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A Path with Primrose Strewn

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In consideration of the incident on a later occasion, Catherine was not certain why she was surprised to see her three eldest children still at home negotiating the entrance to the church with the assistance of a large white sow. On even further consideration, she was not certain why she assumed it was the sow aiding the children and not the other way around.

“But, Mother,” protested Jemimah, always the instigator now that young Henry was away at school. “Mother, how will Mistress Pottage” — this in reference to the pig, occupied in the investigation of the privet hedge — “find entrance to heaven without hearing Papa’s sermons? She cannot read, so The Pilgrim’s Progress is entirely out of the question, and there is no one better to lead a pig out of temptation than Papa.”

When questioned as to what had led her to believe her father was responsible for the salvation of livestock animals, Jemimah allowed that she had overheard the local butcher say as much to a group of men following the sermon on the previous Sunday, though he had not elaborated when he noticed Jemimah standing nearby.

“Which did not strike me as quite fair, Mother. A daughter should know of such talents when they belong to her father, so that she may assist him in his parish duties. How am I to be a support to my parents when I am bound in ignorance?”

Catherine conceded that she did not know how this was to be accomplished, remarking privately to herself that she had been in ignorance of this particular duty of her husband’s only a quarter of an hour prior.

“Perhaps,” Catherine said, seeking desperately a way out of this conversation that did not result in the revelation that the pig the butcher had in mind was porcine only in a metaphorical sense. “Perhaps pigs have their own ways of worship which do not involve them being inside village churches.”

Jemimah firmly shook her head in denial, and the gesture was imitated by Sophia and Robert behind her. One of Robert’s stockings was puddled around his ankle, and Sophia had a stain on her dress the origin of which her mother was hesitant to speculate.

“I am certain that a butcher ought to be an expert on the inner workings of pigs and their practices in general,” Jemimah insisted. “It only stands to reason.”

A child’s reason was a poor buttress against the finer realities of the effect a pig may work on the interior of a church. A pig’s preference offered no resistance, however, and during this dialogue, Mistress Pottage had wandered off in search of more congenial society when it became evident that the Tilneys did not intend to provide anything more nourishing than privet roots.

With the one creature who might answer their questions about the salvation of domesticated animals not available, a solution was applied for to Mr. Tilney, who assured the children that the Church of England had a firm stance on the salvation of animals, and that was that their spiritual needs could be met with a once yearly blessing. If Mistress Pottage felt that this was not sufficient to her needs, then she could apply privately to Mr. Tilney for counsel, but intermediaries were not necessary.

“Does this mean that you are fluent in pig latin as well as Greek, Papa?” Jemimah asked quite solemnly. Catherine, standing behind her daughter, raised an inquiring eyebrow at her husband, who steadfastly refused to look at her.

“I have never quite mastered the finer parts of that language, but I have visited Berkshire, which gives me a certain knowledge in this area,” Mr. Tilney assured her.

“That is all right, then. Mistress Pottage is from Berkshire, and I am sure it will be a comfort to her to discuss local custom with someone who has experienced it,” Jemimah said, who following this discussion departed Mr. Tilney’s study to join her siblings in their punishment, perfectly confident of her father’s ability to bring solace in its darkest hour of need to a creature which had been known to eat soap.

“There is no hope for it,” Henry said. “We will have to visit Mr. Hudd and make apologies for our children having detained his pig for purposes of religious conversion.”

“Can one proselytize to a pig?” Catherine asked.

“Everyone knows that pigs are deists. If any creature were governed by nature’s god, it is a pig. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and I have never met a pig which particularly concerned itself with that virtue, nor with the vices of gluttony and covetousness.” Henry settled the eyeglasses he had taken to wearing in recent years back into position and attempted to look stern. “And I speak here purely of the animals and not of any person of our acquaintance.”

Catherine, having learnt some wisdom in the years that necessitated Henry wear spectacles, refrained from commenting on this reference to John Thorpe, who had not fared so well. No one had thought to warn him that slender ankles and a fat purse were not the principal proofs of an excellent wife, this being self-evident to most people, and Mr. Thorpe soon found himself with only memories of the one and in complete lack of the other. Out of pocket and out of favor, he lived with his mother and sister and their mutual admiration.

***

Mr. Hudd was a man who in his youth had had aspirations of a naval career, but soon found that his sea-legs were not going to come in, regardless of how long he spent away from land. This led him back home to Woodston, where he discovered the many fine qualities of the neighboring county’s swine, chief of which was their being at least as sensible as sailors at sea during a time of war. Additionally, they were far more particular about their food, being disinclined to survive on biscuit when better food (or soap) could be got. As Mr. Hudd was more particular about his trencher than most sailors, this only commended the animal to him and provided a platform upon which to build a rapport which had in turn built him considerable respect and fortune. In his opinion, a silk purse was no improvement on a sow’s ear.

It was with this single-minded gentleman that the Tilneys were bound by the strictures of courtesy and local society to spend a half-hour’s interview in apology for their children having done likewise with the gentleman’s pig. They were admitted to the Hudds’ home, a handsome building of local stone which was nearly the equal of the their own, by a servant who brought news of their visit to Mr. Hudd and his wife.

After they had exchanged the required niceties -- the topics being much the same as the ones that Mr. Tilney had outlined on his first encounter with his wife, but pertaining to Woodston rather than Bath -- Mr. Hudd inquired as to the reason for their visit, for the parents of five active children did not often have time for social visits.

“I am afraid that we do have a reason for being here apart from conversations about the weather,” Henry said. “It appears that our eldest daughter has led her siblings to introduce one of your pigs to the practices of the Church of England.”

“She was concerned that Mistress Pottage would be led into temptation without spiritual guidance,” Catherine added, striving as most mothers do once or twice to prove that her children, while mischievous, did so out of good will and consideration for others, and not because stolen fruit made an interesting sound when smashed.

Mr. Hudd made a curious sound himself, sucking his cheeks in and then blowing out a breath forcefully.

“Did she now?” he asked consideringly, then nodded. “I have had worries in that direction myself. She’s a fine girl, but reminds me overmuch of a captain I once had. He was determined to explore the world, but it is hard to do that when you run into every obstacle on the way -- if it was not rocks, it was straits too narrow to pass. Wanted to name her after him, but Mrs. Hudd said that Richard wasn’t a fitting name for a sow.”

“It really isn’t, Walter,” Mrs. Hudd said. “I did suggest Penelope, which is a lovely name altogether, but you would not have it.”

“Tempting fate, madam,” he replied. He turned back to the Tilneys and said, “I’ve tried to keep Mistress Pottage penned away, but she will get out. Too clever for her own good, just like my old captain. She’s gentle as a lamb, though, so you mustn’t worry for your children in her company.”

“She did seem a very well-mannered pig,” Catherine said, “but we wanted to be sure that you were not put out that Jemimah had led your animal into places she did not belong.”

“Put out? Indeed not! I am sure it did Mistress Pottage all the good in the world to have young folk concerned for her. She is a pig which likes to wander and has a fondness for soap, but when a person might take time to consider the salvation of those other than himself, what harm can be done? If only the captain had had somebody to guide him so.“ As if upon sudden realization, he leaned forward in his chair, the cup of tea which was perched on his knee in danger of spilling. “I do hope that the church has not suffered any damage.”

They both made assurances to the gentleman that the church had suffered at neither the paw nor the snout of his prize pig, and the interview ended in good time, with the understanding that both Jemimah and Mistress Pottage were in the good graces of all involved. It was also agreed that Henry would be available to the sow for all her spiritual needs, and that he would make a call at the piggery should his presence be required.

“How surprising to find that Jemimah and Mr. Hudd could be in felicity in this matter without ever once having talked with each other,” Catherine said at last, when they were safely down the lane and away from anyone who might overhear.

“It must come from not allowing anything but improving reading. No more the torment of history for Jemimah. We shall have to introduce her to novels and hope that imagination will serve better as entertainment than the spiritual travails of domesticated animals,” Mr. Tilney said.

“It could be the making of her,” his wife agreed.