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The Goat

( Originally Published 1918 )



"IN the hilly regions of Persia there are found herds of wild goats of a kind that is universally regarded as the parent stock of the domestic variety. This goat closely resembles our own in size and form. It has a grayish fawn-colored coat with a black line on the backbone. The tail and forehead are black, the cheeks red, the beard and throat brown. The horns have sharp edges on the front side and are short in the female, very long in the male, always erect on the forehead, and not rolling back behind the ears like those of the ram.

"In domestication the goat has preserved its primitive instincts, no doubt because, being of less value than the sheep, it has not been so carefully and completely tamed by man. It has remained with us much as it was on the bare rocks of its native country, lively, wandering, adventurous, fond of lonely and steep places, delighting in rocky summits, sleeping on the edge of precipices, and always ready to use its horns at the slightest appearance of hostility.

"Willingly it accompanies the sheep to pasture, but without mixing with the flock, the stupid society of which is not to its taste. It walks at the head, staying its impatience on the way by browsing an occasional twig in the hedgerow."

"That 's the way the he-goats of the emigrating flock go, the captains of the company," put in Jules. "The she-goats follow pell-mell with the kids. Left to themselves, they would walk at the head and occupy the post of honor held by the donkeys and he-goats."

"Arrived at the pasture, the sheep begin peacefully cropping the grass without straying too far from the spot chosen by the shepherd. Besides, the dog is there to call to order any that might tend to wander away."

"But the goats don't listen to the dog's warning : their wish is to go and flock apart, is it not?" asked Emile.

`Precisely. The turf is green, smooth as a carpet ; the grass thick and tender. What more could be desired? But no, the goats will have none of it. The rich grass and the company of the timid sheep are not what they are after. Away up yonder, on the top of the hill, are some great rocks, cleft and overturned in disorder. In the clefts, where a handful of earth has lodged, there are thin tufts of grass half dried up by the sun; between the fragments of stone a few pitiful shrubs with scanty foliage man-age to find room for their roots. Those are the goat's haunts of delight. Nothing can keep it from them; away it goes.

`Soon you will see it on the steep slope of the rocks, moving about with ease where any other animal would break its neck, and sometimes having no more secure support than a narrow ledge that offers barely room enough for its four hoofs. From this perilous position it stretches its neck in an effort to reach the neighboring bush, a bush no better than countless others that are in places easy of access; but the difficulty gives it an added charm, and to get it the goat risks its life on slopes that would be its destruction if it should chance to slip. But don't worry about that : the goat will not fall ; its sinewy leg is of unequalled surety, and its head, giddy though it seems, is never seized with vertigo on the brink of a precipice. The coveted bit of foliage is reached, the bush twisted out of shape in its attainment, and the ascent continues from one projection to another. The goat is at the top of the rock. It proclaims its prowess to the surrounding world with bleatings. The sheep are down there, beneath its feet. Proudly it surveys them, saying perhaps to itself : Poor, timid creatures, they will never climb up here !

`I must tell you, my friends, that the goat is very hard to keep in flocks. Its wandering propensity always impels it to stray, and its predilection for precipices leads it to places where it would be dangerous for the shepherd to follow. It has a still worse caprice. I have pictured the goat to you as abandoning at the first opportunity the rich grass in which the sheep delights, to scale the rocky summit and crop the sparse shrubbery growing on some perilous ledge. It is an undoubted fact that to the tender grass of the best pasture it prefers hard turf, yellowed in the sun, dried and trodden, and especially the young woody sprouts of the shrub and bush. Thus far all is for the best, since such tastes enable us to gain profit from the most sterile soil and even from the bare rock. Where the sheep would die of want, the goat finds the wherewithal to fill its udder with milk. Unfortunately its passion for the bitter bark of the shrub has evil consequences. Cultivated grounds, gardens, orchards, quickset hedges, copses, and woods have no more terrible enemy than the goat. The young shoots are eagerly browsed, the bark is gnawed, and all shrubbery within reach is destroyed. Accordingly, to prevent these ravages, severe laws forbid flocks of goats access to all wooded tracts."

I shouldn't like such gnawers of branches and bark among the pear trees in the garden," remarked Jules. "If any goats got in there, it would be good-by forever to those delicious juicy pears."

I have told you the goat's bad qualities ; now let us look at its good ones. The goat is much more intelligent than the sheep. It comes to us of its own accord, makes friends with us readily, is responsive to caresses and capable of attachment. In households where it furnishes the milk supply it is the companion of the children, who know how to win its friendship by a few handfuls of choice grass. It takes part in their games and amuses them with its frolicsome gambols."

It also runs with lowered head at its playmates as if it meant to knock them over with a butt of its horns," added Emile ; "but it is only in fun. They hold out an open hand, and the goat strikes the palm very softly without hurting it, provided they are good friends. If not, I shouldn't like to find myself facing the goat's horns."

"The goat is always friendly if well treated. Its butting is then harmless, and play does not degenerate into a fight.

"To appreciate fully the kindness of the goat, one must have witnessed the following illustration of it. When a nursing baby has had the misfortune to lose its mother, it sometimes happens that the she-goat is substituted as a nurse. In this function the excellent animal is truly admirable; the tenderest mother is not more vigilant or more assiduous. To the wailing of the beloved baby it responds with a gentle bleating and runs to it in all haste, lying on its side the better to present its udder to the nursling. If there is any delay in putting the baby within reach, the goat by its restless movements, trembling voice, I might almost say by its gestures, begs that the infant be allowed to suck. How shall I express it, my friends? The animal in this action is sub-lime in its devotion.

"Should you like now to see the goat giving proof of its tame, trustful nature? I will tell you how the milk-peddlers of our southern towns are in the habit of leading their flocks of goats through the streets, to sell from door to door the milk freshly drawn under the buyer's very eyes. What would the timid sheep do if led thus through the turmoil and confusion of a populous town? It would take fright and run away, and in its foolish terror it would get crushed under the wheels of passing vehicles. The goat is not alarmed at anything. Throngs of people, the noise of traffic, the barking of quarrelsome dogs, to all this it is quite indifferent. The horned company, its approach heralded by the tinkling of little bells, moves with a confident and familiar air in the midst of all this hustle and bustle, as if in the perfect solitude of the mountains. With graceful coquetry it looks at its reflection in the large shop-windows and strikes the flag-stones of the pavement with ringing hoof. At the customers' doors, which the flock never fails to remember, it comes to a halt. Each goat in its turn is taken in hand by the milkmaid, and the warm milk spurts foaming from the udder into the tin measure. They go on through the crowd to another customer, and so it continues, a measure of milk at a time, until the flock has exhausted its day's supply."

Is there anything gained by leading the goats from door to door?" asked Jules.

"Unquestionably : the buyer cannot doubt the freshness and purity of the milk when he sees it drawn under his eyes ; and the milkmaid finds in the confidence of her customers remuneration for her extra trouble."

"That 's so. No one can say the milk is watered if it comes fresh from the udder."

"Goat's milk is light and very nourishing; it agrees with weak stomachs better than the heavier milk of the sheep or cow. It is remarkably abundant, too, considering the smallness of the animal. Two liters of milk a day, from six to nine months in the year, make but a moderate yield. There are goats that, when well-fed, give three and four liters a day.

"Thus the goat, so easily maintained, is a valuable resource in mountainous and arid countries; it takes the place of the milch cow in the poor man's hut, as the donkey serves instead of the horse.

"This abundant milk supply is about the only merit of the goat, for its stringy flesh is tasteless and of no value. Only the kid is prized for eating, especially in the South, where the aromatic vegetation of the hills takes away its natural tastelessness. The goat's fleece, though used for certain coarse fabrics, is not of much importance, either, and cannot in any way take the place of sheep's wool. But a breed native in the hilly regions of Central Asia, the Cashmere goat, furnishes a down of incomparable fineness, from which precious stuffs are made. This goat, under a thick fur of long hair, bears an abundant down that protects it from the rigors of cold and is shed naturally every spring. When that season comes the animal is combed with a long toothed comb that gathers from the rest of the fleece the fine down detached from the skin.

"Another breed, the Angora goat, almost rivals the Cashmere in fineness of down. It takes its name from the town of Angora in Turkey in Asia. Nothing could be more seductive in form, nothing more graceful, than these little goats with their long silky fleece, always pure white. From the same country come the Angora cat and the Angora rabbit, both furnished, like the goat, their compatriot, with long, silky, white fur."



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