Chapter XXI. In a Perilous Position
 

The story of Phil Forrest's brilliant and perilous dash quickly spread about the town. By six o'clock a great crowd had gathered about the station to get a look at the car and at the Circus Boy who had piloted her.

Phil was hustling about in search of an engine crew from the other road. He wanted his car moved from the main track, before some other train should come along and run into him, thus completing the wrecking that he already had so successfully begun.

In the meantime Teddy placed himself on view, parading up and down, looking wise and pompous. He always was willing to be admired. As soon as the newspaper offices were open he made haste to visit them, and the afternoon papers printed the story of Car Three's great wildcat dash, displaying the account under big, black headlines. The Sparling Shows got a full measure of publicity that day.

Teddy marked and wrapped copies of the papers containing the notice, mailing them back to the show for Mr. Sparling to read. On the margin of one of the papers so sent, Teddy wrote with a lead pencil, "no news today."

What the Circus Boy's idea of news really was it would be difficult to say.

Car Three had a fair field for most of the day. By the time the rivals got in there were few choice locations for billing left in the town.

The manager of the yellow car tried to induce the railroad authorities to proceed against Phil for the boy's action in taking his car over the division without authority. The road, however, refused to accede to the demand, and nothing ever was done about it. Perhaps Mr. Sparling had something to do with this, for telegrams were exchanged that day between the owner of the show and the division superintendent. In the meantime Phil did not trouble himself over the matter. He had too many other things to think of.

The next stand was to be in Oklahoma. Phil hoped that, by the time they reached there, they would be far enough ahead of the rival cars to shake them off entirely.

That afternoon he and Teddy went over town to look over the work. One of the first things to attract Phil's attention was a flag pole towering high above everything else in the city.

"Wouldn't I like to unfurl a Sparling banner from the top of that pole," exclaimed Phil, gazing up at the top. "How high is that pole?" he asked of a man standing near him.

"One hundred feet."

Teddy whistled softly.

"I wonder if I could get the consent of the town authorities to run some advertising matter up there?"

"Couldn't do it, even if you got the permission," answered the man.

"Why not?"

"There is no rope on the pole. It rotted off a year ago."

"That is too bad. I had already set my heart on billing the pole. It can be seen from all parts of the city, can it not?"

"Yes, and a long way out of the city at that."

"Come on, Teddy; let's not look at it. It makes me feel sad to think I cannot possess that pole."

"I wonder if you will ever be satisfied?" grumbled Teddy.

"Not as long as there is a spot on earth large enough for a Sparling one-sheet left uncovered."

"What will you give--what would you give, I mean, to have some banners put on top of the flag pole?"

"I would give fifty dollars and think I had got off very cheaply."

Teddy waxed thoughtful. Several times, that afternoon, he wandered over to the vicinity of the tall flag pole, and, leaning against a building, surveyed it critically.

After the fifth trip of this sort, the Circus Boy hurried back to the car. No one was on board save the porter. Teddy began rummaging about among the cloth banners, littering the floor with all sorts of rubbish in his feverish efforts to get what he wanted.

After considerable trouble he succeeded in laying out a gaudy assortment of banners. These he carefully stitched together until he had a completed flag or banner about fifty feet long.

"See here, Henry, don't you tell anybody what I have been doing, for you don't know."

"No, sir," agreed the porter.

Next Teddy provided himself with a light, strong rope. All his preparations completed, he once more strolled over town, where he joined Phil in watching the work. But he confided to his companion nothing of what he had been doing. Teddy Tucker's face wore its usual innocent expression.

That night, after supper, he called Billy Conley aside and confided to the assistant car manager what he had in mind.

"Forget it!" advised Billy with emphasis.

"I can't. I want to earn that fifty dollars."

"But if you break your neck what good will the fifty do you?"

"If I don't it will do me fifty dollars' worth of good," was the quick reply.

"How do you expect to do it?"

"I'll show you tonight. But we shall have to wait till most of the people are off the streets. You get away about ten o'clock, and don't let either Phil or any of the crew know where you are going. I will meet you on the other side of the station at ten o'clock sharp, provided I can get away from Phil."

"I don't like it, but I guess I am just enough of a good fellow to be willing to help you break your neck. Have you any family that you wish me to notify?"

"No one, unless it is January."

"Who's he?"

"My educated donkey."

"Oh, pshaw!" grumbled Billy.

At the appointed time Teddy made his exit from the car without attracting the attention of any of the crew. Phil was busy over his books, while the men were sitting on piles of paper, relating their experiences on the road.

Earlier in the evening Teddy had secreted his banners in what is known as the cellar, the large boxlike compartment under the car He now hastily gathered up his equipment and hurried to the station platform. Billy was already awaiting him there.

"You better give up this fool idea," warned Billy. "I don't want anything to do with it. You can go alone if you want to, but none of it for mine."

"Billy!"

"Well?"

"If you back down now, do you know what I'll do?"

"What will you do?"

"I'll give you the worst walloping you ever had in your life."

"You can't do it."

Teddy whipped off his coat.

"Come on; I'll show you."

Conley burst out laughing.

"The Boss says you are a hopeless case. I agree with him. Come on. I'll help you to break your neck."

They started off together. When they reached the pole, the pair dodged into a convenient doorway where they waited to make sure that they were not observed.

"I guess it is all right," said Teddy.

"How you going to get up there?"

"I brought a pair of climbers that I found in the car yesterday-- the kind those telephone linemen use to climb telephone poles with. Won't I go up, I guess yes!"

Teddy first strapped the banners over his shoulders, in such a way that they would not impede his progress; then he put on the climbers, Billy watching disapprovingly.

All was ready. With a final glance up and down the street Teddy strode from his hiding place.

He walked up the pole as if he were used to it. In a few minutes the watcher below could barely make him out in the faint moonlight.

"Look out, when you get up higher. The pole may be rotten," called Billy softly.

"All right. I'm up to the splice."

Here Teddy paused to rest, being now about halfway up the pole. Before going higher the Circus Boy prudently wrapped the small rope that he carried twice around the pole, forming a slip-noose. He made the free end fast around his body in case he should lose his footing.

This done, Teddy felt secure from a fall.

He worked his way slowly upward, creeping higher and higher, inch by inch, cautious but not in the least afraid, for Teddy was used to being high in the air.

Now and then he would pause to call down to the anxious Billy.

"Stand under to be ready to catch me if I fall," directed Tucker.

"Not much. You hit ground if you fall," jeered Conley.

Teddy's laugh floated down to him, carefree and happy. The Circus Boy was in his element.

Finally he managed to reach the top, or nearly to the top of the pole without mishap. The slender top of the flag pole swayed back and forth, like the mast of a ship in a rolling sea. It seemed to Teddy as if each roll would be his last.

He felt a slight dizziness, but it passed off quickly. In fact, he was too busy to give much heed to it. With nimble fingers he unpacked his roll of banners; and, in a few minutes, he was securing the long streamer to the pole, which he did by lacing it to the pole with leather thongs, through eyelets that he had sewed in the cloth.

In a few minutes the great banner fluttered to the breeze.

"Hurrah!" cried Teddy exultingly. "We're off!"

As he called out Teddy suddenly felt his footing give way beneath him. He had thrown too much weight on the climbers, and they had lost their grip.