Johnnie Green had been to the circus. And of course he wanted to try a good many tricks that he had learned there. At first he made old dog Spot perform for him. But when he attempted to get Spot to jump through a hoop of fire the old dog refused flatly to play any more.
That was why Johnnie went to the pasture and brought Snowball Lamb back to the farmyard.
"Now, Snowball," said Johnnie Green, "I've been to the circus and have seen ever so many kinds of trained animals—horses and elephants and dogs and monkeys and seals. But I didn't see any trained lamb. If you pay attention and learn what I try to teach you maybe you and I can join the circus next year."
Snowball Lamb answered, "Baa-a-a!"
"All right!" cried Johnnie. "Now you just jump through this wooden hoop!"
But it didn't prove to be as easy as all that. Johnnie Green had to work a long, long time before he succeeded at last in teaching Snowball to obey him. And then, after Snowball jumped through the hoop in as graceful a manner as anybody could have asked for, Johnnie was not quite satisfied.
"You'll have to learn to jump through a paper hoop if we're ever going to be taken along with the circus," he told Snowball.
Again Snowball answered, "Baa-a-a!"
"All right!" said Johnnie. "I'll make some paper hoops. And tomorrow we'll see what you can do."
So back to the pasture went Snowball. And into the woodshed went Johnnie Green. There he stayed all the rest of the afternoon, knocking old barrels apart, chopping and sawing and hammering. He laid newspapers down upon the floor and trimmed them neatly with his mother's shears. He made flour paste in the kitchen. And when milking time came he had four fine hoops all covered with newspaper.
Johnnie wanted to make one more. But his father came along and happened to pick up a barrel stave, remarking that it was just the thing to make a boy jump to his work. So Johnnie decided, for some reason or other, that four hoops would be enough to practice with. Of course when he and Snowball joined the circus they would need dozens of hoops. But there wasn't really any hurry about that.
So he went for a milk pail and trotted off to the barn, where he sat down on his three-legged stool and began milking the Muley Cow.
He couldn't help thinking, as he sat there and sent streams of milk tinkling down upon the bottom of the tin pail, what a fine scheme it would be to build a hoop big enough for the Muley Cow to jump through. It ought to be easy to teach her. For everybody knew that she was a famous jumper. She made more trouble, jumping the fence, than all the rest of Farmer Green's herd.
Johnnie Green got to thinking so intently about the matter that he began to dawdle. And if there was one thing that the Muley Cow didn't like it was to have to stand still while a slow milker puttered at his work. So she suddenly gave her tail a switch and brought the end of it across Johnnie Green's cheek.
It was a stinging smack. And Johnnie Green cried, "Ouch!"
After that he stopped his day dreaming until milking was over. And then he went back to the woodshed and gazed at the four paper hoops leaning against the woodpile.
In the same pasture with Snowball was a black lamb. He was the black lamb that Farmer Green once gave to Johnnie for a pet. But he ran away up the lane the very first time Johnnie tried to hold him in his arms.
After that the black lamb had always stayed with the flock. He was a wild, unruly fellow, bigger and older than Snowball. And he was quite outspoken - and not always careful of his language.
This black lamb chanced to be near Snowball when Johnnie Green came into the pasture on a certain fine morning. And when Johnnie began calling to Snowball the black lamb said, "Why don't you run the other way? That's what I always do when boys call me."
Snowball made no answer. He stood and looked at Johnnie Green, who was walking towards him with outstretched hand.
"Come on!" cried the black lamb. "I'll run with you."
"No!" said Snowball. "Johnnie may have something good for me to eat. Some salt, maybe!"
"Huh!" said the black lamb. "Don't be stupid! What if he has brought you a little salt? He'll want you to jump through that hoop again for him, the way he did yesterday." Snowball had told the black lamb about the strange proceeding of the afternoon before.
"Well" Snowball murmured, as he hesitated, not knowing whether to obey the black lamb or Johnnie Green.
"Well, are you coming with me?" the black lamb demanded. "I'm not going to stay here where that boy can grab me. I don't intend to spend my time jumping through any old hoop. I'm not quite so silly as to do that."
"I believe I'll let Johnnie catch me," Snowball told him. "Johnnie said something yesterday about our joining the circus. No doubt you've noticed the circus posters on the side of the barn?"
"I have," said the black lamb with something like a sneer. "No doubt you've noticed the picture of the tiger?"
"Yes, I have," Snowball admitted.
"My uncle joined a circus once," said the black lamb.
"Is that so?" cried Snowball. "Tell me—did he enjoy it?"
"I can't say," the black lamb replied. "He never came back again. They fed him to the tiger—so I have been told."
And then the black lamb started to run. And suddenly Snowball whisked about and followed him.
Johnnie Green wondered what had come over Snowball. Was this the pet that had once followed him all the way to school?
"I'll keep him tied up in the barn for a few days—once I catch him," thought Johnnie. If he intended to teach circus tricks to Snowball he certainly didn't want to spend valuable time chasing him all around the pasture.
At last Johnnie Green had Snowball cornered. At last he slipped a rope about Snowball's neck. And then he led his pet towards the bars.
"Baa-a-a!" called the black lamb.
It sounded so much like a jeer that Johnnie turned around and made a face at the black rascal.
In the barnyard Johnnie brought forth a paper covered hoop. He held it up in front of Snowball. "Jump!" he cried.
But Snowball drew back.
"Baa-a-a!" he bleated. "How do I know that there isn't a tiger behind that thing?"
"Come!" Johnnie urged him. "Jump! Jump!"
Snowball only moved further away.
And then Johnnie Green lowered the paper covered hoop and stepped forward to grasp Snowball by his fleece.
As Johnnie's hand let the hoop fall Snowball gave a frightened blat. Staring right at him, and grinning horribly, was a tiger pasted upon the side of the barn.
Snowball turned and ran towards the gate.
The next time Johnnie Green dragged Snowball into the farmyard he shut the gate carefully behind him.
"We'll never join the circus if you're going to behave like this," Johnnie told Snowball severely. "Now, you pay attention!"
He held up a bare hoop—not a paper covered one—and when he said, "Jump!" Snowball showed that he had not forgotten his lesson of the afternoon before.
"That's better!" cried Johnnie Green. "Jump again!" And when Snowball jumped once more Johnnie was so pleased that he went into the chicken house and came back with a handful of cracked corn. "Here!" he said to Snowball. "There's more like it if you behave yourself."
Snowball munched his corn contentedly.
"The black lamb would like this," he thought. "I'll tell him about this corn the next time I see him. Then maybe he won't be so quick to call me stupid."
Somehow the cracked corn made Snowball forget all about the frightful picture of the tiger that grinned from the side of the barn. And at last Johnnie succeeded in getting Snowball to jump through one of the paper hoops which he had so carefully made the day before.
"There!" Johnnie cried. "You've done it at last!" And he was so delighted that he went once more to the chicken house. And this time he brought back two handfuls of cracked corn.
Unluckily, just as he came out of the chicken house he met his father going in.
"Here!" Farmer Green exclaimed. "What are you doing with my chicken feed?"
"I'm giving a little to Snowball," Johnnie told him.
"Ah!" cried Farmer Green with a sly smile. "Fattening your lamb for market, eh?"
Johnnie's face fell. "No!" he replied. "Of course not! I wouldn't sell Snowball. He's—he's too valuable."
Farmer Green guffawed.
"He's a circus lamb!" Johnnie cried hotly. "He's learning circus tricks!"
"Well," said his father, "maybe I have some circus hens in here, for all I know. Don't you feed my corn to that lamb!"
"Can your hens jump through paper hoops?" Johnnie asked.
"Can your lamb?" demanded Farmer Green.
"Watch!" said Johnnie then. And, holding up another of the paper covered hoops, he persuaded Snowball to leap through it neatly.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" cried Farmer Green—whatever that may mean.
Johnnie Green thought it was a good time to ask a question.
"Mayn't I give him a little corn once in a while?" he begged.
"Oh, I suppose so," said his father. "But if you get him too fat he won't be much of a jumper."
"But jumping ought to keep him thin," Johnnie insisted.
Just then Snowball gave a plaintive bleat: "Baa-a-a-a!"
"There!" Johnnie exclaimed. "He thinks so, too!"
Snowball was quick to learn one thing. He soon found that jumping through Johnnie Green's paper covered hoops brought him plenty of cracked corn.
No longer did Snowball run away from his young master when Johnnie entered the pasture and called to him. Nothing that the rascally black lamb said could persuade Snowball to lead Johnnie Green a chase.
Much to the black lamb's disgust Snowball would start for the bars the moment Johnnie appeared there. "Johnnie wants to give me a treat!" Snowball would exclaim. "There's cracked corn waiting for me!" And off he would go.
Strange as it may seem, Johnnie tired of the circus tricks before Snowball did. It wasn't long before several days would go by without Johnnie's once holding up a hoop for Snowball to jump through. And often Snowball would moon about the farmyard wishing that Johnnie would do that very thing.
"I hope the cracked corn isn't getting low," said Snowball to himself. And he cried, "Ba-a-a-a-a!" But Johnnie Green paid no heed to him. Though Johnnie was at that very moment in the swing he never once looked at Snowball as he roamed mournfully about.
So Snowball crossed the road and strolled up the steep bank opposite the farmhouse. And having nothing better to do he was about to stroll down again when he spied something that made him stop short.
Was that a paper covered hoop that he saw, right there at the top of the bank? He wondered. It was round. And it was certainly covered with something that looked like paper.
For a moment Snowball thought he would walk around the hoop—if it was one—and examine it. He couldn't see anybody holding it up on edge. But there it was, just waiting for somebody to come along and jump through it!
"It's a hoop!" Snowball muttered to himself. "There's no doubt about that." And lowering his head he ran at the hoop—and jumped.
There was a splitting sound and a crash, both at the same time.
Instead of bursting through a thin paper shell and clearing the hoop neatly Snowball found himself wedged inside something. Though he didn't know it, he had butted the end of a barrel, knocking in its head and plunging headlong inside it.
Meanwhile Johnnie Green had stopped swinging. He looked across the road just in time to see the barrel totter on the edge of the steep bank. Not only totter; but begin to roll down hill!
Out of the barrel stuck two woolly legs, both kicking frantically.
"What in the world?" Johnnie Green exclaimed. He leaped from the swing and ran towards the strange sight. But he was too late to help.
The barrel fast gathered headway. It crossed the road like some live thing, to bring up against the farmhouse with a terrific smash.
Instantly the barrel fell into a dozen pieces as its staves caved in. And out of the wreck rose Snowball. He gave one frightened bleat. And then he tore off towards the pasture as fast as he could run. He didn't even wait to see if Johnnie Green would give him a treat of cracked corn.
As he ran he said to himself, "There may have been a tiger inside that thing. . . . I don't know! . . . I wouldn't join the circus for all the cracked corn in the world!"
The End of the Circus
The Circus * The Circus * The Circus * The Circus