Chapter XXI. On a Flying Trapeze
 

The lesson lasted Teddy for a few hours; then he forgot all about it. But he was made the butt of the jokes of the dressing tent for several days.

That afternoon Phil, while attending to some correspondence for Mr. Sparling, had occasion to write to a trapeze performer about booking with the Sparling show for the coming season.

"I have been thinking, Mr. Sparling," said Phil, "that I should like to perform on the flying trapeze next season. You know I have been practicing for sometime."

Mr. Sparling glanced up from his papers.

"I'm not surprised. I guess that's the only thing you haven't done in the show thus far."

"I haven't been a fat woman or a living skeleton yet," laughed Phil.

"What can you do on the bars?"

"I can do all that your performers do. Sometimes I think I might be able to do more. I can do passing leaps, two-and-a-halfs, birds' nest and all that sort of thing."

"Is it possible? I had no idea you had gotten that far along."

"Yes. I have been wishing for a chance to see how I could work before an audience."

"Haven't you enough to do already?"

"Well, I suppose I have, but you know I want to get along. The season is nearly closed now, and I shall not have another opportunity before next spring, possibly. As long as you are going to engage some other performers for next year I rather thought it might be a good plan to offer myself for the work."

"Why, Phil, why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't like to."

"You can have anything in this show that you want. You know that, do you not?"

"Yes, sir," answered the Circus Boy in a low tone. "And I thank you very much."

"When do you want to go on?"

"Any time you think best. Would you prefer to have me go through a rehearsal?"

"Not necessary. You have been practicing with Mr. Prentice, the head of the trapeze troupe, haven't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"If you say you are fit, I am willing to take your word for it. In view of the fact that you already have worked with the aerial people all you will have to do will be to go on. I shall enjoy seeing you do so, if you think you can stand the added work."

"I can do so easily. When shall I try it?"

"Whenever you wish."

"What do you say to trying it tonight?"

"Certainly; go on tonight, if you want to. I'll make it a point to be on hand and watch the act."

"Thank you, very much. You are more kind to me than I have any reason to expect."

"No such thing," snapped the showman. "Send Mr. Prentice to me and I will give the necessary orders."

Phil, full of pleasurable anticipation, hurried to convey the good news to Mr. Prentice. The result was that, instead of four performers appearing in the great aerial act that evening, there were five.

Phil shinned the rope to the trapeze perch, hand over hand, the muscles standing out on his arms as he made the ascent, with as much ease as he would walk to the dressing room, and perhaps even with less effort.

Phil, with perfect confidence in himself, swung out and back to give himself the momentum necessary to carry him to where Mr. Prentice was now hanging head down ready to catch him.

The catcher slapped his palms sharply together, the signal that on the return flight Phil was to let go and throw himself into the waiting arms of the other.

In a graceful, curving flight the Circus Boy landed in the iron grip of Mr. Prentice, and on the return sweep sprang lightly into the air, deftly catching his own trapeze bar which carried him to his perch.

Next he varied his performance by swinging off with his back to the catcher, being caught about the waist, then thrown back to meet his trapeze bar.

"He's the most graceful aerial performer I ever saw on a bar," declared Mr. Sparling. "He is a wonder."

The next variation of the act was what is known as a "passing leap," where, while the catcher is throwing one performer back to his trapeze bar, a second one is flying toward the catcher, the two supple bodies passing in the air headed in opposite directions. In this case, his opposite partner was a young woman, the successor to little Zoraya who had been so severely injured earlier in the season.

"Fine, Phil!" she breathed as they passed each other, and the Circus Boy's face took on a pleased smile.

"Try a turn next time," said Mr. Prentice, as he threw Phil lightly into the air toward his trapeze. "Think you can do it?"

"I can try, at least."

Phil got a wide swing and then at a signal from the catcher, shot up into the air. He threw a quick somersault, then stretched out his hands to be caught. He was too low down for Mr. Prentice to reach him and Phil shot toward the net head first.

Though he had lost his bearings during the turn he had not lost his presence of mind.

"Turn!" shouted a voice from below, the watchful ringmaster having observed at once that the lad was falling, and that he was liable to strike on his head in the net with the possible chance of breaking his neck.

Phil understood, then, exactly what his position was, and, with a slight upward tilt of his head, brought his body into position so that he would strike the net on his shoulders.

He hit the net with a smack, bounded high into the air, rounding off his accident by throwing a somersault on the net, bounding up and down a few times on his feet.

The audience, quick to appreciate what he had done, gave Phil a rousing cheer.

He shook his head and began clambering up the rope again.

"What happened to me?" he called across to the catcher.

"You turned too quickly."

"I'll do it right this time."

The band stopped playing, that its silence might emphasize the act. Then Phil, measuring his distance with keen eyes, launched into the air again. But instead of turning one somersault he turned two, landing fairly into the outstretched arms of Mr. Prentice, who gave him a mighty swing, whereat Phil hurled himself into a mad whirl, performing three more somersaults before he struck the net.

The audience howled with delight, and Mr. Sparling rushed forward fairly hugging the Circus Boy in his delight.

"Wonderful!" cried the showman. "You're a sure-enough star this time."