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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley

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JOHN HAS AN EXCITING DAY

[248]

J
OHN went straight to the Fair next morning and to his place under the tree. He reflected that a business man must not spend the working hours in amusing himself. In a little while he had sold the last donkey, and was thinking which way to walk to see it all when a gentleman came hurrying along with a little lame girl and made signs to John that he wanted a toy for the child. He had seen a friend with one of the delightful donkeys and, inquiring [249] where John was to be found, had dashed off to get one.

John pointed to his donkeyless basket and shook his head. They were all gone. Then the little lame child began to cry and the gentleman tried to soothe her, but she only cried the louder.

Now, John had put some blocks in the heel of the basket and had filled in all the spaces between the toys with them, and had carried his tools too, partly because he did not like to be separated from them so long, and partly because he had a vague idea he might have time to work, being gone from home so long a time.

So he signed to the gentleman to wait while he ran to where he had seen a large chunk of wood lying the day before. The owner allowed him to take it, and putting it down by his basket, he [250] sat on the ground behind it, and although the position was not an easy one to work in he took one of his blocks and began. This pleased the gentleman and the child so much that they stayed until the toy was finished, although John worked slowly, as usual. But it amused the child very much to see the little chips roll out and the formless block gradually assume the shape of a little long-eared donkey. John finished it carefully, not forgetting the little bunch above the knee, and when it was done he had never made a prettier one.

The gentleman took it and put a silver piece in John's hand, but when John, wondering whether all the money he had would be enough to make change for it, looked up with his hand in his pocket, the gentleman was gone.

"He will come back," thought John, [251] and he put the money carefully away. But he did not return that day although John waited until dark and everybody had left the fairgrounds.

So he gathered up his things and went to the house where he slept, determined to return to the Fair the first thing in the morning and wait until the gentleman came.

The next day he was the first one on the fairgrounds, and going directly to his place he sat down and waited. After a while the most delicious odor came to his nostrils, and he ran to where a woman was frying in a little shed and bought some breakfast. Then back again to wait. Soon, tired of doing nothing, for he could not see much that was going in the Fair from his corner, he took a block and set to work.

In a moment some one stopped to [252] look on, and soon a crowd was gathered around him.

John in his picturesque gala dress and his nodding eagle's plume, sitting on the ground before the log end absorbed in cutting his block, was a sight that pleased the people immensely, and had he only known it he had as big a crowd pressing about him as had any show at the Fair, except perhaps the striped clown who turned somersaults backwards and whose dog stood on its head.

John looked up and smiled and nodded at the people once in a while, as that was his only way of speaking. But his honest blue eyes and his friendly freckled face told a great deal more than many words. When finally the donkey was quite finished he held it up to show them, and a big man who had watched it from the beginning suddenly snatched it [253] out of his hand and began to talk very fast to the people, who listened whit gaping mouths breaking every now and then into roars of laughter.

Finally the man took some heavy paper, folded it and cut it with his pocket-knife into a great many slips, talking all the time. Then he wrote something on one of the slips, shuffled them all together, and began to sell them to the people for a small coin. There was much laughing and talking, and not until the last slip was sold did the written word appear. At this the people grumbled a little, but he said something that made them laugh louder than before as he handed the donkey to the man who had bought the successful slip. Then he took the handfuls of pennies he had taken in and poured them on the ground at John's side.

[254] John sat staring at the money not knowing what to make of it all, while the crowd cheered and laughed. At last he tied it up in his big handkerchief and laid it in the bottom of his basket, for he understood that for some reason he was to keep it.

When he went back to the house where he slept that night, he found the woman who could understand his language and who had come to see him, and he told her all that had happened, and how the whole day had passed and the gentleman had not come for the change to his silver piece.

"Ah, lad," she said, "you were born lucky. The gentleman will never return. He meant to give you the money because he was pleased with your work."

Then she advised him to go back the next day, which was the last day of the [255] Fair, and sit in his old place and carve his toys before the people. "For they will hear of this and will want to see it." She also advised him to leave his money with the woman of the house so as not to lose it, and this he gladly did.

The first comers at the Fair next morning saw John seated before his piece of wood working away as fast as he could. He meant to finish his blocks and sell them that morning so as to have the afternoon to look around, for he had stuck close to his place, coming early and leaving late, that after that first day he had seen very little of the Fair.

As before, a great many people came to look on, and as fast as he finished a block somebody bought it, so that early in the afternoon he was free.

Taking his empty basket on his back [256] he began to walk around and was surprised to see how the Fair had grown since the first day. There were nearly twice as many booths set up, and some of them held very fine things. He stopped before one and picked out a beautiful red shawl for his mother, and at another he got a pair of felt shoes for Angelica, and for his father a pair of sheep shears which he very much needed. All these he put in his basket.

Then he wandered out to the end of the fairground where he had not been before, and there he discovered the merry-go-round.

John's eyes almost popped out of his head at sight of all those swinging chairs and prancing horses flying so smoothly around with people sitting in them and on their backs. He had heard of the merry-go-round, but it had conveyed [257] very little meaning to him, because he had never seen anything at all like it in the mountains.

It certainly was a magic thing, that! And the music!—how gay and glorious it all was! As he stood looking, the music stopped with a crash and the wonderful swinging circle came to a standstill. The people on it climbed down and others took their places. Then the music started up as suddenly as it had stopped, the gay thing began to swing around faster and faster until the riders fairly flew past him and made his head whirl. He stood leaning on his staff and staring with round eyes and open mouth until some one nudged his elbow and motioned to him to go and get in, for again it had come to a stand-still, and the people who were in were tumbling out and others taking their [258] places; but he only smiled and shook his head, for he could not take his basket with him, and he could not leave it.

Then he saw a boy standing near who was watching the merry-go-round with a longing heart.

"Since I cannot go myself," said John, "I will send this boy," and he bought a ticket for two cents and gave it to the boy. Then he stood and watched the boy climb astride one of the big wooden horses and then clutch the rod in front. The band struck up a lively air, the thing started, and John clutched his staff and clenched his teeth, his eyes fastened on the boy to whom he had given the ticket; for it was as though he himself were perched up there about to circle around like the geier  above the Alps only a million times faster. He imagined it felt something like flying down the big chute [259] and trembled for fear the boy should fall off. But he did not fall, but hugged his iron rod and flashed past John faster and faster until the machine stopped; and he staggered down and passed John, at whom he nodded with a broad and happy grin on his face.

John stayed so long and was so engrossed watching the merry-go-round that the Fair closed without his even knowing it and it began to be dark before he thought go to home. On the way he bought a package of little cakes to take to his mother.

When he reached the house, he found the woman from his valley there. She seemed relieved to see him.

"Now what are you going to do tonight?" she asked.

"I am going to walk around in the town a little to see it in the night," re- [260] plied John, for he had not done this although the streets were lighted quite brightly and made a pretty show. Some way he had felt a little afraid of it.

"I will tell you what to do," said the woman, kindly; "this is the last day of the Fair, and there will be many people about amusing themselves. Go to the square where the church stands and sit down at one of the tables and call for a mug of beer and some black bread and sit still and watch the people and listen to the music, for there is to be a concert. You will have to buy something to eat, or else they won't allow you to sit at the table."

"That shall be my supper," said John promptly and quite excited at the thought.

"Yes, let it be your supper, and see that you leave your money safe at home and don't go off with any rough people. [261] Now mind what I say, and no harm will come of it."

John promised to do exactly as she said, and bidding him good-bye and a safe journey home she took her leave, but not before she had taught him how to ask in good straight German for what he wanted when he sat down at the table.


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