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- The Rose in the Ring - 30/73 -
"I saw him just now," she said after a moment. "He didn't have a scratch and he is perfectly mad with joy over the whole thing."
"He could fall out of a balloon and not even get a lump on his head, that feller could," grumbled the contortionist, who had two very black eyes and several "lumps."
Braddock, partially sobered by the serious consequences likely to arise from the riot, spent an uncomfortable day in the town. The circus manager succeeded in half-way convincing the authorities that his people had been set upon and were in no way responsible for the affray. Threats of suit against the town for damages had the desired effect: the authorities were eager to let the aggregation depart.
But in that sanguinary conflict David Jenison had won more than his spurs; these volatile, impressionable people, in disdain for their own positions in life, were saying, "Blood will tell." Down to the lowliest menial the sentiment regarding him underwent a subtle but noticeable change. He was no longer the guileless outsider: he was exalted even among those who once had scoffed.
Anxiety, worry and a mighty craving for exoneration, with a glorious return to the land of his people, triumphant in his innocence, were telling on the proud, high-spirited youth. A gauntness settled in his face; there was a hungry, wistful look in his eyes; his ever-winning smile responded less readily than before; sharp lines began to reveal themselves, flanking his nostrils. His heart was bitter. The weeks had brought him to a fuller realization of the horrid blight upon his fair name; he had come to see the wreck in all its cold, brutal aspects. The realization that he was a hunted, branded thing, with a price on his head, sank deeper and deeper into his soul. Hunted! Chased as a criminal! He, a Jenison of Virginia!
Nor was he permitted at any time to feel that he was safe from arrest. Thomas Braddock, savagely disappointed on that shameful night, made life miserable for the young clown. Only a sodden hope that there was still a chance to secure the treasure kept him from actually doing bodily harm to David, to such an extent that he might be forced to leave the show. That hope, and the ever-present dread of the still absent Colonel Grand, moved Braddock to tactics so ugly that a constant watch was being observed by those who sought to shield not only the Virginian but the man's wife and child.
The proprietor was sinking lower and lower in the mire of dissoluteness. There was no longer any pretense of sobriety. He drank with vicious disregard for the common aspects of decency. He was ugly, quarrelsome, resentful of any effort on the part of his friends to guide him out of the slough in which he was losing himself. More than one kindly disposed person had been knocked down for his "interference," as Braddock called it. David Jenison shrank from contact with him, revolting against the language he used, despising him for the threats he held over him, distressed by the snarling requests for money. No day passed that did not bring to David an almost irresistible impulse to escape this loathsome man by deserting the show. A single magnet held him: Christine. He endured torment and obloquy that he might always be there to defend her and the sad-eyed, broken woman who had defended him.
If it had not been for the plight of these loved ones he might have persuaded himself to go back to Virginia and give himself up for trial. Time had encouraged him in the belief that his innocence would prevail. He had talked it over with Joey and Dick Cronk. Both of them had advised him to stand to his original determination to find Isaac Perry before putting himself in jeopardy.
Colonel Grand's prolonged absence was the cause of much speculation and uneasiness. The entire company lived in dread of his return, yet each individual was eager to have it over with. No man liked the new partner; every one knew where his real interest lay. Thomas Braddock cursed him in secret for remaining away while the show was tottering on its last legs. Mrs. Braddock never spoke of the man, but it was not difficult to interpret the anxious, daunted expression in her eyes as, day after day, she appeared at the tent; nor was the temporary gleam of relief less plain when she convinced herself that he was not on the grounds.
There was method in Colonel Grand's aloofness. He held off resolutely, with almost satanic cruelty, while Thomas Braddock and the weather brought the show to the last stages of desperation. At the psychological moment he would present himself and exact his pound of flesh.
Christine's attitude toward her father changed forever on the night of David's luckless appeal. She had the whole story of her mother's life before she went to bed that night. From that unhappy hour of truth she gave all of her love to the abused gentlewoman whose willfulness and folly had resulted in her own appearance in the world. The knowledge that David knew the story, with all others, at first raised a sombre barrier between them, which was broken down by the young man's tender consideration and devotion.
She was no longer the gay, sprightly creature he had known at first. Now she lived well within herself, a curb on her spirits that seldom relaxed except when she was happily alone with her mother and David. Then she breathed freely and cast off the weight that oppressed her.
There was no mistaking David's attitude toward this dainty, bewitching comrade of those troublous, trying days. The whole company saw, approved, and was delighted.
Joey alone spoke to him of what was in the minds of all. "Jacky," he said one blustering evening, "I see how it is with you now; but is it going to endure? Don't blush, my lad, and don't flare up. We all know you're terrible took with 'er. It's nothink to be ashamed of. Wot I'm going to say is this. She's a puffect child yet and you are still a schoolboy. Are you going to be man enough when you gets older and more mature-like to stick by this 'ere puppy love that means so much to 'er now? Are you going to love 'er allus, just as I dessay you'll find she will do by you?"
"But--but Joey," stammered David in confusion--"she doesn't care for me in that way."
Joey closed one eye and puffed thrice at his pipe.
"Jacky, it's not to your credit as a gentleman to be so blooming stupid."
"She's so very young," murmured David.
"Well, love grows up, my lad, just the same as folks does," said the old clown wisely.
"If--if I thought she'd love me when she's old enough to--" began David, his eyes gleaming.
He stopped there, confused and awkward.
Joey eyed him. "You mean by that, that you'd go so far as to marry 'er?"
David flushed. Then his eyes flashed with resentment: "See here, Joey, that's not the way to speak of her. She's a lady. She's not a--" He checked himself suddenly.
"Virginians are very 'igh and mighty pussons, I've been told," said Joey, leading him on with considerable adroitness.
"Perhaps you have also been told that we require no lessons in chivalry," announced David, somewhat pompously.
Joey chuckled softly. "Don't get 'uffy, Jacky. Let's get back to the fust subject. 'Ow is it going to be with you two when you've really growed up? You're a couple of babes in the woods just now."
David was silent for a moment. Then he faced the old clown proudly. "She's perfect, Joey; she's wonderful. I expect to love her always. When she's old enough, I am going to ask her to be my wife."
"Provided you escape the gallows," remarked Joey sententiously.
"Yes," said the boy, setting his jaw, but turning very white. "But she knows I am innocent. Even though I should always live under this shadow, and under another name, I would not feel that I was doing her a wrong in asking her to share my lot with me. Nothing could be worse than what she has to bear now. But, Joey," he concluded firmly, "I am going to clear my name, as sure as I live."
The old clown nodded his head, eyed his _protege_ furtively and lovingly, and lapsed into silence. For a long time neither spoke. It was David who broke the strain.
"Joey, I wonder if you know how much Dick Cronk loves Ruby?" He put the question tentatively.
"I do," responded Joey promptly. "He loves her so much and so honestly that he won't tell 'er about it."
"I feel very sorry for him."
"So do I. He's often told me that he's mad in love with 'er. But he says she can't haf--afford to 'ave anything to do with a pickpocket. He says it wouldn't be right. So he's just going on loving 'er and saying nothink. That's the way it'll be to the end."
"Well, she knows 'ow it is with 'im. I daresay that's why she's allus trying to get 'im to give up wot he's doing now and go out West where he could begin all over again."
"If he did that, would you let her--"
"That's the question, my lad," interrupted Joey very soberly. "I don't think I could let 'er marry a chap as 'ad been a thief. I--I, well, you see, Jacky, I want my gal to marry a gentleman."
His lip twitched and he fell to studying the ground. David did not smile. He looked away, for he understood the longing that was in the heart of this lowly-born jester who did not even pretend to be a gentleman.
"No," said Joey after a long time, "he won't even ask 'er, 'Ow can he, feeling as he does about hisself? You see, he says he's going to be 'anged some day afore he gets through. He's that positive about it I can't talk 'im out of the idee. He says it won't do no good to reform if he's sure to be 'ung in the end. He says it's destiny, wotever that is."
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