The Circus Boys On the Mississippi by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter II. January Lends a Foot
"Stop it!" roared a voice. "We don't allow 'roughhouse' in the dressing tent."
"Yes," added another; "go out on the lot if you want to settle your differences."
Mr. Miaco, the head clown, who had been a true friend to the boys from the beginning of their circus career, had discovered what was going on about the time Teddy decided to mix in in the disagreement. Mr. Miaco sprang up and ran to the struggling heap. Grasping Teddy firmly by the shoulder he tossed the lad aside.
"Now, you stay out of this, unless you want a thrashing from me," the head clown warned.
The next to feel the grip of his powerful hand was the clown, Diaz, and when Mr. Miaco discovered that the clown had Phil Forrest down, he could scarcely restrain himself from severely punishing the fellow. However, Miaco satisfied himself with hauling Diaz from his victim with little ceremony. Then he jerked the angry clown to his feet.
"Well, sir, what have you to say for yourself?" demanded Miaco, gazing at the other sternly.
"This no business of yours," growled Diaz.
"That remains to be seen. I'll decide whether it is any of my affair or not. Phil, what does this mean?"
"Just a little matter between ourselves. Thank you for helping me out."
"Did he attack you, Phil?"
"He did, but he no doubt thought he had sufficient provocation. Perhaps we should not be too hard on Mr. Diaz."
"Then the best thing to do is to tell Mr. Sparling. I--"
"Please don't do anything of the sort," begged Phil. "In the first place, Diaz's anger was directed against Teddy, and I had to mix myself in their quarrel. Teddy did something to him a few weeks ago that made the clown very angry, and I don't blame Diaz."
"Was there any excuse for his pitching into you in this manner?"
"Well," laughed Phil, "perhaps the situation did not demand exactly that sort of treatment."
"How did you come to let him get you so easily?"
"I fell over something."
"Oh, that's it?"
"Yes. I wasn't trying to hit him. I could have done so easily, but I felt that I was in the wrong."
"Humph!" grunted the head clown. Then he turned to Diaz.
"See here, you fellow!"
"What you want?" demanded Diaz in a surly tone.
"I want to advise you to let those boys alone in the future. They have been with this show a long time, and they are highly thought of by Mr. Sparling. Were he to hear what you have done tonight I rather think you would pack your trunk and quit right here. I shall not tell him. Next time I see you doing any such thing you will have to answer to me. I'm the head clown here, and I won't stand for one of my men pitching on a boy."
Teddy was chuckling to himself over the severe rebuke that Miaco was administering to his clown.
"Do you boys intend going on tonight?" Miaco demanded suddenly, turning on Teddy.
"Certainly," answered Phil.
"Then I should advise you to be getting into your makeups."
"Why, what time is it?"
"A quarter to eight."
"Whew! Come on, Teddy."
A few moments more and peace had been restored in the dressing tent, though Diaz was muttering to himself as he laid the powder over his face, preparatory to his first entry into the ring.
"I am afraid we have not heard the last of Diaz, Teddy," confided Phil to his companion. "You see what your moment of thoughtlessness has brought upon us, don't you?"
"You didn't have to mix in the row. I could have handled him."
"I am forced to admit that you are right. I sought to avoid trouble and I was the direct cause of a lot of it. There goes the first call. Hurry up!"
The Circus Boys had, indeed, made an enemy. It was noticed, however, that Manuel, the assistant of Diaz, had taken no part in the row. The young man had calmly proceeded with his making up without appearing to take the slightest interest in the affair. Whether or not his apparent indifference was merely assumed was not known.
The two boys were not performing on the flying rings this season. They had retained all their other acts, however, though the star act was the flying trapeze, in which Phil Forrest was now one of the leading performers.
Teddy rode his donkey, January, took part in the ground tumbling, acted as shadow again for the clown Shivers, besides making himself generally useful in some of the other acts.
As for Phil's bareback riding, he occupied the center ring in this act, as he had done the season before. He had come to be perhaps the most useful man with the Sparling show.
"I advise you to look out for that fellow. He is a dangerous customer," warned Miaco under his breath, as Phil sat down on his horse during a rest in the performance.
The Circus Boy nodded his understanding, but appeared little disturbed at Miaco's warning. Like the seasoned circus man that he was, he had learned to take things as they came, making the best of every situation when he came face to face with it.
Diaz and his assistant were entering the ring as Phil left it. They began throwing their hats, winning great applause, for their act was a clever one of its kind. At about the same time, Teddy Tucker and January came on, the Circus Boy howling, January braying and bucking, beating the air with his heels, for he had been taught some entirely new tricks during the winter.
The ringmaster held up his hand for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you, January. As January is the first month of the year, so is this January first in the donkey world. You will observe how docile and kind he appears. Yet, ladies and gentlemen, the management of this show will give a hundred dollars to any person who can stick on his back for a full minute--only sixty seconds, ladies and gentlemen. Do you know of any easier or faster way to make money? Six thousand dollars an hour if you stay that long. Who will be the first to earn the money?"
It was the first time the announcement had been made from the ring. Mr. Sparling had given his consent, even though he had not seen the act. He had, however, observed Teddy engaged in a tussle with the beast that afternoon, and could readily understand that what Teddy told him about January's contrariness was not overdrawn.
A colored man came down from the audience, and, throwing off his coat, announced his intention of riding the mule.
January appeared to have no objection, permitting the colored man to get on his back without offering the least opposition. To Teddy, who stood in front of the animal, grinning, there was a glint in the eye of the mule that spelled trouble for the colored man.
Suddenly January reared, then as quickly tipped the other way until it appeared to the spectators as if he were standing on his head.
The rider suddenly landed on his back in the sawdust.
"The gentleman loses," announced the ringmaster. "Is there any other gentleman in the audience who thinks he can earn one hundred dollars a minute--six thousand dollars an hour?"
No one appeared to be anxious to make the attempt.
Manuel, in the meantime, had drawn closer, paying strict attention to the words of the ringmaster.
"You give money for riding the burro?" questioned the little Spaniard.
"Burro? This is no Mexican burro, this is a donkey!" sniffed Teddy contemptuously.
The ringmaster instantly scented an opportunity to have some fun, and at the same time make the audience laugh. He glanced about to see if Mr. Sparling were under the big top, and not seeing him, instantly decided to take a long chance.
"Do you think you can ride January, sir?"
"I ride burro."
"Very well, it is your privilege to do so if you can. Ladies and gentlemen, this clown has never before attempted this feat. He thinks he can ride the donkey. If he succeeds he will receive the reward offered by the management of the show, just the same as you would have done had you performed the feat."
Teddy stroked January's nose, then leaning over, the Circus Boy whispered in the animal's ear.
"January," he said, "you've got a solemn duty to perform. If you shirk it you are no longer a friend of mine, and you get no more candy--understand? No more candy."
January curled his upper lip ever so little and brayed dismally.
"That's right; I knew you would agree to the sentiment."
"Get away from his head, Master Teddy. The Spanish clown is about to distinguish himself," announced the ringmaster.
Manuel was an agile little fellow. While the announcement was being made he had been taking mental measurement of the beast and deciding upon his course of action.
Ere Teddy had stepped back the Spaniard took a running start, and, with a leap, landed fairly on the back of the donkey.
The latter, taken by surprise, cleared the ground with all four feet and bucked, but the rider had flung his arms about the donkey's neck, clinging with both feet to the beast's body, grimly determined to win that hundred dollars or die in the attempt.
"Go it, January," encouraged Teddy. "Give it to him! Soak him hard!"
January stood on his hind feet, then on his head, as it were, but still the Spaniard clung doggedly.
By this time the donkey had begun to get angry. He had been taken an unfair advantage of and he did not like it. Suddenly he launched into a perfect volley of kicks, each kick giving the rider such a violent jolt that he was rapidly losing his hold.
"Keep it up! Keep it up! You've got him!" exulted the Circus Boy.
The audience was howling with delight.
"There he goes!" shrieked Teddy.
Manuel, now as helpless as a ship without a rudder, was being buffeted over the back of the plunging animal.
Manuel was yelling in his native language, but if anyone understood what he was saying, that one gave no heed. Teddy, on the other hand, was urging January with taunt and prod of the ringmaster's whip.
Suddenly the Spanish clown was bounced over the donkey's rump, landing on the animal's hocks. It was January's moment--the moment he had been cunningly waiting and planning for. The donkey's hoofs shot up into the air with the clown on them. The hoofs were quickly drawn back, but the Spanish clown continued right on, sailing through the air like a great gaudy projectile.
The audience yelled its approval.
Manuel landed with a crash in the midst of the lower grandstand seats. A second later there was a mix-up that required the united services of a dozen ring attendants to straighten out.
In the meantime, Teddy Tucker was rolling on the ground near the center pole, howling with delight, while January, with lowered head, was trotting innocently toward the paddock.
The ringmaster's whistle trilled for the next act, and the show went on with its characteristic dash and sprightliness.
However, Teddy Tucker's plan to get one of the Spanish hat-throwing clowns into trouble had been an entire success. He had succeeded, also, in making another bitter enemy for the Circus Boys.