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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley


 

 

[Illustration]

DONKEY JOHN

[167]

T
HE summer passed like magic, as happy summers always do, and before the boys knew it winter knocked at the door and John once more found himself at his post in the Toy Valley where matters advanced but little with his carving.

There was only one good thing about it. The more discouraging the results the harder he tried. Herr Ampezzang kept him at work on the rough blocks more than a year because he had no [168] tool to take the next step and besides there was no wood to waste. And when one remembers how long it took him to shape the block properly it is not surprising that no one was anxious to see him begin on the next cuts.

But he uncomplainingly got the blocks ready for the others, leaning over his bench hours at a time, shaving them down neatly and accurately though always slowly.

"You will never make a living, John, you move too slowly," Herr Ampezzang sometimes said, but Frau Ampezzang always looked at him with kind eyes.

"Keep trying, John, it is the only way," she would say, and he kept trying.

The other children laughed at him a great deal.

"He wants to carve," said the people, [169] "and he cannot. None of his family has ever carved. Why does he try?"

But try he did, and little by little learned to shave down the back leaving the head end higher and the tail end neatly rounded. Thus he kept on, cheerfully beginning blocks for the others to finish.

Finally he had made ready so many that Frau Ampezzang declared he had earned a tool and gave him an old one of hers. This was smaller than his other and it was curved and was used to gouge out the body under the legs.

What work John did make of it! The first time he tried he cut off all the legs so that his block looked like a wrinkled worm.

"I declare, John, you will ruin us wasting the wood," grumbled Herr Am- [170] pezzang, but Frau Ampezzang said soothingly,

"Just think how long he has worked for us for nothing. Surely he will learn the next step as perfectly and then he will indeed be a help."

John smiled gratefully at her and dug away at his block for dear life.

In time, as Fran Ampezzang had said, he learned to make the under cuts, leaving the proper amount of wood untouched from which to finish the legs and neck and head.

Now it happened that in the Toy Valley each family was in the habit of working always on one toy, this even descending from generation to generation, so that in one house it was all horses, in another all dolls, and so on. But the Ampezzangs were among the best carvers in the valley and Frau [171] Ampezzang could carve everything from a cow to a duck, and John's ambition was to do the same. But the winters that he began she was making only donkeys,—having a large order for them,—and so John's first winter's work was forming blocks for donkeys and his second winter's work was scooping out the under part of the body of the same animal, as Frau Ampezzang was still at work on them.

"It is better so," she said to him, for you must learn one thing well and then you can easily change to something else."

So John cut away at his donkeys and at the end of two years could no more make a donkey than he could sing a song or write a poem. But he could hew out the rough form so well that Frau Ampezzang was glad to entrust all [172] the first cutting to him. He never made a mistake and he never grew careless.

What with his school and his work in the house and his carving,—for which Uncle Francesco allowed him more and more time,—he had little time to visit that winter; yet once in a while he would find his way to the Wolferlos', where all the children were, of course, working on horses as their parents and grandparents had done before them, and where little Angelica still put red paint in their nostrils and still wore her long yellow braids wound around her pretty head as her grandmother and great-grandmother had done before her.

John saw her in school sometimes but she was in another room and had recess at a different time so that it was only when the children went home after school that he caught a glimpse of her, [173] and not always then. Once he slapped a boy for pulling the kerchief off her head, a way the mischievous boys had of teasing the little girls. John did not pull off their kerchiefs though he liked to tease as well as any boy and once got severely punished by the teacher for putting a wriggling worm into the dinner pail of the biggest girl in school.

How she screamed and jumped about! And how angry the teacher was! He said words that John never forgot and next day the biggest girl in school found a bunch of pretty flowers in her dinner pail.

The year passed and John had earned the tools he needed by cutting blocks for the Ampezzangs, but he could not separate the legs of his donkeys; his hands were so large and clumsy and the tools so small that he invariably cut off [174] the legs or made them taper off as sharp as pins or made them such strange shapes that everybody laughed to see them.

All the people now called him Donkey John, and made so much fun of him that anybody else would have given it up and gone off and hid away somewhere. But John only wrinkled up his pug nose in a cheerful grin and plodded away as though nothing were wrong.

Although he made such a mess of his carving everybody liked him; he was always so good-natured and so willing to help even those who laughed at him that the people loved him in spite of their nonsense, and probably any outsider who might have ventured to call him names would have received a black eye for his pains. Out of doors, of course, in games and in feats of strength [175] he might have called them  names, but he never thought of that.

"He who laughs last, laughs best," said Frau Ampezzang, who had grown so fond of her slow pupil that she resented his being the butt of the village and being called Donkey John, though in her heart of hearts she herself sometimes wondered what would come of it all.


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