"If your mother wears Army boots, of course she's going to develop a bunion."
The ringmaster glowered at me. I shrugged. I was too busy sorting through the muddle of my costume trunk to worry about Mamma's medical problems.
"Mamma doesn't mind suffering for her art", I said. "Have you seen my grey tutu? I'm going to do the Will of the Wisp dance tonight."
"When? After Bat Segundo's recitation of the Hunting of the Snark?" the ringmaster asked, smoothing more wax onto his moustache. He twirled the ends around his fingers. "We already have two extra items on the programme. Madame Arabella's come over from Paris with her promenading poodles - dyed pink this time, poor brutes - and there's some guest artiste from the New York sewers with a performing terrapin, or so he claims. I don't know when we can fit in your misty maunderings, I must say."
"Where do all these stale old acts come from?" I stared out through the flap of the tent. "I wouldn't be in the circus if I'd had any choice, I can tell you."
"Ah, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd ... Poor suckers, they think it's all glamour and glitter in the Big Top. They should see the state of your mother's foot - that would show them what it's really like here." He shoved one arm wearily into the sleeve of his tailcoat. "If only I could get a real novelty of an act, then we'd up the audience numbers without all this malarkey backstage. Your poor mother's not really big enough to be a giantess, not without those boots, anyway."
I flicked through an old copy of the Circusmaster's Directory and Equestrienne Almanac, which was lying on a bale of sawdust beside me.
"There are some unusual acts listed in the small ads here. What about Mr Deal's Amazing Goldfish? Or the Molluscamancer? He sounds fun, doesn't he? How about Pirate Jack the Buccaneer and his performing Galleycat? Or Bill the bookworm, who eats ten books before your very eyes?"
"That's it!" The ringmaster sprang forwards, his whole attitude transformed. "Drop everything and give me ten shillings! I'll need to buy a good stock of books, if I can persuade your mother to co-operate."
"Co-operate? What with?"
"To become Hilda the book-eating giantess, of course."
"But nothing. At least she can take the weight off her bunion and sit down, can't she? And you said she didn't mind suffering for her art."
I did say that, didn't I?
Molluscamancer? Miss Snark is afraid to even ask.
Scores to come