Chapter I. The Boys Hear Good News
 

"You never can guess it--you never can guess the news, Teddy," cried Phil Forrest, rushing into the gymnasium, his face flushed with excitement.

Teddy Tucker, clad in a pair of linen working trunks and a ragged, sleeveless shirt, both garments much the worse for their winter's wear, was lazily swinging a pair of Indian clubs.

"What is it, some kind of riddle, Phil?" he questioned, bringing the clubs down to his sides.

"Do be serious for a minute, won't you?"

"Me, serious? Why, I never cracked a smile. Isn't anything to smile at. Besides, do you know, since I've been in the circus business, every time I want to laugh I check myself so suddenly that it hurts?"

"How's that?"

"Because I think I've still got my makeup on and that I'll crack it if I laugh."

"What, your face?"

"My face? No! My makeup. By the time I remember that I haven't any makeup on I've usually forgotten what it was I wanted to laugh about. Then I don't laugh."

Teddy shied an Indian club at a rat that was scurrying across the far end of their gymnasium, missing him by half the width of the building.

"If you don't care, of course I shan't tell you. But it's good news, Teddy. You would say so if you knew it."

"What news? Haven't heard anything that sounds like news," his eyes fixed on the hole into which the rat had disappeared.

"You can't guess where we are going this summer?"

"Going? Don't have to guess. I know," answered the lad with an emphasizing nod.

"Where do you think?"

"We're going out with the Great Sparling Combined Shows, of course. Didn't we sign out for the season before we closed with the show last fall?"

"Yes, yes; but where?" urged Phil, showing him the letter he had just brought from the post office. "You couldn't guess if you tried."

"No. Never was a good guesser. That letter from Mr. Sparling?" he questioned, as his eyes caught the familiar red and gold heading used by the owner of the show.

"Yes."

"What's he want?"

"You know I wrote to him asking that we be allowed to skip the rehearsals before the show starts out, so that we could stay here and take our school examinations?"

Teddy nodded.

"I'd rather join the show," he grumbled.

"Never did see anything about school to go crazy over."

"You'll thank me someday for keeping you at it," said Phil. "See how well you have done this winter with your school work. I'm proud of you. Why, Teddy, there are lots of the boys a long way behind you. They can't say circus boys don't know anything just because they perform in a circus ring."

"H-m-m-m!" mused Teddy. "You haven't told me yet where we are going this summer. What's the route?"

"Mr. Sparling says that, as we are going to continue our last year's acts this season, there will be no necessity for rehearsals."

The announcement did not appear to have filled Teddy Tucker with joy.

"We do the flying rings again, then?"

"Yes. And we shall be able to give a performance that will surprise Mr. Sparling. Our winter's practicing has done a lot for us, as has our winter at school."

"Oh, I don't know."

"You probably will ride the educated mule again, while I expect to ride the elephant Emperor in the grand entry, as I did before. I'll be glad to get under the big top again, with the noise and the people, the music of the band and all that. Won't you, Teddy?" questioned Phil, his eyes glowing at the picture he had drawn.

Teddy heaved a deep sigh.

"Quit it!"

"Why?"

" 'Cause you make me think I'm there now."

Phil laughed softly.

"I can see myself riding the educated mule this very minute, kicking up the dust of the ring, making everybody get out of the way, and--"

"And falling off," laughed Phil. "You certainly are the most finished artist in the show when it comes to getting into trouble."

"Yes; I seem to keep things going," grinned the lad.

"But I haven't told you all that Mr. Sparling says in the letter."

"What else does he say?"

"That the show is to start from its winter quarters, just outside of Germantown, Pennsylvania, on April twenty-second--"

"Let's see; just two weeks from today," nodded Teddy.

"Yes."

"I wish it was today."

"He says we are to report on the twenty-first, as the show leaves early in the evening."

"Where do we show first?"

"Atlantic City. Then we take in the Jersey Coast towns--"

"Do we go to New York?"

"New York? Oh, no! The show isn't big enough for New York quite yet, even if it is a railroad show now. We've got to grow some before that. Mighty few shows are large enough to warrant taking them into the big city."

"How do you know?"

"All the show people say that."

"Pshaw! I'd sure make a hit in New York with the mule."

"Time enough for that later. You and I will yet perform in Madison Square Garden. Just put that down on your route card, Teddy Tucker."

"Humph! If we don't break our necks before that! Where did you say we were--"

"After leaving New Jersey, we are to play through New York State, taking in the big as well as the small towns, and from Buffalo heading straight west. Mr. Sparling writes that we are going across the continent."

"What?"

"Says he's going to make the Sparling Shows known from the Atlantic to the Pacific--"

"Across the continent!" exclaimed Teddy unbelievingly. "No; you're fooling."

"Yes; clear to the Pacific Coast. We're going to San Francisco, too. What do you think of that, Teddy?"

"Great! Wow! Whoop!" howled the boy, hurling his remaining Indian Club far up among the rafters of the gymnasium, whence it came clattering down, both lads laughing gleefully.

"We're going to see the country this time, and we shan't have to sleep out in an open canvas wagon, either."

"Where shall we sleep?"

"Probably in a car."

"It won't be half so much fun," objected Teddy.

"I imagine the life will be different. Perhaps we shall not have so much fun, but we'll have the satisfaction of knowing that we are part of a real show. It will mean a lot to us to be with an organization like that. It will give us a better standing in the profession, and possibly by another season we may be able to get with one of the really big ones. Next spring, if we have good luck, we shall have finished with our school here. If they'll have us, we'll try to join out with one of them. In the meantime we must work hard, Teddy, so we shall be in fine shape when we join out two weeks from today. Come on; I'll wrestle you a few falls."

"Done," exclaimed Teddy.

Phil promptly threw off his coat and vest. A few minutes later the lads were struggling on the wrestling mat, their faces dripping with perspiration, their supple young figures twisting and turning as each struggled for the mastery of the other.

The readers of the preceding volume in this series, entitled, The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings, will recognize Phil and Teddy at once as the lads who had so unexpectedly joined the Sparling Combined Shows the previous summer. It was Phil who, by his ready resourcefulness, saved the life of the wife of the owner of the show as well as that of an animal trainer later on. Then, too, it will be remembered how the lad became the fast friend of the great elephant Emperor, which he rescued from "jail," and with which he performed in the ring to the delight of thousands. Ere the close of the season both boys had won their way to the flying rings, thus becoming full-fledged circus performers. Before leaving the show they had signed out for another season at a liberal salary.

With their savings, which amounted to a few hundred dollars, the boys had returned to their home at Edmeston, there to put in the winter at school.

That they might lose nothing of their fine physical condition, the Circus Boys had rented an old carpenter shop, which they rigged up as a gymnasium, fitting it with flying rings, trapeze bars and such other equipment as would serve to keep them in trim for the coming season's work.

Here Phil and Teddy had worked long hours after school. During the winter they had gained marked improvement in their work, besides developing some entirely new acts on the flying rings. During this time they had been living with Mrs. Cahill, who, it will be remembered, had proved herself a real friend to the motherless boys.

Now, the long-looked-for day was almost at hand when they should once more join the canvas city for a life in the open.

The next two weeks were busy ones for the lads, with their practice and the hard study incident to approaching examinations. Both boys passed with high standing. Books were put away, gymnasium apparatus stored and one sunlit morning two slender, manly looking young fellows, their faces reflecting perfect health and happiness, were at the railroad station waiting for the train which should bear them to the winter quarters of the show.

Fully half the town had gathered to see them off, for Edmeston was justly proud of its Circus Boys. As the train finally drew up and the lads clambered aboard, their school companions set up a mighty shout, with three cheers for the Circus Boys.

"Don't stick your head in the lion's mouth, Teddy!" was the parting salute Phil and Teddy received from the boys as the train drew out.

"Well, Teddy, we're headed for the Golden Gate at last!" glowed Phil.

"You bet!" agreed Teddy with more force than elegance.

"I wonder if old Emperor will remember me, Teddy?"

"Sure thing! But, do you think that 'fool mule,' as Mr. Sparling calls him, will remember me? Or will he want to kick me full of holes before the season has really opened?"

"I shouldn't place too much dependence on a mule," laughed Phil. "Come on; let's go inside and sit down."