Dan Hardy's Crippy by James Otis

Among the flock of geese that toddled in and out of Farmer Hardy's barnyard last winter, hissing in protest at the ice which covered the pond so that there was no chance of a swimming match, was one remarkable neither for its beauty, nor its grace. This particular goose was gray, and was looked upon with no especial favor by Mrs. Hardy, who had great pride in all the flock but the gray one.

When it was a little, fluffy, drab-colored gosling, one of the sheep had stepped on it, crushing out its life so nearly that Mrs. Hardy had no idea it would ever recover, but Dan begged for its life. He felt sure he could set the broken leg, and he pleaded so hard that his mother finally allowed him to make the attempt.

And he did succeed. The gosling was naturally a strong little thing, and, thanks to Dan's nursing, was soon able to limp around the shed that had been converted into an hospital. One of its legs was nearly a quarter of an inch shorter than the other; but the little fellow increased in strength as rapidly as he did in size, and seemed to consider Dan as his owner and especial protector.

Like Mary's lamb, it followed Dan about whenever the opportunity offered, until "Crippy"—which was the name Dan had given it—was known in the village quite as well as the boy was.

Many were the long walks, confidential chats, when the boy talked and the goose cackled, that Dan and Crippy had, and when the preparations for the Thanksgiving festival were begun, the gray goose was decidedly the fattest in the flock. Dan had always given Crippy a share of his luncheon, or had supplied for him a separate and private allowance of corn, and by this very care of his pet did he get into serious trouble.

"Dan's goose is the largest and the fattest, and I think we had better kill him for the Thanksgiving dinner," Dan heard his father say three days before Thanksgiving; and Mrs. Hardy replied:

"I had thought of that; gray feathers never bring as much money as white ones, and the goose is terribly in the way; he is always in the house, and always directly under foot."

Dan could hardly believe his own ears. The thought of killing and eating Crippy seemed wicked. Why, he would as soon have thought his parents would serve him up for dinner, as Crippy, and as for eating any of his pet, it would, to his mind, be little short of cannabalism.

"You wouldn't be so wicked as to kill Crippy, would you, mother?" he asked, while the big tears came into his eyes, almost spilling over the lashes.

"Why not?" Mrs. Hardy was so busily engaged in her work of making mince pies that she did not notice the sorrow on Dan's face. "Why not? He's only a goose, and gray. We've got to have one, and Crip is the fattest."

"But mother, I couldn't have poor Crippy killed. He an' I do love each other so much."

"Now don't be foolish about a goose, Danny. Come help me stem these raisins."

Dan said nothing more, for he knew by the way she had spoken that his mother had fully made up her mind and that it would be useless to try to induce her to change her cruel plans. He stemmed the raisins as she had requested; but he worked as quickly as possible, and when the task was done he ran out to the barn.

When the gray goose toddled toward him immediately he opened the barn-door, cackling and hissing with delight at seeing his young master, the tears which Dan had managed to keep back, came at last, and, with the goose in his arms, he seated himself on the barn floor with a feeling in his heart that he and Crippy were the two most unhappy and abused fellows in the world.

"O Crippy! they say they're goin' to kill you, an' I'd a heap sooner they'd kill me! What shall we do, Crippy?"

The goose made no reply; he was perfectly content to nestle down in Dan's arms, and, so far as he could see, he and his master were in remarkably comfortable quarters.

Much as the goose had been petted by Dan, the affection bestowed upon him just then seemed to surprise him, and while the boy was still crying over him, he struggled until he got away, when he limped over to the corn-bin as a gentle reminder that grain would please him far better than tears.

During that day and the next Dan spent his time alternately begging for Crippy's life and petting him; but all to no purpose, so far as inducing his mother to change her mind was concerned. On the following morning the gray goose was to be killed, and Dan could see no way to save him.

That afternoon he spent the greater portion of his time with the doomed Crippy, crying and talking until all the fowls must have wondered what the matter was, for, there being no almanac in the barn, of course they could have no idea Thanksgiving was so near. Suddenly Dan thought of a plan by which Crippy might be saved. It was a desperate one, and almost frightened him as he thought it over; but with his pet's life in the balance he could not hesitate at anything.

"I'll tell you what we'll do, Crippy," he said as he succeeded in making the goose remain quietly in his arms by feeding him with corn. "Uncle Robert lives in New York, an' he's awful good. I know if we could find him he could save you. Now I'll get up in the night, an' come out here for you. It's only seven miles, an' I'm most sure we could walk there in a day. Then if he won't come out here to see mother, Thanksgiving will be gone, an' they can't have you for dinner."

Crippy swallowed the corn greedily, and Dan looked upon this as a sign that he not only understood what had been said, but was eating an unusually hearty meal by way of preparation for the journey.

Under any less desperate circumstances Dan could not have been persuaded to go away from home for an hour without asking his mother's permission, and even as he was situated then, he felt that he was about to do something which was almost wicked. But since he could save Crippy's life in no other way, what could he do? He almost felt as if by taking the goose away he was preventing his parents from committing a crime, for it could hardly be less than one to kill so intelligent and loving a creature.

But though he tried to persuade himself that what he was doing was, under the circumstances, a favor to his parents, there was a big lump in his throat as he did his work that night, and realized that in a few hours neither his father nor his mother would know where he was. He was more than usually careful about the kindling-wood and the water, and when his mother spoke to him so kindly, he had the greatest difficulty in keeping his secret.

It was only the thought that he was by no means "running away," that prevented him from telling his mother what he intended to do. He argued with himself that he was only going to uncle Robert's on business, and that he should return the day after he arrived there; that would be entirely different from running away.

During the evening Dan worked hard at a message which he was to leave for his parents, feeling obliged to take every precaution lest they should see what he was about, and, after the most painful efforts he succeeded in printing this note:

CRIP & ME HAVE GORNE TO UNKLE ROBERTS
TO GET HIM TO COME UP HERE TO KOAX
YOU NOT TO KILL CRIP. WE WILL COME
RIGHT BACK.

DANIEL K. HARDY.

Dan had six cents which he had earned carrying milk, and his preparations for the journey consisted simply in putting these in his pocket, together with some corn for Crippy, and in placing the little clock and some matches by the side of his bed, so that he might be able to tell when the proper time had come for him to start.

Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were surprised by Dan's unusually affectionate manner when he bade them good-night; but if they were, nothing was said about it, and the inmates of the Hardy farmhouse retired on the night before the proposed execution of poor Crippy at the usual early hour of nine o'clock.

Dan's idea was to lie awake until three in the morning, then steal cautiously out of the house, get Crippy, and start. But it was much harder work to remain awake than he had fancied, and before he had been in bed an hour he was sleeping soundly.

But even though his eyes persisted in closing despite his will, Dan did not sleep very long at a time. He was awake at least every half-hour, and his small stock of matches was exhausted as early as two o'clock. With no means of procuring a light, it would be impossible for him to know when the time had come, and, since he did not dare to go to sleep again, he concluded it would be better to set out at once than run the risk of delaying until his father should awaken.

During the time he was making very awkward attempts to dress himself in the darkness, his fingers trembling violently both from fear and the cold, he fancied each moment that he could hear his parents moving around, as if they had suspected his purpose, and were on the alert to prevent him from carrying it into execution. It seemed too, as if each particular board in the floor creaked in protest at what he was doing, and to give the alarm.

The note which was to inform his parents of where he had gone, was placed conspicuously on the chair by the bed, where his mother could not fail to see it when she came to awaken him, and when that was done his journey seemed more like some demand of business, and less like disobedience to what he knew his parents' commands would be.

He did finally succeed in dressing himself, although his jacket was buttoned in a very curious fashion; and then, with his shoes and mittens in his hands, he started down stairs. If the boards of the floor had tried to arouse his parents, the stairs appeared bent on awakening the entire household—although he did his best to put as little weight as possible upon them, they creaked and screamed in a most alarming fashion.

It seemed strange to him that his parents could sleep while so much noise was being made; but when he finally succeeded in closing the outside door behind him, there had been no sign made to show that his departure was known.

Dan was so nervous and excited that he hardly felt the frost when he stepped with stockinged feet upon the snow; but instinct prompted him to put on his boots and mittens, and it only remained to get Crippy and start.

He almost expected that the goose would be waiting for him at the stable door when he opened it; but, since he knew he should find his pet in the warm box he had made for him, he was not greatly disappointed at not seeing him ready for the journey. Besides, he had come an hour before he told Crippy he would be there, which was sufficient reason why the goose was not ready and anxious to start.

After groping his way around the barn to the corner in which was Crippy's sleeping apartment, Dan was considerably surprised because the goose was so very careless, both in regard to his safety, and the possibility of arousing the household. He cackled and hissed when Dan took him from the box, as if he preferred to be killed and served up for the Thanksgiving dinner rather than go out of doors so early on a cold morning.

Dan whispered that he knew it was hard to be obliged to start so early, but that they must do so, and the more he explained matters the harder the goose struggled, until it seemed much as if the attempt to save Crippy's life would be a dismal failure.

"I'm doin' this so's you won't have to be killed, Crippy," whispered Dan as he held the goose tightly clasped in his arms, "an' it does seem's if you might help a feller instead of tryin' to wake up father an' mother."

Perhaps Crippy was weary with struggling—Dan thought he began to realize his position—for he ceased all protests after his master's last appeal, and, with his head tucked under Dan's coat, submitted quietly to the rescue.

If he had not repeated to himself so many times that he was not running away from home, but simply going to uncle Robert's to save poor Crippy's life, Dan would have felt that he was doing something wrong because of the warning cries uttered by everything around. The stable door, when he tried to close it softly, shut with a spiteful clatter, and even the snow gave forth a sharp, crunching sound such as he had never heard before. But he must keep on, for to remain would be to see the plump, brown body of poor Crippy on the Thanksgiving dinner table, while to go on would be, at the worst, but a few hours' discomfort, with Crip's life as the reward.

Once they were out of doors Crippy behaved much as if he had suddenly realized how important it was for him to get away from the Hardy farm, and Dan had no trouble with him while he was passing the house.

There seemed to be an unnatural stillness everywhere, amid which the crunching of the dry snow sounded with a distinctness that almost frightened the boy who was simply going to his uncle Robert's to spend a day or two. But finally Dan was on the main road, where the snow was frozen so hard that his footsteps could not be heard as distinctly, and where the two tracks worn smooth by the runners of the sleighs, lay spread out before him, looking like two satin ribbons on white broadcloth.

ON THE WAY.

ON THE WAY.

Dan trudged slowly on, his heart growing lighter as the moments went by and he knew he had actually gotten away without arousing any one; but after he had walked some distance he began to realize how heavy Crippy was. He had thought he could carry his pet almost any length of time; but at the very commencement of his journey his arms began to ache.

"It's no use, Crippy, you'll have to walk some of the way," he said as he put the goose on the snow, and then started off to show him he must follow. Now a moonlight promenade on the snow, in the morning, with the thermometer several degrees below zero, was not at all to Crip's liking, and he scolded most furiously in his goose dialect, but he took good care to run after his master at the same time.

As Mrs. Hardy had said, Crippy was very fat, and when he toddled on at full speed he could only get along about half as fast as his master, so that Dan's journey was made up with alternately trudging over the frozen road, and waiting for his pet to overtake him.

And soon it was necessary to make a change even in this slow way of travelling, for before Crippy had been half an hour on the road he began to evince the most decided aversion to walking, and it became necessary for Dan to take him in his arms again. On he walked, carrying Crippy the greater portion of the time, and coaxing him along when it became absolutely necessary for him to give his aching arms a little relief, until the sun came up over the hills, and he could see the great city but a short distance ahead of him.

During all this time he had not stopped once to rest; but now, since he was so near his destination, at such an early hour in the morning, he sat down in the snow and began to arrange with the discontented Crippy as to how they might best find uncle Robert, for Dan had not the slightest idea of where his relative lived.

"I'll tell you what we'll do, Crip," he said as he gave the goose a handful of corn, contenting himself with half a biscuit he had taken from the supper-table the night previous. "We'll walk right along till we see uncle Robert, or some of the folks. It's the day before Thanksgiving, you know, an' some of 'em will be sure to be out buyin' things."

Crippy had finished eating the corn as his master ceased speaking, and he looked up sideways into Dan's face much as if he doubted the success of their plan if carried out in that manner.

"Well, if we don't find him that way, we'll ask some of the boys, an' they'll be sure to know," said Dan, replying as earnestly to Crippy's look as if his pet had spoken.

Then the weary journey was resumed, much to Crippy's displeasure, even though he was carried comfortably in Dan's arms, and it was not until the outskirts of the city were reached that the goose was requested to walk. There the pavements were free from snow, and Crippy could move along much faster than on the icy road; but yet his progress was far from satisfactory.

The great number of people, all of whom regarded the boy and the goose curiously, bewildered both the travellers. More than once, when Dan was sure Crippy was close at his heels, on looking around he would see the goose standing on one foot near the curbstone, looking sideways at the street much as if trying to decide whether he would continue to follow his master, or toddle back home as fast as his legs of unequal length would carry him.

"O come on, Crippy," Dan said in a tone that showed plainly how tired and discouraged he was. "We sha'n't ever find uncle Robert this way, an' if a strange dog comes along where will you be?"

It seemed very much as if Crippy had not realized that he might chance to meet a dog, until Dan spoke of it, for then he ran hurriedly on as if he fully understood the danger that might come to him by loitering on the way.

But there were other enemies besides dogs, which Crippy was to meet with, as he and Dan learned when they reached the more densely populated portions of the city, and those enemies were boys.

Dan was walking slowly on, looking first at the houses in the hope of seeing some of his uncle's family, and then at Crippy, to make sure he was following, when half a dozen boys, who had been watching the singular pair from the opposite side of the street, made a sudden dash at the goose.

The first intimation Dan had that his pet was in danger, was when he heard the shouts of the boys, followed by Crippy's angry hiss, and the flapping of his wings. Quickly turning, Dan saw the goose closely pressed by the boys, all of whom were trying to catch him, and some of whom already had one or more feathers as trophies.

It did not take Dan many moments to catch his pet up in his arms, and then he stood ready to do battle for the goose, while the city boys advanced towards him threateningly.

There could have been but one result to such a battle, where six boys attacked one who was hampered in his movements by the goose, and some serious injury might have been done to both Dan and Crippy, had not a policeman come from around the corner just at that instant. Dan's assailants fled at the sight of the officer, and the country boy with his heavy, noisy burden continued on his journey.

There was no further interruption for nearly an hour; for when Dan carried the goose in his arms he was by no means the object of curiosity he was with Crippy following him. At the expiration of that time it dawned upon him that in a place as large as New York it was useless for him to walk around in the hope of meeting his uncle, or any of his family.

"I declare, I don't know what to do, Crippy," he said as he seated himself on a doorstep with the goose by his side, and looked mournfully up and down the street. "I shouldn't wonder if we hadn't been more'n half-way round the city in all this time, an' yet we hain't seen any of uncle Robert's folks. What shall we do?"

Crippy made no reply to the question; but a boy about Dan's size, who was looking wonderingly at the goose as he stood on his shortest leg in a mournful way spoke:

"Wot is it yer don't know wot ter do?"

"I don't know how to find my uncle Robert. Crippy an' me come down to see him, an' now we can't find his house."

"Do you call him Crippy?" asked the boy as he nodded toward the goose.

"Yas, he's Crippy Hardy. Mother was goin' to kill him for dinner to-morrer, so we come down here to get uncle Robert to go up an' see about it."

"How far have you come?"

"Seven miles."

"Did you walk?"

"Every step."

"Well," said the boy as he looked at Crippy in a critical way, "it seems to me that's a mighty mean kind of a goose ter walk so far fur. He hain't handsome no ways, an' I think he'd look a good deal better on ther table roasted, than he does out here on ther street."

Up to that moment Dan had been disposed to trust this boy who was so friendly; but when he spoke so slightingly of Crippy, he was disappointed in him.

"You don't know Crippy, or you wouldn't say that," replied Dan gravely. "I would walk seventeen times as far if it would keep him from gettin' killed."

"Well, I tell yer wot it is," and the boy spoke like one thoroughly conversant with geese and their ways, "he's got ter be a good deal better'n he looks ter 'mount to anything."

"An' he is," replied Dan; and then he gave the stranger a full account of Crippy's sagacity and wisdom, with such success that when he had finished the goose evidently stood high in the city boy's estimation.

"He's prob'ly a mighty nice kind of a goose," said the boy; "but it seems to me if I had a pet I'd want one that could sleep with me, an' you know you couldn't take this goose to bed."

"I could if mother would let me, an' I don't see why she won't, for I know Crippy would just snuggle right down as good as anybody could."

For some time the two discussed the question of pets in general, and Crippy in particular, then the city boy remembered his mother sent him on an errand which should have been done an hour before.

Dan felt more lonely than ever after this new-made friend had gone, and, with Crippy in his arms, he started wearily out in search of uncle Robert, hardly knowing where he was going. In his bewilderment he had walked entirely around the same block four times, and an observant policeman asked him where he was going.

Under the circumstances Dan did not require much urging to induce him to tell the man his story.

"Do you know your uncle's name?" asked the officer.

"Uncle Robert Hardy."

"What is his business—I mean, what kind of work does he do?"

"He keeps store."

The officer led Dan to the nearest drug store, and there, after consulting the directory, told him there were several Robert Hardys mentioned, at the same time giving him a list of the names.

Dan took the paper with the written directions upon it, feeling more completely at a loss to know how to proceed than he had before, and it was in a dazed way that he listened to the instructions as to how he should find the nearest Hardy.

But he started bravely off, still carrying Crippy, who seemed to have doubled in weight, and when he had walked half an hour in the direction pointed out by the policeman, he appeared to be no nearer his destination than when he started.

"What can we do, Crippy?" he cried, as again he took refuge on a doorstep, weary, hungry and foot-sore. He had seen no opportunity to buy a breakfast with his six cents; it was then long past his usual time for dinner, and his hunger did not tend to make him more cheerful.

The goose was as unable to answer this question as he had been the ones Dan had previously asked, and the only reply he made was a loud cackling, which, in his language, signified that he thought it quite time that he had some dinner.

By this time, and Dan had not been on the doorstep more than five minutes, a crowd of boys gathered around, all disposed to make sport of the goose, and to annoy the boy.

"Say, country, why don't you sell your goose?"

"Where did the bird find you?"

"Does yer mother know you're so far away from home?"

These and other equally annoying questions Dan listened to until he could no longer control himself, and he cried to his tormentors:

"See here, boys, if you had somethin' you thought a good deal of, an' it was goin' to be killed an' roasted for dinner, what would you do?"

The boys were too much surprised by the question to reply, and Dan continued earnestly:

"This goose is Crippy, an' I've had him ever since he was a baby, an' got his leg broke. We come in here to find uncle Robert so's he could tell mother not to kill poor Crip, an' now we can't find him, an'—an'—well, we're jest two as lonesome fellers as you ever saw, an' if you knew jest how we did feel you wouldn't stand there pokin' fun at us."

For a moment none of Dan's tormentors spoke, and then the tallest one said sympathetically, as he seated himself by the country boy's side to show that he took both the boy and the goose under his protecting arm:

"They sha'n't plague you any more, an' ef I'd 'a' known how you was feelin' I wouldn't 'a' said a word. Now tell us all about it."

Dan was in that frame of mind where he needed sympathy, and he told the whole story, while the entire party stood around, interrupting him now and then by exclamations of surprise that his parents should have been so cruel as to even think of killing that faithful Crippy.

This consolation, even though it did Dan no material good, was very sweet to him, and he would have continued to sing the praise of his pet, had not one of the boys proposed that an effort be made to find uncle Robert's house. Then each one had a different plan to propose, none of them thinking that at that hour—four o'clock in the afternoon—it might be an act of charity first to give Dan and Crippy something to eat.

It surely seemed as if this discussion as to how the search should be begun would continue until it would be too late to do anything, and while each one was stoutly maintaining that his plan was the best, an old-fashioned sleigh drawn by a clumsy-looking horse, stopped directly opposite where the boys were holding their conference.

"Why, father!" cried Dan as he saw the occupant of the sleigh, and at the same time he hugged Crippy close to him as if he believed his father had come for the goose.

"Well, Dan, you did find your uncle Robert after all, didn't you?" asked Mr. Hardy as he alighted, covered old Dobbin carefully with the robe, and then went to where Dan was sitting, already deserted by his new-made friends, who feared Mr. Hardy was about to inflict some signal punishment.

"No sir, I didn't find him," faltered Dan, wondering what his father would do to him and Crippy.

"Why, haven't you been in yet?"

"In where?" asked Dan in surprise.

"In here, of course; this is where your uncle Robert lives," and Mr. Hardy pointed to the house on the steps of which Dan had been sitting.

To his great surprise Dan learned that he had followed the policeman's directions exactly; but, not knowing it, had neglected to look on the house-doors for his uncle's name.

In a few moments more he and his father were in the house, while Crippy was in the kitchen actually gorging himself with food.

When Mr. Hardy found the note Dan had left, he was not at all worried about his son's safety; but when, later in the day, he had leisure, he started to the city for the travellers, and, driving directly to his brother's house, found them as has been seen.

It is easy to understand that after all this labor on Dan's part to save his pet, Mr. Hardy readily promised that Crippy should be allowed to die of old age, instead of being killed and roasted, and Dan, with Crippy hugged very close to him, started for home with his father, sure that no boy in all the wide world would spend a merrier Thanksgiving than he.

Crippy was also happy on that day, if food could make him so, and it is safe to say that, if he survives the wonderfully big dinner Dan proposes to give him this year, he will live to a green old age.