Chapter XVIII. A Startling Discovery
 

Phil's recovery was rapid, though four days passed before he was permitted to leave his bed. As soon as he was able to get downstairs and sit out on the front porch of the hotel he found himself an object of interest as well as curiosity.

The story of his accident had been talked of until it had grown out of all proportion to the real facts in the case. The boys of the village hung over the porch rail and eyed him wonderingly and admiringly. It did not fall to their lot every day to get acquainted with a real circus boy. They asked him all manner of questions, which the lad answered gladly, for even though he had suffered a severe accident, he was not beyond enjoying the admiration of his fellows.

"It must be great to be a circus boy," marveled one.

"It is until you fall off and crack your head," laughed Phil. "It's not half so funny then."

After returning to his room that day Phil pondered deeply over the accident. He could not understand it.

"Nobody seems to know what really did happen," he mused. "Dr. Irvine says the wire broke. That doesn't seem possible."

Off in the little dog tent of the owner of the show, Mr. James Sparling, on the day following the accident, was asking himself almost the same questions.

He sent for Mr. Kennedy after having disposed of his early morning business. There was a scowl on the owner's face, but it had not been caused by the telegram which lay on the desk before him, informing him that Phil was not seriously hurt. That was a source of keen satisfaction to the showman, for he felt that he could not afford to lose the young circus boy.

Teddy was so upset over it, however, that the boss had about made up his mind to let Phil's companion go back and join him.

While the showman was thinking the matter over, Mr. Kennedy appeared at the opening of the dog tent.

"Morning," he greeted, which was responded to by a muttered "Huh!" from James Sparling.

"Come in. What are you standing out there for?"

Kennedy was so used to this form of salutation that he paid no further attention to it than to obey the summons.

He entered and stood waiting for his employer to speak.

"I want you to tell me exactly what occurred last night, when young Forrest got hurt, Kennedy."

"I can't tell you any more about it than you heard last night. He had started to make his dive before I noticed that anything was wrong. He didn't stop until he landed on his head. They said the wire snapped."

"Did it?"

"I guess so," grinned Kennedy.

"Who is responsible for having picked out that wire?"

"I guess I am."

"And you have the face to stand there and tell me so?"

"I usually tell the truth, don't I?"

"Yes, yes; you do. That's what I like about you."

"Heard from the kid this morning?"

"Yes; he'll be all right in a few days. Concussion and general shaking up; that's all, but it's enough. How are the bulls this morning?"

"Emperor is sour. Got a regular grouch on."

"Misses that young rascal Phil, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"H-m-m-m!"

"Didn't want to come through last night at all."

"H-m-m-m. Guess we'd better fire you and let the boy handle the bulls; don't you think so?"

The trainer grinned and nodded.

"Kennedy, you've been making your brags that you always tell me the truth. I am going to ask you a question, and I want you to see if you can make that boast good."

"Yes, sir."

Perhaps the trainer understood something of what was in his employer's mind, for his lips closed sharply while his jaw took on a belligerent look.

"How did that wire come to break, Kennedy?"

The question came out with a snap, as if the showman already had made up his mind as to what the answer should be.

"It was cut, sir," answered the trainer promptly.

The lines in Mr. Sparling's face drew hard and tense. Instead of a violent outburst of temper, which Kennedy fully expected, the owner sat silently contemplating his trainer for a full minute.

"Who did it?"

"I couldn't guess."

"I didn't ask you to guess. I can guess for myself. I asked who did it?"

"I don't know. I haven't the least idea who would do a job like that in this show. I hope the mean hound will take French leave before I get him spotted, sir."

Mr. Sparling nodded with emphasis.

"I hope so, Kennedy. What makes you think the wire was cut?"

With great deliberation the trainer drew a small package from his inside coat pocket, carefully unwrapped it, placing the contents on the table in front of Mr. Sparling.

"What's this--what's this?"

"That's the wire."

"But there are two pieces here--"

"Yes. I cut off a few feet on each side of where the break occurred. Those are the two."

Mr. Sparling regarded them critically.

"How can you tell that the wire has been cut, except where you cut it yourself?"

"It was cut halfway through with a file, as you can see, sir. When Forrest threw his weight on it, of course the wire parted at the weakened point."

"H-m-m-m."

"If you will examine it, an inch or two above the cut, you will find two or three file marks, where the file started to cut, then was moved down. Probably slipped. Looks like it. Don't you think I'm right, sir?"

Mr. Sparling nodded reflectively.

"There can be no doubt of it. You think it was done between the two performances yesterday?"

"Oh, yes. That cut wouldn't have held through one performance. It was cut during the afternoon."

"Who was in the tent between the shows?"

"Pretty much the whole crowd. But, if you will remember, the day was dark and stormy. There was a time late in the afternoon, before the torches were lighted, when the big top was almost in darkness. It's my idea that the job was done then. Anybody could have done it without being discovered. It's likely there wasn't anybody in the tent except himself at the time."

"Kennedy, I want you to find out who did that. Understand?"