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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley






HE next summer John had rather a hard time at home, for his father was discouraged if he was not, and wanted him to give up going into the Toy Valley and stay at home and work with him.

"You will never be anything but a drudge for the others," said the father angrily, "and you will not earn your living."

Yet when the fall came John was back in school, and back in his place [177] at the Ampezzangs' carving table, for which Uncle Francesco was no doubt to blame. "Give him another chance," he begged, "he is a good boy and if ever a soul tried he has. Give him time."

Besides having grown very fond of John and wanting him to succeed Uncle Francesco had given him his first tool, you remember, and so felt somewhat responsible for the consequences.

So John was back in his old place once more and you may be sure he lost no time, for he knew very well that unless he learned to carve something this winter it was all up with him. He worked so steadily that he grew quite thin, and finally he was able to finish up the front legs very neatly, as well as the neck and most of the head. But there he stuck. The finishing touches on the [178] long ears and the shape of the nose as well as the difficult work on the hind legs had yet to be left to Frau Ampezzang.

He now turned out the neatest little blocks, blocks that any one could see were intended for donkeys, and that the Ampezzangs had no trouble in quickly finishing up, though he was yet very slow.

Out of every dozen that he made they let him keep two to work on himself, and gradually he began to chisel out the hind legs giving them a fine natural shape and placing them one a little before the other as donkeys stand. The Ampezzangs only needed to give the finishing touches now to make the clumsy legs more slender, carve down the tail and the clumsy nose.

But this stage lasted so long that [179] every one but John would have given up in despair. Every time he tried to finish a piece he invariably cut off all the corners that ought to stay on and quite ruined the legs and ears.

And more than ever he was ridiculed by the successful carvers, who possibly began to be a little bit afraid he would  succeed, for they had grown so accustomed to saying he wouldn't that they felt rather ashamed at the thought of having to take it all back.

"You will never do it, Donkey John," they declared,—"why don't you go into the forest and cut wood with your father? Yours is not a family of carvers. Go back to your own work."

When they talked this way before Angelica, John felt very badly and looked out of the corner of his eye to see how she was taking it. Once she said, [180] "Don't you mind them, John. Frau Ampezzang says you do well and that some day you will finish," and that day John did the neatest work he had ever done yet. Indeed, it took so few strokes to finish up the shape that he put the toy in his pocket and started off to the Wolferlos'.

"I will show it to her," he said to himself, "and tell her I did it. Then maybe she will think well of me and let me bring her a basket of nuts in the fall."

He saw her outside as he drew near the house and hastened his steps, but as soon as she looked at him he could not go any further. His face got very red and the hand in his pocket that held the toy began to burn and then turn cold, and he felt so badly that he turned and ran across the bridge and up the moun- [181] tain side beyond, and when he got above the big cliff and stood on a broad windswept pasture with mighty peaks standing around it he was covered with sweat, although the day was cold enough. When he looked down, her house was a tiny speck from where he stood.

He took the finished toy from his pocket and looked at it, his face getting redder and redder, and then he loosened a stone under a ledge of rock, put in the toy, covered it up, and went slowly away.

How it happened nobody knew, but one day when the boys were sliding down the long hill beyond the big mill, Angelica was struck by a sled as she attempted to pass. It was John's sled that struck her and flung her violently into the snow. He was also thrown off [182] but he was not hurt, and, wild with fright, ran to the limp little form lying so still in the cold snow.

He took her in his arms and carried her home and then went away feeling very sad and unhappy, for the doctor said she was badly hurt and would have to stay in bed a long time. The next day John stopped as he was passing to look at the spot where she had fallen, in the white snow he saw a dark object. It was one of the little wooden shoes she had had on at the time of the accident.

John put it in his pocket and searched a long time for the other without finding it. "She can do nothing with one shoe," he thought to himself, hating to give it up. He went to his own room in Uncle Francesco's house and stood the shoe on the window sill and looked at it [183] a long time. It comforted him to have it, for it seemed as though she were near him and not unfriendly, even after the terrible harm he had done her. At last a thought that had been working somewhere in the back of his brain came forth—he would make her a pair of new shoes to wear when she got well!

Not knowing how to make shoes he had to confide his plan to Uncle Francesco who knew very well and who seemed to understand, for he gave John two pieces of wood and showed him how, watching and guiding him very carefully but never touching the shoes himself, as though he guessed how John felt about doing it all with his own hands.

Now wooden shoes are not as hard to cut out as donkeys, and John made very [184] fair progress, though he was so slow that Uncle Francesco used to tell him that Angelica would be grown up before he got the shoes done.

Donkey-making suffered in those days, and Frau Ampezzang wondered why John did not come as often as usual. "I hope he is not losing interest at this late day," she said anxiously to her husband.

But if the shoes went slowly they went well. John's skill as a carver told here, and when, with a good deal of oversight from Uncle Francesco, he once had the rude form hewn out he proceeded to finish them with a care not often bestowed on wooden shoes.

"It seems, John, that you can carve something besides donkeys when you want to," said Uncle Francesco, slily, and John laughed and got very red.

[185] One day he went to Angelica's house. He had not been there since the accident, though he had asked her brother every day in school how she was.

He went into the room where she was sitting up in bed and she held out her hand to him and told him he was not to blame.

"I ran across after you started and my foot slipped," she explained. "The fault was mine for I should not have done it."

This made John feel very happy and particularly as she told him she would soon be able to walk again.

"But what shall I do for shoes!" she exclaimed. "I lost one in the snow and my brothers were not able to find it."

John longed to tell her about the lost shoe and of the pretty new pair he was making for her, using that as a pattern, [186] but he could not get up his courage. So he went home determined to work day and night so the shoes should be ready by the time she was able to walk.

One day a month later he took them to her house. She had been about for some time and had on a pair of shoes, but they were not nearly so pretty as the result of John's desperate efforts.

She admired the shoes and so did all the family until John was ready to expire with joy and embarrassment. He went off on wings, not so much as suspecting that Angelica had outgrown the shoes in those long weeks when she had to lie still and could do nothing but  grow.

After he had gone she tried to put them on, but it was no use. Her brothers began to laugh and make fun of John, at which Angelica burst into [187] tears, and the good mother comforted her and said the shoes were too pretty to wear anyway and that any boy who ever told that the shoes were too small, or teased John about them, should have a good beating from the father.

Now the father's beating was not a thing to be striven for, and besides, they were good-hearted boys beneath all their nonsense and they loved their little sister dearly, so John did not know until years afterwards that while he was slaving over the shoes Angelica was growing out of them.

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