Chapter IX. Getting His First Call
 

"Let him go. Emperor won't hurt me," laughed Phil as soon as he could get his breath, for he was moving along at a pace which would have meant a tumble to the ground had the elephant not supported the lad with its trunk.

The audience soon seeing that no harm had come to the boy, set up another roar, which was still loud in Phil's ears when Emperor set his burden down after reaching the elephant quarters in the menagerie tent.

"You're a bad boy. Get down, sir, and let me off," chided Phil.

The elephant, to his surprise, cautiously let himself down to his knees, his trunk at the same time reaching out surreptitiously for a wisp of fresh grass.

Phil slipped off, laughing heartily. He had lost all fear of the great, hulking beast.

"Don't punish him, please," begged the boy when the keeper came hurrying along with Jupiter. "But if you will make him let me alone, I'll go in the other tent. I want to see the circus."

"Wait a moment. I'll chain him up."

The keeper soon had Emperor fast. Then after a final affectionate petting Phil ran lightly to the other tent and quickly made his way to his seat. The people were so engrossed in the acts in the ring that they did not observe the boy particularly this time.

"Did I make a show of myself, Mrs. Cahill?" questioned the lad, with sparkling eyes.

"You did not. You were as handsome as a picture. There isn't one of all those people that looks so handsome or so manly as--"

"Please, please, Mrs. Cahill!" begged the lad, blushing violently. "Have you seen anything of my friend Teddy? I had forgotten all about him."

"That looks like him down there."

"Where?"

"There, leaning against that pole," she pointed.

Phil gazed in the direction indicated, and there, sure enough, was Teddy Tucker leaning carelessly against the center pole. He had no right to be there, as Phil well knew, and he watched with amused interest for the moment when the other boy's presence would be discovered.

It came shortly afterwards. All at once the ringmaster fixed a cold eye on Teddy.

"Hey, you!"

Teddy gave no heed to him.

"Get out of there! Think you own this show?"

The lad made believe that he did not hear.

The ringmaster's long whip lash curled through the air, going off with a crack that sounded as if a pistol had been fired, and within an inch of Teddy's nose.

Teddy sprang back, slapping a hand to his face, believing that he had been hit. Then there followed a series of disconcerting snaps all around his head as the long lash began to work, but so skillfully was it wielded that the end of it did not touch him.

But Teddy had had enough. He turned and ran for the seats.

"Come up here," cried Phil, laughing immoderately. "Here's a seat right beside us and there won't be any ringmaster to bother you."

Considerably crestfallen, the lad climbed up to where Phil and Mrs. Cahill were sitting.

"You mustn't go down there, you know, Teddy. They don't allow outsiders in the ring while the performance is going on. Someone might get hurt--"

"They let you in," bristled Teddy.

"That was different. They couldn't help themselves, and neither could I. Emperor took me in whether I would or not; and, in fact, I didn't know I was going till I was halfway there."

Phil's companion surveyed him with admiration.

"My, but you did cut a figure up on that elephant's head! I should have been afraid."

"There was nothing to be afraid of. But let's watch the performance. There's a trapeze act going on now."

For a few moments the lads watched the graceful bodies of the performers slipping through the air. One would swing out from his perch, flying straight into the arms of his fellow-performer who was hanging head down from another swinging bar. On the return sweep the first performer would catch his own bar and return to his perch.

"Looks easy. I'll bet I could do that," nodded Teddy.

Phil shook his head.

"Not so easy as it looks."

"How much do you suppose they get--think they must get as much as a dollar and a half a day for doing that? I'd do it for a dollar, if I could," averred the irrepressible Teddy Tucker.

"They get a good many more dollars than that, Teddy. I've heard that some of them get all of twenty-five or thirty dollars a week."

Phil's companion whistled.

The next act was a bareback riding exhibition, by a pretty, graceful young woman whom the ringmaster introduced as Mademoiselle Mora.

At the crack of the whip she sprang lightly to the back of the gray old ring horse and began a series of feats that made the boys sit forward in their seats.

At the conclusion of the act Mademoiselle Mora ran out to the edge of the ring, and blowing a kiss at the blushing Phil, tripped away on fairy feet for the dressing tent.

"Did you see her? She bowed to me?" exclaimed Teddy enthusiastically.

"Guess she didn't see you at all, young man," replied Mrs. Cahill dryly. "There's others in the tent besides you, even if the ringmaster did crack his whip in your face and just miss your nose."

A clown came out and sang a song about a boy who had rescued a beautiful young woman from a runaway horse and got kidnaped by an elephant. The song made a hit, for most of the audience understood that it referred to Phil Forrest.

And so the performance went on, with a glitter and a crash, a haze of yellow dust hanging like a golden cloud in the afternoon sun, over spectators and performers alike.

"Hello, there's Rod!" exclaimed Teddy.

"Who?"

"Rod. The red-haired kid we saw this morning, only his hair is black now. He's covered up his own looks so he won't set the tent on fire."

"Oh, you mean Rodney Palmer? Yes, I guess that is he."

"See, they're pulling him up on a rope. I wonder where he is going?"

"To those flying rings," explained Phil. "And there is a young woman going up, too."

One after another was pulled up, until a troupe of four had ascended and swung off to the rings that were suspended far up there in the haze.

Both Phil and Teddy were more than ordinarily interested in this act, for they were no mean performers on the rings themselves. In the schoolyard an apparatus had been rigged with flying rings, and on this the boys had practiced untiringly during the spring months, until they had both become quite proficient.

"Isn't he great?" breathed Teddy, as Rodney Palmer swung out into the air, letting his legs slip through the rings until only his toes were hanging to the slender support.

"Yes; he certainly does do it fine."

"We can do it just as well."

"Perhaps, but not so gracefully."

"See, he's swinging his hand at us."

Sure enough, Rodney had picked out the two lads, and was smiling at them and waving a hand in their direction. The two lads felt very proud of this, knowing as they did that they were the envy of every boy of their acquaintance within sight of them.

The climax of the act was when the young woman seemed to plunge straight down toward the ground.

The women in the audience uttered sharp little cries of alarm. But the performer was not falling. Strong slender ropes had been fastened to her heels, the other ends being held by one of the performers who was hanging from the rings.

As a result the falling girl's flight was checked just before she reached the ground and the spectators breathed a sigh of profound relief.

"My, that was great! I wouldn't want to do that."

"No, you're too heavy, Teddy. That's why they have a girl do it. She is slender and light--"

"I'd be light headed."

"Guess, I would, too," laughed Phil.

At this juncture an attendant came running up the steps, halting before the lads.

"Are you Phil Forrest?" he asked.

"Yes."

"The boss wants to see you."

"Mr. Sparling? All right. I wanted to see the rest of the show, but I'll go." Phil rose reluctantly and followed the guide. "I'll meet you by the ticket wagon if I don't get back here, Teddy," he said.