Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
 

"You see, an accident always casts a cloud over a show and makes the performers uncertain," said Mr. Miaco that night as he and Phil were watching the performance from the end of the band platform.

"I should think it would," mused the boy.

Soon after that Phil went to his wagon and turned in, his mind still on Signor Navaro, who had been taken to a hospital, where he was destined to remain for many weeks.

"I guess it doesn't pay, in the long run, to be dishonorable," mused the lad as he was dropping off to sleep.

The next morning Phil was up bright and early, very much refreshed after a good night's rest between his blankets in the comfortable sleeping wagon. Teddy, however, declared that he didn't like it. He said he preferred to sleep on a pile of canvas in the open air, even if he did get wet once in a while.

Later in the morning, after Mr. Sparling had had time to dispose of his usual rush of morning business, which consisted of hearing reports from his heads of departments, and giving his orders for the day, Phil sought out his employer in the little dog tent.

"I'm very sorry about the accident, Mr. Sparling," greeted Phil.

"Yes; it ties up one act. It will be some days before I can get another team in to take it up, and here we are just beginning to play the big towns. I have been trying to figure out if there was not someone in the show who could double in that act and get away with it," mused the showman. "How'd you sleep?"

"Fine. Is there no one you can think of who could fill the bill, Mr. Sparling?"

"No; that's the rub. You know of anyone?"

"How about myself."

"What?"

Mr. Sparling surveyed the lad in surprised inquiry.

"I think I can make a pretty fair showing on the rings. Of course, if Signor Navaro gets well and comes back, I shall be glad to give the act back to him. I know something about the flying rings."

"Young man, is there anything in this show that you can't do?" demanded Mr. Sparling, with an attempt at sternness.

"A great many things, sir. Then, again, there are some others that I have confidence enough in myself to believe I can do. You see, I have been practicing on the rings ever since I joined out."

"But you are only one. We shall need two performers," objected the owner.

"Teddy Tucker has been working with me. He is fully as good on the flying rings as I am, if not better."

"H-m-m-m!" mused the showman. "Come over to the big top and let's see what you really can do," he said, starting up.

Phil ran in search of Teddy and in a few minutes the two boys appeared in the arena, ready for the rehearsal.

Mr. Miaco, who had been called on and informed of the news, accompanied them. It was he who hauled the boys up to the rings far up toward the top of the tent.

"Get a net under there! We don't want to lose any more performers this season," the clown commanded.

After some little delay the net was spread and the showman motioned for the performance to proceed, walking over and taking his seat on the boards so that he might watch the performance from the viewpoint of the audience.

With the utmost confidence the boys went through the act without a slip. They did everything that Signor Navaro had done in his performance, adding some clever feats of their own that had been devised with the help of Mr. Miaco. Mr. Sparling looked on with twinkling eyes and frequent nods of approval.

"Fine! Fine! One of the best flying-ring acts I ever saw," he shouted, when finally the lads rounded out their act by a series of rapid evolutions commonly known as "skinning the cat." Even in this their act was attended with variations.

The boys concluded by a graceful drop into the net, from which they bounded into the air, swung themselves to the ground, each throwing a kiss to the grinning manager.

A number of performers who had been a witness to the performance clapped their hands and shouted "bravo!"

Mr. Sparling called the lads to him.

"The act is yours," he said. "It is better than Navaro's. Each of you will draw twenty five dollars a week for the rest of the season," he announced to the proud circus boys, who thereupon ran to the dressing tent to take a quick bath and get into their costumes ready for the parade.

"See to it that they have the net spread, Mr. Ducro," he directed. "Never permit them to perform without it."

That afternoon the boys made their first appearance in the flying-ring exhibition, and their act really proved a sensation. Mr. Sparling, who was observing it from the side, kept his head bobbing with nods of approval and muttered comments.

After the show Phil suggested that thereafter Teddy be allowed to use a clown makeup, because his funny antics in the air were more fitted to the character of a clown than to that of a finished performer.

To this the owner readily agreed, and that night they tried it with tremendous success.

The days that followed were bright ones for the circus boys. Each day seemed an improvement over the previous one. The season drew rapidly to a close and they looked forward to the day with keen regret.

One day Mr. Sparling summoned them to his tent.

"Are you boys ready to sign up for next season?" he asked.

"I should like to," answered Phil.

"This will be a railroad show next season, the third largest show on the road, and I want you both."

"Thank you; I shall join gladly."

"So will I," chorused Teddy.

"Your salaries will be fifty dollars a week next season. And if you wish a vaudeville engagement for the winter I think I shall be able to get one for you."

"We are going to school, Mr. Sparling. Teddy and I will be hard at work over our books next week. But we are going to keep up our practice all winter and perhaps we may have some new acts to surprise you with in the spring," laughed Phil, his face aglow with happiness.

A week later found the lads back in Edmeston, bronzed, healthy, manly and admired by all who saw them. Phil had nearly four hundred dollars in the bank, while Teddy had about one hundred less.

Phil's first duty after greeting Mrs. Cahill was to call on his uncle, who begrudgingly allowed his nephew to shake hands with him. Next day the circus boys dropped into their old routine life and applied themselves to their studies, at the same time looking forward to the day when the grass should grow green again and the little red wagons roll out for their summer journeyings.

Here we will leave them. But Phil and his companion will be heard from again in a following volume, to be published immediately, entitled, "The Circus Boys Across the Continent; Or, Winning New Laurels on the Tanbark." In this volume their thrilling adventures under the billowing canvas are to be continued, leading them on to greater triumphs and successes.