The Circus Boys Across The Continent by Edgar B. P. Darlington
Chapter XIV. In Dire Peril
Two days had passed and nothing more had been seen of the discharged canvasmen. Believing they were well rid of them all hands proceeded to forget about the very existence of Larry and Bad Eye.
As Phil was passing the roped-off enclosure where the elephants were tethered, the next morning just before the parade, he saw Mr. Kennedy regarding one of the elephants rather anxiously.
"What's the trouble? Anything gone wrong?" sang out the lad cheerily.
"Not yet," answered the keeper without turning his head.
"Something is bothering you or else you are planning out something new for the bulls," decided Phil promptly. "What is it?"
"I don't like the way Jupiter is acting."
"He is ugly."
Phil ducked under the ropes and boldly walked over toward the swaying beast.
"Better keep away from him. He isn't to be trusted today."
"Going to send him out in the parade?"
"Haven't decided yet. I may think it best to leave Jupiter here with perhaps the baby elephant for company. He would cut up, I'm afraid, were I to leave him here alone. No; I think, upon second thought, that we had better take him out. It may take his mind from his troubles."
"What do you think is the matter with him?" questioned the Circus Boy, regarding the beast thoughtfully.
"That's what bothers me. He has never acted this way before. Usually there are some signs that I told you about once before that tells one an elephant is going bad."
"You mean the tear drops that come out from the slit under the eye?"
"Yes. There has been nothing of that sort with Jupiter."
"He acts to me as if he had a bad stomach," suggested Phil wisely.
"That's right. That expresses it exactly. I guess we'll have to give him a pill to set him straight. But Jupiter never was much of a hand for pills. He'll object if we suggest it."
"Then don't suggest it. Just give it to him in his food."
"You can't fool him," answered Mr. Kennedy, with a shake of the head. "He'd smell it a rod away, and that would make him madder than ever. The best way is to make him open his mouth and throw the pill back as far as possible in his throat."
"Have you told Mr. Sparling?"
"No. He doesn't like to be bothered with these little things. He leaves that all to me. It's a guess, though, as to just what to do under these conditions. No two cases, any more than any two elephants, are alike when it comes to disposition and treatment."
"No; I suppose not."
"Where are you going now, Phil?"
"Going back to the dressing tent to get ready for the parade. Hope you do not have any trouble."
"No; I guess I shan't. I can manage to hold him, and if I don't, I'll turn Emperor loose. He makes a first-rate policeman."
Phil hurried on to the dressing tent, for he was a little late this morning, for which he was not wholly to blame, considerable time having been lost in his interview with Mr. Sparling.
In the hurry of preparation for the parade, Phil forgot all about Mr. Kennedy's concern over Jupiter. But he was reminded of it again when he rode out to fall in line with the procession. Mr. Kennedy and his charges, all well in hand, were just emerging from the menagerie tent to take their places for the parade. Jupiter was among them. He saw, too, that Mr. Kennedy was walking by Jupiter's side, giving him almost his exclusive attention.
Phil's place in the parade this season was with a body of German cavalry. He wore a plumed hat, with a gaudy uniform and rode a handsome bay horse, one of the animals used in the running race at the close of the circus. Phil had become very proficient on horseback and occasionally had entered the ring races, being light enough for the purpose. He had also kept up his bareback practice, under the instruction of Dimples, until he felt quite proud of his achievements.
Vincennes, where the show was to exhibit that day, was a large town, and thousands of people had turned out to view the parade which had been extensively advertised as one of the greatest features ever offered to the public.
"They seem to like it," grinned Phil, turning to the rider beside him.
"Act as if they'd never seen a circus parade before," answered the man. "But wait till we get out in some of the way-back towns in the West."
"I thought we were West now?"
"Not until we get the other side of the Mississippi, we won't be. They don't call Indiana West. We'll be getting there pretty soon, too. According to the route card, we are going to make some pretty long jumps from this on."
"We do not go to Chicago, do we?"
"No. Show's not quite big enough for that town. We go south of it, playing some stands in Illinois, then striking straight west. Hello, what's the row up ahead there?"
"What row, I didn't see anything."
"Something is going on up there. See! The line is breaking!"
The part of the parade in which Phil was located was well up toward the elephants, the animals at that moment having turned a corner, moving at right angles to Phil's course.
"It's the elephants!" cried the lad aghast.
"They have broken the line!"
All was confusion at the point on which the two showmen had focused their eyes.
"It's a stampede, I do believe!" exclaimed Phil. "I wonder where Mr. Kennedy is? I don't see him anywhere."
"There! They're coming this way."
"What, the elephants? Yes, that's so. Oh, I'm afraid somebody will be killed."
"If there hasn't already been," growled Phil's companion. "I'm going to get out of this while I have the chance. I've seen elephants on the rampage before." Saying which, the showman turned his horse and rode out of the line. His example was followed by many of the others.
People were screaming and rushing here and there, horses neighing, and the animals in the closed cages roaring in a most terrifying way.
Phil pulled his horse up short, undecided what to do. He had never seen a stampede before, but desperate as the situation seemed, he felt no fear.
The elephants, with lowered heads, were charging straight ahead. Now Phil saw that which seemed to send his heart right up into his throat.
Little Dimples had been riding in a gayly bedecked two-wheeled cart, drawn by a prancing white horse. Dressed in white from head to foot, she looked the dainty creature that she was.
Dimples, seeing what had happened, had wheeled her horse quickly out of line, intending to turn about and drive back along the line. It would be a race between the white horse and the elephants, but she felt sure she would be able to make it and turn down a side street before the stampeding herd reached her.
She might have done so, had it not been for one unforeseen incident. As she dashed along a rider, losing his presence of mind, if indeed, he had had any to lose, drove his horse directly in front of her. The result was a quick collision, two struggling horses lying kicking in the dust of the street, and a white-robed figure lying stretched out perilously near the flying hoofs.
The force of the collision had thrown Little Dimples headlong from her seat in the two wheeled cart, and there she lay, half-dazed with the herd of elephants thundering down upon her.
Phil took in her peril in one swift glance.
"She'll be killed! She'll be killed!" he cried, all the color suddenly leaving his face.
All at once he drove the rowels of his spurs against the sides of his mount. The animal sprang away straight toward the oncoming herd, but Phil had to fight every inch of the way to keep the horse from turning about and rushing back, away from the peril that lay before it.
The lad feared he would not be able to reach Dimples in time, but with frequent prods of spur and crop, uttering little encouraging shouts to the frightened horse, he dashed on, dodging fleeing showmen and runaway horses at almost every jump.
He forged up beside the girl at a terrific pace. But, now that he was there, the lad did not dare dismount, knowing that were he to do so, his horse would quickly break away from him, thus leaving them both to be crushed under the feet of the ponderous beasts.
It was plain to Phil that Jupiter must have gone suddenly bad, and, starting on a stampede, had carried the other bulls with him. And he even found himself wondering if anything had happened to his friend Kennedy, the elephant trainer. If Kennedy were on his feet he would be after them.
As it was, no one appeared to be chasing the runaway beasts.
Phil leaned far from the saddle grasping the woman by her flimsy clothing. It gave way just as he had begun to lift her, intending to pull her up beside him on the horse's back.
Twice he essayed the feat, each time with the same result. The bay was dancing further away each time, and the elephants were getting nearer. The uproar was deafening, which, with the trumpetings of the frightened elephants, made the stoutest hearts quail.
With a grim determination Forrest once more charged alongside of Dimples. As he did so she opened her eyes, though Phil did not observe this, else he might have acted differently.
As it was he threw himself from the bay while that animal was still on the jump. Keeping tight hold of the saddle pommel, the reins bunched in the hand that grasped it, Phil dropped down. When he came up, Dimples was on his arm.
He then saw that she was herself again.
"Can you hold on if I get you up?"
"Yes. You're a good boy."
Phil made no reply, but, with a supreme effort, threw the girl into the saddle. To do so he was obliged to let go the pommel and the reins for one brief instant. But he succeeded in throwing Dimples up to the saddle safely, where she quickly secured herself.
The bay was off like a shot, leaving Phil directly in front of the oncoming elephants.
"Run! I'll come back and get you," shouted Dimples over her shoulder.
"You can't. The reins are over the bay's head," he answered.
She was powerless to help. Dimples realized this at once. She was in no danger herself. She was such a skillful rider that it made little difference whether the reins were in her hand or on the ground, so far as maintaining her seat was concerned. With Phil, however, it was different.
"I guess I might as well stand still and take it," muttered the lad grimly.
He turned, facing the mad herd, a slender but heroic figure in that moment of peril.