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Margaret Warner Morley


The Big Alp

A NTON, standing on a mound, saw John first and shouted long and loud. When John saw Anton standing there against the sky waving to him there came a lump in his throat, and he ran and Anton ran and they met and flung their arms about each other's necks and kissed each other heartily on both cheeks as is the way of men in the Toy Valley.

"And have you really been out beyond the Big Alp?" Anton asked, breathless with surprise and pleasure.

"That I have," said John, "and now I am here on your Big Alp at last, and I like that as well as anything," at which Anton looked mightily pleased, and led John into the hut and showed him the rows of goats'-milk cheeses on the shelves, for he herded goats this year with a man to help him. The man had gone down the mountain to get some flour and thus Anton was in the hut alone.

"Now we will sit and talk," said John, going out again into the light and turning towards the west where the sky was like gold.

"But, first," said Anton, "help me with the goats so we shall be through." So the two boys milked the goats that stood bleating about, and when this was done and the milk was put away in the hut and all was in order for the night they went outside. Anton wished to sit on a bench by the door but John preferred a knoll near by, for he had never been so near the sky before and did not want the wall of the hut to be in the way.

So they went out and sat down where the sky was like a great blue bowl turned over them and the stars were dotting it. Then John told Anton all that had happened to him and showed him his money in the fading light.

"Have you counted it?" asked Anton, looking at it in amazement.

"Yes," said John, and told him how much there was.

"Why, John, if you go to the Fair every year you will be as rich as Herr Herder!"

"He goes far away to the very large cities, even as far as Spain, and some day I shall do that too, but not yet."

Then John showed Anton the shawl he had for his mother and the shears for his father and the shoes for Angelica, and Anton was very much impressed by John's importance in being able to buy such things and all with his own money. And John, seeing how Anton regarded him, kept silent concerning the purchase of the sugar cookies and their subsequent fate, lest revealing these things he should lose something in Anton's esteem.

Then was Anton moved to ask a question that for a moment tumbled all John's castle to the ground.

"Where is your new hat?" he demanded.

At the crestfallen expression that came over John's face Anton gave a shriek and rolled over on the grass laughing uproariously.

"You forgot the hat!" he yelled, "you forgot the hat!"

"Anton," said John at last, "if you don't quit I'll punch your head."

Since Anton was considerably larger and stronger than John this terrible threat did not frighten him, nevertheless he stopped laughing, sat up, and wiped his streaming eyes. Then he looked at John quite seriously.

"How did it happen?" he asked.

"I don't know," replied John, meekly. "I saw the hats the first day, but I had no money then, and afterwards—well, there was so much, and I did not go to that part of the Fair again, and somehow I never thought of them."

John felt very badly, for the purchase of the hat had been one of his chief anticipations in going to the Fair,—he had dreamed of that hat so long! He was also extremely mortified, for what would they say at home?

Anton, although he loved John, felt just a little envious of his wonderful pilgrimage out into the big world dressed like a person of importance in his father's gala dress, and now that the chance had come could not help taking a little spiteful satisfaction in lowering John's pride because of the hat.

The cloud soon passed, however, and the boys lay under the stars and talked earnestly until late in the night. John had been pent up so long that it sometimes seemed as though he would burst, and as he poured out all the wonders of his journey into Anton's sympathetic ears the memory and the recital of it seemed almost better than the journey itself. One felt so safe lying on the mountain-pasture under the stars!

"You must know, Anton, that I have seen the Trostberg Castle," he said, among other important things. "That, you know, is where Oswald von Wolkenstein was born. I saw it across the valley standing where it could overlook everything, just where my path went down into the valley of the Eisack. I should certainly have climbed up to it had there been time, and some day I shall go on purpose, and perhaps you will go with me."

Anton grunted what might be construed as assent to this pilgrimage, for he did not take the same interest in Minnesingers that John did. He liked better the pursuit of happiness on the Big Alp where, though it had lost some of the glamour that overlaid it in the old days when he and John herded goats on the mountain side together, yet remained the place of places to him, the home of his heart.

At last the boys stopped talking, and Anton proposed going to bed, but John wanted to lie and look at the stars which, as Anton had long ago told him, were peculiarly large and bright up there in the pure air of the high Alpine pasture. Anton yawned a few times, then went inside and left John alone, who in spite of his long walk and his steep climb up the mountain, did not feel in the least sleepy.

So this was the Big Alp! He was lying on it at last and looking up at the stars! What a journey into the world it had been!—altogether wonderful and quite perfect but for two things, the eating of the cakes and the loss of the hat! Then his broad mouth widened into its accustomed smile. "The mother has lost the sweet cakes," he thought, "and I guess it was to punish me for that that I lost the hat!"

With this comforting reflection he began to feel very sleepy and also to shiver with cold, for the nights are extremely chilly on the Big Alp, even in midsummer. So he went into the hut and lay down on the hay at Anton's side, pulling a corner of the heavy blanket about him.

When he woke in the morning the first thing he noticed was the sweet smell of the room, not at all like the close and stuffy smell of the city house. It was the clean hay upon which he lay that smelled so sweet, and through the holes in which the walls of the hut abounded there came in the fine air of the mountain top.

Anton was already gone, and John sprang out into the thrilling morning as fresh as a lark. It would take a good deal to make one feel tired on the Big Alp in that air. He found that Anton had just finished milking the goats. Then they made a fire in one corner of the hut on a pile of stones that served for a fireplace, and Anton stirred up a sort of porridge which they ate, along with bowls of fresh milk, with prodigious appetites.

They talked fast all the time; it seemed as though they had not begun to tell it all, though they had talked so long and so steadily the night before. Now Anton, for his part, wanted to tell all the particulars of the summer on the Alp,—how one of the goats had fallen over a precipice and been rescued with the greatest difficulty; how one morning he had seen a flock of seven chamois file along the rocky ledge of the mountain opposite; and all the particulars of how Ludovico the hunter had been killed from falling over a cliff, about which he had heard from a passing cowherd on his way to his place on the Alp after a flying visit home.

So the two exchanged confidences until noon, John accompanying Anton as he wandered about with the goats. Then they sat down under the wide sky on the treeless, grassy plain, cooled by the breezes from the near snow fields, and ate the stale bread and fresh cheese Anton had brought for their dinner. Then John took leave of his friend and started alone towards the giant peaks that towered, he well knew, above the Toy Valley that lay below the Big Alp and quite out of sight.

He walked rapidly over the level pasture, for here the grass was not high, having been cropped all summer by the flocks and herds. It was not long before he came to the edge of the Alp and began to descend a ravine that led down, steep and rough, to the foot of the plateau.

More than halfway down he took a path leading off along the side of the mountain, and turning the corner of a great rock he saw, spread before him, the Toy Valley, the familiar village looking like a toy itself from that height. Eagerly his eyes scanned the mountain opposite, and there above the broad fir belt was a shining spot,—his home!

As he stood there looking over the dear scene, up through the clear air came the sound, faint and sweet, of the evening bells. John took off his hat, bowed his head and murmured a prayer as did every man, woman, and child in all that fair land who heard the Ave Maria announced the close of day.

Thus did John with grateful heart once more see the dear home and the beloved Toy Valley as he stood safe and sound on the mountain side after his wonderful journey out into the world.

As though to fill his cup of happiness to overflowing, a few miles farther down the mountain he saw a slender form hastening along the path ahead of him.

"Angelica!" he called, and Angelica stopped, looked back, and seeing who it was, waited. She had been up the mountain to visit an aunt who lived in a distant village and was now on her way home.

"Oh, John!" she cried, "how fine you look! They say you have been out in the world."

Her eyes shone and her cheeks were very pink and pretty and John's eyes shone too as he took her hand in his and answered, "Yes, I have been out in the world, and I have come back, and there is nothing to be seen so good as our own valley."

They walked along together, hand in hand as is the custom in the Toy Valley, and over the great gray peaks the sunset sweetly stole and turned them rosy red, and the clear sky shone with golden light, and all the earth was beautiful.