Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
 

"Who is the man in charge of Sparling Advance Car Number Three?" demanded Mr. Starr, manager of "The Greatest Show on Earth."

"A young fellow named Forrest. That is all I know about him," answered the treasurer of the show.

"He used to be a performer and a good one, too," spoke up the assistant manager.

This conversation took place in the office tent of the show that Phil Forrest had been fighting almost ever since he took charge of Car Three.

"He is one of the best bareback riders who ever entered the forty-two foot ring," continued the assistant manager.

"What has he ever done before? I never heard of him."

"He has been with Sparling, I think, about five years. I understand he never did any circus work before that."

"I want that young man," announced the general manager decisively.

"Probably money will get him," smiled the treasurer.

"I do not wish to do anything to offend Sparling, for he is an old friend, and one of the best showmen in the country. I'll write him today, and see what he has to say. That young man, Forrest, or whatever his name may be, is giving us more trouble than we ever had before. He is practically putting our men all out of business. We shall have to change our route, or close, if he keeps on heading off our advance cars."

"It has come to a pretty pass, if a green boy with no previous experience is to defeat us. What is the matter with our advance men?" demanded the assistant manager.

"That is what I should like to know," answered Mr. Starr. "I will write Sparling today about this matter."

Weeks had passed and Car Three had worked its way across the plains, on into the mountainous country. Car managers had again been changed on the yellow car; another car had been sent in ahead of Phil, but to no better purpose than before.

Car Three moved on, making one brilliant dash after another, sometimes winning out by the narrowest margin and apparently by pure luck. Still, Phil Forrest and his loyal crew were never caught napping and were never headed off for more than a day at a time.

The season was drawing to a close. One day Phil received a wire from Mr. Sparling reading:

"Close at Deming, New Mexico, September fifteen."

"Boys, the end is in sight; and I, for one, shall be glad when we are through," announced Phil, appearing in the men's part of the car, where he read the telegram from the owner of the show.

The men set up a cheer.

"Now let's drive the other fellows off the map during these remaining two weeks."

How those men did work! No man on that car overslept during the rest of the trip. Phil seemed not to know the meaning of the word "tired." All hours of the night found him on duty, either watching the movements of his car or laying out work ahead, planning and scheming to outwit his rivals.

At last Car Three rolled into the station at Deming. It was a warm, balmy Fall day.

"Now burn the town up with your paper, boys," commanded Phil, after they had finished their breakfast. "Come in early tonight. I want all hands to drop paste pots and brushes tonight, and take dinner with me. It will not be at a contract hotel, either. Dinner at eight o'clock."

"Hooray!" exclaimed Teddy. "A real feed for once, fellows! No more meals at The Sign of the Tin Spoon this season!"

The crew of Car Three were not slow about getting in that night. Every man was on time. They dodged out of the car with bundles under their arms, got a refreshing bath, and spick and span in tailor-made clothes and clean linen, they presented themselves at the car just before eight o'clock.

"Hello! You boys do not look natural," hailed Phil, with a laugh. "But come along; I know you are hungry, and so am I."

The Circus Boy had arranged for a fine dinner at the leading hotel of the city, where he had engaged a private dining room for the evening.

It was a jolly meal. Everyone was happy in the consciousness of work well done, in the knowledge that they had outrivaled every opposition car that had been sent into their field.

The dinner was nearing its close when Phil rose and rapped for order.

"Boys," he said, "you have done great work. You have been loyal, and without your help I should have made a miserable failure of this work. You know how green I was, how little I really know about the advance work yet--"

Someone laughed.

"You need not laugh. I know it, whether you boys do or not. I asked you to dine with Teddy and myself here tonight, that I might tell you these things and thank you. If ever I am sent in advance again I hope you boys will be with me, every one of you."

"You bet we will!" shouted the men in chorus.

"And let me add that Mr. Sparling is not ungrateful for the work you have done this season. He has asked me to present you with a small expression of his appreciation. Teddy, will you please pass these envelopes to the boys? You will find their names written on the envelopes."

Tucker quickly distributed the little brown envelopes.

The men shouted. Each envelope held a crisp, new fifty-dollar bill.

"Three cheers for Boss Sparling!" cried Rosie the Pig, springing to his feet, waving the bill above his head.

The cheers were given with a will.

"I will bid you good-bye tonight," continued Phil. "Teddy and myself will take a late train for the East, after we get through. We are going back to join the show until it closes--"

"Wait a minute, Boss," interrupted Billy Conley, rising. "This show isn't over yet."

"The Band Concert in the main tent is about to begin."

Phil glanced at him inquiringly.

"All the natural curiosities, including the Missing Link and the Human Pig, will be on view. Take your seats in the center ring, immediately after the performance closes!"

Billy drew a package from his pocket and placed it on the table before him.

"Boss, the fellows have asked me to present to you a little expression of their good will--to the greatest advance agent that ever hit the iron trail. You've made us work like all possessed, but we love you almost to death, just the same. I present this gift to you with our compliments, Boss, and here also is a little remembrance for our friend, Spotted Horse, otherwise known as Teddy Tucker."

Billy sat down, and Phil, rising, accepted the gift. Opening the package he found a handsome gold watch and chain, his initials set in the back of the watch case in diamonds.

"Oh, boys, why did you do it?" gasped Phil, in an unsteady voice.

"I've got a diamond stick pin!" shouted Teddy triumphantly.

Phil's eyes were moist.

"Why--why did you--"

" 'Cause--'cause you're the best fellow that ever lived! Say, quit lookin' at me like that, or I'll blubber right out," stammered Billy, hastily pushing back his chair and walking over to the window.

"For he's a jolly good fellow!" struck up Rosie the Pig. All joined in the chorus, while Phil sat down helplessly, unable to say a word.

On the second morning thereafter the Circus Boys rejoined the Great Sparling Shows, where they were welcomed right royally. Teddy insisted in going on with his mule act that same day.

Even the donkey was glad to see Teddy. January evinced his pleasure at having his young master with him again by promptly kicking young Tucker through the side wall of the pad room, nearly breaking the Circus Boy's neck.

That day a letter came to Phil from The Greatest Show on Earth. After reading it, Phil hastened to his employer.

"I have a letter offering us both a contract with The Greatest for next season. What do you think of that, Mr. Sparling?" asked Phil with sparkling eyes.

Mr. Sparling did not appear to be surprised.

"Well, what are you going to do about it?"

"Refuse it, of course. I prefer to stay with you."

"And I prefer to have you."

"I thought you would."

"But I shall ask you to accept; in fact, I wish you to do so. You will find the experience valuable. When you finish your season with the big show I shall have something of great importance to communicate to you, if you wish to return to us."

"Wish to?"

"Yes; so wire on your acceptance right away, my boy, then you and I will have a long talk."

So it was left. Phil went on with the show during the remaining four weeks, then the boys turned their faces homeward, where they planned to put in a busy winter practicing and studying.

Despite their reluctance to leave Mr. Sparling for a season, they were looking forward to the coming Spring when they were to join the other show. Their experiences there will be related in a following volume, entitled, "The Circus Boys at the Top; Or, Bossing the Greatest Show of All."

ClassicReader note: this is the last volume in the Circus Boys series despite the above mention of a following volume.