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The Young Acrobat of the Great North American Circus, a fiction by Horatio Alger

Chapter 4. A Scene Not Down On The Bills

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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. _

Read next: Chapter 5. How Kit Vanquished The Lion

Read previous: Chapter 3. Kit Astonishes Two Acrobats

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