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

Helen could hardly believe the good news. Though she had hoped, since hearing from the law firm, that she might be entitled to some money, Helen had always been careful not to hope too much.

“For I don’t want to be badly disappointed,” she told Joe.

“Well,” he remarked, “I wish my chances were as good as yours.”

For the answers he received from the letters he wrote concerning his mother’s relatives in England were disappointing. As far as these letters went there was no estate in which Joe might share, though Bill Watson insisted that the late Mrs. Strong came of a wealthy family.

“Anyhow, you’ve got yours, Helen,” said Joe.

“Well, I haven’t exactly got it yet,” and she looked at Mr. Pike.

“Oh, the money is perfectly safe,” the lawyer assured Helen. “I have part of it on deposit in my bank, and the rest is safe in California.”

“Just how did it happen to come to me?” Helen inquired.

“Well,” answered the lawyer slowly, “it’s a long and complicated story. Your grandfather on your father’s side was quite a landholder in San Francisco. Some of his property was not worth a great deal, and other plots were very valuable. In time he sold off most of it, but one large tract was considered so worthless that he could not find a buyer for it. When he died he still owned it, and it descended to your father.

“He thought so little of it that he never tried to put it on the market. But during the last few years the city has grown out in the direction of this land, and recently the property was sold.

“An effort was made to find the owner, your father, but as he was dead, and no one knew what had become of his heirs, the land was sold, and the money deposited with the state, to be turned over to the right owner when found. We have a branch office in San Francisco, and we were engaged to try to find any Morton heirs. Finally we found you, and now I am glad to say that my work in this connection is so happily ended.

“As I told you, I have some cash ready for you. The rest of your inheritance is in the form of bonds and mortgages, which will bring you in an income of approximately sixty dollars a month.”

“That’s fifteen a week!” exclaimed Helen, who was used to calculating that way, as are most circus and theatrical persons.

“Of course you could sell these bonds and mortgages, and get the cash for them,” said the lawyer, “but I would not advise you to. You will have about three thousand dollars in cash, as it is, and this ought to be enough for your immediate needs, especially as I understand you have a good position.”

“Yes, I am earning a good salary,” Helen admitted, “but I have not been able to save much. I am very glad of my little fortune.”

“And I am glad for you, my dear young lady. Now, as I said, as soon as I get back to New York I will send one of my clerks on to you with the cash. I may be old fashioned, but I don’t like to trust too much to the mails. Besides, I want to get your signature to certain documents, and you will have to make certain affidavits to my clerk. So I will send him on. Let me have a note of where you will be during the next week.”

Helen gave the dates when the circus would play certain towns, and Mr. Pike left.

“Well, it’s true, little girl, isn’t it?” cried Joe as they walked back to the circus together.

“Yes, and I’m very glad. I’ve always wanted money, but I never thought I’d have it at least as much as I’m going to get. I wish you would inherit a fortune, Joe.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I don’t expect it, and what one never has had can’t be missed very much. Maybe I’ll get mine some day.”

“I hope so, Joe. And now I want you to promise me something."’


“That if ever you need money you’ll come to me.”

Joe hesitated a moment before answering. Then he said:

“All right, Helen, I will.”

To Joe the novelty of life in a circus was beginning to wear off. To be sure there was something new and different coming up each day, but he had now gotten his act down to a system, and to him and the other performers one day was much like another, except for the weather, perhaps.

They did their acts before crowds every day different crowds, to be sure; but, after all, men, women and children are much alike the world over. They want to be amused and thrilled, and the circus crowds in one place are no different from those in another.

The Sampson Brothers’ Show was not one of the largest, though it was considered first class. Occasionally it played one of the large cities, but, in the main, it made a circuit of places of smaller population.

Joe kept on with his trapeze work, now and then adding new feats, either by himself or with the Lascalla Brothers. On their part they seemed glad to adopt Joe’s suggestions. Occasionally they made some themselves, but they were more in the way of spectacular effects such as waving flags while suspended in the air, or fluttering gaily colored ribbons or strands of artificial flowers. But Joe liked to work out new and difficult feats of strength, skill and daring, and he was generally successful.

He had not relaxed his policy of vigilance, and he never went up on a bar or on the rings without first testing his apparatus. For he never forgot the strangely rotted rope. That it had been eaten by some acid, he was sure.

He did not again get sight of that particular small trapeze, nor did he ask Sid or Tonzo what had become of it. He did not want to know.

“It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie,” reasoned Joe. “But I’ll be on the lookout.”

Matters had been going along well, and Joe had been given an increase of salary.

“Well, if I can’t get a fortune from some of my mother’s rich and aristocratic ancestors,” Joe thought with a smile, “I can make it myself by my trapeze work. And, after all, I guess, that’s the best way to get rich. Though I’m not sure I’ll ever get rich in the circus business.”

But the calm of Joe’s life that is if, one can call it calm to act in a circus was rudely shaken one day when in his mail he found a badly scrawled note. There was no signature to it, but Joe easily guessed from whom it came. The note read:

“You want to look out for yourself. You may think you’re smart, but I know some smarter than you. This is a big world, but accidents may happen. You want to be careful.”

“Some of Sim Dobley’s work,” mused Joe, as he tore up the note and cast it aside. “He’s trying to get my nerve. Well, I won’t let that worry me. He won’t dare do anything. Queer, though, that he should be following the circus still. He sure does want his place back. I’m sorry for him, but I can’t help it.”

Joe did not regard the warning seriously, and he said nothing about it to Helen or any one else.

“It would only worry Helen,” he reflected.

The show was over for the night. Even while the performers in the big tent had been going through with their acts, men had taken away the animal cages and loaded them on the flat railroad cars. Then the animal tent was taken down and packed into wagons with the poles and pegs.

As each performer finished, he or she went to the dressing tent and packed his trunk for transportation. From the dressing tent the actors went to the sleeping car, and straight to bed.

Joe’s acts went very well that night. He was applauded again and again and he was quite pleased as he ran out of the tent to make ready for the night journey. He saw Benny Turton changing into his ordinary clothes from his wet fish-suit, which had to be packed in a rubber bag for transportation after the night performance, there being no time to dry it.

“Well, how goes it, Ben?” asked Joe.

“Oh, not very well,” was the spiritless answer. “I’ve got lots of pain.”

“Too bad,” said Joe in a comforting tone. “Maybe a good night’s sleep will fix you up.”

“I hope so,” said the “human fish.”

The circus train was rumbling along the rails. It was the middle of the night, and they were almost due at the town where next they would show.

Joe, as well as the others in his sleeping car, was suddenly awakened by a crash. The train swayed from side to side and rolled along unevenly with many a lurch and bump.

“We’re off the track!” cried Joe, as he rolled from his berth. And the memory of the scrawled warning came vividly to him.