Chapter V. Taken by Surprise
 

"Hurry up, Teddy!"

"What for?"

"Billy Ford is waiting for us out in the paddock."

"Oh, is that so? What does he want?"

"He's going to walk to the train with us, he says."

"That's good. I wonder if any of the other fellows will be along?"

"No; I think not. I asked him if he were alone, and he said he was."

"We might give him a feed in the accommodation car," suggested Teddy.

"No; you and I are going to bed right quick after we get back to the train. I, for one, am tired after this strenuous day."

"It has been lively, hasn't it?"

"It has," answered Phil, laying special emphasis on the "has."

"Say, young man, where did you get that freak donkey?" demanded Mr. Miaco, the head clown, approaching at that moment.

"Drew him in a prize package of chewing gum," called one of the performers.

"Where did you get him, anyway?" called another.

"You seem to know all about it, so what's the use of my telling you?" retorted Teddy.

The lads had finished their work for the day, and nothing now remained to be done except to disrobe, take a quick scrub down after their severe exercise, don their clothes and take their time in getting to the train.

There was plenty of time for this, as their sleeper being on the third and last section of the circus train, they would not leave for nearly two hours yet, at the earliest.

The baths of the Circus Boys were more severe than pleasant, and in taking them each one had to perform a service for the other. The bath consisted of the performer's standing still while his companion emptied several buckets of cold water over him, following it with a liberal smearing of soap and then some more pailfuls of water.

Once a week, over Sunday, the performers were allowed to sleep at hotels, providing the circus did not have an all day run. At such times they were able to enjoy the luxury of a hot bath, but at other times it was cold water--sometimes colder and more chilling than at others. Yet, they thrived under it, growing strong and healthy.

Having once more gotten into their street clothes, refreshed and rested to a degree that would be scarcely believed after their severe exercise, both lads repaired to the paddock, where they found the president of the high school class waiting for them, interestedly watching the scene of life and color always observable in the circus paddock, a canvas walled enclosure where performers and ring stock await the call to enter the ring.

"Here we are, Billy," greeted Phil.

"Oh, so quick?" Billy started guiltily.

"That's the way we always do things," answered Teddy. "Have to do things on the jump, we circus men do."

"So I see. What are you going to do now?"

"Going to the car, of course. We always go right to the sleeper after the show. Why?"

"Oh, nothing special. I thought maybe you might like to go downtown and visit with the boys for a while."

"I should like to do so very much, but I do not think it will be best. We make it a rule to go straight home, as we call our car, and I've never broken over that rule yet, Billy."

"Very well, Phil; then I will walk along with you. I guess you know the way."

"That's more than I do every night," laughed Phil. "It's a case of getting lost 'most every night, especially in the big towns, for the cars seldom are found at night where we left them in the morning."

"I shouldn't like that," objected Billy.

"We don't. But we can't help ourselves."

"Here, where you going?" demanded Teddy suddenly.

"Taking the path across the lot here. It is much shorter," replied Billy.

"Oh, all right. I had forgotten about the path."

"I should think you would--"

Phil got no further in his remark. He was interrupted by President Billy, crying loudly:

"Here we are!"

Instantly fifteen or twenty shadowy forms sprang up from the grass and hurled themselves upon the Circus Boys.

Taken by surprise as they were, Phil and Teddy gave a good account of themselves. Shadow after shadow went down under a good stiff punch, for it must be remembered that both boys were able to make a handsome living because of the possession of well trained muscles.

Yet no two men could have stood up for long under the onslaught, and Phil and Teddy very soon went down with their assailants piling on top of them.

Up to this point not a word had been spoken, nor did either of the lads have time to speculate as to who their enemies might be.

"Here, you fellow, get off my neck!" howled Teddy. "Let me get up and I'll clean up the whole bunch of you two at a time, if you'll give me half a chance."

No reply was made to this.

"Get the blankets!" commanded a deep voice.

A moment later the two lads were quickly wound in the folds of a pair of large horse blankets. They were then picked up, none too gently and borne off to the other side of the field, kicking and squirming in their efforts to escape.

Their captors, however, did not for an instant relax their hold, and further struggle proved vain.

Reaching the other side of the field, the Circus Boys were dumped into a wagon. This they knew because they heard the driver give the directions regarding letting down the tail board.

Placing their burdens on the wagon floor, the captors very coolly sat down on the boys. Then the wagon started. Never in the old days of the road show, when Phil and Teddy were riding and sleeping in a springless canvas wagon, had they experienced a rougher ride. It seemed as if every stone in the county had been placed in the path of the rickety old wagon in which they were being spirited away.

About this time Phil Forrest began to wonder. He could not understand the meaning of the attack. And what had become of President Billy? He knew Teddy was lying beside him, but Billy must have made his escape. If so Billy would give the alarm, and the show people would quickly overtake the kidnappers.

No such interruption occurred, however, rather greatly to Phil's surprise, so he lay still and waited for a favorable moment when he might take a hand in the affair himself.

Teddy's voice could be heard under his blanket, in muffled, angry protestations, his feet now and then beating a tattoo on the wagon bottom. Such an act brought down the weight of his captors upon the offending feet each time.

Once Teddy managed to work the covering from his mouth for one brief instant.

"Hey, Rube!" he howled lustily, this being the signal known to circus men the world over, when one or more of them is in trouble.

But there were no strong-armed circus men to come to their rescue. All the circus laborers were working off on the lot striking the tents and loading the show on the wagons. Teddy was given no further opportunity to protest.

After a journey of what seemed hours, and during which, Phil Forrest had lost all sense of direction, the wagon came to a halt.

He could hear the hum of conversation as his captors consulted in low tones. Then all at once he found himself jerked from the wagon and plumped down on the ground.

Teddy went through a similar experience, excepting that his fall was considerably more severe. Teddy struck the ground with a jolt that made him utter a loud "Wow!"

He was on his feet in a twinkling, only to find himself pounced upon and borne heavily to earth again.

Fuming and threatening, Teddy was roughly picked up, Phil being served likewise.

The boys felt themselves being borne up a short flight of steps and down a long hall. Then came more steps. This time it was a long flight of stairs, the kidnappers getting their burdens up this with evident effort.

"I hope they don't drop me, now," thought Phil. "I shall surely roll all the way to the bottom, though it might enable me to get away."

Finally an upper floor was reached. The captors bore their burdens in and placed them on the floor. The Circus Boys realized, at the same instant, that the vigilance of the kidnappers had been relaxed for the second.

Throwing, the blankets off Phil and Teddy leaped to their feet ready for flight. As they did so they met with the surprise of their lives.