Part 4 out of 4
"You'd make the hit of your life if you did," laughed Miaco.
"Wonder the boss don't have you do it."
"Would if he knew about it," spoke up a performer. "The really
funny things don't get into the ring in a circus, unless by
In the meantime the ringmaster was making his loud-voiced
announcement out under the big top.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he roared, after a loud crack of his
long-lashed whip, to attract the attention of the people to him,
"we are now about to introduce the wonderful performing mule
Jumbo, the only broncho-bucking, bobtailed mule in the world.
You will notice that he performs without a rider, without human
interference. Please do not speak to Jumbo while he is going
through his act. Ladies and gentlemen, Jumbo, the great educated
mule, will now make his appearance unaided by human hand."
The audience applauded the announcement.
At that moment the band struck up the tune by which Jumbo always
made his entrance. At the first blare of the brass a fun-loving
clown jabbed Jumbo with a pin. The mule did the rest.
"Here! Here! Get off that mule!" shouted the animal's trainer.
"He's going on!"
"Let him go!" roared clowns and other performers.
Jumbo had never made as quick a start in all his circus career as
he did that day. He fairly leaped into the air, though only one
man understood the reason for the mule's sudden move.
With a bray that was heard all over the big top Jumbo burst
through the red curtains like a tornado. There he paused for one
brief instant, as if uncertain whether to do a certain thing or
Recalling the ringmaster's words, the spectators at first were at
a loss to account for the odd-looking figure that was clinging to
the back of the educated mule.
Suddenly they broke out into roars of laughter, while the
performers peering through the red curtain fairly howled with
Teddy was hanging to the cinch girth uncertain what to do. The
ringmaster, amazed beyond words, stood gaping at the spectacle,
for the moment powerless to use his usually ready tongue.
Jumbo launched into the arena.
"Get off!" thundered the ringmaster, suddenly recovering himself.
"I can't!" howled Teddy, though from present indications it
appeared as if he would dismount without any effort on his own
Jumbo's heels flew into the air, then began a series of lunges,
bucking and terrific kicking such as none among the vast audience
ever had witnessed in or out of a show ring.
One instant Teddy would be standing on his head on the mule's
back, the next lying on his back with feet toward the animal's
head. Next he would be dragged along the ground, to be plumped
back again at the next bounce.
No feat seemed too difficult for Jumbo to attempt that day.
"Stop him! Stop him!" howled the ringmaster.
Ring attendants rushed forward to obey his command, but they
might as well have tried to stop a tornado. Jumbo eluded them
without the least trouble, but their efforts to keep out of range
of his flying hoofs were not so easy. Some of them had narrow
escapes from being seriously injured.
Mr. Sparling, attracted by the roars of laughter of the audience
and the unusual disturbance, had hurried into the big top, where
he stood, at first in amazement, then with a broad grin
overspreading his countenance.
Now Jumbo began a race with himself about the arena, following
the concourse, now and then sending his heels into the air right
over the heads of the spectators of the lower row of seats,
sending them scrambling under the seats for protection.
A clown ran out with half a dozen paper covered hoops, which he
was holding in readiness for the next bareback act.
He flaunted them in the face of the runaway mule.
Jumbo ducked his head under them and Teddy Tucker's head went
through the paper with a crash, the mule's heels at that instant
being high in the air.
With the rings hung about his neck, Teddy cut a more ridiculous
figure than ever. The audience went wild with excitement.
Now the ringmaster, angered beyond endurance, began reaching for
Teddy with the long lash of his whip. The business end of the
lash once brushed the boy's cheek.
It stung him.
"Ouch!" howled Teddy as he felt the lash.
"Stop that!" exploded Mr. Sparling, who, by this time, had gotten
into the ring to take a hand in the performance himself. He
grabbed the irate ringmaster by the collar, giving him a jerk
that that functionary did not forget in a hurry.
Jumbo, however, was no respecter of persons. He had taken a
short cut across the ring just as the owner had begun his
correction of the ringmaster. Jumbo shook out his heels again.
They caught the owner's sombrero and sent it spinning into the
Mr. Sparling, in his excitement, forgot all about the ringmaster.
Picking up a tent stake, he hurled it after the educated mule,
missing him by a full rod.
The audience by this time was in a tempest of excitement. At
first they thought it was all a part of the show. But they were
soon undeceived, which made their enjoyment and appreciation all
Jumbo took a final sprint about the arena, Teddy's legs and free
arm most of the time in the air. He had long since lost his
clown's cap, which Jumbo, espying, had kicked off into the
"You fool mule! You fool mule!" bellowed Mr. Sparling.
Jumbo suddenly decided that he would go back to the paddock.
With him, to decide was to act. Taking a fresh burst of speed,
he shot straight at the red curtains. To reach these he was
obliged to pass close to the bandstand, where the band was
playing as if the very existence of the show depended upon them.
Teddy's grip was relaxing. His arm was so benumbed that he could
not feel that he had any arm on that side at all.
His fingers slowly relaxed their grip on the cinch girth. In a
moment he had bounced back to the educated mule's rump. In
another instant he would be plumped to the hard ground with a
jolt that would shake him to his foundations.
But Jumbo had other plans--more spectacular plans--in mind. He
put them into execution at once. The moment he felt his burden
slipping over his back that active end grew busy again. Jumbo
humped himself, letting out a volley of kicks so lightning-like
in their swiftness that human eye could not follow.
Teddy had slipped half over the mule's rump when the volley
"Catch him! He'll be killed!" shouted someone.
All at once the figure of Teddy Tucker shot straight up into the
air, propelled there by the educated mule. The lad's body
described what somebody afterwards characterized as "graceful
somersault in the air," then began its downward flight.
He landed right in the midst of the band.
There was a yell of warning, a jingle and clatter of brass,
several chairs went down under the impact, the floor gave way and
half the band, with Teddy Tucker in the middle of the heap, sank
out of sight.
THE RETURN TO THE SAWDUST LIFE
"Is he dead?"
"No; you can't kill a thick-head like that," snarled the
The audience was still roaring.
With angry imprecations the members of the band who had fallen
through were untangling themselves as rapidly as possible. Teddy,
in the meantime, had dragged himself from beneath the heap and
slunk out from under the broken platform. He lost no time in
escaping to the paddock, but the bandmaster, espying him, started
after the lad, waving his baton threateningly.
No sooner had Teddy gained the seclusion of the dressing tent
than James Sparling burst in.
"Where's that boy? Where's that boy?"
"Here he is," grinned a performer, thrusting Teddy forward, much
against the lad's inclinations.
Mr. Sparling surveyed him with narrow eyes.
"You young rascal! Trying to break up my show, are you?"
"Can you do that again, do you think?"
"I--I don't know."
"That's the greatest Rube mule act that ever hit a sawdust ring.
I'll double your salary if you think you can get away with it
every performance," fairly shouted the owner.
"I--I'm willing if the mule is," stammered Teddy somewhat
As a result the lad left his job in the cook tent, never to
return to it. After many hard knocks and some heavy falls he
succeeded in so mastering the act that he was able to go through
with it without great risk of serious injury to himself. The
educated mule and the boy became a feature of the Sparling
Combined Shows from that moment on, but after that Teddy took
good care not to round off his act by a high dive into the big
No one was more delighted at Teddy Tucker's sudden leap to fame
than was his companion, Phil Forrest. Phil and Dr. Irvine
returned to the show, one afternoon, about a week after the
accident. They had come on by train.
Phil, though somewhat pale after his setback, was clear-eyed, and
declared himself as fit as ever. He insisted upon going on with
his act at the evening performance, but Mr. Sparling told him to
wait until the day following. In the meantime Phil could get his
apparatus in working order.
"I'll look it over myself this time," announced the showman. "I
don't want any more such accidents happening in this show. Your
friend Teddy nearly put the whole outfit to the bad--he and the
That afternoon Phil had an opportunity to witness for himself the
exhibition of his companion and the "fool mule." He laughed
until his sides ached.
"O Teddy, you'll break your neck doing that stunt one of these
times," warned Phil, hastening back to the dressing tent after
Teddy and the mule had left the ring.
"Don't you think it's worth the risk?"
"For two dollars a day?"
"Is that what you are getting?"
"Yep. I'm a high-priced performer," insisted Teddy, snapping his
trousers pocket significantly. "I'd jump off the big top, twice
every day, for that figure."
"What are you going to do with all your money? Spend it?"
"I--rather thought I'd buy a bicycle."
Phil shook his head.
"You couldn't carry it, and, besides, nobody rides bicycles these
days. They ride in automobiles."
"Then I'll buy one of them."
"I'll tell you what you do, Teddy."
"Lend the money to you, eh?"
"No; I am earning plenty for myself. But every week, now, I
shall send all my money home to Mrs. Cahill. I wrote to her
about it while I was sick. She is going to put it in the bank
for me at Edmeston, with herself appointed as trustee. That's
necessary, you see, because I am not of age. Then no one can
take it away from me."
"You mean your Uncle Abner?" questioned Teddy.
"Yes. I don't know that he would want to; but I'm not taking any
chances. Now, why not send your money along at the same time?
Mrs. Cahill will deposit it in the same way, and at the end of
the season think what a lot of money you will have?"
"Yes, a regular fortune."
"What'll I do with all that money?"
"Do what I'm going to do--get an education."
"What, and leave the show business? No, siree!"
"I didn't mean that. You can go to school between seasons. I
don't intend to leave the show business, but I'm going to know
something besides that."
"Well, I guess it would be a good idea," reflected Teddy.
"Will you do it?"
"Yes; I'll do it," he nodded.
"Good for you! We'll own a show of our own, one of these days.
You mark me, Teddy," glowed Phil.
"Of our own?" marveled Teddy, his face wreathing in smiles. "Say,
wouldn't that be great?"
"I think so. Have you been practicing on the rings since I
"That's too bad. You and I will begin tomorrow. We ought to be
pretty expert on the flying rings in a few weeks, if I don't get
hurt again," added the boy, a shadow flitting across his face.
"Then, you'd better begin by taking some bends," suggested Mr.
Miaco, who, approaching, had overheard Phil's remark.
"Bends?" questioned Teddy
"What are they?" wondered Phil. "Oh, I know. I read about them
in the papers. It's an attack that fellows working in a tunnel
get when they're digging under a river. I don't want anything
"No, no, no," replied Mr. Miaco in a tone of disgust. "It's no
disease at all."
"What I mean by bends is exercises. You have seen the performers
do it--bend forward until their hands touch the ground, legs
stiff, then tipping as far backwards as possible. Those are
bending exercises, and the best things to do. The performers
limber up for their act that way. If you practice it slowly
several times a day you will be surprised to see what it will do
for you. I'd begin today were I in your place, Phil. You'll
find yourself a little stiff when you go on in your elephant act
"I'm not going on tonight--not until tomorrow. Mr. Sparling
doesn't wish me to."
"All right. All the better. Exercise! I wouldn't begin on the
rings today either. Just take your bends, get steady on your
feet and start in in a regular, systematic way tomorrow," advised
the head clown.
"Thank you, Mr. Miaco; I shall do so. I am much obliged to you.
You are very kind to us."
"Because I like you, and because you boys don't pretend to know
more about the circus business than men who have spent their
lives in it."
"I hope I shall never be like that," laughed Phil. "I know I
shall always be willing to learn."
"And there always is something to learn in the circus life. None
of us knows it all. There are new things coming up every day,"
added the clown.
Phil left the dressing tent to go around to the menagerie tent
for a talk with Mr. Kennedy and Emperor. Entering the tent the
lad gave his whistle signal, whereat Emperor trumpeted loudly.
The big elephant greeted his young friend with every evidence of
joy and excitement. Phil, of course, had brought Emperor a bag
of peanuts as well as several lumps of sugar, and it was with
difficulty that the lad got away from him after finishing his
chat with Mr. Kennedy.
Phil was making a round of calls that afternoon, so he decided
that he would next visit Mr. Sparling, having seen him only a
moment, and that while others were around.
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Yes; what do you want?"
"To thank you for your kindness."
"Didn't I tell you never to thank me for anything?" thundered the
"I beg your pardon, sir; I'll take it all back," twinkled Phil.
"Oh, you will, will you, young scapegrace? What did you come
here for anyway? Not to palaver about how thankful you are that
you got knocked out, stayed a week in bed and had your salary
paid all the time. I'll bet you didn't come for that. Want a
raise of salary already?"
"Hardly. If you'll give me a chance, I'll tell you, Mr.
"Go on. Say it quick."
"I have been thinking about the fall I got, since I've been laid
"Nothing else to think about, eh?"
"And the more I think about it, the more it bothers me."
"Does, eh?" grunted Mr. Sparling, busying himself with his
"Yes, sir. I don't suppose it would be possible for me to get
the broken wire now, would it? No doubt it was thrown away."
The showman peered up at the boy suspiciously.
"What do you want of it?"
"I thought I should like to examine it."
"To see what had been done to it."
"Oh, you do, eh?"
"What do you think happened to that wire? It broke, didn't it?"
"Yes, I guess there is no doubt about it but somebody helped to
"Young man, you are too confoundedly smart. Mark my words,
you'll die young. Yes; I have the wire. Here it is. Look at
it. You are right; something happened to it, and I've been
tearing myself to pieces, ever since, to find out who it was.
I've got all my amateur sleuths working on the case, this very
minute, to find out who the scoundrel is who cut the wire. Have
you any idea about it? But there's no use in asking you. I--"
"I've got this," answered Phil, tossing a small file on the table
in front of Mr. Sparling.
"What, what, what? A file?"
"Yes, will you see if it fits the notch in the wire there?"
The showman did so, holding file and wire up to the light for a
better examination of them.
"There can be no doubt of it," answered the amazed showman,
fixing wondering eyes on the young man. "Where did you get it?"
"Picked it up."
"In the dressing tent."
"Pooh! Then it doesn't mean anything," grunted Mr. Sparling.
"If you knew where I picked it up you might think differently."
"Then where _did_ you get it?"
"Found it in my own trunk."
"In your trunk?"
"How did it get there?"
"I had left my trunk open after placing some things in it. When
I went out to watch Teddy's mule act I was in such a hurry that I
forgot all about the trunk. When I came back, there it lay, near
"Somebody put it there!" exploded the showman.
"But who? Find that out for me--let me know who the man is and
you'll hear an explosion in this outfit that will raise the big
top right off the ground."
"Leave it to me, Mr. Sparling, I'll find him."
The owner laughed harshly.
"I think I know who the man is at this very minute," was Phil
Forrest's startling announcement, uttered in a quiet, even tone.
Mr. Sparling leaped from his chair so suddenly that he overturned
the table in front of him, sending his papers flying all over the
AN ELEPHANT IN JAIL
"Who is he?"
"I would not care to answer that question just now, Mr.
Sparling," answered Phil calmly. "It would not be right--that
is, not until I am sure about it."
"Tell me, or get out."
"Remember, Mr. Sparling, it is a serious accusation you ask me to
make against a man on proof that you would say was not worth
anything. It may take some time, but before I get through I'm
going either to fasten the act on someone--on a particular
one--or else prove that I am wholly mistaken."
The showman stormed, but Phil was obdurate. He refused to give
the slightest intimation as to whom he suspected.
"Am I to go, Mr. Sparling?" he asked after the interview had come
to an end.
"No! I expect you'll own this show yet."
He watched Phil walking away from the tent. There was a scowl on
the face of James Sparling.
"If I thought that young rascal really thought he knew, I'd take
him across my knee and spank him until he told me. No; he's more
of a man than any two in the whole outfit. I'd rather lose a
horse than have anything happen to that lad."
Days followed each other in quick succession. The show had by
this time swung around into Pennsylvania, and was playing a
circuit of small mining towns with exceptionally good attendance.
The owner of the show was in high good humor over the profits the
show was earning. The acts of Phil Forrest and Teddy Tucker had
proved to be among the best drawing cards in the circus
performance proper. So important did the owner consider them
that the names of the two circus boys were now prominently
displayed in the advertisements, as well as on the billboards.
During all this time, Phil and Teddy had worked faithfully on the
rings under the instruction of Mr. Miaco. On the side they were
taking lessons in tumbling as well. For this purpose what is
known as a "mechanic" was used to assist them in their schooling.
This consisted of a belt placed about the beginner's waist. >From
it a rope led up over a pulley, the other end of the rope being
securely held by someone.
When all was ready the pupil would take a running start, jump
into the air and try to turn. At the same time, the man holding
the free end of the rope would give it a hard pull, thus jerking
the boy free of the ground and preventing his falling on his
After a few days of this, both boys had progressed so far that
they were able to work on a mat, made up of several layers of
thick carpet, without the aid of the "mechanic." Of course their
act lacked finish. Their movements were more or less clumsy, but
they had mastered the principle of the somersault in remarkably
Mr. Miaco said that in two more weeks they ought to be able to
join the performers in their general tumbling act, which was one
of the features of the show.
There was not an hour of the day that found the two boys idle,
now, and all this activity was viewed by Mr. Sparling with an
But one day there came an interruption that turned the thoughts
of the big show family in another direction.
An accident had happened at the morning parade that promised
trouble for the show. A countryman, who had heard that the hide
of an elephant could not be punctured, was struck by the happy
thought of finding out for himself the truth or falsity of this
theory. He had had an argument with some of his friends, he
taking the ground that an elephant's hide was no different from
the hide of any other animal. And he promised to show them that
it was not.
All he needed was the opportunity. With his friends he had
followed along with the parade, keeping abreast of the elephants,
until finally the parade was halted by the crossing gates at a
Now was the man's chance to prove the theory false. The crowd
closed in on the parade to get a closer view of the people, and
this acted as a cover for the man's experiment.
Taking his penknife out he placed the point of it against the
side of Emperor, as it chanced.
"Now watch me," he said, at the same time giving the knife a
quick shove, intending merely to see if he could prick through
the skin. His experiment succeeded beyond the fellow's fondest
expectations. The point of the knife had gone clear through
Emperor, ordinarily possessed of a keen sense of humor, coupled
with great good nature, in this instance failed to see the humor
of the proceeding. In fact, he objected promptly and in a most
Like a flash, his trunk curled back. It caught the bold
experimenter about the waist, and the next instant the fellow was
dangling in the air over Emperor's head, yelling lustily for
help. The elephant had been watching the man, apparently
suspecting something, and therefore was ready for him.
"Put him down!" thundered Kennedy.
The elephant obeyed, but in a manner not intended by the trainer
when he gave the command.
With a quick sweep of his trunk, Emperor hurled his tormentor
from him. The man's body did not stop until it struck a large
plate glass window in a store front, disappearing into the store
amid a terrific crashing of glass and breaking of woodwork, the
man having carried most of the window with him in his sudden
entry into the store.
This was a feature of the parade that had not been advertised on
The procession moved on a moment later, with old Emperor swinging
along as meekly as if he had not just stirred up a heap of
trouble for himself and his owner.
The man, it was soon learned, had been badly hurt.
But Mr. Sparling was on the ground almost at once, making an
investigation. He quickly learned what had caused the trouble.
And then he was mad all through. He raved up and down the line
threatening to get out a warrant for the arrest of the man who
had stuck a knife into his elephant.
Later in the afternoon matters took a different turn. A lawyer
called on the showman, demanding the payment of ten thousand
dollars damages for the injuries sustained by his client, and
which, he said, would in all probability make the man a cripple
If the showman had been angry before, he was in a towering rage
"Get off this lot!" he roared. "If you show your face here again
I'll set the canvasmen on you! Then you won't be able to leave
The lawyer stood not upon the order of his going, and they saw no
more of him. They had about concluded that they had heard the
last of his demands, until just before the evening performance,
when, as the cook tent was being struck, half a dozen deputy
sheriffs suddenly made their appearance.
They held papers permitting them to levy on anything they could
lay their hands upon and hold it until full damages had been
fixed by the courts.
There was no trifling with the law, at least not then, and Mr.
Sparling was shrewd enough to see that. However, he stormed and
threatened, but all to no purpose.
The intelligent deputies reasoned that Emperor, having been the
cause of all the trouble, would be the proper chattel to levy
upon. So they levied on him.
The next thing was to get Emperor to jail. He would not budge an
inch when the officers sought to take him. Then a happy thought
struck them. They ordered the trainer to lead the elephant and
follow them under pain of instant arrest if he refused.
There was nothing for it but to obey. Protesting loudly, Kennedy
started for the village with his great, hulking charge.
Phil Forrest was as disconsolate as his employer was enraged. The
boy's act was spoiled, perhaps indefinitely, which might mean the
loss of part of his salary.
"That's country justice," growled the owner. "But I'll telegraph
my lawyer in the city and have him here by morning. Maybe it
won't be such a bad speculation tomorrow, for I'll make this town
go broke before it has fully settled the damages I'll get out of
it. Don't be down in the mouth, Forrest. You'll have your
elephant back, and before many days at that. Go watch the show
and forget your troubles."
It will be observed that, under his apparently excitable
exterior, Mr. James Sparling was a philosopher.
"Emperor's in jail," mourned Phil.
The moment Mr. Kennedy returned, sullen and uncommunicative, Phil
sought him out. He found the trainer in Mr. Sparling's tent.
"Where did they take him?" demanded Phil, breaking in on their
"To jail," answered Kennedy grimly. "First time I ever heard of
such a thing as an elephant's going to jail."
"That's the idea. We'll use that for an advertisement," cried
the ever alert showman, slapping his thighs. "Emperor, the
performing elephant of the Great Sparling Combined Shows, jailed
for assault. Fine, fine! How'll that look in the newspapers?
Why, men, it will fill the tent when we get to the next stand,
whether we have the elephant or not."
"No; you've got to have the elephant," contended Kennedy.
"Well, perhaps that's so. But I'll wire our man ahead, just the
same, and let him use the fact in his press notices."
"But how could they get him in the jail?" questioned Phil.
"Jail? You see, they couldn't. They wanted to, but the jail
wouldn't fit, or the elephant wouldn't fit the jail, either way
you please. When they discovered that they didn't know what to
do with him. Somebody suggested that they might lock him up in
the blacksmith shop."
"The blacksmith shop?" exploded the owner.
"I hope they don't try to fit him with shoes," he added, with a
"Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if they did. We'd have our
elephant right quick. Yes, they tried the blacksmith shop on,
and it worked, but it was a close fit. If Emperor had had a bump
on his back as big as an egg he wouldn't have gone in."
"And he's there now?"
"Yes. I reckon I'd better stay here and camp at the hotel,
hadn't I, so's to be handy when your lawyer comes on? Emperor
might tear up the town if he got loose."
Mr. Sparling reflected for a moment.
"Kennedy, you'll go with the show tonight. I don't care if
Emperor tears this town up by the roots. If none of us is here,
then we shall not be to blame for what happens. We didn't tell
them to lock him up in the blacksmith shop. You can get back
after the lawyer has gotten him out. That will be time enough."
"Where is the blacksmith shop?" questioned Phil.
"Know where the graveyard is?"
"It's just the other side of that," said Kennedy. "Church on
this side, blacksmith shop on the other. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. I was just wondering," answered Phil, glancing up
and finding the eyes of Mr. Sparling bent keenly upon him.
The lad rose hastily, went out, and climbing up to the seat of a
long pole wagon, sat down to ponder over the situation. He
remained there until a teamster came to hook to the wagon and
drive it over to be loaded. Then Phil got down, standing about
with hands in his pockets.
He was trying to make up his mind about something.
"Where do we show tomorrow?" he asked of an employee.
"Dobbsville, Ohio. We'll be over the line before daybreak."
The circus tent was rapidly disappearing now. "In another state
in the morning," mused Phil.
One by one the wagons began moving from the circus lot.
"Get aboard the sleeping car," called the driver of the wagon
that Phil and Teddy usually slept in, as he drove past.
"Hey, Phil!" called Teddy, suddenly appearing above the top of
"What are you standing there for?"
"Perhaps I'm getting the night air," laughed Phil. "Fine, isn't
"It might be better. But get in; get in. You'll be left."
"Never mind me. I am not going on your wagon tonight. You may
have the bed all to yourself. Don't forget to leave your window
open," he jeered.
"I have it open already. I'm going to put the screen in now to
keep the mosquitoes out," retorted Teddy, not to be outdone.
"Has Mr. Sparling gone yet do you know?"
"No; he and Kennedy are over yonder where the front door was,
Teddy's head disappeared. No sooner had it done so than Phil
Forrest turned and ran swiftly toward the opposite side of the
lot. He ran in a crouching position, as if to avoid being seen.
Reaching a fence which separated the road from the field, he
threw himself down in the tall grass there and hid.
"In Ohio tomorrow. I'm going to try it," he muttered. "It can't
be wrong. They had no business, no right to do it," he decided,
his voice full of indignation.
He heard the wagons rumbling by him on the hard road, the rattle
of wheels accompanied by the shouts of the drivers as they urged
their horses on.
And there Phil lay hidden until every wagon had departed, headed
for the border, and the circus lot became a barren, deserted and
EMPEROR ANSWERS THE SIGNAL
Making sure that everybody had left, Phil Forrest ran swiftly
toward the village. He knew the way, having been downtown during
A light twinkled here and there in a house, where the people, no
doubt, were discussing the exciting events of the day. As Phil
drew near the cemetery he heard voices.
It would not do to be discovered, so the lad climbed the fence
and crept along the edge of the open plot. He was nearing the
blacksmith shop and it was soon apparent to him that quite a
number of men had gathered in front of the shop itself.
Skulking up to the corner, the last rod being traversed on all
fours, the circus boy flattened himself on the ground to listen,
in an effort to learn if possible what were the plans of the
villagers. If they had any he did not learn them, for their
conversation was devoted principally to discussing what they had
done to the Sparling show and what they would do further before
they had finished with this business.
Phil did learn, however, that the man who had been hurled through
the store window was not fatally injured, as had been thought at
first. Someone announced that the doctor had said the man would
be about again in a couple of weeks.
"I'm glad of that," muttered Phil. "I shouldn't like to think
that Emperor had killed anyone. I wonder how he likes it in
Evidently the elephant was not well pleased, for the lad could
hear him stirring restlessly and tugging at his chains.
"Won't he be surprised, though?" chuckled Phil. "I shouldn't be
surprised if he made a lot of noise. I hope he doesn't, for I
don't want to stir the town up. I wonder if those fellows are
going to stay there all night?"
The loungers showed no inclination to move, so there was nothing
for the boy to do but to lie still and wait.
After a little he began to feel chilled, and began hopping around
on hands and feet to start his blood moving. A little of this
warmed him up considerably. This time he sat down in the fence
corner. The night was moonless, but the stars were quite bright,
enabling Phil to make out objects some distance away. He could
see quite plainly the men gathered in front of the blacksmith
After a wait of what seemed hours to Phil, one of the watchers
"Well, fellows, we might as well go home. The brute's settled
down for the night, I reckon."
"What time is it?"
"Half past two," announced the first speaker.
"Well, well, I should say it was time to go. Not going to stay
with him, are you, sheriff?"
"Not necessary. He can't get out."
After listening at the closed door, the one whom Phil judged to
be an officer joined his companions and all walked leisurely down
The lad remained in the fence corner for sometime, but he stood
up after they had gone. He did not dare move about much, fearing
that Emperor might hear and know him and raise a great tumult.
Phil waited all of half an hour; then he climbed the fence and
slipped cautiously to the door of the shop.
It was securely locked.
"Oh, pshaw! That's too bad," grumbled the lad. "How am I going
to do it?"
Phil ran his fingers lightly over the fastening, which consisted
of a strong hasp and a padlock.
"What shall I do? I dare not try to break the lock. I should be
committing a crime if I did. Perhaps I am already. No; I'm not,
and I shall not. I'll just speak to Emperor, then start off on
foot after the show. It was foolish of me to think I could do
anything to help Mr. Sparling and the elephant out of his
trouble. I ought to be able to walk to the next stand and get
there in time for the last breakfast call, providing I can find
Perhaps Phil's conscience troubled him a little, though he had
done nothing worse than to follow the dictates of his kind heart
in his desire to be of assistance to his employer and to befriend
Placing his lips close to the door, Phil called softly.
"Emperor!" he said.
The restless swaying and heavy breathing within ceased suddenly.
"Emperor!" repeated the lad, at the same time uttering the low
whistle that the big elephant had come to know so well.
A mighty cough from the interior of the blacksmith shop answered
Phil Forrest's signal.
"Be quiet, Emperor. Be quiet! We are going to get you out as
soon as we can, old fellow! You just behave yourself now. Do
Emperor emitted another loud cough.
"Good old Emperor. I've got some peanuts for you, but I don't
know how I am going to give them to you. Wait a minute. Perhaps
there is a window somewhere that I can toss them through."
Phil, after looking around, found a window with the small panes
of glass missing. The window was so high that he could not reach
it, so he stood on the ground and tossed the peanuts in, while
the big elephant demonstrated the satisfaction he felt, in a
series of sharp intakes of breath.
"Now I'm going," announced Phil. "Goodbye, Emperor. Here's a
lump of sugar. That's all I have for you."
Phil turned away sorrowfully. His purpose had failed. Not
because he doubted his ability to carry it out, but he was not
sure that he would be right in doing so.
A few rods down the road he paused, turned and uttered his shrill
signal whistle, with no other idea in mind than to bring some
comfort to the imprisoned beast.
Emperor interpreted the signal otherwise, however. He uttered a
loud, shrill trumpet; then things began to happen with a rapidity
that fairly made the circus boy's head whirl.
A sudden jingle of metal, a crashing and rending from within the
shop, caused Phil to halt sharply after he had once more started
on his way.
Emperor had brought his wonderful strength to bear on his
flimsily constructed prison with disastrous results to the
latter. First he had torn the blacksmith's bellows out by the
roots and hurled it from him. Next he set to work to smash
everything within reach. A moment of this and the elephant had
freed himself from the light chains with which the keeper had
"Wha--oh, what is he doing?" gasped Phil Forrest.
The boards on one side of the shop burst out as from a sudden
explosion. Down came half a dozen of the light studdings that
supported the roof on that side.
By this time Emperor had worked himself into a fine temper. He
turned his attention to the other side of the shop with similar
disastrous results. The interior of the blacksmith shop was a
wreck. It could not have been in much worse condition had it
been struck by a cyclone.
All of a sudden the elephant threw his whole weight against the
big sliding door. It burst out with a report like that of a
Emperor came staggering out into the open. There he paused, with
twitching ears and curling trunk, peering into the darkness in
search of Phil Forrest.
Phil recovered from his surprise sufficiently to realize what had
happened and that old Emperor was free once more.
The lad uttered a shrill whistle. Emperor responded by a
piercing scream. He then whirled, facing up the road in Phil's
direction, though unable to see the lad.
Once more the boy whistled. Emperor was off in a twinkling.
"Steady, steady, Emperor!" cautioned the lad, as he saw the huge
hulk bearing swiftly down on him. "Easy, old boy!"
But the elephant did not lessen his speed one particle. Phil
felt sure, however, that he himself would not be harmed. He knew
Emperor too well. With perfect confidence in the great animal,
the lad threw both hands above his head, standing motionless in
the center of the street right in the path of the oncoming beast.
"Steady, steady, steady!" cautioned Phil. "Now up, Emperor!"
The elephant's long, sinuous trunk uncurled, coiled about the
lad's waist and the next instant Phil felt himself being lifted
to the big beast's head.
"I've got him!" shouted Phil, carried away by the excitement of
the moment. "Now, go it! Emperor! Go faster than you ever have
since you chased lions in the jungle."
And Emperor did go it! As he tore down the village street he
woke the echoes with his shrill trumpetings, bringing every man
and woman in the little village tumbling from their beds.
"The elephant is escaping!" cried the people, as they threw up
their windows and gazed out. As they looked they saw a huge,
shadowy shape hurling itself down the street, whereat they
hastily withdrew their heads. In a few moments the men of the
village came rushing out, all running toward the blacksmith shop
to learn what had happened there. There followed a perfect
pandemonium of yells when they discovered the wrecked condition
of the place.
In the meantime Phil had guided Emperor into the road that led to
the show grounds of the previous day. The elephant was about to
turn into the lot, when a sharp slap from his rider caused him to
swing back into the highway on the trail of the wagons that had
passed on some hours before.
Once he had fairly started Emperor followed the trail, making the
turns and following the twists of the road as unerringly as an
Indian follows the trail of his enemy.
"Hurrah!" shouted Phil, after they had got clear of the village.
"I've won, I've won! But, oh, won't there be a row back there
when they find out what has happened, I wonder if they will
The thought startled him.
"If they do they are liable to arrest me, believing that I let
him out. _Go it,_ Emperor! Go faster!"
Emperor flapped his ears in reply and swung off at an increased
gait. The darkness of early morn was soon succeeded by the
graying dawn, and Phil felt a certain sense of relief as he
realized that day was breaking. On they swept, past hamlets, by
farm houses, where here and there men with milkpails in hand
paused, startled, to rub their eyes and gaze upon the strange
outfit that was rushing past them at such a pace.
Phil could not repress a chuckle at such times, at thought of the
sensation he was creating.
The hours drew on until seven o'clock had arrived, and the sun
was high in the heavens.
"I must be getting near the place," decided Phil. He knew he was
on the right road, for he could plainly see the trail of the
wagons and of the stock in the dust of the road before him.
"Yes; there is some sort of a village way off yonder. I wonder
if that is it?"
A fluttering flag from the top of a far away center-pole, which
he caught sight of a few minutes later, told the boy that it was.
"Hurrah!" shouted Phil, waving his hat on high.
At that moment a distant chorus of yells smote his ears. The lad
listened intently. The shout was repeated. Holding fast to the
headstall, he glanced back over the road. There, far to his
rear, he discovered a cloud of dust, which a few minutes later
resolved itself into a party of horsemen, riding at top speed.
"They're after me! Go faster! Go faster!" shouted the lad. As
he spoke a rifle cracked somewhere behind him, but as Phil heard
no bullet the leaden missile must have fallen far short of the
THE MYSTERY SOLVED
As he neared the village Phil began to shout and wave his hat.
After a time his shouts attracted the attention of some of the
people on the circus lot, which was on his side of the village.
"It's Emperor coming back!" cried someone. "There's somebody on
him," added another.
"I'll bet the day's receipts that it's that rascally Phil
Forrest," exclaimed Mr. Sparling, examining the cloud of dust
with shaded eyes. "How in the world did it ever happen? I've
been hunting all over the outfit for that boy this morning.
Young Tucker said he thought Phil had remained behind, and I was
afraid something had happened to the boy or that he had skipped
the show. I might have known better. What's that back of him?"
"Somebody chasing them, boss," a tentman informed him.
"And they're going to catch old Emperor sure."
"Not if I know it," snapped Mr. Sparling. _"Hey, Rube!"_ he
Canvasmen, roustabouts, performers and everybody within reach of
his voice swarmed out into the open, armed with clubs, stones and
anything they could lay their hands upon.
"There's a posse trying to catch Phil Forrest and old Emperor.
Get a going! Head them off and drive them back!"
Every man started on a run, some leaping on horses, clearing the
circus lot, riding like so many cowboys. As they approached the
lad perched on the bobbing head of the elephant the showmen set
up a chorus of wild yells, to which Phil responded by waving his
hat. He tried to stand up on Emperor's head, narrowly missing a
tumble, which he surely would have taken had not the elephant
given him quick support with the ever-handy trunk.
"They're shooting at me," cried Phil, as he swept by the showmen.
"Line up!" commanded Mr. Sparling.
His men stretched across the highway, with the mounted ones in
front, his infantry behind. Soon the horsemen of the pursuing
party came dashing up and brought their horses to a sudden stop.
"What do you want?"
"We demand the turning over of the elephant which one of your men
stole from us. They've wrecked the blacksmith shop and there'll
be a pretty bill of damages to pay! Come now, before we take you
back with us."
Mr. Sparling grinned.
"Perhaps you don't know that you are in the State of Ohio at the
present moment, eh? If you'll take my advice you'll turn about
and get home as fast as horseflesh will carry you. My lawyer
will be in your town today, and he will arrange for the payment
of all just damages. We decline to be robbed, however. We've
got the elephant and we're going to keep him."
"And we're going to have the boy that broke in and released him."
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Mr. Sparling jovially. "I guess you'll
have the liveliest scrimmage you ever had in all your lives if
you attempt to lay hands on that boy. Come, now, get out of
here! If you attempt to raise the slightest disturbance I'll have
the bunch of you in the cooler, and we'll be the boys to put you
there if the town officials don't act quickly enough."
"Boys, I guess it's up to us," decided the leader of the party.
"Looks that way."
"Then what do you say if we stop and see the show?"
"I don't care how many of you go to the show; but, mark me, it
will cost you fifty cents a head, and at the first sign of
disturbance you'll see the biggest bunch of trouble headed your
"It's all right, Mr. Sparling. We admit we've been done."
And that was the end of it. Mr. Sparling's lawyer visited the
town where the disturbance had occurred on the previous day, and
at his client's direction made a settlement that should have been
wholly satisfactory to the injured parties. Ordinarily the
showman would not have settled the case, in view of the fact that
neither he nor any of his employees was directly responsible for
the series of disasters. He did it almost wholly on account of
Phil Forrest, who had asked him to.
"Well, young man, I've paid the bills," announced Mr. Sparling
that afternoon before the evening performance.
"Thank you," glowed Phil.
"Stop that! If there's any thanks in it, they're coming to you.
Between you and the elephant we'll have another turn-away today.
You have already put a good bit of money in my pocket, and I'm
not forgetting it. I have made definite arrangements for you and
your chum to have a berth in a closed wagon after this. You will
be good enough to offer no objections this time. What I say
"I hope I did not do anything wrong in taking Emperor away. I'm
afraid my conscience has troubled me ever since. But I didn't
intend to do anything wrong or to cause any further damage than
already had been done."
"You did perfectly right, Forrest. That was a stroke of genius.
As for damage, I tell you I have settled all of that. One of
these days you come in when I'm not busy and we'll talk about
next season. I want you to stay with me."
Phil left his employer, the lad's face flushed and his eyes
sparkling. Altogether, he was a very happy boy. The only real
cloud that had darkened his horizon was that anyone should feel
such an enmity toward him as to desire to take his life; or, at
least, to cause him so serious an injury as to put an end to the
career that now seemed so promising.
"I know why, of course," mused the lad. "It was jealousy. I am
more sure than ever as to the identity of the man who did it.
When I get a good opportunity I am going to face him with it. I'm
not afraid of the man. As it is, he might try it again; but if
he understands that I know he will not dare try it, fearing I may
have told someone else."
Having come to this wise conclusion, Phil proceeded to the big
top, where he and Teddy Tucker were to take their afternoon
practice on the flying rings, pausing on the way to pass a
handful of peanuts to Emperor, who was again in his place, and
give the elephant's trainer a happy nod.
"I've noticed of late that Signor Navaro acts rather grouchy over
you boys working on his apparatus. You want to look out for
these foreigners. Some of them are revengeful," cautioned Mr.
Signor Navaro was the leading performer in the flying-rings act.
With him was his young son, Rodney Palmer and a young girl
performer, whose father was a clown in the show.
Phil shot a sharp glance at Mr. Miaco, then dropped his eyes.
"I guess nobody would be jealous of me," laughed the lad. "I'm
only a beginner, and a clumsy one at that. All I can do is to
ride an elephant and fall off, nearly killing myself."
"Nevertheless, you take my advice."
"I will, thank you."
The boys began their work after putting on their working clothes,
consisting of old silk undershirts and linen trunks. This left
them free for the full play of their muscles, which, by this
time, were of exceptionally fine quality. Not big and bunchy,
but like thin bands of pliable steel. Both Phil and Teddy
appeared to have grown half a head taller since they joined out
with the circus.
"Put a little more finish in that cutoff movement," directed
their instructor. "The way you do it, Teddy, you remind me of a
man trying to kick out a window. There, that's better."
And so it went on. Days came and went and the steady practice of
the two circus boys continued, but if Mr. Sparling knew what they
were doing he made no reference to it. He probably did know, for
little went on in the Sparling Combined Shows that he was not
Nothing out of the routine occurred, until, late in the season,
they pitched their tents in Canton, Ohio, when something happened
that brought to a climax the certainty of the careers of the
All day long the clouds had been threatening. But, though keen
eyes were watching the scudding clouds, no apprehension was felt,
as it was believed to be but a passing thunderstorm that was
The storm did not break until late in the afternoon when the show
was more than half over. Phil had made his grand entry on
Emperor, and Teddy had nearly sent the spectators into hysterics
by his funny antics on the back of Jumbo, the educated mule.
All at once the circus men glanced aloft as the shrill whistle of
the boss canvasman trilled somewhere outside the big top. The
audience, if they heard, gave no heed. They were too much
interested in the show.
To the showmen the whistle meant that the emergency gang was
being summoned in haste to stake down emergency ropes to protect
the tent from a windstorm that was coming up.
Phil took a quick survey of the upper part of the tent. Two acts
were just beginning up there. A trapeze act was on, and the four
performers were swinging out on the flying rings.
Both sets of performers were in rather perilous positions were
the wind to blow very hard, as Phil well understood. He stepped
off until he found a quarter pole at his back against which he
leaned that he might watch the better the lofty performers.
All at once there was a blast against the big top that sounded as
if a great blow had been delivered. The audience half rose. The
tent shook from end to end.
"Sit down!" bellowed the ringmaster. "It's only a puff of wind."
Before the words were out of his mouth a piercing scream roused
the audience almost to the verge of panic.
Phil, whose attention had been drawn to the people for the
moment, shot a swift glance up into the somber haze of the peak
of the big top.
Something had happened. But what?
"They're falling!" he gasped.
The blow had loosened nearly every bit of the aerial apparatus
under the circus tent.
"There go the trapeze performers!"
Down they came, landing with a whack in the net with their
apparatus tumbling after them. But they were out of the net in a
twinkling, none the worse for their accident. Almost at the same
moment there were other screams.
"There go the rings!"
There was no net under the flying ring performers. Two of them
shot toward the ground. When they struck, one was on top of the
other. The man at the bottom was Signor Navaro, his son having
fallen prone across him. The two other performers in the act had
grabbed a rope and saved themselves.
Men picked the two fallen performers up hastily and bore them to
the dressing tent, where Phil hastened the moment he was sure
that all danger of a panic had passed. The gust of wind had
driven the clouds away and the sun flashed out brilliantly.
A moment later the performance was going on with a rush, the band
playing a lively tune.
Phil, when he reached the dressing tent, learned that Signor
Navaro was seriously hurt, though his son was suffering merely
from shock. The father had sustained several broken bones.
Phil approached the injured performer and leaned over him. The
man was conscious.
"I'm sorry, very sorry, sir," breathed the boy sympathetically.
"You needn't be. You'll get what you want," murmured the circus
"I don't understand," wondered Phil.
"You'll get my act."
"Is that what you think I have been working for?"
Signor Navaro nodded.
"You are mistaken. Of course, if you are not able to perform any
more this season I shall try to get it, but when you are able to
go to work I shall give it up willingly, even if I succeed in
getting it during that time. Is that why you played that trick
on me?" demanded the lad.
"You know?" questioned Signor Navaro, with a start.
Phil gave a slight nod.
"Why did you put the file in my trunk--the file you cut the wire
"I thought I dropped it in my own trunk. Somebody surprised me
and I was afraid they would catch me with it in my hand and
"That's what I thought."
"You are sharp. And you told no one?"
"No. But I had made up my mind to tell you. I didn't think it
would have to be this way, though. I'm sorry it is."
"Well, I have my punishment. It served me right. I was crazed
with jealousy. I--how is the boy?"
"Not badly hurt, I believe. He will be all right in a few days,
and I hope you will be able to join out in a short time."
Signor Navaro extended a feeble hand, which Phil pressed softly.
"Forgive me, boy. Will you?"
"Yes," whispered Phil.
"And you will tell no--"
"There is nothing to tell, Signor Navaro. If there is anything I
can do for you, tell me, and I shall have great happiness in
doing it," breathed the lad.
A final grip of the hands of the boy and the injured performer
followed, after which Phil Forrest stepped back to make way for
the surgeon, who had hurried to a wagon to fetch his case.
"You see, an accident always casts a cloud over a show and makes
the performers uncertain," said Mr. Miaco that night as he and
Phil were watching the performance from the end of the band
"I should think it would," mused the boy.
Soon after that Phil went to his wagon and turned in, his mind
still on Signor Navaro, who had been taken to a hospital, where
he was destined to remain for many weeks.
"I guess it doesn't pay, in the long run, to be dishonorable,"
mused the lad as he was dropping off to sleep.
The next morning Phil was up bright and early, very much
refreshed after a good night's rest between his blankets in the
comfortable sleeping wagon. Teddy, however, declared that he
didn't like it. He said he preferred to sleep on a pile of canvas
in the open air, even if he did get wet once in a while.
Later in the morning, after Mr. Sparling had had time to dispose
of his usual rush of morning business, which consisted of hearing
reports from his heads of departments, and giving his orders for
the day, Phil sought out his employer in the little dog tent.
"I'm very sorry about the accident, Mr. Sparling," greeted Phil.
"Yes; it ties up one act. It will be some days before I can get
another team in to take it up, and here we are just beginning to
play the big towns. I have been trying to figure out if there
was not someone in the show who could double in that act and get
away with it," mused the showman. "How'd you sleep?"
"Fine. Is there no one you can think of who could fill the bill,
"No; that's the rub. You know of anyone?"
"How about myself."
Mr. Sparling surveyed the lad in surprised inquiry.
"I think I can make a pretty fair showing on the rings. Of
course, if Signor Navaro gets well and comes back, I shall be
glad to give the act back to him. I know something about the
"Young man, is there anything in this show that you can't do?"
demanded Mr. Sparling, with an attempt at sternness.
"A great many things, sir. Then, again, there are some others
that I have confidence enough in myself to believe I can do. You
see, I have been practicing on the rings ever since I joined
"But you are only one. We shall need two performers," objected
"Teddy Tucker has been working with me. He is fully as good on
the flying rings as I am, if not better."
"H-m-m-m!" mused the showman. "Come over to the big top and
let's see what you really can do," he said, starting up.
Phil ran in search of Teddy and in a few minutes the two boys
appeared in the arena, ready for the rehearsal.
Mr. Miaco, who had been called on and informed of the news,
accompanied them. It was he who hauled the boys up to the rings
far up toward the top of the tent.
"Get a net under there! We don't want to lose any more
performers this season," the clown commanded.
After some little delay the net was spread and the showman
motioned for the performance to proceed, walking over and taking
his seat on the boards so that he might watch the performance
from the viewpoint of the audience.
With the utmost confidence the boys went through the act without
a slip. They did everything that Signor Navaro had done in his
performance, adding some clever feats of their own that had been
devised with the help of Mr. Miaco. Mr. Sparling looked on with
twinkling eyes and frequent nods of approval.
"Fine! Fine! One of the best flying-ring acts I ever saw," he
shouted, when finally the lads rounded out their act by a series
of rapid evolutions commonly known as "skinning the cat." Even
in this their act was attended with variations.
The boys concluded by a graceful drop into the net, from which
they bounded into the air, swung themselves to the ground, each
throwing a kiss to the grinning manager.
A number of performers who had been a witness to the performance
clapped their hands and shouted "bravo!"
Mr. Sparling called the lads to him.
"The act is yours," he said. "It is better than Navaro's. Each
of you will draw twenty five dollars a week for the rest of the
season," he announced to the proud circus boys, who thereupon ran
to the dressing tent to take a quick bath and get into their
costumes ready for the parade.
"See to it that they have the net spread, Mr. Ducro," he
directed. "Never permit them to perform without it."
That afternoon the boys made their first appearance in the
flying-ring exhibition, and their act really proved a sensation.
Mr. Sparling, who was observing it from the side, kept his head
bobbing with nods of approval and muttered comments.
After the show Phil suggested that thereafter Teddy be allowed to
use a clown makeup, because his funny antics in the air were more
fitted to the character of a clown than to that of a finished
To this the owner readily agreed, and that night they tried it
with tremendous success.
The days that followed were bright ones for the circus boys. Each
day seemed an improvement over the previous one. The season drew
rapidly to a close and they looked forward to the day with keen
One day Mr. Sparling summoned them to his tent.
"Are you boys ready to sign up for next season?" he asked.
"I should like to," answered Phil.
"This will be a railroad show next season, the third largest show
on the road, and I want you both."
"Thank you; I shall join gladly."
"So will I," chorused Teddy.
"Your salaries will be fifty dollars a week next season. And if
you wish a vaudeville engagement for the winter I think I shall
be able to get one for you."
"We are going to school, Mr. Sparling. Teddy and I will be hard
at work over our books next week. But we are going to keep up
our practice all winter and perhaps we may have some new acts to
surprise you with in the spring," laughed Phil, his face aglow
A week later found the lads back in Edmeston, bronzed, healthy,
manly and admired by all who saw them. Phil had nearly four
hundred dollars in the bank, while Teddy had about one hundred
Phil's first duty after greeting Mrs. Cahill was to call on his
uncle, who begrudgingly allowed his nephew to shake hands with
him. Next day the circus boys dropped into their old routine life
and applied themselves to their studies, at the same time looking
forward to the day when the grass should grow green again and the
little red wagons roll out for their summer journeyings.
Here we will leave them. But Phil and his companion will be
heard from again in a following volume, to be published
immediately, entitled, "THE CIRCUS BOYS ACROSS THE CONTINENT; Or,
Winning New Laurels on the Tanbark." In this volume their
thrilling adventures under the billowing canvas are to be
continued, leading them on to greater triumphs and successes.