The Circus Boys on the Plains Or The Young Advance Agents Ahead of the Show
By EDGAR B. P. DARLINGTON
CHAPTER I—ON THE OWNER'S PRIVATE CAR
The English Fat Girl gets mired on the lot. Teddy Tucker threatens to thrash the "Strongest Man on Earth." The hazards of a circus life. Teddy would put the whole show out of business. Phil and his chum assigned to Advance Car Number Three.
CHAPTER II—OFF FOR NEW FIELDS
"Boss Sparling seems in an awful hurry to get rid of us." Circus Boys meet a cold reception. Phil is made a "barn climber." Teddy threatens to wring the car manager's neck. "Soak him, Phil!" yells the boy on the pile of railroad ties.
CHAPTER III—COMING TO AN UNDERSTANDING
Phil gets into action. "I've had enough!" groans the car manager. A telegram to the owner complains of the Circus Boys. "Either you get off this car or I do." The advance car is a bedlam. More trouble for the Circus Boys is in sight.
CHAPTER IV-INTRODUCED TO THE CREW
Circus Boys meet "Rosie the Pig" and other notables. The porter tells how Phil worsted Mr. Snowden. What a "contract hotel" is. Teddy decides to take bean soup. "Why didn't the contracting agent sign us up with a livery stable?"
CHAPTER V—THE MIDNIGHT ALARM
How an advance car is operated. The "banner man" and his little magnetic hammer. "You're a bird on the trapeze." The boys exchange confidences on snoring. Circus Boys go to sleep on beds of paper. Aroused by a great uproar.
CHAPTER VI—ALMOST A TRAGEDY
"He's fallen into the paste can headfirst!" Teddy Tucker has a narrow escape from death. The manager gives Phil a ducking. "Rain-in-the-Face" sees a great light. An irate car manager. How Teddy took his revenge on Mr. Snowden.
CHAPTER VII—THE FIRST DAY'S EXPERIENCE
"He pulled me out of bed!" Great excitement on Car Three. Snowden hopes Phil will fall off and break his neck. Young Forrest pastes a poster on himself. "Young man, you have a cast-iron nerve!" The Circus Boy "squares" a hard-shell farmer.
CHAPTER VIII—THE CIRCUS BOY WINS
Phil gets a silo, and a hog pen for good measure. Farmers witness a circus stunt not down on the bills. A narrow escape. Taking a desperate chance. Phil "the champeen of them all." Circus sheets that stood out like a fire on the landscape.
CHAPTER IX—TEDDY GETS INTO TROUBLE
Blue jeans replace pink tights. When it rained paste. "I didn't know you had your nose stuck in the paste pot when I turned on the steam." Teddy sets himself the task of reforming a "crazy man." The trouble maker is named "Spotted Horse." "You're discharged!"
CHAPTER X—A SURPRISE, INDEED!
Billy Conley is up to tricks. Mr. Sparling takes a hand. The car manager gets his deserts. "You will hear great things of Phil Forrest one of these days." "I'm going to thrash a man within an inch of his life!" Phil hears an amazing thing.
CHAPTER XI—THREE CHEERS AND A TIGER
Phil Forrest, Car Manager. Dazed by an unexpected promotion. Teddy graduates from the paste pot. How circus money is spent. The Circus Boys win new laurels. Teddy becomes a press agent. Phil makes a speech and is welcomed as "The Boss."
CHAPTER XII—FACING AN EMERGENCY
"Bad habit to go to bed on an empty stomach." Teddy Tucker discovers a rival on a side track. "Here's trouble right from the start!" The new car manager gets into rapid-fire action. "We must beat the 'opposition.' Now, boys, it's up to you!" The mine is laid.
CHAPTER XIII—A BAFFLED CAR MANAGER
"That fellow is playing a sharp trick." Phil breakfasts with his rival and extracts information from him. "You ain't half as big a fool as you look, are you?" Bob Tripp gets a great shock. Farmers guard Phil Forrest's posters with shot guns.
CHAPTER XIV—TEDDY WRITES A LETTER
Circus Boys steal a second march on the "opposition." Teddy Tucker whoops for joy. The new press agent begins work. "Spotted Horse" has too many fingers for typing. A suggestion for billposters. Circus Boys strike hard blows.
CHAPTER XV—IN AN EXCITING RACE
All surrounded in Kansas. Three "opposition" cars discovered in the same yard with Phil Forrest. A race for the country. Paste cans dance a jig. Rivals turned over into a ditch. A case of give and take.
CHAPTER XVI—A BATTLE OF WITS
When money made a big noise. The canary car manager gets an awful jolt. "Be on your way, my little man," urges Phil sweetly. "Turn out every man in town! Run as if the Rhino of the Sparling Circus were after you!"
CHAPTER XVII—THE CHARGE OF THE PASTE BRIGADE
The battle is on in earnest. Trouble is on the air. "Paste them, fellows!" howls Teddy. "Look out! The police are coming!" "I arrest you for disturbing the peace!" Phil faces the officers of the law boldly and wins for his show.
CHAPTER XVIII—THE MISSING SHOW CARS
Congratulations from the show's owner. Four rival advance cars go out on one train. Teddy sends the enemy's cars adrift. Sleeping a sleep of innocence. Phil is puzzled over the mystery of the missing cars. Teddy's expression arouses the suspicion of his chum.
CHAPTER XIX—PHIL'S DARING PLAN
Teddy Tucker admits his guilt. Forrest reads "Spotted Horse" a severe lecture. "Is the sermon over?" A lesson that bore fruit for a day or so. Pat "smells a rat." "She's moving! We're off!" The Circus Boys adrift on a runaway car.
CHAPTER XX—ON A WILDCAT RUN
A dizzy ride through the storm. "Don't bother me, I'm making the next town!" A thrilling moment. Phil faces death with a smile on his face. "Hold fast, we're going to sideswipe them!" The agent at Salina gets a surprise.
CHAPTER XXI—IN A PERILOUS POSITION
Teddy throws out his chest and seeks publicity. "Spotted Horse" has a daring plan. The Circus Boy a hundred feet in the air. Teddy takes a desperate chance to earn Phil Forrest's fifty. Overtaken by disaster as the Sparling banner floats to the breeze.
CHAPTER XXII—A DASH FOR LIBERTY
"Help! I'm hung up!" Teddy is suspended, head downward, between earth and sky. Phil hurries to the rescue. "I'm all tied up in a knot!" wails the unhappy Tucker. Teddy takes a long drop, landing on Billy's neck, and bowls over a policeman.
CHAPTER XXIII—THE DESERTED VILLAGE
A new trouble-plan in the making. Teddy is so happy that he can't go to bed. The "opposition" is lost again. Phil makes his chum tell how he tricked the rival car managers. How Phil Forrest proved that he was a real manager.
The manager of "The Greatest Show on Earth" wants Phil. Setting out to "drive the other fellows off the map." "No more meals at the Sign of the Tin Spoon." Circus Boys have a happy windup to an exciting show season.
THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE PLAINS
ON THE OWNER'S PRIVATE CAR
The voice of James Sparling rose above even the roar of the storm.
A uniformed attendant stepped into the little office tent occupied by the owner of the Great Sparling Combined Shows. Shaking the water from his dripping cap, he brought a hand to his forehead in precise military salute.
"How's the storm coming, Bates?" demanded the showman, with an amused twinkle in his eyes as he noted the bedraggled condition of his messenger.
"She's coming wet, sir," was the comprehensive reply.
And indeed "she" was. The gale was roaring over the circus lot, momentarily threatening to wrench the billowing circus tents from their fastenings, lift them high in the air preparatory to distributing them over the surrounding country. Guy ropes were straining at their anchorages, center and quarter poles were beating a nervous tattoo on the sodden turf. The rain was driving over the circus lot in blinding sheets.
The night was not ideal for a circus performance. However, the showmen uttered no protest, going about their business as methodically as if the air were warm and balmy, the moon and stars shining down over the scene complacently.
Now and again, as the wind shifted for a moment toward the showman's swaying office tent, the blare of the band off under the big top told him the show was moving merrily on.
"Bates, you are almost human at times. I had already observed that the storm was coming wet," replied the showman.
"I have reason to be aware of the fact that 'she is coming wet,' as you so admirably put it. My feet are at this moment in a puddle of water that is now three inches above my ankles. Why shouldn't I know?"
"Yes, sir," agreed the patient attendant.
"What I want to know is how are the tents standing the blow?"
"Very well, sir."
"As long as there is a stitch of canvas over your head you take it for granted that the tops are all right, eh?"
"The emergency gang is on duty, of course?"
"They're out in the wet, sir."
"Of course; that is where they belong on a night like this. But what were you doing out there? You have no business that calls you outside."
"I was helping a lady, sir."
"Helping a lady?"
"The English Fat Girl got mired on the lot, sir, and I was helping to get her out," answered the attendant solemnly.
"You will please attend to your own business after this. If the English Fat Girl gets mired again we will have the elephant trainer bring over one of the bulls and haul her out. She won't be so anxious to get stalled after that, I'm thinking," snapped the showman.
"What act is on now under the big top?"
"The ground tumblers are in the ring, sir."
Mr. Sparling reflected briefly.
"Has Mr. Forrest finished his work for the evening?"
"I think so, sir. He should be off by this time."
"Can you get to the dressing tent without finishing the job of drowning at which you already have made such a good start?" demanded the showman quizzically.
"Yes, sir," grinned Bates.
"Then, go there."
The attendant started to leave the tent.
"Come back here!" bellowed the showman.
Bates turned patiently. He was not unused to the strange whims of his employer.
"What are you going to do when you get to the dressing tent?"
"I don't know, sir."
"I thought not. You are an intelligent animal, Bates. Now listen!"
Mr. Sparling scowled, surveying his messenger with narrowed eyes.
"Tell Mr. Philip Forrest that I wish to see him in my private car at the 'runs,'"—meaning that part of the railroad yards where the show had unloaded early that morning.
"Wait! You seem anxious to get wet! Have the men strike my tent at once. It is likely to strike itself if they do not get busy pretty quick," added the showman, rising.
The messenger saluted, then hurried out into the driving storm, while Mr. Sparling methodically gathered up the papers he had been studying, stuffing them in an inside coat pocket.
"A fine, mellow night," he said to himself, peering out through the flap as he drew on his oilskins. Pulling the brim of his sombrero down over his eyes he stalked out into the storm.
A quick glance up into the skies told his experienced eyes that the worst of the storm had passed, and that there was now little danger of a blow-down that night. He started off across the circus lot, splashing through the mud and water, bound for his comfortable private car that lay on a siding about half a mile from the circus grounds.
He found a scene of bustle and excitement in the railroad yards, where a small army of men were rushing the work of loading the menagerie wagons on the first section, for the train was going out in three sections that night.
"It is a peculiar fact," muttered the showman, "that the worse the weather is, the louder the men seem called upon to yell. However, if yelling makes them feel any the less wet, I don't know why I should object."
The showman quickly changed his wet clothes and settled himself at the desk in his cosy office on board the private car. He had been there something like half an hour when the buzzing of an electric bell called the porter to the door of the car.
A moment later and Phil Forrest appeared at the door of the car.
"You sent for me, did you not, Mr. Sparling?"
"Why, good evening, Phil," greeted the showman, looking up quickly with a welcoming smile on his face.
"I call it a very bad evening, sir."
"Very well, we will revise our statement. Bad evening, Phil!"
"Same to you, Mr. Sparling," laughed the lad. "Yes, I think that fits the case very well indeed."
"And now that we have observed the formalities, come in and sit down. Are you wet?"
"No; I went to my car and changed before coming in. I thought a few minutes' delay would make no difference. Had you sent for me on the lot I would have reported more promptly."
"Quite right, my boy. No, there was nothing urgent. The storm did not interfere much with the performance, did it?"
"No. The audience was a little nervous at one time, but the scare quickly passed off."
"Where's your friend?"
"He was having an argument with the Strongest Man on Earth when I left the dressing tent," laughed Phil. "It was becoming quite heated."
"Oh, Teddy insisted on sitting on the strong man's trunk while he took off his tights. There was a mud hole in front of Teddy's trunk and he did not wish to get his feet wet and muddy."
"So the Strongest Man on Earth had to wait, eh?" questioned the showman with an amused smile.
"Yes. Teddy was threatening to thrash him if he did not keep off until he got his shoes on."
Mr. Sparling leaned back, laughing heartily.
"Your friend Teddy is getting to be a very belligerent young man, I fear."
"Getting to be?"
"It is my opinion that he always has been. Teddy can stir up more trouble, and with less provocation, than anyone I ever knew. But, you had something you wished to say to me, did you not?"
"To be sure I had. Something quite important. Have you had your lunch?"
"No; I came directly to the train from the lot."
"I am glad of that. I thought you would, so I ordered supper for two spread in the dining compartment. It must be ready by this time. Come. We will talk and eat at the same time. We have no need to hurry."
The showman and the Circus Boy made their way to the dining compartment, where a small table had been spread for them, which, with its pretty china, cut glass and brightly polished silver, made a very attractive appearance.
"This looks good to me," smiled Phil appreciatively.
"Especially on a night like this," answered Mr. Sparling. "Be seated, and we will talk while we are waiting for supper to be served."
Readers of the preceding volumes of this series will need no introduction to Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker. They well remember how the Circus Boys so unexpectedly made their entry into the sawdust arena in "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE FLYING RINGS" after Phil by his quick wit had prevented a serious accident to the lion cage and perhaps the escape of the dangerous beast itself. Both boys had quickly worked their way into the arena, and after many thrilling experiences became full-fledged circus performers.
Again in "THE CIRCUS BOYS ACROSS THE CONTINENT," the lads won new laurels on the tanbark. It will be recalled, too, how Phil Forrest at the imminent risk of his own life trailed down and captured a desperate man, one of the circus employees who, having been discharged, had followed the Sparling Show, seeking to revenge himself upon it. It will be remembered that in order to capture the fellow, the Circus Boy was obliged to leap from a rapidly moving train and plunge down a high embankment.
But their exciting experiences were by no means at an end. The life of the showman is full of excitement and it seemed as if Teddy and Phil Forrest met with more than their share in "THE CIRCUS BOYS IN DIXIE LAND." Phil Forrest, while performing a mission for his employer, was caught by a rival circus owner, held captive for some days, then forced to perform in the rival's circus ring, leaping through rings of fire in a bareback riding act. The details of Phil's exciting escape from his captors are well remembered, as will be his long, weary journey over the railroad ties in his ring costume. It was in this story that the battle of the elephants was described, all due to the shrewd planning of Phil Forrest.
The following season found the Great Sparling Shows following a new route. In "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE MISSISSIPPI," the lads embarked with the circus, on boats, which carried them from town to town along the big river. It was on this trip that Phil Forrest met with the most thrilling experience of his life, and it was only his own pluck and endurance that saved him from a watery grave at the bottom of the Mississippi.
And now, for the fifth season, the Circus Boys are found under canvas again, headed for the far west.
"How are things going with you?" questioned Mr. Sparling after the two had seated themselves at the table in the dining compartment.
"Rather slowly, Mr. Sparling."
"How is that?"
"I haven't enough to do this season. I am afraid I shall get lazy, unless you give me something else to do."
"Let me see; how many acts have you this season?"
"I am on the flying trapeze, then I do a single bareback riding act and a double with Little Dimples, the same as I did last season."
The showman nodded reflectively.
"Besides which, you attend to numerous business details for me, manage the side shows, keep an eye on the candy butchers, make yourself responsible for the menagerie tent and other things too numerous to mention. Yes; you should have a few more things to do," grinned the showman. "I could run this show with a dozen men like you, Phil. In all my circus experience I never saw your equal."
Phil flushed. He did not like to be complimented. He did his work because he loved it, not wholly for the handsome salary that he was now drawing from the little red ticket wagon every week. Phil was ambitious; he hoped, as has been said before, to have a show of his own someday, and he let no day pass that he did not add to his store of knowledge regarding the circus business.
In this ambition Mr. Sparling encouraged him, in fact did everything possible to aid the lad in acquiring a far-reaching knowledge of the vocation he had chosen for his lifework.
"Thank you, Mr. Sparling. Let's talk about something else."
"We will eat first. You probably will enjoy that more than you do my compliments."
"I am sure of it," answered the lad with a twinkle in his eyes.
"I have been thinking of giving you some additional work."
Phil glanced up at his employer with quickened interest.
"Yes, I am thinking of closing you."
"You mean you are thinking of dropping me from the show?" asked the lad, gazing at the showman with steady, inquiring eyes.
"Well, I should hardly say that. I am afraid the Sparling Show could not get along without you. I am thinking very seriously of transferring you."
"Transferring me?" wondered Phil.
"Yes. By the way, do you know much about the advance work, the work ahead of the show?"
"Very little. I might say nothing at all, except what I have picked up by reading the reports of the car managers, together with the letters you write to these men."
"That is all right, as far as it goes, but there is a deal more to the advertising department of a show than you will ever learn from reports and correspondence."
"So I should imagine."
"Yes; the success, the very existence of a circus is dependent upon the work of the men ahead of it. Let that work be neglected and you would see how soon business would drop off and the gate receipts dwindle, until, one day, the show would find itself stranded."
"Nothing could strand the Sparling Show," interposed Phil.
"You are mistaken. Bad management would put this show out of business in two months' time. That is a point that I cannot impress upon you too strongly. Any business will fail if not properly attended to, but a circus is the most hazardous of them all."
"But the risk is worth taking," remarked Phil.
"It is. For instance, when a show has a business of sixteen or eighteen thousand dollars a day for several weeks, it rather repays one for all the trouble and worry he has gone through."
"I should say it does," answered Phil, his eyes lighting up appreciatively.
"And now we come to the point I have been getting at."
"Yes; what is it you have in mind for me?"
"I am going to ask you to join the advance for the rest of the season, Phil."
"I, join the advance?" questioned the lad in a surprised tone.
"And leave the show?"
"That will be a necessity, much as I regret to have you do so."
Phil's face took on a solemn expression.
"How would you like that?"
"I do not know, Mr. Sparling. I am afraid I should not know what to do with myself away from the glitter and the excitement of the big show."
"Excitement? My dear boy, you will find all the excitement you want ahead of the show. As for work, the work ahead is never finished. There is always plenty to do after you have finished your day's work. Besides, this branch of the business you must familiarize yourself with, if you are to go later into the executive branch of the circus business."
"I am ready to go wherever you may wish to send me, Mr. Sparling," said the young man in a quiet tone.
"I knew you would be," smiled the showman.
"Where will you send me, and what am I to do?" asked Phil, now growing interested in the prospect of the change.
"I have decided to send you out on Advertising Car Number Three. That is the busiest car of the three in advance of the show. You ask what you are to do. I will answer—everything!"
"Car Three," mused the Circus Boy.
"Yes; it is in charge of Mr. Snowden," continued the showman with a twinkle in his eyes, but which Phil in his preoccupation failed to observe. "I am thinking that Snowden will give you all you want to do, and perhaps a little more."
"When do you wish me to join?"
"You may start as soon as you are ready."
"I am ready, now," replied the lad promptly.
"I did not mean for you to leave in quite such a hurry as that," laughed Mr. Sparling. "Besides, this is rather a bad night to make a change. Take your time, get your things in shape, and leave when you get ready."
"Does Mr. Snowden know I am to join him?"
"Yes; I have already written him to that effect—that is, I told him you probably would join at an early day."
"Where is Car Three now?"
Mr. Sparling consulted his route card.
"It is in Madison, Wisconsin, today. This car keeps about four weeks ahead of the show, you know. We are in Flint, Michigan, today. Do you think you can get away tomorrow?"
"Certainly. Where do we show tomorrow?"
"It will be an easy jump from there to Madison."
"Yes; but you will not catch the car at Madison. I think you had better plan to join them at St. Paul the day after tomorrow. Will that suit you?"
"Yes. I suppose my dressing-room trunk will be carried right along with the show?"
"Of course. You will close your season before the show itself does; then you can return to us, though I shall not expect you to perform. You no doubt will be a little rusty by that time."
"I should say I would be. But, Mr. Sparling—" added the boy, a sudden thought coming to him.
"What about Teddy? Does he remain with the show?"
"Teddy? I had forgotten all about that little rascal. Yes, he— but wait a moment. Upon reflection I think perhaps he had better go along with you. He wants to own a show one of these days, doesn't he?"
"I believe he does," smiled Phil.
"Then this will be a good experience for him. Besides, I should be afraid to trust him around this outfit if you were not here to look after him. He would put the whole show out of business first thing I knew. Yes, he had better go with you. And another thing—salaries in the advance are not the same, you know."
"I am aware of the fact, sir."
"You will draw the same salaries that other employees of Number Three do, and in addition to this I shall send you both my personal checks, so that you will be drawing the same money you now are."
"It is not necessary," protested Phil.
Mr. Sparling waved the objection aside.
"It is my plan. Go to your car and tell your friend to get ready now, and report to me in the morning at Saginaw for further instructions."
Phil rose. His face was flushed. He was now full of anticipation for the new life before him. And it was to be a new life indeed—a life full of astonishing experiences and adventures.
Phil bade his employer good night, and hurried away to his own car to tell the news to Teddy.
OFF FOR NEW FIELDS
"Teddy, Teddy, wake up!" commanded Phil, hauling his companion from his berth in the sleeping car.
Teddy scrambled out into the aisle of the car and promptly showed fight.
"Here, what are you doing, waking me up this time of the night?" he demanded.
"I have great news."
"News?" questioned the boy, showing some slight signs of interest in the announcement.
"Yes, news, and good news, too."
"All right, I'm easy. What is it?"
"We are to join the advance."
"Advance of what?"
"The advance of the Sparling Shows, of course," glowed Phil.
Teddy grew thoughtful.
"What, and leave the show?"
"Not for mine!"
"Oh, yes, you will! You know, we wish to learn all we can, and neither of us knows anything about that end of the business. It is a splendid opportunity, and we should be very grateful to Mr. Sparling for giving us the chance. Besides, it will be a very pleasant life. We shall be traveling in a private car, with no responsibilities beyond our work. Will it not be fine?"
"I—I don't know. I shall have to try it first. I decline to commit myself in advance. When do we go?"
"Pshaw! Boss Sparling seems to be in an awful hurry to get rid of us. All right, I'll go. I need a rest, anyway—for my health. I've been working too hard so far this season."
"Too bad about you," scoffed Phil. "We leave from Saginaw as early tomorrow as we can get away. We shall have to get a few things from our dressing-tent trunks, then pack up the things we do not need, sending them on with the show."
"Do I take my donkey?" questioned Teddy, half humorously.
"Your mule? The idea! Now, what would you do with a donkey on an advance car, I should like to know?"
"He might make things interesting for the rest of the crowd."
"I should say he would! But, from what little I know of the advance, you will have plenty to interest you without having an ill-tempered donkey along. Good night, Teddy. This is our last night with the show for a long time to come."
Phil made his way to his own berth, where he promptly went to sleep, putting from his mind until the morrow all thought of what lay before him.
Early the next morning both lads were awake; by the time their section pulled in at Saginaw they had nearly completed the packing of their personal baggage.
The rest was quickly accomplished, after they had eaten their breakfast under the cook tent. All preparations made, a final interview with Mr. Sparling had, and good-byes said, the Circus Boys boarded a train just as the strains of the circus band were borne to their ears.
"The parade is on," said Phil as their train moved out.
"And we are not there to ride in it. We'll have to get up some sort of a parade for Car Number Three, I'm thinking," smiled Teddy.
Late that afternoon the boys reached St. Paul. After considerable searching about they finally found Car Number Three. Mr. Snowden was not on board, so, telling the porter who they were, the lads made themselves comfortable in the office of the car, a roomy compartment, nicely furnished, equipped with two folding berths, a desk, easy chairs and other conveniences.
"This is pretty soft, I'm thinking," decided Teddy.
"It is very nice, if that is what you mean," corrected Phil.
"That's what I mean. Do we live in here?"
"No; I should imagine we are to berth at the other end of the car."
"Let's go look at it."
The other end of the car comprised one long apartment with folding berths and benches for laying out the lithographs. At the far end was a steam boiler, used in making paste with which to post the bills. That compartment had nothing either of elegance or comfort.
"Do the men sleep on those shelves up there?" questioned Teddy of the porter.
"Shelves, sir? Hi calls them berths, sir," answered the porter, who was an Englishman.
"What do you think of our new home, Teddy?" smiled Phil.
"I've seen better," grumbled the Circus Boy. "I think I prefer the stateroom. Where's the boss?"
"He's out just now looking over the work."
Teddy, with a scowl on his face, went outside to take a look at the car from the outside. The car was a bright red, with the name of the Sparling Shows spread over its sides in gilded letters.
"If the inside were half as good-looking as the outside, it would be some car," was Teddy's conclusion, after walking all around the car. "I think I'll go back and join the show."
"Oh, be sensible, Teddy," chided Phil. "We shall be very comfortable after we once get settled. Here comes Mr. Snowden, I think."
Approaching them, the boys saw a thin, nervous-appearing man of perhaps forty-five years of age.
"Are you Mr. Snowden?" asked Phil, politely.
"Yes; what do you want?"
"I am Phil Forrest, and this is my friend, Teddy Tucker. We have come on to join the car."
Mr. Snowden looked the lads over critically.
"Humph!" he said. "Come inside."
Whether or not his survey of them had been satisfactory neither lad knew.
"Now, what are you going to do on this car?" demanded the car manager sharply, when they had seated themselves in his office.
"That is for you to say, sir. We are at your disposal," replied Phil.
"What can you do?"
"We do not know. This is entirely new work for us. We have been performers back with the show, you know."
"Humph! Nice bunch to ring in on an advertising car!" grunted the manager. "Either of you know how to put up paper?"
"I think not."
"What do you mean by paper?" interposed Teddy.
The manager groaned.
"You don't know what paper is?"
"Paper is advertising matter, any kind of show bills that are posted on billboards, barns or any other old place where we get the chance. Everything is paper on an advertising car. Forrest, I think I'll send you out on a country route tomorrow. Know what a country route is?"
"I think so."
"Well, in case you do not, I will tell you. Every day we send out men to post bills through the country. The routes are laid out by the contracting agent long before we get to a town. You go out in a livery rig, and you will have to drive from thirty to forty miles a day. You are an aerial performer, are you not?"
"Then you will be able to climb barns all right. We will call you Car Number Three's barn-climber. We'll see how good a performer you really are. For the first few days I will send you out with one of the billposters; after that you will have to go it alone. If you are no good, back you go. Understand?"
"I think so. I shall do the best I can."
"And what do I do?" demanded Teddy.
The car manager eyed him disapprovingly.
"What do you do?"
"I have a nice gentlemanly job laid out for you. You will operate the steam boiler and make up the paste for the next day. You'll wish you had stayed back with the show before I get through with you."
"And I'll go there, too, if you talk like that to me," retorted Teddy, flushing angrily.
"What's that? What's that?" snapped the manager. "See here, young man, I am in charge of this car. You will do as I tell you, and if you get noisy about it I'll show you how we do things on an advertising car. Get out of here before I throw you out."
"See here, you, I won't be talked to like that. I'll wring your neck for you, some fine day, first thing you know!" bellowed Teddy, now thoroughly aroused.
The manager grabbed the lad by the shoulders and shot him through the screen doors before Teddy had an opportunity to object.
Teddy, red-faced and boiling with rage, was about to project himself into the stateroom again when Phil motioned him to go away. Teddy did so reluctantly.
"Where do we sleep, Mr. Snowden?" inquired Phil, hoping to get the car manager in a more gentle frame of mind by changing the subject.
"Sleep on the roof, sleep in the cellar! I don't care where you sleep! You get out of here, too, unless you want me to throw you out!"
"I think you had better not do that, sir." Phil's voice was cool and pleasant.
"What's that! What's that! You dare to talk back to me. I'll—"
"Wait a moment, Mr. Snowden. We might as well understand each other at the beginning."
The car manager's words seemed to stick in his throat. He gazed at the slender young fellow before him in amazement. Mr. Snowden was unused to having a man in his employ talk back to him, and for the moment it looked as though trouble were brewing in the stateroom of Car Number Three.
"Say it!" he exploded.
"I have very little to say, sir. But what I have to say will be to the point. I am well aware that discipline must be preserved here as well as back with the show. I shall always look up to you as my superior, and treat you in a gentlemanly and respectful manner. I shall hope that you, also, will treat me in a gentlemanly manner as long as I deserve it, at least."
"You—you threaten me, you young cub—you—"
"No; I do not threaten you. I am simply seeking to come to a friendly understanding with you."
"And—and if—if I decide to treat you as I do the rest of my men—what then?" sneered the manager.
"That depends. I can answer that question when I see how you do treat them. From what I have seen, I should imagine they do not lead a very happy existence," continued the Circus Boy with a pleasant smile.
"If I keep you on this car I'll use you as I please, and the quicker you understand that the better. Now, what do you propose to do?"
"I propose," said Phil, still preserving an even tone, "to do my duty and at the same time keep my self-respect. I propose, if you persist in directing insulting language at me, to give you a thrashing that will last you all the rest of the season."
Teddy, who had sat down on a pile of railroad ties beside the tracks, could see and hear all that was going on in the stateroom.
"Soak him, Phil!" howled the boy on the tie pile.
Snowden's eyes blazed and his fingers opened and closed convulsively.
With an angry growl he hurled himself straight at Phil Forrest.
COMING TO AN UNDERSTANDING
"Be careful, Mr. Snowden!" warned the Circus Boy, stepping out of harm's way. "I am not looking for trouble, but I shall defend myself."
"I'll teach you to talk back to me. I'll—"
Just then the car manager stumbled over a chair and went down with a crash, smashing the chair to splinters.
"Mr. Sparling will not tolerate anything of this sort, I am sure," added Phil.
By this time, the manager was once more on his feet. His rage was past all control. With a roar of rage Snowden grabbed up a rung of the broken chair and charged his slender young antagonist.
A faint flush leaped into the face of Phil Forrest. His eyes narrowed a little, but in no other way did he show that his temper was in the least ruffled.
The chair rung was brought down with a vicious sweep, but to Snowden's surprise the weapon failed to reach the head of the smiling Circus Boy.
Then Phil got into action.
Like a flash he leaped forward, and the car manager found his wrists clasped in a vise-like grip.
"Let go of me!" he roared, struggling with all his might to free himself, failing in which he began to kick.
Phil gave the wrists a skillful twist, which brought another howl from Snowden, this time a howl of pain.
"I am not looking for trouble, sir. Will you listen to reason?" urged the lad.
Snowden did not finish what he had started to say. Instead he moaned with pain, writhing helplessly in the iron grip of Phil Forrest.
"Do you give up? Have you had enough?"
"No!" gritted the car manager.
The Circus Boy tightened his grip ever so little.
"How about it?"
"Give him an extra twist for me," shouted Teddy.
"I give in! Let go quick! You'll break my wrists!"
"You promise to carry this thing no further if I release you?"
"I said I have had enough," cried Snowden angrily.
"That won't do. Will you agree to let me alone, if I release you now?" persisted Phil.
"Yes, yes! I've had all I want. This joke has gone far enough."
"You have a queer idea of jokes," smiled Phil, releasing his man and stepping back, but keeping a wary eye on the car manager, as the latter settled back into a chair, rubbing his wrists. They still pained him severely.
"I am sorry if I hurt you, Mr. Snowden. But I had to defend myself in some way. I could have been much more violent, but I did not wish to be unnecessarily so."
"You were rough enough. I've got no use for a fellow who can't take a joke without getting all riled up over it. Get out of here!"
"What are you doing at this end of the car?" snarled the manager to Henry, the English porter, who had been peering into the office, wide-eyed. He had been a witness to the disturbance, but at the manager's command he hastily withdrew to his own end of the car.
"Shall we shake hands and be friends now, Mr. Snowden?" asked Phil.
"Yes, of course."
"No. I'll not shake hands with you. I want nothing further to do with you. Either you get off this car, or I do. We can't both live on it at the same time."
"So far as I am concerned, we can do so easily," answered the Circus Boy.
"I said either you or I would have to get off, and I mean exactly what I said."
The manager wheeled his chair about, facing his desk, and wrote the following telegram:
Mr. James Sparling,
I demand that you call back the two boys who joined my car today. Either they close or I do. They're a couple of young ruffians. If they remain another day I'll not be responsible for what I do to them.
The car manager handed the message to Phil. "Read it," he snapped.
Phil glanced through the message, smiling broadly as he returned it to the manager.
"That certainly is plain and to the point."
"I'm glad you think so. Take that message to the telegraph office, and send it at once."
Mr. Snowden had expected a refusal, but Phil rose obediently and left the car. He took the message to a telegraph office, Teddy accompanying him.
"Why didn't you finish him while you were about it, Phil?" demanded Teddy. "You had him just to rights."
"I did quite enough as it was, Teddy. I am very sorry for what I did, but it had to come."
"It did. If you hadn't done it I should have had to," nodded Teddy rather pompously. "But I shouldn't have let him off as easily as you did. I certainly would have given him a rough-and-tumble."
"It is a bad enough beginning as it is. Now, Teddy, I want you to behave yourself and not stir up any trouble—"
"Stir up trouble? Well, I like that. Who's been stirring up trouble around here, I'd like to know. Answer me that!"
"I accept the rebuke," laughed Phil. "I am the guilty one this time, and I'm heartily ashamed to admit it at that."
"What do you think Mr. Sparling will do?"
"I don't know. I can't help but think he had some purpose in sending us on to join this car, other than that which he told us. However, time will tell. We are in for an unpleasant season, but we must make the best of our opportunity and learn all we can about this end of the business."
"I've learned enough this afternoon to last me for a whole season," answered Teddy grimly.
By the time they returned to the car the men had come in from the country routes, as had the lithographers who had been placing bills in store windows about the town.
"He's at it again," grinned Teddy, as the voice of the manager was heard roaring at the men. Snowden was charging up and down the car venting his wrath on the men, threatening, browbeating, expressing his opinion of all billposters in language more picturesque than elegant. Not a man replied to his tirade.
"Evidently they are used to that sort of treatment," nodded Phil. "Well it doesn't go with me at all. Come on; let's go in and see what it's all about."
INTRODUCED TO THE CREW
"And the next man who puts up only two hundred sheets in a day gets off this car!" concluded Snowden with a wave of the hand that took in every man in the car. "Get in your reports, and get them in quick, or I'll fire the whole bunch of you now!" he roared, turning and striding to his office, where he jerked the sliding door shut with a bang that shook the car.
"Well, the boss has 'em bad tonight, for sure," exclaimed Billy Conley who bore the title of assistant car manager, but who was no more manager than was Henry, the English porter.
"Hello, who are you?" demanded one of the men, as Phil and Teddy stepped in through the rear door of the coach.
"Good evening, boys," greeted Phil easily.
All eyes were turned on the newcomers.
"Howdy, fellows," said Teddy good-naturedly. "Fine, large evening."
"Are you the boys who joined out today, from back with the show?" asked Conley.
"Yes. Let me introduce myself. I am Phil Forrest and this, my companion, is Teddy Tucker. We're green as grass, and we shall have to impose upon your good nature to set us straight."
The Circus Boys had won the good opinion of the men of Car Three at the outset.
"That's the talk," agreed Billy. "Line up here and I'll introduce you to the bunch. The skinny fellow over there by the boiler is Chief Rain-in-the-Face. The one next to him is Slivers. The freakish looking gentleman standing at my right is Krao, the Missing Link. On my left is Baby Egawa—"
"Otherwise known as Rosie the Pig," added a voice.
"Everybody on an advance car has a nickname, you know. You'll forget your real names, if you stay on an advance car long enough. I couldn't remember mine if I didn't get a letter occasionally to remind me of it, and sometimes I almost feel as if I was opening another fellow's letters when I open my own."
"Glad to know you, boys," smiled Phil. "Do you know where we are to sleep?"
"See that pile of paper up there?"
"Well, it's that or the floor for yours. All the rest of the berths are occupied, unless the Boss is going to let you sleep in the office with him."
"I rather think he will not invite us. He seems to be in a huff about something tonight," answered Phil dryly, at which there was a loud laugh.
"What's this Johnnie Bull tells me about a roughhouse in the office this afternoon?" demanded Conley suddenly.
"I would rather not talk about that," replied Phil, coloring.
"Come here, you Englishman, and tell us all about it. Our friend is too modest."
The porter did not respond quickly enough to suit the men so they pounced upon him and tossed him to the top of a pile of paper.
"Now, talk up, or its the paste can for yours," they demanded.
Henry rather haltingly described what he had seen in the stateroom that afternoon, describing in detail how Phil had worsted the manager of the car.
When the recital had been concluded, all hands turned and surveyed Phil curiously.
"Well, who would have thought it?" wondered Rosie, in an awed voice.
Krao, the Missing Link, and Baby Egawa sidled up to Phil and gingerly felt his arm muscles.
"Woof!" exclaimed the Baby. "Bad medicine! Heap big muscle!"
"That's so. I had forgotten you boys were performers back with the show," nodded Billy. "What are you up here for—learning this end of the business?"
"Yes; that is what we are here for," answered Phil. "Mr. Sparling wished us to do so."
"You have come to a good place to learn it," emphasized Conley. "But you'll have to fight your way through. You have done a mighty good job in downing the Boss, but look out for him. He'll never forget it. If he doesn't get you fired, he will get even with you in some other way."
"I'll do my duty. But I am not afraid of him. Are all car managers like Mr. Snowden?"
"Most of them. Some better, some worse. They think they are not doing their duty, earning their meal-tickets, unless they are Roaring Jakes. But Snowden is the worst ever. He has the meanest disposition of any man I ever knew. This is his first season on Number Three, and I shouldn't be surprised if it were his last. I hear Boss Sparling doesn't take to him. Know anything about that?"
Phil shook his head.
"Why do you let him treat you as he does?"
"Let him? Well, I'll tell you confidentially. Most of us have families to support. Some of us have wives; others mothers and sisters to look after. It's put up with the roast or get out. And let me tell you, the Boss isn't slow about closing out a fellow he doesn't like. He'll fire you at the drop of the hat."
"I'm hungry; where do we eat?" interrupted Teddy.
"Sure! Don't you fellows in advance eat?"
"Well, we go through the motions. That's about all I can say for it. This living at contract hotels isn't eating; it isn't even feeding. You folks back with the show don't have to put up with contract hotels; you eat under the cook tent and you get real food."
"What's a contract hotel?" asked Teddy.
Phil looked at his companion in disgust.
"Teddy Tucker, haven't you been in the show business long enough to know what a contract hotel is?"
Teddy shook his head.
"I'll tell you, I'll explain what a contract hotel is," said Billy. "The contracting agent goes over the route in the spring and makes the arrangements for the show. He engages the livery rigs to take the men out on the country routes, and when he gets through with the livery stable business he hunts up all the almost food places in town until he finds one that will feed the advance car men for five or ten cents a meal. Then he signs a contract and goes off to a real hotel for his own meal. Oh, no, Mr. Contracting Agent doesn't get his meals there. Well, we're booked to eat at one of those almost food places in every town we make. And some of them are not even 'almost.' We are going to one of the kind now. Want to come along?"
"Sure," replied Teddy.
"You won't be so anxious after you have had a week or so of them."
All hands started for the hotel.
"What about your reports? I thought Mr. Snowden told you to get them in at once," asked Phil after they had left the car.
"Let him wait," growled Billy.
"But he will raise a row when you get back, will he not?"
"He'll roar anyway, so what's the odds? We're used to that."
"A queer business, this advance car work," said Phil thoughtfully. "I never had any idea that it was like this. If ever I own or run a show it will be different—I mean the advance cars will be run on a different principle from this one."
"I hope you do, and that I am working for you," grinned Conley. "Here we are."
Billy's description of a contract hotel Phil decided had not been overdrawn. All hands filed into the dining room, and Phil had lost most of his appetite before reaching his chair.
A waiter who looked as if he might have been a prizefighter at one time shambled up to them with a soiled napkin thrown over one arm. As it chanced, he approached Teddy first.
"Bean soup! What'll you have," he demanded with a suddenness that startled the Circus Boy.
Teddy surveyed the waiter with large eyes, then permitted his gaze to wander about the table to the faces of the grinning billposters.
"Bean soup. What'll I have?" reflected the lad soberly. "Now isn't it funny that I can't think what kind of soup I want. Bean soup; what'll I have?"
The waiter shifted his weight to the other foot, flopped the napkin to the other arm and stuck out his chin belligerently.
"Bean soup! What'll you have?" he demanded, with a rising inflection in his voice.
"Let me think. Why, I guess I'll take bean soup if it's all the same to you," decided Tucker, solemn as an owl.
The billposters broke out into a roar of laughter. They fairly howled with delight at Teddy's droll manner, but the Circus Boy did not even smile. He looked at them with a hurt expression in his eyes until the men were on the point of apologizing to him.
They did not know young Tucker.
The rest of the meal passed off without incident.
"Well, what did you think of the contract hotel?" questioned Conley, as they were strolling back to the car.
"I think I shall starve to death in a week, if I have to eat in that sort of a place," answered Teddy. "Why didn't the contracting agent sign us up with a livery stable? I'd a sight rather feed there than at a contract hotel if they are all like this."
"Yes, the food is at least clean in a livery stable," laughed Phil. "But we shall get along all right. If we get too hungry we can go out and buy our own meals now and then. Do you ever do that, Mr. Conley?"
"I should say we do. We have to, or we shouldn't have any stomachs left. Now, you want to know something about this car work, don't you?"
"I should like to very much, if you can spare the time to tell me about it."
"Wait till I get my report made out, then we'll have a nice long talk, and I will tell you all about it."
"There is Mr. Snowden waiting for you."
"Never mind him. His bite isn't half so bad as his bark."
The men piled into the car, whereupon Manager Snowden unloosed the vials of his wrath because their reports were not in. To his tirade no one gave the slightest heed. The men went methodically to work, writing out their reports to which they signed their names, folded the papers, and tossed them on the manager's desk without a word of explanation.
For a few moments there was silence in the office while the manager was going over the reports. All at once there was a roar.
"Pig! Come here!"
Rosie got down from the pile of paper on which he had been sitting, taking his time about doing so, and, wearing a broad grin, strolled to the office at the other end of the car.
"What's the trouble now?" demanded Rosie.
"Trouble? Trouble? That's the word. It's trouble all the time. Where are your brains?"
"In my head, I suppose," grinned Rosie.
"No!" thundered the manager. "They're in your feet. All you know how to do is to kick. You're a woodenhead; you're no good."
Rosie accepted the tirade with a quiet smile.
"If you will tell me what it is all about I may be able to explain."
"Look at those billboard tickets!"
"What's the matter with them?"
"Yes, that's what I asked."
"They're torn off crooked."
"Well, what of that?"
"What of that? Why, you woodenhead, when those tickets are presented at the door when the show comes around, the ticket takers won't accept them. Then there will be a howl that you can hear all across the state of Minnesota. How many times have I told you to be careful?"
"The tickets are all right," growled Rosie, now a little nettled.
"What! What! You dare contradict me? I'll fire you Saturday night! I'd fire you now only I am short of money. Get out of here! Come back!"
Rosie turned dutifully, but with a weary expression on his face.
"I fine you eleven dollars and fifty cents. That's about what the tickets will come to. Now go. Send Rain-in-the-Face here!"
The interview with Rain-in-the-Face sounded not unlike a series of explosions to those out in the main compartment of the car. Every face wore a grin, and each man expected it would be his turn next.
"Come on, let's go outside and talk," said Conley.
"I should think you would want to get away from it all," answered Phil. "I don't know; whether I can stand this sort of thing or not."
"You'll get used to it after awhile."
"Something's going to happen," croaked the Missing Link, dismally, as the two left the car by the rear door.
"I guess the freak is right," nodded Billy Conley. "There is going to be an explosion here that will shake the state."
There was, but not exactly in the way he imagined.
THE MIDNIGHT ALARM
"Now tell me, if you will, what the routine of the work on an advance car is," said Phil after he and Billy had sat down beside the tracks.
"It would take all night to do that, but I'll give you a few pointers and the rest you will have to pick up for yourself. In the first place an advertising car includes billposters, lithographers, banner men and at least one programmer."
"Sounds all right, but it doesn't mean much of anything to me," laughed Phil.
"The billposters post the large bills on the billboards, and anywhere else that they can get a chance, mostly out in the country and in the country towns. In places where there is a regular billposter, he does that work for us. Any boards not owned by a billposter, or a barn or a pigpen or a henhouse on the road is called a 'daub.' At least two tickets are given for every place we put a piece of paper on. These tickets are numbered and signed. Now, if a fellow out in Kankakee, we will say, should chance to tear down the bill, when he presented his ticket at the gate on the day of the show, it would be refused. He'd pay or stay out."
"But how would they know he had taken down the poster," questioned Phil.
"Checkers follow along at intervals and check up every piece of paper we put up. We send the record of our work to the car back of us and they in turn send our and their reports to the car behind them."
"It is a wonderful system, indeed," marveled Phil.
"Yes. To go back a little I will say that this is a 'scout car' or what is known among showmen as 'the opposition car.' It goes only where there is trouble, where there is opposition. For instance, more than half a dozen shows are coming into this territory, this season, and it is up to us to cover every available space with our paper before their cars get on the ground."
"But will they not paste their bills over yours, over those you have already put up?"
"They seldom do. It is an unwritten law in the show business that this is not to be done."
Teddy had come up to them in time to hear the last remark.
"I thought there wasn't any law, written or unwritten, in this business," he said.
"You will find there is, young man. Then, to come to the lithographers, as I think I already have told you, these men place small bills in store and shop windows, giving tickets for the privilege the same as do the billposters. One man goes ahead of them and does what we call 'the squaring,' meaning that he enters the stores and asks the privilege of putting up the lithographs. In most cases the owners of the places object, and he has to convince them that it is to their advantage to have the paper in their windows."
"I didn't think there was so much to it, but I think I should like that work. I'll be a squarer," decided Teddy.
"The banner men put up what are called 'banners,' cloth signs. These are tacked up in high places and the banner men have to be good climbers. They fill their mouths with tacks, points in, heads out. They use magnetic hammers."
"What's this, a joke?" interrupted Teddy.
"It is not a joke. The head of each hammer so used is a magnet, and is used to pick the tacks from the mouth of the banner man. The tack sticks to the head of the hammer and is thus ready to be driven. An expert banner man will drive tacks almost as rapidly as you could fire a self-acting revolver."
"That is odd. What does the fellow called the programmer do?"
"He takes the small printed matter around, and drops it on doorsteps and in stores. When we are making a day run with the car he drops the printed matter off at stations and crossroads, or wherever he sees a man. Following us come route-riders."
"What are they?"
"Men who ride over the country routes to see whether the billposters have put up the paper indicated on their reports, or thrown the stuff in a ditch somewhere. After them come checkers, one after the other. This is Car Three, as you know. Car Two follows about two weeks behind us, and Car One comes along a week ahead of the show. What are you going to do?"
"Mr. Snowden said I was to go out with one of the men on a country route."
"Then you come along with me, unless he directs you differently. I can give you pointers that would take you a long time to learn were you left to pick them up yourself. Don't say anything to him about it unless he speaks to you, but prepare to go out with me early in the morning. I have a big drive tomorrow, some fifty miles, and you will get all you want for one day's work."
"Yes; that will be fine."
"What is your friend here to do?"
"I am the paste-maker," answered Teddy with a sheepish grin. "I make the stickum stuff for this outfit."
"A nice job," jeered the assistant manager. "You will get all you want of that work in about thirty minutes. The Boss must certainly have a grudge against you. You will be hanging around the car all day, however, and if the Boss is away any you will have a chance to get forty winks of sleep in the stateroom now and then."
"No; Teddy is not here to sleep. He is here to work."
"Yes; everybody works around here but Father."
"Is the work the same on the advance cars of all shows?"
"All circuses, yes. We do things just the same as the fellows did them forty years ago. Nobody seems to have head enough to do things differently, and goodness knows some modern methods are necessary."
"How long have you been on this car?"
"Four years; this is my fifth season here."
"Why, that is exactly the time we have been with the Sparling Shows."
"I saw you work last season. You are a bird on the trapeze, and ride—whew, but you can beat anything I ever saw on bareback! I knew I had seen you before when you came in this evening, but I couldn't place you. I remembered after a little. Say, Phil, I'm glad you handed it out to the Boss this afternoon."
"And I am very sorry. I don't know what Mr. Sparling will think of it. Still, I had to do something. I saw right away that he had made up his mind to treat us badly. What time do we pull out tonight?"
"Twelve o'clock, I think. And speaking of that, it is time to turn in."
The three entered the car. Mr. Snowden already had turned in, his end of the car being dark and silent. Most of the billposters also had climbed to their berths near the roof of the car, and some of them were snoring heavily.
"Do they do this all night long?" questioned Teddy.
"Well, yes," laughed Billy; "they are pretty good snorers, all of them. Do you snore?"
"I might, on a pinch. I don't know whether I do or not. I am usually asleep when I snore. How about it, Phil, do I snore?"
"Not when I am within punching distance of you."
The boys undressed, got into their pajamas, and after considerable effort managed to climb to the top of the pile of paper, where their blankets had been spread for them by the porter.
"Not much of a bed, is it Teddy?" laughed Phil.
"The worst ever!" agreed Teddy. "How I'm going to stick in that bed when the car gets under motion I don't know. I wish I was back with the show."
"Never mind, old chap. We have had things pretty easy for the last four years. A little hardship will not hurt either of us. And I know we are going to like this life, after we get more used to it. What time do we get up; do you know?"
"No, I don't know anything about it. I guess in time for late breakfast," answered Teddy grimly. "Good night."
In a few minutes the Circus Boys were sound asleep. They did not even awaken when, about midnight, a switch engine hooked to their car, and after racing them up and down the railroad yards a few times, coupled them to the rear of the passenger train that was to pull them to their next stand, some seventy-five miles away. A few minutes later and they were rolling away. The road was a crooked one and the car swayed dizzily, but they were too used to the sensation to be in the least disturbed by it.
An hour or two had passed when, all at once, every man in the car was suddenly startled by a blood-curdling yell and a wild commotion somewhere in the darkness of the car.
"What is it?"
"Are we wrecked?"
"What did we hit?"
This and other exclamations were shouted in loud tones, as the men came tumbling from their berths, some sprawling over the floor, where a lurch of the car had hurled them.
ALMOST A TRAGEDY
"Strike a light!"
"Are we off the rails?"
"No, you idiot. Don't you feel the car going just the same as before? And he's wheeling her a mile a minute at that. Hurry with that light, somebody!" commanded Billy.
At this moment they heard the sliding door of the manager's stateroom come open with a crash.
"Now, here's trouble for certain!" muttered the Missing Link. "The Boss is on deck."
"I guess my friend Teddy has got into trouble," said Phil Forrest, slipping quickly from his bed on top of a pile of gaudy circus posters. "Ted! Ted, where are you?"
There was no answer.
"What is all this row about?" thundered the manager, stalking down the car, clad only in his pajamas.
"We do not know, sir. We are trying to find out. I am afraid my friend has fallen out of bed and hurt himself," answered Phil.
"I hope it killed him!" bellowed Mr. Snowden. "The idea of waking up the whole car at this time of the night! This nonsense has got to stop, and right quick at that. Where's that light?"
Phil was groping about the floor, trying hurriedly to locate Teddy. But no Teddy was to be found.
Finally a match flickered; after lurching about the car the man with the match finally succeeded in locating the bracket lamp near the end of the car.
Anxious eyes peered about them in the dim light.
"Look!" howled Rosie the Pig.
A pair of wildly kicking legs were seen protruding from one of the big paste cans, these cans being made like the big garbage cans that one sees in backyards in the city.
"It's Teddy! There he is!" cried Phil, springing forward.
"He's gone in the paste can head first!" yelled another of the crew.
"Help me get him out; he has stuck fast!" shouted Phil, tugging desperately at his companion's heels.
The car set up a roar of laughter at the ludicrous sight. To Phil, however, it was no laughing matter. The paste can was nearly full of paste and of about the same consistency as dough in a bread pan. It was thick and wickedly blue, for it had been mixed with bluestone to preserve it until required by the billposters.
"Pull him out, you idiots!" bellowed the car manager. "If he isn't dead now, he can't be killed. Pull him out and throw him overboard!"
Phil flashed an indignant look at Mr. Snowden.
By this time others had come to his assistance. It required their united efforts to rescue Teddy from his perilous predicament.
They hauled him out and laid him on the door.
"Teddy, Teddy!" cried Phil, but Tucker made no reply. In the first place his mouth was so full of paste that he could not utter a sound. Again, he was half unconscious, nearly smothered and still unable to breathe freely.
Phil grabbed off the jacket of his own pajamas and began wiping the blue paste from the unfortunate lad's mouth, eyes and nose.
A happy thought appeared to strike the car manager. He dashed to the sink, and, quickly filling a pail of water, ran back to the spot where Teddy was lying.
Snowden turned the pail bottom side up, apparently intending to douse the water into Tucker's face.
Instead, the contents of the pail landed on Phil Forrest's head, spreading itself over his bare back, and trickled down in rivulets over Teddy's face.
The water was almost ice cold.
"Wow!" howled Phil, springing to his feet. "Who did that?"
"I did, and I'll do it again," jeered the car manager.
"Get me another pail, but I'll do the spilling this time. Don't you dare duck me again, or I'll settle with you after I get through with my friend."
One of the crew grabbed up the pail to run for water. This time the pail was handed to Phil who instantly began mopping the face of young Tucker.
In a moment or so Teddy began to gasp. His dive had nearly been the end of him.
"Get a net," he murmured as he slowly came to, whereat everyone save the car manager laughed loudly. "Wha—what happened? Did we run off the track?"
"No, you took a high dive into a can of paste," jeered Billy. "You're the champion high diver of Car Three."
Mr. Snowden, stooping over, grabbed the luckless Teddy by the collar and jerked him to his feet.
"Get up, you lummox!" he commanded.
Teddy blinked very fast. Mr. Snowden began to shake him. Phil stepped forward quickly and pushed the car manager away.
"Wha—what!" growled Snowden, an angry light leaping into his eyes.
"You let the boy alone," commanded Phil. "Because he has had an accident is no reason why you should punish him!"
Phil paid no heed to him, but led the unsteady Teddy to the far end of the compartment.
"You get off this car, both of you!" yelled the manager.
"What, with the train running sixty miles an hour?" questioned Phil, turning slowly.
"Yes; I don't care if it kills you both. Good riddance—good job if it did."
"I think you have another guess coming, Mr. Car Manager," replied Phil calmly.
Snowden glared at the Circus Boy who had thus defied him; then turning sharply on his bare heel he strode back to his stateroom.
A broad grin appeared on the faces of the car crew.
"I guess that will be about all for this evening," announced Rain-in-the-Face.
"Is there a rope on this car?" asked Phil.
"Yes; what do you want a rope for?" replied Billy.
"He's going to complete the job by hanging the Boss from a brake beam," spoke up Rosie.
"Not quite as bad as that, I guess," laughed Phil. "I am going to tie my friend Teddy in his bed. There is no telling what may happen to him, if I do not. Teddy, had we happened to be sound sleepers you would in all probability be dead by this time."
"That would please Mr. Snowden too much, you know."
"Then tie me in. I don't want to please him. Did he duck me while I was asleep?"
"He tried to. As it chanced my bare back got most of the ducking," answered Phil with a short laugh, for he believed the car manager had purposely poured the water on him.
"But he shook me," protested Teddy.
"He did that," chorused the crew. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Well," reflected Tucker; "I think he and I will fight a duel tomorrow at sunrise."
Once more all hands turned in, Phil humorously making a pretense of tying his companion to his "berth." As a matter of fact, Phil did tie the rope about Teddy's wrist, wrapping the free end about his own arm, and thus the boys went to sleep once more.
It seemed as if they had been asleep only a few minutes when they were suddenly startled into wakefulness by a loud noise.
This time, however, it was not a yell, but a roar.
Phil sat up suddenly, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Get up, you lazy good-for-nothings!" bellowed the car manager, dancing up and down the aisle, still in his pajamas, his hair standing up, his eyes wild and menacing.
"Is that all?" muttered Teddy, sinking back into a sound sleep again.
Phil sprang from the pile of papers on which he had been sleeping, landing lightly on the floor in his bare feet.
"Good morning, Mr. Snowden. I hope you had a good night's sleep," greeted the Circus Boy.
Snowden glared at the lad, as if trying to make up his mind whether or not Phil was making sport of him. But there was only pleasantness in the face of Phil Forrest.
"Huh!" grunted the manager. Then he once more began racing up and down the car, roaring at his men, threatening and expressing his opinion of them in the way with which Phil already had become familiar.
Teddy lay curled up, with one foot protruding from beneath the covers. Whether or not he had done this purposely, it was difficult to decide. Be that as it may, Mr. Snowden caught sight of the pink foot. He rose to the bait like a bass to a fly.
In another second he had pounced upon the foot. Grabbing it with both hands he gave it a violent tug. Tucker responded. He came slipping from the "berth," throwing the quilts before him as he did so. The quilts landed over the car manager's head. Then came Teddy Tucker.
Ted landed, full on Mr. Snowden's head, with a wild yell.
Down went the manager and the Circus Boy, with the latter on top, in a writhing, howling, confused heap.
THE FIRST DAY'S EXPERIENCE
"Give it to him, Teddy!" howled the crew.
Tucker, as soon as he could right himself, sat down on the manager's head, at the same time holding Mr. Snowden's hands pinioned to the floor.
The muffled voice under the quilts waxed louder and more angry as the seconds passed. Phil, who had gone to the wash room to make his toilet, hurried back at sound of the row.
"Teddy Tucker, what are you doing?" demanded Phil, for the moment puzzled at the scene before him.
"I'm sitting on the Boss," answered Teddy triumphantly. "Shall I give him one for you?"
"Yes—give him two for each of us," shouted the billposters.
Phil strode to his companion, grabbed the lad by the collar of his pajamas and jerked him from the helpless man under the quilts.
"Now, you behave yourself, young man, or you will have to reckon with me," he commanded, pushing Teddy aside.
"You let me alone. This is my inning. I guess I can sit on the Boss, if I want to, without your interfering with the fun."
Giving no heed to the words, Phil quickly hauled the quilts off and assisted Mr. Snowden to rise.
"I guess Teddy must have fallen on you, sir," suggested Phil solemnly.
"He did it on purpose! He did it on purpose!"
"You pulled him out of bed, did you not, sir?"
"Yes; and next time I'll pull him so he'll know it. Get out of here, every man of you, and get your breakfasts; then get off on your routes. Things are coming to a fine pass on this car. Young man, I will talk to you later."
The manager, with red face and angry eye, strode to his stateroom, while the grinning billposters made haste to get into their clothes. A few minutes later, and all hands were on their way to breakfast.
This meal at the new hotel was a slight improvement over the dinner they had eaten the night before. Besides, all hands were in good humor, for they had had more real excitement on Car Three, since the advent of the Circus Boys, than at any time during the season.
By the time they reached the car again six livery teams were in waiting for the men who were to go out on the country routes.
All was instantly bustle and excitement. Paste cans were loaded into the wagons, brushes and pails, together with the paper that had been carefully laid out and counted, the night before, for each billposter. A record of this was kept on the car.
Phil lent a hand at loading the stuff, and they found that the slim lad was stronger than any of them. It was an easy matter for him to lift one of the big cans of paste to a wagon without assistance. Teddy, however, stood by with hands thrust in pockets, an amused grin on his face. The baleful eye of the car manager was upon him.
"Have you heard from Mr. Sparling this morning?" asked Phil.
"Yes," answered Mr. Snowden shortly.
"What did he say?"
"That is none of your business, young man."
"You are right. I accept the rebuke. While I am interested, it really is none of my business," answered the lad with a smile.
"Where are you going?"
"You told me to go out on one of the country routes."
"Oh! What route are you going on, if I may ask?"
"I had thought of going with Mr. Conley."
"You will do nothing of the sort. You will go where I tell you to. I—"
"I suggested that he go with me, Mr. Snowden," interposed Billy. "I have a hard route to work today and I shall need some help if I get over it before dark."
"Very well; go on. I hope he falls off a barn or something. If he does, leave him."
"For your sake, I shall try to take care of myself," answered Phil with an encouraging smile.
"Start a fire under that boiler. Henry, you show him how to manage the boiler and mix the paste. I don't imagine he even knows dough when he sees it."
"I know a dough-head when I see one," spoke up Teddy promptly, after delivering himself of which sentiment he strolled away with hands in his pockets, whistling merrily.
The drive to the country in the fresh morning air was a most delightful one to Phil.
After leaving the town they soon came in sight of a deserted house. It evidently had been abandoned, for it was in a bad state of dilapidation.
"There's a dandy daub!" exclaimed Billy. "We'll plaster it with paper until the neighbors won't know it. When we get there, hop off and bring some pails of water, will you?"
"Sure," answered Phil. While he was doing this, the billposter was spreading his paper out on the ground, deciding on the layout that he would post.
A few minutes later and the gaudy bills were going up like magic on the road side of the house and the two ends, so that the pictures might be seen from every point of view from the highway. The house had been transformed into a blaze of color.
"All right," sang out Billy. "Good job, too."
Phil had learned something. He had noted every movement of the billposter.
"How long does it take to learn to post, Billy?" he asked.
"Some fellows never learn. Others get fairly expert after a few weeks puttering around."
"May I try one today?"
"Sure thing. If the next one is easy I will give you a chance at it."
The next daub proved to be a small hay barn a little way back in a field.
"There's your chance, my boy," he said.
Phil jumped out before the wagon had come to a stop and, with paper and brush under his arms, ran across the field. With more skill than might have been expected with his limited experience he smeared the paper with paste, then sought to raise it up to the side of the building as he had seen Billy Conley do.
This was where Phil came to grief. A gust of wind doubled the paper up, the pasted side smearing the bright colors of the face of the picture, until the colors were one hopeless daub. To cap the climax the whole thing came down over Phil's head, wrapping him in its slimy folds.
"Hey, help!" he shouted. "I'm posting myself instead of the barn."
Billy sat down on the ground, laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks.
"If it hadn't been for that unexpected gust of wind I should have made it nicely," explained Phil with a sickly grin. "Oh, pshaw, I'm not as much of a billposters as I thought I was. I guess there is more to this game than I had any idea of."
"You will learn. You took a pretty big contract when you tried to put up that eight-sheet."
"We will let you try a one-sheet on the farther end of the barn. A one-sheet is a small, twenty-eight inch piece of paper, you know."
"I'll try it," he said. "I guess a one-sheet is about as big a piece of paper as I am fit to handle just yet."
He managed the one-sheet without the least trouble, and did a very good job, so much so that Billy complimented him highly.
"You will make a billposter yet. One good thing about you is that you are willing to learn, and you are quick to admit that you do not know it all. Most fellows, when they start, have ideas of their own—at least they think they have."
After that Phil did the small work, thinned the paste and made himself generally useful.
"Oh, look at that!" he cried, pointing off ahead of them.
"What is it, Phil?"
"See that building standing up on that high piece of ground. Wouldn't that be a dandy place on which to post some paper?"
The building he had indicated was a tall circular structure, painted a dark red, with a small cupola effect crowning its top.
"That is a silo. You wouldn't be able to get permission to post a bill on there, even if you could get up there to do it," said Conley.
"Why not? Why that farmer, I'll wager, sets as much store by that building as he does his newly-painted house."
"I'll go ask him. You don't mind if I 'square' him, do you?" questioned the lad with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Ask him, for sure. But we couldn't post up there. We have no ladders that would reach; in fact we have no ladders at all. I mean the farmer has no ladders long enough."
"Never mind; I'll figure out a way," replied the Circus Boy, whose active mind already had decided upon a method by which he thought he might accomplish the feat, providing the farmer was willing.
Reaching the farm, Phil jumped out and ran up to the house.
"Do you own this place, sir?" he asked of the farmer who answered his ring at the bell.
"It's a beautiful place. I am representing the Sparling Circus, and we thought we would like to make a display on your silo."
The farmer gazed at him in amazement.
"Young man, you have a cast-iron nerve even to ask such a thing."
"I know the mere matter of tickets to the show will be no inducement to a man of your position. But I am going to make you a present of a box for six people at the circus. You will take your whole family and be my guest. I will not only give you an order for it, but will write a personal letter to the owner, who is my very good friend. He will show you all there is to be seen, and I will see to it that you take dinner with him in the circus tent. No; there is no obligation. All the farmers—all your neighbors will be envious. I want you to come. We won't speak of the silo. I don't expect you to let me post that; but, if you will permit me to put a three-sheet on your hog pen back there, I shall be greatly obliged."
Despite the farmer's protestations, Phil wrote out the order for the box, then scribbled a few lines to Mr. Sparling, which he enclosed in an envelope borrowed from the farmer.
"Thank you so much," beamed the Circus Boy, handing over the letter to the farmer, accompanied by the pass and order for the arena box at the circus. "It is a pleasure to meet a man like you. I come from a country town myself, and have worked some on my uncle's farm."
"You with the circus, eh?"
"Looks to me like you was a pretty young fellow to be a circus man."
"Oh no, not very. I belong back with the show. I am a performer, you know. I am out with the advertising car to learn the business."
"A performer?" wondered the farmer, looking over the trim figure and bright boyish face. "What do you perform?"
"I perform on the flying trapeze and do a bareback riding act."
"Is that so?"
"Do you know, young fellow, I never got such a close squint at a circus fellow before in my life. But, come to size you up, I reckon you can do all them things you've been telling me about. Yes, sir, I'll go to the circus. Will you be there to cut up in the ring?"
"I cannot say. It is doubtful, as I probably shall be ahead of the show for the rest of the season. Well, thank you very much. We will decorate the hog pen," added the lad, touching his cap and turning away.
An arena box, value twelve dollars, was a pretty high price to pay for a three-sheet on a hog pen, but Phil Forrest knew what he was doing. At least he thought he did, and he did not walk very fast on his way to the road.
"Hey, come back here," called the farmer.
"Yes, sir," answered Phil turning inquiringly.
He walked back to where the farmer was standing fingering the pass and the letter.
"I—I reckon you needn't stick them bills on the hog pen."
The Circus Boy's heart took a sudden drop.
"Very well, sir; just as you say. I do not wish to do anything to displease you."
"But I reckon you can plaster that silo full of them circus pictures from top to bottom, if you want to," was the unexpected announcement.
Phil Forrest's heart bounded back into position again.
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."
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."
TEDDY GETS INTO TROUBLE
"Get those paste cans outside! Step lively there!"
"Say, you talk to me as if I were one of the hired help," objected Teddy, his face flushing.
"Well, that is exactly what you are. You'll soon learn that you are hired help if you remain on this car. I'll take all the freshness out of you. The flour is in the cellar."
"In the cellar?"
"That's what I said. Go down and get it out. You will require about a sack and a half for each can. That will be about right for a can of paste. Henry will show you how much bluestone to put in. But be careful of that boiler. I don't want the car blown up."
The manager strode away to his office, while Teddy, red and perspiring, went about his work. He was much more meek than usual, and this very fact, had the manager known him better, would have impressed Mr. Snowden as a suspicious circumstance.
Instead of the usual pink tights with spangled trunks, Teddy Tucker was now clad in a pair of blue jeans, held up by pieces of string reaching up over his shoulders. His was now a far different figure from that presented by him in the ring of the Sparling Shows.
After dumping the flour into the cans, in doing which Teddy took his time, he attached a hose pipe to the boiler, under the direction of Henry. Next he filled the cans with water and was then ready to turn on the steam to boil the paste.
Teddy was about to do this when Mr. Snowden appeared on the scene. He looked over the cans critically, but observing nothing that he could find fault with, he got a stick and began poking in the bottom of one of the cans, thinking he had discovered that more flour had been used than was necessary.
All at once Teddy, who was now inside the car, turned a full head of steam through the hose pipe. There being one hundred and forty pounds of steam on the boiler something happened.
The full force of the steam shot into the bottom of the can over which Mr. Snowden was bending. The contents of that can leaped up into the air, water, flour, bluestone and all, and for the next few seconds Manager Snowden was the central figure in the little drama. It rained uncooked paste for nearly half a minute. Such of it as had not smitten him squarely in the face went up in the air and then came down, showering on his head.
The force of the miniature explosion had bowled the manager over. Choking, sputtering, blinded for the moment by the stuff that had got into his eyes, he wallowed in the dust by the side of the car.
Teddy shut off the steam, went out on the platform and sat down.
"What happened?" he demanded innocently. Perhaps he did not know and perhaps he did.
Mr. Snowden did not answer, for the very good reason that he could not. His clothes were ruined.
"It looks like a storm," muttered the lad. In this he was not mistaken.
A happy thought came to him. Springing up he hurried into the car, and, drawing a pail of water from the tap, ran out with it. Mr. Snowden had just scrambled to his feet.
"This will do you good," said Teddy, dashing the pail of water over the manager's head. "That's the way you brought me back when I got pasted up last night."
The Circus Boy ducked back to the platform and sat down to await developments. They were not long in arriving. The instant Snowden got the flour out of his eyes sufficiently to enable him to see he began blinking in all directions.
Finally his eyes rested on Teddy Tucker, who was perched on a brake wheel observing the manager's discomfiture.
"You!" exploded the manager. Grabbing up the paddle used for the purpose of stirring paste he started for the Circus Boy.
Teddy promptly slid from the brake wheel and quickly got to the other side of the car. Snowden was after him with an angry roar, brandishing the paddle above his head.
"I knew it would blow up a storm pretty soon," muttered the lad, making a lively sprint as the manager came rushing around the end of the car. The chase was on, but Teddy Tucker was much more fleet of foot than was his pursuer, besides which his years of training in the circus ring had put him in condition for a long race.
Around and around the car they ran, the porter watching them, big-eyed and apprehensive, but Teddy kept his pursuer at a distance without great effort.
After a short time the lad varied his tactics. Increasing his speed, he leaped to the rear platform of the car, and sprang up on the platform railing. Here, grasping the edge, he pulled himself to the roof, where he sat down with his feet dangling over, grinning defiantly.
"Come down from there!" roared the manager. "I'll teach you to play your miserable pranks on me!" The roof of the car was beyond the ability of Mr. Snowden to reach.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know you had your nose stuck in the paste pot when I turned on the steam," murmured Teddy.
This served only to increase the anger of the man on the ground.
"You did it on purpose; you know you did!" roared Mr. Snowden. "Come down, I tell you."
"You come up. It's fine up here!"
The manager, now angered past all control, uttered a growl. Hastily gathering up a handful of coal he began heaving the pieces at Teddy. But Tucker was prepared for just such an emergency.
>From his pockets he drew several chunks of coal, that he had picked up during his sprinting match around the car. He let these drive at Mr. Snowden, one after the other, not, however, throwing with sufficient force to do much damage. He did not wish to harm his superior, but he did want to drive him off.
Mr. Snowden soon got enough of the bombardment, for he was getting the worst of it all the time.
"I'll turn the hose on you!" he bellowed, making a dash for the interior of the car, where it was his intention to turn on the boiling hot water and steam.
"I guess it's time to leave," decided Teddy. Quickly hopping down he ran and hid behind a freight car a short distance from the show car. When Mr. Snowden came out, grasping the hissing hose, his victim was nowhere to be seen.