Feather Quills

JB & BJ Grim

Once upon a time there was a family — a father, a mother, an older sister, a middle brother, and a younger brother.  They lived a happy life in a pleasant house and got along together in a most agreeable way.  It was a fairy tale life.

The father was quite rich.  He had made his money in a diamond mine as a young man and had returned to live a life of ease in his home country.  The mother was beautiful and smart and enjoyed her life, keeping herself busy by painting with oils on canvas.  The daughter was also beautiful and could play the piano and sing.  The middle son was very intelligent and a private tutor was engaged to educate him.  The youngest son was gentle and playful.  He loved animals. 

Now the family had no problems that they knew of.  The father made a job out of managing his money.  The mother occupied herself in creating and selling her masterpieces.  The daughter found herself desired by many local young men.  She could have her pick of any as a husband.  The middle son devoted himself to his studies and was likely to become a great lawyer.  The youngest son was too young for schooling and he busied himself all day among his small farm of animals.

Among his menagerie was a lamb, a pony, a rabbit, and a goose. In all his waking hours he was employed in putting out their food, cleaning their stalls, combing their fur, and carrying on the most wonderful conversations.  It seems most unlikely, but it is true, that of all his animals, he loved the goose the most.  The goose was the only animal in his collection that needed neither a stall cleaned nor a coat brushed.  The boy couldn’t do anything for the goose except toss down his corn each morning.  Yet, he enjoyed the goose more than all the other pets. 

The boy went about all his chores with the goose ever at his heels.  While he brushed his pony, the goose was there waddling about between his legs.  When he cleaned out the hutch of his rabbit, the goose was there to keep him company.  The goose even helped the boy clean the burrs out of the lamb’s woolly coat. 

As well as things were between the goose and the boy, they were not so well between the goose and the other members of this happy and contented family.  The goose had only good manners around the boy.  Yet, whenever any other member of the family came too near, the goose flew at them with an outstretched neck, and if he got near enough to them before they ran away, he gave them a painful peck.  The family members kindly implored the younger brother to curb the behavior of the goose, but the young fellow was unable to understand how the goose was so tame around him and so ferocious around everyone else.  He only knew how to care for his animals and never had any cause to guide their behavior.  Besides, all of his animals got along well together.  There was never so much as a spat inside his animal pen.

The boy was sorry that his mother and father and sister and brother couldn’t appreciate the goose as much as he could, but he was just a small boy and he continued to love the goose anyway. 

One day the boy was obliged to visit his grandmother who lived a full day’s coach ride away.  He had been loathe to leave his animals, but his grandmother had been asking for a long time for him to come, and she could not understand that a boy so young would not be free to provide his grandmother with some company.  So the boy packed a small bag and reluctantly bid farewell to his coterie of furry and feathered friends.  While he was gone, the members of his family assured him that they would feed and look after his animals. 

The goose was really bad.  If the goose had not been so bad he might still be alive today, but he was so bad that all the members of the boy’s family got pecked and chased and honked at and in other ways humiliated.  Granted, the goose missed the boy and probably figured in his goose’s heart that the family members were keeping him away.  How was a goose supposed to understand about grandmothers who want young grandsons to keep them company? 

When the boy returned, he was met by all of his family with the bad news that the goose had wreaked havoc.  They had all tried to enter the animal pen to feed the other animals only to have the goose attack them here and there on their bodies.  The mother tried first, but she suffered a wounded hand.  The sister tried after that, and she had her best dress torn and her leg pecked.  The brother was sure he could do better, but he got nipped in the back of the pants, and as a result, couldn’t sit down properly.  The father finally came in to get the job done, but he got chased all around the pasture until he tripped over a stump.  His arm was in a sling.

The young son was very sad to hear about the bad behavior of his goose and he wished he hadn’t gone to visit his grandmother.  He was just about to promise that he would never go away again and leave his goose to wreak havoc when the whole family insisted that the goose be killed and eaten at the holiday which was coming up.  The boy was so stricken with the thought that he dashed out to his animal pen and threw his arms around his goose and cried into his feathers.  The boy couldn’t understand how such a tame goose could be so nasty.

 The boy was very obedient to his parents and he loved his sister and his brother as well.  Although he loved his goose, he knew that it was wrong for an animal to inflict wounds onto well-meaning caretakers.  So the next day, the goose was killed, plucked, dressed, and made ready for the pot.  The feathers of the goose were reserved by the boy so that he could remember his beloved, but naughty goose.  Everyone in the family admired the courage of their youngest member and vowed to replace the goose with a more amiable duck.

The goose, however, wasn’t completely finished with the family.  You might say he was a magic goose because, although he was dead and ready to be eaten along side potatoes and corn and other good food, part of him was going to go on living. 

No one could have known (since it is a rather complex phenomenon) that the family was not really living as happily and contentedly as outward appearances might suggest.  The father was rich and had a life of ease just managing his fortune.  The mother was free to paint and enjoy her children.  The sister’s hand was sought by numerous wealthy and eligible men.  The middle brother was a commendable scholar and had a promising future.  But the truth is, only the youngest brother was doing completely as he wished.  He was fortunate to be young and unencumbered by convention.  All the other members of his family were in various ways burdened by doing right things in the right way, all the while secretly wishing they could be doing something else, but they were afraid to try.

This is where the life of the goose comes in, as you will soon see.  By the end, I’m sure you will concede that he was, after all, a magic goose, and you will wonder if he didn’t misbehave so thoroughly the day his little master was away just so he could find himself in a cooking pot and his feathers made into quills.

The goose bequeathed some very fine quills from his tail feathers to the family.  They were ideal for making into pens because they could be sharpened into nice points.  No one took much notice that it was the goose’s feathers that were now being put into service as quill pens.  It was the young boy who had independently decided that he would prepare a selection of them in order to further the life of his pet goose.

Just as the goose did not behave toward the family members, so now his tail feathers were going to cause mischief.  Whenever any of the family members (except the youngest boy) picked up a quill to write a letter, something very unexpected came out onto the paper.  It wasn’t that they weren’t thinking of what they wrote, but they were making an effort to write the message that was expected instead of what they really wanted.  However, when they saw what the quill pen wrote, they recognized it as the thought they were thinking but didn’t dare to put down on paper.  Even if they tried again on a new piece of paper, it came out the same.  Their hidden thought came out onto the paper and their conventional thought was left inside their head.  They never suspected the quill pens.  They, of course, never thought of the goose, either. 

When they couldn’t get the more conventional thought to appear on the paper, they stopped to wonder, for the first time, if they should perhaps go ahead and take the risk that was before them.  Each of them, in turn, had their own experience with one of the goose’s quill pens.  And this is what happened.

The mother seemed content as an artist, sitting in the meadow, putting each new scene onto canvas.  But when she sat down to write a letter to ask for a new delivery of oils and canvas, she found herself writing instead for a delivery of cloth and thread.  It was not until she had written out the whole letter that she realized the cloth and thread could be used to make clothes for the growing number of displaced persons in their region.  She tried over and over again to write the letter that would sustain her leisurely hobby, but it kept coming out as asking for supplies that would turn her efforts into charity.  Finally, she sent the letter and didn’t tell anyone about her emerging conviction.

When the daughter picked up her quill pen, it was to write a secret letter to a man who was asking for her hand in marriage.  He wasn’t one of the “eligible” ones.  He was a poor musician and he was planning to make a trip to a far away country.  The daughter privately adored him more than any of the other suitors, but she hadn’t been able to accept his offer because as the daughter of a rich man she should naturally marry within her social status. 

When she picked up the quill, she meant to profess to care for him, yet refuse him for the third time.  Instead, she wrote a love letter of the most endearing sort and offered to elope with him that very night and travel all over the world with him as his wife.  Several times she took a new piece of paper and tried to write a refusal, but since only her true feelings came pouring forth from the quill, she decided it must be the right thing to do. 

Next, in a quiet moment, the studious son picked up his quill.  His aim had been to write to a prestigious law firm in the capital city, seeking a post as a legal assistant.  What came out from that clever quill was a letter to a medical school asking for admittance so he could train to be a doctor among the coal miners.  He found the pen writing all manner of diseases which were a bane to miners and their families, and he saw his own hand declare that he wanted to help cure the diseases and improve life for the miners.  He, of course, rewrote his letter again and again but to no avail.  At last, he sealed his letter and sent it off without a word to anyone, least of all his father who had expressed hope that his son would become his legal advisor in regard to the family wealth.

Next came the father’s turn.  He approached his quill much as he had approached the goose that day.  Bold and sure of himself, he sat at his desk to engineer a new plan to grow his money by leaps and bounds.  The letter he wrote was to his banker.  He had intended to give detailed instructions about the buying and selling of certain of his holdings.  To his surprise, he wrote, via the quill, that he wanted a large portion of his money to be used among the poor of the largest city.  He shook his head violently as he tried again to write a proper letter of financial instructions to his banker.  But, again and again, instructions for using his money to improve the lives of the poverty stricken kept coming out, and each time he wrote the letter, the figure got bigger and bigger and the program became more and more ambitious.  Eventually he sealed and sent his letter, too.

You can imagine how the goose was chuckling.  All on one day, the lives of the family changed drastically.  The daughter was found missing the next morning, and no one would have known where she was except for all the copies of the letters which were left lying about.  To the family’s utter amazement, when the mother received her shipment, it was bolts of cloth instead of painting supplies.  She at once began to sew.  The son packed away his law books and began reading in medicine.  The father began to take an interest in the city slums and made frequent trips there to see how conditions could be improved. 

Only the youngest son went on as he did before.  He cleaned the stalls of his animals and combed out their coats and took care that they had enough food.  One day the mother looked up from her sewing and remarked at how changed the family was.  She wondered out loud how all these changes had come about. 

The changes also caused the youngest son to wonder what he would do when he grew up.  He gave the matter serious thought, and then told his mother that he would have a goose farm and make feather quills.