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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Madam Delia's Expectations

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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 trapeeze."

Then the child stopped to rest, while all hands 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."

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Stephen Blake sprang to the stage and swung her the rope by which they had climbed to the 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, headforemost, 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 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.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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