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.
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!”