Up Above the World So High
UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH
BY ARTHUR STANWOOD PIER
The sun had come out after the fifth hard shower of the day, and shone upon the bedraggled red, white, and blue bunting of the judges' stand, and on the soggy folds of the flag that drooped over the brass band's pavilion. In the green oval enclosed by the race track and grown suddenly brilliant, the carriages, wagons, and automobiles of the patrons of the fair were huddled together; the hoods and tops of these were now being thrown back with a cheerful clatter, revealing the bright-garbed occupants; and behind the grandstand, horses were being led from their stalls and harnessed for the next event. The throng that had packed the grandstand during the rain seemed now to bubble up and boil over at the edges; and soon the accustomed noises of the fair, which during the shower had been suppressed, were cheerily resumed,—the popping of the rifle at the shooting-booths, the resounding thwack of the heavy mallet as huge countrymen tested their strength, the bantering or inviting cries of the fakirs, the music of the band, and the vocalizings of cows, pigs, and poultry.
Harry Mortimer was bidden by his young hostess to detach himself temporarily while she gave the groom instructions about handling Lady Mary in the class designated on the programme as "Unbroken to Automobiles." It was a constant humiliation to Harry that no one ever thought of soliciting his advice on matters of sport; he ventured himself—somewhat timidly—in all such branches, and in all of them displayed a notable incapacity. To this he was resigned,—but he felt rather aggrieved when Miss Folwell failed to accredit him with even theoretical knowledge, and to appeal to it. He obediently took himself off,—he was apt to be too obedient,—and wandered in a circumscribed area among the tents and booths, never letting his eye depart for long from Miss Folwell's trim figure, habited for equestrian performance; she stood with her back to him, patting Lady Mary's neck while she talked to the groom, and now and then stooping to run her hand caressingly down one of Lady Mary's slim and beautiful legs.
A man throwing baseballs at a boy's head, which was thrust through a hole in a sheet of canvas, diverted Harry's attention for a moment. The person who had paid money thus to enjoy himself was very large and powerful; in one corner of his mouth he gripped a cigar, even while he threw. The blacked face of the boy dodged from side to side and up and down, for the hole in the canvas permitted a limited movement. And from the boy proceeded challenges and jeers. "Hit me, mister; say, I'm a dead easy mark; one on the cocoa now." The man threw with deliberation, and his throw was that of a professional ball player. A frantic dodge barely saved, as it seemed, the blacked face from annihilation, and the crowd of onlookers laughed at the narrow escape. "Go on; you can do it, mister; give me a good one,—right on the conk," importuned the boy in defiance; and the second ball went true and swift to that mark,—stove in the battered derby and ricochetted off against the canvas. The crowd cheered and laughed; Harry was touched by the momentary grimace, and then the pathetic smile of the victim. The next moment the boy was singing out bravely, "Stung! Hit me again, somebody; my conk's swellin'; you can't miss it." But there was a quaver in his courageous voice, and Harry, whose sensitiveness was fastidious and shrank before physical pain and danger, even when they were incurred by some one else, turned away. "Poor devil!" he thought, glancing at the boy's head; and he wondered why, when a fellow was reduced to that for a living, people, instead of dealing with him mercifully, should be brutal enough to try to hurt him. As he passed behind the screen of canvas he saw that the boy stood on a packing box, that his hands, interlocked behind his back, gripped each other convulsively, and that he kept knocking one foot against the other; the movements were obvious manifestations of suffering. But all the while the boy was singing out his urgent challenge, and the balls came plunk against the canvas. It took courage to stand pilloried and be battered like that through a whole long holiday. Harry reverenced courage wherever and however it was displayed; he was painfully aware of his own deficiency, always looking for some opportunity to overcome it. But when you are a very small, weak young man, weighing less than a hundred and twenty pounds, and moving habitually and by preference in a highly-civilized and well-guarded society, your opportunities for the development and display of lion-like qualities are not numerous.
Nevertheless, Harry, as he approached Miss Folwell, was aware that some time soon—in fact, if matters fell out favorably, that very night—he must show himself possessed of immense courage. He had had the necessity of it upon his mind for days and days.
"Let's go back to the box," said Miss Folwell, as he joined her. "I have an idea that Lady Mary will behave most abominably."
The box, which was in the front tier and directly upon the track, was empty; the other members of the party had not returned from their inspection of the various pleasures of the fair. The chairs in the box were close together, and for fear of crowding Miss Folwell, Harry did not sit down next to her, but considerately left that chair vacant. He was apt to be too considerate, as well as too obedient.
"The track is like thick pea soup," observed Miss Folwell, as the horses to be tried in the "Unbroken-to-Automobile" class were ranged up in front of the grandstand. Lady Mary was manœuvred to position directly before her mistress's eye.
"She stands beautifully," declared Harry. "If she'll only hold that position, she ought to get the blue."
"She's more likely to jump out of her skin," replied Miss Folwell.
Ten mettlesome, beautiful horses in shining harness were ranged before the grandstand,—all of them except Lady Mary restless, champing their bits or tossing their heads or pawing impatiently in the mud. Only Lady Mary stood quiet, looking straight ahead with mild and well-bred inquiry. And then down the track, moving cautiously, came a little steam runabout, followed by a big gasoline touring car, which in turn was followed by a motor delivery wagon. Slowly the procession approached, and an agitation that seemed communicable passed down the line of horses. Lady Mary pricked her ears forward, and held her head up with a startled air, but otherwise remained quiet; other horses began to dance. Harry Mortimer was watching one at the farther end of the line, a big chestnut who showed already a tendency to become unmanageable. The little steam machine passed him safely, the touring ear was abreast of him,—and then the motor delivery wagon sounded its terrible, its screeching horn. Harry saw the big chestnut rear and plunge,—and in the same instant immediately before his eyes loomed a glistening brown shape, and hovered, pawing in air, about to fall on him. With only the instinct of getting out from under, Harry sprang from his seat, and shrank into the corner of the box. Then he saw Miss Folwell leaning forward toward the rearing, balancing Lady Mary, saying gentle words; and he saw the horse drop its forefeet, grazing the box rail.
As he stepped forward, a man in the neighboring box vaulted out upon the track and seized Lady Mary's bridle. Miss Folwell put out her hand, and patted the horse's neck. Harry knew that he had disgraced himself in her eyes, in the eyes of all those people who sat behind, and who had seen. It was not merely that he had shrunk back in a panic; he had left her to shift for herself. She did not glance at him, and he knew miserably what she must think. And he had meant—if things fell out favorably—that very night to demonstrate to her that he had, at least, immense courage!
"I think I'd take her out if I were you," observed the man who was holding Lady Mary's head. "I understand this little parade is n't a circumstance to what they're going to do. They're going to take off the mufflers, and race up and down exploding like so many traveling machine guns,—and I guess the people in the front boxes will want then to climb up on the roof."
He smiled—in perfect innocence—at Harry, who promptly hated him.
"I think you're right," said Miss Folwell. "Thank you very much. James, you can take her out now. I shall want to drive her in the next class."
She kept her eyes on the horse until Lady Mary had been manœuvred out of the line and was trotting down the track. Then, for the first time since he had made his craven exhibition, she turned to Harry; and wretchedly for the second time he showed himself a coward, for he shrank before what seemed to him mocking laughter in her blue eyes.
"As I expected," she said, "we did n't behave very well in that event, did we? Better luck in the next, perhaps. You'll drive with me in that, Mr. Mortimer?"
He could have prostrated himself at her feet for this forbearance, this willingness on her part still to be seen in public with him.
"I ought to say,—you've never driven behind Lady Mary, and you're so beautifully dressed,—you'll probably be a good deal spattered."
"Oh, I assure you, I don't mind that," replied Harry; and then he wondered if he had placed a ridiculous, unfortunate emphasis on the word "that." But if he had, she evidently did not notice it. He felt that everybody behind him was still watching him and commenting in whispers on his cowardice; but he sat down in the chair next to Miss Folwell, protected against the world's scorn. He was, however, very humble, very, penitent; and quakingly he besought the fates to put before him another opportunity for valiancy, even for sacrifice. But though the automobiles did indeed sweep up and down with more and more violent attempts to terrify, and though horses rose upon their hind legs, and pranced and had to be removed as Lady Mary had been, nothing occurred to jeopardize the safety of Miss Folwell or of any one in the neighborhood.
"Come," said Miss Folwell at last. "It's time we were getting ready."
Harry followed her down to the horse stalls. In front of them, harnessed to a shining yellow cart, stood Lady Mary; Miss Folwell mounted to the seat and took the tan-colored reins, and Harry ascended to the place at her side. The gong sounded, and they drove out upon the track,—the last of the entries in the Ladies' Driving Class to appear. The five other competitors were already out and limbering up. Miss Folwell took them in at a glance,—five solitary ladies.
"See how distinguished you are," she said to Harry. "The only man. They count a good deal on form and appearance,—and you will pull me through. You are so beautifully dressed!"
She glanced at him with her candid, humorous eyes, and with the little chuckle of enjoyment on which he usually doted, but which he now found rather frightening.
She spoke to Lady Mary, and the horse quickened its pace. Harry was blinded by a vicious spatter of mud. He groped for his handkerchief, and while he wiped away the smear he felt the mud rain upon his hat, his coat, his legs. With his eyes once more open, he glanced at Miss Folwell winkingly, through the shower that was being flung back by Lady Mary's forefeet, Miss Folwell, however, on her raised seat escaped the muddy discharge, except for an occasional drop; one or two tiny dots glistened on her cheek.
Just in front of the middle section of the grandstand they passed through a nearly liquid stretch of track, and Harry received a pasty drenching from Lady Mary's accurate hoofs. It filled his eyes and mouth, and as he convulsively raised his muddy handkerchief he heard the joyous laughter of the spectators, and, worse still. Miss Folwell's genial chuckle. When he again got his eyes open, she was making the turn a hundred feet beyond the stand.
"Dear me," she said, glancing at him. "Do you want to get out?"
"No, thank you," replied Harry. "Unless my appearance will count against you."
"Ah, the poor clothes! Darn the horse," she muttered. "I'm not getting out of her what I might." She touched Lady Mary with the whip.
The response was a forward lunge and a backward fling,—a cool poultice was spread across Harry's lower jaw. He was now on the side toward the grandstand, and something like a cheer arose as he went by. He beheld the mirth on the faces of the women; the man who had vaulted over the rail and held Lady Mary's head was guffawing with laughter; the solitary ladies who passed glanced at him with a demure amusement. He would not have resented being innocently ridiculous; but he burned with mortification to think that many of those to whom he furnished this diversion found in it a special zest because they had also been witnesses of his cowardice. And it stung him deeply to think that thus—in this trivial, contemptuous way—was Miss Folwell satisfied to administer to him his punishment.
He abandoned the now futile attempt to use his handkerchief, and, folding his arms, determined to endure imperturbably. It was hard.
At the turns Miss Folwell would glance at him mirthfully and laugh. And it was no longer the unrestrained merriment of the spectators that hurt. It was the gleeful trill which sounded in his ear at every turn; it was that which stabbed him to the heart. It was n't fair of her—it was n't worthy of her—to delight in making him ridiculous. She might have rebuked him, punished him in some dignified way,—but to make him the butt of light-minded laughter,—well, he reflected tragically, it was all part of being little, and weighing less than a hundred and twenty pounds.
"Cheer up; don't look so woe-begone," she urged him, as these thoughts were taking possession. "A few patches of skin still show. But ah, the poor clothes!" And she emitted her soft, innocent, compassionate-sounding laughter.
Back and forth the judges kept them traveling for what seemed an interminable time; Harry felt that they prolonged the event because of the general rejoicing in his ignominy. But at last the competitors drew rein, the judging was quickly finished, and the red ribbon, not the blue, attached to Lady Mary's bridle. Then, amidst the clapping and laughter of the crowd. Miss Folwell drove past the stand and turned off from the track.
Harry alighted and withdrew to a place beyond the stalls. He was patiently scraping one trouser leg with a stick, when the man who had held Lady Mary's head, and afterwards had laughed at him from the box, sauntered up. He was a cheerful, good-humored young man, with saucy blue eyes and the confident, leisurely, somewhat aggressive demeanor of one who is not easily put down; his clothes had a certain rusticity, with the exception of his collar and necktie, which were both noticeable for being in the extreme of an ugly fashion. They reasserted the quality of freshness and effervescent spirit which were to be deduced from his bearing.
"A good show you gave us," he observed. "No permanent damage done, I hope?"
"I think not."
"I'm going to give a little exhibition soon myself. More conspicuous and exciting than yours. Going up in the balloon and coming down with the parachute. My first experience. A little nervous,—what?"
Harry looked at him with less unfriendliness, and more surprise.
"A professional aeronaut,—practicing for one?" he inquired.
"Oh, not at all. In the interests of journalism,—my paper. My card,"—Harry read the inscription:
"H. Walter Bunch,
The Walshville Press."
"My own idea entirely," pursued Mr. Bunch. "I'm taking my vacation,—but if I run across a good story, I ask no better fun than to follow it out and write it up. An amateur's impressions,—going up in a balloon, descending with the parachute,—an interesting sensation, interesting reading. I arranged yesterday with Professor Delgardo,—his real name is Brophy. Telegraphed his terms to the Press; they said 'O. K. Go ahead.' Twenty dollars and a sensation in it for me. But say—I am a shade nervous. Kind of like to walk round and feel the earth under me—while I can, you know."
Harry had ceased to scrape himself; he was gazing at this person with astonishment.
"How high up will you go?—how much of a drop?" he asked.
"Three thousand feet, the prof says. He has two parachutes. When we get up half a mile, the prof cuts loose my parachute, and down flutters H. Walter. A moment later the prof will follow. They tell me," added Bunch reflectively, "I will strike with about the same force as if 1 had jumped from a height of six feet."
"You've never been up in a balloon before?—you've never made a parachute drop before?"
"This is positively my first aerial ascension—and probably—if nothing happens to me—rap on wood—my only."
"Are n't you scared,—really?"
"I am. Thinking of that moment when I drop off into space,—say, my hands sweat. But what's the odds? You've got to take a chance if you want any fun."
Harry, looking at the cheerful exponent of this doctrine, was deeply stirred. He faced a terrible idea, an idea filled for him with peculiar, unutterable terror; should he quail before it? He quivered with the violence of his suddenly incoherent mental struggle. Here was his chance to show her,—here was his chance to overcome forever his timorousness.
"Do you suppose," he asked, "that the professor could be persuaded to take up another passenger?"
Bunch surveyed him with critical eyes, lips pursed up, head on one side.
"Well," he said, "come and see. I think it will just be a question of whether you want to meet his terms."
They found the professor in a tent on the farther side of the grandstand. He was a small, wiry, red-haired man; he sat on a camp-chair, splicing rope, and he looked up at the new applicant with narrow, shrewd, gray eyes.
"Dizzy when you look down from high places?" he asked, after Harry had stated his desire.
"I don't know; I never go near the edge," Harry replied.
The corners of the professor's mouth crinkled humorously.
"Why do you want to go up?"
"Because I'm so scared at the very idea that I think it would be good for me to do it."
"How's your nerve?"
"I don't know. I want to find out."
"Do you know enough to obey orders?"
"That's one of my specialties."
"The fare for the round trip will be fifty dollars. You can pay it now. Then, if you decide to squeal between now and the time of the ascension,—I have the money,—and we don't refund to squealers."
Harry counted out the money into the professor's hand.
"You're light, and so am I," said the professor. "My big parachute will do for the two of us. I'll hold on to you if you get faint. But," he added encouragingly, "I don't believe you will. I think you've got nerve."
A great, grimy bubble of canvas swelled up in the middle of the fair-grounds, between two tall poles,—tall as telegraph poles. It was pulled out into ever-changing potato shapes; it bellied and strained from side to side; in a few moments it attained monstrosity. Within the open space immediately below it leaped a little man in red tights and heavy shoes. He bounded about, warning the boys and men in the crowd who held the ropes restraining the balloon, "Don't get the ropes wrapped round your hands, anybody!"
The people who had sat in the grandstand, the people who had been amusing themselves at the sideshows, had all flocked out upon the green oval. Harry Mortimer stood with Miss Folwell and her cousins, up near the front of the loosely assembled crowd. He knew that at any moment now the professor would make the signal agreed upon,—raise his right hand; the signal at which the two passengers were to step forward and take their places in the basket. Harry was all tremulous,—clenching cold, perspiring hands in his pockets. His heart had nearly failed him; he felt that when the signal was given he would not dare to stir; he knew that his moment would come,—and pass. Yet, in spite of this conviction, he could not help trembling. With a haggard and intent face he watched the professor skipping about; he noted even an inconsequent detail,—that the professor wore heavy shoes, from the tops of which the straps protruded incongruously. The professor was laying the parachutes carefully out upon the ground,—slack folds of canvas, attached on opposite sides to the bottom of the balloon. A hush of expectancy descended on the crowd; instead of the shrill shouting of boys, and the chatter and laughter, there was suddenly a low, subdued murmur of talk.
"Oh, how does anybody ever do it!" exclaimed Miss Folwell under her breath. "How does anybody ever do it the first time!"
"Why not?" asked Harry; he kept his eyes on the professor.
"Why not? Why, because there's no way of practicing and working up to it gradually; you've got to go right up at once and drop,—and I don't see how anybody has the courage."
Harry's answer was almost inaudible: "I think I'll go a little nearer, so as to see the start." And while Miss Folwell was gazing in fascination at the professor, Harry worked his way into the front row of the circle of spectators. The professor laid a trapeze out beside the basket of the balloon. Then he threw up his right hand and glanced swiftly around the encircling crowd. Harry ran forward and stepped into the basket; Bunch was a moment behind him. The crowd gave an excited shout, a cheer, a clapping of hands; the professor pulled a rope, and the two tall poles on either side of the balloon fell down. "Let go, everybody!" shouted the professor; the next instant the balloon shot upward, dragging after it the basket, from which Harry and Bunch peered over the side, and below that the trapeze on which hung the professor by his knees, head down, kissing both hands to the crowd and crying, "We will be with you in about five minutes." The brass band began to play, Up in a Balloon, Boys, and the crowd, gazing upward, cheered.
As the basket rose, Harry had a glimpse of Miss Folwell's face; alarm, consternation, and astonishment were visible thereon, and her betrayal of these emotions gratified him exceedingly. The next moment the professor climbed in over the side of the car.
"Glad to see you; began to be afraid we'd lost you, professor," said Bunch jauntily. He hung his head over the edge, staring down in fascination. "Say," he cried, "look at the people down there. Their faces have just the size and expression of white poker chips. See 'em scatter,—what funny little bugs! Take a look, Mortimer; it's interesting."
But Harry gazed fixedly upward through the network of ropes at the great, bellying balloon with its two pendulous parachute attachments; and his face was white and set.
"Go on; look down," Bunch urged. "It's a great sight."
Harry felt that the professor, who was quietly fastening a leather strap to one of the ropes, had his eye on him to test his courage. He put his head out over the edge of the car, and looked down. The land was rushing away from him, was being sucked down into an intolerable vortex, in the very pit of which crawled innumerable tiny black and white beings. All the land, clear out over hills to the horizon, seemed marching forward and down into this pit; trees, houses, open fields, bits of forest, all alike gravitated irresistibly toward the vortex. The world, which a few moments before had been so full of bustle and movement and noise, was now silent. All sound had been swallowed up in that tremendous, funnel-shaped hole, into which it seemed that everything on earth was being slowly drawn.
The depth of that pit grew greater momentarily and more horrible,—yet the balloon remained stationary in the air. And that apparent fact made Harry, who had grown already dizzy, a little insane. If the earth was dropping so fast, what chance was there that one descending with a parachute might ever overtake it? As he knelt, with his head drooping over the edge, he laughed feebly. Then his head swam; he imagined himself falling, tumbling head over heels, and conscious all the while as he plunged down the countless fathoms of air, conscious, and seeing intermittently in his bewildered whirlings the inexorable face of the earth, no longer dropping away, but rushing up with diabolical force to meet him,—conscious to the last, to that last terrible moment when he struck.
Bunch and the professor dragged him back into the car, and poured brandy down his throat. "I'm afraid that I'm afraid," he remarked deprecatingly.
"Oh, no," Bunch assured him. "Just imaginative. Take this camera for me, will you? Then, when the prof here swings me out all ready for my lonely flight to earth, take my picture. The Press will want it, 'Our daring navigator of aerial regions as he appeared at the moment of making his descent.' Cool, calm, and nonchalant. Eh, what?"
The professor passed the leather strap round Bunch's body and up under his arms, and buckled it. Then he spoke the first words he had uttered since they had left the earth.
"You'll drop about three hundred feet before the parachute opens. When it opens, you'll rebound about forty feet. Hold on as tight as you can,—but remember anyway that, whether you lose your grip or not, you can't fall. Time to go now."
He held the trapeze of one of the parachutes close by the rim of the basket. Bunch seated himself upon it, and grasped the ropes. The professor let go the trapeze, and Bunch swung out, with only the narrow little bar between him and the earth, three thousand feet below. "Hold your breath, boys; the elevator's going down," he called. "Just a second, while I pose for that photo." He swung one leg off the trapeze, and clung by one knee and one hand,—holding the other hand out as if in sign of blithe farewell. Harry snapped the shutter. "All aboard," cried Bunch, taking his first position.
The professor pulled a rope, and Bunch, trailing a streak of canvas, dropped at once, with a velocity that made Harry draw in his breath. Then Harry thrust his head out again over the rim. And in the space of a second he saw a great, white flower bloom in the air, and loiter and drift downward, swaying languidly from side to side.
"It's up to us," said the professor, and he passed a lifebelt round Harry's body. Harry thrust it down with his hand.
"Not for me. My nerve's all right now. I can hold on; I don't want to be tied in."
The professor looked at him a moment, doubtfully. Then he tossed the lifebelt in the bottom of the car, and laid hold of the parachute trapeze. "We'll risk it," he said. "Get aboard—slide over on the outside edge—crook your knees and let the bar slip up under them and grip it tight—hold on to the ropes tight. Don't look down. There you are. Now then."
He flung one leg over the trapeze, and swung out from the balloon. He put his left arm round behind Harry's shoulder. "Something to lean against," he said. "Now put your arm round me the same way. All right; here goes."
Harry, with his teeth set, looked straight up at the balloon quivering above. He did not see what the professor did; but suddenly he drew in his breath with involuntary sharpness, for the nerves along his spine seemed to sing and flutter upwards, while all his muscles were strung painfully, apprehensively taut. They were falling, and they had left the balloon behind. It rolled over lumberingly, and emptied a splotch of black smoke against the sky, and then, a shapeless, collapsed bag, it drifted down. Harry was secondarily aware of all this, even while, in agonized expectancy, he gazed at the folds of canvas streaming directly overhead. He saw the folds shaken out a little; then with a pop the parachute sprang wide open. For one dizzy, terrifying moment Harry felt himself tossed upward as from a blanket; he gripped the bar desperately with his knees, fearful of losing it, strained close against the professor's shoulder, and braced himself for the final jerk of the rebound. It was over in an instant, with a vicious twang of the ropes; shaken and breathless, Harry found himself still sitting on the trapeze.
"The rest is easy," said the professor. "You could almost go to sleep."
Indeed, except for the slight swaying from side to side, it seemed to Harry that they were hardly moving. The crumpled balloon dropped past them a couple of hundred feet away, borne on the light breeze. "I won't have to go far after it," observed the professor. "That's the beauty of such a day as this. And we 're coming down in almost the spot where we went up. We'll light in the grounds, anyway. Our friend Bunch has almost arrived."
A beautiful calmness settled on Harry's spirit. Nothing now could happen to him; he had stood the test. Floating serenely, imperceptibly descending, with the great parachute rocking overhead and engaging his eyes with its dreamy movement, he had the contented sense of one whose ardent aspiration has been rewarded with achievement. But after a few moments, the impulse to look down, which since leaving the balloon he had steadily resisted, overcame him. He lowered his eyes from the parachute, that object near at hand, and beheld with an instant terror the emptiness of space. Yet he ventured further; cautiously he looked down. He had a fluttering glimpse of houses that seemed the size of pasteboard boxes, of trees that were but little garden shrubs, and then he could endure it no longer; he closed his eyes. They could not bear these distances, this emptiness; they demanded something near on which to focus; sickness came to him through his eyes. He laid his head back and opened his eyes again upon the friendly, attendant parachute that rocked dreamily; and again a beautiful calmness enveloped his spirit.
"Our friend has landed," the professor announced. "Not fifty yards from where we started. Hear the music?"
Faintly it rose now to their ears, and grew every moment more distinct.
"I'll be glad to be once more where I can dance to it," said Harry.
Soon the music ceased, and cries from people in the crowd rose clearly.
"Time to get ready," said the professor. "We've got to hang by our hands from the bar, so as to strike feet first. We're near enough to earth now for you to look down without feeling dizzy."
He swung himself off from the trapeze, and hung by his hands, and Harry followed his example. They were not more than a hundred feet from the ground now, and Harry for the first time, as he glanced down at the cheering and clapping crowd, realized that he was descending with sufficient velocity. But he saw that he would strike on a smooth, level spot in the middle of the field.
The earth swam up to meet him; he struck with a jar, stumbled to his knees, and was plucked up by the agile professor, and dragged away from under the collapsing parachute. The next moment Bunch had him by the hand.
"Did n't pass away, did you?" said Bunch. "Great experience, interesting sensation,—eh, what? I hope you got a good picture of me." He took the camera, which was slung over Harry's shoulder.
Harry shook hands with Bunch, and then with the professor.
"Good-by," he said. "Thank you very much. Professor Delgardo. I would n't do it again for a thousand dollars."
The professor grinned; then, while he still grasped Harry's hand, he put his lips close to the young man's ear and whispered, "To my friends my name is Brophy."
Harry felt weak and tottery in the legs as he walked away. He looked for familiar faces, but his immediate surroundings consisted of boys, multitudes of small boys; and the only face that seemed at all familiar was one grotesquely blacked. "My golly, mister," said this boy, as Harry passed, "but you must have had the nerve!" And rarely had Harry been more pleased by anything in his life.
Then he espied the person for whom he was looking,—standing with her cousins, and observing him with a countenance that was exceedingly severe. Also, he could not help noticing that it was unusually pale. He approached with an air that was, for Harry, almost swaggering.
"Well," said Miss Folwell, "and what next do you propose to do with your precious life?"
"Indeed, I must say, Mr. Mortimer," declared Mrs. Somerby, one of the cousins, "it was the most inconsiderate performance"—
"To say nothing of the—the publicity of it," put in the other cousin, Miss Bolivar.
No single man,—and particularly no very small and weak young man, weighing, in fact, less than a hundred and twenty pounds,—can be anything but abject in face of the united condemnation of three women. And Harry was exceedingly abject.
"I will drive Mr. Mortimer home and give him a lecture," said Miss Folwell.
Harry cheered up at this threat.
"I think he really deserves to go with one of us," observed Miss Bolivar, who had a grim humor, and had detected Harry's unbecoming cheerfulness. "However"—
On the drive home, Miss Folwell's lecture was brief.
"What," she asked, "made you do that crazy thing? Did n't you know what a foolish risk you ran,—and what a perfectly unnecessary fright you were giving us?"
"Did it really give you such a fright?" Harry asked, and she realized that in emphasizing that point she had erred. She hastened to add,—
"It was very childish of you. What on earth possessed you?"
"Why, if you must know," said Harry, goaded by the charge of childishness, "it was because I'd shown myself such a—such a coward—dodging Lady Mary, you know, when we were in the box,—and then after the way you punished me, making me ridiculous and all,—which was all right, mind, I deserved all I got,—but after that I felt I had to make good in some way, you know—so when I got the chance, why, I went up in the balloon."
She stared at him. "A coward because you dodged Lady Mary in the box? I punished you, making you ridiculous?— What on earth are you talking about?"
"You did n't see it?— You were n't punishing me?"
When in his amazed, delighted mind he had become certain of this, he recited his psychological tale to the chuckle on which he doted. And at last the chuckle was inadequate, laughter overflowed.
"Oh, you poor, funny little man; you poor, funny little man!" she interjected between her trilling paroxysms. "And you wanted to show me you were really brave! Dear, dear! Could n't you show it to me in some other way?"
He took her at her word, and promptly made an effort, which proved, on the whole, convincing.