The Wild Goose
"Be kind to all," said the goose mother to her youngest goose child, "for it will serve you in the end."
"Yes, mother," said the little gosling, who always minded his mother even though he didn't want to. He knew it was for the best so he did, knowing once all his down was gone he'd be his own bird.
"Do what you'll do anyway," said the sow in the pen as her piglets suckled. "My children will know their own minds no matter what I say."
"So be yours," said the goose mother. "Most of my goslings are in their feathers now, but this one, he is best. He minds me and knows I am right always."
"Yes, mother," said the little goose.
"The farmer has his eye on you, little one," cautioned the sow. "It would be well for you to not be so kind. A goose who does not get along is not long for the farm, but one such as you is ready to catch and fatten."
"What does fatten mean, mama?"
"It means the farmer puts you in your own pen and feeds you all the best foods until you're big and strong."
"Oooohh," said the little goose. "I'd like to be fattened."
"You'll stay with me always if the farmer likes you," said his mother. "Your brothers will be sold for bedding. But you are lucky and will stay with me."
And so it came to be the little goose grew and was set in his own goose pen and fed special food.
"You're getting good and fat, goose" said the farmer's young son as he put the special mash in the food trough.
The young goose honked in delight at the attention. He knew he was a special goose because he got to stay on the farm while his brothers were gone. He did not expect to see them again. His mother came by the pen every day and told him how much the farmer loved him to lavish all this attention on him.
"Be kind to everyone," she reminded him. "It will keep you fed and housed."
"Yes, mother," he said, for he knew better than to argue with her. But his down was long gone and he was in full feather. The pen was small to him. He liked the food and loved the attention, but he noticed it was getting more difficult to get around.
The dirt and grass in his pen slowed his walking and his legs ached when he walked too much.
"Surely this is due to the cold weather," he said, and he shivered as a north wind bit through him.
He asked the other animals who wandered by his pen if they felt the cold in their legs.
A few of the older animals agreed the weather hurt them, but they didn't care and went back to their own pens or pastures.
One day a wild grey goose who'd been separated from his flock and was tired from flying alone landed in the pen with the young goose.
"What are you?" asked the young goose.
"What do you mean? What do I look like? I'm a goose."
"Why aren't you in your pen?"
"Pen? Why would I be in a pen. I'm a wild goose. I'm on my way to my winter quarters where it's warm and the waters flow."
"You have two farmers?" marvelled the young goose.
"I have the fields and the ponds and the woods," said the grey goose. "I don't know anything about farmers."
"My farmer brings me special mash every day, and I have this pen to myself."
The young goose tried not to sound like he was bragging, but it was difficult. He was proud of his station in life.
"Would you like to try some of it? You look cold and hungry, and I have plenty."
The grey goose ate his fill.
"Thank you. Would you mind if I rested here for the night? I am very tired, and I have a long flight ahead of me."
The young goose was happy to share his pen for the night. The grey goose went to a corner of the pen and tucked his head under his wing.
Soon he heard voices. The farmer and his son were feeding the livestock nearby and talking about the coming Christmas.
"The young goose is getting fat. He'll make a fine meal for us, son. See that you keep him filled with the mash."
"Yes, papa. I can hardly wait for roasted goose."
The next morning the as the young goose's food was replenished the son remarked, "Empty. There's a good goose, eating all you're given. You're getting rounder by the day."
The boy tipped the bucket of mash over the goose's trough and went on his way.
"Would you share with me my food?" asked the young goose as the wild grey goose came to inspect the trough.
"Friend," said the grey goose after he'd eaten. "How far can you fly?"
"Fly? What's that?"
"When you flap your wings and leave the ground," said his guest. "Haven't you ever soared through the air?"
"Oh, mercy, no," said the young goose, horrified. "I have no reason to fly. My mama said if I was kind to all then I'd be fed and sheltered. It would be rude to leave."
"Why don't you try?"
The young goose could not think of a reason, and decided it would not be kind to refuse such a reasonable request. He spread his wings and flapped, but nothing happened.
"Try taking a run at it," said the grey goose.
He tried. Nothing.
"Oh, I'm afraid my wings are too weak to carry me. I'm sorry."
"Young one, perhaps you should work them every day to make them stronger. Then you can fly. I'd like a companion and it is so much easier than flying alone."
"But I don't want to leave," cried the young goose. "I am fed and sheltered here. What more is there?
The grey goose told his young friend about his adventures in the north in the summer and the south for the winter. He said how he found ponds to swim in and fields to eat from and every day brought something new or interesting. He said how there were plenty of other geese and birds to talk to, and animals, too.
"It sounds like a great deal of work finding one's own food," said the young goose. "I like stability. I know what each day will bring, and I am happy."
"You won't always be," warned the wild goose. He told the young goose what the farmer and his son said.
"I'm to be their special Christmas guest," said the young goose, and he jumped and flapped his wings for the sheer wonder of being so special.
"No. No. No." said his friend. "You aren't their guest for dinner. You are their dinner."
A choking honk escaped from the young goose's throat. He took a few steps back from his friend.
"That can't be," he said. "Mother said if I was kind to all it would serve me in the end."
"Friend, your kindness to others means you'll end by being served. Come with me to my winter quarters. You'll be free there."
The young one flapped his wings, but he couldn't leave the ground. He ran and then tried and got as far as the end of the pen.
"It's no use. My wings are too weak.
"You've flown a bit already. I know you can do it. If you eat less of your mash and practice every day, then you'll be able to fly."
So the young goose gave most of his food to the grey goose. He flapped his wings and ran around the pen. Soon he could rise high as the barn roof and he could fly around.
"It's almost time. We'll go tomorrow at first light," said the wild goose.
That evening the goose mother came by. The young goose told her of their plans, and what the wild goose had heard.
"Many a goose has gone to be a Christmas guest and have never returned to the pen. I think he's filled you with wild ideas, son, but you must do what is in your heart."
The next morning at first light the young goose flapped his wings. He rose higher and higher in the air and circled, waiting for the grey goose to join him.
The grey goose waited until the young goose was airborne and then spread his wings.
He ran toward the end of the pen and tried again. He still couldn't get off the ground.
He looked into the water trough at his reflection. He was fatter than he'd ever seen himself. All the mash his friend had given him made him too big for his wings.
The young goose called down to him to hurry up.
The grey goose looked at his reflection and knew he wouldn't be joining his young friend.
"Fly. Find a flock to join. I'll catch up with you."
The young goose circled a few more times, but the grey goose stayed on the ground. He didn't think it was right to leave without him, but he'd been told to, and it was kindness to follow another's requests.
"Thank you for rescuing me," he called and then flapped his wings and headed south.
The wild goose watched the young goose fly away and then waddled over to the mash trough just as the boy tipped the bucket.
"Oh, ho! What's this? A fine wild goose come to join us." The boy called his father over to the goose pen.
"He's too fat to fly, I think," said the boy.
"I believe you're right, son. And he's eaten in the fields and the wild. He'll make a fine Christmas meal."
The grey goose swallowed hard. He swore off the mash and tried to fly again and again, but to no avail.
The next day the farmer came. He caught the grey goose and no one in the farmyard ever saw him again.
As for the young goose, he flew until he was tired. He landed in a field where other geese were feeding. He asked to join them and was told if he took his turn at the front of the formation he was welcome.