The Black Pigs,
A True Story by Amy Walton
I know what we must dowe must sell them at the market!
We shall want the cart and horse.
No. You ask himyou know I always stammer so when I ask.
The speakers were two dark, straight-featured little boys of ten and
twelve, and the above conversation was carried on in eager whispers,
for they were not alone in the room.
It was rather dark, for the lamp had not been lighted yet, but they
could see the back of the vicar's head as he sat in his arm-chair by
the fire, and they knew from the look of it that he was absorbed in
thought; he had been reading earnestly as long as it was light enough,
and scarcely knew that the boys were in the room.
You ask, repeated Roger, the elder boy, I always stammer
Little Gabriel clasped his hands nervously, and his deep-set eyes
gazed apprehensively at the back of his father's head.
I don't like to, he murmured.
But you must, urged Roger eagerly; think of the pigs.
Thus encouraged, Gabriel got up and walked across the room. He
thought he could ask better if he did not face his father, so he
stopped just at the back of the chair and said timidly:
The vicar looked round in a sort of dream and saw the little
knickerbockered figure standing there, with a wide-mouthed, nervous
smile on its face.
Well, he said in an absent way.
O please, father, said Gabriel, may Roger and I have the cart and
Eh, my boy? Cart and horsewhat for?
Why, continued Gabriel hurriedly, to-morrow's Donnington market,
and we can't sell our pigs here, and he thoughtI thoughtwe thought,
that we might sell them there.
He gazed breathless at his father's face, and knew by its abstracted
expression that the vicar's thoughts were very far away from any
question of pigsas indeed they were, for they were busy with the
subject of the pamphlet he had been reading.
Foolish boys, foolish boys, he said, do as you like.
Then we may have it, father?
Do as you like, do as you like. Don't trouble, there's a good boy;
and he turned round to the fire again without having half realised the
But Roger and Gabriel realised it fully, and the next morning
between five and six o'clock, while it was still all grey, and cold,
and misty, they set forth triumphantly on their way to market with the
pigs carefully netted over in the cart. Through the lanes, strewn
thickly with the brown and yellow leaves of late autumn, up the steep
chalk hill and over the bare bleak downs, the old horse pounded
steadily along with the two grave little boys and their squeaking black
There was not much conversation on the road, for, although Gabriel
was an excitable and talkative boy, he was now so fully impressed by
the importance of the undertaking that he was unusually silent, and
Roger was naturally rather quiet and deliberate.
They had to drive between five and six miles to Donnington, and at
last, as they wound slowly down a long hill, they saw the town and the
cathedral towers lying at their feet.
They were a good deal too early, for in their excitement they had
started much too soon.
But that is all the better, said Roger, because we shall get a
Presently the pen, made of four hurdles, was ready, the pigs safely
in it, and the boys took their station in front of it and waited
Donnington market was a large one, well attended by all the fanners
for miles round; gradually they came rattling up in their carts and
gigs, or jogging along on horseback, casting shrewd glances at the
various beasts which had already been driven in. Some of the men knew
the boys quite well, and greeted them with, Fine day, sir, and a
broad stare of surprise.
By the time the cathedral clock had sounded nine the market was in
A medley of noises. The lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the
squeak of some outraged pig, mixed with the shouts of the drovers and
the loud excited voices of buyers and sellers. In the midst of all this
turmoil the little boys stood steadily at their post, looking up
anxiously as some possible buyer elbowed his way past and stopped a
minute to notice the black pigs; but none got further than Good-day,
sir, and a grin of amusement.
So the day wore on. They had brought their dinner tied up in Roger's
handkerchief, and some acorns for the pigs, so at one o'clock they all
had a little meal together. There was a lull just then, for most of the
farmers had poured into the Blue Boar to dinner, and the people who
were left were engaged in steadily munching the contents of the baskets
they had brought with them.
Roger and Gabriel had not lost heart yet, and still hoped to sell
the pigs, but they certainly began to feel very tired, especially
Gabriel, who, having remained manfully upright all the morning, now
felt such an aching in the legs that he was obliged to take a seat on a
basket turned upside down.
The afternoon waned, it grew a little dusk, still no buyer. Soon the
boys knew that they must begin their long drive home. But, to take the
pigs back again; it was too heartrending to think of.
Then there was suddenly a little bustle in the market, and people
moved aside to let a new-comer pass down the narrow space between the
pens opposite to where the boys had placed themselves. It was a broad
comely gentleman of middle age, dressed in riding-boots, and cords, and
a faded green coat. He had a riding-whip in his hand, with which he
touched the brim of his hat in acknowledgment of the greetings round
him; his dog followed close on his heels. There was a pleased
recognition on all the faces, for everyone liked Squire Dale; he was a
bold rider, and a good shot, and a kind landlord.
Hullo, boys, he said cheerily, for he knew Roger and Gabriel well,
what are you doing here? Is your father in the town?
N-n-no, replied Roger, stammering very much; we c-came to sell
And we can't, put in Gabriel rather mournfully from his basket.
The squire's eyes twinkled, though his face was perfectly grave.
Pigs, eh? he said. Whose pigs are they?
Our pigs, said Gabriel; and if we sell them, we've got a plan.
The squire stood planted squarely in front of them with his hands in
his pockets, looking down at the serious little figures without
Tiring work marketing, eh? he said at last.
G-Gabriel is a little tired, replied Roger glancing at his
younger brother, whose face was white with fatigue.
Well, now, continued Squire Dale, it's an odd thing, but I just
happened to be walking through the market to see if I could find some
likely pigs for myself. But, with a glance at the dusky occupants of
the pen, they must be black.
Gabriel forgot that he was tired.
They're beautiful black pigs, he cried, jumping up eagerly, as
black as they can be. Berkshire pigs. Look at them.
So the squire looked at them; and not only looked at them, but asked
the price and bought them, putting the money into a very large
weather-beaten purse of Roger's; and presently the two happy boys were
seated opposite to him in the parlour of the Blue Boar enjoying a
With renewed spirits they chatted away to their kind host, whose
jolly brown face beamed with interest and good-humour as he listened.
At last Gabriel put down his tea-cup with a deep-drawn sigh of
contentment, and said to his brother mysteriously:
Shall we tell about the plan?
Roger nodded. He could not speak just then, for he was in the act of
taking a large mouthful of bread and jam.
Shall I tell it, said Gabriel, or you?
You, said Roger huskily.
You see, began Gabriel, turning to the squire confidentially, it
is a coperative plan.
A what? interrupted the squire.
That's not the right word, said Roger; he means co-co-co
Oh yes, I know, co-operative. Isn't that it?
Yes, that's it, of course, continued Gabriel, speaking very
quickly for fear that Roger should take the matter out of his hands.
We're going to put our money together, and Ben is going to put some
money in too, and then we shall buy a pig; and when it has a litter we
shall sell them, and perhaps buy a calf, and so we shall get some live
stock, and have a farm, and share the profits.
Gabriel sat very upright while he spoke, with a deepening flush on
his cheeks. The squire leaned forward with a hand on each knee, and
Well, he said, that seems a good plan. Where's the farm to be? In
the vicarage garden?
Father wouldn't like that, said Roger.
Why, possibly not, said the squire; you see it's not always nice
to have cattle and pigs too close to a house. But I tell you what; you
know that little field of mine near the church, I'm wanting to let that
off, how would that do?
It would be just the very thing, said Roger, but, he added
reflectively, we couldn't afford to give you much for it.
You must talk it over with Ben, said the squire rising, it's not
an expensive little bit of land, and I should say about ten shillings a
year would be about the right price. And now, boys, you must start for
homeas it is you won't be there much before dark.
The co-operative plan began very well indeed. Roger and Gabriel,
with a little assistance and advice from their eldest brother Ben,
built a capital sty on Squire Dale's little bit of land, which was
conveniently near the vicarage, and soon, behold them the proud
possessors of a sow and nine black pigs! The boys' pride and pleasure
were immense, and nothing could exceed their care and attention to the
mother and her children; perhaps these were overdone, which may account
for the tragic event which shortly took place.
The little pigs were about two weeks old, very peart and lively,
and everything was proceeding in a satisfactory manner, when one
morning Gabriel went to visit them as usual with a pail of food. As he
neared the sty, he heard, instead of the low choug, choug, choug, to
which he was accustomed, nothing but a chorus of distressed little
squeaks. He quickened his steps; his heart beat very fast; he looked
over the edge of the sty, and, oh horror! The sow was stretched flat on
her side quite dead, while her black family squeaked and struggled and
poked at each other with their little pointed snouts.
Quick as lightning he grasped the situation, and throwing down the
pail which he held rushed back to the house, almost stunning Roger,
whom he met on the way, with the dreadful news. There was no time to be
lost if the pigs were to be saved they must be fed at once. In hot
haste the boys returned with a wheel-barrow, put the seven little
creatures into it, for two out of the nine were dead, and took them
into the vicarage kitchen. Then each boy, with a pig held tenderly in
his arms like a baby, crouched in front of the broad hearth and tried
to induce them to swallow some warm milk.
Choug, choug, choug, grunted Gabriel in fond imitation of the
Ch-ch-choug, repeated Roger, dandling his his charge on the other
Presently all the seven pigs were warmed and fed, and put into a
large rabbit-hutch just outside the kitchen door; they were quiet now,
and lay in a black contented heap, with their little eyes blinking
lazily. The boys stood and looked at them gravely.
We shall have to feed them every hour, said Roger, Zillah says
Oh! Roger, cried Gabriel doubtfully, do you think we shall ever
bring them up?
We will bring them up, replied Roger, clenching his fist
with quiet determination.
But it really was not such an easy matter as some people might
suppose, and especially was it difficult to manage at night. The boys
divided the work in a business-like manner, and took turns to go down
every alternate hour to feed their troublesome foster-children. Zillah,
the cook, allowed the hutch to be brought into the kitchen at night,
and undertook to feed the pigs at six o'clock in the morning, but until
then the boys were responsible and never once flinched from what they
had undertaken. It was getting cold weather now, and bed was
delightfully cosy and warm, but nevertheless little Gabriel would
tumble out with his eyes half shut, at Roger's first whisper of Your
turn now, and creep through the lonely house and down the kitchen
stairs. They had arranged an ingenious feeding apparatus with a quill
inserted through the cork of a medicine bottle, and the pigs took to it
quite kindly, sucked away vigorously, and throve apace.
But it was hard work, when the first excitement of it was over, and
Gabriel felt it particularly; he was a delicate boy, and after one or
two of these night excursions he would lie shivering in his little bed,
and find it impossible to go to sleep again, while Roger snored
peacefully at his side.
It need hardly be said that the vicar knew nothing of these
proceedings, and Ben was at college, so matters were allowed to go on
in this way for nearly a month, by which time Gabriel had managed to
get a very bad cold on his chest, and a cough. As the pigs got fatter,
and rounder, and more lively, he became thinner, and whiter, and
weakera perfect shadow of a little boy; but still he would not give
up his share of the work, until one day he woke up from what seemed to
him to have been a long sleep, and found that he was lying in bed, in a
room which was still called the nursery, and that he felt very tired
and weak. He pulled aside the curtain with a feeble little hand, and
saw Roger sitting there quite quietly, with his head bent over a book.
How strange everything was! What did it all mean? Then Roger raised his
Oh, you're awake! he said looking very pleased, I will go and
He was going away on tip-toe, but Gabriel beckoned to him and he
Roger, he said in a small whispering voice, why am I in this
You're not to talk, said Roger. You've been ill for a long
timea feverand oh, clasping his hands, how you have been going on
about the pigs! You tried to get out of bed no end of times to go and
feed them; and I heard the doctor say to father, `We must manage to
subdue this restlessnesshe must have some quiet sleep.' And
oh, we were all so glad when you went to sleep, and now you will get
quite well soon.
Gabriel tried to say, How are the pigs? but he was really too
weak, so he only smiled, and Roger hurried out of the room to call the
Later on, when he was getting quite strong again, he heard all about
it, and how, by his father's advice, the pigs had been sold to a
And they are such jolly pigs, said Roger; he says he never
saw such likely ones. And they knew me when I went to see them, and
rubbed against my legs. You see, he added, it was really best to sell
them, because father says we are to go to school at Brighton soon, and
then we couldn't see after the farm.
So this was the end of the co-operative plan. Not carried out after
all, in spite of the patience and care bestowed upon it; but I feel
sure that in after years Roger and Gabriel were not unsuccessful men,
if they learnt their lessons at school and in life with half the
determination they used in rearing the black pigs.