Toby Chapter Seven

Previously in the book:West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler decided he’d rather make people laugh than grow corn. He toured with a melodrama traveling tent show, met and married the beautiful Billie Massengale. Ten years later he owned his own show, and everything was going fine; well, almost everything.

When the curtain went down on Act One, Billie went back to her dressing room to rest her head on the makeup table. Harley, on the other hand, returned to the stage and ordered the curtain to rise on tables of fabulous gifts from local merchants. Each was marked with a number.
“In a moment our staff will roam the audience with trays of Cracker Jack,” he projected in his best barker voice. “Inside some boxes are slips of paper with a number on them that correspond to numbers on each of the prizes on the stage. So buy yourself a box of Cracker Jack and you could be a winner!”
While cast and crew fanned through the crowd with trays of Cracker Jack, the band played a happy tune with an urgent tempo, encouraging the farmers to spend the last few coins in their pockets on a momentary thrill of the possibility of winning a new appliance or even a diamond ring. Harley split the proceeds with the merchants who donated the prizes. Everyone was happy: Harley increased his profit margin, and the merchants made money on a slow-moving item.
After the excitement of the sale and the disbursement of prizes, the lights went down and the curtain rose. The villain was up to his old shenanigans. The family was about to lose its farm. Toby and Susie were alone on the stage wondering if they had the courage to save the day.
“Gosh, Susie Belle, I know we should try to help the Goodheart family but I’m afeared that Mr. Hurtmore’s gonna do something bad to you.”
“Oh poo,” Billie said. “I’m not afraid of him.” She looked over Harley’s shoulder. “Here comes the Goodheart’s little girl Mollie.”
Gloria came on stage to oohs and ahs. A little trouper she didn’t pay attention to it. She went to her parents and clasped her hands together as though in prayer. “Please, Toby and Susie!” she begged. “You’ve got to help my Mama and Papa!”
“Aww, Mollie, what can we do?” Harley asked, shrugging. “We’re just ol’ country folk.”
Gloria fell to her knees. Her eyes were pleading, and her prayerful hands were up to her chin. “Oh please, Toby and Susie! You’ve just got to help my Mama and Papa!”
“Don’t worry, Mollie,” Billie reassured her. “We’re going to help you, no matter what Mr. Hurtmore does to us!”
The audience applauded. The young farmer on his first date turned his head away from the girl to wipe tears from his eyes. After the curtain closed on Act Two, Harley reappeared.
“As we wait for the actors to prepare for Act Three, we want to present some singing and dancing to entertain you. Our first act tonight is Louise Bright, daughter of Faye and Sam Bright, our heroine and villain, and—“he paused to beam with pride—“Gloria Sadler, the light of my life—oh, and the light of Billie’s life too.”
Everyone laughed as the two girls ran onto the stage. They sang and danced to an old song everyone recognized. Louise did a capable performance but she had to give way to Gloria who danced up a storm. Most of the cast came out to perform a vaudeville act of one kind or another, but no one’s applause ever matched the accolades heaped upon Gloria.
Eventually the last novelty act performed, and Act Three began. No one really feared the Goodheart family would lose its farm, but they wanted to pretend the worst was about to happen.
Billie and Sam waited in the wings for their entrances.
“Your timing’s off a little bit tonight, isn’t it, Billie?”
“What do you mean?” She was stricken by dread that her secret drinking was beginning to show.
Harley and Faye walked up.
“Harley,” Sam said, “I was just mentioning to Billie that her timing was off tonight. What do you think?”
Harley and Billie exchanged nervous glances.
“There’s your cue, Sam. You and Faye better get on. Come on let’s troupe.”
After they went on stage, Billie fumed, “I don’t know why Sam would want to attack me like that.”
“He wasn’t attacking you. Don’t worry about it, Billie.”
“I know what he was hinting at,” she continued in a huff. “And I wasn’t—“
“Of course you weren’t,” he cut her off. “There’s my cue.”
Harley went on stage, leaving Billie to deal with her feelings alone.
Faye acted dumbfounded. “Is it true, Mr. Hurtmore, what Toby told me? That there’s oil under the south ridge?”
“Would you believe that bumpkin instead of me?” Sam asked with a sneer on his lips.
“Now that’s enough of that!” a voice boomed from the back of the tent.
Harley and the other two actors jumped, startled. They peered beyond the footlights into the house.
“I’m gonna beat the tar out of you!” A cowboy, a young wrangler, charged down the aisle with Burnie coming up behind.
“I think it’d be good if you went back to your seat,” Burnie whispered as he gently pulled the cowboy away.
“Did you hear what that fella said?” He turned to look at Burnie with disbelief. Then he focused his attention again to the stage and Sam, waving a fist at him. “That so-in-so called Toby a liar!”
“Well, I don’t think he really meant it.” Burnie continued to guide him away.
“He better not have meant it, or I’ll beat the tar out of ‘im!”
Burnie at last lugged him through the entrance flap into the cool, prairie night air. After a brief moment, Harley picked up on the dialogue and the drama continued. The audience followed his example and calmly returned their attention to the action on the stage. Gloria and Louise remained unruffled during the hullabaloo because they intently studied their fathers.
“My father’s better looking than your father.” Louise raised her eyebrows as though her observation gave her some innate superiority over her little blonde friend.
Gloria, with a fixed smile upon her lips, continued to watch her father who had just said something on stage which made the crowd laugh.
“Yes. Your daddy is very handsome.” She paused for dramatic effect. “But my daddy is the boss.”

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