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

Women and children screamed, and there were hoarse shouts from the men who witnessed Joe’s fall. At first some thought it was only part of the acrobatic trick, but a single glance at the desperate struggles of the young trapeze performer dispelled this idea.

For Joe was struggling desperately in the air to prevent himself from falling head first into the life net.

It might be thought that one could fall into a loose, sagging net in any position and not be hurt. But this is not so. A fall into a net from a great height is often as dangerous as landing on the ground. Circus folk must know how to fall properly.

If the person falling lands on his head he is likely to dislocate, if not to break, his neck, and falling on one’s face may sometimes be dangerous. The best way, of course, is to land on one’s feet, and this was what Joe was trying to bring about.

When he realized that he had missed grasping the bar of the second trapeze (though he could not understand his failure) he knew he must turn over, and that quickly, or he would strike on his head in the net. He tried to turn a somersault, but he was at a disadvantage, not having prepared for that in advance.

“I’ve got to turn! I’ve got to turn!” he thought desperately, as he fell through space.

He did manage to get partly over and when he landed in the net he took the force of the blow partly on his head and partly on his shoulder. Everything seemed to get black around him, and there was a roaring in his ears. Then Joe Strong knew nothing. He had been knocked unconscious by the fall.

The circus audience or that part of it immediately near Joe’s trapèzes was at once aware that something unusual had occurred.

Some women arose, as though to rush out. Others screamed and one or two children began to cry. A slight panic was imminent, and Jim Tracy realized this.

From where she was putting her horse, Rosebud, through his paces Helen saw what happened to Joe. In an instant she jumped from the saddle, and ran across the ring toward the net in which he lay, an inert form.

Other circus performers and attendants rushed to aid Joe, and this added to the confusion and excitement. Many in the audience were standing up, trying to see what had happened, and those behind, whose view was obstructed, cried:

“Sit down! Down in front!”

“Give us some music!” ordered Jim Tracy of the band, which had stopped playing when Joe performed his trick in order that it might be more impressive. A lively tune was started, and though it may seem heartless, in view of the fact that a performer possibly was killed, it was the best thing to do under the circumstances, for it calmed the audience.

Tender hands lifted Joe out of the net, and carried him toward the dressing room.

“Go on with the show!” the ring-master ordered the performers who had left their stations. “Go on with the show. We’ll look after him. There are plenty of us to do it.”

And the show went on. It had to.

“Is he is he badly hurt?” faltered Helen, as she walked beside the four men who were carrying Joe on a stretcher which had been brought from the first aid tent. The circus was always ready to look after those hurt in accidents.

“I don’t think so he took the fall pretty well only partly on his head,” said Bill Watson, who had stopped his laughable antics to rush over to Joe. “He may be only stunned.”

“I hope so,” breathed Helen.

“You’d better get back to your ring,” suggested Bill. “Finish your act.”

“It was almost over,” Helen objected. “I can’t go back now. Not until I see how he is.”

“All right come along then,” said the old clown, sympathetically. He guessed how matters were between Helen and Joe. “I don’t believe the boss will mind much. There’s enough of the show left for ’em to look at.”

He glanced down at Joe, who lay unconscious on the stretcher. They were now in the canvas screened passage between the dressing tent and the larger one, where the performance had been resumed. Helen put out her hand and touched Joe’s forehead. He seemed to stir slightly.

“Have they sent for a doctor?” she asked.

“They’ll get one from the crowd,” replied Bill. “There’s always one or more in a circus audience.”

And he was right. As they placed Joe on a cot that had been quickly made ready for him, a physician, summoned from the audience by the ring-master, came to see what he could do. Silently Helen, Bill and the others stood about while the medical man made his examination.

“Will he die?” Helen asked in a whisper.

“Not at once in fact not for some years to come, I think,” replied the physician with a smile. “He has had a bad fall, and he will be laid up for a time. But it is not serious.”

Helen’s face showed the relief she felt.

“He’ll have to go to a hospital, though,” continued the medical man. “His neck is badly strained, and so are the muscles of his shoulder. He won’t be able to swing on a trapeze for a week or so.”

Bill Watson whistled a low note. He knew what it meant for a circus performer to be laid up.

“Please take him to a hospital,” cried Helen impulsively, “and see that he has a good physician and a nurse I mean, you look after him yourself,” she added quickly, as she saw the doctor smiling at her.

“And have a trained nurse for him. I’ll pay the bill,” she went on. “I’m so glad that money came to me. I’ll use some of it for Joe.”

“She just inherited a little fortune,” explained Bill in a whispered aside to the medical man. “They’re quite fond of each other those two.”

“So it seems. Well, he’ll need a nurse and medical treatment for a while to come. I’ll go and arrange to have him taken to the hospital. Has he any friends that ought to be notified not that he is going to die, but they might like to know.”

“I guess he hasn’t any friends but us here in the circus. His father and mother are dead, and he ran away from his foster-father a good thing, too, I guess. Well, the show will have to go on and leave him here, I suppose.”

“Oh, yes, certainly. He can’t travel with you.”

The ambulance came and took Joe away. Jim Tracy communicated with the hospital authorities, ordering them to give the young trapeze performer the best possible care in a private room, adding that the management would pay the bill.

“That has already been taken care of,” the superintendent of the hospital informed the ring-master. “A Miss Morton has left funds for Mr. Strong’s case.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered!” exclaimed Jim Tracy. Then he smiled.

The circus neared its close. The animal tent came down, the lions, tigers, horses and elephants were taken to their cars. The performers donned their street clothes and went to their sleeping cars.

Helen, Benny Turton and Bill Watson paid a visit to the hospital just before it was time for the circus train to leave. Joe had not recovered consciousness, but he was resting easily, the nurse said.

“Tell him to join the show whenever he is able,” was the message Jim Tracy had left for Joe, “and not to worry. Everything will be all right.”

“Good-bye,” whispered Helen close to Joe’s ear, But he did not hear her.

And the circus moved on, leaving stricken Joe behind.

It was nearly morning when he came out of his unconsciousness with a start that shook the bed.

“Quiet now,” said the soothing voice of the nurse.

Joe looked at her, wonder showing in his eyes. Then his gaze roved around the hospital room. He looked down at the white coverings on his enameled bed and then, realizing where he was, he asked:

“What happened?”

“You had a fall from your trapeze, they tell me,” the nurse said.

“Oh, yes, I remember now. Am I badly hurt?”

“The doctor does not think so. But you must be quiet now. You are to take this.”

She held a glass of medicine to his lips.

“But I must know about it,” Joe insisted. “I’ve got to go on with the show. Has the circus left?”

“Hours ago, yes. It’s all right. You are to stay here with us until you are better. A Mr. Tracy told me to tell you.”

“Oh, yes, Jim the ring-master. Well I I guess I’ll have to stay whether I want to or not.”

Joe had tried to raise his head from the pillow, but a severe pain, shooting through his neck and shoulders, warned him that he had better lie quietly. He also became aware that his head was bandaged.

“I must be in pretty bad shape,” he said.

“No, not so very,” replied the trained nurse cheerfully. “But you must keep quiet if you are to get well quickly. The doctor will be in to see you soon.”

Joe sunk into a sort of doze, and when he awakened again the doctor was in his room.

“Well, how about me?” asked the young performer.

“You might be a whole lot worse,” replied the medical man with a smile. “It’s just a bad wrench and sprain. You’ll be lame and sore for maybe two weeks, but eventually you’ll be able to go back, risking your neck again.”

“Oh, there’s not such an awful lot of risks,” Joe said. “This was just an accident my first of any account. I can’t understand how my hands slipped off the bar. Guess I didn’t put enough resin on them. How long will I be here?”

“Oh, perhaps a week maybe less.”

“Did they bring my pocketbook I mean my money?”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” said the doctor. “It has all been attended to. A Miss Morton made all the arrangements.”

“Oh,” was all Joe said, but he did a lot of thinking.

Joe’s injury was more painful than serious. His sore muscles had to be treated with liniment and electricity, and often massaged. This took time, but in less than a week he was able to be out of bed and could sit in an easy chair, out on one of the verandas.

Of course Joe wrote to Helen as soon as he could, thanking her and his other friends for what they had done for him. In return he received a letter from Helen, telling him how she and all of the circus folk missed him.

There was also a card from Benny Turton, and a note from Jim Tracy, telling Joe that his place was ready for him whenever he could come back. But he was not to hurry himself. They had put no one in his place on the bill, simply cutting his act out. The Lascalla Brothers worked with another trapeze performer, who gave up his own act temporarily to take Joe’s position.

“Well, I guess everything will be all right,” reflected our hero. “But I’ll join the show again as soon as I can.”

Joe was sitting on the sunny veranda one afternoon in a sort of doze. Other convalescent patients were near him, and he had been listening, rather idly, to their talk. He was startled to hear one man say:

“Well, I’d have been all right, and I could have my own automobile now, if I hadn’t been foolish enough to speculate in oil stocks.”

“What kind did you buy?” another patient asked.

“Oh, one of those advertised so much they made all sorts of claims for it, and I was simple enough to believe them. I put every cent I had saved up in the Circle City Oil Syndicate, and now I can whistle for my cash just when I need it too, with hospital and doctor bills to pay.”

“Can’t you get any of it back?”

“I don’t think so. In fact I’d sell my stock now for a dollar a share and be glad to get it. I paid twenty-five. Well, it can’t be helped.”

Joe looked up and looked over at the speaker. He was a middle-aged man, and he recognized him as a patient who had come in for treatment for rheumatism.

Joe wondered whether he had heard aright.

“The Circle City Oil Syndicate,” mused Joe. “That’s the one Helen has her money in or, rather, the one that San ford put her money in for her. I wonder if it can be the same company. I must find out, and if it is ”

Joe did not know just what he would do. What he had overheard caused him to be vaguely uneasy. His old suspicions came back to him.