The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter XXI. An Elephant in Jail
"Who is he?"
"I would not care to answer that question just now, Mr. Sparling," answered Phil calmly. "It would not be right--that is, not until I am sure about it."
"Tell me, or get out."
"Remember, Mr. Sparling, it is a serious accusation you ask me to make against a man on proof that you would say was not worth anything. It may take some time, but before I get through I'm going either to fasten the act on someone--on a particular one--or else prove that I am wholly mistaken."
The showman stormed, but Phil was obdurate. He refused to give the slightest intimation as to whom he suspected.
"Am I to go, Mr. Sparling?" he asked after the interview had come to an end.
"No! I expect you'll own this show yet."
He watched Phil walking away from the tent. There was a scowl on the face of James Sparling.
"If I thought that young rascal really thought he knew, I'd take him across my knee and spank him until he told me. No; he's more of a man than any two in the whole outfit. I'd rather lose a horse than have anything happen to that lad."
Days followed each other in quick succession. The show had by this time swung around into Pennsylvania, and was playing a circuit of small mining towns with exceptionally good attendance. The owner of the show was in high good humor over the profits the show was earning. The acts of Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker had proved to be among the best drawing cards in the circus performance proper. So important did the owner consider them that the names of the two circus boys were now prominently displayed in the advertisements, as well as on the billboards.
During all this time, Phil and Teddy had worked faithfully on the rings under the instruction of Mr. Miaco. On the side they were taking lessons in tumbling as well. For this purpose what is known as a "mechanic" was used to assist them in their schooling. This consisted of a belt placed about the beginner's waist. From it a rope led up over a pulley, the other end of the rope being securely held by someone.
When all was ready the pupil would take a running start, jump into the air and try to turn. At the same time, the man holding the free end of the rope would give it a hard pull, thus jerking the boy free of the ground and preventing his falling on his head.
After a few days of this, both boys had progressed so far that they were able to work on a mat, made up of several layers of thick carpet, without the aid of the "mechanic." Of course their act lacked finish. Their movements were more or less clumsy, but they had mastered the principle of the somersault in remarkably quick time.
Mr. Miaco said that in two more weeks they ought to be able to join the performers in their general tumbling act, which was one of the features of the show.
There was not an hour of the day that found the two boys idle, now, and all this activity was viewed by Mr. Sparling with an approving eye.
But one day there came an interruption that turned the thoughts of the big show family in another direction.
An accident had happened at the morning parade that promised trouble for the show. A countryman, who had heard that the hide of an elephant could not be punctured, was struck by the happy thought of finding out for himself the truth or falsity of this theory. He had had an argument with some of his friends, he taking the ground that an elephant's hide was no different from the hide of any other animal. And he promised to show them that it was not.
All he needed was the opportunity. With his friends he had followed along with the parade, keeping abreast of the elephants, until finally the parade was halted by the crossing gates at a railroad.
Now was the man's chance to prove the theory false. The crowd closed in on the parade to get a closer view of the people, and this acted as a cover for the man's experiment.
Taking his penknife out he placed the point of it against the side of Emperor, as it chanced.
"Now watch me," he said, at the same time giving the knife a quick shove, intending merely to see if he could prick through the skin. His experiment succeeded beyond the fellow's fondest expectations. The point of the knife had gone clear through Emperor's hide.
Emperor, ordinarily possessed of a keen sense of humor, coupled with great good nature, in this instance failed to see the humor of the proceeding. In fact, he objected promptly and in a most surprising manner.
Like a flash, his trunk curled back. It caught the bold experimenter about the waist, and the next instant the fellow was dangling in the air over Emperor's head, yelling lustily for help. The elephant had been watching the man, apparently suspecting something, and therefore was ready for him.
"Put him down!" thundered Kennedy.
The elephant obeyed, but in a manner not intended by the trainer when he gave the command.
With a quick sweep of his trunk, Emperor hurled his tormentor from him. The man's body did not stop until it struck a large plate glass window in a store front, disappearing into the store amid a terrific crashing of glass and breaking of woodwork, the man having carried most of the window with him in his sudden entry into the store.
This was a feature of the parade that had not been advertised on the bills.
The procession moved on a moment later, with old Emperor swinging along as meekly as if he had not just stirred up a heap of trouble for himself and his owner.
The man, it was soon learned, had been badly hurt.
But Mr. Sparling was on the ground almost at once, making an investigation. He quickly learned what had caused the trouble. And then he was mad all through. He raved up and down the line threatening to get out a warrant for the arrest of the man who had stuck a knife into his elephant.
Later in the afternoon matters took a different turn. A lawyer called on the showman, demanding the payment of ten thousand dollars damages for the injuries sustained by his client, and which, he said, would in all probability make the man a cripple for life.
If the showman had been angry before, he was in a towering rage now.
"Get off this lot!" he roared. "If you show your face here again I'll set the canvasmen on you! Then you won't be able to leave without help."
The lawyer stood not upon the order of his going, and they saw no more of him. They had about concluded that they had heard the last of his demands, until just before the evening performance, when, as the cook tent was being struck, half a dozen deputy sheriffs suddenly made their appearance.
They held papers permitting them to levy on anything they could lay their hands upon and hold it until full damages had been fixed by the courts.
There was no trifling with the law, at least not then, and Mr. Sparling was shrewd enough to see that. However, he stormed and threatened, but all to no purpose.
The intelligent deputies reasoned that Emperor, having been the cause of all the trouble, would be the proper chattel to levy upon. So they levied on him.
The next thing was to get Emperor to jail. He would not budge an inch when the officers sought to take him. Then a happy thought struck them. They ordered the trainer to lead the elephant and follow them under pain of instant arrest if he refused.
There was nothing for it but to obey. Protesting loudly, Kennedy started for the village with his great, hulking charge.
Phil Forrest was as disconsolate as his employer was enraged. The boy's act was spoiled, perhaps indefinitely, which might mean the loss of part of his salary.
"That's country justice," growled the owner. "But I'll telegraph my lawyer in the city and have him here by morning. Maybe it won't be such a bad speculation tomorrow, for I'll make this town go broke before it has fully settled the damages I'll get out of it. Don't be down in the mouth, Forrest. You'll have your elephant back, and before many days at that. Go watch the show and forget your troubles."
It will be observed that, under his apparently excitable exterior, Mr. James Sparling was a philosopher.
"Emperor's in jail," mourned Phil.
The moment Mr. Kennedy returned, sullen and uncommunicative, Phil sought him out. He found the trainer in Mr. Sparling's tent.
"Where did they take him?" demanded Phil, breaking in on their conversation.
"To jail," answered Kennedy grimly. "First time I ever heard of such a thing as an elephant's going to jail."
"That's the idea. We'll use that for an advertisement," cried the ever alert showman, slapping his thighs. "Emperor, the performing elephant of the Great Sparling Combined Shows, jailed for assault. Fine, fine! How'll that look in the newspapers? Why, men, it will fill the tent when we get to the next stand, whether we have the elephant or not."
"No; you've got to have the elephant," contended Kennedy.
"Well, perhaps that's so. But I'll wire our man ahead, just the same, and let him use the fact in his press notices."
"But how could they get him in the jail?" questioned Phil.
"Jail? You see, they couldn't. They wanted to, but the jail wouldn't fit, or the elephant wouldn't fit the jail, either way you please. When they discovered that they didn't know what to do with him. Somebody suggested that they might lock him up in the blacksmith shop."
"The blacksmith shop?" exploded the owner.
"I hope they don't try to fit him with shoes," he added, with a grim smile.
"Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if they did. We'd have our elephant right quick. Yes, they tried the blacksmith shop on, and it worked, but it was a close fit. If Emperor had had a bump on his back as big as an egg he wouldn't have gone in."
"And he's there now?"
"Yes. I reckon I'd better stay here and camp at the hotel, hadn't I, so's to be handy when your lawyer comes on? Emperor might tear up the town if he got loose."
Mr. Sparling reflected for a moment.
"Kennedy, you'll go with the show tonight. I don't care if Emperor tears this town up by the roots. If none of us is here, then we shall not be to blame for what happens. We didn't tell them to lock him up in the blacksmith shop. You can get back after the lawyer has gotten him out. That will be time enough."
"Where is the blacksmith shop?" questioned Phil.
"Know where the graveyard is?"
"It's just the other side of that," said Kennedy. "Church on this side, blacksmith shop on the other. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering," answered Phil, glancing up and finding the eyes of Mr. Sparling bent keenly upon him.
The lad rose hastily, went out, and climbing up to the seat of a long pole wagon, sat down to ponder over the situation. He remained there until a teamster came to hook to the wagon and drive it over to be loaded. Then Phil got down, standing about with hands in his pockets.
He was trying to make up his mind about something.
"Where do we show tomorrow?" he asked of an employee.
"Dobbsville, Ohio. We'll be over the line before daybreak."
The circus tent was rapidly disappearing now. "In another state in the morning," mused Phil.
One by one the wagons began moving from the circus lot.
"Get aboard the sleeping car," called the driver of the wagon that Phil and Teddy usually slept in, as he drove past.
"Hey, Phil!" called Teddy, suddenly appearing above the top of the box.
"What are you standing there for?"
"Perhaps I'm getting the night air," laughed Phil. "Fine, isn't it?"
"It might be better. But get in; get in. You'll be left."
"Never mind me. I am not going on your wagon tonight. You may have the bed all to yourself. Don't forget to leave your window open," he jeered.
"I have it open already. I'm going to put the screen in now to keep the mosquitoes out," retorted Teddy, not to be outdone.
"Has Mr. Sparling gone yet do you know?"
"No; he and Kennedy are over yonder where the front door was, talking."
Teddy's head disappeared. No sooner had it done so than Phil Forrest turned and ran swiftly toward the opposite side of the lot. He ran in a crouching position, as if to avoid being seen.
Reaching a fence which separated the road from the field, he threw himself down in the tall grass there and hid.
"In Ohio tomorrow. I'm going to try it," he muttered. "It can't be wrong. They had no business, no right to do it," he decided, his voice full of indignation.
He heard the wagons rumbling by him on the hard road, the rattle of wheels accompanied by the shouts of the drivers as they urged their horses on.
And there Phil lay hidden until every wagon had departed, headed for the border, and the circus lot became a barren, deserted and silent field.