The Christmas Goose

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In Pursuit of the Goose

The children were in despair. Peggy was close to tears, and Billy and Timmy were about to chase after the goose, when their mother called for them to board the train. The children tried to tell her over the noise that they needed to find the Christmas Goose first, but she couldn’t understand them and urged them to come quickly.

“Come on, kids, go with your mother,” Alan ordered them.

“But what about the goose?” Peggy cried. “Father can’t keep his job without it.”

“I’ll get the goose,” he said. “Go on! Boys, on the train. Now.”

Fearful of disobeying the messenger of the goose, the children hastened to the train. Alan had seen where the goose flew off and now turned his steps in that direction. Though inconvenienced by missing the train, he had heard Donna mention that Mr. Watson was going to be taking the 4:15 train to the cottage that afternoon. Alan hoped that he would meet Mr. Watson at that time and the pair would then travel to the cottage together. Donna and her friends had been invited to celebrate Christmas with the Watsons. But that would come in its time, and with a grunt, Alan set his mind to the present dilemma: finding the goose. Though he anticipated explaining to the children that he had been unable to find it, he felt obliged to try. Their Christmas was spoiled enough. Perhaps wishing on the goose would take their minds off the war.

Soon after Alan disappeared from the train platform, Will and Donna entered it from the other side.

“But he promised he would once he returned,” Will was saying.

“I know, Will, but things were different then,” Donna sighed.

“How so?” Will asked earnestly.

“Oh, I can’t explain it, Will,” Donna said unhappily. “I can hardly understand it myself. Where’s Alan?” She scanned the platform, but he was nowhere in sight.

“He must be on the train,” Will observed. “Hurry! It’s nearly time to go!”

The pair boarded the train quickly and were making their way to the Watsons compartment, when they were met in the corridor by Peggy and Billy. Both instantly told Donna of the goose and its flight, and the messenger who was going to bring the goose back.

“But the train’s about to leave!” Billy cried.

“What did the messenger look like?” Donna asked.

Peggy tried hard to remember. “He had dark hair and was wearing a brown hat and a heavy light brown coat—oh, he had a cane on his arm.”

“By jove, that’s Alan!” Will cried.

“Will, call him back,” Donna begged him. “He can’t have gone far.”

Will rushed off the train and onto the platform, calling for Alan. As he came to the platform’s end, he looked down a row of houses, but saw no one. The train whistle blew one last time, and the heavy locomotive churned its iron wheels gratingly against the steels rails as it pushed itself out of the station. Will was barely able to pull himself back on board. Donna was waiting for him.

“I looked,” Will panted. “I couldn’t see him anywhere. It must have been him, though, by the girl’s description.”

“If she was correct in her description,” Donna said. “But if she was, do you think she was correct about what she said besides?”

“What besides?” Will asked.

Donna looked at him. “...do you think he was holding the Christmas Goose?”

****************

The houses were shuttered against the bitter wind, their roofs covered with heavy mounds of snow. With their gray lattices and blackened wood frames, they seemed bowed with fatigue and grim sorrow. Most of the passersby were silent and would only nod or put a finger to the rim of their caps by way of greeting. Alan was grateful they were not very sociable at present. He wasn’t feeling sociable himself, and the annoyance of the goose had robbed him of polite deportment and manners.

He hurried along as fast as his leg would allow him, but it would hardly be true to say he was bent on the chase. Indeed, Alan was more interested in finding the bank where Guy Watson worked than in finding the goose which had escaped.

Nearing the end of one street, he suddenly heard a familiar, “Honk!” Quickly turning, he saw an old washerwoman trudging slowly down the street and beside her waddled the goose. Alan recognized the red mark instantly and the roly-poly gait was unmistakable.

The woman moved languidly, bent under the weight of a heavy laundry basket. Just as she came near, the goose waddled too close to her. Startled, the woman kicked the goose roughly.

“Out of my way, foolish bird!” she said angrily.

As she kicked though, the basket on her shoulders became unbalanced by the movement. It overturned and the laundry fell onto the cold snow. The woman gave vent to her frustration in angry, incoherent words. Then she leaned her crooked back against a door post and began to cry, burying her face in her soiled apron. The few on the street did not stop and passed her by without a look, but Alan had seen everything.

In spite of himself, Alan felt sorry for the old woman. He may have lost a leg in battle, but she, with her crooked spine and gnarled hands, was just as tormented by the war as he was. Somehow, it didn’t seem right that in her old age she should have to be prey to the fear and turmoil ravaging her country and the world. No wonder she was so unhappy.

Instinctively, Alan knelt down on his good leg and began to place the tattered garments back in the basket. The woman kept crying and did not notice his act of kindness. He was about to rise, when a loud honking sounded near. The woman raised her eyes and saw Alan kneeling beside the basket.

“Oh...bless you, sir,” she sniffed.

She came forward and lifted the heap once more to her shoulders. As Alan rose to his feet, he could hear her withered joints cracking like dying embers.

“Curse this weather,” the woman moaned unhappily. “Curse this war. Only brings death and misery, it does. I lost my own boy to the Great War thirty years ago.” She looked up at Alan miserably beneath her wretched burden. “Why did they start another one?” she whispered hoarsely.

Alan couldn’t answer. He had often asked himself that question when he was on the warfront. Her pinched face and hollow eyes seemed to reflect the pain-wracked faces of his dying comrades, faces time would never efface from his memory.

Why did they start another one? He swallowed the lump he felt forming in his throat.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” he sighed. “But...” and he placed the handle of his cane in her bony hand.

The woman looked as if a blessing had kissed her. Her hand quivered as she cradled the precious wood in her fingers. As she raised her eyes to his, Alan was surprised by the transformation in her withered face. Tears glistened in her eyes, and for the first time a smile crept into the corners of her mouth.

“...thank you, lad,” she whispered, her lips trembling. “Me—merry Christmas.”

Merry Christmas. How long it had been since Alan heard such a welcome greeting. It seemed as though the dark clouds of war had parted just long enough to allow a single ray of hope to fall on the abandoned street. For a moment, Alan felt as if someone else had tried to reach him through the wall of darkness the war built around him.

Overcome, Alan mumbled an inarticulate reply. The woman clasped the cane firmly, and squeezed his fingertips in thanks. Then, with one hand on the basket and the other gripping the cane, she continued plodding down the street, with firmer tread and lighter heart.

Only after she was gone from sight did Alan realize that he had given away his cane, practically the replacement of his wounded leg. He groaned and his groan mingled with an inharmonious “Honk!”

Alan looked down. He knew exactly what he would find: two beady black eyes reflected his frown. On its part, the goose cocked its head and peered at him with one eye. It looked to the old woman disappearing around the bend, then returned to Alan with a soft, “honk, honk!” It seemed as if thanking Alan for his kindness.

“Yeah, I gave it away,” Alan said, “No thanks to you, birdbrain. You almost knocked her over.”

“Honk!”

“No, it’s not,” Alan frowned, “I can’t walk now.”

The goose waddled closer to Alan and stretched its thin neck, looking up and down Alan’s leg. It grunted, skeptical of the damage. Suddenly, the goose pecked Alan’s leg hard.

A sharp pain darted up his leg. Alan yelled and grabbed his knee. He could not move, the spasm was so severe. The goose honked again, a shrill sound, seeming to apologize; but Alan mistook its tone.

“You!” he shouted. “What is it with you?! You want a piece of me?!”

He was so frustrated, he lunged for the goose, which jumped backwards and began to fly off in small spurts. Alan stumbled after the retreating fowl, but his leg could not take him very far. The sharp pain bore through his mind, and at length even wore down his frustrated stubbornness. As he rounded the end of the street, his injured leg, already throbbing with unbearable spasms, struck against a broken-down pile of rotten crates. With a cry, Alan fell to the ground.

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