Read CHAPTER XI - HELEN’S DISCOVERY of Joe Strong on the Trapeze / The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer, free online book, by Vance Barnum, on

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

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

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

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

“Did I, really?” Joe cried.

“You certainly did.”

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

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

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

“I almost wish you would,” and Benny spoke wearily.

“What’s the matter?” asked Helen, with ready sympathy.

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

“Why don’t you see a doctor?” asked Joe.

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

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

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

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

“No, just about right for me,” Joe declared. “I don’t like it too warm.”

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

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

“Perhaps it does,” Joe agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is everything all right?” Joe asked his partners.

“Yes,” they told him.

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

That was Joe’s trick.

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

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

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

“Ready,” answered Joe’s voice, from high up in the tent.

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

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

“Then go!” shouted the ring-master.

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

“Ready?” cried Joe to his swinging partner.

“Yes,” answered Tonzo.

“Come on!” Joe said.

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

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

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

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

“Ready down there?” asked Joe of Sid.

“Ready,” he answered.

“Then go!”

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

However, it was “all in the day’s work,” and he did not hesitate at taking chances.

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

“Here I come!” he called.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I’m so glad!” she whispered. “So glad!”

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

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

“But what about my Lascalla act?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I wonder what he is doing that for,” mused Helen. “Can it be that ”

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