Chapter IV. Renewing Old Acquaintances
 

"Well, Teddy, I must say you have made a good start," grinned Phil, after necessary explanations had been made and the young Circus Boy had been released by the policeman who had him in tow." A few minutes more and you would have been in a police station. I can imagine how pleased Mr. Sparling would have been to hear that."

Teddy hung his head.

"Your clothes are a sight, too. How did--what happened? Did you fall in a creek, or something of that sort?"

The lad explained briefly how he had been captured by the two men and ducked under the standpipe of the water tank.

"But I soaked him, too," Tucker added triumphantly." And I'm going to soak him again. The first man I come across whose name is Larry is going to get it from me," threatened the lad, shaking his fist angrily.

"You come over to the sleeper with me and get into some decent looking clothes. I'm ashamed of you, Teddy Tucker."

"So am I," grinned the boy as they turned to go, Phil leading the way to the car number eleven, from which the performers were beginning to straggle, rubbing their eyes and stretching themselves.

The change of clothing having been made, the lads started for the lot, hoping that they might find the old coffee stand and have a cup before breakfast. To their surprise, upon arriving at the lot, they found the cook tent up and the breakfast cooking.

"Why, how did you ever get this tent here and up so quickly?" asked Phil after they had greeted their old friend of the cook tent.

"Came in on the flying squadron. This is a railroad show now, you know," answered the head steward, after greeting the boys.

"Flying squadron? What's that?" demanded Teddy, interested at once.

"The flying squadron is the train that goes out first. It carries the cook tent and other things that will be needed first. We didn't have that last year. You'll find a lot of new things, and some that you won't like as well as you did when we had the old road show. What's your act this year?"

"Same as last."

"Elephant?"

"Yes, and the rings. My friend Teddy I expect will ride the educated mule again."

While they were talking the steward was preparing a pot of steaming coffee for them, which he soon handed over to the lads with a plate of wafers, of which they disposed in short order.

It was broad daylight by this time, and the boys decided to go out and watch the erection of the tents. It was all new and full of interest to them. As they caught the odor of trampled grass and the smell of the canvas their old enthusiasm came back to them with added force.

"It's great to be a circus man, isn't it, Phil?" breathed Teddy.

"It is unless one is getting into trouble all the time, the way you do. I expect that, some of these days, you'll get something you don't want."

"What?"

"Oh, I don't know. But I am sure it will be something quite serious."

"You better look out for yourself," growled Teddy. "I'll take care of myself."

"Yes; the way you did last night," retorted Phil, with a hearty laugh. "Come on, now; let's not quarrel. I want to find some of our old friends. Isn't that Mr. Miaco over there by the dressing tent?"

"Sure."

Both lads ran toward their old friend, the head clown, with outstretched hands, and Mr. Miaco, seeing them coming, hastened forward to greet them.

"Well, well, boys! How are you?"

"Oh, we're fine," glowed Phil. "And we are glad to be back again, let me tell you."

"No more so than your old friends are to have you back. Same old act?"

"Yes."

"What have you boys been doing this winter?"

"Studying and exercising."

"Yes; I knew, from your condition, that you have been keeping up your work. Got anything new?"

"Not much. Trapeze."

"Good! I'll bet you will be in some of the flying-bar acts before the season is over. We have a lot of swell performers this season."

"So I have heard. Who are some of them?"

"Well, there's the Flying Four."

"Who are they?" questioned Teddy.

"Trapeze performers. They're great--the best in the business. And then there's The Limit."

"Talk United States," demanded Teddy. "The Limit? Whoever heard of that?"

"In other words, the Dip of Death."

Teddy shook his head helplessly.

"That is the somersaulting automobile. A pretty young woman rides in it, and some fine day she won't. I never did like those freak acts. But the public does," sighed the old circus man. "The really difficult feats, that require years of practice, patrons don't seem to give a rap for. But let somebody do a stunt in which he is in danger of suddenly ending his life, then you'll see the people howl with delight. I sometimes think they would be half tickled to death to see some of us break our necks. There's a friend of yours, Phil."

"Who?"

"Emperor, the old elephant that you rode last year. They are taking him to the menagerie tent."

"Whistle to him, Phil," suggested Teddy.

Phil uttered a low, peculiar whistle.

The big elephant's ears flapped. The procession that he was leading came to a sudden stop and Emperor trumpeted shrilly.

"He hasn't forgotten me," breathed Phil happily. "Dear old Emperor!"

"Pipe him up again," urged Teddy.

"No; I wouldn't dare. He would be likely to break away from Mr. Kennedy and might trample some of the people about here. See, Mr. Kennedy is having his troubles as it is."

"Done any tumbling since you closed last fall?" questioned Mr. Miaco.

"We have practiced a little. I want to learn, if you will teach me--"

"Why, you can tumble already, Phil."

"Yes; but I want to do something better--the springboard."

"They've got a leaping act this year."

"How?"

"Performers and clowns leap over a herd of elephants. You've seen the act, haven't you?"

"Oh, yes; I know what it is. I wish I were able to do it."

"You will be. It is not difficult, only one has to have a natural bent for it. Now, your friend Teddy ought to make a fine leaper."

"I am," interposed Teddy pompously. "I always was."

"Yes; you're the whole show from your way of thinking," laughed Mr. Miaco. "I must go see if my trunk is placed. See you later, boys."

After leaving the clown, the lads strolled about the lot. They soon discovered that the Sparling Shows was a big organization. The tents had been very much enlarged and the canvas looked new and white.

In the menagerie tent the boys found many new cages, gorgeous in red and gold, with a great variety of animals that had not been in the show the previous summer.

Emperor's delight at seeing his little friend again was expressed in loud trumpetings, and his sinuous trunk quickly found its way into Phil Forrest's pocket in search of sweets. And Emperor was not disappointed. In one coat pocket he found a liberal supply of candy, while the other held a bag of peanuts, to all of which the big elephant helped himself freely until no more was left.

"Have you got my trappings ready, Mr. Kennedy?" asked Phil of the keeper.

"You'll find the stuff in fine shape. The old man has had a new bonnet made for Emperor and a new blanket. He'll be right smart when he enters the ring today. Been over to the cook tent yet?"

"Yes; but not for breakfast. We are going soon now. We want to see them raise the big top first."

When the boys had passed out into the open they observed the big circus tent rising slowly from the ground where it had been laid out, the various pieces laced together by nimble fingers. Mr. Sparling was on the lot watching everything at the same time. This was the first time the tent had been pitched, and, as has been said before, most of the men were green at their work. Yet, under the boisterous prodding of the boss canvasman, the white city was going up rapidly and with some semblance of system.

As soon as the dome of the big top left the ground the boys crawled under and went inside. Here all was excitement and confusion. Men were shouting their commands, above which the voice of the boss canvasman rose distinctly.

The dome of the tent by this time was halfway up the long, green center pole, while men were hurrying in with quarter poles on their shoulders, and which they quickly stood on end and guided into place in the bellying canvas.

The eyes of the Circus Boys sparkled with enthusiasm.

"I wish we were up there on the rings," breathed Teddy.

"We shall be soon, old fellow," answered Phil, patting him on the shoulder. "And for many days after this, I hope. Hello, I wonder what's wrong up there?"

Phil's quick glance had caught something up near the half-raised dome that impressed him as not being right.

"Look out aloft!" he sang out warningly.

"The key rope's going. Grab the other line!" bellowed the boss canvasman.

"You fools!" roared Mr. Sparling from the opposite side of the tent, as he quickly noted what was happening. "Run for your lives! You'll have the whole outfit down on your heads!"

The men fled, letting go of ropes and poles, diving for places of safety, many of them knowing what it meant to have that big tent collapse and descend upon them.

The man who had held the key rope was the one who had been at fault. Some of the new men had called to him to give them a hand on another line, and he, a new man himself, all forgetful of the important task that had been assigned to him, dropped the key rope, as it is called, turning to assist his associate.

Instantly the dome of the big top began to settle with a grating noise as the huge iron ring in the peak began slipping down the center pole.

The key rope coiled on the ground was running out and squirming up into the air. Only a single coil of it remained when Phil suddenly darted forward. With a bound, he threw himself upon the rope, giving it a quick twist about his arm.

The instant Phil had fastened his grip upon the rope he shot up into the air so quickly that the onlookers failed to catch the meaning of his sudden flight.

One pair of eyes, however, saw and understood. They belonged to Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show.

"The boy will he killed!" he groaned. "Let go!"