Chapter XXIV. Conclusion
 

"There's somebody climbing over the train," called one of the searchers to the train manager.

All hands turned, gazing off toward Phil. He swung his hands toward them, whereat they recognized the lad and went on about their work.

"Wonder they saw even me!" grumbled the lad, moving slowly along. It seemed almost impossible that one could hide on a train like that. Here and there men were sleeping under the wagons, and Phil made it his business to get a look into the face of each of them. Not a man did he find who bore the slightest resemblance to Red Larry or Bad Eye.

"It doesn't look very promising, I must say," he muttered, jumping lightly from one flat car to another.

Phil had searched faithfully until finally he reached a "flat" just behind that on which stood the great gilded band wagon. Now, under its covering of heavy canvas, none of its gaudy trimmings were to be seen.

Phil sat down on the low projection at the side of the flat car, eyeing the band wagon suspiciously.

Somehow he could not rid himself of the impression that that wagon would bear scrutiny.

"I'll bet they never looked into it. Last year when we were a road show, I remember how the men used to sleep in there and how Teddy got thrown out when he walked on somebody's face," and Phil laughed softly at the memory. "I'm going to climb up there."

To do this was not an easy matter, for the band wagon seemed to loom above him like a tent. The canvas stretched over it, extending clear down to the wheels, to which it was secured by ropes. The only way the Circus Boy could get up into the wagon seemed to be to crawl under the canvas at the bottom and gradually to work his way up.

"I'm going to try it," he decided all at once. "Of course they didn't look into it. Maybe they are afraid they will find someone. Well, here goes! If I fall off that will be the last of me, but I am not going to fall. I ought to be able to climb by this time if I'm ever going to."

Phil got up promptly, glanced toward the long train that was winding its way up the steep mountain, then stepped across the intervening space between the two cars. He wasted no time, but immediately lifted the canvas and peered along the side of the wagon.

He discovered that he would have to go to the forward end of it in order to reach the top, because the steps were at that end. There the canvas was drawn tighter, so the lad untied one of the ropes, leaving one corner of the covering flapping in the breeze.

Cautiously and quietly he began climbing up, the wagon swaying dizzily with the motion of the train, making it more and more difficult to cling to it as he got nearer the top. The air was close, and soon after the boy began going up, the sun beat down on the canvas cover suffocatingly.

Now he had reached the top. High seats intervened between him and the other end, so that he could not see far ahead of him. Phil dropped down into the wagon and began creeping toward the rear.

He stumbled over some properties that had been stowed in the wagon, making a great clatter. Instantly there was a commotion in the other end of the car.

Phil scrambled up quickly and crawled over the high seat ahead of him. As he did so he uttered an exclamation. The red head of Red Larry could be seen, his beady eyes peering over the back of a seat.

"I've got you this time, Red!" exulted Phil, clambering over the seat in such a hurry that he fell in a heap on the other side of it.

The lad seemed to have no sense that he was placing himself in grave peril. He had no fear in his makeup, and his every nerve was centered on capturing the desperate, revengeful man who had not only assaulted Phil, but who had caused so much damage to the Sparling Shows.

"Don't you dare come near me, you young cub!" threatened Red, as with rage-distorted face he suddenly whipped out a knife.

Phil picked up a club and started toward him. The club happened to be a tent stake. Red observed the action, and crouching low waited as the lad approached him.

"I'm going to get you, Red! I'm not afraid of your knife. You can't touch me with it because before you get the chance I'm going to slam you over the head with this tent stake," grinned Phil Forrest.

Red snarled and showed his teeth.

"Oh, you needn't think you can get away. The men are hunting for you further up the train. They'll be along here in a minute, and then I reckon you'll be tied up and dumped into the lion cage, though I don't think even a lion would eat such a mean hound as you are."

Suddenly the man straightened up. Now, he held something in his hand besides the knife. It was a stake.

Red drew back his arm, hurling the heavy stick straight at his young adversary's head. Phil, observing the movement let drive his own tent stake, but having to throw so hurriedly, his aim was poor. Red Larry's aim, on the other hand was better. Phil dodged like a flash.

Had he not done so the stake would have struck him squarely in the face. As it was the missile grazed the side of his head, causing the lad to fall in a heap.

Red Larry hesitated only for a second, then leaping to the high rear seat of the wagon drew his knife along the canvas above him, opening a great slit in it. Through the opening thus made he peered cautiously. What he saw evidently convinced him of the truth of what Phil had just said. Up toward the head of the train the searchers were at work, and from what Red had heard he realized they were looking for him.

Red did not delay a second. He scrambled out through the canvas just as Phil pulled himself to his feet. The lad could see the fellow's legs dangling through the canvas.

Phil uttered a yell, hurling himself wildly over the high-backed seats in an effort to catch and hold the legs ere Red could get out. But Larry heard him coming, and quickly clambered down the back of the wagon to the deck of the flat car.

Phil once more grabbed up his own tent stake as he stumbled back through the wagon.

"I've got you!" yelled the boy as he pulled himself up through the opening, observing Red standing hesitatingly on the flat car with a frightened look in his eyes.

"Hi! Hi!" cried Phil, turning and gesticulating wildly at the men further up the train "I've got him! Hurry! I--"

Something sang by his head and dropped quivering in the canvas beyond him. It was the discharged tentman's knife which he had aimed at Phil, his aim having been destroyed by a lurch of the car, thus saving the Circus Boy's life.

"Want to kill me, do you? I've got you now! The men are coming. Don't you dare move or I'll drop this stake on you. I can't miss you this time."

Red after one hesitating glance, faced the front and leaped from the train down the long, sloping cinder-covered bank.

Phil let drive his tent stake. It caught Red on the shoulder, bowling the rascal over like a nine pin.

Phil Forrest uttered a yell of exultation, suddenly dropping to the floor of the car at the imminent risk of his life.

The men were now piling over the cars in his direction. He did not know whether they had seen Red jump or not. Phil did not waste any time in idle speculation.

"Come on!" he shouted, springing to the edge of the car, keeping himself from falling by grasping a wheel of the wagon.

Then Phil Forrest did a daring thing. Crouching low, choosing his time unerringly, he jumped from the train. Fortunately for him, the cars were running slowly up the heavy grade. But, slowly as they were going, the lad turned several rapid handsprings after having struck the ground, coming to a stop halfway down the slope, somewhat dazed from the shock and sudden whirling about.

But he was on his feet in a twinkling, and running toward the spot where Red was painfully picking himself up. Phil slipped and stumbled as the cinders gave way beneath his feet but ran on with a grim determination not to let his man escape him this time.

Both were now weaponless, so far as the lad knew. Red had possessed a revolver, but in his sudden jump from the train he had lost it, and there was now no time to look for it.

When he saw Phil pursuing, Larry started on a run, but the lad, much more fleet of foot, rapidly overhauled him, despite the handicap that Phil had at the start.

"You may as well give up! I'm going to catch you, if I have to run all the way across the Sierra Nevada Range," shouted Phil.

Red halted suddenly. Phil thought he was going to wait for him, but the lad did not slacken his speed a bit because of that.

All at once, as Phil drew near, Red picked up a stone and hurled it at his pursuer. Phil saw it coming in time to "duck," and it was well he did so, for Larry's aim was good.

"He must have been a baseball pitcher at sometime," grinned the lad. However, the fellow continued to throw until Phil saw that he must do something to defend himself else he would surely be hit and perhaps put out of the race altogether.

"So that's your game is it?" shouted the boy. "I can play ball, too."

With that the lad coolly began hunting about for stones, of which he gathered up quite an armful, choosing those that were most nearly round. In the meantime Red had kept up his bombardment, Phil dodging the stones skillfully. Then he too, began to throw, gradually drawing nearer and nearer to his adversary.

A small stone caught Phil a glancing blow on the left shoulder causing him to drop his ammunition. He could scarcely repress a cry, for the blow hurt him terribly. He wondered if his shoulder had not been broken, but fortunately he had received only a severe bruise.

It served, however, to stir Phil to renewed activity. Grabbing all the stones he could gather in one sweep of his hands he started on a run toward Red Larry, letting one drive with every jump. They showered around the desperate man like a rain of hail.

All at once Larry uttered a yell of pain and anger. One of Phil's missiles had landed in the pit of the fellow's stomach. Larry doubled up like a jacknife, and, dropping suddenly, rolled rapidly toward the foot of the slope.

Phil, still clinging to his weapons, ran as fast as his slender legs would carry him in pursuit of his man.

"I hit him! I hit him!" he yelled.

In a moment he came up with Larry, but the lad prudently stopped a rod from his adversary to make sure that the fellow was not playing him a trick. One glance sufficed to tell Phil that the man had really been hit.

"I hope he isn't much hurt, but I'm not going to take any chances."

Phil jerked off his coat and began ripping it up, regardless of the fact that it was his best. With the strands thus secured, he approached his prisoner cautiously, then suddenly jumped on him.

Larry was not able to give more than momentary resistance. Inside of three minutes Phil had the fellow's hands tied securely behind his back. Gathering the stones about him in case of need, the lad sat down and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

"I guess that about puts an end to your tricks, my fine fellow," announced Phil.

The train had been finally stopped, and a force of men now dashed back along the tracks. They had been in time to view the last half of the battle of the stones, and when Red went down they set up a loud triumphant yell. In a few minutes they had reached the scene and had taken the prisoner in tow.

The train was at the top of the grade waiting, so the show people and their captive were obliged to walk fully a mile to reach it. Mr. Sparling, attracted by the uproar, had rushed from his private car. He now met the party a little way down the tracks.

"I got him!" cried Phil, when he saw the owner approaching.

Red was carried to the next stop on the circus train. He was not much hurt and had fully recovered before noon of that day, much to Phil's relief, for he felt very badly that he had been obliged to resort to stone throwing. The lad would have preferred to use his fists. But, as the result of the capture, Red Larry was put where he would bother circus trains no more for some years. He was sentenced to a long term in prison.

The Great Sparling Shows moved on, playing in a few more towns, and, one beautiful morning drew up at the city by the Golden Gate. There the circus remained for a week, when the show closed for the season. But the lads were a long way from home, toward which they now looked longingly.

Mr. Sparling invited them to return with him in his private car which was to cross the continent attached to regular passenger trains, the show proper following at its leisure.

This invitation both boys accepted gladly, and during the trip there were many long discussions between the three as to the future of the Circus Boys. They had worked hard during the season and had won new laurels on the tanbark. But they had not yet reached the pinnacle of their success in the canvas-covered arena, though each had saved, as the result of his season's work, nearly twelve hundred dollars.

Phil and Teddy will be heard from again in a following volume entitled: "The Circus Boys in Dixie Land; Or, Winning the Plaudits of the Sunny South." Here they are destined to meet with some of the pleasantest as well as the most thrilling experiences of their circus career, in which both have many opportunities to show their grit and resourcefulness.