Phil did not hang about the grounds. He went downtown, but was once more on hand for the evening performance, where he noted that the show was cut short fully half an hour, and this without apparent good reason.
He had made the acquaintance of a "candy butcher" during the hour before the show, and from him had learned some further details that were of interest to him and his investigation.
The Circus Boy, after watching the striking of the tents, returned to the railroad station and took a late train for the town where the circus was to show next day. It was not a long run, so he took a day coach. In it he saw several familiar faces—faces that he had noticed about the circus lot that afternoon, and from their appearance he was forced to conclude that these men belonged to the shows.
"Those fellows are crooks, as sure as I am alive," decided the lad, after listening to the conversation of the couple just ahead of him. "That's what Mr. Sparling told me. I could hardly believe it. I'll spend part of the time outside tomorrow and make sure. I shall know those fellows when I see them, if they are on the grounds."
It had not occurred to Phil Forrest that he might be recognized also, though he knew full well that circus people had keen eyes, especially in an outfit such as this.
The next morning he hunted up his friend the candy butcher, inviting that worthy to take breakfast with him which the lad, a boy about his own age, was glad to do. From the "butcher" Phil learned a whole lot of things that added to his store of knowledge, among them being the fact that Sully's outfit was even worse than it had been painted.
Mingling with the crowds about the main entrance, before the doors were opened that afternoon, Phil once more saw the same men he had observed on the train the previous evening. From their actions he was more than ever satisfied that he had not been mistaken in his estimate of them.
"I shouldn't be surprised if they were looking for some pockets to pick," mused the lad, "but I do not see them doing anything yet."
As a matter of fact, the men were plying their trade, but his eyes had not been quick enough to catch them at it. Phil, however, was more successful just before the evening show.
Standing among the people massed out in front he saw a man's hand steal slowly toward the handbag of a well-dressed woman. Phil traced the hand back until he made out the owner, who was one of the same men that had come through on the train with him.
A gasoline torch lighted the operation faintly, and Phil gazed with fascinated eyes while the stealthy hand opened the bag quickly extracting its contents.
Almost at the instant the woman looked down, perhaps attracted by the tug at the bag.
"I've been robbed!" she cried.
The words stirred Phil to instant action.
In another second the thief felt a vise-like grip about the wrist that held the plunder.
"Here's the man that did it, madam. Call an officer," said Phil calmly.
THE CIRCUS BOY IS RECOGNIZED
Giving the wrist of his prisoner a sharp twist, Phil snatched away the small handful of bills that the fellow had stolen, returning them to the woman.
By this time the thief had suddenly recovered his wits and sought to jerk his hand away, seeing that it was merely a boy who had grabbed him. To the surprise of the crook he found it was not an easy matter to free himself from that grip. After making several desperate efforts the fellow adopted other methods.
"Let go of me, I tell you. I'll have you put away for this."
"I'll let go of you when a policeman has hold of you, and not before," retorted Phil. "You are a thief. I saw you steal that woman's money."
The man suddenly uttered an angry exclamation and launched a blow at Phil's head, which the lad avoided, allowing it to pass over his shoulder.
"Hurry! Get a policeman! This man is a thief," urged Phil, as he closed with his antagonist.
"Thief! Thief," cried several voices at once. It was a cry that had been heard before about the Sully shows.
Phil had not struck back at his enemy. Instead the lad, by a skillful twist, had whirled the fellow about until his back was toward the boy. Then Phil suddenly let go his hold on the wrist, clasping the man around the body and pinioning his arms to his sides.
"You might as well stand still," said the lad coolly. "You can't get away until I permit you to, and that won't be until something that looks like a policeman comes along."
In the meantime the captive was struggling and threatening. All at once he raised his voice in a peculiar, wailing cry. The Circus Boy felt sure that it was some sort of a signal, though it was new to him. But he was not to be cowed.
"Police!" shouted Phil.
"Police!" cried many voices.
Half a dozen men came rushing into the crowd, thrusting the people aside as they ran, looking this way and that to learn from where the cry for assistance had come.
Phil's captive uttered a sharp cry, and the lad realized what was going to happen. At first he had thought it was the police coming, but he was undeceived the moment he caught his prisoner's appeal to them. The men dashed toward the two, and as they rushed in Phil whirled his man so that the latter collided violently with the newcomers. That checked the rush briefly. He knew, however, that he could not hope to stand off his assailants for more than a few seconds. Yet the lad calculated that in those few seconds the police might arrive. He did not know that they had been well bribed neither to see nor to hear what occurred on the circus grounds.
A moment more and the lad had been roughly jerked from his captive and hurled violently to the ground.
Phil sprang up full of fight while the angry fellows closed in on him. He saw that they were showmen. A sudden idea occurred to him.
"Hey, Rube!" he shouted at the top of his voice, hoping that the rest of the show people within reach of his voice might crowd in and in the confusion give him a chance to get away.
And they did crowd in. They came on like a company of soldiers, sweeping everything before them. Phil, in that brief instant, while he was sparring to keep his opponents off, found time to smile grimly.
The fellow he had first made captive now attacked Phil viciously, the lad defending himself as best he could, while the people who had come to attend the show got out of harm's way as rapidly as possible. Phil could hope for no assistance from that quarter.
"I guess I have gotten myself into a worse scrape by calling the rest of the gang," he muttered, noting that he was being surrounded as some of the first comers pointed him out to the others.
Suddenly they fell upon Phil with one accord. He was jerked this way and that, but succeeded pretty well in dodging the blows aimed at his head, though his clothes were torn and he was pretty badly used.
Suddenly a voice roared out close behind him.
Turning his head a little Phil recognized Sully, the owner of the show. Sully's face was redder than ever.
"What—what's all this row about? Haven't you fellows anything more important to do than raising a roughhouse? Get out of here, the whole bunch of you! What's he done? Turn him over to the police and go on about your business."
One of the men said something in a low tone to Sully. The showman shot a keen, inquiring glance at the lad.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"I don't know that it makes any difference. I saw a fellow robbing a woman, and it was my duty to stop him. I did it, then a lot of his companions, who, I suppose, belong to your show pitched into me."
"So, you are trying to run the whole show, are you?"
"I am not."
"Well, you get off this lot as fast as you can hoof it. If I find you butting in again it will be the worse for you."
"That's the fellow who was hanging around the lot at St. Catharines yesterday," spoke up someone.
"Yes; I remember now, he was asking me questions," said another, whose voice Phil recognized as belonging to the foreman of the stake and chain gang. "I got to thinking about it afterwards, and realized that he was a little too inquisitive for a greenhorn. He's been on the lot all day again."
Mr. Sully surveyed Phil with an ugly scowl.
"What are you doing around here, young man?"
"For one thing, I am trying to prevent one of your followers robbing a woman," answered Phil boldly.
"Who are you?"
"That is my own affair."
"I know him! I know him! I Know!" shouted another.
Sully turned to him inquiringly.
"Who is he, if you know so much?"
"He's a fellow what was with the Sparling outfit last year. He was always butting in then, and I can tell you he ain't here for any good now, Boss."
"So, that's the game is it?" sneered Sully. "You come with me. I've got a few questions I want to ask you."
"I don't have to go with you," replied Phil.
"Oh, yes you do! Bring him along and if he raises a row just hand him one and put him to sleep."
Two men grabbed Phil roughly by his arms.
He jerked away and started to run when he was pounced upon and borne to the ground. Phil found himself grasped by the collar and jerked violently to his feet, with the leering face of Sully thrust up close to his own.
"I'll see that you don't get away this time," growled the showman.
Dragging the lad along by the collar further off on the lot, the showman finally paused.
"Get the carriage," he commanded sharply.
"What you going to do with me?" demanded Phil.
"That depends. I'm going to find out something about you first, and decide what to do with you later."
"And, when you get through, I shall have you arrested for assault. It will be my turn to act then," retorted the Circus Boy. "I have done nothing except to stop a miserable thief from plying his trade. I understand that's a game you—"
"That will do, young man. Here's the wagon. Now, if you go quietly you will have no trouble. But just try to call for help, or raise any sort of a ruction, and you'll see more stars than there are in the skies when the moon's on a strike. Get in there."
Phil was thrust into the closed carriage, which the showman used for driving back and forth between the train and the lot.
Quick as a flash Phil Forrest dived through the open coach window on the other side, and with equal quickness he was pounced upon by the driver, who had gotten off on that side, probably at a signal from Sully.
Had Sully not run around to the other side of the wagon Phil would have quickly disposed of the driver, strong as was the latter.
With an enraged cry Sully sprang upon Phil, and raised his hand to strike.
"If you attempt to do that you'll serve the rest of the season in jail," dared Phil, taking a bold course. "You know they don't trifle with brutes like you up here in Canada?"
Sully growled an unintelligible reply, but that he recognized the truth of the lad's words was evident when he slowly dropped his clenched fist to his side.
"I'll see that you don't get away this time," he said once more thrusting Phil into the carriage, this time, however, keeping a firm grip on the lad's arm.
The driver whipped up the horse and the carriage rumbled away, soon reaching the village street and turning sharply off into a side street.
ON SULLY'S PRIVATE CAR
"Where are you taking me?" Phil demanded.
"You'll see in a minute."
"And so will you. There are laws to punish such high-handed methods as yours, and I'll see that you are punished, and well punished, too. If I can't do it, there are others who will—who will see that you get what you deserve."
"Keep on talking. It will be my turn pretty soon," answered Sully.
In a short time Phil discovered that they were driving along by the railroad tracks. He knew that the yards where the circus train was standing were only a short distance beyond.
"I guess he's going to take me to the train, for some reason or other," decided Phil, but he could not understand what the showman's motive might be.
The Circus Boy was not afraid, but he was thoroughly angry. His grit and stubbornness had been aroused and he was ready to take any desperate chance. However, he felt that, after all, this capture might be the means of giving him the further information of which he was in search. He might possibly be able to draw some admission from Sully.
They drew up beside the tracks and the carriage halted.
"Now, not a sound!" warned the showman. "If you raise your voice, or so much as speak to anyone you see, I'll forget that you are a kid and—"
"I am not afraid of your threats," interrupted Phil. "I know you are brute enough to do what you say you will, but it won't be good for you if you do. Go on. I'll follow till I get a chance to escape."
"You'll not get the chance," retorted Sully, taking firm hold of the boy's arm.
They made their way through the yards, avoiding the gasoline torches that flared familiarly here and there among the mass of cars, then turned toward the station. As the lights of the latter came into view, the showman halted, looked up and down the tracks, then led Phil to the platform of a car which the boy recognized as being one of the show's sleepers.
"That's what I thought he was up to," muttered Phil, watching for an opportunity to leap off the other side and lose himself among the cars.
No such opportunity was offered to him, however, and a moment later the door of the sleeper had been opened, and he was pushed roughly inside, Mr. Sully following in quickly, slamming and locking the door behind them.
"Get in there and sit down!"
"In the private office there."
"So this is your private car, is it?"
"You seem to know a lot about the show business."
Phil made no reply, but dropped into the owner's chair at the latter's desk.
"Get out of that chair!"
"I thought you invited me to sit down?"
"I did, but I might have known you wouldn't have had sense enough to sit where you ought to."
"On the floor."
"I am not in the habit of being received that way," taunted Phil, making no move to vacate the chair.
Sully, with a grunt of disapproval, sat down in another chair, placing himself so the light would fall fully on Phil's face.
"Now, what's your name?"
"You'll have to guess that," smiled Phil.
"That's where you're wrong. I know it."
"What is my name?"
"Forrest. You're a bareback rider in the Sparling outfit. You thought you would not be known, but you see you are. You can't fool a man in the show business so easily. After you have grown older in the business you will learn a few things."
"I am learning fast," laughed the lad. "I am learning a lot of things that I wish I did not have to learn."
"What, for instance?"
"That there are such men as you in the show business."
"Be careful, boy. You will go too far, the first thing you know. Now, what are you doing here?"
"If you know so much I don't see why you should have to ask that question."
"And I'm not telling. I'll answer none of your questions, unless it is about something that I can tell you without getting others into trouble."
"You already have admitted that you are with the Sparling show. You have made several slips of the tongue since I got hold of you."
"I haven't denied that I am with the Sparling show, neither have I admitted it. I decline to lie or to give you any information of any nature whatever."
"When is the Sparling show coming here?"
"I was not aware that it was coming here. Is it?"
"No, I didn't mean that. I mean when are they going to show in Corinto?"
Phil was silent.
"You might as well make a clean breast of the whole business, young man. I've caught you red-handed, snooping about the lot for two days quizzing everybody. Now what's the game?"
"There is no game."
"What is Sparling trying to find out?"
"You will have to ask him, I guess."
Sully surveyed the lad in silence for a minute or two.
"I couldn't understand, at first, why he should send a kid like you to spy upon us; but I begin to see that you are a sharp little monkey—"
Just then the showman was interrupted by the entrance of the foreman of the stake and chain gang.
"Bob, I want you to tell me exactly what questions this cub asked you yesterday?"
"I thought he was some curious town fellow, so I didn't pay much attention to his questions. When I saw him on the lot, again today, and heard him asking other folks, kind of careless like, I began to smell a rat."
"What did he want to know, I'm asking you?"
The foreman related as well as he could remember, just what conversation had taken place between himself and Phil Forrest, omitting, however, the fact that he had furnished any information. It would have ended his connection with the show right there, had he let the owner know how much he really had told.
Phil grinned appreciatively, but it was not for him to get the foreman into trouble.
"Hm-m!" mused Sully. "You found out a lot, I presume?"
"I can truthfully say that I found out that what I had heard about the show is true."
"And what's that, if I may ask?"
"Thieves. I happen to know that they travel right along with the show, and I shouldn't be surprised if you got part of their stealings, either," Phil boldly flung at the showman.
Sully's face went redder than ever, while his fingers clenched and unclenched. It was evident that the man feared to let his anger get the better of him.
"If he ever lets go at me, I'm a goner," thought Phil understanding that, besides an almost ungovernable temper, the man possessed great physical strength. "I guess he won't do anything of the sort, unless I goad him to it. I believe that I have said about enough."
"Watch him a minute, Bob," directed Sully, rising and stepping to the other end of the car. He returned a minute later.
"Young man," he said, "if you had been more civil you might have gotten away with your bluff—"
"I have not tried to bluff you," interjected Phil.
"As it is, I think I'll lock you up until morning, and, if you are ready then to make a clean breast of the whole affair, perhaps I shall let you go back with a message to your boss—a message that he won't like, I reckon."
"You won't send any such message by me," retorted Phil. "Carry your own messages. Where you going to lock me up?"
"In a place where you will be safe. But I shouldn't advise you to get red-headed about it. There will be someone nearby to take all the howl out of you if you try it."
"You had better not!"
"What do you think, Bob? Is it safe to let this fellow go?"
"Well, I suppose you've got to let him go sometime. He'll be getting us into trouble if you keep him."
"I'll take the chance of that. We can drop him just before crossing the line back into the United States."
"That's a good game."
"Then the United States authorities can't take any action on an offense committed across the border. I don't believe they would, anyway. It is all a part of the show game. I'd like to drop the spy over the Falls when we get to Niagara," added Sully.
"I might get wet if you did that," grinned Phil.
"You'll be lucky if you don't get worse, which you will unless you keep a more civil tongue in your head. Yes; I guess that will be the best plan, Bob."
"You—you don't mean that you will drop him over the Falls?" gasped the foreman.
"No," laughed Sully. "Not that, much as I'd like to. But it would serve him right. I'm going to lock him up; that's what I mean."
"But he'll get out."
"Not from where I put him."
The foreman looked about him a puzzled expression in his eyes.
"What do you say to the linen closet?"
"The linen closet?"
"Yes. I have just looked at it. There will be room enough for him, and there's no opening through which he can call to anyone on the outside. If he does make an outcry some of us will be here to look after him."
"That's a good game. I hadn't thought of it before."
"Come along, my fine young bareback rider. You'll wish you'd stuck to your own business before you get through with us!"
Phil was led down the side passageway of the car and thrust into a narrow compartment, about three sides of which were shelves loaded down with the linen used on the car.
There was room for a chair in the compartment and he could stand upright. However, had he wished to lie down he would have been unable to do so.
"So this is the prison you have decided to lock me in, is it?" grinned the lad.
"It looks that way. I guess it will bring you to your senses. You'll talk by tomorrow morning, I'll guarantee."
"I guess you will have another guess coming," warned Phil.
Without further parley Sully slammed the door and locked it, leaving Phil in absolute darkness.
"Now I am in a fix, for sure. If Sully hadn't been quite so big I should have taken a chance and pitched into him. He is strong enough to eat me alive. I could handle the fellow, Bob, all right, but not Sully. So I have got to stay here all night? Fine, fine! I hope I don't smother."
The car soon settled down to quiet again. Phil knew, however, that he was not alone—that undoubtedly there was someone watching his prison. He examined the place as well as he could in the darkness, tried the door, ran his hands over the sides and up among the piles of linen. There was scant encouragement to be found, though Phil believed that if he had room to take a running start he might break the door down.
He decided to remain quiet, and after his exciting experiences he was quite willing to rest himself for a time. The lad pulled a lot of the linen down to the floor, and making a bed for himself, doubled up like a jackknife and settled himself for the night. It was not a comfortable position, but Phil Forrest was used to roughing it. In a few minutes he was sound asleep.
LOCKED IN THE LINEN CLOSET
Phil roused himself for a moment.
"We're going," he muttered, realizing that the train was in motion. Then he dropped off to sleep again.
When next he awakened it was broad daylight, though the lad did not know it until after he had struck a match and looked at his watch.
"Eight 'clock in the morning," he exclaimed. "My, how I must have slept, and on such a bed too!"
The lad was lame and sore from the cramped position in which he had been obliged to lie all night, but he was just as cheerful as if he had awakened in his own berth on sleeper number eleven on the Sparling train. He began to feel hungry, though.
Phil tapped on the door. There was no response, so he rapped again, this time with more force. Still failing to arouse anyone Phil delivered a series of resounding kicks against the door.
"If no one answers that I'll know there is nobody here and I'll see if I can't break the door down."
There was someone there, however, as was made plain a moment later, when the door was thrown suddenly open, revealing the grinning face of Sully, the owner of the show.
"Morning," greeted Phil. "I thought maybe breakfast was being served in the dining car, and I didn't want to miss it."
"You're a cheerful idiot, aren't you?"
"So I have been told. But about that breakfast? If you'll kindly conduct me to the wash room, so I can make myself beautiful and prepare for breakfast, I shall be obliged to you."
"Huh!" grunted the showman.
"Where are we?"
"Is this where we show today?"
"Yes, this is where we show today. As if you didn't know that as well as I do."
"I may have heard something to that effect. I don't just remember for the moment. But, how about that breakfast?"
"How do you know you are going to get any breakfast?"
"Because I smelled it a few minutes ago."
"That's my breakfast that your keen nose scented, young man."
"Well, I guess I can stand it for once."
Sully was forced to smile at his young captive's good nature. So he took Phil by the arm and led him to the wash room, where the showman remained until Phil had completed his preparations for breakfast. Then Sully led the way to a compartment at the rear of the car where a small table had been set.
"This looks good to me," grinned Phil, rubbing his palms together. "You live high in this outfit, don't you?"
The lad ate his breakfast with a will.
"I hope I am not depriving you of your meal?" questioned Phil, glancing up quickly.
"I've had my breakfast. If there had been only enough for one, you'd have gone hungry."
"You don't have to tell me that. I know it. That's about your measure."
"That will be about all from you," snapped the showman. "The trouble with you is that you can't appreciate decent treatment. You're just like your boss."
"I'll not hear you say a word against Mr. Sparling," bristled Phil, then suddenly checked himself.
"So, I caught you that time, did I?" exclaimed Sully, slapping his thighs and laughing uproariously, while Phil's face grew red with mortification at the slip he had made. "You are not half as smart as you think you are, young man. I'll keep at you until I get out of you all the information I want."
"I'm afraid the show season isn't long enough for you to do that," was the boy's quick retort.
"You'll find out whether it is or not."
"I shall not be with you that long. Now that I have admitted that I have been connected with the Sparling show, what do you think my employer will do when he finds I am missing?"
"I rather guess he will do something. Wait."
"When does he expect you back?"
Phil looked at the showman, laughing.
"Did I mention that I was expected? I said that when he missed me there would be an inquiry, and there will."
"Little good that will do him," growled the showman.
"Then you don't know James Sparling."
"How'll he know you are here?"
"Trust him to find out, and then—wow! There will be an explosion that you can hear on the other side of the St. Lawrence. Do I take a walk for my health after breakfast?"
"To the other end of the car, to the linen closet, where you are to stay until—"
"Until what?" questioned Phil sharply.
"Until you tell me what I want to know."
"What is it that you wish to know?"
"Why were you sent to spy on my outfit?"
"Perhaps for the same reason that you keep a spy in his camp," retorted Phil, bending a keen gaze on the face of his jailer.
Sully's face went violently red. Without another word he grasped Phil roughly by the shoulder, jerked him from the table and hurried the lad down the corridor.
"Here, here, I haven't finished my breakfast yet," protested the boy.
"You have, but you don't know it. You will know in a minute."
With that the showman thrust Phil into the linen closet again and slammed the door.
"My, I wouldn't have a temper like yours if you were to make me a present of a six-pole circus!" called the Circus Boy.
He chuckled as Sully uttered a grunt of anger and strode off to the other end of the car.
"He'll be going to the lot after a while, then I'll get busy," muttered Phil. In the meantime there was nothing for him to do but to sit down and make the best of his situation, which he did. Once, during the morning, Phil, believing himself to be alone, made several desperate attempts to break the door down.
His efforts brought a threat from the corridor as to what would happen if he tried that again. Phil knew, then, that he was not to be left alone.
After a while the lad went to sleep, not awakening until late in the afternoon.
He got no supper that night, nor did the showman come near him until late on the following morning. Phil was ravenously hungry, not having had a thing to eat in twenty-four hours, but he had too much grit to utter a word of complaint.
An excellent breakfast was served, but instead of Mr. Sully one of his men sat at the table while another stood out in the corridor ready to take a hand in case the boy made an effort to escape.
Had there been an open window near him Phil would have tried a dive through it, taking the chance of getting away. The windows in the room where the breakfast was served had been prudently shut, however.
He had just finished his breakfast when Sully came storming in. The lad could see that he was very angry about something.
"Good morning, sir. Aren't you feeling well this morning?" questioned Phil innocently.
"Feeling—feeling—" The words seemed to choke in the showman's throat.
"Why—why—why didn't you tell me that Sparling had changed his date and was planning to make Corinto the same day we are billed there?" thundered Sully.
"Is he? You know very well that he is, and it was your report that put him up to doing this trick. We've got you to thank for this piece of business, and you're going to pay dear for your part in it. Is he going to follow us all around the country—is that what he's planning to do?"
"I guess you had better ask Mr. Sparling himself. He hasn't seen fit to tell me, as yet."
"I'll show him that he can't trifle with me, and I'll show you, so you won't forget it for the rest of your circus career."
"I wouldn't make threats were I in your place, Mr. Sully. Wait until you get over your mad fit; then you'll be glad you didn't say anything you might have to take back later on," advised Phil.
"Take back? Take back?"
For the moment the showman was too far overcome with emotion to speak. Then he uttered a roar and stamped out of the car.
"Say, when is he going to let me out of here?"
"Not till we get to the border," answered the attendant.
"When will that be?"
"I don't know for sure. I guess maybe a month."
"You don't mean he is going to keep me in that linen cupboard for a full month—you can't mean that?"
"Can't say about that. I guess that's it. If you're finished with your breakfast—"
"I have been finished for sometime."
"Then you'll have to git back to the coop again."
Phil reluctantly rose, but his keeper kept tight hold of him, and the man on guard out in the corridor walked ahead of the boy on down to the linen closet, where Phil was once more thrust in and the door closed on him.
He had not been there long before he heard Sully enter the car with one of his men. All at once their voices seemed to come to him clearly and distinctly. The lad did not remember to have heard voices there so plainly before.
This time Phil began looking about to see if there were not really an opening in his chamber. He found it at the top over one of the shelves, a small grill, over which a curtain had been stretched. Phil lost no time in climbing up to it. He peered out and saw the men plainly. With Sully was his parade manager, and they were talking excitedly.
Phil opened his eyes wide when he began to realize the enormity of the plan that they were discussing.
THROUGH RINGS OF FIRE
"If there should happen to be a wind we might cut a rope or two and let the big top down on them," suggested parade manager.
"Yes; it would put them out of business for the night performance, but we don't want them to fill up for the afternoon show. That's when they are going to get the money. You see, Sparling's show is bigger and better known than ours, and showing there the same day we are liable to get the worst of it. Can't you suggest anything else?"
"If you don't like letting the big top down on their heads, and providing there is no wind to make the attempt worthwhile, I would suggest another way."
"The scoundrels!" breathed the listener above their heads.
"What's your suggestion?"
"Stampede the elephants."
"That's a dandy! And we know how to do it, eh, Lawrence?"
The parade manager nodded emphatically.
"They'll never know what happened to them. We can do it before the show gets to the lot if you think best?"
Sully shook his head.
"No. We'll wait till just as the doors are about to open for the afternoon show. Mind you, I'm not saying we shall do it. I'll think about the matter. Perhaps I can think up a better plan after I have gone over the matter."
"Where's that boy you told me about?"
Sully motioned toward the end of the car where Phil was locked in the linen closet.
"What you going to do with him?"
"Drop him when I get ready."
"But aren't you afraid the other outfit will get wind of what you are doing? It's pretty dangerous business to lock up a fellow like that."
"I don't care whether they get wise to it or not. They won't know where he is. After we get to the border I don't care a rap for them," and the showman snapped his fingers disdainfully. "They can't touch us on the other side of the Niagara River and they'd better not try it. Maybe Sparling won't be in business by that time," grinned the showman with a knowing wink.
Sully rose, and shortly afterwards left the car with his parade manager.
Phil sat down on the floor of his compartment with head in hands, trying to think what he had better do. These men were planning a deliberate campaign to wreck his employer's show.
"Something must be done!" breathed the boy, clenching his fists until the nails bit into the flesh, "But what can I do, I can do nothing unless I can get away from here, and they will not let me out, at least not until we have gotten by Corinto."
The more he thought and planned the greater his perplexity became. There seemed no way out of it. His only hope now seemed to lie in Mr. Sparling becoming alarmed at his absence, and instituting a search for him. His employer would quickly divine something of the truth after Phil had remained silent for two or three days. Perhaps, even now, the owner of the Great Sparling Combined Shows had sent someone on to learn what had become of his star bareback rider.
Phil's train of thought was suddenly interrupted by the door of his compartment being violently jerked open.
The lad's first impulse was to tell Sully, who now stood facing him, what he had overheard. Upon second thought, however, Phil decided that it would be much better to give the showman no intimation of what he had learned.
"Come out, young man."
Phil complied, glad to be free of his narrow chamber, no matter what the reason for the summons might be.
"What do you wish of me now?"
"Come into my office and I'll tell you. I understand you are a bareback rider," continued Sully, after they had seated themselves in his little office, the door being locked behind them.
"So you say."
"And a good one at that?"
Phil made no answer. He had not the least idea what was coming.
"My principal bareback rider stepped on a switch frog this morning and turned his ankle. He is out of the running for a week. I need a man more than I ever did. Do you want to join this show?"
Phil gazed at him in amazement.
"You haven't money enough to induce me to."
"Perhaps I have, but I won't induce with it," grinned the owner. "I've a plan to suggest."
"What is it?"
"If you will ride for me until we get to Corinto I'll give you seventy-five dollars."
The Circus Boy was on the point of making an emphatic refusal, when he suddenly checked himself and remained silent, as if thinking the proposition over.
"Well, what do you say?"
"If I do as you wish, when will you let me go?"
"Perhaps after we leave Corinto."
"I don't believe you intend to do anything of the sort."
"You think I'd lie to you?" blustered Sully.
"I'm not saying that. But I know you are not above doing worse things. I'll tell you what I will do."
"I'll ride for you today for twenty-five dollars."
"Payable in advance, you know."
"I guess you don't trust me?"
"Not for a minute."
"Well, I must say you are brutally frank."
"That's the way I do business," answered the lad proudly.
"But see here, young man, you must agree that you will make no effort to get away," demanded the showman a sudden thought occurring to him.
"I shall make no such agreement. If I get a chance to get away I'll do it, you may depend upon that. I will agree, however, to make no outcry nor to appeal to anyone to help me. If I can't manage it my own way, I'll stay here till I can. Remember, I'm going to beat you if I can, and if I can't, why Mr. Sparling will settle with you. He will do it properly, too."
The showman leaned back and guffawed loudly.
"I never saw a kid like you yet. You beat anything that ever got into a freak tent. You are so infernally honest that you give me notice you're going to try to escape from me. Thanks, my boy, for the timely warning. I'll see to it that you don't get away until I am ready to lose you. If you try it you must expect some rough treatment, and you'll get it too."
"Very well; I accept the terms. How about the payment in advance?"
Sully drew a roll of bills from his pocket counting out the sum agreed upon.
"If you should happen to get away I'd be out the money?"
"I'll send it back to you in that event."
"Ho, ho, ho! I believe you would, at that."
"I certainly shall."
"Say, kid, don't it ever give you pain to be so awfully honest?"
"I'll confess that it does when I am doing business with a man like you."
"Oh! That one landed. That was a knockout," chuckled the showman, rising. "I'll be back after you with the rig pretty soon. We've got to fix up some togs for you to ride in, but I guess we can do that all right. I'll have to put you back in your cage in the meantime." It lacked an hour and a half of the time for the afternoon performance to begin when Sully called with his carriage for his new star. Phil was ready, as far as he was able to be, and really welcomed the opportunity to get out in the air again. But he was so stiff from the confinement in the narrow linen closet that he did not feel as if he should be able to ride at all.
The drive to the circus lot was without incident, and Phil embraced the opportunity to familiarize himself with the town and its surroundings as fully as was possible under the circumstances. He had tried to form some plan by which to make his escape, but had given it up and decided to trust to luck.
There was another reason for his having decided to ride in the Sully Hippodrome Show that day, and every day thereafter, providing he was not able to get away before leaving Corinto. He hoped that Mr. Sparling might have sent someone on to find out what had become of him. This was sure to be done sooner or later, especially when the showman found that his letters were not being answered, but were being returned to him, as had been arranged for before Phil left his own show.
Reaching the lot they drove around to the paddock where Phil and his new employer entered the dressing tent. Even there the lad was given no chance to break away. It seemed to him that every person connected with the show had been set to watch him. When he entered the dressing tent he was subjected to the curious gaze of the performers, most of whom understood that he was to ride that day in the place of the injured performer, but who knew nothing further about the matter.
Some difficulty was experienced in getting a pair of tights that would fit Phil, but after awhile this was arranged.
"You sit down here and wait now," directed Mr. Sully.
"No; I've got something else to do. Bring the horse out in the paddock and let me see what I have to ride," answered Phil.
While they were getting out the ring horse, the lad indulged in a series of bends and limbering exercises out in the paddock, working until the perspiration stood out in great beads.
This done Phil sprang up to the back of the ring horse, and while an attendant held the animal in a circle with a long leading strap, Phil rode the horse about the paddock a few times until he had become familiar with the motion and peculiarities of the animal.
"How is he in the ring, fast or slow?"
"Just steady. Been at it a long time," the attendant informed him. "He's steady. You can depend on him."
"Yes; he acts so. I'll look at the ring when I go in."
The owner of the show had been a keen observer of these preparations. He noted, too, Phil appeared entirely to have forgotten about his desire to escape.
"That kid acts to me as if he knew his business," he reflected. "If he rides the way I think he can, I'm going to get him away from Sparling if I have to double the wages he's drawing now. And money talks!"
The band began to play in the big top. Phil glanced at the showman.
"When do I go on?"
The lad nodded, and sat awaiting his turn to enter the arena. He did not have to ask when the moment had arrived. The attendant started to lead the ring horse in and Phil quickly fell in behind, following them in.
Right behind the Circus Boy came Sully, the owner of the show, never taking his eyes off his captive for a moment. This amused the lad. He grinned broadly. It was a novel experience for him.
Soon the strains of music told him this was where he was to begin his act. The boy swung gracefully to the back of his mount. Instantly he had leaped to his feet Sully clapped his hands together approvingly.
"That's the way to do it. You've got the other fellow skinned forty ways!" he cried.
"In some ways," replied Phil significantly. "Otherwise not."
The ring was in excellent shape, much to the boy's surprise, and the horse was the best he ever had ridden. In a few moments Phil began to feel very much at home and to enjoy himself thoroughly.
The ring attendants brought out strips of bright yellow cloth, which two clowns held across the ring for the Circus Boy to leap over as his horse passed under. This did not bother him in the least, though he had never tried the act before. It was a relic of the old circus days that few shows had retained.
But Phil was on the point of balking when a clown came out with a handful of hoops covered with paper.
"You want me to jump through those things?" he questioned, during a brief intermission.
"Does the other man do that?"
"Then I can do it, I guess."
"I reckon you can do anything on a horse that you happen to feel like," said the showman.
The band started up again and Phil sprang to his feet. A paper hoop was raised on the opposite side of the ring, the lad eyeing it hesitatingly.
"I'll go through it if I break my neck trying," he muttered, shutting his lips tightly together.
The Circus Boy hurled himself through the tender paper, but the breaking paper stung his face like the crack of a whip lash, and Phil, instead of landing on his feet as he should have done, struck the back of his ring horse on all fours.
Sully growled angrily.
"You make a blunder like that again, and you'll be sorry for it," he bullied, shaking an angry fist at Phil, who turned a pair of surprised eyes on the showman.
"See here," retorted the lad with rising color, "I'm not in the habit of being talked to like that. If you don't like my riding I'll end the act right here. I'm not obliged to ride for you, you know."
"Go on, go on!" snapped the owner.
The next hoop Phil took as easily as if he had been doing that very same thing all through the season.
"Fine!" chuckled Sully. "He's a star performer, even if he does give me as good as I send."
Phil was hurling himself through a succession of hoops now. Then all at once, to his surprise and disapproval, five hoops of fire flared up before him and on all sides of him.
"Go through them!" shouted the showman.
"You can't stop now. Are you going to let a little thing like that give you an attack of cold feet?" demanded Sully.
Thus appealed to, Phil Forrest thought better of it.
"Yip!—yip!" he cried sharply to the ring horse, riding straight at the first ring which he took without difficulty, though the hot flame on his cheeks made him shrink himself into a smaller compass than had been the case with the paper rings.
The audience was applauding him wildly, for somehow this slender, youthful figure appealed to them more strongly than had any other performer in the show thus far. One after another Phil took the flaming rings until he came to the last one which he approached with more confidence than he had any of the others.
He hurled himself at it with less caution than before. As he entered the hoop of fire his elbows caught it, and instantly the lad felt the fire burning through his silk ring shirt.
Without an instant's hesitation the boy leaped up into the air, clearing his horse by a full two feet.
The force of his throw sent the ring of fire soaring through the air, as he had, with quick intuition, imagined that it would.
Phil threw a splendid backward somersault almost slipping off the hips of the ring horse.
"Great!" exploded the owner.
The audience applauded wildly.
But the next instant Sully was not shouting approving words. The burning ring had slipped neatly over his own head and before he could throw it off, his clothes, as well, were on fire. Throwing himself down in the sawdust the showman rolled and rolled, uttering loud imprecations and threats, while audience and performers fairly screamed with delight.
He was up in a flash, expecting to find Phil making a dash for freedom.
"Stop him!" he bellowed.
Phil Forrest sat on the rump of the ring horse, grinning broadly at the predicament of the owner of the Sully Hippodrome Circus.
A DASH FOR FREEDOM
"Well, you are a star rider, anyway," announced Sully, with emphasis when he was once more leading Phil to the carriage to take him back to the linen closet on board the private car.
But Sully was less violent, and there was a twinkle in his eyes that Phil did not fail to catch.
"He's planning something," thought the boy, after being once more locked in his compartment. "I shouldn't be surprised if I had ridden a little too well today. But it's going to be the means of getting me my freedom. Someone surely will see me and recognize me."
That night Phil rode again, winning even greater applause than he had done at the afternoon performance. But a closer watch was kept over him, as Sully had imagined that the opportunities were greater for escape than in broad daylight. Phil had reasoned it out the same way, but he was in no hurry. He had done up his money in a little bag which he hung about his neck each time before going into the ring, so that it might not be stolen while he was performing, for, it will be remembered that the lad had no trunk in which to keep his valuables.
No chance to escape presented itself during the evening, however, and the lad was forced to return to his imprisonment again after the night performance.
"If you expect me to be in working order you should give me a decent place to sleep," he told Sully, while they were sitting at lunch in the private car that night.
Sully grinned and winked an eye.
"See anything green in my eye?"
"No. It's all red. I guess you see red most of the time."
"If you'll give me a promise, I'll let you sleep in a berth in this car tonight."
"What promise?" asked Phil, though he knew pretty well what the showman would demand.
"That you won't try to escape."
"I'll make no such promise."
"Then it's the linen closet for your."
"All right; I will sleep in the linen closet. I suppose you will want me to ride again tomorrow?"
"Then don't forget the twenty-five dollars in advance."
"Say, that's more money than I'll pay for that act, good as it is," protested the showman.
"Very well; then I will stay in the closet and you can cut your bareback out. You do not have to pay it unless you want to."
Sully growled and handed out the money.
Phil put it in his pocket with a smile and half audible chuckle that did not tend to make Sully feel any the less irritable.
"Perhaps it is a good thing that I am a prisoner if I have got to stay with this outfit."
"Why?" snapped the showman.
"Because some of your light-fingered gentlemen would be dipping into my pocket, when I wasn't looking, and take the money away from me. That's the way you would get it back."
"That will be about all for you, boy," growled the showman. "That is, unless you are willing to tell me what you are here for?"
The Circus Boy laughed lightly.
"I have nothing new to say to that question."
"You've done your part well. You must have got busy pretty quick to have tipped off Sparling before we caught you."
"Tipped him off to what?" inquired Phil.
"Well, never mind what. You know and so do I."
After that the lad was sent to his closet to spend the night. The next day was a repetition of the previous one, except that Phil rode better than ever, if that were possible. But as he was riding under the name of the performer who had been injured, he could not make himself known.
Saturday came along, with the lad apparently as far from making his escape as ever. But what he had hoped would come to pass had done so in a measure. That is, the owner of the show had become a little careless in watching the boy.
Instead of accompanying Phil into the ring, Sully satisfied himself with standing by the entrance to the paddock, next to the bandstand.
This left Phil free to do pretty much as he chose, but he was almost as closely confined as if he were in the owner's private car, so far as getting away was concerned. But the boy's mind was working actively.
As he sat on the back of the broad-backed ring horse that afternoon, his eyes were looking over the tent questioningly.
"I believe I can do it," mused Phil. "If conditions are the same tonight that they are this afternoon I am going to try it."
Just then the band struck up and the lad rose gracefully to his feet ready to go through his act for the edification of the great audience.
Phil was making more money than ever before in his circus career, and he now had only one act instead of several. But he cared little for this. It was merely a means to an end.
At night he accompanied Sully to the lot as usual. Phil might have appealed to a policeman, or to one of the many people about him. It will be remembered, however, that he had given his word that he would do nothing of the sort, and Phil Forrest was not the boy to break his word after once having given it. He proposed to get away by his own efforts or else wait until rescued by the Sparling show.
As had been the case with the afternoon show Sully remained over by the bandstand while Phil went through his act.
"I'll finish my performance," decided the lad. "I want to give him his money's worth whether he deserves such treatment or not, and then I'll make my try. I can do it, I believe."
Nothing of what was passing in the mind of the Circus Boy, of course, was suspected by the owner of the show. Phil had just rounded off his act by a backward somersault and the attendant had slipped the bridle over the head of the ring horse preparatory to leading the animal back to the paddock and horse tent.
"You run along. I will ride him back," directed Phil innocently.
"Because I prefer to."
"Very well," answered the groom, turning away and walking slowly toward the paddock, while Phil, who had in the meantime slipped off to the ring, was quickly drawing on his slippers.
By this time Mr. Sully was looking at him, wondering why Phil did not get out of the ring, for another act was coming on, the performers for which already were moving down the concourse.
All at once the Circus Boy threw himself to the back of his mount, landing astride.
Phil brought his riding whip down on the back of the surprised animal with a force that sent the horse forward with a snort. They bounded out of the ring. Instead, however, of turning toward the paddock exit, Phil headed straight for the other end of the tent. There an exit led into the menagerie tent, or where that tent had been, for by this time it had been taken down and carted away to the train. A canvas flap hung loosely over the entrance, but it was not fastened down, as Phil well knew, being left free so people could pass in and out at will.
It was the voice of Sully and might have been heard in every part of the big top, though the people did not know what the command meant.
For the moment the circus attendants did not understand either. They had not noticed Phil riding away in the wrong direction.
"Stop him, I say!"
An attendant discovered what was going on and started on a run for Phil, who brought his whip down on the flanks of the ring horse again and again, driving the animal straight at the attendant. The result was that the fellow was bowled over in a twinkling. The horse cleared the man at a bound.
At this the audience roared. They saw that something unusual was taking place, though they did not understand what it all meant.
Half a dozen men ran toward Phil, while Sully himself was charging down the concourse as fast as he could go, roaring out his commands at the top of his powerful voice.
"Get a horse and follow him!" he shouted. "Run back and send one of the men out around the tent to head him off! He's running away with my best ring horse!"
Phil swept through the exit, bowling over two men who were standing there on guard, and nearly running down a group of boys who were standing just outside trying to get a glimpse into the tent.
As he gained the outer air he heard the hoof beats of a running horse bearing down on him from the left side of the big top.
The Circus Boy knew what that meant. They were after him already.
OUTWITTING THE PURSUERS
"Oh, if only I had a faster horse!" Forrest breathed. "I am afraid this old ring horse never will be able to get away from them."
Phil was urging the animal with voice and whip, but it was difficult to get the animal into a faster pace than his regular ring gait—the gait that he had been following for many years. This was scarcely faster than a man could trot.
Phil espied a pole wagon partially loaded, just ahead of him. At sight of it a sudden idea occurred to him. He acted at once.
Riding close to the wagon the lad slipped off and, giving the horse a sharp blow with the whip over one hip, Phil ducked under the wagon.
The ring horse galloped on a few rods and then stopped.
"I guess it's time I was getting away from here," decided the lad. "I'll be caught sure, if I do not hurry."
The lot was in an uproar. Men were running this way and that, and above the din could be heard the voice of the owner, roaring out orders.
Phil, being still in his pink tights, was a conspicuous figure. He knew that if a ray from a torch should chance to rest on him for a moment, they would discover him at once.
Running in a crouching position the boy made for the further side of the lot, where he hoped to get far enough away so that he could straighten up and make better time.
He did finally reach a safe place, and climbing a board fence, dropped on the other side and lay down to await developments. These were not long coming. All at once he discovered half a dozen men running directly toward him. Whether they had caught sight of him or not, he did not know. He did know that it was time to leave.
Phil left. Springing up, he fairly flew over the ground.
The men caught sight of him, as he realized when one of them uttered a yell. But Phil was a faster runner than any of them and in a few minutes, darting this way and that, and finally doubling on his tracks in a wide circle, he succeeded in outwitting them.
"The question is, what am I going to do now?" he asked himself, pausing abruptly. "In this rig I don't dare go into the town, or they will nab me on some trumped up charge and then I shall be worse off. Now I am free, even if I haven't got much on me in the way of clothing. I might as well not have anything so far as keeping warm is concerned." Phil shivered, for the night was cool and a heavy dew falling.
"I know what I'll do. I'll slip back to the lot and perhaps I shall be able to find something to put on. There's usually plenty of coats lying about on the wagons."
Now that the uproar had ceased Phil crept back toward the circus lot, lying down in the grass whenever he heard a sound near him and peering into the darkness.
At the risk of being discovered he crawled up to a wagon, climbed aboard and searched it diligently for clothes. He found none. Keenly disappointed, Phil made his way to the pole wagon under which he had taken refuge in his first effort at getting away. This, he found, was loaded ready to be taken to the train. At any moment, now, a team might be hitched to it.
"I guess I'll have to hurry!" muttered the lad. Phil's knowledge of circus affairs stood him in good stead now.
To the boy's delight, he found a bundle in which were a coat and a pair of overalls, rolled up and stowed under the driver's seat.
"Fine!" chuckled Phil. "It's a good deal like stealing, but I have to have them and I'll send the fellow a new pair if ever I get back to my own show. He'll be mad in the morning when he goes to get his clothes. I wish I had a hat and pair of shoes. But I guess I ought to be thankful for what I already have."
Saying this, Phil dropped from the wagon and quickly got into the clothes. They were old and dirty, but he did not mind that. They were clothes and they would cover his conspicuous ring costume, which was the most important thing for him to consider at the present moment.
"Now, I'll buy a ticket and get started for Corinto," he decided.
Phil reached under the neck of his shirt for his little bag of money.
"Oh, pshaw! I've lost it. Let me see, did I put my money in there before I entered the ring?"
For the life of him he was unable to say whether he had done so, or whether his money was still in his clothes back in the dressing tent.
"Well, I shall never see that money again, I am thinking. If I left it in my clothes it is gone by this time, and if I didn't it is gone anyway," was his logical conclusion.
The first thing to be done now was to get off the lot, which Phil did as quickly as possible. Clad in the soiled, well-worn garments with his coat buttoned tightly about his neck, the lad attracted no special attention. Getting well away from the circus grounds, he halted to consider what his next move should he.
"I guess I'll go over to the station and get some information," he decided. This he did, but the lights looked so bright in the station that he did not consider it prudent to enter. So Phil waited about until he saw one of the railroad switchmen coming in from the yards.
"How far is it to Corinto, please?" he asked.
"Whew! So far as that?"
"Yes. Belong to the show?"
"Well, not exactly. I'm with them, but I can't say that I belong to the outfit, and I'm glad I don't."
"Should think you would be glad," growled the switchman, who evidently held the Sully combination in no high regard.
"Which way do the trains go for Corinto?"
"That way. That track runs right through without a break. It's a single track road all the way."
"Going to hit the ties?"
"I'm likely to before I get there," laughed Phil, again thanking his informant and starting away, for he saw some people approaching whom he thought belonged to the show.
Leaning up against a freight car the lad considered what he had better do. At first he was inclined to try to steal a ride on the circus train, but after thinking the matter over he concluded that this would be dangerous.
"If they catch me again they surely will handle me pretty roughly, and they may throw me off the train. A few knocks more or less might not make much difference, but I am not anxious to be thrown from a rapidly moving circus train. I guess I'll walk. Let me see, tomorrow will be Sunday, and it is fifty miles to Corinto. I should be able to make the town by tomorrow night sometime. Yes, I'll try it."
Having formed this resolve, Phil started manfully off for his long walk to Corinto. He did not stop to consider that he would be hungry before he got there.
He left the yards, for these were now full of employees busily engaged in loading the cars. Off near the outskirts of the town he turned back to the tracks.
For two hours he plodded along cheerfully, but by this time the rough traveling over the ties so hurt his feet, clad as they were in light slippers, that he could scarcely walk. Phil took off the slippers and trotted about in the damp grass at the side of the railroad track, until getting some relief, then started on again.
An hour later the first of the circus trains thundered by him. He could see the dim lights in the sleepers, and now and then he made out the figure of a man stretched out under a cage on a flat car.
"Anyway, I would rather be walking than locked up in that narrow linen closet," decided the Circus Boy philosophically, once more taking up his weary journey.
At sunrise Phil found that he was too tired to go much further without taking a rest, so, as soon as he found a wooded place, he climbed a fence and lay down in the shade of the trees, where he quickly went to sleep.
The afternoon was well along when finally he awakened, sore and stiff in every joint.
"If I should try to ride a bareback horse now I should fall off for sure," he moaned, rubbing his lame spots vigorously. "My, but I am hungry! I wonder how far I am from Corinto?"
A mile post a little further along told him that he had covered just twenty miles of his journey. He still had thirty miles to go—a long distance for one in his condition.
All during the rest of the day Phil was obliged to take frequent rests. Whenever he came to a stream he would halt and thrusting his feet into the cooling water, keep them there for some time. This helped him considerably, for his feet were swollen and feverish. The sun beating down on his head made him dizzy and faint, which was made the more disturbing because of his empty stomach.
He managed, just before sunset, to get a sandwich at a farmhouse, though he was looked upon with suspicion by the housewife who gave him the food. Phil offered to do something to pay for the slender meal, but the woman refused and bade him be on his way.
"I don't blame her. I must be a tough looking customer," grinned the boy, again climbing the fence and starting along the track. He fought shy of villages during daylight, fearing that he might be arrested for vagrancy and locked up. That would defeat his plans.
"I simply must get to Corinto and warn Mr. Sparling," he gritted. "He doesn't know the plans these people have to harm him. If it were not for that I wouldn't try to go any further today. I could get somebody to help me out for a day or so, until I could write to Mr. Sparling."
Now and then he met a tramp or two, but none that he thought looked any more disreputable than he himself did. He passed the time of day pleasantly, with such, and continued on his way.
Late in the evening he once more lay down for a rest. But Phil did not permit himself to sleep long. He feared he should not be able to wake up until morning if he did, and then he never would reach the show town in time to warn Mr. Sparling of the impending danger.
At daylight he was still ten miles from his destination.
"I must make it. I shall make it!" he breathed, starting on a run, having found a path at the side of the track.
However, he could not keep this up for long, and was soon obliged to settle back into his former slow pace.
At last Phil came in sight of the church spires of a town.
"I believe that is Corinto," he said, shading his eyes and peering off at the distant town. "At any rate I can't be far from it now."
The knowledge was almost as good as a meal. Its effect on Phil Forrest was magical. He forgot all about his tender feet and empty stomach as he swung into a good strong pace.
All at once he halted and listened. The blare of the big horns of a circus band reached his ears.
"The parade has started. I must hurry now. The Sully wretches may do something to the parade," Phil cried, starting away on a run. Nor did he slacken his pace until he had gotten well into the town. Now he could hear two bands playing, and knew that the rival parades were under way.
"Where is the circus lot—where is the parade," he asked a man as he dashed by.
The man pointed off to the right and Phil took the next corner with a rush. As he swung into that street he saw the banners of the Sparling show fluttering in the breeze as the parade moved majestically toward him. Taking to the street, for the sidewalks were crowded, Phil ran with all speed. Mr. Sparling, in his carriage at the head, saw him coming. At first he did not recognize the lad; then all at once he discovered who the boy was.
Phil dashed up to the carriage. Mr. Sparling reached out a hand and pulled him in.
"Phil!" he cried.
"Quick, get the tents guarded! Sully's gang are going to cut the guy ropes. Look out for the parade too. I suspect they will try to break it up!"
THE BATTLE OF THE ELEPHANTS
"Yes, hurry!" and Phil sank back, weak from lack of food and the severe strain he had put upon himself.
Mr. Sparling grasped the meaning of the lad's words in a flash. Snatching a whistle from his pocket he blew two short, shrill blasts. A mounted man came riding up at a gallop.
"Go to the lot! Have the tents surrounded. Let no one through who doesn't belong to the show. I trust you to look out for our property. An attempt may be made to do us damage while we are out on parade. Now, ride!"
The man did ride. He whirled his horse and set it at a run down the line, headed toward the circus lot.
"I've got to get back there myself, Phil. Can you stand it to stay in the carriage until it reaches the lot?"
"Yes, but I don't look fit. I—"
"Sit up and look wise. The people will think you are a clown and they'll split their sides laughing. I'll talk with you later. You must have had a rough time of it."
"I have had."
Mr. Sparling jumped out of the carriage, and, ordering a rider to dismount, took the latter's horse, on which he, too, rode back to the lot with all speed.
Phil pulled himself together. Half a block further on the people, espying him, did laugh as Mr. Sparling had said they would.
Phil grinned out of sheer sympathy.
"I must look funny riding in this fine carriage with four white horses drawing me through the streets. I don't blame them for laughing. If I had something to eat, now, I would be all right. I am getting to have as much of an appetite as Teddy Tucker has. I—"
Phil paused, listening intently.
"I hear another band and it is coming nearer," he exclaimed. "That must be the Sully show. I forgot in my excitement, to ask Mr. Sparling about them. I wonder where they are?"
The music of the rival band grew louder and louder, but strain his eyes and ears as he would, Phil was unable to locate the other show's line of parade.
"Where's that band?" he called up to the driver of his carriage.
"Off that side of the town, I guess," he answered, waving his whip to the right of them.
"Well, I think they are pretty close to us and I don't like the looks, or rather the sound of things."
At that moment Phil's carriage was drawn across an intersecting street. He looked up the street quickly.
"There they are!" he cried.
Less than a quarter of a block up the street he saw the other parade sweeping down upon them, bands playing, flags flying and banners waving. Phil's quick, practiced eyes saw something else too. The elephants were leading the rival parade, with horsemen immediately at their rear, the band still further back.
This being so unusual in a parade, the Circus Boy knew that there must be some reason for the peculiar formation. The elephants should have been further back in the line, the same as were those of the Sparling show.
Phil divined the truth instantly.
"They're going to break up our parade!" he cried. "That's what they are hoping to do. Drive on! I'm going to get out and run back to tell the parade manager. They'll do us a lot of damage."
Phil leaped from the carriage and ran down the street, his coat wide open showing his pink riding shirt beneath it.
"Where's the parade manager?" he cried.
"Gone to the lot. Boss sent him back."
Phil groaned. Something must be done and done quickly. The rival parade must be nearing their street by this time.
A thought occurred to him. Phil dashed for the elephant herd.
"Sully's show is going to run into us at that corner there."
"They don't dare!"
"They do and they will. Swing your elephants out of line and throw them across that intersecting street. I'll bet they won't get by our bulls in a hurry."
"Great! Great, kid! I'd never thought of that."
"You'll have to hurry. The other fellows are almost here and their elephants are leading the parade. Sully's just looking for trouble!"
The voice of the elephant trainer uttered a series of shrill commands that sounded like so many explosions. The elephants understood. They swung quickly out of line and went lumbering down the street.
"Hey, there, that you, Phil?"
It was Teddy on old Emperor's back in the same frog costume that he had worn for that purpose the first season with the show.
"Yes, what's left of me," answered Phil, running fast to keep up with the swiftly moving elephants.
Just before reaching the intersecting street he managed to get ahead of Kennedy and his charges.
"Hurry, hurry! They're right here," howled the Circus Boy.
The trainer, with prod and voice, urged the elephants into even quicker action than before. Two minutes later they swung across the street down which the rival parade was coming, and, at the command of their keeper, the huge animals turned, facing the other body of paraders.
"We're just in time! There they are!" cried Phil excitedly.
"I should say so. They were going to do what you said they would, the scoundrels!"
"Can you hold them till our people get by, do you think?"
"Can I hold them? I can hold them till all the mill ponds in Canada freeze up!" exploded the elephant trainer.
Phil walked forward to meet the Sully parade. The owner of that show was well up toward the front of the line on horseback.
"You'll have to wait till our line gets by, sir," announced Phil, with a suggestive grin. "We've got your little game blocked, you see."
Sully fairly hurled the word at the disreputable looking Circus Boy.
"Yes; you see I got away. Are you going to stop?"
"No, not for any outfit that James Sparling runs. Where is he? Afraid to come out and show himself, eh? Sends a runaway kid out to speak for him. Get out of the way, or I'll run you down!"
Phil's eyes snapped.
"You had better not try it, if you know what's good for you!"
"Move on! Break through their line!" commanded Sully.
Phil turned and waved his hand.
"They are going to try to break through, Mr. Kennedy," he called.
Kennedy uttered several quick commands. The Sully elephants swung down toward him, their trunks raised high in the air. The leader, a big tusker, uttered a shrill cry.
It was the elephants' battle cry, but Phil did not know it. Kennedy did.
For the first time, thus far, the Sparling herd of elephants began to show signs of excitement. Their trainer quieted them somewhat with soothing words here, a sharp command there, and occasionally a prod of the hook.
All at once the leading tusker of the Sully herd lunged straight at old Emperor. In another instant nearly every elephant in each herd had chosen an opponent and the battle was on in earnest.
Trumpetings, loud shrieks of rage and mighty coughs made the more timid of the people flee to places of greater safety.
As the crash of the meeting elephants came, Phil ran back to the street where his own parade was standing.
"Move on!" he shouted. "Follow your route without the elephants. And you, bandmaster, keep your men playing. When you have gone by, we will give the other show a chance to go on if there's enough left of them to do so."
Realizing that Phil had given them sensible advice, the Sparling show moved on with band playing and colors waving, but above the uproar could be heard the thunder of the fighting elephants.
Two of the rival show's elephants had been tumbled into a ditch by the roadside. Then Kennedy had a lively few minutes to keep his own animals from following and putting an end to the enemies they had tumbled over.
The tusks of the two big elephants, when they met, sounded like the report of a pistol. Such sledge hammer blows as these two monsters dealt each other made the spectators of the remarkable battle gasp.
All at once they saw something else that made them stare the harder.
On the back of Emperor, lying prone was stretched a strange figure. From it they saw the head of a boy emerge. Slowly the frog costume that he had worn, slipped from him and dropped to the ground.
"Teddy!" shouted Phil. "He'll be killed!"
"W-o-w!" howled Teddy Tucker, who had been so frightened in the beginning that he could not get down, and now he could not if he would.
"Let go and jump off! I'll catch you!" shouted Phil.
"Mr. Kennedy, can't you get him off?"
But the trainer had his hands more than full keeping his charges in line, for at all hazards they must not be allowed to get away from him, as in their present excited state there was no telling what harm they might do.
The Sparling people suddenly uttered a great shout. Emperor was slowly forcing his antagonist backward, the Sully elephant gradually giving ground before the mighty onslaught of old Emperor. Seeing their leader weakening, the other elephants also began retreating until the line was slowly forced back against Sully's line of march. The owner was riding up and down in a frightful rage, alternately urging his trainer to rally his elephants, and hurling threats at Phil Forrest and the organization he represented.
"Had we better not call our bulls off, Mr. Kennedy?" shouted Phil. "Our parade has gone by this time."
"Yes, if I can. I don't know whether I can stop them now or not."
"You get the others away. I'll try to take care of Emperor and Jupiter. Emperor will give in shortly, after he knows the other elephant is whipped."
"He won't give in till he kills him," answered Kennedy. "Better look out. He's blind, crazy mad."
"I'm not afraid of him. Hang on now, Teddy. We will have you out of your difficulty in a few minutes."
Teddy had been hanging on desperately, his eyes large and staring. Every time the long trunk of Sully's big tusker was raised in the air, Teddy thought it was being aimed at his head and shrank closer to Emperor's back. But the tusker probably never saw Teddy at all. He was too busy protecting himself from old Emperor's vicious thrusts.
At last the tusker began to retreat in earnest. First he would turn, running back a few rods; then he would whirl to give a moment's battle to Emperor.
Emperor was following him doggedly.
Phil decided that it was time to act. He rushed up to Emperor's head during one of these lulls and called commandingly.
Emperor, with a sweep of his trunk, hurled Phil Forrest to the side of the street. But Phil, though shaken up a bit, was not harmed in the least.
He was up and at his huge friend almost at once.
"Emperor! Emperor!" he shouted, getting nearer and nearer to the head of the enraged beast.
Finally Phil stepped up boldly and threw both arms about Emperor's trunk.
"Steady, steady, Emperor!" he commanded.
This time the elephant did not hurl Phil away. Instead, he stopped hesitatingly, evidently not certain whether he should plunge on after his enemy or obey the command of his little friend.
Phil tucked the trunk under his arm confidently.
"That's a good fellow! Come along now, and we'll have a whole bag of peanuts when we get back to the lot."
The elephant coughed understandingly, it seemed. At least he turned about, though with evident reluctance, and meekly followed the Circus Boy, his trunk still tucked under the latter's arm.
The Sully elephants had been whipped and driven off, though none had been very seriously injured. Some fences had been knocked over and a number of people nearly frightened to death—but that was all. Phil had saved the day for his employer's show and had come out victorious.
The Circus Boy was in high glee as he led Emperor back toward the lot, where the parade was drawing in by the time he reached there.
Teddy, on the big elephant's head, was waving his arms excitedly.
"We licked 'em! We licked 'em!" he howled, as he caught sight of Mr. Sparling hurrying toward them.
MONKEYS IN THE AIR
As the result of that victory, the Sparling shows did a great business in Corinto. The owner, considering that his rival had been severely enough punished, made no further effort to have him brought to justice, though Phil could hardly restrain him from making Sully suffer for the indignities he had heaped on young Forrest.
Phil found his money that day when he removed his ring shirt. The string that had fastened his money bag about his neck had parted, letting the bag drop. This money he handed to Mr. Sparling as rightfully belonging to him.
Of course the showman refused it, and wanted to make Phil a present besides, for the great service he had rendered. As it chanced, one of Mr. Sparling's own staff was attending the Sully show when Phil made his escape, and much of the latter's discomfort might have been prevented had he only been aware of that fact.
Teddy assumed the full credit for the victory of old Emperor, and no one took the trouble to argue the question with him.
Soon after these exciting incidents the Sparling shows left Canada behind and crossed the Niagara River. It was with a long drawn sigh of relief that they set eyes on the Stars and Stripes again.
After showing at the Falls, the outfit headed southwest. The season was getting late, the cotton crop in the south was going to market, and it was time for all well managed shows whose route lay that way to get into Dixie Land. The Circus Boys, too, were anxious to tour the sunny south again. This time they were going to follow a route they had never been over before, something that was still a matter of great interest to the boys.
Mr. Sparling upon learning that there was a traitor in his camp who was supplying secret information to the Sully show as to the route of the Sparling circus, had at once set a watch for the offender. It was not long before the traitor was caught red-handed. He was, of course, dismissed immediately, despised by all who knew what he had been doing.
No more had been seen of the Sully Hippodrome Circus after the meeting of the two organizations in Corinto, though that crowd had been heard of occasionally as hovering on the flanks of the Sparling shows.
"I don't care where they go," said Mr. Sparling, "so long as they don't get in the same county with me. I am liable to lose my temper if they get that near to me again, and then something will happen for sure."
The Sparling show got into the real southland when it made Memphis, Tennessee, on October first, a beautiful balmy southern fall day. All season Phil had been keeping up his practice on the trapeze bar, until he had become a really fine performer. He had never performed in public, however, and hardly thought he would have a chance to do so that season. He hoped not, if it were to be at some other performer's expense, as had usually been the case.
"When somebody gets hurt it's Phillip who takes his place," said the lad to himself.
"Which means that you are always on the job," replied Mr. Sparling who had chanced to overhear the remark. No serious accidents had occurred in sometime, however, and it was hoped by everyone that none would. Accidents, while they are accepted by show people in the most matter-of-fact way, always cast a gloom over the show. Even the loss of a horse will make the sympathetic showman sad.
After a splendid business in Memphis the show ran into Mississippi where it played a one day stand at Clarksdale, and where the showmen experienced the liveliest time they had had since they met the Sully organization in Canada.
The afternoon performance had just come to an end, and the people were getting ready to leave their seats under the big top, when a great commotion was heard under the menagerie top.
Most of the performers were in the dressing tent, changing their dress for supper, but a roar from the audience, followed by shouts of laughter, attracted their attention sharply, and as soon as they could clothe themselves sufficiently, the performers rushed out into the ring again.
Suddenly the people, upon looking toward the menagerie tent, saw a troop of diminutive animals sweeping into the big top. At first the people did not recognize them.
"They're monkeys!" shouted someone. "They're going to give us a monkey show."
"No. The beasts have gotten out of their cage," answered another.
He was right. A careless attendant had hooked the padlock of the monkey cage in the staple, but had not locked it. An observant simian had noticed this, but did not make use of his knowledge until the keeper had gone away.
Peering out to make sure that no one was looking, the monkey reached out its hand and deftly slipped the padlock from its place.
The rest was easy. A bound against the cage door left the way open, and the hundred monkeys in the cage, big and little were not slow to take advantage of the opportunity thus offered.
Chattering wildly, they poured from the wagon like a small cataract. A moment later the attendants discovered them and gave chase. At about the same time the monkeys discovered that something was going on under the big top. Being curious little beasts, they concluded to investigate. Then, too, the attendants were pressing pretty close to them, so the whole herd bolted into the circus tent with a shouting crowd of circus men in pursuit.
The yells of the audience, added to those of the attendants, sent the nimble little fellows scurrying up ropes, center and quarter poles, all the time keeping up their merry chatter, for freedom was a thing they had not enjoyed since they had been captured in their jungle homes.
Some of the ring men tried to shake the monkeys down from the poles, just as they would shake an apple tree to get the fruit. But the little fellows were not thus easily dislodged. The attempt served only to send them higher up. They seemed to be everywhere over the heads of the people.
Finally, having thoroughly investigated the top of the tent, several of the larger simians decided to take a closer look at the audience. At the moment the audience did not know of this plan, or they might have taken measures to protect themselves.
The first intimation they had of the plans of the mischievous monkeys, was when a woman uttered a piercing shriek, startling everyone in the tent.
"What is it?" shouted someone.
"Oh, my hat! My hat!" she cried after discovering what had happened to her.
The eyes of the audience wandered from her up to where a monkey was dangling by its tail far above their heads. The animal had in its hands a flower-covered hat, so large that when the monkey tried to put it on, it almost entirely concealed his body. So suddenly had the hat been torn from the head of the owner that hatpins were broken short off while the little thief "shinned" a rope with his prize.