he returned to the church. "Lord," he begged, from the foot of the altar, "won't You tell me where Peppone found the money?"
"Don Camillo," replied Christ with a smile, "do you take Me for a private detective? Why ask God to tell you the truth, when you have only to seek it within yourself? Look for it, Don Camillo, and meanwhile, in order to distract your mind, why not make a trip to the city?"
The following evening, when he got back from his excursion to the city, Don Camillo went before Christ in a condition of extreme agitation.
"What has upset you, Don Camillo?"
"Something quite mad," exclaimed Don Camillo breathlessly. "I have met a dead man! Face to face in the street!"
"Don Camillo, calm yourself and reflect. Usually the dead whom one meets face to face in the street are alive."
"This one cannot be!" shouted Don Camillo. "This one is as dead as mutton, and I know it because I myself carried him to the cemetery."
"If that is the case," Christ replied, "then I have nothing more to say. You must have seen a ghost."
Don Camillo shrugged his shoulders. "Of course not!
Ghosts don't exist except in the minds of hysterical women!"
"Well . . ." muttered Don Camillo.
Don Camillo collected his thoughts. The deceased had been a thin young man who lived in a nearby village, and Don Camillo had seen him from time to time before the war. He had come down from the mountains with Peppone and his men and had been wounded in the head. Peppone put him up in the house which had been the German headquarters and which that day became the headquarters of the British Command. Peppone had his office in the room next to the invalid. Don Camillo remembered it all clearly: the villa was surrounded by sentries three deep and not a fly could leave it, because the British were still fighting nearby and were particularly careful of their own skins.
All this had happened one morning, and on the same evening the young man died. Peppone sent for Don Camillo toward midnight, but by the time he got there the young man was already in his coffin. The British didn't want the body in the house and so, at about noon, Peppone and his most trusted men carried out the coffin, covered with the Italian flag. A detachment of British soldiers had kindly volunteered to supply military honors.
Don Camillo recalled that the ceremony had been most moving. The whole village had walked behind the coffin which had been placed on a gun carriage. He himself had officiated, and his sermon before the body was lowered into the grave had people actually weeping. Peppone in the front row had sobbed.
"I certainly know how to express myself, when I put my mind to it!" said Don Camillo to himself complacently, recalling the episode. Then he took up his train of thought. "And in spite of all that, I could swear that the young man I met today in the city was the same one I followed to the grave."
He sighed. "Such is life!"
The following day, Don Camillo paid a visit to Peppone at his workshop where he found him lying on his back underneath a car.
"Good morning, Comrade Mayor. I want to tell you that for the past two days I have been thinking over your description of your 'People's Palace'!"
"And what do you think of it?" jeered Peppone.
"Magnificent! It has made me decide to start work on that scheme of a little place with a bathing-pool, garden, sports ground, theater, et cetera, which, as you know, I have planned for the past ten years. I expect to lay the foundation stone next Sunday. It would give me great pleasure if you, as Mayor, would attend the ceremony."
"Willingly—courtesy for courtesy."
"Meanwhile, you might try to trim down the plans for your own place a bit. It looks too big for my taste."
Peppone stared at him in amazement. "Don Camillo, are you crazy?"
"No more than when I conducted a funeral and made a patriotic address over a coffin that can't have been securely closed, because only yesterday I met the corpse walking about in the city."
Peppone sneered, "What are you trying to insinuate?"
"Nothing. Merely that the coffin to which the British presented arms was full of what you found in the cellars of that villa where the German Command had hidden it. And that the dead man was alive and hidden in the attic."
"A-a-h!" howled Peppone, "the same old story! An attempt to malign the partisan movement!"
"Leave the partisans out of it. They don't interest me!" And he walked away while Peppone stood muttering vague threats.
That same evening, Don Camillo was reading the paper and waiting for Peppone. He arrived accompanied by Brusco and two other prominent supporters—the same men who had acted as pallbearers.
"You," said Peppone, "can drop your insinuations. It was all of it stuff looted by the Germans: silver, cameras, instruments, gold, et cetera. If we hadn't taken it, the British would have. We took the only possible means of getting it out of the place. I have witnesses and receipts: nobody has touched so much as a lira. Ten million was taken and ten million will be spent for the people."
Brusco, who was hot tempered, began to shout that it was God's truth and that he, if necessary, knew well enough how to deal with certain people.
"So do I," Don Camillo replied calmly. He dropped the newspaper which he had been holding in front of him, and it was easy to see that under his right armpit he held the famous Tommy gun that once belonged to Peppone.
Brusco turned pale but Peppone held up his hands. "Don Camillo—there is no need to quarrel."
"I agree," replied Don Camillo. "In fact, I agree all the way around. Ten million was acquired and ten million will be spent for the people. Seven on your People's Palace and three on my Recreation Center for the people's children. Suffer little children to come unto Me. I ask only what is my due."
The four consulted together for a moment in undertones. Then Peppone spoke: "If you didn't have that damnable thing in your hands, I'd tell you that your suggestion is the filthiest blackmail in the world."
On the following Sunday, Peppone, together with all the village Council, assisted at the laying of the first stone of Don Camillo's Recreation Center. Peppone also made a short speech. However, he was able to whisper in Don Camillo's ear:
"It might he better to tie this stone around your neck and throw you in the Po."
That evening, Don Camillo went to report to Christ. "Well, what do You think about it?" he said after he had described the events of the day.
"Exactly what Peppone said. That if you didn't have that damnable thing in your hands, I should say that it was the filthiest blackmail in the world."
"But I have nothing at all in my hands except the check that Peppone has just given me."
"Precisely," whispered Christ. "And with that three million you are going to do so many beautiful things, Don Camillo, that I haven't the heart to scold you."
Don Camillo genuflected and went off to bed to dream of a garden full of children—a garden with a merry-go-round and a swing, and on the swing sat Peppone's youngest son, Libero Camillo Lenin, chirping joyfully like a fledgling.
Go on to chapter seven, Rivalry on the meaning of life website.