Chapter XIX. The Circus on an Island
 

Teddy landed in the net with a smack that made the spectators gasp.

"Are you hurt," cried Mr. Sparling, running forward.

Teddy got up, rubbing his shins gingerly, working his head from side to side to make sure that his neck was properly in place.

"N-n-no, I guess not. I'll bet that net got a clump that it won't forget in a hurry, though. Folks, the show is all over. You may go home now," added Teddy, turning to the audience and waving his hand to them.

The seats began to rattle as the people, realizing that there was nothing more to be seen, finally decided to start for home.

"It is lucky, young man, that I had that net under you," announced Mr. Sparling.

"Lucky for me, but a sad blow to the net," answered Teddy humorously, whereat Mr. Sparling shook his head hopelessly.

The tent was beginning to darken and the showman glanced up apprehensively.

"What's the outlook?" he asked as Mr. Kennedy passed.

"Just a shower, I guess."

The owner strode to the side wall and peered out under the tent, then crawled out for a survey of the skies.

"We are in for a lively storm," he declared. "It may not break until late tonight, and I hardly think it will before then. Please tell the director to cut short all the acts tonight. I want every stick and stitch off the lot no later than eleven o'clock tonight."

"Shall we cut out the Grand Entry?"

"Yes, by all means. If possible I should like to make the next town before the storm breaks, as it's liable to be a long, wet one."

"I don't care. I've got a rubber coat and a pair of rubber boots with a hole in one of them," spoke up Teddy.

"And, Teddy Tucker," added the owner, turning to the Circus Boy. "If you mix things up tonight, and delay us a minute anywhere, I'll fire you. Understand?"

Teddy shook his head.

"You don't? Well, I'll see if I can make it plainer then."

"Why, Mr. Sparling, you wouldn't discharge me, now, would you? Don't you know this show couldn't get along without me?"

The showman gazed sternly at Teddy for a moment, then his face broke out in a broad smile.

"I guess you're right at that, my boy."

The cook tent came down without delay that afternoon, and on account of the darkness the gasoline lamps had to be lighted a full two hours earlier than usual.

The show at the evening performance was pushed forward with a rush, while many anxious eyes were upon the skies, for it was believed that the heaviest rainstorm in years was about to fall.

By dint of much hard work, together with a great deal of shouting and racket, the tents were off the field by the time indicated by Mr. Sparling, and loaded. A quick start was made. Long before morning the little border town of Tarbert, their next stand, was reached.

Mr. Sparling had all hands out at once.

"Get to the lot and pitch your tents. Everything has got to be up before daylight," he ordered. "You'll have something to eat just as soon as you get the cook tent in place."

That was inducement enough to make the men work with a will, and they did. The menagerie and circus tents had been laced together, lying flat on the ground, when the storm broke.

"That will keep the lot dry, but hustle it! Get the canvas up before it is so soaked you can't raise it," commanded the owner.

By daylight the tents were in place, though men had to be stationed constantly at the guy ropes to loosen them as they strained tight from the moisture they absorbed.

The rain seemed to be coming down in sheets. Fortunately the lot chosen for pitching the tents was on a strip of ground higher than anything about it, so the footing remained fairly solid. But it was a cheerless outlook. The performers, with their rubber boots on, came splashing through a sea of mud and water on their way to the cook tent that morning, Phil and Teddy with the rest.

"Looks like rain, doesn't it," greeted Teddy, as he espied Mr. Sparling plodding about with a keen eye to the safety of his tents.

"I wish the outlook for business today were as good," was the comprehensive answer.

When the hour for starting the parade arrived, the water over the flats about them was so deep and the mud so soft that it was decided to abandon the parade for that day.

"I almost wish we hadn't unloaded," said the owner. "It looks to me as if we might be tied up here for sometime."

"Yes," agreed Phil. "The next question is how are the people going to get here to see the show?"

"I was thinking of that myself. The answer is easy, though."

"What--"

"They won't come."

"Why? Are they drowned out?"

"No; the town is high enough so they will not suffer much of any damage, except as the water gets into their cellars. No; they are all right. I wish we were as much so, but there'll be no use in giving a show this afternoon."

"Wait a minute," spoke up Phil, raising one hand while he considered briefly.

"Of course, you have an idea. It wouldn't be you if you hadn't. But I am afraid that, this time, you will fall short of the mark."

"No, not if you will let me carry out a little plan."

"What is it?"

"When I came over I noticed a strip of ground just a few rods to the north of the lot, and running right into it, that was higher than the flats. It was a sort of ridge and fairly level on top."

"I didn't see that."

"I did. It was showing above the water a few inches and looked like hard ground. If you don't mind getting wet I'll take you over and point it out."

The showman agreed, though as yet he did not understand what Phil's plan was.

Phil led the way to the north side of the lot, then turning sharply to the left after getting his bearings, walked confidently out into the water followed by Mr. Sparling. The ground felt firm beneath their feet. As a matter of fact it was a stratum of rock running out from the nearby mountains.

"Boy, you've struck a way for us to get out when time comes for us to do so. That mud on the flats will be so soft, for several days, that the wheels would sink in up to the hubs. The stock would get mired now, were they to try to go through."

"But not here."

"No; I rather think that's so. What's your plan?"

"We have plenty of wagons that are not in use--take for instance the pole wagons. Why not send our wagons over to the village and bring the people here? I am sure they will enjoy that," suggested Phil.

"Splendid," glowed the showman. "But I'm afraid the horses never would be able to pull them over."

"Think not?"

"I said I was afraid they would not be able to."

"I had considered that, sir."

"Oh, you had?"

"Yes."

"Of course, I might have known you had. Well, what is it?"

"I have an even better scheme, and it will be great advertising-- one that few people in town will be able to resist."

"Yes? I am listening."

"Well, in the first place, have the long pole wagons fixed up to bring the people over. We can use our ring platforms to make a bottom for the passengers to sit on."

"Yes, that will be easy."

"Then, take some side wall poles, stand them up along the sides of the wagon and build a roof with canvas. That will keep the inside of the wagon as dry as a barn."

"A splendid idea. But how are you going to get the folks over here after you have done that?"

"Wait, I am coming to that. What do you say to hitching the elephants to the wagons and hauling the people back and forth? Nothing like that has ever been done, has it?"

Mr. Sparling tossed up his hat regardless of the fact that the rain was beating down on his head and running down his neck.

"Nothing ever been done to compare with it, since P. T. Barnum ploughed up his farm with Jumbo. By the great Dan Rice, that's a scheme!" shouted Mr. Sparling enthusiastically.

"But you will have to hurry if you are going to put the plan into operation," urged Phil.

"What would you suggest, Phil?"

"I would suggest that you send men into town on horseback, right away, having them call at every house, at the post office, the hotel and every other place they can think of, telling the people what we propose to do. Teddy and I will take horses and go out with the rest, if you say so. The rain won't hurt us, and besides, it will be great fun. What do you say, sir?"

Mr. Sparling hesitated for one brief second.

"Come on!" he shouted as with hat in hand he splashed toward the lot followed a short distance behind by Phil.

The arrangements suggested by the Circus Boy were quickly made, and a company of horsemen rode over to the village to tell the people how they might see the show without getting wet. While this was being done the pole wagons were being rigged for the purpose, and the elephants were provided with harness strong enough to stand the strain of the heavy loads they would have to draw.

The wagons were to be driven along the village streets at one o'clock, the circus to begin at half-past two. That would give the show people plenty of time to prepare for the performance.

The suggestion met with great enthusiasm. Few people had ever had the privilege of riding behind an elephant team, and they gladly welcomed the opportunity.

At Phil's further suggestion a separate wagon had been prepared for the colored people. When all was ready the elephants were first driven across the ridge without their wagons, to show the animals that the footing was safe. Then they were hooked to the covered pole wagons and the work of transporting the village to the lot was begun.

The show grounds were on an island, now, entirely surrounded by water. Some of the clowns had rigged up fishing outfits and sat on the bank in the rain trying to catch fish, though there probably was not a fish within a mile of them, according to Phil's idea.

"That's good work for a fool," gloated Teddy.

"It takes a wise man to be a fool, young man," was the clown's retort.

"Perhaps you don't know that the river has overflowed a few miles above here, and that this place is full of fish?"

"No; I don't know anything of the sort. The only water I see coming is from right overhead. Maybe there's fish swimming around up there; I don't know. Never caught any up there myself."

After a time the clowns tired of their sport and went back to their dressing tent to prepare for the afternoon performance, the only performance that would be given that day, as it would not be safe to try to transport the people across the water in the dark. And, besides, the owner of the show hoped to be able to get his show aboard the cars before night.

In the big top a slender rope had been stretched across the blue seats from the arena back to the sidewall. This was the "color line." On one side of it sat the colored people, on the other the white people.

After all were seated, however, the line was taken down and colored and white people sat elbow to elbow. All were perfectly satisfied, for the color line had been drawn. The rest did not matter.

The show people entered into the spirit of the unusual exhibition with the keenest zest, and the Sparling show had never given a better entertainment than it did that afternoon. The clowns, even though they had not been successful as fishermen, where wholly so when they entered the ring. Teddy and his donkey, which he had named January, after the manner of most clowns who own these animals, set the whole tent roaring, while Shivers and his "shadow" made a hit from the moment they entered.

"I've got the greatest bunch of people to be found in this country," confided Mr. Sparling proudly to the surgeon.

"Especially those two boys, eh?"

"Yes. They can't be beaten. Neither can a lot of the others."

A fair-sized house had been brought over to see the show, and after the performance was ended they were taken back to their homes in the pole wagons, as they had been brought over.

"I'll tell you what you ought to do," said Teddy confidentially, just before the show closed.

"Well, what is it?" questioned Mr. Sparling.

"You ought to leave those folks here."

"Leave them here?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

"Why, they couldn't get back, and they would have to go to the evening performance again. You'd get 'em going and coming then. Do you see?"

The showman tipped back his head, laughing long and loud.

"Yes; I see."

"Then why not do it?"

"Young man, this show doesn't do things that way. We do business on the square, or we don't do it at all. I admire your zeal, but not your plan."

"Yes," agreed Phil, who stood near; "I sometimes think Teddy Tucker's moral code does need bolstering up a bit."

"What's that?" questioned Teddy. "What's a moral code?"

"I'll explain it to you some other time when we are not so busy," replied Phil.

"Nor so wet," added Mr. Sparling. "You see, we want to come to this town to show again some other time."

"I don't," responded Teddy promptly. "I've had all I want of it for the rest of my natural life. I can get all the fun I want out of performing on dry ground, instead of the edge of a lake that you are expecting every minute to tumble into."