ON THE TRAPEZE
_THE DARING FEATS OF A YOUNG
Author of "Joe Strong, the Boy Wizard," "Joe Strong, the Boy Fish," "Joe Strong on the High Wire," etc.
WHITMAN PUBLISHING CO.
BOOKS FOR BOYS
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
GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
WESTERN PRINTING & LITHOGRAPHING CO.
Printed in U. S. A.
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
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:
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!"
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:
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.
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.
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.
"Yes, to join 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."
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"Been in the business long?"
"Not very. I was with Professor Rosello before I came here."