XIX. Circus Plans
 

Joel practised the part of so many animals in the next week that the little brown house people became quite accustomed to any strange grunting or roaring they might chance to hear, as if a whole menagerie were let loose. Only Mamsie forbade that such noise should be allowed within doors. And every once in a while Joel would rush into the kitchen, with "Polly, how does an elephant scream?" and "Tell me, Polly, does a kangaroo cry this way?" until Polly was quite worn out.

"I guess you'll be glad when that circus of Joe's is over with," said Ben. "I pity you, Polly. I'd enough sight rather chop wood for Mr. Blodgett."

"Well, you needn't," cried Polly, "pity me, Ben, for Joel's so very happy. And poor Mr. Blodgett! O dear, it's too bad his barn's all burnt up."

"And the horse and the cow," said Ben, very soberly.

"Hush!" warned Polly, looking around to see if Phronsie heard. Luckily, she was in the bedroom, sitting down by the lower bureau drawer, which was open, and trying on her red-topped shoes, getting every button into the wrong button-hole. "Oh, Ben," Polly rushed up to whisper in his ear, "I do think that was too dreadful for anything."

"Yes," said Ben; "it was Mrs. Blodgett sent you word she was sorry she hadn't any milk to send to Phronsie now and then."

"Good Mrs. Blodgett!" exclaimed Polly, with the tears in her brown eyes. "Oh, I do wish we had something to send her!" she sighed.

And Ben sighed too. Because, as he had been working at Deacon Blodgett's pretty steadily the last few weeks since the fire, he had noticed how the neighbors and friends had been sending in things to show how sorry they were for the Blodgett family, and it grieved him dreadfully that the Peppers seemed to be about the only ones left out. So now he preserved a gloomy silence.

"Well, come, dear me," cried Polly, when she saw this, and, remembering her mother's advice, to think first before she spoke the words that might work mischief, she brightened up. "P'r'aps some chance will come to us to show dear Mrs. Blodgett that we are sorry for 'em, if we can't send 'em things."

"P'r'aps," said Ben. But he still looked gloomy. "I can do my work just as well's I know how," he thought; "but I'm going to do that, anyway, so I don't see what other chance there'll be."

"Whom are you going to invite to see your circus, Joel?" asked Polly, a few nights later, when, as usual, after supper, Joel was haranguing loudly on the great show to take place, and even little David was wound up to such a pitch of enthusiasm that Mrs. Pepper, on seeing his red cheeks, felt a dozen times inclined to send him to bed ahead of the time. But his happy little face appealed to her strongly, and she argued to herself, "I don't know but what 'twould hurt him quite as much to disappoint him, as to let him sit up half an hour longer. Thank fortune, it's seven o'clock now!" So David was saved being sent off to bed, until it was time for Joel to go too.

"I ain't a-goin' to invite any one," said Joel; "no, sir-ree! Everybody's got to pay to come into my show."

"How much do we pay?" asked Polly. "O dear me, Joe, I don't b'lieve you'll get many people to see it."

"Pins, I s'pose," said Ben.

"Yes," said Joel, "pins, an' good ones, too, not crooked, bent old things."

"Pins cost money," said Mrs. Pepper, looking up from her work-basket. "I suppose you know that, Joel?"

"Well, we can't let folks in without paying," said Joel, in deep anxiety. "'Twouldn't be a circus if we did."

"I tell you," said Polly, seeing his forehead all puckered up in wrinkles; "why don't you have some tickets, Joel, made out of paper, you know, and marked on 'em for ten cents and five cents?"

"Where'd you get the paper, Polly?" asked Ben, who was very practical. "Better not propose anything you can't carry out. Look at Joe's face," he whispered, under cover of the shouts from the two boys.

"O dear me!" cried Polly, whispering back, "we never have anything! It's perfectly dreadful, Ben; and we must help Joe. And you know yourself there aren't any pins hardly in the house, and Mamsie couldn't give us one of those."

"You must think of something else besides paper, for that's just as bad as pins," said Ben, with perfect faith that Polly would contrive a good way out of the difficulty.

Polly put her head into her two hands, while Joel was vociferating, "Oh, tickets! Goody! Polly's going to make 'em! Polly's going to make 'em!" in a way to fill her with dismay, while she racked her brains to think what would satisfy Joel as entrance money to his circus.

"Now, children," she said briskly, lifting her head, her hands falling to her lap, "Ben says we can't manage the tickets very well, because we haven't any paper." She hurried on, "Be still, Joe!" as she saw signs of a howl. "But I'll tell you something else you might have, Joel, and we've got plenty of 'em, and they're round, and oh, so nice!" By this time her voice had such a confident ring, and she laughed so gayly, that little Davie cried out, "I know it's nice, Polly," and even Joel looked enthusiastic.

"It's just as nice," declared Polly, clasping her hands. "Oh, you can't think! And I'll help you gather some."

"What is it?" screamed Joel; "do tell, Polly."

"It's cheeses," said Polly; "don't you know, Joe, out in the yard?" They were the little, round, green things, so called by the children, that grew on a little plant in the grass, and they used to pick and eat them.

"Oh, they're not money," said Joel, falling back, horribly disappointed.

"Neither are tickets money," said Polly, airily; "they only mean money; and the cheeses can mean it just as well. Besides, they're round."

"And I think the cheeses are a great deal better than anything, to pay with," said Ben, coming to Polly's rescue. "And you can charge as much as you want to, you know, Joe, 'cause they're plenty."

"So I can," cried Joel, quite delighted at this. "Well, you must pay fifty, no, seventy-five cheeses to get in, Ben."

"Oh, I guess I shall spend my time picking seventy-five cheeses!" cried Ben; "you must let me in cheaper'n that, Joel."

"You may come in for ten, then," said Joel, coming down with a long jump, very much alarmed lest Ben should not be able to get in. And as for having the circus without him--why, that would be dreadful!

"You do think up such perfectly beautiful things, Polly," cried David, huddling up close to her, and lifting his flushed cheeks.

"Dear me!" exclaimed Polly, catching sight of them, "your face is awful red." And she caught Mother Pepper's eye.

"I know it," said Mrs. Pepper, the troubled look coming back. She laid down her work. "Come here, David, and let Mother see you."

So Davie got up from the ring on the floor, and ran over to his mother, and climbed in her lap. "I don't see what 'tis," she said, looking him over keenly. Then she made him open his mouth, and she got a spoon and looked down his throat. "It isn't red," she declared, "and I don't believe it's sore."

"No," said little Davie, "it isn't sore, Mammy. Mayn't I go back, now?" he asked, looking longingly over at the group on the floor.

"I know what's the matter with Dave," said Ben, wisely. "He's been so many animals this week, Joel's made him, that he's tired to death,"

"I think you're right, Ben," said Mrs. Pepper. "Well now, Davie, Mother is sorry to send you to bed before the time--it's ten minutes yet to half-past seven; but she thinks it best."

"Do you, Mamsie?" said Davie.

"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Pepper, firmly. "I really think it's best. You're all tired out, and to-morrow I guess you'll wake up as bright as a cricket."

"Then I'll go if you want me to," said David, with a sigh, and sliding out of her lap he went slowly out and up to the loft.

"I haven't got to go for ten minutes," sang Joel after him. "Goody, ain't I glad!"

"It's too bad Davie had to go," mourned Polly; "but I suppose it's best."

"Yes," said Ben, "he'd be sick if he didn't. It's most too bad he has to go alone, though," and his blue eyes rested on Joel's face.

Joel began to squirm uncomfortably.

"Don't you think 'twould be nice, Joe," said Polly, "for you to go with Davie? He's so much littler; it's too forlorn for him to go up to bed alone."

"No, I don't," snapped Joel. "I'm going to stay down and talk over my circus. You may get in for ten cheeses, too, Polly," he said magnificently.

"Thank you," said Polly, coldly.

Joel gave her a queer look. "And I'm going to let Sally Brown in for ten. No, she's got plenty of cheeses in her yard, she's got to pay more," he rattled on. Polly and Ben said nothing.

"I'll go if you want me to, Polly," at last Joel sniffed out.

"I don't want you to," said Polly, still with a cold little manner, "unless you want to go yourself, Joel. But I should think you would want to, when you think of poor little Davie going up there alone. You know you don't like to do it, and you're such a big boy."

Joel struggled to his feet. "I'll go, Polly," he shouted. Mamsie flashed him a smile as he dashed past and stumbled up the steps of the loft.

But the next morning David didn't seem to be bright and wide awake as a cricket, and although there was nothing the matter with him, except he still had his red cheeks and complained when any one asked him if he felt sick, that he was tired, that that was all, Mother Pepper kept him in bed. And that night he came down to sleep in Mamsie's big bed, and Polly had a little shake-down on the floor.

"I wish I could ever be sick!" said Joel, when he saw the preparations for the night.

"Oh, Joel, don't wish such perfectly dreadful things," said Polly.

"Well, I never sleep with Mamsie," said Joel, in an injured tone. "And Davie gets all the good times."

"Now, Joel," said Mrs. Pepper, the morning after that, "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you can't have your circus awhile yet, till Davie gets real strong. So you must rest your animals," she said with a smile, "and they'll be all the better when the right time comes."

Joel, swallowing his disappointment as best he could, went out and sat on the back steps to think about it. He sat so very still, that Polly ran out after a while to look at him. "Oh, Joe, you aren't crying!" she said in dismay.

"No," said Joe, lifting his head; "but, Polly, I'm afraid my animals will all run away if I don't have the circus pretty soon. Don't you s'pose Mamsie'll let me have it in the bedroom Dave could sit up in the bed and see it."

"Dear me, no," cried Polly. "The very idea!" Whenever Polly said, "The very idea!" the children knew it was perfectly useless to urge anything. So now Joel sank back on the doorstep and resigned himself to despair.

"I tell you what I'd do if I were you, Joey," said Polly, kindly, and running down to sit beside him. "I'd think up all sorts of different things, and get all ready, every speck. There's really a great deal to do. And then I'd pick cheeses all the spare time I had. Oh, I'd pick lots and lots!" Polly swept out her arms as if enclosing untold numbers. "And--"

"What do I want to pick cheeses for?" asked Joel, interrupting. "The folks that pay has to pick 'em, I sh'd think."

"I know it," said Polly; "but if you pick a good many cheeses, you can give away some tickets, you know--comple--comple--well, I don't just know what they call 'em. But they let folks in without paying."

"And that's just what I don't want to do," cried Joe, in high dudgeon. "Hoh, Polly Pepper, I sh'd think you'd know better'n that!"

"It's just this way, Joel," said Polly, trying to explain. "Folks that give a show always send some tickets to their friends, so they don't have to pay. I should think you'd want to; why, just think," she jumped off from the step and stood before him in great excitement, "I never thought of it before," and the color rose high on her cheek. "You can ask dear Mrs. Beebe, and Mr. Beebe, and--"

"I won't have Ab'm," cried Joel; but he was very much impressed, Polly could see, by her plan.

"No, of course not," said Polly. "Ab'm has gone back West."

"And Mrs. Beebe says she ain't ever going to have him again at her house," added Joel.

"Well, never mind; and you can ask Mrs. Blodgett. She was so good to send Phronsie milk; and she's had her barn burnt."

"Well, Sally Brown'll have to pay," said Joel, as Mrs. Pepper called Polly to come in to her work. And he jumped off the step and began to pick cheeses with all his might.