Chapter XXIII. Searching the Train
 

Salt Lake City proved an unusual attraction to the Circus Boys, they having read so much of it in story and textbooks.

Here they visited the great Mormon Temple. During their two day stand they made a trip out to the Great Salt Lake where Teddy Tucker insisted in going in swimming. His surprise was great when he found that he could not swim at all in the thick, salty water.

The trip over the mountains, through the wonderful scenery of the Rockies and the deep canyons where the sunlight seldom reaches was one of unending interest to them.

Most of the show people had been over this same ground with other circuses many times before, for there are few corners of the civilized world that the seasoned showman has not visited at least once in his life.

It was all new to the Circus Boys, however, and in the long day trips over mountain and plain, they found themselves fully occupied with the new, entrancing scenes.

By this time both lads had become really finished performers in their various acts, and they had gone on through the greater part of the season without serious accident in their work. Of course they had had tumbles, as all showmen do, but somehow they managed to come off with whole skins.

For a time after the wreck of the accommodation car the show had no further trouble that could be laid at the door of Red Larry or his partner. However, after a few days, the reports of burglaries in towns where the show exhibited became even more numerous.

"We can't furnish police protection to the places we visit," answered Mr. Sparling, when spoken to about this. "But, if ever I get my hands on that red head, the fur will fly!"

Passing out of the state of Utah, a few stands were made in Nevada, but the jumps were now long and it was all the circus trains could do to get from stand to stand in time. As it was, they were not always able to give the parade, but the manager made up for this by getting up a free show out in front of the big top just before the afternoon and evening performances began.

Reno was the last town played in Nevada, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the tents were struck and the show moved across the line into California. The difficulty of getting water for man and beast had proved a most serious one. At Reno, however, a most serious thing had occurred, one that disturbed the owner of the show very greatly.

Many of the guy ropes holding the big top, had been cut while the performance was going on and most of the canvasmen and laborers were engaged in taking down and loading the menagerie outfit.

A wind storm was coming up, but fortunately it veered off before reaching Reno. The severed ropes were not discovered until after the show was over and the tent was being struck. Mr. Sparling had been quickly summoned. After a careful examination of the ropes he understood what had happened. Phil, too, had discovered one cut rope and the others, on his way from the dressing tent to the front, after finishing his performance.

But there was nothing now that required his looking up Mr. Sparling, in view of the fact that the canvas was already coming down. Yet after getting his usual night lunch in the town, the lad strolled over to the railroad yards intending to visit the manager as soon as the latter should have returned from the lot.

The two met just outside the owner's private car, a short time after the loading had been completed.

"Oh, I want to see you, Mr. Sparling, if you have the time."

"I've always time for that. I was in hopes I would get a chance to have a chat with you before we got started. Will you come in?"

"Yes, thank you."

Entering the private car Mr. Sparling took off his coat and threw himself into a chair in front of his roll-top desk.

"Phil, there's deviltry going on in this outfit again," he said fixing a stern eye on the little Circus Boy.

Phil nodded.

"You don't seem to be very much surprised."

"I'm not. I think I know what you mean."

"You do? What for instance?"

"The cutting of those ropes tonight," smiled Phil.

"You know that?"

The lad nodded again, but this time with more emphasis.

"Is there anything that goes on in this outfit that you do not know about?"

"Oh, I presume so. If I hadn't chanced to walk over a place where there should have been a guy rope I probably never should have discovered what had been done."

"I'll bet you would," answered the owner, gazing at the lad admiringly.

"It is fortunate for us that we did not have a wind storm during the evening."

"Fortunate for the audience, I should say. Nothing could have held the tent with those ropes gone. It showed that the cordage had been cut by someone very familiar with the canvas. Almost a breath of wind would have caused the whole big top to collapse, and then a lot of people might have been killed. Well, the season is almost at an end now. If we are lucky we shall soon be out of it."

"All the more reason for getting the fellow at once," nodded Phil.

"Why?"

"After a few days we shall be closing, and then we shall not get an opportunity."

"That's good logic. I agree with you. I shall be delighted to place these hands of mine right on that fiend's throat. But first, will you tell me how I am going to do it? Haven't we been trying to catch him ever since those two men were discharged? Both of them are in this thing."

"I think you will find that there is only one now. I believe Larry is working alone. I haven't any particular reason for thinking this; it just sort of seems to me to be so."

"Any suggestions, Phil? I'll confess that I am at my wits' end."

"Yes, I have been thinking of a plan lately."

"What is it?"

"Have the trains searched."

"What?"

"You will remember my saying, sometime ago, that I believed the fellow was still traveling with us and--"

"But how--where could he ride that he would not be sure of discovery?" protested Mr. Sparling.

"He has friends with the show, that's how," answered Phil convincingly.

"You amaze me."

"All the same, I believe you will find that to be the case."

"And you would suggest searching the trains?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Now. No; I don't mean at this very minute. I should suggest that tomorrow morning, say at daybreak, you send men over this entire train. Don't let them miss a single corner where a man might hide."

"Yes; but this isn't the only train in the show."

"I know. At the first stop, or you might do it here before we start, wire ahead to your other train managers to do the same thing. Tell them who it is you suspect. You'll be able to catch the squadron before they get in, though I do not believe our man will be found anywhere on that train."

"Why not?"

"The squadron went out before the guy ropes were cut."

"Great head! Great head, Phil Forrest," glowed the manager. "You're a bigger man than I am any day in the week. Then, according to your reasoning, the fellow ought either to be on this section or the one just ahead of it?"

"Yes. But don't laugh at me if I don't happen to be right. It's just an idea I have gotten into my head."

"I most certainly shall not laugh, my boy. I am almost convinced that you are right. At least, the plan is well worth carrying out. I'll give the orders to the train managers before we start."

"I would suggest that you tell them not to give the orders to the men until ready to begin the search in the morning."

"Good! Fine!" glowed the showman.

"I'm going to turn out and help search this section myself," said Phil. "You know I have some interest in it, seeing that it is my plan," he smiled.

"Better keep out of it," advised Mr. Sparling. "You might fall off from the cars. You are not used to walking over the tops of them."

"Oh, yes I am. I have done it a number of times this season just to help me to steady my nerves. I can walk a swaying box car in a gale of wind and not get dizzy."

Mr. Sparling held up his hands protestingly.

"Don't tell me any more. I believe you. If you told me you could run the engine I'd believe you. If there be anything you don't know how to do, or at least know something about, I should be glad to know what that something is."

"May I send your messages?" asked the lad. "If you will write them now I'll take them over to the station. It must be nearly starting time."

"Yes; it is. No; I'll call one of the men."

Mr. Sparling threw up his desk and rapidly scribbled his directions to the train managers ahead. After that he sent forward for the manager of their particular section, to whom he confided Phil Forrest's plan, the lad taking part in the discussion that followed. The train manager laughed at the idea that anyone could steal a ride on his train persistently without being detected.

Mr. Sparling very emphatically told the manager that what he thought about it played no part in the matter at all. He was expected to make a thorough search of the train."

"His search won't amount to anything" thought Phil shrewdly. "I'll do the searching for this section and I'll find the fellow if he is on board. I hope I shall. I owe Red Larry something, and I'm anxious to pay the debt."

The train soon started, Phil bidding his employer good night, went forward to No. 1 which was the forward sleeper on the train, next to the box and flat cars. He peered into Teddy Tucker's berth, finding that lad sound asleep, after which he tumbled into his own bed.

But Phil was restless. He was so afraid that he would oversleep that he slept very little during the night.

At the first streak of dawn he tumbled quietly from his berth, and, putting on his clothes, stepped out to the front platform, where he took a long breath of the fresh morning air.

The train was climbing a long grade in the Sierra Nevadas and the car couplings were groaning under the weight put upon them.

Phil climbed to the top of the big stock car just ahead of him, and sat down on the brake wheel.

Far ahead he saw several men going over the cars.

"They have not only begun the search but they are almost through," muttered Phil. "As I thought, they are not half doing it. I guess I'll take a hand."

Phil stood up, caught his balance and began walking steadily over the top of the swaying car. At the other end of the car he opened the trap door which was used to push hay through for the animals, examining its interior carefully. There was no sign of a stranger inside, nor did he expect to find any there.

"He'll be in a place less likely to be looked into," muttered the lad starting on again and jumping down to a flat car just ahead.