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.
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?”