William The Goat
F. WALWORTH BROWN IN AINSLEE'S
The obliging man very often suffers himself through his good-nature toward others. This is a story of one such.
I DIDN'T want him. I had no use for him. I didn't like him, and yet I meekly permitted them to crowd him into my hands. He belonged to my nephew, Bobbie, whose parents lived in a flat during the Winter, and really couldn’t take him with them. I understood that. A city flat is no place for a goat. A goat needs atmosphere, and a lot of it. Lacking it, he quickly makes his presence smelt.
On the other hand, I argued—mildly—that a five-room cottage in the country was no place for him, either.
“But you can keep him in the shed, Robert,” said Nan; “and Bobbie’s so fond of him.”
“But I don’t want to bother with the beast,” said I.
“He’s not a bit of bother,” cried my sister. “You can just turn him loose, you know, and he’ll pick up his own living.”
“What’ll he pick, when there’s two feet of snow on the ground?” I asked witheringly.
“James will pay you for his feed,” she answered, as though I had insulted her.
“That’s it exactly,” said I. “That’s where the bother comes in.”
“Oh, well,’ she returned, “if you don’t want to be accommodating, Rob-
“Oh, send him over, Nan,” I said. “I was just talking. I’ll take him, and the Lord have mercy on me !”
William and I got along very well for a time. I locked him up in the shed at night, and in the morning led him to a gap in my fence, shoved him through by main strength, and fastened a board over the opening. At this period I cherished the delusion that he could not jump that fence. The adjoining house was unoccupied, and William browsed on the succulent buds of the fruit trees all day, and waxed fat.
At evening I enticed him to me with some caprine delicacy, secured him by one ear, and led him to the shed. It was a beautiful arrangement, which I hoped would last. I saved my o\\ n fruit trees, and at the same time did not injure my neighbor, since there was no neighbor there to*be injured.
In time William came to understand the routine of the day, and even trotted of his own accord to the gap in the fence, and returned at my bidding in the evening. I judged him a model goat. Belligerency was farthest from his thought. Not once did he offer to attack me, though his horns were long and flourishing, and, if at times of a chilly morning he stood on his forelegs and kicked at me with his hind ones, I recognized this as merely an evidence of goatine spirits, and was glad he felt so well.
To be honest, I came to be rather fond of him as he upset, one after another, my preconceived ideas regarding goats. He was most dainty about his food, his presence was not intolerably offensive—in the open air—and he seemed never to have been taught the gracious art of butting. I found it rather interesting and amusing than otherwise to watch him rise upon his hindlegs, and poising delicately in air, strip off the buds and bark from the trees in the neighboring yard.
But all things change. Mutability is the bane of earth. It could not last. I might have known it. The shock came in the shape of a movingvan, which backed up before the next door, and began disgorging a cataract of furniture.
Now be it known that I am a bachelor, living alone with my books and my garden. I am no misanthrope, but merely a lover of solitude, which, believe me, is too little cultivated. Neighbors I had already experienced, and, all things considered, I much preferred a vacant house next door.
Imagine my disgust, therefore, at
the advent of the moving-van, and, later, at the appearance of an elderly gentleman of benevolent habit, whom I took to be a retired clergyman, and a young woman of energetic aspect and athletic build, who hustled the said elderly gentleman into the house, and apparently locked him in. I detected at once that this young woman would prove both strong-minded and executively efficient. The old gentleman obeyed her with an obvious desire to please.
In considering these'additions to my cosmos, I forgot William, which was unfortunate. It is a safe rule never to forget a goat. I was presently aroused from my forebodings by a scalp-wrinkling shriek from the neighboring yard, and, looking up, I was just in time to see the athletic young woman scrambling to her feet, and William backing off for a second attack. Even as I looked, he lowered his head and charged.
What followed was most distressing. He caught her half-up and unprepared ; a second shriek assaulted my horrified ears, and the girl sprawled on her face in the grass. In a moment I was out of the house, over the fence, and had secured the brute bv an ear.
The girl rose, and with one hand on her hip surveyed me struggling with the insane William. Perhaps he didn't like women, or perhaps he objected to trespassers on what he considered his private domain. At any rate, he was making frantic efforts to break away and resume the war.
“Is that your goat?" asked the girl severely.
“No,” I said; and would have explained, but she cut me off,
“Well, will you please take him away for me?” she said, with unsmiling dignity, and proceeded to the house with her hand still on her hip, and I though a slight limp in her walk.
I conducted William to the gap in the fence, shoved him harshly through, and followed him myself. I was overwhelmed. I fixed the board in its place, and with bowed head started for the house. How could I explain?
Had he been my own I would willingly have sacrificed him as a peace-offering, but I held him, so to speak, on trust.
I was within ten feet of my door when the avalanche hit me. It took me in the bend of the knees, and hurled me headlong. So far as its effects on my mind were concerned, it partook of the character of the judgment day, a dynamite bomb, and an eruption of Vesuvius. It was as unheralded as an earthquake, as irresistible as a ten-inch shell, as incomprehensible as the binomial theorem.
As I struggled to collect my scattered members and rise to face this cataclysm, a peal of uncontrolled laughter smote my ears, and like a flash I realized that the author of my ruin was William, and that it seemed funny to the athletic young woman.
Instantly I burned with anger. I assumed a sternly dignified mien. My feet were under me and my finger tips just leaving the ground as I raised myself, intending to silence this untimely amusement by my lordly scorn, when William arrived once more.
Why dwell upon the scene? Again I spread-eagled over the lawn, and again the peal of joyous laughter seared my ears. It was almost more than blood could stand. I got up with speed, and, as William drove past jn this third assault upon the bulwarks of my dignity, I neatly seized him by an ear and made him prisoner. Swiftly I hustled him to the shed, shoved him violently within, and, closing the door, sought defuge in the house.
I did not glance toward the neighboring yard. I would have no dealings with such Philistines. It seemed to me positively uncivilized to laugh at a fellow creature being battered to a pulp. The down-thumbing Romans in the circus seemed humane and compassionate beside this athletic daughter of a superannuated minister.
I flung myself down in my favorite chair, and instantly was aware that I must be careful how' I flung myself. That was where the second
ten-inch shell had landed. The fact added to my resentment. Fiercely I reviewed the situation. Had I laughed when she was the buttee and I the spectator? Certainly not. On the contrary, I had been horrified, and had rushed to the rescue.
Unquestionably they were Philistines of a peculiarly barbarous brand. I would have nothing to do with them. I would ignore their presence. The line-fence should be as a mountain between us.
But I was counting without William. He languished in the shed the rest of that day and the succeeding night, and emerged next morning a chastened goat. Even his usually perky tail drooped, and as I felt him at large in my yard, he made no move to attack me. I know, for I watched him.
I went to my work, which is the construction of fiction. Peace reigned till about eleven o’clock, when my door-bell rang violently, peremptorily, imperatively. I hastened into the hall and flung open the door, to find the young woman of my aversion. She appeared distraught. It occurred to me that it was probably my turn to laugh, but I refrained.
“Will you please come over and help me?” she said hurriedly. “That goat is in our yard again. He’s eating my handkerchiefs.”
“Certainly,” I said, in my best manner. I felt humiliated. It was really unpardonable to let a beast like that trespass a second time. And at close range the girl appeared rather attractive.
“I don't see where he comes from,” said the girl, as we hurried out of my gate into hers.
It may have been my sense of guilt, but I fancied she glanced at me in an accusing sort of way as she said it.
“He doesn’t belong to me,” I began——
“It’s really very kind of you to take so much trouble,” she burst in, “but I’m afraid of him.”
At that moment we rounded the corner of the house and sighted William. On the green lawn in the sun were spread sundry squares of lace and fine linen. Why, I do not know, unless as a temptation to goats. In the midst of them stood William, his eyes fixed mildly on vacancy, his ears drooping, each of his four feet planted on a separate square, while a fifth dangled from a corner of his mouth.
“Oh !” cried the girl, “he’s got my best one. Quick ! Stop him !”
I rushed to the rescue. William awaited me. When I was ten feet away he suspended his chewing, and viewed me with surprise in every feature. As I reached for his ear, he wheeled suddenly, and was off toward the foot of the lot, the bit of handkerchief fluttering from his mouth.
With condemnations on my lips, I gave him chase.. It immediately developed that he had twice my speed, perhaps four times my wind and surely eight times my agility. Cornered, he evaded me with a neatness and despatch which was exasperating to the point of madness.
In a straight-away chase he toyed with me. I had no more show to overtake him than I had to catch a swallow on the wing. After five minutes’ furious rushing, I halted for breath. Til catch that damned beast,” I said to myself, “if I have to shoot him.”
Next I tried wiles. Extending my hand, I called him cajolingly. Time and again he had come to me under those inducements; now he gave me no more attention than would a castiron goat. He had halted, also, and placidly resumed the consumption of the handkerchief.
When I reopened the campaign by a quiet attempt to approach within reach of him, he flung up his stub tail insolently, and fled around the house. I followed. Round and round we went without result. Once more I resorted to tricks. As he disappeared round a corner, I turned and ran in the opposite direction to meet him.
I suppose he had played that game before with Bobbie. He waited midway between corners till I hove in view, and immediately vanished with a frivolous flirt of his hindlegs. I was becoming badly blown. The girl had gathered up her handkerchiefs,
and now approached, as I halted for breath.
“Really, it does’t matter,” she said. “Let him go. I’m much obliged to you. I suppose he’ll go home when night comes.”
I wondered frantically if she meant that as a thrust at me.
“No,” I said. “I'm going to catch him, and when I catch him I think I'll kill him. He isn’t mine, but that doesn’t matter.”
She seemed surprised at by ferocity* .
“Really, it makes no difference now,” she assured me. “I’ve got my handkerchiefs—what are left of them —and he can stay in the yard if he wants to. Please don’t bother him any more.”
But my mind was fixed. Have that goat I would, or perish miserably in the attempt. How, was the only question, and, as I stood debating what ruse to attempt next, William solved the difficulty himself.
There was a shed in the yard with a sloping, shingle roof. Beside it stood a barrel with a board across the top. William, tired of inaction, suddenly side-stepped coquettishly up to the barrel, sprang lightly to the board, passed thence to the roof, and next instant stood in all his glory outlined against the sky, upon the peak. I viewed him with amazement, which immediately gave way to joy.
“Now we’ll get him,” I said. “Have you a stepladder?”
“No,” she answered.
“Would you mind going over to my shed and getting mine,” I said, “while I watch him? You can go through that gap in the fence by pushing away the board.”
She was back in a minute with the ladder.
“Now,” I directed her, “stand it against the other side of the shed and climb up. That’ll scare him down on this side, and I’ll catch him. Take something to bang on the roof with.”
She picked up a bit of stick and vanished with the ladder round the little building. I took position close under the eaves, where William could not see me. A terrific banging on the far side of the roof ensued, followed by a rattle of shingles onmy side as William descended. Then he shot past me, and I fell on him like a tiger before he fairly reached the ground.
, We went down in a heap, but I had him, and he knew it, and once my fingers closed about his ear he became on the instant the meek and pensive creature of the preceding week.
“Did you get him?” came the girl’s voice.
“Yes,” I cried.
She descended and came round to me, lugging the stepladder.
“Aren’t you hurting him?” she demanded, as she noted my grip on the brute’s ear.
“I hope so,” I answered, taking the ladder in my free hand and preparing to depart.
“What’ll you do with him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’d like to kill him. But he belongs to my nephew, and I’m keeping him for the Winter. I’m going to try and think up some accidental death for him.”
I departed with the ladder in one hand and the ear of William in the other.
“I’m so much obliged to you,” she called after me.
“Don’t mention it,” I answered. I’ll try and keep him home hereafter.
Again William suffered the durance vile of the shed for an afternoon and a night, while I sought a way to allow him liberty without license. I could think of nothing but a rope, and next morning I tethered him in my back yard as though he had been a cow. William took kindly to the arrangement and the difficulty seemed solved.
When the grocer's clerk came round for orders that morning I noticed that he stopped next door. Now I had no undue curiosity about my new neighbors. I was content to go my way, and let them go theirs— if only William would cease his machinations. But it seemed advisable, at least, to know who they were, so when the boy reached by door I questioned him, and learned that
the name was Baldwin, and that they had bought the place.
This put a different face on the matter. If they were but renters, liable to pick up and move at a month’s notice, I could afford to ignore them. But if they were owners, then were we neighbors in perpetuity, and in the country one cannot live forever fifty feet from other people and decline to know them.
Two or three mornings later I happened to be in my yard when the girl came out. William dug at the grassroots on the extreme end of his tether, and I saw the girl smile reminiscently at sight of him.
“Good morning, Miss Baldwin,” said I.
“Good morning, Mr. Stevens,” said she.
I was taken aback, for I had fancied I had the better of her there.
“Will you tell me how you know my name?” I questioned.
“I asked the groceryman,” she answered frankly. “And you?”
“I asked him yours,” I confessed, and, cutting a bunch of my best chrysanthemums, I offered them to her over the fence.
“Oh, thank you,” she said. “Father isn’t very well, and he loves flowers.”
“Not seriously, I hope,” said I.
“Oh, no ; a little cold. But I’m keeping him indoors.”
She really was quite attractive, with a frankness that was refreshing. I cannot stand affectation in man, woman, or beast. I decided she might make a good neighbor, after all, as neighbors go.
But there was always William. For two weeks he grazed placidly and contentedly on the end of his rope. Nothing could be meeker or less formidable. In the meantime Miss Baldwin and I became quite friendly. I kept her supplied with chrysanthemums, and in return she unconsciously suplied me with a heroine for the masterpiece of literature. I happened at that moment to have in hand. Then William, to use a vulgarism, one more “butted in.”
I had not met the old gentleman. He had been kept within doors ever since their arrival. But one morning I was torn from my work by the most heart-rendering sounds from next door. There were masculine shouts and feminine cries. I judged murder was being done, and I was not far wrong.
Rushing to a window, I beheld a shocking sight. The grey-haired old gentleman was on the ground, feebly endeavoring to rise. Before him stood the girl flourishing a broom, while about them circled that fiend incarnate, William the goat.
A yard of rope dangled from his neck, and the lust for blood was in his eye. Examination later showed that he had tired of grass, and had eaten enough of his tether to free himself. When I arrived he was so intent on finishing the old gentleman that I secured him with difficulty.
The girl’s eyes shot fire as she helped her father up. An attack on herself she could overlook, one on me she could find amusing, but when it came to her father, the matter was more serious, and I respected her emotions. He wasn’t much hurt, and there was a twinkle in his reverend eye as he extended his hand to me.
I stammered my best apologies, while he protested that it was all right, and that he had even enjoyed the experience. But the girl’s manner was chilling as she urged him toward the house. I conducted William homeward, and in my mortification could have slaughtered him with rapture.
Evidently there was. nothing to do but build him a pen, butt and jump proof. I locked him in the shed, and at once began making plans. That same day I planted posts, and stretched wire netting seven feet high about a space in the back yard. The shed stood in one corner of the corral, and, as I viewed the completed structure with William inside, I took comfort from the sight.
There would be no grass within the enclosure when Spring came, and I should have to feed the beast all Winter, but at least he was secure. No more would he attempt murder on an inoffensive old gentleman. Yes,
and no longer should I be face to face with the problem of appeasing said old gentleman’s righteously indignant daughter. I will be honest; perhaps that last thought .was the heaviest stone in the foundation of my satisfaction.
I went over next morning humbly to tender a bunch of my last chrysanthemums, and most humbly to inquire as to her father’s health. She met me without a smile, gravely thanked me for the flowers ; informed me that her father was very stiff and sore, and that she was “keeping him in bed.” I backed out of the presence with the feeling that I had been frost-bitten, and the more I thought about it the more my resentment' flourished.
Alter all, it was not my fault. Why hadn't she examined to see if the beast was loose before she let her father venture forth? And she might, at least, have given me credit for a timely rescue, to say nothing of the butt-proof, jump-proof corral. As I returned home, I felt that I had a grievance as well as she.
She knew I didn't want to keep the brute. It was an act of charity on my part ; an act which had cost me dear. “Really, you know,” I said to myself, “there’s no sense in her being so uppish. Anybody’d think I had set a trap for the old man.”
I went to my work feeling righteously aggrieved, and the work went very badly. My heroine in the masterpiece had an ugly streak that morning, and I could do nothing with her. I was much surprised, for I had almost fallen in love with that heroine considering her a person of truly beautiful character. But this morning she showed her cloven foot, and I left her in disgust, and went for a walk in the October woods.
It proved a melancholy diversion. Somehow I had lost touch. I was out of harmony with my world. There was no inspiration to be had from any of my accustomed fountains, and, after a tramp, which left me merely tired, I gave it up and came home.
This condition persisted for weeks. The masterpiece languished, while its heroine sulked. I fumed and swore to no purpose. Nothing I put on paper could by any stretch of the critical imagination be construed as literature.
Miss Baldwin 1 rarely saw. When we did encounter one another we spoke with elaborate politeness, she unsmiling and I verÿ stiff, after which I usually damned William with such fluency as was in me, and all heroines, and my art, and myself.
And yet it was William who saved the day. It took him nearly six weeks to solve the problem of escape from that corral. But he solved it. I might have known he would.
I was roused one afternoon by the most singular sounds from my neighbor’s back yard. I could hear Miss Baldwin’s voice crying something like: “Go it, William! One more try now! You'll make it. Go it!” Followed a bursting bubble of laughter and the clapping of hands.
I hurried forth, arriving in time to see William outside the corral and streaking it for the Baldwin lot. He cleared the line-fence with a mere spurning touch of his hoofs, and then Miss Baldwin fled for the house with shrieks, as he incontinently charged her.
Pursuing, I caught him at the steps, and looked up at the girl, who had turned to view the capture. She was all a-ripple with suppressed laughter.
“I’m sorry this has happened,” I said. “I don’t see how he could have gotten out. I must have left the gate unlatched.”
“Oh, no, you didn’t,” she said. “He got out all by himself. It was as good as a circus.”
“I thought I heard some one encouraging him,” I ventured.
“He deserved it, too,” she answered, unabashed. “Put him in again, Mr. Stevens; do! I want to see if he can do it again.”
Obediently, I led the reluctant William to the pen, and thrust him in. Then I returned to her side of the line-fence, and together we stood and watched him. Here I felt a great contentment stealing over me. Far from being angry, she seemed in the best
of humor, and singularly enough my own resentment, though nourished hitherto with the utmost care, died now without a struggle.
William meanwhile sulked in a corner, eyeing us balefully. Apparently he was not minded to perform. But after a moment the girl beside me suddenly clapped her hands and cried to him: “Go on, William! Do it again !”
At the word, the animal kicked up his heels, made a dashing circuit of the pen, and proceeded to accomplish the impossible. Against the side of the shed I had stacked my lima-bean poles for the Winter. The upper ends rested on the eaves, and the poles stood at an angle just short of the perpendicular. That William could use them as a ladder to the roof was out of the question ; it was against nature ; it defied the law of gravitation. Yet that is what he did.
Backing off to the farthest limit of the corral, he went' at those poles as if to annihilate them. But instead of banging into them head down, as I thought he intended, he suddenly reared and started upward. He seemed to have a route picked out. First one foot, then another, touched like lightning some almost invisible step in the ascent ; a knot, a hole in the bark, anything, and sometimes nothing it seemed, but all aiding him in his upward progress, till presently he hooked his front feet over the eaves, and, with a heave and a scramble, landed fairly on the roof. I stood amazed, for the thing was incredible.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” cried the girl delightedly. “Watch him now. This is the best part.”
I still could not see how he was to escape from the open, for the fence was some three feet from the shed. But I did not know him. Without even stopping for breath, William passed over the peak of the roof and descended on the other side, at a point directly opposite one of the posts of the corral. Said post was six inches in diameter.
Gathering his feet beneath him, William lightly passed the intervening space, landed squarely on the top of the post, swayed precariously for an instant, and stood upright and defiant on that incredible pedestal. Thence it was an easy leap to the ground without.
We cheered him together.
“Well,” I said, “I’ll have to move those poles.”
“Oh, don’t,” she cried. “He surely deserves his freedom.”
I viewed her with some astonishment. “But your father?” I said.
“Dad says he hates to see him shut up,” she replied. “And he’s safe enough, if you don’t let him get behind you.”
“Very well, then,” said I. “Til let him run.”
“Fm afraid we’ve been very unneighborly, Mr. Stevens,” she said, after a slight pause. “But I’ve been so busy getting settled. Won’t you come in to tea this evening?” j
When I came home I went down” cellar, selected the finest apple I could find in my barrel, took it outdoors, and fed it to William. I thought he had it coming to him.
It was June before I got rid of him. I parted from him without regret. But when Nan asked for the feed-bill, I told here, no, there was none.
“You see,” I said, “I was at odds with my heroine, and William had a hand in smoothing things out. Now they’re going to get married and live happily ever after, and under those circumstances I really can’t charge anything for William’s board. But don’t ask me to take him again, Nan, because I think I’ll refuse.”