Chapter XV. Outwitting the Pursuers
 

"Oh, if only I had a faster horse!" Forrest breathed. "I am afraid this old ring horse never will be able to get away from them."

Phil was urging the animal with voice and whip, but it was difficult to get the animal into a faster pace than his regular ring gait--the gait that he had been following for many years. This was scarcely faster than a man could trot.

Phil espied a pole wagon partially loaded, just ahead of him. At sight of it a sudden idea occurred to him. He acted at once.

Riding close to the wagon the lad slipped off and, giving the horse a sharp blow with the whip over one hip, Phil ducked under the wagon.

The ring horse galloped on a few rods and then stopped.

"I guess it's time I was getting away from here," decided the lad. "I'll be caught sure, if I do not hurry."

The lot was in an uproar. Men were running this way and that, and above the din could be heard the voice of the owner, roaring out orders.

Phil, being still in his pink tights, was a conspicuous figure. He knew that if a ray from a torch should chance to rest on him for a moment, they would discover him at once.

Running in a crouching position the boy made for the further side of the lot, where he hoped to get far enough away so that he could straighten up and make better time.

He did finally reach a safe place, and climbing a board fence, dropped on the other side and lay down to await developments. These were not long coming. All at once he discovered half a dozen men running directly toward him. Whether they had caught sight of him or not, he did not know. He did know that it was time to leave.

Phil left. Springing up, he fairly flew over the ground.

The men caught sight of him, as he realized when one of them uttered a yell. But Phil was a faster runner than any of them and in a few minutes, darting this way and that, and finally doubling on his tracks in a wide circle, he succeeded in outwitting them.

"The question is, what am I going to do now?" he asked himself, pausing abruptly. "In this rig I don't dare go into the town, or they will nab me on some trumped up charge and then I shall be worse off. Now I am free, even if I haven't got much on me in the way of clothing. I might as well not have anything so far as keeping warm is concerned." Phil shivered, for the night was cool and a heavy dew falling.

"I know what I'll do. I'll slip back to the lot and perhaps I shall be able to find something to put on. There's usually plenty of coats lying about on the wagons."

Now that the uproar had ceased Phil crept back toward the circus lot, lying down in the grass whenever he heard a sound near him and peering into the darkness.

At the risk of being discovered he crawled up to a wagon, climbed aboard and searched it diligently for clothes. He found none. Keenly disappointed, Phil made his way to the pole wagon under which he had taken refuge in his first effort at getting away. This, he found, was loaded ready to be taken to the train. At any moment, now, a team might be hitched to it.

"I guess I'll have to hurry!" muttered the lad. Phil's knowledge of circus affairs stood him in good stead now.

To the boy's delight, he found a bundle in which were a coat and a pair of overalls, rolled up and stowed under the driver's seat.

"Fine!" chuckled Phil. "It's a good deal like stealing, but I have to have them and I'll send the fellow a new pair if ever I get back to my own show. He'll be mad in the morning when he goes to get his clothes. I wish I had a hat and pair of shoes. But I guess I ought to be thankful for what I already have."

Saying this, Phil dropped from the wagon and quickly got into the clothes. They were old and dirty, but he did not mind that. They were clothes and they would cover his conspicuous ring costume, which was the most important thing for him to consider at the present moment.

"Now, I'll buy a ticket and get started for Corinto," he decided.

Phil reached under the neck of his shirt for his little bag of money.

"Oh, pshaw! I've lost it. Let me see, did I put my money in there before I entered the ring?"

For the life of him he was unable to say whether he had done so, or whether his money was still in his clothes back in the dressing tent.

"Well, I shall never see that money again, I am thinking. If I left it in my clothes it is gone by this time, and if I didn't it is gone anyway," was his logical conclusion.

The first thing to be done now was to get off the lot, which Phil did as quickly as possible. Clad in the soiled, well-worn garments with his coat buttoned tightly about his neck, the lad attracted no special attention. Getting well away from the circus grounds, he halted to consider what his next move should he.

"I guess I'll go over to the station and get some information," he decided. This he did, but the lights looked so bright in the station that he did not consider it prudent to enter. So Phil waited about until he saw one of the railroad switchmen coming in from the yards.

"How far is it to Corinto, please?" he asked.

"Fifty miles."

"Whew! So far as that?"

"Yes. Belong to the show?"

"Well, not exactly. I'm with them, but I can't say that I belong to the outfit, and I'm glad I don't."

"Should think you would be glad," growled the switchman, who evidently held the Sully combination in no high regard.

"Which way do the trains go for Corinto?"

"That way. That track runs right through without a break. It's a single track road all the way."

"Thank you."

"Going to hit the ties?"

"I'm likely to before I get there," laughed Phil, again thanking his informant and starting away, for he saw some people approaching whom he thought belonged to the show.

Leaning up against a freight car the lad considered what he had better do. At first he was inclined to try to steal a ride on the circus train, but after thinking the matter over he concluded that this would be dangerous.

"If they catch me again they surely will handle me pretty roughly, and they may throw me off the train. A few knocks more or less might not make much difference, but I am not anxious to be thrown from a rapidly moving circus train. I guess I'll walk. Let me see, tomorrow will be Sunday, and it is fifty miles to Corinto. I should be able to make the town by tomorrow night sometime. Yes, I'll try it."

Having formed this resolve, Phil started manfully off for his long walk to Corinto. He did not stop to consider that he would be hungry before he got there.

He left the yards, for these were now full of employees busily engaged in loading the cars. Off near the outskirts of the town he turned back to the tracks.

For two hours he plodded along cheerfully, but by this time the rough traveling over the ties so hurt his feet, clad as they were in light slippers, that he could scarcely walk. Phil took off the slippers and trotted about in the damp grass at the side of the railroad track, until getting some relief, then started on again.

An hour later the first of the circus trains thundered by him. He could see the dim lights in the sleepers, and now and then he made out the figure of a man stretched out under a cage on a flat car.

"Anyway, I would rather be walking than locked up in that narrow linen closet," decided the Circus Boy philosophically, once more taking up his weary journey.

At sunrise Phil found that he was too tired to go much further without taking a rest, so, as soon as he found a wooded place, he climbed a fence and lay down in the shade of the trees, where he quickly went to sleep.

The afternoon was well along when finally he awakened, sore and stiff in every joint.

"If I should try to ride a bareback horse now I should fall off for sure," he moaned, rubbing his lame spots vigorously. "My, but I am hungry! I wonder how far I am from Corinto?"

A mile post a little further along told him that he had covered just twenty miles of his journey. He still had thirty miles to go--a long distance for one in his condition.

All during the rest of the day Phil was obliged to take frequent rests. Whenever he came to a stream he would halt and thrusting his feet into the cooling water, keep them there for some time. This helped him considerably, for his feet were swollen and feverish. The sun beating down on his head made him dizzy and faint, which was made the more disturbing because of his empty stomach.

He managed, just before sunset, to get a sandwich at a farmhouse, though he was looked upon with suspicion by the housewife who gave him the food. Phil offered to do something to pay for the slender meal, but the woman refused and bade him be on his way.

"I don't blame her. I must be a tough looking customer," grinned the boy, again climbing the fence and starting along the track. He fought shy of villages during daylight, fearing that he might be arrested for vagrancy and locked up. That would defeat his plans.

"I simply must get to Corinto and warn Mr. Sparling," he gritted. "He doesn't know the plans these people have to harm him. If it were not for that I wouldn't try to go any further today. I could get somebody to help me out for a day or so, until I could write to Mr. Sparling."

Now and then he met a tramp or two, but none that he thought looked any more disreputable than he himself did. He passed the time of day pleasantly, with such, and continued on his way.

Late in the evening he once more lay down for a rest. But Phil did not permit himself to sleep long. He feared he should not be able to wake up until morning if he did, and then he never would reach the show town in time to warn Mr. Sparling of the impending danger.

At daylight he was still ten miles from his destination.

"I must make it. I shall make it!" he breathed, starting on a run, having found a path at the side of the track.

However, he could not keep this up for long, and was soon obliged to settle back into his former slow pace.

At last Phil came in sight of the church spires of a town.

"I believe that is Corinto," he said, shading his eyes and peering off at the distant town. "At any rate I can't be far from it now."

The knowledge was almost as good as a meal. Its effect on Phil Forrest was magical. He forgot all about his tender feet and empty stomach as he swung into a good strong pace.

All at once he halted and listened. The blare of the big horns of a circus band reached his ears.

"The parade has started. I must hurry now. The Sully wretches may do something to the parade," Phil cried, starting away on a run. Nor did he slacken his pace until he had gotten well into the town. Now he could hear two bands playing, and knew that the rival parades were under way.

"Where is the circus lot--where is the parade," he asked a man as he dashed by.

The man pointed off to the right and Phil took the next corner with a rush. As he swung into that street he saw the banners of the Sparling show fluttering in the breeze as the parade moved majestically toward him. Taking to the street, for the sidewalks were crowded, Phil ran with all speed. Mr. Sparling, in his carriage at the head, saw him coming. At first he did not recognize the lad; then all at once he discovered who the boy was.

Phil dashed up to the carriage. Mr. Sparling reached out a hand and pulled him in.

"Phil!" he cried.

"Quick, get the tents guarded! Sully's gang are going to cut the guy ropes. Look out for the parade too. I suspect they will try to break it up!"