The Circus Boys On the Mississippi Or Afloat with the Big Show on the Big River
By EDGAR B. P. DARLINGTON
I MAKING A LIVELY START II JANUARY LENDS A FOOT III A DAY OF MEMORIES IV THEIR CURIOSITY AROUSED V THE CIRCUS BOYS' SURPRISE VI A BOLT FROM THE CLOUDS VII IN NEW QUARTERS VIII JANUARY ON THE RAMPAGE IX PHIL FORREST TO THE RESCUE X ALL ABOARD FOR THE GULF! XI EGG, EGG, WHO'S GOT THE EGG? XII TRYING OUT A NEW ACT XIII A NARROW ESCAPE XIV THE PILOT GETS A SURPRISE XV AN UNWELCOME VISITOR XVI BETRAYED BY A SNEEZE XVII EAVESDROPPERS! XVIII MAKING A CAPTURE XIX TEDDY JOINS THE BAND XX A CAPTURE IN THE AIR XXI A CIRCUS BOY MISSING XXII OVERBOARD INTO THE RIVER XXIII THE ROMAN CHARIOT RACES XXIV CONCLUSION
The Circus Boys on the Mississippi
MAKING A LIVELY START
"Have you had any trouble with Diaz, Teddy?"
"The new Spanish clown."
Teddy Tucker's face grew serious.
"What about him, Phil?"
"That is what I am asking you. Have you had any misunderstanding—angry words or anything of the sort with him?" persisted Phil Forrest, with a keen, inquiring glance into the face of his companion.
"Well, maybe," admitted the Circus Boy, with evident reluctance. "What made you think I had?"
"From the way he looked at you when you were standing in the paddock this afternoon, waiting for your cue to go on."
"Huh! How did he look at me?"
"As if he had a grudge against you. There was an expression in his eyes that said more plainly than words, 'I'll get even with you yet, young man, you see if I do not.'"
"Wonderful!" breathed Teddy.
"What do you mean?"
"You must be a mind reader, Phil Forrest," grumbled Teddy, digging his heel into the soft turf of the circus lot. "Can you read my mind? If you can, what am I thinking about now?"
"You are thinking," answered Phil slowly, "that you will make me forget the question I asked you just now. You are thinking you would rather not answer my question."
Teddy opened his eyes a little wider.
"You ought to go into the business."
"Reading people's minds, at so much per read."
"I wish you'd read the mind of that donkey of mine, and find out what he's got up his sleeve, or rather his hoofs, for me this evening."
"Do you know of what else you are thinking?"
"Of course I do. Think I don't know what I am thinking about? Well! What am I thinking about?"
"At the present moment you are thinking that you will do to Diaz what he hopes to do to you some of these days—get even with him for some fancied wrong. Am I right?"
"I'll hand him a good stiff punch, one of these fine spring mornings, that's what I'll do," growled Tucker, his face flushing angrily.
"Teddy Tucker, listen to me!"
"You will do nothing of the sort."
"You just wait and see."
"Since we started out on our fourth season with the Sparling Combined Shows this spring, you have behaved yourself remarkably well. I know it must have pained you to do so. I give you full credit, but don't spoil it all now, please."
"Yes. You must remember that this is now a Big show—larger this season than ever before, and you must not expect Mr. Sparling to excuse your shortcomings as he did in the old days."
"I'm not afraid of Boss Sparling."
"You have no occasion to be, as long as you do your duty and attend to business. We owe him a heavy debt of gratitude, both of us. You know that, don't you, Teddy?"
"I—I guess so."
"What is the trouble between you and Diaz?" persisted Phil Forrest, returning to his original inquiry.
"Well," drawled Teddy, "you know their act?"
"Throwing those peaked hats clear across the arena and catching the hats on their heads, just like a couple of monkeys."
"I didn't know monkeys ever did that," smiled Phil.
"Well, maybe they don't. The trained seals do, anyhow."
"They—the Spaniards—were doing that the other day when I was going out after my clown act. I had picked up the ringmaster's whip, and as one of the hats went sailing over my head I just took a shot at it."
"Took a shot at it?"
"Yes. I fired at it on the wing, as it were. Don't you understand?" demanded the lad somewhat impatiently.
Phil shook his head.
"I hit it a crack with the ringmaster's whip and I hit the mark the first shot. Down came the hat and it caught me on the nose."
"Then what did you do?"
"Knocked it on the ground, then kicked it out of the ring," grinned Teddy.
"Of course you spoiled their act," commented Phil.
"I—I guess I did."
"That was an ungentlemanly thing to do, to say the least. It is lucky for you that Mr. Sparling did not happen to see you. Do you know what would have happened to you if he had?"
"He would have fined me, I suppose."
"No. You would have closed right there. He would have had you sent back home by the first train if he had seen you do a thing like that."
"I don't care. I can get a job with the Yankee Robinson show any time, now."
"Not if you were to be discharged from this outfit for bad conduct. I don't wonder Diaz is angry. Did he say anything to you at the time?"
"What did he say?"
"I didn't understand all he said. Some of it was in Spanish, but what I did understand was enough," grinned the boy.
"Strong language, eh?"
"Phil, he can beat the boss canvasman in that line."
"I am surprised, Teddy Tucker."
"So was I."
"I don't mean that. I am surprised that you should so far forget yourself as to do such a thing. I don't blame Diaz for being angry, and I warn you that you had better look out for him. Some of those foreigners have very violent tempers."
"Well, he didn't tell the boss, at any rate."
"No. Perhaps in the long run it might have been better for you if he had. Diaz is awaiting his opportunity to get even with you in his own way. Look out for him, Teddy."
"He had better look out for me."
"Don't irritate him. Were I in your place I should go to the clown and apologize. Tell him it was a thoughtless act on your part and that you are sorry you did it—"
"As you please, but that is what I would do."
"You—you would do that?"
"I certainly would."
"And let him give you the laugh?"
"That would make no difference to me. I should be doing what is right, and that would be satisfaction enough, no matter what he said or did after that."
Teddy reflected for a moment.
"Well, maybe that would be a good idea. And if he won't accept my apology, what then—shall I hand him a—"
"Smile and leave him. You will have done the best you could to make amends."
"All right, I'll apologize," nodded the Circus Boy. "I'll shed a tear or two to show him how sorry I am. Want to see me do it?"
"I should say not. You will do it better provided I am not looking on, but for goodness' sake don't make a mess of the whole business. It would be too bad to make an enemy of one of your associates so early in the season. Think how uncomfortable it would be for you all through the summer. He has not been with us long enough to become used to your practical jokes. Perhaps after he gets better acquainted with you, he may not mind your peculiar ways so much," added Phil, with a short laugh. "Now run along and be good."
Teddy turned away and slipped through the paddock opening, in front of which the lads had been standing just outside the tent, leaving Phil looking after him with a half smile on his face.
The Circus Boys were again on the road with the Great Sparling Combined Shows. This was their fourth season out, and the readers will remember them as the same lads who in "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE FLYING RINGS," had made their humble start in the circus world. During that first season both lads had distinguished themselves—Phil for his bravery and cool headedness, Teddy for getting himself into trouble under all circumstances and conditions. They had quickly risen, however, to the grade of real circus performers, the owner of the show recognizing in each, the making of a fine performer.
In "THE CIRCUS BOYS ACROSS THE CONTINENT," it will be recalled how Phil and his companion won new laurels in the sawdust arena, and how the former ran down and captured a bad man who had been a thorn in the side of the circus itself for many weeks through his efforts to avenge a fancied wrong. By this time the boys had become full-fledged circus performers, each playing an important part in the performance.
It will be recalled, too, how Phil and Teddy in "THE CIRCUS BOYS IN DIXIE LAND," advanced rapidly in their calling; how Phil was captured by a rival show, held prisoner on the owner's private car, and later was obliged to become a performer in the ring of the rival show. His escape, his long tramp to rejoin his own show, followed by the battle of the elephants—will be well remembered by all the readers of the previous volumes in this series.
During the winter just passed, the lads had been attending the high school at Edmeston, where they made their home, working hard after school hours to keep themselves in good physical condition for the next season's work.
Spring came. The lads passed their final examinations, and, with their diplomas in their pockets, set out one bright May morning to join the show which, by this time, had come to be looked upon by them as a real home.
They had been on the road less than two weeks now, and were looking forward with keen anticipation to their summer under the billowing canvas of the Great Sparling Shows.
"I think I will take a peep to see how Teddy is getting along with his apology," decided Phil, turning and entering the paddock. Then he stepped quietly into the dressing tent.
He saw Teddy approach the clown, Diaz, who sat on his trunk making up his face before a hand mirror.
Teddy halted a few feet from the clown, waiting until the latter should have observed him. The clown glanced up, glowered, and slowly placed the mirror on the trunk beside him. He seemed astonished that the boy should have the courage to face him.
Then Teddy, solemn-faced, made his apology. To Phil Forrest's listening ears it was the most amazing apology he ever had listened to.
"I'm sorry I made a monkey of you," said Teddy.
"What!" fairly exploded the clown.
"I'm sorry I made a monkey of you," repeated the Circus Boy in a slightly louder tone. "Maybe I wouldn't have done so if I had had time to think about it."
"You make apology to me—to me?" questioned Diaz, tapping his own chest significantly.
"Yes; to whom did you think I was making an apology—to the hyena out under the menagerie top, eh?"
"I am sorry I made a fool of you, Mr. Diaz."
"Yes, I guess you are about right. You certainly look the part, and—"
Diaz sprang up with a growl of rage, Tucker giving ground a little as he observed the anger in the painted face before him. Before the lad could raise his hands to protect himself Diaz had grasped Teddy and hurled him across the dressing tent, where he landed in a pail of water.
He was up in a twinkling. His face was flushed and his hands were clenched.
No sooner had he gotten to his feet than he observed that the clown had started for him again. Teddy squared off, prepared for fight. At that moment, however, there came an interruption that turned the attention of the enraged clown in another direction.
Phil Forrest quickly stepped between them facing Diaz.
"What are you going to do?" demanded the Circus Boy in a quiet voice.
"I punish the monkey-face—"
"You will, eh?" howled Teddy, starting forward.
Phil thrust his companion aside.
"Go away. I will see if I can explain to him," cautioned Phil, turning to the clown again, just as the latter was making a rush at Teddy.
"One moment, Mr. Diaz. My friend Teddy is not very diplomatic, but he means well. He apologized to you for what he had done, did he not?"
"Yes," growled the clown.
"Then why not call it square and—"
"I punish him. I fix him!" roared Diaz, making a leap for Teddy, who had managed to edge up nearer to them.
"You will do nothing of the sort," answered Phil Forrest firmly, again stepping between them.
An angry light glowed in the eyes of the clown. For an instant he glared into Phil's steady gray eyes, then all of a sudden launched a vicious blow at the boy.
The blow failed to reach the mark. Phil dodged and stepped back a couple of feet.
Another, as swift as the first was sent straight for his head. This blow the Circus Boy skillfully parried, but made no effort to return.
"Mr. Diaz! Mr. Diaz!" warned Phil. "You forget yourself. Please don't do anything you will be sorry for afterwards."
"I fix you!" snarled the clown.
"I don't want to hit you, sir, but you may force me to do so."
Phil had no time to warn the fellow further, for the clown began to rain blows upon him, though with no great exhibition of boxing skill. Phil could have landed effectively anywhere on the clown's body had he chosen to do so.
Instead, the boy slowly gave ground, defending himself cleverly. Not one single blow from the powerful fist of Diaz reached him, Phil exhibiting the wonderful self-control that was characteristic of him. He even found opportunity to warn Teddy to get out of the tent until the tempest had blown over.
Teddy, however, stood with hands thrust in his trousers pockets, shoulders hunched forward, glaring at Diaz.
"Don't you get in this now," breathed Phil. "Keep away! Keep away! I'll—"
At that moment Phil stumbled over a trunk, landing on his head and shoulders. Quick as he was he found himself unable to turn over and roll away soon enough to get beyond reach of the angry clown.
Diaz hurled himself upon the slender, though athletic figure of the Circus Boy, almost knocking the breath out of Phil.
No sooner had he done so than something else happened. A body launched itself through the air. The body belonged to Tucker. Teddy landed with great force on the head and shoulders of the enraged clown, flattening the latter down upon Phil with crushing weight, and nearly knocking Forrest senseless.
JANUARY LENDS A FOOT
"Stop it!" roared a voice. "We don't allow 'roughhouse' in the dressing tent."
"Yes," added another; "go out on the lot if you want to settle your differences."
Mr. Miaco, the head clown, who had been a true friend to the boys from the beginning of their circus career, had discovered what was going on about the time Teddy decided to mix in in the disagreement. Mr. Miaco sprang up and ran to the struggling heap. Grasping Teddy firmly by the shoulder he tossed the lad aside.
"Now, you stay out of this, unless you want a thrashing from me," the head clown warned.
The next to feel the grip of his powerful hand was the clown, Diaz, and when Mr. Miaco discovered that the clown had Phil Forrest down, he could scarcely restrain himself from severely punishing the fellow. However, Miaco satisfied himself with hauling Diaz from his victim with little ceremony. Then he jerked the angry clown to his feet.
"Well, sir, what have you to say for yourself?" demanded Miaco, gazing at the other sternly.
"This no business of yours," growled Diaz.
"That remains to be seen. I'll decide whether it is any of my affair or not. Phil, what does this mean?"
"Just a little matter between ourselves. Thank you for helping me out."
"Did he attack you, Phil?"
"He did, but he no doubt thought he had sufficient provocation. Perhaps we should not be too hard on Mr. Diaz."
"Then the best thing to do is to tell Mr. Sparling. I—"
"Please don't do anything of the sort," begged Phil. "In the first place, Diaz's anger was directed against Teddy, and I had to mix myself in their quarrel. Teddy did something to him a few weeks ago that made the clown very angry, and I don't blame Diaz."
"Was there any excuse for his pitching into you in this manner?"
"Well," laughed Phil, "perhaps the situation did not demand exactly that sort of treatment."
"How did you come to let him get you so easily?"
"I fell over something."
"Oh, that's it?"
"Yes. I wasn't trying to hit him. I could have done so easily, but I felt that I was in the wrong."
"Humph!" grunted the head clown. Then he turned to Diaz.
"See here, you fellow!"
"What you want?" demanded Diaz in a surly tone.
"I want to advise you to let those boys alone in the future. They have been with this show a long time, and they are highly thought of by Mr. Sparling. Were he to hear what you have done tonight I rather think you would pack your trunk and quit right here. I shall not tell him. Next time I see you doing any such thing you will have to answer to me. I'm the head clown here, and I won't stand for one of my men pitching on a boy."
Teddy was chuckling to himself over the severe rebuke that Miaco was administering to his clown.
"Do you boys intend going on tonight?" Miaco demanded suddenly, turning on Teddy.
"Certainly," answered Phil.
"Then I should advise you to be getting into your makeups."
"Why, what time is it?"
"A quarter to eight."
"Whew! Come on, Teddy."
A few moments more and peace had been restored in the dressing tent, though Diaz was muttering to himself as he laid the powder over his face, preparatory to his first entry into the ring.
"I am afraid we have not heard the last of Diaz, Teddy," confided Phil to his companion. "You see what your moment of thoughtlessness has brought upon us, don't you?"
"You didn't have to mix in the row. I could have handled him."
"I am forced to admit that you are right. I sought to avoid trouble and I was the direct cause of a lot of it. There goes the first call. Hurry up!"
The Circus Boys had, indeed, made an enemy. It was noticed, however, that Manuel, the assistant of Diaz, had taken no part in the row. The young man had calmly proceeded with his making up without appearing to take the slightest interest in the affair. Whether or not his apparent indifference was merely assumed was not known.
The two boys were not performing on the flying rings this season. They had retained all their other acts, however, though the star act was the flying trapeze, in which Phil Forrest was now one of the leading performers.
Teddy rode his donkey, January, took part in the ground tumbling, acted as shadow again for the clown Shivers, besides making himself generally useful in some of the other acts.
As for Phil's bareback riding, he occupied the center ring in this act, as he had done the season before. He had come to be perhaps the most useful man with the Sparling show.
"I advise you to look out for that fellow. He is a dangerous customer," warned Miaco under his breath, as Phil sat down on his horse during a rest in the performance.
The Circus Boy nodded his understanding, but appeared little disturbed at Miaco's warning. Like the seasoned circus man that he was, he had learned to take things as they came, making the best of every situation when he came face to face with it.
Diaz and his assistant were entering the ring as Phil left it. They began throwing their hats, winning great applause, for their act was a clever one of its kind. At about the same time, Teddy Tucker and January came on, the Circus Boy howling, January braying and bucking, beating the air with his heels, for he had been taught some entirely new tricks during the winter.
The ringmaster held up his hand for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you, January. As January is the first month of the year, so is this January first in the donkey world. You will observe how docile and kind he appears. Yet, ladies and gentlemen, the management of this show will give a hundred dollars to any person who can stick on his back for a full minute—only sixty seconds, ladies and gentlemen. Do you know of any easier or faster way to make money? Six thousand dollars an hour if you stay that long. Who will be the first to earn the money?"
It was the first time the announcement had been made from the ring. Mr. Sparling had given his consent, even though he had not seen the act. He had, however, observed Teddy engaged in a tussle with the beast that afternoon, and could readily understand that what Teddy told him about January's contrariness was not overdrawn.
A colored man came down from the audience, and, throwing off his coat, announced his intention of riding the mule.
January appeared to have no objection, permitting the colored man to get on his back without offering the least opposition. To Teddy, who stood in front of the animal, grinning, there was a glint in the eye of the mule that spelled trouble for the colored man.
Suddenly January reared, then as quickly tipped the other way until it appeared to the spectators as if he were standing on his head.
The rider suddenly landed on his back in the sawdust.
"The gentleman loses," announced the ringmaster. "Is there any other gentleman in the audience who thinks he can earn one hundred dollars a minute—six thousand dollars an hour?"
No one appeared to be anxious to make the attempt.
Manuel, in the meantime, had drawn closer, paying strict attention to the words of the ringmaster.
"You give money for riding the burro?" questioned the little Spaniard.
"Burro? This is no Mexican burro, this is a donkey!" sniffed Teddy contemptuously.
The ringmaster instantly scented an opportunity to have some fun, and at the same time make the audience laugh. He glanced about to see if Mr. Sparling were under the big top, and not seeing him, instantly decided to take a long chance.
"Do you think you can ride January, sir?"
"I ride burro."
"Very well, it is your privilege to do so if you can. Ladies and gentlemen, this clown has never before attempted this feat. He thinks he can ride the donkey. If he succeeds he will receive the reward offered by the management of the show, just the same as you would have done had you performed the feat."
Teddy stroked January's nose, then leaning over, the Circus Boy whispered in the animal's ear.
"January," he said, "you've got a solemn duty to perform. If you shirk it you are no longer a friend of mine, and you get no more candy—understand? No more candy."
January curled his upper lip ever so little and brayed dismally.
"That's right; I knew you would agree to the sentiment."
"Get away from his head, Master Teddy. The Spanish clown is about to distinguish himself," announced the ringmaster.
Manuel was an agile little fellow. While the announcement was being made he had been taking mental measurement of the beast and deciding upon his course of action.
Ere Teddy had stepped back the Spaniard took a running start, and, with a leap, landed fairly on the back of the donkey.
The latter, taken by surprise, cleared the ground with all four feet and bucked, but the rider had flung his arms about the donkey's neck, clinging with both feet to the beast's body, grimly determined to win that hundred dollars or die in the attempt.
"Go it, January," encouraged Teddy. "Give it to him! Soak him hard!"
January stood on his hind feet, then on his head, as it were, but still the Spaniard clung doggedly.
By this time the donkey had begun to get angry. He had been taken an unfair advantage of and he did not like it. Suddenly he launched into a perfect volley of kicks, each kick giving the rider such a violent jolt that he was rapidly losing his hold.
"Keep it up! Keep it up! You've got him!" exulted the Circus Boy.
The audience was howling with delight.
"There he goes!" shrieked Teddy.
Manuel, now as helpless as a ship without a rudder, was being buffeted over the back of the plunging animal.
Manuel was yelling in his native language, but if anyone understood what he was saying, that one gave no heed. Teddy, on the other hand, was urging January with taunt and prod of the ringmaster's whip.
Suddenly the Spanish clown was bounced over the donkey's rump, landing on the animal's hocks. It was January's moment—the moment he had been cunningly waiting and planning for. The donkey's hoofs shot up into the air with the clown on them. The hoofs were quickly drawn back, but the Spanish clown continued right on, sailing through the air like a great gaudy projectile.
The audience yelled its approval.
Manuel landed with a crash in the midst of the lower grandstand seats. A second later there was a mix-up that required the united services of a dozen ring attendants to straighten out.
In the meantime, Teddy Tucker was rolling on the ground near the center pole, howling with delight, while January, with lowered head, was trotting innocently toward the paddock.
The ringmaster's whistle trilled for the next act, and the show went on with its characteristic dash and sprightliness.
However, Teddy Tucker's plan to get one of the Spanish hat-throwing clowns into trouble had been an entire success. He had succeeded, also, in making another bitter enemy for the Circus Boys.
A DAY OF MEMORIES
Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show, had been a witness of the latter part of Teddy's act. The showman was standing over near the entrance to the menagerie tent when Manuel took his unexpected flight, and the proprietor sat down on the grass, laughing until the tears started from his eyes.
The act had been a breach of discipline, so Mr. Sparling prudently kept himself out of sight until the show had progressed further.
Later in the evening he chanced to pass Teddy out in the paddock.
"Well, my lad, how is January working tonight?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Never better, sir, thank you."
"I presume he obeys your commands perfectly, eh?"
"Does everything I tell him to, Mr. Sparling. I can do anything with that donkey. Why, I could wink at him and make him kick your head off. I—"
"I'll take your word for it, young man—I'll take your word for it. Let me warn you to be careful that you do not tell him to do anything that will interfere with the programme. We must have our acts clean cut, and embodying nothing that has not been arranged for in advance. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," answered Teddy, giving the owner a keen, inquiring glance.
"I'll bet he saw that," mused the lad. "He's letting me off easy because he had to laugh, just the same as the rest of the people did."
"What did Mr. Sparling have to say?" questioned Phil, who had emerged from the dressing tent just as Teddy was walking away from the showman.
Teddy told him.
"You got off pretty easy, I must say. It is a wonder he did not discipline you for that."
"Do you think he saw Manuel fly?"
"He did, or else someone told him. Be careful, Teddy! You are laying up trouble for all of us," warned Phil.
"I got even with Mr. Hat Thrower, just the same," grinned Tucker.
Teddy was the happiest boy in the show that night, and he went to his sleeping quarters chuckling all the way.
The show, this season, had opened in Chicago, and was now working its way across the state of Illinois. The route had caused considerable comment among the show people. They did not understand what the plans of the owner might be.
Ordinarily, give a showman the first week or two of the show's route and he will tell you just what parts of the country the show will visit during that particular season. The performers were unable to do so in this instance. Phil Forrest was as much perplexed as the others, but he made no mention of this to Mr. Sparling.
"He has some surprise up his sleeve, I am sure," decided Phil shrewdly.
The next morning Phil asked Mr. Miaco, the head clown, if he knew where they were going.
"I do not," answered the clown. "This route has kept me guessing. Boss Sparling may be headed for Australia for all I know. He's just as likely to go there as anywhere else. Has the Spaniard bothered you since that mix-up?"
"Well, keep away from him. That is my advice."
"I shall not bother him. You may depend upon that, Mr. Miaco. I can't say as much for Teddy."
"Teddy put up that job with January last night, didn't he?"
"He hasn't said so."
"Not necessary. I saw the whole thing. Lucky for Teddy that Mr. Sparling did not happen to be about."
"I am not so sure that he was not."
Phil explained what Mr. Sparling had said to Teddy out in the paddock.
"Yes, he saw it all right, but I guess he doesn't know about the trouble in the dressing tent yesterday."
"No, I think not. I hope he does not hear of it, either. I do not wish Mr. Sparling to think that I am a troublemaker, or that I was mixed up in an unseemly row in the dressing tent. I should feel very much humiliated were I to be called to account for a thing like that. What are all those flags flying for in town today?"
"Don't you know?"
"No, I don't."
"You don't know what day this is?"
"This is Decoration Day."
"Oh, that's so."
"We lose all track of days in the show business. I'll wager you do not even know what town we are performing in today," laughed the clown.
"I shall have to confess that I do not."
"I thought so. Of course you know we are in the state of Illinois?"
"Yes, I think I have heard something to that effect," grinned Phil.
By the time the boys had eaten their breakfast, and had strolled over toward the tents, they found the dressing tents in place and the performers busily engaged in unpacking their belongings, hanging their costumes on lines stretched across the dressing tent, and making such repairs in the costumes as were found to be necessary, for a showman must be handy with the needle as well as with bar and trapeze.
Phil's trunk was next to that of Diaz. The Circus Boy did not mind this at all, but the clown appeared to feel a continual resentment at the fact.
"Good morning, Mr. Diaz," greeted the lad, with a sunny smile. "Shall we shake hands and be friends?"
Diaz glared at him, but made no reply. He did not even appear to have observed the hand that was extended toward him.
"I am sorry you feel that way about it, sir. If I was hasty I beg you will forgive me," urged Phil.
Diaz turned his back on him.
"Very well, sir," said the Circus Boy, a little proudly and with slightly heightened color, "I shall not trouble you again."
Phil turned away and began unpacking his trunk, giving no further heed to the sullen clown.
"The Honorable Mr. Diaz says 'nix,'" laughed Teddy, who had been an amused witness to the one-sided conversation, the word "nix" being the circus man's comprehensive way of saying, "I refuse."
"Don't stir him up, Teddy," warned Phil.
"Say, what's going on over in the women's dressing tent?"
"I did not know that anything out of the ordinary was happening there," said Phil. "Why?"
"I see a lot of folks going in and out."
"Nothing unusual about that, I guess."
"Yes, there is."
"What makes you think so?"
" 'Cause they're carrying flowers in and making a great fuss. I'm going over to find out. Come along?"
"No, thank you. You had better keep out. You know you are not supposed to go in the other dressing tent."
Teddy was not disturbed by the warning. He turned and started for the women's dressing tent, where he saw several of the other performers passing through the entrance. Phil, who had stepped to the door of his own dressing tent, observed the same thing.
"I guess there must be something going on over there. I shall have to find out what it means," he thought.
"May I come in, Mrs. Waite?" called Phil from the entrance.
"Sure. Come in Phil," smiled the wardrobe woman.
Teddy had not wasted the breath to ask permission to enter, but the moment he stepped inside something caught his eyes, causing them to open a little wider.
Two trunks had been drawn up in the center; over them was thrown an American flag. At one end a flag on a standard had been planted, and on the trunks, flowers and wreaths had been placed.
"What's that thing?" asked Teddy.
"That is my grave, Master Teddy," answered Mrs. Waite in a low tone.
"Pshaw! That's a funny kind of grave. What's buried there—your pet poodle?"
"Teddy! Teddy!" whispered Phil reprovingly.
"Go 'way. This is some kind of a joke," growled Teddy.
"It is not a joke, though I do not understand the meaning of it just yet. You say this is your grave, Mrs. Waite?" asked Phil.
"Yes, Phil. You know my husband was a soldier?"
"No, I did not know that, Mrs. Waite. Will you tell me all about it?"
Phil was deeply interested now.
"My husband was killed at the battle of Gettysburg. He lies in Woodlawn Cemetery. I am never at home on Decoration Day. I am always on the road with the circus, so I cannot decorate the real grave."
"I understand," breathed the Circus Boy.
"Being unable to decorate my husband's real grave, I carry my grave with me. Each Memorial Day morning I prepare my grave here in the dressing tent, and decorate it as you see here, and all my friends of the circus are very good and thoughtful on that occasion."
"How long have you been with the show—how many years have you been decorating this little property grave, Mrs. Waite?" asked Phil.
"Thirty years, Phil."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes, and it seems no more than two."
"Do you intend remaining with the show much longer—aren't you ever going to retire?"
"Yes. I am going to retire. I am getting old. I have laid up enough money to keep me for the rest of my life, and I am going to take a rest after two years more with this outfit."
"I am afraid you will miss the show," smiled the lad.
"I know I shall. I shall miss the life, the color, and I shall miss my boys and my girls. I love them all very much."
One after another, the women of the circus had come in to the dressing tent, depositing their little floral remembrances on the property grave while Mrs. Waite was talking.
Teddy, as soon as he fully comprehended the meaning of the scene, had slipped out. In a little while he returned. He brought with him a bunch of daisies that he had gathered on the circus lot. These he had tied with a soiled pink ribbon that he had ripped from one of his ring costumes.
Phil saw the daisies, and, noting their significance, smiled approvingly.
"Teddy has a heart, after all," was his mental comment.
Teddy Tucker proceeded to the flag-draped grave, gently placed his offering upon it, then turned away.
As he did so, he was observed to brush a hand across his eyes as if something there were blurring his sight.
THEIR CURIOSITY AROUSED
"Phil, I have an idea that you are wondering where we are bound for?" said Mr. Sparling, with a merry twinkle in his eyes.
"I will confess that I have been somewhat curious," smiled the boy. "From the route I could not imagine where you were heading."
"You are not the only one who has been guessing. Our rivals are positively nervous over the movements of this show. They think we are going to jump into the Mississippi River, or something of the sort—"
"Or float on it," added Phil.
Mr. Sparling eyed him keenly.
They were in the owner's private tent, discussing the business of the show itself, as these two did every day of the season, for Mr. Sparling had come to place no little reliance on the judgment of his young Circus Boy.
"What made you say that, Phil?"
"I had no particular reason. Perhaps I thought I was saying something funny."
"Nothing very funny about that," answered the showman.
"I agree with you."
"I thought perhaps you might ask me where we were routed for this season."
"And I thought you would tell me when you wished me to know," answered the boy.
"It was not because I did not wish you to know our route, Phil. I rather thought I should like to give you a surprise."
"We are going to surprise the show world at the same time, so you see you are not the only one who will be surprised."
"You arouse my curiosity, Mr. Sparling."
"Still you refuse to ask where we are going," replied the showman, laughing heartily. "I have made my arrangements with the utmost secrecy because I did not wish any of the opposition shows to get a line on my plans. Not one of them has done so thus far. Tomorrow they will know. Or at least by the day after tomorrow. I am not going to let you in on my little secret today either. Do you think you can possess your soul in patience until then?"
"I think there will be no trouble about that. If I have restrained my curiosity so far I surely can control it until tomorrow. We show at Milledgeville tomorrow, do we not?"
"That's what the route card says and I guess the route card is right."
"Small town, is it not?"
"Yes, one of the little river towns. Do you know much about the river?"
"Nothing except what I observed when we played the southern states last season. I should like to take a trip down the river, and hope I may have an opportunity to do so one of these days."
"You'll have the opportunity, all right."
"I said you would have the opportunity."
"I hope so."
"Perhaps sooner than you think, too. How is your friend, Tucker, getting along?"
"Pretty well, thank you. I guess he is working better this season than he did last. His acts are much more finished, don't you think so?"
"Yes. I noticed that he nearly finished a clown with one of his acts the other night," answered Mr. Sparling dryly, whereat both laughed heartily. "Have you had any trouble, with any of the men?"
"Do you mean myself, personally?"
"Either or both of you?"
"Some slight disagreements. What trouble we have had has been due wholly to our own fault," answered Phil manfully.
"I would rather not say anything about it, if you will permit me to remain silent."
"You are a queer boy, Phil."
"So I have been told before," answered the lad, laughing.
"And your friend Teddy is a confounded sight more so. I'm afraid he would have a hard time with most any other show in spite of the fact that he is an excellent performer."
"I have told him as much."
"Oh, you have?"
"What does he say?"
"He doesn't take my advice very seriously, I am afraid. Teddy is all right at heart, however."
"I agree with you."
Phil then related to Mr. Sparling the incident of the dressing tent, when Teddy gathered the daisies to place on the "grave" in memory of Mrs. Waite's soldier dead, to all of which the showman listened with thoughtful face. Mr. Sparling rose, walked to the door of the tent, then returned and sat down.
"You never knew that I was a soldier, too, did you, Phil?"
"No, sir. Were you really?"
"Yes. I fought with the South. I was a drummer boy in a Georgia regiment," said the showman reminiscently. "Perhaps had I been older I might have done differently, but I loved my Sunny South and I love it now."
"So do I," added Phil Forrest fervently.
"But the war is over. It is the show business that concerns us most intimately at the present moment. I want to say that you are doing excellent work on the flying trapeze this season."
"Thank you. I am doing my best."
"You always do. Whatever you attempt you go at with all the force you possess, and that is no slight factor, either. I have been waiting to talk seriously with you for sometime. You have finished your studies, have you not?"
"What are your plans for the future?"
"I have no immediate plans beyond continuing in the show business. I am trying to lay up some money so I can go into business some of these days."
"Circus business, of course. It is the only business I know anything about, and I know very little about that, it seems to me."
"Let me tell you something, Phil. Nine-tenths of the men who have been in it nearly all their lives know no more about the circus business than you do. Many of them not so much. You are a born showman. Take my word for it, you have a very brilliant career before you. You spoke, sometime ago, about wishing to go to college."
"I should like to go."
"Under the circumstances I would advise against it, though I am a thorough believer in the value of an education. You have a good start now. Were you to go to college you would spend four years there and when you finished, you would find that the show world had been moving right along just the same. You would be out of it, so to speak. You would have been standing still so far as the circus was concerned, for four full years. Think it over and some of these days we will have another talk."
"What would you advise, Mr. Sparling?"
"I don't advise. I am simply pointing out the facts for you to consider, that's all."
"I thank you, Mr. Sparling. I already owe you a debt of gratitude. I shall never forget all you have done for Teddy and myself, and I am sure Teddy also appreciates it."
"You owe me nothing."
"Oh, yes, I do! I shall never be able wholly to pay the debt, either."
"We will drop that side of the case, my boy. You will want to pack all your things for moving tonight."
"You mean my dressing-room trunk?"
"I mean all your belongings."
Phil looked his surprise.
"I have special reference to your stuff in the sleeper."
"May I ask why, Mr. Sparling."
"Because tonight will be the last night you will spend on the sleeping car for sometime, in all probability."
"I don't understand. Am I to leave the show?"
"Leave the show?"
"I should say not. You leave the show? I would rather lose any ten men in it than to have you go away. I trust you never will leave it for any length of time—at least not while I am in the business. No, you are going on a little trip—the show is going on a little trip. That is the surprise I have in store for you. You will know tomorrow morning. Not another word now, Phil Forrest. Run along and get ready for the performance."
The Circus Boy hurried over to the dressing tent, full of curiosity and anticipation of what awaited him on the morrow. Strange to say, Phil had not the least idea what the plan of the owner of the show might be.
The surprise was to be a complete one.
THE CIRCUS BOYS' SURPRISE
"Come, Phil and Teddy. I want you to take a little walk with me," called Mr. Sparling early next morning after they had finished their breakfast.
That morning orders had been given in each of the sleeping cars, for the performers to pack their belongings, ready to be moved from the cars.
The show people could not understand it, and gossip was rife among them as to the meaning of the unusual order.
Orders also had been given to the various heads of departments to prepare to desert the train, bag and baggage.
"Where are we going?" demanded Teddy suspiciously.
"For a walk. You need not go along, unless you wish to," added the showman.
"Of course I wish to go. Do you think I want to stay on the lot when anything is going on somewhere else, eh?"
"There would be plenty going on, if you remained. I am sure of that," replied Mr. Sparling, with a short laugh. "Come along, boys."
Still wondering what it was all about, Phil and Teddy walked along with their employer. They passed on through the business street of the town, then turned off sharply, heading for the north. A few moments of this and they turned to the left again.
"Hello, there's the river," announced Teddy.
"Yes, that is the river."
"I wish I could take a boat ride."
"You shall have one tonight."
Phil glanced at Mr. Sparling inquiringly.
"Oh, look at that funny boat!" cried Teddy. "It's yellow. I've heard of a yellow dog, but I can't say that I ever heard of a yellow boat. And it has a paddle wheel on behind. Well, if that isn't the limit! Why, there are three of them. What are they, Mr. Sparling?"
Phil's eyes already were widening. He had caught sight of something that shed a flood of light on the mystery—the surprise that Mr. Sparling had in store for them. But he was not positive enough to commit himself.
A moment more, and he knew he was not wrong.
"Teddy, if you will read the words on the side of that boat nearest to us, you will understand, I think."
"T-h-e," spelled Teddy.
"The," finished Phil.
"S-p-a-r-l-i-n-g, Sparling. C-o-m-b-i-n-e-d Shows. Well, what do you think of that?"
"I hardly know what to think, yet," answered Phil Forrest. "The Sparling Combined Shows. Do you mean to say—?"
"I haven't said a word," answered Mr. Sparling, with a merry twinkle in his eyes. "I am waiting for you to say something."
"I—I am afraid I am too much astonished to say much. Do you mean we are going to take to the river?"
"With the show?"
"What's that?" demanded Teddy.
"Didn't you hear?"
"I heard, but I don't understand. What's it all about? What is it about those yellow boats over there?"
"The Sparling Circus is going down the Mississippi," Mr. Sparling informed him.
"On those things?"
"On those boats."
"Then I think I'll walk. You don't catch me riding on any boat that has to have a wheel on behind to help push it along. No, siree, not for mine!"
"But, Teddy, they are fine boats," said Phil.
"They are among the few typical Mississippi River steamers," broke in Mr. Sparling. "I got them far up the river last winter. When I first conceived the plan of sending my show down the river, on the river itself, I took a trip out here to look over the ground—"
"You mean the water," corrected Teddy innocently.
"A little of both, my boy. I found that no show since the early days of the barnstorming outfits had ever attempted the feat. I learned a number of things that made me all the more anxious to try it. The next question was a boat. I heard of some of the old broad-beamed river craft that were out of commission up stream. I found them exactly suited to our requirements, and I rented them for the season. It cost quite a sum to have them fixed up, but you will find them just the thing for our work. What do you think of the idea?"
"Great!" breathed Phil. "It fairly takes my breath away."
"When—when do we move in?" asked Teddy Tucker wonderingly.
"We begin moving in this morning. I have given the orders to have the property removed from the trains and brought here, now—that is, all that will not be needed for today's performances. Tonight all hands will sleep on the boats. How will you like that, boys?"
"Fine!" answered Phil, with glowing eyes.
"I'll tell you after I try it," added Teddy prudently.
Across the sides of each boat, in big black letters, were the words, "The Sparling Combined Shows." Below this lettering appeared the names of the boats. The "River Queen" was the name emblazoned on one, several shades more yellow than the other two.
"I guess we shall have to call her the 'Yellow Peril,'" laughed Phil. "Don't you think that would be an appropriate name?"
Mr. Sparling laughed good-naturedly.
The companion boat to the "Queen" was named the "Mary Jane." Teddy promptly renamed her the "Fat Marie," in honor of The Fattest Woman on Earth, much to the amusement of Phil and Mr. Sparling.
The "Nemah" was the third boat of the fleet, a much smaller craft than either of the others. The owner intended to use the "Nemah" as the Flying Squadron of the show, the boat that went ahead of the main body of the show, bearing the cook tent, kitchen equipment and as much other property as could be loaded on it.
"Well, Teddy," said Mr. Sparling, "in view of the fact that you and Phil have renamed the 'River Queen' and the 'Mary Jane,' I suppose you will not be satisfied until you have rechristened the 'Nemah.' What will you call her?"
"'Little Nemo,'" answered the lad promptly.
"You boys beat anything I ever came across in all my circus experience," remarked Mr. Sparling.
"Where do we sleep?" asked Phil.
"The cabins are all on the upper decks. The lower decks will be used wholly for the equipment. I have had all the partitions ripped out, down there, and the deck flooring lowered a little so that the elephants will have room to stand. I have also had smaller wheels put on all the wagons. Had I not done so the wagons would not have gone in through the openings on the sides."
"What about the tent poles?" asked Phil. "You never will be able to drive a pole wagon on board."
"You have an eye to business, I see. Have you noticed that the center poles are spliced this season?"
"Yes, I did observe that."
"It was for the purpose of easier handling. The poles will all be swung to the upper decks in bundles. In the morning they will be lowered to the wagons, which can be done without much difficulty. All the poles, except those belonging to the big top, will go out on the 'Little Nemo,' as you have named her. At first, handling the show will be a little awkward, but we shall soon get the hang of it and fit into the new arrangement just as if we had been always traveling on boats. Traveling on the water, you see, we shall be able to show on both sides of the river all the way down, which we could not do were we traveling by train. That will give us a long season, short runs overnight and a fine outing. Everybody will be delighted with the change, don't you think so?"
"If not, they will be pretty hard to please, I should say," rejoined Phil. "Why, it will be a regular vacation—all summer!"
"How far do we go?" asked Teddy.
"The length of the river."
"To the Gulf of Mexico?"
"Yes. New Orleans probably will be our last stand of the season. That is, if we do not get wrecked on the big river."
"We can swim out if we do," suggested Teddy.
"I hope nothing of the sort will occur. I think our new plans will make a great hit along the river."
"They cannot help but do so. We shall have a fine business, I know," smiled Phil," and our rivals will be green with envy."
"May we go on board?"
"I hardly think you will have time this morning, Teddy. You boys had better get back to the lot now. I will let you run the show, Phil, as I shall be busy most of the day arranging for the transfer to our new quarters. I chose Saturday for the purpose, as it will give us plenty of time. We probably shall not get away from here much before daylight."
"What boat do we berth on?"
"The 'Fat Marie,'" answered the showman, with a laugh. "I believe I'll have these new names of yours painted on the boats. They certainly make a hit with me. Skip along, now!"
Almost too full of the new plans to talk, the Circus Boys hurried back to the circus lot. Mr. Sparling's surprise had been a surprise, indeed.
By the time they reached the lot the news had been circulated that the show was to take to the river, and the show people were discussing excitedly the new plan.
All was bustle and excitement, and the occupants of the dressing tent, who were preparing for the parade, crowded about the boys to hear of the new boats.
The Sparling show had never gone along with the snap and enthusiasm that it did that afternoon. The performers were on their mettle and the little town was treated to a performance such as it had never seen before.
Teddy distinguished himself by landing on his head on the somersaulting mat, narrowly escaping breaking his neck, and Phil took an unexpected header into the big net during his trapeze act, getting a jolt that made his head ache for an hour afterwards. Nothing else of an exciting nature occurred during the afternoon performance, but at the evening show the circus people were not so fortunate.
At that performance they met with excitement enough to last them for a long time.
A BOLT FROM THE CLOUDS
"The old hen has laid an egg! The old hen has laid an egg!"
The performance was moving merrily on, the gasoline lamps shedding a bright glow over the golden haze of the circus tent, when a diminutive clown rushed into the arena bearing something in his arms.
To the spectators it was just another clownish act, and they laughed uproariously. The circus people, however, realized at once that something not down on the bills was taking place, and they cast wondering glances at the little clown, who was dancing about in high glee.
"Get out of here!" growled the ringmaster angrily. "What do you mean by breaking into the performance in this way. Out of here, I say!"
"The old hen has laid an egg!" repeated the clown, holding aloft the object that all might see.
Teddy Tucker, for it was he, cared nothing for the crowds occupying the seats. In fact, it is doubtful that he gave any thought to them at all.
"What do you mean?" demanded the ringmaster.
"The ostrich. Don't you see?"
"Yes, she's laid an egg."
Quick to appreciate the value of the clown's interruption, the ringmaster took the great egg that Teddy had brought in, and held it aloft.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, as the band suddenly ceased playing, "wonders never cease in the Great Sparling Shows. You have been treated to startling feats of skill upon the lofty flying swings; you have witnessed desperately dangerous displays of unrivaled aerialism, and you are about to observe the thundering, furious Roman chariot races three times about the arena—"
"Say, what are you trying to get at?" growled Teddy Tucker. "Give me back that egg."
"But a sensation greater than all of these is in store for you, though you did not know it. The tallest hen in the world has laid an egg for your instruction and amusement—the ostrich has immortalized the town of Milledgeville by laying an egg within its sacred precincts, and my friend, Teddy Tucker, in discovering it, has accomplished an achievement beside which the discovery of the north or south pole is a cheap side show."
The audience yelled its approval and appreciation.
"Young man, what do you intend to do with this wonderful and rare specimen?"
"What do I intend to do with it?"
"Yes. Is it your purpose to present it to this beautiful little city, to be placed among its other treasures in the city hall?"
"Well, I guess not!"
"I'm going to eat it. That's what I'm going to do with it," answered Teddy in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the big top.
The people shouted.
"Give me that egg!" demanded the Circus Boy, grabbing the big white ball and marching off toward the paddock with it, to the accompaniment of the laughter and applause of the audience.
"Now that we have seen this remarkable Easter achievement, the performance will proceed," announced the ringmaster, blowing his whistle and waving his hand.
The band struck up; the performers, grinning broadly, took up their work where they had left off upon the entrance of Teddy Tucker with the giant egg.
The incident had served to put both performers and audience in high good humor. Mr. Sparling was not present to witness it. He was busy down by the docks, attending to the loading of such of the show's equipment as was ready to be packed away for shipment on the Sparling fleet.
Perhaps it was just as well for Teddy, that the owner of the show was not present, as he might have objected to the Circus Boy's interruption of the performance.
Teddy was irrepressible. He stood in awe of no one except the Lady Snake Charmer, and did pretty much as he pleased all the time. Yet, beneath the surface, there was the making of a manly man, a resolute, sturdy character of whom great things might be expected in the not far distant future.
As the performance proceeded an ominous rumbling was suddenly heard.
"I think it is going to storm," Phil confided to his working mate on the flying trapeze.
"Sounds that way. Is that thunder I hear?"
"Guess it won't amount to much. Just a spring shower. You will find a lot of them along the river for the next month or so."
"I have always heard that rivers were wet," replied Phil humorously, swinging off into space, landing surely and gracefully in the arms of the catcher in the trapeze act.
"I think we had better cut the act short."
"Oh, no, let's go on with it," answered Phil. "I am not afraid if you are not."
"Afraid nothing. I remember still what a narrow escape we had last season just before that blow-down, when Wallace, the big lion, made his escape. That was a lively time, wasn't it?"
"Rather," agreed Phil.
The ringmaster motioned to them to bring their act to a close, and the band leader, catching the significance of the movement, urged his musicians to play louder. The crash of cymbals and the boom of the bass drum and the big horns almost drowned out the rumbling of the thunder.
Those up near the dome of the tent, still going through their acts, now heard the patter of heavy rain drops on the canvas top. The lights throughout the tent flickered a little under the draught that sucked in through the openings in the tent and the open space at the top of the side walls.
The audience showed signs of restlessness.
"It is only a spring shower, ladies and gentlemen," announced the ringmaster. "You have no cause for alarm. The hats of the ladies are perfectly safe. This tent is waterproof. You could soak it in the Mississippi without getting a drop of water through it. That's the way the Sparling show looks out for its patrons. Nothing cheap about the Sparling outfit!"
A laugh greeted his remarks.
A blinding flash faded the gasoline lamps to a ghostly flame. A few seconds later a crash that shook the earth followed, causing the audience to shiver with nervous apprehension.
Teddy had come out and was gazing aloft. He grinned at Phil, noting at the same time that all the lofty performers were preparing to come down.
"Hello, fraid-cats up there!" jeered the Circus Boy.
"You get out of here!" snapped the ringmaster. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Yes, I see you working. Go on about your business and don't bother me. Don't you think I have anything else to do except to watch you, in order to prevent your breaking up the performance?"
"You ought to thank me for keeping you busy," chuckled Teddy, making a lively jump to get out of the way of the long lash that snapped at his heels.
Perhaps there was method in Teddy Tucker's movements. He strolled out into the concourse, gazing up at the crowded seats, winking and making wry faces at the people, as he moved slowly along, causing them to laugh and shout flippant remarks at him.
This was exactly what he wanted them to do. It gave Teddy an opportunity to talk back, and many a keen-pointed shaft did he hurl at the unwary who had been imprudent enough to try to make sport of him.
While this impromptu act was going on the minds of the people were so occupied that they forgot all about the storm.
The rain was now beating down on the big top in a deluge, and despite the ringmaster's assurance that the canvas would not leak, a fine spray was filling the tent like a thin fog, through which the lights glowed in pale circles.
"Even the lamps have halos," Teddy informed the people. "I had one once, but the ringmaster borrowed it and forgot to return it. But I don't care. He needs a halo more than I do."
A howl greeted this sally.
Teddy was about to say something else, after the first wave of laughter had swept over the audience, but no one heard him speak.
Another flash, more brilliant, more blinding than any that had gone before it, lighted up the tent. The big top seemed suddenly to have been filled with fire. Thin threads of it ran down quarter and center pole; circles of it raced about the iron rings used in various parts of the tent, then jumped into the rigging, running up and down the iron braces and wire ropes used to brace the apparatus.
The flash was accompanied by a report that was terrifying. At that instant a great ball of fire descended from the damp top of the tent, dropping straight toward the concourse. Teddy Tucker chanced to be standing just beneath it. He had glanced up when the report came, to see if any damage had been done aloft.
"Wow!" breathed Teddy.
Just then the ball burst only a few feet above his head, scattering fire in all directions.
Teddy fell flat to the ground.
He was up almost at once.
"I'm all right! How's the rest of the family?" he howled.
The rest of the family were too much concerned with what was taking place in the big top to notice the Circus Boy's humor.
Then Teddy observed that the center pole was split from end to end. The lightning bolt had followed it from its peak to the ground. Several of the side poles had already given way, and the lad saw the dome of the tent slowly settling.
"Hitch it! Anchor it!" he bellowed.
The attendants were too frightened to give heed to his words.
Phil Forrest was coming down a rope, hand under hand, as rapidly as he could travel.
"Snub the rope or you'll have the tent down on you!" he shouted.
Teddy darted forward, throwing himself upon the heavy rope that held the dome in place.
At that instant the rope on which Phil Forrest was descending gave way, and Phil came straight down.
He landed on Teddy Tucker's head and shoulders, knocking Teddy flat on the ground, where the little Circus Boy lay still. Yet he had, with rare presence of mind, snubbed the heavy rope around a tent stake, keeping the free end of the rope in hand, and holding desperately to it.
Nor did Teddy release his grip on the rope, now that he had been knocked unconscious. He held it in place, the strands wound firmly about his arm, though inch by inch he was slipping toward the heavy tent stake. Phil had received a severe shaking-up, but he was on his feet quickly, looking about to see on whom he had fallen.
When he discovered that Teddy had been the victim, Phil groaned.
"I'm afraid I have finished him!"
Teddy had now been drawn along by the rope until his head was against the tent stake.
"Quick! Lend a hand here!" shouted Phil.
He wrenched the rope loose from Tucker's hands, taking a twist about his own arms and holding on with all his might.
Several ring attendants came to their senses about that time and rushed to his assistance.
"Take care of Teddy!" cried Phil.
The ringmaster turned Teddy over and looked into the lad's face. At that, Teddy opened his eyes and winked. The ringmaster jerked him to his feet and shook him vigorously.
This restored the boy to his normal condition.
"Hello, folks!" howled Teddy, turning a handspring, falling over a ring curbing as he did so.
The people forgot their fear and greeted Teddy with wild applause. The Circus Boy had saved a blow-down and perhaps many lives as well.
IN NEW QUARTERS
Though the center pole had been struck by lightning, repairs were soon sufficiently advanced to enable the show to go on and complete the performance. The pole itself was practically ruined.
Fortunately, the show had another one, and the wrecked pole was left on the lot that night as worthless.
After the Roman races the people stood up in their seats and gave three cheers for the boy who had saved many of them from perhaps serious injury or death.
Teddy heard the cheer. He was in his dressing tent changing his clothes, having thus far gotten on only his trousers and undershirt.
He could not restrain his curiosity, so trotting to the entrance he inquired the cause of the commotion.
"They're cheering for you," a canvasman informed him.
Teddy needed no more. Without an instant's hesitation he ran out into the ring, where he stood smiling, bowing and throwing kisses to them.
"Come and see us again!" yelled the Circus Boy.
"We will that!" answered a chorus of voices.
"I'll have the big hen lay another egg for you. I—" His voice was drowned in the roar of laughter that followed this sally.
Already the attendants were ripping up the seats, loading them into the wagons, with a rattle and bang. Men were shouting, horses neighing; here and there an animal uttered a hoarse-voiced protest at something, it knew not what.
Circus animals often scent a change, perhaps more quickly than do the people about them.
Performers and others, whose duties did not keep them on the lot, were hurrying to get to the dock where the circus boats were waiting, and where Mr. Sparling was attending to the loading.
Phil and Teddy were in no less haste. Quickly getting their trunks packed, they started off for the river. The moon had come out after the storm and the air was fresh and fragrant, though underfoot the evidences of the storm were still present.
"Did I hurt you much when I fell on you tonight, Teddy?"
"You knocked the breath out of me. But don't let a little thing like that worry you. I thought the tent had fallen on me, or at least a center pole. Lucky I was there, wasn't it?"
"You might have received a bump that you wouldn't have gotten over right away."
"I might have done so."
"I saved your life, didn't I?"
"Perhaps you did. I had only a few feet to drop, you know. I was ready to drop on all fours lightly when you happened to get in the way—"
"When I happened to get in the way?"
"Yes. Didn't you?"
"Well, I like that," growled Teddy indignantly. "Here I run in and save your life, willing to sacrifice my own for you and you say when I 'happened to get in the way.'"
Phil laughed heartily.
"Of course, I appreciate your wonderful self-sacrifice. It was very kind of you to get in the way and let me fall on you. Nothing like having a soft place to fall, is there, old chap?"
Teddy uttered an unintelligible growl.
"That's right; insult me. I'm only a clown and—and a life-saver—"
"And one of the best fellows a chap could have for his friend, eh? I was only joking, Teddy."
"I accept your apology. My hand on it," answered Teddy condescendingly. "Next time you can fall on the ground or any old place. I don't care. I shan't try to catch you."
"If I remember correctly, you could not very well help yourself in this instance. You did not catch me. I caught you—caught you unawares. There is Mr. Sparling and there are the boats. Don't they look fine, all lighted up inside, their signal lights burning on the outside?"
"They look wet to me."
Thin wisps of smoke were curling lazily from the funnels of the three boats, for the stokers had not yet started to get up steam. Some hours would elapse before the fleet would be ready to begin its journey down the big river.
"There goes the 'Little Nemo,'" cried Teddy.
The smaller of the three steamboats moved slowly out into the stream, and there came to anchor to await the other boats. The "Fat Marie" was already alongside the long dock, but she now moved up a little further to make room for her companion boat, the "River Queen," which latter Phil had nicknamed the "Yellow Peril."
"Let's see, where do we stow our belongings, Phil?"
"On the 'Fat Marie.'"
"If that name don't sink her, nothing will," said Teddy, with a broad grin. "I hope the boat floats better than Fat Marie did when she fell in the creek last season. If not, we're lost. Let's go on board and find out where we are going to live."
"After we speak to Mr. Sparling. Is there anything we can do to help you, Mr. Sparling?" asked Phil, stepping up to the owner of the show, who, hatless, coatless, his hair looking as if it had not been combed in days, was giving orders in sharp, short sentences, answering questions and shouting directions almost in the same breath.
"Oh, is that you, Phil?"
"It is myself, sir," smiled the lad. "How are you getting along?"
"Much better than I had hoped. You see the 'Little Nemo' is already loaded. The 'Fat Marie' is well loaded and the 'Queen' is taking stuff on board at a two-forty gait."
"I see you haven't driven the bulls on yet," meaning the elephants.
The elephants were standing off beyond the docks, huge shadowy figures, swaying silently in the faint light, for there was a slight haze in the air that even the brilliant moonlight could not wholly pierce.
"No; I thought it best to load the bulls and the ring stock later on. The bulls might get frightened with all the unusual noises around them. After they become more used to this method of traveling they will be all right."
"What time do we pull out?"
"It will be three o'clock, I think. Perhaps a little later than that."
"You mean earlier," suggested Teddy.
The showman turned on him sharply.
"Why, hello, Teddy. Really, you are so small that I did not see you."
"I guess I'm some, even if I am little," protested the lad warmly.
"You are right. You are not only some, but much. What's this I hear about trouble on the lot? Some of the men said they heard there had been an accident, but they guessed it didn't amount to much."
"It was not very serious," said Phil.
"Oh, no; nothing of any consequence," jeered Teddy. "I was struck by lightning, that's all."
"Hit by balls of fire—and the big hen laid an egg."
"See here, what are you driving at—"
"And crushed, utterly crushed by my best friend, Phil Forrest. Now, what do you think of that?"
"Teddy, please hitch your tongue to the roof of your mouth for a moment. Now, Phil, tell me what happened. I get so dizzy when Teddy is talking that I almost imagine I am going to be seasick."
"Pshaw!" growled Teddy.
"We did have a little trouble."
"Tell me about it."
"The storm came up while the aerial acts were on. We all shortened our acts at the direction of the ringmaster, and it was well we did so. We had not all gotten down when a bolt of lightning struck the main center pole."
"You don't say! Here, men, stow those canvas wagons forward! You must learn to trim the boat, giving her an even load all over! Did the bolt do any damage?"
"Slivered the pole."
"Yes. Not worth carrying off the lot."
"No, but I think there would have been had it not been for my friend, Teddy Tucker. He amused the audience while things were happening up above."
"Good for you, Teddy Tucker," said the showman, slapping the Circus Boy on the back.
"Ouch!" howled Teddy.
"I was congratulating you, that's all," laughed Mr. Sparling.
"If it is all the same to you, please use a club when you congratulate me. I won't feel it so much."
Phil next went on to relate how Teddy had, by his quickness, made fast the rope and probably saved the top from falling in on them, and how he, Phil, had fallen on the boy and knocked him out.
Mr. Sparling surveyed the flushed face of Teddy approvingly.
"Thank you, Teddy," he said. "I'll give you a day off to go fishing, sometime, for that."
"I don't want to go fishing."
"Then you are the first showman I ever knew who did not. They are simply crazy over fishing. You'll see every one of them hanging over the rails in the early morning trying to catch fish."
"I won't. You'll see me asleep about that time, if you look in the right place," answered Teddy very promptly.
"Teddy deserves your praise, Mr. Sparling."
"He does, and he has it. I will show my appreciation more fully when I get all this rush out of the way. The loss of the center pole doesn't amount to much, but the rest does."
"And the hen laid an egg," reiterated Teddy.
"Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you. The big ostrich hen laid an egg this evening."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes; Teddy found it in the hay behind the concert platform."
The showman's eyes twinkled.
"What were you doing back there?"
"Looking for a place to take a catnap between acts."
Mr. Sparling laughed heartily.
"There's only one Teddy in the whole wide world!"
"I hope not," added the boy quickly.
"Where is the egg—what did you do with it?"
"Got it in my bag here, want to see it?"
He handed the egg to Mr. Sparling who turned it over, glancing at it curiously.
"Look out! You'll drop it!"
"And what are you going to do with it, may I ask?"
"What, eat up my property?"
"Eggs belongs to the finder, and—"
"You mean eggs belong to the finder," corrected Phil.
"Yes, I guess so. Any way, so you say it. I'm going to eat this egg, even if it does give me indigestion all the rest of my life. How do you cook ostrich eggs?"
"I never cooked any, my boy. You will have to consult the cook on that point. Perhaps he may consent to cook it for you."
"I'll give you a slice off the white when it's cooked."
"Thank you. You are welcome to the whole egg. Better go up and locate yourselves, boys."
"What number is our room, Mr. Sparling?" asked Phil.
"Number twenty-four, on the upper deck. I have given you a nice, roomy, light and airy cabin that I think will please you. It is one of the best on the ship and you should be very comfortable there."
"I am sure we shall be, and thank you very much," said Phil. "Come along, Teddy."
Together they made their way to the boat and through the crowded, bustling lower deck, where the big canvas-covered wagons were being warped into place, a sort of orderly confusion reigning over everything, the scene lighted by lanterns swinging from hooks all about the deck.
The lads found their cabin, and after lighting the lamp, uttered exclamations of surprise. Instead of the narrow berths they had expected to see, there were white enameled iron bedsteads, a washstand with the same neat finish, and several pictures on the walls.
The cabin was a large one. In the center of it stood a table on which lay a large portfolio and inscribed in gold letters on the outside they read the words, "For the Circus Boys."
The portfolio was filled with writing materials.
"Oh, isn't that fine?" exclaimed Phil.
"Yes, it's a fine egg. I'm going to have the feast of my life when I get it baked—"
"What do you think I am talking about?"
"I am not. I am talking about this beautiful cabin that Mr. Sparling has fixed for us. Look at it—look at this portfolio. I am afraid you don't appreciate how good our employer is to us. There is an easy chair for each of us, too. Why, we ought to be very happy."
"I am happy. So would you be if a hen had laid a five pound egg for you," retorted Teddy.
"Hopeless, hopeless," groaned Phil.
Teddy, muttering to himself, carefully laid the egg away in his trunk, first wrapping it up in an old silk ring shirt, then locking the trunk and putting the key in his pocket.
The lad then made a personal and critical examination of the room, tried the springs of the bed, nodded approvingly, sat down in one of the easy chairs and put his feet on the table.
Phil promptly pushed the feet off.
"Here, what are you doing?"
"This is not the dressing room of a circus, Teddy. This is the living room of a couple of young gentlemen. Let's not forget that. Let us try to keep our cabin looking nice and shipshape, else Mr. Sparling will think we do not appreciate his kindness."
"I'll tell you what we'll do!"
"I am listening."
"We'll have a spread up here all by ourselves, tomorrow night, after the show. We'll eat the egg. I'll get the cook to boil it all day tomorrow—does it take a day to boil an ostrich egg?"
"I should think it might take a month," laughed Phil. "Yes; I'll make a martyr of myself and help you eat the egg. I shall never have any peace until that egg is finally disposed of—"
"What's going on downstairs?" interrupted Teddy.
A commotion was heard out on the dock. There was the tramping of many feet, mingled with loud, angry shouts and sharp commands.
"It sounds to me as if something has been let loose," said Teddy Tucker wisely.
Something had been "let loose."
With one accord the Circus Boys sprang up. Rushing out into the corridor they leaped down the after companionway four steps at a jump.
JANUARY ON THE RAMPAGE
"What's the row? What's the row?" bellowed Teddy, who, bolting under a cage and, leaving his hat under the wagon, dashed out to the dock, where their vessel was moored.
The two boys saw an object leaping into the air, performing strange and grotesque antics.
"It's January!" yelled Teddy. "Whoa, January!"
But January refused to "whoa." The donkey had objected to going aboard the boat. When the workmen tried to force him, he protested vigorously, biting those in front and kicking those behind him.
"Teddy, get that fool donkey out of here or I'll throw him in the river," bawled the owner of the show.
Perhaps January understood the threat. At least he started for Mr. Sparling, snorting.
The showman ducked under a canvas wagon and climbed up the other side of it, giving his orders from the top of the wagon. He knew January. He had had business dealings with the donkey on other occasions.
"Get him out of here, I tell you!"
"Drive him in yourself," answered a groom. "I wouldn't try it for a present of the whole confounded show."
Up to this point those who had not left the dock willingly January had assisted with his ever ready hoofs, and, by the time Teddy reached the scene the donkey had kicked every man off and into the street, excepting the owner of the show himself. As already related, Mr. Sparling had seen fit to leave in haste when January directed his attention to him.
"Whoa, January!" commanded Teddy in a soothing tone.
The donkey, at sound of the Circus Boy's voice, reared and came down facing Teddy.
"Come here, you beast. Don't you know you're going to have a ride on the river? You don't know enough to know when you are well off. Come, Jany, Jany, Jany. Wow!"
January had responded with a rush. Teddy stepped aside just in time to save himself from being bowled over. But as the donkey ran by him the boy threw both arms about the animal's neck.
Then began the liveliest scrimmage that the spectators had ever witnessed. Kicking and bucking, the donkey raced from side to side, varying his performance now and then by making a dive toward the crowd, which quickly gave gangway as the people sought for safety.
"Whoa, January! I—I'll break your neck for this, hang you! Some other donkey has taught you these tricks. You never knew anything about them way back in Edmeston. You—"
Teddy was slapped against the side of the "Fat Marie."
By this time Tucker's temper was beginning to rise. His first inclination was to hit the donkey on the nose with his free hand, but he caught himself in time. He was too fond of animals, even donkeys, to strike one on the head. It was a rule too, in the Sparling shows, that any man who so far forgot himself as to strike a horse over the head closed with the show then and there.
Now Teddy thought of a new plan. He watched his opportunity. Suddenly, Teddy put his plan into operation.
It must be remembered that the Circus Boy was strong and agile, and that his work in the ring had given him added quickness.
He therefore applied the trick he had thought of; then something happened to January. The donkey struck the planking of the pier flat on his back, his feet beating the air viciously.
Teddy flopped the animal on its side, then calmly sat down on the donkey's head. He had thrown the beast as prettily as ever had a wrestler an adversary.
The Circus Boy began mopping the perspiration from his brow.
"Warm, isn't it?" he said, tilting his eyes up to where Mr. Sparling had been watching the proceedings from the top of a wagon.
"You certainly look the part. Now, what are you going to do with that fool donkey?"
"I'm going to sit on his head until I get ready to get up. Then, if somebody will lend me a whip, I'll tan his jacket to my own taste."
January uttered a loud bray.
"Well, do something," shouted a canvasman. "We can't wait all night on the gait of that donkey."
"All right; if any of you fellows think you know the inside workings of a donkey's mind better than I do, just come and lead this angelic creature on board the 'Fat Marie.'"
"No, no; we don't know anything about donkeys," came a chorus of voices. "We don't want to know anything about donkeys, either."
"Somebody bring me a bridle, then. Don't be afraid of him, he is as gentle as a lamb. You wouldn't hurt a fly, would you, dear January?"
January elevated both hind feet, narrowly missing the groom who had brought the bridle.
After some difficulty the bystanders succeeded in getting the bit between his teeth and the bridle over his head.
"Now, take tight hold of the bridle and lead him. I'll use persuasive measures at the other end," directed Teddy.
January fairly hurled himself forward, jerking the groom off his feet at once. But the man hung on stubbornly.
A moment more, and Teddy had fastened a firm grip on January's tail, not appearing to be in the least afraid of the flying hoofs that were beating a tattoo in the air.
How Teddy did twist that tail! Finally January, in sheer desperation, was forced to give ground. One leap carried him over the gangplank and into the boat. Once within, there was a repetition of the scenes enacted on the dock, except that this time it was the groom who was getting the worst of it, while Teddy sat on the gangway, howling with delight.
At last the donkey was subdued and led to the place where he was to spend the night. But they had to rope him in to prevent his kicking the other stock through the side of the boat.
Fat Marie herself came waddling along about this time, blowing like a miniature steam engine.
"Gangway! Gangway!" shrieked Marie, in a high-pitched, shrill voice.
Teddy was nearly crowded off the gangplank.
"See here, where are you going? Don't you know there's a crazy donkey in there?"
"Going to my cabin to seek sweet repose," squeaked Marie.
"What! Are you going to live on this boat?"
"That's what. If I can get up to the sky parlor where my 'boodwah' is. Come, help me up the stairs; that's a good boy, Teddy."
"I helped you once. That was enough for me. Say, Marie?"
"What is it, my lad?"
"If the boat should be wrecked in one of the terrible storms that sweep this raging river you had better grab the anchor the first thing."
"Why grab the anchor?"
"You'll sink quicker," laughed the Circus Boy, darting out to the dock and leaning against a wagon wheel.
By this time Mr. Sparling had descended from his haven of safety, and began issuing orders again.
"Get the bulls in now. No more nonsense. Teddy, you did a good job, but it took you a long time to do it."
"Yes, sir. Do you think anybody else could have done it quicker?"
"I know they could not. Where is Phil?"
"Guess he went back to his cabin after I finished off January. Going to load the elephants, did you say?"
"Aren't you afraid they will sink the boat?"
"Don't bother us now. You know we did not bother you when you were trying to get your livestock in."
"I noticed that you didn't," answered Teddy, humorously, which remark brought a shout of laughter from everyone within hearing of his voice.
Mr. Kennedy, the elephant-trainer, now ranged his charges in line, with Jupiter, the ill-tempered member of the herd, in the lead. He wanted to get Jupiter in ahead, knowing that the others would follow willingly enough after him. Emperor, the great beast that had such a warm regard for Phil, was third in the line.
"Everybody keep away and don't make a racket or they will get nervous. I expect to have a little trouble with those bulls the first time. After that they will go one board as meek as a flock of spring mutton," declared Kennedy. Teddy was close at hand. If there was any prospect of trouble or excitement he wanted to be near enough not to miss a single feature of it.
Mr. Kennedy gave the command for attention.
Each of the elephants to the rear of Jupiter stretched forth a trunk and grasped the tail of the elephant directly in front of him.
"Hip! Hip!" began Teddy.
"That will do, young man," warned Mr. Sparling.
The line moved slowly forward, Jupiter offering no objection to going where he was ordered.
Just as he reached the gangplank, however, Jupiter halted.
The elephant's trunk curled upward and a mighty trumpeting sent the villagers scurrying for places of safety.
Mr. Kennedy prodded the elephant with the sharp point of his hook. The act forced Jupiter to place one foot on the gang plank, throwing his weight upon the planking to test its stability. He felt it give ever so little beneath his feet, and quickly withdrew the foot.