And while Francis was speaking the beasts remained quite silent; they lay flat on the ground or perched in the twigs, and had complete faith in these words which they did not understand.
Rabbit alone, his eyes wide-open, now seemed uneasy because of the sound of this voice. He stood with one ear forward and the other back as if uncertain whether to take flight or whether to stay.
When Francis saw this he gathered a handful of grass from the meadow, and held it out to Rabbit, and now he followed him.
* * * * *
From that night they remained together.
No one could harm them, because their Faith protected them. Whenever Francis and his friends stopped in a village square where people were dancing to the drone of a bagpipe at the evening hour when the young elms were softly shading into the night and the girls were gaily raising their glasses to the evening wind at the dark tables before the inns, a circle formed about them. And the young men with their bows or cross-bows never dreamed of killing Rabbit. His tranquil manner so astounded them, that they would have deemed it a barbarous deed had they abused the faith of this poor creature, which he so trustfully placed beneath their very feet. They thought Francis was a man skilled in the taming of animals, and sometimes they opened their barns to him for the night, and gave him alms with which he bought food for his creatures, for each one that which it liked best.
And besides they easily found enough to live on, for the autumn through which they were wending was generous and the granaries were bulging. They were allowed to glean in the fields of maize and to have a share in the vintage and the songs which rose in the setting sun. Fair-haired girls held the grapes against their luminous breasts. Their raised elbows gleamed. Above the blue shadows of the chestnut trees shooting stars glided peacefully. The velvet of the heather was growing thicker. The sighing of dresses could be heard in the depth of the avenues.
They saw the sea before them, hung in space, and the sloping sails, and white sands flecked by the shadows of tamarisks, strawberry-trees, and pines. They passed through laughing meadows, where the mountain torrent, born of the pure whiteness of the snows, had become a brook, but still glistened, filled with memories of the shimmering antimony and glaciers.
Even when the hunting-horn sounded Rabbit remained quite without fear among his companions. They watched over him and he watched over them. One day a pack of hounds drew near to him, but fled again when they saw the wolf. Another time a cat crept close to the doves, but took flight before the three dogs with their spiked collars, and a ferret who lay in wait for the lamb had to seek a hiding-place from the birds of prey. Rabbit, himself, frightened away the swallows who attacked the owl.
* * * * *