The Circus Boys on the Plains by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter II. Off for New Fields
"Teddy, Teddy, wake up!" commanded Phil, hauling his companion from his berth in the sleeping car.
Teddy scrambled out into the aisle of the car and promptly showed fight.
"Here, what are you doing, waking me up this time of the night?" he demanded.
"I have great news."
"News?" questioned the boy, showing some slight signs of interest in the announcement.
"Yes, news, and good news, too."
"All right, I'm easy. What is it?"
"We are to join the advance."
"Advance of what?"
"The advance of the Sparling Shows, of course," glowed Phil.
Teddy grew thoughtful.
"What, and leave the show?"
"Not for mine!"
"Oh, yes, you will! You know, we wish to learn all we can, and neither of us knows anything about that end of the business. It is a splendid opportunity, and we should be very grateful to Mr. Sparling for giving us the chance. Besides, it will be a very pleasant life. We shall be traveling in a private car, with no responsibilities beyond our work. Will it not be fine?"
"I--I don't know. I shall have to try it first. I decline to commit myself in advance. When do we go?"
"Pshaw! Boss Sparling seems to be in an awful hurry to get rid of us. All right, I'll go. I need a rest, anyway--for my health. I've been working too hard so far this season."
"Too bad about you," scoffed Phil. "We leave from Saginaw as early tomorrow as we can get away. We shall have to get a few things from our dressing-tent trunks, then pack up the things we do not need, sending them on with the show."
"Do I take my donkey?" questioned Teddy, half humorously.
"Your mule? The idea! Now, what would you do with a donkey on an advance car, I should like to know?"
"He might make things interesting for the rest of the crowd."
"I should say he would! But, from what little I know of the advance, you will have plenty to interest you without having an ill-tempered donkey along. Good night, Teddy. This is our last night with the show for a long time to come."
Phil made his way to his own berth, where he promptly went to sleep, putting from his mind until the morrow all thought of what lay before him.
Early the next morning both lads were awake; by the time their section pulled in at Saginaw they had nearly completed the packing of their personal baggage.
The rest was quickly accomplished, after they had eaten their breakfast under the cook tent. All preparations made, a final interview with Mr. Sparling had, and good-byes said, the Circus Boys boarded a train just as the strains of the circus band were borne to their ears.
"The parade is on," said Phil as their train moved out.
"And we are not there to ride in it. We'll have to get up some sort of a parade for Car Number Three, I'm thinking," smiled Teddy.
Late that afternoon the boys reached St. Paul. After considerable searching about they finally found Car Number Three. Mr. Snowden was not on board, so, telling the porter who they were, the lads made themselves comfortable in the office of the car, a roomy compartment, nicely furnished, equipped with two folding berths, a desk, easy chairs and other conveniences.
"This is pretty soft, I'm thinking," decided Teddy.
"It is very nice, if that is what you mean," corrected Phil.
"That's what I mean. Do we live in here?"
"No; I should imagine we are to berth at the other end of the car."
"Let's go look at it."
The other end of the car comprised one long apartment with folding berths and benches for laying out the lithographs. At the far end was a steam boiler, used in making paste with which to post the bills. That compartment had nothing either of elegance or comfort.
"Do the men sleep on those shelves up there?" questioned Teddy of the porter.
"Shelves, sir? Hi calls them berths, sir," answered the porter, who was an Englishman.
"What do you think of our new home, Teddy?" smiled Phil.
"I've seen better," grumbled the Circus Boy. "I think I prefer the stateroom. Where's the boss?"
"He's out just now looking over the work."
Teddy, with a scowl on his face, went outside to take a look at the car from the outside. The car was a bright red, with the name of the Sparling Shows spread over its sides in gilded letters.
"If the inside were half as good-looking as the outside, it would be some car," was Teddy's conclusion, after walking all around the car. "I think I'll go back and join the show."
"Oh, be sensible, Teddy," chided Phil. "We shall be very comfortable after we once get settled. Here comes Mr. Snowden, I think."
Approaching them, the boys saw a thin, nervous-appearing man of perhaps forty-five years of age.
"Are you Mr. Snowden?" asked Phil, politely.
"Yes; what do you want?"
"I am Phil Forrest, and this is my friend, Teddy Tucker. We have come on to join the car."
Mr. Snowden looked the lads over critically.
"Humph!" he said. "Come inside."
Whether or not his survey of them had been satisfactory neither lad knew.
"Now, what are you going to do on this car?" demanded the car manager sharply, when they had seated themselves in his office.
"That is for you to say, sir. We are at your disposal," replied Phil.
"What can you do?"
"We do not know. This is entirely new work for us. We have been performers back with the show, you know."
"Humph! Nice bunch to ring in on an advertising car!" grunted the manager. "Either of you know how to put up paper?"
"I think not."
"What do you mean by paper?" interposed Teddy.
The manager groaned.
"You don't know what paper is?"
"Paper is advertising matter, any kind of show bills that are posted on billboards, barns or any other old place where we get the chance. Everything is paper on an advertising car. Forrest, I think I'll send you out on a country route tomorrow. Know what a country route is?"
"I think so."
"Well, in case you do not, I will tell you. Every day we send out men to post bills through the country. The routes are laid out by the contracting agent long before we get to a town. You go out in a livery rig, and you will have to drive from thirty to forty miles a day. You are an aerial performer, are you not?"
"Then you will be able to climb barns all right. We will call you Car Number Three's barn-climber. We'll see how good a performer you really are. For the first few days I will send you out with one of the billposters; after that you will have to go it alone. If you are no good, back you go. Understand?"
"I think so. I shall do the best I can."
"And what do I do?" demanded Teddy.
The car manager eyed him disapprovingly.
"What do you do?"
"I have a nice gentlemanly job laid out for you. You will operate the steam boiler and make up the paste for the next day. You'll wish you had stayed back with the show before I get through with you."
"And I'll go there, too, if you talk like that to me," retorted Teddy, flushing angrily.
"What's that? What's that?" snapped the manager. "See here, young man, I am in charge of this car. You will do as I tell you, and if you get noisy about it I'll show you how we do things on an advertising car. Get out of here before I throw you out."
"See here, you, I won't be talked to like that. I'll wring your neck for you, some fine day, first thing you know!" bellowed Teddy, now thoroughly aroused.
The manager grabbed the lad by the shoulders and shot him through the screen doors before Teddy had an opportunity to object.
Teddy, red-faced and boiling with rage, was about to project himself into the stateroom again when Phil motioned him to go away. Teddy did so reluctantly.
"Where do we sleep, Mr. Snowden?" inquired Phil, hoping to get the car manager in a more gentle frame of mind by changing the subject.
"Sleep on the roof, sleep in the cellar! I don't care where you sleep! You get out of here, too, unless you want me to throw you out!"
"I think you had better not do that, sir." Phil's voice was cool and pleasant.
"What's that! What's that! You dare to talk back to me. I'll--"
"Wait a moment, Mr. Snowden. We might as well understand each other at the beginning."
The car manager's words seemed to stick in his throat. He gazed at the slender young fellow before him in amazement. Mr. Snowden was unused to having a man in his employ talk back to him, and for the moment it looked as though trouble were brewing in the stateroom of Car Number Three.
"Say it!" he exploded.
"I have very little to say, sir. But what I have to say will be to the point. I am well aware that discipline must be preserved here as well as back with the show. I shall always look up to you as my superior, and treat you in a gentlemanly and respectful manner. I shall hope that you, also, will treat me in a gentlemanly manner as long as I deserve it, at least."
"You--you threaten me, you young cub--you--"
"No; I do not threaten you. I am simply seeking to come to a friendly understanding with you."
"And--and if--if I decide to treat you as I do the rest of my men--what then?" sneered the manager.
"That depends. I can answer that question when I see how you do treat them. From what I have seen, I should imagine they do not lead a very happy existence," continued the Circus Boy with a pleasant smile.
"If I keep you on this car I'll use you as I please, and the quicker you understand that the better. Now, what do you propose to do?"
"I propose," said Phil, still preserving an even tone, "to do my duty and at the same time keep my self-respect. I propose, if you persist in directing insulting language at me, to give you a thrashing that will last you all the rest of the season."
Teddy, who had sat down on a pile of railroad ties beside the tracks, could see and hear all that was going on in the stateroom.
"Soak him, Phil!" howled the boy on the tie pile.
Snowden's eyes blazed and his fingers opened and closed convulsively.
With an angry growl he hurled himself straight at Phil Forrest.