Once upon a time there was a young girl named Alicia Fryce, whose parents could barely afford salt pork to add to their beans, let alone bacon. They sent her to live with her better-connected relatives, the Buttrams. Mansfield Pork, where she was packaged off to, was the home of Sir Thomas and Lady Buttram, sister to Mrs. Fryce. Also at Mansfield was another sister, Mrs. Snortis. The only reason Alicia agreed to leave the bosom of her family is that her mother told her that the Buttrams ate bacon at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
When she arrived to Mansfield Pork, Alicia Fryce discovered that she had been had. Certainly a lot of bacon was eaten by the Buttrams, but Aunt Jen Snortis had laid down a rule, due to her love of practicing economies, that Alicia was to have no bacon. Aunt Jennifer Snortis had set it about that Alicia was a vegetarian – as outrageous as it may seem. Alicia wished they had invited her sister Alyson instead. She was known to always eat her greens. Poor Alicia subsisted on potatoes and rice and grew wan and pale, and so was generally looked upon as meek and biddable. In actual fact she was starving.
Lady Buttram was an indolent woman with red hair, dead animals on the wall and three little pug-faced pigs that she doted upon. She also had four children - Thomas, Sarah, Sofie, and Edmund. It was these children Alicia found herself thrown into company with, but the elder son and two daughters were petted and spoiled, much like their mother's pigs. Edmund, the younger son, was a quiet lad, but to tell the truth, he was a wishy-washy mama's boy. What an oinker!
The girls, Sarah and Sofie, felt themselves to be far superior to their little cousin. They ate huge pork chops in front of her, giggling all the while, but secretly they both envied Alicia one thing. Her hair was beautiful – even more beautiful than theirs. It was completely unfair the way her glossy black curls outshone their unremarkable brown locks. Alicia wasn’t about to let them in on her secret. Every night she snuck into the scullery and filled a jar with bacon grease. If she couldn’t eat bacon at least her hair would benefit from it – the grease was the best conditioner she’d ever encountered. And the fragrance was almost enough to satiate her appetite for the crispy strips of tasty goodness.
Mrs. Snortis, on the other hand, was a widow, the wife of the late vicar of Mansfield, and she ruled her lazy sister's household with an iron fist. There was no trouble or contretemps she could not sniff out, as she had an excellent snout. And even though she was basically a poor relation much like Alicia, she was also older and refused to act inferior to anyone. Especially Alicia, whom she treated like pig swill.
Our story opens at a time when the Buttram children were grown and their father, Sir Thomas, had been away from England for awhile, tending to problems at his great pig farm in Antigua. It had become popular among some elements of society to complain about the unfair treatment of pigs, and how they were being denied their civil liberties and Sir Thomas needed to nip such forward thinking in the bud. After all, his job was to bring home the bacon. Lots of it – what indeed were pigs invented for but to provide bacon and pork chops and ribs to the kitchens of the world.
"Save the farm, babe," the family had bleated, so off he went.
"Did you hear that the vicar's sister and brother have arrived in the village?" Mrs. Snortis, who had a nose for news, and everything else, said one day over tea.
"What a fine thing for our girls," Lady Buttram noted with a yawn. One of her piglets, Foxy, snorted in agreement.
"Wrong story, sister dear," Mrs. Snortis reminded her. "But true all the same. The young man has an estate in Porkfolk, you know. The name is Trotford. They are Mrs. Ham's younger half siblings."
"We must invite them to call," Sofie urged. Because while Sarah was betrothed to the dull, but rich, Mr. Sowsworth, Sofie had no current prospects at all. No one asked Alicia's opinion, of course, and when reminded of her presence by a small movement, Mrs. Snortis ordered her to take Lady Buttram's porkers for a walk.
In due course, the Trotfords were encouraged to call, and their arrival at Mansfield was all most of the family could hope for. While Mr. Trotford was not handsome (plain and black, he was labeled), he was flirtatious and gave every attention to the Misses Buttram. Edmund, that wishy-washy mama's boy, was dazzled by the lively Miss Cynthia Trotford. In short, he fell in love and Miss Trotford encouraged his slavish devotion, even after the minx discovered that he was the second son and determined to enter the church. While that might seem like a double yawner to some people, she was sure she could convince him to think otherwise in the course of their acquaintance. However, when she pressed him to enter a more lucrative profession (like law!), he only said, "When pigs fly!"
(The fact that poor relation Alicia had just recently catapulted one of her aunt's pigs off a teetering board in the garden - by accident, of course - was in no way related to his remark, though she began to feel it was an ill omen. Edmund was the only one of her cousins who had ever shown her a kindness. In fact he had almost shared his bacon with her one breakfast, only Aunt Snortis had prevented him at the last moment. He had, however, made her a present of a finely polished set of pigs’ knucklebones, which she cherished as her most prized possession. )
But while he was kind to his cousin, she did not have Miss Trotford's presence, or her aura of excitement. Sure, she had the most beautiful dark, curly hair he'd ever seen, but she was not handsome enough to tempt him, not when Miss Trotford was around.
The Trotfords soon became frequent callers at Mansfield. At every opportunity, they took the chance of suckling up to Lady Buttram, and she even went as far as inviting them to brunch. Sofie and Sarah spent those visits making pigs’ eyes at Henry and trying their best to outdo each other for his attention.
"Bacon?" Lady Buttram asked on one occasion, waving a footman forward to serve the Trotfords her favorite morning treat. It was true that she raised pigs like they were pets, but neither she nor her cloven-hooved friends caviled at munching down on a few rashers every day. After all, pigs were pets and bacon was food – she didn’t see the connection at all.
"You are expecting your eldest son soon?" Miss Trotford asked Lady Buttram as a thick ham steak was placed in front of her. Across the table, Mrs. Snortis, well, snorted, but Lady Buttram was ever the optimist.
"Life has been so sweet and sour without my Tom! He is a lively young boar, and I miss him dreadfully, but he will turn up eventually, have no fear."
Under the table, Miss Trotford held hands with wishy-washy mama's boy Edmund and the only person who saw was Alicia, because she had dropped her napkin and bent to retrieve it. The dropping of the napkin had been a ruse. In actual fact, she’d been hoping to score a shard of bacon that had fallen upon the floor, but those hideously cannibalistic omnivores of her aunt’s had beaten her to it.
That hand-holding bothered her, because she was in love with Edmund, or at least she kept telling herself that she should be, because he was the only one who was nice to her. But he was so wishy-washy! Surely she could not love someone such an insipid oinker? But her half starved brain wasn’t as clear thinking as it ought to have been. Just sitting beside Edmund and smelling the sweet scent of pork upon his breath made her weak in the knees. It must be love!
Across the table, Henry Trotford sat between her female cousins, and teased and flirted with first one of them and then the other. Both Sofie and Sarah seemed to enjoy his attentions, but then they had always preferred the bad-boy sort. Especially a bad boy that ate bacon with such savois-faire – he glanced temptingly at each sister in turn as he placed a morsel in his mouth and chewed it with a wicked look in his eyes. After swallowing, his tongue would glide across his lips in such a manner as to set their giddy hearts racing. How Sarah became betrothed to Mr. Sowsworth instead only spoke to that man's bank account. Otherwise, it was like casting pearls before swine.
One day soon after, Tom Buttram returned home, bringing a Mr. Baste with him. The two had a wild hair about performing a play, "Lovers' Sows."
"I do not approve of this," Edmund told Alicia after refusing a role in it from his brother. He was a goody two shoes as well as a mamma’s boy.
"Neither do I," Alicia loyally replied, although her condemnation of the show stemmed not from what her uncle would say if he heard of it, but from the fact that Tom wanted her to be a maid.
"Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, my dear Alicia," Tom had said. "You must play a servant."
Alicia bristled at that and refused any part in the show, except for that of costume designer. Then she sabotaged every costume by sewing little wiggly piggy tails on them in the most unusual locations. She also went whole hog and fabricated little wings for Lady Buttram's most intelligent piglet, who was to play the part of Cupid.
"But Mr. Buttram," Miss Trotford said with a pretty pout to Edmund. "We must have you in the play!" She moved in closer and touched his arm, bending slightly so as to show off her attractive decolletage.
Alicia suddenly saw two gently rounded reasons why her beloved Edmund was attracted to that vixen, Miss Trotford! But it was like a five-carriage accident on the turnpike watching Miss Trotford with Edmund. She could not look away. At least not until Sofie got her snout out of joint over the engaged Sarah hogging Mr. Trotford for herself. But even Mr. Sowsworth, also in attendance, did not comment on Sarah flirting with Mr. Trotford, leaving her free to ignore her sister and not have to placate her intended.
The rehearsals progressed, despite all of the personal drama. Mr. Trotford and Sarah spent a considerable amount of time going over the same scene, often in front of Alicia, who was witness to the way they porked up their performances with extra kisses and cuddles. Alicia did have to admit, though, that despite his piggish propensities, Mr. Trotford had remarkable acting abilities. He could really hoof it on the stage.
One day when they were in the middle of yet another practice performance, Sir Thomas arrived home from his pig plantation. He put a stop to their shenanigans.
Henry Trotford and his sister stayed away from Mansfield Pork for awhile, and Sarah was so miffed, she married Mr. Sowsworth. And when they left on their honeymoon, they took Sofie with them. Edmund, who had been crushing badly on Miss Trotford, finally decided to do something about taking orders instead of just talking about them, and left home, too. Since Tom Buttram came and went as he pleased, anyway, it was not unusual that he was gone, as well, leaving Alicia to the mercy, er, company of her elders.
"You are in good looks tonight, Alicia," Sir Thomas noted one evening at dinner once it was just the four of them. "Your hair is particularly fine – so bouncy and glowing! You must indeed be benefiting from all the prize pork products provided at Mansfield Pork. "
"Pervvy git," she muttered under her breath, wondering if she should mention that she had never been privy to such provisions since coming to live with them. But she merely smiled at her uncle and agreed that without pork products her hair would never have had such a lustrous sheen.
Her Aunt Snortis gave her a fearful glance of sudden suspicion, but the smile that she sent that lady was innocent enough to keep her snout in joint.
Alicia wasn’t so bacon brained as not to try to get something out of the deal, though. She wangled a new dress out of her uncle. Aunt Snortis almost put a stop to it until Alicia made it clear to her that the style she had chosen for the garment would use so little fabric that there would be enough left over for new curtains in her parlour. Aunt Snortis could never pass up a deal like that.
This new gown was to be so revealing that Edmund would notice her and not that Trotford chit the next time he came home.
Unbeknownst to Alicia, however, the Trotfords had already taken notice of her, despite the modesty of her current gowns.
"Did you see Miss Fryce in church this morning?" Henry asked his sister.
"Her ringlets bounced provocatively upon her bodice," Cynthia agreed, examining her nails. "Like little piggy wiggle tails."
"Curvy enough for even me to take notice," Henry agreed.
Miss Trotford looked intently at her brother. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking I'd like to be makin' bacon with Alicia Fryce."
"Her cousins weren't good enough, you pervvy git?"
"Do you see her cousins anywhere? I’m sick of nobody but our sister and Dr. Ham to eat our pork with at the dinner table. I miss having a lively audience to perform to. I need adulation and adoration. I must have someone to love me. She's available and she has all that long, dark, beautiful hair! A likely little sow if I ever saw one! I think I'll make her fall in love with me!"
"Suit yourself, but she loves her cousin, you know, who would be my main squeeze if he'd come home, and I don't mean to let her have him. If you can keep her from winning his hambone, I wish you all the luck in the world, though, and I'll buy the bacon for your wedding breakfast if you can win over Alicia Fryce." They shook hands on the deal.
Mr. Trotford started out trying to win Alicia's heart as a game, but the more he was around the dark-haired girl, the more his heart turned to molten lard. He suddenly came to realize that for better or for worse he was a one sow boar. Now, more than glad to buy his own bacon for the wedding (but fairly certain Sir Thomas would be pleased to foot the bill), he approached Alicia's uncle, as was only proper, to ask for permission to pay his addresses to Alicia.
When Alicia was sent for, and sequestered in the study with Henry, she was amazed and surprised when he proposed.
"You must know how ardently I... No, no, no! It will not do! I refuse to borrow Darcy's lines!" He glared at the authoress, who merely shrugged, afraid to tell him it was foreshadowing of the worst sort, because Darcy's proposal had ended up as badly done as Henry's was about to be.
His thoughts became all higgledy piggledy as she stared at him with her fine eyes, glistening curls falling alluringly about her face. "Please marry me?" he begged Alicia.
"First of all, Mr. Trotford, you haven't said that you love me," she pointed out. She had been taking notes on a yellow legal pad, and she whipped it out to get all her points across.
"I would have! It was part of Darcy's line! But I cut myself off before I sounded too condescending."
"Oh, well, I wouldn't have believed you anyway. Number two," she said, going methodically down her list, "was the way you made love to both my cousins before Sarah's marriage. It was quite indecent, and I do not approve. Three, you are bored and trying to do the same thing to me."
"I confess, Miss Fryce, that it was not my intention to fall in love, but I did."
"I am sorry, Mr. Trotford. I do not love you."
And that was that - until her family learned of her refusal.
"You what?" Sir Thomas exclaimed.
"Ungrateful chitterling!" Mrs. Snortis said. "I could have gotten rid of you once and for all!"
"It was very much to your advantage to accept Mr. Trotford, my dear," Lady Buttram gently added. "You would have been able to live high on the hog with his income!"
"But I love Edmund!" Alicia said to herself, and yet part of her wondered if she did only out of habit. After all Edmund hadn’t ever proposed to her. He hadn’t even noticed when she’d worn her provocative new dress. He’d just chowed down on a ham hock and rhapsodized about his feelings for Cynthia Trotford, no matter how often Alicia had flipped her hair over her shoulder, cocked her head at him, or attempted to bat pigs’ eyes in his direction. .
"If you won't appreciate every advantage we have given you," Sir Thomas said, "you can just go home to your own family and see how the other half ribs!"
So Alicia was sent home to the Fryces, and she did, indeed, get to see how the other half ribbed. It wasn't pretty, but there was one bright spot in the midst of all that poverty - her sister, Alyson. Not only was Alyson sympathetic and caring, she picked all the salt pork out of her dinners and gave it to her sister. It was the closest thing to meat Alicia had eaten in years.
"I want to go back to Mansfield," Alicia confided to her one day.
"You will," Alyson soothed, because she was very motherly and very good at soothing.
"And I shall send for you as soon as I am able," Alicia promised.
"But someone needs to stay here and take care of the children! There are seven of them, after all!"
Alicia could not argue with that, but her attention was soon turned to Mr. Trotford, who chased her all the way to her family home.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, although secretly, she admired his gumption. Edmund paled in comparison, because where was he, that wishy-washy mama's boy? What an oinker!
"I am here to prove to you that I am a changed man! I've reformed my rakish ways and I want you to see that it's all because of you!"
Alyson, who overheard this, sighed. She did not approve of rakes, but a reformed one was different, and it was so romantic to see her sister pursued by Mr. Trotford. What devotion! One would never see their oinker Cousin Edmund do such a thing.
Alicia's attitude softened considerably toward Mr. Trotford, until even her heart greatly resembled molten lard. Perhaps there would even be bacon at her wedding breakfast, if certain other Austen heroes didn't eat it all first. Her mouth watered so much just thinking of the bacon that had been denied her for so many years she realized that she could never have loved Edmund at all.
"If we were stranded on a dessert isle with only one slice of bacon, which of us would get to eat it?" she asked Henry, before committing herself.
Now Henry knew it would never come down to that, so he could afford to be generous, and if the way to Alicia’s heart was through bacon, he would take it by all means.
"Not only would I insist you have the bacon," he said, "but I would feed it to you with my own hands as we sat together on the sand."
Alicia decided it must be love of the deepest sort that Henry felt for her, because as tender as her feelings were growing towards him by the minute, if asked the same question she doubted she would even agree to share the bacon. "I will marry you," she said.
Of course, as is customary in regency times, he kissed her to seal the deal. Fervently. And she realized more than ever that she had made the right decision. In fact all thought of bacon left her mind for a good half hour.
Then disaster struck. Sarah had been caught having an affair with Tom's friend, Mr. Baste, and Mr. Sowsworth divorced her. She was forced to live quietly in disgrace, with only Mrs. Snortis for company, and Alicia was sure that was a torture worse than death. Alicia was also relieved, though, that it had been Mr. Baste and not Mr. Trotford, who had been caught in flagrante delicto with Sarah, and it showed her that her Henry had truly reformed. Although now that she’d kissed him (countless times – you know what those Regency cesspools are like,) it was almost a moot point.
But if that was not bad enough, Tom was home at Mansfield, deathly ill, and Sofie had eloped with some mystery man. We say he was unknown because we’ve used up most of the gentlemen, basically, in an attempt to keep Alicia from marrying that wishy-washy mama’s boy, Edmund Buttram. What an oinker!
Alicia was called back to Mansfield to offer comfort to her aunt and uncle, and to help nurse poor Tom, and she went. Edmund, too, made an appearance, and in his wake was Miss Trotford, although she was not as sympathetic as she should have been. Why not? After all, Tom’s dissolute lifestyle had merely caught up with him, and it wasn’t her brother who had ruined Sarah.
Edmund apologized, but for the longest time, Miss Trotford thought he possessed a very black heart and she would have nothing to do with him.
In the end, Tom recovered. Sarah continued to live in quiet disgrace with Mrs. Snortis. Sofie was very happy with her mystery man, who turned out to be one Percival Fatback. Edmund married Miss Trotford, who had finally relented. They all got to eat bacon, too, at Alicia and Henry’s wedding breakfast, because Alicia did not hire the Darcy Catering Company.
And what happened to Alyson Fryce? She took Alicia’s place at Mansfield Pork, where she lived happily at Lady Buttram’s beck and call. Until she met the mysterious Mr. L, whom Mrs. Jennings insisted on teasing her about, and… Wait. Wrong story/movie. And a completely different Mr. Lee!
So, Alyson Fryce met her Mr. Lee and they had seven children and everyone lived happily ever after, except for that wanton Sarah and Mrs. Snortis.
Happy Birthday, Alicia Fryce Trotford!
*Mansfield Pork, a novel by Jane Hogsten, whose works include Pig and Prejudice, Hamma, Souse and Sousability, Northbanger Abbey and Pigsuasion.
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