Chapter III. Coming to an Understanding
 

"Be careful, Mr. Snowden!" warned the Circus Boy, stepping out of harm's way. "I am not looking for trouble, but I shall defend myself."

"I'll teach you to talk back to me. I'll--"

Just then the car manager stumbled over a chair and went down with a crash, smashing the chair to splinters.

"Mr. Sparling will not tolerate anything of this sort, I am sure," added Phil.

By this time, the manager was once more on his feet. His rage was past all control. With a roar of rage Snowden grabbed up a rung of the broken chair and charged his slender young antagonist.

A faint flush leaped into the face of Phil Forrest. His eyes narrowed a little, but in no other way did he show that his temper was in the least ruffled.

The chair rung was brought down with a vicious sweep, but to Snowden's surprise the weapon failed to reach the head of the smiling Circus Boy.

Then Phil got into action.

Like a flash he leaped forward, and the car manager found his wrists clasped in a vise-like grip.

"Let go of me!" he roared, struggling with all his might to free himself, failing in which he began to kick.

Phil gave the wrists a skillful twist, which brought another howl from Snowden, this time a howl of pain.

"I am not looking for trouble, sir. Will you listen to reason?" urged the lad.

"I'll--I'll--"

Snowden did not finish what he had started to say. Instead he moaned with pain, writhing helplessly in the iron grip of Phil Forrest.

"Do you give up? Have you had enough?"

"No!" gritted the car manager.

The Circus Boy tightened his grip ever so little.

"How about it?"

"Give him an extra twist for me," shouted Teddy.

"I give in! Let go quick! You'll break my wrists!"

"You promise to carry this thing no further if I release you?"

"I said I have had enough," cried Snowden angrily.

"That won't do. Will you agree to let me alone, if I release you now?" persisted Phil.

"Yes, yes! I've had all I want. This joke has gone far enough."

"Joke?"

"Yes."

"You have a queer idea of jokes," smiled Phil, releasing his man and stepping back, but keeping a wary eye on the car manager, as the latter settled back into a chair, rubbing his wrists. They still pained him severely.

"I am sorry if I hurt you, Mr. Snowden. But I had to defend myself in some way. I could have been much more violent, but I did not wish to be unnecessarily so."

"You were rough enough. I've got no use for a fellow who can't take a joke without getting all riled up over it. Get out of here!"

"What are you doing at this end of the car?" snarled the manager to Henry, the English porter, who had been peering into the office, wide-eyed. He had been a witness to the disturbance, but at the manager's command he hastily withdrew to his own end of the car.

"Shall we shake hands and be friends now, Mr. Snowden?" asked Phil.

"Shake hands?"

"Yes, of course."

"No. I'll not shake hands with you. I want nothing further to do with you. Either you get off this car, or I do. We can't both live on it at the same time."

"So far as I am concerned, we can do so easily," answered the Circus Boy.

"I said either you or I would have to get off, and I mean exactly what I said."

The manager wheeled his chair about, facing his desk, and wrote the following telegram:

Mr. James Sparling,

Saginaw, Michigan.

I demand that you call back the two boys who joined my car today. Either they close or I do. They're a couple of young ruffians. If they remain another day I'll not be responsible for what I do to them.

Snowden.

The car manager handed the message to Phil. "Read it," he snapped.

Phil glanced through the message, smiling broadly as he returned it to the manager.

"That certainly is plain and to the point."

"I'm glad you think so. Take that message to the telegraph office, and send it at once."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. Snowden had expected a refusal, but Phil rose obediently and left the car. He took the message to a telegraph office, Teddy accompanying him.

"Why didn't you finish him while you were about it, Phil?" demanded Teddy. "You had him just to rights."

"I did quite enough as it was, Teddy. I am very sorry for what I did, but it had to come."

"It did. If you hadn't done it I should have had to," nodded Teddy rather pompously. "But I shouldn't have let him off as easily as you did. I certainly would have given him a rough-and-tumble."

"It is a bad enough beginning as it is. Now, Teddy, I want you to behave yourself and not stir up any trouble--"

"Stir up trouble? Well, I like that. Who's been stirring up trouble around here, I'd like to know. Answer me that!"

"I accept the rebuke," laughed Phil. "I am the guilty one this time, and I'm heartily ashamed to admit it at that."

"What do you think Mr. Sparling will do?"

"I don't know. I can't help but think he had some purpose in sending us on to join this car, other than that which he told us. However, time will tell. We are in for an unpleasant season, but we must make the best of our opportunity and learn all we can about this end of the business."

"I've learned enough this afternoon to last me for a whole season," answered Teddy grimly.

By the time they returned to the car the men had come in from the country routes, as had the lithographers who had been placing bills in store windows about the town.

"He's at it again," grinned Teddy, as the voice of the manager was heard roaring at the men. Snowden was charging up and down the car venting his wrath on the men, threatening, browbeating, expressing his opinion of all billposters in language more picturesque than elegant. Not a man replied to his tirade.

"Evidently they are used to that sort of treatment," nodded Phil. "Well it doesn't go with me at all. Come on; let's go in and see what it's all about."