Chapter XII. A Thrilling Rescue
 

"Open the door and let the man out!" shouted Phil, with great presence of mind. But no one seemed to have the power to move.

One sweep of the powerful claw and one side of the lad's clothes was literally stripped from him, though he had managed to shrink back just far enough to save himself from the needle like claws of the tiger.

At this moment men came rushing from other parts of the tent. Some bore iron rods, while two or three carried tent poles and sticks--anything that the circus men could lay their hands upon.

Mr. Sparling was in the lead of the procession that dashed through the crowd, hurling the people right and left as they ran.

With every spring of the tiger Phil was being thrown against the bars with terrific force, but still he clung to the tail that was wrapped about his arm, hanging on with desperate courage.

Though the lad was getting severe punishment, he was accomplishing just what he had hoped for--to keep Bengal busy until help arrived to liberate the unconscious trainer, who lay huddled against the bars on the opposite side of the cage.

"Poke one of the tent poles in to him and let him bite it!" roared Mr. Sparling. "Half a dozen of you get around behind the cage and when we have his attention one of you pull Bob out. Keep your poles in the opening when you open the door, so Bengal doesn't jump out. Everybody stand back!"

The commands of the showman came out like so many explosions of a pistol. But it had its effect. His men sprang to their work like machines.

In the meantime Mr. Sparling himself had grabbed the tail of the beast, taking a hold higher up than Phil's.

"Pull the boy off. He's hanging on like a bull dog. If you had half his sense you'd have put a stop to this mix-up minutes ago."

Teddy by this time had gotten in under the ropes again, and, grasping his companion about the waist, he held on until he had untwisted the tiger's tail from his companion's arm and released Phil, staggering back with his burden against the rope.

Phil's limp body, the moment Teddy let go of him, collapsed in a heap.

The circus men were too busy at the moment to notice him. One of the men had thrust a short tent pole between the bars. Bengal was upon it like an avalanche.

Biting, clawing, uttering fierce growls, he tore the hard wood into shreds, the man at the other end poking at the beast with all his might.

Cautiously the rear door of the cage was opened. Two men grasped Bob by the shoulders and hauled him out with a quick pull.

The crowd shouted in approval.

"All out! Let go!" shouted Mr. Sparling.

It took the strength of two men to pull the tent pole from Bengal's grip. The instant he lost the pole the beast whirled and pounced upon the spot where he had left his victim.

Finding that he had lost his prey, the savage beast uttered roar upon roar, that made every spectator in the tent tremble and draw back, fearing the animal would break through the bars and attack them.

"Where's that boy?"

"Here he is, and I guess he's hurt," answered Teddy.

"Give him to me. I'll get him outside where we can get some decent air into him. Is he much hurt?"

"I--I don't know."

The showman grabbed Phil, and as a helper lifted the bottom of the tent's side wall, Mr. Sparling ran to his own small tent with the unconscious Phil.

"Fetch a pail of water."

Teddy ran for the cook tent to get the water. He was amazed to find no cook tent there. Instead, there remained only the open plot of grass, trampled down, with a litter of papers and refuse scattered about.

By the time he had dashed back to the tent to inquire where he could find a pail, one of the showmen had brought some water and Mr. Sparling was bathing Phil's face with it.

He had made a hasty examination of the unconscious boy's wounds, which he did not believe were serious.

Phil soon came to, and by that time the show's doctor had arrived, having been in attendance on the wounded animal trainer.

"No; he'll be sore for a few days, but there's nothing dangerous about those scratches, I should say. I'll dress the wounds and he can go on about his business," was the surgeon's verdict.

"I've got to ride Emperor in tonight," objected Phil.

"You'll do nothing of the sort. You'll get into my wagon and go to bed. That's what you will do, and right quick, at that."

"But," urged the lad, "the people will all think I am seriously hurt if they see no more of me. Don't you think it would be a good plan for me to show myself? They are liable to be uneasy all through the performance. If I show myself they will settle down and forget all about it in a few minutes."

Mr. Sparling turned to his assistant with a significant nod.

"I told you that boy was a natural born showman. You can't stop that kind with a club. Can you stand up alone?"

"Yes."

Phil scrambled to his feet, steadying himself with a hand on the table.

"I'll be all right after I walk about a bit. How long before the elephants go in?"

"You've got fifteen minutes yet."

"Then I may go on?"

"Yes, yes, go on. You'll never be satisfied if you don't. But I ought to take you over my knee and give you a sound walloping."

"Thank you. How is Mr.--Mr.--the trainer?"

"He isn't badly hurt, thanks to your presence of mind, young man," answered the surgeon.

"That makes two people you've saved today, Forrest," emphasized Mr. Sparling. "We will call that a day's work. You have earned your meal ticket. Better run back to the dressing tent and ask them to fix up some clothes for you. Ask for Mrs. Waite, the wardrobe woman. Teddy Tucker, you run in and tell Mr. Kennedy, who has charge of the elephants, that Phil will ride tonight, and to wait until he gets in."

Both boys hurried away on their respective missions. All that Mrs. Waite had that would come anywhere near fitting Phil was a yellow robe that looked like a night gown. Phil grinned as he tucked it under his arm and hurried back to the menagerie tent. As he passed through the "big top" he saw that it was filling up rapidly.

"I guess we are going to have a good house tonight," muttered the lad with a pleased smile. It did not occur to him that he himself was responsible for a large part of the attendance--that the part he had played in the exciting incidents of the day had done more to advertise the Great Sparling Combined Shows than any other one factor.

"I am all ready, Mr. Kennedy," announced Phil, running to the elephant quarters. The horns were blowing the signal for the grand entry, so the lad grasped the head harness, as Emperor stooped, and was quickly hoisted to the position in which he would enter the ring.

When the people saw that it was indeed Phil they set up a great shout. The lad was pale but resolute. As he went through the performance, his wounds smarted frightfully. At times the pain made him dizzy.

But Phil smiled bravely, waving his hands to the cheering people.

After the finish of the act Mr. Kennedy headed the elephants into the concourse, the open space between the rings and the seats, making a complete circuit of the tent, so that all might see Phil Forrest.

"This is a kind of farewell appearance, you know," grinned Kennedy. And so the audience took it.

The lad's former companions shouted all manner of things to him.

"Good-bye, Phil!"

"Don't stick your head in the lion's mouth."

"Be careful when you twist the tiger's tail. Better put some salt on it before you do."

"We'll look out for Uncle Abner."

Phil was grinning broadly as he rode back into the menagerie tent. Everybody in town now knew that he had joined the circus, which brought forth a variety of comments. Some said it would be the end of the boy, but Phil Forrest knew that a boy could behave himself with a circus just as well as in any other occupation, and so far as his observations went, the circus people were much better than some folks he knew at home.

No sooner had they gotten into the menagerie tent than a sudden bustle and excitement were apparent. Confused shouts were heard on all sides. Teams, fully harnessed, were being led into the tent, quarter-poles were coming down without regard to where they struck, everybody appearing to have gone suddenly crazy.

"They're striking the tent," nodded Mr. Kennedy, noting the boy's wonderment. "You had better look out for yourself. Don't stand in the way or you may get hurt," he warned.

"Get the bulls out!" called a man, hurrying by.

"They're getting," answered Kennedy.

"What do they mean by that?"

"In circus parlance, the 'bulls' are the elephants. Where you going to ride tonight?"

"I don't know. Hello, there's my friend Teddy. I guess I had better attach myself to him or he may get lost."

As a matter of fact, Phil was not sure where he was himself, activities were following each other with such surprising rapidity.

But the lads stuck to their ground until it was no longer safe to do so. Phil was determined to see all there was to be seen, and what he saw he remembered. He had no need to be told after that, providing he understood the meaning of a certain thing at first.

Observing that one man was holding to the peak rope, and that it was rapidly getting the best of him, both lads sprang to his assistance.

"That's right, boys. That's the way to do it. Always be ready to take advantage of every opening. You'll learn faster that way, and you'll both be full-fledged showmen before you know it."

"O Mr. Sparling," exclaimed Phil, after others had relieved them on the rope.

"Yes? What is it?"

"I have been wanting to see you, to ask what you wish us to do tonight--where we are to travel?"

"You may sleep in my wagon. I'll take a horse for tonight."

"I could not think of doing such a thing. No, Mr. Sparling, if I am to be a circus man, I want to do just as the rest of them do. Where do the other performers sleep?"

"Wherever they can find places. Some few of the higher paid ones have berths in wagons. Others sleep in the band wagon. The rest, I guess, don't sleep at all, except after we get into a town. The menagerie outfit will be leaving town very soon now. You may go through with them if you wish."

"If you do not object, I think I should prefer to remain until the rest of the show goes out."

"Suit yourself."

Mr. Sparling understood how the lads felt, and perhaps it would be better to let them break in at once, he reasoned. They would become seasoned much sooner.

The tent was taken down and packed away in the wagons in an almost incredibly short time.

"Come on; let's go into the circus tent and see what's going on there," suggested Teddy.

Phil agreed, and the lads strolled in. They found the performance nearly over. When it was finished quite a large number remained to see the "grand concert" that followed.

While this was going on there was a crash and a clatter as the men ripped up and loaded the seats, piling them into waiting wagons that had been driven into the tent from the rear so as not to be in the way of the people going out.

"It's more fun to watch the men work than it is to see the concert. That concert's a bum show," averred Teddy, thrusting his hands in his pockets and turning his back on the "grand concert."

"I agree with you," laughed Phil. "There's nothing but the freaks there, and we'll see them, after this, every time we go for our meals."

"Have you been in the dressing tent yet?" asked Teddy.

"No, I haven't had time. We'll have to look in there tomorrow, though I don't think they care about having people visit them unless they belong there. Just now we don't. Do you start work in the cook tent tomorrow?"

"Yes. I am to be the champion coffee drawer. I expect they will have my picture on the billboards after a little. Wouldn't I look funny with a pitcher of hot, steaming coffee in my hand leaping over a table in the cook tent?" and Teddy laughed heartily at the thought. "I'll bet I'd make a hit."

"You mean you would get hit."

"Well, maybe."

The boys hung about until the big top had disappeared from the lot. The tent poles and boxes of properties were being loaded on the wagons, while out on the field, the ring horses, performing ponies and the like stood sleeping, waiting for the moment when they should be aroused for the start.

"Come on, Teddy; let's you and I go make up our beds."

"Where are they?"

"We'll have to ask the porter," laughed Phil, who had traveled a little with his parents years before.

"It's a shame that that old tiger has to have a cage all to himself. We could make up a fine bed if we had half of his cage and some blankets," complained Teddy.

"Thank you. I should prefer to walk. I have had all the argument I want with that beast. Let's go try the band wagon."

"All right; that would be fine to sleep way up there."

Laughing and chattering, the lads hunted about on the lot until they found the great glittering band wagon. Being now covered with canvas to protect it from the weather, they had difficulty in making it out, but finally they discovered it, off near the road that ran by the grounds. Four horses were hitched to it, while the driver lay asleep on the high seat.

"Where will we get in?"

"I don't know, Teddy; we will climb up and find out."

Getting on the rear wheel they pulled themselves up, and finding the canvas covering loose, threw it open. Teddy plumped in feet first.

Immediately there followed such a howling, such a snarling and torrent of invective that, startled as he was, Phil lost his balance on the wheel and fell off.

No sooner had he struck the ground than a dark figure came shooting from above, landing on him and nearly knocking all the breath out of his body.

Phil threw off the burden, which upon investigation proved to be Teddy Tucker.

"Wha--what happened?" stammered Phil. "Sounds as if we had gotten into a wild animal cage."

"I--I walked on somebody's face and he threw me out," answered Teddy ruefully. Phil leaned against the wagon wheel and laughed until his throat ached.

"Get out of here! What do you mean?" bellowed an angry voice over their heads. "Think my face is a tight rope to be walked on by every Rube that comes along?"

"Come--come on away, Teddy. We made a mistake. We got into the wrong berth."

"Here's another wagon, Phil. They're just hitching the horses. Let's try this."

"All right, it's a canvas wagon. Go ahead, we'll try it."

"I've tried one wagon. It's your turn now," growled Teddy.

"I guess you're right. If I get thrown out you catch me the same as I did you," laughed Phil.

"Yes, you caught me, didn't you?"

Phil climbed up, but with more caution than Teddy had exercised in the case of the band wagon.

"Anybody living in this bedroom tonight?" questioned Phil of the driver.

"Guess you are. First come first served. Pile in. You're the kid that rode the bull, ain't you?"

"And twisted the tiger's tail," added Teddy.

"All right. Probably some others will be along later, but I'll see to it that they don't throw you out."

"Thank you. Come on up, Teddy; it's all right."

Teddy Tucker hastily scrambled up into the wagon which proved to be a canvas wagon--an open wagon, over which a canvas cover was stretched in case of storm only.

"Where's the bed clothes?" demanded Teddy.

"I guess the skies will have to be our quilts tonight," answered Phil.

The boys succeeded in crawling down between the folds of the canvas, however, and, snuggling close together, settled down for their first night on the road with a circus. Soon the wagons began to move in response to a chorus of hoarse shouts. The motion of the canvas wagon very soon lulled the lads to sleep, as the big wagon show slowly started away and disappeared in the soft summer night.