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Title: Joe Strong on the Trapeze - or The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer
Author: Barnum, Vance
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



JOE STRONG

ON THE TRAPEZE


OR

_THE DARING FEATS OF A YOUNG

CIRCUS PERFORMER_



BY

VANCE BARNUM


Author of "Joe Strong, the Boy Wizard," "Joe Strong, the Boy Fish,"
"Joe Strong on the High Wire," etc.



WHITMAN PUBLISHING CO.

RACINE, WISCONSIN



BOOKS FOR BOYS

BY

VANCE BARNUM


THE JOE STRONG SERIES


JOE STRONG, THE BOY WIZARD
  _Or, The Mysteries of Magic Exposed_

JOE STRONG ON THE TRAPEZE
  _Or, The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer_

JOE STRONG, THE BOY FISH
  _Or, Marvelous Doings in a Big Tank_

JOE STRONG ON THE HIGH WIRE
  _Or, Motor-Cycle Perils of the Air_

JOE STRONG AND HIS WINGS OF STEEL
  _Or, A Young Acrobat in the Clouds_

JOE STRONG--HIS BOX OF MYSTERY
  _Or, The Ten Thousand Dollar Prize Trick_

JOE STRONG, THE BOY FIRE EATER
  _Or, The Most Dangerous Performance on Record_



COPYRIGHT, 1916

GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY


Printed by

WESTERN PRINTING & LITHOGRAPHING CO.

Racine, Wisconsin

Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

     I.  THE FIRE TRICK
    II.  JOE'S RESPONSIBILITY
   III.  ANOTHER OFFER
    IV.  A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
     V.  OFF TO THE CIRCUS
    VI.  JOE MAKES A HIT
   VII.  JOE TURNS A TRICK
  VIII.  HELEN'S LETTER
    IX.  BILL WATSON'S IDEA
     X.  IN THE TANK
    XI.  HELEN'S DISCOVERY
   XII.  JUST IN TIME
  XIII.  A BAD BLOW
   XIV.  HELEN'S INHERITANCE
    XV.  A WARNING
   XVI.  THE STRIKE
  XVII.  IN BEDFORD
 XVIII.  HELEN'S MONEY
   XIX.  JOE IS SUSPICIOUS
    XX.  A FALL
   XXI.  JOE HEARS SOMETHING
  XXII.  BAD NEWS
 XXIII.  HELEN GOES
  XXIV.  JOE FOLLOWS
   XXV.  THE LAST PERFORMANCE



JOE STRONG ON THE TRAPEZE


CHAPTER I

THE FIRE TRICK

"Better put on your pigeon-omelet trick now, Joe."

"All right.  That ought to go well.  And you are getting ready for----"

"The fire trick," interrupted Professor Alonzo Rosello, as he and his
young assistant, Joe Strong, stood bowing and smiling in response to
the applause of the crowd that had gathered in the theatre to witness
the feats of "Black Art, Magic, Illusion, Legerdemain, Prestidigitation
and Allied Sciences."  That was what the program called it, anyhow.

"The fire trick!" repeated Joe.  "Do you think it will work all right
now?"

"I think it will.  I've had the apparatus overhauled, and you know we
can depend on the electric current here.  It isn't likely to fail just
at the wrong moment."

"No, that's so, still----"

Again Joe had to bow, as did Professor Rosello, for the applause
continued.  They were both sharing it, for both had taken part in a
novel trick, and it had been successfully performed.

Joe had taken his place in a chair on the stage, and, after having been
covered by a black cloth by the professor, had, when the cloth was
removed a moment later, totally disappeared.  Then he was seen walking
down the aisle of the theatre, coming in from the lobby.

There was much wonder as to how the trick was it done, especially since
the chair had been placed over a sheet of paper on the stage, and,
before and after the trick, the professor had exhibited the sheet--the
front page of a local paper--apparently unbroken.  (This trick is
explained in detail in the first volume of this series, entitled, "Joe
Strong, the Boy Wizard.")

"The audience seems to be in good humor to-night," observed the
professor to Joe, as they bowed again.  The two could carry on a
low-voiced conversation while "taking" their applause.

"Yes, I'm glad to see them that way," answered the youth.  "It's not
much fun playing to a frosty house."

"I should say not!  Well, Joe, get ready for your pigeon-omelet trick,
and I'll prepare the fire apparatus."

The professor, with a final bow, made an exit to one side of the stage,
which was fitted up with Oriental splendor.  As he went off, and as Joe
Strong picked up some apparatus from a table near him, a disturbed look
came over the face of the boy wizard.

"I don't like that fire trick," he mused.  "It's altogether too
uncertain.  It's spectacular, and all that, and when it works right it
makes a big hit, but I don't like it.  Well, I suppose he'll do it,
anyhow--or try to.  I'll be on the lookout though.  If the current
fails, as it did last time----"  Joe shrugged his shoulders, and went
on with his trick.

Since he had become associated with Professor Rosello, Joe had adopted
the philosophic frame of mind that characterizes many public
performers, especially those who risk bodily injury in thrilling the
public.  That is, he was willing to take the chance of accident rather
than disappoint an audience.  "The show must go on," was the motto, no
matter how the performer suffered.  The public does not often realize
its own cruelty in insisting on being amused or thrilled.

"Yes, I'll have to keep my eyes open," thought Joe.  "After all,
though, maybe nothing will happen.  And yet I have a feeling as if
something would.  It's foolish, I know,, but----"

Again Joe shrugged his shoulders.  There was nothing he could do to
avoid it, as far as he could see.  Joe was beginning to acquire the
superstition shared by many theatrical persons.

The theatre, filled with persons who had paid good prices to see
Professor Rosello's performance was hushed and still now, as Joe, his
preparations complete, advanced to the edge of the stage.  He was
smiling and confident, for he was about to perform a trick he had done
many times, and always with success.  For the time being he dismissed
from his mind the risk Professor Rosello would run in doing the "fire
trick," for which the chief performer was even then preparing.

"Persons in the audience," began Joe, smilingly addressing the house,
"often wonder how we actors and professional people eat.  It is
proverbial, you know, that actors are always hungry.  Now I am going to
show you that it is easier for us to get food than it is for other folk.

"For instance: If I were to be shipwrecked on a desert island I could
reach out into the seemingly empty air, and pick money off invisible
tree branches--like this."

Joe stretched up his hand, which seemed to contain nothing, and in an
instant there appeared between his thumb and finger a bright gold coin.

"So much for a start!" he exclaimed with laugh.  "We'll drop that on
this plate, and get more."  There was a ringing sound as the coin
dropped on the plate, and Joe, reaching up in the air, seemed to gather
another gold piece out of space.  This, too, fell with a clink on the
plate.  And then in rapid succession Joe pulled in other coins until he
had a plateful.

Probably it has been guessed how that trick was done.  Joe held one
coin in his hand, palmed so that it was not visible.  A movement of his
well-trained muscles sent it up between his thumb and finger.  Then he
seemed to lay it on a plate.  But the plate was a trick one, with a
false bottom, concealed under which was a store of coins.  A pressure
on a hidden spring sent one coin at a time out through a slot, and it
seemed as if Joe deposited them on the receptacle as he gathered them
from the air.

"But we must remember," Joe went on, as he laid the plate of coins down
on a table, "that I am on a desert island.  Consequently all the money
in the world would be of no use.  It would not buy a ham sandwich or a
fresh egg.  Why not, then, gather eggs from the air instead of coins?
A good idea.  One can eat eggs.  So I will gather a few."

Joe stretched his hand up over his head, made a grab at a seemingly
floating egg and, capturing it, laid it on the table.  In like manner
he proceeded until he had three.

This trick was worked in the same way as was the coin one, Joe holding
but one egg, cleverly palmed, in his hand, the others popping up from a
secret recess in the table.  But the audience was mystified.

"Now some persons like their eggs raw, while others prefer them
cooked," resumed Joe.  "I, myself, prefer mine in omelet form, so I
will cook my eggs.  I have here a saucepan that will do excellently for
holding my omelet.  I will break the eggs into it, add a little water,
and stir them up."

Joe suited the action to the words.  He cracked the three eggs, one
after another, holding them high in the air to let the audience see the
whites and yolks drip into the shining, nickel pan.

"But a proper omelet must be cooked," Joe said.  "Where shall we get
fire on a desert island, particularly as all our matches were made wet
when we swam ashore?  Ah, I have it!  I'll just turn this bunch of
flowers into flame."

He took up what seemed to be a spray of small roses and laid it under
the saucepan.  Pointing his wand at the flowers Joe exclaimed:

"Fire!"

Instantly there was a burst of flame, the flowers disappeared, and
flickering lights shot up under the saucepan.

"Now the omelet is cooking," said Joe, as he clapped on a cover.  "We
shall presently dine.  You see how easy it is for actors and magicians
to eat, even on a desert island.  I think my omelet must be cooked now."

He took the cover off the saucepan and, on the instant, out flew two
white pigeons, which, after circling about the theatre, returned to
perch on Joe's shoulders.

There was loud applause at this trick.

The boy wizard bowed and smiled as he acknowledged the tribute to his
powers, and then hurried off the stage with the pigeons on his
shoulders.  He did not stop to explain how he had chosen to make the
omelet change into pigeons, the surprise at the unexpected ending of
the illusion being enough for the audience.

Of course, one realizes there must have been some trick about it all,
and there was--several in fact.  The eggs Joe seemed to pick out of the
air were real eggs, and he really broke them into the saucepan.  But
the saucepan was made with two compartments.  Into one went the eggs,
while in another, huddled into a small space where there were air holes
through which they might breathe, were two trained pigeons, which Joe
had taught, not without some difficulty, to fly to his shoulders when
released.

After he had put the cover on the saucepan Joe caused the fire to
appear.  The flowers were artificial ones, made of paper soaked in an
inflammable composition, and then allowed to dry.  As Joe pointed his
wand at them an assistant behind the scenes pressed an electric button,
which shot a train of sparks against the prepared paper.  It caught
fire, the flowers were burned, and ignited the wick of an alcohol lamp
that was under the saucepan.

Then, before the pigeons had time to feel the heat, Joe took off the
cover, opening the secret chamber and the birds flew out.

Easy, indeed, when you know how!

Joe walked off the stage, to give place to Professor Rosello, who was
going next to give his "fire trick."  This was an effective illusion,
and was worked as follows:

Professor Rosello came out on the stage attired in a flowing silk robe
of Japanese design.  His helpers wheeled out a long narrow box, which
was stood upright.

The professor, after some "patter," or stage talk, announced that he
would take his place in the small box, or cabinet, which would then be
lifted free from the stage to show that it was not connected with
hidden wires.  As soon as the cabinet was set down again, the house
would be plunged in darkness, and inside the cabinet would be seen a
bony skeleton, outlined in fire, the professor having disappeared.
This would last for several seconds, and then the illuminated skeleton
would disappear and the magician again be seen in the box.

"And in order to show you that I do not actually leave the box while
the trick is in progress except in spirit," the professor went on to
state, "I will suffer myself to be tied in with ropes, a committee from
the audience being invited to make the knots."

He took his place in the upright cabinet, and three men volunteered to
tie him in with ropes which were fastened at the back of the box, two
ends being left free.

The cabinet containing the professor was lifted up, and set down on the
stage again.  Then the ropes were tied, Joe supervising this.

"Tie any kind of knot you like, gentlemen," Joe urged, "only make them
so you can quickly loosen them again, as the professor is very much
exhausted after this illusion."  This, of course, was merely stage talk
for effect.

Finally the knots were tied, the committee retired, and Joe, taking his
place near the imprisoned performer, asked:

"Are you ready?"

He looked keenly at the professor as he asked this.

"It's all right Joe--I guess it's going to work properly," was the
low-voiced response.  Then aloud Professor Rosello replied:

"I am ready!"

"Light out!" called Joe sharply.  This was a signal for the stage
electrician to plunge the house into darkness.  It was done at once.

Then, to the no small terror of some in the audience, there appeared in
the upright cabinet the figure of a grinning skeleton, outlined in
flickering flames.  It was startling, and there was a moment of silence
before thunderous applause broke out at the effectiveness of the trick.

The clapping was at its height when Joe, who always stood near the
cabinet when this trick was being done, heard the agonized voice of the
professor calling to him:

"Joe!  Joe!  Something has gone wrong!  There must be a short circuit!
I'm on fire!  Joe, I'm being burned!  Help me!"



CHAPTER II

JOE'S RESPONSIBILITY

Joe Strong was in a quandary.  He did not quite know what to do.  To
give an alarm--to let the audience know something had gone wrong with
the trick--that the professor was in danger of being burned to
death--to even utter the word "Fire!" might cause a terrible panic,
even though the heavy asbestos curtain were rung down on the instant.

On the contrary, Joe could not stand idly by without doing something to
save his friend, Professor Rosello, from the great danger.  The
applause kept up, none in the audience suspecting anything wrong.

"Quick, Joe!" whispered the performer.  "The current is burning me.  I
can't stand it any longer."

"I'll save you!" hoarsely answered the young magician; and then, on the
darkened stage, he lifted the cabinet, performer and all to one side.

This was not an easy feat to do.  The professor was no light weight,
and the cabinet itself was heavy.  But Joe was a powerful youth, and by
raising the cabinet on his back, much as a porter carries a heavy
trunk, he shifted it to one side.  This took it away from the hidden
electrical connections sunk in the floor of the stage, and the
flickering, playing, shimmering electric lights went out.

The stage, the whole house, was in dense darkness.  There was a sudden
silence which might precede a panic of fear.  Joe's work was not yet
done.  What could he do to reassure the audience and, at the same time,
to bring the illusion to a satisfactory conclusion?

While he is quickly debating this in his mind, I will take just a
moment to tell my new readers something of Joe Strong, and how he came
to be following the calling of a stage magician.

In the first volume of this series, entitled "Joe Strong, the Boy
Wizard; Or, The Secrets of Magic Exposed," Joe was introduced as a
youth of about seventeen years, living in the country town of Bedford.
He was talking one day with some of his chums, and explaining to them
how this same Professor Rosello had done a trick in the local theatre
the night before, when suddenly there came a fire-alarm from a
fireworks factory near by.

Some powder exploded and Joe managed to save the professor, whose real
name was Peter Crabb, from severe injury, if not from death.  In doing
this Joe spoiled his suit of clothes, and on returning home his
foster-father, Deacon Amos Blackford threatened to punish him.

Joe was an orphan.  His mother, Mrs. Jane Strong, had been a famous
circus bareback rider, known to the public as Madame Hortense.  Joe's
father was Alexander Strong, or, to give him his stage name, Professor
Morretti.  He had been a magician, even better than Professor Rosello.
Both Joe's parents had died when he was a small boy.

For a time the boy was cared for by his mother's circus friends, but
finally Joe was adopted by the Blackfords.  His life with them was not
a happy one, and the climax came when the deacon punished Joe for
spoiling his suit in rescuing Professor Rosello.

In the night, Joe ran away.  He decided to appeal to the magician who
had gone on to another town to give a show.  Joe had a half-formed plan
in mind.  The boy was of great strength, and fearless.  When a mere
child he had attempted circus feats, and now he was an expert on the
trapeze and flying rings, while he had also made a study of "magic,"
and could perform many tricks.  Joe was absolutely fearless, and one of
his delights was to execute daring acts at great heights in the air.
When a boy he climbed up the village church steeple.

Thus, taking matters into his own hands, Joe ran away and joined
Professor Rosello, who hired him as an assistant.  Joe had a natural
aptitude for tricks of magic and was a great help to the professor.  He
even invented some tricks of his own.  So Joe and Professor Rosello
toured the country, making a fairly good living.

The night Joe ran away Deacon Blackford was robbed in a strange manner,
and, for a time, suspicion was thrown on Joe, a warrant being issued
for his arrest.  Among the other adventures which Joe had was a meeting
with the ring-master of Sampson Brothers' Colossal Circus.  Joe had
done a favor for Benny Turton, the "human fish," and Benny made it
possible for Joe to try some tricks on the circus trapezes.  As a
result Jim Tracy, the ring-master and one of the owners of the show,
made Joe an offer to join the circus.  Joe would have liked this, as he
had taken quite a fancy for Helen Morton--billed as Mademoiselle
Mortonti--a fancy rider on her trick horse, Rosebud.  But Joe thought
it best to remain with Professor Rosello for a time.

The circus went on its way, and Joe and the professor went on theirs.
Joe progressed in his chosen work, and he and Mr. Crabb found
themselves becoming well-known performers.  On the road Joe met several
persons who had seen his father's feats of magic, and the youth learned
of the great respect in which his parent had been held by the members
of the "profession."

"And I suppose," Professor Rosello had said, "if you could meet some
circus folks they would remember your mother, even if Jim Tracy did not
know her."

So Joe had became a traveling magician.  And it is in that capacity
that the readers of this volume first meet him.

But, as Joe stood there on the darkened stage, realizing the great
danger to which his friend was subjected, and wondering what he could
do to relieve him and not have the trick a failure, he, for an instant,
wished he had chosen some other calling.  It was a great responsibility
for a young fellow, for now the fate of the whole remaining performance
was in Joe's hands.  There was much yet to be done, and it was not to
be thought that, after being burned, as he said he was, the professor
could go on.

There was uneasiness now among the stage hands.  The electrician from
the wings was cautiously whispering to Joe to let him know what to do.
As yet the audience had not realized anything was wrong.

"Are you badly hurt?" Joe asked the professor in a whisper, standing
near the now dark cabinet.

"I'm burned on my back, yes.  I'm glad you shut off the current when
you did, or I'd have been killed."

"I didn't shut off the current," Joe answered.  "I just pulled the
connecting legs of the cabinet out of the sockets in the stage floor."

"That was just as good.  The current's off.  But something has to be
done."

"What went wrong?" asked Joe.

"One of the wire connections in here.  I can feel it now with my
fingers.  A wire has broken.  If I could twist it together----"

"I'll do it," volunteered Joe.  He had to work the dark, as a glimmer
of light would show that the cabinet had been moved, and the audience
would suspect that something was wrong.  But Joe knew every inch of the
cabinet, for he and the professor had worked this trick out between
them.  In an instant he had twisted the wire ends together, pushing
them to one side so they would not come in contact with the professor's
body, for the ends were not now insulated.

"It's all right," Joe whispered.  "Can you manage to finish the trick
if I put the cabinet back the connections?"

"Yes, I think so.  Go ahead."

Joe called to the leader of the orchestra:

"Louder!"

The musicians had been softly playing some "shivery" music.  At once
they struck into a blare of sound.  This would cover any noise Joe
might make in putting the cabinet back in place, so that the two metal
legs would rest in the electric sockets in the stage, which contained
the conductors that supplied the electric current needed.

In another moment Joe lifted the cabinet, Professor Rosello and all,
back to where it had stood at first.  Again there was the grinning,
glowing skeleton showing.  The applause was renewed, and then the glow
died out, and as the house lights flashed up there stood the professor
in the cabinet, as at first, in his flowing silk robe.

Close observers might have noticed that he was quite pale, and he had
to grit his teeth to keep back a moan of pain from the burns he had
received.

"Now, gentlemen," said Joe to the committee, which had stepped down off
the stage, "if you will kindly examine the knots, and loosen them, I
shall be obliged to you.  Quickly, if you please, as this act is very
trying on the professor."

Joe wanted to get his friend back of the scenes as soon as he could, to
have his burns dressed.

"Are the knots just as you tied them?" asked Joe.

The men admitted they were.

"Proving conclusively," the young wizard went on, "that the professor
did not leave the cabinet to produce the effect you have just
witnessed."

The professor bowed to the applause as he stepped out of the cabinet,
which was at once taken away by assistants.  Then Joe walked back of
the scenes with his friend, a pantomimist engaging the attention of the
audience while the next part of the program was being prepared.

But could the show go on with the professor disabled?  That was what
Joe wondered.  He felt, more than ever, the weight of responsibility on
his shoulders.



CHAPTER III

ANOTHER OFFER

Professor Rosello sank into a chair when he reached his dressing room.

"Quick!  Get a doctor!" called Joe to one of the two helpers who
traveled with them.  "Bring him in through the stage door!  Don't let
it be known out in front."

One of the stage hands gave the helper the address of the nearest
physician, and, fortunately, he was in his office.  The doctor came at
once and put a soothing ointment on the burns of the professor's back,
where the electric sparks had penetrated his clothing.

"That's better," remarked the magician with a sigh of relief.  "I guess
we'll have to ring down the curtain, Joe.  I can't go on."

"I'll finish the show," declared the boy wizard.

"Can you do it?"

"Not as well as you, of course.  But I think I can keep them
interested, so they will feel they have had their money's worth.  I'll
carry on the show.  I can vary my egg and watch tricks a bit, and I'll
do that wine and water one, bringing the live guinea pig out of the
bottle."

"All right, Joe, if you think you can.  I'm not equal to any more.  I
think I'd better go to the hotel."

"I think so too, Professor.  Now don't worry.  I'll carry on the show
as best I can."

"And I think you can do it well, Joe.  I'm proud of you.  If it hadn't
been for you stopping the electric current when you did I would be dead
now."

"Oh, I hardly think it was as bad as that."

"Yes it was.  One of those wires broke.  After this I'll examine every
connection a minute before I go into the cabinet.  You saved my
life--this is the second time.  Once at the fireworks factory, and
again to-night.  I'll be so deeply in your debt, Joe, that I can never
pay you."

"Oh, don't worry about that," laughed the boy wizard, now much relieved
in mind.  With the professor safe he could go out on the stage with a
light heart and an easy mind.  He was used to facing the public, but
this meant that he would have to do more tricks than usual, and some
that were particularly the professor's own, though Joe knew how they
were worked.

When the physician had relieved the sufferer, Joe called a carriage and
sent the magician to the hotel where they were staying.  Then the
pantomimist having finished, Joe prepared to go on with some illusions.
And right here, while Joe is making his preparations, a description of
the "fire trick" can be given.

The cabinet was, of course, a trick one.  That is, it was provided with
hidden electric contrivances so that when the professor stepped into
it, by merely pressing a button he could have a shower of sparks shot
out all around him.  As he was insulated, these sparks could not injure
him.

On the heavy silk robe he wore there had been painted the grinning
skeleton.  It was painted with a secret chemical paint, and when
subjected to a flow of electricity the bones and skull showed outlined
in fire.  The professor, keeping well back toward the rear of the
cabinet, was invisible.

Tying the ropes about him was not necessary as he did not leave the
cabinet anyhow, but it added to the effectiveness of the illusion.  But
on this evening, after the electric wire broke causing a short circuit,
the tying of the ropes was well-nigh fatal, for the professor could not
move in order to escape, and had to stay while the current burned him.
Luckily, however, Joe acted in time.

As has been intimated, the two front legs of the cabinet were really
the positive and negative termini for the wires that were inside the
box.  These legs stood in two sockets in the floor of the stage, and to
them ran the wires from the theatre's circuit.  When the helpers lifted
the cabinet up, to show, ostensibly, that it had no connection with the
floor, they put the legs down in the hidden sockets.  Thus the
connections were made.  As can be seen, Joe had but to lift the cabinet
away to break the connection.

In spite of the accident, the trick had ended satisfactorily, thanks to
the quick work of Joe Strong.  His strength, too, played not a little
part in this, for ordinarily the cabinet required two men to shift it.
But Joe had a knack of using his powerful muscles to the best
advantage, and it was this, with his most marvelous nerve, that enabled
him to do so many sensational things, about which this and future
volumes concerning our hero will tell.

The professor having been sent to his hotel to rest, and the
pantomimist having finished his act, Joe went out on the stage to
continue the performance.  He made no reference to the non-appearance
of the chief performer, letting it be taken for granted that Professor
Rosello had finished his part in the entertainment.

"I would now like to borrow a gold gentleman's watch," began Joe; this
misplacement of words never failing to bring out a laugh.  He then
proceeded to perform the trick of apparently smashing a borrowed watch,
firing the fragments from a pistol at a potted plant, and causing the
reunited watch to appear among the roots of the pulled-up flower.

As this trick has been described in detail in the first volume of this
series, exposing just how it is done, the description will not be
repeated here.  In that book will also be found the details of how Joe
made an ordinary egg float or sink in a jar of water, at his pleasure.
(This is a trick one can easily do at home without apparatus.)  Joe did
that trick now, and also the one of lighting a candle, causing it to go
out and relight itself again while he stood at one side of the stage,
merely pointing his wand at the flickering flame.  (See the first
volume.)

Joe now essayed another trick.  He brought out a bottle, apparently
empty, and said that it was a magical flask.

"From this I am able to pour three kinds of drinks," he stated.  "Some
persons like water, others prefer milk, while nothing but grape juice
will satisfy some.  Now will you kindly state which drink you like?"
and he pointed to a man in the front row.

"I'll have grape juice," was the answer.

"Very good," returned Joe.  "Here you are!"  He tilted the bottle, and
a stream of purple grape juice ran from the flask into a goblet.  Joe
handed it to the man.

"It's perfectly good grape juice," Joe said, smilingly.  "You need not
be afraid to sample it."  The man did so, after a moment's hesitation.

"Is it all right?" Joe asked.  "Just tell the audience."

"It's good," the man testified.

"Take it all.  I have other drinks in the bottle," Joe said.

"Save me some!" cried a boy up in the gallery, as the man drained the
glass of grape juice.

"Now who'll have milk?" Joe asked.

"I will," called a boy in the second row.  Without moving from where he
stood Joe picked up a glass, and, from the same bottle, poured out a
drink of milk which he passed to the boy, who took it wonderingly.

"Is it the real stuff?" asked Joe, smiling at the lad.

"That's what it is!"  was the quick answer.

"Drink it then.  And now for water.  Here we are!"  And from the same
bottle, out of which the audience had seen milk and grape juice come,
Joe poured sparkling water and passed it to a lady in the audience.

"Hello!  What's this?  There appears to be something else in the
bottle!" exclaimed Joe, apparently surprised, as he held the flask up
to his ear.

"Yes, I'll let you out--right away," he said aloud.  "There must be
some mistake," he went on, "there is an animal in this bottle.  I'll
have to break it open to get it out."

He went quickly back on the stage with the bottle, took up a hammer,
and holding the flask over a table gently cracked the glass.  In an
instant he held up a little guinea pig.

There was a moment's pause, and then the applause broke out at the
effectiveness of the trick.

How was it done?

A trick bottle, you say at once.  That is right.  The bottle was made
with three compartments.  One held milk, another grape juice and the
third water.  Joe could pour them out in any order he wished, there
being controlling valves in the bottom of the bottle.

But how did the guinea pig get inside?

It was another bottle.  The bottom of this one had been cut off, and,
after the guinea pig had been put inside, the bottom was cemented on
again.  This was done just before the trick was performed.  On his way
back to the stage, after having given the lady the glass of water, Joe
substituted the bottle containing the guinea pig for the empty one that
had held the three liquids.  This was where his quick sleight-of-hand
work came in.  When he gently broke the bottle it was easy enough to
remove the little animal, which had been used in tricks so often that
it was used to them.

Joe brought the show to a satisfactory conclusion, perhaps a little
earlier than usual, as he was anxious to get to the hotel and see how
the professor was.  The audience seemed highly pleased with the
illusions the boy wizard gave them, and clapped long and loud as Joe
made his final bow.

He left the theatrical people and his helpers to pack up, ready for the
trip to the next town, and hastened to the hotel.  There he found
Professor Rosello much better, though still suffering somewhat.

"Do you think you will be able to go on to-morrow night?" asked Joe.

"I don't know," was the answer.  "I can tell better to-morrow."

But when the next day came, after a night journey that was painful for
Mr. Crabb, he found that he could not give his portion of the
performance.

And as Joe alone was not quite qualified to give a whole evening's
entertainment it was decided to cancel the engagement.  It was not an
important one, though several good "dates" awaited them in other towns
on the route.

"I think I need a rest, Joe," the professor said "My nerves are more
shattered than I thought by that electrical accident.  I need a good
rest to straighten them out.  I think we'll not give any performances
for at least a month--that is I sha'n't."

Joe looked a little disappointed on hearing this.  His living depended
on working for the professor.

"I say I'll not give any more performances right away, Joe," went on
the professor, "but there's no reason why you shouldn't.  I have been
watching you of late, and I think you are very well qualified to go on
with the show alone.  You could get a helper, of course.  But you can
do most of my tricks, as well as your own.  What do you say?  I'll make
you a liberal offer as regards money.  You can consider the show yours
while I'm taking a rest.  Would you like it?"

"I think----" began Joe, when there came a knock on the door of their
hotel room.

"Telegram for Joe Strong!" called the voice of the bellboy.



CHAPTER IV

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

Professor Rosello and Joe Strong looked at each other.  It was not
unusual for the magician to receive telegrams in reference to his
professional engagements, but Joe up to now had never received one of
the lightning messages which, to the most of us, are unusual
occurrences.

"Are you sure it's for me?" Joe asked the boy, as he opened the door.

"It's got your name on it," was the answer.  That seemed proof enough
for any one.

"Maybe it's from your folks--the deacon," suggested the professor.
"Something may have happened."

He really hoped there had not, but, in a way, he wanted to prepare Joe
for a possible shock.

"I wonder if it can have anything to do with the deacon's robbery,"
mused Joe as he took the message from the waiting lad.  "But, no, it
can't be that.  Denton and Harrison are still in jail--or they were at
last accounts--and the robbery is cleared up as much as it ever will
be.  Can't be that."

And then, unwilling and unable to speculate further, and anxious to
know just what was in the message Joe tore open the envelope.  The
message was typewritten, as are most telegrams of late, and the message
read:


"If you are at liberty, can use you in a single trapeze act.  Forty a
week to start.  Wire me at Slater Junction.  We show there three days.
Jim Tracy--Sampson Bros. Circus."


"What is it?" asked the professor as he noted a strange look on Joe's
face.  In fact, there was a combination of looks.  There was surprise,
and doubt, and pleased anticipation.

"It's an offer," answered Joe, slowly.

"An offer!"

"Yes, to join a circus."

"A circus!"

The professor did not seem capable of talking in very long sentences.

"Yes, the Sampson Brothers' Show," Joe went on.  "You know I went to
see them that time they played the same town and date we did.  I met
the 'human fish' and----"

"Oh, yes, I remember.  You did some acts on the trapeze then."

"Yes, and this Jim Tracy--he's ring-master and one of the owners--made
me a sort of offer then.  But I didn't want to leave you.  Now he
renews the offer."

The boy wizard handed the message to the professor who read it through
carefully.  Then after a look at Joe he said:

"Well, my boy, that's a good offer, I'd take it.  I sha'n't be able to
pay you forty a week for some time, though you might make it if you
took my show out on the road alone, or with one assistant.  Then, too,
there's always a chance to make more in a circus--that is, if you
please your public.  I might say thrill them enough, for your trapeze
act will have to be mostly thrills, I take it."

"Yes," assented Joe.  And, somehow, a feeling of exultation came to
him.  While doing puzzling tricks before a mystified audience was
enticing work, yet Joe had a longing for the circus.  He was almost as
much at home high in the air, with nothing but a slack wire or a
swaying rope to support him, as he was on the ground.  Part of this was
due to his early attempts to emulate the feats of circus performers,
but the larger part of it was born in him.  He inherited much of his
daring from his mother, and his quickness of eye and hand from his
father.

Moreover, mingled with the desire to do some thrilling act high up on a
trapeze in a circus tent, while the crowd below held its breath, Joe
felt a desire to meet again pretty Helen Morton, whose bright smile and
laughing eyes he seemed to see in fancy now.

"It's a good offer," went on the professor, slowly, "and it seems to
come at the right time for both of us, Joe.  We were talking about your
taking out my show.  I really don't feel able to keep up with it--at
least for a time.  Are you ready to give me an answer now, Joe, or
would you like to think it over a bit?"

"Perhaps I had better think of it a bit," the youth answered.  "Though
I have pretty nearly made up my mind."

"Don't be in a hurry," urged Professor Rosello.  "There is no great
rush, as far as I am concerned.  One or two days will make no
difference to me.  Though if you don't take up my offer I shall
probably lease the show to some professional.  I want to keep my name
before the public, for probably I shall wish to go back into the
business again.  And besides, it is a pity to let such a good outfit as
we now have go into storage.  But think it over carefully.  I suppose,
though, that you will have to let the circus people know soon."

"They seem to be in a hurry--wanting me to telegraph," responded Joe.
"I'll give them an answer in a few hours.  I think I'll go out and walk
around town a bit.  I can think better that way."

"Go ahead, Joe, and don't let me influence you.  I want to help you,
and I'll do all I can for you.  You know I owe much to you.  Just
remember that you have the option on my show, such as it is, and if you
don't take my offer I won't feel at all offended.  Do as you think
right."

"Thank you," said Joe, feelingly.

There was not much of interest to see in the town where they had come,
expecting to give a performance, but Joe did not really care for sights
just then.  He had some hard thinking to do and he wanted to do it
carefully.  Hardly conscious of where he was walking, he strolled on,
and presently found himself near the outskirts of the town, in a
section that was more country than town.  A little stream flowed
through a green meadow, the banks bordered by trees.

"It looks just like Bedford," mused Joe.  "I'm going to take a rest
there."

He sat down in the shade of a willow tree and in an instant there came
back to him the memory of that day, some months ago, when he had come
upon his chums sitting under the same sort of tree and discussing one
of the professor's tricks which they had witnessed the night before.

"Then there was the fireworks explosion.  I rescued the professor--ran
away from home--was chased by the constables--hopped into the freight
car--the deacon's house was robbed and set on fire and----  Say! what a
lot has happened in a short time," mused Joe.  "And now comes this
offer from the circus.  I wonder if I'd better take it or keep on with
the professor's show.  Of course it would be easier to do this, as I'm
more familiar with it."

Just then there recurred to Joe something he had often heard Deacon
Blackford say.

"The easiest way isn't always the best."

The deacon was not, by any means, the kindest or wisest of men, and
certainly he had been cruel at times to Joe.  But he was a sturdy
character, though often obstinate and mistaken, and he had a fund of
homely philosophy.

Joe, working one day in the deacon's feed and grain store, had proposed
doing something in a way that would, he thought, save him work.
"That's the easiest way," he had argued.

"Well, the easiest way isn't always the best," the deacon had retorted.

Joe remembered that now.  It would be easier to keep on with the
professor's show, for the work was all planned out for him, and he had
but to fulfil certain engagements.  Then, too, he was getting to be
expert in the tricks.

"But I want to get on in life," reasoned Joe.  "Forty dollars a week is
more than I'm getting now, nor will I stick at that point in the
circus.  It will be hard work, but I can stand it."

He had almost made up his mind.  He decided he would go back and
acquaint the professor with his decision.

As Joe was passing a sort of hotel in a poor section of the town he
almost ran into, or, rather, was himself almost run into by a man who
emerged from the place quickly but unsteadily.

Joe was about to pass on with a muttered apology, though he did not
feel the collision to be his fault, when the man angrily demanded:

"What's the matter with you, anyhow?  Why don't you look where you're
going?"

"I tried to," said Joe, mildly enough.  "Hope I didn't hurt you."

"Well, you banged me hard enough!"

The man seemed a little more mollified now.  Joe was at once struck by
something familiar in his voice and his looks.  He took a second glance
and in an instant he recognized the man as one of the circus trapeze
performers he had seen the day he went to the big tent, or "main top,"
of Sampson Brothers' Circus to watch the professionals at their
practice.  The man was one of the troupe known as the "Lascalla
Brothers," though the relationship was assumed, rather than real.

Joe gave a start of astonishment as he sensed the recognition.  He was
also surprised at the great change in the man.  When Joe had first seen
him, a few months before, the performer had been a straight, lithe
specimen of manhood, intent, at the moment when Joe met him, on seeing
that his trapeze ropes were securely fastened.

Now the man looked and acted like a tramp.  He was dirty and ragged,
and his face bore evidences of dissipation.  He leered at Joe, and then
something in our hero's face seemed to hold his attention.

"What are you looking at me that way for, young fellow?" he demanded.
"Do you know me?"

"No, not exactly," was the answer.  "But I've seen you."

"Well, you're not the only one," was the retort.  "A good many thousand
people have seen me on the circus trapeze.  And I'd be there to-day,
doing my act, if it hadn't been for that mean Jim Tracy.  He fired me,
Jim did--said he was going to get some one for the act who could stay
sober.  Huh?  I'm sober enough for anybody, and I took only a little
drink because I was sick.  Even at that I can beat anybody on the high
bar.  But he sacked me.  Never mind!  I'll get even with him, and if he
puts anybody in my place--well, that fellow'd better look out, that's
all!"

The man seemed turning ugly, and Joe was glad the fellow had not
connected him with the youth who had paid a brief visit to the trapeze
tent that day, months before.

"I wonder if it's to take his place that Jim Tracy wants me?" mused
Joe, as he turned aside.  "I guess Jim put up with this fellow as long
as he could.  Poor chap!  He was a good acrobat, too--one of the best
in the country."  Joe knew the Lascalla Brothers by reputation.

"If I take his place----"  Joe was doing some quick thinking.  "Oh,
well, I've got to take chances," he told himself.  "After all, we may
never meet."

Joe had fully made up his mind.  Before going back to the professor he
stopped at the telegraph office and sent this message to Jim Tracy.

"Will join circus in two days."



CHAPTER V

OFF TO THE CIRCUS

"Well?" questioned Professor Rosello, as Joe came back to the hotel.
"Is it my show or----"

"The circus," answered Joe, and he did not smile.  He was rather
serious about it, for in spite of what his friend had said Joe could
but feel that the magician might be disappointed over the choice.  But
Professor Rosello was a broad-minded man, as well as a fair and
generous one.

"Joe, I'm sure you did just the right thing!" he exclaimed, as he shook
hands with the boy wizard, or rather with the former boy wizard, for
the lad was about to give up that life.  Yet Joe knew that he would not
altogether give it up.  He would always retain his knowledge and
ability in the art of mystifying.

"Yes, I thought it all over," said Joe, "and I concluded that I could
do better on the trapeze than at sleight-of-hand.  You see, if I want
to be a successful circus performer I have to begin soon.  The older I
get the less active I'll be, and some tricks take years to polish off
so one can do them easily."

"I understand," the professor said.  "I think you did the right thing
for yourself."

"Of course if I could be any help to you I wouldn't leave you this
way," Joe went on earnestly.  "I wouldn't desert in a time of trouble."

"Oh, it isn't exactly trouble," replied the magician.  "I really need a
rest, and you're not taking my offer won't mean any money loss to me,
though, personally, I shall feel sorry at losing you.  But I want you
to do the best possible thing for yourself.  Don't consider me at all.
In fact you don't have to.  I am going to take a rest.  I need it.
I've been in this business nearly thirty years now, and time is
beginning to tell.

"I think there is more of a future for you in the circus than there
would be in magic.  Not that you have exhausted the possibilities of
magic by any means, but changes are taking place in the public.  The
moving pictures are drawing away from us the audiences we might
otherwise attract.  Then, too, there has been so much written and
exposed concerning our tricks, that it is very hard to get up an
effective illusion.  Even the children can now guess how many of the
tricks are done.

"It may be that I shall give up altogether.  At, any rate I will lease
my show out for a time.  I'm I going to take a rest.  And now about
your plans.  What are you going to do?"

"I don't exactly know," was the hesitating answer.  "I have telegraphed
to Mr. Tracy that I would join his circus in two days.  I think I'll
need that much time to get ready."

"Yes.  We can settle up our business arrangements in that time, Joe.
As I said, I'll be very sorry to lose you, but it is all for the best.
We may see each other occasionally.  Shall you tell the deacon of the
change?"

"I think not.  He and I don't get along very well, and he hasn't much
real interest in me, now that he feels I am following in the footsteps
of my father.  And if he knew that I was taking up the profession my
mother felt called to, he would have even less regard for me.  I'll not
write to him at all."

"Perhaps that is wise.  I wonder, Joe, if in traveling about with
Sampson Brothers' Show you will meet any one who knew your mother?"

"I wish that would happen," Joe answered.  "I'd like to hear about her.
I shall ask for information about her."

Joe related his encounter with one of the Lascalla Brothers--which one
he did not know.

"I wonder if he'll try to make trouble?" he asked.

"I hardly think so," answered the professor.  "He's probably a bad egg,
and talks big.  Just go on your own way, do the best you can, keep
straight and you'll be all right."

They talked for some little time further, discussing matters that
needed to be settled between them, and making arrangements for Joe to
leave.

Now that he had come to a decision he was very glad that he was going
with the circus.

"I'll be glad to meet Benny Turton, the 'human fish,' again," said Joe
to himself.  "His act is sure a queer one.  I wonder if I could stay
under water as long as he does.  I'm going to try it some day if I get
a chance at his tank.  And Helen--I'll be glad to see her again, too."

Joe did not admit, even to himself, just how glad he would be to meet
the pretty circus rider again.  But he surely anticipated pleasure in
renewing the acquaintance.

"That is, if she'll notice me," thought Joe.  "I wonder what the social
standing is between trick and fancy riders and the various trapeze
performers."

The next day was a busy one.  Joe had to pack his belongings.  Some he
arranged to store with the professor's things.  He also helped his
friend, the magician, to prepare an advertisement for the theatrical
papers, announcing that The Rosello Show was for lease, along with the
advance bookings.  Joe also went over the apparatus with the professor,
making a list of some necessary repairs that would have to be made.

"And now, Joe," said the professor, when the time for parting came, "I
want you to feel free to use any of my tricks, or those you got up
yourself, whenever you want to."

"Use the tricks?" queried Joe.

"Yes.  It may be that you'll find a chance to use them in the circus,
or to entertain your friends privately.  I want you to feel free to do
so.  There will not be any professional jealousy on my part."

Joe was glad to hear this.  The professor was unlike most professional
persons who entertain the public.

"Well, good-bye," said Joe, as the professor went with him to the
railroad station, the burns having progressed rapidly in their healing.
"You'll always be able to write me in care of the circus."

"Yes, I can keep track of your show through the theatrical papers, Joe.
Let me hear from you occasionally.  Write to the New York address where
I buy most of my stuff.  They'll always have the name of my forwarding
post-office on file.  And now, my boy, I wish you all success.  You
have been a great help to me--not to mention such a little thing as
saving my life," and he laughed, to make the occasion less serious.

"Thank you," said Joe.  "The same to you.  And I hope you will soon
feel much better."

"A rest will do me good," responded the professor.  Then the train
rolled in, and Joe got aboard with his valise.  He waved farewell to
his very good friend and then settled back in his seat for a long ride.

Joe Strong was on his way at last to join the circus.

As he sat in his comfortable seat, he could not help contrasting his
situation now with what it had been some months before, when he was
running away from the home of his foster-father in the night and riding
in a freight car to join the professor.

Then Joe had very few dollars, and the future looked anything but
pleasant.  He had to sleep on the hard boards, with some loose hay as a
mattress.

Now, while he was far from having a fortune, he had nearly two hundred
dollars to his credit, and he was going to an assured position that
would pay well.  It was quite a contrast.

"I wonder if I'll make good," thought Joe.  Involuntarily he felt of
his muscles.

"I'm strong enough," he thought with a little smile--"Strong by name
and strong by nature," and as he thought this there was no false pride
about it.  Joe knew his capabilities.  His nerves and muscles were his
principal assets.

"I guess I'll have to learn some new stunts," Joe thought.  "But Jim
Tracy will probably coach me, and tell me what they want.  I wonder if
I'll have to act with the Lascalla bunch?  They may not be very
friendly toward me for taking the place of one of their number.  Well,
I can't help it.  It isn't my doing.  I'm hired to do certain work--for
trapeze performing is work, though it may look like fun to the public.
Well, I'm on my way, as the fellow said when the powder mill blew up,"
and Joe smiled whimsically.

It was a long and tiresome trip to the town where the circus was
performing, and Joe did not reach the "lot" until the afternoon
performance was over.

The sight of the tents, the smell that came from the crushed grass, the
sawdust, the jungle odor of wild animals--all this was as perfume to
Joe Strong.  He breathed in deep of it and his eyes lighted up as he
saw the fluttering flags, and noted the activity of the circus men who
were getting ready for the night show--filling the portable gasoline
lamps, putting on new mantles which would glow later with white
incandescence to show off the spectacle in the "main top."  As Joe took
in all this he said to himself:

"I'm to be a part of it!  That's the best ever!"

It was some little time before he could find Jim Tracy, but at length
he came upon the ring-master, who was trying to do a dozen things at
once, and settle half a dozen other matters on which his opinion was
wanted.

"Oh, hello, Joe?" Jim called to the young performer.  "Glad you got
here.  We need you.  Want to go on to-night?"

"Just as you say.  But I really need a little practice."

"All right.  Then just hang around and pick up information.  We don't
have to travel to-night, so you'll have it easy to start.  I'll show
you where you'll dress when you get going.  I'll have to give you some
one else's suit until we can order one your size, but I guess you won't
mind."

"No, indeed."

Joe was looking about with eager eyes, hoping for a glimpse of Helen
Morton.  However, he was not gratified just then.

"Now, Joe," went on the ring-master, coming over after having settled a
dispute concerning differences of opinions between a woman with trained
dogs and a clown who exhibited an "educated" pig, "if you'll come with
me, I'll----"

"Well, what is it now?" asked Jim Tracy, exasperation in his voice.  A
dark-complexioned, foreign-looking man had approached him, and had said
something in a low voice.

"No, I won't take him back, and you needn't ask!" declared Jim.  "You
can tell Sim Dobley, otherwise known as Rafello Lascalla, that he's
done his last hanging by his heels in my show.  I don't want anything
more to do with him.  I don't care if he is outside.  You tell him to
stay there.  He doesn't come in unless he buys a ticket, and as for
taking him back--nothing doing, take it from me!"

The foreign-looking man turned aside, muttering, and Joe followed the
ring-master.



CHAPTER VI

JOE MAKES A HIT

"Those fellows are always making trouble," murmured the ring-master, as
he walked with Joe toward a tent where the young performer could leave
his valise.

"What fellows are they?" the lad asked, but he felt that he knew what
the answer was going to be.

"The Lascalla Brothers," replied Jim.  "There were two brothers in the
business, Sid and Tonzo Lascalla.  They used to be together and have a
wonderful act.  But Sid died, and Tonzo got a fellow-countryman to take
his place, using the same name.  They were good, too.  Then about four
years ago they added a third man.  Why they ever took up with Sim
Dobley I can't imagine, but they did.

"Whatever else I'll say about Sim, I'll give him credit for being a
wonder on a trapeze--that is when he was sober.  When he got
intoxicated, or partly so, he'd take risks that would make your hair
stand up on end.  That's why I had to get rid of him.  First I knew,
he'd have had an accident and he'd be suing the circus.  So I let him
go.  Sim went under the name Rafello Lascalla, and became one of the
brothers.

"For a while the three of them worked well together.  And it's queer,
as I say, how Sid and Tonzo took to Jim.  But they did.  You'd think he
was a regular brother.  In fact all three of 'em seemed to be real
blood brothers.  Sid and Tonzo are Spaniards, but Sim is a plain
Yankee.  He used to say he learned to do trapeze tricks in his father's
barn."

"That's where I practised," said Joe.

"Well, it's as good a place as any, I reckon.  Anyhow, I had to get rid
of Sim, and now Tonzo comes and asks me to put him back.  He says Sim
is behaving himself, and will keep straight.  He's somewhere on the
grounds now, Tonzo told me.  But I don't want anything to do with him.
I'll stand a whole lot from a man, but when I reach the limit I'm
through for good.  That's what I am with Sim Dobley, otherwise known as
Rafello Lascalla.  You're to take his place, Joe."

"I am!"

There was no mistaking the surprise in the youth's voice.

"Why, what's the matter?  Don't you want to?" asked Jim, in some
astonishment.

"Yes, of course.  I'll do anything in the show along the line of
trapeze work you want me to.  But--well, maybe I'd better tell you all
about it."

Then Joe related his encounter with the discharged circus employee.

"Hum," mused Jim, when Joe finished.  "So that's how the wind sets, is
it?  He's hanging around here now trying to find out who is going to
take his place."

"And when he finds that I have," suggested Joe hesitatingly, "he may
cause trouble."

Jim Tracy started.

"I didn't think of that!" he said slowly.  "You say he threatened you?"

"Well, not exactly me, for he didn't know who I was," replied Joe.
"But he said he'd make it decidedly hot for you, and for the man who
took his place."

Jim Tracy snapped his fingers.

"That's how much I care for Sim Dobley," he said.  "I'm not afraid of
him.  He talks big, but he acts small.  I'm not in the least worried,
and if you are----"

"Not for a minute!" exclaimed Joe quickly.  "I guess I can look after
myself!"

"Good!" exclaimed Jim.  "That's the way I like to hear you talk.  And
don't you let Sim Dobley, or either of the Lascalla Brothers, bluff
you.  I'm running this show, not them!  If they make any trouble you
come to me."

"I guess I can fight my own battles," observed Joe calmly.

"Good!" said the ring-master again.  "I guess you'll do.  This is your
dressing room," he went on.  "Just leave your grip here, and it will be
safe.  You won't have to do anything to-night but look on.  I'll get
you a pair of tights by to-morrow and you can go on.  Practise up in
the morning, and work up a new act with Sid and Tonzo if you like.
I'll introduce you to them at supper."

"Do you think they'll perform with me?" Joe wanted to know.

"They'll have to!" exclaimed the ring-master with energy.  "This is my
circus, not theirs.  They'll do as I say, and if there is any funny
business----  Well, there just won't be," he added significantly.

"Do Tonzo and Sid want Sim to come back and act with them?" asked Joe,
as he deposited his valise in a corner of a dressing room that was made
by canvas curtains partitioning off a part of a large tent.

"That's what they say.  Tonzo told me that Sim would behave himself.
But I'm through with Sim, and he might as well understand that first as
last.  You're going to take his place.  Now I'll have to leave you.
You'll put up at the hotel with some of the performers.  Here's your
slip that you can show to the clerk.  I'll see you in the morning, if
not before, and make arrangements for your act.  To-night you just look
on.  Now I've got to go."

Joe looked about the dressing room.  It was evidently shared with
others, for there were suits of men's tights scattered around, as well
as other belongings.  Joe left his valise and went outside.  He wanted
to see all he could--to get familiar with the life of a circus.

It cannot be said that Joe was exactly easy in his mind.  He would much
rather have joined the circus without having supplanted a performer of
so vindictive a character as Sim Dobley.  But, as it had to be, the lad
decided to make the best of it.

"I'll be on the watch for trouble," he murmured as he went out of the
dressing tent.

A busy scene was being enacted on the circus lots.  In fact, many
scenes.  It was feeding time for some of the animals and for most of
the performers and helpers.  The latter would dine in one of the big
tents, under which long tables were already set.  And from the distance
Joe could catch an odor of the cooking.

"My, but that smells good!" he told himself.  He was hungry.

The Sampson Brothers' Show was a fair-sized one.  It used a number of
railroad cars to transport the wagons, cages and performers from place
to place.  On the road, of course, the performers and helpers slept in
the circus sleeping cars.  But when the show remained more than one
night in a place some of the performers were occasionally allowed to
sleep at the local hotels, getting their meals on the circus grounds,
for the cooking for and feeding of a big show is down to an exact
science.

As Joe wandered forth he heard a voice calling to him:

"Well, where in the world did you come from?"

"Oh, hello!" cried our hero, as, turning, he saw Benny Turton, the
"human fish," walking toward him.

"I'm glad to see you again!" went on Benny, as he shook hands with Joe.

"And I'm glad to see you."

"What are you doing here?" the "human fish" asked.

"Oh, I'm part of the show now," replied Joe, a bit proudly.

"Get out!  Are you, really?"

"I sure am!"  And Joe told the circumstances.

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said Ben.  "Real glad!"

"How's your act going?" asked Joe.

The "human fish" paused a moment before answering.

"Oh, I suppose it goes as well as ever," he said slowly.  "Only I----
Oh, what's the use of telling my troubles?" he asked, with a smile.  "I
reckon you have some of your own."

"Not very big ones," confessed Joe.  "But is anything the matter?"

"No, oh, no.  Never mind me; tell me about yourself."

Joe told something of his experiences since last seeing Ben, and, as he
talked, he looked at the youth who performed such thrilling feats under
water in the big tank.  Joe thought Benny looked paler and thinner than
before.

"I guess the water work isn't any too healthy for him," mused Joe.  "It
must be hard to be under that pressure so long.  I feel sorry for him."

"What are you two talking about--going to get up a new act that will
make us all take back seats?" asked a merry voice.  Joe recognized it
at once, and, with a glad smile, he turned to see Helen Morton coming
toward him.

"I thought I knew you, even from your back," she told Joe, as she shook
hands with him.

"Does Rosebud want any sugar?" he asked, smiling.

"No, thank you!  He's had his share to-day.  But it was good of you to
remember.  I must introduce you to my horse."

"I shall be happy to meet him," returned Joe, with his best "stage bow."

Helen laughed merrily, as she walked across the grounds with Joe and
Benny.

"It's almost supper time," she said, "and I'm starved.  Can't we all
eat together?"

"I don't see why not," Ben answered, and they were soon at a table
where many other performers sat, all, seemingly, talking at once.  Joe
was very much interested.

He was more than interested in two dark-complexioned men who regarded
him curiously.  One was the person who had spoken to Jim Tracy.  The
other Joe had not seen before.

"They're the Lascalla Brothers," Ben informed him.  "That is, there are
two of them.  The third----"

"I'm to be the third," Joe broke in.

"You are?" asked Ben, and he regarded his friend curiously.  "Well,
look out for yourself; that's all I've got to say."

"Why has he to look out for himself?" inquired Helen, who had caught
the words.  "Are you going to eat all there is on the table, Ben, so
there won't be any for Mr. Strong?  Is that why he must look out?"

"No, not that," Ben answered.  "It--it was something else."

"Oh, secrets!" and Helen pretended to be offended.

"It wasn't anything," Joe assured her.  And he tried to forget the
warning Ben had so kindly given him.

Joe attended the performance that night as a sort of privileged
character.  He went behind the scenes, and also sat in the tent.  He
was most interested in the feats of the two Lascalla Brothers, and he
decided that, with a little practice, he could do most of the feats
they presented.

That night, at the hotel, Joe was introduced to Sid and Tonzo.  They
bowed and shook hands, and, as far as Joe could see, they did not
resent his joining their troupe.  They seemed pleasant, and Joe felt
that perhaps the difficulties had been exaggerated.  Nothing was said
of Sim Dobley, and though Joe had been on the watch for the deposed
performer that afternoon and evening, he had not seen him.

"You will, perhaps, like to practise with us?" suggested Tonzo, after a
while.

"I think it would be wise," agreed Joe.

"Very well, then.  We will meet you at the tent in the morning."

Bright and early Joe was on hand.  Jim Tracy found him a pair of pink
tights that would do very well for a time, and ordered him a new,
regular suit.

At the request of Tonzo Lascalla, Joe went through a number of tricks,
improvising them as he progressed.  Next the two Spaniards did their
act, and showed Joe what he was to do, as well as when to do it, so as
to make it all harmonize.

Then hard practice began, and was kept up until the time for the
afternoon show.  Joe did not feel at all nervous as he prepared for his
entrance.  His work on the stage with Professor Rosello stood him in
good stead.

In another moment he was swinging aloft with his two fellow-performers,
in "death-defying dives," and other alliterative acts set down on the
show bills.

"Can you catch me if I jump from the high-swinging trapeze, and vault
toward you, somersaulting?" Joe asked Tonzo, during a pause in their
act.

"Of a certainty, yes, I can catch you.  But can you jump it?"

"Sure!" declared Joe.  "I've done it before."

"It is a big jump, Mr. Strong," Tonzo warned him.  "Even your
predecessor would have hesitated."

"I'll take the chance," Joe said.  "Now this is the way I'll do it.
I'll get a good momentum, swinging back and forth.  You stand upon the
high platform, holding your trapeze and waiting.  When I give the word
and start on my final swing, you jump off, hang by your knees, hands
down.  I'll leap toward you, turn over three times, and grab your
hands.  Do you get me?"

"Of a certainty, yes.  But it is not an easy trick."

"I know it--that's why I'm going to do it.  Do you get me?"

"If he doesn't 'get you,' as you call it, Mr. Strong," put in Sid, "you
will have a bad fall.  Of course there is the life net, but if you do
not land right----"

"Oh, I'll land all right," said Joe, though not boastingly.

The time for the new trick came.  Joe climbed up to a little platform
near the top of the tent and swung off, swaying to and fro on a long
trapeze.  On the other side of the tent Tonzo took his place on a
similar platform, fastened to a pole.  He was waiting for Joe to give
the word.

To and fro, in longer and longer arcs, Joe swung.  He hung by his
hands.  Carefully his eye gauged the distance he must hurl himself
across.  Finally he had momentum enough.

"Come on!" he cried to Tonzo.

The latter leaped out on his trapeze, swinging by his knees.  Right
toward Joe he swung.

"Here I come!" Joe shouted, amid breathless silence among the
spectators below him.  They realized that something unusual was going
on.

"Go!" shouted Sid, who was waiting down on the ground for the
conclusion of the trick.

Joe let go.  He felt himself hurling through the air.  Quickly he
doubled himself in a ball, and turned the somersaults.  Then he
straightened out, dropped a few feet, and his hands squarely met those
of Tonzo.  The latter clasped Joe's in a firm grip, and, holding him,
swung to and fro on the long trapeze.

A roar of applause broke out at Joe's daring feat.  He had made a
hit--a big hit, for the applause kept up after he had dropped to the
life net.  He stood beside Tonzo and Sid, all three bowing and smiling.



CHAPTER VII

JOE TURNS A TRICK

"That's the idea!" exclaimed Jim Tracy, hurrying over to where the
three gymnasts stood.  "Give 'em some more of that, Joe!"

"I haven't any more like that--just now," answered the young circus
performer, panting slightly, for he was a bit out of breath from his
exertion and the anxiety lest his trick should fail.

"Well, do it again at to-night's performance, then," urged the
ring-master, and Joe nodded in agreement.

"It was a good trick, my boy," said Tonzo Lascalla, "but don't try it
too often."

"Why not?" Joe asked.

"Because it is risky.  I might not catch you some day."

"I'd only fall into the life net if you did miss," said Joe coolly,
though, for a moment, he thought there might be a hidden meaning in
what his fellow-performer said.

"Well, it is not every one who knows how to fall into a life net," put
in Sid Lascalla.  "If one lands on his head the neck is likely to be
dislocated."

"I know how to fall," Joe declared, and, though he spoke positively, he
was not in the least boastful.  "Here, I'll show you," he went on.

Their act was not quite finished, but before going on with the next
gymnastic feat Joe caught hold of a hoisting rope that ran through a
pulley, and, at a nodded signal, one of the ring-men hauled the lad up
to the top of the tent to the little platform where Joe had stood when
taking his place on the high trapeze.

Joe signaled to the ring-master that he was going to make a jump into
the net from that height, and at once the crowd again became aware that
something unusual was going on.  It was a jump seldom made, at least in
The Sampson Brothers' Circus.  The platform was fully twenty feet
higher than the trapeze from which Joe and his fellow-performer had
dropped a few minutes before.  And, as Sid Lascalla had said, there was
a risk even in jumping into a life net.  But Joe Strong seemed to know
what he was about.

"Say, he's going to do some jump!" exclaimed Benny Turton, who came
into the ring at that moment, dressed in his shimmering, scaly suit,
ready to do his "human fish" act.

"That's what!" cried Jim Tracy.  "Give him the long roll and the boom!"
he called to the leader of the musicians.

As Joe poised for his jump the snare drummer rattled out a "ruffle,"
and as it started Joe leaned forward and leaped.

Down he went, for a few feet, as straight as an arrow.  Then he
suddenly doubled up into a sort of ball, and began turning over and
over.  The crowd held its breath.  The drum continued to rattle out its
thundering accompaniment.  How many somersaults Joe turned none of the
spectators reckoned, but the youthful performer kept count of them, for
he wanted to "straighten out," to land on his feet in the net.

"He'll never do it!" predicted Tonzo Lascalla.

And it did begin to look as though Joe had miscalculated.

But no.  Just before he reached the springy life net he straightened
out and came down feet first, bouncing up, and down like a rubber ball.
The instant he landed the bass drum gave forth a thundering "boom," and
as Joe rose, and came down again, the drummer punctuated each descent
with a bang, until the crowd that had applauded madly at the jump was
laughing at the queer effect of Joe's bouncing to the accompaniment of
the drum.

"He did it!" cried Jim Tracy.  "It was a great jump.  We'll feature
that now."

He looked at Sid and Tonzo Lascalla, as though asking why they had not
worked something like this into their acts previously.  But the
Spaniards only shrugged their shoulders and raised their eyebrows.

"That was great, Joe!" exclaimed Benny Turton, as Joe leaped to the
ground over the edge of the life net.  "Great!"

Joe smiled happily.

"It was wonderful," added Helen Morton, who was about to put her trick
horse, Rosebud, through his paces.  "It was wonderful--but I don't like
to see anybody take such risks."

"Anybody?" asked Joe in a low voice.

"Well, then--you," she whispered, as she ran off to her ring.

"Well, I did it, you see," observed Joe to his two partners.  "I guess
I know how to fall into a net."

"You sure do!" averred the ring-master.  "Try that at each performance,
Joe."

"Only--be careful," added Tonzo Lascalla.  "We do not want to have to
get another partner."

The act of Joe and the two other "Lascalla Brothers" came to an end
with Joe and Sid hanging suspended from the legs of Tonzo, who
supported himself on a swinging trapeze.  It made an effective close.

Joe was through then, and could watch the rest of the show or go to
bed, as he pleased.  He elected to stay in the "main top" and watch
Helen in her act.  He was also much interested in the "human fish."

"Pshaw!" Joe heard Jim Tracy murmur, as he, too, looked at Benny in the
tank.  "He isn't staying under as long as he used to, not by half a
minute.  I wonder what's the matter with him.  First we know he'll be
cutting the time, and we'll hear a howl from the public.  That won't
do!  I'll have to give him a call-down."

Joe felt sorry for Ben, who did not seem at all well.  Joe thought he
had better not interfere, but he resolved to speak to the
water-performer privately, and see if he could not help him.

Joe repeated his sensational acts at the next day's performances, and
that night he and the others in the circus moved on to the next stand.
Joe wrote a line to Professor Rosello, telling him of the success.

It was a quite novel experience for Joe, traveling with a circus.  But
he was used to sleeping cars by this time, on account of the going from
town to town with the magician.

However, he had never before had a berth in a train filled with circus
performers, and, for a time, he could not sleep because of the
strangeness.  But he soon grew used to it, and in a few nights he could
doze off as soon as he stretched out.

Joe's new suit of pink tights arrived.  It matched those of the
Lascalla Brothers.  In fact, Joe was now billed as one of that trio,
though, of course, he went by his own name in private.  He was
sufficiently dark as to hair and complexion to pass for a Spaniard.

To quote his own words, Joe was "taking to the circus life as a duck
does to water."  He seemed to fit right in.  He made some new friends,
but of all the men or youths in the show he liked best Benny Turton and
the ring-master.  Joe and the Lascalla Brothers got along well, but
there was not much intimacy between them, though they worked well in
the "team."

Joe was on the lookout for any signs of Sim Dobley, but that
unfortunate man did not appear, as far as our hero could learn.  If Sid
or Tonzo made further appeals for his reinstatement they said nothing
about it to Joe.

As the show went on, playing from town to town, Joe become more and
more used to the life.  He liked it very much, and each day he was
becoming more proficient on the trapeze.

One day, about two weeks after he had joined the circus, Joe had an
idea for a new feat.  It involved his jump from a distance, catching
Tonzo Lascalla by the legs and hanging there.  It was harder than
making a leap for the other performer's hands, since, if Joe missed his
clutch, Tonzo would have a chance to grab him with his hands.  But when
Joe leaped for his partner's feet a certain margin of safety was lost.

It was not that a fall would be dangerous if Joe missed, for the life
net was below him.  But the effect of the trick would be spoiled.

They practised the trick in private--Joe and Tonzo--and for a time it
did not seem to work.  Joe fell short every time of grasping the
other's legs.

"You will never do it," said Sid, and there was a queer look on his
face as he glanced at Tonzo.  The other seemed to wink, just the mere
fraction of a wink, and then, like a flash, it came to Joe.

"He doesn't want me to do it," thought our hero.  "Tonzo wants me to
fail.  He doesn't want me to be successful, for he thinks maybe he can
get Sim back.  But I'll fool him!  I think he has been drawing up his
legs the instant I jumped for them, so I would miss.  I'll watch next
time."

This Joe did, and found his surmise right.  Just before he reached with
outstretched hands for Tonzo's legs, the man drew them slightly up,
and, as a result, Joe missed.

"Here's where I turn a trick on him," mused the young performer, as he
failed and landed in the net In his next attempt Joe leaped unusually
high, and though Tonzo drew up his legs he could not pull them beyond
Joe's reach.

"That's the time I did it!" cried Joe, as he made the catch and swung
to and fro.

Sid, on the ground below, shrugged his shoulders, and said something to
Tonzo in Spanish.



CHAPTER VIII

HELEN'S LETTER

"Now I wonder," mused Joe as he leaped out of the net, "what they said
to each other.  I'm sure it was about me.  Well, let it go.  I did the
trick, and I guess he won't pull his legs away again.  If he does he'll
have to pull 'em so far that it will be noticed all over, and he can't
say it was an accident.  I'll take care to make a high jump."

Joe practised the trick again and again, until he felt he was perfect
in it.  Tonzo seemed to have given up the idea of spoiling it, if that
had been his intention, and he and Joe worked at it until they could do
it smoothly.

"When are you going to put it on?" Jim Tracy inquired, when told there
was a new feature to the Lascalla Brothers' act.

"Oh, in a couple of nights now," Joe answered.

"You sure are making good, all right," the ring-master informed him.
"I didn't make any mistake booking you.  I didn't know whom to turn to
in a hurry when Sim Dobley went back on me, and then I happened to
think of you.  Got your route from one of the magazines, and sent you
the wire."

"I was mighty glad to come," confessed Joe.

The new act created more applause than ever for the Lascalla Brothers
when it was exhibited, but the louder applause seemed to come to Joe,
though he did not try to keep his fellow performers from their share.
And, as might be expected, there was not a little professional jealousy
on the part of some of the other performers.

If Sid and Tonzo were jealous of him they took pains to hide that fact
from Joe, but some of the others were not so careful.  A few of the
other gymnasts openly declared that the Lascalla Brothers were getting
altogether too much public attention.

"They detract from me," declared Madame Bullriva, the "strong woman,"
whose star feat was to get beneath a board platform on which stood
twelve men, and raise it from the saw-horses across which it lay.
True, she only raised it a few inches, but the act was "billed big."

"I don't get half the applause I used to," she complained to Jim Tracy.
"You let those 'Spanish onions' have too much time in the ring, and
give that Joe Strong a ruffle of drums and the big boom every time he
makes the long jump."

"But it's worth it," said the ring-master.  "It's a big drawing card."

"So's my act, but I don't get a single drum beat.  Can't I have some
music with my act?"

"I'll see," promised the ring-master, but he had many other things to
think of, and the act of Madame Bullriva went unheralded, to her great
disgust.

"Talk about footlight favorites," she complained to Helen Morton, as
they dressed together for a performance, "that Joe Strong is getting
all that's coming to him."

"Oh, I don't think he tries to take away from any of us," Helen
answered.

"No, he doesn't personally.  He's a nice boy.  But Tracy makes too much
fuss over him.  I like Joe, but he and his partners are 'crabbing' my
act, all right."

"Perhaps if you spoke to him----"

"What!  Me?  Let him know I cared?  I guess not!  I'll join some other
circus first."

"You might put another man on the platform, and lift thirteen," the
young trick rider suggested.

"What!  Lift thirteen?  That would be unlucky, my dear.  I did it once
when I was on the Western circuit in a Wild West show, and believe
me--never again!  I strained a shoulder muscle, and I had to lie up in
a hospital five weeks.  Twelve men are enough to lift at once, take it
from me!  But Joe is a nice boy, I'll say that.  Don't you like him?"

Helen's answer was not very clear, but perhaps that was because she was
fixing her hair in readiness for the entrance into the ring with her
trained horse, Rosebud.

Joe, Helen and Benny Turton seemed to have formed a little group among
themselves.  They sat together at the circus table, and when they were
not "on," they were much in the company of one another.

They were about the same age, and they enjoyed each other's society
greatly, being congenial companions.  Joe was "introduced" to Rosebud
and, being naturally fond of animals, he made friends with the
intelligent horse at once, which pleased Helen.

She and Joe were getting very fond of one another, though perhaps
neither of them would have admitted that, if openly taxed with it.
But, somehow or other, Joe seemed naturally to drift over near Helen
when they were both in the tent, awaiting their turns.  And when their
acts were over they either took walks together in and about the town
where the circus was playing, or they sat in their dressing tent
talking.  Often Benny Turton would join them, always being made welcome.

But Benny did not have much time.  His shimmering, scaly, green suit
was quite elaborately made, and it took him some time to get into it.
It took equally as long to get out of it, and after his act he was
always more or less exhausted and had to rest.

"I don't know what's the matter with me," he said one day to Helen and
Joe, as he joined them after having been in the big glass tank.  "But I
feel so tired after I come out that I want to go to bed."

"Maybe you stay under water too long," Helen said sympathetically.

"I don't stay under as long as I used to," Benny remarked.  "In fact
Jim Tracy was sort of kicking just now.  Said I was billed to stay
under water four minutes, and I was cutting it to three.  I can't help
it.  Something seems to hurt me here," and he put his hands to his ears
and to the back of his head.

"Maybe you ought to see a doctor," suggested Joe.

"I can't," said Benny shortly.  "In this circus business if they find
out you're sick the management begins to think of booking some one else
for your act.  No, I've got to keep on with it.  But some days I don't
feel much like it."

Joe and Helen felt sorry for Benny, but there was little they could do
to aid him.  It was not as if they could take some of the burden of
work off his shoulders.  His act was peculiar, and he alone could do it.

"Though I think," said Joe to himself one day after watching Benny
perform, "I think I could stay under water almost as long as he does
after I'd practised it a bit.  I'm going to try some time.  I think
deep breathing exercises would help.  I'm going to begin on them."

Joe had to have good "wind" for his own acts, but, as he was naturally
ambitious, he started in on systematic breathing exercises.  These
would do him much general good even if he should never enter the
water-tank.

Occasionally Joe would do some simple sleight-of-hand tricks for the
amusement of Benny and Helen.  He did not want to lose the art he had
acquired.

"I may want to quit the circus some day and go back in the illusion
business," he said.

"Quit the circus!  Why?" Helen asked him.

"Oh, I'm not thinking seriously of it, of course," he said quickly.
"But I don't want to get rusty on those tricks."

Joe heard occasionally from Professor Rosello, who had leased his show
and was taking a much needed rest.  He inquired as to Joe's progress,
and was glad, he said, to hear our hero was doing well.

One day, when the circus was playing a large manufacturing city on a
two days' date, Joe had another glimpse of the man he had supplanted.
The young trapeze artist went out of the tent when his share in the
afternoon performance was over, and as he paused to look at the crowd
in front of the sideshow tent he heard some one addressing him.

"So you're the chap that took my place, are you?" a vindictive voice
asked.  "I've been wanting to see you!"

Joe turned to, behold Sim Dobley, who seemed worse off than when the
young performer had first met him.

"Yes, I've been wanting to see you!" and there was a sneer in Sim's
words.

Joe decided nothing could be gained by temporizing, or by showing that
he was alarmed.

"Well, now you've seen me, what are you going to do about it?" he
coolly asked.

"That's all right.  You wait and you'll see!" was the threatening
response.  "Nobody can knock me out of an engagement and get away with
it.  You'll see!"

"Look here!" exclaimed Joe.  "I didn't knock you out of your place.  No
one did except yourself, and you know it.  And I'm not going to stand
for any talk like that from you, either."

"That's right, give it to him!" said another voice, and Jim Tracy came
up.  "Don't let him bluff you, Joe.  As for you, Dobley, I've told you
to keep away from this circus, and I mean it!  I heard you'd been
following us.  Rode on one of the canvas wagons last night, didn't you?"

"Well, what if I did?"

"This!  If you do it again I'll have you arrested.  I'm through with
you and I want you to keep away."

"I guess this is a free country!"

"Yes, the _country_ is free, but our _circus_ isn't.  You keep out in
the country and you'll be all right.  Keep off our wagons.  Moreover,
if I catch you making any more threats against our performers I'll----
But I guess Joe can look after himself all right," finished the
ring-master.  "Just you keep away, that's all, Dobley."

The man slunk off in the crowd.  Joe really felt sorry for him, but he
could do nothing.  Dobley had thrown away his chances and they had come
to Joe, who was entitled to them.  Later that day Joe saw Sid and Tonzo
in close conversation with their former partner, but our hero said
nothing to the ring-master about it, though he was a bit uneasy in his
own mind.

The next afternoon when Joe came out of his dressing room after his
trapeze act, he met Helen Morton.  The fancy rider held an open letter
in her hand, and she seemed disturbed at its contents.

"No bad news, I hope," remarked Joe.

"No, not exactly," Helen answered.  "On the contrary it may be good
news.  But I don't exactly understand it.  I wish Bill Watson were
here, so I could ask his advice."

"Who is Bill Watson?" asked Joe.

"He's one of our clowns, one of the oldest in the business, I guess.
He was taken ill just before you joined the show, but he's coming back
next week.  I often ask his advice, and I'd like to now--about this
letter."

"Why don't you ask mine?" suggested Joe, half jokingly.



CHAPTER IX

BILL WATSON'S IDEA

Helen Morton gave Joe a glance and a smile.  Then she looked at the
open letter in her hand.

"That's so," she said brightly.  "I never thought of that.  I wonder if
you could advise me?"

"Why, I'm one of the best advisers you ever saw," returned Joe,
laughingly.

"I know you're good on the trapeze," Helen admitted, "but have you had
any business experience?"

"Well, I was in business for myself after I ran away from home and
joined the professor," answered Joe.  "That is, I had to attend to some
of his business.  What is it all about?"

"That's just what I want to know," answered the young circus rider.
"It's a puzzle to me."

She again referred to the letter, then with a sort of hopeless gesture
held it out to Joe.  He took it and cried:

"Why, what's this?  It's all torn up," and he exhibited a handful of
scraps of paper.

"Oh--Joe!" Helen gasped.  "How did that happen?"

"Just a mistake," he replied.  With a quick motion of his hand he held
out the letter whole and untorn.

"Oh--oh!" she stammered.  Then, laughing, added: "Is that one of your
sleight-of-hand tricks?"

"Yes," Joe nodded.  When Helen handed him the letter he happened to be
holding the scraps of a circular letter he had just received and torn
up.  It occurred to him, just for a joke, to make Helen believe her
letter had suddenly gone to pieces.  It was one of Joe's simplest
tricks, and he often did them nowadays in order to keep in practice.

"You certainly gave me a start!" Helen exclaimed.  "I had hardly read
the letter myself.  It's quite puzzling."

"Do you want me to read it--and advise you?" asked Joe.

"If you will--and can--yes."

Joe hastily glanced over the paper.  He saw in a moment that it was
from a New York firm of lawyers.  The body of the letter read:


"We are writing to you to learn if, by any chance, you are the daughter
of Thomas and Ruth Morton who some years ago lived in San Francisco.
In case you are, and if your grandfather on your father's side was a
Seth Morton, we would be glad to have you notify us of these facts,
sending copies of any papers you may have to prove your identity.

"For some years we have been searching for a Helen Morton with the
above named relatives, but, so far, have not located her.

"We discovered a number of Helen Mortons, but they were not the right
ones.  Recently we saw your name in a theatrical magazine, and take
this opportunity to inquire of you, sending this letter in care of the
circus with which we understand you are connected.  Kindly reply as
soon as possible.  If you are the right person there is a sum of money
due you, and we wish, if that is the case, to pay it and close an
estate."


Joe read the letter over twice without speaking.

"Well," remarked Helen, after a pause, "I thought you were going to
advise me."

"So I am," Joe said.  "I want to get this through my head first.  But
let me ask you: Is this a joke, or are you the Helen Morton referred
to?"

"I don't know whether it's a joke or not, Joe.  First I thought it was.
But my father's name was Thomas, and my grandfather was a Seth Morton,
and he lived in San Francisco.  Of course that was when I was a little
girl, and I don't remember much about it.  We lived in the West before
papa and mamma died, and it was there I learned to ride a horse.

"When I was left alone except for an elderly aunt, I did not know what
to do.  My aunt took good care of me, however, but when she died there
was no one else, and she left no money.  I tried to get work, but the
stores and factories wanted experienced girls, and the only thing I had
any experience with was a horse.

"I got desperate, and decided to see if I couldn't make a living by
what little talent I had.  So one day, when a circus was showing in our
town, I took my horse, Rosebud, rode out and did some stunts in the
lots.  The manager saw me and hired me.  Oh, how happy I was!

"That wasn't with this show.  I only joined here about two years ago.
Of course my friends--what few I had--thought it was dreadful for me to
become a circus rider, but I've found that there are just as good men
and women in circuses as anywhere else in this world," and her cheeks
grew red, probably at the memory of something that had been said
against circus folk.

"I know," said Joe, quietly.  "My mother was a circus rider."

"So you have told me.  But now about this letter, Joe.  I wish Bill
Watson were here--he might know what to do about it."

"Well, I can't say that I do, in spite of my boast," Joe answered.  "It
may be a joke, and, again, it may be the real thing.  You may be an
heiress, Miss Morton," and Joe bowed teasingly.

"I thought you were going to call me Helen--if I called you Joe," she
said.

"So I am.  That was only in fun," for soon after their acquaintance
began these two young persons had fallen into the habit of dropping the
formal Miss and Mister.

"Well, what would you do, Joe?" Helen asked.

"I think I'd answer this letter seriously," replied the young
performer.  "If it is a joke you can't lose more than a two cent stamp,
and, on the other hand, if it's serious they'll want to hear from you.
You may be the very person they want.  This letter head doesn't look
much like a joke."

The paper on which the letter was written was of excellent quality, and
Joe could tell by passing his fingers over the names, addresses and
other matter that it was engraved--not printed.

"If it's a joke they went to a lot of work to get it up," he continued.
"Have you any papers, to prove your identity?"

"Yes, I have some birth and marriage certificates, and an old bible
that was Grandfather Seth's.  I wouldn't want to send them off to New
York though."

"It won't be necessary--at least not at first.  I'll help you make
copies of them, and if these lawyers want to see the real things let
them send a man on.  That's my advice."

"And very good advice it is too, Joe," Helen said.  "I don't believe
Bill Watson could give any better.  He's a real nice elderly man, and
he's been almost a father to me.  I often go to him when I have my
little troubles.  I wish he were here now.  But you are very good to
me, Joe.  I'm going to take your advice."

"I'll help you make the copies," Joe offered.  "Did you ever have any
idea that your grandfather left valuable property?"

"No, and I don't believe papa or mamma did, either.  We were not
exactly poor, but we weren't rich.  Oh, wouldn't it be nice if I were
to get some money?"

"You wouldn't stay with the circus then, would you?"

"Oh, I don't know," she answered musingly.  "I think I like it here."

"I know I do," Joe said.  "But if you don't want to take my advice you
can wait until Mr. Watson comes back.  You say he's expected?"

"Yes.  Mr. Tracy said he'd join us at Blairstown in a few days.  But,
anyhow, I'm going to do as you said, Joe.  And if I get a million
dollars maybe I'll buy a circus of my own," and she laughed at the
whimsical idea.

Taking some spare time, she and Joe made copies of certain certificates
Helen had in her trunk, and they also copied the record from the old
Bible.  Joe got the press agent of the show to typewrite a letter to go
with the copies, and they were sent to the New York lawyers.

"Now we'll wait and see what comes of it," Helen said.  "But I'm not
going to lose any sleep over it.  I never inherited a fortune, and I
don't expect to."

A few days later, when the show reached Blairstown, Bill Watson, a
veteran clown, joined the troupe of fun-makers.  He was made royally
welcome, for his presence had been missed.

"Bill, I want to introduce to you a new friend of mine," said Helen,
when she had the opportunity.  "He's one of our newest and best
performers, aside from you and me," she joked.

"What's the name?" asked jovial Bill, holding out his hand.

"Joe Strong."

"Been in the business long?"

"Not very.  I was with Professor Rosello before I came here."

"Never heard of him," and Bill shook his head.

"He was a conjurer," explained Joe.  "My father was, too.  He was
Professor Morretti, and my mother----"

"Was Madame Hortense.  She was Janet Willoughby before her marriage,"
broke in Bill Watson, speaking calmly.

"What!" cried Joe.  "Did you know her--them?"

"I knew both of them," said Bill.  "I didn't connect your name with
them at first, Strong not being uncommon.  But when you mentioned your
father, the professor, why, it came to me in a flash.  So you're Madame
Hortense's son, eh?"

"Did you know my mother well?" asked Joe.

"Know her?" cried the veteran clown.  "I should say I did!  Why, she
and I were great friends, and so were your father and I, but I did not
see so much of him, as he was in a different line.  But your mother,
Joe!  Ah, the profession lost a fine performer when she died.  I never
thought I'd meet her son, and in a circus at that.

"But I'm glad you're with us, and I want to say that if you have Helen,
here, on your side, you've got one of the finest little girls in all
the world."

"I found that out as soon as I joined," said Joe.

"Trust you young chaps for not losing any chances like that," chuckled
the clown.  "Well, I'm glad you two are friends.  They tell me you're
quite an addition to the Lascalla troupe."

"I'm glad I've been able to do so well," Joe said.

"And how have you been, Helen?" the old clown wanted to know.

"First rate.  And, oh, Bill.  We have _such_ a mystery for you--Joe and
I!"

"A mystery, Helen?"

"Yes; I'm going to be an heiress.  Wait until I show you the letter,"
which she did, to the no small astonishment of Bill Watson.

"Well, well," he said over and over again, when Helen and Joe told of
the answer they had sent the New York lawyers.  "Suppose you do get
some money, Helen?"

"It's too good to suppose.  I can't imagine any one leaving me money."

"I wish I knew a fairy godmother who would leave me some," murmured
Joe.  "But that wouldn't happen in a blue moon."

Bill Watson turned, and looked rather curiously at the young circus
performer.

"Well, now, do you know, Joe Strong," he said, "I have an idea."

"An idea!" cried Helen gaily.  "How nice, Bill.  Tell us about it!"

"Now just a moment, young lady.  Don't get too excited with an old man
just off a sick bed.  But Joe's speaking that way--I call you Joe, as I
knew your folks so well--Joe's speaking that way gave me an idea.  I
wouldn't be so terribly surprised, my boy, if you did have money left
you some day."

"How?" asked Joe in surprise.

"Why, your mother, whom, as I said, I knew very well, came of a very
rich and aristocratic family in England.  She was disowned by them when
she married your father--as if public performers weren't as good as
aristocrats, any day!  But never mind about that.  Your mother
certainly was rich when she was a girl, Joe, and it may be she is
entitled to money from the English estates now, or, rather, you would
be, since she is dead.  That's my idea."



CHAPTER X

IN THE TANK

"Are you really serious in that?" asked Joe of the old clown, after a
moment's consideration.

"Of course I am, Joe.  Why?  Would it be strange to have some one leave
you money?"

"It certainly would!  But it would be a nice sort of strangeness,"
replied the young performer.  "I never dreamed that such a thing might
happen."

"Oh, I don't say it _will_," Bill Watson reminded him.  "But the fact
remains that your mother came from what is sometimes called 'the landed
gentry' of England, and the estates there, or property, descend to
eldest sons differently than property does in this country.  It may be
worth looking into, Joe."

"But I don't know much about my mother," Joe said.  "I hardly ever meet
any one who knew her.  My foster-parents would never speak of her--they
were ashamed of her calling."

"More shame to them!" exclaimed the clown.  "There never was a finer
woman than your mother, Joe Strong.  And as for riding--well, I wish we
had a few of her kind in the show now.  I don't mean to say anything
against your riding, my dear," he said to Helen.  "But Janet Strong did
a different sort, for she was a powerful woman, and could handle a
horse better than most men."

"I guess I must get my liking for horses from her," Joe remarked.

"Very likely," agreed Bill Watson.  "Some day I'll have a long talk
with you about your mother, Joe, and I'll give you all the information
I can.  There may be some of her old acquaintances you can write to, to
find out if she was entitled to any property."

"Wouldn't it be fine if we both came into fortunes!" gaily cried Helen,
with sparkling eyes.  "Wouldn't it be splendid, Joe?"

"Too good to be true, I'm afraid.  But you have a better chance than I,
Helen."

"Perhaps.  Would you leave the circus, Joe, if you got rich?"

"Oh, I don't know.  I guess I'd stay in it while you did--to sort of
look after you," and he smiled quizzically.

"Trying to get my job, are you?" chuckled Bill.  "Well, we are young
only once.  But I must say, Helen, that this young man gave you as good
advice as I could, and I hope it turns out all right."

Joe liked Bill Watson--every one did in fact--and the young performer
was pleased to learn something of his mother, and glad to learn that he
would be told more.

The enforced rest Bill Watson had taken on account of a slight illness,
seemed to have done the old clown good, for he worked in some new
"business" in his acts when he again donned the odd suit he wore.  His
presence, too, had a good effect on the other clowns, so that the
audiences, especially the younger portion, were kept in roars of
merriment at each performance.

Joe, also, did his share to provide entertainment for the circus
throngs.  Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Joe provided the
thrills, for some of his feats were thrilling indeed.  Not that the
other members of the Lascalla troupe did not share in the honors, for
they did.  Both Sid and Tonzo were accomplished and veteran performers
on the flying rings and trapeze bars, but they had been in the business
so long that they had become rather hardened to it, and stuck to old
tricks and effects instead of getting up new ones.

Joe was especially good at this, and while some of his feats were not
really new, he gave a different turn to them that seemed to make for
novelty.

"But I don't like to see you take such risks," Helen said to him on
more than one occasion.  "I'm afraid you'll be hurt."

"You have to take risks in this business," Joe stated.  "I don't think
about them when I'm away up at the top of the tent, swinging on the
bar.  I just think of the trick and wonder if Sid or Tonzo will catch
me or me one of them when the jump is made.  Besides, the life net is
always below us.

"Yes, but suppose you miss the net or it breaks?"

"I don't like supposes of that sort," laughed Joe, coolly.  Truly he
had good nerves, under perfect control.  He was adding to his muscular
strength, too.  Constant and steady practice was making his arms and
legs powerful indeed.

For a while Joe had been on the watch for some overt act on the part of
Sid or Tonzo that would spoil an act and bring censure down on himself.
But following that one attempt neither of the Spaniards did anything
that Joe could find fault with.  They were enthusiastic over some of
the feats he performed, and worked in harmony with him.  If they were
jealous over Joe's popularity and the applause he often received as his
share alone in some trick, they did not show it.

"Oh, Joe!" exclaimed Helen one day, when they were in the small tent
getting ready for the afternoon performance.  "I have a letter from the
New York lawyers."

"What do they say?" Joe asked eagerly.  "Did they send the money?"

"No.  But they thanked me for the copies of the proofs I sent, and they
said they believed they were on the right track.  They will write again
soon.  So it wasn't a joke, anyhow."

"It doesn't look so," the youth agreed.  "Is everything all
right--Rosebud safe, and all that?"

"Yes.  He's feeling himself again."  The trick horse had been ailing
the day before, and Helen was a little worried about her pet.

Joe and Helen wandered into the main tent, which was now set up.  Joe
wanted to get in a little practice on the trapeze, while Helen went in
to watch, as she often did.  The men were setting up the big glass tank
in which the "human fish" performed, and when Joe came down from his
trapeze, rather warm and tired, the water looked very inviting.

"I've a good notion to go in for a swim," he said to Helen.

"Why don't you?" she dared him.  "It would do you good.  It's such a
hot day.  I almost wish I could myself."

"I believe I will," Joe said.  "I've got a bathing suit in my trunk."

The big tent was almost deserted at this hour, for the parade was in
progress.  Joe and Helen did not take part in this.  Joe came back
attired for a swim, and going up the steps by which Benny mounted to
the platform on the edge of the tank before he plunged in, Joe poised
there.

"Here I go," he called to Helen.  "Got a watch?"

"Yes, Joe."

"Time me then.  I'm going to see how long I can stay under water."

In he went head first, making a clean dive, for Joe was an adept in the
water.  He swam about in the limpid depths, Helen watching him
admiringly through the glass sides of the tank.  Then Joe settled down
on the bottom as Benny was in the habit of doing.  Helen nervously
watched the seconds tick off on her wrist watch.

When two minutes had passed, and Joe was still below the water, the
girl became nervous.

"Come on out, Joe!" she called.  Joe could not hear her, of course.  He
waved his hand to her.  He could not stay under much longer, he felt
sure, but he did not want to give up.  It was not until three seconds
of the third minute had passed that he found it impossible to hold his
breath longer, and up he shot, filling his lungs with air as he reached
the surface.

At that moment Benny Turton came into the tent, and saw some one in his
tank.

"What happened?" he cried, running forward.  "Did some one fall in?"

"It's all right," Helen informed the "human fish."



CHAPTER XI

HELEN'S DISCOVERY

Joe Strong climbed out of the tank.  He grinned cheerfully at Benny.

"It was so hot I took a bath in your tub," he explained.  "It sure was
fine!  Hope you don't mind?"

"Not a bit," returned Benny, cheerfully.  "Come in any time you like.
It isn't exactly a summer resort beach, but it's the best we have."

"And Joe stayed under water over three minutes," Helen said.

"Did I, really?" Joe cried.

"You certainly did."

"I was just giving myself a try-out," Joe explained to Benny.

"That's pretty good," declared the "human fish," as he tested the
temperature of the water.  "I couldn't do that at first."

"Oh, you see I've lived near the water all my life," Joe explained,
"and it comes sort of natural to me.  Don't be afraid that I'm going
after your act though," he added, with a laugh.

"I almost wish you would," and Benny spoke wearily.

"What's the matter?" asked Helen, with ready sympathy.

"Oh, I don't know.  I don't feel just right, somehow or other.  It's
mostly in my head--back here," and Benny pointed to the region just
behind his ears.  "I've got a lot of pain there, and going under water
and staying so long seems to make it worse."

"Why don't you see a doctor?" asked Joe.

"Well, you know what that would mean.  I might have to lay off, and I
don't want that.  I need the money."

Benny had a widowed mother to support, and it was well known that he
sent her most of his wages, keeping only enough to live on.

"Well, I wish I could help you," said Joe, "but I can't do all the
stunts you can under water, even if I could hold down both jobs."

"The stunts are easy enough, once you learn how to hold and control
your breath," Benny said.  "That's the hardest part of it, and you seem
to have gotten that down fine.  How was the water, cold?"

"No, just about right for me," Joe declared.  "I don't like it too
warm."

Benny again tested the temperature by putting his hand in the tank.

"I think I'll have 'em put a little hot water in just before I do my
act," he said.  "I have an idea that the cold water gets in my ears and
makes the pain in my head."

"Perhaps it does," Joe agreed.

Preparations for the afternoon performance were now actively under way.
The big parade was out, going through the streets of the town, and soon
those taking part in the pageant would return to the "lot."  Then, at
two, the main show would start.

Joe had a new feat for that day's performance.  He and the two
Spaniards had worked it out together.  It was quite an elaborate act,
and involved some risk, though at practice it had gone well.

Joe was to take his place on the small, high elevated platform at one
side of the tent, and Tonzo would occupy a similar place on the other
side.  Joe was to swing off, holding to the flying rings, which, for
this trick, had been attached to unusually long ropes.

Opposite him Tonzo was to swing from a regulation trapeze, which also
was provided with a long rope.  After the two had acquired sufficient
momentum, they were to let go at a certain signal and pass each other
in the air, Joe under Tonzo.  Then Joe would catch the trapeze bar, and
Tonzo the rings, exchanging places.

Once they had a good grip, Sid was to swing from a third trapeze, and,
letting go, grasp Tonzo's hands, that performer, meanwhile, having
slipped his legs through the rings, hanging head downward.

When Sid had thus caught bold, he was to signal to Joe, who was to make
a second flying leap, and grasp Sid's down-hanging legs.

As said before, the feat went well in practice and the ring-master was
depending on it for a "thriller."  But whether it would go all right
before a crowded tent was another matter.  Joe was a little nervous
over it--that is as nervous as he ever allowed himself to get, for he
had evolved the feat, and Sid and Tonzo had not been over-enthusiastic
about it.

However, it must be attempted in public sooner or later, and this was
the day set for it.  Before the show began Joe, Sid and Tonzo went over
every rope, bar and ring.  They wanted no falls, even though the life
net was below them.

"Is everything all right?" Joe asked his partners.

"Yes," they told him.

The usual announcement was made of the Lascalla Brothers' act, and on
this occasion Jim Tracy, who was making the presentation, added
something about a "death-defying double exchange and triple suspension
act never before attempted in any circus ring or arena throughout the
world."

That was Joe's trick.

The three performers went through some of their usual exploits,
ordinary enough to them, but rather thrilling for all that.  Then came
the preparations for the new feat.

Joe and Tonzo took their places on the small platforms, high up on the
tent poles.  The eyes of all in their vicinity were watching them
eagerly.  Sid was in his place, ready to swing off when the two had
crossed each other in the air and had made the exchange.

"Are you ready?" called Jim Tracy in his loud voice.

"Ready," answered Joe's voice, from high up in the tent.

"Ready," responded Tonzo, after a moment's hesitation, during which he
pretended to fix one slipper.  This was done for dramatic effect, and
to heighten the suspense.

Helen, who had just finished her tricks with Rosebud, paused at the
edge of a ring to watch the new act.

"Then go!" shouted the ring-master.

Joe and Tonzo swung off together, and then swayed to and fro like giant
pendulums, Joe on the rings and Tonzo on the trapeze.

"Ready?" cried Joe to his swinging partner.

"Yes," answered Tonzo.

"Come on!" Joe said.

It was time to make the exchange.  This was one of the critical parts
of the trick.

Joe let go the rings and hurled himself forward his eyes on the
swinging trapeze bar, his hands out stretched to grasp it.  He passed
the form of his partner in mid-air, and the next instant he was
swinging from the trapeze.

He could not turn to look, but he felt sure, from the burst of applause
which came, that Tonzo had successfully done his part.

Again Tonzo and Joe were swinging in long arcs, so manipulating their
bodies as to give added momentum to the long ropes.

"Ready down there?" asked Joe of Sid.

"Ready," he answered.

"Then go!"

Sid swung off, as Tonzo hung head downward with outstretched hands.
Sid easily caught them, for this was a trick they often did together.
Now must come Joe's second leap, and it was not so easy as the first,
nor did he have as good a chance of catching Sid's legs as he would
have had at Tonzo's hands.

However, it was "all in the day's work," and he did not hesitate at
taking chances.

He reached the height of his swing and started downward in a long sweep.

"Here I come!" he called.

He let go the trapeze bar, and made a dive for Sid's dangling legs.
For the fraction of a second Joe thought he was going to miss.  But he
did not.  He caught Sid by the ankles and the three hung there,
swinging in mid-air, Tonzo, of course, supporting the dragging weight
of the bodies of Joe and Sid.  But Tonzo was a giant in his strength.

There was a burst of music, a rattle and boom of drums, as the feat
came to a successful and startling finish.  Then, as Joe dropped
lightly into the life net, turning over in a succession of somersaults,
the applause broke out in a roar.

Sid and Tonzo dropped down beside Joe, and the three stood with arms
over one another's shoulders, bowing and smiling at the furor they had
caused.

"A dandy stunt!" cried Jim Tracy, highly pleased, as he went over to
another ring to make an announcement.  "Couldn't be better!"

This ended the work of Joe and his partners for the afternoon, the new
feat being a climax.  They ran out of the tent amid continuous
applause, and Joe saw Helen waiting for him.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she whispered.  "So glad!"

It was about a week after this, the show meanwhile having moved on from
town to town, that one of the trapeze performers who did a "lone act,"
that is all by himself, was taken ill.

"I'll just shift you to his place, Joe," said Jim.  "You can easily do
what he did, and maybe improve on it."

"But what about my Lascalla act?"

"Oh, I'm not going to take you out of that.  You'll do the most
sensational things with them, but they can have some one else for the
ordinary stunts.  I want you to have some individual work."

Joe was glad enough for this chance, for it meant more money for him,
and also brought him more prominently before the public.  But the
Lascalla Brothers were not so well pleased.  They did not say anything,
but Joe was sure they were more jealous of him than before.  He was
going above them on the circus ladder of success and popularity.  But
it was none of Joe's planning.  His success was merited.

The mail had been distributed one day, and Helen had a letter from the
New York lawyers, stating that a member of the firm was coming on to
inspect the old Bible and the other original proofs of her identity.

"I must tell Joe," she said, and on inquiry learned that he was in the
main tent, practising.  As she walked past the dressing room which Joe
and the Lascalla Brothers used, she saw a strange sight.

Sid and Tonzo were doing something to a trapeze.  They had pushed up
the outer silk covering of the rope--covering put on for ornamental
purposes--and Tonzo was pouring something from a bottle on the hempen
strands.

"I wonder what he is doing that for," mused Helen.  "Can it be that----"

She got no further in her musing, for she heard Sid speaking, and she
listened to what he said.



CHAPTER XII

JUST IN TIME

"This ought to do the business," said Sid.

"Yes," agreed Tonzo, "and not so quickly that it will be noticed,
either.  It will work slowly, but surely."

"That's what we want," commented the other.  "We're in no hurry.  Any
time inside of a week will do.  Now we'll put this away to ripen."

"That's queer," thought Helen, and she passed on, for by the movement
in the canvas dressing room she thought the men were about to come out,
and she did not want them to see her at what they might consider spying
on them.  "I never heard of ripening a rope before," the girl said.
"But it may be they have to for a trapeze.  I'll ask Joe about it.  He
might fix some of his ropes that way."

Helen went on, anxious to find the young performer, and show him her
letter from the lawyer.

"I'll tell Bill Watson, too," Helen decided.

As she expected, both Joe and the old clown were much interested in her
news.

"It does really begin to look as though you would come into some money,
doesn't it?" Joe said.

"I'm beginning to believe it myself," Helen answered, "though I don't
really count on it as yet."

"Yes, it's best to go a little slowly," advised Bill.  "Not to count
your chickens before they're hatched is a good motto.  But this looks
like business.  I'd like to interview that lawyer when he comes."

"I'll turn him over to you," Helen said with a laugh.  "To you and Joe,
and you can arrange about getting my money for me.  I'll make you two
my official advisers."

"I accept with pleasure," Joe answered, with a bow.

"And that reminds me," went on Bill.  "I'm going to give you the
addresses of some people who might know about your mother's folks in
England, Joe.  As I told you, they disowned her when she married your
father, though there wasn't a finer man going.  But he was an American,
and that was one thing they had against him, and another was that he
was a public performer.

"I think, too, that they rather blamed him for your mother's going into
the circus business, Joe.  Your mother was always a good horsewoman, so
I have understood.  She took part in many a fox hunt in England, and in
cross-country runs, always coming out in front.  And when your father
met her he, as I understand it, suggested that, just for fun, she try
circus work.  She took it up seriously, and Madame Hortense became one
of the foremost circus riders of her time.  But from then on her name
was forgotten by her relatives, and her picture was, so to speak,
turned to the wall."

"I wish I could get one of those pictures," said Joe thoughtfully.  "I
have only a very small one that was in my father's watch.  I'd like a
large one, for I can't remember, very well, how she looked."

"She was a handsome woman," said the clown.  "It may be that you can
get a picture of her from England--that is, if they saved one.  I'll
give you the address of some folks you can write to.  It might be well
to get a firm of lawyers here to take the matter up for you."

"I believe it would be best," agreed Joe.

"Why not let my lawyers--notice that, _my_," laughed Helen.  "Why not
let my lawyers act for you, Joe?  That is, after we see what sort they
are.  They seem honest."

"Another good idea!" commented the young performer.  "I'll do it.  You
say one of them is coming to see you?"

"So he says in this letter."

"Does he know where to find you?"

"Yes; I have told him the places where the circus will show for the
next two weeks.  He can find the place easily enough, and inquire for
me.  Oh, I'm so anxious to know how rich I'm going to be!"

"I don't blame you," chuckled Bill.  "Now, Joe, if I had a pencil and
paper I'd give you those addresses I spoke of."

Joe supplied what was needed, and obtained the names of some men and
women--circus performers who had been associated with his mother.  Joe
wrote to them, asking the names of his mother's relatives in England,
and their addresses.

Helen's attention was so taken up with the affairs of her inheritance
that she forgot about the queer actions of Sid and Tonzo until after
the performance that night.

Then, as she and Joe were going to the train to take the sleeping cars
for the next stop, Helen asked:

"Joe, did you ever hear of ripening trapeze ropes?"

"Ripening trapeze ropes?" he repeated.  "No.  What do you mean?"

Helen then told what she had seen and heard in the dressing tent.

Joe shook his head.

"It may be some secret process they have of treating ropes to make them
tougher, so they'll last longer," Joe said.  "They may call it
ripening, but I never heard of it.  I'll ask them."

"Don't tell them I saw them," Helen cautioned him.

"Of course not," Joe answered.  "Perhaps it may be a professional
secret with them, and they won't tell me anyhow.  But I'll ask."

But when Joe, as casually as he could, inquired of Sid and Tonzo what
they knew of ripening trapeze ropes, the two Spaniards shook their
heads, though, unseen by Joe, a quick look passed between them.

"I sometimes oil my ropes, to make them pliable," Tonzo admitted.
"Olive oil I use.  But it does not make them ripe."

"I guess that must have been it," thought Joe.  "Helen was probably
mistaken.  It might have been a word that sounded like ripening."

So he said no more about it then, though when he reported to Helen the
result of his questioning, she shook her head.

"I'm sure I heard aright," she declared.  "And they were pouring
something from a bottle on the trapeze rope from which they had pushed
the silk covering."

"It might have been olive oil," Joe said.

"It might," Helen admitted, '"but I don't believe it was.  They don't
handle any of your ropes, do they?"

"I always look after my own.  Why?"

"Oh, I just wanted to know," and that was all the answer Helen would
give.

As Joe went to his dressing room for that afternoon's performance he
passed Señor Bogardi, the lion tamer.  Something in the man's manner
attracted Joe's attention, and he asked him:

"Aren't you feeling well to-day, Señor?"

"Oh, yes, as well as usual.  It is my Princess who is not well."

"Princess, the big lioness?"

"Yes.  I do not know what to make of her actions.  She is never rough
with me, but a little while ago, when I went in her cage, she growled
and struck at me.  I had to hit her--which I seldom do--and that did
not improve her temper.  I do not know what to make of her.  I have to
put her through her paces in the cage this afternoon, and I do not want
any accident to happen.

"It is not that I am afraid for myself," went on the tamer, and Joe
knew he spoke the truth, for he was absolutely fearless.  "But if she
comes for me and I have to--to do--something, it may start a panic.
No, I do not like it," and he shook his head dubiously.

"Oh, well, maybe it will come out all right," Joe assured him.  "But
you'd better tell Jim, and have some extra men around.  She can't get
out of her cage, can she?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that.  Well, we shall see."

It was almost time for the performance to begin.  The crowd was already
streaming into the animal tent and slowly filtering into the "main
top," where the performance took place.  Before that, however, there
was a sort of "show" in the animal arena, Señor Bogardi's appearance in
the cage with the lioness being one of the features.

Joe had gone to his dressing tent and was coming out again, when he
heard unusual roars from the animal tent.  The lions often let their
thunderous voices boom out, sometimes startling the crowd, but, somehow
or other, this sounded differently to Joe.

"I wonder if that's Princess cutting up," he reflected.  "Guess I'll go
in and have a look.  I hope nothing happens to the señor."

Though lion tamers, as well as other performers with wild beasts, seem
to take matters easily, slipping into the cage with the ferocious
creatures as a matter of course, they take their lives in their hands
whenever they do it.  No one can say when a lion or a tiger may
suddenly turn fierce and spring upon its trainer.  And there is not
much chance of escape.  The claws of a lion or a tiger go deep, even in
one swift blow of its powerful paws.

Joe started for the animal tent, and then remembered that he needed in
his act that day a certain short trapeze, the ends of the ropes being
provided with hooks that caught over the bar of another trapeze.

He hurried back to get it, and then, as the unusual roars kept up in
the arena, he hastened there.  As he had surmised, it was Princess who
was roaring, her fellow captives joining in.  Señor Bogardi had slipped
into the cage, and was waiting until the creature had calmed down a
little.

Cages in which trainers perform with wild beasts are built in two
parts.  In one end is a sort of double door, forming a compartment into
which the trainer can slip for safety.  The señor had opened the outer
door of the cage and slipped in, it being fastened after him.

But he was still separated from Princess by another iron-barred door
that worked on spring hinges.  And Princess did not seem to want this
door opened.  She sprang against it with savage roars and thrust her
paws through, trying to reach her trainer.  He sought to drive her back
into a far corner, so that he would have room to enter.  Once in, he
felt he could subdue her.  But Princess would not get back
sufficiently, though Señor Bogardi ordered her, and even flicked her
through the bars with the heavy whip he carried.

"I guess you'd better cut out the act to-day," advised Jim Tracy, as he
saw how matters were going.  The women and children were beginning to
get nervous, some of them hastening into the other tent.  Men, too,
were looking about as if for a quick means of escape in case anything
happened.

"No, no.  I must make her obey me," insisted the performer.  "If I give
in to her now I will lose power over her.  Get back, Princess!  Get
back!  Down!" he ordered.

But the lioness only snarled and struck at the bars with her paws.
Then she threw herself against the spring door, roaring.  The cage
rocked and shook, and several women screamed.

"Cut out the act!" ordered the ring-master.  "It isn't safe with this
crowd."

"That's right," chimed in a man.  "We know it isn't your fault,
professor."

"Thank you!" Señor Bogardi bowed.  "For the comfort of the audience I
will omit my act to-day.  But I will subdue Princess later."

There was a breath of relief from the crowd as the trainer prepared to
leave the cage.  Men who had fastened the door after him raised the
iron bar that held it so he could emerge.

The lion-tamer slipped from the cage through the outside door, which
was about to be shut when Princess, with all her force, threw herself
against the inner spring door.

Whether it was insecurely fastened or whether she broke the fastenings,
was not disclosed at the moment, but the door gave way and the enraged
beast sprang into the smaller compartment and toward the outer door.

"Quick!" cried the trainer.  "Up with that bar!  Fasten the door, or
she'll be out among us!"

The circus men raised the bar, but the cage was swaying so from the
leapings of the lioness that they could not slip the iron in place.  It
almost dropped from their hands.

Joe Strong saw the danger.  He stood near the cage, the crowd having
rushed back, men and women yelling with fright.  Joe saw the outer door
swing open.  In another instant the lioness would be out.

At that moment the men dropped the iron bar.

"Quick!  Something to fasten the door--to hold it!" cried the
lion-tamer.

Joe acted in a flash and not an instant too soon.  He forced the strong
hickory bar of his small trapeze into the places meant to receive the
iron bar, and as the lioness, with a roar of rage, flung herself
against the door, it did not give way, but held.  Joe had prevented her
escape.



CHAPTER XIII

A BAD BLOW

"Quick now!  With the iron bar!" cried Señor Bogardi.  "That trapeze
stick won't hold long!"

But it held long enough.  As the lioness, flung back into a corner of
her cage by her impact against the steel door, gathered herself for
another spring, the men slipped into place the iron bar, Joe pulling
out his trapeze.

"It's all right now--no more danger!" called Jim Tracy.  "Take it easy,
folks, she can't get out now!"

This was true enough.  The beast, after a fruitless effort to force a
way out of the cage, retreated to a corner and lay down, snarling and
growling.

"I don't know what's gotten into Princess," said the trainer as he
looked at her.  "She never acted this way before."

"It's a good thing she showed her temper before you got in the cage
with her, and not afterward," remarked Joe, as he was about to pass on
to the performance tent.

"That's right," agreed Señor Bogardi.  "And you did the right thing in
the nick of time, my boy.  Only for your trapeze bar she'd have been
out among the crowd," and he looked at the men, women and children, who
were now calming down.

The small panic was soon over, and in order to quiet the lioness a big
canvas was thrown over her cage, so she would not be annoyed by
onlookers.

"I guess she needs a rest," her trainer said.  "I'll let her alone for
a day or so, and she may get over this."

Joe went on into the tent where he was to do his trapeze acts.  It was
nearly time for him to appear, and the other two Lascalla Brothers were
waiting for him.  They would do an act together, and Joe one of his
single feats, however, before the three appeared in a triple act.

The young performer was straightening out the ropes attached to his
trapeze, when he noticed that the bar of the small one, which he had
thrust into the door of the lioness' cage, was cracked.

"Hello!" exclaimed Joe.  "This won't do.  I can't risk doing tricks up
at the top of the tent on a cracked bar.  It might hold, and again it
might not."

He tried the cracked bar in his hands.  It gave a little, but seemed
fairly strong.

"I wonder if I could get another," mused Joe.  "Guess I'd better try."

He walked over to where the Lascalla Brothers stood near their
apparatus.

"What's the matter?" asked Sid, seeing Joe trailing the broken trapeze
after him.

"This bar is cracked.  It's my short trapeze that I fasten to the big
one.  I used it just now to hold the door so the lioness wouldn't get
out, and the wood is cracked.  I was wondering if you had a spare one
like this."

"We have!" exclaimed Tonzo quickly.  "Get the little short one--the one
with the silk coverings on the ropes," he said to Sid.  "Joe can use
that."

"I'll be back with it in a second," Sid stated, as he hurried off to
the dressing tent, for it was nearly time for the performance to begin.
Sid returned presently with another trapeze.

At this moment Helen came in with her horse, Rosebud, for she was about
to do her act.

"What's the matter, Joe?" asked Helen, for she knew that at this point
in the performance he ought to be on the other side of the tent doing
his act.

"Oh, I cracked a trapeze bar," Joe replied, as he stepped up beside the
girl and patted Rosebud.  "Sid is going to get me another.  Here he
comes now with it."

At the sight of the trapeze the circus man was bringing up, Helen was
conscious of a strange feeling.  She saw the silk-covered ropes, and
the recollection of that scene in the tent came vividly to her.

"I guess this will do you, Joe," remarked Sid, holding out the trapeze.
"It's the only one we have like yours."

"Thanks," responded the young performer.  "That will do nicely.  I've
got to hustle now and----"

Joe turned away, but became aware that Helen was leaning down from the
saddle and whispering to him.

"Joe!  Joe!" she exclaimed, making sure the Lascalla Brothers could not
hear her, for they were On the other side of Rosebud.  "Joe, don't use
the trapeze!"

"Why not?"

"Because I'm sure that's the one I saw those two men 'ripening,' as
they call it.  They had pulled back the silk cover, and were pouring
something on the rope.  Look at it before you use it.  Be careful!"

Then she flicked Rosebud with the whip and rode into the ring to do her
act amid a blare of trumpets.  Joe stood there, holding the trapeze.
The two Spaniards were starting their act now, and were high up in the
air.

"Whew!" whistled Joe.  "I wonder what's up.  Can it be that this rope
is doctored?  I won't let them see me looking at it."

He hurried over to his own particular place in the tent.

"Lively, Joe!" called Jim Tracy.  "You're late as it is!"

"I'll be right on the job in a moment," the young performer answered.
"I had to get another trapeze--the lioness cracked mine."

"Oh, all right--but hustle."

Under pretense of fastening the short trapeze to the larger one Joe
pushed back the loose silk covering the ropes.  To his surprise, on one
rope was a dark stain.  Joe rubbed his fingers over the strands.  They
were rotten, and crumbled at the touch.  Joe smelled of the dark stain.

"Acid!" exclaimed Joe.  "Some one spilled acid on this rope.  Talk
about putting on something to ripen it!  This is something to rot it!"

He tested the rope in his hands.  It did not part, but some of the
strands gave, and he did not doubt but that if he trusted his weight to
it it would break and give him a fall.

"Now I wonder if they did that on purpose to queer me," mused Joe.  "If
they did they waited for a most opportune time to give me the doctored
trapeze.  They couldn't have known I was going to break mine.  I wonder
if they did it on purpose.

"Of course I wouldn't have been killed, and probably not even much
hurt, if the rope did break," thought Joe.  "I'd only fall into the
life net, but it sure would spoil my act and make me look like an
amateur.  Maybe that's their game!  If it was----"

Joe paused, and looked over in the direction of the two Spaniards.
They were going through their act, but Joe thought he had a glimpse of
Tonzo looking over toward him.

"They want to see what happens to me," thought Joe.  "Well, they won't
see anything, for I sha'n't use this trapeze.  I'll change my act."

"Hey, what's the matter over there, Joe?" called Jim Tracy to him.
"You ought to be up on the bar."

"I know it, Mr. Tracy.  But I've got to make a change at the last
minute.  I can't use this extra trapeze."

"All right; do anything you like, but do it quick!"

Joe signaled to his helper, who began hoisting him to the top of the
tent by means of rope and pulley.  Once on his own regular trapeze,
which he had tested but a short while before, Joe went through his act.

He had to improvise some acts to take the place of those he did on the
short trapeze.  But he did these extra exploits so well and so easily
that no one in the audience suspected that it was anything but the
regular procedure.

Then Joe, amid applause, descended and went over to work with the two
Spaniards.  He carried the doctored trapeze with him.

"I didn't use this," he said, looking closely at Tonzo.  "It seems to
have been left out in the rain and one of the ropes has rotted."

"Rotted?" asked Sid, his voice trembling.

"Something like that, yes," answered Joe.

"Ah, that is too bad!" exclaimed Tonzo, and neither by a false note nor
by a change in his face did he betray anything.  "I am glad you
discovered the defect in time."

"So am I," said Joe significantly.  "Come on, now.

"Probably they fixed the rope with acid, and kept it ready against the
chance that some day I might use it," reflected Joe.  "The worst that
could happen would be to spoil my tricks--I couldn't get much hurt
falling into the net, and they knew that.  But it was a mean act, all
right, and I sha'n't forget it.  I guess they want to discourage me so
they can get their former partner back.  But I'm going to stick!"

"Did you find out anything, Joe?" asked Helen, when she had a chance to
speak to him alone.

"I sure did, thanks to you, little girl.  I might have had a ridiculous
fall if I'd used their trapeze.  You were right in what you suspected."

"Oh, Joe!  I'm so glad I saw it in time to warn you."

"So am I, Helen.  It was a mean piece of business, and cunning.  I
never suspected them of it."

"Oh, but you will be careful after this, won't you, Joe?"

"Indeed I will!  I want to live long enough to see you get your
fortune.  By the way, when is that lawyer coming?"

"He is to meet me day after to-morrow."

"I'll be on hand," Joe promised.

It rained the next day, and working in a circus during a rain is not
exactly fun.  Still the show goes on, "rain or shine," as it says on
the posters, and the performers do not get the worst of it.  It is the
wagon and canvas men who suffer in a storm.

"And this is a bad one," Joe remarked, when he went in the tent that
afternoon for his act.  "It's getting worse.  I hope they have the tent
up good and strong."

"Why?" asked Helen.

"Because the wind's increasing.  Look at that!" he exclaimed as a gust
careened the big, heavy canvas shelter.  "If some of the tent pegs pull
out there'll be trouble."

Helen looked anxious as she set off to put Rosebud through his tricks,
and Joe was not a little apprehensive as he was hoisted to the top of
the tent.  He saw the big pole to which his trapeze was fastened,
swaying as the wind shook the "main top."



CHAPTER XIV

HELEN'S INHERITANCE

Joe Strong had scarcely begun his act when he became aware that indeed
the storm was no usual blow and bluster, accompanied by rain.  He could
feel his trapeze swaying as the whole tent shook, and while this would
not have deterred him from going on with his performance, he felt that
an accident was likely to occur that would start a panic.

"It surely does feel as if the old 'main top' was going to fall,"
thought Joe as he swung head downward by his knees, preparatory to
doing another act.  He could see that many in the audience were getting
uneasy, and some were leaving their seats, though the red-capped ushers
were going about calling:

"Sit still!  Keep your seats!  There is no danger.  The tent is
perfectly safe."

Jim Tracy had ordered this done.  As a matter of fact the tent was not
perfectly safe, but under the circumstances it was best to tell the
people this to quiet them and to avoid having them make a rush to get
out, as in that case many would be hurt--especially the women and the
children.

"It's a good thing it isn't night," reflected Joe.  "Whew!  That was a
bad one!" he exclaimed as a terrific blast seemed fairly to lift one
side of the tent.  Men started from their seats and women and children
screamed.

"Just keep quiet and it will be all right," urged the ring-master, but
the crowd was fast getting beyond control.

Joe saw Jim Tracy sending out a gang of men to drive the tent pegs
deeper into the ground.  The rain softened the soil, and thus made the
pegs so loose that they were likely to pull out.  At the same time the
rain, wetting the ropes, caused them to shrink, and thus exert a
stronger pull on the pegs and poles.  So the ropes had to be eased off,
while the pegs were pounded farther into the ground with big mauls.

"Lively now, men!" called the ring-master.

The big tent swayed, sometimes the top of it being lifted high up by
the wind which blew under it.  Again the sides would bulge in, making
gaps by which the rain entered.

But the band kept on playing.  Jim saw to that, for nothing is more
conducive to subduing a panic than to let the crowd hear music.  The
performers, too, kept on with their acts, and some of the audience
began to feel reassured.

But the wind still kept up, blowing stronger if anything, and Joe and
others realized that it needed but a little accident to start a rush
that might end fatally for some.

Joe was just about to go into the second series of his gymnastic work
when he heard a tent pole beneath him snap with a breaking sound.  At
first he thought it was the big one to which his apparatus was made
fast, but a glance showed him this one was standing safe.  It was one
of the smaller side poles.

That part of the tent sagged down, the wind aiding in the break, and
there were cries of fear from scores of women, while men shouted all
sorts of directions.

But the circus people had gone through dangers like this before, and
they knew what to do.  Under the direction of Jim Tracy and his
helpers, extra poles were quickly put in place to take the weight of
the wet canvas off the broken one.  This at once raised the tent up
from those on whom it had partly fallen.

And then something else happened.

One of five horses which were being put through a series of tricks by a
man trainer, suddenly bolted out of the ring.  Joe, high up in the
tent, saw him running, and noted that the animal was headed for the
ring where Helen Morton was performing with Rosebud.

"He's going to run into her!" thought Joe.  "I've got to do something!"

He must think and act quickly.  While attendant's were running after
the bolting horse Joe, looking down, saw that the animal would pass
close to his life net.  In an instant Joe had decided what to do.

He poised on the small platform, from which he made his swings, and
dropped straight into the big net.  Just as he had calculated, he
bounced up again, and as he did so he sprang out to one side.

Joe's quick eyes and nerves had enabled him to judge the distance
correctly.  He leaped from the net just as the horse was opposite him,
and landed on his back in a riding position.

It was the work of but a second to reach forward, grasp the little
bridle which the animal wore, and pull him to one side.

And it was not a second too soon, either, for the horse was on the edge
of the ring in which Helen was performing with Rosebud.  If the
maddened animal had gone in, there would have been a collision in which
the girl performer would, undoubtedly, have been injured.

"Good work, Joe!" cried the ring-master.  "But there's plenty more to
be done.  I guess we'll have to get all the men performers to help hold
down the tent.  I'm afraid she's going."

"It does look so," Joe admitted as he leaped from the horse and gave
him in charge of one of the attendants.  "What can we do?"

"Help drive in extra pins and attach more ropes.  I'm going to dismiss
the audience.  We'll stay over here to-morrow, and give an extra
performance to make up for it."

"I'll get a crowd together and we'll help the canvasmen," offered Joe.

"And I'll help," said Benny Turton, who had finished his tank act.

"Come on!" cried Joe, as he led the way.

Meanwhile Jim Tracy had requested the audience to file out as quickly
and in as orderly a manner as possible.  The crowd was not large, as
the weather had been threatening in the morning and many had stayed at
home.  But it was no easy matter to dismiss even a small throng in such
a storm.

However, it was accomplished, the band meanwhile playing its best, and
under hard conditions, as part of the tent over them split and let the
rain in on them.

But the music served a good turn, and while the people were hurrying
out the canvasmen, aided by the performers, Joe among them, drove in
extra pegs, tightening those that had become loose, put on additional
ropes, so that, by hard work, the big tent was prevented from blowing
down.

Once outside, the audience, though most of them were soon drenched,
took it good-naturedly.  They were given emergency tickets as they
passed out, good for another admission.

And then the storm, which seemed to have reached its height, settled
down into a heavy rain.  The wind died out somewhat, and there was no
danger from the collapse of the tent.

"Good work, boys!" said the ring-master, as the performers, all of them
wet through, and in their performing suits too, came in.  "Good work!
If it hadn't been for you I don't know what we would have done.  I'll
not forget it."

There had been some trouble in the animal tent during the storm; the
beasts, especially the elephants, evincing a desire to break loose.
But their trainers quieted them, and soon the circus was almost normal
again.

Of course the afternoon had been lost, but there was hope of a good
attendance at night if the storm were not too bad.  And by remaining
over another afternoon the deficiency could be made up.  Word was
telegraphed ahead to the next town announcing a postponement in the
date.  The broken pole was replaced with another, and then the
performers enjoyed an unexpected vacation.

"I want to thank you, Joe, for what you did," said Helen, coming up to
him in the dining tent, where an early supper was served.  "I saw what
you did--stopping that runaway horse."

"Oh, it wasn't anything," Joe said, modestly enough.

"Wasn't it?" asked Helen, with a smile.  "Well, I consider myself and
Rosebud something worth saving."

"Oh, I didn't mean it that way," Joe said quickly.  "But the runaway
might not have gone near you."

"Yes, I'm afraid he would.  But you saved me."

"Well, if you feel that way about it," laughed Joe, for he did not want
Helen to take the matter too seriously, "why then we're even.  You
saved me from a bad fall on the trapeze."

The storm subsided somewhat by night, and there was a good attendance.
And the receipts the next day were very large in the afternoon, for the
story of what the circus men had done was widely spread, and served as
a good advertisement.  Joe was applauded louder than ever when he did
his acts.

The two wily Lascalla Brothers never referred to the incident of the
rotted trapeze rope, and Joe did not know whether to believe them
guilty or not.  At most, he thought, they only wanted to give him a
tumble that might make him look ridiculous, and so discourage him from
continuing the work.  In that case their deposed partner might get a
chance.  But Joe did not give up, and he kept a sharp lookout.  He
redoubled his vigilance regarding his ropes, bars and rings, inspecting
all of them just before each performance.

On arriving at the next town Helen received a note in her mail asking
her to call at the principal hotel in the place.  It was signed by one
of the members of the law firm.

"You come with me, Joe," she begged.  "I don't want to go alone."

"All right," agreed the young performer.  "We'll go and get your
inheritance."

"If there's any to get," laughed Helen.  "Oh, Joe, I'm so nervous!"

"Nervous!" he answered.  "I wish I could be afflicted with nervousness
like that--money-nervousness, I'd call it!"

They found Mr. Pike, the lawyer, to be an agreeable gentleman.  He had
requested Helen to bring with her the proofs of her identity, the old
Bible and other books, which she did.  These the lawyer examined
carefully, and asked the girl many questions, comparing her answers
with some information in his notebook.  Finally he said:

"Well, there is no doubt but you are the Miss Helen Morton we have been
looking for so long, and I am happy to inform you that you are entitled
to an inheritance from your grandfather's estate."

"Really?" cried Helen, eagerly.

"Really," answered the lawyer, with a smile.  "It isn't a very large
fortune, but it will yield you a neat little income every year.  In
fact there is quite an accumulation due you, and I shall be happy to
send it on as soon as I get back to New York.  I congratulate you!"



CHAPTER XV

A WARNING

Helen could hardly believe the good news.  Though she had hoped, since
hearing from the law firm, that she might be entitled to some money,
Helen had always been careful not to hope too much.

"For I don't want to be badly disappointed," she told Joe.

"Well," he remarked, "I wish my chances were as good as yours."

For the answers he received from the letters he wrote concerning his
mother's relatives in England were disappointing.  As far as these
letters went there was no estate in which Joe might share, though Bill
Watson insisted that the late Mrs. Strong came of a wealthy family.

"Anyhow, you've got yours, Helen," said Joe.

"Well, I haven't exactly got it yet," and she looked at Mr. Pike.

"Oh, the money is perfectly safe," the lawyer assured Helen.  "I have
part of it on deposit in my bank, and the rest is safe in California."

"Just how did it happen to come to me?" Helen inquired.

"Well," answered the lawyer slowly, "it's a long and complicated story.
Your grandfather on your father's side was quite a landholder in San
Francisco.  Some of his property was not worth a great deal, and other
plots were very valuable.  In time he sold off most of it, but one
large tract was considered so worthless that he could not find a buyer
for it.  When he died he still owned it, and it descended to your
father.

"He thought so little of it that he never tried to put it on the
market.  But during the last few years the city has grown out in the
direction of this land, and recently the property was sold.

"An effort was made to find the owner, your father, but as he was dead,
and no one knew what had become of his heirs, the land was sold, and
the money deposited with the state, to be turned over to the right
owner when found.  We have a branch office in San Francisco, and we
were engaged to try to find any Morton heirs.  Finally we found you,
and now I am glad to say that my work in this connection is so happily
ended.

"As I told you, I have some cash ready for you.  The rest of your
inheritance is in the form of bonds and mortgages, which will bring you
in an income of approximately sixty dollars a month."

"That's fifteen a week!" exclaimed Helen, who was used to calculating
that way, as are most circus and theatrical persons.

"Of course you could sell these bonds and mortgages, and get the cash
for them," said the lawyer, "but I would not advise you to.  You will
have about three thousand dollars in cash, as it is, and this ought to
be enough for your immediate needs, especially as I understand you have
a good position."

"Yes, I am earning a good salary," Helen admitted, "but I have not been
able to save much.  I am very glad of my little fortune."

"And I am glad for you, my dear young lady.  Now, as I said, as soon as
I get back to New York I will send one of my clerks on to you with the
cash.  I may be old fashioned, but I don't like to trust too much to
the mails.  Besides, I want to get your signature to certain documents,
and you will have to make certain affidavits to my clerk.  So I will
send him on.  Let me have a note of where you will be during the next
week."

Helen gave the dates when the circus would play certain towns, and Mr.
Pike left.

"Well, it's true, little girl, isn't it?" cried Joe as they walked back
to the circus together.

"Yes, and I'm very glad.  I've always wanted money, but I never thought
I'd have it--at least as much as I'm going to get.  I wish you would
inherit a fortune, Joe."

"Oh, don't worry about me.  I don't expect it, and what one never has
had can't be missed very much.  Maybe I'll get mine--some day."

"I hope so, Joe.  And now I want you to promise me something."'

"What?"

"That if ever you need money you'll come to me."

Joe hesitated a moment before answering.  Then he said:

"All right, Helen, I will."

To Joe the novelty of life in a circus was beginning to wear off.  To
be sure there was something new and different coming up each day, but
he had now gotten his act down to a system, and to him and the other
performers one day was much like another, except for the weather,
perhaps.

They did their acts before crowds every day--different crowds, to be
sure; but, after all, men, women and children are much alike the world
over.  They want to be amused and thrilled, and the circus crowds in
one place are no different from those in another.

The Sampson Brothers' Show was not one of the largest, though it was
considered first class.  Occasionally it played one of the large
cities, but, in the main, it made a circuit of places of smaller
population.

Joe kept on with his trapeze work, now and then adding new feats,
either by himself or with the Lascalla Brothers.  On their part they
seemed glad to adopt Joe's suggestions.  Occasionally they made some
themselves, but they were more in the way of spectacular effects--such
as waving flags while suspended in the air, or fluttering gaily colored
ribbons or strands of artificial flowers.  But Joe liked to work out
new and difficult feats of strength, skill and daring, and he was
generally successful.

He had not relaxed his policy of vigilance, and he never went up on a
bar or on the rings without first testing his apparatus.  For he never
forgot the strangely rotted rope.  That it had been eaten by some acid,
he was sure.

He did not again get sight of that particular small trapeze, nor did he
ask Sid or Tonzo what had become of it.  He did not want to know.

"It's best to let sleeping dogs lie," reasoned Joe.  "But I'll be on
the lookout."

Matters had been going along well, and Joe had been given an increase
of salary.

"Well, if I can't get a fortune from some of my mother's rich and
aristocratic ancestors," Joe thought with a smile, "I can make it
myself by my trapeze work.  And, after all, I guess, that's the best
way to get rich.  Though I'm not sure I'll ever get rich in the circus
business."

But the calm of Joe's life--that is if, one can call it calm to act in
a circus--was rudely shaken one day when in his mail he found a badly
scrawled note.  There was no signature to it, but Joe easily guessed
from whom it came.  The note read:


"You want to look out for yourself.  You may think you're smart, but I
know some smarter than you.  This is a big world, but accidents may
happen.  You want to be careful."


"Some of Sim Dobley's work," mused Joe, as he tore up the note and cast
it aside.  "He's trying to get my nerve.  Well, I won't let that worry
me.  He won't dare do anything.  Queer, though, that he should be
following the circus still.  He sure does want his place back.  I'm
sorry for him, but I can't help it."

Joe did not regard the warning seriously, and he said nothing about it
to Helen or any one else.

"It would only worry Helen," he reflected.

The show was over for the night.  Even while the performers in the big
tent had been going through with their acts, men had taken away the
animal cages and loaded them on the flat railroad cars.  Then the
animal tent was taken down and packed into wagons with the poles and
pegs.

As each performer finished, he or she went to the dressing tent and
packed his trunk for transportation.  From the dressing tent the actors
went to the sleeping car, and straight to bed.

Joe's acts went very well that night.  He was applauded again and again
and he was quite pleased as he ran out of the tent to make ready for
the night journey.  He saw Benny Turton changing into his ordinary
clothes from his wet fish-suit, which had to be packed in a rubber bag
for transportation after the night performance, there being no time to
dry it.

"Well, how goes it, Ben?" asked Joe.

"Oh, not very well," was the spiritless answer.  "I've got lots of
pain."

"Too bad," said Joe in a comforting tone.  "Maybe a good night's sleep
will fix you up."

"I hope so," said the "human fish."

The circus train was rumbling along the rails.  It was the middle of
the night, and they were almost due at the town where next they would
show.

Joe, as well as the others in his sleeping car, was suddenly awakened
by a crash.  The train swayed from side to side and rolled along
unevenly with many a lurch and bump.

"We're off the track!" cried Joe, as he rolled from his berth.  And the
memory of the scrawled warning came vividly to him.



CHAPTER XVI

THE STRIKE

The circus train bumped along for a few hundred feet, the engine
meanwhile madly whistling, the wheels rattling over the wooden
sleepers, and inside the various cars, where the performers had been
suddenly awakened from their sleep, pandemonium reigned.

"What's the matter?" called Benny Turton from his berth near Joe's.

"Off the track--that's all," was the answer, given in a reassuring
voice.  For Joe had, somehow or other, grasped the fact there was no
great danger unless they ran into something, and this, as yet, had not
happened.

The train was off the track (or at least some of the coaches were) but
it was quickly slowing down, and Joe, by a quick glance at his watch,
made a mental calculation of their whereabouts.

For several miles in the vicinity where the accident had occurred was a
long, and comparatively straight stretch of track, with no bridges and
no gullies on either side.  A train running off the track, even if
going at fairly fast speed, would hardly topple over.

Before starting out that night Joe had inquired of one of the men about
the journey, and, learning that they were approaching his former home,
the town of Bedford, he had looked up the route and the time of arrival
at their next stopping place.  He had a quick mind, and he remembered
about where they should be at the time the accident occurred.  In that
way he was able to determine that, unless they struck something, they
were in comparatively little danger.

"Off the track--that's all!" repeated Benny Turton as he looked down
from his berth at Joe.  "Isn't that enough?  Wow!  What's going on now?"

The train had stopped with a jolt.  The air brakes, which the engineer
had flung on at the first intimation of danger, had taken hold of the
wheels with a sudden grip.

"This is the last stop," said Joe, and he smiled up at Benny.  He could
do so now, for he felt that their coach, at least, was safe.  But he
was anxious as to what had happened to the others.  Helen, with many of
the other women performers, was in the coach ahead.

Benny crawled down from his berth, and stood looking at Joe.

"It doesn't seem to worry you much," he remarked.

"Not as long as there's nothing worse than this," Joe answered.
"You're not hurt, are you?"

"Only my feelings."

"Well, you'll get over that.  Let's see what's up."

By this time the aisle of the car was filled with excited men
performers.  They all wanted to know what had happened, their location
and various other bits of information.

"The train jumped the track," said Joe, who appeared the coolest of the
lot.  "We don't seem to have hit anything, though at first I thought we
had.  We're right side up, if not exactly with care."

"Where are we?" demanded Tonzo Lascalla.

"We ought to be near Far Hills, according to the time table," Joe
answered.  "If I could get a look out I could tell."

He went to the end of the car and peered out.  It was a bright
moonlight night, and Joe was able to recognize the locality.  As a boy
he had tramped all around the country within twenty-five miles of
Bedford, in the vicinity of which they now were, and he had no
difficulty in placing himself.  He found that he had guessed correctly.

By this time there was an excited crowd of trainmen and circus
employees outside the coaches which had left the rails.  Joe and some
of the others slipped on their clothes and went out to see what had
happened.

Joe's first glance was toward the coach in which he knew Helen rode.
He was relieved to see that though it had also left the rails it was
standing upright.  In fact, none of the cars had tilted more than was
to be expected from the accident.

"Well, this is a nice pickle!" exclaimed Jim Tracy, bustling up.  "This
means no parade, and maybe no afternoon show.  How long will it take
you to get us back on the rails?" he asked one of the brakemen.

"Hard to say," was the answer.  "We'll have to send for the wrecking
crew.  Lucky it's no worse than a delay."

"Yes, I suppose so," agreed the ring-master.  It was only one train of
the several that made up the circus which had left the rails.  The
animal cars were on ahead, safe, and the sections following the
derailed coaches had, by a fortunate chance, not left the rails.

"What caused us to jump?" asked Benny.

"There was a fish plate jammed in a switch," answered one of the
brakemen.  "We found it beside the track where we knocked it out, and
that saved the other trains from doing as we did."

"A fish plate in the switch?" repeated Joe.  "Did it get there by
accident?"

"Ask me something easier," quoted the brakeman.  "It might have, and
again it might not.  I understand you discharged a lot of men at your
last stop, and it may be some of them tried to get even with you."

It was true that a number of canvasmen had been allowed to go because
they were found useless, but none of the circus men believed that these
individuals would do so desperate a deed as to try to wreck the train.

Joe thought of the threatening letter he had received--Sim Dobley was
the writer, he was sure--but even Sim would hardly try anything like
this.  He might feel vindictive against Joe, and try to do him some
harm or bring about Joe's discharge.

But to wreck a train----

"I don't believe he'd do that," reasoned Joe.  "I won't mention the
letter--it would hardly be fair.  I don't want to get him into trouble,
and I have no evidence against him."

So Joe kept quiet.

The circus trains ahead of the derailed one could keep on to their
destination.  After some delay those in the rear were switched to
another track, and so passed around the stalled cars.

Then the wrecking crew arrived, and just as the first gray streaks of
dawn showed the last of the cars was put back on the track.

"Well, we're off again," remarked Joe, as, with Benny and some of their
friends, they got back in their berths.

"Not much more chance for sleep, though," the "human fish" remarked,
dolefully enough.

"Oh, I think I can manage to get some," said, Joe, as he covered up,
for the morning was a bit chilly.

"I hope my glass tank didn't get cracked in the mix-up," remarked
Benny.  "It wouldn't take much to make that leak, and I've had troubles
enough of late without that."

"Oh, I guess it's perfectly safe," remarked Joe, sleepily.

The excitement caused by the derailing was soon forgotten.  Circus men
are used to strenuous happenings.  They live in the midst of
excitement, and a little, more or less, does not bother them.  Most of
them slept even through the work of getting the train back on the rails.

Of course the circus was late in getting in--that is the derailed train
with its quota of performers was.  Early in the morning, when they
should have been on the siding near the grounds, the train was still
puffing onward.

Joe arose, got a cup of coffee in the buffet car, and went on ahead to
inquire about Helen and some of his friends in the other coach.

"Oh, I didn't mind it much," Helen said, when Joe asked her about it.
"I felt a few bumps, and I thought we had just struck a poor spot in
the roadbed."

"She hasn't any more nerves than you have, Joe Strong," declared Mrs.
Talfo, "the fat lady."

"Did you mind it much?" Joe asked.

"Did I?  Say, young man, it's a good thing I had a lower berth.  I
rolled out, and if I had fallen on anybody--well, there might have been
a worse wreck!  Fortunately no one was under me when I tumbled," and
Mrs. Talfo chuckled.

"And you weren't hurt?" asked Joe.

The fat lady laughed.  Her sides shook "like a bowlful of jelly," as
the nursery rhyme used to state.

"It takes more than a fall to hurt me," said Mrs. Talfo.  "I'm too well
padded.  But we're going to get in very late," she went on with a look
at her watch.  "The performers should be at breakfast at this time, to
be ready for the street parade."

"We may have to omit the parade," said Joe.

"I wouldn't care," declared the fat lady with a sigh.  "It does jolt me
something terrible to ride over cobble streets, and they never will let
me stay out."

"You're quite an attraction," said Joe, with a smile.

"Oh, yes, it's all right to talk about it," sighed Mrs. Talfo, "but I
guess there aren't many of you who would want to tip the scales at five
hundred and eighty pounds--advertised weight, of course," she added,
with a smile.  "It's no joke--especially in hot weather."

The performers made merry over the accident now, and speculated as to
what might happen to the show.  Their train carried a goodly number of
the "artists," as they were called on the bills, and without them a
successful and complete show could not be given.

"We may even have to omit the afternoon session," Joe stated.

"Who said so?" Helen demanded.

"Mr. Tracy."

"Well, it's better to lose that than to have the whole show wrecked,"
said the snake charmer.  "I remember being in a circus wreck once, and
I never want to see another."

"Did any of the animals get loose?" asked Joe.

"I should say they did!  We lost a lion and a tiger, and for weeks
afterward we had to keep men out hunting for the creatures, which the
excited farmers said were taking calves and lambs.  No indeed!  I don't
want any more circus wrecks.  This one was near enough."

This brought up a fund of recollected circus stories, and from then on,
until the train stopped on the siding near the grounds, the performers
took turns in telling what they had known of wrecks and other accidents
to the shows with which they had been connected.  Joe listened eagerly.
It was all new to him.

"I only hope my glass tank isn't cracked," said Benny again.  He seemed
quite worried about this.

"Well, if it's broken they'll have to get you another," Joe told him.
The tank was carried in one of the cars of the derailed train.

"They might, and they might not," said Benny.  "My act hasn't been
going any too well of late, and maybe they'd be glad of a chance to
drop it from the list.  I only hope they don't, though, for I need the
money."

Benny spoke wistfully.  He seemed greatly changed from the boy Joe had
known at first.  Benny had grown thinner, and he often put his hand to
his head, as though suffering constant pain.  Joe and Helen felt sorry
for him.

Still there was little they could do, except to cheer him up.  Benny
had to do his own act--which was a unique one that he had evolved after
years of practice.  It was not alone the staying under water that made
it popular, it was the tricks that the lad did.

"Well, we're here at last," said Joe, as he and his friends alighted
from their sleeping car.  "Better late than never, I suppose."

Men were busy on the circus grounds, putting up tents, arranging the
horses and other animals, putting the wagons in their proper places and
doing the hundred and one things that need to be done.

"I wonder what's going on over there," said Helen, as she pointed to a
group of men about the place where the canvas for the main tent had
been spread out in readiness for erection.  "It looks like trouble."

"It does," agreed Joe, as he saw Jim Tracy excitedly talking to the
canvasmen.  "I'm going to see what it is."

He approached the ring-master, who was also one of the owners of the
show.

"Anything wrong?" Joe asked.

"Wrong?  I should say so!  As if I didn't already have troubles enough
here, the tent-men go on a strike for more money.  I never saw such
luck!"



CHAPTER XVII

IN BEDFORD

Joe Strong looked from the group of sullen, lowering canvasmen to Jim
Tracy.  On the ring-master's face were signs of anxiety.

"Is it really a strike?" Joe asked.

"That's what they call it," replied the circus owner.  "I didn't know
they belonged to a union, and I don't believe they do.  They just want
to make trouble, and they take advantage of me at a time when I'm tied
up because we're late with the show."

"What is it they want?" asked Helen.

"More money," Jim Tracy replied.  "I wouldn't mind giving it to them if
I could afford it, or if they weren't getting the same wages that are
paid other canvasmen in other circuses.  But they are.  As a matter of
fact, they get more, and they have better grub.  I can't understand
such tactics!"

"It looks as if some of them were coming over to speak to you,"
remarked Joe, as he observed one of the strikers detach himself from
the group, and approach the ring-master.

"Let him come," snapped Jim.  "He'll get no satisfaction from me."

The man seemed a bit embarrassed as he approached, chewing a straw
nervously.  He ignored several of the circus performers, Joe and Helen
among them, who were grouped about Jim Tracy, and, addressing the
owner, asked:

"Well, have you made up your mind?  Is it to be more money for us or no
show for you?"

"It's going to be 'no' to your unreasonable demand, and I want to tell
you, here and now, that the show's going on.  You can go back to your
cowardly crowd, that tries to hit a man when he's down, and tell 'em
Jim Tracy said that!" cried the ring-master with vigor.  "You'll get no
more money from me.  I'm paying you wages enough as it is!"

"All right, no money--no show!" said the fellow, impudently.  "We gave
you half an hour to make up your mind, and if that's your answer you
can take the consequences."

He started to walk away, and Tracy called after him:

"If you try to interfere or make trouble, and if you try to stop the
show, I'll have you all arrested if I have to send for special
detectives."

"Oh, we won't make any trouble except what you make for yourself,"
declared the striker.  "We just won't do anything--that'll be the
trouble.  There's your 'main top,' and there she'll stay.  We won't
pull a rope or drive a peg!"

He pointed to the pile of canvas with its mass of ropes, poles and pegs
that lay on the ground ready for erection.  It should have been up by
this time, and the parade ought to have been under way.  But with the
railroad accident, the delay and the strike, the big tent in which Joe,
Helen and the others were to perform was not yet raised.

"The cowards!" exclaimed Jim in a low voice; looking at Joe.  "I wonder
if I'd better give in to 'em?"

"Can you get others to take their places?" the young trapeze acrobat
wanted to know.

"Not here.  I could if I were nearer New York.  But as it is----"  He
threw up his hands with a gesture of despair.  "I guess I'll have to
give in," he said.  "I can't afford not to give a show.  Here, you----"

He called to the departing striker.

"Wait a minute!" Joe quickly exclaimed to the ring-master.  "I think we
can find a way out of this."

"How?"

"Have you any men who know something about putting up the tent?"

"I know all there is to be known about it myself.  But it takes more
than one man to raise the 'main top.'  There are a lot of the animal
men and wagon drivers who used to be canvas hands.  They haven't
struck.  But there aren't enough of them.  It's no use."

"Yes, it is!" cried Joe.  "We men performers will turn canvasmen for
the time being.  Give us some hands who know how to lay out the canvas,
how to lace up the different sections, which ropes to pull on; men to
show us how to drive stakes and to haul up the poles--do that and we'll
have the tent up in time for the show!"

"Can you do it?" cried the ring-master, in an eager tone.

"Sure we can!" exclaimed Joe.  "There are enough of us, and we're
willing to turn in.  You get the men who know how, and we'll be their
assistants."

"It might work," said Tracy, reflectively.  "I'm much obliged to you,
Joe.  It's worth trying.  But do you think the performers will do it?"

"I'll talk to 'em," said the trapeze artist.  "They'll be glad to raise
the tent, rather than see a performance given up.  Go get your men and
I'll talk to the others."

"All right--I will."

"Did you call me?" asked the striker who had been appointed to wait on
the ring-master and learn his decision.

"I did _not_!" cried Jim Tracy.  "I'm through with you.  We don't need
your services."

"Ha!" laughed the man.  "Let's see you get up the 'main top' without
us."

"Stick around long enough and you'll see it," said Joe Strong.

Joe found a group of the men performers gathered in the dressing tent,
discussing the situation.  And while the ring-master hastened to gather
up such forces as he could muster, Joe made his little talk.

"You're just the very one we want," he said to Tom Jefferson, "the
strong man."  "You ought to be able to put up the tent alone.  Come on
now, gentlemen, we must all work together," and rapidly he explained
the situation to some who did not understand it.

"Will you help raise the tent?" Joe asked.

"We will!" cried the performers in a chorus.

Soon there was a busy scene in the circus "lots." Not that there is not
always a busy time when the show is being made ready, but this was
somewhat different.  Led by Joe, the performers placed themselves under
the direction of some veteran canvasmen who had been working in other
departments of the circus.

Jim Tracy, who had in his day been a helper, took the part of the
striking foreman of the canvas-workers, and the "main top" soon began
to look as it always did.  The big center poles were put in place and
guyed up.  The sections of canvas were laced together in the regular
manner, so that they could be taken apart quickly simply by pulling on
a rope.  Knots tied in erecting a circus tent must be made so they are
easily loosed, even in wet weather.

For a while the striking canvasmen stood and laughed at the efforts of
those who were taking their places.  But they soon ceased to jeer.  For
the tent was slowly but correctly going up.

"We'll give the show after all!" cried Joe, as he labored at lifting
heavy sections of canvas, pulling on ropes or driving stakes.

"I believe we will," agreed the ring-master.  "I don't know how to
thank you, Joe."

"Oh, pshaw!  I didn't do anything!  I'm only helping the same as the
rest."

"Yes, but it was your idea, and you persuaded the men to pitch in."

And, in a sense, this was true.  For Joe was a general favorite with
the circus performers, though he had been with them only a
comparatively short time.  But he had his mother's reputation back of
him, as well as his father's, and Bill Watson had spoken many a good
word for the young fellow.  Circus folk are always loyal to their own
kind, and there were many, as Joe learned later, who knew his mother by
reputation, and some personally.  So they were all glad to help when
Joe put the case to them vividly, as he did.

Joe's popularity stood him in good stead, even though there were some
who were jealous of the reputation he was making.  But jealousies were
cast aside on this occasion.

Even the Lascalla Brothers did their share, working side by side with
Joe at putting up the tent, as they worked with him on the trapeze.
The strong man was a great help, doing twice the work that the others
did.

The performers wore their ordinary clothes, laying aside coats and
vests as they labored.  And the men who knew how circus tents must go
up, saw to it that the amateurs did their work well, so there would be
no danger of collapse.

While the big tent was being put up the other preparations for the show
were proceeded with.  Mr. Boyd and Mr. Sampson, who were part owners
with Jim Tracy, arranged for a small parade, since it had been
advertised.  On the back of one of the elephants rode the fat lady,
with a banner which explained that because of a strike of the canvasmen
the usual street exhibition could not be given.  The assurance was
made, though, that the show itself would be the same as advertised.

"That will prevent the public from being too sympathetic with the
strikers," said Jim Tracy.  "The public, as a rule, doesn't care much
for a strike that interferes with its pleasure."

At last the big tent was up, and all was in readiness for the afternoon
performance, though it would be a little late.

"It won't be much fun taking down the tent after the show to-night,"
said Joe.

"Perhaps you won't have to," stated the ring-master.  "I may be able to
hire men to take the strikers' places before then."

"But if you can't, we'll help out," declared the young trapeze
performer, though he knew it would be anything but pleasant for himself
and the others, after high-tension work before a big audience, to
handle heavy canvas and ropes in the dark.

The public seemed to take good-naturedly to the circus, not being
over-critical of the lack of the usual big street parade.  And men,
women and children came in throngs to the afternoon performance.

The circus people fairly outdid themselves to give a good show, and Joe
worked up a little novelty in one of his "lone" acts.

He gave an exhibition of rope-climbing, Jim Tracy introducing the act
with a few remarks about the value of every one's knowing how to ascend
or descend a rope when, thereby, one's life might some time be saved.

"Professor Strong will now entertain you," announced the ring-master,
"and tell you something about rope-work."

Joe had hardly bargained for this, but his work as a magician, when he
often had the stage to himself and had to address a crowded theatre,
stood him in good stead.  He was very self-confident, and he
illustrated the way a beginner should learn to climb a rope.

"Don't try to go up hand over hand at first," Joe said.  "And don't
climb away up to the top unless you're sure you know how to come down.
You may get so exhausted that you'll slip, and burn your hands
severely, for the friction of rapidly sliding down a rope will cause
bad burns."

Joe showed how to begin by holding the rope between the soles of the
feet, letting them take the weight instead of the hands and arms.  He
went up and down this way, and then went up by lifting himself by his
hands alone, coming down the same way--which is much harder than it
looks.

Joe also illustrated the "stirrup hold," which may be used in ascending
or descending a rope, to get a rest.  The rope is held between the
thighs, the hands grasping it lightly, and while a turn of the rope
passes under the sole of the left foot and over the toes of the same,
the right foot is placed on top, pressing down the rope which passes
over the left foot.  In this way the rope is held from slipping, and
the entire weight of the body can rest on the side of the left leg,
which is in a sort of rope loop.  Thus the arms are relieved.

Joe showed other holds, and also how to sit on a rope that dangled from
the top of the tent.  Half way up he held the rope between his thighs,
and made a loop, which he threw over his left shoulder.  Then, by
pressing his chin down on the rope, it was held between chin and
shoulder so that it could not slip.  Grasping the rope with both hands
above his head, Joe was thus suspended in a sitting position, almost as
easily as in a chair.  The crowd applauded this.

Then Joe went on with his regular trapeze work--doing some back flyaway
jumps that thrilled the audience.  This trick is done by grasping the
trapeze bar firmly at arm's length, swinging backward and downward
until the required momentum is reached.  When Joe was ready he suddenly
let go and turned a backward somersault to the life net.

The trick looked simple, but Joe had practised it many times before
getting it perfectly.  And he often had bad falls.  One tendency he
found was to turn over too far before letting go the bar.  This was
likely to cause his feet to strike the swinging bar, resulting in an
ugly tumble.

The evening performance was even better attended than that of the
afternoon.  Jim Tracy succeeded in hiring a few men to assist with the
tents, but he had not enough, and it began to look as though the
performers would have to do double work again.

But there occurred one of those incidents with which circus life is
replete.  The place they were showing in was a large factory town, and
at night crowds of men and boys--not the gentlest in the
community--attended.

At something or other, a crowd of roughs felt themselves aggrieved, and
under the guidance of a "gang-leader" began to make trouble.  They
threatened to cut the tent ropes in retaliation.

"That won't do," decided Jim Tracy.  "I've got to tackle that gang, and
I don't like to, for it means a fight.  Still I can't have the tent
collapse."

He hurriedly gathered a crowd of his own men, armed them with stakes,
and charged the gang of roughs that was creating a small riot, to the
terror of women and children.

The rowdies finding themselves getting the worst of it, called for help
from among the factory workers, who liked nothing better than to
"beat-up" a circus crowd.  Jim Tracy and his men were being severely
handled when a new force took a hand in the mêlée.

"Come on, boys.  We can't stand for this!" shouted Jake Bantry, the
leader of the striking canvasmen.  "They sha'n't bust up the show, even
if the boss won't give us more money."

The canvasmen were used to trouble of this kind.  Seizing tent pegs,
and with cries of "Hey Rube!"--the time-honored signal for a battle of
this kind--the striking canvasmen rushed into the fracas.

In a short time the roughs had been dispersed, and there was no more
danger of the tents  being cut and made to collapse.

"I'm much obliged to you boys," said Jim Tracy to the strikers, when
the affray was over.  "You helped us out finely."

"It was fun for us," answered Jake Bantry.  "And say, Mr. Tracy, we've
been talking it over among ourselves, and seeing as how you've always
treated us white, we've decided, if you'll take us back, that we'll
come--and at the same wages."

"Of course I'll take you back!" exclaimed the owner heartily.  "And
glad to have you."

"Good!  Come on, boys!  Strike's broken!" cried Bantry.

So Joe and his fellow-artists did not have to turn to tent work that
night.

In looking over the advance booking list one day, Joe saw Bedford
marked down.

"Hello!" he cried.  "I wonder if that's my town."  It was, as he
learned by consulting the press agent.

"Are you glad?" asked Helen.

"Well, rather, I guess!" Joe said.

And one morning Joe awakened in his berth, and looked out to see the
familiar scenes of the town where he had lived so long.

"Bedford!" exclaimed Joe.  "Well, I'm coming back in a very different
way from the one I left it," and he chuckled as he thought of the
"side-door Pullman," and the pursuing constables.



CHAPTER XVIII

HELEN'S MONEY

After breakfast Joe, who did not take part in the parade, set out to
see the sights of his "home town," or, rather, he hoped to meet some of
his former friends, for there were not many sights to see.

"The place hasn't changed much," Joe reflected as he passed along the
familiar streets.  "It seems only like yesterday that I went away.
Well, Timothy Donnelly has painted his house at last, I see, and they
have a new front on the drug store.  Otherwise things are about the
same.  I wonder if I'd better go to call on the deacon.  I guess I
will--I don't have any hard feelings toward him.  Yes, I'll go to see
him and----"

Joe's thoughts were interrupted by a voice that exclaimed:

"Say!  Look!  There goes Joe Strong who used to live here!"

The young circus performer turned and saw Willie Norman, a small boy
who lived on the street where Joe formerly dwelt.

"Hello, Willie," called Joe in greeting.

"Hello," was the answer.  "Say, is it true you're with the circus?
Harry Martin said you were."

"That's right--I am," Joe admitted.  He had kept up a fitful
correspondence with Harry and some of the other chums, and in one of
his letters Joe had spoken of his change of work.

"In a circus!" exclaimed Willie admiringly.  "Do they let you feed the
elephant?" he asked with awe.

"No, I haven't gotten quite that far," laughed Joe.  "I'm only a
trapeze performer."

"Say, I'd like to see you act," Willie went on, "but I ain't got a
quarter."

"Here's a free ticket," Joe said, giving his little admirer one.  In
anticipation of meeting some of his friends in Bedford that day, Joe
had gotten a number of free admission tickets from the press agent, who
was always well supplied with them.  Willie's eyes glistened as he took
the slip of pasteboard.

"Geewillikens!" he exclaimed.  "Say, you're all right, Joe!  I'm going
to the circus!  I wish I could run away and join one."

"Don't you dare try it!" Joe warned him.  "You're too small."

He went on, meeting many former acquaintances, who turned to stare at
the boy whose story had created such a stir in the town.  Joe was
looked upon by some as a hero, and by others as a "lost sheep."  It is
needless to say that Deacon Blackford was one who held the latter
opinion.

Joe called on his former foster-father, but did not find him at the
house.  Mrs. Blackford was in, however, and was greatly surprised to
see Joe.  She welcomed and kissed him, and there were traces of tears
in her eyes.

"Oh, Joe!" she exclaimed.  "I am so sorry you left us, but perhaps it
was all for the best, for you must live your own life, I suppose.  I
never really believed you took the money," she added, referring to an
incident which was related in the book previous to this.

"I'm glad to hear that," Joe said.  "I want to thank you for all your
care of me.  I didn't like to run away, but it seemed the only thing to
do.  And, as you say, I think it has turned out for the best.  The
circus life appeals to me, and I'm getting on in the business."

Mrs. Blackford was really glad to see Joe.  She had a real liking for
him, in spite of the fact that she had a poor opinion of circus folk
and magicians, and she did not believe all the deacon believed of Joe.
She could not forget the days when, while he was a little lad, she had
often sung him to sleep.  But these days were over now.

Joe found the deacon at the feed store.  The lad's former foster-father
was not very cordial in his greeting, and, in fact, seemed rather
embarrassed than otherwise.  Perhaps he regretted his accusation
against our hero.

"Would you like to see the circus?" Joe inquired, as he was leaving the
office.  "I have some free tickets and----"

"What!  Me go to a circus?" cried the deacon, with upraised hands.
"Never!  Never!  Circuses and theatres are the invention of the Evil
One.  I am surprised at your asking me!"

Joe did it for a joke, more than for anything else, as he knew the
deacon would not take a ticket.  Bidding him good-bye, Joe went out to
find his former chums.

They, as may well be supposed, were very glad to see him.  And that
they envied Joe's position goes without saying.

"Well, well!  You certainly put one over on us!" exclaimed Charlie Ford
admiringly.  "How did you do it, Joe?"

"Oh, it just happened, I guess.  More luck than anything else."

"When you got Professor Rosello out of the fire you did a good thing,"
commented Tom Simpson.

"Yes, I guess I did--in more ways than one," admitted Joe.

"And are you really doing trapeze acts?" inquired Henry Blake.

"Come and watch me," was Joe's invitation.  "Here is a reserved seat
ticket for each of you."

"Whew!" whistled Harry Martin.  "Talk about the return of the prodigal!
You'll make the folks here open their eyes, Joe.  It isn't everybody
who runs away from home who comes back as you do."

Joe told his chums some of his experiences, and they went with him out
to the circus grounds, where he took them about, as only a privileged
character can, showing them how the show was "put together."

"It sure is _great_!" exclaimed Charlie, ruffling up his red hair.

Joe fairly outdid himself in the performances that day.  He went
through his best feats, alone and with the Lascalla Brothers, with a
snap and a swing that made the veteran performers look well to their
own laurels.  Joe did some wonderful leaping and turning of somersaults
in the air, one difficult backward triple turn evoking a thundering
round of applause.

And none applauded any more fervently than little Willie Norman.

"I know him!" the little lad confided to a group about him.  "That's
Joe Strong.  He gave me a ticket to the show for nothing, mind you!  I
know him all right!"

"Oh, you do not!" chaffed another boy.

"I do so, and I'm going to speak to him after the show!"

This Willie proudly did, thereby refuting the skepticism of his
neighbor.  For the word soon passed among the town-folk that Joe
Strong, who used to live with Deacon Blackford, was with the circus,
and after the show he held an informal little reception in the dressing
tent which a number of men and boys, and not a few women, attended.

All were curious to see behind the scenes, and Joe showed them some
interesting sights.  He invited his four chums to have supper with him,
and the delight of Harry, Charlie, Henry and Tom may be imagined as
they sat in the tent with the other circus folk, listening to the
strange jargon of talk, and seeing just how the performers behaved in
private.

Altogether Joe's appearance in Bedford made quite a sensation, and he
was glad of the chance it afforded him to see his former friends and
acquaintances, and also to let them see for themselves that circus
people and actors are not all as black as they are painted.  Joe was
glad he could do this for the sake of his father and mother, as he
realized that the wrong views held by Deacon and Mrs. Blackford were
shared by many.

Joe bade good-bye to his chums and traveled on with the show, leaving,
probably, many rather envious hearts behind.  For there is a glamour
about a circus and the theatre that blinds the youthful to the hard
knocks and trouble that invariably accompany those who perform in
public.

Even with Joe's superb health there were times when he would have been
glad of a day's rest.  But he had it only on Sundays, and whether he
felt like it or not he had to perform twice a day.  Of course usually
he liked it, for he was enthusiastic about his work.  But all is not
joy and happiness in a circus.  As a matter of fact Joe worked harder
than most boys, and though it seemed all pleasure, there was much of it
that was real labor.  New tricks are not learned in an hour, and many a
long day Joe and his partners spent in perfecting what afterward looked
to be a simple turn.

But, all in all, Joe liked it immensely and he would not have changed
for the world--at least just then.

The circus reached the town of Portland, where they expected to do a
good business as it was a large manufacturing place.  Here Helen found
awaiting her a letter from the law firm.

"Oh, Joe!" the girl exclaimed.  "I'm going to get my money here--at
least that part of my fortune which isn't tied up in bonds and
mortgages.  We must celebrate!  I think I'll give a little dinner at
the hotel for you, Bill Watson and some of my friends."

"All right, Helen.  Count me in."

The letter stated that a representative of the firm would call upon
Helen that day in Portland, and turn over to her the cash due from her
grandfather's estate.

That afternoon Helen sent word to Joe that she wanted to see him, and
in her dressing room he found a young man, toward whom Joe at once felt
an instinctive dislike.  The man had shifty eyes, and Joe always
distrusted men who could not look him straight in the face.

"This is Mr. Sanford, from the law firm, Joe," said Helen.  "He has
brought me my money."

"Is he your lawyer?" asked Mr. Sanford, looking toward Joe.

"No, just a friend," Helen answered.

"Is he going to look after your money for you?"

"I think Miss Morton is capable of looking after it herself," Joe put
in, a bit sharply.

"Oh, of course.  I didn't mean anything.  Now if you'll give me your
attention, Miss Morton, I'll go over the details with you."

"You needn't wait, Joe, unless you want to," Helen said.  "I'd like to
have you arrange about the little supper at the hotel, if you will,
though."

"Sure I will!" Joe exclaimed.

The circus was to remain over night, and this would give Helen a chance
for her feast, which she thought had better take place at the Portland
hotel, as it would be more private than the circus tent.  Joe went off
to arrange for it, leaving Helen with the lawyer's clerk.



CHAPTER XIX

JOE IS SUSPICIOUS

Joe's day was already a full one, though he did not tell Helen so.  He
gladly undertook to arrange the little supper for her at the hotel, and
it was only a coincidence that it happened on the night of a day when
he had decided to work in a new trick on his trapeze, when he performed
alone.  It was not exactly a new trick, in the sense that it had never
been done before.  In fact there is very little new in trapeze work
nowadays, but Joe had decided to give a little different turn to an old
act.  It required some preparation, and he needed to do this during the
day.  He was going to "put on" the trick at night, and not at the
matinee.

But for the time being he gave up his hours to arranging for Helen the
supper which would take place after the night performance.

Joe saw the hotel proprietor and arranged for a private room with a
supper to be served for twenty-five.  Helen had many more friends than
that among the circus folk, but she had to limit her hospitality,
though she would have liked to have them all at her little celebration.
She chose, however, after Joe and Bill Watson and Benny Turton, the
women performers who were more intimately associated with her in her
acts, and some of the men whose acquaintance she had made since joining
the Sampson show.

Joe hurried to the hotel, did what was necessary there, and then went
back to the tent.  He intended, when the afternoon show was over, to do
some practice on his new act.

As he passed into the big tent, which was now deserted, he met Jim
Tracy, who, of course, was invited to Helen's supper.

"What's all this I hear about our little lady?" asked the ring-master.

"Well, I guess it's all true," Joe answered.  "She has come into a
little money."

"Glad to hear it!  I'll be with you to-night.  Oh, by the way, Joe, I
had a letter from the railroad people about our wreck, or, rather,
derailment."

"Did you?  What did they say?"

"They couldn't find any evidence that the fish plate was put in the
switch purposely.  It might have dropped there.  Of course some tramp
might have put it there to get revenge for being put off a train, but
it would be hard to prove.  And as for getting evidence against Sim
Dobley--why, it's out of the question.  But you want to keep on looking
out for yourself."

"I will," Joe promised.

After thinking the matter over Joe had decided it would be best to
speak to the ring-master about the threatening letter, which had been
received so close to the time when the derailment occurred.  Jim Tracy
had at once agreed with Joe that the discharged acrobat might possibly
have been mad and rash enough to try to wreck the train, and the
railroad detectives had been communicated with.  But nothing had come
of the investigation, and the accident had been set down as one of the
many unexplained happenings that occur on railroads.

A search had been made for Dobley, but he seemed to have disappeared
for the time being, and Joe was glad of it.

"Ready for the new stunt?" asked Tracy, as he passed on.

"Yes; I'll pull it off to-night if nothing happens," Joe said.

He was glad there were few people in the big tent when he entered it
after the afternoon performance, to put in some hard practice.  Joe's
own trapeze was in place, but he lowered it to the ground, and went
carefully over every inch of the ropes, canvas straps, snaps, and the
various fastenings to make sure nothing was wrong.  He found everything
all right.

It was not exactly that he was suspicious of the Lascalla Brothers, but
he was taking no chances.

Joe's act worked well in practice.  When he had performed his trick for
the last time he saw Benny Turton, the "human fish," coming into the
tent to look after his tank, about which the young performer was very
particular.

"How do you like that, Ben?" asked Joe, as he finished the new trick.

"First rate.  That's a thriller all right, Joe!  That'll make 'em sit
up and take notice.  I'll have to work in something new myself if you
keep on piling up the stuff."

"Oh, I guess you could do that, Ben."

The "human fish" shook his head.

"No," he said slowly, "I don't know what's the matter with me lately,
Joe, but I don't seem to have ambition for anything.  I go through my
regular stunts, but that's all I want to do.  I don't even stay under
water as long as I used to, and Jim Tracy was kicking again to-day.  He
said I'd have to do better, but I don't see how I can.  Of course he
was nice about it, as he always is, but I know he's disappointed in me."

"Oh, I guess not, Ben.  Maybe you'll do better to-night."

"I hope so.  Anyhow you'll have a thriller for them."

"You're coming to Helen's party, aren't you?"

"Oh, sure, Joe.  I wouldn't miss that.  I'm glad she's got some money,"
and Ben spoke rather despondently.

Joe made arrangements with his helper to look after the special
appliances needed for the new trick, and went to supper.  He did not
see Helen, and guessed that she was still busy with the law clerk.

"I hope she doesn't trust too much to that chap," mused Joe.  "I don't
just like his looks."

The big tent was crowded when Joe began his performance that night.  He
received his usual applause, and then gave the signal that he was about
to put on his new act.  He was hoisted up to the top trapeze, which was
a short one, and to this Joe had fastened a longer one.

He sat upon the bar of this, swinging to and fro, working himself into
position until he was resting on the "hocks," as performers call that
portion of the leg just above the knee.

Suddenly Joe seemed to fall over backward, and there was a cry of alarm
from the crowd.  But he remained in position, swinging by his insteps.

In the trapeze world this is known as "drop back to instep hang."  Joe
had done it most effectively, but that was not all of the trick.

Quickly he grasped the ropes of the lower trapeze.  He twined his legs
about these, and then, with a thrilling yell, he let himself slide,
head down along the ropes, holding only by his intertwined legs and
insteps, which he had padded with asbestos to take up the heat of
friction.

Down the long ropes he slid until he came to a sudden stop as his
outstretched hands grasped the lower bar.  There he hung suspended a
moment, while the audience sat thrilled, thinking it had been an
accidental fall and a most miraculous escape.  But Joe had planned it
all out in advance, and knew it was safe, especially as the life net
was under him.

He suspended himself on the bar a moment, and then made a back
somersault, and amid the booming of the drum he dropped into the net
and made his bows in response to the applause.

The new feat was appreciated at once, but it was some time before the
crowd realized that the fall backward was not accidental.

Joe was congratulated by his fellow performers, though, as might be
expected, there was some little jealousy.  But Joe was used to that by
this time.

It was a merry little party that gathered later in the hotel room for
Helen's supper.  She sat at the head of the table, with Joe on one side
and Bill Watson, the veteran clown, on the other.

"Well, did you make out all right with your lawyer friend?" Joe asked.

"Oh, yes, Joe, I never had so much money at one time in my life before."

"What did you do with it?"

"I kept out enough to pay for this supper, and the rest I put in the
circus ticket wagon safe."

"What, all your cash?"

"Oh, I didn't take it all, Joe."

"You didn't take it all?"

"No.  Mr. Sanford--he's the law clerk, you know--said I ought not to
have so much money with me, so he offered to take care for me all I
didn't want to use right away."

"He's going to take care of it for you?" Joe repeated.

"Yes.  He says he can invest it for me.  But eat your supper, Joe."

Somehow or other Joe Strong did not feel much like eating.  He had a
sudden and undefinable suspicion of that law clerk.



CHAPTER XX

A FALL

There were merry hearts at the little celebration given by Helen
Morton--"Mademoiselle Mortonti"--in recognition of coming into her
inheritance.  That is, the hearts were all merry save that of Joe
Strong.

For a few seconds after Helen had made the statement about having left
her money with the law clerk for investment, Joe could only stare at
her.  On her part the young circus rider seemed to think there was
nothing unusual in what she had done.

"Congratulations, Miss Morton!" called Bill Watson, as he waved his
napkin in the air.  "Congratulations!"

"Why don't you call me Helen as you used to?" asked the girl.

"Oh, you're quite a rich young lady now, and I didn't think you would
want me to be so familiar," he replied with a laugh.

"Goodness!  I hope every one isn't going to get so formal all at once,"
she remarked, with a look at Joe.

"I won't--not unless you want me to," he answered.

"But why don't you eat?" she asked him.  "You sit there as if you had
no appetite.  I'm as hungry as a bear--one of our own circus bears,
too.  Come, why don't you eat and be happy?"

"I--I'm thinking," Joe remarked.

"This isn't the time to think!" she exclaimed.  "Oh, I'm so glad I have
a little money.  I won't have to worry now if I shouldn't be able to go
on with my circus act.  I could take a vacation if I wanted to,
couldn't I?"

"Are you going to?" asked Joe.  Somehow he felt a sudden sinking
sensation in the region of his heart.  At least he judged it was his
heart that was affected.

"No, not right away," Helen answered.  "I'm going to stay with the show
until it goes into winter quarters, anyhow."

"And after that?"

"Oh, I don't know."

The little celebration went merrily on.  Helen's health was proposed
many times, being pledged in lemonade, grape juice and ginger ale.  She
blushed with pleasure as she sat between Joe and the veteran clown, for
many nice things were said about her, as one after another of her
guests congratulated her on her good fortune.

"Speech!  Speech!" some one called out.

"What do they mean?" asked Helen of Bill Watson.

"They want you to say something," the clown said.

"Oh, I never could--never in the world!" and Helen blushed more vividly
than before.

"Try it," urged Joe.  "Just thank them.  You can do that."

Much confused, Helen arose at her place.

"I'd rather ride in a circus ring ten times over than make a speech,"
she confessed in an aside to Joe.

"Go on," he urged.

"My dear friends," she began tremblingly, "I want to thank you for all
the nice things you have said about me, and I want to say that I'm
glad--glad----"  She paused and blushed again.

"Glad to be here," prompted Joe.

"Yes, that's it--glad to be here, and I--er--I----  Oh, you finish for
me, Joe!" she begged, as she sat down amid laughter.

Then the supper went on, more merrily than before.  But it had to come
to an end at last, for the show people needed their rest if they were
to perform well the next day.  And most of them, especially those like
Joe and the acrobats, who depended on their nerve as well as their
strength, needed unbroken slumber.

As Joe walked back to the railroad, where their sleeping cars were
standing on a siding, the young trapeze performer asked Helen about her
business transaction with the law clerk.  He had not had a chance to do
this at the supper.

"Well," began the girl, "as you know, he brought me the cash, Joe.  Oh,
how nice those new bills did look.  He had it all in new bills for me.
Mr. Pike told him to do that, he said, as they didn't know whether I
could use a check, traveling about as I am.  Anyhow he had the bills
for me--about three thousand dollars it was.  The rest of my little
fortune, you know, is in stocks and bonds.  I only get the interest,
but this cash was from the sale of some of grandfather's property."

"Then you didn't keep the cash yourself?" Joe asked.

"No.  Mr. Sanford said it wouldn't be safe for me to carry so much
money around with me.  Do you think it would?"

"Of course not," Joe agreed.  "But you could have let our treasurer
keep it for you.  He could have banked it."

"Yes; Mr. Sanford thought of that, he said.  But he also said if my
money was in the bank I wouldn't get more than three per cent. on it.
I don't know exactly what he means--I never was any good at fractions,
and I know nothing about business.  But, anyhow, Mr. Sanford kindly
explained that I would get more interest on my money if it was invested
than if it was in a bank.  And he offered to invest for me all I didn't
need at once.  Wasn't he kind?"

"Perhaps," admitted Joe, rather dubiously.  "How is he going to invest
it?"

"Oh, he knows lots of ways, he said, being in the law office.  But he
said he thought it would be best to buy oil stock with it.  Oil stock
was sure to go up in price, he said; and I would make money on that as
well as interest, or dividends--or something like that.  Wasn't he
good?"

"To himself maybe, yes," answered Joe.

"What do you mean?" inquired Helen.

"Oh, well, maybe it's all right," Joe said.  He did not want to alarm
the girl unnecessarily, but he had a deeper suspicion than before of
Sanford.

"I think it's just fine," Helen went on.  "I have quite some cash with
me--I'm going to let our treasurer keep that, and give me some when I
need it.  Then, from time to time, I'll get dividends on my oil stock."

"Maybe," said Joe, in a low voice.

"What?" asked Helen, quickly.  "What do you mean?"

"Never mind," proceeded Joe.  "Anyhow we had a good time to-night."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"I certainly did, Helen."

They parted near the train, Joe to go to his car and Helen to hers.

"Oh, by the way," Joe called after her.  "Did Mr. Sanford say what oil
company it was he was going to invest your money in?"

"Yes, he told me.  It's the Circle City Oil Syndicate.  He has some
stock in it, he told me, and it's a fine concern.  Oh, Joe, I'm so glad
I have inherited a little fortune."

"So am I," Joe returned, wondering at the same time if he would ever
hear anything encouraging of his mother's relatives in England.

"The Circle City Oil Syndicate," Joe murmured as he entered his car.
"I must look them up.  This fellow, Sanford, may be all right, but he
struck me as being a pretty slick individual, who would look out for
himself first, and the firm's clients afterward.  He'll bear
investigating."

However, nothing could be done that night.  The clerk had gone back
with the larger part of Helen's money, and Joe did not want to cause
her worry by speaking of his suspicions.

The circus did a good business the next day, drawing even larger
throngs than to the previous performances.  The story of Helen's good
fortune was printed in the local paper, with an account of the
celebration supper she gave, and when she rode into the ring on Rosebud
the applause that greeted her was very pronounced.

Joe repeated his "drop back to instep hang" that afternoon.  It was
rather a perilous feat and he was not so sure of it as he was of his
other exercises.  But it was a "thriller" and that was what the public
seemed to want--something that made them gasp, sit up, and hold their
breath while they waited to see if "anything would happen" to the
reckless performer.

Joe climbed up to his small trapeze, swung on it and then fell backward
for his first instep hang.  He accomplished this successfully, and then
came the thrilling slide down the longer ropes.

Down Joe shot, depending on stopping himself with his outstretched and
down-hanging hands when he reached the second bar.

But the inevitable "something" happened.  Joe's hands slipped from the
bar, his head struck it a glancing blow, and the next instant he felt
himself falling head first down toward the life net.



CHAPTER XXI

JOE HEARS SOMETHING

Women and children screamed, and there were hoarse shouts from the men
who witnessed Joe's fall.  At first some thought it was only part of
the acrobatic trick, but a single glance at the desperate struggles of
the young trapeze performer dispelled this idea.

For Joe was struggling desperately in the air to prevent himself from
falling head first into the life net.

It might be thought that one could fall into a loose, sagging net in
any position and not be hurt.  But this is not so.  A fall into a net
from a great height is often as dangerous as landing on the ground.
Circus folk must know how to fall properly.

If the person falling lands on his head he is likely to dislocate, if
not to break, his neck, and falling on one's face may sometimes be
dangerous.  The best way, of course, is to land on one's feet, and this
was what Joe was trying to bring about.

When he realized that he had missed grasping the bar of the second
trapeze (though he could not understand his failure) he knew he must
turn over, and that quickly, or he would strike on his head in the net.
He tried to turn a somersault, but he was at a disadvantage, not having
prepared for that in advance.

"I've got to turn!  I've got to turn!" he thought desperately, as he
fell through space.

He did manage to get partly over and when he landed in the net he took
the force of the blow partly on his head and partly on his shoulder.
Everything seemed to get black around him, and there was a roaring in
his ears.  Then Joe Strong knew nothing.  He had been knocked
unconscious by the fall.

The circus audience--or that part of it immediately near Joe's
trapezes--was at once aware that something unusual had occurred.

Some women arose, as though to rush out.  Others screamed and one or
two children began to cry.  A slight panic was imminent, and Jim Tracy
realized this.

From where she was putting her horse, Rosebud, through his paces Helen
saw what happened to Joe.  In an instant she jumped from the saddle,
and ran across the ring toward the net in which he lay, an inert form.

Other circus performers and attendants rushed to aid Joe, and this
added to the confusion and excitement.  Many in the audience were
standing up, trying to see what had happened, and those behind, whose
view was obstructed, cried:

"Sit down!  Down in front!"

"Give us some music!" ordered Jim Tracy of the band, which had stopped
playing when Joe performed his trick in order that it might be more
impressive.  A lively tune was started, and though it may seem
heartless, in view of the fact that a performer possibly was killed, it
was the best thing to do under the circumstances, for it calmed the
audience.

Tender hands lifted Joe out of the net, and carried him toward the
dressing room.

"Go on with the show!" the ring-master ordered the performers who had
left their stations.  "Go on with the show.  We'll look after him.
There are plenty of us to do it."

And the show went on.  It had to.

"Is he--is he badly hurt?" faltered Helen, as she walked beside the
four men who were carrying Joe on a stretcher which had been brought
from the first aid tent.  The circus was always ready to look after
those hurt in accidents.

"I don't think so--he took the fall pretty well--only partly on his
head," said Bill Watson, who had stopped his laughable antics to rush
over to Joe.  "He may be only stunned."

"I hope so," breathed Helen.

"You'd better get back to your ring," suggested Bill.  "Finish your
act."

"It was almost over," Helen objected.  "I can't go back--now.  Not
until I see how he is."

"All right--come along then," said the old clown, sympathetically.  He
guessed how matters were between Helen and Joe.  "I don't believe the
boss will mind much.  There's enough of the show left for 'em to look
at."

He glanced down at Joe, who lay unconscious on the stretcher.  They
were now in the canvas screened passage between the dressing tent and
the larger one, where the performance had been resumed.  Helen put out
her hand and touched Joe's forehead.  He seemed to stir slightly.

"Have they sent for a doctor?" she asked.

"They'll get one from the crowd," replied Bill.  "There's always one or
more in a circus audience."

And he was right.  As they placed Joe on a cot that had been quickly
made ready for him, a physician, summoned from the audience by the
ring-master, came to see what he could do.  Silently Helen, Bill and
the others stood about while the medical man made his examination.

"Will he die?" Helen asked in a whisper.

"Not at once--in fact not for some years to come, I think," replied the
physician with a smile.  "He has had a bad fall, and he will be laid up
for a time.  But it is not serious."

Helen's face showed the relief she felt.

"He'll have to go to a hospital, though," continued the medical man.
"His neck is badly strained, and so are the muscles of his shoulder.
He won't be able to swing on a trapeze for a week or so."

Bill Watson whistled a low note.  He knew what it meant for a circus
performer to be laid up.

"Please take him to a hospital," cried Helen impulsively, "and see that
he has a good physician and a nurse--I mean, you look after him
yourself," she added quickly, as she saw the doctor smiling at her.

"And have a trained nurse for him.  I'll pay the bill," she went on.
"I'm so glad that money came to me.  I'll use some of it for Joe."

"She just inherited a little fortune," explained Bill in a whispered
aside to the medical man.  "They're quite fond of each other--those
two."

"So it seems.  Well, he'll need a nurse and medical treatment for a
while to come.  I'll go and arrange to have him taken to the hospital.
Has he any friends that ought to be notified--not that he is going to
die, but they might like to know."

"I guess he hasn't any friends but us here in the circus.  His father
and mother are dead, and he ran away from his foster-father--a good
thing, too, I guess.  Well, the show will have to go on and leave him
here, I suppose."

"Oh, yes, certainly.  He can't travel with you."

The ambulance came and took Joe away.  Jim Tracy communicated with the
hospital authorities, ordering them to give the young trapeze performer
the best possible care in a private room, adding that the management
would pay the bill.

"That has already been taken care of," the superintendent of the
hospital informed the ring-master.  "A Miss Morton has left funds for
Mr. Strong's case."

"Well, I'll be jiggered!" exclaimed Jim Tracy.  Then he smiled.

The circus neared its close.  The animal tent came down, the lions,
tigers, horses and elephants were taken to their cars.  The performers
donned their street clothes and went to their sleeping cars.

Helen, Benny Turton and Bill Watson paid a visit to the hospital just
before it was time for the circus train to leave.  Joe had not
recovered consciousness, but he was resting easily, the nurse said.

"Tell him to join the show whenever he is able," was the message Jim
Tracy had left for Joe, "and not to worry.  Everything will be all
right."

"Good-bye," whispered Helen close to Joe's ear, But he did not hear her.

And the circus moved on, leaving stricken Joe behind.

It was nearly morning when he came out of his unconsciousness with a
start that shook the bed.

"Quiet now," said the soothing voice of the nurse.

Joe looked at her, wonder showing in his eyes.  Then his gaze roved
around the hospital room.  He looked down at the white coverings on his
enameled bed and then, realizing where he was, he asked:

"What happened?"

"You had a fall from your trapeze, they tell me," the nurse said.

"Oh, yes, I remember now.  Am I badly hurt?"

"The doctor does not think so.  But you must be quiet now.  You are to
take this."

She held a glass of medicine to his lips.

"But I must know about it," Joe insisted.  "I've got to go on with the
show.  Has the circus left?"

"Hours ago, yes.  It's all right.  You are to stay here with us until
you are better.  A Mr. Tracy told me to tell you."

"Oh, yes, Jim--the ring-master.  Well I--I guess I'll have to stay
whether I want to or not."

Joe had tried to raise his head from the pillow, but a severe pain,
shooting through his neck and shoulders, warned him that he had better
lie quietly.  He also became aware that his head was bandaged.

"I must be in pretty bad shape," he said.

"No, not so very," replied the trained nurse cheerfully.  "But you must
keep quiet if you are to get well quickly.  The doctor will be in to
see you soon."

Joe sunk into a sort of doze, and when he awakened again the doctor was
in his room.

"Well, how about me?" asked the young performer.

"You might be a whole lot worse," replied the medical man with a smile.
"It's just a bad wrench and sprain.  You'll be lame and sore for maybe
two weeks, but eventually you'll be able to go back, risking your neck
again."

"Oh, there's not such an awful lot of risks," Joe said.  "This was just
an accident--my first of any account.  I can't understand how my hands
slipped off the bar.  Guess I didn't put enough resin on them.  How
long will I be here?"

"Oh, perhaps a week--maybe less."

"Did they bring my pocketbook--I mean my money?"

"You don't have to worry about that," said the doctor.  "It has all
been attended to.  A Miss Morton made all the arrangements."

"Oh," was all Joe said, but he did a lot of thinking.

Joe's injury was more painful than serious.  His sore muscles had to be
treated with liniment and electricity, and often massaged.  This took
time, but in less than a week he was able to be out of bed and could
sit in an easy chair, out on one of the verandas.

Of course Joe wrote to Helen as soon as he could, thanking her and his
other friends for what they had done for him.  In return he received a
letter from Helen, telling him how she--and all of the circus
folk--missed him.

There was also a card from Benny Turton, and a note from Jim Tracy,
telling Joe that his place was ready for him whenever he could come
back.  But he was not to hurry himself.  They had put no one in his
place on the bill, simply cutting his act out.  The Lascalla Brothers
worked with another trapeze performer, who gave up his own act
temporarily to take Joe's position.

"Well, I guess everything will be all right," reflected our hero.  "But
I'll join the show again as soon as I can."

Joe was sitting on the sunny veranda one afternoon in a sort of doze.
Other convalescent patients were near him, and he had been listening,
rather idly, to their talk.  He was startled to hear one man say:

"Well, I'd have been all right, and I could have my own automobile now,
if I hadn't been foolish enough to speculate in oil stocks."

"What kind did you buy?" another patient asked.

"Oh, one of those advertised so much--they made all sorts of claims for
it, and I was simple enough to believe them.  I put every cent I had
saved up in the Circle City Oil Syndicate, and now I can whistle for my
cash--just when I need it too, with hospital and doctor bills to pay."

"Can't you get any of it back?"

"I don't think so.  In fact I'd sell my stock now for a dollar a share
and be glad to get it.  I paid twenty-five.  Well, it can't be helped."

Joe looked up and looked over at the speaker.  He was a middle-aged
man, and he recognized him as a patient who had come in for treatment
for rheumatism.

Joe wondered whether he had heard aright.

"The Circle City Oil Syndicate," mused Joe.  "That's the one Helen has
her money in--or, rather, the one that San ford put her money in for
her.  I wonder if it can be the same company.  I must find out, and if
it is----"

Joe did not know just what he would do.  What he had overheard caused
him to be vaguely uneasy.  His old suspicions came back to him.



CHAPTER XXII

BAD NEWS

Joe Strong waited until he had a chance to speak privately to the man
who had admitted losing money in oil stocks.  This hospital patient was
a Mr. Anton Buchard, and his room was not far from Joe's.

"Excuse me," began the young trapeze performer in opening the talk.
"But a short time ago I happened to overhear what you were telling your
friend about some oil stocks--the Circle City Syndicate.  I didn't mean
to listen, but I couldn't help hearing what you were saying."

"Oh, don't let that part worry you," said Mr. Buchard.  "It's no secret
that I lost my money in that wild-cat speculation.  But are you
interested in it?"

"To a certain extent I am," Joe answered.

"I hope you didn't buy any of the worthless stock."

"No, but a friend of mine was induced to.  That is--er--she--she has
some stock of the Circle City Oil Syndicate.  It may not be the same as
that you were speaking of."

"No, that is true.  There are many oil concerns in the market, and lots
of them are legitimate, and are making money.  But there are plenty of
others which are frauds.  And the one I invested in is that kind.

"Of course, as you say, it may not be the same as that in which your
friend holds stock, even if it has the same name.  Would you know any
of the officers or directors of the concern in which your friend holds
stock?"

"I'm afraid not," Joe replied.  "I did not see her stock certificates.
She bought them through a law clerk named Sanford."

Mr. Buchard shook his head.

"I don't recognize that name," he said.  "But of course anybody could
sell the stock.  How did your friend ever come to be interested in this
concern?"

Thereupon Joe told of Helen's inheritance, mentioning the fact that he
and she both were in the circus.

"The circus, eh!" exclaimed the man.  "Well, now that's interesting!  I
remember, when I was a boy, it was my great ambition to run away and
join a circus.  But I dare say it isn't such a life of roses as I
imagined."

"There's plenty of hard work," Joe told him, "and then something like
this is likely to happen to you at any time--especially if you are on
the trapeze," and he motioned to the bandages still around his neck and
shoulders.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," said Mr. Buchard, when Joe had finished
telling of Helen's fortune.  "I'm going out of here in a couple of
days.  I'm getting much better--that is until the next attack.  I'll
get out my worthless certificates of stock in the Circle City Oil
Syndicate, and bring you one.  You can then see the names of the
officers and directors, and can compare them with the names on Miss
Morton's stock.  If they are the same it's pretty sure to be the same
company."

"And if it is," asked Joe, "would you advise her to sell out?"

"Sell out!  My dear boy, I only hope she will be able to.  I wish I had
known in time--I'd have sold out quickly enough.  I never should have
bought the stuff.  But it's too late to worry about that now.  The
money is lost.

"Yes, that's what I'll do.  I'll bring you a stock certificate and you
can compare it with Miss Morton's when you see her.  Are you going out
soon?"

"In a few days, I hope.  I want to get back to the circus."

"I don't blame you.  It isn't very cheerful here, though they do the
best they can for you."

Mr. Buchard was as good as his word.  The day after he left the
hospital he came back to call on Joe.

"Here's a certificate," he said, handing over an elaborately engraved
yellow-backed sheet of paper.  "Take it with you, and show it to Miss
Morton."

"Thank you," the young trapeze performer responded.  "I'll mail yours
back to you as soon as I've compared the names."

"Oh, you don't need to do that," said Mr. Buchard with a rueful laugh.
"It isn't worth the price of a good cigar."

Joe wrote to Helen, telling her he would soon be with the circus again,
but he did not mention the stock certificate.

"There'll be time enough to tell her when I find out if it's the same
concern," he reasoned.  "It may not be.  After all, the stock Sanford
sold her may be valuable."

But Joe's hope was a faint one.

The day came when he was able to leave the hospital.  He found that not
only had all bills been paid, but that there was an allowance to his
credit.  Helen had thought he would need money to travel with, and had
left him a sum.

"Of course I'll pay her back when I get the chance," Joe reflected.
"The circus will pay the hospital and doctor's bills--they always do.
And I've got money enough saved up to pay Helen back."

Joe was really making a good salary, and he was careful of his money,
not wasting it as some of the more reckless performers did.

He said good-bye to his nurse, to the orderlies and to the physician
who had attended him.

"Now don't try to rush things," the doctor warned Joe.  "You must favor
your neck and shoulder muscles for a couple of weeks yet.  They will be
lame and sore if you don't.  Take it easy, and gradually work up to
your former exploits.  If you do that you'll be all right."

Joe promised to be careful, and then, with the stock certificate safely
in his pocket--though it was of no value, he reflected--he set out to
rejoin the circus, which had moved on several hundred miles since his
accident.

"I wonder if she'll lose her money," mused Joe, as he rode on in the
train.  "It would be too bad if she did.  Of course it isn't all in
this oil syndicate, but enough of it is to make a big hole in her
little fortune.  Hang it all, if this oil stock turns out bad I'll take
that Sanford up to the top of the tent and drop him off."

He smiled grimly at this novel form of revenge.  But really he was very
much in earnest.

"Something will have to be done," Joe decided.  But he did not know
just what.

In due time he reached the town where the circus was showing.  As Joe's
train pulled in he saw, on a siding, the big yellow cars, with the name
Sampson Brothers painted on their sides.  There were the flat vehicles
on which the big animal cages stood, box cars for the horses and
elephants and the sleeping cars in which the company traveled.

"Oh, but it's good to get back!" exclaimed Joe.

The parade was in progress as he walked along the main street.  He did
not stop to watch it, having seen it often enough.  Besides he was
anxious to talk to Helen, and he knew he would find her at the tent at
this hour, since she was not in the parade.

As Joe turned in at the circus lots he saw several of the attendants
and canvasmen.

"Hello!" they called cheerily.  "Glad to see you with us again!"

"And I'm glad to be back!" Joe exclaimed heartily.  "How's everything?"

"Oh, fine."

"Had any trouble?"

"Not much since you had yours.  Had to shoot Princess a couple of towns
back."

"You mean the lioness?"

"Yes.  She went on a rampage and there was nearly a bad accident, so we
had to kill her."

"Too bad," remarked Joe, for he knew what a loss it meant to a show
when a fine animal, such as Princess was, must be disposed of.  "Still
it was better than to have her kill her trainer or some one," he added.

"That's right," agreed a canvasman.

Joe passed on to the dressing tent.  Helen saw him coming and ran to
meet him.

"Oh, Joe!" she exclaimed.  "I am so glad to see you!  Are you all right
again?"

"Quite, thank you.  I'm a little lame and stiff yet, but I'll soon get
limbered up when I get in my tights and feel myself swinging from a
trapeze."

"Oh, but you must be careful, Joe."'

"I will.  I don't want to have another accident.  And now about
yourself.  How have you been?"

"Fine."

"And Rosebud?"

"The same as ever.  I've taught him a new trick.  I must show you.  I
haven't put it on in public yet."

"I shall like to see him.  Well, you haven't had any more fortunes left
to you, have you?"

"No, indeed.  I wish I had.  But I can increase what I have."

"How?"

"Just buy more oil stock.  I had a letter from Mr. Sanford, saying he
could get me some more.  It's going up in price; so he advised me to
buy at once."

"Are you going to?"

"Would you?" Helen asked.

"I'll tell you later," Joe answered.  "Have you one of the stock
certificates you did buy?"

"Yes.  In my trunk.  Do you want to see it?"

Joe did and said so.  Helen got it for him and Joe compared it with the
one the man in the hospital had given him.  His heart sank as he saw
that the names of the officers and directors were the same.  The Circle
City Oil Syndicate was a failure.

Joe's face must have reflected his emotions, for Helen asked him:

"What's the matter?  Is anything wrong?"

"I am afraid I have bad news for you," Joe replied.

"In what way?  You're not going to----"

"It's about your stock.  I'm sorry to tell you that your oil stock is
worthless--part of your fortune is gone, Helen!"



CHAPTER XXIII

HELEN GOES

Helen looked dazed for a few seconds.  She stared at Joe as though she
did not understand what he had said.  She looked at the oil stock
certificates in his hand.  Joe continued to regard them dubiously.

"Worthless--my investment worthless?" Helen asked, after a bit.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Joe replied.  "Of course I don't know much
about stocks, bonds and so on, but a man said this stock certificate
wasn't worth the price of a good cigar," and he held up the one the
hospital patient had given him.  "Yours is the same kind, Helen, I'm
sorry to say."

"How do you know, Joe?  Let me see them."

Joe gave her the two papers--elaborately printed, and lavishly enough
engraved to be government money, but aside from that worthless.

Then Joe told of the incident in the hospital--how he had accidentally
heard the man speak of the Circle City Oil Syndicate, and the
conversation that followed.

"If what he says is true, Helen, your money is gone," Joe finished.

"Yes, I'm afraid so."  she said slowly.  "Oh, dear, isn't it too bad?
And I was just thinking how nice it would be if I could increase my
fortune.  Now I am likely to lose it.  I wish I had known more about
business.  I'd never have let this man fool me."

"I wish I had, too," remarked Joe.  "Then I'd have advised you not to
risk your money in oil.  But perhaps it isn't too late yet."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean we may be able to sell back this stock.  Of course it would
hardly be right to sell it to an innocent person, who did not know of
its worthlessness, for then they would lose also.  But I mean the
Syndicate might buy it back, rather than have it become known that the
concern was worthless.  I don't know much about such things."

"Neither do I," agreed Helen.  "I'll tell you what let's do, Joe.
Let's ask Bill Watson.  He use to be in business before he became a
clown, and he might tell us what to do."

"A good idea," commented Joe.  "We'll do it."

The old clown was in the dressing room, but he came out when Helen and
Joe summoned him, half his face "made up," with streaks of red, white
and blue grease paint.

"Oh, Bill, we're in such trouble!" cried Helen,

"Trouble!" exclaimed Bill.  The word seemed hardly to fit in with his
grotesque character.  "What trouble?"

"It's about my money," Helen went on.  "I'm going to lose it all, Joe
thinks."

"Oh, not all!" exclaimed the young trapeze performer quickly.  "Only
what you invested in oil stock.  Here's the story, Bill," and Joe
related his part of it, Helen supplying the information needed from her
end.

"Now," went on Joe, as he concluded, "what we want to know is--can
Helen save any of this oil money?"

Bill Watson was silent a moment.  Then he slowly shook his head.

"I'm afraid not," he answered.  "Money invested in wild-cat oil wells
is seldom recovered.  Of course you could bring a lawsuit against this
Sanford, but the chances are he's skipped out by this time."

"Oh, no, he hasn't," Helen exclaimed.  "I had a letter from him only
the other day.  He asked me if I didn't want to buy some more stock.  I
know where to find him."

Once more the veteran clown shook his head.

"He might allow you to find him if he thought you were bringing him
more cash for his worthless schemes," he said, "but if he found out you
wanted to serve papers on him in a suit, or to get hold of him to make
him give back the money he took from you, Helen, that would be a
different story.  I'm afraid you wouldn't see much of Mr. Sanford then.
He'd be mighty scarce."

"Could we sell back the stock to the oil company?" Joe wanted to know.

"Hardly," answered the clown.  "They make that stock to sell to the
public, and they never buy it back unless there's a chance for them to
make money.  And, according to Joe's tale, there isn't in this case."

"Not by what that man said," affirmed the young trapeze performer.

"I suppose the only thing to do," went on the old clown, "would be to
give the case into the hands of a good lawyer, and let him see what he
could do with it.  Turn over the stock to him, give him power to act
for you, Helen, and wait for what comes.  You'll be traveling on with
the show, and you can't do much, nor Joe either, though I know he would
help you if he could, and so would I."

"That's what!" exclaimed Joe heartily.

"I'll do just as you say," agreed Helen.  "But it does seem too bad to
lose my money, and I counted on doing so much with it.  But it can't be
helped."

She was more cheerful over it than Joe thought she would be.  He
suspected that she had not altogether lost hope, but as for himself Joe
counted the money gone, and it was not a small sum to lose.

"Come on, Helen," he said.  "I noticed a lawyer's office on the main
street as I was looking at the parade.  We'll go there and get him to
take the case.  We'll be out of here to-night and we can leave matters
in his hands, with instructions to send us word when he has the money
back."

"And I'm afraid you'll never get that word," said the old clown.

There was time enough before the afternoon performance for Joe and
Helen to pay a visit to the law office.  Joe also reported to Jim
Tracy, who was glad to see him.

"I don't want you to get on the trapeze to-day," said the ring-master.
"Take a little light practice first for a few days.  And do all you can
for her," he added in a low voice, motioning to Helen.

"I sure will!" Joe exclaimed fervently.

The lawyer listened to the story as Joe and Helen told it to him, and
agreed to take the case against Sanford and the Circle City Oil
Syndicate for a small fee.

"I'll do the best I can," he said, "but I'm afraid I can't promise you
much in results.  Let me have the papers and your future address."

Joe put on his suit of tights for that afternoon, though he did not
take part in the trapeze work.  He fancied that the Lascalla Brothers
were not very glad to see him, but this may have been fancy, for they
were cordial enough as far as words went.

"Maybe they thought I would be laid up permanently," reasoned Joe.
"Then they could have their former partner back.  I wonder if he's been
around lately?"

He made some inquiries, but no one had noticed Sim Dobley hanging about
the lots as he had done shortly after his discharge.  Nor had there
been, as Joe had a faint suspicion there might be, any connection
between the train wreck and the discharged employee.

"I don't believe Sim would be so desperate as to wreck a train just to
get even with me," decided Joe.  "I guess it was just a coincidence.
He only wrote that threatening letter as a bluff."

Helen Morton did not allow her distress over the prospective loss of
her money to interfere with her circus act.  She put Rosebud through
his paces in the ring, and received her share of applause at the antics
of the clever horse.  Helen did a new little trick--the one she had
told Joe about.

She tossed flags of different nations to different parts of the ring,
and then told Rosebud to fetch them to her, one after the other,
calling for them by name.

The intelligent horse made no mistakes, bringing the right flag each
time.

"And now," said Helen at the conclusion of her act, "show me what all
good little children do when they go to bed at night."

Rosebud bent his forelegs and bowed his head between them as if he were
saying his prayers.

"That's a good horse!" ejaculated Helen.  "Now come and get your sugar
and give me a kiss," and the animal daintily picked up a lump of the
sweet stuff from Helen's hand, and then lightly touched her cheek with
his velvety muzzle.

Then with a leap the pretty young rider vaulted into the saddle and
rode out of the ring amid applause.

"You're doing beautifully, Helen!" was Joe's compliment, as Helen rode
out.

"I may be all right on a horse," she answered, "but I don't know much
about money and business."

The show moved on that night, and the next day, when the tent was set
up, Joe indulged in light practice.  He found the soreness almost gone,
and as he worked alone, and with the Lascalla Brothers, his stiffness
also disappeared.

"I think I'll go on to-night," he told the ring-master.

"All right, Joe.  We'll be glad to have you, of course.  But don't take
any chances."

Mail was distributed among the circus folk that day following the
afternoon performance.  Joe had letters from some people to whom he had
written in regard to his mother's relatives in England.  One gave him
the address of a London solicitor, as lawyers are designated over
there, and Joe determined to write to him.

"Though I guess my chances of getting an inheritance are pretty slim,"
he told Helen.  "I'm not lucky, like you."

"I hope you don't call me lucky!" she exclaimed.  "Having money doesn't
do me any good.  I lose it as fast as I get it."

She had a letter from her lawyer, stating that he had looked further
into the case since she had left the papers with him, and that he had
less hope than ever of ever being able to get back the cash paid for
the oil stock.

Joe did not intend to work in any new tricks the first evening of his
reappearance after the accident.  But when he got started he felt so
well after his rest and his light practice, that he made up his mind he
would put on a couple of novelties.  Not exactly novelties, either, for
they are known to most gymnasts though not often done in a circus.

Joe went up to the top of the tent.  Near the small platform, from
which he jumped in the long swing, to catch Tonzo Lascalla in the
trapeze, Joe had fastened a long cotton rope about two inches in
diameter.

He caught hold of the rope in both hands and passed it between his
thighs, letting it rest on the calf of his left leg.  He then brought
the rope around over the instep of his left foot, holding it in
position with pressure by the right foot, which was pressed against the
left.

"Here I come!" Joe cried, and then, letting go with his hands, Joe
stretched out his arms, and came down the rope in that fashion, the
pressure of his feet on the rope that passed between them regulating
his speed.

It was a more difficult feat than it appeared, this descending a rope
without using one's hands, but it seemed to thrill the crowd
sufficiently.

But Joe had not finished.  He knew another spectacular act in rope
work, which looked difficult and dangerous, and yet was easier to
perform than the one he had just done.  Often in trapeze work this is
the case.

The spectator may be thrilled by some seemingly dangerous and risky
act, when, as a matter of fact, it is easy for the performer, who
thinks little of it.  On the other hand that which often seems from the
circus seats to be very easy may be so hard on the muscles and nerves
as to be actually dreaded by the performer.

Having himself hauled up to the top of the tent again, Joe once more
took hold of the rope.  He held himself in position, the rope between
his legs, which he thrust out at right angles to his body, his toes
pointing straight out.  Suddenly he "circled back" to an inverted hang,
his head now pointing to the ground many feet below.  Then he quickly
passed the rope about his waist, under his right armpit, crossed his
feet with the rope between them, the toes of the right foot pressing
the cotton strands against the arch of his left foot.

"Ready!" cried Joe.

There was a boom of the big drum, a ruffle of the snare, and Joe slid
down the rope head first with outstretched arms, coming to a sudden
stop with his head hardly an inch from the hard ground.  But Joe knew
just what he was doing and he could regulate his descent to the
fraction of an inch by the pressure of his legs and feet on the rope.

There was a yell of delight from the audience at this feat, and Joe,
turning right side up, acknowledged the ovation tendered him.  Then he
ran from the tent--his part in the show being over.

For a week the circus showed, moving from town to city.  It was
approaching the end of the season.  The show would soon go into winter
quarters, and the performers disperse until summer came again.

Helen had heard nothing favorable from the lawyer, and she and Joe had
about given up hope of getting back the money.

The circus had reached a good-sized city in the course of its travels,
and was to play there two days.  On the afternoon of the first day,
just before the opening of the performance, Joe went to Helen's tent to
speak to her about something.

"She isn't here," Mrs. Talfo, the fat lady, told him.  "She's gone."

"Gone!" echoed Joe.  "Isn't she going to play this afternoon?"

"I believe not--no."

"But where did she go?"

"You'll have to ask Jim Tracy.  I saw her talking to him.  She seemed
quite excited about something."

"I wonder if anything could have happened," mused Joe.  "They couldn't
have discharged her.  That act's too good.  But it looks funny.  She
wouldn't have left of her own accord without saying good-bye.  I wonder
what happened."



CHAPTER XXIV

JOE FOLLOWS

Some little time elapsed before Joe found a chance to speak to Jim
Tracy.  There had been a slight accident to one of the circus wagons in
unloading from the train for that day's show, and the ring-master was
kept very busy.  One of the elephants was slightly hurt also.

But finally the confusion was straightened out, and our hero had a
chance to ask the question that was troubling him.

"What had become of Helen?"

"Why, I don't know where she went," Jim Tracy said.  "She came to me
almost as soon as we got in this morning, and wanted to know if she
could have the afternoon off."

"Cut out her act?" Joe asked.

"That's it.  Of course I didn't want to lose her out of the show, but
as long as we're going to be here two days, and considering the fact
that she hadn't had a day off since the show started out this season, I
said she might go.  And so she went--at least I suppose she did."

"Yes, she's gone," Joe replied.  "But where?"

Jim Tracy did not know and said so.  He was too busy to talk much more
about it.

"She'll be back in time for the evening performance--that's all I
know," he told Joe.

The young trapeze' performer sought out the old clown and told him what
had taken place.

"Helen gone!" exclaimed Bill.  "That's queer!"

"I thought maybe you'd know about it, Bill."

"Me?  No, not a thing.  She never said a word to me.  Are you sure you
and she didn't have any--er--little tiff?"

"Of course not!" and Joe blushed under his tan.  "She didn't tell me
she was going."

"Oh, well, she'll be back to-night, Jim says.  I guess she's all right.
Now I've got to get busy."

But Joe was not satisfied.  It was not like Helen to go off in this
way, and he felt there was something strange about it.

"I do hope she isn't going to try to make any more investments with her
money--that is with what she has left," he mused.  "Maybe she heard of
some other kind of stock she can buy, and she thinks from the profits
of that she can make up for what she is sure to lose in the oil
investment.  Poor Helen!  It certainly is hard luck!"

Joe thought so much of his new theory that he visited the circus
treasurer with whom Helen had left some of her money.

"No, it's here in the safe--what she left with me," the treasurer said.
"Too bad about her losing that nice sum, wasn't it?  It will take her
quite a while to save that much."

"I wish I had hold of the law clerk who tricked her into buying the oil
stock," said Joe with energy.  "I'd make him eat the certificates, and
then I'd--well, I don't know what I would do."

"But you haven't got him," said the treasurer, "and I guess their kind
take good care to keep out of the way of those they've swindled."

"I guess so," Joe agreed.

There was nothing he could do at present, and he had soon to go on with
his act.  But Joe Strong made up his mind if Helen were not back early
to make a thorough search for her.

"That is if I can get any trace of her," he went on.  "She may run into
danger without knowing it, for she hasn't had much experience in life,
even if she is a circus rider."

Joe was himself again now.  His muscles seemed to have benefited by the
rest, and the young trapeze performer went through all his old acts,
alone and with the Lascalla Brothers, and Joe also put on one or two
new things, or, rather, variations of old ones.

In one part of his performance he balanced himself upon his neck and
shoulders on a trapeze high up in the top of the tent.  He was almost
standing upon his head.  While this is not difficult for a performer to
do when the trapeze is stationary it is not easy when the apparatus is
swinging.  Joe was going to try that.

A ring hand pulled on a light rope attached to the trapeze on which Joe
was thus balanced on his neck and set the bar and ropes in motion.
They moved slowly, and through only a short arc at first.  But in a
little while Joe, in his perilous position, was executing a long swing.

His feet were pressed against the ropes and his hands were on his hips.
He balanced his body instinctively in this posture.  But this was not
all of the trick.

When the trapeze was swinging as high as he wanted it, Joe suddenly
brought his legs together.  For an instant he poised there on the bar,
supporting himself on his neck and shoulders, as straight as an arrow.

Then, with a shout to warn those below, he fell over in a graceful
curve, and began a series of rapid somersaults in the air.

Down he fell, the hushed attention of the big crowd being drawn to him.
Just before reaching the life net, Joe straightened out and fell into
the meshes feet first, bouncing out on a mat and from there bowing his
thanks for the applause.

Thus Joe brought his act to a close for that afternoon, and he was glad
of it for he wanted to go out and see if Helen had returned.  As soon
as he had changed to his street clothes he sought her tent.

The women of the circus dressed together, each one in a sort of canvas
screened apartment, and in the Sampson Brothers' Show they also had a
sort of ante-room to the dressing tent, where they could receive their
friends.

There was no one in this room when Joe entered, save some of the maids
which the higher-salaried circus women kept to help them dress, "make
up" and so on.

"Is Miss Morton in?" asked Joe of a maid who knew him.

"No, Mr. Strong.  I don't believe she has returned yet.  I'll go and
look in her room, though."  The maid came back shaking her head.

"She isn't there," she told Joe.

"I wonder where she can be," he mused.  "Why didn't she leave some
word?  Are you sure there wasn't a letter or anything on her trunk?" he
inquired of the maid.

"Well, I didn't look.  You may go in if you like.  I guess it will be
all right."

None of the performers were in the dressing tent then, being out in the
big one doing their acts.  Joe knew his way to Helen's room, having
been there many times, for there would often be little impromptu
gatherings in it to talk over circus matters between the acts.

He looked about for a letter, thinking she might have left one for him
before going away.  He saw nothing addressed to himself, but on the
ground, where it had evidently dropped, was an open note.  Joe could
not help reading it at a glance.  To his surprise it was signed by
Sanford, the tricky law clerk.

"I shall be glad to see you if you will call on me when you reach
Lyledale," the letter read.  "I am glad you think of buying more stock.
I have some to sell.  I will be at the Globe Hotel."

"Whew!" whistled Joe.  "It's just as I feared.  She's been doing
business with Sanford again--trying to make good her loss on the oil
stock.  He has an appointment with her here in Lyledale.  That's where
she's gone--to meet him.  She must have sold some of her other
securities to get money to buy more stock.  I must stop this.  I've got
to follow her.  Poor Helen!"

Joe had found out what he wanted to know by accident.  Helen, he
reasoned, must have received the letter that day, or perhaps the day
before, and had planned to meet Sanford on reaching Lyledale where the
circus was then playing.  In order to do this she had to be excused
from the afternoon performance.

"But I'll put a stop to that deal if I can," Joe declared.  "I'll tell
her how foolish and risky it is to invest any more money with Sanford.
I only hope she'll believe me."

Joe's time was his own until the night performance.  He decided he
would at once follow Helen to the hotel and there remonstrate with her,
if it were not too late.

"Queer that she kept it a secret from all of us," remarked Joe as he
started for town.  "I guess she knew we'd try to stop her from throwing
good money after bad, as they say.  Well, now to see what luck I'll
have."

The Globe Hotel was the best and largest in town.  Joe had no
difficulty in finding it, and on inquiring at the desk was told that
Mr. Sanford was a guest at the place.

"He has two rooms," the clerk told Joe.  "One he uses as an office,
where he does business."

"Oh, then he's been here before?" Joe asked.

"Oh, yes, often.  I don't know what his business is, but I think, he is
a sort of stock and bond dealer."

"More like a stock and bond swindler," thought Joe.

"Mr. Sanford will see you in a few minutes," the bellboy reported to
Joe, having come back from taking up our hero's card.  "There's a lady
in the office with him now."

"A young lady?" Joe asked.

"Yes," nodded the bellboy.

"I'll go up now!" decided Joe.  "I think he might just as well see me
now as later."

"Maybe he won't like it," the clerk warned him.

"I don't care whether he likes it or not!" cried Joe.  "It may be too
late if I don't go up now.  You needn't bother to announce me," he said
to the bell-boy who offered to accompany Joe to show the way.  "I guess
I can find the room all right."

Joe rode up in the elevator, and turned down the corridor leading to
the two rooms occupied by Sanford.  Pausing at the door of the outer
room, Joe heard voices.  He recognized one as Helen's.

"She's there all right," mused Joe.  "I hope I'm not too late!"

He was about to enter when he heard Helen say: "Please give it back to
me.  It isn't fair to take advantage of me this way."

"You went into this with your eyes open," Sanford replied.  "It was a
straight business deal, and I'm not to blame for the way it turned out.
Now this stock----"

Joe waited no longer.  He fairly burst into the room, crying:

"Helen, don't waste any more money on his worthless investments!"



CHAPTER XXV

THE LAST PERFORMANCE

It would have been difficult to say who was the more surprised by the
sudden entrance of Joe Strong--Helen or the law clerk.  Both seemed
startled.

Once more Joe cried:

"Helen, don't throw away any more of your money on his stocks!"

"How dare you come in here?" demanded Sanford.

"Never mind about that," answered Joe coolly.  "I know what I'm doing.
I'm not going to see you get any more of her money."

"Oh, Joe.  How did you know I was here?" asked Helen.  "I didn't want
any one to know I came."

"I found out.  I feared this was what you'd do."

"Do what, Joe?"

"Buy more stock in the hope of making good your losses on the Circle
City investment."

"But, Joe, I'm not doing that.  I don't want to buy any more stock.
I've had too much as it is."

"Then what in the world did you come here for?" cried Sanford.  "You
intimated that you wanted more stock.  That's why I met you here--to
sell it to you."

"Yes, I thought that's what you'd think," replied Helen, and she seemed
less excited now than Joe Strong.  "But what I came for was to sell you
back these worthless oil certificates.  I want my money back."

"Well, you won't get it!" sneered the law clerk.  "You bought that
stock and now----"

"Now she's going to sell it again," put in Joe.  He seemed to
understand the situation now.

"Helen," he went on, "I think it would be well if you left this matter
in my hands.  If you'll just go downstairs and to the nearest police
station and ask an officer to step around here, I think we can find
something for him to do."

"Police!" faltered Sanford.

"Oh, well, perhaps we won't need one," said Joe coolly, "but it's
always best, in matters of this kind, to have one on hand.  It doesn't
cost anything.  Just get an officer, Helen, and wait downstairs with
him.  I'll have a little talk with Sanford."

"Oh, Joe!  I--I----!"

"Now, Helen, you just leave this to me.  Run along."

Joe Strong seemed to dominate the situation.  He displayed splendid
nerve.

Helen went slowly from the room.

"The clerk will tell you where to find a policeman," Joe called to her.
"You needn't tell him why one is needed.  It may be that we shall get
along without one, and there's no need of causing any excitement unless
we have to."

"Joe--Joe," faltered Helen.  "You will be careful--won't you?"

"Well," and Joe smiled quizzically, "I'll be as careful as he'll let
me," and he nodded toward the law clerk.

"What do you mean?" demanded Sanford, uneasily.

"You'll see in a few minutes," said Joe calmly.

When Helen went out Joe, with a quick movement, closed and locked the
hall door.

"What's that for?" cried Sanford.

"So you won't get out before I'm through with you."

The law clerk made a rush for Joe, endeavoring to push him to one side.
But muscles trained on a typewriter or with a pen are no match for
those used on the flying rings and trapeze.

With a single motion of his hand Joe thrust the clerk aside, fairly
forcing him into a chair.

"Now then," said Joe calmly, "you and I will have a little talk.  You
needn't try to yell.  If you do I'll stuff a bedspread in your mouth.
And if you want to try conclusions with me physically--well, here you
are!"

With a quick motion Joe caught the fellow up, and raised him high in
the air, over his head.

"Oh--oh!  Put me down!  Put me down!" Sanford begged.  "I--I'll fall!"

"You won't fall as long as I have hold of you," chuckled Joe.  "But
there's no telling when I might let go.  Now let's talk business."

Trembling, Sanford found himself in the chair again.

"Did you sell Miss Morton any more stock?" demanded Joe.

"No--I--she--came here to buy, I thought, but----"

"Well, as long as she didn't it's all right.  Now then about that oil
stock you got her to invest her money in--is that stock good?"

"Why, of course it----"

"Isn't!" interrupted Joe, "and you knew it wasn't when you sold it to
her.  Now then I want you to take that stock back and return her money.
And I don't want you to sell that stock to some other person, either.
You just tear it up.  It's worthless, and you know it.  I want Miss
Morton's money back for her."

"I haven't it!" whined the clerk.

"Then you know where to get it.  I fancy if I tell Mr. Pike, of your
law firm, what you've been up to----"

"Oh, don't tell him!  Don't tell him!" whined the clerk.  "He doesn't
know anything about it.  I--I just did this as a side line.  If you
tell him I'll lose my position and----"

"Well, I'll tell him all right, if you don't give back Miss Morton's
money!" said Joe grimly.

"I tell you I haven't the cash."

"Then you must get it.  You've been doing business here before, the
hotel clerk tells me.  Come now--hand over the cash--get it--and I'll
let you go, though perhaps I shouldn't.  If you don't pay up--well, the
officer ought to be downstairs waiting for you now.  Come!" cried Joe
sharply.  "Which is it to be--the money or jail?"

Sanford looked around like a cornered rat seeking a means of escape.
There was none.  Joe, big and powerful, stood between him and the door.

"Well?" asked Joe significantly.

"I--I'll pay her back the money," faltered Sanford.  "But I'll have to
go out to get it."

"Oh, no, you won't," said Joe cheerfully.  "If you went out you might
forget to come back.  Here's a telephone--just use that."

Sanford sighed.  His last chance was gone.

Just what or to whom he telephoned does not concern us.  But in the
course of an hour or so a messenger called with money enough to make
good all Helen had risked in oil stock.  The cash was handed to her.

"Here, you keep it for me, Joe," she said.  "I don't seem to know how
to manage my fortune."

"What about those stock certificates?" asked Sanford.  "I want them
back."

"They are worthless, by your own confession," replied Joe, "and you're
not going to fool some one else on them.  "We'll just keep them for
souvenirs, eh, Helen?"

"Just as you say, Joe," she answered with a blush.

Sanford blustered, but to no purpose.  He was beaten at his own game,
and the fear of exposure and arrest brought him to terms.

"But you shouldn't have gone to him alone, Helen," remonstrated Joe,
when they were on their way back to the circus with the recovered cash.

"Well, I'd been so foolish as to lose my money, that I wanted to see if
I couldn't get it back again," she said.  "I didn't want any of you to
help me, as I'd already given trouble enough."

"Trouble!" cried Joe.  "We would have been only too glad to help you."

"Well, you did it in spite of me," Helen said, with a smile.  "I did
not intend you should know where I had gone.  How did you find out?"

"I saw a letter you dropped in the tent, and I followed.  But how did
you happen to locate Sanford?"

"By adopting just what Bill Watson said was the only plan.  I made
believe I wanted to buy more stock.  Bill said that was the only way to
catch Sanford.  If I had tried to find him to get my money back he
would have kept out of my way.  But when he thought I might have more
cash for him, he wrote and told me where I could find him.  So I just
waited until our show came here and then I called on Mr. Sanford.

"I was just begging him to give me back the money for the oil stock
when you came in on us, Joe."

"Well, I'm glad I did."

"So am I.  I hardly think he'd have paid me if it had not been for you.
How did you make him settle?"

"Oh, I just sort of 'held him up' for it," but Joe did not explain the
way he had actually "held up" the swindler.

"I'm so glad to get my money back!" Helen sighed as they reached the
circus grounds, over which dusk was settling, for it was now early fall.

"And I'm glad, too," added Joe.  "Then next time you buy oil stock----"

"There'll not be any next time," laughed Helen, as she went to give
Rosebud his customary lumps of sugar.

And that night, in the Sampson Brother's Show, there was an impromptu
little celebration over the recovery of Helen's money.

Later Joe learned that Sanford gave up his place in the law office.
Perhaps the swindler was afraid Mr. Pike would find out about his
underhand transactions.  Sanford, it seemed, had done some law business
for the oil company, and they let him sell some of the worthless stock
for himself, allowing him to keep the money--that is what Joe did not
make him pay back.

It was the night of the final performance.  The performers went through
their acts with new snap and daring, for it was the last time some of
them would face the public until the following season.  A few would
secure engagements for the winter in theatres, but most of them would
winter with the circus.

When the tents came down this time they would be shipped to Bridgeport,
where many shows go into winter quarters.

"Well, Joe," remarked Helen, as she came out of the ring just as Joe
finished his last thrilling feat, "what are you going to do?  Will you
be with us next season?"

"I don't know.  I've had several offers to go with hippodrome
exhibitions, and on a theatrical circuit."

"Oh, then you are going to leave us?"

Joe looked at Helen.  There seemed to be a new light in her eyes.  And
though she was smiling, there was something of disappointment showing
on her face.  With parted lips she gazed at Joe.

"I thought perhaps you would stay," she murmured, her eyes downcast.

"I--I guess I will!" said Joe in a low voice.  "This is a pretty good
circus after all."

And so Joe stayed.  And what he did in the show will be related in the
next volume of this series, to be called: "Joe Strong, the Boy Fish;
Or, Marvelous Doings in a Big Tank."

The chariots rattled their final dusty way around the big tent.  The
"barkers" came in to sell tickets for the "grand concert."  The animal
tent was already down for the last time that season.  With the ending
of the concert the bugler blew "taps."  The torches went out.

"Good night, Joe," said Helen.

"Good night, Helen," he answered, and as they clasped hands in the
darkness we will say good-bye to Joe Strong.



The End





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