Chapter Seven - Rivalry
A BIG SHOT FROM the city was going to visit the village, and people were coming from all the surrounding cells. Therefore, Peppone decreed that the ceremony was to be held in the big square. He had a large platform decorated with red erected and got one of those trucks with four great loudspeakers and all the electric mechanism inside it for amplifying the voice.
And so, on the afternoon of that Sunday, the public square was crammed with people and so also was the church square, which happened to be next to it. Don Camillo shut all the doors and withdrew into the sacristy, so as to avoid seeing or hearing anything which would put him in a temper. He was actually dozing when a voice like the wrath of God roused him with a jerk as it bellowed: "COMRADES! . . ."
It was as though the walls had melted away.
Don Camillo went to work off his indignation at the high altar. "They must have aimed one of their accursed loudspeakers directly at the church," he exclaimed. "It is nothing short of violation of domicile."
"What can you do about it, Don Camillo? It is progress," replied Christ.
After a few generalizations, the voice got down to business and, since the speaker was an extremist, he made no bones about it. "We must remain within the law and we shall do so! Even at the cost of taking up our weapons and using the firing squad on all the enemies of the people! . . ."
Don Camillo was pawing the ground like a restive horse. "Lord, only listen to him!"
"I hear him, Don Camillo. I hear him only too well."
"Lord, why don't You drop a thunderbolt on all that rabble?"
"Don Camillo, let us remain within the law. If your method of driving the truth into the head of one who is in error is to shoot him down, what was the use of My crucifixion?"
Don Camillo shrugged. "You are right, of course. We can do nothing but wait for them to crucify us too."
Christ smiled. "If instead of speaking first and then thinking over what you have said, you thought first and did the speaking afterwards, you might not have to regret the foolish things you say."
Don Camillo bowed his head.
". . . as for those who, hiding in the shadow of the Crucifix, attempt with the poison of their ambiguous words to spread dissension among the masses of the workers . . ." The voice of the loudspeaker, borne on the wind, filled the church and shook the bright-colored glass in the Gothic windows. Don Camillo grabbed a heavy bronze candlestick and brandishing it like a club, made for the church door.
"Don Camillo, stop! You will not leave the church until everyone has gone away."
"Oh, very well," replied Don Camillo, putting the candlestick back on the altar. "I obey." He marched up and down the church and finally stopped in front of Christ. "But in here I can do as I please?"
"Naturally, Don Camillo. Here you are in your own house and free to do exactly as you wish. Short of climbing up to a window and firing at the people below."
Three minutes later, Don Camillo, leaping and bounding cheerfully in the bell chamber of the church tower, was performing the most infernal carillon that had ever been heard in the village.
The orator was forced to interrupt his speech and turned to the local authorities who were standing with him on the platform. "He must be stopped!" the big shot cried indignantly.
Peppone agreed gravely, nodding his head. "He must indeed," he replied, "and there are just two ways of stopping him. One is to explode a mine under the church tower and the other is to bombard it with heavy artillery."
The orator told him to stop talking nonsense. Surely it was easy enough to break in the door of the tower and climb the stairs.
"Well," said Peppone calmly, "you go up by ladders from landing to landing. Look, comrade, do you see those projections just by the big window of the belfry? They are the steps that the bellringer has removed as he went up. By closing the trap door of the top landing, he is cut off from the world."
"We might try firing at the windows of the tower!" suggested Smilzo.
"Certainly," agreed Peppone, "but we would have to knock him out with the first shot, otherwise he'd begin firing and then there might be trouble."
The bells stopped ringing for a moment, and the orator resumed his speech; all went well so long as he was careful to say nothing of which Don Camillo disapproved. Otherwise, Don Camillo immediately began a counterargument with his bells. In the end, the speech was merely pathetic and patriotic and was therefore respected by the threatening bells.
That evening, Peppone met Don Camillo. "Watch out, Don Camillo. This baiting could bring you to a bad end."
"There is no baiting involved," replied Don Camillo calmly. "You blow your trumpets and we ring our bells. That, comrade, is democracy. If on the other hand, only one person is allowed to perform, that is a dictatorship."
Peppone held his peace, but one morning Don Camillo got up to find a merry-go-round, a swing, three shooting galleries, a ferris wheel, and an indefinite number of other booths set up, within exactly one foot of the line that divided the public square from the church square.
The owners of the "amusement park" showed him their permits, duly signed by the Mayor, and Don Camillo retired without comment to the rectory. That evening all hell broke loose in the form of barrel organs, loudspeakers, gunfire, shouting and singing, bells, whistling, screaming and bellowing.
Don Camillo went to protest to Christ. "This shows a lack of respect for the house of God."
"Is there anything that is immoral or scandalous?" asked Christ.
"No—merry-go-rounds, swings, little motor cars— chiefly children's amusements."
"Well then, it is simply democracy."
"But this infernal din?" protested Don Camillo.
"The din is democracy too, provided it remains within the law. Outside Church territory, the Mayor is in command, my son."
One side of the rectory adjoined the square, and exactly underneath one of its windows a strange apparatus had been erected. This immediately aroused Don Camillo's curiosity. It was a small column about three feet high, topped by a kind of stuffed mushroom covered with leather. Behind it was another column, taller and more slender, which had a large dial with numbers from 1 to 1000. A blow was struck at the mushroom, and the dial recorded its force. Don Camillo, squinting through the cracks of the shutters, began to enjoy himself.
By eleven o'clock in the evening, the highest number recorded was 750 and that stood to the credit of Badile, the Gretti's cowman, who had fists like sacks of potatoes. Then suddenly Comrade Peppone made his appearance, surrounded by his satellites. All the people came running to watch, crying, "Go on, Peppone, whack it!" Peppone removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and took his stand opposite the machine, measuring the distance with his clenched fist. There was total silence, and even Don Camillo felt his heart hammering.
Peppone's fist sailed through the air and struck the mushroom.
"Nine hundred and fifty," yelled the owner of the machine. "I've seen only one other man get that score and he was a longshoreman in Genoa!" The crowd howled enthusiastically.
Peppone put on his coat again, raised his head and looked up at the shuttered window where Don Camillo was hiding. "To whom it may concern," he remarked loudly, "I might say that a blow that registers nine hundred and fifty is no joke!"
Everyone looked up at the rectory window and laughed. Don Camillo went to bed with his legs shaking under him. The next evening he was there again, peeking from behind his window and waiting feverishly for the clock to strike eleven. Once again, Peppone arrived with his staff, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and aimed a mighty blow at the mushroom.
"Nine hundred and fifty-one!" howled the crowd. And once again they looked up at Don Camillo's window and snickered. Peppone also looked up.
"To whom it may concern," he remarked loudly, "I might say that a blow that registers nine hundred and fifty-one is no joke!"
Don Camillo went to bed that night with a temperature.
Next day, he went and knelt before Christ. "Lord," he sighed, "I am being dragged over the precipice!"
"Be strong and resist, Don Camillo!"
That evening, Don Camillo went to his peephole in the window as though he were on his way to the scaffold. The story of Peppone's feat had spread like wildfire, and the whole countryside had come to see the performance. When Peppone appeared there was an audible whisper of "Here he is!" Peppone looked up, jeering, took off his coat, raised his fist and there was silence.
"Nine hundred and fifty-two!"
Don Camillo, when he saw a million eyes fixed on his window, lost the light of reason and hurled himself out of the room.
"To whom . . ." Peppone did not have time to finish; Don Camillo already stood before him. The crowd bellowed and then was suddenly silent.
Don Camillo threw out his chest, took a firm stance, threw away his hat and crossed himself. Then he raised his formidable fist and struck hard.
"One thousand!" yelled the crowd.
"To whom it may concern, I might say that a blow that registers one thousand is no joke," remarked Don Camillo.
Peppone had grown rather pale, and his satellites were glancing at him doubtfully, hesitating between resentment and disappointment. Other bystanders were chuckling delightedly. Peppone looked Don Camillo straight in the eye and took off his coat again. He stepped in front of the machine and raised his fist.
"Lord!" whispered Don Camillo hastily.
Peppone's fist sailed through the air.
"One thousand," bawled the crowd and Peppone's bodyguard rejoiced.
"At one thousand all blows are formidable," observed Smilzo. "I think we'll leave it at that."
Peppone went triumphantly in one direction while Don Camillo walked off triumphantly in the other.
"Lord," said Don Camillo when he knelt before the crucifix. "I thank You. I was scared to death."
"That you wouldn't make a thousand?"
"No, that that pig-headed fool wouldn't make it too. I would have had it on my conscience."
"I knew it, and it was lucky that I came to your help," replied Christ, smiling. "Moreover, Peppone, as soon as he saw you, nearly died for fear you wouldn't reach nine hundred and fifty-two."
"Possibly!" muttered Don Camillo, who now and then liked to appear skeptical.
Go on to chapter eight, Crime and Punishment on the meaning of life website.