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Companions of the Forest
A LONG time ago there lived in Calabria, in the south of Italy, a poor boy called Caesarino di Berni. A promising lad he was, clever, handsome, good-humoured, and a kind and helpful son to his widowed mother. He had no boy-companions of his own age, but he did not miss them, and I will tell you why.
One day he had wandered far into a neighbouring forest, and there in the thickest part he came upon a huge cavern. On examining it he found it was divided into three caves. In one of these he found a litter of bear-cubs; in another a litter of wolf-cubs; in the third were little lions cuddled together. Their mothers had left them when they were just of an age to begin to fend for themselves; but they were still the prettiest, playfullest things you can imagine. Caesarino took one of each home with him, fed them, and in time they became his favourite pets. In their turn they grew very fond of him and of each other; nor were they ever anything but gentle with the other folk about the house. When they grew bigger, Caesarino trained them to hunt. Early in the morning, before anyone was about, he would be Up and off with them to the forest, where they spent long happy days together.
If he taught them hunting, according to a method of his own, they taught him all kinds of forest-lore, of which wild animals know more than men. When night came on and he brought them back, he was laden with spoil. By this means, as the years went on, he grew rich, and was able to support his mother and sisters in great comfort. Of course, the few neighbours they had wondered very much about the source of their prosperity; but as they were not hunters, and never went into the forest, they did not find out for themselves. Now Caesarino, though helpful to his neighbours, warned his family not to tell how he spent his days, lest some jealous person should harm his faithful helpers, or steal them away.
But his sisters forgot their promise, and chattered about their brother's hunting to the folks around; and one day a neighbour said to him, "You are a sulky kind of fellow, surely! Good friends as we are, you never take me with you when you go out. I hear you have become a mighty hunter. Now nothing would please me better than to spend a day in the forest with you." Caesarino answered neither yea nor nay; but to himself he said, "My secret is out. It is time I left this place, lest evil should befall my three good friends."
So, leaving all his possessions to his mother and sisters, he set out into the world to seek his fortune. Of course, the Wolf, the Bear and the Lion went with him; and the four were the best of company to each other on the road. At last they reached the sea-shore. There they went on board a ship, and landed in Sicily. After long travel over hill and dale, they came one day to a beautiful and very lonely place where stood a hermitage. The sun was blazing hot over their heads; and they entered for rest and shelter. Shortly after the hermit came home. At the sight of the wild animals in his hut he started and called out for terror; but Caesarino said, "Fear nothing, good father. They will not harm you." No one looked on Caesarino without trusting him; so the hermit was satisfied, and, poor man though he was, he found bread and Wine to give to his guest, who was hungry and tired. The three beasts foraged for themselves, and all the five supped merrily together.
"A fine country this!" said Caesarino to the old man.
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