Chapter VII. The First Day's Experience
 

"Give it to him, Teddy!" howled the crew.

Tucker, as soon as he could right himself, sat down on the manager's head, at the same time holding Mr. Snowden's hands pinioned to the floor.

The muffled voice under the quilts waxed louder and more angry as the seconds passed. Phil, who had gone to the wash room to make his toilet, hurried back at sound of the row.

"Teddy Tucker, what are you doing?" demanded Phil, for the moment puzzled at the scene before him.

"I'm sitting on the Boss," answered Teddy triumphantly. "Shall I give him one for you?"

"Yes--give him two for each of us," shouted the billposters.

Phil strode to his companion, grabbed the lad by the collar of his pajamas and jerked him from the helpless man under the quilts.

"Now, you behave yourself, young man, or you will have to reckon with me," he commanded, pushing Teddy aside.

"You let me alone. This is my inning. I guess I can sit on the Boss, if I want to, without your interfering with the fun."

Giving no heed to the words, Phil quickly hauled the quilts off and assisted Mr. Snowden to rise.

"I guess Teddy must have fallen on you, sir," suggested Phil solemnly.

"He did it on purpose! He did it on purpose!"

"You pulled him out of bed, did you not, sir?"

"Yes; and next time I'll pull him so he'll know it. Get out of here, every man of you, and get your breakfasts; then get off on your routes. Things are coming to a fine pass on this car. Young man, I will talk to you later."

The manager, with red face and angry eye, strode to his stateroom, while the grinning billposters made haste to get into their clothes. A few minutes later, and all hands were on their way to breakfast.

This meal at the new hotel was a slight improvement over the dinner they had eaten the night before. Besides, all hands were in good humor, for they had had more real excitement on Car Three, since the advent of the Circus Boys, than at any time during the season.

By the time they reached the car again six livery teams were in waiting for the men who were to go out on the country routes.

All was instantly bustle and excitement. Paste cans were loaded into the wagons, brushes and pails, together with the paper that had been carefully laid out and counted, the night before, for each billposter. A record of this was kept on the car.

Phil lent a hand at loading the stuff, and they found that the slim lad was stronger than any of them. It was an easy matter for him to lift one of the big cans of paste to a wagon without assistance. Teddy, however, stood by with hands thrust in pockets, an amused grin on his face. The baleful eye of the car manager was upon him.

"Have you heard from Mr. Sparling this morning?" asked Phil.

"Yes," answered Mr. Snowden shortly.

"What did he say?"

"That is none of your business, young man."

"You are right. I accept the rebuke. While I am interested, it really is none of my business," answered the lad with a smile.

"Where are you going?"

"You told me to go out on one of the country routes."

"Oh! What route are you going on, if I may ask?"

"I had thought of going with Mr. Conley."

"You will do nothing of the sort. You will go where I tell you to. I--"

"I suggested that he go with me, Mr. Snowden," interposed Billy. "I have a hard route to work today and I shall need some help if I get over it before dark."

"Very well; go on. I hope he falls off a barn or something. If he does, leave him."

"For your sake, I shall try to take care of myself," answered Phil with an encouraging smile.

"Tucker!"

"Yes, sir."

"Start a fire under that boiler. Henry, you show him how to manage the boiler and mix the paste. I don't imagine he even knows dough when he sees it."

"I know a dough-head when I see one," spoke up Teddy promptly, after delivering himself of which sentiment he strolled away with hands in his pockets, whistling merrily.

The drive to the country in the fresh morning air was a most delightful one to Phil.

After leaving the town they soon came in sight of a deserted house. It evidently had been abandoned, for it was in a bad state of dilapidation.

"There's a dandy daub!" exclaimed Billy. "We'll plaster it with paper until the neighbors won't know it. When we get there, hop off and bring some pails of water, will you?"

"Sure," answered Phil. While he was doing this, the billposter was spreading his paper out on the ground, deciding on the layout that he would post.

A few minutes later and the gaudy bills were going up like magic on the road side of the house and the two ends, so that the pictures might be seen from every point of view from the highway. The house had been transformed into a blaze of color.

"All right," sang out Billy. "Good job, too."

Phil had learned something. He had noted every movement of the billposter.

"How long does it take to learn to post, Billy?" he asked.

"Some fellows never learn. Others get fairly expert after a few weeks puttering around."

"May I try one today?"

"Sure thing. If the next one is easy I will give you a chance at it."

The next daub proved to be a small hay barn a little way back in a field.

"There's your chance, my boy," he said.

Phil jumped out before the wagon had come to a stop and, with paper and brush under his arms, ran across the field. With more skill than might have been expected with his limited experience he smeared the paper with paste, then sought to raise it up to the side of the building as he had seen Billy Conley do.

This was where Phil came to grief. A gust of wind doubled the paper up, the pasted side smearing the bright colors of the face of the picture, until the colors were one hopeless daub. To cap the climax the whole thing came down over Phil's head, wrapping him in its slimy folds.

"Hey, help!" he shouted. "I'm posting myself instead of the barn."

Billy sat down on the ground, laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks.

"If it hadn't been for that unexpected gust of wind I should have made it nicely," explained Phil with a sickly grin. "Oh, pshaw, I'm not as much of a billposters as I thought I was. I guess there is more to this game than I had any idea of."

"You will learn. You took a pretty big contract when you tried to put up that eight-sheet."

"We will let you try a one-sheet on the farther end of the barn. A one-sheet is a small, twenty-eight inch piece of paper, you know."

Phil nodded.

"I'll try it," he said. "I guess a one-sheet is about as big a piece of paper as I am fit to handle just yet."

He managed the one-sheet without the least trouble, and did a very good job, so much so that Billy complimented him highly.

"You will make a billposter yet. One good thing about you is that you are willing to learn, and you are quick to admit that you do not know it all. Most fellows, when they start, have ideas of their own--at least they think they have."

After that Phil did the small work, thinned the paste and made himself generally useful.

"Oh, look at that!" he cried, pointing off ahead of them.

"What is it, Phil?"

"See that building standing up on that high piece of ground. Wouldn't that be a dandy place on which to post some paper?"

The building he had indicated was a tall circular structure, painted a dark red, with a small cupola effect crowning its top.

"That is a silo. You wouldn't be able to get permission to post a bill on there, even if you could get up there to do it," said Conley.

"Why not?"

"Why not? Why that farmer, I'll wager, sets as much store by that building as he does his newly-painted house."

"I'll go ask him. You don't mind if I 'square' him, do you?" questioned the lad with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Ask him, for sure. But we couldn't post up there. We have no ladders that would reach; in fact we have no ladders at all. I mean the farmer has no ladders long enough."

"Never mind; I'll figure out a way," replied the Circus Boy, whose active mind already had decided upon a method by which he thought he might accomplish the feat, providing the farmer was willing.

Reaching the farm, Phil jumped out and ran up to the house.

"Do you own this place, sir?" he asked of the farmer who answered his ring at the bell.

"I do."

"It's a beautiful place. I am representing the Sparling Circus, and we thought we would like to make a display on your silo."

The farmer gazed at him in amazement.

"Young man, you have a cast-iron nerve even to ask such a thing."

"I know the mere matter of tickets to the show will be no inducement to a man of your position. But I am going to make you a present of a box for six people at the circus. You will take your whole family and be my guest. I will not only give you an order for it, but will write a personal letter to the owner, who is my very good friend. He will show you all there is to be seen, and I will see to it that you take dinner with him in the circus tent. No; there is no obligation. All the farmers--all your neighbors will be envious. I want you to come. We won't speak of the silo. I don't expect you to let me post that; but, if you will permit me to put a three-sheet on your hog pen back there, I shall be greatly obliged."

Despite the farmer's protestations, Phil wrote out the order for the box, then scribbled a few lines to Mr. Sparling, which he enclosed in an envelope borrowed from the farmer.

"Thank you so much," beamed the Circus Boy, handing over the letter to the farmer, accompanied by the pass and order for the arena box at the circus. "It is a pleasure to meet a man like you. I come from a country town myself, and have worked some on my uncle's farm."

"You with the circus, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"Looks to me like you was a pretty young fellow to be a circus man."

"Oh no, not very. I belong back with the show. I am a performer, you know. I am out with the advertising car to learn the business."

"A performer?" wondered the farmer, looking over the trim figure and bright boyish face. "What do you perform?"

"I perform on the flying trapeze and do a bareback riding act."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know, young fellow, I never got such a close squint at a circus fellow before in my life. But, come to size you up, I reckon you can do all them things you've been telling me about. Yes, sir, I'll go to the circus. Will you be there to cut up in the ring?"

"I cannot say. It is doubtful, as I probably shall be ahead of the show for the rest of the season. Well, thank you very much. We will decorate the hog pen," added the lad, touching his cap and turning away.

An arena box, value twelve dollars, was a pretty high price to pay for a three-sheet on a hog pen, but Phil Forrest knew what he was doing. At least he thought he did, and he did not walk very fast on his way to the road.

"Hey, come back here," called the farmer.

"Yes, sir," answered Phil turning inquiringly.

"Come here."

He walked back to where the farmer was standing fingering the pass and the letter.

"I--I reckon you needn't stick them bills on the hog pen."

The Circus Boy's heart took a sudden drop.

"Very well, sir; just as you say. I do not wish to do anything to displease you."

"But I reckon you can plaster that silo full of them circus pictures from top to bottom, if you want to," was the unexpected announcement.

Phil Forrest's heart bounded back into position again.