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

Chapter 19. Stephen Watson Visits Oakford

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On Monday as Mr. Bickford was about his work a carriage drove into the yard, containing Stephen Watson and Ralph.

"Good morning, Mr. Bickford," said Stephen Watson. "I've called over to inquire about Kit. I hope he is doing his duty by you."

The blacksmith looked at Mr. Watson with embarrassment, and did not immediately reply.

Mr. Watson repeated his question.

"Kit isn't with me," answered Bickford, at length.

"Isn't with you!" repeated Stephen Watson, in surprise. "Where is he?"

"He's run away."

"Run away!" ejaculated Kit's uncle. "What is the meaning of that?"

"He said he didn't want to be a blacksmith, and that you had no authority to make him."

"But where has he gone? Have you any idea?"

"He has gone off with Barlow's circus."

"But what object can he have in going off with a circus?" asked Mr. Watson, no less bewildered.

"They've hired him to perform."

"Are you sure of this?"

"I ought to be," answered the blacksmith, grimly. "My wife and I saw him jumpin' round last evenin' in the circus tent over at Grafton."

"But I don't see what he--a green hand--can do. Ralph, can you throw any light on this mystery?"

Ralph explained that Kit had practiced acrobatic feats extensively at the gymnasium connected with the school.

"Did he ever talk of going off with a circus?" asked Mr. Watson.

"Never, though he enjoyed the exercise."

"I went after him and tried to get him back," said Mr. Bickford, "but he gave me the slip."

"He's done a very foolish and crazy thing. He can't get more than three or four dollars a week from the circus, and in the fall he'll be out of a job."

"Just as you say, sir. He'd have a good payin' trade if he stayed with me. What do you think it is best to do about it, Mr. Watson?"

"I shall do nothing. If the boy chooses to make a fool of himself, he may try it. Next fall, and possibly before, he'll be coming back in rags, and beg me to take him back."

"I hope you won't take him back," said Ralph, who was jealous of Kit.

"I shall not consider myself bound to do so, but if he consents to obey me, and learn a trade of Mr. Bickford, I will fit him, up and enable him to do so--out of charity, and because he is my nephew."

"Then you don't mean to do anything about it, sir?" asked Aaron Bickford, considerably disappointed, for he longed to get Kit into his power once more.

"No, I will leave the boy to himself. Ralph, as our business seems to be over, we will turn about and go home."

Mr. Watson drove out of the blacksmith's yard.

"Well, Ralph," he said, as they were on their way home, "I am very much annoyed at what your cousin has done, but I don't see that I am to blame."

"Of course you're not, pa," returned Ralph, promptly.

"Still the public may misjudge me. It will be very awkward to answer questions about Kit. I really don't know what to say."

"Say he's run away and joined the circus. We might as well tell the truth."

"I don't know but it will be best. I will add that, though it grieves me, I think it advisable, as he is so old, not to interfere with him, but let him see the error of his way for himself. I will say also that when he chooses to come back, I will make suitable arrangements for him."

"I guess that will do. I will say the same."

"I don't mind saying to you that I shall feel it quite a relief to be rid of the expense of maintaining him, for he has cost me a great deal of money. You are my son, and of course I expect to take care of you, and bring you up as a gentleman, but he has no claim upon me except that of relationship. I won't say that to others, however."

"You are quite right, pa. As he is poor, and has his own living to make, it isn't best to send him to a high-priced school, and give him too much money to spend."

It will be seen that there was a striking resemblance between the views of father and son, both of whom were intensely selfish, mean and unscrupulous.

Stephen Watson foresaw that there would be a difficulty in making outside friends of the family understand why Kit had left home. He deliberately resolved to misrepresent him, and the opportunity came sooner than he anticipated.

On the afternoon of the day of his call upon the blacksmith, there was a ring at the bell, and a middle-aged stranger was ushered into the parlor.

"I suppose you don't remember me," he said to Stephen Watson.

"I can't say I do," replied Stephen, eying him.

"I knew your brother better than I did you. I am Harry Miller, who used to go to school with you both in the old red schoolhouse on the hill."

"I remember your name, but I should not have remembered you."

"I don't wonder. Time changes us all. I am sorry to hear that your poor brother is dead."

"Yes," answered Stephen, heaving a sigh proper to the occasion, which was intended to signify his grief at the loss. "He was cut down like the grass of the field. It is the common lot."

"His wife died earlier, did she not?"


"But there was a son?"


"How old is the boy?"

"Just turned sixteen."

"May I see him? I should like to see the son of my old deskmate."

"Ah!" sighed Stephen. "I wish he were here to meet you."

"But surely he is not dead?"

"No; he is not dead, but he is a source of anxiety to me."

"And why?" asked the visitor, with concern. "Has he turned out badly?"

"Why, I don't know that I can exactly say that he has turned out badly."

"What is the matter with him, then?"

"He is wayward, and instead of being willing to devote himself to his school studies like my son Ralph, he has formed an extraordinary taste for the circus."

"Indeed! but where is he?"

"He is traveling with Barlow's circus."

"In what capacity?"

"As an acrobat."

Henry Miller laughed.

"I remember," he said, "that his father was fond of athletic sports. You never were."

"No, I was a quiet boy."

"That you were, and uncommonly sly!" thought Miller, but he did not consider it polite to say so. "Is the boy--by the way, what is his name?"

"Christopher. He is generally called Kit."

"Well, is Kit a good gymnast?"

"I believe he is."

"When did he join the circus?"

"Only yesterday. In fact it is painful for me to say so, he ran away from a good home to associate with mountebanks."

"And what are you going to do about it?"

"He is so headstrong that I have thought it best to give him his own way, and let him see for himself how foolish he has been. Of course he has a home to return to whenever he sees fit."

"That may be the best way. I should like to see the young rascal. I would follow up the circus and do so, only I am unfortunately called to California on business. I am part owner of a gold mine out there."

"I trust you have been prospered in your worldly affairs."

"Yes, I have every reason to be thankful. I suppose I am worth two hundred thousand dollars."

Stephen Watson, whose god was money, almost turned green with jealousy. At the same time he asked himself how he could take advantage of his old schoolmate's good luck.

"I wish he would take a fancy to my Ralph," he thought.

So he called in Ralph, and introduced him to the rich stranger.

"He's a good boy, my Ralph," he said; "sober and correct in all his habits, and fond of study."

Ralph was rather surprised to hear this panegyric, but presently his father explained to him in private the object he had in view. Then Ralph made himself as agreeable as he could, but he failed to please Mr. Miller.

"He is too much like his father," he said to himself.

When he terminated his call, he received a very cordial invitation to come again on his return from California.

"If Kit has returned I certainly will come," he replied, an answer which pleased neither Ralph nor his father. _

Read next: Chapter 20. A Chat With A Candy Butcher

Read previous: Chapter 18. Mr. Bickford's Mortifying Discovery

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