Balacchi Brothers by Rebecca Harding Davis
"There's a man, now, that has been famous in his time," said Davidge, as we passed the mill, glancing in at the sunny gap in the side of the building.
I paused incredulously: Phil's lion so often turned out to be Snug the joiner. Phil was my chum at college, and in inviting me home to spend the vacation with him I thought he had fancied the resources of his village larger than they proved. In the two days since we came we had examined the old doctor's cabinet, listened superciliously to a debate in the literary club upon the Evils of the Stage, and passed two solid afternoons in the circle about the stove in the drug-shop, where the squire and the Methodist parson, and even the mild, white-cravated young rector of St. Mark's, were wont to sharpen their wits by friction. What more was left? I was positive that I knew the mental gauge of every man in the village.
A little earlier or later in life a gun or fishing-rod would have satisfied me. The sleepy, sunny little market-town was shut in by the bronzed autumn meadows, that sent their long groping fingers of grass or parti-colored weeds drowsily up into the very streets: there were ranges of hills and heavy stretches of oak and beech woods, too, through which crept glittering creeks full of trout. But I was just at that age when the soul disdains all aimless pleasures: my game was Man. I was busy in philosophically testing, weighing, labelling human nature.
"Famous, eh?" I said, looking after the pursy figure of the miller in his floury canvas round-about and corduroy trowsers, trotting up and down among the bags.
"That is one of the Balacchi Brothers," Phil answered as we walked on. "You've heard of them when you were a boy?"
I had heard of them. The great acrobats were as noted in their line of art as Ellsler and Jenny Lind in theirs. But acrobats and danseuses had been alike brilliant, wicked impossibilities to my youth, for I had been reared a Covenanter of the Covenanters. In spite of the doubting philosophies with which I had clothed myself at college, that old Presbyterian training clung to me in everyday life close as my skin.
After that day I loitered about the mill, watching this man, whose life had been spent in one godless theatre after another, very much as the Florentine peasants looked after Dante when they knew he had come back from hell. I was on the lookout for the taint, the abnormal signs, of vice. It was about that time that I was fevered with the missionary enthusiasm, and in Polynesia, where I meant to go (but where I never did go), I declared to Phil daily that I should find in every cannibal the half-effaced image of God, only waiting to be quickened into grace and virtue. That was quite conceivable. But that a flashy, God-defying actor could be the same man at heart as this fat, good-tempered, gossiping miller, who jogged to the butcher's every morning for his wife, a basket on one arm and a baby on the other, was not conceivable. He was a close dealer at the butcher's, too, though dribbling gossip there as everywhere; a regular attendant at St. Mark's, with his sandy-headed flock about him, among whom he slept comfortably enough, it is true, but with as pious dispositions as the rest of us.
I remember how I watched this man, week in and week out. It was a trivial matter, but it irritated me unendurably to find that this circus-rider had human blood precisely like my own it outraged my early religion.
We talk a great deal of the rose-colored illusions in which youth wraps the world, and the agony it suffers as they are stripped from its bare, hard face. But the fact is, that youth (aside from its narrow-passionate friendships) is usually apt to be acrid and watery and sour in its judgment and creeds--it has the quality of any other unripe fruit: it is middle age that is just and tolerant, that has found room enough in the world for itself and all human flies to buzz out their lives good-humoredly together. It is youth who can see a tangible devil at work in every party or sect opposed to its own, whose enemy is always a villain, and who finds treachery and falsehood in the friend who is occasionally bored or indifferent: it is middle age that has discovered the reasonable sweet juste milieu of human nature--who knows few saints perhaps, but is apt to find its friend and grocer and shoemaker agreeable and honest fellows. It is these vehement illusions, these inherited bigotries and prejudices, that tear and cripple a young man as they are taken from him one by one. He creeps out of them as a crab from the shell that has grown too small for him, but he thinks he has left his identity behind him.
It was such a reason as this that made me follow the miller assiduously, and cultivate a quasi intimacy with him, in the course of which I picked the following story from him. It was told at divers times, and with many interruptions and questions from me. But for obvious reasons I have made it continuous. It had its meaning to me, coarse and common though it was--the same which Christ taught in the divine beauty of His parables. Whether that meaning might not be found in the history of every human life, if we had eyes to read it, is matter for question.
Balacchi Brothers? And you've heard of them, eh? Well, well! (with a pleased nod, rubbing his hands on his knees). Yes, sir. Fifteen years ago they were known as The Admirable Crichtons of the Ring. It was George who got up that name: I did not see the force of it. But no name could claim too much for us. Why, I could show you notices in the newspapers that--I used to clip them out and stuff my pocket-book with them as we went along, but after I quit the business I pasted them in an old ledger, and I often now read them of nights. No doubt I lost a good many, too.
Yes, sir: I was one of Balacchi Brothers. My name is Zack Loper. And it was then, of course.
You think we would have plenty of adventures? Well, no--not a great many. There's a good deal of monotony in the business. Towns seem always pretty much alike to me. And there was such a deal of rehearsing to be done by day and at night. I looked at nothing but the rope and George: the audience was nothing but a packed flat surface of upturned, staring eyes and half-open mouths. It was an odd sight, yes, when you come to think of it. I never was one for adventures. I was mostly set upon shaving close through the week, so that when Saturday night came I'd have something to lay by: I had this mill in my mind, you see. I was married, and had my wife and a baby that I'd never seen waiting for me at home. I was brought up to milling, but the trapeze paid better. I took to it naturally, as one might say.
But George!--he had adventures every week. And as for acquaintances! Why, before we'd be in a town two days he'd be hail-fellow-well-met with half the people in it. That fellow could scent a dance or a joke half a mile off. You never see such wide-awake men nowadays. People seem to me half dead or asleep when I think of him.
Oh, I thought you knew. My partner Balacchi. It was Balacchi on the bill: the actors called him Signor, and people like the manager, South, and we, who knew him well, George. I asked him his real name once or twice, but he joked it off. "How many names must a man be saddled with?" he said. I don't know it to this day, nor who he had been. They hinted there was something queer about his story, but I'll go my bail it was a clean one, whatever it was.
You never heard how "Balacchi Brothers" broke up? That was as near to an adventure as I ever had. Come over to this bench and I'll tell it to you. You don't dislike the dust of the mill? The sun's pleasanter on this side.
It was early in August of '56 when George and I came to an old town on the Ohio, half city, half village, to play an engagement. We were under contract with South then, who provided the rest of the troupe, three or four posture-girls, Stradi the pianist, and a Madame Somebody, who gave readings and sang. "Concert" was the heading in large caps on the bills, "Balacchi Brothers will give their aesthetic tableaux vivants in the interludes," in agate below.
"I've got to cover you fellows over with respectability here," South said. "Rope-dancing won't go down with these aristocratic church-goers."
I remember how George was irritated. "When I was my own agent," he said, "I only went to the cities. Educated people can appreciate what we do, but in these country towns we rank with circus-riders."
George had some queer notions about his business. He followed it for sheer love of it, as I did for money. I've seen all the great athletes since, but I never saw one with his wonderful skill and strength, and with the grace of a woman too, or a deer. Now that takes hard, steady work, but he never flinched from it, as I did; and when night came, and the people and lights, and I thought of nothing but to get through, I used to think he had the pride of a thousand women in every one of his muscles and nerves: a little applause would fill him with a mad kind of fury of delight and triumph. South had a story that George belonged to some old Knickerbocker family, and had run off from home years ago. I don't know. There was that wild restless blood in him that no home could have kept him.
We were to stay so long in this town that I found rooms for us with an old couple named Peters, who had but lately moved in from the country, and had half a dozen carpenters and masons boarding with them. It was cheaper than the hotel, and George preferred that kind of people to educated men, which made me doubt that story of his having been a gentleman. The old woman Peters was uneasy about taking us, and spoke out quite freely about it when we called, not knowing that George and I were Balacchi Brothers ourselves.
"The house has been respectable so far, gentlemen," she said. "I don't know what about taking in them half-naked, drunken play-actors. What do you say, Susy?" to her granddaughter.
"Wait till you see them, grandmother," the girl said gently. "I should think that men whose lives depended every night on their steady eyes and nerves would not dare to touch liquor."
"You are quite right--nor even tobacco," said George. It was such a prompt, sensible thing for the little girl to say that he looked at her attentively a minute, and then went up to the old lady smiling: "We don't look like drinking men, do we, madam?"
"No, no, sir. I did not know that you were the I-talians." She was quite flustered and frightened, and said cordially enough how glad she was to have us both. But it was George she shook hands with. There was something clean and strong and inspiring about that man that made most women friendly to him on sight.
Why, in two days you'd have thought he'd never had another home than the Peters's. He helped the old man milk, and had tinkered up the broken kitchen-table, and put in half a dozen window-panes, and was intimate with all the boarders; could give the masons the prices of job-work at the East, and put Stoll the carpenter on the idea of contract houses, out of which he afterward made a fortune. It was nothing but jokes and fun and shouts of laughter when he was in the house: even the old man brightened up and told some capital stories. But from the first I noticed that George's eye followed Susy watchfully wherever she went, though he was as distant and respectful with her as he was with most women. He had a curious kind of respect for women, George had. Even the Slingsbys, that all the men in the theatre joked with, he used to pass by as though they were logs leaning against the wall. They were the posture-girls, and anything worse besides the name I never saw.
There was a thing happened once on that point which I often thought might have given me a clew to his history if I'd followed it up. We were playing in one of the best theatres in New York (they brought us into some opera), and the boxes were filled with fine ladies beautifully dressed, or, I might say, half dressed.
George was in one of the wings. "It's a pretty sight," I said to him.
"It's a shameful sight," he said with an oath. "The Slingsbys do it for their living, but these women--"
I said they were ladies, and ought to be treated with respect. I was amazed at the heat he was in.
"I had a sister, Zack, and there's where I learned what a woman should be."
"I never heard of your sister, George," said I. I knew he would not have spoken of her but for the heat he was in.
"No. I'm as dead to her, being what I am, as if I were six feet under ground."
I turned and looked at him, and when I saw his face I said no more, and I never spoke of it again. It was something neither I nor any other man had any business with.
So, when I saw how he was touched by Susy and drawn toward her, it raised her in my opinion, though I'd seen myself how pretty and sensible a little body she was. But I was sorry, for I knew twan't no use. The Peterses were Methodists, and Susy more strict than any of them; and I saw she looked on the theatre as the gate of hell, and George and me swinging over it.
I don't think, though, that George saw how strong her feeling about it was, for after we'd been there a week or two he began to ask her to go and see us perform, if only for once. I believe he thought the girl would come to love him if she saw him at his best. I don't wonder at it, sir. I've seen those pictures and statues they've made of the old gods, and I reckon they put in them the best they thought a man could be; but I never knew what real manhood was until I saw my partner when he stood quiet on the stage waiting the signal to begin the light full on his keen blue eyes, the gold-worked velvet tunic, and his perfect figure.
He looked more like other men in his ordinary clothing. George liked a bit of flash, too, in his dress--a red necktie or gold chain stretched over his waistcoat.
Susy refused at first, steadily. At last, however, came our final night, when George was to produce his great leaping feat, never yet performed in public. We had been practising it for months, and South judged it best to try it first before a small, quiet audience, for the risk was horrible. Whether, because it was to be the last night, and her kind heart disliked to hurt him by refusal, or whether she loved him better than either she or he knew, I could not tell, but I saw she was strongly tempted to go. She was an innocent little thing, and not used to hide what she felt. Her eyes were red that morning, as though she had been crying all the night. Perhaps, because I was a married man, and quieter than George, she acted more freely with me than him.
"I wish I knew what to do," she said, looking up to me with her eyes full of tears. There was nobody in the room but her grandmother.
"I couldn't advise you, Miss Susy," says I. "Your church discipline goes against our trade, I know."
"I know what's right myself: I don't need church discipline to teach me," she said sharply.
"I think I'd go, Susy," said her grandmother. "It is a concert, after all: it's not a play."
"The name doesn't alter it."
Seeing the temper she was in, I thought it best to say no more, but the old lady added, "It's Mr. George's last night. Dear, dear! how I'll miss him!"
Susy turned quickly to the window. "Why does he follow such godless ways then?" she cried. She stood still a good while, and when she turned about her pale little face made my heart ache. "I'll take home Mrs. Tyson's dress now, grandmother," she said, and went out of the room. I forgot to tell you Susy was a seamstress. Well, the bundle was large, and I offered to carry it for her, as the time for rehearsal did not come till noon. She crept alongside of me without a word, looking weak and done-out: she was always so busy and bright, it was the more noticeable. The house where the dress was to go was one of the largest in the town. The servant showed us into a back parlor, and took the dress up to her mistress. I looked around me a great deal, for I'd never been in such a house before; but very soon I caught sight of a lady who made me forget carpets and pictures. I only saw her in the mirror, for she was standing by the fireplace in the front room. The door was open between. It wasn't that she was especially pretty, but in her white morning-dress, with lace about her throat and her fair hair drawn back from her face, I thought she was the delicatest, softest, finest thing of man- or woman-kind I ever say.
"Look there, Susy! look there!" I whispered.
"It is a Mrs. Lloyd from New York. She is here on a visit. That is her husband;" and then she went down into her own gloomy thoughts again.
The husband was a grave, middle-aged man. He had had his paper up before his face, so that I had not seen him before.
"You will go for the tickets, then, Edward?" she said.
"If you make a point of it, yes," in an annoyed tone. "But I don't know why you make a point of it. The musical part of the performance is beneath contempt, I understand, and the real attraction is the exhibition of these mountebanks of trapezists, which will be simply disgusting to you. You would not encourage such people at home: why would you do it here?"
"They are not necessarily wicked." I noticed there was a curious unsteadiness in her voice, as though she was hurt and agitated. I thought perhaps she knew I was there.
"There is very little hope of any redeeming qualities in men who make a trade of twisting their bodies like apes," he said. "Contortionists and ballet-dancers and clowns and harlequins--" he rattled all the names over with a good deal of uncalled-for sharpness, I thought, calling them "dissolute and degraded, the very offal of humanity." I could not understand his heat until he added, "I never could comprehend your interest and sympathy for that especial class, Ellinor."
"No, you could not, Edward," she said quietly.
"But I have it. I never have seen an exhibition of the kind. But I want to see this to-night, if you will gratify me. I have no reason." she added when he looked at her curiously. "The desire is unaccountable to myself."
The straightforward look of her blue eyes as she met his seemed strangely familiar and friendly to me.
At that moment Susy stood up to go. Her cheeks were burning and her eyes sparkling. "Dissolute and degraded!" she said again and again when we were outside. But I took no notice.
As we reached the house she stopped me when I turned off to go to rehearsal. "You'll get seats for grandmother and me, Mr. Balacchi?" she said.
"You're going, then, Susy?"
"Yes, I'm going."
* * * * *
Now the house in which we performed was a queer structure. A stock company, thinking there was a field for a theatre in the town, had taken a four-story building, gutted the interior, and fitted it up with tiers of seats and scenery. The stock company was starved out, however, and left the town, and the theatre was used as a gymnasium, a concert-room, or a church by turns. Its peculiarity was, that it was both exceedingly lofty and narrow, which suited our purpose exactly.
It was packed that night from dome to pit. George and I had rehearsed our new act both morning and afternoon, South watching us without intermission. South was terribly nervous and anxious, half disposed, at the last minute, to forbid it, although it had been announced on the bills for a week. But a feat which is successful in an empty house, with but one spectator, when your nerves are quiet and blood cool, is a different thing before an excited, terrified, noisy audience, your whole body at fever heat. However, George was cool as a cucumber, indeed almost indifferent about the act, but in a mad, boyish glee all day about everything else. I suppose the reason was that Susy was going.
South had lighted the house brilliantly and brought in a band. And all classes of people poured into the theatre until it could hold no more. I saw Mrs. Peters in one of the side-seats, with Susy's blushing, frightened little face beside her. George, standing back among the scenes, saw her too: I think, indeed, it was all he did see.
There were the usual readings from Shakespeare at first.
While Madame was on, South came to us. "Boys," said he, "let this matter go over a few weeks. A little more practice will do you no harm. You can substitute some other trick, and these people will be none the wiser."
George shrugged his shoulders impatiently: "Nonsense! When did you grow so chicken-hearted, South? It is I who have to run the risk, I fancy."
I suppose South's uneasiness had infected me.
"I am quite willing to put it off," I said. I had felt gloomy and superstitious all day. But I never ventured to oppose George more decidedly than that.
He only laughed by way of reply, and went off to dress. South looked after him, I remember, saying what a magnificently-built fellow he was. If we could only have seen the end of that night's work!
As I went to my dressing-room I saw Mrs. Lloyd and her husband in one of the stage-boxes, with one or two other ladies and gentlemen. She was plainly and darkly dressed, but to my mind she looked like a princess among them all. I could not but wonder what interest she could have in such a rough set as we, although her husband, I confess, did judge us hardly.
After the readings came the concert part of the performance, and then what South chose to call the Moving Tableaux, which was really nothing in the world but ballet-dancing. George and I were left to crown the whole. I had some ordinary trapeze-work to do at first, but George was reserved for the new feat, in order that his nerves might be perfectly unshaken. When I went out alone and bowed to the audience, I observed that Mrs. Lloyd was leaning eagerly forward, but at the first glance at my face she sank back with a look of relief, and turned away, that she might not see my exploits. It nettled me a little, I think, yet they were worth watching.
Well, I finished, and then there was a song to give me time to cool. I went to the side-scenes where I could be alone, for that five minutes. I had no risk to run in the grand feat, you see, but I had George's life in my hands. I haven't told you yet--have I?--what it was he proposed to do.
A rope was suspended from the centre of the dome, the lower end of which I held, standing in the highest gallery opposite the stage. Above the stage hung the trapeze on which George and the two posture-girls were to be. At a certain signal I was to let the rope go, and George, springing from the trapeze across the full width of the dome, was to catch it in mid-air, a hundred feet above the heads of the people. You understand? The mistake of an instant of time on either his part or mine, and death was almost certain. The plan we had thought surest was for South to give the word, and then that both should count--One, Two, Three! At Three the rope fell, and he leaped. We had practised so often that we thought we counted as one man.
When the song was over the men hung the rope and the trapeze. Jenny and Lou Slingsby swung themselves up to it, turned a few somersaults and then were quiet. They were only meant to give effect to the scene in their gauzy dresses and spangles. Then South came forward and told the audience what we meant to do. It was a feat, he said, which had never been produced before in any theatre, and in which failure was death. No one but that most daring of all acrobats, Balacchi, would attempt it. Now I knew South so well that I saw under all his confident, bragging tone he was more anxious and doubtful than he had ever been. He hesitated a moment, and then requested that after we took our places the audience should preserve absolute silence, and refrain from even the slightest movement until the feat was over. The merest trifle might distract the attention of the performers and render their eyes and hold unsteady, he said. He left the stage, and the music began.
I went round to take my place in the gallery. George had not yet left his room. As I passed I tapped at the door and called, "Good luck, old fellow!"
"That's certain now, Zack," he answered, with a joyous laugh. He was so exultant, you see, that Susy had come.
But the shadow of death seemed to have crept over me. When I took my stand in the lofty gallery, and looked down at the brilliant lights and the great mass of people, who followed my every motion as one man, and the two glittering, half-naked girls swinging in the distance, and heard the music rolling up thunders of sound, it was all ghastly and horrible to me, sir. Some men have such presentiments, they say: I never had before or since. South remained on the stage perfectly motionless, in order, I think, to maintain his control over the audience.
The trumpets sounded a call, and in the middle of a burst of triumphant music George came on the stage. There was a deafening outbreak of applause and then a dead silence, but I think every man and woman felt a thrill of admiration of the noble figure Poor George! the new, tight-fitting dress of purple velvet that he had bought for this night set off his white skin, and his fine head was bare, with no covering but the short curls that Susy liked.
It was for Susy! He gave one quick glance up at her, and a bright, boyish smile, as if telling her not to be afraid, which all the audience understood, and answered by an involuntary, long-drawn breath. I looked at Susy. The girl's colorless face was turned to George, and her hands were clasped as though she saw him already dead before her; but she could be trusted, I saw. She would utter no sound. I had only time to glance at her, and then turned to my work. George and I dared not take our eyes from each other.
There was a single bugle note, and then George swung himself up to the trapeze. The silence was like death as he steadied himself and slowly turned so as to front me. As he turned he faced the stage-box for the first time. He had reached the level of the posture-girls, who fluttered on either side, and stood on the swaying rod poised on one foot, his arms folded, when in the breathless stillness there came a sudden cry and the words, "Oh, Charley! Charley!"
Even at the distance where I stood I saw George start and a shiver pass over his body. He looked wildly about him.
"To me! to me!" I shouted.
He fixed his eye on mine and steadied himself. There was a terrible silent excitement in the people, in the very air.
There was the mistake. We should have stopped then, shaken as he was, but South, bewildered and terrified, lost control of himself: he gave the word.
I held the rope loose--held George with my eyes--One!
I saw his lips move: he was counting with me.
His eye wandered, turned to the stage-box.
Like a flash, I saw the white upturned faces below me, the posture-girls' gestures of horror, the dark springing figure through the air, that wavered--and fell a shapeless mass on the floor.
There was a moment of deathlike silence, and then a wild outcry--women fainting, men cursing and crying out in that senseless, helpless way they have when there is sudden danger. By the time I had reached the floor they had straightened out his shattered limbs, and two or three doctors were fighting their way through the great crowd that was surging about him.
Well, sir, at that minute what did I hear but George's voice above all the rest, choked and hollow as it was, like a man calling out of the grave: "The women! Good God! don't you see the women?" he gasped.
Looking up then, I saw those miserable Slingsbys hanging on to the trapeze for life. What with the scare and shock, they'd lost what little sense they had, and there they hung helpless as limp rags high over our heads.
"Damn the Slingsbys!" said I. God forgive me! But I saw this battered wreck at my feet that had been George. Nobody seemed to have any mind left. Even South stared stupidly up at them and then back at George. The doctors were making ready to lift him, and half of the crowd were gaping in horror, and the rest yelling for ladders or ropes, and scrambling over each other, and there hung the poor flimsy wretches, their eyes starting out of their heads from horror, and their lean fingers loosing their hold every minute. But, sir--I couldn't help it--I turned from them to watch George as the doctors lifted him.
"It's hardly worth while," whispered one.
But they raised him and, sir--the body went one way and the legs another.
I thought he was dead. I couldn't see that he breathed, when he opened his eyes and looked up for the Slingsbys. "Put me down," he said, and the doctors obeyed him. There was that in his voice that they had to obey him, though it wasn't but a whisper.
"Ladders are of no use," he said. "Loper!"
"You can swing yourself up. Do it."
I went. I remember the queer stunned feeling I had: my joints moved like a machine.
When I had reached the trapeze, he said, as cool as if he were calling the figures for a Virginia reel, "Support them, you--Loper. Now, lower the trapeze, men--carefully!"
It was the only way their lives could be saved, and he was the only man to see it. He watched us until the girls touched the floor more dead than alive, and then his head fell back and the life seemed to go suddenly out of him like the flame out of a candle, leaving only the dead wick.
As they were carrying him out I noticed for the first time that a woman was holding his hand. It was that frail little wisp of a Susy, that used to blush and tremble if you spoke to her suddenly, and here she was quite quiet and steady in the midst of this great crowd.
"His sister, I suppose" one of the doctors said to her.
"No, sir. If he lives I will be his wife." The old gentleman was very respectful to her after that, I noticed.
Now, the rest of my story is very muddled, you'll say, and confused. But the truth is, I don't understand it myself. I ran on ahead to Mrs. Peters's to prepare his bed for him, but they did not bring him to Peters's. After I waited an hour or two I found George had been taken to the principal hotel in the place, and a bedroom and every comfort that money could buy were there for him. Susy came home sobbing late in the night, but she told me nothing, except that those who had a right to have charge of him had taken him. I found afterward the poor girl was driven from the door of his room, where she was waiting like a faithful dog. I went myself, but I fared no better. What with surgeons and professional nurses, and the gentlemen that crowded about with their solemn looks of authority, I dared not ask to see him. Yet I believe still George would rather have had old Loper by him in his extremity than any of them. Once, when the door was opened, I thought I saw Mrs. Lloyd stooping over the bed between the lace curtains, and just then her husband came out talking to one of the surgeons.
He said: "It is certain there were here the finest elements of manhood. And I will do my part to rescue him from the abyss into which he has fallen."
"Will you tell me how George is, sir?" I asked, pushing up. "Balacchi? My partner?"
Mr. Lloyd turned away directly, but the surgeon told me civilly enough that if George's life could be saved, it must be with the loss of one or perhaps both of his legs.
"He'll never mount a trapeze again, then," I said, and I suppose I groaned; for to think of George helpless--
"God forbid!" cried Mr. Lloyd, sharply. "Now look here, my good man: you can be of no possible use to Mr.--Balacchi as you call him. He is in the hands of his own people, and he will feel, as they do, that the kindest thing you can do is to let him alone."
There was nothing to be done after that but to touch my hat and go out, but as I went I heard him talking of "inexplicable madness and years of wasted opportunities."
Well, sir, I never went again: the words hurt like the cut of a whip, though 'twan't George that spoke them. But I quit business, and hung around the town till I heard he was going to live, and I broke up my contract with South. I never went on a trapeze again. I felt as if the infernal thing was always dripping with his blood after that day. Anyhow, all the heart went out of the business for me with George. So I came back here and settled down to the milling, and by degrees I learned to think of George as a rich and fortunate man.
I've nearly done now--only a word or two more. About six years afterward there was a circus came to town, and I took the wife and children and went. I always did when I had the chance. It was the old Adam in me yet, likely.
Well, sir, among the attractions of the circus was the great and unrivalled Hercules, who could play with cannon-balls as other men would with dice. I don't know what made me restless and excited when I read about this man. It seemed as though the old spirit was coming back to me again. I could hardly keep still when the time drew near for him to appear. I don't know what I expected, but when he came out from behind the curtain I shouted out like a madman, "Balacchi! George! George!"
He stopped short, looked about, and catching sight of me tossed up his cap with his old boyish shout; then he remembered himself and went on with his performance.
He was lame--yes, in one leg. The other was gone altogether. He walked on crutches. Whether the strength had gone into his chest and arms, I don't know; but there he stood tossing about the cannon-balls as I might marbles. So full of hearty good-humor too, joking with his audience, and so delighted when they gave him a round of applause.
After the performance I hurried around the tent, and you may be sure there was rejoicing that made the manager and other fellows laugh.
George haled me off with him down the street. He cleared the ground with that crutch and wooden leg like a steam-engine. "Come! come along!" he cried; "I've something to show you, Loper."
He took me to a quiet boarding-house, and there, in a cosey room, was Susy with a four-year-old girl.
"We were married as soon as I could hobble about," he said, "and she goes with me and makes a home wherever I am."
Susy nodded and blushed and laughed. "Baby and I," she said. "Do you see Baby? She has her father's eyes, do you see?"
"She is her mother, Loper," said George--"just as innocent and pure and foolish--just as sure of the Father in heaven taking care of her. They've made a different man of me in some ways--a different man," bending his head reverently.
After a while I began, "You did not stay with--?" But Balacchi frowned. "I knew where I belonged," he said.
Well, he's young yet. He's the best Hercules in the profession, and has laid up a snug sum. Why doesn't he invest it and retire? I doubt if he'll ever do that, sir. He may do it, but I doubt it. He can't change his blood, and there's that in Balacchi that makes me suspect he will die with the velvet and gilt on, and in the height of good-humor and fun with his audience.