"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were
setting the table for breakfast.
"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last
"I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.
"Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and
weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided
to do away with it."
"Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because 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 die anyway."
Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet
and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping 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 control yourself."
"Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and
you talk about controlling myself." Tears ran down her cheeks and she
took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.
"Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter of pigs
than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"
"But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small,
could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"
Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his
daughter with love. "But this is different. A little girl is one thing,
a little runty pig is another."
"I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This
is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."
A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry
"All right," he said. "You go back to the house and I will bring the
runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like a baby.
Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be."
When Mr. Arable returned to the house half an hour later, he carried a
carton under his arm. Fern was upstairs changing her sneakers. The
kitchen table was set for breakfast, and the room smelled of coffee,
bacon, damp plaster, and wood smoke from the stove.
"Put it on her chair!" said Mrs. Arable. Mr. Arable set the carton down
at Fern's place. Then he walked to the sink and washed his 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 a scratching
noise. Fern looked at her father. Then she lifted the lid of the carton.
There, inside, looking up at her, was the newborn pig. 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," she whispered. "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, lifted the pig out,
and held it against her cheek. At this moment her brother Avery came
into the room. Avery was ten. He was heavily armed-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 your hands
and face, Avery!"
"Let's see it!" said Avery, setting his gun down.
"You call that miserable thing a pig? That's a fine specimen of a
pig-it's no bigger than a white rat."
"Wash up and eat your breakfast, Avery!" said his mother. "The school
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 the world of injustice. As a result, she
now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just
shows what can happen if a person gets out 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. She poured 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 of the
kitchen with her infant between her knees, teaching it to suck from the
bottle. The pig, although tiny, had a good appetite and caught on
The school bus honked from the road.
"Run!" commanded Mrs. Arable, taking the pig from Fern and slipping a
doughnut into her hand. Avery grabbed his gun and another doughnut.
The children ran out to the road and climbed into the bus. Fern took no
notice of the others in the bus. She just sat and stared out of the
window, thinking what a blissful world it was and how lucky she was to
have entire charge of a pig. By the time the bus reached school, Fern
had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful name she 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. Fern blushed.
Excerpted from "Charlotte's Web" by E. B White. Copyright © 2006 by E. B White. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.