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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley






ATHER, said John at the supper table that night, "Anton is going to herd cows on the Big Alp when he grows up. But I don't want to be a herder."

"Hear the boy!" exclaimed Mother Hofer. "Now what do you want to do? Come, tell us."

"I want to make toys the way all the people do down in the valley."

"Lawsy me!" exclaimed Mother Hofer, looking at her husband.

[47] "You can't learn," said Father Hofer, shaking his head. "It takes much time to learn, and there are the tools to buy and we have no money to waste. There is enough to do at home, and when you are strong enough you can come with me into the woods and help chop the trees. Only those carve whose fathers and grandfathers did it before them."

John said no more, but he thought a great deal about how he would some day be able to make the beautiful wooden animals that he saw made in the people's houses down in the valley.

"Oh, I shall surely do it, Franz, you will see," he whispered into the donkey's long ear, and old Franz looked at him out of his beautiful brown eyes and pointed his ears towards him with interest.

He often talked it over with Anton when they were out on the mountains [48] with the goats and sheep, for they went every day to take the neighbors' animals to browse.

"When I was done in the valley with father that day," he told Anton, "I saw a man with a basket on his back full to the top with wooden horses as big as kittens. Their legs were sticking up in the air. I saw it all quite plainly. They said he was going over the mountains to a great city in Germany."

"I would rather make collars for the cows, it is easier," replied Anton.

"Yes, but I want to go out in the big world, Anton, with a basketful of toys on my back—out and out, farther than the Big Alp."

"Oh, John, you would get lost out there!"

"No, I can find my way all over the mountains alone. I heard Herr Herder [49] talking about it in the store that day I went down into the valley with father. He said it was easy. He went to a great fair and sold all he had and brought the money home. And he saw such gay sights down there! Oh, Anton, all the things he saw! and the land was flat—as flat as the Pufel Alp over there, as far as he could see."

"I like the Big Alp better," insisted Anton. "I went up there once. Hansel Zwang had a flock of goats 'way off by themselves. He had a hut to live in, not a quarter as big as the sheds where the cow-herders make the butter and cheese. I went into the hut and they had the shelves piled with cheeses. They were as big as that one your mother cut your slice out of—I don't know how many shelves full, but there were fifteen cheeses on each shelf!"

[50] "What do they do with so many!" exclaimed John, to whom such a number of cheeses seemed more than enough to feed the world.

"Oh, they take them home when the summer is over and they drive the goats down into the valley. But the cow-herders send their butter and cheese down every week. The hotels in the cities far away buy it all."

"There must be a great many people in the cities," said John, lying on his back with one knee crossed over the other and looking up into the sky. "I should like to see a city."

"I would rather see the Big Alp," said Anton; "you make money up there with the butter and cheese, and sometimes your friends come up of a Sunday and then there is a feast for they bring you something good, and when you go down [51] with your cows the girls run out to see, and whoever has done the best gets a great many pretty looks and fine words from them."

"I shouldn't care for that," said John, "but I should like to see the city shining in the night. Herr Herder told father that day we went to the valley that you could see it shining far away with many great lights like suns."

"But they can't be as bright as the stars on the Big Alp. You ought to see them in the night; they are near you, you know."

"Sometimes, Anton, let us go up to the Big Alp and stay all night and see the stars," and John sat up straight and looked eagerly at Anton. "We could sleep under a rock just one night and carry enough food."

Anton looked alarmed. "Why, John, [52] you couldn't do that. They wouldn't let us. Besides, we don't know the way," he continued as though that settled it.

"We could find the way; just go up and up towards the sky where the big stars shine. Let us do it."

"But who will care for the sheep and goats?"

"Oh, I don't mean now, but sometime."

And so the boys talked together day after day of the world they longed to see, but Anton always spoke of the Big Alp, while John dreamed of the cities with the shining lights that lay beyond the rim of the mountains.

Often when alone with his goats he would stretch himself at full length on the pleasant grass and think about everything in the world, but oftenest about what was going on in the Toy Valley [53] down there out of sight below the mountain. Although the sun beat hot upon him, the wind was cold and sweet, for it came straight over the snow fields lying in the high laps of the mountains that towered all around. Heated through by the sun and refreshed by the keen air, he felt as if he could easily climb over the highest snow-capped peaks in sight and find out what was on the other side.

But sometimes he made believe he had the coveted tool in his hand and that the little chips were flying from the fragrant zirbel wood, as, one by one, out of the solid blocks, came forth dainty chamois and frisky goats and whole lines of horses and donkeys and cats and dogs, and Noah and his wife at the head of the procession; for the animals were often gathered together into Noah's arks, concerning which you, of course, know [54] everything, or at least so I suppose, for when I was a child everybody had a Noah's ark—though, now I come to think of it, that was  a long time ago.

Such pictures as John saw lying there with his eyes half shut!—a long procession of little wooden mules winding through the grass blades; a wooden doll no larger than his thumb, sitting on a yellow daisy and swinging its stiff little legs; a line of cows winding about that stone near the clump of blue gentians; two white lambs like those that followed him, only not so large as mice. Hundreds and hundreds of funny sights he saw in the grass on the breezy Alp where he lay. Jumping-jacks springing about like grasshoppers and weathervanes whirling after them.

He would lie there by the hour making believe drive herds of little wooden [55] goats through the long grass blades, rescuing one when it fell over a dangerous cliff, performing feats of valor protecting little toy lambs from imaginary geiers of enormous size and fierce manner. And sometimes he would herd imaginary droves of little wooden cows on the mound that represented the Big Alp in his fanciful drama. And all the little animals of his day-dreams he imagined he had himself cut from blocks of wood as he had seen done in the Toy Valley over and over again. And yet they were all alive, those funny little wooden objects moving through the grass and flowers of the high Alpine pasture. To make them looked so easy, as the people, even the children, thrust their sharp tools against the fragrant, yielding wood. Surely he could learn it if he tried.

[56] All about on the mountains grew the fragrant zirbel pines, the wood of which supplied material for the wood-carvers, and John learned to know it so well that he could tell it as far as he could see it.

"Father teaches me to know the trees," he confided to Anton, "for he thinks I will one day go out into the forest and chop; but I look at only the zirbel, for the wood of that, you know, is what the carvers use; it cuts like cheese, and when it dries it is hard and does not split. Without the zirbel pines there would be no toy-makers in the valley, so father says."

"I know it is so," assented Anton. "I have heard them talk about it. And the nuts in the cones are large and sweet. I, too, know the zirbel."

"Some day I shall have a zirbel tree," [57] said John, with a proud air; "a whole one, and I will carve it into a million animals no bigger than mice, and then I will take my basket on my back full to the brim with them and I will go and go. I will go—I don't know where, but it will be far away where there are no zirbel trees and no toy-makers, and the people will come about me and will buy my toys, and I shall have money and bring back a fine new hat like what Herr Malnitz wears on Sunday and feast days."

"You'll be afraid," and Anton tossed a chunk of moss at John.

"No, I won't," he boasted; "I won't be a bit afraid, and I shall have gold tassels on the hat."

"I, too, shall have a zirbel tree," said Anton, not to be outdone, "and I shall shave it into a hundred collars for the [58] cows on the Big Alp. And when the summer is over I will give money to Herr Malnitz and ask him to fetch me a beautiful hat when he goes away over the mountains to some great fair."

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