Chapter VI. The Showman's Reward
 

Phil struck the net with a violent slap that was heard outside the big top, though those without did not understand the meaning of it, nor did they give it heed.

Mr. Sparling was the first to reach him. The lad had landed on his shoulders and then struck flat on his back, the proper way to fall into a net. Perhaps it was instinct that told him what to do.

The lad was unconscious when the showman lifted him tenderly from the net and laid him out on the ground.

"Up with that peak!" commanded Mr. Sparling. "Get some water here, and don't crowd around him! Give the boy air! Tucker, you hike for the surgeon."

A shove started Teddy for the surgeon. In the meantime Mr. Sparling was working over Phil, seeking to bring him back to consciousness, which he finally succeeded in doing before the surgeon arrived.

"Did I fall?" asked Phil, suddenly opening his eyes.

"A high dive," nodded Mr. Sparling.

Phil cast his eyes up to the dome where he saw the canvas drawing taut. He knew that he had succeeded and he smiled contentedly.

By the time the surgeon arrived the boy was on his feet.

"How do you feel?"

"I'm a little sore, Mr. Sparling. But I guess I'll be fit in a few minutes."

"Able to walk over to my tent? If not, I'll have some of the fellows carry you."

"Oh, no; I can walk if I can get my legs started moving. They don't seem to be working the way they should this morning," laughed the lad. "My, that tent weighs something doesn't it?"

"It does," agreed the showman.

Just then the surgeon arrived. After a brief examination he announced that Phil was not injured, unless, perhaps, he might have injured himself internally by subjecting himself to the great strain of holding up the tent.

"I think some breakfast will put me right again," decided the lad.

"Haven't you had your breakfast yet?" demanded Mr. Sparling.

"No; I guess I've been too busy."

"Come with me, then. I haven't had mine either," said the showman.

Linking his arm within that of the Circus Boy, Mr. Sparling walked from the tent, not speaking again until they had reached the manager's private tent. This was a larger and much more commodious affair than it had been last year.

He placed Phil in a folding easy chair, and sat down to his desk where he began writing.

After finishing, Mr. Sparling looked up.

"Phil," he said in a more kindly tone than the lad had ever before heard him use, "I was under a deep obligation to you last season. I'm under a greater one now."

"I wish you wouldn't speak of it, sir. What I have done is purely in the line of duty. It's a fellow's business to be looking out for his employer's interests. That's what I have always tried to do."

"Not only tried, but have," corrected Mr. Sparling. "That's an old-fashioned idea of yours. It's a pity young men don't feel more that way, these days. But that wasn't what I wanted to say. As a little expression of how much I appreciate your interest, as well as the actual money loss you have saved me, I want to make you a little present."

"Oh, no no," protested Phil.

"Here is a check which I have made out for a hundred dollars. That will give you a little start on the season. But it isn't all that I am going to do for you--"

"Please, Mr. Sparling. Believe me I do appreciate your kindness, but I mustn't take the check. I couldn't take the check."

"Why not?"

"Because I haven't earned it."

"Haven't earned it? He hasn't earned it!"

"No, sir."

The showman threw his hands above his head in a hopeless sort of a way.

"I should not feel that I was doing right. I want to be independent, Mr. Sparling. I have plenty of money. I have not spent more than half of what I earned last summer. This season I hope to lay by a whole lot, so that I shall be quite independent."

"And so you shall, so you shall, my boy," Sparling exclaimed, rising and smiting Phil good naturedly with the flat of his hand.

Instead of tearing up the check, however, Mr. Sparling put it in an envelope which he directed and stamped, then thrust in his coat pocket.

"I--I hope you understand--hope you do not feel offended," said Phil hesitatingly. "I should not like to have you misunderstand me."

"Not a bit of it, my lad. I can't say that I have any higher opinion of you because of your decision, but--"

Phil glanced up quickly.

"I already have as high an opinion of you as it is possible for me to have for any human being, and--"

"Thank you. You'll make me have a swelled head if you keep on that way," laughed Phil.

"No danger. You would have had one long ago, if that was your makeup. Have you seen Mrs. Sparling yet?"

"No, and I should like to. May I call on her in your car?"

"Not only may, but she has commissioned me to ask you to. I think we had better be moving over to the cook tent, now, if we wish any breakfast. I expect the hungry roustabouts have about cleaned the place out by this time."

They soon arrived at the cook tent. Here Phil left Mr. Sparling while he passed about among the tables, greeting such of his old acquaintances as he had not yet seen that morning. He was introduced to many of the new ones, all of whom had heard pretty much everything about Phil's past achievements before he reached their tables. The people of a circus are much like a big family, and everyone knows, or thinks he knows, the whole family history of his associates.

Even Phil's plucky work in the big top, less than an hour before, had already traveled to the cook tent, and many curious glances were directed to the slim, modest, boy as he passed among his friends quietly, giving them his greetings.

Teddy, on the other hand, was not saying a word. He was busy eating.

"How's your appetite this morning, Teddy?" questioned Phil, sinking down on the bench beside his companion.

"Pretty fair," answered Teddy in a muffled voice. "I began at the top--"

"Top of what?"

"Top of the bill of fare. I've cleaned up everything halfway down the list, and I'm going through the whole bill, even if I have to get up and shake myself down like the miller does a bag of meal."

"Be careful, old chap. Remember you and I have to begin our real work today. We shall want to be in the best of shape for our ring act. You won't, if you fill up as you are doing now," warned Phil.

"Not going to work today."

"What's that?"

"No flying rings today."

"I don't understand."

"No flying rings, I said. Mr. Sparling isn't going to put on our act today."

"How do you know?" asked Phil in some surprise.

"Heard him say so."

"When?"

"Just now."

"Why, I came in with him myself less than ten minutes ago--"

"I know. He stopped right in front of my table here to speak to the ringmaster. Heard him say you were not to be allowed to go on till tomorrow. We don't have to go in the parade today if we don't want to, either. But you are to ride Emperor in the Grand Entry, and I'm to do my stunt on the educated mule."

"Pshaw, I can work today as well as I ever could," said Phil in a disappointed tone. "And I'm going on, too, unless Mr. Sparling gives me distinct orders to the contrary."

Phil got the orders before he had finished his breakfast.

"Believe me, Phil, I know best," said Mr. Sparling, noting the lad's disappointment. "You have had a pretty severe strain this morning, and to go on now with the excitement of the first day added to that, I fear might be too much for you. It might lay you up for some weeks, and we cannot afford to have that happen, you know. I need you altogether too much for that."

"Very well, sir; it shall be as you wish. I suppose I may go on in the Grand Entry as usual?"

"Oh, yes, if you wish."

"I do."

"Very well; then I'll let Mr. Kennedy know. You had better lie down and rest while the parade is out."

"Thank you; I hardly think that will be necessary. I feel fit enough for work right now."

"Such is youth and enthusiasm," mused the showman, passing on out of the cook tent, once more to go over his arrangements, for there were many details to be looked after on this the first day of the show's season on the road.

Phil called on Mrs. Sparling after breakfast, receiving from the showman's wife a most hospitable welcome. She asked him all about how he had spent the winter, and seemed particularly interested in Mrs. Cahill, who was now the legal guardian of both the boys. Mrs. Sparling already had a letter in her pocket, with the check for one hundred dollars which the showman had drawn for Phil. It was going to Mrs. Cahill to be deposited to the lad's credit, but he would know nothing of this until the close of the season. After he had gone home he would find himself a hundred dollars richer than he thought.

His call finished, Phil went out and rejoined Teddy. Together they started back toward the dressing tent to set their trunks in order and get out such of their costumes as they would need that afternoon and evening. Then again, the dressing tent was really the most attractive part of the show to all the performers. It was here that they talked of their work and life, occasionally practiced new acts of a minor character, and indulged in pranks like a lot of schoolboys at recess time.

As they were passing down along the outside of the big top, Phil noticed several laborers belonging to the show sitting against the side wall sunning themselves. He observed that one of the men was eyeing Teddy and himself with rather more than ordinary interest.

Phil did not give it a second thought, however, until suddenly Teddy gave his arm a violent pinch.

"What is it?"

"See those fellows sitting there?"

"Yes. What of it?"

"One of them is the fellow who ducked me under the water tank back at Germantown."

"You don't say? Which one?"

"Fellow with the red hair. I heard them call him Larry as I passed, or I might not have noticed him particularly. His hair is redder than Rod Palmer's. I should think it would set him on fire."

"It certainly would seem so."

"Mister Larry has got something coming to him good and proper, and he's going to get it, you take my word for that."

Phil laughed good naturedly.

"Please, now, Teddy, forget it. Don't go and get into any more mix-ups. You'll be sending yourself back home first thing you know. Then it will be a difficult matter to get into any other show if you are sent away from this one in disgrace."

"Don't you worry about me. I'll take care of myself. I always do, don't I?"

"I'm afraid I can't agree to that," laughed Phil. "I should say that quite the contrary is the case."

Teddy fell suddenly silent as they walked on in the bright morning light, drinking in the balmy air in long-drawn breaths. Entering the paddock they turned sharply to the left and pushed their way through the canvas curtains into the dressing tent.

"Hurrah for the Circus Boys," shouted someone. "Hello Samson, are you the strong-armed man that held the tent up by your feet?"

"Strong-footed man, you mean," suggested another. "A strong-armed man uses his arms not his feet."

"Come over here and show yourself," shouted another voice.

Phil walked over and stood smilingly before them. Nothing seemed to disturb his persistent good nature.

"Huh, not so much! I guess they stretched that yarn," grunted a new performer.

"I guess not," interposed Mr. Miaco. "I happened to see that stunt pulled off myself. It was the biggest thing I ever saw a man--let alone a boy--get away with." Then Mr. Miaco went over the scene with great detail, while Phil stole away to his own corner, where he busied himself bending over his trunk to hide his blushes.

But Teddy felt no such emotion. Almost as soon as he entered the dressing tent he began searching about for something. This he soon found. It was a pail, but he appeared to be in a hurry. Picking up the pail he ran with it to the water barrel, that always stands in the dressing tent, filled the pail and skulked out as if he did not desire to attract attention.

Once outside the dressing tent Teddy ran at full speed across the paddock and out into the big top. A few men were working here putting up apparatus for the performers. They gave no heed to the boy with the pail of water.

Teddy ran his eye along the inside of the tent, nodded and went on to the middle section where he turned, climbing the steps to the upper row.

Arriving there he cautiously peered out over the top of the side wall. What he saw evidently was not to his liking, for once more he picked up the pail of water and ran lightly along the top seat toward the menagerie tent.

All at once he paused, put down his pail and peered out over the side wall again. Nodding with satisfaction he picked up the pail, lifted it to the top of the side wall, once more looked out measuring the distance well, then suddenly turned the pail bottom side up.

In his course through the big top Teddy had gathered up several handfuls of sawdust and dirt which he had stirred well into the water as he ran, making a pasty mess of it.

It was this mixture that he had now poured out over the side wall. Teddy waited only an instant to observe the effect of the deluge that he had turned on. Then he fled down the rattling board seats.

Outside a sudden roar broke the stillness. No sooner had he reached the bottom of the seats than several men raised up the side wall and came tumbling in, yelling like Comanche Indians. Teddy cast one frightened look at them, then ran like all possessed. What he had seen was a red-haired man in the lead, dripping wet with hair and clothes plastered with mud and sawdust. Larry was after the lad in full cry.