XX. Circus or Menagerie?
 

"You tell Joel," said Mrs. Beebe, standing in the doorway of the little shop, "that I've got some animals I'm goin' to send down to his circus this afternoon, if so be I can't come myself and bring 'em."

"Yes'm," said Polly; "and oh, thank you, dear Mrs. Beebe."

"Whatever can they be?" she cried to herself, racing home on the wings of the wind. "Dear me, won't Joe have the most splendid time! and dear little Davie, it's good he's rested and well," and Polly's mind was flying as busily as her feet, as she set all her wits to work to think up everything that could possibly be achieved to help out the great event.

When she got home Joel was in a great tribulation. "Polly, Polly," he mourned, "the tiger's run away."

"Yes, she has," declared Davie, mournfully, "and she was the best of the whole. Oh, Polly!" and he sat down on the step in despair.

"Now that's too bad!" cried Polly; "but then, dear me, Joe, p'r'aps we can find her. Doesn't Sally know where she is?"

"No--no," cried Joel, quite gone in distress, and twisting his chubby fingers to keep from crying; "and Mrs. Brown doesn't know either. She says that cat never ran away before in all her life, and I'd just got her tamed to carry Seraphina. O dear, dear!"

"Joel," cried Polly, "I do believe that cat is up in a tree, maybe, near the Browns'. I just mean to run over and call her with all my might."

"We've called and called, and every one of the Browns has called," said Joel, "and she won't come."

David's head sank, and he covered his face with both hands, unable to say a word.

"Well now, Joel," said Polly, "I wouldn't care, if I were you; and oh," she cried suddenly, with delight at the comfort she could give him, "Mrs. Beebe says she's going to send you some animals, if she can't come and bring 'em herself. Think of that, Joe!"

"Oh--oh!" screamed Joel, in an ecstasy. "Now I don't care if that old cat has run away. She bit me awfully yesterday," and he held up his thumb; "and she's a mean old thing, and she wasn't a very good tiger, anyway."

"Mrs. Beebe's animals will be a good deal nicer," said little Davie, bringing up a shining face as his hands fell away. "What kinds are they, Polly?"

"I don't know," said Polly; "that's all she told me."

"And we've got the monkey left, 'cause I'm going to be the monkey," said Joel, with a bob of his black head; "and Dave's going to be a kangaroo, only he don't jump as big as he ought to."

"I jump as high as I can, Polly," said little David, getting off from his step to go to her side, and look up into her face anxiously.

"Oh, I know you'll be a lovely kangaroo, Davie," said Polly, giving him a reassuring little hug, "and they don't always jump high, Joel."

"Don't they?" asked Joel, in surprise.

"No, indeed, not unless they want to," said Polly. "But why don't you be the kangaroo, then, Joe, and let Davie be something else? Give him the snake, then he won't have to jump, and it's easier to wriggle."

"Oh, no--no--no," cried Joel, in alarm, "I'm going to be the snake myself, and slash around like everything. Dave can't be the snake."

"Well, something else that's as easy as the snake, then," said Polly, laughing. "You mustn't tire him all out, Joel, for then Mamsie will have to stop the circus, and that would be perfectly dreadful, you know."

This made Joel decide at once that he would change his animals round a bit; so he said, "I'll be the kangaroo myself, Dave. See here," and he executed such a remarkable series of leaps and hops, and long and short steps, that his audience of two were quite overcome with admiration.

"Oh, I am so glad, Joel, that you'll be the kangaroo," said Davie, with a long breath of relief, "for it tired me so to try, and I couldn't do him good."

"No," said Joel, coming up bright and shining, as he finished his last hop, "you couldn't, Davie. Now you must take some of the others then, if you aren't to be the kangaroo." And he threw himself on the grass at Polly's feet, as she and David now sat on the step.

"Only one," said Polly; "you mustn't give him but one, Joe, to take the place of the kangaroo."

"Well, the kangaroo was a big one," said Joel; "he ought to take two others to make up."

"No, only one," said Polly, decidedly.

"I'd rather be a bird," said little Davie, timidly.

"Pshaw! a bird!" exclaimed Joel, in high disdain. "I'm not going to have any old birds. Folks don't have 'em in a circus."

"Well, this is going to have a menag--menag--" said Polly, who sometimes found it hard to manage all the big words she wanted to use. "Anyway, what Ben called it the other night. He heard 'em talking of it at the Blodgetts'."

"I know," said Joel, steering clear of the word. "Do they have birds in that thing that Ben told about?" he asked doubtfully.

"Oh, yes--beautiful ones--trained to do anything, Joel Pepper," cried Polly "Oh, your show wouldn't be anything without a bird!"

"Then I'll have one, and Dave shall be it," decided Joel, veering around.

"And I'll do things," cried little Davie, very much excited, and getting off from his step to hop along the path. "I'll sing."

"That's nothing!" said Joel, in scorn.

"And I'll hop and pick up crumbs," added David, anxious to please and do everything that a well-brought-up bird should do.

"Hoh! that won't be anything!" exclaimed Joel, with a withering look.

"I'll tell you, Joel, let's play that you trained Davie, who's a bird, you know, to drag Seraphina around. We can tie her on a board real nicely."

"Oh, yes, that's prime!" cried Joel, seeing hope ahead for David's bird, if Polly only took hold of it.

"And then you can tell the audience that the trained bird is going to ride on the monkey's back," cried Polly.

"Oh, hooray!" shouted Joel, prancing off to hop with David down the path and over the grass.

"And then when you've got through showing him off, David must sing a little song to show he is a bird. This way," and Polly threw back her head and twittered twee-dee-ed, and chee-chee-ed, and trilled in a way she had, till the boys looked up in the branches of the old scraggy apple tree to see if there really was any little bird there.

"That's fine!" cried Joel, clapping his hands and drawing a long breath.

"Oh, I never can do it so nice as Polly," said David, in despair, growing quite sober.

"Polly," cried Joel, suddenly, "couldn't you stay behind the bushes and sing? and folks will think it's Dave,--the bird--I mean."

"Why, yes, Joel, if Davie doesn't want to sing," said Polly; "but he's the bird, you know, so it must be as he wants."

"But he can't sing good, you know," said Joel, impatiently.

"I'd rather you'd sing the bird, Polly," said little David, "'cause I can't do it good like you; and I'll be the bird." And he repressed the sigh he felt like giving.

"Then I will, gladly," said Polly, who loved dearly to sing.

"And, Polly, will you play the band?" cried Joel, who had been so busy getting his various animals planned for and ready, that the music was left out of the reckoning.

"Dear me, Joe!" exclaimed Polly, in consternation. Yet she felt quite flattered. "We haven't any table out here, except the stone one," glancing at it, "and my fingers won't make any noise on that. So I don't see how we can have the band." Polly always made her fingers fly up and down on the kitchen table while she sang, pretending it was a piano and she was a great musician, for it was the dearest wish of her heart to learn to play on a piano.

"Ben can get us a board, I know," cried Joel, confidently; so he ran off to find him in the woodshed, for Ben was home to-day, chopping wood. And pretty soon Joel came running back, proclaiming that Ben had said yes, if Polly would play, that the board should be all ready.

"O dear me!" cried Polly. "Well, then, I must hurry and go in and practise," as she called drumming on the kitchen table; she said this with quite an important air, as she hurried into the house.

"Ben's going to be the elephant, isn't he, Joel?" she asked, turning around in the doorway, for Joel changed his animals about so often it was difficult to keep track of them.

"No," said Joel, "I'm going to be that."

"Why, I thought you were to be the bear," said Polly, in surprise.

"I am, and Mr. Tisbett's black horses, and--"

"You can't be two horses, Joe," said Polly. "Dear me. Ben must be one of them."

"Well, I'm going to be Bill, anyway," said Joel, in alarm. "Ben can be Jerry. And I'm going to be Mr. Tisbett and make 'em go."

"You can't be Mr. Tisbett if you're Bill," said Polly, in distress. "Oh, Joel, some one else must be stage-driver."

"This isn't stage-driver," corrected Joel, in a superior way. "Hoh! don't you know anything, Polly Pepper! It's circus! And the horses do things. I saw 'em in the big picture."

"Well, then, I can be Mr. Tisbett," said Polly, tingling to her finger-tips at the prospect.

"Mr. Tisbett isn't a girl," said Joel, in scorn.

"But I can put on Ben's coat, and you can tell 'em I'm Mr. Tisbett, same's you introduce all the animals," persuasively said Polly, feeling as if nothing could be quite as nice as to be Mr. Tisbett and manage those black horses.

"Yes, let Polly be Mr. Tisbett," begged little David, longing to be that personage himself. "She'll make the circus splendid."

"All right," said Joel. "Well, I'm going to jump through the paper hoops, anyway, on Ben's back. Are they safe?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, indeed," said Polly, who had a terrible time in making them, Joel being the most critical of individuals, "as safe as can be, in the bedroom cupboard;" and she ran off to get them, but not so fast as Joel, who rushed eagerly past her.

"Take care, Joe, you mustn't get 'em," warned Polly, dashing into the bedroom at his heels. But too late! Joel's hands were on the paper rings, and he clutched them so tightly that, lo and behold, one little brown fist went clear through one of them, to come out on the other side!

"Now, see," began Polly, desperately. Joel gave one look, then burst into a flood of tears.

"I've spoiled it! I've spoiled it! Oh, I can't jump through it now!" he wailed, still holding them closely. "Oh, Polly, I've spoiled--"

"Well, it's your own fault!" Polly was just going to say, knowing that she would have to make a new one, and where should she get the paper! Then her brow cleared, and she gave a sunny smile. "Never mind, Joey!" she cried. "There, p'r'aps it isn't much hurt," and she took the broken one, and began to smooth it out.

"But it's bursted," cried Joel, trying to look through the rain of tears. "Oh, Polly! I was going to make the hole when I jumped through."

"Um!--" said Polly, busily considering. Then she sat down and rested her elbows on her knees, first setting up the poor bursted ring against the bureau; and, with her chin in her hands, looked at it steadily. "I tell you, Joel, what we'll do," at last she cried; "those edges where it is torn can be pasted together, and--"

"But it'll be a hole!" shouted Joel, who had stopped crying while Polly was thinking, knowing that she would get over the trouble some way. Now he cried worse than ever. "There wasn't goin' to be any hole, till I made one. O dear me!" and he flung himself flat on the floor, to cry as if his heart would break.

"Joe, Joe," cried Polly, running over to him to shake his arm, "you must stop crying this very minute. If you don't, I shall not do anything for your circus. I won't be one of the animals, nor I won't play any music, nor anything."

Joel gave a great gasp. "I'll stop," he promised.

"Well, now, you must stop at once," said Polly, firmly, seeing the advantage she had gained. "So sit up, Joe, that's a good boy," as he very unwillingly brought himself up. "Now, then, I'll tell you what I'm going to do," and Polly seized the poor ring, and, tossing back her brown hair, began to pat and to pull the crooked edges together.

"You see, Joey, I'm going to put a little border of red paper all around it," she said, patting and pulling away, "then it'll be--"

"Oh, now that's goin' to be better than the other one," declared Joel, in huge delight, his round face wreathed in smiles. "And I'm going to break and smash the other one," and he doubled up his brown fist and dashed toward it.

"No, you won't, Joe," cried Polly, in alarm. "I've only red paper enough to go on the broken one, so if anything happens to the other one, deary me! I don't know whatever in the world we could do. Now run and get the cup of paste in the woodshed, and in the shake of a lobster's whisker I'll have it all done," sang Polly, gayly.

"Lobsters don't have whiskers," said Joel, as he ran for the paste cup. "Cats do, Polly, but lobsters don't," as he brought it back.

"Oh, yes, they do," contradicted Polly; "those long thin things that stick out under their eyes. But never mind, anyway, and don't talk about them, for I've got to put all my mind on this dreadful ring."

"Polly, I wish I'd had a lobster in my circus," said Joel, after a minute's panic, in which Polly pinched and snipped and pasted and trimmed with red paper all around the hole, till any one looking on would have said this was going to be the most splendid circus ring in the whole world.

"Dear me, if you haven't enough animals and reptiles and things in your circus, Joey Pepper!" exclaimed Polly. "You wouldn't have had room for the lobster, anyway."

"But I wish I had him," repeated Joel, stolidly.

"And you must leave something for next time," said Polly, taking up the big ring to whirl it around over her head, to watch the effect of the red strip.

"Oh, Polly!" screamed Joel, his black eyes sparkling with delight, "that's perfectly splendid! and I'll come right smash through that red ring. Yes, sir-ree!" and he danced around the bedroom, bumping into every object, as he was stretching his neck to look at the ring Polly was whirling so merrily.

"Well, now that's done," said Polly, with a sigh of relief; "and I'm thankful, Joey Pepper. Yes, it does look nice, doesn't it?" and she surveyed the red border with pride. "Wasn't it good that Mamsie gave me those strips of paper? Whatever should we have done without them! Well, now, says I, you've got to hurry to get all ready. Three o'clock comes pretty soon after dinner, and there's ever and ever so much yet to do before you can have your circus, Joey Pepper."