Across a grassy summer field stood the circus tent, a white gleam under skies so blue that all later skies seemed pale. Dan Rice's Great Show was in town! Flaming red and yellow heralds had appeared, popping up like mushrooms on a midsummer morning, sparking the sleepy town to life. Everyone chattered about Rice. A talking clown, whose powerful voice reached thousands at a time, he told jokes that people passed around as they stocked up at the general store. He made up song lyrics, to popular tunes like "Oh, Susannah," which they sang while waiting for the blacksmith or over their quilting. Some in the community huffed about wasted time and money, and puffed about immorality, but mostly folks agreed that Rice was a whole team and a hoss to let.
Hours before sun-up, the roads began to show signs of life, more heard than seen in the dark. Another audience was on its way to hear Rice mock Horace Greeley, tease P. T. Barnum or call their constable a "redheaded thief." Hitching up the night before by lantern glow in the barn, folks had set out from all distant directions. As stars circled slowly in the dark sky, people made their way in wagons and afoot, on mules and horseback--two, three miles an hour in the dark. Leather harnesses creaked and axles groaned over bumps on the dirt road. A farmer behind his reins waved to another through the dark but stayed quiet. Don't wake the little ones sleeping in the wagon.
Trickles became streams of travelers as the sky began to glow in the east, not yet light, no longer dark. In town, kids woke early, throwing on clothes to rush through chores so they could get over to the field. By mid-morning, people streamed toward the tent in a holiday mood. It was a holiday, as big as elections and the Fourth of July. People were howdyin' and civilizin', catching up on the news, gossiping about a dress or a horse or a neighbor. One child was held tight by a nervous parent; another one, hat flying, chased through the growing crowd. Older boys noticed the older girls, who noticed back. People wandered to booths outside the tent, to finger the ready-made clothes, or buy whiskey. A few took a chance on a game of chance and hoped they had a chance, which they didn't. As the streams became a flood rolling up to the tent's grand entrance, a pickpocket plied his unobtrusive trade. The child in hand tugged toward the ticket seller. Four bits for a chair, two bits to perch on a narrow bleacher plank.
Inside, a year's fantasies became flesh. To the brassy blare of the band, pretty equestriennes cantered and muscled acrobats twirled around the ring. Someone worldly wise has "seen the elephant." Well, here was a real elephant, and women in tights, showing a right smart chance of leg. That would be experience, certain as preaching. And what would the great clown discuss? Had a newspaper sniffed that his language wasn't pure? Rice would get down on that editor like the Mississippi on a sand bar. It all settled in memory, Dan's deep voice and the waggle of his famous goatee, the taste of peanuts and lemonade, the rich smell of sawdust, sweat and horse manure.
Pub date: 04/23/04
Price: $21.00/25.50 Canada
6 1/8 x 9 1/4
b/w illustrations throughout
Carton Quantity: 20
Selling Territory: W
Pub history: PublicAffairs hc