Chapter XI. Three Cheers and a Tiger
 

"Man--Manager of Car Three?" stammered Phil.

"Yes."

Teddy's eyes grew large.

"That--manager of Car Three?" he said derisively.

Mr. Sparling gave him a stern glance.

"But, Mr. Sparling, I know so little about the work. Of course I am proud and happy to be promoted to so responsible a position, but almost, if not every man on the car, is better equipped for this work than I am."

"They may be more familiar with some of the details, but as a whole I do not agree with your view. In two weeks' time you will have grasped the details, and I will wager that there will not be a better agent in the United States."

The Circus Boy flushed happily.

"You will have to be alive. But I do not need to say that. You always are alive. You will have to fight the railroads constantly, to get your car through on time; you will have to combat innumerable elements that as yet you have not had experience with. However, I have no fear. I know the stuff you are made of. I ought to. I have known you for nearly five years."

"I will do my best, Mr. Sparling."

There was no laughter in the eyes of the Circus Boy now.

"Then again, you are going right into territory where you will have the stiffest kind of opposition. At least five shows are booked for our territory almost from now on."

"Have any of them billed that territory?"

"I think the Wild West Show has. The others are about due there now."

"It is going to be a hand-to-hand conflict, then?"

"Something of that sort," smiled the showman. "I shall expect you to beat them all out."

"You are giving me a big contract."

"I am well aware of that. We all have to do the impossible in the show business. That is a part of the game, and the man who is not equal to it is not a showman."

Phil squared his shoulders a little.

"Then I will be a showman," he said, in a quiet tone.

"That is the talk. That sounds like Phil Forrest. It is usual for shows to have a general agent who has charge of all the advance work, and who directs the cars and the men from some central point. Heretofore I have done all of this myself, but our show is getting so large, and there is so much opposition in the field, that I have been thinking of putting on a general agent next season. However, we will talk that over later."

"And so you are the car manager, eh," quizzed Teddy.

"It seems so."

"Won't I have a snap now?" chuckled the lad.

"Yes; your work will be done with a snap or back you go to Mr. Sparling, young man," laughed Phil. "There will be no drones in this hive."

"What have you been doing?" inquired the owner.

"I'm the dough boy."

"The dough boy?"

"He has been making paste," Phil informed him.

Mr. Sparling laughed heartily.

"I guess we shall have to graduate you from the paste pot and give you a diploma. I cannot afford to pay a man seventy-five dollars a week to mix up flour and water."

"And steam," corrected the irrepressible Teddy.

"Should not some press work be done from this car?" asked Phil.

"By all means. It is of vast importance. Hasn't it been done?"

"No, sir; not since I have been on board. I would suggest that we turn Teddy loose on that; let him call on the newspapers, together with such other work as I may lay out for him. Teddy is a good mixer and he will make friends of the newspaper men easily."

"A most excellent idea. I leave these matters all in your hands. As to matters of detail, in regard to the outside work, I would suggest that you consult Conley freely. He is a good, honest fellow, and had he a better education he would advance rapidly. I intend to promote him next season. Conley told me, this morning, of your brilliant exploit in billing the silo."

"Oh, you saw him this morning? Now I understand why he hurried away and came back all smiles. You--you told him I was to be manager?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"He was as pleased as a child with a new toy. He said you were a winner in the advance game."

"Will he tell the men?"

"No. That will be left for you to do in your own way."

Phil nodded reflectively.

"And now let us go into the details. We will first look over the railroad contracts, together with the livery, hotel and other contracts. I am going to leave you five hundred dollars in cash, and each week you will send in your payroll to the treasurer, who will forward the money by express to cover it. The five hundred is for current expenses. Spend money with a lavish hand, where necessary to advance the interests of the show, and pinch every penny like a miser where it is not necessary. That is the way to run a show."

Phil never forgot the advice.

"And Teddy?"

"Yes, sir."

"You may, in addition to your other duties, act as a sort of office assistant and secretary to Phil. I shall make only one request of you. Write to me every night, giving a full account of the day's doings, with any suggestions or questions that Phil may ask you to make, and enclose this with the report sheet. You understand, Phil, that your regular detailed reports go to the car behind you. The one that comes to me is a brief summary."

"I understand."

"Have you the route?"

"No, sir."

"Perhaps it is in the desk. Yes; here it is. Now and then we shall have to make changes in it, of which I shall advise you, in most instances, by telegraph. Wire me every morning as to your whereabouts so I may keep in touch with you."

"You may depend upon me, sir."

"I know it."

For the next half hour Mr. Sparling and Phil were deeply engaged in poring over the books, the contracts and the innumerable details appertaining to the work of an advance car.

"There, I guess we have touched upon most everything. Of course emergencies will arise daily. Were it not for those anyone could run a car. No two days are alike in any department of the circus business. You will meet all emergencies and cope with them nobly. Of that I am confident. And now, Mr. Philip Forrest, I officially turn over to you Advertising Car Number Three of the Sparling Shows. I wish you good luck and no railroad wrecks. Come and have lunch with me; then I'll be getting back to the show. The rest is up to you."

"Mr. Sparling," said Phil with a slight quaver in his voice, "if I succeed it will be because of the training you have given me. I won't say I thank you, for I do not know whether I do or not. I may make an awful mess of it. In that case I shall suffer a sad fall in your estimation. But it is not my intention to make a mess of it, just the same."

"You won't. Come along, Teddy. We will have a meal, and it won't be at a contract hotel, either," said the showman, with a twinkle in his eyes.

The three left the car. Several of the men had returned from their lunch, and the word quickly spread through the car that Mr. Sparling was there. Rumors of high words between the showman and Snowden were rife, but none appeared to know anything definite as to what had really occurred.

Conley knew, but he preserved a discreet silence.

"I reckon, if they wanted us to know what was going on they would tell us," declared Rosie the Pig. "That's the trouble with these cars. We ain't human. We ain't supposed to know anything."

"Rosie, don't talk. Someday you might make a mistake and really say something worth listening to," advised Slivers.

For some reason the men evinced no inclination to leave the car. They hung about, perhaps waiting for something to turn up. Each felt that there was something in the air, nor were they mistaken.

It was nearly three o'clock when Phil and Teddy returned to the car. Mr. Sparling was not with them. The lads went direct to the office, unlocked the door and entered.

The men looked at each other and nodded as if to say, "I told you so," but none ventured to speak.

After what seemed a long wait Phil stepped from the office, followed by Teddy. They heard the lads coming down the corridor. Phil stopped when he reached the main part of the car. His face was solemn.

"Boys," he began, "I have some news for you. Mr. Sparling has been here today, as you probably know."

Some of the men nodded.

"The next piece of news is that Mr. Snowden has closed with the car. He is no longer manager."

Phil paused, as if to accentuate his words. The men set up a great shout. It was a full minute before they settled down to listen to his further remarks.

"What I am about to say further is the most difficult thing I ever did in my life. I would prefer to turn, or to try to turn, a triple somersault off a springboard. Mr. Sparling has appointed me manager of Car Three. I suppose, instead of Phil Forrest, I shall be referred to as The Boss after this."

The whole crew sprang to their feet.

"Three cheers for The Boss!" shouted the Missing Link.

"Hip, hip, hooray! Tiger!" howled the crew, while Phil stood blushing like a girl. Teddy was swelling with pride.

"I'm it, too," he chimed in, tapping his chest significantly.

"Boys," continued Phil, "I probably know less about the actual work of the advance than any man here. Anyone of you can give me points."

"No, we can't," interrupted several voices at once.

"I am also younger than any of you. I know a great deal about the business back with the show, but not much of what should be done ahead. But I am going to know all about it in a very short time. While I shall be the Boss, I am going to be the friend of every man here. You are not going to be abused. Just so long as you do your work you will be all right. The first man caught shirking his work closes then and there. But I shall have to look to you for my own success. I'll work with you. I understand that we have strong opposition ahead of us. Let's you and me take off our coats, tighten our belts, sail in with our feet, our hands and our heads--and beat the enemy to a standstill! Will you do it?"

"We will, you bet!" shouted the crew.

"We will beat them to a frazzle," added Rosie the Pig.

"That will be about all from you, Rosie," rebuked the Missing Link.

"This car leaves at eight o'clock this evening. After we get started, come in and I will give you all your assignments for tomorrow. My friend, Teddy, has been promoted to the position of press agent with the car, and a few other things at the same time. Henry, you will attend to the paste-making, beginning tomorrow. This being a billboard town, I am going to skip it and get into the territory where the opposition is stronger. I have arranged with the local billposters to take care of the work here."

"That is all I have to say just now, boys. When you have anything to ask or to suggest, you know where the office is. Mr. Conley, will you please come to the office now? We have quite a lot to talk over."

The men gave three rousing cheers.

Phil Forrest had made his debut as a car manager in a most auspicious manner, at the same time winning the loyalty of every man on the car.