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Madam Delia's expectations.

Madam Delia sat at the door of her show-tent, which, as she discovered too late, had been pitched on the wrong side of the Parade. It was “Election day” in Oldport, and there must have been a thousand people in the public square; there were really more than the four policemen on duty could properly attend to, so that half of them had leisure to step into Madam Delia's tent, and see little Gerty and the rattlesnakes. It was past the appointed hour; but the exhibition had never yet been known to open for less than ten spectators, and even the addition of the policemen only made eight. So the mistress of the show sat in resolute expectation, a little defiant of the human race. It was her thirteenth annual tour, and she knew mankind.

Surely there were people enough; surely they had money enough; surely they were easily pleased. [163] They gathered in crowds to hear crazy Mrs. Green denouncing the city government for sending her to the poorhouse in a wagon instead of a carriage. They thronged to inspect the load of hay that was drawn by the two horses whose harness had been cut to pieces, and then repaired by Denison's Eureka Cement. They all bought whips with that unfailing readiness which marks a rural crowd; they bought packages of lead-pencils with a dollar so skilfully distributed through every six parcels that the oldest purchaser had never found more than ten cents in his. They let the man who cured neuralgia rub his magic curative on their foreheads, and allowed the man who cleaned watch-chains to dip theirs in the purifying powder. They twirled the magic arrow, which never by any chance rested at the corner compartments where the gold watches and the heavy bracelets were piled, but perpetually recurred to the side stations, and indicated only a beggarly prize of india-rubber sleeve-buttons. They bought ten cents' worth of jewelry, obtaining a mingled treasure of two breastpins, a plain gold ring, an enamelled ring, and “a piece of California gold.” But still no added prizes [164] in the human lottery fell to the show-tent of Madam Delia.

As time went on and the day grew warmer, the crowd grew visibly less enterprising, and business flagged. The man with the lifting-machine pulled at the handles himself, a gratuitous exhibition before a circle of boys now penniless. The man with the metallic polish dipped and redipped his own watch-chain. The men at the booths sat down to lunch upon the least presentable of their own pies. The proprietor of the magic arrow, who had already two large breastpins on his dirty shirt, selected from his own board another to grace his coat-collar, as if thereby to summon back the waning fortunes of the day. But Madam Delia still sat at her post, undaunted. She kept her eye on two sauntering militia-men in uniform, but they only read her sign and seated themselves on the curbstone, to smoke. Then a stout black soldier came in sight; but he turned and sat down at a table to eat oysters, served by a vast and smiling matron of his own race. But even this, though perhaps the most wholly cheerful exhibition that the day yielded, had no charms for Madam Delia. [165] Her own dinner was ordered at the tavern after the morning show; and where is the human being who does not resent the spectacle of another human being who dines earlier than himself?

It grew warmer, so warm that the canvas walls of the tent seemed to grasp a certain armful of heat and keep it inexorably in; so warm that the out-of-door man was dozing as he leaned against the tent-stake, and only recovered himself at the sound of Madam Delia's penetrating voice, and again began to summon people in, though there was nobody within hearing. It was so warm that Mr. De Marsan, born Bangs, the wedded husband of Madam Delia, dozed as he walked up and down the sidewalk, and had hardly voice enough to testify, as an unconcerned spectator, to the value of the show. Only the unwearied zeal of the show-woman defied alike thermometer and neglect. She kept her eye on everything,--on Old Bill as he fed the monkeys within, on Monsieur Comstock as he hung the trapeze for the performance, on the little girls as they tried to peddle their songs, on the sleepy out-of-door man, and on the people who did not draw near. If she could, she would have [166] played all the parts in her own small company, and would have put the inexhaustible nervous energies of her own New England nature (she was born at Meddibemps, State of Maine) into all. Apart from this potent stimulus, not a soul in the establishment, save little Gerty, possessed any energy whatever. Old Bill had unfortunately never learned total abstinence from the wild animals among which he had passed his life; Monsieur Comstock's brains had chiefly run into his arms and legs; and Mr. De Marsan, the nominal head of the establishment, was a peaceful Pennsylvanian, who was wont to move as slowly as if he were one of those processions that take a certain number of hours to pass a given point. This Madam Delia understood and expected; he was an innocent who was to be fed, clothed, and directed; but his languor was no excuse for the manifest feebleness of the out-of-door man.

“ That man don't know how to talk no more 'n nothina at all,” said Madam Delia reproachfully, to the large policeman who stood by her. “He never speaks up bold to nobody. Why don't he tell 'em what's inside the tent? I don't want him to say [167] no more 'n the truth, but he might tell that. Tell 'em about Gerty, you nincum! Tell 'em about the snakes. Tell 'em what Comstock is. 'T ain't the real original Comstock” (this to the policeman), “it's only another that used to perform with him in Comstock Brothers. This one can't swaller, so we leave out the knives.”

“ Where's ta other?” said the sententious policeman, whose ears were always open for suspicious disappearances.

“ Did n't you hear?” cried the incredulous lady. “Scattered! Gone! Went off one day with a box of snakes and two monkeys. Come, now, you must have heard. We had a sight of trouble payina detectives.”

“What for a looking fellow was he?” said the policeman.

“Dark complected,” was the reply. “Black mustache. He understood his business, I tell you now. Swallered five or six knives to onst, and give good satisfaction to any audience. It was him that brought us Gerty and Anne,--that's the other little girl. I did n't know as they was his children, and didn't know as they was, but [168] one day he said he got 'em from an old woman in New York, and that was all he knew.”

“They're smart,” said the man, whom Gerty had just coaxed into paying three cents instead of two for Number Six of the “Singer's Journal,” a dingy little sheet, containing a song about a fat policeman, which she had brought to his notice.

“You'd better believe it,” said Madam Delia, proudly. “At least Gerty is; Anne ain't. I tell 'em, Gerty knows enough for both. Anne don't know nothina, and what she does know she don't know sartin. All she can do is just to hang on: she's the strongest and she does the heavy business on the trapeze and parallel bars.”

“ Is Gerty good on that?” said the public guardian.

“ I tell you,” said the head of the establishment. --“Go and dress, children! Five minutes!”

All this time Madam Delia had been taking occasional fees from the tardy audience, had been making change, detecting counterfeit currency, and discerning at a glance the impostures of one deceitful boy who claimed to have gone out on a check and lost it. At last Stephen Blake and his little [169] sister entered, and the house was regarded as full. These two revellers had drained deep the cup of “Election-day” excitement. They had twirled all the arrows, bought all the jewelry, inspected all the colored eggs, blown at all the spirometers, and tasted all the egg-pop which the festal day required. These delights exhausted, they looked round for other worlds to conquer, saw Madam Delia at her tent-door, and were conquered by her.

She did, indeed, look energetic and comely as she sat at the receipt of custom, her smooth black hair relieved by gold ear-rings, her cotton velvet sack by a white collar, and her dark gingham dress by a cheap breastpin and by linen cuffs not very much soiled. The black leather bag at her side had a well-to-do look; but all else in the establishment looked a little poverty-stricken. The tent was made of very worn and soiled canvas, and was but some twenty-five feet square. There were no seats, and the spectators sat on the grass. There was a very small stage raised some six feet; this was covered with some strips of old carpet, and surrounded by a few old and tattered curtains. Through their holes you could easily see the lithe [170] brown shoulders of the little girls as they put on their professional suits; and, on the other side, Monsieur Comstock, scarcely hidden by the drapery, leaned against a cross-bar, and rested his chin upon his tattooed arms as he counted the spectators. Among these, Mr. De Marsan, pacing slowly, distributed copies of this programme:--

Thirteenth annual tour.

Madam Delia's Museum and variety combination will exhibit.

Proclamation to the public. --The Proprietors would say that they have abandoned the old and played-out practice of decorating the outer walls of all principal streets with flaming Posters and Handbills, and have adopted the congenial, and they trust successful, plan of advertising with Programmes, giving a full and accurate description as now organized, which will be distributed in Hotels, Saloons, Factories, Torkshops, and all private dwellings, by their Special Agents, three days before the exhibition takes place.

Madam Delia with her
pet snakes.
Miss Gerty,
the child wonder,
danseuse and contortionist,

will appear in her wonderful feats at each performance. [171]

Mons. Comstock,
the champion sword-swallower, will also exhibit his wonderful power of swallowing Five Swords, measuring from 14 to 22 inches in length. It is not so much the beauty of this feat that makes it so remarkable, as its seeming impossibility.

Master Bobby,
the banjo soloist and burlesque.

Comic acrobat,
by Miss Gerty and Mons. Comstock.
Madam Delia,
the wonderful and original snake-tamer, with her Pets, measuring 12 feet in length and weighing 50 lbs. A pet Rattlesnake, 15 years of age, captured on the Prairies of Illinois, oldest on exhibition.

In connection with this Exhibition there are
ant-eaters, African monkeys, &c.

Cosmoramic Stereoscopic Scenes II the United States and other Countries, including a view of the Funeral Procession of President Taylor, which is alone worth the price of admission. Exhibition every half-hour, during day and evening.

Secure your seats early!

Admission 20 cents.

Particular care will be taken and nothing shall occur to offend the most fastidious.


Stephen and his little sister strolled about the tent meanwhile. The final preparations went slowly on. The few spectators teased the anteater in one corner, or the first violin in another. One or two young farmers' boys were a little uproarious with egg-pop, and danced awkward breakdowns at the end of the tent. Then a cracked bell sounded and the curtain rose, showing hardly more of the stage than was plainly visible before.

Little Gerty, aged ten, came in first, all rumpled gauze and tarnished spangles, to sing. In a poor little voice, feebler and shriller than the chattering of the monkeys, she sang a song about the “Grecian bend,” and enacted the same, walking round and round the stage whirling her tawdry finery. Then Anne, aged twelve, came in as a boy and joined her. Both the girls had rather pretty features, blue eyes, and tightly curling hair; both had pleasing faces; but Anne was solid and phlegmatic, while Gerty was keen and flexible as a weasel, and almost as thin. Presently Anne went out and reappeared as “Master Bobby” of the bills, making love to Gerty in that capacity, through song and dance. Then Gerty was transformed by the addition [173] of a single scarf into a “Highland maid,” and danced a fling; this quite gracefully, to the music of two violins. Exeunt the children and enter “Madam Delia and her pets.”

The show-woman had laid aside her velvet sack and appeared with bare neck and arms. Over her shoulders hung a rattlesnake fifteen feet long, while a smaller specimen curled from each hand. The reptiles put their cold, triangular faces against hers, they touched her lips, they squirmed around her; she tied their tails together in elastic knots that soon undid; they reared their heads above her black locks till she looked like a stage Medusa, then laid themselves lovingly on her shoulder, and hissed at the audience. Then she lay down on the stage and pillowed her head on the writhing mass. She opened her black bag and took out a tiny brown snake which she placidly transferred to her bosom; then turned to a barrel into which she plunged her arm and drew out a black, hissing coil of mingled heads and tails. Her keen, good-natured face looked cheerfully at the audience through it all, and took away the feeling of disgust, and something of the excitement of fear. [174]

The lady and the pets retiring, Gerty's hour of glory came. She hated singing and only half enjoyed character dancing, but in posturing she was in her glory. Dressed in soiled tights that showed every movement of her little body, she threw herself upon the stage with a hand-spring, then kissed her hand to the audience, and followed this by a back-somerset. Then she touched her head by a slow effort to her heels; then turned away, put her palms to the ground, raised her heels gradually in the air, and in this inverted position kissed first one hand, then the other, to the spectators. Then she crossed the stage in a series of somersets, then rolled back like a wheel; then held a hoop in her two hands and put her whole slender body through it, limb after limb. Then appeared Monsieur Comstock. He threw a hand-spring and gave her his feet to stand upon; she grasped them with her hands and inverted herself, her feet pointing skyward. Then he resumed the ordinary attitude of rational beings and she lay on her back across his uplifted palms, which supported her neck and feet; then she curled herself backward around his waist, almost touching head and heels. Indeed, [175] whatever the snakes had done to Madam Delia, Gerty seemed possessed with a wish to do to Monsieur Comstock, all but the kissing. Then that eminent foreigner vanished, and the odors of his pipe came faintly through the tattered curtain, while Anne entered to help Gerty in the higher branches.

A double trapeze — just two horizontal bars suspended at different heights by ropes and straps --had been swung from the tent-roof. Gerty ascended to the upper bar, hung from it by her hand, then by her knees, then by her feet, then sat upon it, leaned slowly backward, suddenly dropped, and as some children in the audience shrieked in terror, she caught by her feet in the side-ropes and came up smiling. It was a part of the play. Then another trapeze was hung, and was set swinging toward the first, and Gerty flung herself in triumph, with varied somersets, from one to the other, while Anne rattled the banjo below and sang,

I fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
A daring young man on the flying trapeze.

Then the child stopped to rest, while all hands [176] were clapped and only the unreverberating turf kept the feet from echoing also. People flocked in from outside, and Madam Delia was kept busy at the door. Then Gerty came down to the lower bar, while Anne ascended the upper, and hung to it solidly by her knees. Thus suspended, she put out her hands to Gerty, who put her feet into them, and hung head-downward. There was a shuddering pause, while the two children clung thus dizzily, but the audience had seen enough of peril to lose all fear.

“Those straps are safe?” asked Stephen of Mr. De Marsan.

“ Law bless you, yes,” replied that pleasant functionary. “Comstock's been on 'em.”

Precisely as he spoke one of the straps gave downward a little, and then rested firm; it was not a half-inch, but it jarred the performers.

“Gerty, I'm slipping,” cried Anne. “We shall fall!”

“ No, we sha'n't, silly,” said the other, quickly. “Hold on. Comstock, swing me the rope.”

Stephen Blake sprang to the stage and swung her the rope by which they had climbed to the [177] upper bar. It fell short and Gerty missed it. Anne screamed, and slipped visibly.

“ You can't hold,” said Gerty. “Let go my feet. Let me drop.”

“You'll be killed,” called Anne, slipping still more.

“ Drop me, I say!” shouted the resolute Gerty, while the whole audience rose in excitement. Instantly the hands of the elder girl opened and down fell Gerty, head-foremost, full twelve feet, striking heavily on her shoulder, while Anne, relieved of the weight, recovered easily her position and slipped down into Stephen's arms. She threw herself down beside the little comrade whose presence of mind had saved at least one of them.

“ O Gerty, are you killed?” she said. “I want Delia,” gasped the child.

Madam Delia was at her side already, having rushed from the door, where a surging host of boys had already swept in gratis. Gerty writhed in pain. Stephen felt her collar-bone and found it bent like a horseshoe; and she fainted before she could be taken from the stage.

When restored, she was quite exhausted, and [178] lay for days perfectly subdued and gentle, sleeping most of the time. During these days she had many visitors, and Mr. De Marsan had ample opportunity for the simple enjoyments of his life, tobacco and conversation. Stephen Blake and his sister came often, and while she brought her small treasures to amuse Gerty, he freely pumped the proprietor. Madam Delia had been in the snake business, it appeared, since early youth, thirteen years ago. She had been in De Marsan's employ for eight years before her marriage, and his equal and lawful partner for five years since. At first they had travelled as side-show to a circus, but that was not so good.

“The way is, you see,” said Mr. De Marsan, “to take a place like Providence, that's a good showtown, right along, and pitch your tent and live there. Keep-still pays, they say. You'd have to hire a piece of ground anywhere, for five or six dollars a day, and it don't cost much more by the week. You can board for four or five dollars a week, but if you board by the day it's a dollar and a half.” To which words of practical wisdom Stephen listened with pleased interest. It was [179] not so very many years since he had been young enough to wish to run away with a circus; and by encouraging these simple confidences, he brought round the conversation to the children.

But here he was met by a sheer absence of all information as to their antecedents. The original and deceitful Comstock had brought them and left them two years before. Madam Delia had received flattering offers to take her snakes and Gerty into circuses and large museums, but she had refused for the child's own sake. Did Gerty like it? Yes, she would like to be posturing all day; she could do anything she saw done; she “never needed to be taught nothina,” as Mr. De Marsan asserted with vigorous accumulation of negatives. He thought her father or mother must have been in the business, she took to it so easily; but she was just as smart at school in the winter, and at everything else. Was the life good for her? Yes, why not? Rough company and bad language? They could hear worse talk every day in the street. “Sometimes a feller would come in with too much liquor aboard,” the showman admitted, “and would begin to talk his nonsense; [180] but Comstock would n't ask nothina better than to pitch such a feller out, especially if he should sarce the little gals. They were good little gals, and Delia set store by 'em.”

When Stephen and his sister went back that night to their kind hostesses, Miss Martha and Miss Amy, the soft hearts of those dear old ladies were melted in an instant by the story of Gerty's courage and self-sacrifice. They had lived peacefully all their lives in that motherly old house by the bay-side, where successive generations had lived before them. The painted tiles around the open fire looked as if their fops and fine ladies had stepped out of the Spectator and the Tatler; the great mahogany chairs looked as hospitable as when the French officers were quartered in the house during the Revolution, and its Quaker owner, Miss Martha's grand-uncle, had carried out a seat that the weary sentinel might sit down. Descended from one of those families of Quaker beauties whom De Lauzun celebrated, they bore. the memory of those romantic lives, as something very sacred, in hearts which perhaps held as genuine romances of their own. Miss Martha's [181] sweet face was softened by advancing deafness and by that gentle, appealing look which comes when mind and memory grow a little dimmer, though the loving nature knows no change. “Sister Amy says,” she meekly confessed, “that I am losing my memory. But I do not care very much. There are so few things worth remembering!”

They kept house together in sweet accord, and were indeed trained in the neat Quaker ways so thoroughly, that they always worked by the same methods. In opinion and emotion they were almost duplicates. Yet the world holds no absolute and perfect correspondence, and it is useless to affect to conceal — what was apparent to any intimate guest — that there was one domestic question on which perfect sympathy was wanting. During their whole lives they had never been able to take precisely the same view of the best method of grinding Indian meal. Miss Martha preferred to have it from a wind-mill; while Miss Amy was too conscientious to deny that she thought it better when prepared by a water-mill. She said firmly, though gently, that it seemed to her “less gritty.” [182]

Living their whole lives in this scarcely broken harmony by the margin of the bay, they had long built together one castle in the air. They had talked of it for many an hour by their evening fire, and they had looked from their chamber windows toward the Red Light upon Rose Island to see if it were coming true. This vision was, that they were to awake some morning after an autumnal storm, and to find an unknown vessel ashore behind the house, without name or crew or passengers; only there was to be one sleeping child, with aristocratic features and a few yards of exquisite embroidery. Years had passed, and their lives were waning, without a glimpse of that precious waif of gentle blood. Once in an October night Miss Martha had been awakened by a crash, and looking out had seen that their pier had been carried away, and that a dark vessel lay stranded with her bowsprit in the kitchen window. But daylight revealed the schooner Polly Lawton, with a cargo of coal, and the dream remained unfulfilled. They had never revealed it, except to each other.

Moved by a natural sympathy, Miss Martha [183] went with Stephen to see the injured child. Gerty lay asleep on a rather dingy little mattress, with Mr. Comstock's overcoat rolled beneath her head. A day's illness will commonly make even the coarsest child look refined and interesting; and Gerty's physical organization was anything but coarse. Her pretty hair curled softly round her head; her delicate profile was relieved against the rough, dark pillow; and the tips of her little pink ears could not have been improved by art, though they might have been by soap and water. Warm tears came into Miss Martha's eyes, which were quickly followed from corresponding fountains in Madam Delia's.

“ Thy own child?” said or rather signalled Miss Martha, forming the letters softly with her lips. Stephen had his own reasons for leaving her to ask this question in all ignorance.

“No, ma'am,” said the show-woman. “Not much. Adopted.”

“Does thee know her parents?” This was similarly signalled.

“No,” said Madam Delia, rather coldly. “Does thee suppose that they were--” And [184] here Miss Martha stopped, and the color came as suddenly and warmly to her cheeks as if Monsieur Comstock had offered to marry her, and to settle upon her the snakes as exclusive property. Madam Delia divined the question; she had so often found herself trying to guess the social position of Gerty's parents.

“I don't know as I know,” said she, slowly, “whether you ought to know anythina about it. But I'll tell you what I know. That child's folks,” she added, mysteriously, “lived on Quality Hill.”

“ Lived where?” said Miss Martha, breathless.

“Upper crust,” said the other, defining her symbol still further. “No middlins to 'em. Genteel as anybody. Just look here!”

Madam Delia unclasped her leather bag, brought forth from it a mass of checks and tickets, some bird-seed, a small whip, a dog-collar, and a dingy morocco box. This held a piece of an old-fashioned enamelled ring, and a fragment of embroidered muslin marked “A.”

“ She'd lived with me six months before she brought 'em,” said the show-woman, whispering.

The bit of handkerchief was enough. Was it a [185] dream? thought the dear old lady. What the ocean had refused, was this sprite who had lived between earth and air to fulfil? Miss Martha bent softly over the bedside, resting her clean glove on the only dirty mattress it had ever touched, and quietly kissed the child. Then she looked up with a radiant face of perfect resolution.

Mrs. De Marsan,” said she, with dignity that was almost solemnity, “I wish to adopt this child. No one can doubt thy kindness of heart, but thee must see that thee is in no condition to give her suitable care and Christian nurture.”

“ That's a fact,” interposed Madam Delia with a pang.

“Then thee will give her to me?” asked Miss Martha, firmly.

Madam Delia threw her apron over her face, and choked and sobbed beneath it for several minutes. Then reappearing, “It's what I've always expected,” said she. Then, with a tinge of suspicion, “Would you have taken her without the ring and handkerchief?”

“Perhaps I should,” said the other, gently. “But that seems to make it a clearer call.” [186]

“Fair enough,” said Madam Delia, submitting. “I ain't denyina of it.” Then she reflected and recommenced. “There never was such a smart performina child as that since the world began. She can do just anythina, and just as easy! Time and again I might have hired her out to a circus, and she glad of the chance, mind you; but no, I would keep her safe to home. Then when she showed me the ring and the other things, all my expectations altered very sudden; I knowed we could n't keep her, and I began to mistrust that she would somehow find her folks. I guess my rathers was that she should, considerina; but I did wish it had been Anne, for she ain't got nothina better in her than just to live genteel.”

“But Anne seems a nice child, too,” said Miss Martha, consolingly.

“Well, that's just what she is,” replied Madam Delia, with some contempt. “But what is she for a contortionist? Ask Comstock what she's got in her! And how to run the show without Gerty, that's what beats me. Why, folks begin to complain already that we advertise swallerina, and yet don't swaller. But never you mind, ma'am, you [187] shall have Gerty. You shall have her,” she added, with a gulp, “if I have to sell out! Go ahead!” And again the apron went over her face.

At this point, Gerty waked up with a little murmur, looked up at Miss Martha's kind face, and smiled a sweet, childish smile. Half asleep still, she put out one thin, muscular little hand, and went to sleep as the old lady took it in hers. A kiss awaked her.

“What has thee been dreaming about, my little girl?” said Miss Martha.

“Angels and things, I guess,” said the child, somewhat roused.

“ Will thee go home with me and live?” said the lady.

“Yes 'm,” replied Gerty, and went to sleep again.

Two days later she was well enough to ride to Miss Martha's in a carriage, escorted by Madam Delia and by Anne, “that dull, uninteresting child,” as Miss Amy had reluctantly described her, “so different from this graceful Adelaide.” This romantic name was a rapid assumption of the softhearted Miss Amy's, but, once suggested, it was as [188] thoroughly fixed as if a dozen baptismal fonts had written it in water.

Madam Delia was sustained, up to the time of Gerty's going, by a sense of self-sacrifice. But this emotion, like other strong stimulants, has its reactions. That remorse for a crime committed in vain, which Dr. Johnson thought the acutest of human emotions, is hardly more depressing than to discover that we have got beyond our depth in virtue, and are in water where we really cannot quite swim,--and this was the good woman's position. During her whole wandering though blameless life,--in her girlish days, when she charmed snakes at Meddibemps, or through her brief time of service as plain Car'line Prouty at the Biddeford mills, or when she ran away from her step-mother and took refuge among the Indians at Orono, or later, since she had joined her fate with that of De Marsan,--she had never been so severely tried.

“That child was so smart,” she said, beneath the evening canvas, to her sympathetic spouse.

I always expected when we got old we'd kinder retire on a farm or suthina, and let her and her [189] husband — say Comstock, if he was young enough --run the business. And even after she showed us the ring and things, I thought likely she'd just come into her property somewheres and take care of us. I don't know as I ever thought she'd leave us, either way, and there she's gone.”

“She won't forget us,” said the peaceful proprietor.

“No,” said the wife, “but it's lonesome. If it had only been Anne! I shall miss Gerty the worst kind. And it'll kill the show!”

And to tell the truth, the show languished. Nothing but the happy acquisition of a Chinese giant nearly eight feet high, with slanting eyes and a long pigtail,--a man who did penance in his height for the undue brevity of his undersized nation,--would have saved the “museum.”

Meantime the neat proprieties of orderly life found but a poor disciple in Gerty. Her warm heart opened to the dear old ladies; but she found nothing familiar in this phantom of herself, this well-dressed little girl who, after a rapid convalescence, was introduced at school and “meeting” under the name of Adelaide. The school studies did not [190] dismay her, but she played the jew's-harp at recess, and danced the clog-dance in india-rubbers, to the dismay of the little Misses Grundy, her companions. In the calisthenic exercises she threw beanbags with an untamed vigor that soon ripped the stitches of the bags, and sowed those vegetables in every crack of the school-room floor. There was a ladder in the garden, and it was some comfort to ascend it hand over hand upon the under side, or to hang by her toes from the upper rung, to the terror of her schoolmates. But she became ashamed of the hardness of her palms, and she grew in general weary of her life. Her clothes pinched her, so did her new boots; Madam Delia had gone to Providence with the show, and Gerty had not so much as seen the new Chinese giant.

Of all days Sunday was the most objectionable, when she had to sit still in Friends' Meeting and think how pleasant it would be to hang by the knees, head downward, from the parapet of the gallery. She liked better the Seamen's Bethel, near by, where there was an aroma of tar and tarpaulin that suggested the odors of the show-tent, and where, when the Methodist exhorter gave out the [191] hymn, “Howl, Howl, ye winds of night,” the choir rendered it with such vigor that it was like being at sea in a northeaster. But each week made her new life harder, until, having cried herself asleep one Saturday evening, she rose early the next morning for her orisons, which, I regret to say, were as follows:--

“I must get out of this,” quoth Gerty, “I must cut and run. I'll make it all right for the old ladies, for I'll send 'em Anne. She'll like it here first rate.”

She hunted up such remnants of her original wardrobe as had been thought worth washing and preserving, and having put them on, together with a hat whose trimmings had been vehemently burned by Miss Martha, she set. out to seek her fortune. Of all her new possessions, she took only a pair of boots, and those she carried in her hand as she crept softly down stairs. “Save us!” exclaimed Biddy, who had been to a Mission Mass of incredible length, and was already sweeping the doorsteps. “Christmas!” she added, as a still more pious ejaculation, when the child said, “Good by, Biddy, I'm off now.” [192]

“Where to, thin?” exclaimed Biddy.

“To Providence,” said Gerty. “But don't you tell.”

“But ye can't go the morn's mornina,” said Biddy. “It's Sunday and there's no cars.”

“There's legs,” replied the child, briefly, as she closed the door.

“It's much as iver,” said the stumpy Hibernian, to herself, as she watched the twinkling retreat of those slim, but vigorous little members.

They had been Gerty's support too long, in body and estate, for her to shrink from trusting them in a walk of a dozen or a score of miles. But the locomotion of Stephen's horse was quicker, and she did not get seriously tired before being overtaken, and-not without difficulty and some hot tears-coaxed back. Fortunately, Madam Delia came down from Providence that evening, on a very unexpected visit, and at the confidential hour of bedtime the child's heart was opened and made a revelation.

“ Won't you be mad, if I tell you something?” she said to Madam Delia, abruptly. [193] “No,” said the show-woman, with surprise. “Won't you let Comstock box my ears?”

“ I'll box his if he does,” was the indignant answer. The gravest contest that had ever arisen in the museum was when Monsieur Comstock, teased beyond endurance, had thus taken the law into his own hands.

“Well,” said Gerty, after a pause, “I ain't a great lady, no more'n nothina. Them things I brought to you was Anne's.”

“Anne's things?” gasped Madam Delia,--“the ring and the piece of a handkerchief.”

“Yes, 'm,” said Gerty, “and I've got the rest.” And exploring her little trunk, she produced from a slit in the lining the other half of the ring, with the name “Anne Deering.”

“You naughty, naughty girl!” said Madam Delia. “How did you get 'em away from Anne?”

“Coaxed her,” said the child.

“Well, how did you make her hush up about it?”

“Told her I'd kill her if she said a single word,” said Gerty, undauntedly. “I showed her Pa De Marsan's old dirk-knife and told her I'd stick it [194] into her if she did n't hush. She was just such a 'fraid-cat she believed me. She might have known I did n't mean nothina. Now she can have 'em and be a lady. She was always talkina about beina a lady, and that put it into my head.”

“What did she want to be a lady for?” asked Madam Delia, indignantly.

“Said she wanted to have a parlor and dress tight. I don't want to be one of her old ladies. I want to stay with you, Delia, and learn the clogdance.” And she threw her arms round the showwoman's neck and cried herself to sleep.

Never did the energetic proprietress of a Museum and Variety Combination feel a greater exultation than did Madam Delia that night. The child's offence was all forgotten in the delight of the discovery to which it led. If there had been expectations of social glories to accrue to the house of De Marsan through Gerty's social promotion, they melted away; and the more substantial delight of still having some one to love and to be proud of,some object of tenderness warmer than snakes and within nearer reach than a Chinese giant,--this came in its stead. The show, too, was in a manner [195] on its feet again. De Marsan said that he would rather have Gerty than a hundred-dollar bill. Madam Delia looked forward and saw herself sinking into the vale of years without a sigh, --reaching a period when a serpent fifteen feet long would cease to charm, or she to charm it,and still having a source of pride and prosperity in this triumphant girl.

The tent was in its glory on the day of Gerty's return; to be sure, nothing in particular had been washed except the face of Old Bill, but that alone was a marvel compared with which all “Election day” was feeble, and when you add a paper collar, words can say no more. Monsieur Comstock also had that “ten times barbered” look which Shakespeare ascribes to Mark Antony, and which has belonged to that hero's successor in the histrionic profession ever since. His chin was unnaturally smooth, his mustache obtrusively perfumed, and nothing but the unchanged dirtiness of his hands still linked him, like Antaeus, with the earth. De Marsan had intended some personal preparation, but had been, as usual, in no hurry, and the appointed moment found him, as usual, in his shirtsleeves. [196] Madam Delia, however, wore a new breastpin and gave Gerty another. And the great new attraction, the Chinese giant, had put on a black broadcloth coat across his bony shoulders, in her honor, and made a vigorous effort to sit up straight, and appear at his ease when off duty. He habitually stooped a good deal in private life, as if there were no object in being eight feet high, except before spectators.

Anne, the placid and imperturbable, was promoted to take the place that Gerty had rejected, in the gentle home of the good sisters. The secret of her birth, whatever it was, never came to light, but she took kindly, as Madam Delia had predicted, to “living genteel,” and grew up into a well-behaved mediocrity, unregretful of the showtent. Yet probably no one reared within the smell of sawdust ever quite outgrew all taste for “the profession,” and Anne, even when promoted to good society, never missed seeing a performance when her wandering friends came by. If I told you under what name Gerty became a star in the low-comedy line, after her marriage, you would all recognize it; and if you had seen her in “Queen [197] Pippin” or the “Shooting-star” pantomime, you would wish to see her again. Her first child was named after Madam Delia, and proved to be a placid little thing, demure enough to have been born in a Quaker family, and exhibiting no contortions or gymnastics but those common to its years. And you may be sure that the retired show-woman found in the duties of brevet-grandmother a glory that quite surpassed her expectations.

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