Chapter VIII. Phil Makes a New Friend
 

"Tweetle! Tweetle!"

Two rippling blasts from the ringmaster's whistle notified the show people that the performance was on. In moved the procession for the Grand Entry, as the silken curtains separating the paddock from the big top slowly fell apart.

Phil, from his lofty perch on the head of old Emperor, peering through the opening of the bonnet in which he was concealed, could not repress an exclamation of admiration. It was a splendid spectacle--taken from a story of ancient Rome-- that was sweeping majestically about the arena to the music of an inspiring tune into which the big circus band had suddenly launched.

Gayly-caparisoned, nervous horses pranced and reared; huge wagons, gorgeous under their coat of paint and gold, glistened in the afternoon sunlight that fell softly through the canvas top and gave the peculiar rattling sound so familiar to the lover of the circus as they moved majestically into the arena; elephants trumpeted shrilly and the animals back in the menagerie tent sent up a deafening roar of protest. After months of quiet in their winter quarters, this unusual noise and excitement threw the wild beasts into a tempest of anger. Pacing their cages with upraised heads, they hurled their loud-voiced protests into the air until the more timid of the spectators trembled in their seats.

It was an inspiring moment for the circus people, as well as for the spectators.

"Tweetle! Tweetle!" sang the ringmaster's whistle after the spectacle had wound its way once around the concourse.

At this the procession wheeled, its head cutting between the two rings, slowly and majestically reaching for the paddock and dressing tent, where the performers would hurry into their costumes for their various acts to follow.

This left only the elephants in the ring. The huge beasts now began their evolutions, ponderous but graceful, eliciting great applause, as did their trainer, Mr. Kennedy. Then came the round-off of the act. This, it will be remembered, was of Phil Forrest's own invention, the act in which Phil, secreted in the elephant's bonnet, burst out at the close of the act, and, by the aid of wires running over a pulley above him, was able to descend gracefully to the sawdust arena.

He was just a little nervous in this, the first performance of the season, but, steadying his nerves, he went through the act without a hitch and amid thunders of applause. As in the previous season's act, old Emperor carried the lad from the ring, holding Phil out in front of him firmly clasped in his trunk. No similar act ever had been seen in a circus until Phil and Emperor worked it out for themselves. It had become one of the features of the show last year, and it bade fair to be equally popular that season. Phil had added to it somewhat, which gave the act much more finish than before.

"Very good, young man," approved Mr. Sparling, as the elephant bore the lad out. Mr. Sparling was watching the show with keen eyes in order to decide what necessary changes were to be made. "Coming back to watch the performance?"

"Oh, yes. I wouldn't miss that for anything."

As soon as the lad had thrown off his costume and gotten back into his clothes, he hurried into the big top, where he found Teddy, who did not go on in his bucking mule act until later.

"How's the show, Teddy?" greeted Phil.

"Great. Greatest thing I ever saw. Did you see the fellows jump over the herd of elephants and horses?"

"No. Who were they?"

"Oh, most all of the crowd, I guess. I'm going to do that."

"You, Teddy? Why, you couldn't jump over half a dozen elephants and turn a somersault. You would break your neck the first thing."

"Mr. Miaco says I could. Says I'm just the build for that sort of thing," protested the lad.

"Well, then, get him to teach you. Of course we can't know how to do too many things in this business. We have learned that it pays to know how to do almost everything. Have you made friends with the mule since you got back?"

"Yes. He spooned over me and made believe he loved me like a brother."

Teddy paused reflectively.

"Then what?"

"Well, then he tried to kick the daylight out of me."

"I thought so," laughed Phil. "I'm glad I chose an elephant for my friend, instead of an educated mule. When are you going to begin on the springboard--begin practicing, I mean?"

"Mr. Miaco says he'll teach me as soon as we get settled--"

"Settled? I never heard of a show getting settled--that is, not until the season is ended and it is once more in winter quarters. I suppose by 'settled' he means when everything gets to moving smoothly."

"I guess so," nodded Teddy. "What are you going to do?"

"The regular acts that I did last year."

"No; I mean what are you going to learn new?"

"Oh! Well, there are two things I'm crazy to be able to do."

"What are they?"

"One is to be a fine trapeze performer," announced Phil thoughtfully.

"And the other?"

"To ride bareback."

"Want to be the whole thing, don't you?" jeered Teddy.

"No; not quite. But I should like to be able to do those two things, and to do them well. There is nothing that catches the audiences as do the trapezists and the bareback riders. And it fascinates me as well."

"Here, too," agreed Teddy.

"But there is one thing I want to talk with you about--to read you a lecture."

"You needn't."

"I shouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of an inquiry about the row in the dressing tent. You know Mr. Sparling won't stand for anything of that sort."

"He doesn't know about it," interposed Teddy.

"But we do. Therefore, we are just as much to blame as if he did know. And I am not so sure that he doesn't. You can't fool Mr. Sparling. You ought to know that by this time. There isn't a thing goes on in this show that he doesn't find out about, sooner or later, and he is going to find out about this."

"I didn't do anything. You did, when you had a scrap with those two fellows out on the lot."

"You forget that you started the row by emptying a pail of water on Larry's head. Don't you call that starting doing anything? I do."

Phil had to laugh at the comical expression on his companion's face.

"Well, maybe."

"And we haven't heard the last of those fellows yet. They're mad all through. I am sorry I had to hit them. But they would have used me badly had I not done something to protect myself. I should tell the whole matter to Mr. Sparling, were it not that I would get others into trouble. That I wouldn't do."

"I should think not."

"By the way, Teddy, there come the bareback riders. Don't you follow after their act?"

"My! That's so. I had forgotten all about that. Thought I was watching the show just like the rest of the folks."

"Better hustle, or you won't get into your makeup in time to go on. There'll be a row for certain if you are late."

But Teddy already had started on a run for the dressing tent, bowling over a clown at the entrance to the paddock and bringing down the wrath of that individual as he hustled for the dressing tent and began feverishly getting into his ring clothes. These consisted of a loose fitting pair of trousers, a slouch hat and a coat much the worse for wear. A "Rube" act, it was called in show parlance, and it was that in very truth, more because of Teddy's drollery than for the makeup that he wore.

Phil quickly forgot all about the lecture he had been reading to his companion as the bareback riders came trotting in. His eyes were fixed on a petite, smiling figure who tripped up to the curbing, where she turned toward the audience, and, kicking one foot out behind her, bowed and threw a kiss to the spectators.

Phil had walked over and sat down by the center pole right near the sawdust ring, so that he might get a better view of the riding.

The young woman who so attracted his attention was known on the show bills as "Little Miss Dimples, the Queen of the Sawdust Arena." Phil, as he gazed at her graceful little figure, agreed that the show bills did not exaggerate her charms at all.

Little Dimples, using the ringmaster's hand as a step, vaulted lightly to the back of the great gray ring horse, where she sat as the animal began a slow walk about the ring.

Phil wondered how she could stay on, for she appeared to be sitting right on the animal's sloping hip.

The band struck up a lively tune, the gray horse began a slow, methodical gallop. The first rise of the horse bounded Little Dimples to her knees, and the next to her feet.

With a merry little "yip! yip!" she began executing a fairy-like dance, keeping time with her whip, which she held grasped in both hands.

"Beautiful!" cried Phil, bringing his hands together sharply. In fact, he had never seen such artistic riding. The girl seemed to be treading on air, so lightly did her feet touch the rosined back of the ring horse.

Little Dimples heard and understood. She flashed a brilliant smile at Phil and tossed her whip as a salute. Phil had never met her, but they both belonged to the same great family, and that was sufficient.

His face broke out into a pleased smile at her recognition and the lad touched his hat lightly, settling back against the center pole to watch Dimples' riding, which had only just begun. It made him laugh outright to see her big picture hat bobbing up and down with the motion of the horse.

"Works just like an elephant's ear when the flies are thick," was the lad's somewhat inelegant comparison.

But now Dimples removed the hat, sending it spinning to the ringmaster, who, in turn, tossed it to an attendant. The real work of the act was about to start. Phil never having seen the young woman ride, did not know what her particular specialty was. Just now he was keenly observing, that he might learn her methods.

Dimples' next act was to jump through a series of paper hoops. This finished, she leaped to the ring, and, taking a running start, vaulted to the back of her horse.

"Bravo!" cried Phil, which brought another brilliant smile from the rider. She knew that it was not herself, but her work, that had brought this expression of approval from the Circus Boy, whom she already knew of by hearing some of the other performers tell of his achievements since he joined the circus less than a year ago.

"The ring is rough. I should have thought they would have leveled it down better," Phil grumbled, noting the uneven surface of the sawdust circle with critical eyes. "I'll bet Mr. Sparling hasn't seen that, or he would have raised a row. But still Dimples seems very sure on her feet. I wonder if she does any brilliant stunts?"

As if in answer to the lad's question, the "tweetle" of the ringmaster's whistle brought everything to a standstill under the big top. Even the band suddenly ceased playing. Then Phil knew that something worthwhile was coming.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" announced the ringmaster, holding up his right hand to attract the eyes of the spectators to him, "Little Miss Dimples, The Queen of the Sawdust Arena, will now perform her thrilling, death-defying, unexcelled, unequaled feat of turning a somersault on the back of a running horse. I might add in this connection that Little Miss Dimples is the only woman who ever succeeded in going through this feat without finishing up by breaking her neck. The band will cease playing while this perilous performance is on, as the least distraction on the part of the rider might result fatally for her. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Little Miss Dimples," concluded the ringmaster, with a comprehensive wave of the hand toward the young woman and her gray ring horse.

Dimples dropped to the ring, swept a courtesy to the audience, then leaped to the animal's back with a sharp little "yip! yip!"

During the first round of the ring she removed the bridle, tossing it mischievously in Phil's direction. He caught it deftly, placing it on the ground beside him, then edged a little closer to the ring that he might the better observe her work.

The ring horse started off at a lively gallop, the rider allowing her elbows to rise and fall with the motion of the horse, in order that she might the more thoroughly become a part of the animal itself--that the motion of each should be the same.

Suddenly Dimples sprang nimbly to her feet, tossing her riding whip to the waiting hands of the ringmaster.

Phil half scrambled to his feet as he saw her poise for a backward somersault. He had noted another thing, too. She was going to throw herself, it seemed, just as the horse was on the roughest part of the ring. He wondered if she could make it. To him it was a risky thing to try, but she no doubt knew better than he what she was about.

The ringmaster held up his hand as a signal to the audience that the daring act was about to take place.

Phil crept a little nearer.

All at once the girl gracefully threw herself into the air. He judged she had cleared the back of the animal by at least three feet, a high jump to make straight up with unbent knees.

But just as she was leaving the back of the horse, the animal suddenly stumbled, thus turning her halfway around, and for the instant taking her mind from her work. Dimples already had begun to turn backward, but he noted that all at once she stopped turning.

Phil knew what that meant. As show people term it, she had "frozen" in the air. She was falling, head first, right toward the wooden ring curbing.

"Turn! Turn!" cried Phil sharply.

The girl was powerless to do so, while the ringmaster, being on the opposite side of the ring, could be of no assistance to her.

"Turn!" shouted Phil, more loudly this time, giving a mighty spring in the direction of the falling woman.