Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Ladder Book by E. Hershey Sneath
The Golden Ladder Book by  E. Hershey Sneath

Billy, Betty, and Ben and the Circus


One morning after Billy, Betty, and Ben had fought a hard battle with General Microbe's army, they sat down to breakfast. Their mother, Mrs. Bates, said that she had received a letter from Aunt Bess.

Now Billy, Betty, and Ben thought that Aunt Bess was the dearest woman in the world, except, of course, their own mother. So their ears were wide open to hear what Aunt Bess had written. And what do you think she wrote? Listen!


I am coming up to your house next week, to make you a little visit. There will be a circus in Bridgeport a week later. If your mother is willing, I shall be very glad to take you.

Your mother wrote the that you are fighting the dirty microbe army. Hurrah for all three of you! Fight the dirty little soldiers just as hard as you can. If you don't, they will try to do yon harm.

I'll join your army, and march with you when I come. Will Betty let me carry the flag? "Rub-a-dub dub! dub dub! dub dub!" Dear me! I shall have to jump when I hear that. Oh! I think I see myself marking time! I'll wash my hands until they are snow-white. Then I'll march downstairs as Billy plays: "Rub-a-dub dub! dub dub! dub dub!"


With much love,


Billy, Betty, and Ben were so happy over Auut Bess's letter that they forgot their table manners for a moment. Mrs. Bates had to tell Ben not to eat so fast and so much. He was greatly excited over the circus.

And Billy—what do you think he was doing? He was cramming his food into his mouth. If Aunt Bess lead seen her big Billy eating then, she would have thought him just a little piggish.

But what do you think? Oh! I don't like to tell you. Let me whisper it in your ear. Please don't tell anybody else. Why, Betty—just think of it—Betty, who was always so careful, forgot to be careful this morning. She was washing a half-chewed roll down her throat with a big mouthful of water.

Shocking! But, then, you see, Betty was thinking of the circus, too. She thought she saw herself riding like a princess on a big white elephant. So she sent her breakfast rushing down her throat with a rush of water. She didn't chew her food half enough. Do you suppose a princess would eat in such a way?

Away down inside of Betty, Mr. Stomach was scolding about it. He said "That girl up there has pretty bad manners this morning. She knows what she ought to do, but she doesn't do it."

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Mrs. Liver, who lives not far from Mr. Stomach.

"Matter?" said Mr. Stomach. "She not only has bad manners, but she is mean, too. She doesn't do her own chewing. She makes me do it."

"Well, well," said Mr. Heart, who was a near neighbor of Mr. Stomach. "That makes it bad for all of us."

"Well," replied Mr. Stomach, "I can't do all this work, and do it right. It isn't fair to ask me to do more that my share. Betty Bates might have chewed a little longer and sent down some of that saliva to help me. The saliva was willing to come, but she wouldn't give it time."

"I'll tell you what to do," said Mrs. Liver. "Just give her a little cramp, or a sharp pain, later in the morning. If you do that, perhaps she won't forget to eat properly the next time."

"Yes, that's the thing to do," said Mr. Heart. "I shall be sorry to see such a nice little girl in pain. But it must be done, or she will have worse pain by and by."

"Well," said Mr. Stomach, "I don't like to hurt her. But I suppose I must. It will do her good. If she keeps on eating like that, when she grows up, she will have to suffer a great deal."

"Poor Betty!" said Mrs. Liver and Mr. Heart. "We shall be sorry for her before recess comes to-day. Ouch! It will hurt!"


After breakfast, Billy, Betty, and Ben started for school. Their faces were almost as bright as the morning. They were so happy about the circus. On their way to school, they met old Mr. Stiles, hobbling along with a cane.

"Good morning, children," said Mr. Stiles, with a merry twinkle in his eye.

"Good morning," replied the children. Billy and Ben took off their caps very politely.

"When you pass Mr. White's old barn," said Mr. Stiles, "just stop a moment, and look at the pictures."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Stiles," answered the children.

Down to the old barn they ran. It stood near the road leading to the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was just about a half mile from the village.

"Oh! oh!" shouted Billy, who got there first. "Hurry up! There's a whole menagerie! Hurry! Hurry!"

Betty and Ben made their short legs run faster and faster. They were soon standing before the pictures with their eyes and mouths wide open.

"I shouldn't want to be that girl in the lion's cage," sbouted Betty. "I should be afraid they would cat he up. Look at their big, sharp teeth!"

"Talk about teeth!" cried Ben. "Look at the teeth of that, big grizzly bear. He's chasing a man! See! there's another man trying to shoot him. If he misses him, good-by, Mr. Alan."

"Look at that big boa constrictor!" shouted Billy. He was quite as excited as Betty and Ben. He's letting himself down from a tree, and wrapping himself around that deer!"

Beth gave a quick glance at the big snake, and at the poor little deer. "Oh! he's just horrid!" she said. "I won't look at him, or I shall dream about him all night."

They waited to look at the three circus rings, but Billy said: "Come! or we shall

be late to school." Off they ran, and reached the schoolhouse just as the bell was ringing.

It was hard for Billy, Betty, and Ben to keep their minds on their work that morning. That princess on the elephant came into Betty's mind. And Ben kept wondering whether that grizzly bear had caught the man. And Billy saw himself chopping off the head of the big boa constrictor, and letting the deer run off into the woods.

Betty could hardly do her problem in arithmetic. But she wouldn't give up. She didn't like to trouble her teacher about it. So she tried again. But still it didn't come out right. So she tried once more. And this time she solved it.

Over in Miss Johnson's room Billy had a hard time, too. He had a difficult problem in fractions. He tried it three times and couldn't get the right answer. "I'll not give it up," said Billy. So he went at it again. He was bound to do it himself. And he did.

When Betty was reading, she came to the word "cow." Just then Mr. Stomach gave her a sharp pain. And how do you think she pronounced the word "cow"? She said "COW—OW—WOW!"

"Why, what's the matter, Betty?" said Miss Norton.

"Excuse me!" said Betty. "I meant, COW-OW-WOW! Ouch!"

Poor Betty was in such pain that she couldn't read. Miss Norton excused her, and she sat down. For a little while she thought she would have to cry.

"I think that's enough," said Mr. Stomach to Mrs. Liver. "I don't think she will forget next time."

"Yes," said Mr. Heart. "Don't hurt her any more than you must."

And Mr. Stomach didn't hurt her any more.

Over in Miss Johnson's room, Billy was having the same trouble. He and Betty made up their minds that after this they would chew their food until it was as soft and liquid as cream. They thought it wasn't much fun to have cramps.


Two nights before the circus, Betty dreamed of a long procession. All the scholars of Miss Norton's class were in it.

Some were riding ponies. Others were on the backs of elephants. Ten of them were riding camels, with big humps for saddles.

Kitty Howard and Teddy Gould were in a chariot drawn by six beautiful horses. Ben was on top of the bear wagon, peeking in to see whether that grizzly bear had caught the man.

Miss Norton was a princess. She was riding in a golden carriage, drawn by eight white horses, wearing big red plumes.

Then came a red and silver band wagon. The musicians were boys of the third and fourth grades. Billy was the leader. He was dressed in a blue uniform all covered with gold lace.

Betty dreamed that they were playing "The Overall Boys" and that behind the band were a lot of children marching. They were keeping step to the music, and singing:—

"Tramp, tramp, tramp we come,

Brother after brother,

Jack and Joe and Tim and Ted,

One behind the other."

Betty joined in the chorus, and waked up. It was all a dream! How surprised she was to see Aunt Bess standing by her bed! She had come last night while the children were asleep.

Just then they heard Billy's drum. Rub-a-dub dub! dub dub! dub dub! it sounded in their ears. Aunt Bess helped Betty to dress and to comb her hair.

When Billy's drum called for inspection, Aunt Bess lined up with Betty and Ben. Her hands were spotless, and when she laughed, Ben saw that her teeth were pearly white.

Bill gave the order to march, and downstairs they came. Aunt Bess carried the red-and-white flag of the Children's Army.

After breakfast they all started for school. On reaching the old barn, they found a dozen school children looking at the circus pictures. Aunt Bess shook hands with them. Charlie Gray hadn't fought a very hard battle with the microbes that mornirng. He felt ashamed of himself when he saw his dirty hand in Aunt Bess's clean white glove.

The children began to talk about the circus. Allen Evans was saving his money to go. Charlie Jones threw his cap into the air, and said that his grandfather had promised to take him. Lucy Camp said that her father would take her if she spelled all 116 her words right for a week. She was going to try very hard, but she was afraid she might put only one l  in the word "controlled."

But what about Jimmy James over there? His parents were poor. They couldn't take him to the circus, and he looked very unhappy. Aunt Bess told Billy to invite him to go. Jimmy's sad face lighted up with a smile in a moment. He tried to dance with his crutch. You might have called it hopping, but then it's pretty hard to dance with only one leg.


On they went to school. They soon came to Mr. Leland's apple orchard. It looked like a great big bouquet of pink and white blossoms. Bees were buzzing all around, and birds were singing in the trees. "Beautiful! Beautiful!" exclaimed Aunt Bess. "It looks like a fairyland."

Then they came to the meadows, and the bobolinks flew out of the grass. They soared across the fields, filling the morning with their joyous song.

A few moments more and the whole party were at the schoolyard gate. Ding! dong! ding! dong! went the bell. In a half minute all the children were in their seats. Miss Norton's desk was covered with daffodils and tulips, which the children had brought her. She was deliglited to see Aunt Bess.

As Aunt Bess listened to the class in reading, she thought she had never been in such a quiet school. Every pupil seemed to be busy. It was so quiet that a little mouse poked his nose through the open door leading into the hall, and was surprised to see so many children. He turned around and ran away so fast that you would have thought he had seen Betty's big black cat.

But wait a moment! I made a mistake. Not everybody was studying. There was one boy who sat near Aunt Bess. He wasn't working, and was trying to annoy the boy next to him. Aunt Bess didn't like his looks. She felt sure that he was a bad boy.

She was right. He was a bad boy. Miss Norton had a great deal of trouble with him. He would quarrel with other boys. He wouldn't play fair. He would cheat, and then lie about it. He was lazy, and often late to school. Several times he was caught stealing. He would soil and mark his books, and scratch and cut his desk with his jackknife. He seemed to forget that the books and desk did not belong to him but to the school. Twice he had broken windows with his ball.

But that was not all. He was a telltale. He was always running to the teacher to tell her what others had done; and he would make it a great deal worse than it really was.

But he was more than a telltale. He was a coward. He, would never quarrel with boys as big as himself. He was afraid. So he would try to quarrel with small boys. He disliked Billy very much, because when Billy was around he wouldn't let him bully small boys. He was so rude that Kitty Howard thought a boy with such bad inanuers ought not to be allowed to come to school.

Yes, Aunt Bess was right about Sam Turner. That was the boy's name. He was  a bad boy. But she didn't know, as she sat there, how he would make her heart ache, and the tears come to her eyes, at recess. she didn't know how mean a boy he really could be.

After the class in spelling had recited, and Lucy Camp had put two l's in "controlled," Aunt Bess went into Miss Johnson's room. You know Billy was in the fourth grade.

Billy was busy fighting the battle of Bunker Hill. That is, he was fighting it in his mind. He heard General Prescott say to the American soldiers: "Aim low; wait till you see the whites of their eyes!" Billy had his musket ready, and when the command was given, he fired straight into the British lines. Bang! Boom! went the muskets and the cannon and the air was full of smoke.

Aunt Bess waited until the battle was over, and then walked over to see Billy. He wasn't killed. He wasn't even wounded. Just then the bell rang for recess, and the children marched out to the school grounds to play. Alas! Sam Turner marched with them. You will soon see that even Miss Norton, who was the only friend he had in school, couldn't make him a decent, manly boy.


This was the day for the races. Once a week the teachers and pupils of the third and fourth grades would race at recess.

To-day, Miss Norton and Miss Johnson were to run the first race. They soon lined up for the start. Of course the pupils of grade three would cheer for Miss Norton. Those of grade four would cheer for Miss Johnson. Both teachers could run very fast. So everybody was looking for a fine race.

They were to start in front of the school-house and run around it.

At the first corner Miss Norton was ahead. Ben nearly burst his lungs cheering.

At the second corner Miss Norton was still in the lead. Betty was so excited she could hardly breathe. "Oh!" she said, "if Miss Norton only wins!"

But Miss Johnson now took a spurt; and at the third corner she caught up with Miss Norton. Now it was Billy's turn to feel happy, and he gave a loud cheer for his teacher.

Both teachers now ran just as fast as they could. Miss Norton heard Ben shouting to her: "Go it! Go it!" She laughed, and took a spurt. "Hurry! Hurry!" cried Billy to Miss Johnson. The teachers were still even. But Miss Norton made a quick dash and reached the goal just a moment before Miss Johnson.

Ben was wild with joy. He took off his cap and flung it into the air. Betty danced with glee. You would have thought her a fairy, her feet seemed so light.

All of the children gathered around the teachers, and Miss Johnson led the cheering for Miss Norton:—

"Rah, rah, rah! M-I-S-S N-O-R-T-O-N! Miss Norton!"

Then Billy brought the prize. It was a beautiful wreath of apple blossoms. He placed it on Miss Norton's head. She looked like a lovely May queen, and all the children bowed before her.

The second race was to be run by Billy, Sam Turner, Jack Logan, and Tom Wallace. All of them were fast runners. Billy was very popular with the children. Many of them hoped that he would be the winner.

The race was to be run in an open field, which was a part of the school grounds. After they had lined up for the start, Miss Johnson shouted: "One, two, three, GO!"

Off they went like wild deer. The children cheered all along the side lines. Miss Norton, Ralph Crawford, and Lucy Camp were the judges. They stood near the goal line.

When the boys had run the first third of the distance, no one was in the lead. As they passed Kitty Howard, she cried "Take a spurt, Billy!"

Soon they had covered half the distance. Tom Wallace was a yard behind. Kitty was still urging Billy to hurry.

When they lead run three fourths of the distance, Billy and Sam Turner were in the lead. Both now increased their speed. It looked as though Sam were going to win. But Billy was a plucky little fellow. He would do his best to the end of the race. Betty and Kitty were so excited that they didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

All this time Billy was running like the wind. If he kept on like that, he would win. Sam knew it, and he had made up his mind that Billy should not beat him. But Billy was just about to push ahead. And what happened? Did you suppose anybody could be so mean? Sam was sure that Billy would win, and so he put out his foot to trip him.

Poor Billy fell, and he fell hard. All of the children saw the mean trick, and set up a cry of "Cheat!" And they were right. Sam Turner was a miserable cheat.

As Billy lay on the gromid, he didn't move. In falling he had struck a stone that was only partly covered with earth. Aunt Bess and Miss Johnson were soon bending over him. They saw that he was unconscious. He lay there just like a dead person. His face was as white as a sheet, except where a stream of blond was running down his cheek.

Miss Norton ran for a glass of water, and dashed some of it in his face. He opened his eyes, and asked who had won the race.

Aunt Bess tried to lift him from the ground, then she saw there was something wrong with his arm. Billy had fallen so hard that he had broken it. As he tried to walk to the schoolhouse he fainted, and fell into Aunt Bess's arms.

Poor Aunt Bess! The tears were running down her cheeks. There was hardly anybody in the world that she loved as much as Billy. As she looked on his pale and bleeding face, and at his broken arm, it seemed as though her heart would break.

Miss Norton quickly bathed his face with cold water, and soon he opened his eyes again. Then she telephoned for a carriage, and Aunt Bess took him home.

All the children were justly angry over Sam Turner's mean trick. Jack Logan said it was the meanest thing he had ever seen. Tom Wallace said that such a cheat ought not to be allowed in school. Davy Green said that they ought to put him off the school grounds. The girls felt just as the boys did. Lucy Camp said he didn't belong with decent people, and her eyes showed that she meant what she said. perhaps it is just as well not to tell you how Betty and Ben felt.

And where was Sam Turner? He sneaked off like the coward he was. He was afraid to stay and see what he had done. Bad as he was, he was ashamed of himself. So he sneaked back to the schoolroom.

Ding! dong! went the bell. Soon all the children were in their seats. Poor Betty felt so sorry for Billy that she couldn't read through her tears. They came as fast as she wiped them away. Ben could hardly study. But there were no tears in his eyes. His jaw was firm, and he looked as though he would like to give Sam Turner what he justly deserved. Indeed, all the children felt that Sam Turner was a disgrace to the school.

When Betty and Ben went home at noon, they found Billy in bed. He had borne the pain bravely. and was now sleeping. When Betty peeped into the room, she saw a white bandage on his forehead, and his arm in a sling. Aunt Bess was sitting by his bed. She looked pale and sad. Her heart ached more than Billy's arm did when the doctor was setting it right again.

Billy was an honest lad! He ran a fair race! He was cheated and hurt through a foul trick. But I would a hundred times rather be Billy Bates than Sam Turner.


It was circus day. When Betty waked up, she listened a moment for Billy's drum. Then she remembered his broken arm. She and Ben were soon dressed. Affer going in to see Billy, they hurried down to breakfast.

Betty, Ben, and Aunt Bess offered to stay at home with Billy, but he was not a selfish boy. He didn't mean to make others stay at home simply because he couldn't go. He told them to go and have a good time and tell him all about the circus when they returned.

All the children were to meet promptly at nine o'clock at the village green. From there they were to march to the trolley-car station two blocks away. Miss Norton was at the head of the line, Aunt Bess in the middle, and Miss Johnson at the end.

When they came to Billy's house, he was sitting in a big chair by the window. The whole line stopped and gave him a hearty cheer. Billy waved his hand. He wanted to wave both hands, but one of them was in a sling. Off they marched to the cars. Billy watched them as far as he could.

They reached Bridgeport in time to see the parade. Betty thought it was a wonderful procession. It was grander than the one she had seen in her dreams. After the parade, they went to the park to eat their luncheon. Then they marched to the big tents. While they were waiting for Miss Johnson to buy tickets, Mark Matthews, the last boy in the line, saw a silver dollar lying in the road. He picked it up quickly and put it into his pocket.

Mark was a poor boy. His mother could hardly afford to send him to the circus. As he thought of the dollar in his pocket he was very happy for a while. He was going to have toys now, just like other boys.

Soon he saw a girl and boy coming along. They seemed to be looking for something. The girl was crying. Her brother had lost the coin. Unless they found it, they could not go to the circus.

Mark felt almost sure that they were looking for the silver dollar. What should he do? Should he give it to them or say nothing about it?

A little voice seemed to whisper in his left ear: "Keep quiet, Mark. Don't say anything about it. Think of the toys you can buy with a big silver dollar. They will never know who found it."

So Mark made up his mind to keep the coin. Then another voice seemed to whisper in his right car: "That dollar isn't yours, Mark. It belongs to the boy up there near Aunt Bess. He and his sister were going to the circus and lost it. They can't go unless you give back their money. It isn't yours, Mark, just because you found it. Are you going to be a thief in order to have a few toys?"

Just then a big policeman came toward him. Mark felt like a thief. He thought the policeman was going to arrest him. He almost made up his mind to run. But the policeman passed by, and Mark still stood in line.

When he looked at the boy and girl again, he saw Aunt Bess talking to them. Then she came along the line asking the children whether they had found a silver dollar.

Mark tried to decide what he should say when she asked him. The little voice again whispered in his left ear: "Tell her you didn't find it. She will never know you did."

"All right," said Mark to himself. But soon the other little voice was whispering in his right ear: "Mark, are you going to lie, too? If you steal, you'll have to lie. Are you going to be a liar and a thief?"

Now Mark had always been a truth-telling and honest lad. He did not quite know what to think of himself. He wanted the toys, but he did not want to be a thief and a liar.

Aunt Bess was coming nearer and nearer. Mark saw the small girl still crying, and the boy looked very unhappy. He didn't know what to do.

Just then the little voice whispered in his right ear: "Tell the truth, Mark!"

Before Aunt Bess took another step, he reached into his pocket and drew out the silver coin. He was just about to run forward and thrust it into the boy's hand, when the little voice in his left ear said: "Wait, wouldn't you rather have the toys?"

So Mark put the dollar in his pocket again. But he was very uneasy, and unhappy too. In his right ear the other little voice was again speaking to him: "When your mother asks: 'Where did you get the toys, Mark?' what are you going to say?" Mark saw that he would have to tell another lie if he kept the dollar, and bought toys.

He was very nervous. He began to wish that he had never found the silver coin. "Give it up," said the little voice in his right ear.

Mark thought a moment, and then he thrust his hand down into his pocket. He held the bright dollar as high as he could, and shouted to Aunt Bess: "Here it is! I found it lying in the sand."


Aunt Bess gave it to the little boy, who thanked Mark very much. His sister stopped crying and smiled a smile as big as the moon's, and Mark was happy again.


Through the door of the tent they marched. They almost collided with a big elephant that was eating hay. A baby elephant was by her side. The big elephant reached her trunk out to Betty, who was half afraid. Then Miss Norton gave Betty a few peanuts with which to feed the elephant.


Next to the elephants were the camels. The keeper lifted little Laura Willard on to the back of a very meek-looking one with two big humps.

Next to the camels stood a long line of animal wagons. The bears were in the first one. Ben looked for that fierce grizzly who was chasing the man in the circus pictures. Then came the lions and tigers, and a cage full of wolves and hyenas.

Nearly all the girls hurried past the next cage. It was full of big snakes. Betty looked at them out of the corner of her eye. She saw a beautiful white dove in the cage. she said to herself, "If Billy were here, he wouldn't let those horrid snakes eat that poor little dove."

They all laughed at the monkeys, for they were performing all sorts of pranks.

Then they heard something blowing and snorting, and hurried forward. It was in a large water tank. What do you suppose it was? It seemed like a great pig multiplied by six. It was a hippopotamus. Betty thought its mouth was bigger than its name.

Next they marched into the circles tent. At the door stood a big policeman, but Mark was not afraid of him now. He had given back the silver dollar, and he knew that policemen didn't arrest honest people. The band was playing. All the children were feeling happy. They were ready for the fun.

First came the clowns dressed in striped suits and cocked hats. They turned somersaults and played leapfrog.

Then came a woman driving two black horses. She was standing with a foot on each horse, and a girl was standing on her shoulders. They rode twice around the circus ring. Kitty Howard held her breath for a moment. She was afraid the girl would fall.

Next came the trained elephants. Two of them carried a man across the ring with their trtutks. Miss Norton was very nervous. she was afraid they might let him fall and trample on him. Then one of them stood on a stand with his fore feet, and raised his hind legs in the air.

After the eleplinuts came the acrobats. They were men who turned handsprings and rolled around the ring like a hoop. Some of them jumped from one trapeze to another. Raplh Crawford thought that he could learn to do that himself. A clown was running all about the ring making fun, and getting in everybody's way.

After the acrobats came ten little men and women. Betty thought that two of them were not much larger than her father's silk hat. Miss Johnson called them "Lilliputians." That means little people. Davy Green wondered why such little folks had such a big name.

These little people danced all sorts of dances on the stage. One of them did a great many funny tricks. And a very little man showed how his trained seals could sing. Ben was glad that they didn't sing in the third grade room. He thought there wasn't much music in that kind of singing.

When the circus was over, the children formed a line and marched to the trolley-cars. On their way home they talked about the wonderful animals they lead seen, and laughed at the funny things the clowns had said and done.

Just before they reached Stamford they began to sing:—

"Tramp, tramp, tramp we come,

Brother after brother,

Jack and Joe and Tim and Ted,

one behind the other."

It was a long day for Billy. He read a story book in the morning. in the afternoon he went out for a drive with his mother. They passed Sam Turner, but he sneaked around the corner. He hadn't the courage to look Billy in the face.

The trolley-cars rolled into Stamford just as the clock struck six. Before going home Jimmy James, walked up to Aunt Bess and thanked her for taking him to the circus. He said that he had had a splendid time. Mark Matthews' face was beaming with joy. He was happy because he had told the truth and had given the silver dollar to the boy and girl to whom it belonged. He told Aunt Bess that he would like to go to a circus every day.

At the supper table Betty and Ben were so busy telling Billy about the animals that they could hardly eat. And after supper they told him so many things that Billy almost thought he had been to the circus himself.

After the children had gone to bed, Aunt Bess went to her room. She stood at the window for a moment, and looked up into the starry sky. All the twinkling stars seemed to be smiling down upon her. Soon afterward she was asleep, and the Dream Fairy told me that she rested all night on a mossy bed under a beautiful tree, and watched Billy, Betty, and Ben gathering flowers in the gardens, and playing along the banks of the silver streams of fairyland.

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