ANDY THE ACROBAT
Out With the Greatest Show on Earth
PETER T. HARKNESS
CHIMPANZEE HUNTERS, CIRCUSES—OLD AND NEW, HOW A GREAT SHOW TRAVELS, ETC.
IV. A BUSINESS PROPOSITION
V. THE CIRCUS
VI. CIRCUS TALK
VII. A WARM RECEPTION
IX. GOOD-BYE TO FAIRVIEW
X. A FIRST APPEARANCE
XI. SAWDUST AND SPANGLES
XII. AN ARM OF THE LAW
XIII. ON THE ROAD
XIV. BILLY BLOW, CLOWN
XV. ANDY JOINS THE SHOW
XVI. THE REGISTERED MAIL
XVII. A WILD JOURNEY
XVIII. A FREAK OF NATURE
XIX. CALLED TO ACCOUNT
XX. ANDY'S ESCAPE
XXI. A FULL FLEDGED ACROBAT
XXII. AMONG THE CAGES
XXIII. FACING THE ENEMY
XXIV. ANDY'S AUNT
XXV. A BEAR ON THE RAMPAGE
XXVI. A CLEVER RUSE
XXVII. A ROYAL REWARD
XXVIII. "HEY, RUBE!"
XXIX. A FREE TROLLEY RIDE
XXX. WITH THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
ANDY THE ACROBAT
The village schoolmaster of Fairview spoke this name in a tone of severity. He accompanied the utterance with a bang of the ruler that made the desk before him rattle.
There was fire in his eye and his lip trembled. Half of the twenty odd scholars before him looked frightened, the others interested. None had ever before seen the dull, sleepy pedagogue so wrought up.
All eyes were fixed on a lad of about sixteen, seated in the front row of desks.
The name called out applied to him. It had been abbreviated so commonly, however, that its full dignity seemed to daze him for the moment.
Andrew Wildwood slowly arose, his big, fearless eyes fixed dubiously on the schoolmaster.
"Yes, sir," he said.
"Step forward, sir."
Andy Wildwood did so. He was now in full view of the other scholars. Mr. Darrow also arose. He thrust one hand behind his long coat tails, twirling them fiercely. From the little platform that was his throne he glared down at the unabashed Andy. In his other hand he flourished the long black ruler threateningly.
He pointed a terrible finger towards two desks, about four feet apart, at one side of the room. The desk nearest to the wall had its top split clear across, and one corner was splintered off.
"Did you break that desk?" demanded the pedagogue.
Andy's lips puckered slightly in a comical twist. He had a vivid imagination, and the shattered desk suggested an exciting and pleasurable moment in the near past. Some one chuckled at the rear of the room. Andy's face broke into an irrepressible smile.
"Order!" roared the schoolmaster, bringing down the ruler with a loud bang. "Young man, I asked you: did you break that desk?"
"Yes, sir, I'm afraid I smashed it," said Andy in a rather subdued tone. "It was an accident."
"He was only fooling, teacher!" in an excited lisp spoke up little Tod Smith, the youngest pupil in the school. "He broke the desk, but—say, teacher! he did it—yes, sir, Andy did the double somersault, just like a real circus actor, and landed square on both feet!"
The eyes of Andy's diminutive champion and admirer sparkled like diamonds. A murmur of delight and sympathy went the rounds of the schoolroom.
Mr. Darrow glared savagely at the boy. He brandished the ruler wildly, sending an ink bottle rolling to the floor. As a titter greeted this catastrophe, he lost his temper and dignity completely.
Springing down from the platform, he made a swoop upon Andy. The latter stood his ground, and there was a shock. Then Andy was swayed to and fro as the schoolmaster grasped his arm.
"Young man," spoke Mr. Darrow in a shaking tone, "this is the limit. An example must be made! Last week you tore down the schoolhouse chimney with your ridiculous tight rope performances."
"And wasn't it just jolly!" gloated a juvenile gleesome voice in a loud whisper.
The schoolmaster swept the room with a shocked glance. It had no effect upon the bubbling-over effervescence of his pupils. Every imagination was vividly recalling the rope tied from the schoolhouse chimney to a near tree. Every heart renewed the thrills that had greeted Andy Wildwood's daring walk across the quivering cable.
Then the culminating climax: the giving way of the chimney, a shower of bricks—but the young gymnast, safe and serene, dangling from the eaves.
"Last week also," continued the schoolmaster, "you stole Farmer Dale's calf and carried it five miles away. You are complained of continually. As I said, young man, you have reached the limit. Human patience and endurance can go no farther. You are demoralizing this school. And now," concluded Mr. Darrow, his lips setting grimly, "you must toe the mark."
A hush of expectancy, of rare excitement, pervaded the room. The schoolmaster swung aloft the ruler with one hand. He swung Andy around directly in front of him with the other hand.
Andy's face suddenly grew serious. He tugged to get loose.
"Hold on, Mr. Darrow," he spoke quickly. "You mustn't strike me."
"How? what! defiance on top of rebellion!" shouted the irate pedagogue. "Keep your seats!" he roared, as half the school came upright under the tense strain of the moment.
The next he was struggling with Andy. Forward and backward then went over the clear recitation space. The ruler was dropped in the scrimmage. As Mr. Darrow stooped to repossess it, Andy managed to break loose.
Dodging behind the zinc shield that fronted the stove, he caught its top with both hands. He moved about presenting a difficult barrier against easy capture. Andy looked pretty determined now. The schoolmaster was so angry that his face was as red as a piece of flannel. He advanced again upon the culprit, so choked up that his lips made only inarticulate sounds.
"One minute, please, Mr. Darrow," said Andy. "You mustn't try to whip me. I can't stand it, and I won't. It hasn't been the rule here, ever. I did wrong, though I couldn't help it, and I'm sorry for it. I'll stand double study and staying in from recess and after school for a month, if you say so. You can put me in the dark hole and keep me without my dinner as long as you like. I have lots of good friends here. I'd be ashamed to face them after a whipping—and I won't!"
"Yes, yes—he's right!" rang out an earnest chorus.
"Silence!" roared the schoolmaster. "An example must be made. I shall do my duty. Andrew Wildwood—Graham! what do you mean, sir?"
The scholars thrilled, as a new and unexpected element came into the situation.
Graham, quite a young man, and double the weight of the schoolmaster, had arisen from his seat. He walked quietly between Mr. Darrow and Andy, quite pushing back the former gently.
"The lad is right, Mr. Darrow," he said, in his quiet, drawling way. "I wouldn't punish him before the scholars if I were you, sir."
"What's this? You interfere!" flared out the pedagogue.
"Don't take it that way, Mr. Darrow," said Graham. "You are displeased, and justly so, sir, but boys will be boys. Andy is the right kind of a lad, I assure you, only in the wrong kind of a place. They did the same thing with me when I was young. If they hadn't, I wouldn't be here spelling out words of two syllables at twenty-eight years of age."
Andy's eyes glistened at the big scholar's friendliness. A murmur of approbation ran round the room.
Silently the pedagogue fumed. The disaffection of the occasion, mild and respectful as it was, disarmed him. He regarded Andy with a despairing look. Then he straightened up with great dignity.
"Take your seat, sir!" he ordered Andy severely, marching back to his own desk.
"Yes, sir," said Andy humbly.
"Pack up your books."
Andy looked up in dismay. The fixed glint in the schoolmaster's eye told him that this new move meant no fooling.
"Now you may go home," resumed Mr. Darrow, as Andy had obeyed his first mandate.
Andy kept a stiff upper lip, though he felt that the world was slipping away from him.
A picture of an unloving home, a stern, hard mistress who would make use of this, his final disgrace, as a continual club and menace to all his future peace of mind, fairly appalled him.
He arose to his feet, swinging his strapped up books to and fro airily, but there was a dismal catch in his voice as he turned to the teacher's desk, and said:
"Mr. Darrow, I guess I would rather take the whipping."
"Too late," pronounced the relentless schoolmaster in icy tones.
And then, as Andy reached the door amid the gruesome silence and awe of his sympathetic comrades, Mr. Darrow added the final dreadful words:
"You are expelled."
Andy Wildwood passed out of the village schoolhouse an anxious and desolate boy.
The brightest of sunshine gilded the spires and steeples of the village. It flooded highway and meadows with rich yellow light, but Andy, swinging his school books over his shoulder, walked on with drooping head and a cheerless heart.
"It's pretty bad, it's just the very worst!" he said with a deep sigh, as he reached a stile and sat down a-straddle of it.
Andy tossed his books up into the hollow of a familiar oak near at hand. Then he fell to serious thinking.
His gaze roving over the landscape, lit on the farmhouse of Jabez Dale. It revived the recent allusion of the old schoolmaster.
"I didn't steal that calf," declared Andy, straightening up indignantly. "Graham, who boards over at Millville, told us boys how Dale had sold a cow to a farmer there. He said they took her away from her calf, and the poor thing refused to eat. She just paced up and down a pasture fence from morning till night, crying for her calf. We got the calf, and carried it to its mother. I'll never forget the sight, and I'll never regret it, either—and what's best, the man who had got the cow was so worked up over its almost human grief, that he paid Dale for the calf, too, and kept it."
The memory of the incident brightened up Andy momentarily. Then, his glance flitting to the distant roof of a small neat cottage in a pretty grove of cedars, his face fell again. He choked on a great lump in his throat.
"Ginger!" he whistled dolefully, "how can I ever face the music over there!"
The cottage was Andy's home, but the thought had no charm or sweetness for the lone orphan boy whom its roof had grudgingly sheltered for the past five years.
Once it had belonged to his father. He had died when Andy was ten years old. Then it had passed into the legal possession of Mr. Wildwood's half-sister, Miss Lavinia Talcott.
This aunt was Andy's nearest relative. He had lived with her since his father's death, if it could be called living.
Miss Lavinia's favorite topic was the sure visitation of the sins of the father upon his children.
She was of a sour, snappy disposition. Her prim boast and pride was that she was a strict disciplinarian.
To a lad of Andy's free and easy nature, her rules and regulations were torture and an abomination.
She made him take off his muddy shoes in the woodshed. Woe to him if he ever brought a splinter of whittling, or a fragment of nutshell, into the distressingly neat kitchen!
Only one day in the week—Sunday—was Andy allowed the honor of sitting in the best room.
Then, for six mortal hours his aching limbs were glued to a straight-backed chair. There, in parlor state, he sat listening to the prim old maid's reading religious works, or some scientific lecture, or a dreary dissertation on good behavior.
She never allowed a schoolmate to visit him, even in the well-kept yard. She restricted his hours of play. And all the time never gave him a loving word or caress.
On the contrary, many times a week Miss Lavinia administered a tongue-lashing that suggested perpetual motion.
Mr. Wildwood had been something of an inventor. He had gotten up a hoisting derrick that was very clever. It brought him some money. This he sunk in an impossible balloon, crippled himself in the initial voyage of his airship, and died shortly afterwards of a broken heart.
Andy's mother had died when he was an infant. Thus it was that he fell into the charge of his unloving aunt.
It seemed that the latter had loaned Mr. Wildwood some money for his scientific experiments. As repayment, when he died, she took the cottage and what else was left of the wreck of his former fortune.
Even this she claimed did not pay her up in full, and she made poor Andy feel all the time that he was eating the bread of charity.
Andy's grandfather had been a famous sailor. Andy had read an old private account among his father's papers of a momentous voyage his grandfather had made to the Antarctic circle.
He loved to picture his ancestor among the ship's rigging. He had an additional enthusiasm in another description of his father's balloon venture.
Andy wished he had been born to fly. He seemed to have inherited a sort of natural acrobatic tendency. At ten years of age he was the best boy runner and jumper in the village.
The first circus he had seen—not with Miss Lavinia's permission—set Andy fairly wild, and later astonished his playmates with prodigious feats of walking on a barrel, somersaulting, vaulting with a pole, and numerous other amateur gymnastic attainments.
For the past month a circus, now exhibiting in a neighboring town, had been advertised in glowing prose and lurid pictures on big billboards all over the county.
Juvenile Fairview was set on fire anew with the circus fever. Andy's rope-walking feat and double somersault act from desk to desk that morning had resulted, getting him into the trouble of his life. It furthermore had interrupted other performances on the programme listed for later on that very day.
Andy's head had been full of the circus since he had seen its first poster at a cross-roads. He could never pass a heap of sawdust without cutting a caper.
In the spelling contest, he had stupefied his fellow students by nimbly rattling over such words as "megatherian," "stupendous," "zoological aggregation," and the like.
One of his sums covered the number of yards a clown could cover in a given time on a handspring basis. He had shocked the schoolmaster by handing in an essay on "The Art of Bareback Riding."
Andy had tried every acrobatic trick he had seen depicted in the glowing advance sheets announcing the circus. To repeated efforts in this direction his admiring schoolmates had continually incited him.
He had tried the double somersault in the schoolroom that morning. Andy had made a famous success of the experiment, but with the direful result of smashing a desk, and subsequent expulsion.
Thinking over all this, Andy realized that the beginning and end of all his troubles was his irrepressible tendency towards acrobatic performances.
"And I simply can't help it!" he cried in a kind of reckless despair. "It's born in me, I guess. Oh, don't I hope Aunt Lavinia turns me out, as she has often threatened to do. Say, if she only would, and I could join some show, and travel and see things and—live!"
Andy threw himself flat on the green sward. He closed his eyes and gave himself up to a rapture of thought.
Gay banners, brightly comparisoned horses, white wildernesses of circus tents, tinselled clowns, royal ringmasters, joyful strains of music floated through his active brain. It was a day dream of rare beauty, and he could not tear himself away from it.
An idle hour went by before Andy realized it. As echoing voices rang out on the quiet air, he got to his feet rubbing his eyes as if they were dazzled.
"Recess already," Andy said. "Well, I'll lay low until it's over. I don't want to meet the boys just now. Then I'll do some more thinking. I suppose I've got to decide to go home. Ugh! but I hate to—and I just won't until the very last moment."
Andy went in among the shrubbery farther away from the road, but he could not hide himself. An active urchin discovered him from a distance. He yelled out riotously to his comrades, and they all came trooping along pell-mell in Andy's direction.
Their expelled schoolmate and favorite greeted them with a genial smile, never showing the white feather in the least.
His chums found him carelessly tossing half-a-dozen crab apples from hand to hand. Andy was an adept in "the glass ball act." He described rapid semicircles, festoons and double crosses. He shot the green objects up into the air in all directions, and went through the performance without a break.
"Isn't Andy a crackerjack?" gloated enthusiastic little Tod Smith. "Oh, say, Andy, you won't disappoint us now, will you?"
"What about?" inquired Andy.
"The rest of it."
"The rest of what?"
"Your show. You know you promised—"
"Oh, that's all off!" declared Andy gloomily. "I've made trouble enough already with my circus antics, I'm thinking."
"Don't you be mean now, Andy Wildwood!" broke in Ned Wilfer, a particular friend of the expelled boy. "Old Darrow has given us a double recess. We have a good forty minutes to have fun in. Come on."
The speaker seized Andy's reluctant arm and began pulling him towards the road.
"Got the horse?" he asked of a companion.
"Sure," eagerly nodded the lad addressed. "I got him fixed up, platform, blanket and all, before school. He's tied up, waiting, at the end of father's ten-acre lot."
"Yes, and I've got the hoop all ready there, too," chimed in Alf Warren, another schoolboy.
"See here, fellows," demurred Andy dubiously, "I haven't much heart for frolic. I'm expelled, you know, and there's Aunt Lavinia—"
"Forget it!" interrupted Ned. "That will all right itself."
Andy consented to accompany the gleeful, expectant throng. They had arranged the night before to hold an amateur circus exhibition "on their own hook."
One boy had agreed to provide the "fiery steed" for the occasion. Alf Warren was to be property man, and donate the blazing hoop.
They soon reached the corner of the ten-acre lot. There, tethered to a stake and grazing placidly, was a big-boned, patient-looking horse.
Across his back was strapped a small platform made of a cistern cover. This had been cushioned with a folded buggy robe.
Alf Warren dove excitedly into a clump of bushes. He reappeared triumphantly holding aloft a big hoop. It was wound round and round with strips of woolen cloth which exuded an unmistakable and unpleasant odor of kerosene.
"Say! it's going to be just like the circus picture on the side of the post office, isn't it?" chuckled little Tod Smith.
Ned Wilier took down the fence bars and led the horse out into the road.
Andy pulled off his coat and shoes. He stowed them alongside a rock near the fence. Then he produced some elastic bands and secured his trousers around the ankles.
His eyes brightened and he forgot all his troubles for the time being, as he ran back a bit.
"Out of the way there!" shouted Andy with glowing cheeks, posing for a forward dash.
He made a quick, superb bound and landed lightly on the horse's back.
Old Dobbin shied restively. Ned, at his nose, quieted him with a word.
Andy, the centre of an admiring group, tested the impromptu platform. He accepted a short riding whip handed up to him by Alf Warren with a truly professional flourish. Andy stood easy and erect, one hand on his hip. All that seemed lacking was the sawdust ring and a tinselled garb.
"Ready," announced Andy.
All of the group except Ned Wilfer started down the road in the wake of Alf Warren. The latter carried the hoop in one hand, some matches in the other.
The mob rounded the highway, purposely selected because it curved, and disappeared from view.
"Everything all right, Andy?" inquired Ned, strutting about with quite a ringmaster-like air.
"Yes, if the horse will go any."
"Oh, he'll get up full speed, once started," assured Ned.
It was fully five minutes before an expected signal reached them. From far around the bend in the road there suddenly echoed vivid shouts and whistlings.
"Start him up," ordered Andy.
Ned led the horse a few rods and got him to running. Then, dropping to the rear, he kept pace with the animal, slapping one flank and urging him up to greater speed.
He fell behind, but kept on running, as Andy, guiding the horse by the long bridle reins, occasionally gave him a stimulating touch of the light whip he carried.
Five hundred feet covered, old Dobbin seemed to enjoy the novelty of the occasion, and kept up a very fair gait.
Rounding the curve in the road and looking a quarter-of-a-mile ahead, Andy could see his schoolmates gathered around a tree stump surmounted by Alf Warren, holding the hoop aloft.
Just here, too, for the space of a mere minute Andy could view the schoolhouse through a break in the timber.
A swift side glance showed the big scholar, Graham, lounging in the doorway.
Just approaching him from the direction of the village was the old schoolmaster, Mr. Darrow.
"He has been up to see Aunt Lavinia, that's the reason of the double recess," thought Andy, his heart sinking a trifle. Then, flinging care to the winds for the occasion, he uttered a ringing:
Andy felt that he must do justice to the expectations of his young friends.
He swung outward on one foot in true circus ring fashion. He swayed back at the end of the bridles. He tipped thrillingly at the very edge of the cushioned platform. All the time by shouts and whip, he urged up old Dobbin to his best spurt of speed.
At the schoolhouse door Mr. Darrow gazed at the astonishing spectacle with uplifted hands.
"Shocking!" he groaned. "Graham, there goes the most incorrigible boy in Fairview."
"Yes," nodded Graham with a quaint smile, as Andy Wildwood flashed out of sight past the break in the timber—"he certainly is going some."
"He'll break his neck!"
"I trust not."
Old Dobbin pricked up his ears and kept royally to his task as he seemed to enter into the excitement of the moment.
Andy had practiced on the animal on several previous occasions. Lumps of sugar and apples had rewarded Dobbin at the end of the performances for his faithful services. He seemed now to remember this, as he galloped along towards the waiting group down the road.
Sometimes Andy had made the horseback somersault successfully. Sometimes he had failed ignominiously and tumbled to the ground. Just now he felt no doubt of the result. The padded cushion cover was broad and steady.
He kept the horse close to the inner edge of the road. The tree stump upon which Alf Warren stood just lined it.
By holding the hoop extended straight out, the horse's body would pass directly under this.
Nearer and nearer steed and rider approached the point of interest.
The spectators gaped and squirmed, vastly excited, but silent now.
About one hundred feet away from the tree stump, Andy shouted out the quick word:
At once Alf Warren drew the match in his free hand across his coat sleeve. It lighted. He applied the ignited splinter to the edge of the hoop.
The oil-soaked covering took fire instantly. The blaze ran round the circle. The hoop burst into a wreath of light, darting flames.
Andy fixed a calculating eye on hoop and holder.
"Two inches lower," he ordered—"keep it firm."
The horse seemed inclined to swerve at a sight of the fiery hoop. Andy soothed Dobbin by word and kept him steady with the bridle reins.
Everything seemed working smoothly. Andy moved to the extreme rear edge of the platform and poised there.
Five feet away from the hoop he dropped the riding whip. Then he flung the reins across the horse's neck.
With nerve and precision Andy started a forward somersault at just the right moment.
He felt a warm wave cross his face. As he made the complete circle he knew that something was wrong.
"Ouch!" suddenly yelled out Alf.
A spurt of flame had shot against his hand that held the short stick attached to the hoop.
Alf let go the hoop and dropped it. As Andy came down, righted again on the platform, one foot struck the narrow edge of the hoop.
He was in his stocking feet, and the contact cut the instep sharply. It threw Andy off his balance. He tried to right himself, but failed. He tipped sideways, and was forced to jump to the ground.
The hoop fell forward against the horse's mane. With a wild neigh of terror and pain the animal leaped to one side, carrying away a section of rotten fence. The blazing hoop now dropped around its neck.
A shout of dismay went up from the spectators. Alf, nursing his burned fingers, looked scared. Andy glanced sharply after the flying horse and spurted after it. At that moment the school bell rang out, and the crowd made a rush in the direction of the building. Alf Warren lagged behind.
"Go ahead," directed Andy, "I'll catch Dobbin."
Ned Wilfer at that moment dashed up to Andy's side.
"I'll stay and help you," he panted.
"Don't be tardy, don't get into trouble," said Andy.
Dobbin was making straight across a meadow. The kerosene soaked rags had pretty well burned out. They smoked still, however, and in the breeze once in a while a tongue of flame would dart forth.
Dobbin passed a haystack, then another. He was momentarily shut out from Andy's view on both occasions.
At his second reappearance Andy noticed that the animal had got rid of the hoop. Dobbin now slackened his pace, snorted, and, laying down, rolled over and over in the stubble.
The horse righted himself as Andy came up with him, breathless.
"So, so, old fellow," soothed Andy. "Just singed the mane a little, that's all."
He patted the animal's nose and seized the bridle to lead Dobbin back to the pasture from which he had started.
"Oh, gracious!" exclaimed Andy, abruptly dropping the bridle quicker than he had seized it.
Forty feet back on the course Dobbin had come, the second haystack was all ablaze.
There the horse had thrown off the fire hoop, or it had burned through at some part and had dropped there.
It had set the dry hay aflame. As Andy looked, it spread out into a fan-like blaze, enveloping one whole side of the stack.
Andy was dumb with consternation. However, he was not the boy to face a calamity inactively.
His quick eye saw that the stack was doomed. What troubled him more than that was the imminent danger to half-a-dozen other stacks nearly adjoining it.
"All Farmer Dale's hay!" gasped the perturbed lad. "Fifty tons, if there's one. If all that goes, what shall I do?"
Andy took in the whole situation with a vivid glance. Then he made a bee-line dash for a broken stack against which rested a large field rake.
It was broad and had a very long handle. Andy ran with it towards the blazing heap of hay and set to work instantly.
"This won't do," he breathed excitedly, as an effort to beat out the spreading flames only caused burning shreds to fill the air. These threatened to ignite the contiguous stacks.
Once the first of these was started they would all go one after the other. They were out of the direct draught of the light breeze prevailing. What cinders arose went straight up high in the air. The main danger threatened from the stubble.
Creeping into this from the base of the haystack in flames, little pathways of fire darted out like vicious serpents.
Andy made for these with the rake. He beat at them and scraped the ground. He stamped with his stockinged feet and pulled up clumps of stubble with his hands.
The trouble was that so many little fires started up at so many different spots. Finally, however, the ground was a mass of burned-out grass for twenty feet clear around the centre of the blaze.
The haystack was sinking down a glowing mass, but now confined itself and past spreading out.
Andy flung himself on the ground fairly exhausted. His hands and face were somewhat blistered, and he was wringing wet with perspiration.
He looked pretty serious as he did "a sum out of school."
"That stack held about two tons and a-half," he calculated. "I heard a farmer at the post-office say yesterday that he was getting eight dollars in the stack for hay. There's twenty dollars gone up in smoke. Where will I ever get twenty dollars?"
Andy became more and more despondent the longer he thought of the dismal situation.
He stirred himself to action. With the rake he heaped together the brittle filaments of burned hay.
"It can't spread any now," he decided finally. "It's dying down to nothing. Now then, what's next?"
Andy took a far look in all directions. The fire had burned so rapidly and clear in the crisp light air that it did not seem to have been observed in the village.
Andy wondered, however, that some of the Dales had not discovered it. He stood gazing thoughtfully at the Dale homestead about a quarter-of-a-mile away.
A great many impulsive, disheartening and also reckless projects ran through his mind.
"It's an awful fix to be in," ruminated Andy with a sigh of real distress. "If ever it was up to a fellow to cut stick and run, it's up to Andy Wildwood at this minute. Expelled from school, burning up a man's haystack and then—Aunt Lavinia! The rest is bad enough, but when I think of her it sends the cold chills all over me. Ugh!"
Andy looked for Dobbin. It was some time before he discovered the innocent partner of his recent disastrous escapade.
The old horse was half-a-mile distant, placidly making along the roadway for home.
Andy rubbed his head in distress and uncertainty. He had a hard problem to figure out. Suddenly his eyes snapped and he straightened up briskly.
"I won't crawl," he declared. "'Toe the mark' is Aunt Lavinia's great motto. 'Face the music' is mine. I won't turn tail and play the sneak. I've destroyed some property. Well, the first honest thing to do is to try and make good. Here goes."
Andy started for the road. He reached the spot where he had left his coat and shoes. Donning these he went to a little pool in the brush, washed his face and hands, and made a short cut for Farmer Dale's house.
Andy's heart was beating pretty fast as he entered the farm yard, but he marched straight up to the front door.
Andy knocked, first timidly, then louder.
There was no response.
A BUSINESS PROPOSITION
"Nobody at home," said Andy to himself.
He walked around the house to find all the windows closed and locked.
"That's the reason no one came to the fire," he resumed. "There's somebody, though."
Andy started in the direction of the barn. He had caught the sound of some one chopping or hammering there.
He came upon a hired hand splitting some sawed hickory slabs to whittle down into skewers.
"Mr. Dale's folks all away?" inquired Andy.
"Reckon they are, youngster," answered the man.
"Will they be gone long, do you think?"
"Mr. Dale won't. He drove the family over to Centreville. The circus is there, you know."
"Yes," said Andy—longingly.
"Took them early, so they could look around town. They're going to stay all night with some relations, Mr. Dale isn't, though. He ought to be back by this time. He's due now. Was talking of carting a couple of loads of hay over to Gregson's this morning."
Andy's heart sank at this. He did not tell the man about the fire. Backing away gloomily, he went out into the road again.
Every point in the landscape suggested some section of his morning's misfortunes. Andy craned his neck as he took in a distant view of the old school-house.
He made out a female figure approaching it. Andy recognized the green bombazine dress of Miss Lavinia Talcott. She carried a baggy umbrella in her hand. Andy from experience knew that its possession by the old maid was generally a sign that she was on the war-path.
"She's hunting for me," thought Andy. "I suppose I've got to face the music some time, but I'll not do it just now, I've got some business to attend to, first."
Andy hurried down the Centreville turnpike. He walked along briskly, more to get out of possible range of Miss Lavinia than with any other distinct motive in mind. Still, Andy had "business" in view. That burned down haystack haunted him. Somehow he must square himself with Mr. Dale, he said. He fancied he had found a way.
Andy did not pause until he was fully a mile down the highway. He felt safe from interruption now, and sat down on an old log and mused in a dreamy, drifting sort of a way.
The sound of approaching wagon wheels disturbed him in the midst of a depressing reverie.
"It's Mr. Dale," said Andy, getting up from the log and viewing the approaching team. "I wanted to see you, Mr. Dale," he spoke aloud as the carry-all came abreast of him.
"Oh, hello, you, Wildwood," spoke the farmer with a grin. "Playing hookey, eh?"
"No, sir," answered Andy frankly. "I was expelled from school this morning."
"Do tell me now!" said Dale. "Want a lift?"
"No, sir," answered Andy, "I just wanted to take up a minute of your time. I'm sorry, Mr. Dale, I don't suppose you think any too much of me already, and when I tell you—"
"Hey? Ha! ha!" chuckled Dale. "Think I'm sore on you because of that calf business? Not at all, not at all. Why, I got double price for the critter, see?"
"There's something else," announced Andy seriously. "The truth is, Mr. Dale, I burned down one of your haystacks about an hour ago."
"What! You burned one of my haystacks? Which one—which one?" demanded Dale, growing pale with excitement.
"The little one to the north-east of the field," explained Andy. "I should think it held between two and three tons."
Farmer Dale dropped the lines and jumped down into the road from the wagon, whip in hand. All his jubilant slyness deserted him. He began to get frightfully worked up over Andy's news.
"Wait a minute," pleaded Andy. "Don't get excited till I explain. I managed to save the other stacks. It was all an accident, but I want to pay the damage. Yes, I'll pay you, Mr. Dale."
"You'll have to, you bet on that!" snorted the farmer wrathfully. "I'll go to your aunt right off with the bill."
"Don't do it, Mr. Dale," advised Andy. "She preaches lots about honesty and responsibility and all that, but she's mighty close when it comes to the dollars. She wouldn't pay you a cent, no, sir, but I will. That hay is worth about twenty dollars, I reckon, Mr. Dale?"
"Well, yes, it is," nodded the farmer. "Good timothy is scarce, and that was a prime lot."
"I've got no money, of course," went on Andy, "but I thought this: couldn't you give me some work to do and let me pay it out in that way? I'll do my level best to—"
"Oh! that's your precious proposition, is it?" snarled Mr. Dale, switching the whip about furiously. "No, I couldn't. The hand I've got now is idle half the time. See here, Wildwood, arson is a pretty serious crime. You'd better square this thing some way. In fact you've got to do it, or there's going to be trouble."
"I know what you mean," said Andy—"you'll have me arrested. You mustn't do that, Mr. Dale—I feel bad enough, I'm in a hard enough corner already. I want to do what's right, and I intend to. I owe you twenty dollars. Will you give me time to pay it in? Will you take my note—with interest, of course—for the amount?"
"Will I—take your note—interest? ha! ha! oh, dear me! dear me!" fairly exploded Dale in a burst of uproarious laughter.
"Secured," added Andy in a business-like tone.
"Secured by what?" demanded Dale eagerly.
"I can't tell you now. I will to-night, or to-morrow morning."
"You don't mean old ball bats, or your mud scow in the creek, or that kind of trash?" inquired Dale suspiciously.
"No, sir, I mean tangible security," declared Andy.
"You don't seem to carry much of it around with you," suggested Dale bluntly, casting a sarcastic eye over Andy's well-worn clothes.
"Perhaps not," admitted Andy, coloring up. "I can give you security, though. What I want to know is this: If I can place good security in the hands of a trusty person, will you give me—say—three months to pay you off in? If I don't, the person will sell the security and pay you in full."
"Why don't you put the security in my hands?" asked the farmer shrewdly.
"Because I have done some damage up at the schoolhouse. I want to pay for that, too. You will be satisfied with the security and the person holding it, Mr. Dale. I will let you know all about it before ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
Farmer Dale surveyed Andy with a long, curious stare, whistling softly to himself. His hot temper was subdued, now that he saw a prospect of payment for the burned hay.
"You talk straight off the reel, Wildwood," he said. "I believe you're honest. Go on with your little arrangement, and let's see how it pans out. I shan't make any move until after ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
"Thank you, Mr. Dale," said Andy. "I won't disappoint you."
Andy started to move away from the spot.
"Hold on," interrupted Dale. "Tell me how it happened."
Andy gave an unbiased account of the morning's occurrences.
"Ha! hum!" commented the farmer. "No end of scrapes because you're a lively lad and can't help it. See here, Wildwood, do you know what I would do if I were in your place?"
"No, what's that, Mr. Dale?" asked Andy.
"I'd join the show—yes, I would!" declared the farmer energetically. "I tell you I believe circus is born in you, and you can't help it. You don't have much of a life at home. You're not built for humdrum village life. Get out; grow into something you fancy. No need being a scamp because you're a rover. My brother was built your sort. They pinned him down trying to make a doctor of him, and he ran away. He turned up with a little fortune ten years later, a big-hearted, happy fellow. No one particularly knew it, but he'd been with a traveling minstrel show for those ten years. Now he's settled down, and I'd like to see a finer man than Zeb Dale."
"Thank you," said Andy, "I'll think of what you say."
Farmer Dale jogged on his way. Andy faced towards Centreville. It seemed as if something was pulling him along in that direction.
At the first cross-roads a field wagon containing a farmer, his wife and half-a-dozen children whirled into Andy Wildwood's view. A merry juvenile chorus told Andy that they were bound for the circus.
"Trace loose, mister," he called out as he noticed the trailing strap.
"Whoa," ordered the driver, halting with a jolt, and Andy adjusted the faulty harness and smiled back cheerily at an eager little fellow in the wagon who inquired if he was going to the show, too.
"Jump in, youngster, if ours is your way," invited the farmer.
Andy promptly availed himself of the offer. He sat with his feet dangling over the tailboard. The farther he got from Fairview the less he thought of the manifold troubles and complications he was leaving behind him there.
Andy did not intend to run away from home. He had business in view which demanded his presence in Fairview the next day. He was, however, resolved to go to Centreville. He would at least see the outside of the circus, and could put on the time until evening.
It was only six miles from Fairview to Centreville, and they soon came in sight of the county seat.
Andy caught more and more of the circus fever as they progressed. At every branch road a new string of vehicles joined the procession. They passed gay parties of ruralites on foot. Andy leaped down from the wagon with a "Thank you" to his host, at the first sight of the mammoth white tents over on the village common.
This was the second day of the circus at Centreville. It was scheduled to remain one more day. Its coming was a great event for the town, and the place was crowded with pleasure-seekers.
Andy reached the principal street just as the grand pageant went by. It was a spectacle that dazzled him. The music, the glitter, the pomp, the fair array of wild animals made him forget everything except that he was a boy enjoying a rare moment of existence.
It was the inner life of the circus people, however, that attracted Andy. It was his great ambition to be one of them. He was not content to remain a spectator of the outside veneer of show life. He wanted to know something of its practical side.
Andy did not dally around the ticket seller's booth, the side shows or the crowded main entrance of the show.
Once, when a small circus had visited Fairview, he had gotten a free pass by carrying buckets of water to the cook's tent.
He had now a vague hope that some such fortunate chance might turn up on this new occasion.
Andy soon discovered, however, that the present layout was on a far different scale to the second-class show he had seen at Fairview.
It was a city in itself. There were well-defined bounds as to the circus proper. Ropes strung along iron stakes driven into the ground kept curious visitors at a distance.
The performers' tent, the horse tents, the cook's quarters and the sleeping space of the working hands were all guarded, and intruders warned to keep their distance.
Everything was neat and clean, and a well-ordered system prevailed everywhere.
The savory flavor of roasting meat made Andy desperately hungry. He saw a fat, aproned cook hastily gathering up some chips near a chopping block. Andy offered to split him some fresh wood, but received only an ungracious:
"Get out! No trespassers allowed here."
Andy wandered about for a long time. He greatly envied a lad about his own age who, adorned with a gilt-braided jacket, was walking a beautiful Arabian steed up and down.
While he was staring at the circus boy, two popcorn boys connected with the show ran into him purposely and tripped him up. They went off with a laugh at his mishap. Andy concluded he was getting in the way as a gruff, grizzled old fellow with a bludgeon ran forward and yelled to him to make himself scarce.
"I wish I could get into the show," murmured Andy "There seems no way to work it, though," he added disconsolately. "I wonder if they'd let me stay here? When that canvas flaps I can see right into the main tent."
Andy was right near the canvassed passageway leading from the performers' tent to the main one.
If no one disturbed him he could have occasional glimpses of what was going on inside, and that was better than nothing.
Fate, however, was against him. He heard quick breathing, and turning saw the big watchman rapidly making for him, club uplifted.
"Trying to get in under the canvas, eh?" roared the man.
"Not I—I wouldn't steal anything, not even a sneak into the show," declared Andy.
He retreated promptly, but in doing so tripped over a guy rope and went flat.
Andy got up, his mouth full of fine shavings, but grasping something his hand had come in contact with and had clutched in his fall.
He ran out of range of the watchman, who brandished his stick at the lad threateningly. At a safe distance Andy inspected his find.
"Only a handkerchief," he said, "and a rather mussy one at that. But there's something knotted in it. I wonder what it is?"
It was a large dark-colored silk handkerchief. It had an odor of resin, and two of its corners were knotted.
Untying one knot, Andy disclosed a mysterious device resembling two hard rubber shoe horns, joined in the centre by a concave piece of metal.
He could not possibly imagine its use or value. Then Andy laughed outright. The other knot undone revealed a small rabbit's foot.
"Not much of a find," he ruminated. "Queer kind of plunder, though. Wonder who owns it, and what that fandangle thing is?"
Andy pocketed the find and was about to move away from the spot, when the flap of the performers' tent moved apart.
A man came out, all arrayed in tights and spangles for the circus ring. He wore a loose robe over his show costume and big slippers on his feet. His hair was nicely combed and his face powdered up for the performance.
He looked very anxious and excited. Andy at once saw that he was looking for something in great haste and suspense.
The man walked all around outside of the performers' tent, eagerly scanning the ground. Then he enlarged the scope of his survey and search.
"Hey, Marco!" sang out another man, sticking his head past the flap of the tent. "Time to get in line."
"Wait a minute," retorted the other. "I've lost something, and I won't go on till I find it."
The speaker looked positively distressed as he continued a disappointing search. A sudden idea struck Andy, and he drew the handkerchief and its belongings from his pocket.
Just then the circus performer nearly ran against him. He looked up and made a forward jump. He seized the handkerchief and the two odd objects it contained with a fervent cry that astonished the bewildered Andy.
"Give them to me," he exclaimed eagerly. "They're mine. Where did you find them? Boy, you've saved my life!"
Andy knew that the circus actor's vehement statement was an exaggeration, still there was no doubting the fact that he was intensely pleased and grateful.
"I found those things in the handkerchief over near the dressing tent," explained Andy.
"I must have dropped them there, or they got kicked out under the flap in hustling the baggage around," cried the man. "Here, kid."
The speaker made a motion towards his side, as if reaching for a vest pocket.
"I forgot," he laughed. "I have my ring togs on. Come along, I'll borrow some coin for you."
"Oh, no," demurred Andy, "I don't want any pay."
"Don't?" propounded the man in astonishment. "I want to do something for you. I'm the Man with the Iron Jaw, and that hard rubber device is what I hold in my mouth when I go up the rope, see?"
"And that rabbit's foot?" insinuated Andy, guessing.
"Hoodoo. Don't grin, kid. If you were in the profession you'd understand that a fellow values a charm that has carried him safe over Fridays, thirteenths, rotten trapezes and cyclones. We're a superstitious bunch, you know, and I'm no wiser than the rest. Why see here, of course you want to see the show, don't you?"
"I just do," admitted Andy with alacrity—"if it can be arranged."
"Come with me."
Andy readily followed after his gymnastic acquaintance. A word at the door flap of the performers' tent admitted them without challenge.
Andy took a keen, interested look around. Near two stands holding silver starred boxes was a performer in costume, evidently the conjurer of the show. Beyond him, seated daintily on a large white horse, was a pretty woman of about thirty, waiting her call to the ring.
A great-muscled fellow sat on a stool surrounded by enormous balls and dumb bells—the "Strong Man" of the circus.
A trick elephant was being fed by its keeper at once side of the tent. Nearby was a young man dressed as a jockey, holding the chains leading to the collars of a dozen performing dogs.
Andy had a good memory. He knew from her resemblance to the posters he had seen, that the lady on the white horse was Miss Stella Starr, "the dashing equestrienne."
She seemed to be on good terms with everybody, particularly with Andy's new acquaintance.
"Who is your friend, Marco?" she asked, as the man passed by her.
He explained, with a great many excited gestures. Then he beckoned to Andy as the equestrienne smiled pleasantly at him.
"You bunk right there, kid," said Marco, stowing Andy behind a pile of seat planks that lined the side of the canvassed passageway joining the performers' tent with the main one.
Andy promptly climbed up on top of the heap of boards. The curtain that separated the two circus compartments was festooned at one side. Just beyond was the orchestra. Andy could look over their heads and past them, with a perfect view of the performing ring.
He gave himself up so completely to the enjoyment of the grand privilege accorded him, that for one engrossing, bewildering hour he seemed in a dreamland of rare delight.
Everything went smoothly and neatly. The various acts were new, and cleverly performed.
When it came to Stella Starr's turn, Andy witnessed a second exhibition of the superstitious folly of these strange circus folk.
The equestrienne sharply halted the man who led her horse forward for a dash into the ring.
"Back him—instantly," she called out. "Right foot first over the dead line. I wouldn't start on a left foot entree for the whole day's proceeds."
The imperious mandate was obeyed, and Andy raptly witnessed some bareback riding that made his heart quicken and his eyes flash with pleasure and admiration.
Miss Stella Starr had two acts. When she retired from the ring, kissing her little hands prettily to the applauding audience, the manager turned her horse again facing the curtain in the canvassed passageway.
The equestrienne sank gracefully to a rest on the flank of the big white horse, patting him affectionately, while some hands began rolling great tubs into the ring.
These were to form a pyramid, up one side of which and down the other the white horse was to pass.
Suddenly, as Andy's interest was divided between the ring and the equestrienne, a sharp crack rang out. It was accompanied by a swishing, ominous, tearing sound.
An uneasy murmur swayed the audience. The manager ran out into the ring, swiftly glanced at the centre pole, and drawing a whistle from his pocket gave three piercing blasts.
"It's a wind storm," Andy heard some one remark.
A second gust swayed the centre pole. The great spreads of canvas bulged and flapped. The audience arose in their seats.
Andy saw the manager seize a great megaphone near the band stand. He shouted:
"Preserve order. There is no danger. Keep your seats. It is only a passing gust of wind. Play! play!" he shouted frantically to the band.
"Take care!" shouted the man, Marco, with a look through the outside flap, "she's coming again!"
A sudden tumult fell on the air. Shrieks, yells, a great babel arose from the audience. The centre pole creaked and swayed dangerously. Then, with a sharp rip the canvas roof over Andy's head was wrenched from place and went sailing up into the air.
A heavy wooden cross-piece running between two supports had been torn loose at one end. The rope securing it whipped about and struck Andy in the face.
He dodged, and was about to leap to the ground, when a sharp cry from Stella Starr announced a new peril.
The free end of the heavy cross piece was descending with the force of a driven sledge hammer. She was directly within range. Andy saw her danger, jumped erect, grabbed at the rope whipping about, and pulled it towards himself.
As the equestrienne shrank to the neck of the trembling horse upon which she sat, the timber just grazed her spangled hair. It struck the ground and tore loose above. Its other end hit the pile of seat planks with a crash.
Andy felt them topple. He tried to steady himself, to jump aside. He was caught in the tumble and went headlong to the sawdust, the planks falling on top of him.
A WARM RECEPTION
Andy Wildwood was knocked senseless. When he came back to consciousness he found himself lying on a mattress in a little space surrounded by canvas. It was one of the circus dressing rooms.
He sniffed camphor, and one side of his head felt stiff and sore. Putting up his hand Andy discovered strips of sticking plaster there.
"Was I hurt?" he asked, sitting up.
"Circus doctor says not badly," promptly answered Marco, who stood by the mattress. "How is it, kid? No bones broken?"
"Oh, no," answered Andy readily, getting to his feet. "Say, what happened? The wind storm—"
"Gone over. It's sunshine outside now. A few hanks of thread will fix the rips. The show went on all right after the squall. But say, you're a daisy. That timber—oh, here she is to talk for herself."
Miss Stella Starr put in an appearance just here. She was neatly dressed in street costume. Her eyes were very bright, and there was a grateful smile on her womanly face as she grasped both of Andy's hands.
"You are a good boy," she said with enthusiasm. "Bring me a stool, Marco, I want to talk with him."
Andy flushed with embarrassment, as the little lady went on to insist that but for his quick foresight and energy she might have missed her salary, lying in a hospital for many a long day. She was very anxious as to Andy's injuries, and looked greatly relieved to find them trifling.
"Just a lump under the ear and a cut on one cheek," reported Andy indifferently. "They're worth having to see you ride, Miss."
"There, Marco!" cried the equestrienne brightly, "that is the handsomest compliment I ever received."
"The kid's a mascot," pronounced Marco in his heavy, earnest way. "He found my lost traps, and he maybe saved your life. What can we do for you, now?"
Andy shook his head vaguely. His bright face clouded. The human sympathy of his new friends had warmed his heart. It chilled, as he thought of Fairview and what awaited him there, especially Aunt Lavinia.
The quick witted equestrienne read his face like a book.
"See here, boy," she said, laying her gloved hand winningly on Andy's sleeve, "what is your name?" and as Andy told her she added; "And what is your trouble?"
"Do I look as if I had trouble?" inquired Andy with a forced smile.
"Don't try to fool Mrs. Jones, Wildwood," advised Marco. "She's our keenest. Has a boy at school nearly as old as you, haven't you, Mary?"
"Jones? Mary?" spoke Andy in some wonder. "I thought the lady's name was Stella Starr."
"On the posters and in the ring, yes," laughed the equestrienne. "Come, Andy, make a clean breast of it. Have you gone circus-crazy, and run away from home?"
"No ma'am, but I'd like to."
"Oh, dear! I guess you boys are all alike," commented the equestrienne. "Why do you wish to leave home?"
"It's a long story," said Andy, with a sigh.
"Tell it, Wildwood," spoke Marco. "We will be glad to listen."
"Yes, indeed," assented Stella Starr. "I am interested in you, Andy. You have been of great service to us. Let us help you, if we can."
Andy told his story. Stella Starr laughed merrily at his mild escapades. Marco's big eyes opened widely as Andy made plain the fact that he was a very fair amateur acrobat.
"Why, the kid is up to the trained average, if he can do all those things," he declared.
Stella Starr studied Andy silently for a few minutes. Then she said:
"Andy, I believe you are a good, truthful boy. I am sorry for you. You deserve a better home. I don't believe you will ever have it with your aunt."
"Half-aunt," muttered Marco.
"I do not consider you owe her any particular duty. You are not happy with her?"
"No, ma'am, never," said Andy.
"And I believe you would be happy with us."
"Yes, I would," said Andy, with emotion. "I love the life here."
"Very well, go back to Fairview just as you have planned. Arrange your affairs just as a clear conscience dictates to you. If fate leads you back here, come to me directly. I will speak to the manager and ask him to take you on with the show."
Tears of longing and gratefulness came to Andy's eyes. He could not stop them.
"You are good, kind people," he said in a muffled tone. "If I never see you again I shall never forget you."
Stella Starr kissed Andy on the cheek in a motherly way. Marco followed the boy outside. He thumped him on the back with the farewell words, uttered with emphasis:
"Cut for it, kid. Take my advice—it's good. You've got the making of a first-class ringer in you. Don't waste your ability in that humdrum town of yours."
Andy started for Fairview in a daze. So much had happened since morning that he could recall it all only in a series of long mental pictures. The kindness and suggestions of his new-found friends kept him thinking deeply.
It was nearly dusk when Andy entered Fairview. He steered clear of old comrades and familiar haunts. When he reached home it was by way of the rear fence.
A light shone in the little kitchen. His aunt was bustling about in a brisk, jumpy way that told Andy she was full of excitement and bottled-up wrath.
"Here goes, anyway," he said finally, vaulting the fence and reaching the woodshed.
Andy took up a good armful of wood, marched right up to the back steps and through the open doorway. He placed his load behind the kitchen stove.
"You graceless wretch!" were Miss Lavinia's first words.
She had a cooking fork in her hand and with it she jabbed the air viciously.
"Go up stairs instantly," she commanded next.
"I'm not sleepy, and I'm hungry," said Andy respectfully enough, but firmly.
He walked over to the set table and picked up two biscuits from a plate.
"Put those down, you put those down!" screamed Miss Lavinia. "Will you mind me?"
Andy pocketed the biscuits. He was taking wise precautions in view of past experiences with his termagant relative.
The boy stood his ground, and his aunt stamped her foot. Then she reached behind the stove and took up a stick used as a carpet beater. Armed with this she advanced threateningly upon Andy.
"Don't strike me, Aunt Lavinia," said Andy quickly. "I am getting too big for that. I won't stand it!"
"You scamp! you disgrace!" shouted his irate relative, still advancing upon him.
She beat at Andy, who snatched the stick from her hand, broke it in two and threw it out through the open doorway.
"I will go to my room if you insist upon it," said Andy now. "I don't see the need of treating me like a dog, though."
"Don't you?" screamed Miss Lavinia. "Oh, you precious rascal! Here I've worked my fingers off to keep you respectable, and you go and disgrace me shamefully. Go to your room, Andy Wildwood. We'll attend to this matter of yours in the morning."
"What matter?" demanded Andy.
"Never mind, now. Do as I say. There's a rod in pickle for you, young man, that may bring you to your senses this time."
Andy preferred loneliness up stairs to nagging down stairs. He left the kitchen and reached his own room. He lit a candle and sat down on the bed.
There was a sharp click at the door almost immediately. His aunt had stolen silently up the stairs and had bolted him in.
"As if that would keep me if I wanted to get out very bad!" thought Andy, with a glance at the frail door. "Oh, but I'm tired of all this! I've made up my mind. I shall leave Fairview."
Andy went to a shelf, felt in an old vase, and took out a key.
He fitted it to the lower drawer of the bureau in the room. It was full of old clothes and papers that had belonged to his father.
Finally Andy unearthed a little wooden box, and lifted it to the light. It held a lot of trinkets, and from among them Andy selected a large silver watch and chain. He also took out a small box. It was made of some very dark smooth wood, and its corners and center were decorated with carved pieces of gold and mother of pearl.
"The watch and chain are solid silver," murmured Andy. "The box was given to father by his father. It is made of some rare wood that grows in the South Sea islands. The gold on it is quite thick. I am sure the bare metal on those things is worth more than thirty dollars."
Andy carefully stowed the watch and little box in an inner pocket. Then he lay down on the bed to think, but without removing any of his clothing.
He silently munched the biscuits. His face cleared as reflection led to determination. Andy planned to leave the house as soon as it was closed up for the night and Aunt Lavinia was asleep.
"I can't stand it," he decided. "She says I'm a burden to her. I've got a show to enjoy myself and maybe make some money. Yes, it's Centreville and the circus by morning."
Andy was more tired out than he had fancied. He fell asleep. As he woke up, he discovered that heavy footsteps tramping up the stairs had aroused him.
He had caught the echo of lighter feet. There was rustling in the narrow entry outside.
Andy sprang up and listened intently.
"Aunt Lavinia and some one with her," he reflected. "I wonder who it can be?"
Just then a gruff voice spoke out:
"Is the boy in that room, Miss Lavinia?"
"Yes," said Andy's aunt.
"Then have him out, and let's have this unpleasant duty over and done with."
The key turned in the lock. Andy's candle had remained lighted. As the door was pushed open Andy saw a big portly man standing behind his aunt.
"Put on your clothes, Andy Wildwood," began Miss Lavinia.
"I've got them on," answered Andy. "What do you want?"
"Ask me that," broke in the man, stepping into view. "Sorry, Andy, but it's me that wants you. You know who I am."
"Yes," nodded Andy, staring hard.
He recognized the speaker as Dan Wagner, the village constable. Instantly the truth flashed over Andy. He turned to his aunt with a pale, stern face.
"Are you going to let this man take me to jail?" he demanded.
"Yes, I am," snapped Miss Lavinia. "You've gone just a little too far this time, Andy Wildwood."
"What have I done that's so bad?" inquired Andy indignantly. "What is the charge against me?"
"That's so, Miss Lavinia," observed the constable with a laugh. "There's got to be a specific charge, as I told you."
"Charge!" sniffed Miss Lavinia scornfully. "I'll make a dozen of them. He's a bad, disobedient boy—"
"When did I ever disobey you?" interrupted Andy, calmly keeping his temper.
"Oh, you! He's got himself expelled from school."
"That's no crime, 'cordin' to the statoots," declared the constable.
"I don't care!" cried the angry spinster. "My duty is to keep this boy from going to ruin. You do yours. I explained it all to the judge. He said that if I, as his guardian, swore Andy was an incorrigible, unmanageable boy, he would send him to the parental school at Byron till he was reformed."
Andy grew white to the lips. He fixed such a glance on his aunt that she quailed.
"Shame on you!" he burst forth. "You my guardian! What did you ever guard for me, except too little clothes and victuals? I'm never out of the house after dark. I never refuse to do your hardest work. I even scrub for you. Well, I won't any longer. I have made up my mind to go away."
"You hear that? you hear that?" cried Miss Lavinia. "He's going to run away from home!"
"Home!" retorted Andy scornfully. "A fine home this has been for me—snapped at, found fault with, treated like a charity pauper. Do your duty, Mr. Wagner. But I warn you that no law can send me to the reform school. This woman is not my legal guardian. She is not rightfully even a relative. I have friends in Fairview, I tell you, and they won't see me wronged. I wonder what my poor dead father would say to you for all this?"
Miss Lavinia gave a shriek. She fell into a chair and kicked her heels on the floor and went into hysterics.
The constable looked in a friendly way at Andy. He liked the lad's pluck and independence. He recalled, too, how Andy had once led him to a quiet haystack, where he had slept himself sober instead of risking his position and making a public show of himself on the streets of Fairview.
"See here, Miss Lavinia," he spoke, "I don't fancy treating Andy like a criminal. If I take him with me now I'll have to lock him up with two chicken thieves and a tramp. They're no good company for a homebred boy."
"He deserves a lesson," declared Miss Lavinia. "He shall have it, too!"
"Let him stay here till morning, then I'll come after him."
"He won't be here. Didn't you hear him say he was going to run away from home?"
"Haven't you got some safe place I can lock him up in?" suggested Wagner. "I've got to make you safe and sound, you know," observed the officer quite apologetically to Andy.
"Yes, there is," reported Miss Lavinia after brief thought. "You wait a minute."
She went away and returned with a bunch of keys. The constable beckoned to Andy to follow her, and he closed in behind.
A steep, narrow staircase led to an attic room at the extreme rear of the house. This, as Andy knew, was his aunt's strong room.
It had a heavy door secured by a padlock, and only one window. As Miss Lavinia unlocked the door and the candle illuminated the interior of the apartment, the constable observed grimly:
"I reckon this will keep him safe and sound."
Andy said nothing. He had made up his mind what he would do, and considered further talk useless.
The apartment was littered up with chests, barrels and old furniture. In one corner was a pile of carpets. Andy walked silently over to these, threw himself down, and found himself in darkness as the door was again stoutly padlocked on the outside.
"If anybody cared for me here it might be different," he observed. "As they don't, I must make friends for myself."
In about half an hour Andy went to the window, It was a small one-pane sash. Looking out, he could trace the reflection from a light in his aunt's room on the shrubbery.
Finally this light was extinguished. Andy waited a full hour. He heard the town bell strike twelve.
The lad took out his pocket knife, opened its big blade, and in a few minutes had pried off the strip lining the sash. He removed the pane and set it noiselessly on the floor.
As he stuck his head out through the aperture Andy looked calculating and serious.
It was fully thirty feet to the ground, and no friendly projection offered help in a descent.
It was furthermore a question if he could even squeeze through the window space.
Andy had nothing to make a rope of. The old pieces of carpet could not be utilized in any way. If he could force his body through the window head first, it was a dive to go feet first on a dangerous drop.
Andy investigated the aperture, experimented, took in the situation in all its various phases. Finally he decided what he would do.
He had unearthed a long ironing board from a corner of the room. He pulled a heavy dresser up to the window, and opened one of its drawers a few inches.
By slanting the ironing board, he managed to get its broad end out through the window. Then he dropped it flat, with its narrow end held firmly under the projecting drawer.
Andy got flat on the board, squirmed along it, and just managed to squeeze through the window space.
At the end of five minutes he found himself extended outside on the board. A touch might throw it out of position and drop him like a shot. Very carefully he arose to his feet and backed against the clapboards of the house.
Andy felt sideways and up over his head. He soon located what he knew to be there—two lightning rod staples. The rod itself had rusted away. The staples had been used to hold up a vine. This drew bugs, Miss Lavinia declared, and had been torn down.
Andy hooked his finger around one of the staples. He got one foot on the window sill clear of the board. The other foot he lifted in the air.
Stooping and getting a hold on the side of the ironing board, Andy gently slid it out from its holding place and upright.
He brought it and himself erect. Moving up his hand, he transferred its grasp to the second iron staple higher up the side of the house.
Now Andy rested the board on his toes. He clasped it like a shield against his body, its broad end nearest his face.
Beyond its edge he took a keen glance. The moon shone brightly. The nearest object it showed was a high, broad-branched thorn apple tree.
It stood about twelve feet from the house, and its top was perhaps as far below his foothold.
"It's my only show," said Andy. "I've got to coast it, or get all torn up."
He let go his hold of the staple. Instantly he had a hand firmly grasping either side of the ironing board Andy dropped to a past-centre slant.
Giving his feet a prodigious push against the window sill, he shot forward and downward.
For an instant Andy sailed through the air. He feared he might dive short of the tree. He hoped he would land flat.
The latter by luck or his own precision he did. The board struck the tree top.
There was a sliding swish, a vast cracking of branches.
His weight dropped one end of the ironing board. It landed against a big branch, and Andy found himself safely anchored in the tree top.
GOOD-BYE TO FAIRVIEW
Looking back at the attic window, Andy Wildwood wondered how he had ever made the successful descent.
Any boy lacking his sense of athletic precision would have scored a dangerous fall. Andy now slowly worked his way down thrown the branches of the tree. He got a few sharp scratches, but was vastly pleased with himself when he landed safely on the ground.
"Good-bye to Fairview!" he spoke with a stimulating sense of freedom, waving his hand across the scene in general. "I may not come back rich or famous, but I shall have seen the world."
Andy did not turn in the direction of Centreville. He felt of the pocket containing his father's watch and the little box, and then headed straight for Millville.
That was where the big scholar, Graham, lived. It was five miles away. Graham boarded with the farmer who had bought Mr. Dale's cow and calf.
Andy had kept Graham in mind ever since he had agreed to pay for burning up the hay stack. It was about two o'clock when he reached his destination.
The night he and his school companions had restored the little calf to its frantic mother, Andy had seen Graham in the window of his room in the old farmhouse.
Andy now looked up at the window of this room. It was open. A trellis ran up its side. The house was dark and silent. He scaled the trellis and rested a hand on the window sill.
"Mr. Graham," he called out softly. Then he repeated the call several times, gradually raising his voice.
There was a rustle of bed clothes, a droning mumble. Andy called again.
"What is it? who is there?" questioned Graham's tones.
"It's me," said Andy. "Don't be disturbed. Just listen for a minute, will you?"
"Eh! Is that Andy Wildwood?" exclaimed Graham.
"Yes," answered Andy.
A white-robbed figure came to the window and sat down in a chair there. Graham rubbed his eyes and stared wonderingly at the strange midnight visitor clinging to the window sill.
"Why, what's the trouble, Andy?" he questioned in a tone of surprise.
"It's trouble, yes, you can make sure of that," responded Andy with a little nervous catch in his voice. "I'm having nothing but trouble, lately. There's so much of it around here that I've concluded to get out of it."
"How get out of it?" demanded Graham.
"I've left home—for good. I want to leave a clear record behind me, so I've come to you. You don't mind my disturbing you this way, I hope?"
"No—no, indeed," answered Graham promptly. "Run away, eh?"
"Yes, I've got to. Aunt Lavinia has had me arrested; she wants to send me to reform school."
"Why," exclaimed Graham indignantly, "that's a burning shame!"
"I thought so. The constable was around last evening. He locked me in the attic for safe keeping, but I got free, and here I am, on my way to—to—on my way to find work."
"Do you mean circus work?" guessed Graham quickly.
"Why, yes, I do. I don't mind telling you, for you have always been a friend to us smaller boys."
"Always will be, Andy."
"I believe that. We all like you. It's this way: I think I have a chance to join a show, and I want to, bad. I shall be paid something. When I am, I want to send it to you."
"To me? What for, Andy?"
"Well, I smashed the desk and pulled down the chimney at the schoolhouse, you know."
"I calculate that damage amounts to about ten dollars. I burned down a haystack belonging to farmer Dale yesterday. Twenty dollars, he says. I've agreed to pay him, and I want you to see the school trustees to-day and explain to them that I'll pay for the desk and the chimney. I told Mr. Dale I would give him my note. I can't just now, but I will mail one, signed, to you."
"Will Dale accept it?" asked Graham.
"Yes, if I secure it."
"Secure it, how?"
"That's why I came to see you," explained Andy. "I've got in my pocket a silver watch and chain and a box ornamented with gold. They were left to me by my father. I want you to take the articles. Explain to Mr. Dale and the school trustees about them—that you are to hold them for the benefit of my creditors, see?"
"That's quite business-like, Andy."
"I will certainly send you some money. As soon as I do, divide it up with the school and Mr. Dale. I will keep you posted as to my whereabouts, but keep it a secret. Will you do all this for me?"
"Here are the things," continued Andy, handing over the contents of his pocket. "And thank you."
"Don't mention it. You're all right, Andy," declared Graham in a warm, friendly way. "I shan't encourage you to run away from home, but I won't try to stop you. Have you got any money?"
"Why, no," answered Andy.
"You wait a minute, then."
Graham took the watch and the box and retired from the window. As he returned he pressed a folded piece of paper between Andy's fingers.
"Take that," he said.
"What is it?" asked Andy.
"It's a five-dollar bill."
"Oh, Mr. Graham—"
"No nonsense, Andy. I know from practical experience what it is to start out in the world penniless. I have the money saved up for two years' board and schooling. I won't miss that little amount until way along next fall. You will have paid it back long before that, I'll warrant."
"You bet I will—and you're awful good to me!" declared Andy heartily.
"Just one more word, Andy," resumed Graham earnestly. "If you are determined to be a circus tumbler, be the best or nothing. If you like enjoyment, made it good, clean fun. I'm not afraid of you. I'm only giving the advice of a fellow older than you, who has learned that it pays to be right and do right in the long run."
When Andy once more stood in the road with his royal friend's "Good luck, old fellow!" still echoing in his ears, his heart was very full.
"It's mighty good of him," murmured Andy, safely stowing away the five-dollar bill. "I'll deserve his good opinion, see if I don't!"
Andy walked on a mile or two further. Climbing a fence he made a snug bed alongside a convenient haystack.
The sun was shining brightly when the lad awoke, refreshed and full of spirit and hope. He somehow felt as though he was beginning the most eventful day of his life.
Andy turned his face in the direction of Centreville. He had no idea of going direct there, however, that day.
He did not know how many people from Fairview might have seen him there the day previous. He did know that if Aunt Lavinia was determined to pursue him, the first thing she would think of was his circus predilections.
Andy planned cautiously and with wisdom. From watching the circus posters he knew it's route. Centreville was in another county from Fairview. But Clifton, the next point of exhibition, was in another state.
"That suits me," he murmured.
Andy had an idea that once safely over the state line the law could not reach him so readily as on home territory.
He knew the neighboring towns pretty fairly, and he fixed on Clifton as his destination. Clifton was about eight miles from Centreville.
Andy decided he would go there and put in the time until next morning.
At midnight the show would pull up stakes at Centreville. He would be on hand to welcome its arrival at Clifton.
"Then I will see Miss Starr and Mr. Marco," he thought. "If the circus manager will only take me on, I'll fall into great luck."
Andy got to Clifton about noon. He changed the five-dollar bill, buying a cheap but big dinner, for he was nearly famished.
He learned where the circus was to exhibit, and went to the spot. Some workers were already there, digging trenches, distributing sawdust and the like.
Andy volunteered to help them. It would be good practice in the way of experience, he told himself. Until four o'clock in the afternoon he was quite busy about the place.
He had heard so much circus talk during his free labors that his mind was more full of the show than ever.
Andy had heard one of the workers describe to a new hand all the excitement, bustle and novelty attending a jump from one town to another.
He strolled about the place but grew restive. Just before dusk he bought some crackers and cheese, filled his pockets with the eatables, and started down the road leading towards Centreville.
Andy met an advance guard of the circus about two miles out of Clifton. Some wagons carried the cooking camp outfit. A little farther on he was met by some menagerie wagons.
"They'll come in sections," ruminated Andy.
"The big tent people won't make a start till after the evening performance. I won't risk going any farther. There's an open barn near the road. I'll take a little snooze, and wake up in time to join the procession of big loads."
Andy secured his little cash reserve in a marble bag. He ate some lunch and made for the open structure he had observed.
It was an old doorless barn near a hay press. A great many bales were stack up at one side. Climbing among these Andy found a cozy boxed in space, carried some loose hay to it, and composed himself for sleep.
"Twenty cents a day is pretty economical living," he reflected, as he studied the stars visible through a chink in the roof. "I wonder what the circus people pay a beginner?"
Wondering about this, and a variety of similar themes, Andy dozed, but was suddenly awakened by the sharp snap of a match and a brief flare.
He got up and peered over the edge of the bales of hay that enclosed his resting place.
The moon was shining brightly. Outlined at the open doorway of the barn was a man. He leaned against a post, had just lit a cigar, and was looking intently down the road in the direction of Centreville.
Some wagons rattled by and the man drew inside the barn out of view. Andy made out that he was well-dressed and very active and nervous in his manner.
"That man is waiting for some one," decided Andy, getting interested—"yes, and he belongs to the show, I'll bet."
Andy reasoned this out from the facility with which the man hummed out a tune he had heard the circus orchestra play.
The man paced restively to and fro. He went out into the road and looked far down it. He returned to the barn and resumed his impatient pacing to and fro.
Nearly an hour went by in this fashion. Andy began to consider that he had become curious without much reason. He was about to drop back again to his cozy bed when he heard the man utter an exclamation of satisfaction.
He rubbed his hands and braced up, and as a new figure turned from the road spoke in a cautious but distinct tone.
"That you, Murdock?"
"It's me, sure enough, Daley," came the reply.
"S—sh—don't use my name here. You know—"
"All right. No one likely to hear us in this lonely spot, though," spoke the newcomer addressed as Murdock.
"Well, what have you to report?" questioned Daley eagerly.
"It's all right."
"You've fixed it?"
"Snug and sure. The show will have a big sensation to-night not down on the bills."
The listening Andy heard the man called Daley utter a gratified chuckle.
"Good," he said.
"And there'll be a vacancy on the Benares Brothers' team to-morrow," added Daley, "so give me the twenty dollars."
A FIRST APPEARANCE
Andy pricked up his ears with a good deal of animation. The jubilant statement of the fellow called Murdock did not sound honest.
"I'm taking your word for it," spoke Daley.
He had drawn something from his pocket, evidently a roll of bills, for as he extended it Murdock said eagerly.
"Yes. Tell me how you fixed it."
"Why," answered Murdock with a cruel laugh, "you was laid off as one of the Benares Brothers up at the show on account of drinking, wasn't you?"
Daley moodily nodded his head.
"They put on Thacher in your place. You and him are probably the only two men in the profession who can do the somersault trapeze act with old Benares. That puts you out of a job, for you're no good single."
"I guess that is right. Thacher takes the bread out of my mouth, sink him!"
"You say, 'twenty dollars' if I fix Thacher so he can't act well," declared Murdock in a cold-blooded way that made Andy shiver, "he won't act for a spell after to-night, I'm thinking."
"Come to the point—what did you do?"
"Why, after doing their regular stunt on a separate trapeze, Thatcher somersaults and catches a bar swing from centre. He hangs by his knees and Benares swings from aloft and catches his hands in his dive for life. Well, the minute Thacher lands on the centre trapeze to-night down he goes forty feet head-first. It's broken limbs or nothing, for I cut the bar free first thing after the afternoon performance. It's held in place now by only two little pieces of thread that a child's finger could break."
"Um!" remarked Daley. "I guess I'll cut for it. They think I'm a hundred miles away. It mustn't be known that I was this near the circus or they'd suspect me. I presume they'll be wiring for me to come back now."
"Oh, sure. They won't suspect me, either. I sneaked in the big tent and fixed the trapeze when no one was about. See here, Daley, if you do get your job back you'd ought to give me an extra ten."
"I'll see about it," said Daley.
The two worthies walked from the place. Andy watched them cross fields away from the main road and away from both Clifton and Centreville.
Little thrills of horror ran all over the boy. This was his first view of the dark, plotful side of circus life, and it appalled him.
"Why," he exclaimed, "it may be murder. Oh, those wretches! The Benares Brothers. I saw them yesterday. I remember the dive for life. I had to hold my breath when one man made that somersault, away up at the top of the tent. It was more than thrilling when he caught the other trapeze with his knees. It was curdling when his partner made his dive for life. One second over time, one miss of an inch, and it looked sure death. And now that trapeze has been tampered with, and—"
The excited Andy did not finish the sentence. He forgot all his own plans and the possible danger of arrest at Centreville.
He jumped down from the hay bales and dashed out of the barn. Andy sped along the highway circus-ward at the top of his speed.
The situation had appealed to him in a flash. The two plotters had talked in plain English. There was no misunderstanding their motives and acts.
Andy had a vivid picture in his mind—the big circus tent four miles away. He could recall just where the Benares Brothers act came on the programme.
"It was about ninth down the list yesterday afternoon," he mused, softly. "They begin the show about eight o'clock. It's now about nine. I calculate the Benares Brothers come on this evening at about a quarter to ten. Four miles. I can run that in half an hour. Yes, I shall be in time."
Andy pressed his arms to his sides, took breath to conserve his staying powers, and maintained a steady, telling pace.
The lights of Centreville began to show nearer. He heard a town bell strike the half-hour as he came in sight of the grounds and the illuminated big tent of the show.
The band inside was blaring away. The side shows were not doing much business. Some were getting ready for the removal. There were not many people around the main entrance. Andy, quite breathless, rushed up to the ticket taker there.
"I want to go in for just a minute," he said—"I must see the manager."
"Cut for it—no gags go here," retorted the man rudely.
"It's pretty important. Here," began Andy. Then he paused in dismay. "Oh dear!" he spoke to himself, "I never put on my coat, that I used as a pillow back in that barn."
In the hurry and excitement of the occasion Andy had left the coat among the hay bales. Just before arranging his bed he had stowed the marble bag containing the balance of Graham's five dollars in a pocket of the garment.
He could not therefore pay his fare into the show. Only for an instant, however, was Andy daunted.
He suddenly realized that he could get more promptly to the manager or the ringmaster from the rear.
He ran around the big white mountain of canvas till he reached the performers' tent. Patrolling outside of it was a club-armed watchman.
"Please let me in," said Andy hurriedly. "I want to see the manager, quick."
"Yes, they all do. G'wan! Games don't go here."
"No, no, I'm not trying to dead-head it," cried Andy. "Please call Mr. Marco or Miss Starr. They know me—"
"G'wan, I tell you. I'm too old a bird to get caught by chaff. Get—now."
The watchman struck Andy a sharp rap over the shoulders. Andy was in desperation. He was started to run around to some other of the minor tents, when a shifting slit in the canvas gave him a momentary view of the interior of the big circus tent.
"Oh," cried Andy, wringing his hands, "the very act is on—the Benares Brothers! I must act at once!"
Andy made a rush, intent on getting under the canvas at all hazards. He checked himself. If he succeeded in eluding the watchman outside, he would have difficulty in getting to the manager. He might be captured inside at once. He stood staring at the tent top in extreme anxiety and suspense.