"The goose has come, Grandfather," said John. "He's hanging up by his legs in the cellar. Tomorrow he will have his stuffing put in. Don't you hope that you and I will get the drumsticks, Grandfather, dear?"
"Well, I don't know about that," said Grandfather. "Did I ever tell you about the goose in the swamp down back of the farm where I used to live?"
"Oh, Grandfather, dear, is it, Once upon a Time? May I sit in your lap, and will you make it a true story?" John's eyes were shining.
"A story?" Grandfather asked. "Well—did your mother say you could stay up awhile tonight?"
"I can stay up until seven o'clock," said John. "Oh,
please, do hurry, Grandfather, dear! Once upon a time
there was a wild
"Now who said there was only one goose?" Grandfather tried very hard to scowl.
John climbed up, and put his arms tight around Grandfather's neck.
"Well—Once upon a time there were two dozen
"Yes, that's better," said Grandfather. "And they had it all fixed up that they'd go south the day before Thanksgiving. I wonder if you ever saw a flock of geese start away for the winter. They don't pack their trunks like you but they make about as much fuss as if they did.
"There's always one big old goose who honks like a steam engine when it's time to start. Then he goes on ahead a little way to see what the weather is along the route, and pretty soon he comes back and he honks some more, and he pecks the legs of the little geese to make them hurry.
"There they all were in the swamp lot the morning before Thanksgiving. The leader started first. All the others followed with their yellow legs tucked up under them, and their wings spread out wide. They were all going south, away from the ovens and the dripping pans. I was sitting up on the wall, and I saw them go—all except the End Man."
"Who's the End Man?" asked John.
"He's the goose that's every bit as important as the Leader," said Grandfather, "only he doesn't get any credit. He has to wait in the swamp until all the others have started and not one little goose is left behind. Then, when they have all gone, he may start; but he has to fly alone, at the very tail end of the line."
"It's lonesome for him, isn't it?" said John.
"That's just what I was thinking when I got down from the wall and started home," said Grandfather. "After supper your Great Grandfather came in. 'What are we going to have for dinner tomorrow, mother?' he said.
"I slept in the attic, and after I went to bed, and pulled the bed quilt up to my chin to keep out the goblins, I got to thinking about that End Man goose down in the swamp lot. Suppose he didn't get away in time. Suppose he got shot in the morning because he stayed behind to do his duty. I didn't sleep very well that night. I woke up before it was morning. I dressed by starlight. Then I lighted the barn lantern."
"Did you go down to the swamp?" asked John sitting up very straight. "Was the End Goose there?"
"I went all the way to the swamp," said Grandfather.
"It was so cold that I had to warm my hands on the lantern. It was so dark I could hardly see the way, but pretty soon I heard a noise."
Grandfather made his voice very soft.
"Was it the End Goose?" asked John.
"Yes," said Grandfather. "It was. I climbed up on the edge of the stone wall, and looked over into the swamp. There was the End Man frozen into the swamp. He couldn't get out, anyhow.
"Well, I reached down with a stick and hammered the ice. It was thick because it had been a cold night. It didn't break at first. After a while it cracked a little mite so the goose could get one of his legs out. Then he helped. Pretty soon he got his other leg out, and then one wing, and then the last wing. Up he flew, without so much as saying thank you; and off he sailed just as the sky began to get red on Thanksgiving morning."
"It was the wild goose's Thanksgiving Day, wasn't it?" said John after a while. There didn't seem to be any more of the story.
"Well, I think he felt thankful to get out of the swamp," said Grandfather.
"What did you have for dinner, Grandfather?" asked John.
"I don't remember," said Grandfather. "It was so long ago. Maybe we had spare rib. I don't care about eating goose as much as some people do. Now you run along to bed. It's seven o'clock, sonny."