THE BOY AND THE MOUNTAIN
OHN HOFER was climbing steadily up the green mountain
When he could spare breath he whistled; but he was only
ten, the mountain was steep, and he had a tall basket
strapped to this back.
He was all alone and the mountain was big; but the
stony path he followed, curve and twist as it might,
would lead him safe home, that he knew.
 Presently he stopped under a rock, rested his basket on
a jutting ledge and looked down the steep slope into
the valley he had just left, in the bottom of which lay
a tiny village with a tall church spire. It was like a
picture, the huddled stone houses looked so small in
the distance with the tremendous mountain peaks of bare
rock rising beyond them.
But John was not thinking of that. He was thinking of
his friends Tito and Josef who lived in the house
farthest up the stream that sparkled like a silver
thread through the valley. He knew they were at that
moment sitting with their father and mother at the long
bench carving goats out of little blocks of wood. That
is, the father and mother were carving the goats, while
Tito and Josef smoothed down the blocks and
 got them ready. And in the next big, white house with
such broad balconies and wide lattices, the whole
family were busy constructing comical jumping-jacks.
They had once given him one, but that was when he was a
little boy, and he had broken it long ago. Over there,
close to the stream,—in that little building not much
bigger than a doll's house,—old Herr Weinert sat all
day long turning little wagon wheels on his whirling
Indeed, in each house he could recall some similar
scene, for he was looking down into the Toy Valley
where every man, woman, and child is busy making toys
from morning until night. And this they do, in order to
fill the great sack that Santa Claus carries over the
earth at Christmas time, to stuff the stockings of the
children even in far-away America.
 All over the world the children know and love these
toys, though they may never have heard of the busy
workers of the Toy Valley.
Yes, the boy up on the mountain side with the tall
basket strapped to his back is Donkey John. But you
must not let on you know, for nobody called him Donkey
John then, or anything but John Hofer, because that was
his real name. He had to earn the name of Donkey John,
and how he did it you will find out if you read on far
As to John's personal appearance, excepting for his
clothes, he very much resembled any other little boy of
ten,—that is, he had a round face beautifully freckled
in the summer time, round eyes, and a mouth that was
able to break into a delightful smile when he was
Probably, had you seen him up there
 on the mountain side, you would have said, "What an odd
looking boy"; but that would be because you looked at
his clothes rather than at him. For he lived in a
country where all the boys wore their trousers down to
their heels, and little tight vests with broad belts
and cock-a-lorum hats, and on their feet were great
heavy wooden shoes shaped somewhat like canal boats.
And all the little girls wore full round petticoats
down to their heels with flat waists and three-cornered
kerchiefs tied over their braids, which were coiled
neatly about their pretty heads, and on their feet were
little wooden shoes that also looked like canal
boats,—little bits of canal boats. You have seen them in
picture books many a time; but it is another matter to
see a boy dressed like John walking around in real
life. As to the basket he had
 strapped to his back, that is the way all the people of
the Toy Valley carry their possessions about.
If you live shut up in a high valley between
tremendously high mountains, where there are no roads
and no wagons and hardly any horses, you have to lay
the burdens on your own back. And if you do, there is
nothing so convenient as the tall, wedge-shaped
baskets, wide above, narrow below, flat on the side
towards the back, rounding out on the other side, that
all the people, including John, wore when they had
anything to carry.
While John, up on the mountain side, was looking down
on the houses in the bottom of the deep valley and
thinking about the people who lived in them, a large,
golden-brown squirrel, fluffy-tailed and
bright-eyed,—such as inhabit those
 mountains,—sat on a tree watching him and at last
attracted his attention by a sharp chuckling bark. John
turned quickly at the sound, and seeing the squirrel so
close, stood very still with a wide smile on his round
face. The squirrel kept still too, as still as a mouse
in the radiance of that smile. There is no knowing what
the upshot would have been had not John given a
startled shriek and suddenly thrown out his arms, when
the squirrel darted past quite close to his hand and
disappeared in a cleft of the rock. And none too soon,
for a great bird swooped down, merely swerving slightly
as John cried out, and with a vicious scream, circled
over the branch where the squirrel had sat, and then
rose swiftly into the air above.
John had seen the shadow of the great hawk "geier," the
 call it, around the corner of the rock which stood
between it and the tree where the squirrel was perched.
As the bird ascended rapidly, he seized a stone and
cried out in a threatening voice, "Oh, I know you, it
is you that came down and stole one of Anton's lambs
last month!" He flung the stone with all his might,
although the hawk was far out of reach; then he once
more took up his basket and continued his slow, steady
task of climbing up, up, up.
Presently a loud, prolonged call echoed and reŽchoed
along the sides of the mountain, and he replied with a
shrill cry that also went echoing back and forth. He
waited, and soon his father's head appeared above a
clump of bushes, and in a moment more the two were
going on together, father Hofer ahead on the narrow
path and almost hidden
 from sight by the tall basket he also wore strapped to
his back. They ascended the steep, green slopes without
speaking, for father Hofer was a man of few words.
It was only the middle of the afternoon, and yet the
evening shadows were already creeping over the little
village down below, for the Toy Valley is so narrow and
so deep that only in the middle of the day does the sun
shine in. Indeed, some of the houses built on the
slopes of the mountain never get a ray of sunshine all
winter long. But on the side where the Hofers lived it
After a while the path reached the end of the steep,
green slopes and zigzagged up steeper than ever through
the dark evergreen woods.
John no longer turned around every
 few moments to look down below, for the village was
hidden from sight under the crags of the mountain, and
as he climbed on,
all he could see was the mysterious,
dark spaces of the woods and that great basket that
seemed to be walking up the mountain on his father's
For an hour they climbed up the rocky path among the
fragrant trees, but at last they saw light shining
ahead as though they were about to climb out into the
When they got to the edge of the woods they saw a house
standing on a grassy swell yet higher up and full in
the sunlight. It was their own home and looked very
cheerful after the dark forest.
Mother Hofer, who had heard the sharp ring of their
 the stones, came running out to meet them. John quickly
wriggled out of his basket straps, took off his shoes
and sat down on the bench by the side of the door to
It was dark down in the valley now, the village was
lost to sight under the mountain and all one could see
were a few houses on the high slopes opposite, so far
away that they looked no larger than grains of rice.
Indeed, one could not have seen them at all if they had
not been painted white. Yet in each one of them lived
merry little people, busy now no doubt, putting away
the toys they had been making for Santa Claus to carry
away to the children out in the big world.
While John sat resting, the mother unpacked the
baskets. Father Hofer's held a bag of flour, some salt
and a few
 other such things. John's had a package of thread for
his mother to make lace with, some yarn, and a new
sheep bell. He jumped up, took out the sheep bell and
tinkled it. "It has a pretty sound," said his mother,
stopping to listen.
"Yes," said John, "think how it will tell where the old
black sheep is! The rascal cannot hide from me with
this on his neck!" and John shook the bell again to
show the others how much noise it could make.
"Father, let us hang the bell on the new wooden collar
you made the other day. Then all will be new!"
"Yes, so we will, but first go and look after Franz.
Don't you hear him pawing in the stall?"
John ran and opened the barn door. He had not far to go
for the barn was
 under the same roof with the house; it was indeed the
other half of the house, that being the convenient way
in which everybody lived in the Toy Valley.
As soon as the door was opened Franz jumped out and
kicked up his little heels and shook his shaggy head
and long ears and looked at John out of the corner of
his eye as much as to say, "You will never catch me
But John knew old Franz and did not try to catch him.
He sat down on the bench and began to crack a green
hazel nut between his teeth.
Franz lifted his head in
the air and hee-hawed with all his might, still
watching John, who paid no attention. Then Franz
whirled around and took a drink out of the wooden
trough and the next moment John felt a velvet nose
against his cheek. Still he paid no attention—and then
 donkey's great head was thrust into his lap and John
caught hold of the halter. Franz tried to pull away,
but it was too late and John soon had him in the stall
again with some fresh hay to eat.
Usually he would have played with old Franz a while,
but to-night he was too impatient to get at the new
sheep bell to want to waste time on the donkey. So poor
Franz was shut up and John ran towards the house door.
"Now for the new bell, father," he shouted.
But Mother Hofer had a word to say about that. "Not yet
John, not yet. We must first eat supper. Your father is
hungry. He was off before daylight this morning with
only a bit of bread in the bottom of his basket. You
had your dinner before you went down to meet him, but
the poor father had
 nothing," and Mother Hofer bustled about getting the
The outside door of their house opened into a little
room paved with large, flat stones. It was as black as
ink inside from the smoke which for more than a hundred
years had risen from the open hearth. There was no
chimney and the smoke had to escape through a hole in
the wall near the ceiling or through the open door. The
fireplace was only a stone platform in the middle of
which Mother Hofer kindled a little fire of sticks—like
a camp fire. Then she set an iron grating with legs
over the fire and on this a long-handled frying pan.
As John watched her his mouth began to water, for he
knew they were going to have fritters for supper, and
all at once he felt very hungry. Sputter! sputter! went
the fritters in the hot fat. "Now
 run, John, and get a plate!"—and the fritters were soon
smoking in a savory pile.
Then they went into another room where was no trace of
smoke and sat on the benches at the side of the table
and ate fritters and goat's-milk cheese—all they
wanted—and John drank a bowl of milk besides.
"Now, father," said John, as soon as he had stuffed the
last fritter into his mouth, "now for the new sheep
Mother Hofer gathered up the dishes and John climbed up
on the big brick stove and took the wooden collar down
from the shelf above it. Then he and his father sat and
worked quite contentedly until the bell was fitted into
the notch in front of the collar and fastened securely.
"Now, John," said Father Hofer, "you
 must watch just how it is done, so you can do the next
one yourself. A boy must learn to be useful or else he
will not make a useful man."
"Yes, father," said John, and the bell being now hung
on the collar and all ready for the black sheep's neck,
John went off to bed and was soon sound asleep.