Chapter XXII. Emperor Answers the Signal
 

Making sure that everybody had left, Phil Forrest ran swiftly toward the village. He knew the way, having been downtown during the day.

A light twinkled here and there in a house, where the people, no doubt, were discussing the exciting events of the day. As Phil drew near the cemetery he heard voices.

It would not do to be discovered, so the lad climbed the fence and crept along the edge of the open plot. He was nearing the blacksmith shop and it was soon apparent to him that quite a number of men had gathered in front of the shop itself.

Skulking up to the corner, the last rod being traversed on all fours, the circus boy flattened himself on the ground to listen, in an effort to learn if possible what were the plans of the villagers. If they had any he did not learn them, for their conversation was devoted principally to discussing what they had done to the Sparling show and what they would do further before they had finished with this business.

Phil did learn, however, that the man who had been hurled through the store window was not fatally injured, as had been thought at first. Someone announced that the doctor had said the man would be about again in a couple of weeks.

"I'm glad of that," muttered Phil. "I shouldn't like to think that Emperor had killed anyone. I wonder how he likes it in there."

Evidently the elephant was not well pleased, for the lad could hear him stirring restlessly and tugging at his chains.

"Won't he be surprised, though?" chuckled Phil. "I shouldn't be surprised if he made a lot of noise. I hope he doesn't, for I don't want to stir the town up. I wonder if those fellows are going to stay there all night?"

The loungers showed no inclination to move, so there was nothing for the boy to do but to lie still and wait.

After a little he began to feel chilled, and began hopping around on hands and feet to start his blood moving. A little of this warmed him up considerably. This time he sat down in the fence corner. The night was moonless, but the stars were quite bright, enabling Phil to make out objects some distance away. He could see quite plainly the men gathered in front of the blacksmith shop.

After a wait of what seemed hours to Phil, one of the watchers stirred himself.

"Well, fellows, we might as well go home. The brute's settled down for the night, I reckon."

"What time is it?"

"Half past two," announced the first speaker.

"Well, well, I should say it was time to go. Not going to stay with him, are you, sheriff?"

"Not necessary. He can't get out."

After listening at the closed door, the one whom Phil judged to be an officer joined his companions and all walked leisurely down the road.

The lad remained in the fence corner for sometime, but he stood up after they had gone. He did not dare move about much, fearing that Emperor might hear and know him and raise a great tumult.

Phil waited all of half an hour; then he climbed the fence and slipped cautiously to the door of the shop.

It was securely locked.

"Oh, pshaw! That's too bad," grumbled the lad. "How am I going to do it?"

Phil ran his fingers lightly over the fastening, which consisted of a strong hasp and a padlock.

"What shall I do? I dare not try to break the lock. I should be committing a crime if I did. Perhaps I am already. No; I'm not, and I shall not. I'll just speak to Emperor, then start off on foot after the show. It was foolish of me to think I could do anything to help Mr. Sparling and the elephant out of his trouble. I ought to be able to walk to the next stand and get there in time for the last breakfast call, providing I can find the way."

Perhaps Phil's conscience troubled him a little, though he had done nothing worse than to follow the dictates of his kind heart in his desire to be of assistance to his employer and to befriend old Emperor.

Placing his lips close to the door, Phil called softly.

"Emperor!" he said.

The restless swaying and heavy breathing within ceased suddenly.

"Emperor!" repeated the lad, at the same time uttering the low whistle that the big elephant had come to know so well.

A mighty cough from the interior of the blacksmith shop answered Phil Forrest's signal.

"Be quiet, Emperor. Be quiet! We are going to get you out as soon as we can, old fellow! You just behave yourself now. Do you hear?"

Emperor emitted another loud cough.

"Good old Emperor. I've got some peanuts for you, but I don't know how I am going to give them to you. Wait a minute. Perhaps there is a window somewhere that I can toss them through."

Phil, after looking around, found a window with the small panes of glass missing. The window was so high that he could not reach it, so he stood on the ground and tossed the peanuts in, while the big elephant demonstrated the satisfaction he felt, in a series of sharp intakes of breath.

"Now I'm going," announced Phil. "Goodbye, Emperor. Here's a lump of sugar. That's all I have for you."

Phil turned away sorrowfully. His purpose had failed. Not because he doubted his ability to carry it out, but he was not sure that he would be right in doing so.

A few rods down the road he paused, turned and uttered his shrill signal whistle, with no other idea in mind than to bring some comfort to the imprisoned beast.

Emperor interpreted the signal otherwise, however. He uttered a loud, shrill trumpet; then things began to happen with a rapidity that fairly made the circus boy's head whirl.

A sudden jingle of metal, a crashing and rending from within the shop, caused Phil to halt sharply after he had once more started on his way.

Crash! Bang!

Emperor had brought his wonderful strength to bear on his flimsily constructed prison with disastrous results to the latter. First he had torn the blacksmith's bellows out by the roots and hurled it from him. Next he set to work to smash everything within reach. A moment of this and the elephant had freed himself from the light chains with which the keeper had secured him.

"Wha--oh, what is he doing?" gasped Phil Forrest.

The boards on one side of the shop burst out as from a sudden explosion. Down came half a dozen of the light studdings that supported the roof on that side.

By this time Emperor had worked himself into a fine temper. He turned his attention to the other side of the shop with similar disastrous results. The interior of the blacksmith shop was a wreck. It could not have been in much worse condition had it been struck by a cyclone.

All of a sudden the elephant threw his whole weight against the big sliding door. It burst out with a report like that of a cannon.

Emperor came staggering out into the open. There he paused, with twitching ears and curling trunk, peering into the darkness in search of Phil Forrest.

Phil recovered from his surprise sufficiently to realize what had happened and that old Emperor was free once more.

The lad uttered a shrill whistle. Emperor responded by a piercing scream. He then whirled, facing up the road in Phil's direction, though unable to see the lad.

Once more the boy whistled. Emperor was off in a twinkling.

"Steady, steady, Emperor!" cautioned the lad, as he saw the huge hulk bearing swiftly down on him. "Easy, old boy!"

But the elephant did not lessen his speed one particle. Phil felt sure, however, that he himself would not be harmed. He knew Emperor too well. With perfect confidence in the great animal, the lad threw both hands above his head, standing motionless in the center of the street right in the path of the oncoming beast.

"Steady, steady, steady!" cautioned Phil. "Now up, Emperor!"

The elephant's long, sinuous trunk uncurled, coiled about the lad's waist and the next instant Phil felt himself being lifted to the big beast's head.

"I've got him!" shouted Phil, carried away by the excitement of the moment. "Now, go it! Emperor! Go faster than you ever have since you chased lions in the jungle."

And Emperor did go it! As he tore down the village street he woke the echoes with his shrill trumpetings, bringing every man and woman in the little village tumbling from their beds.

"The elephant is escaping!" cried the people, as they threw up their windows and gazed out. As they looked they saw a huge, shadowy shape hurling itself down the street, whereat they hastily withdrew their heads. In a few moments the men of the village came rushing out, all running toward the blacksmith shop to learn what had happened there. There followed a perfect pandemonium of yells when they discovered the wrecked condition of the place.

In the meantime Phil had guided Emperor into the road that led to the show grounds of the previous day. The elephant was about to turn into the lot, when a sharp slap from his rider caused him to swing back into the highway on the trail of the wagons that had passed on some hours before.

Once he had fairly started Emperor followed the trail, making the turns and following the twists of the road as unerringly as an Indian follows the trail of his enemy.

"Hurrah!" shouted Phil, after they had got clear of the village. "I've won, I've won! But, oh, won't there be a row back there when they find out what has happened, I wonder if they will follow us."

The thought startled him.

"If they do they are liable to arrest me, believing that I let him out. Go it, Emperor! Go faster!"

Emperor flapped his ears in reply and swung off at an increased gait. The darkness of early morn was soon succeeded by the graying dawn, and Phil felt a certain sense of relief as he realized that day was breaking. On they swept, past hamlets, by farm houses, where here and there men with milkpails in hand paused, startled, to rub their eyes and gaze upon the strange outfit that was rushing past them at such a pace.

Phil could not repress a chuckle at such times, at thought of the sensation he was creating.

The hours drew on until seven o'clock had arrived, and the sun was high in the heavens.

"I must be getting near the place," decided Phil. He knew he was on the right road, for he could plainly see the trail of the wagons and of the stock in the dust of the road before him. "Yes; there is some sort of a village way off yonder. I wonder if that is it?"

A fluttering flag from the top of a far away center-pole, which he caught sight of a few minutes later, told the boy that it was.

"Hurrah!" shouted Phil, waving his hat on high.

At that moment a distant chorus of yells smote his ears. The lad listened intently. The shout was repeated. Holding fast to the headstall, he glanced back over the road. There, far to his rear, he discovered a cloud of dust, which a few minutes later resolved itself into a party of horsemen, riding at top speed.

"They're after me! Go faster! Go faster!" shouted the lad. As he spoke a rifle cracked somewhere behind him, but as Phil heard no bullet the leaden missile must have fallen far short of the mark.