“Well, take your time,” said Joe. “Only I don’t want to get mixed up with any of the deadly stuff.”
“Don’t worry. I’m on the watch,” declared the old performer.
That night, when the time for Joe to prepare for his acts, including the fire tricks, came, he did not see Ham in the dressing tent, where the assistant was usually to be found.
“Have you seen him?” asked Joe of Harry Loper.
“Yes, about half an hour ago,” was the answer. “He said he was going in to town.”
“Going in to town—and so near performing time?” cried Joe. “I wonder what for! He ought to be here!”
Joe was worried, and when his signal for going on came Ham Logan was still missing. Joe Strong shook his head dubiously. It had been found necessary to get another man to help with the act.
“I don’t like this,” he murmured. “I don’t like it for a cent!”
A SUDDEN WARNING
Only the fact that he had strong nerves and that he possessed the ability of concentrating his mind on whatever was uppermost at the time, enabled the young circus man to get through his various circus acts with credit at that performance. He began with the worry over Ham Logan’s disappearance before him. And he was actually worried—a bad state of affairs for one whose ability to please and deceive critical audiences depends on his snappy acting, his quickness of hand and mind, and his skill.
But, as has been said, Joe possessed the ability to concentrate on the most needful matter, and that, for the time being, was his box trick, his fire-eating, and his slide on his head down the slanting wire through the blazing hoops.
Then came the blazing banquet, and this created the usual furor in the audience. Joe managed to get through it with credit, though his rather strange manner was noticed and commented on afterward by the young people associated with him.
“I wonder what’s bothering the boss?” asked one of the young fire-eaters of another. “He nearly made a slip when he was lifting up that fake fried oyster.”
“Maybe the circus is losing money and he’s got to cut out this act—let some of us go—can’t pay our salaries,” was the reply.
“Don’t you believe it!” declared the other. “The circus is making more money than it ever did—more even when the fake tickets are worked off on it.”
“Well, it’s none of our affair.”
“I wouldn’t like my salary to be cut off.”
“Oh, neither would I.”
“Fake tickets? I hadn’t heard of them.”
“Oh, yes,” explained the first speaker, and he went into the details of the affair.
“But there’s surely something worrying the boss,” commented still another of the young men, and his associates, including the “pretty girls,” agreed with him.
And what really was worrying Joe was speculation over the fate of Ham Logan. Not since Joe had first taken the old and broken circus actor into his employ had Ham been away more than a few hours at a time, and then Joe knew where he was. This time Ham had left no word, save the uncertain one that he was going into the city, on the outskirts of which the circus was at the time showing.