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An essay by Dallas Lore Sharp

A Pair Of Pigs

Title:     A Pair Of Pigs
Author: Dallas Lore Sharp [More Titles by Sharp]

I dropped down beside Her on the back steps and took a handful of her peas to pod. She set the colander between us, emptied half of her task into my hat, and said:--

"It is ten o'clock. I thought you had to be at your desk at eight this morning? And you are hot and tired. What is it you have been doing?"

"Getting ready for the _pigs_," I replied, laying marked and steady emphasis on the plural.

"You are putting the pods among the peas and the peas with the pods"--and so I was. "Then we are going to have another pig," she went on.

"No, not _a_ pig this time; I think I 'll get a pair. You see while you are feeding one you can just as well be feeding--"

"A lot of them," she said with calm conviction.

"You 're right!" I exclaimed, a little eagerly. "Besides two pigs do better than--"

"Well, then," very gravely and never pausing for an instant in her shelling, "let's fence in the fourteen acres and have a nice little piggery of Mullein Hill."

The pods popped and split in her nimble fingers as if she knew a secret spring in their backs. I can beat her picking peas, but in shelling peas she seems to have more fingers than I have; they quite confuse me at times as they twinkle at their task.

So they did now. I had spent several weeks working up my brief for two pigs; but was utterly unprepared for a whole piggery. The suddenness of it, the sweep and compass of it, left me powerless to pod the peas for a moment.

I ought to have been at my writing, but it was too late to mention that now; besides here was my hat still full of peas. I could not ungallantly dump them back into her empty pan and quit. There was nothing for it but to pod on and stop with one pig. But my heart was set on a pair of pigs. College had just closed (we were having our 17th of June peas) and the joy of the farm was upon me. I had a cow and a heifer, eighty-six hens, three kinds of bantams, ten hives of bees, and two ducks. I was planning to build a pigeon coop, and had long talked of turning the nine-acre ridge of sprout land joining my farm into a milch goat pasture, selling the milk at one dollar a quart to Boston babies; I had thought somewhat of Belgian hares and black foxes as a side-line; and in addition to these my heart was set on a pair of pigs.

"Why won't one pig do?" she would ask. And I tried to explain; but there are things that cannot be explained to the feminine mind, things perfectly clear to a man that you cannot make a woman see.

Pigs, I told her, naturally go by pairs, like twins and scissors and tongs. They do better together, as scissors do. Nobody ever bought a _scissor_. Certainly not. Pigs need the comfort of one another's society, and the diversion of one another to take up their minds in the pen; hens I explained were not the only broody creatures, for all animals show the tendency, and does not the Preacher say, "Two are better than one: if two lie together then have they heat: but how can one be warm alone"?

I was sure, I told her, that the Preacher had pigs in mind, for judging by the number of pig-prohibitions throughout Hebrew literature, they must have had pigs _constantly_ in mind. This observation of the early Hebrew poet and preacher is confirmed, I added, by all the modern agricultural journals, as well as by all our knowing neighbors. Even the Flannigans (an Irish family down the road),--even the Flannigans, I pointed out, always have two pigs, for all their eight children and his job tending gate at the railroad crossing. They have a goat, too. If a man with that sort of job can have eight children and a goat and two pigs, why can't a college professor have a few of the essential, elementary things, I 'd like to know?

"Do you call your four boys a few?" she asked.

"I don't call my four Flannigan's eight," I replied, "nor my one pig his two. Flannigan has the finest pigs on the road. He has a wonderful way with a pair of pigs--something he inherited, I suppose, for I imagine there have been pigs in the Flannigan family ever since--"

"They were kings in Ireland," she put in sweetly.

"Flannigan says," I continued, "that I ought to have two pigs: 'For shure, a pair o' pags is double wan pag,' says Flannigan--good clear logic it strikes me, and quite convincing."

She picked up the colander of shelled peas with a sigh. "We shall want the new potatoes and fresh salmon to go with these," her mind not on pigs at all, but on the dinner. "Can't you dig me a few?"

"I might dig up a few fresh salmon," I replied, "but not any new potatoes, for they have just got through the ground."

"But if I wanted you to, could n't you?"

"I don't see how I could if there are n't any to dig."

"But won't you go look--dig up a few hills--you can't tell until you look. You said you did n't leave the key outside in the door yesterday when we went to town, but you did. And as for a lot of pigs--"

"I don't want a lot of pigs," I protested.

"But you do, though. You want a lot of everything. Here you 've planted five hundred cabbages for winter just as if we were a sauerkraut factory--and the probabilities are we shall go to town this winter--"

"Go where!" I cried.

"And as for pigs, your head is as full of pigs as Deerfoot Farm or the Chicago stockyards--

Mullein Hill Sausages
Made of Little Pigs

that's really your dream"--spelling out the advertisement with pea-pods on the porch floor.

"Now, don't you think it best to save some things for your children,--this sausage business, say,--and you go on with your humble themes and books?"

She looked up at me patiently, sweetly inscrutable as she added:--

"You need a pig, Dallas, one pig, I am quite sure; but two pigs are nothing short of the pig business, and that is not what we are living here on Mullein Hill for."

She went in with her peas and left me with my pigs--or perhaps they were her thoughts; leaving thoughts around being a habit of hers.

What did she mean by my needing a pig? She was quite sure I needed _one_ pig. Is it my own peculiar, personal need? That can hardly be, for I am not different from other men. There may be in all men, deep down and unperceived, except by their wives, perhaps, traits and tendencies that call for the keeping of a pig. I think this must be so, for while she has always said we need the cow or the chickens or the parsley, she has never spoken so of the pig, it being referred to invariably as mine, until put into the cellar in a barrel.

The pig as my property, or rather as my peculiar privilege, is utterly unrelated in her mind to _salt_ pork. And she is right about that. No man needs a pig to put in a barrel. Everybody knows that it costs less to buy your pig in the barrel. And there is little that is edifying about a barrel of salt pork. I always try to fill my mind with cheerful thoughts before descending into the dark of the cellar to fish a cold, white lump of the late pig out of the pickle.

Not in the uncertain hope of his becoming pork, but for the certain present joy of his _being_ pork, does a man need a pig. In all his other possessions man is always to be blest. In the pig he has a constant, present reward: because the pig _is_ and there is no question as to what he shall be. He is pork and shall be salt pork, not spirit, to our deep relief.

Instead of spirit the pig is clothed upon with lard, a fatty, opaque, snow-white substance, that boils and grows limpid clear and flames with heat; and while not so volatile and spirit-like as butter, nevertheless it is one of earth's pure essences, perfected, sublimated, not after the soul with suffering, but after the flesh with corn and solid comfort--the most abundant of one's possessions, yet except to the pig the most difficult of all one's goods to bestow.

The pig has no soul. I am not so sure of the flower in the crannied wall, not so sure of the very stones in the wall, so long have they been, so long shall be; but the pig--no one ever plucked up a pig from his sty to say,--

"I hold you here squeal and all, in my hand,
Little pig--but _if_ I could understand
What you are, squeal and all, and all in all"--

No poet or philosopher ever did that. But they have kept pigs. Here is Matthew Arnold writing to his mother about _Literature and Dogma_ and poems and--"The two pigs are grown very large and handsome, and Peter Wood advises us to fatten them and kill our own bacon. We consume a great deal of bacon, and Flu complains that it is dear and not good, so there is much to be said for killing our own; but she does not seem to like the idea."

"Very large and handsome "--this from the author of

"The evening comes, the fields are still!"

And here is his wife, again, not caring to have them killed, finding, doubtless, a better use for them in the pen, seeing that Matthew often went out there to scratch them.

Poets, I say, have kept pigs, for a change, I think, from their poetry. For a big snoring pig is not a poem, whatever may be said of a little roast pig; and what an escape from books and people and parlors (in this country) is the feeding and littering and scratching of him! You put on your old clothes for him. He takes you out behind the barn; there shut away from the prying gaze of the world, and the stern eye, conscience, you deliberately fill him, stuff him, fatten him, till he grunts, then you scratch him to keep him grunting, yourself reveling in the sight of the flesh indulged, as you dare not indulge any other flesh. You would love to feed the whole family that way; only it would not be good for them. You cannot feed even the dog or the horse or the hens so. One meal a day for the dog; a limited ration of timothy for the horse, and _scratch_-feed, for the hens--feed to compel them to scratch for fear they will run to flesh instead of eggs; and the children's wedge of pie you sharpen though the point of it pierces your soul; and the potato you leave off of her plate; and you forgo your--you get _you_ a medicine ball, I should say, in order to keep down the fat lest it overlie and smother the soul.

Compelled to deny and subject the body, what do I then but get me a pig and feed _it_, and scratch it, and bed it in order to see it fatten and to hear it snore? The flesh cries out for indulgence; but the spirit demands virtue; and a pig, being the virtue of indulgence, satisfies the flesh and is winked at by the soul.

If a pig is the spirit's concession to the flesh, no less is he at times a gift to the spirit. There are times in life when one needs just such companionship as the pig's, and just such shelter as one finds within his pen. After a day in the classroom discoursing on the fourth dimension of things in general, I am prone to feel somewhat removed, at sea somewhat.

Then I go down and spread my arms along the fence and come to anchor with the pig.

[The end]
Dallas Lore Sharp's essay: A Pair Of Pigs