All eyes, even those of Helen Morton, turned in the direction of Joe Strong.
He acted quickly. With a wave of his hand he invited the three pretty girls and the three well-appearing young men to be seated. They took their places around a table, with Joe acting as host. The table appeared to be well laden, and at first the act seemed to be only a rather elaborate meal being served in public.
“What is it all about?” mused Helen. “I can’t see anything very wonderful in that.”
But, even as she thus mused, something strange happened. The banquet table seemed to burst into flames. The dishes of food blazed up, and the audience gasped.
But the young men, the young women, and Joe Strong did not seem in the least surprised. They kept their seats and went right on eating.
And then, with a thrill of surprise, it was noticed that Joe Strong and his guests were devouring the blazing food itself! The girls and young men put portion after portion of the blazing viands into their mouths!
HAM IS MISSING
Surprise and astonishment held the audience silent and spellbound for a moment. Then a woman screamed, and, ready for this emergency and fearing a panic, than which nothing is more dreaded by circus men, Jim Tracy cried:
“Sit still! Keep your seats! There is no danger! This is all part of the show. We are merely showing you how to eat your meals in case any of you ever get caught in a blazing volcano. Watch the ladies and gentlemen eat their stuff hot—right off the fire!”
There was a laugh at this sally, and a laugh was what the ringmaster wanted more than anything else just then. He knew the tide of fear had been changed to one of wondering admiration.
And so, sitting on the stage in sight of the thrilled audience, Joe Strong and his guests, in the shape of pretty girls and manly young fellows fancifully attired, continued to eat the blazing food.
The very pieces of bread seemed to be on fire, there was a dancing flame over the butter, and each bit of meat or other food Joe and the performers lifted on their forks was alive with leaping fire.
Then the daring feature of the act was borne home to the audience and the applause broke forth—applause loud and long. There were yells and whistles from the younger and more enthusiastic portion of the circus crowd.
And then the fires died away. The table seemed emptied of victuals, and the young men and women, imitating Joe’s example, leaned back in their chairs as though well satisfied with their hot meal.
“There you are, ladies and gentlemen!” declaimed the ringmaster. “They have come to no harm from eating living fire. If any of you are tired of cold victuals, kindly step forward and you will be treated to a free, hot lunch by Professor Strong.”