Read CHAPTER XIX - JOE IS SUSPICIOUS of Joe Strong on the Trapeze / The Daring Feats of a Young Circus Performer, free online book, by Vance Barnum, on

Joe’s day was already a full one, though he did not tell Helen so. He gladly undertook to arrange the little supper for her at the hotel, and it was only a coincidence that it happened on the night of a day when he had decided to work in a new trick on his trapeze, when he performed alone. It was not exactly a new trick, in the sense that it had never been done before. In fact there is very little new in trapeze work nowadays, but Joe had decided to give a little different turn to an old act. It required some preparation, and he needed to do this during the day. He was going to “put on” the trick at night, and not at the matinee.

But for the time being he gave up his hours to arranging for Helen the supper which would take place after the night performance.

Joe saw the hotel proprietor and arranged for a private room with a supper to be served for twenty-five. Helen had many more friends than that among the circus folk, but she had to limit her hospitality, though she would have liked to have them all at her little celebration. She chose, however, after Joe and Bill Watson and Benny Turton, the women performers who were more intimately associated with her in her acts, and some of the men whose acquaintance she had made since joining the Sampson show.

Joe hurried to the hotel, did what was necessary there, and then went back to the tent. He intended, when the afternoon show was over, to do some practice on his new act.

As he passed into the big tent, which was now deserted, he met Jim Tracy, who, of course, was invited to Helen’s supper.

“What’s all this I hear about our little lady?” asked the ring-master.

“Well, I guess it’s all true,” Joe answered. “She has come into a little money.”

“Glad to hear it! I’ll be with you to-night. Oh, by the way, Joe, I had a letter from the railroad people about our wreck, or, rather, derailment.”

“Did you? What did they say?”

“They couldn’t find any evidence that the fish plate was put in the switch purposely. It might have dropped there. Of course some tramp might have put it there to get revenge for being put off a train, but it would be hard to prove. And as for getting evidence against Sim Dobley why, it’s out of the question. But you want to keep on looking out for yourself.”

“I will,” Joe promised.

After thinking the matter over Joe had decided it would be best to speak to the ring-master about the threatening letter, which had been received so close to the time when the derailment occurred. Jim Tracy had at once agreed with Joe that the discharged acrobat might possibly have been mad and rash enough to try to wreck the train, and the railroad detectives had been communicated with. But nothing had come of the investigation, and the accident had been set down as one of the many unexplained happenings that occur on railroads.

A search had been made for Dobley, but he seemed to have disappeared for the time being, and Joe was glad of it.

“Ready for the new stunt?” asked Tracy, as he passed on.

“Yes; I’ll pull it off to-night if nothing happens,” Joe said.

He was glad there were few people in the big tent when he entered it after the afternoon performance, to put in some hard practice. Joe’s own trapeze was in place, but he lowered it to the ground, and went carefully over every inch of the ropes, canvas straps, snaps, and the various fastenings to make sure nothing was wrong. He found everything all right.

It was not exactly that he was suspicious of the Lascalla Brothers, but he was taking no chances.

Joe’s act worked well in practice. When he had performed his trick for the last time he saw Benny Turton, the “human fish,” coming into the tent to look after his tank, about which the young performer was very particular.

“How do you like that, Ben?” asked Joe, as he finished the new trick.

“First rate. That’s a thriller all right, Joe! That’ll make ’em sit up and take notice. I’ll have to work in something new myself if you keep on piling up the stuff.”

“Oh, I guess you could do that, Ben.”

The “human fish” shook his head.

“No,” he said slowly, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me lately, Joe, but I don’t seem to have ambition for anything. I go through my regular stunts, but that’s all I want to do. I don’t even stay under water as long as I used to, and Jim Tracy was kicking again to-day. He said I’d have to do better, but I don’t see how I can. Of course he was nice about it, as he always is, but I know he’s disappointed in me.”

“Oh, I guess not, Ben. Maybe you’ll do better to-night.”

“I hope so. Anyhow you’ll have a thriller for them.”

“You’re coming to Helen’s party, aren’t you?”

“Oh, sure, Joe. I wouldn’t miss that. I’m glad she’s got some money,” and Ben spoke rather despondently.

Joe made arrangements with his helper to look after the special appliances needed for the new trick, and went to supper. He did not see Helen, and guessed that she was still busy with the law clerk.

“I hope she doesn’t trust too much to that chap,” mused Joe. “I don’t just like his looks.”

The big tent was crowded when Joe began his performance that night. He received his usual applause, and then gave the signal that he was about to put on his new act. He was hoisted up to the top trapeze, which was a short one, and to this Joe had fastened a longer one.

He sat upon the bar of this, swinging to and fro, working himself into position until he was resting on the “hocks,” as performers call that portion of the leg just above the knee.

Suddenly Joe seemed to fall over backward, and there was a cry of alarm from the crowd. But he remained in position, swinging by his insteps.

In the trapeze world this is known as “drop back to instep hang.” Joe had done it most effectively, but that was not all of the trick.

Quickly he grasped the ropes of the lower trapeze. He twined his legs about these, and then, with a thrilling yell, he let himself slide, head down along the ropes, holding only by his intertwined legs and insteps, which he had padded with asbestos to take up the heat of friction.

Down the long ropes he slid until he came to a sudden stop as his outstretched hands grasped the lower bar. There he hung suspended a moment, while the audience sat thrilled, thinking it had been an accidental fall and a most miraculous escape. But Joe had planned it all out in advance, and knew it was safe, especially as the life net was under him.

He suspended himself on the bar a moment, and then made a back somersault, and amid the booming of the drum he dropped into the net and made his bows in response to the applause.

The new feat was appreciated at once, but it was some time before the crowd realized that the fall backward was not accidental.

Joe was congratulated by his fellow performers, though, as might be expected, there was some little jealousy. But Joe was used to that by this time.

It was a merry little party that gathered later in the hotel room for Helen’s supper. She sat at the head of the table, with Joe on one side and Bill Watson, the veteran clown, on the other.

“Well, did you make out all right with your lawyer friend?” Joe asked.

“Oh, yes, Joe, I never had so much money at one time in my life before.”

“What did you do with it?”

“I kept out enough to pay for this supper, and the rest I put in the circus ticket wagon safe.”

“What, all your cash?”

“Oh, I didn’t take it all, Joe.”

“You didn’t take it all?”

“No. Mr. Sanford he’s the law clerk, you know said I ought not to have so much money with me, so he offered to take care for me all I didn’t want to use right away.”

“He’s going to take care of it for you?” Joe repeated.

“Yes. He says he can invest it for me. But eat your supper, Joe.”

Somehow or other Joe Strong did not feel much like eating. He had a sudden and undefinable suspicion of that law clerk.