The Circus Comes to Town
BY LEBBEUS MITCHELL
AUTHOR OF "One Boy Too Many" and "Here, Tricks, Here!"
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY PUBLISHERS —- NEW YORK
OTHER LEBBEUS MITCHELL BOOKS PUBLISHED BY CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY ARE
ONE BOY TOO MANY
HERE, TRICKS, HERE!
THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
PRINTED IN U.S.A.
CHAPTER PAGE I. "ASK YOUR MOTHER FOR FIFTY CENTS" 1
II. THE BLACK HALF-DOLLAR 18
III. THE WIDTH OF AN ELEPHANT'S TAIL 37
IV. JERRY LEARNS THAT O-U-T SPELLS OUT 49
V. THE GREEN ELEPHANT BUYS AN AUDIENCE 65
VI. THE CHILDREN THAT CRIED IN THE LANE 80
VII. TICKETS TO PARADISE 97
VIII. THE CROCODILE TEARS OF CELIA JANE 112
IX. CLOWN OF CLOWNS 127
X. "GREAT SULT ANNA O'QUEEN" 142
XI. A BOY NAMED GARY 157
XII. THE DIZZY SEAT OF GLORY 171
XIII. "—AND ELEPHANTS TO RIDE UPON" 188
THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
"ASK YOUR MOTHER FOR FIFTY CENTS"
The apple seemed to Jerry Elbow too big to be true.
He held it out at arm's length to get a good squint at its bigness and its redness. Then he turned to look wonderingly after the disappearing automobile with the lady who had tossed him the apple for directing her to the post office. A long trail of dust rose from the unpaved street behind the motor car.
Next he addressed himself to the business of eating the apple. He rubbed it shiny against his patched trousers, carefully hunted out the reddest spot on it, and took a big, luscious bite. Instead of chewing the morsel at once, he crushed it against his palate just to feel the mellowness of it and to get the full flavor of the first taste of juice. Then he chewed vigorously.
He started on to Mother 'Larkey's where he had made his home for nearly three years, ever since Mr. Mullarkey, dead this year now, had found him by the roadside one dark night. He had just started to take a second bite when a shout stopped him.
"Hi, Jerry! What you got?"
Instinctively Jerry hid the apple behind him, for it was Danny Mullarkey's voice that he had heard.
"Jerry's got something to eat!" Danny called over his shoulder to some one out of sight. "Come on, kids!"
Jerry hastily swallowed the piece of apple in his mouth and bit off the very largest chunk he could. He knew by long and bitter experience how little would be left for him after the Mullarkey brood had all nibbled at it.
Danny, who was past nine, reached him before Jerry could gulp down that mouthful and take another bite, as he had intended to do. Chris and Nora followed at Danny's heels, with Celia Jane, as usual, far in the rear.
"Save me a bite, Jerry!" called Celia Jane.
"Give me a bite of your apple, Jerry," coaxed Danny.
"Me, too," echoed Chris.
"It looks awful nice," observed Nora. "Where'd you get it?"
Jerry explained and handed her the apple first because she had not asked for a bite. Nora bit off a small piece and was passing it on to Celia Jane, who ran panting up to them, when Jerry stopped her by urging:
"Take a bigger bite than that, Nora. I want you to."
"Not till after you've had your turn again," replied Nora, who was nearly eight and was celebrated in the Mullarkey household for a finer sense of fair play than any of the others possessed.
Celia Jane was greedy and bit off so big a chunk that she could not cram it into her mouth, despite her heroic efforts to accomplish that feat.
"That ain't fair, Celia Jane," reproved Nora. "Mother told you never to do that again."
"That's two bites!" cried Danny. "Take it out and bite it in two."
Celia Jane's mouth was too full for utterance. She held out the apple to Danny, then freed her mouth of its embarrassment of riches and proceeded to bite it in two.
"Here, Chris," invited Danny, "take your bite next."
Jerry became immediately suspicious at such unaccustomed politeness on Danny's part and he was not at all surprised when Danny, once the remainder of the apple was again in his hands, took to his heels.
"Save me a bite!" cried Celia Jane, swallowing the morsel in her mouth so quickly that she came near to choking, and tagged after her older brother as fast as she could run.
"Danny!" cried Jerry. "That's no fair!"
He started to run after the vanishing apple, but was quickly passed, first by Chris and then by Nora, who called back to him: "Maybe I can save the core for you, Jerry."
Bitterness arose in Jerry's soul. He knew that he couldn't catch up with Danny, but he kept on running. That old, odd feeling that he did not belong to the Mullarkeys, though living with them, came over him again, and he had already begun to slow down his pace when he was brought to a full and sudden stop by a picture blazoned on a billboard.
He stared spellbound, without even winking. Of all delectable things, it was the picture of an elephant! A purple elephant jumping over a green fence, its trunk raised high in the air until it almost touched the full, red moon at the top of the poster. The elephant had such a roguish and knowing look in his small eyes and such a smirk on his funny little mouth that Jerry began to smile without being the least bit conscious that he was doing so.
The smile kept spreading in complete understanding of the look on the elephant's face and he probably would have laughed aloud had not the picture somehow made him think of something, he couldn't just remember what. A dim idea seemed to be trying to break into his mind but couldn't find the right door. In his effort to puzzle out what it was the elephant made him think of, Jerry entirely forgot the large red apple and the perfidy of Danny.
"What're you lookin' at?" called Danny, who had stopped half a block farther on when he no longer heard Jerry's pursuing footsteps.
Jerry did not answer. Instead, he squatted down on the grassy bank between the sidewalk and the billboard and feasted his eyes on that delightfully extravagant elephant which seemed almost to wink at him. Jerry half expected to see the elephant grab the moon and balance it on the end of his trunk, or toss it up into the sky and catch it again as it fell.
"Come on, Jerry, if you want the core," called Danny again. "That's all that's left."
"Don't want the core," said Jerry. "It was my apple. The lady gave it to me." He didn't even look at Danny but kept staring at the very purple elephant and the very red moon almost on the tip-end of his trunk. He just wouldn't let Danny Mullarkey know that it made any difference to him whether Danny and Chris and Nora and Celia Jane liked him very much or not.
No, and he wouldn't feel so terribly bad if Mother 'Larkey and little Kathleen didn't like him, either.
"You ain't lost your tongue, have you?" cried Danny.
"Maybe the cat's got it," said Celia Jane, following as usual her elder brother's lead and laughing at her own wit.
"What you starin' at so hard, Jerry?" called Chris.
Jerry disdained to reply or to let his enraptured gaze wander for a moment from the dazzling poster. Curiosity soon got the better of Chris and he started to walk back.
"El'funt!" shouted Chris, when he was near enough to see the poster. His shout started the whole Mullarkey brood galloping towards the billboard.
"The circus!" cried Danny, from the superior experience of his nine years. "The circus is coming to town!" He threw himself on the grass by Jerry and pressed the uneaten apple core into his hand.
"I don't want it," said Jerry.
"Aw, take it, Jerry. I didn't mean to eat so much of it, honest I didn't. I just wanted to tease you." He closed Jerry's fingers around the core.
"It doesn't say the circus is coming," Nora observed, pointing to some lettering in one corner of the poster. Nora was nearly eight years old and proud of her ability to read print, if the words weren't too big,—an ability shared by none of the others except Danny.
"It does, too!" contradicted Celia Jane, wrinkling up her nose preparatory to crying with disappointment if the circus were not coming. "There's some writin' on it."
"What does it say, Danny?" eagerly asked Jerry, going close to the billboard as though that might help him to make out what was printed on it. "Ain't it coming?"
"Read it quick, Danny! Please! I can't wait!" cried Celia Jane.
Thus besought, Danny read somewhat haltingly, for the "writin'" was in queerly formed letters, these words which are known to all children:
Ask your mother for fifty cents To see the elephant jump the fence, He jumped so high he hit the sky And never came down till the Fourth of July.
"Is that all?" asked Celia Jane, very much disappointed.
"Didn't I just read it to you?" was Danny's rejoinder.
"Then the circus ain't comin', is it?" said Chris.
"It don't say so," replied Nora. "It don't say whether it's comin' or whether it ain't."
"It doesn't say it's a circus," said Danny. "It might be just an 'ad' for—for any old thing."
"For a menajeree?" asked Celia Jane.
"Or chewin' gum?" suggested Chris.
"Or something," affirmed Danny decisively.
Jerry forgot to be disappointed about the circus not coming, for he was bothered about what it was that the picture of the elephant made him almost think of. He tried and tried with all his might to think what it was, but didn't succeed. Then something almost like faint music seemed to hum in his ears and his lips unconsciously formed a word, "Oh, queen," he murmured.
"Oh, what?" said Danny sharply, turning to him.
"I didn't know I said anything," replied Jerry. "I didn't mean to."
"You did," said Celia Jane. "You said, 'Oh, queen.'"
"What does that mean, 'Oh, queen'?" asked Danny.
"I—I don't know," replied Jerry.
"What did you say it for then?"
Jerry felt that he was being treated unfairly when he wasn't conscious of having said anything and he didn't answer. He was sorry that the humming almost like music wouldn't come back,—it was so comforting.
"If you don't know what 'Oh, queen' means, what did you say 'Oh, queen' for?" persisted Danny.
"I don't know," Jerry replied, at a loss. Then he brightened, "I might have heard it, sometime."
"Maybe it was somebody's name?" suggested Nora.
"I don't know."
"It's an Irish name, if it's got an O in front of it, and you said 'O'Queen'," Celia Jane stated.
"Did you ever know an Irish man or Irish woman by the name of 'O'Queen'?" questioned Danny.
"I don't know," repeated Jerry, his lips twisting in real distress at not being able to think what could have made him say a thing like that.
"You don't know anything, do you?" asked Danny in the teasing, affronting tone he sometimes adopted with Jerry.
"I do, too," affirmed Jerry, his lips tightening.
"You don't know how old you are," said Celia Jane, following Danny's lead.
"Do you know what your name is?" asked Danny.
"Jerry Elbow," replied Jerry, hot within at this making fun of his name which always seemed to give Danny so much enjoyment.
"Jerry Elbow," said Danny, putting so much sarcasm into pronouncing the name as to make it almost unbelievable that it could be a name. "What kind of a name is that—Elbow! Might as well be Neck—or Foot."
"It's just as good as Danny Mullarkey!" declared Jerry.
"There's nothing the matter with your name, Jerry," interposed Nora. "Eat the core of your apple," she continued, pointing at it, forgotten, but still clutched tightly in his fist.
"I don't want the old core," said Jerry and threw it against the billboard.
Celia Jane ran after it, grabbed it eagerly, wiped it off on her skirt and popped it into her mouth.
"Celia Jane!" called Nora, "Don't you eat that core after it's been in the dirt."
But Celia Jane had quickly chewed and swallowed it. "It's gone," she said. "Besides, it wasn't dirty enough to amount to anything."
Jerry had returned to contemplation of the elephant jumping the fence, when a youthful voice called from across the street, "Look at it good, kid. I guess it's about all of the circus you'll see."
Jerry and the Mullarkey children turned and faced the speaker. It was "Darn" Darner, the ten-year old son of Timothy Darner, the county overseer of the poor, and a more or less important personage, especially in his own eyes. You had to be very particular how you spoke to "Darn" unless you wanted to get into a fight, and unless you were as old and as big as he was you had no desire to fight with him. He was especially touchy about his name. He had been "Jimmie" at home but once at school he had signed himself, in the full glory of his name, J. Darnton Darner, perhaps to do honor to his grandfather, after whom he had been named. Thereafter "Darn" was the only name that he was known by outside of the classroom and his own home.
He had fights innumerable trying to stop the boys calling him by that name, but it persisted until at length he came to accept it. You could call him "Darn" or shout "Oh, Darn!" and nothing would happen, but if, in your excitement, you grew too emphatic and said "Darn!" or "Oh, Darn!" you might have to run for the nearest refuge, or take a pummeling from his fists.
So now Jerry answered very politely. "It looks good," he said.
"Is the circus coming?" asked Danny.
"Of course it is. What do you suppose they've put up the posters for?"
"It don't say so here," said Nora. "All it says is—"
Darn interrupted. "Where've you kids been? That old poster has been up for a week. Two new ones were pasted up to-day—one at Jenkins' corner and the other on Jeffreys' barn. It's Burrows and Fairchild's mammoth circus and menagerie and it's coming a week from Thursday."
"Are you going, Darn?" asked Danny.
"Am I going?" repeated that youth. "I should say I am going—in a box seat."
"Is it a big circus?" asked Chris.
"It's one of the biggest there is," replied Darn, "with elephants and clowns and a bearded lady and everything. I'll tell you all about it the next day."
Without more ado, he began to whistle and continued on his way. When he was out of sight, Jerry turned back to the billboard, and the Mullarkey children lined up at his side and stood in silent contemplation of the delights forecast in the picture. They felt a new respect for that elephant.
"I don't suppose we can go," said Chris at length in a voice that invited contradiction. His remark was met by silence and they continued to stare at the elephant.
Jerry was puzzled. "What does it want you to ask your mother for fifty cents for?" he asked Danny.
"To buy a ticket for the circus, of course."
"Will she give you fifty cents?"
Danny seemed struck by some sudden thought; whether or not his question had inspired it Jerry was unable to tell. After pondering for a time, Danny set out towards home on a run without having answered the question.
"Where're you goin'?" asked Chris, with a tinge of suspicion in his voice.
"I'm goin' to ask mother and see."
"That's no fair!" cried Chris. "You can run the fastest and 'll get to ask her first."
"She can't give fifty cents to all of us," replied Danny and kept on running.
"Danny Mullarkey! You're a mean old thing!" called Nora.
Already Chris was racing after Danny; the contagion soon spread and first Nora and then Celia Jane were running with all their might after their brothers.
Jerry started to run after them, but it was a half-hearted run and he brought up a very laggard rear. He never tried to get anything for himself that the clannish Mullarkey brood had in their possession, or to which they could with any shred of justice lay claim. If he did, he knew by experience that they would all unite against him—all except Mother 'Larkey, who, trying to earn money to support them all, could not always know what was going on under her tired, kindly eyes, much less the things that took place behind her back. And baby Kathleen, who was too little to feel the claims of the Mullarkey blood and who loved everybody.
But Jerry was sure he had never seen a circus and he did want to go to this one and see the elephant jump the fence. He felt very friendly to that elephant and well acquainted with it. The roguish look in its eyes, in the picture, made it seem a very nice sort of elephant and he knew he would like it.
But he also knew that Mother 'Larkey found it very hard to make both ends meet since her husband died—he had often heard her say so—but there might be a possible chance that she would have several fifty-cent pieces, so he started again to run after the other children, keeping close enough to be in time if Mrs. Mullarkey should happen to be distributing fifty-cent pieces among her brood and there should happen to be an extra one for him. Even though she were not his mother, she might give it to him, she had already done so many things for him.
THE BLACK HALF-DOLLAR
Jerry's progress was brought to a sudden halt and he was sent sprawling to the ground by running full tilt into a man who tried to turn the same corner at the same time Jerry did, but from the opposite direction. The impact was so swift and so hard that Jerry was whirled clear around and fell on his face, striking two small pieces of board lying near the sidewalk and loosening a plank in the sidewalk itself.
"Oh!" gasped the man's voice.
Before Jerry could stir he heard a clink as of metal falling on board. He half turned on his back and looked dazedly up at the man, who was pressing both hands into the pit of his stomach. His face was very red. He spoke to Jerry hesitatingly, as though he could not get his breath.
"N-no, I guess not," Jerry replied, sitting up and feeling of a bruised place on his arm.
"You just about knocked the breath out of me," said the man in a more natural voice and one which Jerry now recognized as belonging to Harry Barton, the clerk at the corner drug store.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Barton. If I'd of seen you—"
"You wouldn't have run into me," finished Mr. Barton. "Of course not. There are a lot of things we wouldn't do if we could see what the results were going to be. Why, bless me, it's Jerry Elbow! Well, I guess there wasn't much harm done this time. You seemed to be in quite a hurry. Have I delayed you?"
"Yes, sir, I was in a hurry," Jerry answered. "Danny was running to ask Mother 'Larkey for fifty cents to see the circus."
"And what were you running for?"
Jerry started to get up as he replied.
"To see if she had fifty cents for Da—"
He stopped speaking and stopped getting up at the same time. A glint of silver on the sidewalk back of Mr. Barton caught his eye. It was a half-dollar! Jerry sank to a sitting posture and gazed in rapt wonder at this answer to an unsaid prayer.
"You are hurt!" cried Mr. Barton solicitously and stooped to help Jerry up. "Where does it pain you?"
"It's fifty cents!" cried Jerry, his lips unsealed at last, and he scrambled eagerly for the coin.
"Well, there's nothing very painful in that, is there?" laughed Mr. Barton.
Jerry rose, clutching the dirty half-dollar tightly, a light of joyful anticipation in his eyes.
"There's not much need of asking what you will spend it for," observed the drug clerk.
"For a ticket to the circus!" cried Jerry, his eyes sparkling at the thought of future delights.
"I guessed it the first time," said Mr. Barton. "I thought I heard something metallic fall on the sidewalk when you ran into me, but I had such hard work getting my breath back that I forgot all about it."
Such a harrowing thought now popped into Jerry's mind that unconsciously he closed his fingers entirely around the precious half-dollar. What if it were Mr. Barton's! Perhaps he had knocked it out of Mr. Barton's pocket when he ran into him. He had heard the clink of its fall just after the collision, as he lay on the ground.
After a short but sharp struggle with himself, Jerry looked up and held out the money to Mr. Barton. He tried to smile, but was conscious that the twisting of his lips didn't look much like a smile.
"It's yours, I guess, Mr. Barton."
"Mine!" exclaimed the surprised drug clerk. "You saw it first."
"Yes, but I heard it fall just after I ran into you. I must of knocked it out of your pocket. I didn't have no half-dollar."
"No more did I," replied Mr. Barton.
"You didn't!" exclaimed Jerry, and joy came unbidden back into his eyes and there was a very different feel to his lips. He knew that it was a real smile this time.
"Not this late in the week," Mr. Barton informed him. "It's too long after pay day for me to have that much money. I've got just thirty-five cents."
He drew some small coins out of his pocket.
"Yes, it's all here. The half-dollar must have been lying on one of the boards that you struck in falling. Let's see it."
He took the money and examined it.
"It was almost covered with dirt," he said. "So was one end of both boards. Hello! That's a funny black mark on the other side. Looks as though somebody had smeared it with black paint."
"That doesn't hurt it any, does it?" asked Jerry in trepidation.
"Not a bit! It's good for a ticket to the circus."
"If I hadn't of run into you, I wouldn't get to go," observed Jerry.
"That's so," responded Mr. Barton. "I wouldn't let any one know you found the money. Just sneak off to the circus when it comes and buy your ticket. Danny would find some way to get it away from you if he knew you had it."
"I guess mebbe he would," Jerry responded.
"You just keep it to yourself and enjoy the circus," Mr. Barton advised him and went on to the store.
Jerry trudged slowly back toward Mrs. Mullarkey's, thinking intently.
The gloom that pervaded the house was so deep that Jerry perceived it as soon as he opened the door. Danny sat glowering by the window; Celia Jane was weeping unashamed, while Chris and Nora were trying not to show their disappointment.
So Mother 'Larkey had not yet been able to make both ends meet—those troublesome, refractory ends that made her life a continual round of hard work—and there were no fifty-cent pieces for the children to buy tickets with to see the elephant jump the fence. Jerry hugged himself just to feel the half-dollar in his blouse pocket and a glow of exultation ran over his body at the thought that he was going to get to see the circus.
Mrs. Mullarkey, looking tired and worn, was ripping apart the dress for Mrs. Green that she had just finished at noon. Baby Kathleen sat at her feet, playing with the old rag doll that had once been Nora's and was now claimed by Celia Jane.
Jerry entered the room slowly and took a seat on the chair without a back. He said nothing at all and finally Mother 'Larkey looked up at him.
"Why don't you ask for fifty cents, too?" she inquired. "Don't you want to see the circus?"
"Yes'm," replied Jerry, "but I ain't got no mother."
"What difference does that make?" she asked, in a voice sharper than she was accustomed to use in speaking to Jerry. "Haven't I done everything a mother could—"
"Yes'm," Jerry interrupted hastily, for he didn't want her to think he thought that. "But it said to ask your mother for fifty cents and I ain't got none to ask."
"Sure and you haven't, you blessed boy," said Mother 'Larkey. "If I had it to give, you wouldn't need a mother to ask it of. I wish I could send all of you to the circus and go myself."
"We never get to go no place," muttered Danny gloomily.
"It costs money to go to places," his mother explained, "and there's no money in the house. It's all I've been able to do to put enough food in your hungry mouths to keep soul and body together and to get enough clothes to keep you looking decent and respectable. I was counting on some money from Mrs. Green to-day, to buy a little meat for supper and get some more cough medicine for Kathleen, but she wasn't satisfied with the dress and I've got to do part of it over before she will pay me."
"Is Kathleen's cough medicine all gone?" Jerry asked, suddenly feeling hot and uncomfortable.
"Yes, and she ought to have some more right this minute. Summer coughs are bad things for babies."
Jerry went to Kathleen and she welcomed him by raising her arms and gurgling at him. He put his face gently against hers and she patted his head and tugged at his hair.
And all the time Jerry felt guiltier and guiltier and the half-dollar in his pocket seemed to become bigger and heavier. He was relieved when he heard Celia Jane, recovered from her crying, asking:
"Did you ever see a circus, Mother?"
"Yes, once. Dan took me to see one in the city right after we were married. If he was living, he would find a way to take you all and him liking the fun and the noise and the crowd and all."
"Some day I'll be big enough to earn lots of money and take us all to the circus," asserted Danny. "And Jerry, too."
"Sure and you will," his mother said. "And now, if you children will pick me some gooseberries, I'll make you a gooseberry pie for supper."
Jerry did not join the rest in the scamper for cups and a pan nor follow them out into the back yard. He patted Kathleen's head and then went into the kitchen when he had heard the screen door slam and knew the Mullarkey children were all out of the house. He took down a bottle from the shelf by the table and slipped quietly out to the street.
When he was out of sight of the house he looked to see if the half-dollar were still in his pocket. The sight of it made him recall vividly all the joys that he would miss if he didn't get to see the circus. He took the coin out of his pocket and looked at it and the longer he looked the slower grew his pace. Then he thought of Kathleen and the summer cough that Mother 'Larkey said was bad for babies, and his lips suddenly closed in a firm, straight line. He clutched the half-dollar tightly in one hand, the bottle in the other, and set out as fast as his legs would carry him. He did not dare waste a moment for fear the temptation to change his mind would prove too great to be resisted.
Not once did he slacken speed till he reached the corner drug store. Speechless for lack of breath, he passed the bottle over the counter to Mr. Barton.
"Well, Jerry, what is it this time?" asked the clerk.
Jerry panted a moment before he could reply.
"Some more of—that cough medicine—for Kathleen."
"That won't take long," said Mr. Barton. "All I've got to do is to pour it from a big bottle into this little one."
He disappeared behind the prescription case, but was back long before Jerry's pulse had had time to slow down to its customary beat.
"There you are," he said. "Forty-five cents."
Jerry passed over the precious half-dollar. The pang of regret at the thought of circus delights, once so nearly his, now beyond his reach, he resolutely forced out of his mind every time he caught himself thinking about it. He tried to whistle to help forget the circus, but to his surprise not a sound issued from his lips. They were too dry to whistle. Then he suddenly heard the drug clerk exclaim:
"Gee whillikens! This is the identical half-dollar you found this afternoon! I can tell it by the black mark on it."
"Yes, it is," Jerry admitted in a forlorn tone.
"So you told about finding it—"
"No, I didn't," interrupted Jerry, "but Kathleen was all out of cough medicine and Mother 'Larkey didn't have no money."
"I see. Then you told what—"
"No, I just got the bottle and brought it here."
Mr. Barton whistled.
"Jerry, you're some boy, and there's my hand on it."
Jerry felt himself flushing as he took the proffered hand which shook his warmly.
"Grit!" exclaimed Mr. Barton. "Pure grit. That's what I call it, if anybody should ask you. And you won't get to see the circus at all."
"I guess Kathleen's cough is more important than the circus," replied Jerry. "Summer coughs are bad for babies."
"You're right there, but I'm mighty sorry you can't go. I know how my two boys will feel if they have to stay away."
He rang up the forty-five cents and returned a nickel to Jerry.
"There, I guess you've earned the right to spend the nickel on yourself."
"Give me a nickel's worth of cough drops—the kind with honey in 'em," said Jerry.
"You don't want cough drops, Jerry. Here's some good candy. It's got lots of lemon in it."
"Kathleen likes the cough drops with honey in 'em," explained Jerry. "She doesn't cough so bad after eating one of them."
"Well, you beat my time, Jerry! You must like Kathleen an awful lot."
"I do," admitted Jerry in a low voice, as a customer entered the store. He took the bag of cough drops and darted out through the door, but not too quickly to overhear Mr. Barton saying to the man who had entered:
"That boy's got enough sand to supply all the contractors in town. Plucky as they make 'em."
Jerry was not quite sure that he understood what Mr. Barton meant about the sand, but his saying that he was plucky made him feel glad and uncomfortable at the same time. Somehow it didn't seem quite so hard to have given up seeing the circus. He wouldn't mind not seeing the elephant jump the fence—well, not so very much. He could look at the billboard poster all he wanted to and that would be almost as good.
He started home on a run but soon slackened his speed, and the nearer he got the slower became his pace. He didn't want Danny to know that he had bought something for Kathleen, for Danny called him "Kathleen's pet" as it was and he didn't like to be laughed at. Perhaps he could sneak in without any of them seeing him and put the bottle back on the shelf and no one would know how it got full.
The Mullarkey children were still picking gooseberries and Mother 'Larkey was still in the living room sewing on Mrs. Green's dress. Jerry tiptoed carefully into the kitchen, replaced the bottle, stuffed the cough drops into his blouse pocket and went into the living room, where he squatted down by Kathleen.
Hardly had he done so when the voices of the other children coming back to the house were heard.
"Gooseberries all picked?" sighed Mrs. Mullarkey. "Then I must be getting supper."
When she left the room, Jerry fished a cough drop out of his pocket and gave it to Kathleen. She smiled in delight at sight of it and at once popped it into her mouth, cooing at Jerry.
"Mother, why didn't you make Jerry help pick gooseberries?" asked Danny, as soon as he entered and caught sight of Jerry.
"He can't have any pie, can he, Mother?" said Celia Jane.
"Why, he was out with you," replied Mrs. Mullarkey. "He just this minute came in."
"He wasn't near the gooseberry patch," Danny informed her.
"He didn't pick a single gooseberry," Celia Jane interpolated.
"Nora," appealed their mother, "you always tell the truth. Didn't Jerry help you?"
"I didn't see him, Mother. Ask Jerry."
"Did you help them, Jerry? Not that it makes any difference; you'll get just as big a piece of pie as any of them."
"No'm, I didn't," replied Jerry. His lips parted again as though he wanted to say more but closed without a word.
"You're such a willing worker, I thought Danny was just trying to get even for something," said Mother 'Larkey.
"Where'd you go, Jerry?" asked Chris.
"Yah! Tell us that," demanded Danny.
"I just thought I'd run over to the drug store," replied Jerry.
"What did you want to go there for?"
Jerry said nothing.
"I bet he found a penny and bought himself some candy," cried Celia Jane, falling into the habit that many older people have of judging others by themselves.
"Tandy," said Kathleen, struck by that word, and she pulled the remnant of the cough drop out of her mouth and displayed it proudly.
"Jerry, you ate all the rest yourself!" accused Celia Jane. "Greedy, greedy, greedy!"
"Oh, did um buy some tandy for um's 'ittle Tatleen?" mocked Danny.
"I want some," said Celia Jane. "Mother, make Jerry give me some candy."
"It was cough drops for Kathleen," said Jerry.
"Where'd you get the money?" Danny demanded sharply.
"Found it after you ran home first to ask for fifty cents to see the circus," Jerry explained.
"Gee, I never find nothing!" ejaculated Danny. "How much was it?"
Jerry did not reply immediately and Celia Jane, watching him sharply, was at once full cry right on his trail.
"I bet it was a whole lot more'n five cents an' he bought something for himself. How much did you find, Jerry?"
"It was half a dollar," Jerry stated, thus brought to bay.
"Half a dollar!" exclaimed Danny and Chris.
"Why, that's fifty cents!" Celia Jane cried.
"Enough to buy a ticket to the circus!" Danny added. "Where is it? Let's see it."
"It's all gone," Jerry told his tormentors.
"Fifty cents! And you spent all of it at once!" wailed Celia Jane.
"That must of bought a whole lot of candy," said Danny. "Fork out. No fair holding any back."
Jerry produced the small paper bag of cough drops and gave it to Mother 'Larkey.
"They're cough drops with honey in 'em for Kathleen," he said. "I ain't eaten one of them."
"Give me one, Mother," pleaded Celia Jane.
"They're for Kathleen," replied her mother. "She needs them and you don't."
"Jerry's Kathleen's pet! Jerry's Kathleen's little honey cough-drop boy!" chanted Danny.
"Jerry's done more for Kathleen than her own brothers and sisters have ever done, unless it's Nora," declared Mrs. Mullarkey. "It's no wonder she loves him best."
"That's not fifty cents' worth of cough drops," Danny accused. "Where's the rest of the money? Make him tell, Mother."
Kathleen saved him the necessity of replying.
"Toff meddy," she gurgled, looking up at the shelf where the bottle was kept. "Tatleen want toff meddy."
"It's all gone, Kathleen," her mother said soothingly.
"No," said Kathleen, shaking her head and pointing up at the bottle.
"Mercy sakes! It's full!" cried Mrs. Mullarkey. "I could have sworn I emptied it this morning."
Then she looked at Jerry, a sudden softening coming over her face and into her eyes.
"Jerry, you went and spent every cent of that half-dollar on Kathleen, didn't you?"
"You said there wasn't any money in the house," Jerry defended himself, "and that Kathleen needed more medicine because summer coughs are bad for babies."
"The Lord love you, Jerry, I'm not scolding you. It's more apt to be crying I am at the big heart of you. It's as big as my Dan's was. You're more like him in heart and disposition than any of his own children, unless it's Nora. That's why I can't ever let them take you away, ever."
"Who wants to take Jerry away?" It was Nora's startled voice that asked.
Jerry's heart stood still. Had the man with the red scar on his face found him at last? He looked up at Mother 'Larkey, his lips starting to twist.
"Nobody's going to take him away!" said Mrs. Mullarkey almost fiercely. "Just let anybody try it!"
"Why didn't you tell us you had fifty cents?" asked Danny. "I bet you was going to spend it all for yourself for a ticket to the circus."
"Mr. Barton told me not to tell," replied Jerry. "He said you'd get it away from me if you knew I had found it and for me to go to the circus all by myself."
"And you gave that up just for Kathleen?" queried Mrs. Mullarkey.
"I guess Kathleen's cough is much more important than any old circus," said Jerry.
Mother 'Larkey thereupon gathered Jerry up in her arms and kissed him.
THE WIDTH OF AN ELEPHANT'S TAIL
Jerry tried all the next day and the next to think what it was that the picture of the elephant jumping the fence almost made him remember, but it just wouldn't come and finally he gave up trying. After playing with Kathleen until Mother 'Larkey put her in the crib for her afternoon nap, he wandered out towards the woodshed from behind which he heard the voices of Danny and Celia Jane.
On the way an idea popped all of a sudden into his mind. The dazzling splendor of it first brought him to a dead halt and then set him running breathlessly to join the Mullarkey children. He found them all gathered about Danny, hungrily watching him eat a green apple.
"Couldn't we play circus!" he exclaimed, in eager excitement at the idea that had come to him.
"We could if we wanted to," replied Danny, in that superior, ardor-dampening way of his.
Jerry felt his enthusiasm for the idea oozing out of his bare toes. "I—Don't we want to, Danny?"
"Oh, yes, let's!" cried Nora eagerly. "I'm tired of ante-over and run-sheep-run and pump-pump-pull-away—"
"And hidin'-go-seek and tree-tag," interrupted Celia Jane. She turned to Jerry. "How do you play circus?"
"You just—just play it," he answered. "'Maginary you're an el'funt jumpin' a fence and all."
"I'll be the el'funt!" cried Danny.
"I want to be the el'funt," objected Chris.
"The el'funt's mine," Jerry asserted and he closed his lips tightly. Danny didn't have any right to that elephant. "I saw it first," he added.
"I said 'I'll be the el'funt' first, didn't I?" asked Danny.
"Jerry orter have first choice," said Nora, the conciliator, "seein' it was him thought of playin' circus."
"I guess I can jump the highest, can't I?" Danny asked in a tone that said as plain as day that that settled the matter.
"It's my el'funt!" insisted Jerry.
"You always take first choice," Chris complained.
"You could take turns about being el'funt," Nora suggested.
Jerry wanted with all his soul to play that sublime elephant jumping the fence and he summoned up all his courage. "I won't play," cried he, with a suspicious quiver of his lips. "I won't! I won't!"
"I'll let you be el'funt part of the time," Danny promised, "just to keep you from cryin'."
"I ain't goin' to cry," returned Jerry hotly. "I ain't!"
"We can't have a circus with just a el'funt," said Celia Jane.
"Of course, we can't," said Danny decisively and turned to Jerry. "What else'll we have?"
"Couldn't we have more'n one el'funt?" Jerry asked hopefully.
"What'd we want with more'n one el'funt?" Danny queried in scorn. "I guess one el'funt's enough for one circus. Anyway, we want something besides el'funts."
"What?" asked Jerry. "I ain't never seen a circus."
"No more have I," replied Danny.
"Can't you 'maginary something?" asked Celia Jane.
"We could ''maginary things'," interposed Nora, "but they might not be in a circus."
"There's more'n one circus picture up," said Jerry. "Darn Darner said there was one at Jenkins' corner and one on Jeffreys' barn. P'raps they'll tell us what's in a circus."
"Of course," said Danny. "It's funny I didn't think of that. It's usually me who thinks of everything. I'll be the first one at Jenkins' corner," and he was off at a run.
Thereupon they all followed at full speed. Any other rate of progress was too slow for them. Jerry ran as hard as he could, leaving Celia Jane behind and keeping right at Nora's side. It was more than a quarter of a mile to Jenkins' corner and Jerry felt that his legs were ready to give out and send him sprawling in the street before he got there, but he kept running just the same. Celia Jane tagged along, far in the rear, and called to Jerry to wait for her, but a boy couldn't stop and wait for a girl without Danny's making fun of him, so, as much as Jerry would have liked to rest, he kept pantingly on. He was glad to plump down flat on the ground in front of the billboard and rest till Nora and Celia Jane arrived.
"Whoopee! I'll be the clown!" exclaimed Chris, pointing to the poster which showed trapeze performers turning somersaults in the air, a clown playing ringmaster to a dancing white pony and a girl walking a tight rope.
"I'll be the dancin' pony!" cried Celia Jane.
"I'll be the rope-walker," Nora said.
"And what'll I be?" asked Jerry plaintively, feeling left entirely out in the cold.
"Why didn't you speak up and grab onto something before they were all taken?" asked Danny. "You've got a tongue, ain't you?"
"He could swing up in the air hanging by his hands," Celia Jane suggested.
"We ain't got no net like they have in the picture to catch him if he falls," Nora objected.
"That would be too dangerous for us kids to try," Danny stated. "Maybe the picture on Jeffreys' barn will suggest something."
Again they were off at a run. It was not far to the barn, where they all squatted on the ground, nonplussed at the picture of half a dozen funny little animals balancing toy balloons on their noses.
"What are they?" Jerry asked.
"They're some kind of a fish," returned Danny promptly.
"Fish nothing!" exclaimed Chris. "Who ever saw a fish with hair on it? They're some kind of animal."
"They've got fins," retorted Danny. "I'd like to know what kind of animals's got fins. Tell me that."
"I don't know," Chris confessed, "but what kind of fish has hair?"
"This kind," said Danny authoritatively.
"Mebbe it's half fish and half animal," Jerry ventured.
"Who ever heard—" Danny began but was interrupted by Nora.
"It tells under the picture what they are," she said. "Trained s-e-a-l-s, seals. That's what rich women get their coats from."
"Then Jerry can be a trained seal," said Danny. "He can have a ball of carpet rags for a balloon to balance on his nose."
"I don't think I could," Jerry protested. "I know it would fall off."
"Not if you practise enough," returned Danny. "Besides, that's all that's left for you. I guess if one seal can throw it to another and that seal catch it on its nose like it does in the picture, you ought to be able to balance it on your nose. All you'll have to do is to lie on your stummick on the ground and throw back your head."
So it was decided that Jerry should play the part of a trained seal in their circus. Mother 'Larkey got out a ball of carpet rags, when they reached home, for Jerry to balance on his nose in place of a balloon, and gave Danny an old green wrapper, just ready to be cut up into carpet rags, out of which to make his elephant costume. She made Chris a clown costume out of a piece of old white skirt upon which she sewed large dots of red and blue cloth.
The two following days were busy ones for Jerry if not quite so happy as for the Mullarkey children. He had made up his mind, after practising until his back, chest and neck ached from throwing his head back to balance the ball of carpet rags on his nose, that he didn't like trained seals and wasn't going to care to be one at the circus. Chris's clown costume was finished and looked very much like a white union suit miles too big for him.
Nora had become quite proficient at walking the tight rope, stretched between two poles in the yard about ten feet apart and two feet from the ground, if she remembered to keep one end of her balancing pole touching the ground all the time. Mrs. Mullarkey had decided that Celia Jane didn't need any costume to play the part of the dancing pony except her good, white dress that she probably wouldn't ruin this time as all she had to do was to dance.
Danny was having more than a peck of trouble. His elephant costume had all sorts of queer mishaps. He wanted to make it all himself, even to the sewing, and he couldn't sew for sour apples, as Nora very readily told him. Two small palm-leaf fans, fastened to an old cap of his father's so that they flopped with every movement, served as the elephant's ears, while out of an old brown coat sleeve Danny had fashioned what passed for an elephant's trunk. He fastened it with a string to the visor of the cap.
Danny was stuffing the leg of an old pair of blue trousers with straw, flattening it out until it bore a faint resemblance to the paddle-shaped tail of a beaver.
"What is that you're making?" Jerry asked.
"Why, that's the el'funt's tail!" said Danny. "Anybody could tell that."
He held it proudly up, displaying it in all its blue glory.
"El'funts' tails are small like a rope," Jerry remarked.
Danny laughed derisively. "Much you know about it! I guess a el'funt's about the biggest animal in the world and it wouldn't have a little ole tail like a rope."
"They are little, like a rope," Jerry insisted.
"How do you know they are?" asked Danny. "Just tell me how you know anything about it."
"I don't know, but I know," Jerry said, feeling all his obstinacy aroused by Danny's air of conscious superiority.
"There, you just said you didn't know," Celia Jane interposed, going to her elder brother's aid, as she always did in a dispute with Jerry.
"I didn't neither," asseverated Jerry.
"You said you didn't know," insisted Celia Jane.
"I don't know how I know," said Jerry, "but I know el'funts have little tails—like a rope."
"Have you ever been to a circus?" asked Chris.
"Not that I remember."
"Have you ever seen a el'funt?" pursued Danny.
"N-n-no, but it kind of seems as if I almost had."
"I guess you'd know if you had seen a el'funt, wouldn't you?"
"Y-y-yes," responded Jerry doubtfully.
"Then if you ain't ever been to a circus or seen a el'funt, I guess you don't know what you are talking about."
"El'funts' tails are little, like a rope," Jerry insisted.
"Like a cow's tail?" asked Celia Jane.
Jerry nodded assent. "Only they haven't so much hair on the end," he added.
"A el'funt's a hundred times as big as a cow, I guess," interposed Danny, "an' it wouldn't have a little tail like a cow. I guess I know more about it than you do. I'm older, ain't I?"
"Yes," Jerry admitted, "but they are little."
Nora now interposed. "Why don't you go see the picture of the elephant jumpin' the fence and find out?" she asked.
"Of course," said Chris. "The picture'll show whether they're small like a rope or great big ones."
"I'll beat you there," challenged Danny, as he dropped the flat, beaver-like elephant's tail and darted at a run out of the woodshed, followed by the others. As they lined up in front of the gaudy, delectable poster, there came a simultaneous gasp of amazement from all of them.
"Why, it ain't got no tail at all!" exclaimed Celia Jane.
True enough, there was no tail in evidence, as the elephant seemed to be headed straight towards them. Jerry flushed as they all turned and looked accusingly at him.
"Yah!" exclaimed Danny. "Mr. Smarty Know-it-all didn't know so much, after all!"
"Mebbe you just can't see it, but it's there," suggested Nora.
"That's so," Danny reluctantly admitted. "A el'funt's so big that when you stand right in front of it, its tail might not show at all, no matter how big it was."
"A little tail wouldn't," Jerry said quickly.
"A big one wouldn't either," Celia Jane asserted, taking sides against Jerry. "A el'funt's enough bigger to hide its tail."
"If it was very big it would show," said Jerry.
"The el'funt I play is goin' to have a tail all right," Danny informed the children collectively. "I ain't goin' to all the work of makin' a tail and then not wear it. I guess a el'funt's got some kind of a tail, anyway."
JERRY LEARNS THAT O-U-T SPELLS OUT
The first and, as it turned out, the last performance of their circus took place that afternoon. Jerry felt a thrill of expectancy as they began to don their costumes. Once he thought he almost heard again that low, cheerful strumming that had seemed to beat upon his ears when he first saw the poster of the elephant jumping the fence. He said nothing about it and soon lost all recollection of the rollicking strains in the anticipation of the circus joys that he was about to behold.
Chris and Danny got into their costumes in the woodshed while Celia Jane went into the house and put on her white dress, the one she wore on Sundays. Mrs. Mullarkey had decided that Nora didn't need any special costume to be a rope-walker and that all Jerry needed to be a trained seal was a sort of apron made out of a gunny sack to protect his clothes while he crawled about on his stomach. He did not put this on at once but watched Danny getting into the skin of the elephant, wishing with all his heart that he might be the elephant, even if its tail was big and flat instead of being small like a rope.
It might have proved a mirth-provoking elephant to others had there been others present to see it, but to Jerry's eager imagination there was nothing laughable about it. The green wrapper hung most loosely about Danny's small, slim figure, great folds almost touching the ground, while the brown trunk and the blue, beaver-like tail waggled and wiggled about until they met between the front and hind legs of the elephant.
There was something about that awkward elephant that made Jerry feel all friendly inside and struck the chord of envy in his heart. He was not at all inclined to laugh when the cap with the very floppy palm-leaf-fan-ears attached fell off, as Danny started to gallop around the woodshed on all fours to see if the costume was all right.
Celia Jane now came dancing out of the house in her white frock, her hair loose and flowing for the pony's mane, while pinned to the back of her dress, at the waist line, was her mother's switch to represent the pony's tail. The strands of gray in the black hair did not match with the brown of the pony's mane, but that presented no difficulties to the imagination of the circus performers.
"Come on!" Celia Jane called. "Let's play circus. I'm all ready."
"Wait a minute, can't you?" complained Danny. "I guess I'm the head of this circus. I've got the biggest part and I ain't quite ready. Just hold your horses."
"Whoa!" cried Celia Jane. "I'm just one pony. Get up!" She flapped her side with one hand, as though urging a horse to quicken his pace, and galloped out back of the woodshed where the circus "tent" had been set up and began prancing and dancing and preening about. Jerry was torn between desire to watch her graceful whirling and pirouetting and to keep fascinated eyes on the green elephant. He just had to stay and see if the elephant's ears fell off again. But Danny was equal to the occasion and tied the cap on with a piece of string.
"Celia Jane, you just come back here," he called. "I guess the elephant has to enter the circus ahead of the horse. Horses always get scared of el'funts unless they're behind where they can see them. How do you expect us to parade if you're there already?"
"All right," replied Celia Jane and came prancing back into the woodshed, "but hurry."
"I'll be first," said Danny, "an—"
"An' I'll be second!" cried Chris.
"I'm third!" Nora and Celia Jane exclaimed together.
Jerry said nothing. He knew where his place would be,—the very tail end of the parade.
"Boom!" sang out Danny and again, "Boom!"
"What's that for?" asked Chris.
"It's the music so that the people will know the circus is about to begin," replied Danny. "They always have music for the parade an' everything. Darn Darner said so."
"Let's sing then," suggested Nora.
"Sing what?" queried Danny crossly, seeing a threat to diminish his importance in the circus.
"We might sing 'Heigho, the cherry-o,'" said Celia Jane.
"'I Went to the Animal Fair' will be much more appropriate," Nora suggested.
"All right, sing," consented Danny, "but the crowd's gettin' restless; I can hear them stampin' and whistlin'!"
"I'll start it," said Nora. "All ready."
Thus the parade started and entered the main circus tent, which consisted of a pole in the center, with no canvas at all, to the strain of,
I went to the animal fair; The birds and the beasts were there; The little raccoon, by the light of the moon, Was combing his auburn hair. The monkey he got drunk, Ran up the elephant's trunk, The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees And what became of the monkey-monkey-monk?
Jerry tried to sing, too, but he had a very hard time, for he couldn't crawl as fast as the others walked and the carpet-rag balloon wouldn't stay balanced on his nose but kept rolling off to the ground. The rest of the parade was halfway around the ring (marked by a circle of sawdust which Danny had made after sawing wood energetically for half a day to get enough sawdust) when the trained seal had just reached the main entrance.
"Run and catch up with the parade," came Danny's voice through the circus music. "We can't have the parade split in two that way."
The trained seal jumped up on his hind feet carrying the balloon under a forefoot, and ran until he caught up with Celia Jane; then he plumped down on his stomach again.
Jerry was very hot and flushed and the muscles of his back and neck ached. He tried desperately to balance the ball of carpet rags on his nose, but it kept rolling off, and Jerry had to scramble after it and the parade was soon away ahead again. In desperation, he held the balloon on his nose with one hand and tried to creep ahead with but one arm and his legs as motive power. His progress was slower than ever.
He could see Danny—or, rather, the elephant—stalking majestically ahead to the strains of "I Went to the Animal Fair," his trunk and his tail wobbling about until they met under his body, and the palm-leaf ears flopping with every step. Jerry felt hurt and out of sorts as he panted from the exertion of trying to crawl on one arm. He had suggested playing circus and he ought to have been allowed to play the part of the elephant. There was no fun in being a trained seal balancing a balloon on its nose, as there was in being a green elephant with floppy ears and wobbly tail and trunk. It would serve that greedy Danny just right if he should refuse to play in his old circus.
Jerry saw that he was again falling far in the rear and tried to scramble on faster. Then, of course, the balloon fell off and Jerry was almost in tears as he jumped after it.
Then the music of the parade came to a sudden end. The rest of the performers were at the main entrance, having marched clear around the ring while Jerry had not covered much more than half the distance.
"Can't you hurry any?" asked Danny. "You're spoilin' the circus all the time, 'way behind like that."
"I can't crawl as fast as you can walk," answered Jerry, in a voice that threatened to break into a sob.
"I guess a trained seal had orter crawl as fast as a man can walk," said Danny, "or how could they have them in circuses?"
"I'm comin' as fast as I can," returned Jerry. "I wish you'd just try bein' a trained seal for a time and see how fast you can crawl on your stummick." Jerry rose to his hands and knees, holding the ball of carpet rags in his teeth, and progressed much faster.
"Who ever heard of a trained seal carryin' a balloon in his teeth?" Danny protested. "I guess his teeth would go through the balloon and let all the air out."
"Let's not have no trained seal," pleaded Jerry. "It ain't no fun."
"We got to have a trained seal," replied Danny.
"You be it then," suggested Jerry, "an' let me be the el'funt. You said I could part of the time."
"I'm going to be the el'funt," proclaimed Danny. "The circus ain't even begun yet."
"I won't be a trained seal, so I won't," said Jerry, at last catching up with the parade. "The balloon won't stay on my nose and my neck hurts and I've cut my hand on a piece of glass or a splinter or something till it bleeds." He held up one hand with a little trickle of blood on it. "I want to be something else. I won't play if I've got to be a trained seal any more."
"All right," Danny acquiesced, after a moment's thought, "you can be the audience. We need an audience to clap their hands and holler so's we'll know the crowd likes us and we're doin' all right. This circus can get along without no trained seal."
"I don't want to be the audience," replied Jerry dismally, seeing that, as the audience, he would have nothing to do with the circus.
Nora now put in a word. "Let's count out," she said, "and the one who's counted out will be the audience."
"I guess not," replied Danny emphatically, but after Celia Jane had whispered something in his ear, he considered a moment, looked at Jerry and then whispered something to Nora.
Nora looked at Jerry and counted on her fingers rapidly. Then she counted on her fingers again, after a quick glance at Danny. She nodded to Danny, who said:
"All right, whoever's counted out will be the audience. You count out, Nora." Starting with Danny and pointing to a child in rotation with each word, Nora chanted and counted:
"'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. All good children go to heaven. O-u-t spells out.'"
Her finger was pointing at Jerry.
"Jerry's out!" cried Celia Jane, skipping about. "He's the audience!"
"I won't be no audience," said Jerry.
"You'll have to be," asserted Danny, "you was counted out."
"I won't be! I won't play!" cried Jerry. He threw down his carpet-rag balloon, took off the gunny-sack apron, tossed it on top of the balloon and ran to the house.
"Cry baby!" shouted Danny after him, but Jerry did not even wait to refute that charge, for he knew he was in danger of proving it if he remained out there a moment longer.
Jerry felt the hot tears start to come as the screen door slammed after him. He dashed them angrily out of his eyes and ran up the stairs to the room he shared with Danny and Chris. If Mother 'Larkey had been at home and not away sewing for Mrs. Moran, he would have gone to her in his bitter disappointment, sure of finding comfort in her arms as he had so many times.
It was not fair for Danny to take the part of the elephant away from him and not even let him play it for a teeny little while, as he had promised he would. For two cents he would run away as he had from the man with the—the scarred face. He looked quickly around, half-fearful, as always, that that man might have learned where he was and be lurking around the corner ready to pounce upon him. The room was empty and he took a long breath. He would run away if it weren't for Mother 'Larkey and for little Kathleen who always cried when he even said anything about running away. He heard the screen door slam shut after a time and Nora's gentle footsteps coming up the stairway. He turned his back to the door.
"Jerry," pleaded Nora's coaxing voice, "come on out and play. Danny didn't mean anything."
Jerry did not answer. He did not even look around.
"Danny wants you to play with us," continued Nora. "Won't you?"
"No," Jerry replied at length.
"Why won't you?"
"He didn't play fair."
"I'll count over again, Jerry, so's I'll be the—" The voice stopped and then continued chokily, "—the audience."
Jerry knew what it cost her to say that, but he hardened his heart. "I don't want to play no more," he said.
"Please do, Jerry. I'm sorry I didn't play fair, Jerry."
"I won't," pouted Jerry. "He said I could be the el'funt some of the time."
"Mebbe he'll let you after while, after he's tired of playin' it," suggested Nora, without any great fervor of conviction in her voice. "I'll ask him to."
With that Nora left the room. He wondered if she could persuade Danny to let him be the elephant part of the time. He might play then, if Danny coaxed him to.
He heard the screen slam after Nora and waited, listening for it to go slam-bang much louder. That would mean that Danny was coming to let him play elephant. Danny always let the door go shut slam-bang. He waited a long time and then he heard the shouting of the children. They were playing circus without him! Danny wouldn't let him be the elephant. Very well, if they didn't want him around and wouldn't let him play with them, he would run away. Danny would be sorry then. Perhaps he would be killed on a railway track or something and Danny would cry over his dead body, he'd be so sorry he didn't let him be the elephant.
That thought comforted him and he began gathering up the things he wanted to take with him. There was the fur cap that Mother 'Larkey had made for him out of an old muff of hers, the winter before. He couldn't leave that behind, nor yet the overcoat which she had made for him out of an old coat of her husband's just after Mr. Mullarkey had died. The other things he didn't care much about. Yes, after all, he would take the ragged, fuzzy cloth dog that Kathleen had insisted on giving him. The dog had lost an ear, a forepaw and one eye; still he cherished it because Kathleen had given it to him of her own free will, something that Danny nor Chris nor Celia Jane nor even Nora had ever done.
He would wear the cap and overcoat, even if it was summer; then he wouldn't get so tired carrying them. He put on the fur cap, pulling it well down over his ears, and slipped into the overcoat. Slowly he took up the woolly dog and started down the stairs. Then he remembered the red mittens which a lady had brought him at Christmas, and returned to get them. He put them on carefully, smoothing them over his hands, and then went downstairs and out by the front door, prepared for any kind of weather.
He was going to run away again, as he had from that man with the scarred face. He heard the children shouting at their play and decided he would first watch them a minute and perhaps let Danny know what he had driven him into doing. He went down the alley which led past the woodshed, behind which the circus performance was going on, and stopped to watch with his face wedged between two pickets of the fence.
Nora was walking the rope slowly. She was doing it very well as long as she kept one end of the balancing pole on the ground, but when she got halfway across the rope, the end of the pole was so far behind that she couldn't steady herself with it. She tried to drag it up even with her and in so doing lost her balance and had to jump to the ground. As she straightened up, she saw Jerry's face between the palings.
"There's Jerry!" she called to Danny.
"Thought you would play, after all," Danny remarked.
"I'm not," said Jerry.
"He's got his cap on!" laughed Celia Jane. "What've you got your cap on for, Jerry?"
"And your overcoat?" said Nora.
"And your mittens?" chimed in Chris. "You ain't cold, are you?"
"I'm running away," Jerry responded, addressing no one in particular. He tried to say it indifferently as though it were a matter of everyday occurrence, this running away, but in spite of himself a note of pride crept into his voice. None of them had ever run away.
"Running away!" gasped Celia Jane in an awed voice.
"Oh, Jerry, don't!" pleaded Nora.
Danny stared at him in open-mouthed amazement.
"I'm running away," Jerry repeated and sat down on the ground by the fence where he had an unobstructed view of the circus.
THE GREEN ELEPHANT BUYS AN AUDIENCE
The Mullarkey children regarded Jerry for a long time without a word.
Jerry, knowing that for once he had Danny at a disadvantage, wanted to prolong that pleasant sensation.
"I'm running away," he repeated, without stirring from the fence.
"What'll mother do?" Danny asked from underneath the elephant's trunk and Jerry knew from the earnestness of his voice that Danny was scared. "What do you want to run away for?"
"Because," replied Jerry.
"That's no reason," Chris stated.
"What'll become of you?" Danny asked, drawing closer to the fence, the elephant's beaver-like blue tail dragging forlornly on the ground.
"I dunno," Jerry replied carelessly.
"You won't find many folks who'd bring you home like father did and keep you," Danny pursued.
"I'm going to run away," was all that Jerry replied.
"What'll you do for something to eat?" demanded Chris, in a tone that showed admiration for a boy not afraid to run away, even if he wasn't a Mullarkey.
"I dunno," said Jerry, "but I'll find a way."
"Come on an' play, Jerry," coaxed Danny, "an' you can be the el'funt the next time we play circus."
"I want to be the el'funt this time," said Jerry.
"You can't be this time, because you're too little for the costume to fit you," Danny told him. "It'll have to be cut down an' made over for you. It's a little too big for me an' it's awfully hard work actin' as a el'funt would when your skin's so loose it gets in the way of your feet when you walk."
Jerry hadn't thought of that but it looked reasonable to him. He hesitated and Danny, seeing his advantage, was quick to push it.
"Besides, mother wouldn't like it if you ran away. She'd think I was to blame when I'm not at all. I never even once thought of your runnin' away. You thought of it yourself, now didn't you?"
"Yes," Jerry admitted.
"Mother'd think I had done something to you when I ain't, have I?" Danny appealed.
"You wouldn't let me play—" Jerry began but was interrupted by Danny's saying quickly:
"You can next time we play circus, when I've had a chance to make the el'funt skin over for you."
That did not seem inducement enough for Jerry and he decided to continue his interrupted running away. He rose and turned slowly away from the fence and tried to imitate Darn Darner's off-hand style of leave-taking. "Well, so long, fellows," he called nonchalantly over his shoulders, "I must be on my way."
"Good-by, Jerry," said Nora.
"Oh, Jerry! Don't go!" pleaded Celia Jane.
"You stay an' be audience for this circus," said Danny quickly, "an' I'll give you one of my tops."
Jerry returned to the fence. "The one with the red on it?" he asked.
"No, the other one."
"It's broken," Jerry objected.
"An' I'll give you two fishhooks," Danny hurriedly promised, "an' a line an' pole, an' a horseshoe nail."
"The rusty one!" cried Jerry, in a tone that was sarcastic.
Danny hesitated, swallowed quickly and responded, "No, the shiny one."
"I don't want no fishin' pole an' all," said Jerry; "an' the broken top an' the shiny horseshoe ain't enough."
"I'll give you my toy pistol," said Danny.
"The trigger's gone," Jerry objected, "an' a pistol ain't no good without a trigger."
"The golf ball I found in the weeds," Danny offered.
"I don't know how to play golf."
"Aw, be reasonable, Jerry. I can't give you what you want. I bought it with the money I got for mowin' old man Barnes's yard for a month."
"I'll be the audience for your white rabbit," Jerry bargained, "an' I won't run away."
"You want too much," Danny objected. "'Tain't as if I could get another rabbit right away."
"An' then Mother 'Larkey won't think you made me run away," pursued Jerry, pressing home his advantage. "I won't say nothin' to her nohow about that."
Danny did not reply at once and Jerry spoke again.
"You can keep your top an' your shiny horseshoe nail, too."
"You won't say nothin' to mother a-tall?" Danny weakened.
"No," Jerry assured him.
"Cross your heart, hope to die an' spit?"
"Cross my heart, hope to die an' spit," repeated Jerry, suiting the action to the word.
"All right, you can have the ole rabbit. You'll have to feed it, though. I wouldn't raise my finger to feed it, not if it was starvin' to death. I'd got kinda sick of always havin' to feed it whenever I wanted to do something else, anyway."
"All right, I'll be the audience," Jerry promised, "but the rabbit's mine."
"Then go in the house and put away your cap an' coat an' mittens, so's mother won't suspect nothin'. An', Chris, don't you dare ever tell, nor you, Nora, nor you, Celia Jane. I'll get even with you if it takes to my last livin' day if you do."
"We won't ever tell," his brother and sisters assured him.
Jerry flew back to the house, and put away his winter clothes and the cloth dog Kathleen had given him, and then dashed out to the circus ground and climbed upon an old barrel which Danny and Chris had turned upside down for a seat. He kicked his heels against its sides and whistled as best he could as a sign of the audience's impatience for the circus to begin.
"We'll begin all over again," announced Danny and marshaled his three fellow performers back to the woodshed and led them forth in parade to the strains of "I Went to the Animal Fair." Jerry duly applauded the parade and waited for the real performance.
Then the green elephant rose up on his hind legs and with one front leg pushed his trunk to one side while the voice of Danny Mullarkey announced, "Ladies and gents, I'm pleased to make you acquainted with Flora, the lady tight-rope walker, who will now walk the tight rope for you an' I hope you'll like her."
This time, by dragging one end of her balancing pole on the ground as she walked forward on the rope, Nora, or, as the circus-master called her, Flora, managed to walk the ten feet to the opposite post without falling off.
Jerry, rejoicing over the possession of the white rabbit, applauded her generously.
"The el'funt will now jump the fence," came the voice of Danny, issuing from the mouth of the green elephant. "Hey, you kids! Get the boards for the fence," he called to Chris and Celia Jane, who had sat down on the ground while Nora walked the rope.
With a front foot, the elephant put his trunk in place and took a curious little huddled run on all fours up to the very low fence made of two boards, together not more than ten inches high, which Chris and Celia Jane held for him, and then half rose on his hind legs and leaped over the fence, palm-leaf-fan-ears flopping and brown trunk and blue tail wobbling. No elephant jumping up into the sky and balancing the moon on the end of his trunk was this, truly, but, Jerry thrilled at the first jump, imagining what it might have been.
"Whee!" trumpeted the elephant as he turned back and jumped the fence again. He seemed to develop a very passion for wheeing and jumping the fence, returning to the charge again and again.
Jerry clapped his hands and kicked the sides of the barrel in approval and laughed at the ungainly antics of the jumping elephant, but by dint of the frequent repetition of the jumping he began to become disappointed that Danny didn't jump higher. He grew tired of the performance before Danny wearied of jumping the fence.
"It's my turn now!" Chris called, after Danny had jumped for the twelfth time. "Come on, Celia Jane."
They dropped the fence and, as there was nothing for the green elephant to jump unless he could clear the tight rope, two feet from the ground, Danny perforce gave way to the dancing pony and the clown.
Chris was trying to crack an old whip which he and Danny had made by braiding three strands of leather, with a "cracker" at the end, and Celia Jane was dancing gracefully about the ring, her tail switching and her mane blowing, when the unexpected voice of Darn Darner from the alley brought the circus to a sudden halt.
"Hullo! What do you kids think you're doin'?" he asked, in the gruff voice which he adopted when he wanted to be particularly disagreeable.
Jerry squirmed around on the barrel until he could see Darn. "We're playin' circus," he answered with a feeble, placating smile, before the others had recovered from their surprise.
"Yah! You call that a circus? Chris can't even crack the whip."
"I can, too, sometimes," Chris disputed.
"I'll show you how to do it," Darn offered, clambering over the fence. "Here, give me the whip!"
He took it out of Chris's surprised and reluctant fingers and began circling it over his head and giving it a sudden jerk. It didn't crack at first, but soon he got the knack of it and cracked it loudly as close to Celia Jane's ears and ankles as he could come without touching her.
"Giddap!" he commanded the dancing pony. "Show your paces." That time he tried to crack the whip too near Celia Jane and the end of the lash wound around her leg.
"Oh! Oh!" cried the dancing pony, hopping about on one leg. "That hurt! It ain't no fair makin' it crack so close an' I won't play no more." Half crying from the pain, Celia Jane ran to the house, followed by Nora.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," Darn called to Celia Jane. "The whip must be a little too long, or I wouldn't have sized up the distance wrong." He turned to Danny. "What do you think you are?"
"I'm a el'funt," said Danny proudly, "an' I jump the fence like the circus el'funt."
"An el'funt!" cried Darn, turning his eyes up to the sky. "And he calls that an' el'funt!"
"It is a el'funt," protested Jerry.
Darn Darner laughed derisively.
"You can 'maginary it's a el'funt," Chris explained.
"It would take some imagination," was Darn's only comment on that.
"What's wrong with it?" asked Danny. "I bet you couldn't do any better."
"What's wrong with it!" exclaimed Darn. "Ask me what's right with it. Everything's wrong with it."
"It looks like the picture of the el'funt—almost," defended Jerry.
"It looks as much like that as I do like a giraffe."
Danny turned his back on Darn and the latter exclaimed:
"What's that blue pants leg for, hangin' down from your coat tail?"
"Why—why—that's the el'funt's tail," Danny replied reluctantly.
"My gorry!" cried Darn, giving way to shrieks of laughter so that he had to sit down on the ground and double up with the paroxysms of mirth. "An el'funt's tail! Oh, my gorry!" and again he rocked back and forth, holding his sides. Then he was attacked by a fit of coughing and finally, when he got his breath, he said:
"Don't you kids know nothing of national history? Hain't you ever seen a picture of an el'funt? Its tail is nothing like that a-tall."
"How's it different?" Danny asked in a very meek voice.
"It's small and round, like a rope," Jerry interposed quickly.
"Of course it is," was Darn's comment.
"I told him so!" exclaimed Jerry.
"But how'd I know that you knew," asked Danny, aggrieved, "when you didn't know how you knew?"
"I don't know," was all the explanation that Jerry could give.
"All I can say is, you'd better study national history, Danny, and learn how the four-footed friends of man are made," remarked Darn.
"How do you know el'funts' tails are small and round?" asked Chris.
"Because I'm no dumb-head and learn things."
"I ain't no dumb-head," protested Chris and at the same time Danny asserted:
"Chris ain't no dumb-head."
Jerry saw the green elephant's front feet double up and he jumped down from the barrel, a little bit scared.
"He is, too," said Darn, "and so are you. Jerry Elbow there's got more sense than both of you put together, even if he ain't got no father and mother."
"I haven't either," said Jerry. "I jest somehow knew one thing Danny didn't about el'funts' tails. Danny knows lots more'n I do."
"I guess you'd better take that back about Chris bein' a dumb-head," threatened Danny, scowling from under the elephant's trunk.
"An' you'd better take it back about Danny's bein' one," remarked Chris.
"I won't any such thing," retorted Darn.
"We'll make you," challenged Danny, all his Irish fighting blood up.
"I'd like to see the kid could make me do anything I didn't want to," and Darn doubled up his fists and flung them out in the air at an imaginary adversary.
"I'll show you," Danny boasted and quickly divested himself of the elephant's skin.
"Take a board," cautioned Chris, "an' then you can keep him from runnin' in on you." Chris followed his own advice and Darn, seeing himself attacked from two sides, one of his foes armed, decided he would live to fight another day and scrambled over the fence.
"Yah!" he cried in derision from the alley. "Dumb-heads! Dumb-heads! Oh, Chris, you blue-eyed beauty, turn around and do your duty! Blue-eyed beauty!"
He dodged just in time to avoid the board which Chris, incensed at that most horrible of epithets—for his eyes were blue—had hurled at him with all his might.
"Ole Danny dumb-head! Blue-eyed beauty! Ole Danny dumb-head! Blue-eyed beauty!" chanted Darn, thrusting his face between two palings of the fence and sticking out his tongue.
Then Danny picked up a board and, flanked by Chris, advanced to the fence, whereat Darn took to his heels, shouting, "Blue-eyed beauty! Ole Danny dumb-head!" as loud as he could.
At the end of the alley he turned and shouted,
"A pants' leg for an el'funt's tail! Oh, my gorry!"
When he disappeared from sight, the three boys surveyed the elephant's skin lying on the ground.
"Let's not play any more," said Danny.
"I'm tired of the ole circus, anyway," replied Chris.
They went into the house, Jerry slowly following them. Even he could not 'maginary the old green wrapper and the stuffed brown coat sleeve and blue trouser leg into an elephant any more.
THE CHILDREN THAT CRIED IN THE LANE
The days slipped by and none of the children played circus again. Jerry thought of it often and would have liked to be the elephant just once, but he never said anything. That made him dream all the more about the real circus which was coming and wish that he could see it. He was very careful not to put his longing into words, so he wouldn't remind Mother 'Larkey of the ends that wouldn't meet and make her feel badly. One day she came across the old green wrapper elephant skin in the woodshed.
"Why don't you children play circus any more?" she asked Danny.
"El'funts don't look like that," he asserted, pointing disdainfully at the discarded costume. "Their tails are small like a rope."
"Are they now?" she asked. "And how might you be after knowing that?"
"National history says so," Danny replied in a very decisive tone.
Mrs. Mullarkey gave one of those low, fleeting laughs that always made Jerry feel so good inside and which had become so rare of late. "Yes, I guess national history would be after telling about the elephant's tail as long as it deals with elephants and eagles and donkeys and camels and all."
Jerry felt there must be something funny in what Mother 'Larkey said, because her nose went all crinkly, and he smiled in sympathy anyway, although he didn't understand.
But playing circus no longer appealed to the Mullarkey children. Darn Darner had had a blighting influence on the power of their imaginations, and Danny in the elephant costume would have been to them now only a little boy in an old green wrapper much too large for him, dragging about a stuffed blue trouser leg for a tail,—a very ridiculous spectacle. Jerry realized that there would never be a next time and that he would never play the elephant.
A few days before the circus was to come to town Jerry and the Mullarkey children were returning from the woods by the creek, where they had gone to see what the prospects were for a good yield of hazel and hickory nuts in the fall, and had just entered the edge of town when they saw Darn Darner approaching. They had not set eyes on him since the day he broke up their circus and they were doubtful as to how he would behave towards them.
"Just pretend as though nothing had never happened," Nora suggested.
"Yes, that's best," Danny agreed. "Let him speak first."
They watched Darn's nearer approach without seeming to do so. They tried to keep talking and laughing so he wouldn't think they were the least little bit afraid of him, but Jerry and Celia Jane first fell silent and then Chris and Nora, and finally Danny, so that when they met Darn they were as quiet and subdued as a funeral party.
"Hello!" said Darn, as they were in the act of passing. "Where you kids been?"
"Hullo, Darn," replied Danny. "We just been out in the woods."
"There's goin' to be lots of hazelnuts in the fall," Nora informed him, in a voice which she tried to make genial.
"And hickory nuts too," added Jerry, feeling that such good news would help keep Darn in his present state of good humor and from thinking about what had happened at their circus.
"That don't interest me much just now," Darn remarked. "I'm goin' to the circus. We're goin' to have reserved seats, a dollar and a half apiece. There ain't no better to be had."
"A dollar an' a half for one seat!" exclaimed Celia Jane. "I thought it cost only fifty cents to see the circus."
"That's just to get in and set on an ole board without any back to it," Darn informed her. "We're goin' to have reserved seats in the boxes, with chairs to sit on."
"A fifty-cent seat would suit me all right," observed Danny.
"An' me, too," echoed Chris and Nora and Celia Jane and Jerry.
"Are you kids goin' to see the circus unload?" asked Darn.
"Will they let you get close enough to see?" questioned Danny in turn.
"Of course. They can't keep you from lookin', I guess."
"No, I guess not." Danny answered his own question as though it had been asked by Chris. "Anybody knows he could look."
"Could you see the el'funt?" Jerry asked timidly.
"You could if you had eyes," replied Darn loftily.
"Where're they goin' to unload?" Danny queried.
"On the sidetrack by Smith's house, just back of the depot, at five o'clock in the morning. I'm goin' to see them unload."
"So'm I!" cried Danny.
"An' me, too!" asserted Chris.
"An' me, too!" Jerry hurried to make that statement so that Danny could not say he couldn't go because he had not chosen to go when there was a chance.
"No, you're not," Darn asserted with a sudden frown.
"I am, too!" cried Jerry. Then after a moment he asked plaintively, "Why ain't I?"
"I guess you ain't got nothin' to say about whether Jerry goes or not," Danny interposed quickly. "He can go if he wants to."
"No, he can't," contradicted Darn.
"Why can't he?" Nora asked.
"They don't let anybody in the poor farm go to the circus," was Darn's unexpected reply.
"That's not got nothin' to do with Jerry!" cried Danny hotly. "I guess he ain't in no poor farm."
"He's goin' to be, though," pursued Darn calmly, in that restrained, superior, informative manner which sometimes can be so maddening.
"I ain't either, am I, Danny?" Jerry appealed dolefully.
"No, you ain't," Danny assured him. "Darn's jest tryin' to make you cry. Don't you let him scare you."
"Jerry Elbow's goin' to the poor farm before the circus gets here," stated Darn.
"I ain't!" cried Jerry in a shaky voice. "I won't go! So there!"
"They'll take you," Darn informed him, "and you won't have anything to say about it."
"Mother 'Larkey won't let them take me, will she, Danny?" asked Jerry in a voice that was becoming shrill and high from fear.
"No, she won't," asserted Danny. "Darn Darner, you jest let Jerry be. You ain't got no right to scare a orfum boy like that."
"We won't let them take you," comforted Celia Jane, suddenly affectionate, and put her arm about Jerry's neck.
Darn stepped directly in front of Jerry and stared coolly down at him until Jerry was so uncomfortable that he couldn't raise his eyes from the ground.
"You're goin' to the poor farm Wednesday morning," he said calmly, "because Mrs. Mullarkey's too poor to keep you any longer. She can't make enough to keep her own kids."
Jerry felt suddenly very little and all alone in a big cold world. Fear had entered his heart. He felt that Mrs. Mullarkey not only hadn't been able to make both ends meet but that she was never going to be able to do it. He some way knew that Darn Darner was telling the truth and that soon he would be torn away from the only home he could remember. His lips twisted and he felt the hot tears filling his eyes. Yet he denied Darn's statement with all his soul.
"They won't! They shan't take me! I'll run away first!"
"Much good that would do you," commented Darn unsympathetically. "It'd be easy enough to find you."
"How do you know they're goin' to take Jerry away?" asked Chris.
"He don't know it!" cried Nora. "He's jest tryin' to scare us."
"No, I ain't," denied Darn. "My father's overseer of the poor in this county and I guess I heard him tell mamma last night that he was goin' to take Jerry to the poor farm Wednesday morning. He said Mrs. Mullarkey had agreed as to how she'd hafta let him take Jerry because her insurance money from Mr. Mullarkey was all gone and she couldn't make enough to support her own kids."
"It ain't so!" blustered Jerry, but all the time terribly frightened. He tried to think of something to say that would show he was not afraid of Darn Darner, who was always picking on little boys.
"You shan't go!" Celia Jane cried, tears running down her cheeks. She flung both arms around Jerry's neck and squeezed him passionately.
"What will Kathleen do without Jerry?" asked Nora in a choked voice.
Jerry looked up and saw that she was quietly weeping, too. They believed it! Believed that Mother 'Larkey would let them take him away! He had been somewhat comforted by their stout assertions that Darn's words were false, but now—!
He was stunned. Then his lips twisted and twitched and the tears that had been forming in his eyes spilled silently over.
"Don't get scared, Jerry," Danny tried to comfort him. Then he turned to the tormentor. "Darn you, Darn, why can't you let him be!"
There it was! Just what Jerry wanted to show Darn he couldn't scare him. His oozing courage flamed up in a final flare of desperation. Through his tears and the choke in his throat he cried:
"Darn Darn Darner! Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn Darn Darner!"
"That's about enough from you, Jerry Elbow!" shouted Darn. He gave Jerry a resounding slap in the face. "No kid like you can call me that without takin' the biggest lickin' he ever got."
"No, you don't!" cried Danny and quick as a flash he rushed at Darn and began pounding him over the head and shoulders with his fists. Chris and Nora went to Danny's aid and the three pairs of fists caused Darn to duck and run a short distance.
Jerry slumped down into the dust of the road, weeping bitterly, and Celia Jane flopped down by him, hugging him tight and mingling her tears with his.
Danny and Chris and even the usually gentle Nora, but for once with all her gentleness vanished, gave vent to their feelings against Darn by making a chant out of his name.
"Darn Darn Darner! Darn! Darn! Darn! Darn Darn Darner! Darn! Darn! Darn!"
Into that chant boiled over all their pent-up dislike for him which had been simmering under cover for so long. Darn started back towards them, angry through and through, but stopped as they rushed to meet him, fists doubled up ready for battle. He had fought many boys bigger than himself, but he fled before the numerical strength of the present enemy, flinging back over his shoulder from a safe distance, "Blue-eyed beauty! Ole Danny dumb-head! Blue-eyed beauty! Ole Danny dumb-head! Yah! You'll hafta go to the poor farm if you want to see Jerry Elbow after Wednesday."
Upon hearing Darn's words Jerry stretched out at full length in the road and his voice rose in a quavering wail of anguish. Celia Jane emitted a thinner, shriller wail. Nora came back to comfort them and was caught by the contagion so that she too plumped down in the road and wept.
Danny and Chris, being boys, were ashamed to give vent to their emotions in a similar way and stood looking down at the huddled forms in the road. Chris, after a time, found himself weeping in sympathy and openly rubbed away the tears with his shirt sleeve. Even Danny swallowed hard and dabbed at his eyes.
"Well, I'll be horn-swoggled!" exclaimed a startled, mystified voice back of the children.
Jerry opened his eyes on a blurred picture of Danny and Chris turning suddenly about and of Nora springing to her feet. A man was just getting out of a two-seated buggy. All sound of his approach had been drowned out by the vociferous lamentations of Jerry and Celia Jane, which still continued.
"What's the trouble here?" asked the man in a deep, pleasant voice that carried even through the clamor into Jerry's consciousness. He raised his head and looked up through swollen and tear-drenched eyes at the man.
"They're g-goin' to take Jerry Elbow to the p-p-poor farm Wednesday morning," Danny stutteringly explained.
"Then you must be the Mullarkey children," observed the man, speaking to the group.
"I'm Danny," said Danny, and Chris identified himself.
"Then this must be Jerry Elbow," the man remarked, stooping to pick Jerry up.
Jerry flung his arms about the man's neck and clung there desperately.
"Yes, sir, he's Jerry," Nora explained, as Celia Jane got up out of the road and brushed the dust from her dress.
"My name's Tom Phillips," said their new friend. "I knew your father, Dan Mullarkey, very well. He told me once how he found you by the roadside one stormy night far from any house, Jerry Elbow."
Jerry felt comforted in the strong arms of Mr. Phillips and at the pleasant, deep quality of his voice. He stopped crying except for the long, shuddering sobs that always came at intervals after he had cried so hard.
"Who said anything about taking you to the poor farm?" he asked Jerry.
"D-D-Darn," Jerry sobbed out.
"Darn!" said Mr. Phillips, puzzled. "I say darn, too, but who was it?"
"It was Darn Darner," Danny told him.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Phillips. "That scalawag!"
"He said his father said so," Nora explained.
"That will have to be looked into," Mr. Phillips remarked. "Now you children climb into the buggy and I will take you home. I want to have a talk with your mother."
"She's not to home," said Chris.
"Mebbe she'll be back," observed Nora, looking at the sun. "It's gettin' on towards supper time."
"We'll see," was Mr. Phillips' only comment as he placed Jerry on the front seat and helped Celia Jane in beside him.
Danny and Chris and Nora, in the meantime, had climbed into the back seat. Mr. Phillips clucked to the horses and they trotted off into town.
Jerry felt greatly comforted to be riding home with this big, pleasant man, and the cruel edge of Darn's words began to wear off. He felt that this new friend's words, "That will have to be looked into," meant almost as much as though he had said, "I'll see that nothing of the sort happens."
His body was still shaken, at longer and longer intervals, by shuddering sobs, but when the Mullarkey home was reached, they had subsided and he was enjoying the unaccustomed buggy ride.
Mrs. Mullarkey was home, and she came running out to see why her children were being brought back in a buggy.
"Who's hurt," she asked anxiously, "that you're bringing them home in a buggy?"
"None of them is hurt, Mrs. Mullarkey," Mr. Phillips assured her quickly, and helped the children out. "I'm Tom Phillips. I knew your husband quite well. I found these children crying in the road because Mr. Darner's young scalawag of a son had told them that Jerry Elbow was to be taken to the poor farm."
"Oh, Jerry, you blessed child!" crooned Mother 'Larkey, taking Jerry in her arms. "And you to find it out from some one else when I'd been trying for this week past to get up courage enough to tell you."
"Mother!" cried Nora in a shocked voice.
"It's true, then?" asked Mr. Phillips.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Mullarkey, drawing Jerry tightly to her. "I don't want to let you go, Jerry, but Dan's insurance money is all gone and how I am to make enough to keep the bodies and souls of all you children together I don't know. I love you as though you were my own, you're that sweet and gentle."
Jerry began crying again, but softly this time, because he knew Mother 'Larkey wouldn't let him go if she could help it. She kissed him and turned to Mr. Phillips.
"Mr. Darner told me I'd sooner or later have to let some of my own children go there or be adopted out, if I didn't consent to Jerry's going. I'm at the end of my string."
"I see," observed Mr. Phillips gently. "I didn't know just how Dan Mullarkey left you fixed, but I can do something to help you. Darner can be made to listen to reason and I can bring some influence to bear upon him. I don't see why the county can't let you have as much as it would cost it to keep Jerry at the farm. I belong to the same lodge as Dan did and we'll help you some there. I'll find something for Danny to do. He can be earning a little money in the summer time and help you out that way."
"You're an angel if ever there was one in this world, Mr. Phillips," said Mrs. Mullarkey. "If the county will allow me for Jerry's keep, I'll take better care of him than he'd get at any institution and it would help me in keeping the brood together."
"I'll see what I can do," said Mr. Phillips.
"Then Jerry won't hafta go?" Celia Jane questioned.
"I hope not," he replied. "Keep a stiff upper lip, Jerry!"
"I—I'll try," Jerry promised, already feeling certain that the danger which threatened him had passed.
"I'll come back in a day or two," said Mr. Phillips, "and let you know what I have been able to do."
Jerry watched him from over Mother 'Larkey's shoulder as he drove off. He thought he had never seen a man who looked so big and strong and as though he could make people do just as he wanted them to.
TICKETS TO PARADISE
On Wednesday Mr. Phillips reported that while the matter of allowing Mrs. Mullarkey to keep Jerry had not been decided, he would not be taken to the poor farm on that day at least and he thought it could be arranged that he shouldn't go there at all. Consequently it was with a joyous heart that Jerry awoke early on the morning of the great day that the circus was to reach town. He had slept fitfully all night, thinking of the circus and fearing that he might not wake up in time. Mrs. Mullarkey had promised to call him, but for once Jerry had waked up himself.