ONCE upon a time there was a balloonist with whomthings went badly;the balloon burst,and the man camedown and was dashed to pieces.He had sent his boy downwith the parachute minutes before:that was lucky forthe boy.He was unhurt,and went about with great abili-ties for becoming a balloonist,but he had no balloon,andno means of getting one.
Live he must,and so he laid himself out to acquirethe art of legerdemain,and to be able to talk with hisstomach,which is called being a ventriloquist.
He was young and good－looking,and when he got amoustache,and was dressed in good clothes,he mighthave been taken for a nobleman's son.The ladies thoughthim beautiful:one young lady was so enchanted with hisbeauty and his cleverness,that she accompanied him tostrange towns and countries;there he called himself Profes-sor;less it could not be.
His constant thought was to get a balloon and fly inthe air with his little wife,but as yet they had not themeans.
"They will come,"said he.
"If only they would,"said she.
"We are young people!and now I am a Professor.Even crumbs are bread!"
She helped him faithfully,sat by the door and soldtickets for the performance,and that was a cold entertain－ment in winter.She helped him also in one trick.He puthis wife in a table-drawer,a big table-drawer;she creptinto the back drawer,and so was not to be seen from thefront;it was like an optical illusion.
But one evening,when he pulled the drawer out,shehad gone;she was not in the front drawer,nor in the backdrawer,nor in the whole house—not to be seen,not to beheard.It was her clever trick.She never came back.Shewas tired of it,and he became tired of it,lost his goodhumour,could not talk or play tricks any more,and sonobody came;the profits became poor,his clothes be－came poor;he owned at last only a huge flea,an inheri－tance from his wife,and therefore he thought so much ofit.So he trained it,taught it to do clever tricks,taught itto present arms,and fire a cannon.
The Professor was proud of the flea,and it wasproud of itself;it had learnt something and had humanblood in it,and had been in the biggest towns,had beenseen by princes and princesses,and had won their highadmiration.It appeared printed in the newspapers and onplacards.It knew that it was famous,and could maintaina Professor,yes,even a whole family.
Proud and famous it was,and yet,when it and theProfessor travelled,they went fourth class on the railway;that travels just as quickly as the first.There was a tacitpromise that they would never separate,never marry,theflea would remain a bachelor,and the Professor a widow－er.It comes to the same thing.
"Where one has the greatest success,"said the Pro－fessor,"one should not come twice."He was a judge ofcharacter,and that is also an art.
At last he had travelled in all countries except sav-age countries,and so he decided to go there;there,in－deed,they ate Christian men,the Professor knew,but hewas not really a Christian,and the flea was not really aman,so he imagined that they might venture to travelthere and have good fortune.