Chapter VI. In the Hands of the Enemy
 

Teddy had squared off, and was landing sledge-hammer blows on the empty air.

Phil, too, had squared himself prepared to give battle, but his hands fell sharply to his sides.

"Wha--what--" he gasped.

"Come on!" bellowed Teddy.

They were in a large room, brilliantly lighted, and about them, in a semi-circle, was a line of laughing faces. From them the eyes of the astonished Circus Boys wandered to a long table on which were flowers and plenty of good things to eat.

"Why, it's our old recitation room in the high school, Teddy," breathed Phil.

"I don't care what it is. I can lick the whole outfit!" shouted Teddy Tucker advancing belligerently.

"It's the boys, Teddy, don't you understand?" laughed Phil. "Well, of all the ways of inviting a fellow to dinner, this beats anything I ever saw before."

"How does it feel to be kidnaped?" grinned President Billy, extending his hand.

"So you are the young gentleman who put up this job on us, are you?" demanded Phil.

"I guess I am one of them. But I wasn't unlucky enough to get a black eye, like Walter over there. You gave that to him, Teddy. My, what a punch you have!" laughed Billy.

"That isn't a circumstance to what's coming to you. I'll wait till I get back to school, next fall, and then I'll take it out of you. You'll have something coming to you all summer. Did I paint Walt's eye that way?"

"You did. It's up to you to apologize to him now."

"Apologize?"

"Yes; that's what I said."

"I like that! I have a good notion to apologize by painting the other eye the same color," growled Teddy.

"But, what does all this mean?" urged Phil, looking about him, still a bit dazed.

"It means that we fellows wanted to give you and Teddy a little supper. It isn't much, but there are sandwiches and cookies and pie and lots of other stuff that you'll like."

"Cookies?" interrupted Teddy, his face relaxing into a half smile.

"Yes."

"We knew you wouldn't come, so we planned to kidnap you both and bring you over here by main force. After we eat supper we'll have a little entertainment among ourselves. Walter is going to sing--"

"What's that? Walt going to sing?" demanded Teddy, halting on his way to inspect the table.

"Yes."

"Then I'm going, right now!" answered the lad, turning sharply and heading for the door.

"Why, why--"

"I've heard him sing before. Good night!"

"Come back here," laughed Phil, grabbing his companion by the shoulder. "We can stand even Walter's singing if he can. But really, fellows, we can't stay more than fifteen or twenty minutes."

"Why not?"

"Because we must get to the train. Were we to be left we might come in for a fine. Mr. Sparling is very strict. He expects everybody to live up to the rules. I'm sorry, but--"

"It's all fixed, Phil. No need to worry," President Billy informed him.

"Fixed? What do you mean?"

"With Mr. Sparling."

"You--you told him?"

"Yes."

"See here, Billy Ford," interrupted Teddy.

"What is it, Teddy?"

"Did you say Boss Sparling was in on this little kidnaping game-- did he know you were going to raise roughhouse with--with us?"

"I--I guess he did," admitted President Billy.

"I'll settle with him tomorrow," nodded Teddy, swelling out his chest.

"Did you tell him you were going to have a supper up here?" asked Phil.

"He knows all about it. You need not worry about the train going away without you. Mr. Sparling said you had a short run tonight, and that the last section would not pull out until three o'clock in the morning. That's honest Injun, Phil."

"Well, if that is the case, then we'll stay."

"Hurrah for the Circus Boys!" shouted the class, making a rush for seats at the table.

"Ready for the coffee," announced the President.

Who should come in at that moment, with a steaming coffeepot, but the Widow Cahill.

"Are you in this, too?" Teddy demanded.

"I am afraid I am," laughed Mrs. Cahill. "The boys needed some grown-ups to help them out."

"You're no friend of mine, then. I'll--"

"But you are going to have some of those molasses cookies that I told you I baked for you--"

"Cookies? Where?" exclaimed Teddy, forgetting his anger instantly.

"Help yourself. There they are."

"It isn't much of a spread," apologized the president. "We have a little of everything and not much of anything--"

"And a good deal of nothing," added Teddy humorously.

"Everybody eat!" ordered Mrs. Cahill.

They did. Thirty boys with boys' appetites made the home-cooked spread disappear with marvelous quickness. Each had brought something from home, and Mrs. Cahill, whom they had taken into their confidence two days before the Sparling Shows reached town, had furnished the rest. Everything was cold except the coffee, but the feasters gave no thought to that. It was food, and good wholesome food at that, and the lads were doing full justice to it.

"Say, Phil, that was a wonderful act of yours," nodded President Billy, while the admiring gaze of the class was fixed on Phil Forrest.

"I wish I might learn to do that," said Walter.

"You? You couldn't ride a wooden rocking horse without falling off and getting a black eye," jeered Teddy, at which there was a shout of laughter.

"Can you?" cut in Phil.

"I can ride anything from a giraffe to a kangaroo--that is, until I fall off," Teddy added in a lower voice. "I rode a greased pig at a country fair once. Anybody who can do that, can sit on a giraffe's neck without slipping off."

"Where was that?" questioned a voice. "I never heard of your riding a greased pig around these parts."

"I guess that must have been before you were born," retorted Teddy witheringly.

"Say, Phil," persisted Walter, this time in a confidential tone.

"Yes?"

"Do you suppose you could get me a job in the circus?"

"I don't know about that, Walt. What do you think you could do?"

"Well, I can do a cartwheel and--"

"Oh, fudge!" interrupted Teddy.

"That's more than Tucker could do when he joined the show. Do you know what he did, first of all?" said Phil.

"No; what did he do?" chorused the boys.

"He poured coffee in the cook tent for the thirsty roustabouts. That's the way he began his circus career."

"I didn't do it more than a day or two," Tucker explained, rather lamely.

"But you did it!" jeered Walter.

"Then his next achievement was riding the educated mule. I guess you boys never saw him do that."

"Not until tonight."

"This is different. The other was a bucking mule, and Teddy made a hit from the first time he entered the ring on Jumbo. He hit pretty much everything in the show, including the owner himself." Phil leaned back and laughed heartily at the memory of his companion's exhibition at this, his first appearance in a circus ring as a performer.

"No, Walt, I wouldn't advise you to join. Some people are cut out for the circus life. They never would succeed at anything else. Teddy and myself for instance. Besides, your people never would consent to it. You will be a lawyer, or something great, some of these days, while we shall be cutting up capers in the circus ring at so much per caper. It's a wonderful life but you keep out of it," was Phil Forrest's somewhat illogical advice.

"How far are you going this year?" asked one of the boys.

"I can't say. I understand we are going south--to Dixie Land for the last half of the season. I think we are headed for Canada, just now, swinging around the circuit as it were. Isn't it about time we were getting back to the train, Teddy?"

"No, I guess not. I haven't eaten up all the cookies yet. Please pass the cookies, you fellow up there at the head of the table."

"We shall have our little entertainment before you fellows go to your sleeper. We reckon Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker ought to do some stunts for us. Isn't that so?" asked President Billy.

"Yes," shouted the boys.

"What, after a meal like that? I couldn't think of it," laughed Phil. "Never perform on a full stomach unless you want to take chances. It might do you up for good."

"Well, it won't hurt Teddy to be funny. Do something funny, Teddy."

Teddy looked up soulfully as he munched a cookie.

"Costs money to see me act funny," he said.

"Go on; go on!" urged the boys. "You never showed us any of your tricks except what you did in the ring this evening."

"Do you know, it's a funny thing, but I never can be funny unless there is a crop of new-mown sawdust under my feet," remarked Teddy.

"Nothing very funny about that!" growled a voice at the further end of the table.

Teddy fixed him with a reproving eye.

"Very well, but you'll be sorry. I will now present to you the giddiest, gladdest, gayest, grandest, gyrating, glamorous and glittering galaxy--as the press agent says--that ever happened."

Teddy, who sat at the extreme end of the table, placed both hands carelessly on the table, then drew his body up by slow degrees, until a moment later as his body seemed to unfold, he was doing a hand stand right on the end of the supper table.

The boys shouted with delight and Teddy kicked his feet in the air.

"Go on! Don't stop," urged the lads.

"You'll be wishing I had stopped before I began," retorted the lad, starting to walk on his hands right down the center of the table.

There were dishes in the way, but this did not disturb Tucker in the least. He merely pushed them aside, some rolling off on the floor and breaking, others falling into the laps of the boys.

"Here, here, what are you doing?" called Phil.

"This is what I call the topsy-turvy walk."

Teddy paused when halfway down the table, to let his mouth down to the table, where he had espied another cookie. When he pulled himself up, the cookie was between his lips, and the boys roared at the ludicrous sight.

Then, the lad who was walking on his hands, continued right on. He was nearing the foot of the table when something occurred that changed the current of their thoughts, sending the heart of every boy pounding in his throat.

Crash!

It seemed as if the roof had been suddenly hurled down upon their heads.

Teddy instantly fell off the table, tumbling into the laps of two of the boys, the three going down to the floor in a heap, finally rolling under the table. The other boys sprang to their feet in sudden alarm.

"It's a band," cried Phil. "Don't be afraid."

Then the circus band, that had been waiting in the hall just outside the dining place, marched in with horns blaring, drums beating, and took up their position at the far end of the room.

"It's the circus band," cried the lads, now recovering from their fright. "How did they get here?"

By this time Teddy, his face red and resentful, was poking his head from beneath the table.

"Hey, Rube!" he shouted, then ducked back again.

Phil understood instantly that this was one of Mr. Sparling's surprises. But there were still other surprises to come. No sooner had the band taken up its position than there was again a commotion out in the hall. The lads opened their eyes wide when a troop of painted clowns came trotting in, followed by half a dozen acrobats, all in ring costume. A mat was quickly spread by some attendants that Mr. Sparling had sent.

Then began the merriest hodge-podge of acrobatic nonsense that the high school boys ever had seen. The clowns, entering into the spirit of the moment, grew wonderfully funny. They sang songs and told stories, while the acrobats hurled themselves into a mad whirl of somersaults, cartwheels and Wild Dervish throws.

Thus far the boys were too amazed to speak.

All at once some of the performers began to form a pyramid, one standing on the other's shoulders.

"Here, I'm going to be the top-mounter!" cried Teddy, taking a running start and beginning to clamber up the human column. He was assisted up and up until he was standing at the top, his head almost touching the high ceiling in the room.

"Speech!" howled the delighted high school boys.

"Fellow citizens," began Teddy.

Just then the human pyramid toppled over and Teddy had to leap to save himself, striking the mat, doing a rolling tumble and coming up on his feet.

When all the fun making in the hall was over one surprise proved yet to be in the reserve. The high school boys of Edmeston turned out with lighted torches. Forming in column of fours they escorted Phil and Teddy to their car on the circus train. It was not many minutes later that the boys, tired out but happy, tumbled into their berths, where they were asleep immediately, carrying on, even in their dreams, the joyous scenes through which they had just passed.