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THE CLOWN'S BABY

 

    IT was on the western frontier,--

    The miners, rugged and brown,

    Were gathered round the posters,

    The circus had come to town!

    The great tent shone in the darkness

    Like a wonderful palace of light,

    And rough men crowded the entrance,--

    Shows didn't come every night!

    Not a woman's face among them;

    Many a face that was bad,

    And some that were only vacant,

    And some that were very sad.

    And behind a canvas curtain,

    In a corner of the place,

    The clown, with chalk and vermillion,

    Was "making up" his face.

    A weary looking woman

    With a smile that still was sweet,

    Sewed on a little garment,

    With a cradle at her feet.

    Pantaloon stood ready and waiting,

    It was time for the going on;

    But the clown in vain searched wildly,--

    The "property baby" was gone!

    He murmured, impatiently hunting,

    "It's strange that I cannot find--

    There, I've looked in every corner;

    It must have been left behind!"

    The miners were stamping and shouting,

    They were not patient men;

    The clown bent over the cradle,--

    "I must take you, little Ben."

    The mother started and shivered,

    But trouble and want were near;

    She lifted the baby gently,

    "You'll be very careful, dear?"

    "Careful? You foolish darling!"

    How tenderly it was said!

    What a smile shone through the chalk and paint!

    "I love each hair of his head!"

    The noise rose into an uproar,

    Misrule for the time was king;

    The clown with a foolish chuckle

    Bolted into the ring.

    But as, with a squeak and flourish,

    The fiddles closed their tune

    "You'll hold him as if he were made of glass?"

    Said the clown to the pantaloon.

    The jovial fellow nodded,

    "I've a couple myself," he said.

    "I know how to handle 'em, bless you!

    Old fellow, go ahead!"

    The fun grew fast and furious,

    And not one of all the crowd

    Had guessed that the baby was alive,

    When he suddenly laughed aloud.

    Oh, that baby laugh! It was echoed

    From the benches with a ring,

    And the roughest customer there sprang up

    With, "Boys, it's the real thing."

    The ring was jammed in a minute,

    Not a man that did not strive

    For a "shot at holding the baby,"--

    The baby that was alive!

    He was thronged with kneeling suitors

    In the midst of the dusty ring,

    And he held his court right royally,--

    The fair little baby king,--

    Till one of the shouting courtiers,--

    A man with a bold, hard face,

    The talk, for miles, of the country,

    And the terror of the place,

    Raised the little king to his shoulder

    And chuckled, "Look at that!"

    As the chubby fingers clutched his hair;

    Then, "Boys, hand round the hat!"

    There never was such a hatful

    Of silver and gold and notes;

    People are not always penniless

    Because they don't wear coats.

    And then, "Three cheers for the baby!"

    I tell you those cheers were meant,

    And the way that they were given

    Was enough to raise the tent.

    And then there was sudden silence

    And a gruff old miner said,

    "Come boys, enough of this rumpus;

    It's time it was put to bed."

    So, looking a little sheepish,

    But with faces strangely bright,

    The audience, somewhat lingering,

    Flocked out into the night.

    And the bold-faced leader chuckled,

    "He wasn't a bit afraid!

    He's as game as he's good-looking!

    Boys, that was a show that _paid_!"

                              _Margaret Vandergrift._