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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley




Progressive blocks: third and fourth steps



HUS the winter passed and the summer came again and John and Anton once more drove their flocks together to the pastures.

John showed Anton the scars on his fingers. "But they are all old," he said proudly. "I have not cut myself for a long time."

"What animal shall you carve first?" inquired Anton, whose faith in John was perfect.

[157] "I do not know, but I think it will be a horse."

The boys being older now drove their goats and sheep higher up the mountain to a beautiful alp where the wild flowers covered the ground, yellow, red, pink, white, and blue, until the wonder was they did not call the place a flower garden instead of a pasture. There were so many flowers and so little grass that one couldn't help wondering what was to become of the sheep and goats, unless, indeed, they could eat flowers and flourish, which probably they could.

The most abundant of these flowers were the gentians. Everywhere gentians, gentians, gentians, and one slope was so blue with them that it was as though a piece of the sky had fallen down. It was enough to make one wild, all these myriads of gay blossoms, [158] but John and Anton were so used to wading about, knee-deep in flowers, that they scarcely noticed them. Though they did love to come to this particular pasture.

Sometimes they went up the wild stony-bottomed valley where the old Wolkenstein castle had been built against the face of the cliff. In the distance, its ruins looked like windows set high up in the side of the mountain, as though some one had put a front on a great cave. The mountain rose in a flat wall above and fell in a flat wall below it and there was only a narrow path like a shelf leading along the face of the cliff to it.

While the goats and sheep nibbled the scanty grass blades from the rocks about, the boys would climb to the ruined castle, where they could look [159] down on the flock and across the narrow valley to the giant cliffs that propped it on the other side. There was a green level on top of these cliffs where the shy chamois came to graze, and the boys would often watch in great excitement, but they never really saw one.

"It is their pasture," said Anton, "and they are safe up there from all but the geier  and the most venturesome hunters."

"I should like," said John, "to climb up to the chamois pasture."

"Better climb up to the Big Alp," advised Anton, "it is a long way there, but not hard, and when you get there it is so wide, a thousand times wider than any chamois pasture."

Still, John looked with longing at the rim of the green plateau that lay on the safe top of the high cliffs opposite, so [160] near the sky that the clouds often rested on it.

Now that John had been to school, and, figuratively speaking, learned to read, he had a great deal to tell Anton about the old Wolkenstein castle, for however John's learning might be regarded by his schoolmates in the Toy Valley, to Anton it was prodigious. And, John, flattered and comforted by Anton's faith in his accomplishments, poured into his attentive ears the most astonishing tales of knight-errantry ever gleaned from books or invented by ingenious youth on the spot.

"They built the castle in the hollow of the cliff," he explained quite correctly, "because in those days all men were enemies and no one could climb up here unless the people in the castle were willing."

[161] "I should think not," assented Anton, appreciatively. "They could easily knock anybody off that narrow path."

"Yes, and enemies came in across the path opposite there between the rocky peaks of the mountains. From here you can see the pass quite plainly—what is that, Anton?"

Both boys started to their feet and looked steadily at the terrible pass, but do their best they could not see a band of robbers coming; in fact, nothing living was in sight but their own sheep and goats among the rocks below, and, sailing in circles high above, the great geier, of which the boys had now no fear, as the lambs were grown too large to be carried away in his strong talons.

Always with tales of robbers and wild life in the castle came the story of Oswald von Wolkenstein, who, as every- [162] body knows, had once lived in this very castle.

"He was a Minnesinger," John explained to Anton, and when Anton humbly inquired what a Minnesinger was, John proudly informed him that a Minnesinger was a wonderful knight, brave and in armor, who went to wars and sang under ladies' windows and sat with the king at dinner.

Now this was substantially true of John's hero, Oswald von Wolkenstein, who certainly did all these things, being a Minnesinger, that is, a sweet-voiced minstrel, who wandered about and sang lovely songs to please fair ladies, and a warrior, too. Oswald von Wolkenstein, as John said, went all over the world making poems and singing them in kings' courts.

"He ran away from home when he [163] was only ten," John told almost in a whisper; it seemed such a wonderful thing for a boy to do,—as it certainly was. "And he went into the wars far away and learned to be a soldier, and he was no older than we are, Anton, when he took his fiddle in his hand and went all over the world making poems and singing them in kings' courts. I should love to do that," he added with a sigh; "to start out with my fiddle and sing my way over all the lands and into the hearts of people as the teacher says he did. But I cannot make poems or play and," he added quite regretfully, "I cannot sing, I can only hollo. But you, Anton, why don't you do it? You can carry a tune and maybe could learn to sing."

"The Big Alp is far enough for me," hastily retorted Anton, to whom roaming [164] about unknown countries with a fiddle he could not play and a song he could not sing had no charms. Indeed, the bare thought of anything so foreign to his habits gave him a scared feeling.

But he liked well enough to hear about Oswald von Wolkenstein's career as it came from John's lips, lying there in the idle summer, and particularly—and this was the part John told oftenest—of how Oswald started to go to Spain to fight the Moors, and how on the way there he met the lovely Lady Angelica who knew Oswald's songs by heart and sang them while she played the harp.

Now the lovely lady whom Oswald met was not named Angelica at all, but Margerethe, and no doubt John knew this as well as anybody, but he thought that Anton wouldn't know the difference, and Angelica was so much prettier— [165] and so he always told the story that way.

"Yes, he met the lovely Lady Angelica and they fell in love with each other, and he sang her all his songs over and over every day. Yes, and he made a new one every time he saw her. But he could not stay there and sing because they needed him to fight the Moors in Spain."

"Who were the Moors in Spain?" Anton always inquired at this point, and John always replied,

"Oh, I don't know, but I guess they were giants. Yes, they were  giants and they had horns as big as trees on their heads and fire in their mouths. And Oswald fought and killed them when he got there, but it took him five years. And all that time the lovely Lady Angelica was waiting in the tower and [166] playing the harp and singing his songs over every day."

"Was she afraid she'd forget them?" inquired Anton, wondering at such industry, and John, stopped in the flood of his eloquence, got quite cross and called Anton a ninny.

"Of course not; she sang them because—because—I don't remember why—but while Oswald was eating dinner with the King of Spain she sat at home and sang his songs. And at last he came back and they were married and came here to live," and the boys looked with awe at the crumbling walls about them.

"I wish they were here now," John added wistfully.

"Why?" asked Anton.

"So Oswald could tell us the way to Spain."

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