Chapter XIV. The Pilot Gets a Surprise
 

The happiness of the day had been marred by the accident, but, like true circus men, all hands took the disaster in the matter-of-fact manner characteristic of their kind.

The show people, in couples and singly, took their way to the river, where they boarded the boats. Already wagons were rumbling down on the docks and cages were being quickly shunted into position for their journey down the river that night.

Everything moved with as much method as if the show had been traveling in this way from the beginning of the season.

The performers were enjoying the novel experience of river traveling too thoroughly to turn into their berths early. A cold lunch had been spread in the main cabins of the "Marie" and the "River Queen" for the performers, while from the cook tent, baskets had been prepared and sent in for the use of the laborers after they had completed their night's work and finished loading the show.

All this was appreciated, and it was a jolly company that lined the tables in the two larger boats. Leather upholstered seats were built into the sides of the cabin, and with mouths and hands full, the circus people soon took possession of the seats, where they ate and chatted noisily.

"Funny thing about Jim," said one of the performers. "What do you suppose made him fall, Mr. Miaco?"

"I don't know. Probably for the same reason that anyone falls."

"What is that?"

"Stumbled over something, I guess."

"Hey, Teddy, what ailed the ring horse?" called a voice as the Circus Boy sauntered in and espying the tables made a dive for them.

"I guess he was hungry," mumbled Teddy, his mouth full of ham sandwich.

"Hungry?"

"Yes."

"What makes you think that?"

" 'Cause he bit the dust."

A general groan was heard in the cabin.

"Throw him overboard!"

"I know a better way to punish him for that ghastly joke."

"How?"

"Take the food away from him, tie him up and make him watch us eat," was the answer.

A shout of laughter greeted the proposition.

The pilot of the "Marie," a heavily bearded man named Cummings, broke out in a loud guffaw.

All eyes were turned upon him.

"I reckon I kin tie him up if you says the word," he volunteered.

"All right; tie him up," shouted the performers, scenting fun.

Teddy eyed the pilot out of the corners of his eyes and placidly munched his sandwich. The pilot, in the meantime, had stepped to the rear end of the cabin, where, from a box of life-preservers he took a piece of Manila rope.

"I believe he is going to do it," said a clown, nudging his companion.

"You mean he is going to try it," answered the other. "Watch for some fun. He thinks Teddy is an easy mark."

"He will be in this case. That fellow, Cummings, is hard as a rail fence. He could handle two of Teddy."

In the meantime Tucker had strolled to the table, from which he took a large sandwich, buttered it well, then returned to his seat, not appearing to observe the pilot's movements at all.

As he sat down the lad was observed to open the sandwich, removing the thin slice of ham and stowing the latter in his coat pocket. Then he sat thoughtfully contemplating the two pieces of buttered bread as if trying to decide whether or not he should eat them.

"Get up, kiddie," said Cummings, grasping the boy by the shoulder. "Get up and take your punishment like a little dear."

Teddy got up, carelessly, indifferently, while the pilot stretched the rope to its full length.

The boy saw that he was in earnest.

Smack!

Quick as a flash Teddy had plastered one half of the sandwich, buttered side in, right over the eyes of Cummings.

Smack!

The second half of the sandwich landed neatly over his mouth, pressed home by a firm fist.

Cummings could not speak, neither could he see. At that moment he was perhaps the most surprised man on the Mississippi River. At least he appeared to be, for he stood still. He stood still just a few seconds too long.

Teddy had seized the rope. With it he made a quick twist about the body of the pilot, taking two turns, then drawing the rope tight and tying it, thus pinioning the hands and arms of the pilot to his sides.

"Yip-yeow!" howled Teddy.

The show people shrieked with delight.

"You'll tie up a Circus Boy, will you?" jeered Teddy. "You'll have to grow some first. No Rube with a bunch of whiskers on his face like that ever lived who could tie up a real circus man."

Teddy had drawn nearer to impress his words upon the pilot, when all of a sudden the man's hands gripped the lad. The boy never had felt quite so strong a grip on his body. Cummings had not handled a pilot wheel on the Mississippi for thirty years without acquiring some strength in hands and arms.

Teddy, failing to pull away, grappled with his antagonist, all in the best of humor, though his face bore its usual solemn expression.

"Gangway," cried Teddy humorously. "I'm going to give him a bath in the river."

Then began a lively scrimmage. Back and forth the combatants struggled across the cabin floor, the growls of the pilot drowned in the shouts and jeers of the performers.

All at once, Teddy tripped his antagonist and the two went down into a heap, rolling under the main table on which the lunch had been spread.

"Look out for the table!" warned a voice.

"Sit on it, some of you fellows, and hold it down!"

The suggestion came too late. The table suddenly rose into the air, landing upside down with a crash, at one side of the cabin. A moment more and the two combatants were wrestling on roast beef and ham sandwiches, potato salad and various other foods.

"I guess this has gone about far enough," decided Mr. Miaco, the head clown. "We'll have a fight on our hands, first thing we know. If Teddy really gets angry you'll think the 'Sweet Marie' is in the midst of a cyclone."

"The 'Fat Marie,' you mean," corrected a voice.

With the assistance of two others Miaco succeeded in separating the combatants, after which he untied the rope, releasing the pilot.

Teddy was grinning broadly, but Cummings was not. The latter was glowering angrily at his little antagonist.

"Shake?" asked Teddy, extending a hand.

"No, I'm blest if I will! I'll not shake hands with anybody who has insulted me by buttering my face," growled the pilot.

"You'll be better bred if you are well buttered," suggested Teddy.

"Oh, help!" moaned The Fattest Woman on Earth.

"Put him out! Put him out!" howled several voices in chorus.

"Yes, that's the thing! We can stand for some things some of the time, but we won't stand for everything all of the time," added a clown wisely.

Half a dozen performers picked Teddy up bodily, bore him to one of the open windows and dumped him out on the deck.

"Here, what's all this commotion about?" commanded Phil, who, at that moment, came from his cabin to the deck.

"They threw me out," wailed Teddy.

"What for?"

"I made a pun."

"Tell it to me."

Teddy in short, jerky sentences, related what had been done and said. Phil leaned against the rail and shouted.

"I--I don't blame them," he gasped between laughs. "It is a wonder they did not throw you overboard."

"They had better not try it."

"But what about the pilot--what happened to him?"

"May--maybe they have put him out, too."

"You have a way of getting into trouble, Teddy. Mr. Cummings will love you for what you have done to him, I can well imagine."

"About as much as I love him, I guess. He got too bold, Phil. He had to have a lesson and Teddy Tucker was the boy who had to teach it to him. Say, go in and gather me a sandwich out of the wreck, will you?"

"Not I. Go and get your own sandwich. I'm going to see Mr. Sparling in his cabin. He has sent for me."

Teddy sat out on deck while the others were picking up the table, the dishes and the ruined food. It would not do for Mr. Sparling to come in and see how they had wasted the food he had had prepared for them. The probabilities were that they would get no more, were he to do so. Teddy watched the proceedings narrowly from the safe vantage point of the deck.

In the meantime Phil had gone to Mr. Sparling's cabin, where the showman was checking up the day's receipts.

"A pretty good day, Phil," smiled Mr. Sparling.

"I am glad to hear that, sir."

"Two thousand dollars in the clear, as the result of our two performances today. Do you know of any other business that would pay as much for the amount invested, eh, Phil?"

"I do not, sir."

"You see, it is a pretty good business to be in after all, provided it is run on business principles, at the same time treating one's employees like human beings."

"Yes, sir."

"How would you like to have an interest in a show?"

"I am going to, someday. It may be a long time yet before I have earned money enough, but I shall if I live," said the Circus Boy quietly but with determination.

"So you shall. I intend to have a talk with you on this subject, one of these days. What I wanted to talk with you about is Jim's loss. I am glad it wasn't your ring horse, Phil. Have you anything to say about the animal breaking his leg?"

"I have."

"Out with it."

"Somebody is to blame for that accident."

"How?"

"Someone planned that accident."

"Explain!"

"Teddy and myself examined the ring, that is, Teddy already had done so before I returned, and he discovered something--we both decided what must have happened."

"Yes," urged the showman as Phil paused.

"A round hole about a foot deep had been dug in the ring. This had been covered with a shingle and the sawdust sprinkled over to hide the shingle. It was a deliberate attempt to do someone an injury."

Mr. Sparling eyed him questioningly.

"Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be. Jim didn't happen to step on the shingle until we were doing the pyramid, then of course something happened. It is a wonder that neither Little Dimples nor myself was injured."

"Phil, we simply must find out who is responsible for this dastardly work."

"Yes, sir."

"And when we do--when we do--"

"What then, Mr. Sparling!"

The showman was opening and closing his fingers nervously.

"Don't ask me," he replied in a low, tense voice. "I don't want to see the man. I should do something I would be sorry for all the rest of my life. Good night, Phil."

Phil Forrest left the cabin and strode thoughtfully away to his own room, where he was soon in bed. Phil, however, did not sleep very well that night.