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The Big-Time Heart

W. Carey Wonderly

An unusual story of vaudeville and the people who make it when it is at its best. Perhaps you do not think there is much heart in the making of variety entertainments. If you think so, you do not know. Because the heart is there—even if it is not visible.

IT was Hal's idea, and, because it was, Ruby, quite naturally, fell in love with it at once. For Hal was her husband, he had handsome Irish eyes, and a winning smile, and he was ambitious for Broadway's approval.

"It made a hit with me right off th' bat," Ruby confessed to Sammy Braker. "Of course, it'll cost real money, but we've got a few pennies laid by, an' I don't see how we could put 'em to better advantage—do you?"

"It—listens well," acknowledged Sam. Braker was the third member of the Three Flying Shamrocks, a shy, slim little man, with thin hair and outstanding ears. Just now, with Ruby and Hal, he was living in a Forty-fifth Street rooming house, and he had come down from his third-floor back to the second-floor front to discuss, for the hundredth time, the possibility of Donlin's scheme with Ruby, while Hal roamed from one booking office to another, and combined business with pleasure in the most amazing fashion.

"Jus' you wait," nodded Ruby. "You know what Hal is! Talk about class—d'y' know he wouldn't go back to Waddles' this time jus' because she puts napkins over th' soiled places in the tablecloth! That man oughta be toppin' bills this minute, Sam, an' he would, too—if it wasn't the managers are all th' time bringin' in foreign acts like Bernhardt an' Lauder. I'd like to see them repeatin' on the Sun time inside a month—that's what the Flyin'

Shamrocks done!"

Braker reached for the shaker, dusted a little salt in his glass, and thoughtfully shook it round and round.

"That's the beauty of havin' a good, sound act—it's always welcome anywhere," he observed.

Ruby agreed heartily. "Ain't it the truth? After all, the Shamrocks have been pretty lucky, Sam, and there's lots worse things in this world than the small time. Not that Hal's not got the right idea— for he has! But we've been happy—even if we did only get to New York once a year, and then in July."

"New York never made no hit with me—you know that," Braker looked up to say.

"Now, Sammy—"

"There's no heart and soul to Broadway," he added, in a voice which was half a growl; "I know—I seen it!"

Ruby shook her wonderful head of golden curls and sighed loudly.

"I don't know what to make o' you, Sam Braker, when you talk that way," she declared. "Sometimes I think—"

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, as she broke off abruptly.

"S-sh!" admonished Ruby, craning her neck and listening. "Yes! Here comes Hal!"

The Shamrocks were a casting act. In the cheaper vaudeville theaters they were counted among the best of their kind, and to the patrons of these houses their name was a household word. For five years they had played the smalltime circuit. Hal had suddenly rebelled. He had refused a route in the Middle West, had spurned a Canadian offer, and, marshaling his forces, charged upon New York.

"It's the big-time for us from now on!" said he. His wife, while dubious at heart, accepted his decision with enthusiasm. Sammy Braker said nothing; he didn't care one way or the other what they did, and the Donlins, knowing this, didn't even make a pretense of consulting him in the matter.

"It's like this," explained Hal, who spoke with a brogue only for publication; "we've got something near five hundred cases in the bank—"

"Fare you well, little home in th' country!" breathed Ruby to herself.

"What we want to do is to take this money and spread ourselves," Hal continued, with many elaborate gestures. "Can't expect to be playin' the big-time houses with small-time props, y' know. No, we'll take this money and dress the act—all new costumes, new apparatus, green plush curtain, with shamrocks and harps on it. Maybe that won't get us a week at Cammerstein's!"

"You can't do all that with five hundred dollars, Hal," said Ruby, in an apologetic voice.

"I can!" he declared. "You mean Thoid Avenoo," cut in Braker. "Secondhand rings and bars ain't always safe, Hal."

"An' cast-off clo's—" sighed Ruby. Donlin smiled—and this smile of his would have made a stock company on One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, as th' sayin' is," he told them. "Th' big feature of th' new Flyin' Shamrocks is—a fourth member, another lady!"

"A—what?" gasped Ruby. Donlin bowed low to her. "A-nother lady," he repeated.

Sam Braker looked up quickly. "Cut it, Donlin," said he. "We got no use for strange skirts 'round here."

But Hal was explaining his wonderful idea to Ruby; it was out of all reason that old Sammy should show objection.

"There's nothin' classier than a neat little castin' act, girlie," her husband told her. "Of'en I've wished there was four of us instead o' three—Four Shamrocks—see? There must be four to be a shamrock, Rube. You an' me work fine and grand together—what we want is a nifty little lady partner to work op'site Sam."

"Cut it!" growled Braker, but to no apparent effect.

"Yes," finished Donlin triumphantly; "then we'll be an act—a big-timer. I'll jus' run down tomorrow and look out this new Shamrock— somethin' pretty and re-fined, eh, Rube?"

"A lady from her puffs to her pumps, Hal!" pleaded Ruby.

He had set out directly after breakfast, at noon, and now he was returning, perhaps with the new Shamrock in tow. Ruby glanced hurriedly around the room. It was neat and clean. She herself had donned her best kimono—the baby blue with the lace at neck and wrists; and the table with the green pitcher and green glasses gave a homelike touch. True, Sam was in his shirt sleeves, and he would wear suspenders, and wouldn't blouse his shirt, but—at least he was quiet, and always asked permission to smoke when ladies were present. And that was something, goodness knows!

She ran lightly to the door and threw it open.

"Well, boy," cried she, in her loud, cheery way, "you're as welcome as a 'hand' at a Monday matinée!"

Donlin kissed her twice; he was alone.

"Where is she?" asked Ruby, still in his arms. Donlin led her inside and closed the door mysteriously.

"Down in the parlor," he whispered; "and, baby, you're goin' nuts over her—that's how genteel she is! One o' these little pale dolls, all eyes, dresses in black, and talks so low you can scarcely hear what she's sayin'. I thought they was stringin' first when they said she was in acrobats onct. Classy; looks like Broadway all right."

"Broadway's rotten to the subway," muttered Braker, clutching at his half-empty glass.

Ruby thoughtfully rubbed her chin with her palm. "What's her name?" she asked.

"Blossom Lee," announced Donlin triumphantly.

"H'm, chorus doll!" growled Sammy.

"Can she work, Hal?" Ruby said dubiously.

"Says so! Said try her out, and if she didn't suit, we'd call it off," nodded her husband. "Ain't you goin' down and see her? I didn't bring her up because—she's so re-fined, Rube."

Ruby cleared her throat significantly. "What name did you say? Lee—all right. Yes, I'm goin' right down this minute."

It seemed hours before she returned. In the meantime Donlin tried to draw Braker into conversation, but Sammy, never talkative, had nothing to say, and presently Hal found himself doing a monologue.

"I didn't tell this to Rube," he confided, "because women are so funny to each other, an' one don't like a-nother to get anything on her, but, Sam, this little girl downstairs was jus' down an' out, hadn't done a stroke o' work for two months. When I said we'd give her a chance, she went all to pieces and cried. I tell you, it made me feel all queer myself, them tears. Honest, she looked hungry."

"It's stylish to be starved lookin' this year," sniffed Braker. "Them dolls all pull that stunt when they get hol' of a fella like you."

"What'sa matter with me?" demanded Donlin.

"You're easy pickin' where a skirt's concerned, Hal."

"I gotta heart in my body if that's what you mean."

"Yes," nodded Braker, "with a wife like Ruby you don't know what it is to be double-crossed."

Then the door opened and Ruby came in, followed by a mere slip of a girl, who seemed at first glance to be all eyes.

Greatly to the astonishment of the two men, Ruby turned and kissed Blossom with unmistakable emphasis, and then, with one arm around her neck, she advanced to the middle of the room.

"You've met my husban', dearie," she said, addressing Miss Lee. "Now I want you to know Mistah Braker—he's a real pal, and I want you to be real friends. Sammy—Miss Blossom Lee."

Neither of them spoke a word. Braker didn't even move from his place at the window, and Blossom, with a nervous little jerk, sat down quickly in the rocking-chair.

"Blossom's made arrangements with Mis' Tippett for a room," said Ruby, with her all- embracing smile, "I think that'll be fine—all of us under the same roof. You'll take your breakfast with us, dearie, down here—Sammy does; and Tippett gives us our dinner at six o'clock. It'd be swell if we could get a little housekeepin' flat, wouldn't it, now?"

Braker got up to go. "I gotta date," he said to Ruby, when she pressed him to remain.

"We're goin' to have a bite—it's hours to dinner," cried Ruby; "so you've got to stay if on'y to be sociable. Hal, slip round to Murphy's while I make some san'wiches. Put th' kettle in th' suit case, honey—it looks terrible to be chasin' out o' a respectable house with a can in your fist. Like raw beef, Blossom?"

When Donlin had departed with the suit case, and Ruby had hurried down to Mrs. Tippett for the sandwiches, Sammy Braker rose and walked over to where Blossom Lee sat crouched in the rocking- chair.

"You know you can't stay here," he began savagely.

"Why not?" she asked, in a low voice. "I—I must! I will!"

"You won't!"

"I was starving when Hal Donlin engaged me— starving!"

"Good enough for the likes o' you!" muttered Braker.


"Cut it! Tears'll get you nothin' here."

"It's either this or—or the river, Sam," she faltered.

He began to whistle, very much off key.

"I won't go!" she cried then, hurt by his indifference. "You can't put me out if I make good—and I can do that—you know I can!"

He stopped whistling, and turned and smiled at her in a grim, significant way.

"You can?" he taunted. "You can really do stunts on rings an' bars? I wouldn't 'a' thought it. Broadway and comic opera is where you belong, madam. How's your pipes? Got the Metropolitan chasin' after you with contracts yet?"

"How can you be so cruel?" she asked, covering her eyes with her hands. "Can't you see how I have suffered? Look at me—a wreck! It was because he saw that Donlin brought me home with him. There were lots of other women prettier and cleverer than I am at the agency. Sam, my spirit's broken. I won't bother you, won't speak to you only when the others are around. Let me stay."

"If I'd tell Donlin," threatened Braker, "he'd have to choose between you and me—either you'd go or me. An' I've been with the Shamrocks for five years."

"I know," she said softly.

"You do?"

"I saw you once in Topeka, a few months after—"

There was a brief silence; then Braker said: "Does Donlin know—or Ruby? Did you tell her—anything? You can't always tell when two skirts get together—and I won't have 'em know— not a word! If you stay—"

"I must!" she interrupted gently, yet with a certain firmness. "If you only knew how utterly tired and ill I am, I think you would be a little kinder, Sam."

"You askin' kindness from me!" he scoffed. "Look at me—I used to be pretty," she said. "Look at me!" he cried savagely. "An' I'm not thirty! Most folks'd guess forty, and I feel fifty—a hundred! Hal and his wife—they're the whitest an' best pals a fella ever had! But when Rube sews a button on, or mends my coat, I always feel there's pity in her kindness. An' Hal's always so cordial for me to come an' set in their room whenever I feel like it—so I won't get lonely. Lonely—God! Look at me—jus' look at me, Jen!"

"Sam, I'm—sorry," said Blossom. He walked back to the window. "We'll try it for a week," he said. "But don't come whinin' round me; you've made your bed. An' I'm used to bein' lonely now!"

Ever since she could remember Ruby had dreamed of a little house in the country some day. It was she who had scraped together in the many years of hard work the money that went to make the Four Flying Shamrocks a possibility, and even when she saw the gorgeous emerald curtain and the handsome satin knickerbockers to match, she had to laugh hard to keep back the tears.

"Th' drop's my house an' th' clo's are my chickens," she said to herself. "Now it's start all over again. I wonder!"

But even Hal didn't guess. Their first appearance was one Sunday night at a burlesque house on Broadway. Their agent told them they were lucky to get the date, and he promised to have some men from the booking offices there to see them. Donlin was enthusiastic.

"If we win out to-night it'll mean the Keith time to follow!" said he. "We close the show—which is better than openin' it! Watch yourself now; show 'em that the Flyin' Shamrocks are a fast, neat little act, with nobody walkin' out on' em!"

The green velvet curtain with the shamrocks and harps on it made a very good impression at the start, and when they tripped out in single file, Blossom, Sam, Ruby, and Hal, in their trim satin knickers, there was a friendly round of applause. The Donlins, as became seasoned showmen, acknowledged the reception with stately bows, and then, going to the footlights, Hal said to the musical director:

"A little Missisip'—if you please, perfessor!" They worked hard, especially Ruby, who was solidly built, and never spared herself. Her few minutes on the rings earned generous applause, and her work with Hal on the bars landed them safely as a hit. It was music to her ears when the audience called them out again and again, in front of their own handsome curtain, to bow their thanks.

"I think," she remarked to the others with a smile, "we went as big as the biggest to-night."

"It means Cammerstein's, sure!" whispered Hal excitedly. "After this they've jus' got to recognize the Shamrocks. Where's Levy?"

They found their agent later on, when they were dressed and ready to go, talking to the ragtime violiniste who had had the star spot on the bill, and had scored the big hit of the night before the Shamrocks pulled down their sensational mark at the close.

"Well," asked Donlin, trying to appear modest when joy and pride beamed from his face, "have you heard anything, Mr. Levy?"

"You done fine—you've got a swell little act," returned the agent. "Jus' our luck, though—Allen and Morton walked out jus' before you went on— had a train to catch, I think. Closin' is too late; you can't expect a man like Mark Morton to sit through three hours of to-night to see you at eleven o'clock. Now can you?"

"But you said—" began Hal.

"I know," cut in Levy, "and you'll get a hearing, too, all right. Let's see. Next Sunday night at the Academy, say. And I'll have Morton there—sure thing! He saw Claudetta to-night, and she opens with her little fiddle at the Colonial to-morrow matinée."

"Still you told us—"

"I know I did. You're not booked up this week, are you? Will you play the Empress, Hoboken, three a day—it's a cut house—if I can get it for you? I'll phone you then by ten to-morrow. It's a great sight act you've got, Mrs. Donlin. I'm off—good night."

Ruby gazed after the agent with tragic eyes. "It's tough—that's what it is," she said, and her voice told of aching muscles and outraged nerves. "Buffaloed! It was Claudetta that Mark Morton came to see—an' Levy knew it, too!"

"He's triflin' with us," muttered Donlin between his teeth.

Braker picked up Ruby's suit case and swung it from his right to his left hand.

"I know—that guy's a mean man," quoth he. "Why, if he owned a lake he wouldn't letta duck take a drink o' water. Comin'?"

Slowly, wearily, they walked back to Tippet's. Blossom and Sammy followed the Donlins into the second-floor front, and Ruby, as was her custom, busied herself making sandwiches. But a cloud had appeared upon the horizon of the Shamrocks Four, and the midnight lunch was left undisturbed upon the washstand.

"Jus' when we seemed so sure!" said Hal once. "When I heard that wil' burst of applause to-night, I thought sure things was comin' our way at last; and then—this!"

"I think," cried Ruby, jumping up and bustling around the room with a fine show of cheerfulness, "we had better grab that Hoboken date, folks. It's a cut house, true, but a four-act ought to pull down a hundred even there."

"Don't count your chickens till they're hatched," said Braker grimly.

Blossom rose and went toward the door. "I'm tired, and my head aches," she said, with a tired little smile. "I'm going to say good night if you'll excuse me."

"Sure! Run on to bed," nodded Donlin, and then, turning to his wife: "Rube, ain't you got any headache dope handy?"

Ruby joined Blossom at the door and slipped an arm around the girl's waist.

"You can't do ring-an'-bar work an' keep takin' that stuff, honey," she declared. "A little spirits o' ammonia, maybe—sleep'll do you more good, though."

When Ruby came back from seeing Blossom to bed, she found Hal alone, sitting at the window in his bright, pink pajamas. His elbows were on his knees, and his chin was between his palms, and he didn't raise his head even when Ruby hummed a snatch of ragtime in her mellow contralto.

She began to undress, but she watched him stealthily the while. Presently she could stand it no longer, and she went to him, down on her knees beside his chair, and drew the hands away from his face and pillowed it against her breast.

"Dearie," she said. He struggled, feebly, to free himself, but she only held him closer.

"Go to bed, Rube," he said gently. "You must be played out. It's a dog's life for a woman, anyway."

She covered his mouth with her hand. "It's your life an' my life, an' I love it!" she breezed, with playful briskness. "Of course, there are dark days— bound to be! If there wasn't, what'd be the use o' lovely plush curtains an' han'-some green knickers? You see, if it was allus sunny, we wouldn't need to bother with 'em, cause fair weather's fair weather, an' nobuddy wants more! Why, I betcha, Hal Donlin, the Flyin' Shamrocks has Hoboken by its hind legs beggin' for more! It's a safe bet, too, that no such classy act was ever seen inside the walls o' the Empress before. You'll be cock o' th' walk in Jersey, an' that's better'n a chaser on Broadway—ev-er-y time!"

"I don't know, Rube," he said dubiously. "Tonight's kinda taken the very heart out o' me. It makes me think, maybe, we ain't big-time timber, after all."

She made a quick, expressive gesture with her hands. "You mean—you mean you're goin' to lay down—now?—with Sam, an' me, an' Blossom— an' that swell green curtain? You—you couldn't!"

"You're right; there's Blossom," he said, half to himself.

She gave him a surprised little look, as if doubting her own ears, and wanting evidence. He was staring at the floor, and after a minute she repeated dully:

"Yes, there's Blossom." Something in her voice seemed to rouse him, for he got up and began to move restlessly around the hot, stuffy room.

"I guess we'd better take Hoboken if Levy remembers to phone in the morning," he said, without looking at her. "Even a little money'll go a long way now. We've spent a lot, Rube, on the act. I only hope three shows a day won't be too hard on the kid."

"On the— Oh, you mean Blossom," said Ruby.

"Yes. She's so little, an' soft, an' white." Ruby Donlin turned out the gas and crawled in between the sheets.

"Acrobats is hard on all women," she voiced. There followed a silence, during which she waited almost breathlessly; then, unable to carry out her plan, "Good night, honey," she said softly.

"Good night, girlie," Hal called back. "Maybe I'll be sendin' you to Europe yet in the good old summer time, eh? Want to go—Paree?"

She sighed contentedly. "If you go with me, yes. Good night."

At the end of their week in Hoboken, the manager of the Empress gave Donlin an "unsolicited testimonial" to the effect that the Four Flying Shamrocks were the biggest, best, and classiest act that had ever played his house. And Donlin, filled with pride, gladly parted with his emerald-and-diamond cravat pin in order that the said testimonial might grace the advertising pages of a weekly theatrical paper the following Friday. Because of this, or in spite of it—which, nobody seemed to know—the Shamrocks were given a week on a New York roof at a salary slightly in excess of the Hoboken wage, and Mr. Levy, who figured largely in the advertisement as their "sole agent," whispered mysteriously of Cammerstein's.

And Hal Donlin's heart was filled with peace, and he lived only in his work. Things were coming right at last—the coveted big-time was just around the next corner.

He used to talk of these things to Blossom as he walked home with her from the roof in the hot August night. Often he'd take off his coat and carry it across his arm; sometimes she would carry it for him, if he wanted to smoke, and he had the grip or suit case with him. And he'd push his straw hat far back off his head, and tie a white silk handkerchief around his neck, and, with the applause still ringing in his ears, march along with gay, swinging steps. It was good to be alive, in New York, even in sweltering weather!

Ruby, walking behind them with Sam Braker, all out of breath, tired and listless, could only watch Donlin's athletic figure and wonder. All kinds of wild, black thoughts played hide and seek in her brain, as she trudged blindly on behind them, behind her husband and Blossom Lee. If Sammy had only talked to her, said something, anything! But he didn't. His silences were as oppressive as the nights.

Once she managed to leave the theater with Hal, her hand on his arm, but when they got out on the street he turned and deliberately waited for Blossom, who lingered, hesitating, in the shadow of the stage door.

"You trot along with Braker," he whispered; and Ruby, after a moment of real agony, obeyed meekly, saying: "W'y, cert'n'y!"

That was the night she spoke to Sam; she had to, for her heart was breaking, and the pain and torment frightened her.

"She seems like a nice little thing," she said, not even mindful of her deception. "I was a bit dubious at first, but she's took to us like one of the fam'ly, ain't she?"

"Humph!" retorted Braker.

"Don't you think she's pretty, Sammy?—so refined!"

"She can't touch you on the rings," growled he. Ruby beamed with pleasure for a brief second.

"Blossom's young, Sam—"

"Yah! She's young an' pretty, all right. Dresses the stage nice, adds class, y' know. I heard Nathan, over at the Empress, say that she could hold up her end o' the act if she didn't do a thing but jus' smile at the audience. I guess it ain't of'en they come so—so genteel in castin' acts, Ruby. H'm, if she knew he said that it'd knock her off her pins!"

Ruby swallowed something hard in her throat before she could go on.

"I didn't know she showed up so well from the front," she said, in a dull, expressionless voice. "Blossom's so little an' dark—"

"That's just it!" cried Braker, rather warmly. "She's what the writin' chaps'd call wholesome, I guess. An' audiences know—they get kinda sick an' tired of bleached-out dolls, week after week, on every bill right through the season."

Instinctively Ruby's hands went up to her own golden curls, of which she was every bit as proud as if they owed their generous tint to nature, and not to Madame Something-or-other.

"Yes, Blossom's young and pretty, all right," she conceded slowly. "I was, too—onct. But this work— Hal said it was a dog's life for a woman, an' I guess he's come pretty near gettin' it pat. She'll go, too—if she sticks at it's long as I have; lose all her curves and dimples, an' get jus' muscle in their place. Look at me, Sam—strong as a ox, an' solid as a battleship! I wonder what them writin' chaps you talk about would say about me?"

Braker shook his head; possibly he didn't even hear her, for he, too, was watching the man and woman walking along in front.

"It seems hardly fair," sighed Ruby, half to herself. "Th' flyin' has on'y made Hal look like a fella in the clothin' advertisements, w'ile me— It's a dog's life for a woman, an' it'll get her next!"

When they reached the house, the Donlins waited at their door, as was their custom, until Blossom got safely to her own room, on the floor above. Then, as she turned the key, she called down, "Good night!" Sammy Braker, with yet another flight to climb, unlocked his door in silence.

"Guess what we're up against now?" cried Donlin, when they were alone. "Jus when everythin's goin' so nice, an' Levy's talkin' Cammerstein's with every other breath! I'm most ready to throw down th' cards, Rube."

"Yes?" she returned, in an uninterested voice. He turned quickly and gave her a perplexed stare, but she was combing out her short front hair, and in her mouth were a couple of hairpins.

"Blossom's goin' to quit us," he announced then, appeased. "Did. you ever hear any thin' like the luck we play in? That means break in a new girl, an' me expectin' a phone message from Levy any minute 'most to report at Cammerstein's Monday, at ten!"

Ruby removed the pins to the bureau and deliberately studied her face in the cheap, oval mirror. She saw a tall, muscular woman, with very yellow hair and dark, kindly eyes, with irregular features and indifferent complexion, who looked every day of her thirty-five years.

"What's the matter?" asked Donlin, who, clad in his pajamas, watched her from the foot of the bed.

"With me? Nothin'!" shrugged Ruby, turning away from the glass. "What's the matter with Blossom?—a bluff to get more money?"

He shook his head.

"I thought she didn't belong to the castin' line th' minute I set eyes on her," added Ruby. "Well, we got along five years without 'er—I guess we can manage to scrape along a few more after she's gone."

"Rube," said Hal impressively, "she mustn't go. You talk to 'er."


"Sure! For th' good o' the Flyin' Shamrocks—" Ruby made a familiar gesture with her hands. "I haven't got any pull with Blossom Lee," she declared. "If you can't persuade her—"

"She said to-night she was determined to go."

"See—there you are! What can I do after that?"

"Rube, she likes you," Donlin explained. "She never speaks to me she don't say somethin' nice about you. Says you treated her sweet an' kind the day she came. Blossom's mighty fond o' you, Rube. If you ask her to stay perhaps—"

Ruby burst into wild laughter. "Hal Donlin, you are a joke!" she cried. "Look at me! D'you see any up-State mud clingin' to my trilbys, any hayseed in my sun-kissed tresses? No, you do not! As for them kind words o' Blossom's, all I got to say is she never breathed 'em to me—"

"She's natur'ly shy with other women," he defended.

"Good girl! So it's on'y men she's confidential with, eh?"

"Now, Rube! That ain't like you—knockin' your own sex! I never heard you do it before since I've known you—fourteen years! Blossom likes you—that's no kid; but she's been double-crossed by a woman, and before she met you she passed 'em up. I gotta reason for wantin' her to stay—one besides the Cammerstein date Levy's tryin' to book us for."

"Then let Sam ask her," said Ruby, with a certain finality.

"Braker! You do want to frighten her off," Donlin cried, closer to anger than she had seen him for many moons. "No! Listen! Never mention her name to Sam or his to Blossom—never!—unless you want to start somethin'. Braker wouldn't be a straw in my hands—"

Again Ruby burst out laughing. "Th' plot thickens," quoth she. "Never mind the last act— good night."

The next morning she had a raging headache, for she had tossed, wide awake, all night. Donlin, when he saw her haggard face and heard her weary voice, insisted that she remain in bed until matinée time, and he made her a cup of tea and boiled an egg. Then he drew the curtains and crept noiselessly out of the room. The instant he was gone, Ruby jumped out of bed and, hurrying to the door, turned the key in the lock. So, when Blossom came, a little later, she found herself barred, and Ruby didn't answer when she called her by name.

At one o'clock Sam Braker pounded loudly on her door, telling her it was theater time. Then, when she answered, "All right," he came back with: "How're you feelin'?" And when she came down the stairs, dressed for the street, he was waiting in the lower hall for her.

"Hal's gone on," he volunteered. Ruby smiled an ugly little smile. "With Blossom—of course," she said. He caught her up quickly.

"Why 'of course'?" asked he. "Aren't they always together?" Ruby said, with a shrug and a toss, but her voice was not quite steady.

Braker turned and looked at her; for a minute she returned his gaze with bright, dry eyes, then they faltered. But in that moment he had read her secret; he understood.

"Rube," said he, "you're dead wrong—you're barkin' up th' wrong tree."

"Oh, I know what I know," she sighed. "It ain't that—"

She leaned toward him and smiled, and the expression in her dark eyes stirred him uneasily.

"You're a good old scout, Sam," she said. "I guess a true pal's a bigger asset than most of us think, until— But what's th' use? I know! Don't say any more. Don't! You can't explain a-tall."

He thought, perhaps, he could, and it is highly possible that he would have taken her into his confidence, only she waved him aside with a laugh, ran past him to the stage entrance, and disappeared through the door. And when he reached the theater she had gone to her dressing room.

The two lady members of the Shamrocks Four dressed with Madame Hyacinth, who owned and managed the "only and original ragtime cat-anddog circus," which had been the "big noise on every bill from Maine to Oregon," and which was to open the show at the Republic Roof in spite of it.

When Ruby entered the dressing room, she found madame deeply occupied with the mysteries of her costume, and there was no one else in the room. Ruby saw this with a sickening rush of blood to her head, but she made no sign, and commenced to change quickly and silently.

Not so the lady of the cat-and-dog circus, however. She looked up, grinned, and asked significantly:

"Where's th' squab, dearie?"

"If you mean Blossom—"

"Sure! Who else, dearie? Did she an' Mistah Donlin get back all right from Broadway an' Forty- secind this mornin'? I was up to my agent's to see about deportin' my act to Europe nex' year—if I mus say it myself, dearie, they're jus' clamorin' for my performin' pets in the London halls—an' who should I see right there in th' street but th' squab an' your hubby? Far be it from me to tell all I see, dearie, an' I wouldn't mention this for th' world an' all if I wasn't puffictly sure you an' her were like maw an' daughter to each other. I've often noticed you here in th' room, an' I will say for th' pair o' you I never yet seen you lay th' other out—words or fists! But—"

"We got no call to scrap—that's all," said Ruby, as madame paused for breath. "But I always got my muscle an' nerve with me jus' th' same—see?"

"I didn't mean no offense," apologized Hyacinth quickly.

"No, I suppose you were congratulatin' me on my last season's hat," retorted Ruby. "That's all—

I've said my little piece."

After the woman had gone, Ruby sat there, with her aching head in her hands, staring straight at the blank wall. She was not quick-witted, her brain moved slowly, but when once an idea was lodged there, time nourished it, day by day, until at last it burst into flower. And now, sitting there in the bare little dressing room, clad in her new green satin knickerbockers, she realized that the moment had come to act.

"We was happy until she came," she muttered once. "He was a good an' lovin' husban'—never even looked at other women. She brought it on herself!"

It was late when Blossom came hurrying in, a few purple asters pinned to her white shirt waist, and a soft blush on her cheeks. She looked very girlish, very pretty, and all at once there flashed through Ruby's brain the circus woman's words:

"If I wasn't perfectly sure you and she were like mother and daughter to each other!"

It was true! She saw in that instant what she had never stopped to realize before—Blossom looked young enough to be her daughter! As for Donlin— well, casting was a man's work; the years had passed him by, forgotten; there was still youth, glorious youth, in his heart, in his step, in his eyes.

"I've been uptown," confided Blossom, as she slipped into her knickers; "hope I haven't kept the act waiting. How's your head, dear?"

"My head's all right," replied Ruby, and then she got up and left the room, a smile on her lips. Blossom hadn't said she was uptown with Hal!

When she moved out in the wings she caught a glimpse of Donlin and Sammy Braker, with their heads together, whispering. But when the men saw her, they quickly separated, with a guilty start, she thought, and set about testing the apparatus. So even old Sammy was in league against her!

At last their cue came, the orchestra struck up Missisip', and the Four Flying Shamrocks marched out, single file, Blossom, Sam, Ruby, and Hal. And almost unconsciously Ruby bowed and smiled, acknowledging the light applause which greeted their appearance, for her thoughts were not with her audience. She was busy watching Blossom—she was such a fragile thing!

They began their routine, at first all four working together, then each in turn doing a specialty alone. And Ruby noticed how the house applauded even Blossom's simplest tricks, while her own really meritorious work on the bars went for little or nothing. It was Blossom's appearance, of course! The girl's looks, her youthfulness—her youth! Ruby, from her swing fifteen feet above the stage, glanced across at her husband, opposite— and he was smiling at Blossom Lee, somersaulting on the horizontal bar! Ruby closed her eyes, sick with fury, but even then she couldn't shut out the fact that they made a very handsome pair, Blossom and Hal, even in their silly green costumes. How the audience laughed when he laughed, and applauded when Blossom as much as crooked her little finger. Only Sammy and she worked and sweated in silence.

The music stopped suddenly, as it always does when the performers are about to attempt some "hazardous" exploit. Now the Shamrocks were perched twenty feet above the stage, Donlin and Blossom facing Braker and Ruby.

First Ruby swung out from the bar, did a double flop in mid-air, and was caught, at the other side of the stage, in her husband's iron grasp. Then Sam and Blossom went through the same trick, although Blossom could only make one turn in crossing. Next the two men swung back and forth, crossed and recrossed, and then came Ruby's moment.

There was murder in Ruby's eyes as she hung by her knees to the apparatus and waited, waited. Accidents were rare, but they had happened before, and she had been nearly wild with a headache all morning—both Braker and Donlin knew that.

Blossom, opposite, swung out twice, and each time landed back on the bar, safely. She seemed to be hesitating, nervous, but Ruby only smiled and waited. There was plenty of time—there were hours, and days, and years ahead of her. And when Blossom did let go, finally—when she did swing clear of the bar, and out and across for Ruby to catch her—Ruby hummed a bit of Missisip'—and waited. A spider and a fly!

"Ready!" called Ruby. "Ye-es."


It was all over in an instant. But Ruby distinctly heard her cry of "Sam!" as she let go of the bar, and, somehow, in that awful moment, she guessed the situation. With almost superhuman effort she reached and caught the girl by the wrists, swung her above her head, and safely onto the bar, and lost her own balance. She closed her eyes when she found herself falling, and whispered Donlin's name.

When Ruby opened her eyes again, she was in the dressing room alone with Hal, and there was an immense bouquet of white and purple asters, tied with yards and yards of ribbon, on the make-up table, beside her.

"Where's Blossom?" she asked faintly.

"All right—hush!" said Donlin. "Oh, honey, you did nobly—everybody's talkin' about it—fine an' great! Blossom miscalculated—she says so herself; an' you risked your own precious life to save 'er! Thank God, there's no bones broke!"

"Ain't there?" she said, with a little sigh. "Nop!"

"But Blossom—"

"She's all right."

Ruby stirred uneasily, and saw the bunch of white and purple asters.

"What's them, Hal?" she asked. Donlin's eyes twinkled.

"Don't you know?—think!" She shook her head. "Unless it got gassed about I had cashed in—"

"No-o! To-day's th' twenty-ninth o' August, Rube!"

She covered her face with her hands. "My—my birthday."


"An' you didn't forget! Oh, Hal!"

"I guess I didn't forget," he cried pompously. "Why, Blossom an' me spent all mornin' gettin' them flowers! Came from a Broadway shop, too, Rube—Forty-secind Street. They were to be a surprise for you, an' th' house manager had given us permission to have 'em sent up over the foots t' you to-night. But the bum florist sent 'em this afternoon instead o' eight o'clock, as he said, an' so—an' so—here they are. D'you like 'em? Ain't they pretty? Maybe they wouldn't 'a' started somethin' passed over th' footlights at the end o' th' act!"

Ruby turned away from his embrace. "Oh, I wisht I was dead," she said. "You don't know how wicked I am—a murderer!"

"Aw, shucks—"

"It ain't shucks, either! Hal, Blossom didn't miscal'late. She was all right; it was me. I meant to let 'er drop—wasn't goin' to try to catch her. I—I guess I didn't care, even, if I killed her."

"Why, Rube—dear—"

"Where is she, Hal? Are you sure she's—"

"Surest thing you know!" he nodded emphatically. "Why, if you'd hear her an' old Sam—"

"Then she is in love with Sam!"

"How did you know?"

"I—I didn't; it—it came to me—all at onct—on th' bar. I heard her call his name, Hal, an' a woman don't call a man's name like that on'y when she loves him. I'm glad."

There was a brief silence, then: "She's his wife, y' know," explained Donlin. "They were married seven years ago, before Braker joined our act—they were acrobats, too. But Blossom—he calls 'er 'Jen'—was pretty, an' had a nice little voice, an' she wanted to get away from th' castin' an' try comic opera, on Broadway. That meant a split—o' course. An' he didn't see her again until I brought her to Tippett's that day."

"You knew who she was?"

"She told me—after she had seen Sam. I've been tryin' to patch things up for 'em ever since, but nothin' seemed to do any good until she nearly got that tumble this afternoon. Then—you oughta seen an' heard Braker! Oh, they've made up now all right, all right."

Ruby sighed. "If you'd on'y put me wise, on'y told me, Hal! She might be dead or broken now— Then I heard her call 'Sam!' an' I knew—in that minute. She couldn't love you an' holler for him— not in that tone. So I caught her—caught her jus' in time."

"Rube," said he, "you thought I cared for— Blossom?"

She nodded, unable to trust her voice. "You ought 'a' known better; you ought 'a' known, honey," he whispered. "Have I ever given you cause— Has there ever been any girl anywhere for me but you? Fourteen years, ain't it? An' we started with nothin', an' now we got this grand act, almost on Broadway, too. Rube!"

"Oh, I deserve to be shot!" she wailed.

"No, you don't! An' in th' future we'll trust each other—that's all. I'm to blame, too. I should 'a' told you about Blossom; but you know how women are toward each other. She was afraid you'd put th' blame all on her—and that maybe wouldn't want 'er in the act at all."

"I wisht I was dead," moaned Ruby, "It's fierce—an' she went with you to Forty-secind Street on'y to get them flowers! I'm a wretch. How you can care for me, even a little bit, Hal—"

Donlin thrust his hand in his pocket and drew out a slip of paper.

"I was goin' to save this for to-night, for your birthday party after th'— There, I told that! Well— look, Rube, dear; it's come at last, th' big-time circuits! See? It's a contract—we play Cammerstein's nex' week!"