It was time to take the cows and goats to the high Alpine pastures for summer grazing. And Hansi had gotten up early to attend to his pet goat, Groffi. He remembered the summer before when the little goat was born with one leg shorter than the other. It had had a hard time even learning to hobble, and Hansi had taken care of her. Now the boy was shaking with excitement as he huddled in the dark stable with his little pet. Hansi was planning to do something that might be dangerous for both of them. But he felt it was the only way to show his father how much the little crippled animal meant to him and the only way to keep her for himself.
The goat had been no trouble during the winter when the animals were in the stable and out of the cold and snow. But his father had said, “You may keep the goat until spring. Then we must give her to old Simon up on the mountainside. He will take good care of Groffi. This little one would only be in the way during the steep climb to the meadows. I’m afraid she would never make it.”
Hansi was troubled and tried to convince his father that Groffi would be no trouble, but his father was firm about it. “Every animal must be worth its keep,” his father explained. “When you are a herdsman, you will understand.”
Hansi wanted very much to be a herdsman someday, to wear the velvet jacket with red designs on it, and to blow the long alpenhorn. But just now, what he wanted most was to keep Groffi with the other animals and not give her away. Old Simon must be a strange, gruff man, to live alone so far away from the people in the Village. How would such a man treat a goat that limps? Hansi wondered.
So on this festival day when all the villagers would travel in a procession partway up the mountain with the herdsmen and the animals, Hansi was going ahead of them alone with Groffi to the high pasture. If I do this, he thought, Father will see that Groffi can make the climb and will let me keep her.
He peeked out the stable door. His family and all the others in the village were dressing in their gay costumes, preparing to start. Dogs were barking and cowbells jangled. People would soon be busy putting garlands of flowers around the cows’ necks and loading milk pails in the cheese carts the little donkeys would pull. Maybe they’ll be too busy to notice I’m missing, he hoped.
With Groffi in his arms, Hansi stepped out of the stable and hurried behind it then over to the trail that led up the mountain. He started up the path carrying Groffi, but she soon became heavy.
Hansi put her down and she was able to climb along, but she was in no hurry. She stopped often to nibble daisies and forget-me-nots along with the grass. “Hurry, Groffi,” Hansi urged. “Wait until we get to the meadows, then you can eat. Oh, I wish you had some climbing shoes like mine!”
Hansi looked up the mountain and knew that he was doing a risky thing. Even the herdsmen who had been climbing for years were careful of every step and kept close watch on the animals. Goats have sure feet, but Groffi was not like other goats. And Hansi knew he should not be going alone with her. But he kept on, half pushing, half carrying his pet. After a while Hansi guessed they were about a mile from the village. It was a good head start from the others, who probably hadn’t left home yet.
Soon Hansi came to the place where he knew he must leave the path to circle around Simon’s hut. If the old man saw him, he would ask questions, and Hansi didn’t want to have to answer them. Off to the side it was rocky, and Hansi knew he must test every step. He put one foot on a smooth shale rock almost as big as a table. It ought to be solid, he reasoned. Then he picked up Groffi and tried his weight on the rock. But he had barely stood up on it when the rock slipped and started sliding rapidly down the mountain with Hansi and Groffi on top of it. They were thrown off when the rock hit a tree. Hansi grabbed his scraped leg and looked for Groffi. But his pet was nowhere to be seen.
Hansi knew he was in trouble and that he had acted foolishly. But for the moment he could only sit still and try to keep back the tears. After a while Hansi heard footsteps. He looked up and saw Simon coming toward him. At first Hansi was frightened, but then he saw Groffi hobbling along close to the old man. Simon’s hand was warm and his voice was soft as he helped Hansi to his feet and asked, “Are you hurt, my boy?”
“Only bruised,” Hansi replied, brushing himself off and wiping his tears with the soft handkerchief Simon handed him. And to his surprise he was soon telling Simon the whole story. At the end he admitted, “I was afraid you wouldn’t love Groffi as I do.”
The old man’s eyes twinkled. “Who should love a goat anyway? Only a little boy? I have lots of love, enough for goats as well as boys.” Groffi nuzzled Simon as he rubbed her head behind her ears.
Hansi smiled. He knew that Groffi would have a good home and that made it easier to give her up. “Can I come often to visit her?” he asked.
“Of course, come anytime. An old man needs more than animals to love.”
Hansi’s face clouded again as he remembered that he still had to go back down and face his father. “Father will be angry with me,” the boy explained.
“Yes, that’s true,” Simon agreed. “But he’ll forgive you, I’m sure. If a boy and an old man can love a goat so much, don’t you think a father can love a son even more?”