LETTY DOES THE EASIER THING

HELEN WOODBURY August 15 1922

LETTY DOES THE EASIER THING

HELEN WOODBURY August 15 1922

LETTY DOES THE EASIER THING

HELEN WOODBURY

THE AFTERNOON performance of the circus was whirling terrifically to its close. Cymbals banged. Drums boomed. Trumpets blasted. In the first sawdust ring an elephant picked a dwarf up by his foot and swung him high in the air, head-downward. The gnomish little man kicked frantically with his free leg. His wide-spreading, too red lips nearly split his face as he howled.

The audience rocked with mirth.

Mighty glub-dubbering of drums. A girl ran up a ladder. Bellow of horns. She pirouetted out on a high wire.

Craze of noise. Blaze of color. Jangle. Laughter. Gasps. Outside the canvas a grey rain slashed down on the circus lot. It sputtered noisily on the huge mushroom tents, raised miraculously over night, and churned the lot into darkly oozing mud. Chill, damp, salt-tingling as it blew in from the sea, the rain slanted gustily under the tent-flap of the performers’ dressing tent and blew the goose-flesh on the bare shoulders of Letty Dupeel. She shivered as she sat before the mirror hung from the cover of her trunk and worked deftly with grease-paint and eye-brów pencil. Stealthily she glanced over her shoulder at Belle and Alica. Their heads were together. They were talking excitedly, but in low tones. Letty knew well enough what they were talking about. A little involuntary shiver went through her. How like a wolf pack the

circus people were with snout-to-snout loyalty until one of them weakened. Then how they turned to tear the helpless to shreds!

LETTY returned silently to the work, of combing out the rippling black hair and fastening the wreath of satin buttercups about her head. The reflection her mirror gave back to her was not pretty. Letty needed the quick flash ,of her smile, the sparkle to her black eyes, the eager, joyous lift to the head that usually characterized it, to make her pretty. Seen now, her face was too darkly intense, the mouth too tight-

lipped, the chin too sharply tip-tilted.

“I{don’t care. Let them talk, she whispered defiantly to her mirror.

But even while she said it, her ears were alert to catch the low tones near her.

“I don’t believe it!” She heard Alica’s voice rise in protestation.

"Don Salvador! Why, he......”

"Huh!” Belle interrupted, “I never thought Don was so wonderful anyway. Never saw how Letty could fall for him so. Just goodlooking and that all-the-time-laughing-and-joking-kind that gets some people. But I always had a hunch his nerve was sawdust. Let a little accident come along and prick it,— and Lord! he’s a rag!”

“But you don’t call that a ‘little accident’,” Alica protested. “Why, his sister was....”

“Well, what of it? Poor Mamie had to get hers some time, didn’t she? Gosh, dearie, when you’ve been in the ‘profession as long as me, you won’t think that nothing. It’s no reason for Don......”

Letty got up suddenly. With trembling fingers she shook out the fluttering short skirts of the yellow costume that closely outlined her slight, but alertly supple figure. But when she turned to Belle and Alica she laughed lightly.

“This tent may be the right temperature for polar bears,” she remarked, “but for myself, I’d like to see a home fire or two burning.”

Alica and Belle started. Letty evaded their guilty eyes. She was about to utter some other commonplace worlds, then stopped. It seemed to her that suddenly a hush had descended down the full length of the dressing tent with its seventy and more girls changing from drab serges and cotton waists into fairy tarlatans, delicately tinted as flower petals, brilliant satins, tissuey silks, soft violet velvets, heavy with embroidered gold and silver. To Letty it seemed as if all eyes were raised to hers.

“Sure it’s cold. Cold as blazes!” Belle was the first to recover and break the hush.

But Letty did not hear her now. She stood meeting those questioning eyes. Hot, eager words rushed to her lips. She longed to shout at them, “Yes, I know what you’re all thinking about. You’re wondering if I’m going to stick by Don. Well, I am! He’ll get his nerveback. You’ll see!”

BUT suddenly the picture of Don’s face as he swung on his trapeze came to her—its pallor, the dilated eyes, the twisting lips opening and shutting.

Quickly and a little unsteadily Letty turned. With mumbled words that she must get some fresh air even if it were raining, she sped out of the tent.

A moment later she burst into the squatty, little tent of Doctor Billy, pitched close up to the Big-top.

“Doctor Billy, you don’t believe it, do you? It’s all over the circus lot. They think Don is a coward just because it’s three weeks now since he’s been able to do his aerial act. But it isn’t so, is it? Don will get his nerve back!”

The last sentence was not a question. Letty flung it out boldly in reckless defiance of having its fact doubted.

“What’s this? What’s all this?” Doctor Billy asked pleasantly, looking up at the flushed figure before him.

He was a neat, little round man with squirrel eyes and a grey wisp of hair combed carefully across an otherwise shiningly bald head. It was gossip that in the winter he was a well-known practitioner in New York, but every spring he succumbed to the lure of the nomad life of the circus.

Letty sank down on the camp stool by his side and told him again more slowly.

“You know, Doctor Billy, after the accident I took Don into my troupe to give me my signals. I thought I think,” she corrected quickly, “that sometime when he is sitting up there quietly on his trapeze he will get the ‘feel’ of the swings again. And then this ‘feel’ will become so strong that some day it will make him begin to do his act once more.”

She stopped, her breath fluttering.

“But, oh, I wish you could see Don! He climbs the ropes with us, and I can see he is in a fever of excitement.Every performance he thinks, ‘Now this is the time I get my nerve back.’ And he swings out into position, and the drums

begin to roll, and the act begins. And then —Oh, Doctor Billy, he suddenly grows so white. He grips the ropes until I can see the muscles of his arms lump up clear to his shoulders. And all during the act he clings there, his mouth crooked, and gulping. Oh, I know what he sees. He can’t bear to talk about it. But I knqw he can’t forget how his sister looked when she missed the net, and they picked her up from the sawdust limp with the blood dripping. ... !”

Letty caught her breath. In a moment, however, she turned to the doctor impulsively.

“Can’t you see how Don is suffering! Of course I’ve been in the profession long enough to know that we circus folks have to look on fear with contempt. But they mustn’t think Don is a coward.”

She raised her eyes slowly until they met his. In them the fear she had been fighting back and would not as yet even admit to herself, was gathering.

“You know what it means to be thought a coward in the circus. Don’s career would be ruined!”

Doctor Billy nodded. He had not been the circus doctor for twenty years for nothing.

“Well,” he said kindly, “things usually work out for the best, Letty. There’s nothing you or I can do about

“But you can! You can do something—everything, Doctor Billy!” She threw out her hands impulsively toward him. “Everybody believes what you say. You must tell everybody then how Don is going to get his nerve

SHE stopped short. Doctor Billy had turned his face away. Letty stared at him, her own face blanching. She leaned toward him breathlessly.

“You—you don’t think Don is a coward, do you?”

“Of course not,” was the quick reply.

“No coward would have risked his life to save his sister the way Don did. He’s as fine a lad as you can find anywhere.”

He stopped and looked away from Letty’s face again. In the silence her voice rose barely above a whisper.

Doctor Billy cleared his throat.

“Well, perhaps, Letty, due rather to his nervous make-up and to forces entirely outside his control, Don may never be able to do his aerial act again. Now wait! wait!”

He held up his hand at Letty’s little cry.

“I’m not stating this as a fact. I’m only saying ‘perhaps’.”

He paused.

“Why don’t you urge Don to give up aerial work,” he suggested gently. “Now he could work up an act with the lions or join a bareback troupe......”

“Oh, no! no! Don couldn’t. His father....

his grandfather......Can’t you understand?

A Salvador must always swing the bars!”

Her eyes stretched and darkened with horror at the doctor’s suggestion. Doctor Billy sighed. It was not his first encounter with the fierce pride of a circus breeding.

He took up a cork to a bottle and began to juggle it thoughtfully in one hand. After a moment he said abruptly.

“I’m going to tell you the truth, Letty.

It’ll make it easier for both of you in the end.

You’re two young, intelligent people. The truth may be bitter, but I know you can work out your own salvation.”

“Do you know what shell-shock is, Letty?” he said at last.

She nodded faintly.

“Well, Don’s case may be similar, I think.

He’s suffered a tremendous nervous shock.

Such an experience can knot up the nerves until it’s beyond the ken of human will power to smooth them out again. The sub-conscious mind, Letty......”

She made a little impatient gesture.

“I don’t want the truth all muddled up in scientific terms,” she choked. “Tell me in plain English. You think Don will never twirl the bars again!” she challenged tearfully.

“I think perhaps Don will never do his aerial act again,” Doctor Billy corrected. He laughed easily.

“YOU'RE making me out too harsh, Letty. Besides, * I’m too wise a doctor to ever commit myself to a bald statement. I said I think Don’s case may be similar to one of severe shell-shock. But I’ve seen even silch cases cured,” he added.

“How?”

All of Letty’s being seemed to tremble on the word. “Oh, there’re lots of ways. I’ve seen soldiers with parts of their bodies completely paralyzed by shell-shock, for instance, who have been almost instantly cured when they were brought back to this country and suddenly confronted with their wives or children. It's the sudden moment of ultra-emotion that does it.”

Letty raised her head.

“Moment of ultra-emotion?”

Desperately she caught on to the words.

“Yes. If the emotion is strong enough, it can sweep the mind clean of fear, dash down all the inhibitions

built up by the sub-conscious mind and......”

“Doctor Billy,” Letty cried, "if—if such a moment came to Don and swept away his fear so that he did his aerial act again, then would his fear be gone forever?” “Oh, undoubtedly. You see, the sub-conscious mind

But Letty did not hear. She sat tense, her hands twisting and untwisting in her lap. Suddenly they stopped. She lifted her head alertly. The habit of many years spent in the circus arrested her now and her keen ears caught a familiar yammering strain from the orchestra over in the Big-Top.

“There they go into Hitchey-Koo,” she cried, jumping up. “That’s my cue.”

At the tent-flap she turned back.

“What would cause a moment of ultra-emotion, Doctor Billy? I mean, besides suddenly seeing someone you loved after going to war.”

DoctorBilly did not look up from the big bottle of

amber-colored liquid which he was shaking up and down.

“Oh, I don’t know as I could tell off hand,” he answered cheerily, but a bit absently. “But I should say,” he added, “love is the spark that ignites the strongest emotions. When it’s suddenly incited or goaded.. .. ” “Goaded?”

DOCTOR BILLY thrust a cork into the last of the little bottles.

“There, now. Look at that, Letty. Enough ointment to fill six of these little bottles and some left over.

Who would have thought........”

But Letty was already speeding on her way to the Big-Top. She arrived, breathless, just as a blare of trumpets announced the aerial act. Only stopping to throw off her cape she ran lightly into the ring, followed closely by four other performers. To the rear of these, there came more slowly a sixth performer. He was a tall, dark-eyed and supple-waisted youth, dressed like Letty in glittering yellow. His body seemed meant to be borne along with lithe, swinging strides, but now it was dragged forward reluctantly, shoulders drooping, feet shuffling. When his hands touched the ropes however, a faint flush glowed on his thin face. He

climbed them eagerly to the swinging bars high in the peak of the tent. There was a tremor on the hollows of his thin cheeks as he swung out on his trapeze.

Letty swung out on hers and forced herself to smile.

“Full house, Don, even if it is a rainy day,” she called.

Then a flare of music burst from the orchestra far below. It billowed up to them. The act began. Thé two couples, one on each side of Letty, began their straight flights from one trapeze toanother, doing simple turns over the bars for variety. In circus jargon they merely “dressed” their trapezes to frame the feats of Letty as she darted among the center swings, reversing, twirling, somersaulting.

As she worked easily up to her different positions she caught fleeting glimpses of Don on his trapeze well to the rear of the others. Her heart contracted as it always did at what she saw—the white face, distorted now in an agony of fear, the gulping lips, the eyes stretched wide, leaving the eyeballs uncovered as they gazed fixedly at the terror his fevered brain conjured up to torture him.

But Don did not forget to start the trapeze near him to swinging in just the right angle and at just the right fraction of a second so that Letty could catch on to it. It was the one she used for her daring climax that ended by her swinging head downward far out over the safety net, only her toes caught over the bar.

WHEN it was all over Letty ran back across the ring, unnoticed and forgotten by the crowd, their attention immediately claimed by the rush of the next troupe of perform-

At the head of the run-way she hesitated, scanning the phantasmagoria about her for Don. Animals and performers were crowding up into the narrow passage, ready for the races that crowned the program. Some ponies reared nervously at a sudden fusillade of music. Dogs yelped. Jockeys in short, bright jackets ran to and fro. Cow-boys shouted hoarsely. Cracking of whips. Oaths. A parrot screaming from his perch on top of a gilded chariot.

With the skill of long practice Letty dodged through the mélange. Once outside she breathed a sigh of relief. The rain had ceased but the tents were still dripping water, and a moist wind ruffled her hair.

She drew her cape more closely about her as she waited for Don, impatient, yet dreading to see him with Doctor Billy’s words still ringing in her ears. At last the familiar figure separated itself from the pandemonium in the run-way. Letty ran to meet him, forcing herself to appear natural.

“Thought we had missed each other this time for good,” she cried with the little lilt that always crept into her voice, when she spoke to Don.

“I got held up by the crowd,” he answered, urging his stiff lips to smile easily back at

Letty did not tell him that she knew he had lingered behind purposely until he could collect himself from the ordeal through which he had just been. She always let him indulge in this bit of camouflage, knowing he was too proudly sensitive to let her see the full extent of his suffering, if possible. He strove now as ever to assume for Letty his old, gaily jaunty manner. _ .

They sauntered back to the dressing-tents, Letty increasingly conscious of the number of eyes that were following them. She glanced at Don keenly. If he were aware of the growing condemnation in those eyes at least he did not show it. He met their gaze frankly, throwing out genial words of greeting to their owners.

k TALL youth with a cleanly ruddy face and bare, a. lumpily muscular shoulders stood before one of the nts. His head was thrown back and he was quite iviously going through some breathing exercises. “There’s Alf,” Don remarked, "storing up ozone so • can tackle the heavies in the ring. My, how he used i hang around you, Letty!”

He emitted a long, low whistle with a teasing eye on ;tty. The latter had the grace to blush. Alf had len a stubbornly arduous suitor. The battle between m and Don had been long and well fought on both sides.

“But I always liked you best, Don,” she said now. “Oh, you did, did you? Well, it’s a pity you couldn t t a fellow know it until he had grown grey with tne

ar of losing you.”

"You can’t make me think there are any grey your head,” she laughed.

Letty Does the Easier Thing

Continued from page 19

He rumpled his black hair playfully.

“Well, they’re there all right. And by George!” he went on still laughing, “sometimes when I look at Alf I don’t feel safe yet. Alf is too good-looking for any girl to see around every day.”.

“I wish we were already married, Letty,” he blurted half seriously, after a pause.

“Well......?”

Instantly the laughing lips pulled thinly straight.

“No,” he said, lifting his chin ever so slightly, “I’m not the one to marry you when—I’m like this. You’re going to marry the ‘Prince of the Air,’ little girl, not a loon-headed, milk-blooded, knockkneed. ...”

She reached up a quick hand to cover his mouth.

“Those aren’t pretty names. I won’t have you call yourself them.”

He swung about then, his face suddenly settling into grim lines, but his eyes glowing with an intensity of purpose that held her own uplifted to his as with an invisible vise.

“But, Letty, I’m not always going to he like this. I’ll be ‘Prince of the Air’ again. I will do it! I’ll climb up there to my swing every afternoon and every evening until I get my nerve back. It isn’t easy

He broke off, his throat drawing tautly upward, the veins weltering out on his thin temples.

“Oh, Don, of course you’re going to do your act again.”

Frantically she reached back into her memory for those other words of Doctor Billy.

“A sudden moment of ultra-emotion. . ......sweep his mind clean of fear......

Love is the spark that can ignite the strongest emotions......Suddenly incited or goaded......’’

“Goaded!”

She clung to the word. With a little gasp her eyes left Don’s face. Slowly, cautiously, even while h»r lips went breathlessly on with the words that were already making Don recover himself, Letty’s gaze traveled back to the figure of Alf. He was standing leaning against the tent-pole now, his arms folded, his face turned in profile toward her. The sun caught on his mass of straw-colored hair and outlined his whole, powerful figure. In that instant he seemed like some young Jupiter caught in a moment of relaxation and easy grace.

AT LETTY’S glance, as if her eyes had some secret power of instantly arresting his attention, Alf turned and apparently saw her and Don for the first time. With a smile, (for they were still good friends, although they rarely saw each other of late even for the most commonplace words of greeting) he waved. Then he turned and walked away to join a group of men teaching a little spotted dog to jump through a hoop.

“Don,” cried Letty abruptly. She was flushed and panting, but he did not seem to notice it, “I’m cold. I’m going to run back to the tent for a sweater. Meet you down at the mess-top.” Already she was off, waving gaily back to him.

But it was some time before she came into the mess-top. The evening meal, set out on the table reserved exclusively for the stars of the show, had already grown cold, and Don was becoming a little impatient in waiting. When Letty did come, Alf was with her. She was still

flushed, and the two were evidently joking about something. Alf’s big laughter as they came down the aisle made by the other tables, caused many eyes to lift to them.

Alf nodded casually to Don as Letty slipped into her accustomed place by the latter. Then he hesitated. There had been a time when he had sat on the other side of Letty. Hut of late he had taken a seat at the farthest end of the table. He seemed to waver. Letty looked up. She made the barest of gestures.... a slight motion of her head, a lifting of one hand.

The meal was a merry one. Letty did most of the talking, but Don filled in the pauses with some funny stories and a humorous account of an incident that had happened down in the freak tent that afternoon. Alf did not say much. His wits were slower than those of either Don or Letty. But the hearty booming of his laughter made up for his silences.

After that evening Alf somehow found occasion to sit beside Letty at every mealtime. Chance, also, seemed to bring them together more often in the daily routine of morning parade, afternoon and evening performance, then the foot-sore journey late at night through the unfamiliar streets of ever-changing cities, until they found the circus sleeping cars.

THERE came a time when Alf even boldly waited for Letty after each performance to walk back to her dressing tent with her. Of course Don was there too. The three of them would walk along together, Alf suddenly grown sullen when Don came up.

“See here, Letty,” Don exclaimed at last, “this fellow Alf is getting to be a nuisance. I don’t have any time alone with you now.”

She did not reply.

“I don’t want to appear unreasonably jealous.” He tried to laugh lightly. “I’m only standing up for my rights. Alf is a good fellow, but he ought to understand we might like to be left alone a little.”

Still Letty was silent.

“It’s always best to be frank,” Don went on, “so don’t you think either you or I better tell him, Letty?”

‘Tell him what?” Letty asked suddenly. Her voice sounded unnatural as if she had been abruptly awakened from some secret and absorbing train of thought.

“Tell him you would enjoy yourself better without so much of his company,” returned Don grimly.

“But,” Letty was breathing quickly now, “if I couldn’t say this and be truthful?”

“What?”

Don drew up in his tracks.

“Supposing I enjoyed Alf’s company,” Letty flung out defiantly.

Don’s eyes riveted upon her, startled, amazed.

“Supposing I enjoyed Alf’s company— a great deal,” she cried breathlessly, her hand at her throat.

Don stood transfixed.

“Just how much do you enjoy Alf’s company?” he asked at last, weighing each word and pulling it out slowly, painfully. “Answer me, Letty.”

She hung her head, her hand still catching at her throat. He lifted her chin until she was forced to meet his

“Alf’s so brave with the weights,”, she panted. “He dares do anything. We......in the circus......a coward. .

With a cry Don’s hands dropped limply to his side. His face greyed at the stab of her words. For a moment he swayed unsteadily.

“My God!” he cried hoarseiy. “You ......not you!”

He stood numbed, blinded. Then, unexpectedly he wheeled away from her and ran, stumbling, in the direction of his dressing tent.

Letty ran after him.

“Don! Wait!” she cried frantically, j But he was gone.

" • .moment of ultra-emotion.....

I ..Love......goaded.......”

She repeated the words desperately over and over, stifling the sobs that crowded up her throat with them. Gropingly she found her way back of the tents to the farthest corner of the lot. There a deserted wagon stood, piled high with hay. Letty clambered up into it and flinging herself down in the fragrant grass, let the sobs come uncontrolled.

WHEN her strength was spent she still lay there, dry-eyed, counting feverishly the hours to the evening’s performance. Supposing she could never

make Don understand......Supposing

it had all been in vain anyway. Supposing Don......

But she refused to form even the thought of her defeat.

“He must! He must! He must!” she cried aloud, beating her clenched hands up and down in the hay and with all the tremendous nervous vitality and will-power, that seemed impossible to be stored up in such a childishly slight little body, flowing out into the words.

The afternoon performance was over before she thought of leaving her hiding place. The strains of,the band, faintly floating out from the Big-Top at the other end of the lot, had ceased. The sluggish shuffle of thousands of moving feet, the babble of voices, cries and laughter as the crowd passed out of the lot and down a side street, had died away too.

Two hours before the evening’s performance! Nearly four hours before the aerial act was scheduled and she could watch Don climb to the swings again

and......

“Letty!”

She drew up short. Don was coming tow-ard her, stumbling, reluctant. Letty stood aghast at his face. It was that of an old man, drawn and whitened by years of sickness.

“Letty!” His voice was curiously devoid of all timbre. “I’ve been a fool. I’ve come to tell you that I don’t blame

you for......for changing your mind

about marrying me. I am a coward. I know it. At first I kept thinking everv day......”

He broke off. With an effort he controlled himself.

“And then you seemed to believe in me, too—at first. I suppose that kept me from seeing the truth about myself.

But this afternoon......”

He rushed on now, not letting her speak.

“Oh, I don’t blame you, Letty. That’s what I’ve come to tell you. Alf’s a^ fine fellow—a big ringer. You know I’d never have held on to you—never would have felt that I had any right to you if I’d not been so sure that I, too, would be a big ringer again some day.”

He drew a quivering breath.

“Well, that’s over now. Tonight is my last night on the swings. I’m only telling you this so that you can get someone else to give you your signals.” “Don!”

Letty’s voice rose sharply, strident with premonition.

He could not answer her immediately. When he did, his labored words came hoarsely, sinking almost to a whisper at the end.

“I’m leaving aerial work tonight, Letty—for good.”

HE TURNED away, but in a moment he met her bewildered eyes again. With a supreme effort he gathered himself together to blurt out all his shame.

“I’ve got work down in the grub-tent, Letty.”

He crumpled then before her horrorstretched eyes. In a moment she had flupg herself upon him. '

“No! No!” she cried, clinging to him. “Listen, Don. It’s all a mistake. I love you. I do love you. I was only trying to help you. I thought if you were jealous of Alf. . , it’s just like shellshock. Doctor Billy said so. But, oh, it doesn’t matter. Listen! Look at me, Don!”

But u-ith a sudden, wild gesture, Don threw his hands above his head and tore aw-ay from her.

Letty watched him go. She tried in vain to find her voice, to make a motion to detain him. But she could not. She stood hypnotized. Darkness of grief, despair, fury at her own folly closed in upon her. But her whirling thoughts leaped at the truth with terrifying directness, cruel clearness. She knew’ that she had swept aw’ay and destroyed Don’s owm faith in himself, the impetus of his will-power that had made him climb to his trapeze day after day, there to sit gulping at his fear, but even so not quite beaten by it. At least he had had the strength to fight, if but feebly. But now he had given up! Now he was willing to be beaten because he thought he had lost her.

It seemed an eon before she could pass

this blinding realization. Relentlessly wt last she spurred herself beyond it.

¡T She must prove to him that this was ?jiot true. He was beyond words. Well

Y The rush of her thoughts drew up ^quickly.

K Actions then!

TTE HAD said tonight was his last [ll time on the swings. Knowing Don, Letty knew with what finality this decision had been made. Whatever she 1 did must be done tonight, f Tonight?

Suddenly her hands, tightly clasped, ¡¡flew to her lips. Her eyes bulged at the ¡picture she forced her brain to paint quickly before them, r For a moment she swayed undeter¡minedly. Fearfully she glanced about. ¡'¡No one was in sight. It was the hour for ¡,the evening meal and the lot was deserted ’.of circus-folk.

! Letty began to run in the direction of .the Big-Top. Then she stopped. Then ¡¡she ran again. She reached the run-way, ¡leading through the Big-Top to the arena within. She crept up it. It was grotesquely quiet and dingy within. The vast arena was empty, silent save for the hollow echoes of some ushers clattering about the higher benches, gathering up empty pop-corn bags, newspapers, and the hundred other varieties of débris left in the wake of the crowd who an hour before surged down from those benches. The lights had not been lighted yet. The mellow dusk of the early summer evening drifted through the mammoth tent, until lapped up by the flat, splotching shadows that flowed away inkily into the farthest corners.

Letty kept under the cover of these shadows, a trembling, panting, little figure.

WHEN the other girls trooped back from the mess-top to the dressing tent that evening they found Letty already there. She was hovering impatiently about the big wardrobe trunks.

She seized eagerly upon “Ma” Florentine, the handsome, grey-haired mistress of the wardrobe.

“Ma,” she coaxed, “dig up my scarlet ^outfit tonight. Please!”

“Why, Letty, this isn’t a big stand. You know those new costumes must be saved.”

“Oh, Ma, now please!”

“Ma” Florentine hesitated. She had had her orders from those higher up. But Letty was very dear to her. She always found it impossible to deny her anything with the latter’s dark, warmly luminous eyes raised pleadingly to hers.

“Well,” she said at last, “you know you ought not to wear your new outfit tonight.”

But she was already stooping to unlock the big trunk.

Letty danced before her.

“And my scarlet slippers, too,” she cried.

She dressed with meticulous care, not adding to the already high flush on her cheeks and confining the black hair, that grew so mistily soft about the ears, with a silver band. The latter gave to the small face a madonna-like touch, strangely incongruous with the shimmering scarlet of her costume.

Throughout her dressing Letty kept up a banter of merriment with the other

firls, a little brittle, verging on hysteria, ut sufficient to keep them all in gales of laughter. The shyness, the suspicious constraint she had felt with them during the last few weeks seemed to have dropped away, leaving her the old, recklessly gay and impulsive Letty, whom it was impossible not to love.

“You’ll be the death of me, Letty,” "Ma” Florentine cried at last, laughing until the tears rolled down her face at Letty’s latest sally.

“All right, Ma. I’ll be getting along out of your way. It’s time I was going, I guess.”

She slipped down from the top of her trunk where she had been sitting and gave her hands a last rub with rosin. When she looked up, the lantern from a near-by tent-pole showed her face suddenly pinched and w.hite.

She pulled a thin silver bracelet quickly from her wrist and pressed it into “Ma” Florentine’s hands.

“Take this. Here. Don’t lose it. Keep it. Good-bye.”

“Why, Letty, child, what’s this? What’s the matter?”

Instantly Letty flung back her head, flashing back an assuring smile.

“Nothing, Ma. Just keep this bracelet for me until—I come back. It feels too tight on my wrist somehow tonight.” She darted back to the opéning of the

“So long, girls!”

WITHOUT a look back she ducked out into the night. A few minutes later to a crash of jazz she was running lightly out into the ring, followed at a respectful distance by the rest of the troupe. Out of the corners of her eyes she saw Don stumbling in the rear.

They all climbed the ropes and swung out on their trapezes. The act began. Letty commenced the first, fearless flights down her string of swings in the center. When she had them all in motion she started the longer, more swooping flights, hanging now by her knees, now by her hands, twisting, turning, twirling, a bit of human life, defying the relentless laws of gravitation by a single catch of slim fingers, a slight pressure of knee muscles, an eye trained from babyhood to measure distances down to the last minutiae.

Finally she swung up into position five. In a moment'now she would swing on to the trapeze that hung close to Don, but somewhat lower than his. She did not use this swing except for her daring toe-hanging climax.

She saw Don already starting this trapeze in motion. She lifted her face to his as she caught onto it.

“Good-bye, Don,” she called up at him, her voice lifting clearly above the muffled clamor of the music far below.

Then the drums began the jarring crescendo roll that announced to the already breathless audience that the apex in aerial thrills had arrived. The little scarlet figure swung higher and higher. Far out over the safety net she wheeled backward, catching her knees over the bar. A moment later and she had slipped head downward, only her scarlet slippered toes, and the momentum of her swinging keeping her from plunging into space.

LETTY closed her eyes. Through the hotly rushing darkness her fear stabbed in upon her. Would Don see that the rope to her trapeze that swung nearest to him was half cut away?

She felt herself sweeping backward in the first long arc of her swing. She had passed Don. Had he seen? Supposing in his excitement he reached out with his hand and tried to stop her trapeze. The sudden jounce this would give her would certainly break the grip of her toes over the bar! Blood foamed in her ears at the thought. But no! she could trust Don’s long experience with the swings not to do that!

She was rushing back on the second arc of her swing.

“Don! Don!”

Her whole being cried out the words. If only she could see him. She shut her eyes again. She knew that to save her, he would have to swing with his hands on to a lower trapeze. He would have to hang headlong on that with his toes caught in the ropes at each end. By swinging sidewise in this position he could catch her by the ankles as she swept by him and seize her off her trapeze. Would he dare?

Doctor Billy’s words buzzed in her reelinv brain:

“......Sudden moment.... of.... ultra .... emotion......clean......of....

fear.... clean......of......”

Tremendous jerk. Blood whipping to her temples. Muscles of her back snapping taut. Her ankles aching in a

grip like a vise. Blackness......

She fought down the blackness to feel the grip on one of her ankles loosen cautiously. Her quick wits cut through her fainting consciousness. She understood the signals. They were directly over the net. The grip on both ankles let go. She plunged headlong. The habit of long years made her body twist agilely to land safely on her back.

The bound from the net revived her. With a hot rush her consciousness came back. On the second bound she regained her feet and ran nimbly to the edge of the net to the ladder there.

She looked up. The trapeze from which Don had seized her was swinging unevenly. One of its ropes was broken. Don was still swaying on his swing, but he had raised himself until his knees were caught over the bar. His muscles

were relaxed, resting. It was evident that he had seen her land safely.

Suddenly his downward glance caught on her eyes. It was as though until then he had been acting purely as an automaton. Now he gave a whoop of triumph. He swung himself quickly over the bar, shot to the next trapeze and to the next, until he had all the center ones swinging again with renewed

Then, obviously unconscious that the performers who “dressed” the side trapezes had gone, leaving him the sole performer in the ring, but conscious only of the little scarlet figure still standing on the ladder below, laughing up at him, and clapping her hands, Don Salvador began the long twirling flights, the breathless twists, the triple somersaults high in the air that had made his name once one to be spoken with awe.

When it was over he swung over to the little perch. He stood there a moment upright, his head flung back. It was the old, self-confident pose when his whole being tingled with the knowledge that he feared nothing, that the balance of every muscle and nerve in his body was perfect, his eye true, his grip sure. Again, “Prince of the Air.” With a spectacular dive he jumped into the net, turning at the last possible second to land in a favorable position. Hardly had he regained his feet when Letty was by his side.

“Don! Don! You did it!”

He looked down at her a little dazed. He tried to speak. Then the quick

memory of the cut rope and the slender ankles he had seized came back to him.

“God! Letty! One of your ropes

was nearly worn through. It broke just as I grabbed you. Did I scare you?” She laughed at the look on his face.

“I did it, Don.”

“Did......what?”

“Cut the rope.”

“Cut......? Why? What......?”

“I knew you’d save me.”

“I......? What do you mean?”

She shrugged her shoulders, her voice catching beneath the lightness she tried to force into it.

“Oh, well! I was going to swing there until either you saved me. . . .or the rope broke.”

“God! You’d been killed!”

The joyous peal of her laughter rang to him above the stridor of the orchestra, the thunderous roar of applause from the audience, who never dreamed it had witnessed anything but the usual aerial act, billed on the program as “LETTY DUPEEL, MOST DARING AERIALIST IN THE WORLD.”

“Don,” Letty cried happily, “you’re the donkiest donkey in the show. Don’t you know it’d have been easier to have been killed than to have lived to see. . .. my husband... .in the grub-tent?”