Chapter XVIII. The Missing Show Cars
 

The work was completed late that afternoon. The Sparling crowd had got the best of their rivals in the window work as well. Sparling show bills were everywhere.

But Phil was thoughtful. He did not like the methods he was obliged to follow, yet he knew that it was a part of the show business. He had the satisfaction, too, of knowing that he had done nothing unfair. He had got the best of his rivals by perfectly fair methods, and he would pursue no others, no matter how badly he was beaten.

After making a round of the town, during which he had twice passed the scowling manager of the canary car, Phil returned to his own car, as there were frequently matters arising there that needed his attention. He found a telegram awaiting him from Mr. Sparling.

"The greatest work ever done by an advance car. I congratulate you all. Keep it up," was what Phil read.

Phil rubbed his forehead in perplexity.

"Now, how in the world did he find out about this so soon, I wonder?" questioned the boy. As a matter of fact, the manager of the Robinson Show's car, who was a friend of Mr. Sparling, had wired him of the day's doings. It was too good to keep, and then again Mr. Sparling's friend was too delighted at the downfall of Snowden, the man whom he thoroughly disliked, to be at all jealous of Phil's triumph.

Phil went over to the yardmaster to find out what train he would be able to go out on that night.

"We are going to send the whole bunch of you out on number 42," was the reply.

"What time does number 42 leave?"

"Half-past eleven."

"What do you mean by 'the bunch of us'?"

"All you advance car fellows. I have got to do that. That is the only train through tonight. You will have to go on that or wait until tomorrow morning."

"Very well; I do not know as I care whether my rivals go on the same train or not. It would do me no good if I did object."

That night the unusual sight of four advance cars hooked together was presented to those who chanced to be in the railroad yards when number 42 pulled out of the station.

Car Three had been coupled up first, the others being hooked on behind it, with the canary car at the rear.

"I am afraid we shall not cut a very big slice tomorrow, Teddy," said Phil after they had got under way.

"Why not?"

"What, with all those crews working against us? It will be a case of three to one. Of course we shall do as much as any one of them, and perhaps a little more, but we cannot expect any great results."

"Maybe I can think of something," mused Teddy.

"I wish you might."

"What would you say to ditching the other fellows?" asked Teddy innocently.

"Teddy Tucker, I am ashamed of you!" exclaimed Phil.

"Sometimes I am ashamed of myself, I am so easy. If it wasn't for my tender heart, Phil, I would have been a great showman by this time."

"Yes, it really is too bad about your tender heart. I--"

His words were cut short by a jolt that nearly threw the lads from their chairs.

"Collision!" yelled Teddy. "Brace yourself!"

"Don't get excited," laughed Phil. "They have forgotten or neglected to couple the airbrake pipes up. Someday one of these crews will wreck us all. I have talked until I am tired. You see there is air on the front end of this train, but these show cars have not been coupled up with the air pipes of the regular train. It is very bad business. I'll report it when we get in tomorrow."

"Let me. I know how to do it up brown."

"No, I will attend to it myself."

"Say, Phil!"

"Yes?"

"If the air was coupled on and the train broke in two in the middle what would happen?"

"Why it would bring everything up standing. Breaking the air circuit would set the brakes the entire length of the train."

"And if the air was not coupled up, what then?"

"In that event nothing would happen."

"The train wouldn't stop?"

"No."

"H-m-m."

"Why do you ask?"

"For information. What do you suppose I am asking for unless I want to know."

Teddy relapsed into a moody silence.

"Why don't you go to bed?" Teddy asked after awhile, looking up suddenly.

"I guess it would be a good idea," replied Phil. "We shall have to get up rather early in the morning. I will set my alarm for three o'clock. I have an idea some of the rival crews will be up and out about that time. They won't be so easily beaten tomorrow."

"Oh, I don't know," answered Teddy. "Maybe so and maybe not. You can't most always sometimes tell."

"Aren't you going to turn in?" demanded Phil, beginning to undress.

"No, not yet. I am not very sleepy tonight."

"You will be, in the morning, and you will not want to get up," cautioned Phil.

"I will take the chance."

Teddy picked up a book and settled himself to read.

Little conversation passed between them after that, and Phil, tumbling into his berth, was soon asleep.

Teddy eyed him narrowly. He waited until his companion was sleeping soundly; then Teddy got up and strolled out to the rear platform. It was deserted. The trainmen did not come back that far, because the doors of the show cars were kept locked so they could not. Show people do not like strangers about them.

Teddy lay down on the platform, peering down between the cars.

"No, no air is coupled on. They ought to be ashamed of themselves," he muttered. "I guess they must have fixed it up for me on purpose."

Teddy opened the door of Car Three softly, listened, then closed it again. Next he leaned out and looked along the tracks, which he could see fairly well, for the moon was now shining brightly.

"I guess there is no grade here." Stepping across to the platform of the car to the rear of him, the boy partially set the brake until he could feel it grinding on the wheels.

"Now, I think we are all ready," he muttered, as, stepping back to the platform of his own car, he grasped the coupling lever firmly with both hands, giving it a mighty tug.

At first it would not budge. The drawheads of the couplers of the two cars were straining because of the drag of the brake that he had but just set.

Teddy loosened the brake a little, then tried the coupling lever again.

This time it swung over with a bang. The lad lost his balance for an instant, and nearly went overboard.

"My, that was a close shave," he exclaimed, hanging desperately to the platform railing, the wind blowing about him in a perfect gale.

"Hello, I wonder what has become of our friends?" laughed the Circus Boy to himself.

Teddy had uncoupled Car Three from the others in their rear, and the cars of his rivals were dropping behind rapidly. He could see the dim lights in the car nearest to him, but even these were rapidly disappearing. A few minutes later as the train swept around a bend, the rival advertising cars disappeared from sight. Teddy knew that they would stop in a few minutes, and lie there stalled.

Teddy Tucker had done a very serious thing, but in his zeal he thought he had accomplished a great feat. Well satisfied with his efforts the lad entered his own car softly, undressed in the corridor and crept quietly to bed. In a very short time he was snoring, sleeping the sleep of peace and innocence.

Teddy hardly moved again that night, until he was roused out by Phil at three o'clock the next morning.

The lad grumbled sleepily and finally tumbled out rubbing his eyes.

Phil stepped out to the rear platform before dressing, for a breath of the fresh morning air.

"Why, Teddy!" he called through the open door.

"What?"

"The opposition cars are not here. The other train must have carried them on. I wonder if those fellows are stealing a march on us?"

"Is that so?"

"Yes; come out and see for yourself."

Teddy stumbled out to the platform, gazed about sleepily and looked solemn.

"No, not here," he said, turning back into the car.

Phil was worried. He could not imagine exactly what the plans of his rivals might be.

"I will wire on to the next stand as soon as the telegraph office opens, and find out if they are there," he decided.

In the meantime Teddy was taking his time about dressing, while the men of the crew were hurrying into their clothes. Phil did the same, then dropped from the car and walked about the yards, rather expecting to find the cars of his rivals hidden behind freight cars.

They were nowhere in sight.

"Well, it cannot be helped, even if we are beaten into the next stand. This is a small place, but an important one. I cannot afford to skip it, no matter if the other fellows have."

Teddy went about his morning duties as usual, solemn faced and silent, but there was a triumphant gleam in his eyes that Phil Forrest as yet had failed to observe.

Phil was pacing up and down on the platform station, waiting uneasily for the operator to appear. After making ready, the men went off to breakfast, Teddy hanging about the car, busying himself with trifling matters. The car seemed to hold an unusual interest for him that morning.

At six o'clock the livery rigs drove up and the rural route men were soon off for their day's work. Phil started the lithographers and banner men out soon thereafter.

About that time the operator arrived; Phil wrote a message to the liveryman at the next town, inquiring if his rivals had reached there.

The answer came back that nothing had been seen of them. They had not even passed through. The operator at the other end said they were at Salina, where Phil's car was at that moment.

This was a puzzler.

"I am afraid it will take a better railroad man than I am to figure this problem out," mused Phil. "Hey, Teddy!"

"Yep?"

"What do you suppose could have become of those other cars?"

"How should I know?"

"They were on this train last night, when we started, and they have not arrived at the next stand yet. They surely are not here."

"Maybe they got a hot journal and had to stop," suggested Teddy.

"Nonsense! Something has happened to them. However, it is not my business to worry about my rivals. As long as I know they are not ahead of me I shall not disturb myself. It is up to me to improve the opportunity and bill this town from one end to the other," decided Phil, starting off over town.

The work went on at a lively pace, Phil urging his men to greater efforts, momentarily expecting to see the canary and red cars come rolling into town.

But no cars came. The next train from the direction Phil had come was not due until nearly noon, the road being a branch road with little traffic over it.

After a time Phil strolled down to the railroad station.

"Any news?" he asked.

"Yes," answered the operator. "They have found the cars."

"Where?"

"It seems they broke away from the train during the night and lay on the main track until morning. One of the crew walked back ten miles to the next station to ask for an engine to pull them out. They will be here on the next train."

"Funny the train crew did not discover that when they put us on the siding here. I do not quite understand it yet?" Phil walked slowly back to his own car, thinking deeply.