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This Little Pig Staid at Home by Mary Densel

 

Six tow heads bobbing about a pen in the big barn. In the pen were thirteen small pigs, all squealing as only small pigs know how to squeal.

The owners of two of the tow heads soon departed. They were Solomon and Isaac. Being fourteen years old, they were too ancient to care much for pigs. Elias and John also went away. They had business elsewhere in the shape of woodchuck traps. Philemon would fain have lingered near, had he not made an engagement to play "two old cat" with Tom Tadgers.

As for Romeo Augustus, no charm of bat or ball would have drawn him from that pen, since he had seen one of the small pigs stagger about in a strange fashion, and then sink down in a corner. Something was wrong with that pig.

Romeo Augustus peered and peeped. At last into the pen he climbed, and caught the little pig in his arms.

Then there was a hubbub indeed. Up rushed the mother in terrible excitement. Round and round spun the twelve brothers and sisters, each crying, "No, no, no, no," in a voice as fine as a knitting-needle, and as sharp as a razor edge.

But Romeo Augustus kept a steady head. Back over the pen he scrambled, pig and all, and sat down on the barn floor to find out the trouble.

Ah! here was enough to make any pig stagger. Two little legs dangled helplessly—one fore-leg, one hind-leg. The bones were broken.

At first Romeo Augustus was tempted to weep. What good would that do? It was far better to coax the bones into place, put sticks up and down for splints, and bind one leg tight with his neck-tie, the other with his very best pocket-handkerchief.

It was not an easy job. The pig did writhe and twist, while the frantic mother danced up and down in the pen behind, and drove the surgeon nearly crazy with her noise. But he toiled bravely on, and when at last the operation was done, the heart of Romeo Augustus was knit unto that small pig in bonds of deep affection.

"I love him as if he was my—daughter," said Romeo Augustus, solemnly. He did not confide this to his twin brother Philemon: Philemon would have jeered. He told it to Elias, who was poetical, and had a soul for sentiment. Elias nodded, and said,

"Just so!" That showed sympathy. He also added, "Why don't you keep him for your own, and call him Leggit or Bones?"

"No," answered Romeo Augustus, with dignity; "his name shall be Mephibosheth, for the man who followed King David, and was lame in both his feet."

For five weeks Romeo Augustus nursed and fed and tended that pig. In time the legs grew strong. Mephibosheth was as brisk as any pig need be. Romeo Augustus rejoiced over him, and loved him more and more. So the days went on, until a certain morning dawned.

The sun rose as usual; the cocks crowed as cheerfully as they always did. Solomon and Isaac had gone to drive the cows to pasture, as was their wont. Elias and John were peacefully skinning their woodchucks in the shed. Philemon had been sent back to his chamber (as he was every morning of his life) to brush his back hair. There was nothing to suggest the storm which was to break over Romeo Augustus, who stood by the kitchen stove watching the cook fry fritters.

"Fizz, fiz-z-z, fiz-z-z," hissed the fritters.

"Aren't they going to be good!" said Romeo Augustus, smacking his lips.

Suddenly came a voice. It was Romeo Augustus's father speaking to the man-servant:

"Those little pigs are large enough to be killed. How many are there? Never mind. Carry them all to market to-morrow, and sell them for what they will bring. I don't want the trouble of raising them."

Romeo Augustus listened in horror. "Large enough to be killed?" "Carry them all to market?" "All? All?" Why, that included Mephibosheth. Terrible thought!

Not a fritter did Romeo Augustus eat that morning. After breakfast he roamed aimlessly about the farm. He would not go near the barn. How could he look upon poor doomed Mephibosheth?

Once he thought of going to his father, and pleading with him for his pig's life. But Romeo Augustus was shy, and somewhat afraid of his father, who was a stern man. So he kept his grief to himself, and meditated.

Elias unconsciously deserted him at this time of need, and curdled Romeo Augustus's blood by asking twice for pork at dinner. Ask for pork? Why, speaking coarsely, Mephibosheth was also—pork. How could any one eat pork with such a relish? Romeo Augustus shivered, and kept his own counsel. All that afternoon he pondered. Then the darkness of night came on.

The next morning off started the man-servant with his load of little pigs.

"Have you all?" asked Romeo Augustus's father.

"I would ha' swore, sir, there was thirteen, but it seems there was only twilve. Yes, sir, I has 'em all;" and away he drove.

As for Romeo Augustus, a change came over him. Far from shunning the barn, he hung about it constantly. Moreover, he was always present when the cows were milked, morning and night. He had a playful trick of dipping his own tin cup into the foaming pail, and scampering away with it full to the brim. Nobody objected to that. If he chose to strain a point, and drink unstrained milk, he was welcome to do it.

"And if you see fit to save half your dinner, and give it away, I am willing," said his mother, who was busy, and hardly noticed what Romeo Augustus asked her. "But you must not soil your jacket fronts as you do. This is the fifth time within a week I have sponged your clothes."

Soon after this, Philemon and Romeo Augustus were out in the barn, rolling over and over, burying themselves in the sweet-smelling hay.

Suddenly Philemon pricked up his ears.

"What's that?" quoth he. "I heard a little pig squealing. Where can he be?"

"Philemon," said Romeo Augustus, earnestly, "let's climb to that top mow, and jump down. Hurrah! It's a good twenty feet. Come on, if you dare!"

If he dare! Of course he dared. It was great fun to launch one's self into space, and come whirling down on the hay. There was just enough danger of breaking one's neck to give spice to the treat. How Romeo Augustus did scurry about, hustling Philemon whenever he stopped to breathe, and urging him on, shouting at the top of his lungs,

"One more jump, old boy. Hurrah! Hurray!"

Philemon had no spare time in which to wonder if he heard a small pig squeal.

That very night, when all the family was wrapped in slumber, Elias felt a hand on his shoulder. Another hand was on his mouth, to prevent any exclamation.

"Come with me," whispered Romeo Augustus; and he held out Elias's jacket and trousers. Elias took the hint, also the clothes. Down the stairs crept the two. Out the front door, which would creak, into the moon-lit yard stole they. Elias's eyes were snapping with excitement; for, as I said, Elias was poetical, and, like all poets, he was always expecting something to turn up. At this present he was on the look-out for what he called "the Gibbage."

Elias himself had grown to believe the marvellous stories he told his brothers. He had full faith in the Lovely Lily Lady, who lived in the attic; in the Mealy family, with their sky-blue faces and pea-green hands, in the cobwebby meal chest under the barn eaves; in the Peely family, who inhabited the tool-box in the shed, and whose heads were like baked apples with the peel taken off; in the big black bird, which came from the closet under the stairs at night, and flew through the chambers to dust the boys' clothes with its wings.

And now Elias had suspected in his own mind that there existed a creature, somewhat like a mouse, somewhat like a red flower-pot, which glided around during the night-watches to sharpen slate-pencils, smooth out dog-ears from school-books, erase lead-pencil marks, polish up marbles, straighten kite strings, put the "suck" into brick-suckers, and otherwise make itself useful. If there were not such a creature, there ought to be, and Elias became daily surer that there was. He called it "the Gibbage."

Perchance Romeo Augustus had caught a glimpse of it. No wonder Elias's eyes snapped as he was hurried across the yard, and led back of the barn, where there was a space between the underpinning and the ground. By lying flat one could wriggle his way under the barn, and when once beneath, there was room to stand nearly up-right.

"Elias," said Romeo Augustus, breathlessly, "I keep Mephibosheth under here."

"Sakes and daisies!" gasped Elias.

That was a very strong expression. When somewhat moved, Elias often exclaimed, "Sakes!" but when he added, "and daisies!" it was a sign he was stirred to his inmost depths.

"Sakes and daisies!" said Elias.

"Yes," Romeo Augustus went on, "I heard father say he didn't want the trouble of raising him, so I concluded I would. But nobody must see him till he's raised, and Philemon he heard him this very day. I must take him somewhere else. Where, Elias, oh, where can I carry him?"

Elias frowned and pondered. He was grieved not to have discovered "the Gibbage," but he would do the handsome thing by Romeo Augustus.

Half an hour later the jolly old moon nearly fell out of the sky for laughing. There were Elias and Romeo Augustus straining and tugging, coaxing and scolding, trying with might and main to stifle the expostulations of Mephibosheth, as they bore him down to an unmowed meadow.

The ox-eye daisies opened their sleepy petals to see what all the stir was about. The buttercups and dandelions craned themselves forward to peep.

Down in the meadow the boys drove a stake, and to it they fastened Mephibosheth. It was no joke taking food to him now. The unmowed meadow was in sight of the house, and it seemed as if one or another of the boys was always at the window. But Elias aided Romeo Augustus, and between them Mephibosheth got his daily rations. Surely he was safe at last. Far from it.

"Who has been trampling the grass in the north pasture?" asked Romeo Augustus's father, a fortnight later. "I followed the path made by feet that had no right there. At the end I found a stake. Tied to the stake I found a—"

Solomon and Isaac looked surprised. John and Philemon shook their heads. They knew nothing of the matter. Elias and Romeo Augustus quaked.

"At the end I found a—" repeated their father, gazing sternly round the table—"I found a—"

"Pig," said Romeo Augustus, in the smallest possible voice; and he fled from the table in an agony of tears. His labor had been in vain. After all, Mephibosheth must die. How could he endure it? He dared not glance out of the window of the chamber where he had taken refuge, lest he should behold Mephibosheth led to slaughter. It seemed as if his heart would break in two.

But listen! What is that noise? A clatter as of falling boards. There is a sound as of hammering. At first it seems to Romeo Augustus like Mephibosheth's death-knell. Thud, thud, thud, go the blows. Drawn almost against his will, Romeo Augustus stealthily approaches the window. He glances fearfully out. What does he see? His father pounding busily, making—what is he making? Can it be? It is—it is a pen.

"Father!" gasps Romeo Augustus.

His father looks up and smiles. "Your pig must have a house to live in," says he. "I can't have my meadow grass trampled."

Before noon Mephibosheth was in his new quarters. There was a parlor with two pieces of carpet on the floor; there was a chamber with plenty of straw, whereon Mephibosheth could repose; there was a dining-room, with what, in common language, might be termed a trough.

Such a life as that pig led! He was cared for tenderly. He was washed all over every morning, and put to bed every night. He was not a very brilliant pig as far as his intellect went, it must be confessed. He could do no tricks with cards; he could not be taught to jump through a hoop.

One year passed; Mephibosheth was large. Two years went by; Mephibosheth was wonderful. I would I could say he was plump; that word does not begin to express his condition. It would be pleasant to call him stout; that would not give the glimmer of an idea of his size. Corpulent would be a refined way of stating it. Alas! corpulent means nothing as far as Mephibosheth is concerned. That animal measured seven feet and twenty-two inches round his body. He weighed—truth is great, and must be spoken—he weighed five hundred and fifty and two-third pounds.

He could not walk; his legs were pipe-stems under him. He could scarcely breathe. That is the excuse for what happened.

One day Romeo Augustus came home from school. Mephibosheth's pen was empty. Mephibosheth's pen would be empty for evermore. That is a gentle way of telling the story. In vain it was explained to Romeo Augustus that Mephibosheth's life had become a burden; that common humanity demanded his departure. In vain Philemon offered three fish-hooks and a jackknife by way of solace. In vain Solomon was sure his father would present a calf to the mourner for a pet.

Elias was the only one who gave the least comfort.

"We will make a tombstone, and I will write an epitaph," said he.

Soon he brought a board, on which were drawn an urn and a couple of consumptive weeping-willows (for Elias was an artist as well as a poet), and underneath were these lines, which being written partly in old English spelling, were so much the more consoling:


Sacred to the Memorie
of
MEPHIBOSHETH.

Kinde Reader, pause and drop a teare,
Ye Pig his bodie lieth here;
Ye Auguste third of fiftie-nine
Was when his sun dyd cease to shine.
He broke two legs, which gave him wo;
He doctored was by Romeo,
Who cherished him from yeare to yeare,
As by this notice doth appeare.
He fed him till he waxed soe big
He was obliged to hop the twig.
Ye friends do sadly raise their waile,
And fondly eke preserve his tayle.

"And here's his tail," said Elias, presenting the pathetic memento.

"The only trouble is in the line, 'Ye Pig his bodie lieth here,'" sobbed Romeo Augustus. "It doesn't lie here. He's been sold to a butcher."

"It's Elias who 'lieth here,'" remarked Isaac.

That was a heartless joke. No one was so low as to laugh at it.

"They often have monuments without the—the—the body," said Elias, with great delicacy.

Romeo Augustus was content.

He is a grown man now, but to this very day he keeps Mephibosheth's monument. It is nailed on the wall of his chamber. He sometimes smiles when he looks at it, but he does not take it down.