Part 3 out of 3
"I don't know. She wasn't goin' ter do it at first. Somethin'
must a-happened afterwards, somethin' that you an' me didn't know
"We WILL know about it, Jim. Where is she?" His quick eye
searched the lot. His voice had regained it's old command. He
felt that he could conquer worlds.
"You can't do no good that way," answered Jim. "She don't want
ter see you again."
"I don't know, but she told me she'd run away if I ever even
talked to you about her."
"You needn't talk, Jim; I'll talk for myself. Where is she?"
"She'll be comin' out soon. You can wait around out here with
me. I'll let you know in time." He led the way through a narrow
passage between the wagons.
Jim and Douglas had barely left the lot when Deacon Elverson's
small, round head slipped cautiously around the corner of the
dressing tent. The little deacon glanced exultantly about him.
He was monarch of all he surveyed. It was very thrilling to
stand here, on this forbidden ground, smelling the saw- dust,
gazing at the big red wagons, studying the unprotected circus
properties, and listening to the lightening tempo of the band.
"Did you see him?" shouted Strong, who had followed closely upon
The little deacon started. Strong was certainly a disturbing
factor at times.
"Yes, I--I saw him."
"He--he--didn't see HER."
"What DID he do?" Strong was beside himself with impatience.
"He--he just talked to the big 'un, and went out that way."
Elverson nodded toward the wagons.
"I guess he ain't gone far," sneered Strong. "He come over to
this lot to see her, and he ain't goin' ter give up till he does
it. You wait here; I'll take a look round." He went quickly in
the direction of the wagons.
Elverson needed no second invitation to wait. He was
congratulating himself upon his good fortune, when he all but
collided with a flying apparition, vanishing in the direction of
the main tent. Sophisticated eyes would have seen only a rather
stout acrobat clad in pink tights; but Elverson was not
sophisticated, and he teetered after the flitting angel, even
unto the forbidden portals of the "big top."
He was peeping through the curtains which had fallen behind her,
and was getting his first glimpse of the great, sawdust world
beyond, when one of the clowns dashed from the dressing tent on
his way to the ring.
The clown was late. He saw the limp coat tails of the deacon,
who was three-quarters in the tent. Here was a chance to make a
funny entrance. He grabbed the unsuspecting little man from the
rear. The terrified deacon struck out blindly in all directions,
his black arms and legs moving like centipede, but the clown held
him firmly by the back and thrust him, head foremost, into the
Strong returned almost immediately from his unsuccessful search
for the pastor. He looked about the lot for Elverson.
"Hey, there, Elverson!" he called lustily. There was no
"Now where's he got to," grumbled Strong. He disappeared quickly
around the corner of the dressing tent, resolved to keep a sharp
lookout for Douglas.
Elverson was thrust from the tent soon after, spitting sawdust
and much discomfited by the laughing performers who followed him.
His knees almost gave way beneath him when Barker came out of the
ring, snapping his long, black whip.
"Get out of here, you bloke!" roared Barker. and Elverson "got."
No one had remembered to tell the groom that Polly was not to
ride to-night. So Bingo was brought out as usual, when their
"Take him back, Tom," Polly called from the entrance, when she
learned that Bingo was waiting, "and bring Barbarian. I'm not
going on to-night. Eloise is going to ride in my place."
This was the second time to-day that Bingo had been led away
without going into the ring. Something in his big, wondering
eyes made Polly follow him and apologise. He was very proud, was
Bingo, and very conscientious. He felt uneasy when he saw the
other horses going to their work without him.
"Never mind, Bingo," she said, patting his great, arched neck,
"we'll show 'em to-morrow." He rubbed his satiny nose against
her cheek. "We'll make them SIT UP again. Barker says our act's
no good--that I've let down. But it's not YOUR fault, Bingo.
I've not been fair to you. I'll give you a chance to-morrow.
You wait. He'll never say it again, Bingo! Never again!" She
watched him go out of the lot, and laughed a little as he nipped
the attendant on the arm. He was still irritated at not going
into the ring.
Polly had nothing more to do to-night except to get into her
street clothes. The wagons would soon be moving away. For a
moment she glanced at the dark church steeple, then she turned to
go inside the tent. A deep, familiar voice stopped her.
She turned quickly. She could not answer. Douglas came toward
her. He gazed at her in amazement. She drew her cape about her
slightly clad figure. She seemed older to him, more
unapproachable with her hair heaped high and sparkling with
jewels. Her bodice of satin and lace shimmered through the
opening of her cape. The moonlight lent mystery and indecision
to her betinselled attire. The band was playing the andante for
the balancing act.
She found strength at last to open her lips, but still no sound
came from them. She and the pastor looked at each other
strangely, like spirits newly met from far-apart worlds. She,
too, thought her companion changed. He was older, the circles
beneath his eyes were deeper, the look in their depths more
"We were such close neighbours to-day, I--I rather thought you'd
call," he stammered. He was uncertain what he was saying--it did
not matter--he was there with her.
"When you're in a circus there isn't much time for calling."
"That's why I've come to call on you." They might have been
sheppherd and sheppherdess on a May-day wooing, for the halting
way in which their words came.
"You're all right?" he went on. "You're happy?"
"Yes, very," she said. Her eyes were downcast.
He did not believe her, the effort in her voice, her drawn, white
face belied her words. How COULD he get the truth from her?
"Jim said you might not want to see me."
"Has Jim been talking to you?"
"Yes, but I didn't let him stop me, for you told me the day you
left that you'd never change-- toward me. Have you, Poll?" He
studied her, anxiously.
"Why, no, of course not," she said, evasively.
"And you'll be quite frank when I ask you something?"
"Yes, of course." She was growing more and more uneasy. She
glanced about for a way of escape.
"Why did you leave me as you did?"
"I told you then." She tried to cross toward the dressing tent.
He stepped quickly in front of her.
"You aren't answering FRANKLY, and you aren't happy."
She was growing desperate. She felt she must get away, anywhere,
He seized her small wrists and forced her to look at him.
"And _I_ am not happy without YOU, and I never, NEVER can be."
The floodgates were open, his eyes were aglow, he bent toward her
"Oh, you mustn't," she begged. "You MUSTN'T."
"You've grown so close," he cried. "So close!" She struggled to
be free. He did not heed her. "You know--you must know what I
mean." He drew her toward him and forced her into his arms.
"You're more precious to me than all else on this earth."
For the first time he saw the extreme pallor on her face. He
felt her growing limp and lifeless in his arms. A doubt crossed
his mind. "If I am wrong in thinking you feel as I do, if you
honestly care for all this," he glanced about at the tents, "more
than for any life that I can give you, I shan't interfere.
You'll be going on your way in an hour. I'll say good-bye and
God bless you; but if you do care for me, Polly," he was pleading
now, "if you're NOT happy here-- won't you come back to me? Won't
She dared not meet his eyes, nor yet to send him away. She stood
irresolute. The voice of Deacon Strong answered for her.
"So! You're HERE, are you?"
"Yes, Deacon Strong, I'm here," answered the pastor, as he turned
to meet the accusing eyes of the deacon, who had come quickly
from behind the dressing tent.
"As for you, miss," continued Strong, with an insolent nod toward
Polly, "I might have known how you'd keep your part of the
"Bargain?" echoed Douglas. "What bargain?"
"Oh, please, Deacon Strong, please. I didn't mean to see him, I
didn't, truly." She hardly knew what she was saying.
"What bargain?" demanded Douglas sternly.
"She told me that you and her wasn't ever goin' ter see each
other agin," roared Strong. "If I'd a-knowed she was goin' to
keep on with this kind o' thing, you wouldn't er got off so
"So! That's it!" cried Douglas. It was all clear to him now. He
recalled everything, her hysterical behaviour, her laughter, her
tears. "It was you who drove that child back to this." He
glanced at Polly. The narrow shoulders were bent forward. The
nervous little fingers were clasping and unclasping each other.
Never before had she seemed so small and helpless.
"Oh, please, Mr. John, please! Don't make him any worse!"
"Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.
"It would have done no good," she sobbed. "Oh, why--why won't
you leave me alone?"
"It would have done all the good in the world. What right had he
to send you back to this?"
"I had every right," said Strong, stubbornly.
"What?" cried Douglas.
"It was my duty."
"Your duty? Your narrow-minded bigotry!"
"I don't allow no man to talk to me like that, not even my
"I'm NOT your parson any longer," declared Douglas. He faced
Strong squarely. He was master of his own affairs at last.
Polly clung to him, begging and beseeching.
"Oh, Mr. John! Mr. John!"
"What do you mean by that?" shouted Strong.
"I mean that I stayed with you and your narrow- minded
congregation before, because I believed you needed me. But now
this girl needs me more. She needs me to protect her from just
such injustice as yours."
"You'd better be protectin' YOURSELF. That's my advice to you."
"I can do that WITHOUT your advice."
"Maybe you can find another church with that circus ridin' girl
a-hangin' 'round your neck."
"He's right," cried Polly. "You couldn't." She clung to the
pastor in terrified entreaty. "You COULDN'T get another church.
They'd never, never forgive you. It's no use. You've got to let
me go! you've GOT to!"
"Listen, Polly." He drew her toward him. "God is greater than
any church or creed. There's work to be done EVERYWHERE--HIS
"You'll soon find out about that," thundered Strong.
"So I will," answered Douglas, with his head thrown high. "This
child has opened a new world to me; she has shown me a broader,
deeper humanity; she and I will find the way together."
"It won't be an easy one, I'll promise you that." Strong turned
"I'm not looking for the easy way!" Douglas called after him,
then he turned to draw Polly's arm within his; but Polly had
slipped from his side to follow the deacon.
"Oh, please, Deacon Strong, please!" she pleaded. "You won't go
away like that. He'll be all right if you'll only wait. I'm NOT
coming back. I'm not--honestly. I'm going on with the show,
to-night, and I'm going this time FOREVER."
"You are going to stay here with me," cried Douglas.
"No, no, Mr. John. I've made up my mind, and I won't be to
blame for your unhappiness." She faced him firmly now. "I don't
belong to your world, and I don't want to try any more. I'm what
he called me--I'm a circus riding girl. I was born in the
circus, and I'll never change. That's my work--riding, and it's
yours to preach. You must do your work, and I'LL do MINE."
She started toward the ring. Eloise and Barbarian were already
waiting at the entrance
"Eloise!" She took one step toward her, then stopped at the sound
of Barker's voice.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he called. "Although we are obliged to
announce that our star rider, Miss Polly, will not appear
to-night, we offer you in her place an able substitute,
Mademoiselle Eloise, on her black, untamed horse, Barbarian."
Eloise put her hands on the horse's back to mount.
"No! No!" cried Polly.
The other girl turned in astonishment at the agony in her voice.
"Wait, Eloise! I'M going to ride!"
"You can't, not Barbarian! He don't know your turn."
"So much the better!" She seized the bridle from the frightened
"Polly!" shouted Douglas. He had followed her to the entrance.
"I must! I will!"
She flew into the ring before he could stop her. He took one
step to follow her.
"You'd better let her alone and get out o' here," said Strong.
His voice was like a firebrand to Douglas. He turned upon him,
white with rage.
"You drove her to this." His fists were clenched. He drew back
Jim came from behind the wagons just in time to catch the
"Leave HIM to ME, this ain't no parson's job." The pastor
lowered his arm, but kept his threatening eyes on the deacon's
"Where's Poll?" asked Jim.
"In there! Douglas pointed toward the main tent without turning
his head. He was still glaring at the deacon, and breathing
"What?" cried Jim, in alarm. He faced about and saw Eloise. He
guessed the truth. A few quick strides brought him to the
entrance curtains. He threw them back and looked into the ring.
"My God! Why don't Barker stop her?"
"What is it?" called Douglas. He forgot the deacon in his terror
at Jim's behaviour, and Strong was able to slip away, unnoticed.
"She's goin' ter ride! She's goin' ter ride Barbarian!"
Douglas crossed to his side and looked.
Polly was springing onto the back of Barbarian. He was a poorly
trained horse, used by the other girl for more showy, but less
dangerous feats than Polly's.
"She's goin' through her regular turn with him, she's tryin' ter
break her neck," said Jim. "She wants ter do it. It's your
fault!" he cried, turning upon Douglas with bloodshot eyes. He
was half insane, he cared little whom he wounded.
"Why can't we stop her?" cried Douglas, unable to endure the
strain. He took one step inside the entrance.
"No, no; not that!" Jim dragged him back roughly. "If she sees
you now, it will be the end." They watched in silence. "She's
over the first part," Jim whispered, at last.
Douglas drew back, his muscles tense, as he watched the scene
inside the ring. Eloise stood at the pastor's side,
horror-stricken at Polly's reckless behaviour. She knew
Barbarian. It was easy to guess the end.
"She's comin' to the hoops," Jim whispered, hoarsely.
"Barbarian don't know that part, I never trained him," the other
Polly made the first leap toward the hoops. The horse was not at
fault; it was Polly. She plunged wildly, the audience started.
She caught her footing with an effort. One, two, three hoops
were passed. She threw herself across the back of the horse and
hung, head downward, as he galloped around the ring. The band
was playing loudly, the people were cheering. She rose to meet
the last two hoops.
"She's swayin'," Jim shrieked in agony. "She's goin' to fall.
He covered his face with his hands.
Polly reeled and fell at the horse's side. She mounted and fell
again. She rose and staggered in pursuit.
"I can't bear it," groaned Douglas. He rushed into the ring,
unconscious of the thousands of eyes bent upon his black,
ministerial garb, and caught the slip of a girl in his arms just
as she was about to sink fainting beneath the horse's hoofs.
Barker brought the performance to a halt with a crack of his
whip. The audience stood on tiptoe. White-faced clowns and
gaily attired acrobats crowded around Polly and the pastor.
Douglas did not see them. He had come into his own.
"He's bringin' her out," whispered Eloise, who still watched at
the entrance. Jim dared not look up, his head was still in his
"Is it over?" he groaned.
"I don't know. I can't tell yet." She stepped aside as Douglas
came out of the tent, followed by a swarm of performers. He
knelt on the soft grass and rested Polly's head upon his knee.
The others pressed about them. It seemed to Douglas that he
waited hours; then her white lids quivered and opened and the
colour crept back to her lips.
"It's all right, Jim!" called one of the men from the crowd.
"She's only fainted." The big fellow had waited in his tracks
for the verdict.
Polly's eyes looked up into those of the parson --a thrill shot
through his veins.
"It was no use, was it?" She shook her head with a sad little
smile. He knew that she was thinking of her failure to get out
of his way.
"That's because I need you so much, Polly, that God won't let you
go away from me." He drew her nearer to him, and the warm blood
that shot to her cheeks brought back her strength. She rose
unsteadily, and looked about her. Jim came toward her, white and
"All right, Poll?"
"Oh, Muvver Jim!" She threw herself into his arms and clung to
him, sobbing weakly.
No one could ever remember just how the audience left the big top
that night, and even Barker had no clear idea of how Jim took
down the tents, loaded the great wagons, and sent the caravan on
When the last wagon was beginning to climb the long, winding road
of the moon-lit hill, Jim turned to Polly, who stood near the
side of the deserted ring. His eyes travelled from her to the
parson, who waited near her. She was in her street clothes now,
the little brown Quakerish dress which she had chosen to wear so
much since her return from the parsonage.
"I guess I won't be makin' no mistake this time," he said, and he
placed her hand in that of the parson.
"Good-bye, Muvver Jim," faltered Polly.
He stooped and touched her forehead with his lips. A mother's
spirit breathed through his kiss.
"I'm glad it's like this," he said, then turned away and followed
the long, dotted line of winding lights disappearing slowly over
Her eyes travelled after him.
Douglas touched the cold, little hand at her side.
"I belong with them," she said, still gazing after Jim and the
"You belong with me," he answered in a firm, grave voice, and
something in the deep, sure tones told her that he was speaking
the truth. She lifted one trembling hand to his shoulder, and
looked up into his face.
"Whither thou goest, will I go, where thou diest, will I die."
He drew her into his arms.
"The Lord do so to me and more also, if aught but death part thee