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The Sisters Qita
by [?]

The manuscript ran thus:

* * * * *

When I had finished my daily personal examination of the ropes and-trapezes, I hesitated a moment, and then climbed up again, to the roof, where the red and the blue long ropes were fastened. I took my sharp scissors from my chatelaine, and gently fretted the blue rope with one blade of the scissors until only a single strand was left intact. I gazed down at the vast floor a hundred feet below. The afternoon varieties were over, and a phrenologist was talking to a small crowd of gapers in a corner. The rest of the floor was pretty empty save for the chairs and the fancy stalls, and the fatigued stall-girls in their black dresses. I too, had once almost been a stall-girl at the Aquarium! I descended. Few observed me in my severe street dress. Our secretary, Charles, attended me on the stage.

‘Everything right, Miss Paquita?’ he said, handing me my hat and gloves, which I had given him, to hold.

I nodded. I could see that he thought I was in one of my stern, far-away moods.

‘Miss Mariquita is waiting for you in the carriage,’ he said.

We drove away in silence–I with my inborn melancholy too sad, Sally (Mariquita) too happy to speak. This daily afternoon drive was really part of our ‘turn’! A team of four mules driven by a negro will make a sensation even in Regent Street. All London looked at us, and contrasted our impassive beauty–mine mature (too mature!) and dark, Sally’s so blonde and youthful, our simple costumes, and the fact that we stayed at an exclusive Mayfair hotel, with the stupendous flourish of our turnout. The renowned Sisters Qita–Paquita and Mariquita Qita–and the renowned mules of the Sisters Qita! Two hundred pounds a week at the Aquarium! Twenty-five thousand francs for one month at the Casino de Paris! Twelve thousand five hundred dollars for a tour of fifty performances in the States! Fifteen hundred pesos a night and a special train de luxe in Argentina and Brazil! I could see the loungers and the drivers talking and pointing as usual. The gilded loungers in Verrey’s cafe got up and watched us through the windows as we passed. This was fame. For nearly twenty years I had been intimate with fame, and with the envy of women and the foolish homage of men.

We saw dozens of omnibuses bearing the legend ‘Qita.’ Then we met one which said: ‘Empire Theatre. Valdes, the matchless juggler,’ and Sally smiled with pleasure.

‘He’s coming to see our turn to-night, after his,’ she remarked, blushing.

‘Valdes? Why?’ I asked, without turning my head.

‘He wants us to sup with him, to celebrate our engagement.’

‘When do you mean to get married?’ I asked her shortly. I felt quite calm.

‘I guess you’re a Tartar to-day,’ said the pretty thing, with a touch of her American sauciness. ‘We haven’t studied it out yet. It was only yesterday afternoon he kissed me for the first time.’ Then she bent towards me with her characteristic plaintive, wistful appeal. ‘Say! You aren’t vexed, Selina, are you, because of this? Of course, he wants me to tour with him after we’re married, and do a double act. He’s got lots of dandy ideas for a double act. But I won’t, I won’t, Selina, unless you say the word. Now, don’t you go and be cross, Selina.’

I let myself expand generously.

‘My darling girl!’ I said, glancing at her kindly. ‘You ought to know me better. Of course I’m not cross. And of course you must tour with Valdes. I shall be all right. How do you suppose I managed before I invented you?’ I smiled like an indulgent mother.

‘Oh! I didn’t mean that,’ she said. ‘I know you’re frightfully clever. I’m nothing—-‘

‘I hope you’ll be awfully happy,’ I whispered, squeezing her hand. ‘And don’t forget that I introduced him to you–I knew him years before you did. I’m the cause of this bliss—-Do you remember that cold morning in Berlin?’