| || Chapter Twenty-two - Seeds of Hate |
PEPPONE popped up in front of Don Camillo without any warning, followed by Smilzo, Bigio, Brusco, and Lungo. It looked like revenge or intimidation, and Don Camillo's first thought was of Falchetto, who had left the Party to marry Rocchi's daughter. "They're furious because they imagine I had something to do with it," he said to himself. But the gang wasn't thinking of Falchetto at all.
"There's no God in this, and no politics either," said Peppone, puffing like a steam engine. "This is a patriotic matter. I'm here in my capacity of citizen Mayor and you in your capacity of citizen priest."
Don Camillo threw out his arms in welcome.
"Speak, citizen Mayor! The citizen priest is all ears."
Peppone stood in front of the table where Don Camillo was sitting, while his followers silently lined up behind him with their legs wide apart and their arms crossed over their chests.
"The Nemesis of History . . ." Peppone began, somewhat to Don Camillo's alarm, ". . . and not only the Nemesis of History but the Nemesis of Geography as well, and if that isn't enough. . . ."
"I think it is enough," said Don Camillo, feeling reassured by the addition of Geography. "Just tell me what it's all about."
Peppone turned towards his followers with an indignant and ironical smile.
"They claim independence and home rule," he said, "and yet they don't know what's going on a mere fifty yards away."
"They're still living in the egotistical Middle Ages," said Smilzo unctuously. "Cicero pro domo sua and let the people eat cake!"
Don Camillo looked up at him.
"Are they teaching you Latin now?" he asked.
"Why not?" Smilzo retorted. "Do you think you have a monopoly on culture?"
But Peppone interrupted this exchange.
"They're a bunch of unpatriotic scoundrels, who want to usurp the sacred rights of the people by setting up an utterly unfounded claim to independence. I'm speaking of those wretched citizens of Fontanile, who want to secede from our township and set up a village administration of their own. We must nip their attempt in the bud by a manifesto out¬lining from A to Z the historical and geographical Nemesis which makes this town their capital city and their miserable village a mere suburb or dependency. . . ."
The discovery of what Peppone meant by "historical and geographical Nemesis" was not completely reassuring after all. Don Camillo knew his river valley and was aware of the fact that when two of its communities started to bicker, even on the basis of such a big word as "Nemesis," it was no laughing matter. Between these two in particular there were several old unsettled grudges. And for some time the in¬habitants of Fontanile had had this home-rule bee in their bonnets. They had struck the first blow in 1902, when three or four groups of four houses each had put together the money to erect a public building, complete with arcade, sweeping stairway, clock tower and coat-of-arms over the door. This was to be the Town Hall. Then there was such high feeling about it that the police were called in and several citizens went to jail. That was as far as they got then. But the building remained and it was never put to any other use. They tried again in 1920, just after the First World War, but with no more success. And this was a third attempt. Don Camillo proceeded to feel his way cautiously.
"Have you tried talking to them about it?" he asked.
"Me talk to them?" shouted Peppone. "The only language I can make them understand is the tommy-gun."
"It doesn't seem as if negotiations would get very far on that basis," observed Don Camillo.
Peppone couldn't have been any angrier if his status had been lowered to that of a feudal serf.
"We'll act in strictly democratic fashion," he said with painful deliberation. "We'll draw up a statement explaining the historical and geographical Nemesis, and if they're too dense to understand it. . . ."
Here Peppone paused, and Bigio, who was the best balanced of the gang, put in somberly: "If they don't under¬stand, we'll teach them a real lesson."
When the slow-going Bigio spoke in these terms, it meant that things were close to the boiling-point. Don Camillo tried another tack.
"If they want to secede, why not let them do it? What do you care?"
"It doesn't matter to me personally," shouted Peppone, "but it's an attack on the sovereignty of the people. This is the seat of the township. If we lose Fontanile and some of the territory beyond La Rocchetta, what's left? What sort of a one-horse place would this be? Are you by any chance unpatriotic?"
Don Camillo sighed.
"Why turn it into a tragedy? Fontanile has never been allowed to set itself up as an independent village, has it? Why should the authorities allow it to do so now? There's no change in the situation."
Peppone brought his fist down on the table.
"That's what you say!" he shouted ironically, "There's a political factor involved. Our Party is entrenched in the Town Hall and over at Fontanile they're all reactionaries. So the national Government would be glad to see some of our land and our people fall under a different administration!"
Don Camillo looked at him hard.
"You're the citizen Mayor and in politics up to your ears, so you ought to know. As a mere citizen priest, I'm in the dark."
Smilzo came forward and pointed an accusing finger at him. "You hireling of the Americans!" he said cuttingly.
Don Camillo shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, what are we going to do?" he asked Peppone.
"The first thing is to draw up a manifesto embodying our historical, geographical and economic arguments."
"And where am I to find them?" asked Don Camillo.
"That's up to you. Didn't they teach you anything at the seminary except how to make propaganda for America? . . . After that we'll see. If they drop their plan, all right; if they don't, we'll send them an intimatum to the effect that either they drop it or else ... or else the will of the people shall decide!"
"God's will, you mean," Don Camillo corrected him.
"God doesn't come into this; we've said that already," replied Peppone. "But I'll take care of the intimatum, any¬how."
Don Camillo spent half the night putting together a mani¬festo of the reasons why Fontanile should not set itself up as an independent village. The hardest part was to reconcile the conflicting points of view and not to tread on anybody's toes. Finally, the manifesto was sent to the printer and then a group of young men went to paste it up at Fontanile.
At noon the next day a box was delivered to Peppone at the Town Hall. It contained one of the posters that had been pasted up at Fontanile the night before, and rolled up inside was something extremely unpleasant. Peppone wrapped it up again and hurried over to the presbytery, where he un¬folded it in front of Don Camillo.
"Here is the answer from Fontanile," he said.
"Very well," said Don Camillo. "I wrote the statement, so that's meant for me. Leave it here and don't think about it any more."
Peppone shook his head. He folded it up again and started to go silently away. But at the door he turned round.
"Citizen priest," he said, "you'll soon have plenty of work to do."
Don Camillo was so taken aback that he could find nothing to answer. Peppone's words had transfixed him with fear.
"Lord," he said to the Lord at the altar. "Haven't war and politics put enough hate into these men's hearts?"
"Unfortunately, they can always find room for more," sighed the Lord.
Go on to chapter twenty-three, War of Secession on our site.