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Winding back and forth across the picture was the long train of tableau-cars and animal cages, diminishing with distance until away, 'way up in the upper left-hand corner the hindmost van was all immersed in the blue-and-yellow haze just this side of out-of-sight. That with our own eyes we should behold the glories here set forth we knew right well. Cruel Fortune might cheat us of the raptures to be had inside the tents, but the street-parade was ours, for it was free.
It seems to me that we did not linger so long before these pictures, nor before those of the rare and costly animals, which, if we but knew it, were the main reason why we were permitted to go (if we did get to go). To look at these animals is improving to the mind, and since we could not go alone, an older person had to accompany us, and . . . and . . . I trust I make myself clear. But we didn't want to improve our minds if it was a possible thing to avoid it. The pictures of these animals were in the joggerfy book anyhow, though not in colors, unless we had a box of paints. There can be no doubt that the show-bill pictures of the menageries were in colors. I seem to recollect that Mr. Galbraith, who kept the dry-goods store across the street from the engine-house, was very much exercised in his mind about the way one of these pictures was printed. It was the counterfeit presentment of the Hip-po-pot-a-mus, or Behemoth of Holy Writ. His objection to the hip - you know was not because its open countenance was so fearsome, but because it was so red. Six feet by two of flaming crimson across the street in the afternoon sun made it necessary for him to take the goods to the back window of the store to show to customers. He didn't like it a bit.
No. Neither before the large and expensive pictures of the street-parade, nor the large and expensive wild beasts did we linger. The swarm was thickest, sand the jabbering loudest, the "O-o-oh's," the "M! Looky's" the "Geeminently's" shrillest, in front of where the deeds of high emprise were set forth. Men with their fists clenched on their breasts, and their neatly slippered toes touching the backs of their heads, crashed through paper-covered hoops beneath which horses madly coursed; they flew through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young men on the flying; trapeze, or they posed in living pyramids.
And as the sons of men assembled themselves together, Satan came also, the spirit I, that evermore denies.
"A-a-ah!" sneers his embodiment in one whose crackling voice cannot make up its mind whether to be bass or treble, "A-a-ah, to the show they down't do hay-uf what they is in the pitchers."
A chilling silence follows. A cold uneasiness strikes into all the listeners. We are all made wretched by destructive criticism. Let us alone in our ideals. Let us alone, can't you?
"Now . . . now," pursues the crackle-voiced Mephisto, pointing to where Japanese jugglers defy the law of gravitation and other experiences of daily life, "now, they cain't walk up no ladder made out o' reel sharp swords."
"They can so walk up it," stoutly declares one boy. Hurrah! A champion to the rescue! The others edge closer to him. They like him.
"Nah, they cain't. How kin they? They'd cut their feet all to pieces."
"They kin so. I seen 'em do it. The time I went with Uncle George I seen a man, a Japanee . . . . Yes, sharp. Cut paper with 'em. . . . A-a-ah, I did so. I guess I know what I seen an' what I didn't."
The little boys breathe easier, but fearing another onslaught, make all haste to call attention to the most fascinating one of all, the picture of a little boy standing up on top of his daddy's head. And, as if that weren't enough, his daddy is standing up on a horse and the horse is going round the ring lickety-split. And, as if these circumstances weren't sufficiently trying, that little show-boy is standing on only one foot. The other is stuck up in the air like five minutes to six, and he has hold of his toe with his hand. I'll bet you can't do that just as you are on the ground, let alone on your daddy's head, and him on a horse that's going like sixty. Now you just try it once. Just try it. . . . Aa-ah! Told you you couldn't.
Now, how the show-actors can do that looks very wonderful to you. It really is very simple. I'll tell you about it. All show-actors are born double-jointed. You have only two hip-joints. They have four. And it's the same all over with them. Where you have only one joint, they have two. So, you see, the wonder isn't how they can bend themselves every which way, but how they can keep from doubling up like a foot-rule.
And another thing. Every day they rub themselves all over with snake-oil. Snakes are all limber and supple, and it stands to reason that if you take and try out their oil, which is their express essence, and then rub that into your skin, it will make you supple and limber, too. I should think garter-snakes would do all right, if you could catch enough of them, but they 're so awfully scarce. Fishworms won't do. I tried 'em. There's no grease in 'em at all. They just dry up.
And I suppose you know the reason why they stay on the horse's back. They have rosin on their feet. Did you ever stand up on a horse's back? I did. It was out to grandpap's, on old Tib. . . . No, not very long. I didn't have any rosin on my feet. I was going to put some on, but my Uncle Jimmy said: "Hay! What you got there?" I told him. "Well," he says, "you jist mosey right into the house and put that back in the fiddle-box where you got it. Go on, now. And if I catch you foolin' with my things again, I'll . . . . Well, I don't know what I will do to you." So I put it back. Anyhow, I don't think rosin would have helped me stay on a second longer, because old Tib, with an intelligence you wouldn't have suspected in her, walked under the wagon-shed and calmly scraped me off her back.
And did you ever try to walk the tight-rope? You take the clothes-line and stretch it in the grape-arbor - better not make it too high at first - and then you take the clothes-prop for a balance-pole and go right ahead - er - er as far as you can. The real reason why you fall off so is that you don't have chalk on your shoes. Got to have lots of chalk. Then after you get used to the rope wabbling so all-fired fast, you can do it like a mice. And while I'm about it, I might as well tell you that if you ever expect to amount to a hill of beans as a trapeze performer you must have clear-starch with oil of cloves in it to rub on your hands. Finest thing in the world. My mother wouldn't let me have any. She said she couldn't have me messing around that way, I blame her as much as anybody that I am not now a competent performer on the trapeze.
I don't know that I had better go into details about the state of mind boys are in from the time the bills are first put up until after the circus has actually departed. I don't mean the boys that get to go to everything that comes along, and that have pennies to spend for candy, and all like that, whenever they ask for it. I mean the regular, proper, natural boys, that used to be "Back Home," boys whose daddies tormented them with: "Well, we Il see - " that's so exasperating! - or, "I wish you wouldn't tease, when you know we can't spare the money just at present." A perfectly foolish answer, that last. They had money to fritter away at the grocery, and the butcher-shop, and the dry-goods store, but when it came to a necessity of life, such as going to the circus, they let on they couldn't afford it. A likely story.
"Only jist this little bit of a once. Aw, now, please. Please, cain't I go? Aw now, I think you might. Aw now, woncha? Aw, paw. I ain't been to a reely show for ever so long. Aw, the Scripture pammerammer, that don't count. Aw, paw. Please cain't I go? Aw, please!" And so forth and so on, with much more of the same sort. No, I can't go into details. it's too terrible.
Even those of us whose daddies said plainly and positively: "Now, I can't let you go. No, Willie. That's the end of it. You can't go." Even those, I say, hoped against hope. It simply could not be that what the human heart so ardently longed for should be denied by a loving father. This same conviction applies to other things, even when we are grown up. It is against nature and the constituted scheme of things that we cannot have what we want so badly. (And, in general, it may be said that we can have almost anything we want, if we only want it hard enough. That's the trouble with us. We don't want it hard enough.) We boys lay there in the shade and pulled the long stalks of grass and nibbled off the sweet, yellow ends, as we dramatized miracles that could happen just as well as not, if they only would, consarn 'em! For instance, you might be going along the street, not thinking of anything but how much you wanted to go to the circus, and how sorry you were because you hadn't the money, and your daddy wouldn't give you any; and first thing you 'd know, you 'd stub your toe on something, and you'd look down and there'd be a half a dollar that somebody had lost - Gee! If it would only be that way! But we knew it wouldn't, because only the other Sunday, Brother Longenecker had said: "The age of miracles is past." So we had to give up all hopes. Oh, it's terrible. Just terrible!
But some of the boys lay there in the grass with their hands under their heads, looking up at the sky, and making little white spots come in and out on the corners of their jaws, they had their teeth set so hard, and were chewing so fiercely. You could almost hear their minds creak, scheming, scheming, scheming. I suppose there were ways for boys to make money in those times, but they always fizzled out when you came to try them, to say nothing of the way they broke into your day. Why, you had scarcely any time to play in. You 'd go 'round to some neighbor's house with a magazine, and you'd say: "Good afternoon, Mrs. Slaymaker. Do you want to subscribe for this?" Just the way you had studied out you would say. And she'd take it, and go sit down with it, and read it clear through while you played with the dog, and then when she got all through with it, and had read all the advertisements, she'd hand it back to you and say: No, she didn't believe she would. They had so many books and papers now that she didn't get a chance hardly to read in any of them, let alone taking any new ornes. Were you getting many new subscribers? _ Just commenced, eh? Well, she wished you all the luck in the world. How was your ma? That's good. Did she hear from your Uncle John's folks since they moved out to Kansas?
I have heard that there were boys who, under the dire necessity of going to the circus, got together enough rags, old iron, and bottles to make up the price, sold 'em, collected the money, and went. I don't believe it. I don't believe it. We all had, hidden under the back porch, our treasure-heap of rusty grates, cracked fire-pots, broken griddles and lid-lifters, tub-hoops and pokers, but I do not believe that any human boy ever collected fifty cents' worth. I want you to understand that fifty cents is a whole lot of money,
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