Chapter XII. Facing an Emergency
 

"Well, this is what I call pretty soft," chuckled Teddy Tucker.

Car Three was under motion again, bowling along for the next stand, fifty miles away. The lads were sitting in their cosy office, Teddy lounging back on the divan, Phil in an easy chair at the roll-top desk. The lights shed a soft glow over the room; the bell rope above their heads swayed, tapping its rings with the regularity of the tick of a watch.

"Who sleeps upstairs, you or I?" asked Teddy.

"I will, if you prefer the lower berth."

"I do. It has springs under it."

"You will wish it had no springs, one of these nights, when you get bounced out of bed to the floor. Do you know that Pullman cars have no springs?"

"No; is that so?"

"That is the fact."

"Why?"

"Because, on rough or crooked roads, most of the passengers would be sleeping in the aisle. All hands would be bounced out. You are welcome to the lower berth."

"Shall we turn in and try them?"

"No; I am going to wait until we get to our destination. I want to see that the car is properly placed, in view of the fact that this is our first night in charge. I want to know how everything is handled by the railroad. You may go to bed if you wish."

"No; I guess I will sit up. I have a book to read. This is too fine to spoil by going to bed. I could sit up all night looking at the place. Why, this is just like being on a private car, isn't it?"

"It is a private car."

There were delays along the route to the next stand, and the car was laid over for more than an hour at a junction point, so that it was well past midnight when they reached their destination.

Phil and Teddy both went outside when the train entered the yards, Tucker hopping off as they swung into the station.

"Where are you going?" called Phil.

"Going to see if I can find anything that looks like food," answered Teddy, strolling away. "My stomach must have attention. It's been hours since it had any material to work with. Will you come along?"

"No; I am going to bed as soon as we get placed."

"Bad habit to go to bed on an empty stomach," called back the irrepressible Teddy.

The train that had drawn them uncoupled and started away; in a few moments a switching engine backed down, hooked to the show car and tore back and forth through the yards, finally placing the car at the far side of the yard behind a long row of freight cars.

All the men on board were asleep, and now that the car would not be disturbed before morning, Phil entered his stateroom and went to bed.

He had not been asleep long when he felt himself being violently shaken. A hand, an insistent hand, was on his shoulder.

"Phil, wake up! Wake up!"

The boy was out of bed instantly.

"What is it? Oh, that you, Teddy? What did you wake me up for?"

"You'll be glad I did wake you when you hear what I have to say."

"Then hurry up and say it. I am so sleepy I can scarcely keep my eyes open. What time is it?"

"Half-past one."

"Goodness, and we have to get up before five o'clock! What is it you wanted to tell me? Nothing is wrong, I hope."

"I don't know. But there is something doing."

"Well, well, what is it?"

"I think there is another show car in the yards."

"A show car?"

"Yes."

"You don't say!"

"I do say."

"Who's car is it?"

"I didn't wait to look. I saw the engine shift it in."

"Where is it?"

"Way over the other side of the station, on the last track."

Phil sprang for his trousers, getting into them in short order, while Teddy looked on inquiringly.

"Anybody would think you were a fireman the way you tear into those pants. What's your rush?"

"Rush? Teddy Tucker, we have business on hand."

"Business?"

"Yes, business. It's mighty lucky for us that your appetite called you out. I shall never go to sleep again without knowing who is in the yard, and where. Come and show me where they are."

"I'm sorry I told you."

"And I am mighty thankful. You see, something told me to leave that last town and hurry on."

"Something tells me to go to bed," growled Teddy.

"You come along with me, and be quiet. Was the car dark?"

"I guess so."

The boys hurried from Car Three; that is, Phil did, Teddy lagging behind.

"Over that way," he directed.

Phil crawled under a freight car to take a short cut, and ran lightly across the railroad yards. The boys passed the station; then, crossing several switches, they beheld a big, yellow car looming up faintly under the lights of the station.

"It is an advertising car," breathed Phil. "I wonder whose it can be?"

"You can search me," grumbled Teddy. "Guess I'll go back to bed now."

"You wait until I tell you to go back," commanded Phil. "Keep quiet, now."

The Circus Boy crept up to the car with great caution. The light was so faint, however, that he was obliged to go close to it before he could read the letters on the side of it. Even then he had to take the letters one by one and follow along until he had read the length of the line.

"Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth," was what Phil Forrest read, and on the end of the car a big figure "4."

"Car Four," he muttered. "Here's trouble right from the start. I am right in the thick of it from the word go."

Phil walked back to where Teddy was awaiting him.

"Find out whose car it is?"

"Yes; Barnum & Bailey."

"Humph! Let's go back to bed."

"There will be no bed for us tonight, I fear. Wait; let me think."

Phil walked over and sat down on a truck on the station platform, where he pondered deeply and rapidly.

"All right; I have it figured out. We have our work cut out for us. You wait here while I run back to the car."

Teddy curled up on the truck, promptly going to sleep, while Phil hurried to the car to get the address of the liveryman who had the contract for running the country routes for the show.

The lad came running back, and, darting into the station, found a telephone. After some delay he succeeded in reaching the livery stable.

"This is Car Three of the Sparling Shows," he said. "Yes, Car Three. I want those teams at our car at two o'clock this morning. Not a minute later. Can't do it? You've got to do it! Do you hear what I say? I want those teams there at two o'clock. Very well; see that you do!"

Out to the platform darted Phil in search of Teddy. The latter was snoring industriously.

Phil grabbed him by the collar and slammed him down on the platform.

"Ouch!" howled Teddy.

"Get up, you sleepy-head!"

"I'll friz you for that!" declared Tucker, squaring off pugnaciously.

"Don't be silly, Teddy. This is the first emergency we have had to face. Don't let's act like a couple of children. We must beat the opposition, and I'm going to beat them out, no matter what the cost or the effort. Listen! I want you to go to the contract livery stable. Here is the address. Go as fast as your legs will carry you."

"What, at this time of night?"

"Yes."

"Not I!"

"You go, or you close right here, young man. Come now, Teddy, old chap, remember the responsibility of this car rests on your shoulders almost as much as on mine. Let's not have any hanging back on your part."

"I'm not hanging back. What is it you want me to do? I'm ready for anything."

"That's the talk. Hustle to the livery stable and camp right on the trail. See that those teams are here at two o'clock, or by a quarter after two, at the latest. Have the men drive up quietly, and you show them the way. Don't you go to sleep at the stable. Now, foot it!"

Teddy was off at a dogtrot. His pride was aroused.

"I guess we'll clean 'em up!" he growled as he hurried along.

In the meantime, Phil hastened into the station and ran to the lunch room. It was closed.

"Pshaw!" he muttered.

Phil now turned toward town on a brisk run. After searching about, he found an all-night eating place that looked as if it might be clean.

"Put me up ten breakfasts. I have some men that I want to give an early start. They haven't time to come here. Wrap up the best breakfasts you can get together. Put in a jug of coffee and a jug of milk. I will call for the food inside of half an hour. Don't delay a minute longer than that. Hustle it!"

Phil darted out and back to the car. Every nerve in his body was centered on the work in hand. He ran to Conley's berth and shook him.

"What is it?" mumbled Billy sleepily.

"Get up and come into the stateroom. There is business on hand."

Billy hopped out of bed, wide awake instantly, and ran to the stateroom.

Phil briefly explained the situation and what he had planned to do. After he had finished Billy eyed him approvingly.

"You're a wonder," he said. "What about breakfast?"

"I am having some prepared at a restaurant. But the men will not have time to eat it. They may take it with them and eat it on the road."

"I'll rout out the crew," returned Billy, hurrying back into the car.

There was much grumbling and grunting, but as soon as the men were thoroughly awake they were enthusiastic. Not a man of them but that wanted to see this bright-faced, clean-cut young car manager beat out his adversaries.

By the time the men had washed and dressed the rigs began to arrive. These were quickly loaded with brushes, paste cans and paper, all with scarcely a sound, the men speaking in subdued tones by Phil's direction.

The darkness before the dawn was over everything.

At last all was in readiness.

Phil handed each man his route.

"Now, boys, it is up to you. I look to you to put the Greatest out of business, for one day at least. You should be out of town and on the first daub inside of thirty minutes. I will go with you and pick up the breakfasts; then you will go it alone. Don't leave a piece of board as big as a postage stamp uncovered. Wherever you strike a farmer, make him sign a brief agreement not to let anyone cover our paper. Pay him something in addition to the tickets you give him. Here is an agreement that you can copy from. Make your route as quickly as you can and do it well; then hurry back here. I may need you."

"Hooray!" muttered Rosie the Pig.

"Hold your tongue!" commanded Billy, "Think this is a Fourth of July celebration?"

"Go ahead!"

Phil hopped into one of the wagons, and off they started. It was but the work of a few minutes to load the packages of breakfast into the wagons, after which the men drove quickly away. Phil paid the bill. But he was not yet through with his early morning work. He made his way to the livery stable.

"Send another rig over to the car at once. I want you to bring the day's work of lithographs and banners here, and my men will work them out from your stables. I do not want the opposition car to know what we are doing until it is nearly all done."

"Whew, but you're a whirlwind!" grinned the livery stable man.

The horse and wagon were made ready at once, Phil riding back to the car with it. The banner-men and lithographers who were to work in town had not been awakened. Phil wished them to get all the sleep possible; so, with Teddy's help, he loaded the paper on the wagon and sent the driver away with it. Then he awakened the rest of the men.

Phil briefly explained what had happened.

"Now, I want all hands to turn out at once. Go to the restaurant on the third street above here and get your breakfasts. Here is the money. By daylight some of the business places will begin to open. I want every man of you to spend the forenoon squaring every place in town. Make an agreement that no other show is to be allowed to place a bill in their windows. While you are eating your breakfasts I will lay out the streets and assign you. I have the principal part of the town in my mind, now, so I can give you the most of your routes. Teddy, you will turn in and help square. I will collect the addresses of the places you have squared, early in the morning, and by that time I shall have a squad of town fellows hired, to place the stuff. Now, get going!"

All hands hurried into their clothes; after locking the car, Phil led them to the restaurant. But the Circus Boy did not take the time to eat. Instead he busied himself laying out the routes for the town men to work.

By the time that they had finished their breakfast faint streaks of dawn were appearing in the east.

"Now, boys, do your prettiest!" urged Phil.

"We will; don't you worry, Boss."

The men hurried off, full of enthusiasm for the work before them, while Phil started out to round up a squad of men to distribute the lithographs after his own men had squared the places to put them.

In an hour he had all the men he wanted. This done, Phil took his way slowly back to the railroad yards and stepped up to the platform of his own car. The freight cars had been removed from in front of him and the rival car stood out gaudily in the morning light. All was quiet in the camp of the rival. Not a man of its crew was awake.

"I hope they sleep all day," muttered Phil, entering his own car and pulling all the shades down, after which he took his position at a window and watched from behind a shade.