Chapter V. When the Bands Played
 

Phil started for the Widow Cahill's on the run after having procured his tickets. "Here's a ticket for the circus, Mrs. Cahill," he shouted, bursting into the room, with excited, flushed face.

"What's this you say--the circus? Land sakes, I haven't seen one since I was--well, since I was a girl. I don't know."

"You'll go, won't you?" urged Phil.

"Of course, I'll go," she made haste to reply, noting the disappointment in his face over her hesitation. "And thank you very much."

"Shall I come and get you, Mrs. Cahill, or can you get over to the circus grounds alone?"

"Don't worry about me, my boy. I'll take care of myself."

"Your seat will be right next to mine, and we can talk while we are watching the performers."

"Yes; you run along now. Here's a quarter for spending money. Never mind thanking me. Just take it and have a good time. Where's your friend?"

"Teddy?"

"Yes."

"Over on the lot."

"He going in with you, too?"

"Oh, no. Teddy is too proud to go in that way. He crawls in under the tent," laughed Phil, running down the steps and setting off for the circus grounds with all speed.

When he arrived there he saw at once that something was going on. The tents were all in place, the little white city erected with as much care and attention to detail as if the show expected to remain in Edmeston all summer. The lad could scarcely make himself believe that, only a few hours before, this very lot had been occupied by the birds alone. It was a marvel to him, even in after years, when he had become as thoroughly conversant with the details of a great show as any man in America.

Just now there was unusual activity about the grounds. Men in gaudy uniforms, clowns in full makeup, and women with long glistening trains, glittering with spangles from head to feet, were moving about, while men were decorating the horses with bright blankets and fancy headdress.

"What are they going to do?" asked Phil of a showman.

"Going to parade."

"Oh, yes, that's so; I had forgotten about that."

"Hello, boy--I've forgotten your name--"

"Forrest," explained Phil, turning. The speaker was Mr. Sparling's assistant, whom the lad had seen just after saving the lion cage from turning over.

"Can you blow a horn as well as you can stop a wagon?"

"Depends upon what kind of a horn. I think I can make as much noise on a fish horn as anyone else."

"That'll do as well as anything else. Want to go in the parade?"

"I'd love to!" The color leaped to the cheeks of Phil Forrest and a sparkle to his eyes. This was going beyond his fondest dreams.

The assistant motioned to a clown.

"Fix this boy up in some sort of a rig. I'm going to put him in the Kazoo Band. Bring him back here when he is ready. Be quick."

A long, yellow robe was thrown about the boy, a peaked cap thrust on his head, after which a handful of powder was slapped on his face and rubbed down with the flat of the clown's hand. The fine dust got into the lad's nostrils and throat, causing him to sneeze until the tears rolled down his cheeks, streaking his makeup like a freshet through a plowed field.

"Good," laughed the clown. "That's what your face needs. You'd make a good understudy for Chief Rain-In-The-Face. Now hustle along."

Phil picked up the long skirts and ran full speed to the place where the assistant had been standing. There he waited until the assistant returned from a journey to some other part of the lot.

"That's right; you know how to obey orders," he nodded. "That's a good clown makeup. Did Mr. Miaco put those streaks on your face?"

"No, I sneezed them there," answered Phil, with a sheepish grin.

The assistant laughed heartily. Somehow, he had taken a sudden liking to this boy.

"Do you live at home, Forrest?"

"No; I have no home now."

"Here's a fish horn. Now get up in the band wagon--no, not the big one, I mean the clowns' band wagon with the hayrack on it. When the parade starts blow your confounded head off if you want to. Make all the noise you can. You'll have plenty of company. When the parade breaks up, just take off your makeup and turn it over to Mr. Miaco."

"You mean these clothes?"

"Yes. They're a part of the makeup. You'll have to wash the makeup off your face. I don't expect you to return the powder to us," grinned the assistant humorously.

The clowns were climbing to the hayrack. A bugle had blown as a signal that the parade was ready to move. Phil had not seen Teddy Tucker since returning to the lot. He did not know where the boy was, but he was quite sure that Teddy was not missing any of the fun. Tucker had been around circuses before, and knew how to make the most of his opportunities. And he was doing so now.

"Ta ra, ta ra, ta ra!" sang the bugle.

Crash! answered the cymbals and the bass drums. The snare drums buzzed a long, thrilling roll; then came the blare of the brass as the whole band launched into a lively tune such as only circus bands know how to play.

The parade had begun to move.

It was a thrilling moment--the moment of all moments of Phil Forrest's life.

The clowns' wagon had been placed well back in the line, so as not to interfere with the music of the band itself. But Phil did not care where he was placed. He only knew that he was in a circus parade, doing his part with the others, and that, so far as anyone knew, he was as much a circus man as any of them.

As the cavalcade drew out into the main street and straightened away, Phil was amazed to see what a long parade it was. It looked as if it might reach the whole length of the village.

The spring sun was shining brightly, lighting up the line, transforming it into a moving, flashing, brilliant ribbon of light and color.

"Splendid!" breathed the boy, removing the fish horn from his lips for a brief instant, then blowing with all his might again.

As the wagons moved along he saw many people whom he knew. As a matter of fact, Phil knew everyone in the village, but there were hundreds of people who had driven in from the farms whom he did not know. Nor did anyone appear to recognize him.

"If they only knew, wouldn't they be surprised?" chuckled the lad. "Hello, there's Mrs. Cahill."

The widow was standing on her front door step with a dishtowel in one hand.

In the excess of his excitement, Phil stood up, waving his horn and yelling.

She heard him--as everybody else within a radius of a quarter of a mile might have--and she recognized the voice. Mrs. Cahill brandished the dishtowel excitedly.

"He's a fine boy," she glowed. "And he's having the first good time he's had in five years."

The Widow Cahill was right. For the first time in all these years, since the death of his parents, Phil Forrest was carefree and perfectly happy.

The clowns on the wagon with him were uproariously funny. When the wagon stopped now and then, one whom Phil recognized as the head clown, Mr. Miaco, would spring to the edge of the rack and make a stump speech in pantomime, accompanied by all the gestures included in the pouring and drinking of a glass of water. So humorous were the clown's antics that the spectators screamed with laughter.

Suddenly the lad espied that which caused his own laughter to die away, and for the moment he forgot to toot the fish horn. The parade was passing his former home, and there, standing hunched forward, leaning on his stick and glaring at the procession from beneath bushy eyebrows, stood Phil's uncle, Abner Adams.

Phil's heart leaped into his throat; at least that was the sensation that he experienced.

"I--I hope he doesn't know me," muttered the lad, shrinking back a little. "But I'm a man now. I don't care. He's driven me out and he has no right to say a thing."

The lad lost some of his courage, however, when the procession halted, and he found that his wagon was directly in front of Mr. Adams' dooryard, with his decrepit uncle not more than twenty feet away from him. The surly, angry eyes of Abner Adams seemed to be burning through Phil's makeup, and the lad instinctively shrank back ever so little.

However, at that instant the boy's attention was attracted to another part of the wagon. The head clown stepped from the wagon and, with dignified tread, approached Abner Adams. He grasped the old man by the hand, which he shook with great warmth, making a courtly bow.

At first Abner Adams was too surprised to protest. Then, uttering an angry snarl, he threw the clown off, making a vicious pass at him with his heavy stick.

The clown dodged the blow, and made a run for the wagon, which was now on the move again.

Phil breathed a sigh of relief. The people had roared at the funny sight of the clown shaking hands with the crabbed old man; but to Phil Forrest there had been nothing of humor in it. The sight of his uncle brought back too many unhappy memories.

The lad soon forgot his depression, however, in the rapid changes that followed each other in quick succession as on a moving- picture film.

Reaching the end of the village street the procession was obliged to turn and retrace its steps over the same ground until it reached the business part of the town, where it would turn off and pass through some of the side streets.

Now there were two lines, moving in opposite directions. This was of interest to Phil, enabling him, as it did, to get a good look at the other members of the troupe. Mr. Sparling was riding ahead in a carriage drawn by four splendid white horses, driven by a coachman resplendent in livery and gold lace, while the bobbing plumes on the heads of the horses added to the impressiveness of the picture.

"I'd give anything in the world to be able to ride in a carriage like that," decided Phil. "Maybe someday I shall. We'll see."

Now came the elephants, lumbering along on velvet feet. On the second one there crouched a figure that somehow seemed strangely familiar to Phil Forrest. The figure was made up to represent a huge frog.

A peculiar gesture of one of the frog's legs revealed the identity of the figure beneath the mask.

"Teddy!" howled Phil.

"Have a frog's leg," retorted Teddy, shaking one of them vigorously at the motley collection of clowns.

"Not eating frogs legs today," jeered a clown, as Teddy went swinging past them, a strange, grotesque figure on the back of the huge, hulking beast.

The clowns' wagon was just on the point of turning when the men heard a loud uproar far down the line. At first they thought it was a part of the show, but it soon became apparent that something was wrong.

Phil instinctively let the horn fall away from his lips. He peered curiously over the swaying line to learn what, if anything, had gone wrong.

He made out the cause of the trouble almost at once. A pony with a woman on its back had broken from the line, and was plunging toward them at a terrific pace. She appeared to have lost all control of the animal, and the pony, which proved to be an ugly broncho, was bucking and squealing as it plunged madly down the street.

The others failed to see what Phil had observed almost from the first. The bit had broken in the mouth of the broncho and the reins hung loosely in the woman's helpless hands.

They were almost up with the clowns' wagon when the woman was seen to sway dizzily in her saddle, as the leather slipped beneath her. Then she plunged headlong to the ground.

Instead of falling in a heap, the circus woman, with head dragging, bumping along the ground, was still fast to the pony.

"Her foot is caught in the stirrup!" yelled half a dozen men at once, but not a man of them made an effort to rescue her. Perhaps this was because none of the real horsemen of the show were near enough to do so.

Mr. Sparling, however, at the first alarm, had leaped from his carriage, and, thrusting a rider from his mount, sprang into the saddle and came tearing down the line in a cloud of dust. He was bearing down on the scene at express train speed.

"The woman will be killed!"

"Stop him! Stop him!"

"Stop him yourself!"

But not a man made an effort to do anything.

It had all occurred in a few seconds, but rapidly as the events succeeded each other, Phil Forrest seemed to be the one among them who retained his presence of mind.

He fairly launched himself into the air as the ugly broncho shot alongside the clowns' wagon.