Chapter XV. In an Exciting Race
 

"More trouble," announced Teddy, one morning a few days later, when the boys awoke in Lawrence, Kansas.

"What's the trouble now, Old Calamity?" demanded Phil, who was washing his face and hands.

Contrary to his usual practice, he had not looked from his stateroom window immediately upon getting up. Teddy had, however. His eyes grew a little larger as he did so, but otherwise the sight that met them did not disturb his equanimity in the least.

"The usual."

"What do you mean? Have we run over another man?"

"Worse than that."

"You are getting to be a regular calamity howler."

"I'm a showman, I am. I keep my eyes open and I know what's going on about me. That's more than you can say for some people not more than a million miles away."

"All right; I will take that for granted. But tell me what it is that is disturbing you so early in the morning?" questioned Phil with a short laugh.

"We're all surrounded," answered Teddy grimly.

"Surrounded?"

"Yes."

"I don't understand."

"You will, pretty soon."

"Surrounded by what?"

"Opposition."

"What!"

"What's the matter, can't you hear this morning?"

"I hear very well, but I don't understand what you mean when you say we are surrounded by opposition. It strikes me we have been surrounded by nothing else since we took charge of Car Three."

Teddy nodded.

"Yep, that's right. But this is different. On our left, if you will observe closely, you will notice the canary yellow of Car Three of the so-called Greatest Show on Earth. On your right, if you still keep your eyes open and look hard, you will discover the flaming red of the Wallace advance car. And--"

"What!"

"And, as I was saying, if that fails to make an impression on you, a glance to the rear will discover to your feeble eyesight, one John Robinson's publicity car."

Having delivered himself of this monologue, Teddy calmly sat down and began to draw on his trousers, yawning broadly as he did so.

"Methinks, milord, that trouble is brewing in bucketfuls," he added.

Phil sprang to the car window, threw up the shade and peered out. He stepped to the other side of the car, looking from the window there.

"You're right."

"Of course I am right. I'm always right. How does it happen you did not discover all this after we got in last night!"

"They were not here then. They must have come in afterwards."

Dashing out into the main part of the car Phil called the men.

"Wake up, fellows!"

"What's up," called a voice.

"The yards are full of opposition. Three advertising cars are here besides our own."

No other urging was necessary to get the crew out of bed. They came tumbling from their upper berths like as many firemen upon a sudden alarm. All hands ran to the windows and peered out.

"Sure enough, they are all here," shouted Conley. "I reckon they have caught us napping this time."

"No; they are not awake yet. I hope they sleep as well as Bob Tripp's crew did," answered Phil. "But we have a big job before us today. You had better hustle through your breakfasts, boys. I will call up the livery and get the country routes off at once. Perhaps we can get ahead of the other fellows."

Phil did so, but as his teams drove up another set swung over the tracks, pulling up before the canary car.

"Hustle it! Hustle it!" cried Phil. "You drivers, if you get out ahead of the others and keep ahead, you'll get a bonus when you come in tonight."

Each side was now striving to get away first. The crew from the canary car made the getaway ahead of Phil's men, but they had less than a minute's headway.

The Circus Boys had their coats off and were hustling cans of paste over the side of the car into the wagons. Every move on their part counted. There was not a particle of lost motion.

Phil sprang into the first wagon to leave.

"Come on, fellows! Never mind the horses. I can buy more, if these break their necks."

With a rattle and a bang both rigs smashed over the tracks, and were on their way down the village street, each team on a runaway gallop. Phil's team was gaining gradually.

"Hang on to the cans!" shouted the Circus Boy. "We are coming to a bad crosswalk!"

People paused on the street, not understanding what the mad pace meant. A policeman ran out and raised his stick. Teddy, who had hopped on behind at the last minute, not wishing to lose any of the fun, now stood up unsteadily, hanging to the driver's coat collar and nearly pulling that worthy from his seat.

They overhauled the first wagon from the canary car and passed it.

"Ye--ow!" howled Teddy as their wagon swept by. "This is a Wild West outfit!"

The paste cans in the two wagons were dancing a jig by this time. Teddy suddenly lost his grip on the driver's collar, sitting down heavily on the nearest can. At that moment they struck the rough crossing, whereat Teddy shot up into the air, landing in a heap by the side of the road.

"Whoa!" commanded Phil, at the same time jumping on the can to keep it from following in the wake of Teddy.

"Go on!" howled Teddy, partially righting himself.

The driver urged his horses on and the team sprang away with loud snorts. But the rival wagon had taken a fresh start, and was drawing up on the Sparling outfit, the rear team, with lowered heads, appearing to be running away.

These horses struck the crosswalk with a mighty crash. The rear wheels slewed. The big can of paste was catapulted over a fence, narrowly missing Teddy Tucker's head as it shot over him. He flattened himself on the ground, but was up like a flash, sprinting out of harm's way.

There was reason for his last action. Other things were coming his way. As the wheels of the rival wagon slewed, they struck a gutter.

The wagon turned turtle, and men, paste brushes, paper and all were scattered all over the place.

"Oh, that's too bad!" muttered Phil. "But we can do nothing for them if we stop. There are plenty back there to lend assistance."

His tender heart told him to go back, whether he could be of service to his rival or not, but his duty lay plain before him. He must outdistance the enemy.

A second team came plunging down the road from the canary car, close behind the unfortunate wagon. These horses, too, were instantly mixed in the wreck. The wagon did not turn turtle as the one before it had done, but one of the horses went down.

Now came other wagons of the Sparling outfit. They were running two abreast in the road. But the drivers saw the obstruction in time, slowed down and dodged it. They were off at a tremendous speed, and a few moments later branched off on different roads, quickly disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Phil's wagon crew discovered a farm barn just ahead of them. They drove up to it on a run. All hands piled out. And how they did work! In a few moments the old barn was a blaze of color.

"First blood for the Sparling Combined Shows!" shouted the boy. "Now hit the trail for all you are worth!"

They were off again. A cloud of dust to their rear told them that one of their rival's wagons was after them. At the next stop the pursuing wagon rolled by them, the men yelling derisively.

"It is the Wallace Show's crowd!" shouted Phil. "Get after them."

The Wallace people went on half a mile further. As Phil drew up on them he shouted to his driver to go on to the next stop. When they made it finally, they were passed by the crew from the canary advance car.

It was give and take. Such billing never had been seen along the Kansas highway before. But, up to the present moment, the Sparling crew had much the best of it.

"This won't do, boys; I have got to get back. I have no business here. Keep this right up. Don't lag for an instant. Is there a town near here?"

The driver informed Phil that there was one about a mile ahead of them.

Phil rode on until he reached it. Here he jumped out, taking a bundle of paper with him, ordering his men to drive on. With him he carried a bucket of paste and a brush.

Phil went to work like a seasoned billposter, plastering every old stable and tight board fence in the village. By the time the rival crews drove in there was little space left for them, and such spots as were left were all on back or side streets.

"I guess they will know we have been here," decided Phil. "Now I must find a way to get back to the car."

Inquiring at the post office he learned where he might be able to hire a rig.

Losing not a minute the boy hunted up the man who owned the horse, and, by offering to pay him about twice what the service was worth, got the fellow to take him back.

The journey back to town was executed in almost as good time as that which Phil had made in driving out. The rig rattled into town at a gallop, and Phil was landed on his car again, safe and sound after his exciting rides.

"Did you beat them," cried Teddy, as Phil drove up.

"We did and we didn't. But we have got the start of them on the billing. Were any of the other men hurt?"

"One of the canary bird crowd got a broken arm. The others were pretty well bruised up, but they are still in the ring."

"What is doing in the town?"

"I sent our men out to square the locations. Told them not to put up any paper, but to hustle the squaring."

"Good for you, Teddy! You are a winner. Where did you learn that trick?"

"Oh, it's a little trick I picked up the other day. I'm a professional publicity man, you know."

"Are our opposition friends doing the same thing?"

"I think not. I got the start of them by fully an hour. Worked the same game on them that we did on Tripp the other day. You remember?"

Phil nodded. Indeed, he did remember.

"The men were so excited over the race that they couldn't spend time to attend to business. I got a pretty good bump, but I thought it was a good time to get back in the town and hustle our fellows, seeing that you had hit the long trail. I didn't expect you back before the middle of next week, the rate you were going."

Phil laughed good-naturedly.

"You remain here and watch the car, Teddy. I am going to run over town. Had your breakfast?"

"Say, I forgot all about that. I haven't had a thing."

"Your appetite will keep. I must look around a little. Something may be going on that needs attention from our side."

Phil had reason, a few minutes later, to be thankful that his instinct had prompted him to hurry over town.