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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley

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JOHN REACHES THE TOWN BELOW THE MOUNTAIN

[220]

W
HEN first woke at daybreak he thought he had had a pleasant dream, but then he opened his eyes wide and looked about him at the strange room, and remembered all that had happened and that he was really out in the world at last. Indeed it was no dream, this.

Then he thought about his home and how his father was getting ready for the day's work, and how his mother was busy with the breakfast, and how old Franz very likely stood with his shaggy head in at the door.

[221] As he thought of these things a tear suddenly rolled down his cheek and he got up and dressed quickly and went outside, for he thought it must be the close air of the house that made him feel so badly.

"If Anton could only see," he thought, as his eyes wandered over the broad flat meadows with the low mountains bordering them on either side, and the river making such a noise, for it was larger than the river of the Toy Valley at flood-time; and then he thought of Anton up on the Big Alp and of how he should go there and see him, and again he had the strange, sick feeling, and a tear rolled down his other cheek.

After breakfast he walked down the valley that grew more wonderful every moment. And presently he stopped stock-still with his mouth open, for [222] there in front of him went a horse drawing a wagon! The only wagons he had seen were the toy carts the people made, for in those days there was no road into or out of the Toy Valley, only the long, hard trails over the mountains, and, of course, there were no wagons or carriages in the tucked-up valley with no better roadways than sheer cliffs and steep slopes.

So John saw his first real wagon and put that down to tell to Anton. It was not at all like the toy-makers' wagons either, and it had a black hood over it to keep out the sun and a man inside driving the horse. He ran some little distance to keep it in sight, for he could not believe he should see anything like it again.

He did, however, before the day [223] was over he had already ceased to wonder at wagons, they were so common in the strange and beautiful world where everybody seemed to go about in them and where there were so many kinds it made him dizzy to try to recall them all.

He passed by two or three villages in the course of the day but did not stop at any of them as he had plenty of hard bread and goat's milk cheese left for his dinner.

The people looked at him a great deal and laughed although he felt inclined to laugh at them they were dressed so queerly, not at all like the people in the Toy Valley, or as he himself was dressed in his father's gala clothes. His great belt was his special pride and when he saw some one coming he stood very straight and swelled himself out to [224] show off the belt to the best advantage. When he did this the people laughed right merrily, and sometimes a roguish youth would come close and grin into his face and say something of which he could not catch the meaning, and he, unabashed, would grin back with laughing eyes and trudge on none the worse for such encounters.

Occasionally he took off his basket, stood it against the tree or rock, and sat down by the roadside to rest and to think about it. Surely it was a wonderful thing to go out into the Big World, more wonderful even than he had imagined. He swelled with pride that he had done it and quite pitied Anton up there on the alpine pastures with the cows.

On some of the heights he saw frowning castles built long ago by fierce war- [225] rior knights and at sight of one of these he thought of the tales he had read and told Anton of the old Wolkenstein castle built in the cliff where he and Anton used to play when they herded the goats,—ah, so long ago, ages ago it seemed to him now. And at thought of this ancient time he had again that queer lump in his throat and it was all he could do to stop another tear from running over. But he did stop it, for who ever heard of a toy man going along the road blubbering!

Then some young men came along and pushed rudely against him, and laughed jeeringly, and he understood that instead of admiring his fine attire they were ridiculing him. Then was his swelling pride pricked like a bladder, and so great was his longing to see Anton that he would have been willing [226] to give up the world and its wonders for the sake of being safe with him on the Big Alp. But the Big Alp was very far away, as were Anton and his own home now. He wondered dismally if he should live to get back and felt like anything but a brave toy man, to say nothing of a knight out in search of adventures.

He walked all day, walked and walked, not so fast as when he had started out from home; he could not seem to move so fast here as up in his high mountain air, and then maybe he was a little tired from the long march under his heavy load.

It was towards night when he turned a curve and saw lying on the great plain below him the largest and finest collection of houses his eyes had ever beheld. Wide streets with beautiful shade trees [227] ran between the houses, and there was a large open square with big turreted buildings standing on all sides of it and from their midst rose the tower of a great church whose domed top flashed in the sunlight.

It was The Town Below The Mountains, and at the sight of it all his trouble vanished. He forgot his homesickness and his loneliness and stood there and gazed down on it with devouring eyes. It was not at all what he had dreamed the city would be. For his ideas of a city were based on the tales Herr Herder had told of the lights shining out from them at night, and so he had a picture in his mind of a shining city where the houses were all castles and all gleaming like cliffs of ice on a winter day in the sunshine.

But he had no time to feel disappointed, there was so much that was [228] new and interesting in the real city that he forgot his vanished dream and used his eyes for all they were worth.

The town, many colored, lay spread on the plain beneath him. The last rays of the sun were shining on it, the sky was red and the river like silver, and out of the midst of the town rose up the domed tower glowing in the setting sun. About town and plain was drawn a circle of low hills; dark, protecting forms in the fading light.

John stood and looked a long, long time, leaning on his staff to rest his back weary under the heavy load. His dream had come true; and that the reality was quite different from his imaginings he, being but a boy, did not know was the case with all dreams.

Slowly he descended the steep path until he came to the town itself, and [229] found the house where he was to stop standing alone, and on the very edge, with a bush over the door and the word "Gasthof" printed in red letters, just as Herr Herder had said. He went in and found to his dismay that he could not understand a word the people said, nor could they understand him.

They spoke a language that sounded like that of the Toy Valley, yet so different that he could make nothing of it. It was German, if you please, and thus he got his punishment for not having attended to his book when he had the chance.

While standing half dazed at the door, gazing stupidly at the woman who had opened it for him and who was deluging him with her strange, half familiar, wholly unintelligible talk, another woman passed, stopped, looked at John, nodded [230] at the woman in the doorway, said something at which they both laughed, and to his inexpressible relief addressed him in his own language.

"I was born in the Toy Valley," she said. "I know everybody there. And I know you are the son of John Hofer, from your likeness to your father." Then she arranged young John's affairs with the woman of the inn, promised to come again to see him, and went on her way. Now she held a child by the hand, and when she had arranged everything for John's comfort she turned to the child and bade him look at John, "for this," she said, "is a man from your mother's country where all the people make toys; and see, he has a pack of them on his back."

It so pleased John to be called a man for this had happened but once [231] before in his lifetime, that he put down his basket and pulled out one of the donkeys and gave it to the child, who screamed with delight.

And so John lay down to sleep in a city; and at first the noise of the people passing and talking and laughing, and most of all the sound of wheels, kept him awake as much as an hour. As he lay in the strange bed he dreamed, and in his dream he saw his father's house and his mother at work, and old Franz standing at the door, and down his sleeping cheek rolled a great hot tear that waked him up.

Then he dreamed again, and this time he was in the Toy Valley shining the coppers for Uncle Francesco of a Saturday evening. And he dreamed that he put down a great bright kettle and it stood and shone in the sunbeams, and [232] he ran and looked over the edge down upon the roof of the Wolferlos house, and out of the door came Angelica herself and floated up to him in the most natural manner and sat on the grass by his side, and asked him why he wept, and he knew that he was sobbing violently though he was ashamed to tell her he did not know why, and said it was because the copper kettle shone so it hurt his eyes, and she ran very fast and covered her apron over the copper kettle; upon which John, feeling uncommonly happy, opened his eyes, and was surprised to see the sunshine streaming in and a little curtain fluttering at a little window of a strange little room.


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