Lightfoot, the Leaping Goat 🐐

Written by Richard Barnum

Lightfoot stamped his hoofs on the hard rocks, shook his horns, wiggled the little bunch of whiskers that hung beneath his chin, and called to another goat who was not far away:
“I’m going up on the high rocks!”
“Oh, you’d better not,” said Blackie. “If you go up there you may slip and fall down here and hurt yourself, or some of the big goats may chase you back.”
“Well, if they do I’ll just jump down again,” went on Lightfoot, as he stood on his hind legs.
“You can’t jump that far,” said Blackie, looking up toward the high rocks which were far above the heads of herself and Lightfoot.

Lightfoot and Blackie were two goats, and they lived with several others on the rocky hillside at the edge of a big city. Lightfoot and Blackie, with four other goats, were owned by the widow, Mrs. Malony. She and her son Mike had a small shanty on the ground in the shadow of the big rocks. The reason they kept most of the goats was for the milk they gave. For some goats, like cows, can be milked, and many people like goats’ milk better than the cows’ kind, which your milkman might bring to your door every morning, or which is brought to the house from the stable or the lot where the cows are milked if you live in the country.
“You can never jump down that far if the big goats chase you away when you get on top of the high rocks,” went on Blackie as she looked up.
“Well, maybe I can’t do it all in one jump,” Lightfoot said slowly, “but I can come down in two or three jumps if the big goats chase me away. Anyhow, maybe they won’t chase me.”
“Oh, yes, they will!” bleated Blackie in the animal talk which the goats used among themselves.
They could understand a little man talk, but not much. But they could talk and think among themselves.

“The big goats will never let you come up where they are,” went on Blackie, who was called that because she was nearly all black.
“Why won’t the big goats let me go up there?” asked Lightfoot. “I know it is nicer up there than down here, for I have heard Grandfather Bumper, the oldest of all us goats, tell how far he can see from the top of the rocks. And nice sweet grass grows up there. I’d like some of that. The grass here is nearly all dried up and gone.”

Lightfoot saw, off to one side, a tomato can, and he hurried toward it. Sometimes these cans had paper pasted on them, and the goats liked to eat the paper. For it had a sweet taste, and the paste with which it was fastened to the can was even sweeter.
“That’s just the reason the big goats don’t want you to go up where they are,” said Blackie, as Lightfoot came back, looking as disappointed as a goat can look, for there was no paper on the can. Someone had eaten it off. “The big goats want to save the sweet grass on the high rocks for themselves. Some of the best milk-goats are there, and they have to eat lots of grass to make milk.”

“Well, I’m going up, anyhow,” said Lightfoot. “At least I’m going to try. If they drive me back down I’ll get down all right. I’m getting to be a pretty good jumper. See!”
He gave a little run, and leaped lightly over a big rock not far from the shanty of the Widow Malony.
“Oh, that was a fine jump!” exclaimed Blackie. “I’ll never be able to jump as far as you. But I wouldn’t go up if I were you.”
“Yes, I shall,” declared Lightfoot, as he shook his horns again and started to climb the rocks. He was very fond of having his own way.

Lightfoot did not remember much about the time when he was a very very small goat. He could dimly recall that he had once lived in a green, grassy field with other goats, and then, one day, that he had been taken for a long ride in a wagon. He went to a number of places, finally reaching the home of the Widow Malony and her son Mike, who was a tall, strong lad with a happy, laughing face, covered with freckles and on his head was the reddest hair you ever saw.
Lightfoot soon made himself at home among the other goats Mrs. Malony kept. At first these goats said very little to him, but one day, when he was but a small kid (as little goats are called) he surprised the other animals among the rocks by giving a big jump to get away from a dog that ran after him.
“That goat will be a fine jumper,” said Grandpa Bumper, who was called that because he could bump so hard with his horns and head that all the other goats were afraid of him. “Yes, he’ll be a great jumper,” went on the oldest goat of them all. “I think I shall name him Lightfoot, for he comes down so lightly and so easily after he makes his leap.”
And so Lightfoot was named. As far as he knew there were none of the other goats who were any relation to him. He was a stranger among them, but they soon became friendly with him. Among the six goats owned by the Widow Malony there were only two who were of any relation. These were Mr. and Mrs. Sharp-horn, as we will call them, though of course goats don’t call each other husband and wife. They have other names that mean the same thing.
But though he had no brothers or sisters or father or mother that he knew, Lightfoot was not unhappy. There was Blackie, with whom he played and frisked about the rocks. And Grandpa Bumper, when he had had a good meal of the sweet grass that grew on top of the rocks, with, perhaps, some sweet paste-paper from the outside of a tomato can to finish off, would tell stories of his early life. And he would tell of other goats, in far-off mountains, some of them nearly as big as cows, with great, curved horns on their heads. Lightfoot loved to listen to these stories.

There was not much for the goats to do at the home of the Widow Malony. They had no work to do except to jump around on the rocks and to eat when they were hungry and could find anything they liked, though some of the goats were milked. There was more milk than the widow and her son could use, so they used to sell some to their neighbors who did not keep goats.
But many others besides Mike and his mother kept goats, for all the neighbors of the Malonys lived among the rocks on the edge of the big city. They did not own the land where they built their poor shanties. But some had been there so long they thought they owned it.

Mrs. Malony and her son were very poor. Sometimes, had it not been for the milk of the goats, they would have had nothing to eat. The widow took in washing, and Mike earned what he could running errands. But, for all that, the widow and Mike were cheerful and tried to be happy. They kept their shanty clean, and were clean themselves. And they took very good care of the goats. Mike made a little shed for them to sleep in when Winter came; and when the grass on the rocks was scarce Mike would get a job in the city, cutting the lawn of some big house, and he would bring the clipped grass home to Lightfoot and the others.
“Yes, I’m going up on top of the rocks,” said Lightfoot to himself as he began to climb upward.

The path to the top was a hard and rough one to climb. But Lightfoot did not give up.
“I know I can do it,” he declared, still to himself. “I was nearly up once but Mr. Sharp-horn chased me back. I was only a little goat then.”
Lightfoot knew he was much larger and stronger now, and he certainly was a better jumper. He really did not know how far he could jump, for he had not had much chance. On the lower rocks there were not many good jumping places. The ground was too rough.
“Wait until I get up to the top,” thought Lightfoot to himself. “Then I’ll do some jumping. I wonder if they’ll chase me back?”

Part way up the rocky path he stopped to look toward the top. He saw Mr. Sharp-horn looking down at him, and Lightfoot pretended to be looking for some grass that grew in the cracks of the rocks. As he did this the widow came to the door of her shanty.
“Mike! Mike!” she called. “Where are you? I want you to be takin’ home Mrs. Mackintosh’s wash. ’Tis all finished I have it.” And then, as she shaded her eyes from the sun, and looked up on the rocks, Mrs. Malony saw Lightfoot halfway to the top.
“Would you look at that goat now!” she called. “Come here, Mike, and see where Lightfoot is. Look at the climber he’s gettin’ to be altogether!”

“Yes, Lightfoot’s a good goat,” said Mike as he came around the corner of the shanty where he had been trying to fix a broken wheel on a small cart he had made from a soap box. “He’s a fine leaper and he’s going to be better when he grows up. I wonder what he’s trying to do now?”
“Go to the top of the rocks, isn’t it?” asked Mrs. Malony.

“If he does the Sharp-horns or old Bumper will send him down quick enough!” laughed Mike. “They don’t want the small Nannies and Billies eatin’ the top grass. You’d better come back, Lightfoot! he called to the climbing goat. But if Lightfoot heard or understood he gave no sign.
“I’d like to stay and see what happens when he gets to the top,” laughed Mike, running his fingers through his red hair.
“You’ve no time,” called his mother. “Be off with this wash now, like a good boy. Sure it’s the money from it I’ll be needing’ to get meat for the Sunday dinner. Off with ye now!”
“All right, Mother. Just as soon as I fix the wheel on my cart.”

While Mike went back to fix his wagon, so he could take home the basket of clean clothes, Lightfoot, the leaping goat, once more began scrambling up the rocks toward the top. Mr. Sharp-horn, who had looked over the edge to see the smaller goat climbing up, had moved back to eat some more grass, and he forgot about Lightfoot.
“Now none of them is looking, I’ll get to the top,” thought Lightfoot. “And when I do I’ll have some fun, and get something good to eat. I want some long-stemmed grass. That at the foot of the rocks is dry and sour.”

On and on he climbed. Now and then he would stop to kick up his heels, he felt so fine, and again he would push his horns against the hard rocks to see how strong his head and neck were getting.
“Soon I’ll be able to butt as well as Grandpa Bumper,” thought Lightfoot.
Some neighboring children, playing in the yard of their shanty next to that of the Malonys, saw Lightfoot kicking and butting.
“Oh look at that funny goat of Mike’s!” called a little girl.
“Sure, he’s a fine goat!” declared her brother. “I wish we had one like that. Our Nannie is getting old,” he added.
On and on went Lightfoot, cutting up such funny capers that the little boy and girl, watching him, laughed with glee.

At last the goat was close to the top of the rocks, where there was a smooth level place and where sweet grass grew. Lightfoot peeped carefully over the top. He did not want Mr. Sharp-horn or Grandpa Bumper to rush at him the first thing and, maybe, knock him head over heels down the rocky hill.
But, as it happened, all the other goats were away from the edge and did not see Lightfoot. Up he scrambled and began cropping the sweet grass.
“Oh, this is fine!” he cried.
He was eating the grass, when, all at once, Mr. Sharp-horn looked up and saw him.
“Well, the idea!” cried that big goat. “The idea of that kid coming up here, where only we big goats are supposed to come! He is too young for this place, yet. I must drive him down and teach him a lesson.” Then lowering his head, and shaking his horns, the goat rushed at Lightfoot.

Mr. Sharp-horn did not mean to be unkind. But small animals are always kept in their own places by the larger ones until they have grown big enough to take their own part. That is one of the lessons goats and other animals have to learn.
Lightfoot was soon to have his lesson. He was eating away at the sweet grass, thinking how good it was, when he heard a clatter of hoofs.
Looking up quickly, Lightfoot saw Mr. Sharp-horn running toward him swiftly. Lightfoot knew what the lowered head of the older goat meant.
“Go on down out of here!” bleated Mr. Sharp-horn.
“I don’t want to,” answered Lightfoot, and stamped with his forefeet, his hard hoofs rattling on the ground.

“But you must go down!” said the older goat. “This is no place for you kids. It is for the older goats. Keep on the rocks below.”
“I am old enough to come up here now,” said Lightfoot. “Besides, I am hungry.”
“That makes no difference!” cried Mr. Sharp-horn. “Get down, I say!”
He kept on running toward Lightfoot with lowered head. The boy-goat thought the man-goat was, perhaps, only trying to scare him, and did not turn to run. But Mr. Sharp-horn was in earnest. On and on he came, and when Lightfoot turned to run it was almost too late.
However he did turn, and he did run, for he did not like the idea of being butted with those long horns. Before him was the edge of the rocks, and then, when it was too late, Lightfoot saw that he had run to the wrong place on the edge. There was, here, no path down which he could scramble. The rock went straight down, and he must either stand still and be butted over the edge, or he must jump.
He gave a bleating cry and over the edge of the rocks he jumped.

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