How Hank and His Folks Saw the Show.
^^^ANK pulled his horses close to the sidewalk and Ji^ stood up in the wagon, looking wistfully at the ^ big bills which the man was busily pasting to the long stretch of high wall by the cotton-yard.
" Gwine to be a show in town?'' he asked good-naturedly.
^' Yes, sir/' said the man with the paste-pot, glancing carelessly over his shoulder.
^^ Gwine to be a big 'un, ain't it ? " Hank went on.
'^ Biggest you ever saw," said the man giving a vigorous sweep of the brush.
Hank grinned down on the man's broad back complacently, pushed his dirty white hat up on his head, and said:
" 'Taint wuth your while to put them words in the paper 'bout your show, mister. It wouldn't be fur out er sight at that rate, certain, beein's how I ain't never saw a show."
"Say you haven't?" It was the man's turn to
grin now, and he did so broadly. ^' Well, my friend, you ought to see this one.'^
" Well, I'm blest ef I warn't stud'in' 'bout that when I seen you stickin' them pitchers up. I jess 'lowed as how maybe I'd come an' fetch Molly an' the chillun. Th' ain't nair one er my folks ever seen er show."
He gathered up the reins in one hand and sat down, leaning over the wagon-body in a confidential kind of way.
"Yes, I's jess stud'in' 'bout bringin' the folks in to this here show, but you know how 'tis. Times is plum powerful liard, an' crops is short ever'where."
"O, it won't cost much,"' said the man. ^^ You just scratch around and pick up a few dimes and come along and bring Molly and the children."
^' I'm blest ef I don't do it, mister," said Hank with a burst of enthusiasm. '' What time'd you say the show'd be here?"
"On the twelfth."
''The twelfth. That's nex' Saddy week, ain't it?" said Hank musingly. "Well, now, that's the very day I's aimin' to come in with the cotton anyhow, so I'm blest ef I don't put Molly an' the chillun in the wagin too, an' haul 'em in to the show\"
" That's right," said the man, gathering up his pots and bills.
" Yes, sir, we'll be on han' an' don't you forgit it. Say, you may jess count on me an' Molly an' the chillun," Hank called over his shoulder.
He took a last lingering look at the gorgeous pictures, before he turned his horses' heads down the
dusty street which led to the bridge across the creek. Somehow he felt quite joyous as he whipped up the poor tough little ponies, their shoes clinking noisily against the stones, and the loose cotton-ties in the big wagon rattling a cheerful accompaniment.
'^ Gwiue to be a circus in town, Molly/' said Hank, when he got home and she had come out to see him unhitch, leaning lazily against the fence with the baby in her arms.
"¶ You don't say ! " she ejaculated.
'* Yes," he went on with growing enthusiasm, " gwine to be a circus, an' a big 'un, too. A feller was tellin' me. An' what you reckon I'm a min' to do, Molly?"
'^ Don't know. Hank," she said a little tentatively.
"Guess, oP 'oman," he said, hilariously, flipping at the baby with the end of the bridle reins.
" Reckon you aim to go to tlie show, don't you Hank ?" she asked wistfully, when his back was turned as he stooped to unhitch a strap.
" That's what, ol' 'oman,'' he said joyously, " That's jess what, but there's mo' to it, an' you an^ the chillun better be slickin' yourse'ves up for I aim to take you all along too."
"To the circus?" she asked breathlessly.
" Yes, to the circus," Hank answered with manifest pride in his decision. " I studied it all out when I's comin' home. You see, it's to be nex' Saddy week, an' I's aimin' to take the cotton in that day anyhow, so it couldn't a hit handier. Now you an' the chillun jess git ready an' we'll g'long an^ have a look at all them things I seen in the pitchers. Might's
well do it, you know. Markham will be owin' us some on the cotton, an' I speck you want to do a little tradin' anyhow. So we-11 jess go, that's what."
Now, Hank and his wife were simple folk, belonging to that extensive class of individuals who are usually spoken of as ^^ having a hard time of it." If this meant that no matter how favorable the season elsewhere. Hank's little rocky hillside ranch was sure to have too much or too little rain; it it meant that his corn and cotton and potatoes somehow or other as he said, '^ never seemed to hit;" if it meant that his horses and cows were always underfed, that Molly was put to it to keep her constantly-increasing and ever-stretching brood in the merest suspicion of a supply of clothes, that her chickens were in a chronic state of disease, being bandied about busily between cholera and the pips from one year's end to the other; that her housework was never finished by nightfall and always had to be left over for next day: if all this meant 'Miaving a hard time" then Hank and Molly certainly had it. The only thing that grew and prospered on the whole stoney little place were the children. As Molly's neighbors said of her, ^^ she sholy seem to have good luck with the young ones." There were all ages and sizes of them, as many as could crowd in between Sim, a lank lad of ten, and little Moll, the baby girl.
But in spite of the hard times, it was quite a joyous party that set out to the circus when Saturday came, for it takes more than short crops and long drouths to down an improvident spirit. From their high perch on the cotton bales beneath the pent-house of the overstretched wagon-sheet, the children poked
their tow-heads, anon shouting out in happy young voices, or gurgling a suppressed giggle at the unwonted excitement. Hank chirruped cheerily to the ponies, his sunburnt face beaming with goodnatured anticipations, and by his side, with the baby in her arms, sat Molly, resplendent in her faded red calico and white sun bonnet.
It was still quite early when they got to town and Hank drove first to the cotton-yard and dumped his two precious bales out among the many broAvn-sacked bundles which lay there in careless array, their plethoric sides bursting with fleecy whiteness.
" V\\ jess drive ^roun to the square, Molly,'^ he said, " an' you and the chillun can set there in the wagin 'tell I see Mark ham an' have a settle?7ien^. Then I'll come fur you an' we'll see the show, and ever'thing that's gwine. We ain't aimin' to do no half-way business on this here circus, air we Sim? You bet, we'll jess natchelly do the thing up right. I ain't no slouch when it comes to a show, no how, ef I ain't never been to one."
Hank's great good-nature must have been contagious, for Markham beamed upon him benignantly, and shook his hand as cordially as if his meagre two bales had been multiplied by a hundred.
" Come in to the show, did you Hank ? " he asked, rubbing his hands together cheerfully, and smiling up into Hank's face.
" Yes," said Hank, broadly. ^' 'Lowed maybe times warn't so hard that a feller couldn't afford a little fun. Never made nothin' wuth layin' by nohow, an' might's well git the good er what there is, that's what I say. But I brought the cotton along, an' I'd
like to have a settlement with you right away ef you've got the time. You see, I brought Molly an' the chillun along too, an' they air settin' 'roun' yonder on the square waitin' fur mo to come back, an' I want to git there soon as 1 kin."
^' Just itemise Hank's bill for me, please," said Markham to the bookkeeper as he and Hank passed through the office in the cotton-yard.
'^ I'm glad you brought your cotton in to-day, Hank," he went on when the weighing and classing were over and they had come back into the office. " Tt jumped u]) a point yesterday.
''You don't say!" said Hank, feeling vaguely that whatever a "point" might be it meant quite an unlimited pinnacle to his pile of balance due. In it he saw a pair of boots for Sim, a dress for Molly andó
But Markham interrupted liis vision.
'' Here you are Hank, he said, taking up the long sheet from the bookkeeper's desk.
Hank's eyes followed Markham's finger slowly but uncomprehendingly down the long column of figures, and his heart gave a big jump at the end, when he heard still in the same cheery voice :
" ^Yell, we'll credit you by the cotton to-day, and you see, that puts you pretty nearly square. You will owe us only eight dollars and fifty cents, and I can carry that till you can scrape up a few eggs and chickens for Christmas, maybe."
But Hank's ears were full. " I owe you eight dollars an' a ha'f?" he said breathlessly; "Why, Lord man, ain't there.nothin' comin' to me?"
Markham looked up kindly over his glasses, but
the blow had been too great. Hank dropped down into a chair, covering his face with his hands.
''Good Lord!" he went on helpk\ssly. "The cotton^s ever'thing I\'e got in the worl' ! I knowed there wouldn't be much comin' on it, but Vt^ aimin' to git Sim a pair er boots an' Molly a nevv dress among ^em ! Lord ! Lord ! An' you say there ain't nair cent comin' to me? An' Molly an' the chillun a-settin 'round yonder in the wagin waitin' fur me to come an' take 'em to the show! Do you mean I've got to go an' tell 'em I ain't got a cent in tlie worP, an' we'll jess have to hitch up an' go 'long back home? Lord ! Lord ! " and the big tears were trickling down his cheeks.
The bookkeeper slid down from his stool, and went out softly, closing the door behind him. Mark-ham took off his glasses and wiped them slowly. He had been a poor man once, and he knew how heavily some things bear upon simple folk, even those who are accustomed to " havino: a hard time."
'^ Well, well," he said kindly, running his hand in his pocket, " I reckon times are harder with you than they are with me, and you'd better let us call things square, and take this five dollar bill and go and get Molly and the children. It is almost time for the show."
Hank was no beggar, however used he was to hard times, but he had no power to compass the disappointment that would be waiting for him if he refused Markham's offer; but it was but a poor spiritless slouching figure that went by and by to join the expectant group in the wagon. He kept his fingers clasped on old Markham's bill in his pocket, and his
lips were tight pressed. But there was no time for explanations. Out tumbled the little towheads by twos and threes with Molly and the baby on top, for the music had already begun.
Up the street and around the square, turning down by the baker\s shop came the procession, and oh ! oh! was there ever anything grander to see ? the puffing, smoking, screaming calliope, the gorgeous equestriennes, the rattling, rumbling cages, the strange wild things peering out with hungry eyes, the ponderous elephants with long snoutsówas there ever anything like it all?
Never before to Hank and his folks surely, and is it any wonder that his drooping spirits revived and that along with the rest he gave himself up and followed in the wake of the steaming music across the creek and quite into the big tent itself? He gave up old Markham's bill at the door forg3tful that there went along with it his whole worldly wealth, and by and by when it was all over and the wagon rattled noisily out on the homeward road, Molly said with a burst of recalled consciousness when the little cabin appeared in sight:
" Lor', Hank, we forgot the tradin' *'
Hank ran his hand down into the pocket where Markham's money had been, but he heard only vaguely, for a vision of the clown in his wide trousers danced before his eyes and the sound of music was in his ears:
" But we seen the show," he said softly.
':Sieur Antoine and .Snow-white. Page 61.