Jenny giggled hysterically, as she and Percy watched the two clowns entertaining the audience of the William Charters travelling circus.
"Oh, do let's go and see them first, when the show's over, Percy."
"If you like, my darling," said the Sneaky Spy.
The two of them then continued to enjoy the antics of Harlequin Harry and Junior Jester.
"That make-up preserves the fact that he's still a junior at heart regardless of his adulthood," said Percy.
"It's a special circus," said Jenny as the clowns left the stage to make way for a new act to be spotlighted in the ring.
"Yes, William's always said that they are particularly lucky to have Stella. She has broken a trend. A circus can usually boast a strongman; but Stella has all the grace of a lady, and the size and strength to lift incredible weights."
"I trust that you think I have all the grace of a lady, even if I can't lift things the way Stella does," said Jenny.
"Well I'm not sure about that," said Percy.
"What do you mean?"
"Well I feel lighter than air whenever I'm around you. Your presence tends to lift me a few inches off the ground, or does it merely feel that way?"
"You're sweeter than fairy floss, Percy."
Percy put two of his fingers into her mouth, smiled mischievously and then removed them.
"Percy, what did you do that for?"
"I didn't disappear. So I'm not fairy floss. I was just checking."
"Oh Percy, you're dishy!"
"Don't wish for this dish."
"Why ever not?"
"Because you already have me."
After the show Percy led Jenny to the private caravans, and began to look for the one which his status as a former employee of the circus would gain entry into, as well as a chance to catch up with old friends.
"There it is, Jenny. Hey, I think I remember her from somewhere," he said, spotting a plump lady in the crowd, "I might catch up to her. I'll meet you back here. The others will remember you from our big adventure a while ago and welcome you happily."
Percy left Jenny to the fun she had been awaiting with Harry and Jester. He soon caught up to the lady.
"Tanya Lane, although I shouldn't tell you how James Hamilton found out the Tanya part."
"Wh...? Why you're Percy Dale!"
"Student meets student teacher in circus grounds."
"Let's sit down on the fence and have a talk."
Percy remembered his second school term of fifth class, when Tanya Lane was a student teacher.
"I was only twenty when I saw you last, Percy. So tell me what you have been doing with yourself."
"I finished school, worked for a while, and then came into a lot of money, that enabled me to ...err, start my own business."
Technically speaking, it was true.
"I used to wonder if you would ever finish school," she laughed, "The way you used to misbehave."
"Well now that I have settled down, I should probably make a small confession about that," said the Sneaky Spy.
"Oh yes, what was your excuse?"
"This is going to be embarrassing, even now, but I usually saw a teacher as somebody to put up with, because they had the authority."
"Then there was you," he said, noticing her engagement ring and feeling sure that a confession followed by a mention of Jenny would not hurt his former teacher's feelings, "It's an old story, if you watch enough movies and soap opera dramas, but I knew even then how pretty you were. I tried to attract your attention by working my hardest, but that did nothing to distinguish me. James Hamilton never liked you, but I could hardly help myself, as I tried to sort out the dychotomy of emotions and opinions in my young mind. There was another teacher - and I had a stereotyped idea about teachers in my mind - and yet I would have given anything to spend and afternoon after school with you."
"But you began to misbehave almost methodically. How would that have helped you to enter my good books?"
"Miss Lane, I'm ashamed to admit that my plans were far more diabolical than that. The aim was to coax you into giving me a detention, so that I could be with you for an afternoon."
"That's it then. I thought you were trying to please that beastly James Hamilton. I can remember the time I went to rub something off the blackboard, and the chalk and duster began to dance their way out of my reach."
"Well there was a hook just above the blackboard, on the ceiling, and another one just over James' desk. So I spent lunchtime running fishing line up from my desk, through both hooks and down to the chalk and duster. That's why we swapped seats that day. I pulled on the line from under the desk, so you couldn't see my hand until you started walking around to see who was responsible."
"Dear, that was funny, when I look back on it. There was also a similar trick you did with the coats on the walls."
"That I remember. There was a wooden ruler with a hole in the end of it. So I tied fishing line around the hole, put the ruler in the sleeve of the coat, ran the line down to the floor, across the floor under the tables and over to my desk."
"And there was I teaching a lesson, when the coat suddenly waved its arm all by itself. I would have expected those jokes or something like it on April Fools Day, if I had been at your school in first term. I was caught unexpectedly, when you did those things out of the blue."
"So why did you let me keep on doing those things, without giving me a detention?"
"Well Percy, I have a confession for you now, and in the light of what you've told me, it's interesting. I thought you were a cute sneaky clever young boy, and I could have spent hours wishing to be able to adopt you and take you home with me, but you had parents of your own, and I had to be a responsible teacher. I was taken aback when you continued to act up so much in classes. I knew that James did not like me, and I knew also of his friendship with you. I have always thought that you were misbehaving, so that you could keep James on side. Your real reason was very nice actually. Still, to answer your question, I could not bring myself to punish you. I should have, I suppose, but I liked you too much, and I hadn't thought out your idea of using a detention as a way of meeting together.
"I realised that I would not make a competent teacher, because I had given into my emotional attachments to a child. So I gave teaching away, and started on what became a series of different jobs. My favourite was sewing dresses in a shop for people who wanted their own designs tailor made. I found it easy and enjoyable. The environment was nicely arranged as well. I missed you sometimes, but you could be understood as a young boy with a crush on the teacher. My willingness to reciprocate something I didn't know about probably sounds rather disturbing, to most teachers anyway."
"I don't think so at all," said the Sneaky Spy in a reassuring tone, "It's almost a pity that we didn't each know what the other really thought. It might have made school a lot of fun."
"More than fun, Percy. There are people who might have ended my career as a teacher long before I did, if they'd known of my growing attachment to a ten year old boy who continued to misbehave."
"Biased as I am, I can only thank you that you did feel that way. I spent most of my younger years wishing that somebody would love me. What a surprise it is to find out that somebody did, in a way. I thought you would scold me, if I told you."
"No, I would never have scolded you. I hope you found somebody in the end."
"I did. I was walking her past the other caravans, when I saw you. Her name is Jennifer. I hope... I mean, I probably shouldn't have dragged all that up again, but I had no idea of-"
"My old feelings?"
"Yes. I might have upset you."
"No. Tell me what you've done since then, in more detail. I would like to hear about it, if I am not prying."
"Well I...alright, but please keep it a secret between us."
"In the christmas holidays between fifth and sixth classes, I met a lovely girl called Jennifer. After the holidays, we did not see each other again until a few years ago."
Percy went on to give Tanya Lane a summary of his experiences, feelings and adventures in the time that had passed since then. He saw her eyes appear to expand a little when he mentioned his circus origin.
Had she guessed what he was leading up to mentioning?
Did she already know about a Sneaky Spy character?
He went on to tell her how he had launched himself into a lifestyle which would attract excitement, mystery, and very often, naughty ones. He gave brief mentions of all of the highlights in the Sneaky Spy's career.
"Thank you for trusting me with all of those stories," she said, "and I am so glad that you have had the chance to be reunited with your Jennifer. I was afraid that I might have had to upset you, when you told me of your childhood crush on me."
"But you couldn't upset me. You were my beautiful teacher. Anyway, I was trying not to hurt your feelings, when I told you about Jenny."
"You haven't, Percy, and it's marvelous that you told me everything. We're all going to be happy friends, and won't you be amazed to learn that I am engaged to William Charters! I am going to marry him!"
"That's why you're watching the shows."
"As well as the fact that they are entertaining. We met some months ago. I never imagined that you would have worked for William, and know Madam Swiftrix, Mysterialla, Harry, Jester, Stella and the rest of them."
"Most of them anyway. So now we both have happy romances."
"Well Percy, I suppose you'll be able to stay around when they close the gates tonight."
"We'll join you for the usual little gathering after the spectators have all been ushered out. How lovely it is. What a wonderful coincidence, you and William soon to be married."
"We met by coincidence. As you may have noticed now, if not as a child, I am a fairly plump lady. I saw an advertisement for a fat lady in a circus, and applied for the job here. William told me that he would have liked to offer me the position, but that the person he chose, Morweena, was significantly fatter than I am. Then he said, 'but Tanya, it's been a pleasure meeting you, and I'd love to take you to dinner.' I accepted his invitation, and we began going out together, and eventually he proposed to me."
"It's terrific, for both you and William."
"And how nice for you to have a pretty young girl your own age. It wouldn't have done, to have been stuck with me, now that I'm-"
"I'm only interrupting a sentence that I haven't heard. Somehow, I'm sure, that whatever you were saying is an effort to con the Sneaky Spy."
"What? I would never deceive you."
"Yes you would. I'm just not clear on your motivation for doing so. Why would a former schoolteacher try to pretend that she's not as beautiful as she used to be? You might fool some people, but to people who knew you all those years ago, it would be a fabrication of the truth. Television conditions people to think that a lady's looks are on the downhill run after thirty, but Jenny's mother still looks lovely now, and I'm sure Jenny will look as nice in thirty years time too. If I'd met you here today, and we'd never met our William and Jenny, you would be asking me to stop bothering you for a date. Still, I am glad things worked out the way they did."
"I might have merely asked you to do a detention to make up for all the ones you avoided as a child."
"Yes, and I would write out one hundred times that I was in love with the teacher."
Jenny and the clowns came to join them.
"My, you two have been talking for a while."
"I suppose we have," said Tanya Lane in reply to Jenny's opening comment, "Are you going to introduce me to your girlfriend, Percy?"
"Tanya Lane, this is Jennifer Winters. Jenny, this is soon to be Mrs Tanya Charters. So which one of us is going to repeat that story over supper tonight?"
"You may," said Tanya, "I want to be free to concentrate on the looks that will appear on the face of William Charters."
"Tanya was my teacher at school for a while in fifth class. I had a crush on her. I might never have forgotten about it, if I hadn't chanced to meet the loveliest girl in the world one day, while in the trees and bushes which ran alongside my grandmother's neighbour's tennis court," said Percy.
"Well you must really love me then Percy," said Jenny happily, with all of the gentle affection of her once twelve year old self, "because it takes a lot to make a boy forget a crush on the teacher."
Having passed her verdict with the absence of any jealousy, Jenny said, "I'll see you both in the tent soon for our little party. I promised Jester that I would slip out and buy them some popcorn."
Percy and Tanya passed the time at a duck shooting sideshow. Percy managed to win a teddy bear and said, "I'll simply have to give you this, for reasons that might amuse you as much as my confessions of earlier this evening."
"I'm keen to hear them," said Tanya.
"Well once during that term I had a dream that I accidentally bumped into a woman one day on the way home from school. She said 'I'll teach you to bump into a witch. I'll cast a spell on you before this week is over.' The next thing I knew I had been turned into a teddybear and was lying on a shelf in a shop. I could not talk. I could not move. So I lay there helplessly until the shop was about to close.
"You walked into the shop on your way home from school and bought me. You said I was a nice teddybear. You had no idea of my real identity though. You took me to your home and put me on a high shelf on the wall of your dining room, where I would sit and watch you eating, reading books, or marking schoolwork. After some weeks I suddenly found that I could walk, but still I was unable to speak. I was about to start dancing about happily on the shelf, hoping that the spell would wear off completely.
"Then I heard you talking on the telephone in the next room. You said that you were going to give me as a present to a naughty girl in your class as a way of showing kindness to her. I wanted to stay with you, but I could not tell you. So I had to run away and hide until and unless the spell wore off completely. I found that I could jump to the floor without hurting my soft body. So I did that, and went out of the room and stole through the telephone room behind your back. It was the only way to attempt to escape the house.
"When I was almost through the second door, you happened to turn my way and see me. You abruptly hung up the telephone, and chased me around the house. I ran without exhaustion in my teddybear form, but you soon caught me with your longer legs and picked me up. 'You're a magic teddybear! I never knew. I cannot give you away now. I'll buy another bear for the girl. I'm going to keep you here forever,' you said.
"Then the dream broke up, but I had something to hope for."
"That was quite a dream tale, Percy; and I'll promise to look after this bear."
"Good. Well let's go and reveal our old teacher-student relationship to our friends inside."
They shared the story and several other anecdotes of old times, and then accepted William's offer to stay the night with the circus folk, so that they could spend some more time with their old friends the next day. Percy stayed with Harlequin Harry in his caravan, and Jenny stayed with Stella the Strong, the only circus person who was able to provide bedclothes and a spare mattress long enough for Jenny. Stella was seven foot tall. Jenny was six foot nine.
The next morning, when they stepped out of their caravans to meet each other, Percy and Jenny were also met by Jester Junior, and a lady who would have been twice his width at least, for Jester Junior was unusually slim. The lady had blondish hair with the smallest hint of light brown. She was holding hands with Jester Junior.
"Hello Percy and Jenny," said Jester, "Meet one of our two newest acts, Moreena Welande, our fat lady...I like her that way."
"Are you two...?" began Jenny.
"I'm lucky to have him as a boyfriend," said Moreena.
"Here comes the other new star now," said Jester, as a two foot high adult dwarf came towards them, "This is Jacko, our midget. Percy and Jenny are friends of the circus."
Percy and Jenny each bent down to shake hands with Jacko.
"I should get back to eating," said Moreena.
"Jacko can show you around the site, and you'll see everything that wasn't so clear in the dark last night," said Jester, as he and Moreena walked towards a hot dog stand.
"It's high time this circus had a midget," said the Sneaky Spy, "Good to know you Jacko."
"Do you two know Stella the Strong?" asked Jacko.
"Sure. I used to work here in my late teens," said Percy, "But if I had stayed with the circus, I would never have met up with this darling Jenny again."
"She's almost as tall as Stella. I love Tall Stella so much, but I don't know what she would think of a mite like me," said Jacko.
"Percy's a fair bit shorter than me, and we both love it that way," said Jenny.
"But Stella must be five feet taller than me. I don't even come up to her waist. I barely come up to her knees actually. I love looking up at her beautiful face, but what would she think of me? A baby pretending to be a man, I suppose."
"Would you be happy with your size if Stella was?" asked the Sneaky Spy.
"I'm happy with it anyway. But I do love her so," said Jacko.
"I'll tell you what," said Percy, "Why don't you talk this over with Jenny, while I sit down and try to think up a way to see what can be done about your crush on Stella?"
"Thank you," said Jacko, "I'll drive her mad walking so slowly compared to her."
"Who said you would be walking?" said Jenny, kneeling down with her back to him, "Roll up, roll up for Jennifer's piggyback rides. Free to lovesick friends in need."
Jacko climbed onto Jenny's back, and she stood up and walked around the circus talking to him.
He wondered what Jacko could do about Stella. It was the old problem of boy meets girl in regular contact context. Boy wonders whether or not to divulge feelings to girl. If he does and girl doesn't reciprocate, ongoing social or vocational relationships are strained. If he doesn't and someone else asks girl out in the meantime, boy misses out.
Finally, Percy thought of a possible solution. He found Jenny and Jacko, hoisted Jacko down and said, "I have an idea. Can you find out where Stella is and come back to tell us?"
Jacko went looking.
"Jenny, I remembered a lot of super hero roleplaying games I did at school. If I jokingly start wrestling Stella the Strong, and I am winning, Jacko could charge me and I could let him rescue her. Just tell him 'Now's your chance, Jacko. Rescue Stella.' He won't know that I let him win. I'm a slender fellow, and he doesn't know of my Sneaky Spy training and experience yet," said Percy.
Jacko returned and led them to Stella. Percy snuck up behind the seven foot tall strongwoman and tickled her hips.
"I'll fix you. You're still a rascal!" said Stella, turning and grappling with him. Percy held her arm as his leg reaped both legs out from under her. She fell gently on her back, with Percy's grip on her arm slowing her fall.
Jenny saw her chance and whispered, "Now Jacko, rescue Stella."
"Midget to the rescue!" called Jacko and shoved Percy, who deliberately fell backwards with a planned breakfall.
Jacko leaped on top of Percy and wrestled as best as he could until Percy called "I give up! Just get off me before I wreck my clothes."
Jacko stepped off and let Percy rise to his feet.
To make sure that Stella and Jacko were left alone together, Jenny grabbed Percy's arm and said, "Come and see the lions with me, while we've got the place to ourselves before it's open to the public, Percy."
They ran off together.
Stella was back on her feet.
"It seems that you have rescued me," she said.
"I think Percy let me win, since it was just a game. I'm sure you might easily end up rescuing me for real one day. You're like a giant to me. I only just come up to your knees."
"I'm like a giant to everybody."
"Would you mind if a dwarf took you out to dinner after we've done the show?"
"Are you asking me out on a date?" she asked.
"That's very nice of you. I would love to go out and have dinner with you."
After the meal, they were walking through a park.
"I'm sorry I can't reach, or I would offer to hold your hand," said Jacko, as a man was about to pass them.
"Don't worry, gorgeous," said the man, grabbing Stella's hand, "Say goodnight to shortstuff here, an let a real man show you a time."
"I was having a good time, until you pawed me," said Stella to the stranger.
Stella's powerful arms moved, as she seized the man and heaved him into the bushes.
"Let's go, Jacko," she said and lifted him up and ran off to a secluded seat, sat down and put him in her lap, smiling happily at him. He stood up and slowly moved his lips towards her to see if she minded.
Stella smiled, prepared for the kiss and embraced him in her arms, kissing him.
"Your face is very handsome, Jacko. No difference in our heights can take that away from you, and no loudmouth I threw into the bushes back there can ever take me away from you."