The Circus Boys On the Mississippi by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter III. A Day of Memories
Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show, had been a witness of the latter part of Teddy's act. The showman was standing over near the entrance to the menagerie tent when Manuel took his unexpected flight, and the proprietor sat down on the grass, laughing until the tears started from his eyes.
The act had been a breach of discipline, so Mr. Sparling prudently kept himself out of sight until the show had progressed further.
Later in the evening he chanced to pass Teddy out in the paddock.
"Well, my lad, how is January working tonight?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Never better, sir, thank you."
"I presume he obeys your commands perfectly, eh?"
"Does everything I tell him to, Mr. Sparling. I can do anything with that donkey. Why, I could wink at him and make him kick your head off. I--"
"I'll take your word for it, young man--I'll take your word for it. Let me warn you to be careful that you do not tell him to do anything that will interfere with the programme. We must have our acts clean cut, and embodying nothing that has not been arranged for in advance. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," answered Teddy, giving the owner a keen, inquiring glance.
"I'll bet he saw that," mused the lad. "He's letting me off easy because he had to laugh, just the same as the rest of the people did."
"What did Mr. Sparling have to say?" questioned Phil, who had emerged from the dressing tent just as Teddy was walking away from the showman.
Teddy told him.
"You got off pretty easy, I must say. It is a wonder he did not discipline you for that."
"Do you think he saw Manuel fly?"
"He did, or else someone told him. Be careful, Teddy! You are laying up trouble for all of us," warned Phil.
"I got even with Mr. Hat Thrower, just the same," grinned Tucker.
Teddy was the happiest boy in the show that night, and he went to his sleeping quarters chuckling all the way.
The show, this season, had opened in Chicago, and was now working its way across the state of Illinois. The route had caused considerable comment among the show people. They did not understand what the plans of the owner might be.
Ordinarily, give a showman the first week or two of the show's route and he will tell you just what parts of the country the show will visit during that particular season. The performers were unable to do so in this instance. Phil Forrest was as much perplexed as the others, but he made no mention of this to Mr. Sparling.
"He has some surprise up his sleeve, I am sure," decided Phil shrewdly.
The next morning Phil asked Mr. Miaco, the head clown, if he knew where they were going.
"I do not," answered the clown. "This route has kept me guessing. Boss Sparling may be headed for Australia for all I know. He's just as likely to go there as anywhere else. Has the Spaniard bothered you since that mix-up?"
"Well, keep away from him. That is my advice."
"I shall not bother him. You may depend upon that, Mr. Miaco. I can't say as much for Teddy."
"Teddy put up that job with January last night, didn't he?"
"He hasn't said so."
"Not necessary. I saw the whole thing. Lucky for Teddy that Mr. Sparling did not happen to be about."
"I am not so sure that he was not."
Phil explained what Mr. Sparling had said to Teddy out in the paddock.
"Yes, he saw it all right, but I guess he doesn't know about the trouble in the dressing tent yesterday."
"No, I think not. I hope he does not hear of it, either. I do not wish Mr. Sparling to think that I am a troublemaker, or that I was mixed up in an unseemly row in the dressing tent. I should feel very much humiliated were I to be called to account for a thing like that. What are all those flags flying for in town today?"
"Don't you know?"
"No, I don't."
"You don't know what day this is?"
"This is Decoration Day."
"Oh, that's so."
"We lose all track of days in the show business. I'll wager you do not even know what town we are performing in today," laughed the clown.
"I shall have to confess that I do not."
"I thought so. Of course you know we are in the state of Illinois?"
"Yes, I think I have heard something to that effect," grinned Phil.
By the time the boys had eaten their breakfast, and had strolled over toward the tents, they found the dressing tents in place and the performers busily engaged in unpacking their belongings, hanging their costumes on lines stretched across the dressing tent, and making such repairs in the costumes as were found to be necessary, for a showman must be handy with the needle as well as with bar and trapeze.
Phil's trunk was next to that of Diaz. The Circus Boy did not mind this at all, but the clown appeared to feel a continual resentment at the fact.
"Good morning, Mr. Diaz," greeted the lad, with a sunny smile. "Shall we shake hands and be friends?"
Diaz glared at him, but made no reply. He did not even appear to have observed the hand that was extended toward him.
"I am sorry you feel that way about it, sir. If I was hasty I beg you will forgive me," urged Phil.
Diaz turned his back on him.
"Very well, sir," said the Circus Boy, a little proudly and with slightly heightened color, "I shall not trouble you again."
Phil turned away and began unpacking his trunk, giving no further heed to the sullen clown.
"The Honorable Mr. Diaz says 'nix,'" laughed Teddy, who had been an amused witness to the one-sided conversation, the word "nix" being the circus man's comprehensive way of saying, "I refuse."
"Don't stir him up, Teddy," warned Phil.
"Say, what's going on over in the women's dressing tent?"
"I did not know that anything out of the ordinary was happening there," said Phil. "Why?"
"I see a lot of folks going in and out."
"Nothing unusual about that, I guess."
"Yes, there is."
"What makes you think so?"
" 'Cause they're carrying flowers in and making a great fuss. I'm going over to find out. Come along?"
"No, thank you. You had better keep out. You know you are not supposed to go in the other dressing tent."
Teddy was not disturbed by the warning. He turned and started for the women's dressing tent, where he saw several of the other performers passing through the entrance. Phil, who had stepped to the door of his own dressing tent, observed the same thing.
"I guess there must be something going on over there. I shall have to find out what it means," he thought.
"May I come in, Mrs. Waite?" called Phil from the entrance.
"Sure. Come in Phil," smiled the wardrobe woman.
Teddy had not wasted the breath to ask permission to enter, but the moment he stepped inside something caught his eyes, causing them to open a little wider.
Two trunks had been drawn up in the center; over them was thrown an American flag. At one end a flag on a standard had been planted, and on the trunks, flowers and wreaths had been placed.
"What's that thing?" asked Teddy.
"That is my grave, Master Teddy," answered Mrs. Waite in a low tone.
"Pshaw! That's a funny kind of grave. What's buried there--your pet poodle?"
"Teddy! Teddy!" whispered Phil reprovingly.
"Go 'way. This is some kind of a joke," growled Teddy.
"It is not a joke, though I do not understand the meaning of it just yet. You say this is your grave, Mrs. Waite?" asked Phil.
"Yes, Phil. You know my husband was a soldier?"
"No, I did not know that, Mrs. Waite. Will you tell me all about it?"
Phil was deeply interested now.
"My husband was killed at the battle of Gettysburg. He lies in Woodlawn Cemetery. I am never at home on Decoration Day. I am always on the road with the circus, so I cannot decorate the real grave."
"I understand," breathed the Circus Boy.
"Being unable to decorate my husband's real grave, I carry my grave with me. Each Memorial Day morning I prepare my grave here in the dressing tent, and decorate it as you see here, and all my friends of the circus are very good and thoughtful on that occasion."
"How long have you been with the show--how many years have you been decorating this little property grave, Mrs. Waite?" asked Phil.
"Thirty years, Phil."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes, and it seems no more than two."
"Do you intend remaining with the show much longer--aren't you ever going to retire?"
"Yes. I am going to retire. I am getting old. I have laid up enough money to keep me for the rest of my life, and I am going to take a rest after two years more with this outfit."
"I am afraid you will miss the show," smiled the lad.
"I know I shall. I shall miss the life, the color, and I shall miss my boys and my girls. I love them all very much."
One after another, the women of the circus had come in to the dressing tent, depositing their little floral remembrances on the property grave while Mrs. Waite was talking.
Teddy, as soon as he fully comprehended the meaning of the scene, had slipped out. In a little while he returned. He brought with him a bunch of daisies that he had gathered on the circus lot. These he had tied with a soiled pink ribbon that he had ripped from one of his ring costumes.
Phil saw the daisies, and, noting their significance, smiled approvingly.
"Teddy has a heart, after all," was his mental comment.
Teddy Tucker proceeded to the flag-draped grave, gently placed his offering upon it, then turned away.
As he did so, he was observed to brush a hand across his eyes as if something there were blurring his sight.