“What?” asked Helen.
“I’m going to become a fire-eater!” was the unexpected, reply.
THE PAPER EXPERT
For a moment Helen Morton stared at Joe Strong as though not quite sure whether or not he was in his proper mind. Then, seeing plainly that he was in earnest, she seemed to shrink away from him, as he had noticed her shrink away, for a moment, from the burned man suffering there in the hospital.
“What’s the matter, Helen?” asked Joe, trying to speak lightly. “Don’t you want to see some more sensational acts in the show?”
“Yes, but not that kind,” she answered with a shudder she could not conceal. “Oh, Joe, if you were to—” She could not go on. Her breast heaved painfully.
“Now look here, Helen!” he exclaimed with good-natured roughness, “that isn’t any way to look at matters; especially when we both depend on sensations for making our living.
“You know, as well as I do, that in this business we have to take risks. That’s what makes our acts go. You take a risk every time you perform with Rosebud. You might slip, the horse might slip, and you’d be hurt. Now is this new act I am thinking of perfor—”
“Yes, I may take risks, Joe!” interrupted Helen. “But they are perfectly natural risks, and I have more than an even chance. You might just as well say you take a risk walking along the street, and so you do. An elevated train might fall on you or an auto run up on the sidewalk. The risks I take in the act with Rosebud are only natural ones, and really shouldn’t be counted. But if you start to become a fire-eater—Oh, Joe, think of that poor fellow in the hospital!”
“He didn’t get that way from eating fire—or pretending to eat it—for the amusement of the public. He might just as easily have been burned the way he is by lighting the kitchen stove for his wife to get breakfast. His accident was entirely outside of his act, you might say. Why, I use lighted candles in some of my tricks. Now, if some one knocked over a candle, and it caused a fire on the stage and I was burned, would you want me to give up being a magician?”
“Oh, no, I suppose not,” said Helen slowly. “But fire is so dangerous. And to think of putting it in your mouth! How can you do it, Joe? Oh, it can’t be done!”
“Oh, there’s a trick about it. I haven’t mastered all the details yet, so as to give a smooth performance, but I can make an attempt at it.”
“Joe Strong! do you mean to say you know how to eat fire?” demanded Helen, and now her eyes showed her astonishment.
“Well, not exactly eat it, though that is the term used. But I do know how to do it. I learned, in a rudimentary way, when I was with Professor Rosello—the first man who taught me sleight-of-hand. He had one fire-eating act, but it didn’t amount to much. He told me the secret of it, such as it was.