"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.
"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 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.
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