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The P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton

In Belgium


The day after the arrival of the party in Brussels they were summoned to the palace. The king and queen had seen the General in London, but they wished their children and the distinguished people of the court to have the same pleasure.

After a delightful visit they came away, the General, as usual, laden with gifts.

The following day the exhibition opened, and from the first was crowded by throngs of the best people in the city. One day, in the midst of the exhibition, it was discovered that the case containing all the valuable presents Tom Thumb had received from royalty' etc., was missing.

The alarm was instantly given, and the police notified. A reward was offered of 2,000 francs, and, after a day or two, the thief was captured and the jewels returned. After that the case of presents was more carefully guarded.

Everyone who goes to Brussels is supposed to visit the field of Waterloo; so, before they left, the entire party--Tom Thumb, Barnum, Prof. Pinte (tutor), and Mr. Stratton (father of the General), and Mr. H. G. Sherman, went together.

After visiting the church in the village of Waterloo and viewing the memorial tablets there, they passed to the house where Lord Uxbridge--Marquis of Anglesey--had had his leg amputated. There is a little monument in the garden over the shattered limb, and a part of the boot that covered it was seen in the house. Barnum procured a three-inch bit of the boot for his Museum, at the same time remarking, that if the lady in charge was as liberal to all visitors, that boot had held out wonderfully since 1815.

On approaching the ground they were beset by a dozen or more guides, each one professing to know the exact spot where every man had stood, and each claiming to have himself taken part in the struggle, although most of them were less than twenty-five, and the battle had been fought some thirty years before. They finally accepted one old man, who at first declared that he had been killed in the front ranks, but afterward acknowledged that he had only been wounded and left on the field for dead three days.

After having the location of Napoleon's Guard, the Duke of Wellington, the portion of the field where Blucher entered with the Prussian army, pointed out to them, and the spots where fell Sir Alexander Gordon and other celebrities, they asked the guide if he knew where Captain Tippitiwichet, of Connecticut, was killed? "Oh, oui, Monsieur," replied the guide confidently. After pointing out the precise spots where fictitious friends from Coney Island, New Jersey, Cape Cod and Saratoga had received their death-wounds, they paid the old humbug and dismissed him.

Upon leaving the field they were met by another crowd of peasants with relics of the battle for sale. Barnum bought a large number of pistols, bullets, brass French eagles, buttons, etc., for the Museum, and the others were equally liberal in their purchases. They bought also maps, guide-books and pictures, until Mr. Stratton expressed his belief that the "darned old battle of Waterloo" had cost more since it was fought than it ever did before.

Some months afterwards, while they were in Birmingham, they made the acquaintance of a firm who manufactured and sent to Waterloo barrels of these "relics" every year.

Four or five miles on the road home they had the misfortune to break the axle-tree of the carriage. It was past one o'clock, and the exhibition was advertised to commence in Brussels at two. Of course, they could not expect to walk the distance in less than three hours, and Barnum was disposed to give up the afternoon performance altogether. But Mr. Stratton could not bear the idea of losing six or eight hundred francs, so, accompanied by the interpreter, Prof. Pinte, he rushed down the road to a farm-house, followed leisurely by the rest of the party.

Mr. Stratton asked the old farmer if he had a carriage. He had not. "Have you no vehicle?" he inquired.

"Yes, I have that vehicle," he replied, pointing to an old cart filled with manure, and standing in his barnyard.

"Thunder! is that all the conveyance you have got?" asked Stratton. Being assured that it was, Stratton concluded that it was better to ride in a manure-cart than not to get to Brussels in time.

"What will you ask to drive us to Brussels in three-quarters of an hour?" demanded Stratton.

"It is impossible," replied the farmer; "I should want two hours for my horse to do it in."

"But ours is a very pressing case, and if we are not there in time we lose more than five hundred francs," said Stratton.

The old farmer pricked up his ears at this, and agreed to get them to Brussels in an hour for eighty francs. Stratton tried to beat him down, but it was of no use.

"Oh, go it, Stratton," said Sherman; "eighty francs you know is only sixteen dollars, and you will probably save a hundred by it, for I expect a full house at our afternoon exhibition to-day."

"But I have already spent about ten dollars for nonsense," said Stratton, "and we shall have to pay for the broken carriage besides."

"But what can you do better?" chimed in Professor Pinte.

"It is an outrageous extortion to charge sixteen dollars for an old horse and cart to go ten miles. Why, in old Bridgeport, I could get it done for three dollars," replied Stratton, in a tone of vexation

"It is the custom of the country," said Professor Pinte, "and we must submit to it."

"Well, it's a thundering mean custom, anyhow," said Stratton, "and I won't stand such imposition."

"But what shall we do?" earnestly inquired Mr. Pinte. "It may be a high price, but it is better to pay that than to lose our afternoon performance and five or six hundred francs."

This appeal to the pocket touched Stratton's feelings; so, submitting to the extortion, he replied to our interpreter, "Well, tell the old robber to dump his dung-cart as soon as possible, or we shall lose half an hour in starting."

The cart was "dumped" and a large, lazy-looking Flemish horse was attached to it with a rope harness. Some boards were laid across the cart for seats, the party tumbled into the rustic vehicle, a red-haired boy, son of the old farmer, mounted the horse, and Stratton gave orders to "get along." "Wait a moment," said the farmer, "you have not paid me yet." "I'll pay your boy when we get to Brussels, provided he gets there within the hour," replied Stratton.

"Oh, he is sure to get there in an hour," said the farmer, "but I can't let him go unless you pay in advance." The minutes were flying rapidly, the anticipated loss of the day exhibition of General Tom Thumb flitted before his eyes, and Stratton, in very desperation, thrust his hand into his pocket and drew forth sixteen five-franc pieces, which he dropped, one at a time, into the hand, of the farmer, and then called out to the boy, "There now, do try to see if you can go ahead."

The boy did go ahead, but it was with such a snail's pace that it would have puzzled a man of tolerable eyesight to have determined whether the horse was moving or standing still. To make it still more interesting, it commenced raining furiously. As they had left Brussels in a coach, and the morning had promised a pleasant day, they had omitted umbrellas. They were soon soaked to the skin, but they "grinned and bore it" a while without grumbling. At length Stratton, who was almost too angry to speak, desired Mr. Pinte to ask the red haired boy if he expected to walk his horse all the way to Brussels.

"Certainly," replied the boy; "he is too big and fat to do anything but walk. We never trot him."

Stratton was terrified as he thought of the loss of the day exhibition; and he cursed the boy, the cart, the rain, the luck, and even the battle of Waterloo itself. But it was all of no use; the horse would not run, but the rain did--down their backs.

At two o'clock, the time appointed for the exhibition, they were yet some seven miles from Brussels. The horse walked slowly and philosophically through the pitiless storm, the steam majestically rising from the old manure-cart, to the no small disturbance of their unfortunate olfactories. "It will take two hours to get to Brussels at this rate," growled Stratton. "Oh, no," replied the boy; "it will only take about two hours from the time we started."

"But your father agreed to get us there in an hour," answered Stratton.

"I know it," responded the boy, "but he knew it would take more than two."

"I'll sue him for damages, by thunder!" said Stratton.

"Oh, there would be no use in that," chimed in Mr. Pinte, "for you could get no satisfaction in this country."

"But I shall lose more than a hundred dollars by being two hours instead of one," said Stratton.

"They care nothing about that; all they care for is your eighty francs," remarked Pinte.

"But they have lied and swindled me," replied Stratton.

"Oh, you must not mind that; it is the custom of the country."

The party arrived in Brussels precisely two hours and a half from the time they left the farmer's house. Of course it was too late for the afternoon performance, and hundreds of people had been turned away disappointed.

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