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Luigi Pirandello: Shoot! (21)

Luigi Pirandello: Shoot! (21)

Shoot! (Si Gira, 1926). The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator by Luigi Pirandello. Translated from the Italian by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

BOOK IV

4

“Signor Gubbio, please: I have something to say to you.”

Night had fallen: I was hurrying along beneath the big planes of the avenue. I knew that he–Carlo Ferro–was following me, in breathless haste, so as to pass me and then perhaps to turn round, pretending to have remembered all of a sudden that he had something to say to me. I wished to deprive him of this pleasure, and kept increasing my pace, expecting at every moment that he–growing tired at length–would admit himself beaten and call out to me. As indeed he did…. I turned, as though in surprise. He overtook me and with ill-concealed annoyance asked:

“Do you mind!”

“Go on.”

“Are you going home?”

“Yes.”

“Do you live far off?”

“Some way.”

“I have something to say to you,” he repeated, and stood still, looking at me with an evil glint in his eye. “You probably know that, thank God, I can spit on the contract I have with the Kosmograph. I can secure another, just as good and better, at any moment, whenever I choose, anywhere, for myself and my lady friend. Do you know that or don’t you?”

I smiled, shrugging my shoulders:

“I can believe it, if it gives you any pleasure.”

“You can believe it, because it is the truth!” he shouted back at me, in a provocative, challenging tone.

I continued to smile; and said:

“It may be; but I do not see why you come and tell me about it, and in

that tone.”

“This is why,” he went on. “I intend to remain, my dear Sir, with the Kosmograph.”

“Remain? Why; I never even knew that you had any idea of leaving.”

“Some one else had the idea,” Carlo Ferro retorted, laying stress on the words ‘some one else’. “But I tell you that I intend to remain: do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“And I remain, not because I care about the contract, which doesn’t matter a damn to me; but because I have never yet run away from anyone!”

So saying, he took the lapel of my coat between his fingers, and gave it a tug.

“Do you mind?” it was now my turn to ask, calmly, as I removed his hand; and I felt in my pocket for a box of matches; I struck one of them to light the cigarette which I had already taken from my case and held between my lips; I drew in a mouthful or two of smoke; stood for a while with the burning match in my fingers to let him see that his words, his threatening tone, his aggressive manner, were not causing me the slightest uneasiness; then I went on, quietly: “I may possibly understand to what you wish to allude; but, I repeat, I do not understand why you come and say these things to me,”

“It is not true,” Carlo Ferro shouted. “You are pretending not to understand.”

Placidly, but in a firm voice, I replied:

“I do not see why. If you, my dear Sir, wish to provoke me, you are making a mistake; not only because you have no reason, but also because, precisely like yourself, I am not in the habit of running away from anyone.”

Whereupon, “What do you mean?” he sneered. “I have had to run pretty fast to catch you!”

I gave a hearty laugh:

“Oh, so that’s it! You really thought that I was running away from you? You are mistaken, my dear Sir, and I can prove it to you straight away. You suspect, perhaps, that I have something to do with the arrival here, shortly, of a certain person who annoys you?”

“He doesn’t annoy me in the least!”

“All the better. On the strength of this suspicion, you were capable of believing that I was running away from you?”

“I know that you were a friend of a certain painter, who committed suicide at Naples.”

“Yes. Well?”

“Well, you who have mixed yourself up in this business….”

“I? Nothing of the sort! Who told you so? I know as much about it as you; perhaps not so much as you.”

“But you must know this Signor Nuti!”

“Nothing of the sort! I saw him, some years ago, as a young man on one or two occasions, not more. I have never spoken to him.”

“Which means…”

“Which means, my dear Sir, that not knowing this Signor Nuti, and feeling annoyed at seeing myself looked at askance for the last few days by you, from the suspicion that I had mixed myself up, or wished to mix myself up in this business, I did not wish you, just now, to overtake me, and so increased my pace. That is the explanation of my ‘running away’. Are you satisfied?”

With a sudden change of expression Carlo Ferro held out his hand, saying with emotion:

“May I have the honour and pleasure of becoming your friend?”

I took his hand and answered:

“You know very well that I am so unimportant a person compared with

yourself, that the honour will be mine.”

Carlo Ferro shook himself like a bear.

“Don’t say that! You are a man who knows his own business, more than any of the others; you know, you see, and you don’t speak…. What a world, Signor Grubbio, what a wicked world we live in! How revolting! Everyone seems… what shall I say? But why must it be like this? Disguised, disguised, always disguised! Can you tell me? Why, as soon as we come together, face to face, do we become like a lot of puppets? Yes, I too; I include myself; all of us! Disguised! One putting on this air, another that…. And inside we are different! We have a heart, inside us, like… like a child hiding in a corner,

whose feelings are hurt, crying and ashamed! Yes, I assure you: the heart is ashamed! I am longing, Signor Gubbio, I am longing for a little sincerity… to be with other people as I so often am with myself, inside myself; a child, I swear to you, a new-born infant that whimpers because its precious mother, scolding it, has told it that she does not love it any more! I myself, always, when I feel the blood rush to my eyes, think of that old mother of mine, away in Sicily, don’t you know? But look out for trouble if I begin to cry! The tears in my eyes, if anyone doesn’t understand me and thinks that I am crying from fear, may at any moment turn to blood on my hands; I know it, and that is why I am always afraid when I feel the tears start to my eyes! My fingers, look, become like this!”

In the darkness of the wide, empty avenue, I saw him thrust out beneath my eyes a pair of muscular fists, savagely clenched and clawed.

Concealing with a great effort the disturbance which this unexpected outburst of sincerity aroused in me, so as not to exacerbate the secret grief that was doubtless preying upon him and had found in this outburst, unintentionally I was certain on his part, a relief which he already regretted; I modulated my voice until I felt that I could speak in such a way that he, while appreciating my sympathy for his sincerity, might be led to think rather than to feel; and said:

“You are right; that is just how it is, Signor Ferro! But inevitably, don’t you see, we put constructions upon ourselves, living as we do in a social environment…. Why, society by its very nature is no longer the natural world. It is a constructed world, even in the material sense! Nature knows no home but the den or the cave.”

“Are you alluding to me?”

“To you? No.”

“Am I of the den or of the cave?”

“Why, of course not! I was trying to explain to you why, as I look at it, people invariably lie. And I say that while nature knows no other house than the den or cave, society ‘constructs’ houses; and man, when he comes from a ‘constructed’ house, where as it is he no longer leads a natural life, entering into relations with his fellows, ‘constructs’ himself also, that is all; presents himself, not as he is, but as he thinks he ought to be or is capable of being, that is to say in a construction adapted to the relations which each of us thinks that he can form with his neighbour. And so in the heart of things, that is to say inside these constructions of ours set face to face in this way, there remain carefully hidden, behind the blinds and shutters, our most intimate thoughts, our most secret feelings. But every now and then we feel that we are stifling; we are overcome by an irresistible need to tear down blinds and shutters, and shout out into the street, in everyone’s face, our thoughts, our feelings that we have so long kept hidden and secret.”

“Quite so… quite so…” Carlo Ferro repeated his endorsement several times, his face again darkening. “But there is a person who takes up his post behind those constructions of which you speak, like a dirty cutthroat at a street corner, to spring on you behind your back, in a treacherous assault! I know such a man, here with the Kosmograph, and you know him too.”

He was alluding of course to Polacco. I at once realised that he at that moment could not be made to think. He was feeling too keenly.

“Signor Gubbio,” he went on resolutely, “I see that you are a man, and I feel that to you I can speak openly. You might give this ‘constructed’ gentleman, whom we both know, a hint of what we have been saying. I cannot talk to him; I know my own violent nature; if I once start talking to him, I may know how I shall begin, I cannot tell where I may end. Because covert thoughts, and people who act covertly, who construct themselves, to use your expression, I simply cannot stand. To me they are like serpents, and I want to crush their heads, like that … look, like that….”

He stamped twice on the ground with his heel, furiously. Then he went on:

“What harm have I done him? What harm has my lady friend done him, that he should plot against us so desperately in secret? Don’t refuse, please… please don’t… you must be straight with me, for God’s sake! You won’t do it?”

“Why, yes…”

“You can see that I am speaking to you frankly? So please! Listen; it was he, knowing that I as a matter of honour would never try to back out, it was he that suggested my name to Commendator Borgalli for killing the tiger…. He went as far as that, do you understand! To the length of catching me on a point of honour and getting rid of me! You don’t agree? But that is the idea; the intention is that and nothing else: I tell you it is, and you’ve got to believe me! Because it doesn’t require any courage, as you know, to Shoot! a tiger in a cage: it requires calm, coolness is what it requires, a firm hand, a keen eye. Very well, he nominates me! He puts me down for the part, because he knows that I can, at a pinch, be a wild beast when I’m face to face with a man, but that as a man face to face with a wild beast I am worth nothing! I have dash, calm is just what I lack! When I see a wild beast in front of me, my instinct tells me to rush at it; I have not the coolness to stand still where I am and take aim at it carefully so as to hit it in the right place. I have never shot; I don’t know how to hold a gun; I am capable of flinging it away, of feeling it a burden on my hands, do you understand? And he knows this! He knows it perfectly! And so he has deliberately wished to expose me to the risk of being torn in pieces by that animal. And with what object? But just look, just look to what a pitch that man’s perfidy has reached! He makes Nuti come here; he acts as his agent; he clears the way for him, by getting rid of me! ‘Yes, my dear fellow, come,’ will be what he has written to him, ‘I shall look after you, I shall get him out of your way! Don’t worry, but come!’ You don’t agree?”

So aggressive and peremptory was this question, that to have met it with a blunt plain-spoken dissent would have been to inflame his anger even farther. I merely shrugged my shoulders; and answered:

“What would you have me say? You yourself must admit that at this moment you are extremely excited.”

“But how can I be calm?”

“No, there is that…”

“I am quite right, it seems to me!”

“Yes, yes, of course! But when one is in that state, my dear Ferro, it is also very easy to exaggerate things.”

“Oh, so I am exaggerating, am I? Why, yes, … because people who are cool, people who reason, when they set to work quietly to commit a crime, ‘construct’ it in such a way that inevitably, if discovered, it must appear exaggerated. Of course they do! They have constructed it in silence with such cunning, ever so quietly, with gloves on, oh yes, so as not to dirty their hands! In secret, yes, keeping it secret from themselves even! Oh, he has not the slightest idea that he is committing a crime! What! He would be horrified, if anyone were to call his attention to it. ‘I, a crime? Go on! How you exaggerate!’ But where is the exaggeration, by God? Reason it out for yourself as I do! You take a man and make him enter a cage, into which a tiger is to be driven, and you say to him: ‘Keep calm, now. Take a careful aim, and fire. Oh, and remember to bring it down with your first shot, see that you hit it in the right spot; otherwise, even if you wound it, it will spring upon you and tear you in pieces!’ All this, I know, if they choose a calm, cool man, a skilled marksman, is nothing, it is not a crime. But if they deliberately choose a man like myself? Think of it, a man like myself! Go and tell him: he will be amazed: ‘What! Ferro? Why, I chose him on purpose because I know how brave he is!’ There is the treachery! There is where the crime lurks: in that ‘knowing how brave I am’! In taking advantage of my courage, of my sense of honour, you follow me? He knows quite well that courage is not what is required! He pretends to think that it is! There is the crime! And go and ask him why, at the same time, he is secretly at work trying to pave the way for a friend of his who would like to get back the woman, the woman who is at present living with the very man nominated by him to enter the cage. He will be even more amazed! ‘Why, what connexion is there between the two things’? Oh, but really, he suspects this as well, does he? What an ex-ag-ge-ra-tion!’ Why, you yourself said that I exaggerated…. But think it over carefully; penetrate to the root of the matter; you will discover what he himself refuses to see, hiding beneath that artificial show of reason; tear off is gloves, and you will find that the gentleman’s hands are red with blood!”

I myself too had often thought, that each of us–however honest and upright he may esteem himself, considering his own actions in the abstract, that is to say apart from the incidents and coincidences that give them their weight and value–may commit a crime ‘in secret even from himself’, that I was stupefied to hear my own thought expressed to me with such clearness, such debating force, and, moreover, by a man whom until then I had regarded as narrow-minded and of a vulgar spirit.

I was, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that Polacco was not acting ‘really’ with any consciousness of committing a crime, nor was he favouring Nuti for the purpose that Carlo Ferro suspected. But it might also, this purpose, be included ‘without his knowledge’, as well in the selection of Ferro to kill the tiger as in the facilitation of Nuti’s coming: actions that only in appearance and in his eyes were unconnected. Certainly, since he could not ‘in any other way’ rid himself of the Nestoroff, the idea that she might once more become the mistress of Nuti, his friend, might be one of his secret aspirations, a desire that was not however apparent. As the mistress of one of his friends, the Nestoroff would no longer be such an enemy; not only that, but perhaps also Nuti, having secured what he wanted, and being as rich as he was, would refuse to allow the Nestoroff to remain an actress, and would take her away with him.

“But you,” I said, “have still time, my’dear Ferro, if you think…”

“No, Sir!” he interrupted me sharply. “This Signor Nuti, by Polacco’s handiwork, has already bought the right to join the Kosmograph.”

“No, excuse me; what I mean is, you have still time to refuse the part that has been given you. No one who knows you can think that you are doing so from fear.”

“They would all think it!” cried Carlo Ferro. “And I should be the first! Yes, Sir… because courage I can and do have, in front of a man, but in front of a wild beast, if I have not calm I cannot have courage; the man who does not feel calm must feel afraid. And I should feel afraid, yes Sir! Afraid not for myself, you understand! Afraid for the people who care for me. I have insisted that my mother should receive an insurance policy; but if to-morrow they give her a wad of paper money stained with blood, my mother will die! What do you expect her to do with the money? You see the shame that conjurer has brought on me! The shame of saying these things, which appear to be dictated by a tremendous, preposterously exaggerated fear! Yes, because everything that I do, and feel, and say is bound to strike everyone as exaggerated. Good God, they have shot ever so many wild beasts in every cinematograph company, and no actor has ever been killed, no actor has ever taken the thing so seriously. But I take it seriously, because here, at this moment, I see myself played with, I see myself trapped, deliberately selected with the sole object of making me lose my calm! I am certain that nothing is going to happen; that it will all be over in a moment and that I shall kill the tiger without the slightest danger to myself. But I am furious at the trap that has been set for me, in the hope that some accident will happen to me, for which Signor Nuti, there you have it, will be waiting ready to step in, with the way clear before him. That… that… is what I… I…”

He broke off abruptly; clenched his fists together and wrung his hands, grinding his teeth. In a flash of inspiration, I realised that the man was torn by all the furies of jealousy. So that was why he had shouted after me! That was why he had spoken at such length! That was why he was in such a state!

And so Carlo Ferro is not sure of the Nestoroff. I scanned him by the light of one of the infrequent street-lamps: his face was distorted, his eyes glared savagely.

“My dear Ferro,” I assured him cordially, “if you think that I can be of use to you in any way, to the best of my ability…”

“Thanks!” he replied coldly. “No… it’s not possible… ‘you’ can’t…”

Perhaps he meant to say at first: “You are of no use to me!” He managed to restrain himself, and went on:

“You can help me only in one way: by telling this Signor Polacco that I am not a man to be played with, because whether it is my life or the lady, I am not the sort of man to let myself be robbed of either of them as easily as he seems to think! That you can tell him! And that if anything should happen here–as it certainly will–it will be the worse for him: take the word of Carlo Ferro! Tell him this, and I am your grateful servant.”

Barely indicating a contemptuous farewell with a wave of his hand, he lengthened his pace and left me.

And his offer of friendship?

How glad I was of this unexpected relapse into contempt! Carlo Ferro may think for a moment that he is my friend; he cannot feel any friendship for me. And certainly, to-morrow, he will hate me all the more, for having treated me this evening as a friend.

Luigi Pirandello: Shoot! (21)

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