Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tales from the Slippery Slope: IV

It must have been a day like this Thursday that the Mole felt Spring moving in the air and the earth and “suddenly threw down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.” At any rate it was so nice out I decided to follow Mole's example, and made it to Alicubi much earlier than usual. After a capuccino at Well, Latte Dah! and just leaning over the parapets of the stone bridge for about half an hour, first one side and then the other, I went over to the bookstore to liberate Tom Chillingworth from whatever earnest endeavour had him trapped and dragged hiim to The Slippery Slope to have a pint.
The Slope was bright and full of air: Keith had opened the large back doors for the first time this year. “It’ll be too cool in the evening to keep them open,” said the landlord, “but I'll keep them open long enough to blow out the winter cobwebs.”
“I don’t know if anyone else will be by,” said Tom. “John Strype is busy at something, and Fr Hawker was away all day at some clergy gathering.” Susan is off somewhere else to enjoy the weather and I haven't seen Simpson for a while.
I said, “Sidney told me about the clergy meeting. I just thought I‘d enjoy the weather and then head home. I think a quiet night woul do me some good. I'll go, put me feet up and read something old and familiar, maybe Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler.
“Good story, that,” said Tom, “but before you go I'l tell a story that your mention of Pigs is Pigs reminded me in mind of."
Just then Keith came over to find out if we were going to be in for dinner. I said I wasn't, and Tom said he'd think about it. So Keith made sure the other customers were furnished with drinks, asked David to watch the bar and sat down for the story.
Tom began, "I’ve never run into it in a modern book or heard anyone tell it, but it seems to have been popular a few centuries back. It's a story of the sort that gets attached to different characters. I found three versions in old joke books, but I’ve mostly followed the one told about John Scoggin the fifteenth-century jester. I like it better than the others because but its ending isn’t as unkind as the others. It isn't Pigs is Pigs, so much as Sheep is Pigs, or even better,

Hogs or Sheep?

John Scoggin was an MA of Oxford and later became the favourite buffoon in the court of Edward IV. Once, when Scoggin was a scholar at Oxford, he and his roommate found themselves in the vacation without money and without employment. His friend said, “How on earth are we going to get any money?”
Scoggin replied, “I know an excellent trick, if you just follow my lead. We’ll go to the market at Thame,
[1] and on the way we’re sure to meet someone going or coming driving hogs; just do what I tell you and we’ll get some money.”
So they set out early the next morning, and sure enough, before they got to Thame they spotted a man herding sheep along the road.
Scoggin said, "You go ahead and meet this man, and lay a wager that his sheep are not sheep, but hogs, and get him to agree that the next person who comes along will be the judge of it. I’ll go around by he field and make sure I’m the next man who comes along.”
So they separated, Scoggin going off through the field, while his friend went up and wished the shepherd a good morning; the old man returned his greeting. The scholar said: “Now Father, where did you get these fine hogs?”
“What hogs? said the shepherd.
“These hogs that you drive before you,” said the other
“They be sheep.”
“What?” said the scholar. “Do you take me for a fool?
Do you think I don’t know hogs from sheep? Hear how they squeak and grunt and snore: a sheep never bleated so.
“I think you must be half asleep, if you think my sheep be hogs.
“Will you lay a wager on it?” said the scholar
“Yes,” said the shepherd, “I will lay all the money in my purse against aything you like, that these be no hogs.”
“How much do you have?”
The shepherd said, “I have two shillings.”
The scholar laughed rudely, “Two shillings! That is nothing. Would you bet half your hogs and two shillings; and I will lay as much against it?
“Strike hands, then, and he that loses, pays.”
“Done.” said the old man;
“but who will decide? Let’s go to Thame and have someone judge.”
“No, no,” said Scoggin, Thame is out of my way; let the next man we meet be the judge.”

“That will do me,” said the old man.
Just Scoggin came along the road. The shepherd said, “Here’s a stranger coming; let him decide.” The other agreed and laughed, “I don’t know him from Adam, but your hogs are still in danger, friend.”
Scoggin stopped and stood some yards off gazing at the throng of grunting hogs. Then he called to the old man, “What would you sell a hog for? I see some fine ones there.”
His friend laughed in triumph: “There! He calls them hogs! And hogs they are, for all that you call them sheep. I have won my bet; one is mine to keep. And you—you’re lucky you didn’t bet them all.”
The shepherd stared and cried, “If sheep are pigs, then I have lost my wits.”
“And that you have,” said Scoggin, “to your loss”
Then the friend said, “Give me my money, and divide these hogs, for I must have half of them.”
“Alack,” said the shepherd, “I bought them for sheep, and not for hogs; I am undone.”
“No,” said Scoggin, "I’ll be an indifferent judge between you both; let the scholar have the two shillings, but you keep your hogs and take them away with you."
The old man said: “Blessed be the time that ever you were born, Sir! Hold, scholar, here are two shillings."
The fellow was glad not to have lost his hogs, which were sheep. What became of him afterward, I cannot tell; all I know is, that called sheep pigs, just in case, for ever after. Scoggin and his friend made quite merry on their two shillings, as one could in those days.

After a moment Tom added, somewhat apologetically, "Of course it's nothing like Pigs is Pigs, really. There weren't even any real pigs in it. And Pigs is Pigs is about guinea pigs. In the other versions I know the old man is a "hoggerd" and the two friends presuade him that his herd is really sheep, not hogs, but since I've always thought sheep more valuable (for wool and all that), I think the version I told makes better sense."
We talked about that for a while, and then some other things, until I noticed it was only 5:30, and there was time enough to get home and make an early night. So off I went, hoping to see Tom and Keith and the rest of our friends next week.
[1] A market town in Oxfordshire, England, on the River Thame between Aylesbury and Oxford. In Tolkein’s Farmer Giles of Ham the name of the village is said to come from the dragon Farmer Giles tamed.

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