Benton Banking Co.
The bank did not appear to be on this street. With a sigh, Alan trudged onwards until he reached the next lane. He did not find the bank along this lane, either. Continuing wearily, he suddenly saw the goose standing at the end of another street. Alan clicked his tongue and the goose cocked its head and looked at him.
“Don’t suppose you happen to know where the bank is?” he said, “My legs aren’t interested in a lot of walking. Done enough of that already today.”
“Honk! honk!” The goose said and began to waddle toward him. Its legs made wide, sweeping motions as it trundled past him and down a nearby street. With a shrug, Alan followed.
I hope Goosey’s been in this part of town before, Alan thought, or we’ll be here ’til next Christmas.
The goose stopped in front of an old building. At first Alan was sure it had made a mistake. The time-worn building was tilting forward, its foundation was so settled into the ground. The red brick was woefully faded in many patches and were it not for the refurbished windows and doors, Alan would have presumed this building was long deserted. He peered at the sign hanging above the door.
Benton Banking and Co.
“I see why the bank could close down,” he murmured.
He made to approach the door, but suddenly heard a squashed and urgent, “Honk!” Alan had not noticed the goose step between him and the path to the door, and he had accidentally placed his foot too close. As he retreated a pace or two, murmuring an apology, the goose shooks its feathers, planted its webbed feet, looked up at him and, “Honk!”
“What’s this about?” Alan asked.
The goose flapped its wings and pecked at the roll in Alan’s pocket, “Honk!”
It landed in front of the bank’s door and indicated the doorstep with its beak, “Honk!”
It flew up onto the pole that held the sign and pecked at the swinging wood twice, “Honk,
“What are you trying to tell me?” Alan said.
With a grunting honk, the goose flew down, reached its head into Alan’s pocket, and pulled out the roll.
“Hang on!” Alan cried. Before he could stop it, the goose flew and dropped the roll in front of the bank’s door.
“Wait a second!” he said, “I earned that squarely, you moron. Give it back.”
He walked forward to pick it up, and the goose flew away—would have flown away, if it hadn’t thudded against Alan’s chest. Alan caught the heavy bird with an angry sigh.
“I don’t know what your game is, Goose, but I’m sick of you ruining my day. The old lady, the man with one arm, that poor little thing who couldn’t find an elephant in the snow—I just don’t get it. Who are you really gunning for?”
A shrill train whistle rang through the crisp air. Alan paused when he heard the sound, his mind suddenly thrown back to the train station just three hours before. He could see the Watson children placing their small hands on the glossy back, their youthful chorus about to make the one wish that could brighten their Christmas in these dark times.
Alan looked down at the goose, resting in his arms as it had that morning.
“But they never made the wish,” he said.
“Honk...” the goose answered softly.
“They didn’t have to,” Alan sighed.
The goose solemnly nodded its head. Alan was exasperated.
“So that’s it. I’m just the unlucky means to an end,” he said, “You couldn’t just have me earn the money so you could take it. No, you had to take my cane, coat, and probably you want my hat for a nest, huh? Don’t honk at me, Bird! I’ve lost everything because of those kids’ stupid wish!”
The goose looked toward the bank and honked softly again. Then it turned back to Alan and its black eyes seemed sad.
“Look, I know it’s tough for them, but I lost a leg and...the nearest chance I had at a life, all because of this war,” Alan said, “Watson’s not the only one in trouble. I can’t work because of my leg.”
The goose made a quiet whiney sound.
“Add to that a one-legged man can’t support a family,” Alan said, “That money might carry me through for a little while, but it sure won’t if they have it.”
The goose was silent but Alan could feel his anger cooling. After all, if he, a single man, was worried for his income, how much more must Mr. Watson be worried for the welfare of his wife and six children? Donna had often expressed her concern at their difficulties, and the worry in her voice came back to him.
Alan lowered his eyes. He had the means. He could do something, something that would make her happier than any question he could ask her. His practical nature screamed against letting the money go, but he put the thought out of his head with a frustrated and defeated sigh.
“Fine...they can take it. I’m not good with money anyway.” Alan said. He shook a finger at the bird. “But you better do something for me, Goose, or you’ll regret it when we meet again.”
The goose honked in gratitude, jumped out of Alan’s arms, and grasped the roll in its beak. It flew around the corner of the building and Alan thought he saw it fly through an open window. He wasn’t interested in hearing the bankers’ ejaculations of wonder, so he turned his weary steps toward the train station.
When he reached the station, it was four minutes before the 4:15 train would depart. Alan paid for his ticket, then boarded one of the carriages. As he settled in his compartment, he glanced out the windows, expecting to see the goose soaring over the chimneys in the town. There was no sign of the bird, but a slight flurry began to dust the panes of the train carriage windows.
The train ride was uneventful and Alan passed the trip in silence, trying not to think about the decision he had just made. Though he had said otherwise to the goose, he really did feel for Mr. Watson’s plight. Mostly, he knew how much Donna wanted the Watsons to be happy. They were like family to her. In a way, by helping the Watsons, he had been helping her. Alan wondered if she would be proud of him for trying.
“I guess it was kind of stupid, trusting the goose to take care of the money,” he thought aloud, “She would have, though. She would’ve done a lot more than I did—bar the complaining.”
An hour later the train pulled into the next station. Stepping onto the platform, Alan asked the porter if he knew a certain Guy Watson. The porter warmly affirmed he did. When Alan asked if the porter had seen Mr. Watson get off the train, the porter thought a moment.
“Don’t believe I did, sir,” he said, “I saw the wife and children get off a few trains back, and there was a lovely young couple with them. I was expecting the hubby to be there too, seeing as it’s Christmas Eve, but I don’t recall him.”
“No, he should be on this train.” Alan said. “I just wondered if you could point him out to me when he gets off.”
The passengers came and went, while Alan waited for the porter’s signal. No signal came. In the end, the man sought him out, looking confused.
“Are you quite certain Mr. Watson was on the same train as you, sir?” he said, “Because I haven’t seen him, sir, and my eyes see everything.”
“I’ll ask around,” Alan decided.
He made the rounds of the station staff, but no one had seen Mr. Watson. Since he did not know where the cottage was, Alan decided to wait at the station for Mr. Watson. It soon occurred to him, however, that perhaps Watson was compelled to stay much longer at the bank than expected. Maybe he would not join them until tomorrow or even later. With this in mind, Alan decided to risk walking to the Watsons’ cottage by himself. The sun was setting, but he did not feel inclined to wait forever in the cramped station.
He asked the porter which was the way to the Watsons’ cabin.
“True north and a bonnie straight walk,” the porter said, gesturing with his arm towards the woods.
“So...that way?” Alan asked.
“Right you are, sir,” the porter nodded, “Happy travels, and a Merry Christmas to you.”
“Yeah, same,” Alan said absently as he walked down the platform steps.
The snow was not as hard here, but no doubt that was because fewer people had walked on it. Alan could see a trail of footprints in the snow, left by the Watsons. He followed the trail for a time, making sure to mark other signs along the snowy path--a sapling, a fallen trunk...
The light flurry was beginning to thicken, but he could still make out his surroundings. The Watson’s footprints spread out and tightened several times. The humorous sight made Alan smile faintly. After some time, he came to a denser clump of trees. The snow was more sparse, making the footprints less visible. He tried to follow them as best he could, but when he reached the edge of the clump, he saw no footprints in the snow.