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

Chapter 5. How Kit Vanquished The Lion

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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." _

Read next: Chapter 6. Kit's Poor Prospects

Read previous: Chapter 4. A Scene Not Down On The Bills

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