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

Chapter 16. Mr. Bickford At The Circus

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Mr. Bickford's chief object in going to the circus was to regain possession of Kit, his runaway apprentice, as he chose to consider him. But, besides this, he really had a curiosity to see the show, and thought this would afford him a good excuse for doing so. The same remark will apply to Mrs. Bickford, whose curiosity had been excited the year previous by seeing a circus procession. The blacksmith and his wife were not prejudiced against amusements, like many others, but were too frugal to attend them. Now that they could combine business with pleasure, they threw to the winds all hesitation.

"Do you think you'll get the boy, father?" asked Mrs. Bickford, as they jolted over the road to Grafton.

"I'll make a try for it, Sarah. He's a good strong boy, and he'll make a capital blacksmith. Did you notice his broad shoulders?"

"He looks like he'd have a hearty appetite," said the careful spouse.

"We won't pamper him, Sarah," replied Bickford, smiling grimly. "He won't get no such victuals as he did at home. Plain food and plenty of it, that's the way to bring up boys."

"Perhaps he won't be at the circus," suggested Mrs. Bickford.

"I'd be surprised if he wasn't. Boys have a natural hankering for the circus. I had when I was a boy."

"Did you ever go, Aaron?"

"No; I didn't have the money."

"Do you know how much they charge?"

"Fifty cents, I believe."

"It's an awful sight of money to pay for amusement. If it lasts two hours, that makes twenty-five cents an hour."

"So it does, Sarah. That's as much as I can earn by hard work in that time."

"I don't know as it's right to fling away so much money."

"I wouldn't do it if it wasn't for gettin' the boy back. He'll be worth a good deal to me if I do. He's a good deal stronger than Bill Morris."

"Of course that makes a difference. I don't care so much for the circus, though I should like to see the man stand up on a horse and jump through hoops. I wonder if the horse jumps through too."

"I don't know, but we'll soon know all that is to be known. The boy won't expect to see us, I reckon," concluded the blacksmith, with a chuckle.

At length they reached the circus grounds. All was bustle and excitement in the neighborhood of the lot.

"I declare, Aaron, it looks like Fourth of July," said Mrs. Bickford.

"So it does. It beats all--what a crowd there is."

They bought tickets and entered the inclosure.

In a small tent near the entrance were the curiosities. They were about to walk in when a young man curtly asked for tickets.

"We bought tickets at the gate. Here they are."

"All right; but you need separate tickets here."

"I declare that's a swindle," said Mrs. Bickford. "I thought we could see the whole show on these."

"We only charge ten cents extra for this."

"It's a shame. Shall we go in, Aaron?"

"I guess we will. I want to see that 'ere fat woman."

"I'd like to see the dwarf and the woman with hair five feet long. A circus is dreadful expensive, but bein' as we're here we might as well see the whole thing."

Twenty cents was paid at the door, and the economical pair, grown suddenly so extravagant, walked in.

The first object on which the blacksmith's eyes rested kindled him with indignation, and recalled mortifying memories. It was Achilles Henderson, the giant, who, on his side recognized Aaron Bickford.

"Good evening, my friend," he said, with a smile. "I believe we have met before."

"Do you know him?" asked Mrs. Bickford, in surprise.

Aaron's brow contracted as he answered:

"It's the ruffian that threw me over the fence this morning."

"I see you remember me," said Achilles, good-naturedly.

"I ought to remember you," retorted the blacksmith.

"Come, don't bear malice. It was only a little joke."

"I don't like such jokes."

"Well, well; I'll give you satisfaction. I'll let you throw me over the fence any time you want to, and I won't make a particle of resistance."

Somehow this proposal did not strike the blacksmith as satisfactory. He asked abruptly: "Where's the boy?"

"There were two boys."

"I mean the stout, broad-shouldered boy."

"I don't know just where he is at present."

"Do you know why I've come here this evening?"

"To see the show, I expect."

"I've come to get that boy. I've no doubt he's somewhere about here."

"Oho!" thought the giant; "I must put my young friend on his guard."

"If you'll help me I'll do as much for you some time."

"So you are going to carry him back with you?" went on Achilles, desirous of learning the extent of Kit's danger.

"Yes, I am."

"You say he is your apprentice?"

"Of course he is."

"And you've got the papers to show for it?"

"I don't need no papers. I've got his uncle's consent."

"I think, my friend, you're not familiar with the law," thought Achilles. "Kit won't go with you to-night."

But it was nearly time for the performance. Mr. and Mrs. Bickford left the smaller tent, and entering the big one took their seats. They watched the performance with great wonder and enjoyment till the entrance of Kit and the Vincenti brothers. They did not immediately discover him, but when he stood on the shoulders of Alonzo Vincenti, who, in turn, stood on the shoulders of Antonio, and the three-storied acrobat walked round the ring, Mrs. Bickford recognized Kit, and, pointing with her parasol to the young acrobat, as she half raised herself from her seat, she exclaimed in a shrill voice: "Look, Aaron, there's your boy, all rigged out in circus clothes!"

"Well, that beats all!" ejaculated the blacksmith, gazing with wide open mouth at Kit.

Just then, Kit, reversing his attitude, raised his feet in the air and was borne round the ring, amid the plaudits of the spectators.

"How do you think he does it?" asked Mrs. Bickford in astonishment.

"I give it up," said the blacksmith.

"He's a smart critter. Do you think they pay him?"

"I reckon he gets two or three dollars a week, but he hain't no business to hire out to the circus folks. He's going back with us to-night, and I'll turn him out a blacksmith in two years."

When Kit had finished his act, he went to the dressing room and changed his clothes.

"I wonder whether the old fellow is after me!" he thought. "What could have put it into his head that I was here?"

As he emerged from the dressing room he met Mr. Barlow, the proprietor of the circus, who advanced towards him, and shook his hand cordially.

"Bravo, my young friend!" he said. "You did yourself great credit. Are you sure you have never performed in a circus before?"

"Quite sure, sir."

"You went through your act like an old professional. You did as well as either of the other two."

"Thank you, sir. I am glad you are satisfied."

"I ought to be. I regard you as a decided acquisition to my show. Keep on doing your best, and I can assure you that your efforts will be appreciated. How much did I agree to pay you?"

"Ten dollars a week, sir."

"That isn't enough. I raise your salary at once to twenty-five."

Kit was dazzled by his good fortune. What! Twenty-five dollars a week and traveling expenses for a boy of sixteen! It seemed marvelous.

"I am afraid I am dreaming, Mr. Barlow," he said. "I can't believe that I am really to receive so handsome a salary."

"You will realize it to-night when you collect your first week's pay."

"But this won't be a full week, sir."

"Never mind! You shall receive full pay. Do you think I forget your heroic act at Smyrna?"

"Thank you, sir. I hope nothing will prevent my continuing in your employ."

"What should prevent?" asked Mr. Barlow, quickly. "Have you had an offer from another show?"

"No, sir; I am not well known enough for that; but I saw a man in the audience who would probably like to get me away."

"Who is it?"

"A blacksmith from Oakford."

"I don't understand. What have you to do with a blacksmith?"

Kit explained briefly.

"When do you think he will try to recover possession of you?" asked the circus proprietor.

"Just after the show is over."

"Has he any papers?"

"Not one."

"Then he has no claim on you. If he makes any trouble let me know."

"I will, Mr. Barlow." _

Read next: Chapter 17. Kit's Stratagem

Read previous: Chapter 15. Mr. Bickford Goes To The Circus

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