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Progressive blocks: first and second steps
JOHN BEGINS TO CARVE
OHN climbed steadily on, scarcely ever stopping, and going
as fast as he could in his impatience to reach home. He
wished he had wings like the geier to land him at the
top in a moment.
The snow was by no means gone, though here and there
green patches had begun to show through it. The
mountains shouldered their bare forms out from the
heavy mantle that had covered them through the winter;
in the broad spaces between the peaks the
 great snow fields that lingered all summer were growing
a little smaller. There was a strong, sweet smell in
the air, the smell of the springtime that made John
draw full breaths and almost laugh aloud.
It was late in the afternoon before he started, and,
though he walked at a brisk pace, night began to fall
long before he reached home. But he did not care for
this, for he knew the way well and there was not much
snow on the trail under the rocks. Before entering the
pine forest he turned and looked back. The sky was
clear and glowing, and here and there, away down below
where the valley was quite dark, he saw a light shine
out like a star on the earth.
At last he got to the end of the forest, and above his
head he saw another star
 shine out, and that, he knew, was the light of his own
He gave a loud call and his mother came running to the
door. In spite of his being such a big boy I think
there were tears in his eyes as he kissed her on both
cheeks, and I am sure there were tears running down her
cheeks, for they had never been separated from each
Presently Father Hofer came in and the first thing John
did was to take his new tool out of its wrapper and
"Uncle Francesco gave it to me," he said.
Neither of his parents said anything, but only looked
at each other.
Next morning John had scarcely time to look around him
when he heard an impatient he-haw, and in another
moment old Franz was capering about like
 mad, so delighted was he to see John back. He went off
a little way and then charged down on John with his
ears back and his mouth open as though he were going to
eat him up, but just before he got to him he planted
his front hoofs, stopped short, and flung his heels in
the air. Then he ran round and round John with his tail
up, until at last John succeeded in getting on his back
and they had a splendid frolic.
The goats remembered him too, and his pet Wawa cuddled
up to him in the most loving manner.
"Are you glad to be home again, John?" asked Mother
Hofer that night at supper. She had made a great
plateful of fritters to please him and her face was
shining with happiness.
Anton came over as soon as he heard that John was back
and the two friends
 sat on the bench and told each other all that had
happened in those long winter months, but first of all
John showed the tool to Anton.
"Now, I can begin," he proudly announced, "when I go
back next winter."
"But who is to teach you, John?"
"Oh, I don't know, but you will see that someone will
Both boys had been re-chosen goatherds for the
following summer and as soon as the snow was off enough
they started out every fair morning with their flocks.
Down in the valley the wood-carving had been put aside
for the summer and all the people were busy ploughing
John's father made their garden and sowed the broad
field above the house in the intervals of
 Anton talked with as much interest as ever of the Big
Alp and how he would one day be a herder up there and
make collars for the cows. "That is carving enough for
me," he would say in reply to John's tales of the work
going on in the Toy Valley. "And I like a live cow
better than a wooden one."
One Sunday John went with his father to the great
forest of zirbel pines growing on the slope of a
mountain a few miles away. The forest belonged to Herr
Malnitz and his father was to chop there and cut the
trees into lengths to be used by the toy-makers for
their winter work.
"There never was such wood," Father Hofer said, laying
his hand on the trunk of a tree by which he was
standing, and John looked at the noble pine with a
feeling of awe. Surely the good God
 had planted it on those mountains to give wood to the
They took a long walk that day over a high wind-swept
alp covered with flowers, among which grew the
gentians, from whose roots the people distilled a
strong, bitter liquor. To one of these gentian stills
Father Hofer directed his steps, having need to talk to
the man in charge, and John climbed on to the upper rim
of the vast meadow, where one could see far off to
distant new and wonderful snow-clad heights.
Standing there and looking over that limitless expanse
John wondered what manner of people lived at the foot
of those mountains and how far beyond them one would
need to travel to find the cities. It was so vast, this
world of mountains. Could there really be anything
else? Plains that he had read of
 in his book—and the great restless sea?
When he got back to the gentian still the keeper of it
was telling how he had once crossed the northern
mountains, the very ones at which John had been
looking. And from him John learned that in time the
mountains came to an end and the land lay "as flat as
the top of this table," the narrator said, "with here
and there cities, but lying so far apart that you could
not see from one to the other, and needing more than a
long day's march across the plains to get to them."
How was it possible to be on a plain and not see across
it? With no mountains to obstruct the view why could
one not see from one city to the others? With all
John's schooling this mystery of the plains where one
could see and not see was inscrutable.
 The summer slipped away and the ground was covered with
pine cones, when one day John said to his father, "Herr
Malnitz told me that if I would bring him some cones to
feed his squirrels he would give me some pieces of
"Very well, John," his father replied, "you may take
Franz to carry the bags if Anton can find some one to
help guard the flock while you are gone."
This Anton willingly did, and one day John started down
the mountain driving Franz on ahead with two bags of
cones strapped across his back.
Franz did not frisk now. He understood this was
business, and, though he had on no harness but the
strap that held the bags, he went on ahead picking his
way carefully over the rocky path.
John delivered the cones and received
 in exchange a fine piece of wood which he put away in
Uncle Francesco's house. Before starting up the
mountain again he ran through the yard behind the
church and out upon the cliff edge where he looked down
for a moment on the brown roof of the Wolferlos house.
Then he started for home, Franz walking sedately on
ahead with the empty bags across his back.
John had a great deal to tell Anton next day as they
lay among the flowers in the sunshine with the cool
breeze from the snow fields blowing over them. Little
Wawa was under his arm and gave a soft whimpering bleat
occasionally as she looked up into his face.
"She missed you so she was a nuisance all day running
around and bleating," Anton said, and John caressed the
 "I am to go down to Uncle Francesco's earlier this
year," he said finally. "As soon as the snow comes and
the herding ceases."
A few days later the snow came, and came so fast and so
deep that all thought of going again to the pastures
was given up. The goats were put in their winter
quarters in the barns and John once more said good-bye
to those at home and went down the mountain. He walked
this time, floundering through the snow as best he
could, for the gully was not yet packed hard enough to
be safe sledding.
As soon as he could he took out his zirbel wood and
with Uncle Francesco's help split it into small pieces,
the size of those from which the Wolferlos carved the
horses, in whose nostrils little Angelica painted red
He thought a long time, then one day
 he took his tool and some pieces of wood and went with
them to the Ampezzangs. It was a half-holiday and young
Wolfram Ampezzang had gone off hunting. The old people
were glad to see John, who finally drew out his tool
and showed it to them and his pieces of wood. Herr
Ampezzang examined the tool, "It is of the best," he
said approvingly, "but it must have a handle and I will
make you one."
So he cut out and fitted a neat handle upon the tool
while John looked on.
"There, now," said Herr Ampezzang, "you are all ready
"But I don't know how," and John looked at Frau
"Dear me, Antonio Ampezzang, clamp that extra length of
wood on the end of the table; or no, John, you sit down
in Wolfram's place and learn how to shape your blocks,"
and John sat down in the
 son's place, feeling very solemn, indeed. He made
clumsy work of it and finally the tool slipped and cut
a deep gash in his thumb from which the red blood
spirted. But that was an accident for which every
carver was prepared and in a moment Frau Ampezzang had
the wound in a basin of icy water fresh from the brook,
which soon stopped the bleeding. Then she bound a rag
around the thumb and told John to come again when he
got a chance.
The next time John went he found an extra piece of wood
clamped to the end of the table and an extra chair set,
and henceforth that was his place whenever he could get
"I never saw anybody try so hard," Herr Ampezzang said
to Uncle Francesco one day. "He spends all his spare
time at it. He has ruined nearly all of his
 blocks trying to get them cut down to the right
Uncle Francesco shook his head.
"I never should have given him the tool," he said
But Mother Ampezzang took another view of it. "Slow but
sure," she hastily interposed. "He is doing better; he
will cut the blocks well enough in time."
It did seem as though he never would and when you think
that this first shaping of the block was nothing at all
compared to the rest, not much more than getting the
block down to the right size and proportions, it is no
wonder everybody was discouraged over John, everybody,
that is, but John himself. He declined to know the
meaning of the word "failure" and went on spoiling the
good wood as cheerfully as though he were turning out
the finest toys in the valley.
 By the end of winter he had used up all his own wood
and some besides, but he had learned to shape the
blocks so that he could prepare them for the others to
go on with.
He was very slow but very exact and he sat day after
day shaving off the edges of his blocks and smoothing
the bottoms so that they would stand quite firmly.
"Unless your block stands, your horse won't," said Frau
Ampezzang so often that John concluded the most
important thing in wood-carving was to make your block
stand, and this he learned to do so well that whatever
else happened his blocks always stood up.
He learned, too, to sharpen his tool on the little
whetstone, "and that is a good deal," kind Frau
Ampezzang said encouragingly to him.