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.]
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.