When John had finished the letter, he stood for a moment quite dazed. He was to leave this place where all was peace and happiness, and go back among men whom he feared! He was to go to the very King whose name he shuddered to remember,—the King who had killed his brother and that holy man John with his little son! He was to do all this for the sake of the enemy who had hunted the bear, who had injured the gentle deer, who had aimed to take John’s own life! He grew sick at the thought. Yet,—it was the Hermit himself who summoned him. And he remembered the good man’s teachings.
“How I can help I know not,” sighed John, “but I must go!” He laid his head upon the feathers of the carrier pigeon and shed some bitter tears. Then, placing the bird gently on the tree beside him, he straightened himself bravely. “I will go!” he said. “I will go joyfully, as one should who hopes to be worthy to bear the name of John.”
Just then Brutus came sauntering from the hut, shaking himself lazily after his nap.
“Ho, Brutus!” called John, snapping his fingers. “Shall we go on a journey together, you and I? Shall we take these little friends on a wonderful pilgrimage? And will you be my guide, as you were once before, good Brutus?”
The dog seemed to understand. He pricked up his ears, and leaped up to John’s shoulders with a joyous bark. Then, rushing to the edge of the wood, he looked back, inviting John to follow.
“Oh, let us be off!” he seemed to say. “I have been longing to go to our dear master. Let us hasten, little brother!”
“Not so fast!” said John. “We have first to gather our provisions and make ready our company of pilgrims. I must take all the food I can. For I dare not trust wholly to the silver Cross. What could my father mean by that?”
Still wondering, John set about his preparations. They did not take long. There was neither lock nor bolt on the door of the Hermit’s hut, nor aught of value to hide. When John’s basket was packed with simple food, and the animals were gathered about him outside in the little clearing, he rolled a stone against the door, and they were ready to go.
A strange company they were, these citizens of the Animal Kingdom traveling to town! Foremost went Brutus, leading the way and feeling very important with a bundle bound upon his strong back. Gray and gaunt, the wolf trotted along at his side, like another dog. Next came John, with a knapsack on his shoulders, in which three little kittens slumbered beside the provisions for their journey; there were always new kittens in the Animal Kingdom. On his shoulder perched the raven, and by a rope he led the bear, whom he felt safer to have close by his side. Sometimes the bear trotted on all fours. Sometimes he walked upright like a big brown man,