The Circus Boys On the Mississippi by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter I. Making a Lively Start
"Have you had any trouble with Diaz, Teddy?"
"The new Spanish clown."
Teddy Tucker's face grew serious.
"What about him, Phil?"
"That is what I am asking you. Have you had any misunderstanding--angry words or anything of the sort with him?" persisted Phil Forrest, with a keen, inquiring glance into the face of his companion.
"Well, maybe," admitted the Circus Boy, with evident reluctance. "What made you think I had?"
"From the way he looked at you when you were standing in the paddock this afternoon, waiting for your cue to go on."
"Huh! How did he look at me?"
"As if he had a grudge against you. There was an expression in his eyes that said more plainly than words, 'I'll get even with you yet, young man, you see if I do not.'"
"Wonderful!" breathed Teddy.
"What do you mean?"
"You must be a mind reader, Phil Forrest," grumbled Teddy, digging his heel into the soft turf of the circus lot. "Can you read my mind? If you can, what am I thinking about now?"
"You are thinking," answered Phil slowly, "that you will make me forget the question I asked you just now. You are thinking you would rather not answer my question."
Teddy opened his eyes a little wider.
"You ought to go into the business."
"Reading people's minds, at so much per read."
"I wish you'd read the mind of that donkey of mine, and find out what he's got up his sleeve, or rather his hoofs, for me this evening."
"Do you know of what else you are thinking?"
"Of course I do. Think I don't know what I am thinking about? Well! What am I thinking about?"
"At the present moment you are thinking that you will do to Diaz what he hopes to do to you some of these days--get even with him for some fancied wrong. Am I right?"
"I'll hand him a good stiff punch, one of these fine spring mornings, that's what I'll do," growled Tucker, his face flushing angrily.
"Teddy Tucker, listen to me!"
"You will do nothing of the sort."
"You just wait and see."
"Since we started out on our fourth season with the Sparling Combined Shows this spring, you have behaved yourself remarkably well. I know it must have pained you to do so. I give you full credit, but don't spoil it all now, please."
"Yes. You must remember that this is now a Big show--larger this season than ever before, and you must not expect Mr. Sparling to excuse your shortcomings as he did in the old days."
"I'm not afraid of Boss Sparling."
"You have no occasion to be, as long as you do your duty and attend to business. We owe him a heavy debt of gratitude, both of us. You know that, don't you, Teddy?"
"I--I guess so."
"What is the trouble between you and Diaz?" persisted Phil Forrest, returning to his original inquiry.
"Well," drawled Teddy, "you know their act?"
"Throwing those peaked hats clear across the arena and catching the hats on their heads, just like a couple of monkeys."
"I didn't know monkeys ever did that," smiled Phil.
"Well, maybe they don't. The trained seals do, anyhow."
"They--the Spaniards--were doing that the other day when I was going out after my clown act. I had picked up the ringmaster's whip, and as one of the hats went sailing over my head I just took a shot at it."
"Took a shot at it?"
"Yes. I fired at it on the wing, as it were. Don't you understand?" demanded the lad somewhat impatiently.
Phil shook his head.
"I hit it a crack with the ringmaster's whip and I hit the mark the first shot. Down came the hat and it caught me on the nose."
"Then what did you do?"
"Knocked it on the ground, then kicked it out of the ring," grinned Teddy.
"Of course you spoiled their act," commented Phil.
"I--I guess I did."
"That was an ungentlemanly thing to do, to say the least. It is lucky for you that Mr. Sparling did not happen to see you. Do you know what would have happened to you if he had?"
"He would have fined me, I suppose."
"No. You would have closed right there. He would have had you sent back home by the first train if he had seen you do a thing like that."
"I don't care. I can get a job with the Yankee Robinson show any time, now."
"Not if you were to be discharged from this outfit for bad conduct. I don't wonder Diaz is angry. Did he say anything to you at the time?"
"What did he say?"
"I didn't understand all he said. Some of it was in Spanish, but what I did understand was enough," grinned the boy.
"Strong language, eh?"
"Phil, he can beat the boss canvasman in that line."
"I am surprised, Teddy Tucker."
"So was I."
"I don't mean that. I am surprised that you should so far forget yourself as to do such a thing. I don't blame Diaz for being angry, and I warn you that you had better look out for him. Some of those foreigners have very violent tempers."
"Well, he didn't tell the boss, at any rate."
"No. Perhaps in the long run it might have been better for you if he had. Diaz is awaiting his opportunity to get even with you in his own way. Look out for him, Teddy."
"He had better look out for me."
"Don't irritate him. Were I in your place I should go to the clown and apologize. Tell him it was a thoughtless act on your part and that you are sorry you did it--"
"As you please, but that is what I would do."
"You--you would do that?"
"I certainly would."
"And let him give you the laugh?"
"That would make no difference to me. I should be doing what is right, and that would be satisfaction enough, no matter what he said or did after that."
Teddy reflected for a moment.
"Well, maybe that would be a good idea. And if he won't accept my apology, what then--shall I hand him a--"
"Smile and leave him. You will have done the best you could to make amends."
"All right, I'll apologize," nodded the Circus Boy. "I'll shed a tear or two to show him how sorry I am. Want to see me do it?"
"I should say not. You will do it better provided I am not looking on, but for goodness' sake don't make a mess of the whole business. It would be too bad to make an enemy of one of your associates so early in the season. Think how uncomfortable it would be for you all through the summer. He has not been with us long enough to become used to your practical jokes. Perhaps after he gets better acquainted with you, he may not mind your peculiar ways so much," added Phil, with a short laugh. "Now run along and be good."
Teddy turned away and slipped through the paddock opening, in front of which the lads had been standing just outside the tent, leaving Phil looking after him with a half smile on his face.
The Circus Boys were again on the road with the Great Sparling Combined Shows. This was their fourth season out, and the readers will remember them as the same lads who in "The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings," had made their humble start in the circus world. During that first season both lads had distinguished themselves--Phil for his bravery and cool headedness, Teddy for getting himself into trouble under all circumstances and conditions. They had quickly risen, however, to the grade of real circus performers, the owner of the show recognizing in each, the making of a fine performer.
In "The Circus Boys Across the Continent," it will be recalled how Phil and his companion won new laurels in the sawdust arena, and how the former ran down and captured a bad man who had been a thorn in the side of the circus itself for many weeks through his efforts to avenge a fancied wrong. By this time the boys had become full-fledged circus performers, each playing an important part in the performance.
It will be recalled, too, how Phil and Teddy in "The Circus Boys in Dixie Land," advanced rapidly in their calling; how Phil was captured by a rival show, held prisoner on the owner's private car, and later was obliged to become a performer in the ring of the rival show. His escape, his long tramp to rejoin his own show, followed by the battle of the elephants--will be well remembered by all the readers of the previous volumes in this series.
During the winter just passed, the lads had been attending the high school at Edmeston, where they made their home, working hard after school hours to keep themselves in good physical condition for the next season's work.
Spring came. The lads passed their final examinations, and, with their diplomas in their pockets, set out one bright May morning to join the show which, by this time, had come to be looked upon by them as a real home.
They had been on the road less than two weeks now, and were looking forward with keen anticipation to their summer under the billowing canvas of the Great Sparling Shows.
"I think I will take a peep to see how Teddy is getting along with his apology," decided Phil, turning and entering the paddock. Then he stepped quietly into the dressing tent.
He saw Teddy approach the clown, Diaz, who sat on his trunk making up his face before a hand mirror.
Teddy halted a few feet from the clown, waiting until the latter should have observed him. The clown glanced up, glowered, and slowly placed the mirror on the trunk beside him. He seemed astonished that the boy should have the courage to face him.
Then Teddy, solemn-faced, made his apology. To Phil Forrest's listening ears it was the most amazing apology he ever had listened to.
"I'm sorry I made a monkey of you," said Teddy.
"What!" fairly exploded the clown.
"I'm sorry I made a monkey of you," repeated the Circus Boy in a slightly louder tone. "Maybe I wouldn't have done so if I had had time to think about it."
"You make apology to me--to me?" questioned Diaz, tapping his own chest significantly.
"Yes; to whom did you think I was making an apology--to the hyena out under the menagerie top, eh?"
"I am sorry I made a fool of you, Mr. Diaz."
"Yes, I guess you are about right. You certainly look the part, and--"
Diaz sprang up with a growl of rage, Tucker giving ground a little as he observed the anger in the painted face before him. Before the lad could raise his hands to protect himself Diaz had grasped Teddy and hurled him across the dressing tent, where he landed in a pail of water.
He was up in a twinkling. His face was flushed and his hands were clenched.
No sooner had he gotten to his feet than he observed that the clown had started for him again. Teddy squared off, prepared for fight. At that moment, however, there came an interruption that turned the attention of the enraged clown in another direction.
Phil Forrest quickly stepped between them facing Diaz.
"What are you going to do?" demanded the Circus Boy in a quiet voice.
"I punish the monkey-face--"
"You will, eh?" howled Teddy, starting forward.
Phil thrust his companion aside.
"Go away. I will see if I can explain to him," cautioned Phil, turning to the clown again, just as the latter was making a rush at Teddy.
"One moment, Mr. Diaz. My friend Teddy is not very diplomatic, but he means well. He apologized to you for what he had done, did he not?"
"Yes," growled the clown.
"Then why not call it square and--"
"I punish him. I fix him!" roared Diaz, making a leap for Teddy, who had managed to edge up nearer to them.
"You will do nothing of the sort," answered Phil Forrest firmly, again stepping between them.
An angry light glowed in the eyes of the clown. For an instant he glared into Phil's steady gray eyes, then all of a sudden launched a vicious blow at the boy.
The blow failed to reach the mark. Phil dodged and stepped back a couple of feet.
Another, as swift as the first was sent straight for his head. This blow the Circus Boy skillfully parried, but made no effort to return.
"Mr. Diaz! Mr. Diaz!" warned Phil. "You forget yourself. Please don't do anything you will be sorry for afterwards."
"I fix you!" snarled the clown.
"I don't want to hit you, sir, but you may force me to do so."
Phil had no time to warn the fellow further, for the clown began to rain blows upon him, though with no great exhibition of boxing skill. Phil could have landed effectively anywhere on the clown's body had he chosen to do so.
Instead, the boy slowly gave ground, defending himself cleverly. Not one single blow from the powerful fist of Diaz reached him, Phil exhibiting the wonderful self-control that was characteristic of him. He even found opportunity to warn Teddy to get out of the tent until the tempest had blown over.
Teddy, however, stood with hands thrust in his trousers pockets, shoulders hunched forward, glaring at Diaz.
"Don't you get in this now," breathed Phil. "Keep away! Keep away! I'll--"
At that moment Phil stumbled over a trunk, landing on his head and shoulders. Quick as he was he found himself unable to turn over and roll away soon enough to get beyond reach of the angry clown.
Diaz hurled himself upon the slender, though athletic figure of the Circus Boy, almost knocking the breath out of Phil.
No sooner had he done so than something else happened. A body launched itself through the air. The body belonged to Tucker. Teddy landed with great force on the head and shoulders of the enraged clown, flattening the latter down upon Phil with crushing weight, and nearly knocking Forrest senseless.