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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley






OHN washed his face and hands, straightened out his collar, which it must confessed was not as white as when he left home, put on his hat, and started out. He left all his money behind him as the woman advised, all but a few coppers to pay for his supper.

He went at once to the square where the church stood, and which was now so brightly lighted that it dazzled his eyes. He thought of what Herr Herder had said of the city at night, and he thought of [263] heaven, for how could anything be much more wonderful than this?

The moon was sailing half-grown above it all, and the tiles on the dome of the great church glinted. The place was already full of people, and all the tables were taken. John was looking around terribly disappointed at not finding a place when some one plucked his sleeve, and, looking, he saw a fat man sitting at a table with a woman and a half-grown boy about John's age but much smaller.

"It is Donkey John," the man said to his wife, for somehow John's nickname had become known at the Fair and everybody called him so—and strangely enough everybody seemed to know him. "It is Donkey John looking for a seat. Let us offer him this vacant place at our table. He is a harmless lad and will not trouble us."

[264] Of course John did not hear this, and if he had heard he could not have understood, but he did understand quite clearly the motion to sit down in the vacant chair, which he did with alacrity.

When the young lady came along dressed so sweetly in gala costume with her blue bodice, her full white chemisette and sleeves, and her short round skirt of green cloth below which peeped out her little slippers, and asked him what he would have, he blushed furiously and forgot every word he had learned from the woman who taught him so carefully to ask for what he wanted.

The young lady smiled encouragingly, although there were many people waiting for her, and she could not waste much time on a blushing youth who could not find his tongue. At last she looked help- [265] lessly at the big man who sat smiling broadly at John's embarrassment.

Then the big man spoke to John and asked him what he wanted, and John stammered out in his own tongue that he did not understand, and the big man laughed quite heartily and said something to the girl who ran off and did not come back for a long time.

John did not know whether he was to have any supper or not, but he did not care much so long as they let him sit there. He looked at the people about him and wondered greatly over the beautiful clothes they wore, particularly the young ladies, for he was sitting in the most fashionable open-air restaurant of the place, where all the people who visited the town in the summer (and there were many) came. They came from distant parts for their summer outing, and they [266] ate their meals out under the trees, excepting when it rained of course, for that is the custom in that part of the world. Yes, they ate out of doors where they could see one another and everything that happened, and there was a great deal of gay laughter and merry talk, and even of calling from table to table.

John was quite dazed to be a part of it all, and having nothing else to do he sat and beamed upon the scene and the people about him. The best of all was the lights; there were so many it was as bright as day, and the lanterns looked so pretty hanging from the trees and from the poles put up to hold them.

After a while the pretty young lady came back with a trayful of food for the fat man and his family. John's eyes opened in wonder at the number of strange dishes she set before them, all [267] steaming hot and sending out an odor that made his mouth water. He would have liked the same, but he did not know how to ask for it, and besides it cost a great deal of money, that he knew, for he saw the people about him paying for such food in broad silver pieces, and to spend more than a copper or two for something to eat—well!

So he sat and watched every mouthful the others ate and discovered while doing so that he himself was feeling decidedly hungry. Then the music struck up, and everything seemed yet gayer and brighter, and he turned around in his chair to watch the players and forgot all about supper until the pretty young lady came back in a great hurry, put a mug of beer and a piece of coarse bread on the table beside him, and was gone.

Now, as this was exactly what John [268] had wished to order but could not, he knew it was for him, though not until a good while afterwards did it occur to him to wonder how she had guessed it. But it was simple enough; for the fat man, seeing that John was unable to speak and that he was a peasant lad, guessed that what he wanted was bread and beer, as that was what all the young men of that region in John's place would have ordered. So he ordered it for him.

John took a bite of the bread and thought it delicious. Then he cautiously tasted the beer. He had never had any before, for the people in the Toy Valley did not drink beer as everybody here seemed to.

John cautiously sipped the beer and was glad he had done it that way for it seemed to fly up into his eyes and make them water. Besides, it had a bitter [269] taste that he did not like, being used to pure mountain water as a beverage. So he nibbled his bread and listened to the music and watched the people, quite unconscious that the fat man and his family had left the table until he heard loud voices, and turning saw that their places had been taken by three young men a few years older than himself.

They called loudly and rapped on the table until the pretty young lady came to take their order. When she went away, the young men began to talk noisily and then to sing, but they stopped when the music began again, and then the young lady came back with their supper of bread and cheese and bear.

While they were eating and drinking, one of the young men saw John's full mug of beer and kicked him under the [270] table to attract his attention, and when he found that John could not understand what he said he signed to him to finish his beer and, holding up his own glass, he poured it down without swallowing. John took his mug, looked the young man straight in the eye, then set his mug down again without tasting it and turned his back on the young men, who looked a little crestfallen; for they had thought they were going to have some sport with a greenhorn.

John was indeed in many ways a greenhorn, but he was not a coward; and though he could not understand the words of the young man he understood his action at once and knew how to reply to his impertinence.

He sat and enjoyed the music and the gay scene until, in spite of everything, he began to feel a little sleepy, so, wisely [271] concluding that he had stayed out long enough, he paid his score to the pretty young lady and took his way through the deserted streets to his resting-place. On the way he remembered he had not seen the city at night, that is from a distance, where it shone like many suns, as Herr Herder had told about.

The path down which he had first come lay just beyond the house where he stayed, and he remembered the turn not far away from which he first saw the city. The moon was shining, and he was now not the least bit sleepy or the least bit afraid. For, if there was one place in the world where he felt at home, it was on a mountain side, and that be it in the daytime or at night.

So he passed the house, followed up the path to the curve where he turned and looked down. It pleased him [272] greatly, though little like the scene his imagination had pictured from Herr Herder's descriptions. However, he doubtless forgot all about that, at least for the moment.

The soft moonlight flooded all the valley which seemed like a big bowl full of moonshine, and at one side of it, sparkling as though lit up by huge glow worms, lay the town. Then a cloud passed over the face of the moon, and the town lay like a nest of shining stars in a void of darkness, and he knew that the very bright spot shimmering near the centre was the wonderful square so brightly illuminated with lanterns, where the gay people sat at the tables, and the gay music made one's pulses thrill. He was almost sorry he had come away, but then he remembered how he had promised his mother to go to bed early, and [273] here it was midnight at the very least! And then came a thrilling thought,—next morning he should start out for the Big Alp! The very next night he would sleep up there with Anton to whom he could tell everything! For the one blot on his great experience was that he had no one to talk to.

So, taking one last, reluctant look at the magic city which, though so very different from what he had expected, had yet outdone his wildest imaginings, being so much larger and so much more interesting in unexpected ways than he had dreamed of, he went back to his sleeping place, tumbled into bed, and knew nothing more until he awoke early the next morning.

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