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Polly of the Circus   By: (1882-1951)

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By Margaret Mayo


Chapter I

The band of the "Great American Circus" was playing noisily. The performance was in full swing.

Beside a shabby trunk in the women's dressing tent sat a young, wistful faced girl, chin in hand, unheeding the chatter of the women about her or the picturesque disarray of the surrounding objects. Her eyes had been so long accustomed to the glitter and tinsel of circus fineries that she saw nothing unusual in a picture that might have held a painter spellbound.

Circling the inside of the tent and forming a double line down the centre were partially unpacked trunks belching forth impudent masses of satins, laces, artificial hair, paper flowers, and paste jewels. The scent of moist earth mingled oddly with the perfumed odours of the garments heaped on the grass. Here and there high circles of lights threw a strong, steady glare upon the half clad figure of a robust acrobat, or the thin, drooping shoulders of a less stalwart sister. Temporary ropes stretched from one pole to another, were laden with bright coloured stockings, gaudy, spangled gowns, or dusty street clothes, discarded by the performers before slipping into their circus attire. There were no nails or hooks, so hats and veils were pinned to the canvas walls.

The furniture was limited to one camp chair in front of each trunk, the till of which served as a tray for the paints, powders and other essentials of "make up."

A pail of water stood by the side of each chair, so that the performers might wash the delicately shaded tights, handkerchiefs and other small articles not to be entrusted to the slow, careless process of the village laundry. Some of these had been washed to night and hung to dry on the lines between the dusty street garments.

Women whose "turns" came late sat about half clothed reading, crocheting or sewing, while others added pencilled eyebrows, powder or rouge to their already exaggerated "make ups." Here and there a child was putting her sawdust baby to sleep in the till of her trunk, before beginning her part in the evening's entertainment. Young and old went about their duties with a systematic, business like air, and even the little knot of excited women near Polly it seemed that one of the men had upset a circus tradition kept a sharp lookout for their "turns."

"What do you think about it, Polly?" asked a handsome brunette, as she surveyed herself in the costume of a Roman charioteer.

"About what?" asked Polly vacantly.

"Leave Poll alone; she's in one of her trances!" called a motherly, good natured woman whose trunk stood next to Polly's, and whose business was to support a son and three daughters upon stalwart shoulders, both figuratively and literally.

"Well, I ain't in any trance," answered the dark girl, "and I think it's pretty tough for him to take up with a rank outsider, and expect us to warm up to her as though he'd married one of our own folks." She tossed her head, the pride of class distinction welling high in her ample bosom.

"He ain't asking us to warm up to her," contradicted Mademoiselle Eloise, a pale, light haired sprite, who had arrived late and was making undignified efforts to get out of her clothes by way of her head. She was Polly's understudy and next in line for the star place in the bill.

"Well, Barker has put her into the 'Leap of Death' stunt, ain't he?" continued the brunette. "'Course that ain't a regular circus act," she added, somewhat mollified, "and so far she's had to dress with the 'freaks,' but the next thing we know, he'll be ringin' her in on a regular stunt and be puttin' her in to dress with US."

"No danger of that," sneered the blonde; "Barker is too old a stager to mix up his sheep and his goats."

Polly had again lost the thread of the conversation. Her mind had gone roving to the night when the frightened girl about whom they were talking had made her first appearance in the circus lot, clinging timidly to the hand of the man who had just made her his wife... Continue reading book >>

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