Chapter XVIII. Doing a Double Somersault
 

Cool, confident a troop of motley fools and clean-limbed performers filed out from the dressing tent, on past the bandstand and across the arena to the place where the springboard had been rigged, with a mat two feet thick a short distance beyond it.

With them proudly marched Teddy Tucker.

Mr. Sparling, in the meantime, was patting Phil on the back.

"I'm in a quandary, Phil," he said.

"What about?" smiled the lad, tugging away at his tights.

"I want you out front and yet it would be almost a crime to take a performer like you out of the ring. Tell me honestly, where would you prefer to be?"

"That's a difficult question to answer. There is a terrible fascination about the ring, and it's getting a stronger hold of me every day I am out."

"Yes; I understand that. It's so with all of them. I was that way myself at first."

"Were you ever in the ring?"

"I clowned it. But I wasn't much of a performer. Just did a few simple clown stunts and made faces at the audience. Then I got some money ahead and started out for myself. If I'd had you then I would have had a railroad show long before this season," smiled the showman.

"On the other hand," continued Phil, "I am anxious to learn the front of the house as well as the ring. I think, maybe, that I could spend part of my time in the office, if that is where you wish me. If you can spare me from the parade, I might put in that time to decided advantage doing things on the lot for you," mused Phil.

"Spare you from the parade? Well, I should say so. You are relieved from that already. Of course, any time you wish to go out, you have the privilege of doing so. Sometimes it is a change, providing one is not obliged to go," smiled the showman.

"Most of the performers would be glad if they did not have to, though."

"No doubt of it. But let's see; you have how many acts now? There's the flying rings, the elephant act and now comes the bareback act--"

"Yes; three," nodded Phil.

"That's too many. You'll give out under all that, and now we're talking about doubling you out in front. I guess we will let the front of the house take care of itself for the present."

Phil looked rather disappointed.

"Of course, any time you wish you may come out, you know."

"Thank you; I shall be glad to do that. I can do a lot of little things to help you as soon as I learn how you run the show. I know something about that already," grinned the lad.

"If you wish, I will double somebody up on your flying rings act. What do you say?"

"It isn't necessary, Mr. Sparling. I can handle all three without any difficulty, only the bareback act comes pretty close to the grand entry. It doesn't give me much time to change my costume."

"That's right. Tell you what we'll do."

"Yes?"

"We'll set the bareback act forward one number, substituting the leaping for it. That will give you plenty of time to make a change, will it not?"

"Plenty," agreed Phil.

"How about the flying rings. They come sometime later, if I remember correctly."

"Yes; the third act after the riding, according to the new arrangement. No trouble about that."

"Very well; then I will notify the director and let him make the necessary changes. I want to go out now and see your young friend make an exhibition of himself."

"Teddy?"

"Yes. He's going on the leaping act for the first time, you know."

"That's so. I had forgotten all about it. I want to see that, too. I'll hurry and dress."

"And, Phil," said the showman in a more kindly voice, even, than he had used before.

"Yes, sir," answered the lad, glancing up quickly.

"You are going to be a great showman some of these days, both in the ring and out of it. Remember what I tell you."

"Thank you; I hope so. I am going to try to be at least a good one."

"You're that already. You've done a lot for the Sparling Combined as it is and I don't want you to think I do not appreciate it. Shake hands!"

Man and boy grasped each other's hand in a grip that meant more than words. Then Mr. Sparling turned abruptly and hurried out into the big top where the leaping act was in full cry.

Painted clowns were keeping the audience in a roar by their funny leaps from the springboard to the mat, while the supple acrobats were doing doubles and singles through the air, landing gracefully on the mat as a round off.

The showman's first inquiring look was in search of Teddy Tucker. He soon made the lad out. Teddy was made up as a fat boy with a low, narrow-brimmed hat perched jauntily on one side of his head. There was drollery in Teddy's every movement. His natural clownish movements were sufficient to excite the laughter of the spectators without any attempt on his part to be funny, while the lad kept up a constant flow of criticism of his companions in the act.

But they had grown to know Teddy better, by this time, and none took his taunts seriously.

"That boy can leap, after all," muttered Mr. Sparling. "I thought he would tumble around and make some fun for the audience, but I hadn't the least idea he could do a turn. Why, he's the funniest one in the bunch."

Teddy was doing funny twists in the air as he threw a somersault at that moment. In his enthusiasm he overshot the mat, and had there not been a performer handy to catch him, the lad might have been seriously hurt.

Mr. Sparling shook his head.

"Lucky if he doesn't break his neck! But that kind seldom do," the owner said out loud.

Now the helpers were bringing the elephants up. Two were placed in front of the springboard and over these a stream of gaudily attired clowns dived, doing a turn in the air as they passed. Teddy was among the number.

Three elephants were lined up, then a fourth and a fifth.

"I hope he isn't going to try that," growled Mr. Sparling, noting that the lad was waiting his turn to get up on the springboard. "Not many of them can get away with that number. I suppose I ought to go over and stop the boy. But I guess he won't try to jump them. He'll probably walk across their backs, the same as he has seen the other clowns do."

Teddy, however, had a different plan in mind. He had espied Mr. Sparling looking at him from across the tent, and he proposed to let the owner see what he really could do.

For a moment the lad poised at the top of the springboard, critically measuring the distance across the backs of the assembled elephants.

"Go on, go on!" commanded the director. "Do you think this show can wait on your motion all day? Jump, or get off the board!"

"Say, who's doing this you or I?" demanded Teddy in well-feigned indignation, and in a voice that was audible pretty much all over the tent.

This drew a loud laugh from the spectators, who were now in a frame of mind to laugh at anything the Fat Boy did.

"It doesn't look as if anyone were doing anything. Somebody will be in a minute, if I hear any more of your talk," snapped the director. "Are you going to jump, or are you going to get off the board?"

"Well," shouted Teddy, "confidentially now, mind you. Come over here. I want to talk to you. Confidentially, you know. I'm going to jump, if you'll stop asking questions long enough for me to get away."

Amid a roar of laughter from spectators, and broad grins on the part of the performers, Teddy took a running start and shot up into the air.

"He's turning too quick," snapped Mr. Sparling.

Teddy, however, evidently knew what he was about. Turning a beautiful somersault, he launched into a second one with the confidence of a veteran. All the circus people in the big top expected to see the lad break his neck. Instead, however, Tucker landed lightly and easily on his feet while the spectators shouted their approval. But instead of landing on the mat as he thought he was doing, Teddy was standing on the back of the last elephant in the line.

His double somersault had made him dizzy and the boy did not realize that he had not yet reached the mat on the ground. Bowing and smiling to the audience, the Fat Boy started to walk away.

Then Teddy fell off, landing in a heap on the hard ground. He rose, aching, but the onlookers on the boards took it all as a funny finish, and gleefully roared their appreciation.