Gigi looked up and around the marketplace. There was no one visible. The crowd had melted as if by magic. Every one was at supper,—every one but Gigi. What a chance to escape, if he were ever to try! The color leaped into the boy’s pale cheeks. Why not? Now or never!
He rose to his feet, pulling his cloak closer about him, and looked stealthily up and down. The donkey lifted his head and eyed him wistfully, as if to say, “Oh, take me away, too!” But Gigi paid no attention to him. He was not cruel, but he had never learned to be kind. Without a pang, without a farewell to the beast who had been his companion and fellow-sufferer for so many long months, he turned his back on the fountain and stole down one of the darkest little side streets.
He ran on down, constantly down, for the village was on the side of a hill, and the market-place was at its top. Around sharp curves he turned, dived under dark archways and through dirty alleys, down flights of steps, until he was out of breath and too dizzy to go further. He had come out on the highroad, it seemed. The little brown cottages were farther apart here. It was more like the country, which Gigi loved. He turned into an enclosure and hid behind a stack of straw, panting.
[Illustration: Gigi runs away.]
He wondered if by this time they had discovered his flight, and he shivered to think of what Tonio and Cecco were saying if it were so. He looked up and down the road. There was something familiar about it. Yes, it was surely the road up which they had toiled that very afternoon, coming from the country and a far-off village. They had been planning to go on from here down the other side of the hill to the next village, Gigi knew. But now would they retrace their steps to look for him?
Just then he spied a black speck moving down the road toward him. Gigi’s heart sank. Could they be after him already? He crouched closer behind the straw-stack, trembling. They must not find him!
Nearer and nearer came the speck. At last Gigi saw that it was a cart drawn by a team of white oxen, which accounted for the slowness of the pace. He sighed with relief. This at least he need not fear. As it came nearer, Gigi saw that in the cart were a woman and three little boys of about his own age. And presently, as he watched the lumbering team curiously, he recognized the very woman who had given him the silver piece an hour before. These, too, were the little boys who had faced him in the crowd. A sudden hope sprang into Gigi’s heart. Perhaps she would help him to escape. Perhaps she would at least give him a lift on his way. He decided to risk it.
Gigi waited until the cart was nearly opposite, and he could hear the voices of the woman and the children talking and laughing together. Then he crept out from behind the stack and stepped to the side of the road.