Chapter X. Phil Gets a Surprise
 

"Where will I find Mr. Sparling?"

"In the doghouse."

"Where's that?"

"Out back of the ticket wagon. It's a little A tent, and we call it the boss's doghouse, because it's only big enough to hold a couple of St. Bernards."

"Oh! What does he want of me?"

"Ask him," grinned the attendant, who, it developed, was an usher in the reserved-seat section. "He don't tell us fellows his business. Say, that was a great stunt you did with Emperor."

"Oh, I don't know."

"I do. There's the doghouse over there. See it?"

"Yes, thank you."

The attendant leaving him, Phil walked on alone to Mr. Sparling's private office, for such was the use to which he put the little tent that the usher had called the "doghouse."

"I wonder what he can want of me?" mused Phil. "Probably he wants to thank me for stopping that pony. I hope he doesn't. I don't like to be thanked. And it wasn't much of anything that I did anyway. Maybe he's going to--but what's the use of guessing?"

The lad stepped up to the tent, the flaps of which were closed. He stretched out his hand to knock, then grinned sheepishly.

"I forgot you couldn't knock at a tent door. I wonder how visitors announce themselves, anyway."

His toe, at that moment, chanced to touch the tent pole and that gave him an idea. Phil tapped against the pole with his foot.

"Come in!" bellowed the voice of the owner of the show.

Phil entered, hat in hand. At the moment the owner was busily engaged with a pile of bills for merchandise recently purchased at the local stores, and he neither looked up nor spoke.

Phil stood quietly waiting, noting amusedly the stern scowl that appeared to be part of Mr. Sparling's natural expression.

"Well, what do you want?" he demanded, with disconcerting suddenness.

"I--I was told that you had sent for me, that you wanted to see me," began the lad, with a show of diffidence.

"So I did, so I did."

The showman hitched his camp chair about so he could get a better look at his visitor. He studied Phil from head to foot with his usual scowl.

"Sit down!"

"On the ground, sir?"

"Ground? No, of course not. Where's that chair? Oh, my lazy tent man didn't open it. I'll fire him the first place we get to where he won't be likely to starve to death. I hear you've been trying to put my show out of business."

"I wasn't aware of it, sir," replied Phil, looking squarely at his questioner. "Perhaps I was not wholly blameless in attaching myself to Emperor."

"Huh!" grunted Mr. Sparling, but whether or not it was a grunt of disapproval, Phil could not determine.

"So you're not living at home?"

"I have no home now, sir."

"Just so, just so. Brought up in refined surroundings, parents dead, crabbed old uncle turned you out of doors for reasons best known to himself--"

Phil was amazed.

"You seem to know all about me, sir."

"Of course. It's my business to know something about everything. I ought to thank you for getting Mrs. Sparling out of that mix-up this morning, but I'll let her do that for herself. She wants to see you after the performance."

"I don't like to be thanked, Mr. Sparling, though I should like to know Mrs. Sparling," said Phil boldly.

"Neither do I, neither do I. Emperor has gone daffy over you. What did you feed him?"

"Some sugar and peanuts. That was all."

"Huh! You ought to be a showman."

"I have always wanted to be, Mr. Sparling."

"Oh, you have, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, why don't you?"

"I have never had the opportunity."

"You mean you've never looked for an opportunity. There are always opportunities for everything, but we have to go after them. You've been going after them today for the first time, and you've nailed one of them clear up to the splice of the center pole. Understand?"

"Not entirely, sir."

"Well, do you want to join out with the Great Sparling Combined Shows, or don't you?"

"You mean--I join the--the--"

Mr. Sparling was observing him narrowly.

"I said, would you like to join our show?"

"I should like it better than anything else in the world."

"Sign this contract, then," snapped the showman, thrusting a paper toward Phil Forrest, at the same time dipping a pen in the ink bottle and handing it to him.

"You will allow me to read it first, will you not?"

"Good! That's the way I like to hear a boy talk. Shows he's got some sense besides what he's learned in books at some--well, never mind."

"What--what is this, ten dollars a week?" gasped Phil, scarcely able to believe his eyes as he looked at the paper.

"That's what the contract says, doesn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then, that's what it is. Traveling expenses and feed included. You are an easy keeper?"

"Well, I don't eat quite as much as a horse, if that's what you mean," laughed Phil.

"Huh!"

After reading the contract through, the lad affixed his signature to it with trembling hand. It was almost too good to be true.

"Thank you, sir," he said, laying the paper before Mr. Sparling.

"And now, my lad," added the showman more mildly, "let me give you some advice. Some folks look upon circus people as rough and intemperate. That day's past. When a man gets bad habits he's of no further use in the circus business. He closes mighty quick. Remember that."

"Yes, sir. You need not worry about my getting into any such trouble."

"I don't, or I wouldn't take you. And another thing: Don't get it into your head, as a good many show people do, that you know more about running the business than the boss does. He might not agree with you. It's a bad thing to disagree with the boss, eh?"

"I understand, sir."

"You'd better."

"What do you want me to do? I don't know what I can do to earn that salary, but I am willing to work at whatever you may put me to--"

"That's the talk. I was waiting for you to come to that. But leave the matter to me. You'll have a lot of things to do, after you get your bearings and I find out what you can do best. As it is, you have earned your salary for the first season whether you do anything else or not. You saved the big cat and you probably saved my wife's life, but we'll let that pass. When can you join out?"

"I'm ready now, sir. I shall want to go home and get my things and my books."

"Huh! That's right. Take your time. We shan't be pulling out of here till after midnight, so you'd better go home and get ready. You'll want to bid good-bye to Mrs. Ca--Ca--Cahill."

"I wonder if there is anything that he doesn't know about," marveled Phil.

"Anything you want to ask me about--any favor you'd like? If there is, get it out."

"Well, yes, there is, but I scarcely feel like asking it, you have been so kind to me."

"Shucks!"

"I--I have a little friend, who--who, like myself, has no parents and is crazy over the circus. He wants to be a circus man just as much as I do. If you had a place--if you could find something for him to do, I should appreciate it very much."

"Who is he, that youngster with the clown face, who crawled in under the tent this afternoon?"

Phil laughed outright.

"I presume so. That's the way he usually gets in."

"Where is he now?"

"Seeing the performance, sir."

"Nail him when he comes out. We'll give him all the show he wants."

With profuse thanks Phil Forrest backed from the tent and walked rapidly toward the entrance. It seemed to him as if he were walking on air.

"Let that boy through. He's with the show now," bellowed Mr. Sparling, poking his head from the doghouse tent.

The gateman nodded.

"How soon will the performance be over?" inquired Phil, approaching the gateman.

"Ten minutes now."

"Then, I guess I won't go in. I promised to meet Teddy over by the ticket wagon anyway."

But Phil could not stand still. Thrusting his hands in his pockets he began pacing back and forth, pondering deeply. He did not observe the shrewd eyes of Mr. Sparling fixed upon him from behind the flap of the little tent.

"At last, at last!" mused Phil. "I'm a real live showman at last, but what kind of a showman I don't know. Probably they'll make me help put up the tents and take them down. But, I don't care. I'll do anything. And think of the money I'll earn. Ten dollars a week!" he exclaimed, pausing and glancing up at the fluttering flags waving from center and quarter poles. "Why, it's a fortune! I shall be able to save most all of it, too. Oh, I'm so happy!"

"They're coming out," called the gateman to him.

"Thank you."

Phil's face was full of repressed excitement when Teddy came slouching up to him.

"Bully show," announced the lad. "Didn't know which way to look, there was so much to be seen."

"How would you like to join the show and be a real circus man?" demanded Phil.

"Great!"

"Maybe I can fix it for you."

"You?"

"Yes."

"Don't give me such a shock, Phil. You said it almost as if you meant it."

"And I did."

Teddy gazed at his companion for a full minute.

"Something's been going on, I guess--something that I don't seem to know anything about."

"There has, Teddy. I'm already a showman. You come with me. Mr. Sparling wants to speak with you. Don't be afraid of him. He talks as if he was mad all the time, but I'm sure he isn't."

Grasping Teddy by the arm Phil rushed him into Mr. Sparling's tent, entering this time without knocking.

"This is my friend whom I spoke to you about," announced Phil, thrusting Teddy up before the showman.

Mr. Sparling eyed the lad suspiciously.

"Want to join out, too, eh?"

"I--I'd like to," stammered Teddy.

"Do your parents approve of your going with a show?"

"I--I don't know, sir."

"You'd better find out, then. Ask them mighty quick. This is no camp meeting outfit that plays week stands."

"Can't."

"Why not?"

" 'Cause they're dead."

"Huh! Why didn't you say so before?"

"You didn't ask me."

"You're too smart, young man."

"Takes a smart man to be a circus man, doesn't it?"

"I guess you're right at that," answered the showman, his stern features relaxing into a smile. "You'll do. But you'd better not hand out that line of sharp talk in bunches when you get with the show. It might get you into trouble if you did."

"Yes, sir; I'll be good."

"Now, you boys had better run along and make your preparations. You may take your supper in the cook tent tonight if you wish. But you will have to be on hand promptly, as they take down the cook tent first of all."

"Thank you; we will," answered Phil.

"What act--what do I perform?" questioned Teddy, swelling with pride.

"Perform?"

"Yes."

"Ho, ho, ho!"

"I'm going to be a performer and wear pink pants, ain't I?"

"A performer? Oh, that's too good. Yes, my son, you shall be a performer. How would you like to be a juggler?"

"Fine!"

"Then, I think I'll let you juggle the big coffeepot in the cook tent for the edification of the hungry roustabouts," grinned Mr. Sparling.

"What do I do?"

"Do, young man--do?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why, you stand by the coffee boiler in the cook tent, and when you hear a waiter bawl 'Draw one,' at the same time throwing a pitcher at you from halfway across the tent, you catch the pitcher and have it filled and ready for him by the time he gets to you."

"Do I throw the pitcherful of coffee back at him?" questioned Teddy innocently.

"You might, but you wouldn't be apt to try it a second time. You'd be likely to get a resounding slap from the flat of his hand--"

"I'd hit him on the nose if he did," declared Teddy belligerently.

Mr. Sparling could not resist laughing.

"That's not the way to begin. But you will learn. Follow your friend Phil, here, and you will be all right if I am any judge of boys. I ought to be, for I have boys of my own. You'd better be going now."

The two lads started off at a brisk pace. Phil to tell Mrs. Cahill of his good fortune. Teddy to bid good-bye to the people with whom he had been living as chore boy.