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.
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!