On Our Selection, by Steele Rudd

Chapter 15.

Our Circus.

Dave had been to town and came home full of circus. He sat on the ground beside the tubs while Mother and Sal were washing, and raved about the riding and the tumbling he had seen. He talked enthusiastically to Joe about it every day for three weeks. Dave rose very high in Joe’s estimation.

Raining. All of us inside. Sal on the sofa playing the concertina; Dad squatting on the edge of a flat stone at the corner of the fireplace; Dave on another opposite; both gazing into the fire, which was almost out, and listening intently to the music; the dog, dripping wet, coiled at their feet, shivering; Mother sitting dreamily at the table, her palm pressed against her cheek, also enjoying the music.

Sal played on until the concertina broke. Then there was a silence.

For a while Dave played with a piece of charcoal. At last he spoke.

“Well,” he said, looking at Dad, “what about this circus?”

Dad chuckled.

“But what d’ y’ THINK?”

“Well” (Dad paused), “yes” (chuckled again)—“very well.”

“A CIRCUS!” Sal put in —“a PRETTY circus YOUS’D have!”

Dave fired up.

“YOU go and ride the red heifer, strad-legs, same as y’ did yesterday,” he snarled, “an’ let all the country see y’.”

Sal blushed.

Then to Dad:

“I’m certain, with Paddy Maloney in it, we could do it right enough, and make it pay, too.”

“Very well, then,” said Dad, “very well. There’s th’ tarpaulin there, and plenty bales and old bags whenever you’re ready.”

Dave was delighted, and he and Dad and Joe ran out to see where the tent could be pitched, and ran in again wetter than the dog.

One day a circus-tent went up in our yard. It attracted a lot of notice. Two of the Johnsons and old Anderson and others rode in on draught-horses and inspected it. And Smith’s spring-cart horse, that used to be driven by every day, stopped in the middle of the lane and stared at it; and, when Smith stood up and belted him with the double of the reins, he bolted and upset the cart over a stump. It wasn’t a very white tent. It was made of bags and green bushes, and Dad and Dave and Paddy Maloney were two days putting it up.

We all assisted in the preparations for the circus. Dad built seats out of forked sticks and slabs, and Joe gathered jam-tins which Mother filled with fat and moleskin wicks to light up with.

Everyone in the district knew about our circus, and longed for the opening night. It came. A large fire near the slip-rails, shining across the lane and lighting up a corner of the wheat-paddock, showed the way in.

Dad stood at the door to take the money. The Andersons — eleven of them — arrived first. They didn’t walk straight in. They hung about for a while. Then Anderson sidled up to Dad and talked into his ear. “Oh! that’s all right,” Dad said, and passed them all in without taking any money.

Next came the Maloneys, and, as Paddy belonged to the circus, they also walked in without paying, and secured front seats.

Then Jim Brown and Sam Holmes, and Walter Nutt, and Steve Burton, and eight others strolled along. Dad owed all of them money for binding, which they happened to remember. “In yous go,” Dad said, and in the lot went. The tent filled quickly, and the crowd awaited the opening act.

Paddy Maloney came forward with his hair oiled and combed, and rang the cow-bell.

Dave, bare-footed and bare-headed, in snow-white moles and red shirt, entered standing majestically upon old Ned’s back. He got a great reception. But Ned was tired and refused to canter. He jogged lazily round the ring. Dave shouted at him and rocked about. He was very unsteady. Paddy Maloney flogged Ned with the leg-rope. But Ned had been flogged often before. He got slower and slower. Suddenly, he stood and cocked his tail, and to prevent himself falling, Dave jumped off. Then the audience yelled while Dave dragged Ned into the dressing-room and punched him on the nose.

Paddy Maloney made a speech. He said: “Well, the next item on the programme’ll knock y’ bandy. Keep quiet, you fellows, now, an’ y’ll see somethin’.”

They saw Joe. He stepped backwards into the ring, pulling at a string. There was something on the string. “Come on!” Joe said, tugging. The “something” wouldn’t come. “Chuck ’im in!” Joe called out. Then the pet kangaroo was heaved in through the doorway, and fell on its head and raised the dust. A great many ugly dogs rushed for it savagely. The kangaroo jumped up and bounded round the ring. The dogs pursued him noisily. “GERROUT!” Joe shouted, and the crowd stood up and became very enthusiastic. The dogs caught the kangaroo, and were dragging him to earth when Dad rushed in and kicked them in twos to the top of the tent. Then, while Johnson expostulated with Dad for laming his brindle slut, the kangaroo dived through a hole in the tent and rushed into the house and into the bedroom, and sprang on the bed among a lot of babies and women’s hats.

When the commotion subsided Paddy Maloney rang the cow-bell again, and Dave and “Podgy,” the pet sheep, rode out on Nugget. Podgy sat with hind-legs astride the horse and his head leaning back against Dave’s chest. Dave (standing up) bent over him with a pair of shears in his hand. He was to shear Podgy as the horse cantered round.

Paddy Maloney touched Nugget with the whip, and off he went —“rump-ti-dee, dump-ti-dee.” Dave rolled about a lot the first time round, but soon got his equilibrium. He brandished the shears and plunged the points of them into Podgy’s belly-wool — also into Podgy’s skin. “Bur-UR-R!” Podgy blurted and struggled violently. Dave began to topple about. He dropped the shears. The audience guffawed. Then Dave jumped; but Podgy’s horns got caught in his clothes and made trouble. Dave hung on one side of the horse and the sheep dangled on the other. Dave sang out, so did Podgy. And the horse stopped and snorted, then swung furiously round and round until five or six pairs of hands seized his head and held him.

Dave didn’t repeat the act. He ran away holding his clothes together.

It was a very successful circus. Everyone enjoyed it and wished to see it again — everyone but the Maloneys. They said it was a swindle, and ran Dad down because he didn’t divide with Paddy the 3s. 6d. he took at the door.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33