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- The Rose in the Ring - 10/73 -


It was something new and pleasant and warm; a glow, a light, an uplifting. This sweet, wonderfully pretty girl was his friend! She believed in him.

"No, dear," replied Mrs. Braddock, lowering her eyes in sudden humiliation.

The attendant was speaking. "Mr. Braddock, that feller out at the door has got tired waitin'. He says he's comin' back yere to see you. What'll I say to 'im? He's got a warrant an' he's got some of the town marshal's men with 'im now."

"I'll go out and see him right away. The boy ain't with this show."

With a slow, meaning look at his wife, he turned to follow the man. Over his shoulder he called to David:

"Go in there with Joey. He'll tell you where to hide if you have to. Be quick about it."

He was gone. The tumblers began to pour in from the main tent.

Christine clutched her mother's arm in the agony of desperation.

"Did--did he take the money from--_him_?" she demanded tremulously.

Mrs. Braddock looked at David, an abject appeal in her eyes. He smiled blandly and lied nobly, like a true Virginia gentleman.

"No, Miss Braddock. Instead of that, he has hired me to go with the show."

"Oh, I am so glad," she cried. "I knew he would not take your money."

David swallowed hard; and then, fearing to speak again or to meet her radiant eyes, he hastened after Grinaldi.

A moment later he was in the center of an excited, whispering group of performers, in various conditions of attire, but singularly alike in their state of mind. They were softly but impressively consigning Thomas Braddock to the most remote corner in purgatory. They plied David with questions. He reported the impatience of the officers, and Braddock's decision to protect him for the time being.

"I saw them chaps out there, standin' by the menagerie doors," said the contortionist. "Spotted 'em right away, I did."

A bareback rider looked in. His horse already had started for the ring.

"Lay low!" he whispered. "One of the boys says they won't be put off by Brad. They're going to search the tent with the town marshal."

Grinaldi, who had been deep in thought, suddenly slapped his knee and uttered a cackle of satisfaction.

"I've got it! We'll pull the wool over their eyes, by Jinks! Follow me, boy, and do just wot I tells you. I'm--I'm going to take you into the ring with me. By Jupiter, they won't think of looking for you there."

Attended by a chorus of approval, he shoved the stupefied David out before him and hustled him across the space that lay between them and the main top, all the while whispering eager instructions in his ear.

"You just follow behind me, keeping step all the time--about three steps behind me. Don't look to right or left. Keep your eyes on the middle of my back. Nobody knows you, so don't go into a funk, my lad. It's life or death for you, mebby. I'll get a word to Briggs, the ringmaster. He'll help you out, too. Just follow me around the ring, three steps behind. Stop when I stop, walk when I do. Look silly, that's all. I'll think of something else to tell you to do after we're out there. And _we'll stay out there till the show's over_."

Trembling in every joint, David paused at the entrance. Mrs. Braddock came running up from behind.

"I've just heard," she whispered. "Do as Joey tells you. Don't be afraid."

"I'll try," chattered David, pathetic figure of Momus.

"Wait," she whispered, as much to Joey Grinaldi as to the novice. "David, will you trust me to take care of your money until to-morrow?"

Without a word he slipped his hand into his shirt front and produced the flat purse. He handed it to her.

"Good!" exclaimed Joey Grinaldi.

The next instant David Jenison, aristocrat, was trudging dizzily toward the sawdust ring, his heart beating like mad, his knees trembling.

Thomas Braddock, detaining the officers on the opposite side of the ring, saw the strange figure and for a moment was near to losing his composure. Then he grasped the situation and exulted. He boldly escorted Blake and the town authorities to the dressing-tent, where he assisted in the search and the questioning.

Before the expiration of half an hour's time every man, woman and child connected with Van Slye's Great and Only Mammoth Shows knew that David Jenison, the murderer, was among them and that he was to be protected. The word went slyly, by whisper, from car to ear, down to the lowliest canvasman. It spread to the throng of crooks, pickpockets and fakirs that followed the show; it reached to the freaks in the sideshow. And not one among them all would have betrayed him by sign or deed. They stuck together like leeches, these good and bad nomads, and they asked few questions. And so it was that David Jenison made his first appearance as a clown in the sawdust ring.

CHAPTER IV

A STKANGER APPEAES ON THE SCENE

An hour after the conclusion of the performance David was on the road once more; not, as before, afoot and weary, but safely ensconced in one of the huge, lumbering "tableau" wagons used for the transportation of canvas and perishable properties. The boss canvasman, not the hardened brute that he appeared to be, had stored him away in the damp interior of the ponderous wagon, first providing him with dry blankets on which he could sleep with some security and no comfort. There was little space between his mountainous, shifting bed and the roof of the van; and there would have been no air had not the driver of the four-horse team obligingly opened a narrow window beneath the seat on which he rode.

With considerable caution the fugitive had been smuggled into the van, under the very noses of his pursuers, so to speak. Somewhat dazed and half sick with anxiety, he obeyed every instruction of his friend the clown.

Blake and his men had watched the tearing down of the tent, the loading of the entire concern and its subsequent departure down the night-shrouded country pike. That Blake was not fully satisfied with the story told to him by Thomas Braddock, and somewhat doubtfully supported by his own investigations, is proved by the fact that he decided to follow the show until he was positively assured that his quarry was not being shielded by the circus people. With no little astuteness he and his companion resolved that they could accomplish nothing by working openly: their only chance lay in the ability to keep the circus people from knowing that they were following them. In this they counted without their hosts. At no time during the next three days were their movements unknown to the clever band of rascals who followed the show for evil purposes, and who, with perfect integrity, kept the proprietor advised of every step taken and of every disguise affected. Blake was not the first nor the last confident officer of the law to more than meet his match in the effort to outwit an old-time road circus. He was butting his head against a stone wall. Consummate rascality on one hand, unwavering loyalty on the other: he had but little chance against the combination. The lowliest peanut-vender was laughing in his sleeve at the sleuth; and the lowliest peanut-vender kept the vigil as resolutely as any one else.

Despite his uncomfortable position and the natural thrills of excitement and peril, David was sound asleep before the wagon was fairly under way. Complete exhaustion surmounted all other conditions. He was vaguely conscious of the sombre rumbling of the huge wagon and of the regular clicking of the wheel-hubs, so characteristic of the circus caravan and so dear to the heart of every boy. His bones ached, his stomach was crying out for food, and his body was chilled; but none of these could withstand the assault of slumber. He would have slept if Blake's hand had been on his shoulder.

Out into the country rolled the big wagon, at two o'clock in the morning, following as closely as possible the flickering rear lantern of the vehicle ahead. The rain had ceased falling, but there was a mist in the air, blown from the trees that lined the road. Those of the circus men who were compelled to ride outside the wagons were clothed in their rubber coats; their more fortunate companions slept under cover on the pole wagons, on top of the seat wagons, or in stretchers swung beneath the property wagons or cages. Others, still more fortunate, slept in property or trunk vans, or in the band chariots. The leading performers and officials, including all of the women, traveled by train. The gamblers, pickpockets and fakirs got along as best they could from town to town by stealing passage on the freight trains. Times there were, however, when the entire aggregation traveled with the caravan. On such occasions the luckless roustabout gave up his precarious bedroom to the "ladies" and sat all night in dubious solitude atop of his lodging house. These emergencies were infrequent: they arose only when railroad facilities were not to be had, or--alas! when the exchequer was depleted.

On this murky night the performers remained over in S--, to take an early train for the next stand. The railroad show was then an untried experiment. Barnum and Coup and others were planning the great innovation, but there was a grave question as to its practicability. Later on Coup made the venture, transporting his show by rail. Such men as Yankee Robinson, Cole and even P. T. Barnum traveled by wagon road until that brave attempt was made. The railroad was soon to solve the "bad roads" problem for all of them. Short jumps would no longer be necessary; profitable cities could be substituted for the small towns that every circus had to make on account of the distances and the laborious mode of transportation. Still, if you were to chat awhile with an old-time showman, you would soon discover that the "road circus" of early days was the real one, and that the scientifically handled concern of to-day is as utterly devoid of the


The Rose in the Ring - 10/73

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