Read CHAPTER IV - A CHANCE ENCOUNTER of Joe Strong on the Trapeze / The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer, free online book, by Vance Barnum, on

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.”