Recipe for Pork

A Story

by ROBERT H. BLACKBURN

YOU’RE new in this part of the country, so maybe you never heard about Nick McGuffin and his wonderful hog-machine. Even some of the young folks that have grown up and married and got farms of their own right around here have never heard much about Nick’s machine, and some of us old-timers who know the whole story aren’t very fussy about telling it.

Nick McGuffin was a little runt of a man with a big voice. And he had a bushy red beard. You could tell him a mile away by his beard, and people used to crack jokes about it, but Nick generally enjoyed the jokes more than anybody. When he got to town Saturday nights the boys in the poolroom used to tell him he better get his beard shaved off so that he wouldn’t get his cue snarled up in it, but he’d laugh and say, “Why, this here beard is what gives me my strength and keeps me from catching cold! I just been reading about a man name of Samson that went all to pieces after he went and got his beard cut off!" Nick was a great reader, and folks used to say he did more reading than farming.

Nick farmed that Hudson Bay quarter, just down the hill from Jacob Akerman’s place, where the old windmill is. He never had much of a house on his place, just an old log shack with poles and sods piled on top for a roof. Not even a proper window in it, just a hole in the wall filled with brown and green beer bottles laid one on top of the other. Folks said he cooked all his meals in a white enamel pot with a handle on one side, that he picked up at an auction sale; but I couldn’t be sure about that. He had a little shingled barn, and some hogpens, and one or two granaries, and that was all — until he got the windmill.

One night after he got the windmill, somebody in the poolroom says, “Well, this red-bearded Nick friend of ours must of struck gold on his farm, buying a windmill, and all. Next thing you know, he’ll be gettin’ himself a wife!”

“Not for me,” Nick says. “None of the women I ever saw is the kind to appreciate real stain-glass windows like I got in my kitchen. And anyway, the way I figure, that windmill I got can pump more water and give less trouble than any woman on earth.”

Of course stories like that didn’t do Nick any good with the women in the neighborhood, and even Jessie Akerman — that’s Jacob Akerman’s sister — said that the sight of red beards made her sick to her stomach.

As I was telling you, Nick was a great reader, and folks used to say he wouldn’t milk a cow without reading about it in a book first. He always carried a copy of the Prairie Farmer in his overalls pocket, and was always sending samples of soil and things up to the University, or asking the district agriculturist for one of his pamphlets. It’s no wonder that folks thought he was queer, and didn’t pay any attention at first when they heard he had invented a hog-machine. They thought it was just another one of his jokes.

It all started one morning when Nick was driving to town with a load of pigs. He stopped to rest his horses at Akerman’s gate, and Jacob walked out to say hello. Jacob stepped up on the wagon wheel and looked inside the box. “Nice lot of pigs you got there, Nick,” he said. You know the way Jacob talks, quick and excited like.

Nick rubbed the back of one glove along his beard. “Yup. Best pigs in the country.” The pigs had been squealing and chuntering and nipping ears, but they stopped dead quiet at the boom of Nick’s voice.

Jacob thought for a while. “Jessie says you been haulin’ past here three-four times this last week. You must be raisin’ a lotta hogs these days —”

Nick stroked his beard thoughtfully with the back of his glove, until Jacob spoke again: “Been thinkin’ I might start raisin’ a few hogs myself, if I can find some good sows. You got any sows for sale?”

Nick spat, and wiped his mouth with his glove. “Nope, I don’t keep brood sows any more. Takes too much feed.”

“You goin’ out of the pig business, then?”

“Nope. I’m just getting started in the pig business. I got a machine that turns out pigs ready for market. I haven’t got a pig on my place right now, but tomorrow I’ll get my machine going again, and day after tomorrow you’ll see me hauling out another load just like this one.”

Jacob grinned, the way folks do when they don’t know what, to say, and Nick laughed and drove off to town with his pigs.

Well, at dinnertime Jacob told this story to his sister Jessie, and by midafternoon every telephone wire within six miles had buzzed two or three times with it. By Saturday everybody had heard the story, and Saturday night the boys in the poolroom pestered Nick about it until he lost his temper and went home without playing even one game.

Of course everybody still thought that the hog-machine was just another one of Nick’s jokes; but every second day Nick would drive to town with a load of pigs, and after two weeks people began to wonder. By the end of the month Nick was hauling pigs to town every day, and folks were thinking that something mighty queer was going on. It got whispered around that Jacob Akerman had gone over to Nick’s place one day to borrow a log chain, and had seen a strange machine out beside the windmill, and had seen that Nick’s pigpen was empty. But still Nick hauled pigs to town.

Everybody agreed Nick’s claim that he made pigs in a machine was contrary to nature and could not be true, but many people agreed with Jessie Akerman too, when she said that somebody should report the matter to the police. Reverend Walker preached a long sermon about casting out devils into swine, but folks couldn’t quite see what he was driving at; and of course Nick didn’t hear the sermon anyway. Then Mr. Nielson, the district agricultural agent, announced that there would be a free public demonstration of McGuffin’s new method of hog-raising, and folks came from fifteen miles around to be on hand.

2

ON the day of the demonstration the crowd started to gather before noon, and by two o’clock Nick McGuffin’s yard was swarming with farmers and townfolks, men and women and kids and their dogs. At two o’clock Mr. Nielson got up on the first cross-brace of the windmill, right beside Nick’s hog-machine, and made a speech about the wonders of scientific agriculture. He said that while he had no claims to make for McGuffin’s machine, he knew that everybody present would want to pay careful attention and learn what there was to be learned.

Then it was Nick’s turn to speak, and Nick was in his glory. He had prepared a speech too. “Here she is, folks,” he started. “Most of you have looked this machine over inside and out, and there ain’t no more to it than what you see. Just this big hopper, like a funnel, with buckets of barley and oats and slack-coal and water and salt and other things hung around the top. And under this hopper is the mixing box, big enough to mix up a pig in. See, I got a storage battery hooked up to the box. And under the box, of course, I need this chute down into the wagon. Now I’ll make you a pig.”

“Wait a minute, Nick!” Mr. Nielson hollered. “The best procedure is to have someone inspect the machine first, just so we can all be certain you haven’t got a pig concealed in it before you commence.”

Jacob Akerman was the first volunteer, because he was standing right up front. And then Mr. Nielson himself inspected the machine, inside and out; and after him came six or seven other men to look it over.

“All right,” Nick shouted. “Anybody else want to look at her before I start? — All right, here goes! — Now I want you folks to understand that there’s nothing very wonderful about his hog-machine. It just turns out full-grown, ready-made, live hogs. You all know that flesh is nothing but a pinch of salt and a bucket of water and bits of this and that; well, all you got to do is mix the right amounts and you get a pig. All you need is the right recipe. No use starting with a little pig and feeding it for six months when you can mix the recipe and get a full-grown hog in half an hour.”

Folks looked at their watches and whispered back and forth uneasily while Nick stood on the ladder and mixed his recipe. His arms were hidden inside the hopper, so that nobody could see what he was doing. After a while he straightened up and stood gazing into the hopper, thoughtful like.

“Is that all? I guess we can go home now, folks,” called Jessie Akerman from the edge of the crowd, and there was a snickering of amusement. Nick fumbled for the loop of rope that hung on the side of the ladder; he found it and gave it a jerk. The mixing box turned upside down; the crowd’s laughter was cut short by a loud squeal. A fullgrown white hog slid out of the box and skidded down the chute, squealing in terror, squirming and struggling for a foothold. But there was no foothold on the slippery boards, and the pig thumped out of sight into the wagon.

Everybody scrambled forward, pushing and pulling so as to get a better look. Mr. Nielson jumped up on the wagon tongue and started to make another speech, but somebody shoved him off backwards and he lost his hat. It looked as though the wagon itself was going to be upset or torn to pieces, but Nick’s voice carried above the confusion: “Stand back, you honyocks, stand back there! Think you never saw a hog before in your lives! Stand back and have a little respect for a man’s property. I got something to say to you.”

The hubbub simmered down, and then Jacob Akerman shouted, “Nick, what’s your recipe?”

Suddenly there was complete silence. “My recipe,” Nick said, “calls for water and slack-coal and barley and some of these other things you saw up here in these buckets. At first I didn’t use any slack-coal, and I got three or four runts before I figured out what was lacking. I just measure out these things into the box and —”

Mr. Nielson, the agricultural agent, spoke up again. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed one of the greatest scientific revelations of this age. Indeed, this may be the beginning of a new age. We can hardly realize what this will mean to the world, being able to produce its food without —”

Jacob Akerman cut in, “Hey, Nick, how much water do you use?”

Again there was silence. Nick spat, and rubbed his beard. “I always have to use just the right amount. I reckon I could make a pig out of that wagon tongue or anything else, if I just knew the right amounts of things to mix with it. And now that I did find out how much of these things to mix, I reckon I better not tell everybody else. Inside of a month the whole world would be overrun with pigs and a man couldn’t get to sleep at night for the noise.”

You see, Nick was trying to turn the question aside with a joke, but the joke didn’t take and Jacob came right back. “Look, Nick, if you can make pigs as quick as you like and as often as you like, there won’t be any use of the rest of us farmers trying to raise them. And then pretty soon you’ll be turning out steers and chickens and — and everything, and nobody else will be able to make a living. You gotta let us know too, or else —”

Nick didn’t wait for the threat to be spoken, “Listen, everybody,” he called out, “listen. I’m the one that found out how to make pigs, and you came here to see whether I could do it. Now, do you want to see me do it again? Stand back, then; and you boys up on the windmill, you get down on the ground. And you, I don’t want you spying on me from the granary roof, either.”

This time there was no talking or laughing, for everyone was intent on each move that Nick made, everyone counting silently and trying to guess what was being done. The tension increased, and folks were hardly breathing by the time Nick finished the mixing and looked out over the crowd. “This time I’ll make you a black one. Jake, hand me up that bag of lampblack.”

He added five cupfuls of lampblack to the mix and paused dramatically, peering in triumph from side to side, pointing his red beard at his audience. Then he reached for tho loop of rope and yelled, “Here she comes!”

Out slithered a black pig, down the chute and into the wagon box.

Only a few of the people went up to look at the black pig, and nobody said much for a minute or two. Then from the fringe of the crowd, Jessie shouted again: “ Now throw in your beard and make us a red one! ”

Nick’s face looked even redder than usual “Nope, that’s all for today, folks. So far I haven’t figured out how to make red pigs. Anyway, red is too good a color for pigs. Black is more fitting.” That was in the days when Jessie’s hair was still black.

After that, Mr. Nielson got out a tape measure and started measuring the machine and writing in his book, and Jacob Akerman and the stock-buyer from town and three or four other men got talking to Nick very seriously, but they couldn’t get him to tell them his recipe for pigs. The rest of the people wandered around and looked at the machine, and studied the two pigs, and finally went home. It was nearly suppertime before Mr. Nielson drove away and Nick was left alone with his pigs and his hog-machine and his recipe.

After dark, Nick lit a lantern and went back out to the machine. He didn’t think to look up the windmill, or he might have seen Jacob Akerman perched up there; and if he had looked up to the granary roof he might have seen where Mr. Nielson was hiding. There may have been some others that sneaked back to watch, too, but Jake and Mr. Nielson were the only ones that told about it afterwards.

Nick just climbed the ladder up the side of his hog-machine, set his lantern on the edge of the hopper, and went to work. He reached for the salt bucket first, and carefully measured out eight cupfuls of salt into the mixing box. Then came four cupfuls of some gray powder out of the second bucket. Then, just as he reached for the slack-coal, he must have heard a noise that startled him. He drew hack quickly, and in drawing back he tipped the lantern into the hopper. Frantically he reached for the lantern — reached so far that he lost his balance and fell into the hopper himself. He let out a shriek, and then the mixing box turned upside down and the lantern went out.

Mr. Nielson and Jacob climbed down from their hiding places as quick as they could in the dark, and ran to help Nick. They climbed up the hopper and struck matches, and looked all around, and called, but they couldn’t find him. Even his lantern had disappeared.

Jake ran to the barn for another lantern, and by its light he helped Mr. Nielson search again. They knew before they started that there was no place for Nick to be, no hidden corner or false floor. But they crawled under and climbed over, calling and looking and flashing their lantern.

There was not a sign of Nick. There was nothing but the empty hopper, the buckets, the upturned mixing box, and the slippery chute. There was nothing at all in the wagon except the pigs: one white and one black, and one little red runt.

And so nobody ever knew what became of Nick McGuffin, and even folks that saw him working his hog-machine that day don’t say much about it.