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´╗┐Title: John of the Woods
Author: Brown, Abbie Farwell, 1871-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John of the Woods" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



JOHN-OF-THE-WOODS

BY

ABBIE FARWELL BROWN



ILLUSTRATIONS BY

E. BOYD SMITH



HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

BOSTON AND NEW YORK

THE RIVERSIDE PRESS CAMBRIDGE



COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY ABBIE FARWELL BROWN

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published October 1909



To J.D. and K.D.

Kindest of neighbors and best of friends

to all the world and its

Animal Kingdom



CONTENTS

     I.  THE TUMBLERS
    II.  THE FALL
   III.  THE RUNAWAY
    IV.  THE OX-CART
     V.  THE HUNCHBACK
    VI.  THE SILVER PIECE
   VIX.  THE WANDERER
  VIII.  THE RESCUE
    IX.  THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
     X.  THE HERMIT
    XI.  THE PUPIL
   XII.  THE BEAU
  XIII.  A FOREST RAMBLE
   XIV.  THE WOLF-BROTHER
    XV.  THE GREEN STRANGER
   XVI.  THE HUNT
  XVII.  THE MESSENGER
 XVIII.  THE CARRIER PIGEON
   XIX. THE JOURNEY
    XX. THE ARRIVAL
   XXI. THE PALACE
  XXII. THE PRINCE'S CHAMBER
 XXIII. THE CURE
  XXIV. THE KING
   XXV. THE FETE
  XXVI. THE TALISMAN
        CONCLUSION



ILLUSTRATIONS

 THE THREE TUMBLERS
 GIGI RUNS AWAY
 HAVE YOU GOT MY BOY?
 A QUAINT PAIR OF WANDERERS
 THE CIRCLE OF ANIMALS WATCHED HIM
 JOHN TALKED WITH THEM
 YOU SHALL NOT KILL MY FRIEND THE BEAR
 THE KING SENDS FOR YOU
 A STRANGE COMPANY
 JOHN WAS PROTECTED BY POWERFUL FRIENDS
 HE STROKED THE SOFT BALL OF FUR
 I WISH I COULD DO IT MYSELF
 JOHN URGED THE CLUMSY FELLOW TO DANCE
 TO ME, MY BROTHERS!
 THE KING AND PRINCESS CAME TO VISIT HIM



JOHN OF THE WOODS

I

THE TUMBLERS

It was late of a beautiful afternoon in May.  In the hedges outside the
village roses were blossoming, yellow and white.  Overhead the larks
were singing their happiest songs, because the sky was so blue.  But
nearer the village the birds were silent, marveling at the strange
noises which echoed up and down the narrow, crooked streets.

"Tom-tom; tom-tom; tom-tom"; the hollow thud of a little drum sounded
from the market-place.  Boys and girls began to run thither, crying to
one another:--

"The Tumblers!  The Tumblers have come.  Hurry, oh, hurry!"

Three little brothers, Beppo, Giovanni, and Paolo, who had been poking
about the market at their mother's heels, pricked up their ears and
scurried eagerly after the other children.

Jostling one another good-naturedly, the crowd surged up to the
market-place, which stood upon a little hill.  In the middle was a
stone fountain, whence the whole village was wont to draw all the water
it needed.  In those long-ago days folk were more sparing in the use of
water than they are to-day, especially for washing.  Perhaps we should
not be so clean, if we had to bring every bucket of water that we used
from the City Square!

"Tom-tom; tom-tom; tom-tom"; the little drum sounded louder and louder
as the crowd increased.  Men and women craned their necks to see who
was beating it.  The children squirmed their way through the crowd.

On the highest step of the fountain stood a man dressed in red and
yellow, with little bells hung from every point of his clothing, which
tinkled with each movement he made.  In his left hand he held a small
drum, from which hung streamers of red and green and yellow ribbon.
This drum he beat regularly with the palm of his skinny right hand.  He
was a lean, dark man, with evil little red-rimmed eyes and a hump
between his shoulders.

"Ho!  Men and women!  Lads and lasses!" he cried in a shrill, cracked
voice of strange accent.  "Hither, hither quickly, and make ready to
give your pennies.  For the tumbling is about to begin,--the most
wonderful tumbling in the whole round world!"

Stretching out his arm, he pointed to the group below him.  The crowd
pressed forward and stood on tiptoe to see better.  Beppo and Giovanni
and Paolo wriggled through the forest of legs and skirts and came out
into the open space which had been left about the fountain.  And then
they saw what the backs of the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker
had hidden from them.

From the back of a forlorn little donkey that was tethered behind the
fountain a roll of carpet had been taken and spread out on the ground.
Beside this stood the three tumblers.  One of them was a thin, dark
man, small and wicked-looking, dressed, like the drum-beater, in red
and yellow.  The second tumbler was a huge fellow more than six feet
tall, with a shaggy mane of black hair.  His muscles stood out in great
knots under the suit of green tights which he wore.

"A Giant he is!  Faith, he could toss me over his shoulder like a
meal-bag!" muttered the Blacksmith, who stood with crossed arms looking
over the heads of the crowd.  "And the wicked face of him!  Ugh!  I
would not wish a quarrel with him!"

But the little boys in the front row were most interested in the third
tumbler, who stood between the other two, with his arms folded, ready
to begin.

This also was a figure in green, with short trunks of tarnished
cloth-of-gold.  But beside the Giant, in the same dress, he looked like
a pigmy or a fairy mite.  This third tumbler was a little fellow of
about eight, very slender and childish in form, but lithe and
well-knit.  Instead of being dark and gypsy-like, as were the other
three of the wandering band, this boy was fair, with a shock of golden
hair falling about his shoulders, and with a skin of unusual whiteness,
despite his life of exposure to sun and hard weather.  And the eyes
that looked wistfully at the children in front of him were blue as the
depths into which the skylarks were at that moment diving rapturously.
On the upper eyelid of the boy's left eye was a brown spot as big as an
apple-seed.  And this gave him a strange expression which was hard to
forget.  When he was grave, as now, it made him seem about to cry.  If
he should smile, the spot would give the mischievous look of a wink.
But Gigi so seldom smiled in those days that few perhaps had noted
this.  On his left cheek was a dark spot also.  But this was only a
bruise.  Bruises Gigi always had.  But they were not always in the same
place.

"Oh, the sweet Cherub!" said a motherly voice in the crowd.  "I wonder
if they are good to him.  They look like cut-throats and murderers, but
he is like the image of the little Saint John in church.  Wolves, with
a lamb in their clutches!  Save us all!  Suppose it were my Beppo!"

At these words of his mother's, Beppo giggled, and the boy looked at
him gravely.  The Hunchback with the drum had heard, too, and darted a
furious glance into the crowd where the woman stood.  Then, giving a
loud double beat on the drum, he signaled for the tumbling to begin.

The three kicked off the sandals which protected their feet, stepped
upon the carpet, and saluted the spectators.  The Giant stretched
himself flat, and, seizing Gigi in his strong arms, tossed him up in
the air as one would toss a rubber ball.  Up, down, then back and forth
between the elder tumblers, flew the little green figure, when he
touched ground always landing upon his toe-tips, and finishing each
trick with a somersault, easy and graceful.  The boy seemed made of
thistledown, so light he was, so easily he rebounded from what he
touched.  The children in the circle about him stared open-mouthed and
admiring.  Oh! they wished, if only they could do those things!  They
thought Gigi the most fortunate boy in the world.

But Gigi never smiled.  At the end of one trick the Giant growled a
word under his breath, and made a motion at which the boy cringed.
Something had gone not quite right, and trouble threatened.  He bit his
lip, and the performance went on as before.

Now Gigi had to do the most difficult trick of all.  With the Giant as
the base, and Cecco, the other tumbler, above, Gigi made the top of a
living pyramid that ran, turned, twisted, and capered as the great
strength of the Giant willed.  At a signal they managed somehow to
reverse their positions.  All stood upon their heads; Gigi, with his
little green legs waving in the air, heard shouts of applause which
always greeted this favorite act.  But the sound gave him no pleasure.
He was tired; he was sore from a beating of the previous night, and his
head ached from the blow which had made that ugly mark on his cheek.
Gigi grew dizzy--



II

THE FALL

Suddenly a woman's voice screamed from the crowd:--

"Ah!  The Cherub!"

Gigi had fallen from the top of the pyramid.  He fell on his shoulder,
and for a moment lay still.  But presently he was on his feet, kissing
his hand prettily to the crowd, and trying to pretend that he had
fallen on purpose, as he had been taught.  The Giant and Cecco were
also quickly on their feet, and the three bowed, side by side, as a
sign that the show was over.

Cecco hissed a word into Gigi's ear, and he knew what to fear next.  He
shuddered and tried to draw aside; but the Giant turned to him, livid
with rage, and with one blow of his heavy hand struck him to the ground.

"So!  You spoil us again!" he muttered.  "You good-for-nothing!  I'll
teach you!  Now take the tambourine and gather up the coins from the
crowd.  You'll get a beating anyway for this.  But if you don't take up
more than we had at the last town, you'll have such a trouncing as you
never yet knew.  Now then!"

Dazed and trembling, Gigi took the tambourine, and, shaking its little
bells appealingly, went about among the people.  They had already begun
to scatter, with the wonderful agility of a crowd which has not paid.
Some, however, still lingered from curiosity and with the hope of a
second performance.  A number of small copper coins Jingled into Gigi's
tambourine.  He approached the good woman who had shown an interest in
him.  She stooped down and thrust a piece of silver into his hand,
whispering,--

"It is for yourself, child.  Do not give it to the cruel men!  Keep it
to spend upon a feast-day, darling!"

Gigi looked at her, surprised.  People so seldom spoke kindly to him!
The brown spot upon his eyelid quivered.  He seemed about to cry.  The
woman patted him on the head kindly.

"If they are cruel to you, I'd not stay with them," she whispered.
"I'd run away.--Hey, Beppo!  Hey, Giovanni!  Paolo!" she called, "we
must be off."  And she turned to gather up her young ones, who were
shouting about the market-place, trying to stand upon their heads as
Gigi had done.

Gigi clasped the silver piece tightly in his hand, and went on, shaking
the tambourine after the retreating crowd.  But few more pennies were
coaxed away.  Presently he made his way back to the group of tumblers,
now seated on the fountain-steps.

"Well, what have you?" growled the Giant.  Gigi presented the
tambourine with the few pennies rattling around somewhat lonesomely.

"Humph!" snarled Cecco.  "Less than last time.  Is that all?"

"A beating you get!" roared the Giant.

Gigi shivered.  "No,--not all," he said.  "Here is a silver piece," and
he held out the coin which the kind woman had given him.

"Ah, silver!  that is better!" cried Tonio the Hunchback, with his eyes
shining greedily.  "Give it here"; and he snatched it and thrust it
Into his pouch.  Tonio was the treasurer of the gypsy band.  But the
Giant had been eyeing Gigi with an ugly gleam.

"He was keeping it!" he growled.  "He did not mean to give it up.  He
would have stolen it!"

"It was mine!" cried Gigi with spirit.  "She gave it to me and told me
to keep it for a fiesta.  But I gave it up because--because I did not
want to be beaten again."

"You did not give it up soon enough!" roared the Giant, working himself
into a terrible rage.  "You shall smart for this, you whelp!  After
supper I will beat you as never a boy was beaten yet.  But I must eat
first.  I must get up my strength.  No supper for you, Gigi.  Do you
watch the donkey here while we go to the inn and spend the silver
piece.  Then, when we are camped outside the town,--then we will attend
to you!"



III

THE RUNAWAY

It was but a step to the inn around the corner.  Off went the three
gypsies, leaving Gigi with the donkey beside the fountain.  The poor
animal stood with hanging head and flopping ears.  He too was weary and
heart-broken by a hard life and many beatings.  His back was piled with
the heavy roll of carpet and all the poor belongings of the band,
including the tent for the night's lodging.  For on these warm spring
nights they slept in the open, usually outside the walls of some town.
They were never welcome visitors, but vagrants and outcasts.

Gigi sat on the fountain-step with his aching head between his hands.
He was very hungry, and his heart ached even more than his head or his
empty stomach.  He was so tired of their cruelties and their hard ways
with him, which had been ever since he could remember.  The kind word
which the good woman had spoken to him had unnerved him, too.  She had
advised him to run away.  Run away!  He had thought of that before.
But how could he do it?  Tonio the Hunchback was so wicked and sharp!
He would know just where to find a runaway.  Cecco was so swift and
lithe, like a cat!  He would run after Gigi and capture him.  The Giant
was so big and cruel!  He would kill Gigi when he was brought back.
The boy shuddered at the thought.

Gigi pulled around him the old flapping cloak which he wore while
traveling, to conceal his gaudy tumbler's costume.  If he only had that
silver piece perhaps he could do something, he thought.  Much could be
done with a silver piece.  It was long since the band had seen one.
They would be having a fine lark at the inn, eating and drinking!  They
would not be back for a long time.

Gigi looked up and around the marketplace.  There was no one visible.
The crowd had melted as if by magic.  Every one was at supper,--every
one but Gigi.  What a chance to escape, if he were ever to try!  The
color leaped into the boy's pale cheeks.  Why not?  Now or never!

He rose to his feet, pulling his cloak closer about him, and looked
stealthily up and down.  The donkey lifted his head and eyed him
wistfully, as if to say, "Oh, take me away, too!"  But Gigi paid no
attention to him.  He was not cruel, but he had never learned to be
kind.  Without a pang, without a farewell to the beast who had been his
companion and fellow-sufferer for so many long months, he turned his
back on the fountain and stole down one of the darkest little side
streets.

He ran on down, constantly down, for the village was on the side of a
hill, and the market-place was at its top.  Around sharp curves he
turned, dived under dark archways and through dirty alleys, down
flights of steps, until he was out of breath and too dizzy to go
further.  He had come out on the highroad, it seemed.  The little brown
cottages were farther apart here.  It was more like the country, which
Gigi loved.  He turned into an enclosure and hid behind a stack of
straw, panting.

[Illustration:  Gigi runs away.]

He wondered if by this time they had discovered his flight, and he
shivered to think of what Tonio and Cecco were saying if it were so.
He looked up and down the road.  There was something familiar about it.
Yes, it was surely the road up which they had toiled that very
afternoon, coming from the country and a far-off village.  They had
been planning to go on from here down the other side of the hill to the
next village, Gigi knew.  But now would they retrace their steps to
look for him?

Just then he spied a black speck moving down the road toward him.
Gigi's heart sank.  Could they be after him already?  He crouched
closer behind the straw-stack, trembling.  They must not find him!

Nearer and nearer came the speck.  At last Gigi saw that it was a cart
drawn by a team of white oxen, which accounted for the slowness of the
pace.  He sighed with relief.  This at least he need not fear.  As it
came nearer, Gigi saw that in the cart were a woman and three little
boys of about his own age.  And presently, as he watched the lumbering
team curiously, he recognized the very woman who had given him the
silver piece an hour before.  These, too, were the little boys who had
faced him in the crowd.  A sudden hope sprang into Gigi's heart.
Perhaps she would help him to escape.  Perhaps she would at least give
him a lift on his way.  He decided to risk it.



IV

THE OX-CART

Gigi waited until the cart was nearly opposite, and he could hear the
voices of the woman and the children talking and laughing together.
Then he crept out from behind the stack and stepped to the side of the
road.

The great, lumbering oxen eyed him curiously, but did not pause.  The
children stopped talking, and one of them pointed Gigi out to his
mother.

"Look, Mama!  A little boy!"

"Hello!" cried the woman in her hearty, kind voice, stopping the team.
"What are you doing here, little lad?"

She did not recognize Gigi at once in his long traveling cloak.  But
suddenly he threw back the folds of it and showed the green tights
underneath.

"Do you remember?" he said.  "You told me to run away.  Well, I have
done it!"

"It is, the little tumbler!  The tumbler, Mama!" cried the boys in one
breath, clapping their hands with pleasure.

But the woman stared blankly.  "My faith!" she said at last.  "You lost
no time in taking the hint.  How did you get here so soon?  We were
homeward bound when you had scarcely finished tumbling.  Now here you
are before us, on foot!"

"I ran," said Gigi simply.  "I came not by the highway, which is long
and winding, but down steep streets like stairs, which brought me here
very quickly."

"See the bruise on his cheek, mother!" cried Beppo, the littlest boy,
pointing.  The good woman saw it, and her eyes flashed.

"Oh!  Oh!" she clucked.  "The wicked men!  Did they do that to you?"

"Yes.  And they will do more if they catch me now," said Gigi.  "I
know.  They have beaten me many times till I could not move.  But if
they catch me this time, they will kill me because I ran away.  Will
you help me?"

"Why, what can I do?" asked the woman uneasily, looking up and down the
road.  "If they should come now!  You belong to them.  I shall get
myself into trouble."

Gigi's face fell.  "Very well," he said.  "Good-by.  You were kind to
me to-day, and I thought--perhaps--"  He turned away, with his lips
quivering.

"Stay!" cried the woman.  "Where is the silver piece which I gave you?
You can at least buy food and a night's lodging with that."

"They took it from me," said Gigi.  "I had to give it up because there
was so little money in the tambourine,--only coppers.  They said people
would not pay because I fell; and so they would beat me again."

"They took it from you!  The thieves!" cried the woman angrily.  "Nay,
then I will indeed help you to escape.  Climb in here, boy, among my
youngsters.  We have still an hour's ride down the road, and you shall
go so far at least."

Gigi climbed into the cart and nestled down among the children.  The
woman clucked to the oxen, and forthwith they moved on down the
highroad.  The shadows were beginning to darken, and the birds had
ceased to sing.

"Hiew!  Hiew!  Come up!  Come up!" the woman urged on the great white
oxen.  "It is growing late, and the good man will wonder why we are so
long returning from market.  This has been our holiday," she explained
to Gigi.  "And to think that the Tumblers should have happened to come
to the market this very day!  The children will never forget!"

Beppo had been staring at Gigi with fascinated eyes.  "How did you
learn?" he asked suddenly.  "Could I do it too?"

Gigi laughed.  For the first time that day his face lost its sadness,
and the brown spot on his eyelid, falling into one of the little
creases, gave him a very mischievous look.  He seemed to wink.
Immediately the whole cartful of peasants began to laugh with him, they
knew not why.  They could not help it.  This was what happened whenever
Gigi laughed, as he seldom did.

But soon Gigi grew grave once more.  "Why do you want to learn?" he
asked.  "It does not make me happy.  For oh! they are so cruel!"

"Do they beat you much?" asked Paolo sympathetically.  Gigi nodded his
head with a sigh.  "Very much," he said.  "I am always black and blue."

"Am I too big to learn?" demanded Giovanni, the oldest boy, who was
perhaps twelve and heavier than Gigi.  "When did you begin?"

Gigi grew thoughtful.  "Ever since I remember, I have tumbled," he
said.  "Ever since I was a baby, before I could even turn a somersault,
they tossed me back and forth between them and made me kiss my hand to
the people who stood about."

"And did they beat you then?" asked Beppo, doubling up his fists.

Gigi sighed again.  "They always beat me," he said simply.  "Whatever I
did, they beat me when they were ugly.  And that was always."

"Do you belong to them?" asked the woman suddenly.  "They are Gypsies,
black men.  But you are fair like the people of the North.  Where did
they get you, Gigi?"

Gigi shook his head.  "I do not know," he said.  "I have belonged to
them always, I think."

"Hark!" said Mother Margherita suddenly.  "What's that?"

There was a faint noise far off on the road behind them.  Gigi
trembled.  "They are coming for me!" he said.  "What shall I do?"

"No, no," said the woman.  "I do not fear that.  It is too soon,
surely.  But it is growing dark here in the valley.  This is a lonely
spot, and there are many wicked men about besides your masters, Gigi."

"Thieves and villains!" whispered Giovanni.  "Oh, mother, hide the bag
of silver that you got at market!"

"Sh!  Sh!" warned the mother sharply.  "Do not speak of it!  Hiew,
hiew!  Go on!  go on!"  And she urged the oxen faster.

But the great beasts would not hasten their pace for her.  The noise
came nearer.  They could hear that it was the trotting of hoofs.

"There is only one animal," said Gigi, whose ears were keen.  "I can
hear his four feet patter.  I think it is the donkey!"

"I can see him now!" cried Paolo.  "It is a little man on a donkey.  He
is bending forward and beating it hard."

Gigi strained his eyes to see.  "It is Tonio!" he whispered fearfully.
"I know it!  Oh, the Hunchback will kill me when he finds me!  And he
will take your silver, too!"

"Sh!  Sh!" commanded the mother.  "He shall not find you.  Here, take
this bag, Gigi.  It will be safer with you.  And here, creep under my
skirts and keep close.  He will never guess where you are!"

Mother Margherita spread out her generous draperies, which luckily were
both long and wide, and Gigi crept under them, being wholly covered.
The other boys huddled close, shivering with a not wholly unpleasant
excitement.  This was an adventure indeed for a holiday!

The rider drew nearer and nearer, lashing the poor donkey unmercifully.
At last they could see his face, red and lowering.

"Halt!" he cried suddenly.  "You in the cart there, halt!"

V

THE HUNCHBACK

The oxen stopped.  The cart came to
a standstill.  The boys huddled closer,
and Gigi's heart beat like a tambourine.
He was sure that Tonio would hear it.

"What do you want?" asked Mother Margherita,
and her usually kind voice was harsh.

"You seem to have a load of young cubs
there," shouted Tonio.  "Have you got my
boy, Gigi the Tumbler, among them?  Some
one has stolen the little monster."

[Illustration:  "Have you got my boy?"]

"What are you talking about!" answered
Mother Margherita sharply.  "I am a respectable
countrywoman returning from market-day
with my children.  What business have I
with tumblers and vagrants!"

"That I'll see for myself, woman," said
Tonio, jumping unsteadily down from the
donkey and approaching the cart.  Tonio had
been drinking, and his little eyes were red and
fierce.

"Keep your hands off my children!" cried
their plucky mother, brandishing her whip.
But Tonio was not to be kept away.

"I will see them!" he snarled.  He thrust
his ugly face into those of the three boys, one
after another, eyeing them sharply in the
growing darkness.  But there was little about
these sun-browned, black-eyed youngsters to
suggest the slender, fair-haired Gigi.

Tonio peered into the cart.  He even thrust
his long, lean hand into the straw that covered
the floor, and felt about the corners, while the
boys wriggled away from his touch like eels
from a landing-net.  Gigi held his breath.  But
Mother Margherita would not tamely endure
all this.

"Get along, you vermin!" she cried, striking
at his hands as he approached the forward
end of the cart.  "Can't you see that the
boy is not here?  What would he be doing in
my cart, anyway?  I'll trouble you to let us go
on our way in peace.  My man in the house
down yonder will be out to help us with his
crossbow and his dogs, if we scream a bit
louder.  Be off with you, and look for your
boy in the village.  Is it likely he would have
come so far as this, the poor tired little lad?"

"The others are searching the village,"
growled the Hunchback tipsily.  "They'll
find him if he's there.  'Tis likely you are
right.  And then!  I must be there to help at
the punishing.  Oh!  that will be sport!--Have
any other teams passed you on the road?" he
asked suddenly.  "Have you overtaken no one
on foot?"

"We have passed no one," said Mother
Margherita truthfully, starting up the oxen.
"Hiew!  Hiew!  Go on!  go on," she clucked.
"We must get home to bed."

The Hunchback withdrew from the cart
unsteadily, and mounted his donkey.  For a
moment he looked doubtfully up and down
the road, then he turned the poor tired animal's
head once more toward the village, and they
began to plod back up the slope.

"The Lord forgive me!" whispered Mother
Margherita piously.  "I told a lie, and before
my children, too!  But it was to spare a child
suffering, perhaps death.  Surely, the Lord
who loves little children will forgive me this sin."

So the good woman mused, as, faint with
terror and gasping for breath, Gigi came out
from under her skirts.  He handed back the
bag of silver, and gave a sigh of relief.  The
little boys seized him rapturously.

"You are saved, Gigi!" cried Paolo.

"He will never find you now," said Giovanni.

"See, we are almost home!  You shall come
and live with us and teach us how to tumble!"
cried Beppo, hugging his new friend closely.
But Mother Margherita interrupted him.

"Not so fast, not so fast, children," she
warned.  "Gigi is saved for now.  But we may
be able to do little more for him.  Your father
is master in the house, remember.  Your father
may not be pleased with what we have done.
Never promise what you may not be able to
give, my Beppo."  And she fell to musing
again rather uneasily.

The boys were all suddenly silent, and Gigi,
who had warmed to their kindness, felt a
sudden chill.  He had not thought of anything
beyond the safety of the moment.  He had
made no plans, he had only hoped vaguely
that these good people might help him.  But
now, what was to happen next?  Was there
still something more to fear?

Suddenly the flash of a lantern lighted the
road ahead.  A man's voice hailed them loudly.
"Hello!  Hello!  Will you never be coming home?"

"Father!  It is father!" cried the three boys
in an answering shout.  Then with a common
thought they all stopped short, and Gigi felt
them looking at him in the darkness.

"What will he think of Gigi?" he heard
Beppo whisper to his brothers.

"Sh!" warned Mother Margherita.  And
the man's voice sounded nearer.

"Hello, old woman!" it called gruffly.
"Well, you did come back, didn't you?
I began to believe that you had all run away."

"Run away!"  There was a little pause
before any one answered.  And Gigi felt
the elbows of the boys nudging him in the side.

"Father's angry!" they whispered.  "Father
is terrible when he is angry.  You had better
look out!"

Then Gigi knew that there was something
else to fear that night.  And his heart sank.
Was there to be no end of his troubles?



VI

THE SILVER PIECE

The team stopped in front of a stone cottage, from the window of which
the light shone hospitably.  They all jumped down from the cart, and
under cover of the darkness Mother Margherita hustled Gigi with the
other boys into the house, while Giuseppe, the father, cared for the
oxen.

The mother busied herself in preparing supper, and the boys scattered
about on various errands.  But Gigi sat in a corner by the fire, too
tired to move or speak.  He had thrown off his long cloak, and the fire
glanced brightly upon the green and gold costume of this quaint little
figure, so out of place in the simple cottage.  Presently Giuseppe
entered with a heavy tread, and paused in amazement at what he saw on
his hearthstone.

"Hello!" he cried gruffly.  "What's this?"

Mother Margherita came forward quickly.  "It is a little tumbler," she
said.  "We saw him do his tricks at the market to-day.  The Gypsies
beat him, and he has run away.  Let us give him at least supper and a
shelter for the night, Giuseppe?"  Her tone was beseeching.

"Hum!" grumbled Giuseppe doubtfully.  "A runaway!  A tumbler!  A thief,
I dare say, as well.  A pretty fellow to bring into an honest man's
house!  His master will be after him, and then we shall all get into
trouble for sheltering a runaway.  Margherita, you were always a
foolish woman!  Is this all you have to show for market-day?  Where is
the money?"

"Here it is, Giuseppe," said the mother, handing him the bag of silver,
which he thrust into his pocket.  "Now let us have supper.  You can
count the silver afterward, and we will tell you about everything when
that is over."

With a very bad grace the father watched the little stranger timidly
take his place at the board between Paolo and Giovanni, Beppo crying
because he could not have the tumbler next to him also.

There was much to talk about at that meal.  They had to describe the
holiday at market, which was a great event for the little family.  Then
there were the Tumblers; and the adventure of Gigi and the
Hunchback,--that was the most exciting of all.  And how near they came
to losing the bag of silver which they had earned by selling their
vegetables at the market!  Giuseppe asked Gigi many questions, not
unkindly, but with a bluntness that made the boy wince.  And often
Mother Margherita spoke up for him, with a kind answer.  Gigi grew
paler and paler, and his food lay almost untouched on his plate.  He
was too tired to eat.

At last, when supper was finished.  Mother Margherita rose and lighted
a candle.  "Come with me, Gigi," she said, "and I will show you where
you are to sleep this night."

Gigi followed her readily, glad to escape further questioning, and
eager to rest his aching head.  The little boys called after him a
hearty good-night.  But Giuseppe saw him go without a word, casting
sidewise looks after the retreating figures, and grunting sourly.

There was no room for Gigi in the loft where the family slept.  But out
in the stable, beside the oxen, was a fresh pile of straw, a fine bed
for the tired little wanderer.  When Mother Margherita had bidden him a
kind good-night and had closed the stable door behind her, Gigi threw
himself upon the straw and was almost Instantly asleep.  The oxen
breathed gently beside him, chewing their cud.  Everything was still
and peaceful.  And the night passed.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" crowed the first cock, speaking the same tongue
that he learned at the beginning of the world, and that he always uses
in every land, among every people.

It was but a few moments later when Gigi was awakened suddenly by a
touch on his shoulder.  The boy opened his eyes and stared about,
bewildered.  He did not know where he was.  Who was this bending over
him in the dim light?  Not Tonio; not Cecco; not the Giant?  Then he
recognized Mother Margherita, stooping low with a pitiful expression on
her face.  She had a little bundle in her hand.

"Get up, Gigi," she whispered.  "You must be off.  My man is so angry!
He vows he will take you to the village to-day and give you up to your
masters.  He thinks you are a thief, Gigi.  But I do not believe that
you stole the silver piece."

"The silver piece!" cried Gigi, still more bewildered.

"Sh!" cautioned the woman, laying a hand on his lips.  "Giuseppe must
not know that I am here.  He sleeps still.  When we counted the money
in the bag we found it short by one piece of silver, besides the one I
gave you.  That was my own to do with as I chose.  But he believes that
you stole another when you were holding the bag for me, hiding under my
skirts."

"I did not take it!" cried Gigi, wide-awake now.  "Oh, I would not
steal from you,--not from you, the only person who was ever kind to me!"

"There, there!  I told him so!" said the good woman soothingly.  "I
told him I must have lost it at the market when I was making change for
somebody.  But he will not believe.  You must be off, Gigi, before he
wakes, or you will have to go back to those cruel fellows.  Giuseppe is
so set!  Like a mule he is when he is angry!"

Gigi sprang to his feet and looked wildly around.  "Where shall I go?
What shall I do?" he asked.

Mother Margherita looked at the pale little lad and her eyes filled.
"Poor little fellow!" she sighed.  "Suppose you were one of my boys,
Beppo or Paolo!  But we must lose no time"; and she dashed the tears
from her eyes.  "Here is your cloak to hide that gaudy dress.  And here
is a bundle of food,--all I could spare without the good man's
knowledge.  For it must seem that you have run away of your own accord.
I know that will make him sure that you are a thief.  But I dare not
let him guess that I have warned you and helped you to escape.  You do
not know Giuseppe's anger!--Farewell, dear little lad, and may the
Saints have you in their keeping."

She led him to the door and pointed out the direction, in the gray
dawn.  She showed him where, to the north, by a great tree, a lane
branched from the highroad.  "Follow that," she said.  "It will be
safer in case you are pursued.  And it comes at last to the great road
into another country.  There perhaps you will be safe and find friends
who can help you more than I have done.  Though none can wish you
better."  And she hugged him close.  "Farewell, Gigi!"



VII

THE WANDERER

With a lump in his throat, Gigi left the only roof that had ever shown
him kindness.  In the gray dawn he crept out to the highroad.  There
was no time to be lost, for already the east was growing pink, and soon
the sun would be making long shadows on the open road.  Giuseppe would
surely spy him and bring him back.

As soon as he was outside the farm enclosure, Gigi began to run.  But
he found that he was stiff and sore from his fall of the day before,
and from the many beatings which he had received of late.  Every bone
in his body ached, and especially his head, which throbbed so as to
make him faint.  Still he ran on.  For more than anything else he
feared being captured and sent back to the Gypsies.

At last Gigi came to the great tree where branched the cross-road to
the north.  Here he turned aside.  Then he drew a deep breath, feeling
safer.  He ceased running, and presently, being hungry and tired, he
sat down upon a stone and opened the bundle which Mother Margherita had
given him.  He found bread and cheese, and began to eat greedily, until
he remembered that he knew not where he should find dinner and supper.
He looked at the remnant of bread and cheese longingly, but at last
wrapped it up and put it back into the little pouch which, as was the
custom in those times, he wore at his belt.

The lane upon which he was now traveling was shadier than the highroad,
and as he went on the trees grew even taller and bigger.  Apparently
the way was leading through the outskirts of a forest.  The lane was
more crooked, also.  Gigi could not see far either before or behind
him, because of the constant turnings.

Suddenly, he stopped short and listened.  There was a sound; yes, there
certainly was a sound on the road behind him,--the noise of galloping
hoofs.

Gigi was seized with a panic.  Without stopping to think, he plunged
from the road into the forest, and began to run wildly through the
underbrush.  He did not care in which direction he went,--anywhere, as
far as possible from the pursuing hoof-beats.

On, on he plunged, sometimes sprawling over roots of trees, sometimes
bruising himself against low branches or stumbling upon stones which
seemed to rise up on purpose to delay him; torn by briars and tripped
by clutching vines.  But always he ran on and on, this way and that,
wherever there seemed an opening in the forest, which was continually
growing denser and more wild.

How long he wandered he did not know.  The sun was high in the heavens
when at last, wholly exhausted, Gigi fell upon a bank of moss.  His
weary bones ached.  He was too tired to move, but lay there motionless,
and presently he fell into a troubled sleep.  When he awoke with a
start, it was growing dark, and he was very hungry.  He felt for the
pouch into which he had put his bits of bread and cheese, but it was
gone!  He must have lost it when pushing through the bushes.

What was he to do?  He knew he must find his way back to the highroad,
where he could perhaps beg a supper at some cottage.  But how was he to
know which way to go?  He looked up and around him in despair.  He was
in the midst of the wildest kind of forest.  The trees grew close
together, and there was no path, no sign that men had ever passed this
way.

Moreover, it was growing darker every minute.  Already the shadows
behind the trees were black and terrible.  Gigi suddenly remembered
that there were fierce animals in the forests.  In those days, all over
Europe bears and wolves and many kinds of wild beasts, large and small,
wandered wherever there were trees and hiding-places; in fact, one
might meet them anywhere except in cities and towns.  And sometimes in
winter, when they were very hungry, bold wolves prowled even in the
market-places.

Gigi shuddered.  He dared not think of sleep, alone in this dreadful
place.  He must try to find the road.  Once more he crawled to his feet
and began to stagger through the darkness, groping with his hands to
ward off the branches which scratched his face and the thorns which
tore his garments into rags.

Now there began to be strange sounds in the forest.  The birds had
ceased to sing, save for a chirp now and then as Gigi's passing wakened
some tired songster.  But there were other noises which Gigi did not
understand, and which set his heart to knocking fearfully; the cracking
of twigs far off and near at hand; little scurries in the underbrush as
he approached; now and then the crash of something bounding through the
bushes in the distance; sometimes a squeak or a chatter which sounded
terrible to the little boy's unaccustomed ears.  And finally, far off
in the forest, came a long, low howl that set his teeth to chattering.

Was it a wolf?  The thought was more than Gigi could bear.  He fainted,
and fell forward into a bed of soft green moss.



VIII

THE RESCUE

Gigi must have lain all night where he fell.  For when he opened his
eyes the sun was shining dimly through the dense leaves of the tree
overhead.  He remembered only the last thing he had heard before his
eyes closed,--that long howl in the darkness.  So it was with a thrill
of terror that he felt a strange touch on his face.  Something warm and
wet was passing over his cheek.  Something soft and warm was cuddling
close to his side.  He thrust out his hand feebly, groping at something
to help him rise.  His fingers closed in thick, soft hair.  Suddenly
Gigi knew what was happening to his face.  Some big animal was licking
it with a coarse but gentle tongue!

Was it the wolf that had howled?  A dreadful thought!  Gigi screamed
aloud.  He struck at the creature with all the strength he had, which
was little enough.

"Get away!  Go along with you!" he cried in Gypsy gibberish.

In answer, the animal uttered a whine, very gentle, very piteous; and
it began to lick the hand which had struck it.

Gigi's eyes had now grown used to the half-light.  Suddenly he saw what
had lain beside him, keeping him warm all night.  It was a great shaggy
dog, brown and white.  Around his neck was a heavy collar of leather
studded with nails.  Gigi did not like dogs.  The only ones he knew had
always chased the Tumblers and barked at them as they entered or left a
village.  Sometimes they had snapped at Gigi's heels so viciously that
he had cried out.  And then Cecco would cuff him for making a fuss.

But this dog seemed friendly.  He looked up in Gigi's face, and wagged
his tail pleasantly.  He whined and put his nose in Gigi's hand; then
he got to his feet and ran away a few steps, looking back at the boy
and waiting.  Gigi did not know what it meant.  But when the dog saw
that the boy was not following, he went back and repeated his action.
Several times he did this, and still Gigi lay looking at him, too tired
and too weak to make an effort, even to think.  At last the dog came
back once more.  This time he took Gigi's hand between his teeth, very
gently, and began to pull him in the direction toward which he had
first gone.  Then Gigi knew.  The dog was trying to lead him somewhere!

A throb of hope warmed his heart.  Perhaps this was a friend who would
bring him out of the dreadful forest to some place where he could eat.
For oh, he was so hungry!  He dragged himself to his feet, and tried to
follow, leaning a hand on the dog's neck.  The creature was wild with
joy, and began to bark and wag his tail furiously.  Even this motion
made the boy totter, he was so weak.  He took a few steps, then he had
to stop.  He was sore all over, dizzy and faint.  He lay down on the
ground with his head between his hands.  And once more the good dog
crept near and poked his wet nose into Gigi's face, licking his cheek.

The boy reached out a hand and patted him timidly.  It was the first
time Gigi had ever felt friendly toward an animal!

When the dog found that it was of no use to try to lead Gigi on, he sat
still and seemed to think for a few moments.  Then he came close and
crouched in the moss beside Gigi, whining softly and rubbing his nose
against the boy's knee.  Evidently he wanted his new friend to do
something.  The boy looked at him wearily, and wondered.  He took hold
of the collar about the dog's neck.  Yes! that was it!  The dog barked
and wagged his tail, but did not move.  He was still waiting.  Gigi
looked at the big fellow lying there.  He was almost as large as the
little donkey who bore the luggage of the Tumblers upon their journeys.
He was big enough to carry Gigi himself.  Was that what the creature
meant?

Gigi lifted one leg over the dog's back, keeping hold of the collar as
tightly as he could.  The animal rose to his feet with a glad bark.
Yes, this was what he wanted.  He began to move forward slowly, for
Gigi was a heavy burden and his feet nearly touched the ground.

Slowly they moved through the forest, a quaint pair of wanderers.
Sometimes Gigi felt faint and ill, and lay forward, resting his head on
the dog's soft neck.  Sometimes they stopped to rest.  Then Gigi lay
flat on the moss, with the dog stretched out close to his side.  But
they were both unwilling to waste many minutes so.

[Illustration:  A quaint pair of wanderers.]



IX

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Presently Gigi and the dog came to a clearing in the forest.  All about
was as wild as anything they had passed.  But here, quite alone, stood
a little hut made of logs and branches twisted together.

The first thing that Gigi saw, after the hut itself, was an old man in
a coarse gray gown, sitting on a stump, reading a book.  His head was
bare, and he had a long white beard.  His feet were bare, too, and he
wore leather sandals.  A rope was tied about his waist.  Gigi had
sometimes seen men so dressed plodding along the highroad or begging
from the townsfolk.  If he thought about them at all, he believed them
to be some rival sort of performers, like the Tumblers themselves.  It
seemed very queer to see one of the Gray Men here in the lonely
forest,--and with such strange companions!  Gigi stared and stared
again, rubbing his tired eyes to make sure that they saw aright.

On the old man's knees was curled, asleep, a comfortable white cat.
Three little kittens played with the knotted ends of his girdle,
swarming up and down the gray gown of the reader.  On his shoulder
perched a squirrel, busily eating a nut which he held in his little
paws.  Close by, a brown and white deer grazed about the door of the
little hut.  A great black raven hopped gravely about the old man's
feet, now and then picking up a bug.  Lying peacefully asleep in front
of the hut door, like a yellow mat of fur, a fox was stretched.  In and
out among the rose-bushes of a tiny garden which was planted beneath
the window of the hut, hopped several brown hares, seeming much at
home.  The old man's head nodded forward on his book.  He could sleep
soundly, it seemed, with all these little live things swarming about
him.  Even as his gray locks swept the page, a thrush fluttered down
and lighted gently on the bald crown, beginning to sing so sweetly that
Gigi held his breath.

All this the boy saw in that first glimpse before he and the dog parted
the bushes and came out into the clearing.  In that instant everything
changed.  The dog gave a sharp bark of pleasure.  The old man let the
book fall from his hand, and sat staring.  The animals leaped from
their slumbers and scuttled away in every direction, some into the hut,
some into the neighboring bushes, some melting as if by magic into the
forest.  The squirrel and the thrush took shelter in the treetops.
Only the raven, with ruffled feathers, remained at the old man's side,
turning a fierce little eye upon the newcomer.

By this time Gigi had thrown himself from the dog's back, and stood
feebly leaning against a tree.  Released from his burden, the dog
bounded forward, and was soon leaping upon the old man's shoulders,
covering his face and hands and feet with eager kisses.

"Down, Brutus, down!" said the old man, in a tongue which Gigi could
not understand.  "Where hast thou been so long, good dog?  And what new
pet hast thou brought for my colony?"  He looked towards Gigi with
keen, kind eyes.  "Come hither, my lad," he said in the same tongue.

But Gigi only stared, not understanding.  He was growing afraid of this
queer old man, who spoke a strange language and had wild animals for
his friends; who read, too, in a great black book!  Gigi had heard of
wicked wizards and sorcerers, and he believed that he saw one now.  He
turned about and tried to run away.  But his poor head grew dizzy, and
before he knew it he had fallen, and lay sobbing and shivering, unable
to rise.

Presently he felt the dog's gentle tongue licking his face.  A moment
after, kind, strong arms lifted him and bore him into the little hut.
The old man laid Gigi on a cot beside the window, and after laying his
hand on the boy's head and wrist, went away and returned with something
in a cup.

"Drink this, my child," he said.  And this time Gigi understood.  He
drank and felt better.  Then the old man asked him in the tongue which
Gigi knew, "Are you hungry, lad?"

The boy nodded, and his eyes must have told how nearly starved he was.
The old man went swiftly to a little cupboard in the wall, and soon
came back with bread and milk in an earthen bowl.

"Eat," he said, lifting Gigi's head on his arm.  "Eat this good bread,
my son, and drink the warm milk of my friend the doe, which I had just
set aside, not expecting you.  Then you shall sleep here on my pallet.
And soon we shall be right smiling and happy all!"

The kind old eyes beamed on Gigi while he devoured his breakfast like a
starved animal, without a word of thanks.  When he had finished, the
kind old hands brought water and bathed the tired body, bound up the
bleeding hands and feet with refreshing ointment, and laid Gigi back
again to rest upon the cot beside the rose-screened window.

There Gigi lay and slept; slept and dreamed; dreamed and went over
again by fits and starts the strange adventures of the past two days.
But strangest of all, though by far the pleasantest, was that picture
which he had seen when he came out into the clearing upon the back of
Brutus.  And this picture, with queer variations, filled the foreground
of Gigi's dreaming.



X

THE HERMIT

_They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth
shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the
sea_.--HOLY WRIT.


For three days Gigi lay on the pallet of the good Hermit, near to
death.  And for three days the great dog lay on guard by his side.  The
Hermit went softly to and fro, taking tender care of the boy and giving
him medicine made from wonderful herbs which he had found in the woods.
Often he knelt in a corner of the hut, before a rude wooden Cross, and
said prayers; this seemed to give him strength for his work and hope
for its result.  So that when he rose, his face would be bright and
happy.

This was he doing the third morning when Gigi awoke, feeling better.
The ache was gone from his limbs and the dizziness from his head.  He
awoke with a long sigh, and for the first time since he lay down on the
Hermit's pallet he looked around him with interest.  At first he did
not know where he was.

The hut was small and bare.  In one corner was a cupboard where the
Hermit kept his scanty supply of food and the medicines which he
distilled.  Against the wall was a bench, beside a table made of a
tree-stump, and on the table lay a great black book.  Opposite the bed
was the Cross of wood fastened to the wall, and below it the good
Hermit knelt with bowed head.  Gigi wondered what he was doing.  He
himself knew no prayers.

Gigi's eyes wandered to the door, which stood open.  On the sill the
cat and her kittens were playing.  Outside he could catch a glimpse of
various animals frisking about the dooryard.  Birds sang merrily in the
trees overhead and in the bushes just outside the window.  The raven
hopped into the doorway and stood looking saucily at Gigi, with head on
one side.  It was all so peaceful, so quiet, so different from anything
which Gigi had known, that he thought it must be a dream.  He sighed
again, and turned over, stretching out his arm.  In doing so he touched
the hairy neck of Brutus, who was still sleeping by his bed.  Instantly
the dog sprang up and began to lick the boy's face.  At the same
moment, with a pious gesture, the Hermit also rose and came toward the
cot, smiling kindly.

"You are better, my son?" he asked, laying a cool hand upon Gigi's
forehead.  "Ah, yes!  You will soon be quite yourself."

Gigi stared up at him contentedly.  "Who are you?" he asked.  He had
never been taught manners, and he could no longer hide his curiosity.

"I am a Hermit," answered the old man.  "I live here alone with my
animals, as you see.  I pass the days in prayer and meditation,
studying the Lord's Holy Book and the living works of His hands."

"Why do you live away from men?" asked Gigi again.

The Hermit's face grew sad.

"Men are wicked and cruel, child," he said.  "Men hurt and kill one
another.  They love to slay the innocent animals for sport.  In their
kingdoms is no love.  I have made myself here an animal kingdom, where
all is love and peace."

"Do all animals know you?" asked Gigi, wondering.

"With time I can make friends with them all," said the Hermit, smiling.
"One has but to love and understand and be patient.  See!"

He gave a peculiar call.  Instantly there came tumbling into the hut,
until it nearly overflowed, a strange medley of creatures,--hares,
mice, birds, kittens, squirrels.  Last of all peered into the doorway a
deer and her little speckled fawn.

The dog sat quite still, not moving a muscle.  He had been trained not
to frighten his more timid neighbors.

"Follow the example of Brutus, my son," said the Hermit gently.  "Make
no sudden movement and do not speak.  They know my voice, and they will
learn yours.  But you are still a stranger to them, and must expect
them to be shy."

The animals crowded lovingly about the Hermit, some springing upon his
shoulders and knees, the birds flitting about his head.

Gigi thought he had never seen so wonderful a sight.  "Oh!" thought he,
"if I could only do this, what money might I not take from a crowd on
market-days!"

After talking to his pets and caressing them tenderly, the old man
dismissed them to the outdoor sunshine, so that he was alone with Gigi,
who could then be free to move and speak once more.

"The beloved innocents!" said the Hermit, with a sigh.  "Who could ever
willfully injure one of them.  God's creatures?--But now, my son, tell
me about yourself," he broke off.  "Who are you?  Whence do you come?
Whither are you going?"

"I do not know," said Gigi simply, in answer to all three questions.
And then he told his story as he had told it to Mother Margherita.

The old man listened pitifully.  "Poor little lad!" he said.  "Men have
been cruel to you, also.  You have no home, no friends, no past, and no
future.  What shall we do with you?"

"Oh, let me stay with you!" cried Gigi, clasping his hands.  "You are
so good and wise.  Teach me!  Teach me to be good and wise, too.  Take
me into your animal kingdom, and teach me to make them all my friends.
I could do such tricks with them,--far better than tumbling.  I should
grow rich!"

The old man shook his head.  "That cannot be," he said.  "I cannot
teach men to grow rich.  Nor would I see my animals made ridiculous for
money.  I came here to be a hermit.  I vowed to have nothing more to do
with human folk, only with the animals whom they persecute.  But I
never thought that a child would seek my roof."

Pie looked at Gigi doubtfully.  The boy returned the look, and the
brown spot on his eyelid trembled piteously.  The Hermit blinked.

"Yes, you are a poor little animal, too," he said at last.  "You are
ignorant and innocent as they.  I cannot turn you away.  Perhaps I can
teach you better things than tricks.  Perhaps I can make you a disciple
and a Christian.  If you are teachable, I can make you wise with the
knowledge of herbs and healing.  If I send back to the world which I
have left one man useful, tender, strong, and good, perhaps he may be
able to do more than I have done to stay the march of evil."

Gigi did not understand the words at all, but the tone was kind.  He
pushed the bandage from his head, looked up at the Hermit, and smiled
his own strange smile.  "I think you will not beat me," he said.  The
brown spot on his eyelid gave him the wink of mischief.

"Beat you!" The old man's face broke into an answering smile, and he
rocked to and fro with pleasure in Gigi's little joke.  Then he bent
forward suddenly, and stared into the boy's face with a keen look.

"The wicked eye of him!" he said, talking to himself.  "How like it is!
Strange, strange!  About nine years old, he is.  Nine years ago--" He
paused, gazing at Gigi, and murmuring under his breath.  "What are you
wearing about your neck?" he asked suddenly.

Gigi put his hand to a tiny silver chain which just peeped above his
green doublet, and drew out a flat piece of silver of strange shape,
and with one side carved deeply with a notched Cross.

"Where did you get this?" asked the Hermit, strangely excited.

"I do not know," said Gigi, wondering.  "I have worn it always.  Not
even Cecco dared take it from me.  I have heard him say so.  But I do
not know why!"

"The lost one!" cried the Hermit, embracing Gigi, with tears in his
eyes.  Then, crossing himself, he added piously, "Dear little lad!  We
are in the Lord's hands.  Gigi, you shall stay with me until the time
is come.  But you wear the Cross, a blessed emblem.  I shall call you
no more by that heathen Gypsy name.  You shall bear the beloved
Christian name of John, to which perhaps you have as good a right as
any.  Ah! I will not tell you more.  I will wait until I see if you be
worthy indeed.  If not--his son shall never know!"

All this Gigi did not understand.  But he was happy to know that he
might stay.  And he began his new life as one of the Hermit's animal
kingdom by hugging close old Brutus, his first four-footed friend, who
had brought him safely to this haven.



XI

THE PUPIL

_But ask now the beasts and they shall teach thee, and the fowls of the
air and they shall tell thee_.--HOLY WRIT.


Gigi the Gypsy was now become John; no longer an outcast and a
wanderer, but a happy little Christian boy.  Surely no child ever lived
so strange a life as he.  Surely no boy ever had such queer playmates,
or studied in so wild a school.

First of all he had to become acquainted with his oddly-mixed family of
two-footed and four-footed brothers.  Brutus was his friend from the
beginning.  The great dog seemed to have adopted for his very own the
boy whom, led by some kindly angel, he had found that night in the
forest.  But the other creatures were shy at first.  They ran at the
sound of John's shrill boyish voice, and shrank from his quick
movements.  They hid in the bushes when he came dashing and dancing
into the clearing after a romp with Brutus, and it would take some
patience to coax them back again.

John saw that this troubled the good old Hermit, whom he loved better
every day, and he tried to imitate his teacher's gentle voice and
manner and his soft tread.  The little tumbler was himself light as a
feather, and graceful as the deer, his new-found sister.  He was quick
to learn and naturally gentle, though his cruel life had made him
careless and rough.  Soon he had made friends with all the Hermit's
pets, so that they knew and loved him almost as well as they did the
master of this forest-school.

In his green doublet and hose, clumsily patched with pieces of gray
serge from the Hermit's own cloak, John rambled about the wild woods,
looking like one of the fairy-folk of whom legends tell.  Often he went
with the wise old man, who gave him lessons of the forest which he knew
so well.  John learned to steal on tiptoe and surprise the ways of the
wood-folk,--the shy birds and the shyer little brothers who live in the
moss and mould.  He grew wise in the lore of flowers and herbs, and
could tell where each one grew and when it blossomed, and which ones,
giving their life-blood for the sake of men, could cure disease and
bring comfort to the ailing.  At night they watched the moon and the
far-off, tiny stars.  These, too, became friends, many of them known to
John by name.  He loved each one, for the Hermit said that they also
were his brothers and sisters, like the birds and beasts and fishes;
all being the children of that Father who had made this beautiful world
to be the home where all should live together.

But the book of Nature was not all that John studied in these days.  He
learned to read also the written language of men, and studied the wise
and holy words which have kept goodness before men's sight since
knowledge began.  Until now John had never opened a book or held a pen.
But the Hermit taught him wisely and well, and soon he was in a fair
way to become a scholar.

A busy life he led, what with his studies indoors and out and his
duties about the hut,--for the Hermit taught him to be deft in all
tasks, however simple and homely.  John could cut up firewood or cook a
porridge with as happy a face as he wore when he played with Brutus or
sang the morning hymn of praise at the good Hermit's side.

One thing his teacher would not have him forget.  He must practice his
tumbling every day.  For the Hermit said, "No skill once learned will
ever come amiss, my son.  You spent years and suffered hardly to gain
this agility.  It seems to me not frivolous nor undignified, but a
beautiful thing, to keep one's body lithe and graceful even as are the
free-natured animals.  Then practice, John; and some day even this
skill may not come amiss."

So the boy practiced daily in front of the cabin.  He danced and
tumbled; he turned somersaults and stood on his head; he leaped with a
pole and swung nimbly as a monkey from the limbs of the overhanging
trees.  And the circle of animals watched him gravely, marveling no
doubt at the strange antics of their brother; but, being now used to
his voice and manner, neither annoyed nor shocked by anything which he
might do.

[Illustration:  The circle of animals watched him.]

When the day was over, John would throw himself on a soft bed of moss
under a tree, beside the Hermit seated on a log.  Then they would read
or talk, and tell stories of what they had seen in the world of men.
Brutus would be curled down between them.  Blanche and her kittens, big
and little, would play with John's hair as he lay there.  The squirrel,
perched on the boy's doubled-up knees, would chatter and crack nuts.
The brown hares would run to and fro over his feet, while the doe and
her little fawn nibbled the grass close by, listening to the sound of
the human voices as though they liked it.

What a happy home it was!  John wondered if ever any boy was so lucky
as he.



XII

THE BEAR

John had grown to love the little four-footed brothers dearly, and they
were great friends of his.  But still the Hermit seemed to have a charm
about him which John lacked, and which drew even the strange new
creatures to him and made them trust him from the first.  John longed
to learn this secret.  But when he asked the old man about it he looked
at the boy kindly and said,--

"It will come, my son, with time.  Love, live, and learn."

John had been with the Hermit some months, when happened an adventure
that interested him more than anything which had befallen.  He was
walking one day with the old man in a part of the forest far distant
from their hut.  They were looking for a rare and wonderful herb which
the sage needed to distill a certain precious balm.

"This should be the spot," said the old man, going toward a heap of
rocks around which grew a tangle of shrubs and creepers.  "The plant
which I seek is shy, and hides in the shadows of sheltered places.
Yonder is a cave, where first I made my dwelling when I came to the
forest, before I built the hut in which we now live.  And at the
entrance, I remember, grew the herb of grace, which more than once has
done me service in healing the hurts of my pets."

The Hermit plunged eagerly forward to the rocks.  John followed close
behind.  At the entrance to the cave the old man stooped to pluck the
herb which they had come so far to seek, and John, clambering beside
him, bent curiously to peer into the cave.  Suddenly a sound from
within made him start.  The Hermit paused in his task, and both stared
motionless into the blackness of the cave.  Presently the sound came
again,--a deep growl ending in a whine.

"Some animal in pain," whispered the Hermit to John.  "Stay you here,
my son.  I will discover what it may be."

"Nay, father!" pleaded the boy.  "It may be some fierce creature; it
may hurt you.  Do not go!"

The old man turned beaming eyes upon him.  "Never yet have I been hurt
by an animal," he said gently.  "My body bears only the scars of human
hands.  I am not afraid.  But do you stay here, my son.  You have not
yet quite learned the language of dumb things."

"I shall go with you!" said John to himself.  He seized the staff which
the Hermit had dropped, and followed close upon his heels.

Soon their eyes became more used to the darkness of the cave, with
which the Hermit was already familiar.  Presently out of the shadows in
a far corner they spied two red eyes glaring upon them.  Behind the
eyes bulked a huge, apparently shapeless form.  It half rose as they
drew near, and again they heard the growl of anger.  But as the
creature made a sudden movement, the growl turned into a howl of agony,
and it rolled back into the corner, whimpering.

John plucked the Hermit by his robe.  "It is a bear!" he said.  "I have
met them sometimes upon the highways, traveling with mountebanks.  And
the men told me that they were very fierce and hard to tame.  Be
careful, my father!  Go not near, I beseech you!"

But the old man paid no heed to his words.  Bending forward, he made a
strange sound in his throat, a soothing, cooing noise.  The bear heard
it, and ceased to whine.  They saw the ugly head rear up and look at
the Hermit wildly.  Again he made the sound, and stooping without fear
brought his face close to the bear's great body.  The animal did not
move.

Presently the Hermit turned to John.  "The poor beast has a wounded
paw," he said.  "An arrow has hurt it badly."

He unfastened from his girdle a cup which he always carried in his
wanderings.

"Here, my son," he said, "fill this at the spring which we passed
yonder.  The creature suffers from thirst."

John hesitated.  "Is it safe to leave you here alone with this wild
beast?" he asked.

The Hermit smiled.  "Quite safe," he said.  "Do you think I need your
protection?  Brother Bear will soon know me for his friend."

When John returned he found the Hermit sitting on the floor of the
cave, with the bear's paw resting on his knee.  The animal was quiet,
save for a whimpering now and then.  John could see his little red eyes
fixed upon the Hermit with a curious look of wonder and appeal.  He
seemed unable to move, and the Hermit touched the beast quite
naturally, as if he were a great kitten.  The bear stirred and turned
his eyes when John entered.

"Thanks, son," said the Hermit, taking the cup from the boy's hand;
and, turning again to' the bear, he held it to the animal's mouth.
"Drink, brother," he said.

Eagerly the bear lapped up the water.

"Now, my son," said the Hermit to John, "go you to the entrance of the
cave and pluck me a handful of the healing herb-leaves.  I must bind up
this suffering paw."

"Surely, father," begged John, "you will not try to touch the
creature's wound.  He will tear you to pieces!"

The old man turned reproachful eyes upon him.  "Son," he said, "I have
tried to teach you obedience.  Go, get me the leaves."

Without more words John hastened to do as he was bid.  When he returned
with a handful of the plant, he found that the Hermit had bathed the
wounded paw of the now quiet animal.  He had torn a strip of linen from
the shirt which he wore under his gray robe, and was making this into a
bandage.  Soon he had crushed the leaves and had bound them upon the
foot of the bear, who lay still and gentle under his hands.  John
stared, amazed.

"Now we will go home," said the Hermit softly, "and you, John, shall
return with food for this poor hungry brother.  You will soon make him
your dear friend also.  For, you see, he asks only love and patience.
Men have been cruel to him.  But we will be kind to our Brother Bear."

Thus John learned a new lesson of courtesy to the wilder, bigger
beasts.  That same day he made the long journey a second time, bringing
the bear his dinner, with a comb of wild honey which the Hermit had
found on the way home.  And he had the joy of seeing the creature act
no longer like an enemy, but like a timid friend.

Day after day John went and ministered to the sick animal.  At last,
there came a joyous time when the bear rose to greet him on his
approach.  The injured paw was healed.  And when John left the cave
that night, the bear hobbled at his heels, even to the clearing where
the Hermit lived.  He would not go farther at that time.  He sat down
on his haunches outside the border of tall trees, and when John tried
to coax him he looked at the hut doubtfully.  At the sight of Brutus he
made lumberingly away.

A few evenings later, the bear came of his own accord to beg for his
supper; and at last this became a custom.  Soon he also was accounted a
member of the animal kingdom, and became good friends with them all.
In time John taught him many tricks, such as he had seen the
mountebanks do with their traveling bears.  But unlike them, John
taught only by kindness; and his bear learned the faster.



XIII

A FOREST RAMBLE

"Father," said John one summer afternoon, when his tasks for the day
were quite finished, "Brutus and I are going for a long walk."

"Very well, my son," answered the Hermit, "I will bide here and read my
book, for the heat has made me somewhat weary.  But see that you return
before sunset."

"Yes, father," said John.

Slinging over his shoulder a little basket in which to fetch home any
strange plants which he might find in the forest, John whistled to
Brutus, and the pair trotted away together as they loved to do.  The
Hermit looked after them, and smiled.

"John is a good boy," he said.  "One day he will be a fine man.  May
the Saints help me to make him worthy of his father and of the name he
bears."  Then he turned to his beloved book.

John and Brutus went merrily through the forest, the boy singing under
his breath snatches of the cheerful hymns that he and the Hermit loved.
The dog ran ahead, exploring in the bushes, sometimes disappearing for
long minutes at a time, but ever returning to rub his nose in John's
hand and exchange a silent word with him.  They were not going for any
particular errand to any especial spot.  They were just rambling
wherever the forest looked inviting; which is the nicest way to travel
through the woods,--especially if one of you can be trusted to find the
way home, however wavering may be the trail that you leave behind.  It
was what John loved to do more than anything in the world.

The woods were cool and green and full of lovely light.  It was so
still and peaceful, too!  The tiny queer noises all about, which once,
before he knew the kingdom of the forest, had frightened him so much,
now filled John with the keenest joy.  Often he paused and listened
eagerly.  He liked to feel that he was surrounded everywhere by little
brothers, seen and unseen.  With a word to Brutus, which made the dog
lie down and keep perfectly quiet, John would steal forward softly and
peer through a screen of bushes, or into a treetop, and watch the
housekeeping of some shy brother beast or bird.  Once he flung himself
flat on the ground, and lay for a long time eagerly watching the antics
of a beetle.  A little later, with Brutus patiently beside him, he sat
cross-legged for ten minutes, waiting to see how a certain big yellow
spider would spin her web between two branches of a rose-bush.

They wandered on and on.  A great golden butterfly rose before them
from a bed of lilies, and together he and Brutus ran after it; not to
capture and kill it, oh no! for to John the wonder of the flower with
wings lay in the life which gave it power to move about and pay calls
upon the other blossoms that must be always stay-at-homes.  John chased
it gaily, as one brother plays with another.  And when it lighted on a
rose-bush or a yellow broom-flower, or poised on a swaying blade of
grass, he crept up and admired its lovely colors without touching the
fragile thing.  But at last, as if suddenly remembering an errand which
it had forgotten, the butterfly soared quickly up and away over the
treetops and out of sight.

"Good-by, little brother!" called John after it.  "I wish I could fly
as you do and look down upon the kingdom of the forest!  Then indeed I
would learn all the secrets of our friends up in the treetops there,
who hide their nests so selfishly.  Oh, I should so love to see all the
little baby birds!  To be sure, some that I have seen in the
ground-nests are ugly enough.  Oh, the big mouths of them!  Oh, the
bald skins and prickly pin-feathers!  Ha! ha!"  John laughed so
heartily that Brutus came running up to see what the joke was.  "O
Brutus!" cried John.  "I think I know why the father and mother birds
build their nests so high.  They are ashamed to have any one see their
funny little ones before they are quite dressed!"

Brutus looked up in John's face and seemed to smile.  The boy and the
dog often had talks together in this wise.

"I think I will ask them," said John.  "Now, Brutus, lie still."  He
gave a peculiar whistle, waited a moment, and repeated it, twice,
thrice.  At the first call there was a fluttering in the branches
overhead.  At the second call one saw the silhouettes of tiny bodies
dropping from branch to branch ever nearer to the boy below.  At the
third, there was a flutter, a rush of wings, and a flock of dear little
birds came flying to John's shoulder, to his out-stretched arms, to his
head; so that presently he looked like a green bush which they had
chosen for their perch.

John talked with them in his own way, with chirps and lisping of the
lips, and they were no more afraid of him than of a good-natured tree.
But after a while, a fly, which had been tickling Brutus's nose, grew
so impertinent that the poor dog had to punish him with his paw.  At
the sudden movement the birds fluttered away, and John looked
reproachfully at his friend.  But when he saw the drop of blood on the
dog's nose he forgave him.

[Illustration:  John talked with them.]

"Poor Brutus!" he said.  "You kept still as long as you could, I know.
And indeed, it is time we were moving.  Come, Brutus!"

The pair continued their voyage of discovery.  The woods are so full of
thrilling stories for those who know how to read them!  A field-mouse's
nest in a tuft of grass; a beehive in a hollow tree; tracks of a wild
boar in the muddy edge of the brook; a beautiful lizard changing color
to match the leaves and moss over which it crept.  John longed to carry
this little brother home to join the circle of pets.  But he knew it
was kinder to leave him there, where perhaps he had a home and family.

And oh, the flowers!  So many kinds, so fragrant and so beautiful!
John gathered a great armful to carry back to the Hermit.  And so the
minutes went; the shadows began to lengthen, and it was time to turn
homeward.



XIV

THE WOLF-BROTHER

John whistled to Brutus, to call him for the home-going.  But just then
he spied a new plant whose name he did not know.  He was stooping over
to examine the lovely pink blossoms, when Brutus came bounding up to
him, behaving strangely.  He whined and looked distressed; he started
away into the bushes, begging John to follow.  Evidently he had found
something which he wished John to see.  The boy laid down his armful of
flowers and ran after the dog, as swiftly and softly as he could; for
he did not know what forest secret he might be about to discover.

Brutus led him straight to a hollow under a great rock.  And there John
soon saw the cause of the dog's excitement.  Stretched out on a bed of
leaves were four little gray bodies.  John ran up to them with a cry.

"Why, they are puppies!" he said.  "Brutus, you have found some little
brothers of your own!"

Brutus whined and sniffed about the rock strangely.  John bent over the
little bodies, which lay quite still and seemed to be asleep.  He
touched one softly.  It was stiff and cold.

"Oh, they are dead, poor little things!" said John.  "I am so sorry.  I
hoped to take them home to my father.  How came they here, I wonder?
They must have starved to death!"

Just then John saw one of the puppies give a tiny shiver.  Its legs
moved feebly and its eyes opened.  "Ah!  One of them still lives!" he
cried eagerly.  "Perhaps I can save its life, the dear little thing!"

He took the gray body up in his arms and hugged it tenderly, but it
made no response.  Then, laying it down again on the leaves, he drew
from his basket a crust of bread which he had brought to nibble while
he walked.  (It is such fun to have something to nibble when one goes
for a ramble in the woods!)  John ran to the brook which babbled close
by, and, dipping the bread in the water until it was soft, returned to
put some in the mouth of the little gray thing that lay so pitifully on
the leaves.

"Eat, little brother!" said John.

Brutus looked on gravely.  The puppy opened its mouth feebly and
swallowed a bit of bread.  After the first taste it grew eager, and
began to nibble hungrily.  John gave it all he had, and was overjoyed
to see it gradually gain strength.  But still it could not stand on its
weak little legs.

"We must take him home, Brutus," said John.  "We will make him well and
strong, then we shall have another little dog to be your baby brother."

Brutus said nothing, though perhaps he knew better.  Presently he was
trotting homeward; tracing backward, as no human being could have done,
the winding way by which they had come through the dense forest.
Behind him came John, carrying the little gray creature tenderly in his
arms, and with the basket full of flowers on his back.  And so at last
they reached the hut, in the door of which stood the Hermit, shading
his eyes and looking anxiously for them.

"My son!" he cried gladly when they appeared.  "You were gone so long
that I feared you were lost, even with Brutus to guide you.  It is
after sundown.  Where have you been, and what do you bring there?"

"We have been--I know not where," said John; "farther than I have gone
since I came to the forest.  It must be near the homes of men.  For
see!  We have found a little dog!  His brothers were lying dead beside
him; I think they were starved to death.  But this one lives, and some
day I hope he will grow into a big dog like Brutus,--though indeed he
does not look much like him now!"

So John prattled eagerly, laying the little creature in the old man's
arms.  But the Hermit looked at it and looked again.  Then he smiled at
John.

"Ah, Son!" he said.  "This will never be a dog like Brutus.  You have
brought home a baby wolf!"

"A wolf!" cried John.  "He looks quite like a puppy, and he is gentle,
too!"

"They are much alike," said the Hermit.  "You saved this poor little
cub in good time, John.  He is very weak.  Probably his mother was
killed by some hunters, who left her little ones there to starve.  That
is what they do, John, never stopping to think what suffering they
cause.  But let us now feed this little fellow with warm milk, and we
shall soon have him as gay as ever.  I am glad that you brought him,
John.  We needed a wolf-brother in our kingdom."

"But, Father! a wolf!" cried John, with a shudder.  He had not
forgotten the horror of his first night alone in the forest, and the
long howl which had made him lose his senses.  "Oh, will he not grow
big and eat us up, my father?  Yes; that was why Brutus acted so
strangely.  He knew it was no puppy, although I told him so."

"It is quite safe to keep him, John," said the Hermit.  "We cannot turn
him out to starve, for he is too young to care for himself.  You will
see to-morrow that he will play like any puppy.  Brutus and he will be
great friends,--they are relatives already.  Once upon a time Brutus
had a wolf for his ancestor.  And as we ourselves know not from whom we
may be descended, so must we treat all creatures as our brothers.  Yes,
this wolfkin will grow up lean and ugly-looking, like any wolf.  But we
will teach him to be kind and gentle, John, even as Brutus is."

And the Hermit was right.  The wolf-cub soon became the pet and
plaything of the animal kingdom.  With food and care he grew into a
round, roly-poly ball of fur.  He played merrily with Brutus and the
kittens.  And though at first he was a bit rough, they and John taught
him better ways, so that he kicked and bit his friends no longer.

As the months went by, they watched him change gradually from cub to
wolf.  They were sorry to see him lose his puppy looks and frisky
manners.  But what could they do?  It is a great pity, but no one has
yet discovered how to make babies of any sort remain babies.  Gradually
he lost his roundness.  He grew longer and longer, until he was
stretched out into four feet of gaunt yellowish-gray wolf.  But still
he remained quiet and gentle with his friends, quick to learn and ready
to obey.

He was a perfectly good wolf, and he loved John so dearly that he could
scarcely be separated from him.  He followed the boy wherever he went,
and lay down beside him when he slept, like any watch-dog.  And though
he was so gentle in the animal kingdom, the Hermit knew that it would
go hard with any one who should try to hurt Wolf's little master.

Yet he and Brutus were the best of friends.  The good dog was too noble
to be jealous.



XV

THE GREEN STRANGER

For five happy years John lived with the good Hermit, and became a
sturdy lad of fourteen before anything new happened of great moment to
the animal kingdom.  In all this time he had seen no human creature
except the Hermit himself.  Their hut was so far in the forest that no
travelers ever passed that way.

But John was never lonely, for he had the kindest of fathers in the
Hermit, and the happiest of comrades and playmates in the circle of
pets, ever increasing, who gathered about the abode of peace.  Brutus
was still his dearest friend.  But the wolf was almost as intimate.  As
for Bruin, he was never a constant dweller with the colony, but came
and went at will.  Sometimes he disappeared for weeks at a time, and
they knew that he was wandering through the forest which stretched for
miles in every direction, pathless and uninhabited.  And sometimes they
wondered what adventures the big brother might be enjoying.

"If only he could tell me!" wished John.  But this kind of gossip was
still impossible between them.

One day John was out in the forest, not far from the Hermit's hut,
cutting wood for the winter, which was near at hand.  He was alone, for
a wonder.  The wolf had come with him, but had now trotted away into
the forest on business of his own.  The bear had disappeared some weeks
before, on one of his pilgrimages.  Brutus was at that moment with the
Hermit in the hut; for the dog divided his attentions between the young
friend and the old.

John had lifted his axe to attack a certain tree when, with a scurry of
little feet, a frightened hare came bounding past him, ears laid back
and eyes bulging with fear.  It was so strange to see a startled
creature in this peaceful wood, that John dropped his axe wonderingly.
Then he noted that the birds were chattering nervously overhead, and
his quick ear caught furtive rustlings in the underbrush all around
him.  The forest was alive with fears.  Presently the wolf came
bounding past, with wild eyes, evidently making for the hut.  John
called, but the frightened creature did not pause.

Very soon John heard over his shoulder an unusual sound.  He turned
quickly, and saw a sight which made his heart rise in his throat.

Across an open glade in the wood his friend the bear was lumbering on
all fours, wild-eyed, with lolling tongue and panting breath.  Close
behind him came on foot a young man, several years older than John,
dressed in a suit of green velvet, with a plumed cap.  In his hand he
bore a long spear, and he was charging upon the bear with a cruel light
in his eyes.  Suddenly Bruin made for a tree, and began to climb,
clutching the bark frantically with his claws.  At sight of his prey
about to escape, the stranger gave a loud, fierce cry and dashed
forward, at the same time drawing from behind his shoulder a bow such
as men used in hunting.  He fitted an arrow to the string, and was
about to shoot, when John sprang forward with blazing eyes.

"You shall not shoot!" he cried.  "This is a peaceful wood.  You shall
not kill my friend the bear."

[Illustration: You shall not kill my friend the bear.]

At this unexpected happening, the young man turned with a start and a
snarl, like a dog from whom one would take away his bone.

"Who are you?" he cried angrily.  "How dare you interrupt my sport!  Do
you know who I am?"

"I do not care who you are!" answered John.  "You shall not hunt in
these woods, You must go away."

"Go away!"

The face of the stranger was white with rage.  He turned from the tree
in which the bear had now found a place of safety behind a crotch, and
pointed his arrow at John.  The lad saw his danger.  Even as the
stranger drew the arrow to its head John leaped forward; before the
other knew what was happening, John seized him in his arms and with a
mighty effort wrenched away the weapon.  It was wonderful how easily he
mastered this fellow, who was some inches taller than himself.

Beside himself with rage, the stranger grappled with John, and then
began a wrestling match strange to see.  If the bear up in the tree
knew what it all meant, he must have been very much excited.

The two lads clinched, swayed, and finally fell to the ground, rolling
over and over.  The stranger pummeled and kicked, scratched and bit.
John merely defended himself, holding his enemy firmly and trying to
keep him under.  It was easy to see that he was the stronger of the
two.  Presently the young man began to weaken, and at last John felt
the stranger's body grow limp in his clutch.  He felt a thrill of
triumph such as the Hermit certainly had never taught him.  But
suddenly, remembering the duty of a noble foe, he rose to his feet,
leaving the stranger lying where he was.

He was not badly hurt.  Presently he also rose, sullenly, and pulled on
his cap which had fallen off.  John had taken possession of his spear
and bow.  He now gravely handed an arrow to the young man.

"You may keep that," he said politely.  "I think you can do no harm
with that."

The stranger turned crimson, and his face was wicked to see.

"You shall pay for this!" he spluttered, with sobs in his voice.  "No
one can injure me without danger.  You shall--"

At this moment, not far away in the direction of the Hermit's hut, a
horn sounded.  Once, twice, thrice, it blew vigorously, as if giving a
command.  Both John and the stranger started.

"I must go!" muttered the latter to himself.  "Needs must at that
call."  And without another word or glance at John, he ran to his
horse, which was tethered close by, and was soon galloping away in the
direction of the bugle-call.

Trembling with excitement and with alarm at this coming of strangers to
the forest which so long had been at peace, John hurried back to the
hut.  But Bruin remained safe in his tree.

He seemed to have no wish to come down And learn what all these strange
doings meant.



XVI

THE HUNT

John found the Hermit sitting as usual beside the door of his hut,
reading his book.  He was surrounded by his family of pets.  Brutus
bounded to meet John, but the boy was too excited to give him the usual
caress.

"Father!" he cried, "have you heard or seen nothing?  There are
strangers in the forest, wicked strangers who hunt our friends the
beasts.  I have but now come from such a terrible scene!"

He covered his face with his hands.  The Hermit started to his feet.

"What has happened?" he quavered.  "Just now the wolf came leaping into
the hut; but I feared nothing.  Your clothes are torn.  Your face is
bloody.  Who has been hurting you, my son?"

But before John could answer came again the call of a bugle, this time
very near, "_Tara_!  _Tara_!  _Tara_!"

"Huntsmen!" cried the Hermit.  "Send Brutus into the hut."  John drove
the dog inside, and some of the house-pets with him.  Already the
others had taken alarm at the threatening noise and were scattering in
every direction.

Nearer and nearer came the sound of galloping hoofs, the baying of
hounds, the shouts of many men.  John and the Hermit stood with pale
faces, waiting.

Suddenly into the clearing bounded a frightened deer,--a slender
dappled creature with brown eyes.  Straight to the Hermit she ran, and
dropped panting at his feet.

"It is our doe!" cried John, his face turning whiter.  "O father!  They
are hunting her!"

The old man said nothing, but stooped and threw his mantle over the
trembling creature.  Hardly had he done so when the hounds burst into
the clearing, barking fiercely, rushing towards the spot where the deer
lay.

The Hermit raised his staff and stepped forward with a quick word.
Instantly the dogs paused, cringing.  They snarled and snapped their
teeth, but made no motion to draw nearer.  There was another loud
bugle-blast, and a group of horsemen burst into the open space.

"Hola!  Hola!  The stand!" cried the foremost rider, flourishing his
sword.  The others clustered about this leader.  He was a tall, oldish
man, red-faced and fierce-eyed.  Like the stranger whom John had met,
he was magnificently dressed in green velvet, with a gold chain about
his neck, and a star blazing on his breast.  He wore also a green cap
bound with a gold band, from which a golden feather drooped to his
shoulder.  The gloves which he wore, the baldric of his bugle, and the
hilt of the sword which he brandished aloft, glittered with jewels.

When he spied the Hermit standing with upraised staff over the deer,
while the dogs cowered at his feet, he drew up his horse and gave a
shout of wonder.  Then once more there was a moment of intense silence
in that spot whose quiet had been broken by such a din.  Thereafter the
splendid leader of the hunt spoke in a brutal voice.

"Ho!  Who are you who interrupt our hunt and stand between us and our
quarry?  Stand aside, old man, whoever you are.  This is no place for
you.  The deer is ours."  He flourished his jeweled sword eagerly.

"I shall not stand aside," said the Hermit.  "This doe is mine, my
friend and companion.  Her milk has nourished me many a day, and she
shall not die in this place which is my home."

"Shall not die?" cried the huntsman hoarsely.  "Do you know to whom you
speak?"

"I can guess," said the Hermit quietly.  "From his cruelty and his free
speech I judge it must be he who calls himself king of the realm beyond
this forest."

"King of this forest and lord of all that dwell therein," shouted the
huntsman ferociously.  "And who are you who dare oppose me?"

"I am a hermit," said the old man simply.  "My service is to God, whom
you dishonor.  My friends are the creatures whom you hunt.  My study is
to save life, which you would destroy.  Depart, and leave in peace this
place where life is sacred."

"Depart!" roared the King, while his nobles crowded around him,
murmuring and bending threatening looks upon the Hermit and the lad.
"Not till yonder animal is slain.  Ho, have at her!"

With prick of spur he urged his horse forward.  But quick as thought
the Hermit with his staff drew a circle around himself and John and the
doe, which still lay panting at his feet, wrapped in the gray mantle.

"Dare not to cross this line!" he cried.  "This ground is holy.  Years
ago in the Father's name I consecrated it.  'Tis holy as any cathedral,
and 'tis sanctuary for man and beast.  Hear what the Lord says to you:
'They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.'"

The Hermit raised his hand and spoke a word to the horses that were
being urged forward.  With a shrill whinny they rose on their hind
legs, pawing the air, and refused to advance.

"What witchcraft is this!" cried the King, spurring his steed cruelly.
But the animal, like the dogs, obeyed the Hermit's will rather than the
King's.

"No witchcraft," said the Hermit, still guarding the deer with his
upraised staff.  "It is the Lord's will.  You, who have ever disobeyed
His holy word, perhaps know not how dear to Him were the birds and
beasts.  His first companions.  His childhood friends.  And to this
day, for He Himself hath said it, not a sparrow falleth without His
knowledge and pity.  O wicked man!  How then can you delight to kill?"

The King gazed at the Hermit like one in a dream.  "How dare you say
such things to me, your King?" he said at last.

"You are no king of mine, thank God!" said the Hermit.  "I am an exile.
I am of no land.  This forest is my domain, my animal kingdom.  Depart,
I beg, without more bloodshed.  O King, already in time past the hunt
has cost you dear.  Will you not take heed lest the Lord punish you
further for your sins?"

The King turned pale.  "This is certainly witchcraft!" he muttered.
"What know you of the past?" he cried, almost as if against his will.

"I know much," said the Hermit calmly.  "I know that hunting cost the
life of your eldest son.  Will you not heed that warning, lest more ill
befall?"

There was a stir among the nobles, and John saw the young man with whom
he had wrestled a short time before spur his horse forward to the
King's side.  His face was black and angry.

"Sire--father," he said.  "Will you not end this parley and slay them
all?  I would have a hand in it for the sake of that young cub there!"
and he shook his fist toward John.  But more he did not say; perhaps he
was ashamed to tell how the wood-boy had got the best of him.

"Ay," said the Hermit, pointing a finger at him and shaking it sadly.
"The second son follows in the footsteps of his brother, and like his
father is cruel, bloodthirsty, revengeful.  Beware, O King!  Beware,
King's son!  For happiness was never yet distilled from innocent blood,
nor life from death."

The King shuddered, as all could see.  "I hunt," he said,--and it was
strange to see how he was almost apologetic,--"I hunt all animals
mercilessly, because through them the Prince my son was slain.  I will
hunt them out of my kingdom, until not one remains.  I will slay them
until the ground is soaked with their blood!  Not an animal, save such
as are of use, shall exist in all my land.  I will have no pets--no
singing birds.  I hate them all!"

"Ay," said the Hermit, shaking his head sadly, "you hate them all!  But
I love them all.  And here they come to me.  'The sparrow hath found a
house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young.'  I will
protect them with my life.  You dare not kill me, O King!  Godless
though you are, once you were a Christian, and you know the meaning of
the words I spoke when I said that this was holy ground."

He drew from his bosom the iron Cross which he wore, and held it up
before the King.

The monarch shrank back and seemed to hesitate.  Suddenly he wheeled
his horse and blew a blast upon his bugle.  "Back!" he cried somewhat
bitterly.  "We will not linger here for a paltry doe.  Let us leave
this cursed wood and this crusty hermit.  Back to our own demesne,
where we shall find sport enough, I dare say."

Once more he blew his horn and bounded forward out of the clearing; the
nobles after him, and the cowed, disappointed dogs trailing at the rear
with tails between their legs.  John could not help feeling sorry for
them.  Poor things!  They at least knew no better.

John was just stooping to pet the frightened deer, when an arrow
whizzed over his shoulder and struck the creature in the haunch.  The
poor animal gave a cry of pain, and blood dyed the gray mantle of the
Hermit, the first blood shed in that place of peace.

With a shout of anger John leaped up and looked over his shoulder.  A
familiar wicked face grinned back at him, as a horse and rider galloped
into the forest.  The King's son had skulked behind to shoot that shaft.

"My son!" cried the Hermit, laying trembling hands on John's shoulder.
"It was meant for you.  You would have died had you not stooped at that
moment to caress the doe."

"Poor doe!" said John, kneeling beside her and busying himself with the
arrow.  "You have saved my life.  Now we must save yours.  My father, I
think she is not badly hurt."

And he began to stanch the blood and bind up the wound with the skill
which the Hermit had taught him.

But the old man stood for a long time gazing into the forest after the
party of huntsmen.  "A murderer and a coward," he said.  "In sanctuary
he has shed innocent blood.  For many evil deeds the price will surely
be paid.  And the price is heavy."



XVII

THE MESSENGER

The little deer was not greatly hurt by the cowardly hunter.  John and
the Hermit nursed her tenderly, and so great was their knowledge of
healing balms that she was soon nibbling the grass about their
dooryard, as sprightly as ever, save for a slight lameness in one leg.

Bruin was with them once more, a constant guest in the little circle.
The fright of that day when the hunters came to the forest had affected
all the animals, who clung closely to their two human friends, and did
not venture far from the hut.

Although John and the Hermit had never spoken together of the King
since that terrible day, the boy thought often about him, and about the
young Prince with whom he had wrestled for the life of the bear.  And
John was troubled by many things.  He thought how great must be the
suffering among the helpless animals when men so cruel were in power.
If animals were treated so, how must the poor and lowly people fare at
the hands of their lords and masters?  Were the mighty so cruel to one
another,--to children and women and aged people?  All these were weak
and helpless, too.  John remembered the Hermit's tales of war and the
wickedness of cities, and his heart grew sick.  What a terrible world
this was to live in, if the great and powerful were so bad!

But when John was most unhappy, longing to change it all, he would look
around the little hut where, surrounded by his animal friends, the dear
old Hermit sat under the wooden Cross, reading out of the great book.
Then John grew happy once more.  For the Hermit had taught him well
from that holy volume.

"It will all come right some time," he said to himself.  "Some day the
Lord will teach men better, and all will be peace and love as it is
here.  But oh!  If only I were big and strong and powerful, so that I
could help to hasten that happy day!"

One evening, several weeks later, they sat as usual in the midst of
their circle of pets.  The Hermit, with the raven on his shoulder and
the cat on his knee, was reading from the book.  John, on a bench by
the window, was using the last light of an autumn day to make a basket
for gathering herbs.  The gaunt wolf lay at his feet.  Beside him
rested the bear, snuffling in his sleep; and stretched out between him
and the Hermit, Brutus snored peacefully.  On John's shoulders roosted
their carrier pigeon, and several kittens played about his legs.  The
deer lay on a pallet in the corner.  It was a very peaceful scene, and
every one seemed to have forgotten the fright of a month before.

Suddenly John said: "Father, tell me about the King."

The old man started, and placing a finger in the book to mark the
place, looked at John with surprise.  "Why should we speak of him?" he
asked uneasily.  "This is the hour of peace and meditation on pleasant
things."

"I have thought about him so much," said John.  "I cannot tell why, but
I am unable to forget him.  I want to know more of him and of his son."

The old man shook his head.  "I am sorry," he said.  "Did you care so
much for his gorgeous clothes and jewels, his horse and band of
followers?  Have they turned your head, foolish boy?  Did you find
anything to admire in their talk and manner and looks?  I am
disappointed, John!"

"Nay, I did not admire anything about them," John hastened to say.  "I
saw that the King was cruel.  I believe well that he was also wicked.
But he seemed to have friends.  How can a bad man have friends?  And
why do the people allow him to be their king?"

"Ah, John!" cried the Hermit, "it is not so easy to find a good king!
Perhaps his people do not care; perhaps they know no better.  Perhaps
he is so powerful that they have no choice but to obey him."

"Is the King so wicked?" asked John, wondering how the Hermit knew so
much.  "What has he done that is bad?"

The old man hesitated; then he turned to John with a gesture that the
boy did not understand.

"Listen, John," he said.  "I will tell you some things that this King
has done.  It is well that you should know.  Years ago, before you were
born, he was not the lawful king in this Country.  The true king was
his brother Cyril, who was good and kind, ruling wisely and well.  But
suddenly he died.  Those in his service guessed that his brother
Robert, this present King, had caused his death by poison.  So Robert
became king.  A stormy time he had of it, at first; for the whole land
loved King Cyril.  Many accused Robert, and refused to do him
honor,--especially one holy man, John, King Cyril's friend and
physician.  Yes, my son, he bore the same blessed name as yourself.
This man the people loved dearly, for he was wise and generous with his
wisdom.  He healed them freely of their hurts.  He went about the
country doing good, bringing love and good cheer wherever he went.  He
was honored almost as a saint.  But because he dared lift his voice
against the King--he died.  No one knew how it happened.  At the same
time his little son disappeared; men believed that he also was slain by
the cruel King.  The people were furious; they stormed and threatened.
But alas! gradually the voices of their leaders were silenced.  Some
died suddenly, as John had done.  Some disappeared.  Some were banished
from the kingdom.  Some went away, broken-hearted; who knows where they
may be now?"

"Oh, how could the people forget their King and the holy man who had
been good to them?" cried John.  "How could they allow that bad man to
be their king?"

"The people?" said the Hermit sadly.  "The people so soon forget!  Do
you not recall how, ages ago, the people treated the best Man who ever
lived?  These folk dared not seem to remember.  They were selfish and
lazy.  The new King was rich and powerful.  They found it easier to
grumble and do nothing else.  And when the King said, 'Hunt!' they
hunted.  When he commanded, 'Hate all animals; have no pets!' they
obeyed him.  But it is a gloomy land, a sad land, of which Robert is
king!"

"Oh!" said John, "how do you know so much, my father?"

"Do not ask," said the Hermit.  "One day I will tell you, but not now."

"Oh, he is a wicked King, who ought to die!" burst out John, throwing
up his arm angrily.  "Would I were a man, and I would go kill him.  But
I will do it when I am grown!"

At his rough tones and gestures the birds fluttered away, frightened,
and the animals slunk into the corners, trembling.  The peace of the
little hut was rudely disturbed.

"Nay, my son, nay!" cried the old man in horror.  "Say not such wicked
words!  See how you frighten our peaceful friends.  What have I tried
to teach you?  It is not yours to avenge.  The Lord himself will punish
as he sees best.  Perhaps even now he chastens that wicked heart.
Already the King has lost his dearest, oldest son.  He was killed five
years ago while hunting a wild boar in the forest.  But now--"

At this moment there was a loud knock on the door of the hut.  The
Hermit and John started and looked at each other in wonder.  When had
such a thing happened before!  Brutus and the wolf arose, bristling.
The bear growled savagely.  The raven gave a screech of fear and
burrowed under John's cot.  There was a moment's pause.  Then the
Hermit, crossing himself, called loudly,--

"Enter, if your errand be peace.  Enter, in the name of the Lord."

Quickly the latch clicked and the door flew open.  Into the midst of
the startled group stumbled a man, breathless and covered with dust
from head to foot.  His hat was gone.  His hair was disheveled, and his
eyes bloodshot.

"Hasten!" he cried, turning to the Hermit.  "You are the man I
seek,--you, skilled in herbs and healing.  The King sends for you."

[Illustration:  The King sends for you.]

"The King!" The Hermit and John spoke the word together, staring wildly.

"Yes, the King," repeated the man.  "I have killed my horse to get
here.  He fell in the forest yonder, even as I spied the light from
your window.  There is no time to be lost.  We must go on foot to the
nearest town, where horses may be had.  Hasten, old man, and bring your
herbs and balsams."

"But whither?  And for what purpose?" asked the Hermit, still standing
with one trembling hand on the holy book.

"The King's son is wounded," cried the messenger.  "Five days ago he
was hunting the deer, and an arrow, glancing falsely, pierced his
breast.  He was grievously hurt.  Even now he may be dying.  Why do we
waste words?  The physicians have done their best, but they have given
him up at last.  The King raved; he was beyond reason.  Suddenly, in
his madness he spoke of you, the wizard of this forest.  He recalled
that day when you cursed him for the sake of your brute creatures.  He
vowed it was all enchantment.  'Send for the wizard!' he cried.  'Let
him cure my son.  He dare not refuse, for he claims to be a servant of
God.'"

The Hermit was trembling now with emotion.  "It is the Lord's will!" he
said.  "He was wounded while hunting an innocent beast.  On the
strength and speed of another beast hung his chance for life.  And now,
only with the aid of another can we reach him in time.--Nay, upon a
fourth we must rely to find our way out of the forest.  Brutus only can
help us.  But let us hasten.  Come, my friend!  Back to the city once
more."  Calling to the dog, he began to make hurried preparations for
departure.

John ran to him.  "Do not go to the wicked man!" he whispered.  "They
may kill you.  Oh, what should I do then?"

The Hermit shook his head.  "I must go," he said.  "It is written, 'Do
good to them that hate you.'  There is no question of my duty."

"Oh, let me then go with you, father," pleaded John.

The Hermit laid his hand on the boy's head, and looked at him tenderly.
"The time is not yet ripe, my son," he said.  "Who knows what all this
may mean?  Wait a little longer.  Stay and care for our little friends.
From the nearest village I will send Brutus back to you.  You will not
be lonely, with your work and play as usual.  Do not neglect either.
Adieu, my dear son!"  And he blessed John.

Embracing the boy and bidding farewell to the other friends, the Hermit
took his staff and bag of simples, and wrapped his cloak about him.  "I
trust you, John," he said at the door.  "Be patient, obedient, and
wise."  Then in the folds of his cloak he took the carrier pigeon.  "I
will send you word by our friend, if need be," he said, as he went out
into the darkness.

Brutus and the messenger followed him closely.  The door banged behind
them, and John was alone with the circle of frightened, cowering
creatures.  He threw himself on his knees before the Hermit's table,
and laying his head on the book, began to weep, he scarcely knew why.



XVIII

THE CARRIER PIGEON

A evening of the next day, just as John had finished his simple supper,
he heard a scratching at the door.  It was Brutus, returning footsore
and weary.  Tied to his collar John found a message from the Hermit.

"Be of good cheer," it read.  "We mount excellent steeds to ride to the
King.  If by God's help I may save the young man's life, I will return
to you speedily thereafter.  If it be the Lord's will that other things
befall, I will send the carrier pigeon with news.  Bear a good heart,
my son.  Keep to your studies, your exercise, and your devotions as if
I were with you.  So when I return I shall find you a little stronger,
wiser, a better champion of the good.  Farewell!"

John read this letter eagerly, and set himself to obey the master's
wishes.  But now the days seemed long indeed.  In spite of the many
friends who shared the hut with him, John felt very lonely, and longed
for the dear old man's return.  But now he had something more to think
of: the good King Cyril and the holy man, his friend, who had borne the
name of John.  And he longed to be some day a man like that.

The Hermit had been gone for nearly a week.  One day John was sitting
by the door of the hut, busy with his studies, when he heard a _whir_
in the air overhead.  Glancing up, he saw the flash of snowy wings, and
presently the carrier pigeon came fluttering down to his shoulder.

"Ah, my dear bird!" cried John, tenderly taking the creature in his
hands and lifting it to peck at his lips as it always loved to do.
"You have come to me safely from far away.  You have come from the
place where my dear father is.  Have you brought me word from him?"

With a soft coo the pigeon nestled closer in John's arms.  Reaching
under its wing, he found a scroll of writing tied there securely with a
silken cord.

"A letter from my father!" he cried, untying it eagerly.

It was indeed a long letter in the good man's clear script.  It told of
their safe arrival, after a hard journey through the night; of their
reception by the King.  They had come almost too late.  But when they
arrived the Prince was still breathing.  They were ushered into his
chamber, where he lay white and still.  No one could rouse him to life
or consciousness.  By his bedside sat the King, his face like a
mountain-top wrapped in clouds.

"Save my son!" he had cried when he saw the Hermit.  "Save my son,
sorcerer, and I will give you whatever your heart craves."

"I am no sorcerer," the Hermit had answered.  "I am God's servant, with
some skill in healing, because I have studied the work of His hands and
the uses of His gifts.  If it be His will, I may save the young man.
If otherwise, we may not hope to prevail."

"Oh, he must not die!" cried the King.  "You foretold it, I remember,
in the forest.  But think--he is my only son.  He must be king after
me.  He must live!"

"Other sons have died," said the Hermit solemnly.  "Other princes have
not lived to reign.  And what of them?"

The King shuddered.  "Save my son!" he repeated.  "Only save this boy,
and I will do whatever you ask."

"Then" (said the Hermit's letter) "I did my best.  I bathed the youth's
wound with my healing balsam.  I gave him soothing draughts to drink.
I sat by his bedside and prayed that the Lord's will might be done
through me.  And then came a change.  A faint color blossomed in his
cheeks.  His lips trembled; his eyes opened and he looked at me.  Then
he sighed and closed his eyes.  What he thought I know not.  But he had
paused in his march towards death.  From that day he mended.  The
Prince's wound is now healed.  The King's gratitude knew no bounds.  He
promised me rewards beyond belief,--which, as you know, mean naught to
me.

"But, John, a strange thing has befallen.  The Prince should now be
well upon the road to health.  He should be gaining strength every day.
There seems no reason otherwise.  But such happens not.  He lies
passive and dazed.  He seems not to care whether he lives or dies.  He
never speaks nor smiles, only looks sometimes at me as if he wanted to
ask me something.  The doctors say that he is slowly dying.

"And now, John," concluded the Hermit's letter, "now comes the reason
for these long, tedious words to you.  I have done my utmost, but I am
powerless.  Will you come?  Will you try what your own skill and youth
may do?  It may be your mission in life to save this lad who tried to
kill you.  I know that if he could but once smile, he would get well.
Therein lies your power.  Come, as quickly as you may.  Bring with you
our animal friends who cannot be left behind.  Brutus will lead you to
the village, and thence you must find your way to the Capital.  And one
word more: if you find yourself in trouble or need, show the silver
talisman which you wear about your neck, and I think all will be well.
Remember my teachings, John, and come as soon as may be."

When John had finished the letter, he stood for a moment quite dazed.
He was to leave this place where all was peace and happiness, and go
back among men whom he feared!  He was to go to the very King whose
name he shuddered to remember,--the King who had killed his brother and
that holy man John with his little son!  He was to do all this for the
sake of the enemy who had hunted the bear, who had injured the gentle
deer, who had aimed to take John's own life!  He grew sick at the
thought.  Yet,--it was the Hermit himself who summoned him.  And he
remembered the good man's teachings.

"How I can help I know not," sighed John, "but I must go!"  He laid his
head upon the feathers of the carrier pigeon and shed some bitter
tears.  Then, placing the bird gently on the tree beside him, he
straightened himself bravely.  "I will go!" he said.  "I will go
joyfully, as one should who hopes to be worthy to bear the name of
John."

Just then Brutus came sauntering from the hut, shaking himself lazily
after his nap.

"Ho, Brutus!" called John, snapping his fingers.  "Shall we go on a
journey together, you and I?  Shall we take these little friends on a
wonderful pilgrimage?  And will you be my guide, as you were once
before, good Brutus?"

The dog seemed to understand.  He pricked up his ears, and leaped up to
John's shoulders with a joyous bark.  Then, rushing to the edge of the
wood, he looked back, inviting John to follow.

"Oh, let us be off!" he seemed to say.  "I have been longing to go to
our dear master.  Let us hasten, little brother!"

"Not so fast!" said John.  "We have first to gather our provisions and
make ready our company of pilgrims.  I must take all the food I can.
For I dare not trust wholly to the silver Cross.  What could my father
mean by that?"

Still wondering, John set about his preparations.  They did not take
long.  There was neither lock nor bolt on the door of the Hermit's hut,
nor aught of value to hide.  When John's basket was packed with simple
food, and the animals were gathered about him outside in the little
clearing, he rolled a stone against the door, and they were ready to go.



XIX

THE JOURNEY

A strange company they were, these citizens of the Animal Kingdom
traveling to town!  Foremost went Brutus, leading the way and feeling
very important with a bundle bound upon his strong back.  Gray and
gaunt, the wolf trotted along at his side, like another dog.  Next came
John, with a knapsack on his shoulders, in which three little kittens
slumbered beside the provisions for their journey; there were always
new kittens in the Animal Kingdom.  On his shoulder perched the raven,
and by a rope he led the bear, whom he felt safer to have close by his
side.  Sometimes the bear trotted on all fours.  Sometimes he walked
upright like a big brown man, towering over John's head.  Now before
and now behind them went Blanche the cat, pretending as cats do that
she was neither following nor leading, but traveling quite
independently of them all.  Frequently she disappeared into the bushes
or up a tree, but soon came scampering past, when she would stop to
make a hasty toilet.  Overhead fluttered from tree to tree the carrier
pigeon and the other birds, who were John's pets and bound to follow
wherever he went.

The deer and her fawn went part way with them, and the little rabbits
hopped a staccato accompaniment for some time.  But John did not urge
them to follow.  He knew they were better off in the forest, where they
could take care of themselves.

All day they fared on the uneven path by which, nose to earth, Brutus
led them.  And at last, weary and spent, they came to the little
village where the Hermit had taken horse for the longer journey.

John paused at the first house in the village and knocked at the gate.
A burly fellow came to the door.

"Hello!" he cried.  Starting back when he saw the strange group
gathered in his dooryard.  "What means all this?"

[Illustration:  A strange company.]

"If you please," said John politely, "we go upon a Journey to the King,
and we seek shelter.  Will you let us sleep in your stable, friend?"

"Sleep in my stable!" muttered the man, "a beggar with a band of outlaw
animals!  A wolf and a bear!  No, indeed.  I have too much respect for
the safety of my cattle and for the King's laws."

He was about to shut the door in John's face.  But the lad had a sudden
thought.  He would try at this first place the value of the Hermit's
hint.

"Stay," he said, "one moment, friend."  Fumbling in his breast, he drew
out the silver medal which he wore about his neck.  "I was to show
this--" he began.

But he saw the man start, and, shading his lantern with his hands, peer
more closely at the object.  Then he stared at John's face with wonder.

"In God's name!" exclaimed the man, "who are you who travel with this
strange company?"

John looked almost as surprised as he.  "A poor pilgrim, on the King's
errand," he said.  "We ask only a corner of your stable with a bed of
straw to lie on.  Give us shelter, kind friend, and to-morrow speed us
on our way."

The man still stared at John as though he saw a fairy.  But now he
threw the door wide open.  "Enter," he said.  "I cannot refuse you.
Enter my house.  You shall have a bed and supper, fair boy; but what of
these?" and he turned troubled eyes upon the animals.

"Nay," said John simply, "I ask no better bed than theirs, my fellow
pilgrims.  Thank you for your hospitality, kind friend.  May we all
sleep in your stable?  My animals are quite safe company.  They will
hurt nothing that hurts not me."

John smiled then in his happy, trustful way, and the face of the man
looking into his brightened as if by reflection.  His coarse mouth
broadened into a smile.

"They shall sleep soundly in the hay," said he kindly, "though it be
against the law.  I will risk even the bear and the wolf for the sake
of that you wear about your neck.  But the stable and the company of
beasts are not fit for the like of you.  That I know, though you be in
rags.  Come into the house, young stranger."

"Have you forgotten," said John gently, "how once a stable sheltered
the greatest King of all among the humblest beasts?  I have often had
worse beds than a pile of sweet straw.  I shall be happy enough among
my friends."

The man hung his head for a moment, then raised it and looked at John
strangely.

"I _had_ forgotten," he said.  "Who are you?  Who are you who talk so
wisely, and who wear that silver Cross upon you?"

"I am John, the Hermit's pupil, and I am very tired," was the answer.
"May we not rest now?  To-morrow perhaps we will show you some pretty
tricks to pay for our night's lodging."

"_John_," mused the man, "that is a good name!  I want no pay from any
one who bears that name."  And still eyeing John strangely, he led the
way to the stable door.

He bade them good-night; and thereupon the straw the two-footed and
four-footed pilgrims rested peacefully together, nestled in a warm mass
of fur and feathers, flaxen hair, and woolen rags.

In the morning the farmer brought them food, and his family came with
him to see the strange visitors.  For so many animals had never before
been seen together in that country.  John put Bruin and Brutus through
their tricks, and the children clapped their hands joyously at the
sight.  Then John himself tumbled and danced for them, and they were in
an ecstasy.

At the end of the performance they clung about the boy's neck and flung
themselves upon the animals, declaring that they must not go away, and
begging them to stay forever.

But John shook his head, smiling.  "I must be off," he said.  "I must
do the King's errand."

And so they went upon their way, the children watching them wistfully
out of sight.  But the farmer went with them some little distance to
point out the road; and when he left them he spoke a last word of
warning.

"The King has no love of animals," he said.  "There are none in all the
kingdom save those for use and those he hunts to kill.  There are no
pets nor playmates for the children; no birds even in his forests.
Beware his wrath, my lad, when he has word of your caravan."

"I am going to the King," said John simply.  "We go to save the life of
his son."

The farmer stared again at John with a strange expression.  "You, to
save his life!" he muttered.  "I cannot understand it all!"  And he
passed his hand over his forehead.

"I have some skill at healing.  Farewell!" cried John gaily.  "We shall
be safe, I know."

"Ay, with that silver thing on your neck," said the man to himself,
shading his eyes to watch them out of sight.  "John; the Hermit's
pupil; a boy with the knowledge of healing, and a smile,--Saint
Francis!  What a smile!  He is like our holy John come back again as a
child.  Who can he be?"  And he crossed himself devoutly as he went
back to his work.

But John and his friends went sturdily upon their way.  Up and down
hills they traveled; along dusty roads; through lonely stretches of
moor and plain.  They caused great excitement in the villages through
which they passed.  It was years since the townsfolk had seen a dancing
bear; years even since they had enjoyed the frolics of a cat and
kittens.  The raven was a source of delight.  The birds that followed
overhead and came at John's call, perching on his arms and shoulders,
filled the children with envy.  The wolf looked so fierce that they
were afraid of him; but his brother Brutus was petted in a way to spoil
any ordinary dog.  Yet he kept his temper and his poise, and endured
their homage meekly.

Often, in the country through which they passed, John found sick
persons to whom he could bring relief, and gladly he used the knowledge
which the Hermit had taught him.  It seemed that there were few in that
land who had the skill of healing, and many of the sick had long
suffered for lack of the simple remedies which John had often used for
his pets.  He saved several lives.  Oh! that was joy for John!  The
people were very grateful, and would have paid him anything he wished.
But all he asked was food or shelter for himself and his friends.  Then
they spoke his name softly and kissed his hands, which made John laugh.

John found it easy enough to earn all the food he needed in the
villages.  Remembering his mountebank days, he had but to hold a little
performance in the public square.  Every one would hurry to see Bruin
do his tricks and John himself turn somersaults and walk on his hands;
after which the bear would dance and pass the hat, into which the
pennies rained generously.

But it was harder to find lodgings for the night.  Knowing the King's
hatred for animals, men feared to shelter this caravan.  Only when John
would pull from his breast the talisman of silver would they soften and
yield to his wishes, wondering and almost worshiping, as the farmer had
done on that first day.  John himself was the most wondering of them
all.  For he saw no reason why the silver Cross should have such power.
Sometimes he wondered if it was bewitched; but he knew the good Hermit
would not have bade him rely on magic.  Yet it made him almost afraid,
so that he used this power only when he had to for the sake of the
weary animals.  He himself was welcome everywhere,--perhaps for the
sake of his yellow hair and blue eyes, which were a wonder in that
country; but more likely for the smiling ways and cheerful speech of
him, that made his passing through that gloomy land like the passage of
a sunbeam through thick clouds; and blessings followed after him.

And so, after six days of travel, they came at last to the King's city.



XX

THE ARRIVAL

About sundown John with his train came to the gates of the city where
the King lived.  They were all very hungry, dusty, and tired.

A watchman on the wall, with telescope to his eye, had spied them afar
off.

"Hello!" he cried.  "What is this coming down the highroad?  It seems a
small caravan, creeping and writhing like a caterpillar.  The head of
it seems human.  But, by my faith! the rest of it is like nothing I
have seen for many years!  What ho!  Let us be on guard.  It may be an
enemy of the King."

The warders ran to arms.  And so it happened that a crowd of them were
gaping at the entrance when John and his companions came up.

The lad was almost exhausted.  But when he saw the way barred by a band
of frowning armed men, he doffed his cap and smiled his own peculiar
smile.

"Good-evening, friends," he said.  "We have been long in reaching your
city.  We are glad to be at the gates at last."

"Who are you?" asked the Captain gruffly, stepping forward and barring
the way, while his companions gazed in amazement at the wolf and the
bear who were huddled at John's side.

"I come on an errand to the King," said John.  "Please guide me to him
quickly, for it is an urgent matter."

"To the King!" sneered the Captain; and the warders echoed his laugh.
"No one goes to the King in such company as you bring.  You must know
that.  They are outlaws, all,--and you too, I dare say!"

"I know not.  But I must see the King, and that quickly," said John.
"I come with these friends to heal the King's son, if I can."

"Ha!  More sorcery!" interrupted the Captain.  "No, you shall not enter
here.  The King allows no animals in his domain.  How you have brought
them so far I cannot guess!"

"Well, I bear this," said John, drawing out the silver talisman.

The men bent forward to look at it, then fell back, staring at one
another with astonished faces.

"Who is he?" they whispered among themselves.  "What shall we do?"

"Let me pass, good friends," begged John, looking up in their faces
with his simple smile.  "I will promise to do no harm.  Among friends
my friends are quite harmless.  But tell me, I pray you, where I may
find the good Hermit who healed the Prince's wound?  I come at his
bidding."

At these words the guards pulled themselves together and exchanged
looks.  They began to swagger.

"Ah, is it so?" growled the Captain.  "You are a friend of the wizard
himself.  We must let the King know of this.  Yes, you shall enter.
Here!  Take him captive!  Off with him to the prison."

"To prison!" cried John in amazement.  "For what ill deed, I pray?"

But already the guards were pressing forward upon him.  At the sight of
their threatening looks Brutus ran in front of John and began to growl
warningly, crouching ready to spring upon the first who should lay
hands on the boy.  The wolf bristled and showed his fangs.  And the
bear, rising on his hind legs, growled and blinked his little red eyes
so terribly that the men fell back.  John was protected by powerful
friends.  The other animals shrank close to him, and the raven began to
scream.

[Illustration:  John was protected by powerful friends.]

"Have a care!" warned John.  "My friends are armed with sharp teeth and
claws, and they will not readily let a stranger touch me."

"He is a wizard!" muttered the soldiers; but they shrank back, afraid
to touch him.

"Why do you treat me thus?" asked John wistfully.

"Because you say you are a friend to that vile magician of the woods,
by whose arts the Prince was wounded, they say, and who yet holds him
at death's door."  So spoke the Captain of the guards.  "The Prince
still lives.  But when he passes, the King has decreed that the wizard
shall die the death.  You come in time to share it, if you be his
pupil!"

"Oh, hasten, hasten!" cried John, clasping his hands.  "Please take me
to him!  Perhaps I may yet save the good old man.  If it is not too
late, perhaps I can also save the Prince."

"Ay, we will take you to him fast enough, if you will call off your
growling beasts," said the Captain.

"Nay, we must all go together," answered John, who saw how they meant
to trap him.  "Oh, come, let us be moving, for there is no time to
lose!"

Grumbling, but afraid either to delay or to venture near John, the
guards formed in a hollow square about him and his pets, and they all
began to march in a strange company through the city streets to the
palace.

A crowd gathered as they passed.  Men, women, and children craned their
necks to look at this group of animals, such as had not been seen in
the city for years.  They gazed, too, at the handsome yellow-haired
boy, and whispered among themselves, "Who is he?  What has he done?"

John noticed that the faces of the people who gazed at him were set and
hard.  They seemed sad and hopeless.  He pitied them.  "It is a kingdom
without love," he said to himself.

Yet, as they looked, their faces changed.  A new something came into
their eyes.  A whispering went around among the crowd, increasing to a
murmur, like the sound of bees.

They came at last to the palace, where the crowd was forced to pause.
But, surrounded by the band of soldiers, John and his party went in and
on, led by the Captain himself, at whose word or gesture doors flew
open and servants bowed.

Through long, glittering halls, lined with mirrors in which their rags
and dust, draggled feathers and matted hair showed pitifully, limped
John and his weary friends.  Up a grand marble staircase, with
wondering footmen lining either side, pattered on muddy feet Brutus and
his gray brother, and the bear, clumsily erect at John's side.  Behind
mewed the tired Blanche, whose kittens John carried in his arms, while
the carrier pigeon and the raven perched on his shoulder.  But the
other birds had remained outside in the trees of the palace garden.



XXI

THE PALACE

At last they came to a great hall, full of people who seemed met for
some solemn purpose.  At the door stood the Grand Chamberlain in lace
and velvet, holding in one hand his staff, and in the other an
hourglass at which he was gazing earnestly.

"What is this?" he said sternly, as the Captain approached with his
prisoners.  "Do you not know that this is a moment of life and death?"

In a few whispered words the Captain explained matters.

The Chamberlain stared sullenly at John.  "No more wizardry!" he said
at last.  "We have had enough of that.  The King has just passed
judgment on the sorcerer.  In five minutes he is to die.  The doctors
declare this to be the only hope for the Prince's life."

"Oh, let me see him!  Let me see my good father!" begged John, clasping
his hands piteously.  "I may yet save his life, I and these friends."

As he said this, John had a sudden thought.  He fumbled in his bosom
for the silver Cross, and held it out with trembling hands so that the
Chamberlain could see it.

The man started back, turning pale and letting fall his staff of
office.  "What does this mean?" he cried, "Who is this lad?  How came
he by this token?"

Once more the Captain whispered to him.  The Chamberlain looked wildly
at John, then at the hourglass, in which the last grains of sand had
sifted down.

"The time has come," he said; "the fatal moment is here!  I should give
the signal for which the executioners wait.  But something holds me
back.  In Heaven's name, what does it all mean?  Is it sorcery or--"

"It is the Lord's will," said John quietly.  "Oh, pray, let me see the
King."

"I do not understand," muttered the Chamberlain hoarsely.  "But, in the
name of the talisman which you wear, enter.  Go alone.  I dare not face
the King with his order disobeyed."

A broad aisle was left open down the hall through the ranks of lords
and ladies.  At the end of it was a tall gilt throne.  And on the
throne, clad in purple and gold, John saw a figure sitting, pale and
terrible.  It was the King.  John knew his cold, cruel face, although
the man had greatly altered in those weeks since the day of hunting in
the park.  For now the King's hair was snow-white and his body was bent
like that of an old man.

John fixed his eyes upon this figure and began to walk forward
steadily.  Beside him paced Brutus, looking up anxiously into the boy's
face.  In his right hand John led the bear, walking upright.  The wolf
slunk behind, with lolling tongue.  In his arms John still carried the
kittens, and on his shoulder perched the raven, while Blanche trotted
behind him.

It was indeed a strange sight.  A hush came upon the hall, and every
one stared open-mouthed as they passed along.  At last the King
himself, who was sitting with bent head, noticed the silence and
glanced up.  John, with his queer group, was now almost at the foot of
the throne.  The King started up with a cry of rage and surprise.  He
glared at the lad and at the animals with blazing eyes.  "What does
this mean?" he shouted.

But at that moment John himself gave a cry.  He had seen a figure that
he knew, and, forgetting all else, he was hurrying towards it.  At one
side of the throne stood the Hermit, pale and sad, with his hands tied
behind his back and a rope about his neck.  He was guarded on each side
by a man with a drawn sword.

"My father!" cried John, throwing himself upon the good man's neck
before the wondering guards could interfere.  At the same time Brutus
gave a loud bark of joy and leaped upon his master.

"My dear son!" cried the Hermit, with tears in his eyes.  "I thought
not to see you again!"

At the sound of his voice the cat gave a loud "Miaou!" and ran to him.
The kittens squeaked and tried to climb his gown.  The bear growled
contentedly and trotted to his side.  The wolf leaped to him with
fierce pleasure.  The raven hopped to his feet with a scream of Joy,
and the carrier pigeon, with a soft "Coo!" fluttered to his shoulder.
To the watching men and women of that court it seemed a miracle.

For a moment all was silent.  Then the King found voice.  "What does
this mean?" he cried again.  "How have this vagrant and his vile beasts
found entrance to my palace?  It is the hour for execution, not for
mummery.  Why is not the signal given?"

"O King," said John timidly, "they let me in because I said that I came
to cure your son, if may be."

"More sorcery!" howled the King, beside himself with rage.  "Take him
away!  Slay them all,--the old man, the boy, the animals!  I have
waited too long already.  Perhaps even now my son is dead!"  He rose,
trembling.

But the Hermit's voice rang out now, loud and clear.  "O King," he
cried, "enough talk of sorcery and magic.  This boy has come to help
your son, who sought to slay him.  He has brought the animals whose
lives you covet, to show you how much you may owe to them.  Lo, this
carrier pigeon bore my message bidding him to come,--not for my sake.
For I told him nothing of the danger in which I lay.  This noble dog
guided him to the village by a path which only he could follow.  Now
with these other animals he hopes to amuse the Prince and awaken him to
life.  There is no magic in this; only love, O King--the love which is
lacking in your sad and sullen kingdom."

There was a murmur in the crowd, which swayed forward toward John and
the Hermit.  For some seconds the King stood speechless, staring at the
Hermit and the group around him.  Then, with a wave of his hand, he
bade the guards stand back.  He turned to a black-gowned man on his
right who had just entered the hall.  "Does my son still live?" he
asked in a choking voice.

The doctor nodded gravely.  "He still lives, Sire.  But he is very low.
He cannot survive many minutes."

The King paled.  "Let us hasten," he said.  "It is the last chance.
Perhaps the boy has skill."  Then, turning to the little group of
people from the forest, he beckoned grimly.  "Come with me," he said.
"Save my son's life, and you save your own.  Otherwise I swear that you
shall all die the most hideous and painful of deaths."

Descending from the throne with tottering steps, for the King had grown
a feeble old man, he led the way from the great hall.  Behind him came
the doctor and the Hermit.  John followed, with the animals in his arms
and close about his heels.

So they came to the door of a room in one wing of the palace.



XXII

THE PRINCE'S CHAMBER

At the door the King paused and turned back to the little company which
followed him.

"You may enter," he said, "and try your skill on the Prince, who is
near to death.  If you cure him, I will give you whatsoever reward you
may demand.  But see that you do not fail!"  The King's voice was full
of menace.  "Enter, in the name of whatever magic you use."

"In the name of love we come," said the Hermit gently; "and in the name
of love we shall do our best for your son, O King.  Enter softly, John.
You must do without me now.  Leave our larger, clumsier friends outside
with me."

Softly John tiptoed over the sill, carrying the kittens in his arms,
with the dove on his shoulder, and the white cat following behind.

In the centre of the room was a couch, hung with a splendid canopy of
purple and gold.  Beneath a purple coverlet fringed with gold lay the
Prince, white as the lace of the pillow on which his black curls
rested.  His eyes were closed, and he looked still and lifeless.  The
hand which lay outside on the purple velvet was as white and
transparent as the hand of a marble statue.

On one side of his bed sat a doctor in a black velvet gown, and several
attendants stood about with long faces and tired eyes.  On the other
side of the couch a little girl crouched on a low stool.  She was a
pale, pretty little thing, younger than John, and her dress of
brilliant red made her sad, dark eyes look all the more sorrowful as
she gazed at John wistfully.  It was Clare, the Prince's only sister.

As they entered the room the King made a sign to the doctor, who shook
his head sadly.  The King crossed to the bed and bent down over his
son, touching the cold face.  But it did not change.  Neither the lips
nor eyelids trembled, and John could see no sign of life in that still
body.  How different, he thought suddenly, from the vigorous figure
which had wrestled with him in the forest.  How different that face
from the one which had looked back at him triumphantly after the arrow
had struck the poor deer!

"He does not hear nor see," said the King gloomily.  "He scarcely
breathes.  What will you do?"

John hesitated.  He had made no plan; he hardly knew with what hope the
Hermit had summoned him and his pets thither.  It seemed a hopeless
task.

The King frowned at his daughter.  "Why is this girl allowed here?" he
said gruffly.  "Leave the room."

"Oh, Sire," pleaded the little Princess, with tears in her eyes,
"please let me stay!  When my brother is so ill, surely my place is at
his side.  I will be quite still, indeed I will.  Only do not send me
away!"

John looked at her and thought how like a gentle little animal she was,
so timid, and with such large, beseeching eyes.  John had never known
any little girls.  Now he thought they would be very pleasant things to
have in an animal kingdom.

"Please let her stay, King," he said gently.  "She can do no harm."

"Very well.  Let her stay," said the King impatiently.  "But what will
you do?  What magic have you, boy?"

Suddenly John had an impulse.  He stepped forward with the squirming
kittens and laid them on the velvet coverlet close by the Prince's
marble hand.  The doctor arose with a cry of horror; the attendants
rushed forward.  The little Princess drew a long breath.  But the King
raised his hand.

"Let the boy alone," he commanded.  "Even this madness shall be
humored.  There is no hope now but in him."

The kittens began to frisk and gambol about the velvet, and the old
cat, with a contented purr, jumped up beside them.  She was tired, poor
thing, and glad to find a soft bed.  At that moment those who were
watching saw a change come upon the Prince's face.  His eyelids
quivered.  His lips moved slightly.  The King raised his hands and
trembled.

Then began a frolic upon that royal bed such as for ten years had not
been seen in all the kingdom.  Up and down, around and around, the
kittens chased one another.  They rolled over and over, kicking and
biting.  They played with their mother's tail.  They scampered over the
still body of the Prince himself, and one of them, coming to his hand,
began to play with the white fingers, nibbling at them and licking them
with warm little pink tongue.

And what happened?  Slowly the Prince's eyes opened.  For a moment they
gazed blankly at the frolicking kittens.  Then his lips gradually
parted, and the flicker of a tiny smile came upon them.  The King
clasped his hands over his eyes, and gave a cry of joy.  The little
Princess laid her head on the pillow beside her brother's and wept
silently.

The kitten which was playing with the Prince's hand rolled over on its
back and began to kick at the royal fingers.  A tiny red scratch
appeared on the milky skin.  At the same moment a bit of color came
into the Prince's white lips and cheeks.  He turned his head, and
lifting his hand stroked the soft ball of fur.  The little thing
responded immediately, arching its back and beginning to purr.
Presently the Prince's other hand stole out from under the coverlet.
He drew the kitten feebly to his face and rubbed his cheek against the
silky fur, and he smiled!

[Illustration:  He stroked the soft ball of fur.]

The doctor turned to the King.  "He will live," he said.  "It must be
magic!"

"He lives!  My son lives!" cried the King, bending over the Prince in a
transport.

The Prince opened his eyes and looked at him, and a change came upon
his face.  The smile faded, and he closed his eyes wearily.

"Your Majesty," said John, speaking gently, "if you will allow me to
give the Prince a healing draught which I myself have made from
life-giving herbs, I think now he will sleep and waken refreshed."

"Do as you will!" cried the King.  "Whatever you wish shall be done in
the palace.  Whatever you ask shall be given."

With a word and a gentle touch John roused the Prince, who swallowed
the draught which the boy gave him.  "Now let us leave him to sleep,"
said John.

But when they would have removed the cat and kittens, a cloud came over
the Prince's face, and his hand wandered feebly, as if craving the
touch of the silky fur.

"We will leave them here," said John.  "They are what he needs."

"Oh, let me stay too!" cried the little Princess, with shining eyes.

And across the room she and John smiled at each other, as he nodded,
saying, "Yes, O King, I pray that you will let the little maid stay."

So they withdrew from the chamber, and left the Prince to dream with
his new friends sleeping about him, and the little sister with her head
upon the pillow at his side.  And all night long he slept like a baby
with a smile upon his face.

The Prince's cure had begun.



XXIII

THE CURE

There was wonder and excitement in the palace, for the news of John's
success had been told from mouth to mouth.  The King ordered the
Hermit's chains to be removed, and he and his pupil were treated with
utmost honor.  But they refused all gifts which the monarch made them;
and he was annoyed.

In the morning John and the Hermit went once more to see their patient.
They found him and the little Princess playing with the kittens, and
both looked up with a smile when the visitors entered.  But at sight of
John the Prince's color faded and the smile died on his lips.  John
bore the white pigeon in his hands, and going to the bedside bent over
the Prince with a gay manner.

"You are better?" he asked.

The Prince's eyes looked into his wonderingly.

"Why do you try to help me?" he asked.  "Once I tried to kill you."

The little Princess gasped.

"I came to heal and help you if I could," said John, laughing.  "I
brought my pets to cheer you.  See, here is the dove of peace.  She
brought me the message which has saved your life.  Will you not love
her as I do?"

He placed the bird on the Prince's breast, and with a gentle coo the
creature nestled there confidingly.  Tears came to the Prince's eyes.

"You are very good," he said.  "I tried to kill your pets in the
forest."

"O brother!" cried the little maid, clasping her hands with a sob.
"How could you!"

"Let us forget that," said John brightly.  "Let us be friends.  You
will get well and learn to love the animals for their own sake."

"Oh, yes!" said the little girl.  "I never saw any before, but how can
one help loving these dear little pets,--and the lovely bird?"  She
stroked the white feathers tenderly.

But the Prince covered his face with his hands and seemed to be
weeping.  "I cannot forget!" he said brokenly.

John felt very uncomfortable.  "If only I could make him laugh, now!"
he thought.  Then an idea came to him,--a funny idea which made his
eyelids quiver and the brown spot wink.

With a twist of his body he suddenly stood upon his head at the foot of
the Prince's couch, and, waving his feet in the air, began to walk
about the chamber on his hands.  The Prince uncovered his eyes and
gazed in astonishment at such antics.

Presently John regained his feet, and kissing his hand began to turn
somersaults vigorously all about the apartment.  The little Princess
clapped her hands and began to laugh.  The Prince watched him,
fascinated.  Presently, as John's high spirits broke out into fuller
pranks and gyrations, the Prince's lips quivered.  He began to grin.

"Oh, you are a tumbler," he said.  "I am glad you have come here!  Do
it again."

So John did it again; and this time the Prince, watching him, echoed
the gay laugh of the little Princess.  "It is as good as a play," he
said, feebly wiping the tears of merriment from his cheeks.  "I wish I
could do it myself!"

[Illustration:  I wish I could do it myself!]

"You must get well first," said John, laughing.

"I will try," said the Prince, with a new spirit in his tone.  And from
that moment he began to grow stronger.

Now came days when the palace was much happier than it had been for
years.  The presence of the animals was in itself a joy to the King's
people, long starved for the lack of pets.  And John's sunny face and
quaint smile were reflected on all about him.  There is nothing so
catching as good humor, and John started an epidemic which spread
through the palace, and indeed through the whole city.  No one knew how
it happened.  But before long the flaxen-haired boy was the pet of the
whole town.  Not only was he welcome always in the Prince's chamber,
but every door at which he knocked opened gladly to him, and he was at
home wherever he went.

Only the King held aloof.  He had grown strangely grim and sullen since
his son's cure was assured.  The King was jealous.

What with the animals to play with and John's tumbling, the Prince was
continually in gales of laughter, and every day he grew plumper and
more rosy.  Sometimes it was Brutus who amused him; often the cat and
kittens, his first friends.  The raven became a great favorite after
his introduction to the Prince, which happened in this wise.

John had delayed to bring the bird into the royal chamber, he was so
mischievous.  But one day when the Prince seemed very merry, John
slipped out and fetched the black fellow on his shoulder.  On being
invited to do so, the raven hopped gravely to the foot of the bed,
where he perched, eyeing the Prince with little round eyes and head
cocked knowingly.

Presently the bird gave a queer screech, and began to imitate John's
own laughter so exactly that the Prince shook with mirth.  At this the
raven stood upon one leg gravely, and began to sidle along the
footboard of the bed.  Presently he spied some fruit carved on the
wooden uprights, and making a dart began to peck at the pears and
peaches.  Then, discovering his mistake, once more he began to chuckle,
this time so heartily that he seemed ready to have a fit.  And as he
listened the Prince's mouth widened and he burst into roars of laughter.

"Hush, you foolish bird!" said John reprovingly.  "Be not so noisy in a
Prince's chamber.  It is not good manners!" and he threw his
handkerchief over the raven's head.

But the Prince protested.  "Let him do his pleasure," he said,
laughing.  "I have not seen anything so funny for many a day.  I shall
teach him many tricks."

So the raven stayed with the Prince, and learned many tricks.  And the
carrier pigeon stayed.  And the others stayed,--all but the wolf, who
would never leave John,--making themselves quite at home on the
Prince's velvet couch.  And the little Princess played with them,
enjoying the happiest hours of her life.

One only of the animals the Prince had not seen.  The Hermit and John
agreed that until he was stronger he must not see the bear whom he had
once tried to kill.  For they knew that now it would make the Prince
sad and ashamed to remember that day in the forest.  Such a change had
come upon the young man!  He was no longer hard and cruel, but tender
and affectionate.

The King felt the change, and it made him angry.



XXIV

THE KING

Daily, as the Prince grew stronger, he became more and more devoted to
the animals, to John and the good Hermit.  He could scarcely bear them
out of his sight.  When they were with him his face lighted with
smiles, and he seemed to blossom as a flower does in sunshine.  Only in
the presence of the King he grew silent and sad once more.  The light
passed from his eyes as he looked at the grim old man.  A visit from
the King was almost enough to undo the good effects of a whole day of
happiness.

The King knew this, and it made him furious.  He did not see that it
was his own fault; that it was the badness in him which made the Prince
shrink.  He thought it was the doing of some one else.  He grew to hate
the Hermit and John and the animals, of whom his son and daughter were
so fond.  In his heart he cared little for any one.  He had never loved
the Princess Clare, and the Prince was dear only because one day he
would be king.  Yet Robert hated to see them love any one else.

The King was resolved to put an end to this state of things as soon as
might be.  But he dared not do anything yet for fear of causing his son
to fall ill again.  He sat and brooded and planned in his wicked heart
what he would do when the Prince should be well once more.  And for him
the time went slowly which others found so happy.

Of all this the Prince and John guessed nothing.  For the King seemed
to them no more gruff and grum than usual.  All the wishes of the
strangers were regarded, and they were treated like distinguished
guests in the palace.  But the Hermit kept his eyes open.  And one
other was not blind to the King's hatred.  Clare, the little Princess
who had never been loved by her father, knew the meaning of the black
looks which he sometimes cast upon the two forest-comers, and her heart
was uneasy, for she loved them both.

The Prince grew so much better that he could walk about.  One day he
was lying upon his couch in a balcony overlooking the royal park.  The
Hermit sat close by, reading aloud from the book which he was teaching
the Prince to love, as he had taught John.  The little Princess bent
over her embroidery frame at the foot of the couch, and John himself,
on the floor at her feet, was playing with Brutus.  The other animals
and birds were straying about the balcony, or lay cuddled in the
Prince's lap.  John thought how like this scene was to the Animal
Kingdom in the woods; yet how unlike.  And he glanced from the Prince
to the Princess with a smile of content.  It seemed hardly possible
that this was the land where no pets were allowed; where hunting was
the favorite sport of the King and his son!

Suddenly, in a pause of the reading, the Prince put out his hand.

"Friends," he said, "you have taught me many things in these weeks that
you have dwelt under this roof.  You have cured me; you have made me
laugh.  I have been thinking much of late how it is that where you come
folk are happy.  Your faces make the world smile.  How different from
my father and me!  We have always made every one weep.  There has been
something wrong, I know not what.  No one loves us,--not even Clare
here."

"O brother!" protested the little maid, "I have always loved you.  But
never so dearly as now, when you have grown so kind."

John spoke gently.  "You will change all this when you are king," he
said.

The Prince shook his head.  "No, they will never love me as they do
you.  I would fain be different, but I can never be like you, John.
You should be king, not I."

John laughed.  "And what would become of the Animal Kingdom then?" he
said.  "My father and I have been talking together.  We must soon go
back to our woods and our little friends there."

"Oh, you must not go!" gasped the Prince, turning pale.  "You must
never leave me!  I can never again be alone with the King!"

He looked so terror-stricken that the Hermit and John were silent for
pity.

"I have been thinking," went on the Prince gravely, "that when I am
king, if that time ever comes,--and they say that it must, since there
is no other son of our house,--I shall need much help, for I am weak
and not wise.  You, good father, I would have you for my counselor.
And you,"--he laid his arm affectionately on John's shoulder,--"you
shall be my brother and share the throne with me."

"Nay, thrones cannot be shared thus," said the Hermit, looking at both
boys with some agitation.  "You are a king's son.  But we are of the
woods, my Prince.  I at least have other work to do.  As John says,
there is the Animal Kingdom--what is to become of that?"

"Why, there will be no need for you to go to find it," answered the
Prince eagerly.  "When I am king all shall be changed.  This shall be
the Animal Kingdom.  There shall be no more hunting or killing here.
There shall be pets,--more than in any other land.  For I have seen how
unhappy are folk who live without them."

"Now God be praised!" cried the good Hermit, with tears in his eyes.

And John embraced the Prince heartily, while the little Princess
clapped her hands and cried with shining eyes, "Oh! we shall all live
together forever and ever, as happily as if this were the lovely forest
which is John's home."

"Nay," said the Hermit gravely, "I cannot live here.  I must go back to
my woods.  I have vowed never again to live away from my Forest
Kingdom.  But you, John, have taken no vow.  Will you stay here with
the Prince, or will you go back with me?  Make now your choice."

John looked wistfully at the Prince and Princess, for he loved them
well.  He looked at the animals who crowded around him and seemed to be
listening to his words.  He knew how eager they were to be back in the
forest.  He looked at the Hermit.

"Oh, stay!" cried the Prince.  "Stay and be my brother, and I will make
you rich and powerful."

"Oh, stay!" begged the little Princess.  "Stay and be my brother, too!"

But John shook his head.  "I cannot stay," he said.  "If my dear father
will have me for his pupil still, I will go back with him.  For though
it is pleasant here, I love best the life of the woods and the freedom
of the forest.  And I long to learn what no one in this kingdom can
teach me: the art of healing and helping, as did that good John whose
name I bear."

The Hermit's face beamed like May sunshine, but he said nothing.

"Then I will go to the forest with you!" cried the Prince.  "I will not
stay here.  I do not want to be king.  I too would be free and happy in
the Kingdom of the Forest."

"And I will go also!" said the Princess.

"Hush!" said the Hermit gravely.  "That may not be.  Your duty lies
here.  When you are king, my Prince, you can make your kingdom into a
happy place.  Then, little Princess, you will be proud of it and of
him.  Your duty is to the kingdom where you were born, and to the
people of it, whom you can make happier and better.  But perhaps, some
day when I am gone to a still fairer kingdom, John will be able to help
you, as another John once helped another King."

At this moment there was a noise at the window which led to the
balcony, and the King stepped out to them.  How long he had been
standing inside, how much of their talk he had heard, no one knew.

The Princess flushed; but the Prince turned pale as he greeted his
father respectfully.  John and the Hermit exchanged glances.  They were
not afraid for themselves, but they dreaded the King's wrath for his
son and daughter, who had threatened to run away.

The King stood for a moment, looking at the group with a frown.  Then a
peculiar smile twisted his lips.

"Ah!" he said, "I have intruded, it seems, upon a council of State.  I
fear that I interrupt your plans, my son.  But I trust that you and
these noble visitors will pardon my desire to learn the state of your
health.  You must not be over-excited."  He waved his hand toward the
Hermit and John, then bowed low to each of the animals in turn, with
bitter mockery.

The Princess trembled, for she saw how angry the King was.

"We have no secrets, my friends and I," said the Prince with dignity.
"We have nothing to conceal of which we are ashamed."

The King looked at him quickly, as if suspecting that his words meant
some reproach.  But he only said, "That is well."  Then his manner
changed.  He tried to appear merry and genial.  "And now, my son," he
said, "since you are so much better, I wish to plan a festival in your
honor, to celebrate your cure."

The little Princess looked at him quickly.  She suspected some
treachery.  But the Prince seemed pleased.

"For me?" he said.  "A festival in which these friends may share--these
friends who saved my life?"

"Ay," answered the King, bowing to the group once more with a peculiar
smile.  "Surely, it shall be also in honor of these friends to whom we
are so grateful."  The Hermit and John bowed.  The King went on
suavely: "We will have a pageant, with music and games and singing.
But chiefly the people clamor to see our young friend do the wonderful
tricks of which they have heard.  I myself would fain see what you, my
son, have found so amusing.  My lad,"--he turned to John with a strange
tone in his voice,--"you shall dance and tumble and put your animals
through their paces, for the applause of my people.  I command you to
appear before us this day week and do your sprightliest.  It is not
often that we have the honor of entertaining a mountebank at court."

He spoke the word "mountebank" sneeringly, and John flushed.  But
seeing the Hermit sitting with downcast eyes, he merely answered:--

"I shall obey your Majesty's commands."

"Then that is settled," said the King, with a grunt of satisfaction.
"And you,"--he turned to the Prince,--"you will then be strong enough
to sit at my side on the throne.  It is well."

He quite ignored the little daughter who with a pale face shrank in one
corner.  With one last glance at the group, the King swept from the
balcony.

"A fete!" said the Prince, clapping his hands.  "A grand fete in your
honor, my kind friends.  That will be rare sport!  John, you shall make
the whole city laugh, even as you have cured me."

"I shall do my best," answered John.  "Yes, I will teach some of my
little friends new tricks for that fete."  And he laughed as he thought
how the Prince and Princess would stare when they saw Bruin dance.

John and the Prince left the balcony arm in arm, to talk over the plans
for the fete.  But the Hermit still sat with bent brows, thinking.

"Why did he call John a mountebank?" he asked himself.  "He hates us.
He is planning some mischief, I believe.  It is time we were back in
our Animal Kingdom."

He looked up.  The Princess was touching his arm and her face was very
pale.  "Father," she said, for so the royal children loved to call the
good old man.  "Father, there is mischief in the air.  Oh! do be on
your guard.  For I think it would break my heart if anything should
happen to you or to dear John."

The Hermit stroked her hair gently.  "Dear child," he said, "we will
take care of him, you and I and the animals."



XXV

THE FETE

The day for the festival came at last.  The Prince was now quite strong
and well, and had taken a joyous part in the preparations.  The palace
was decorated with flowers; bands were playing, fountains splashing in
the courtyard; banquets were spread at all hours for any one who would
partake.  The palace was merrier than it had been for years; and the
centre of all the joy, the core of the day's happiness, was John.  His
praise was on every one's lips.  His name, even more often than the
young Prince's whose health they were celebrating, was spoken in love
and tenderness.

But all this John did not seem to know.  He only saw that every one was
very kind; that the world might be a very happy place to live in, if
love ruled the kingdoms of it.  And he made ready for his share in the
merrymaking with a light heart.  It was great fun to play at being a
mountebank once more for the people who loved him!  Yet he was not
sorry that the next day he and the Hermit were going back to the
kingdom in the forest.  He was longing for the peace and quiet of the
woods, and the little wild friends who awaited them there.

The King he never saw.  That monarch seemed anxious to keep out of his
way as far as possible.  John did not know that he and the Hermit were
being carefully watched by the King's spies, and that they were really
prisoners in the palace.  For they were treated honorably, and the King
sent word that John must ask for whatever he wished to make his
performance a success.

John asked for little.  Upon one thing, however, he had set his heart.
He had made for that occasion a tumbler's suit of green silk, with
trunks of cloth-of-gold--just such a suit as Gigi had worn when he was
one of the mountebank company.  But the boy who pranced gaily about the
palace in this gorgeous attire was a very different fellow from the
sad-eyed little Gigi.  John was tall and sturdy and full of life.  His
eyes sparkled with fun and good humor, and looked at the world frankly
as if expecting kindness from every one.  So much had five years of
love and humanity done for the little wanderer.

When John appeared in the courtyard ready for his performance, dressed
in the familiar colors of long ago, he could not help chuckling to
think how things had changed with him.  Instead of Cecco and the Giant,
by his side waddled the great bear on his hind legs; while Brutus
walked sedately on his other side, and the gaunt wolf stalked behind.

The park was thronged with people, soldiers and citizens and peasants
from the country, jostling one another for a sight of John and his
pets,--and whispering among themselves with an excitement which John
could not understand.  For after all he was going to give a simple
little show of tumbling such as they must have seen many times.  "It is
the animals," he thought.  "It must be the animals that they are so
eager to see."

John walked along, smiling into the faces which met his kindly, and the
brown spot on his eyelid gave him the mischievous look which always
made folk laugh.  It was amid a ripple of good-natured laughter that he
and his pets made their way to the platform which had been erected in
front of the palace.  Here on a high seat sat the King, and beside him
the Prince, with a flush of pleasure on his thin cheeks.  Gaily dressed
lords and ladies stood about the throne.  But somewhat apart and
surrounded by his pets sat the Hermit in his gray robe, with folded
arms.  His hood was pulled over his face so that John could not see how
grave he was.  Two armed men stood behind him, but by his side, with
her hand on his shoulder, was the little Princess.  John smiled at her,
when he bowed low to the people on the platform.  And the little maid
answered with a flash of affection; but her face was very pale, and her
hand trembled on the Hermit's shoulder.

John led forward his animals and they began their tricks.  The Hermit
saw the Prince start when Bruin appeared.  Evidently he recognized the
animal which he had once tried to kill.  Merrily John urged the clumsy
fellow to dance, and every one laughed heartily at the sight.  Only the
King sat grim and sullen.

[Illustration:  John urged the clumsy fellow to dance.]

Then John put a plumed hat on the bear's head, took his arm, and the
two strutted about the platform like a pair of dandies.  The audience
burst into roars of mirth.  Even the Hermit's sides were shaking, and
the little Princess rocked to and fro with merriment.

Straight up to the Prince marched the twain, and at John's command the
bear bowed and held out his hand politely.

"He salutes you, his brother," said John to the Prince.  "He begs you
to be friends with him always."

The Prince bowed in return, with a bright flush in his cheeks.  "I
salute you, brother," he replied.  "Never again will I hunt you or any
animal, wherever I may be."

From the foremost of the crowd who heard these words came a loud
"Hurrah!" and caps were tossed in the air.  Evidently the Prince's
sentiment was popular in the city.

"Tut, tut!" said the King, "we will see about that!"  He bit his lip
and bent a frown upon the group before him.  The Hermit saw him whisper
a word into the ear of one of his courtiers, who bowed and disappeared.

Now John put Brutus and the wolf through their tricks, which were
wonderful indeed; for the dog was very intelligent, and had learned all
that the best educated dog nowadays can do, and more beside.  Then the
wolf's leaping was a thing to wonder at, he was so lithe and strong.
Over Brutus he leaped, over John's head, over the bear, over John
standing on the bear's broad back.

At the end the Prince applauded heartily, and calling up the dog and
the wolf, placed a golden collar about the neck of each.

"Good friends," said the Prince, "you helped to save my life, you and
your brothers, and your masters.  I give you these.  But them I never
can repay if I live to be as old as Noah, who was the first to gather
pets about him.  I hope that in time there may be many pets throughout
the kingdom."

He glanced timidly at the King.

"Hurrah!" shouted the people.  "Long live the Prince.  Long live John
and his animals!  Hurrah!  Hurrah!"

"No more of this!"  The King made a gesture, and the shouting stopped,
changing into sullen murmurs.  The King was not popular, it seemed.
"Let the performance proceed!" he commanded.  "I do not like these
interruptions."

Once more the Hermit saw him whisper to a servant, who went away
quickly on some mysterious errand.

Now, with a happy face, John himself stepped forward and showed his
skill and strength and grace.  He turned somersaults backward and
forward; he stood upon his head and danced upon his hands.  He did all
the old tricks which he had learned of the tumblers, and more of his
own invention, till the people shouted rapturously, "Bravo!  Bravo!
Hurrah for our John!"

With his eye on the Prince, John began to caper at his merriest.  He
danced high, leaping like a grasshopper, and seeming to bound like
thistledown.  All the while his eyes twinkled, and the people laughed
with delight.

"Bravo!  John, bravo!" shouted the Prince, clapping his hands.  "Come
here and let me decorate you, my friend."  And as John bowed before him
the Prince placed upon his bosom a beautiful star of diamonds that
gleamed and sparkled like a cobweb full of dew.

"Hurrah!  Hurrah!  Long life to John!  John!  John!" shouted the
people, as if they loved the name.

And the Hermit saw that the King turned pale and shook with wrath at
the sound.  The next moment he grasped the arms of his chair and stared
into the crowd eagerly.

Suddenly he arose, and, waving his sceptre, commanded silence.  John
bowed and turned to the King, waiting to hear his pleasure.  But
instead of the speech which every one expected, they saw the King
gazing down into the crowd before him, and on his lips was a malicious
smile.  But he looked very old and sick, and he tottered as he held to
the arm of his throne.



XXVI

THE TALISMAN

John turned his head to see at what the King was staring.  There was a
movement in the crowd.  Men were being elbowed forward.  A noise of
harsh voices arose, and to the platform crowded three figures in rags
and tatters.

They forced their way directly in front of the platform, and stood
staring up.  John stepped forward to see what it meant, and in a moment
fell back with a cry of dismay.  He was looking into the eyes of Cecco,
Tonio and the Giant!

"Hi!  Master Gigi!" cried Tonio's hateful voice; "so here we find you
setting up as a tumbler on your own account.  Your Majesty," he cried,
appealing to the King, who was listening with a wicked grin on his
face, "this is our boy.  We own him.  He ran away, but he belongs to
us.  Give him to us again!"

The little Princess screamed and clung to the Hermit's arm; but he sat
motionless, watching.  The people began to murmur and jostle the three
strangers.  But the King raised his hand, and they listened to him.

"We will hear these men," he said.  Then, turning to John, he added
smoothly, "And after that, sirrah, you shall answer for yourself."

The Hermit rose and took a step forward, still holding the little
Princess by the hand.  Brutus broke away from the page who held him,
and crouched growling at John's side.

Then Tonio raised his voice, and cried louder, pointing at John with
his skinny hand.  "He is our boy," he said.  "We taught him his trade;
let him deny it.  Now he is robbing us of our fair dues.  He is a
runaway.  Give him back to us!"

Still John stared at him, too dazed to answer.  But the Hermit took
another step forward, and said sternly:--

"He is your boy, you say.  How did you come by him?"

"We bought him for a gold piece," they said in chorus.  "That was years
ago.  For ten years he traveled with us.  And then he ran away.  His
life is ours; let him deny it if he can!"

John stood silent, horrified at the fate which seemed to confront him.
For in those days children who were bought and sold in this cruel way
were the slaves of the masters who had purchased them.

The Prince had fallen back, pale and trembling.  But the King now spoke
again, gazing with malicious eyes upon the two wood-folk whom he hated.

"What have you to say for yourselves?" he asked.  "You who do not deny
that you are a runaway; you, old man, who stole the lad and must be
punished most severely therefor, have you any reason why I should not
give the one of you up to these mountebanks, his lawful masters, and
the other of you to punishment and death?  Speak!"  The King's voice
was harsh and cruel.  His eyes glittered fiercely.

Still John was silent.

"Seize him!" commanded the King.  "Seize them both!  Off with them to
prison!"

The guards stepped forward, unwillingly enough.  But at that moment
John drew himself up.  His eyes flashed; he grasped in both hands the
staff over which he had made the wolf leap, and braced himself for
defense.

"They shall not take me!" he cried.  "I will not go with them.  I will
die sooner.  To me, my brothers!" and he gave a shrill, peculiar cry by
which he and the Hermit were wont to call their pets.

[Illustration:  To me, my brothers!]

Instantly the Hermit ranged himself at John's side.  At the same moment
Brutus placed himself, barking and growling, before the twain.
Breaking from the leash by which he was held, the wolf came leaping
towards them, and stood bristling beside the dog, showing his terrible
fangs.  With a savage growl Bruin burst his chain and came lumbering to
the defense of his friends, and the three devoted animals made a stout
and terrible wall about them.  But this was not all.  From the corners
where they were crouched came running the other, gentler pets.  Here
scampered the cat and her kittens, mewing pitifully.  Across the
platform hopped the raven.  The carrier pigeon fluttered to the
Hermit's shoulder.  And from the trees all roundabout came winging,
with a call answering to John's, a flock of birds who had followed him
from the forest, and who had been hidden in the forbidden trees of the
King's park until this very hour.  They fluttered like a cloud about
the heads of the pair, so that one could scarcely see them.

Every one stood amazed; even the King sank back in his seat, stupefied.
The guards fell back with lowered weapons.  The crowd was silent,
staring open-mouthed.  Then a murmur arose, and words passed from man
to man.

"A miracle!  It is a miracle!  They must be God's saints!"

But Tonio was not long silent.  "Tricks!  Tricks!" he cried.  "Gigi has
become an animal-trainer.  But he is our boy still.  Give him to us!"

"Seize them!" repeated the King in a choking voice.

Once more the guards made a rush forward.  But the animals leaped up
and stood at bay so fiercely that they dared not come nearer.  The
Hermit raised his hand, and there was sudden silence.  He faced the
King and spoke sternly.

"O King," he said, "you see that they will never take us alive.  In
sight of all these people will you add more deaths to your record?"
The murmur of the crowd grew louder.  "Nay, all has not yet been said,"
he went on.  "Listen, O King.  You judge too quickly.  There is not
proof enough of the lad's ownership."

"Not enough?" snarled the King.  "I say there is enough and to spare.
Can this boy dispute the words of these men?"

John now looked at the Hermit eagerly.  His heart beat with hope of
something, he knew not what.

The King sneered.  "You see!" he cried triumphantly.

But once more the Hermit held up his hand.  "Will you not question
these fellows further?" he asked.  "Dare you hear more, O King?"

"Dare I!" blustered the King, "and why not, pray?  If there be more to
say, tell it," he commanded the mountebanks.

"Ay," they answered eagerly, "we can indeed prove that the boy is ours."

"Tell how you came by him," interrupted the Hermit, in a tone not to be
disobeyed.

Tonio answered sullenly:--

"We have told already.  We bought him for a gold piece, of a fisherman
on a distant coast.  He had found the babe, nearly dead with cold and
hunger, floating in a basket on the sea.  It was a castaway, a
foundling; no one wanted it.  We took it away with us, and had hard
work to make it live."

"Is that all?" asked the Hermit.  "Was there nothing to prove that this
is the same child?"  He said this in a loud voice so that every one
could hear.

"Proof!" cried Tonio, shaking his fist at John fiercely.  "Who can
mistake him in that suit, the very one we gave him?  Look at his mop of
yellow tow and his eye with the brown spot over it.  No one who has
seen it could forget that spot.  Ay, there is still another way to
prove him ours.  I see the gleam of silver around his neck.  He still
wears the chain and the bit of silver which he dares not remove,
because there is magic in it, they say.  It was on his neck when the
fisherman found him.  Look, and see if we do not say truth!"

John still stood motionless, looking in the Hermit's face.  But at
these last words the old man stepped behind him and drew the silver
talisman from the boy's breast, laying it out on his green silk bosom,
where it glittered for all to see.

Cecco and Tonio and the Giant gave a cry of triumph.  But from the
crowd behind them rose a murmur of different meaning.  Men began to
crowd forward eagerly.

"Yes, look!" cried the Hermit, pointing at the medal.  "The Cross of
the good man John, the friend of King Cyril!  Which of you does not
know and love it?"

The murmur of the crowd swelled into a shout,--"Who is he?  Who is the
lad?  We will know!"

"Who but John," answered the Hermit, with kindling eyes.  "Who but
John, the good man's son,--my brother's son.  I know, for I christened
the child, and I saw the King hang this Cross about the baby's neck, a
Cross like the one he had given John himself.  This is the child who
disappeared fourteen years ago.  The King sent him away to be killed.
But the servant to whom the task fell was less cruel.  The child was
set adrift on the ocean, and escaped as you have heard.  Will you let
him be lost again?"

"No!  No!" roared the crowd.  "He shall not go!  He shall not go!"  And
they seized the three mountebanks and hustled them away.

With a shout the King's own guards rushed forward to help in this
matter.  There was a cry at the back of the platform.  The King had
fallen in a fit.  But few at the moment were thinking of him.  The
people were throwing up their caps and dancing joyously.

"John!  John!" they shouted.  "We knew the silver Cross which the holy
John always wore when he went about doing good to us.  Oh, we remember
now!  We shall never again forget!  John!  Hurrah for his son John!"

John himself stood bewildered, and the animals around him shivered and
looked surprised.  They were not used to such tumults.  Suddenly John
felt his hand clasped softly.  The little Princess was at his side,
looking up in his face and smiling through tears.  "Dear John!" she
said.  "Now you are safe.  Now you will be our brother indeed!"

"Yes, he is safe," said the Hermit, embracing the boy tenderly.  "My
John!  My brother's son!  Oh, how I have longed to tell you and claim
you for my nephew!  But I vowed that I would wait until you had proved
yourself worthy of him, worthy of the name by which I christened you.
And you are worthy, O my dear John, even to wear the silver Cross!"

"I do not understand yet," said John.  "Who am I?  And why do the
people shout my name and seem to love me so much?"

"You are the son of John, the holy friend of the people," answered the
Hermit.

"But you, my father,--for so I must call you still," said John; "who
are you, and how came you to be living in the forest?"

"I was but a humble servant of God," said the Hermit.  "But when King
Cyril died, and my brother and you were gone, there was not happiness
for me in the city of sorrow.  I became an exile.  I fled to the forest
with the hunted animals who were my brother's friends.  And there I
made a home for them, a kingdom of my own, with Brutus for my prime
minister.  And there, after many years, you came to find me, my dear
son!  It was a miracle!"

Now the Prince came forward and laid his hand timidly on John's
shoulder.  "John," he said, "now you know how less than ever you have
reason to love the rulers of this land.  But oh, John!  I beg you to
forgive us.  Be my brother, John; and if you can forget, let me be your
friend!"

"My brother and friend!" cried John; and the two hugged each other
affectionately, while Brutus leaped up and licked the face first of
one, then of the other, and the other animals frisked joyously.

"Hurrah!  Hurrah!" shouted the people, "They are like good King Cyril
and his friend the holy John.  Let it be so!  Let it be so!  Hurrah!
Hurrah!"



CONCLUSION

And so it turned out to be.  For soon the old King died, worn out by
wicked passions, and Prince Hugh became King.  Then began a new order
of things.  The land was now a happy kingdom, full of love and peace.
Like his uncle, the new monarch became known as the Good King.  In his
realm was never hunting or cruel sport.  The houses of his subjects
were full of pets.  And the palace itself was a perfect menagerie, so
that John called it "The Ark."  There were hundreds of new four-footed
friends in the park and palace; and hundreds of two-footed friends in
the trees and dovecotes.  To and fro they went between the city and the
forest.  For all ways were safe now to wandering creatures.  A highroad
was made connecting the King's city with the Hermit's wood.  And the
path to the door of the hut was worn smooth.  For this soon became a
favorite place of pilgrimage.

There in the Forest Kingdom lived the good Hermit and John his nephew,
with their circle of pets.  And these also went back and forth between
the forest and the city.  For John was the Prince's dear friend and
companion, and spent many weeks of the year in the palace with the two
whom he loved.  His pets were as eagerly welcomed there as he.  Brutus
had his own rug by the young King's fireplace.  The wolf made a
faithful guardian of the palace gate, while John was inside.  Bruin
wandered about the halls at his pleasure.  The cat purred contentedly
on the brocade furniture, with ever-new kittens frisking about her.
The raven often perched on the back of King Hugh's chair and made wise
sounds.  And while waiting to carry a message to the Hermit in the
forest, the carrier pigeon loved to nestle in the arms of the young
Princess, who grew prettier and prettier every day.

To the Kingdom in the Forest came folk from everywhere.  The quiet of
the Hermit's retreat was often broken.  But nevertheless the old man
was happy.  For he saw his boy fast growing into the man he had hoped
him to be, the copy of his father, beloved John.  With the silver Cross
on his bosom, the strange, merry smile ever on his face, and a kind
word always on his lips, John ministered to all who needed him; and he
went far and wide to find them.  He was always happy, whatever he might
be doing; alone with the Hermit and his animal friends; helping the
troubled and the ailing; wandering with Brutus and the wolf through the
still lonely parts of the wood; studying the never-failing wonders of
the Kingdom in the Forest.  But he was happiest of all, perhaps, when
the King and Princess came to visit him, as they loved to do,--without
servants or followers, with only an animal or two.  For this country
was the safest and most peaceful in the world.

[Illustration:  King and Princess came to visit him.]

Then they would all dress in simple green and brown and go out into the
forest to ramble and to become acquainted with the wild creatures.
There they met the old friends of the wood who had not gone with the
others on that famous pilgrimage.  And the deer, the fox, the squirrel,
the rabbits, and the birds were always glad to see them.

Here John could teach the young King to tumble and turn somersaults to
his heart's delight, without any one to say, "How undignified!"  For
whatever the friendly beasts and birds thought of these antics, they
never spoke critically of the matter.

Here also John taught the Princess the secret lore of the forest, so
that she became almost as wise and skillful as he.  But no one could
say, "How unladylike!"  For she grew sweeter and dearer every day.

And the good old Hermit watched them always with loving eyes.





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