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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 2 - Chapter 17. The Circus
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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 2 - Chapter 17. The Circus Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2311

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The Maids Of Paradise: A Novel - Part 2 - Chapter 17. The Circus


A little after sunrise on the day set for our first performance, Speed sauntered into my dressing-room in excellent humor, saying that not only had the village of Paradise already filled up with the peasantry of Finistere and Morbihan, but every outlying hamlet from St. Julien to Pont Aven was overflowing; that many had even camped last night along the roadside; in short, that the country was unmistakably aroused to the importance of the Anti-Prussian Republican circus and the Flying Mermaid of Ker-Ys.

I listened to him almost indifferently, saying that I was very glad for the governor's sake, and continued to wash a deep scratch on my left arm, using salt water to allay the irritation left by Aicha's closely pared claws--the vixen.

But the scratch had not poisoned me; I was in fine physical condition; rehearsals had kept us all in trim; our animals, too, were in good shape; and the machinery started without a creak when, an hour later, Byram himself opened the box-office at the tent-door and began to sell tickets to an immense crowd for the first performance, which was set for two o'clock that afternoon.

I had had an unpleasant hour's work with the lions, during which Marghouz, a beast hitherto lazy and docile, had attempted to creep behind me. Again I had betrayed irritation; again the lions saw it, understood it, and remembered. Aicha tore my sleeve; when I dragged Timour Melek's huge jaws apart he endured the operation patiently, but as soon as I gave the signal to retire he sprang snarling to the floor, mane on end, and held his ground, just long enough to defy me. Poor devils! Who but I knew that they were right and I was wrong! Who but I understood what lack of freedom meant to the strong--meant to caged creatures, unrighteously deprived of liberty! Though born in captivity, wild things change nothing; they sleep by day, walk by night, follow as well as they can the instincts which a caged life cannot crush in them, nor a miserable, artificial existence obliterate.

They are right to resist.

I mentioned something of this to Speed as I was putting on my coat to go out, but he only scowled at me, saying: "Your usefulness as a lion-tamer is ended, my friend; you are a fool to enter that cage again, and I'm going to tell Byram."

"Don't spoil the governor's pleasure now," I said, irritably; "the old man is out there selling tickets with both hands, while little Griggs counts receipts in a stage whisper. Let him alone, Speed; I'm going to give it up soon, anyway--not now--not while the governor has a chance to make a little money; but soon--very soon. You are right; I can't control anything now--not even myself. I must give up my lions, after all."

"When?" said Speed.

"Soon--I don't know. I'm tired--really tired. I want to go home."

"Home! Have you one?" he asked, with a faint sneer of surprise.

"Yes; a rather extensive lodging, bounded east and west by two oceans, north by the lakes, south by the gulf. Landlord's a relation--my Uncle Sam."

"Are you really going home, Scarlett?" he asked, curiously.

"I have nothing to keep me here, have I?"

"Not unless you choose to settle down and ... marry."

I looked at him; presently my face began to redden; and, "What do you mean?" I asked, angrily.

He replied, in a very mild voice, that he did not mean anything that might irritate me.

I said, "Speed, don't mind my temper; I can't seem to help it any more; something has changed me, something has gone wrong."

"Perhaps something has gone right," he mused, looking up at the flying trapeze, where Jacqueline swung dangling above the tank, watching us with sea-blue eyes.

After a moment's thought I said: "Speed, what the devil do you mean by that remark?"

"Now you're angry again," he said, wearily.

"No, I'm not. Tell me what you mean."

"Oh, what do you imagine I mean?" he retorted. "Do you think I'm blind? Do you suppose I've watched you all these years and don't know you? Am I an ass, Scarlett? Be fair; am I?"

"No; not an ass," I said.

"Then let me alone--unless you want plain speaking instead of a bray."

"I do want it."


"You know; go on."

"Am I to tell you the truth?"

"As you interpret it--yes."

"Very well, my friend; then, at your respectful request, I beg to inform you that you are in love with Madame de Vassart--and have been for months."

I did not pretend surprise; I knew he was going to say it. Yet it enraged me that he should think it and say it.

"You are wrong," I said, steadily.

"No, Scarlett; I am right."

"You are wrong," I repeated.

"Don't say that again," he retorted. "If you do not know it, you ought to. Don't be unfair; don't be cowardly. Face it, man! By Heaven, you've got to face it some time--here, yonder, abroad, on the ocean, at home--no matter where, you've got to face it some day and tell yourself the truth!"

His words hurt me for a moment; then, as I listened, that strange apathy once more began to creep over me. Was it really the truth he had told me? Was it? Well--and then? What meaning had it to me?... Of what help was it?... of what portent?... of what use?... What door did it unlock? Surely not the door I had closed upon myself so many years ago!

Something of my thoughts he may have divined as I stood brooding in the sunny tent, staring listlessly at my own shadow on the floor, for he laid his hand on my shoulder and said: "Surely, Scarlett, if happiness can be reborn in Paradise, it can be reborn here. I know you; I have known you for many years. And in all that time you have never fallen below my ideal!"

"What are you saying, Speed?" I asked, rousing from my lethargy to shake his hand from my shoulder.

"The truth. In all these years of intimacy, familiarity has never bred contempt in me; I am not your equal in anything; it does not hurt me to say so. I have watched you as a younger brother watches, lovingly, jealous yet proud of you, alert for a failing or a weakness which I never found--or, if I thought I found a flaw in you, knowing that it was but part of a character too strong, too generous for me to criticise."

"Speed," I said, astonished, "are you talking about me--about _me_--a mountebank--and a failure at that? You know I'm a failure--a nobody--" I hesitated, touched by his kindness. "Your loyalty to me is all I have. I wish it were true that I am such a man as you believe me to be."

"It is true," he said, almost sullenly. "If it were not, no man would say it of you--though a woman might. Listen to me, Scarlett. I tell you that a man shipwrecked on the world's outer rocks--if he does not perish--makes the better pilot afterwards."

"But ... I perished, Speed."

"It is not true," he said, violently; "but you will if you don't steer a truer course than you have. Scarlett, answer me!"

"Answer you? What?"

"Are you in love?"

"Yes," I said.

He waited, looked up at me, then dropped his hands in his pockets and turned away toward the interior of the tent where Jacqueline, having descended from the rigging, stood, drawing her slim fingers across the surface of the water in the tank.

I walked out through the tent door, threading my way among the curious crowds gathered not only at the box-office, but even around the great tent as far as I could see. Byram hailed me with jovial abandon, perspiring in his shirt-sleeves, silk hat on the back of his head; little Grigg made one of his most admired grimaces and shook the heavy money-box at me; Horan waved his hat above his head and pointed at the throng with a huge thumb. I smiled at them all and walked on.

Cloud and sunshine alternated on that capricious November morning; the sea-wind was warm; the tincture of winter had gone. On that day, however, I saw wavering strings of wild ducks flying south; and the little hedge-birds of different kinds were already flocking amiably together in twittering bands that filled the leafless blackthorns on the cliffs;--true prophets, all, of that distant cold, gathering somewhere in the violet north.

I walked fast across the moors, as though I had a destination. And I had; yet when I understood it I sheered off, only to turn again and stare fascinated in the direction of the object that frightened me.

There it rose against the seaward cliffs, the little tower of Trecourt farm, sea-smitten and crusted, wind-worn, stained, gray as the lichened rocks scattered across the moorland. Over it the white gulls pitched and tossed in a windy sky; beyond crawled the ancient and wrinkled sea.

"It is a strange thing," I said aloud, "to find love at the world's edge." I looked blindly across the gray waste. "But I have found it too late."

The wind blew furiously; I heard the gulls squealing in the sky, the far thunder of the surf.

Then, looking seaward again, for the first time I noticed that the black cruiser was gone, that nothing now lay between the cliffs and the hazy headland of Groix save a sheet of lonely water spreading league on league to meet a flat, gray sky.

Why had the cruiser sailed? As I stood there, brooding, to my numbed ears the moor-winds bore a sound coming from a great distance--the sound of cannon--little, soft reports, all but inaudible in the wind and the humming undertone of the breakers. Yet I knew the sound, and turned my unquiet eyes to the sea, where nothing moved save the far crests of waves.

For a while I stood listening, searching the sea, until a voice hailed me, and I turned to find Kelly Eyre almost at my elbow.

"There is a man in the village haranguing the people," he said, abruptly. "We thought you ought to know."

"A man haranguing the people," I repeated. "What of it?"

"Speed thinks the man is Buckhurst."

"What!" I cried.

"There's something else, too," he said, soberly, and drew a telegram from his pocket.

I seized it, and studied the fluttering sheet:

"The governor of Lorient, on complaint of the mayor of
Paradise, forbids the American exhibition, and orders
the individual Byram to travel immediately to Lorient
with his so-called circus, where a British steamship
will transport the personnel, baggage, and animals to
British territory. The mayor of Paradise will see that
this order of expulsion is promptly executed.

"(Signed) Breteuil.
"Chief of Police."

"Where did you get that telegram?" I asked.

"It's a copy; the mayor came with it. Byram does not know about it."

"Don't let him know it!" I said, quickly; "this thing will kill him, I believe. Where is that fool of a mayor? Come on, Kelly! Stay close beside me." And I set off at a swinging pace, down the hollow, out across the left bank of the little river, straight to the bridge, which we reached almost on a run.

"Look there!" cried my companion, as we came in sight of the square.

The square was packed with Breton peasants; near the fountain two cider barrels had been placed, a plank thrown across them, and on this plank stood a man holding a red flag.

The man was John Buckhurst.

When I came nearer I could see that he wore a red scarf across his breast; a little nearer and I could hear his passionless voice sounding; nearer still, I could distinguish every clear-cut word:

"Men of the sea, men of that ancient Armorica which, for a thousand years, has suffered serfdom, I come to you bearing no sword. You need none; you are free under this red flag I raise above you."

He lifted the banner, shaking out the red folds.

"Yet if I come to you bearing no sword, I come with something better, something more powerful, something so resistless that, using it as your battle-cry, the world is yours!

"I come bearing the watchword of world-brotherhood--Peace, Love, Equality! I bear it from your battle-driven brothers, scourged to the battlements of Paris by the demons of a wicked government! I bear it from the devastated towns of the provinces, from your homeless brothers of Alsace and Lorraine.

"Peace, Love, Equality! All this is yours for the asking. The commune will be proclaimed throughout France; Paris is aroused, Lyons is ready, Bordeaux watches, Marseilles waits!

"You call your village Paradise--yet you starve here. Let this little Breton village be a paradise in truth--a shrine for future happy pilgrims who shall say: 'Here first were sewn the seeds of the world's liberty! Here first bloomed the perfect flower of universal brotherhood!"

He bent his sleek, gray head meekly, pausing as though in profound meditation. Suddenly he raised his head; his tone changed; a faint ring of defiance sounded under the smooth flow of words.

He began with a blasphemous comparison, alluding to the money-changers in the temple--a subtle appeal to righteous violence.

"It rests with us to cleanse the broad temple of our country and drive from it the thieves and traitors who enslave us! How can we do it? They are strong; we are weak. Ah, but _are they truly strong? You say they have armies? Armies are composed of men. These men are your brothers, whipped forth to die--for what? For the pleasure of a few aristocrats. Who was it dragged your husbands and sons away from your arms, leaving you to starve? The governor of Lorient. Who is he? An aristocrat, paid to scourge your husbands and children to battle--paid, perhaps, by Prussia to betray them, too!"

A low murmur rose from the people. Buckhurst swept the throng with colorless eyes.

"Under the commune we will have peace. Why? Because there can be no hunger, no distress, no homeless ones where the wealth of all is distributed equally. We will have no wars, because there will be nothing to fight for. We will have no aristocrats where all must labor for the common good; where all land is equally divided; where love, equality, and brotherhood are the only laws--"

"Where's the mayor?" I whispered to Eyre.

"In his house; Speed is with him."

"Come on, then," I said, pushing my way around the outskirts of the crowd to the mayor's house.

The door was shut and the blinds drawn, but a knock brought Speed to the door, revolver in hand.

"Oh," he said, grimly, "it's time you arrived. Come in."

The mayor was lying in his arm-chair, frightened, sulky, obstinate, his fat form swathed in a red sash.

"O-ho!" I said, sharply, "so you already wear the colors of the revolution, do you?"

"Dame, they tied it over my waistcoat," he said, "and there are no gendarmes to help me arrest them--"

"Never mind that just now," I interrupted; "what I want to know is why you wrote the governor of Lorient to expel our circus."

"That's my own affair," he snapped; "besides, who said I wrote?"

"Idiot," I said, "somebody paid you to do it. Who was it?"

The mayor, hunched up in his chair, shut his mouth obstinately.

"Somebody paid you," I repeated; "you would never have complained of us unless somebody paid you, because our circus is bringing money into your village. Come, my friend, that was easy to guess. Now let me guess again that Buckhurst paid you to complain of us."

The mayor looked slyly at me out of the corner of his mottled eyes, but he remained mute.

"Very well," said I; "when the troops from Lorient hear of this revolution in Paradise, they'll come and chase these communards into the sea. And after that they'll stand you up against a convenient wall and give you thirty seconds for absolution--"

"Stop!" burst out the mayor, struggling to his feet. "What am I to do? This gentleman, Monsieur Buckhurst, will slay me if I disobey him! Besides," he added, with cowardly cunning, "they are going to do the same thing in Lorient, too--and everywhere--in Paris, in Bordeaux, in Marseilles--even in Quimperle! And when all these cities are flying the red flag it won't be comfortable for cities that fly the tricolor." He began to bluster. "I'm mayor of Paradise, and I won't be bullied! You get out of here with your circus and your foolish elephants! I haven't any gendarmes just now to drive you out, but you had better start, all the same--before night."

"Oh," I said, "before night? Why before night?"

"Wait and see then," he muttered. "Anyway, get out of my house--d' ye hear?"

"We are going to give that performance at two o'clock this afternoon," I said. "After that, another to-morrow at the same hour, and on every day at the same hour, as long as it pays. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly," sneered the mayor.

"And," I continued, "if the governor of Lorient sends gendarmes to conduct us to the steamship in Lorient harbor, they'll take with them somebody besides the circus folk."

"You mean me?" he inquired.

"I do."

"What do I care?" he bawled in a fury. "You had better go to Lorient, I tell you. What do you know about the commune? What do you know about universal brotherhood? Everybody's everybody's brother, whether you like it or not! I'm your brother, and if it doesn't suit you you may go to the devil!"

Watching the infuriated magistrate, I said in English to Speed: "This is interesting. Buckhurst has learned we are here, and has paid this fellow heavily to have us expelled. What sense do you make of all this?--for I can make none."

"Nor can I," muttered Speed; "there's a link gone; we'll find it soon, I fancy. Without that link there's no logic in this matter."

"Look here," I said, sharply, to the mayor, who had waddled toward the door, which was guarded by Kelly Eyre.

"Well, I'm looking," he snarled.

Then I patiently pointed out to him his folly, and he listened with ill-grace, obstinate, mute, dull cunning gleaming from his half-closed eyes.

Then I asked him what he would do if the cruiser began dropping shells into Paradise; he deliberately winked at me and thrust his tongue into his cheek.

"So you know that the cruiser has gone?" I asked.

He grinned.

"Do you suppose Buckhurst's men hold the semaphore? If they do, they sent that cruiser on a fool's errand," whispered Speed.

Here was a nice plot! I stepped to the window. Outside in the square Buckhurst was still speaking to a spellbound, gaping throng. A few men cheered him. They were strangers in Paradise.

"What's he doing it for?" I asked, utterly at a loss to account for proceedings which seemed to me the acme of folly. "He must know that the commune cannot be started here in Brittany! Speed, what is that man up to?"

Behind us the mayor was angrily demanding that we leave his house; and after a while we did so, skirting the crowd once more to where, in a cleared space near the fountain, Buckhurst stood, red flag in hand, ranging a dozen peasants in line. The peasants were not Paradise men; they wore the costumes of the interior, and somebody had already armed them with scythes, rusty boarding-pikes, stable-forks, and one or two flintlock muskets. An evil-looking crew, if ever I saw one; wild-eyed, long-haired, bare of knee and ankle, loutish faces turned toward the slim, gray, pale-faced orator who confronted them, flag in hand. They were the scum of Morbihan.

He told them that they were his guard of honor, the glory of their race--a sacred battalion whose names should shine high on the imperishable battlements of freedom.

Around them the calm-eyed peasants stared at them stupidly; women gazed fascinated when Buckhurst, raising his flag, pointed in silence to the mayor's house, where that official stood in his doorway, observing the scene:

"Forward!" said Buckhurst, and the grotesque escort started with a clatter of heavy sabots and a rattle of scythes. The crowd fell back to give them way, then closed in behind like a herd of sheep, following to the mayor's house, where Buckhurst set his sentinels and then entered, closing the door behind him.

"Well!" muttered Speed, in amazement.

After a long silence, Kelly Eyre looked at his watch. "It's time we were in the tent," he observed, dryly; and we turned away without a word. At the bridge we stopped and looked back. The red flag was flying from the mayor's house.

"Speed," I said, "there's one thing certain: Byram can't stay if there's going to be fighting here. I heard guns at sea this morning; I don't know what that may indicate. And here's this idiotic revolution started in Paradise! That means the troops from Lorient, and a wretched lot of bushwhacking and guerrilla work. Those Faouet Bretons that Buckhurst has recruited are a bad lot; there is going to be trouble, I tell you."

Eyre suggested that we arm our circus people, and Speed promised to attend to it and to post them at the tent doors, ready to resist any interference with the performance on the part of Buckhurst's recruits.

It was already nearly one o'clock as we threaded our way through the crowds at the entrance, where our band was playing gayly and thousands of white head-dresses fluttered in the sparkling sunshine that poured intermittently from a sky where great white clouds were sailing seaward.

"Walk right up, messoors! Entry done, mesdames, see voo play!" shouted Byram, waving a handful of red and blue tickets. "Animals all on view before the performance begins! Walk right into the corridor of livin' marvels and defunct curiosities! Bring the little ones to see the elephant an' the camuel--the fleet ship of the Sairy! Don't miss nothing! Don't fail to contemplate le ploo magnifique spectacle in all Europe! Don't let nobody say you died an' never saw the only Flyin' Mermaid! An' don't forget the prize--ten thousand francs to the man, woman, or che-ild who can prove that this here Flyin' Mermaid ain't a fictious bein' straight from Paradise!"

Speed and I made our way slowly through the crush to the stables, then around to the dressing-rooms, where little Grigg, in his spotted clown's costume, was putting the last touches of vermilion to his white cheeks, and Horan, draped in a mangy leopard-skin to imitate Hercules, sat on his two-thousand-pound dumbbell, curling his shiny black mustache with Mrs. Grigg's iron.

"Jacqueline's dressed," cried Miss Crystal, parting the curtain of her dressing-room, just enough to show her pretty, excited eyes and nose.

"All right; I won't be long," replied Speed, who was to act as ring-master. And he turned and looked at me as I raised the canvas flap which screened my dressing-room.

"I think," I said, "that we had better ride over to Trecourt after the show--not that there's any immediate danger--"

"There is no immediate danger," said Speed, "because she is here."

My face began to burn; I looked at him miserably. "How do you know?"

"She is there in the tent. I saw her."

He came up and held his hand on my shoulder. "I'm sorry I told you," he said.

"Why?" I asked. "She knows what I am. Is there any reason why she should not be amused? I promise you she shall be!"

"Then why do you speak so bitterly? Don't misconstrue her presence. Don't be a contemptible fool. If I have read her face--and I have never spoken to her, as you know--I tell you, Scarlett, that young girl is going through an ordeal! Do women of that kind come to shows like this to be amused?"

"What do you mean?" I said, angrily.

"I mean that she _could not keep away! And I tell you to be careful with your lions, to spare her any recklessness on your part, to finish as soon as you can, and get out of that cursed cage. If you don't you're a coward, and a selfish one at that!"

His words were like a blow in the face; I stared at him, too confused even for anger.

"Oh, you fool, you fool!" he said, in a low voice. "She cares for you; can't you understand?"

And he turned on his heel, leaving me speechless.

I do not remember dressing. When I came out into the passageway Byram beckoned me, and pointed at a crack in the canvas through which one could see the interior of the amphitheatre. A mellow light flooded the great tent; spots of sunshine fell on the fresh tan-bark, where long, luminous, dusty beams slanted from the ridge-pole athwart the golden gloom.

Tier on tier the wooden benches rose, packed with women in brilliant holiday dress, with men gorgeous in silver and velvet, with children decked in lace and gilt chains. The air was filled with the starched rustle of white coiffes and stiff collarettes; a low, incessant clatter of sabots sounded from gallery to arena; gusts of breathless whispering passed like capricious breezes blowing, then died out in the hush which fell as our band-master, McCadger, raised his wand and the band burst into "Dixie."

At that the great canvas flaps over the stable entrance slowly parted and the scarlet-draped head of Djebe, the elephant, appeared. On he came, amid a rising roar of approval, Speed in gorgeous robes perched on high, ankus raised. After him came the camel, all over tassels and gold net, bestridden by Kelly Eyre, wearing a costume seldom seen anywhere, and never in the Sahara. White horses, piebald horses, and cream-colored horses pranced in the camel's wake, dragging assorted chariots tenanted by gentlemen in togas; pretty little Mrs. Grigg, in habit and scarlet jacket, followed on Briza, the white mare; Horan came next, driving more horses; the dens of ferocious beasts creaked after, guarded by a phalanx of stalwart stablemen in plumes and armor; then Miss Crystal, driving zebras to a gilt chariot; then more men in togas, leading monkeys mounted on ponies; and finally Mrs. Horan seated on a huge egg drawn by ostriches.

Once only they circled the sawdust ring; then the band stopped, the last of the procession disappeared, the clown came shrieking and tumbling out into the arena with his "Here we are again!"

And the show was on.

I stood in the shadow of the stable-tent, dressed in my frock-coat, white stock, white cords, and hunting-boots, sullen, imbittered, red with a false shame that better men than I have weakened under, almost desperate in my humiliation, almost ready to end it all there among those tawny, restless brutes pacing behind the bars at my elbow, watching me stealthily with luminous eyes.

She knew what I was--but that she could come to see with her own eyes I could not understand, I could not forgive. Speed's senseless words rang in my ears--"She cares for you!" But I knew they were meaningless, I knew she could not care for me. What fools' paradise would he have me enter? What did he know of this woman whom I knew and understood--whom I honored for her tenderness and pity to all who suffered--who I knew counted me as one among a multitude of unhappy failures whom her kindness and sympathy might aid.

Because she had, in her gracious ignorance, given me a young girl's impulsive friendship, was I to mistake her? What could Speed know of her--of her creed, her ideals, her calm, passionless desire to help where help was needed--anywhere--in the palace, in the faubourgs, in the wretched chaumieres, in the slums? It was all one to her--to this young girl whose tender heart, bruised by her own sad life, opened to all on whom the evil days had dawned.

And yet she had come here--and that was cruel; and she was not cruel. Could she know that I had a shred of pride left--one little, ragged thread of pride left in me--that she should come to see me do my mountebank tricks to the applause of a greasy throng?

No, she had not thought of that, else she would have stayed away; for she was kind, above all else--generous and kind.

Speed passed me in ring-master's dress; there came the hollow thud of hoofs as Mrs. Grigg galloped into the ring on her white mare, gauze skirts fluttering, whip raised; and, "Hoop-la!" squealed the clown as his pretty little wife went careering around and around the tan-bark, leaping through paper-hoops, over hurdles, while the band played frantically and the Bretons shouted in an ecstasy of excitement.

Then Grigg mounted his little trick donkey; roars of laughter greeted his discomfiture when Tim, the donkey, pitched him headlong and cantered off with a hee-haw of triumph.

Miss Delany tripped past me in her sky-blue tights to hold the audience spellbound with her jugglery, and spin plates and throw glittering knives until the satiated people turned to welcome Horan and his "cogged" dumbbells and clubs.

"Have you seen her?" whispered Speed, coming up to me, long whip trailing.

I shook my head.

He looked at me in disgust. "Here's something for you," he said, shortly, and thrust an envelope into my hand.

In the envelope was a little card on which was written: "I ask you to be careful, for a friend's sake." On the other side of the card was engraved her name.

I raised my head and looked at Speed, who began to laugh nervously. "That's better," he said; "you don't look like a surly brute any more."

"Where is she?" I said, steadying my voice, which my leaping heart almost stifled.

He drew me by the elbow and looked toward the right of the amphitheatre. Following the direction of his eyes, I saw her leaning forward, pale-faced, grave, small, gloved hands interlocked. Beside her sat Sylvia Elven, apparently amused at the antics of the clown.

Shame filled me. Not the false shame I had felt--that vanished--but shame that I could have misunderstood the presence of this brave friend of mine, this brave, generous, tender-hearted girl, who had given me her friendship, who was true enough to care what might happen to me--and brave enough to say so.

"I will be careful," I said to Speed, in a low voice. "If it were not for Byram I would not go on to-day--but that is a matter of honor. Oh, Speed," I broke out, "is she not worth dying for?"

"Why not live for her?" he observed, dryly.

"I will--don't misunderstand me--I know she could never even think of me--as I do--of her--yes, as I dare to, Speed. I dare to love her with all this wretched heart and soul of mine! It's all right--I think I am crazy to talk like this--but you are kind, Speed--you will forget what I said--you have forgotten it already--bless your heart--"

"No, I haven't," he retorted, obstinately. "You must win her--you must! Shame on you for a coward if you do not speak that word which means life to you both!"

"Speed!" I began, angrily.

"Oh, go to the devil!" he snapped, and walked off to where Jacqueline stood glittering, her slim limbs striking fire from every silver scale.

"All ready, little sweetheart!" he cried, reassuringly, as she raised her blue eyes to his and shook her elf-locks around her flushed face. "It's our turn now; they're uncovering the tank, and Miss Crystal is on her trapeze. Are you nervous?"

"Not when you are by me," said Jacqueline.

"I'll be there," he said, smiling. "You will see me when you are ready. Look! There's the governor! It's your call! Quick, my child!"

"Good-bye," said Jacqueline, catching his hand in both of hers, and she was off and in the middle of the ring before I could get to a place of vantage to watch.

Up into the rigging she swung, higher, higher, hanging like a brilliant fly in all that net-work of wire and rope, turning, twisting, climbing, dropping to her knees, until the people's cheers rose to a sustained shriek.

"Ready!" quavered Miss Crystal, hanging from her own trapeze across the gulf.

It was the first signal. Jacqueline set her trapeze swinging and hung by her knees, face downward.

"Ready!" called Miss Crystal again, as Jacqueline's trapeze swung higher and higher.

"Ready!" said Jacqueline, calmly.


(Illustration: "I WAS ON MY KNEES")

Like a meteor the child flashed across the space between the two trapezes; Miss Crystal caught her by her ankles.

"Ready?" called Speed, from the ground below. He had turned quite pale. I saw Jacqueline, hanging head down, smile at him from her dizzy height.

"Ready," she said, calmly.


Down, down, like a falling star, flashed Jacqueline into the shallow pool, then shot to the surface, shimmering like a leaping mullet, where she played and dived and darted, while the people screamed themselves hoarse, and Speed came out, ghastly and trembling, colliding with me like a blind man.

"I wish I had never let her do it; I wish I had never brought her here--never seen her," he stammered. "She'll miss it some day--like Miss Claridge--and it will be murder--and I'll have done it! Anybody but that child, Scarlett, anybody else--but I can't bear to have her die that way--the pretty little thing!"

He let go of my arm and stood back as my lion-cages came rolling out, drawn by four horses.

"It's your turn," he said, in a dazed way. "Look out for that lioness."

As I walked out into the arena I saw only one face. She tried to smile, and so did I; but a terrible, helpless sensation was already creeping over me--the knowledge that I was causing her distress--the knowledge that I was no longer sure of myself--that, with my love for her, my authority over these caged things had gone, never to return. I knew it, I recognized it, and admitted it now. Speed's words rang true--horribly true.

I entered the cage, afraid.

Almost instantly I was the centre of a snarling mass of lions; I saw nothing; my whip rose and fell mechanically. I stood like one stunned, while the tawny forms leaped right and left.

Suddenly I heard a keeper say, "Look out for Empress Khatoun, sir!" And a moment later a cry, "Look out, sir!"

Something went wrong with another lion, too, for the people were standing up and shouting, and the sleeve of my coat hung from the elbow, showing my bare shoulder. I staggered up against the bars of the sliding door as a lioness struck me heavily and I returned the blow. I remember saying, aloud: "I must keep my feet; I must not fall!" Then daylight grew red, and I was on my knees, with the foul breath of a lion in my face. A hot iron bar shot across the cage. The roaring of beasts and people died out in my ears; then, with a shock, my soul seemed to be dashed out of me into a terrific darkness.

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