Chapter II. In Their Home Town
 

"Hey, Phil!"

"What is it, Teddy?"

"Wake up! We are in the old town again."

Phil Forrest pulled aside the curtain and peered out from his berth into the railroad yards, the bright May sunshine flooding the old familiar scenes at Edmeston. Far off he could just make out the red brick chimney of his Uncle Abner's home.

What recollections it brought back to Phil Forrest--recollections that went back still further to a sweet face and laughing eyes his mother!

Phil dropped the curtain and lay face down in the pillow for a moment.

"I say, Phil."

"What is it?" demanded the lad in a muffled voice.

"Guess who's out there?"

"I don't know."

"The gang's out there."

"Who?"

"The gang. The whole high school crowd."

"Oh!"

"They're looking for us. Lucky we're on the last section, for if it was dark, we couldn't make much of a splurge getting off the train. Aren't you going to get up?"

"Yes."

Phil slowly pulled himself from his berth, then began drawing on his clothes. Teddy was already up and nearly dressed, full of expectation of what was before him. For Phil there was something that tinged his joy with sadness, though he could not make up his mind why it should be so. His reverie was broken in upon by the voice of Teddy Tucker.

"Come, hurry up!"

"I am all ready now," answered Phil. "Have you washed?"

"You bet. I always wash the first thing in the morning."

Together the Circus Boys stepped out on the platform. There, lined up by the side of the track, were their companions and school fellows waiting to welcome them.

The high school boys uttered a shout when they espied Phil and Teddy.

"How'dy, fellows!" greeted Teddy, posing on the car platform for a moment, that they might gaze upon him admiringly.

Phil was already on the ground, hurrying toward the boys with both hands outstretched. A moment more and the two lads had been grabbed by their schoolmates and literally overwhelmed, while a crowd of villagers stood off against a pile of lumber, laughing and calling out greetings to the Circus Boys.

Phil and Teddy, as soon as they were able to get away, hurried to the circus lot for their breakfast. There they found a great crowd of people whom they knew, and for a few minutes they were kept busy shaking hands, after which the boys with faces wreathed in smiles, proudly entered the cook tent. Teddy glanced up quizzically when they got inside.

"Well I guess we're some, eh, Phil?"

"I guess so. I hope everything goes all right today. I should die of mortification if anything were to happen to our acts. You want to keep your mind right on your work today. Don't pay any attention to the audience. Remember a whole lot of people are coming to this show today just because they are interested in you and me."

"I guess I know how to perform," sputtered Teddy.

"I haven't said you do not. I know you do, but I don't want you to forget that you do."

"Look out for yourself. I'll take care of myself," growled Teddy.

"I'm going to."

Having finished their breakfast the boys started for the village, to call on Mrs. Cahill, their guardian and the custodian of their earnings. As they were leaving the grounds, Phil paused suddenly.

"Look there," he said, pointing to Mr. Sparling's office tent.

"Well, if it isn't Billy Ford, the president of our class," breathed Teddy. "I didn't see him at the train when we came in this morning; did you?"

"No. He wasn't there."

"Now, what do you suppose he is doing in Mr. Sparling's tent?"

"I haven't the least idea unless he is trying to find out where we are. Hey, Billy!"

Billy Ford paused at the sound of the familiar call; then the Circus Boys hurried toward him. Billy went suddenly red in the face as if he were very much embarrassed.

"What you doing in there?" demanded Teddy.

"Why--why--perhaps I was trying to join the show," stammered Billy.

"We wouldn't have you. You and I couldn't travel in the same show. They'd fire us both."

"Why?" questioned Billy, now regaining his presence of mind.

" 'Cause, between us we'd put the show out of business."

"I believe you would," nodded Phil.

"Where you going, boys?"

"Mrs. Cahill's."

"Then I'll walk down that way with you. What time do you get through at night?"

"We finish our last act about ten o'clock," answered Phil. "Why?"

"Oh, nothing much. I just wanted to know."

Phil shot a swift, suspicious glance at the schoolboy, but Billy's face bore an expression as serene as the May morning of that very day.

Mr. Sparling hailed the lads as they were leaving the lot.

"You may be excused from parade today, both of you. You no doubt will want to spend all the time you can with your friends."

"Thank you," smiled Phil. "There's the finest man a fellow ever worked for."

"Worked? Do you call performing in a circus work?"

"Well, at least it is a pretty good imitation of work, Billy."

"I used to think just like you do," added Teddy rather ruefully.

"Is it really work then?"

"Oh, no; it's just play. Come to the show and you will see us play."

"By the way," inquired Phil, "the fellows are all coming this afternoon, I suppose?"

"Yes, but not this afternoon."

"Evening?"

"Yes."

"That will be fine. We have a short run tonight, so the boss will not be in any hurry to move the show. You'll see it all."

"Why, don't you always give it all?"

"No. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, or when we have a long run before us, Mr. Sparling cuts some of the acts out entirely, and shortens others. But, of course, the audience doesn't know this."

"Is that so?" wondered the surprised Billy.

"Yes. Are you boys all going to sit together?"

"Yes. We'll be where we can see you. And the girls are going to be there, too. I reckon the whole school will be on hand."

"How about Uncle Abner--will he go to the show, do you think?"

"I know where you'll find him," spoke up Teddy.

"Where?"

"You'll find him hiding behind the hen house watching the parade go by. He won't dare show himself after the way the clowns had fun with him when the show was here before."

"Poor Uncle Abner! I must go over and see him after we have called on Mrs. Cahill."

Arriving at Mrs. Cahill's, they found her out in the yard, arrayed in her best dress in honor of their coming, and it was a joyful meeting between the three. In a short time, however, Teddy grew restless and decided that he would wander about town and call on his other friends.

"I'll tell you what let's do, Teddy," suggested Phil.

"What?"

"You come back before parade time and we three will sit on the front door step and watch the parade go by, just as we used to do before we went into the show business. I'll run over to see Uncle Abner in the meantime, and we will both be back here by half-past ten. The parade will not get along before then."

"Yes, do, boys," urged Mrs. Cahill. "I'll have a lunch for you after the parade. You will like that, will you not?"

"I should say we shall," laughed Phil. "But, I had rather thought you might like to eat with us under the circus tent."

"Oh, my, my! Eat with the circus?"

"Not with the animals, he doesn't mean," corrected Teddy. "He means we should like to have you eat with we performers."

"Yes, with the performers," grinned Phil.

"Can I eat there with you just as well after the afternoon performance?"

"Surely."

"Then we will have our noon meal here. I have some fresh molasses cookies already baked for you."

"Cookies?" Teddy's eyes brightened.

"Yes; do you want some now?"

"I always want cookies. Never knew a time when I didn't. I want 'em when I'm awake, and I want 'em when I'm asleep."

He got a double handful in short order.

"Well, I'm off!" announced Teddy.

"How about the parade? Will you come back and see it from here?"

"Yes; I guess that would be some fun. I can make faces at the other performers who have to work. Yes; I'll come back."

"Don't forget about the donkey," called Phil. "When are you going to take him over to the horse tent?"

"I'm not going to give myself away by leading that fright through the streets. I've fixed it with one of the hostlers to smuggle him over to the stable tent," grinned Teddy.

"Taking him in this afternoon?"

"Not I. Saving that for a grand surprise tonight. What are you going to do to surprise the fellows?"

"I hadn't thought. Nothing quite so sensational as your feat will be, I guess," laughed Phil.

In the course of an hour both lads had returned to Mrs. Cahill's humble home. But while they were away from the show grounds, the owner of the show, without the knowledge of the lads, had paid a visit to the principal of the school and was back on the lot in time to head the parade when it finally started.

"Kinder wish I had gone in the parade," regretted Teddy.

"Why?"

"Good place to show off."

"You have a much better one."

"Where?"

"In the ring. Anybody can ride a horse in a parade, but not everyone can perform on the flying rings and leap over elephants to boot."

Teddy instinctively threw out his chest.

"You're right, at that. Hark!"

"Yes; they are coming. I can hear Billy English blow the big bass horn. You could hear him over three counties, I really believe."

Laughing and chatting, the boys settled themselves on Mrs. Cahill's hospitable doorstep to await the arrival of the parade which could be heard far off on the other side of the village.

Now and then the high, metallic notes of the calliope rose above all the rest, bringing a glint of pride to the eyes of Teddy Tucker.

"I just love that steam music machine."

"Well, I must say that I do not admire your taste," laughed Phil. "It's the most hideous discord of noises I ever heard. I never did like the steam piano, but a circus wouldn't be a circus without it."

"Nope," agreed Teddy with emphasis.

Down the street a gorgeously colored rainbow slowly reached around a bend and began straightening away toward the Cahill home. The parade was approaching.

As the gay procession drew nearer the boys began to evince some of the enthusiasm that they had known before they themselves had become a part of the big show.

"Remember the parade two years ago, Phil?" asked Mrs. Cahill.

"I could not very well forget it. That was a red letter day in my life, the day when I fell into the show business."

"And that wasn't all you fell in either," added Teddy.

"What else did I fall in?"

"In a ditch when you stopped the runaway pony."

Phil did not laugh. He was thinking.

"That was a lucky fall, too."

"Why?"

"Because it was the means of giving you and me our start in the circus business."

"Hurrah! Here they come. Now see me make faces at them when they go by," said Teddy.

The Cahill home was near the outskirts of the village, and as the golden chariot of the band, glistening in the bright morning sunlight, approached, the lads could not repress an exclamation of delight.

"I used to think the band wagon was solid gold," breathed Teddy.

"When did you find out differently?"

"That day, two years ago, when I scraped off some of the gold with my knife and found it was nothing but wood," grunted Teddy in a disgusted tone.

"What is that band wagon trying to do?" demanded Phil suddenly.

"Guess they are going to turn around," said Teddy.

The six white horses attached to the band wagon slowly drew out of the line just before reaching the Cahill home, and pointed toward the roadside fence. The boys could not understand what the move meant. An instant later the leaders straightened out and began moving along the side of the road close to the fence.

They slowly drew up to the door yard, coming to a stop at the far end of it.

"Wha--wha--" stammered Teddy.

"They are going to serenade us," cried Phil. "That's Mr. Sparling all over. What do you think of that, Mrs. Cahill? You never were serenaded by a circus band before, were you?"

"N-n-no," answered the widow, a little tremulously.

The band wagon drew up a few feet further, coming to a stop again just to the left of the dooryard gate, so as not to interfere with the party's view of the parade.

"There's Mr. Sparling," shouted Phil, as the owner in his handsome carriage drawn by four black horses, came abreast of the yard.

Both boys sprang up and cheered him in their enthusiasm, to which the showman responded by taking off his hat, while the band struck up "Yankee Doodle."

It was a glorious moment for the Circus Boys, and they were even more surprised and gratified by what followed a few moments later.