Chapter VIII. The Circus Boy Wins
 

"Oh, thank you, thank you ever so much!" answered the lad, his eyes glowing.

"You're a square kid and I like you."

"I appreciate your kindness, I assure you, and I will write a letter to the owner of the show about you this evening when I get back to the car. Have you any ladders that we can borrow, and a long rope?"

"I reckon you'll find all them things in the hay barn. Help yourself. I've got to run up to the back farm, but maybe I'll be back before you get through your job. So long."

Phil hurried back to the road, where Billy and the wagon were waiting. The lad's feet felt lighter than usual.

"Well, what luck?" demanded Billy.

"I may be a poor apology as a billposter, but as a diplomat I'm a winner, Billy."

"You--you don't mean you got the silo?" gasped Conley.

"I got the silo, and I can have the hog pen too, if I want it, and perhaps the farmer's house thrown in for good measure," answered Phil, his face flushed from his first triumph as a publicity showman.

"Well, of all the nerve!"

"That's what the farmer said," laughed Phil. "But he changed his mind."

"What do you think of that?" demanded Billy, turning to the driver.

"The kid is all right."

"You're right; he is. The next question, now that you have got the silo, is what are you going to do with it?"

"Post it," answered Phil promptly.

"You can never do it."

"I'll show you what a circus man can do."

"Come along and unload your truck. Help me get some ladders out of the barn."

Wonderingly, Billy did as he was bid, and the driver, now grown interested, hitched his horses to the fence and followed them.

The silo was empty. Phil measured the distance to the top with his eyes.

"About forty feet I should say," he decided. "We shall have to do some climbing."

The ladders were far too short, but by splicing two of them together, they reached up to an opening in the silo some ten feet from the top.

Phil hunted about until he found a long plank; then setting the spliced ladders up inside the silo he mounted to the opening, carrying one end of a coil of rope with him. Upon reaching the opening he directed Billy to tie the other end of the rope to the plank. This being done, Phil hauled the board up to where he was sitting perched on the frame of the opening.

"I'd like to know what you're going to do?"

"If you will come up here I will show you."

"Not on your life," replied Billy promptly. "I know when I'm well off, and if you don't look out, Boss Snowden will get his wish."

"What wish was that?"

"That you might fall off a barn and break your neck."

The Circus Boy's merry laugh floated down to them as he worked in an effort to get the plank into position. By tying the rope to one end of the plank to support it he gradually worked the plank out through the opening, after a time managing to shove the end nearest to him under a beam.

"There, I'd like to see you turn a trick like that, Billy Conley," he shouted.

"I wouldn't," retorted Billy. "What's the next move?"

"In a minute. Watch me!"

The lad made a large loop in the rope in the shape of a slip knot. All preparations being made he boldly walked out on the plank which, secured at one end like a springboard, bent and trembled beneath his weight.

The men down below gasped.

The farmer, having changed his mind, had come out to watch the operation rather than visit the back farm. Two neighbors had by this time joined him.

"Who's the fellow up there?" asked one.

"He is a performer in a circus."

"A performer? Shucks! He's no more performer than I am."

"Watch him and perhaps you may change your mind," answered Billy, who had overheard the remark. "That boy is one of the finest circus performers in this country. Do you think he could stand out on that plank, more than thirty feet above the ground, if he were not a performer? Why, I wouldn't be up there for a million dollars, and you wouldn't, either."

"That's right," answered the farmer himself. "That beats all the circus performances I ever saw. What is the kid going to do?"

"I don't know," confessed Billy. "He knows and that's enough."

Phil, having tested the plank to his satisfaction and studied his balance, now cast his eyes up to the little cupola on top of the silo. Then he began slowly swinging the loop of the rope over his head, after the fashion of a cowboy about to make a cast.

They were at a loss to understand what he was trying to do, but every man there was sure in his own mind what Phil Forrest would do--fall off.

Suddenly he let go of the loop. It soared upward. Then they began to understand. He was trying to rope the cupola.

The rope fell short by about three feet, as nearly as he was able to judge.

"Oh, pshaw!" muttered Phil. "That was a clumsy throw. I would make just about as good a cowboy as I am a billposters. Well, here goes for another try."

He put all his strength into the throw this time.

The rope sped true, dropping as neatly over the peak of the cupola as if the thrower had been standing directly over the projection.

A cheer rose from the men below.

It died on their lips.

"He's falling!" they cried with one voice.

The farmers stood gaping. But Billy, with the quick instincts of a showman, darted beneath the plank hoping to catch and break the lad's fall.

Phil had leaned too far backward in making his cast. He had lost his balance and toppled over. Here his training in aerial work served him in good stead. As he felt himself going he turned quickly facing toward the outer end of the plank.

Like a flash both hands shot out. They closed about the end of the plank by a desperately narrow margin.

The plank bent until it seemed as if it must snap under his weight. Then it shot upward, carrying the boy with it, he kicking his feet together as he was lifted and laughing out of pure bravado.

Phil knew he was safe now. The drop had tested the plank, so that there was now slight danger of its breaking.

On the second rebound he swung himself to the upper side of it and stood up.

"Hurrah!" he shouted.

Billy was pale and trembling.

"If you do that again I'll have an attack of heart disease, Phil!" he called. "Now, what are you going to do? The rope is hanging seven or eight feet away from you."

"Hello, that's so. I hadn't observed that before. I should not have let go of it. Never mind, I'll get it unless something breaks. See here, Billy, you get from under there."

"Is the plank likely to fall?" asked Billy innocently.

"The plank? No. I am likely to take a tumble," answered Phil, with a short laugh. All at once he grew serious and still. "I think I can make it," he decided.

His resolution formed, the lad crouched low, so as not to throw so great a leverage on the plank that it would slip from under him when he leaped. He prepared for the spring.

"Don't do it!" howled Billy, now thoroughly frightened. "Don't you see what he's up to? He's going to jump off the plank and try to catch hold of the rope hanging from the cupola. He'll never make it. He'll miss it sure as he's a foot high. This is awful!"

"Don't bother me, Billy. Mr. Farmer, is that cupola strong enough to bear my weight on a sudden jolt?"

"It ought to hold a ton, dead weight."

"Then I guess it will hold me. Don't talk to me down there. Here goes!"

It seemed a foolhardy thing to do. To the average person it would have meant almost sure death. It must be remembered, however, that Phil Forrest was a circus performer, that he felt as thoroughly at home far above the ground as he did when standing directly on it.

He leaped out into the air, cleared the intervening space between the plank and the rope, his fingers closing over the latter with a sureness born of long experience.

His body swung far over toward the other side of the silo, settling down with a sickening jolt, as the loop over the cupola slipped down tight.

"Hooray!" cried Phil, twisting the rope about one leg and waving a hand to those below him.

They drew a long, relieved sigh. The farmers, one after the other, took off their hats and mopped their foreheads.

"Warm, isn't it?" grinned the owner of the silo.

"Now, pass up your brush and paste on this rope." Phil had brought a small rope with him for this very purpose.

Billy got busy at once and in a few minutes Phil had the brush and paste in his hands, with which he proceeded to smear as much of the side of the silo as was within reach. It will be remembered that he was hanging on the rope by one leg, around which the rope was twisted as only showmen know how to do.

"Now, the paper," called Phil.

This was passed up to him in the same way. In a few moments he had pasted on a great sheet, having first pulled himself up to the eaves to secure the top of the sheet just under them.

"Now that you have one sheet on, how are you going to get around to the other side to put others on?" demanded Conley.

"Oh, I'll show you. Be patient down there. I have got to change a leg; this one is getting numb."

"I should think it would," muttered Billy.

Phil changed legs, as he termed it; then, grasping the eaves with both hands, he pulled himself along, the slip-noose over the cupola turning about on its pivot without a hitch.

This done Phil called for more paper, which was put up in short order. Thus he continued with his work until he had put a plaster, as Bill Conley characterized it, all the way around the farmer's silo. It might have been seen nearly ten miles away in all directions. No such billing had ever before been done in that part of the country, nor perhaps anywhere else.

"There! I'd like to see the Ringlings, or Hagenbecks or Barnum and Bailey or any of the other big ones, beat that. They're welcome to cover this paper if they can, eh, Billy?" laughed Phil, pushing himself away from the side of the silo and leaning far back to get a better view of it. "I call that pretty fine. How about it?"

"The greatest ever," agreed Billy. His vocabulary was too limited to express his thoughts fully, but he did fairly well with what he had.

Having satisfied himself that his work was well done, Phil let himself down slowly, not using his hands at all, in doing so, but taking a spiral course downward.

"H-u-m-m, I'm a little stiff," he said when his feet touched the ground. "Am I a billposter or am I not a billposter, Billy?"

"You are the champeen of 'em all! I take off my hat to you." Which Conley did, then and there.

"I am afraid I shall not be able to get that rope down, sir," said Phil politely to the farmer. "I am sorry. I had not figured on that before. If you will be good enough to tell me how much the rope is worth I shall be glad to pay you for it. I can cut it off up near the little door there, so it will not look quite so bad. Shall I do it?"

"No. You needn't bother. As for paying for the rope I won't take a cent. I've had more fun than the price of a dozen ropes could buy. Why, young man, do you know I never seen anything in a circus that could touch the outside edge of the performance you've been giving us this afternoon? You boys had your dinners?"

"No," confessed the Circus Boy. "I guess we had forgotten all about eating."

"Then come right in the house. My wife will get you something, and I want to introduce her to a real live circus man--that's you."

"Thank you."

Phil's eyes were bright. He was happy in the accomplishment of a piece of work that was not done every day. In fact, this one was destined to go down in show history as a remarkable achievement.

They sat down to a fine dinner, and Phil entertained the family for an hour relating his experiences in the show world.

When the hour came for leaving, the farmer urged them to remain, but the men had work to do and a long drive ahead of them.

They drove away, Phil waving his hat and the farmer and his wife waving hat and apron respectively.

As the rig reached a hill, some three miles away, Phil and Billy turned to survey their work.

"Looks like a fire, doesn't it, Billy?"

"It sure does. It would call out the fire department if there was one here."

"And the best of it is, that posting will be up there when the show comes this way next season. It is a standing advertisement for the Great Sparling Shows. But I suppose Mr. Snowden would say it wasn't much of a job."