The Metal Pig
The Metal Pig
In the Italian city of Florence stands a pig made of brass and curiously formed. The bright color has been changed by age to dark green; but clear, fresh water pours from the snout, which shimmers as if it had been polished. So indeed it has, for hundreds of poor people and children seize it in their hands as they place their mouths close to the mouth of the animal to drink.
It was a late winter evening. In the garden of the grand duke's palace, a little ragged boy had been sitting the whole day. He was hungry and thirsty, yet no one gave him anything. When it became dark, the porter turned him out. He stood a long time and then walked away toward the metal pig, clasped it with his arms, and then put his mouth to the shining snout and drank deep drafts of the fresh water. Close by were a few salad leaves and a crust of bread, which were to be his supper. No one was in the street, so he boldly seated himself on the pig's back and fell asleep.
It was midnight when the metal pig raised himself gently, and the boy heard him say quite distinctly, “Hold tight, little boy, for I am going to run.” Away he started for a most fantastic ride. He took the boy through the city of Florence, by wondrous buildings and through magnificent museums filled with breathtaking artwork.
When the ride ended, the little boy said, “Thank you, thank you, you beautiful animal,” caressing the metal pig as it ran down the steps.
“Thanks to you, too,” replied the metal pig. “I have helped you and you have helped me, for it is only when I have an innocent child on my back that I receive the power to run. Don't get down yet or I will lose that power.”
“I will stay with you, my dear pig,” said the little boy. So then they went on at a rapid pace through the streets of Florence until they came to the square before the church of
The boy stretched his hands toward the light, and at the same moment the metal pig started again so rapidly that he was obliged to cling tightly to him. The wind whistled in his ears. He heard the church door creak on its hinges as it closed, and it seemed to him as if he had lost his senses — then a cold shudder passed over him — and he awoke.
It was morning. The metal pig stood in its old place on the
“Don't be angry,” he pleaded. “I have nothing at all.”
“Certainly you must have some money,” she said. The boy began to cry, and then she struck him with her foot till he cried out louder.
“Will you be quiet?” and she swung the pot that she held in her hand, while the boy rushed back out into the city. The poor child ran until he was quite out of breath. At last he stopped at a church and went in. He crept into a corner behind the marble monuments and went to sleep. Toward evening he was awakened by a pull at his sleeve. He started up, and an old man stood before him.
“Are you ill? Where do you live? Have you been here all day?” asked the old man. After hearing the boy's answers, the old man took him home to a small house close by, in a back street. They entered a glove maker's shop, where a woman sat sewing busily. These good people gave the child food and drink and said he should stay with them all night. And the next day the old man, who was called Giuseppe, would go and speak to his mother.
Indeed, Giuseppe went out the next morning. The poor child was not glad to see him go, for he knew that the old man had gone to his mother, and that, perhaps, he would have to go back. He wept at the thought. And what news did Giuseppe bring back? At first the boy could not hear, for he talked a great deal to his wife, and she nodded and stroked the boy's cheek.
Then she said, “He is a good boy, he shall stay with us.” So the boy stayed with them and the woman herself taught him to sew. He ate well and slept well and became quite happy. But he began to tease their little poodle dog Bellissima, as the dog was called. This made the woman angry, and she scolded him.
That night he lay awake, thinking of the metal pig. Indeed, it was always in his thoughts. The next morning, their neighbor, an artist, passed by, carrying a box of paints and a large roll of canvas.
“Help the gentleman carry his box of paints,” said the woman to the boy. He obeyed instantly, taking the box and following the painter. They walked on until they reached an art gallery he had visited that night during his ride on the metal pig. He remembered all the statues and pictures.
“You may go home now,” said the painter, while the boy stood watching him as he set up his easel.
“May I see you paint?” asked the boy. “May I see you put the picture on this white canvas?”
“I am not going to paint yet,” replied the artist. Then he brought out a piece of chalk. His hand moved quickly. “Why don't you go?”
Then the boy wandered home silently and seated himself on the table, and learned to sew gloves. All day long his thoughts were in the picture gallery, so he pricked his fingers and was slow at his sewing. But he did not tease Bellissima. When evening came, and the house door stood open, he slipped out. It was a bright, beautiful, starlit evening, but rather cold. Away he went through the already deserted streets and soon came to the metal pig. He stooped down and kissed its shining nose, and then seated himself on its back.
“You happy creature,” he said, “how I have longed for you! We must take a ride tonight.”
But the metal pig lay motionless, while the fresh stream gushed forth from its mouth. The little boy still sat astride its back, when he felt something pulling at his clothes. He looked down, and there was Bellissima, barking as if she would have said, “Here I am too. Why are you sitting there?”
He kissed the metal pig once more and then took Bellissima in his arms. The poor little thing trembled so with cold that the boy ran homeward as fast as he could.
“What are you running away with there?” asked two policemen he met. “Where have you stolen that pretty dog?” they asked, and they took her away from him.
“Oh, I have not stolen her. Do give it to me back again,” cried the boy.
“If you have not stolen the dog, you may tell them at home that they can pick up the dog at the police station.” Then they told him where the station was and went away with Bellissima.
He knew he was in dreadful trouble. The boy did not know whether he should jump into the Arno River, or go home and confess everything. They would certainly be angry, he thought.
He decided to go home and confess to sneaking out of the house that night.
The door was locked, and he could not reach the knocker. No one was in the street; so he took up a stone and threw it at the door.
“Who is there?” asked somebody inside.
“It is me,” he said. “Bellissima is gone.”
There was a great panic. Madame was so fond of Bellissima.
“Bellissima at the police station!” she cried. “You bad boy! Why did you let her out?”
Giuseppe went off at once, while his wife lamented and the boy wept. Several of the neighbors came in, including the painter. He took the boy between his knees and questioned him. In broken sentences, he soon heard the whole story, and also about the metal pig, and the wonderful ride to the art gallery. The painter consoled the little fellow and tried to soften the lady's anger, but she would not be pacified until her husband returned with Bellissima.
Then there was great happiness, and the painter hugged the boy and gave him a number of pictures. Oh, what beautiful pictures these were, including one of the metal pig. Oh, nothing could be more delightful. With just a few strokes, it appeared on the paper. Oh, if only he could draw and paint, thought the little boy!
The first spare moment during the next day, the boy got a pencil. On the back of one of the other drawings, he attempted to copy the drawing of the metal pig, and he succeeded. Certainly it was rather crooked, rather up and down, one leg thick, and another thin, a little rough. Still it was like the copy, and he was overjoyed at his work. The next day he tried again. He drew a second pig by the side of the first, and this looked much better. The third attempt was so good, that everybody would know what it was meant to represent.
One day Bellissima came walking before him. “Stand still,” he said, “and I will draw you beautifully.”
But Bellissima would not stand still, so he tied her up, just long enough to draw her. Unfortunately, at that moment the woman walked in.
“You naughty boy!” she cried.
She pushed the boy from her and told him never to enter the house again.
In the year 1834 there was an exhibition in the Academy of Arts at Florence. Two pictures, placed side by side, attracted a large number of spectators. The smaller of the two represented a little boy sitting at a table, drawing. Before him was a little white poodle, curiously shaven. The animal would not stand still, so it had been fastened with a string to its head and tail, to keep it in one position. The truthfulness and life in this picture interested everyone. The painter was said to be a young Florentine, who had been found in the streets, when a child, by an old glove maker, who had brought him up. The boy had taught himself to draw and was now a famous artist. The glove maker's boy had become a great painter, as the picture proved. But the larger picture by its side was a still greater proof of his talent. It represented a handsome boy, clothed in rags, lying asleep, and leaning against the metal pig in the street of the