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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 136 pages of information about Joe Strong the Boy Fire-Eater.

“Yes.  And I was counted a pretty good one.  But I lost my nerve.”

“How?”

“Well—­er—­not to put too fine a point on it, I got too fond of the fire-water.  Couldn’t stay on the water-wagon long enough, got careless in my act, went down and out.  Oh, it’s the old story.  You’ve probably heard it lots of times.  But I would like a job now.  I’m actually hungry, and I’ve seen the time I could blow the bunch to champagne and lobster.”

Joe, on impulse, and yet, too, because he had an object, was just going to offer the man help when he saw Mr. Moyne coming across the lot toward him from the ticket wagon.  The afternoon performance was about to start.

“They’re here again!” cried the treasurer.

“Who?” asked Joe.

“The ticket swindlers!”

CHAPTER XVI

RINGS OF FIRE

Instantly Joe Strong lost interest in the “tramp fire-eater,” as he afterward came to call the man.  All the attention of the young magician was centered on what the treasurer had said.

“Are you certain of this?” asked Joe.

“Positive!” was the answer.  “We’ve been keeping careful watch, paying special attention to the red serial numbers, and some duplicates have been taken in at the main entrance.  The swindlers are at work again.”

“But our new tickets!” exclaimed Joe.  “The new style of paper and the precautions we have taken!  What of that?”

In answer Mr. Moyne held out two tickets, both bearing the same serial number in red ink.

“Which is the bogus and which is the genuine?” he asked.

Joe looked carefully at the two.  He examined them for a full minute.

“I can’t tell!” he admitted.

“And no one else can, either,” declared the treasurer.  “We’re up against it again!  Those fellows are too clever for us.  Now we’ll lose a lot of money!”

“Well, it won’t break us,” said Joe easily.  “Though, of course, no one likes to be cheated.  The only thing to do is to get the detectives busy.  Let them know the new turn affairs have taken, and I’ll send these two tickets to our chemist friend.  He can tell which is printed from our regular stock, and which is the counterfeit.

“Then, too, it ought to be easier to catch the rascals now than it was at first.  You see, we didn’t know how long the old tickets had been counterfeited.  Now we’re warned, first shot out of the box, about the new ones.  And since the paper mill hasn’t been supplying our printer with the new kind of paper very long, it ought to be easy to trace where the new and clever counterfeit supply is coming from.”

“Well, I hope they can catch the scoundrels,” said Mr. Moyne.  “I certainly hate to see money lost.”

Mr. Moyne was an ideal treasurer.  He always had the interests of the circus at heart, and one would think that the money came out of his own pocket to hear him talk about the counterfeit tickets.  In a way he did lose, personally, since he was one of the owners of the show, and the less money that came in the less his stock dividends would amount to.

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