“I shall do my best,” answered John. “Yes, I will teach some of my little friends new tricks for that fete.” And he laughed as he thought how the Prince and Princess would stare when they saw Bruin dance.
John and the Prince left the balcony arm in arm, to talk over the plans for the fete. But the Hermit still sat with bent brows, thinking.
“Why did he call John a mountebank?” he asked himself. “He hates us. He is planning some mischief, I believe. It is time we were back in our Animal Kingdom.”
He looked up. The Princess was touching his arm and her face was very pale. “Father,” she said, for so the royal children loved to call the good old man. “Father, there is mischief in the air. Oh! do be on your guard. For I think it would break my heart if anything should happen to you or to dear John.”
The Hermit stroked her hair gently. “Dear child,” he said, “we will take care of him, you and I and the animals.”
The day for the festival came at last. The Prince was now quite strong and well, and had taken a joyous part in the preparations. The palace was decorated with flowers; bands were playing, fountains splashing in the courtyard; banquets were spread at all hours for any one who would partake. The palace was merrier than it had been for years; and the centre of all the joy, the core of the day’s happiness, was John. His praise was on every one’s lips. His name, even more often than the young Prince’s whose health they were celebrating, was spoken in love and tenderness.
But all this John did not seem to know. He only saw that every one was very kind; that the world might be a very happy place to live in, if love ruled the kingdoms of it. And he made ready for his share in the merrymaking with a light heart. It was great fun to play at being a mountebank once more for the people who loved him! Yet he was not sorry that the next day he and the Hermit were going back to the kingdom in the forest. He was longing for the peace and quiet of the woods, and the little wild friends who awaited them there.
The King he never saw. That monarch seemed anxious to keep out of his way as far as possible. John did not know that he and the Hermit were being carefully watched by the King’s spies, and that they were really prisoners in the palace. For they were treated honorably, and the King sent word that John must ask for whatever he wished to make his performance a success.
John asked for little. Upon one thing, however, he had set his heart. He had made for that occasion a tumbler’s suit of green silk, with trunks of cloth-of-gold—just such a suit as Gigi had worn when he was one of the mountebank company. But the boy who pranced gaily about the palace in this gorgeous attire was a very different fellow from the sad-eyed little Gigi. John was tall and sturdy and full of life. His eyes sparkled with fun and good humor, and looked at the world frankly as if expecting kindness from every one. So much had five years of love and humanity done for the little wanderer.