Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
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The boy named Djuna stopped so suddenly that his little black Scotty, Champ, who was trotting just behind him, and his friend, Tommy Williams, who was running right behind Champ, all got tangled up together as Djuna pointed at a red and yellow poster on a fence and shouted, “
The circus is coming to Riverton!”
All three of them stood staring at the sign and Tommy Williams said, “I wonder when they put that up. They must have done it at night. It wasn’t there yesterday.”
Champ sat down, cocked his head on one side, and stuck out his long, red tongue. He didn’t say anything, but looked at Djuna after a moment to see what
was going to say.
“That’s so. It wasn’t,” Djuna said. He studied the picture of a slim, young girl, dressed in a very short ruffled skirt and spangles, who was standing on the rump of a galloping Percheron while it pranced around a ring.
“I wonder,” Tommy said, and a worried frown creased his forehead, “how much it costs to go to a circus?”
“Golly, I don’t know,” Djuna said. “But prob’ly quite an awful lot. It’s a few days away, so we could start saving for it. How much money have you got now?”
Tommy Williams dug into his pocket and slowly counted out several coins from one hand to the other.
“Six—seven—eight,” he counted. “Eight cents and a nickel. Thirteen cents. How much have
Djuna fished out what he had, carefully transferring three marbles, a pocketknife and an old shoetstring to his right-hand pocket, and counted the coins that had been mixed up with these treasures.
“Eleven cents,” he said dejectedly. “We don’t have anywhere near enough.” He was silent for a moment but anyone looking at his alert brown eyes could have told that his mind was active. Suddenly he burst into speech again.
“Jeepers! I know what,” he said. “I’ll write to Mrs. Silvernails, Miss Annie’s sister, and ask her to send me the shoeshine box I made so much money with, the summer I stayed with her. I’d only have to shine about twenty pairs of shoes to—”
“Sure,” Tommy interrupted, “but whose shoes are you going to shine? There’s only Mr. and Mrs. Pindler and Clarabelle, and her father and mother and my father and mother and Mr. Boots and Miss Annie Ellery here in Edenboro. Nobody else around here would want to get their shoes shined, because they all wear boots most of the time.”
“I could go over to Clinton,” Djuna said. “There are lots of people there.”
“How are you going to get there?” Tommy wanted to know.
“W-e-ll,” Djuna said and stopped and didn’t say anything more. He knew it would be too far to carry a shoeshine box.
The two boys looked at each other gloomily and then looked back at the gaudy poster again. They were so engrossed in looking at it that they didn’t hear the old truck that came rumbling down the road and stopped behind them.
They both jumped when a voice said, “You boys thinkin’ o’ joinin’ the circus?”
“Hello, Mr. Boots!” they said together as they whirled around; and Champ began to jump up and down and up and down to show that he was glad to see Mr. Boots too.
Mr. Boots, who had a very kind face and very bright blue eyes, was chuckling to himself as he studied the two boys. The top of Mr. Boots’s head was bald, but there was a fringe of white hair around it, and there was a fringe of white hair under his chin. His face and hands were tanned very brown and he looked a little bit like a Billiken as he sat there grinning down at the boys.
“You know,” he said after a moment, “I think I got somethin’ over to my house that would kinda interest you two young fellahs.”
Djuna didn’t say anything, because he knew that when Mr. Boots talked like that he had something that would be a very nice surprise. But Tommy Williams couldn’t contain himself.
he exploded. “What is it, Mr. Boots?”
“Well, suppose you lift Champ into the back and climb in yourselves and come over ’n’ take a look,” Mr. Boots said. “C’mon! I ain’t got all day.”
The two boys hoisted Champ into the back of the truck and then scrambled in after him. Mr. Boots threw the old truck in gear and they went clattering over the dusty road past Miss Annie Ellery’s house, where Djuna lived, and past Mr. Pindler’s store, and came to a halt in front of a combination house and shop that had:
Carpenter, Builder & Housepainting
painted on the front door.
But Djuna and Tommy didn’t even glance at the sign Mr. Boots had painted on his front door when they climbed out of the truck. They had eyes only for the enormous circus poster that was plastered on the front of Mr. Boots’s shop. It was three times as large as the one they had seen before and it seemed to have the whole circus performing on it. It said:
ALVAH O. GRANT’S
THE STUPENDOUS PARIS CIRCUS
ROYAL BRITISH MENAGERIE AND INTERNATIONAL ALLIED SHOWS
2 circuses in 2 rings—2 menageries in 1 tent 1 Museum of Living Curiosities 6 monster shows in 1
See the only SACRED WHITE ELEPHANT in captivity outside Siam!
See the MASTERPIECES OF ALL CREATION’S WILDEST WHIMS!
Come and see things that don’t exist. Come and see if you can guess what they are! Come one
Underneath were pictures of spangled bareback riders dancing on the backs of prancing Percherons; aerial trapeze artists flying through the air with the greatest of ease; tightwire performers, on bicycles; lions, tigers, elephants, and so many other things that it was almost like the circus itself, because there were so many things that you couldn’t look at all of them at one time.
“Jeepers!” Tommy said after a few minutes. “It says it’s a supercolossal show. Do you suppose that’s true, Mr. Boots?”
“Well, if it ain’t,” Mr. Boots said with a chuckle, “it’s close enough. Old Alvah Grant wa’n’t ever put out if somebody accused him of a little exaggeratin’. I seen the show a half-dozen times. I done some work for old Alvah one time and he used to send me passes when he brung the circus to Riverton. Poor old fellah died here not long ago. A fine man, even if he was a little givin’ to stretchin’ th’ truth.”
“How much does it cost to go to the circus, Mr. Boots?” Djuna asked.
“Well, it costs quite a mite,” Mr. Boots said, “but you boys don’t have to worry about that.”
They both stared at Mr. Boots and Champ sat down again and cocked his head on one side and stared too. None of them was sure what Mr. Boots meant but they decided to wait until he was through chuckling and got ready to tell them.
“You know that poster you boys was lookin’ at down the road?” Mr. Boots asked.
“Yes, sir,” Djuna said.
“Well,” Mr. Boots went on. “I was comin’ home along about dusk last night when I see a fellah nailin’ it up. I stopped and took a look an’ then I remembered somethin’ and I said to him, ‘I got a fine place for one of them big posters, right on the road where no one can get by without seein’ it.’
“‘That’s what I want, pappy,’ he sez. ‘You lead the way an’ I’ll be right on your tail.’
“‘It’s a goin’ to cost you six passes to the circus if I let you use the space,’ I told him.
“‘Now, now, pappy,’ he sez. ‘I could hang one on a cloud for six passes.’
“‘They’re a mite high for you to reach around here,’ I said.
“Anyway,” Mr. Boots went on, “I brought him up here to my shop and after we dickered a trifle he agreed to give me four passes, good for every performance while the show is at Riverton, if I’d let him put a poster on my shop. The show’s goin’ to be there at Riverton for a week, you know, while they get it reorganized after old man Grant’s death.”
“You mean we can each use one of the passes?” Tommy asked excitedly.
“That’s what I got ’em for,” Mr. Boots said. “You’ll be so bog-danged sick of the circus by the time it leaves Riverton that you’ll never want to see it again.”
“Jiminy crimps, Mr. Boots!” Djuna said. “Do you mean we can go to the circus free with your passes?”
“That’s just what I’m tellin’ you, Djuna,” Mr. Boots said. “An’ I got enough so Clarabelle Smith, and Mr. and Mrs. Pindler, and Miss Annie, an’ everyone can go at one time or another. All just for lettin’ him put that poster on the front of my shop. They won’t pay you no money to let ’em put up their posters on your property, but they’ll give you free passes.”
“Oh boy, oh boy!” Djuna said, his brown eyes gleaming with admiration and affection as he looked at Mr. Boots. “That’s about the nicest thing I ever heard of. Is there anything we can do for you to help pay you back, Mr. Boots?”
“Nothin’ I think of,” Mr. Boots said and then he hesitated while he pulled at the white fringe of whiskers on his chin. “Say,” he said after a moment of thought, “you fellahs might ride over to Riverton with me this afternoon and help me load some lumber on my truck. I could do it alone but it would be easier for me if you’d both give me a hand.”
“Why, sure, Mr. Boots,” they said together just as though they had rehearsed it. “We’d be glad to.”
“All right,” Mr. Boots said kindly. “Run along and tell Miss Annie you’re a-goin’ with me, Djuna. An’ you go tell your mother, Tommy. Make it right smart, now, an’ on the way to the lumberyard in Riverton I’ll take you by old man Grant’s home and show you the iron animals he has on his front lawn.”
“Iron animals?” Djuna said as he poised himself for flight.