Read CHAPTER SEVEN of Watch Yourself Go By , free online book, by Al G Field, on ReadCentral.com.

Backward, turn backward, oh, time in your flight,
Make me a child again, just for tonight.

“Help is mighty skeerse an’ ye got to take what ye kin git,” was Lin’s answer to the query of a neighbor as to why they had re-employed Cousin Charley after the confusion he had created in the family of Alfred.

Cousin Charley was sent to the country on an errand that was supposed to consume a couple of hours.

It was Circus day. The head of the family gave the boys sufficient money to pay their way from side-show to concert.

That they might not miss any of the sights of Circus day, Charley arranged with Lin to serve breakfast by 5 a. m., to give him an early start, enabling him to return by 8 o’clock and take Alfred to the circus grounds to remain all day, the custom of the country folk in those days.

Many families brought their lunch with them and picnicked on the show grounds. Among them was Abner Linn, a large man noted for his appetite and great strength. Abner was making his way through the crowd on Circus day, clearing a path, as it were, for his delicate little wife and more than half a dozen children. The frail little woman carried a large basket filled with eatables. The basket was more than a load and the little woman struggled to keep near her muscular husband. Glancing back and noticing the wife faltering, he relieved her of the basket and started forward at a faster walk than before.

Gentle Harry Mason admiringly complimented him by saying:

“Abner, that was very kind and thoughtful of you to carry that heavy basket for your wife.”

Ab, with a leer, said: “Gosh, I was afeard she’d get lost.”

Alfred cried to go to the country with Charley. Lin said:

“Ye’ll be so tired ye can’t enjoy the show ef ye walk out thar an’ back so early in the mornin’.”

Go Alfred would. Up Town Hill, through Sandy Hollow, through the old toll gate to Thornton’s Lane where the boys were to turn off the old pike. But they did not turn off. They lingered under the big locust trees throwing stones at birds and against the high fence surrounding the Fair Grounds where Black Fan had won her famous race. The circus was coming in on the old pike from Uniontown. All circus travel was overland in those days.

Cousin Charley argued if they did not see the show come in they’d miss one of the big sights of the day: they had plenty of time. The show would pass that way soon and Alfred was only too willing to linger.

The dew, sparkling like diamonds as it lay on grass and plant, had disappeared; a summer’s sun was pouring its direct rays on the old pike. Cousin Charley prevailed on the younger boy to continue the journey further eastward on the pike until they met the wagons. Cousin Charley explained that he was familiar with a short cut to their destination, and as they crossed the creek they would have a swim.

This met with the hearty approval of Alfred. The boys walked out the old highway, passing Captain Abram’s fine farm where Charley had dug potatoes on the shares, on beyond Uncle Jack’s big stone house, nearly to Redstone School-house ere the circus wagons were met. As the wagons rolled by, the boys conjectured as to what each contained. There were no animal vans as the menagerie had not combined with the circus in those days. The big, gold-mounted band wagon, followed by a dozen passenger wagons, buggies and hacks, a half dozen led ring horses and ponies, passed, and the cavalcade was lost in the dust.

Striking across the fields the boys were soon on the banks of Dunlap’s Creek. Instead of the gently flowing stream in which they expected to bathe their heated bodies, they found a raging, muddy torrent, fast flowing, spreading over bottom lands, water half way up the stalks of the growing corn.

Cousin Charley declared the water too muddy for bathing purposes; but he would undress, construct a raft of the plentiful rails that had lodged along the banks of the creek, and seating Alfred on the raft, he would swim, pushing the raft across the creek.

Cousin Charley began constructing the raft near the creek bank proper, where the water was backed into the field. He dragged the rails through the water, sometimes lying down and swimming, at other times diving under the water. Alfred could not resist the temptation to undress and assist with the raft.

When completed, Cousin Charley seated Alfred on the top of the raft, the clothing of both boys being piled on his lap that they might not get wet. The raft was pushed off, Cousin Charley insisting that he was a stern wheel tow boat, kicking his feet out of the water to imitate the splash of the wheel. The boat did not make great headway but backed and went ahead as the raft floated down the creek. The banks were steeper on either side, therefore, the tow boat decided to go down the stream a little further ere landing. In fact, the towboat was having such a good time he did not fully realize the current was carrying his tow rapidly towards the old mill dam. Neither did the passenger on the raft realize this until he noticed a changed expression on the face of the tow boat. He further realized that the tow boat was laboring powerfully.

In rounding a bend in the stream the tow actually swung around in the current, the tow boat not having power to prevent it. The younger boy for the first time noticed the roaring of the old dam, a fact the boy doing the towing had been aware of and terribly worried over for some time.

In his excitement, the younger boy stood up on the raft.

“Set down! Set down!” frantically yelled the boy in the water.

Another alarming fact presented itself at this juncture. Several of the under rails had worked out and were only connected to the raft by one end. This caused the raft to settle on the port side and the younger boy could no longer keep his seat, fearing he would tumble off backwards into the stream.

The boys became more and more excited, the roar of the old dam grew nearer and nearer. Louder and louder came the noise of the waters tumbling over it. Both boys pictured themselves being swept over the dam into the whirlpool below. No victim of Niagara’s treacherous tides ever neared his doom with greater terror. Down, down, floated rails and cargo; Cousin Charley struggling as he never did before; Alfred screaming as he never did before or since.

When Cousin Charley began shouting for help, the younger boy became hysterical. The roar of the rushing water seemed to drown all other sounds and Cousin Charley’s voice, though he shouted at the top of his lungs’ strength, sounded to Alfred’s ears like a voice in the distance.

“Set down! Set down! For God’s sake, set down! You’ll fall off. Set down!” yelled Cousin Charley.

Instead of obeying, Alfred clambered higher and higher on the rails, waving his shirt frantically and shouting for help. The shirt served as a signal of distress.

Morg Gaskill was in the field above the Young House. He saw the shirt waving. The roar of the waters drowned the boys’ voices. Gaskill, rushing to the saw-mill, grabbed a log hook and ran up the banks of the creek.

The boys could see the break of the water as it rushed over the crest of the dam and the white, foamy splashes as it bounded up from where it fell below. Cousin Charley was barely holding on to the tow; Alfred was sinking down on the almost disintegrated raft.

Gaskill, muscular and active, rushed into the water up to his middle, shot the pole out. The hook caught over the rails, but they pulled out. Alfred fell on them as the raft drifted apart. Down went all of Charley’s wearing apparel excepting his big straw hat and one shoe which Alfred clutched unconsciously in one hand. As Alfred fell forward on the rails he grabbed the hook or pole and held on for dear life as Gaskill pulled him ashore, more dead than alive.

The elder boy was floated off holding onto two rails. It was but a moment until the strong young man had both lads ashore. They dragged the hook along the bottom of the creek but not a vestige of the clothes of either could be found. Charley had one shoe and a large straw hat. Alfred had a shirt, rather long, and a hat.

Explanations were gone into. Gaskill went into the house, returning with an old rubber boot, a calico shirt and a pair of corduroy pants. Many patches made their original material a matter of doubt. He explained that was the best he could do for Charley and said:

“I don’t know what we will do for the chap,” scanning Alfred, “unless he wears one of Hannah’s dresses,” which Cousin Charley endeavored to persuade Alfred to do.

Alfred declared he would sneak home as best he could with only the shirt. The boy realized that Cousin Charley would never cease teasing him if he wore the dress.

Alfred’s body was covered with mud, Cousin Charley insisted that he go down to the water’s brink and wash the mud from his body but Alfred could not be prevailed upon to go near the creek.

A large pail of very cold water was fetched from the well. With a mischievousness little short of cruelty, the water was poured on Alfred’s head, streaming down over his body, his teeth chattered, his lips turned blue.

The women folks of the house were coming, so Alfred ran into the high grass to hide; while Cousin Charley and Gaskill renewed their search of the creek for the lost clothes. The house had been searched and nothing suitable to clothe Alfred could be found. There were no boys in the family.

There was a whispered consultation and one of the women hastened to the house. Returning, she handed Gaskill a white linen garment. He walked towards Alfred, his face distorted, endeavoring to suppress his laughter.

Gaskill, unrolling the something made of muslin, commanded Alfred to get into it. As he put one foot through the upheld opening, he caught sight of Cousin Charley’s face and his attempted concealment of laughter. This so exasperated Alfred that he did not notice the garment he was being encased in. He upbraided Cousin Charley for his unseemly levity:

“Yes, laugh, you durn big fool! Laugh! You was skeered more than I was. Dog-gone ye, it was all your fault. If we had drowned you would have been to blame, then I reckon you’d laughed tuther side of your mouth. You big fool, you.”

By this time Gaskill had the muslin garment fastened on Alfred. The waistband, which was too wide, Gaskill doubled over and pinned it. The legs were the same size all the way down, extending only a little below the knees. The seat seemed to have a surplus similar to the uniform Lacy Hare had fashioned, although this part of the garment stood off from his person, not clinging like the heavy material of the military clothes.

Alfred, surveying himself as they walked towards the house where Mr. Young had invited them to have a bite of dinner, “after their skeer,” began to realize that the linen garments he wore were similar to those that Lin washed last and never hung on the line in the front yard where the men came in. This discovery did not prevent him laughing at himself.

Alfred hesitatingly entered the house. Gaskill and Cousin Charley were tittering and laughing. Gaskill inquired: “Well, how are you going to git home?”

Charley replied: “I reckon I’ll have to hide him out ’til after dark or send him on ahead for, by the eternal, I won’t go through town with him with them things on.”

Old Mrs. Young, gently leading the abashed boy to the table, spoke words of assurance, reproving the men for their levity.

The Youngs were of the Dunkard faith, a religious sect numerous in the vicinity.

On their way home Alfred was the more hilarious of the two. In a spirit of bravado he declared he intended to walk right down the main street crowded as it would be on circus day. He further declared his intention to tell Pap and Mother the whole story just how it happened.

Alfred seemed to have the better of the bigger and older boy. In fact, during the past year Alfred had been gradually gaining the mastery of Cousin Charley insofar as mind was concerned.

It has been said that each mind has its own method, no two reason and think alike. Alfred seemed to think quicker than Cousin Charley and often turned the tables on the older boy in a mental contest. On this occasion Cousin Charley finally gained the mastery by his threats not to take the younger boy to the circus.

It was agreed that Cousin Charley should tell the folks of the day’s adventure. As they neared home their mirth diminished as their fears increased: how to run the gauntlet, as it were. So far they had avoided the highways, skulking through thicket and fields. As they neared the old Smouse place, now occupied by Mart Massie as a dairy farm, the milkman was hitching up preparatory to making his usual rounds.

Cousin Charley, perhaps feeling it would be a good rehearsal, recounted the story he had concocted to relate to Alfred’s parents. The milkman was greatly interested in the thrilling narrative and consented to store the boys in the back end of the milk wagon, delivering them when he delivered the milk to their folks. The boys thought it a very long milk route. Alfred had Cousin Charley as nearly nervous as his nature would permit by more than once threatening to get out and walk home.

When they neared home, passing through Church Street, Alfred made a move to leave the wagon, crawling over the end gate backwards, his limbs dangling outside, his head and body hid by the closely drawn curtains. Cousin Charley, after struggling, pulled him into the wagon under cover.

Several women had caught sight of the limbs and the unmentionable garments. While the driver was entirely ignorant of the cause, he was forever disgraced on this part of his route. An old Scotch lady declared to several of her neighbors the “shameless hussy was bare to the kilt.”

Arriving in front of Alfred’s home, Cousin Charley hustled him into the house the front way as Lin came up the path from the back part of the house in answer to the bell of the milkman, who was of the gossiping kind, and managed to give Lin the outlines of Cousin Charley’s story as he drew the milk and cream from his large cans.

Lin could scarcely wait until he poured the milk into her pitcher. Giving the milk vendor a withering look, she slammed the gate and hissed:

“I’ll bet a fippennybit that’s another of Charley’s durn lies.”

Hurrying into the kitchen she seized a rolling pin, her favorite weapon. Two stairs at a time she bounded, reaching the room where Cousin Charley had related about half of the harassing details of the rescue of Alfred. This was his story:

“He had stopped to rest. Alfred got out of his sight in some way. He heard screams from the creek. He saw Alfred floating down the stream on a log which he had been paddling around in the shallow water. It was but the work of a moment to disrobe. Plunging into the raging torrent he had to swim for dear life to overtake the fast floating boy on the log. He had just managed to land him before the dam was reached. A moment later and they would both have been carried over the dam to certain destruction.”

The mother was faint with nervousness and sadly shook her head as she said:

“That boy will be the death of me yet. His disobedience is something I cannot understand. No wonder his father is out of patience with him.”

Lin was watching Charley closely, occasionally casting side glances at Alfred. She had a gleam in her eyes that made Charley falter more than once in his narration.

Charley was still in the details when Lin interrupted him with:

“Durn yer pictur’, ye nivir take this boy anywhar yer not back with a cock and bull story. Next ye’ll be fightin’ Injuns or gypsies to save Alfurd and it all amounts to Alfurd gittin’ whupped an’ somethin, fer ye to laff over.”

Here she brandished the rolling pin over Charley, raising herself higher as the boy shrank from her threatening motions.

“Ef ye ain’t lyin’ ‘bout this, an’ I’m hopin’ ye air, we ought to be mighty thankful to ye. But I’m boun’ to hev the truth. Set down, or I’ll knock ye down.”

“‘Al-f-u-r-d,’ I want ye to stan’ up like a little man. Ye nivir tol’ me a lie ‘cept when ye stol’ us hungry carryin’ vittles to this houn’,” as she pointed to the thoroughly frightened Charley, who whined:

“That’s all the thanks I git for risking my life.”

“Shet up,” Lin almost yelled, “ye’ll not tell one word of this to Mr. Hatfield.”

“Stan’ up ‘Al-f-u-r-d’ an’ look this helgrimite in the face an’ shame the devil. Didn’t he push ye in the creek?”

“No, ma’am,” falteringly. “I went in myself.”

Charley began to look triumphant.

“Did he pull you out?”

“No, ma’am, Morg Gaskill pulled us both out.”

Lin fairly hissed: “I knowed ye was lyin’.”

Thus encouraged, Alfred graphically related the adventures of the day, not omitting any of the details save the dangling of his limbs out of the milk wagon.

Charley was taken aback and thereafter his credibility was destroyed in so far as the mother and Lin were concerned. He pouted and endeavored to deny portions of the younger boy’s recital but was met with such positive assertions from Alfred that he retired entirely discomfited.

Lin’s only comment was: “Durn ye; I’d be afeard to put my head in a circus, much less a church.” Lin looked upon one with as much reverence as the other.

The boys missed the afternoon performance but were there early for the night show. At the opening note of the hand organ in the side-show Cousin Charley and Alfred were inside. The orator had eloquently described the curiosities pictured on the long line of banners in front of the side-show. But the most alluring object had not been mentioned, namely, a long show case filled with jewelry, symbolic numbers, bank notes of all denominations. A dice box on top of the glass-covered case was the means by which the yokels were assured they could extract the jewelry, bank notes, etc.

The father had given Charley ample funds to cover admission fees to all shows and a liberal allowance for refreshments. Alfred was very much interested in the big snake and the lady whom the lecturer introduced as a snake charmer.

The lecturer announced that the performance was over, but another would be given in fifteen minutes. All those wishing to remain for the next performance were privileged to do so. Those congregated around the show case whereon the dice rattled were the only ones to remain.

Alfred heard the man behind the case saying: “Try your luck again, young man. You were within one number of the capital prize. You can’t win it every time. Try again.”

Charley did try again and again. He did not win the capital prize but in lieu of $4 he had two brass rings, a pair of brass cuff buttons and a lead pencil with a sharpener on the end of it.

The shades of night were falling. The lights in the big tent could be seen over the side wall. Hundreds of candles on a pyramid-shaped candelabra made of boards. Think of it, ye modern Ringlings, candles the only lights!

The band playing, Alfred imagined the show going on: the horses going around. All the glories and beauties he had been anticipating for weeks would be lost to him. He implored Cousin Charley to hurry up and purchase their tickets.

Hundreds were buying tickets. The big red wagon was open, the ticket seller handling the pasteboards with lightning-like rapidity. It was Ben Lusbie. He was the lightning ticket seller of the circus world. Such was his dexterity that Forepaugh afterwards lithographed him as an attraction.

Alfred’s urgent appeals to “hurry and get our tickets” were lost upon Cousin Charley. He was seemingly dazed. The man at the big door shouted: “Everybody hold their own ticket; all must have tickets.”

The hustle and confusion made Alfred still more impatient. He gave the older boy’s arm a rough jerk as he urged him to get their tickets. Cousin Charley seemed to wake up and the awful truth was revealed Cousin Charley had been robbed. Alfred must stand right there until he took the jewelry back to the side show and recovered his money.

Alfred stood right there. Hundreds passed him, laughing and crowding into the big show. The longer Alfred waited the more miserable he became. Despair came over him. He waited, Cousin Charley did not come. The crowd thinned out; deeper and deeper Alfred’s heart sank within him.

Anger began to take the place of disappointment. He would beat Cousin Charley black and blue with the first thing he could lay his hands on. He would expose all he had been concealing in a hundred mean things Charley had been guilty of.

The band played louder in the big tent. The feeling that he was missing all came back to him stronger than ever, bringing the hot tears to his eyes. They rolled down his cheeks until it seemed they would dampen the earth at his feet.

Alfred saw a large man pushing his way to the ticket wagon. It was Doctor Bob Playford, the biggest whole-souled friend any boy ever had. When the circus came, it was the custom of Bob Playford to wait until the crowd got in, then, collecting all the boys on the lot who could not command the price of admission, make a contract with the door-keeper and put them all in the show.

There are scores of men now, boys then, whose prayers have gone up that kind hearted Bob Playford found it as easy to enter the gates above as he made it for them to enter that heaven to a boy below the circus.

Alfred knew full well that Doctor Playford would buy him a ticket but his pride would not permit him to ask this.

Accompanying the Doctor were Willie Playford, his son, and Bob Kennedy, his nephew. The boys, recognizing Alfred, asked if he were going in the show. Endeavoring to swallow a big lump in his throat, his voice choked as he answered: “No.”

“Were you there this afternoon?”

Again Alfred answered: “No.”

No longer able to restrain himself he told of Charley’s folly. The Doctor, approaching, Alfred’s story was repeated, as it progressed, Alfred’s sobbing and crying increased.

The Doctor, giving him a sympathetic look and a rough shake, said: “Now stop crying, stop crying, you dam little fool. When the circus comes to town you always come to me and I’ll see that you get in.”

The big Doctor, Alfred and the boys were seated long before the performance began, Alfred forgetting Cousin Charley, the raft, the garments he had dangled out of the milk wagon; in fact all the trials and tribulations of life were as fleeting dreams. Happiness lingered within his whole being. The sights and wonders, the clowns were all flitting before him. The evening was one of bewilderment and enchantment to the boy.

The old clown was his especial delight. He fairly shouted at his quips and antics. When the mules were brought in and $5 offered to the boy or man who could ride one of them, Alfred was tempted to make the trial. He felt certain he could do better than those who were being cast off like babies by the agile animals.

The show over, they started with the crowd toward the door. A whistle sounded, the walls of the tent fell as if by magic. The Doctor and the boys stood a long time watching the tents lowered.

As they passed up the narrow passage leading from the show lot to the street, Cousin Charley met them, his appearance evidencing his shame and disappointment. The Doctor began chiding him.

Charley, in his illuminating way, explained that he went into the side show, and the man coaxed him to shake the dice. He shook and came within one every time he shook of winning the capital prize. He left the game, was induced to go back and shake again and the first dash out of the box he won the capital prize. They refused to give it to him, grabbed the money he had in his hand and put him out of the tent. He had been up on the hill to see Squire Wilkinson to swear out a warrant for their arrest but the Squire was at prayer-meeting. (They always have prayer meeting when the circus comes to town). He ran back to find the man who took his money.

“If I’d found him, I’d licked him or he’d licked me,” concluded Charley.

The big Doctor playfully straightened out his powerful arm, pushing Charley backwards. Gazing at him in a humorously contemptuous manner as he said:

“Look here, my boy, you lie. You were gambling? No one but a country Jake would try to beat that game. I lost two dollars on that eight dice case myself. Now let me give you a little advice: ’Don’t bet on another man’s game unless you have money at home, for you are sure to lose all you have with you.’”

Alfred and Cousin Charley wended their way home Alfred endeavored to express his sympathy in detailing the wondrous sights he had witnessed in the circus. Alfred was sorry for Cousin Charley and while his intentions were commendable his descriptions of the circus only added to the disappointment and chagrin of the elder boy.

That night Alfred dreamed of heaven in his happiness. He dreamed that heaven was one big circus, with angels in pink tights and clowns capering on the golden streets. Peanuts and candy were heaped in piles invitingly, free to all. He dreamed of a big, blue-eyed man who stood at the Golden Gates and passed all the boys in free and when they did not come of their own accord he beckoned to them. He seemed to enjoy the happiness of the boys more than the boys themselves.

Next morning at breakfast the wonders of the circus were gone over again. Alfred did not breathe a word as to Cousin Charley’s loss of the money at the gaming table.

Since the night of the circus Alfred had busied himself preparing to give his first show. The costumes and a place to give the exhibition seemed to worry him more than the entertainment he was to offer.

Lin was his assistant. It might be more proper to state that Lin was the prime mover, and the director of the proposed exhibition, although Lin kept her activity concealed from the other members of the family. She explained her participation in the coming show thusly:

“Well, it’s better fer a body to keep yer yungins to hum even ef it does clutter up the house to hev their fun. Alfurd’s mos’ crazy ‘bout bein’ a circus clown an’ ye’d die laffin’ to see the little cuss cuttin’ didoes. I’d rather see him doin’ it than hev him trapesin’ the streets like Bill’s Charley.”

Lin never lost an opportunity to cast a reflection on Charley.

Alfred, Lin and the mother were seated at the breakfast table, discussing Alfred’s show. Ways and means were the subjects. The mother was an interested listener, although a quiet dissenter. She could not understand how Alfred, even with Lin’s aid, could offer anything in the way of a show to entertain even children.

The price of admission was to be two ten-penny nails. The boat building industry was thriving and the boys often went aboard a new boat picking up the nails the carpenters let fall in their work. The nail idea was Lin’s and we must accord her some degree of originality.

“Pins had always been the equivalent for cash for admission to amatoor shows.” Lin said “our show.” She always said “our show” when talking to the neighbors. When the show was referred to at home it was “Alfred’s show.”

Costumes were the perplexity of Alfred. He desired “purty” clothes: it made the acting look better.

Lin added: “Purty duds makes a lot in a show, or in meetin’,” meanwhile looking mischievously at the mother. She said to Alfred: “Ye’ve got a tolerable good start fur as ye’re concerned yerself, with the two suits ye fetched hum lately the soldier suit Lacy Hare and Aunt Betsy made ye an’ the one Mrs. Young lent ye.”

Morg Gaskill had requested the return of the latter mentioned garments but Alfred’s climbing of fences, running through briar patches and dangling out of milk wagons had pretty well used the garments up. The mother therefore in return sent similar garments.

Alfred insisted that the unmentionables Mrs. Young loaned him should be the basis of his clown suit. Although Alfred has worn many grotesque costumes since, none ever more strongly appealed to the risibilities of an audience than did those same garments. Lin said they were “the funniest fit she ever seed an’ she wondered to gawd who they ever wuz made fer. Two meal sacks fastened together would fit jes’ as well.”

The show passed off as amateur shows generally do, with a great many hitches, accidents and quarrels. The night was a stormy one, without and within. The audience all came early and stood around the kitchen stove while Alfred and the other performers robed themselves, for there were no dressing rooms. Lin commanded the audience to turn their faces and look toward the stove while the actors were dressing.

The audience were compelled to go through the kitchen to gain entrance to the place of exhibition, the cellar. On Lin would fall the labor of cleaning up next day; therefore, as each auditor appeared at the kitchen door, Lin shouted: “Wipe yer feet ’fore ye come in.”

That the show might go on without hindrance, or for some other reason, the father and mother visited a neighbor that night. This was a great relief to Alfred and Lin.

Lin said: “Ef Mary ever sees this kitchen afore I git at it in the mornin’ she’ll hev a fit of the conniptions.”

The show was very unsatisfactory to Alfred. He was dissatisfied with his company and declared they “couldn’t do nuthin’.” One or two weakened at the last moment. When looked for to take their place in the ring they were found seated or standing among the audience and no persuasion from the manager or the audience could induce them to go on with their part of the performance. This was exasperating to Alfred. He either enacted their roles or explained the part they were expected to perform.

Lin went wild over his impersonations of Daniel Boone, Santa Anna and Davy Crockett. Lin said: “I tell ye what, Lacy Hare’s soldier suit come in jes’ right.”

Young Bill Colvin, a nephew of Uncle Joe’s neighbor, was seated near the ringside. He plucked at one of the epaulets while Davy Crockett was supposed to be holding the cabin door against the wolves. This ruffled the temper of Davy to such an extent that he smote Bill. Bill smote back. Over and over they rolled on the cellar floor. Davy might have been a mighty man pitted against the wolves, but Bill Colvin was getting the better of him until Lin rushed to the rescue.

Parting the combatants, young Colvin was rushed to the door, flung half way across the street by Lin and the door slammed in his face. Lin was more loudly applauded than any other part of the show.

She made a speech:

“Ef there’s any other freckled faced willun here thet’s goin’ to do anythin’ to bust up this show, now’s the time fer ’em to wade in while I’m het up. Huh, Bill Colvin thinks caus’ his daddy’s rich he kin do anythin’ he wants to, but he’ll find he’s up agin a stump when he starts a fuss in this shanty.”

Lin’s sunny disposition was rarely crossed by shadows, but she was terribly angry and the best of order was maintained for the remainder of the evening.

Although there was no visible evidence of the mud and dirt tracked into the kitchen by the audience, the next morning the mother forever put the ban on future shows in so far as the cellar or kitchen were concerned.

Lin had constructed a rude candelabra after the style of the one in the circus. It was left hanging in the cellar. Lin lit them up when Aunt Betsy came on Saturday to show her how “purty” they were. Afterwards, in the absence of Lin, the mother confidentially imparted the information to Aunt Betsy that “Lin was crazier over such things than Alfred, and it was pretty much all her doings.”

Lin had been busy for weeks, in fact, ever since the show in the cellar, patching, sewing, and putting together old rag carpet, canvas, heavy with paint, that had been ripped from the hurricane deck of an old steamboat.

Alfred was to give another show, this time on Jeffries’ Commons and under canvas, or rather, inside of canvas. Since the night the side wall fell as Dr. Playford and he were leaving the tent, the boy had been revolving this plan in his mind. He felt certain he could collect, with the aid of the boys, sufficient material to encircle the ring which had been long constructed and used to practice in. A center pole with side poles planted in the ground like fence posts. A top for the tent was out of the question but nearly sufficient material had been collected to encircle the poles, making a sidewall nearly ten feet high.

Lin had announced the price of admission at one cent and had so extensively advertised the show by word of mouth that the children were already visiting Alfred’s home to buy tickets of admission. This aggravated the mother more greatly than even the cellar show. The mother feared the neighbors would think that she was interested in the show, financially.

Lin said: “Let ’em think what they durn please. Some of ’em’s in a mighty big hurry to pay fur their tickets. Ef they’d pay back the saleratus, salt, sugar, tea, coffee, an’ sich they’ve borryed from us we’d be better off. But some peepul will spend money quicker fer fun than they will fer vittles or religion.”

It was the night before the show. A consultation was held in the tent between Alfred and his aids. There was an opening of at least ten feet in length in the side of the tent and no canvas or other material to close it up. Turkey Evans had brought the last strip of an old rag carpet he had taken surreptitiously from an unused room of his home. The two old quilts Tom White had stolen from Betsy Smart were in place with half moons, hearts, diamonds, and sunflowers worked on them in raised figures. They gave the tent the appearance of an Indian tepee.

Win Scott had contributed all the coffee, grain or salt sacks he could secure by rummaging every building on Stable Street. Some of the boys had even appropriated the aprons worn by Nimrod Potts, the shoemaker. As Mr. Potts was of goodly size the two aprons from his shop went a long ways toward making a partition between the tent and the dressing room. Spliced to the bed tick Bindley Livingston had thrown out of the third story window of his father’s house, the aprons closed up the opening completely.

But the big opening near the door was still a gaping void. After all had confessed to their inability to furnish another yard of material, Alfred advised that in the garret of his grandfather’s home there was a large cedar chest filled with whitest linen, three pieces of which would close up the opening but he knew grandpap would not let him take it “caus’ he was a Baptis’ and agin shows.”

Win Scott argued that it would be no harm to take the linen. The fact that it had lain there unused was proof positive they would never miss it. Just as soon as the show was over they would take it back and no one would ever know it but themselves.

Alfred being entirely familiar with grandfather’s house it was planned he should creep upstairs, open a window and throw sufficient of the linen out of the garret into old man Morehouse’s back yard where the others would station themselves, carry the linen to the old school house and secrete it until the following morning.

Alfred’s limbs trembled so he could scarcely stand as he opened the back door of the big stone house. Up the long flight of stairs he crept, the creaking of a loose board startling him so he nearly fainted. Although not a light burned in that part of the house, so familiar was he with its interior that he had no difficulty in finding his way.

As he reached the top of the stairs leading to the garret, still on hands and knees, the old furniture, odds and ends piled around indiscriminately, took on the grotesqueness of imps, demons and other fantastic figures. So wrought up was his imagination that nothing but the fear of ridicule from his confederates forced him on. Crawling along the dirty, sooty, begrimed floor, he soon located the old cedar chest.

Raising the lid, the aroma of camphor and rose leaves nearly overcame him. Even in the dark he could discern the folds of whitest linen. Counting out five pieces, he tiptoed to the window. With the signal a soft whistle down floated the first sheet, caught by one of the boys ere it touched the ground. The next sheet hit the brick pavement with a thud. Partly unfolding the next two Alfred followed their fluttering course to the earth with his gaze. He could see the white objects moving off like specters floating through space.

They appeared so ghost-like the sight almost paralyzed him. Shaking with nervousness, the last sheet left his hands accidently catching on the window fastening. It spread out like a great, white bird with flapping wings and slowly fluttered to the earth.

A door opened below. Alfred nearly collapsed. Tip-toeing across the room he stumbled over an object on the floor causing a great racket. Falling on the floor he crawled behind a number of old quilting frames and lay there ever so quiet expecting momentarily to hear some of the family ascending the stairs.

Crawling slowly to the stairs he softly descended, opened the door and shot out into the darkness of the night. The perspiration streaming down his face. Wiping it away with his soot begrimed hands, so blackened his countenance his companions scarcely recognized him when he reached the rendezvous, the old school-house on the commons.

When the last sheet fluttered down from the garret, Win Scott stepped under it. Tommy Morehouse’s back door opened. With the sheet fluttering about him, Scott ran down the garden path and out through the barn into Stable Street.

Nearly opposite the stable from which he had just emerged was the big stable of the Marshall House, a tavern kept by Isaac Vance, the uncle of Ike Stribeg, the afterwards noted circus agent.

Baggy Allison and Hughey Boggs, characters of the town, were seated on a bench outside the door of the big stable. Scott, pulling the sheet more closely about him and waving his arms wildly, quickly crossed the street towards the two worthies, thinking to have some fun with them. Both caught sight of him at the same instant. One corner of the sheet, fluttering high in the air, it certainly was a skittish looking object that floated down upon the two superstitious men. Over went the bench, a chair or two, Allison stepped in a tin pail as he arose, his foot entangled in it. The clattering of Baggy’s foot in the pail added ten fold to the terror of Hughey. He swore afterwards he could feel the clutch of the long, bony fingers of the ghost on his neck.

The hostlers flew, both trying to enter the narrow door of the tavern. Wedged in the doorway, each thought the other holding him. Fighting, cussing, scratching, they were pulled into the big tap room filled with guests. All imagined the two hostlers were fighting and endeavored to separate them.

Baggy Allison was very slow of speech; Hughey Boggs stuttered painfully. After they were separated they kept up their clawing and waving.

Baggy, pointing toward the stable, blurted out: “Ghost! Ghost! Ghost after us! Ketch it! Ketch it!”

Hughey stuttering more terribly, owing to his fright had, only got to “Gh gh gh gh,” when Baggy had finished explaining the cause of their fright.

Bud Beckley, old Johnny Holmes and Jim Hubbs, the town constable, were the first to run towards the stable, but nothing was to be seen in any direction. Baggy and Hughey were unmercifully scored for their cowardice, and were ridiculed for days afterward.

Win Scott was as badly frightened as the two hostlers. The flight of the men caused him to redouble his speed. On down Stable Street to Playford’s Alley, out along the high stone wall enclosing Nelson Bowman’s castle, on to Jeffries’ Commons, formerly an old graveyard.

Here, according to report, the spook sank into a sunken grave. Albert Baker’s mother saw the apparition as did Sammy Honesty, one of Bowman’s servants.

Saturday morning, the day of the show, was one of those days that nature often bestows on Brownsville: not the fleck of a floating cloud in the firmament above. Even the winds slept that they might not ruffle the tranquility of the scene or Alfred’s tent.

Lin was greatly disturbed over the opening in the tent. She declared: “Every dadratted, stingy critter in the neighborhood would jes’ stan’ outside and peek in fer nuthin’; and jes’ to think, we got all the other places kivered only that plague-goned old hole right by the door.”

When Win Scott arrived with the white linen sheets, Lin was greatly surprised. She feared they were not come by honestly. The boys assured her they had borrowed them, promising to return them as good as they came.

Lin was finally persuaded to tack and sew the sheets on the tent. When completed, she surveyed her work for a moment and said: “We’re all hun-ki-dora now” a slang phrase in those days signifying “all right.”

Jeffries Commons swarmed with children. So impatient was Alfred to open the circus that he refused to eat dinner. Lin fetched him a pie which he devoured as he worked.

Win Scott was the door-keeper and treasurer. Lin had a wordy war with the treasurer soon after the doors opened. Willie Shuman, who was lame, wanted to sit on the treasurer’s seat, a soap box near the main entrance. Win objected solely on the grounds that real shows did not permit patrons to sit where they pleased but made them stand around. Lin secured another soap box and Willie was given the kind of seat he desired “up high,” as Lin expressed it, “so nobody could stan’ in front of him.”

Lin insisted on counting the receipts several times while the audience was assembling and when they reached sixty-eight cents, she concluded it was too much money to entrust to any one connected with the show. Emptying the pennies in her pocket, she pinned it up, remarking: “Ef there’s no trouble comes up about them there new linen sheets, we’ll give another show tonight. I hev all the lights hangin’ in the cellar ready.”

The ghost seen the night before had been the talk of the town and that it disappeared on the old commons near the tent was whispered about among those in attendance at Alfred’s show. Lin heard whispers of the reports and somehow she could not entirely dispossess her mind of the idea that the new linen sheets were connected in some way with the ghosts. However, so deeply interested was she in the manifold duties she had imposed upon herself that ghosts and linen sheets were, for the time, forgotten.

Sitting on a soap box holding two children on her lap, so they could see it all, Lin was calling on Alfred to come back into the ring and repeat a twisting about trick he had just performed. Lin said the children wanted to see him do it “agin.”

Encores were numerous from Lin, no matter whether the major portion of the audience desired them or not; if the children expressed a wish to see any feat repeated Lin simply commanded that it be done and if the performer hesitated to take a recall, Lin sat the children off her lap and marched the performer out and compelled him to comply with the children’s wishes.

Although it was balmy spring, there was a tinge of chill in the air that touched one. Many of the boys were compelled to undress to don their costumes, and Joe Sandford’s costume especially was not conducive to comfort and warmth.

Alfred had strongly impressed it upon all who participated in the performance that they must have real show clothes. Many and surprising were the costumes. Tom White’s father had been a member of the Sons of Malta. Young White wore his father’s regalia, a cross between the make-up of Captain Kidd and Rip Van Winkle.

Joe Sanford’s costume made Alfred slightly jealous. Lin had trimmed the garments loaned Alfred by Mrs. Young. She had made him a body dress from an old patch quilt, the figures worked in yellow and red. Yet the colors were not as bright as those in the costume of Joe.

It was spring time, house-cleaning and wall-papering time. Mrs. Sanford, being of an inventive turn of mind, collected the wall paper scraps, particularly the red border paper. Fashioning a suit out of the paper, she pasted it together. The costume was after the style of Napoleon, as we have seen him in pictures. Joe was without clothing of any kind except the pasty wall paper suit, stripes on the trousers running up and down and on the jacket encircling. As Joe walked about the dressing room to keep warm the paper suit rustled and swished. He was the admiration of all the performers.

Although Joe was not to appear until later he insisted that he be permitted to perform his feats at once, that he was almost frozen. Lin was advised of this fact and said: “Oh, well, let him do his showin’. Ef he ketched cold he would hev the tisic, (phthysic).” Joe was subject to this affliction.

Joe’s part of the performance was hanging on a horizontal pole a little higher than his head, skinning the cat, then sitting upright on the bar, clasping his knees with his hands, revolve around the pole. Joe had performed this feat a thousand times. But he had never attempted it in a show costume constructed of wall paper.

The wall-paper suit began to give along the pasted seams even while Joe was skinning the cat. Lin said afterwards: “He was so durned skeered and a wheezin’ with the tisic he didn’t know whether he was a-foot or a-horseback. I seed the rips openin’ every time he stirred.”

Joe was evidently uncertain as to the strength of his show clothes. Despite a parting of seams he squirmed upon the horizontal bar, gripped his knees with his hands. Thus doubled up the strain on the wall paper was greater than ever. Joe ducked his head forward. The first revolution, the greater part of the wall paper suit was scattered over the saw-dust ring. Joe started on the second revolution but when he got under the bar he hung there swinging backwards and forwards. Lin said: “He jus’ clung thar doubled up like a toy monkey on a stick, jus’ swinging like the pendulum of a stoppin’ clock.”

The red flowered belt and a sort of collar around the neck remained. Joe had on very white stockings; however, they only reached below the knee. As he had lost his hat at the beginning of his stunt he was almost devoid of clothes. The vast audience giggled and shouted “accordin’ to their raisin’” as Lin expressed it afterwards.

Joe, through shame or stage fright, made no effort to release himself. The situation became embarrassing to the few grown ones present. Mothers took occasion to look down at their children, smoothing their hair or straightening their clothing. The big girls looked another way but the greater part of the audience yelled with delight.

Lin “jus’ couldn’t stan’ it any longer.” Dropping the children, she rushed to poor Joe’s rescue. She was compelled to unclasp Joe’s hands from the bar. In his fright and confusion he had a vise-like grasp on it. In the position in which he hung his face was hidden. Lin said that “his old wall-paper duds was all off him” and she reckoned “long as his face was kivered he’d hung thar ’til he fainted or fell.”

When Lin stood the poor fellow on his feet after relieving him from his perch, he was confused. Instead of going into the dressing room where all the boys were yelling with laughter, poor Joe ran out of the tent across the commons and crawled into Jeffries’ coal house.

The door-keeper, Win Scott, hurried his regular clothes to him, but Joe left for home and never thereafter did he essay to become an actor. Every child carried home as a souvenir a remnant of Joe’s wall-paper show suit.

Meanwhile, Alfred was changing the clown suit for Lacy Hare’s military uniform in which he always appeared as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

Someone called to him: “Alf, here comes all yer grandpap’s family.”

Alfred peered through a hole in Mrs. Evans’ rag carpet and his blood froze in his veins. Heading the procession was grandpap, wide flowing, white collar, hat in hand. He appeared to Alfred an avenging nemesis. Following closely, came Uncle Ned, stern, and solemn Aunt Sarah. Cousin Charley and old Tommy Moorehouse brought up the rear of the advancing column.

Alfred felt the tent swaying as if in a gale. The tent swayed again. Lin sat the children down quickly, “thinkin’ it was some of the tarnel brats that had pestered the show tent ever since Alfred started it.” At the door she came face to face with the angry grandfather.

“You’re more to blame than the boy” was all Alfred remained to hear. Half naked, half dazed for Alfred feared his grandfather’s wrath greatly down the big hill the boy fairly flew, through the Jimson weeds, their prickly pods stinging his bare breast and arms until the blood flowed. Nor did he slacken his pace until the old coal road was reached. Then along the dusty road to Krepp’s coal bank; into the dark tunnel penetrating the hill, nor did he stop until so far under ground that the opening to the coal mine, although large enough to admit a horse and cart, appeared to the sight as a ring of daylight no larger than an eye.

Realizing that the white and red clown paint Lin had smeared on his face would be difficult to explain to the miners should he encounter them, Alfred endeavored to remove it by washing it with the yellow sulphur water standing in the cart tracks where it had dropped from the damp sides of the old mine. He only spread it with the yellow water; his face presented a sight similar to an Indian’s in full war paint.

His fears subsiding, he retraced his steps towards the entrance. The opening darkened and he could discern a figure standing out against the sky beyond.

Hastening on he whistled shrilly. The answering whistle he recognized as that of his treasurer, Win Scott. When they met, Win gave Alfred the particulars of the wrecking of the tent by Uncle Ned and imparted the information that all Grandpap’s family, with the linen sheets, had gone home excepting the grandmother, and he had a message requesting that Alfred come to her at once, with the assurance that he would not be punished.

The grandmother had frequently interceded in Alfred’s behalf and he was greatly pleased to receive her message. He felt so good over the turn of affairs that he could scarcely walk up the long hill so weak was he with laughter over Joe’s wall-paper circus clothes, nor did his good humor forsake him until they approached the spot where the tent, the work of many weeks, lay on the ground teetotally wrecked.

Win gave Alfred a graphic description of Uncle Ned’s wrecking of the tent, the escape of the audience, of Lin’s offering to pay for the sheets and her subsequent anger. Lin endeavored to appease Uncle Ned’s wrath. “But the more she talked the wuss he raved.”

When Alfred entered the kitchen, Lin’s face was still red from anger and weeping. Looking angrily at Alfred, she began:

“Why did ye run? By golly, I’d stood my ground ef they’d all piled on me. Ef it hadn’t been fur grandmother, I’d licked Ned myself.”

Alfred explained that if he’d been dressed he’d stayed, but being “mos’ naked he jus’ knowed Uncle Ned would pull the tent down caus’ he always wants to tear things up by the roots. I didn’t want to be ketched naked like Joe.”

At the thought of Joe’s mishap his laughter broke out again. Lin’s good nature began to assert itself. Suppressing her smiles she placed her fingers on her lips which implied silence. Jerking her head toward the sitting room door she informed the boy his grandmother was “thar waitin’ fer ye,” adding: “Ye needn’t be skeered, she’s got more religion and more sense than the whole caboodle of ’em put together. Go on in.”

Softly approaching the door leading to the room he heard voices, his father’s among them. He was half inclined to flee again. Timidly rapping on the door he heard footsteps leaving the room. Lin took him by the arm and led the boy into the large room.

It was growing dark. His grandmother sat alone. They halted in front of the gentle lady, Lin addressing Alfred in an encouraging manner, said: “‘Al-f-u-r-d,’ tell grandmother the truth. Don’t stan’ up and lie like Cousin Charley does, caus’ he allus gits ketched up in it.”

The boy looking into the kindly face of the quiet old lady felt no fear; however, his shame was most intense. Drawing the abashed boy nearer to her, she put her arm about him, softly saying: “I greatly fear you have been led by those older than yourself to do things you would not have done had you had proper advisors. I fear you will get into serious trouble if you do not follow your father’s and mother’s advice. Now, Alfred, listen to every word grandmother says to you. You will not be punished for taking the sheets more than your conscience reproves you. You are a good boy and everyone loves you. It is only your father’s love for you that influences him to be severe with you at times. Your playful spirit, your mischievousness leads you into many actions that pain us all greatly but I am sure you do not intend to be bad. You are not vicious, only mischievous. Now tell me, Alfred, who prompted you to take the linen out of the chest?”

“No one. I was all to blame. Lin has sixty-eight cents and I have nearly three dollars Uncle Joe gave me and I’m going to give it all to Uncle Ned to pay for any tearing of the sheets and Lin will wash and starch them. They’ll be as good as new.”

With this speech the boy broke down completely. Kneeling, he buried his face in the old lady’s lap. She stroked his head gently, and in a tone more soft and quiet than heretofore, she asked the contrite boy if he was aware of the reverence in which the family held the linen contained in the old chest.

The boy assured her that he supposed the old chest and its contents were cast off or unused articles the same as other goods stored away in the garret.

When the grandmother informed the boy the family held the contents of the old chest as almost sacred, that the linen was the last winding sheets of those of his family who had gone to the great beyond, his shame brought a flood of tears that nothing the grandmother could say would stop.

It was the custom that persons who died in those days were covered with whitest linen and this linen was ever afterwards preserved by the family as sacred.

The grandmother in gentle tones reminded the boy of loved ones whom he held in sweetest remembrance, and when he fully realized that the linen in the old chest had been their last covering the tears of the boy and the aged woman mingled as he solemnly promised to so conduct himself in the future that his behavior would never wound her feelings more. Thereafter the boy always found a loyal defender in the grandmother when troubles came to him.

“I’ll jes be durned ef ol’ gran’muther ain’t got more sense in a minute than her son Ned will have ef he lives twict es old es Jehu Adams,” said Lin, referring to the oldest man in the neighborhood. “Why, jes’ see what she hes dun fer that boy. He’s a perfec’ little angel since she hauled him over the coals. Bet he’d never teched them sheets ef he’d knowed they wus fer layin’ out dead peepul in. He’d got others somehow, an’ I’d been sort a lazy like ‘bout sewin’ ’em on the tent ef I’d knowed what they’d bin used fur. It’s no wonder Baggy Allison and Hughey Boggs got skeered. Durned ef they warn’t purty near ghosts, enny how.”

“Ef it had been left to gran’muther she’d let the show go on es long es we had the sheets hung up. They warn’t hurtin’ nobody. No, by golly, it’s jes’ like Ned; he’s jes’ like his daddy an’ the other Baptusses. They don’t hev any fun and they hate to hear a body laugh. Huh, ef it had been a prayer meetin’ or somethin’ mournful for the Baptusses’ meetin’ house to git money fur, Ned ud never tore down the tent. Durn him! His heart ain’t bigger’n a rat pellet and it’s twict es hard. He don’t know nuthin’ but to eat an’ pray. Let him kum yere fer another meal of vittles and I’ll not cook it fur him; I’ll jes’ tell Mary and John so. Why, grandmother’s talkin’ to him done Alfurd more good than all the whippin’s he ever got in his born life.”

“It jes’ worries Ned to deth to see a boy, a boy. He gets a heap of pleasure out of not havin’ any fun in life.”