Chapter IV. Introduced to the Crew
 

"And the next man who puts up only two hundred sheets in a day gets off this car!" concluded Snowden with a wave of the hand that took in every man in the car. "Get in your reports, and get them in quick, or I'll fire the whole bunch of you now!" he roared, turning and striding to his office, where he jerked the sliding door shut with a bang that shook the car.

"Well, the boss has 'em bad tonight, for sure," exclaimed Billy Conley who bore the title of assistant car manager, but who was no more manager than was Henry, the English porter.

"Hello, who are you?" demanded one of the men, as Phil and Teddy stepped in through the rear door of the coach.

"Good evening, boys," greeted Phil easily.

All eyes were turned on the newcomers.

"Howdy, fellows," said Teddy good-naturedly. "Fine, large evening."

Everybody laughed.

"Are you the boys who joined out today, from back with the show?" asked Conley.

"Yes. Let me introduce myself. I am Phil Forrest and this, my companion, is Teddy Tucker. We're green as grass, and we shall have to impose upon your good nature to set us straight."

The Circus Boys had won the good opinion of the men of Car Three at the outset.

"That's the talk," agreed Billy. "Line up here and I'll introduce you to the bunch. The skinny fellow over there by the boiler is Chief Rain-in-the-Face. The one next to him is Slivers. The freakish looking gentleman standing at my right is Krao, the Missing Link. On my left is Baby Egawa--"

"Otherwise known as Rosie the Pig," added a voice.

"Everybody on an advance car has a nickname, you know. You'll forget your real names, if you stay on an advance car long enough. I couldn't remember mine if I didn't get a letter occasionally to remind me of it, and sometimes I almost feel as if I was opening another fellow's letters when I open my own."

"Glad to know you, boys," smiled Phil. "Do you know where we are to sleep?"

"See that pile of paper up there?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's that or the floor for yours. All the rest of the berths are occupied, unless the Boss is going to let you sleep in the office with him."

"I rather think he will not invite us. He seems to be in a huff about something tonight," answered Phil dryly, at which there was a loud laugh.

"What's this Johnnie Bull tells me about a roughhouse in the office this afternoon?" demanded Conley suddenly.

"I would rather not talk about that," replied Phil, coloring.

"Come here, you Englishman, and tell us all about it. Our friend is too modest."

The porter did not respond quickly enough to suit the men so they pounced upon him and tossed him to the top of a pile of paper.

"Now, talk up, or its the paste can for yours," they demanded.

Henry rather haltingly described what he had seen in the stateroom that afternoon, describing in detail how Phil had worsted the manager of the car.

When the recital had been concluded, all hands turned and surveyed Phil curiously.

"Well, who would have thought it?" wondered Rosie, in an awed voice.

Krao, the Missing Link, and Baby Egawa sidled up to Phil and gingerly felt his arm muscles.

"Woof!" exclaimed the Baby. "Bad medicine! Heap big muscle!"

"That's so. I had forgotten you boys were performers back with the show," nodded Billy. "What are you up here for--learning this end of the business?"

"Yes; that is what we are here for," answered Phil. "Mr. Sparling wished us to do so."

"You have come to a good place to learn it," emphasized Conley. "But you'll have to fight your way through. You have done a mighty good job in downing the Boss, but look out for him. He'll never forget it. If he doesn't get you fired, he will get even with you in some other way."

Phil laughed.

"I'll do my duty. But I am not afraid of him. Are all car managers like Mr. Snowden?"

"Most of them. Some better, some worse. They think they are not doing their duty, earning their meal-tickets, unless they are Roaring Jakes. But Snowden is the worst ever. He has the meanest disposition of any man I ever knew. This is his first season on Number Three, and I shouldn't be surprised if it were his last. I hear Boss Sparling doesn't take to him. Know anything about that?"

Phil shook his head.

"Why do you let him treat you as he does?"

"Let him? Well, I'll tell you confidentially. Most of us have families to support. Some of us have wives; others mothers and sisters to look after. It's put up with the roast or get out. And let me tell you, the Boss isn't slow about closing out a fellow he doesn't like. He'll fire you at the drop of the hat."

"I'm hungry; where do we eat?" interrupted Teddy.

"Eat?"

"Sure! Don't you fellows in advance eat?"

"Well, we go through the motions. That's about all I can say for it. This living at contract hotels isn't eating; it isn't even feeding. You folks back with the show don't have to put up with contract hotels; you eat under the cook tent and you get real food."

"What's a contract hotel?" asked Teddy.

Phil looked at his companion in disgust.

"Teddy Tucker, haven't you been in the show business long enough to know what a contract hotel is?"

Teddy shook his head.

"I'll tell you, I'll explain what a contract hotel is," said Billy. "The contracting agent goes over the route in the spring and makes the arrangements for the show. He engages the livery rigs to take the men out on the country routes, and when he gets through with the livery stable business he hunts up all the almost food places in town until he finds one that will feed the advance car men for five or ten cents a meal. Then he signs a contract and goes off to a real hotel for his own meal. Oh, no, Mr. Contracting Agent doesn't get his meals there. Well, we're booked to eat at one of those almost food places in every town we make. And some of them are not even 'almost.' We are going to one of the kind now. Want to come along?"

"Sure," replied Teddy.

"You won't be so anxious after you have had a week or so of them."

All hands started for the hotel.

"What about your reports? I thought Mr. Snowden told you to get them in at once," asked Phil after they had left the car.

"Let him wait," growled Billy.

"But he will raise a row when you get back, will he not?"

"He'll roar anyway, so what's the odds? We're used to that."

"A queer business, this advance car work," said Phil thoughtfully. "I never had any idea that it was like this. If ever I own or run a show it will be different--I mean the advance cars will be run on a different principle from this one."

"I hope you do, and that I am working for you," grinned Conley. "Here we are."

Billy's description of a contract hotel Phil decided had not been overdrawn. All hands filed into the dining room, and Phil had lost most of his appetite before reaching his chair.

A waiter who looked as if he might have been a prizefighter at one time shambled up to them with a soiled napkin thrown over one arm. As it chanced, he approached Teddy first.

"Bean soup! What'll you have," he demanded with a suddenness that startled the Circus Boy.

Teddy surveyed the waiter with large eyes, then permitted his gaze to wander about the table to the faces of the grinning billposters.

"Bean soup. What'll I have?" reflected the lad soberly. "Now isn't it funny that I can't think what kind of soup I want. Bean soup; what'll I have?"

The waiter shifted his weight to the other foot, flopped the napkin to the other arm and stuck out his chin belligerently.

"Bean soup! What'll you have?" he demanded, with a rising inflection in his voice.

"Let me think. Why, I guess I'll take bean soup if it's all the same to you," decided Tucker, solemn as an owl.

The billposters broke out into a roar of laughter. They fairly howled with delight at Teddy's droll manner, but the Circus Boy did not even smile. He looked at them with a hurt expression in his eyes until the men were on the point of apologizing to him.

They did not know young Tucker.

The rest of the meal passed off without incident.

"Well, what did you think of the contract hotel?" questioned Conley, as they were strolling back to the car.

"I think I shall starve to death in a week, if I have to eat in that sort of a place," answered Teddy. "Why didn't the contracting agent sign us up with a livery stable? I'd a sight rather feed there than at a contract hotel if they are all like this."

"Yes, the food is at least clean in a livery stable," laughed Phil. "But we shall get along all right. If we get too hungry we can go out and buy our own meals now and then. Do you ever do that, Mr. Conley?"

"I should say we do. We have to, or we shouldn't have any stomachs left. Now, you want to know something about this car work, don't you?"

"I should like to very much, if you can spare the time to tell me about it."

"Wait till I get my report made out, then we'll have a nice long talk, and I will tell you all about it."

"There is Mr. Snowden waiting for you."

"Never mind him. His bite isn't half so bad as his bark."

The men piled into the car, whereupon Manager Snowden unloosed the vials of his wrath because their reports were not in. To his tirade no one gave the slightest heed. The men went methodically to work, writing out their reports to which they signed their names, folded the papers, and tossed them on the manager's desk without a word of explanation.

For a few moments there was silence in the office while the manager was going over the reports. All at once there was a roar.

"Pig! Come here!"

Rosie got down from the pile of paper on which he had been sitting, taking his time about doing so, and, wearing a broad grin, strolled to the office at the other end of the car.

"What's the trouble now?" demanded Rosie.

"Trouble? Trouble? That's the word. It's trouble all the time. Where are your brains?"

"In my head, I suppose," grinned Rosie.

"No!" thundered the manager. "They're in your feet. All you know how to do is to kick. You're a woodenhead; you're no good."

Rosie accepted the tirade with a quiet smile.

"If you will tell me what it is all about I may be able to explain."

"Look at those billboard tickets!"

"What's the matter with them?"

"Matter? Matter?"

"Yes, that's what I asked."

"They're torn off crooked."

"Well, what of that?"

"What of that? Why, you woodenhead, when those tickets are presented at the door when the show comes around, the ticket takers won't accept them. Then there will be a howl that you can hear all across the state of Minnesota. How many times have I told you to be careful?"

"The tickets are all right," growled Rosie, now a little nettled.

"What! What! You dare contradict me? I'll fire you Saturday night! I'd fire you now only I am short of money. Get out of here! Come back!"

Rosie turned dutifully, but with a weary expression on his face.

"I fine you eleven dollars and fifty cents. That's about what the tickets will come to. Now go. Send Rain-in-the-Face here!"

The interview with Rain-in-the-Face sounded not unlike a series of explosions to those out in the main compartment of the car. Every face wore a grin, and each man expected it would be his turn next.

"Come on, let's go outside and talk," said Conley.

"I should think you would want to get away from it all," answered Phil. "I don't know; whether I can stand this sort of thing or not."

"You'll get used to it after awhile."

"Something's going to happen," croaked the Missing Link, dismally, as the two left the car by the rear door.

"I guess the freak is right," nodded Billy Conley. "There is going to be an explosion here that will shake the state."

There was, but not exactly in the way he imagined.