Behind the scenes of the circus are artists, people cheerful and carefree. Among them stands a not very young bald man whose face is dyed white and red. This clown Edwards, entered the “period of longing,” followed by a period of hard drinking. Edwards is the main decoration of the circus, its bait, but the clown’s behavior is unreliable, any day he can break and drink.
The director asks Edwards to last at least two more days, until the end of the carnival, and there the circus will close for the time of fasting.
The clown gets off with meaningless words and looks into the toilet of the acrobat Becker, a rough, muscular giant.
Edwards’s interest is not Becker, but his pet, “gutta-percha boy”,
The history of the “gutta-percha boy” was simple and sad. He lost his mother, an eccentric and overly loving cook, in his fifth year of life. And with his mother sometimes he had to starve and freeze, but he still did not feel lonely.
After the death of her mother, her countrywoman, Varvara’s washerwoman, arranged the fate of the orphan, having determined him to study with Becker. At the first meeting with Petya Karl, Bogdanovich roughly and painfully felt the boy who had been stripped naked, frozen in pain and horror. As he cried, however he clung to the laundry of the washerwoman, Varvara gave it to the full acrobat.
The first impressions of the circus with its motley and noise in Petit were so strong that he cried all night and woke up several times.
The teaching of acrobatic tricks was not given easily to a puny boy. He fell, smashed, and never once did the stern giant admonish Petya, did not caress him, but the child was only eight years old. Only Edward showed him how to perform this or that exercise,
Once the clown gave Petya a puppy, but the boy’s happiness was short-lived. Becker took the dog from the wall, and she immediately gave up the spirit. At the same time, Petya earned a slap in the face. In a word, Petya was “not so much a gutta-percha, as an unhappy boy.”
And in the children’s rooms of Count Listomirov there is a completely different atmosphere. Here everything is adapted for the convenience and fun of children, for health and mood which the governess carefully watches.
In one of the last days of the carnival, the count’s children were particularly lively. Still would! Aunt Sonya, the sister of their mother, promised to lead them on Friday to the circus.
Vera eight-year, six-year and five-year Zina plump chubby nicknamed Puff struggling to exemplary behavior deserve the promised entertainment, but can not think about anything except the circus. Gramoteyka Verochka is reading a circus poster to her sister and brother, in which they are especially intrigued by the gutta-percha boy. Time for children is very slow.
Finally comes the long-awaited Friday. And now all the worries and fears are behind us. Children sit down in their seats long before the start of the performance. They are all interested. With genuine delight the children look at the rider, juggler and clowns, looking forward to meeting with the gutta-percha boy.
The second section of the program begins with the release of Becker and Petit. The acrobat attaches a heavy gilded pole to the belt with a small crossbar at the top. The end of the pole rushes under the dome itself. Six hesitates, the public sees with what difficulty the giant Becker holds him.
Petya climbs up the pole, now he is almost not visible. The audience applauds and starts shouting that it is necessary to stop the dangerous number. But the boy must still cling to the crossbar and hang upside down.
He also does this part of the trick, when “something flashed and turned in the same instant a deaf sound of something falling into the arena was heard.”
Servants and artists pick up a small body and quickly take it away. The orchestra plays a cheerful motif, runs out, somersaults, clowns…
The frustrated audience begins to crowd to the exits. Verochka hysterically screams and cries: “Aye, boy, boy!”
At home, children struggle to calm down and put them to bed. At night, Aunt Sonya looks at Verochka and sees that her sleep is restless, and a tear on her cheek withered.
And in a dark, deserted circus on a mattress there is a child tied with rags with broken ribs and a broken chest.
From time to time Edward appears from the darkness and bends over a small acrobat. It is felt that the clown has already entered the lane of drinking-bout, not without reason on the table is a nearly emptied decanter.
All around is plunged into darkness and silence. The next morning the billboard did not mention the number of the “gutta-percha boy” – he was no longer in the world.