Chapter XX. Disaster Befalls the Fat Lady
 

"Help, help! Oh, help!"

"Coming," shouted Teddy Tucker, leaping from the platform of the sleeping car where he had been lounging in the morning sun.

The Fattest Woman on Earth was midway down the steep railroad embankment with the treacherous cinders slowly giving way beneath her feet, threatening every second to hurl her to the bottom of the embankment and into the muddy waters of a swollen stream that had topped its banks as the result of the storm that had disturbed the circus so much.

The Sparling shows did not succeed in getting fully away from the island until the middle of the day following the events just narrated.

This made it necessary to skip the next stand, so the show ran past that place, intent on making St. Charles, Louisiana, sometime that night.

The train had been flagged on account of a washout some distance ahead, and while it was lying on the main track many of the show people took the opportunity to drop off and gather flowers out in the fields near the tracks.

The Fat Woman was one of these. She had found it a comparatively easy thing to slide down the bank further up the tracks, after finding a spot where she could do so without danger of going right on into the creek below.

But the return journey was a different matter. She had succeeded in making her way halfway up the bank when, finding herself slipping backward she uttered her appeal for help.

"Stick your heels in and hold to it. I'll be there in a minute," shouted Teddy, doing an imitation of shooting the chutes down the embankment, digging in his own heels just in time to save himself from a ducking in the stream.

"There goes that Tucker boy, headed for more trouble," nodded a clown. "Watch him if you want to see some fun. Fat Marie is in trouble already, and she's going to get into more in about a minute."

Teddy picked himself up, and, running up behind the Fat Woman, braced his hands against her ample waist and began to push.

"Start your feet! Start your feet! Make motions as if you were walking!" shouted Teddy.

Marie did not move.

"Oh, help!" she murmured. "Help, help!"

"Go on. Go on! Do you think I can stay in this position all day, holding up your five hundred pounds? My feet are slipping back already. I'm treading water faster'n a race horse can run right this minute."

"I guess he's started something for himself all right," jeered the clown. "Told you so. Hey, there goes the whistle! The train will be starting. We'd better be making for the sleeper."

All hands sought a more suitable climbing place, hurried up the railroad embankment and ran for the train. A crowd gathered on the rear platform, where they jeered at Tucker and his burden.

"Come--come down here and help us out," howled Teddy. "You--you're a nice bunch, to run away when a lady is in trouble! Come down here, I say."

Just then the train started.

Phil, at that moment, was up forward in Mr. Sparling's car, else he would have tried to stop the train; or, failing to do that, he would have gone to his companion's assistance.

By this time Teddy had turned and was bracing his back against the Fat Woman, his heels digging into the shifting cinders in a desperate attempt to prevent the woman's slipping further down.

"You'll have to do something. I'm no Samson. I can't hold the world on my back all the time, though I can support a piece of it part of the time. Do something!"

"I--I can't," wailed the Fat Woman. "There goes the train, too. We'll be left."

"No, we won't."

"Yes, we shall."

"No; we won't be left, 'cause--'cause we're left already. Wow! I'm going! Save yourself!"

The cinders slipped from under Teddy's feet, and, with the heavy burden bearing down upon him, he was unable to get sufficient foothold to save himself.

The result was that Teddy sat down suddenly. Fat Marie sat down on him, and Teddy's yell might have been heard a long distance away. Those on the tail end of the circus train saw the collapse, then lost sight of the couple as the train rolled around a bend in the road.

Down the bank slid the Fat Woman, using Tucker as a toboggan, with the boy yelling lustily. Faster and faster did they slide.

Suddenly they landed in the muddy stream with a mighty splash, Teddy still on the bottom of the heap. When she found herself in the water Marie struggled to get out, and Teddy quickly scrambled up, mouth, eyes and ears so full of water that he could neither see, hear nor speak for a moment. He was blowing like a porpoise and trying to swim out, but the swift current was tumbling him along so rapidly that he found himself unable to reach the bank only a few feet away.

Marie, screaming for help, floated down rapidly with the current. When finally Teddy succeeded in getting his eyes open he discovered that she had lodged against a tree across the stream, where her cries grew louder and more insistent than ever.

Teddy was swept against her with a bump. He frantically grabbed for a limb of the fallen tree. As he did so his legs were drawn under it, so that it required all his strength to pull himself up to the tree trunk.

He sat there rubbing the water out of his eyes and breathing hard.

"Quick, get me out of here or I'll drown!" moaned the Fat Woman.

"Drown, if you want to. I've got my own troubles just this minute. What did you ever get me into this mix-up for? That's what I get for trying to be a good thing--"

Marie's screams waxed louder.

"All right. If you'll only stop that yelling I'll get you on dry land somehow. Can't you pull yourself up nearer the bank?"

"No. My dress is caught on something."

Teddy peered over, and, locating the place where she was caught, tried to free her. The lad was unable to do so with one hand, so, in a thoughtless moment, he brought both hands to the task. He lost his balance and plunged into the torrent head first, his body disappearing under the log. Teddy shot to the surface on the other side, flat on his back.

The Circus Boy did not shout this time. He was too angry to do so. He turned over and struck out for the bank which he was fortunate enough to reach. Quickly clambering up, Teddy sat down to repeat his process of rubbing the water out of his eyes.

"Are you going to let me lie here and drown?" cried the Fat Woman.

"It looks that way, doesn't it, eh?"

Teddy got up and hurried to her just the same. Throwing off his wet coat he set to work with a will to get Marie out. The water was shallow and she managed to help herself somewhat, therefore after great effort Teddy succeeded in towing her to land. The woman was a sight and Teddy a close second in this respect.

"I'm drowned," she moaned as he dragged her out on the bank, letting her drop sharply.

"You only think you are. I suppose you know what we've got to do now, don't you?"

"N-n-n-no."

"We've got to walk to the next stand."

"How--how far is it?"

"Maybe a hundred miles."

"Oh, help!"

As a matter of fact they were within five miles of St. Charles, where the Sparling show was billed to exhibit that afternoon and evening.

"I'm afraid they'll miss you in the parade today, but what do you think will happen if we don't reach the show in time for the performance this afternoon?"

"I--I don't know."

"I do. We'll get fined good and proper."

"It--it's all your fault, Teddy Tucker."

Teddy surveyed her wearily.

"If you'd held me up I shouldn't have fallen in and--and--"

"Drowned," growled Teddy.

"Yes."

"And if you hadn't sat on me I shouldn't have fallen in, and there you are. Now, get up and we'll find a place to climb up the bank. We can't stay here all day and starve to death. Come on, now."

"I--I can't."

"All right; then I'll go without you." Teddy started away, whereupon the Fat Woman wailed to him to come back, at the same time struggling to her feet, bedraggled and wet, her hair full of sand and her clothes torn.

"If they'd only start a beauty show in the side top you would take first prize," grinned the boy. "Hurry up."

Marie waddled along with great effort, making slow headway.

"We shall have to go further along before we can get up the bank. That is, unless you want to take the chance of falling into the creek again."

It was some distance to the place where the creek curved under the railroad bed, and they would be obliged to go beyond that if they expected to get the Fat Woman out without a repetition of the previous disaster.

After a while they reached the spot for which Teddy had been heading.

Marie surveyed the bank up which she must climb.

"Can you make it?"

"I--I'll try."

"That's the talk. Take a running start, but slow up before you get to the top, or with your headway you'll go right on over the other side and down that embankment. You ought to travel with a net under you, but it would have to be a mighty strong one, or you'd go through it."

Marie uttered a little hopeless moan and began climbing up the bank once more, but bracing each foot carefully before throwing her weight upon it. Teddy, in the meantime, had run up to the top where he sat down on the end of a tie watching the Fat Woman's efforts to get up to him.

"Oh, help!"

"Help, help," mimicked Teddy.

"I can't go any further, unless you come down here and push."

"Push? No thank you. I tried that before. It would take a steam engine to push you up that bank, because you'd let the engine do all the pushing. You wouldn't help yourself at all."

"I'll fall if you don't help me."

"Well, fall then. You've got a nice soft piece of grass to land on down there. I'll tell you what I'll do."

"What?"

"I'll take hold of your hand if you'll promise to let go the minute you feel you're going to fall."

"I--I don't want to let go. I want to hold on if I feel I'm going to fall," wailed Marie.

"No, you don't. 'United we stand, divided we fall,'" quoted Teddy solemnly.

"I'll promise; I'll promise anything, if you will come help me."

Teddy rose and slid down the bank to her.

"Give me your hand."

Marie extended a fat hand toward him, which he grasped firmly.

"Now gather all your strength and run for it. We'll be at the top before you know it. Run, run, run!"

The command was accompanied by a jerk on Marie's arm, and together they started plowing up the bank.

"Here we are. One more reach, and we'll be on hard ground. Then--"

"Help!" screamed Marie.

Both her feet flew out. One caught Teddy, tripping him and down they rolled amid a shower of cinders, both landing in a heap at the foot of the embankment.

"That settles it. I thought you were going to let go," growled Teddy.

"I--I couldn't."

"You mean you didn't. Now, you can take your choice; go up the bank alone or stay here. I suppose I have got to stay here with you, but I really ought to leave you. Somehow, I'm not mean enough to do it, but I want to."

Teddy stretched out on the grass in the bright sunlight to dry himself, for he was still very wet, while Marie sat down helplessly and shook out her hair.

They had been there for nearly two hours when the rails above them began to snap.

"Guess there's a train coming. Just my luck to have it run off the track and fall on me about the time it gets here."

The sound told him the train was coming from the direction his own train had gone sometime before.

"It's a handcar," shouted the lad as a car swung around the bend and straightened out down the track.

"Oh, help," wailed the Fat Woman.

"Hey, hey!" Teddy shouted.

Someone on the handcar waved a hat and shouted back at him.

"It's Phil, it's Phil! They're coming for us, Marie," cried Teddy. "Now, you've got to climb that bank unless you want to stay here and starve to death. Let me tell you it's me for the handcar and a square meal."

Phil, hearing of his companion's misfortune, had requested Mr. Sparling to get him a handcar that he might go in search of Marie and Teddy. This had been quickly arranged, and with three Italian trackmen Phil had set out, he himself taking his turn at the handle to assist in propelling the car.

"What's happened?" shouted Phil, leaping from the car and running down the bank, falling the last half of the way and bringing up in a heap at the feet of Teddy Tucker.

"That's the way we came down, a couple of times," grinned Teddy. "Marie took a header into the creek and I went along. Got a rope?"

"Yes, there's one on the handcar. Why?"

"Marie can't get up the bank. You'll have to pull her up."

The rope was hurriedly brought, and after being fastened about her waist, the Italians were ordered to pull, while Phil and Teddy braced themselves against the Fat Woman's waist and pushed with all their might. At last they landed her, puffing and blowing and murmuring for more help, at the top of the embankment. She was quickly assisted to the handcar, when the return journey was begun.

"Next time you fall off a train, I'll bet you go to the bottom alone," growled Teddy. "The show ought to carry a derrick for you."

"Oh, help!" moaned the Fat Woman, gasping for breath as she sat dangling over the rear end of the handcar.

"We shall miss the parade, I fear," announced Phil consulting his watch.

"Well, I don't mind for myself, but I could weep that Fat Marie has to miss it," answered Teddy soberly. "I don't like to see her miss anything that comes her way."

"She doesn't, usually," grinned Phil.

After a long hard pull they succeeded in reaching the next town with their well loaded handcar. With the help of Phil and Teddy, the Fat Lady was led puffing to the circus lot. The parade had just returned and the paraders were hurrying to change their costumes, as the red flag was up on the cook tent. Mr. Sparling saw the Circus Boys and their charge approaching, and motioned them to enter his office tent.

"Where did you find them, Phil?"

"At the bottom of a railroad embankment, about five miles back, according to the mile posts."

"A couple of fine specimens you are," growled the showman. "Well, Marie, what have you to say for yourself?"

"I--I fell down the bank."

"Pshaw! What were you doing on the bank?"

"I got off to pick some flowers when the train stopped, and when I tried to get back I--I couldn't."

"Don't you know it is against the rules of the show to leave the train between stations?"

The Fat Lady nodded faintly.

"Discipline must be maintained in this show. You are fined five dollars, and the next time such a thing happens I'll discharge you. Understand?"

"Help, oh help!" murmured Marie.

Teddy was grinning and chuckling over the Fat Lady's misfortune.

"And, young man, what were you doing off the train?" asked the showman, turning sternly.

"Me? Why, I--I went to Marie's rescue."

"You did, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"I reckon it will cost you five dollars, too."

The grin faded slowly from Teddy's face.

"You--you going to fine me?" he stammered.

"No, I'm not going to. I already have done so."

"It doesn't pay to be a hero. A hero always gets the sharp end of the stick. But who's going to pay me for the clothes I ruined?"

Mr. Sparling surveyed the boy with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eyes.

"Well, kid, I reckon I shall have to buy you a new suit, at that. Marie!"

"Ye--yes, sir," responded the woman.

"Go downtown and see if you can find some new clothes that will fit you. If not buy two suits and splice them together."

"Yes, sir; thank you, sir."

"Have the bill sent to me. Tucker, you do the same. But remember, discipline must be maintained in this show," warned the owner sternly.