Friday, March 26, 2010

The Monk, the Cow, and the Peddler

After pondering my Legion-related postings from the last two days, I thought I'd steal a leaf from Pete Vere's book and compose a little tale. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all, though my silly little story won't measure up to the ones written by Pete, I'm sure. But anyway, here goes.

There was once an Abbey where a strange Abbot lived. He had to be very, very holy, because nothing he ever said or did made much sense to ordinary men. He gathered around himself a following of monks, to whom he gave strange advice and directions. Some he sent to minister directly to the rich, who were under-served by traditional religious orders; some he sent to instruct children in the lesson that the best wisdom of all could be found at the Abbey; and some he sent with curious orders to find poor families who owned only one or two cows, and push their cows over the nearby cliffs (the story takes place in a mountainous region). The monks often wondered what this program of holy bovicide could possibly mean, but they didn't ever discuss it, because the Abbot's law of charity forbade such conversations among the monks.

One evening, having successfully pushed eight cows and one donkey over a cliff, a monk was walking along the village road. He was sad, because of the donkey; the light had been failing, and in his haste and zeal to exterminate a few more cattle for the Abbot before the day was over, the monk had made a dreadful error. So engrossed in his penitent thoughts was the monk that he collided with a man who was carrying a basket over his shoulders.

"I am so sorry that you did not see me!" exclaimed the monk, not stooping to help the man pick up the things he had dropped; monks don't stoop, for it is as undignified as eating an apple without the proper utensils. "Are you a food-seller, perhaps?" he continued hopefully; he had not had time to eat this day, aside from his breakfast, and the lunch he had packed, and the dinner he had eaten with a poor family before going out to send their cow to bovine glory.

"No," grunted the man, without any proper deference to the monk, for which the monk forgave him immediately. "I sell cowhide. But prices have risen, and the shoemaker in town is being stubborn. He won't buy my hides; he says he will travel to a distant town to buy cheaper skins to make his shoes."

"Dear me," said the monk. "And why have the prices risen?"

"Cows are becoming scarce around here," said the peddler. "Some say it's an act of God, but others say that it's just wickedness and superstition."

"The first is undoubtedly correct," said the monk severely. "However, I have been thinking. If it is an act of God that cows should perish, I am certain that He will tell me so. And if cows have perished some distance from their owner's land--some distance straight down, say--then no one really owns what is left of the cow. If God were to enlighten me as to where these unfortunate cattle have--er, landed--and if their hides are still in good condition..."

The peddler's eyes brightened. Soon he and the monk had worked out a deal. The monk would show the dealer in cowhide where to obtain skins without paying anything, and the peddler would pay the monk out of the proceeds of his sales.

That night the Abbot himself approved the great idea the monk had had to increase the work of the Abbey in this slightly unconventional way. He encouraged the monk, and their brother monks, to continue in this great work. Soon in addition to profiting from the cowhides, the Abbey was profiting from the apostolate of the unclaimed beef, the apostolate of the bones (for use in making gelatin which, alas, was unable to soothe the Abbot's mysterious digestive pains, though it was a great seller at village fairs), the apostolate of the soap, and many other such works.

But hard times came on the Abbey, when the Abbot was revealed to be a fraud and sent away to do penance. Walking along the same village road one day years later, the monk was accosted by a beggar. Declaring himself unable to give more than a blessing, the monk started in surprise. "Why, are you not the peddler of cowhide who first gave me the idea to increase the great work of the Abbey?"

"I am," said the unhappy wretch. "And because of you I am now as poor as those poor fools you stole the cows from."

"But why? People have not stopped wearing shoes," said the monk reasonably.

"No, but they have stopped buying shoes made from leather that came from cows that were pushed over cliffs by monks of the Abbey," said the peddler bitterly. "The village shoemaker is hanging on to his business by a shoelace, and the Abbey's friendly butcher had to flee for his life. As for the soap-seller--it's better not to talk about it."

"You surprise me," said the monk. "The Abbot is gone now. We poor monks have suffered terribly because of his fraud. But we must continue his great good work! Ignore those silly people who refuse to deal further with the great work of the Abbey and our many, many partners. Do they not realize that God writes straight with crooked lines?"

When he regained consciousness an hour later, the monk got to his feet slowly and rubbed gingerly at his black eye. Too bad the Abbey's favorite butcher had been run out of town--the other butcher would charge him dearly for a piece of raw beefsteak to put over his eye. But the monk was glad to have an opportunity for great charity. Once he stopped swearing, that was.

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