The Circus Boys In Dixie Land Or Winning the Plaudits of the Sunny South
by Edgar B. P. Darlington
I UNDER CANVAS AGAIN II IN THEIR HOME TOWN III THE CIRCUS MAKES A CALL IV A FRIENDLY AUDIENCE V TAKEN BY SURPRISE VI IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY VII SHIVERS AND HIS SHADOW VIII A RIVAL IN THE FIELD IX PHIL MAKES A DISCOVERY X THE CIRCUS BOY IS RECOGNIZED XI ON SULLY'S PRIVATE CAR XII LOCKED IN THE LINEN CLOSET XIII THROUGH RINGS OF FIRE XIV A DASH FOR FREEDOM XV OUTWITTING THE PURSUERS XVI THE BATTLE OF THE ELEPHANTS XVII MONKEYS IN THE AIR XVIII TEDDY TAKES A DROP XIX THE CIRCUS ON AN ISLAND XX DISASTER BEFALLS THE FAT LADY XXI ON A FLYING TRAPEZE XXII IN A LIVELY BLOW-DOWN XXIII THE LION HUNT XXIV CONCLUSION
The Circus Boys in Dixie Land
UNDER CANVAS AGAIN
"I reckon the fellows will turn out to see us tomorrow night, Teddy."
"I hope so, Phil. We'll show them that we are real circus performers, won't we?"
Phil Forrest nodded happily.
"They know that already, I think. But we shall both feel proud to perform in our home town again. They haven't seen us in the ring since the day we first joined the show two years ago, and then it was only a little performance."
"Remember the day I did a stunt in front of the circus billboard back home?"
"And fell in the ditch, head first? I remember it," and Phil Forrest laughed heartily.
"You and I weren't circus men then, were we?"
"But we are now."
"I guess we are," nodded Phil with emphasis. "Still, we have something to learn yet. We are a couple of lucky boys, you and I, Teddy Tucker. Had it not been for Mr. Sparling we might still have been doing chores for our board in Edmeston."
"Instead, we are getting our envelopes with sixty dollars apiece in them from the little red ticket wagon every Tuesday morning, eh?"
"I never thought I'd be able to earn so much money as that in a whole year," reflected Teddy.
"Do you think we'll get any more 'raises' this season?"
"I haven't the least idea that we shall. You know our contracts are signed for the season at sixty dollars a week. That surely should be enough to satisfy us. We shall be able to save a whole lot of money, this year; and, if we have good luck, in five years more we'll be able to have a little show of our own."
Teddy agreed to this with a reflective nod.
"What kind of show?"
"Well, that remains to be seen," laughed Phil. "We shall be lucky to have most any kind."
"Do you know what sort I'd like to have?"
"No. What kind?"
"Wild West show, a regular Buffalo Bill outfit, with wild Indians, cowboys, bucking ponies and whoop! whoop! Hi-yi-yi! You know?"
Teddy's eyes were glowing with excitement, while a dull red glow showed beneath the tan on his face.
"I wouldn't get so excited about it," answered Phil, highly amused.
"How'd you like that kind?"
"Not at all. It's too rough. Give me the circus every time, with its life, its color, it's—oh, pshaw! What's the use talking about it? Is there anything in the world more attractive than those tents over there, with the flags of every nation flying from center and quarter poles? Is there, Teddy?"
"Well, no; I guess that's right."
For a moment the lads were silent. They were sitting beneath a spreading maple tree off, on the circus lot, a few rods from where the tents were being erected. A gentle breeze was stirring the flags, billowing the white canvas of the tents in slow, undulating waves.
"And to think that we belong to that! Do you know, sometimes I think it is all a dream, and I'm afraid I shall suddenly wake up to find myself back in Edmeston with Uncle Abner Adams driving me out of the house with a stick."
Phil's face grew solemn as those unhappy days under his uncle's roof came back to him in a flood of disquieting memories.
"Don't wake up, then," replied Teddy.
"I think perhaps we had better both wake up if we expect to get any breakfast. The red flag is flying on the cook tent, which means that breakfast is ready—in fact, breakfast must be pretty well over by this time. First thing we know the blue flag will suddenly appear in its place, and you and I will have to hustle downtown for something to eat. It will be parade time pretty soon, too."
"Breakfast? Say, Phil, I'd forgotten all about breakfast."
"There must be something wrong with you, then, if you forget when it's meal time. As for myself, I have an appetite that would put the Bengal tiger to shame. Come along."
"I'm with you. I'll show you whether my appetite has a reef in it or not. I can eat more than the living skeleton can, and for a thin man he's got anything stopped for appetite that I ever saw," answered Teddy Tucker, scrambling to his feet and starting for the cook tent.
Yes; Teddy Tucker and Phil Forrest are the same boys who, two seasons before, began their circus career by joining a road show, each in a humble capacity. It will be remembered how in "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE FLYING RINGS," Teddy and Phil quickly rose to be performers in the ring; how Phil, by his coolness and bravery, saved the life of one of the performers at the imminent risk of losing his own; how he saved the circus from a great pecuniary loss, as well as distinguishing himself in various other ways.
In "THE CIRCUS BOYS ACROSS THE CONTINENT," the lads won new laurels in their chosen career, when Phil became a bareback rider, scoring a great hit at his first performance. It will be recalled too, how the circus lad proved himself a real hero at the wreck of the dining car, saving the lives of several persons, finally being himself rescued by his companion, Teddy Tucker.
The Great Sparling Combined Shows had been on the road a week, and by this time the various departments had gotten down to fairly good working order, for, no matter how perfect such an organization may be, it requires several days for the show people to become used to working together. This extends even to the canvasmen and roustabouts. After being a few weeks out they are able to set the tents in from half an hour to an hour less time than it takes during the first two or three stands of the season.
The next stand was to be Edmeston, the home of the two Circus Boys. The lads were looking forward with keen expectation to the moment when, clad in tights and spangles, they would appear before their old school fellows in a series of daring aerial flights.
The lads had spent the winter at school and now only one year more was lacking to complete their course at the high school that they had been attending between circus seasons, practicing in their gymnasium after school hours.
"I'd like to invite all the boys of our class to come to the show on passes. Do you suppose Mr. Sparling would let me?"
"I am afraid you had better not ask him," laughed Phil. "If you were running a store do you think you would ask the crowd to come over and help themselves to whatever they wanted?"
"I thought not."
"But this is different."
"Not so much so. It would be giving away seats that could be sold and that probably will be sold. No; I guess the boys had better pay for their seats."
Teddy looked disappointed.
"Don't you think it is worth fifty cents to see us perform?" queried Phil.
Teddy grinned broadly. The idea appealed to him in a new light.
"That's so. I guess it's worth more than fifty cents, at that. I guess I don't care if they do have to pay, but I want them to come to the show. What do you suppose I've been working two years for, if it wasn't to show off before the fellows? Haven't you?"
"Why, what do you think?"
"I don't think. It's too hot to think this morning."
"All right. Wait till someday when the weather is cooler; then think the matter over," laughed Phil, hurrying on toward where breakfast was waiting for them in the cook tent.
The lads were performing the same acts in which they had appeared the previous season; that is, doing the flying rings as a team, while Phil was a bareback rider and Teddy a tumbler. Something had happened to the bucking mule that Teddy had ridden for two seasons, and the manager had reluctantly been forced to take this act from his bill.
"I'm thinking of getting another mule for you, if we can pick up such a thing," said Mr. Sparling at breakfast that morning.
Teddy's eyes twinkled. He had in mind a surprise for the manager, but was not quite ready to tell of his surprise yet. All during the winter the lad had been working with a donkey that he had picked up near Edmeston. His training of the animal had been absolutely in secret, so that none of his school fellows, save Phil, knew anything about it.
"All right," answered Teddy carelessly. "Wait till we get to Edmeston and see what we can pick up there."
Mr. Sparling bent a shrewd, inquiring glance on the impassive face of the Circus Boy. If he suspected Teddy had something in mind that he was not giving voice to, Mr. Sparling did not mention it. By this time he knew both boys well enough to form a pretty clear idea when there was anything of a secret nature in the wind.
"We'll never get another mule like Jumbo," he sighed.
"Hope not," answered Teddy shortly.
" 'Cause, I don't want to break my neck this season, at least not till after we've passed Edmeston and the fellows have seen perform."
"So that's it, is it?"
"It is. I'm going to show myself tomorrow, and I don't care who knows it."
"If I remember correctly you already have shown yourself pretty thoroughly all the way across the continent."
"And helped fill the big top at the same time," added Teddy, with a shrewd twinkle in his eyes.
Mr. Sparling laughed outright.
"I guess you have a sharp tongue this morning."
"I don't mean to have."
"It's all right. I accept your apology. What's this you say about the fellows—whom do you mean?"
"He means our class at the high school," Phil informed the showman.
"Oh, yes. How many are there in the class?"
"Let me see—how many are there, Teddy?"
"Thirty or forty, not counting the fat boy who's the anchor in the tug of war team. If you count him there are five more."
"I presume they'll all be wanting to come to the show?" questioned Mr. Sparling.
"Any fellow who doesn't come is no friend of mine."
"That's the way to talk. Always have the interest of the show in mind, and you'll get along," smiled the owner.
"We-e-l-l," drawled the lad. "I wasn't just thinking about the interest of the show. I was thinking more about what a figure I'd be cutting before the boys."
Mr. Sparling laughed heartily.
"You are honest at any rate, Master Teddy. That's one thing I like about you. When you tell me a thing I do not have to go about asking others to make sure that you have told me the truth."
"Why shouldn't I? I'm not afraid of you."
"No; that's the worst of it. I should like to see something you really are afraid of."
"I know what he is afraid of," smiled Phil maliciously.
"What?" demanded Mr. Sparling.
"He is afraid of the woman snake charmer under the black top. He's more afraid of her than he is of the snakes themselves. Why, you couldn't get him to shake hands with her if you were to offer him an extra year's salary. There she is over there now, Teddy."
Teddy cast an apprehensive glance at the freak table, where the freaks and side show performers were laughing and chatting happily, the Lady Snake Charmer sandwiched in between the Metal-faced Man and Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Wonder.
"I've been thinking of an idea, Mr. Sparling," said Teddy by way of changing the subject.
Phil glanced at him apprehensively, for Teddy's ideas were frequently attended by consequences of an unpleasant nature.
"Along the usual line young man?"
"What is your idea?"
"I've been thinking that I should like to sign up as a dwarf for the rest of the season and sit on the concert platform in the menagerie tent. It wouldn't interfere with my other performance," said Teddy in apparent seriousness.
Mr. Sparling leaned back, laughing heartily.
"Why, you are not a dwarf."
"No-o-o. But I might be."
"How tall are you?"
"A little more than five feet," answered the lad with a touch of pride in his tone.
"You are almost a man. Why, Teddy, you are a full twenty inches taller than the tallest dwarf in the show."
"Don't you see you could not possibly be a'dwarf?"
"Oh, yes, I could. All the more reason why I could."
"What kind of a dwarf would you be, may I ask?"
"I could be the tallest dwarf on earth, couldn't I?" asked Teddy, gazing at his employer innocently.
Everyone at the table broke out into a merry peal of laughter, while Teddy Tucker eyed them sadly for a moment; then he too added his laughter to theirs.
"If you were not already getting a pretty big salary for a kid, I'd raise your salary for that," exploded Mr. Sparling.
"You can forget I'm getting so much, if you want to," suggested Teddy humorously.
IN THEIR HOME TOWN
"What is it, Teddy?"
"Wake up! We are in the old town again."
Phil Forrest pulled aside the curtain and peered out from his berth into the railroad yards, the bright May sunshine flooding the old familiar scenes at Edmeston. Far off he could just make out the red brick chimney of his Uncle Abner's home.
What recollections it brought back to Phil Forrest—recollections that went back still further to a sweet face and laughing eyes his mother!
Phil dropped the curtain and lay face down in the pillow for a moment.
"I say, Phil."
"What is it?" demanded the lad in a muffled voice.
"Guess who's out there?"
"I don't know."
"The gang's out there."
"The gang. The whole high school crowd."
"They're looking for us. Lucky we're on the last section, for if it was dark, we couldn't make much of a splurge getting off the train. Aren't you going to get up?"
Phil slowly pulled himself from his berth, then began drawing on his clothes. Teddy was already up and nearly dressed, full of expectation of what was before him. For Phil there was something that tinged his joy with sadness, though he could not make up his mind why it should be so. His reverie was broken in upon by the voice of Teddy Tucker.
"Come, hurry up!"
"I am all ready now," answered Phil. "Have you washed?"
"You bet. I always wash the first thing in the morning."
Together the Circus Boys stepped out on the platform. There, lined up by the side of the track, were their companions and school fellows waiting to welcome them.
The high school boys uttered a shout when they espied Phil and Teddy.
"How'dy, fellows!" greeted Teddy, posing on the car platform for a moment, that they might gaze upon him admiringly.
Phil was already on the ground, hurrying toward the boys with both hands outstretched. A moment more and the two lads had been grabbed by their schoolmates and literally overwhelmed, while a crowd of villagers stood off against a pile of lumber, laughing and calling out greetings to the Circus Boys.
Phil and Teddy, as soon as they were able to get away, hurried to the circus lot for their breakfast. There they found a great crowd of people whom they knew, and for a few minutes they were kept busy shaking hands, after which the boys with faces wreathed in smiles, proudly entered the cook tent. Teddy glanced up quizzically when they got inside.
"Well I guess we're some, eh, Phil?"
"I guess so. I hope everything goes all right today. I should die of mortification if anything were to happen to our acts. You want to keep your mind right on your work today. Don't pay any attention to the audience. Remember a whole lot of people are coming to this show today just because they are interested in you and me."
"I guess I know how to perform," sputtered Teddy.
"I haven't said you do not. I know you do, but I don't want you to forget that you do."
"Look out for yourself. I'll take care of myself," growled Teddy.
"I'm going to."
Having finished their breakfast the boys started for the village, to call on Mrs. Cahill, their guardian and the custodian of their earnings. As they were leaving the grounds, Phil paused suddenly.
"Look there," he said, pointing to Mr. Sparling's office tent.
"Well, if it isn't Billy Ford, the president of our class," breathed Teddy. "I didn't see him at the train when we came in this morning; did you?"
"No. He wasn't there."
"Now, what do you suppose he is doing in Mr. Sparling's tent?"
"I haven't the least idea unless he is trying to find out where we are. Hey, Billy!"
Billy Ford paused at the sound of the familiar call; then the Circus Boys hurried toward him. Billy went suddenly red in the face as if he were very much embarrassed.
"What you doing in there?" demanded Teddy.
"Why—why—perhaps I was trying to join the show," stammered Billy.
"We wouldn't have you. You and I couldn't travel in the same show. They'd fire us both."
"Why?" questioned Billy, now regaining his presence of mind.
" 'Cause, between us we'd put the show out of business."
"I believe you would," nodded Phil.
"Where you going, boys?"
"Then I'll walk down that way with you. What time do you get through at night?"
"We finish our last act about ten o'clock," answered Phil. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing much. I just wanted to know."
Phil shot a swift, suspicious glance at the schoolboy, but Billy's face bore an expression as serene as the May morning of that very day.
Mr. Sparling hailed the lads as they were leaving the lot.
"You may be excused from parade today, both of you. You no doubt will want to spend all the time you can with your friends."
"Thank you," smiled Phil. "There's the finest man a fellow ever worked for."
"Worked? Do you call performing in a circus work?"
"Well, at least it is a pretty good imitation of work, Billy."
"I used to think just like you do," added Teddy rather ruefully.
"Is it really work then?"
"Oh, no; it's just play. Come to the show and you will see us play."
"By the way," inquired Phil, "the fellows are all coming this afternoon, I suppose?"
"Yes, but not this afternoon."
"That will be fine. We have a short run tonight, so the boss will not be in any hurry to move the show. You'll see it all."
"Why, don't you always give it all?"
"No. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, or when we have a long run before us, Mr. Sparling cuts some of the acts out entirely, and shortens others. But, of course, the audience doesn't know this."
"Is that so?" wondered the surprised Billy.
"Yes. Are you boys all going to sit together?"
"Yes. We'll be where we can see you. And the girls are going to be there, too. I reckon the whole school will be on hand."
"How about Uncle Abner—will he go to the show, do you think?"
"I know where you'll find him," spoke up Teddy.
"You'll find him hiding behind the hen house watching the parade go by. He won't dare show himself after the way the clowns had fun with him when the show was here before."
"Poor Uncle Abner! I must go over and see him after we have called on Mrs. Cahill."
Arriving at Mrs. Cahill's, they found her out in the yard, arrayed in her best dress in honor of their coming, and it was a joyful meeting between the three. In a short time, however, Teddy grew restless and decided that he would wander about town and call on his other friends.
"I'll tell you what let's do, Teddy," suggested Phil.
"You come back before parade time and we three will sit on the front door step and watch the parade go by, just as we used to do before we went into the show business. I'll run over to see Uncle Abner in the meantime, and we will both be back here by half-past ten. The parade will not get along before then."
"Yes, do, boys," urged Mrs. Cahill. "I'll have a lunch for you after the parade. You will like that, will you not?"
"I should say we shall," laughed Phil. "But, I had rather thought you might like to eat with us under the circus tent."
"Oh, my, my! Eat with the circus?"
"Not with the animals, he doesn't mean," corrected Teddy. "He means we should like to have you eat with we performers."
"Yes, with the performers," grinned Phil.
"Can I eat there with you just as well after the afternoon performance?"
"Then we will have our noon meal here. I have some fresh molasses cookies already baked for you."
"Cookies?" Teddy's eyes brightened.
"Yes; do you want some now?"
"I always want cookies. Never knew a time when I didn't. I want 'em when I'm awake, and I want 'em when I'm asleep."
He got a double handful in short order.
"Well, I'm off!" announced Teddy.
"How about the parade? Will you come back and see it from here?"
"Yes; I guess that would be some fun. I can make faces at the other performers who have to work. Yes; I'll come back."
"Don't forget about the donkey," called Phil. "When are you going to take him over to the horse tent?"
"I'm not going to give myself away by leading that fright through the streets. I've fixed it with one of the hostlers to smuggle him over to the stable tent," grinned Teddy.
"Taking him in this afternoon?"
"Not I. Saving that for a grand surprise tonight. What are you going to do to surprise the fellows?"
"I hadn't thought. Nothing quite so sensational as your feat will be, I guess," laughed Phil.
In the course of an hour both lads had returned to Mrs. Cahill's humble home. But while they were away from the show grounds, the owner of the show, without the knowledge of the lads, had paid a visit to the principal of the school and was back on the lot in time to head the parade when it finally started.
"Kinder wish I had gone in the parade," regretted Teddy.
"Good place to show off."
"You have a much better one."
"In the ring. Anybody can ride a horse in a parade, but not everyone can perform on the flying rings and leap over elephants to boot."
Teddy instinctively threw out his chest.
"You're right, at that. Hark!"
"Yes; they are coming. I can hear Billy English blow the big bass horn. You could hear him over three counties, I really believe."
Laughing and chatting, the boys settled themselves on Mrs. Cahill's hospitable doorstep to await the arrival of the parade which could be heard far off on the other side of the village.
Now and then the high, metallic notes of the calliope rose above all the rest, bringing a glint of pride to the eyes of Teddy Tucker.
"I just love that steam music machine."
"Well, I must say that I do not admire your taste," laughed Phil. "It's the most hideous discord of noises I ever heard. I never did like the steam piano, but a circus wouldn't be a circus without it."
"Nope," agreed Teddy with emphasis.
Down the street a gorgeously colored rainbow slowly reached around a bend and began straightening away toward the Cahill home. The parade was approaching.
As the gay procession drew nearer the boys began to evince some of the enthusiasm that they had known before they themselves had become a part of the big show.
"Remember the parade two years ago, Phil?" asked Mrs. Cahill.
"I could not very well forget it. That was a red letter day in my life, the day when I fell into the show business."
"And that wasn't all you fell in either," added Teddy.
"What else did I fall in?"
"In a ditch when you stopped the runaway pony."
Phil did not laugh. He was thinking.
"That was a lucky fall, too."
"Because it was the means of giving you and me our start in the circus business."
"Hurrah! Here they come. Now see me make faces at them when they go by," said Teddy.
The Cahill home was near the outskirts of the village, and as the golden chariot of the band, glistening in the bright morning sunlight, approached, the lads could not repress an exclamation of delight.
"I used to think the band wagon was solid gold," breathed Teddy.
"When did you find out differently?"
"That day, two years ago, when I scraped off some of the gold with my knife and found it was nothing but wood," grunted Teddy in a disgusted tone.
"What is that band wagon trying to do?" demanded Phil suddenly.
"Guess they are going to turn around," said Teddy.
The six white horses attached to the band wagon slowly drew out of the line just before reaching the Cahill home, and pointed toward the roadside fence. The boys could not understand what the move meant. An instant later the leaders straightened out and began moving along the side of the road close to the fence.
They slowly drew up to the door yard, coming to a stop at the far end of it.
"Wha—wha—" stammered Teddy.
"They are going to serenade us," cried Phil. "That's Mr. Sparling all over. What do you think of that, Mrs. Cahill? You never were serenaded by a circus band before, were you?"
"N-n-no," answered the widow, a little tremulously.
The band wagon drew up a few feet further, coming to a stop again just to the left of the dooryard gate, so as not to interfere with the party's view of the parade.
"There's Mr. Sparling," shouted Phil, as the owner in his handsome carriage drawn by four black horses, came abreast of the yard.
Both boys sprang up and cheered him in their enthusiasm, to which the showman responded by taking off his hat, while the band struck up "Yankee Doodle."
It was a glorious moment for the Circus Boys, and they were even more surprised and gratified by what followed a few moments later.
THE CIRCUS MAKES A CALL
While the band played, the clown wagon came to a halt and the whole body of funny men sang a song in front of Mrs. Cahill's house, while the widow and her two young guests applauded enthusiastically.
As the clown's wagon drew on, a horse ridden by a young woman was seen dashing straight at the dooryard fence, which it took in a graceful leap, causing the Widow Cahill to gasp her amazement. The rider was none other than Little Dimples, the star bareback rider of the Sparling Shows, who had chosen this way to pay homage to her young associates and to Mrs. Cahill as well.
It was an unusual procedure in a circus parade, but though it had been arranged by Mr. Sparling out of the kindness of his heart, he shrewdly reasoned that it would make good business for the show as well. That the people lined up along the street agreed with his reasoning was evidenced by their shouts of applause.
"Mrs. Cahill, this is our very good friend, Mrs. Robinson, otherwise known as Little Dimples," announced Phil proudly.
Mrs. Cahill bowed and smiled, not the least bit embarrassed.
"You haven't introduced my pony, Phil. The pony is part of little me, you know."
"I beg pardon, Mrs. Cahill; let me introduce to you Mrs. Robinson's pony, Cinders, who, though he cannot talk, comes pretty close to it," said Phil, with great dignity.
Cinders bowed and bowed, the bits rattling against his teeth until it sounded to the little gathering as if he were trying to chatter his pleasure at the introduction.
"Now, shake hands with Mrs. Cahill, Cinders," directed Little Dimples.
Cinders extended a hoof, which Mrs. Cahill touched gingerly. She was not used to shaking hands with horses. Teddy and Phil, however, each grasped the pony's extended foot, giving it a good shake, after which Phil thrust a lump of sugar into the waiting lips of Cinders.
"Naughty boy!" chided Little Dimples, tapping the neck of her mount with the little riding crop she carried. "You would spoil him in no time. I must be going, now. I hope we shall see you at the show this afternoon, Mrs. Cahill," smiled Dimples, her face breaking out into dimples and smiles.
The widow nodded.
"This afternoon and tonight. She is going to dine with us under the cook tent this afternoon," Phil informed the rider.
"That will be fine."
Dimples nodded, tossed her whip in the air and clucking to Cinders, went bounding over the fence. A moment more and she had taken her place in the line and was moving along with the procession, bowing and smiling.
"That's what I call right fine," glowed Mrs. Cahill. "Did you say that little thing was Mrs. Robinson?"
"Why, she looks like a young girl."
"That's what I thought when I first saw her. But she has a son as old as I am."
"Land sakes!" wondered Mrs. Cahill. "You never can tell about these circus folks, anyhow."
Phil laughed heartily, but Teddy was too much interested in what was going on outside the fence to indulge in laughter. The band was still playing as if its very existence depended upon keeping up the noise, while the white horses attached to the band wagon were frantically seeking to get their heads down for a nibble of the fresh green grass at the side of the road.
"There come the bulls," called Teddy.
"Yes, I see them."
"The bulls?" wondered Mrs. Cahill. "I didn't know they had bulls in the circus."
"That's what the show people call the elephants," laughed Phil. "Teddy is talking show-talk now. We have a language of our own."
"I should say you do?" grumbled the widow.
"What's the bull in front got on his trunk, Phil?"
Phil shaded his eyes and gazed off down the street.
"That's my friend Emperor. I don't know what it is he is carrying. That's queer. I never saw him carrying anything in parade before, did you?"
For a moment both lads directed their attention to making out what it was that Emperor was carrying along.
"It looks to me like a basket of flowers," finally decided Phil.
"Has somebody been handing him a bouquet," grunted Teddy.
"It certainly looks that way."
"Why, I really believe he is coming in here."
"Coming here—an elephant coming into my front yard? Mercy me!" exclaimed Mrs. Cahill, starting up.
"Why, Mrs. Cahill, Emperor wouldn't hurt a little baby. I hope he does come in. Sit still. Don't be afraid."
"He'll spoil my flower beds—he'll trample them all down and after I've worked four weeks getting—"
"Yes; here he comes," exulted Phil.
At that moment Emperor, with his trainer, Mr. Kennedy, swung out of line and entered the garden gate. Turning to the left they headed directly across the lawn. The precious flower beds lay right in his path.
"Oh, my flowers! They're ruined," moaned the widow.
"Watch him and you'll see," answered Phil, his face wreathed in smiles.
She did, and her eyes opened wider when Emperor cautiously raised one ponderous foot after another until he had stepped clear of the first bed of flowers. The same thing happened when he got to the second bed. Not even the imprint of his footfalls was left on the fresh green grass of the lawn.
Mrs. Cahill's eyes were large and wondering. A sudden impulse stirred her to spring up and flee into the house.
Phil, noting it, laid a restraining hand lightly, on her arm.
"Don't be afraid," he reassured. "Emperor will not harm you. You see how careful he is of your lawn and your flower beds. I think he is coming here for some purpose."
Emperor and his trainer came to a half right in front of the porch, the elephant's little eyes fixed upon the slender form of Phil Forrest.
"Good boy, Emperor!" breathed Phil. "Did somebody present a basket of flowers to you?"
It was a big basket, and such a handsome collection of flowers did it contain as to cause Mrs. Cahill to open her eyes in wonder. A card was tied to the handle of the basket with a big pink ribbon. Phil began to understand the meaning of the scene, and he felt sure the name on the card was that of Mrs. Cahill.
A low spoken command from the trainer, and Emperor cautiously got down on his knees, keeping those small eyes on Phil Forrest all the time.
"Mrs. Cahill, Emperor has been commissioned by the Great Sparling Combined Shows to present a basket of flowers to you in the name of Mr. Sparling himself, and the show people, too. He has carried it all the way from the lot this morning," declared Mr. Kennedy.
The people on the street were now pressing closer, in order to see what was going to happen. Phil was smiling broadly, while Teddy was hugging himself with delight at Mrs. Cahill's nervousness.
"Emperor, give the flowers to the lady," commanded the trainer.
Slowly, the big elephant's trunk stretched out, extending the basket toward her inch by inch, while the widow instinctively shrank far back in her chair.
At last the trunk reached her.
"Take it," said Phil.
She grasped the basket with a muttered, "thank you."
"Say good-bye, Emperor," directed the trainer.
Emperor curled his trunk on high, coughed mightily, then rising on his hind legs until he stood almost as high as the widow's cottage, he uttered a wild, weird trumpeting that fairly shook the house.
Mrs. Cahill, in her fright, suddenly started back, her chair tipped over and she landed in a heap on the ground at the end of the porch.
A FRIENDLY AUDIENCE
The afternoon performance had passed without a hitch. While there were many town people there the greater part of the audience, which nearly filled the big tent, was composed of visitors from the country.
Great applause greeted the performances of Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker, but the two Circus Boys were saving their best efforts for the evening performance when all their friends would be present.
Mrs. Cahill, after her tumble, had been picked up by the lads who insisted that she shake the trunk of Emperor before he left the lawn. And now that she had seen the afternoon show, taking a motherly pride in the performance of her boys, as she proudly called them, the kindhearted woman sat down to a meal in the cook tent, which proved one of the most interesting experiences of her life.
As the hour for the evening performance approached there was an unusual bustle in the dressing tent. By this time the whole show had taken a keen interest in the affairs of the Circus Boys, who had been known to the performers—at least, to most of them—for the past two years.
Teddy had paid sundry mysterious visits to the horse tent, and held numerous confidential conversations with the equestrian director, all of which was supposed to have been unknown to Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show.
But, while Teddy was nursing his secret, Mr. Sparling also was keeping one of his own, one which was to be a great surprise to the two Circus Boys.
The first surprise was given when the clowns came out for their first entry. Lining up in front of the reserved seats, where the high school boys and girls sat, they sang a song in which they brought in the names of every member of Phil's class. This elicited roars of laughter from the spectators, while the school boys and girls waved their crimson and white class flags wildly.
The whole class was there as the guests of the management of the show. This was one of Mr. Sparling's surprises, but not the only one he was to give them that night.
Next came the leaping act, somersaulting from a springboard and in the end jumping over the herd of elephants. Teddy was so effectively disguised by his clown makeup that, for some time, the class did not recognize him. When finally they did, through some familiar gesture of his own, the boys and girls set up a perfect howl of delight in which the audience joined with enthusiastic applause, for Teddy, with all his clumsy ways, was one of the best tumblers in the show. He had developed marvelously since the close of the show the fall before.
Never had Teddy tumbled as he did that night. He took so many chances that Mr. Sparling, who was on the side lines, shouted a word of caution to him.
"You'll break your neck, if you're not careful."
In answer to the warning, Teddy took a long running start and did a double turn in the air, over the backs of the elephants, landing plump into the waiting arms of a bevy of painted clowns, the spectators evincing their appreciation by shouting out Teddy's name.
Teddy's chest swelled with pride as he waved his hand and shook his head as if to say: "Oh, that's nothing! You ought to see me when I'm really working."
The band played on and the show moved along with a merry medley of daring deeds and furious fun from the clowns.
At last, in response to the command of the ringmaster's whistle, the band ceased playing and silence fell over the tent as the ringmaster raised his hand for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "The next act will be a bareback riding feat unexcelled in any show in the world. In ring No. 1 the famous equestrienne, Little Dimples, will entertain you with her Desperate, Daring Dips of Death that defy imitation. In ring No. 2 you will recognize a fellow townsman—a townsboy, I should say. It will not be necessary for me to mention his name. Suffice it to say that, although he has been riding for less than a year, he has already risen to the enviable position of being one of the foremost bareback riders of the sawdust arena. I think that's all I have to say. Your friends will do the rest."
The ringmaster waved his hand to the band, which instantly blared forth and to its music Phil Forrest tripped lightly down the concourse, being obliged to go three-fourths of its length to get to the ring where he was to perform.
His journey led him right past the grandstand seats where his admiring school fellows were sitting, or rather standing. As a matter of fact, every one of them had risen to his feet by this time and was shouting out Phil's name.
As he drew nearer they began to chant, keeping time with his footsteps and the music of the band:
"Phil, Phil—Phillip F! Rah, rah! Siss-boom-ah!"
The Circus Boy grinned happily and waved his whip at them as he passed.
"I hope I won't make a fool of myself," he thought.
He had no intention of doing so. He had a few tricks that he was going to show his friends, and incidentally surprise Mr. Sparling himself, for Phil, who now owned his own ring horse, had been practicing in secret all winter on the act that he was going to attempt for the first time in public that evening.
Discarding his slippers and chalking the bottoms of his riding pumps, Phil began his act by riding standing on the rump of his mount, to get his equilibrium and his confidence at the same time.
Then the lad began throwing himself into his work, which increased in speed as the moments passed, until his supple, slender body was flashing here and there on the back of the handsome gray, causing the eyes of the spectators fairly to ache in their efforts to keep track of him.
The people voiced their excitement by yells of approval and howls of delight.
"My, but that boy can ride!" muttered Mr. Sparling, who had been watching the act critically. "In fact, I should like to know what he cannot do. If he had to do so, he could run this show fully as well as can I—and perhaps better at that," added the showman, with a grin.
Now the band struck up the music for the concluding number of the act.
"I wonder what he has up his sleeve," mused Mr. Sparling shrewdly, suspecting that Phil was about to try something he had never done in the ring before. "I hope he won't take any long chances, for I can't afford to have anything happen to my little star performer."
As a matter of fact both Phil and Teddy Tucker had become star performers, and were so featured on the circus bills, where their pictures had been placed for this, their third season out. The year before they had appeared on the small bills in the shop windows, but now they had the satisfaction of seeing themselves portrayed in life-size on the big boards.
Phil sent his ring horse forward at a lively gait, which grew faster and faster, as he sat lightly on the animal's rump, urging it along.
All at once he bounded to his feet, poised an instant, then threw himself into a succession of handsprings until he resembled a whirling pink and gold wheel.
This was a new act in the circus world, and such of the other performers as were under the big top at the moment paused to watch it.
No one was more surprised than Mr. Sparling himself. He knew what a difficult feat it was that the Circus Boy had not only essayed, but succeeded in doing. Phil kept it up at such length, and with such stubborn persistence, that the owner of the show feared lest the lad, in his dizziness might get a bad fall.
Doing a series of such rapid handsprings on the level ground is calculated to make a performer's head swim. But how much more difficult such an effort is on the slippery back of a moving horse may well be imagined.
Finally, red of face, panting, breathless, Phil Forrest alighted on his feet, well back on the ring horse's rump.
"Be ready to catch me," he gasped.
The ringmaster understood.
Phil urged his horse to a run about the sawdust arena.
"Now, what's that fool boy going to do?" wondered Mr. Sparling.
All at once Phil Forrest threw himself up into the air, his body doubling like a ball as he did so.
One—two—three times he whirled about in his marvelous backward somersault.
"Let go your tuck!" commanded the ringmaster, meaning that Phil was to release the grip of his hands which were holding his legs doubled close against his body.
The lad quickly straightened up, spreading his arms to steady himself in his descent. Fortunately he was dropping feet first, due to his instant obedience of the ringmaster's order.
Perhaps that alone saved the Circus Boy from breaking his neck, for so dizzy was he that he was unable to tell whether he was dropping feet or head first.
He alighted on his feet and the ringmaster caught him deftly.
"Stand steady a minute, till you get your bearings, Phil."
Phil needed that moment to steady himself, for the big top seemed to be whirling about on a pivot.
Now he began dimly to hear the thunders of applause that greeted his really wonderful performance.
"Can you stand alone now?"
"I think so," came the faint reply that was instantly drowned in the great uproar.
But the lad wavered a little after the ringmaster had released his grip. Steadying himself quickly, Phil pulled on his slippers and walked slowly from the ring, dizzy, but happy with the shouts of his school fellows ringing in his ears.
He heard the voice of Mr. Sparling close by him, saying:
"Great, great, my boy! Finest exhibition ever seen in a sawdust ring!"
Phil tripped proudly past the grandstand seats, where the boys were howling like a pack of wild Indians.
But just then something else occurred to attract their attention.
A donkey, long-eared, long-haired, dirty and unkempt trotted into the ring and spun about like a top for a full minute.
On the ludicrous-looking beast's back sat a boy in the makeup of a blackface clown. In his mouth was a harmonica, that he played lustily, as he sat facing to the rear with his back toward the donkey's head.
At that moment something else was observable. Instead of traveling head first, as any self-respecting donkey is supposed to do, this particular donkey was walking backwards. Yes, he was galloping backwards.
The instant the audience noted that, their cheers changed to howls of delight. The clown was Teddy Tucker, and the donkey was the surprise he had been storing up for this very occasion. While the audience laughed and jeered, Mr. Sparling looked on in surprise not unmixed with amazement. Here was the very thing he had been looking for, but had been unable thus far to find.
"It's a winner!" he cried, as Teddy Tucker and his strange mount ambled by him in a gait such as never had been seen in a sawdust arena before.
Right around the arena traveled boy and donkey. When opposite the grandstand seats, where the high school students were sitting, Teddy nearly drove them wild by drawing out the class colors which he had been hiding under his coat.
In a shrill, high-pitched voice he gave utterance to the high school class yell, which was instantly taken up by the class and eventually by the spectators themselves, until all seemed near the verge of hysterics.
Phil, instead of proceeding directly to the dressing tent, had waited by the bandstand to watch the new act of his companion, and he, with others of the performers, was laughing heartily as he leaned against the bandstand. Teddy knew he made a funny appearance, but just how ludicrous he could have little idea.
"Whose donkey is that?" demanded Mr. Sparling, hurrying up just as Phil and the other circus folks were congratulating the lad.
"He's mine," rejoined Teddy.
"Where did you get him?"
"I bought him. Think I stole him? Been training him all winter. Like him?"
"It's a great comedy act. He's engaged. Turn him over to the superintendent of ring stock and tell him to make a place on the train for the brute."
"I've already done so."
"Oh, you have, eh?"
"Anybody would think you owned this show, the way you give orders around here."
"I'm willing, and so's the donkey," grinned Teddy.
"For what—-to go on at every performance?"
"No; to own the show. We're going on right along, anyway. Gid-dap!"
"Hopeless!" muttered Sparling, shaking his head.
TAKEN BY SURPRISE
"Hurry up, Teddy!"
"Billy Ford is waiting for us out in the paddock."
"Oh, is that so? What does he want?"
"He's going to walk to the train with us, he says."
"That's good. I wonder if any of the other fellows will be along?"
"No; I think not. I asked him if he were alone, and he said he was."
"We might give him a feed in the accommodation car," suggested Teddy.
"No; you and I are going to bed right quick after we get back to the train. I, for one, am tired after this strenuous day."
"It has been lively, hasn't it?"
"It has," answered Phil, laying special emphasis on the "has."
"Say, young man, where did you get that freak donkey?" demanded Mr. Miaco, the head clown, approaching at that moment.
"Drew him in a prize package of chewing gum," called one of the performers.
"Where did you get him, anyway?" called another.
"You seem to know all about it, so what's the use of my telling you?" retorted Teddy.
The lads had finished their work for the day, and nothing now remained to be done except to disrobe, take a quick scrub down after their severe exercise, don their clothes and take their time in getting to the train.
There was plenty of time for this, as their sleeper being on the third and last section of the circus train, they would not leave for nearly two hours yet, at the earliest.
The baths of the Circus Boys were more severe than pleasant, and in taking them each one had to perform a service for the other. The bath consisted of the performer's standing still while his companion emptied several buckets of cold water over him, following it with a liberal smearing of soap and then some more pailfuls of water.
Once a week, over Sunday, the performers were allowed to sleep at hotels, providing the circus did not have an all day run. At such times they were able to enjoy the luxury of a hot bath, but at other times it was cold water—sometimes colder and more chilling than at others. Yet, they thrived under it, growing strong and healthy.
Having once more gotten into their street clothes, refreshed and rested to a degree that would be scarcely believed after their severe exercise, both lads repaired to the paddock, where they found the president of the high school class waiting for them, interestedly watching the scene of life and color always observable in the circus paddock, a canvas walled enclosure where performers and ring stock await the call to enter the ring.
"Here we are, Billy," greeted Phil.
"Oh, so quick?" Billy started guiltily.
"That's the way we always do things," answered Teddy. "Have to do things on the jump, we circus men do."
"So I see. What are you going to do now?"
"Going to the car, of course. We always go right to the sleeper after the show. Why?"
"Oh, nothing special. I thought maybe you might like to go downtown and visit with the boys for a while."
"I should like to do so very much, but I do not think it will be best. We make it a rule to go straight home, as we call our car, and I've never broken over that rule yet, Billy."
"Very well, Phil; then I will walk along with you. I guess you know the way."
"That's more than I do every night," laughed Phil. "It's a case of getting lost 'most every night, especially in the big towns, for the cars seldom are found at night where we left them in the morning."
"I shouldn't like that," objected Billy.
"We don't. But we can't help ourselves."
"Here, where you going?" demanded Teddy suddenly.
"Taking the path across the lot here. It is much shorter," replied Billy.
"Oh, all right. I had forgotten about the path."
"I should think you would—"
Phil got no further in his remark. He was interrupted by President Billy, crying loudly:
"Here we are!"
Instantly fifteen or twenty shadowy forms sprang up from the grass and hurled themselves upon the Circus Boys.
Taken by surprise as they were, Phil and Teddy gave a good account of themselves. Shadow after shadow went down under a good stiff punch, for it must be remembered that both boys were able to make a handsome living because of the possession of well trained muscles.
Yet no two men could have stood up for long under the onslaught, and Phil and Teddy very soon went down with their assailants piling on top of them.
Up to this point not a word had been spoken, nor did either of the lads have time to speculate as to who their enemies might be.
"Here, you fellow, get off my neck!" howled Teddy. "Let me get up and I'll clean up the whole bunch of you two at a time, if you'll give me half a chance."
No reply was made to this.
"Get the blankets!" commanded a deep voice.
A moment later the two lads were quickly wound in the folds of a pair of large horse blankets. They were then picked up, none too gently and borne off to the other side of the field, kicking and squirming in their efforts to escape.
Their captors, however, did not for an instant relax their hold, and further struggle proved vain.
Reaching the other side of the field, the Circus Boys were dumped into a wagon. This they knew because they heard the driver give the directions regarding letting down the tail board.
Placing their burdens on the wagon floor, the captors very coolly sat down on the boys. Then the wagon started. Never in the old days of the road show, when Phil and Teddy were riding and sleeping in a springless canvas wagon, had they experienced a rougher ride. It seemed as if every stone in the county had been placed in the path of the rickety old wagon in which they were being spirited away.
About this time Phil Forrest began to wonder. He could not understand the meaning of the attack. And what had become of President Billy? He knew Teddy was lying beside him, but Billy must have made his escape. If so Billy would give the alarm, and the show people would quickly overtake the kidnappers.
No such interruption occurred, however, rather greatly to Phil's surprise, so he lay still and waited for a favorable moment when he might take a hand in the affair himself.
Teddy's voice could be heard under his blanket, in muffled, angry protestations, his feet now and then beating a tattoo on the wagon bottom. Such an act brought down the weight of his captors upon the offending feet each time.
Once Teddy managed to work the covering from his mouth for one brief instant.
"Hey, Rube!" he howled lustily, this being the signal known to circus men the world over, when one or more of them is in trouble.
But there were no strong-armed circus men to come to their rescue. All the circus laborers were working off on the lot striking the tents and loading the show on the wagons. Teddy was given no further opportunity to protest.
After a journey of what seemed hours, and during which, Phil Forrest had lost all sense of direction, the wagon came to a halt.
He could hear the hum of conversation as his captors consulted in low tones. Then all at once he found himself jerked from the wagon and plumped down on the ground.
Teddy went through a similar experience, excepting that his fall was considerably more severe. Teddy struck the ground with a jolt that made him utter a loud "Wow!"
He was on his feet in a twinkling, only to find himself pounced upon and borne heavily to earth again.
Fuming and threatening, Teddy was roughly picked up, Phil being served likewise.
The boys felt themselves being borne up a short flight of steps and down a long hall. Then came more steps. This time it was a long flight of stairs, the kidnappers getting their burdens up this with evident effort.
"I hope they don't drop me, now," thought Phil. "I shall surely roll all the way to the bottom, though it might enable me to get away."
Finally an upper floor was reached. The captors bore their burdens in and placed them on the floor. The Circus Boys realized, at the same instant, that the vigilance of the kidnappers had been relaxed for the second.
Throwing, the blankets off Phil and Teddy leaped to their feet ready for flight. As they did so they met with the surprise of their lives.
IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY
Teddy had squared off, and was landing sledge-hammer blows on the empty air.
Phil, too, had squared himself prepared to give battle, but his hands fell sharply to his sides.
"Wha—what—" he gasped.
"Come on!" bellowed Teddy.
They were in a large room, brilliantly lighted, and about them, in a semi-circle, was a line of laughing faces. From them the eyes of the astonished Circus Boys wandered to a long table on which were flowers and plenty of good things to eat.
"Why, it's our old recitation room in the high school, Teddy," breathed Phil.
"I don't care what it is. I can lick the whole outfit!" shouted Teddy Tucker advancing belligerently.
"It's the boys, Teddy, don't you understand?" laughed Phil. "Well, of all the ways of inviting a fellow to dinner, this beats anything I ever saw before."
"How does it feel to be kidnaped?" grinned President Billy, extending his hand.
"So you are the young gentleman who put up this job on us, are you?" demanded Phil.
"I guess I am one of them. But I wasn't unlucky enough to get a black eye, like Walter over there. You gave that to him, Teddy. My, what a punch you have!" laughed Billy.
"That isn't a circumstance to what's coming to you. I'll wait till I get back to school, next fall, and then I'll take it out of you. You'll have something coming to you all summer. Did I paint Walt's eye that way?"
"You did. It's up to you to apologize to him now."
"Yes; that's what I said."
"I like that! I have a good notion to apologize by painting the other eye the same color," growled Teddy.
"But, what does all this mean?" urged Phil, looking about him, still a bit dazed.
"It means that we fellows wanted to give you and Teddy a little supper. It isn't much, but there are sandwiches and cookies and pie and lots of other stuff that you'll like."
"Cookies?" interrupted Teddy, his face relaxing into a half smile.
"We knew you wouldn't come, so we planned to kidnap you both and bring you over here by main force. After we eat supper we'll have a little entertainment among ourselves. Walter is going to sing—"
"What's that? Walt going to sing?" demanded Teddy, halting on his way to inspect the table.
"Then I'm going, right now!" answered the lad, turning sharply and heading for the door.
"I've heard him sing before. Good night!"
"Come back here," laughed Phil, grabbing his companion by the shoulder. "We can stand even Walter's singing if he can. But really, fellows, we can't stay more than fifteen or twenty minutes."
"Because we must get to the train. Were we to be left we might come in for a fine. Mr. Sparling is very strict. He expects everybody to live up to the rules. I'm sorry, but—"
"It's all fixed, Phil. No need to worry," President Billy informed him.
"Fixed? What do you mean?"
"With Mr. Sparling."
"You—you told him?"
"See here, Billy Ford," interrupted Teddy.
"What is it, Teddy?"
"Did you say Boss Sparling was in on this little kidnaping game— did he know you were going to raise roughhouse with—with us?"
"I—I guess he did," admitted President Billy.
"I'll settle with him tomorrow," nodded Teddy, swelling out his chest.
"Did you tell him you were going to have a supper up here?" asked Phil.
"He knows all about it. You need not worry about the train going away without you. Mr. Sparling said you had a short run tonight, and that the last section would not pull out until three o'clock in the morning. That's honest Injun, Phil."
"Well, if that is the case, then we'll stay."
"Hurrah for the Circus Boys!" shouted the class, making a rush for seats at the table.
"Ready for the coffee," announced the President.
Who should come in at that moment, with a steaming coffeepot, but the Widow Cahill.
"Are you in this, too?" Teddy demanded.
"I am afraid I am," laughed Mrs. Cahill. "The boys needed some grown-ups to help them out."
"You're no friend of mine, then. I'll—"
"But you are going to have some of those molasses cookies that I told you I baked for you—"
"Cookies? Where?" exclaimed Teddy, forgetting his anger instantly.
"Help yourself. There they are."
"It isn't much of a spread," apologized the president. "We have a little of everything and not much of anything—"
"And a good deal of nothing," added Teddy humorously.
"Everybody eat!" ordered Mrs. Cahill.
They did. Thirty boys with boys' appetites made the home-cooked spread disappear with marvelous quickness. Each had brought something from home, and Mrs. Cahill, whom they had taken into their confidence two days before the Sparling Shows reached town, had furnished the rest. Everything was cold except the coffee, but the feasters gave no thought to that. It was food, and good wholesome food at that, and the lads were doing full justice to it.
"Say, Phil, that was a wonderful act of yours," nodded President Billy, while the admiring gaze of the class was fixed on Phil Forrest.
"I wish I might learn to do that," said Walter.
"You? You couldn't ride a wooden rocking horse without falling off and getting a black eye," jeered Teddy, at which there was a shout of laughter.
"Can you?" cut in Phil.
"I can ride anything from a giraffe to a kangaroo—that is, until I fall off," Teddy added in a lower voice. "I rode a greased pig at a country fair once. Anybody who can do that, can sit on a giraffe's neck without slipping off."
"Where was that?" questioned a voice. "I never heard of your riding a greased pig around these parts."
"I guess that must have been before you were born," retorted Teddy witheringly.
"Say, Phil," persisted Walter, this time in a confidential tone.
"Do you suppose you could get me a job in the circus?"
"I don't know about that, Walt. What do you think you could do?"
"Well, I can do a cartwheel and—"
"Oh, fudge!" interrupted Teddy.
"That's more than Tucker could do when he joined the show. Do you know what he did, first of all?" said Phil.
"No; what did he do?" chorused the boys.
"He poured coffee in the cook tent for the thirsty roustabouts. That's the way he began his circus career."
"I didn't do it more than a day or two," Tucker explained, rather lamely.
"But you did it!" jeered Walter.
"Then his next achievement was riding the educated mule. I guess you boys never saw him do that."
"Not until tonight."
"This is different. The other was a bucking mule, and Teddy made a hit from the first time he entered the ring on Jumbo. He hit pretty much everything in the show, including the owner himself." Phil leaned back and laughed heartily at the memory of his companion's exhibition at this, his first appearance in a circus ring as a performer.
"No, Walt, I wouldn't advise you to join. Some people are cut out for the circus life. They never would succeed at anything else. Teddy and myself for instance. Besides, your people never would consent to it. You will be a lawyer, or something great, some of these days, while we shall be cutting up capers in the circus ring at so much per caper. It's a wonderful life but you keep out of it," was Phil Forrest's somewhat illogical advice.
"How far are you going this year?" asked one of the boys.
"I can't say. I understand we are going south—to Dixie Land for the last half of the season. I think we are headed for Canada, just now, swinging around the circuit as it were. Isn't it about time we were getting back to the train, Teddy?"
"No, I guess not. I haven't eaten up all the cookies yet. Please pass the cookies, you fellow up there at the head of the table."
"We shall have our little entertainment before you fellows go to your sleeper. We reckon Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker ought to do some stunts for us. Isn't that so?" asked President Billy.
"Yes," shouted the boys.
"What, after a meal like that? I couldn't think of it," laughed Phil. "Never perform on a full stomach unless you want to take chances. It might do you up for good."
"Well, it won't hurt Teddy to be funny. Do something funny, Teddy."
Teddy looked up soulfully as he munched a cookie.
"Costs money to see me act funny," he said.
"Go on; go on!" urged the boys. "You never showed us any of your tricks except what you did in the ring this evening."
"Do you know, it's a funny thing, but I never can be funny unless there is a crop of new-mown sawdust under my feet," remarked Teddy.
"Nothing very funny about that!" growled a voice at the further end of the table.
Teddy fixed him with a reproving eye.
"Very well, but you'll be sorry. I will now present to you the giddiest, gladdest, gayest, grandest, gyrating, glamorous and glittering galaxy—as the press agent says—that ever happened."
Teddy, who sat at the extreme end of the table, placed both hands carelessly on the table, then drew his body up by slow degrees, until a moment later as his body seemed to unfold, he was doing a hand stand right on the end of the supper table.
The boys shouted with delight and Teddy kicked his feet in the air.
"Go on! Don't stop," urged the lads.
"You'll be wishing I had stopped before I began," retorted the lad, starting to walk on his hands right down the center of the table.
There were dishes in the way, but this did not disturb Tucker in the least. He merely pushed them aside, some rolling off on the floor and breaking, others falling into the laps of the boys.
"Here, here, what are you doing?" called Phil.
"This is what I call the topsy-turvy walk."
Teddy paused when halfway down the table, to let his mouth down to the table, where he had espied another cookie. When he pulled himself up, the cookie was between his lips, and the boys roared at the ludicrous sight.
Then, the lad who was walking on his hands, continued right on. He was nearing the foot of the table when something occurred that changed the current of their thoughts, sending the heart of every boy pounding in his throat.
It seemed as if the roof had been suddenly hurled down upon their heads.
Teddy instantly fell off the table, tumbling into the laps of two of the boys, the three going down to the floor in a heap, finally rolling under the table. The other boys sprang to their feet in sudden alarm.
"It's a band," cried Phil. "Don't be afraid."
Then the circus band, that had been waiting in the hall just outside the dining place, marched in with horns blaring, drums beating, and took up their position at the far end of the room.
"It's the circus band," cried the lads, now recovering from their fright. "How did they get here?"
By this time Teddy, his face red and resentful, was poking his head from beneath the table.
"Hey, Rube!" he shouted, then ducked back again.
Phil understood instantly that this was one of Mr. Sparling's surprises. But there were still other surprises to come. No sooner had the band taken up its position than there was again a commotion out in the hall. The lads opened their eyes wide when a troop of painted clowns came trotting in, followed by half a dozen acrobats, all in ring costume. A mat was quickly spread by some attendants that Mr. Sparling had sent.
Then began the merriest hodge-podge of acrobatic nonsense that the high school boys ever had seen. The clowns, entering into the spirit of the moment, grew wonderfully funny. They sang songs and told stories, while the acrobats hurled themselves into a mad whirl of somersaults, cartwheels and Wild Dervish throws.
Thus far the boys were too amazed to speak.
All at once some of the performers began to form a pyramid, one standing on the other's shoulders.
"Here, I'm going to be the top-mounter!" cried Teddy, taking a running start and beginning to clamber up the human column. He was assisted up and up until he was standing at the top, his head almost touching the high ceiling in the room.
"Speech!" howled the delighted high school boys.
"Fellow citizens," began Teddy.
Just then the human pyramid toppled over and Teddy had to leap to save himself, striking the mat, doing a rolling tumble and coming up on his feet.
When all the fun making in the hall was over one surprise proved yet to be in the reserve. The high school boys of Edmeston turned out with lighted torches. Forming in column of fours they escorted Phil and Teddy to their car on the circus train. It was not many minutes later that the boys, tired out but happy, tumbled into their berths, where they were asleep immediately, carrying on, even in their dreams, the joyous scenes through which they had just passed.
SHIVERS AND HIS SHADOW
Half a hundred motley fools came trooping into the sawdust arena, their voices raised in song and shout.
Mud clown, character clown, harlequin, fat boy, jester, funny rustic, vied with each other in mirth-provoking antics so aptly described by the circus press agent as a "merry-hodgepodge of fun-provoking, acrobatic idiosyncrasies of an amazing character."
And so they were.
Children screamed with delight, while their elders smiled a dignified approval of the grotesque, painted throng that trooped gayly down the uneven course.
The music of the circus band stopped short. Then came a fanfare of trumpets, and far down the line from behind the crimson curtains near to the bandstand, a dignified figure all in white, emerged and tripped along the grassy way, halting now and then to gaze fixedly at some imaginary object just above the heads of those on the upper row of seats, the very drollery of which gaze was irresistible.
Shivers, Prince of Clowns, the greatest fun maker and character clown of all that mad, painted throng, had made his entry.
Shivers had joined out with the Sparling show for the first time that season. He was known as the leading clown in the business. >From the first, Shivers had taken a liking to Teddy Tucker, and shortly after leaving Edmeston he had conceived the idea of making a full-fledged clown of Teddy. The permission of the manager had been obtained and this was Teddy's first appearance as assistant to Shivers. Teddy was considerably smaller, of course, and made up as the exact counterpart of Shivers trailing along after him like a shadow, the lad made a most amusing appearance. Every move that the clown made, Teddy mimicked as the two minced along down the concourse.
Shivers was a shining model of the clown both in method and makeup. His stiffly starched bulging trousers disappeared under the stiff ruffles of a three-quarter waist. A broad turnover collar of the nurse style was set off with a large bow of bright red ribbon, and a baker's cap, perched jauntily on one side of the head, completed his merry makeup. This too describes Teddy Tucker's outfit.
"Now, be funny!" directed Shivers.
"I can't help but be if I act like you," retorted Teddy, whereat the clown grinned.
Pausing before the dollar seats the clown pulled out the ruffles of his snow-white waist, poising with crossed legs on one toe. Teddy did the same, and a great roar was the reward of their drollery.
"La, la! La, la, la!" hummed the clown, stumbling over a rope to the keen delight of those in the reserved seats—the same rope, by the way, that he had been falling over twice each day for the past month. Then he blew a kiss to a fragile slip of a girl who was perched on a trapeze bar far up toward the dome of the great tent.
Zoraya, for that was her name, smiled down, gracefully swung off into space, soaring lightly into the strong, sure arms of her working mate.
Just the suspicion of an approving smile lighted up the face of the clown for the moment, for he dearly loved this little motherless daughter of his, who had been his care since she was a child.
Shivers had taught her all she knew, and Zoraya was the acknowledged queen of the lofty tumblers.
But the clown half unconsciously caught his breath as the lithe form of Zoraya shot over the trapeze bar, described a graceful "two-and-a-half" in the air, and, shooting downward, hit the net with a resounding smack that caused the spectators to catch their breath sharply.
The clown shook a warning head at her, and Teddy so far forgot himself as to stub his toe and measure his length upon the ground.
"Don't do it, Bright Eyes!" cautioned Shivers, shaking his head warningly at the girl, as the child bounced up from the impact, kicking her little feet together and turning a somersault on the swaying net. "It isn't in your contract. Folks sometimes break their necks trying kinkers that's not in the writings."
Her answer was a merry, mocking laugh, and Zoraya ran lightly up a rope ladder to the platform where she balanced easily for another flight.
"My, I wish I could do stunts like that!" breathed Teddy.
"Just like a bird. La, la, la! La, la, la!" sang the painted clown, turning a handspring and pivoting on his head for a grand, spectacular finish.
His refined comedy, so pleasing to the occupants of the reserved seats, had now been changed to loud, uproarious buffoonery as he bowed before the blue, fifty cent seats where his auditors were massed on boards reaching from the top of the side wall clear down to the edge of the arena.
He took liberties with their hats, passed familiar criticisms on their families and told them all about the other performers in the ring, arousing the noisy appreciation of the spectators.
Teddy was put to his wits end to keep up with this rapid-fire clowning, and the perspiration was already streaking the powder on his face.
All at once, above the din and the applause, the ears of the clown caught a sound different from the others—a scream of alarm. Shivers had heard such a cry many times before during his twenty years in the sawdust ring, and, as he expressed it, the sound always gave him "crinkles up and down his spine."
There was no need to start and look about for the cause. He understood that there had been an accident. But the clown looked straight ahead and went on with his work. He knew, by the strains of the music, exactly what Zoraya should be doing at the moment when the cry came—that her supple body was flashing through the air in a "passing leap," one of the feats that always drew such great applause, even if it were more spectacular than dangerous.
"No, it can't be Zoraya!" he muttered. But the clown cast one nervous, hesitating glance up there where her troupe was working in the air. The cold sweat stood out upon him. Zoraya was not with them. His eyes sought the net. It was empty. He saw a figure clad in pink, white and gold shooting right through the net.
Then, too, he saw something else. A slender, pink-clad figure was darting under the net with outstretched arms.
"It's Phil. He's going to catch her," shouted Teddy jubilantly.
But Phil went down under the impact of the heavy blow as Zoraya struck him. A throng of ring attendants gathered about them, and in a moment the two forms were picked up and borne quickly from the ring.
Once, years before, Shivers had been through an earthquake in South America, when things about him were topsy-turvy, when the circus tent came tumbling down about him, and ring curbs went up into the air in most bewildering fashion.
Now, that same sensation was upon him again, and quarter poles seemed to dance before his eyes like giddy marionettes, while the long rows of blue seats appeared to be tilted up at a dangerous angle. Then slowly the clown's bewilderment merged into keen understanding, but his painted face reflected none of the anguish that was gripping at his heart strings.
Teddy brushed a hand across his own eyes.
"I—I guess they're both killed," he said falteringly.
Just then the voice of the head clown broke out in the old Netherlands harvest song:
"Yanker didel doodle down, Didel, dudel lanter, Yankee viver, voover vown, Botermilk und tanther."
"Poor Zoraya!" muttered the clown under cover of the applause that greeted his vocal effort. And his associates looked down from their perches high in the air, gazing in wonder upon the clown who was bowing so low that, each time he did so, he was obliged to turn a somersault to gain his equilibrium.
"Dangerously hurt—went through the net head first. Hurry!" panted a belated clown, running by to his station. "Boy hurt, too."
"Told you so!" grumbled Teddy.
But Shivers did not flinch, and, as he neared the reserved seats on the grandstand, his voice again rang out, this time in a variation of the ancient harvest song:
"Yankee doodle, keep it up, Yankee doodle, dandy; Mind the music and the step, And with your feet be handy."
Never had the show people seen Shivers so uproariously funny. Under the spell of his merriment, the audience quickly forgot the tragic scene that they had just witnessed.
Teddy, however, noticed little dark trenches that had ploughed their courses down through the makeup of the clown's cheeks from his eyes. Teddy knew that tears had caused those furrows.
As Shivers looked down the long, grassy stretch ahead of him, that he still must cover before his act would be finished, the goal seemed far away. He flashed one longing glance toward the crimson curtains that shut off the view of the paddock and the dressing tents, vaguely wondering what lay beyond for him and for little Zoraya. Then Shivers set his jaws hard, plunging into a mad whirl of handsprings and somersaults, each of which sent him nearer to the end of that seemingly endless way.
"Here, here, what are you trying to do?" gasped Tucker, unable to keep up with the clown's rapid progress by doing the same things. Teddy solved the problem by running. He could keep up in no other way.
At last Shivers reached the end. With a mighty leap he sprang for the paddock and the dressing tent. And how he did run! Such sprinting never had been seen in the big show, even between man and horse in the act following the Roman chariot races.
Once a rope caught Shivers' toes. He fell forward, but cleverly landed on his shoulders and the back of his neck, bouncing up like a rubber man and plunging on.
Shivers had darted through the crimson curtain by the time Teddy Tucker had succeeded in picking himself up from having fallen over the same rope.
Stretched out on a piece of canvas in the dressing tent, her head slightly elevated on a saddle pad, they found Zoraya, her pallor showing even through the roughly laid on makeup.
Phil was sitting on a trunk holding his head in his hands, for he had received quite a severe shock.
"If she regains consciousness soon she may live," announced the surgeon. "If not—"
"No, no!" protested the white-faced clown, dropping on his knees by the side of the child, folding Zoraya tenderly in his arms. "She must not die! She cannot die!"
His jaunty baker's cap tilted off and fell upon her tinseled breast, while groups of curious, sorrowful painted faces pressed about them in silent sympathy.
Teddy crushed his white cap between his hands twisting it nervously.
"She isn't hurt. Can't you see? Look, she is smiling now," pleaded the clown.
The surgeon shook his head sadly, and Shivers buried his head on Zoraya's shoulder, pressing his painted cheek close to hers, while the dull roar of the circus, off under the big top, drifted to them faintly, like the sighing of a distant cataract.
An impressive silence hovered over the scene, which was broken, at last, by the quiet voice of the circus surgeon.
"The child is coming back, Shivers. She has fought it out, but she will perform no more, I am afraid, for bones broken as are hers never will be quite the same again."
"She don't have to perform any more, sir," snapped the clown. "I'll do that for her. You put that down in your fool's cap and smoke it. Yes, sir, I'll—"
"Daddy!" murmured the lips that were pressed close to Shivers' ear.
It was scarcely a whisper, more a breath that Shivers caught, but faint as it was, it sent the blood pounding to his temples until they showed red, like blotches of rouge under powder.
"D-a-d-d-y—y-o-u-r—Zory got an awful—b-u-m-p."
Three harlequins who had been poising each on one knee, chins in hands, gazing down into the face of the little performer, suddenly threw backward somersaults in their joy.
"Yes, Phil's quickness saved you," spoke up the surgeon. "Had it not been for him you would be dead now."
Teddy Tucker, the tears streaming down his cheeks, was hopping about on one foot, vigorously kicking a shin with the other foot, trying to punish himself for his tears.
"I'm a fool! I'm a fool! But—but—I can't help it," he sobbed, wheeling suddenly and dashing into his own dressing tent.
"Call for Shivers!" bellowed the voice of the callboy, thrusting his head inside the entrance flap. "All the Joeys out for the round off!"
Shivers gently laid the broken form of Zoraya back, pressed a hurried kiss on her painted lips and bounded away to take his cue, the circus band out there by the crimson curtains swinging brazenly into the enlivening strains of "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!"
A RIVAL IN THE FIELD
Zoraya was left behind. She was sent to a hospital where she was destined to remain many weeks, before she would be able to be moved to her little home in Indiana. She never performed again.
In the meantime the Great Sparling Combined Shows had moved majestically along. They had left the United States and were touring Canada, playing in many of the quaint little French villages and larger towns, where the Circus Boys found much to interest and amuse them.
Teddy and Shivers had made a great hit in their "brother" clown act, which was daily added to and improved upon as the show worked its way along the Canadian border.
One day Phil, who had been downtown after the parade, where he went to read the papers when he got a chance, came back and sought out Mr. Sparling in the latter's private tent.
"Well, Phil," greeted the owner cordially, "what's on your mind?"
"Perhaps a good deal, but possibly nothing of any consequence. You will have to decide that."
"What is it?" questioned Mr. Sparling sharply.
"Do we show in Corinto?"
"I thought I had heard you mention that we were to do so."
"Why do you ask that question?"
"I'll answer it by asking another," smiled the Circus Boy. "When do we make that stand?"
The showman consulted his route book.
"A week from next Tuesday," he said. "Anything wrong about that?"
"Nothing except that there is another show billed to play there the day before."
Mr. Sparling bent a keen gaze on Phil's face, to make sure the lad was not joking.
"Yes, the Sully Hippodrome Circus is billed there for Monday."
"Where did you find that out?"
"I read it in a St. Catharines' paper down at the hotel this morning. I thought you would be interested in knowing of it."
"Interested? Why, boy, it will kill our business. So Sully is cutting in on us, is he? I thought he was playing the eastern circuit. He threatened to get even with me."
"Yes. Sully was once a partner in this show, but he proved himself so dishonest that I had to take legal measures to get him out. He got money from some source last season, and put a show of his own on the road. He has a twenty-five car show, I understand. Not such a small outfit at that. But I hear it is a graft show."
"What's a graft show? I must confess that I never heard of that before."
"A graft show, my boy, is a show that gets money in various ways. They frequently carry a gang of thieves and confidence men with them, who work among the spectators on the grounds before the show, robbing them and getting a commission on their earnings."
"Is it possible that there are such dishonest people in the show business?" marveled the lad.
"Not only possible, but an actual fact. I am happy to say, however, that there are few shows that will tolerate anything of that sort."
"I'm glad I did not have the misfortune to get with one of them," smiled Phil. "Are any of the big shows graft shows?"
"None of them. But about this heading us off?"
"Yes; what will you do about it?"
"We'll be there on Monday, too," decided the showman after a moment's reflection.
"Then—then you intend to skip a date somewhere?"
"We shall have to."
Mr. Sparling was a man of resource and quick action. He made up his mind in a minute as to what course to follow.
"I'm going to detach you from the show for a few days, if you don't mind, Phil," decided Mr. Sparling.
"I am glad to serve you in any way that you think I can," answered the lad with a flash of surprise in his glance.
"I know that. What I want you to do is to join that show right away."
"I do not mean that exactly. I want you to go to the town where they are playing tomorrow, I will get the name of the town before the day is over. Follow the show right along from town to town until next Monday, paying your way when you go in and keeping your eyes open for their game. You, with your shrewdness, ought to have no difficulty in getting sufficient evidence to help me carry out my plans."
"What sort of evidence do you wish me to get?"
"Make a mental note of everything you see that is not regular, and if they have a route card get a copy of that. It's perfectly regular, young man," hastened the showman, noting Phil's look of disapproval. "You are not doing anything improper. I do not ask you to pry into their private affairs. We have a right, however, to find out if we can, what their plans are with relation to ourselves. If they are playing Corinto the day before we do, just by mere chance, then I shall make no further objections, but if they are planning to move along ahead of us and kill our business—well, that's a different matter."
"I see," nodded Phil. "Who will take my place in the ring work here?"
"We will get along without it, that's all. It doesn't matter so much in these small towns. I don't care if you do not join out until we get to Niagara Falls. We'll be playing in the real country then."
"And working south?"
"Yes. As soon as the weather gets cooler we will head for the south and stay there until the close of the season. They are going to have a big cotton crop in the south this fall, and there will be lots of money lying around loose to be picked up by a show like ours."
"When do you want me to start?" asked Phil.
"Just as soon as I can get an answer to a telegram that I'm going to send now. You will be off sometime this afternoon. But perhaps you can go on in your acts—no, I guess you had better not. You'll be missed at night if you do."
"Yes; that's so."
"I shall have some further directions for you. So long, for the present."
Phil turned away thoughtfully. Shortly after the afternoon performance Mr. Sparling sent for Phil again, the lad having in the meantime packed a few necessary articles in his bag preparatory to the journey that lay before him.
"The other show will be at St. Catharines tomorrow. Are you ready?"
"Yes, sir. What time can I get away?"
"Five o'clock. You will be there in the morning in time to see them set the tents. Let me warn you that Sully is ugly and unscrupulous. If he were to know what you are there for it might get you into a mix-up, so be careful."
"I'll be careful. Have you any further instructions?"
"I want to give you some money. You can't travel without money."
"I have plenty," answered Phil. "I will keep my expense account and turn it in to you when I get back. Where do you wish me to join you?"
"Corinto, unless you think best to come back in the meantime. That is, if you get sufficient information. You know what I want without my going into details, don't you?"
"I think so."
"Now, look out for yourself."
"I'll try to."
"You have not mentioned to anyone what you are going to do, of course?"
"Certainly not. Not even to Teddy. Perhaps if you will, you might make the explanation to him," suggested Phil.
"Yes; I'll do that as soon as you have gotten away. He'll be raising the roof off the big top when he misses you."
Phil extended his hand to his employer, then turned and hurried from the tent. First, the boy proceeded to the sleeping car in which he berthed, for his bag. Securing this he had just time to reach the station before the five o'clock train rumbled in.
The lad boarded a sleeping car and settled himself for the long ride before him, passing the time by reading the current magazines with which he provided himself when the train agent came through. Late in the evening the lad turned in. Riding in a sleeping car was no novelty to him, and he dropped asleep almost instantly, not to awaken again until the porter shook him gently by the shoulder.
"What is it?" questioned Phil, starting up.
The lad pulled the curtains of his berth aside. Day was just breaking as he peered out.
"There they are," he muttered, catching sight of a switch full of gaudily painted cars bearing the name of the Sully Hippodrome Circus. "They have just got in," he decided from certain familiar signs of which he took quick mental note. "Looks like a cheap outfit at that. But you never can tell."
Phil Forrest dressed himself quickly and grasping his bag hurried from the car, anxious to be at his task, which, to tell the truth, he approached with keen zest. He was beginning to enter into the spirit of the work to which he had been assigned, and which was to provide him with much more excitement than he at that moment dreamed.
PHIL MAKES A DISCOVERY
"I guess I'll leave my bag in the station and go over to the lot," decided the lad.
"The stake and chain gang will just about be on the job by this time."
It is a well known fact in the circus world that there is no better place to get information than from the stake and chain gang, the men who hurry to the lot the moment their train gets in and survey it, driving stakes to show where the tents are to be pitched, and it is a familiar answer, when one is unable to answer a question to say: "Ask the stake and chain gang."
That was exactly what Phil Forrest had in mind to do.
He followed a show wagon to the circus lot, where he found the men already at work measuring off the ground with their surveyor's chains, in the faint morning light.
"Morning," smiled Phil, sauntering over to where he observed the foreman watching the work of his men.
"Morning," growled the showman. Phil knew he would growl because the fellow had not yet had his breakfast.
"Seems to me the circuses are coming this way pretty fast?" suggested the lad.
"What d'ye mean?"
"I hear that there are to be two over in Corinto within two days—yours and—and. What's the name of the other one?"
"Sparling's," grunted the foreman.
Phil grinned appreciatively. He had drawn his man out on the first round.
"That's it. That's the name. I shouldn't think he'd want to show in the same place the day after you had been there?"
" 'Cause the folks will all spend their money going to your show."
The foreman threw back his head and laughed.
"That's exactly what they will do, kid. That's what we want them to do. We'll make that Sparling outfit get off the earth before we get through with them. The boss has his axe out for that outfit."
"Indeed?" cooed Phil.
"Yes. He's going, between you and me, to keep a day ahead of them all the way over this circuit."
"Smart, very smart," laughed Phil, slapping his thigh as if he appreciated the joke fully. "Have an orange. I always carry some about with me when I'm going to visit a circus."
"Thanks, that will taste good at this time of the morning. It will keep me going until the cook tent is ready. The cook tent is where we get our meals, you understand. 'Course you don't know about those things."
"Outsiders never do," replied the man.
"I was wondering something a moment ago, when you told me about getting ahead of the other fellow."
"Wondering how you know where the other fellow is going?"
"That's a dark secret, kid," answered the stake and chain foreman, with a very knowing wink.
"But if you know where he is going he must know where you are billed for at the same time," urged Phil.
"But why not?"
"In the first place we bill ourselves only a few days ahead. And, in the second, we have a way of finding out where Sparling is going for the next month or so ahead. Sometimes further than that."
"Well, well, that's interesting—" The foreman hurried off to give some directions to his men, slowly returning a few minutes later.
"I should like to know how you do it?"
"Say kid, there's tricks in the show business just the same as in any other. Mebby there's somebody with the Sparling outfit who keeps us posted. Mind you, I ain't saying there is; but that there might be."
"Oh, I see," muttered Phil, suddenly enlightened. "Then someone in the other show is giving away his employer's secrets. Fine for you, but pretty rough on the other fellow."
"Let the other fellow take care of himself, the same way we do," growled the foreman, following it with a threatening command to one of his men.
"That hardly seems fair," objected Phil.
"All is fair in war and the circus business. You seem a good deal interested in this competition business?" snapped the man with sudden suspicion in voice and face.
"I am. But where is this—this Sparling show going to—do you know what towns they are going to play for the next month? Can you tell that, too?"
"I can come pretty close to it," grinned the showman, whereupon he named the towns on Phil's route list without so much as missing one of them. But the stake and chain foreman did not stop here; he went on and gave a further list that Phil only knew of as having heard mentioned by Mr. Sparling in his various conversations with the circus lad.
Phil was amazed.
"Then they must be going west. I see," nodded the boy.
"No, you don't see. You only think you do."
"No. If you was a showman and knew your business you'd know that the Sparling outfit was going to make a sudden turn after a little, and head for Dixie Land."
"Down south," exclaimed Phil.
"Sure. Why not? You see you lubbers don't know any more about the show business than—"
"And you are going to follow them?"
"Follow them? No. We're going to lead them. They'll follow us."
"You're like a wildcat train then?"
"Something of the sort."
"Where's the boss?"
"There he comes now. I'll have to hustle the men, or he'll scorch the grass off the lot with his roars."
The foreman hastened to stir up his surveyors and Phil moved off that he might get a better look at Mr. Sully, the owner of the show. Phil found him to be a florid-faced, square jawed man whose expression was as repulsive as it was brutal. Sully wore a red vest and red necktie with a large diamond in it. He gave the Circus Boy a quick sharp look as he passed. "I'll bet he will know me the next time he sees me," muttered Phil. "But whether he does or not I have made some discoveries that Mr. Sparling will be glad to know about, though they will not make him particularly happy, I'm thinking."
Phil was hungry, and he was anxious to get back to the village to write a letter, but decided that he would wait until the tents were up. Then again, he wanted to see the wagons brought on so he could count them and get a fair inventory of the show and what it possessed. He soon discovered that the Sully Hippodrome Circus was no one-horse affair, though considerably smaller than the one with which he was connected.
Not until the people were getting ready for the parade did Phil leave the lot. Then he hastened downtown and got his dinner and breakfast all in one, after which he sat down to write a full account of what he had learned to Mr. Sparling.
"There, if anything happens to me he is pretty well informed so far. It's enough to enable him to lay those plans he has in mind, whatever they may be. I can see him hammering his desk and getting red in the face when he reads this letter."
Phil was cautious enough not to mention the name of the Sully show in his letter, and tried to couch it in such terms, that while Mr. Sparling would understand perfectly, another might not.
Phil took the letter to the post office, then went out on the sidewalk where he stood leaning against a lamp post to watch the parade, which he did with critical eyes.
"A pretty good-sized show," he mused. "But all their trappings are second hand. They have bought them up from some show that has discarded them. That's one thing the Sparling outfit never does. All their stuff is new nearly every season. Sully may have some of our old trappings, for all I know."
The parade was a long one; there were a good many cages, besides a fair-sized herd of elephants.
"Hm-m-m! Three tuskers among the bulls," muttered Phil. "Pretty well up to our herd, but I wouldn't trade Emperor for any two of them, at that."
After the parade had passed, Phil once more strolled over to the circus lot and hung about until time for the afternoon performance to begin, when he bought a ticket and entered, occupying a reserved seat where he could see all that was going on.
The lad smiled at the thought of how his position had changed. He was so used to being over there in the ring that it did not seem quite right for him to be occupying a chair in the audience. He could scarcely resist the impulse to hurry back to the dressing tent and prepare for the ring.
The grand entry came on; then his attention was centered on the performance, which he watched with the keen eyes of an expert, noting the work of every performer, completely forgetting the cheering audience in his absorption.
It was really a fair performance. He was forced to admit this, especially of the aerial acts. But the bareback riding he did not think compared favorably with his own, especially so far as the men riders were concerned. One woman rider was very good, indeed.
Phil drew a long breath when the performance had come to an end. A circus performance, to him, was a matter of the keenest interest. The fact that he himself was a circus performer did not lessen that interest one whit, but rather intensified it. Yet the glamour of his youthful days had passed. It was now a professional interest, rather than the wondering interest of a boy who never had seen the inside of the dressing tent.