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without him.

As his stomach filled, his heart overflowed, - a common coincidence
even with older and better boys than Jimmy, and the tears came to his
eyes. At last, when the plate was cleared, he rose, and went to the
place where the new-comer lay. He bent over the little puff in the
bedclothes, and grinned sheepishly as he lifted the cover from
the sleeping baby's face. He looked at the red features a moment
curiously, and said in his loud, husky, boyish voice, -

"Hullo there, Miss Sears; how are you this evenin'?"

Then he pinched his mother's arm and walked out of the room, his soul
at peace.

[Illustration]




MUCH POMP AND SEVERAL CIRCUMSTANCES


Back of Pennington's barn, which was the royal castle of the Court of
Boyville, ran a hollow. In the hollow grew a gnarly box-elder tree.
This tree was the courtiers' hunting-lodge. In the crotches of the
rugged branches Piggy Pennington, Abe Carpenter, Jimmy Sears, Bud
Perkins, and Mealy Jones were wont to rest of a summer afternoon,
recounting the morning's adventures in the royal tourney of the
marble-ring, planning for the morrow's chase, meditating upon the
evil approach of the fall school term, and following such sedentary
pursuits as to any member of the court seemed right and proper.
One afternoon late in August the tree was alive with its arboreal
aristocracy. Abe Carpenter sat on the lowest branch, plaiting a
four-strand, square-braided "quirt"; Jimmy Sears was holding the ends.
Piggy was casually skinning cats, hanging by his legs, or chinning on
an almost horizontal limb, as he took his part in the lagging talk.
Hidden by the foliage in the thick of the tree, in a three-pronged
seat, Bud Perkins reclined, his features drawn into a painful grimace,
as his right hand passed to and fro before his mouth, rhythmically
twanging the tongue of a Jew's-harp, upon which he was playing "To My
Sweet Sunny South Take Me Home." He breathed heavily and irregularly.
His eyes were on the big white clouds in the blue sky, and his heart
was filled with the poetry of lonesomeness that sometimes comes to
boys in pensive moods. For the days when he had lived with his father,
a nomad of the creeks that flowed by half a score of waterways into
the Mississippi, were upon the far horizon of his consciousness, and
the memory of those days made him as sad as any memory ever can make a
healthy, care-free boy. He played "Dixie," partly because it was his
dead father's favorite tune, and partly because, being sprightly, it
kept down his melancholy. Later he took out a new mouth-organ, which
his foster mother had given to him, and to satisfy his boyish idea of
justice played "We shall Meet, but We shall Miss Him," because it
was Miss Morgan's favorite. While he played the Jew's-harp his tree
friends flung ribald remarks at him. But when Bud began to waver his
hand for a tremulo upon the mouth-organ as he played "Marsa's in
de Col', Col' Groun'," a peace fell upon the company, and they sat
quietly and heard his repertoire, - "Ol' Shadey," "May, Dearest May,"
"Lilly Dale," "Dey Stole My Chile Away," "Ol' Nicodemus," "Sleeping, I
Dream, Love," and "Her Bright Smile." He was a Southern boy - a bird of
passage caught in the North - and his music had that sweet, soothing
note that cheered the men who fought under the Stars and Bars.

Into this scene rushed Mealy Jones, pell mell, hat in hand,
breathless, bringing war's alarms. "Fellers, fellers," screamed Mealy,
half a block away, "it's a-comin' here! It's goin' to be here in two
weeks. The man's puttin' up the boards now, and you can get a job
passin' bills."

An instant later the tree was deserted, and five boys were running as
fast as their legs would carry them toward the thick of the town. They
stopped at the new pine bill-board, and did not leave the man with the
paste bucket until they had seen "Zazell" flying out of the cannon's
mouth, the iron-jawed woman performing her marvels, the red-mouthed
rhinoceros with the bleeding native impaled upon its horn and the
fleeing hunters near by, "the largest elephant in captivity," carrying
the ten-thousand dollar beauty, the acrobats whirling through space,
James Robinson turning handsprings on his dapple-gray steed, and, last
and most ravishing of all, little Willie Sells in pink tights on his
three charging Shetland ponies, whose breakneck course in the picture
followed one whichever way he turned. When these glories had been
pasted upon the wall and had been discussed to the point of cynicism,
the Court of Boyville reluctantly adjourned to get in the night wood
and dream of a wilderness of monkeys.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

During the two weeks after the appearance of the glad tidings on the
bill-boards, the boys of Willow Creek spent many hours in strange
habiliments, making grotesque imitations of the spectacles upon the
boards. Piggy Pennington rolled his trousers far above his knees for
tights, and galloped his father's fat delivery horse up and down the
alley, riding sideways, standing, and backwards, with much vainglory.
To simulate the motley of the tight-rope-walking clown, Jimmy Sears
wore the calico lining of his clothes outside, when he was in the
royal castle beyond his mother's ken. Mealy donned carpet slippers in
Pennington's barn, and wore long pink-and-white striped stockings of
a suspiciously feminine appearance, fastened to his abbreviated shirt
waist with stocking-suspenders, hated of all boys. Abe Carpenter, in a
bathing-trunk, did shudder-breeding trapeze tricks, and Bud Perkins,
who nightly rubbed himself limber in oil made by hanging a bottle of
angle-worms in the sun to fry, wore his red calico base-ball clothes,
and went through keg-hoops in a dozen different ways. In the streets
of the town the youngsters appeared disguised as ordinary boys. They
revelled in the pictured visions of the circus, but were sceptical
about the literal fulfilment of some of the promises made on the
bills. Certain things advertised were eliminated from reasonable
expectation: for instance, the boys all knew that the giraffe would
not be discovered eating off the top of a cocoanut-tree; nor would the
monkeys play a brass band; and they knew that they would not see the
"Human Fly" walk on the ceiling at the "concert." For no boy has ever
saved enough money to buy a ticket to the "concert." Nevertheless,
they gloated over the pictures of the herd of giraffes and the
monkey-band and the graceful "Human Fly" walking upside down "defying
the laws of gravitation;" and they considered no future, however
pleasant, after the day and date on the bills. Thus the golden day
approached, looming larger and larger upon the horizon as it came. In
the interim, how many a druggist bought his own bottles the third and
fourth time, how many a junk-dealer paid for his own iron, how many
bags of carpet rags went to the ragman, the world will never know.

[Illustration: _Piggy Pennington ... galloped his father's fat
delivery horse up and down the alley_.]

[Illustration: _Oil made by hanging a bottle of angle-worms in the sun
to fry_.]

[Illustration: _How many bags of carpet rags went to the ragman_.]

Now, among children of a larger growth, in festive times hostile
demonstrations cease; animosities are buried; but in Boyville a
North-ender is a North-ender, a South-ender is a South-ender, and a
meeting of the two is a fight. Boyville knows no times of truce. It
asks nor offers quarter. When warring clans come together, be it
workday, holiday, or even circus day, there is a clatter of clods,
a patter of feet, and retreating hoots of defiance. And because the
circus bill-boards were frequented by boys of all kiths and clans,
clashes occurred frequently, and Bud Perkins, who was the fighter of
the South End, had many a call to arms. Indeed, the approaching circus
unloosed the dogs of war rather than nestled the dove of peace. For
Bud Perkins, in a moment of pride, issued an ukase which forbade all
North End boys to look at a certain bill-board near his home. This
ukase and his strict enforcement of it made him the target of North
End wrath. Little Miss Morgan, his foster-mother, who had adopted him
at the death of his father the summer before the circus bills were
posted, could not understand how the lad managed to lose so many
buttons, nor how he kept tearing his clothes. She ascribed these
things to his antecedents and to his deficient training. She did
not know that Bud, whom she called Henry, and whose music on the
mouth-organ seemed to come from a shy and gentle soul, was the Terror
of the South End. Her guileless mind held no place for the important
fact that North End boys generally travelled by her door in pairs
for safety. Such is the blindness of women. Cupid probably got his
defective vision from his mother's side of the house.

The last half of the last week before circus day seemed a century to
Bud and his friends. Friday and Saturday crept by, and Mealy Jones
was the only boy at Sunday-school who knew the Golden Text, for an
inflammatory rumor that the circus was unloading from the side-track
at the depot swept over the boys' side of the Sunday-school room, and
consumed all knowledge of the fifth chapter of Acts, the day's lesson.
After Sunday-school the boys broke for the circus grounds. There they
feasted their gluttonous eyes upon the canvas-covered chariots, and
the elephants, and the camels, and the spotted ponies, passing from
the cars to the tents. The unfamiliar noises, the sight of the rising
"sea of canvas," the touch of mysterious wagons containing so many
wonders, and the intoxicating smell that comes only with much canvas,
many animals, and the unpacking of Pandora's box, stuffed the boys'
senses until they viewed with utter stoicism the passing dinner hour
and the prospect of finding only cold mashed potatoes and the
necks and backs of chickens in the cupboards. They even affected
indifference to parental scoldings, and lingered about the enchanting
spot until the shadows fell eastward and the day was old.

When a boy gets on his good behavior he tempts Providence. And the
Providence of boys is frail and prone to yield. So when Bud Perkins,
who was burning with a desire to please Miss Morgan the day before the
circus, went to church that Sunday night, any one can see that he was
provoking Providence in an unusual and cruel manner. Bud did not sit
with Miss Morgan, but lounged into the church, and took a back seat.
Three North End boys came in and sat on the same bench. Then Jimmy
Sears shuffled past the North Enders, and sat beside Bud. After which
the inevitable happened. It kept happening. They "passed it on," and
passed it back again; first a pinch, then a chug, then a cuff, then a
kick under the bench. Heads craned toward the boys occasionally, and
there came an awful moment when Bud Perkins found himself looking
brazenly into the eyes of the preacher, who had paused to glare at the
boys in the midst of his sermon. The faces of the entire congregation
seemed to turn upon Bud automatically. A cherub-like expression of
conscious innocence and impenetrable unconcern beamed through Bud
Perkins's features. The same expression rested upon the countenances
of the four other malefactors. At the end of the third second Jimmy
Sears put his hand to his mouth and snorted between his fingers. And
four young men looked down their noses. In the hush, Brother Baker - a
tiptoeing Nemesis - stalked the full length of the church toward the
culprits. When he took his seat beside the boys the preacher continued
his discourse. Brother Baker's unctuousness angered Bud Perkins. He
felt the implication that his conduct was bad, and his sense of guilt
spurred his temper. Satan put a pin in Bud's hand. Slowly, almost
imperceptibly, Satan moved the boy's arm on the back of the pew,
around Jimmy Sears. Then an imp pushed Bud's hand as he jabbed the pin
into the back of a North Ender. The boy from the North End let out a
yowl of pain. Bud was not quick enough. Brother Baker saw the pin; two
hundred devout Methodists saw him clamp his fingers on Bud Perkins's
ear, and march him down the length of the church and set him beside
Miss Morgan. It was a sickening moment. The North End grinned as one
boy under its skin, and was exceeding glad. So agonizing was it for
Bud that he forgot to imagine what a triumph it was for the North
End - and further anguish is impossible for a boy.

[Illustration: _Brother Baker - a tiptoeing Nemesis_.]

Miss Morgan and Bud Perkins left the church with the congregation. Bud
dreaded the moment when they would leave the crowd and turn into their
side street. When they did turn, Bud was lagging a step or two behind.
A boy's troubles are always the fault of the other boy. The North End
boy's responsibility in the matter was so clear - to Bud - that, when he
went to justify himself to Miss Morgan, he was surprised and hurt at
what he considered her feminine blindness to the fact. After she had
passed her sentence she asked: "Do you really think you deserve to go,
Henry?"

The blow stunned the boy. He saw the visions of two weeks burst like
bubbles, and he whimpered: "I dunno." But in his heart he did know
that to deny a boy the joy of seeing Willie Sells on his three
Shetland ponies, for nothing in the world but showing a North-ender
his place, was a piece of injustice of the kind for which men and
nations go to war. At breakfast Bud kept his eyes on his plate. His
face wore the resigned look of a martyr. Miss Morgan was studiously
gracious. He dropped leaden monosyllables into the cheery flow of her
conversation, and after breakfast put in his time at the woodshed.

At eight o'clock that morning the town of Willow Creek was in the
thrall of the circus. Country wagons were passing on every side
street. Delivery carts were rattling about with unusual alacrity.
By half-past nine dressed-up children were flitting along the side
streets hurrying their seniors. On the main thoroughfare flags were
flying, and the streams of strangers that had been flowing into town
were eddying at the street corners. The balloon-vender wormed his way
through the buzzing crowd, leaving his wares in a red and blue trail
behind him. The bark of the fakir rasped the tightening nerves of the
town. Everywhere was hubbub; everywhere was the dusty, heated air of
the festival; everywhere were men and women ready for the marvel that
had come out of the great world, bringing pomp and circumstance in its
gilded train; everywhere in Willow Creek the spirit which put the blue
sash about the country girl's waist and the flag in her beau's hat ran
riot, save at the home of Miss Morgan. There the bees hummed lazily
over the old-fashioned flower garden; there the cantankerous jays
jabbered in the cottonwoods; there the muffled noises of the town
festival came as from afar; there Miss Morgan puttered about her
morning's work, trying vainly to croon a gospel hymn; and there Bud
Perkins, prone upon the sitting-room sofa, made parallelograms and
squares and diamonds with the dots and lines on the ceiling paper.
When the throb of the drum and the blare of the brass had set the
heart of the town to dancing, some wave of the ecstasy seeped through
the lilac bushes and into the quiet house. The boy on the sofa started
up suddenly, checked himself ostentatiously, walked to the bird
cage, and began to play with the canary. The wave carried the little
spinster to the window. The circus had a homestead in human hearts
before John Wesley staked his claim, and even so good a Methodist as
Miss Morgan could not be deaf to the scream of the calliope nor the
tinkle of cymbals.

[Illustration: _Dressed-up children were flitting along the side
streets, hurrying their seniors_.]

[Illustration: _The Balloon-Vender wormed his way through the buzzing
crowd, leaving his wares in a red and blue trail behind him_.]

[Illustration: _The Blue Sash about the country girl's waist and the
flag in her Beau's hat_.]

To emphasize his desolation, Bud left the room, and sat down by a tree
in the yard, with his back to the kitchen door and window. There Miss
Morgan saw him playing mumble-peg in a desultory fashion. When the
courtiers of Boyville came home from the parade they found him; and
because he sat playing a silent, sullen, solitary game, and responded
to their banter only with melancholy grunts, they knew that the worst
had befallen him. Much confab followed, in which the pronoun "she" and
"her" were spoken. Otherwise Miss Morgan was unidentified. For the
conversation ran thus, over and over: -

"You ask her."

"Naw, I've done ast 'er."

"'T won't do no good for me to ast 'er. She don't like me."

"I ain't 'fraid to ast 'er."

"Well, then, why don't you?"

"Why don't _you_?"

"Let's all ast 'er."

"S'pose she will, Bud?"

"I dunno."

Then Piggy and Abe and Jimmy and Mealy came trapesing up to Miss
Morgan's kitchen door. Bud sat by the tree twirling his knife at his
game. Piggy, being the spokesman, stood in the doorway. "Miss Morgan,"
he said, as he slapped his leg with his hat.

"Well, Winfield?" replied the little woman, divining his mission, and
hardening her heart against his purpose.

"Miss Morgan," he repeated, and then coaxed sheepishly, "can't Bud go
to the show with us, Miss Morgan?"

"I'm afraid not to-day," smiled back Miss Morgan, as she went about
her work. A whisper from the doorstep prompted Piggy to "ask her why;"
whereat Piggy echoed: "Why can't he, Miss Morgan?"

"Henry misbehaved in church last night, and we've agreed that he shall
stay home from the circus."

Piggy advanced a step or two inside the door, laughing diplomatically:
"O - no, Miss Morgan; don't you think he's agreed. He's just dyin' to
go."

Miss Morgan smiled, but did not join in Piggy's hilarity - a bad
sign. Piggy tried again: "They got six elephants, and one's a trick
elephant. You'd die a-laughin' if you saw him." And Piggy went into a
spasm of laughter.

[Illustration: "_One's a trick elephant. You'd die a-laughing if you
saw him_."]

But it left Miss Morgan high and dry upon the island of her
determination.

Piggy prepared for an heroic measure, and stepped over to the kitchen
table, leaning upon it as he pleaded: "This is the last circus this
year, Miss Morgan, and it's an awful good one. Can't he go just this
once?"

[Illustration: "_It's an awful good one. Can't he go just this
once_?"]

The debate lasted ten minutes, and at the end four boys walked slowly,
with much manifestation of feeling, back to the tree where the fifth
sat. There was woe and lamentation after the manner of boy-kind. When
the boys left the yard it seemed to Miss Morgan that she could not
look from her work without seeing the lonesome figure of Bud. In
the afternoon the patter of feet by her house grew slower, and then
ceased. Occasionally a belated wayfarer sped by. The music of the
circus band outside of the tent came to Miss Morgan's ears on gusts
of wind, and died away as the wind ebbed. She dropped the dish-cloth
three times in five minutes, and washed her cup and saucer twice. She
struggled bravely in the Slough of Despond for awhile, and then turned
back with Pliable.

"Henry," she said, as the boy walked past her carrying peppergrass to
the bird, "Henry, what made you act so last night?"

The boy dropped his head and answered: "I dunno."

"But, Henry, didn't you know it was wrong?"

"I dunno."

"Why did you stick that little boy with the pin?"

"Well - well - " he gasped, preparing for a defence. "Well - he pinched
me first."

"Yes, Henry, but don't you know that it's wrong to do those things in
church? Don't you see how bad it was?"

"I was just a-playin', Miss Morgan; I didn't mean to."

Bud did not dare to trust his instinctive reading of the signs. He
went on impulsively: "I wanted him to quit, but he just kept right on,
and Brother Baker didn't touch him."

The wind brought the staccato music of the circus band to the
foster-mother's ears. The music completed her moral decay, for she was
thinking, if Brother Baker would only look after his own children as
carefully as he looked after those of other people, the world would
be better. Then she said: "Now, Henry, if I let you go, just this
once - now just this once, mind you - will you promise never to do
anything like that again?"

Blackness dropped from the boy's spirit, and by main strength he
strangled a desire to yell. The desire revived when he reached the
alley, and he ran whooping to the circus grounds.

There is a law of crystallization among boys which enables molecules
of the same gang to meet in whatever agglomeration they may be thrown.
So ten minutes after Bud Perkins left home he found Piggy and Jimmy
and old Abe and Mealy in the menagerie tent. Whereupon the South End
was able to present a bristling front to the North End - a front which
even the pleasings of the lute in the circus band could not break. But
the boys knew that the band playing in the circus tent meant that
the performance in the ring was about to begin. So they cut short
an interesting dialogue with a keeper, concerning the elephant that
remembered the man who gave her tobacco ten years ago, and tried to
kill him the week before the show came to Willow Creek. But when the
pageant in the ring unfolded its tinselled splendor in the Grand
Entry, Bud Perkins left earth and walked upon clouds of glory. His
high-strung nerves quivered with delight as the ring disclosed its
treasures - Willie Sells on his spotted ponies, James Robinson on his
dapple gray, the "8 funny clowns - count them 8," the Japanese jugglers
and tumblers, the bespangled women on the rings, the dancing ponies,
and the performing dogs. The climax of his joy came when Zazell, "the
queen of the air," was shot from her cannon to the trapeze. Bud had
decided, days before the circus, that this feature would please
him most. Zazell's performance was somewhat tame, but immediately
thereafter a really startling thing happened. A clown holding the
trick mule called to the boys near Bud, who nudged him into the
clown's attention. The clown, drawing from the wide pantaloons a
dollar, pantomimed to Bud. He held it up for the boy and all the
spectators to see. Alternately he pointed to the trick mule and to the
coin, coaxing and questioning by signs, as he did so. It took perhaps
a minute for Bud's embarrassment to wear off. Then two motives
impelled him to act. He didn't propose to let the North-enders see
his embarrassment, and he saw that he might earn the dollar for Miss
Morgan's missionary box, thus mitigating the disgrace he had brought
upon her in church. This inspiration literally flashed over Bud, and
before he knew it, he was standing in the ring, with his head cocked
upon one side to indicate his utter indifference to everything in the
world. Of course it was a stupendous pretence. For under his pretty
starched shirt, which Miss Morgan had forced on him in the hurry of
departure, his heart was beating like a little windmill in a gale. As
Bud bestrode the donkey the cheers of the throng rose, but above the
tumult he could hear the North End jeering him. He could hear the
words the North-enders spoke, even their "ho-o-oho-os," and their
"nyayh-nyayh-nyayahs," and their "look - at - old - pretty - boy's," and
their "watch-him-hit-the-roof's," and their "get-a-basket's," and
similar remarks less desirable for publication. As the donkey cantered
off, Bud felt sure he could keep his seat. Once the animal bucked. Bud
did not fall. The donkey ran, and stopped quickly. Bud held on. Then
the donkey's feet twinkled - it seemed to Bud in the very top of the
tent - and Bud slid off the animal's neck to the ring. The clown
brought the boy his hat, and stood over him as he rose. Bud laughed
stupidly into the chalked face of the clown, who handed Bud a dollar,
remarking in a low voice, "Well, son, you're a daisy. They generally
drop the first kick."

[Illustration]

[Illustration: "_Well, son, you're a daisy. They generally drop the
first kick_."]

What passed in the ring as Bud left it, bedraggled and dusty, did not
interest him. He brushed himself as he went. The band was playing
madly, and the young woman in the stiff skirts was standing by her
horse ready to mount. The crowd did not stop laughing; Bud inclined
his head to dust his knickerbockers, and then in a tragic instant he
saw what was convulsing the multitude with laughter. The outer seam of
the right leg of his velveteen breeches was gone, and a brown leg was
winking in and out from the flapping garment as he walked. Wildly he


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Online LibraryWilliam Allen WhiteThe Court of Boyville → online text (page 6 of 7)