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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley


 

 

[Illustration]

VISITING THE TOYMAKERS

[97]

I
N a few minutes his father got up, said good-bye to the family, and again went out into the sparkling, white world, along a lane that led them out of the village, down across a bridge over a little stream that made a loud and pleasant sound as it rushed along between its ice-bound banks.

They followed a path across some meadows, quite across the valley to a little stone house under the shadow of the opposite mountain. Here a thread [98] of water had been led close to the house wall; but the shining thing rushed as swiftly as the larger stream, for it, too, came down from the high glaciers, and was in a hurry to join the other and rush with it down the valley and through the long and narrow gorge that shut up the valley away from the other world, and into the great river that hurried, ever hurried, down out of the mountains and across the plains to lose itself in the waters of the blue Adriatic.

In this house lived Father Hofer's old friend Ampezzang. Again they went through a dark, smoke-stained room into a little one beyond where stood the big brick stove. There was never any smoke stain in this inner room because there was not even a stove pipe in it, for you must know that the stove opened into the outer hallway where the [99] fire was made, the fuel put in, and the big brick vault thoroughly heated.

Ampezzang and his wife and son were at work in the inner room. Herr Ampezzang sat alone at a little table on which was a lathe turned swiftly by the rushing brook outside, and by means of which Herr Ampezzang was cutting out toy wagon wheels at a great rate.

The wife and son were fitting little spokes into the wheels, a task that looked very easy, indeed. But when Frau Ampezzang put a wheel rim and some spokes into John's hand and told him to try, he could not do it at all. First, the rim flew across the room, then he broke the spoke he was trying to force into place. Young Ampezzang laughed, but Frau Ampezzang, seeing how red John's face became, looked kindly at him and said it didn't matter, they had [100] plenty of the little spokes and some of them often were broken.

"He has a notion that he wants to carve," said Father Hofer, shaking his head, "but I know he never could learn."

"Bless the child!" cried Frau Ampezzang. "Of course he could learn. It is just wanting to hard enough and keeping at it long enough," and she smiled so kindly that John had a sudden warm feeling at his heart and his blue eyes shone with pleasure.

When they were leaving Frau Ampezzang looked at John and said again, very slowly and in a tone he never forgot, "It is just wanting to hard enough and keeping at it long enough."

John would have liked to stay there close to kind Frau Ampezzang all day, but his father soon took leave and they [101] went next to see the Wolferlos, who lived at the foot of the steep bluff on top of which stood a tiny, close village and a church with a tall spire.

Here the whole family were painting wooden horses. Two lads painted them white and set them aside to dry. The others took the white horses that had already dried and painted black spots on them and a black stripe down their backs; though, why they did this I cannot tell you and I doubt if they could have told themselves. Certainly no living white horse ever had such spots on it or such a line down its spine. But horses were scarce in the Toy Valley and probably no one in it had ever seen a white horse, and so they had to do the best they could, and once, away back, no doubt some carver with a bright imagination had so painted his horses and ever after [102] all his descendants, who knew no more about white horses than he did, had painted them that way too. Anyhow, there they were and they remind me of an elephant I once saw in Spain. Not a live elephant, of course, for live elephants are not common in Spain. In fact, they are about as uncommon as white horses were in those days in the Toy Valley. They have come in since,—white horses, I mean,—for a road has been built up the eight-mile ravine that connects the Toy Valley with the rest of the world, and now you can ride in there on a stage coach, if you like, with any number of white horses. But the people still paint the toy horses the way they used to!

But about the elephant—let me see! Oh, yes! It was in Spain and it was made of china. It was quite an elephant, all but one thing. Whoever [103] made it was not as familiar with elephants as you are who can go to the zoölogical garden any time you like, and no doubt have ridden on one.

Well, when the Man Who Was Not Familiar With Elephants was ready to put in the nose he didn't know where it went. Of course you  know that the elephant's nose is its trunk. It is  long, but it is a nose all the same. And that he can pick up peanuts with it I am well aware. Still, it is a nose and it opens as anybody's nose does, at the end in two round holes. And that is all the opening it has. The elephant has to breathe the air up through the whole length of that trunk through those nostrils at the end. Now, the man in Spain not knowing much about the elephant's trunk and probably thinking it a sort of misplaced tail, set the nostrils in the front of the [104] trunk, a little below the eyes. That is, he painted them there where nostrils belong,—in every four-legged animal but an elephant. You didn't notice it at first, but after you had once seen them, it seemed as if you couldn't see anything else and the more you looked at them the funnier they got. A friend of mine has that elephant now and any one may see it that wants to.

This reminds me of another elephant story I would like to tell you if you don't mind. Once at the London Zo÷logical Gardens the elephants were carrying loads of children on their backs from one place to another. The children who were walking on the ground would feed the elephants as they passed. The elephants did not have to stop, they just stuck out their trunks and took the cakes and peanuts as they were walking along. Now, [105] one big elephant snatched a bag of cakes out of a child's hand, which was not polite even in an elephant. But he was paid for it, as you will see, for he took hold of the bottom of the bag and as he chewed, no doubt wondering why he could not taste the cakes he knew were inside, the cakes tumbled out at the other end and fell on the ground. Another elephant passing at the moment and taking in the situation, wheeled about, and in spite of his keeper and the children on his back, coolly picked up the cakes and ate them, while Elephant Number One was hopefully chewing on the empty bag.

Now let me see, where were we? Oh, yes,—at the Wolferlos'. The whole family were painting their wooden horses white with black markings, only the youngest child, a little girl younger than [106] John, had some bright red paint and a little brush with which she carefully put a spot in each nostril and also on the inside of the half-open mouths. She was a pretty little thing with her long flaxen braids wound about her head, and she puckered up her mouth in a comical way whenever she put on a red spot, and this pleased John so much that he sat and watched her instead of the others.

They did not stay here long, but visited at another stone house with very deep overhanging porches and broad lattices. The upper part of this building was bulging with hay. The family lived on the floor below, and under them on the ground floor were kept the horse, the cow, and the goats—all very convenient in cold weather.

This family was also at work, even to the old grandfather, making wooden [107] dolls. Not by any means those sticks of wood with a doll's head on top that the babies of the Toy Valley love to hug,—somebody else made them,—but real dolls with jointed legs and arms.

"See," said the grandfather, holding out a handful of dolls no more than an inch long, "these are the smallest jointed dolls in the world,"—and sure enough, those mites were jointed and could bend their knees and elbows and sit down.

"It takes skill," he cried chuckling, "and the mother does it all. Hers are the only fingers fine enough for such work as that," and he looked with pride at the tiny things lying in the palm of his great hand.

Dolls were everywhere in this room, hanging and standing about that the paint on them might dry, and John came [108] near sitting down in a basketful of dolls' arms, while another one full of leg joints stood ready on the table.

The children were all busy fitting the joints together and fastening them with little wooden pegs, while the father, who had a jolly red face, was boring holes for the pegs to go into.

They were a merry set, these doll-makers, and the children had round faces and round eyes and little pug noses and bright red cheeks and looked very much like their own dolls come to life—and grown bigger, of course. Only they were not a bit wooden, but laughed and chattered and showed John everything they had.

He had seen all this toy-making many times before, but to-day it was different; it seemed some way as though he were looking at it for the first time. The [109] desire to become a carver had come to him the summer before and now everything connected with it had a new meaning.

They did not stay long with the doll-makers, but went next to his father's relative, he whom they called Uncle Francesco. He had been a hunter in his young days; but now that he was old he stayed at home and worked the piece of land he owned on the slope above the village.

They had dinner here, and as soon as it was over John was sent to the store to get the sled his father had left there and which he meant to leave in Uncle Francesco's shed until summer time, when he would bring Franz down and let him carry it home on his back. He had three or four of these sleds which he used for sliding down to the Toy Valley in the winter time.

[110] When John got back with the sled, his father and Uncle Francesco were talking very earnestly about something, but stopped as soon as he entered the room.

"Now we must be starting up the mountain," said Father Hofer, getting up and beginning to wind his scarf about his neck. It was early yet, but it would take a long time to climb up through the snow and the days were short.

They had no trouble going up the open slopes for there were paths everywhere made by the people to go from farm to farm, and from their houses down to the village. But when they had climbed above the open slopes into the woods there was no path; only Father Hofer knew the way very well and how to find the least snowy trails under the cliffs, and the long spikes in their shoes kept them from slipping.

[111] It was very cold and very still in the woods, and every little while they heard a loud report which Father Hofer said was the cold splitting the trees. John's breath froze in a thick fringe on the scarf wound about his neck and ears, but inside his warm wrappings his blood tingled and he did not feel the cold at all.

If you had been there you would have thought you were climbing up through a forest of Christmas trees, for each evergreen was hung with snow wreaths and glittering ice jewels.

It was very beautiful and yet it was a long, hard climb for John, and as night came early they had to hurry. When finally they reached the top and Mother Hofer opened the door and let out a flood of warmth and the fragrant odor of the cooking supper, John rushed in [112] never so glad in all his life before to be at home.

He was almost too tired to eat, but he felt very proud to think he had really been down to the valley in the winter time. He felt as though he were quite grown up and not at all the little boy who that morning had hugged his father so closely. "Soon I shall be able to slide down by myself," he thought sleepily as he climbed to his warm bed above the great stove, and all night long he seemed to be speeding through the air after wonderful toy horses that galloped swiftly ahead of him.


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