The Circus Boys On the Mississippi by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter VII. In New Quarters
Though the center pole had been struck by lightning, repairs were soon sufficiently advanced to enable the show to go on and complete the performance. The pole itself was practically ruined.
Fortunately, the show had another one, and the wrecked pole was left on the lot that night as worthless.
After the Roman races the people stood up in their seats and gave three cheers for the boy who had saved many of them from perhaps serious injury or death.
Teddy heard the cheer. He was in his dressing tent changing his clothes, having thus far gotten on only his trousers and undershirt.
He could not restrain his curiosity, so trotting to the entrance he inquired the cause of the commotion.
"They're cheering for you," a canvasman informed him.
Teddy needed no more. Without an instant's hesitation he ran out into the ring, where he stood smiling, bowing and throwing kisses to them.
"Come and see us again!" yelled the Circus Boy.
"We will that!" answered a chorus of voices.
"I'll have the big hen lay another egg for you. I--" His voice was drowned in the roar of laughter that followed this sally.
Already the attendants were ripping up the seats, loading them into the wagons, with a rattle and bang. Men were shouting, horses neighing; here and there an animal uttered a hoarse-voiced protest at something, it knew not what.
Circus animals often scent a change, perhaps more quickly than do the people about them.
Performers and others, whose duties did not keep them on the lot, were hurrying to get to the dock where the circus boats were waiting, and where Mr. Sparling was attending to the loading.
Phil and Teddy were in no less haste. Quickly getting their trunks packed, they started off for the river. The moon had come out after the storm and the air was fresh and fragrant, though underfoot the evidences of the storm were still present.
"Did I hurt you much when I fell on you tonight, Teddy?"
"You knocked the breath out of me. But don't let a little thing like that worry you. I thought the tent had fallen on me, or at least a center pole. Lucky I was there, wasn't it?"
"You might have received a bump that you wouldn't have gotten over right away."
"I might have done so."
"I saved your life, didn't I?"
"Perhaps you did. I had only a few feet to drop, you know. I was ready to drop on all fours lightly when you happened to get in the way--"
"When I happened to get in the way?"
"Yes. Didn't you?"
"Well, I like that," growled Teddy indignantly. "Here I run in and save your life, willing to sacrifice my own for you and you say when I 'happened to get in the way.'"
Phil laughed heartily.
"Of course, I appreciate your wonderful self-sacrifice. It was very kind of you to get in the way and let me fall on you. Nothing like having a soft place to fall, is there, old chap?"
Teddy uttered an unintelligible growl.
"That's right; insult me. I'm only a clown and--and a life-saver--"
"And one of the best fellows a chap could have for his friend, eh? I was only joking, Teddy."
"I accept your apology. My hand on it," answered Teddy condescendingly. "Next time you can fall on the ground or any old place. I don't care. I shan't try to catch you."
"If I remember correctly, you could not very well help yourself in this instance. You did not catch me. I caught you--caught you unawares. There is Mr. Sparling and there are the boats. Don't they look fine, all lighted up inside, their signal lights burning on the outside?"
"They look wet to me."
Thin wisps of smoke were curling lazily from the funnels of the three boats, for the stokers had not yet started to get up steam. Some hours would elapse before the fleet would be ready to begin its journey down the big river.
"There goes the 'Little Nemo,'" cried Teddy.
The smaller of the three steamboats moved slowly out into the stream, and there came to anchor to await the other boats. The "Fat Marie" was already alongside the long dock, but she now moved up a little further to make room for her companion boat, the "River Queen," which latter Phil had nicknamed the "Yellow Peril."
"Let's see, where do we stow our belongings, Phil?"
"On the 'Fat Marie.'"
"If that name don't sink her, nothing will," said Teddy, with a broad grin. "I hope the boat floats better than Fat Marie did when she fell in the creek last season. If not, we're lost. Let's go on board and find out where we are going to live."
"After we speak to Mr. Sparling. Is there anything we can do to help you, Mr. Sparling?" asked Phil, stepping up to the owner of the show, who, hatless, coatless, his hair looking as if it had not been combed in days, was giving orders in sharp, short sentences, answering questions and shouting directions almost in the same breath.
"Oh, is that you, Phil?"
"It is myself, sir," smiled the lad. "How are you getting along?"
"Much better than I had hoped. You see the 'Little Nemo' is already loaded. The 'Fat Marie' is well loaded and the 'Queen' is taking stuff on board at a two-forty gait."
"I see you haven't driven the bulls on yet," meaning the elephants.
The elephants were standing off beyond the docks, huge shadowy figures, swaying silently in the faint light, for there was a slight haze in the air that even the brilliant moonlight could not wholly pierce.
"No; I thought it best to load the bulls and the ring stock later on. The bulls might get frightened with all the unusual noises around them. After they become more used to this method of traveling they will be all right."
"What time do we pull out?"
"It will be three o'clock, I think. Perhaps a little later than that."
"You mean earlier," suggested Teddy.
The showman turned on him sharply.
"Why, hello, Teddy. Really, you are so small that I did not see you."
"I guess I'm some, even if I am little," protested the lad warmly.
"You are right. You are not only some, but much. What's this I hear about trouble on the lot? Some of the men said they heard there had been an accident, but they guessed it didn't amount to much."
"It was not very serious," said Phil.
"Oh, no; nothing of any consequence," jeered Teddy. "I was struck by lightning, that's all."
"Hit by balls of fire--and the big hen laid an egg."
"See here, what are you driving at--"
"And crushed, utterly crushed by my best friend, Phil Forrest. Now, what do you think of that?"
"Teddy, please hitch your tongue to the roof of your mouth for a moment. Now, Phil, tell me what happened. I get so dizzy when Teddy is talking that I almost imagine I am going to be seasick."
"Pshaw!" growled Teddy.
"We did have a little trouble."
"Tell me about it."
"The storm came up while the aerial acts were on. We all shortened our acts at the direction of the ringmaster, and it was well we did so. We had not all gotten down when a bolt of lightning struck the main center pole."
"You don't say! Here, men, stow those canvas wagons forward! You must learn to trim the boat, giving her an even load all over! Did the bolt do any damage?"
"Slivered the pole."
"Yes. Not worth carrying off the lot."
"No, but I think there would have been had it not been for my friend, Teddy Tucker. He amused the audience while things were happening up above."
"Good for you, Teddy Tucker," said the showman, slapping the Circus Boy on the back.
"Ouch!" howled Teddy.
"I was congratulating you, that's all," laughed Mr. Sparling.
"If it is all the same to you, please use a club when you congratulate me. I won't feel it so much."
Phil next went on to relate how Teddy had, by his quickness, made fast the rope and probably saved the top from falling in on them, and how he, Phil, had fallen on the boy and knocked him out.
Mr. Sparling surveyed the flushed face of Teddy approvingly.
"Thank you, Teddy," he said. "I'll give you a day off to go fishing, sometime, for that."
"I don't want to go fishing."
"Then you are the first showman I ever knew who did not. They are simply crazy over fishing. You'll see every one of them hanging over the rails in the early morning trying to catch fish."
"I won't. You'll see me asleep about that time, if you look in the right place," answered Teddy very promptly.
"Teddy deserves your praise, Mr. Sparling."
"He does, and he has it. I will show my appreciation more fully when I get all this rush out of the way. The loss of the center pole doesn't amount to much, but the rest does."
"And the hen laid an egg," reiterated Teddy.
"Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you. The big ostrich hen laid an egg this evening."
"Is it possible?"
"Yes; Teddy found it in the hay behind the concert platform."
The showman's eyes twinkled.
"What were you doing back there?"
"Looking for a place to take a catnap between acts."
Mr. Sparling laughed heartily.
"There's only one Teddy in the whole wide world!"
"I hope not," added the boy quickly.
"Where is the egg--what did you do with it?"
"Got it in my bag here, want to see it?"
He handed the egg to Mr. Sparling who turned it over, glancing at it curiously.
"Look out! You'll drop it!"
"And what are you going to do with it, may I ask?"
"What, eat up my property?"
"Eggs belongs to the finder, and--"
"You mean eggs belong to the finder," corrected Phil.
"Yes, I guess so. Any way, so you say it. I'm going to eat this egg, even if it does give me indigestion all the rest of my life. How do you cook ostrich eggs?"
"I never cooked any, my boy. You will have to consult the cook on that point. Perhaps he may consent to cook it for you."
"I'll give you a slice off the white when it's cooked."
"Thank you. You are welcome to the whole egg. Better go up and locate yourselves, boys."
"What number is our room, Mr. Sparling?" asked Phil.
"Number twenty-four, on the upper deck. I have given you a nice, roomy, light and airy cabin that I think will please you. It is one of the best on the ship and you should be very comfortable there."
"I am sure we shall be, and thank you very much," said Phil. "Come along, Teddy."
Together they made their way to the boat and through the crowded, bustling lower deck, where the big canvas-covered wagons were being warped into place, a sort of orderly confusion reigning over everything, the scene lighted by lanterns swinging from hooks all about the deck.
The lads found their cabin, and after lighting the lamp, uttered exclamations of surprise. Instead of the narrow berths they had expected to see, there were white enameled iron bedsteads, a washstand with the same neat finish, and several pictures on the walls.
The cabin was a large one. In the center of it stood a table on which lay a large portfolio and inscribed in gold letters on the outside they read the words, "For the Circus Boys."
The portfolio was filled with writing materials.
"Oh, isn't that fine?" exclaimed Phil.
"Yes, it's a fine egg. I'm going to have the feast of my life when I get it baked--"
"What do you think I am talking about?"
"I am not. I am talking about this beautiful cabin that Mr. Sparling has fixed for us. Look at it--look at this portfolio. I am afraid you don't appreciate how good our employer is to us. There is an easy chair for each of us, too. Why, we ought to be very happy."
"I am happy. So would you be if a hen had laid a five pound egg for you," retorted Teddy.
"Hopeless, hopeless," groaned Phil.
Teddy, muttering to himself, carefully laid the egg away in his trunk, first wrapping it up in an old silk ring shirt, then locking the trunk and putting the key in his pocket.
The lad then made a personal and critical examination of the room, tried the springs of the bed, nodded approvingly, sat down in one of the easy chairs and put his feet on the table.
Phil promptly pushed the feet off.
"Here, what are you doing?"
"This is not the dressing room of a circus, Teddy. This is the living room of a couple of young gentlemen. Let's not forget that. Let us try to keep our cabin looking nice and shipshape, else Mr. Sparling will think we do not appreciate his kindness."
"I'll tell you what we'll do!"
"I am listening."
"We'll have a spread up here all by ourselves, tomorrow night, after the show. We'll eat the egg. I'll get the cook to boil it all day tomorrow--does it take a day to boil an ostrich egg?"
"I should think it might take a month," laughed Phil. "Yes; I'll make a martyr of myself and help you eat the egg. I shall never have any peace until that egg is finally disposed of--"
"What's going on downstairs?" interrupted Teddy.
A commotion was heard out on the dock. There was the tramping of many feet, mingled with loud, angry shouts and sharp commands.
"It sounds to me as if something has been let loose," said Teddy Tucker wisely.
Something had been "let loose."
With one accord the Circus Boys sprang up. Rushing out into the corridor they leaped down the after companionway four steps at a jump.