Chapter XVII. Left Behind
 

"Is he hurt much?"

"Don't know. Maybe he's broken his neck."

This brief dialogue ensued between two painted clowns hurrying to their stations.

In the meantime the band struck up a lively air, the clowns launched into a merry medley of song and jest and in a few moments the spectators forgot the scene they had just witnessed, in the noise, the dash and the color. It would come back to them later like some long-past dream.

Mr. Kennedy, with grim, set face, uttered a stern command to Emperor, who for a brief instant had stood irresolute, as if pondering as to whether he should turn and plunge for the red silk curtains behind which his little friend had disappeared in the arms of the attendants.

The trainer's voice won, and Emperor trumpeting loudly, took his way to his quarters without further protest.

In the dressing tent another scene was being enacted. On two drawn-up trunks, over which had been thrown a couple of horse blankets, they had laid the slender, red-clad figure of Phil Forrest.

The boy's pale face appeared even more ashen than it really was under the flickering glare of the gasoline torches. His head had been propped up on a saddle, while about him stood a half circle of solemn-faced performers in various stages of undress and makeup.

"Is he badly hurt?" asked one.

"Can't say. Miaco has gone for the doc. We'll know pretty soon. That was a dandy tumble he took."

"How did it happen?"

"Wire broke. You can't put no faith on a wire with a kink in it. I nearly got my light put out, out in St. Joe, Missouri, by a trick like that. No more swinging wire for me. Guess the kid, if he pulls out of this, will want to hang on to a rope after this. He will if he's wise."

"What's this? What's this?" roared Mr. Sparling, who, having heard of the accident, came rushing into the tent. "Who's hurt?"

"The kid," informed someone.

"What kid? Can't you fellows talk? Oh, it's Forrest, is it? How did it happen?"

One of the performers who had witnessed the accident related what he had observed.

"Huh!" grunted the showman, stepping up beside Phil and placing a hand on the boy's heart.

"Huh!"

"He's alive, isn't he, Mr. Sparling?"

"Yes. Anybody gone for the doctor?"

"Miaco has."

"Wonder any of you had sense enough to think of that. I congratulate you. Somebody will suffer when I find out who was responsible for hanging that boy's life on a rotten old piece of wire. I presume it's been kicking around this outfit for the last seven years."

"Here comes the doc," announced a voice.

There was a tense silence in the dressing tent, broken only by the patter of the rain drops on the canvas roof, while the show's surgeon was making his examination.

"Well, well! What about it?" demanded Mr. Sparling impatiently.

The surgeon did not answer at once. His calm, professional demeanor was not to be disturbed by the blustering but kind- hearted showman, and the showman, knowing this from past experience, relapsed into silence until such time as the surgeon should conclude to answer him.

"Did he fall on his head?" he questioned, looking up, at the same time running his fingers over Phil's dark-brown hair.

"Looks that way, doesn't it?"

"I should say so."

"What's the matter with him?"

"I shall be unable to decide definitely for an hour or so yet, unless he regains consciousness in the meantime. It may be a fracture of the skull or a mere concussion."

"Huh!"

Mr. Sparling would have said more, but for the fact that the calm eyes of the surgeon were fixed upon him in a level gaze.

"Any bones broken?"

"No; I think not. How far did he fall?"

"Fell from Emperor's head when the bull was up in the air. He must have taken all of a twenty-foot dive, I should say."

"Possible? It's a great wonder he didn't break his neck. But he is very well muscled for a boy of his age. I don't suppose they have a hospital in this town?"

"Of course not. They never have anything in these tank towns. You ought to know that by this time."

"They have a hotel. I know for I took dinner there today. If you will get a carriage of some sort I think we had better take him there."

"Leave him, you mean?" questioned Mr. Sparling.

"Yes; that will be best. We can put him in charge of a local physician here. He ought to be able to take care of the boy all right."

"Not by a jug full!" roared Mr. James Sparling. "We'll do nothing of the sort."

"It will not be safe to take him with us, Sparling."

"Did I say it would? Did I? Of course, he shan't be moved, nor will he be left to one of these know-nothing sawbones. You'll stay here with him yourself, and you'll take care of him if you know what's good for you. I'd rather lose most any five men in this show than that boy there."

The surgeon nodded his approval of the sentiment. He, too, had taken quite a fancy to Phil, because of the lad's sunny disposition and natural brightness.

"Get out the coach some of you fellows. Have my driver hook up and drive back into the paddock here, and be mighty quick about it. Here, doc, is a head of lettuce (roll of money). If you need any more, you know where to reach us. Send me a telegram in the morning and another tomorrow night. Keep me posted and pull that boy out of this scrape or you'll be everlastingly out of a job with the Sparling Combined Shows. Understand?"

The surgeon nodded understandingly. He had heard Mr. Sparling bluster on other occasions, and it did not make any great impression upon him.

The carriage was quickly at hand. Circus people were in the habit of obeying orders promptly. A quick drive was made to the hotel, where the circus boy was quickly undressed and put to bed.

All during the night the surgeon worked faithfully over his little charge, and just as the first streaks of daylight slanted through the window and across the white counterpane, Phil opened his eyes.

For only a moment did they remain open, then closed again.

The surgeon drew a long, deep breath.

"Not a fracture," he announced aloud. "I'm thankful for that." He drew the window shades down to shut out the light, as it was all important that Phil should be kept quiet for a time. But the surgeon did not sleep. He sat keen-eyed by the side of the bed, now and then noting the pulse of his patient, touching the lad's cheeks with light fingers.

After a time the fresh morning air, fragrant with the fields and flowers, drifted in, and the birds in the trees took up their morning songs.

"I guess the storm must be over," muttered the medical man, rising softly and peering out from behind the curtain.

The day was dawning bright and beautiful.

"My, it feels good to be in bed!" said a voice from the opposite side of the room. "Where am I?"

The surgeon wheeled sharply.

"You are to keep very quiet. You had a tumble that shook you up considerably."

"What time is it?" demanded Phil sharply.

"About five o'clock in the morning."

"I must get up; I must get up."

"You will lie perfectly still. The show will get along without you today, I guess."

"You don't mean they have gone on and left me?"

"Of course; they couldn't wait for you."

The boys eyes filled with tears.

"I knew it couldn't last. I knew it."

"See here, do you want to join the show again?"

"Of course, I do."

"Well, then, lie still. The more quiet you keep the sooner you will be able to get out. Try to go to sleep. I must go downstairs and send a message to Mr. Sparling, for he is very much concerned about you."

"Then he will take me back?" asked Phil eagerly.

"Of course he will."

"I'll go to sleep, doctor."

Phil turned over on his side and a moment later was breathing naturally.

The doctor tip-toed from the room and hastened down to the hotel office where he penned the following message:

James Sparling,

   Sparling Combined Shows,

      Boyertown.

   Forrest recovers consciousness.  Not a fracture.  Expect him
to be all right in a few days.  Will stay unless further orders.

     Irvine.

"I think I'll go upstairs and get a bit of a nap myself," decided the surgeon, after having directed the sleepy clerk to see to it that the message was dispatched to its destination at once.

He found Phil sleeping soundly. Throwing himself into a chair the surgeon, used to getting a catnap whenever and wherever possible, was soon sleeping as soundly as was his young patient.

Neither awakened until the day was nearly done.