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

There were merry hearts at the little celebration given by Helen Morton “Mademoiselle Mortonti” in recognition of coming into her inheritance. That is, the hearts were all merry save that of Joe Strong.

For a few seconds after Helen had made the statement about having left her money with the law clerk for investment, Joe could only stare at her. On her part the young circus rider seemed to think there was nothing unusual in what she had done.

“Congratulations, Miss Morton!” called Bill Watson, as he waved his napkin in the air. “Congratulations!”

“Why don’t you call me Helen as you used to?” asked the girl.

“Oh, you’re quite a rich young lady now, and I didn’t think you would want me to be so familiar,” he replied with a laugh.

“Goodness! I hope every one isn’t going to get so formal all at once,” she remarked, with a look at Joe.

“I won’t not unless you want me to,” he answered.

“But why don’t you eat?” she asked him. “You sit there as if you had no appetite. I’m as hungry as a bear one of our own circus bears, too. Come, why don’t you eat and be happy?”

“I I’m thinking,” Joe remarked.

“This isn’t the time to think!” she exclaimed. “Oh, I’m so glad I have a little money. I won’t have to worry now if I shouldn’t be able to go on with my circus act. I could take a vacation if I wanted to, couldn’t I?”

“Are you going to?” asked Joe. Somehow he felt a sudden sinking sensation in the region of his heart. At least he judged it was his heart that was affected.

“No, not right away,” Helen answered. “I’m going to stay with the show until it goes into winter quarters, anyhow.”

“And after that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

The little celebration went merrily on. Helen’s health was proposed many times, being pledged in lemonade, grape juice and ginger ale. She blushed with pleasure as she sat between Joe and the veteran clown, for many nice things were said about her, as one after another of her guests congratulated her on her good fortune.

“Speech! Speech!” some one called out.

“What do they mean?” asked Helen of Bill Watson.

“They want you to say something,” the clown said.

“Oh, I never could never in the world!” and Helen blushed more vividly than before.

“Try it,” urged Joe. “Just thank them. You can do that.”

Much confused, Helen arose at her place.

“I’d rather ride in a circus ring ten times over than make a speech,” she confessed in an aside to Joe.

“Go on,” he urged.

“My dear friends,” she began tremblingly, “I want to thank you for all the nice things you have said about me, and I want to say that I’m glad glad ” She paused and blushed again.

“Glad to be here,” prompted Joe.

“Yes, that’s it glad to be here, and I er I Oh, you finish for me, Joe!” she begged, as she sat down amid laughter.

Then the supper went on, more merrily than before. But it had to come to an end at last, for the show people needed their rest if they were to perform well the next day. And most of them, especially those like Joe and the acrobats, who depended on their nerve as well as their strength, needed unbroken slumber.

As Joe walked back to the railroad, where their sleeping cars were standing on a siding, the young trapeze performer asked Helen about her business transaction with the law clerk. He had not had a chance to do this at the supper.

“Well,” began the girl, “as you know, he brought me the cash, Joe. Oh, how nice those new bills did look. He had it all in new bills for me. Mr. Pike told him to do that, he said, as they didn’t know whether I could use a check, traveling about as I am. Anyhow he had the bills for me about three thousand dollars it was. The rest of my little fortune, you know, is in stocks and bonds. I only get the interest, but this cash was from the sale of some of grandfather’s property.”

“Then you didn’t keep the cash yourself?” Joe asked.

“No. Mr. Sanford said it wouldn’t be safe for me to carry so much money around with me. Do you think it would?”

“Of course not,” Joe agreed. “But you could have let our treasurer keep it for you. He could have banked it.”

“Yes; Mr. Sanford thought of that, he said. But he also said if my money was in the bank I wouldn’t get more than three per cent. on it. I don’t know exactly what he means I never was any good at fractions, and I know nothing about business. But, anyhow, Mr. Sanford kindly explained that I would get more interest on my money if it was invested than if it was in a bank. And he offered to invest for me all I didn’t need at once. Wasn’t he kind?”

“Perhaps,” admitted Joe, rather dubiously. “How is he going to invest it?”

“Oh, he knows lots of ways, he said, being in the law office. But he said he thought it would be best to buy oil stock with it. Oil stock was sure to go up in price, he said; and I would make money on that as well as interest, or dividends or something like that. Wasn’t he good?”

“To himself maybe, yes,” answered Joe.

“What do you mean?” inquired Helen.

“Oh, well, maybe it’s all right,” Joe said. He did not want to alarm the girl unnecessarily, but he had a deeper suspicion than before of Sanford.

“I think it’s just fine,” Helen went on. “I have quite some cash with me I’m going to let our treasurer keep that, and give me some when I need it. Then, from time to time, I’ll get dividends on my oil stock.”

“Maybe,” said Joe, in a low voice.

“What?” asked Helen, quickly. “What do you mean?”

“Never mind,” proceeded Joe. “Anyhow we had a good time to-night.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“I certainly did, Helen.”

They parted near the train, Joe to go to his car and Helen to hers.

“Oh, by the way,” Joe called after her. “Did Mr. Sanford say what oil company it was he was going to invest your money in?”

“Yes, he told me. It’s the Circle City Oil Syndicate. He has some stock in it, he told me, and it’s a fine concern. Oh, Joe, I’m so glad I have inherited a little fortune.”

“So am I,” Joe returned, wondering at the same time if he would ever hear anything encouraging of his mother’s relatives in England.

“The Circle City Oil Syndicate,” Joe murmured as he entered his car. “I must look them up. This fellow, Sanford, may be all right, but he struck me as being a pretty slick individual, who would look out for himself first, and the firm’s clients afterward. He’ll bear investigating.”

However, nothing could be done that night. The clerk had gone back with the larger part of Helen’s money, and Joe did not want to cause her worry by speaking of his suspicions.

The circus did a good business the next day, drawing even larger throngs than to the previous performances. The story of Helen’s good fortune was printed in the local paper, with an account of the celebration supper she gave, and when she rode into the ring on Rosebud the applause that greeted her was very pronounced.

Joe repeated his “drop back to instep hang” that afternoon. It was rather a perilous feat and he was not so sure of it as he was of his other exercises. But it was a “thriller” and that was what the public seemed to want something that made them gasp, sit up, and hold their breath while they waited to see if “anything would happen” to the reckless performer.

Joe climbed up to his small trapeze, swung on it and then fell backward for his first instep hang. He accomplished this successfully, and then came the thrilling slide down the longer ropes.

Down Joe shot, depending on stopping himself with his outstretched and down-hanging hands when he reached the second bar.

But the inevitable “something” happened. Joe’s hands slipped from the bar, his head struck it a glancing blow, and the next instant he felt himself falling head first down toward the life net.