The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter VII. Making Friends with the Elephants
"Is it possible? I didn't know that," marveled the boy. "And does she perform?"
"Everybody works in this outfit, young man," laughed the assistant, "as you will learn if you hang around long enough. Going to the show?"
"Mr. Sparling provided me with tickets, thank you. But I've got to get home first and put on some other clothes. This suit is about done for, isn't it?"
"I should say it was. You did that stopping the horse, didn't you?"
"Boss will buy you a new suit for that."
"Oh, no; I couldn't allow him to do that," objected Phil.
"Well, you are a queer youngster. So long. I'll see you when you come in this afternoon. Wait, let me see your tickets."
The lad handed them over wonderingly, at which his questioner nodded approvingly.
"They're good seats. Hope you will enjoy the show."
"Thank you; I am sure I shall," answered Phil, touching his hat and starting on a run for home.
Arriving there, Mrs. Cahill met him and threw up her hands in horror when she observed the condition of his clothes.
"I am afraid they are gone for good," grinned Phil rather ruefully.
"No. You leave them with me. I'll fix them up for you. I heard how you saved that show woman's life. That was fine, my boy. I'm proud of you, that I am. You did more than all those circus men could do, and the whole town is talking about it."
"If you are going to the show you had better be getting ready," urged Phil, wishing to change the subject.
"All right, I will. I'll fix your clothes when I get back. Will you be home to supper?"
"I don't know for sure. If I can I'll be back in time, but please don't wait for me. Here is your ticket."
The lad hurried to the room the good woman had set aside for him and quickly made the change of clothing. He was obliged to change everything he had on, for even his shirt had been torn in his battle with the broncho. After bathing and putting on the fresh clothes, Phil hurried from the house, that he might miss nothing of the show.
The sideshow band was blaring brazenly when he reached the lot. The space in front of the main entrance was packed with people, many of whom pointed to him, nodding their heads and directing the attention of their companions to the lad.
Phil wished he might be able to skulk in by the back door and thus avoid their attention, but as this was impossible, he pulled his hat down over his eyes and worked his way slowly toward the front of the crowd.
Getting near the entrance, he saw Mr. Sparling's assistant. The latter, chancing to catch sight of Phil, motioned him to crawl under the ropes and come in. The boy did so gratefully.
"The doors are not open yet, but you may go in. You will have time to look over the animals before the crowd arrives, then you can reach your seat before the others get in. Please let me see those checks once more."
The assistant made a mental note of the section and number of the seats for future reference and handed back the coupons.
Phil stole into the menagerie tent, relieved to be away from the gaze and comments of the crowd that was massed in front.
"Gracious, I'm afraid I wouldn't make a very good circus man. I hate to have everybody looking at me as if I were some natural or unnatural curiosity. Wonder if I will know any of the show people when they are made up, as they call it, and performing in the ring? I shouldn't wonder if they didn't know me in my best clothes, though," grinned the boy.
Phil had had the forethought to bring a few lumps of sugar in his pocket. Entering the menagerie tent, he quickly made his way to the place where the elephants were chained, giving each one of the big beasts a lump. He felt no fear of them and permitted them to run their sensitive trunks over him and into his pockets, where they soon found the rest of the sugar.
After disposing of the sweets, both beasts emitted a loud trumpeting. At such close quarters the noise they made seemed to shake the ground.
"Why do they do that?" questioned Phil of the keeper.
"That's their way of thanking you for the sugar. You've made friends of both of them for life. They'll never forget you, even if they don't see you for several seasons."
"Do they like peanuts?"
"Do they? Just try them."
Phil ran to a snack stand at the opposite side of the tent and bought five cents' worth of peanuts, then hurried back to the elephants with the package.
"What are their names?"
"The big one is Emperor and the smaller one is called Jupiter," answered the keeper, who had already recognized his young visitor.
"Are they ever ugly?"
"Never have been. But you can't tell. An elephant is liable to go bad most any time, then you--"
"But how can you tell, or can't you?"
"Most always, unless they are naturally bad."
"How do you know?"
"See that little slit on the cheek up there?"
"Yes," said Phil, peering at the great jowls wonderingly.
"Well, several days before they get in a tantrum you will see a few tear drops--that's what I call them--oozing from that little slit. I don't know whether it's water on the brain or what it is. But when you see the tear drops you want to get from under and chain Mr. Elephant down as quickly as possible.
"That is strange."
"Very. But it's a sure sign. Never knew it to fail, and I've known some elephants in my time. But Emperor and Jupiter never have shed a tear drop since I've known them. They are not the crying kind, you know."
The lad nodded understandingly.
"How about the lions and the tigers--can you tell when they are going to have bad spells?"
"Well," reflected the showman, "it's safe to say that they've always got a grouch on. The cats are always--"
"Yes. All that sort of animals belong to the cat family and they've got only one ambition in life."
"To kill somebody or something."
"But their keepers--don't they become fond of their keepers or trainers?"
The elephant tender laughed without changing the expression of his face. His laugh was all inside of him, as Phil characterized it.
"Not they! They may be afraid of their keeper, but they would as soon chew him up as anybody else--I guess they would rather, for they've always got a bone to pick with him."
"Do any of the men go in the cages and make the animals perform here?"
"Oh, yes. Wallace, the big lion over there, performs every afternoon and night. So does the tiger in the cage next to him."
Phil had dumped the bag of peanuts into his hat, which he held out before him while talking. Two squirming trunks had been busy conveying the peanuts to the pink mouths of their owners, so that by the time Phil happened to remember what he had brought them, there was not a nut left in the hat.
He glanced up in surprise.
"Emperor, you are a greedy old elephant," laughed Phil, patting the trunk.
Emperor trumpeted loudly, and the call was immediately taken up even more loudly by his companion.
"No, you can't have any more," chided Phil. "You will have indigestion from what you've already eaten, I'm afraid. Behave, and I'll bring you some more tonight if I come to the show," he laughed.
Two caressing trunks touched his hands, then traveled gently over his cheeks. They tickled, but Phil did not flinch.
"You could do most anything with them now, you see," nodded the keeper. "They'd follow you home if I would let them."
"Especially if my pockets were full of sweets."
"There's the animal trainer getting ready to go into the lion cage, if you want to see him," the attendant informed him.
"Yes, I should like to. And thank you very much for your kindness."
"You're welcome. Come around again."
The boy hurried over to the lion cage. The people were now crowding into the menagerie tent in throngs. There seemed to Phil to be thousands already there. But all eyes now being centered on Wallace's cage, they had no time to observe Phil, for which he was duly thankful.
The animal trainer, clad in red tights, his breast covered with spangles, was already at the door of the cage, whip in hand. When a sufficient crowd had gathered about him, he opened the door, and, entering the cage threw wide the iron grating that shut Wallace off from the door end of the wagon. The big lion bounded out with a roar that caused the people to crowd back instinctively.
Then the trainer began putting the savage beast through its paces, causing it to leap over his whip, jump through paper hoops, together with innumerable other tricks that caused the spectators to open their mouths in wonder. All the time Wallace kept up a continual snarling, interspersed now and then with a roar that might have been heard a quarter of a mile away.
This was a part of the exhibition, as Phil shrewdly discovered. The boy was a natural showman, though unaware of the fact. He noted all the little fine points of the trainer's work with as much appreciation as if he had himself been an animal trainer.
"I half believe I should like to try that myself," was his mental conclusion. "But I should want to make the experiment on a very little lion at first. If I got out with a whole skin I might want to tackle something bigger. I wonder if he is going into the tiger cage?"
As if in answer to his question, an announcer shouted out the information that the trainer would give an exhibition in the cage of the tiger just before the evening performance.
"I'll have to see that," muttered Phil. "Guess I had better get in and find my seat now."
At the same time the crowd, understanding that the lion performance was over, began crowding into the circus tent.
The band inside swung off into a sprightly tune and Phil could scarcely repress the inclination to keep time to it with his feet. Altogether, things were moving pretty well with Phil Forrest. They had done so ever since he left home the day before. In that one day he had had more fun than had come to him in many years.
But his happy day would soon be ended. He sighed as he thought of it. Then his face broke out into a sunny smile as he caught a glimpse of the ropes and apparatus, seen dimly through the afternoon haze, in the long circus tent.
As he gained the entrance between the two large tents he saw the silk curtains at the far end of the circus arena fall apart, while a troop of gayly caparisoned horses and armored riders suddenly appeared through the opening.
The grand entry was beginning.
"Gracious, here the show has begun and I am not anywhere near my seat," he exclaimed. "But, if I am going to be late I won't be alone. There are a whole lot more of us that were too much interested in the animal trainer to think to come in and get our seats. I guess I had better run. I--"
Phil started to run, but he got no further than the start.
All at once his waist was encircled in a powerful grip and he felt his feet leaving the ground. Phil was being raised straight up into the air by some strange force, the secret of which he did not understand.