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Donkey John of the Toy Valley by  Margaret Warner Morley






S John again climbed up the mountain, this time at the end of his term of education in the Toy Valley, he was not so elated as he had been the year before when he had grasped his first donkey so triumphantly in his pocket. Indeed he was rather crestfallen and did not know which to tell his parents first, about the prize for his donkeys or his failure to make any other animal.

Now it happened they had already heard of the prize and were very proud indeed of it, and if they had also heard [206] of their son's failure to carve anything but donkeys they did not mention it, and Father Hofer had as a surprise a fine log of zirbel wood ready for him, so that John's homecoming was altogether joyful.

There was little time to carve that busy summer, but at last the grain has been cut and is hanging like a golden curtain over the fronts of the houses. John's house has a fine heavy covering of it for every lattice-pole is filled. The turnip patches are green and the pockets of the children are full of juicy turnips which they munch from morning till night. The goats and the donkey munch them too, and Franz is fond of sticking his nose into John's pocket and stealing a turnip now and then. Turnips had to do duty for apples here, and these turnips of the Toy Valley certainly did [207] their best to play the part; such juicy, crisp, and spicy turnips sure never grew anywhere else.

Now the double windows are in the house with berries and vines and mosses on the broad sill between the sashes; on all sides is the sound of the threshing. Like endless clog-dancing one hears the clappity-clap  of the flails from morning till night, and sometimes far into the night. Instead of looking in at it through the golden mist, John is himself one of the threshers.

Now the golden curtains are down, the grain has been threshed and ground in the mills, and the withered turnips hang over the lattices.

Now the snow falls steadily, and lays a deep white mantle over all the shining earth. Icicles hang from the ledges and the grand chute is like a track of ice.

[208] John makes a fire in the big stove early every morning, and then seats himself at his table and carves, while his parents sit and watch him, lost in wonder and filled with pride.

Anton has returned of course from the Big Alp, but he does not talk quite so eagerly about it. Perhaps he has discovered that herding cows all summer up there near the sky with no one to speak to but now and then another herder, is not quite the paradise he had dreamed. Yet he loves the life and has no desire to seek any other.

"I walked to the top of the Puflatsch more than once," he said, "and from there you can see the world."

"But not any cities?" inquired John, sceptically, for to his mind to see "the world" certainly included seeing the cities. But Anton, who takes little [209] interest in cities, in fact only half believes in their existence, declares that what one sees from the Puflatsch includes the greater, and the best, part of the world.

"It is mountains and mountains on all sides of you, to the end of the world. I have seen it," he declares conclusively. For he shares the belief of the ancients that the earth is—well, not flat, for it certainly is not that with mountains soaring everywhere, but the shape of a plate, say, with mountains standing on it.

Often during the winter he would find his way to John's house and watch him at his work, fingering the blocks of wood and looking at his friend in wonder as he slowly made his way through block after block and stood toy after toy firmly on the table, finished and beautiful.

[210] One day in late spring as the two were out looking for a stray sheep they sat down on a rock to rest, and John said, "Anton, my basket is now full and I am going to the Fair in The Town at the Foot of the Mountain."

"O John! It is a long way there, and you will get lost!" cried Anton in alarm.

"I can find the way; it is easy enough; and when I come back I shall come by way of the Big Alp," and John's eyes shone.

"And I, maybe I shall be up there!" and Anton quite forgot his fear for John's safety in the thought.

"Yes, you will be up there, and I will spend the night with you and see the big stars shine," for he had never forgotten what Anton had told him when they were little boys herding goats in [211] the mountains of the stars on the Big Alp.

"Don't you want to see the world, Anton?"

Anton shook his head,—"No, I like it here, and the Big Alp is pleasant and I know where I am. Where shall you sleep nights when you go so far away, John?"

"Oh, I shall sleep in the people's houses. Herr Herder told me about that, and just how much to pay them and all."

"Suppose you don't sell the toys, how shall you get money to come back with?"

"But I shall sell them," said John quickly, then he added reluctantly, "I could work, you know, if I had to, and so get back."

John readily got the consent of his [212] parents to go to the Fair, and one day he started off pack on back. His friends down in the Toy Valley would scarcely have known him for he had on the gay Tirolese costume that his father wore when he was a young man and that every youth of respectability must have, to wear on great occasions. And if this was not a great occasion to John, I should like to know when one would be likely to arise. And since he had not a gala dress of his own as yet, he very properly borrowed his father's, and this the more sensibly, since his father had long since outgrown it and he had exactly grown into it.

So he put on the tight velveteen trousers that tied at his knee with a ribbon, the reddish-brown vest buttoned closely with yellow buttons and edged with yellow braid, the long faded green [213] coat that came down to his heels and, finest of all, the wide belt, six inches wide at least, heavily embroidered in gold and colored silks. Around his neck was a white frill. His stout legs were covered by stockings knit by his mother out of white yarn, and he had leather slippers on his feet. On his head he wore a green felt hat cocked up in the back where it was fastened by a white eagle's plume. The large gala hat was the only thing lacking. His father's had disappeared and so he had to do the best he could with his own boy's hat.

Nevertheless he was very conscious of his fine appearance as he started out, both his parents at his side, for they went with him to the brow of the slope and stood watching as long as they could see the gay-clad form topped by [214] the nodding eagle's plume, and with the long basket on its back.

Surely no knight errant of old ever stepped out with fairer apparel or a quicker-beating heart.

It was early morning and the air was cool and still and full of the fresh smell of growing things. Flowers were peeping from the crevices of the rocks and a soft breeze now and then made a slight sound in the tree tops.

John felt very happy as he walked along the side of the mountain. He did not go down the path to the Toy Valley this time, but kept up along the open swells over the path that led on and on into the sunset.

He could see the mountains all about and he could see down the slopes, at the bottom of which, below the forests, lay [215] the Toy Valley and the houses and the people.

As he went he crossed the great slide of boulders and loose stones the lower part of which was covered with the Pixies' Forest; it was like a river of rocks that widened as it went down. "I wonder how they got there," he thought to himself as he looked towards the peaks from between which issued the strange river, and down to the wild forest where it lay across the valley, blocking it up—all but a narrow gorge through which the stream rushed.

It was this narrow gorge that shut up the Toy Valley quite away from the rest of the world, for at the end of it was another valley wide and beautiful, through which rushed a great river along whose banks were strung pleasant villages like beads on a silver thread; a [216] beautiful river made from many mountain streams that came out of the glaciers; a swift river that rushed along out of the mountains and across the plains, past old and fair cities, across the wide plains to the blue sea. The river Eisack it is called in the mountain country; but down below in the old city of Verona, where they have anchored the mills in its strong current, and all across the fruitful Italian plains beyond, it is called the Adige.

John, up on the mountain side with his pack on his back, knew little enough of the historic river and wide valley towards which he was hastening. He walked along at a good pace until ahead of him on the mountain side he saw a church spire, and clustered about it a group of stone houses like those of the village in the Toy Valley. The whole [217] was standing high above the wild and rocky gorge through which rushed the little stream that came out of the Toy Valley. Beyond, mountain was piled upon mountain in a wild and splendid manner. John had never been here before, and he thought the strange village very beautiful, as indeed it was.

When he got to the church he sat down on the low wall that enclosed it to rest, for his basket was beginning to feel heavy. Presently the children gathered about him and looked wonderingly at the legs of the donkeys sticking up from the top of the basket.

"It is the toy man," they whispered to one another, and John heard them and his heart swelled within him.

He ate his dinner of bread and cheese by the roadside, and stopped to rest in another village, even the an- [218] cient hamlet of Lajen, that lay on the mountain side, its stone houses built close together like the cells in a honeycomb, or a cluster of swallows' nests under the eaves, as are all the villages in that part of the world. Nobody has a yard, front or back. But outside the close huddle of houses stretches on all sides the free open fields and forests overtopped by the great wild mountains.

John lingered along the latter part of the way, being tired perhaps, and also being filled with delight in the new world, so different from the steep sides of the Toy Valley, for here the mountain receded, and there were openings down strange and beautiful gorges through which he could see far-away and very beautiful mountain forms.

It seemed to him that he had surely stepped into an enchanted land and this [219] before he had even got down from his mountain side or had a glimpse of a city!

He lingered so, that night was falling as he went quickly down the steep path that led from the mountain side into the broad valley of the Eisack. That is, it was broad compared to the Toy Valley, though right there it was narrow enough, but in its bottom lay flat meadows such as John had never seen in his life before.

"What would Anton say to this?" he thought, and felt a great longing to have Anton at his side to talk to.

In the little village at the foot of his steep path he found the house where he was to spend the night, without any trouble, and soon fell sound asleep as though he were in his own bed at home.

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