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

Chapter 20. A Chat With A Candy Butcher

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Kit had a berth assigned him in one of the circus cars. His nearest neighbor was Harry Thorne, a young man of twenty-four, who filled the position of candy butcher. As this term may sound strange to my readers, I will explain that it is applied to the venders of candy, lemonade, peanuts, and other articles such as are patronized by those who come to see the show. It is really a very profitable business, as will be explained in the course of the story.

Harry Thorne was social and ready to give Kit any information about the circus.

"How long is it since you joined a circus?" asked Kit, after getting acquainted.

"I was younger than you," answered Thorne.

"Why did you join? What gave you the idea?"

"A spirit of adventure, I think. Besides, there was a large family of us--I am the oldest--and it was necessary for me to do something."

"That's a queer name--candy butcher."

"It seems so to you, but I am used to it."

"Did you become a candy butcher at once?"

"Not till I was eighteen. Before that I ran errands and made myself generally useful. I thought of being an acrobat, like you, but I was too stout and not active enough."

"I shouldn't think there would be much money made in your business," said Kit.

"That shows you don't know much about circus matters. Last fall I ran in with seven hundred dollars saved, besides paying all my expenses during the six months I was out."

"You ought to be pretty well off now, if you have been a candy butcher for five or six years."

"I haven't a cent, and am owing two hundred dollars in Philadelphia."

"How is that?"

"You don't often find a circus man that saves money. It's easy come, easy go. But I send money home every season--three or four hundred dollars at least, if I do well."

"That's a good thing any way. But if I were in your place I would put away some money every season."

"I could do it, but it's hard to make up my mind."

"I can't see how you can make such sums. It puzzles me."

"We are paid a fixed salary, say twenty-five dollars a month, and commission on sales. I was always pretty lucky in selling, and my income has sometimes been very large. But I don't make much in large places. It is in the smaller towns that the money is made. When a country beau brings his girl to the circus, he don't mind expense. He makes up his mind to spend several dollars in having a good time--so he buys lemonade, peanuts, apples, and everything that he or his girl fancies. In the city, where there are plenty of places where such things can be bought, we don't sell much. In New York or Philadelphia I make very little more than my salary."

"What is there most profit on?" asked Kit.

"Well, I should say lemonade. You've heard of circus lemonade?"

"Is there anything peculiar about it?"

"Yes, something peculiarly weak. A good-sized lemon will make half a dozen glasses, and perhaps more. But there is something cheaper still, and that is citric acid. I remember one hot day in an Ohio town. The thermometer stood at 99 degrees and there wasn't a drop of spring or well water to be had, for we had cornered it. All who were thirsty had to drink lemonade, and it took a good many glasses to quench thirst. I made a harvest that day, and so did the other candy butchers. If we could have a whole summer of such days, I could retire on a small fortune in October."

"Do you like the circus business?"

"Sometimes I get tired of it, but when the spring opens I generally have the circus fever."

"What do you do in the winter?"

"It is seldom I get anything to do. I am an expense, and that is why I find myself in debt when the new season opens. Last winter I was more lucky. A young fellow--an old circus acquaintance of mine--has a store in the country, and he offered to supply me with a stock of goods to sell on commission in country villages near by. In that way I filled up about three months, making my expenses, but doing nothing more. However, that was a great thing for me, and I start this season only two hundred dollars in debt, as I think I told you a few minutes ago."

"Is it the same way with performers?"

"No; they have a better chance. Next winter, if you try, you can probably make an engagement to perform at some dime museum or variety hall, in New York or elsewhere. I once got the position of ticket seller for a part of the winter."

"I don't think I should like to perform in a dime museum," said Kit.

"What's the odds, if you are well paid for it?"

"I don't intend to make my present business a permanent one."

"That's different. What will you do next fall?"

"I may go to school."

Harry Thorne whistled.

"That will be a novelty," he said. "I haven't been to school since I was twelve years old."

"Wouldn't you like to go now?"

"No; I'm too old. Are you much of a scholar?"

"I'm a pretty good Latin scholar, and know something of Greek."

"I'll bet there isn't another acrobat in the country that can say that. What salary do you get, if you don't mind telling?"

"Twenty-five dollars a week."

"You're in luck. How came Barlow to give you so much?"

"I think he took a liking to me. Perhaps he wanted to pay me for facing the lion at Smyrna."

"Were you the boy who did that? I thought your face looked familiar. You've got pluck, Kit."

"I hope so; but I'm not sure whether it is I or the snuff that is entitled to the most credit."

"Anyhow it took some courage, even if you did have the snuff with you."

"Do you know what is to be our route this season?"

"I think we are going West as far as St. Louis, taking all the larger towns and cities on our way. We are to show a week in Chicago. But I don't care so much for the cities as the country towns--the one-night places."

"Does Mr. Barlow go with us?"

"Not steadily. He drops in on us here and there. There's one thing I can say for him--he won't have any man in his employ drink or gamble. We have to bind ourselves to total abstinence while we are in his employ--that is, till the end of the season. Gambling is the great vice of circus men; it is more prevalent even than drinking."

"Don't the men do it on the sly?"

"They run a risk if they do. At the first offense they are fined, at the second or third they are bounced."

"That doesn't trouble me any. I neither drink nor gamble."

"Good for you."

"Say, when are you two fellows goin' to stop talkin'?" was heard from a neighboring berth. "You don't give a fellow a chance to sleep."

Kit and his new friend took the hint and addressed themselves to slumber. _

Read next: Chapter 21. Kit Meets A Schoolmate

Read previous: Chapter 19. Stephen Watson Visits Oakford

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