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

Helen looked dazed for a few seconds. She stared at Joe as though she did not understand what he had said. She looked at the oil stock certificates in his hand. Joe continued to regard them dubiously.

“Worthless my investment worthless?” Helen asked, after a bit.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Joe replied. “Of course I don’t know much about stocks, bonds and so on, but a man said this stock certificate wasn’t worth the price of a good cigar,” and he held up the one the hospital patient had given him. “Yours is the same kind, Helen, I’m sorry to say.”

“How do you know, Joe? Let me see them.”

Joe gave her the two papers elaborately printed, and lavishly enough engraved to be government money, but aside from that worthless.

Then Joe told of the incident in the hospital how he had accidentally heard the man speak of the Circle City Oil Syndicate, and the conversation that followed.

“If what he says is true, Helen, your money is gone,” Joe finished.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.” she said slowly. “Oh, dear, isn’t it too bad? And I was just thinking how nice it would be if I could increase my fortune. Now I am likely to lose it. I wish I had known more about business. I’d never have let this man fool me.”

“I wish I had, too,” remarked Joe. “Then I’d have advised you not to risk your money in oil. But perhaps it isn’t too late yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we may be able to sell back this stock. Of course it would hardly be right to sell it to an innocent person, who did not know of its worthlessness, for then they would lose also. But I mean the Syndicate might buy it back, rather than have it become known that the concern was worthless. I don’t know much about such things.”

“Neither do I,” agreed Helen. “I’ll tell you what let’s do, Joe. Let’s ask Bill Watson. He use to be in business before he became a clown, and he might tell us what to do.”

“A good idea,” commented Joe. “We’ll do it.”

The old clown was in the dressing room, but he came out when Helen and Joe summoned him, half his face “made up,” with streaks of red, white and blue grease paint.

“Oh, Bill, we’re in such trouble!” cried Helen,

“Trouble!” exclaimed Bill. The word seemed hardly to fit in with his grotesque character. “What trouble?”

“It’s about my money,” Helen went on. “I’m going to lose it all, Joe thinks.”

“Oh, not all!” exclaimed the young trapeze performer quickly. “Only what you invested in oil stock. Here’s the story, Bill,” and Joe related his part of it, Helen supplying the information needed from her end.

“Now,” went on Joe, as he concluded, “what we want to know is can Helen save any of this oil money?”

Bill Watson was silent a moment. Then he slowly shook his head.

“I’m afraid not,” he answered. “Money invested in wild-cat oil wells is seldom recovered. Of course you could bring a lawsuit against this Sanford, but the chances are he’s skipped out by this time.”

“Oh, no, he hasn’t,” Helen exclaimed. “I had a letter from him only the other day. He asked me if I didn’t want to buy some more stock. I know where to find him.”

Once more the veteran clown shook his head.

“He might allow you to find him if he thought you were bringing him more cash for his worthless schemes,” he said, “but if he found out you wanted to serve papers on him in a suit, or to get hold of him to make him give back the money he took from you, Helen, that would be a different story. I’m afraid you wouldn’t see much of Mr. Sanford then. He’d be mighty scarce.”

“Could we sell back the stock to the oil company?” Joe wanted to know.

“Hardly,” answered the clown. “They make that stock to sell to the public, and they never buy it back unless there’s a chance for them to make money. And, according to Joe’s tale, there isn’t in this case.”

“Not by what that man said,” affirmed the young trapeze performer.

“I suppose the only thing to do,” went on the old clown, “would be to give the case into the hands of a good lawyer, and let him see what he could do with it. Turn over the stock to him, give him power to act for you, Helen, and wait for what comes. You’ll be traveling on with the show, and you can’t do much, nor Joe either, though I know he would help you if he could, and so would I.”

“That’s what!” exclaimed Joe heartily.

“I’ll do just as you say,” agreed Helen. “But it does seem too bad to lose my money, and I counted on doing so much with it. But it can’t be helped.”

She was more cheerful over it than Joe thought she would be. He suspected that she had not altogether lost hope, but as for himself Joe counted the money gone, and it was not a small sum to lose.

“Come on, Helen,” he said. “I noticed a lawyer’s office on the main street as I was looking at the parade. We’ll go there and get him to take the case. We’ll be out of here to-night and we can leave matters in his hands, with instructions to send us word when he has the money back.”

“And I’m afraid you’ll never get that word,” said the old clown.

There was time enough before the afternoon performance for Joe and Helen to pay a visit to the law office. Joe also reported to Jim Tracy, who was glad to see him.

“I don’t want you to get on the trapeze to-day,” said the ring-master. “Take a little light practice first for a few days. And do all you can for her,” he added in a low voice, motioning to Helen.

“I sure will!” Joe exclaimed fervently.

The lawyer listened to the story as Joe and Helen told it to him, and agreed to take the case against Sanford and the Circle City Oil Syndicate for a small fee.

“I’ll do the best I can,” he said, “but I’m afraid I can’t promise you much in results. Let me have the papers and your future address.”

Joe put on his suit of tights for that afternoon, though he did not take part in the trapeze work. He fancied that the Lascalla Brothers were not very glad to see him, but this may have been fancy, for they were cordial enough as far as words went.

“Maybe they thought I would be laid up permanently,” reasoned Joe. “Then they could have their former partner back. I wonder if he’s been around lately?”

He made some inquiries, but no one had noticed Sim Dobley hanging about the lots as he had done shortly after his discharge. Nor had there been, as Joe had a faint suspicion there might be, any connection between the train wreck and the discharged employee.

“I don’t believe Sim would be so desperate as to wreck a train just to get even with me,” decided Joe. “I guess it was just a coincidence. He only wrote that threatening letter as a bluff.”

Helen Morton did not allow her distress over the prospective loss of her money to interfere with her circus act. She put Rosebud through his paces in the ring, and received her share of applause at the antics of the clever horse. Helen did a new little trick the one she had told Joe about.

She tossed flags of different nations to different parts of the ring, and then told Rosebud to fetch them to her, one after the other, calling for them by name.

The intelligent horse made no mistakes, bringing the right flag each time.

“And now,” said Helen at the conclusion of her act, “show me what all good little children do when they go to bed at night.”

Rosebud bent his forelegs and bowed his head between them as if he were saying his prayers.

“That’s a good horse!” ejaculated Helen. “Now come and get your sugar and give me a kiss,” and the animal daintily picked up a lump of the sweet stuff from Helen’s hand, and then lightly touched her cheek with his velvety muzzle.

Then with a leap the pretty young rider vaulted into the saddle and rode out of the ring amid applause.

“You’re doing beautifully, Helen!” was Joe’s compliment, as Helen rode out.

“I may be all right on a horse,” she answered, “but I don’t know much about money and business.”

The show moved on that night, and the next day, when the tent was set up, Joe indulged in light practice. He found the soreness almost gone, and as he worked alone, and with the Lascalla Brothers, his stiffness also disappeared.

“I think I’ll go on to-night,” he told the ring-master.

“All right, Joe. We’ll be glad to have you, of course. But don’t take any chances.”

Mail was distributed among the circus folk that day following the afternoon performance. Joe had letters from some people to whom he had written in regard to his mother’s relatives in England. One gave him the address of a London solicitor, as lawyers are designated over there, and Joe determined to write to him.

“Though I guess my chances of getting an inheritance are pretty slim,” he told Helen. “I’m not lucky, like you.”

“I hope you don’t call me lucky!” she exclaimed. “Having money doesn’t do me any good. I lose it as fast as I get it.”

She had a letter from her lawyer, stating that he had looked further into the case since she had left the papers with him, and that he had less hope than ever of ever being able to get back the cash paid for the oil stock.

Joe did not intend to work in any new tricks the first evening of his reappearance after the accident. But when he got started he felt so well after his rest and his light practice, that he made up his mind he would put on a couple of novelties. Not exactly novelties, either, for they are known to most gymnasts though not often done in a circus.

Joe went up to the top of the tent. Near the small platform, from which he jumped in the long swing, to catch Tonzo Lascalla in the trapeze, Joe had fastened a long cotton rope about two inches in diameter.

He caught hold of the rope in both hands and passed it between his thighs, letting it rest on the calf of his left leg. He then brought the rope around over the instep of his left foot, holding it in position with pressure by the right foot, which was pressed against the left.

“Here I come!” Joe cried, and then, letting go with his hands, Joe stretched out his arms, and came down the rope in that fashion, the pressure of his feet on the rope that passed between them regulating his speed.

It was a more difficult feat than it appeared, this descending a rope without using one’s hands, but it seemed to thrill the crowd sufficiently.

But Joe had not finished. He knew another spectacular act in rope work, which looked difficult and dangerous, and yet was easier to perform than the one he had just done. Often in trapeze work this is the case.

The spectator may be thrilled by some seemingly dangerous and risky act, when, as a matter of fact, it is easy for the performer, who thinks little of it. On the other hand that which often seems from the circus seats to be very easy may be so hard on the muscles and nerves as to be actually dreaded by the performer.

Having himself hauled up to the top of the tent again, Joe once more took hold of the rope. He held himself in position, the rope between his legs, which he thrust out at right angles to his body, his toes pointing straight out. Suddenly he “circled back” to an inverted hang, his head now pointing to the ground many feet below. Then he quickly passed the rope about his waist, under his right armpit, crossed his feet with the rope between them, the toes of the right foot pressing the cotton strands against the arch of his left foot.

“Ready!” cried Joe.

There was a boom of the big drum, a ruffle of the snare, and Joe slid down the rope head first with outstretched arms, coming to a sudden stop with his head hardly an inch from the hard ground. But Joe knew just what he was doing and he could regulate his descent to the fraction of an inch by the pressure of his legs and feet on the rope.

There was a yell of delight from the audience at this feat, and Joe, turning right side up, acknowledged the ovation tendered him. Then he ran from the tent his part in the show being over.

For a week the circus showed, moving from town to city. It was approaching the end of the season. The show would soon go into winter quarters, and the performers disperse until summer came again.

Helen had heard nothing favorable from the lawyer, and she and Joe had about given up hope of getting back the money.

The circus had reached a good-sized city in the course of its travels, and was to play there two days. On the afternoon of the first day, just before the opening of the performance, Joe went to Helen’s tent to speak to her about something.

“She isn’t here,” Mrs. Talfo, the fat lady, told him. “She’s gone.”

“Gone!” echoed Joe. “Isn’t she going to play this afternoon?”

“I believe not no.”

“But where did she go?”

“You’ll have to ask Jim Tracy. I saw her talking to him. She seemed quite excited about something.”

“I wonder if anything could have happened,” mused Joe. “They couldn’t have discharged her. That act’s too good. But it looks funny. She wouldn’t have left of her own accord without saying good-bye. I wonder what happened.”