"You noticed nothing familiar about him?"
"Yes, I did."
"He looked like some kind of a man," answered Teddy solemnly.
"You say he was standing on a box?"
"Something of the sort."
Mr. Sparling went out, leaving the boys alone for a few minutes. When he returned he brought with him a small square box which he examined very carefully.
"Do you recognize it?" asked Phil.
"Yes, it is one in which the candy butcher received some goods. It might have been picked up by anyone. I will find out where he left it. This may give us some slight clue. It is quite evident, boys, that we have among us one or more dangerous men. Teddy, I offer you my humble apology for having suspected you for a moment. The thought was unworthy."
"Don't mention it," answered the Circus Boy airily.
TEDDY JOINS THE BAND
"I would suggest that you divide the band into two parts and have them play on deck as we approach the next stand," said Phil later that evening.
"I think that a most excellent plan," decided Mr. Sparling. "We will work it whenever we get in after daylight. It might not be a bad idea to try it tomorrow morning. I'll allow the musicians overtime for it, so there should be no objection on their part. We will make a triumphal entry into Des Moines, providing nothing happens to us in the meantime."
Mr. Sparling's face darkened as he thought of the dastardly attempts that had been made against his young charges.
"I will see the leader before I turn in. You had better go to bed now, Phil. You have been keeping pretty late hours and working unusually hard. Good night."
"Good night," answered Phil pleasantly.
Man and boy had come to be very fond of each other, and Phil Forrest could not have felt a more genuine affection for Mr. Sparling had the latter been his own father.
"A noble fellow," was Mr. Sparling's comment as the youth walked away from the cabin.
At half-past three o'clock the next morning the boat's passengers were awakened by the blare of brass, the crash of cymbals and the boom of the big bass drum.
They tumbled out of bed in a hurry, for few of them knew of the plan of the owner to give an early morning concert on the deck of the "Fat Marie."
Teddy Tucker struck the floor of his cabin broadside on.
"Wake up, Phil! We're late for the show. It's already begun and here we are in bed."
"Guess again, Teddy," answered Phil sleepily. "Don't you know where you are?"
"I thought I did, but I don't. Where am I?"
"In our cabin on the ship."
"But the band, the band?"
"It is playing for the benefit of the natives along the shore."
"Oh, pooh! And here I am wide awake. Do you know what time it is?"
"It is only twenty minutes of four."
"In the afternoon? Goodness we are late."
"No, in the morning, you ninny. This is a shame. I'll bet that band concert was your suggestion, Phil Forrest."
Phil admitted the charge.
"Then you must take your medicine with the rest of us. Come out of that!"
One of Phil's feet was peeping out from under the covers. Teddy saw it and grabbed it. Being a strong boy, the mighty tug he gave was productive of results.
Phil landed on his back on the floor, with a resounding thump and a jolt that made him see stars.
"Teddy Tucker, look out; I'm coming!"
"You had better look out; I'm waiting."
The two supple-limbed youngsters met in the middle of the cabin floor and went down together. They were evenly matched, and the muscles of their necks stood out like whip cords as they struggled over the floor, each seeking to get a fall from his antagonist.
Teddy managed to roll under the bed, and there they continued their early morning battle, but under no slight difficulties. Every time one of the gladiators forgot himself and raised his head, he bumped it. Phil tried to force Teddy out from under the bed, but Teddy refused to be forced.
"When—when I get you out of here I am going to do something to you that you won't like, Teddy Tucker," panted Phil.
"What—what you going to do to me?"
"I'm going to pour a pitcher of cold water on your bare feet."
The thought of it sent Teddy into a nervous chill. He would rather take a sound thrashing, at any time, than have that done to him. Now he struggled more desperately than ever to hold Phil under the bed. At last, however, the boys rolled out and Teddy's shoulders struck the cabin floor with a bang that sent the pitcher jingling in the wash bowl.
Phil sprang up, seized the water pitcher, making a threatening move with it toward his companion.
"Wow! Don't, don't!" howled Teddy.
Phil pursued him around the cabin, the water splashing from the pitcher to the floor. Teddy yelling like a wild Indian every time he stepped in the puddles.
The window was open and the band was playing just outside.
Suddenly a new plan occurred to Teddy—a plan whereby he might escape from his tormentor.
Taking a running start he sprang up, making a clean dive through the window head-first.
The lad had intended to land on his hands, do a cartwheel and come up easily on his feet. But the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong.
The bass drummer was pounding his drum right in line with the window. Teddy did not see the drum until too late to change his course. His head hit the drum with a bang. He went clear through it, his head protruding from the other side. And there he stuck!
"Oh, wow!" howled the Circus Boy.
The other members of the band, discovering that the drum was no longer marking time for them, got out of tune and came to a discordant stop.
The leader, whose side had been toward the drummer at the time, did not know what had happened. He was furious. He was about to upbraid them when he discovered the head of Teddy Tucker protruding from the head of the drum.
The bass drummer paid no attention to him. Instead he grabbed the offending boy by the feet, bracing his own feet against the rim of the instrument, and began to pull. The drummer was red in the face, perspiring and angry.
Teddy popped out like a pea from a pod. The Circus Boy was not yet out of his trouble. With unlooked-for strength the irate drummer threw the lad over his knees, face down, and raised the drumstick aloft.
This drumstick, as our readers well know, is made of heavy leather—that is the beating end is—and is hard. To add to the distress of the victim, Teddy was in his pink pajamas and they were thin.
The stick came down with more force than seemed necessary.
"Ouch! Stop it! I'll pay you back for keeps for that!"
"Oh, Phil!" Teddy was making desperate efforts to squirm away now, but his position was such that he was unable to bring his full strength to bear on the task.
The stick was raised for another blow, but there came an interruption that took all thought of continuing the punishment out of the mind of the angry drummer.
"Stop it! I don't want to be a drum!" howled the boy.
A pitcher of water was emptied over the drummer's head, a large part of the water running down and soaking Teddy to the skin, causing that young gentleman to howl lustily.
It gave the boy the opportunity he was looking for, however. With a quick twist he wrenched himself free from the grasp of the drummer, dropped on all fours and was up and away, a pink streak along the port side of the "Fat Marie."
Phil had come to the rescue of his companion. He now jerked the window shut and slammed the blind in place, after which he quickly got into his clothes, fully expecting that he should have a call from the bass drummer.
There was a great uproar on deck about that time, with much shouting and unintelligible language—at least unintelligible to Phil.
Before he had finished dressing, Teddy came skulking in, rubbing himself and muttering threats as to what he proposed to do to the drummer.
"You did it! You did!" he shouted, pointing a finger at Phil Forrest.
"It strikes me that you did something, too—"
"No I didn't. Something was done to me. I had on my pajamas, too," wailed the boy. "I'm glad you soaked him, though. Why didn't you throw the pitcher at him, too?"
"Oh, no, it might have hurt him, Teddy."
"Hurt him? Pshaw! Maybe the drumstick didn't hurt me. Oh, no!"
"Well, get dressed. I will go out and see if I can pour oil on the troubled waters. You stay here. I don't want you mixing it up with the drummer. I'll attend to him."
Phil first hunted up Mr. Sparling, whom he found shaving in his cabin.
"Why good morning, Phil. Why this early call?"
"I called to ask you what a new set of heads will cost for the bass drum?"
"I think they are worth about fifteen dollars. Why do you ask?"
"Because Teddy and myself have just smashed the heads out of the one belonging to the band."
Mr. Sparling paused in his shaving long enough to glance keenly at Phil. There was a twinkle in his eyes. He knew that his Circus Boys had been up to some mischief. Phil was as solemn as an owl.
"It was this way," explained the lad, as he related how the accident had occurred.
Mr. Sparling sat down and laughed.
"Never mind the drum heads. We have others for just such an emergency, I do not mind a little fun once in a while. We all have to blow off steam sometimes."
"No, sir; we shall pay for the drum heads. To whom does the drum belong?"
"The drummer, I think."
"Very well; thank you."
Phil hastily withdrew from the cabin and hurried back to his own stateroom.
"Teddy," he said, "I want seven-fifty from you."
"Seven dollars and a half, please."
Teddy began pawing over his trousers. All at once he paused, looking up at Phil suspiciously.
"You want to borrow seven-fifty, do you?"
"No, I want you to contribute it."
"To the fund."
"What fund? What are you talking about?"
"Those drum heads are worth fifteen dollars and we are going to pay the owner of the drum for the damage we did. I will give half and you half."
"What!" shrieked Teddy.
"Come, pay up!"
"What! Give that fellow money when he's taken more than twenty- five dollars worth out of my hide? I guess not! What kind of an easy mark do you think I am? Pay him yourself. You did it."
"Teddy, do you want me to give you a good thrashing, right here and now?"
"You can't do it. You never could," returned Teddy, belligerently.
"Come, hand out the money!"
Teddy eyed his companion for a full minute; then, thrusting a hand slowly into his own trousers' pocket, brought forth a goodly roll of bills from which he counted off eight dollars.
"Tell him to keep the change."
"I will, thank you," said Phil with a merry twinkle in his eyes.
"It's like taking candy out of the mouth of a babe. I'll get more than eight dollars' worth out of that bass—he's baser than he is bass. Bass sounds like a fish, doesn't it—out of that bass drummer when I get a good fair chance at him. Sometime when he isn't looking, you know. I wonder if he could be the fellow who stole my egg?" questioned Teddy reflectively.
Phil went out laughing, to make his peace with the drummer.
A CAPTURE IN THE AIR
Fortunately, the band carried a new set of heads for the drum, and the contribution of the boys served to restore the offended musicians to good nature. Teddy, however, was not appeased. That youngster vowed that he would take revenge on the bass drummer at the very first opportunity.
That afternoon, during the performance, Teddy began his getting-even process by standing in front of the bandstand between his acts, and making faces at the musicians.
This seemed to amuse them, and brought only smiles to their faces. Teddy was not there for the purpose of amusing the band, so he turned his back on them and tried to think of something more effective.
The show did a great business at Des Moines, having a "turn-away" at both afternoon and evening performances. The Sparling shows had played there before, but never to such business, which the showman decided was due to their novel way of traveling. He knew that these little novelties frequently made fortunes for Circus owners.
At the evening performance, Teddy had an inspiration. He was too busy, during the first part of the show, to give his idea a practical test, but later in the evening, while he was awaiting his cue to go on in his clown act, he tried the new plan.
The lad had purchased half a dozen lemons from the refreshment stand. One of these he cut in halves, secreting the pieces in a pocket of his clown costume; then when the time came he stationed himself in front of the bandstand where he stood until he had gained the attention of several of the musicians.
Teddy took out the two pieces of lemon with a great flourish, went through the motions of sprinkling sugar over them, then began sucking first one piece, then the other, varying his performance by holding out the lemon invitingly to the players.
The bass drum player scowled. Teddy's lemon did not affect the beating of the drum, but as the lad began to make believe that the acid juice was puckering his lips, some of the musicians showed signs of uneasiness.
The Circus Boy observing this, smacked his lips again and again, and industriously swallowed the juice, though it nearly choked him to do so.
Very soon some of the players got off the key, their playing grew uneven and in some instances stopped altogether. The leader could not understand what the trouble was. He called out angrily to the offending musicians, but this seemed only to add to their troubles.
All at once the big German, who played the bass horn, rose from his seat and hurled his music rack at the offending Teddy Tucker. Everything on the bandstand came to a standstill, and the performers in the ring glanced sharply down that way, wondering what could have happened.
The leader turned and discovered Teddy and his lemons. He was beside himself with rage. He understood, now, why his musicians had failed. Teddy sucking the lemon had given many of them "the puckers."
It was an old trick, but it worked as well as if it had been brand new.
The Circus Boy was delighted. The leader experienced no such sensations. With an angry exclamation, he leaped from the box on which he was standing, aiming a blow at Teddy with his baton.
The boy dodged it and ran laughing out into the ring, for it was now time for him to go on in his next act.
After a minute or two the band once more collected itself and the show went on, but there were dire threats uttered against Teddy Tucker by the leader and players. The bass drummer grinned appreciatively.
"I wish I could think of something that would tie up that fellow with the drum," muttered Teddy, gazing off at the drummer with resentful eyes.
The band leader had no scruples against carrying tales, and immediately after the performance he hunted up Mr. Sparling and entered a complaint against the irrepressible Teddy. The result was that Teddy was given a severe lecture by the showman after they got on board the boat that night. Then Phil added a warning.
"Well, what about yourself?" retorted the lad.
"I never stirred up as much roughhouse as you did this morning. You had better take some of that advice to yourself."
Phil laughed good-naturedly.
"I shall have to admit the impeachment," he said.
It seemed, however, as if the Sparling shows could not get along without exciting incidents happening at least once in twenty-four hours. They appeared to follow the Circus Boys, too, like a plague. It is likely that, had they not followed the boys, Teddy Tucker would have gone out hunting for them.
The next morning something else occurred that was not a part of the daily routine. The boats were late and the next stand was not yet in sight, so the band had not been called to work as early as on the previous morning. The bandsmen were just rousing themselves, in response to raps on their cabin doors, when they heard rapid footsteps on the deck, and excited shouts from several voices.
Teddy and Phil awakened at about the same time, having been disturbed by the unusual sounds.
"Now, what is the trouble?" exclaimed Phil.
"Something is going on, and here I am in bed," answered Teddy, tumbling out and throwing open the blinds.
He saw nothing unusual. The boat was slipping along, enveloped in a cloud of black smoke. The disturbance seemed to be on the other side of the vessel.
"Come on, Phil. Let's find out what it is all about. Maybe the boat has struck a rock and we are sinking. Wouldn't that be fun?"
"I don't see anything funny about that. It would be serious, and you and I would be out of a job for the rest of the season."
"Don't you care! I have money. Didn't I give you seven-fifty yesterday and still have some left?"
"Eight," grinned Phil.
By this time the boys had hurried out into the corridor, and thence to the deck.
"Well, what do you think of that?" howled Teddy.
"Bruiser is out," exclaimed Phil.
Bruiser was a baboon, whose temper was none too angelic. He was a big heavy fellow, who never lost an opportunity to vent his temper on whoever chanced to be within reach.
It seems that on this particular occasion a sleepy keeper was cleaning Bruiser's cage so that it might be neat and presentable when the show opened. Bruiser had sat on a trapeze far up in the cage, watching the proceedings with resentful eyes, perhaps wondering how he might administer a rebuke to the keeper.
All at once the baboon saw his opportunity. The keeper had stooped over to pick up something from the floor of the boat, as he stood at the open door of the cage in the rear.
Bruiser projected himself toward the opening like a catapult. At that instant the keeper had straightened up and the baboon hit him squarely in the face. There could be but one result. The keeper tumbled over on his back.
Chattering joyously, Bruiser began hopping off on all fours. First he investigated the tops of the cages, running over them and bringing roars from the animals within. Then he hopped down and paid a visit to the horses.
January sent a volley of kicks at the beast, but Bruiser was too quick, and the hoofs passed harmlessly over his head.
About this time the keeper had scrambled to his feet in alarm. At first he did not know where the baboon had gone, but hearing the disturbance among the horses he ran that way, soon coming upon Bruiser. With a scream of defiance, the animal bolted up the companionway, hurriedly investigated the corridors and the main cabin, then leaped out through an open window to the hurricane deck.
Two other men had joined in the chase now, and it was their shouts that had awakened the Circus Boys.
"Come on, here's sport!" shouted Teddy Tucker starting on a run after the fleeing Bruiser. The latter tried to climb up the smoke stack and narrowly missed being captured in the attempt. At the same time he burned his feet, filling him with rage and resentment, so that, when the keeper grabbed him, the former's face was badly scratched.
Round and round the deck ran pursued and pursuers, the baboon having not the slightest difficulty in eluding his followers, Teddy chasing gleefully and howling at the top of his shrill voice.
Others joined the chase, until well nigh half the boat's company raced yelling up and down the decks. Mr. Sparling was one of the number, though he devoted most of his attention to directing the others.
One mast had been erected on the boat from which to fly flags, and from this rope braces ran off forward and aft.
Finally Bruiser was so hard pressed that he took to this rigging and ran up one of the ropes to the mast, where he perched on the end of a spar and appeared to mock his pursuers.
Poles were brought, at the direction of the owner, with which the men sought to poke Bruiser down. But the poles were too short. Then the men threw ropes and missiles at the baboon, most of which went overboard and were lost.
"It is no use. We shall have to wait until he gets ready to come down," decided Mr. Sparling. "How did he get away?"
The keeper explained.
"He won't come down today," added the man. "That is, so long as we are here. He is a bad one."
"You do not have to tell me that. Can any of you offer suggestions? I am not very strong on capturing escaped animals. Phil, how about it?"
Phil shook his head.
"I have an idea, Mr. Sparling," spoke up Teddy.
"I knew you had, from the expression on your face. What is it?"
"I'll climb up and shake him down."
A loud laugh greeted this remark.
"You couldn't climb up there. The mast is too slippery."
"I'll show you."
"Very well; go ahead."
"Teddy, I think I would keep out of this, were I in your place," remarked Phil.
"You keep out of it yourself. I'll show you that I know how to catch wild beasts. I haven't ridden January all this time for nothing."
Teddy started in bravely to climb the mast. After a great struggle he managed to get up about eight feet. Suddenly he lost his grip and came sliding down, landing at the foot of the mast in a heap.
A shout greeted his ludicrous drop.
"I think you had better give it up," laughed Mr. Sparling.
"I won't give it up."
"You cannot climb the mast."
"I don't intend to. I have an idea."
"What is your idea?"
"I will show you. Bring me a rope."
The rope was quickly handed to him. The Circus Boy coiled it neatly, closely observed by the show people, who did not understand what he was about to do.
"I'm a sailor, you know," he grinned. Measuring the distance accurately, Teddy swung the coil about his head a few times, then let it fly up into the air, keeping the free end in one hand as he did so.
The coil tumbled over the yard or cross piece and came down, hitting the deck with a thump.
"There. Can you beat that?" he demanded triumphantly.
"Very well done," agreed Mr. Sparling. "Now that it is over, what do you propose to do next?"
The lad made fast one end of the rope to the ship's rail, the baboon peering down suspiciously.
"Oh, I'm after you, you rascal," jeered Teddy, shaking a fist at the ugly face above him.
After testing the rope, Teddy began climbing it hand over hand. Then the spectators divined his purpose.
"The boy is all right," nodded Mr. Sparling approvingly. "That is the time that he got the best of you, Phil."
"He is welcome to the job," answered Phil. "You haven't captured the baboon yet."
Teddy, by this time, was halfway up the mast. It seemed a dizzy climb, but the lad was so used to being up high that he did not mind it in the least.
"Hey, down there!" he called.
"What is it?"
"Better get out a small net so you can catch him. I'm going to shake him down as I would a ripe apple. If you catch him in the net he will tangle himself up so that he cannot get away."
"That is a good idea," approved Mr. Sparling. "Get the net, and hold it in readiness."
Teddy, in the meantime, was working his way up. After a time his hands grasped the crossbar and he pulled himself up astride it, waving one hand to those below him.
Bruiser, however, was not there. The baboon had scrambled to the top of the mast on which there was a golden ball, and on this he perched some eight or nine feet above Teddy Tucker's head.
"Now where is your baboon?" called a voice.
"Where he cannot get away from me unless he jumps into the Mississippi," answered Teddy quickly.
"How are you going to get him?" called Mr. Sparling.
"I'll see when I get to him."
With great caution, the lad climbed up the slender top of the mast.
Bruiser's tail hung over, while he clung with his feet, glaring down at Teddy. The baboon realized that he could not get away.
"Come down here!" commanded Teddy, grabbing the beast's tail and giving it a mighty tug.
Bruiser's grip gave way. Down shot Teddy and the baboon. But the cross-tree saved him, as the lad figured that it would. One hand was clinging to Bruiser's tail, the other arm thrown about the mast.
Now, Bruiser took a hand. With a snarl of rage he fastened in the hair of Teddy Tucker's head, causing that young man to howl lustily.
For a moment boy and baboon "mixed it up" at such a lively rate that it was difficult for the spectators below to tell which was boy and which baboon. Teddy seemed to be getting the worst of it.
"Look out! Let go of him! You will be in the river the first thing you know!" shouted Mr. Sparling warningly.
Teddy did not hear him. He was too busy, at the moment, trying to keep those savage teeth from fastening themselves in his neck, for which the beast seemed to be aiming. At the same time the boy was getting more and more angry. It was characteristic of Teddy that, the angrier he became, the cooler he grew.
He was guarding himself as best he could and watching his chance to get the upper hand of his antagonist.
All at once Teddy let drive a short-arm blow at the head of the baboon.
Few things could withstand that blow, and least of all a baboon. It landed fairly on the grinning jaws and Bruiser's head jolted backwards as if it were going right on into the river.
Teddy lost his balance, aided in this by the fact that Bruiser had fastened to the lad's pajamas.
"They're going to fall!" roared Mr. Sparling. "Catch them! Catch them!"
The men hastened to move the net, and none too soon, for Teddy and Bruiser came whirling down, the lad making desperate efforts to right himself so as to drop on his feet. But the baboon prevented his doing this.
They struck the net, which was jerked from the hands of the men, and Teddy hit the deck with a terrific bump.
A CIRCUS BOY MISSING
"Grab the beast!"
Teddy was still clinging to the baboon so firmly that they had to use force to get Bruiser away from him.
As for the baboon, he was too dazed from the shock of the fall to offer any resistance, and was quickly captured and returned to his cage.
Teddy had not fared quite so well. He was unconscious, and for a time it was feared that he had been seriously injured.
As it turned out, however, he had escaped with nothing worse than a severe shock and a sprained wrist. A sprain of any sort is sufficient to lay up a circus performer for sometime. As a result of his injury, Teddy Tucker did not work again for the next week; that is, he did not enter the ring, though he was anxious to do so. Mr. Sparling, however, would not permit it.
Those were glorious days for Teddy. He could not keep away from the circus lot. He had plenty of time to think up new ways of tormenting his enemies, some of which he applied from time to time. The boy was safe, however, for no one felt inclined to punish a boy who was going around the outfit with one arm helpless in a sling.
Perhaps Teddy Tucker took advantage of this fact. At least, he enjoyed himself and, besides, found plenty of time to hunt for his lost egg. The boy was suspicious of everyone. One time he became firmly convinced that Mr. Sparling had taken it from him. The moment the idea occurred to him he hunted up the showman and demanded to know if the latter had his egg.
"No," answered Mr. Sparling with a twinkle in his eyes, "but I will try to arrange so you get another."
"Thank you; thank you."
"I am having the show's carpenter make one out of wood."
"I can't eat a wooden egg," protested Teddy.
"Why not? You were going to eat the ostrich egg. The wooden one will give you indigestion no quicker than the other would have done."
"I'll tell you what I will do," said the Circus Boy, an idea suddenly occurring to him.
"I am listening."
"You have the carpenter make an egg and I will circulate the news that I have another egg. I will leave it in my cabin and keep watch on the thing. In that way I shall catch the fellow, if he tries to steal it again. I shan't put it in the trunk. Oh, I'll talk a lot about that wooden egg."
"I am in hopes we shall hear no more about eggs all the rest of the trip, after I give you another," said the showman. "Your idea is not a half-bad one at that. If you catch the man we are looking for I will make you a nice present."
"What kind of a present?" asked Teddy with an eye to business.
"What would you like?"
"I'll have to think it over. There are so many things I want, that I do not know which I want most."
"I thought you had money enough to buy whatever you needed. By the way, how much money have you saved, Teddy?"
"Let me see," reflected the lad, counting up on his fingers. "Why, I must have a little more than three thousand dollars in the bank. Mrs. Cahill is taking care of it for me, you know."
"Fine, fine! That is splendid. What are you going to do with all of that money?"
"I think I will buy out the Sparling shows, someday, when you get tired of the business and want to sell at any old price," answered the boy boldly.
The showman laughed heartily.
"So you think you would like to own a show, do you?"
"Yes, sir, I am going to—Phil and I."
"May I ask when this interesting affair is coming off—this purchasing of a real circus?"
"I told you. When you get tired of the business we are going to buy you out."
"You have it planned, eh?"
"Yes, sir; that is, I have. Phil doesn't know anything about that yet. I haven't told him."
"I thought not. So, while I am paying you to work for me, you are planning to take my show away from me, are you?" questioned Mr. Sparling with a smile.
"No, Sir; we are not trying to do anything of the sort. You have been too kind, and I thank you for all you have done for me, and—and all you have put up with. You ought to have 'fired' me a long time ago—I guess you ought to have done it before I started in the Show business. I'm glad you didn't," added Teddy, glancing up with a bright smile.
It was the first time Mr. Sparling had ever heard the little Circus Boy express his appreciation. He patted the lad affectionately.
"I hope you are feeling quite well, today, my boy. You never talked this way before. What caused your sudden change of heart?"
"I—I guess it was the baboon," answered Teddy whimsically. "Or else, maybe, it was the bump I got when I hit the deck of the 'Fat Marie.'"
Phil came up and joined them at that moment, waiting for his turn to go on in his trapeze act for the evening performance. Mr. Sparling surveyed him keenly. He noted the trim, athletic figure, the poise of the head and the steady clear eyes that held one irresistibly.
"You are looking very handsome tonight, Phil," said the owner.
"Thank you, sir. 'Handsome is as handsome does,' as the saying goes," laughed the Circus Boy. "Are you having the net watched, Mr. Sparling?"
"Yes, my lad. Two men are keeping close tab on the big spider web all the time, except in the afternoon, when no one would dare to tamper with it for fear of being detected."
"I am not so sure of that. You see, I have a personal interest in that net, seeing that I have to risk my bones over it twice each day."
"Don't worry. It will be well watched, Phil."
"I take the first drop in it, you know, so if it should give way you would be minus Phil Forrest."
"Teddy tells me you and he are thinking of buying out the Sparling shows, eh?"
"Why, Teddy, how could you say such a thing?" demanded Phil, reddening.
Teddy expostulated, explaining that it was merely a dream in his own mind, repeating that Phil knew nothing of it.
"I do intend to own a show, as I have told you before, Mr. Sparling, as soon as I have enough money. I am afraid, however, that that day is a long way off."
"Perhaps not so far off as you think, Phil. Perhaps both of you may own a show much sooner than you even dream," said the showman, significantly. "Well, good night, boys if I do not see you again."
"What do you think he meant by that?" questioned Teddy.
"I am sure I do not know. Perhaps he thinks we have a future before us and that we shall make rapid advances. I hope so, don't you, Teddy?"
"I think I would rather find my egg than have most anything else just now."
"Oh, hang your egg! There goes my cue. I must get out, now. Bye, bye. You are a lucky boy not to have to work on this hot night."
Phil waved his hand and tripped out into the arena. A few minutes later he was soaring through the air with the gracefulness and ease of a bird on the wing.
The boys did not meet again until bedtime, for Phil had turned in immediately upon reaching the boat. Teddy, of course, was the last one to go to bed, but he was soon asleep after reaching there.
Phil, on the contrary, had lain awake for some hours, thinking. He was still seeking a solution to the mystery that had been disturbing them almost from the beginning of the season. Twice had an effort been made to do him serious injury at least. Who could have taken so violent a dislike to him as to wish to cause his death? There seemed to be no answer to the question.
"I can think of no one, unless it is Diaz," muttered the boy. "Yet he surely was not one of those who were plotting out on the lot that night. He would not have had time to get back to the boat ahead of me. Then again, Teddy was sure that the clown had been back for more than an hour. He may have had something to do with laying the trap in the ring for Dimples and myself."
"I am afraid I am not on the right track at all," decided Phil at last, with a deep sigh.
He was still awake when the "Fat Marie" shook off her moorings and with a long blast of her siren, drifted out into the stream and began pounding down the river.
Phil got up, stretched himself, looked out of the window, then decided to go on deck to get the breeze, for the heat was stifling in his stateroom. Teddy was sound asleep.
The deck seemed to be deserted. Phil walked over to the rail and leaning both elbows upon it closed his eyes dreamily.
It must have been fully an hour later when Teddy awakened suddenly, with a foreboding that something was not as it should be.
"Phil!" he called.
There was no reply.
"Phil!" repeated Teddy in a louder tone.
Failing to get a response, Teddy arose and found his companion's bed empty. Teddy, knowing that Phil seldom ever left the stateroom after retiring, decided to go out to look for him. He investigated the cabin, then going out on dock peered into every shadow, calling softly for Phil.
Failing to get any trace of his chum, Teddy returned to his cabin, put on his slippers and went down to the lower deck, where he made inquiries of the watchman, but with no better success.
Teddy Tucker began to feel alarmed. He hurried to the upper deck again, once more going over it carefully, as well as the inside of the boat.
A terrible suspicion began to force itself upon him.
"Man overboard!" bellowed the Circus Boy. "Man overboard!" He ran through the corridors shouting the startling cry, then out to the deck repeating it as he ran.
The cry was taken up by others as they rushed from their cabins, Mr. Sparling among the number.
"Where, where?" shouted the showman. "Who—who—"
"It's Phil! He's gone. He's over there, somewhere, I don't know where!"
OVERBOARD INTO THE RIVER
"I can't understand it," Phil mused, as the soft evening breezes lulled him into slumber.
"What! What!" he cried suddenly. "What is it? I'm falling!"
The deck of the "Marie" all at once seemed to have dropped from beneath him. He felt himself falling through space. What could it mean?
With the showman's instinct the Circus Boy quickly turned his body, spread out his hands and righted himself.
The night was black, and as yet he had not succeeded in collecting his senses sufficiently to decide what had happened. He knew that he was falling, but that was all.
There was a sudden splash as his body struck the water. Phil shot right down beneath it and the waters of the Mississippi closed over him.
He understood then what had happened, but not for an instant did he lose his presence of mind. Phil had caught his breath as his feet touched the water, and now that he had sunk beneath the surface he began to kick vigorously and work his hands to check his downward course.
A moment of this and he felt himself rising toward the surface. Phil was as good a swimmer as he was a performer in the circus ring, and he felt no nervousness, even though his position at that moment was a perilous one.
Almost at once he felt his head above the surface of the river, but his eyes were so full of muddy water that he could see nothing at all. Instead of trying to swim, Phil lay over on his back, floated and began blinking industriously to get the water out of his eyes. He soon found that he could see once more, though at that moment there was nothing to be seen in the blackness of the night.
"There's the 'Marie,'" he cried. Phil raised his voice in a good lusty howl for help, but none heard him. He could see the lights of the steamboat and they appeared to be far away.
"There is only one thing left for me to do, and that is to strike out for the shore. I wonder which way the shore is?"
Once more he raised himself in the water, for an instant, and gazed toward the rapidly disappearing lights of the 'Marie.'
"She is going downstream, so if I swim to the left I should reach shore after a while," decided the lad.
He did not know that the boat had in the meantime made a sharp turn to her right and that in turning to the left he would be swimming downstream, making his attempt to reach shore a difficult one indeed.
The lad struck out manfully, swimming with long, easy strokes, aided considerably by the current which was sweeping him downstream much faster than he thought.
"I'm glad I have only my pajamas on," decided the lad. "If I had all my clothes on I fear I should have a pretty tough fight. It's bad enough as it is."
Talking to himself, in order to keep up his courage, he swam steadily on, now and then pausing to swim on his back to rest himself. He had gone on for nearly an hour when the lad began to wonder why he had not reached shore.
"Surely the river cannot be so wide at this point. I must have drifted downstream considerably. Perhaps I haven't been going in the right direction at all."
He tried to find out which way the drift was, in order to make up his mind as to the direction in which the shore lay. In the darkness, however, he was unable to determine this, so he began swimming again, trusting to luck to land him on something solid, sooner or later. He knew that this must occur, but whether his strength would hold out that long he could not say.
All at once he caught a peculiar drumming sound. It reminded him of a partridge that he had once heard in the woods, but it seemed a long way off and he could not identify it.
"I guess it must be my heart, up somewhere near my mouth, that I hear," said the boy with a short mindless laugh. "Maybe I am going to pieces. If I am I deserve to drown."
About that time Phil decided to turn over on his back and rest for a moment.
The instant he did so he uttered a sharp exclamation. His eyes caught sight of something that he had not seen before. It looked to him like some giant shadow, from which twinkled hundreds of lights.
"It is the 'Marie'!" cried the boy. "They are coming back for me. No, no, it cannot be the 'Marie,' for this boat is coming from the opposite direction. Yes, it surely is a steamboat!"
Though Phil did not know it, this was one of the big river packets bound down the river from St. Louis.
"I must get out of the way, or they will run me down, but I want to keep close enough so I can hail them. I hope this is where I get on something solid again."
A few minutes of steady swimming appeared to have taken him out of the path of the river boat. Then Phil rested, lying on his back, watching the boat narrowly.
"In almost any other position or place, I might think that was a pretty sight. As matters stand, now, it looks dangerous to me."
His position was more perilous at that moment than he even dreamed.
"H-e-l-p! H-e-l-p!" called Phil, in what he thought was a loud tone.
There were no indications that his cry had been heard by those on board the steamboat. He tried it again, but with no better success than before.
"I have simply got to keep on yelling my lungs out until I attract their attention. I am afraid I shall never reach shore unless I am picked up. I might be able to keep afloat until daylight, but I doubt it. I shall get so chilled, before then, that I shall have to give up. I've got some fight left in me yet, just the same."
"A-h-o-y, boat! Help!"
On came the steamer, steadily.
Suddenly Phil discovered something else. She had changed her course. The boat seemed to be drawing away from him! His heart sank, but almost at once, the boat turned again, following the tortuous channel of the stream.
She now was sweeping almost directly down upon him. He heard some call on the upper deck.
"They are going to run me down!" he gasped.
Phil threw all his strength into an effort to swim out of the path of the swiftly moving boat, but he feared he would not be able to clear her.
The lad uttered a loud shout, then dived deep, coming up at once only to find himself almost against the side of the moving craft.
He grabbed frantically, hoping that his hands might come in contact with some projection to which he could cling, but the slippery sides of the hull slid past him at what seemed almost express train speed.
He was almost on the point of diving again to get away from the dangerous spot, when suddenly, his fingers closed over something. It was a rope, one of the hawsers that had not been fully hauled in when the boat left the last landing place some miles up the river.
With a glad cry, both the lad's hands closed over the precious rope. His joy was short lived. He found himself dropping back, the river craft still gliding past him.
The rope was paying out over the boat's side in his hands.
Phil Forrest was never more cool in his life, but he now began to realize the well-nigh hopeless position in which be found himself placed.
Suddenly the rope ceased paying out with an abruptness that jerked him clear out of the water. He fell back with a splash, all but losing hold of the rope as he did so.
"I've got it! I've got it!" exulted the lad. A rush of water filled his mouth, almost suffocating him.
"I guess I had better keep my mouth closed," thought the boy.
He was directly astern of the steamboat by this time, and this placed him in a much more favorable position than he had been while dragging along at the side.
Phil began resolutely to work himself along the rope hand over hand. It was a desperate undertaking, one calling for strength and courage of an unusual kind, but he never hesitated. His breath came in long, steady, sighs, for he was going though the water at such a rate of speed that breathing was made doubly difficult.
"It is a good thing I am a circus performer. I should probably have been at the bottom of the river long ago, had I not been a ring man."
At last, after what seemed hours of struggling, he had succeeded in working his way past the stern paddle wheel, and up under the stern of the ship. He twisted the rope about one arm, and with his head well out of water lay half exhausted while he was shot through the water at high speed.
A few minutes of this, and Phil, considerably rested, began to pull himself up.
Ordinarily this hand over hand climb would have been an easy feat for the Circus Boy. As it was, however, the lad was forced to pause every foot or so, and, twisting the rope about an arm and a leg, hang there between sky and water, gasping for breath, every nerve and muscle in his body a-quiver.
Few men, no matter how strong nor how great their endurance, could have gone through what Phil Forest had endured that night.
He was glad to be out of the water, where he was in imminent danger of being drowned as the boat jerked him along. Of course he was not obliged to cling to the rope, but the chances of his reaching shore, were he to let go, he felt were very remote.
"I am glad Teddy is not here," muttered Phil with a half smile as he thought of his companion back on the "Marie" fast asleep. "I wonder what he will think when he finds that I am missing? I hope they do not turn about and come back to look for me, for I hardly think they will be able to do that and make their next stand in time."
Once more the lad began pulling himself up the rope. At last, to his great relief, his fingers closed over the stern rail of the river boat. Phil pulled himself up as if he were chinning the bar, though in this case he chinned it only once.
Elbows were braced on the rail, then the right leg was thrown over and Phil Forrest was high and dry on the deck of a great river steamer, after an experience that perhaps never had befallen a human being on the Mississippi before.
He found himself standing face to face with an officer of the boat, who proved to be the mate. The man was so astonished at the dripping figure that had come over the stern, that, for the moment, he did not speak.
"Good evening," greeted Phil politely.
"Who are you?" demanded the mate sternly.
"I guess I am Old Neptune himself. Maybe I am a mermaid. At least I have just risen from the sea, and mighty glad I am that I have risen."
The officer seized Phil. Leading the boy to where the light shone from the main cabin window, he peered into the lad's face. Evidently fairly well satisfied by his brief glance into the honest eyes of the Circus Boy, the officer quickly turned and led Phil to the forward end of the boat, where he summoned the captain, who was lying down in the pilot house.
"What's this? Whom have you here?"
"I don't know, sir," answered the officer. "He came over the side half a mile above here."
"What—what's this—came over the side?"
"I saw him. I was standing astern when he climbed over the rail."
"See here, young man, what does this mean?"
"I fell from a boat, sir, further up the river. I was trying to swim ashore when you nearly ran me down. You see, I did not know you were going to make that sharp turn and I did not have time to get out of the way."
"That is not a likely story, young man. How did you get aboard this boat? That is what I want to know."
Phil explained that he had caught hold of a rope.
"Is there a rope trailing, mate?"
"I don't know, sir."
The mate returned a few moments later with the information that a hawser was dragging astern.
"Wonderful!" breathed the captain. "How did you ever do it, and you only a boy?"
"I am pretty strong, even if I am a boy," smiled Phil.
"What is your name?"
Phil gave it.
"How did you happen to get in the river?"
"I told you I fell in, or something of the sort, from the 'Fat Marie.'"
"Never heard of her."
"I think she was called the 'Mary Jane.'"
"Oh, that's that circus boat—the Sparling Circus?"
"Do you belong to the circus?"
"Yes. I am a bareback rider and a trapeze performer."
Both men gazed at him with new interest.
"Well, you beat anything that I ever heard of. You certainly must be a performer if you did a thing like that. I remember the pilot's telling me he thought he heard someone cry out from the river, but as the call was not repeated, he thought he must have been mistaken. Come in, and we will put you to bed."
"I have no money with me, sir," said the lad. "If you will extend the courtesies of your craft to me, I will see that you are well paid after I reach my show once more."
"We will take care of you. Never mind about the pay."
"By the way, where is your next landing place?"
Phil gave a low whistle.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Corinth, I believe is the stand we show at tomorrow."
"That's not far from Memphis. We will land you at Memphis in the morning and you can take a train back, getting you to Corinth in plenty of time for your show. I will see that you have a ticket."
"Thank you ever so much. You are very kind."
The Circus Boy was put to bed and in a few minutes he was sound asleep, thus far not much the worse for his thrilling experience, though he was completely exhausted, as he realized after he had tucked himself in his berth.
THE ROMAN CHARIOT RACES
It was late when the Circus Boy awoke next morning. A steward rapped at the door and a suit of officer's clothes, brass buttons and all was handed in to him.
"With the captain's compliments, sir," said the steward. "He hopes it will fit you. When you are ready, you will please come to the saloon for breakfast."
"Thank the captain for me, and say that I can't get there any too soon," laughed Phil, springing out of bed.
The passengers had all heard the remarkable tale from the captain that morning, and they were anxious to see the young Circus Boy who had performed such a plucky act.
Phil entered the dining room, not thinking for a minute that he would be recognized. When the passengers saw the handsome young fellow in an officer's uniform, they knew him. Everyone in the room sprang to his feet and three cheers rang out for Phil Forrest.
"Speech, speech!" cried someone.
Blushing faintly, Phil glanced about him.
"You cannot expect a boy to make much of a speech before breakfast, especially after he has been swimming most of the night. I don't know that I am entitled to any special credit. I saved only my own life, and I do not expect to get a medal for it, either. I hope all of you will visit the Great Sparling Shows at the first opportunity. Then I shall try to entertain you in a way that I understand far better than this. I'm very much obliged to you all."
Then Phil sat down. The passengers gave him another cheer, louder and more enthusiastic than the first. Mr. Sparling would have been proud of the lad could he have heard that speech. Phil lost no opportunity to advertise the Sparling shows, and every passenger on the boat, that morning, made up his mind to visit the show ere another week had passed.
All the rest of the morning Phil was a hero in the eyes of the passengers, who followed him wherever he went, asking questions about his experience in the river, and how he had happened to fall in, as well as numerous questions about the life of a circus man.
With regard to his accident, Phil had little to say. He seemed to wish to avoid discussing the falling-in matter, but his face took on a serious expression when it was referred to.
At last Memphis was sighted. Phil arranged with the captain to return the uniform, which he promised to send to St. Louis, so that his benefactor could get it on the return trip.
As the craft began drawing in toward the dock, the Circus Boy bade all the passengers good-bye, everyone of whom insisted on shaking hands with him.
Phil walked off, the passengers giving him three cheers as he stepped over the gangplank to the dock. Before he had reached the end of it, he was overtaken by a reporter who had just heard of Phil's feat and wished an interview.
At first Phil was reluctant to speak.
"I think it will be a good advertisement for the show," he said to himself. So the Circus Boy related, modestly, the story of his experience in the river and of his rescue of himself; not forgetting to say some pleasant things about the Sparling shows, which would visit Memphis two days hence. That afternoon he saw his story set forth in the Memphis newspaper. He bought two papers, one of which he tucked in his pocket, sending the other to Mrs. Cahill, his guardian. His next move was to start for the station, to take a train for Corinth. He was already too late to reach that town in time for the afternoon performance, but he had wired Mr. Sparling that he was safe.
As it happened the lad reached the show grounds before his message had been delivered. Mr. Sparling, well nigh beside himself with worry, had telegraphed to all points passed by their boats, begging that neither effort nor expense be spared to find his Circus Boy.
The showman was standing in front of his office tent, that afternoon, at about three o'clock, his broad-brimmed slouch hat pulled well down over his eyes, his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets.
Off under the big top the band was playing a lively tune, and the side-show people were out in front sunning themselves, all discussing Phil Forrest's mysterious disappearance.
After a short time, Mr. Sparling espied a young man in uniform coming on the lot. He did not pay much attention to the stranger, thinking the fellow was a police officer or something of the sort.
As the young man drew nearer, however, the showman thought he noted something familiar in the springy step and the poise of the body.
"Now, who is that?" he muttered. "Somehow I seem to know that youngster."
Others about the main entrance were also looking in his direction about that time. Still no one seemed to recognize the young man.
All at once the showman tilted up the rim of his hat and gazed more keenly.
"Phil!" he shouted, casting the hat aside and running forward with outstretched arms. "It's Phil, it's Phil Forrest!"
A moment more and Mr. James Sparling had clasped his little Circus Boy about the waist, hugging him delightedly. There was a suspicious moisture in the eyes of the showman, which he sought to hide from Phil.
"Phil! Phil! Where have you been?" he cried leading the boy toward the office tent. "And that uniform—what does it mean?"
"I will tell you all about it as soon as I get my breath," laughed the lad.
By this time the others out in front had hurried forward, showering questions upon the boy, all of which he answered without giving very much information. He wished to talk with Mr. Sparling first of all.
"Where is Teddy?" was almost his first question.
"He is in the big top at work."
"I presume he was considerably excited when he missed me, was he not?"
"Yes, at first, but since then he has not said much. Teddy is a queer boy."
The word was quickly passed that Phil had returned safe and sound, and ten minutes after his arrival every man and woman in the show had heard the news. There was great rejoicing.
Teddy was going through his clown act when he first heard the rumor that Phil was back. Teddy waited until he had worked around to the entrance to the menagerie tent when he suddenly darted through, leaving his work and the ring, a most serious breach of discipline. Teddy, however, did not care. He was willing to be fined. He bolted through the main entrance like a miniature tornado, to the amazement of the door tenders.
"Where's Phil?" he shouted.
One of the doormen pointed to Mr. Sparling's office tent.
The little clown was off on a run.
"Hey, Phil, you old rascal! Where have you been?" he demanded, dashing into the small tent.
"I have been out for a swim, old fellow. Did you miss me?"
"I nearly broke my neck thinking about you this afternoon. Landed on my head in the leaping act, and I've got a pain in my neck yet."
"Young man, what are you doing here?" demanded the showman, sternly.
"Same thing you are. Seeing Phil."
"Get back to your act!"
"I'm off. I'll see you later, Phil, then we will talk it over."
"We will, Teddy," and Teddy was off at top speed to take up his performance where he had so abruptly left it a few minutes before. The ringmaster had not missed him, though he saw at once that the boy was not on his station, when Teddy began to work again.
"Now, Phil, we will hear all about it. How in the name of the Sparling shows did you get into that uniform?"
"The captain of the river boat that picked me up fitted me out."
"So you really fell in?"
"I got in, right."
"Tell me all about it."
The Circus Boy related his experiences from the time he found himself in the river, until his arrival in Memphis that morning.
"Marvelous—almost unbelievable," breathed Mr. Sparling as the tale was unfolded. "I never heard anything to compare with it."
When Phil told of his speech in the dining saloon of the river steamboat, Mr. Sparling leaned back with hands on his hips, laughing immoderately.
"Oh, Phil, you are the sort from which great showmen are made!"
Phil handed over the Memphis paper with the account of his experience, which the showman glanced over briefly.
"That will give us another turn-away in Memphis. You can't stop them, after that. They will come to the show even if they have to fight their way in. That was a great stroke of enterprise, but I would rather it had not happened, of course."
"No, of course not. I mean your accident."
"It is all right, Mr. Sparling. I am here now, and none the worse for my bath, but for a time I surely thought I was a goner. I would not care to go through that experience again."
"I should say not. Yours was the most wonderful escape I ever heard of. I'll wager there was never anything like it before on this river."
Mr. Sparling paused suddenly and bent a keen, searching glance on Phil Forrest's face. The lad felt that he knew what was in the mind of his employer.
"You have not told me everything, yet."
"What makes you think that, Mr. Sparling?"
"Because I know you so well. There is something on your mind that you have not told me. I want to know what it is."
Phil's eyes were lowered to the green grass at his feet. For a moment he was silent and thoughtful.
"What is it you wish me to tell you, Mr. Sparling?" he asked in a low voice.
"You have not given me a satisfactory explanation of how you came to get into the river."
"Perhaps I fell in," answered the lad with a faint smile.
"Perhaps. But you have not said so. I want you to tell me how you did get in."
"I think I was thrown in, Mr. Sparling," answered the Circus Boy quickly.
"Thrown in!" exclaimed the showman, leaping to his feet, his face working convulsively in his effort to control his emotions. "Phil Forrest, do you mean that?"
Mr. Sparling sat down helplessly.
"Is it possible?"
"I am sure of it, sir."
"Had anyone but you told me that I should have laughed. I know I can depend upon what you say. Tell me more about it?"
"As I have already said, I was leaning on the rail and dropped off into a doze. How long I had been in that position I do not know. I could not have been there many minutes, or I should have gone so soundly asleep that I would have fallen over to the deck, you know."
"All at once I felt myself being lifted. At first, as I remember it, the sensation was as if the deck were dropping from under me. As I recalled the incident afterwards, I realized that I had been lifted. You know all that occurred after that."
"Was there more than one who threw you overboard?"
"I am unable to say. I did not even see one," said Phil with a half-smile. "I felt myself being lifted—that's all. The next minute I was in the river, with the 'Marie' pounding away downstream at a lively clip."
"Dastardly! Dastardly!" growled the showman. "I shall send for a detective to meet us in Memphis tomorrow. This thing has gone far enough."
"I think I agree with you, sir," was Phil's half-humorous answer. "But I had been in hopes of solving this mystery myself."
"Yes, and you came near losing your life as the result. No, sir! This thing must be cleared up at once. I shall wire to St. Louis now, and we will have a man with us sometime tomorrow. Say nothing to anyone of my plan. The detective will join the show in some capacity or other, and have regular duties to perform. You will know him, but no one else will except myself. I think the Roman races are about due under the big top now. Suppose you go in and change your clothes, joining me at my table after you come out. We will talk these matters over at length this evening. When the officer reaches here I shall expect you to tell him freely all that you know as well as what you suspect. Keep nothing from him. Run along, Phil. I want to think this matter over by myself for a few minutes."
As Phil entered the big top the Roman races were just coming on. The chariot drivers, with their prancing steeds, had entered the arena.
Phil paused to wait until the fast and furious races were over. The leading woman chariot driver was trying out a new three-horse team; that is, two of the horses were new to the work, the third, being an old hand. The new animals were spirited, and after the first round of the arena, Phil saw that they were nervous.
"I am afraid she is going to have trouble with that pair," muttered Phil with a shake of his head. "If she can keep them up to the mark, they will outrun anything in the show today."
The new team fairly tore around the arena. They won the first races easily, then lined up in the center to await the finals which were to follow a few minutes later.
The ringmaster's whistle trilled for the successful drivers to swing out into the concourse. They were driving furiously, almost before the echoes of the whistle had died away.
Making the turn at the lower end of the track in safety, the two teams in the race squared away down the home stretch. All at once Phil saw that something was wrong. The leading chariot was swaying dizzily, and the driver was trying with all her strength to pull the plunging animals down.
Suddenly the wheel on the inner side slipped from its axle and went rolling off into the center of the arena. The axle dropped to the turf, caught, then turned the chariot bottom side up.
The woman driver was hurled off into the center in the wake of the careening wheel, landing on her head and shoulders beside the center platform.
The team did not stop, however. It started directly across the arena, in a diagonal course.
"She is hurt!" cried Phil. "Somebody will be killed unless that wild team is stopped!"
Giving no thought to the danger to himself, Phil Forrest darted across the arena and leaped for the bridles of the plunging, frightened animals.
It seemed a foolhardy thing to do, but Phil understood exactly how to go about it. If he were able to turn the team, he would undoubtedly save them from plunging into the seats where hundreds of people were sitting. A trained circus horse always will avoid the spectators, but there is no accounting for what a green animal will do.
Grasping the bit of the animal nearest to him, Phil threw his whole weight into the effort. To his intense satisfaction the team swerved, half turned and dashed across the arena again. This time, however, they did not go far. The outfit smashed into the main center pole, and Phil went on, sitting down violently in the middle of the concourse, unhurt, but more or less shaken up.
By that time ring attendants had caught the frightened horses. All danger was over.
Phil Forrest was loudly cheered by the spectators, but his borrowed officer's uniform was a hopeless wreck. It was torn beyond any possibility of repair.
Upon investigation, which Phil made at once, he found that the cap that held the chariot wheel in place, had been removed. No trace of it ever was found, and Phil well knew that the mysterious enemy was once more at work. The news was conveyed to Mr. Sparling, with the information that Phil had gleaned.
He also bore the unwelcome tidings to his employer that their leading woman chariot driver had broken both arms and that she would not perform again that season, if ever again.
Mr. Sparling was so angered over this latest outrage that he was scarcely able to control himself. Yet he knew that it would be best to maintain silence until the detective had had an opportunity to make an investigation. Some of the circus people, however, had voiced a suspicion that the accident was a deliberate attempt to do the show an injury, and this was quickly passed from lip to lip, until almost everyone had heard it. The show people accepted the situation quietly, as was their wont, nevertheless they were very much excited. There was no telling when they themselves might fall victims to the mysterious enemy, and each one vowed to run down the scoundrel who they knew must be a member of the circus family.
Phil made some guarded inquiries, but was unable to learn whether or not anyone had been observed about the chariots that day. The hub cap, of course, might have been removed while the chariots were still on the boat, but in that event its loss would no doubt have been noticed, for the caps were of brass, large and prominent.
Phil decided that the act must have been committed just before the chariots were driven into the arena for the Roman races.
In this, Phil Forrest was right.
The solution of the mystery was at hand, however, and was to come in a most unexpected manner.
Supper had been eaten, and most of the performers were out on the lot, enjoying the balmy air of the early evening for the few moments left to them before they would be obliged to repair to the dressing tent to make ready for the evening performance.
Phil decided to go in, after finishing a talk with Mr. Sparling in the latter's private tent. As the lad passed through the menagerie tent the attendants were lighting the gasoline lamps there and hauling them up the center poles.
Under the big top, however, one could not see half its length. The lights there would not be turned on for fifteen or twenty minutes yet. Not a person was in sight as Phil entered the tent, making his way slowly down the concourse. He paused half-way down, seating himself on a grandstand chair in one of the arena boxes, where he thought over the latest exploit of the show's enemy.
"This time they were not after me, but after the outfit itself," he muttered. "That is the time the fellow showed his hand, and it gives me an idea. I—hello, there is someone who acts as if he did not wish to be seen."
Phil sat still and watched. Someone had slipped in under the tent down at the other end, directly across the arena from where the bandstand was located. It had now become so dark in the tent that Phil could not make out the fellow's features. In fact, the man was a mere shadow.
"I wonder what he is doing there?"
Then a thought struck Phil Forrest like a blow.
"That's where they put the big net between performances."
Phil crept down into the arena and made his way back to the entrance to the menagerie tent, where he quickly slipped out into the open and ran down along the outside of the big top at his best speed. As he drew near the spot where he had seen the man, he moved cautiously.
Finally Phil dropped down and peered under the tent. He was less than ten feet from where the fellow was at work. The Circus Boy could catch a "rip, rip" now and then.
"The fiend is cutting the net," he muttered. "I wonder who he is. Ah, I know him now! He is one of the tent men. I never thought he was in this thing. I must catch him—I must make the attempt, for he may get away. I don't even know the fellow's name, nor do I understand his enmity toward the show or myself."
Phil wriggled in under the tent, now, not fearing discovery, for inside the tent, it was quite dark. Slowly raising himself to his feet, he edged nearer, step by step, to where the man was at work. The man had partly spread the net out by this time, to make sure that he was cutting it in the right place so that it would give way beneath the weight of the performer unfortunate enough to drop into it first.
"The fiend!" repeated Phil, clenching his fists. "I'm glad I am the one to discover him. Mr. Man, I have a score to settle with you and I'm going to begin the settling up now."
Phil crouched low. He was now only a few feet from the stooping figure.
All at once the boy threw himself forward. He landed on the man, forcing him to the ground. As he struck, Phil raised his voice in the showmen's rallying cry.
"Hey, Rube!" he shouted in a sing-song voice that was heard in the dressing tents and even out in the menagerie tent.
His first care, then, was to pinion the man so he could not use his hands, for the Circus Boy knew that his captive had a knife in one hand.
Men came running from all directions, Mr. Sparling among the number, for he had been in the menagerie tent when the cry reached him, and feared some fresh trouble was at hand.
"What is it? Where is it?" roared the showman.
"Here, here! Bring lights. Bring—"
The man beneath him began to struggle. In fact the fellow staggered to his feet, the boy being too light to hold him down.
Phil grabbed him about the waist, pinioning the man's arms to his sides. Then began a desperate struggle, during which the combatants fell to the ground, rolling over and over in their fierce battle.
"It's Phil Forrest!" shouted the owner.
He sprang forward and with a mighty tug, jerked the tentman free of the Circus Boy's body. At that instant the fellow leaped to his feet and started to run.
"Stop him!" howled Phil.
Teddy, who had come running up, suddenly stooped over and constituting himself a battering ram, ran full tilt into the tentman, the boy's head landing in the pit of the circus hand's stomach. The fellow went down, whereupon Teddy promptly sat on him until the others reached the scene.
"Now, what does this mean?" demanded the showman sternly.
"It means that I caught this fellow cutting the net. If you will look at it you will find it to be badly mutilated, I think." An examination proved that Phil was right. Mr. Sparling had all he could do to prevent the angry circus men from wreaking their vengeance on the wretch then and there.
Teddy, in the meantime, had been peering into the man's face.
"I know him! I know him!" howled the Circus Boy, dancing about.
"You know him?"
"Yes, do you remember Bad Eye who was mixed up with Red Larry, the fellow we sent to jail two or three seasons ago?"
"That's Bad Eye," pointing to the prisoner, "and he is bad medicine, besides."
"Is it possible?" muttered Phil, a new light breaking over him.
Suddenly Teddy uttered a yell.
"I've got him! He's the fellow who stole my egg." Teddy made a dive for the prisoner, but strong hands pulled him away.
Bad Eye, it developed, smarting under the punishment that had been meted out to his companion, had once more joined the show, determined upon revenge. He had in the meantime grown a full beard, so that no one recognized him. Now, Phil Forrest knew why the voice was dimly familiar to him when he had heard it that night out on the lot.
Caught red-handed, Bad Eye made a full confession. And to the surprise of everyone, he implicated Manuel, the assistant to the Spanish clown. Bad Eye admitted having thrown Phil Forrest overboard, as well. He denied having stolen Tucker's egg, placing the full responsibility for this on the shoulders of Manuel.
What was done with the egg was never known, though Manuel was believed to have thrown it overboard. Diaz, after his one violent outbreak, had made no further evil attempts.
Bad Eye and Manuel were tried and convicted in due time, and placed where they would do the show no further harm.
The show went on, and after several successful weeks, reached New Orleans, where the final performance of the season was given. All hands then turned their faces northward. Teddy and Phil decided to take a steamship for New York, thence proceeding to their home by train. Each lad was a few thousand dollars richer than when he had joined out in the spring.
They waved their adieus to Mr. Sparling from the deck of an ocean steamer next morning as the big ship slowly poked its nose out into the gulf.
"You can't down the Circus Boys," said Phil, with a pleased smile as they leaned over the rail.
"At least, not this season," added Teddy.
But the exciting experiences of the Circus Boys were not yet at an end. The lads will be heard from further in another volume, under the title: "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE PLAINS; Or, The Young Advance Agents Ahead of the Show."
In this forthcoming volume the lads pass through a phase of circus life never experienced by them before. They will find, too, that all the thrills of the circus life are not confined to the sawdust arena, but that there is every whit as much excitement and real peril in the daily life of the advance man on the advertising car ahead of the show.