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

After breakfast Joe, who did not take part in the parade, set out to see the sights of his “home town,” or, rather, he hoped to meet some of his former friends, for there were not many sights to see.

“The place hasn’t changed much,” Joe reflected as he passed along the familiar streets. “It seems only like yesterday that I went away. Well, Timothy Donnelly has painted his house at last, I see, and they have a new front on the drug store. Otherwise things are about the same. I wonder if I’d better go to call on the deacon. I guess I will I don’t have any hard feelings toward him. Yes, I’ll go to see him and ”

Joe’s thoughts were interrupted by a voice that exclaimed:

“Say! Look! There goes Joe Strong who used to live here!”

The young circus performer turned and saw Willie Norman, a small boy who lived on the street where Joe formerly dwelt.

“Hello, Willie,” called Joe in greeting.

“Hello,” was the answer. “Say, is it true you’re with the circus? Harry Martin said you were.”

“That’s right I am,” Joe admitted. He had kept up a fitful correspondence with Harry and some of the other chums, and in one of his letters Joe had spoken of his change of work.

“In a circus!” exclaimed Willie admiringly. “Do they let you feed the elephant?” he asked with awe.

“No, I haven’t gotten quite that far,” laughed Joe. “I’m only a trapeze performer.”

“Say, I’d like to see you act,” Willie went on, “but I ain’t got a quarter.”

“Here’s a free ticket,” Joe said, giving his little admirer one. In anticipation of meeting some of his friends in Bedford that day, Joe had gotten a number of free admission tickets from the press agent, who was always well supplied with them. Willie’s eyes glistened as he took the slip of pasteboard.

“Geewillikens!” he exclaimed. “Say, you’re all right, Joe! I’m going to the circus! I wish I could run away and join one.”

“Don’t you dare try it!” Joe warned him. “You’re too small.”

He went on, meeting many former acquaintances, who turned to stare at the boy whose story had created such a stir in the town. Joe was looked upon by some as a hero, and by others as a “lost sheep.” It is needless to say that Deacon Blackford was one who held the latter opinion.

Joe called on his former foster-father, but did not find him at the house. Mrs. Blackford was in, however, and was greatly surprised to see Joe. She welcomed and kissed him, and there were traces of tears in her eyes.

“Oh, Joe!” she exclaimed. “I am so sorry you left us, but perhaps it was all for the best, for you must live your own life, I suppose. I never really believed you took the money,” she added, referring to an incident which was related in the book previous to this.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Joe said. “I want to thank you for all your care of me. I didn’t like to run away, but it seemed the only thing to do. And, as you say, I think it has turned out for the best. The circus life appeals to me, and I’m getting on in the business.”

Mrs. Blackford was really glad to see Joe. She had a real liking for him, in spite of the fact that she had a poor opinion of circus folk and magicians, and she did not believe all the deacon believed of Joe. She could not forget the days when, while he was a little lad, she had often sung him to sleep. But these days were over now.

Joe found the deacon at the feed store. The lad’s former foster-father was not very cordial in his greeting, and, in fact, seemed rather embarrassed than otherwise. Perhaps he regretted his accusation against our hero.

“Would you like to see the circus?” Joe inquired, as he was leaving the office. “I have some free tickets and ”

“What! Me go to a circus?” cried the deacon, with upraised hands. “Never! Never! Circuses and theatres are the invention of the Evil One. I am surprised at your asking me!”

Joe did it for a joke, more than for anything else, as he knew the deacon would not take a ticket. Bidding him good-bye, Joe went out to find his former chums.

They, as may well be supposed, were very glad to see him. And that they envied Joe’s position goes without saying.

“Well, well! You certainly put one over on us!” exclaimed Charlie Ford admiringly. “How did you do it, Joe?”

“Oh, it just happened, I guess. More luck than anything else.”

“When you got Professor Rosello out of the fire you did a good thing,” commented Tom Simpson.

“Yes, I guess I did in more ways than one,” admitted Joe.

“And are you really doing trapeze acts?” inquired Henry Blake.

“Come and watch me,” was Joe’s invitation. “Here is a reserved seat ticket for each of you.”

“Whew!” whistled Harry Martin. “Talk about the return of the prodigal! You’ll make the folks here open their eyes, Joe. It isn’t everybody who runs away from home who comes back as you do.”

Joe told his chums some of his experiences, and they went with him out to the circus grounds, where he took them about, as only a privileged character can, showing them how the show was “put together.”

“It sure is great!” exclaimed Charlie, ruffling up his red hair.

Joe fairly outdid himself in the performances that day. He went through his best feats, alone and with the Lascalla Brothers, with a snap and a swing that made the veteran performers look well to their own laurels. Joe did some wonderful leaping and turning of somersaults in the air, one difficult backward triple turn evoking a thundering round of applause.

And none applauded any more fervently than little Willie Norman.

“I know him!” the little lad confided to a group about him. “That’s Joe Strong. He gave me a ticket to the show for nothing, mind you! I know him all right!”

“Oh, you do not!” chaffed another boy.

“I do so, and I’m going to speak to him after the show!”

This Willie proudly did, thereby refuting the skepticism of his neighbor. For the word soon passed among the town-folk that Joe Strong, who used to live with Deacon Blackford, was with the circus, and after the show he held an informal little reception in the dressing tent which a number of men and boys, and not a few women, attended.

All were curious to see behind the scenes, and Joe showed them some interesting sights. He invited his four chums to have supper with him, and the delight of Harry, Charlie, Henry and Tom may be imagined as they sat in the tent with the other circus folk, listening to the strange jargon of talk, and seeing just how the performers behaved in private.

Altogether Joe’s appearance in Bedford made quite a sensation, and he was glad of the chance it afforded him to see his former friends and acquaintances, and also to let them see for themselves that circus people and actors are not all as black as they are painted. Joe was glad he could do this for the sake of his father and mother, as he realized that the wrong views held by Deacon and Mrs. Blackford were shared by many.

Joe bade good-bye to his chums and traveled on with the show, leaving, probably, many rather envious hearts behind. For there is a glamour about a circus and the theatre that blinds the youthful to the hard knocks and trouble that invariably accompany those who perform in public.

Even with Joe’s superb health there were times when he would have been glad of a day’s rest. But he had it only on Sundays, and whether he felt like it or not he had to perform twice a day. Of course usually he liked it, for he was enthusiastic about his work. But all is not joy and happiness in a circus. As a matter of fact Joe worked harder than most boys, and though it seemed all pleasure, there was much of it that was real labor. New tricks are not learned in an hour, and many a long day Joe and his partners spent in perfecting what afterward looked to be a simple turn.

But, all in all, Joe liked it immensely and he would not have changed for the world at least just then.

The circus reached the town of Portland, where they expected to do a good business as it was a large manufacturing place. Here Helen found awaiting her a letter from the law firm.

“Oh, Joe!” the girl exclaimed. “I’m going to get my money here at least that part of my fortune which isn’t tied up in bonds and mortgages. We must celebrate! I think I’ll give a little dinner at the hotel for you, Bill Watson and some of my friends.”

“All right, Helen. Count me in.”

The letter stated that a representative of the firm would call upon Helen that day in Portland, and turn over to her the cash due from her grandfather’s estate.

That afternoon Helen sent word to Joe that she wanted to see him, and in her dressing room he found a young man, toward whom Joe at once felt an instinctive dislike. The man had shifty eyes, and Joe always distrusted men who could not look him straight in the face.

“This is Mr. Sanford, from the law firm, Joe,” said Helen. “He has brought me my money.”

“Is he your lawyer?” asked Mr. Sanford, looking toward Joe.

“No, just a friend,” Helen answered.

“Is he going to look after your money for you?”

“I think Miss Morton is capable of looking after it herself,” Joe put in, a bit sharply.

“Oh, of course. I didn’t mean anything. Now if you’ll give me your attention, Miss Morton, I’ll go over the details with you.”

“You needn’t wait, Joe, unless you want to,” Helen said. “I’d like to have you arrange about the little supper at the hotel, if you will, though.”

“Sure I will!” Joe exclaimed.

The circus was to remain over night, and this would give Helen a chance for her feast, which she thought had better take place at the Portland hotel, as it would be more private than the circus tent. Joe went off to arrange for it, leaving Helen with the lawyer’s clerk.