( Originally Published 1918 )
JEAN had come to market to sell his pig; Mathieu, on his part, had gone thither to buy one. Jean's animal pleased him. After some talk in which all sorts of finesse were employed on the part of the seller to heighten the value of his merchandise, on the part of the buyer to lower it, they came to an agreement on the price and shook hands to bind the bargain.
But before taking out his purse and counting out the crowns Mathieu wished, as was his right, to make sure that the pig was sound. A man was called whose business it was to decide such questions. He took the animal by the legs and threw it over on its side. Whereas Jean and Mathieu stood in some awe of the animal, he made no ceremony about forcing a stick, as a sort of lever, between the pig's teeth and prying the jaws apart. Then he plunged his hand in between those terrible jaws and felt about with his fingers to the right, to the left, and especially under the tongue. Meanwhile the pig was giving forth heartbreaking cries, and with raucous grunts all its companions in the market voiced their sympathy in its distress. The whole square was in an uproar. The ordeal over, the animal was let loose and immediately everything became quiet again. The pig was found to be in good condition.
Emile was passing at the time of this performance. What are they doing to that poor animal with the big stick thrust between its jaws? Why are they feeling in its mouth? Couldn't they leave the creature in peace instead of making it squeal worse than if they were slaughtering it? Such were the questions that passed through Emile's mind as he found himself almost seized with terror at the piercing cries of the animal and the chorus of alarmed grunts from its companions. In the evening the conversation turned upon this event.
"The man who felt with his hand in the pig's mouth," Uncle Paul explained, "while the stick kept the formidable jaws apart, had a definite purpose, which was to assure himself that the animal was free from measles. For the pig is subject to a strange disease thus named, which makes its flesh unwholesome and even dangerous. When the animal is afflicted with this malady, its flesh is filled with a multitude of round white granules from the size of a pin-head to that of a pea, or larger ; these granules are called hydatids. Their number is sometimes so great that in a piece of fat no larger than the five fingers of my hand they can be counted by hundreds. To determine whether a pig is thus affected, it is of course out of the question to explore the flesh of the living body. What do they do then? They feel the soft parts accessible to the hand—the walls of the mouth and especially the under side of the tongue, a favorite haunt of the hydatids. If hard granules are felt by the fingers, the pig is affected and its market value greatly lowered; if no such granules are found, the animal is healthy and will bring its full price. That is the reason of the operation that so puzzled Emile this morning in the market. The man that was feeling of the animal's tongue was an inspector. His office is to examine all pigs offered for sale and to determine from the feeling of the tongue whether the animal has the measles. Hence he is commonly called a tongue-tester, a word that will now explain itself to you."
"I see very well," Jules interposed, "how the word came to be used in connection with the examination of the pig's tongue, but I don't yet in the least understand how those hard white granules that the tongue-tester looks for, those hydatids as you call them, can make the meat unwholesome and dangerous."
"You will soon see. Each of those granules is a lodge, a cell, a little chamber if you like, in which lives a sort of worm, richly fed by the pig's animal substance. You are familiar with the worm that inhabits the juicy pulp of cherries, with the one that gnaws the kernel of nuts, with the one that makes its home in the heart of the pear and apple, and with countless others in fact that I told you about when we were on the subject of harmful insects. Well, fruit is not the only thing to harbor such troublesome guests ; every animal has its parasites to devour it while it is still alive. The pig in its turn has a great many, especially when its gluttonous habits lead it to feed on excrement. One of these parasites is the worm, I have mentioned.
"It is the most curious creature one could possibly imagine. Picture to yourselves a little bladder full of liquid as clear as. water; on this bladder a very short and wrinkled neck; finally, at the extremity of this neck a round head bearing on the sides four suckers and at the end thirty-two hooks arranged in the shape of a crown in a double ring. That is the worm, the hydatid. Each one is enclosed in a sort of little pouch, a firm and semi-transparent cell which derives its substance from the flesh of the pig itself. Commonly the tiny creature is entirely hidden in its snug retreat; at other times, through an opening in the pouch, it stretches its neck and pushes its head out a little, doubtless to feed on the adjacent fluid matter by means of its four suckers. As to the little bladder forming the other part of the worm, it never leaves its cell, the cavity of which it °fills exactly. Hence the animal never changes its place."
"That must be a very dull sort of life," was Emile's comment. "No exercise for the little worm except occasionally sticking its head out of the bag that holds it, and then drawing it in again and shutting the door. Is this bag very large?"
"There are different-sized ones, according to the worm's degree of development, for as it grows its dwelling also becomes larger. The usual shape of these cells is that of a small egg, the greatest dimension of which might be as much as two centimeters, and the smallest five or six millimeters.
Hydatids live in the flesh of a live pig; they live there by thousands and thousands, in such multitudes that sometimes not a piece of fat the size of a nut could be found free from these little parasites. Each one, snugly ensconced in its retreat, its strongly-walled cell, grows in peace, sheltered from all attack, and makes predatory raids in the immediate vicinity with its crown of hooked claws and its four suckers."
"What a miserable fate is the pig's," Emile exclaimed, "to be eaten up alive like that, all full of the ravenous vermin and unable to get rid of them ! The poor animal must soon succumb."
"Not exactly. It wastes away, it is true, but it resists for a long time, being very tenacious of life."
"I can't think without horror," said Jules, "of the terrible itching such an army of vermin must cause, biting and boring into the creature's flesh all over its body."
"Your horror would redouble if you knew that this vermin only awaits a favorable opportunity to emigrate to our bodies even, and to ravage us in our turn."
"What!: Those horrid pig worms have designs onus?"
"And designs, alas, too often accomplished, if we are not careful. That is what we are now about to consider."