Chapter XX. A Capture in the Air
 

Fortunately, the band carried a new set of heads for the drum, and the contribution of the boys served to restore the offended musicians to good nature. Teddy, however, was not appeased. That youngster vowed that he would take revenge on the bass drummer at the very first opportunity.

That afternoon, during the performance, Teddy began his getting-even process by standing in front of the bandstand between his acts, and making faces at the musicians.

This seemed to amuse them, and brought only smiles to their faces. Teddy was not there for the purpose of amusing the band, so he turned his back on them and tried to think of something more effective.

The show did a great business at Des Moines, having a "turn-away" at both afternoon and evening performances. The Sparling shows had played there before, but never to such business, which the showman decided was due to their novel way of traveling. He knew that these little novelties frequently made fortunes for Circus owners.

At the evening performance, Teddy had an inspiration. He was too busy, during the first part of the show, to give his idea a practical test, but later in the evening, while he was awaiting his cue to go on in his clown act, he tried the new plan.

The lad had purchased half a dozen lemons from the refreshment stand. One of these he cut in halves, secreting the pieces in a pocket of his clown costume; then when the time came he stationed himself in front of the bandstand where he stood until he had gained the attention of several of the musicians.

Teddy took out the two pieces of lemon with a great flourish, went through the motions of sprinkling sugar over them, then began sucking first one piece, then the other, varying his performance by holding out the lemon invitingly to the players.

The bass drum player scowled. Teddy's lemon did not affect the beating of the drum, but as the lad began to make believe that the acid juice was puckering his lips, some of the musicians showed signs of uneasiness.

The Circus Boy observing this, smacked his lips again and again, and industriously swallowed the juice, though it nearly choked him to do so.

Very soon some of the players got off the key, their playing grew uneven and in some instances stopped altogether. The leader could not understand what the trouble was. He called out angrily to the offending musicians, but this seemed only to add to their troubles.

All at once the big German, who played the bass horn, rose from his seat and hurled his music rack at the offending Teddy Tucker. Everything on the bandstand came to a standstill, and the performers in the ring glanced sharply down that way, wondering what could have happened.

The leader turned and discovered Teddy and his lemons. He was beside himself with rage. He understood, now, why his musicians had failed. Teddy sucking the lemon had given many of them "the puckers."

It was an old trick, but it worked as well as if it had been brand new.

The Circus Boy was delighted. The leader experienced no such sensations. With an angry exclamation, he leaped from the box on which he was standing, aiming a blow at Teddy with his baton.

The boy dodged it and ran laughing out into the ring, for it was now time for him to go on in his next act.

After a minute or two the band once more collected itself and the show went on, but there were dire threats uttered against Teddy Tucker by the leader and players. The bass drummer grinned appreciatively.

"I wish I could think of something that would tie up that fellow with the drum," muttered Teddy, gazing off at the drummer with resentful eyes.

The band leader had no scruples against carrying tales, and immediately after the performance he hunted up Mr. Sparling and entered a complaint against the irrepressible Teddy. The result was that Teddy was given a severe lecture by the showman after they got on board the boat that night. Then Phil added a warning.

"Well, what about yourself?" retorted the lad.

"Why?"

"I never stirred up as much roughhouse as you did this morning. You had better take some of that advice to yourself."

Phil laughed good-naturedly.

"I shall have to admit the impeachment," he said.

It seemed, however, as if the Sparling shows could not get along without exciting incidents happening at least once in twenty-four hours. They appeared to follow the Circus Boys, too, like a plague. It is likely that, had they not followed the boys, Teddy Tucker would have gone out hunting for them.

The next morning something else occurred that was not a part of the daily routine. The boats were late and the next stand was not yet in sight, so the band had not been called to work as early as on the previous morning. The bandsmen were just rousing themselves, in response to raps on their cabin doors, when they heard rapid footsteps on the deck, and excited shouts from several voices.

Teddy and Phil awakened at about the same time, having been disturbed by the unusual sounds.

"Now, what is the trouble?" exclaimed Phil.

"Something is going on, and here I am in bed," answered Teddy, tumbling out and throwing open the blinds.

He saw nothing unusual. The boat was slipping along, enveloped in a cloud of black smoke. The disturbance seemed to be on the other side of the vessel.

"Come on, Phil. Let's find out what it is all about. Maybe the boat has struck a rock and we are sinking. Wouldn't that be fun?"

"I don't see anything funny about that. It would be serious, and you and I would be out of a job for the rest of the season."

"Don't you care! I have money. Didn't I give you seven-fifty yesterday and still have some left?"

"Eight," grinned Phil.

By this time the boys had hurried out into the corridor, and thence to the deck.

"Well, what do you think of that?" howled Teddy.

"Bruiser is out," exclaimed Phil.

Bruiser was a baboon, whose temper was none too angelic. He was a big heavy fellow, who never lost an opportunity to vent his temper on whoever chanced to be within reach.

It seems that on this particular occasion a sleepy keeper was cleaning Bruiser's cage so that it might be neat and presentable when the show opened. Bruiser had sat on a trapeze far up in the cage, watching the proceedings with resentful eyes, perhaps wondering how he might administer a rebuke to the keeper.

All at once the baboon saw his opportunity. The keeper had stooped over to pick up something from the floor of the boat, as he stood at the open door of the cage in the rear.

Bruiser projected himself toward the opening like a catapult. At that instant the keeper had straightened up and the baboon hit him squarely in the face. There could be but one result. The keeper tumbled over on his back.

Chattering joyously, Bruiser began hopping off on all fours. First he investigated the tops of the cages, running over them and bringing roars from the animals within. Then he hopped down and paid a visit to the horses.

January sent a volley of kicks at the beast, but Bruiser was too quick, and the hoofs passed harmlessly over his head.

About this time the keeper had scrambled to his feet in alarm. At first he did not know where the baboon had gone, but hearing the disturbance among the horses he ran that way, soon coming upon Bruiser. With a scream of defiance, the animal bolted up the companionway, hurriedly investigated the corridors and the main cabin, then leaped out through an open window to the hurricane deck.

Two other men had joined in the chase now, and it was their shouts that had awakened the Circus Boys.

"Come on, here's sport!" shouted Teddy Tucker starting on a run after the fleeing Bruiser. The latter tried to climb up the smoke stack and narrowly missed being captured in the attempt. At the same time he burned his feet, filling him with rage and resentment, so that, when the keeper grabbed him, the former's face was badly scratched.

Round and round the deck ran pursued and pursuers, the baboon having not the slightest difficulty in eluding his followers, Teddy chasing gleefully and howling at the top of his shrill voice.

Others joined the chase, until well nigh half the boat's company raced yelling up and down the decks. Mr. Sparling was one of the number, though he devoted most of his attention to directing the others.

One mast had been erected on the boat from which to fly flags, and from this rope braces ran off forward and aft.

Finally Bruiser was so hard pressed that he took to this rigging and ran up one of the ropes to the mast, where he perched on the end of a spar and appeared to mock his pursuers.

Poles were brought, at the direction of the owner, with which the men sought to poke Bruiser down. But the poles were too short. Then the men threw ropes and missiles at the baboon, most of which went overboard and were lost.

"It is no use. We shall have to wait until he gets ready to come down," decided Mr. Sparling. "How did he get away?"

The keeper explained.

"He won't come down today," added the man. "That is, so long as we are here. He is a bad one."

"You do not have to tell me that. Can any of you offer suggestions? I am not very strong on capturing escaped animals. Phil, how about it?"

Phil shook his head.

"I have an idea, Mr. Sparling," spoke up Teddy.

"I knew you had, from the expression on your face. What is it?"

"I'll climb up and shake him down."

A loud laugh greeted this remark.

"You couldn't climb up there. The mast is too slippery."

"I'll show you."

"Very well; go ahead."

"Teddy, I think I would keep out of this, were I in your place," remarked Phil.

"You keep out of it yourself. I'll show you that I know how to catch wild beasts. I haven't ridden January all this time for nothing."

Teddy started in bravely to climb the mast. After a great struggle he managed to get up about eight feet. Suddenly he lost his grip and came sliding down, landing at the foot of the mast in a heap.

A shout greeted his ludicrous drop.

"I think you had better give it up," laughed Mr. Sparling.

"I won't give it up."

"You cannot climb the mast."

"I don't intend to. I have an idea."

"What is your idea?"

"I will show you. Bring me a rope."

The rope was quickly handed to him. The Circus Boy coiled it neatly, closely observed by the show people, who did not understand what he was about to do.

"I'm a sailor, you know," he grinned. Measuring the distance accurately, Teddy swung the coil about his head a few times, then let it fly up into the air, keeping the free end in one hand as he did so.

The coil tumbled over the yard or cross piece and came down, hitting the deck with a thump.

"There. Can you beat that?" he demanded triumphantly.

"Very well done," agreed Mr. Sparling. "Now that it is over, what do you propose to do next?"

"Watch me!"

The lad made fast one end of the rope to the ship's rail, the baboon peering down suspiciously.

"Oh, I'm after you, you rascal," jeered Teddy, shaking a fist at the ugly face above him.

After testing the rope, Teddy began climbing it hand over hand. Then the spectators divined his purpose.

"The boy is all right," nodded Mr. Sparling approvingly. "That is the time that he got the best of you, Phil."

"He is welcome to the job," answered Phil. "You haven't captured the baboon yet."

Teddy, by this time, was halfway up the mast. It seemed a dizzy climb, but the lad was so used to being up high that he did not mind it in the least.

"Hey, down there!" he called.

"What is it?"

"Better get out a small net so you can catch him. I'm going to shake him down as I would a ripe apple. If you catch him in the net he will tangle himself up so that he cannot get away."

"That is a good idea," approved Mr. Sparling. "Get the net, and hold it in readiness."

Teddy, in the meantime, was working his way up. After a time his hands grasped the crossbar and he pulled himself up astride it, waving one hand to those below him.

Bruiser, however, was not there. The baboon had scrambled to the top of the mast on which there was a golden ball, and on this he perched some eight or nine feet above Teddy Tucker's head.

"Now where is your baboon?" called a voice.

"Where he cannot get away from me unless he jumps into the Mississippi," answered Teddy quickly.

"How are you going to get him?" called Mr. Sparling.

"I'll see when I get to him."

With great caution, the lad climbed up the slender top of the mast.

Bruiser's tail hung over, while he clung with his feet, glaring down at Teddy. The baboon realized that he could not get away.

"Come down here!" commanded Teddy, grabbing the beast's tail and giving it a mighty tug.

Bruiser's grip gave way. Down shot Teddy and the baboon. But the cross-tree saved him, as the lad figured that it would. One hand was clinging to Bruiser's tail, the other arm thrown about the mast.

Now, Bruiser took a hand. With a snarl of rage he fastened in the hair of Teddy Tucker's head, causing that young man to howl lustily.

For a moment boy and baboon "mixed it up" at such a lively rate that it was difficult for the spectators below to tell which was boy and which baboon. Teddy seemed to be getting the worst of it.

"Look out! Let go of him! You will be in the river the first thing you know!" shouted Mr. Sparling warningly.

Teddy did not hear him. He was too busy, at the moment, trying to keep those savage teeth from fastening themselves in his neck, for which the beast seemed to be aiming. At the same time the boy was getting more and more angry. It was characteristic of Teddy that, the angrier he became, the cooler he grew.

He was guarding himself as best he could and watching his chance to get the upper hand of his antagonist.

All at once Teddy let drive a short-arm blow at the head of the baboon.

Few things could withstand that blow, and least of all a baboon. It landed fairly on the grinning jaws and Bruiser's head jolted backwards as if it were going right on into the river.

Teddy lost his balance, aided in this by the fact that Bruiser had fastened to the lad's pajamas.

"They're going to fall!" roared Mr. Sparling. "Catch them! Catch them!"

The men hastened to move the net, and none too soon, for Teddy and Bruiser came whirling down, the lad making desperate efforts to right himself so as to drop on his feet. But the baboon prevented his doing this.

They struck the net, which was jerked from the hands of the men, and Teddy hit the deck with a terrific bump.