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The land beyond.

SYNOPSIS: The old gander spend the diminshing days of autumn with his flock and with his mate, with whom he had shared an since mating for life in their third year. At last he took to the air to lead his companions southward. Young Dan Tolliver's imagination had always caught at the birds that beat their way above his father's farmland every season. When geese began to rest on the nearby pond Dan asked his father for the chance to see them up close. To Dan's horror as he watched a thunder of hunters 'guns greeted the old gander's flock as they settled onto the pond. The injured gander crashed nearby, and Dan begged his father to spare the animal and let him take it home to care for. The gander slowly healed and gradually grew closer to the boy, and Dan came to treasure the great bird.

CONCLUSION: As the gander grew stronger, his brain-one of the shrewdest and most adaptable brains of the wild-accepted the boy. He came to welcome him with low gabblings, his beady black eyes full of a watchful and strangely ironic humor. Friendship developed between them, and when Dan refused to have the gander's wings clipped, the bird allowed him to put on it a belted harness made of old flour sacks. Tolliver insisted that the harness be made so that one wing was always free. "They'll mortify if you fasten 'em down all the time," he said, "and likely kill him. You mind out that you change that strap every week, so's to let one wing out, then another. That way he can waggle both of 'em and keep strong."

It was well for Dan that the harness was on the gander, for, on the day he was first taken into the sunlight, all his affection for the boy was swept away by the sudden overwhelming urge for freedom. The great hunger for his mate and his kind that had lain dormant in the dark arose terribly in him. He ran up and down the pen, flailing his free wing, his head held high, calling and struggling to break the bonds that imprisoned his other wing. Dan ran after him, pleading and unnoticed. He had forgotten the boy; he threw himself about and fought the wire until he was exhausted and the bitter realization of his captivity came upon him, and when he fell, his head was pointing to the south.

Dan's anxiety gave way slowly to an obscure sort of shame as he watched the gander. An intimation of how much freedom meant to the gander troubled him. Deep within him he knew he should let him go. There was a moment when he almost did this, but the moment quickly passed, hurried on by the need he had come to have of him and the blind, cruel egotism of youth.

Having realized his predicament, the gander was too intelligent to mope despairingly over it.

The chicken yard was too dull for him, so he watched Dan unhook the gate and learned to unhook it himself. Thereafter his snakelike dark head, with its beady, observant, and mocking eyes, was likely to appear around any corner that concealed human activity from him. He followed Dan and Tolliver into the fields and frequently retreated-in exasperatingly good order-from the house before Mrs. Tolliver's broom. He explored the neighborhood thoroughly and found the stream and the old millpond at the edge of the pasture, where he spent much time and found so much to eat that it wasn't necessary to feed him grain.

As for Dan, for the first time in his life the incoherent loneliness within him was filled. Familiarity with the gander only increased Dan's need of him. The gander became his confidant; he poured out to him all the secret, half-formed longings and thoughts that arose within him-things that grown-ups never seemed to understand.

As the winter dropped down in bleakness, the 'Only available school failed to open because the district was too poor to engage a teacher. Dan had his books, but without the gander he wouldn't have opened them. His presence, by keeping in his mind the wonder about the places he had been, warmed Dan's curiosity and his imagination. He studied without knowing it, curled up near the stove, many times with the gander beside him.

For the gander gave over much of his wandering during the short, bitter, gloomy days. Memories of the freedom and warmth and light of the south closed in on him as the leaden clouds overhead closed in on the thin northern sun, and hunger for his mate gnawed at him.

It was Dan's mother to whom his unhappiness slowly became apparent. Realizing his effect on the boy, she had gradually lost her hostility toward him, even though he required grain after the millpond froze over. The harvest had turned out surprisingly well, and as the winter drew out, Dan began to develop rapidly out of an aimless boyhood. In the hope and happiness this gave her, she remembered her own past frustrations and thought a great deal about the gander. One dreary afternoon in early February she looked out the kitchen window and saw the gander standing by the edge of the desolate cornfield, looking toward the south, and the sight was too much for her. She went into the living room and found Dan reading by the glowing stove. "Dan," she said. He looked up, smiling a little, and as she groped for words her eyes dwelt on the changing lines of his face, the intimation of purpose coming into it. "I been thinkin' about the gander. He-he misses his folks, Dan. Maybe we should ought to let him go."

Consternation came into his eyes. "Mom! Oh, mom, I can't!"

"He looks so sad, Dan. It ain't right, keepin' him here." Failing to command the words she wanted, she tried to put into her voice the things she was thinking"It would make me so glad if you would, Dan."

Suddenly his face looked like a little boy's again; his heart filled with terror at the thought of the emptiness that would come if the gander went away. "He ain't lonesome, mom!" he said, with desperate urgency"He don't need nobody but me! He comes and reads with me, mom," he went on in a rush, and the tears came into his eyes, "and I think of him comin' down out of the sky, the chief one. Oh, mom, please! Please don't say it!"

She saw that it was too much for him, that he wasn't ready for it yet, and his unconscious cruelty to the gander brought the tears to her own eyes. She sighed. "All right," she said. "All right, Dan. I won't say it no more."

And then, almost at the beginning of spring, Tolliver's father died in the next state, and arrangements were made to leave Dan with the nearest neighbors while Mr. and Mrs. Tolliver went away. Dan wanted to take the gander with him, but Tolliver, not wishing to overburden the neighbors' kindness, ruled against it.

"No," he said, with finality. "It ain't fair. Likely Jensen'll be ridin' over here every day or so to feed the brutes, and you can come with him. Get in the car now."

Dan had to submit; he climbed into the battered car and was left with big, kindly Jensen and Jensen's big, rosy wife. At first the novelty of his surroundings kept him from feeling strange, but by the end of the day the novelty had worn off, and a feeling of being lost, cut off from things he knew, began to steal over him.

The next day Jensen didn't drive over to feed the stock, and it got a little worse. He fought manfully against it. He found that when he was active he forgot the strangeness, so he plunged into activity. He explored the land and the shadowy mysteries of the barn and helped Jensen with the chores. He tired himself out, but when the work came to an end and dusk fell, the strangeness crept back again, a sort of desolation that closed in from the surrounding winter-bound land. The Jensens, big and clean and kindly in the lamplight, couldn't dispel it.

Their kindness only revealed what he had taken for granted all his life-how much his parents, his own people, meant to him. He realized, with the poignancy of youth, what it was to be an alien, and he clung to his visits home, to the dispirited gander that welcomed him with low gabblings, as a man overboard clings to a spar.

The world, which should have been exciting and new, was colored by the waiting, expectant strangeness. The gander was his only link with the family and he longed for him constantly, but it never occurred to him to compare the gander's case with his own.

When he heard Jensen's voice in the yard saying, "Ja is fine. A liddle homesig, mebbe, bud fine," he felt his heart bound at his father's answering voice.

After he had been home for a time, after the first joy merged into everyday living, a sort of restlessness began to come to him. His thoughts were the long, groping thoughts of youth, but they brought to him a premonition of the changes that were in store for him and the adjustments he would have to make, the ambitions that were awakening and the realization that his parents were growing older and would finally die.

He tried to talk to the gander about these things, but somehow the old satisfaction wasn't in it. Besides, it was difficult to keep the gander still for very long. The first tentative warmth of spring and the smell of thawing, damp earth increased intolerably in the stout old heart the hunger for the goose, the spruce-fringed loneliness of northern lakes, and the boundless freedom of the sky.

Deep within him Dan knew he had come to something he would have to settle for himself, and that his real need for the gander was over, but he wouldn't admit it.

One afternoon, catching his mother's wistful glance as he started after the gander toward the millpond, he knew instantly what she was going to say. A terrible revolt arose in him. After so many months it was difficult for him to suppress the premonition of what was to come. After a moment of indecision, he glanced quickly away and began to run. He pounded wildly down the path, leaping the rocks in his way, and, passing the gander, came to the broken wall of the old mill and threw himself down upon it.

Dry-eyed and shivering, he watched the gander come down the path and take to the water. He remembered vividly the taking and taming of it, the long companionship between them, and the careless, happy days, and he knew he could never give any of it up. And then, suddenly, he heard the distance-mellowed honking coming out of the sky. He looked up and saw the sun and the clouds again, and smiled unconsciously. He saw the gander in the pond below him, his dark head held high and his free wing beating the water, calling as he had never heard him call before. All the pain of his long waiting was in his voice, and all the winter's loneliness; and the boy, moved so powerfully a moment past by his own despair, understood it.

He saw the set wings of the long wedge dropping down, and leaped to his feet. The leaders began to beat upward again; the old gander, prisoned in the pond, cried to them; and then, calling and careless of death, the goose dropped out of her place and came down, passed him close, and settled not far off in the swamp, where he couldn't see her.

The wedge went on, but the gander had forgotten it. Rearing in the water, he was answering the goose; and when she settled, he dashed to the bank and began to struggle through the brush toward her hiding place, fighting desperately with the sticks that caught in the ragged flour sacking and held him back. Their ceaseless calling echoed among the trees, and Dan, catching the note of gladness in it, realized at last that the gander's exile had been infinitely more bitter than his own.

He jumped from the wall, and, running to the gander, began to tear at the flour sacking. They struggled until the gander's free wing knocked Dan down. A moment's lucidity came to him; he got his knife out, and, falling on the bird once more, slit the sacking. The swift surge of power in the gander knocked him back; he saw him running up a fallen tree and the great wings beating, then he was free.

He saw the goose rise to meet the gander. They seemed to touch for an instant in the air. Their clear gabbling came back to him as he watched them rise above the trees, their clean and dusky shapes sharp cut against the sky, close together and diminishing in the direction the wedge had gone.

He stood looking after them, confused and panting, his head still ringing from the wing's blow, and then he saw that his mother had come and was standing not far off.

She held her arms out to him and he went into them. For a few minutes he cried bitterly, for more than the gander had gone from him. "I wanted it to stay, mom," he said, raising his flushed and tearful face. "It seemed like the gander could make it stay. But it can't stay, can it, mom? It can't ever stay."

She stroked his forehead. "No," she said. "Everybody has to find that out. I reckon it was harder for you, Danny, because you were so lonesome." She smiled. "You won't always be so lonesome," she said. "They's a lot of people will be glad to have you in the world."
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Murphy, Robert; Hoffman, Frank B.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1988
Words:2348
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