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

“Quick now! With the iron bar!” cried Senor Bogardi. “That trapeze stick won’t hold long!”

But it held long enough. As the lioness, flung back into a corner of her cage by her impact against the steel door, gathered herself for another spring, the men slipped into place the iron bar, Joe pulling out his trapeze.

“It’s all right now no more danger!” called Jim Tracy. “Take it easy, folks, she can’t get out now!”

This was true enough. The beast, after a fruitless effort to force a way out of the cage, retreated to a corner and lay down, snarling and growling.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into Princess,” said the trainer as he looked at her. “She never acted this way before.”

“It’s a good thing she showed her temper before you got in the cage with her, and not afterward,” remarked Joe, as he was about to pass on to the performance tent.

“That’s right,” agreed Senor Bogardi. “And you did the right thing in the nick of time, my boy. Only for your trapeze bar she’d have been out among the crowd,” and he looked at the men, women and children, who were now calming down.

The small panic was soon over, and in order to quiet the lioness a big canvas was thrown over her cage, so she would not be annoyed by onlookers.

“I guess she needs a rest,” her trainer said. “I’ll let her alone for a day or so, and she may get over this.”

Joe went on into the tent where he was to do his trapeze acts. It was nearly time for him to appear, and the other two Lascalla Brothers were waiting for him. They would do an act together, and Joe one of his single feats, however, before the three appeared in a triple act.

The young performer was straightening out the ropes attached to his trapeze, when he noticed that the bar of the small one, which he had thrust into the door of the lioness’ cage, was cracked.

“Hello!” exclaimed Joe. “This won’t do. I can’t risk doing tricks up at the top of the tent on a cracked bar. It might hold, and again it might not.”

He tried the cracked bar in his hands. It gave a little, but seemed fairly strong.

“I wonder if I could get another,” mused Joe. “Guess I’d better try.”

He walked over to where the Lascalla Brothers stood near their apparatus.

“What’s the matter?” asked Sid, seeing Joe trailing the broken trapeze after him.

“This bar is cracked. It’s my short trapeze that I fasten to the big one. I used it just now to hold the door so the lioness wouldn’t get out, and the wood is cracked. I was wondering if you had a spare one like this.”

“We have!” exclaimed Tonzo quickly. “Get the little short one the one with the silk coverings on the ropes,” he said to Sid. “Joe can use that.”

“I’ll be back with it in a second,” Sid stated, as he hurried off to the dressing tent, for it was nearly time for the performance to begin. Sid returned presently with another trapeze.

At this moment Helen came in with her horse, Rosebud, for she was about to do her act.

“What’s the matter, Joe?” asked Helen, for she knew that at this point in the performance he ought to be on the other side of the tent doing his act.

“Oh, I cracked a trapeze bar,” Joe replied, as he stepped up beside the girl and patted Rosebud. “Sid is going to get me another. Here he comes now with it.”

At the sight of the trapeze the circus man was bringing up, Helen was conscious of a strange feeling. She saw the silk-covered ropes, and the recollection of that scene in the tent came vividly to her.

“I guess this will do you, Joe,” remarked Sid, holding out the trapeze. “It’s the only one we have like yours.”

“Thanks,” responded the young performer. “That will do nicely. I’ve got to hustle now and ”

Joe turned away, but became aware that Helen was leaning down from the saddle and whispering to him.

“Joe! Joe!” she exclaimed, making sure the Lascalla Brothers could not hear her, for they were On the other side of Rosebud. “Joe, don’t use the trapeze!”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m sure that’s the one I saw those two men ‘ripening,’ as they call it. They had pulled back the silk cover, and were pouring something on the rope. Look at it before you use it. Be careful!”

Then she flicked Rosebud with the whip and rode into the ring to do her act amid a blare of trumpets. Joe stood there, holding the trapeze. The two Spaniards were starting their act now, and were high up in the air.

“Whew!” whistled Joe. “I wonder what’s up. Can it be that this rope is doctored? I won’t let them see me looking at it.”

He hurried over to his own particular place in the tent.

“Lively, Joe!” called Jim Tracy. “You’re late as it is!”

“I’ll be right on the job in a moment,” the young performer answered. “I had to get another trapeze the lioness cracked mine.”

“Oh, all right but hustle.”

Under pretense of fastening the short trapeze to the larger one Joe pushed back the loose silk covering the ropes. To his surprise, on one rope was a dark stain. Joe rubbed his fingers over the strands. They were rotten, and crumbled at the touch. Joe smelled of the dark stain.

“Acid!” exclaimed Joe. “Some one spilled acid on this rope. Talk about putting on something to ripen it! This is something to rot it!”

He tested the rope in his hands. It did not part, but some of the strands gave, and he did not doubt but that if he trusted his weight to it it would break and give him a fall.

“Now I wonder if they did that on purpose to queer me,” mused Joe. “If they did they waited for a most opportune time to give me the doctored trapeze. They couldn’t have known I was going to break mine. I wonder if they did it on purpose.

“Of course I wouldn’t have been killed, and probably not even much hurt, if the rope did break,” thought Joe. “I’d only fall into the life net, but it sure would spoil my act and make me look like an amateur. Maybe that’s their game! If it was ”

Joe paused, and looked over in the direction of the two Spaniards. They were going through their act, but Joe thought he had a glimpse of Tonzo looking over toward him.

“They want to see what happens to me,” thought Joe. “Well, they won’t see anything, for I sha’n’t use this trapeze. I’ll change my act.”

“Hey, what’s the matter over there, Joe?” called Jim Tracy to him. “You ought to be up on the bar.”

“I know it, Mr. Tracy. But I’ve got to make a change at the last minute. I can’t use this extra trapeze.”

“All right; do anything you like, but do it quick!”

Joe signaled to his helper, who began hoisting him to the top of the tent by means of rope and pulley. Once on his own regular trapeze, which he had tested but a short while before, Joe went through his act.

He had to improvise some acts to take the place of those he did on the short trapeze. But he did these extra exploits so well and so easily that no one in the audience suspected that it was anything but the regular procedure.

Then Joe, amid applause, descended and went over to work with the two Spaniards. He carried the doctored trapeze with him.

“I didn’t use this,” he said, looking closely at Tonzo. “It seems to have been left out in the rain and one of the ropes has rotted.”

“Rotted?” asked Sid, his voice trembling.

“Something like that, yes,” answered Joe.

“Ah, that is too bad!” exclaimed Tonzo, and neither by a false note nor by a change in his face did he betray anything. “I am glad you discovered the defect in time.”

“So am I,” said Joe significantly. “Come on, now.

“Probably they fixed the rope with acid, and kept it ready against the chance that some day I might use it,” reflected Joe. “The worst that could happen would be to spoil my tricks I couldn’t get much hurt falling into the net, and they knew that. But it was a mean act, all right, and I sha’n’t forget it. I guess they want to discourage me so they can get their former partner back. But I’m going to stick!”

“Did you find out anything, Joe?” asked Helen, when she had a chance to speak to him alone.

“I sure did, thanks to you, little girl. I might have had a ridiculous fall if I’d used their trapeze. You were right in what you suspected.”

“Oh, Joe! I’m so glad I saw it in time to warn you.”

“So am I, Helen. It was a mean piece of business, and cunning. I never suspected them of it.”

“Oh, but you will be careful after this, won’t you, Joe?”

“Indeed I will! I want to live long enough to see you get your fortune. By the way, when is that lawyer coming?”

“He is to meet me day after to-morrow.”

“I’ll be on hand,” Joe promised.

It rained the next day, and working in a circus during a rain is not exactly fun. Still the show goes on, “rain or shine,” as it says on the posters, and the performers do not get the worst of it. It is the wagon and canvas men who suffer in a storm.

“And this is a bad one,” Joe remarked, when he went in the tent that afternoon for his act. “It’s getting worse. I hope they have the tent up good and strong.”

“Why?” asked Helen.

“Because the wind’s increasing. Look at that!” he exclaimed as a gust careened the big, heavy canvas shelter. “If some of the tent pegs pull out there’ll be trouble.”

Helen looked anxious as she set off to put Rosebud through his tricks, and Joe was not a little apprehensive as he was hoisted to the top of the tent. He saw the big pole to which his trapeze was fastened, swaying as the wind shook the “main top.”