Chapter Eight - The Petition
DON CAMILLO was walking quietly along the Low Road towards the village, smoking his usual cigar when, just round a curve, he came upon Peppone's gang. There were five of them, and Smilzo was in charge. Don Camillo looked at them with frank curiosity.
"Are you planning to attack me?" he asked them. "Or have you some better plan in mind?"
"Don't you dare incite us to violence!" said Smilzo, taking a sheet of paper out of an envelope and unfolding it before him.
"Is this for the last wishes of the condemned man?"
"It's for everyone to sign who wants peace," said Smilzo. "If you don't sign, then you don't want peace. From now on, honest men and warmongers are going to be clearly divided."
Don Camillo examined the dove printed at the top of the paper.
"I'm an honest man," he said, "but I'm not signing. A man who wants peace doesn't have to testify to it with his signature."
Smilzo turned to Gigo, who was standing beside him.
"He thinks this is a political move," he said. "According to him, everything we do is tied up with politics."
"Look, there's no politics in this," put in Gigo. "It's just a question of preserving peace. Peace is good for all political parties. It will take plenty of signatures to get us out of the Atlantic Pact, and if we don't get out, it's going to land us in war, as sure as shooting."
Don Camillo shook the ashes off the end of his cigar.
"You'd better make yourselves busy," he said. "If I'm not mistaken, you haven't even started."
"Of course not. We wanted you to have the honor of being the first name on the list. That's only natural. When peace is at stake, the clergy ought to take the lead."
Don Camillo threw out his arms. "It can be taken for granted that the clergy's in favor of peace, so it's just as if my signature were there."
"Then you're not going to sign?"
Don Camillo shook his head and walked away.
"If we're saddled with a clergy of this kind, then we'll have to fight not one war, but two," Smilzo said bitterly, putting the paper back in the envelope.
A little later Peppone arrived at the presbytery door.
"No politics involved," he declared. "I'm here in the capacities of Mayor, citizen, father of a family, Christian, and honest man."
"Too many people!" exclaimed Don Camillo. "Too big a crowd! Come in just as Peppone, and leave the rest outside."
Peppone came in and sat down.
"We've come to the ragged edge," he began. "If honest men don't stick together, the world's headed for a smash-up."
"Sorry to hear it," Don Camillo answered seriously. "Is there anything new?"
"Only that if we don't safeguard peace, everything's going to ruin. Let's leave politics and parties out of it and all get together."
Don Camillo nodded. "That's the way I like to hear you talk," he said. "It's about time you cut loose from that brood of Satan."
"I said we'd leave politics out of it," retorted Peppone. "This is a time for thinking in world-wide terms."
Don Camillo looked at him with astonishment, for he had never heard him mouth such big ideas.
"Do you want peace or don't you?" asked Peppone. "Are you with Jesus Christ or against him?"
"You know the answer."
Out of his pocket Peppone took the envelope and paper that Don Camillo had seen earlier in the day.
"When it comes to fighting for peace, the clergy must be in the front line," he asserted.
Don Camillo shook his head. "You're changing the rules of the game. Didn't you say politics weren't in it?"
"I'm here as a plain citizen," Peppone insisted.
"Very well then, as one citizen to another, I tell you I'm not caught." And as Peppone started to rise excitedly to his feet, he added: "You know very well that if I sign your paper, a lot of other signatures will follow. Without me, you can only hope for those of your own people, and many of them can't write their own names. Since you see that I'm not to be taken in, put that pigeon back in your pocket and hand me two glasses from the sideboard. Otherwise, you and your pigeon and your cause of peace may as well all go back where you came from."
Peppone tucked the paper away.
"Since you're giving yourself such airs," he said proudly, "I'll show you that I can get all the signatures I want without yours as an attraction."
Smilzo and the rest of the "peace gang" were waiting outside.
"Start making the rounds," said Peppone. "But go to our people last. Everyone's got to sign. Peace must be defended; with blows if necessary."
"Chief, if I go to jail, what will happen?" Smilzo asked him.
"Nothing will happen. A man can serve the cause perfectly well in jail."
These words were not exactly comforting. But Smilzo set out, with the gang at his heels, strengthened by some rein¬forcements from the People's Palace.
Now when people have haystacks and vineyards and fields, it is almost impossible for them to say no to a fellow who asks them to sign for peace and swears that politics don't enter into it. And in a village the first five or six signatures are what count. It took several evenings to cover the whole area. But there were no arguments, except from Tonini, who shook his head when they showed him the paper.
"Don't you want peace?"
"No," said Tonini, who was a fellow with hands as big as shovels. "I happen to like war. It kills off a lot of rascals and clears the air."
Here Smilzo made a very sensible observation.
"Still you know, of course, that more honest men are killed off than rascals."
"But I care even less for honest men."
"And what if you get killed yourself?"
"I'd rather be killed than sign a paper. At least, when you die, you know where you're going."
The gang started to come forward, but Tonini picked up his shotgun, and Smilzo said he needn't bother.
Everything else went smoothly, and when Peppone saw the sheets full of signatures, he was so happy that he brought his fist down on the table hard enough to make the People's Palace tremble. He compared the peace list with the village census and found that they tallied. The mayors of the neighboring villages complained that they couldn't get people to sign because the reactionaries obstructed them. There had been shooting at Castelina and fisticuffs at Fossa for a whole day. And to think that Smilzo, after taking an hour to persuade each of the first five or six signatories, had won over the rest without a murmur.
"It's the prestige I enjoy as Mayor," said Peppone, and he gathered together the papers and went to savor his triumph.
Don Camillo was reading a book when Peppone appeared before him.
"The power of the clergy is on the decline!" Peppone announced to him. "I thank you in the name of the world's democracies for not having signed. Your signature wouldn't have brought in half as many others. It's too bad for the Pope, that's all." And he added, spreading his paper out on the table, "America's done for! The Atlantic Pact is no good, because we have a totality of votes against it. And everywhere else it's going to go the same way."
Don Camillo scrutinized the lists carefully. Then he threw out his arms. "I'm sorry to tell you, but one signature is missing, Tonini's. So you can't claim a 'totality.' "
"I have all the rest," he said. "What's one against eight hundred?"
Don Camillo opened a drawer, took out some papers, and scattered them in front of Peppone.
"You have signatures against the Pact and I have signatures in its favor."
Peppone opened his eyes wide.
"Russia's done for," said Don Camillo. "Because I have Tonini's signature along with the rest."
Peppone scratched his head.
"There's nothing so remarkable about it," Don Camillo pointed out. "I worked by day, and your men went around by night, when people were already softened up. As a matter of fact, they were glad to sign for you, because that cancelled their signing for me. The only one who didn't like it was Tonini, because I had to knock his head against a wall. But I advise you not to go after him, because he says that before he'll sign another petition he'll shoot to kill."
Peppone took his papers away. And so it was that in Don Camillo's village America triumphed by a majority of one, all on account of Tonini.
Go on to chapter nine, A Solomon Comes to Judgment on the meaning of life