Chapter XI. Egg, Egg, Who's Got the Egg?
 

"I've lost my egg! I've lost my egg!"

Teddy Tucker's shrill voice was heard from one end to the other of the "Fat Marie." An hour had elapsed since his mishap in Mr. Sparling's cabin, during which time the lads had been sitting on the after deck of the boat.

Phil had been very thoughtful. Perhaps he had not done right in keeping his real suspicions from Mr. Sparling. Yet he was firm in his purpose not to say who he thought the men were. He was not at all certain, in his own mind, that his eyes had not deceived him.

There could be no doubt, however, that some person or persons had pricked Jupiter on a tender part of his anatomy just as Teddy Tucker was patting the trunk of the great beast.

Teddy had gone to his cabin for a moment, and no sooner had he opened the door than he discovered that all was not as it should be there.

"What's this? What's all this fuss about?" questioned Phil.

"My egg! My egg!"

"What about your egg?"

"It's gone, it's gone!"

"Gone?"

"Yes, yes."

"But I thought you locked it in your trunk?"

"That's what I did."

"Then how can it be gone?"

"It is, I tell you. Come and see, if you don't believe me."

"Of course I believe you, but I do not see how it would be possible for your egg to be taken when it was locked in your trunk," objected Phil.

Teddy grasped his companion by the arm and rushed him to the cabin.

"There, look!" exclaimed Teddy, pushing Phil into the room.

Teddy's trunk was open, most of its contents lying in a confused heap on the cabin floor.

Phil's face grew serious.

"Now, let's understand this. Was your trunk in that condition when you came in here a little while ago?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, some of the stuff was sticking out, but the cover was down."

"The trunk was unlocked?"

"Sure it was."

"You are positive that you locked it?"

"I know it was locked."

"Is anything missing--have you looked to make sure?"

"I tell you my egg has been taken."

"I know. Has anything else been taken?"

"I was so excited that I didn't look."

"Then, do so now."

Teddy dropped down beside his trunk, and began going over his belongings, most of which were lying heaped on the floor. He examined everything closely.

"How about it?"

"I--I guess it is all here--but my egg is not, Phil."

"So I heard you say before."

"Where is it--where is it?"

"How do you suppose I know? You are lucky that nothing else was taken. Is the lock broken?"

"No. Somebody had a key."

"Almost any key made for an ordinary trunk will fit these steamer trunks." Phil proved this by selecting and trying three keys on his own key ring, each of which locked and unlooked Teddy's steamer trunk with ease.

"I'll bet you took my egg for a joke."

"Teddy Tucker, how can you say so," demanded Phil indignantly. "Did I ever do a thing like that?"

"No, I guess you didn't," admitted the boy. "But it's gone."

"It is evident that we have a thief on board. Mr. Sparling must be informed of this at once," decided Phil firmly. "You remain here and I will go and fetch him."

In a few moments the Circus Boy returned with Mr. Sparling. The showman made a careful examination of the room and the trunk on his own account. His face was flushed and angry.

He went over the same ground with his questions that Phil already had done.

"Do you suspect anyone, Phil?"

"I do not. Whom should I suspect? Nothing like this has ever happened in the Sparling show since I have been connected with it."

"You are right. It won't be healthful for the man who is responsible for this, if I catch him," growled the showman. "Somebody must be unusually fond of ostrich eggs to go to this length for one. If anyone in this show chances to dine on ostrich egg in the next twenty-four hours we shall know whom to accuse of the theft."

"I do not think you will get the opportunity," said Phil, with a peculiar smile.

"What do you mean by that remark?"

"That it was not taken because the thief wanted to eat it. He would not be foolish enough to do that."

"Then why?"

"Probably to get even with Teddy."

Mr. Sparling eyed him sternly.

"You mean somebody had a grudge against Teddy?"

Phil nodded.

"Who?"

"I do not know."

"Teddy, who is it in this show who has a grudge against you?"

Teddy pondered.

"I don't know of anybody unless it's January," he made solemn reply.

"The fool donkey? Bah!"

"I guess the donkey did not unlock your trunk and steal your egg, Teddy," answered Phil, a half smile curling his lips.

"I am not going to ask you again whom you suspect. I take it for granted that you will keep your eyes open from now on."

"I certainly shall, Mr. Sparling."

"If you are unable to find out who is responsible for certain things I am sure there is no use in my trying to do so."

"I do not know about that, Sir. I shall try. If I find out anything worthwhile I shall come to you and tell you."

"I shall expect you to do so. And, Teddy!"

"Yes, sir."

"You are to say nothing of this occurrence to anyone on the boat. Do not mention that your precious egg has been lost or stolen, nor appear as if anything out of the ordinary had occurred."

Teddy nodded his understanding.

Mr. Sparling understood his boys better than they knew. He was confident that Phil Forrest had a shrewd idea as to who had aroused the anger of the elephant, Jupiter, as well as to the identity of the person who had stolen the egg from Teddy Tucker's trunk.

The Circus Boy, however, kept his own counsel.

He made a trip down to the lower deck and had a long conversation with Mr. Kennedy, the elephant trainer, while Teddy Tucker moped in his cabin, mourning over the loss of his egg.

The show reached Milroy shortly before dark that evening, after a most delightful trip down the river. The horse tents were unloaded and pitched on the circus lot and the stock stabled in them so the animals could get their rest and food.

Some of the show people strolled out through the little town, while others remained on board the boat and went to bed. All hands slept aboard that night. Bright and early, on the following morning, the boats were unloaded and the tents pitched, the men working much better for their day on the river.

Everyone appeared to be in high good humor and the wisdom of Mr. Sparling's methods was apparent. The tents went up more quickly that morning than at any time that season.

Breakfast under the cook tent was a jolly meal. Teddy had nearly forgotten the loss of the ostrich egg, but Phil Forrest had not. Phil, while not appearing to do so, was watching certain persons in the dressing tent, among them being Diaz, the Spanish clown.

During the dressing hour before the afternoon performance the clown had his trunk open to get out some costumes which were at the bottom, beneath the lower tray.

Phil's trunk, it will be remembered, was close by that of the clown's. The Circus Boy took advantage of the opportunity to peep into the open trunk while Diaz was rummaging over its contents. So absorbed did Phil become in his own investigation that he forgot for the moment that the owner of the trunk might resent such curiosity.

All at once Phil glanced down at the clown. He found the dark eyes of Diaz fixed upon him, and the lad flushed in spite of himself.

Diaz slowly rose to his feet. Thrusting his face close to that of the lad he peered into the boy's face.

"What you want?"

"Nothing, thank you."

"You look for something in the trunk of Diaz, eh?"

"Perhaps."

"What for you look?"

"Maybe I was looking for an egg. Maybe I thought the clown Diaz carried a supply of freshly laid eggs in his dressing-room trunk," said Phil in a tone too low for the others to catch, all the time holding the eyes of the clown in a steady gaze.

The eyes of the clown expressed surprise, but there was so much grease paint and powder on his face that the boy could not tell whether the fellow had flushed or not.

That Diaz was angry, however, was clear.

"What you mean?" demanded the clown, with a threatening gesture.

"If you do not know, I don't believe I care to explain just now."

"What you mean?" repeated the clown, his voice rising to a higher pitch. "You--you think I a thief?"

"If I thought so I might be too courteous to say so," was the calm retort. "What makes you imagine that I think you a thief? You must have some reason--you must believe there is some truth in your self-accusation, or you would not be so quick to resent it."

"I--I--"

"Remember, I have not accused you of anything. You have accused yourself."

Perhaps there was method in Phil's nagging--perhaps he was trying to goad the Spaniard into an admission that could be used against him. If that were his purpose he had only partly succeeded.

Diaz, who had closed the cover of his trunk with a bang, now sprang to the trunk again, jerking up the cover with such force as to nearly wrench it from its hinges.

Two trays came out and were hurled to the ground as the owner dived deeper and deeper into the chest.

"What's the matter? Have you gone crazy?" questioned Phil, laughing in spite of himself. "Come on, now; don't lose your temper. If you will stop to consider, you will recall that I have said nothing at which you might possibly take offence."

To this the clown made no reply.

All at once he straightened up with a snarl that reminded Phil of the cough of the tiger out in the menagerie as the beast struck viciously at its keeper when the latter chanced to step too close to the bars of the cage.

Diaz stood all a-quiver.

"This looks like trouble of some sort," muttered Phil Forrest. "But I don't quite understand what he could have been hunting for in the trunk."

Phil's question was answered a few seconds later.

From the folds of the clown's costume his hand suddenly shot upward. The hand held a knife. The hand shook from rage as the knife was brandished aloft.

"Hello, so that's the game, is it?"

The Circus Boy stood his ground unflinchingly. He did not appear to be disturbed in the least, though his situation at that moment was a critical one.

"Diaz! Diaz! Drop that knife!" ordered Phil sternly.

Instead of obeying the command the clown leaped upon him, or upon the spot where Phil had been standing a second before. The lad had sprung back far enough so that the descending knife cut only the empty air.

Again the knife flashed up. Just as it was being raised, the boy leaped again. This time he sprang toward the enraged clown, rather than away from him.

Ere the knife could be brought down, Phil gripped the wrist holding the weapon, giving the wrist a quick, sharp twist that brought a roar of pain from Diaz.

The knife dropped to the ground. Phil calmly stooped and picked it up, while the clown was nursing his wrist and groaning.

Several performers, realizing that something out of the ordinary was going on in that corner of the tent, hurried over.

"What's the matter here?"

"Diaz was showing me his knife. It's a beauty, isn't it?" answered Phil, with a pleasant smile. "I think, however, it is a little too pretty for a circus. Were I in your place, Diaz, I should keep it in my trunk else someone may steal it."

The lad coolly raised the lid of the trunk, dropping the knife in. The others, not noting that the clown was hurt, and that his wrist had been twisted by the Circus Boy almost to the breaking point, turned back to their own corners and continued their labors preparatory to entering the ring.

"Mr. Diaz," said Phil in a low voice, bending over the clown, "your temper is going to get you into serious trouble one of these fine days. I am sorry I had to hurt you. But let me tell you one thing. If you attack me again I shall be compelled to give you the worst licking you ever had in your life. Put that in one of your fool caps that you throw around the arena, so you won't forget it. Behave yourself and you will find that I am a pretty good friend."