THE YOUNG ACROBAT
Great North American Circus
HORATIO ALGER, Jr.
AUTHOR OF "THE ERIE TRAIN BOY," "RAGGED DICK," "TATTERED TOM," ETC.
NEW YORK HURST AND COMPANY PUBLISHERS
THE YOUNG ACROBAT
There was great excitement in Smyrna, especially among the boys. Barlow's Great American Circus in its triumphal progress from State to State was close at hand, and immense yellow posters announcing its arrival were liberally displayed on fences and barns, while smaller bills were put up in the post office, the hotel, and the principal stores, and distributed from house to house.
It was the largest circus that had ever visited Smyrna. At least a dozen elephants marched with ponderous steps in its preliminary procession, while clowns, acrobats, giants, dwarfs, fat women, cannibals, and hairy savages from Thibet and Madagascar, were among the strange wonders which were to be seen at each performance for the small sum of fifty cents, children half price.
For weeks the young people had been looking forward to the advent of this marvelous aggregation of curiosities, and the country papers from farther east had given glowing accounts of the great show, which was emphatically pronounced greater and more gorgeous than in any previous year. But it may be as well to reproduce, in part, the description given in the posters:
BARLOW'S GREAT NORTH AMERICAN CIRCUS. Now in its triumphal march across the continent, will give two grand performances, AT SMYRNA On the afternoon and evening of May 18th. Never in all its history has this Unparalleled show embraced a greater variety of attractions, or included a larger number of world famous Acrobats, Clowns, Bare back Riders, Rope walkers, Trapeze Artists, and Star Performers, In addition to a colossal menagerie, comprising Elephants, Tigers, Lions, Leopards, and other wild animals in great variety. All this and far more, including a hundred DARING ACTS, Can be seen for the trifling sum of Fifty cents; Children half price. COME ONE! COME ALL!
Two boys paused to read this notice, pasted with illustrative pictures of elephants and circus performers on the high board fence near Stoddard's grocery store. They were Dan Clark and Christopher Watson, called Kit for short.
"Shall you go to the circus, Dan?" asked Kit.
"I would like to, but you know, Kit, I have no money to spare."
"Don't let that interfere," said Kit, kindly. "Here is half a dollar. That will take you in."
"You're a tip-top fellow, Kit. But I don't think I ought to take it. I don't know when I shall be able to return it."
"Who asked you to return it? I meant it as a gift."
"You're a true friend, Kit," said Dan, earnestly. "I don't know as I ought to take it, but I will anyhow. You know I only get my board and a dollar a week from Farmer Clifford, and that I give to my mother."
"I wish you had a better place, Dan."
"So do I; but perhaps it is as well as I can do at my age. All boys are not born to good luck as you are."
"Am I born to good luck? I don't know."
"Isn't your uncle Stephen the richest man in Smyrna?"
"I suppose he is; but that doesn't make me rich."
"Isn't he your guardian?"
"Yes; but it doesn't follow because there is a guardian there is a fortune."
"I hope there is."
"I am going to tell you something in confidence, Dan. Uncle Stephen has lately been dropping a good many hints about the necessity of being economical, and that I may have my own way to make in the world. What do you think it means?"
"Have you been extravagant?"
"Not that I am aware of. I have been at an expensive boarding school with my cousin Ralph, and I have dressed well, and had a fair amount of spending money."
"Have you spent any more than Ralph?"
"No; not so much, for I will tell you in confidence that he has been playing pool and cards for money, of course without the knowledge of the principal. I know also that this last term, besides spending his pocket money he ran up bills, which his father had to pay, to the amount of fifty dollars or more."
"How did your uncle like it?"
"I don't know. Ralph and his father had a private interview, but he got the money. I believe his mother took his part."
"Why don't you ask your uncle just how you stand?"
"I have thought of it. If I am to inherit a fortune I should like to know it. If I have my own way to make I want to know that also, so that I can begin to prepare for it."
"Would you feel bad if you found out that you were a poor boy—like me, for instance?"
"I suppose I should just at first, but I should try to make the best of it in the end."
"Well, I hope you won't have occasion to buckle down to hard work. When do you go back to school?"
"The next term begins next Monday."
"And it is now Wednesday. You will be able to see the circus at any rate. It is to arrive to-night."
"Suppose we go round to the lot to-morrow morning. We can see them putting up the tents."
"All right! I'll meet you at nine o'clock."
They were about to separate when another boy, of about the same age and size, came up.
"It's time for dinner, Kit," he said; "mother'll be angry if you are late."
"Very well! I'll go home with you. Good morning, Dan."
"Good morning, Kit. Good morning, Ralph."
Ralph mumbled out "Morning," but did not deign to look at Dan.
"I wonder you associate with that boy, Kit," he said.
"Why?" inquired Kit, rather defiantly.
"Because he's only a farm laborer."
"Does that hurt him?"
"I don't care to associate with such a low class."
"Daniel Webster worked on a farm when he was a boy."
"Dan Clark isn't a Webster."
"We don't know what he will turn out to be."
"I don't consider him fit for me to associate with," said Ralph. "It may be different in your case."
"Why should it be different in my case?" asked Kit, suspiciously.
"Oh, no offense at all, but your circumstances and social position are likely to be different from mine."
"Are they? That's just what I should like to find out."
"My father says so, and as you are under his guardianship he ought to know."
"Yes, he ought to know, but he has never told me."
"He has told me, but I am not at liberty to say anything," said Ralph, looking mysterious.
"I think I ought to be the first to be told," said Kit, not unreasonably.
"You will be told soon. There is one thing I can tell you, however. You are not to go back to boarding school on Monday."
Kit paused in the street, and gazed at his companion in surprise.
"Are you going back?" he asked.
"Yes; I'm going to keep on till I am ready for college."
"And what is to be done with me?"
Ralph shrugged his shoulders.
"I am not at liberty to tell you," he answered.
"I shall ask my uncle this very day."
"Just as you please."
Kit walked on in silence. His mind was busy with thoughts of the change in his prospects. He did not know what was coming, but he was anxious. It was likely to be a turning point in his life, and he was apprehensive that the information soon to be imparted to him would not be of an agreeable nature.
INTRODUCES THREE CURIOSITIES.
Stephen Watson, uncle of Kit and father of Ralph, was a man of middle age. It was difficult to trace any resemblance between him and his nephew. The latter had an open face, with a bright, attractive expression. Mr. Watson was dark and sallow, of spare habit, and there was a cunning look in his eyes, beneath which a Roman nose jutted out like a promontory. He looked like the incarnation of cold selfishness, and his real character did not belie his looks.
Five years before Kit Watson's father had died. He resembled Kit in appearance, and was very popular in Smyrna. His brother wound up the estate, and had since been living in luxury, but whether the property was his or his nephew's Kit was unable to tell. He had asked the question occasionally, but his uncle showed a distaste for the subject, and gave evasive replies.
What Kit had just heard made him anxious, and he resolved to attack his uncle once more. After dinner, therefore, he began:
"Uncle Stephen, Ralph tells me I am not going back to school on Monday."
"Ralph speaks correctly," Mr. Watson replied in a measured voice.
"But why am I not to go?"
"I will explain before the time comes."
"Can you not tell me now? I am anxious to know."
"You must curb your curiosity. You will know in good time."
Kit regarded his uncle in silence. He wished to know what had caused this remarkable change, but it seemed useless to ask any more questions.
The next morning he and Dan Clark, according to agreement, met in front of Stoddard's store.
"I had hard work to get away," said Dan. "Let us go right over to the circus grounds."
These were located about a third of a mile from the hotel, in a large twenty-acre pasture. The lot, as it was called, was a scene of activity. A band of canvas men were busily engaged in putting up the big tent. Several elephants were standing round, and the cages of animals had already been put in place inside the rising tent.
On a bench outside sat a curious group, comprising Achilles Henderson, the great Scotch giant, who was set down on the bills as eight feet three inches in height, and was really about seven feet and a half; Major Conrad, the dwarf, who was about the size of an average child of three years, and Madame Celestina Morella, the queen of fat women, who was credited on the bills with a weight of five hundred and eighty seven pounds. She was certainly massive, but probably fell short a hundred and fifty pounds of these elephantine proportions.
Kit and Dan paused to look at this singular trio.
"I wonder how much pay they get?" said Dan, turning to Kit.
"I saw in some paper that the fat woman gets fifty dollars a week."
"That's pretty good pay for being fat, Kit."
"Would you be willing to be as fat for that money?"
"I think not," said Dan, "though it's a good deal more than I get now."
They were standing near the bench on which the three were seated. Achilles, who looked good-natured, as most big men are, addressed the boys.
"Well, boys, are you coming to see the show?"
"Yes," answered both.
"I used to like to myself when I was a boy. I didn't expect then I should ever travel with one."
"Were you very large as a boy?" asked Dan, with curiosity.
"When I was twelve years old I was six feet high, and people generally thought then that I was eighteen. I thought perhaps I shouldn't grow any more, but I kept on. When I was sixteen I was seven feet tall, and by twenty I had reached my present height."
"Are you eight feet three inches tall, Mr. Henderson?"
"Is that what the bills say?"
"Then it must be so," he said with a smile.
"How long have you been traveling with the circus?"
"How do you like it?"
"It's a good deal easier than working on a farm, especially in Vermont, where I was born and bred."
"But they call you the Scotch giant."
"It sounds well, doesn't it? My father was born in Scotland, but my mother was a Vermont Yankee. You know Americans are more willing to pay for a foreign curiosity than for one home born. That's why my great friend here"—emphasizing the word great—"calls herself Madame Celestina Morella."
The fat lady smiled.
"People think I am French or Italian," she said, "but I never was out of the United States in my life."
"Where were you born, Madame Morella?"
"In the western part of New York State. I know what you are going to ask me. Was I always fat? No, when I was sixteen I only weighed one hundred and twenty. Then I had a fit of sickness and nearly died. After recovering, I began to gain flesh, till I became a monster, as you see."
As she said this, she laughed, and her fat sides shook with merriment. Evidently she did not let her size weigh upon her mind.
"I suppose your real name isn't Celestina Morella?" said Kit.
"My real name is Betsey Hatch. That is what they called me in my girlhood, but I should hardly know who was meant if I was called so now."
"Have you been long in the show business?"
"About seven years."
"Do you like it?"
"I didn't at first, but now I've got used to moving about. Now when the spring opens I have the regular circus fever. But I have my troubles."
"What are they?" asked Kit, seeing that the fat woman liked to talk.
"Well, I find it very difficult to secure at the hotels a bed large enough and strong enough to hold me. I suppose you won't be surprised to hear that."
"At Akron, Ohio, where the hotel was full, I was put in a cot bed, though I protested against it. As soon as I got in, the whole thing collapsed, and I was landed on the floor."
She laughed heartily at the remembrance.
"I remember that very well," said the giant, "for I slept in the room below. Half an hour after getting into bed, I heard a fearful noise in the room above, and thought at first the hotel had been struck by lightning, and a piercing shriek that echoed through the house led me to fear that my esteemed Italian friend was a victim. But my mind was soon relieved when I learned the truth."
"I suppose, major, you never broke down a bed," said the giant, turning to the dwarf.
"No," answered the major, in a shrill piping voice, "I never lie awake thinking of that."
"I believe you served in the civil war, major?"
"Yes, I was in the infantry."
It was a stale joke, but all four laughed at it.
"How much do you weigh, major?" Kit ventured to ask.
"Twenty-one pounds and a half," answered the dwarf. "I have with me some of my photographs, if you would like to buy," and the little man produced half a dozen cards from his tiny pocket.
"How much are they?"
"I'll take one," said Kit, and he produced the necessary coin.
"If you go into the tent you can see some of the performers rehearsing," suggested Achilles.
"Let us go in, Dan."
The two boys reached the portals and went into the big tent.
KIT ASTONISHES TWO ACROBATS.
The circus tent was nearly ready for the regular performance. Kit and Dan regarded the sawdust arena with the interest which it always inspires in boys of sixteen. Already it was invested with fascination for them. Two acrobats who performed what is called the "brothers' act" were rehearsing. They were placarded as the Vincenti brothers, though one was a French Canadian and the other an Irishman, and there was no relationship between them. At the time the boys entered, one had climbed upon the other's shoulders, and was standing erect with folded arms. This was, of course, easy, but the next act was more difficult. By a quick movement he lowered his head, and grasping the uplifted hands of the lower acrobat, raised his feet and poised himself aloft, with his feet up in the air, sustained by the muscular arms of his associate.
"That must take strength, Kit," said Dan.
"So it does."
"No one but a circus man could do it, I suppose?"
"I can do it," said Kit quietly.
Dan regarded him with undisguised astonishment.
"You are joking," he said.
"No, I am not."
"Where did you learn to do such a thing?" asked Dan, incredulous, though he knew Kit to be a boy of truth.
"I will tell you. In the town where I attended boarding school there is a large gymnasium, under the superintendence of a man who traveled for years with a circus. He used to give lessons to the boys, but most contented themselves with a few common exercises. I suppose I should also, but there was an English boy in the school, very supple and muscular, who was proud of his strength, and ambitious to make himself a thorough gymnast. He persuaded me to take lessons in the most difficult acrobatic feats with him, as two had to work together."
"Did you pay the professor extra to instruct you?" asked Dan.
"He charged nothing. He was only too glad to teach us all he knew. It seems he was at one time connected with Barnum's circus, and prepared performers for the arena. He told us it made him think of his old circus days to teach us. At the close of last term we gave him five dollars apiece as an acknowledgment of his services. He assured us then that we were competent to perform in any circus."
"Could you really do what the Vincenti brothers are doing?"
"Yes; and more."
"I wish I could see you do it."
The boys were seated near the sawdust arena, and the last part of their conversation had been heard by the acrobats. It was taken as an illustration of boyish braggadocio, and as circus men are always ready for practical jokes, particularly at the expense of greenhorns, they resolved that there was a good chance for a little fun.
One tipped the wink to the other, and turning to Kit, said: "What's that you're saying, kid?"
"How does he know your name?" said Dan, mistaking kid, the circus name for boy, for his friend's nickname.
"He said kid, not Kit," answered our hero.
"Do you think you can do our act?" continued the acrobat.
"I think I can," replied Kit.
This elicited a broad grin from the acrobat.
"Look here, kid," he said, "do you know how long it took me to learn the business?"
"I don't know, but I should like to know."
"No doubt you can do a great deal more than I."
"Oh, no, certainly not!" said the acrobat, ironically.
"I see you don't believe me," said Kit.
"I'll tell you what you remind me of, kid. There was a fellow came to our circus last summer, and wanted to get an engagement as rider. He said he'd been a cowboy out in New Mexico, and had been employed to break horses. So we gave the fellow a trial. We brought out a wild mustang, and told him to show what he could do. The mustang let him get on, as was his custom, but after he was fairly on, he gave a jump, and Mr. Cowboy measured his length on the sawdust."
Kit and Dan both smiled at this story.
"I am not a cowboy, and don't profess to ride bucking mustangs," he said, "though my friend Dan may."
"I'd rather be excused," put in Dan.
"I'll tell you what, kid, if you'll go through the performance you've just seen I'll give you five dollars."
The fellow expected Kit would make some hasty excuse, but he was mistaken. Our hero rose from his seat, removed his coat and vest, and bounded into the arena.
"I am ready," he said, "but I am not strong enough to be the under man. I'll do the other."
"All right! Go ahead!"
The speaker put himself in position. Kit gave a spring, and in an instant was upon his shoulders.
There was an exclamation of surprise from the second acrobat.
"Christopher!" he exclaimed. "The boy's got something in him, after all."
"Now what shall I do?" asked Kit, as with folded arms he stood on the acrobat's shoulders.
"Keep your place while I walk round the arena."
Kit maintained his position while the acrobat ran round the circle, increasing his pace on purpose to dislodge his young associate. But Kit was too well used to this act to be embarrassed. He held himself erect, and never swerved for an instant.
"Pretty good, kid!" said the acrobat. "Now reverse yourself and stand on my hands with your feet in the air."
Kit made the change skillfully, and to the equal surprise of Dan and the other acrobat, both of whom applauded without stint.
"Can you do anything else?" asked Alonzo Vincenti.
Kit went through a variety of other feats, and then descending from his elevated perch, was about to resume his coat and vest, when the circus performer asked him, "Can you tumble?"
Kit's answer was to roll over the arena in a succession of somersaults and hand springs.
"Well, I'm beat!" said the acrobat. "You're the smartest kid I ever met in my travels. Are you sure you're not a professional?"
"Quite sure," answered Kit, smiling.
"You never traveled with a show, then?"
Kit shook his head.
"Where on earth did you pick up all these acts?"
"I took lessons of Professor Donaldson."
"You did! Well, that explains it. I say, kid, you ought to join a circus. You'd command a fine salary."
"Would I? How much could I get?" asked Kit, with interest.
"Ten or twelve dollars a week and all expenses paid. That's pretty good pay for a kid, isn't it?"
"It's more than I ever earned yet," answered Kit, with a smile.
"I shouldn't wonder if Mr. Barlow would give you that now. If you ever make up your mind to join a show, come round and see him."
"Thank you," said Kit.
Soon after the boys left the circus lot and went home.
"Would you really join a circus, Kit?" asked Dan.
"It isn't the life I would choose," answered Kit, seriously, "but I may have to find some way of earning a living, and that very soon."
"I thought your father left you a fortune."
"So did I; but I hear that I am to be taken from boarding school, and possibly set to work. Ralph has given me a hint of it. I shall soon know, as my uncle intimates that he has a communication to make me."
"I hope it isn't as bad as you think, Kit."
"I hope so too, but I can tell you better to-morrow. We will meet to-night at the show."
A SCENE NOT DOWN ON THE BILLS.
Just before supper Kit was asked to an interview with his uncle.
"You wish to speak to me, Uncle Stephen?" he said.
"Yes; I have decided not to postpone the explanation for which you asked yesterday."
"I shall be glad to hear it, sir."
"Ever since your father's death I have supported you, not because I was morally or legally bound to do so, but because you were my nephew."
"But didn't my father leave any property?" asked Kit in amazement.
"He was supposed to have done so."
"This house and grounds are surely worth a good deal of money!"
"So they are," answered Stephen Watson, dryly, "but unfortunately they did not belong to your father."
"This is certainly a mistake," exclaimed Kit, indignantly.
"Wait till I have finished. These stood in your father's name, but there was a mortgage of two thousand dollars held by the Smyrna Savings Bank."
"Surely the place is worth far more than two thousand dollars!"
"Curb your impatience, and you will soon understand me. The place is worth far more than two thousand dollars. I consider it worth ten thousand."
"Then I don't see——"
"Your father left large debts, which of course had to be paid. I was therefore obliged to sell the estate, in order to realize the necessary funds."
"For how much did you sell the place?"
"For nine thousand dollars. I regarded that as a good price, considering that it was paid in cash or the equivalent."
"To whom did you sell?"
"I bought it in myself; I was not willing that the place which my brother had loved so well, should pass into the hands of strangers."
"May I ask who was my father's principal creditor?" asked Kit.
"Ahem! I was," answered Stephen Watson, in a tone of slight embarrassment.
"You!" exclaimed Kit, in fresh surprise.
"Yes; your father owed me twelve thousand dollars borrowed at various times."
"How could he have been obliged to borrow so much?" asked Kit. "He always seemed comfortably situated. I never once heard him complain of being pressed for money."
"Very likely; he was very reticent about his affairs. I would explain, but the matter is rather a delicate one."
"I think I am entitled to know all about it, Uncle Stephen," said Kit, firmly.
"Be it so! Perhaps you are right. Let me tell you in the briefest terms, then, that in his later years your father speculated in Wall Street—not heavily, for he had not the means, but heavily for one of his property. Of course he lost. Almost every one does, who ventures into the 'street.' His first losses, instead of deterring him from further speculation, led him on to rasher ventures. It was then that he came to me for money."
"Didn't you urge him to give up speculating?" asked Kit.
"Yes, but my words availed little. Perhaps you will think I ought to have refused him loans, but he assured me in the strongest terms that unless he obtained money from some source he would be ruined, and I yielded. I might have been weak—it was weak, for I stood a chance of losing all, having merely his notes of hand to show for the money I lent. But it is hard to refuse a brother. I think I should do the same again."
Kit was silent. His uncle's words were warm, and indicated strong sympathy for Kit's father, but his tone was cold, and there seemed a lack of earnestness. Kit could not repress a feeling of incredulity. There was another obstacle to his accepting with full credence the tale which his uncle told him. He had always understood from his father that his uncle was a poor and struggling man. How could he have in his possession the sum of twelve thousand dollars to lend his brother? This question was certainly difficult to answer. He paused, then refraining from discussing the subject, said:
"Why have you not told me this before, Uncle Stephen?"
"Would it have made you any happier?" returned Stephen Watson.
"Till you had acquired a fair education, I thought it better to keep the unpleasant truth from you. It would only have annoyed you to feel that you owed everything to my generosity, and were in fact a child of charity."
Kit's face flushed deeply as he heard this expression from his uncle's lips.
"Do you mean that my father left absolutely nothing?" he asked.
"Yes, absolutely nothing. Well, no, not quite that. I think there was a balance of a little over a hundred dollars left after paying all debts. That is hardly worth counting."
"Yes, that is hardly worth counting," said Kit in a dull, mechanical tone.
"Still, I determined to educate you, and give you equal advantages with my own son. I have done so up to the present moment. I wish I could continue to do so, but Ralph is getting more expensive as he grows older (and you also), and I cannot afford to keep you both at school. You will therefore stop studying, and I shall secure you some work."
"If things are as you say, I cannot complain of this," Kit said in a dull, spiritless tone, "but it comes upon me like a thunderbolt."
"No doubt, no doubt. I knew it would be a shock, and I have postponed telling you as long as possible."
"I suppose I ought to thank you. Have you anything more to say to me now?"
"Then, sir, I will leave you. I will ask further particulars some other day."
"He takes it hard," muttered Stephen Watson, eyeing the retreating form of his nephew thoughtfully. "I wonder if he will suspect that there is anything wrong. Even if he does, he is only a boy, and can prove nothing."
* * * * *
"What makes you so glum, Kit?" asked Dan Clark, when they met at seven o'clock, as agreed, to go together to the show.
"Not much, Dan, only I have learned that I am a pauper."
"But the estate—the house and the grounds?" said Dan, bewildered.
"Belong to my uncle."
"Who says so?"
"He says so. But I don't want to say any more about it now. Let us start for the circus, and I will try to forget my pauper position, for one evening at least."
Before they reached the lot, they heard the circus band discoursing lively music. They were in a crowd, for all Smyrna, men, women and children, were bound for the show. It was a grand gala night. In the city, where there are many amusements, the circus draws well, but in the country everybody goes.
Outside the great tent were the side shows. In one of them Kit found his friends of the morning, the giant, the dwarf, and the fat lady, with other curiosities hereafter to be mentioned. Just inside the tent, in what might be called the ante chamber, was the collection of animals. The elephants were accorded more freedom than the rest, but the lion, tiger, and leopard were shut up in cages. The lion seemed particularly restless. He was pacing his narrow quarters, lashing his tail, and from time to time emitting deep growls, betokening irritation and anger.
"How would you like to go into the cage?" asked Dan.
"I don't care for an interview with his majesty," responded Kit.
A stranger was standing near the cage.
"Don't go too near, boys!" he said. "That lion is particularly fierce. He nearly killed a man last season in Pennsylvania."
"How was that?"
"The man ventured too near the cage. The lion stretched out his claws, and fastened them in the man's shoulder, lacerating it fearfully before he could be released. He came near dying of blood poisoning."
Kit and Dan sheered off. The lion looked wicked enough to kill a dozen men.
At eight o'clock the performance commenced. First there was a procession of elephants and horses, the latter carrying the bareback riders and other members of the circus, with the curiosities and freaks. Then came two bareback riders, who jumped through hoops, and over banners, and performed somersaults, to the wondering delight of the boys. Then came tumblers, and in preparation for another scene a gaudily dressed clown entered the ring. Suddenly there was heard a deep baying sound, which struck terror into every heart. It was the lion; but seemed close at hand. In an instant a dark, cat-like form, rushing down the aisle, sprang into the ring.
The great Numidian lion had broken from his cage, and the life of every one in the audience was in peril. Ladies shrieked, strong men grew pale, and all wildly looked about for some way of escape.
Striking down the clown, and standing with one foot on the prostrate form, the lion's cruel eyes wandered slowly over the vast assemblage.
Only ten feet from him, in front seats, sat Kit and Dan.
Kit rose in his seat pale and excited, but with a resolute fire in his eyes. He had thought of a way to vanquish the lion.
HOW KIT VANQUISHED THE LION.
The danger was imminent. Under the canvas there were at least two thousand spectators. Smyrna had less than five thousand inhabitants, but from towns around there were numerous excursion parties, which helped to swell the number present. Had these people foreseen the terrible scene not down on the bills, they would have remained at home and locked the doors of their houses. But danger is seldom anticipated and peril generally finds us unprepared.
Dan Clark saw Kit about to leave his seat.
"Where are you going?" he cried.
"I am going into the arena."
"What? Are you out of your head?" asked Dan, and he took hold of Kit to detain him. But the boy tore himself from the grasp of his friend, and with blanched brow, for he knew full well the risk he ran, he sprang over the parapet, and in an instant he stood in the sawdust circle facing the angry monarch of the wilds, whose presence had struck terror into the hearts of two thousand members of a superior race.
The sudden movement of Kit created a sensation only less than the appearance of the lion.
The residents of Smyrna all knew him, but they could not understand the cause of his apparent fool-hardiness.
"Come back! Come away, for your life!" exclaimed dozens of Kit's friends and acquaintances.
"Who is that boy? Is he one of the circus men?" asked strangers who were present.
"You will be killed, Kit! Come back!" implored Dan Clark, appalled at the danger of his friend.
Kit heard, but did not heed, the various calls. He knew what he was about, and he did not mean to be killed. But there seemed the greatest danger of it. He was six feet from the angry beast, who lashed his tail with renewed wrath, when he saw his new and puny foe. Kit knew, however, that the lion's method of attack is to spring upon his victims, and that he needs a space of from twelve to fifteen feet to do it. He himself, being but six feet distant, was within the necessary space. The lion must increase the distance between them in order to accomplish its purpose.
Now it happened that Mr. Watson had in his kitchen an elderly woman, who had for years been addicted to the obnoxious habit of snuff taking—a habit, I am glad to be able to say, which is far less prevalent now than in former days. Just before Kit had started for the circus, Ellen, who was a Scotch woman, said: "Master Kit, if you are going near the store, will you buy me a quarter of a pound of snuff?"
"Certainly, Ellen," answered Kit, who was always obliging.
The snuff he had in his pocket at the time of the lion's appearance in the ring, and it was the thought of this unusual but formidable weapon that gave him courage. If he had merely had a pistol or revolver in his pocket, he would not have ventured, for he knew that a wound would only make the lion fiercer and more dangerous.
The lion stood stock still for a moment. Apparently he was amazed at the daring of the boy who had rushed into his presence. His fierce eyes began to roll wickedly and he uttered one of those deep, hoarse growls, such as are wont to strike fear alike into animals and men. He glared at Kit very much as a cat surveys a puny mouse whom she purposes to make her victim.
It was a few brief seconds, but to the audience, who were spellbound, and scarcely dared to breathe, it seemed as many minutes that the boy and lion stood confronting each other without moving. Indeed, Kit stood as if fascinated before the mighty beast, and a thrill passed through his frame as he realized the terrible danger into which he had impulsively rushed. But he knew full well that his peril was each instant growing greater. He could not retreat now, for the furious beast would improve the chance to spring upon him and rend him to pieces.
With curious deliberation he drew from his pocket a paper parcel, while the lion, as if stirred by curiosity, eyed him attentively. He opened it carefully, and then, without an instant's delay, he flung a handful of the snuff which it contained full in the eyes of the terrible animal.
No sooner had he done so than he gave a spring, and in a flash was over the parapet and back in his seat.
It was not a moment too soon!
The lion was blinded by the snuff, which caused him intense pain. He released the terrified clown, who lost no time in escaping from the arena, while the vanquished beast rolled around on the sawdust in his agony, sending forth meanwhile the most terrible roars.
By this time the circus management had recovered from its momentary panic. The trainer and half a dozen animal men (those whose duty it was to take care of the animals) rushed into the circle, and soon obtained the mastery of the lion, whose pain had subdued his fury, and who was now moaning piteously.
Then through the crowded tent there ran a thrill of admiration for the boy who had delivered them all from a terrible danger.
One man, an enthusiastic Western visitor, sprang to his feet, and, waving his hat, exclaimed: "Three cheers for the brave boy, who has shown more courage than all the rest of us put together! Hip, hip, hurrah!"
The call was responded to with enthusiasm. Men and even women rose in their seats, and joined in the cheering. But some of the friends of Kit amended the suggestion by crying, "Hurrah for Kit Watson!"
"Hurrah for Kit Watson!" cried the Western man. "He's the pluckiest kid I ever saw yet."
Kit had not been frightened before, but he felt undeniably nervous when he saw the eyes of two thousand people fixed upon him. He blushed and seemed disposed to screen himself from observation. But at this moment a tall, portly man advanced from the front of the tent, and came up to where Kit was sitting.
"My boy," he said, "do me the favor to follow me. I am Mr. Barlow."
It was indeed the proprietor of the circus. He had come in person to greet the boy who had averted such a tragedy.
Mechanically Kit followed Mr. Barlow, who led him again into the arena. Then the manager cleared his throat, and said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I have nothing to show you here to-night that is better worth your attention than the young man whose heroic act you have just witnessed and profited by. I introduce to you the boy hero, Kit Watson!"
"Speech! speech!" exclaimed the spectators, after a liberal meed of applause.
Kit stood erect, and spoke modestly.
"I don't pretend to be a hero," he said. "I was as much frightened as anybody, but I thought of the snuff in my pocket, and I recalled to mind a story of a man who subdued a lunatic by means of it. So, on the impulse of the moment, I jumped into the ring. I am very much obliged to you for your cheers, and I wish I was as brave as you seem to think. I won't take up any more of your time, for I know you want the show to go on."
Kit retired amid a burst of applause, and resumed his seat.
The entertainment of the evening now proceeded, greatly to the satisfaction of the crowded ranks of spectators. But from time to time glances were cast towards the seat which Kit occupied.
"Kit," whispered Dan, "I am proud of you! I didn't think you had it in you."
"Don't say any more, Dan, or I shall become so vain you can't endure me. Look! there are our friends, the acrobats."
KIT'S POOR PROSPECTS.
There was one of the spectators who did not admire Kit's heroic conduct, nor join in the applause which was so liberally showered upon him. This was Ralph Watson, who sat on the opposite side of the tent, with his chum, James Schuyler, a boy who had recently come to Smyrna from the city of New York. Ralph had been very pale when the lion first made his appearance in the arena, and trembled with fear, and no one had felt greater relief when the danger was past. But, being naturally of a jealous disposition, he was very much annoyed by the sudden popularity won by Kit.
"Isn't that your cousin?" asked James Schuyler.
"Yes," answered Ralph shortly.
"What a brave boy he is!"
Ralph shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't see much bravery about it," he said. "It isn't as if the lion was a wild one in his native forest. This one was tame."
"He didn't look very tame to me," rejoined James, who, though rather snobbish, was willing to admit the danger they had all incurred. "The people didn't think so either. Hear them cheer your cousin."
"It will make him terribly conceited. He will actually think he's a hero."
"I wouldn't have given much for any of our lives if he hadn't jumped into the ring, and blinded the lion."
Meanwhile Kit was enjoying the performance, and thinking very little of how his action would be regarded by Ralph, for whom he had no very cordial feeling, though they had been, from the necessity of the case, close companions for many years.
On their return home, Kit and Ralph reached the gate together.
"It seems you're a great hero all at once," said Ralph, with a sneer.
Kit understood the sneer, but did not choose to notice it.
"Thank you for the compliment," he responded quietly.
"O, I didn't mean to flatter you! You are puffed up enough."
"Are you sorry I jumped into the ring, Ralph?" asked Kit good-naturedly.
"I don't believe there was any real danger."
"Then I must congratulate you upon your courage. All the rest of us were frightened, and even Mr. Barlow admitted that there was danger."
"The lion was half tame. It isn't as if he were wild."
"He looked wild enough to me when I faced him in the ring. I confess that my knees began to tremble, and I wished myself at home."
"You'd better set up as a lion tamer," said Ralph.
"Thank you; I think I should prefer some other business, where my life would be safer."
"You are likely to have your wish, then."
"What do you mean?" asked Kit quickly, detecting a significance in Ralph's tone.
"I mean that father intends to have you learn a trade."
"Has he told you so?"
"Doesn't he propose to consult me?"
"Why should he? You are only a boy, and can't judge what is best for yourself."
"Still I am likely to be more interested than any one else in the way I am to earn my living. What trade are you going to learn?"
"What trade am I going to learn?" repeated Ralph, with the assumption of insulted dignity. "None at all. I shall be a merchant or a professional man."
"And why should not I be the same?" asked Kit.
"Because you're a poor boy. Didn't my father tell you this afternoon that you had no money coming to you?"
"Yes; but that needn't prevent me from becoming a merchant, or studying a profession."
"So you think. You can't expect my father to pay for sending you to college, or support you while you are qualifying yourself to be a merchant."
"I don't know yet what I am entitled to expect."
"You will soon know."
"To-morrow. There's a blacksmith in the next town, Aaron Bickford, who has agreed to take you as an apprentice."
"So it's all settled, is it?" Kit asked, full of indignation.
"Yes, if Mr. Bickford likes your appearance. He's coming to Smyrna on business to-morrow, and will call here. You're to live at his house."
"Indeed! I am very much obliged for the information."
"Oh, you needn't get grouty about it. I've no doubt you'll have enough to eat."
"So I am to be a blacksmith, and you a merchant or——"
"Lawyer. I think I shall decide to be a lawyer," said Ralph, complacently.
"That will make quite a difference in our social positions."
"Of course; but I will help you all I can. If you have a shop of your own, I will have my horses shod at your place."
"Does your father think I am particularly well fitted to be a blacksmith?"
"He thinks you will get along very well in the business, if you are industrious. A poor boy can't choose. He must take the best he can get."
Kit did not sleep very much that night. He was full of anger and indignation with his uncle. Why should his future be so different from his cousin's? At school he had distinguished himself more in his studies, and he did not see why he was not as well fitted to become a merchant or a lawyer as Ralph.
"They can't make me a blacksmith without my consent," was his final thought, as he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Kit was up early the next morning. As breakfast was not ready, he strolled over to the hotel, which was only five minutes' walk from his uncle's house.
The circus tent had vanished. Late at night, after the evening performance was over, the canvas men had busied themselves in taking them down, and packing them for transportation to a town ten miles distant on the railroad, where they were to give two exhibitions the next day. The showy chariots, the lions, tigers, elephants and camels, with all the performers, were gone. But Mr. Barlow, the owner of the circus, had remained at the Smyrna Hotel all night, preferring to journey comfortably the next morning.
He was sitting on the piazza when Kit passed. Though he had never seen Kit but once, his business made him observant of faces, and he recognized him immediately.
"Aha!" he said, "this is the young hero of last evening, is it not?"
"I am the boy who jumped into the ring," he said.
"So I thought. I hope you slept well after the excitement."
A sudden thought came to Kit. Mr. Barlow looked like a kind hearted man, and he had already shown that he was well disposed toward him.
"I slept very poorly," he said.
"Was it the thought of the danger you had been in?"
"No, sir; I learned that my uncle, without consulting me, had arranged to apprentice me to a blacksmith."
Mr. Barlow looked surprised.
"But you look like a boy of independent means," he said, puzzled.
"I have always supposed that this was the case," said Kit, "but my uncle told me yesterday, to my surprise, that I was dependent upon him, and had no expectations."
"You don't want to be a blacksmith?"
"No, sir; I consider any kind of work honorable, but that would not suit me."
"You would succeed well in my business," said the showman, "but I am very careful how I recommend it to boys. It isn't a good school for them. They are exposed to many temptations in it. But if a boy has a strong will, and good principles, he may avoid all the evils connected with it."
Kit had not thought of it before, but now the question suggested itself: "Why should I not join the circus. I should like it better than being a blacksmith."
"How much do you pay acrobats?" he asked.
"Are you an acrobat?" asked Mr. Barlow.
Kit told the story of his practicing with the Vincenti Brothers.
"Good!" said Mr. Barlow. "If they indorse you, it is sufficient. If you decide to join my company, I will give you, to begin with, ten dollars a week and your expenses."
"Thank you, sir," said Kit, dazzled by the offer, "Where will you be on Saturday?"
"At Grafton on Saturday, and Milltown on Monday."
"If I decide to join you, I will do so at one or the other of those places."
Here the railroad omnibus came up, and Mr. Barlow entered it, for he was to leave by the next train.
AARON BICKFORD, THE BLACKSMITH.
Kit returned to breakfast in good spirits. He saw a way out of his difficulties. Though he had no false pride, he felt that a blacksmith's life would be distasteful to him. He was fond of study, and had looked forward to a college course. Now this was out of the question. It seemed that he was as poor as his friend, Dan Clark, with his own way to make in the world. When he left school, at the beginning of the vacation, he supposed that he would inherit a competence. It was certainly a great change in his prospects, but now he did not feel dispirited. He thought, upon the whole, he would enjoy traveling with the circus. His duties would be light, and the pay liberal.
Before he returned to breakfast, Ralph had come down-stairs, and had a few words with his father.
"I think you are going to have trouble with Kit, father," he commenced.
"What makes you think so, and what about?" asked Mr. Watson.
"I told him last evening about your plan of apprenticing him to Mr. Bickford."
"You did wrong. I did not propose to mention the matter to him till Mr. Bickford's arrival. What did he say?"
"He turned up his nose at the idea. He thinks he ought to become a merchant or a professional man like me. He is too proud to be a blacksmith."
"Then he must put his pride in his pocket. It will be all I can do to pay the expenses of your education. I can't provide for two boys."
"When Kit is off your hands won't you increase my allowance, father?" asked Ralph, insinuatingly.
"Suppose we postpone that matter," replied Mr. Watson, in a tone of voice that was not encouraging. "I have lost some money lately, and I can't do anything more for you just at present."
Ralph looked disappointed, but did not venture to press the subject.
"Where have you been, Kit?" he asked, as he saw his cousin entering the gate, and coming up the path to the front door.
"I have been taking a walk," answered Kit, cheerfully.
"It's a good idea to rise early."
"Because you will probably be required to do so in your new place."
"What new place?"
"At the blacksmith's."
Kit smiled. To Ralph's surprise he did not appear to be annoyed.
"I see you are getting reconciled to the idea. Last evening you seemed to dislike it."
"Your father has not said anything about it to me."
"He will very soon."
"Won't you come round and see me occasionally, Ralph?" asked Kit, with a curious smile.
"Yes; I may call on Saturday. I should like to see how you look."
Kit smiled again. He thought it extremely doubtful whether Ralph would see him at the blacksmith's forge.
Half an hour after breakfast, while Ralph and Kit were in the stable, the sound of wheels was heard, and a stout, broad-shouldered man, with a bronzed complexion, drove up in a farm wagon. Throwing his reins over the horse's neck, he descended from the wagon, and turned in at the gate. Mr. Watson, who had been sitting at the front window, opened the door for him.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Bickford," he said.
"Is the boy ready?" asked the blacksmith. "I can take him right over with me this morning."
"Come into the house, I will send for him."
Mr. Bickford noticed the handsome appearance of the hall, and the front room, the door of which was partly open, and said: "If the boy's been used to livin' here, he must be kind of high strung. I can't give him no such home as this."
"Of course not, Mr. Bickford. He can't expect it. He's a poor boy, and will have to make his own way in the world. Beggars can't be choosers, you know."
A servant was sent to the stable to summon Kit. Ralph, who thought he should enjoy the scene, accompanied him.
Kit regarded the blacksmith with some curiosity.
"This is Mr. Aaron Bickford, of Oakford, Kit," began his uncle.
"I hope you are well, Mr. Bickford," said Kit, politely.
The blacksmith gazed at Kit with earnest scrutiny.
"Humph!" said he; "are you strong and muscular?"
"Pretty fair," answered Kit, with a smile.
"Kit," said his uncle, clearing his throat, "in your circumstances I have thought it desirable that you should learn a trade, and have spoken to Mr. Bickford about taking you as an apprentice."
"In what business?" asked Kit.
"I'm a blacksmith," said Mr. Bickford, taking it upon himself to reply, "and it's a good, healthy business as any you'd want to follow."
"I have no doubt of it," said Kit, quietly, "but I don't think I should like it all the same. Uncle Stephen, how does it happen that you have selected such a business for me?"
"I heard that Mr. Bickford needed an apprentice, and I have arranged matters with him to take you, and teach you his trade."
"Yes," put in Mr. Bickford, "I've agreed to give you your board and a dollar a week the first year. That's more than I got when I was 'prentice. My old master only paid me fifty cents a week."
Kit turned to his uncle.
"Do you think my education has fitted me for a blacksmith's trade?" he asked.
"It won't interfere," replied Mr. Watson, a little uneasily.
"Wouldn't it have been well to consult me in the matter? It seems to me I am rather interested."
"Oh, I supposed you would object, as you had been looking forward to being a gentleman, but I can't afford to keep you in idleness any longer, and so have arranged matters with Mr. Bickford."
"Suppose I object to going with him?" said Kit, calmly.
"Then I shall overrule your objections, and compel you to do what I think is for your good."
Kit's eye flashed with transient anger, but as he had no idea of acceding to his uncle's order, he did not allow himself to become unduly excited. Indeed he had a plan, which made temporary submission a matter of policy.
"What's the boy's name?" asked Aaron Bickford.
"I am generally called Kit. My right name is Christopher."
"Then, Kit, you'd better be getting your traps together, for I can't stop long away from the shop."
"I have arranged to have you go back with Mr. Bickford to-day," said Stephen Watson.
"That's rather short notice, isn't it?" Kit rejoined.
"The sooner the matter is arranged, the better!" answered his uncle.
"Very well," said Kit, with unexpected submission. "I'll go and pack up my clothes."
Mr. Watson looked relieved. He had expected to have more trouble with his nephew.
In twenty minutes Kit reappeared with his school valise. He had packed up a supply of shirts, socks, handkerchiefs, and underclothing.
"I am all ready," he said.
"Then we'll be going," said the blacksmith, rising with alacrity.
Kit took his place on the seat beside Mr. Bickford.
"Good-by, uncle!" he said; "it may be some time before we meet again."
"What does the boy mean?" asked Stephen Watson, turning to Ralph with a puzzled look.
"I don't know. He's been acting queer all the morning."
So Kit rode away with Aaron Bickford, but he had not the slightest intention of becoming blacksmith. Instead of blacksmith's forges, visions of a circus ring and acrobatic feats were dancing before his mind.
KIT'S RIDE TO OAKFORD.
Oakford was six miles away. The blacksmith's horse was seventeen years old, and did not make very good speed. Kit was unusually busy thinking. He had taken a decisive step; he had, in fact, made up his mind to enter upon a new life. He had not objected to going away with the blacksmith, because it gave him an excuse for packing up his clothes, and leaving the house quietly.
It may be objected that he had deceived Mr. Bickford. This was true, and the thought of it troubled him, but he hardly knew how to explain matters.
Not much conversation took place till they were within a mile of Oakford. Aaron Bickford had filled his pipe at the beginning of the journey, and he had smoked steadily ever since. At last he removed his pipe from his mouth, and put it in his pocket.
"Were you ever in Oakford?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Kit. "I know the place very well."
"How do you think you'll like livin' there?"
"I don't think I shall like it."
Mr. Bickford looked surprised.
"I'll keep you at work so stiddy you won't mind where you are," he remarked dryly.
"Not if I know it," Kit said to himself.
He knew Mr. Bickford by reputation. He was a close-fisted, miserly man, who was not likely to be a very desirable employer, for he expected every one who worked for him to labor as hard as himself. Moreover, he and his wife lived in a very stingy manner, and few of the luxuries of the season appeared on their table. The fact that complaints upon this score had been made by some of Kit's predecessors in his employ, led Mr. Bickford to make inquiries with a view to ascertaining whether Kit was particular about his food.
"Are you partic'lar about your vittles?" he asked abruptly.
"I have been accustomed to good food," answered Kit.
"You can't expect to live as you have at your uncle's," continued the blacksmith. "Me and my wife have enough to eat, but we think it best to eat plain food. Some of my help have had stuck up notions, and expected first class hotel fare, but they didn't get it at my house."
"I believe you," said Kit.
Mr. Bickford eyed him sharply, not being sure but this might be a sarcastic observation, but Kit's face was straight, and betrayed nothing.
"You'll live as well as I do myself," he proceeded, after a pause. "I don't pamper my appetite by no means."
Kit was quite ready to believe this also, but did not say so.
"What time did you get up at your uncle's?" asked the blacksmith.
"We have breakfast a little before eight. I get up in time for breakfast."
"You do, hey?" ejaculated the blacksmith, scornfully. "Wa'al, I declare! You must be tuckered out gettin' up so airly."
"O no, I stand it very well, Mr. Bickford," said Kit, amused.
"Do you know what time I get up?" asked Mr. Bickford, with a touch of indignation in his tone.
"I would like to know," answered Kit meekly.
"Wa'al, I get up at five o'clock. What do you say to that, hey?"
"I think it is very early."
"I suppose you couldn't get up so early as that?"
"I might, if there was any need of it."
"I reckon there will be need of it if you're goin' to work for me."
Kit cleared his throat. He felt that the time had come for an explanation.
"Mr. Bickford," he said, "I owe you an apology."
"What?" said Bickford, regarding his young companion in surprise.
"I have deceived you."
"I don't know what you're talkin' about."
"I don't think I did right to come with you to day."
"I can't make out what you're talkin' about. Your uncle has engaged to let you work for me."
"But I haven't engaged to work for you, Mr. Bickford."
"Hey?" and the blacksmith eyed our hero in undisguised amazement.
"I may as well say that I don't intend to work for you."
"You don't mean to work for me?" repeated Bickford slowly.
"Just so. I have no intention of becoming a blacksmith."
"Is the boy crazy?" ejaculated Aaron Bickford.
"No, Mr. Bickford; I have full command of my senses. You will have to look out for another apprentice."
"Then why did you agree to come with me?"
"That is what I have to apologize for. I wanted to get away from my uncle's house quietly, and I thought it the best way to pretend to agree to his plan."
Aaron Bickford was not a sweet tempered man. He had a pretty strong will of his own, and was called, not without reason, obstinate. He began to feel angry.
"Well, boy, have you got through with what you had to say?" he asked.
"I believe so—for the present."
"Then I guess it's about time for me to say something."
"Very well, sir."
"You'll find me a tough customer to deal with, young man."
"Then perhaps it is just as well that I do not propose to work for you."
"But you are goin' to work for me!" said the blacksmith, nodding his head.
"Whether I want to or not?" interrogated Kit, placidly.
"Yes, whether you want to or not, willy nilly, as the lawyers say."
"I think, Mr. Bickford, you will find that it takes two to make a bargain."
"So it does, and there's two that's made this bargain, your uncle and me."
Mr. Bickford was not always strictly grammatical in his language, as the reader will observe.
"I don't admit my uncle's right to make arrangements for me without my consent."
"You know more'n he does, I reckon?"
"No, but this matter concerns me more than it does him."
"Maybe you expect to live without workin'!"
"No; if it is true, as my uncle says, that I have no money, I shall have to make my living, but I prefer to choose my own way of doing it."
"You're a queer boy. Bein' a blacksmith is too much work for you, I reckon."
"At any rate it isn't the kind of work I care to undertake."
"What's all this rigmarole comin' to? Here we are 'most at my house. If you ain't goin' to work for me, what are you goin' to do?"
"I should like to pass the night at your house, Mr. Bickford. After breakfast I will pay you for your accommodations, and go——"
"You must excuse my telling you that. I have formed some plans, but I do not care to have my uncle know them."
"Are you going to work for anybody?" asked the blacksmith, whose curiosity was aroused.
"Yes, I have a place secured."
"Is it on a farm?"
"You're mighty mysterious, it seems to me. Now you've had your say, I've got something to tell you."
"Very well, Mr. Bickford."
"You say you're not goin' to work for me?"
"Then I say you are goin' to work for me. I've got your uncle's authority to set you to work, and I'm goin' to do it."
Kit heard this calmly.
"Suppose we postpone the discussion of the matter," he said. "Is that your house?"
Aaron Bickford's answer was to drive into the yard of a cottage. On the side opposite was a blacksmith's forge.
"That's where you're goin' to work!" he said, grimly, pointing to the forge.
KIT MAKES A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.
Grafton, where Barlow's circus was billed to appear on Saturday, was only six miles farther on. Oakford was about half way, so that in accompanying the blacksmith to his home, Kit had accomplished about half the necessary journey. Now that he had undeceived the blacksmith as to his intention of staying he felt at ease in his mind. It was his plan to remain over night in the house and pursue his journey early the next day.
"Are these all the clo'es you brought with you?" asked Bickford, surveying Kit's neat and rather expensive suit with disapproval.
"Yes. Am I not well enough dressed for a blacksmith?" asked Kit, with a smile.
"You're a plaguy sight too well dressed," returned Bickford. "You want a good rough suit, for the forge is a dirty place."
"I thought I told you I did not intend to work for you, Mr. Bickford."
"That's what you said, but I don't take no stock in it. Your uncle has bound you out to me, and that settles it."
"If he has bound me out, where are the papers, Mr. Bickford?" asked Kit, keenly.
This question was a poser. The blacksmith supposed that Kit might be ignorant that papers were required, but he found himself mistaken.
"There ain't no papers, but that don't make no difference," he said. "He says you're to work for me, and I'm goin' to hold you to it."
Kit did not reply, for he saw no advantage in discussion.
"You'll get a dollar a week and your board, and you can't do better. I reckon dinner is about ready now."
Kit felt ready for the dinner, for the morning's ride had sharpened his appetite. So when, five minutes later, he was summoned to the table, he willingly accepted the invitation.
"This is my new 'prentice, Mrs. Bickford," said the blacksmith, by way of introduction, to a spare, red headed woman, who was bustling about the kitchen, where the table was spread.
Mrs. Bickford eyed Kit critically.
"He's one of the kid glove kind, by his looks," she said. "You don't expect to get much work out of him, do you?"
"I reckon I will, or know the reason why," responded Bickford, significantly.
"Set right down and I'll dish up the victuals," said Mrs. Bickford. "We don't stand on no ceremony here. What's your name, young man?"
"People call me Kit."
"Sounds like a young cat. It's rediculous to give a boy such a name. First thing you know I'll be calling you Kitty."
"I hope I don't look like a cat," said Kit laughing.
"You ain't got no fur on your cheeks yet," said the blacksmith, laughing heartily at his own witticism. "What have you got for dinner, mother?"
"It's a sort of picked-up dinner," answered Mrs. Bickford. "There's some pork and beans warmed up, some slapjacks from breakfast, and some fried sassidges."
"Why, that's a dinner for a king," said the blacksmith, rubbing his hands.
He took his seat, and put on a plate for Kit specimens of the delicacies mentioned above. In spite of his appetite Kit partook sparingly, supplementing his meal with bread, which, being from the baker's shop, was of good quality. He congratulated himself that he was not to board permanently at Mr. Bickford's table.
When dinner was over, the blacksmith in a genial mood said to Kit: "You needn't begin to work till to-morrow. You can tramp round the village if you want to."
Kit was glad of the delay, as early the next morning he expected to bid farewell to Oakford, and thus would avoid a conflict.
He had been in Oakford before, and knew his way about. He went out of the yard and walked about in a leisurely way. It was early in June, and the country was at its best. The birds were singing, the fields were green with verdure, and Kit's spirits rose. He felt that it would be delightful to travel about the country, as he would do if he joined Barlow's Circus.
He overtook a boy somewhat larger than himself, a stout, strong country boy, attired in a rough, coarse working suit. He was about to pass him, when the country boy called out, "Hallo, you!"
"Were you speaking to me?" asked Kit, turning and looking back.
"Yes. Didn't I see you riding into town with Aaron Bickford?"
"Are you going to work for him?"
"That is what he expects," answered Kit diplomatically. He hesitated about confiding his plans to a stranger.
"Then I pity you."
"I used to work for him."
"Yes, I stood it as long as I could."
"Then you didn't like it?"
"I guess not."
"What was the trouble?"
"Everything. He's a stingy old hunks, to begin with. I went to work for a dollar a week and board. If the board had been decent, it would have been something, but I'd as soon board at the poorhouse."
"I have taken dinner there," said Kit, smiling.
"Did you like it?"
"I have dined better. In fact I have seldom dined worse."
"What did the old woman give you?"
Kit enumerated the articles composing the bill of fare.
"That's better than usual," said the new acquaintance.
"I suppose the dollar a week is all right," said Kit.
"Good enough if you can get it. It's about as easy to get blood out of a stone, as money out of old Bickford. Generally I had to wait ten days after the time before I could get the money."
"How is the work?"
"Hard, and plenty of it. It's work early and work late, and if there isn't work at the forge, you've got to help the old woman, by drawing water and doing chores. You don't live in Oakford, do you?"
"No; I came from Smyrna."
"I thought not. Bickford can't get a boy to work for him here. What made you come? Couldn't you get a place at home?"
"I didn't try."
"Well, you haven't done much in coming here."
"I begin to think so," Kit responded, with a smile.
"Hasn't the circus been in your town?"
"I wanted to go, but I guess I'll manage to see it in Grafton. It shows there to-morrow."
"Are you going?" asked Kit with interest.
"Yes; I shall walk. I'll start early and spend the day there."
"We may meet there."
"You don't expect to go, do you? Bickford won't let you off."
"I don't think Mr. Bickford will have much to say about it," he said.
"Are you going to hook jack?" asked his new acquaintance.
"I didn't mean to tell you, but I will. I have made up my mind not to work for Mr. Bickford at all."
"Then why did you come here?"
"Because my uncle saw fit to arrange with him."
"What are you going to do, then?"
"I am offered work with the circus."
"You are!" exclaimed the country boy, opening wide his eyes in astonishment. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to be an acrobat."
Kit explained as well as he could.
"What are they going to pay you?"
"Ten dollars a week and my expenses," answered Kit, proudly.
"Jehu!" ejaculated the other boy. "Why, that's good wages for a man. Do you think they'd hire me, too?"
"If you think you can do what they require, you can ask them."
"Why can't I do it as well as you?"
"Because I have been practicing for a long time at a gymnasium. What is your name?"
"Then, Bill, don't say a word to any one about my plans. Suppose we go to Grafton together?"
Before the boys parted they made an agreement to meet at five o'clock the next morning, to set out on their walk to Grafton.
KIT'S FIRST NIGHT AT THE BLACKSMITH'S.
At nine o'clock the blacksmith, giving a deep yawn, said: "You'd better be getting to bed, young feller. You'll have to be up bright and airly in the morning."
Kit was already feeling sleepy, and made no objection. Though it was yet early, he had found it hard work to get through the evening, as he could find nothing to read except a weekly paper, three months old, and a copy of "Pilgrim's Progress." In truth, neither Mr. Bickford nor his wife were of a literary turn, and did not even manage to keep up with the news of the day.
"I am ready," said Kit.
"Mother, show him to his room," added the blacksmith. "To-morrow I'll give him a lesson at the forge."
"Perhaps you will," said Kit to himself, "but I think it doubtful."
Kit's room was a small back one on the second floor. The front apartment was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Bickford, and there was one of the same size which was used as a spare chamber.
Kit's room was supplied with a cot bed, and was furnished in the plainest manner. One thing he missed. He saw no washstand.
"Where am I to wash in the morning?" he asked.
"You can wash in the tin basin in the kitchen," answered Mrs. Bickford. "There's a bar of soap down there and a roller towel, so I guess you won't have to go dirty."
Kit shuddered at the suggestion. He had seen bars of yellow soap in the grocery at home, and didn't think he should enjoy its use. Nor did he fancy using the same towel with the blacksmith and his wife. He had seen the roller towel hanging beside the sink, and judged from its appearance that it had already been used nearly a week.
"I have been accustomed to wash in my own room," he ventured to say.
"You've been used to a great many things that you won't find here," replied Mrs. Bickford, grimly.
Kit thought it extremely likely.
"If you can't do as the rest of us do, you can get along without washing," continued the lady.
"I will try and manage," answered Kit, bearing in mind that he expected to leave the Bickford mansion forever the next morning.
"That new boy of yours is kind of uppish," remarked Mrs. Bickford, when she returned to the sitting room.
"What's the matter now?"
"He wants to wash in his own room. He's too fine a gentleman to wash in the kitchen."
"What did you tell him?"
Mrs. Bickford repeated her remark.
"Good for you, mother! We'll take down his pride a little."
"Is he goin' to work in them fine clo'es he brought with him?"
"He didn't bring any others."
"He'll spile 'em, and not have anything to wear to meetin'."
"Haven't we got a pair of overalls in the house—one that the last boy used?"
"Yes; I'll get 'em right away."
"They'll be good for him to wear."
Before Kit got into bed, the door of his chamber was unceremoniously opened, and Mrs. Bickford walked in, carrying a faded pair of overalls.
"You can put these on in the mornin'," she said. "They'll keep your clo'es clean. They may be a mite long for you, but you can turn up the legs at the bottom."
She left the room without waiting for an answer.
Kit surveyed the overalls with amusement.
"I wonder how I should look in them," he said to himself.
He drew them over his trousers, and regarded his figure as well as he could in the little seven by nine glass that hung on the wall.
"There is Kit, the young blacksmith!" he said with a smile. "On the whole, I don't think it improves my appearance. I'll take them off, and leave them for the next boy."
"What did the boy say, mother?" asked Mr. Bickford, upon his wife's return.
"He just took 'em; he didn't say anything."
"I s'pose he's never worn overalls before," said the blacksmith. "What do you think he told me on the way over?"
"I don't know."
"He said he wasn't goin' to work for me at all. He didn't like the blacksmith's trade."
"Well, of all things!"
"I just told him he hadn't no choice in the matter, that me and his uncle had arranged matters, and that I should hold him to the contract."
"I'm afraid he'll be dainty about his vittles. He didn't eat much dinner."
"Wait till he gets to work, mother. I guess he'll have appetite enough. I mean he shall earn his board, at any rate."
"I hope we won't have no trouble with him, Aaron."
"You needn't be afraid, mother."
"Somehow, Aaron, you never did manage to keep boys very long," said Mrs. Bickford, dubiously.
"Because their folks were weak, and allowed 'em to have their own way. It'll be different with this boy."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because his uncle is anxious to get rid of him. He told me the boy, till lately, had imagined he was goin' to have property. He's supported him out of charity, dressin' him like a gentleman, sendin' him to school, and spendin' a pile of money on him. Now he thinks it about time to quit, and have the boy learn a trade. Of course the boy'll complain, and try to beg off, but it won't be no use. Stephen Watson won't make no account of what he says. He keeps a horse himself, and has promised to have him shod at my shop."
"Well, it may be for the best; I hope so."
Aaron Bickford felt a good deal of confidence in himself. He understood very well that Kit was averse to working in his shop, but he meant to make him do it.
"I'd like to see the boy I can't master," he said to himself, complacently. "Years hence, when the boy has a forge of his own, he'll thank me for perseverin' with him. There's money to be made in the business. Why, when I began I wasn't worth a hundred dollars, and I owed for my anvil. Now I own this house and shop, and I've got a tidy sum in the bank."
This was true. But it must be added that the result was largely due to the pinching economy which both he and his wife had practiced.
When Mr. Bickford woke up the next morning it was half-past five o'clock.
"Strange how I came to oversleep," he said. "I guess I must have been more tuckered out than I supposed. Well, the boy's had a longer nap than I meant he should. However, it's only for one mornin'."
Mr. Bickford did not linger over his toilet. Five minutes was rather an overstatement of the time.
He went to Kit's chamber, and, opening the door, went in as unceremoniously as his wife had done the night before.
A surprise awaited him.
There was no one in the bed.
"What! has the boy got up a'ready?" he asked himself, in a bewildered way. "He's better at gettin' up than I expected."
Looking about him, he discovered on a chair by the bedside the overalls, and upon them a note and a silver dollar.
"What's all that mean?" he asked himself.
Looking closer he saw that the note was directed to him. Beginning to suspect that something was wrong, he opened it.
This was what the note contained:
MR. BICKFORD—I leave you a dollar to pay for my food and lodging. I do not care to become a blacksmith. Good by.
"I'll have him back!" exclaimed Aaron Bickford, an angry look appearing on his face. "He ain't goin' to get the best of me."
Mr. Bickford harnessed up his horse, and started after the fugitive. But in what direction should he drive? He was not long at fault. He met a milkman who had seen two boys starting out on the Grafton road, and so informed him.
"I guess they're bound for the circus," he said.
"Like as not," returned the blacksmith.
But he had a long chase of it. It was not until he was within half a mile of the circus tents that he descried the two boys, trudging along, Kit with his valise in his hand. Hearing the sound of wheels, the boys looked back, and in some dismay recognized their pursuer.
The blacksmith stood up in his wagon, and pointing his long whip at Kit, cried out, "Stop where you are, Kit Watson, or I'll give you the worst thrashing you ever had!"
KIT FALLS INTO THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY.
If Aaron Bickford expected to frighten Kit by his threat, he was destined to find himself badly mistaken.
Kit was startled at first, not having anticipated that the blacksmith would get upon his track so soon. But he was a boy of spirit, and had no thought of surrender. Mr. Bickford halted his horse, and Kit faced him.
"Didn't you find my note?" he asked.
"Yes, I did."
"Then you know that I don't care to work for you."
"What's that got to do with it? Your uncle and me have settled that you shall."
"Then you'll have to unsettle it. I have a right to choose my own occupation, and I don't intend to become a blacksmith. Even if I did, I should choose some one else as my teacher."
"None of your impudence, young man! You'll have a long account to settle with me, I warn you of that."
"I had but one account to settle—for my board and lodging—and I've attended to that. Good morning, Mr. Bickford."
Kit turned and began to continue his journey.
"Hallo! Stop, I tell you!" shouted the blacksmith.
"Have you got any more to say? If so, I'll listen."
"What more I have to say, I shall say with a horsewhip!" retorted Bickford, grimly, preparing to descend from his wagon.
"Come, William, we must run for it," said Kit. "Are you good at running?"
"Try me!" was the laconic reply.
By the time Aaron Bickford was out of his wagon, the boys had increased the distance between them by several rods.
"Oho, so that's your game, is it?" said the blacksmith. "If I don't overhaul them, my name isn't Aaron Bickford."
Kit was a good runner—quite as good as his pursuer—but he had one serious disadvantage. His valise was heavy, and materially affected his speed. He had carried it several miles, and though he had shifted it from one hand to the other, both arms were now tired.
"Let me take it, Kit," said his companion, who was now on intimate terms with him.
"It'll be just as heavy for you as for me."
"Never mind! He isn't after me."
"Well, if you don't mind carrying it a little while."
The advantage of the change was soon apparent. Kit increased his speed, and William, whose arms were not tired, was not materially retarded by his burden.
"If I had no valise I would climb a tree," said Kit, while running. "I don't believe Mr. Bickford is good at climbing."
"We haven't got far to go to reach the circus tents," returned William.
But though the boys held out well, Aaron Bickford gradually gained upon them. Many years at the anvil had given him plenty of wind and endurance. Besides, he was entirely fresh, not having taken a long walk already, as the boys had done.
"You'd better give up!" he cried out, in the tone of one who was sure of victory. "It takes more than a boy like you to get the best of Aaron Bickford."
It did indeed seem as if the boys must surrender. Within a few rods Bickford would be even with them.
Kit came to a sudden determination.
"Jump over the fence!" he cried.
There was a rail fence skirting one side of the road.
No sooner said than done. Both boys clambered over the fence, and with that barrier between them faced the angry blacksmith.
"Well, I've got you!" he cried, panting.
"Have you? I don't see it," answered Kit.
"You might as well give up fust as last."
"Suppose we discuss matters a little, Mr. Bickford," said Kit, calmly. "What right have you to pursue me?"
"What right? Your uncle's given me the charge of you."
"That is something he had no right to do."
"Why not? Ain't he your guardian?"
"Who is, then?"
"I have no guardian but myself."
"That's a likely story. I can't listen to no such foolish talk."
Aaron Bickford felt that it was time to move upon the enemy's entrenchments, and, putting one leg on the lower rail, he proceeded to climb over the fence.
But the boys had anticipated this move, and were prepared for it. By the time the blacksmith was inside the field, the boys, who were considerably lighter and more active, had crossed to the reverse side.
"Here we are again, Mr. Bickford," said William Morris.
The blacksmith frowned.
"Don't you be impudent, Bill Morris," he said. "I haven't anything to do with you, but I sha'n't let you sass me."
"What have I said that's out of the way?" asked William.
"Oh, you're mighty innocent, you are! You're aidin' and abettin' Kit Watson to escape from me, his lawful master."
"I have no master, Mr. Bickford," said Kit, proudly.
"Well, that's what they used to call 'em when I was a boy. Boys weren't so pert and impudent in them days."
Meanwhile the blacksmith was recrossing the fence.
Kit and William took the opportunity to run, and by the time Mr. Bickford was again on the roadside they were several rods away.
This naturally exasperated the blacksmith, who felt mortified at his failure to overtake the youngsters. A new idea occurred to him.
"You, Bill, do you want to earn a dime?" he asked.
"How?" inquired William.
"Just help me catch that boy Kit, and I'll give you ten cents."
"I don't care to earn money that way, Mr. Bickford," responded William, scornfully.
"Good for you, William!" exclaimed Kit.
"You won't earn ten cents any easier," persisted Bickford.
"I wouldn't do such a mean thing for a dollar, nor five dollars," replied William. "Kit's a friend of mine, and I'm going to stand by him."
The blacksmith was made angry by this persistent refusal. Then again he was faint and uncomfortable from having missed his breakfast, which seemed likely to be indefinitely postponed.
"I'll lick you, Bill Morris, as well as Kit, when I catch you," he said.
"Probably you will—when you catch me!" retorted William, in an aggravating tone. "Run faster, Kit."
The boys ran, but again they were impeded by the heavy valise, and slowly but surely the blacksmith was gaining upon them.
Kit, who was again carrying the burden, began to show signs of distress, and dropped behind his companion.
"I can't hold out much longer, Bill," he said, puffing laboriously.
Aaron Bickford heard these words, and they impelled him to extra exertion. At last he caught up and grasped Kit by the collar.
"I've got ye at last!" he cried, triumphantly.
MR. BICKFORD'S DEFEAT.
Aaron Bickford was a strong man. By his work at the forge he had strengthened his muscles till they were like iron. So was Kit a strong boy, but it would be absurd to represent him as a match for the sturdy blacksmith.
"I've got ye at last!" repeated Bickford tightening his grasp of Kit's coat collar.
"Let go my collar!" cried Kit, not struggling, for he knew that it would be useless.
"I'll let go your collar when I've got ye in the wagon," answered the blacksmith, "and not till then. You, Bill, bring along his valise. I'll take ye home in the wagon, though it would be only right if I let ye walk."
"Mr. Bickford," said Kit, "you have no right to touch me. You have no authority over me."
"I ain't, hey? Well, we'll argy that matter when we get home."
And he commenced dragging Kit in the direction of the wagon.
It certainly seemed as if Kit's plans were destined, if not for defeat, to postponement. Unconditional surrender was his only choice against the superior strength of Aaron Bickford. It was certainly very vexatious.
But help was nearer than he anticipated.
They were now within sight of the circus tents, and Kit, to his joy, descried the giant, Achilles Henderson, taking a morning walk, and already within hearing distance.
"Mr. Henderson!" he called out, eagerly.
"Who is that you're calling?" asked the blacksmith sharply.
Achilles heard, and instantly recognized the boy who had talked with him at Smyrna.
It took but a few strides to bring him to the spot where Kit was held in captivity.
"What does this mean?" he asked.
"This man is dragging me away without authority," answered Kit.
"Who is he?" asked the giant.
"He is a blacksmith, and claims me as an apprentice, but I never agreed to work for him."
"That's a lie," said the blacksmith, "he's my runaway apprentice."
"I would believe the boy sooner than you," said Achilles, not favorably impressed by the blacksmith's bull dog look.
"It doesn't make any difference what you believe," said Bickford, rudely; and he began to pull Kit in the direction of the wagon.
"Let go that boy's collar," cried Achilles, sternly.
"I won't!" retorted the blacksmith. "I advise you to mind your own business."
Achilles Henderson, like most big men, was good natured, but he was roused by the other's insolence. He carried war into the enemy's camp by seizing the blacksmith and shaking him till he was compelled to release his grasp.
"What do you mean by this outrage?" demanded Bickford, furiously.
"It's only a gentle hint," said Achilles, smiling. "Now, my friend, I've got a piece of advice to give you. If that is your wagon back there you'd better get into it as soon as convenient—the sooner the better—and get out of my way or I'll give you a stronger hint."
The blacksmith was too indignant to be prudent. What! Confess himself vanquished, and go home without the boy! The idea was intolerable to him.
"I'm goin' to take the boy," he said, angrily, and darting forward he essayed to seize Kit by the collar again.
"Oho! You need a stronger hint," said Achilles. With this he grasped the blacksmith about the middle, and tossed him over the fence into the adjoining field as easily as if he were a cat.
Aaron Bickford did not know what had happened to him. He lay motionless for a few seconds, and then picked himself up with some difficulty, and confronted the giant with mingled fear and anger.
"I'll have the law of ye for this," he shouted.
"It's as you like," he said. "I've got my witnesses here," pointing to the two boys.
Mr. Bickford got over the fence, and sullenly turned in the direction of his deserted wagon.
"You'll hear from me again, all of you!" he shouted, shaking his fist.
"Don't trouble yourself to write," said the giant, jocosely. "We can worry along without a letter."
The blacksmith was too full of wrath for utterance. He kept on his way, muttering to himself, and shaking his fist at intervals.
"Now what's all this about?" asked Achilles. "What's the matter with our amiable friend?"
"So you don't want to be a blacksmith? Where are you going, if I may inquire?"
"I'm going to join the circus," answered Kit.
"In what capacity—as a lion tamer?"
"No; I shouldn't fancy that business. I am to be an acrobat."
"An acrobat! But are you qualified?" asked Achilles, somewhat surprised.
He had not heard of Kit's practice with the Vincenti brothers on the day of his first visit to the circus.
"I am pretty well qualified already," answered Kit, "I saw Mr. Barlow yesterday morning, and he promised me an engagement at ten dollars a week."
"Good!" said Achilles, heartily. "I am pleased to hear it. I took a liking to you the other day, and I'm glad you're going to join us. But do you think it wise to choose such a life?"
"You have chosen it," said Kit.
"Yes; but what could I do—a man of my size? I must earn more than a common man. My board and clothes both cost more. What do you think I paid for this suit I have on?"
"I couldn't tell, sir."
"Sixty dollars. The tailor only charges thirty dollars to a man of ordinary size, but I am so absurdly large that I have to pay double price."
"Why don't you buy your suits ready made?" asked Kit, smiling.
Achilles laughed heartily at the idea.
"Show me a place where I can get ready made clothes to fit me," he answered, "and I will gladly accept your suggestion."
"That may be a little difficult, I admit."
"Why, you have no idea how inconvenient I find it to be so large. I can't find a bed to suit me in any hotel. If I go to the theater I can't crowd myself into an ordinary seat. I have to have all kinds of clothing, inside and outside, made to order. My hats and shoes must also be made expressly for me."
"I suppose you get very well paid," suggested Kit.
"Seventy-five dollars a week sounds pretty large, and would be if my expenses were not so great. You wouldn't be a giant for that money, would you?"
"I am not so ambitious," replied Kit, smiling. "But there was a moment when I wished myself of your size."
"When was that?"
"When the blacksmith grasped me by the collar."
"You don't have to work very hard," said William Morris.
"My boy, it is pretty hard work to be stared at by a crowd of people. I get tired of it often, but I see no other way of making a living."
"You would make a pretty good blacksmith."
"I couldn't earn more than a man of average strength, and that wouldn't be enough, as I have explained."
"Were your parents very tall?" asked Kit.
"My father was six feet in height, but my mother was a small woman. I don't know what put it into me to grow so big. But here we are at the lot. Will you come in?"
"When can I see Mr. Barlow?" asked Kit, anxiously.
"He is at the hotel. He won't be round till half-past nine. Have you two boys had breakfast?"
"No," answered Kit; "I'm nearly famished."
"Come round to the circus tent. You are to be one of us, and will board there. I guess we can provide for your friend, too."
Never was invitation more gladly accepted. Both Kit and William felt as if they had not broken their fast for a week.
BREAKFAST IN THE CIRCUS TENT.
Achilles entered the circus inclosure—the "lot," as it is generally called,—and made his way to a small tent situated not far from the one devoted to the performances. An attendant was carrying in a plate of hot steak and potatoes from the cook tent near by.
"Is breakfast ready?" asked Achilles.
"Yes; any time you want it."
"Is anybody inside?"
"Only Mademoiselle Louise."
"Well, I want three breakfasts—for myself and my two young friends here."
"I didn't know you had sons," said Mike, the attendant, regarding Kit and William with some curiosity.
"I haven't. One of these young men is an acrobat, who will be one of us. The other is his friend. Bring along the grub as quick as possible—we are all hungry."
"All right, sir."
Running the length of the tent, which was about twenty feet by ten, was a long table surrounded by benches.
The giant took his seat and placed the boys one on each side of him. Just opposite sat a woman of twenty-five or thereabouts, who was already eating breakfast.
"Good morning, Mlle. Louise," said the giant.
"Good morning, Mr. Henderson," responded the lady. "Who are your young companions?"
"I don't know their names, but this one," placing his hand on Kit's shoulder, "has been engaged by Mr. Barlow as an acrobat."
"Indeed! He looks young."
"I am sixteen," volunteered Kit.
"What circus have you traveled with before this season?" asked Mlle. Louise.
"I have never traveled with any, madam."
"But you are an acrobat?"
"I have had my practice in a gymnasium."
"How came Mr. Barlow to engage you?"
"At Smyrna I practiced a little with the Vincenti brothers."
"At Smyrna? Why, that's where the lion dashed into the arena!"
"Do you know the boy who had the courage to face him?"
"I am the boy," he said.
"You don't mean it!" exclaimed the lady, vivaciously. "Why, you're a hero. I must shake hands with you," and she reached across the table and gave Kit a hearty grasp of the hand.
"Is that so?" interposed Achilles. "Why, I didn't know you were the boy. I was not present at the time, and only heard of it afterwards. Mlle. Louise is right. You are a brave fellow."
"I am much obliged to you both for your favorable opinion," said Kit modestly, "but I didn't realize my danger till afterwards."
"Oh, heavens! I can see him now—that wicked beast!" exclaimed the lady. "I was nearly scared out of my senses. As for poor Dupont, he was nearer death than I ever want to be till my time comes."
"Was Dupont the clown?" asked Kit.
"Yes. The lion held him down, with his foot upon the poor clown's back, and but for your brave act he would have torn the poor fellow to pieces. Mr. Henderson, you missed the most thrilling act of the evening."
"So I begin to think. By the way, boys, I ought to have introduced this lady. She is the famous aerial artist, whom you saw the other evening in her wonderful feats upon the trapeze."
"Yes," said Mlle. Louise, complacently, "I think I have a pretty good act. I get plenty of applause, eh, Mr. Henderson?"
"That's true. I think I should leave the circus if I had to appear in your act. I never could summon up courage."
The lady laughed.
"Monsieur Achilles," she said, "I wouldn't advise you to emulate me. I don't believe you could find a rope strong enough to support you, and if you should fall, I pity the audience."
"You have convinced me. I shall give up all thoughts of it," said the giant, with mock gravity. "It would suit better our young friend here, who is an acrobat."
"Did you ever practice on a trapeze?" asked Mlle. Louise, turning to Kit.
"Yes, often," answered Kit, "but never at a great height."
"Would it frighten you to find yourself so high up in the air?"
"I don't think so; I have a cool head."
"You must practice. I will give you a few hints myself. If you are cool and courageous, as I judge you will soon learn. By the way, what is your name?"
"It'll be something else when you begin work."
"Do all performers have assumed names?"
"Generally. Here I am Mademoiselle Louise Lefroy, but it isn't a bit like my real name."
Before this the boys had been served with breakfast. The steak was rather tough, and the coffee not of the best quality, but Kit and William thoroughly enjoyed it, and thought it about the best breakfast they had ever eaten. Mlle. Louise continued to converse with them, and was very gracious.
"Are you too an acrobat?" she asked William.
William became so confused that he swallowed some coffee the wrong way, and came near choking.
"No, ma'am," he answered bashfully, "but I'd like to go round with the show."
"You'll be better off at home if you've got one," said the giant. "You are not a performer; you are too small for a property man, and not strong enough for a razorback."
"What's a razorback?" asked William, in amazement.
"It's a boy or man who helps load and unload the circus cars," he answered. "It is heavy work, and you would be thrown among a low lot of people—canvasmen, and such. Our young friend here, on the other hand, will have a good sleeping berth, eat at the first table, and be well provided for generally."
William looked disappointed. He had never thought particularly about traveling with a circus till now, but his meeting with Kit had given him a circus fever.
At ten o'clock Mr. Barlow came to the grounds, and Achilles volunteered to go with Kit to speak with him about his engagement.
SOME CIRCUS PEOPLE.
Mr. Barlow recognized Kit instantly.
"So you have kept your promise, my young friend," he said. "Well, have you come to join us?"
"Yes, sir, if your offer holds good."
"My offers always hold good; I never go back on my word."
Kit was glad to hear this, for he would have been placed in an embarrassing position if, like some men, Mr. Barlow had forgotten an offer made on the impulse of the moment.
"Have you any directions to give, sir?"
"You may report to my manager, Mr. Bryant. First, however, it may be well for you to see the Vincenti brothers, and arrange for a joint act."
"When do you wish me to appear, sir?"
"Whenever you are ready. You may take a week to rehearse, if necessary. Your pay will commence at once."
"Thank you, Mr. Barlow; you are very kind and considerate."
Mr. Barlow smiled, and, waving his hand, passed on.
He was very popular with all who were in his employ, and had a high reputation for kindness and strict integrity.
"I'd like to work for him," said William Morris, who had listened to the conversation between Kit and the circus proprietor.
"I should like to have you along with me," replied Kit, "but from what Mr. Henderson says there is no good opening."
It was not till eleven o'clock that Kit met his future partners, the Vincenti brothers.
"Good!" said Alonzo, in a tone of satisfaction. "We must get up a joint act. I suppose you haven't got a suit of tights?"
"No. I never expected to need one."
"I have an extra one which I think will fit you. Though I am ten years older than you we are about the same size."
Kit had occasion to remark that circus performers are short as a rule. Many of them do not exceed five feet four inches in height, but generally they are compactly built, with well developed muscles, and possess unusual strength and agility.
The circus suit was brought out. It proved to be an excellent fit.
William Morris eyed Kit with admiration.
"You look like a regular circus chap, Kit!" he exclaimed. "I wish I was in your shoes."
"Wait till you see whether I am a success, William," replied Kit.
"Now, if you are ready, we will have a little practice," said Alonzo Vincenti.
"May I look on?" asked William.
"Oh, yes; we don't generally admit spectators, but you are a friend of the boy."
They all entered the tent, and for an hour Kit was kept hard at work.
In the act devised by the Vincenti brothers, he stood on the shoulders of the second, who in his turn stood on the shoulders of the first. Various changes were gone through, in all of which Kit proved himself an adept, and won high compliments from his new associates.
"Can you tumble?" asked Antonio.
"I was afraid I should when I first got on your shoulders," he answered.
"That was what I meant,—something like this," and he whirled across the arena, rolling over and over on hands and feet in the manner of a cart wheel.
Kit imitated Antonio rather slowly and awkwardly at first, but rapidly showed improvement.
"You'll soon learn," said Antonio. "Now let me show you something else."
This something else was a succession of somersaults, made in the most rapid manner.
Kit tried this also, slowly at first, as before, but proving a rapid learner.
"In the course of three or four days you will be able to do it in public," said Alonzo.
"When do you advise me to make my first appearance?" asked Kit.
"To-night, in our first act."
"But shall I be ready?"
"You'll do. We may as well make a beginning."
"I wish I could see you, Kit," said William.
"I was going to the afternoon performance. It would make me too late home if I stayed in the evening."
"Won't there be some people over from Oakford that you can ride back with?"
"I didn't think of that. Yes, John Woods told me that his father was coming, and would bring him along. I could ride home with them."
"Good! then you'd better stay."
"Perhaps I'd better go over and buy a ticket."
But to William's satisfaction he was given free admission as a friend of Kit. Not only that, but he was invited to take dinner and supper at the circus table. In fact, he was treated with distinguished consideration.
"Kit," he said, "I was in luck to meet you."
"And it was lucky for me that I met you. I shouldn't like to have met Aaron Bickford single handed."
"I wish old Bickford would come to the circus to-night. Wouldn't he be surprised to see you performing in tights?"
"I think it would rather take him by surprise," said Kit, smiling.
Kit and William occupied seats at the afternoon performance as spectators, it having been arranged that Kit's debut should be made in the evening. Our hero regarded the different acts with unusual interest, and his heart beat a little quicker when he heard the applause elicited by the performances of the Vincenti brothers, for he had already begun to consider himself one of them.
When the performance was over, and the audience was dispersing, Kit felt a hand laid upon his shoulder.
He turned and his glance rested upon a man of about forty, with a grave, serious expression. He was puzzled, for it was not a face that he remembered to have ever seen before.
"You don't know me?" said the stranger.
"And yet you have done me a very great service."
"I didn't know it, sir."
"The greatest service that any one person can do to another—you have saved my life."
Then a light dawned upon Kit's mind, and he remembered what Achilles Henderson had said to him in the morning.
"Is your name Dupont?" he asked.
"Yes; I am Joe Dupont, the clown, whom you saved from a horrible death. I tell you, when Nero stood there in the ring with his paw on my breast I gave myself up for lost. I expected to be torn to pieces. It was an awful moment!" and the clown shuddered at the picture which his imagination conjured up. "Yes, sir; I wouldn't see such another moment for all the money Barlow is worth. I wonder my hair didn't turn white."