In France there once lived a famous man who was known as the Marquis de Lafayette. [Footnote: Mar'quis de La fa yette'.] When he was a little boy his mother called him Gilbert. Gilbert de Lafayette's father and grandfather and great-grandfather had all been brave and noble men. He was very proud to think of this, and he wished that he might grow up to be like them.
His home was in the country not far from a great forest. Often, when he was a little lad, he took long walks among the trees with his mother.
"Mother," he would say, "do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will not let anything hurt you." One day word came that a savage wolf had been seen in the forest. Men said that it was a very large wolf and that it had killed some of the farmers' sheep.
"How I should like to meet that wolf," said little Gilbert. He was only seven years old, but now all his thoughts were about the savage beast that was in the forest. "Shall we take a walk this morning?" asked his mother. "Oh, yes!" said Gilbert. "Perhaps we may see that wolf among the trees.
But don't be afraid." His mother smiled, for she felt quite sure that there was no danger.
They did not go far into the woods. The mother sat down in the shade of a tree and began to read in a new book which she had bought the day before. The boy played on the grass near by. The sun was warm. The bees were buzzing among the flowers. The small birds were singing softly. Gilbert looked up from his play and saw that his mother was very deeply interested in her book.
"Now for the wolf!" he said to himself. He walked quickly, but very quietly, down the pathway into the darker woods. He looked eagerly around, but saw only a squirrel frisking among the trees and a rabbit hopping across the road.
Soon he came to a wilder place. There the bushes were very close together and the pathway came to an end. He pushed the bushes aside and went a little farther. How still everything was! He could see a green open space just beyond; and then the woods seemed to be thicker and darker. "This is just the place for that wolf," he thought.
Then, all at once, he heard footsteps. Something was pushing its way through the bushes. It was coming toward him. "It's the wolf, I'm sure! It will not see me till it comes very near. Then I will jump out and throw my arms around its neck and choke it to death."
The animal was coming nearer. He could hear its footsteps. He could hear its heavy breathing. He stood very still and waited.
"It will try to bite me," he thought. "Perhaps it will scratch me with its sharp claws. But I will be brave. I will not cry out. I will choke it with my strong arms. Then I will drag it out of the bushes and call mamma to come and see it."
The beast was very close to him now. He could see its shadow as he peeped out through the clusters of leaves. His breath came fast. He planted his feet firmly and made ready to spring. "How proud mamma will be of her brave boy!"
Ah! there was the wolf! He saw its shaggy head and big round eyes. He leaped from his hiding place and clasped it round its neck.
It did not try to bite or scratch. It did not even growl. But it jumped quickly forward and threw Gilbert upon the ground. Then it ran out into the open space and stopped to gaze at him. Gilbert was soon on his feet again. He was not hurt at all. He looked at the beast, and—what do you think it was?
It was not a wolf. It was only a pet calf that had come there to browse among the bushes. The boy felt very much ashamed. He hurried back to the pathway, and then ran to his mother.
Tears were in his eyes; but he tried to look brave. "O Gilbert, where have you been?" said his mother. Then he told her all that had happened. His lips quivered and he began to cry. "Never mind, my dear," said his mother.
"You were very brave, and it is lucky that the wolf was not there. You faced what you thought was a great danger, and you were not afraid. You are my hero."
When the American people were fighting to free themselves from the rule of the king of England, the Marquis de Lafayette helped them with men and money. He was the friend of Washington. His name is remembered in our country as that of a brave and noble man.