Chapter XV. A Stroke of Good Fortune
 

"That was a knockout, kid," nodded Mr. Miaco, with emphasis. "I'm laughing on the inside of me yet. I don't dare let my face laugh, for fear the wrinkles will break through my makeup."

"Thank you," smiled Phil, tugging at his silk tights, that fitted so closely as to cause him considerable trouble in stripping them off.

"You'll have the whole show jealous of you if you don't watch out. But don't get a swelled head--"

"Not unless I fall off and bump it," laughed Phil. "Where do I wash?"

"You always want to get a pail of water before you undress."

"Say, Phil, did you really fly?" queried Teddy, who was standing by eyeing his companion admiringly.

"Sure. Didn't you see me?"

"I did and I didn't. Will you show me how to fly like that?"

" 'Course I will. You come in under the big top tomorrow after the show and I'll give you a lesson."

Teddy had not happened to observe the simple mechanical arrangement that had permitted the young circus performer to carry out his flying act.

"I reckon you ought to get a dollar a day for that stunt," decided Teddy.

"Yes, I think so myself," grinned Phil.

Teddy now turned his attention to Mr. Miaco, who, made up for his clown act in the ring, presented a most grotesque appearance.

"How do I look?" asked the clown, noting the lad's observant gaze.

"You look as if you'd stuck your head in a flour barrel," grunted Teddy.

"Ho ho," laughed the clown. "I'll have to try that on the audience. That's a good joke. To look at you, one wouldn't think it of you, either."

"Oh, that's nothing. I can say funnier things than that when I want to. Why--"

But their conversation was cut short by the band striking up the tune to which Mr. Miaco always entered the ring.

"Listen to me, kid. You'll hear them laugh when I tell 'em the story," he called back. And they did. The audience roared when the funny man told them what his young friend had said.

His work for the day having been finished, Phil bethought himself of his trunk, which had not yet been packed. His costume was suspended from a line in the dressing tent where many other costumes were hanging to air and dry after the strenuous labors of their owners.

Phil took his slender belongings down, shook them out well and laid them in the trunk that Mrs. Waite had given him. It was too late for Phil to get his bag from the baggage wagon, so with a grin he locked his tights and his wig in the trunk.

"Guess they won't break their backs lifting that outfit," he mused.

Phil then strolled in to watch the show. He found many new points of interest and much that was instructive, as he studied each act attentively and with the keenness of one who had been in the show business all his life.

"Someday I'll have a show like this myself," nodded the boy. He did not know that he expressed his thoughts aloud until he noticed that the people sitting nearest to him were regarding him with amused smiles.

Phil quickly repressed his audible comments.

The show was soon over; then came the noise and the confusion of the breaking up. The illusion was gone--the glamor was a thing of the past. The lad strolled about slowly in search of his companion, whom he eventually found in the dressing tent.

"Teddy, isn't it about time you and I went to bed?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Circus people sleep when there isn't anything else to do. Where we going to sleep?"

"Same place, I presume, if no one gets ahead of us."

"They'd better not. I'll throw them out if they do."

Phil laughed good-naturedly.

"If I remember correctly, somebody was thrown out last night and this morning, but it didn't happen to be the other fellow. I'm hungry; wish I had something to eat."

"So am I," agreed Teddy.

"You boys should get a sandwich or so and keep the stuff in your trunk while we are playing these country towns. When we get into the cities, where they have restaurants, you can get a lunch downtown after you have finished your act and then be back in time to go out with the wagons," Mr. Miaco informed them. "You'll pick up these little tricks as we go along, and it won't be long before you are full-fledged showmen. You are pretty near that point already."

The lads strolled out on the lot and began hunting for their wagon. They found nothing that looked like it for sometime and had about concluded that the canvas wagon had gone, when they chanced to come across the driver of the previous night, who directed them to where they would find it.

"The wagon isn't loaded yet. You'll have to wait half an hour or so," he said.

They thanked him and went on in the direction indicated, where they soon found that which they were in search of.

"I think we had better wait here until it is loaded," advised Phil, throwing himself down on the ground.

"This having to hunt around over a ten-acre lot for your bedroom every night isn't as much fun as you would think, is it?" grinned Teddy.

"Might be worse. I have an idea we haven't begun to experience the real hardships of the circus life." And indeed they had not.

Soon after that the wagon was loaded, and, bidding the driver a cheery good night, the circus boys tumbled in and crawled under the canvas.

They were awakened sometime before daylight by a sudden heavy downpour of rain. The boys were soaked to the skin, the water having run in under the canvas until they were lying in a puddle of water.

There was thunder and lightning. Phil scrambled out first and glanced up at the driver, who, clothed in oilskins, was huddled on his seat fast asleep. He did not seem to be aware that there was anything unusual about the weather.

"I wish I was home," growled Teddy.

"Well, I don't. Bad as it is, it's better than some other things that I know of. I'll tell you what I'll do--I'll get rubber coats for us both when we get in in the morning."

"Got the money?"

"That's so. I had forgotten that," laughed Phil. "I never thought that I should need money to buy a coat with. We'll have to wait until payday. I wonder when that is?"

"Ask Mr. Sparling."

"No; I would rather not."

"All right; get wet then."

"I am. I couldn't be any more so were I to jump in the mill pond at home," laughed Phil.

Home! It seemed a long way off to these two friendless, or at least homeless, boys, though the little village of Edmeston was less than thirty miles away.

The show did not get in to the next town until sometime after daylight, owing to the heavy condition of the roads. The cook tent was up when they arrived and the lads lost no time in scrambling from the wagon. They did not have to be thrown out this morning.

"Come on," shouted Phil, making a run for the protection of the cook tent, for the rain was coming down in sheets.

Teddy was not far behind.

"I'm the coffee boy. Where's the coffee?" he shouted.

"Have it in a few minutes," answered the attendant who had been so kind to them the previous morning. "Here, you boys, get over by the steam boiler there and dry out your clothes," he added, noting that their teeth were chattering.

"Wish somebody would pour a pail of water over me," shivered Teddy.

"Water? What for?"

"To wash the rain off. I'm soaked," he answered humorously.

They huddled around the steam boiler, the warmth from which they found very comforting in their bedraggled condition.

"I'm steaming like an engine," laughed Phil, taking off his coat and holding it near the boiler.

"Yes; I've got enough of it in my clothes to run a sawmill," agreed Teddy. "How about that coffee?"

"Here it is."

After helping themselves they felt much better. Phil, after a time, walked to the entrance of the cook tent and looked out. The same bustle and excitement as on the previous two days was noticeable everywhere, and the men worked as if utterly oblivious of the fact that the rain was falling in torrents.

"Do we parade today?" called Phil, observing Mr. Sparling hurrying past wrapped in oilskins and slouch hat.

"This show gives a parade and two performances a day, rain, shine, snow or earthquake," was the emphatic answer. "Come over to my tent in half an hour. I have something to say to you."

Phil ran across to Mr. Sparling's tent at the expiration of half an hour, but he was ahead of time evidently, for the showman was not there. Nice dry straw had been piled on the ground in the little tent to take up the moisture, giving it a cosy, comfortable look inside.

"This wouldn't be a half bad place to sleep," decided Phil, looking about him. "I don't suppose we ever play the same town two nights in succession. I must find out."

Mr. Sparling bustled in at this point, stripping off his wet oilskins and hanging them on a hook on the tent pole at the further end.

"Where'd you sleep?"

"In wagon No. 10."

"Get wet?"

"Very."

"Humph!"

"We dried out in the cook tent when we got in. It might have been worse."

"Easily satisfied, aren't you?"

"I don't know about that. I expect to meet with some disagreeable experiences."

"You won't be disappointed. You'll get all that's coming to you. It'll make a man of you if you stand it."

"And if I don't?" questioned Phil Forrest, with a smile.

Mr. Sparling answered by a shrug of the shoulders.

"We'll have to make some different arrangements for you," he added in a slightly milder tone. "Can't afford to have you get sick and knock your act out. It's too important. I'll fire some lazy, good-for-nothing performer out of a closed wagon and give you his place."

"Oh, I should rather not have you do that, sir."

"Who's running this show?" snapped the owner.

Phil made no reply.

"I am. I'll turn out whom I please and when I please. I've been in the business long enough to know when I've got a good thing. Where's your rubber coat?" he demanded, changing the subject abruptly.

"I have none, sir. I shall get an outfit later."

"No money, I suppose?"

"Well, no, sir."

"Humph! Why didn't you ask for some?"

"I did not like to."

"You're too modest. If you want a thing go after it. That's my motto. Here's ten dollars. Go downtown and get you a coat, and be lively about it. Wait a minute!" as Phil, uttering profuse thanks, started away to obey his employer's command.

"Yes, sir."

"About that act of yours. Did you think it out all yourself?"

"The idea was mine. Of course the property man and Mr. Kennedy worked it out for me. I should not have been able to do it alone."

"Humph! Little they did. They wouldn't have thought of it in a thousand years. Performers usually are too well satisfied with themselves to think there's anything worthwhile except what they've been doing since they came out of knickerbockers. How'd you get the idea?"

"I don't know--it just came to me."

"Then keep on thinking. That act is worth real money to any show. How much did I say I'd pay you?"

"Ten dollars a week, sir."

"Humph! I made a mistake. I won't give you ten."

Phil looked solemn.

"I'll give you twenty. I'd give you more, but it might spoil you. Get out of here and go buy yourself a coat."