The Christmas Goose

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An End to the Tale

A long while passed before Alan twitched. He did not feel as cold and sensed a warm glow on his face. Instead of snow underneath him, he felt the cushions of an old sofa. Someone was looking down at him and heaved a sigh of relief as he stirred.

“He’s awake, Donna.” It was Will. “He’ll be all right.”

“Oh, Alan.” He heard Donna sigh, and felt a hand on his forehead. Only then did he feel strong enough to open his eyes. Sure enough, Will and Donna were at his side.

“Alan, promise me you’ll never do anything so foolish again.” Donna was saying earnestly.
The fog had not quite cleared from Alan’s head. He settled back and closed his eyes again.

“Where did—how’d you find me?” He asked.

“Watson heard from the porter that you were walking to the cabin.” Will explained. “When he didn’t see you on the path and found out you hadn’t arrived, we left at once to find you. You were quite off the beaten path, poor fellow. If I hadn’t been distracted by those bird calls, we’d never have seen you lying in the snow.”

“You didn’t tell me you heard bird calls.” Donna said.

“And how is the American?” An older voice asked. Alan opened his eyes long enough to see a beared man standing next to Donna. “I’m terribly sorry about the mix-up.” He said. “Had I known you were waiting for me, Mr. Striver, I would not have taken the evening train.”

“Why did you take the evening train, Daddy?” Peggy asked. “You promised to come home on the 4:15 train.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a story.” Watson said. “Gather round, all of you.”

He sat in an easy chair and placed little Jane on his knee. The other children encircled him, and Hannah and Will reclined in the other chairs. Donna remained by Alan’s side, holding his hand. Watson began.

“Well, as you know, I wasn’t certain I’d be coming back to my job once the holiday was over.”

Billy quipped, “Yes, that’s why we wanted to wish on the Christmas--”

“Billy, don’t interrupt father.” Matthew hissed harshly.

Guy smiled. “I finished my work and Mr. Benton had paid me my wages. It wasn’t much, perhaps, but I was glad to have it, seeing as it could be the last for a good while.” He cast a glance at Hannah, who put a hand to her quivering mouth. “I left the bank and was on my way to the station, when I felt I just couldn’t come home to Christmas without having a bit of good news to tell. So I walked to the church and prayed as hard as a man can pray. While I was praying, I happened to look up and I saw in the pew in front of me a little boy with his father. The father was telling him that someone, a very kind man had given him a coat so that he could look well-dressed and go to church with his son on Christmas.”

“How touching!” Donna said. Alan opened his eyes to watch her face light up with happiness.

Guy nodded. “The good man ended with, ‘See, my boy? People are always kind and understanding, especially on Christmas.’ Well, that got me to thinking. I realized that Mr. Benton was a reasonable man. If I was paid only half of my wages, would he let me stay on until I had time to find other employment? I was so certain he would, I went to ask him then and there. What was my surprise when I see the bankers making a big fuss.”

“Why were they making a fuss, Father?” Timmy asked.

“It seems that a large sum of money had been left for the bank.” Guy said. “Who left it, Mr. Benton never said, but he told me to come back first thing next Monday. ‘With this turn of events,’ he said, ‘I think we ought to reconsider whether or not we should let our hard workers go. We’ll know for certain if the owner hasn’t claimed this lot by Monday.’ I’m sure there was a twinkle in his eye as he said it.”

Hannah gasped and clasped her hands together. Matthew leaned forward earnestly.

“Does this really mean you haven’t lost your job?” He asked breathlessly. Everyone else seemed to echo his question with their eyes. Guy settled back in his chair with a smile.

“If the owner doesn’t come by next Monday, I’d say there’s a sporting chance it does, Matthew.” He said.

The reaction that followed can hardly be described. All the children wanted to hug their father at once and Hannah began to cry. Will congratulated Watson on his good fortune, and Donna—she closed her eyes and breathed a gentle sigh. Alan did not know what she was saying in her heart but he was sure it was a prayer of thanksgiving. Seeing the radiance in her face, Alan forgot all of the pain and frustration that led him to this moment. Everything had been worth it.

In the celebration that followed, Alan did not say much. Given his recent adventure in the forest, he was strongly advised to rest and did not participate too much in the festivities. Donna and Will kept him company. The Watson children would come up in turn and exchange a few words with him, but they were cautioned not to overtire him. At length, Alan fell asleep and Will convinced Donna to let him be and join in the Christmas cheer.

Will did not know he was doing Alan a favor, for Alan was only seeming to be asleep. In truth, he was thinking and thinking happens best when one is silent and alone. Toward the end of the evening, when the children were playing around the hearth and most everyone was settling in the large room, Alan heard a faint honking outside. He opened his eyes and looked toward the window. A smile came to his face, and he quietly eased himself into a sitting position. After sending a glance to make sure the others did not notice, he managed to move quietly toward the door and stole softly outside.

“I wondered if you’d come back to say ‘good-bye’.” He said.

“Honk, honk!”

“I know, I shouldn’t have doubted you.” Alan smiled. He hesitated for a moment, then said,
“She was so happy, happier than I’d seen her before I left. You know how to deliver, I’ll give you that, Goose. I sure didn’t think that the money would have actually saved his job.”

“You left the money?” Alan heard behind him.

He turned around quickly. Donna was standing just outside the door, holding a coat for him.

“...yes,” he said.

“Then that means—” a new light shone in her face, “that means Guy will definitely be able to keep his job!”

“I’m not taking the money back, if that’s what you’re aiming at,” Alan answered.

Donna wanted to rush back inside and tell the good news, but Alan told her to say nothing.

“If you tell them today, they won’t have a reason to celebrate tomorrow,” he said. “Besides, they don’t need to know I left the money.”

“That’s very modest, Alan,” Donna said, coming close and wrapping the coat around his shoulders. “But I want them to know...”

“No, it’d give them the wrong idea.”

“What do you mean?” Donna asked.

“I didn’t leave the money in a burst of generosity; I left it because your goose told me to,” Alan said, gesturing to the goose.

However, the goose was gone. There was no trace of it, not even one webbed footprint.

“Where did he go? He was just here.”

“Alan, don’t use my little story to hide your real reasons,” Donna said in a serious tone.

“Donna, I don’t have the imagination to make up stories. I’m telling you, it’s true. Your goose did show up,” Alan insisted. “He led me all over town. I met others who felt the same pain I did...the same cold, I guess. I learned a lot from those folks.”

“Did you lose your coat and cane in town?” Donna asked. A realization struck her as she did. “You gave your coat to that gentleman Guy mentioned, didn’t you?”

“I was returning a favor.”

“I see,” Donna said. “But how did you have enough money to secure the bank?”

“I helped a little lost girl find her family. Her folks were rich and they gave me the money to thank me.” Alan answered.

“And you gave it all away to help the Watsons...?”

Alan looked at her. “No...I gave it away because I knew that’s what you would have done.”

The tears Donna had been holding back began to flow.

“I knew you were using my story to hide your true reason,” she smiled through her tears.

Alan put his arms around her.

“I’m not warm by any means,” he said. “I don’t even have both my legs but--with all that, would you marry me, Donna?”

“Oh, Alan, I thought you’d never ask!” Donna cried, throwing her arms around his neck. “Yes! A thousand times, yes!”

With a relieved sigh, Alan closed his eyes as Donna pressed her lips against his. The two held each other for an eternal moment.

After a moment, they disengaged. As he smiled down at her, he said, “I don’t feel cold anymore, Donna.”

“Neither do I, Alan.”

“Miss Donna!” little Jane called from the door, “Momma needs your help with the pudding.”

“Coming,” Donna answered. Before she reentered the house, she cautioned Alan, “Don’t stay out too long. You’ll catch cold.”

“I’m right behind you.”

Donna smiled and kissed him again.

“Love you,” she whispered.

As the pair returned to the door, Donna entered first, speaking to Hannah about the pudding and brushing away her tears to hide that she had been crying. Alan was almost through the door, when he paused and looked back across the forest.

The clouds had parted and the moon shone brightly upon the snow. Against the luminous sphere, Alan could see the silhouette of a goose flying high above the treetops.

“Thanks for doing something for me,” he whispered. “Merry Christmas, Goose.”

All he could hear above the whistling wind was a distant, haunting call,

“honk, honk!”

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