Chapter XX. The Return to the Sawdust Life
 

"Is he dead?"

"No; you can't kill a thick-head like that," snarled the ringmaster.

The audience was still roaring.

With angry imprecations the members of the band who had fallen through were untangling themselves as rapidly as possible. Teddy, in the meantime, had dragged himself from beneath the heap and slunk out from under the broken platform. He lost no time in escaping to the paddock, but the bandmaster, espying him, started after the lad, waving his baton threateningly.

No sooner had Teddy gained the seclusion of the dressing tent than James Sparling burst in.

"Where's that boy? Where's that boy?"

"Here he is," grinned a performer, thrusting Teddy forward, much against the lad's inclinations.

Mr. Sparling surveyed him with narrow eyes.

"You young rascal! Trying to break up my show, are you?"

"N-no--sir."

"Can you do that again, do you think?"

"I--I don't know."

"That's the greatest Rube mule act that ever hit a sawdust ring. I'll double your salary if you think you can get away with it every performance," fairly shouted the owner.

"I--I'm willing if the mule is," stammered Teddy somewhat doubtfully.

As a result the lad left his job in the cook tent, never to return to it. After many hard knocks and some heavy falls he succeeded in so mastering the act that he was able to go through with it without great risk of serious injury to himself. The educated mule and the boy became a feature of the Sparling Combined Shows from that moment on, but after that Teddy took good care not to round off his act by a high dive into the big bass horn.

No one was more delighted at Teddy Tucker's sudden leap to fame than was his companion, Phil Forrest. Phil and Dr. Irvine returned to the show, one afternoon, about a week after the accident. They had come on by train.

Phil, though somewhat pale after his setback, was clear-eyed, and declared himself as fit as ever. He insisted upon going on with his act at the evening performance, but Mr. Sparling told him to wait until the day following. In the meantime Phil could get his apparatus in working order.

"I'll look it over myself this time," announced the showman. "I don't want any more such accidents happening in this show. Your friend Teddy nearly put the whole outfit to the bad--he and the fool mule."

That afternoon Phil had an opportunity to witness for himself the exhibition of his companion and the "fool mule." He laughed until his sides ached.

"O Teddy, you'll break your neck doing that stunt one of these times," warned Phil, hastening back to the dressing tent after Teddy and the mule had left the ring.

"Don't you think it's worth the risk?"

"That depends."

"For two dollars a day?"

"Is that what you are getting?"

"Yep. I'm a high-priced performer," insisted Teddy, snapping his trousers pocket significantly. "I'd jump off the big top, twice every day, for that figure."

"What are you going to do with all your money? Spend it?"

"I--rather thought I'd buy a bicycle."

Phil shook his head.

"You couldn't carry it, and, besides, nobody rides bicycles these days. They ride in automobiles."

"Then I'll buy one of them."

"I'll tell you what you do, Teddy."

"Lend the money to you, eh?"

"No; I am earning plenty for myself. But every week, now, I shall send all my money home to Mrs. Cahill. I wrote to her about it while I was sick. She is going to put it in the bank for me at Edmeston, with herself appointed as trustee. That's necessary, you see, because I am not of age. Then no one can take it away from me."

"You mean your Uncle Abner?" questioned Teddy.

"Yes. I don't know that he would want to; but I'm not taking any chances. Now, why not send your money along at the same time? Mrs. Cahill will deposit it in the same way, and at the end of the season think what a lot of money you will have?"

"Regular fortune?"

"Yes, a regular fortune."

"What'll I do with all that money?"

"Do what I'm going to do--get an education."

"What, and leave the show business? No, siree!"

"I didn't mean that. You can go to school between seasons. I don't intend to leave the show business, but I'm going to know something besides that."

"Well, I guess it would be a good idea," reflected Teddy.

"Will you do it?"

"Yes; I'll do it," he nodded.

"Good for you! We'll own a show of our own, one of these days. You mark me, Teddy," glowed Phil.

"Of our own?" marveled Teddy, his face wreathing in smiles. "Say, wouldn't that be great?"

"I think so. Have you been practicing on the rings since I left?"

"No."

"That's too bad. You and I will begin tomorrow. We ought to be pretty expert on the flying rings in a few weeks, if I don't get hurt again," added the boy, a shadow flitting across his face.

"Then, you'd better begin by taking some bends," suggested Mr. Miaco, who, approaching, had overheard Phil's remark.

"Bends?" questioned Teddy

"What are they?" wondered Phil. "Oh, I know. I read about them in the papers. It's an attack that fellows working in a tunnel get when they're digging under a river. I don't want anything like that."

"No, no, no," replied Mr. Miaco in a tone of disgust. "It's no disease at all."

"No?"

"What I mean by bends is exercises. You have seen the performers do it--bend forward until their hands touch the ground, legs stiff, then tipping as far backwards as possible. Those are bending exercises, and the best things to do. The performers limber up for their act that way. If you practice it slowly several times a day you will be surprised to see what it will do for you. I'd begin today were I in your place, Phil. You'll find yourself a little stiff when you go on in your elephant act tonight--"

"I'm not going on tonight--not until tomorrow. Mr. Sparling doesn't wish me to."

"All right. All the better. Exercise! I wouldn't begin on the rings today either. Just take your bends, get steady on your feet and start in in a regular, systematic way tomorrow," advised the head clown.

"Thank you, Mr. Miaco; I shall do so. I am much obliged to you. You are very kind to us."

"Because I like you, and because you boys don't pretend to know more about the circus business than men who have spent their lives in it."

"I hope I shall never be like that," laughed Phil. "I know I shall always be willing to learn."

"And there always is something to learn in the circus life. None of us knows it all. There are new things coming up every day," added the clown.

Phil left the dressing tent to go around to the menagerie tent for a talk with Mr. Kennedy and Emperor. Entering the tent the lad gave his whistle signal, whereat Emperor trumpeted loudly.

The big elephant greeted his young friend with every evidence of joy and excitement. Phil, of course, had brought Emperor a bag of peanuts as well as several lumps of sugar, and it was with difficulty that the lad got away from him after finishing his chat with Mr. Kennedy.

Phil was making a round of calls that afternoon, so he decided that he would next visit Mr. Sparling, having seen him only a moment, and that while others were around.

"May I come in?" he asked.

"Yes; what do you want?"

"To thank you for your kindness."

"Didn't I tell you never to thank me for anything?" thundered the showman.

"I beg your pardon, sir; I'll take it all back," twinkled Phil.

"Oh, you will, will you, young scapegrace? What did you come here for anyway? Not to palaver about how thankful you are that you got knocked out, stayed a week in bed and had your salary paid all the time. I'll bet you didn't come for that. Want a raise of salary already?"

"Hardly. If you'll give me a chance, I'll tell you, Mr. Sparling."

"Go on. Say it quick."

"I have been thinking about the fall I got, since I've been laid up."

"Nothing else to think about, eh?"

"And the more I think about it, the more it bothers me."

"Does, eh?" grunted Mr. Sparling, busying himself with his papers.

"Yes, sir. I don't suppose it would be possible for me to get the broken wire now, would it? No doubt it was thrown away."

The showman peered up at the boy suspiciously.

"What do you want of it?"

"I thought I should like to examine it."

"Why?"

"To see what had been done to it."

"Oh, you do, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"What do you think happened to that wire? It broke, didn't it?"

"Yes, I guess there is no doubt about it but somebody helped to break it."

"Young man, you are too confoundedly smart. Mark my words, you'll die young. Yes; I have the wire. Here it is. Look at it. You are right; something happened to it, and I've been tearing myself to pieces, ever since, to find out who it was. I've got all my amateur sleuths working on the case, this very minute, to find out who the scoundrel is who cut the wire. Have you any idea about it? But there's no use in asking you. I--"

"I've got this," answered Phil, tossing a small file on the table in front of Mr. Sparling.

"What, what, what? A file?"

"Yes, will you see if it fits the notch in the wire there?"

The showman did so, holding file and wire up to the light for a better examination of them.

"There can be no doubt of it," answered the amazed showman, fixing wondering eyes on the young man. "Where did you get it?"

"Picked it up."

"Where?"

"In the dressing tent."

"Pooh! Then it doesn't mean anything," grunted Mr. Sparling.

"If you knew where I picked it up you might think differently."

"Then where did you get it?"

"Found it in my own trunk."

"In your trunk?"

Phil nodded.

"How did it get there?"

"I had left my trunk open after placing some things in it. When I went out to watch Teddy's mule act I was in such a hurry that I forgot all about the trunk. When I came back, there it lay, near the end--"

"Somebody put it there!" exploded the showman.

"Yes."

"But who? Find that out for me--let me know who the man is and you'll hear an explosion in this outfit that will raise the big top right off the ground."

"Leave it to me, Mr. Sparling, I'll find him."

The owner laughed harshly.

"How?"

"I think I know who the man is at this very minute," was Phil Forrest's startling announcement, uttered in a quiet, even tone.

Mr. Sparling leaped from his chair so suddenly that he overturned the table in front of him, sending his papers flying all over the place.