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

This world would be tiresome, we’d all get the blues,
If all the folks in it held just the same views;
So do your work to the best of your skill,
Some people won’t like it, but other folks will.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French-Swiss philosopher, nearing the end of his days complained that in all his life he never knew rest or content for the reason he had never known a home. His mother died giving him birth, his father was a shiftless dancing master. Rousseau claimed his misfortunes began with his birth and clung to him all his life. Rousseau was one of the few persons who have attained distinction without the aid of a home in youth. No matter how humble the home, it is the beginning of that education that brings out all the better nature of a human being.

The home is the God-appointed educator of the young. We have educational institutions, colleges, schools, but the real school where the lessons of life are indelibly impressed upon the mind is the home. We write and talk of the higher education. There is no higher education than that taught in a well regulated home presided over by God-fearing, man-loving parents whose lives are a sacrifice to create a future for their children. The parents, rather than the children, should be given credit for the successes of this life.

Alfred had separated himself from his home several times but never decided to leave it for any lengthy period; but now the time had arrived when it seemed to him the parting of the ways in his ambitious life was at hand.

On the dead walls, fences and old buildings, were pasted highly colored show bills announcing the coming of Thayer & Noyes Great American Circus. Alfred decided he would go hence as a member of the troupe.

The humdrum life of the old town had begun to wear on his energetic feelings. There were social pleasures sufficient to make the days and nights joyous, but Alfred was thinking beyond the days thereof.

The circus had come and gone. “I will take your address. If anything occurs that I can use you I will write. You can expect a letter from me soon.” With these words Dr. Thayer crushed Alfred’s hopes.

Alfred voted the show the best he had ever witnessed, but the concert, the after show that promised so much and gave so little, he condemned.

After writing several letters and destroying them, deciding they did not fulfill all requirements, the following letter was mailed:

BROWNSVILLE, FAYETTE CO., PA.

DR. JAMES L. THAYER:

RESPECTED SIR: I take my pen in hand to acquaint you with the effect your show had on our people. It is the opinion of all who take interest in actors and should know, that your show was better than George F. Bailey’s and it was considered the best we ever had. Brownsville people are hard to please. They see so much it must be choice if it suits them. Your circus suited all. I have heard many actors declare Brownsville was the hardest town to please they ever tackled. An English sleight of hand man played Jeffries Hall three nights. He said they were a “bit thick.” Alf Burnett, the humorist, compared Brownsville to slush ice. Bob Stickney was the best one in your show.

Now comes the news that I hate to tell (and this was the sole reason that prompted the letter). Your after-concert is a bad recommend for your real show. I reckon one thing that made it appear worse is we have a regular minstrel show on hand all the time. I’m at the head of it, and most of the people in town know our jokes and songs by heart and when your concert people told them they did not tell them right and our people noticed the mistakes, and of course you couldn’t expect them to laugh at the jokes anyway.

Now you promised to write me. If you can do so, I can go to your show most any time providing you do not get too far away from Brownsville. Please send me where you’re going to list. I am sure I can make a heap of improvement in your concert and I know you do not want people anywhere to call you an old fraud as they have done here.

Your most obedient servant,
ALFRED GRIFFITH HATFIELD.

P. S. Please let me know what you can afford to pay a prime
concert actor. Between times I can help out in the circus ring
if you have clothes fit to do it in.

In due time this reply was received:

FAIRMONT, VA.

MR. HATFIELD:

Your letter duly received. You will find our advance route for the next ten days enclosed. You can join at any time it suits your convenience. Your salary will be based upon the value and extent of services you can render this company. After a trial, if your ability is not what you represented it to be, your engagement will be ended without prejudice to you or expense to this firm.

Respectfully yours,
THAYER AND NOYES,
Per B. L.

P. S. Send your professional name and billing.

Alfred read and re-read the letter and immediately began making preparations to tempt fate once more. The preparations mostly consisted in surreptitiously secreting his wearing apparel in the old barn where Node had labored so long on his great inventions. It was Alfred’s intention to leave home clandestinely. As usual with boys in his frame of mind he did not dare to trust himself to advise with anyone; like boys in general, he did not desire advice. Approval was that which he most craved.

Uniontown was decided upon as the place to join the circus. Alfred felt the leaving of home and family meant more to him than ever before. At times he was buoyed up by hopes of success. He would argue with himself thusly: I have promised to join the show. They need me; they will be expecting me. This is the opportunity I have been looking for.

Alfred spent all his spare time at home with his mother, sisters and brothers. His usual haunts in town were forgotten. Family and friends noted the change and wondered thereat. Lin was unstinted in her praise. Lin asserted from the wildest, he had become the tamest boy in Brownsville. “He’ll eat out of your hand now,” she assured Mrs. Todd.

Mr. Todd jerked out a “huh” as he advised them to keep their eyes on the “devil ketcher.” “He’s just sittin’ the megs for another outbreak. He’s compilin’ some devilment, yer ken bet yer bottom dollar. He kan’t fool me twice.”

It was the day previous to Alfred’s intended departure. He had been at home all day. He gave his sled to brother Joe. It was summer and the steel soles were greased to keep them from rusting. Lin would not permit Joe to haul it over the floor claiming it would grease everything it touched.

To brother Bill fell shinny clubs and bats, marbles and a kite. Sister Lizzie was the recipient of more than a quart of various colored beads taken from Aunt Lib’s Jenny Lind waist. Ida Belle, the baby was remembered with a big Dutch doll that rolled its eyes, the mother with an ornamental sugar bowl and Lin with a pair of puff combs. A pair of skates and a bow and arrow were given to Cousin Charley.

The greater effort Alfred made to ease his mind, the more conscience stricken he became. Try as he would he could not force the gayety he feigned. He clung to the baby sister every moment he was in the house. Lin, in an adjoining room, heard him ask the child if she would miss her big “bruzzer” when he was gone. Entering the room she found Alfred in tears, the sympathetic child stroking his face. Alfred endeavored to swallow the lump in his throat but he only sobbed the more. It did him good as ashamed as he felt.

Lin looked him over suspiciously as she, in a voice as commanding as she would pitch it, said:

“Look here, ye can’t bamboozle me another minnit. What’s on yer mind? Spit it out afore it spills. Get it out of yer sistum and yer’ll feel a hull lot better. Thar hain’t a durned dud of yers in this house. Air yu fixin’ to fly the coop? If ye air, don’t go off like a thief afore daylight. Go away so you won’t be ashamed to kum back. Kum on now, let’s hear from you! I’ll durn soon tell you whar to head in.”

Alfred made a full and complete confession.

“So yer fixin’ to run off and break the hearts of all at home, an’ put a dent in your own. For a week ye been jumpin’ to make yerself more dear to ’em afore ye hurt ’em. Yer hain’t learnin’ much with all yer schoolin’. When do the retreat begin?” banteringly demanded Lin.

“Tomorrow,” feebly answered Alfred.

That night, the family were in the big room, mother sewing, the children playing about her. Lin, seated behind the mother, repeatedly signaled Alfred to begin his talk to the mother as per his promise. The boy looked another direction but Lin never took her eyes off his face. Her gaze became painful. Finally he began:

“Muz, do you think Pap would be mad if I was to go away while he is in Pittsburgh?”

The mother, without taking her eyes off her work, said: “I hope you’re not going to Uncle Jake’s again. You’ll wear your welcome out, won’t you?”

“No, I’m going away on business. I’m tired and sick of the way things are going with me. I see nothing ahead for me and I’m going to strike out for myself.”

The mother put down her sewing and looked very seriously. Lin, from behind her, nodded vigorously for him to go on.

“Look at Dan Livingstone,” Alfred continued; “he never had anything until he went off with Capt. Abrams. Now see where he is and I don’t know how many boys have gone away and all have done well. All I need is to get out of this town and I know I can do something for myself.”

“Does Capt. Abrams want to take you with him,” anxiously inquired the mother.

“Oh, no, he never said a word to me about it, but I know I could go with him if I wanted to.”

“Well, where do you think of going?” questioned the mother.

Alfred hesitated a second.

“Well, first I’m going to try it with a circus but I don’t expect to stay long. I’m just going on trial.”

Noting the look of worriment on the face of the mother he continued:

“I know I won’t do. They almost tell me so in a letter and it’s only to Uniontown, twelve miles away. I won’t be gone long,” and he caught the baby up, tossed it up, and pretended to be very jolly.

The matter was gone over and over with the mother who insisted that Alfred remain at home until the return of the father. If he could obtain his father’s consent he could go.

Lin endeavored to assist the boy by remarking: “Well, if he’s jes goin’ for a trial, Uniontown is so close to hum, you could walk back if ye hain’t fit fer the work.” The mother protested to the last.

Alfred had been so very liberal in bestowing presents to ease his conscience that he had but forty-six cents in his purse when the leaving time came. He was acquainted with all the old stage drivers on the line. It was his intention to walk up Town Hill, rest under the big locust trees at the brow of the hill until the stage coach arrived, the horses walking slowly ascending the long hill, he would get up beside the driver or crawl in the boot on the rear of the stage coach.

He lolled on the grass as the stage approached. The driver was a stranger to him. He looked appealingly at the man but received no recognition. The heavy stage lumbered by. Alfred ran for the rear end of it. The boot was bulging out with trunks and valises; there was no room for Alfred. A broad strap that held the huge leather cover in place over the trunks dangled down within reach. Grasping it as the four horses struck a trot, Alfred was helped along at a lively gait. Through Sandy Hollow by the old Brubaker house, then a slow walk up the hill by Mart Claybaugh’s blacksmith shop, through the toll gate, then into a trot on by the old school-house where his first minstrel show was given, on by all the familiar places.

Heretofore when traveling the pike Alfred had a word and a smile for all as he knew every family along its sides. On this occasion he endeavored to conceal his identity. But once did the coach halt at Searight’s half way to Uniontown to water the horses and liquor the driver and passengers.

Old Logan, the hostler at Searight’s crowed in imitation of a rooster, the passengers throwing him pennies. Alfred with cast down head walked on to the next hill. When the stage rolled by he again grasped the strap and kept pace with the coach until the outskirts of Uniontown were reached. A small colored boy directed him to the show grounds. Through the main street of the town Alfred trudged, carrying the large carpet sack formerly used with the Eli troupe as a property receptacle for Mrs. Story’s china tea set.

Arriving at the circus grounds, the afternoon performance was over. Drawing near the tent he anxiously expected to find the show folks looking for him. He imagined they would all be expecting him.

The huge form of Dr. Thayer loomed up. Alfred hastened toward him. The Doctor was engaged in an earnest argument with a mechanic of the town over the charges for repairs on a wagon. Alfred walked up to the circus man. The Doctor did not even notice him. He followed the two men around the wagon as they argued, Alfred stationing himself directly in the big showman’s path. Their eyes met several times, still no recognition came from the circus manager.

Alfred finally accosted the big man with a “Howdy, Mr. Thayer. I’ve come to work for you.”

The showman’s surprised look showed plainly he did not recognize Alfred.

“I’m the new boy to work in your concert.”

Motioning with his arm he ordered Alfred to go back and Charley would attend to him. Without any idea who Charley was or what he was, Alfred started in the direction indicated by the jerk of the doctor’s hand. Approaching the connection between the main tent and the dressing room tent, a man lying on the grass warned Alfred back. Even after he explained that he was searching for Charley, the man, without heeding the appeal, motioned the boy back. Walking around to the other side of the tent, he stealthily approached the opening and darted in. He was barely inside the tent when a big, burly fellow seized him roughly and hustled him through the opening, demanding why he was sneaking into the ladies’ dressing room.

“Mr. Thayer hired me. He sent me here. He told me Charley would attend to me. I’m looking for Charley.”

The man asked: “What Charley are you looking for?”

“I don’t know. Mr. Thayer told me Charley would put me to work.”

The man laughed and led the way into the tent as he cautioned the lad to use the name of Mr. Noyes instead of Charley.

Mr. Noyes was too busy to talk to him. Alfred’s attention was divided between the performance and the novel scenes in the men’s dressing tents; the latter were as interesting to him as the ring performance. The order and decorum pervading the organization was marked.

Charley Noyes, a most competent director of a circus performance, the deportment of his employes was nearly perfect. Even the property men were respectable and well behaved. The performance over, a heavy set man was packing a huge trunk with horse covers and other trappings. He had repeatedly requested the others to lend a hand. Alfred assisted the man with his work until completed. In the interim Alfred advised him why he was there. The man looked the boy over carefully saying: “Where are you going to pad?”

Alfred had no idea of the meaning of the word “pad.” Afterwards, he learned that “pad” was slang for bed and sleep.

He answered correctly by chance, “I don’t know.”

“Well, you can get in with me. It’s a two o’clock call. I’m going to spread a couple of blankets under the band chariot. I sleep better there than in a hotel.”

The blankets spread, Alfred’s carpet sack served as a pillow for him. They were about to crawl in when the other asked Alfred if he had been to “peck.” “Not within the last week.”

The man looked at him pityingly. There was a lunch stand nearby. The man, returning from it, handed Alfred a half of a fried chicken and an apple pie. Although Alfred insisted, the man would not eat any of it. He ordered Alfred to eat it all, remarking “You need it.”

Alfred found himself the object of considerable sympathy the following day and not until someone asked him how it was he had been without food for a week did he learn that “peck” in show slang signified meals eating.

Boy-like, he had worn his new Sunday shoes. His feet were feverish and sore. Even had Alfred not been footsore, the snoring of the other would have made sleep impossible to him. How long he lay awake he had no reckoning of. It seemed to him he had only closed his eyes when he felt a yank at the blankets and a rough voice ordering him to get up. It was the lot watchman.

The big band chariot was slowly ascending the foothills of the mountains. The east was ahead over the mountain. The curtain of night was being lifted by the first streak of gray dawn spreading over the sky. All were asleep in the wagon excepting the driver. Halting his team he began winding the long reins about the big brakes. He was about to climb down when Alfred inquired as to the trouble. The driver advised that the off leader’s inside trace was loose and the lead bars dragging. Alfred advised the driver to sit still.

“I’ll hook it up. How many links do you drop?” he asked as he pushed the horse into place. He was on the wagon in a jiffy. The driver was greatly taken with the boy. Further up the mountain at the big watering trough, Alfred assisted in watering and washing the horses’ shoulders. It was only a day or two until Alfred was permitted to handle the reins over the team, a favor this celebrated old horseman had never conferred upon anyone previously.

Never will Alfred forget that journey up the mountains. Every turn of the wheels of the big chariot, as they ground the limestone under their weight until the flinty pebbles shed sparks, made him feel more lonely. In the dim gray of the early day the distance seemed greater than when softened by the light of the morning sun. He had often from afar viewed the mountains over which they were traveling. As they ascended, he gazed long and wistfully towards home, a home that lives in his memory today as clearly as on that morning in the long ago.

When the crest of the ridge was reached and the descent on the other side began, looking backwards, he imagined the world between him and home. Right glad was he of the friendly advances of the old driver they were friends.

Soon the band men began to awaken, taking out their instruments, arranging their clothing, and making preparation for the entrance into town. The baggage wagons had preceded the band and performer’s wagons. There was but one animal van, Charley White’s trained lions, the feature of the show.

The teams halted. The driver placed plumes in the head gear of the horses. The band men pulled on red coats and caps. As the horns tooted and the cymbals clashed they entered the town.

Alfred assisted the driver to unhitch his team. Mr. Noyes arrived, meanwhile. Alfred volunteered to take charge of his team. He drove the handsome horses to the barn and saw that they were fed and watered.

Mr. Noyes remarked: “You seem to be fond of horses. Have you handled them before?”

“All my life,” proudly answered Alfred.

“Well, you ride with me tomorrow. It will be more pleasant than in the band wagon. I want you to go in the concert today.”

He had no orchestrated music, but Phil Blumenschein, the bandmaster, was an old minstrel leader. The orchestra played over Alfred’s stuff two or three times and played it better than it was ever played before. In those days an orchestra furnished the music for the entire circus performance.

There came a heavy rain. The attendance at the concert was very light insofar as the paid admissions were concerned but all connected with the circus were there to witness the debut of the new boy who had joined to strengthen the concert.

No opera house or theatre ever erected has the resonance, the perfect acoustics of a circus tent when the canvas is wet and the temperature within above 70 degrees. There was a chord from the orchestra. Alfred ran to the platform in the middle of the ring. (The gentleman who announced the concert assured the audience there would be a stage erected). This stage was a platform about ten feet square resting flat on the uneven earth. As Alfred stepped on it and began his song and dance, in which he did some very heavy falls, the platform rocked and reeled like a boat in a storm. Every slap of the big shoes on his well developed feet made a racket, the sound twofold increased by the acoustics of the damp tent. Alfred’s voice sounded louder to himself than ever before, notwithstanding he worked his whole first number with his back to the audience. (In theatres the orchestra is always in a pit in front of the performers in a circus concert the orchestra is behind the performer).

Alfred faced the orchestra; his back to the audience, his work made a hit, even more with the show folks than with the audience. Dick Durrant, the banjoist, taught Alfred the comedy of the familiar duet, “What’s the matter Pompey?” This was in Alfred’s line and the act became the comedy feature of the concert.

Salary day came on Sunday. The employes of the circus reported to the room of the manager, where their salary was counted out to them by the treasurer. When Alfred’s turn came he was asked: “How much does your contract call for?”

“I have no contract. Here is the letter under which I joined,” assured Alfred, passing the letter to the treasurer.

Glancing at it: “Yes, I wrote that letter but you’ll have to see Mr. Thayer.” As Alfred opened the door to depart he said, “You had best see Mr. Noyes.”

“How much are you going to pay me, Mr. Thayer?”

“Well, let me see, ten dollars a week will be about right, won’t it Charley?”

“Eh, no, pay him fifteen. He’s worth it. He’s the best boy I ever had around me,” was Mr. Noyes’ answer.

Charley Noyes paid Alfred the first salary he ever earned with a circus and it was so ordained that Alfred should pay the then famous circus manager the last salary he ever received, years after the day Charley Noyes declared Alfred the best boy he ever had around him. The once famous manager, broken in health and fortune, was seeking employment and it fell to Alfred’s lot to secure him an engagement with a company of which Alfred was the manager. When the salary of the veteran was being discussed, Alfred’s intervention secured him remuneration far in excess of that hoped for. Soon after this engagement ended, Mr. Noyes died very suddenly. The end came in a little city of Texas. It happened that the minstrel company, owned by the one time new boy of the circus, was in Waco. Letters on Mr. Noyes’ person written by Alfred led the hotel people to telegraph the minstrel manager, who hastened to the city where his friend had died. Ere he arrived, the Masonic fraternity had performed the last sad rites. Mr. Noyes was the friend of Alfred when he needed friends and it was his intention to send all that was mortal of him to his old home. Telegrams were not answered and Charles Noyes sleeps in the little cemetery at Lampasas, Texas.

As the Thayer & Noyes Circus was one of the best, Alfred has always considered his engagement with that concern as the beginning of his professional career. Dr. James L. Thayer and his family were highly connected. Mr. Noyes married the sister of his partner’s wife. The families did not agree and this led to a separation of the partners, disastrous to both. Chas. Noyes’ Crescent City Circus, and Dr. James Thayer’s Great American Circus never appealed to the people as did the old title, nor was either of the concerns as meritorious as the Thayer & Noyes concern. In the prosperous days of the show the proprietors and their wives were welcome guests in the homes of the best families in the cities visited. The writer remembers that in the city of Baltimore, the mayor, the city council and other high dignitaries attended the opening performance in a body.

The company was the cream of the circus world: S. P. Stickney, one of the most respectable and talented of old time circus men; Sam and Robert Stickney, sons; Emma Stickney, his daughter; Tom King and wife, Millie Turnour, Jimmy Reynolds, the clown whose salary of one hundred dollars a week had so excited the cupidity of Alfred; Woody Cook, who came from Cookstown, Fayette County, only a few miles from Brownsville, and who, like Alfred had left home to seek his fortune; James Kelly, champion leaper of the world; James Cook and wife, of the Cook family, were of the company.

All circus people in those days were apprenticed, all learned their business. One of the latter day hall room performers would have received short shrift in a company of those days, when every performer was an all-round athlete; in fact, in individual superiority, the circus actor of that day outclassed those of the present. The riders were very much superior as they had more competent instructors.

The only particular in which the circus performance has progressed is in the introduction of the thrillers the big aerial acts, the mid-air feats. Combination acts are superior in the present circus and in this alone has there been improvement. The circus people of old bore the same relation to the public as does the legitimate actor today.

There was an aristocracy in the circus world of those days that could not be understood by the circus people of today. Some twelve families controlled the circus business in this country for years. They were people of wealth and affairs.

The Robinson family was one of the oldest and most famous of their times. The elder John Robinson left an estate valued in the millions. The numerous apprentices of this master of the circus were the most famous of all of their times. James Robinson who was the undisputed champion bare-back rider of the world, was an apprentice of “Old John” Robinson. Assuming the name of Robinson, he held a place in the circus field never attained by any other. He toured the world heralded as the champion, yet he would never permit himself to be announced as such. He earned two fortunes. Today at an age that leaves the greater number of men in their dotage, Mr. Robinson is healthy and active. He enjoys life as few old persons do. In the office of his friend, Dr. J. J. McClellan, he may be found almost any day, the center of a group of good fellows and none merrier than the once champion bare-back rider of the world.

The Stickneys were one of the greatest of the old time circus families. In the summer the family followed the red wagons and in the winter Mr. Stickney managed the American Theatre on Poydras Street, New Orleans. America’s noted players all appeared in this theatre. Young Bob Stickney was born in this theatre. He made his first appearance on the stage as the child in Rolla, supporting Edwin Forrest. No more talented or graceful performer ever entered a circus ring than this same Robert Stickney. Only a few weeks ago the writer attended a performance of that improbable play, Polly at the Circus. The grace and dramatic actions of Mr. Stickney in the one brief moment in the scene where Polly rushes into the ring, were more effectively and dramatically portrayed than any climax in the play.

When Thayer & Noyes’ Great American Circus exhibited in Baltimore a special quarter sheet bill was printed, the program of the performance. Al. G. Field was one of the names on the bill, in two colors. The agent mailed one of these bills to the show. It was not until the portly proprietor, Dr. Thayer, explained to Alfred that his name was entirely too long for a quarter sheet, and that if he, Alfred, desired to be billed, he must curtail the name. “I’ve just knocked your hat off,” laughed the good natured showman. Alfred thought little of the matter. He only regarded the name as a nom-de-plume. Other bills were printed bearing the name of Al. G. Field; when nearing the end of the circus season the management of the Bidwell & McDonough’s Black Crook Company applied to Thayer & Noyes for two or three lively young men to act as sprites, and goblins, Mr. Thayer recommended young Mr. Field as a capable person to impersonate the red gnome; this name went on the bills. Alfred never signed a letter or used the newly acquired name until years afterwards circumstances and conditions had fixed the show name upon him and it was absolutely imperative he adopt it. Therefore in 1881, by act of the legislature of Ohio and the Probate Court of Franklin County, Ohio, the name of Alfred Griffith Hatfield Field was legalized, abbreviated on all advertising matter to Al. G. Field. It is so copyrighted in the title of the Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels with the Librarian of Congress.