Toby Chapter Twenty-One

West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler had a great career in a traveling tent show, playing the comic sidekick Toby. Even though his lost his money during the Great Depression and suffered the loss of his daughter Gloria, Harley and his wife Billie decided to give going on the road with a show one last try.
Billie relented, and in a few weeks they were back on the road with a show. It was that not bad, actually. They did not have to be responsible for the bookings, billings and paychecks. All they had to do was show up for promotional appearances and the plays. Billie handled the books for the nightly ticket sales. Harley had time to try wildcatting again. He just couldn’t stay away from the gambling.
Not surprisingly, crowds gathered to see Harley Sadler as Toby again. It was the only happy memory from those difficult times. Even if Toby were years older than the villain. Some audience members were too young to appreciate what Harley represented. They found the situation on stage funny, but for the wrong reasons.
“Gosh, he sure is gettin’ old,” a young man whispered to his date.
“Yeah, he looks kinda silly dressed up like that and tryin’ to act young,” she agreed derisively.
The loyal farmer, who first came to Harley’s show when he was courting his wife, turned to glare at the young couple. Yes, Harley was old. The farmer was old. And one day that young couple would be old too. It was what happened if you did not die young.
Harley amazed at least most of the audience with his agility and exuberance on stage, but as soon as he cleared the curtain line he collapsed in a chair placed there for him. He gasped for air. Sam Bright walked up in work clothes with a clipboard under his arm. He was the director now. A little thick around the middle, he no longer played heroes or villains. He handed Harley a glass of water.
“Are you all right?” he whispered.
Harley drank the water and panted. “Fine.” He peered through the curtain at the actor playing the hero, David Bodie. “He’s not trouping.” Harley shook his head. “Let’s troupe! Let’s troupe!”
By the time Toby and Susie Belle were due on stage, Harley had sufficiently recovered to pretend to be an energetic young man courting his young lady. Billie looked over his shoulder.
“Here comes the Goodhearts’ little girl Mollie.”
A child with blonde curls ran up to them, fell to her knees and clasped her hands, pleading, “Please, Toby and Susie! You’ve to help my mama and papa!”
Billie froze, as though she had seen a ghost. Harley frowned at her before looking down at the little actress.
“Aww, Mollie, what can I do?”
The child started her line, “Oh Please, Toby and Susie…”
Harley realized what Billie saw. She did not see the child in front of them. She saw Gloria when she played that role many years ago. This girl had brown eyes, but Billie saw Gloria’s sky blue eyes. This girl wore an ill-fitting wig, but Gloria had her own, naturally curly flaxen-golden strands of hair. Soon Billie saw nothing at all. Her eyes filled with tears. She heard her own daughter say, “You’ve got to help my mama and papa.”
The little actress began to panic. “Um, please, Toby and Susie.”
His years of experience kicked in, and Harley knew he had to save the scene. He picked up Susie Belle’s line. “Don’t worry, Mollie. We’re going to help you.”
He put one arm firmly around Billie’s shoulders and with the other lifted the girl to her feet and guided them off stage. He hugged his wife, giving little baby kisses over her face to comfort her. Eventually she wiped away her tears and managed a smile.
Harley whispered sweetly into her ear, “Let’s troupe.”
With her husband close by her side, Billie made it through the rest of the play. She put on a brave smile for the curtain call and bowed in appreciation of solid applause. When the curtain dropped Billie lowered her head into Harley’s shoulder and bawled. They tried to move to the dressing room, but Joe McKinnon strode up, his had extended.
“Great opening night, Harley!” He shook the showman’s hand vigorously. “Sold out house and reservations are coming in like crazy!”
Harley dropped Joe’s hand and guided Billie away. “We’re not doing that play again.”
“Why not?” Joe tried to keep up with him. “The audience loved it.”
“I said we’re not doing that play again.” His voice had a bitter edge to it. “Tomorrow night we’ll open ‘Spit It Out, Sputters’.”
Before Joe could object, Harley huffed off holding his wife close to him. Joe grimaced as Sam walked up.”
“I hope I can make it through the tour with those two.”
“Gloria used to play Mollie,” Sam informed him.
“Oh.” Reality dawned on Joe. “So. Sputters it is.”

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