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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley

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JOHN STARTS FOR HOME

[274]

N
EXT morning, with his basket on his back John left the Town Below The Mountains the way he had entered it. He followed up the valley, looking back now and again at the receding town of which he finally took leave at the high point from which he had first seen it. Here he paused a moment to take a last, long look.

It was all quite different from what he had imagined; the city was not all the thing he had dreamed it was, but it [275] was just as wonderful in its way, and in it lived real people who had been kind to him.

It looked like a picture from where he stood gazing down at it, with the tall bright dome shining out of its midst. And the soft green color running up the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains he now knew was made by terraced grape-vines. As grapes did not grow in the Toy Valley, he had not at first understood the meaning of that charming garment of green that clothed the lower slopes of the Town Below The Mountains. But he had learned the look of vine-clad hills in those few days, and he had learned the taste of the grape as well, delicious wagon-loads of which were brought every day to the Fair, for the earliest kinds had begun to ripen.

And then he thought of the Fair. He [276] could never forget that, with its music and bustle and flags and beautiful things, and the people walking about and laughing as though all were happy.

And then the town at night! He had seen that too, with the lights just as Herr Herder had described it.

As he thought of the wonders of the world he had seen, he had a great desire to go on, even to the plains that, so they said, lay as flat as a table top, with not a mountain in sight, and to the sea itself. But not now. Now above all things he wanted to get to Anton on the Big Alp. At the thought that he should see Anton in a few hours his cheeks flushed, and his heart thumped.

He would have flown like the geier  over the intervening space if he could. But that was impossible; so, turning his back on the wonderful town, he began to [277] walk resolutely on, up the valley that grew narrow but yet was wide compared to the Toy Valley.

He followed up the valley only about half way to the house where he had first entered it, for you remember he was going home by way of the Big Alp, which was somewhat nearer but very much steeper; but that did not matter, as his basket was now so light that he scarcely felt it.

At a certain gorge which Herr Herder had described to him, and which entered into the valley he was ascending, he turned in and straightway began to climb. There was a wild mountain torrent leaping down it which made music to his ears. He hurried on, and at every step he took his heart grew lighter.

But even the thought of going home and the exhilaration of the high air could [278] not prevent him from finally discovering how very hungry he was. He had quite forgotten to bring anything to eat, and there was no house in sight and no hope of finding one so high up the mountain. He drank icy water of the brook that rushed past, and this refreshed him for a while; and then he thought of the cakes in his basket,—those appetizing sugar-covered cookies he had brought for his mother. He tried not to think of them, but it seemed as though, do what he would, he could think of nothing else. Finally he sat down to rest with his basket by his side and drew out the paper of cakes just to see how they looked. They looked even more tempting than he remembered and he broke off a corner of one—just to see how it tasted. And then—well, the brave knight errant, the successful [279] and valiant toy man, Donkey John, the hero of many adventures, sat on a rock on the mountain side and age up all his mother's cakes. Every one!

In this way his body was much refreshed though he had a terribly mean feeling inside that prevented him from thinking of cakes with pleasure, even for a long time after. In order to forget he jumped up and began to hurry along, striking his staff against the stones in as noisy a manner as possible.

The path grew steeper and rougher every step he took. But this mattered little as the air grew keener and finer and the breeze that now and then found him came straight from his beloved icy summits.

His spirits revived amazingly as he went on and he was so happy he did not know what to do with himself excepting [280] for an occasional very disagreeable twinge when his mind wandered to sugar-covered cookies.

"If only I had them back in the basket I would not eat them no matter how hungry I felt," he assured himself.

Finally he got to the end of the steep climb and came out upon a wide-rolling plateau, not at all his idea of the Big Alp, which to his imagination lay as flat as a pancake up on the mountain top, spanned only by the distant horizon.

But here he could not see far at all because of the low hills in front and all about him. He had a vague sense of disappointment as he kept to the path that led on into this strange and unfamiliar world of rolling mounds.

The land flattened out as he went, however, and all about him waved tall, uncut grass and presently he mounted [281] an elevation and before him lay the vast expanse of the Big Alp, the largest Alp in all Tyrol, and when one reflects that it is twelve miles long and more than eight miles broad, of an undulating surface, it is not surprising that John could not see all of it at once.

Straight ahead, some miles away, towered the great rocky peak he had seen grow rosy red every fair night since he could remember, and it looked as high up here as from his own home—higher, for he was closer to it. Behind it he saw other wild peaks and beyond these the great flat mountain of pale rock that helped shut in the upper end of the Toy Valley.

Between him and these peaks lay the meadows with here and there a line of darker green where the bushes followed some stream down a little ravine. They [282] were not as flat as a table-top, as he had looked for, but oh, how lovely they were, and how immense!

Like the city the Big Alp was quite different and on a much larger scale than he had dreamed it. He began to wonder how he should ever find Anton. And the thousands of cattle he knew were pastured here, where were they? And the hundreds of haymakers' huts? He climbed to the summit of a knoll and looked across the vast sea of grass through which no path was visible.

He did not know which way to turn, for on all sides the uncut grass concealed the paths that he knew crossed the Big Alp in every direction. He was not afraid although he knew that people had been lost here, but that was in fog and now the air was clear as crystal and before him stood for a landmark the great bare peaks.

[283] At last he heard a far-off tinkling sound and he went towards it until he came upon a herd of cattle and a man and two boys watching them. He did not known them but they told him where to look for Anton and how to get to his part of the great plateau, for that is what the Big Alp is, a broad grassy plateau.

So up a little ravine through a sea of grass he went and presently he saw an empty hay hut. More hay huts he passed and then he heard the pleasant sound of tinkling bells, and going up out of the ravine he saw a sight he never forgot. It was Big Peter's herd of a hundred cows scattered over the flat bottom of a basin of land. On the rim of the basin stood the big milk house and near it, leaning on their staffs, were the boys that watched the cows.

John shouted and ran towards them, [284] and at sight of him the nearest cows raised up their heads and the bells on their necks tinkled. He knew the herd boys well and they took him into the milk house and gave him milk and cheese and black bread, and never had food tasted so good, for he was ready to drop with hunger, having eaten nothing but his mother's cakes all day.

In the house were Big Peter and two other men making wooden collars for the cows, for the cheese and butter for the day were made and it was not yet milking time.

They invited John to sit down and tell them of his adventures and he did so and showed them the money in his handkerchief. Then as the sky was growing red he started forth to find Anton, with whom he hoped to spend the night.


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