Chapter XVII. Monkeys in the Air
 

As the result of that victory, the Sparling shows did a great business in Corinto. The owner, considering that his rival had been severely enough punished, made no further effort to have him brought to justice, though Phil could hardly restrain him from making Sully suffer for the indignities he had heaped on young Forrest.

Phil found his money that day when he removed his ring shirt. The string that had fastened his money bag about his neck had parted, letting the bag drop. This money he handed to Mr. Sparling as rightfully belonging to him.

Of course the showman refused it, and wanted to make Phil a present besides, for the great service he had rendered. As it chanced, one of Mr. Sparling's own staff was attending the Sully show when Phil made his escape, and much of the latter's discomfort might have been prevented had he only been aware of that fact.

Teddy assumed the full credit for the victory of old Emperor, and no one took the trouble to argue the question with him.

Soon after these exciting incidents the Sparling shows left Canada behind and crossed the Niagara River. It was with a long drawn sigh of relief that they set eyes on the Stars and Stripes again.

After showing at the Falls, the outfit headed southwest. The season was getting late, the cotton crop in the south was going to market, and it was time for all well managed shows whose route lay that way to get into Dixie Land. The Circus Boys, too, were anxious to tour the sunny south again. This time they were going to follow a route they had never been over before, something that was still a matter of great interest to the boys.

Mr. Sparling upon learning that there was a traitor in his camp who was supplying secret information to the Sully show as to the route of the Sparling circus, had at once set a watch for the offender. It was not long before the traitor was caught red-handed. He was, of course, dismissed immediately, despised by all who knew what he had been doing.

No more had been seen of the Sully Hippodrome Circus after the meeting of the two organizations in Corinto, though that crowd had been heard of occasionally as hovering on the flanks of the Sparling shows.

"I don't care where they go," said Mr. Sparling, "so long as they don't get in the same county with me. I am liable to lose my temper if they get that near to me again, and then something will happen for sure."

The Sparling show got into the real southland when it made Memphis, Tennessee, on October first, a beautiful balmy southern fall day. All season Phil had been keeping up his practice on the trapeze bar, until he had become a really fine performer. He had never performed in public, however, and hardly thought he would have a chance to do so that season. He hoped not, if it were to be at some other performer's expense, as had usually been the case.

"When somebody gets hurt it's Phillip who takes his place," said the lad to himself.

"Which means that you are always on the job," replied Mr. Sparling who had chanced to overhear the remark. No serious accidents had occurred in sometime, however, and it was hoped by everyone that none would. Accidents, while they are accepted by show people in the most matter-of-fact way, always cast a gloom over the show. Even the loss of a horse will make the sympathetic showman sad.

After a splendid business in Memphis the show ran into Mississippi where it played a one day stand at Clarksdale, and where the showmen experienced the liveliest time they had had since they met the Sully organization in Canada.

The afternoon performance had just come to an end, and the people were getting ready to leave their seats under the big top, when a great commotion was heard under the menagerie top.

Most of the performers were in the dressing tent, changing their dress for supper, but a roar from the audience, followed by shouts of laughter, attracted their attention sharply, and as soon as they could clothe themselves sufficiently, the performers rushed out into the ring again.

Suddenly the people, upon looking toward the menagerie tent, saw a troop of diminutive animals sweeping into the big top. At first the people did not recognize them.

"They're monkeys!" shouted someone. "They're going to give us a monkey show."

"No. The beasts have gotten out of their cage," answered another.

He was right. A careless attendant had hooked the padlock of the monkey cage in the staple, but had not locked it. An observant simian had noticed this, but did not make use of his knowledge until the keeper had gone away.

Peering out to make sure that no one was looking, the monkey reached out its hand and deftly slipped the padlock from its place.

The rest was easy. A bound against the cage door left the way open, and the hundred monkeys in the cage, big and little were not slow to take advantage of the opportunity thus offered.

Chattering wildly, they poured from the wagon like a small cataract. A moment later the attendants discovered them and gave chase. At about the same time the monkeys discovered that something was going on under the big top. Being curious little beasts, they concluded to investigate. Then, too, the attendants were pressing pretty close to them, so the whole herd bolted into the circus tent with a shouting crowd of circus men in pursuit.

The yells of the audience, added to those of the attendants, sent the nimble little fellows scurrying up ropes, center and quarter poles, all the time keeping up their merry chatter, for freedom was a thing they had not enjoyed since they had been captured in their jungle homes.

Some of the ring men tried to shake the monkeys down from the poles, just as they would shake an apple tree to get the fruit. But the little fellows were not thus easily dislodged. The attempt served only to send them higher up. They seemed to be everywhere over the heads of the people.

Finally, having thoroughly investigated the top of the tent, several of the larger simians decided to take a closer look at the audience. At the moment the audience did not know of this plan, or they might have taken measures to protect themselves.

The first intimation they had of the plans of the mischievous monkeys, was when a woman uttered a piercing shriek, startling everyone in the tent.

"What is it?" shouted someone.

"Oh, my hat! My hat!" she cried after discovering what had happened to her.

The eyes of the audience wandered from her up to where a monkey was dangling by its tail far above their heads. The animal had in its hands a flower-covered hat, so large that when the monkey tried to put it on, it almost entirely concealed his body. So suddenly had the hat been torn from the head of the owner that hatpins were broken short off while the little thief "shinned" a rope with his prize.

Failing to make the hat fit, Mr. Monkey began pulling the flowers out; then picking them to pieces, he showered the particles down over the heads of the audience.

This was great sport for the monkey, but no fun at all for the owner of the hat. The woman hurried from her seat, red-faced and humiliated. Phil Forrest had chanced to be a witness to the act. He stepped forward as she descended to the concourse and touched his hat.

"Was the hat a valuable one, madam?" he asked.

"Very."

"I am sorry. If you will come with me to the office of the manager I am quite sure he will make good your loss."

"Do you belong to the circus, sir?"

"I do."

The woman gladly accompanied him to Mr. Sparling, and there was made happy by having the price of her ruined hat handed over to her without a word of objection.

In the meantime trouble had been multiplying at a very rapid rate under the big top. Everyone was shouting, attendants were yelling orders to each other, and now Mr. Sparling, hurrying in, added his voice to the din.

Hats in all parts of the tent seemed to fly toward the roof almost magically, to come tumbling down a few minutes later hopeless wrecks.

Once the monkeys got a tall silk hat. This they used for an aerial football, tossing it to each other as they leaped from rope to rope at their dizzy height.

One monkey was discovered peering down at a certain point in the audience with an almost fascinated gaze. Something down there attracted him. Cautiously the little fellow let himself down a rope to the side wall, then, unnoticed by the people, crept down through the aisle. Slowly one black little hand reached up and jerked from the head of an old gentleman a pair of gold spectacles.

The man uttered a yell as he felt the spectacles being torn from him, and made a frantic effort to save them. But the glasses, in the hands of the monkey, were already halfway up the aisle and a moment more the monkey was twisting the bows into hard knots and hurling pieces of glass at the spectators.

"Catch them! Catch them!" shouted Mr. Sparling.

"How, how?" answered a showman.

"Somebody--"

"I'll go up and get them," spoke up Teddy Tucker. Teddy simply could not keep out of trouble. He was sure to be in the thick of it whenever a disturbance was abroad.

"That's a good plan. How are you going to do it?"

"I'll show you. I'll shake 'em down if you will catch them when they reach the ring."

"Yes, but be careful that you don't fall."

"Don't you worry about me!"

Teddy untied a rope from a quarter pole, straightened it out and throwing off his coat and hat, began going up the rope hand over hand. The monkeys peered down curiously from their perches, chattering and discussing the little figure that was on its way up to join them.

Teddy reached the platform of the trapeze performers. From there he climbed a short rope that led to a smaller trapeze bar higher up, thence to the aerial bars, where the whole bunch of monkeys were sitting, scolding loudly.

"Shoo!" said Teddy. "Get out of here! Better get a net and catch them down there," shouted Teddy, standing up on the bars without apparent thought of his own danger.

"Look out that we don't have to catch you!" called Mr. Sparling warningly.

Teddy picked his way gingerly across the bars shooing the monkeys ahead of him, now holding to a guide rope so that he might not by any chance slip through and drop to the ring forty feet below him, and all the while waving his free hand to frighten the monkeys.

A few of them leaped to a rope some eight or ten feet away, down which they went to the ring and up another set of ropes before the show people below could catch them.

While Teddy was thus engaged, the whole troop of monkeys swung back on the under side of the aerial bars beneath his feet.

"Shoo! Shoo!" he shouted. "You rascals, I'll fix you when I get hold of you, and don't you forget that for a minute."

He turned, cautiously making his way back, when the lively, mischievous little fellows shinned up the rope by which he had let himself down to the serial bars.

"I'll drive you all over the top of this tent, but I'll get you," Teddy cried.

Down below the audience was shouting and jeering. The people refused to leave the tent so long as such an exhibition was going on. No one paid the least attention to the "grand concert" that was in progress at one end of the big top, so interested were all in the Circus Boy's giddy chase.

"I'm afraid he will fall and kill himself," groaned Mr. Sparling.

"You can't hurt Teddy," laughed Phil. "He can go almost anywhere that a monkey could climb. But he'll never get them." Phil was laughing with the others, for the sight was really a funny one.

"Oh, look what they've done!" exclaimed one of the performers.

"They've pulled up the rope," said Mr. Sparling hopelessly.

"Now he certainly is in a fix," laughed Phil.

The monkeys, after shinning the rope, had mischievously hauled it up after them, acting with almost human intelligence. One of them carried the free end of it off to one side and dropped it over a guy rope. This left Tucker high and dry on the aerial bars with no means at hand to enable him to get back to earth.

The audience caught the significance of it and howled lustily.

"Now, I should like to know how you are going to get down?" shouted Mr. Sparling.

Teddy looked about him questioningly, and off at the grinning monkeys, that perched on rope and trapeze, appeared to be enjoying his discomfiture to the full.

"I--I guess I'll have to do the world's record high dive!" he called down. There seemed no other way out of it.