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Score Another for Barnum

By Thomas Thursday

PERHAPS you've heard of Mr. Barnum, the bird who slanted the clock, then figured out the sucker census by the minute-hand. Maybe you wasn't born on time. I'll say I was. Anyway, there's just as many suckers trouping under canvas as there are guys buying stock in African radiator companies. And the biggest boobist of all is the gent who says he ain't, never was, and never will be, whirled without end— Amen! You know it.

Maybe you've heard of nerve. Sir Dante Grimm and the same are twins. If that beezark didn't have more nerve than a mouthful of toothaches, then you can peddle me the North Pole for firewood. And if I ever rest my paw on that flipper's knob, or head, it ain't gonna stop till it hits the basement. Maybe you think I'm sore. If you don't, you can't think at all. Ever feel like you've been bareback riding on a porcupine and flopped off into a tack-factory? That's me clean through.

Managing the sideshow with the World of Joy Carnival was just as easy as dressing an eel in a soap-lined overcoat. If we didn't crash into a cyclone of assorted wind we made arrangements to ram a blizzard of beevo luck.

We were showing Tapps, Wisconsin, when Major Flooker, the Smileless Man, slanted his stocks and bonds, then quit as flat as a mile of pancakes. His chief duty was to sit on the platform, listen to the lecturer offer five hundred silent- talkers for any yokelist who could make 'im laugh, then look natural, or stupid, while the rubes tried to collect with whisker-comedy. And I'll buzz now that we never had to pay the forfeit during the ten weeks that the major was with us. The reason being that the beezark was as deaf as a regiment of janitors when you slam the pipes for heat. Give 'im credit—he invented the cotton-in-the ears system.

Saturday morning, which is slough day in the carnival world, the major ambled up to me with a grade-A surprise.

"Mornin', doc," he cheeped. "I just gotta letter from a friend back home in Twig Corners, saying as how he's getting rich."

"How nice," I says. "Is there room for any more plumbers out there?"

"He ain't a plumber—he's gotta shoe store. Anyways, that ain't the point. I herewith give notice that I'm through trouping this approaching night. I'm getting tired of working hard for only a weekly salary. See?"

"What do you want—a weekly bank or just the gold supply?" I says, with a brick in every word.

"Well, I'm gonna quit, anyways."

"You don't mean to tell me that you're gonna lay off a job that's as soothing as eating ice- frappers in Africa, do you?"

"Yep; I'm going back home and get rich."

"Thanks for the long notice," I says. "Take it from me, you got all the makings of a landlord. Why didn't you wait till you get home, then wire me that you're through, hey?"

"Didn't think about it," he says. "Well, so long, Mr. Twizzle. Hope you get a good man in my place." After which he flat-footed it down the lot.

I rolled over on the bally-stand and thought it over, under and in the middle. A moment later, Tennyson Bullam, our hundred-and-two-percent press agent, sidled up with his hat over his left ear and a suit that was loud enough to make an echo.

"'Lo, doc!" he cheeped. "S'matter? You look as happy as a hooked pickerel."

"I'll swap with the fish," I says. "I got a double- barreled beanache, I have."

"Ha! You've been trying to think," he grinned.

"Scissor the kidding," I growled. "I needa Smileless Man so quick that he's gotta come via wireless, or something."

"What happened to the major?"

"He's through tonight—that's all I know."

"Then it's up to lil Tennyson to get busy!" he says, taking out a notebook and scribbling something. "I'll just wire an ad into the Showmen's Gazette, and we'll have one within a week."

"I guess that's the best we can do. Be sure to say we don't want any false alarms."

"Leave it to me, doc!" he cheeped, and breezed away.

The next stop was Switch Falls, State of coma and Wisconsin; a nice little townlet with a population that musta stopped popping when Washington crossed the street. It had a circulation of about twenty-three whiskers to the squarehead, or mile, and boasted of a firehouse, jail, cop station, and notion-counter on the same floor. The mayor was the sheriff, the board of aldermen, health, wealth, and commissioner of everything else. I saw right away that our general agent, Gus Flipp, musta booked the burg over the ouija-board or blindfolded.

Friday morn, Tennyson and me ambled up to the pust-office—between the tinware department and fresh, canned beans—to see if we got any replies for a Smileless Man. We gotta carload.

"Any mail for Doc Twizzle?" asked Tennyson.

"Yes, yes!" cheeped a close relation to Smith Brothers. "I think there be." After which he tossed a sack over the counter.

"That's all—now," he says. "But there be another mail hereabouts at five o'clock."

"This'll be plenty, I guess," says Tennyson, wrestling with the works. He unhooked the cord and emptied out enough letters to make a mail order house call it a sunset.

"What did you advertise for—dollars for dimes?" I demanded.

"Looks like it, doc. Let's give 'em a slant."

We did. And I'll mumble now that we got answers from every squirrel-dodger in the world, including Greenwich Village, where they tell you that a pretzel is human. The first one we sliced was from a guy who says he could handle the job because he didn't know how to smile, and hated anyone who did. He passed. The next flipper said he had a slight touch of lockjaw from eating the wife's homemade taffy. And as he had just celebrated his silver wedding anniversary, we ought to know that he could make good. He passed. The third gem was from a young lady who demanded to know why we couldn't use a Smileless Woman, and cheeped that she was an ex- chorus girl. She didn't get any answer, but, take it from me, we coulda slipped her a flotilla of reasons why we couldn't. Next, Tennyson ripped open a gem from some bird out in Elbow Ridge, Nebraska, stating that he would like to cop the job, seeing as how he had been married four times. Not being a trouper, we let him slide. But I'll say his case looked good. You know it.

The next was a lalaplunko. A scrappily married lady asked us to shoot a ticket to her husband with much speed. Claimed that the gent was as sour as a vinegar-lemon frappe, and howled each time she squandered two-bits for a pair of shoes.

"We oughta send that beezark some hemlock coated with carbolic," suggested Tennyson, tossing the gem onto the feed counter.

"Try that one, Tenny," I says, pointing to a special delivery. "And, say! Remember the time some bean tried to sell you Broadway for next to nothing; hey? Well, that's the way that gem hit us!"

"Whew!" cheeped Tenny, his eyes as wide-open as March. "This beezark's gotta option on the nerve-supply!"

"Let's see, Tenny, let's see," I says, grabbing the linen stationery. Have a slant at it:

Hon. Doc Twizzle,
Care World of Joy Carnival,
Switch Falls, Wisconsin.

My dear Doc:

Your advertisement in Gazette has my attention. I accept. Much obliged. Don't bother looking further. I'm the man. Am writing this with one hand and packing suitcase with the other. Why ask for experienced man? Quite foolish. Wait till you see me. I'm a student of physionomical, or facial control. You couldn't tickle me with the complete works of Mark Twain bound in chicken feathers. Sober as the eighteenth amendment. That's me clean through.

Appearance? Perhaps you've observed the gentleman on the collar ads. That wasn't me. I looked like that when I was homely.

Will now close in order to catch the train.

Yours soberly,
Dante Grimm.
Shingle City, Idaho.

"This flipper's as modest as a squadron of peacocks," I remarked, soon as I regained consciousness.

"Yeah," admitted Tennyson. "But I think it would be a good idea to have 'im call for a tryout. Maybe he's the goods, at that."

"Have 'im call?" I echoed. "You musta read that gem backwards, seeing as I failed to notice wherein the gent asked whether we wanted him or not."

"Then let 'im come!" snapped Tenny.

He come.


The show-train pulled into the yards at Mount Hickory at 3 p.m. Sunday. Dante pulled in at 3.10. I was watching the razorbacks slide down the runways for the wagons, when I noted Tennyson ambling up with a bird that looked like nothing less than Bo Brummel the Twice. He's wearing a suit that outshouted Tenny's by at least two screams, or yelps, and twirled a cane like a new movie- magnate. He's got his arm around Tenny's shoulder like they were old jail-mates, or something, and owned a face that would have knocked a movie leading man for a two-bagger or a triple to center. I didn't need a' adding machine to figure out that Dante Grimm had arrived.

"This is Doc Twizzle," says Tenny, "the manager of the sideshow."

"Ha! My future employer," cheeped Dante, hitting me a swat on the back. "So glad to see you, doc, I assure you. I trust that our relations will be mutually congenial."

"Sure," I says, "but let's get 'way down to business. You come on us sorta sudden-like. In fact, I don't happen to have a carbon copy of the letter I sent asking to have you call. Make me?"

"Oh, that's all right. It didn't offend me in the least, rest assured. Although I was somewhat piqued to read that you desired an experienced man. Somehow, that word experience always did irritate me."

"Too bad," I says. "I'll be kinda careful next time. But it might interest you to know that we stand to lose five hundred cherries on this lil deal. And all you stand to lose is your job."

"Your imagination is marvelous, my dear doc. Believe me, you could raise that forfeit to five million and wouldn't lose a cent. As I informed you in the letter, I'm a student of facial control. And I might state that my sole object in accepting a position of this lowly character is to test my ability. I am a firm believer that willpower is the basis of true success in any line of endeavor."

"Well," I says, "I ain't so sure about you on the willpower stuff, but if you're half as good on that as you're on the nerve-power, I think you might worry along."

"What's the stipend, or weekly salary?" he wanted to know.

"Well, the salary to start is forty a week and about the same to finish. How's that strike you, hey?"

"I think that such a sum will permit me to partake of the proper food, at least."

After that I hauled Dante up to see the old man, Micarah G. Woofgus—the same being his name, not a trick soft drink—to get the official O.K. "So you're sure you don't know how to laugh, huh?" demanded Woofgus.

"My dear Mr. Woofgus, my idea of sadness is to watch a high-hatted gentleman slip on a banana peel into a snow bank."

"You'll do, I guess," admitted the old man. "But, take it from me, if you crack a grin when the rubes begin firing smalltime comedy at you—well, ask some of the roughnecks how hard I can hit!"

Just before we pulled the first ballyhoo at the sideshow, I introduced Dante to the other attractions. And I'll say now that he got along rather well with the ladies. Smiling Bess, the fat girl—known to her parents as Gloria Marie Triplechinn—nearly lost ten pounds staring at 'im. Queen Mahaha, the Albino Beauty, and known to her first husband as Kate Hackenwaddle, tossed a gold-plated smile at Dante that would have made Mark Tony think Cleopatra was Topsey.

When I introduced him to Ted Kiddle, the lecturer, he examined Ted with a lotta jaw- disarranging words that poor Ted thought was horrible English.

"I'm not interested in the Smileless Man lecture that you have been delivering hitherto," he says to Ted. "I have herewith a nice, decorous, pedantic, cultural lecture that is in exact juxtaposition to my ability. Here—read it over, if you please."

Ted tried to—give 'im credit for that. He sputtered over the first page, got kinda dizzy on the second, and seasick or something on the third.

"Where do you get this trick lingo, hey?" Ted demanded, soon as he got his tongue back in its favorite place. "Who's those guys—Willie James, Doorwin, Huxley, and the rest of those beezarks? They ain't got nothing to do with this show, that I can see. Anyway, what the hell is the use telling people the truth, hey? I'll admit that this stuff might be on the level, because I don't understand it."

"My dear Mr. Kiddle, it is apparent to my mind that your eduction has been somewhat neglected, especially the psychological branch. Too bad; in fact, it's a pity. You look so intelligent."

"Yeah—it's rotten, mister," admitted Ted. "So I guess I'll have to spill the old spiel like I used on the major."

"Very well," consented Dante. "However, I wish you would mention me as Sir Dante Grimm, explaining that I'm the last of an old, noble family. And state, of course, that I'm not doing this to earn a living—which is the truth—but merely to pursue my psychological studies practically."

"Sure, kid, I gotcher. I ain't doing this for a living m'self. Croesus and me control all the dough in the world. I got two-bits and Croesus got the rest—but when you add 'em together, it makes some wad. See?"

Sir Dante didn't answer, but breezed away. Soon as he got out of hearing Ted hurled an armful of questions at me.

"Doc," he says, "I ain't much on this psycho— well, what he said—stuff, but you can rely on my sense of sniffing the limburger brand of humans." "You talk like a six-day bike race," I told 'im.

"Come straight."

"Well, this flipper don't attract my kind heart any more 'n a scenic railway attracts a guy what's bilious. You shouldn't have sent for 'im, I say."

"I didn't have to," I fired back. "He ain't that kind of a beezark. He musta sent for 'imself. Forget it, anyway. Let's give 'im a tryout."

We did that lil thing. When the show opened, Sir Dante Grimm, Student of Facial Control and Will-Power—that's his stuff—was sitting on the platform like he had been there for no less than two years. He was encased in a white tuxedo suit, a Panama hat, or lid, and sat there like he was waiting for the King of Flookadoodle to come and shine his shoes. The edge of the platform was fenced with a lotta novels, or something, by such old hack writers as Cecil Roe, Periodicals, Pindoor, Exenophony, and a gang of other birds who are now writing for the movies. He's got a glass stuck in his right eye and was reading The Life of Jesse James; or, the Landlord's Inspiration, or some classic like that.

"Feel kinda nervous or anything?" I asked, feeling a little ditto myself.

"Do you note any vibratory sensations on the ground?" he says, hoisting his eyebrows a yard or so. "Nervousness, Mr. Twizzle, is but another name for stupidity. I possess nerve, but not nervousness."

I'll say he did. I began to wonder why he didn't get a job peddling The Life of Foch to the Kaiser.

Well, the first ballyhoo brought a coupla hundred Mount Hickoryites into the tent, and Ted started his lecture with Jobumpus, the Dog-Face Boy. Right away I noticed that the crowd stuck around Sir Dante's platform, paying less attention to the other attractions than if they had been absent. The thing that held 'em spellbound was that lil matter of five hundred cherries—five hundred for just making a guy grin an inch. Tennyson had put over a great write-up about Dante in the Morning Gong—the same being a newspaper, not an alarm clock—and if he missed anything about Dante's fine points, the Gong's idiotor, or editor, tossed 'em in.

Soon as Ted arrived at Dante's platform, I noted that he looked kinda worried. He's gotta slip of paper in his hand with some dope that Dante told him to spring and took a slant at it every second.

"On this platform," began Ted, "we present, lay-dees and gentlemun, Sir Dante Grimm—er—of noble family and—er—everything. We—that is (Ted slanted at the paper) we offer five hundred dollars, to be paid in new ten dollars, to any, now, one who kin make this mar-rr-velous controller of brains—I mean faces—er—I shoulda said power (another slant at the paper) of expresshun—smile when be don't feel like it: He has fuzzled—er— puzzled the scientists of each and every city and State in the country—er—country in this world by his mar-rr-velous exhibishun of sterling strength— er—mind (once more the paper). And now, lay- dees and gentlemun, each and every citizen of the wealthy common—I mean commonwealth—of Mount Hick—er—Hickoree—has a, now, opportunitee—and everything—to win this large— er—gigantic sum of real United States of American—er—America (much twisting of Ted's neck about this point) money. Ask 'im foolish questions and everything else. Try to make 'im grin, folks! Try to make 'im smile! Try to make 'im giggle! No touching with the hands. No feathers or anything, remember. Al-l-l ready-y-y! Sir Dante Grimm for your approval!"

Down from the platform hopped Ted, beads of ginspiration, as they say in Jersey, trickling down his brow. And then the shooters of whisker-comedy began aiming at Sir Dante. I admit that Tennyson and me stood there as quivery as a quart of gelatine riding on a three-legged mule. If he smiled, goodbye, good luck, Lord bless you—five hundred dollars' worth of money!

The first guy to try his luck woulda done better by just asking Dante to look 'im over. He had a triple goatee—with tobacco-stain effect—and wore a suit that the ol' clothes guys wouldn't swap a tin spoon for.

"Hey, lookit!" he starts. "I gotta question I wanna ask yer. What effectshun will this here League o' Nations have on the crops of 1922, huh?"

You'll have to admit that was funny—like an eyeful of cinders. Sir Dante yawned and removed his trick-glass from his eye.

"My friend," he says, "I think that the League of Nations will effect more than crops. But I doubt if you'll live to see it—especially if you insist upon employing such artificial humor."

Next, the town cutup—genus lady—tried her luck.

"Sir Dante," she swizzled, "how many times have you been married?" Poor stuff. You know it.

"Ever hear of the late Mr. Solomon?" replied Dante. "Well, count the number of his wives. When you get the total, subtract the same from the same. What's left is the answer."

I saw right away that there wasn't enough humor in that burg to make a movie comedy. After listening to a coupla reams of that one-half-of-one- percent stuff, Tennyson decided to put in a hand, as the guys says, picking your pocket.

"Sir Dante," he shouted, "how are you at arithmetic, hey?"

"Well, I invented geometry, algebra, trigonometry, psychicmultiplication, hieroglyphical subtraction, and liacritical division. And I never lived in Greenwich Village, either."

"I'm satisfied," conceded Tennyson, with his mouth as wide-open as winter. "I'm convinced that you graduated from the kindergarten, anyway. Now I wanna slip you a little example. Grab a pencil and paper. Ready?"

"That's me clean through," says Dante. "Please submit your problem."

"First," began Tennyson, "subtract a pound of oilcloth from a yard of Swedish wallpaper. Add the balance of the oilcloth to a quart of astronomy. Got it? Now then, divide the answer by six inches of Weehawken. Subtract from that nine bushels of beevo. Then add two feet of ice cream to the total. From the total you will please subtract the Battle of Yorktown. When you solve that, kindly divide it by four reams of macaroni, and then multiply the sum total by twenty-three drams of assorted limburger. That's all, Sir Dante."

"Quite simple," cheeped Dante, putting his pencil in his pocket. "The answer to that primary example is—two gallons of foolishness!"

Not bad, hey? The joke was on Tenny, and then Sir Dante wound up the day with more victories than Napoleon.


AFTER we sloughed that night, I hauled Sir Dante up to the hotel where he got a stall, or room, next to mine. And I'll say now, although it ain't got anything to do with this hunk of illiterature, that the Hotel Sentinel was well-named. You know what I'm trying to mean, one of those lively sorta hostelries, and the likewise. Not much on the noise, understand, but the amount of animalmation—if you get it—in the boudoir barracks was enough to make a marine pine for the trenches. About 1 A.M. I hear Sir Dante rise in all his glory and deliver a lecture on "The Extermination of Pestiferous Annie McAlee," or something.

The following morn he allowed me to loan him twenty dollars. Not outa his salary, understand; just a lil lift which he'd foreclose soon as his remittance was remitted. He had a large—a very large—estate somewhere in Panama, which netted him considerable cash. But at the present time the mails were kinda rotten, or something, and the horrible stuff went astray in Africa, or the likewise. Maybe you think that sounds kinda phony. Not at all. It's just the way I tell it. Let him slip it to you, and he'd convince you that he's gotta castle on Mars.

Well, during the next three days he got along a shade better than great. He didn't smile on or off the platform. I also heard that he was getting along about one hundred percent with the lady attractions. Queen Mahaha was competing with Smiling Bess in buying the gent silk socks, shirts, and large gobs of fancy ties. For a unsophisticated young bird he wasn't scoring many blanks.

When the boss slipped him his salary Saturday night, he shot it into his pocket, and breezed by me like I was doing duty as a slice of scenery. However, as they say in the complete novels, Sir Dante was one of those flippers that you couldn't ask for money. Nope, you just couldn't do it.

And then the works blew up, as they say in Moscow.

The next stand was Rest Center, just west of Mount Hickory, and southeast of life. Musta been founded by Rip Van Winkle and O.K.'d by Sleepy Hollow. The main drag, or mud-lane, was called Civil War Avenue, which same was still raging around the post-office.

On the first ballyhoo, we jammed the entire population into the works and had room for the army and navy in the rear. Ted was used to Sir Dante by now, and reeled off a spiel like a college professor when he thinks of a bricklayer's income.

When he finished the spiel on this glorious occasion, the customary package of comedy assassinators raved at Dante without scorning. And then it happened, occurred, and otherwise took place!

Some flipper with an old brown fedora, and a suit to scratch, or match, hurled the world's most whiskered joke at our prize Smileless Man. And I'll leave it to you, if your best friend pulled it on you without notice, you'd knock 'im for a high-fly to center.

"Sir Dante," says this pretzel-beaned dilbo, "why does a chicken cross the road, hey?"

And I'll be a son-of-a-cross-eyed flounder if Sir Dante didn't laugh! Yes, sir—or lady—that big swizzler flopped back in his chair and roared!

"Gimme the money!" howled the little guy. "Gimme—gimme—gimme the money! I want the five hundred—I made 'im laugh—I made 'im smile! Gimme—gimme—gimme the money!"

And then the crowd chimed in with the little tramp, which meant a riot unless the five hundred was forthcoming quite rapidly.

I dashed up to the treasury-wagon, with the mob a close second, and slipped Micarah G. Woofgus the glad tidings of great anguish.

"Have we gotta pay—have we gotta really pay?" he croaked, his eyes dreamy like he'd just been reading Sir Oliver Lodge.

"Yep," I says; "and the sooner we pay the less danger we got of being slaughtered wholesale."

The mob jammed the wagon, inside, outside, and in the middle. Woofgus, in a double-jointed trance, slipped the bird his five hundred in nice, clean tens, and then flopped into the chair.

I rushed back to the tent to see what happened to Sir Dante, and met Tennyson walking around with a stake in his hand.

"Where's the big false alarm?" I asked.

"He oughta be traveling pretty fast by now, doc," he says; "I gave 'im a pretty good start with the end of this stake. Believe me, Columbus, I did!" Five hours have passed, as they say in the movies, and Woofgus and me are up in my hotel room playing a nice, quiet game of pinochle. It was 1 a.m. Suddenly we hear somebody sneak into Sir Dante's room.

"Listen, doc," says the old man, "do you think that guy's got nerve enough to come back?"

"Yep," I says, "his bean is just that shape."

Then we heard a interesting lil song through the partition—words and music by Sir Dante Grimm! Listen in:

"There's ten for you—and here's ten for me— there's ten for you—and here's ten for me—there's ten for you—and here's ten for me—there's ten—" The old man turned purple and a somersault at one and the same time, and wagged his head like someone had tapped 'im for a single.

"Doc," he buzzed hoarsely, "excuse me a minute, will yer? I gotta see about somethin' that ain't so far away. I'll be back in less 'n a minute." After which he tiptoed out the door. And the next second I hear a different melody—words and music by Micarah G. Woofgus. Listen in:

"There's one for you—bam!—and here's one for thee—wham!—there's one for you—zam!— and a couple for thee—crash!—there's three for—"

What? I'll say he got it back—plus a lil exercise!