Chapter XI. Summoned Before the Manager
 

The lad was not far wrong in his surmise. That Mr. Sparling was angry was apparent at the first glance.

He eyed Phil from head to foot, a fierce scowl wrinkling his face and forehead.

"Well, sir, what have you been up to this afternoon?"

"Practicing in the ring since the afternoon performance closed."

"H-m-m-m! And this forenoon?"

"Not much of anything in the way of work."

"Have any trouble with any of the men?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who?"

"A man by the name of Larry, and another whom they call Bad Eye."

"Humph! I suppose you know it's a bad breach of discipline in a show to have any mixups, don't you?"

"I do. I make no apologies, except that I was acting wholly in self defense. All the same, I do not expect any favoritism. I am willing to take my punishment, whatever it may be," replied the lad steadily.

There was the merest suspicion of a twinkle in the eyes of the showman.

"Tell me what you did."

"I punched Larry, tripped his friend, and--well, I don't exactly know all that did happen," answered Phil without a change of expression.

"Knock them down?"

"I--I guess so."

"H-m-m. I suppose you know both those fellows are pretty bad medicine, don't you?"

"I may have heard something of the sort."

"Larry has quite a reputation as a fighter."

"Yes, sir."

"And you knocked him out?"

"Something like that," answered Phil meekly.

"Show me how you did it?" demanded Mr. Sparling, rising and standing before the culprit.

"It was like this, you see," began Phil, exhibiting a sudden interest in the inquiry. "I was chased by the two men. Suddenly I stopped and let the fellow, Larry, fall over me. During the scrimmage I tripped Bad Eye. I didn't hit anyone until Larry crowded me so I had to do so in order to save myself, or else run away."

"Why didn't you run, young man?"

"I--I didn't like to do that, you know."

Mr. Sparling nodded his head.

"How did you hit him?"

"He made a pass at me like this," and the lad lifted Mr. Sparling's hand over his shoulder. "I came up under his guard with a short arm jolt like this."

"Well, what next?"

"That was about all there was to it. The others came out, about that time, and I ducked in under the big top."

To Phil's surprise Mr. Sparling broke out into a roar of laughter. In a moment he grew sober and stern again.

"Be good enough to tell me what led up to this assault. What happened before that brought on the row? I can depend upon you to give me the facts. I can't say as much for all the others."

Phil did as the showman requested, beginning with the ducking of Teddy by the men when the show was leaving Germantown, and ending with Teddy's having emptied a pail of muddy water over Larry's red head that morning.

He had only just finished his narration of the difficulty, when who should appear at the entrance to the office tent but Larry himself. He was followed, a few paces behind, by Bad Eye.

Mr. Sparling's stern, judicial eyes were fixed upon them. He demanded to hear from them their version of the affair, which Larry related, leaving out all mention of his having ducked Teddy. His story agreed in the main details with what Phil already had said, excepting that Larry's recital threw the blame on Teddy and Phil.

Mr. Sparling took a book from his desk, making a memorandum therein.

"Is that all, sir?" questioned Larry.

"Not quite. If I hear of any further infraction of the rules of this show on the part of either of you two, you close right then. Understand?"

"Yes."

"That's not all; I'll have you both jailed for assault. As it is, I'll fine you both a week's pay. Now get out of here!"

Larry hesitated, flashed a malignant glance at Phil Forrest; then, turning on his heel, he left the tent.

"Don't you think you had better fine me, too, sir?" asked Phil.

"What for?"

"Because I shall have to do it again some of these days."

"What do you mean?"

"That fellow is going to be even with me at the very first opportunity."

Mr. Sparling eyed the lad for a moment.

"I guess you will be able to give a good account of yourself if he tries to do anything of the sort. Let me say right here, though you need not tell your friend so that I think Teddy did just right, and I am glad you gave Larry a good drubbing. But, of course, we can't encourage this sort of thing with the show. It has to be put down with an iron hand."

"I understand, sir."

"Mind, I don't expect you to be a coward."

"I hope not. My father used to teach me not to be. He frequently said, 'Phil, keep out of trouble, but if you get into it, don't sneak out.' "

"That's the talk," roared Mr. Sparling, smiting his desk with a mighty fist. "You run along, now, and give your young friend some advice about what he may expect if he gets into any more difficulty."

"I have done that already."

"Good! Tell it to him again as coming from me. He's going to make a good showman, though he came near putting this outfit out of business with the fool mule this afternoon. I would cut the act out, but for the fact that it is a scream from start to finish. Feeling all right?"

"Yes, thank you. I am perfectly able to go on in the ring act tonight, if you think best."

"Wait until tomorrow; wait until tomorrow. You'll be all the better for it."

The cook tent was open, as Phil observed. The red flag was flying from the center pole of the tent, indicating that supper was being served. In a short time the tent would come down and be on its way in the flying squadron to the next stand.

The show was now less than a day out, but many things had happened. Not a moment had been without its interest or excitement, and Phil realized that as he walked toward the cook tent. He found Teddy there, satisfying his appetite, or rather exerting himself in that direction, for Teddy's appetite was a thing never wholly satisfied.

After supper Phil took the boy aside and delivered Mr. Sparling's message. Teddy looked properly serious, but it is doubtful if the warning sank very deep into his mind, for the next minute he was turning handsprings on the lot.

"Know what I'm going to do, Phil?" he glowed.

"There's no telling what you will do, from one minute to the next, Teddy," replied Phil.

"Going to practice up and see if I can't get in the leaping act."

"That's a good idea. When do you begin taking lessons?"

"Taking 'em now."

"From Mr. Miaco?"

"Yes. I did a turn off the springboard this afternoon with the 'mechanic on,' " meaning the harness used to instruct beginners in the art of tumbling.

"How did you make out?"

"Fine! I'd have broken my neck if it hadn't been for the harness."

Phil laughed heartily.

"I should say you did do finely. But you don't expect to be able to jump over ten elephants and horses the way the others do?"

"They don't all do it. Some of 'em leap until they get half a dozen elephants in line, then they stand off and watch the real artists finish the act. I can do that part of it now. But I tell you I'm going to be a leaper, Phil."

"Good for you! That's the way to talk. Keep out of trouble, work hard, don't talk too much, and you'll beat me yet," declared Phil. "And say!"

"What?"

"Be careful with that mule act tonight. You know Mr. Sparling will be in there watching you. It wouldn't take much more trouble to cause him to cut that act out of the programme, and then you might not be drawing so much salary. Fifty dollars a week is pretty nice for each of us. If we don't get swelled heads, but behave ourselves, we'll have a nice little pile of money by the time the season closes."

"Yes," agreed Teddy. "I guess that's so; but we'll be losing a lot of fun."

"I don't agree with you," laughed Phil.

The lads strolled into the menagerie tent on their way through to the dressing tent. The gasoline men were busy lighting their lamps and hauling them on center and quarter pole, while the menagerie attendants were turning the tongues of the cages about so that the horses could be hitched on promptly after the show in the big top began.

Some of the animals were munching hay, others of the caged beasts were lying with their noses poked through between the bars of their cages, blinking drowsily.

"I'd hate to be him," announced Teddy with a comprehensive wave of the hand as they passed the giraffe, which stood silent in his roped enclosure, his head far up in the shadows.

"Why?"

"For two reasons. Keeper tells me he can't make a sound. Doesn't bray, nor whinny, nor growl, nor bark, nor-- can't do anything. I'd rather be a lion or a tiger or something like that. If I couldn't do anything else, then, I could stand off and growl at folks."

Phil nodded and smiled.

"And what's your other reason for being glad you are not a giraffe?"

"Because--because--because when you had a sore throat think what a lot of neck you'd have to gargle!"

Phil laughed outright, and as the giraffe lowered its head and peered down into their faces, he thought, for the moment, that he could see the animal grin.

After this they continued on to the dressing tent, where they remained until time for the evening performance. This passed off without incident, Teddy and his mule doing nothing more sensational than kicking a rent in the ringmaster's coat.

After the show was over, and the tents had begun to come down, Phil announced his intention of going downtown for a lunch.

"This fresh air makes me hungry. You see, I am not used to it yet," he explained in an apologetic tone.

"You do not have to go down for a lunch, unless you want to," the bandmaster informed him.

"Why, is there a lunch place on the grounds?"

"No. We have an accommodation car on our section."

"What kind of car is that?"

"Lunch car. You can't get a heavy meal there, but you will find a nice satisfying lunch. The boss has it served at cost. He doesn't make any money out of the deal. You'll find it on our section."

"Good! Come along Teddy."

"Will I? That's where I'll spend my money," nodded Teddy, starting away at a jog trot.

"And your nights too, if they would let you," laughed Phil, following his companion at a more leisurely gait.

As they crossed the lot they passed "Red" Larry, as he had now been nicknamed by the showmen. Larry pretended not to see the boys, but there was an ugly scowl on his face that told Phil he did, and after the lads had gone on a piece Phil turned, casting a careless look back where the torches were flaring and men working and shouting.

"Red" Larry was not working now. He was facing the boys, shaking a clenched fist at them.

"I am afraid we haven't heard the last of our friend, Larry," said Phil.

"Who's afraid?" growled Teddy.

"Neither of us. But all the same we had better keep an eye on him while we are in his vicinity. We don't want to get into any more trouble--at least not, if we can possibly avoid it."

"Not till Mr. Sparling forgets about today? Is that it?"

"I guess it is," grinned Phil.

"He might take it seriously?"

"He already has done that. So be careful."

Teddy nodded. But the lads had not yet heard the last of "Red" Larry.