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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley






N a moment John was wide awake and very much frightened, for he had become conscious of a great roar and noise as though the mountain were falling down.

Then he remembered that he was in the city and the noise was the noise of wheels and the feet of the people passing, for in that part of the world the common people all wore wooden shoes, or at least wooden soles to their shoes, and when he realized what the sound was, [234] the clatter of these on the stones again gave John that strange, sick feeling; for it made him think of the Toy Valley, and whenever he thought of home the feeling came.

He quickly dressed and went out, for he imagined the procession of people must be going to the Fair, and that he would be late.

So he put his basket on his back and stepped outside. By daylight he saw that the magic city was like the little villages of the mountains, only much larger, and the streets were flat and broad and the houses large and fine.

He joined the procession passing along the sidewalk, thinking thus to find the Fair. But the man just in front of him soon turned down a side street, and another went into a house, and presently he saw they were all going [235] different ways and not to the Fair at all.

So he walked along staring about him too full of wonder at visible things to trouble himself much about an invisible fair. Soon he came to a corner and when he looked down the street he said to himself, "This is surely the Fair," and yet he was puzzled, for he had heard that the Fair was held out of doors, and that every one could go there, while this wonderful place was like the long aisle of a church with a roof overhead, and a row of arches supported by pillars running the whole length of the street. Indeed on either side of the street was a long arcaded gallery and opening from this were shops, while out on the sidewalks were cases and tables full of all sorts of things, more than John had ever seen or dreamed of, displayed for sale.

[236] He walked the length of the entrancing arcades on one side, intending to cross at the head of the street and pass back on the other. But at the head of the street he came out into a square full of people, and gay booths covered the space. This then was the Fair. What beautiful fruits and so many kinds!

No fruit grows in the Toy Valley excepting preissel berries, as you well know. It is too cold up there under the snowy mountains, and John had never seen anything but a few apples that some one occasionally had brought in and the preissel berries that grew in the woods. And so he stared at the fruit on the stalls as though it were some strange and unknown and beautiful and fragrant variety of flower. It took him some time to get over his surprise and delight enough to ask himself why [237] it was they had only fruit for sale in the Fair.

This was an enchanted place if ever a knight errant got into one, and the poor little toy man began to feel very much puzzled and distressed as he wandered tongue-tied about the fruit market, not knowing which way to turn to escape from his enchantment, for he saw that here was no place for him to vend his donkeys.

And the donkeys! How unimportant they all at once seemed in this magnificent place so full of everything! Tears again threatened his dignity when he when he heard a loud voice.

"To the Fair!" it called in words he could understand! For the language of the Toy Valley is a strange mixture of something like Italian and something like German and something like a number of other languages, which makes it very easy [238] for its people to learn those other languages if they only want to. If John had wanted to learn German as much as he had wanted to carve donkeys he would have succeeded admirably, and at the present moment would have been able to find out by asking all he needed to know about the Fair, instead of wandering about the fruit market like a lost lamb in a snow-storm.

But when he heard those blessed words—"To the Fair!"—he followed the Italian father who was leading his flock of children to the Fair, having stopped a moment to buy a pear and a bunch of grapes in the fruit market.

John followed until the man and his children met another man, and they all stopped and laughed and talked a while, then turned into a restaurant and left John staring after them on the sidewalk.

[239] He sensibly concluded to keep on the way he was headed and look in at every window as he went. Before one of them he suddenly realized he was very hungry and went in and laid down a small piece of money and got some bread and a handful of figs. These he ate cautiously; skins and all, and with growing pleasure; for figs of course did not grow on the pine trees in the Toy Valley, and one had to get used to them.

He had almost forgotten the Fair when he came upon it. People had their things to sell piled up on tables in the open air or in piles on the ground. Large, bright-colored umbrellas covered some of them, and there were flags flying and bells ringing and music playing and crowds moving about from one table to another, the people laughing and talking and buying something now and then.

[240] There was no mistaking it this time! This indeed surpassed his wildest dreams. How could anything be so diverting, so beautiful, so enrapturing as this great Fair! All his troubles were forgotten as he walked about from booth to booth with eyes, and mouth too, wide open; or stood still to watch the gay strange-looking crowd, or listen to the enchanting strains of a mouth organ as played by some spangled clown, or the inspiriting toot of a horn, or the crash of a drum.

He was intoxicated with it all, and his eyes shone ever so, and his mouth was on a broad grin most of the time. Here he stopped before a mountain of wooden shoes, and over there was another of felt ones, and he thought how fine it would be to take a pair of them home to little Angelica.

Then a film came over his eyes. For [241] a moment he forgot the Fair and all the gay sights and sounds and saw before his eyes quite plainly the Toy Valley and the stone house under the towering cliff where live Angelica and her brothers and parents, and again he had that strange, sick feeling at his heart. He winked hard and walked on looking at the things for some minutes before he saw them, for the Toy Valley had somehow protruded itself so disconcertingly into the wonders of the Fair that it quite spoiled the fun. But in time he ceased to think of it, and again his attention was absorbed by piles of bright cloth, blue, red, yellow, green; gay shawls; wonderful shining jewelry; picture books and prayer books; copper kettles such as his mother cooked in at home, and as he cleaned so often for Uncle Francesco; girls' hats and men's hats; hoods and scarfs; pins and [242] needles; everything he had ever seen or expected to see,—here it all was in plain sight.

He was so absorbed as to be totally unconscious how many people turned to gaze after him as he went about in his gay peasant's costume, looking so blissfully happy, when some one touched his arm and he saw a pair of laughing eyes looking at him and a finger pointing at his pack.

Then he understood that the young lady who had thus stopped him wished a toy, and so he took off his pack and handed her one. She gave him a copper coin and in a moment was lost in the crowd that was thick now, for it was the middle of the afternoon, the busiest time at the Fair, and John remembered at last what he was there for and sat down in a clear space a little to one side under a [243] spreading tree and took out his donkeys and stood them on the ground before him.

Soon a little stream of people was passing in front of him, and they looked at the donkeys but mostly at him, and laughed and talked, and though he could understand scarcely a word they said, he saw they were pleased, and so he smiled and nodded at them and pointed to his donkeys, and once in a while some one bought one, so that when night came he had only half of them left and his pockets were heavy with copper coins.

At last the people took away or covered up their wares, and as it grew dark the fairground became deserted, and John began to think about going back to the house where he was to sleep, but how in the world was he to find it!

He bought some more bread and figs and much relieved by the lightness of his [244] pack started out and tried to go back the way he had come. But that, of course, soon became hopeless.

In the course of his wanderings he found himself in the great square where the church stood, the same square that in these days has the big stature of Walther von der Vogelweide in the middle. Walther was the greatest of the Minnesingers in spite of John's always saying Oswald was, and I should like to tell you about him, only I know you would skip it, with John going about lost in the city at night.

Well, John walked around the big open square, right across the spot where the statue of the greatest of the Minnesingers would one day stand, though of course he could not be expected to know that. Before some of the buildings the sidewalks were almost covered with little [245] tables at which sat strangely dressed people,—that is they looked strange to John,—all eating and drinking strange things such as he had never seen before, though a very appetizing smell came to him from the steaming plates as he passed by.

Not knowing what else to do he crossed over to the church whose door stood open and went in and knelt down with the people assembled there. This gave him a sense of comfort, for surely the good God could understand him, and it brought the people a little nearer too to be thus together speaking one language of the heart.

When he raised his eyes the church was so large inside, and so grand with the lights at the top of the tall candles and the shining ornaments about the altar that he felt almost afraid; and then the [246] organ music rolled out, and he sat spellbound until the service was over and the people all were gone.

It was getting dark when he went out, and the first thing he heard was his name called by the woman who had helped him the night before. He was so glad to see her he almost blubbered, and do his best his mouth twitched a little and his eyes swam.

He told her that he wanted to find the way home, and she at once showed him where the house lay and how to get to it from the square and also how to get back to the Fair next day.

"Now go home and go to sleep," she said, "you have done enough for one day. You look quite white you are so tired, and if you are not careful you will get sick, and that would be a fine ending to your wanderings."

[247] John thanked her and took her advice, and if ever a tired head pressed a pillow it was John's that night. He did not hear any of the noises in the street, and he did not dream a dream.

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