Chapter I. Under Canvas Again
 

"I reckon the fellows will turn out to see us tomorrow night, Teddy."

"I hope so, Phil. We'll show them that we are real circus performers, won't we?"

Phil Forrest nodded happily.

"They know that already, I think. But we shall both feel proud to perform in our home town again. They haven't seen us in the ring since the day we first joined the show two years ago, and then it was only a little performance."

"Remember the day I did a stunt in front of the circus billboard back home?"

"And fell in the ditch, head first? I remember it," and Phil Forrest laughed heartily.

"You and I weren't circus men then, were we?"

"No."

"But we are now."

"I guess we are," nodded Phil with emphasis. "Still, we have something to learn yet. We are a couple of lucky boys, you and I, Teddy Tucker. Had it not been for Mr. Sparling we might still have been doing chores for our board in Edmeston."

"Instead, we are getting our envelopes with sixty dollars apiece in them from the little red ticket wagon every Tuesday morning, eh?"

"Just so."

"I never thought I'd be able to earn so much money as that in a whole year," reflected Teddy.

"Nor I."

"Do you think we'll get any more 'raises' this season?"

"I haven't the least idea that we shall. You know our contracts are signed for the season at sixty dollars a week. That surely should be enough to satisfy us. We shall be able to save a whole lot of money, this year; and, if we have good luck, in five years more we'll be able to have a little show of our own."

Teddy agreed to this with a reflective nod.

"What kind of show?"

"Well, that remains to be seen," laughed Phil. "We shall be lucky to have most any kind."

"Do you know what sort I'd like to have?"

"No. What kind?"

"Wild West show, a regular Buffalo Bill outfit, with wild Indians, cowboys, bucking ponies and whoop! whoop! Hi-yi-yi! You know?"

Teddy's eyes were glowing with excitement, while a dull red glow showed beneath the tan on his face.

"I wouldn't get so excited about it," answered Phil, highly amused.

"How'd you like that kind?"

"Not at all. It's too rough. Give me the circus every time, with its life, its color, it's--oh, pshaw! What's the use talking about it? Is there anything in the world more attractive than those tents over there, with the flags of every nation flying from center and quarter poles? Is there, Teddy?"

"Well, no; I guess that's right."

For a moment the lads were silent. They were sitting beneath a spreading maple tree off, on the circus lot, a few rods from where the tents were being erected. A gentle breeze was stirring the flags, billowing the white canvas of the tents in slow, undulating waves.

"And to think that we belong to that! Do you know, sometimes I think it is all a dream, and I'm afraid I shall suddenly wake up to find myself back in Edmeston with Uncle Abner Adams driving me out of the house with a stick."

Phil's face grew solemn as those unhappy days under his uncle's roof came back to him in a flood of disquieting memories.

"Don't wake up, then," replied Teddy.

"I think perhaps we had better both wake up if we expect to get any breakfast. The red flag is flying on the cook tent, which means that breakfast is ready--in fact, breakfast must be pretty well over by this time. First thing we know the blue flag will suddenly appear in its place, and you and I will have to hustle downtown for something to eat. It will be parade time pretty soon, too."

"Breakfast? Say, Phil, I'd forgotten all about breakfast."

"There must be something wrong with you, then, if you forget when it's meal time. As for myself, I have an appetite that would put the Bengal tiger to shame. Come along."

"I'm with you. I'll show you whether my appetite has a reef in it or not. I can eat more than the living skeleton can, and for a thin man he's got anything stopped for appetite that I ever saw," answered Teddy Tucker, scrambling to his feet and starting for the cook tent.

Yes; Teddy Tucker and Phil Forrest are the same boys who, two seasons before, began their circus career by joining a road show, each in a humble capacity. It will be remembered how in "The Circus boys on the Flying Rings," Teddy and Phil quickly rose to be performers in the ring; how Phil, by his coolness and bravery, saved the life of one of the performers at the imminent risk of losing his own; how he saved the circus from a great pecuniary loss, as well as distinguishing himself in various other ways.

In "The Circus Boys Across the Continent," the lads won new laurels in their chosen career, when Phil became a bareback rider, scoring a great hit at his first performance. It will be recalled too, how the circus lad proved himself a real hero at the wreck of the dining car, saving the lives of several persons, finally being himself rescued by his companion, Teddy Tucker.

The Great Sparling Combined Shows had been on the road a week, and by this time the various departments had gotten down to fairly good working order, for, no matter how perfect such an organization may be, it requires several days for the show people to become used to working together. This extends even to the canvasmen and roustabouts. After being a few weeks out they are able to set the tents in from half an hour to an hour less time than it takes during the first two or three stands of the season.

The next stand was to be Edmeston, the home of the two Circus Boys. The lads were looking forward with keen expectation to the moment when, clad in tights and spangles, they would appear before their old school fellows in a series of daring aerial flights.

The lads had spent the winter at school and now only one year more was lacking to complete their course at the high school that they had been attending between circus seasons, practicing in their gymnasium after school hours.

"I'd like to invite all the boys of our class to come to the show on passes. Do you suppose Mr. Sparling would let me?"

"I am afraid you had better not ask him," laughed Phil. "If you were running a store do you think you would ask the crowd to come over and help themselves to whatever they wanted?"

"Well, no-o."

"I thought not."

"But this is different."

"Not so much so. It would be giving away seats that could be sold and that probably will be sold. No; I guess the boys had better pay for their seats."

Teddy looked disappointed.

"Don't you think it is worth fifty cents to see us perform?" queried Phil.

Teddy grinned broadly. The idea appealed to him in a new light.

"That's so. I guess it's worth more than fifty cents, at that. I guess I don't care if they do have to pay, but I want them to come to the show. What do you suppose I've been working two years for, if it wasn't to show off before the fellows? Haven't you?"

"No."

"What then?"

"Why, what do you think?"

"I don't think. It's too hot to think this morning."

"All right. Wait till someday when the weather is cooler; then think the matter over," laughed Phil, hurrying on toward where breakfast was waiting for them in the cook tent.

The lads were performing the same acts in which they had appeared the previous season; that is, doing the flying rings as a team, while Phil was a bareback rider and Teddy a tumbler. Something had happened to the bucking mule that Teddy had ridden for two seasons, and the manager had reluctantly been forced to take this act from his bill.

"I'm thinking of getting another mule for you, if we can pick up such a thing," said Mr. Sparling at breakfast that morning.

Teddy's eyes twinkled. He had in mind a surprise for the manager, but was not quite ready to tell of his surprise yet. All during the winter the lad had been working with a donkey that he had picked up near Edmeston. His training of the animal had been absolutely in secret, so that none of his school fellows, save Phil, knew anything about it.

"All right," answered Teddy carelessly. "Wait till we get to Edmeston and see what we can pick up there."

Mr. Sparling bent a shrewd, inquiring glance on the impassive face of the Circus Boy. If he suspected Teddy had something in mind that he was not giving voice to, Mr. Sparling did not mention it. By this time he knew both boys well enough to form a pretty clear idea when there was anything of a secret nature in the wind.

"We'll never get another mule like Jumbo," he sighed.

"Hope not," answered Teddy shortly.

"Why not?"

" 'Cause, I don't want to break my neck this season, at least not till after we've passed Edmeston and the fellows have seen perform."

"So that's it, is it?"

"It is. I'm going to show myself tomorrow, and I don't care who knows it."

"If I remember correctly you already have shown yourself pretty thoroughly all the way across the continent."

"And helped fill the big top at the same time," added Teddy, with a shrewd twinkle in his eyes.

Mr. Sparling laughed outright.

"I guess you have a sharp tongue this morning."

"I don't mean to have."

"It's all right. I accept your apology. What's this you say about the fellows--whom do you mean?"

"He means our class at the high school," Phil informed the showman.

"Oh, yes. How many are there in the class?"

"Let me see--how many are there, Teddy?"

"Thirty or forty, not counting the fat boy who's the anchor in the tug of war team. If you count him there are five more."

"I presume they'll all be wanting to come to the show?" questioned Mr. Sparling.

"Any fellow who doesn't come is no friend of mine."

"That's the way to talk. Always have the interest of the show in mind, and you'll get along," smiled the owner.

"We-e-l-l," drawled the lad. "I wasn't just thinking about the interest of the show. I was thinking more about what a figure I'd be cutting before the boys."

Mr. Sparling laughed heartily.

"You are honest at any rate, Master Teddy. That's one thing I like about you. When you tell me a thing I do not have to go about asking others to make sure that you have told me the truth."

"Why shouldn't I? I'm not afraid of you."

"No; that's the worst of it. I should like to see something you really are afraid of."

"I know what he is afraid of," smiled Phil maliciously.

"What?" demanded Mr. Sparling.

"He is afraid of the woman snake charmer under the black top. He's more afraid of her than he is of the snakes themselves. Why, you couldn't get him to shake hands with her if you were to offer him an extra year's salary. There she is over there now, Teddy."

Teddy cast an apprehensive glance at the freak table, where the freaks and side show performers were laughing and chatting happily, the Lady Snake Charmer sandwiched in between the Metal-faced Man and Jo-Jo the Dog-faced Wonder.

"I've been thinking of an idea, Mr. Sparling," said Teddy by way of changing the subject.

Phil glanced at him apprehensively, for Teddy's ideas were frequently attended by consequences of an unpleasant nature.

"Along the usual line young man?"

"Well, no."

"What is your idea?"

"I've been thinking that I should like to sign up as a dwarf for the rest of the season and sit on the concert platform in the menagerie tent. It wouldn't interfere with my other performance," said Teddy in apparent seriousness.

Mr. Sparling leaned back, laughing heartily.

"Why, you are not a dwarf."

"No-o-o. But I might be."

"How tall are you?"

"A little more than five feet," answered the lad with a touch of pride in his tone.

"You are almost a man. Why, Teddy, you are a full twenty inches taller than the tallest dwarf in the show."

Teddy nodded.

"Don't you see you could not possibly be a`dwarf?"

"Oh, yes, I could. All the more reason why I could."

"What kind of a dwarf would you be, may I ask?"

"I could be the tallest dwarf on earth, couldn't I?" asked Teddy, gazing at his employer innocently.

Everyone at the table broke out into a merry peal of laughter, while Teddy Tucker eyed them sadly for a moment; then he too added his laughter to theirs.

"If you were not already getting a pretty big salary for a kid, I'd raise your salary for that," exploded Mr. Sparling.

"You can forget I'm getting so much, if you want to," suggested Teddy humorously.