The Circus Boys Across The Continent Or Winning New Laurels on the Tanbark
by Edgar B. P. Darlington
I The Boys Hear Good News II On The Road Once More III Phil to Rescue IV Renewing Old Acquaintances V Doing a Man's Work VI The Showman's Reward VII Trying The Culprit VIII Phil Makes a New Friend IX The Mule Distinguishes Himself X His First Bareback Lesson XI Summoned Before The Manager XII The Human Football XIII Ducked by an Elephant XIV In Dire Peril XV Emperor to The Rescue XVI An Unexpected Promotion XVII The Circus Boys Win New Laurels XVIII Doing a Double Somersault XIX Marooned in a Freight Car XX The Barnyard Circus XXI When The Crash Came XXII What Happened to a Pacemaker XXIII Searching The Train XXIV Conclusion
The Circus Boys Across the Continent
THE BOYS HEAR GOOD NEWS
"You never can guess it—you never can guess the news, Teddy," cried Phil Forrest, rushing into the gymnasium, his face flushed with excitement.
Teddy Tucker, clad in a pair of linen working trunks and a ragged, sleeveless shirt, both garments much the worse for their winter's wear, was lazily swinging a pair of Indian clubs.
"What is it, some kind of riddle, Phil?" he questioned, bringing the clubs down to his sides.
"Do be serious for a minute, won't you?"
"Me, serious? Why, I never cracked a smile. Isn't anything to smile at. Besides, do you know, since I've been in the circus business, every time I want to laugh I check myself so suddenly that it hurts?"
"Because I think I've still got my makeup on and that I'll crack it if I laugh."
"What, your face?"
"My face? No! My makeup. By the time I remember that I haven't any makeup on I've usually forgotten what it was I wanted to laugh about. Then I don't laugh."
Teddy shied an Indian club at a rat that was scurrying across the far end of their gymnasium, missing him by half the width of the building.
"If you don't care, of course I shan't tell you. But it's good news, Teddy. You would say so if you knew it."
"What news? Haven't heard anything that sounds like news," his eyes fixed on the hole into which the rat had disappeared.
"You can't guess where we are going this summer?"
"Going? Don't have to guess. I know," answered the lad with an emphasizing nod.
"Where do you think?"
"We're going out with the Great Sparling Combined Shows, of course. Didn't we sign out for the season before we closed with the show last fall?"
"Yes, yes; but where?" urged Phil, showing him the letter he had just brought from the post office. "You couldn't guess if you tried."
"No. Never was a good guesser. That letter from Mr. Sparling?" he questioned, as his eyes caught the familiar red and gold heading used by the owner of the show.
"What's he want?"
"You know I wrote to him asking that we be allowed to skip the rehearsals before the show starts out, so that we could stay here and take our school examinations?"
"I'd rather join the show," he grumbled.
"Never did see anything about school to go crazy over."
"You'll thank me someday for keeping you at it," said Phil. "See how well you have done this winter with your school work. I'm proud of you. Why, Teddy, there are lots of the boys a long way behind you. They can't say circus boys don't know anything just because they perform in a circus ring."
"H-m-m-m!" mused Teddy. "You haven't told me yet where we are going this summer. What's the route?"
"Mr. Sparling says that, as we are going to continue our last year's acts this season, there will be no necessity for rehearsals."
The announcement did not appear to have filled Teddy Tucker with joy.
"We do the flying rings again, then?"
"Yes. And we shall be able to give a performance that will surprise Mr. Sparling. Our winter's practicing has done a lot for us, as has our winter at school."
"Oh, I don't know."
"You probably will ride the educated mule again, while I expect to ride the elephant Emperor in the grand entry, as I did before. I'll be glad to get under the big top again, with the noise and the people, the music of the band and all that. Won't you, Teddy?" questioned Phil, his eyes glowing at the picture he had drawn.
Teddy heaved a deep sigh.
" 'Cause you make me think I'm there now."
Phil laughed softly.
"I can see myself riding the educated mule this very minute, kicking up the dust of the ring, making everybody get out of the way, and—"
"And falling off," laughed Phil. "You certainly are the most finished artist in the show when it comes to getting into trouble."
"Yes; I seem to keep things going," grinned the lad.
"But I haven't told you all that Mr. Sparling says in the letter."
"What else does he say?"
"That the show is to start from its winter quarters, just outside of Germantown, Pennsylvania, on April twenty-second—"
"Let's see; just two weeks from today," nodded Teddy.
"I wish it was today."
"He says we are to report on the twenty-first, as the show leaves early in the evening."
"Where do we show first?"
"Atlantic City. Then we take in the Jersey Coast towns—"
"Do we go to New York?"
"New York? Oh, no! The show isn't big enough for New York quite yet, even if it is a railroad show now. We've got to grow some before that. Mighty few shows are large enough to warrant taking them into the big city."
"How do you know?"
"All the show people say that."
"Pshaw! I'd sure make a hit in New York with the mule."
"Time enough for that later. You and I will yet perform in Madison Square Garden. Just put that down on your route card, Teddy Tucker."
"Humph! If we don't break our necks before that! Where did you say we were—"
"After leaving New Jersey, we are to play through New York State, taking in the big as well as the small towns, and from Buffalo heading straight west. Mr. Sparling writes that we are going across the continent."
"Says he's going to make the Sparling Shows known from the Atlantic to the Pacific—"
"Across the continent!" exclaimed Teddy unbelievingly. "No; you're fooling."
"Yes; clear to the Pacific Coast. We're going to San Francisco, too. What do you think of that, Teddy?"
"Great! Wow! Whoop!" howled the boy, hurling his remaining Indian Club far up among the rafters of the gymnasium, whence it came clattering down, both lads laughing gleefully.
"We're going to see the country this time, and we shan't have to sleep out in an open canvas wagon, either."
"Where shall we sleep?"
"Probably in a car."
"It won't be half so much fun," objected Teddy.
"I imagine the life will be different. Perhaps we shall not have so much fun, but we'll have the satisfaction of knowing that we are part of a real show. It will mean a lot to us to be with an organization like that. It will give us a better standing in the profession, and possibly by another season we may be able to get with one of the really big ones. Next spring, if we have good luck, we shall have finished with our school here. If they'll have us, we'll try to join out with one of them. In the meantime we must work hard, Teddy, so we shall be in fine shape when we join out two weeks from today. Come on; I'll wrestle you a few falls."
"Done," exclaimed Teddy.
Phil promptly threw off his coat and vest. A few minutes later the lads were struggling on the wrestling mat, their faces dripping with perspiration, their supple young figures twisting and turning as each struggled for the mastery of the other.
The readers of the preceding volume in this series, entitled, THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE FLYING RINGS, will recognize Phil and Teddy at once as the lads who had so unexpectedly joined the Sparling Combined Shows the previous summer. It was Phil who, by his ready resourcefulness, saved the life of the wife of the owner of the show as well as that of an animal trainer later on. Then, too, it will be remembered how the lad became the fast friend of the great elephant Emperor, which he rescued from "jail," and with which he performed in the ring to the delight of thousands. Ere the close of the season both boys had won their way to the flying rings, thus becoming full-fledged circus performers. Before leaving the show they had signed out for another season at a liberal salary.
With their savings, which amounted to a few hundred dollars, the boys had returned to their home at Edmeston, there to put in the winter at school.
That they might lose nothing of their fine physical condition, the Circus Boys had rented an old carpenter shop, which they rigged up as a gymnasium, fitting it with flying rings, trapeze bars and such other equipment as would serve to keep them in trim for the coming season's work.
Here Phil and Teddy had worked long hours after school. During the winter they had gained marked improvement in their work, besides developing some entirely new acts on the flying rings. During this time they had been living with Mrs. Cahill, who, it will be remembered, had proved herself a real friend to the motherless boys.
Now, the long-looked-for day was almost at hand when they should once more join the canvas city for a life in the open.
The next two weeks were busy ones for the lads, with their practice and the hard study incident to approaching examinations. Both boys passed with high standing. Books were put away, gymnasium apparatus stored and one sunlit morning two slender, manly looking young fellows, their faces reflecting perfect health and happiness, were at the railroad station waiting for the train which should bear them to the winter quarters of the show.
Fully half the town had gathered to see them off, for Edmeston was justly proud of its Circus Boys. As the train finally drew up and the lads clambered aboard, their school companions set up a mighty shout, with three cheers for the Circus Boys.
"Don't stick your head in the lion's mouth, Teddy!" was the parting salute Phil and Teddy received from the boys as the train drew out.
"Well, Teddy, we're headed for the Golden Gate at last!" glowed Phil.
"You bet!" agreed Teddy with more force than elegance.
"I wonder if old Emperor will remember me, Teddy?"
"Sure thing! But, do you think that 'fool mule,' as Mr. Sparling calls him, will remember me? Or will he want to kick me full of holes before the season has really opened?"
"I shouldn't place too much dependence on a mule," laughed Phil. "Come on; let's go inside and sit down."
ON THE ROAD ONCE MORE
All was bustle and excitement.
Men were rushing here and there, shouting out hoarse commands. Elephants were trumpeting shrilly, horses neighing; while, from many a canvas-wrapped wagon savage beasts of the jungle were emitting roar upon roar, all voicing their angry protest at being removed from the winter quarters where they had been at rest for the past six months.
The Great Sparling Combined Shows were moving out for their long summer's journey. The long trains were being rapidly loaded when Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker arrived on the scene late in the afternoon.
It was all new and strange to them, unused as they were to the ways of a railroad show. Their baggage had been sent on ahead of them, so they did not have that to bother with. Each carried a suitcase, however, and the boys were now trying to find someone in authority to ask where they should go and what they should do.
"Hello, Phil, old boy!" howled a familiar voice.
"Who's that?" demanded Teddy.
"Why, it's Rod Palmer, our working mate on the rings!" cried Phil, dropping his bag and darting across the tracks, where he had espied a shock of very red hair that he knew could belong only to Rodney Palmer.
Teddy strolled over with rather more dignity.
"Howdy?" he greeted just as Phil and the red-haired boy were wringing each other's hands. "Anybody'd think you two were long lost brothers."
"We are, aren't we, Rod?" glowed Phil.
"And we have been, ever since you boys showed me the brook where I could wash my face back in that tank town where you two lived. That was last summer. Seems like it was yesterday."
"Yes, and we work together again, I hear? I'm glad of that. I guess you've been doing something this winter," decided Rodney, after a critical survey of the lads. "You sure are both in fine condition. Quite a little lighter than you were last season, aren't you, Phil?"
"No; I weigh ten pounds more."
"Then you must be mighty hard."
"Hard as a keg of nails, but I hope not quite so stiff," laughed Phil.
"What you been working at?"
"Rings, mostly. We've done some practicing on the trapeze. What did you do all winter?"
"Me? Oh, I joined a team that was playing vaudeville houses. I was the second man in a ring act. Made good money and saved most of it. Why didn't you join out for the vaudeville?"
"We spent our winter at school," answered Phil.
"That's a good stunt at that. In the tank town, I suppose?" grinned the red-haired boy.
"You might call it that, but it's a pretty good town, just the same," replied Phil. "I saw many worse ones while we were out last season."
"And you'll see a lot more this season. Wait till we get to playing some of those way-back western towns. I was out there with a show once, and I know what I'm talking about. Where are you berthed?"
"I don't know," answered Phil. "Where are you?"
"Car number fourteen. Haven't seen the old man, then?"
"Mr. Sparling? No. And I want to see him at once. Where shall I find him?"
"He was here half an hour ago. Maybe he's in his office."
"Where is that?"
"Private car number one. Yes; the old man has his own elegant car this season. He's living high, I tell you. No more sleeping out in an old wagon that has no springs. It will be great to get into a real bed every night, won't it?"
Teddy shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't know 'bout that."
"I should think it would be pretty warm on a hot night," nodded Phil.
"And what about the rainy nights?" laughed Rodney. "Taking it altogether, I guess I'll take the Pullman for mine—"
"There goes Mr. Sparling now," interjected Teddy.
"Just climbing aboard a car. See him?"
"That's number one," advised Rodney. "Better skip, if you want to catch him. He's hard to land today. There's a lot for him to look after."
"Yes; come on, Teddy. Get your grip," said Phil, hurrying over to where he had dropped his suitcase.
"But it's going to be a great show," called Rodney.
"Especially the flying-ring act," laughed Phil.
A few minutes later both boys climbed aboard the private car, and, leaving their bags on the platform, pushed open the door and entered.
Mr. Sparling was seated at a roll-top desk in an office-like compartment, frowning over some document that he held in his hand.
The boys waited until he should look up. He did so suddenly, peering at them from beneath his heavy eyebrows. Phil was not sure, from the showman's expression, whether he had recognized them or not. Mr. Sparling answered this question almost at once.
"How are you, Forrest? Well, Tucker, I suppose you've come back primed to put my whole show to the bad, eh?"
"Maybe," answered Teddy carelessly.
"Oh, maybe, eh? So that's the way the flag's blowing, is it? Well, you let me catch you doing it and—stand up here, you two, and let me look at you."
He gazed long and searchingly at the Circus Boys, noting every line of their slender, shapely figures.
"You'll do," he growled.
"Yes, sir," answered Phil, smiling.
Mr. Sparling thrust out both hands toward them with almost disconcerting suddenness.
"Ouch!" howled Teddy, writhing under the grip the showman gave him, but if Phil got a pressure of equal force he made no sign.
"Where's your baggage?"
"We sent our trunks on yesterday. I presume they are here somewhere, sir."
"If they're not in your car, let me know."
"If you will be good enough to tell me where our car is I will find out at once."
The showman consulted a typewritten list.
"You are both in car number eleven. The porter will show you the berths that have been assigned to you, and I hope you will both obey the rules of the cars."
"Oh, yes, sir," answered Phil.
"I know you will, but I'm not so sure of your fat friend here. I think it might be a good plan to tie him in his berth, or he'll be falling off the platform some night, get under the wheels and wreck the train."
"I don't walk in my sleep," answered Teddy.
"Oh, you don't?"
Mr. Sparling frowned; then his face broke out into a broad smile.
"I always said you were hopeless. Run along, and get settled now. You understand that you will keep your berth all season, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. What time do we go out?"
"One section has already gone. The next and last will leave tonight about ten o'clock. We want to make an early start, for the labor is all green. It'll take three times as long to put up the rag as usual."
"The rag? What's the rag?" questioned Teddy.
"Beg pardon," mocked Mr. Sparling. "I had forgotten that you are still a Reuben. A rag is a tent, in show parlance."
"Any orders after we get settled?" asked Phil.
"Nothing for you to do till parade time tomorrow. You will look to the same executives that you did last year. There has been no change in them."
The lads hurried from the private car, and after searching about the railroad yard for fully half an hour they came upon car number eleven. This was a bright, orange-colored car with the name of the Sparling Shows painted in gilt letters near the roof, just under the eaves. The smell of fresh paint was everywhere, but the wagons being covered with canvas made it impossible for them to see how the new wagons looked. There were many of these loaded on flat cars, with which the railroad yard seemed to be filled.
"Looks bigger than Barnum & Bailey's," nodded Teddy, feeling a growing pride that he was connected with so great an organization.
"Not quite, I guess," replied Phil, mounting the platform of number eleven.
The boys introduced themselves to the porter, who showed them to their berths. These were much like those in the ordinary sleeper, except that the upper berths had narrow windows looking out from them. Across each berth was stretched a strong piece of twine.
Phil asked the porter what the string was for.
"To hang your trousers on, sah," was the enlightening answer. "There's hooks for the rest of your clothes just outside the berths."
"This looks pretty good to me," said Phil, peering out through the screened window of his berth.
"Reminds me of when I used to go to sleep in the woodbox behind the stove where I lived last year in Edmeston," grumbled Teddy in a muffled voice, as he rummaged about his berth trying to accustom himself to it. Teddy never had ridden in a sleeping car, so it was all new and strange to him.
"Say, who sleeps upstairs?" he called to the porter.
"The performers, sah—some of them. This heah is the performers' car, sah."
"How do they get up there? On a rope ladder?"
"You ninny, this isn't a circus performance. No; of course they don't climb up on a rope ladder as if they were starting a trapeze act."
"The porter brings out a little step ladder, and it's just like walking upstairs, only it isn't."
"Huh!" grunted Teddy. "Do they have a net under them all night?"
"A net? What for?"
"Case they fall out of bed."
"Put him out!" shouted several performers who were engaged in settling themselves in their own quarters. "He's too new for this outfit."
Phil drew his companion aside and read him a lecture on not asking so many questions, advising Teddy to keep his ears and eyes open instead.
Teddy grumbled and returned to the work of unpacking his bag.
Inquiry for their trunks developed the fact that they would have to look for these in the baggage car; that no trunks were allowed in the sleepers.
Everything about the car was new and fresh, the linen white and clean, while the wash room, with its mahogany trimmings, plate glass mirrors and upholstered seats, was quite the most elaborate thing that Teddy had ever seen.
He called to Phil to come and look at it.
"Yes, it is very handsome. I am sure we shall get to be very fond of our home on wheels before the season is ended. I'm going out now to see if our trunks have arrived."
Phil, after some hunting about, succeeded in finding the baggage man of the train, from whom he learned that the trunks had arrived and were packed away in the baggage car.
By this time night had fallen. With it came even greater confusion, while torches flared up here and there to light the scene of bustle and excitement.
It was all very confusing to Phil, and he was in constant fear of being run down by switching engines that were shunting cars back and forth as fast as they were loaded, rapidly making up the circus train. The Circus Boy wondered if he ever could get used to being with a railroad show.
"I must be getting back or I shall not be able to find number eleven," decided Phil finally. "I really haven't the least idea where it is now."
The huge canvas-covered wagons stood up in the air like a procession of wraiths of the night, muttered growls and guttural coughs issuing from their interiors. All this was disturbing to one not used to it.
Phil started on a run across the tracks in search of his car.
In the meantime Teddy Tucker, finding himself alone, had sauntered forth to watch the loading, and when he ventured abroad trouble usually followed.
The lad soon became so interested in the progress of the work that he was excitedly shouting out orders to the men, offering suggestions and criticisms of the way they were doing that work.
Now, most of the men in the labor gang were new—that is, they had not been with the Sparling show the previous season, and hence did not know Teddy by sight. After a time they tired of his running fire of comment. They had several times roughly warned him to go on about his business. But Teddy did not heed their advice, and likewise forgot all about that which Phil had given him earlier in the evening.
He kept right on telling the men how to load the circus, for, if there was one thing in the world that Teddy Tucker loved more than another it was to "boss" somebody.
All at once the lad felt himself suddenly seized from behind and lifted off his feet. At the same time a rough hand was clapped over his mouth.
The Circus Boy tried to utter a yell, but he found it impossible for him to do so. Teddy kicked and fought so vigorously that it was all his captor could do to hold him.
"Come and help me. We'll fix the fresh kid this time," called the fellow in whose grip the lad was struggling.
"What's the matter, Larry? Is he too much for you?" laughed the other man.
"He's the biggest little man I ever got my fists on. Gimme a hand here."
"What are you going to do with him?"
"I'll show you in a minute."
"Maybe he's with the show. He's slippery enough to be a performer."
"No such thing. And I don't care if he is. I'll teach him not to interfere with the men. Grab hold and help me carry him."
Together they lifted the kicking, squirming, fighting boy, carrying him on down the tracks, not putting him down until they had reached the standpipe of a nearby water tank, where the locomotives took on their supply of fresh water.
"Jerk that spout around!" commanded Larry, sitting down on Tucker with a force that made the lad gasp.
"Can't reach the chain."
"Then get a pike pole, and be quick about it. The foreman will be looking for us first thing we know. If he finds us here he'll fire us before we get started."
"See here, Larry, what are you going to do?" demanded the other suspiciously.
"My eyes, but you're inquisitive! Going to wash the kid down. Next time mebby he won't be so fresh."
And "wash" they did.
Suddenly the full stream from the standpipe spurted down. Larry promptly let go of his captive. Teddy was right in the path of the downpour, and the next instant he was struggling in the flood.
The showman dropped him and started to run.
Teddy let out a choking howl, grasping frantically for his tormentor. A moment later the lad's hands closed over Larry's ankles, and before the man was able to free himself from the boy's grip Teddy had pulled him down and dragged him under the stream that was pouring down in a perfect deluge. The Circus Boy, being strong and muscular, was able to accomplish this with slight exertion.
Larry's companion was making no effort to assist his fallen comrade. Instead, the fellow was howling with delight.
No sooner, however, had Teddy raised the man and slammed him down on his back under the spout, than the lad let go of his victim and darted off into the shadows. Teddy realized that it was high time he was leaving.
The man, fuming with rage, uttering loud-voiced threats of vengeance, scrambled out of the flood and began rushing up and down the tracks in search of Teddy.
But the boy was nowhere to be found. He had hastily climbed over a fence, where he crouched, dripping wet, watching the antics of the enraged Larry.
"Guess he won't bother another boy right away," grinned Teddy, not heeding his own wet and bedraggled condition.
The two showmen finally gave up their quest, and all at once started on a run in the opposite direction.
"Now, I wonder what's made them run away like that? Surely they aren't scared of me. I wonder? Guess I'll go over and find out."
Leaving his hiding place, the lad retraced his steps across the tracks until finally, coming up with a man, who proved to be the superintendent of the yard, Teddy asked him where sleeping car number eleven was located.
"Eleven? The sleepers have all gone, young man."
"But I thought—"
"Went out regular on the 9:30 express."
Teddy groaned. Here he was, left behind before the show had all gotten away from its winter quarters. But he noted that the train bearing the cages and other equipment was still in the yard. There was yet a chance for him.
"Wha—what time does that train go?" he asked pointing to the last section.
"Going now. Why, what's the matter with you youngster? The train is moving now."
"Going? The matter is that I've got to go with them," cried the lad, suddenly darting toward the moving train.
"Come back here! Come back! Do you want to be killed?"
"I've got to get on that train!" Teddy shouted back at the superintendent.
The great stock cars were rumbling by as the boy drew near the track, going faster every moment. By the light of a switch lamp Teddy could make out a ladder running up to the roof of one of the box cars.
He could hear the yard superintendent running toward him shouting.
"He'll have me, if I don't do something. Then I will be wholly left," decided Teddy. "I'm going to try it."
As the big stock car slipped past him the lad sprang up into the air, his eyes fixed on the ladder. His circus training came in handy here, for Teddy hit the mark unerringly, though it had been considerably above his head. The next second his fingers closed over a rung of the ladder, and there he hung, dangling in the air, with the train now rushing over switches, rapidly gaining momentum as it stretched out headed for the open country.
PHIL TO RESCUE
Phil Forrest was in a panic of uneasiness.
No sooner had his own section started than he made the discovery that Teddy Tucker was not on board. Then the lad went through the train in the hope that his companion had gotten on the wrong car. There was no trace of Teddy.
In the meantime Teddy had slowly clambered to the roof of the stock car, where he stretched himself out, clinging to the running board, with the big car swaying beneath him. The wind seemed, up there, to be blowing a perfect gale, and it was all the boy could do to hold on. After a while he saw a light approaching him. The light was in the hands of a brakeman who was working his way over the train toward the caboose.
He soon came up to where Teddy was lying. There he stopped.
"Well, youngster, what are you doing here?" he demanded, flashing his light into the face of the uncomfortable Teddy.
"Trying to ride."
"I suppose you know you are breaking the law and that I'll have to turn you over to a policeman or a constable the next town we stop at?"
"Nothing of the sort! What do you take me for? Think I'm some kind of tramp?" objected the lad. "Go on and let me alone."
The brakeman looked closer. He observed that the boy was soaking wet, but that, despite this, he was well dressed.
"What are you, if not a tramp?"
"I'm with the show."
The brakeman laughed long and loud, but Teddy was more interested in the man's easy poise on the swaying car than in what he said.
"Wish I could do that," muttered the lad admiringly.
"Nothing, only I was thinking out loud."
"Well, you'll get off at the next stop unless you can prove that you belong here."
"I won't," protested Teddy stubbornly.
"We'll see about that. Come down here on the flat car behind this one, and we'll find out. I see some of the show people there. Besides, you're liable to fall off here and get killed. Come along."
"I'll fall off if I try to get up."
"And you a showman?" laughed the brakeman satirically, at the same time grabbing Teddy by the coat collar and jerking him to his feet.
The trainman did not appear to mind the giddy swaying of the stock car. He permitted Teddy to walk on the running board while he himself stepped carelessly along on the sloping roof of the car, though not relaxing his grip on the collar of Teddy Tucker.
Bidding the boy to hang to the brake wheel, the brakeman began climbing down the end ladder, so as to catch Teddy in case he were to fall. After him came the Circus Boy, cautiously picking his way down the ladder.
"Any of you fellows know this kid?" demanded the trainman, flashing his lantern into Teddy's face. "He says he's with the show."
"Put him off!" howled one of the roustabouts who had been sleeping on the flat car under a cage. "Never saw him before."
"You sit down there, young man. Next stop, off you go," announced the brakeman sternly.
"I'll bet you I don't," retorted Teddy Tucker aggressively.
"We'll see about that."
"Quit your music; we want to go to sleep," growled a showman surlily.
The brakeman put down his lantern and seated himself on the side of the flat car. He did not propose to leave the boy until he had seen him safely off the train.
"How'd you get wet?" questioned Tucker's captor.
"Some fellows ducked me."
The trainman roared, which once more aroused the ire of the roustabouts who were trying to sleep.
They had gone on for an hour, when finally the train slowed down.
"Here's where you hit the ties," advised the brakeman, peering ahead.
"Where are we?"
"McQueen's siding. We stop here to let an express by. And I want to tell you that it won't be healthy for you if I catch you on this train again. Now, get off!"
Teddy making no move to obey, the railroad man gently but firmly assisted him over the side of the car, dropping him down the embankment by the side of the track.
"I'll make you pay for this if I ever catch you again," threatened Teddy from the bottom of the bank, as he scrambled to his feet.
Observing that the trainman was holding his light over the side of the car and peering down at him, Teddy ran along on all fours until he was out of sight of the brakeman, then he straightened up and ran toward the rear of the train as fast as his feet would carry him, while the railroad man began climbing over the cars again, headed for the caboose at the rear.
Teddy had gained the rear of the train by this time, but he did not show himself just yet. He waited until the flagman had come in, and until the fellow who had put him off had disappeared in the caboose.
At that, Teddy sprang up, and, swinging to the platform of the caboose, quickly climbed the iron ladder that led to the roof of the little boxlike car. He had no sooner flattened himself on the roof than the train began to move again.
Only one more stop was made during the night and that for water. Just before daylight they rumbled into the yards at Atlantic City, and Teddy scrambled from his unsteady perch, quickly clambering down so as to be out of the way before the trainmen should discover his presence.
But quickly as he had acted, he had not been quick enough. The trainman who had put him off down the line collared the lad the minute his feet touched the platform of the caboose.
"You here again?" he demanded sternly.
Teddy grinned sheepishly.
"I told you you couldn't put me off."
"We'll see about that. Here, officer." He beckoned to a policeman. "This kid has been stealing a ride. I put him off once. I turn him over to you now."
"All right. Young man, you come with me!"
Teddy protested indignantly, but the officer, with a firm grip on his arm, dragged the lad along with him. They proceeded on up the tracks toward the station, the lad insisting that he was with the show and that he had a right to ride wherever he pleased.
"Teddy!" shouted a voice, just as they stepped on the long platform that led down to the street.
"Phil!" howled the lad. "Come and save me! A policeman's got me and he's taking me to jail."
Phil Forrest ran to them.
"Here, here! What's this boy done?" he demanded.
RENEWING OLD ACQUAINTANCES
"Well, Teddy, I must say you have made a good start," grinned Phil, after necessary explanations had been made and the young Circus Boy had been released by the policeman who had him in tow." A few minutes more and you would have been in a police station. I can imagine how pleased Mr. Sparling would have been to hear that."
Teddy hung his head.
"Your clothes are a sight, too. How did—what happened? Did you fall in a creek, or something of that sort?"
The lad explained briefly how he had been captured by the two men and ducked under the standpipe of the water tank.
"But I soaked him, too," Tucker added triumphantly." And I'm going to soak him again. The first man I come across whose name is Larry is going to get it from me," threatened the lad, shaking his fist angrily.
"You come over to the sleeper with me and get into some decent looking clothes. I'm ashamed of you, Teddy Tucker."
"So am I," grinned the boy as they turned to go, Phil leading the way to the car number eleven, from which the performers were beginning to straggle, rubbing their eyes and stretching themselves.
The change of clothing having been made, the lads started for the lot, hoping that they might find the old coffee stand and have a cup before breakfast. To their surprise, upon arriving at the lot, they found the cook tent up and the breakfast cooking.
"Why, how did you ever get this tent here and up so quickly?" asked Phil after they had greeted their old friend of the cook tent.
"Came in on the flying squadron. This is a railroad show now, you know," answered the head steward, after greeting the boys.
"Flying squadron? What's that?" demanded Teddy, interested at once.
"The flying squadron is the train that goes out first. It carries the cook tent and other things that will be needed first. We didn't have that last year. You'll find a lot of new things, and some that you won't like as well as you did when we had the old road show. What's your act this year?"
"Same as last."
"Yes, and the rings. My friend Teddy I expect will ride the educated mule again."
While they were talking the steward was preparing a pot of steaming coffee for them, which he soon handed over to the lads with a plate of wafers, of which they disposed in short order.
It was broad daylight by this time, and the boys decided to go out and watch the erection of the tents. It was all new and full of interest to them. As they caught the odor of trampled grass and the smell of the canvas their old enthusiasm came back to them with added force.
"It's great to be a circus man, isn't it, Phil?" breathed Teddy.
"It is unless one is getting into trouble all the time, the way you do. I expect that, some of these days, you'll get something you don't want."
"Oh, I don't know. But I am sure it will be something quite serious."
"You better look out for yourself," growled Teddy. "I'll take care of myself."
"Yes; the way you did last night," retorted Phil, with a hearty laugh. "Come on, now; let's not quarrel. I want to find some of our old friends. Isn't that Mr. Miaco over there by the dressing tent?"
Both lads ran toward their old friend, the head clown, with outstretched hands, and Mr. Miaco, seeing them coming, hastened forward to greet them.
"Well, well, boys! How are you?"
"Oh, we're fine," glowed Phil. "And we are glad to be back again, let me tell you."
"No more so than your old friends are to have you back. Same old act?"
"What have you boys been doing this winter?"
"Studying and exercising."
"Yes; I knew, from your condition, that you have been keeping up your work. Got anything new?"
"Not much. Trapeze."
"Good! I'll bet you will be in some of the flying-bar acts before the season is over. We have a lot of swell performers this season."
"So I have heard. Who are some of them?"
"Well, there's the Flying Four."
"Who are they?" questioned Teddy.
"Trapeze performers. They're great—the best in the business. And then there's The Limit."
"Talk United States," demanded Teddy. "The Limit? Whoever heard of that?"
"In other words, the Dip of Death."
Teddy shook his head helplessly.
"That is the somersaulting automobile. A pretty young woman rides in it, and some fine day she won't. I never did like those freak acts. But the public does," sighed the old circus man. "The really difficult feats, that require years of practice, patrons don't seem to give a rap for. But let somebody do a stunt in which he is in danger of suddenly ending his life, then you'll see the people howl with delight. I sometimes think they would be half tickled to death to see some of us break our necks. There's a friend of yours, Phil."
"Emperor, the old elephant that you rode last year. They are taking him to the menagerie tent."
"Whistle to him, Phil," suggested Teddy.
Phil uttered a low, peculiar whistle.
The big elephant's ears flapped. The procession that he was leading came to a sudden stop and Emperor trumpeted shrilly.
"He hasn't forgotten me," breathed Phil happily. "Dear old Emperor!"
"Pipe him up again," urged Teddy.
"No; I wouldn't dare. He would be likely to break away from Mr. Kennedy and might trample some of the people about here. See, Mr. Kennedy is having his troubles as it is."
"Done any tumbling since you closed last fall?" questioned Mr. Miaco.
"We have practiced a little. I want to learn, if you will teach me—"
"Why, you can tumble already, Phil."
"Yes; but I want to do something better—the springboard."
"They've got a leaping act this year."
"Performers and clowns leap over a herd of elephants. You've seen the act, haven't you?"
"Oh, yes; I know what it is. I wish I were able to do it."
"You will be. It is not difficult, only one has to have a natural bent for it. Now, your friend Teddy ought to make a fine leaper."
"I am," interposed Teddy pompously. "I always was."
"Yes; you're the whole show from your way of thinking," laughed Mr. Miaco. "I must go see if my trunk is placed. See you later, boys."
After leaving the clown, the lads strolled about the lot. They soon discovered that the Sparling Shows was a big organization. The tents had been very much enlarged and the canvas looked new and white.
In the menagerie tent the boys found many new cages, gorgeous in red and gold, with a great variety of animals that had not been in the show the previous summer.
Emperor's delight at seeing his little friend again was expressed in loud trumpetings, and his sinuous trunk quickly found its way into Phil Forrest's pocket in search of sweets. And Emperor was not disappointed. In one coat pocket he found a liberal supply of candy, while the other held a bag of peanuts, to all of which the big elephant helped himself freely until no more was left.
"Have you got my trappings ready, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Phil of the keeper.
"You'll find the stuff in fine shape. The old man has had a new bonnet made for Emperor and a new blanket. He'll be right smart when he enters the ring today. Been over to the cook tent yet?"
"Yes; but not for breakfast. We are going soon now. We want to see them raise the big top first."
When the boys had passed out into the open they observed the big circus tent rising slowly from the ground where it had been laid out, the various pieces laced together by nimble fingers. Mr. Sparling was on the lot watching everything at the same time. This was the first time the tent had been pitched, and, as has been said before, most of the men were green at their work. Yet, under the boisterous prodding of the boss canvasman, the white city was going up rapidly and with some semblance of system.
As soon as the dome of the big top left the ground the boys crawled under and went inside. Here all was excitement and confusion. Men were shouting their commands, above which the voice of the boss canvasman rose distinctly.
The dome of the tent by this time was halfway up the long, green center pole, while men were hurrying in with quarter poles on their shoulders, and which they quickly stood on end and guided into place in the bellying canvas.
The eyes of the Circus Boys sparkled with enthusiasm.
"I wish we were up there on the rings," breathed Teddy.
"We shall be soon, old fellow," answered Phil, patting him on the shoulder. "And for many days after this, I hope. Hello, I wonder what's wrong up there?"
Phil's quick glance had caught something up near the half-raised dome that impressed him as not being right.
"Look out aloft!" he sang out warningly.
"The key rope's going. Grab the other line!" bellowed the boss canvasman.
"You fools!" roared Mr. Sparling from the opposite side of the tent, as he quickly noted what was happening. "Run for your lives! You'll have the whole outfit down on your heads!"
The men fled, letting go of ropes and poles, diving for places of safety, many of them knowing what it meant to have that big tent collapse and descend upon them.
The man who had held the key rope was the one who had been at fault. Some of the new men had called to him to give them a hand on another line, and he, a new man himself, all forgetful of the important task that had been assigned to him, dropped the key rope, as it is called, turning to assist his associate.
Instantly the dome of the big top began to settle with a grating noise as the huge iron ring in the peak began slipping down the center pole.
The key rope coiled on the ground was running out and squirming up into the air. Only a single coil of it remained when Phil suddenly darted forward. With a bound, he threw himself upon the rope, giving it a quick twist about his arm.
The instant Phil had fastened his grip upon the rope he shot up into the air so quickly that the onlookers failed to catch the meaning of his sudden flight.
One pair of eyes, however, saw and understood. They belonged to Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show.
"The boy will he killed!" he groaned. "Let go!"
DOING A MAN'S WORK
For one brief instant Phil Forrest's head was giddy and his breath fairly left his body from the speed with which he was propelled upward on the key rope.
But the lad had not for a second lost his presence of mind. Below him was some eight feet of the rope dangling in the air.
With a sudden movement that could only have been executed by one with unusual strength and agility, Phil let the rope slip through his hands just enough to slacken his speed. Instantly he threw himself around the center pole, twisting the rope around and around it, each twist slackening his upward flight a little. He knew that, were his head to strike the iron ring in the dome at the speed he was traveling, he would undoubtedly be killed. It was as much to prevent this as to save the tent that Phil took the action he did, though his one real thought was to save his employer's property.
Now the rapid upward shoot had dwindled to a slow, gradual slipping of the rope as it moved up the center pole inch by inch. But Phil's peril was even greater than before. The moment that heavy iron ring began pressing down on his head and shoulders with the weight of the canvas behind it, there would be nothing for him to do but to let go.
A forty-foot fall to the hard ground below seemed inevitable. Yet he did not lose his presence of mind for an instant.
"Give him a hand!" yelled the boss canvasman.
"How? How?" shouted the canvasmen. "We can't reach him."
"Get a net under that boy, you blockheads!" thundered Mr. Sparling, rushing over from his station. "Don't you see he's bound to fall, and if he does he'll break his neck?"
The boss canvasman ordered three of his men to get the trapeze performers' big net that lay in a heap near the ring nearest the dressing tent, for there were two rings now in the Great Sparling Combined Shows.
They dragged it over as quickly as possible; then willing hands grabbed it and stretched the heavy net out. At Mr. Sparling's direction the four corners of the net were manned and the safety device raised from the ground, ready to catch the lad should he fall.
"Now let go and drop!" roared Mr. Sparling.
They heard Phil laugh from his lofty perch.
"Jump, I say!"
"What, and let the tent down on you all?"
By this time the lad had curled his feet up over his head, and they saw that he was bracing his feet against the iron ring, literally holding the tent up with his own powerful muscles. Of course, as a matter of fact, Phil was holding a very small part of the weight of the tent, but as it was, the strain was terrific.
Hanging head down, his face flushed until it seemed as if the blood must burst through the skin, he hung there as calmly as if he were not in imminent peril of his life. Then, too, there was the danger to those below him. If the tent should collapse some of them would be killed, for there were now few quarter poles in place to break the fall of the heavy canvas.
"I say, down there!" he cried, finally managing to make himself heard above the uproar.
"Are you going to drop?" shouted Mr. Sparling.
"No; do you want me to let the tent drop on you? If you'll all get out there'll be fewer hurt in case I have to let go."
"That boy!" groaned the showman.
"Toss me a line and be quick about it," called Phil shrilly.
"What can you do with a line?" demanded the showman, now more excited than he had ever been in his life.
"Give him a line!"
"A strong one," warned Phil, his voice not nearly as far reaching as it had been.
"A line!" bellowed Mr. Sparling. "He knows what he wants it for, and he's got more sense than the whole bunch of us."
A coil of rope shot up. But it missed Phil by about six feet.
Another one was forthcoming almost instantly. This time, however, Mr. Sparling snatched it from the hands of the showman who had made the wild cast.
"Idiot!" he roared, pushing the man aside.
Once more the coil sailed up, unrolling as it went. This time Phil grasped it with his free hand, which he had liberated for the purpose.
"Now, be careful," warned Mr. Sparling. "I don't know what you think you're going to do; but whatever you start you're sure to finish."
To this Phil made no reply. He was getting too weak to talk, and his tired body trembled.
In the end of the key rope a big loop had been formed, this after the tent was up, was slipped over a cleat to prevent a possibility of the rope slipping its fastenings and letting the tent down.
Phil had discovered the loop when it finally slipped up so his one hand was pressed against the knot.
Every second the weight on his feet—on his whole body, in fact, was getting heavier.
"If I can hold on a minute longer, I'll make it!" he muttered, his breath coming in short, quick gasps.
What he was seeking to do was to get the rope they had tossed to him, through the big loop. In his effort to do so, the coil slipped from his hands, knocking a canvasman down as it fell, but the lad had held to the other end with a desperate grip.
Now he began working it through the loop inch by inch. It was a slow process, but he was succeeding even better than he had hoped.
Mr. Sparling now saw what Phil's purpose was. About the same time the others down there made the same discovery.
They set up a cheer of approval.
"Wait!" commanded the owner of the show. "The lad isn't out of the woods yet. You men on the net look lively there. If you don't catch him should he fall, you take my word for it, it'll go mighty hard with you."
"We'll catch him."
"You'd better, if you know what's good for you. Goodness, but he's got the strength and the grit! I never saw anything like it in all my circus experience."
They could not help him. There was no way by which any of them could reach Phil, and all they could do was to stand by and do the best they could at breaking his fall should he be forced to let go, as it seemed that he must do soon.
Nearer and nearer crept the line toward the ground, but it was yet far above their heads. It was moving faster, however, as Phil got more weight of rope through the loop, thus requiring less effort on his part to send it along on its journey.
"Side pole! Side pole!" shouted the boy, barely making himself heard above the shouts below.
At first they did not catch the meaning of his words. Mr. Sparling, of course, was the first to do so.
"That's it! Oh, you idiots! You wooden Indians! You thick heads! Get a side pole, don't you understand?" and the owner made a dive at the nearest man to him, whereat the fellow quickly side-stepped and started off on a run for the pole for which Phil had asked. But, even then, some of the hands did not understand what he could want of a side pole.
The instant it was brought Mr. Sparling snatched it from the hands of the tentman. Raising the pole, assisted by the boss canvasman, he was able to reach the loop. The iron spike in the end of the pole was thrust through the loop, and by exerting considerable pressure they were able to force the loop slowly toward the ground.
"You'll have to hurry! I can't hang on much longer," cried Phil weakly.
"We'll hurry, my lad. It won't be half a minute now," encouraged Mr. Sparling. "Stand by here you blockheads, ready to fall on that rope the minute it gets within reach. Three of you grab hold of the coil end and pay it out gradually. Be careful. Watch your business."
Three men sprang to do his bidding.
"Here comes the loop!"
Ready hands grasped the dangling rope.
The two strands were quickly carried together and the weight of a dozen men thrown on them, instantly relieving the strain on Phil Forrest's body.
Phil had saved the big top, and perhaps a few lives at the same time. Now a sudden dizziness seemed to have overtaken him. Everything appeared to be whirling about him, the big top spinning like a giant top before his eyes.
"Slide down the rope!" commanded Mr. Sparling.
The lad slowly unwound the rope from his arm and feebly motioned to them that they were to walk around the pole with their end so they might hoist the iron ring to the splice of the center pole.
"Never mind anything but yourself!" ordered Mr. Sparling. "We'll attend to this mix-up ourselves."
Very cautiously and deliberately, more from force of habit than otherwise, the lad had let his feet down, and with them was groping for the rope.
"Swing the line between his legs!" roared the owner. "Going to let him stay up there all day?"
"That's what we're trying to do," answered a tentman.
"Yes, I see you trying. That's the trouble with you fellows. You always think you're trying, and if you are, you never accomplish anything. Got, it, Phil?"
Twisting his legs about the rope the boy next took a weak grip on it with both hands, then started slowly to descend. This he knew how to do, so the feat was attended with no difficulty other than the strength required, and of which he had none to spare just at the present moment.
"Look out!" he called. He thought he had shouted it in a loud tone. As a matter of fact no sound issued from his lips.
But Mr. Sparling whose eyes had been fixed upon the boy, saw and understood.
"He's falling. Catch him!"
Phil shot downward head first. Yet with the instinct of the showman he curled his head up ever so little as he half consciously felt himself going.
THE SHOWMAN'S REWARD
Phil struck the net with a violent slap that was heard outside the big top, though those without did not understand the meaning of it, nor did they give it heed.
Mr. Sparling was the first to reach him. The lad had landed on his shoulders and then struck flat on his back, the proper way to fall into a net. Perhaps it was instinct that told him what to do.
The lad was unconscious when the showman lifted him tenderly from the net and laid him out on the ground.
"Up with that peak!" commanded Mr. Sparling. "Get some water here, and don't crowd around him! Give the boy air! Tucker, you hike for the surgeon."
A shove started Teddy for the surgeon. In the meantime Mr. Sparling was working over Phil, seeking to bring him back to consciousness, which he finally succeeded in doing before the surgeon arrived.
"Did I fall?" asked Phil, suddenly opening his eyes.
"A high dive," nodded Mr. Sparling.
Phil cast his eyes up to the dome where he saw the canvas drawing taut. He knew that he had succeeded and he smiled contentedly.
By the time the surgeon arrived the boy was on his feet.
"How do you feel?"
"I'm a little sore, Mr. Sparling. But I guess I'll be fit in a few minutes."
"Able to walk over to my tent? If not, I'll have some of the fellows carry you."
"Oh, no; I can walk if I can get my legs started moving. They don't seem to be working the way they should this morning," laughed the lad. "My, that tent weighs something doesn't it?"
"It does," agreed the showman.
Just then the surgeon arrived. After a brief examination he announced that Phil was not injured, unless, perhaps, he might have injured himself internally by subjecting himself to the great strain of holding up the tent.
"I think some breakfast will put me right again," decided the lad.
"Haven't you had your breakfast yet?" demanded Mr. Sparling.
"No; I guess I've been too busy."
"Come with me, then. I haven't had mine either," said the showman.
Linking his arm within that of the Circus Boy, Mr. Sparling walked from the tent, not speaking again until they had reached the manager's private tent. This was a larger and much more commodious affair than it had been last year.
He placed Phil in a folding easy chair, and sat down to his desk where he began writing.
After finishing, Mr. Sparling looked up.
"Phil," he said in a more kindly tone than the lad had ever before heard him use, "I was under a deep obligation to you last season. I'm under a greater one now."
"I wish you wouldn't speak of it, sir. What I have done is purely in the line of duty. It's a fellow's business to be looking out for his employer's interests. That's what I have always tried to do."
"Not only tried, but have," corrected Mr. Sparling. "That's an old-fashioned idea of yours. It's a pity young men don't feel more that way, these days. But that wasn't what I wanted to say. As a little expression of how much I appreciate your interest, as well as the actual money loss you have saved me, I want to make you a little present."
"Oh, no no," protested Phil.
"Here is a check which I have made out for a hundred dollars. That will give you a little start on the season. But it isn't all that I am going to do for you—"
"Please, Mr. Sparling. Believe me I do appreciate your kindness, but I mustn't take the check. I couldn't take the check."
"Because I haven't earned it."
"Haven't earned it? He hasn't earned it!"
The showman threw his hands above his head in a hopeless sort of a way.
"I should not feel that I was doing right. I want to be independent, Mr. Sparling. I have plenty of money. I have not spent more than half of what I earned last summer. This season I hope to lay by a whole lot, so that I shall be quite independent."
"And so you shall, so you shall, my boy," Sparling exclaimed, rising and smiting Phil good naturedly with the flat of his hand.
Instead of tearing up the check, however, Mr. Sparling put it in an envelope which he directed and stamped, then thrust in his coat pocket.
"I—I hope you understand—hope you do not feel offended," said Phil hesitatingly. "I should not like to have you misunderstand me."
"Not a bit of it, my lad. I can't say that I have any higher opinion of you because of your decision, but—"
Phil glanced up quickly.
"I already have as high an opinion of you as it is possible for me to have for any human being, and—"
"Thank you. You'll make me have a swelled head if you keep on that way," laughed Phil.
"No danger. You would have had one long ago, if that was your makeup. Have you seen Mrs. Sparling yet?"
"No, and I should like to. May I call on her in your car?"
"Not only may, but she has commissioned me to ask you to. I think we had better be moving over to the cook tent, now, if we wish any breakfast. I expect the hungry roustabouts have about cleaned the place out by this time."
They soon arrived at the cook tent. Here Phil left Mr. Sparling while he passed about among the tables, greeting such of his old acquaintances as he had not yet seen that morning. He was introduced to many of the new ones, all of whom had heard pretty much everything about Phil's past achievements before he reached their tables. The people of a circus are much like a big family, and everyone knows, or thinks he knows, the whole family history of his associates.
Even Phil's plucky work in the big top, less than an hour before, had already traveled to the cook tent, and many curious glances were directed to the slim, modest, boy as he passed among his friends quietly, giving them his greetings.
Teddy, on the other hand, was not saying a word. He was busy eating.
"How's your appetite this morning, Teddy?" questioned Phil, sinking down on the bench beside his companion.
"Pretty fair," answered Teddy in a muffled voice. "I began at the top—"
"Top of what?"
"Top of the bill of fare. I've cleaned up everything halfway down the list, and I'm going through the whole bill, even if I have to get up and shake myself down like the miller does a bag of meal."
"Be careful, old chap. Remember you and I have to begin our real work today. We shall want to be in the best of shape for our ring act. You won't, if you fill up as you are doing now," warned Phil.
"Not going to work today."
"No flying rings today."
"I don't understand."
"No flying rings, I said. Mr. Sparling isn't going to put on our act today."
"How do you know?" asked Phil in some surprise.
"Heard him say so."
"Why, I came in with him myself less than ten minutes ago—"
"I know. He stopped right in front of my table here to speak to the ringmaster. Heard him say you were not to be allowed to go on till tomorrow. We don't have to go in the parade today if we don't want to, either. But you are to ride Emperor in the Grand Entry, and I'm to do my stunt on the educated mule."
"Pshaw, I can work today as well as I ever could," said Phil in a disappointed tone. "And I'm going on, too, unless Mr. Sparling gives me distinct orders to the contrary."
Phil got the orders before he had finished his breakfast.
"Believe me, Phil, I know best," said Mr. Sparling, noting the lad's disappointment. "You have had a pretty severe strain this morning, and to go on now with the excitement of the first day added to that, I fear might be too much for you. It might lay you up for some weeks, and we cannot afford to have that happen, you know. I need you altogether too much for that."
"Very well, sir; it shall be as you wish. I suppose I may go on in the Grand Entry as usual?"
"Oh, yes, if you wish."
"Very well; then I'll let Mr. Kennedy know. You had better lie down and rest while the parade is out."
"Thank you; I hardly think that will be necessary. I feel fit enough for work right now."
"Such is youth and enthusiasm," mused the showman, passing on out of the cook tent, once more to go over his arrangements, for there were many details to be looked after on this the first day of the show's season on the road.
Phil called on Mrs. Sparling after breakfast, receiving from the showman's wife a most hospitable welcome. She asked him all about how he had spent the winter, and seemed particularly interested in Mrs. Cahill, who was now the legal guardian of both the boys. Mrs. Sparling already had a letter in her pocket, with the check for one hundred dollars which the showman had drawn for Phil. It was going to Mrs. Cahill to be deposited to the lad's credit, but he would know nothing of this until the close of the season. After he had gone home he would find himself a hundred dollars richer than he thought.
His call finished, Phil went out and rejoined Teddy. Together they started back toward the dressing tent to set their trunks in order and get out such of their costumes as they would need that afternoon and evening. Then again, the dressing tent was really the most attractive part of the show to all the performers. It was here that they talked of their work and life, occasionally practiced new acts of a minor character, and indulged in pranks like a lot of schoolboys at recess time.
As they were passing down along the outside of the big top, Phil noticed several laborers belonging to the show sitting against the side wall sunning themselves. He observed that one of the men was eyeing Teddy and himself with rather more than ordinary interest.
Phil did not give it a second thought, however, until suddenly Teddy gave his arm a violent pinch.
"What is it?"
"See those fellows sitting there?"
"Yes. What of it?"
"One of them is the fellow who ducked me under the water tank back at Germantown."
"You don't say? Which one?"
"Fellow with the red hair. I heard them call him Larry as I passed, or I might not have noticed him particularly. His hair is redder than Rod Palmer's. I should think it would set him on fire."
"It certainly would seem so."
"Mister Larry has got something coming to him good and proper, and he's going to get it, you take my word for that."
Phil laughed good naturedly.
"Please, now, Teddy, forget it. Don't go and get into any more mix-ups. You'll be sending yourself back home first thing you know. Then it will be a difficult matter to get into any other show if you are sent away from this one in disgrace."
"Don't you worry about me. I'll take care of myself. I always do, don't I?"
"I'm afraid I can't agree to that," laughed Phil. "I should say that quite the contrary is the case."
Teddy fell suddenly silent as they walked on in the bright morning light, drinking in the balmy air in long-drawn breaths. Entering the paddock they turned sharply to the left and pushed their way through the canvas curtains into the dressing tent.
"Hurrah for the Circus Boys," shouted someone. "Hello Samson, are you the strong-armed man that held the tent up by your feet?"
"Strong-footed man, you mean," suggested another. "A strong-armed man uses his arms not his feet."
"Come over here and show yourself," shouted another voice.
Phil walked over and stood smilingly before them. Nothing seemed to disturb his persistent good nature.
"Huh, not so much! I guess they stretched that yarn," grunted a new performer.
"I guess not," interposed Mr. Miaco. "I happened to see that stunt pulled off myself. It was the biggest thing I ever saw a man—let alone a boy—get away with." Then Mr. Miaco went over the scene with great detail, while Phil stole away to his own corner, where he busied himself bending over his trunk to hide his blushes.
But Teddy felt no such emotion. Almost as soon as he entered the dressing tent he began searching about for something. This he soon found. It was a pail, but he appeared to be in a hurry. Picking up the pail he ran with it to the water barrel, that always stands in the dressing tent, filled the pail and skulked out as if he did not desire to attract attention.
Once outside the dressing tent Teddy ran at full speed across the paddock and out into the big top. A few men were working here putting up apparatus for the performers. They gave no heed to the boy with the pail of water.
Teddy ran his eye along the inside of the tent, nodded and went on to the middle section where he turned, climbing the steps to the upper row.
Arriving there he cautiously peered out over the top of the side wall. What he saw evidently was not to his liking, for once more he picked up the pail of water and ran lightly along the top seat toward the menagerie tent.
All at once he paused, put down his pail and peered out over the side wall again. Nodding with satisfaction he picked up the pail, lifted it to the top of the side wall, once more looked out measuring the distance well, then suddenly turned the pail bottom side up.
In his course through the big top Teddy had gathered up several handfuls of sawdust and dirt which he had stirred well into the water as he ran, making a pasty mess of it.
It was this mixture that he had now poured out over the side wall. Teddy waited only an instant to observe the effect of the deluge that he had turned on. Then he fled down the rattling board seats.
Outside a sudden roar broke the stillness. No sooner had he reached the bottom of the seats than several men raised up the side wall and came tumbling in, yelling like Comanche Indians. Teddy cast one frightened look at them, then ran like all possessed. What he had seen was a red-haired man in the lead, dripping wet with hair and clothes plastered with mud and sawdust. Larry was after the lad in full cry.
TRYING THE CULPRIT
"Stop him!" howled Larry, as he, followed by half a dozen blue-shirted fellows, bolted into the arena in pursuit of the lad who had emptied the pail of muddy water over him.
Teddy, still clinging to the pail, was sprinting down the concourse as if his very life depended upon it. A canvasman, hearing Larry's call, and suspecting the boy was wanted for something quite serious, rushed out, heading Teddy off. It looked as if the lad were to be captured right here.
But Teddy Tucker was not yet at the end of his resources. He ran straight on as if he had not observed the canvasman. Just as he reached the man, and the latter's hands were stretched out to intercept him, Teddy hurled the pail full in the fellow's face. Then the lad darted to one side and fled toward the paddock.
The canvasman had joined the procession by this time. Into the dressing tent burst the boy, followed by Larry, the others having brought up sharply just before reaching the dressing room, knowing full well that they had no business there and that their presence would be quickly and effectively resented. Larry, consumed with rage, did not stop to think about this, so he dashed on blindly to his fate.
At first the circus performers in the dressing tent could not imagine what was going on. Clotheslines came down, properties were upset and in a moment the tent was in confusion.
"Stop that!" bellowed an irate performer.
Larry gave no heed to the command, and Teddy was in too big a hurry to stop to explain.
Suddenly Phil Forrest, realizing that his little companion was in danger, gave a leap. He landed on Larry's back, pinioning the fellow's arms to his sides.
"You stop that now! You let him alone!" commanded Phil.
Before the canvasman could make an effort to free himself, Mr. Miaco, the head clown, took a hand in the proceedings. Throwing Phil from the tentman, Miaco jerked Larry about, and demanded to know what he meant by intruding on the privacy of the dressing tent in that manner.
"I want that kid," he growled.
"Put him out!" howled a voice.
"What do you want him for?"
"He—he dumped a pail of water over me. I'll get even with him. I'll—"
"How about this, Master Teddy?" questioned Mr. Miaco.
Teddy explained briefly how the fellow Larry and a companion had ducked him under the water tank, and had ruined his clothes, together with causing him to miss his train.
"This demands investigation," decided Mr. Miaco gravely. "Fellows, it is evident that we had better try this man. That is the best way to dispose of his case."
"Yes, yes; try him!" they shouted.
"Whom shall we have for judge?"
"Oscar, the midget!"
The Smallest Man on Earth was quickly boosted to the top of a property box.
"Vot iss?" questioned the midget, his wizened, yellow little face wrinkling into a questioning smile.
"We are going to try this fellow, Larry, and you are to be the judge."
"Yah," agreed Oscar, after which he subsided, listening to the proceedings that followed, with grave, expressionless eyes. It is doubtful if Oscar understood what it was all about, but his gravity and judicial manner sent the whole dressing tent into an uproar of merriment.
After the evidence was all in, the entire company taking part in testifying, amid much merriment—for the performers entered into the spirit of the trial like a lot of schoolboys—Oscar was asked to decide what should be done with the prisoner Larry.
Oscar was at a loss to know how to answer.
"Duck him," suggested one.
This was an inspiration to Oscar. He smiled broadly.
"Yah, dat iss."
"What iss?" demanded the Tallest Man On Earth. "Talk United States."
"Yah," agreed Oscar, smiling seraphically. "Duck um."
"Larry, it is the verdict of this court that you be ducked, as the only fitting punishment for one who has committed the crime of laying hands on a Circus Boy. Are we all agreed on the punishment meted out by the dignified judge?"
"Yes, yes!" they shouted. "The rain barrel for him."
"Men, do your duty!" cried Mr. Miaco.
"I wouldn't do that," interposed Phil. "You haven't any more right to duck him than he had to put Teddy under the water tank. It isn't right."
But they gave no heed to his protests. Willing hands grabbed the red-headed tentman, whose kicks and struggles availed him nothing. Raising him over the barrel of water they soused him in head first, ducking him again and again.
"Take him out. You'll drown him," begged Phil.
Then they hauled Larry out, shaking the water out of him. As soon as his coughing ceased, he threatened dire vengeance against his assailants.
Four performers then carried their victim to the opening of the dressing tent and threw him out bodily.
Instantly Larry's companions saw him fall at their feet, and heard his angry explanation of the indignities that had been heaped upon him. There was a lively scrambling over the ground, and the next instant a volley of stones was hurled into the dressing tent.
Phil was just coming out on his way to the main entrance as the row began. A stone just grazed his cheek. Without giving the least heed to the assailants, he turned to cross the paddock in order to slip out under the tent and go on about his business. Most lads would have run under the circumstances. Not so Phil. His were steady nerves.
"There he is! Grab him!" shouted Larry, catching sight of Phil and charging that Phil had been one of those who had helped duck him.
Such was not the case, however, for instead of having taken part in the ducking, Phil Forrest had tried to prevent it.
Larry and another man were running toward him. The lad halted, turned and faced them.
"What do you want of me?" he demanded.
"I'll show you what I want of you. You started this row."
"I did nothing of the sort, sir. You go on about your business and I shall do the same, whether you do or not."
Phil raised the canvas and stepped out. But no sooner had he gotten out into the lot than the two men burst through the flapping side wall.
The boy saw them coming and knew that he was face to face with trouble.
He adopted a ruse, knowing full well that he could not hope to cope with the brawny canvasmen single handed and alone. Starting off on a run, Phil was followed instantly, as he felt sure he would be, but managing to keep just ahead of the men and no more.
"I've got you!"
The voice was almost at his ear.
Phil halted with unexpected suddenness and dropped on all fours.
The canvasman was too close to check his own speed. He fell over Phil, landing on his head and shoulders in the dirt.
The lad was up like a flash. Larry was close upon him now, and with a snarl of rage launched a blow full at Phil Forrest's face. But he had not reckoned on the lad's agility, nor did he know that Phil was a trained athlete. Therefore, Larry's surprise was great when his fist beat the empty air.
Thrown off his balance, Larry measured his length on the ground.
"I advise you to let me alone," warned Phil coolly, as the tentman was scrambling to his feet. Already Larry's companion had gotten up and was gazing at Phil in a half dazed sort of way.
"Get hold of him, Bad Eye! What are you standing there like a dummy for? He'll run in a minute."
Phil's better judgment told him to do that very thing, but he could not bring himself to run from danger. Much as he disliked a row, he was too plucky and courageous to run from danger.
Bad Eye was rushing at him, his eyes blazing with anger.
Phil side-stepped easily, avoiding his antagonist without the least difficulty. But now he had to reckon with Larry, who, by this time, had gotten to his feet.
It was two to one.
"Stand back unless you want to get hurt!" cried Phil, with a warning glint in his eyes.
Larry, by way of answer, struck viciously at him. Phil, with a glance about him, saw that he could not expect help, for there was no one in sight, the performers being engaged at that moment in driving off the angry laborers, which they were succeeding in doing with no great effort on their part.
The lad cleverly dodged the blow. But instead of backing away as the canvasman's fist barely grazed his cheek, Phil, with a short arm jolt, caught his adversary on the point of his chin. Larry instantly lost all desire for fight. He sat down on the hard ground with a bump.
Now Bad Eye rushed in. Again Phil sidestepped, and, thrusting a foot between the fellow's legs, tripped him neatly.
Half a dozen men came running from the paddock. They were the fellows whom the performers had put to rout. At that moment the bugle blew for all hands to prepare for the parade.
"I guess I have done about enough for one day," decided Phil. "And for a sick man it wasn't a half bad job."
With an amused glance at his fallen adversaries Phil ran to the big top, less than a rod away, and, lifting the sidewall, slipped under and disappeared within.
PHIL MAKES A NEW FRIEND
Two rippling blasts from the ringmaster's whistle notified the show people that the performance was on. In moved the procession for the Grand Entry, as the silken curtains separating the paddock from the big top slowly fell apart.
Phil, from his lofty perch on the head of old Emperor, peering through the opening of the bonnet in which he was concealed, could not repress an exclamation of admiration. It was a splendid spectacle—taken from a story of ancient Rome— that was sweeping majestically about the arena to the music of an inspiring tune into which the big circus band had suddenly launched.
Gayly-caparisoned, nervous horses pranced and reared; huge wagons, gorgeous under their coat of paint and gold, glistened in the afternoon sunlight that fell softly through the canvas top and gave the peculiar rattling sound so familiar to the lover of the circus as they moved majestically into the arena; elephants trumpeted shrilly and the animals back in the menagerie tent sent up a deafening roar of protest. After months of quiet in their winter quarters, this unusual noise and excitement threw the wild beasts into a tempest of anger. Pacing their cages with upraised heads, they hurled their loud-voiced protests into the air until the more timid of the spectators trembled in their seats.
It was an inspiring moment for the circus people, as well as for the spectators.
"Tweetle! Tweetle!" sang the ringmaster's whistle after the spectacle had wound its way once around the concourse.
At this the procession wheeled, its head cutting between the two rings, slowly and majestically reaching for the paddock and dressing tent, where the performers would hurry into their costumes for their various acts to follow.
This left only the elephants in the ring. The huge beasts now began their evolutions, ponderous but graceful, eliciting great applause, as did their trainer, Mr. Kennedy. Then came the round-off of the act. This, it will be remembered, was of Phil Forrest's own invention, the act in which Phil, secreted in the elephant's bonnet, burst out at the close of the act, and, by the aid of wires running over a pulley above him, was able to descend gracefully to the sawdust arena.
He was just a little nervous in this, the first performance of the season, but, steadying his nerves, he went through the act without a hitch and amid thunders of applause. As in the previous season's act, old Emperor carried the lad from the ring, holding Phil out in front of him firmly clasped in his trunk. No similar act ever had been seen in a circus until Phil and Emperor worked it out for themselves. It had become one of the features of the show last year, and it bade fair to be equally popular that season. Phil had added to it somewhat, which gave the act much more finish than before.
"Very good, young man," approved Mr. Sparling, as the elephant bore the lad out. Mr. Sparling was watching the show with keen eyes in order to decide what necessary changes were to be made. "Coming back to watch the performance?"
"Oh, yes. I wouldn't miss that for anything."
As soon as the lad had thrown off his costume and gotten back into his clothes, he hurried into the big top, where he found Teddy, who did not go on in his bucking mule act until later.
"How's the show, Teddy?" greeted Phil.
"Great. Greatest thing I ever saw. Did you see the fellows jump over the herd of elephants and horses?"
"No. Who were they?"
"Oh, most all of the crowd, I guess. I'm going to do that."
"You, Teddy? Why, you couldn't jump over half a dozen elephants and turn a somersault. You would break your neck the first thing."
"Mr. Miaco says I could. Says I'm just the build for that sort of thing," protested the lad.
"Well, then, get him to teach you. Of course we can't know how to do too many things in this business. We have learned that it pays to know how to do almost everything. Have you made friends with the mule since you got back?"
"Yes. He spooned over me and made believe he loved me like a brother."
Teddy paused reflectively.
"Well, then he tried to kick the daylight out of me."
"I thought so," laughed Phil. "I'm glad I chose an elephant for my friend, instead of an educated mule. When are you going to begin on the springboard—begin practicing, I mean?"
"Mr. Miaco says he'll teach me as soon as we get settled—"
"Settled? I never heard of a show getting settled—that is, not until the season is ended and it is once more in winter quarters. I suppose by 'settled' he means when everything gets to moving smoothly."
"I guess so," nodded Teddy. "What are you going to do?"
"The regular acts that I did last year."
"No; I mean what are you going to learn new?"
"Oh! Well, there are two things I'm crazy to be able to do."
"What are they?"
"One is to be a fine trapeze performer," announced Phil thoughtfully.
"And the other?"
"To ride bareback."
"Want to be the whole thing, don't you?" jeered Teddy.
"No; not quite. But I should like to be able to do those two things, and to do them well. There is nothing that catches the audiences as do the trapezists and the bareback riders. And it fascinates me as well."
"Here, too," agreed Teddy.
"But there is one thing I want to talk with you about—to read you a lecture."
"I shouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of an inquiry about the row in the dressing tent. You know Mr. Sparling won't stand for anything of that sort."
"He doesn't know about it," interposed Teddy.
"But we do. Therefore, we are just as much to blame as if he did know. And I am not so sure that he doesn't. You can't fool Mr. Sparling. You ought to know that by this time. There isn't a thing goes on in this show that he doesn't find out about, sooner or later, and he is going to find out about this."
"I didn't do anything. You did, when you had a scrap with those two fellows out on the lot."
"You forget that you started the row by emptying a pail of water on Larry's head. Don't you call that starting doing anything? I do."
Phil had to laugh at the comical expression on his companion's face.
"And we haven't heard the last of those fellows yet. They're mad all through. I am sorry I had to hit them. But they would have used me badly had I not done something to protect myself. I should tell the whole matter to Mr. Sparling, were it not that I would get others into trouble. That I wouldn't do."
"I should think not."
"By the way, Teddy, there come the bareback riders. Don't you follow after their act?"
"My! That's so. I had forgotten all about that. Thought I was watching the show just like the rest of the folks."
"Better hustle, or you won't get into your makeup in time to go on. There'll be a row for certain if you are late."
But Teddy already had started on a run for the dressing tent, bowling over a clown at the entrance to the paddock and bringing down the wrath of that individual as he hustled for the dressing tent and began feverishly getting into his ring clothes. These consisted of a loose fitting pair of trousers, a slouch hat and a coat much the worse for wear. A "Rube" act, it was called in show parlance, and it was that in very truth, more because of Teddy's drollery than for the makeup that he wore.
Phil quickly forgot all about the lecture he had been reading to his companion as the bareback riders came trotting in. His eyes were fixed on a petite, smiling figure who tripped up to the curbing, where she turned toward the audience, and, kicking one foot out behind her, bowed and threw a kiss to the spectators.