CHAPTER I THE LURE OF THE CIRCUS II PHIL HEARS HIS DISMISSAL III MAKING HIS START IN THE WORLD IV THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN V WHEN THE BANDS PLAYED VI PROVING HIS METTLE VII MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE ELEPHANTS VIII IN THE SAWDUST ARENA IX GETTING HIS FIRST CALL X PHIL GETS A SURPRISE XI THE FIRST NIGHT WITH THE SHOW XII A THRILLING RESCUE XIII THE DAWNING OF A NEW DAY XIV AN UNEXPECTED HIT XV A STROKE OF GOOD FORTUNE XVI HIS FIRST SETBACK XVII LEFT BEHIND XVIII A STARTLING DISCOVERY XIX TEDDY DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF XX THE RETURN TO THE SAWDUST LIFE XXI AN ELEPHANT IN JAIL XXII EMPEROR ANSWERS THE SIGNAL XXIII THE MYSTERY SOLVED XXIV CONCLUSION
The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings
THE LURE OF THE CIRCUS
"I say, Phil, I can do that."
"Do what, Teddy?"
"A cartwheel in the air like that fellow is doing in the picture on the billboard there."
"Oh, pshaw! You only think you can. Besides, that's not a cartwheel; that's a double somersault. It's a real stunt, let me tell you. Why, I can do a cartwheel myself. But up in the air like that—well, I don't know. I guess not. I'd be willing to try it, though, if I had something below to catch me," added the lad, critically surveying the figures on the poster before them.
"How'd you like to be a circus man, Phil?"
Phil's dark eyes glowed with a new light, his slender figure straightening until the lad appeared fully half a head taller.
"More than anything else in the world," he breathed. "Would you?"
"Going to be," nodded Teddy decisively, as if the matter were already settled.
"Oh, you are, eh?"
"I don't know. Someday—someday when I get old enough, maybe."
Phil Forrest surveyed his companion with a half critical smile on his face.
"What are you going to do—be a trapeze performer or what?"
"Well," reflected the lad wisely, "maybe I shall be an 'Or What.' I'm not sure. Sometimes I think I should like to be the fellow who cracks the whip with the long lash and makes the clowns hop around on one foot—"
"You mean the ringmaster?"
"I guess that's the fellow. He makes 'em all get around lively. Then, sometimes, I think I would rather be a clown. I can skin a cat on the flying rings to beat the band, now. What would you rather be, Phil?"
"Me? Oh, something up in the air—high up near the peak of the tent—something thrilling that would make the people sit up on the board seats and gasp, when, all dressed in pink and spangles, I'd go flying through the air—"
"Just like a bird?" questioned Teddy, with a rising inflection in his voice.
"Yes. That's what I'd like most to do, Teddy," concluded the lad, his face flushed with the thought of the triumphs that might be his.
Teddy Tucker uttered a soft, long-drawn whistle.
"My, you've got it bad, haven't you? Never thought you were that set on the circus. Wouldn't it be fine, now, if we both could get with a show?"
"Great!" agreed Phil, with an emphatic nod. "Sometimes I think my uncle would be glad to have me go away—that he wouldn't care whether I joined a circus, or what became of me."
"Ain't had much fun since your ma died, have you, Phil?" questioned Teddy sympathetically.
"Not much," answered the lad, a thin, gray mist clouding his eyes. "No, not much. But, then, I'm not complaining."
"Your uncle's a mean old—"
"There, there, Teddy, please don't say it. He may be all you think he is, but for all the mean things he's said and done to me, I've never given him an impudent word, Teddy. Can you guess why?"
"Cause he's your uncle, maybe," grumbled Teddy.
"No, 'cause he's my mother's brother—that's why."
"I don't know. Maybe I'd feel that way if I'd had a mother."
"But you did."
"Nobody ever introduced us, if I did. Guess she didn't know me. But if your uncle was my uncle do you know what I'd do with him, Phil Forrest?"
"Don't let's talk about him. Let's talk about the circus. It's more fun," interrupted Phil, turning to the billboard again and gazing at it with great interest.
They were standing before the glowing posters of the Great Sparling Combined Shows, that was to visit Edmeston on the following Thursday.
Phillip Forrest and Teddy Tucker were fast friends, though they were as different in appearance and temperament as two boys well could be. Phil was just past sixteen, while Teddy was a little less than a year younger. Phil's figure was slight and graceful, while that of his companion was short and chubby.
Both lads were orphans. Phil's parents had been dead for something more than five years. Since their death he had been living with a penurious old uncle who led a hermit-like existence in a shack on the outskirts of Edmeston.
But the lad could remember when it had been otherwise—when he had lived in his own home, surrounded by luxury and refinement, until evil days came upon them without warning. His father's property had been swept away, almost in a night. A year later both of his parents had died, leaving him to face the world alone.
The boy's uncle had taken him in begrudgingly, and Phil's life from that moment on had been one of self-denial and hard work. Yet he was thankful for one thing—thankful that his miserly old uncle had permitted him to continue at school.
Standing high in his class meant something in Phil's case, for the boy was obliged to work at whatever he could find to do after school hours, his uncle compelling him to contribute something to the household expenses every week. His duties done, Phil was obliged to study far into the night, under the flickering light of a tallow candle, because oil cost too much. Sometimes his candle burned far past the midnight hour, while he applied himself to his books that he might be prepared for the next day's classes.
Hard lines for a boy?
Yes. But Phil Forrest was not the lad to complain. He went about his studies the same as he approached any other task that was set for him to do—went about it with a grim, silent determination to conquer it. And he always did.
As for Teddy—christened Theodore, but so long ago that he had forgotten that that was his name—he studied, not because he possessed a burning desire for knowledge, but as a matter of course, and much in the same spirit he did the chores for the people with whom he lived.
Teddy was quite young when his parents died leaving him without a relative in the world. A poor, but kind-hearted family in Edmeston had taken the lad in rather than see him become a public charge. With them he had lived and been cared for ever since. Of late years, however, he had been able to do considerable toward lightening the burden for them by the money he managed to earn here and there.
The two boys were on their way home from school. There remained but one more day before the close of the term, which was a matter of sincere regret to Phil and of keen satisfaction to his companion. Just now both were too full of the subject of the coming show to think of much else.
"Going to the show, Phil?"
"I am afraid not."
"I haven't any money; that's the principal reason," smiled the boy. "Are you?"
"Sure. Don't need any money to go to a circus."
"How do you manage it?"
"Crawl in under the tent when the man ain't looking," answered Teddy promptly.
"I wouldn't want to do that," decided the older lad, with a shake of the head. "It wouldn't be quite honest. Do you think so?"
Teddy Tucker shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
"Never thought about it. Don't let myself think about it. Isn't safe, for I might not go to the show if I did. What's your other reason?"
"For not going to the circus?"
"Well, I don't think Uncle would let me; that's a fact."
"Says circuses and all that sort of thing are evil influences."
"Oh, pshaw! Wish he was my uncle," decided Teddy belligerently. "How long are you going to stand for being mauled around like a little yellow dog?"
"I'll stand most anything for the sake of getting an education. When I get that then I'm going to strike out for myself, and do something in the world. You'll hear from me yet, Teddy Tucker, and maybe I'll hear from you, too."
"See me, you mean—see me doing stunts on a high something-or- other in a circus. Watch me turn a somersault."
The lad stood poised on the edge of the ditch, on the other side of which the billboard stood. This gave him the advantage of an elevated position from which to attempt his feat.
"Look out that you don't break your neck," warned Phil. "I'd try it on a haymow, or something like that, first."
"Don't you worry about me. See how easy that fellow in the picture is doing it. Here goes!"
Teddy launched himself into the air, with a very good imitation of a diver making a plunge into the water, hands stretched out before him, legs straight behind him.
He was headed straight for the ditch.
"Turn, Teddy! Turn! You'll strike on your head."
Teddy was as powerless to turn as if he had been paralyzed from head to foot. Down he went, straight as an arrow. There followed a splash as his head struck the water of the ditch, the lad's feet beating a tattoo in the air while his head was stuck fast in the mud at the bottom of the ditch.
"He'll drown," gasped Phil, springing down into the little stream, regardless of the damage liable to be done to his own clothes.
Throwing both arms about the body of his companion he gave a mighty tug. Teddy stuck obstinately, and Phil was obliged to take a fresh hold before he succeeded in hauling the lad from his perilous position. Teddy was gasping for breath. His face, plastered with mud, was unrecognizable, while his clothes were covered from head to foot.
Phil dumped him on the grass beneath the circus billboard and began wiping the mud from his companion's face, while Teddy quickly sat up, blinking the mud out of his eyes and grumbling unintelligibly.
"You're a fine circus performer, you are," laughed Phil. "Suppose you had been performing on a flying trapeze in a circus, what do you suppose would have happened to you?"
"I'd have had a net under me then, and I wouldn't have fallen in the ditch," grunted Teddy sullenly.
"What do you suppose the folks will say when you go home in that condition?"
"Don't care what they say. Fellow has got to learn sometime, and if I don't have any worse thing happen to me than falling in a ditch I ought to be pretty well satisfied. Guess I'll go back now. Come on, go 'long with me."
Phil turned and strode along by the side of his companion until they reached the house where Teddy lived.
"Come on in."
"I'm sorry, Teddy, but I can't. My uncle will be expecting me, and he won't like it if I am late."
"All right; see you tomorrow if you don't come out again tonight. We'll try some more stunts then."
"I wouldn't till after the circus, were I in your place," laughed Phil.
"Cause, if you break your neck, you won't be able to go to the show."
"Huh!" grunted Teddy, hastily turning his back on his companion and starting for the house.
Phil took his way home silently and thoughtfully, carrying his precious bundle of books under an arm, his active mind planning as to how he might employ his time to the best advantage during the summer vacation that was now so close at hand.
A rheumatic, bent figure was standing in front of the shack where the lad lived, glaring up the street from beneath bushy eyebrows, noting Phil Forrest's leisurely gait disapprovingly.
Phil saw him a moment later.
"I'm in for a scolding," he muttered. "Wonder what it is all about this time. I don't seem able to do a thing to please Uncle Abner."
PHIL HEARS HIS DISMISSAL
"Where you been, young man?" The question was a snarl rather than a sentence.
"To school, Uncle, of course."
"School's been out more than an hour. I say, where have you been?"
"I stopped on the way for a few minutes."
"You did?" exploded Abner Adams. "Where?"
"Teddy Tucker and I stopped to read a circus bill over there on Clover Street. We did not stop but a few minutes. Was there any harm in that?"
"Harm? Circus bill—"
"And I want to go to the circus, too, Uncle, when it comes here. You know? I have not been to anything of that sort since mother died—not once. I'll work and earn the money. I can go in the evening after my work is finished. Please let me go, Uncle."
For a full minute Abner Adams was too overcome with his emotions to speak. He hobbled about in a circle, smiting the ground with his cane, alternately brandishing it threateningly in the air over the head of the unflinching Phil.
"Circus!" he shouted. "I might have known it! I might have known it! You and that Tucker boy are two of a kind. You'll both come to some bad ending. Only fools and questionable characters go to such places—"
"My mother and father went, and they always took me," replied the boy, drawing himself up with dignity. "You certainly do not include them in either of the two classes you have named?"
"So much the worse for them! So much the worse for them. They were a pair of—"
"Uncle, Uncle!" warned Phil. "Please don't say anything against my parents. I won't stand it. Don't forget that my mother was your own sister, too."
"I'm not likely to forget it, after she's bundled such a baggage as you into my care. You're turning out a worthless, good-for- nothing loaf—"
"You haven't said whether or not I might go to the circus, Uncle," reminded Phil.
"Circus? No! I'll have none of my money spent on any such worthless—"
"But I didn't ask you to spend your money, even though you have plenty of it. I said I would earn the money—"
"You'll have a chance to earn it, and right quick at that. No, you won't go to any circus so long as you're living under my roof."
"Very well, Uncle, I shall do as you wish, of course," answered Phil, hiding his disappointment as well as he could. The lad shifted his bundle of books to the other hand and started slowly for the house.
Abner Adams hobbled about until he faced the lad again, an angry gleam lighting up his squinting eyes.
"Come back here!"
Phil halted, turning.
"I said come back here."
The lad did so, his self-possession and quiet dignity never deserting him for an instant. This angered the crabbed old uncle more than ever.
"When will you get through school?"
"Tomorrow, I believe."
"Huh! Then, I suppose you intend to loaf for the rest of the summer and live on my hard earned savings. Is that it?"
"No, sir; I hadn't thought of doing anything of the sort. I thought—"
"What did you think?"
"I thought I would find something to do. Of course, I do not expect to be idle. I shall work at something until school begins again next fall, then, of course, I shall not be able to do so much."
"School! You've had enough school! In my days boys didn't spend the best part of their lives in going to school. They worked."
"Yes, sir; I am willing to work, too. But, Uncle, I must have an education. I shall be able to earn so much more then, and, if necessary, I shall be able to pay you for all you have spent on me, which isn't much, you know."
"What, what? You dare to be impudent to me? You—"
"No, sir, I am not impudent. I have never been that and I never shall be; but you are accusing me wrongfully."
"Enough. You have done with school—"
"You—you mean that I am not to go to school any more—that I have got to go through life with the little I have learned? Is that what you mean, Uncle?" asked the boy, with a sinking heart.
"You heard me."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I am working and I shall be working," Phil replied.
"You're right you will, or you'll starve. I have been thinking this thing over a lot lately. A boy never amounts to anything if he's mollycoddled and allowed to spend his days depending on someone else. Throw him out and let him fight his own way. That's what my father used to tell me, and that's what I'm going to say to you."
"What do you mean, Uncle?"
"Mean? Can't you understand the English language? Have I got to draw a picture to make you understand? Get to work!"
"I am going to as soon as school is out."
"You'll do it now. Get yourself out of my house, bag and baggage!"
"Uncle, Uncle!" protested the lad in amazement. "Would you turn me out?"
"Would I? I have, only you are too stupid to know it. You'll thank me for it when you get old enough to have some sense."
Phil's heart sank within him, and it required all his self-control to keep the bitter tears from his eyes.
"When do you wish me to go?" he asked without a quaver in his voice.
"Very well, I'll go. But what do you think my mother would say, could she know this?"
"That will do, young man. Do your chores, and then—"
"I am not working for you now, Uncle, you know, so I shall have to refuse to do the chores. There is fifty cents due me from Mr. Churchill for fixing his chicken coop. You may get that, I don't want it."
Phil turned away once more, and with head erect entered the house, going straight to his room, leaving Abner Adams fuming and stamping about in the front yard. The old man's rage knew no bounds. He was so beside himself with anger over the fancied impudence of his nephew that, had the boy been present, he might have so far forgotten himself as to have used his cane on Phil.
But Phil by this time had entered his own room, locking the door behind him. The lad threw his books down on the bed, dropped into a chair and sat palefaced, tearless and silent. Slowly his eyes rose to the old-fashioned bureau, where his comb and brush lay. The eyes halted when at length they rested on the picture of his mother.
The lad rose as if drawn by invisible hands, reached out and clasped the photograph to him. Then the pent-up tears welled up in a flood. With the picture pressed to his burning cheek Phil Forrest threw himself on his bed and sobbed out his bitter grief. He did not hear the thump of Abner Adams' cane on the bedroom door, nor the angry demands that he open it.
"Mother, Mother!" breathed the unhappy boy, as his sobs gradually merged into long-drawn, trembling sighs.
Perhaps his appeal was not unheard. At least Phil Forrest sprang from his bed, holding the picture away from him with both hands and gazing into the eyes of his mother.
Slowly his shoulders drew back and his head came up, while an expression of strong determination flashed into his own eyes.
"I'll do it—I'll be a man, Mother!" he exclaimed in a voice in which there was not the slightest tremor now. "I'll fight the battle and I'll win."
Phil Forest had come to the parting of the ways, which he faced with a courage unusual in one of his years. There was little to be done. He packed his few belongings in a bag that had been his mother's. The lad possessed one suit besides the one he wore, and this he stowed away as best he could, determining to press it out when he had located himself.
Finally his task was finished. He stood in the middle of the floor glancing around the little room that had been his home for so long. But he felt no regrets. He was only making sure that he had not left anything behind. Having satisfied himself on this point, Phil gathered up his bundle of books, placed the picture of his mother in his inside coat pocket, then threw open the door.
The lad's uncle had stamped to the floor below, where he was awaiting Phil's coming.
"Good-bye, Uncle," he said quietly, extending a hand.
"Let me see that bag," snapped the old man.
"The bag is mine—it belonged to my mother," explained the boy. "Surely you don't object to my taking it with me?"
"You're welcome to it, and good riddance; but I'm going to find out what's inside of it."
"You surely don't think I would take anything that doesn't belong to me—you can't mean that?"
"Ain't saying what I mean. Hand over that bag."
With burning cheeks, Phil did as he was bid, his unwavering eyes fixed almost sternly on the wrathful face of Abner Adams.
"Huh!" growled the old man, tumbling the contents out on the floor, shaking Phil's clothes to make sure that nothing was concealed in them.
Apparently satisfied, the old man threw the bag on the floor with an exclamation of disgust. Phil once more gathered up his belongings and stowed them away in the satchel.
"Turn out your pockets!"
"There is nothing in them, Uncle, save some trinkets of my own and my mother's picture."
"Turn them out!" thundered the old man.
"Uncle, I have always obeyed you. Obedience was one of the things that my mother taught me, but I'm sure that were she here she would tell me I was right in refusing to humiliate myself as you would have me do. There is nothing in my pockets that does not belong to me. I am not a thief."
"Then I'll turn them out myself!" snarled Abner Adams, starting forward.
Phil stepped back a pace, satchel in hand.
"Uncle, I am a man now," said the boy, straightening to his full height. "Please don't force me to do something that I should be sorry for all the rest of my life. Will you shake hands with me?"
"No!" thundered Abner Adams. "Get out of my sight before I lay the stick over your head!"
Phil stretched out an appealing hand, then hastily withdrew it.
"Good-bye, Uncle Abner," he breathed.
Without giving his uncle a chance to reply, the lad turned, opened the door and ran down the steps.
MAKING HIS START IN THE WORLD
The sun was just setting as Phil Forrest strode out of the yard. Once outside of the gate he paused, glancing irresolutely up and down the street. Which way to turn or where to go he did not know. He had not thought before of what he should do.
Phil heard the clatter of Abner Adams' stick as the old man thumped about in the kitchen.
Suddenly the door was jerked open with unusual violence.
"Begone!" bellowed Mr. Adams, brandishing his cane threateningly.
Phil turned down the street, without casting so much as a glance in the direction of his wrathful uncle, and continued on toward the open country. To anyone who had observed him there was nothing of uncertainty in the lad's walk as he swung along. As a matter of fact, Phil had not the slightest idea where he was going. He knew only that he wanted to get away by himself.
On the outskirts of the village men had been at work that day, cutting and piling up hay. The field was dotted with heaps of the fragrant, freshly garnered stuff.
Phil hesitated, glanced across the field, and, noting that the men had all gone home for the day, climbed the fence. He walked on through the field until he had reached the opposite side of it. Then the lad placed his bag on the ground and sat down on a pile of hay.
With head in hands, he tried to think, to plan, but somehow his mind seemed unable to perform its proper functions. It simply would not work.
"Not much of a start in the world, this," grinned Phil, shifting his position so as to command a better view of the world, for he did not want anyone to see him. "I suppose Uncle Abner is getting supper now. But where am I going to get mine? I hadn't thought of that before. It looks very much as if I should have to go without. But I don't care. Perhaps it will do me good to miss a meal," decided the boy sarcastically. "I've been eating too much lately, anyhow."
Twilight came; then the shadows of night slowly settled over the landscape, while the lad lay stretched out on the sweet-smelling hay, hands supporting his head, gazing up into the starlit sky.
Slowly his heavy eyelids fluttered and closed, and Phil was asleep. The night was warm and he experienced no discomfort. He was a strong, healthy boy, so that sleeping out of doors was no hardship to him. All through the night he slept as soundly as if he had been in his own bed at home. Nor did he awaken until the bright sunlight of the morning finally burned his eyelids apart.
Phil started up rubbing his eyes.
At first he wondered where he was. But the sight of his bag lying a little to one side brought back with a rush the memory of what had happened to him the evening before.
"Why, it's morning," marveled the lad, blinking in the strong sunlight. "And I've slept on this pile of hay all night. It's the first time I ever slept out of doors, and I never slept better in my life. Guess I'll fix myself up a little."
Phil remembered that a little trout stream cut across the field off to the right. Taking up his bag, he started for the stream, where he made his toilet as best he could, finishing up by lying flat on his stomach, taking a long, satisfying drink of the sparkling water.
"Ah, that feels better," he breathed, rolling over on the bank. After a little he helped himself to another drink. "But I've got to do something. I can't stay out here in this field all the rest of my life. And if I don't find something to eat I'll starve to death. I'll go downtown and see if I can't earn my breakfast somehow."
Having formed this resolution, Phil took up his belongings and started away toward the village. His course led him right past Abner Adams' house, but, fortunately, Mr. Adams was not in sight. Phil would have felt a keen humiliation had he been forced to meet the taunts of his uncle. He hurried on past the house without glancing toward it.
He had gone on for some little way when he was halted by a familiar voice.
"Hello, Phil! Where are you going in such a hurry and so early in the morning?"
Phil started guiltily and looked up quickly at the speaker.
"Good morning, Mrs. Cahill. What time is it?"
"It's just past four o'clock in the morning."
"Gracious! I had no idea it was so early as that," exclaimed the lad.
"If you are not in such a great hurry, stop a bit," urged the woman, her keen eyes noting certain things that she did not give voice to. She had known Phil Forrest for many years, and his parents before him. Furthermore, she knew something of the life he had led since the death of his parents. "Had your breakfast?"
"Of course you haven't. Come right in and eat with me," urged the good-hearted widow.
"If you will let me do some chores, or something to pay for it, I will," agreed Phil hesitatingly.
"Nothing of the kind! You'll keep me company at breakfast; then you'll be telling me all about it."
" 'Bout your going away," pointing significantly to the bag that Phil was carrying.
He was ravenously hungry, though he did not realize it fully until the odor of the widow's savory cooking smote his nostrils.
She watched him eat with keen satisfaction.
"Now tell me what's happened," urged Mrs. Cahill, after he had finished the meal.
Phil did so. He opened his heart to the woman who had known his mother, while she listened in sympathetic silence, now and then uttering an exclamation of angry disapproval when his uncle's words were repeated to her.
"And you're turned out of house and home? Is that it, my boy?"
"Well, yes, that's about it," grinned Phil.
"It's a shame."
"I'm not complaining, you know, Mrs. Cahill. Perhaps it's the best thing that could have happened to me. I've got to start out for myself sometime, you know. I'm glad of one thing, and that is that I didn't have to go until school closed. I get through the term today, you know?"
"And you're going to school today?"
"Oh, yes. I wouldn't want to miss the last day."
"I don't know. I shall find something else to do, I guess. I want to earn enough money this summer so that I can go to school again in the fall."
"And you shall. You shall stay right here with the Widow Cahill until you've got through with your schooling, my lad."
"I couldn't think of that. No; I am not going to be a burden to anyone. Don't you see how I feel—that I want to earn my own living now?"
She nodded understandingly.
"You can do some chores and—"
"I'll stay here until I find something else to do," agreed Phil slowly. "I shan't be able to look about much today, because I'll be too busy at school; but tomorrow I'll begin hunting for a job. What can I do for you this morning?"
"Well, you might chop some wood if you are aching to exercise your muscles," answered the widow, with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew that there was plenty of wood stored in the woodhouse, but she was too shrewd an observer to tell Phil so, realizing, as she did, that the obligation he felt for her kindness was too great to be lightly treated.
Phil got at his task at once, and in a few moments she heard him whistling an accompaniment to the steady thud, thud of the axe as he swung it with strong, resolute arms.
"He's a fine boy," was the Widow Cahill's muttered conclusion.
Phil continued at his work without intermission until an hour had passed. Mrs. Cahill went out, begging that he come in and rest.
"Rest? Why, haven't I been resting all night? I feel as if I could chop down the house and work it up into kindling wood, all before school time. What time is it?"
"Nigh on to seven o'clock. I've wanted to ask you something ever since you told me you had left Abner Adams. It's rather a personal question."
The lad nodded.
"Did your uncle send you away without any money?"
"Of course. Why should he have given me anything so long as I was going to leave him?"
"Did you ever hear him say that your mother had left a little money with him before she died—money that was to be used for your education as long as it lasted?"
Phil straightened up slowly, his axe falling to the ground, an expression of surprise appeared in his eyes.
"My mother left money—for me, you say?" he wondered.
"No, Phil, I haven't said so. I asked you if Abner had ever said anything of the sort?"
"No. Do you think she did?"
"I'm not saying what I think. I wish I was a man; I'd read old Abner Adams a lecture that he wouldn't forget as long as he lives."
Phil smiled indulgently.
"He's an old man, Mrs. Cahill. He's all crippled up with rheumatism, and maybe he's got a right to be cranky—"
"And to turn his own sister's child outdoors, eh? Not by a long shot. Rheumatics don't give anybody any call to do any such a thing as that. He ought to have his nose twisted, and it's me, a good church member, as says so."
The lad picked up his axe and resumed his occupation, while Mrs. Cahill turned up a chunk of wood and sat down on it, keeping up a running fire of comment, mostly directed at Abner Adams, and which must have made his ears burn.
Shortly after eight o'clock Phil gathered his books, strapped them and announced that he would be off for school.
"I'll finish the woodpile after school," he called back, as he was leaving the gate.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," retorted the Widow Cahill.
Darting out of the yard, Phil ran plump into someone, and halted sharply with an earnest apology.
"Seems to me you're in a terrible rush about something. Where you going?"
"Hello, Teddy, that you?"
"It's me," answered Teddy ungrammatically.
"I'm on my way to school."
"Never could understand why anybody should want to run when he's going to school. Now, I always run when I start off after school's out. What you doing here?" demanded the boy, drawing his eyelids down into a squint.
"I've been chopping some wood for Mrs. Cahill."
"Huh! What's the matter with the bear this morning?"
Teddy jerked a significant thumb in the direction of Phil's former home.
"Bear's got a grouch on a rod wide this morning."
"Oh, you mean Uncle Abner," answered Phil, his face clouding.
"I just dropped in to see if you were ready to go to school. He yelled at me like he'd gone crazy."
"That all?" grinned the other boy.
"No. He chased me down the road till his game knee gave out; then he fell down."
Phil could not repress a broad grin at this news.
"Good thing for me that I could run. He'd have given me a walloping for sure if he'd caught me. I'll bet that stick hurts when it comes down on a fellow. Don't it, Phil?"
"I should think it would. I have never felt it, but I have had some pretty narrow escapes. What did the folks you are living with say when you got home all mud last night?"
Teddy grinned a sheepish sort of grin.
"Told me I'd better go out in the horse barn—said my particular style of beauty was better suited to the stable than to the kitchen."
"Well, no, not so as you might notice it. I went down to the creek and went in swimming, clothes and all. That was the easiest way. You see, I could wash the mud off my clothes and myself all at the same time."
"It's a wonder they let you in at all, then."
"They didn't; at least not until I had wrung the water out of my trousers and twisted my hair up into a regular top-knot. Then I crawled in behind the kitchen stove and got dried out after a while. But I got my supper. I always do."
"Yes; I never knew you to go without meals."
"Sorry you ain't going to the circus tomorrow, Phil."
"I am. Teddy, I'm free. I can do as I like now. Yes, I'll go to the circus with you, and maybe if I can earn some money tonight I'll treat you to red lemonade and peanuts."
"Hooray!" shouted Teddy, tossing his hat high in the air.
THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
The Sparling Combined Shows came rumbling into Edmeston at about three o'clock the next morning. But, early as was the hour, two boys sat on the Widow Cahill's door-yard fence watching the wagons go by.
The circus was one of the few road shows that are now traveling through the country, as distinguished from the great modern organizations that travel by rail with from one to half a dozen massive trains. The Sparling people drove from town to town. They carried twenty-five wagons, besides a band wagon, a wild-west coach and a calliope.
"Phil! Phil! Look!" exclaimed Teddy, clutching at his companion's coat sleeve, as two hulking, swaying figures appeared out of the shadows of the early morning.
"Elephants! There's two of them."
"Ain't that great? I didn't suppose they'd have any elephants. Wonder if there's any lions and tigers in those big wagons."
"Of course there are. Didn't you see pictures of them on the bills, Teddy?"
"I don't know. Dan Marts, the postmaster, says you can't set any store by the pictures. He says maybe they've got the things you see in the pictures, and maybe they haven't. There's a camel! Look at it! How'd you like to ride on that hump all day?" questioned Teddy gleefully.
"Shouldn't like it at all."
"I read in my geography that they ride on them all the time on the—on—on Sarah's Desert."
"Oh, you mean the Sahara Desert—that's what you mean," laughed Phil.
"I should rather ride an elephant. See, it's just like a rocking chair. I could almost go to sleep watching them move along."
"I couldn't," declared Teddy. "I couldn't any more go to sleep when a circus is going by than I could fly without wings."
"See, there comes a herd of ponies. Look how small they are. Not much bigger than St. Bernard dogs. They could walk right under the elephants and not touch them."
"Where do they all sleep?" wondered Teddy.
"Who, the ponies?"
"No, of course not. The people."
"I don't know unless they sleep in the cages with the animals," laughed Phil. "Some of the folks appear to be sleeping on the horses."
"I'd be willing to go without sleep if I could be a showman," mused Teddy. "Wouldn't you?"
"Sure," agreed Phil. "Hello! There come some more wagons. Come on! We'll run down to meet them."
"No; Let's go over to the grounds where the circus is coming off. They'll be putting up the tents first thing we know."
"That's so, and I want to be around. You going to work any, Teddy?"
"Not I. I'm going to see the show, but you don't catch me carrying pails of water for the elephants for a ticket of admission that don't admit you to anything except a stand-up. I can stand up cheaper than that."
Both boys slipped from the fence, and, setting off at a jog trot, began rapidly overhauling and passing the slow-moving wagons with their tired horses and more tired drivers.
By the time Teddy and Phil reached the circus grounds several wagons were already there. Shouts sprang up from all parts of the field, while half a dozen men began measuring off the ground in the dim morning light, locating the best places in which to pitch the tents. Here and there they would drive in a stake, on one of which they tied a piece of newspaper.
"Wonder what that's for," thought Phil aloud.
"Hey, what's the paper tied on the peg for?" shouted Teddy to a passing showman.
"That's the front door, sonny."
"Funniest looking front door I ever saw," grunted Teddy.
"He means that's the place where the people enter and leave their tickets."
"Oh, yes. That's what they call the 'Main Entrance,'" nodded Teddy. "I've seen it, but I don't usually go in that way."
With the early dawn figures began emerging from several of the wagons. They were a sleepy looking lot, and for a time stood about in various attitudes, yawning, stretching their arms and rubbing their eyes.
"Hey, boy, what town is this?" questioned a red-haired youth, dragging himself toward the two lads.
"Oh, yes. I remember; I was here once before."
"With a show?" asked Teddy.
"Yes, with a Kickapoo Indian medicine man. And he was bad medicine. Say, where can I wash my countenance?"
"Come on; I'll show you," exclaimed Teddy and Phil in the same breath.
They led the way to the opposite side of the field, where there was a stream of water. While the circus boy was making his morning toilet the lads watched him in admiring silence.
"What do you do?" ventured Phil.
"I perform on the rings."
"Up in the air?"
"Ever fall off?"
"I get my bumps," grinned the red-haired boy. "My name is Rodney Palmer. What's your names?"
They told him.
"We're going to be circus men, too," Teddy informed him, but the announcement did not seem to stir a deep interest in the circus boy. He had heard other boys say the same thing. "Is it very hard work?"
"When do you sleep?"
"When we ain't awake."
"And you perform on the flying rings?"
Rodney nodded his head indifferently.
"I should think you'd burn the tent up with that head of red hair," grinned Teddy.
Instead of getting angry at the boy's thrust, Rodney glanced at Teddy with a half questioning look in his eyes, then burst out laughing.
"You're a cheerful idiot, aren't you?" he twinkled. "I'll tell you why I don't. Confidentially, you know?"
"I wear a wig when I'm performing. Mebby if it wasn't for that I might set something on fire. I must get over on the lot now."
"You're in a lot already," Teddy informed him.
"We call the place where we pitch the tents 'the lot.' The cook tent must be up by this time, and I'm half starved. The performance was so late yesterday afternoon that they had the cook tent down before I got my supper. Will you come along?"
"Do you think there is anything I could do to earn a ticket to the show today?" asked Phil.
"Yes, there's most always something for a boy to do."
"Whom do I ask about it?"
"Go see the boss canvasman. I'll point him out to you as we go along."
"Thank you. You want to see him, too, Teddy?"
"No; I don't have to."
"That's him over there. He's a grouch, but just don't let him bluff you. Yes, the cook tent's about ready. I'll sneak in and hook something before breakfast; then mebby I'll come back and talk with you."
"We'll look for you in the show this afternoon," said Phil.
"All right, if I see you I'll swing my hand to you," Rodney replied, starting for the cook tent, where the meals were served to the show people.
"Now, I'm going to see that boss canvasman," announced Phil. "See, they are laying the pieces of the tents flat on the ground. I suppose they fasten them all together when they get them placed, then raise them up on the poles."
"I guess so. I don't care much so long as I don't have to do it."
"Teddy Tucker, actually you are the laziest boy I ever knew. Why don't you brace up?"
"Don't I have just as good a time and better, than you do?"
"Guess you do."
"Don't I get just as much to eat?"
"I presume so," admitted Phil.
"Don't I see all the shows that come to town, and go to all the picnics?"
"Then, what's the use of being any more'n lazy?"
Teddy's logic was too much for his companion, and Phil laughed heartily.
"Look, the elephant is butting one of the wagons," cried Teddy.
"No, they are using the elephant to push the cage around in place. I wonder what's in it," said Phil.
A roar that fairly made the ground shake answered Phil's question. The cage in question held a lion, and a big, ugly one if his voice was any indication. The great elephant, when the cage was being placed, would, at a signal from its keeper, place its ponderous head against one side of the cage and push, while a driver would steer the wagon by taking hold of the end of the tongue.
It was a novel sight for the two boys, and they watched it with the keenest interest. A man dressed in riding clothes, carrying a short crop in his hand, was observing the operations with equal interest. He was James Sparling, the proprietor and manager of the Great Combined Shows, but the lads were unaware of that fact. Even had they known, it is doubtful if Mr. Sparling would have been of sufficient attraction to draw their attention from the working elephant.
All at once there was a warning shout from Mr. Sparling.
The men set up a yell, followed by a sudden scurrying from the immediate vicinity of the cage that the elephant had been shunting about.
"Stop it! Brace it!" bellowed the owner of the show, making frantic motions with his free hand, cutting circles and dashes in the air with the short crop held in the other.
"What's the row?" wondered Teddy.
"I—I don't know," stammered Phil.
"The elephant's tipping the lion cage over!" shouted someone. "Run for your lives!"
For once in his life Teddy Tucker executed a lightning-like movement. He was one of several dark streaks on the landscape running as if Wallace, the biggest lion in captivity, were in reality hard upon his heels. As he ran, Teddy uttered a howl that could have been heard from one end of the circus lot to the other.
A few of the more fearless ones, the old hands of the show, did not attempt to run. Instead they stood still, fairly holding their breaths, waiting to see what would happen next.
Mr. Sparling was too far away to be able to do anything to prevent the catastrophe that was hanging over them, but it did not prevent him from yelling like a madman at the inactive employees of the show.
At the first cry—the instant he comprehended what was happening— Phil Forrest moved every bit as quickly as had his companion, though he leaped in the opposite direction.
All about on the ground lay tent poles of various length and thickness, side poles, quarter poles and the short side poles used to hold the tent walls in place. These were about twenty feet in length and light enough to be easily handled.
With ready resourcefulness and quick comprehension, Phil pounced upon one of these and darted toward the cage which was toppling over in his direction.
The roof of the lion cage that housed Wallace projected over the edge some six inches, and this had caught the keen eyes of the lad at the first alarm. His plan had been formed in a flash.
He shot one end of the side pole up under the projecting roof, jammed the other end into the ground, throwing his whole weight upon the foot of the pole to hold it in place.
For an instant the tent pole bent like a bow under the pull of the archer. It seemed as if it must surely snap under the terrific strain.
Phil saw this, too. Now that the foot of the pole was firmly imbedded in the ground, there was no further need for him to hold it down. He sprang under the pole with the swaying cage directly over him, grabbed the pole at the point where it was arching so dangerously, and pulling himself from the ground, held to the slippery stick desperately.
Light as he was the boy's weight saved the pole. It bent no further.
The cage swayed from side to side, threatening to topple over at one end or the other.
"Get poles under the ends," shouted the boy in a shrill voice. "I can't hold it here all day."
"Get poles, you lazy good-for-nothings!" bellowed the owner. "Brace those ends. Look out for the elephant. Don't you see he's headed for the cage again?"
Orders flew thick and fast, but through it all Phil Forrest hung grimly to the side pole, taking a fresh overhand hold, now and then, as his palms slipped down the painted stick.
Now that he had shown the way, others sprang to his assistance. Half a dozen poles were thrust up under the roof and the cage began slowly settling back the other way.
"Hadn't you better have some poles braced against the other side, sir?" suggested Phil, touching his hat to Mr. Sparling, who, he had discovered, was some person in authority. "The cage may tip clear over on the other side, or it may drop so heavily on the wheels as to break the axles."
"Right. Brace the off side. That's right. Now let it down slowly. Not so hard on the nigh side there. Ease off there, Bill. Push, Patsy. What do you think this is—a game of croquet? There you go. Right. Now let's see if you woodenheads know enough to keep the wagon right side up."
Mr. Sparling took off his hat and wiped the perspiration from his forehead, while Phil stood off calmly surveying the men who were straightening the wagon, but with more caution than they had exercised before.
"Come here, boy."
Someone touched Phil on the arm.
"What is it?"
"Boss wants to speak to you."
"Boss Sparling, the fellow over there with the big voice and the sombrero."
Phil walked over and touched his hat to Mr. Sparling.
The showman looked the lad over from head to foot.
"What's your name?" He shot the question at the lad as if angry about something, and he undoubtedly was.
"Do they grow your kind around here?"
"I can't say, sir."
"If they do, I'd like to hire a dozen or more of them. You've got more sense than any boy of your age I ever saw. How old are you?"
"Huh! I wish I had him!" growled Mr. Sparling. "What do you want?"
"I should like to have a chance to earn a pass to the show this afternoon. Rodney Palmer said the boss canvasman might give me a chance to earn one."
"Earn one? Earn one?" Mr. Sparling's voice rose to a roar again. "What in the name of Old Dan Rice do you think you've been doing? Here you've kept a cage with a five-thousand-dollar lion from tipping over, to say nothing of the people who might have been killed had the brute got out, and you want to know how you can earn a pass to the show? What d'ye think of that?" and the owner appealed helplessly to an assistant who had run across the lot, having been attracted to the scene by the uproar.
The assistant grinned.
"He's too modest to live."
"Pity modesty isn't more prevalent in this show, then. How many do you want? Have a whole section if you say the word."
"How many are there in a section?" asked Phil.
" 'Bout a hundred seats."
"I—I guess two will be enough," he made answer.
"Here you are," snapped the owner, thrusting a card at the lad, on which had been scribbled some characters, puzzling to the uninitiated. "If you want anything else around this show you just ask for it, young man. Hey, there! Going to be all day getting that canvas up? Don't you know we've got a parade coming along in a few hours?"
Phil Forrest, more light of heart than in many days, turned away to acquaint his companion of his good fortune. Teddy Tucker was making his way cautiously back to the scene of the excitement of a few moments before.
"Did he get away?" Teddy questioned, ready to run at the drop of the hat should the danger prove to be still present.
"Who, the manager?"
"No, the lion."
"He's in the cage where he's been all the time. They haven't opened it yet, but I guess he's all right. Say, Teddy!"
"I've got a pass to the show for two people for both performances—this afternoon and tonight."
The interest that the announcement brought to Teddy's eyes died away almost as soon as it appeared.
"Am I going? I should say so. Want to go in with me on my pass, Teddy?"
The lad hitched his trousers, took a critical squint at the canvas that was slowly mounting the center pole to the accompaniment of creaking ropes, groaning tackle and confused shouting.
"They're getting the menagerie tent up. I'll bet it's going to be a dandy show," he vouchsafed. "How'd you get the tickets?"
"Manager gave them to me."
"I did a little work for him. Helped get the lion's cage straightened up. How about it—are you going in on my pass?"
"N-o-o," drawled Teddy. "Might get me into bad habits to go in on a pass. I'd rather sneak in under the tent when the boss isn't looking."
WHEN THE BANDS PLAYED
Phil started for the Widow Cahill's on the run after having procured his tickets. "Here's a ticket for the circus, Mrs. Cahill," he shouted, bursting into the room, with excited, flushed face.
"What's this you say—the circus? Land sakes, I haven't seen one since I was—well, since I was a girl. I don't know."
"You'll go, won't you?" urged Phil.
"Of course, I'll go," she made haste to reply, noting the disappointment in his face over her hesitation. "And thank you very much."
"Shall I come and get you, Mrs. Cahill, or can you get over to the circus grounds alone?"
"Don't worry about me, my boy. I'll take care of myself."
"Your seat will be right next to mine, and we can talk while we are watching the performers."
"Yes; you run along now. Here's a quarter for spending money. Never mind thanking me. Just take it and have a good time. Where's your friend?"
"Over on the lot."
"He going in with you, too?"
"Oh, no. Teddy is too proud to go in that way. He crawls in under the tent," laughed Phil, running down the steps and setting off for the circus grounds with all speed.
When he arrived there he saw at once that something was going on. The tents were all in place, the little white city erected with as much care and attention to detail as if the show expected to remain in Edmeston all summer. The lad could scarcely make himself believe that, only a few hours before, this very lot had been occupied by the birds alone. It was a marvel to him, even in after years, when he had become as thoroughly conversant with the details of a great show as any man in America.
Just now there was unusual activity about the grounds. Men in gaudy uniforms, clowns in full makeup, and women with long glistening trains, glittering with spangles from head to feet, were moving about, while men were decorating the horses with bright blankets and fancy headdress.
"What are they going to do?" asked Phil of a showman.
"Going to parade."
"Oh, yes, that's so; I had forgotten about that."
"Hello, boy—I've forgotten your name—"
"Forrest," explained Phil, turning. The speaker was Mr. Sparling's assistant, whom the lad had seen just after saving the lion cage from turning over.
"Can you blow a horn as well as you can stop a wagon?"
"Depends upon what kind of a horn. I think I can make as much noise on a fish horn as anyone else."
"That'll do as well as anything else. Want to go in the parade?"
"I'd love to!" The color leaped to the cheeks of Phil Forrest and a sparkle to his eyes. This was going beyond his fondest dreams.
The assistant motioned to a clown.
"Fix this boy up in some sort of a rig. I'm going to put him in the Kazoo Band. Bring him back here when he is ready. Be quick."
A long, yellow robe was thrown about the boy, a peaked cap thrust on his head, after which a handful of powder was slapped on his face and rubbed down with the flat of the clown's hand. The fine dust got into the lad's nostrils and throat, causing him to sneeze until the tears rolled down his cheeks, streaking his makeup like a freshet through a plowed field.
"Good," laughed the clown. "That's what your face needs. You'd make a good understudy for Chief Rain-In-The-Face. Now hustle along."
Phil picked up the long skirts and ran full speed to the place where the assistant had been standing. There he waited until the assistant returned from a journey to some other part of the lot.
"That's right; you know how to obey orders," he nodded. "That's a good clown makeup. Did Mr. Miaco put those streaks on your face?"
"No, I sneezed them there," answered Phil, with a sheepish grin.
The assistant laughed heartily. Somehow, he had taken a sudden liking to this boy.
"Do you live at home, Forrest?"
"No; I have no home now."
"Here's a fish horn. Now get up in the band wagon—no, not the big one, I mean the clowns' band wagon with the hayrack on it. When the parade starts blow your confounded head off if you want to. Make all the noise you can. You'll have plenty of company. When the parade breaks up, just take off your makeup and turn it over to Mr. Miaco."
"You mean these clothes?"
"Yes. They're a part of the makeup. You'll have to wash the makeup off your face. I don't expect you to return the powder to us," grinned the assistant humorously.
The clowns were climbing to the hayrack. A bugle had blown as a signal that the parade was ready to move. Phil had not seen Teddy Tucker since returning to the lot. He did not know where the boy was, but he was quite sure that Teddy was not missing any of the fun. Tucker had been around circuses before, and knew how to make the most of his opportunities. And he was doing so now.
"Ta ra, ta ra, ta ra!" sang the bugle.
Crash! answered the cymbals and the bass drums. The snare drums buzzed a long, thrilling roll; then came the blare of the brass as the whole band launched into a lively tune such as only circus bands know how to play.
The parade had begun to move.
It was a thrilling moment—the moment of all moments of Phil Forrest's life.
The clowns' wagon had been placed well back in the line, so as not to interfere with the music of the band itself. But Phil did not care where he was placed. He only knew that he was in a circus parade, doing his part with the others, and that, so far as anyone knew, he was as much a circus man as any of them.
As the cavalcade drew out into the main street and straightened away, Phil was amazed to see what a long parade it was. It looked as if it might reach the whole length of the village.
The spring sun was shining brightly, lighting up the line, transforming it into a moving, flashing, brilliant ribbon of light and color.
"Splendid!" breathed the boy, removing the fish horn from his lips for a brief instant, then blowing with all his might again.
As the wagons moved along he saw many people whom he knew. As a matter of fact, Phil knew everyone in the village, but there were hundreds of people who had driven in from the farms whom he did not know. Nor did anyone appear to recognize him.
"If they only knew, wouldn't they be surprised?" chuckled the lad. "Hello, there's Mrs. Cahill."
The widow was standing on her front door step with a dishtowel in one hand.
In the excess of his excitement, Phil stood up, waving his horn and yelling.
She heard him—as everybody else within a radius of a quarter of a mile might have—and she recognized the voice. Mrs. Cahill brandished the dishtowel excitedly.
"He's a fine boy," she glowed. "And he's having the first good time he's had in five years."
The Widow Cahill was right. For the first time in all these years, since the death of his parents, Phil Forrest was carefree and perfectly happy.
The clowns on the wagon with him were uproariously funny. When the wagon stopped now and then, one whom Phil recognized as the head clown, Mr. Miaco, would spring to the edge of the rack and make a stump speech in pantomime, accompanied by all the gestures included in the pouring and drinking of a glass of water. So humorous were the clown's antics that the spectators screamed with laughter.
Suddenly the lad espied that which caused his own laughter to die away, and for the moment he forgot to toot the fish horn. The parade was passing his former home, and there, standing hunched forward, leaning on his stick and glaring at the procession from beneath bushy eyebrows, stood Phil's uncle, Abner Adams.
Phil's heart leaped into his throat; at least that was the sensation that he experienced.
"I—I hope he doesn't know me," muttered the lad, shrinking back a little. "But I'm a man now. I don't care. He's driven me out and he has no right to say a thing."
The lad lost some of his courage, however, when the procession halted, and he found that his wagon was directly in front of Mr. Adams' dooryard, with his decrepit uncle not more than twenty feet away from him. The surly, angry eyes of Abner Adams seemed to be burning through Phil's makeup, and the lad instinctively shrank back ever so little.
However, at that instant the boy's attention was attracted to another part of the wagon. The head clown stepped from the wagon and, with dignified tread, approached Abner Adams. He grasped the old man by the hand, which he shook with great warmth, making a courtly bow.
At first Abner Adams was too surprised to protest. Then, uttering an angry snarl, he threw the clown off, making a vicious pass at him with his heavy stick.
The clown dodged the blow, and made a run for the wagon, which was now on the move again.
Phil breathed a sigh of relief. The people had roared at the funny sight of the clown shaking hands with the crabbed old man; but to Phil Forrest there had been nothing of humor in it. The sight of his uncle brought back too many unhappy memories.
The lad soon forgot his depression, however, in the rapid changes that followed each other in quick succession as on a moving- picture film.
Reaching the end of the village street the procession was obliged to turn and retrace its steps over the same ground until it reached the business part of the town, where it would turn off and pass through some of the side streets.
Now there were two lines, moving in opposite directions. This was of interest to Phil, enabling him, as it did, to get a good look at the other members of the troupe. Mr. Sparling was riding ahead in a carriage drawn by four splendid white horses, driven by a coachman resplendent in livery and gold lace, while the bobbing plumes on the heads of the horses added to the impressiveness of the picture.
"I'd give anything in the world to be able to ride in a carriage like that," decided Phil. "Maybe someday I shall. We'll see."
Now came the elephants, lumbering along on velvet feet. On the second one there crouched a figure that somehow seemed strangely familiar to Phil Forrest. The figure was made up to represent a huge frog.
A peculiar gesture of one of the frog's legs revealed the identity of the figure beneath the mask.
"Teddy!" howled Phil.
"Have a frog's leg," retorted Teddy, shaking one of them vigorously at the motley collection of clowns.
"Not eating frogs legs today," jeered a clown, as Teddy went swinging past them, a strange, grotesque figure on the back of the huge, hulking beast.
The clowns' wagon was just on the point of turning when the men heard a loud uproar far down the line. At first they thought it was a part of the show, but it soon became apparent that something was wrong.
Phil instinctively let the horn fall away from his lips. He peered curiously over the swaying line to learn what, if anything, had gone wrong.
He made out the cause of the trouble almost at once. A pony with a woman on its back had broken from the line, and was plunging toward them at a terrific pace. She appeared to have lost all control of the animal, and the pony, which proved to be an ugly broncho, was bucking and squealing as it plunged madly down the street.
The others failed to see what Phil had observed almost from the first. The bit had broken in the mouth of the broncho and the reins hung loosely in the woman's helpless hands.
They were almost up with the clowns' wagon when the woman was seen to sway dizzily in her saddle, as the leather slipped beneath her. Then she plunged headlong to the ground.
Instead of falling in a heap, the circus woman, with head dragging, bumping along the ground, was still fast to the pony.
"Her foot is caught in the stirrup!" yelled half a dozen men at once, but not a man of them made an effort to rescue her. Perhaps this was because none of the real horsemen of the show were near enough to do so.
Mr. Sparling, however, at the first alarm, had leaped from his carriage, and, thrusting a rider from his mount, sprang into the saddle and came tearing down the line in a cloud of dust. He was bearing down on the scene at express train speed.
"The woman will be killed!"
"Stop him! Stop him!"
"Stop him yourself!"
But not a man made an effort to do anything.
It had all occurred in a few seconds, but rapidly as the events succeeded each other, Phil Forrest seemed to be the one among them who retained his presence of mind.
He fairly launched himself into the air as the ugly broncho shot alongside the clowns' wagon.
PROVING HIS METTLE
Familiar as they were with daring deeds, those of the circus people who witnessed Phil Forrest's dive gasped.
They expected to see the boy fall beneath the feet of the plunging pony, where he would be likely to be trampled and kicked to death.
But Phil had looked before he leaped. He had measured his distance well—had made up his mind exactly what he was going to do, or rather what he was going to try to do.
The pony, catching a brief glimpse of the dark figure that was being hurled through the air directly toward him, made a swift leap to one side. But the animal was not quick enough. The boy landed against the broncho with a jolt that nearly knocked the little animal over, while to Phil the impact could not have been much more severe, it seemed to him, had he collided with a locomotive.
"Hang on!" howled a voice from the wagon.
That was exactly what he intended to do.
The cloud of dust, with Mr. Sparling in the center of it, had not reached them, but his keen eyes already had observed what was going on.
"G-g-g-grab the woman!" shouted Phil.
His left arm had been thrown about the broncho's neck, while his right hand was groping frantically for the animal's nose. But during all this time the pony was far from idle. He was plunging like a ship in a gale, cracking the whip with Phil Forrest until it seemed as if every bone in the lad's body would be broken. He could hear his own neck snap with every jerk.
With a howl Miaco, the head clown, launched himself from the wagon, too. Darting in among the flying hoofs—there seemed to be a score of them—he caught the woman, jerked her foot free of the stirrup and dragged her quickly from her perilous position.
"She's free. Let go!" he roared to the boy holding the pony.
But by this time Phil had fastened his right hand on the pony's nostrils, and with a quick pressure shut off the animal's wind. He had heard the warning cry. The lad's grit had been aroused, however, and he was determined that he would not let go until he should have conquered the fighting broncho.
With a squeal of rage, the pony leaped sideways. A deep ditch led along by the side of the road, but this the enraged animal had not noticed. Into it he went, kicking and fighting, pieces of Phil's yellow robe streaming from his hoofs.
The lad's body was half under the neck of the pony, but he was clinging to the neck and the nose of the beast with desperate courage.
"Get the boy out of there!" thundered Mr. Sparling, dashing up and leaping from his pony. "Want to let him be killed?"
By this time others had ridden up, and some of the real horsemen in the outfit sprang off and rushed to Phil Forrest's assistance. Ropes were cast over the flying hoofs before the men thought it wise to get near them. Then they hauled Phil out, very much the worse for wear.
In the meantime Mr. Sparling's carriage had driven up and he was helping the woman in.
"Is the boy hurt?" he called.
"No, I'm all right, thank you," answered Phil, smiling bravely, though he was bruised from head to foot and his clothing hung in tatters. His peaked clown's cap someone picked up in a field over the fence and returned to him. That was about all that was left of Phil Forrest's gaudy makeup, save the streaks on his face, which by now had become blotches of white and red.
The clowns picked him up and boosted him to the wagon, jabbering like a lot of sparrows perched on a telephone wire.
"See you later!" shouted the voice of Mr. Sparling as he drove rapidly away.
Phil found his horn, and despite his aches and pains he began blowing it lustily. The story of his brave rescue had gone on ahead, however, and as the clowns' wagon moved on it was greeted by tremendous applause.
The onlookers had no difficulty in picking out the boy who had saved the woman's life, and somehow the word had been passed around as to his identity.
"Hooray for Phil Forrest!" shouted the multitude.
Phil flushed under the coating of powder and paint, and sought to crouch down in the wagon out of sight.
"Here, get up there where they can see you!" admonished a clown. "If you're going to be a showman you mustn't be afraid to get yourself in the spotlight."
Two of them hoisted the blushing Phil to their shoulders and broke into a rollicking song, swaying their bodies in imitation of the movements of an elephant as they sang.
At this the populace fairly howled with delight.
"He's the boy, even if he ain't purty to look at," jeered someone in the crowd.
"Handsome is as handsome does!" retorted a clown in a loud voice, and the people cheered.
After this the parade went on without further incident, though there could be no doubt that the exciting dash and rescue by one of their own boys had aroused the town to a high pitch of excitement. And the showmen smiled, for they knew what that meant.
"Bet we'll have a turn-away this afternoon," announced a clown.
"Looks that way," agreed another, "and all on account of the kid."
"What's a turn-away?" asked Phil.
"That's when there are more people want to get in than the tent will hold. And it means, too, that the boss will be good natured till it rains again, and the wagons get stuck in the mud so that we'll make the next town behind time. At such times he can make more noise than the steam calliope."
"He seems to me to be a pretty fine sort of a man, even if he is gruff," suggested Phil.
"The best ever," agreed several clowns. "You'll look a long way before you'll find a better showman, or a better man to his help, than Jim Sparling. Ever been in the show business, kid?"
Phil shook his head.
"Anybody'd think you always had been, the way you take hold of things. I'll bet you'll be in it before you are many years older."
"I'd like to," glowed the lad.
"Ask the boss."
"No, he wouldn't want me. There is nothing I could do now, I guess."
Further conversation was interrupted by the bugle's song announcing the disbanding of the parade, the right of the line having already reached the circus lot.
The clowns piled from the hayrack like a cataract, the cataract having all the colors of the rainbow.
Phil, not to be behind, followed suit, though he did not quite understand what the rush was about. He ran until he caught up with Miaco.
"What's the hurry about?" he questioned.
"Parade's over. Got to hurry and get dinner, so as to be ready for the afternoon performance."
All hands were heading for the dressing tent in a mad rush.
Phil was halted by the assistant manager.
The lad glanced down rather sheepishly at his costume, which was hanging in tatters, then up at the quizzically smiling face of the showman.
"I—I'm sorry I've spoiled it, sir, but I couldn't help it."
"Don't worry about that, young man. How did it happen?" he questioned, pretending not to know anything about the occurrence in which Phil had played a leading part.
"Well, you see, there was a horse ran away, and I happened to get in the way of it. I—"
"Yes, Forrest, I understand all about it. Somebody did something to that animal to make it run away and the boss is red headed over it."
"No, that's right. It was lucky that there was one person in the parade who had some sense left, or there would have been a dead woman with this outfit," growled the assistant.
"Was she badly hurt?"
"No. Only bruised up a bit. These show people get used to hard knocks."
"I'm glad she is all right. Who is she?"
"Don't you know?"
"That was Mr. Sparling's wife whose life you saved, and I reckon the boss will have something to say to you when he gets sight of you again."
MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE ELEPHANTS
"Is it possible? I didn't know that," marveled the boy. "And does she perform?"
"Everybody works in this outfit, young man," laughed the assistant, "as you will learn if you hang around long enough. Going to the show?"
"Mr. Sparling provided me with tickets, thank you. But I've got to get home first and put on some other clothes. This suit is about done for, isn't it?"
"I should say it was. You did that stopping the horse, didn't you?"
"Boss will buy you a new suit for that."
"Oh, no; I couldn't allow him to do that," objected Phil.
"Well, you are a queer youngster. So long. I'll see you when you come in this afternoon. Wait, let me see your tickets."
The lad handed them over wonderingly, at which his questioner nodded approvingly.
"They're good seats. Hope you will enjoy the show."
"Thank you; I am sure I shall," answered Phil, touching his hat and starting on a run for home.
Arriving there, Mrs. Cahill met him and threw up her hands in horror when she observed the condition of his clothes.
"I am afraid they are gone for good," grinned Phil rather ruefully.
"No. You leave them with me. I'll fix them up for you. I heard how you saved that show woman's life. That was fine, my boy. I'm proud of you, that I am. You did more than all those circus men could do, and the whole town is talking about it."
"If you are going to the show you had better be getting ready," urged Phil, wishing to change the subject.
"All right, I will. I'll fix your clothes when I get back. Will you be home to supper?"
"I don't know for sure. If I can I'll be back in time, but please don't wait for me. Here is your ticket."
The lad hurried to the room the good woman had set aside for him and quickly made the change of clothing. He was obliged to change everything he had on, for even his shirt had been torn in his battle with the broncho. After bathing and putting on the fresh clothes, Phil hurried from the house, that he might miss nothing of the show.
The sideshow band was blaring brazenly when he reached the lot. The space in front of the main entrance was packed with people, many of whom pointed to him, nodding their heads and directing the attention of their companions to the lad.
Phil wished he might be able to skulk in by the back door and thus avoid their attention, but as this was impossible, he pulled his hat down over his eyes and worked his way slowly toward the front of the crowd.
Getting near the entrance, he saw Mr. Sparling's assistant. The latter, chancing to catch sight of Phil, motioned him to crawl under the ropes and come in. The boy did so gratefully.
"The doors are not open yet, but you may go in. You will have time to look over the animals before the crowd arrives, then you can reach your seat before the others get in. Please let me see those checks once more."
The assistant made a mental note of the section and number of the seats for future reference and handed back the coupons.
Phil stole into the menagerie tent, relieved to be away from the gaze and comments of the crowd that was massed in front.
"Gracious, I'm afraid I wouldn't make a very good circus man. I hate to have everybody looking at me as if I were some natural or unnatural curiosity. Wonder if I will know any of the show people when they are made up, as they call it, and performing in the ring? I shouldn't wonder if they didn't know me in my best clothes, though," grinned the boy.
Phil had had the forethought to bring a few lumps of sugar in his pocket. Entering the menagerie tent, he quickly made his way to the place where the elephants were chained, giving each one of the big beasts a lump. He felt no fear of them and permitted them to run their sensitive trunks over him and into his pockets, where they soon found the rest of the sugar.
After disposing of the sweets, both beasts emitted a loud trumpeting. At such close quarters the noise they made seemed to shake the ground.
"Why do they do that?" questioned Phil of the keeper.
"That's their way of thanking you for the sugar. You've made friends of both of them for life. They'll never forget you, even if they don't see you for several seasons."
"Do they like peanuts?"
"Do they? Just try them."
Phil ran to a snack stand at the opposite side of the tent and bought five cents' worth of peanuts, then hurried back to the elephants with the package.
"What are their names?"
"The big one is Emperor and the smaller one is called Jupiter," answered the keeper, who had already recognized his young visitor.
"Are they ever ugly?"
"Never have been. But you can't tell. An elephant is liable to go bad most any time, then you—"
"But how can you tell, or can't you?"
"Most always, unless they are naturally bad."
"How do you know?"
"See that little slit on the cheek up there?"
"Yes," said Phil, peering at the great jowls wonderingly.
"Well, several days before they get in a tantrum you will see a few tear drops—that's what I call them—oozing from that little slit. I don't know whether it's water on the brain or what it is. But when you see the tear drops you want to get from under and chain Mr. Elephant down as quickly as possible.
"That is strange."
"Very. But it's a sure sign. Never knew it to fail, and I've known some elephants in my time. But Emperor and Jupiter never have shed a tear drop since I've known them. They are not the crying kind, you know."
The lad nodded understandingly.
"How about the lions and the tigers—can you tell when they are going to have bad spells?"
"Well," reflected the showman, "it's safe to say that they've always got a grouch on. The cats are always—"
"Yes. All that sort of animals belong to the cat family and they've got only one ambition in life."
"To kill somebody or something."
"But their keepers—don't they become fond of their keepers or trainers?"
The elephant tender laughed without changing the expression of his face. His laugh was all inside of him, as Phil characterized it.
"Not they! They may be afraid of their keeper, but they would as soon chew him up as anybody else—I guess they would rather, for they've always got a bone to pick with him."
"Do any of the men go in the cages and make the animals perform here?"
"Oh, yes. Wallace, the big lion over there, performs every afternoon and night. So does the tiger in the cage next to him."
Phil had dumped the bag of peanuts into his hat, which he held out before him while talking. Two squirming trunks had been busy conveying the peanuts to the pink mouths of their owners, so that by the time Phil happened to remember what he had brought them, there was not a nut left in the hat.
He glanced up in surprise.
"Emperor, you are a greedy old elephant," laughed Phil, patting the trunk.
Emperor trumpeted loudly, and the call was immediately taken up even more loudly by his companion.
"No, you can't have any more," chided Phil. "You will have indigestion from what you've already eaten, I'm afraid. Behave, and I'll bring you some more tonight if I come to the show," he laughed.
Two caressing trunks touched his hands, then traveled gently over his cheeks. They tickled, but Phil did not flinch.
"You could do most anything with them now, you see," nodded the keeper. "They'd follow you home if I would let them."
"Especially if my pockets were full of sweets."
"There's the animal trainer getting ready to go into the lion cage, if you want to see him," the attendant informed him.
"Yes, I should like to. And thank you very much for your kindness."
"You're welcome. Come around again."
The boy hurried over to the lion cage. The people were now crowding into the menagerie tent in throngs. There seemed to Phil to be thousands already there. But all eyes now being centered on Wallace's cage, they had no time to observe Phil, for which he was duly thankful.
The animal trainer, clad in red tights, his breast covered with spangles, was already at the door of the cage, whip in hand. When a sufficient crowd had gathered about him, he opened the door, and, entering the cage threw wide the iron grating that shut Wallace off from the door end of the wagon. The big lion bounded out with a roar that caused the people to crowd back instinctively.
Then the trainer began putting the savage beast through its paces, causing it to leap over his whip, jump through paper hoops, together with innumerable other tricks that caused the spectators to open their mouths in wonder. All the time Wallace kept up a continual snarling, interspersed now and then with a roar that might have been heard a quarter of a mile away.
This was a part of the exhibition, as Phil shrewdly discovered. The boy was a natural showman, though unaware of the fact. He noted all the little fine points of the trainer's work with as much appreciation as if he had himself been an animal trainer.
"I half believe I should like to try that myself," was his mental conclusion. "But I should want to make the experiment on a very little lion at first. If I got out with a whole skin I might want to tackle something bigger. I wonder if he is going into the tiger cage?"
As if in answer to his question, an announcer shouted out the information that the trainer would give an exhibition in the cage of the tiger just before the evening performance.
"I'll have to see that," muttered Phil. "Guess I had better get in and find my seat now."
At the same time the crowd, understanding that the lion performance was over, began crowding into the circus tent.
The band inside swung off into a sprightly tune and Phil could scarcely repress the inclination to keep time to it with his feet. Altogether, things were moving pretty well with Phil Forrest. They had done so ever since he left home the day before. In that one day he had had more fun than had come to him in many years.
But his happy day would soon be ended. He sighed as he thought of it. Then his face broke out into a sunny smile as he caught a glimpse of the ropes and apparatus, seen dimly through the afternoon haze, in the long circus tent.
As he gained the entrance between the two large tents he saw the silk curtains at the far end of the circus arena fall apart, while a troop of gayly caparisoned horses and armored riders suddenly appeared through the opening.
The grand entry was beginning.
"Gracious, here the show has begun and I am not anywhere near my seat," he exclaimed. "But, if I am going to be late I won't be alone. There are a whole lot more of us that were too much interested in the animal trainer to think to come in and get our seats. I guess I had better run. I—"
Phil started to run, but he got no further than the start.
All at once his waist was encircled in a powerful grip and he felt his feet leaving the ground. Phil was being raised straight up into the air by some strange force, the secret of which he did not understand.
IN THE SAWDUST ARENA
The lad repressed an inclination to cry out, for the thing that had encircled his waist and raised him up seemed to be tightening about him.
A familiar voice just behind him served to calm Phil's disquieted nerves.
"Don't be frightened, kid. It's only Emperor having a little joke. He's a funny fellow," said the elephant's attendant.
Phil had read somewhere that elephants possessed a keen sense of humor, and now he was sure of it. But he never thought he would have an opportunity to have the theory demonstrated on himself.
The elephants were on their way to participate in the grand entry, and there was not a minute to spare now. Emperor on his way into the other tent had come across his new-found friend and recognized him instantly, while Phil had not even heard the approach of the elephants.
No sooner had the elephant discovered the lad than he picked him up with his trunk, slowly hoisting the boy high in the air.
"Steady, Emperor! Steady!" cautioned the attendant. But Emperor needed no admonition to deal gently with his young friend. He handled Phil with almost the gentleness of a mother lifting a babe.
Phil Forrest experienced a thrill that ran all through him when he realized what was taking place.
"We can't stop to put you down now, my boy. You'll have to go through the performance with us. Grab the head harness when he lets you down on his head. You can sit on the head without danger, but keep hold of the harness with one hand. I'll bet you'll make a hit."
"I will if I fall off," answered Phil a bit unsteadily.
As it was, the unusual motion made him a little giddy.
"That's a good stunt. Stick to him, Forrest," directed a voice as they swept on toward the ring.
The voice belonged to Mr. Sparling, the owner of the show. He was quick to grasp the value of Phil's predicament—that is, its value to the show as a drawing card.
By now the people began to understand that something unusual was going on, and they asked each other what it was all about.
"It's Phil Forrest riding the elephant," shouted one of the lad's school friends, recognizing him all at once. "Hooray for Phil!"
There were many of the pupils from his school there, and the howling and shouting that greeted him made the lad's cheeks burn. But now, instead of wanting to crawl under something and hide, Phil felt a thrill of pleasure, of pride in the achievement that was denied to all the rest of his friends.
The inspiring music of the circus band, too, added to his exhilaration. He felt like throwing up his hands and shouting.
Suddenly he felt something tugging at his coat pocket, and glancing down gave a start as he discovered the inquisitive trunk of Emperor thrust deep down in the pocket.
When the trunk came away it brought with it a lump of sugar that Phil did not know he possessed. The sugar was promptly conveyed to the elephant's mouth, the beast uttering a loud scream of satisfaction.
"Emperor, you rascal!" laughed Phil, patting the beast on the head.
Once more the trunk curled up in search of more sugar, but a stern command from the trainer caused the beast to lower it quickly. The time for play had passed. The moment had arrived for Emperor to do his work and he was not the animal to shirk his act. In fact, he seemed to delight in it. All elephants work better when they have with them some human being or animal on which they have centered their affections. Sometimes it is a little black and tan dog, sometimes a full-grown man. In this instance it happened to be a boy, and that boy Phil Forrest.
"Waltz!" commanded the trainer.
If Phil's head had swum before, it spun like a top now. Round and round pirouetted the huge beasts, keeping in perfect step with the music of the band, and tighter and tighter did the lad grip the head harness of old Emperor. Phil closed his eyes after a little because he had grown so dizzy that he feared he would fall off.
"Hang on, kid. It'll be Christmas by and by," comforted the trainer humorously.
"That's what I am trying to do," answered Phil a bit unsteadily.
"How's your head?"
"Whirling like a merry-go-round."
He heard the trainer chuckling.
The spectators were shouting out Phil's name all over the big tent.
"Fine, fine!" chuckled James Sparling, rubbing his palms together. "That ought to fill the tent tonight."
The spectators realized, too, that they were being treated to something not down on the bills and their shouts and laughter grew louder and louder.
"Do you think you could stand up on his head?" came the voice of the trainer just loud enough for Phil to hear.
"Me? Stand on the elephant's head?"
"Yes. Think you can do it?"
"If I had a net underneath to catch me, maybe I'd try it."
"Emperor won't let you fall. When I give the word he'll wrap his trunk around your legs. That will hold you steady from the waist down. If you can keep the rest of yourself from lopping over you'll be all right. It'll make a hit—see if it don't."
"I—I'll try it."
"Wait till I give the word, then get up on all fours, but don't straighten up till you feel the trunk about you. We'll make a showman of you before you know it."
"I seem to be the whole show as it is," grumbled Phil.
"You are, just now—you and Emperor. Good thing the other performers are not in the ring, or they would all be jealous of you."
"I wish Uncle Abner could see me now. Wouldn't he be mad!" grinned Phil, as the memory of his crabbed relative came back to him. "He'd come right out after me with his stick, he'd be so angry. But I guess Emperor wouldn't let him touch me," decided the boy proudly, with an affectionate pat to which the elephant responded with a cough that sounded not unlike the explosion of a dynamite cartridge.
"All ready now. Don't be afraid. Hold each position till I give you the word to change it."
"Ready," announced the lad.
The twitching of a ponderous ear of each animal told that they had heard and understood.
Phil had scrambled to all fours.
"Hold him, Emperor!"
The great trunk curled up, ran over the boy's legs and twined about them.
"Up you go, kid!"
Phil raised himself fearlessly, straightened and stood full upon his feet. That strong grip on his legs gave him confidence and told him he had nothing to fear. All he would have to do would be to keep his ears open for the trainer's commands both to himself and the beast, and he would be all right.
He felt himself going up again.
The sensation was something akin to that which Phil had once experienced when jumping off a haystack. He felt as if his whole body were being tickled by straws.
The elephants were rising on their hind legs, uttering shrill screams and mighty coughs, as if enraged over the humiliation that was being put upon them.
It seemed to Phil as if Emperor would never stop going up until the lad's head was against the top of the tent. He ventured to look down.
What a distance it was! Phil hastily directed his glances upward.
At last the elephant had risen as high as he could go. He was standing almost straight up and down, and on his head the slender figure of the boy appeared almost unreal to those off on the seats.
Thunders of applause swept over the assemblage. People rose up in their seats, the younger ones hurling hats high in the air and uttering catcalls and shrill whistles, until pandemonium reigned under the "big top," as the circus tent proper is called by the showmen.
"Swing your hat at them!"
The trainer had to shout to make himself heard, and as it was Phil caught the words as from afar off.
He took off his soft hat and waved it on high, gazing wonderingly off over the seats. He could distinguish nothing save a waving, undulating mass of moving life and color.
It was intoxicating. And Phil Forrest went suddenly dizzy again.
"I'm losing my head," rebuked the lad. "If I don't pull myself together I shall surely fall off. Then they will have something to laugh at rather than to applaud."
He took himself firmly in hand. But the applause did not abate one whit.
"Watch out, we're going down," warned the trainer.
The elephant trainer's command came out like the crack of a ringmaster's whip.
Slowly the great beasts lowered themselves toward the sawdust ring.
"Stoop over and grab the harness!"
Phil did so.
"Sit! Let go, Emperor!"
The trunk was released instantly and Phil plumped to the beast's head once more, amid the wildest applause.
The band swung into another tune, which was the signal for the next act to be brought on. At the same time the ringmaster blew a shrill blast on his whistle.
The trainer left the ring with his charges by an exit that he seldom departed through. But he did so in order to leave Phil near the place where his seats were, first having ascertained where these were located.
"Put him down, Emperor! Down, I say!"
Emperor reached up an unwilling trunk, grasped Phil about the waist and stood him on the ground. At the trainer's command the beast released his hold of his friend and as the hook was gently pressed against his side to hurry him, Emperor started reluctantly away.
Phil, with flushed face, a happy look in his eyes, had turned to run up the aisle to his seats, when, with a loud trumpeting, Emperor wheeled, and breaking away from his trainer, swept down toward the spot where he had left Phil Forrest.
The movement almost threw those in that section into a panic. Women screamed, believing the animal had suddenly gone crazy, while men sprang to their feet.
Phil had turned at the first alarm, and, observing what was taking place, with rare presence of mind trotted down to the arena again.
He reached there about the same time that Emperor did.
With a shrill scream Emperor threw his long trunk about the lad, and before Phil had time to catch his breath, he had been hurled to the elephant's back.