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John of the Woods written by Abbie Farwell Brown who was an American author. This book was published in 1909. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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John of the Woods
Abbie Farwell Brown
I. THE TUMBLERS
II. THE FALL
III. THE RUNAWAY
IV. THE OX-CART
V. THE HUNCHBACK
VI. THE SILVER PIECE
VII. THE WANDERER
VIII. THE RESCUE
IX. THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
X. THE HERMIT
XI. THE PUPIL
XII. THE BEAR
XIII. A FOREST RAMBLE
XIV. THE WOLF-BROTHER
XV. THE GREEN STRANGER
XVI. THE HUNT
XVII. THE MESSENGER
XVIII. THE CARRIER PIGEON
XIX. THE JOURNEY
XX. THE ARRIVAL
XXI. THE PALACE
XXII. THE PRINCE'S CHAMBER
XXIII. THE CURE
XXIV. THE KING
XXV. THE FETE
XXVI. THE TALISMAN
It was late of a beautiful afternoon in May. In the hedges outside the village roses were blossoming, yellow and white. Overhead the larks were singing their happiest songs, because the sky was so blue. But nearer the village the birds were silent, marveling at the strange noises which echoed up and down the narrow, crooked streets.
"Tom-tom; tom-tom; tom-tom"; the hollow thud of a little drum sounded from the market-place. Boys and girls began to run thither, crying to one another:—
"The Tumblers! The Tumblers have come. Hurry, oh, hurry!"
Three little brothers, Beppo, Giovanni, and Paolo, who had been poking about the market at their mother's heels, pricked up their ears and scurried eagerly after the other children.
Jostling one another good-naturedly, the crowd surged up to the market-place, which stood upon a little hill. In the middle was a stone fountain, whence the whole village was wont to draw all the water it needed. In those long-ago days folk were more sparing in the use of water than they are to-day, especially for washing. Perhaps we should not be so clean, if we had to bring every bucket of water that we used from the City Square!
"Tom-tom; tom-tom; tom-tom"; the little drum sounded louder and louder as the crowd increased. Men and women craned their necks to see who was beating it. The children squirmed their way through the crowd.
On the highest step of the fountain stood a man dressed in red and yellow, with little bells hung from every point of his clothing, which tinkled with each movement he made. In his left hand he held a small drum, from which hung streamers of red and green and yellow ribbon. This drum he beat regularly with the palm of his skinny right hand. He was a lean, dark man, with evil little red-rimmed eyes and a hump between his shoulders.
"Ho! Men and women! Lads and lasses!" he cried in a shrill, cracked voice of strange accent. "Hither, hither quickly, and make ready to give your pennies. For the tumbling is about to begin,—the most wonderful tumbling in the whole round world!"
Stretching out his arm, he pointed to the group below him. The crowd pressed forward and stood on tiptoe to see better. Beppo and Giovanni and Paolo wriggled through the forest of legs and skirts and came out into the open space which had been left about the fountain. And then they saw what the backs of the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker had hidden from them.
From the back of a forlorn little donkey that was tethered behind the fountain a roll of carpet had been taken and spread out on the ground. Beside this stood the three tumblers. One of them was a thin, dark man, small and wicked-looking, dressed, like the drum-beater, in red and yellow. The second tumbler was a huge fellow more than six feet tall, with a shaggy mane of black hair. His muscles stood out in great knots under the suit of green tights which he wore.
"A Giant he is! Faith, he could toss me over his shoulder like a meal-bag!" muttered the Blacksmith, who stood with crossed arms looking over the heads of the crowd. "And the wicked face of him! Ugh! I would not wish a quarrel with him!"
But the little boys in the front row were most interested in the third tumbler, who stood between the other two, with his arms folded, ready to begin.
This also was a figure in green, with short trunks of tarnished cloth-of-gold. But beside the Giant, in the same dress, he looked like a pigmy or a fairy mite. This third tumbler was a little fellow of about eight, very slender and childish in form, but lithe and well-knit. Instead of being dark and gypsy-like, as were the other three of the wandering band, this boy was fair, with a shock of golden hair falling about his shoulders, and with a skin of unusual whiteness, despite his life of exposure to sun and hard weather. And the eyes that looked wistfully at the children in front of him were blue as the depths into which the skylarks were at that moment diving rapturously. On the upper eyelid of the boy's left eye was a brown spot as big as an apple-seed. And this gave him a strange expression which was hard to forget. When he was grave, as now, it made him seem about to cry. If he should smile, the spot would give the mischievous look of a wink. But Gigi so seldom smiled in those days that few perhaps had noted this. On his left cheek was a dark spot also. But this was only a bruise. Bruises Gigi always had. But they were not always in the same place.
"Oh, the sweet Cherub!" said a motherly voice in the crowd. "I wonder if they are good to him. They look like cut-throats and murderers, but he is like the image of the little Saint John in church. Wolves, with a lamb in their clutches! Save us all! Suppose it were my Beppo!"
At these words of his mother's, Beppo giggled, and the boy looked at him gravely. The Hunchback with the drum had heard, too, and darted a furious glance into the crowd where the woman stood. Then, giving a loud double beat on the drum, he signaled for the tumbling to begin.
The three kicked off the sandals which protected their feet, stepped upon the carpet, and saluted the spectators. The Giant stretched himself flat, and, seizing Gigi in his strong arms, tossed him up in the air as one would toss a rubber ball. Up, down, then back and forth between the elder tumblers, flew the little green figure, when he touched ground always landing upon his toe-tips, and finishing each trick with a somersault, easy and graceful. The boy seemed made of thistledown, so light he was, so easily he rebounded from what he touched. The children in the circle about him stared open-mouthed and admiring. Oh! they wished, if only they could do those things! They thought Gigi the most fortunate boy in the world.
But Gigi never smiled. At the end of one trick the Giant growled a word under his breath, and made a motion at which the boy cringed. Something had gone not quite right, and trouble threatened. He bit his lip, and the performance went on as before.
Now Gigi had to do the most difficult trick of all. With the Giant as the base, and Cecco, the other tumbler, above, Gigi made the top of a living pyramid that ran, turned, twisted, and capered as the great strength of the Giant willed. At a signal they managed somehow to reverse their positions. All stood upon their heads; Gigi, with his little green legs waving in the air, heard shouts of applause which always greeted this favorite act. But the sound gave him no pleasure. He was tired; he was sore from a beating of the previous night, and his head ached from the blow which had made that ugly mark on his cheek. Gigi grew dizzy—
Suddenly a woman's voice screamed from the crowd:—
"Ah! The Cherub!"
Gigi had fallen from the top of the pyramid. He fell on his shoulder, and for a moment lay still. But presently he was on his feet, kissing his hand prettily to the crowd, and trying to pretend that he had fallen on purpose, as he had been taught. The Giant and Cecco were also quickly on their feet, and the three bowed, side by side, as a sign that the show was over.
Cecco hissed a word into Gigi's ear, and he knew what to fear next. He shuddered and tried to draw aside; but the Giant turned to him, livid with rage, and with one blow of his heavy hand struck him to the ground.
"So! You spoil us again!" he muttered. "You good-for-nothing! I'll teach you! Now take the tambourine and gather up the coins from the crowd. You'll get a beating anyway for this. But if you don't take up more than we had at the last town, you'll have such a trouncing as you never yet knew. Now then!"
Dazed and trembling, Gigi took the tambourine, and, shaking its little bells appealingly, went about among the people. They had already begun to scatter, with the wonderful agility of a crowd which has not paid. Some, however, still lingered from curiosity and with the hope of a second performance. A number of small copper coins Jingled into Gigi's tambourine. He approached the good woman who had shown an interest in him. She stooped down and thrust a piece of silver into his hand, whispering,—
"It is for yourself, child. Do not give it to the cruel men! Keep it to spend upon a feast-day, darling!"
Gigi looked at her, surprised. People so seldom spoke kindly to him! The brown spot upon his eyelid quivered. He seemed about to cry. The woman patted him on the head kindly.
"If they are cruel to you, I'd not stay with them," she whispered. "I'd run away.—Hey, Beppo! Hey, Giovanni! Paolo!" she called, "we must be off." And she turned to gather up her young ones, who were shouting about the market-place, trying to stand upon their heads as Gigi had done.
Gigi clasped the silver piece tightly in his hand, and went on, shaking the tambourine after the retreating crowd. But few more pennies were coaxed away. Presently he made his way back to the group of tumblers, now seated on the fountain-steps.
"Well, what have you?" growled the Giant. Gigi presented the tambourine with the few pennies rattling around somewhat lonesomely.
"Humph!" snarled Cecco. "Less than last time. Is that all?"
"A beating you get!" roared the Giant.
Gigi shivered. "No,—not all," he said. "Here is a silver piece," and he held out the coin which the kind woman had given him.
"Ah, silver! That is better!" cried Tonio the Hunchback, with his eyes shining greedily. "Give it here"; and he snatched it and thrust it into his pouch. Tonio was the treasurer of the gypsy band. But theGiant had been eyeing Gigi with an ugly gleam.
"He was keeping it!" he growled. "He did not mean to give it up. He would have stolen it!"
"It was mine!" cried Gigi with spirit. "She gave it to me and told me to keep it for a fiesta. But I gave it up because—because I did not want to be beaten again."
"You did not give it up soon enough!" roared the Giant, working himself into a terrible rage. "You shall smart for this, you whelp! After supper I will beat you as never a boy was beaten yet. But I must eat first. I must get up my strength. No supper for you, Gigi. Do you watch the donkey here while we go to the inn and spend the silver piece. Then, when we are camped outside the town,—then we will attend to you!"
It was but a step to the inn around the corner. Off went the three gypsies, leaving Gigi with the donkey beside the fountain. The poor animal stood with hanging head and flopping ears. He too was weary and heart-broken by a hard life and many beatings. His back was piled with the heavy roll of carpet and all the poor belongings of the band, including the tent for the night's lodging. For on these warm spring nights they slept in the open, usually outside the walls of some town. They were never welcome visitors, but vagrants and outcasts.
Gigi sat on the fountain-step with his aching head between his hands. He was very hungry, and his heart ached even more than his head or his empty stomach. He was so tired of their cruelties and their hard ways with him, which had been ever since he could remember. The kind word which the good woman had spoken to him had unnerved him, too. She had advised him to run away. Run away! He had thought of that before. But how could he do it? Tonio the Hunchback was so wicked and sharp! He would know just where to find a runaway. Cecco was so swift and lithe, like a cat! He would run after Gigi and capture him. The Giant was so big and cruel! He would kill Gigi when he was brought back. The boy shuddered at the thought.
Gigi pulled around him the old flapping cloak which he wore while traveling, to conceal his gaudy tumbler's costume. If he only had that silver piece perhaps he could do something, he thought. Much could be done with a silver piece. It was long since the band had seen one. They would be having a fine lark at the inn, eating and drinking! They would not be back for a long time.
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.
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.
The great, lumbering oxen eyed him curiously, but did not pause. The children stopped talking, and one of them pointed Gigi out to his mother.
"Look, Mama! A little boy!"
"Hello!" cried the woman in her hearty, kind voice, stopping the team. "What are you doing here, little lad?"
She did not recognize Gigi at once in his long traveling cloak. But suddenly he threw back the folds of it and showed the green tights underneath.
"Do you remember?" he said. "You told me to run away. Well, I have done it!"
"It is, the little tumbler! The tumbler, Mama!" cried the boys in one breath, clapping their hands with pleasure.
But the woman stared blankly. "My faith!" she said at last. "You lost no time in taking the hint. How did you get here so soon? We were homeward bound when you had scarcely finished tumbling. Now here you are before us, on foot!"
"I ran," said Gigi simply. "I came not by the highway, which is long and winding, but down steep streets like stairs, which brought me here very quickly."
"See the bruise on his cheek, mother!" cried Beppo, the littlest boy, pointing. The good woman saw it, and her eyes flashed.
"Oh! Oh!" she clucked. "The wicked men! Did they do that to you?"
"Yes. And they will do more if they catch me now," said Gigi. "I know. They have beaten me many times till I could not move. But if they catch me this time, they will kill me because I ran away. Will you help me?"
"Why, what can I do?" asked the woman uneasily, looking up and down the road. "If they should come now! You belong to them. I shall get myself into trouble."
Gigi's face fell. "Very well," he said. "Good-by. You were kind to me to-day, and I thought—perhaps—" He turned away, with his lips quivering.
"Stay!" cried the woman. "Where is the silver piece which I gave you? You can at least buy food and a night's lodging with that."
"They took it from me," said Gigi. "I had to give it up because there was so little money in the tambourine,—only coppers. They said people would not pay because I fell; and so they would beat me again."
"They took it from you! The thieves!" cried the woman angrily. "Nay, then I will indeed help you to escape. Climb in here, boy, among my youngsters. We have still an hour's ride down the road, and you shall go so far at least."
Gigi climbed into the cart and nestled down among the children. The woman clucked to the oxen, and forthwith they moved on down the highroad. The shadows were beginning to darken, and the birds had ceased to sing.
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