FICTION

Four Little Pigs Go to Market

HELEN GORDON MATTERN April 1 1932
FICTION

Four Little Pigs Go to Market

HELEN GORDON MATTERN April 1 1932

Four Little Pigs Go to Market

HELEN GORDON MATTERN

IT WAS with some apprehension that I observed father deep in a farm journal which was featuring a hog week. You know the kind of thing Hopeful Hints for Hog Holders; Pigs, Pennies and Profits. Seductive titles designed to make anyone yearn to put their all in a covey of young hams and bacons, and just like tinder to the ready spark of father's enthusiasm for trying something new.

As I watched him take off his glasses and polish them absently always a sign of the deej)est concentration -1 wished l had not left that magazine around where he could not fail to set? it. A farm journal in father’s hand fills me with uneasiness, for it is invariably after reading one of them that he has his worst attacks.

He began to polish faster and faster.

"You know, Mary," he said, "I have an idea.”

"Yes, father?” I answered brightly, cleverly dissembling my real feelings. 1 might mention that I do not care for pigs. Of all the domesticated animals, I find them the hardest to regard with any real warmth of affection.

Father was gazing thoughtfully out of the window.

"I’ve been thinking, Mary. We have a great deal of milk going to waste around this farm, and all that wheat which is good for nothing but chicken feed. And we haven’t many chickens.”

There was no denying the truth of that statement, because father had had an idea in the spring for feeding and housing young chickens to harden them and get a healthier stock. It had seemed like a sound scheme and had been highly recommended by the authority on chickens who writes for our farm journal. Only father had gone the authority one better, and all our chickens had died. Presently he got up with decision.

"Come. Mary! l’ut on your hat and get out the car. I've decided we mustn’t let all that feed go to waste. We must buy some young pigs.”

1 got up silently. I nave a placid disposition and I never argue with father.

As we turned out of our gate, I asked him where he meant to get the little pigs.

“1 don’t know yet,” he said. "We’ll just drive over to the Roumanian colony and ask around. They always have pigs."

On the way father lectured me on hog raising. He has a very scholarly mind, which may be because he used to be a college professor before he took up Scientific Farming. It did not surprise me. therefore, that he appeared to have a thorough grasp of his subject. He was intensely interested. By the time we had gone twenty miles or so he had outlined plans for keeping a certain packing plant supplied with hogs for years to come, had invented a patent feeding trough which would prevent the pigs from getting their feet in their food, and had sketched on the back of an envelope a design for a machine with a brush on the end, attached to a hose, with which to give the animals a good scrubbing once a week.

1 liked the last scheme. It sounded practical and would overcome one of my chief objections to hog raising. I suggested that he take the matter up with the Minister of Agriculture, who, I felt sure, would be interested. Hygiene is considered important these days, and pigs are notoriously

indifferent to the care of their persons. It seemed to me that any plan to improve existing conditions ought to be warmly welcomed by the Government, and more farmers in the West might be persuaded to go back to mixed farming instead of raising nothing but grain. I warned father, however, to be careful. A machine such as he had in mind would surely be a success and a big money maker, and one hears a lot about stolen patents.

While we were discussing all this we were approaching the Roumanian colony. We passed the first few farms, father gazing dreamily at them as we went by. but at last he exclaimed excitedly:

“Stop the car, Mary! That looks like a good place.”

TT IS a mystery to me what made him think that. It

looked like all the other Roumanian farms we had passed —white plastered cottage with thatched roof and a swarm of babies, chickens and geese on the doorstep. But I have often noticed that father is apt to be psychic when developing one of his ideas.

He put on his glasses and peered at the name on the rural delivery letter box.

“Hoychuk.” he said. "No, Holychuk. Now, Mary, you go up to the house and see if Mrs. Holychuk has any baby pigs for sale. But be nonchalant. Be calm. If you make her think you are too keen, she will raise the price.”

I felt that if such were the case there was not much danger of us paying an exorbitant price for our pigs.

I got out of the car and, opening the gate, started up the road. There was a dog, of course, of the sort that all foreigners seem to own —the slinking kind that look as if they never have enough to eat. I like dogs, but 1 did not like the way this one sniffed at my ankles, so. turning around with a threatening air. I said, "Go away, sir!” in a loud, firm voice.

He ran whining to a woman whom I now noticed for the first time. She was leaning on a hoe in the garden and scowling at me. I felt I had begun badly, and that father would probably be annoyed if he were watching. So, smiling in my best manner. I said:

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Holychuk. What a charming garden. What exquisite turnips. Have you any baby pigs for sale?”

But it was immediately apparent that my diplomacy was wasted. Mrs. Holychuk did not understand English.

Hesitating doubtfully, I wondered what father would do. I always think of father when in doubt. He is so rarely at a loss for a definite course of action. Pantomime! I commenced making signs to her indicative of baby pigs and a desire to purchase. She watched me attentively for a few seconds and then, grasping her hoe tightly, began to back away. My pantomime did not seem to be a success, and I was puzzled by her expression and the almost belligerent way in which she grasped the hoe.

Father arrived at this point, tired of sitting in the car. I started to explain, but it was not necessary. He grasped the situation at once and, brushing by me scornfully, fastened a compelling gaze on Mrs. Holychuk. Father is a remarkably brilliant student of Kervanism. You may have noticed his letter in their advertisement in which he gives them full credit for the mind discipline which enabled him to tum so successfully from a lifetime of research work in ancient Talmudic laws to Scientific Farming.

Mrs. Holychuk was instantly impressed, and when he had her complete attention he commenced to make grunting and squealing noises, at the same time arching his brows in a questioning manner. Father has a remarkable gift for imitating birds and animals. She understood him at once and, relaxing her hold on the hoe, smiled and nodded. Beaming, she led the way around behind the house and

showed us, in a pen, a very large sow and an innumerable family.

The bargaining in pantomime now commenced, and I marvelled at what father could do with his eyebrows and shoulders. After they had been at it hot and heavy for some time, she signalled him to get into the pen with her. I watched doubtfully, for I could not remember ever having seen a sow who looked more able to protect her progeny. There was something ven.' businesslike about the way she said, “Woof!” when father put his leg over the fence. He thought better of it and. retreating hastily, stood in deep thought.

“It is evident we must employ strategy,” he remarked at length.

It would be useless to dwell on the next three hours. But I was right about that sow. She was more than capable. She was remarkably efficient, and seemed to have no difficulty in anticipating and frustrating our strategic moves. Although the pen was a large one and her proportions matronly, she could travel at a record breaking speed from one side to the other.

Again and again I felt that victory was in her grasp; and once, in a particularly acute crisis, I fell off the barrel on which I had been stationed, armed with a pointed stick, into a trough of sour milk.

This created a temporary respite, for I was so unnerved by the narrowness of my escape that it took some time to revive me. And unfortunately I drank deeply from a dipper offered by a young Holychuk.

It was my first experience with the homemade alcoholic beverage known as “bygott” and it took immediate effect. Sobbing bitterly, I asked Mrs. Holychuk and father how they could gaze unmoved on the sow’s noble defense of her young. I delivered such an impassioned address on the tragedy of bereaved motherhood that father said afterward he was thankful Mrs. Holychuk couldn’t understand English, for some of the expressions I used were hardly nice coming from the lips of a well brought up spinster of twenty.

Father walked me up and down, and I could see he was intensely annoyed. He gave me a brief but comprehensive discourse on the origin, manufacture and use of bygott. He said Roumanian babies of six months had stronger heads than I, and I said the trouble didn’t seem to be in my head so much as in my legs.

Eventually I recovered enough to allow us to continue the campaign. In the end we won. Father escaped unhurt except for a few scratches from the barbed wire running around the top of the pen and a torn trouser leg where the sow made a mistake in judgment and missed her real objective.

Suffice it to say that we now had four little pigs in two gunnysacks. We started for the car, father carrying one sack and I the other. It is astonishing how little pigs of that size can struggle and wiggle. But it is even more astonishing what a noise they can make; a noise suggestive of a pair of amorous cats, a dog fight, and a knife being ground on a grindstone.

"DATHER was pleased. He dwelt unceasingly on our

future in the hog business all the way home, except when one little pig enlarged a hole in a gunnysack and squirmed out. After a few minutes of intense excitement we got him back in. You wouldn’t think there would be very much room in the back of a very small car for a very small pig to evade capture in, would you? I wouldn’t have thought so either.

It was late when we got home. Mother was waiting at

the gate. She made no comment except to tell us to hurry in to supper, and father looked annoyed. He had been practising on me for this meeting all the way home, and it was a little trying not to be able to use any of his splendid statistics on hog raising.

Consequently supper was a chilly meal in more ways than one, and having carrots didn't help any. I felt that mother had been singularly lacking in delicacy in her choice of a vegetable for this occasion, for the carrots reminded us all of the carrotless weeks the summer before when father was raising chinchilla rabbits.

He had read an article in that same farm journal on the rearing of these fur-bearing rodents, and although the authority had said one pair was enough to start with, father had bought six pair on the theory that if a little of a thing is good, more is better. Rabbits are strictly vegetarian, and as they go in for raising families on a truly magnificent scale it was not long before our difficulties became acute. Encouraged by the thought of the enormous profits we were going to make, we bore the situation with fortitude; but unfortunately just when the food shortage reached famine proportions, it was discovered that our rabbits were not the fur-bearing kind.

Supper over, we went out to look after our purchases. It was now that it occurred to us we had no pen in which to put the little pigs.

“I’ll build them a house tomorrow,” father said, “but we must think of some place to put them tonight.”

I waited for him to get an idea, and presently he thought of the unused chicken pens. Father is very resourceful.

It took quite a time to fix one, but at last we thought it would do. Father said the little pigs were tired from their journey and would be glad to lie down and sleep.

I was glad to lie down too; but I had a disturbed night, owing to an exciting dream about the Minister of Agriculture, the little pigs, Mrs. Holychuk and the old sow. The Minister of Agriculture, a little pig under either arm and the other two festooned about his neck, was rushing about the Parliament Buildings at Ottawa, hotly and closely pursued by the old sow. The little pigs were squealing, and Mrs. Holychuk, armed with her hoe, was holding up the Prime Minister, who was trying to hurry to his colleague’s rescue. The squealing got louder and louder and plainer and plainer, and then the window of father’s room went up with a bang and I heard a startled exclamation.

“Get up at once. Mary!” he called to me in an excited voice. “They’ve got out. and we must catch them right away. If we let them leave the yard a coyote may get them.”

I got out of bed quickly. Father is apt to be impatient when he is kept waiting, and it was serious about the coyotes. Although it was only five o'clock, the sun was already coming up. I didn’t bother to dress. Slipping on a pair of shoes. 1 hurried down stairs. But we were too late. As we went out of the back door we saw the little pigs, one after the other going off down across the field.

Father st<xxi in deep thought while 1 waited for him to get an idea.

“I have an idea." said father at last, “that those pigs can run faster than you can, Mary, so there’s not much use chasing them on foot. You’d better get on Dot and turn them back. Hurry. Mary.

Don’t wait for a saddle.”

I didn’t like the last part of his instructions, for I'm not so much at this bareback stuff. Haste, however. \| was imperative, and, remembering

that the horse he had mentioned was round and gentle, I didn't stop to argue.

1 led Dot out of the stable, trying to hurry. But I had trouble getting on her back, for she was very slippery and she wouldn’t stand still when I backed her up to a box and tried to climb on from there. She kept pulling away. Father arrived to see what was keeping me, and looked a bit huffed.

HE SAID,, “Just a jiffy and I’ll put you up.” And he did. He took hold of my leg and boosted, but in his excitement he boosted a little too hard and I landed so abruptly on Dot’s back that I couldn't stop and coasted on over the other side. This mishap delayed us, for I was inclined to be annoyed, which father thought unreasonable. After some moments spent in arguing, we mutually agreed to go into the matter thoroughly at some later date when there was nothing more pressing on hand. He gave me another boost and, landing safely, I guided Dot out of the gate in pursuit of the four little pigs, which by this time had a good start of us.

“Turn them back to the yard and I’ll have some milk ready for them,” father called after me.

I tried to hurry Dot, but she was not accustomed to being ridden and seemed to resent it. No doubt she also thought it was far too early to be out, for she kept trying to turn back to the stables. After a particularly severe struggle, I thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of a stick to let her know I was serious, so with great difficulty 1 urged her into a near by clump of willows and tried to break one off.

Anyone who has ever tried to break a willow switch while sitting, clothed in pyjamas, on the back of a saddleless horse will realize that I did not have an easy time. In the end I only secured a little piece about the size of a lead pencil, but it had a psychological effect. Dot thought the matter over and decided to get on with it.

We set off at a good pace after the pigs. I could see them still going in a straight path toward the back of the farm, half a mile away, and it seemed to me that I would not have much trouble, for if I could just get them turned around they would probably play “Follow the leader" right back to the house. I caught up with them and very gently got in front. I was wrong. They scattered and began to play “Run sheep run.”

My situation was now rendered more trying by Dot, who did not like the little pigs. She began to give me trouble again, and I had great difficulty in keeping my seat. Many times I was forced to throw my arms tightly around her neck when she stopped abruptly, which she did every time one of the little pigs, in trying to evade me, attempted to slip between her legs.

The sun was well up in the sky when father appeared, rather put out with me. After looking the situation over he said, “I'll get on Dot, and you take this stick and go and keep them out of the grove. You shouldn’t have excited

I felt that this was manifestly unjust, but, remembering

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that not only father’s twenty dollars but all his plans for the future were in jeopardy, I let it pass. Taking the stick, I watched him jump on Dot. He did not need any assistance, and I stared admiringly. Father is very agile.

About ten o’clock mother came down with a pitcher of iced lemonade and some cookies. I certainly appreciated them, and thanked her, but father said she might have saved herself the long hot walk as we should have the pigs directly. They were beginning to show signs of wear and tear and. taking advantage of the temporary truce, had lain : down in the nearest grove of trees. This suggested an idea to father, j “Now Mary,” he said, “you crawl up on ! that side and I will creep up on this side. They're so tired we’ll catch them easily.” From where I was sitting I could see them j asleep and snoring, and the scheme seemed I feasible. The only thing was, they were ! possessed of remarkably acute intuitions. They would sleep soundly while we crept quietly up, wriggling along on our stomachs.

I and then, with an agile movement, just as ! our hands were about to close on them, 1 they would elude us, move away a few feet

and lie down again. In this manner we traversed the whole grove, which was one of considerable proportions.

Presently father said, “Mary, you stay here and watch them. I have an idea. I’m going up to the house to build a trap.”

I said, “All right, father, but please bring me something to eat. I’m starving.”

“You won’t have to wait long now,” he replied, “for it will only take me a few minutes. I'll tell mother to save some lunch for you.”

It was a very hot afternoon, and I was sound asleep beside the little pigs when father came back with the trap. He couldn’t waken me. but mother had no difficulty when she appeared carrying a plate covered with a napkin.

Father waited while I ate and then explained his scheme. Out of another unused chicken pen he had built a very fine trap with a sliding door. He placed this near the little pigs and then, filling a pan with milk, tied a rope to the handle and put it at the end of the trap. Pressing both mother and me into service, he proceeded to put his plan into execution. We made one or two false starts, owing to the fact that

we did not have perfect co-operation, but finally fatiier had us well schooled in our parts, and the thing worked like a charm. As the first little pig got completely into the trap, father closed the door.

We felt now that it was only a matter of seconds; but another delay arose when we found we had nowhere to put the captive. Obviously if each of us took charge of a pig as we caught them, there would be no one left to catch the rest; and anyway it wouldn’t work out mathematically, since there were four pigs and only three people.

Father said. “Hurry. Mary.” as I started to the house for the gunnvsacks.

RATHER late that night 1 strolled into • the living room where father was reading. Rested and refreshed by a g(x>d sleep and some supper, my first thought was to show him I had no intention of reopening the discussion of the morning. I mean the

unfortunate episode when he boosted me off Dot. 1 am a friendly soul, and I could not bear to have him think 1 was cherishing hard feelings over the incident.

Casting about in my mind for a suitable opening. 1 remembered that there is no way to a man's heart like talking about his business, so in an interested and conversational way I began brightly:

“What are you going to do with those pigs until you get their pen built, father?"

He glanced up coldly, and it was now that I noticed he was not reading a farm journal. | He was reading a book on Talmudic law.

“The price of hogs has dropixxi two cents, and the price of wheat has gone up.” lie j remarked. "I felt that it was perhaps not | the right time to go into hog raising on an extensive scale, so I sold them to the butcher.”

He spoke distantly. Father is very reserved at times.