Read CHAPTER IX - BILL WATSON’S IDEA of Joe Strong on the Trapeze / The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer, free online book, by Vance Barnum, on

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

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

“Why, I’m one of the best advisers you ever saw,” returned Joe, laughingly.

“I know you’re good on the trapeze,” Helen admitted, “but have you had any business experience?”

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

“That’s just what I want to know,” answered the young circus rider. “It’s a puzzle to me.”

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

“Why, what’s this? It’s all torn up,” and he exhibited a handful of scraps of paper.

“Oh Joe!” Helen gasped. “How did that happen?”

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

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

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

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

“Do you want me to read it and advise you?” asked Joe.

“If you will and can yes.”

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

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

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

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

Joe read the letter over twice without speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what would you do, Joe?” Helen asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You wouldn’t stay with the circus then, would you?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she answered musingly. “I think I like it here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the name?” asked jovial Bill, holding out his hand.

“Joe Strong.”

“Been in the business long?”

“Not very. I was with Professor Rosello before I came here.”

“Never heard of him,” and Bill shook his head.

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

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

“What!” cried Joe. “Did you know her them?”

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

“Did you know my mother well?” asked Joe.

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

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

“I found that out as soon as I joined,” said Joe.

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

“I’m glad I’ve been able to do so well,” Joe said.

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

“First rate. And, oh, Bill. We have such a mystery for you Joe and I!”

“A mystery, Helen?”

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

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

“It’s too good to suppose. I can’t imagine any one leaving me money.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How?” asked Joe in surprise.

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