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[Illustration: This is my Book]


"The Circus Comes to Town." (See Page 128)]

The Circus Comes to Town


AUTHOR OF "_One Boy Too Many_" and "_Here, Tricks, Here!_"









[Illustration: Contents]


















The apple seemed to Jerry Elbow too big to be true.

He held it out at arm's length to get a good squint at its bigness and
its redness. Then he turned to look wonderingly after the disappearing
automobile with the lady who had tossed him the apple for directing her
to the post office. A long trail of dust rose from the unpaved street
behind the motor car.

Next he addressed himself to the business of eating the apple. He rubbed
it shiny against his patched trousers, carefully hunted out the reddest
spot on it, and took a big, luscious bite. Instead of chewing the morsel
at once, he crushed it against his palate just to feel the mellowness
of it and to get the full flavor of the first taste of juice. Then he
chewed vigorously.

He started on to Mother 'Larkey's where he had made his home for nearly
three years, ever since Mr. Mullarkey, dead this year now, had found him
by the roadside one dark night. He had just started to take a second
bite when a shout stopped him.

"Hi, Jerry! What you got?"

Instinctively Jerry hid the apple behind him, for it was Danny
Mullarkey's voice that he had heard.

"Jerry's got something to eat!" Danny called over his shoulder to some
one out of sight. "Come on, kids!"

Jerry hastily swallowed the piece of apple in his mouth and bit off the
very largest chunk he could. He knew by long and bitter experience how
little would be left for him after the Mullarkey brood had all nibbled
at it.

Danny, who was past nine, reached him before Jerry could gulp down that
mouthful and take another bite, as he had intended to do. Chris and Nora
followed at Danny's heels, with Celia Jane, as usual, far in the rear.

"Save me a bite, Jerry!" called Celia Jane.

"Give me a bite of your apple, Jerry," coaxed Danny.

"Me, too," echoed Chris.

"It looks awful nice," observed Nora. "Where'd you get it?"

Jerry explained and handed her the apple first because she had not asked
for a bite. Nora bit off a small piece and was passing it on to Celia
Jane, who ran panting up to them, when Jerry stopped her by urging:

"Take a bigger bite than that, Nora. I want you to."

"Not till after you've had your turn again," replied Nora, who was
nearly eight and was celebrated in the Mullarkey household for a finer
sense of fair play than any of the others possessed.

Celia Jane was greedy and bit off so big a chunk that she could not cram
it into her mouth, despite her heroic efforts to accomplish that feat.

"That ain't fair, Celia Jane," reproved Nora. "Mother told you never to
do that again."

"That's _two_ bites!" cried Danny. "Take it out and bite it in two."

Celia Jane's mouth was too full for utterance. She held out the apple to
Danny, then freed her mouth of its embarrassment of riches and proceeded
to bite it in two.

"Here, Chris," invited Danny, "take your bite next."

Jerry became immediately suspicious at such unaccustomed politeness on
Danny's part and he was not at all surprised when Danny, once the
remainder of the apple was again in his hands, took to his heels.

"Save me a bite!" cried Celia Jane, swallowing the morsel in her mouth
so quickly that she came near to choking, and tagged after her older
brother as fast as she could run.

"Danny!" cried Jerry. "That's no fair!"

He started to run after the vanishing apple, but was quickly passed,
first by Chris and then by Nora, who called back to him: "Maybe I can
save the core for you, Jerry."

Bitterness arose in Jerry's soul. He knew that he couldn't catch up with
Danny, but he kept on running. That old, odd feeling that he did not
belong to the Mullarkeys, though living with them, came over him again,
and he had already begun to slow down his pace when he was brought to a
full and sudden stop by a picture blazoned on a billboard.

He stared spellbound, without even winking. Of all delectable things, it
was the picture of an elephant! A purple elephant jumping over a green
fence, its trunk raised high in the air until it almost touched the
full, red moon at the top of the poster. The elephant had such a roguish
and knowing look in his small eyes and such a smirk on his funny little
mouth that Jerry began to smile without being the least bit conscious
that he was doing so.

The smile kept spreading in complete understanding of the look on the
elephant's face and he probably would have laughed aloud had not the
picture somehow made him think of something, he couldn't just remember
what. A dim idea seemed to be trying to break into his mind but couldn't
find the right door. In his effort to puzzle out what it was the
elephant made him think of, Jerry entirely forgot the large red apple
and the perfidy of Danny.

"What're you lookin' at?" called Danny, who had stopped half a block
farther on when he no longer heard Jerry's pursuing footsteps.

Jerry did not answer. Instead, he squatted down on the grassy bank
between the sidewalk and the billboard and feasted his eyes on that
delightfully extravagant elephant which seemed almost to wink at him.
Jerry half expected to see the elephant grab the moon and balance it on
the end of his trunk, or toss it up into the sky and catch it again as
it fell.

"Come on, Jerry, if you want the core," called Danny again. "That's all
that's left."

"Don't want the core," said Jerry. "It was my apple. The lady gave it to
me." He didn't even look at Danny but kept staring at the very purple
elephant and the very red moon almost on the tip-end of his trunk. He
just wouldn't let Danny Mullarkey know that it made any difference to
him whether Danny and Chris and Nora and Celia Jane liked him very much
or not.

No, and he wouldn't feel so terribly bad if Mother 'Larkey and little
Kathleen didn't like him, either.

"You ain't lost your tongue, have you?" cried Danny.

"Maybe the cat's got it," said Celia Jane, following as usual her elder
brother's lead and laughing at her own wit.

"What you starin' at so hard, Jerry?" called Chris.

Jerry disdained to reply or to let his enraptured gaze wander for a
moment from the dazzling poster. Curiosity soon got the better of Chris
and he started to walk back.

"El'funt!" shouted Chris, when he was near enough to see the poster. His
shout started the whole Mullarkey brood galloping towards the billboard.

"The circus!" cried Danny, from the superior experience of his nine
years. "The circus is coming to town!" He threw himself on the grass by
Jerry and pressed the uneaten apple core into his hand.

"I don't want it," said Jerry.

"Aw, take it, Jerry. I didn't mean to eat so much of it, honest I
didn't. I just wanted to tease you." He closed Jerry's fingers around
the core.

"It doesn't say the circus is coming," Nora observed, pointing to some
lettering in one corner of the poster. Nora was nearly eight years old
and proud of her ability to read print, if the words weren't too
big, - an ability shared by none of the others except Danny.

"It does, too!" contradicted Celia Jane, wrinkling up her nose
preparatory to crying with disappointment if the circus were not coming.
"There's some writin' on it."

"What does it say, Danny?" eagerly asked Jerry, going close to the
billboard as though that might help him to make out what was printed on
it. "Ain't it coming?"

"Read it quick, Danny! Please! I can't wait!" cried Celia Jane.

Thus besought, Danny read somewhat haltingly, for the "writin'" was in
queerly formed letters, these words which are known to all children:

Ask your mother for fifty cents
To see the elephant jump the fence,
He jumped so high he hit the sky
And never came down till the Fourth of July.

"Is that all?" asked Celia Jane, very much disappointed.

"Didn't I just read it to you?" was Danny's rejoinder.

"Then the circus ain't comin', is it?" said Chris.

"It don't say so," replied Nora. "It don't say whether it's comin' or
whether it ain't."

"It doesn't say it's a _circus_," said Danny. "It might be just an 'ad'
for - for any old thing."

"For a menajeree?" asked Celia Jane.

"Or chewin' gum?" suggested Chris.

"Or something," affirmed Danny decisively.

Jerry forgot to be disappointed about the circus not coming, for he was
bothered about what it was that the picture of the elephant made him
almost think of. He tried and tried with all his might to think what it
was, but didn't succeed. Then something almost like faint music seemed
to hum in his ears and his lips unconsciously formed a word, "Oh,
queen," he murmured.

"Oh, what?" said Danny sharply, turning to him.

"I didn't know I said anything," replied Jerry. "I didn't mean to."

"You did," said Celia Jane. "You said, 'Oh, queen.'"

"What does that mean, 'Oh, queen'?" asked Danny.

"I - I don't know," replied Jerry.

"What did you say it for then?"

Jerry felt that he was being treated unfairly when he wasn't conscious
of having said anything and he didn't answer. He was sorry that the
humming almost like music wouldn't come back, - it was so comforting.

"If you don't know what 'Oh, queen' means, what did you _say_ 'Oh,
queen' for?" persisted Danny.

"I don't know," Jerry replied, at a loss. Then he brightened, "I might
have heard it, sometime."

"Maybe it was somebody's name?" suggested Nora.

"I don't know."

"It's an Irish name, if it's got an O in front of it, and you said
'O'Queen'," Celia Jane stated.

"Did you ever know an Irish man or Irish woman by the name of
'O'Queen'?" questioned Danny.

"I don't know," repeated Jerry, his lips twisting in real distress at
not being able to think what could have made him say a thing like that.

"You don't know anything, do you?" asked Danny in the teasing,
affronting tone he sometimes adopted with Jerry.

"I do, too," affirmed Jerry, his lips tightening.

"You don't know how old you are," said Celia Jane, following Danny's

"Do you know what your name is?" asked Danny.

"Jerry Elbow," replied Jerry, hot within at this making fun of his name
which always seemed to give Danny so much enjoyment.

"Jerry _Elbow_," said Danny, putting so much sarcasm into pronouncing
the name as to make it almost unbelievable that it could be a name.
"What kind of a name is that - Elbow! Might as well be Neck - or Foot."

"It's just as good as Danny Mullarkey!" declared Jerry.

"There's nothing the matter with your name, Jerry," interposed Nora.
"Eat the core of your apple," she continued, pointing at it, forgotten,
but still clutched tightly in his fist.

"I don't want the old core," said Jerry and threw it against the

Celia Jane ran after it, grabbed it eagerly, wiped it off on her skirt
and popped it into her mouth.

"Celia Jane!" called Nora, "Don't you eat that core after it's been in
the dirt."

But Celia Jane had quickly chewed and swallowed it. "It's gone," she
said. "Besides, it wasn't dirty enough to amount to anything."

Jerry had returned to contemplation of the elephant jumping the fence,
when a youthful voice called from across the street, "Look at it good,
kid. I guess it's about all of the circus you'll see."

Jerry and the Mullarkey children turned and faced the speaker. It was
"Darn" Darner, the ten-year old son of Timothy Darner, the county
overseer of the poor, and a more or less important personage, especially
in his own eyes. You had to be very particular how you spoke to "Darn"
unless you wanted to get into a fight, and unless you were as old and as
big as he was you had no desire to fight with him. He was especially
touchy about his name. He had been "Jimmie" at home but once at school
he had signed himself, in the full glory of his name, J. Darnton Darner,
perhaps to do honor to his grandfather, after whom he had been named.
Thereafter "Darn" was the only name that he was known by outside of the
classroom and his own home.

He had fights innumerable trying to stop the boys calling him by that
name, but it persisted until at length he came to accept it. You could
call him "Darn" or shout "Oh, Darn!" and nothing would happen, but if,
in your excitement, you grew too emphatic and said "_Darn!_" or "Oh,
_Darn_!" you might have to run for the nearest refuge, or take a
pummeling from his fists.

So now Jerry answered very politely. "It looks good," he said.

"Is the circus coming?" asked Danny.

"Of course it is. What do you suppose they've put up the posters for?"

"It don't say so here," said Nora. "All it says is - "

Darn interrupted. "Where've you kids been? That old poster has been up
for a week. Two new ones were pasted up to-day - one at Jenkins' corner
and the other on Jeffreys' barn. It's Burrows and Fairchild's mammoth
circus and menagerie and it's coming a week from Thursday."

"Are you going, Darn?" asked Danny.

"Am I going?" repeated that youth. "I should say I am going - in a box

"Is it a big circus?" asked Chris.

"It's one of the biggest there is," replied Darn, "with elephants and
clowns and a bearded lady and everything. I'll tell you all about it the
next day."

Without more ado, he began to whistle and continued on his way. When he
was out of sight, Jerry turned back to the billboard, and the Mullarkey
children lined up at his side and stood in silent contemplation of the
delights forecast in the picture. They felt a new respect for that

"I don't suppose we can go," said Chris at length in a voice that
invited contradiction. His remark was met by silence and they continued
to stare at the elephant.

Jerry was puzzled. "What does it want you to ask your mother for fifty
cents for?" he asked Danny.

"To buy a ticket for the circus, of course."

"Will she give you fifty cents?"

Danny seemed struck by some sudden thought; whether or not his question
had inspired it Jerry was unable to tell. After pondering for a time,
Danny set out towards home on a run without having answered the

"Where're you goin'?" asked Chris, with a tinge of suspicion in his

"I'm goin' to ask mother and see."

"That's no fair!" cried Chris. "You can run the fastest and 'll get to
ask her first."

"She can't give fifty cents to all of us," replied Danny and kept on

"Danny Mullarkey! You're a mean old thing!" called Nora.

Already Chris was racing after Danny; the contagion soon spread and
first Nora and then Celia Jane were running with all their might after
their brothers.

Jerry started to run after them, but it was a half-hearted run and he
brought up a very laggard rear. He never tried to get anything for
himself that the clannish Mullarkey brood had in their possession, or to
which they could with any shred of justice lay claim. If he did, he knew
by experience that they would all unite against him - all except Mother
'Larkey, who, trying to earn money to support them all, could not always
know what was going on under her tired, kindly eyes, much less the
things that took place behind her back. And baby Kathleen, who was too
little to feel the claims of the Mullarkey blood and who loved

But Jerry was sure he had never seen a circus and he _did_ want to go to
this one and see the elephant jump the fence. He felt very friendly to
that elephant and well acquainted with it. The roguish look in its
eyes, in the picture, made it seem a very nice sort of elephant and he
knew he would like it.

But he also knew that Mother 'Larkey found it very hard to make both
ends meet since her husband died - he had often heard her say so - but
there might be a possible chance that she would have several fifty-cent
pieces, so he started again to run after the other children, keeping
close enough to be in time if Mrs. Mullarkey _should_ happen to be
distributing fifty-cent pieces among her brood and there _should_ happen
to be an extra one for him. Even though she were not his mother, she
_might_ give it to him, she had already done so many things for him.



Jerry's progress was brought to a sudden halt and he was sent sprawling
to the ground by running full tilt into a man who tried to turn the same
corner at the same time Jerry did, but from the opposite direction. The
impact was so swift and so hard that Jerry was whirled clear around and
fell on his face, striking two small pieces of board lying near the
sidewalk and loosening a plank in the sidewalk itself.

"Oh!" gasped the man's voice.

Before Jerry could stir he heard a clink as of metal falling on board.
He half turned on his back and looked dazedly up at the man, who was
pressing both hands into the pit of his stomach. His face was very red.
He spoke to Jerry hesitatingly, as though he could not get his breath.

'Are you - hurt - much?"

"N-no, I guess not," Jerry replied, sitting up and feeling of a bruised
place on his arm.

"You just about knocked the breath out of me," said the man in a more
natural voice and one which Jerry now recognized as belonging to Harry
Barton, the clerk at the corner drug store.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Barton. If I'd of seen you - "

"You wouldn't have run into me," finished Mr. Barton. "Of course not.
There are a lot of things we wouldn't do if we could see what the
results were going to be. Why, bless me, it's Jerry Elbow! Well, I guess
there wasn't much harm done this time. You seemed to be in quite a
hurry. Have I delayed you?"

"Yes, sir, I was in a hurry," Jerry answered. "Danny was running to ask
Mother 'Larkey for fifty cents to see the circus."

"And what were you running for?"

Jerry started to get up as he replied.

"To see if she had fifty cents for Da - "

He stopped speaking and stopped getting up at the same time. A glint of
silver on the sidewalk back of Mr. Barton caught his eye. It was a
half-dollar! Jerry sank to a sitting posture and gazed in rapt wonder at
this answer to an unsaid prayer.

"You _are_ hurt!" cried Mr. Barton solicitously and stooped to help
Jerry up. "Where does it pain you?"

"It's fifty cents!" cried Jerry, his lips unsealed at last, and he
scrambled eagerly for the coin.

"Well, there's nothing very painful in that, is there?" laughed Mr.

Jerry rose, clutching the dirty half-dollar tightly, a light of joyful
anticipation in his eyes.

"There's not much need of asking what you will spend it for," observed
the drug clerk.

"For a ticket to the circus!" cried Jerry, his eyes sparkling at the
thought of future delights.

"I guessed it the first time," said Mr. Barton. "I thought I heard
something metallic fall on the sidewalk when you ran into me, but I had
such hard work getting my breath back that I forgot all about it."

Such a harrowing thought now popped into Jerry's mind that unconsciously
he closed his fingers entirely around the precious half-dollar. What if
it were Mr. Barton's! Perhaps he had knocked it out of Mr. Barton's
pocket when he ran into him. He had heard the clink of its fall just
after the collision, as he lay on the ground.

After a short but sharp struggle with himself, Jerry looked up and held
out the money to Mr. Barton. He tried to smile, but was conscious that
the twisting of his lips didn't look much like a smile.

"It's yours, I guess, Mr. Barton."

"Mine!" exclaimed the surprised drug clerk. "You saw it first."

"Yes, but I heard it fall just after I ran into you. I must of knocked
it out of your pocket. I didn't have no half-dollar."

"No more did I," replied Mr. Barton.

"You didn't!" exclaimed Jerry, and joy came unbidden back into his eyes
and there was a very different feel to his lips. He knew that it was a
real smile this time.

"Not this late in the week," Mr. Barton informed him. "It's too long
after pay day for me to have that much money. I've got just thirty-five

He drew some small coins out of his pocket.

"Yes, it's all here. The half-dollar must have been lying on one of the
boards that you struck in falling. Let's see it."

He took the money and examined it.

"It was almost covered with dirt," he said. "So was one end of both
boards. Hello! That's a funny black mark on the other side. Looks as
though somebody had smeared it with black paint."

"That doesn't hurt it any, does it?" asked Jerry in trepidation.

"Not a bit! It's good for a ticket to the circus."

"If I hadn't of run into you, I wouldn't get to go," observed Jerry.

"That's so," responded Mr. Barton. "I wouldn't let any one know you
found the money. Just sneak off to the circus when it comes and buy your
ticket. Danny would find some way to get it away from you if he knew you
had it."

"I guess mebbe he would," Jerry responded.

"You just keep it to yourself and enjoy the circus," Mr. Barton advised
him and went on to the store.

Jerry trudged slowly back toward Mrs. Mullarkey's, thinking intently.

The gloom that pervaded the house was so deep that Jerry perceived it as
soon as he opened the door. Danny sat glowering by the window; Celia
Jane was weeping unashamed, while Chris and Nora were trying not to show
their disappointment.

So Mother 'Larkey had not yet been able to make both ends meet - those
troublesome, refractory ends that made her life a continual round of
hard work - and there were no fifty-cent pieces for the children to buy
tickets with to see the elephant jump the fence. Jerry hugged himself
just to feel the half-dollar in his blouse pocket and a glow of
exultation ran over his body at the thought that he was going to get to
see the circus.

Mrs. Mullarkey, looking tired and worn, was ripping apart the dress for
Mrs. Green that she had just finished at noon. Baby Kathleen sat at her
feet, playing with the old rag doll that had once been Nora's and was
now claimed by Celia Jane.

Jerry entered the room slowly and took a seat on the chair without a
back. He said nothing at all and finally Mother 'Larkey looked up at

"Why don't you ask for fifty cents, too?" she inquired. "Don't you want
to see the circus?"

"Yes'm," replied Jerry, "but I ain't got no mother."

"What difference does that make?" she asked, in a voice sharper than she
was accustomed to use in speaking to Jerry. "Haven't I done everything a
mother could - "

"Yes'm," Jerry interrupted hastily, for he didn't want her to think he
thought _that_. "But it said to ask your _mother_ for fifty cents and I
ain't got none to ask."

"Sure and you haven't, you blessed boy," said Mother 'Larkey. "If I had
it to give, you wouldn't need a mother to ask it of. I wish I could send
all of you to the circus and go myself."

"We never get to go no place," muttered Danny gloomily.

"It costs money to go to places," his mother explained, "and there's no
money in the house. It's all I've been able to do to put enough food in
your hungry mouths to keep soul and body together and to get enough
clothes to keep you looking decent and respectable. I was counting on
some money from Mrs. Green to-day, to buy a little meat for supper and
get some more cough medicine for Kathleen, but she wasn't satisfied with
the dress and I've got to do part of it over before she will pay me."

"Is Kathleen's cough medicine all gone?" Jerry asked, suddenly feeling

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