BETSY AT THE CIRCUS

Do you remember the time when Betsy went to the County Show?

Well, here's another story about Betsy. This time it's a rather sad story but, like all the best stories, it has a happy ending.

A year or two after Betsy won the First Prize at the County Show, she was passing the window of Mr and Mrs Hebblethwaite's cottage when she heard someone crying. No, not just crying. Sobbing.

So Betsy moved a little nearer and looked in at the window. And there was Mrs Hebblethwaite sitting at the kitchen table, and crying as if her heart would break.

Betsy wondered what could have done this, but then she heard Mrs Hebblethwaite say to Mr Hebblethwaite,

'Oh, Albert, how did it happen? Where can we find the money? We shall have to sell the farm and all the animals! And all for a miserable two hundred pounds! Isn't there anything we can do?'

And then Betsy saw Mr Hebblethwaite going to his wife to comfort her, and she ran from the window before she could be seen.

Sell the farm? Sell all the animals? What was to be done? She just didn't know.

But straight away she knew what she was going to do. I'm not staying here to be sold, she said to herself. I'm off! She had no idea where she could go, but she knew that she couldn't stay there, to be sold to some stranger. But her mind was made up. She would go. She would leave Hill Top Farm where she'd been so happy, and try her luck in the world outside.

She got as far as the farm gate, and stopped. How was she to get out with the gate fastened? And then the good dog Rover, always on guard to keep the farm safe, came out and barked at her,

'Where do you think you're going, Betsy?'

So Betsy had to tell him the dreadful news, and Rover said, 'Quite right! I'm not staying here, either, or I might be sold, too!'

Then Rover, who was a very clever dog, stood on his hind legs against the gate and with his front paw unfastened the gate-catch.

'Just lean against the gate, Betsy,' he said. So Betsy leaned against the gate, and opened it so that they could both go through. And then Rover who, besides being clever, was a well-trained dog, said 'Now lean against it and close it, will you?'

Then they were both free to go without being seen, except by Rory the rooster on his usual perch on the farm wall. Rory stretched his neck to sound a warning because he knew that animals were not supposed to come through the gate on to the lane. But then he noticed that Rover was holding one paw to his lips, so he said, 'All right, I won't crow this time, but what are you two up to?'

So Betsy and Rover told Rory about the farm and all the animals being sold, and that was why they were leaving.

'Me, too! said Rory, and he fluttered down from his perch on the farm wall. 'I'm not staying here to be sold! Nobody knows what the next master would be like!' So the three friends set off down the lane, but they had no idea where they might be going.

Then, after a little while, Rory said, 'This is no use, you two! You'll have to go more slowly! I can't keep up with you!'

But Betsy said, 'We must hurry, or we might be missed, and then people would come looking for us. Tell you what, Rory, why don't you jump up on Rover's back? You're not very heavy, and he could easily carry you.' So Rory fluttered up on to Rover's back, and they set off again.

But they hadn't gone very far before Rover had an idea.

'Look. that was a good idea you had, Betsy. Why don't I jump up on your back, too, and then we shan't have to worry about keeping up with each other!'

'I don't mind,' said Betsy. 'I can easily carry the two of you. But Rory will have to get down first until you're up on my back, and then he can jump up again on yours.'

So that was what they did, and they went on until they came to the cross-roads where the lane left the main road and there they stopped, because they had to decide which way to go next.

And while they were standing there trying to make up their minds, they heard the sound of music. It sounded like a brass band. Now this was unusual because brass bands aren't often to be seen in the countryside where the farms and the animals are found. But the sound of music was coming nearer so they stood there and waited to see what it was.

And then round the corner not far off they saw a wonderful sight. It was a band, after all, with all the bandsmen in smart uniforms with a man walking in front whose uniform was even smarter. The three friends stood rooted to the spot as the band drew nearer. Then the gentleman in front turned and gave a signal to the bandsmen, and they stopped and lowered their instruments.

And then the three friends saw that at the back of the band there was a steam engine and a line of caravans. Whatever could it be?

They soon found out, for the gentleman in the splendid uniform came over and said,

'That's a splendid act you've got there. I've never seen that act before.'

Betsy said, 'Act? I'm sorry, I don't understand!'

The gentleman replied, 'I must introduce myself so that you'll see why I like your act. I'm the ringmaster in charge of this circus, and we're just on our way to our next engagement. But I'm always interested in new acts, and yours is a new one. Would you like to join our circus and show off your act?'

And now the three friends understood why there was a band and a traction engine and caravans. They'd often hear about circuses, but this was the first one they'd seen. So Betsy said, 'Do you mind if I talk about this to Rover and Rory?'

But Rover said at once, 'I don't need to talk about it! I'd love to be in a circus! What do you say, Rory?'

'Me, too!' said Rory.

And the ringmaster said, 'Good! You'll give one performance every night and the pay will be two hundred pounds a week! Come along, then! We haven't much time!' And the three friends took their places behind the band, and the band struck up the music again as they set off.

When they got to their destination the circus hands unpacked the wagons and started to put up the big top, the huge tent where all the acts were going to take place. And while they did so Betsy took his two friends aside and said,

'I expect you heard what the ringmaster said. Two hundred pounds a week. When we get it, we must get back to Hill Top Farm, and then the farm and the animals won't have to be sold after all!'

'I had exactly the same idea!' said Rover.

'Me too! Let's hope we're not too late!' said Rory.

'Good!' said Betsy. 'Now all we have to do is find out what the ringmaster wants us to do in our act.'

And what they had to do was very simple. First Betsy, had to march into the ring alone while the music played. Then she would go off and Rover would come on alone and then he would go off. Then Rory would come on and do the same. Then the next time Betsy would come back again with Rover on her back, and then they would go off and Rover would come on with Rory on his back. Then they would go off and then the last time they would come on again with Rover on Betsy's back and Rory on Rover's back.

'It doesn't sound much of an act to me,' said Rover.

'Well, that's what he said,' Betsy replied. 'We must just wait and see!'

So the first night came and the big top was packed with children and their parents, all excited to see what would happen.

And first the clowns and the tumblers came on to show them what to expect, and then the ringmaster appeared and said,

'Now, children. and parents! Tonight we are opening with an act that has never been seen in a circus before! So may I ask you to welcome The Three Faithful Farm Friends!'

And Betsy appeared and marched round the ring, and all the parents and children were surprised to see only one Faithful Farm Friend, and some of them began to laugh and to wonder what was going on. And then Rover appeared and marched round and they wondered still more. And then Rory appeared and marched round and they began to laugh aloud. Was that all?

But next Betsy appeared with Rover on her back, and the children clapped and cheered. But when they went off and The Three Farm Friends appeared again with Rover on Betsy's back and Rory on Rover's back they stood up and cheered and shouted 'More! More!' And The Three Farm Friends had to march round again and then again, and then the circus got under way.

So the ringmaster had been right. There never had been an act like that in a circus before and all that week, the big top was fuller than ever as the news spread about this new act.

But when the end of the week came, Betsy asked the ringmaster if they would have their money, and explained about Hill Top Farm being sold up and how they must get back as soon as possible to stop the sale.

The ringmaster was very sad to lose his new act, but he said,

'I do understand! And there's no time to be lost! So here's your money and an extra hundred pounds because your act filled the big top every night. And I'll get one of the hands to take you back home in his waggon!'

Betsy was delighted because she had been worrying about the long walk back to Hill Top Farm. So they thanked the ringmaster and said goodbye to all the friends they had made, and off they went.

But when they came to the lane leading to Hill Top Farm they saw vans lining the road, and wondered why. And the circus hand said, 'It looks as though the sale has started. We'd better hurry!'

He drove straight to the farmhouse and pulled up outside the cottage, and Betsy, Rover and Rory climbed out.

'Right then,' said the circus hand. 'I'll be off! Good luck! And here's the money!' And Betsy took it in her mouth and went straight to Farmer Hebblethwaite's window. And there was Mrs Hebblethwaite crying as if her heart would break, and the only comfort she and Mr Hebblethwaite had was that all their friends had come to the sale and promised to bid high for the farm and the animals so that the Hebblethwaites should not suffer too much.

But her tears ceased on the instant when Betsy stuck her head in at the window and dropped the money on the table.

'Oh, look!' she said to her husband. 'It's a miracle! It's a miracle!'

But Mr Hebblethwaite was busy counting the money. And when he had finished he said, 'You're right! It is a miracle!' We don't have to sell the farm and the animals after all!'

His friends were all delighted to hear the news, and they cheered him before they climbed into their vans and drove off.

And to this day Mr Hebblethwaite, who loves his small Betsy more than ever, has never known where Betsy got the money, because she told Rover and Rory that they mustn't to say a word about it.

And they never did . . .

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