Fiction

The Shepherd and the Dictator

In the torture chambers of Robagonia men cried out to the Golden Giant to save their country. But what could a simple-minded peasant do against the brutal army of oppression?

ROBERT ZACKS December 15 1951
Fiction

The Shepherd and the Dictator

In the torture chambers of Robagonia men cried out to the Golden Giant to save their country. But what could a simple-minded peasant do against the brutal army of oppression?

ROBERT ZACKS December 15 1951

In the torture chambers of Robagonia men cried out to the Golden Giant to save their country. But what could a simple-minded peasant do against the brutal army of oppression?

The Shepherd and the Dictator

Fiction

ROBERT ZACKS

This is the story of what happened in Robagonia, a small South American country, at a time when the current group in power turned out to be quite a bit more merciless, more ruthless and efficient than previous totalitarian groups. The very scientific

plan for absolute control put into effect involved, logically, the elimination of all segments of population around which resistance might develop, and covered lawyers, universities and their staffs, newspapers, reporters; in short, the sources of leadership. There was just, about nobody left who might unseat the new palace guard. That’s how we get to the adventures of Pasquale the shepherd.

In all the land there was no man with more simplicity and less guile than Pasquale. His dull ignorance was due to the life he led, perhaps. A man takes the coloring of his labor and the sun and wind that hit him.

As has been said, Pasquale was a shepherd. On the high grassy plateau toward the south of Robagonia, bordered by mountains and cliffs falling away a thousand feet to more gently sloping land, Pasquale kept a patient stern eye on his flock. And what a flock! Not the slow idiotic ramblings of low-country sheep did Pasquale have to cope with, but the quick goatlike scatterings of vigorous high-country animals. His sheep had

deeper chests for breathing the thin cold air. \nd longer stronger legs for climbing to get at grass.

And Pasquale had a deeper chest, too, and longer stronger legs. His face was a bronze mask in peaceful repose and his eyes looked out of the mask like the faintly blue ice high up on the mountain. His hair was bleached white-blond by unfiltered sun; he had a beard that came to his navel in a tangled curly mass.

He did not know his last name. Or his age. As long as he could remember he had been up on the plateau or the mountainside watching a flock of sheep. For many years he had worked for the previous shepherd, a small man with a spry walk and thunderous voice. Then, when the shepherd had died, Pasquale had buried him and simply continued.

There had been no challenge as to ownership. PaBquale saw people rarely; only when he took a sheep down the long trek to town and exchanged it for salt and bread in hard sticks that seemed to last forever, and for cheeses and wines and sometimes for a coat, or shoes.

When Pasquale had come down alone that first time the storekeeper had looked at him amiably.

“Where is the little one?” asked the

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The Shepherd and the Dictator

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storekeeper, cutting a five-pound chunk of aromatic goat cheese.

“Tonio?” said Pasquale sadly. “Ah, he is dead. I do not know the cause. Old age, perhaps. When I awoke he was dead and the look on his face was not of pain.”

The storekeeper looked interested and sympathetic. “A sad piece of news. And you are all alone. Can you watch the flock by yourself?”

“I have my two dogs.”

The storekeeper nodded and smiled approvingly. “I will admit to you, those are two fine dogs.”

And, as simply as that, Pasquale, with no protest from anybody, inherited his place as the owner of the sheep. The priest climbed up, gasping in the thin cold air, and performed the proper rituals over the dead shepherd, then gladly climbed down again to where a man could breathe easily.

In short, that was the history of Pasquale.

Pasquale was sitting, now, on his favorite patch of moss on a cold stone, located near the edge of the cliff that fell down a thousand feet to the slope. There was a wonderful view; he could see almost a hundred miles to a purplish haze on the horizon, but today he did not enjoy it.

Pasquale was thinking, and to think was not an easy thing. There was so little reason for thinking in his way of life. Painfully he contracted his brows into a golden line of hair and his ice-blue eyes reflected his bewilderment as he remembered. He had run out of salt and gone down to the town with a sheep. Instead of smiling at him and calling out in friendly voices, the people had walked by unseeiogly, hurriedly, their eyes on the ground. The storekeeper had hastily taken the sheep into the back room.

“Do not talk of this,” said^ the storekeeper nervously. “And take enough with you in cheese and salt and breadsticks to last as long as possible.”

Pasquale stared at him. “Why? I come only every two months, as it is.”

The storekeeper skirted to answer, looked over his shoulder out the window, and paled. He pushed Pasquale. “Go,” he said sharply. “Go, at once.” He pushed Pasquale, piling his bundles of food in his arms.

Pasquale had gone outside slowly. There was a man outside, getting off a horse. Pasquale stared with interest. The man had a jovial fat face and wore a military-looking suit with high polished boots to his knees. The man walked busily to a corner, without seeing Pasquale, then turned it and disappeared.

Pasquale sat on the cliff, remembering that time. That was five months ago. His salt and breadsticks needed replenishing. Slowly he got up, selected another sheep, called a wordless message to his barking dogs, and proceeded down the long, difficult trail.

When he got to town he noticed uneasily that there were no townspeople in the streets. There were placards posted up on posts dug into the ground, but Pasquale could not read. If he could, he would have known it was forbidden to be on the streets before and after certain hours.

Puzzled, he wandered over to the general store and looking through the shutters saw, instead of his old friend the storekeeper, another man behind the counter. This man wore a uniform.

Pasquale hesitated. Then he turned and trudged onward, thinking, as he led his sheep. The thoughts came

slowly. What had happened to his friend? Perhaps he . . . Then Pasquale stopped in astonishment. He had found his friend, the storekeeper.

Pasquale looked up at him as he slowly swung in the morning breeze, his neck twisted at an odd angle where the rope met itself in a knot. He had been hung. In public.

Pasquale was shocked. It can be truthfully said, he was so shocked by this thing, completely beyond his experience, that he did not think much about it. His simple mind simply didn’t function and automatic reflexes took over.

He dropped the line holding the sheep and climbed the tree to cut down the dead man. Then he climbed down and said dully, “A man should be buried decently.” Since he had no shovel Pasquale made a tomb of stones on the hard ground. Then he said, “Good-by, my good friend. I shall no longer come to this town. 1 shall not trade with the one who has taken your place.”

Pasquale felt very sad and a bit frightened as he went, for the first time in his life, farther on down the slope for a long way, for half a day of walking, until the sheep lay down in bleating protest and Pasquale carried it slung around his neck, looking for a new town in which to trade.

After a while he came to another odd scene. There were ten wooden homes and nine of them were charred wrecks, still smoldering. And from nearby trees hung two more bodies, swinging, with eyes staring horribly and tongues out.

Pasquale stared for a long time. Then he knocked patiently on the door of the last home. From the inside came a shriek of fear. Pasquale opened the door and stepped inside. A man crouched protectingly over a woman and child and glared at Pasquale in fright. Such terrible fright that Pasquale, for the first time, began to be a little afraid.

He could not stand their fear and sought a way to ease it. As they stared at this strange figure, this huge man with ice-blue eyes and golden beard with a sheep slung around his neck, he said to them, “Do not be afraid. There is nothing to fear. Here. Take this sheep.”

Pasquale slung the sheep from around his neck, put it on the ground before them. He was not used to scenes of terror. His life was the quiet of a sloping mountainside and sheep feeding and clouds, fluffy white, floating dreamily. A terror and a sorrow grew within him as he stared dumbly at the crouching, stricken trio. He forced a smile, tried to find words, then, suddenly, turned and fled. Back to his plateau, back to his sheep.

And in this moment, as he stumbled, terror-stricken, away, a legend was born. It was mothered by need and fathered by blind anguish. The legend grew like the wind, invisible and whispered, blowing warmly and secretly. It was an odd thing.

WHEN Pasquale was gone the man in the house, whose name was Victor Arriba, stared in uncomprehending amazement at the sheep which was bleating mournfully.

“Who was that?” asked his wife Marie, in wonderment.

“I do not know,” gaped Victor, staring through the door.

Their child, Rosita, whimpered. “Papa, was that Jesus?”

A light slowly dawned in Victor’s haggard face. “No,” he said. “Not Jesus. But surely one like him. A leader.”

Marie put her hand on his arm. “The sheep,” she said softly. “Food. Slaugh-

ter it and hide it, quickly. Before the secret police come back.”

Feverishly they went to work, slaughtering the animal swiftly and skinning it. They buried the entrails and skin and cut up the meat. They broiled the fatty meat and ate hungrily. When they were through Victor put on his ragged coat.

“I shall prepare,” he said weeping. “We must leave here. We will live in the city. It is safer where there are greater numbers.” With a miserable bundle of belongings dragging in the road’s dust the three of them made the long weary march to the city.

And all along the way, like a swollen growth seeding, they dropped spores that took root. To the man with the wagon who aided them part of the way Victor whispered, “1 swear it, the door opened and a giant with a golden beard and hair, and eyes of blue fire, came in. Around his neck instead of a shawl he wore a sheep. He put it down and said in a voice like thunder, ‘Be not afraid’ and then he disappeared.” To those who scoffed Victor fiercely showed the meat of the sheep which was wrapped in burlap.

To the innkeeper Victor gave, in return for lodging, a piece of the sheep’s meat and when pressed as to where it came from, Victor hissed, “. . . a golden giant with a beard and eyes of blue flame and he said ‘Fear not! I am with you. Watch for me.’ ” And indeed, as Victor Arriba searched his mind, that was what Pasquale had seemed to say.

And to all those who gave ear to the outpourings of Victor Arriba’s passion and bitterness, he raved . . . “the golden giant. ‘Fear not,’ he said to me, his eyes blazing with anger at what they did to the town. ‘We shall be revenged. I will come back and be your leader.’ ”

Again and again and again, spoken with a bitter need and longing, spoken with hope and prayer until over a stretch of a hundred miles the legend took root and flourished like a miracle, i The city boy Juan Orotoba listened ! in on Victor’s miracle. He crouched on I the outskirts of the huddled group listening to Victor. He absorbed it as one absorbs food, for he was a mere child of twelve and he needed a hero and a purpose. His arms were like cticks from hunger and his eyes brooded n darkened hollows. In a miserable ldianty to the south of the city where -the railroad tracks ran past the city dump, he lived with his mother.

He listened with shining eyes, then j ran to tell his mother. He found her j lying in bed ill with spotted fever. She could hardly talk. “Mother,” he wept. She moaned and tossed in delirium.

Then Juan remembered the delicacy shop in the heart of the city. Often he had peered into the window and seen the abundance of food in cans. Cans of milk and sausage and fish eggs.

Madly he ran back to the city. When they caught Juan he was climbing through the shattered glass of the shop, his arms full of milk for his mother.

In the cellar rooms where such things are done they asked, “For whom are you stealing?” There was a black market and the secret police grew wealthy out of it and they wanted no competition

Juan, thinking of his mother, said nothing. They beat him savagely and still he said nothing. Then they put an iron into the fire and heated it and Juan screamed with fright and said the first lie that came into his head. “The Golden Giant,” he wailed. “He made me do it.”

They tried to get Juan to tell where the golden giant was. Savagely they

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tortured him. Until, the pain too much to bear, his head lolling forward in dreadful stillness, Juan died, his lips sealed. Because he didn’t know where the golden giant was. As he died he silently moaned a prayer to the golden giant to come and help him.

INDIRECTLY, Juan’s prayer was answered. The legend grew. Fantastically it grew. Eight new spores were dropped into fertile soil. There were eight secret policemen present at the killing of Juan Orotobo.

Pedro Francesco, forty years old, was the brutal captain of the secret police. He walked out of the room cursing, directly to the apartment of his mistress. There he drank wildly.

“Golden giants,” he raved, stamping about the room. “We took such pains. We killed every man who might organize resistance. Every man with a brain. Why is it,” he screamed at her, “a perfect control cannot be set up? Always there is something, something.” His mistress had never seen him in such a state. She gave him more liquor and soothed him until he snored drunkenly. Then the mistress told her other lover about the golden giant, and a few girl friends, and the headwaiter at the expensive restaurant where people gathered, and the headwaiter gave the information to an American reporter who transmitted a story to the world. GOLDEN GIANT LEADS UNDERGROUND, it said. Whereupon the American reporter was booted out of the country.

All from one spore, one seed. The seven other men who had been present at the killing of Juan Orotobo told their friends and like a weed the story spread and flourished and grew. And to all of this talk was added the substance of deed.

Men hearing of this new leadership took small courage and performed small acts of opposition and defiance. On the walls they chalked, “Up the Golden Giant, Down Dictator Liehigon.” They set upon the secret police at night.and gave them swift beatings and the victims, to save face, told of huge organized bands led by a giant with a golden beard.

Wherever a robbery occurred, wherever there was a heroic act, wherever there was an accident such as a fire in the new government munitions dump, who else could it be but the golden giant? And Juan Orotobo became a shining symbol. The twelveyear-old boy who died rather than tell of the location of the golden giant. Everywhere, the people of least degree, the common people without brains to organize, took courage.

And Pasquale the shepherd, back on his moss-covered rock overlooking the vast stretch of one hundred miles to the horizon, thought, in his simple way, “A dreadful thing. People hung and houses burned down. I shall stay here until the thieves are caught by the police.”

Meanwhile the Dictator Liehigon, a man with a paunch held in by a special corset, was holding a meeting with his Director of Propaganda, his Director of Internal Security, and his Chief of Military Guards. They were men with an unpleasant look on their faces and they looked even worse now with their Dictator angrily haranguing them.

“The American reporter you expelled,” he snapped, “is broadcasting short wave to the people. He is doing more damage now than when he was here. I suggest you readmit him to the country.” It was noted that the reporter would be readmitted.

“What is the status of the Golden Giant case?” asked Liehigon, his eyes icy-cold.

The Director of Internal Security sighed. “He is a very fine organizer, I must admit. We have not been able to locate his headquarters. We have put our spies into the local Golden Giant cells that have formed but they report they are not trusted. The others say the Golden Giant will come and that is all they say.”

The Director of Propaganda, a heavy short man with a bald head, spoke up. He pointed to a map on the wall with tiny flags pinned to it. “The yellow flags mark groups that have formed. About seventy-five. Very few. The black flags mark incidents. Acts against the regime.” Dictator Liehigon looked at the map and paled. There were hundreds of black flags. They were like the pennants of an army marching. There was one white flag.

“Wlmt is the white flag?”

“It marks the first reported act of resistance coinciding with reports of the Golden Giant,” said the Director of Internal Security, significantly. “The records show it was the cutting down of a traitor we hung and his burial. Glearly an act of defiance.”

Dictator .Liehigon thought awhile. Then he said sharply, “We must liquidate this opposition. It is hampering the Plan. If we are to attack Bongonia we must have internal seeur-

ity.” He nodded curtly at them that they could go. But the three of them sat in their chairs and shifted uneasily. Liehigon glared at them.

'Phe Director of Propaganda coughed and said in a soft voice, “We have bad news. Our agents have reported Bongonia is prepared to send arms and men over the border to assist in any uprising by the people.”

There was a dreadful silence. Dictator Liehigon sat as if he were carved of stone. “The Golden Giant,” he said tightly. “Gentlemen, I advise you to catch the Golden Giant.”

The eyes of the Chief of Police twitched. The hands of the other two clenched. But the faces of all three were calm. They looked at Liehigon for a long long moment. Then, without a word, they got up and walked out.

From then on, all the resources of the regime were thrown into the dragnet. Rewards were posted. The number of spies was doubled. Barbers did a great business, as every man in Robagonia with a beard, regardless of its color, had it shaved. All Robagonia became aware of the Giant with the Golden Beard, and the nation waited tensely for something to happen as oppression increased. And the number of yellow flags on the map of the Director of Propaganda increased tremendously.

The American reporter came back

to Robagonia. He reported by cable to his newspaper, “Arms and men and organizers are trickling over the border. Some Golden Giant Clubs which have been raided by security police have had veritable arsenals hidden. The Golden Giant movement seems to be so carefully decentralized that it is almost impossible to smash by means of arresting any one group. It would be necessary, at this stage of the game, to arrest virtually the entire population. Battling the Golden Giant. Dictator Liehigon is discovering, is like fi tilling a ghost. He is reported everywhere simultaneously. He is extremely clever in his methods. He baffles the regime’s spies by allowing his individual unit cells to create their own plans for governing local political subdivisions, and waiting for the grand uprising before even attempting national political co-ordination.”

MEANWHILE, Pasquale was getting extremely disgusted with the monotonous diet of sheep meat.

“What g >od is food unless there is j bread and salt?” he enquired of his j dogs, grumbling. His dogs barked happily then dashed away to round up a scattering of the sheep.

Pasquale sat on his stone on the cliff and stared over the great distances. He remembered still the hanging of his friend the storekeeper and the burneddown houses and the frightened people in the last house. Slowly a dim thought formed and shaped itself. To Pasquale, who had lived virtually alone in hermitlike existence, the thought was a social revelation and as blinding as creative genius.

“I will go to the city even though it is far away and I have never been there,” he said aloud and firmly. “I will ask for the police and I will tell them it is a shame they allow such thieves and murderers to go uncaught.” Pasquale was delighted with himself.

He scratched his beard and nodded and chuckled. The thought of the city intrigued him. His old friend Tonio had told him of it. A most marvelous place. “Ho,” he shouted to his dogs.

“I go far. Watch the sheep.”

Then he stopped and a thought struck him. Aghast he said, “When I buried the storekeeper I forgot to make him a cross.”

Immediately he set to work. He cut down two young trees and trimmed them straight. He set the shorter tree crosswise over the longer one and bound it firmly with strong weeds and vines. He lifted it with difficulty.

“Uh,” he said. “It is heavy. A fine cross for the grave of my friend.” And with that he slowly went down the trail, waving good-by to his dogs.

f ITHE American reporter was there B and saw the whole thing, from beginning to end. He bad gone there because of a tip from his favorite headwaiter at the important restaurant, that the mountain plateau was ! going to be examined by the soldiers as the most likely place for the Golden Giant to be hiding. The first incident againsrt the regime, the cutting down of the storekeeper, had occurred there and the surrounding rough countryside was a natural place for a group to hide.

The American reporter saw the whole thing. It was the biggest scoop of his life. The soldiers were deployed and ready to move upward along the trail.

It was early morning, just before dawn. The sun’s bright ray lifted over the edge of the mountain. The young lieutenant lifted his sword for the signal to advance. He stopped, frozen into ¡ position, his mouth open wide, his eyes ! staring. And the people who had come | to watch uttered a shout, amazed. All I

the soldiers stared, too. The American reporter stared with them. He wrote that it was the most startling moment of his life.

Framed in the brilliant rays of light, wearily trudging down with patient humble mien, was a man with a golden beard and hair. He carried an enormous cross. It was like a messenger from heaven, a descent from the Mount; it had the elements of awe inherent in it.

The lieutenant gulped. The soldiers broke and ran, shrieking with superstitious fright. The lieutenant turned and ran with them. As one man, the crowd kneeled.

Pasquale, seeing them, stopped. Hurriedly, wondering what they were praying for up there in the cold, he kneeled too, holding the cross upright.

“From there on in,” wrote the American reporter to his paper, “the most amazing series of events took place. The people fell in behind him and followed him. He went to a grave and put the cross over it.

“Then I stepped over to him and said, ‘I represent the American public. Do you care to make a statement?’

“He looked at me for a long moment as if debating whether I could be trusted. The crowd leaned forward, holding their breathing.

“ T am going to the city,’ he said ! in as, sweet and simple a voice as I’ve ever heard. ‘We must punish the thieves and murderers. I have decided . . .’

“At that moment a roar went up from the listening crowd. They hoisted the man with the golden beard on their shoulders and went wild.

“They carried him to the city in the automobile I was riding in. We went at the speed of five miles an hour and with each village we passed, more and more people fell in behind us. Word flashed ahead that the moment had come, and in each town men broke out hidden arms, and took over the city according to the local plan of that unit. There was some fighting but not as much as might have been expected.

“When we got to the city, as might have been expected, the army had mobilized against our coming. When they saw the tremendous crush of people ahead and behind us they held their fire. The crowd would have torn them to pieces.

“Then this man with the golden beard and eyes of cold blue asked for the police station. It was a daring move that broke the nerve of the regime. Calmly, moving with dignity and a complete lack of fear, the man with the golden beard walked into the dreaded headquarters of the secret I police.

“He found the place empty. The blusterers and the bullies, the men who were tough when they were torturing twelve-year-old Juan Orotobo, they were gone.

“When he came out, the crowd had gone absolutely wild. Word had come that Dictator Lichigon and his cabinet had fallen out, were at each other’s throats. Then the news that Lichigon had been shot.

“The back of the regime is broken. The country is still in a chaos, but is reforming rapidly. An election is being planned.

“And the finale of this amazing series of incidents is the most amazing of all.

“After two days of fighting had established the victory of the people’s forces, with the man in the golden beard having nothing to do but listen to reports from runners sent by each city, he disappeared.

“When last seen he was in his room at the Madron Hotel where he had locked himself in to gain a little peace, having had no rest for seventy-two

hours. When he didn’t answer to knocks the door was broken down.

“On the floor was a mass of golden beard and hair. The man who had worn them was gone. His work was done. He wanted no glory or privileges. He went back to whatever humble life was his. They are searching for him but he seems to have vanished from the face of the earth.

“The dictatorship is gone and democracy rules Robagonia.”

The American reporter sent off this dispatch to his newspaper, then he went down to his favorite bar to get a drink. He needed one badly.

“Scotch,” he said wearily to the bartender. As he waited he felt the small scissors in his pocket. He took them out and grinned, remembering how Pasquale had looked when he had told him he’d have to cut off his beard.

“Dios,” Pasquale had wailed. “Must I?”

The reporter said gently, “If you wish to remain with these people and forget your sheep . . .”

Pasquale put his hands to his head in bewilderment. “No, no. What is happening? They are all crazy with this talk of governments. I do not understand.”

The reporter sighed, now, in the bar, as he put the scissors away. It was a lucky thing he’d gotten to Pasquale first, before the others, and seen the poor man’s bewilderment and simplemindedness. It had been very difficult, keeping Pasquale quiet, answering for him, until the rush of events took their natural forceful path. Pasquale had wept as the beard had been cut off.

“Here you are, sir,” said the bartender. The American reporter grinned and lifted his glass. “To the people,” he said. “When they need a leader they’ll make one. Out of nothing, sometimes.”