Failing to make the hat fit, Mr. Monkey began pulling the flowers out; then picking them to pieces, he showered the particles down over the heads of the audience.
This was great sport for the monkey, but no fun at all for the owner of the hat. The woman hurried from her seat, red-faced and humiliated. Phil Forrest had chanced to be a witness to the act. He stepped forward as she descended to the concourse and touched his hat.
"Was the hat a valuable one, madam?" he asked.
"I am sorry. If you will come with me to the office of the manager I am quite sure he will make good your loss."
"Do you belong to the circus, sir?"
The woman gladly accompanied him to Mr. Sparling, and there was made happy by having the price of her ruined hat handed over to her without a word of objection.
In the meantime trouble had been multiplying at a very rapid rate under the big top. Everyone was shouting, attendants were yelling orders to each other, and now Mr. Sparling, hurrying in, added his voice to the din.
Hats in all parts of the tent seemed to fly toward the roof almost magically, to come tumbling down a few minutes later hopeless wrecks.
Once the monkeys got a tall silk hat. This they used for an aerial football, tossing it to each other as they leaped from rope to rope at their dizzy height.
One monkey was discovered peering down at a certain point in the audience with an almost fascinated gaze. Something down there attracted him. Cautiously the little fellow let himself down a rope to the side wall, then, unnoticed by the people, crept down through the aisle. Slowly one black little hand reached up and jerked from the head of an old gentleman a pair of gold spectacles.
The man uttered a yell as he felt the spectacles being torn from him, and made a frantic effort to save them. But the glasses, in the hands of the monkey, were already halfway up the aisle and a moment more the monkey was twisting the bows into hard knots and hurling pieces of glass at the spectators.
"Catch them! Catch them!" shouted Mr. Sparling.
"How, how?" answered a showman.
"I'll go up and get them," spoke up Teddy Tucker. Teddy simply could not keep out of trouble. He was sure to be in the thick of it whenever a disturbance was abroad.
"That's a good plan. How are you going to do it?"
"I'll show you. I'll shake 'em down if you will catch them when they reach the ring."
"Yes, but be careful that you don't fall."
"Don't you worry about me!"
Teddy untied a rope from a quarter pole, straightened it out and throwing off his coat and hat, began going up the rope hand over hand. The monkeys peered down curiously from their perches, chattering and discussing the little figure that was on its way up to join them.
Teddy reached the platform of the trapeze performers. From there he climbed a short rope that led to a smaller trapeze bar higher up, thence to the aerial bars, where the whole bunch of monkeys were sitting, scolding loudly.
"Shoo!" said Teddy. "Get out of here! Better get a net and catch them down there," shouted Teddy, standing up on the bars without apparent thought of his own danger.
"Look out that we don't have to catch you!" called Mr. Sparling warningly.
Teddy picked his way gingerly across the bars shooing the monkeys ahead of him, now holding to a guide rope so that he might not by any chance slip through and drop to the ring forty feet below him, and all the while waving his free hand to frighten the monkeys.
A few of them leaped to a rope some eight or ten feet away, down which they went to the ring and up another set of ropes before the show people below could catch them.
While Teddy was thus engaged, the whole troop of monkeys swung back on the under side of the aerial bars beneath his feet.
"Shoo! Shoo!" he shouted. "You rascals, I'll fix you when I get hold of you, and don't you forget that for a minute."
He turned, cautiously making his way back, when the lively, mischievous little fellows shinned up the rope by which he had let himself down to the serial bars.
"I'll drive you all over the top of this tent, but I'll get you," Teddy cried.
Down below the audience was shouting and jeering. The people refused to leave the tent so long as such an exhibition was going on. No one paid the least attention to the "grand concert" that was in progress at one end of the big top, so interested were all in the Circus Boy's giddy chase.
"I'm afraid he will fall and kill himself," groaned Mr. Sparling.
"You can't hurt Teddy," laughed Phil. "He can go almost anywhere that a monkey could climb. But he'll never get them." Phil was laughing with the others, for the sight was really a funny one.
"Oh, look what they've done!" exclaimed one of the performers.
"They've pulled up the rope," said Mr. Sparling hopelessly.
"Now he certainly is in a fix," laughed Phil.
The monkeys, after shinning the rope, had mischievously hauled it up after them, acting with almost human intelligence. One of them carried the free end of it off to one side and dropped it over a guy rope. This left Tucker high and dry on the aerial bars with no means at hand to enable him to get back to earth.
The audience caught the significance of it and howled lustily.
"Now, I should like to know how you are going to get down?" shouted Mr. Sparling.
Teddy looked about him questioningly, and off at the grinning monkeys, that perched on rope and trapeze, appeared to be enjoying his discomfiture to the full.
"I—I guess I'll have to do the world's record high dive!" he called down. There seemed no other way out of it.
TEDDY TAXES A DROP
"Throw him a rope!" shouted someone.
"Yes, give him a rope," urged Mr. Sparling.
"No one can throw a rope that high," answered Phil. "I think the first thing to be done is to get the monkeys and I have a plan by which to accomplish it."
"What's your plan?"
"Have their cage brought in. We should have thought of that before."
"That's a good idea," nodded Mr. Sparling. "I always have said you had more head than any of the others of this outfit, not excepting myself. Get the monkey cage in here."
While this was being done Phil hurried out into the menagerie tent, where, at a snack stand, he filled his pockets with peanuts and candy; then strolled back, awaiting the arrival of the cage.
"We shall be able to capture our monkeys much more easily if the audience will please leave the tent," announced Mr. Sparling. "The show is over. There will be nothing more to see."
The spectators thought differently. There was considerable to be seen yet. No one made a move to leave, and the manager gave up trying to make them, not caring to attempt driving the people out by force.
The cage finally was drawn up between the two rings. This instantly attracted the attention of the little beasts. Phil stood off from the cage a few feet.
"Now everybody keep away, so the monkeys can see me," he directed. Phil then began chirping in a peculiar way, giving a very good imitation of the monkey call for food. At the same time he began slowly tossing candy and peanuts into the cage.
There was instant commotion aloft. Such a chattering and scurrying occurred up there as to cause the spectators to gaze in open-mouthed wonder. But still Phil kept up his weird chirping, continuing to toss peanuts and candy into the cage.
"As I live, they are coming down," breathed Mr. Sparling in amazement, "never saw anything like it in my life!"
"I always told you that boy should have been a menagerie man instead of a ring performer," nodded Mr. Kennedy, the elephant trainer.
"He is everything at the same time," answered Mr. Sparling. "It is a question as to whether or not he does one thing better than another. There they come. Everybody stand back. I hope the people keep quiet until he gets through there. I am afraid the monkeys never will go back into the cage, though."
There was no hesitancy on the part of the monkeys. They began leaping from rope to rope, swinging by their tails to facilitate their descent, until finally the whole troop leaped to the top of the cage and swung themselves down the bars to the ground.
Phil lowered his voice to a low, insistent chirp. One monkey leaped into the cage, the others following as fast as they could stretch up their hands and grab the tail board of the wagon. Instantly they began scrambling for the nuts and candies that lay strewn over the floor.
The last one was inside. Phil sprang to the rear of the cage and slammed the door shut, throwing the padlock in place and snapping it.
"There are your old monkeys," he cried, turning to Mr. Sparling with flushed, triumphant face.
The audience broke out into a roar, shouting, howling and stamping on the seats at the same time.
"Now, you may go," shouted Mr. Sparling to the audience. "Phil, you are a wonder. I take off my hat to you," and the showman, suiting the action to the word, made a sweeping bow to the little Circus Boy.
Still the audience remained.
"Well, why don't you go?"
"What about the kid up there near the top of the house?" questioned a voice in the audience.
"That's so. I had forgotten all about him," admitted the owner of the show.
"Oh, never mind me. I'm only a human being," jeered Tucker, from his perch far up near the top of the tent. This brought a roar of laughter from everybody.
"We shall have to try to cast a rope up to him."
"You can't do it," answered Phil firmly. Nevertheless the effort was made, Teddy watching the attempts with lazy interest.
"No, we shan't be able to reach him that way," agreed Mr. Sparling finally.
"Hey down there," called Teddy.
"Well, what is it? Got something to suggest?"
"Maybe—maybe if you'd throw some peanuts and candy in my cage I might come down."
This brought a howl of laughter.
"I don't see how we are going to make it," said Mr. Sparling, shaking his head hopelessly.
"I'll tell you how we can do it," said Phil.
"Yes; I was waiting for you to make a suggestion. I thought it funny if you didn't have some plan in that young head of yours. What is it?"
"What's the matter with the balloon?"
"Hurrah! That's the very thing."
The balloon was a new act in the Sparling show that season. A huge balloon had been rigged, but in place of the usual basket, was a broad platform. Onto this, as the closing act of the show, a woman rode a horse, then the balloon was allowed to rise slowly to the very dome of the big tent, carrying the rider and horse with it.
The act was a decided novelty, and was almost as great a hit as had been the somersaulting automobile of a season before.
The balloon stood swaying easily at its anchorage.
"Give a hand here, men. Let the bag up and the boy can get on the platform, after which you can pull him down."
"That won't do," spoke up Phil. "He can't reach the platform. Someone will have to go up and toss him a rope. He can make the rope fast and slide down it."
"I guess you are right, at that. Who will go up?"
"I will," answered the Circus Boy. "Give me that coil of rope."
Taking his place on the platform the lad rose slowly toward the top of the tent as the men paid out the anchor rope.
"Halt!" shouted Phil when he found himself directly opposite his companion.
"Think you can catch it, Teddy?"
"Well, here goes."
The rope shot over Teddy's head, landing in his outstretched arm.
"Be sure you make it good and fast before you try to shin down it," warned Phil.
"I'll take care of that. Don't you worry. You might toss me a peanut while I'm getting ready. I'll go in my cage quicker."
Phil laughingly threw a handful toward his companion, three or four of which Teddy caught, some in his mouth and some in his free hand, to the great amusement of the spectators.
"They ought to pay an admission for that," grinned Phil.
"For seeing the animals perform. You are the funniest animal in the show at the present minute."
"Well, I like that! How about yourself?" peered Teddy with well-feigned indignation.
"I guess I must be next as an attraction," laughed the boy.
"I guess, yes."
"Haul away," called Phil to the men below him, and they started to pull the balloon down toward the ground again.
"Get a net under Tucker there," directed Mr. Sparling.
"I'm not going to dive. What do you think?" retorted Teddy.
"There is no telling what you may or may not do," answered the showman. "It is the unexpected that always happens with you."
Phil nodded his approval of the statement.
In the meantime Teddy had made fast the end of the rope to the aerial bar, and grasping the rope firmly in his hands, began letting himself down hand under hand.
"Better twist your legs about the rope," called Phil.
"No. It isn't neces—"
Just then Teddy uttered a howl. The rope, which he had not properly secured, suddenly slipped from the bar overhead.
Teddy dropped like a shot.
THE CIRCUS ON AN ISLAND
Teddy landed in the net with a smack that made the spectators gasp.
"Are you hurt," cried Mr. Sparling, running forward.
Teddy got up, rubbing his shins gingerly, working his head from side to side to make sure that his neck was properly in place.
"N-n-no, I guess not. I'll bet that net got a clump that it won't forget in a hurry, though. Folks, the show is all over. You may go home now," added Teddy, turning to the audience and waving his hand to them.
The seats began to rattle as the people, realizing that there was nothing more to be seen, finally decided to start for home.
"It is lucky, young man, that I had that net under you," announced Mr. Sparling.
"Lucky for me, but a sad blow to the net," answered Teddy humorously, whereat Mr. Sparling shook his head hopelessly.
The tent was beginning to darken and the showman glanced up apprehensively.
"What's the outlook?" he asked as Mr. Kennedy passed.
"Just a shower, I guess."
The owner strode to the side wall and peered out under the tent, then crawled out for a survey of the skies.
"We are in for a lively storm," he declared. "It may not break until late tonight, and I hardly think it will before then. Please tell the director to cut short all the acts tonight. I want every stick and stitch off the lot no later than eleven o'clock tonight."
"Shall we cut out the Grand Entry?"
"Yes, by all means. If possible I should like to make the next town before the storm breaks, as it's liable to be a long, wet one."
"I don't care. I've got a rubber coat and a pair of rubber boots with a hole in one of them," spoke up Teddy.
"And, Teddy Tucker," added the owner, turning to the Circus Boy. "If you mix things up tonight, and delay us a minute anywhere, I'll fire you. Understand?"
Teddy shook his head.
"You don't? Well, I'll see if I can make it plainer then."
"Why, Mr. Sparling, you wouldn't discharge me, now, would you? Don't you know this show couldn't get along without me?"
The showman gazed sternly at Teddy for a moment, then his face broke out in a broad smile.
"I guess you're right at that, my boy."
The cook tent came down without delay that afternoon, and on account of the darkness the gasoline lamps had to be lighted a full two hours earlier than usual.
The show at the evening performance was pushed forward with a rush, while many anxious eyes were upon the skies, for it was believed that the heaviest rainstorm in years was about to fall.
By dint of much hard work, together with a great deal of shouting and racket, the tents were off the field by the time indicated by Mr. Sparling, and loaded. A quick start was made. Long before morning the little border town of Tarbert, their next stand, was reached.
Mr. Sparling had all hands out at once.
"Get to the lot and pitch your tents. Everything has got to be up before daylight," he ordered. "You'll have something to eat just as soon as you get the cook tent in place."
That was inducement enough to make the men work with a will, and they did. The menagerie and circus tents had been laced together, lying flat on the ground, when the storm broke.
"That will keep the lot dry, but hustle it! Get the canvas up before it is so soaked you can't raise it," commanded the owner.
By daylight the tents were in place, though men had to be stationed constantly at the guy ropes to loosen them as they strained tight from the moisture they absorbed.
The rain seemed to be coming down in sheets. Fortunately the lot chosen for pitching the tents was on a strip of ground higher than anything about it, so the footing remained fairly solid. But it was a cheerless outlook. The performers, with their rubber boots on, came splashing through a sea of mud and water on their way to the cook tent that morning, Phil and Teddy with the rest.
"Looks like rain, doesn't it," greeted Teddy, as he espied Mr. Sparling plodding about with a keen eye to the safety of his tents.
"I wish the outlook for business today were as good," was the comprehensive answer.
When the hour for starting the parade arrived, the water over the flats about them was so deep and the mud so soft that it was decided to abandon the parade for that day.
"I almost wish we hadn't unloaded," said the owner. "It looks to me as if we might be tied up here for sometime."
"Yes," agreed Phil. "The next question is how are the people going to get here to see the show?"
"I was thinking of that myself. The answer is easy, though."
"They won't come."
"Why? Are they drowned out?"
"No; the town is high enough so they will not suffer much of any damage, except as the water gets into their cellars. No; they are all right. I wish we were as much so, but there'll be no use in giving a show this afternoon."
"Wait a minute," spoke up Phil, raising one hand while he considered briefly.
"Of course, you have an idea. It wouldn't be you if you hadn't. But I am afraid that, this time, you will fall short of the mark."
"No, not if you will let me carry out a little plan."
"What is it?"
"When I came over I noticed a strip of ground just a few rods to the north of the lot, and running right into it, that was higher than the flats. It was a sort of ridge and fairly level on top."
"I didn't see that."
"I did. It was showing above the water a few inches and looked like hard ground. If you don't mind getting wet I'll take you over and point it out."
The showman agreed, though as yet he did not understand what Phil's plan was.
Phil led the way to the north side of the lot, then turning sharply to the left after getting his bearings, walked confidently out into the water followed by Mr. Sparling. The ground felt firm beneath their feet. As a matter of fact it was a stratum of rock running out from the nearby mountains.
"Boy, you've struck a way for us to get out when time comes for us to do so. That mud on the flats will be so soft, for several days, that the wheels would sink in up to the hubs. The stock would get mired now, were they to try to go through."
"But not here."
"No; I rather think that's so. What's your plan?"
"We have plenty of wagons that are not in use—take for instance the pole wagons. Why not send our wagons over to the village and bring the people here? I am sure they will enjoy that," suggested Phil.
"Splendid," glowed the showman. "But I'm afraid the horses never would be able to pull them over."
"I said I was afraid they would not be able to."
"I had considered that, sir."
"Oh, you had?"
"Of course, I might have known you had. Well, what is it?"
"I have an even better scheme, and it will be great advertising— one that few people in town will be able to resist."
"Yes? I am listening."
"Well, in the first place, have the long pole wagons fixed up to bring the people over. We can use our ring platforms to make a bottom for the passengers to sit on."
"Yes, that will be easy."
"Then, take some side wall poles, stand them up along the sides of the wagon and build a roof with canvas. That will keep the inside of the wagon as dry as a barn."
"A splendid idea. But how are you going to get the folks over here after you have done that?"
"Wait, I am coming to that. What do you say to hitching the elephants to the wagons and hauling the people back and forth? Nothing like that has ever been done, has it?"
Mr. Sparling tossed up his hat regardless of the fact that the rain was beating down on his head and running down his neck.
"Nothing ever been done to compare with it, since P. T. Barnum ploughed up his farm with Jumbo. By the great Dan Rice, that's a scheme!" shouted Mr. Sparling enthusiastically.
"But you will have to hurry if you are going to put the plan into operation," urged Phil.
"What would you suggest, Phil?"
"I would suggest that you send men into town on horseback, right away, having them call at every house, at the post office, the hotel and every other place they can think of, telling the people what we propose to do. Teddy and I will take horses and go out with the rest, if you say so. The rain won't hurt us, and besides, it will be great fun. What do you say, sir?"
Mr. Sparling hesitated for one brief second.
"Come on!" he shouted as with hat in hand he splashed toward the lot followed a short distance behind by Phil.
The arrangements suggested by the Circus Boy were quickly made, and a company of horsemen rode over to the village to tell the people how they might see the show without getting wet. While this was being done the pole wagons were being rigged for the purpose, and the elephants were provided with harness strong enough to stand the strain of the heavy loads they would have to draw.
The wagons were to be driven along the village streets at one o'clock, the circus to begin at half-past two. That would give the show people plenty of time to prepare for the performance.
The suggestion met with great enthusiasm. Few people had ever had the privilege of riding behind an elephant team, and they gladly welcomed the opportunity.
At Phil's further suggestion a separate wagon had been prepared for the colored people. When all was ready the elephants were first driven across the ridge without their wagons, to show the animals that the footing was safe. Then they were hooked to the covered pole wagons and the work of transporting the village to the lot was begun.
The show grounds were on an island, now, entirely surrounded by water. Some of the clowns had rigged up fishing outfits and sat on the bank in the rain trying to catch fish, though there probably was not a fish within a mile of them, according to Phil's idea.
"That's good work for a fool," gloated Teddy.
"It takes a wise man to be a fool, young man," was the clown's retort.
"Perhaps you don't know that the river has overflowed a few miles above here, and that this place is full of fish?"
"No; I don't know anything of the sort. The only water I see coming is from right overhead. Maybe there's fish swimming around up there; I don't know. Never caught any up there myself."
After a time the clowns tired of their sport and went back to their dressing tent to prepare for the afternoon performance, the only performance that would be given that day, as it would not be safe to try to transport the people across the water in the dark. And, besides, the owner of the show hoped to be able to get his show aboard the cars before night.
In the big top a slender rope had been stretched across the blue seats from the arena back to the sidewall. This was the "color line." On one side of it sat the colored people, on the other the white people.
After all were seated, however, the line was taken down and colored and white people sat elbow to elbow. All were perfectly satisfied, for the color line had been drawn. The rest did not matter.
The show people entered into the spirit of the unusual exhibition with the keenest zest, and the Sparling show had never given a better entertainment than it did that afternoon. The clowns, even though they had not been successful as fishermen, where wholly so when they entered the ring. Teddy and his donkey, which he had named January, after the manner of most clowns who own these animals, set the whole tent roaring, while Shivers and his "shadow" made a hit from the moment they entered.
"I've got the greatest bunch of people to be found in this country," confided Mr. Sparling proudly to the surgeon.
"Especially those two boys, eh?"
"Yes. They can't be beaten. Neither can a lot of the others."
A fair-sized house had been brought over to see the show, and after the performance was ended they were taken back to their homes in the pole wagons, as they had been brought over.
"I'll tell you what you ought to do," said Teddy confidentially, just before the show closed.
"Well, what is it?" questioned Mr. Sparling.
"You ought to leave those folks here."
"Leave them here?"
"Why, they couldn't get back, and they would have to go to the evening performance again. You'd get 'em going and coming then. Do you see?"
The showman tipped back his head, laughing long and loud.
"Yes; I see."
"Then why not do it?"
"Young man, this show doesn't do things that way. We do business on the square, or we don't do it at all. I admire your zeal, but not your plan."
"Yes," agreed Phil, who stood near; "I sometimes think Teddy Tucker's moral code does need bolstering up a bit."
"What's that?" questioned Teddy. "What's a moral code?"
"I'll explain it to you some other time when we are not so busy," replied Phil.
"Nor so wet," added Mr. Sparling. "You see, we want to come to this town to show again some other time."
"I don't," responded Teddy promptly. "I've had all I want of it for the rest of my natural life. I can get all the fun I want out of performing on dry ground, instead of the edge of a lake that you are expecting every minute to tumble into."
DISASTER BEFALLS THE FAT LADY
"Help, help! Oh, help!"
"Coming," shouted Teddy Tucker, leaping from the platform of the sleeping car where he had been lounging in the morning sun.
The Fattest Woman on Earth was midway down the steep railroad embankment with the treacherous cinders slowly giving way beneath her feet, threatening every second to hurl her to the bottom of the embankment and into the muddy waters of a swollen stream that had topped its banks as the result of the storm that had disturbed the circus so much.
The Sparling shows did not succeed in getting fully away from the island until the middle of the day following the events just narrated.
This made it necessary to skip the next stand, so the show ran past that place, intent on making St. Charles, Louisiana, sometime that night.
The train had been flagged on account of a washout some distance ahead, and while it was lying on the main track many of the show people took the opportunity to drop off and gather flowers out in the fields near the tracks.
The Fat Woman was one of these. She had found it a comparatively easy thing to slide down the bank further up the tracks, after finding a spot where she could do so without danger of going right on into the creek below.
But the return journey was a different matter. She had succeeded in making her way halfway up the bank when, finding herself slipping backward she uttered her appeal for help.
"Stick your heels in and hold to it. I'll be there in a minute," shouted Teddy, doing an imitation of shooting the chutes down the embankment, digging in his own heels just in time to save himself from a ducking in the stream.
"There goes that Tucker boy, headed for more trouble," nodded a clown. "Watch him if you want to see some fun. Fat Marie is in trouble already, and she's going to get into more in about a minute."
Teddy picked himself up, and, running up behind the Fat Woman, braced his hands against her ample waist and began to push.
"Start your feet! Start your feet! Make motions as if you were walking!" shouted Teddy.
Marie did not move.
"Oh, help!" she murmured. "Help, help!"
"Go on. Go on! Do you think I can stay in this position all day, holding up your five hundred pounds? My feet are slipping back already. I'm treading water faster'n a race horse can run right this minute."
"I guess he's started something for himself all right," jeered the clown. "Told you so. Hey, there goes the whistle! The train will be starting. We'd better be making for the sleeper."
All hands sought a more suitable climbing place, hurried up the railroad embankment and ran for the train. A crowd gathered on the rear platform, where they jeered at Tucker and his burden.
"Come—come down here and help us out," howled Teddy. "You—you're a nice bunch, to run away when a lady is in trouble! Come down here, I say."
Just then the train started.
Phil, at that moment, was up forward in Mr. Sparling's car, else he would have tried to stop the train; or, failing to do that, he would have gone to his companion's assistance.
By this time Teddy had turned and was bracing his back against the Fat Woman, his heels digging into the shifting cinders in a desperate attempt to prevent the woman's slipping further down.
"You'll have to do something. I'm no Samson. I can't hold the world on my back all the time, though I can support a piece of it part of the time. Do something!"
"I—I can't," wailed the Fat Woman. "There goes the train, too. We'll be left."
"No, we won't."
"Yes, we shall."
"No; we won't be left, 'cause—'cause we're left already. Wow! I'm going! Save yourself!"
The cinders slipped from under Teddy's feet, and, with the heavy burden bearing down upon him, he was unable to get sufficient foothold to save himself.
The result was that Teddy sat down suddenly. Fat Marie sat down on him, and Teddy's yell might have been heard a long distance away. Those on the tail end of the circus train saw the collapse, then lost sight of the couple as the train rolled around a bend in the road.
Down the bank slid the Fat Woman, using Tucker as a toboggan, with the boy yelling lustily. Faster and faster did they slide.
Suddenly they landed in the muddy stream with a mighty splash, Teddy still on the bottom of the heap. When she found herself in the water Marie struggled to get out, and Teddy quickly scrambled up, mouth, eyes and ears so full of water that he could neither see, hear nor speak for a moment. He was blowing like a porpoise and trying to swim out, but the swift current was tumbling him along so rapidly that he found himself unable to reach the bank only a few feet away.
Marie, screaming for help, floated down rapidly with the current. When finally Teddy succeeded in getting his eyes open he discovered that she had lodged against a tree across the stream, where her cries grew louder and more insistent than ever.
Teddy was swept against her with a bump. He frantically grabbed for a limb of the fallen tree. As he did so his legs were drawn under it, so that it required all his strength to pull himself up to the tree trunk.
He sat there rubbing the water out of his eyes and breathing hard.
"Quick, get me out of here or I'll drown!" moaned the Fat Woman.
"Drown, if you want to. I've got my own troubles just this minute. What did you ever get me into this mix-up for? That's what I get for trying to be a good thing—"
Marie's screams waxed louder.
"All right. If you'll only stop that yelling I'll get you on dry land somehow. Can't you pull yourself up nearer the bank?"
"No. My dress is caught on something."
Teddy peered over, and, locating the place where she was caught, tried to free her. The lad was unable to do so with one hand, so, in a thoughtless moment, he brought both hands to the task. He lost his balance and plunged into the torrent head first, his body disappearing under the log. Teddy shot to the surface on the other side, flat on his back.
The Circus Boy did not shout this time. He was too angry to do so. He turned over and struck out for the bank which he was fortunate enough to reach. Quickly clambering up, Teddy sat down to repeat his process of rubbing the water out of his eyes.
"Are you going to let me lie here and drown?" cried the Fat Woman.
"It looks that way, doesn't it, eh?"
Teddy got up and hurried to her just the same. Throwing off his wet coat he set to work with a will to get Marie out. The water was shallow and she managed to help herself somewhat, therefore after great effort Teddy succeeded in towing her to land. The woman was a sight and Teddy a close second in this respect.
"I'm drowned," she moaned as he dragged her out on the bank, letting her drop sharply.
"You only think you are. I suppose you know what we've got to do now, don't you?"
"We've got to walk to the next stand."
"How—how far is it?"
"Maybe a hundred miles."
As a matter of fact they were within five miles of St. Charles, where the Sparling show was billed to exhibit that afternoon and evening.
"I'm afraid they'll miss you in the parade today, but what do you think will happen if we don't reach the show in time for the performance this afternoon?"
"I—I don't know."
"I do. We'll get fined good and proper."
"It—it's all your fault, Teddy Tucker."
Teddy surveyed her wearily.
"If you'd held me up I shouldn't have fallen in and—and—"
"Drowned," growled Teddy.
"And if you hadn't sat on me I shouldn't have fallen in, and there you are. Now, get up and we'll find a place to climb up the bank. We can't stay here all day and starve to death. Come on, now."
"All right; then I'll go without you." Teddy started away, whereupon the Fat Woman wailed to him to come back, at the same time struggling to her feet, bedraggled and wet, her hair full of sand and her clothes torn.
"If they'd only start a beauty show in the side top you would take first prize," grinned the boy. "Hurry up."
Marie waddled along with great effort, making slow headway.
"We shall have to go further along before we can get up the bank. That is, unless you want to take the chance of falling into the creek again."
It was some distance to the place where the creek curved under the railroad bed, and they would be obliged to go beyond that if they expected to get the Fat Woman out without a repetition of the previous disaster.
After a while they reached the spot for which Teddy had been heading.
Marie surveyed the bank up which she must climb.
"Can you make it?"
"That's the talk. Take a running start, but slow up before you get to the top, or with your headway you'll go right on over the other side and down that embankment. You ought to travel with a net under you, but it would have to be a mighty strong one, or you'd go through it."
Marie uttered a little hopeless moan and began climbing up the bank once more, but bracing each foot carefully before throwing her weight upon it. Teddy, in the meantime, had run up to the top where he sat down on the end of a tie watching the Fat Woman's efforts to get up to him.
"Help, help," mimicked Teddy.
"I can't go any further, unless you come down here and push."
"Push? No thank you. I tried that before. It would take a steam engine to push you up that bank, because you'd let the engine do all the pushing. You wouldn't help yourself at all."
"I'll fall if you don't help me."
"Well, fall then. You've got a nice soft piece of grass to land on down there. I'll tell you what I'll do."
"I'll take hold of your hand if you'll promise to let go the minute you feel you're going to fall."
"I—I don't want to let go. I want to hold on if I feel I'm going to fall," wailed Marie.
"No, you don't. 'United we stand, divided we fall,'" quoted Teddy solemnly.
"I'll promise; I'll promise anything, if you will come help me."
Teddy rose and slid down the bank to her.
"Give me your hand."
Marie extended a fat hand toward him, which he grasped firmly.
"Now gather all your strength and run for it. We'll be at the top before you know it. Run, run, run!"
The command was accompanied by a jerk on Marie's arm, and together they started plowing up the bank.
"Here we are. One more reach, and we'll be on hard ground. Then—"
"Help!" screamed Marie.
Both her feet flew out. One caught Teddy, tripping him and down they rolled amid a shower of cinders, both landing in a heap at the foot of the embankment.
"That settles it. I thought you were going to let go," growled Teddy.
"You mean you didn't. Now, you can take your choice; go up the bank alone or stay here. I suppose I have got to stay here with you, but I really ought to leave you. Somehow, I'm not mean enough to do it, but I want to."
Teddy stretched out on the grass in the bright sunlight to dry himself, for he was still very wet, while Marie sat down helplessly and shook out her hair.
They had been there for nearly two hours when the rails above them began to snap.
"Guess there's a train coming. Just my luck to have it run off the track and fall on me about the time it gets here."
The sound told him the train was coming from the direction his own train had gone sometime before.
"It's a handcar," shouted the lad as a car swung around the bend and straightened out down the track.
"Oh, help," wailed the Fat Woman.
"Hey, hey!" Teddy shouted.
Someone on the handcar waved a hat and shouted back at him.
"It's Phil, it's Phil! They're coming for us, Marie," cried Teddy. "Now, you've got to climb that bank unless you want to stay here and starve to death. Let me tell you it's me for the handcar and a square meal."
Phil, hearing of his companion's misfortune, had requested Mr. Sparling to get him a handcar that he might go in search of Marie and Teddy. This had been quickly arranged, and with three Italian trackmen Phil had set out, he himself taking his turn at the handle to assist in propelling the car.
"What's happened?" shouted Phil, leaping from the car and running down the bank, falling the last half of the way and bringing up in a heap at the feet of Teddy Tucker.
"That's the way we came down, a couple of times," grinned Teddy. "Marie took a header into the creek and I went along. Got a rope?"
"Yes, there's one on the handcar. Why?"
"Marie can't get up the bank. You'll have to pull her up."
The rope was hurriedly brought, and after being fastened about her waist, the Italians were ordered to pull, while Phil and Teddy braced themselves against the Fat Woman's waist and pushed with all their might. At last they landed her, puffing and blowing and murmuring for more help, at the top of the embankment. She was quickly assisted to the handcar, when the return journey was begun.
"Next time you fall off a train, I'll bet you go to the bottom alone," growled Teddy. "The show ought to carry a derrick for you."
"Oh, help!" moaned the Fat Woman, gasping for breath as she sat dangling over the rear end of the handcar.
"We shall miss the parade, I fear," announced Phil consulting his watch.
"Well, I don't mind for myself, but I could weep that Fat Marie has to miss it," answered Teddy soberly. "I don't like to see her miss anything that comes her way."
"She doesn't, usually," grinned Phil.
After a long hard pull they succeeded in reaching the next town with their well loaded handcar. With the help of Phil and Teddy, the Fat Lady was led puffing to the circus lot. The parade had just returned and the paraders were hurrying to change their costumes, as the red flag was up on the cook tent. Mr. Sparling saw the Circus Boys and their charge approaching, and motioned them to enter his office tent.
"Where did you find them, Phil?"
"At the bottom of a railroad embankment, about five miles back, according to the mile posts."
"A couple of fine specimens you are," growled the showman. "Well, Marie, what have you to say for yourself?"
"I—I fell down the bank."
"Pshaw! What were you doing on the bank?"
"I got off to pick some flowers when the train stopped, and when I tried to get back I—I couldn't."
"Don't you know it is against the rules of the show to leave the train between stations?"
The Fat Lady nodded faintly.
"Discipline must be maintained in this show. You are fined five dollars, and the next time such a thing happens I'll discharge you. Understand?"
"Help, oh help!" murmured Marie.
Teddy was grinning and chuckling over the Fat Lady's misfortune.
"And, young man, what were you doing off the train?" asked the showman, turning sternly.
"Me? Why, I—I went to Marie's rescue."
"You did, eh?"
"I reckon it will cost you five dollars, too."
The grin faded slowly from Teddy's face.
"You—you going to fine me?" he stammered.
"No, I'm not going to. I already have done so."
"It doesn't pay to be a hero. A hero always gets the sharp end of the stick. But who's going to pay me for the clothes I ruined?"
Mr. Sparling surveyed the boy with the suspicion of a twinkle in his eyes.
"Well, kid, I reckon I shall have to buy you a new suit, at that. Marie!"
"Ye—yes, sir," responded the woman.
"Go downtown and see if you can find some new clothes that will fit you. If not buy two suits and splice them together."
"Yes, sir; thank you, sir."
"Have the bill sent to me. Tucker, you do the same. But remember, discipline must be maintained in this show," warned the owner sternly.
ON A FLYING TRAPEZE
The lesson lasted Teddy for a few hours; then he forgot all about it. But he was made the butt of the jokes of the dressing tent for several days.
That afternoon Phil, while attending to some correspondence for Mr. Sparling, had occasion to write to a trapeze performer about booking with the Sparling show for the coming season.
"I have been thinking, Mr. Sparling," said Phil, "that I should like to perform on the flying trapeze next season. You know I have been practicing for sometime."
Mr. Sparling glanced up from his papers.
"I'm not surprised. I guess that's the only thing you haven't done in the show thus far."
"I haven't been a fat woman or a living skeleton yet," laughed Phil.
"What can you do on the bars?"
"I can do all that your performers do. Sometimes I think I might be able to do more. I can do passing leaps, two-and-a-halfs, birds' nest and all that sort of thing."
"Is it possible? I had no idea you had gotten that far along."
"Yes. I have been wishing for a chance to see how I could work before an audience."
"Haven't you enough to do already?"
"Well, I suppose I have, but you know I want to get along. The season is nearly closed now, and I shall not have another opportunity before next spring, possibly. As long as you are going to engage some other performers for next year I rather thought it might be a good plan to offer myself for the work."
"Why, Phil, why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't like to."
"You can have anything in this show that you want. You know that, do you not?"
"Yes, sir," answered the Circus Boy in a low tone. "And I thank you very much."
"When do you want to go on?"
"Any time you think best. Would you prefer to have me go through a rehearsal?"
"Not necessary. You have been practicing with Mr. Prentice, the head of the trapeze troupe, haven't you?"
"If you say you are fit, I am willing to take your word for it. In view of the fact that you already have worked with the aerial people all you will have to do will be to go on. I shall enjoy seeing you do so, if you think you can stand the added work."
"I can do so easily. When shall I try it?"
"Whenever you wish."
"What do you say to trying it tonight?"
"Certainly; go on tonight, if you want to. I'll make it a point to be on hand and watch the act."
"Thank you, very much. You are more kind to me than I have any reason to expect."
"No such thing," snapped the showman. "Send Mr. Prentice to me and I will give the necessary orders."
Phil, full of pleasurable anticipation, hurried to convey the good news to Mr. Prentice. The result was that, instead of four performers appearing in the great aerial act that evening, there were five.
Phil shinned the rope to the trapeze perch, hand over hand, the muscles standing out on his arms as he made the ascent, with as much ease as he would walk to the dressing room, and perhaps even with less effort.
Phil, with perfect confidence in himself, swung out and back to give himself the momentum necessary to carry him to where Mr. Prentice was now hanging head down ready to catch him.
The catcher slapped his palms sharply together, the signal that on the return flight Phil was to let go and throw himself into the waiting arms of the other.
In a graceful, curving flight the Circus Boy landed in the iron grip of Mr. Prentice, and on the return sweep sprang lightly into the air, deftly catching his own trapeze bar which carried him to his perch.
Next he varied his performance by swinging off with his back to the catcher, being caught about the waist, then thrown back to meet his trapeze bar.
"He's the most graceful aerial performer I ever saw on a bar," declared Mr. Sparling. "He is a wonder."
The next variation of the act was what is known as a "passing leap," where, while the catcher is throwing one performer back to his trapeze bar, a second one is flying toward the catcher, the two supple bodies passing in the air headed in opposite directions. In this case, his opposite partner was a young woman, the successor to little Zoraya who had been so severely injured earlier in the season.
"Fine, Phil!" she breathed as they passed each other, and the Circus Boy's face took on a pleased smile.
"Try a turn next time," said Mr. Prentice, as he threw Phil lightly into the air toward his trapeze. "Think you can do it?"
"I can try, at least."
Phil got a wide swing and then at a signal from the catcher, shot up into the air. He threw a quick somersault, then stretched out his hands to be caught. He was too low down for Mr. Prentice to reach him and Phil shot toward the net head first.
Though he had lost his bearings during the turn he had not lost his presence of mind.
"Turn!" shouted a voice from below, the watchful ringmaster having observed at once that the lad was falling, and that he was liable to strike on his head in the net with the possible chance of breaking his neck.
Phil understood, then, exactly what his position was, and, with a slight upward tilt of his head, brought his body into position so that he would strike the net on his shoulders.
He hit the net with a smack, bounded high into the air, rounding off his accident by throwing a somersault on the net, bounding up and down a few times on his feet.
The audience, quick to appreciate what he had done, gave Phil a rousing cheer.
He shook his head and began clambering up the rope again.
"What happened to me?" he called across to the catcher.
"You turned too quickly."
"I'll do it right this time."
The band stopped playing, that its silence might emphasize the act. Then Phil, measuring his distance with keen eyes, launched into the air again. But instead of turning one somersault he turned two, landing fairly into the outstretched arms of Mr. Prentice, who gave him a mighty swing, whereat Phil hurled himself into a mad whirl, performing three more somersaults before he struck the net.
The audience howled with delight, and Mr. Sparling rushed forward fairly hugging the Circus Boy in his delight.
"Wonderful!" cried the showman. "You're a sure-enough star this time."
IN A LIVELY BLOW-DOWN
>From that moment on, until the close of the season, Phil Forrest retained his place on the aerial trapeze team, doubling up with his other work, and putting the finishing touches to what Mr. Sparling called "a great career on the bars."
But Phil, much as he loved the work, did not propose to spend all his life performing above the heads of the people. He felt that a greater future was before him on the ground at the front of the house.
Only a week remained now before the show would close for the season. Even in Texas, where they were showing, the nights had begun to grow chilly, stiffening the muscles of the performers and making them irritable. All were looking forward to the day when the tents should be struck for the last time that season.
"What's the next stand?" asked Phil in the dressing tent a few nights after his triumphal performance on the trapeze.
"Tucker, Texas," answered a voice.
"What's that?" shouted a clown.
"Tucker, I said."
"Any relation to Teddy Tucker?"
"I hope not," laughed the head clown.
"A place with that name spells trouble. Anything by the name of Tucker, whether it's Teddy or not, means that we are in for some kind of a mix-up. I wish I could go fishing tomorrow."
All in the dressing tent chuckled at the clown's sally.
"I know what you'd catch if you did," grumbled Teddy.
"Now, what would I catch, young man?" demanded the clown.
"You'd catch cold. That's all you can catch," retorted Teddy, whereat the laugh was turned on the clown, much to the latter's disgust.
Tucker proved to be a pretty little town on the open plain. There was nothing in the appearance of the place to indicate that they might look for trouble. However, as the clown had prophesied, trouble was awaiting them—trouble of a nature that the showman dreads from the beginning to the end of the circus season.
The afternoon performance passed off without a hitch, the tent being crowded almost to its capacity, Phil Forrest throwing himself into his work in the air with more spirit and enthusiasm than he had shown at any time since he took up his new work.
At Mr. Sparling's request, however, the lad had omitted his triple somersault from the trapeze bar. The showman considered the act too dangerous, assuring Phil that sooner or later he would be sure to break his neck.
Phil laughed at the owner's fears, but promised that he would try nothing beyond a double after that. He remembered how quickly he had lost himself when he attempted the feat before. Few men are able to do it without their brains becoming so confused that they lose all sense of direction and location.
The evening house was almost as large as that of the afternoon, as usual the audience being made up principally of town people, the country spectators having returned to their homes before night. The night set in dark and oppressive.
Soon after the gasoline lights were lighted the animals began growling, pacing their cages restlessly, while the lions roared intermittently, and the hyenas laughed almost hysterically.
It sent a shiver down the backs of nearly everyone who heard it— the shrill laugh of the hyenas reaching clear back to the dressing tent.
Teddy Tucker's eyes always grew large when he heard the laugh of the hyena.
"B-r-r-r!" exclaimed Teddy.
"You'll 'b-r-r-r' worse than that before you get through," growled a performer.
" 'Cause it means what somebody said the other night—trouble."
"What kind of trouble does it mean?" asked Phil.
"I don't know. Some kind of a storm, I guess. You can't always tell. Those animals know more than we human beings, when it comes to weather and that sort of thing," broke in Mr. Miaco the head clown.
"Well, you expected something would happen in a town called Tucker, didn't you?"
"Are you going to be with this show next season, Teddy?" questioned the clown who had taunted him before.
"I hope to."
"Then I sign out with some other outfit. I refuse to travel with a bunch that carries a hoodoo like you with it. I feel it in my bones that something is going to happen tonight, and just as soon as I can get through my act I'm going to run—run, mind you, not walk—back to the train as fast as my legs will carry me. That won't be any snail's pace, either."
The performers joked and passed the time away until the band started the overture, off under the big top. This means that it is about time for the show to begin, and that the music is started to hurry the people to their seats.
All hands fell silent as they got busy putting the finishing touches to their makeup.
"All acts cut short five minutes tonight," sang the voice of the ringmaster at the entrance to the dressing tent.
"You see," said the clown, nodding his head at Teddy.
"No, I hear," grumbled Teddy. "What's it all about?"
"Don't ask me. I don't know. I'm not running this show."
"Lucky for the show that you aren't," muttered the Circus Boy.
"I was just thinking out loud, I guess."
"It's a bad habit. Don't do it when I'm around. All hoodoos talk to themselves and in their sleep."
The show was started off with a rush, the Grand Entry having been cut out again, as is frequently the case with a show where there is a long run ahead, or a storm is expected. That night those in the dressing tent could only surmise the reason. The hyena's warning was the only thing to guide the performers in their search for a reason for the haste. But they took the situation philosophically, as they always had, and prepared for the performance as usual.
The performance had gotten along well toward the end, and without the slightest interruption. All hands were beginning to feel a certain sense of relief, when the shrill blasts of the boss canvasman's emergency whistle were heard outside the big top.
Phil had just completed his trapeze act and was dropping into the net when the whistle sounded.
He glanced up and made a signal to the others in the air. They dropped, one by one, to the net and swung themselves to the ground, where they stood awaiting the completion of the piece that the band was playing.
"Wind, isn't it?" questioned Mr. Prentice.
He was listening intently. His keen ears caught a distant roar that caused him to gaze apprehensively aloft.
"I am afraid we are going to have trouble," he said.
"It has been in the air all the evening," was the low answer. "Wonder if they have the menagerie tent out of the way?"
It was being taken down at that moment, the elephants having been removed to the train, as had part of the cages.
All at once there was a roar that sent the blood from the faces of the spectators. The boss canvasman's whistle trilled excitedly.
"There go the dressing tents," said Phil calmly as a ripping and rending was heard off by the paddock. "I hope it hasn't taken my trunk with it. Glad I locked the trunk before coming into the ring."
The band stopped playing suddenly. The tent was in absolute silence.
"It's a cyclone!" shouted a voice among the spectators.
A murmur ran over the assemblage. In a moment they would be in a mad rush, trampling each other under foot in their efforts to escape.
Phil bounded toward the band.
"Play! Play!" he shouted. "They'll stampede if you don't. Play, I tell you!"
The bandmaster waved his baton and the music of the band drowned out the mutterings of the storm for the moment.
Suddenly the roaring without grew louder. Ropes were creaking, center and quarter poles lifting themselves a few inches from the ground, dangerously.
"It's blowing end on," muttered Phil, running full speed down the concourse in his ring costume.
"Keep your seats!" he shouted. "There may be no danger. If the tent should go down you will be safer where you are. Keep your seats, everybody."
Phil dashed on, shouting his warning until he had gotten halfway around the tent. Mr. Prentice had taken up the lad's cry on the other side.
Then the blow fell.
The big top bent under the sweep of the gale until the center poles were leaning far over to the north. Had the wind not struck the tent on the end it must have gone down under the first blast. As it was, canvas, rope and pole were holding, but every stitch of canvas and every pole was trembling under its burden.
"Sit steady, everybody! We may be able to weather it."
Phil saw that, if the people were to run into the arena and the tent should fall, many must be crushed under the center and quarter poles.
Up and down he ran shouting words of encouragement, and he was thus engaged when Mr. Sparling worked his way in from the pad room, as the open enclosure between the two dressing tents is called. Phil had picked up the ringmaster's whip and was cracking it to attract the attention of the people to what he was trying to tell them.
Somehow, many seemed to gain confidence from this plucky, slender lad clad in silk tights, who was rushing up and down as cool and collected as if three thousand persons were not in deadly peril.
Nothing but Phil Forrest's coolness saved many from death that night.
A mighty roar suddenly drew every eye in the tent to the south end where the wind was pressing against the canvas with increasing force.
Phil stood near the entrance, the flap of which had been quickly laced and staked down when the canvasmen saw the gale coming upon them.
He turned quickly, for the roar had seemed to be almost at his side. What he saw drew an exclamation from Phil that, at other times, might have been humorous. There was no humor in it now.
"Gracious!" exclaimed the lad.
There, within twenty feet of him stood a lion, a huge, powerful beast, with head up, the hair standing straight along its back, the mane rippling in the breeze.
"It's Wallace," breathed the lad, almost unable to believe his eyes. The biggest lion in captivity, somehow in the excitement had managed to escape from his cage.
"Now there'll be a panic for sure! They've seen him!"
"Sit still and keep still! He won't hurt you!" shouted Phil. "Now, you get out of here!" commanded Phil, starting toward Wallace and cracking the ringmaster's whip in the animal's face.
Just for the briefest part of a second did Wallace give way, then with a terrific roar, he bounded clear over the Circus Boy's head, bowling Phil over as he leaped, and on down to the center of the arena.
Phil had not been hurt. He was up and after the dangerous beast in a twinkling. The audience saw what he was trying to do.
"Keep away from him!" bellowed Mr. Sparling.
"Throw a net over him!" shouted Phil.
However, between the storm and the escaped lion, none seemed to have his wits about him sufficiently to know what was best to do. Had the showmen acted promptly when Phil called, they might have been able to capture the beast then and there.
Seeing that they were not going to do so, and that the lion was walking slowly toward the reserved seats, Phil sprang in front of the dangerous brute to head him off.
The occupants of the reserved seats were standing up. The panic might break at any minute.
"Sit down!" came the command, in a stern, boyish voice.
Phil faced the escaped lion, starting toward it with a threatening motion of the whip.
"Are you ever going to get a net?"
"Get a net!" thundered Mr. Sparling. "Get away from him, Phil!"
Instead of doing so, the Circus Boy stepped closer to the beast. No one made the slightest move to capture the beast, as Phil realized might easily be done now, if only a few had the presence of mind to attempt it.
The ringmaster's whip in Phil's hands snapped and the leather lash bit deep into the nose of Wallace.
With a roar that sounded louder than that of the storm outside the lion took a quick step forward, only to get the lash on his nose again.
Suddenly he turned about and in long, curving bounds headed for the lower end of the tent. Mr. Sparling sprang to one side, knowing full well that it would be better to lose the lion than to stir up the audience more than they already were stirred.
Phil was in full pursuit, cracking his whip at every jump.
Wallace leaped through the open flap at the lower end of the tent and disappeared in the night.
Just as he did so there came a sound different from anything that had preceded it. A series of reports followed one another until it sounded as if a battery of small cannon were being fired, together with a ripping and tearing and rending that sent every spectator in the big tent, to his feet yelling and shouting.
"The tent is coming down! The tent is coming down!"
Women fainted and men began fighting to get down into the arena.
"Stay where you are!" shouted Phil. Then the Circus Boy did a bold act. Running along in front of the seats he let drive the lash of his long whip full into the faces of the struggling people. The sting of the lash brought many of them to their senses. Then they too turned to help hold the others back.
With a wrench, the center poles were lifted several feet up into the air.
"Look out for the quarter poles! Keep back or you'll be killed!" shouted Phil.
"Keep back! Keep back!" bellowed Mr. Sparling.
And now the quarter poles—the poles that stand leaning toward the center of the arena, just in front of the lower row of seats—began to fall, crashing inward, forced to the north.
The center poles snapped like pipe stems, pieces of them being hurled half the length of the tent.
Down came the canvas, extinguishing the lights and leaving the place in deep darkness. The people were fairly beside themselves with fright. But still that boyish voice was heard above the uproar:
"Sit still! Sit still!"
The whole mass of canvas collapsed and went rolling northward like a sail suddenly ripped from the yards of a ship.
The last mighty blow of the storm had been more than canvas and painted poles could stand.
THE LION HUNT
For a moment there was silence. Then the people began shouting.
"Bring lights, men!" thundered the owner of the show.
Being so near the outer edges of the tent, the people had escaped almost without injury. Many had been bruised as the canvas swept over them, knocking them flat and some falling all the way through between the seats to the ground, where they were in little danger.
"Wait till the lights come! Phil! Phil!"
Phil Forrest did not answer. He had been knocked clear into the center of the arena by a falling quarter pole, and stunned. The Circus Boy's head was pretty hard, however, and no more than a minute had passed before he was at work digging his way out of the wreck.
"Thank heaven," muttered the showman. "I was afraid he had been killed. Are you all right?" Mr. Sparling made his way in Phil's direction.
"Yes. How—how many were killed?"
"I hope none," replied Mr. Sparling. "As soon as the lights are on and all this stuff hauled out of the way we shall know."
Most of the canvas had been blown from the circus arena proper so that little was left there save the seats, a portion of the bandstand, the wrecks of the ruined poles and circus properties, together with some of the side walls, which still were standing.
By this time the tornado, for such it had developed into, had passed entirely and the moon came out, shining down into the darkened circus arena, lighting it up brightly.
About that time torches were brought. The people had rushed down from the seats as soon as the big top had blown away.
"I want all who have been injured to wait until I can see them," shouted Mr. Sparling. "Many of you owe your lives to this young man. Had you started when the blow came many of you would have been killed. Has anyone been seriously hurt?"
A chorus of "no's" echoed from all sides.
The showman breathed a sigh of relief. A bare half dozen had to be helped down from the seats, where they had been struck by flying debris, but beyond that no one obeyed Mr. Sparling's request to remain.
The men had run quickly along under the seats to see if by any chance injured persons had fallen through. They helped a few out and these walked hurriedly away, bent on getting off the circus lot as quickly as possible after their exciting experiences.
"No one killed, Phil."
"I'm glad of that. I'm going to look for Wallace. Better get your men out right away, or he'll be too far away for us ever to catch him again. Have the menagerie men gone to look for him?"
"I don't know, Phil. You will remember that I have been rather busily engaged for the past ten or fifteen minutes."
"We all have. Well, I'm going to take a run and see if I can get track of the lion."
"Be careful. Better get your clothes on the first thing you do."
"Guess he hasn't any. His trunk and mine have gone away somewhere," nodded Teddy.
"Never mind the clothes. I'm on a lion hunt now," laughed Phil, starting from the enclosure on a run.
"Nothing can stop that boy," muttered Mr. Sparling. The owner was all activity now, giving his orders at rapid-fire rate. First, the men were ordered to gather the canvas and stretch it out on the lot so an inventory might be taken to determine in what shape the show had been left. Others were assigned to search the lot for show properties, costumes and the like, and in a very short time the big, machine-like organization was working methodically and without excitement.
It must not be thought that nothing was being done toward catching the escaped lion. Fully fifty men had started in pursuit immediately after the escape. They had been detained for a few minutes by the blow down, after which every man belonging to the menagerie tent, who could be spared, joined in the chase.
The lion cage, one of the few left remaining on the lot, had been blown over as it was being taken away. The shock had burst open the rear door and Wallace was quick to take advantage of the opportunity to regain his freedom. An iron-barred partition separated him from his mate. Fortunately this partition had held, leaving the lioness still confined in the cage.
The attendants quickly righted the cage, making fast the door so that there might be no repetition of the disaster.
Seeing Phil hurrying away Teddy took to his heels also, and within a short distance caught up with his companion.
"You going to look for that lion, Phil?"
"So am I."
"You had better stay here, Teddy. You might get hurt."
"What about yourself?"
"Oh, I'm not afraid," laughed Phil.
"Don't you call me a coward, Phil Forrest. I've got as much sand as you have any time."
"Why, I didn't call you a coward. I—"
"Yes, you did; yes, you did!"
"Don't let's quarrel. Remember we are on a lion hunt just now. Hey, Bob." hailed Phil, discovering one of the menagerie attendants.
"Which way did he go?"
"We don't know. When the blow down came we lost all track of Wallace. He's probably headed for the open country."
"Where are the searchers?"
"All over. A party went west, another north and the third to the east."
"What about the village—did no one go that way to hunt for him?"
"No; he wouldn't go to town."
"Sure of it."
"He'd want to get away from the people as quick as he could. You don't catch Wallace going into any town or any other place where there's people."
"I noticed that he came in under the big top where there were about three thousand of them," replied Phil dryly.
"He was scared; that's what made him do that."
"And that very emotion may have sent him into the town. I'm going over there to start something on my own hook. Are you going along Teddy?"
"You bet I am. I always did like to hunt lions."
"When you are sure you are going away from the lion, instead of in his direction," suggested Phil, laughingly. "What's that you have in your hand?"
"It's an iron tent stake I picked up on the lot. I'll fetch him a wallop that'll make him see stars if I catch close enough sight of him."
"I don't think you will get quite that close to Wallace."
"I'll show you."
By this time the word had spread all over town that the whole menagerie of the Sparling Combined Shows had escaped. The streets were cleared in short order. Here and there, from an upper window, might be seen the whites of the frightened eyes of a Negro peering down, hoping to catch sight of the wild beasts, and fearful lest he should. "If it was an elephant we might trail him," suggested Teddy.
"That's not a half bad idea. The dust is quite thick. I wish we had thought to bring a torch with us."
"I'll tell you where we can get one."
"One of the markers set up to guide the wagon drivers to the railroad yards. There's a couple on the next street above here. I saw them just a minute ago."
"Teddy you are a genius. And to think I have known you all this time and never found it out before. Come on, we'll get the torches."
They started on a run across an open lot, then turning into the street above, saw the torches flaring by the roadside half a block away. Jerking the lights up the lads ran back to the street they had previously left.
"Where shall we look?"
"We might as well begin right here, Teddy. I can't help believing that Wallace is somewhere in the town. I don't believe, for a minute, that he would run off into the country. If he has he'll be back in a very short time. You remember what I tell you. If we can get track of him we'll follow and send word back to the lot so they can come and get him."
"Why not catch him ourselves?"
"I don't think we two boys had better try that. I am afraid it would prove too much for us."
"I've got a tent stake. I'm not afraid. Why didn't you bring a club?"
"I have the ringmaster's whip. I prefer that to a club when it comes to meeting a wild lion. Hello, up there!" called Phil, discovering two men looking out of a window above him.
"Hello yourself. You fellows belong to the circus?"
"Yes. Have you seen anything of a lion around this part of the town?"
"A tall fellow about my size, with blue eyes and blonde hair," added Teddy.
"Stop your fooling, Teddy."
"That's all," replied Phil a bit impatiently. "Have you seen him?"
"Why, we heard the whole menagerie had escaped."
"That is a mistake. Only one animal got away—the lion."
"No; we haven't seen him, but we heard him a little while ago."
"Where, where?" questioned the boy eagerly.
"Heard him roar, and it sounded as if he was off in that direction."
"O, thank you, thank you," answered Phil.
"Say, are you in the show did you say?" now catching sight of Phil's tights under the bright moonlight.
"What do you do?"
"I am in the big trapeze act, the flying rings and a few other little things."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. Well, you'll have to excuse us. We must be going."
"You boys are not going out after that lion alone, are you?"
"Yes, of course."
"Great Caesar! What do you think of that? Wait a minute; we'll get our guns and join you."
"Please, I would rather you would not. We don't want to kill the lion, you see."
"Don't want to kill him?" questioned the man in amazement.
"Certainly not. We want to capture him. If the town's people will simply stay in their homes, and not bother us, we shall get him before morning and no one will be the worse for his escape. Wallace is worth a few thousand dollars, I suppose you are aware. Come along, Teddy."
Leaving the two men to utter exclamations of amazement, the lads started off in the direction indicated by the others.
"What did I tell you, Teddy? That lion is in the town at this very minute. He's probably eating up someone's fresh meat by this time. Hold your torch down and keep watch of the street. You keep that side and I'll watch this. We will each take half of the road."
The Circus Boys had been around the animals of the menagerie for nearly three years now, it will be remembered, and they had wholly lost that fear that most people outside the circus feel for the savage beasts of the jungle. They thought little more of this lion hunt, so far as the danger was concerned, than if they had been chasing a runaway circus horse or tame elephant.
All at once Teddy Tucker uttered an exclamation.
"What is it?"
"I've landed the gentleman."
"Yes; here are his tracks."
"That's so; you have. Don't lose them now. We'll run him down yet. Won't Mr. Sparling be pleased?"
"I reckon he will. But we have got to catch the cat first before we can please anybody. I wonder how we're going to do it?"
"We shall see about that later."
The boys started on a trot, holding their torches close to the ground. Their course took them about on another street leading at right angles to the one they had been following.
All at once they seemed to have lost the trail. Before them stood a handsome house, set well back in a green lawn. The house was lighted up, and evidently some kind of an entertainment was going on within.
"He's gone over in some of these yards," breathed Phil. "Let's take the place that's lighted up, first. He'd be more likely to go where there is life. He—"
Phil's words were cut short by a shriek of terror from the lighted house followed by another and another.
"He's there! Come on!"
Both boys vaulted the fence and ran to the front door. By this time shriek upon shriek rent the air. The lads burst into the house without an instant's hesitation.
"Upstairs!" cried Phil, bounding up three steps at a time.
A woman, pale and wide-eyed, had pointed that way when she saw the two boys in their circus tights and realized what they had come there for.
In a large room a dozen people, pale and frightened were standing, one man with hand on the door ready to slam it shut at first sign of the intruder.
"Where—where is he?" demanded Phil breathlessly.
"We were playing cards, and when somebody looked up he saw that beast standing in the door here looking in. He—he went down in the back yard. Maybe you will be able to see him if you go in the room across the hall there. There's a yard fenced off there for the dogs to run in."
Phil bounded across the hall followed by two of the men.
"Does that stairway lead down into the back yard?" questioned Phil.
"Was the door open?"
"Is it open now?"
"Yes. We can feel the draft."
"Show me into the room and I'll take a look."
One of the men, who evidently lived in the house, stepped gingerly across the hall, turned the knob and pushed the door in ever so little. Phil and Teddy, with torches still in hand, crowded in.
As they did so their guide uttering a frightened yell, slammed the door shut, and Phil heard a bolt shoot in place.
The boys found themselves in a large room running the full depth of the house. It had been rigged up, as a gymnasium, with the familiar flying rings, parallel bars and other useful equipment.
All this they saw instinctively. But what they saw beyond all this caused the Circus Boys to pause almost spellbound.
"He's in there! He's in there!" shouted half a dozen voices at the same moment. Then the lads heard the people rush down the stairs and out into the street shouting and screaming for help.
Crouching in the far corner of the room, lashing its tail, its evil eyes fixed upon them, was the lion Wallace.
"Wow!" breathed Teddy.
Phil with eyes fixed upon the lion reached back one hand and tried the door behind him. It was locked.
"Teddy, don't make any sudden moves," cautioned Phil in a low voice. "We're locked in. Give me your torch. Now edge over to that open window and drop out. We can't both try it, or Wallace will be upon us in a flash. When you get out, run for the lot. Run as you never ran before. Get the men here. Have them rush Wallace's cage here. Be careful until you get out. Those people have locked us in. I shouldn't dare open the door anyway, now, for he'd catch us before we could get out. I know the ways of these tricky cats."
"Phil, he'll kill you!"
"He won't. I've got the torches. They're the best weapons a man could have—they and the whip."
Teddy edged toward the window while Phil with a stern command to the lion to "charge!" at the same time cracking the whip and thrusting the torches toward the beast, checked the rush that Wallace seemed about to make.
Teddy dropped from the window a moment later. Then began an experience for Phil Forrest that few boys would have had the courage to face.
Not for an instant did the Circus Boy lose his presence of mind. He took good care not to crowd Wallace, giving him plenty of room, constantly talking to him as he had frequently heard the animal's keeper do, and keeping the beast's mind occupied as much as he could.
Now and then Wallace would attempt to creep up on Phil, whereupon the lad would start forward thrusting the torches before him and crack the whip again. Wallace was afraid of fire, and under the menacing thrusts of the torches would back cowering into his corner.
For a full half hour did Phil Forrest face this deadly peril, cool, collected, his mind ever on the alert, standing there in his pink tights, almost a heroic figure as he poised in the light of the flaring torches, the smoke of which got into his lungs and made him cough. He did all he could to suppress this, for it disturbed and irritated Wallace, who showed his disapproval by swishing his tail and uttering low, deep growls of resentment.
Phil backed away a little so as to get nearer the window that he might find more fresh air. Wallace followed. Phil sprang at him.
"Charge!" he commanded making several violent thrusts with the torches, at which Wallace backed away again and crouched lower. Phil saw that the lion was preparing to jump over his head; and, discovering this, the lad held one torch high above his head and kept it swaying there from side to side.
Suddenly he made another discovery.
The light seemed to be growing dim. A quick glance at the flames of the torches told him what the trouble was.
He dared not let his eyes dwell on the flame for more than a brief instant for the glare would so blind him that he would not be able to clearly make out the lion. To lose sight of Wallace for a few seconds might mean a sudden and quick end to Phil Forrest, and he knew it full well.
The lad backed a bit closer to the window, keeping his torches moving rapidly to hide his movements.
Wallace, watching the torches did not observe the action.
"The torches are going out," breathed Phil. "If the folks don't come soon I've got to jump through window glass and all or Wallace will spring."
Phil was in a desperate situation.
"Down, Wallace! Charge!"
The Circus Boy's whip cracked viciously, while the dying torches formed thin circles of fire as they were swung above the lad's head.
"I shan't be able to hold him off much longer. Wallace knows, as well as I do, that his turn is coming in a short time. If I happen to be within reach then, something surely is going to happen. Hark! What's that?"
Distant shouts were borne faintly to Phil's ears. He listened intently, catching another and welcome sound. The latter was the rumble of a heavy wagon, being driven rapidly along the paved street of the town.
"It's a circus wagon," breathed the lad, recognizing the sound instantly. "I hope it is the wagon."
He listened intently, keeping the torches moving, now and then cracking his whip and uttering sharp commands to Wallace.
The animal was growing more and more restless. His wild instincts were returning to him.
The torches were so low, now, that Phil could scarcely see the beast. Then, all at once, he realized that Wallace was creeping toward him unmindful of the lash or of the fading torches.
Phil waited, peering into the shadows. He was not afraid, as he recalled his sensations afterwards; but a strange little thrill seemed to be racing up and down his spinal column.
Then the lad did a daring thing. He sprang forward to meet Wallace. The astonished lion halted for a brief instant, and in that instant the Circus Boy thrust one of the torches full in his face. The flame burned the nose of the king of beasts and singed his brow as well.
Uttering a mighty roar Wallace cleared the floor, springing backwards and landing against the wall with such force as to jar several panes of glass from the window nearby.
"Phil! Phil! Are you there?" came a hesitating voice from behind the lad. It was the voice of Teddy Tucker on a ladder at one side of the window from which he had jumped earlier in the evening.
"Yes, yes. Be careful. Did you bring them?"
"We've got the cage. Mr. Sparling is here, too. He's half worried to death. What shall we do?"
"Have them draw the cage up in the back yard and back it against the open door. When that's done some of you come upstairs and throw the door open. Be sure to leave a light in the hall, but jump into the room across the hall as soon as you open the door. Wallace will scent his mate and I'll wager he'll trot right downstairs and jump into his cage. Have someone standing by to close the doors on him. Hurry now. Tell them my torches won't last five minutes longer."
Teddy slid down the ladder without waiting to place feet or hand on the rungs, and Phil's anxious ears told him the men were drawing the cage around to the rear yard.
Soon he heard footsteps on the back stairs. Wallace was showing new signs of agitation.
"All ready, in there?"
"All ready," answered Phil.
Teddy jerked the door open and leaping across the hall, shut himself in the room opposite. Wallace paused, his tail beating the wall behind him; then uttering a roar that shook the building, the shaggy beast leaped into the hall. There he paused for an instant. One bound took him to the foot of the stairs. The next landed him in the cage next to his mate. The cage doors closed behind him with a metallic snap.
Wallace was safe.
"Got him!" shouted a voice from below.
Phil drew a long sigh of relief. Someone dashed up the stairs on a run. It was Mr. Sparling. He grabbed Phil Forrest in his arms, hugging him until the dead torches fell to the floor with a clatter and the lad begged to be released.
"My brave Phil, my brave boy!" breathed the showman. "No one but you could have done a thing like that. You have saved the lives of many people this night, and what is more you have captured the most valuable lion in the world—you and Teddy. I don't know what to say nor how to say it. I—"
"I wouldn't try were I in your place," grinned Phil. "I presume you will have to settle with these people for the slight damage that has been done to their house."
"I'll settle the bills; don't you worry about that."
"Any more lions lying around loose in here?" questioned Teddy, poking his head in through the open door. "I and my little club are ready for them if there are."
"Shall we be going, Mr. Sparling?"
Together the three made their way down the stairs just as the cage was being driven from the yard. As soon as he could find the owner of the house the showman paid him for the damages.
"What shape is the big top in?" asked Phil as they walked slowly back toward the lot.
"Bad, very bad. I might say that it comes pretty near being a hopeless wreck. Still it may be patched up."
"I am sure of it. I know a blown-down tent is not half as hopeless as it looks. I saw the Robinson shows with a blown-down tent once."
"I have been thinking the matter over, Phil."
"We have only a few days more to go before the close of the season, and it seems to me that the best plan would be to close right here and go in. What do you think?"
"I think," answered Phil Forrest slowly, "that I should turn all hands loose and fix that tent up so the show will be able to make the next stand and give a performance by tomorrow night at latest. It can be done. If the tent is too badly torn to set up a six pole show, make it a four pole show, or use the menagerie tent for the circus performance. I should never have it said that the Sparling Combined Shows were put out of business by a gale of wind."
Mr. Sparling halted.
"Phil, there is an old saying to the effect that you can't 'teach an old dog new tricks.' It's not true. You have taught me a new trick. The Sparling shows shall go on to the close of the season. We'll make the next town, somehow, and we'll give them a show the like of which they never before have seen."
"If they had been here tonight they would have seen one such as they never saw before," grinned Teddy.
"A sort of Wild South instead of Wild West show," added the irrepressible Teddy.
All that night the showmen worked, Phil not even taking the time to discard his gaudy ring clothes. The next morning both he and Teddy were sights to behold, but the show had been loaded, and the big top straightened out and put in shape so that it could be pitched when the next town was reached. At last the boys decided to hunt up their trunks. They found them, after a long search. Getting behind a pole wagon they put on their clothes. An hour later they were on their way to the next stand, tired but proud of their achievements and happy.
The news of the accident to the show, as well as the capture of the big lion, Wallace, by the Circus Boys, had preceded them to the next town. Once more Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker were hailed as heroes, which they really had proved themselves to be.
A very fair performance, considering their crippled condition, was given that afternoon. By the next day the show was on its feet again, and from then on to the close of the season, no other exciting incidents occurred.
Two weeks later the big top came down for the last time that year. On the afternoon of that happy day, the associates of the Circus Boys gave a banquet for the two lads under the cook tent, at which Teddy Tucker distinguished himself by making a speech that set the whole tent in an uproar of merriment.
Good-byes were said, and the circus folks departed that night bag and baggage to scatter to the four quarters of the globe, some never to return to the Sparling shows. Phil and Teddy returned to Edmeston to finish their course at the high school, from which they were to graduate in the following spring.
How the lads joined out with the circus the next season will be told in a succeeding volume entitled, "THE CIRCUS BOYS ON THE MISSISSIPPI; Or, Afloat with the Big Show on the Big River." This was destined to be one of the most interesting journeys of their circus careers—one filled with new and exciting experiences and thrilling adventures.
Until then we will leave them to continue their studies in the little village of Edmeston.