Listen to the story

You may have heard of the young French boy named Pierre, who had a remarkable talent for undoing bad guys, detecting traps, and foiling plots against his country. He was not a professional spy, but he was a student from Paris who was taking advanced training in the Institut d’espionage et l’artisinat in Paris. He had studied submarines, secret writing, codes, and undetectable poisons in his school, but he was also a boy who enjoyed adventures.

And for some reason he often found exactly that – adventure! He could run fast, and when in a pinch he could use almost anything he found around him to defend himself – he once fought off a German spy with a large batch of cooked spaghetti that happened to be in the room – but he preferred to use his most effective weapon – his quick wits. And he was especially good at finding partners and helpers almost wherever he was – he once recruited an army of mice and camels to help him in a campaign against a gang of bandits in Africa.

The mother and father of Pierre, you may remember, were kindly people who served as diplomats in the French foreign service, and they were, regrettably, something of a pair of dunderheads. But they were nice and wanted the best for their son Pierre. When Pierre might be away for a period of four or five weeks on an adventure, they would ask vaguely, Where have you been, mon fils? And when he would say, the Metro was delayed in the Orleans station, they would be satisfied. Apparently a five-week delay on the Metro was not beyond their imagination.

On this particular occasion Pierre was at home in Paris, having a nice afternoon studying the finer points of submarine design. (Did you know, for example, that there is no need to have windows that open on a submarine? And screens are unnecessary as well.) He had many books to study and mathematics problems to solve, and he was all prepared for a long afternoon of study chez les parents, when he heard an unusual noise in the street. As you may remember, Pierre’s parents lived in a handsome apartment on the fourth floor of an old building on Rue de Racine, not far from the Luxembourg Gardens, where it is sometimes believed that both Napoleon the Great and Karl Marx briefly lived – at different times of course! But sometimes through the open window Pierre, who had especially sharp eyesight and hearing, would hear sounds from the street some twenty meters below.

On this particular day Pierre heard a most unusual sound. To his experienced ear it sounded something like a cross between a fat goose being squeezed by an ape and an accordion falling down a flight of stairs. It was a most unusual sound. So he went to the balcony of the apartment to see whether he could determine the source of the sound.

You will be very surprised at what he saw. He saw an extremely fat man munching on a sandwich and kicking the side door of a very old car, a Citroen from before the war. And in the car there was an equally fat pig, straight from the farm, who was noisily refusing to get out of the car. Being a bit of a skilled investigator, Pierre observed the man’s clothing – a one-piece pair of overalls – and the sandwich he was eating – a sloppy blob of cheese, smoked ham, raspberry jelly, and grilled asparagus – and immediately concluded that the man was a gentleman farmer from the suburbs near Paris.

Moreover, he also concluded, from his partial understanding of pig-latin, that the pig was protesting because he believed he was being brought to the ham factory, about to be made into the makings of a sandwich just like the one the fat gentleman farmer was eating. So the pig was understandably reluctant to get out of the car, and was carrying on very loudly.

Between the loud smashing of the car occasioned by the gentleman farmer’s energetic kicking and the amazingly noisy oinking and squealing of the pig, it was impossible to think. But Pierre knew that something must be done. This was not the kind of neighborhood where just anyone could take his pig for a walk – especially not a loud and, frankly, rather dirty pig like the one in the old Citroen.

So Pierre decided to go downstairs to see if he could help to resolve the situation. Perhaps he could persuade the very fat gentleman farmer to return to his home; perhaps he could resolve the dispute between the pig and the farmer; and if all else failed, perhaps he could figure out a way to get them to move their disturbance to another neighborhood altogether.

So he stepped further out onto the balcony, took a solid grip on the rain spout, and slid down the outside wall of the apartment building to the street. You may ask, why did he do this dangerous thing rather than going down the stairwell like a normal human being? And the answer is, that in his school of espionage he had taken several advanced classes on “emergency exit from a six-story apartment building” (it was a very specialized set of courses), and he had practiced this very maneuver dozens of times in his own home. (His hands and arms were also very strong, so there was little danger of falling.)

You can imagine the surprise, shock, and anger that the extremely fat, well-dressed gentleman farmer expressed when Pierre suddenly descended like an angel or a pigeon among him and his pig. He didn’t know whether to yell or cry, and so he did both. Pierre quickly silenced him, however, by calling upon another of his espionage courses – this time the course titled “Silencing an enraged but extremely fat and well-dressed gentleman farmer with three waves of the hand.” (Yes, that class also was quite specialized, and frankly Pierre had never expected to be able to use it in an actual situation.)

Nonetheless, the class lesson worked for him, the three waves of the hand silenced the gentleman farmer as if an angel had placed his finger on his lips, and he asked very peacefully and quietly, “Who are you and how did you suddenly appear in front of me?” Pierre responded quickly to the gentleman farmer (or GF, as I will call him from now on), that he was here to help to solve whatever bizarre and incomprehensible problem he was creating on the street. “Why, precisely, are you scaring the pig like this?”

The GF seemed to understand exactly what the situation was. He responded in very calm, elegant French, that he was trying to reason with the pig, that exercise was very important to the health, that this parking space was the nearest space they could find to the Luxembourg Garden, and that he had acquire a special “pig leash and collar” with the idea of taking his prize pig for a walk in the garden. But somehow the pig had gotten the wrong idea entirely. Apparently the pig had been watching a cartoon back on the farm in which a pig was taken by his master to a horrible place where happy pigs were turned into sliced ham and bacon, and he had the terrible conviction that this is where they were going.

Now that he understood the situation, Pierre made several quick decisions. First, he asked the GF to wrap up his sandwich in paper and put it in the small canvas bag that Pierre had brought with him. (Yes, he is almost always very well prepared.) “The sandwich is scaring the pig – it is a ham sandwich!” And second, he knelt down next to the battered old sedan, lowered the window a little bit, and whispered to the pig a few phrases of pig latin: “Isth-ay is ot-nay an andwich-say actory-fay”.

Now pigs are very smart animals and often speak many languages to a limited degree, and so the pig immediately calmed down, stopped squealing, and said in a normal tone of pig-voice, “You mean I’m not going to be made into a ham sandwich?” Pierre reassured him. He then asked GF for the harness and leash, invited the pig to hop out of the car, and placed the leash upon his neck. He then went quickly back to his apartment for his disguise kit, and came back with a mustache and goatee, which he placed upon the pig’s face. (This was the best he could do.) And with the mustache and goatee, the pig looked very much like a very large, very fat English bulldog – not a pig at all. This was important, because no farm animals are permitted in the Luxembourg Gardens.

With the disguise in place, and with the GF now calm and presentable (he had carefully wiped away the mustard he had dripped on his overalls), the three of them sauntered down Rue de Racine to enter the Garden. And do you know what the first thing they did there was? They took a reservation in the fancy outdoor restaurant at the far entrance to the Garden, a table for three, and ordered a very nice Parisian lunch. And ham, bacon, and roast pork were not on the menu!

Well, that was the end of the adventure. When Pierre’s mother and father returned home, they asked how he had spent the afternoon. He said that he had taken a stroll in the Garden, had lunch with a nice gentleman farmer and his companion, and returned home to finish his homework. And they never knew all the other twists and turns this story had taken!

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