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´╗┐Title: Polly of the Circus
Author: Mayo, Margaret, 1882-1951
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Polly of the Circus" ***

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POLLY OF THE CIRCUS

By Margaret Mayo


To My "_KLEINE MUTTER_"



Chapter I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"About what?" asked Polly vacantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what a triumph it was!

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

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

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

Something had gone.

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



Chapter II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You ain't feeling right," he said uneasily.

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Say something, you. Get 'em back!"

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

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

"Can't you get a doctor!" he shouted desperately to Barker.

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

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

"I can't tell just yet," said the doctor. "She must be taken away."

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

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

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

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



Chapter IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ma, let me see, too," begged Willie, as he tugged at his mother's
skirts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What!" exclaimed Miss Perkins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You were GOING to be," persisted the spinster.

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

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

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

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

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

"Dat's what he done ast yo'," Mandy prompted, threateningly.

"I bin 'ceived, Mars John," declared Hasty, solemnly. Mandy snorted
incredulously. Douglas waited.

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

"Well, sah, he jes' put dat trunk a'his'n into de pail, jes' once
an--swish--water gone."

Douglas laughed; and Mandy muttered, sullenly.

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

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

"I can't do no mo' carryin', Mandy," protested Hasty. "I'se hurted in
mah arm."

"What hurt yo'?"

"Tiger."

"A tiger?" exclaimed the women in unison.

"Done chawed it mos' off," he declared, solemnly. "Deacon Elverson, he
seed it, an' he says I's hurt bad."

"Deacon Elverson?" cried the spinster. "Was Deacon Elverson at the
circus?"

"He was in de lot, a-tryin' to look in, same as me," Hasty answered,
innocently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course," said Douglas, hurrying outside.

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

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

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

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Go 'way f'um here!" cried Mandy, as her eyes unconsciously sought the
stairs.

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

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

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

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

"It ain't--It ain't that, is it?" he faltered, unable to utter the word
that filled him with horror.

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

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

"Well, if dar ain't anudder one," she cried.

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

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

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

"The doctor hasn't told us yet," said Douglas, kindly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Here?" They looked at him incredulously.--And this was a parson!

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Her wants will be very few," Douglas answered, kindly. "You needn't
trouble much about that."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"She's hurt bad," was Jim's laconic reply.

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

"She won't be able to travel for some time," said Douglas.

"Mr. Barker is our manager," Toby explained, as he edged his way to the
pastor's side.

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

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

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

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

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

"Good night, Jim," said the pastor. He crossed the room and took the big
fellow's hand.

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

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

"Yes, indeed," Douglas promised.

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, they're all right," Douglas assured him; "they'll be her friends in
no time."

"She's fit for 'em, sir," Toby pleaded. "She's good, clean into the
middle of her heart."

"I'm sure of it," Douglas answered.

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

"I'm glad you told me, Toby," Douglas answered, kindly. "I've never
known much about circus folks."

"I guess I'd better be goin'," Toby faltered, as his eyes roved hungrily
toward the stairway.

"I'll send you our route, and mebbe you'll be lettin' us know how she
is."

"Indeed I will," Douglas assured him, heartily.

"You might tell her we'll write ever' day or so," he added.

"I'll tell her," Douglas promised earnestly.

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

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

"It's hard to leave her," he mumbled; "but the show has got to go on."

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

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

"You can leave the lamp, Mandy--I must finish to-morrow's sermon."

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

"Yo' mus' be pow'ful tired," she said.

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

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



Chapter V

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

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

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

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

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

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

     "Ting ling,
     That's what the bells sing----"

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

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

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

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

"Lor' bless you, no; dis ain't no show," Mandy answered; and she laughed
reassuringly.

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

"Nebber you mind 'bout dat," was Mandy's unsatisfactory reply.

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

"De wat?" asked Mandy in surprise.

"The bunch--Jim and Toby and the rest of the push!"

"Lor' bless you!" Mandy exclaimed. "Dey's done gone 'long wid de circus,
hours ago."

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

"Hole on dar, honey! hole on!" Mandy cautioned. "Don't you 'cite
yo'se'f."

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

"You'se got plenty o' time for dat," Mandy answered, "yes' yo' wait
awhile."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Safer, we hope," Douglas added, with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I wouldn't try just now if I were you," Douglas answered tenderly.

"It's my WHEEL, ain't it?" Polly questioned, after a pause.

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

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

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

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

"I don't think there is," he replied good-naturedly.

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

"We brought you here."

"It's a swell place," she conceded grudgingly.

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

"Is this the 'big top?' she asked.

"The--what?" he stammered.

"The main tent," she explained.

"Well, no; not exactly. It's going to be your room now, Miss Polly."

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

"You're very welcome," Douglas answered with a ring of genuine feeling
in his voice.

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

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

"I'll have to be a heap better 'an I ever was 'fore I can write much,"
Polly drawled, with a whimsical little smile.

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

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

"Every day," Douglas promised solemnly.

"And you will show me how?"

"Indeed I will."

"How long am I in for?" she asked.

"The doctor can tell better about that when he comes."

"The doctor! So--it's as bad as that, eh?"

"Oh, that need not frighten you," Douglas answered consolingly.

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

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

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

"No," admitted John, weakly.

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

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

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

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

"What!" cried Polly, incredulously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, I'm the twenty-four sheet stand," she explained.

"Sheet!" Mandy shrieked from her corner.

"Yes--the billboards--the pictures," Polly said, growing impatient at
their persistent stupidity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, she didn't go AWAY----"

"No?" There was a puzzled note in the pastor's voice.

"She went out," Polly corrected.

"Out!" he echoed blankly.

"Yes--finished--Lights out."

"Oh, an accident." Douglas understood at last.

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

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

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

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

"For de Lord's sake!" Mandy groaned as the wonder of the child's
conversation grew upon her.

"And now I'm down and out," Polly concluded with a sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"An' den on Sunday, when he can't go to church and preach--" She got
no further. A sharp exclamation brought both Mandy and Douglas to
attention.

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

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

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

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

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

"Douglas." He spoke shortly.

"Ain't you got no handle to it?"

"If you mean my Christian name, it's John."

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

"About a year," Douglas answered, with something of a sigh.

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

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

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

"A rep?" he repeated in surprise.

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

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

"What kind of spiels do you give 'em?" she inquired with growing
interest.

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

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

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

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

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

"It doesn't make much difference about the show--" Douglas began, but he
was quickly interrupted.

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

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

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

"I'm not so sure about that," he laughed.

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

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

"Thank you, Polly, I won't." Douglas somehow felt that he was very much
indebted to her.

"I seen a church show once," Polly said suddenly.

"You did?" Douglas asked, with new interest.

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

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

"Couldn't make nothin' out of it--I don't care much for readin'."

"Oh, it isn't ALL reading," he corrected.

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

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

"Yes. And later he tried to interpret to his congrega----"

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

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

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

"Are you goin' to do a stunt while I am here?"

"I preach every Sunday, if that's what you mean; I preach this morning."

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

"Yes."

"And YOU GOT A MATINEE?" she exclaimed, incredulously.

"We have services," he corrected, gently.

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

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

"What are you goin' ter spiel about to-day?"

"About Ruth and Naomi."

"Ruth and who?"

"Naomi," he repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Them's crackerjacks, ain't they?" Polly gasped, and her eyes shone with
wonder. "Which one 's Ruth?"

"Dis one," said Mandy, pointing with her thumb.

"Why, they're dressed just like our chariot drivers. What does it say
about 'em?"

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

"Well, I ain't much on readin'--OUT LOUD," she faltered, growing
suddenly conscious of her deficiencies. "Read it for me, will you?"

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

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

He stopped to ponder over the poetry of the lines.

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

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

"There are?" And her eyes opened wide with wonder.

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

"I guess I'd LIKE to hear YOU spiel," and she fell to studying him
solemnly.

"You would?" he asked eagerly.

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

"Yes, indeed."

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

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

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

"Have you got to go?" Polly asked regretfully.

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



Chapter VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter VII

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

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

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

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

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

When a letter came from Jim and Toby, it was always shared equally by
Mandy and Hasty, Polly and the pastor. But at last a letter came from
Jim only, and Douglas, who was asked to read it, faltered and stopped
after the first few words.

"It's no use my tryin' to keep it from you any longer, Poll," the letter
began, "we ain't got Toby with us no more. He didn't have no accident,
it wasn't that. He just seemed kinder sick and ailin' like, ever since
the night we had to leave you behind. I used to get him warm drinks and
things, and try to pull 'im through, but he was always a-chillin' and
a-achin'. If it wasn't one thing the matter, it was another. I done
all I knowed you'd a-wanted me to, an' the rest of the folks was mighty
white to him, too. I guess they kinder felt how lonesome he was. He
couldn't get no more laughs in the show, so Barker had to put on another
man with him. That kinder hurt him too--I s'pose--an' showed him the
way that things was a-goin'. It was just after that, he wrote the parson
a-tellin' him to never let you come back. He seemed to a' got an idee in
his head that you was happier where you was. He wouldn't let me tell ye
'bout his feelin' so rocky, 'cause he thought it might mebbe make you
come back. 'She's diff'runt from us,' he was allus a-sayin'. 'I never
'spected to keep 'er.'"

Douglas stopped. Polly was waiting, her face white and drawn. He had not
told her of Toby's letter, because with it had come a request to "say
nothin' to the kid."

He felt that Polly was controlling herself with an effort until he
should reach the end of Jim's letter, so he hurried on.

"The parson's promise didn't get to him none too quick," he read. "That
seemed to be what he was waitin' for. He give up the night it come, and
I got him a little room in a hotel after the show, and let one of the
other fellers get the stuff out o' town, so's I could stay with him up
to the finish. It come 'round mornin'. There wasn't much to it--he just
seemed tired and peaceful like. 'I'm glad he wrote what he did,' he
said, meanin' the parson. 'She knows, she allus knows,' he whispered,
meanin' you, Poll, and then he was on his way. He'd already give me what
was saved up for you, and I'm sendin' it along with this--" A blue money
order for two hundred and fifty dollars had fluttered from the envelope
when Douglas opened it.

"I got everythin' ready afore I went on the next day, an' I went up and
saw the little spot on the hill where they was goin' to stow him. It
looked kinder nice and the digger's wife said she'd put some flowers on
to it now and then. It was YOU what made me think o' that, Poll, 'cause
it seemed to me what you would a' done; you was always so daffy about
flowers, you and him.

"I guess this letter's too long for me to be a-sayin' much about the
show, but the 'Leap-a-Death' girl got hern last week. She wasn't strong
enough for the job, nohow. I done what I could for her outside the show,
'cause I knowed how you was always a-feelin' 'bout her. I guess the
'Leap-a-Death's' husband is goin' to jump his job soon, if he gets
enough saved up, 'cause him and Barker can't hit it off no more. We got
a good deal o' trouble among the animals, too. None o' the snakes is
sheddin' like they ought to, and Jumbo's a-carryin' a sixteen foot
bandage around that trunk a' hisn, 'cause he got too fresh with Trixy's
grub the other night, and the new giraffe's got the croup in that
seven-foot neck o' his'n. I guess you'll think I got the pip for fair
this time, so I'll just get onto myself now and cut this short. I'll be
writin' you agin when we hit Morgantown.

"Your old Muvver Jim."


Douglas laid the letter gently on the table, his hand still resting upon
it. He looked helplessly at the little, shrunken figure in the opposite
chair. Polly had made no sound, but her head had slipped lower and lower
and she now sat very quietly with her face in her hands. She had been
taught by Toby and Jim never to whimper.

"What a plucky lot they are," thought Douglas, as he considered these
three lonely souls, each accepting whatever fate brought with no
rebellion or even surprise. It was a strange world of stoics in which
these children of the amusement arena fought and lost. They came and
went like phantoms, with as little consciousness of their own best
interests as of the great, moving powers of the world about them. They
felt no throes of envy, no bitterness. They loved and worked and "went
their way."

For once the pastor was powerless in the presence of grief. Both he and
Mandy left the room quietly, feeling that Polly wished to be spared the
outburst of tears that a sympathetic word might bring upon her. They
allowed her to remain alone for a time, then Mandy entered softly with a
tender good night and Douglas followed her cheerily as though nothing at
all had happened.

It was many weeks before Polly again became a companion to Douglas and
Mandy, but they did not intrude upon her grief. They waited patiently
for the time when youth should again assert itself, and bring back their
laughing mate to them.



Chapter VIII

When Polly understood that Toby was ACTUALLY GONE, it seemed to her
that she could never laugh again. She had been too young to realise the
inevitableness of death when it came to her mother, and now she could
scarcely believe that Toby would never, never come back to her. She felt
that she must be able to DRAG him back, that she could not go on without
him. She wanted to tell him how grateful she was for all his care of
her. She thought of the thousand little things that she might have done
for him. She longed to recall every impatient word to him. His gentle
reproachful eyes were always haunting her. "You must come back, Toby!"
she cried. "You must!"

It was only when body and mind had worn themselves out with yearning,
that a numbness at last crept over her, and out of this grew a
gradual consciousness of things about her and a returning sense of her
obligation to others. She tried to answer in her old, smiling way and to
keep her mind upon what they were saying, instead of letting it wander
away to the past.

Douglas and Mandy were overjoyed to see the colour creeping back to her
cheeks.

She joined the pastor again in his visits to the poor. The women of
the town would often see them passing and would either whisper to
each other, shrug their shoulders, or lift their eyebrows with smiling
insinuations; but Polly and the pastor were too much absorbed in each
other to take much notice of what was going on about them.

They had not gone for their walk to-day, because Mandy had needed Polly
to help make ready for the social to be held in the Sunday-school-room
to-night.

Early in the afternoon, Polly had seen Douglas shut himself up in
the study, and she was sure that he was writing; so when the village
children stopped in on the way from school for Mandy's new-made cookies,
she used her customary trick to get them away. "Tag--you're it!" she
cried, and then dashed out the back door, pursued by the laughing,
screaming youngsters. Mandy followed the children to the porch and stood
looking after them, as the mad, little band scurried about the back
yard, darted in and out amongst the trees, then up the side of the
wooded hill, just beyond the church.

The leaves once more were red and yellow on the trees, but to-day
the air was warm, and the children were wearing their summer dresses.
Polly's lithe, girlish figure looked almost tall by comparison with the
children about her. She wore a plain, simple gown of white, which Mandy
had helped her to make. It had been cut ankle-length, for Polly was now
seventeen. Her quaint, old-fashioned manner, her serious eyes, and her
trick of knotting her heavy, brown hair low on her neck, made her seem
older.

Mandy waited until the children had disappeared over the hill, then
began bustling about looking for the step-ladder which Hasty had left
under the vines of the porch. It had been a busy day at the parsonage. A
social always meant perturbation for Mandy. She called sharply to Hasty,
as he came down the path which made a short cut to the village:

"So's you'se back, is you?" she asked, sarcastically.

"Sure, I'se back," answered Hasty, good-naturedly, as he sank upon an
empty box that had held some things for the social, and pretended to
wipe the perspiration from his forehead.

"Masse John done send you to de post office two hours ago," said Mandy,
as she took the letters and papers from his hand. "Five minutes is
plenty ob time for any nigger to do dat job."

"I done been detained," Hasty drawled.

"You'se always 'tained when dar's any work a-goin' on," Mandy snapped at
him.

"Whar's Miss Polly?" Hasty asked, ignoring Mandy's reference to work.

"Nebber you mind 'bout Miss Polly. She don't want you. Jes' you done
fetch that step-ladder into de Sunday-school-room."

"But I wants her," Hasty insisted. "I'se been on very 'ticular business
what she ought to know 'bout."

"Business?" she repeated. "What kind ob business?"

"I got to fix de Sunday-school-room," said Hasty, as he perceived her
growing curiosity.

"You come heah, nigger!" Mandy called, determined that none of the
village doings should escape her. "Out wid it!"

"Well, it's 'bout de circus," Hasty answered? seating himself again
on the box. "Dey's showin' in Wakefield to-night, and next month dey's
comin' here."

"Dat same circus what Miss Polly used to be wid?" Mandy's eyes grew
large with curiosity.

"De very same," and Hasty nodded mysteriously.

"How you know dat?" Mandy was uncertain whether to believe him.

"'Cause da's a big, red wagon downtown wid de name ob de show painted on
it. It's de advertisin' one what goes ahead wid all de pictures what dey
pastes up."

"And you been hangin' 'roun' dat wagon?"

"I done thought Miss Polly might want to know."

"See here, lazy nigger, don' you go puttin' no circus notions into Miss
Polly's head. She don' care no more 'bout dem things since her Uncle
Toby done die. She done been satisfied right whar she am. Jes' you let
her be."

"I ain't done nothin'," Hasty protested.

"Nebber do do nothin'," growled Mandy. "Go long now, and get a-work.
Mos' four o'clock and dat Sunday-school-room ain't ready yet."

Hasty picked up the empty box and the step-ladder and went out through
the gate. He had barely disappeared when a peal of laughter was heard
from the hillside, and before Mandy could get out of the way, the
youngsters came tumbling down the path again.

"Lawsy, lawsy," she gasped, as Polly circled around her, dodging the
children. "You'se cheeks is red as pineys, honey."

"Tag! you're it!" Polly cried, as she touched the widow's auburn-haired
offspring on the sleeve. There was much wailing when Willie passed the
tag to little Jennie, the smallest girl in the crowd.

"I won't play no more," she sobbed; "'cause I's always it."

To comfort her, Polly began to sing an old circus song that the children
had learned to love; and the little ones huddled about her in a circle
to hear of the wonderful "Van Amberg" who used to "walk right into the
lion's cage and put his head in the lion's mouth." The children were in
a state of nerves that did credit to Polly as an entertainer, when Hasty
broke in upon the song.

"When you get a minute I want ter tell yer somethin'."

"I have one right now." And turning to the eager mites at her side,
Polly told them to run along into the grove, and that she'd come pretty
soon to teach them a new game.

The youngsters went screaming and laughing on their way, and she
breathed a sigh of relief as she threw herself down on the rustic seat
that encircled the elm tree.

"What is it, Hasty?" she asked, suspecting that he was in trouble with
Mandy.

"It's 'bout de circus," Hasty informed her bluntly.

"The circus?" She rose and crossed to him quickly.

"It's in Wakefield--en' nex' month it's a-comin' here."

"Here?" Polly gasped.

"I thought you'd want ter know," said Hasty, little surprised at her
lack of enthusiasm.

"Yes, of course." She turned away and pretended to look at the flowers.

"Don' yous tell Mandy I been talkin' 'bout dat circus," said Hasty,
uneasily. He was beginning to fear that he had made a mistake; but
before Polly could answer, Mandy came out of the house, carrying baskets
and food, which Hasty was to take to the Sunday-school-room. She looked
at the girl's troubled face and drooping shoulders in surprise.

"What make you look so serious, Honey?"

"Just thinking," said Polly absently.

"My! Don' you look fine in your new dress!" She was anxious to draw the
girl out of her reverie.

"Do you like it?" Polly asked eagerly, forgetting her depression of a
moment before. "Do you think Mr. John will like it?"

"Masse John? Mercy me! He nebber takes no notice ob dem things. I done
got a bran', spankin' new allapaca, one time, an' do you think HE ebber
seed it? Lawsy, no! We might jes' well be goin' roun' like Mudder Eve
for all dat man know." Polly looked disappointed. "But udder folks
sees," Mandy continued, comfortingly, "an' you certainly look mighty
fine. Why, you's just as good now as you was afore you got hurled!"

"Yes, I'm well now and able to work again." There was no enthusiasm in
her tone, for Hasty's news had made her realise how unwelcome the old
life would be to her.

"Work! You does work all de time. My stars! de help you is to Massa
John."

"Do you think so? Do I help him?--Do I?"

"Of course you does. You tells him things to do in Sunday-school what
the chillun like, an' you learns him to laugh and 'joy himself, an' a
lot of things what nobody else could a-learned 'im."

"You mustn't say 'learned him,'" Polly corrected; "you must say 'taught
him.' You can't 'learn' anybody anything. You can only 'teach' them."

"Lordy sakes! I didn't know dat." She rolled her large eyes at her young
instructress, and saw that Polly looked very serious. "She's gwine ter
have anudder one a dem 'ticlar spells" thought Mandy, and she made ready
to protest.

"See here, ain't you nebber----"

She was interrupted by a quick "Have you never" from Polly.

"It dun make no difference what you say," Mandy snapped, "so long as
folks understands you." She always grew restive under these ordeals; but
Polly's firm controlled manner generally conquered.

"Oh, yes, it does," answered Polly. "I used to think it didn't; but
it does. You have to say things in a certain way or folks look down on
you."

"I's satisfied de way I be," declared Mandy, as she plumped herself down
on the garden bench and began to fidget with resentment.

"The way I am," Polly persisted, sweetly.

"See here, chile, is day why you been a-settin' up nights an' keepin de
light burnin'?"

"You mustn't say 'setting up;' you must say 'sitting up.' Hens set----"

"So do I," interrupted Mandy; "I's doin' it NOW." For a time she
preserved an injured silence, then turned upon Polly vehemently. "If I
had to think ob all dat ere foolishness eber' time I open my mouth, I'd
done been tongue-tied afore I was born."

"I could teach you in no time," volunteered Polly, eagerly.

"I don't want to be teached," protested Mandy, doggedly. "Hast Jones
says I's too smart anyhow. Men don't like women knowin' too much--it
skeers 'em. I's good enough for my old man, and I ain't a-tryin' to get
nobody else's," Mandy wound up flatly.

"But he'd like you all the better," persisted Polly, laughing.

"I don' WANT to be liked no better by NO nigger," snapped Mandy. "I's a
busy woman, I is." She made for the house, then curiosity conquered her
and she came back to Polly's side. "See here, honey, whose been l'arnin'
you all dem nonsense?"

"I learn from Mr. Douglas. I remember all the things he tells me, and at
night I write them down and say them over. Do you see this, Mandy?" She
took a small red book from her belt and put it into Mandy's black chubby
fists.

"I see some writin', if dat's what you mean," Mandy answered,
helplessly.

"These are my don'ts," Polly confided, as she pointed enthusiastically
to worn pages of finely written notes.

"You'se WHAT, chile?"

"The things I mustn't do or say."

"An' you'se been losin' yoah beauty sleep for dem tings?" Mandy looked
incredulous.

"I don't want Mr. John to feel ashamed of me," she said with growing
pride.

"Well, you'd catch Mandy a-settin' up for----"

"Oh, oh! What did I tell you, Mandy?" Polly pointed reproachfully to the
reminder in the little red book. It was a fortunate thing that Willie
interrupted the lesson at this point, for Mandy's temper was becoming
very uncertain. The children had grown weary waiting for Polly, and
Willie had been sent to fetch her. Polly offered to help Mandy with the
decorations, but Willie won the day, and she was running away hand in
hand with him when Douglas came out of the house.

"Wait a minute!" he called. "My, how fine you look!" He turned Polly
about and surveyed the new gown admiringly.

"He did see it! He did see it!" cried Polly, gleefully.

"Of course I did. I always notice everything, don't I, Mandy?"

"You suah am improvin' since Miss Polly come," Mandy grunted.

"Come, Willie!" called the girl, and ran out laughing through the trees.

"What's this?" Douglas took the small book from Mandy's awkward fingers,
and began to read: "'Hens set--'" He frowned.

"Oh, dem's jes' Miss Polly's 'don'ts,'" interrupted Mandy, disgustedly.

"Her 'don'ts'?"

"She done been set--sit--settin' up nights tryin' to learn what you done
tole her," stuttered Mandy.

"Dear little Polly," he murmured, then closed the book and put it into
his pocket.



Chapter IX

DOUGLAS was turning toward the house when the Widow Willoughby came
through the wicker gate to the left of the parsonage, carrying bunting
for the social. She was followed by Miss Perkins with a bucket of
pickles, which Mandy promptly placed on top of Mrs. Elverson's ice
cream. The women explained that they had come to put the finishing
touches to the decorations. If anything was needed to increase Mandy's
dislike of the widow, it was this announcement.

Mrs. Willoughby was greatly worried because her children had not been
home since the afternoon school session. Upon learning that they were
with Polly, she plainly showed her displeasure; and Douglas dispatched
Mandy for them. She saw that her implied distrust of Polly had annoyed
him, and she was about to apologise, when two of the deacons arrived on
the scene, also carrying baskets and parcels for the social.

Strong led the way. He always led the way and always told Elverson what
to think. They had been talking excitedly as they neared the parsonage,
for Strong disapproved of the recent changes which the pastor had made
in the church service. He and Douglas had clashed more than once since
the baseball argument, and the deacon had realised more and more that
he had met a will quite as strong as his own. His failure to bend the
parson to his way of thinking was making him irritable, and taking his
mind from his business.

"Can you beat that!" he would exclaim as he turned away from some
disagreement with Douglas, his temper ruffled for the day.

Polly was utterly unconscious of the unfriendly glances cast in her
direction as she came running into the garden, leading the widow's two
children.

She nodded gaily to Julia Strong, who was coming through the gate, then
hurried to Mrs. Willoughby, begging that the children be allowed to
remain a little longer. She was making up a new game, she said, and
needed Willie and Jennie for the set.

"My children do not play in promiscuous games," said the widow, icily.

"Oh, but this isn't pro-pro-pro"--Polly stammered. "It's a new game. You
put two here, and two here, and----"

"I don't care to know." The widow turned away, and pretended to talk to
Julia.

"Oh!" gasped Polly, stunned by the widow's rebuff.

She stood with bowed head in the centre of the circle. The blood flew
from her cheeks, then she turned to go.

Douglas stepped quickly to her side. "Wait a minute," he said. She
paused, all eyes were turned upon them. "Is this a game that grown-ups
can play?"

"Why, yes, of course."

"Good! Then I'll make up your set. I need a little amusement just now.
Excuse me," he added, turning to the deacons. Then he ran with her out
through the trees.

The deacons and the women stared at each other, aghast.

"Well, what do you think of that?" said Mrs. Willoughby, as the flying
skirts of the girl and the black figure of the man disappeared up the
path.

"I think it's scandalous, if you are talking to me," said Miss Perkins.
"The idea of a full-grown parson a-runnin' off to play children's games
with a circus ridin' girl!"

"She isn't such a child," sneered Julia.

"It's ENOUGH to make folks talk," put in Mrs. Willoughby, with a sly
look at the deacons.

"And me a-waitin' to discuss the new church service," bellowed Strong.

"And me a-waiting to give him Mrs. Elverson's message," piped Elverson.

"The church bore all this in silence so long as that girl was sick,"
snapped Miss Perkins. "But now she's perfectly well, and still a-hanging
on. No wonder folks are talking."

"Who's talking?" thundered Strong.

"Didn't you know?" simpered Mrs. Willoughby, not knowing herself nor
caring, so long as the suspicion grew.

"Know what?" yelled the excited deacon. Mrs. Willoughby floundered. Miss
Perkins rushed into the breach.

"Well, if _I_ was deacon of this church, it seems to me I'd know
something about what's going on in it."

"What IS goin' on?" shrieked the now desperate deacon.

The women looked at him pityingly, exchanged knowing glances, then shook
their heads at his hopeless stupidity.

Strong was not accustomed to criticism. He prided himself upon his
acuteness, and was, above all, vain about his connection with the
church. He looked from one woman to the other. He was seething with
helpless rage. The little deacon at his side coughed nervously. Strong's
pent up wrath exploded. "Why didn't YOU tell me, Elverson, that people
was a-talkin'," he roared in the frightened man's ear.

Elverson sputtered and stammered, but nothing definite came of the
sounds; so Strong again turned to Miss Perkins:

"What is going on?" he demanded.

The spinster shrugged her shoulders and lifted her eyes heavenward,
knowing that nothing could so madden the deacon as this mysterious
inference of things too terrible to mention. She was right. Strong
uttered a desperate "Bah!" and began pacing up and down the garden with
reckless strides.

Mrs. Willoughby watched him with secret delight, and when he came to a
halt, she wriggled to his side with simpering sweetness.

"What COULD folks say?" she asked. "A minister and a young circus riding
girl living here like this with no one to--" She found no words at this
point and Strong, now thoroughly roused, declared that the congregation
should have no further cause for gossip, and went out quickly in search
of Douglas.

When Strong was gone, Elverson looked at the set faces of the women, and
attempted a weak apology for the pastor. "I dare say the young man was
very lonely--very--before she came."

"Lonely?" snapped Miss Perkins. "Well, if HE was LONELY, _I_ didn't know
it."

The deacon excused himself nervously, and went to join Strong.

The women gathered up their buntings, and retired with bland smiles to
the Sunday-school-room, feeling that they had accomplished enough for
the time being.

Strong and Elverson crossed the yard, still in search of the pastor.
They turned at the sound of fluttering leaves and beheld Douglas,
hatless, tearing down the path. Strong called to him, but Douglas
darted quickly behind the hedge. The deacons looked at one another in
speechless astonishment. Presently the silence was broken by the distant
voice of Polly counting from one to one hundred. The secret was out! The
pastor, a leader of the church, was playing hide-and-seek.

"Mr. Douglas!" shouted Strong, when his breath had returned.

"Hush, hush!" whispered Douglas, looking over the hedge. He peeped
cautiously about him, then came toward the men with a sigh of relief.
"It's all right. She has gone the other way."

"It'll be a good thing for you if she never comes back," said Strong,
and Douglas's quick ear caught an unpleasant meaning in his tone.

"What's that?" the pastor asked, in a low, steady voice.

"We don't like some of the things that are going on here, and I want to
talk to you about 'em."

"Very well, but see if you can't talk in a lower key."

"Never mind about the key," shouted Strong, angrily.

"But I DO mind." Something in his eyes made the deacon lower his voice.

"We want to know how much longer that girl is goin' to stay here?"

"Indeed! And why?" The colour was leaving Douglas's face, and his jaw
was becoming very square.

"Because she's been here long enough."

"I don't agree with you there."

"Well, it don't make no difference whether you do or not. She's got to
go."

"Go?" echoed Douglas.

"Yes, sir-e-bob. We've made up our minds to that."

"And who do you mean by 'we'?"

"The members of this congregation," replied Strong, impatiently.

"Am I to understand that YOU are speaking for THEM?" There was a deep
frown between the young pastor's eyes. He was beginning to be perplexed.

"Yes, and as deacon of this church."

"Then, as deacon of this church, you tell the congregation for me that
that is MY affair."

"Your affair!" shouted Strong. "When that girl is living under the
church's roof, eating the church's bread!"

"Just one moment! You don't quite understand. I am minister of this
church, and for that position I receive, or am supposed to receive, a
salary to live on, and this parsonage, rent free, to live in. Any
guests that I may have here are MY guests, and NOT guests of the church.
Remember that, please."

There was an embarrassing silence. The deacons recalled that the
pastor's salary WAS slightly in arrears. Elverson coughed meekly. Strong
started.

"You keep out of this, Elverson!" he cried. "I'm running this affair and
I ain't forgetting my duty nor the parson's."

"I shall endeavour to do MY duty as I see it," answered Douglas, turning
away and dismissing the matter.

"Your duty is to your church," thundered Strong.

"You're right about that, Deacon Strong'" answered Douglas, wheeling
about sharply, "and my duty to the church is reason enough for my acting
exactly as I am doing in this case."

"Is your duty to the church the ONLY reason you keep that girl here?"

"No, there are other reasons."

"I thought so."

"You've heard her story--you MUST have heard. She was left with me by an
old clown who belonged in the circus where she worked. Before he died
he asked me to look after her. She has no one else. I shall certainly do
so."

"That was when she was hurt. She's well now, and able to go back where
she came from. Do you expect us to have our young folks associatin' with
a circus ridin' girl?"

"So, that's it!" cried the pastor, with a pitying look. "You think this
child is unfit for your homes because she was once in a circus. For
some reason, circus to you spells crime. You call yourself a Christian,
Deacon Strong, and yet you insist that I send a good, innocent girl
back to a life which you say is sinful. I'm ashamed of you, Strong--I'm
ashamed of you!"

"That talk don't do no good with me," roared Strong. He was desperate at
being accused of an unchristian attitude.

"I ain't askin' you to send her back to the circus. I don't care WHERE
you send her. Get her away from HERE, that's all."

"Not so long as she wishes to stay."

"You won't?" Strong saw that he must try a new attack. He came close to
Douglas and spoke with a marked insinuation. "If you was a friend to
the girl, you wouldn't want the whole congregation a-pointin' fingers at
her."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that you're living here alone with her and it looks bad--bad for
the girl, and bad for YOU--and folks is talkin'."

"Are you trying to tell me that my people are evil-minded enough to
think that I--" Douglas stopped. He could not frame the question. "I
don't believe it," he concluded shortly.

"You'll be MADE to believe it if you don't get rid of that girl."

"Do YOU believe it?" He turned upon the little man at his side! "Do you
believe it, Elverson?"

Elverson had been so accustomed to Strong monopolising the conversation,
that he had become hopelessly lost as the discussion went on, and the
sudden appeal to him all but paralysed his power of speech. He was still
gurgling and sputtering when Strong interrupted, impatiently.

"It makes no difference whether we believe it or not. We're going to do
our duty by the church, and that girl must leave or----"

"Or I must." Douglas pieced out Strong's phrase for himself. "That
threat doesn't frighten me at all, deacon. After what you have said,
I should refuse to remain in this church"--the deacon stepped forward
eagerly--"were it not that I realise more than ever before how much
you need me, how much you ignorant, narrow-minded creatures need to
be taught the meaning of true Christianity." The deacon was plainly
disappointed.

"Is it possible?" gasped Elverson, weakly.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" asked Strong, when he could
trust himself to speak again.

"I shall do what is best for Miss Polly," said the pastor quietly but
firmly.

He turned away to show that the interview was at an end. Strong followed
him. Douglas pointed to the gate with a meaning not to be mistaken.
"Good afternoon, deacon."

Strong hesitated. He looked at the pastor, then at the gate, then at the
pastor again. "I'll go," he shouted; "but it ain't the end!" He slammed
the gate behind him.

"Quite so, quite so," chirped Elverson, not having the slightest idea of
what he was saying. He saw the frigid expression on the pastor's face,
he coughed behind his hat, and followed Strong.



Chapter X

Douglas dropped wearily onto the rustic bench. He sat with drooped head
and unseeing eyes. He did not hear Polly as she scurried down the path,
her arms filled with autumn leaves. She glanced at him, dropped the
bright-coloured foliage, and slipped quickly to the nearest tree. "One,
two, three for Mr. John," she cried, as she patted the huge, brown
trunk.

"Is that you, Polly?" he asked absently.

"Now, it's your turn to catch me," she said, lingering near the tree.
The pastor was again lost in thought. "Aren't you going to play any
more?" There was a shade of disappointment in her voice. She came slowly
to his side.

"Sit here, Polly," he answered gravely, pointing to a place on the
bench. "I want to talk to you."

"Now, I've done something wrong," she pouted. She gathered up her
garlands and brought them to a place near his feet, ignoring the seat at
his side. "You might just as well tell me and get it over."

"You couldn't do anything wrong," he answered, looking down at her.

"Oh, yes, I could--and I've done it--I can see it in your face. What is
it?"

"What have you there?" he asked, trying to gain time, and not knowing
how to broach the subject that in justice to her must be discussed.

"Some leaves to make garlands for the social," Polly answered more
cheerfully. "Would you mind holding this?" She gave him one end of a
string of leaves.

"Where are the children?"

"Gone home."

"You like the children very much, don't you, Polly?" Douglas was
striving for a path that might lead them to the subject that was
troubling him.

"Oh, no, I don't LIKE them, I LOVE them." She looked at him with tender
eyes.

"You're the greatest baby of all." A puzzled line came between his eyes
as he studied her more closely. "And yet, you're not such a child, are
you, Polly? You're quite grown up, almost a young lady." He looked at
her from a strange, unwelcome point of view. She was all of that as she
sat at his feet, yearning and slender and fair, at the turning of her
seventeenth year.

"I wonder how you would like to go way?" Her eyes met his in terror.
"Away to a great school," he added quickly, flinching from the very
first hurt that he had inflicted; "where there are a lot of other young
ladies."

"Is it a place where you would be?" She looked up at him anxiously. She
wondered if his "show" was about to "move on."

"I'm afraid not," Douglas answered, smiling in spite of his heavy heart.

"I wouldn't like any place without you," she said decidedly, and seemed
to consider the subject dismissed.

"But if it was for your GOOD," Douglas persisted.

"It could never be for my good to leave you."

"But just for a little while," he pleaded. How was she ever to
understand? How could he take from her the sense of security that he had
purposely taught her to feel in his house?

"Not even for a moment," Polly answered, with a decided shake of her
head.

"But you must get ahead in your studies," he argued.

She looked at him anxiously. She was beginning to be alarmed at his
persistence.

"Maybe I've been playing too many periscous games."

"Not periscous, Polly, promiscuous."

"Pro-mis-cuous," she repeated, haltingly. "What does that mean?"

"Indiscriminate." He rubbed his forehead as he saw the puzzled look on
her face. "Mixed up," he explained, more simply.

"Our game wasn't mixed up." She was thinking of the one to which the
widow had objected. "Is it promiscuous to catch somebody?"

"It depends upon whom you catch," he answered with a dry, whimsical
smile.

"Well, I don't catch anybody but the children." She looked up at him
with serious, inquiring eyes.

"Never mind, Polly. Your games aren't promiscuous." She did not hear
him. She was searching for her book.

"Is this what you are looking for?" he asked, drawing the missing
article from his pocket.

"Oh!" cried Polly, with a flush of embarrassment. "Mandy told you."

"You've been working a long time on that."

"I thought I might help you if I learned everything you told me," she
answered, timidly. "But I don't suppose I could."

"I can never tell you how much you help me, Polly."

"Do I?" she cried, eagerly.

"I can help more if you will only let me. I can teach a bigger class in
Sunday-school now. I got to the book of Ruth to-day."

"You did?" He pretended to be astonished. He was anxious to encourage
her enthusiasm.

"Um hum!" She answered solemnly. A dreamy look came into her eyes. "Do
you remember the part that you read to me the first day I came?" He
nodded. He was thinking how care-free they were that day. How impossible
such problems as the present one would have seemed then. "I know every
bit of what you read by heart. It's our next Sunday-school lesson."

"So it is."

"Do you think now that it would be best for me to go away?" She looked
up into his troubled face.

"We'll see, we'll see," he murmured, then tried to turn her mind
toward other things. "Come now, let's find out whether you DO know your
Sunday-school lesson. How does it begin?" There was no answer. She had
turned away with trembling lips. "And Ruth said"--he took her two small
hands and drew her face toward him, meaning to prompt her.

"Entreat me not to leave thee," she pleaded. Her eyes met his. His face
was close to hers. The small features before him were quivering with
emotion. She was so frail, so helpless, so easily within his grasp. His
muscles grew tense and his lips closed firmly. He was battling with an
impulse to draw her toward him and comfort her in the shelter of his
strong, brave arms. "They shan't!" he cried, starting toward her.

Polly drew back, overawed. Her soul had heard and seen the things
revealed to each of us only once. She would never again be a child.

Douglas braced himself against the back of the bench.

"What was the rest of the lesson?" he asked in a firm, hard voice.

"I can't say it now," Polly murmured. Her face was averted; her white
lids fluttered and closed.

"Nonsense, of course you can. Come, come, I'll help you." Douglas spoke
sharply. He was almost vexed with her and with himself for the weakness
that was so near overcoming them. "And Ruth said, 'Entreat me not to
leave thee----'"

"'Or to return from following after thee.'" She was struggling to keep
back the tears. "'For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou
lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my'
"--She stopped.

"That's right, go on," said Douglas, striving to control the
unsteadiness in his own voice.

"Where thou diest, will I die'"--her arms went out blindly.

"Oh, you won't send me away, will you?" she sobbed. "I don't want to
learn anything else just--except--from you." She covered her face and
slipped, a little, broken heap at his feet.

In an instant the pastor's strong arms were about her, his stalwart body
was supporting her. "You shan't go away. I won't let you--I won't! Do
you hear me, Polly? I won't!"

Her breath was warm against his cheek. He could feel her tears, her arms
about him, as she clung to him helplessly, sobbing and quivering in the
shelter of his strong embrace. "You are never going to leave me--never!"

A new purpose had come into his life, the realisation of a new
necessity, and he knew that the fight which he must henceforth make for
this child was the same that he must make for himself.



Chapter XI

"I'se goin' into de Sunday-school-room to take off dat ere widow's
finishin' touches," said Mandy, as she came down the steps.

"All right!" called Douglas. "Take these with you, perhaps they may
help." He gathered up the garlands which Polly had left on the ground.
His eyes were shining, he looked younger than Mandy had ever seen him.

Polly had turned her back at the sound of Mandy's voice and crossed to
the elm tree, drying her tears of happiness and trying to control her
newly awakened emotions. Douglas felt intuitively that she needed this
moment for recovery, so he piled the leaves and garlands high in Mandy's
arms, then ran into the house with the light step of a boy.

"I got the set-sit-settin' room all tidied up," said Mandy as she shot a
sly glance at Polly.

"That's good," Polly answered, facing Mandy at last and dimpling and
blushing guiltily.

"Mos' de sociable folks will mos' likely be hangin' roun' de parsonage
to-night, 'stead ob stayin' in de Sunday-school-room, whar dey belongs.
Las' time dat ere Widow Willoughby done set aroun' all ebenin' a-tellin'
de parson as how folks could jes' eat off'n her kitchen floor, an' I
ups an' tells her as how folks could pick up a good, squar' meal off'n
MANDY'S floor, too. Guess she'll be mighty careful what she says afore
Mandy to-night." She chuckled as she disappeared down the walk to the
Sunday-school-room.

Polly stood motionless where Mandy had left her. She hardly knew which
way to turn. She was happy, yet afraid. She felt like sinking upon her
knees and begging God to be good to her, to help her. She who had once
been so independent, so self-reliant, now felt the need of direction
from above. She was no longer master of her own soul, something had
gone from her, something that would never, never come again. While
she hesitated, Hasty came through the gate looking anxiously over his
shoulder.

"Well, Hasty?" she said, for it was apparent that Hasty had something
important on his mind.

"It's de big one from de circus," he whispered, excitedly.

"The big one?"

"You know--De one what brung you."

"You don't mean--?" Polly's question was answered by Jim himself who had
followed Hasty quickly through the gate. Their arms were instantly about
each other. Jim forgot Hasty and every one in the world except Polly,
and neither of them noticed the horrified Miss Perkins and the Widow
Willoughby, who had been crossing the yard on their way from the
Sunday-school-room with Julia.

"You're just as big as ever," said Polly, when she could let go of Jim
long enough to look at him. "You haven't changed a bit."

"You've changed enough for both of us." He looked at the unfamiliar long
skirts and the new way of doing her hair. "You're bigger, Poll; more
grown up like."

"Oh, Jim!" She glanced admiringly at the new brown suit, the rather
startling tie, and the neat little posy in Jim's buttonhole.

"The fellows said I'd have to slick up a bit if I was a-comin' to see
you, so as not to make you ashamed of me. Do you like 'em?" he asked,
looking down approvingly at his new brown clothes.

"Very much." For the first time Jim noticed the unfamiliar manner of her
speech. He began to feel self-conscious. A year ago she would have said,
"You bet!" He looked at her awkwardly. She hurried on: "Hasty told me
you were showing in Wakefield. I knew you'd come to see me. How's Barker
and all the boys?" She stopped with a catch in her throat, and added
more slowly: "I suppose everything's different, now that Toby is gone."

"He'd a-liked to a-seen you afore he cashed in," Jim answered; "but
maybe it was just as well he didn't. You'd hardly a-knowed him toward
the last, he got so thin an' peeked like. He wasn't the same after we
lost you, nobody was, not even Bingo."

"Have you still got Bingo?" she asked, through her tears.

"Yep, we got him," drawled Jim, "but he ain't much good no more. None
of the other riders can get used to his gait like you was. There ain't
nobody with the show what can touch you ridin', there never will be.
Say, mebbe you think Barker won't let out a yell when he sees yer comin'
back." Jim was jubilant now, and he let out a little yell of his own at
the mere thought of her return. He was too excited to notice the look
on Polly's face. "Toby had a notion before he died that you was never
a-comin' back, but I told him I'd change all that once I seed yer, and
when Barker sent me over here to-day to look arter the advertisin',
he said he guessed you'd had all you wanted a' church folks. 'Jes' you
bring her along to Wakefield,' he said, 'an' tell her that her place
is waitin' for her,' and I will, too." He turned upon Polly with sudden
decision. "Why, I feel jes' like pickin' yer up in my arms and carryin'
you right off now."

"Wait, Jim!" She put one tiny hand on his arm to restrain him.

"I don't mean--not--to-day--mebbe"--he stammered, uncertainly, "but
we'll be back here a-showin' next month."

"Don't look at me now," Polly answered, as the dog-like eyes searched
her face, "because I have to say something that is going to hurt you,
Jim."

"You're comin', ain't yer, Poll?" The big face was wrinkled and
care-worn with trouble.

"No, Jim," she replied in a tone so low that he could scarcely hear her.

"You mean that you ain't NEVER comin' back?" He tried to realise what
such a decision might mean to him.

"No, Jim." She answered tenderly, for she dreaded the pain that she must
cause the great, good-hearted fellow. "You mustn't care like that," she
pleaded, seeing the blank desolation that had come into his face. "It
isn't because I don't love you just the same, and it was good of Barker
to keep my place for me, but I can't go back."

He turned away; she clung to the rough, brown sleeve. "Why, Jim, when I
lie in my little room up there at night"--she glanced toward the window
above them--"and everything is peaceful and still, I think how it used
to be in the old days, the awful noise and the rush of it all, the
cheerless wagons, the mob in the tent, the ring with its blazing lights,
the whirling round and round on Bingo, and the hoops, always the hoops,
till my head got dizzy and my eyes all dim; and then the hurry after the
show, and the heat and the dust or the mud and the rain, and the rumble
of the wheels in the plains at night, and the shrieks of the animals,
and then the parade, the awful, awful parade, and I riding through the
streets in tights, Jim! Tights!" She covered her face to shut out the
memory. "I couldn't go back to it, Jim! I just couldn't!" She turned
away, her face still hidden in her hands. He looked at her a long while
in silence.

"I didn't know how you'd come to feel about it," he said doggedly.

"You aren't ANGRY, Jim?" She turned to him anxiously, her eyes pleading
for his forgiveness.

"Angry?" he echoed, almost bitterly. "I guess it couldn't ever come
to that a-tween you an' me. I'll be all right." He shrugged his great
shoulders. "It's just kinder sudden, that's all. You see, I never
figured on givin' yer up, and when you said you wasn't comin' back, it
kinder seemed as though I couldn't see nothin' all my life but long,
dusty roads, and nobody in 'em. But it's all right now, and I'll just be
gettin' along to the wagon."

"But, Jim, you haven't seen Mr. Douglas," Polly protested, trying to
keep him with her until she could think of some way to comfort him.

"I'll look in on him comin' back," said Jim, anxious to be alone with
his disappointment. He was out of the gate before she could stop him.

"Hurry back, won't you, Jim? I'll be waiting for you." She watched
him going quickly down the road, his fists thrust into his brown coat
pockets, and his hat pulled over his eyes. He did not look back, as he
used to do, to wave a parting farewell, and she turned toward the house
with a troubled heart. She had reached the lower step when Strong and
Elverson approached her from the direction of the church.

"Was that feller here to take you back to the circus?" demanded Strong.

She opened her lips to reply, but before she could speak, Strong assured
her that the congregation wouldn't do anything to stop her if she wished
to go. He saw the blank look on her face. "We ain't tryin' to pry into
none of your private affairs," he explained; "but my daughter saw you
and that there feller a makin' up to each other. If you're calculatin'
to run away with him, you'll save a heap of trouble for the parson by
doin' it quick."

"The parson!"

"YOU can't blame the congregation for not wantin' him to keep you here.
You got sense enough to see how it looks. HE'D see it, too, if he wasn't
just plain, bull-headed. Well he'd better get over his stubbornness
right now, if he don't we'll get another minister, that's all."

"Another minister? You don't mean--?" It was clear enough now. She
recalled Douglas's troubled look of an hour ago. She remembered how he
had asked if she couldn't go away. It was this that he meant when he
promised not to give her up, no matter what happened. In an instant
she was at the deacon's side pleading and terrified. "You wouldn't get
another minister! Oh, please, Deacon Strong, listen to me, listen! You
were right about Jim, he DID come to get me and I am going back to the
circus--only you won't send Mr. Douglas away, you won't! Say you won't!"
She was searching his eyes for mercy. "It wasn't HIS fault that I kept
staying on. He didn't know how to get rid of me. He DID try, he tried
only to-day."

"So he's comin' 'round," sneered Strong.

"Yes, yes, and you won't blame him any more, will you?" she hurried on
anxiously. "You'll let him stay, no matter what he does, if I promise to
go away and never, never come back again?"

"I ain't holdin' no grudge agin him," Strong grumbled. "He talks
pretty rough sometimes, but he's been a good enough minister. I ain't
forgettin' that."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Strong, thank you. I'll get my things; it won't take
a minute." She was running up the steps when a sudden thought stopped
her. She returned quickly to Strong. "We'd better not let him know just
yet. You can tell him afterward. Tell him that I ran away--Tell him
that----"

She was interrupted by Douglas, who came from the house. "Hello, Strong,
back again?" he asked, in some surprise. Polly remained with her eyes
fixed upon the deacon, searching for some way of escape. The pastor
approached; she burst into nervous laughter. "What's the joke?" Douglas
asked.

"It's only a little surprise that the deacon and I are planning." She
tried to control the catch in her voice. "You'll know about it soon,
won't he, deacon? Good afternoon, Mr. Strong!" She flew into the house,
laughing hysterically.

Douglas followed her to the steps with a puzzled frown. It was unlike
Polly to give way to her moods before others. "Have you gentlemen
changed your minds about the little girl staying on?" he asked,
uneasily.

"It's all right now," said Strong, seating himself with a complacent
air.

"All right? How so?" questioned Douglas, more and more puzzled by the
deacon's evident satisfaction.

"Because," said Strong, rising and facing the pastor, "because your
circus-ridin' gal is goin' to leave you of her own accord."

"Have you been talking to that girl?" asked Douglas, sternly.

"I have," said Strong, holding his ground.

"See here, deacon, if you've been browbeating that child, I may forget
that I'm a minister." The knuckles on Douglas's large fists grew whiter.

"She's goin', I tell yer, and it ain't because of what I said either.
She's goin' back to the circus."

"I don't believe you."

"You would a-believed me if you'd seen the fellow that was just
a-callin' on her, and her a-huggin' and a-kissin' of him and a-promisin'
that she'd be a-waitin' for him here when he come back."

"You lie!" cried Douglas, taking a step toward the retreating deacon.

"There's the fellow now," cried Strong, as he pointed to the gate.
"Suppose you ask him afore yer call me a liar."

Douglas turned quickly and saw Jim approaching. His face lighted up with
relief at the sight of the big, lumbering fellow.

"How are yer, Mr. Douglas?" said Jim, awkwardly.

"You've seen Polly?" asked Douglas, shaking Jim cordially by the hand.

"Yes, I've seen her."

"The deacon here has an idea that Polly is going back to the circus with
you." He nodded toward Strong, almost laughing at the surprise in store
for him.

"Back to the circus?" asked Jim.

"Did she say anything to you about it?" He was worried by the
bewilderment in Jim's manner.

Before Jim could reply, Polly, who had reached the steps in time to
catch the last few words, slipped quickly between them. She wore her
coat and hat, and carried a small brown satchel.

"Of course I did, didn't I, Jim?" she said, turning her back upon the
pastor and motioning to Jim not to answer. Douglas gazed at her in
astonishment.

"What do you mean?" he asked in a hoarse, strained voice. He glanced at
the coat and hat. "Where are you going?"

Polly avoided his eyes and continued nervously to Jim.

"What made you come back? Why didn't you wait for me down the street?
Now, you've spoiled everything." She pretended to be very vexed with
him. The big fellow looked puzzled. He tried to protest, but she put a
warning finger to her lips and pressed the little brown satchel into his
hand. "It's no use," she went on hurriedly. "We might as well tell them
everything now." She turned to Douglas and pretended to laugh. "You have
found us out."

The deacons were slightly uneasy; the frown on Douglas's forehead was
deepening.

"Oh, see how serious he looks," she teased, with a toss of her head
toward the grim-visaged pastor.

"Is this some trick?" he demanded, sternly.

"Don't be angry," she pleaded. "Wish me luck."

She held out one small hand; he did not take it. She wavered, then she
felt the eyes of the deacons upon her. Courage returned and she spoke in
a firm, clear voice: "I am going to run away."

Douglas stepped before her and studied her keenly.

"Run away?" he exclaimed incredulously.

"Yes, to the circus with Jim."

"You couldn't DO such a thing," he answered, excitedly. "Why, only a
moment ago you told me you would never leave me."

"Oh, but that was a moment ago," she cried, in a strained, high voice.
"That was before Jim came. You see, I didn't know HOW I felt until I saw
Jim and heard all about my old friends, how Barker is keeping my place
for me, and how they all want to see me. And I want to see them, and
to hear the music and the laughter and the clown songs--Oh, the clown
songs!" She waltzed about, humming the snatch of melody that Mandy had
heard the morning that Polly first woke in the parsonage.

        "Ting, ling.
        That's how the bells ring,
        Ting, ling, pretty young thing."

She paused, her hands clasped behind her head, and gazed at them with a
brave, little smile. "Oh, it's going to be fine! Fine!"

"You don't know what you're doing," said Douglas. He seized her roughly
by the arm. Pain was making him brutal. "I won't LET you go! Do you hear
me? I won't--not until you've thought it over."

"I have thought it over," Polly answered, meeting his eyes and trying
to speak lightly. Her lips trembled. She could not bear for him to
think her so ungrateful. She remembered his great kindness; the many
thoughtful acts that had made the past year so precious to her.

"You've been awfully good to me, Mr. John." She tried to choke back a
sob. "I'll never forget it--never! I'll always feel the same toward you.
But you mustn't ask me to stay. I want to get back to them that knew me
first--to my OWN! Circus folks aren't cut out for parsons' homes, and
I was born in the circus. I love it--I love it!" She felt her strength
going, and cried out wildly: "I want Bingo! I want to go round and round
the ring! I want the lights and the music and the hoops! I want the
shrieks of the animals, and the rumble of the wheels in the plains at
night! I want to ride in the big parade! I want to live and die--just
die--as circus folks die! I want to go back! I want to go back!"

She put out one trembling hand to Jim and rushed quickly through the
gate laughing and sobbing hysterically and calling to him to follow.



Chapter XII

LONELY days followed Polly's desertion of the parsonage. Mandy went
about her duties very quietly, feeling that the little comments which
once amused the pastor had now become an interruption to thoughts in
which she had no part. He would sit for hours with his head in his
hands, taking no notice of what passed before him. She tried to think of
new dishes to tempt his appetite, and shook her head sadly as she bore
the untasted food back to the kitchen.

She sometimes found a portfolio of drawings lying open upon his study
table. She remembered the zeal with which he had planned to remodel the
church and parsonage, when he first came to them; how his enthusiasm had
gradually died for lack of encouragement; and how he had at last put
his books in a cupboard, where they grew dusty from long neglect. She
marvelled at their reappearance now, but something in his set, far-away
look made her afraid to inquire. Thus she went on from day to day,
growing more impatient with Hasty and more silent with the pastor.

Mandy needed humor and companionship to oil the wheels of her humdrum
life; there was no more laughter in the house, and she began to droop.

Polly had been away from the parsonage a month, when the complacency
of the village was again upset by the arrival of the "Great American
Circus."

There were many callers at the parsonage that day, for speculation was
now at fever heat about the pastor. "Would he try to see her? had he
forgotten her? and what had he ever found in her?" were a few of the
many questions that the women were asking each other. Now, that the
cause of their envy was removed, they would gladly have reinstated the
pastor as their idol; for, like all truly feminine souls, they could
not bear to see a man unhappy without wishing to comfort him, nor happy
unless they were the direct cause of his state. "How dare any man be
happy without me?" has been the cry of each woman since Eve was created
to mate with Adam.

Douglas had held himself more and more aloof from the day of Polly's
disappearance. He expressed no opinion about the deacons or their recent
disapproval of him. He avoided meeting them oftener than duty required;
and Strong felt so uncomfortable and tongue-tied in his presence that
he, too, was glad to make their talks as few as possible.

Nothing was said about the pastor's plans for the future, or about his
continued connection with the church, and the inquisitive sisterhood
was on the point of exploding from an over-accumulation of unanswered
questions.

He delivered his sermons conscientiously, called upon his poor, listened
to the sorrows, real and fancied, of his parishioners, and shut himself
up with his books or walked alone on the hill behind the church.

He had been absent all day, when Mandy looked out on the circus lot for
the dozenth time, and saw that the afternoon performance was closing.
It had driven her to desperation to learn that Miss Polly was not in the
parade that morning, and to know that the pastor had made no effort
to find out about her. For weeks both she and Hasty had hoped that the
return of the circus might bring Polly back to them; but now it was
nearly night and there had been no word from her. Why didn't she come
running in to see them, as Mandy had felt so sure she would? Why had the
pastor stayed away on the hills all day?

Unanswered questions were always an abomination to Mandy, so finally she
drew a quarter from the knotted gingham rag that held her small wad of
savings, and told Hasty "to go long to de show and find out 'bout Miss
Polly."

She was anxiously waiting for him, when Deacon Strong knocked at the
door for the second time that afternoon.

"Is Mr. Douglas back yet?' he asked.

"No, sah, he ain't," said Mandy, very shortly. She felt that Strong
and Elverson had been "a-tryin' to spy on de parson all day," and she
resented their visits more than she usually did.

"What time are you expectin' him?"

"I don't nebber spec' Massa Douglas till I sees him."

Strong grunted uncivilly, and went down the steps. She saw from the
window that he met Elverson in front of the church.

"Dey sure am a-meanin' trouble," she mumbled.

The band had stopped playing; the last of the audience had straggled
down the street. She opened the door and stood on the porch; the house
seemed to suffocate her. What was keeping Hasty?

He came at last, but Mandy could tell from his gait that he brought
unwelcome news.

"Ain't she dar?"

"She's wid 'em, all right," said Hasty.

"Yuh seed her?"

"Naw, I didn't done SEED her."

"What?"

"She want in de show."

"What you jes' tell me?"

"She's a-trabbelin' wid 'em, Mandy, but she didn't done ride."

"See heah, Hasty Jones, is dat ere chile sick?"

"I don' rightly know," said Hasty. "A great big man, what wored clothes
like a gemmen, comed out wid a whip in his hand and says as how he's
'bliged to 'nounce anudder gal in Miss Polly's place. An' den he says
as how de udder gal was jes' as good, an' den everybody look disappinted
like, an' den out comes de udder gal on a hoss an' do tricks, an' I
ain't heard no more 'bout Miss Polly."

"Why didn't you done ask somebody?"

"Warn't nobody ter ask but de man what wuz hurryin' ever'body to get
out of de tent. I done ast him, but he say as 'didn't I git ma money's
worth?' an' den ebberbody laugh, an' he shove me 'long wid de rest of de
folks, an' here I is."

"She's sick, dat's what _I_ says," Mandy declared, excitedly; "an'
somebody's got to do somethin'!"

"I done all I knowed," drawled Hasty, fearing that Mandy was regretting
her twenty-five-cent investment.

"Go 'long out an' fix up dat ere kitchen fire," was Mandy's impatient
reply. "I got to keep dem vittels warm fer Massa John."

She wished to be alone, so that she could think of some way to get hold
of Polly. "Dat baby-faced mornin'-glory done got Mandy all wobbly 'bout
de heart," she declared to herself, as she crossed to the window for a
sight of the pastor.

It was nearly dark when she saw him coming slowly down the path from the
hill. She lighted the study-lamp, rearranged the cushions, and tried to
make the room look cheery for his entrance. He stopped in the hall and
hung up his hat. There was momentary silence. Would he shut himself in
his room for the night, or would he come into the study? At last the
door opened and Mandy hastened to place a chair for him.

"Ah's 'fraid you'se mighty tired," she said.

"Oh, no," answered Douglas, absently.

"Mebbe you'd like Mandy to be sarvin' your supper in here to-night. It's
more cheerfuller."

The side-showman was already beginning his spiel in the lot below. The
lemonade venders{sic} and the popcorn sellers were heard crying their
wares. Douglas did not answer her. She bustled from the room, declaring
"she was jes' goin' ter bring him a morsel."

He crossed to the window and looked out upon the circus lot. The flare
of the torches and the red fire came up to meet his pale, tense face.
"How like the picture of thirteen months ago," he thought, and old
Toby's words came back to him--"The show has got to go on."

Above the church steeple, the moon was battling its way through the
clouds. His eyes travelled from heaven to earth. There was a spirit
of unreality in it all. Something made him mistrust himself, his very
existence. He longed to have done with dreams and speculation, to feel
something tangible, warm, and real within his grasp. "I can't go on
like this!" he cried. "I can't!" He turned from the window and walked
hurriedly up and down the room; indoors or out, he found no rest. He
threw himself in the armchair near the table, and sat buried in thought.

Mandy came softly into the room. She was followed by Hasty, who carried
a tray, laden with things that ought to have tempted any man. She
motioned for Hasty to put the tray on the table, and then began
arranging the dishes. Hasty stole to the window, and peeped out at the
tempting flare of red fire.

When Douglas discovered the presence of his two "faithfuls" he was
touched with momentary contrition. He knew that he often neglected to
chat with them now, and he made an effort to say something that might
restore the old feeling of comradeship.

"Have you had a hard day with the new gravel walk?" he asked
Hasty, remembering that he had been laying a fresh path to the
Sunday-school-room.

Hasty glanced uneasily at Mandy, afraid either to lie or tell the truth
about the disposition she had made of his afternoon.

"Jes' you come eat yo' supper," Mandy called to Douglas. "Don' yous
worry your head 'bout dat lazy husban' ob mine. He ain' goin' ter work
'nuff to hurt hisself." For an instant she had been tempted to let the
pastor know how Hasty had gone to the circus and seen nothing of Polly;
but her motherly instinct won the day and she urged him to eat before
disturbing him with her own anxieties. It was no use. He only toyed with
his food; he was clearly ill at ease and eager to be alone. She gave up
trying to tempt his appetite, and began to lead up in a roundabout way
to the things which she wished to ask.

"Dar's quite some racket out dar in de lot tonight," she said; Douglas
did not answer. After a moment, she went on: "Hasty didn't work on no
walk to-day." Douglas looked at her quizzically, while Hasty, convinced
that for reasons of her own she was going to get him into trouble, was
making frantic motions. "He done gone to de circus," she blurted out.
Douglas's face became suddenly grave. Mandy saw that she had touched an
open wound.

"I jes' couldn't stan' it, Massa John. I HAD to find out 'bout dat angel
chile." There was a pause. She felt that he was waiting for her to go
on.

"She didn't done ride to-day."

He looked up with the eyes of a dumb, persecuted animal. "And de gemmen
in de show didn't tell nobody why--jes' speaked about de udder gal
takin' her place."

"Why DIDN'T she ride?" cried Douglas, in an agony of suspense.

"Dat's what I don' know, sah." Mandy began to cry. It was the first time
in his experience that Douglas had ever known her to give way to any
such weakness. He walked up and down the room, uncertain what to do.

Hasty came down from the window and tried to put one arm about Mandy's
shoulders.

"Leab me alone, you nigga!" she exclaimed, trying to cover her tears
with a show of anger that she did not feel; then she rushed from the
room, followed by Hasty.

The band was playing loudly; the din of the night performance was
increasing. Douglas's nerves were strained to a point of breaking. He
would not let himself go near the window. He stood by the side of the
table, his fists clenched, and tried to beat back the impulse that was
pulling him toward the door. Again and again he set his teeth.

It was uncertainty that gnawed at him so. Was she ill? Could she need
him? Was she sorry for having left him? Would she be glad if he went for
her and brought her back with him? He recalled the hysterical note in
her behaviour the day that she went away; how she had pleaded, only a
few moments before Jim came, never to be separated from him. Had she
really cared for Jim and for the old life? Why had she never written?
Was she ashamed? Was she sorry for what she had done? What could it
mean? He threw his hands above his head with a gesture of despair. A
moment later, he passed out into the night.



Chapter XIII

JIM was slow to-night. The big show was nearly over, yet many of the
props used in the early part of the bill were still unloaded.

He was tinkering absent-mindedly with one of the wagons in the back lot,
and the men were standing about idly, waiting for orders, when Barker
came out of the main tent and called to him sharply:

"Hey, there, Jim! What's your excuse to-night?"

"Excuse for what?" Jim crossed slowly to Barker.

"The cook tent was started half an hour late, and the side show top
ain't loaded yet."

"Your wagons is on the bum, that's what! Number thirty-eight carries the
cook tent and the blacksmith has been tinkering with it all day. Ask HIM
what shape it's in."

"You're always stallin'," was Barker's sullen complaint. "It's the
wagons, or the black-smiths, or anything but the truth. _I_ know what's
the matter, all right."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Jim, sharply.

"I mean that all your time's took up a-carryin' and a-fetchin' for that
girl what calls you 'Muvver Jim.'"

"What have yer got to say about her?" Jim eyed him with a threatening
look.

"I got a-plenty," said Barker, as he turned to snap his whip at the
small boys who had stolen into the back lot to peek under the rear edge
of the "big top." "She's been about as much good as a sick cat since she
come back. You saw her act last night."

"Yes," answered Jim, doggedly.

"Wasn't it punk? She didn't show at ALL this afternoon--said she was
sick. And me with all them people inside what knowed her, waitin' ter
see 'er."

"Give her a little time," Jim pleaded. "She ain't rode for a year."

"Time!" shouted Barker. "How much does she want? She's been back a month
and instead o' bracin' up, she's a-gettin' worse. There's only one thing
for me to do."

"What's that?" asked Jim, uneasily.

"I'm goin' ter call her, and call her hard."

"Look here, Barker," and Jim squared his shoulders as he looked steadily
at the other man; "you're boss here, and I takes orders from you, but if
I catches you abusin' Poll, your bein' boss won't make no difference."

"You can't bluff me," shouted Barker.

"I ain't bluffin'; I'm only TELLIN' yer," said Jim, very quietly.

"Well, you TELL her to get onto her job. If she don't she quits, that's
all." He hurried into the ring.

Jim took one step to follow him, then stopped and gazed at the ground
with thoughtful eyes. He, too, had seen the change in Polly. He had
tried to rouse her; it was no use. She had looked at him blankly. "If
she would only complain," he said to himself. "If she would only get
mad, anything, anything to wake her." But she did not complain. She
went through her daily routine very humbly and quietly. She sometimes
wondered how Jim could talk so much about her work, but before she could
answer the question, her mind drifted back to other days, to a garden
and flowers, and Jim stole away unmissed, and left her with folded hands
and wide, staring eyes, gazing into the distance.

The memory of these times made Jim helpless to-night. He had gone on
hoping from day to day that Barker might not notice the "let-down" in
her work, and now the blow had fallen. How could he tell her?

One of the acts came tumbling out of the main tent. There was a moment's
confusion, as clowns, acrobats and animals passed each other on their
way to and from the ring, then the lot cleared again, and Polly came
slowly from the dressing tent. She looked very different from the little
girl whom Jim had led away from the parson's garden in a simple, white
frock one month before. Her thin, pensive face contrasted oddly with
her glittering attire. Her hair was knotted high on her head {a}nd
intertwined with flowers and jewels. Her slender neck seemed scarcely
able to support its burden. Her short, full skirt and low cut bodice
were ablaze with white and coloured stones.

"What's on, Jim?" she asked.

"The 'Leap o' Death.' You got plenty a' time."

Polly's mind went back to the girl who answered that call a year ago.
Her spirit seemed very near to-night. The band stopped playing. Barker
made his grandiloquent announcement about the wonderful act about to be
seen, and her eyes wandered to the distant church steeple. The moonlight
seemed to shun it to-night. It looked cold and grim and dark. She
wondered whether the solemn bell that once called its flock to worship
had become as mute as her own dead heart. She did not hear the whirr of
the great machine inside the tent, as it plunged through space with its
girl occupant. These things were a part of the daily routine, part of
the strange, vague dream through which she must stumble for the rest of
her life.

Jim watched her in silence. Her face was turned from him. She had
forgotten his presence.

"Star gazin', Poll?" he asked at length, dreading to disturb her revery.

"I guess I was, Jim." She turned to him with a little, forced smile. He
longed to save her from Barker's threatened rebuke.

"How yer feelin' to-night?"

"I'm all right," she answered, cheerfully

"Anythin' yer want?"

"Want?" she turned upon him with startled eyes. There was so much that
she wanted, that the mere mention of the word had opened a well of pain
in her heart.

"I mean, can I do anythin' for you?"

"Oh, of course not." She remembered how little ANY ONE could do.

"What is it, Poll?" he begged; but she only turned away and shook her
head with a sigh. He followed her with anxious eyes. "What made yer cut
out the show to-day? Was it because you didn't want ter ride afore folks
what knowed yer? Ride afore HIM, mebbe?"

"HIM?" Her face was white. Jim feared she might swoon. "You don't mean
that he was----"

"Oh, no," he answered, quickly, "of course not. Parsons don't come to
places like this one. I was only figurin' that yer didn't want OTHER
folks to see yer and to tell him how you was ridin'." She did not
answer.

"Was that it, Poll?" he urged.

"I don't know." She stared into space.

"Was it?"

"I guess it was," she said, after a long time.

"I knowed it," he cried. "I was a fool to a-brung you back. Yer don't
belong with us no more."

"Oh, don't, Jim! don't! Don't make me feel I'm in the way here, too!"

"Here, too?" He looked at her in astonishment. "Yer wasn't in HIS way,
was yer, Poll?"

"Yes, Jim." She saw his look of unbelief and continued hurriedly. "Oh,
I tried not to be. I tried so hard. He used to read me verses out of a
Bible about my way being his way and my people his people, but it isn't
so, Jim. Your way is the way you are born, and your people are the
people you are born with, and you can't change it, Jim, no matter how
hard you try."

"YOU was changin' it," he answered, savagely. "You was gettin' jes'
like them people. It was me what took yer away and spoiled it all. You
oughtn't to a come. What made yer, after yer said yer wouldn't?"

She did not answer. Strange things were going through the mind of the
slow-witted Jim. He braced himself for a difficult question.

"Will yer answer me somethin' straight?" he asked.

"Why, of course," she said as she met his gaze.

"Do you love the parson, Poll?"

She started.

"Is that it?"

Her lids fluttered and closed, she caught her breath quickly, her lips
apart, then looked far into the distance.

"Yes, Jim, I'm afraid--that's it." The little figure drooped, and
she stood before him with lowered eyes, unarmed. Jim looked at her
helplessly, then shook his big, stupid head.

"Ain't that hell?"

It seemed such a short time to Jim since he had picked her up, a cooing
babe, at her dead mother's side. He watched the tender, averted face.
Things had turned out so differently from what he had planned.

"And he didn't care about you--like that?" he asked, after a pause.

"No, not in that way." She was anxious to defend the pastor from even
the thought of such a thing. "He was good and kind always, but he didn't
care THAT WAY. He's not like that."

"I guess I'll have a talk with him," said Jim, and he turned to go.

"Talk!" she cried.

He stopped and looked at her in astonishment. It was the first time
that he had ever heard that sharp note in her voice. Her tiny figure was
stiffened with decision. Her eyes were blazing.

"If you ever DARE to speak to him--about me, you'll never see me again."

Jim was perplexed.

"I mean it, Jim. I've made my choice, and I've come back to you. If you
ever try to fix up things between him and me, I'll run away--really and
truly away--and you'll never, never get me back."

He shuffled awkwardly to her side and reached apologetically for
the little, clenched fist. He held it in his big, rough hand, toying
nervously with the tiny fingers.

"I wouldn't do nothin' that you wasn't a-wantin', Poll. I was just a
tryin' to help yer, only I--I never seem to know how."

She turned to him with tear-dimmed eyes, and rested her hands on his
great, broad shoulders, and he saw the place where he dwelt in her
heart.



Chapter XIV

THE "Leap of Death" implements were being carried from the ring, and Jim
turned away to superintend their loading.

Performers again rushed by each other on their way to and from the main
tent.

Polly stood in the centre of the lot, frowning and anxious. The mere
mention of the pastor's name had made it seem impossible for her to ride
to-night. For hours she had been whipping herself up to the point of
doing it, and now her courage failed her. She followed Barker as he came
from the ring.

"Mr. Barker, please!"

He turned upon her sharply.

"Well, what is it NOW?"

"I want to ask you to let me off again to-night." She spoke in a short,
jerky, desperate way.

"What?" he shrieked. "Not go into the ring, with all them people inside
what's paid their money a-cause they knowed yer?"

"That's it," she cried. "I can't! I can't!"

"YER gettin' too tony!" Barker sneered. "That's the trouble with you.
You ain't been good for nothin' since you was at that parson's house.
Yer didn't stay there, and yer no use here. First thing yer know yer'll
be out all 'round."

"Out?"

"Sure. Yer don't think I'm goin' ter head my bill with a 'dead one,' do
you?"

"I am not a 'dead one,'" she answered, excitedly. "I'm the best rider
you've had since mother died. You've said so yourself."

"That was afore yer got in with them church cranks. You talk about yer
mother! Why, she'd be ashamed ter own yer."

"She wouldn't," cried Polly. Her eyes were flashing, her face was
scarlet. The pride of hundreds of years of ancestry was quivering with
indignation. "I can ride as well as I EVER could, and I'll do it, too.
I'll do it to-morrow."

"To-morrow?" echoed Barker. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that I CAN'T go into that ring TO-NIGHT," she declared, "and I
won't."

She was desperate now, and trading upon a strength beyond her own.

He looked at her with momentary indecision. She WAS a good rider--the
best since her mother, as he had often told her. He could see this meant
an issue. He felt she would be on her mettle to-morrow, as far as her
work was concerned, if he left her alone to-night.

"All right," he said, sullenly. "Yer can stay off to-night. I got the
crowd in there, anyway, and I got their money. I'll let Eloise do a turn
on Barbarian, but TO-MORROW you'd better show me your old act."

"I'll show you!" she cried. "I'll show you!"

"Well, see that you do." He crossed into the ring.

Polly stood where Barker had left her, white and tense. Jim came toward
her from the direction of the wagons. He glanced at her uneasily.
"What's he been a-sayin' ter you?"

"He says I can't ride any more." Her lips closed tightly. She stared
straight ahead of her. "He says I was no good to the people that took me
in, and I'm no use here."

"It's not so!" thundered Jim.

"No; it's not!" she cried. "I'll show him, Jim! I'll show
him--to-morrow!" She turned toward the dressing tent; Jim caught her
firmly by the wrist.

"Wait, Poll! You ain't ever goin' into the ring a-feelin' THAT WAY." Her
eyes met his, defiantly.

"What's the difference? What's the difference?" She wrenched her wrist
quickly from him, and ran into the dressing tent laughing hysterically.

"And I brung her back to it," mumbled Jim as he turned to give orders to
the property men.

Most of the "first-half props" were loaded, and some of the men were
asleep under the wagons. The lot was clear. Suddenly he felt some one
approaching from the back of the enclosure. He turned and found himself
face to face with the stern, solitary figure of the pastor, wrapped
in his long, black cloak. The moonlight slipped through a rift in the
clouds, and fell in a circle around them.

"What made you come here?" was all Jim said.

"I heard that Miss Polly didn't ride to-day. I was afraid she might be
ill."

"What's that to you?"

"She ISN'T ill?" Douglas demanded anxiously, oblivious to the gruffness
in the big fellow's voice.

"She's all right," Jim answered shortly as he shifted uneasily from one
foot to the other, and avoided the pastor's burning gaze.

"And she's happy? she's content?"

"Sure."

"I'm glad," said Douglas, dully. He tried to think of some way to
prolong their talk. "I've never heard from her, you know."

"Us folks don't get much time to write." Jim turned away and began
tinkering with one of the wagons.

Douglas had walked up and down in front of the tents again and again,
fighting against a desire to do the very thing that he was doing, but
to no purpose, and now that he was here, it seemed impossible that he
should go away so unsatisfied. He crossed to Jim and came determinedly
to the point.

"Can't I see her, Jim?"

"It's agin the rules." He did not turn.

There was another pause, then Douglas started slowly out of the lot.

"Wait a minute," called Jim, as though the words had been wrung from
him. The pastor came back with a question in his eyes.

"I lied to you."

"She's NOT well, then?"

"Oh, yes, she's well enough. It ain't that; it's about her being happy."

"She isn't?" There was a note of unconscious exultation in his voice.

"No. She AIN'T happy here, and she WAS happy WITH YOU."

"Then, why did she leave me?"

"I don't know. She wasn't goin' ter do it at first. Somethin' must
a-happened afterwards, somethin' that you an' me didn't know about."

"We WILL know about it, Jim. Where is she?" His quick eye searched the
lot. His voice had regained it's old command. He felt that he could
conquer worlds.

"You can't do no good that way," answered Jim. "She don't want ter see
you again."

"Why not?"

"I don't know, but she told me she'd run away if I ever even talked to
you about her."

"You needn't talk, Jim; I'll talk for myself. Where is she?"

"She'll be comin' out soon. You can wait around out here with me. I'll
let you know in time." He led the way through a narrow passage between
the wagons.

Jim and Douglas had barely left the lot when Deacon Elverson's small,
round head slipped cautiously around the corner of the dressing tent.
The little deacon glanced exultantly about him. He was monarch of all he
surveyed. It was very thrilling to stand here, on this forbidden ground,
smelling the saw-dust, gazing at the big red wagons, studying the
unprotected circus properties, and listening to the lightening tempo of
the band.

"Did you see him?" shouted Strong, who had followed closely upon
Elverson's heels.

The little deacon started. Strong was certainly a disturbing factor at
times.

"Yes, I--I saw him."

"Well?"

"He--he--didn't see HER."

"What DID he do?" Strong was beside himself with impatience.

"He--he just talked to the big 'un, and went out that way." Elverson
nodded toward the wagons.

"I guess he ain't gone far," sneered Strong. "He come over to this lot
to see her, and he ain't goin' ter give up till he does it. You wait
here; I'll take a look round." He went quickly in the direction of the
wagons.

Elverson needed no second invitation to wait. He was congratulating
himself upon his good fortune, when he all but collided with a flying
apparition, vanishing in the direction of the main tent. Sophisticated
eyes would have seen only a rather stout acrobat clad in pink tights;
but Elverson was not sophisticated, and he teetered after the flitting
angel, even unto the forbidden portals of the "big top."

He was peeping through the curtains which had fallen behind her, and was
getting his first glimpse of the great, sawdust world beyond, when one
of the clowns dashed from the dressing tent on his way to the ring.

The clown was late. He saw the limp coat tails of the deacon, who was
three-quarters in the tent. Here was a chance to make a funny entrance.
He grabbed the unsuspecting little man from the rear. The terrified
deacon struck out blindly in all directions, his black arms and legs
moving like centipede, but the clown held him firmly by the back and
thrust him, head foremost, into the tent.

Strong returned almost immediately from his unsuccessful search for the
pastor. He looked about the lot for Elverson.

"Hey, there, Elverson!" he called lustily. There was no response.

"Now where's he got to," grumbled Strong. He disappeared quickly around
the corner of the dressing tent, resolved to keep a sharp lookout for
Douglas.

Elverson was thrust from the tent soon after, spitting sawdust and
much discomfited by the laughing performers who followed him. His knees
almost gave way beneath him when Barker came out of the ring, snapping
his long, black whip.

"Get out of here, you bloke!" roared Barker. And Elverson "got."

No one had remembered to tell the groom that Polly was not to ride
to-night. So Bingo was brought out as usual, when their "turn"
approached.

"Take him back, Tom," Polly called from the entrance, when she learned
that Bingo was waiting, "and bring Barbarian. I'm not going on to-night.
Eloise is going to ride in my place."

This was the second time to-day that Bingo had been led away without
going into the ring. Something in his big, wondering eyes made Polly
follow him and apologise. He was very proud, was Bingo, and very
conscientious. He felt uneasy when he saw the other horses going to
their work without him.

"Never mind, Bingo," she said, patting his great, arched neck, "we'll
show 'em to-morrow." He rubbed his satiny nose against her cheek. "We'll
make them SIT UP again. Barker says our act's no good--that I've let
down. But it's not YOUR fault, Bingo. I've not been fair to you. I'll
give you a chance to-morrow. You wait. He'll never say it again, Bingo!
Never again!" She watched him go out of the lot, and laughed a little as
he nipped the attendant on the arm. He was still irritated at not going
into the ring.

Polly had nothing more to do to-night except to get into her street
clothes. The wagons would soon be moving away. For a moment she glanced
at the dark church steeple, then she turned to go inside the tent. A
deep, familiar voice stopped her.

"Polly!"

She turned quickly. She could not answer. Douglas came toward her. He
gazed at her in amazement. She drew her cape about her slightly clad
figure. She seemed older to him, more unapproachable with her hair
heaped high and sparkling with jewels. Her bodice of satin and lace
shimmered through the opening of her cape. The moonlight lent mystery
and indecision to her betinselled attire. The band was playing the
andante for the balancing act.

She found strength at last to open her lips, but still no sound came
from them. She and the pastor looked at each other strangely, like
spirits newly met from far-apart worlds. She, too, thought her companion
changed. He was older, the circles beneath his eyes were deeper, the
look in their depths more grave.

"We were such close neighbours to-day, I--I rather thought you'd call,"
he stammered. He was uncertain what he was saying--it did not matter--he
was there with her.

"When you're in a circus there isn't much time for calling."

"That's why I've come to call on you." They might have been sheppherd
and sheppherdess on a May-day wooing, for the halting way in which their
words came.

"You're all right?" he went on. "You're happy?"

"Yes, very," she said. Her eyes were downcast.

He did not believe her, the effort in her voice, her drawn, white face
belied her words. How COULD he get the truth from her?

"Jim said you might not want to see me."

She started.

"Has Jim been talking to you?"

"Yes, but I didn't let him stop me, for you told me the day you left
that you'd never change--toward me. Have you, Poll?" He studied her,
anxiously.

"Why, no, of course not," she said, evasively.

"And you'll be quite frank when I ask you something?"

"Yes, of course." She was growing more and more uneasy. She glanced
about for a way of escape.

"Why did you leave me as you did?"

"I told you then." She tried to cross toward the dressing tent.

He stepped quickly in front of her.

"You aren't answering FRANKLY, and you aren't happy."

She was growing desperate. She felt she must get away, anywhere,
anywhere.

He seized her small wrists and forced her to look at him.

"And _I_ am not happy without YOU, and I never, NEVER can be." The
floodgates were open, his eyes were aglow, he bent toward her eagerly.

"Oh, you mustn't," she begged. "You MUSTN'T."

"You've grown so close," he cried. "So close!" She struggled to be free.
He did not heed her. "You know--you must know what I mean." He drew her
toward him and forced her into his arms. "You're more precious to me
than all else on this earth."

For the first time he saw the extreme pallor on her face. He felt her
growing limp and lifeless in his arms. A doubt crossed his mind. "If
I am wrong in thinking you feel as I do, if you honestly care for all
this," he glanced about at the tents, "more than for any life that I can
give you, I shan't interfere. You'll be going on your way in an hour.
I'll say good-bye and God bless you; but if you do care for me, Polly,"
he was pleading now, "if you're NOT happy here--won't you come back to
me? Won't you, Polly?"

She dared not meet his eyes, nor yet to send him away. She stood
irresolute. The voice of Deacon Strong answered for her.

"So! You're HERE, are you?"

"Yes, Deacon Strong, I'm here," answered the pastor, as he turned to
meet the accusing eyes of the deacon, who had come quickly from behind
the dressing tent.

"As for you, miss," continued Strong, with an insolent nod toward Polly,
"I might have known how you'd keep your part of the bargain."

"Bargain?" echoed Douglas. "What bargain?"

"Oh, please, Deacon Strong, please. I didn't mean to see him, I didn't,
truly." She hardly knew what she was saying.

"What bargain?" demanded Douglas sternly.

"She told me that you and her wasn't ever goin' ter see each other
agin," roared Strong. "If I'd a-knowed she was goin' to keep on with
this kind o' thing, you wouldn't er got off so easy."

"So! That's it!" cried Douglas. It was all clear to him now. He recalled
everything, her hysterical behaviour, her laughter, her tears. "It was
you who drove that child back to this." He glanced at Polly. The narrow
shoulders were bent forward. The nervous little fingers were clasping
and unclasping each other. Never before had she seemed so small and
helpless.

"Oh, please, Mr. John, please! Don't make him any worse!"

"Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded.

"It would have done no good," she sobbed. "Oh, why--why won't you leave
me alone?"

"It would have done all the good in the world. What right had he to send
you back to this?"

"I had every right," said Strong, stubbornly.

"What?" cried Douglas.

"It was my duty."

"Your duty? Your narrow-minded bigotry!"

"I don't allow no man to talk to me like that, not even my parson."

"I'm NOT your parson any longer," declared Douglas. He faced Strong
squarely. He was master of his own affairs at last. Polly clung to him,
begging and beseeching.

"Oh, Mr. John! Mr. John!"

"What do you mean by that?" shouted Strong.

"I mean that I stayed with you and your narrow-minded congregation
before, because I believed you needed me. But now this girl needs me
more. She needs me to protect her from just such injustice as yours."

"You'd better be protectin' YOURSELF. That's my advice to you."

"I can do that WITHOUT your advice."

"Maybe you can find another church with that circus ridin' girl
a-hangin' 'round your neck."

"He's right," cried Polly. "You couldn't." She clung to the pastor in
terrified entreaty. "You COULDN'T get another church. They'd never,
never forgive you. It's no use. You've got to let me go! you've GOT to!"

"Listen, Polly." He drew her toward him. "God is greater than any church
or creed. There's work to be done EVERYWHERE--HIS work."

"You'll soon find out about that," thundered Strong.

"So I will," answered Douglas, with his head thrown high. "This child
has opened a new world to me; she has shown me a broader, deeper
humanity; she and I will find the way together."

"It won't be an easy one, I'll promise you that." Strong turned to go.

"I'm not looking for the easy way!" Douglas called after him, then he
turned to draw Polly's arm within his; but Polly had slipped from his
side to follow the deacon.

"Oh, please, Deacon Strong, please!" she pleaded. "You won't go away
like that. He'll be all right if you'll only wait. I'm NOT coming back.
I'm not--honestly. I'm going on with the show, to-night, and I'm going
this time FOREVER."

"You are going to stay here with me," cried Douglas.

"No, no, Mr. John. I've made up my mind, and I won't be to blame for
your unhappiness." She faced him firmly now. "I don't belong to your
world, and I don't want to try any more. I'm what he called me--I'm a
circus riding girl. I was born in the circus, and I'll never change.
That's my work--riding, and it's yours to preach. You must do your work,
and I'LL do MINE."

She started toward the ring. Eloise and Barbarian were already waiting
at the entrance.

"Eloise!" She took one step toward her, then stopped at the sound of
Barker's voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he called. "Although we are obliged to announce
that our star rider, Miss Polly, will not appear to-night, we offer
you in her place an able substitute, Mademoiselle Eloise, on her black,
untamed horse, Barbarian."

Eloise put her hands on the horse's back to mount.

"No! No!" cried Polly.

The other girl turned in astonishment at the agony in her voice.

"Polly!"

"Wait, Eloise! I'M going to ride!"

"You can't, not Barbarian! He don't know your turn."

"So much the better!" She seized the bridle from the frightened girl's
hand.

"Polly!" shouted Douglas. He had followed her to the entrance.

"I must! I will!"

She flew into the ring before he could stop her. He took one step to
follow her.

"You'd better let her alone and get out o' here," said Strong. His voice
was like a firebrand to Douglas. He turned upon him, white with rage.

"You drove her to this." His fists were clenched. He drew back to
strike.

Jim came from behind the wagons just in time to catch the uplifted arm.

"Leave HIM to ME, this ain't no parson's job." The pastor lowered his
arm, but kept his threatening eyes on the deacon's face.

"Where's Poll?" asked Jim.

"In there! Douglas pointed toward the main tent without turning his
head. He was still glaring at the deacon, and breathing hard.

"What?" cried Jim, in alarm. He faced about and saw Eloise. He guessed
the truth. A few quick strides brought him to the entrance curtains. He
threw them back and looked into the ring.

"My God! Why don't Barker stop her?"

"What is it?" called Douglas. He forgot the deacon in his terror at
Jim's behaviour, and Strong was able to slip away, unnoticed.

"She's goin' ter ride! She's goin' ter ride Barbarian!"

Douglas crossed to his side and looked.

Polly was springing onto the back of Barbarian. He was a poorly trained
horse, used by the other girl for more showy, but less dangerous feats
than Polly's.

"She's goin' through her regular turn with him, she's tryin' ter break
her neck," said Jim. "She wants ter do it. It's your fault!" he cried,
turning upon Douglas with bloodshot eyes. He was half insane, he cared
little whom he wounded.

"Why can't we stop her?" cried Douglas, unable to endure the strain. He
took one step inside the entrance.

"No, no; not that!" Jim dragged him back roughly. "If she sees you now,
it will be the end." They watched in silence. "She's over the first
part," Jim whispered, at last.

Douglas drew back, his muscles tense, as he watched the scene inside
the ring. Eloise stood at the pastor's side, horror-stricken at Polly's
reckless behaviour. She knew Barbarian. It was easy to guess the end.

"She's comin' to the hoops," Jim whispered, hoarsely.

"Barbarian don't know that part, I never trained him," the other girl
said.

Polly made the first leap toward the hoops. The horse was not at fault;
it was Polly. She plunged wildly, the audience started. She caught her
footing with an effort. One, two, three hoops were passed. She threw
herself across the back of the horse and hung, head downward, as he
galloped around the ring. The band was playing loudly, the people were
cheering. She rose to meet the last two hoops.

"She's swayin'," Jim shrieked in agony. "She's goin' to fall." He covered
his face with his hands.

Polly reeled and fell at the horse's side. She mounted and fell again.
She rose and staggered in pursuit.

"I can't bear it," groaned Douglas. He rushed into the ring, unconscious
of the thousands of eyes bent upon his black, ministerial garb, and
caught the slip of a girl in his arms just as she was about to sink
fainting beneath the horse's hoofs.

Barker brought the performance to a halt with a crack of his whip. The
audience stood on tiptoe. White-faced clowns and gaily attired acrobats
crowded around Polly and the pastor.

Douglas did not see them. He had come into his own.

"He's bringin' her out," whispered Eloise, who still watched at the
entrance. Jim dared not look up, his head was still in his hands.

"Is it over?" he groaned.

"I don't know. I can't tell yet." She stepped aside as Douglas came out
of the tent, followed by a swarm of performers. He knelt on the soft
grass and rested Polly's head upon his knee. The others pressed about
them. It seemed to Douglas that he waited hours; then her white lids
quivered and opened and the colour crept back to her lips.

"It's all right, Jim!" called one of the men from the crowd. "She's only
fainted." The big fellow had waited in his tracks for the verdict.

Polly's eyes looked up into those of the parson--a thrill shot through
his veins.

"It was no use, was it?" She shook her head with a sad little smile. He
knew that she was thinking of her failure to get out of his way.

"That's because I need you so much, Polly, that God won't let you go
away from me." He drew her nearer to him, and the warm blood that shot
to her cheeks brought back her strength. She rose unsteadily, and looked
about her. Jim came toward her, white and trembling.

"All right, Poll?"

"Oh, Muvver Jim!" She threw herself into his arms and clung to him,
sobbing weakly.

No one could ever remember just how the audience left the big top that
night, and even Barker had no clear idea of how Jim took down the tents,
loaded the great wagons, and sent the caravan on its way.

When the last wagon was beginning to climb the long, winding road of
the moon-lit hill, Jim turned to Polly, who stood near the side of the
deserted ring. His eyes travelled from her to the parson, who waited
near her. She was in her street clothes now, the little brown Quakerish
dress which she had chosen to wear so much since her return from the
parsonage.

"I guess I won't be makin' no mistake this time," he said, and he placed
her hand in that of the parson.

"Good-bye, Muvver Jim," faltered Polly.

He stooped and touched her forehead with his lips. A mother's spirit
breathed through his kiss.

"I'm glad it's like this," he said, then turned away and followed the
long, dotted line of winding lights disappearing slowly over the hill.

Her eyes travelled after him.

Douglas touched the cold, little hand at her side.

"I belong with them," she said, still gazing after Jim and the wagons.

"You belong with me," he answered in a firm, grave voice, and something
in the deep, sure tones told her that he was speaking the truth. She
lifted one trembling hand to his shoulder, and looked up into his face.

"Whither thou goest, will I go, where thou diest, will I die."

He drew her into his arms.

"The Lord do so to me and more also, if aught but death part thee and
me."


THE END





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