The Parts Pigs Play
Concerning a sow that sought freedom, a curate with flying feet and a New Woman who found she couldn't chuck all the old gods into the dustbin
G. R. STEVENS
CHRISTINE was Miss Joyce Melton’s sow. She was a sow of parts. A provincial university had farrowed her and had guaranteed her pedigree. But a very parvenu and partial pedigree, for Christine was true Gadarene. Some original imp dwelt in her midst.
She was good to look upon. Her slender hams dovetailed into a torso of astonishing length, and all that length was splendid in a saffron near-gold, a brave and glorious titian it was; she was by no means a red pig. She was good to think upon. Those illumined loins, imbrued with smoke, impassioned with sugar, would be pronounced inimitable by that discriminating people, the English. Yet even the Steward of the BaconTasters Guild could not have dwelt upon Christine only in terms of his art. Her intellectual quality shone through her flesh, like a flame through bars; from skinny snout to rakish curlicue, she was transcendent. Yet her glory was her devil, for assuredly she was possessed of a devil, a devil of a very superior fallen hierarchy, a devil of profound and original wickedness.
Christine lived with a gesture. Which bears upon the virginity of Miss Joyce Melton.
SUMMER sunset tricks a prairie into amazement, so that bush and field are incarnate with the magic of far, of lost lands. For then the skies kneel before the altar flames of the West, and the world hushes for the ritual of evening. But on a certain occasion Christine was not hushed. She was seething like the West. The brisk litter of twelve, who dragged at her dugs all day, had exacerbated and kindled her. She had become a fiend in cunning and a beagle in speed. And particularly her confines irked and enraged her. As coolth ripened above the warm earth she paced the length of her pen, twisting and twitching, ruthlessly stabbing her knuckles among her retinue. Until, at an important moment, she froze in her tracks, long snout athwart an inspired eye. She had spied a minute depression below the lowest bar of her pen. Her life was lit by it.
It meant snout-room. Christine wriggled her head far under the poplar bar, and upended in an efficient
thrust which shook the spike of the rail to its rusty depths. At the inch gained, she shrieked in pain and hope, a view-haloo of liberty. Forehead to the bar, she rammed shrewdly, precisely, anchoring all trotters with vicious energy in the rubble of the pen. About her grouped her litter, enormously thrilled. As the rail began to yield, she swung to flank and threshed it amidships with her buttocks, without easing the ruthless pressure of her snout. This was pure mind, and the spike ignominiously succumbed. Christine flattened her belly to the level of her hocks, and surged through the breach with a gratefully scratched spine. Her nose swung true, and her rump went into the air in a rollicking but formidable gallop. Behind her the litter yoicked gaily in pursuit. The field crossed the stable yard in full cry, in dead reckoning for the succulence of the farm garden.
Then Miss Joyce Melton scrambled from her kitchen, running swiftly upon the trail, toeing in slightly. Life is complicating. Miss Melton will come to wedlock because she chases her pigs. For a moment before, the Rev. Anthony Wilkins had opened Miss Melton’s rather contrary gate, and was striding up the trail to her barn, his calm pinto following behind in his own time. Across
his front tore one immense pig, leading a clump of swift and serious gaffers by daylight; in the ruck drove a glorious woman. The Rev. Wilkins knew that he was mad, mightily so; yet he clung to sanity with an uncanonical bellow of:
“Tony Wilkins—sent from above. Come and help me get those infernal pigs out of my garden.”
Miss Melton sprinted upon the trail. The Rev. Wilkins galloped in echelon upon her left flank rear. They drove upon the garden. Among the carrots Christine was bitterly busy; color was coming into her life. The brood yaffled excitedly between the rows. Then the bright earth rang with murmurs, and the greater of the invaders attacked, as the French say, at the outright. Christine was too pressed to wheel to flank, and she broke headlong for the oats which fringed three sides of the vegetables. There she cooled her heat in covert amid the spiking grain. The thwarted Wilkins retraced his steps toward Miss Melton, who was wasting vast efforts upon twelve sucklings rejoicing in anarchy. A low plan germinated in his usually sporting brain.
“Give tongue, Joyce,” he called softly. “Start those little beggars toward me.” He crouched among the cabbages. He thrust long arms outwards. The sucklings trickled nonchalantly toward him, swerving at minutely calculated distances. Two found undue sweetness in a cabbage sprout, and loitered. Then the Rev. Wilkins hurtled through the air, with eager straining talons out before. He crashed among the cabbages, but even as he crashed, his greedy fingers closed about the barrel of a little pig. He rose at once from his lowliness, and placed the little pig tenderly beneath his arm. He pressed vigorously, and a paean of agony shattered the hushed brilliance of new evening.
Across the bosom of the grain an instant tremor ran. Christine was solicitous-in adversity. She charged for her perishing offspring. The Rev. Wilkins galloped from the garden with knees high, his capable feet spurning the earth, his capable elbow ever constricting his little pig to fortissimo. Behind him drove the desperate mother, hocks gashing her belly; orphans toiled furiously in the ruck, as though their kinsman’s agonies promised sweetness and gluttony. The Rev. Wilkins hurdled the pen magnificently; for an instant the splendid sow teetered upon the topmost bar, a fearsome enormity black against the west; and crashed within. Then the Rev. Wilkins put the little pig from him and left hurriedly, and shepherded the enthusiastic younkers through the breach, and found a stone and beat upon the head of that traitorous spike. Which was that.
MISS MELTON had walked slowly from the garden.
At least once she had wiped her eyes with the ,back of her hand. This is a very sad thing to relate of a maid, who should always have handkerchiefs; and when one is straight and slender and subtly-hipped, it is piteous indeed. The unmistakable drollery of a curate flying with a little pig was not the jest that it should have been to her. Yet she mended her pace as she rounded the barn, and bore down eagerly upon the pen-mender, whose grim and solemn features were peony, and whose collar was no longer completely Christian.
“It was a perfect entrance, Tony,” said the Miss Melton of old, “but where the deuce did you come from?”
The fog of pursuit hung upon the man.
He looked at the stone in his hand, and found it an insufficient reply, else he had given it to her in lieu of speech. “I have had this field for four months,” he said.
“Confound it, Joyce,” he shouted, “you are one of my parishioners.”
The sluices of abandon were opened.
They embraced. That is, Miss Melton’s flying leap terminated amidships of the Rev. Wilkins. They shrieked, they gurgled with laughter, as though some jest had been astounding. Their mirth was subterranean; ever it withdrew to explode through fresh vents. It died to giggles and awoke in full peal. Arm in arm they looked down upon Christine where her family savaged her in suckle, and they were convulsed anew.
They stabled the casual and phlegmatic pinto, and the chore swelled to a function, to that beast’s enormous amazment. As they came into the outer air from the sweet gloom of the barn, smoke was pouring from the wee cabin a stone’s throw away, embosoming upon the still air, garnishing the sad drab of the weathered roofing.
“Me cykes,” said Miss Melton, and dashed for her cabin. She ran delectably, thought the Rev. Wilkins, ambling a
pace behind her. Into the smoke she dived. The Rev. Wilkins squatted suddenly upon the threshold as something hurtled past his head and clanged and smoked and bounced in the yard. Then emerged Miss Melton herself, choking and gasping, waving her singed fingers in highly ludicrous fashion. She gulped clean air; she walked apart with one hand upon her breast and knuckled the smoke in her eyes. Then she excoriated the Rev. Wilkins with soft weeping, shot with sounds of anger and broken bitter words.
“All my cursed food burned,” she moaned to her woodpile. “Oh, my fingers. I wish—” She rallied to become aware of the Rev. Wilkins approaching. He wore the appearance of believing solace to be within his arms. Miss Melton slogged at him viciously, and gathered breath and coherence. She spoke of herself and destiny and Western Canada and the Rev. Wilkins as the Lancashire troops used to speak of their generals. The Rev. Wilkins realized his incommunity with such reddened angry eyes so magnificent, with such epic epithets, with such technical, such precise, such devastating descriptive. He began to dance furiously.
He dropped into a loose-kneed shuffle, became a serious beetfaced imbecile of dubious jointings. He scampered, he twirled upon his toes, he twiddled his legs with droll interweavings. He stepped high and handsomely; he simulated the well-stored Bushman; he minced through the chips with turkey steps. He led his tangled paces toward some final enormity, some fearful dislocation of posture; a primitive instinct assured him that he was being watched. In less loveliness it might have been said that the lady was gaping. Woe was over.
“Picnic,” said the Rev. Wilkins masterfully. “Over there.” He indicated the clump of silvered trees which mounted the small bluff behind the cabin. “I have a basket—old lady on thirty-six does me well. Caddy and water and we’ll be set.” Miss Melton unquestionably gaped, and the Rev. Wilkins sought some seal for his alluring proposal. “Tophole,” he said, with intense conviction. “Tophole.”
There was no ordered traffic. They hoydened after pots and pans and cushions, they frittered to the well for water. They danced the hamper from the buggy and for vague purposes the Rev. Wilkins slashed saplings
unshrewdly, albeit with abandon. Miss Melton knelt in most housewifely fashion before the spread linen, and made much ado of her comings and goings—privily she thanked God that there were few mosquitos. They came to fill themselves with good food, and only then did their wild congress lose its dear and compelling mpmentum.
AS THEY ate, the sky ripened. All the bowl of the ^ upper world was fluent with still and crystal waters. From the immaculate overhead, pinfeathery clouds crept westward, where they sailed as great galleons upon seas of saffron and crimson and rose. For Miss Melton, as for her table companion, this rich sky was the tapestry through which the golden threads of the moment shuttled. The Rev. Wilkins, with the disgusting folly of the logical, was marshaling the past and present in the stupid hope of equating the future. As for Miss Melton, she was snuggled in content, but she was shamefully aware that she was ripening also, as the West. She remembered that she had fought sleep when a child, and other cool and calm things when older, and she looked upon that gracious evening and told herself that any weakness would be despicable. She searched herself for a mood in which to meet the Rev. Wilkins, and she discarded in turn the fripperies of artifice with which she might have sought to deceive him. In the end, as her wont, she left crisis to the gods. She shaped a pillow beneath her boy’s crop, and lay on her back and crossed her knees and swung one shapely leg negligently. She was aware of her luxuriousness, much more so, as a matter of fact, than the Rev. Wilkins who still trenchered industriously.
“When was the last, Tony?” she enquired, too casual by half.
In dealing with a meaty drumstick, the Rev. Wilkins stopped and considered her. “Verys, in ’16,” he said as casually. “With a yammering black brute, and a painted youth with an odd skull.”
“Oh, I remember that,” said Miss Melton. “Had been land-armying in Somerset, and had come to town to buy pretties, and particularly shoes, having slimmer feet than the lassies below.” She regarded her swinging ankle for a well-calculated instant. “Met the crowd and ragged a bit. Luffy and Max the ones you saw. Max a dadaist—did the void, or what passed with us for the void, rather well. He wished to argue about God that day, and maintained that he needed an atmosphere of disapproval. Hence Verys. Poor Tony, did hims have a bishop with him?”
“A chap don’t need a bishop to regret some things,” replied the Rev. Wilkins solidly. “I did not like your friends of the day-after-to-morrow. I can’t appreciate epicene vices—or virtues either, for that matter.”
This was the staunch old Tony, said the rapid mind of Miss Melton. I am afraid that she smirked inwardly when she realized that whatever befell, the ice was loose in the channel.
“I was the demiest of vierges,” she admitted, “and it was no surprise when you passed me up. You knew the reception if you tried to pluck any brands from the burning, and why else should a good man consort with such as Oi? We were an unholy crew. I often wonder what would have happened to us if there had been no war. As I remember the London years, from ’12 onwards, we lived continuously on crescendo. Something in the air. It may have been that —a planet’s tail with extra oxygen — which made us all speed up like the pitiful little mice when they are put in a bottle.
“When I first took a studio I played about the edges. The chins and the linen were not altogether my-kind. Nor did the beatitudes of what you are pleased to call the days-after-to-morrow dazzle the eyes of the pure young girl. But some feel in the air, Tony, seeded in me, and in lots like me. We all—the plucked-out and perverse laddies and the sad and restless ladies—sought ideas of our own, instead of admitting the virtues of the trade-marked and traditional. I won’t say we made discoveries but the search was stimulating.
“As you know, the old Pater, whom I had visited each week since going up, lasted nine days in France. I remember going down to Graylings when I got the telegram, seeing our wee place for the first time without him. In the dusk I
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walked along the forelands, and the wind flogged me, and my poor head pounded so. To realize that the casual bewildered old Pater was a million times farther away from me than he had ever been before. I remember shouting, ‘Well played, old Dad,’ as the salty gale smacked me and span my skirts about my hips. A small remembrance, but it was about my last contact with the old ways.”
Miss Melton gazed at the clouds for a full minute. “The progress of the pure young girl—don’t wriggle, Tony, unless you are sitting on something—to the halfhar ot (‘Stop that, Joyce,’ commanded the enraged Tony; Miss Melton, one regrets to say, flirted a derisive foot at him) is not as interesting as it reads. One plays with things. One finds the old gods in the dustbins; their modes of behavior have been swept up with them. Sex, that amusing and engrossing phenomenon, becomes strictly technical. We stifle productivity, but our nerves lay traps for us. A dash of artistic license, instincts as old as the race, and no holds barred—the reformed and penitential agriculturist connotes such esoterics in her sinful career—and little else. The arts of rebellion or of the outré are not English arts; we do not do them well.”
Miss Melton paused. She had come to something difficult. Across the white
cloth sat a solemn-visaged but most comforting man. He was disapproving, and it was probable that in his disapproval he would be either piteous or truculent. In either Of which cases his coming was a catastrophe. But there was just an outside chance of something very dear and miraculous and oth-'-wise.
“An odd thing, Tony. I hunted with the pack for six years, and went all the way— all but. It was curious how many were like me. No one could possibly certify us as decent and in every way but—the actual way—we were unspeakable. It would have been more honest and worthy if there had been no reservations. It may have been cowardice or merely the commercial instinct of keeping values in reserve. We were speculators, hedgers, cadgers in sex and yet, deep under, we stood properly in awe of the committee of matrons.
“At last I was fairly caught, and that is why I am here. It was in ’18, when I was doing the customary run up to town. Our crowd had thinned somewhat, but there were enough of the good and true for the usual rag. It began up the river, moved into Soho to feed, and shifted out west— Maida Vale, I think—for the rest of the night. Much the usual sort of thing—an obsequious alien for host, upon whom we shed the light of our patronage. He fed,
drank and musicked us for the privilege of investigating the dark corners of his vast new house, and of leering at his discoveries. I was attached from the beginning of the party. His name does not matter. His stuff is on the bookstalls; he has a touch, quite a lion, really. On this occasion he was interesting and not too interested— if you know what I mean. After the evening warmed, he may have been a trifle insistent. The fizz was bad, and the promise of a better bottle drew me upstairs and through the house with him.
“Never mind what happened. The brisk young emancipate had the fight of her life. There were things which the liberal education of six years had not suggested. My famous beast was maniacal. It was like a time rift; there were glimpses of a million years ago.
“I got clear, by the luck of the county. I don’t know how I did it. But to show the state I was in, I stumbled downstairs to the main rag, and as I came I saw a man in uniform. His face was clean and he was erect. I said, ‘Take^ne out of here —anywhere—only do it now.’
“He took my arm and led me out without a word. I waited in the open—where I had a chance to run—until he brought my wraps. We were in a cab in two minutes, and he was blessed enough to ask no questions. I remember that the street was wet and black and shining, and as the car swung in smooth curves, the world reeled even farther. I was stone sober, but wet with fear.
“I asked my soldier chap nothing—told him nothing. I remember wondering vaguely what he would run to—a flat out west, a shameful walk to the lift of some hotel, or perhaps some hole down by the river. At the worst we were putting distance between us and that unmentionable thing that I had fought at the top of the house. When the cab drew up at Waterloo I was still incompetent, yet some sort of confidence must have been seeping into me, for I did an amusing thing. I had no sooner entered the train than I fell fast asleep in the corner of the compartment.
“When I awoke, the train had stopped, but my soldier chap was still in his corner. A breeze brought in a rich wet night smell through the quiet rain. It braced me like some astringent, some bitter wine. We were standing at dear sleepy Lewes en route to Graylings. I had never felt prodigal before, yet with a man keeping his tongue and distance while I was all so sickish inside, the thought of coming back to my own country thrilled me and left me content. I was immensely better at Seaford when we got out, ready to talk, ready for anything, loving the rain and the dark, and warming to this big silent fellow by me. But we were not arrived yet; we motored through the camps, and down into the Cuckmere, and up along the shoulders of the Downs until we came to Alfristan—not five miles from Graylings. There we stopped, and my chap vanished, and I said to myself, “Joyce, old lady, you are for it, and you should be most thankful.” When he came back, the rain shone upon his cheeks, he handed me out and he said:
‘These people will look after you. This town is out of bounds but I will come to-morrow’.”
Miss Melton laughed gaily and long. “My dear old Tony, think of it. All primed for the plunge, and given a miraculous congé. For a moment I was not quite sure whether I liked it. Then I knew that I loved this solid chap for the astonishing thing that he had done, and that he could have me when he wanted me. His friends were simple and easy folk, and they gave me food and were kindly with it. They worshipped for mute causes the man who had brought me to them. He was a Canadian, they said, in camp at Seaford, and he would be returning to France in ten days. When I had gone to my room, I opened the window and let the rain meet me; it was a good moment for me, for I felt that I was home again.
“For the next ten days, my soldier chap
and I were together. Each day he met me, and we went along the hills and down the white winding roads. Across to the Seven Sisters, to the spot where I had said goodby to the old Dad. I told my chap of this, and went all to pieces in the telling. I cried all over him and he said: ‘This is the best thing that you have done.’
“I must tell you of him, Tony. He was a fine figure of a man, with slim hips and great shoulders and splendid arms and legs and high cheekbones and steady eyes. He was a tall and proper man, too big for the gadgets that they put on soldiers. In his speech he was slow and direct and knowing, and as tolerant as the earth itself. That was his secret, that he was part of the earth and its seasons. All the little twiddly things found him simple but sure; there was no subtlety in him, and one thanked God for it.
“In rain and shine we slogged about the Downs, among their old-remembered smells and tastes and colors. I found the best of all the good inns, and there we had bread and mutton and green things, and a yarn over our food. We did the Puck of Pooks Hill country swell and bottom—I gave him Belloc’s songs—and all that I could remember of ‘Lavengro,’ although that was not my country. On the ninth day I opened Graylings, for I felt that I was ready for this chap. It may seem a horrible thought to you, Tony, that I should take a lover back to my home. But I had found someone that was fit to be part and parcel of me, and he was going from me. It wasn’t gratitude, nor was it love of any of the usual degrees; it was simply that I had been away for a long time, and had come home, and had brought a comrade with me. You may not understand, but that was the way that I felt about it.
“On his last night we loafed before the fire in the dear old mustiness. I listened to him. He was as direct and certain as ever. ‘I have played about a lot with women since coming to this war,’ he said. ‘They don’t turn us down—much. But, somehow, they seem to miss the real thing. They are teasers, all nervy—they always seem to me to have been betting, and when you get them, you feel as though they had lost their bet. That’s not the way for men and women to come together. When they love, it must be full out.’
“ ‘Look at ourselves. When I took you from that place the other night, I said to myself : “She needs a bit of training, a little weight on the rein, and a little work to fit her.” It seemed that this was the place to bring you, and sure enough, it was back to your own country. People are like plants—soil is everything. It has been sound to nurse you along on a few miles a day, and now you have your silk and your quiet back. It has been great stuff to fit you in this way—much better than loving you. Be sure and stay here—good-by and good luck.’
“That was all, and he was gone.
“A month later, the people in London sent me his paybook with his will in it. I was his sole inheritrix, and this land was what he had given me.”
Miss Melton steadied herself for a moment, setting her gaze far away with lovely and shining eyes. “Well played,” said Tony gravely. “One of the old hands.”
“After all,” said Miss Melton, “it was right that I should come here. -He remade me, and the new I was in his image. When I came here I found the source of all his calm and kindliness and tolerance. The first evening which closed about me on the prairie taught me. Everything was saturated with his quality, his steady movements, his slow speech, his sure purposes. The feel of this country was his, and I hope that it shall be mine some day. And that, my spiritual parent, is all that there is to it.”
“How have you made it,” asked Tony.
“It was a hellish hour,” declared Miss Melton, “when I began to keep pigs. But beyond that, it might have been worse.
A half section—of land, I mean, my lad— is one of the best things that can be given to any woman. I’m fertile, Tony—three hundred and twenty acres of me. That is a big thing. Moreover, I’m a posh person in this community. We stand together, brother farmers and I, and we find each other useful. The seasons chase each other, and each has its jobs—and so many and such interesting jobs. And when a good year comes along, they pay me a ridiculous amount of money for the fun I’m having. And as you may or may not have noticed, I’ve kept my figure.”
“Lucky to strike a good community,” said the professional Wilkins.
“I have suitors,” continued Miss Melton primly, “but my breeches sear the souls of some of the married women. I have been a disturbing influence at church socials. My suitors—several of them—roll up every Sunday afternoon; they do my stock and the week’s wood for me; they consume ungodly amounts of provender for tea. They are utterly, embarrassingly safe on the premises, but they are perfect devils if one goes buggyriding with them. Which reminds me that we are not going to spend the night here; and also, that my small piano has not had hands like yours upon it.”
CO THEY went, laden with the fragments, and the crook of the ripening evening shepherded them, so that shoulder by shoulder they went within. The Rev. Wilkins, because he knew that he had a rod in pickle for the near-frail, sat himself straightway at her piano. There he proved himself of one texture with the wayward desires of Miss Melton, as with the memory of the dead man so cherished. He quickened his supple fingers in quivering colorful chromatics, which flowed and faded about some very simple theme. He wove colors, and he moulded also among the keys a great stillness blent of a thoussand overtones, as is the hush of the prairie’s evening. His colors flared bravely and passed into quietude, and his music richened until it was very close and lovely. It died away in long chords and single tones, as the sunset had died into evening; and such was the salute and the guerdon which the Rev. Wilkins gave to the memory of one of the old hands.
Miss Melton, unbroken in her wars, was no longer prideful. Something surged above her staunchness and boastfulness, which stripped her of her poise; tears shook her, and her heart was wrenched with futility. In a fierce if choked anger, she whirled upon the Rev. Wilkins as he sat motionless, his long hands stagnant upon the keys. “Get out of here,” she shouted to that astonished man. “Take your sentimental music out of here.” Then more piteous unhappiness closed upon her utterance, and the Rev. Wilkins went his way.
It was minutes before the traditional Miss Melton was re-established, and by then, the Rev. Wilkins—as dumbfounded as his pinto, who deemed it no gentlemanly act to be taken from his stall at that hour—had climbed into his buggy and had started down the trail. Miss Melton came to the door of her wee home, and pride struggled with very hunger. Yet the Rev. Wilkins had reached her gate, and had fumbled with its unhandiness, and had let himself out, and had climbed to his seat again. Then, in that moment ere the wheels turned and the night was closed, the prides, the poises and burgeonings came to their due end; for with hocks upon the topmost rail and long snout lustfully savoring the proscribed satrapy, Christine, the great sow, spoke her tomorrow’s purpose in raucous and defiant bellyings.
“Tony,” screamed a thoroughly broken woman.
“Joyce,” came an instant and eager hail.
“Will you marry me when you come next time?”
Through the dark and cool came the rapid beat of capable feet spurning the earth.