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Chapter 1 Before Breakfast

"Where's Papa going with the ax?" said Fern to her mother asthey were setting the table for breakfast.

  "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were bornlast night.""I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was onlyeight.

  "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's verysmall and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your fatherhas decided to do away with it.""Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Justbecause it's smaller than the others?"Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell,Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably dieanyway."Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grasswas wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers weresopping by the time she caught up with her father.

  "Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."Mr. Arable stopped walking.

  "Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to controlyourself.""Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life anddeath, and you talk about controlling myself." Tears ran down hercheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of herfather's hand.

  "Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter ofpigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!""But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being bornsmall, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you havekilled me?"Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at hisdaughter with love. "But this is different. A little girl is onething, a little runty pig is another.""I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to theax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almostready to cry himself.

  "All right," he said." You go back to the house and I will bringthe runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like ababy. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be."When Mr. Arable returned to the house half an hour later, hecarried a carton under his arm. Fern was upstairs changing hersneakers. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and the roomsmelled of coffee, bacon, damp plaster, and wood smoke from thestove.

  "Put it on her chair!" said Mrs. Arable. Mr. Arable set thecarton down at Fern's place. Then he walked to the sink and washedhis hands and dried them on the roller towel.

  Fern came slowly down the stairs. Her eyes were red from crying.

  As she approached her chair, the carton wobbled, and there was ascratching noise.. Fern looked at her father. Then she lifted thelid of the carton. There, inside, looking up at her, was the newbornpig. It was a white one. The morning light shone through its ears,turning them pink.

  "He's yours," said Mr. Arable. "Saved from an untimely death.

  And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness."Fern couldn't take her eyes off the tiny pig. "Oh," shewhispered. "Oh, look at him! He's absolutely perfect."She closed the carton carefully. First she kissed her father,then she kissed her mother. Then she opened the lid again, liftedthe pig out, and held it against her cheek. At this moment herbrother Avery came into the room. Avery was ten. He was heavilyarmed--an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other.

  "What's that?" he demanded. "What's Fern got?""She's got a guest for breakfast," said Mrs. Arable. "Wash yourhands and face, Avery!""Let's see it!" said Avery, setting his gun down. "You call thatmiserable thing a pig? That's a fine specimen of a pig--it's nobigger than a white rat.""Wash up and eat your breakfast, Avery!" said his mother. "Theschool bus will be along in half an hour.""Can I have a pig, too, Pop?" asked Avery.

  "No, I only distribute pigs to early risers," said Mr.

  Arable. "Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid world of injustice.

  As a result, she now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, butnevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person getsout of bed promptly. Let's eat!"But Fern couldn't eat until her pig had had a drink of milk.

  Mrs. Arable found a baby's nursing bottle and a rubber nipple. Shepoured warm milk into the bottle, fitted the nipple over the top,and handed it to Fern. "Give him his breakfast!" she said.

  A minute later, Fern was seated on the floor in the corner ofthe kitchen with her infant between her knees, teaching it to suckfrom the bottle. The pig, although tiny, had a good appetite andcaught on quickly.

  The school bus honked from the road.

  "Run!" commanded Mrs. Arable, taking the pig from Fern andslipping a doughnut into her hand. Avery grabbed his gun and anotherdoughnut.

  The children ran out to the road and climbed into the bus. Ferntook no notice of the others in the bus. She just sat and stared outof the window, thinking what a blissful world it was and how luckyshe was to have entire charge of a pig. By the time the bus reachedschool, Fern had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful nameshe could think of.

  "Its name is Wilbur," she whispered to herself.

  She was still thinking about the pig when the teacher said:"Fern, what is the capital of Pennsylvania?""Wilbur," replied Fern, dreamily. The pupils giggled. Fernblushed.



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