“I have paid careful attention to your advice,” he said to the superintendent, “and I have passed across the city in search of crime. In its place I have found but folly—such folly as you have, such folly as I have myself—the common heritage of our blood. It seems that in some way I have bound myself to bring criminals to justice. I have passed across the city, and I have found no man worse than myself. Do what you will with me.”
The superintendent cleared his throat.
“There have been too many complaints concerning the conduct of the police,” he said; “it is time that an example was made. You will be charged with being drunk and disorderly while on duty.”
“I have a wife and three little children,” said Bennett softly—“and three pretty little children.” And he covered his tired face with his hands.
Certainly the audience was restive. In the first place it felt that it had been defrauded, seeing that Cissie Bradford, whose smiling face adorned the bills outside, had, failed to appear, and secondly, it considered that the deputy for that famous lady was more than inadequate. To the little man who sweated in the glare of the limelight and juggled desperately with glass balls in a vain effort to steady his nerve it was apparent that his turn was a failure. And as he worked he could have cried with disappointment, for his was a trial performance, and a year’s engagement in the Hennings’ group of music-halls would have rewarded success. Yet his tricks, things that he had done with the utmost ease a thousand times, had been a succession of blunders, rather mirth-provoking than mystifying to the audience. Presently one of the glass balls fell crashing on the stage, and amidst the jeers of the gallery he turned to his wife, who served as his assistant.
“I’ve lost my chance,” he said, with a sob; “I can’t do it!”
“Never mind, dear,” she whispered. “There’s a nice steak and onions at home for supper.”
“It’s no use,” he said despairingly. “I’ll try the disappearing trick and then get off. I’m done here.” He turned back to the audience.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said to the mockers in a wavering voice, “I will now present to you the concluding item of my entertainment. I will cause this lady to disappear under your very eyes, without the aid of any mechanical contrivance or artificial device.” This was the merest showman’s patter, for, as a matter of fact, it was not a very wonderful illusion. But as he led his wife forward to present her to the audience the conjurer was wondering whether the mishaps that had ruined his chance would meet him even here. If something should go wrong—he felt his wife’s hand tremble in his, and he pressed it tightly to reassure her. He must make an effort, an effort of will, and then no mistakes would happen. For a second the lights danced before his eyes, then he pulled himself together. If an earthquake should disturb the curtains and show Molly creeping ignominiously away behind he would still meet his fate like a man. He turned round to conduct his wife to the little alcove from which she should vanish. She was not on the stage!