Chapter XIII. Ducked by an Elephant
 

The great white billows of the Sparling Combined Shows were moving steadily across the continent. The receipts had exceeded Mr. Sparling's most sanguine expectations, and he was in great good humor.

Only one unpleasant incident had happened and that occurred at Franklin, Indiana. Phil and Teddy, while on their way to their car after the performance late at night, had been set upon by two men and quite severely beaten, though both lads had given a good account of themselves and finally driven off their assailants.

They did not report their experience to Mr. Sparling until the next morning, having gone directly to their car and put themselves to bed after having been fixed up with plasters and bandages by some of their companions. The next morning neither lad was particularly attractive to look at. However, bearing the taunts of the show people good-naturedly, they started for the cook tent just as they were in the habit of doing every day.

But Mr. Sparling had seen them as they passed his car on their way.

"Now, I wonder what those boys have been up to?" he scowled, watching their receding forms thoughtfully. "I'll find out."

And he did. He summoned the lads to his office in the tent soon after breakfast.

"I expected you would send for us," grinned Phil, as he walked in with Teddy.

"What about it? You are both sights!"

"Grease paint and powder will cover it up, I guess, Mr. Sparling."

"I'll hear how it happened."

"I can't tell you much about it," said Phil. "We were on our way to the car when a couple of men suddenly jumped out from a fence corner and went at us hammer and tongs. That's when we got these beauty spots. If we had seen the fellows coming we might not have been hit at all."

"Wait a minute; where did this occur?" demanded the showman.

"Just outside the lot at Franklin. It was very dark there, and, as you know, the sky was overcast."

"Did you know the men--had you ever seen them before?"

"I couldn't say as to that."

"No, sir; we couldn't say," added Teddy, nodding.

Mr. Sparling turned a cold eye upon Tucker.

"I haven't asked for remarks from you, young man. When I do you may answer."

Teddy subsided for the moment.

"But, had it been anyone you knew, you must have recognized their voices."

"They didn't say a word. Just pitched into us savagely. I think they might have done us serious injury had we not defended ourselves pretty well."

"It occurs to me that you were rather roughly handled as it was," said the showman, with a suspicion of a grin on his face. "Doctor fixed you up, I suppose?"

"Oh, no; it wasn't so bad as that."

"Have you any suspicion--do you think it was any of the show people?" demanded Mr. Sparling, eyeing Phil penetratingly.

"I don't know. Here is a button I got from the coat of one of the men. That may serve to identify him if he is one of our men. I haven't had a chance to look around this morning."

The showman quickly stretched forth his hand for the button, which he examined curiously.

"And here's a collar, too," chuckled Teddy.

"A collar? Where did you get that, young man?"

"Oh, I just yanked it off the other fellow. Guess it hasn't been to the laundry this season."

Mr. Sparling leaned back and laughed heartily.

"Between you, you boys will be the ruination of me. You take my mind off business so that I don't know what I'm about half of the time. But I can't get along without you. I'll look into this matter," he went on more gravely. "Tell the boss canvasman to send Larry and Bad Eye to me."

"Yes, sir."

The lads delivered the message.

Mr. Sparling's eyes twinkled as these two worthies sneaked into his tent, each with a hangdog expression on his face. "Red" Larry had a black eye, while Bad Eye's nose appeared to have listed to one side.

The showman glanced at Larry's coat, then at the button in his own hand. He nodded understandingly. Bad Eye was collarless.

"Here's a button that I think you lost off your coat last night, Larry," smiled Mr. Sparling sweetly. "And, Bad Eye, here's your collar. Better send it to the washerwoman."

The men were speechless for the moment.

"Go to the boss, both of you, and get your time. Then I want you to clear out of here."

"Wha--what--we ain't done nothing," protested Larry.

"And you had better not. If I see you about the circus lot again this season, I'll have you both in the nearest jail quicker than you can say 'scat!' Understand? Get out of here!"

The showman half rose from his chair, glaring angrily at them. His good-nature had suddenly left him, and the canvasmen, knowing what they might expect from the wrathful showman, stood not upon the order of their going. They ran.

Larry had left some of his belongings behind a cage in the menagerie tent, and he headed directly for that place to get it out and foot it for the village before Mr. Sparling should discover him on the grounds.

In going after his bundle Larry was obliged to pass the elephant station, where the elephants were taking their morning baths, throwing water over their backs from tubs that had been placed before them. A pail full of water had been left near old Emperor's tub by the keeper, because the tub would hold no more.

Emperor apparently had not observed it, nor did he seem to see the red-headed canvasman striding his way. Mr. Kennedy, the keeper, was at the far end of the line sweeping off the baby elephant with a broom, while Phil and Teddy were sitting on a pile of straw back of Emperor discussing their experience the previous evening.

"There's Red," said Teddy, pointing.

"Yes, and he seems to be in a great hurry about something. I'll bet Mr. Sparling has discharged him. I'm sorry. I hate to see anybody lose his job, but I guess Red deserves it if anybody does. He's one of the fellows that attacked us last night. I haven't the least doubt about that."

"Yes, and he's got a button off his coat, too," added Teddy, peering around Emperor. "What I want now is to see a fellow with his collar torn off. I got a tent stake here by me that I'd like to meet him with."

"You would do nothing of the sort, Teddy Tucker! Hello, what's going on there?"

As Larry passed swiftly in front of Emperor, the old elephant's trunk suddenly wrapped itself about the pail of water unobserved by the discharged canvasman.

Emperor lifted the pail on high, quickly twisted it bottom side up and jammed it down over the head of Larry. The latter went down under the impact and before he could free himself from the pail and get up, Emperor had performed the same service for him with the tub of water.

Under the deluge Red Larry was yelling and choking, making desperate efforts to get up. He struggled free in a moment, and in his blind rage he hurled the empty pail full in Emperor's face, following it with a blow over the animal's trunk with a tent stake.

It was the elephant's turn to be angry now. He did not take into consideration that it was he that was to blame for the assault. Stretching out his trunk, he encircled the waist of the yelling canvasman, and, raising him on high, dashed him to the ground almost under his ponderous feet.

Phil had risen about the time the tub came down. At first he laughed; but when the elephant caught his victim, the lad knew that the situation was critical.

"Emperor! Down!" he shouted.

It was then that the elephant cast Red under his feet.

Phil darted forward just as a ponderous foot was raised to trample the man to death. Without the least sense of fear the lad ran in under Emperor, and, grabbing Larry by the heels, dragged him quickly out.

The elephant was furious at the loss of his prey, and, raising his trunk, trumpeted his disapproval, straining at his chains and showing every sign of dangerous restlessness.

After getting Larry out of harm's way, Phil sprang fearlessly toward his elephant friend.

"Quiet, Emperor, you naughty boy!" Forrest chided. "Don't you know you might have killed him? I wouldn't want anything to do with you if you had done a thing like that."

Gradually the great beast grew quiet and his sinuous trunk sought out the Circus Boy's pockets in search of sweets, of which there was a limited supply.

While this was going on Mr. Kennedy, the keeper, had hurried up and dashed a pail of water into the face of the now unconscious Larry. By this time Larry was well soaked down. He could not have been more so had he fallen in a mill pond. But the last bucketful brought him quickly to his senses.

"You--you'll pay for this," snarled Larry, shaking his fist at Phil Forrest.

"Why, I didn't do anything, Larry," answered the lad in amazement.

"You did. You set him on to me."

"That'll be about all from you, Mr. Red Head," warned Kennedy. "The kid didn't do anything but save your life. I wouldn't let a little thing like that trouble me if I were you. You've been doing something to that bull, or he'd never have used you like that. Why, Emperor is as gentle as a young kitten. He wouldn't hurt a fly unless the fly happened to bite him too hard. Phil, did you see that fellow do anything to him?"

Phil shook his head.

"Not now. He may have at some other time."

"That's it!"

Just then Mr. Sparling came charging down on the scene, having heard of the row out at the front door.

Larry saw him coming. He decided not to argue the question any further, but started on a run across the tent, followed by the showman, who pursued him with long, angry strides. But Larry ducked under the tent and got away before his pursuer could reach him, while Phil and Teddy stood holding their sides with laughter.