Chapter XV. Acts Not on the Bills
 

It was now almost time for the ring performance to begin. Dick had purchased so-called reserved seats for the crowd, paying an additional ten cents for each seat, but when they reached the tent with the ring they found that the reserved seats were merely a creation of fancy on the part of the circus owner. Giles Frozzler had had imitation chair bottoms painted on the long boards used for seats and each of these buttons was numbered.

"This is a snide, sure," said Sam.

"Well, there is one thing about it, they can't crowd you," answered Dick. And that was the one advantage the "reserved seats" afforded. On the common seats the spectators were crowded just as closely as possible, until the seats threatened to break down with the weight put upon them.

There was a delay in opening the ring performance and for a very good reason. In the dressing tent Giles Frozzler was having great difficulty in persuading his leading lady rider and his clown to go on. Both wanted their pay for the past two weeks.

"I shall not ride a step until I am paid," said the equestrienne, with a determined toss of her head.

"And I don't do another flip-flap," put in the clown.

"Oh, come, don't talk like that," argued Giles Frozzler. "I'll pay you to-morrow, sure."

"No."

"I'll pay you to-night--just as soon as the performance is over. Just see what a crowd we have--the money is pouring in."

At this the lady bareback rider hesitated, and finally said she would go on. But the clown would not budge.

"I may be a clown in the ring, but not in the dressing room," said he, tartly. "I want my pay, or I don't go on."

"All right then, you can consider yourself discharged," cried Giles Frozzler.

He had started in the circus business as a clown and thought he could very well fill his employee's place for a day or two. In the meantime he would send to the city for another clown whom he knew was out of a situation.

At last the show began with what Frozzler termed on his handbills the Grand Opening Parade, consisting of the two elephants, two ladies on horseback, two circus hands on horseback, the little bear, who was tame, and several educated dogs. In the meantime the band, consisting of seven pieces, struck up a march which was more noise than harmony.

"Here's your grand circus," whispered Sam. "Beats the Greatest Show on Earth to bits, doesn't it?"

"I'll wager a big tomato against a peck of clams that I can get up a better show myself, and do it blindfolded, too," returned Tom.

The grand opening at an end, there was a bit of juggling by a juggler who made several bad breaks in his act, and then came the lady bareback rider. At the same time, Frozzler came out, dressed in a clown's suit and painted up.

"Hullo, there's that chap again!" cried Dick. "He must be running half the show himself."

"How are you to-morrow?" sang out the clown. And after doing a flip-flap, he continued: "Mr. Ringmaster, what's the difference between your knife and me?"

"I know!" shouted Tom. "His knife is a jack-knife, while you are a jack-of-all-trades!"

At this sally there was a loud laugh.

"What is the difference between my knife and you?" queried the ringmaster, as soon as he could make himself heard.

"That's it."

"I don't know."

"I told you!" shouted Tom.

"The difference between your knife and me," answered Frozzler, "is that you can shut your knife up but you can't shut me up," and then he made a face and did another tumble.

"His knife is sharper than you, too," cried Sam. A roar followed, which made Frozzler so angry he shook his fist at the youngest Rover.

"Why is that boy like a fish?" cried Frozzler.

"Because he's too slippery for a clown to catch," put in Fred, loudly, and this created such a laugh that Frozzler's answer was completely lost on the crowd. Again he shook his fist at our friends, but they merely laughed at him.

"I had a funny dream last night," went on the clown. "What do you think I dreamed?"

"That you had paid all your bills," called out Dick.

This brought forth another laugh at Frozzler's expense, in which even some of the circus hands joined.

"Say, those boys are sharp," said the clown who had been discharged. "I shouldn't care to run up against them."

"Three of them are the Rover boys," answered a man sitting near. "Nobody can get the best of them."

"I dreamed a whale came along and swallowed me," went on Frozzler.

"Hullo, I knew you were a Jonah!" sang out Tom. And once more the crowd roared.

"In the whale I met my old schoolmate, Billy Black," continued the clown.

"That was a black moment for poor Billy," was Sam's comment.

"Did you give Billy a whaling?" asked Tom.

"Did dat whale git a stummick ache from swallerin' yo'?" came loudly from Aleck. "I t'ink any whale would, 'less his insides was copper-lined."

Aleck said this so gravely that it brought forth a roar which did not subside for a full minute. Poor Frozzler could do nothing, and to save himself made half a dozen tumbles. Then he started to run from the ring, but tripped over one of the ropes and pitched headlong on his nose.

"Hullo, there a tumble extra!" sang out Tom. "Thank you; nothing like giving us good measure!"

"I'd like to wax that boy good!" growled Giles Frozzler, as he shot into the dressing tent. "Those youngsters spoiled my act completely." And then he hurried to a pail of water to bathe his nose.

The next act was fairly good and put the crowd in good humor once more. But that to follow was so bad that many began to hiss. Then came a race which was as tame as it could possibly be, and many began to leave.

"This is the worst circus yet," said one man. "If anybody comes to-night he'll be sold."

"I'm going to let all my friends know what a flat thing it is," said another. "It isn't worth ten cents, much less a quarter."

The circus was to wind up with the riding of a trick mule,--the animal being brought out by the clown.

As it happened the regular clown and the mule were friends, but the mule hated Frozzler, for the circus owner had on more than one occasion mistreated the animal.

"Be careful of that mule," said one of the hostlers, as he turned the trick animal over to Giles Frozzler. "He's ugly this afternoon."

"Oh, I know how to manage him," growled Frozzler. "Come on here, you imp!" and he hit the mule in the side.

Instantly the mule made a bolt for the ring with Frozzler running after him.

"One hundred dollars to anybody who can ride Hanky-Panky!" sang out Giles Frozzler. "He is as gentle as a kitten, and it is a great pleasure to be able--"

The clown got no further, for just then the mule turned around and gave him a kick which sent him sprawling. Then, like a flash Hanky-Panky turned around, caught Frozzler by the waist and began to run around the ring with him.

"Hi! let go!" screamed the thoroughly frightened circus owner. "Let go, I say! Help! he will kill me! Help!"

"Hurrah! the mule has got the best of it!" sang out Tom. "He knows how to run a circus even if that fellow don't."

"I'll bet on the mule," put in Dick. "He's a nose ahead in this race!"

"Save me!" yelled Frozzler. "Drat that beast! Stop him, somebody!"

There was intense excitement, and several employees rushed forward to rescue Frozzler. But before this could be done, the mule left the ring tent and dashed into the dressing room, where he allowed the circus owner to drop into a barrel of water which was kept there in case of fire. At this the crowd yelled itself hoarse; and this scene brought the afternoon performance to an end.