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

Chapter 6. Kit's Poor Prospects

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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."

"How soon?"

"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?"

Kit smiled.

"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. _

Read next: Chapter 7. Aaron Bickford, The Blacksmith

Read previous: Chapter 5. How Kit Vanquished The Lion

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