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Chapter Thirteen - Men and Beasts

      LA GRANDE WAS AN enormous farm with a hundred cows, modern dairy, orchards and all the rest. And everything belonged to old Pasotti, who lived alone. One day the army of farm hands who worked on the place went on strike and, led by Peppone, went en masse to the big house and were interviewed by old Pasotti from a window.
     "May God smite you," he shouted, thrusting out his head. "Can't a decent man have peace in this filthy country?"
     "A decent man, yes," replied Peppone, "but not profiteers who deny their workmen what is their just due."
     "I only admit of dues as fixed by the law," retorted Pasotti, "and I am perfectly within the law."
     Then Peppone told him that so long as he refused to grant the concessions demanded, the workers of La Grande would not work. "So you can feed your hundred cows yourself!" Peppone concluded.
     "Very well," replied Pasotti. He closed the window and resumed his interrupted slumbers.
     This was the beginning of the strike at La Grande, and it was a strike organized by Peppone in person with a squad of overseers, regular watches, pickets and barricades. The doors and windows of the cowhouse were nailed up and seals placed upon them.
     
     On the first day, the cows lowed because they had not been milked. On the second day, they lowed because they had not been milked and because they were hungry, and on the third day, thirst was added to all the rest and the lowing could be heard for miles around. Then Pasotti's old servant came out the back door of the big house and explained to the men on picket duty that she was going to the village to the pharmacy to buy disinfectants. "I have told the master that he can't possibly want to get cholera from the stench when all the cows have died of starvation."
     
     This remark caused quite a lot of head-shaking among the older laborers who had been working for more than fifty years for Pasotti and who knew that he was incredibly pigheaded. And then Peppone himself stepped in to say, with the support of his staff, that if anyone dared go near the cowhouse he would be treated as a traitor to his country.
     
     Toward the evening of the fourth day, Giacomo, the old cowman from La Grande, came to the rectory. "There is a cow due to calve and she is crying out fit to break your heart, and she will certainly die unless someone goes to help her. But if anyone attempts to go near the cowhouse they will break every bone in his body."
     
     Don Camillo went and clung to the altar rails. "Lord," he said, "You must hold onto me or I shall make the march to Rome!"
     "Steady! Don Camillo," replied Christ gently. "Nothing is ever gained by violence. You must try to calm these people so that they will listen to reason and avoid acts of violence."
     "Very true," sighed Don Camillo. "One must make them listen to reason. All the same, it seems a pity that while one is preaching reason, the cows should die."
     Christ smiled. "By violence, you may save a hundred beasts and kill one man. By using persuasion, you may lose the beasts but avoid the loss of that man. Which seems preferable: violence or persuasion?"
     Don Camillo who, full of indignation, was reluctant to renounce his idea of a march on Rome, shook his head. "Lord, you are confusing the issue: this is not only a question of the loss of a hundred cows but of the public patrimony, and the death of those animals is a loss for every one of us, good and bad. And it could intensify existing differences and create a conflict in which not only one but twenty men might die."
     Christ was not of his opinion. "But if, by reasoning, you avoid one man being killed today, couldn't you also, by reasoning, avoid others being killed tomorrow? Don Camillo, have you lost your faith?"
     
     Don Camillo went out for a walk across the fields because he was restless. And so it happened that quite by chance his ears became more and more painfully aware of the lowing of the hundred cows at La Grande. Then he heard the voices of the men on picket duty at the barricades, and at the end of ten minutes he found himself crawling inside and along the great cement irrigation ditch that passed underneath the wire fence and which was fortunately not in use at that moment.
     
     "And now," thought Don Camillo, "I just need to find someone waiting at the end of this ditch to knock me on the head." But there wasn't anyone there and Don Camillo was left in peace to make his way cautiously in the direction of the farm.
     
     "Halt!" said a voice presently, and Don Camillo jumped behind a tree trunk.
     "Halt or I fire!" repeated the voice, which came from behind another tree trunk on the further side of the ditch.
     
     It was an evening of coincidences and Don Camillo, quite by chance, had come prepared.
     "Be careful, Peppone, because I'll fire."
     "Ah!" muttered the other, "I might have known that you would be mixed up in this business."
     "Truce of God," said Don Camillo, "and if either of us breaks it he is damned. I'll count, and when I say 'three' we both jump into that ditch."
     "You wouldn't be a priest if you weren't so mistrustful," replied Peppone, and at the count of three he jumped and they found themselves sitting together at the bottom of the ditch.
     
     From the cowhouse came the desperate lowing of the cows, and it was enough to make one cry. "I suppose you enjoy such music," muttered Don Camillo. "A pity that it will stop when all the cows have died. Why not persuade the farm hands to burn the crops and the barns? Just think of poor Pasotti if he were driven to take refuge in some Swiss hotel to spend those millions he has deposited there."
     "He'd have to reach Switzerland first!" growled Peppone threateningly.
     "Exactly!" exclaimed Don Camillo. "It's about time we did away with that fifth commandment which forbids us to kill! And when one eventually comes face to face with Almighty God one will only have to speak out bluntly: 'That's quite enough from you, my dear Eternal Father, or Peppone will proclaim a general strike and make everyone fold their arms!' By the way, Peppone, how are you going to get the angels to fold their arms? Have you thought of that?"
     
     Peppone's roar vied with that of the expecting cow whose complaints were heart-rending. "You are no priest!" he vociferated. "You are the chief of the Gestapo!"
     "The Gestapo is your affair," Don Camillo corrected him.
     "You go around by night, in other people's houses, clutching a Tommy gun like a bandit!"
     "And what about you?"
     "I am in the service of the people!"
     "And I in God's service!"
     Peppone kicked a stone. "No use trying to argue with a priest! Before you have uttered two words they drag in politics!"
     "Peppone," began Don Camillo gently, but the other cut him short.
     "Now don't you begin jawing about the national patrimony and rubbish of that kind or as sure as there is a God in Heaven I'll shoot you!" he exclaimed.
     Don Camillo shook his head. "No use trying to argue with a red. Before you have uttered two words they drag in politics!"
     
     The cow that was about to calve complained loudly.
     
     "Who goes there?" came a sudden voice from someone very close to the ditch. Then Brusco and two others appeared.
     "Go and take a walk along the road to the mill," Peppone ordered them.
     "All right," replied Brusco, "but who are you talking to?"
     "To your damned soul," roared Peppone furiously.
     "That cow that is going to calve is bellowing," muttered Brusco.
     "Go and tell the priest about it!" bawled Peppone, "and let her rot! I am working for the interests of the people, not of cows!"
     "Keep your hair on, chief," stammered Brusco, making off hastily with his companions.
     
     "Very well, Peppone," whispered Don Camillo, "and now we are going to work for the interests of the people."
     "What are you going to do?"
     
     Don Camillo set out quietly along the ditch toward the farm, and Peppone told him to halt or he would get what he was asking for between the shoulders.
     "Peppone is as stubborn as a mule," said Don Camillo calmly, "but he doesn't shoot at the backs of poor priests who are doing what God has commanded."
     
     Then Peppone swore blasphemously and Don Camillo turned on him in a flash. "If you don't stop behaving like a goat, I'll give you one on the jaw!"
     
     Don Camillo walked along quietly, followed by the other, muttering and threatening to shoot. As they approached the cowbarn, another voice called to them to halt.
     "Go to hell!" replied Peppone. "I am here myself now, so you can get along to the dairy."
     
     Don Camillo did not even glance at the cowbarn door with its seals. He went straight up the stairs to the hayloft above it and called in a low voice: "Giacomo."
     
     The old cowman who had come to see him earlier and had related the story of the cow, got up out of the hay. Don Camillo had a flashlight and by shifting a bale of hay they found a trap door.
     "Go down," said Don Camillo to the old man, who climbed down and disappeared for some time.
     
     "She's had her calf all right," he whispered when he returned. "I've seen a thousand of them through it and I know more than any vet."
     "Now go along home," Don Camillo told the old man and the old man went.
     
     Then Don Camillo opened the trap door again and sent a bale of hay through the opening. "What do you think you are doing?" asked Peppone who had so far remained hidden.
     "Help me to throw down these bales and I'll tell you."
     
     Grumbling as he did so Peppone set to work chucking down the bales, and when Don Camillo jumped down after them into the cowbarn, Peppone followed him.
     Don Camillo carried a bale to the right-hand manger. "You'd better attend to the left-hand mangers," he said to Peppone.
     "Not if you murder me!" shouted Peppone, seizing a bale and carrying it to the manger.
     
     They worked like an army. Then there was the problem of watering the animals and, since they were dealing with a modern cowbarn with drinking troughs placed along the outer walls, it involved turning one hundred cows right around and then trying to stop them from drinking themselves to death.
     
     "Go down," said Don Camillo to the old man, who climbed down and disappeared for some time.
     "She's had her calf all right," he whispered when he returned. "I've seen a thousand of them through it and I know more than any vet."
     "Now go along home," Don Camillo told the old man and the old man went.
     Then Don Camillo opened the trap door again and sent a bale of hay through the opening. "What do you think you are doing?" asked Peppone who had so far remained hidden.
     "Help me to throw down these bales and I'll tell you."
     Grumbling as he did so Peppone set to work chucking down the bales, and when Don Camillo jumped down after them into the cowbarn, Peppone followed him.
     Don Camillo carried a bale to the right-hand manger. "You'd better attend to the left-hand mangers," he said to Peppone.
     "Not if you murder me!" shouted Peppone, seizing a bale and carrying it to the manger.
     
      They worked like an army. Then there was the problem of watering the animals and, since they were dealing with a modern cowbarn with drinking troughs placed along the outer walls, it involved turning one hundred cows right around and then trying to stop them from drinking themselves to death.
     
     In the afternoon, Peppone turned up at the rectory.
     "Well," said Don Camillo in honeyed tones. "You revolutionaries should always listen to your old parish priest. You really should, my dear children."
     Peppone stood with folded arms, speechless. Then he blurted out: "But my Tommy gun, reverendo!"
     "Your Tommy gun?" replied Don Camillo with a smile. "I'm afraid I don't understand. You had it yourself."
     "Yes, I had it when we were leaving the cowbarn, but then you took advantage of my exhaustion and stole it from me."
     "Now that you mention it, I believe you're right," replied Don Camillo with disarming candor. "You must forgive me, Peppone, but the truth is that I am getting old and I don't seem able to remember where I've put it."
     "Reverendo!" exclaimed Peppone indignantly. "But that's the second one you've swiped from me!"
     "Never mind, my son. Don't worry. You will easily find another. Who knows how many you have even now lying around your house!"
     "You are one of those priests that, one way or another, compel a decent man to become a Mohammedan!"
     "Very possibly," replied Don Camillo, "but then you, Peppone, are not a decent man."
     Peppone flung his hat on the ground.
     "If you were a decent man," the priest went on, "you would be thanking me for what I have done for you and for the people."
     
     Peppone picked up his hat, jammed it on his head and turned away. "You can rob me of two hundred thousand Tommy guns, but when the time comes I will always have a '75 to train on this infernal house!"
     "And I'll always find an 81 mortar with which to retaliate," replied Don Camillo calmly.
     
     As Peppone was passing the open door of the church he could see the altar, and angrily pulled off his hat and then crammed it on again quickly for fear someone should see him.
     But Christ saw it, and when Don Camillo came in He said gaily: "Peppone went by just now and took off his hat to Me."
     "You be careful, Lord," replied Don Camillo. "Remember someone kissed You and then sold You for thirty pieces of silver. That fellow who took off his hat told me only three minutes before that when the time came he would always find a '75 to fire on the house of God!"
     "And what did you reply?"
     "That I would always manage to find an 81 mortar to fire on his headquarters."
     "I understand, Don Camillo. But the trouble is that you have that mortar already."
     
      Don Camillo spread out his arms. "Lord," he said, "there are so many odds and ends a man hates to throw away because of old memories. All of us are a bit sentimental. And then, in any case, isn't it better that a thing like that be in my house rather than in someone else's?"
     "Don Camillo is always right," smiled Christ, "just as long as he plays fair."
     "No fear about that; I have the best adviser in the universe," replied Don Camillo, and to this Christ could make no reply.
     
     
     Go on to chapter fourteen, The Procession     on this website.
     

     

     
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