Read CHAPTER VI - JOE MAKES A HIT of Joe Strong on the Trapeze / The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer, free online book, by Vance Barnum, on

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s where I practised,” said Joe.

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

“I am!”

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

“Why, what’s the matter? Don’t you want to?” asked Jim, in some astonishment.

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

Then Joe related his encounter with the discharged circus employee.

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

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

Jim Tracy started.

“I didn’t think of that!” he said slowly. “You say he threatened you?”

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

Jim Tracy snapped his fingers.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think they’ll perform with me?” Joe wanted to know.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be on the watch for trouble,” he murmured as he went out of the dressing tent.

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

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

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

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

“Well, where in the world did you come from?”

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

“I’m glad to see you again!” went on Benny, as he shook hands with Joe.

“And I’m glad to see you.”

“What are you doing here?” the “human fish” asked.

“Oh, I’m part of the show now,” replied Joe, a bit proudly.

“Get out! Are you, really?”

“I sure am!” And Joe told the circumstances.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” said Ben. “Real glad!”

“How’s your act going?” asked Joe.

The “human fish” paused a moment before answering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does Rosebud want any sugar?” he asked, smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re the Lascalla Brothers,” Ben informed him. “That is, there are two of them. The third ”

“I’m to be the third,” Joe broke in.

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

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

“No, not that,” Ben answered. “It it was something else.”

“Oh, secrets!” and Helen pretended to be offended.

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

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

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

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

“I think it would be wise,” agreed Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure!” declared Joe. “I’ve done it before.”

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

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

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

“I know it that’s why I’m going to do it. Do you get me?”

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

“Oh, I’ll land all right,” said Joe, though not boastingly.

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

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

“Come on!” he cried to Tonzo.

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

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

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

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

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