Now Gigi had to do the most difficult trick of all. With the Giant as the base, and Cecco, the other tumbler, above, Gigi made the top of a living pyramid that ran, turned, twisted, and capered as the great strength of the Giant willed. At a signal they managed somehow to reverse their positions. All stood upon their heads; Gigi, with his little green legs waving in the air, heard shouts of applause which always greeted this favorite act. But the sound gave him no pleasure. He was tired; he was sore from a beating of the previous night, and his head ached from the blow which had made that ugly mark on his cheek. Gigi grew dizzy—
Suddenly a woman’s voice screamed from the crowd:—
“Ah! The Cherub!”
Gigi had fallen from the top of the pyramid. He fell on his shoulder, and for a moment lay still. But presently he was on his feet, kissing his hand prettily to the crowd, and trying to pretend that he had fallen on purpose, as he had been taught. The Giant and Cecco were also quickly on their feet, and the three bowed, side by side, as a sign that the show was over.
Cecco hissed a word into Gigi’s ear, and he knew what to fear next. He shuddered and tried to draw aside; but the Giant turned to him, livid with rage, and with one blow of his heavy hand struck him to the ground.
“So! You spoil us again!” he muttered. “You good-for-nothing! I’ll teach you! Now take the tambourine and gather up the coins from the crowd. You’ll get a beating anyway for this. But if you don’t take up more than we had at the last town, you’ll have such a trouncing as you never yet knew. Now then!”
Dazed and trembling, Gigi took the tambourine, and, shaking its little bells appealingly, went about among the people. They had already begun to scatter, with the wonderful agility of a crowd which has not paid. Some, however, still lingered from curiosity and with the hope of a second performance. A number of small copper coins Jingled into Gigi’s tambourine. He approached the good woman who had shown an interest in him. She stooped down and thrust a piece of silver into his hand, whispering,—
“It is for yourself, child. Do not give it to the cruel men! Keep it to spend upon a feast-day, darling!”
Gigi looked at her, surprised. People so seldom spoke kindly to him! The brown spot upon his eyelid quivered. He seemed about to cry. The woman patted him on the head kindly.
“If they are cruel to you, I’d not stay with them,” she whispered. “I’d run away.—Hey, Beppo! Hey, Giovanni! Paolo!” she called, “we must be off.” And she turned to gather up her young ones, who were shouting about the market-place, trying to stand upon their heads as Gigi had done.
Gigi clasped the silver piece tightly in his hand, and went on, shaking the tambourine after the retreating crowd. But few more pennies were coaxed away. Presently he made his way back to the group of tumblers, now seated on the fountain-steps.