The Circus Procession
It was a bright, sunshiny morning when the theater party reached Lesborough. Not a cloud was to be seen in the sky, and Augustus was in capital spirits, for he thought that if the fine weather lasted, his profits would be larger than usual.
On the road leading to the town they passed several small shows bound for the same destination. There was the show of “The Lancashire Lass,” “The Exhibition of the Performing Little Pigs,” “Roderick Polglaze’s Living Curiosities,” and “The Show of the Giant Horse.” Augustus knew the proprietor of nearly every caravan that passed them, and they exchanged greetings by the way, and congratulated each other on the fine weather which seemed to be before them.
Then they drew near the town, and heard a tremendous noise in the distance. As they entered the main street, they saw a cloud of dust in front of them, and then an immense crowd of people. Rosalie and her mother came to the door of the caravan and looked out.
Presently the dust cleared away, and showed them a glittering gilded car, which was coming towards them, surrounded by throngs of boys and girls, men and women.
“What is it, Toby?” asked Rosalie.
“It’s a large circus, Miss Rosie. Master said they were going to be here, and he was afraid they would carry a good many people away from us.”
The theater party had to draw up on one side of the street to let the long procession pass.
First came a gilded car filled with musicians, who were playing a noisy tune. This was followed by about a dozen men on horseback, some dressed in shining armour, as knights of the olden time, and others as cavaliers of the time of the Stuarts.
Then came another large gilded car, on the top of which was a golden dragon, with coloured reins round its neck, which were held by an old man, dressed as an ancient Briton, and supposed to personate St. George. Then came a number of mounted ladies, dressed in brilliant velvet habits, one green, one red, one yellow, one violet; each of them holding long orange reins, which were fastened to spirited piebald horses, which they drove before them.
These were followed by a man riding on two ponies, standing with one leg on each, and going at a great pace. Then two little girls and a little boy passed on three diminutive ponies, and next a tiny carriage, drawn by four little cream-colored horses, and driven by a boy dressed as the Lord Mayor’s coachman.
Then came an absurd succession of clowns, driving, riding, or standing on donkeys, and dressed in hideous costumes. Then, three or four very tall and fine horses, led by grooms in scarlet.
And lastly, an enormous gilded car, drawn by six piebald horses, with coloured flags on their heads. On the top of this car sat a girl, intended for Britannia, dressed in white, with a scarlet scarf across her shoulders, a helmet on her head, and a trident in her hand. She was leaning against two large shields, which alone prevented her from falling from her giddy height. Some distance below her, in front of the car, sat her two maidens, dressed in glittering silver tinsel, which the rays of the sun made it dazzling to look upon. Behind her, clinging on to the back of the car, were two iron-clad men, whose scaly armour was also shining brightly.
Then the procession was over, and there was nothing to be heard or seen but a noisy rabble, who were hastening on to get another glimpse of the wonderful sight.
There were some girls standing near the caravan, close to Rosalie and her mother, as the circus procession passed, and they were perfectly enraptured with all they saw. When Britannia came in sight, they could hardly contain themselves, so envious were they of her. One of them told the other she would give anything to be sitting up there, dressed in gold and silver, and she thought Britannia must be as happy as Queen Victoria.
“Oh,” said Rosalie’s mother, leaning out and speaking in a low voice, “you would soon get tired of it.”
“Not I,” said the girl. “I only wish I had the chance.”
Rosalie’s mother sighed, and said to Rosalie, “Poor things! they little know. I should not wonder if that poor Britannia is about as wretched as I am. But people don’t consider; they know nothing about it. They have to be behind the scenes to know what it is like.”
Nothing further happened until the theater party reached the place where the fair was to be held. It was a large open square in the middle of the town, which was generally used as a market-place. Although it was only Saturday morning, and the fair was not to begin until Monday, many of the shows had already arrived. The marionettes and the wild-beast show had completed their arrangements, and one of the whirligigs was already in action, and from time to time its proprietor rang a large bell, to call together a fresh company of riders.
The children had a holiday, as it was Saturday, and they rushed home and clamoured for pennies, that they might spend them in sitting on a wooden horse, or elephant, or camel, or in one of the small buses or open carriages, and then being whirled around at a tremendous pace, till their breath was nearly gone. And when they alighted once more on the ground, they hardly knew where they were, or whether they were standing on their heads or on their feet. And for long after many of these children were dizzy and sick, and felt as if they were walking on ground which gave way beneath them as they trod on it.
As soon as Augustus arrived at the place where his theater was to be erected, he and his men began their work. For the next few hours there was nothing to be heard on all sides but rapping and hammering, everyone working with all his might to get everything finished before sunset. All the while new shows arrived, had their ground measured out for them by the market-keeper, and began to unload and fasten up immediately.
Rosalie stood at the door and looked out. But she had seen it all so often before that it was no amusement to her, and she felt very glad, as, one by one, the shows were finished and the hammering ceased.
But, just as she hoped that all was becoming quiet, she heard a dreadful noise at the back of the caravan. It was her father’s voice, and he was in a towering passion with one of the men, who had annoyed him by neglecting to put up part of the scaffolding properly. The two men shouted at each other for some time, and a large number of people, who were strolling about among the shows, collected round them to see what was the matter.
At length a policeman, seeing the crowd, came and ordered them off, and they were obliged to retreat inside the theater.
That night Augustus came into the caravan to smoke his pipe, and informed his wife that it was very well she was so much better, for he and Conrad had had a disagreement, and Conrad had taken his things and gone off, so of course she would have to take her part on Monday night.
Rosalie looked at her mother, and Rosalie’s mother looked at her, but neither of them spoke.
But as soon as her father had left them for the night, Rosalie said, “Mummy dear, you’ll never be able to stand all that long, long time; I’m sure it will make you worse, Mummy dear.”
“Never mind, Rosalie. It’s no use telling your father, he thinks I am only complaining if I do.”
“But, oh, Mummy dear, what if it makes you bad again, as it did before?”
“It can’t be helped, child. I shall have to do it, so it’s no use talking about it. I may as well do it without making a fuss about it. Your father is put out tonight, darling, and it would never do to annoy him more.”
But little Rosalie was not satisfied, she looked very tenderly and sorrowfully at her mother. And the next morning she went timidly to tell her father that she did not think her mother would ever get through her part, she was too weak for it. But he told her shortly to mind her own business. So little Rosalie could do nothing more—nothing, except watch her mother very carefully and gently all that long, dreary Sunday, scarcely allowing her to rise from her seat, but fetching her everything she wanted, and looking forward, sick at heart, to the morrow.
The churchbells chimed in all directions, crowds of people in their Sunday clothes passed along the marketplace to church or chapel; but to Rosalie and her mother Sunday brought no joy.
It was a fine, bright day, so most of the show-people were roaming about the town. But Rosalie’s mother was too weak to go out, and her little girl did not like to leave her.
“Rosalie,” said her mother that Sunday afternoon, “I’m going to give you a present.”
“A present for me, Mummy dear?” said Rosalie.
“Yes, little woman. Pull that large box from under the bed. It’s rather heavy, dear; can you manage it?”
“Oh, yes, Mummy dear, quite well.”
Rosalie’s mother sat down by the box, and began to unpack it. At the top of the box were some of her clothes and Rosalie’s; but it had been a long time since she had taken out the things at the bottom of the box. She took out from it a small bundle pinned up in a towel, then, calling Rosalie to her side, she drew out the pins one by one, and opened it. Inside were several small parcels carefully tied up in paper.
In the first parcel was a little pair of blue shoes, with a tiny red sock.
“Those were my little Arthur’s, Rosalie,” said her mother, with tears in her eyes. “I put them away the day he was buried, and I’ve never liked to part with them. No one will care for them when I’m gone, though,” said she, with a sigh.
“Oh, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie, “don’t talk so!”
The next parcel contained a small square box; but before she opened it, she went to the door and looked cautiously out. Then, after seeing that no one was near, she touched a spring, and took out of the velvet-lined case a beautiful little locket. There was a circle of pearls all round it, and the letters N.E.H. were engraved in a monogram outside.
Then she opened the locket, and showed Rosalie the picture of a girl with a very sweet and gentle face, and large, soft brown eyes.
“Rosalie darling,” said her mother, “that is my sister Lucy.”
Rosalie took the locket in her hand, and looked at it very earnestly.
“Yes,” said the poor woman, “that is my sister Lucy—my own sister Lucy. I haven’t looked at it for many a day; I can hardly bear to look at it now, for I shall never see her again—never, darling! What’s that, Rosalie?” she said fearfully, covering the locket with her apron, as someone passed the caravan.
“It’s only some men strolling through the fair, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie.
“Because I wouldn’t have your father see this for the world; he would soon sell it if he did. I’ve hid it up all these years, and never let him find it. I could not bear to part with it; she gave it to me my last birthday that I was at home. I remember it so well, Rosalie dear. I had been very disagreeable to Lucy a long time before that, for I knew I was doing wrong, and I had such a weight on my mind that I could not shake it off, and it made me cross and irritable.
“Lucy was never cross with me, she always spoke gently and kindly to me; and I sometimes even wished she would be angry, that I might have some excuse for my bad behavior.
“Well, dear, when I woke that morning, I found this little box laid on my pillow, and a note with it, asking me to accept this little gift from my sister Lucy, and always to keep it for her sake. Oh, Rosalie darling, wasn’t it good of her, when I had been so bad to her?
“Well, I kissed her, and thanked her for it, and I wore it around my neck. And when I ran away, I put it safely in my bag, and I’ve kept it ever since. Your father has not seen it for many years, and he has forgotten all about it. When we were so poor, I used to be so afraid he would remember this locket and sell it, as he did all my other jewels. It was hard enough parting with some of them; but I did not care so much so long as I kept this one, for I promised Lucy that morning that I would never, never part with it.”
“It is pretty, Mummy dear,” said Rosalie.
“Yes, child; it will be yours some day, when I die. Remember, it is for you. But you must never let it be sold or pawned, Rosalie; I couldn’t bear to think it ever would be. And now we’ll put it back again, it won’t be safe here; your father might come in any minute.”
“Here’s one more parcel, Mummy.”
“Yes, keep that out, dear; that’s your present,” said her mother. “I can’t give you the locket yet, because I must keep it till I die; but you shall have the other today.”
She took off the paper, and put into Rosalie’s hands a small black Testament. The child opened the book, and read on the fly-leaf, “Mrs. Augustus Joyce. From her friend Mrs. Bernard, in remembrance of little Arthur, and with the prayer that she may meet her child in heaven.”
“I promised her that I would read it, Rosalie; but I haven’t,” said the poor woman. “I read a few verses the first week she gave it to me, but I’ve never read it since. I wish I had—oh, I do wish I had!”
“Let me read it to you, Mummy dear.”
“That’s what I got it out for, darling. You might read a bit of it to me every day. I don’t know whether it will do me any good, it’s almost too late now, but I can but try.”
“Shall I begin at once, Mummy dear?”
“Yes, directly, Rosalie; I’ll just write your name in it, that you may always remember your mother when you see it.”
So Rosalie brought her a pen and ink, and she wrote at the bottom of the page—“My little Rosalie, with her mother’s love.”
“And now, child, you may begin to read.”
“What shall it be, Mummy dear?”
“Find the part about your picture, dear. I should think it will say under the text where it is.”
With some trouble Rosalie found Luke 15 and began to read:
“ ‘And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.’ (Luke 15:3-7) ”
“I need repentance, Rosalie, child,” said her mother.
“What is repentance, Mummy dear?”
“It means being sorry for what you’ve done, Rosalie darling, and hating yourself for it, and wishing never to do wrong again.”
“Then, Mummy, if you need repentance, you must be like the one sheep, not like the ninety-nine.”
“Yes, child, I’m a lost sheep, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve gone very far astray—so far that I don’t suppose I shall ever get back again. It’s much easier to get wrong than to get right; it’s a very, very hard thing to find the right road when you’ve once missed it. It doesn’t seem much use my trying to get back, I have such a long way to go.”
“But, Mummy dear, isn’t it just like the sheep?”
“What do you mean, Rosalie darling?”
“Why, the sheep couldn’t find its way back, could it, Mummy? Sheep never can find their way. And this sheep didn’t walk back; did it? He carried it on His shoulder, like my picture. I don’t suppose it would seem so very far when He carried it.”
Rosalie’s mother made no answer when her child said this, but she seemed to be thinking about it. She sat looking thoughtfully out of the window. Much, very much was passing in her mind. Then Rosalie closed the Testament, and, wrapping it carefully in the paper in which it had been kept so many years, she hid it away in the box again.
It was Sunday evening now; once more the churchbells rang, and once more the people went past with books in their hands. Rosalie wished very much that she could creep into one of the churches and hear another sermon. But just then her father and the men came back and wanted their tea. So, instead of the quiet service, Rosalie had to listen to their loud talking and noisy laughter.
And then her father sent for her into the large caravan, and made her go through her part of the play. She was just finishing her recital as the people passed back again from evening service.