Chapter XII. Trying Out a New Act
 

"Well, Dimples, I hope you and I do not make sad exhibitions of ourselves this evening."

"I hope not, Phil. I am sure you will not, but I am not so sure of myself."

The afternoon performance had passed off without incident, save that the performers had given a much better show than usual. Everyone felt fresh and strong after his Sunday rest.

It was now evening. The band was playing its loudest, the clowns were fast and furious in their fun, and the animals out in the menagerie tent were doing their part toward raising a din that might have been heard at least half a mile away.

Phil Forrest had already been in for his trapeze act, and after changing his costume had come out again for the bareback riding number, to which he always looked forward with pleasurable anticipation.

At the same time Little Dimples, the star female bareback rider, had come up and joined him and the two fell to talking, as they always did whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Long ago the circus woman had constituted herself the "mother of the Circus Boys," as she expressed it. She always insisted on doing their sewing for them, helped them to plan their costumes and gave them friendly advice on all occasions.

The act which they were entering the ring to perform on this particular evening was a new one. The two had been practicing it since the beginning of the season--practicing in secret that they might put it on as a surprise to Mr. Sparling.

This was what is known as a "brother and sister act." That is, the strong man and woman proposed to perform on the back of the same horse, and at the same time.

The brother and sister act was not a new act by any means, but they had added ideas of their own to it until it had become novel. They had essayed some daring and sensational features which were sure to create a sensation with any audience before which the act was performed.

"It is a small town," said Dimples. "We don't care if we do fall off, do we, Phil, my boy?"

"We most certainly do care. At least, I do. Where's your professional pride, Dimples?" demanded Phil, with an indulgent smile.

"In my feet, I guess," answered the woman, with a merry laugh. "I am making my living with my feet. Were they not so sure, enabling me to stand on the slippery back of a ring horse, I should not be drawing the fine salary that I now have. Neither would you."

"Here we are at the ring," interrupted Phil. "The audience is applauding us before we begin. They must be expecting something out of the ordinary."

As a matter of fact, the two riders made a very pleasing appearance as they entered the ring. Phil, slender, athletic, manly; Dimples exquisitely dainty, looking almost as fragile as a piece of Dresden china, they were a pair to attract attention anywhere.

The spectators did not even dream that Little Dimples was a married woman, with a son almost as old as Phil Forrest himself.

They kicked off their slippers, chalked their feet, then Phil assisted his companion to the back of the horse.

The band struck up a lively tune, the ringmaster cracked his whip, and Phil leaped to the back of the ring horse beside Dimples.

"We are off," smiled the lad.

"I hope not," laughed the woman happily.

Further conversation for the moment was interrupted, for the time had arrived to begin their work in earnest. The two threw themselves into a series of graceful positions, neither very difficult nor very dangerous, but to Mr. Sparling, who was watching their performance from a seat directly opposite to them, their work was more attractive than anything of the kind he ever had seen.

The next time they started in, after the brief intermission, Phil and Dimples varied their performance by leaping from the ring horse, then, taking a running start, jumping to the back of the galloping animal. Only once did Phil miss, and Dimples not at all.

She greeted his failure with a merry laugh that goaded the lad to renewed efforts.

"Have you forgotten how to jump?" teased Dimples.

"I'll show you whether I have or not. Keep him up close to the ring curb and stand back as far as you can."

"What are you going to do?" she questioned suspiciously.

"Going to prove to you that I have not forgotten how to jump," answered Phil, with determination.

"Please don't do anything foolish," warned the dainty rider. "It is too early in the season to break your neck. Just think what you would miss were you to do so this early--think what I should miss. Come up here and be sensible--that's a good boy."

The ringmaster paid no attention to their chatter, which was in tones too low for the audience to catch.

Phil placed the little jumping board in place, upon which the riders step just as they are leaping to the back of the ring horses. Then the lad backed up.

"Keep him up lively," he said to the ringmaster.

All at once the lad started on a brisk run across the sawdust arena.

"Yip!" encouraged Dimples.

"Yip! Yip!" answered Phil.

The lad leaped up into the air just as if he had been hurled there on springs. As he leaped his legs were curled up under him, and his working mate saw that he was not going to land on the back of the horse at all. Still she dared not speak to him, now. She knew that to attract Phil's attention at that moment might mean a bad fall for him, for a performer must have his mind on his work when attempting any dangerous feat.

To the surprise of everyone who witnessed the act, Phil Forrest cleared the back of the ring horse, fairly flying past the astonished eyes of Little Dimples.

He landed lightly well outside of the ring curbing, on the soft turf.

The audience broke out into a roar of applause and a ripple of hand clapping ran over the arena from the appreciative performers. They wholly forgot themselves in their surprise and approval of the feat.

"Wonderful!" breathed Mr. James Sparling. "That boy is worth a thousand dollars a week to any show."

"Have I forgotten how to jump?" demanded the Circus Boy exultingly, as the ring horse slowed down to a walk, Phil stepping along by the side of it looking up into the eyes of Little Dimples.

"Indeed you have not. It was wonderful. Don't you ever dare try it again, however. Why, suppose you had dropped on an iron tent stake? You would have at least been disabled for life."

"I presume I should have been. I happened to know there were no stakes where I landed. I made sure of that before I made the leap."

"You are a wise boy, even if an imprudent one. We try the shoulder stand next, do we not?"

"Yes."

"I haven't the routine in my mind yet. Don't you dare let me fall."

"Supposing we save the shoulder stand until the last. Let's do the somersault first," suggested Phil.

"Very well; I don't care."

The music started and the little couple began their work again.

Dimples sprang up to the hip of the Circus Boy, leaning far out to one side, holding to one of Phil's hands, a very pretty though not perilous feat for a sure-footed ride.

This they varied by throwing themselves into several different poses.

"Now the turn," breathed Phil.

He deftly lifted the little woman down to the horse just in front of himself. Having done so, Phil grasped Dimples firmly about the waist with his strong, muscular young hands.

"If you drop me I'll never speak to you again."

"I shall not drop you. You know the cue?"

"Yes."

The lad nodded to the ringmaster, indicating that the latter was to urge the horse on to a faster gallop.

"Now what are those two children going to do?" wondered the owner of the show. "One is as daring as the other. It's a wonder they have gone along without knocking themselves out. I believe they are going to do a turn."

That was exactly what they were preparing. "Now," said Phil sharply.

The pair rose from the back of the ring horse as one person. They leaped gracefully and deliberately into the air, doubled their legs under them and performed one of the most graceful somersaults that had ever been seen in the Sparling shows, landing lightly and surely on the resined back of the old ring horse.

Dimples sat down, and Phil, dropping lightly to the ground, threw a kiss to the audience.

The spectators, fully appreciating what had been done, went fairly wild in their enthusiasm.

Mr. Sparling was no less so. In his excitement he forgot time and place and ran into the ring, where he threw an arm about Phil Forrest, giving him a fatherly hug.

Dimples pouted prettily.

"That's what I call partiality," she complained.

Mr. Sparling promptly lifted her from the back of her horse, and stood the blushing little performer on the sawdust by the side of Phil.

How the spectators did applaud, many standing up in their seats waving hats and handkerchiefs in their excitement and enthusiasm!

Mr. Sparling was always doing these little, intensely human things, not with any idea of winning applause, but out of sheer big-heartedness. They did much toward spreading the reputation of the Sparling show and popularizing it as well.

"Ladies and gentlemen," announced the showman when quiet had once more been restored, "you will pardon me for interrupting the performance, but as the owner of the show I want to say a few words on behalf of my star performers, Little Dimples and Master Phil Forrest."

The audience interrupted him with a cheer.

"The act which you have just witnessed is as great a surprise to me as it could possibly have been to you. It is the first time these two performers ever attempted it in public. I might say, also, that it is the first time to my own knowledge that any performers in the world ever succeeded in getting away with a feat of that sort. I thank you for your approval. The performance will now proceed."

After the applause which this little speech elicited had died away the band once more began to play.

Phil and Dimples commenced a series of acts, jumping from and to the back of the horse whose speed was increased for the purpose.

In the next rest Dimples called the attention of her associate to the clown Diaz, who was not far from them at the moment.

Dimples had been in the show business so long that her intuition had become very keen. Nothing of consequence happened under the big top, or beneath the low-roofed dressing tents, that she did not know of, or at least surmise. Especially keen was she in all matters relating to Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker, and her interest had in many instances served to save the lads from unpleasant consequence.

"I don't like that fellow, Phil," Dimples remarked, referring to Diaz.

"Why not?"

"I think he is a bad man."

"I hope not. He is impulsive and--"

"Revengeful and ugly," finished Dimples.

"As I said, he is impulsive, like all of his race."

"What has been going on with you lately, Phil?"

"I don't understand what you mean?"

"Oh, yes, you do."

"You mean with regard to Diaz?"

"That's what I mean. Have you had any trouble?"

"We had a slight disagreement," admitted the lad.

"Tell me about it."

"Wait! There goes the music."

The ringmaster's whip cracked its warning and the gray horse started at a slow gallop. Phil was up beside his companion with agility and grace. The first round or two they stood poised on the horse, while Phil related briefly what had taken place between himself and Diaz.

"Come, aren't you two going to get to work?" demanded the ringmaster.

"You attend to your own work. We'll look out for ours," snapped Dimples.

"Yes, and if you think you can do better just come up and try," added Phil, with a good-natured laugh. "Up, Dimples!"

He threw her lightly to his shoulders, on which the woman stood poised, making as graceful and pretty a picture as had ever been seen in a circus ring. Fragile as she was, it seemed as if Phil were all too slender to support her weight.

The act brought a whirlwind of applause.

"You look out for him, Phil. I--"

"Jump, Dimples!"

The ring horse had suddenly stumbled, its nose plowing up the sawdust in a cloud.

Phil, with rare presence of mind, lifted the feet from his shoulders and hurled the girl far from him.

"Land on your feet!" he shouted, then Phil plunged off, head first.