Chapter IV. Their Curiosity Aroused
 

"Phil, I have an idea that you are wondering where we are bound for?" said Mr. Sparling, with a merry twinkle in his eyes.

"I will confess that I have been somewhat curious," smiled the boy. "From the route I could not imagine where you were heading."

"You are not the only one who has been guessing. Our rivals are positively nervous over the movements of this show. They think we are going to jump into the Mississippi River, or something of the sort--"

"Or float on it," added Phil.

Mr. Sparling eyed him keenly.

They were in the owner's private tent, discussing the business of the show itself, as these two did every day of the season, for Mr. Sparling had come to place no little reliance on the judgment of his young Circus Boy.

"What made you say that, Phil?"

"I had no particular reason. Perhaps I thought I was saying something funny."

"Nothing very funny about that," answered the showman.

"I agree with you."

"I thought perhaps you might ask me where we were routed for this season."

"And I thought you would tell me when you wished me to know," answered the boy.

"It was not because I did not wish you to know our route, Phil. I rather thought I should like to give you a surprise."

"Yes, sir."

"We are going to surprise the show world at the same time, so you see you are not the only one who will be surprised."

"You arouse my curiosity, Mr. Sparling."

"Still you refuse to ask where we are going," replied the showman, laughing heartily. "I have made my arrangements with the utmost secrecy because I did not wish any of the opposition shows to get a line on my plans. Not one of them has done so thus far. Tomorrow they will know. Or at least by the day after tomorrow. I am not going to let you in on my little secret today either. Do you think you can possess your soul in patience until then?"

"I think there will be no trouble about that. If I have restrained my curiosity so far I surely can control it until tomorrow. We show at Milledgeville tomorrow, do we not?"

"That's what the route card says and I guess the route card is right."

"Small town, is it not?"

"Yes, one of the little river towns. Do you know much about the river?"

"Nothing except what I observed when we played the southern states last season. I should like to take a trip down the river, and hope I may have an opportunity to do so one of these days."

"You'll have the opportunity, all right."

"Sir?"

"I said you would have the opportunity."

"I hope so."

"Perhaps sooner than you think, too. How is your friend, Tucker, getting along?"

"Pretty well, thank you. I guess he is working better this season than he did last. His acts are much more finished, don't you think so?"

"Yes. I noticed that he nearly finished a clown with one of his acts the other night," answered Mr. Sparling dryly, whereat both laughed heartily. "Have you had any trouble, with any of the men?"

"Do you mean myself, personally?"

"Either or both of you?"

"Some slight disagreements. What trouble we have had has been due wholly to our own fault," answered Phil manfully.

"With whom?"

"I would rather not say anything about it, if you will permit me to remain silent."

"You are a queer boy, Phil."

"So I have been told before," answered the lad, laughing.

"And your friend Teddy is a confounded sight more so. I'm afraid he would have a hard time with most any other show in spite of the fact that he is an excellent performer."

"I have told him as much."

"Oh, you have?"

"Yes, sir."

"What does he say?"

"He doesn't take my advice very seriously, I am afraid. Teddy is all right at heart, however."

"I agree with you."

Phil then related to Mr. Sparling the incident of the dressing tent, when Teddy gathered the daisies to place on the "grave" in memory of Mrs. Waite's soldier dead, to all of which the showman listened with thoughtful face. Mr. Sparling rose, walked to the door of the tent, then returned and sat down.

"You never knew that I was a soldier, too, did you, Phil?"

"No, sir. Were you really?"

"Yes. I fought with the South. I was a drummer boy in a Georgia regiment," said the showman reminiscently. "Perhaps had I been older I might have done differently, but I loved my Sunny South and I love it now."

"So do I," added Phil Forrest fervently.

"But the war is over. It is the show business that concerns us most intimately at the present moment. I want to say that you are doing excellent work on the flying trapeze this season."

"Thank you. I am doing my best."

"You always do. Whatever you attempt you go at with all the force you possess, and that is no slight factor, either. I have been waiting to talk seriously with you for sometime. You have finished your studies, have you not?"

"Yes."

"What are your plans for the future?"

"I have no immediate plans beyond continuing in the show business. I am trying to lay up some money so I can go into business some of these days."

"What business?"

"Circus business, of course. It is the only business I know anything about, and I know very little about that, it seems to me."

"Let me tell you something, Phil. Nine-tenths of the men who have been in it nearly all their lives know no more about the circus business than you do. Many of them not so much. You are a born showman. Take my word for it, you have a very brilliant career before you. You spoke, sometime ago, about wishing to go to college."

"I should like to go."

"Under the circumstances I would advise against it, though I am a thorough believer in the value of an education. You have a good start now. Were you to go to college you would spend four years there and when you finished, you would find that the show world had been moving right along just the same. You would be out of it, so to speak. You would have been standing still so far as the circus was concerned, for four full years. Think it over and some of these days we will have another talk."

"What would you advise, Mr. Sparling?"

"I don't advise. I am simply pointing out the facts for you to consider, that's all."

"I thank you, Mr. Sparling. I already owe you a debt of gratitude. I shall never forget all you have done for Teddy and myself, and I am sure Teddy also appreciates it."

"You owe me nothing."

"Oh, yes, I do! I shall never be able wholly to pay the debt, either."

"We will drop that side of the case, my boy. You will want to pack all your things for moving tonight."

"You mean my dressing-room trunk?"

"I mean all your belongings."

Phil looked his surprise.

"I have special reference to your stuff in the sleeper."

"May I ask why, Mr. Sparling."

"Because tonight will be the last night you will spend on the sleeping car for sometime, in all probability."

"I don't understand. Am I to leave the show?"

"Leave the show?"

"Yes, sir."

"I should say not. You leave the show? I would rather lose any ten men in it than to have you go away. I trust you never will leave it for any length of time--at least not while I am in the business. No, you are going on a little trip--the show is going on a little trip. That is the surprise I have in store for you. You will know tomorrow morning. Not another word now, Phil Forrest. Run along and get ready for the performance."

The Circus Boy hurried over to the dressing tent, full of curiosity and anticipation of what awaited him on the morrow. Strange to say, Phil had not the least idea what the plan of the owner of the show might be.

The surprise was to be a complete one.