Chapter X. All Aboard for the Gulf!
 

Day was breaking.

Clouds of dense black smoke were rolling from the funnels of the Sparling fleet, while steam was hissing from the overburdened safety valves.

The show was ready for its start down the river. The "Little Nemo" had already hoisted anchor and was drifting with the current awaiting the signal to start her engines.

"All ashore that's going," sang a voice on each of the two boats lying at the dock.

The boats' whistles broke out in three deafening, prolonged blasts each.

"Cast off!" bellowed the pilots.

Hawsers were hauled in and the distance between the dock and the boats slowly widened.

"We're off," shouted Teddy, waving his hat joyously.

"We will be more so, unless we get some sleep," warned Phil. "I would suggest that you and I turn in for a few hours. We both need a beauty sleep."

"I don't," answered Teddy promptly.

"Think not?"

"No, sir. I'm handsome enough as it is. Even the fool donkey stands aghast when he comes face to face with my surpassing beauty."

"How about the elephants?" twinkled Phil.

"Elephants don't count, at least not after twelve o'clock at night."

"I move that we turn in just the same. We will sleep until sometime before noon, then we can get up and enjoy the ride. I understand we shall not reach the next stand until sometime this evening. This is going to be a great trip, Teddy."

"It has been," nodded the other boy. "Where do we show first?"

"Milroy, I believe is the name of the place. I never heard of it before."

"And probably you never will want to again, after you have been there. That is the case with most of these little tank towns. A fellow wonders where all the people come from who go to the show."

The lads went to their cabin and were soon sound asleep. They realized how tired they were when first they got into bed.

"This is great!" muttered Phil, as, lying in his bed, he felt the cool air drifting in over him.

When they awakened the sun was at its zenith.

Phil consulted his watch.

"Wake up, Teddy. It is twelve o'clock."

Teddy sleepily dragged himself from his bed, pulled himself wearily to the window and threw open the blinds.

"Where are we?" asked Phil.

"Ask the pilot," grumbled Teddy. "How do you suppose I know? This water looks like a big mud puddle. I'm hungry; aren't you?"

"Yes, I am. What are we going to do for breakfast? I never thought to bring along a lunch."

"I've got an egg," chuckled Teddy.

"You are welcome to it. I don't care for any, thank you."

Just then there came a rap on their door.

Phil opened it and looked out.

"Mr. Sparling wishes to know if you are ready for breakfast?" asked the man, whom they recognized as the showman's personal servant.

"Am I ready for breakfast?" shouted Teddy. "Tell Mr. Sparling he ought to know better than to ask a question like that. What's this, a joke? We can't get any breakfast on this old tub."

"Mr. Sparling directs me to ask you to join him in his cabin for breakfast in ten minutes."

"Thank you. Tell him we shall be on hand," smiled Phil.

"I hope it isn't a joke," grumbled Teddy, pulling on his trousers.

"Now, isn't that fine of Mr. Sparling, old fellow?" asked Phil, with glowing eyes.

"Tell you better after I sample the breakfast. I'm suspicious."

"You need not be. Mr. Sparling would not be so unkind as to invite us to eat breakfast with him unless he had some breakfast to offer us."

"Well, I hope it's straight," muttered the doubting Teddy. A few minutes later the lads presented themselves at the door of the owner's cabin.

"Good morning, boys; how did you sleep last night?" he greeted them, with a cordial smile and a handshake for each.

"I was dead to the world," answered Teddy, with his customary bluntness of speech.

"I guess we all were," smiled the showman. "All day and all night was rather trying, but we shall not have the same trouble after this; at least not after the next stand. Everything should be in excellent working order after Monday. Sit down and have some breakfast with me."

An appetizing meal had been spread in the cabin. Teddy surveyed the table with wistful eyes.

"I did not know you were going to serve meals on board," said Phil.

"I am not, generally speaking. This is different. I would not ask our people to go all day without anything to eat. I have had a cold meal prepared in the main cabin, with hot coffee to wash it down. I thought you boys might like to join me here for a real meal. Having a real meal is one of the privileges of the owner of the show, you know," replied Mr. Sparling, with a hearty laugh, in which the boys joined.

"I was going to eat my egg," said Teddy humorously.

"It is very kind of you, Mr. Sparling," said Phil. "We were just wondering what we should do for breakfast, and Teddy, as he has just told you, was thinking of eating the ostrich egg."

"Raw?"

"I presume so," replied Phil, with a short laugh.

"It would make a fellow strong," declared Teddy in defense of his egg.

"I agree with you, my boy. I ate a piece of one once, and it was quite the strongest thing I ever tackled."

"That's a joke. Ha, ha!" replied Teddy, with serious face.

The lads were, by this time, on such terms of intimacy with their employer that they felt free to talk with him as they would to each other. At least Phil did, and in all probability Tucker would have done so at any rate.

"Do we unload tonight, Mr. Sparling?" questioned Phil.

"No, I think not. Tomorrow morning will be time enough. I never like to do any more work on Sunday than is absolutely necessary."

Phil nodded his approval.

"I believe in observing the day, and besides, our people need the rest and the relaxation. That reminds me of what I wanted to say. You did a very clever piece of work last night, both of you."

Teddy glanced up in surprise.

"Yes; I got a roughhouse from the donkey and the elephant. I'm a sort of a good thing all around. When the fool donkey gets through wiping up a whole county with me, the elephant takes a hand--a trunk, I mean--and lands me high and dry on the roof of the 'Fat Marie.'"

"You mean the deck," corrected Phil.

"I don't know what you call it, but it was hard enough when I struck it. Next time I'm going to have a net spread to catch me. I'll bet I would have made a hit in the ring with that donkey wrestling bout. I guess I will try it on some of these times, providing I can get the donkey to work the way he did last night."

"As I said before, there is something I want to ask you, Phil," repeated the showman.

"Yes, sir."

"Did it not strike you that Jupiter acted very peculiarly last night?"

"Yes. I did not see the first of it, but I saw enough."

"What did you think about it?"

"I did not know what to think."

The showman shot a keen glance at the Circus Boy's thoughtful, serious face.

"What do you think today?"

"That it was perfectly natural for Jupiter to balk going across the gangplank."

"How about him having hurled Teddy to the deck of the 'Fat Marie'?"

"That is different."

"Did it arouse any suspicions in your mind, my boy?"

Phil reflected for a moment, toying absently with his fork.

"Candidly, it did, Mr. Sparling. It struck me as peculiar at the time, and, as I thought it over, I became more and more convinced that there was some reason for Jupiter's action beyond what we saw."

The showman nodded, as if Phil's suggestion agreed with his own ideas.

"What do you think happened?" he asked.

"What do you think?"

"I will confess that I don't know, Phil. You had some reason for driving everyone away from the bulls there on the dock, did you not?"

"Yes, I did not want anyone to bother them while we were trying to get them on board."

"I understand," said Mr. Sparling, with a nod.

"Did you notice who was there on the dock at the time, Mr. Sparling?"

"No, not particularly."

"Was it some of the show people?"

"I am unable to say. I saw you drive two men off in particular, but I did not look at them closely. Did you know them?"

"Perhaps. They got away rather too quickly for me to make sure."

"Who do you think they were?"

Phil did not answer at once.

"Come, who were they, Phil?"

"I don't know, Mr. Sparling."

"I did not mean it exactly that way. You think you recognized them, and as I said before, I want to know who you think the men were?"

"I would rather not say, Mr. Sparling," answered the Circus Boy, looking his employer squarely in the eye.

"It is your duty to tell me."

"Not unless I am sure. It would be unjust to do so, and I know you would not wish to force me to be unjust."

"You are a queer boy, Phil Forrest," said the showman, gazing at the lad intently.

"I wish I knew who I thought they were, if they had anything to do with my aerial flight last night," growled Teddy. "They would have reason to think a Kansas cyclone had struck them."

No one paid any attention to Teddy's remark.

"I will tell you what I think, however, Mr. Sparling," continued Phil.

"That's what I am trying to get you to do."

"I think some person with evil intent did something to Jupiter to anger him, thus causing him to turn on Teddy. And it is my opinion that if you will examine the animal you will find the evidences on the animal himself," declared the Circus Boy boldly.

Mr. Sparling uttered an angry exclamation.

Teddy, who had tilted back in his chair as he listened to the conversation, went crashing to the floor, overturning table, dishes and all.

That broke up the conference of the morning.