Balacchi Brothers by Rebecca
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"Will you tell me how George is, sir?" I asked, pushing up. "Balacchi?
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
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,
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.