Polly of the Circus by Margaret Mayo

POLLY OF THE CIRCUS BY MARGARET MAYO To My “KLEINE MUTTER” Chapter I The band of the “Great American Circus” was playing noisily. The performance was in full swing. Beside a shabby trunk in the women’s dressing tent sat a young, wistful-faced girl, chin in hand, unheeding the chatter of the women about her or
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  • 1907
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Chapter I

The band of the “Great American Circus” was playing noisily. The performance was in full swing.

Beside a shabby trunk in the women’s dressing tent sat a young, wistful-faced girl, chin in hand, unheeding the chatter of the women about her or the picturesque disarray of the surrounding objects. Her eyes had been so long accustomed to the glitter and tinsel of circus fineries that she saw nothing unusual in a picture that might have held a painter spellbound.

Circling the inside of the tent and forming a double line down the centre were partially unpacked trunks belching forth impudent masses of satins, laces, artificial hair, paper flowers, and paste jewels. The scent of moist earth mingled oddly with the perfumed odours of the garments heaped on the grass. Here and there high circles of lights threw a strong, steady glare upon the half-clad figure of a robust acrobat, or the thin, drooping shoulders of a less stalwart sister. Temporary ropes stretched from one pole to another, were laden with bright- coloured stockings, gaudy, spangled gowns, or dusty street clothes, discarded by the performers before slipping into their circus attire. There were no nails or hooks, so hats and veils were pinned to the canvas walls.

The furniture was limited to one camp chair in front of each trunk, the till of which served as a tray for the paints, powders and other essentials of “make-up.”

A pail of water stood by the side of each chair, so that the performers might wash the delicately shaded tights, handkerchiefs and other small articles not to be entrusted to the slow, careless process of the village laundry. Some of these had been washed to-night and hung to dry on the lines between the dusty street garments.

Women whose “turns” came late sat about half-clothed reading, crocheting or sewing, while others added pencilled eyebrows, powder or rouge to their already exaggerated “make-ups.” Here and there a child was putting her sawdust baby to sleep in the till of her trunk, before beginning her part in the evening’s entertainment. Young and old went about their duties with a systematic, business-like air, and even the little knot of excited women near Polly–it seemed that one of the men had upset a circus tradition–kept a sharp lookout for their “turns.”

“What do you think about it, Polly?” asked a handsome brunette, as she surveyed herself in the costume of a Roman charioteer.

“About what?” asked Polly vacantly.

“Leave Poll alone; she’s in one of her trances!” called a motherly, good-natured woman whose trunk stood next to Polly’s, and whose business was to support a son and three daughters upon stalwart shoulders, both figuratively and literally.

“Well, _I_ ain’t in any trance,” answered the dark girl, “and _I_ think it’s pretty tough for him to take up with a rank outsider, and expect us to warm up to her as though he’d married one of our own folks.” She tossed her head, the pride of class distinction welling high in her ample bosom.

“He ain’t asking us to warm up to her,” contradicted Mademoiselle Eloise, a pale, light- haired sprite, who had arrived late and was making undignified efforts to get out of her clothes by way of her head. She was Polly’s understudy and next in line for the star place in the bill.

“Well, Barker has put her into the ‘Leap of Death’ stunt, ain’t he?” continued the brunette. ” ‘Course that ain’t a regular circus act,” she added, somewhat mollified, “and so far she’s had to dress with the ‘freaks,’ but the next thing we know, he’ll be ringin’ her in on a regular stunt and be puttin’ her in to dress with US.”

“No danger of that,” sneered the blonde; “Barker is too old a stager to mix up his sheep and his goats.”

Polly had again lost the thread of the conversation. Her mind had gone roving to the night when the frightened girl about whom they were talking had made her first appearance in the circus lot, clinging timidly to the hand of the man who had just made her his wife. Her eyes had met Polly’s, with a look of appeal that had gone straight to the child’s simple heart.

A few nights later the newcomer had allowed herself to be strapped into the cumbersome “Leap of Death” machine which hurled itself through space at each performance, and flung itself down with force enough to break the neck of any unskilled rider. Courage and steady nerve were the requisites for the job, so the manager had said; but any physician would have told him that only a trained acrobat could long endure the nervous strain, the muscular tension, and the physical rack of such an ordeal.

What matter? The few dollars earned in this way would mean a great deal to the mother, whom the girl’s marriage had left desolate.

Polly had looked on hungrily the night that the mother had taken the daughter in her arms to say farewell in the little country town where the circus had played before her marriage. She could remember no woman’s arms about HER, for it was fourteen years since tender hands had carried her mother from the performers’ tent into the moonlit lot to die. The baby was so used to seeing “Mumsie” throw herself wearily on the ground after coming out of the “big top” exhausted, that she crept to the woman’s side as usual that night, and gazed laughingly into the sightless eyes, gurgling and prattling and stroking the unresponsive face. There were tears from those who watched, but no word was spoken.

Clown Toby and the big “boss canvas-man” Jim had always taken turns amusing and guarding little Polly, while her mother rode in the ring. So Toby now carried the babe to another side of the lot, and Jim bore the lifeless body of the mother to the distant ticket-wagon, now closed for the night, and laid it upon the seller’s cot.

“It’s allus like this in the end,” he murmured, as he drew a piece of canvas over the white face and turned away to give orders to the men who were beginning to load the “props” used earlier in the performance.

When the show moved on that night it was Jim’s strong arms that lifted the mite of a Polly close to his stalwart heart, and climbed with her to the high seat on the head wagon. Uncle Toby was entrusted with the brown satchel in which the mother had always carried Polly’s scanty wardrobe. It seemed to these two men that the eyes of the woman were fixed steadily upon them.

Barker, the manager, a large, noisy, good-natured fellow, at first mumbled something about the kid being “excess baggage,” but his objections were only half-hearted, for like the others, he was already under the hypnotic spell of the baby’s round, confiding eyes, and he eventually contented himself with an occasional reprimand to Toby, who was now sometimes late on his cues. Polly wondered, at these times, why the old man’s stories were so suddenly cut short just as she was so “comfy” in the soft grass at his feet. The boys who used to “look sharp” because of their boss at loading time, now learned that they might loiter so long as “Muvver Jim” was “hikin’ it round for the kid.” It was Polly who had dubbed big Jim “Muvver,” and the sobriquet had stuck to him in spite of his six feet two, and shoulders that an athlete might have envied. Little by little, Toby grew more stooped and small lines of anxiety crept into the brownish circles beneath Jim’s eyes, the lips that had once shut so firmly became tender and tremulous, but neither of the men would willingly have gone back to the old emptiness.

It was a red letter day in the circus, when Polly first managed to climb up on the pole of an unhitched wagon and from there to the back of a friendly, Shetland pony. Jim and Toby had been “neglectin’ her eddication” they declared, and from that time on, the blood of Polly’s ancestors was given full encouragement.

Barker was quick to grasp the advantage of adding the kid to the daily parade. She made her first appearance in the streets upon something very like a Newfoundland dog, guarded from the rear by Jim, and from the fore by a white-faced clown who was thought to be all the funnier because he twisted his neck so much.

From the street parade to Polly’s first appearance in the “big top,” had seemed a short while to Jim and Toby. They were proud to see her circling the ring in bright colours and to hear the cheers of the people, but a sense of loss was upon them.

“I always said she’d do it,” cried Barker, who now took upon himself the credit of Polly’s triumph.

And what a triumph it was!

Polly danced as serenely on Bingo’s back as she might have done on the “concert boards.” She swayed gracefully with the music. Her tiny sandals twinkled as she stood first upon one foot and then upon the other.

Uncle Toby forgot to use many of his tricks that night; and Jim left the loading of the wagons to take care of itself, while he hovered near the entrance, anxious and breathless. The performers crowded around the girl with outstretched hands and congratulations, as she came out of the ring to cheers and applause.

But Big Jim stood apart. He was thinking of the buttons that his clumsy fingers used to force into the stiff, starchy holes too small for them and of the pigtails so stubborn at the ends; and Toby was remembering the little shoes that had once needed to be laced in the cold, dark mornings, and the strings that were always snapping.

Something had gone.

They were not philosophers to reason like Emerson, that for everything we lose we gain something; they were simple souls, these two, they could only feel.

Chapter II

WHILE Polly sat in the dressing tent, listening indifferently to the chatter about the “Leap of Death” girl, Jim waited in the lot outside, opening and shutting a small, leather bag which he had bought for her that day. He was as blind to the picturesque outdoor life as she to her indoor surroundings, for he, too, had been with the circus since his earliest recollection.

The grass enclosure, where he waited, was shut in by a circle of tents and wagons. The great, red property vans were waiting to be loaded with the costumes and tackle which were constantly being brought from the “big top,” where the evening performance was now going on. The gay striped curtains at the rear of the tent were looped back to give air to the panting musicians, who sat just inside. Through the opening, a glimpse of the audience might be had, tier upon tier, fanning and shifting uneasily. Near the main tent stood the long, low dressing “top,” with the women performers stowed away in one end, the “ring horses” in the centre, and the men performers in the other end.

A temporary curtain was hung between the main and the dressing tent, to shut out the curious mob that tried to peep in at the back lot for a glimpse of things not to be seen in the ring.

Coloured streamers, fastened to the roofs of the tents, waved and floated in the night air and beckoned to the towns-people on the other side to make haste to get their places, forget their cares, and be children again.

Over the tops of the tents, the lurid light of the distant red fire shot into the sky, accompanied by the cries of the peanut “butchers,” the popcorn boys, the lemonade venders,{sic} and the exhortations of the side-show “spieler,” whose flying banners bore the painted reproductions of his “freaks.” Here and there stood unhitched chariots, half filled trunks, trapeze tackle, paper hoops, stake pullers or other “properties” necessary to the show.

Torches flamed at the tent entrances, while oil lamps and lanterns gave light for the loading of the wagons.

There was a constant stream of life shooting in and out from the dressing tent to the “big top,” as gaily decked men, women and animals came or went.

Drowsy dogs were stretched under the wagons, waiting their turn to be dressed as lions or bears. The wise old goose, with his modest grey mate, pecked at the green grass or turned his head from side to side, watching the singing clown, who rolled up the painted carcass and long neck of the imitation giraffe from which two property men had just slipped, their legs still encased in stripes.

Ambitious canvas-men and grooms were exercising, feet in air, in the hope of some day getting into the performers’ ring. Property men stole a minute’s sleep in the soft warm grass while they waited for more tackle to load in the wagons. Children of the performers were swinging on the tent ropes, chattering monkeys sat astride the Shetland ponies, awaiting their entrance to the ring. The shrieks of the hyenas in the distant animal tent, the roaring of the lions and the trumpeting of the elephants mingled with the incessant clamour of the band. And back of all this, pointing upward in mute protest, rose a solemn church spire, white and majestic against a vast panorama of blue, moonlit hills, that encircled the whole lurid picture. Jim’s eyes turned absently toward the church as he sat fumbling with the lock of the little brown satchel.

He had gone from store to store in the various towns where they had played looking for something to inspire wonder in the heart of a miss, newly arrived at her sixteenth year. Only the desperation of a last moment had forced him to decide upon the imitation alligator bag, which he now held in his hand.

It looked small and mean to him as the moment of presentation approached, and he was glad that the saleswoman in the little country store had suggested the addition of ribbons and laces, which he now drew from the pocket of his corduroys. He placed his red and blue treasures very carefully in the bottom of the satchel, and remembered with regret the strand of coral beads which he had so nearly bought to go with them.

He opened the large property trunk by his side, and took from it a laundry box, which held a little tan coat, that was to be Toby’s contribution to the birthday surprise. He was big- hearted enough to be glad that Toby’s gift seemed finer and more useful than his.

It was only when the “Leap of Death” act preceding Polly’s turn was announced, that the big fellow gave up feasting his eyes on the satchel and coat, and hid them away in the big property trunk. She would be out in a minute, and these wonders were not to be revealed to her until the close of the night’s performance.

Jim put down the lid of the trunk and sat upon it, feeling like a criminal because he was hiding something from Polly.

His consciousness of guilt was increased as he recalled how often she had forbidden Toby and himself to rush into reckless extravagances for her sake, and how she had been more nearly angry than he had ever seen her, when they had put their month’s salaries together to buy her the spangled dress for her first appearance. It had taken a great many apologies and promises as to their future behaviour to calm her, and now they had again disobeyed her. It would be a great relief when to-night’s ordeal was over.

Jim watched Polly uneasily as she came from the dressing tent and stopped to gaze at the nearby church steeple. The incongruity of the slang, that soon came from her delicately formed lips, was lost upon him as she turned her eyes toward him.

“Say, Jim,” she said, with a Western drawl, “them’s a funny lot of guys what goes to them church places, ain’t they?”

“Most everybody has got some kind of a bug,” Jim assented; “I guess they don’t do much harm.”

” ‘Member the time you took me into one of them places to get me out a the rain, the Sunday our wagon broke down? Well, that bunch WE butted into wouldn’t a give Sell’s Brothers no cause for worry with that show a’ theirn, would they, Jim?” She looked at him with withering disgust. “Say, wasn’t that the punkiest stunt that fellow in black was doin’ on the platform? You said Joe was only ten minutes gettin’ the tire onto our wheel, but say, you take it from me, Jim, if I had to wait another ten minutes as long as that one, I’d be too old to go on a-ridin’.”

Jim ” ‘lowed” some church shows might be better than “that un,” but Polly said he could have her end of the bet, and summed up by declaring it no wonder that the yaps in these towns was daffy about circuses, if they didn’t have nothin’ better an’ church shows to go to.

One of the grooms was entering the lot with Polly’s horse. She stooped to tighten one of her sandals, and as she rose, Jim saw her sway slightly and put one hand to her head. He looked at her sharply, remembering her faintness in the parade that morning.

“You ain’t feeling right,” he said uneasily.

“You just bet I am,” Polly answered with an independent toss of her head. “This is the night we’re goin’ to make them rubes in there sit up, ain’t it, Bingo?” she added, placing one arm affectionately about the neck of the big, white horse that stood waiting near the entrance.

“You bin ridin’ too reckless lately,” said Jim, sternly, as he followed her. “I don’t like it. There ain’t no need of your puttin’ in all them extra stunts. Your act is good enough without ’em. Nobody else ever done ’em, an’ nobody’d miss ’em if you left ’em out.”

Polly turned with a triumphant ring in her voice. The music was swelling for her entrance.

“You ain’t my MOTHER, Jim, you’re my GRANDmother,” she taunted; and, with a crack of her whip she was away on Bingo’s back.

“It’s the spirit of the dead one that’s got into her,” Jim mumbled as he turned away, still seeing the flash in the departing girl’s eyes.

Chapter III

Polly and Bingo always made the audience “sit up” when they swept into the ring. She was so young, so gaily clad, so light and joyous in all her poses. She seemed scarcely to touch the back of the white horse, as they dashed round the ring in the glare of the tent lights. The other performers went through their work mechanically while Polly rode, for they knew the audience was watching her only.

As for Polly, her work had never lost its first interest. Jim may have been right when he said that the spirit of the dead mother had got into her; but it must have been an unsatisfied spirit, unable to fulfil its ambition in the body that once held it, for it sometimes played strange pranks with Polly. To-night, her eyes shone and her lips were parted in anticipation, as she leaped lightly over the many coloured streamers of the wheel of silken ribbons held by Barker in the centre of the ring, and by Toby and the “tumblers” on the edge of the bank.

With each change of her act, the audience cheered and frantically applauded. The band played faster; Bingo’s pace increased; the end of her turn was coming. The “tumblers” arranged themselves around the ring with paper hoops; Bingo was fairly racing. She went through the first hoop with a crash of tearing paper and cheers from the audience.

“Heigh, Bingo!” she shouted, as she bent her knees to make ready for the final leap.

Bingo’s neck was stretched. He had never gone so fast before. Barker looked uneasy. Toby forgot to go on with his accustomed tricks. Jim watched anxiously from the entrance.

The paper of one hoop was still left unbroken. The attendant turned his eyes to glance at the oncoming girl; the hoop shifted slightly in his clumsy hand as Polly leapt straight up from Bingo’s back, trusting to her first calculation. Her forehead struck the edge of the hoop. She clutched wildly at the air. Bingo galloped on, and she fell to the ground, striking her head against the iron-bound stake at the edge of the ring.

Everything stopped. There was a gasp of horror; the musicians dropped their instruments; Bingo halted and looked back uneasily; she lay unconscious and seemingly lifeless.

A great cry went up in the tent. Panic- stricken, men, women and children began to clamber down from their seats, while others nearest the ground attempted to jump into the ring. Barker, still grasping his long whip, rushed to the girl’s side, and shouted wildly to Toby:

“Say something, you. Get ’em back!”

Old Toby turned his white face to the crowd, his features worked convulsively, but he could not speak. His grief was so grotesque, that the few who saw him laughed hysterically. He could not even go to Polly, his feet seemed pinned to the earth.

Jim rushed into the tent at the first cry of the audience. He lifted the limp form tenderly, and kneeling in the ring held her bruised head in his hands.

“Can’t you get a doctor!” he shouted desperately to Barker.

“Here’s the doctor!” some one called; and a stranger came toward them. He bent over the seemingly lifeless form, his fingers on the tiny wrist, his ear to the heart.

“Well, sir?” Jim faltered, for he had caught the puzzled look in the doctor’s eyes as his deft hand pressed the cruelly wounded head.

“I can’t tell just yet,” said the doctor. “She must be taken away.”

“Where can we take her?” asked Jim, a look of terror in his great, troubled eyes.

“The parsonage is the nearest house,” said the doctor. “I am sure the pastor will be glad to have her there until we can find out how badly she is hurt.”

In an instant Barker was back in the centre of the ring. He announced that Polly’s injuries were slight, called the attention of the audience to the wonderful concert to take place, and bade them make ready for the thrilling chariot race which would end the show.

Jim, blind with despair, lifted the light burden and staggered out of the tent, while the band played furiously and the people fell back into their seats. The Roman chariots thundered and clattered around the outside of the ring, the audience cheered the winner of the race, and for the moment Polly was forgotten.

Chapter IV

THE blare of the circus band had been a sore temptation to Mandy Jones all afternoon and evening. Again and again it had dragged her from her work to the study window, from which she could see the wonders so tantalisingly near. Mandy was housekeeper for the Rev. John Douglas, but the unwashed supper dishes did not trouble her, as she watched the lumbering elephants, the restless lions, the long-necked giraffes and the striped zebras, that came and went in the nearby circus lot. And yet, in spite of her own curiosity, she could not forgive her vagrant “worse half,” Hasty, who had been lured from duty early in the day. She had once dubbed him Hasty, in a spirit of derision, and the name had clung to him. The sarcasm seemed doubly appropriate to-night, for he had been away since ten that morning, and it was now past nine.

The young pastor for a time had enjoyed Mandy’s tirades against her husband, but when she began calling shrilly out of the window to chance acquaintances for news of him, he slipped quietly into the next room to finish to-morrow’s sermon. Mandy renewed her operations at the window with increased vigour when the pastor had gone. She was barely saved from pitching head foremost into the lot, by the timely arrival of Deacon Strong’s daughter, who managed, with difficulty, to connect the excited woman’s feet with the floor.

“Foh de Lor’ sake!” Mandy gasped, as she stood panting for breath and blinking at the pretty, young, apple-faced Julia; “I was suah most gone dat time.” Then followed another outburst against the delinquent Hasty.

But the deacon’s daughter did not hear; her eyes were already wandering anxiously to the lights and the tinsel of the little world beyond the window.

This was not the first time to-day that Mandy had found herself talking to space. There had been a steady stream of callers at the parsonage since eleven that morning, but she had long ago confided to the pastor that she suspected their reasons.

“Dey comes in here a-trackin’ up my floors,” she said, “and a-askin’ why you don’ stop de circus from a-showin’ nex’ to de church and den a-cranin’ afar necks out de winder, till I can’t get no housework done.”

“That’s only human nature,” Douglas had answered with a laugh; but Mandy had declared that she knew another name for it, and had mumbled something about “hypocritters,” as she seized her broom and began to sweep imaginary tracks from in front of the door.

Many times she had made up her mind to let the next caller know just what she thought of “hypocritters,” but her determination was usually weakened by her still greater desire to excite increased wonder in the faces of her visitors.

Divided between these two inclinations, she gazed at Julia now; the shining eyes of the deacon’s daughter conquered, and she launched forth into an eager description of how she had just seen a “wondeful striped anamule” with a “pow’ful long neck walk right out of the tent,” and how he had “come apart afore her very eyes,” and two men had slipped “right out a’ his insides.” Mandy was so carried away by her own eloquence and so busy showing Julia the sights beyond the window, that she did not hear Miss Perkins, the thin-lipped spinster, who entered, followed by the Widow Willoughby dragging her seven-year-old son Willie by the hand.

The women were protesting because their choir practice of “What Shall the Harvest Be?” had been interrupted by the unrequested acompaniment{sic} of the “hoochie coochie” from the nearby circus band.

“It’s scandalous!” Miss Perkins snapped. “Scandalous! And SOMEBODY ought to stop it.” She glanced about with an unmistakable air of grievance at the closed doors, feeling that the pastor was undoubtedly behind one of them, when he ought to be out taking action against the things that her soul abominated.

“Well, I’m sure I’VE done all that _I_ could,” piped the widow, with a meek, martyred air. She was always martyred. She considered it an appropriate attitude for a widow. “He can’t blame ME if the choir is out of key to-morrow.” “Mercy me!” interrupted the spinster, “if there isn’t Julia Strong a-leaning right out of that window a-looking at the circus, and her pa a deacon of the church, and this the house of the pastor. It’s shocking! I must go to her.”

“Ma, let me see, too,” begged Willie, as he tugged at his mother’s skirts.

Mrs. Willoughby hesitated. Miss Perkins was certainly taking a long while for her argument with Julia. The glow from the red powder outside the window was positively alarming.

“Dear me!” she said, “I wonder if there can be a fire.” And with this pretext for investigation, she, too, joined the little group at the window.

A few moments later when Douglas entered for a fresh supply of paper, the backs of the company were toward him. He crossed to the study table without disturbing his visitors, and smiled to himself at the eager way in which they were hanging out of the window.

Douglas was a sturdy young man of eight and twenty, frank and boyish in manner, confident and light-hearted in spirit. He had seemed too young to the deacons when he was appointed to their church, and his keen enjoyment of outdoor games and other healthful sports robbed him of a certain dignity in their eyes. Some of the women of the congregation had been inclined to side with the deacons, for it hurt their vanity that the pastor found so many other interests when he might have been sitting in dark, stuffy rooms discussing theology with them; but Douglas had been either unconscious of or indifferent to their resentment, and had gone on his way with a cheery nod and an unconquerable conviction of right, that had only left them floundering. He intended to quit the room now unnoticed, but was unfortunate enough to upset a chair as he turned from the table. This brought a chorus of exclamations from the women, who chattering rushed quickly toward him.

“What do you think of my naughty boy, Willie?” simpered the widow. “He dragged me quite to the window.”

Douglas glanced amusedly first at the five- foot-six widow and then at the helpless, red- haired urchin by her side, but he made no comment beyond offering a chair to each of the women.

“Our choir practice had to be entirely discontinued,” declared Miss Perkins sourly, as she accepted the proffered chair, adjusted her skirts for a stay, and glanced defiantly at the parson, who had dutifully seated himself near the table.

“I am sure _I_ have as true an ear as anybody,” whimpered the widow, with an injured air; “but I defy ANY ONE to lead ‘What Shall the Harvest Be?’ to an accompaniment like THAT.” She jerked her hand in the direction of the window. The band was again playing the “hoochie coochie.”

“Never mind about the choir practice,” said Douglas, with a smile. “It is SOUL not SKILL that our congregation needs in its music. As for that music out there, it is NOT without its compensations. Why, the small boys would rather hear that band than the finest church organ in the world.”

“And the SMALL BOYS would rather see the circus than to hear you preach, most likely,” snapped Miss Perkins. It was adding insult to injury for him to try to CONSOLE her.

“Of course they would; and so would some of the grown-ups if they’d only tell the truth about it,” said Douglas, laughing.

“What!” exclaimed Miss Perkins.

“Why not?” asked Douglas. “I am sure I don’t know what they do inside the tents, but the parade looked very promising.”

“The PARADE!” the two women echoed in one breath. “Did YOU see the parade?”

“Yes, indeed,” said Douglas, enthusiastically. “But it didn’t compare with the one I saw at the age of eight.” He turned his head to one side and looked into space with a reminiscent smile. The widow’s red-haired boy crept close to him.

“The Shetland ponies seemed as small as mice,” he continued, dreamily, “the elephants huge as mountains, the great calliope wafted my soul to the very skies, and I followed that parade right into the circus lot.”

“Did you seed inside de tent?” Willie asked, eagerly.

“I didn’t have enough money for that,” Douglas answered, frankly. He turned to the small boy and pinched his ear. There was sad disappointment in the youngster’s face, but he brightened again, when the parson confessed that he “peeped.”

“A parson peeping!” cried the thin-lipped Miss Perkins.

“I was not a parson then,” corrected Douglas, good-naturedly.

“You were GOING to be,” persisted the spinster.

“I had to be a boy first, in spite of that fact.”

The sudden appearance of Hasty proved a diversion. He was looking very sheepish.

“Hyar he is, Mars John; look at him!” said Mandy.

“Hasty, where have you been all day?” demanded Douglas, severely.

Hasty fumbled with his hat and sparred for time. “Did yo’ say whar’s I been, sah?”

“Dat’s what he done ast yo’,” Mandy prompted, threateningly.

“I bin ‘ceived, Mars John,” declared Hasty, solemnly. Mandy snorted incredulously. Douglas waited.

“A gemmen in de circus done tole me dis mawnin’ dat ef I carry water fo’ de el’phants, he’ll let me in de circus fo’ nuffin’, an’ I make a ‘greement wid him. Mars John, did yo’ ebber seed an’ el’phant drink?” he asked, rolling his eyes. John shook his head.

“Well, sah, he jes’ put dat trunk a’his’n into de pail, jes’ once an–swish–water gone.”

Douglas laughed; and Mandy muttered, sullenly.

“Well, sah,” continued Hasty, “I tote water fo’ dem el’phants all day long, an’ when I cum roun’ to see de circus, de gemmen won’t let me in. An’ when I try to crawl under de tent, dey pulls me out by de laigs an’ beats me.” He looked from one to the other expecting sympathy.

“Serves you right,” was Mandy’s unfeeling reply. “If yo’s so anxious to be a-totin’ water, jes’ yo’ come along outside and tote some fo’ Mandy.”

“I can’t do no mo’ carryin’, Mandy,” protested Hasty. “I’se hurted in mah arm.”

“What hurt yo’?”


“A tiger?” exclaimed the women in unison.

“Done chawed it mos’ off,” he declared, solemnly. “Deacon Elverson, he seed it, an’ he says I’s hurt bad.”

“Deacon Elverson?” cried the spinster. “Was Deacon Elverson at the circus?”

“He was in de lot, a-tryin’ to look in, same as me,” Hasty answered, innocently.

“You’d better take Hasty into the kitchen,” said Douglas to Mandy, with a dry smile; “he’s talking too much for a wounded man.”

Mandy disappeared with the disgraced Hasty, advising him with fine scorn “to get de tiger to chew off his laigs, so’s he wouldn’t have to walk no mo’.”

The women gazed at each other with lips closed tightly. Elverson’s behaviour was beyond their power of expression. Miss Perkins turned to the pastor, as though he were somehow to blame for the deacon’s backsliding, but before she could find words to argue the point, the timid little deacon appeared in the doorway, utterly unconscious of the hostile reception that Hasty had prepared for him. He glanced nervously from one set face to the other, then coughed behind his hat,

“We’re all very much interested in the circus,” said Douglas. “Can’t you tell us about it?”

“I just went into the lot to look for my son,” stammered the deacon. “I feared Peter had strayed.”

“Why, deacon,” said Mrs. Willoughby. “I just stopped by your house and saw Mrs. Elverson putting Peter to bed.”

The deacon was saved from further embarrassment by an exclamation from Julia, who had stayed at the window. “Oh, look; something has happened!” she cried. “There’s a crowd. They are coming this way.”

Douglas crossed quickly to Julia’s side, and saw an excited mob collecting before the entrance to the main tent. He had time to discover no more before Mandy burst in at the door, panting with excitement and rolling her large, white-rimmed eyeballs.

“Mars John, a little circus girl done fall off her hoss!” she cried. “Dr. Hartley say can dey bring her in heah?”

“Of course,” said Douglas, hurrying outside.

There were horrified exclamations from the women, who were aghast at the idea of a circus rider in the parsonage. In their helpless indignation, they turned upon the little deacon, feeling intuitively that he was enjoying the drama. Elverson was retreating toward the door when he was suddenly thrust aside by Douglas.

In the young pastor’s arms was a white, spangled burden of humanity, her slender arm hung lifeless over his shoulder. The silk stocking was torn from one bruised ankle; her hair fell across her face, veiling it from the unfriendly glances of the women. Douglas passed out of sight up the stairway without looking to the right or left, followed by the doctor.

Mandy reached the front door in time to push back a crowd of intruders. She had barely closed the door when it was thrust open by Jim.

“Where is she?” he demanded.

“Go ‘way f’um here!” cried Mandy, as her eyes unconsciously sought the stairs.

Jim followed the direction of her glance, and cleared the steps at a bound. Mandy pursued him, muttering angrily. Deacon Elverson, too, was about to follow, when a grim reminder from Miss Perkins brought him around and he made for the door instead. He started back on opening it, for standing on the threshold was a clown in his grotesque “make-up”; his white clothes were partially concealed by a large, travelling ulster, held together by one button. In one hand he carried a small leather satchel; in the other a girl’s sailor hat; a little tan coat was thrown across his arm. The giggles of the boy hiding behind his mother’s skirt were the only greetings received by the trembling old man in the doorway.

He glanced uncertainly from one unfriendly face to the other, waiting for a word of invitation to enter; but none came.

“Excuse me,” he said; “I just brought some of her little things. She’d better put on her coat when she goes out. It’s gettin’ kinder chilly.”

He looked again into the blank faces; still no one spoke. He stepped forward, trembling with anxiety. A sudden fear clutched at his heart, the muscles of his face worked pitifully, the red painted lips began to quiver.

“It ain’t– It ain’t that, is it?” he faltered, unable to utter the word that filled him with horror.

Even Miss Perkins was momentarily touched by the anguish in the old man’s voice. “I guess you will find the person you are looking for upstairs,” she answered tartly; and flounced out of the house, calling to Julia and the others to follow her, and declaring that she would soon let folks know how the parson had brought a “circus ridin’ girl” into the parsonage.

The painted clown stood alone, looking from one wall to the other, then he crossed the room and placed the alligator satchel and the little coat and hat on the study table. He was careful not to wrinkle the coat, for this was Polly’s birthday gift. Jim and he had planned to have sandwiches and soda pop on the top of the big wagon when they offered their treasures tonight; but now the wagons would soon be leaving–and where was Polly? He turned to ask this question as Mandy came down the stairs.

“Well, if dar ain’t anudder one,” she cried.

“Never mind, Mandy,” said Douglas, who was just behind her, carrying a small water pitcher, and searching for a bottle of brandy which had been placed in the medicine chest for emergencies.

“You can take these upstairs,” he told her, when he had filled the pitcher with water and found the liquor. Mandy looked threateningly at Toby, then reluctantly went on her way.

Douglas turned to the old man pleasantly. His was the first greeting that Toby had received, and he at last found voice to ask whether Polly was badly hurt.

“The doctor hasn’t told us yet,” said Douglas, kindly.

“I’m her Uncle Toby–not her REAL uncle,” the old man explained, “but that’s what she calls me. I couldn’t come out right away, because I’m on in the concert. Could I see her now, please?”

“Here’s the doctor,” said Douglas, as Hartley came down the stairs, followed by Jim. “Well, doctor, not bad, I hope?”

“Yes, rather bad,” said the doctor, adding quickly, as he saw the suffering in Toby’s face, “but don’t be alarmed. She’s going to get well.”

“How long will it be before we can have her back–before she can ride again?” asked Jim gruffly, as he stood apart, twisting his brown, worn hat in his hands.

“Probably several months,” said the doctor. “No bones are broken, but the ligaments of one ankle are torn, and she received a bad blow on the head. It will be some time before she recovers consciousness.”
“What are we goin’ to do, Jim?” asked Toby, helplessly.

“You needn’t worry, we’ll take good care of her here,” said Douglas, seeing desperation written on their faces.

“Here?” They looked at him incredulously.– And this was a parson!

“Where are her parents?” the doctor asked, looking at Jim and Toby.

“She ain’t got no parents ‘cept Toby an’ me,” replied Jim. “We’ve took care of her ever since she was a baby.”

“Oh, I see,” said the doctor. “Well, one of you’d better stay here until she can be moved.”

“That’s the trouble; we can’t,” said Toby, hanging his head. “You see, sir, circus folks is like soldiers. No matter what happens, the show has to go on, and we got to be in our places.”

“Well, well, she’ll be safe enough, here,” said the doctor. “It is a fortunate thing that Mr. Douglas can manage this. Our town hospital burned down a few months ago, and we’ve been rather puzzled as to what to do with such cases.” He took his leave with a cheery “Good night,” and a promise to look in upon the little patient later. Jim shuffled awkwardly toward the pastor.

“It’s mighty good of you to do this,” he mumbled, “but she ain’t goin’ to be no charity patient. Me and Toby is goin’ to look after her keep.”

“Her wants will be very few,” Douglas answered, kindly. “You needn’t trouble much about that.”

“I mean it,” said Jim, savagely. He met Douglas’s glance of surprise with a determined look, for he feared that his chance of being useful to Polly might be slipping out of his life.

“You mustn’t mind Jim,” the clown pleaded at the pastor’s elbow. “You see pain gets some folks different from others; and it always kinder makes him savage.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Douglas answered, quickly. His own life had been so lonely, that he could understand the selfish yearning in the big man’s heart. “You must do what you think best about these things; Mandy and I will look after the rest.”

Jim hung his head, feeling somehow that the pastor had seen straight into his heart and discovered his petty weakness. He was about to turn toward the door when it was thrown open by Barker.

“Where is she?” shouted the manager, looking from one to the other.

“She can’t come,” said Jim in a low, steady voice, for he knew the storm of opposition with which Barker would meet the announcement.

“Can’t come?” shrieked Barker. “Of course she’ll come. I can’t get along without her. She’s GOT to come.” He looked at Jim, who remained silent and firm. “WHY ain’t she comin’?” he asked, feeling himself already defeated.

“She’s hurt bad,” was Jim’s laconic reply.

“The devil she is!” said Barker, looking at Douglas for confirmation. “Is that right?”

“She won’t be able to travel for some time,” said Douglas.

“Mr. Barker is our manager,” Toby explained, as he edged his way to the pastor’s side.

“Some time!” Barker looked at Douglas as though he were to blame for their misfortune. “Well, you just bet she will,” he declared menacingly.

“See here, Barker, don’t you talk to him like that,” said Jim, facing the manager. “He’s darned square even if he is a parson.” Barker turned away. He was not a bad-hearted man, but he was irritated and upset at losing the star feature of his bill.

“Ain’t this my dod-gasted luck?” he muttered to himself, as his eye again travelled to the boss canvas-man. “You get out a’ here, Jim,” he shouted, “an’ start them wagons. The show’s got to go on, Poll or no Poll.”

He turned with his hand on the door-knob and jerked out a grudging thanks to the pastor. “It’s all fired good of you to take her in,” he said, “but it’s tough to lose her. Good night!” He banged the door and clattered down the steps.

Jim waited. He was trying to find words in which to tell his gratitude. None came; and he turned to go with a short “good-bye!”

“Good night, Jim,” said the pastor. He crossed the room and took the big fellow’s hand.

“Much obliged,” Jim answered gruffly. It was his only polite phrase, and he had taught Polly to say it. Douglas waited until Jim had passed down the steps, then turned to Toby, who still lingered near the table.

“You’ll tell her how it was, me and Jim had to leave her without sayin’ ‘good-bye,’ won’t you, sir?” Toby pleaded.

“Yes, indeed,” Douglas promised.

“I’ll jes’ put this little bit o’ money into her satchel.” He picked up the little brown bag that was to have been Polly’s birthday gift. “Me an’ Jim will be sendin’ her more soon.”

“You’re going to miss her, I’m afraid,” Douglas said, feeling an irresistible desire to gain the old man’s confidence.

“Lord bless you, yes, sir,” Toby answered, turning upon him eagerly. “Me an’ Jim has been father an’ mother and jes’ about everythin’ to that little one. She wan’t much bigger’n a handful of peanuts when we begun a-worryin’ about her.”

“Well, Mandy will do the worrying now,” Douglas laughed. “She’s been dying for a chance to mother somebody all along. Why, she even tried it on me.”

“I noticed as how some of those church people seemed to look kinder queer at me,” said Toby, “and I been a-wonderin’ if mebbe they might feel the same about her.”

“Oh, they’re all right,” Douglas assured him; “they’ll be her friends in no time.”

“She’s fit for ’em, sir,” Toby pleaded. “She’s good, clean into the middle of her heart.”

“I’m sure of it,” Douglas answered.

“I’ve heard how some church folks feels towards us circus people, sir, and I jes’ wanted ye to know that there ain’t finer families, or better mothers or fathers or grandfathers or grandmothers anywhere than we got among us. Why, that girl’s mother rode the horses afore her, and her mother afore that, and her grandmother and grandfather afore that, an’ there ain’t nobody what’s cared more for their good name and their children’s good name an’ her people has. You see, sir, circus folks is all like that; they’s jes’ like one big family; they tends to their business and takes good care o’ theirselves–they has to –or they couldn’t do their work. It’s ’cause I’m leavin’ her with you that I’m sayin’ all this,” the old man apologised.

“I’m glad you told me, Toby,” Douglas answered, kindly. “I’ve never known much about circus folks.”

“I guess I’d better be goin’,” Toby faltered, as his eyes roved hungrily toward the stairway.

“I’ll send you our route, and mebbe you’ll be lettin’ us know how she is.”

“Indeed I will,” Douglas assured him, heartily.

“You might tell her we’ll write ever’ day or so,” he added.

“I’ll tell her,” Douglas promised earnestly.

“Good night!” The old man hesitated, unwilling to go, but unable to find further pretext for staying.

“Good night, Toby.” Douglas extended his hand toward the bent figure that was about to shuffle past him. The withered hand of the white-faced clown rested in the strong grasp of the pastor, and his pale, little eyes sought the face of the stalwart man before him; a numb desolation was growing in his heart; the object for which he had gone on day by day was being left behind and he must stumble forth into the night alone.

“It’s hard to leave her,” he mumbled; “but the show has got to go on.”

The door shut out the bent, old figure. Douglas stood for some time where Toby had left him, still thinking of his prophetic words. His revery was broken by the sounds of the departing wagons, the low muttered curses of the drivers, the shrieking and roaring of the animals, as the circus train moved up the distant hill. “The show has got to go on,” he repeated as he crossed to his study table and seated himself for work in the dim light of the old-fashioned lamp. He put out one hand to draw the sheets of his interrupted sermon toward him, but instead it fell upon a small sailor hat. He twisted the hat absently in his fingers, not yet realising the new order of things that was coming into his life. Mandy tiptoed softly down the stairs. She placed one pudgy forefinger on her lips, and rolled her large eyes skyward. “Dat sure am an angel chile straight from Hebben,” she whispered. “She done got a face jes’ like a little flower.”

“Straight from heaven,” Douglas repeated, as she crossed softly to the table and picked up the satchel and coat.

“You can leave the lamp, Mandy–I must finish to-morrow’s sermon.”

She turned at the threshold and shook her head rather sadly as she saw the imprint of the day’s cares on the young pastor’s face.

“Yo’ mus’ be pow’ful tired,” she said.

“No, no; not at all. Good night, Mandy!”

She closed the door behind her, and Douglas was alone. He gazed absently at the pages of his unfinished sermon as he tapped his idle pen on the desk. “The show has got to go on,” he repeated, and far up the hillside with the slow- moving wagons, Jim and Toby looked with unseeing eyes into the dim, star-lit distance, and echoed the thought: “The show has got to go on.”

Chapter V

THE church bells were ringing their first warning for the morning service when Mandy peeped into the spare bedroom for the second time, and glanced cautiously at the wisp of hair that bespoke a feminine head somewhere between the covers and the little white pillow on the four- poster bed. There was no sound from the sleeper, so Mandy ventured across the room on tiptoe and raised the shades. The drooping boughs of Autumn foliage lay shimmering against the window panes, and through them might be seen the grey outline of the church. Mandy glanced again toward the bed to make sure that the burst of sunlight had not wakened the invalid, then crossed to a small, rickety chair, laden with the discarded finery of the little circus rider.

“Lawdy sakes!” she cried, holding up a spangled dress, admiringly. “Ain’t dat beautiful!” She drew near the mirror, attempting to see the reflection of the tinsel and chiffon against her very ample background of gingham and avoirdupois. “You’d sure be a swell nigger wid dat on, Honey,” she chuckled to herself. “Wouldn’t dem deacons holler if dey done see dat?”

The picture of the deacons’ astonishment at such a spectacle so grew upon Mandy, that she was obliged to cover her generous mouth to shut in her convulsive laughter, lest it awaken the little girl in the bed. She crossed to the old-fashioned bureau which for many months had stood unused against the wall. The drawer creaked as she opened it to lay away the gay, spangled gown.

“It’ll be a mighty long time afore she puts on dem tings agin,” she said, with a doubtful shake of her large, round head.

Then she went back to the chair and picked up Polly’s sandals, and examined the bead-work with a great deal of interest. “Lawdy, lawdy!” she cried, as she compared the size of the sandals to that of her own rough, worn shoes. She was again upon the point of exploding with laughter, as the church bell added a few, final and more emphatic clangs to its warning.

She turned with a start, motioning a vain warning out of the window for the bell to be silent, but the little sleeper was already stirring uneasily on her pillow. One soft arm was thrown languidly over her head. The large, blue eyes opened and closed dreamily as she murmured the words of the clown song that Jim and Toby had taught her years ago:

“Ting ling,

That’s what the bells sing—-“

Mandy reached the side of the bed as the girl’s eyes opened a second time and met hers with a blank stare of astonishment. A tiny frown came into the small, white forehead.

“What’s the matter?” she asked faintly, trying to find something familiar in the black face before her.

“Hush, child, hush,” Mandy whispered; “jes’ you lie puffickly still. Dat’s only de furs’ bell a-ringin’.”

“First bell?” the girl repeated, as her eyes travelled quickly about the strange walls and the unfamiliar fittings of the room. “This ain’t the show!” she cried, suddenly.

“Lor’ bless you, no; dis ain’t no show,” Mandy answered; and she laughed reassuringly.

“Then where am I?” Polly asked, half breathless with bewilderment.

“Nebber you mind ’bout dat,” was Mandy’s unsatisfactory reply.

“But I DO mind,” protested Polly, trying to raise herself to a sitting position. “Where’s the bunch?”

“De wat?” asked Mandy in surprise.

“The bunch–Jim and Toby and the rest of the push!”

“Lor’ bless you!” Mandy exclaimed. “Dey’s done gone ‘long wid de circus, hours ago.”

“Gone! Show gone!” Polly cried in amazement. “Then what am I doing here?”

“Hole on dar, honey! hole on!” Mandy cautioned. “Don’t you ‘cite yo’se’f.”

“Let me alone!” Polly put aside the arm that was trying to place a shawl around her. “I got to get out a-here.”

“You’se got plenty o’ time for dat,” Mandy answered. “yes’ yo’ wait awhile.”

“I can’t wait, and I won’t!” Polly shrieked, almost beside herself with anxiety. “I got to get to the next burg–Wakefield, ain’t it? What time is it? Let me alone! Let me go!” she cried, struggling desperately.

The door opened softly and the young pastor stood looking down at the picture of the frail, white-faced child, and her black, determined captor.

“Here, here! What’s all this about?” he asked, in a firm tone, though evidently amused.

“Who are you?” returned the girl, as she shoved herself quickly back against the pillows and drew the covers close under her chin, looking at him oddly over their top.

“She done been cuttin’ up somefin’ awful,” Mandy explained, as she tried to regain enough breath for a new encounter.

“Cutting up? You surprise me, Miss Polly,” he said, with mock seriousness.

“How do you know I’m Polly?” the little rebel asked, her eyes gleaming large and desperate above the friendly covers.

“If you will be VERY good and keep very quiet, I will try to tell you,” he said, as he crossed to the bed.

“I won’t be quiet, not for nobody,” Polly objected, with a bold disregard of double negatives. “I got to get a move. If you ain’t goin’ to help me, you needn’t butt in.”

“I am afraid I can’t help you to go just yet,” Douglas replied. He was beginning to perceive that there were tasks before him other than the shaping of Polly’s character.

“What are you trying to do to me, anyhow?” she asked, as she shot a glance of suspicion from the pastor to Mandy. “What am I up against?”

“Don’t yuh be scared, honey,” Mandy reassured her. “You’s jes’ as safe here as you done been in de circus.”

“Safer, we hope,” Douglas added, with a smile.

“Are you two bug?” Polly questioned, as she turned her head from one side to the other and studied them with a new idea. “Well, you can’t get none the best of me. I can get away all right, and I will, too.”

She made a desperate effort to put one foot to the floor, but fell back with a cry of pain.

“Dar, dar,” Mandy murmured, putting the pillow under the poor, cramped neck, and smoothing the tangled hair from Polly’s forehead. “Yuh done hurt yo’sef for suah dis time.”

The pastor had taken a step toward the bed. His look of amusement had changed to one of pity.

“You see, Miss Polly, you have had a very bad fall, and you can’t get away just yet, nor see your friends until you are better.”

“It’s only a scratch,” Polly whimpered. “I can do my work; I got to.” One more feeble effort and she succumbed, with a faint “Jimminy Crickets!”

“Uncle Toby told me that you were a very good little girl,” Douglas said, as he drew up a chair and sat down by her side, confident by the expression on her face that at last he was master of the situation. “Do you think he would like you to behave like this?”

“I sure am on the blink,” she sighed, as she settled back wearily upon the pillow.

“You’ll be all right soon,” Douglas answered, cheerily. “Mandy and I will help the time to go.”

“I recollect now,” Polly faltered, without hearing him. “It was the last hoop. Jim seemed to have a hunch I was goin’ to be in for trouble when I went into the ring. Bingo must a felt it, too. He kept a-pullin’ and a-jerkin’ from the start. I got myself together to make the last jump an’–I can’t remember no more.” Her head drooped and her eyes closed.

“I wouldn’t try just now if I were you,” Douglas answered tenderly.

“It’s my WHEEL, ain’t it?” Polly questioned, after a pause.

“Yoah what, chile?” Mandy exclaimed, as she turned from the table, where she had been rolling up the unused bandages left from the doctor’s call the night before.

“I say it’s my creeper, my paddle,” Polly explained, trying to locate a few of her many pains. “Gee, but that hurts!” She tried to bend her ankle. “Is it punctured?”

“Only sprained,” Douglas answered, striving to control his amusement at the expression on Mandy’s puzzled face. “Better not talk any more about it.”

“Ain’t anything the matter with my tongue, is there?” she asked, turning her head to one side and studying him quizzically.

“I don’t think there is,” he replied good-naturedly.

“How did I come to fall in here, anyhow?” she asked, as she studied the walls of the unfamiliar room.

“We brought you here.”

“It’s a swell place,” she conceded grudgingly.

“We are comfortable,” he admitted, as a tell- tale smile again hovered about his lips. He was thinking of the changes that he must presently make in Miss Polly’s vocabulary.

“Is this the ‘big top?’ she asked.

“The–what?” he stammered.

“The main tent,” she explained.

“Well, no; not exactly. It’s going to be your room now, Miss Polly.”

“My room! Gee! Think a’ that!” she gasped, as the possibility of her actually having a room all of her own took hold of her mind. “Much obliged,” she said with a nod, feeling that something was expected of her. She knew no other phrase of gratitude than the one “Muvver” Jim and Toby had taught her to say to the manager when she received from him the first stick of red and white striped candy.

“You’re very welcome,” Douglas answered with a ring of genuine feeling in his voice.

“Awful quiet, ain’t it?” she ventured, after a pause. “Guess that’s what woke me up.”

Douglas laughed good-naturedly at the thought of quiet as a disturber, and added that he feared it might at first be rather dull for her, but that Jim and Toby would send her news of the circus, and that she could write to them as soon as she was better.

“I’ll have to be a heap better ‘an I ever was ‘fore I can write much,” Polly drawled, with a whimsical little smile.

“I will write for you,” the pastor volunteered, understanding her plight.

“You will?” For the first time he saw a show of real pleasure in her eyes.

“Every day,” Douglas promised solemnly.

“And you will show me how?”

“Indeed I will.”

“How long am I in for?” she asked.

“The doctor can tell better about that when he comes.”

“The doctor! So–it’s as bad as that, eh?”

“Oh, that need not frighten you,” Douglas answered consolingly.

“I ain’t frightened,” she bridled quickly; “I ain’t never scared of nothin.’ It’s only ’cause they need me in the show that I’m a-kickin’.”

“Oh, they will get along all right,” he said reassuringly.

“Get along?” Polly flashed with sudden resentment. “Get along WITHOUT MY ACT!” It was apparent from her look of astonishment that Douglas had completely lost whatever ground he had heretofore gained in her respect. “Say, have you seen that show?” She waited for his answer with pity and contempt.

“No,” admitted John, weakly.

“Well I should say you ain’t, or you wouldn’t make no crack like that. I’m the whole thing in that push,” she said with an air of self- complacency; “and with me down and out, that show will be on the bum for fair.”

“I beg your pardon,” was all Douglas could say, confused by the sudden volley of unfamiliar words.

“You’re kiddin’ me,” she said, turning her head to one side as was her wont when assailed by suspicion; “you MUST a seen me ride?”

“No, Miss Polly, I have never seen a circus,” Douglas told her half-regretfully, a sense of his deep privation stealing upon him.

“What!” cried Polly, incredulously.

“Lordy no, chile; he ain’t nebber seed none ob dem tings,” Mandy interrupted, as she tried to arrange a few short-stemmed posies in a variegated bouquet.

“Well, what do you think of that!” Polly gasped. “You’re the first rube I ever saw that hadn’t.” She was looking at him as though he were a curiosity.

“So I’m a rube!” Douglas shook his head with a sad, little smile and good-naturedly agreed that he had sometimes feared as much.

“That’s what we always calls a guy like you,” she explained ingenuously, and added hopefully: “Well, you MUST a’ seen our parade–all the pikers see that–IT don’t cost nothin’.”

“I’m afraid I must also plead guilty to the charge of being a piker,” Douglas admitted half-sheepishly, “for I did see the parade.”

“Well, I was the one on the white horse right behind the lion cage,” she began excitedly. “You remember?”

“It’s a little confused in my mind–” he caught her look of amazement, “just AT PRESENT,” he stammered, feeling her wrath again about to descend upon him.

“Well, I’m the twenty-four sheet stand,” she explained.

“Sheet!” Mandy shrieked from her corner.

“Yes–the billboards–the pictures,” Polly said, growing impatient at their persistent stupidity.

“She sure am a funny talkin’ thing!” mumbled Mandy to herself, as she clipped the withered leaves from a plant near the window.

“You are dead sure they know I ain’t comin’ on?” Polly asked with a lingering suspicion in her voice.

“Dead sure”; and Douglas smiled to himself as he lapsed into her vernacular.

There was a moment’s pause. Polly realised for the first time that she must actually readjust herself to a new order of things. Her eyes again roved about the room. It was a cheerful place in which to be imprisoned–even Polly could not deny that. The broad window at the back with its white and pink chintz curtains on the inside, and its frame of ivy on the outside, spoke of singing birds and sunshine all day long. Everything from the white ceiling to the sweet-smelling matting that covered the floor was spotlessly clean; the cane-bottomed rocker near the curved window-seat with its pretty pillows told of days when a convalescent might look in comfort at the garden beneath; the counterpane, with its old-fashioned rose pattern, the little white tidies on the back of each chair, and Mandy crooning beside the window, all helped to make a homelike picture.

She wondered what Jim and Toby would say if they could see her now, sitting like a queen in the midst of her soft coverlets, with no need to raise even a finger to wait upon herself.

“Ain’t it the limit?” she sighed, and with that Jim and Toby seemed to drift farther away. She began to see their life apart from hers. She could picture Jim with his head in his hands. She could hear his sharp orders to the men. He was always short with the others when anything went wrong with her.

“I’ll bet ‘Muvver Jim’s’ in the dumps,” she murmured, as a cloud stole across the flower-like face; then the tired muscles relaxed, and she ceased to rebel.

“Muvver Jim”? Douglas repeated, feeling that he must recall her to a knowledge of his presence.

“That’s what I calls him,” Polly explained, “but the fellows calls him ‘Big Jim.’ You might not think Jim could be a good mother just to look at him, but he is; only, sometimes, you can’t tell him things you could a real mother,” she added, half sadly.

“And your real mother went away when you were very young?”

“No, she didn’t go AWAY—-“

“No?” There was a puzzled note in the pastor’s voice.

“She went out,” Polly corrected.

“Out!” he echoed blankly.

“Yes–finished– Lights out.”

“Oh, an accident.” Douglas understood at last.

“I don’t like to talk about it.” Polly raised herself on her elbow and looked at him solemnly, as though about to impart a bit of forbidden family history. It was this look in the round eyes that had made Jim so often declare that the kid knew everything.

“Why mother’d a been ashamed if she’d a knowed how she wound up. She was the best rider of her time, everybody says so, but she cashed in by fallin’ off a skate what didn’t have no more ginger ‘an a kitten. If you can beat that?” She gazed at him with her lips pressed tightly together, evidently expecting some startling expression of wonder.

“And your father?” Douglas asked rather lamely, being at a loss for any adequate comment upon a tragedy which the child before him was too desolate even to understand.

“Oh, DAD’S finish was all right. He got his’n in a lion’s cage where he worked. There was nothing slow about his end.” She looked up for his approval.

“For de Lord’s sake!” Mandy groaned as the wonder of the child’s conversation grew upon her.

“And now I’m down and out,” Polly concluded with a sigh.

“But THIS is nothing serious,” said the pastor, trying to cheer her.

“It’s serious ENOUGH, with a whole show a’- dependin’ on you. Maybe you don’t know how it feels to have to knock off work.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” Douglas answered quickly. “I was ill a while ago myself. I had to be in bed day after day, thinking of dozens of things that I ought to be doing.”

“Was you ever floored?” Polly asked with a touch of unbelief as she studied the fine, healthy physique at the side of her bed.

” ‘Deed he was, chile,” Mandy cried, feeling that her opportunity had now arrived; “an’ I had the wors’ time a-keepin’ him in bed. He act jes’ like you did.”

“Did he?” Polly was delighted to find that the pastor had “nothin’ on her,” as she would have put it.

“You ought to have heard him,” continued Mandy, made eloquent by Polly’s show of interest. ” ‘What will dose poor folks do?’ he kept a-sayin’. ‘yes’ yo’ lie where yo’ is,’ I tole him. ‘Dem poor folks will be better off dan dey would be a-comin’ to yoah funeral.’ “

“Poor folks?” Polly questioned. “Do you give money to folks?” We are always itchin’ to get it AWAY from ’em.”

Before Douglas could think of words with which to defend his disapproved methods, Mandy had continued eagerly:

“An’ den on Sunday, when he can’t go to church and preach–” She got no further. A sharp exclamation brought both Mandy and Douglas to attention.

“Preach!” Polly almost shouted. She looked at him with genuine alarm this time.

“That will do, Mandy,” Douglas commanded, feeling an unwelcome drama gathering about his head.

“Great Barnum and Bailey!” Polly exclaimed, looking at him as though he were the very last thing in the world she had ever expected to see. “Are you a skypilot?”

“That’s what he am, chile.” Mandy slipped the words in slyly, for she knew that they were against the pastor’s wishes, but she was unable to restrain her mischievous impulse to sow the seeds of curiosity that would soon bear fruit in the inquisitive mind of the little invalid.

“Will you get onto me a-landin’ into a mix-up like this?” She continued to study the uncomfortable man at her side. “I never thought I’d be a-talkin’to one of you guys. What’s your name?”

“Douglas.” He spoke shortly.

“Ain’t you got no handle to it?”

“If you mean my Christian name, it’s John.”

“Well, that sounds like a skypilot, all right. But you don’t look like I s’posed they did.”

“Why not?”

“I always s’posed skypilots was old and grouchy-like. You’re a’most as good lookin’ as our strong man.”

“I done tole him he was too good-lookin’ to be an unmarried parson,” Mandy chuckled, more and more amused at the pastor’s discomfort.

“Looks don’t play a very important part in my work,” Douglas answered curtly. Mandy’s confidential snickers made him doubly anxious to get to a less personal topic.

“Well, they count for a whole lot with us.” She nodded her head decidedly. “How long you been showin’ in this town, anyhow?”

“About a year,” Douglas answered, with something of a sigh.

“A year!” she gasped. “In a burg like this? You must have an awful lot of laughs in your act to keep ’em a-comin’ that long.” She was wise in the ways of professional success.

“Not many, I’m afraid.” He wondered, for the first time, if this might be the reason for his rather indifferent success.

“Do you give them the same stuff, or have you got a rep?”

“A rep?” he repeated in surprise.

“Sure, repertory–different acts–entries, some calls ’em. Uncle Toby’s got twenty-seven entries. It makes a heap of difference in the big towns where you have a run.”

“Oh, I understand,” Douglas answered in a tone of relief. “Well, I try to say something new each Sunday.”

“What kind of spiels do you give ’em?” she inquired with growing interest.

“I try to help my people to get on better terms with themselves and to forget their week-day troubles.” He had never had occasion to define his efforts so minutely.

“Well, that’s jes’ the same as us,” Polly told him with an air of condescension; “only circuses draws more people ‘an churches.”

“YOURS does seem to be a more popular form of entertainment,” Douglas answered drily. He was beginning to feel that there were many tricks in the entertainment trade which he had not mastered. And, after all, what was his preaching but an effort at entertainment? If he failed to hold his congregation by what he was saying, his listeners grew drowsy, and his sermon fell short of its desired effect. It was true that his position and hers had points of similarity. She was apparently successful; as for himself, he could not be sure. He knew he tried very hard and that sometimes a tired mother or a sad- faced child looked up at him with a smile that made the service seem worth while.

Polly mistook the pastor’s revery for envy, and her tender heart was quick to find consolation for him.

“You ain’t got all the worst of it,” she said. “If we tried to play a dump like this for six months, we’d starve to death. You certainly must give ’em a great show,” she added, surveying him with growing interest.

“It doesn’t make much difference about the show–” Douglas began, but he was quickly interrupted.

“That’s right, it’s jes’ the same with a circus. One year ye give ’em the rottenest kind of a thing, and they eat it up; the next year you hand ’em a knock-out, and it’s a frost. Is that the way it is with a church show?”

“Much the same,” Douglas admitted half- amusedly, half-regretfully. “Very often when I work the hardest, I seem to do the least good.”

“I guess our troubles is pretty much alike.’ Polly nodded with a motherly air of condescension. “Only there ain’t so much danger in your act.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” he laughed.

“Well, you take my tip,” she leaned forward as though about to impart a very valuable bit of information. “Don’t you never go in for ridin’. There ain’t no act on earth so hard as a ridin’ act. The rest of the bunch has got it easy alongside of us. Take the fellows on the trapeze. They always get their tackle up in jes’ the same place. Take the balancin’ acts; there ain’t no difference in their layouts. Take any of ’em as depends on regular props; and they ain’t got much chance a-goin’ wrong. But say, when yer have ter do a ridin’ act, there ain’t never no two times alike. If your horse is feelin’ good, the ground is stumbly; if the ground ain’t on the blink the horse is wobbly. Ther’s always somethin’ wrong somewheres, and yer ain’t never knowin’ how it’s goin’ ter end– especially when you got to do a careful act like mine. There’s a girl, Eloise, in our bunch, what does a SHOWY act on a horse what Barker calls Barbarian. She goes on in my place sometimes– and say, them rubes applauds her as much as me, an’ her stunts is baby tricks alongside o’ mine. It’s enough to make you sick o’ art.” She shook her head dolefully, then sat up with renewed interest.

“You see, mine is careful balancin’ an’ all that, an’ you got ter know your horse an’ your ground for that. Now you get wise ter what I’m a-tellin’ yer, and don’t you NEVER go into ANYTHIN’ what depends on ANYTHIN’ else.”

“Thank you, Polly, I won’t.” Douglas somehow felt that he was very much indebted to her.

“I seen a church show once,” Polly said suddenly.

“You did?” Douglas asked, with new interest.

“Yes,” she answered, closing her lips and venturing no further comment.

“Did you like it?” he questioned, after a pause.

“Couldn’t make nothin’ out of it–I don’t care much for readin’.”

“Oh, it isn’t ALL reading,” he corrected.

“Well, the guy I saw read all of his’n. He got the whole thing right out of a book.”

“Oh, that was only his text,” laughed Douglas. “Text?”

“Yes. And later he tried to interpret to his congrega—-“

“Easy! Easy!” she interrupted; “come again with that, will you?”

“He told them the meaning of what he read.” “Well, I don’t know what he told ’em, but it didn’t mean anythin’ to me. But maybe your show is better’n his was,” she added, trying to pacify him.

Douglas was undecided whether to feel amused or grateful for Polly’s ever-increasing sympathy. Before he could trust his twitching lips to answer, she had put another question to him.

“Are you goin’ to do a stunt while I am here?”

“I preach every Sunday, if that’s what you mean; I preach this morning.”

“Is this Sunday?” she asked, sitting up with renewed energy and looking about the room as though everything had changed colour.


“And YOU GOT A MATINEE?” she exclaimed, incredulously.

“We have services,” he corrected, gently.

“WE rest up on SUNDAYS,” she said in a tone of deep commiseration.

“Oh, I see,” he answered, feeling it no time to enter upon another discussion as to the comparative advantages of their two professions.

“What are you goin’ ter spiel about to-day?”

“About Ruth and Naomi.”

“Ruth and who?”

“Naomi,” he repeated.

“Naomi,” she echoed, tilting her head from side to side, as she listened to the soft cadences of the word. “I never heard that name afore. It ‘ud look awful swell on a billboard, wouldn’t it?”

“It’s a Bible name, honey,” Mandy said, eager to get into the conversation. “Dar’s a balful picture ’bout her. I seed it.”

“I LIKE to look at PICTURES,” Polly answered tentatively. Mandy crossed the room to fetch the large Bible with its steel engravings.

“We got a girl named Ruth in our ‘Leap of Death’ stunt. Some of the folks is kinder down on ‘er, but I ain’t.”

She might have told Douglas more of her forlorn, little friend, but just then Mandy came to the bed, hugging a large, old-fashioned Bible, and Douglas helped to place the ponderous book before the invalid.

“See, honey, dar dey is,” the old woman said, pointing to the picture of Ruth and Naomi.

“Them’s crackerjacks, ain’t they?” Polly gasped, and her eyes shone with wonder. “Which one ‘s Ruth?”

“Dis one,” said Mandy, pointing with her thumb.

“Why, they’re dressed just like our chariot drivers. What does it say about ’em?”

“You can read it for yourself,” Douglas answered gently. There was something pathetic in the eagerness of the starved little mind.

“Well, I ain’t much on readin’–OUT LOUD,” she faltered, growing suddenly conscious of her deficiencies. “Read it for me, will you?”

“Certainly,” and he drew his chair nearer to the bed. One strong hand supported the other half of the Bible, and his head was very near to hers as his deep, full voice pronounced the solemn words in which Ruth pleaded so many years before.

” ‘Entreat me not to leave thee,’ ” he read, ” ‘or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’ “

He stopped to ponder over the poetry of the lines.

“Kind o’ pretty, ain’t it?” Polly said softly. She felt awkward and constrained and a little overawed.

“There are far more beautiful things than that,” Douglas assured her enthusiastically, as the echo of many such rang in his ears.

“There are?” And her eyes opened wide with wonder.

“Yes, indeed,” he replied, pitying more and more the starvation of mind and longing to bring to it floods of light and enrichment.

“I guess I’d LIKE to hear YOU spiel,” and she fell to studying him solemnly.

“You would?” he asked eagerly.

“Is there any more to that story?” she asked, ignoring his question.

“Yes, indeed.”

“Would you read me a little more?” She was very humble now.

“Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me and more also, if ought but death part me and thee.’ “

Their eyes met. There was a long pause. Suddenly the sharp, sweet notes of the church bell brought John Douglas to his feet with a start of surprise.

“Have you got to go?” Polly asked regretfully.

“Yes, I must; but I’ll read the rest from the church. Open the window, Mandy!” And he passed out of the door and quickly down the stairs.

Chapter VI

WHEN John Douglas’s uncle offered to educate his nephew for the ministry, the boy was less enthusiastic than his mother. He did not remonstrate, however, for it had been the custom of generations for at least one son of each Douglas family to preach the gospel of Calvinism, and his father’s career as an architect and landscape gardener had not left him much capital.

Douglas, senior, had been recognised as an artist by the few who understood his talents, but there is small demand for the builder of picturesque houses in the little business towns of the Middle West, and at last he passed away, leaving his son only the burden of his financial failure and an ardent desire to succeed at the profession in which his father had fared so badly. The hopeless, defeated look on the departed man’s face had always haunted the boy, who was artist enough to feel his father’s genius intuitively, and human enough to resent the injustice of his fate.

Douglas’s mother had suffered so much because of the impractical efforts of her husband, that she discouraged the early tendencies of the son toward drawing and mathematics and tried to direct his thoughts toward creeds and Bible history. When he went away for his collegiate course, she was less in touch with him; and he was able to steal time from his athletics to devote to his art. He spent his vacations in a neighbouring city before a drawing board in the office of a distinguished architect, his father’s friend.

Douglas was not a brilliant divinity student, and he was relieved when at last he received his degree in theology and found himself appointed to a small church in the Middle West.

His step was very bright the morning he first went up the path that led to his new home. His artistic sense was charmed by the picturesque approach to the church and parsonage. The view toward the tree-encircled spire was unobstructed, for the church had been built on the outskirts of the town to allow for a growth that had not materialised. He threw up his head and gazed at the blue hills, with their background of soft, slow-moving clouds. The smell of the fresh earth, the bursting of the buds, the forming of new life, set him thrilling with a joy that was very near to pain.

He stopped half way up the path and considered the advantages of a new front to the narrow- eaved cottage, and when his foot touched the first step of the vine-covered porch, he was far more concerned about a new portico than with any thought of his first sermon.

His speculations were abruptly cut short by Mandy, who bustled out of the door with a wide smile of welcome on her black face, and an unmistakable ambition to take him immediately under her motherly wing. She was much concerned because the church people had not met the new pastor at the station and brought him to the house. Upon learning that Douglas had purposely avoided their escort, preferring to come to his new home the first time alone, she made up her mind that she was going to like him.

Mandy had long been a fixture in the parsonage. She and her worse half, Hasty Jones, had come to know and discuss the weaknesses of the many clergymen who had come and gone, the deacons, and the congregation, both individually and collectively. She confided to Hasty, that she “didn’t blame de new parson fer not wantin’ to mix up wid dat ar crowd.”

In the study that night, when she and Hasty helped Douglas to unpack his many boxes of books, they were as eager as children about the drawings and pictures which he showed them. His mind had gone beyond the parsonage front now, and he described to them the advantage of adding an extra ten feet to the church spire.

Mandy felt herself almost an artist when she and Hasty bade the pastor good night, for she was still quivering from the contagion of Douglas’s enthusiasm. Here, at last, was a master who could do something besides find fault with her.

“I jest wan’ to be on de groun’ de firs’ time dat Mars Douglas and dat ere Deacon Strong clinches,” she said to Hasty as they locked the doors and turned out the hall light. “Did yuh done see his jaw?” she whispered. “He look laughin’ enough NOW, but jes’ yuh wait till he done set dat’ere jaw a his’n and afar ain’t nobody what’s goin’ ter unsot it.”

“Maybe dar ain’t goin’ ter be no clinchin’,” said Hasty, hoping for Mandy’s assurance to the contrary.

“What?” shrieked Mandy. “Wid dat ‘ere sneakin’ Widow Willoughby already a-tellin’ de deacons how to start de new parson a-goin’ proper?”

“Now, why you’s always a-pickin’ onto dat ‘ere widow?” asked Hasty, already enjoying the explosion which he knew his defence of the widow was sure to excite.

“I don’ like no woman what’s allus braggin’ ’bout her clean floors,” answered Mandy, shortly. She turned out the last light, and tiptoed upstairs, trying not to disturb the pastor.

John Douglas was busy already with pencil and paper, making notes of the plans for the church and parsonage, which he would perfect later on. Alas, for Douglas’s day dreams! It was not many weeks before he understood with a heavy heart that the deacons were far too dull and uninspired to share his faith in beauty as an aid to man’s spiritual uplift.

“We think we’ve done pretty well by this church,” said Deacon Strong, who was the business head, the political boss, and the moral mentor of the small town’s affairs. “Just you worry along with the preachin’, young man, and we’ll attend to the buyin’ and buildin’ operations.”

Douglas’s mind was too active to content itself wholly with the writing of sermons and the routine of formal, pastoral calls. He was a keen humanitarian, so little by little, he came to be interested in the heart stories and disappointments of many of the village unfortunates, some of whom were outside his congregation. The mentally sick, the despondent, who needed words of hope and courage more than dry talks on theology, found in him an ever ready friend and adviser, and these came to love and depend on him. But he was never popular with the creed- bound element of the church.

Mandy had her wish about being on the spot the first time that the parson’s jaw squared itself at Deacon Strong. The deacon had called at the parsonage to demand that Douglas put a stop to the boys playing baseball in the adjoining lot on Sunday. Douglas had been unable to see the deacon’s point of view. He declared that baseball was a healthy and harmless form of exercise, that the air was meant to be breathed, and that the boys who enjoyed the game on Sunday were principally those who were kept indoors by work on other days. The close of the interview was unsatisfactory both to Douglas and the deacon.

“Dey kinder made me cold an’ prickly all up an’ down de back,” Mandy said later, when she described their talk to Hasty. “Dat ‘ere deacon don’ know nuffin’ ’bout gittin’ ‘roun’ de parson.” She tossed her head with a feeling of superiority. She knew the way. Make him forget himself with a laugh. Excite his sympathy with some village underdog.

Chapter VII

MANDY had secretly enjoyed the commotion caused by the little circus-rider being left in the parsonage, at first, because of her inborn love of mischief, and later, because Polly had become second in her heart only to the pastor. She went about her work, crooning softly during the days of Polly’s convalescence. The deep, steady voice of the pastor reading aloud in the pretty window overhead was company. She would often climb the stairs to tell them some bit of village gossip, and leave them laughing at a quaint comment about some inquisitive sister of the church, who had happened to incur her displeasure.

As spring came on, Douglas carried Polly down to the sun-lit garden beneath the window; and Mandy fluttered about arranging the cushions with motherly solicitude.

More days slipped by, and Polly began to creep through the little, soft-leaved trees at the back of the church, and to look for the deep, blue, sweet-scented violets. When she was able, Douglas took her with him to visit some of the outlying houses of the poor. Her woman’s instinct was quick to perceive many small needs in their lives that he had overlooked, and to suggest simple, inexpensive joys that made them her devoted friends.

Their evenings were divided between making plans for these unfortunates and reading aloud from the Bible or other books.

When Polly gained courage, Douglas sometimes persuaded her to read to him–and the little corrections that he made at these times soon became noticeable in her manner of speech. She was so eager, so starved for knowledge, that she drank it as fast as he could give it. It was during their talks about grammar that Mandy generally fell asleep in her rocker, her unfinished sewing still in her lap.

When a letter came from Jim and Toby, it was always shared

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