Chapter XVIII. Making a Capture
 

The two ran down the corridor, Mr. Sparling heading for the forward end, Phil toward the stern.

"There he goes! I see him!" shouted the showman as a figure leaped out to the deck, slamming the door. "We have him now!"

Phil rushed out at the stern and started to run along the starboard side of the boat. As he emerged he caught sight of a figure running toward him, and behind the figure, Mr. Sparling, coming along the deck in great strides.

"Stop! We've got you!" shouted the showman.

Phil spread out his arms as the fleeing one drew near him, then threw them about the fellow, holding him in a firm grip.

"I've got him, Mr. Sparling!"

"Leggo of me! What's the matter with you? Anybody would think this was a high school initiation."

"Teddy," groaned Phil.

"What's that?" demanded the showman jerking Phil and his prisoner over to an open window through which a faint light was showing.

"It is Teddy Tucker, sir," said Phil releasing his hold.

"What does this mean, sir?" demanded the showman in a stern voice.

"That's what I want to know. You fellows chase me around the boat as if I were some kind of a football. It's a wonder one of you didn't kick me. Lucky for you that you didn't, too, I can tell you."

"Teddy, come to my cabin at once. Phil, bring him along, will you?"

"Yes," answered Phil Forrest. Phil was troubled. He could not believe it possible that Teddy was guilty of eavesdropping, and yet the evidence seemed to point strongly in that direction. Taking firm hold of his companion's arm he led him along toward Mr. Sparling's cabin.

"What's all this row about?" growled Teddy.

"That is what I hope you will be able to explain to Mr. Sparling's satisfaction," replied Phil. "However, wait till we get to his cabin."

Phil led Teddy to the door, thrust him in, then followed, closing and locking the door.

"Perhaps we had better close that window this time, sir."

"Yes."

Mr. Sparling drew up and locked the window.

"Sit down!" he commanded, eyeing Teddy keenly.

Teddy sat down dutifully and was about to place his feet on the showman's desk when Phil nudged him.

"Now, sir, what does this mean?"

"What does what mean? I never was any good at guessing riddles."

"What do you mean by eavesdropping at my cabin window?"

"Oh, was that your window?"

"It was and it is. And unless you can offer a satisfactory explanation, something will have to be done. That is one of the things that I shall not tolerate. I can scarcely believe you guilty of such a disgraceful act. Unfortunately, you have admitted it."

"Admitted what?"

"That you were listening at my window."

"I never said anything of the sort."

"No, not in so many words; but when I asked you what you meant by doing so, you answered, 'Oh, was that your window?'"

"Certainly I said it."

"Then will you kindly explain why?"

"I wasn't listening at your window. I wasn't within half a block--half a boat, I mean--of it. What do you think I am?"

"Well, Teddy, for a minute I thought you had been guilty of an inexcusable act but upon second thought I begin to understand that it is impossible. There is some misunderstanding here."

Phil looked relieved, but Teddy was gazing at the showman with half-closed eyes.

"While Phil and myself were holding a confidential conversation here, someone was listening to us under that window. All at once the blind fell with a crash--"

"And so did the other fellow," interrupted Teddy, his eyes lighting up mischievously.

"Phil looked out quickly. He thought he saw someone dodging into the entrance aft, and at the same time he was sure someone was doing the same thing forward."

"I was the fellow who dodged in the forward entrance. Then you fellows started a sprinting match with me."

"Why did you run?"

"Oh, I suppose I might as well tell you all about it."

"Yes, if we are to make any headway it will be best to let you tell your story in your own way," answered Mr. Sparling with a grim smile.

"I was halfway between here and the pilot house, sitting down on the deck, leaning against the side of the deck-house. I had just gone to sleep, at least I think I had, when I woke up suddenly. I saw somebody down this way peeping in at a window. I became curious. I wondered if he was the fellow who stole my egg, so I got up to investigate. Just then he saw me."

"Well, what happened?"

"He was standing on a box. The box tipped over or he jumped off, I don't know which. I thought he was chasing me, and I ran."

"Afraid, eh?" jeered Phil.

"No, I wasn't afraid. I just ran because I needed the exercise; that's all. Do you think he really had my egg?"

"Who was the man, Teddy?"

"How do I know?"

"You saw him. Could you not--did you not recognize him?"

"No, it was too dark. I didn't wait long after I first discovered him, you know. I thought maybe it was that fellow Cummings, laying for me. I wish January had finished him while he had the chance."

"You noticed nothing familiar about him?"

"Yes, I did."

"What?"

"He looked like some kind of a man," answered Teddy solemnly.

"Oh, fudge!"

"You say he was standing on a box?"

"Something of the sort."

Mr. Sparling went out, leaving the boys alone for a few minutes. When he returned he brought with him a small square box which he examined very carefully.

"Do you recognize it?" asked Phil.

"Yes, it is one in which the candy butcher received some goods. It might have been picked up by anyone. I will find out where he left it. This may give us some slight clue. It is quite evident, boys, that we have among us one or more dangerous men. Teddy, I offer you my humble apology for having suspected you for a moment. The thought was unworthy."

"Don't mention it," answered the Circus Boy airily.