Chapter XIX. Phil's Daring Plan
 

Teddy was sitting on the platform of Car Three narrowly watching Phil as he approached.

"Anything doing?" he asked.

"Yes."

"What is it--have you heard from the opposition?"

"Yes. It seems their cars broke away from us during the night, and lay all night on the main track miles from anywhere."

"You don't say!" exclaimed Teddy, in well feigned surprise.

"That is what happened. We are in luck this morning, Teddy Tucker. I suppose I should be sorry for our rivals. But it is the chance of war. We all have to take them in the show business."

"We do," answered Teddy sagely. "At least the other fellow does. When are they coming in?"

"About noon, I understand. I should think someone would lose his job for that piece of carelessness. If it were my car that had been laid out there would be trouble; I can assure you of that."

"Yes; I wouldn't stand for a mean trick like that myself."

Phil stroked his chin and surveyed Teddy thoughtfully. Light was beginning to dawn upon him. All at once he recalled his companion's questions about the air brake pipes the night before.

He fixed his gaze upon Teddy Tucker's scowling face.

"Young man, do you know anything about those cars breaking away?" demanded Phil sternly.

"I understand they broke away--don't you know that the train broke in two?"

"Yes," answered Phil dryly; "I have heard something to that effect."

Phil stepped over to examine the coupling of his own car, Teddy watching him furtively.

"What I want to know is how it happened," continued Phil.

"Why don't you ask the train crew? They ought to know."

"I'll ask you instead. You uncoupled those cars, didn't you?"

Teddy nodded slowly, his eyes on the ground.

"Is it possible that you did a thing like that?"

Teddy nodded again, demanding sullenly:

"Well, we beat 'em, didn't we?"

"Yes; but do you know what would happen, were it known what you have done?"

"I'm easy. What would happen?" Teddy was rapidly assuming a belligerent attitude.

"You would be arrested, and nothing could keep you from state's prison, Teddy Tucker."

"Oh, fudge!"

"You may scoff all you will. It is the truth, nevertheless. I should not be surprised if there were an investigation over this affair--"

"And you'll go tell all you know, won't you?"

"Not unless I am put under oath. If I am, and am asked, I shall have to tell the truth. I ought to sail in and give you a good thrashing here and now."

"You can't do it!"

"Perhaps not, but I could try." A smile struggled to dissipate the clouds on Phil's face. "Listen to me! Do you know that you might have imperilled a great many lives by that foolish act of yours"

"No. How?"

"In the first place, being cut loose from our train as they were, they might have continued on, provided we were on a down or up grade and--"

"We weren't. I looked to see," interjected Teddy.

"Oh, then you admit the charge. I am glad that you have confessed."

"I haven't confessed!" shouted Teddy, his face growing very red.

"If you said that on trial it would be jail for you for some years to come. To return to the subject under discussion, all the men were asleep in those cars, or at least they were supposed to be. Had there been another train over the road, last night, the chances are that it would have run into those show cars and killed every man in them, besides wrecking the train itself and killing a lot more people. I am willing to take long chances in the line of duty, but I should hope I never would commit a crime in so doing. Let this be a warning to you, Teddy Tucker. Never do a thing like this again. We will beat our rivals by all fair means and we will stop there."

Phil paused, eyeing his companion sternly.

Teddy glanced up inquiringly.

"Is the sermon over?" he asked.

"I have no more advice to offer at the present moment. I hope for your sake that the inquiry in this matter will not extend to us. If it does, I feel sorry for you."

An inquiry did follow. It was stirred up most thoroughly by the manager of the canary colored car. But, fortunately for Teddy Tucker, no suspicion of the truth ever dawned upon the rival manager, and the railroad got out of the scrape by disciplining the train crew that had lost the three cars without knowing it. However, the lesson was a wholesome one for Teddy, even though he would not admit the fact. The lesson lasted him pretty nearly all the rest of the season.

The three rival cars came rolling into the yards early in the afternoon of that day. All hands were angry and ready for trouble. Phil passed the time of day pleasantly with his opponent of the previous day, but the manager of the yellow car did not deign to make any reply to his greeting.

The hour was late before he was able to start his men out, and by that time Phil's crew had pretty well covered the town and the surrounding country, though the posters of the latter territory had very long drives, and were not expected to return until very long after dark.

Phil chafed under this, fearing that he would be obliged to miss the last train out that night, which would again put him on the same train with his rivals next day.

One of his men would have a thirty-five-mile drive back after he had finished his day's work. That would bring the man "home," as the return to the car is called, long after midnight in all probability.

Inquiry at the station and a wire to the division superintendent failed to get a special engine to haul Car Three out that night. But in his talk with the station agent Phil learned something that set him thinking. He pondered over the information he had obtained, for sometime.

"I believe I can do it," he muttered. "Talk about Teddy taking long chances, I am going to try to take some chances tonight that are far more dangerous. But I must do something."

Phil had seen a section gang go out in the morning. They had not come in yet, so the Circus Boy strolled over toward the station shortly after six o'clock waiting for the section gang to return.

They did not come in until after seven o'clock.

As the men were going by the station, having put their handcar away, Phil motioned to the foreman of the gang, a bright faced Irishman.

"How are you?" greeted Phil smilingly.

The foreman waved a hand, at which Phil beckoned the man to come to him.

"Are there any more trains over this division tonight?"

"Only number forty-two going west."

"She is due shortly after midnight, is she not?"

"Yes."

"Do you like to go to the circus, Pat?"

"I do."

"Have you a family?"

"I have."

"Will you do me a favor if I give you tickets to the show for yourself and family?"

"That I will. What show is yours?"

"The Sparling Combined Shows."

"That your car over there?"

"Yes--Car Three."

"You run it?"

"I do."

"Pretty young fellow to handle a car like that, aren't you?"

"I guess you are right. However, I am running it just the same."

"What is it you want me to do?"

"In the first place I want you to keep a close mouth. I do not want you to speak to a human being about my plans. There are some fellows that would like to know them. They must not."

The foreman grinned understandingly.

"I'm your man."

"I knew you were. You have a switch key of course?"

"Sure."

"Then I want you to bring your switch key here at half-past two o'clock tomorrow morning. You have crowbars in the tool house, have you not?"

"Yes."

"Bring two of them with you."

"What are you going to do?"

"Never mind now. I'll tell you when you come around in the morning. Do you think you can wake up in time?"

"Sure, I can."

"You may sleep on my car if you wish."

"No; I have a bunk in the tool house. I will come back and sleep there after supper."

"Excellent. Do you want an alarm clock?"

"No; I have one in the shanty. I often sleep there when I expect a call to go out on the road during the night."

"I am right, am I not, in my understanding that unless I get away on forty-two I shall not be able to leave here before noon tomorrow?"

"That's right. You are not going on forty-two, then?"

"I think not."

"The other fellows going on forty-two?"

"No; they will not be through billing here before sometime tomorrow."

The foreman grinned.

"I smell a rat," he said.

"Don't. It might not be healthful for you if you were to be too wise. Be on time and say nothing. How far is it to the next town?"

"Nigh onto twenty-five miles."

"All right. That's all. I will have your tickets ready for you when you come on in the morning. Good night, if I don't see you again until then."

All hands save Phil and Teddy went to bed early that night and the car was soon dark and silent. The late man from the country route did not get in until half-past one o'clock in the morning. He unloaded as quietly as possible, not knowing what plans of the manager he might disturb were he to make his presence known.

By this time every man of the crew was well aware that their young manager seldom was without some shrewd plan for outwitting his competitors, but these plans he ordinarily kept well to himself until he was ready to carry them out.

Phil busied himself during the night in posting his books, making out the payroll for the car, and writing the report sheet for the owner of the show.

Right on the minute at the appointed hour there came a light tap on the car window. Phil stepped out to the platform.

"I am ready, sir." It was the section foreman.

"Come inside," said Phil. "Do not make any noise, for the men are all asleep. I will awaken two of them soon, but I do not want those other car men to get awake, not for any price."

"Now, what is it you want to do?"

"You are sure there will be no more trains over this road in either direction tonight?" asked Phil.

"Not a train."

"That's good. Now I will tell you what I want you to do. I want you to open that switch to let us out on the main track."

The foreman opened his eyes.

"But how are you going to get out there?"

"I'll show you after you get the switch open. There is no grade up or down between here and the other side of the station, is there?"

"No; dead flat till you get ten rods beyond the station, then she drops."

Phil nodded thoughtfully.

"Get the crowbars while I call a couple of the men."

The Circus Boy went inside and gently awakened Billy Conley and Rosie, telling them to dress and report to the office at once.

The men made no protest. They knew their young manager was planning some new ruse by which to outwit his rivals. When they heard his plan they opened their eyes in wonder.

"Come on, now, and not a word nor a sound out of you, fellows!" commanded Phil.

Once outside, Phil threw off the brakes and then the foreman of the section gang brought his knowledge to bear on the situation. He directed the men to get their crowbars under the rear wheels of the coach. After several attempts they succeeded in prying the car ahead a few inches. After repeated efforts they got the car moving slowly.

Now the foreman took a third crowbar; jumping from one side to the other he relieved the men until the car was making very fair progress under its human power.

Teddy had been standing on the platform, rubbing his palms in high glee.

"Going to push her all the way to Marion like this?" he demanded.

"You keep still up there unless you are looking for trouble," warned Phil. "Get off the platform. Think we want to drag you along, too?"

Teddy hopped down, thrust his hands in his trousers pockets, and watched the operation of moving the heavy car.

It was slow work, but inch by inch Number Three crept nearer to the station.

"Let me know when we get right on the grade, so I can slap on the brakes," ordered Phil.

"I'll let you know. You'll know without my telling you, I reckon."

At last the car was at the desired point. Phil sprang to the platform and set the brakes, while the section man ran back and closed the switch.

"Here are your tickets," said Phil when the man returned. "And thank you very much."

"You're welcome, but don't you let on that I have helped you out. I will sure lose my job if you do."

"You need not worry. I do not forget a favor so easily as that."

"You better wait till daylight before you start," advised the foreman.

"Yes, I am going to. I do not want to take any more chances than I have to. There are enough as it is."

"Anything more I can do for you, sir?"

"No, thank you."

"Then, good night."

"Good night," answered Phil.

Teddy did not yet fully understand what his companion's plan might be. Billy, on the contrary, understood it fully.

"You beat anything I ever came across," Conley remarked in Phil's car as the two were standing at the side of the track in front of Number Three.

"Wait! Don't throw any flowers at me too soon. We have not done it yet. I understand there is a short up-grade about seven miles below here. If we get stalled on that we will be in a fine fix and likely to get smashed into ourselves. It looks to me like a storm. What do you think?"

"I think yes--thunderstorm. I saw the lightning a moment ago." "Good! I hope it storms. It will be a good cover to get away under."

"Slippery rails will be bad for our business, though," warned Billy.

"We shall have to take the chance."

They had not long to wait after that. Day soon dawned but the skies were dark and forbidding. As soon as it was light enough to see well, Phil began to make preparations for his unique trip.

"Now what are you going to do?" demanded Teddy.

"My dear boy, we are going to try to coast all the way to Marion. We may land in the ditch or we may get stalled, but I am not going to lie here and waste nearly a day. Let the other fellows spend the time here if they wish. I reckon they will be surprised in the morning, when they wake up and find Car Three has dropped off the map."

Teddy uttered a long whistle of surprise.

"Don't you ever find fault with me again for doing a trick like I played."

"What trick was that?" questioned Billy.

"Never mind. That's my secret. It isn't any of your affair," grumbled Teddy.

"Teddy, you get on the back platform. Keep your hand on the brake wheel every second of the time. Keep your ears open. When I jerk once sharply on the bell rope set the brakes tight. If I jerk it twice, just apply them a little to steady the car."

"Pull the bell rope? Huh! There isn't any bell."

"I know that, but you can hear the rope slap the top of the platform roof when I pull it. Now, get back there. Don't call out to me, but attend to your business. I'll pull the cord when I am ready for you to release the brake. We must get away from here in a hurry."

Teddy hopped from the platform and ran to the rear, where he awaited the signal.

Phil's plan was a daring one. For twenty-five miles the road fell away at a sharp downgrade of sixty feet to the mile and in some places even greater. In one spot, as has already been stated, there was a sharp up-grade for a short distance.

It was Phil's purpose to coast the twenty-five miles in order to reach the next stand in time for the day's work. It was a risky undertaking. Besides the danger of a possible collision with an extra sent over the road, there was the added danger of the car getting beyond their control and toppling over into a ditch.

The Circus Boy had weighed all these chances well before starting on his undertaking.

"I guess we will be moving now," he said, giving the bell cord a pull, then throwing off the brake, Teddy performing the same service at the other end of the car.

Car Number Three did not start at once.

Phil and Billy jumped up and down on the platform in excitement.

"She's moving," exulted Phil. "We're off."

A faint "yee--ow!" from the rear platform was evidence that Teddy Tucker also had discovered this fact.

"That boy!" grumbled Phil.

At first the show car moved slowly; then little by little it began to gather headway. Rattling over switches, past lines of box cars, on past rows of houses that backed up against the railroad's right of way, they rumbled. A few moments later Car Three shot out into the open country at a lively rate of speed.