Chapter X. A Surprise, Indeed
 

Phil had triumphed, but he felt little satisfaction in having done so.

The manager had ordered the two boys from his office after the interview and the command to leave the car at once. But the lads had stayed on, and had gone about their duties, Phil working with all the force that was in him. He had even stirred Teddy to a realization of his duty and the latter had done very well, indeed.

A week had passed and the car was now in South Dakota. From there they were to make a detour and drop down into Kansas, whence their course would be laid across the plains and on into the more mountainous country.

Mr. Snowden had studiously avoided the boys; in fact he had not spoken a word to them since the interview in the stateroom, but he had bombarded Mr. James Sparling with messages and demands that the Circus Boys be withdrawn from the car, renewing his threats to leave in case his demand was not complied with.

One bright Sunday morning the car rolled into the station at Aberdeen, South Dakota, and as it came to a stop a messenger boy boarded it with a message for Billy Conley.

Billy looked surprised, and even more so after he had perused the message itself. He quickly left the car, saying he would return after breakfast, but instead of going directly to breakfast, he proceeded to the best hotel in the place, where he called for a certain man, at the desk.

Billy spent some two hours with the man whom he had gone to see, after which he returned to the car. There was a twinkle in his eyes, as he looked at the Circus Boys, who were at that moment getting ready to go to church, a duty that Phil never neglected. He still remembered the time when he used to go to church on Sunday mornings, holding to his mother's hand. Never a Sunday passed that he did not think of it.

"Will you go with us, Billy?" he asked, noting the gaze of the assistant manager fixed upon him.

"Not this morning. I expect company," answered Billy with a grin.

Teddy eyed him suspiciously.

"Billy is up to some tricks this morning. I can see it in his eyes," announced Tucker shrewdly. "I guess I will stay and see what's going on."

"No; you will come with me," replied Phil decisively. So Teddy went.

Shortly after their departure a gentleman boarded the car, at the stateroom end, and walked boldly into the office.

The man was James Sparling, owner of the Sparling Combined Shows.

Mr. Snowden sprang up, surprise written all over his face.

"Why, Mr. Sparling!" he greeted the caller. "I did not expect you."

"No; my visit is something of a surprise, but it is time I came on. Where are the boys?"

"You mean young Forrest and Tucker?" asked the manager, his smile fading.

"Yes."

"The young cubs have gone to church. A likely pair they are! What did you mean by turning loose a bunch like that on me?"

There was a slight tightening of Mr. Sparling's lips.

"What seems to be the trouble with them?"

"Insubordination. They are the worst boys I ever came across in all my experience."

"Have you done as I requested, and helped them to learn the business?"

"I have not!"

"May I inquire why not?"

"My telegrams should be sufficient answer to that question. Both of them are hopeless. I want nothing to do with either of them. They have thoroughly disorganized this car, and each of them has assaulted me. Had I followed the promptings of my own inclinations I should have smashed their heads before this. But I considered their youth."

Mr. Sparling leaned back and laughed.

"I am glad you did not try it."

"Why?" demanded the manager suddenly.

"Because you would have got the thrashing of your life. Mr. Snowden, I am fully informed as to what has been going on in this car."

"So, that's it; those cubs have been spying on me and reporting to you, eh? I might have known it."

"You are mistaken," answered the owner calmly. "While they had sufficient provocation to do so, not a murmur has come from either of them. They have taken their medicine like men. I make it a rule to keep posted on what is going on in every department of my show. I therefore know, better than perhaps you yourself could tell me, what has been going on on Car Three. And it is going to stop right here and now."

"What do you mean?"

"In the first place, the work has been unsatisfactory. The men have done as well as could be expected of them, but they have been in such a constant state of rebellion because of your attitude that the work was bound to suffer."

"You are very frank, sir."

"That's my way of doing business. You not only have neglected the work but you have openly defied me and my orders."

"That's exactly what these young cubs have done with me," interposed the manager quickly.

"My information is quite to the contrary. However, be that as it may, I have decided to make a change."

"Make a change?"

"Yes."

"I do not understand."

"Then I will make it more plain. I'm through with you."

"You mean you discharge me?"

"You have guessed it."

The manager smiled a superior sort of smile.

"You forget I have a contract with you. You can't discharge me until the end of the season."

"And you forget that I have already done so. Here! You see, I come prepared for your objections. Here is a check for your salary to the end of the season. We are quits. I do not have to do even that, but no one can say that James Sparling doesn't do business on the square."

The manager turned a shade paler.

"I--I'm sorry. When--when do you wish me to leave?"

"Now--this minute! I want you to get off this car, and if you don't get off bag and baggage inside of five minutes, I shall make it my personal business to throw you off," announced the showman with rising color. He had contained himself as long as he could. The indignities to which his Circus Boys had been subjected, ever since they joined the car, had stirred the showman profoundly.

"It is now a quarter to twelve. At noon sharp, your baggage and yourself will be outside of this car. I am in charge here now."

The showman leaned back and watched his former car manager hurriedly pack his belongings into a suitcase.

"I'll get even with you for this," snarled Snowden as he walked from the car, slamming the door after him.

"And a good riddance!" muttered the showman rising. "This will be a good time for me to look over the books and find out what shape the car is in."

Mr. Sparling pressed an electric button, and Henry, the porter, responded to the summons.

"Has Mr. Forrest returned yet?"

"No, sir."

"Is Mr. Conley out there?"

"Yes, sir."

"Send him in."

Billy entered the stateroom, a broad smile on his face.

"Sit down, Billy. Well, our friend has gone. I suppose you are sorry?"

"On the contrary," replied Billy promptly, "I am tickled half to death. Now we'll be able to do some real work! We'll show you what we can do! By the way, Mr. Sparling, are you intending to carry out the plan you told me about this morning?"

"Yes. You will have a chance next year."

"Thank you, sir."

"Now, we will go over the books together. I shall have to ask you some questions as we go along. Please first tell the porter to send Phil and Teddy in when they return, but not to tell them who is here."

Billy went out and gave the showman's orders to the porter. As it chanced there were none of the other men of the crew on board the car at that time. They knew nothing about the change that was taking place.

Upon Billy's return he and his chief settled down to a busy few minutes of going over books and reports. The chief found many things that did not please him, and his anger grew apace at some of them.

"I guess I did a good job in getting rid of Snowden. What I should have done was to have got rid of him before I joined him out in the spring."

"He was a bad one," agreed Billy. "I can work with most anybody, but I never could work with the likes of him. The boys are all right. He wouldn't have had any trouble with them if he'd used them like human beings. They both put up with more than I would have stood. But I tell you, that boy, Teddy--Spotted Horse, the boys call him--did hand it out to the Boss. If Snowden had stayed here much longer I'd been willing to lay odds that Teddy would have run him off the car. Did I tell you about how Phil posted the silo?"

"No; what about it?"

Billy began an enthusiastic narration of Phil's clever piece of work, Mr. Sparling nodding as the story proceeded.

"I am not surprised. He is a natural born showman. You will hear great things from Phil Forrest some of these days, and his friend, Teddy, will not be so far behind, either, when once he gets settled down."

"I guess they are coming now," spoke up Conley. "Somebody got on the back platform just now. I'll go out and see."

Billy met the Circus Boys coming in.

"You are wanted in the stateroom," he said.

"More trouble?" laughed Phil.

Billy nodded.

"Maybe, and maybe not, but I reckon the trouble is all over."

Phil and Teddy started for the stateroom. At the door they halted, scarcely able to believe their eyes. There sat Mr. Sparling, smiling a welcome to them.

"Mr. Sparling!" cried Phil dashing in, with Teddy close at his heels.

"Yes, I wanted to surprise you," laughed the showman, throwing an arm about each boy.

"I am so glad to see you," cried Phil, hugging his employer delightedly.

"And it does my heart good to set eyes on you two once more. The Sparling organization has not been quite the same since you left. And, Teddy, we haven't had any excitement since you left."

"How's the donkey?"

"Kicking everything out of sight that comes near him. He has not been in the ring since you left," laughed the showman.

"I wish I was back there. I don't like this game for a little bit."

"You mean you do not like the work?"

"Well, no, not exactly that. The work is all right, but--"

"But what?" persisted Mr. Sparling.

"Never mind, Teddy," interposed Phil. "No tales, you know."

"I'm telling no tales. I said I didn't like it and that's the truth. May I go back with you, Mr. Sparling?"

"You may if you wish, of course, if you think you want to leave Phil."

"Is Phil going to stay?"

"Certainly."

Teddy drew a long sigh.

"Then, I guess I'll stay, too, but there's going to be trouble on this car before the season ends, sir."

"Trouble?"

"Yes, sir."

"What kind of trouble?"

"I'm going to thrash a man within an inch of his life one of these fine days."

"I am astonished, Teddy. Who is the man?"

"Oh, no matter. A certain party on this car," replied Teddy airily.

"I sincerely hope you will do nothing of the sort, for conditions have changed somewhat on Number Three. Behave yourself, Teddy, and learn all you can. You may be a car manager yourself one of these times, and all this experience will prove useful to you," advised Mr. Sparling.

"Not the kind of experience I have been having; that won't be useful to me," retorted Teddy.

Mr. Sparling and Phil broke out into a hearty laugh, at which Teddy looked very much grieved.

"Have you seen Mr. Snowden?" questioned Phil, glancing keenly at his employer. There was something about the situation that gave the lad a sudden half-formed idea.

"Yes, I have seen him," answered the showman, his face sobering instantly.

"Where is he?"

"He has gone away. I might as well tell you, boys. Mr. Snowden is no longer manager of this car. He is no longer connected with the Sparling Show in any capacity, nor ever will be again," announced Mr. Sparling decisively.

The Circus Boys gazed at him, scarcely able to believe what they had heard.

"Not--not on this car any more?" questioned Phil.

"Never again, young man."

"Hip, hip, hooray!" shouted Teddy Tucker at the top of his voice, hurling his hat up to the roof of the car, and beginning a miniature war dance about the stateroom, until, for the sake of saving the furniture, Phil grabbed his friend, threw him over on the divan and sat down on him.

"Now, Mr. Sparling, having disposed of Teddy, I should like to hear all about it," laughed Phil.

"He is the same old Teddy. I can imagine what a pleasant time Snowden has had with Tucker on board the same car with him. There is little more to say. I have been disappointed in Snowden for sometime. I had about decided to remove him before you joined the car. I wished, however, to send you boys on, knowing full well that you would soon find out whether there was any mistake in my estimate of the man. Then, too, I had other reasons for sending you in the advance."

"Well, sir, now that he has gone, I will say I am heartily glad of it, though I am sincerely sorry for Mr. Snowden. He knew the work; I wish I were half as familiar with it as he is; but I wouldn't have his disposition--no, not for a million dollars."

"I would," piped Teddy, whom Phil had permitted to get up. "I'd be willing to be a raging lion for a million dollars."

"Have you decided what you are going to do with Car Three now?" inquired Phil. "You know I am interested now that I have cast my lot with it."

"Yes; I certainly have decided. Of course the car will go on just the same."

"I understand that, but have you made up your mind who you will appoint as the agent--who will be manager of the car?"

"I have."

"I presume we shall have to get a man before we can go on?"

"Yes."

"Then we shall have to lie here a day, at least. Well, we can busy ourselves. We are slighting a good many of these bigger towns. They are not half-billed."

"I am glad to hear you say that. It shows that you are already a good publicity man. But you will not have to lie here any longer than you wish," added the showman significantly.

"Will you tell me who the new manager is, Mr. Sparling?"

"Yes. You are the manager of Car Three!" was the surprising reply.