Janet took a little meat and bread in a tin pail, for she thought the captive might be in need of breakfast, and then, putting a sharp knife in her pocket to cut the ropes that bound him, she left the house and took her way over the hill to the deserted cabin which served as Kit's prison.
KIT RESCUED BY A GIRL.
Kit had succeeded in getting a little sleep during the night, but his position was necessarily constrained and he was but very slightly refreshed. Moreover he was a prey to anxiety, for he did not know what fate awaited him on the succeeding day.
At four o'clock in the morning a little light found its way into the cabin through a small window at the rear. The other windows were boarded up.
Kit, appreciating the desirability of escaping before a visit should be made him by his captors, tried hard to work himself out of his bonds, but only succeeded in confining himself more closely than before.
"What will they do to me?" he asked himself anxiously.
He had heard from some of the circus men accounts of the roughness and brutality of the miners, or at least of a certain class of them, for some were quiet and peaceable men, and he knew that there was no extreme of which they were not capable. Life is sweet, and to a boy of sixteen, in good health and strength, it is especially dear. Suppose he should lose his life in this region? Probably none of his friends would ever learn what had become of him, and his uncle and cousin would not scruple to spread rumors to his discredit.
It was certainly tantalizing that he should be tied hand and foot, utterly unable to help himself.
More and more light crept in at the window, and there was every indication of its being a glorious day. But this prospect brought no pleasure to poor Kit.
"Before this time the circus people must have found out my absence," he thought. "Will they take the trouble to look for me?"
Kit was on good terms with his comrades, indeed he was popular with them all, as a bright boy is apt to be, and he did not like to think that no effort would be made to find him. Still, as he could not help owning to himself, they had no clew that was likely to lead to success. He had given no one notice where he was going, and his capture was not likely to have been observed by any one.
While he was indulging in these sorrowful reflections, his attention was drawn to a noise at the window.
"They can't have come back so early," he said to himself in surprise.
He twisted himself round to catch a glimpse, if possible, of the early visitor, and to his delight, he caught a partial view of Janet's dress. Suppose she should prove a deliverer, he said to himself with beating heart.
The visitor, whoever it was, was evidently trying to peer into the cabin. Kit was so placed in a corner as to be almost out of sight in the dark interior. He felt that he must attract attention.
"Hallo, there!" he cried in a loud clear voice.
"He's there!" thought Janet, "just as father said."
"Let me out!" cried Kit, eagerly. "Draw out the bolt, and open the door!"
"Will she do it, or will she be frightened away?" he asked himself, with his heart filled with suspense.
He did not have long to wait for an answer, and a favorable one. He heard the bolt withdrawn, then the door was opened, and the girl's face appeared. Janet Hayden was small, not especially pretty, and rather old-fashioned in looks, but to poor Kit she seemed like an angel.
"Are you the circus boy?" she asked timidly.
"Yes; I am tied here. Have you got a knife to cut this rope?"
"Yes; I brought one with me."
"Then you knew I was here?" Kit asked in surprise.
"Yes; it was my father that locked you up here—my father and another man."
"Will you cut the rope and let me go, then?"
"Yes; that is what I came for."
The little maid went up to the captive, bent over, and with considerable sawing, for the knife she had with her was a dull case knife, succeeded in severing the rope, and Kit was able to rise and stand upon his feet. It was a perfect luxury to feel himself once more free and unshackled.
"I'm very much obliged to you," he said, gratefully. "You can't imagine how stiff I am."
"I should think you would be," said Janet, sympathetically.
"When did your father tell you that I was here?"
"After he got home last night. It was after he had eaten his supper."
"And where is he now?"
"At home and asleep."
"Does he get up early?" asked Kit, in some anxiety.
"Yes, when he is at work; but the mine is shut down for a few days, so he lies abed longer."
"Did he say anything about coming here to-day?"
"Yes, he meant to come—he and the other man—and I was afraid he would do you some harm."
"He would have done so, I am sure," said Kit, shuddering. "I don't see how such a rough father should have so good a daughter."
Janet blushed, and seemed pleased with the compliment.
"I think I take after my mother," she said.
"Is your mother alive?"
"No, she died two years ago," answered Janet, sorrowfully. "She was Scotch, and that is why I am called by a Scotch name."
"What is your name, if you don't mind telling me?"
"Janet. I am Janet Hayden."
"I shall always remember it, for you have done me a great service."
"What is your name?" asked Janet, feeling less timid than at first.
"That is a funny name—Kit, I mean."
"My right name is Christopher, but my friends call me Kit. Can you direct me to the next town—Groveton, where the circus shows to-day."
"Yes, if you will come outside, I will point out which way it is."
Kit emerged from the cabin, nothing loath, and Janet pointed in a westerly direction.
"You go over the hill," she said, "and you will come to a road. You will know it, for near the stile there is a red house."
"Thank you. How far is it to the next town?"
"Eight miles, I believe."
"That would be a long walk. Do you think I could get any one to take me over in a wagon?"
"I think the man who lives in the red house, Mr. Stover, would take you over, if you pay him."
"I shall be glad to pay him, and——" Kit paused, for he felt rather delicate about offering any money to Janet, though he knew she had rendered him most valuable service. "Will you let me offer you a little present?"
He took a five dollar bill from his pocket, and offered it to Janet.
"What is that?" she asked.
"It is a five dollar bill."
"You must be rich," she said, for this seemed to her a great deal of money.
"Oh, no! but will you take it?"
"No," answered Janet, shrinking back, "I didn't come here for money."
"I am sure you didn't, but I should like to give you something."
"No, I would rather not. Besides, if father knew I had money, he would suspect something, and beat me."
"Like the brute that he is," thought Kit.
"But I must go at once, for he may wake up and miss me. Good-by!"
"Good-by!" said Kit.
He had no time to say more, for the child was already hurrying down the hill.
JANET MEETS THE GIANT.
Janet took her way homewards, hurrying with quick feet, lest her father should wake up before she arrived. But she had taken so early a start that she found him still sleeping soundly. She instantly began to make preparations for breakfast.
By the time it was on the table her father woke up and yawned. With his waking there came the thought of his young circus captive, and the vengeance he intended to wreak upon him. This pleasant idea roused him completely, and he dressed himself briskly.
"Is breakfast ready, Janet?" he asked.
"What time is it?"
"Seven o'clock," answered Janet, looking at the clock over the mantel.
"I am expecting Bob Stubbs here this morning. Have you got enough for him?"
"I think so, father," replied Janet. She did not speak with alacrity, for Mr. Stubbs was no favorite of hers.
At that moment a step was heard at the door, and the gentleman spoken of made his appearance.
"You're late, Dick," said Stubbs, rubbing his bristling chin.
"Yes, I got tired out yesterday. When the mine's shut down I like to take my time. Have you had breakfast, Bob?"
"Ye-es," answered Stubbs hesitating, as he glanced at the neatly spread table, with the eggs and bacon on the center dish.
"Never mind! You can eat some more. Put a chair for him, Janet."
"This lass of yours is growing pretty," said Stubbs, with a glance of admiration.
"There's a compliment for you, lass!" said the father.
Janet, however, did not appear to appreciate it, and continued to look grave.
"Wonder how the kid's getting along," said Bob Stubbs, with his mouth full of bacon.
"I reckon he's hungry," said Dick Hayden, in a voice of satisfaction.
"Have you left him without anything to eat, father?" asked Janet.
"The poor fellow will be starved."
"And serves him right, too. There ain't no call to pity him."
"Why won't you take him some breakfast if you're going round there? I will put some up in a tin pail."
"What do you say to that, Bob, hey?" said Hayden.
"It's natural for the gal to pity him. He's a nice lookin' chap enough."
"He's nicer looking than he will be when we get through with him, eh, Bob?"
"That's so, Dick."
As Janet listened to this conversation, her heart revolted against the brutality conveyed by the words. She felt dissatisfied to think that her own father was such a man. She could not well feel an affection for him, remembering how ill he had treated her gentle mother, who, as she knew, would be living to-day had she been wedded to a better husband.
The two men did not linger long at the table. They were accustomed to swallow their food rapidly, in order to get to the scene of their daily labor on time. So in twenty minutes they rose from the table, and putting on their hats left the cabin.
As they departed Janet breathed a sigh of relief, and congratulated herself that she had released the poor boy, and so saved him from the brutal treatment he was likely to receive at the hands of the two miners.
"He will have had plenty of time to get away before father and Mr. Stubbs reach the cabin," she said to herself.
Janet washed the dishes, and then, having an errand at the store, put on her hat and left the cabin. She did not trouble herself to lock the door, for there was nothing in the place likely to excite the cupidity of any dishonest person.
Janet had accomplished a part of the distance when she saw approaching her a figure that at once attracted her earnest attention.
The reason will be readily understood when I say that it was Achilles Henderson, the circus giant.
Mr. Henderson had been exploring the neighborhood in the hope of finding some trace of Kit, but thus far had been unsuccessful. He was very much perplexed, having absolutely no clew, and was thinking of starting for Groveton, where the circus was billed to appear that evening. He was walking in an undecided way, and never thought of noticing the little girl who stood staring at him. Indeed he was so used to being stared at that he took it as a matter of course, and did not think of giving the curious gazer a second glance.
But his attention was called by a low, half frightened voice.
"Well, little girl, what do you want?" he asked.
"Are you looking for anybody?" asked Janet, first glancing carefully around, to make sure that she was not likely to be overheard.
"Yes," answered Achilles, quickly. "I am looking for a boy."
"A circus boy?"
"Yes; do you know where he is?"
"Come nearer! I don't want anybody to hear what I say."
"All right, my little maid! Is the boy alive and well?"
"Yes, he was two hours ago."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know where he is now."
Achilles looked disappointed.
"Tell me all you know," he said.
"My father and Bob Stubbs took him last night, and shut him up in a lonely cabin on the hill."
"Where is the cabin?"
"He isn't there now. I let him out."
"Good for you, little girl! You're a trump. You're a great deal better than your father. Do you know where the boy went?"
"I will tell you where I told him to go."
"Where is your father now? Is he at work?"
"No; the mine is shut down."
"How did you know that the boy was in the cabin?"
"I heard father tell where he was last night, when he was at supper. So I got up very early, and stole out to release him, for I was afraid father might kill him. He said he meant to punish him for what you did. He said he would rather get at you."
"He's quite welcome to, if he wants to," answered Achilles, grimly. "On the whole I wouldn't advise him to tackle me."
"He thought you had gone on with the circus."
"I should have done so if I hadn't missed Kit."
"Yes; he told me his name was Kit."
"Was he tied?"
"Yes; I took a knife with me and cut the ropes."
"The poor fellow must have passed an uncomfortable night."
"Yes, he said so."
"He must have been very glad to see you."
"Yes, he was. I am only afraid of one thing."
"What is that?"
"Father and the other man left the house more than half an hour ago to go to the cabin. When they find him gone, they will be very angry."
"Like as not."
"And I think they will try to find him."
"Very true; I wish I knew where he was. They wouldn't dare to attack him in my company."
"No, Mr. Giant. You must be very strong."
"I think I would be a match for them."
Achilles questioned Janet minutely as to the advice she had given Kit.
"I might follow the boy," he said to himself, "at a guess, but there's only half a chance of my hitting right. Where is the cabin?" he asked, suddenly.
Janet pointed in the proper direction.
"I know what I'll do," he said, with sudden decision. "I'll follow your father and the other man. All the danger to Kit is likely to come from them. If I can get track of them, I can make sure that no mischief will be done."
Achilles Henderson then stepped over a fence which an ordinary man would have had to climb, and made his way to the deserted cabin.
DICK HAYDEN FINDS THE BIRD FLOWN.
Half an hour previously Dick Hayden and his congenial friend, Bob Stubbs, reached the cabin. They had much pleasant and jocose conversation on the way touching their young captive, and how he had probably passed the night. They had personal injuries to avenge, and though Achilles was responsible for them, they proposed to wreak vengeance on the boy whom a luckless fate had thrown into their hands.
"My shoulders are sore yet," said Hayden, "over the fall that big brute gave me."
"And my head hasn't got over the crack I got when he laid me flat with his club," responded Stubbs.
"Well, we've got a friend of his, that's one comfort. I'm going to take it out of the kid's hide."
"You don't mean to—do for him?" said Stubbs, cautiously.
"I don't mean to kill him, if that's what you mean, Stubbs. I have too much regard for my neck, but I mean to give him a sound flogging. You ain't afraid, be you?"
"Catch Bob Stubbs afraid of anything, except the hangman's rope! I don't mind telling you that I have reasons to be afraid of that."
"Why? You've never been hung, have you?"
"No; but an uncle of mine was strung up in England."
"He got into trouble with a fellow workman and stabbed him."
"He was in bad luck. Why didn't he cut it, and come to America?"
"He tried it, but the bobbies caught him in the steerage of an ocean steamer, and then it was all up with him."
"Well, I hope his nephew will come to a better end. But here we are at the cabin."
There was nothing in the outward appearance of the hut to indicate that the bird was flown. Janet bolted the door after releasing the prisoner, and no one could judge that it had been opened.
"All is safe," said Bob Stubbs.
"Of course it is! Why shouldn't it be?"
"No reason; but some of his friends might have found him."
"All his friends are at Groveton. Then they had no idea what we did with him."
"They must have found out that he was gone."
"They couldn't find him, so that would do him no good."
Stubbs was about to draw the bolt, but Hayden stayed his hand.
"Wait a minute, Bob," he said; "I'll look in at the window, and see what he is doing."
Dick Hayden went around to the rear of the building, and flattened his face against the pane in the effort to see the corner where the captive had been tied. He could not see very distinctly, but what he did see startled him.
He could perceive no one.
"Could the boy have loosened the rope?" he asked himself hurriedly.
Even in that case, as the window was nailed so that it could not be opened, and the door was bolted, there seemed no way of escape. His eyes eagerly explored other portions of the cabin, but he could not catch a glimpse of Kit.
He rushed round to the front, and in an excitement which Stubbs could not understand, pulled the bolt back with a jerk.
"What's the matter, Dick?" asked Stubbs, staring.
Dick Hayden did not answer, but threw open the door.
He strode in, and peeped here and there.
"The boy's gone!" he said hoarsely, to Stubbs, who followed close behind.
"Gone!" echoed Stubbs, in blank amazement. "How did he get away?"
"That's the question," responded Dick, growling.
"Well, I'm—flabbergasted! There's witchery here!"
Dick Hayden bent over and picked up the pieces of rope which lay in the corner where the prisoner had been placed. He examined the ends, and said briefly, turning to Stubbs: "They've been cut!"
"So they have, Dick. Who in natur' could have done it? Perhaps the kid did it himself. Might have had a knife in his pocket."
"Don't be a fool, Stubbs! Supposin' he'd done it, how was he goin' to get out?"
"That's what beats me!"
"Somebody must have let him out."
"Do you think it's his circus friends?"
"No; they're all in Groveton. Somebody must have been passin' and heard the boy holler, and let him out."
"What are you goin' to do about it, Dick?"
"Goin' to sit down and take a smoke. It may give me an idea."
It will be noticed that of these two, Dick Hayden, as the bolder and stronger spirit, was the leader, and Bob Stubbs the subservient follower. Stubbs was no less brutal, when occasion served, but he was not self reliant. He wanted some one to lead the way, and he was willing to follow.
The two men sat down beside the cabin, and lit their pipes. Nothing was said for a time. Dick seemed disinclined to conversation, and Stubbs was always disposed to be silent when enjoying a smoke.
The smoke continued for twenty minutes or more.
Finally Dick withdrew the pipe from his mouth.
"Well, Dick, what do you think about it? What shall we do?" inquired his friend.
"I am going to foller the kid."
"But you don't know where he's gone," replied Stubbs.
"No; but I may strike his track. Are you with me?"
"Of course I am."
"Then listen to me. The one that let the boy out knows the neighborhood. The boy would naturally want to go to Groveton, and likely he would be directed to Stover. If the kid had any money, he would ask Stover to drive him over, or else he would foot it."
"You're right, Dick. That's what he'd do," said Stubbs, admiring his companion's penetration.
"Then we must go over to Stover's."
"All right! I'm with you."
"I'm a poor man, Bob, but I'd give a ten dollar bill to have that kid in my power once more."
"I don't doubt it, Dick."
"I hate to have it said that a kid like that got the advantage of Dick Hayden."
"So would I, Bob."
"If I get hold of him I'll give him a lesson that he won't soon forget."
"And serve him right too."
The two men rose, and took their way across the fields, following exactly the same path which our hero had traveled earlier in the morning.
They walked with brisk steps, having a definite purpose in view. Dick Hayden was intensely anxious to recapture Kit, whose escape had balked him of his vengeance, and mortified him exceedingly. As he expressed it, he could not bear to think that a boy of sixteen had got the advantage of him.
At length they reached the red house already referred to, and saw Ham Stover, the owner, in the yard.
"You are up betimes, Dick," said Stover. "What's in the wind?"
"Have you seen aught of a boy of sixteen passin' this way?" asked Dick, anxiously.
"A likely lookin' lad, well dressed?"
"He was round here an hour ago, and took breakfast in the house."
This was true; the slight refreshment Janet had brought him having proved insufficient to completely stay the cravings of Kit's appetite after his night in the cabin.
"Where is he now?"
"What do you want of him?"
"Never you mind—I'll tell you bimeby. Where is he?"
"He wanted me to harness up and take him to Groveton."
Dick Hayden and Stubbs exchanged glances. It was evident that they had struck Kit's trail.
"Well, did you do it?"
"No; I couldn't spare the time. Besides I wanted the horse to go to the village. I'm going to harness up now."
"What did the boy do?"
"How long since did he start?"
"About half an hour or thereabouts."
Dick Hayden made a rapid calculation.
"We may overtake him if we walk fast," he said.
Without stopping to enlighten the curiosity of Mr. Stover the two men set out rapidly on the Groveton road.
IN THE ENEMY'S HANDS.
Mr. Stover was considerably surprised when twenty minutes later, looking up from his work in the yard, he saw a man of colossal size crossing the street. He hadn't attended the circus, and had not therefore heard of the giant, who was one of its principal features.
"Who in creation can that be?" Stover asked himself.
Achilles Henderson turned into the yard, and accosted the farmer:
"Good morning, friend," he said. "Can you tell me if a boy of about sixteen has passed here this morning?"
"That boy again!" thought the bewildered farmer.
"Yes," he answered.
"Please describe him."
Mr. Stover did so.
"The very one!" said Achilles. "Now how long since was he here?"
"He took breakfast with my family, and started off nigh on to an hour ago."
"In what direction did he go?"
This question was also answered.
"Thank you, friend," said the giant; "you have done me a favor."
"Then won't you do me one?" said Stover. "Who is this boy that so many people are askin' for?"
"He is a young acrobat connected with Barlow's circus. But what do you mean by so many people asking about him?"
"There was two men here twenty minutes ago, that seemed very anxious to find him."
Achilles Henderson heard this with apprehension. He could guess who they were, and what he heard alarmed him for Kit's safety.
"Who are they?" he inquired hastily.
"Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs."
"Are they miners?"
"Did you tell them where the boy went?"
"Sartin! Why not?"
"Because they mean to do the boy a mischief; they may even kill him."
"What in creation should they do that for?"
"Mr. Stover, I must follow them at once. Have you a team?"
"Yes; but I calculated to use it."
"I must have it, and I want you to go with me. You may charge what you please. Remember a boy's life may depend on it."
"Then you shall have it," said the farmer, "and I'll go with you. I took a likin' to the boy. He was a gentleman, if ever I saw one; and my women folks was mightily taken with him. Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs are rough kind of men, and I wouldn't trust any one I set store by in their hands. But why——"
"Harness your horse, and I'll answer your questions on the way, Mr. Stover."
"How do you know my name?" asked Stover, with sudden thought.
"I was told by some one as I came along."
The farmer lost no time in harnessing his horse, Achilles Henderson lending a hand. The horse seemed rather alarmed, never having seen a giant before, but soon got over his fright. The two men then jumped into the wagon, and set out in search of Kit.
Meanwhile our hero had taken his way leisurely along the road. He didn't anticipate being followed, at any rate so soon, and felt under no particular apprehension. He had walked about three miles when a broad branching elm tree tempted him to rest by its shade. He threw himself down on the grass, and indulged in self congratulations upon his escape from his captors. But his congratulation proved to be premature. After a while he raised his eyes and looked carelessly back in the direction from which he had come. What he saw startled him.
The two miners, Hayden and Stubbs, had lost no time on the way. They were bent on capturing Kit, in order to revenge themselves upon him.
Reaching a little eminence in the road Dick Hayden caught sight of his intended victim sitting under the tree.
His eyes gleamed with a wicked light.
"There's the kid, Stubbs!" he said. "Stir your stumps, old man, and we'll collar him!"
The two miners started on a run, and when Kit caught sight of them they were already within a few rods. The young acrobat saw that his only safety, if indeed there was any chance at all, was in flight. He started to his feet, and being fleet of limb gave them a good chase. But in the end the superior strength and endurance of the men conquered. Flushed and panting, Kit was compelled to stop. Hayden grasped him by the collar with a look of wicked satisfaction.
"So I've got you, my fine chap, have I?"
"Yes, so it seems!" said Kit, his heart sinking.
"Sit down! I've got a few questions to ask."
There was a broad flat stone by the roadside. He seated Kit upon it with a forcible push, and the two men ranged themselves one on each side of him.
"What time did you leave the cabin, boy?"
"I don't know what time it was. It must have been two hours since—perhaps more."
"Did any one let you out?"
"Who was it?"
"I don't know the person's name."
"Was it a man?"
Kit began to feel that he must be cautious. He knew that she was the daughter of the man who was questioning him, and that she would be in danger of rough treatment if her father should find out that she had thwarted him.
"I cannot tell you," he answered, though he well knew that the answer was likely to get him into trouble.
"You can't tell? Why not? Don't you know whether it was a man or not?"
"Yes, I know."
"You mean that you won't tell me, then?" said Hayden, in a menacing tone.
"I mean that I don't care to do it. I might get the person into trouble."
"You would that, you may bet your life. I can tackle any man round here, and I'd get even with that man if I swung for it."
"That is why I don't care to tell you," said Kit. "How can you tell that the man knew you put me there?"
"Didn't you tell him?"
"It was a man, then!" said Hayden, turning to Stubbs. "Look here, young feller, if you tell me who it was, you may get off better yourself."
"I would rather not!" answered Kit, pale but firm.
"Suit yourself, kid, but you may as well know that you'll be half killed before we get through with you. Get up!"
As he spoke, Hayden jerked Kit to his feet, and began to drag him toward the rail fence.
"Take down the rails, Stubbs!" he said.
"What's your game, Dick?"
"I'm going to give the kid a drubbing that he won't be likely to forget, but I can't do it in the road, for some one may come along."
"I'm with you, Dick."
At the lower end of the field which they had now entered was a strip of woods, which promised seclusion and freedom from interruption. Poor Kit, as he was dragged forward by his relentless captor, found his spirits sinking to zero.
"Will no one deliver me from this brutal man?" he exclaimed inwardly.
He felt that his life was in peril.
The men reached the edge of the woods and halted.
"I'd like to hang him!" growled Dick Hayden with a malignant look.
"It wouldn't do, Dick," said Stubbs. "We'd get into trouble."
"If we were found out."
"Murder will 'most always come out," said Stubbs, uneasily. He was a shade less brutal and far less daring than his companion.
It can be imagined with what feelings Kit heard this colloquy. He had no confidence in the humanity of his captors, and considered them, Dick Hayden in particular, as capable of anything. He did not dare to remonstrate lest in a spirit of perversity the two men might proceed to extremities.
Kit was not long in doubt as to the intentions of his captors.
"Take off your coat, boy!" said Hayden, harshly.
Kit looked into the face of his persecutor, and decided that it would be prudent to obey. Otherwise he would have forcibly resisted.
He removed his coat and held it over his arm.
"Lay down the coat and take off your vest," was the next order.
This also Kit felt compelled to do.
Dick Hayden produced from the capacious side pocket of his coat a cord, which he proceeded to test by pulling. It was evidently very strong.
"Stubbs, tie him to yonder sapling!" said Dick.
Stubbs proceeded, nothing loth, to obey the directions of his leader. Kit was tied with his back exposed. Dick Hayden watched the preparations with evident enjoyment.
"This is the moment I have been longing for," he said.
From his other pocket he drew a cowhide, which he passed through the fingers of his left hand, while with cruel eyes he surveyed the shrinking form of his victim.
Meanwhile where was Achilles Henderson?
He and Stover bowled as rapidly over the road as the speed of a fourteen year old horse would permit. He looked eagerly before him, in the hope of catching a glimpse either of Kit or of the miners. When they started they were far behind, but at last they reached a point on the road where they could see Kit and his two captors making their way across the fields.
"There they are!" said Stover, who was the first to see them.
"And they've got the boy with them!" ejaculated Achilles. "Where are they going, do you think?"
"Over to them woods, it's likely," replied Stover.
"I'm afraid they mean to do the boy harm."
"Not if I can prevent it," said Achilles, with a stern look about the mouth.
"They're goin' to give him a floggin', I think."
"They'll get the same dose in larger measure, I can tell them that. Mr. Stover, isn't there any way I can reach the woods by a short cut so that they won't see me?"
"Yes, there is a path in that field there. There is a fringe of trees separatin' it from the field where they are walkin'."
"Then stop your horse, and I'll jump out!"
Mr. Stover did so with alacrity. He disliked both Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs, whom he had reason to suspect of carrying off a dozen of his chickens the previous season. He had not dared to charge them with it, knowing the men's ugly disposition, and being certain that they would revenge themselves upon him.
"Do you want me along, Mr. Giant?" he asked.
"No; I'm more than a match for them both."
"Shouldn't wonder if you were," chuckled Stover.
He kept his place in the wagon and laughed quietly to himself.
"I'd like to see the scrimmage," he said to himself.
With this object in view he drove forward, so that from the wagon seat he could command a view of the scene of conflict.
"They're tying the boy to a tree," he said. "I reckon the giant'll be in time, and I'm glad on't. That boy's a real gentleman. Wonder what he's done to rile Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs. He'd have a mighty small show if the giant hadn't come up. Dick's a strong man, but he'll be like a child in the hands of an eight-footer."
Meanwhile Achilles Henderson was getting over the ground at the rate of ten miles an hour or more. His long strides gave him a great advantage over an ordinary runner.
"If they lay a hand on that boy I pity 'em!" he said to himself.
It was fortunate for Kit that Dick Hayden, like a cat who plays with a mouse, paused to gloat over the evident alarm and uneasiness of his victim, even after all was ready for the punishment which he proposed to inflict.
"Well, boy, what have you to say now?" he demanded, drawing the cowhide through his short stubby fingers.
"I have nothing to say that will move you from your purpose, I am afraid," replied poor Kit.
"I guess you're about right there, kid!" chuckled Hayden. "Are you ready to apologize to me for what you done over to the circus?"
"I don't think there is anything to apologize for."
"There isn't, isn't there? Didn't you bring that long-legged ruffian on to me?"
"I was only doing my duty," said Kit, manfully.
"Oho! so that's the way you look at it, do you?"
"No doubt you'd like it if that tall brute were here now," said Hayden, tauntingly.
"Yes," murmured Kit; "I wish my good friend Achilles were here."
"So that's his name, is it? Well, I wouldn't mind if he were here. Stubbs, I think you and I could do for him, eh?"
"I don't know," said Stubbs, dubiously.
"Well I do. He's only one man, while we are two, and strong at that."
"Oho!" thought Achilles, who was now within hearing. "So my friend, the miner, is getting valorous! Well, he will probably have a chance to test his strength."
By this time Hayden had got through with his taunts, and was ready to enjoy his vengeance.
"Your time has come, boy!" he said, fiercely. "Stand back, Stubbs!"
Bob Stubbs stepped back, and Dick Hayden raised the cruel cowhide in his muscular grasp. It would have inflicted a terrible blow had it fallen on the young acrobat. But something unexpected happened. The instrument of torture was torn from his hands, and a deep voice, which he knew only too well, uttered these words: "For shame, you brute! Would you kill the boy?"
Panic stricken the brutal miner turned and found himself confronting Achilles Henderson.
A fierce cry of rage and disappointment burst from his lips.
"Where did you come from?" he stammered.
"From Heaven, I think!" murmured poor Kit, with devout gratitude to that overruling Providence which had sent him such a helper in his utmost need.
DICK HAYDEN MEETS WITH RETRIBUTION.
Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs, large and strong men as they were, looked puny, compared with the giant who towered beside them, his face kindling with righteous indignation.
"What are you going to do to the boy?" he demanded, sternly.
"I was going to flog him," answered Hayden in a surly tone.
"And you were helping him?" went on Achilles, turning to Stubbs.
"No, sir," answered Stubbs eagerly, for, big as he was, he was a coward. "I didn't want Dick to do it."
"You coward!" exclaimed Hayden, contemptuously. "You're as deep in it as I am."
"Is that true, Kit?" asked Achilles.
"He isn't as bad as the other," said Kit. "That man Hayden thought of killing me, but his friend protested against it."
"It shall be remembered to his credit. Why did you wish to flog the boy?" he asked of Hayden.
"On account of what happened at the circus."
"The boy didn't touch you."
"He brought you on me."
"Then I was the one to punish."
"I couldn't get at you."
"Here I am, at your service."
Dick Harden measured the giant with a vindictive eye, but there was something in the sight of the mighty thews and sinews of the huge man that quelled his warlike ardor.
"It wouldn't be a fair contest," he said sullenly.
"There are two of you, as you said just before I came."
"No, there are not," interposed Stubbs, hastily. "I hain't any grudge against you, Mr. Giant."
"You are willing to help me?"
"Then untie that boy."
Stubbs unloosed the cord that bound Kit to the tree, while Achilles Henderson watched Hayden narrowly, for he had no mind to let him go free.
"Are you that man's slave?" asked Hayden.
"I am willing to oblige him," said Stubbs, meekly.
Kit straightened up on being released, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Come along, Stubbs," said Hayden, with an ugly look at Kit and his protector. "Our business is through."
"Not quite," said Achilles, quietly, as he laid his broad hand with a detaining grasp on the shoulder of the ruffian. "I am not through with you."
"What do you want?" asked Dick Hayden with assumed bravado, but with an uneasy look on his lowering face.
"I am going to give you a lesson. I gave you one at the circus ground, but you need another."
"Touch me if you dare!" said Hayden, defiantly.
For answer, Achilles hurled him to the ground with less effort than Hayden would have needed to serve Kit in the same way. Then with the cowhide uplifted he struck the prostrate wretch three sharp blows that made him howl with rage and pain. Stubbs looked on with pale face, thinking that his turn might come next.
"Hit him, Stubbs! Kill him!" screamed Dick Hayden. "Would you stand by and see me murdered?"
"I can't help you," said Stubbs. "What can I do?"
Having administered justice to the chief ruffian, Achilles turned to Stubbs.
"Now," he said, "what have you to say for yourself? Why shouldn't I serve you in the same way?"
"Spare me!" whined Stubbs, panic stricken. "I am the boy's friend. It was Hayden who wanted to hurt him."
"My friend, I put very little confidence in what you say. Still I don't think you are as bad as this brute here. I will spare you on one condition."
"What is it? Indeed, I will do anything you ask."
"Then take this cowhide and give your companion a taste of its quality."
Stubbs looked alarmed.
"Don't ask me to do that," he said. "Me and Dick are pals."
"Just as I supposed. In that case you require a dose of the same medicine," and Achilles made a threatening demonstration with the rawhide.
"Don't do it," cried Stubbs, affrighted.
"Then will you do as I say?"
"Will you lay it on well?"
"Yes," answered Stubbs, who, forced to choose between his own skin and Hayden's, was influenced by a regard for his own person.
Dick Hayden listened to this conference with lowering brow. He did not think Stubbs would dare to hit him. But he was destined to find himself unpleasantly surprised.
Stubbs took the hide from the hands of the giant, and anxious to conciliate his powerful antagonist laid it with emphasis on Hayden, already smarting from his former castigation.
"I'll kill you for that, Bob Stubbs!" he yelled, almost frothing at the mouth with rage.
"I had to do it, Dick!" said Stubbs, apologetically. "You heard what he said."
"I don't care what he said. To spare your own miserable carcass, you struck your friend. But I am your friend no longer. I'll have it out of you!"
"Come, Kit, you are revenged," said the giant. "Now let us hurry on to the circus. There's a team in the road below. I think I can make a bargain with Mr. Stover to carry us all the way."
They found Mr. Stover waiting for them.
"Well," he said, "how did you make out?"
"Suppose you look back and see!"
Stover did look, and to his amazement he saw Dick Hayden and Bob Stubbs rolling on the ground, each holding the other in a fierce embrace. Hayden had attacked Stubbs, and though the latter tried hard to avoid a combat he was forced into it. Then, finding himself pushed, he fought as well as he could. Fortune favored him, for Dick Hayden tripped, and in so doing sprained his ankle. He fell with a groan, and Stubbs, glad to escape, left him in haste, and made the best of his way home.
It was not until several hours afterwards that Hayden was found by another party, and carried home, where he was confined for a fortnight. This was fortunate for Kit and the giant, for he had intended to make a formal complaint before a justice of the peace which might have resulted in the arrest and detention of one or both. But his sprained ankle gave him so much pain that it drove all other thoughts out of his head for the time being.
Mr. Stover was induced by an unusually liberal offer to convey the two friends to the next town, where they found their circus friends wondering what had become of them. Kit was none the worse for his experience, though it had been far from pleasant, and performed that afternoon and evening with his usual spirit and success.
He told Achilles how he had been rescued by Janet Hayden, and the latter said with emphasis: "The girl's a trump! She has probably saved your life! That brute, her father, wouldn't shrink from any violence, no matter how great. You ought to make her some acknowledgment, Kit."
"I wouldn't dare to," answered the young acrobat. "If her father should find out what she did for me, I am afraid her life would not be safe."
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION.
Two or three days later, the circus was billed to show at Glendale, a manufacturing village in Western Pennsylvania. The name attracted the attention of Kit, for this was the place where his uncle had lived for many years previous to the death of Kit's father. He naturally desired to learn something of his uncle's reputation among the villagers, who from his long residence among them must remember him well.
The circus had arrived during the night. As a general thing Kit was not in a hurry to get up, but as he was to stay but a day in Glendale, he rose early, with the intention of improving his time.
Breakfast in the circus tent was not ready till nine o'clock, for circus men of every description get up late, except the razorbacks, who are compelled to be about very early to unload the freight cars, and the canvas men, who put up the tents. So Kit went to the hotel, and registering his name called for breakfast.
After he had eaten it, he strolled into the office, hoping to meet some one of whom he could make inquiries respecting his uncle. This was made unexpectedly easy. A man of about his uncle's age had been examining the list of arrivals. He looked at Kit inquisitively.
"I beg your pardon, young man," he said, "but are you Christopher Watson?"
"Yes, sir," answered Kit, politely.
"Did you ever have any relatives living in this place?"
"Yes, sir. My uncle, Stephen Watson, used to live here."
"I thought so. I once saw your father. He came here to visit your uncle. You look like him."
Kit was gratified, for he cherished a warm affection for his dead father, and was glad to have it said that he resembled him.
"Are you going to stay here long?" asked the villager.
"No, sir; I am here only for the day."
"On business, I presume."
"Yes, sir," answered Kit, smiling. "I am here with Barlow's circus."
The other looked amazed.
"You don't mean to say that you are connected with the circus?" he exclaimed.
"In what capacity?"
"I am an acrobat."
"I don't understand it at all. Why should your father's son need to travel with a circus?"
"Because I have my living to earn, and that pays me better than any other employment I can get."
"But your father was a rich man, I always heard."
"I supposed so myself, till a short time since my uncle informed me that I was penniless, and must learn a trade."
"But where did the money go, then? How does your uncle make a living?"
"He has my father's old place, and appears to have enough to support himself and Ralph."
"Sit down here, young man! There is something strange about this. I want to ask you a few questions."
"You are the man I want to see," said Kit. "I think myself there is some mystery, and I would like to ask some questions about my uncle Stephen from some one who knew him here. I suppose you knew him?"
"No one knew him better. Many is the time he has come to me for a loan. He didn't always pay back the money, and I dare say he owes me still in the neighborhood of fifty dollars."
"Was he poor then?"
"He was in very limited circumstances. He pretended to be in the insurance business, and had a small office in the building near the hotel, but if he made four hundred dollars a year in that way it was more than any one supposed."
"Then," said Kit, puzzled, "how could he have lent my father ten thousand dollars?"
"He lend you father ten thousand dollars, or anybody else ten thousand dollars! Why, that is perfectly ridiculous. Who says he did?"
"He says so himself."
"To whom did he tell that fish story?"
"He told me. That is the way he explained his taking possession of the property. That was only one loan. He said he lent father money at various times, and had to take the estate in payment."
Kit's auditor gave a loud whistle.
"The man's a deeper and shrewder rascal than I had any idea of," he said. "He is swindling you in the most barefaced manner."
"I am not very much surprised to hear it," said Kit. "I was not satisfied that he was telling the truth. If you are correct, then, he has wrongfully appropriated my father's money."
"There is not a doubt of it. Did he drive you from home?"
"About the same. He attempted to apprentice me to a blacksmith, while his own son Ralph he means to send to college, and have him study law."
"I remember Ralph well, though he was a small boy when he left this village. He was very unpopular among those of his own age. He was always up to some mean act of mischief. He got my boy into trouble once in school by charging him with something he had himself done."
"He hasn't changed much, then," said Kit. "We both attended the same boarding school, but nobody liked Ralph."
"Was he much of a scholar?"
"No; he dragged along in the lower half of the class."
"Were you two good friends?"
"We didn't quarrel, but we kept apart."
"So his father wants to make a lawyer of him?"
"Yes; I have had a letter from Smyrna in which I hear that my uncle has just bought Ralph a bicycle valued at a hundred and twenty-five dollars."
"Money seems to be more plenty with him now than it used to be in his Glendale days. By the way would you like to see the place where your uncle used to live?"
"Yes, sir, if you don't mind showing me."
"I will do so with pleasure. Put on your hat, and we will go at once."
They walked about a third of a mile, till they reached the outskirts of the village.
"This is the home of the foreign population," said Kit's guide. "And there is the house which was occupied for at least ten years by your uncle."
Kit eyed the building with interest. It was a plain looking cottage, containing but four rooms, which stood badly in need of paint. There was about an acre of land, rocky and sterile, attached to it.
"This is the residence of the man who lent your father ten thousand dollars," said his guide, in an ironical tone. "Not much of a palace, is it?"
"It can't be worth over a thousand dollars."
"Your uncle sold it for seven hundred and eighty dollars, but he didn't get that sum in money, for it was mortgaged for six hundred."
"You said my father came here once?"
"It was to visit your uncle. While he was here, he stood security at the tailor's for new suits for your uncle and cousin, and must have given your uncle some cash besides, for he appeared to be in funds for some time afterwards. So you see the loan, or rather gift, was on the other side."
"I don't see how my uncle dared to misrepresent matters in that way."
"Nor I; for he could easily be convicted of fraudulent statements."
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr.——"
"Mr. Pierce, for your information."
"I hope you will make some use of it."
"I certainly shall," said Kit, his good humored face showing unwonted resolution.
"Whenever you do, my testimony will be at your service, and there are plenty others who will corroborate my statements of your uncle's financial condition when here. The fact is, my young friend, your uncle has engaged in a most shameless plot against you."
Kit was deeply impressed by this conversation. He was resolved, when the time came, to assert his rights, and lay claim to his dead father's property.
ON THE TRAPEZE.
Kit was on pleasant relations with his fellow performers. Indeed, he was a general favorite, owing to his obliging disposition and pleasant manners. He took an interest in their acts as well as his own, and in particular had cultivated an intimacy with Louise Lefroy, the trapeze performer. He had practiced on the trapeze in the gymnasium, and had acquired additional skill under the tuition of Mlle. Lefroy.
"Some time you will make an engagement as a trapeze performer, Christopher," said the lady to him one day.
"No," answered Kit, shaking his head.
"You wouldn't be afraid?"
"No; I think I would make a very respectable performer; but I don't mean to travel with the circus after this season, unless I am obliged to."
"Why should you be obliged to?"
"Because I have my living to earn."
"It is a pity," said Mlle. Lefroy. "You seem cut out for a circus performer."
"Do you like it, Mlle. Lefroy?"
The lady looked thoughtful.
"I have to like it," she said. "Besides, there is an excitement about it, and I crave excitement."
"But wouldn't you rather have a home of your own?"
"Listen! I had a home of my own, but my husband was intemperate, and in fits of intoxication would illtreat me and my boy."
"Then you have a boy?" said Kit, surprised.
"Yes; and I support him at a boarding school out of my professional earnings, which are large."
"I am going to ask you another question, but you may not like to answer it."
"Your husband is living, is he not?"
"Does he know that you are a circus performer?"
"No; and I would not have him know for worlds."
"Would he feel sensitive about it?"
Mlle. Lefroy laughed bitterly.
"You don't know him, or you would not ask that question," she said. "He would want to appropriate my salary. That is why I do not care to have him know how I am earning the living which he ought to provide for me."
"I sympathize with you," said Kit, gently.
"Then you don't think any the worse of me because I am a trapeze performer."
"Why should I? Am I not a circus performer also?"
"Yes; but it is different with you, being a man. You would not like to think of your mother or sister in my position."
"No; I would not, yet I can imagine circumstances that would justify it."
From this time Kit was disposed to look with different eyes upon Mlle. Lefroy. He did not think of her as a daring actor, but rather as an injured wife and devoted mother, who every day risked her life for the sake of one who was dear to her.
"Did you never fear that your husband might be present when you are performing?" asked Kit.
"It is my constant dread," answered Mlle. Lefroy. "When I come out in my costume, and look over the sea of heads, I am always afraid I shall see his face."
"But you never have yet?"
"Never yet. I do not think if I should see that man I could go through my part. It requires nerve, as you know, and my nerves would be so shaken that my life would be in peril. If you ever hear of my meeting with an accident, you may guess the probable cause."
"Then, if ever you recognize your husband among the spectators, it would be prudent to omit your performance."
"That is what I propose to do."
Kit little imagined how soon the contingency which his friend feared would arrive.
Two evenings later Harry Thorne brought him a little note. He opened it and read as follows:
Come and see me at once. LOUISE LEFROY.
Kit ascertained where Mlle. Lefroy was to be found, and obeyed the summons immediately.
He found the lady in great agitation.
"Are you not well?" he asked.
"Well in health, but not in mind," she answered.
"Has anything happened?"
"Yes; what I dreaded has come to pass."
"Have you seen your husband?" asked Kit quickly.
"Yes; I was taking a walk, and saw him on the opposite side of the street."
"Did he see you?"
"No; but I ascertained that he is staying at the hotel. Now he is likely to follow the crowd, and attend the circus to-night."
"That is probable. Then you will not appear."
"I should not dare to. But it will be a great disappointment to the management. The trapeze act is always a popular one, especially in a country town like this. Now I am going to ask a favor of you."
Kit's face flushed with excitement. He foresaw what it would be.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I want you to appear in my place this evening."
"Do you think I am competent?"
"You cannot do my act, but you can do enough to satisfy the public. But, my dear friend, I don't want to subject you to any risk. If you are at all nervous or afraid, don't attempt it."
"I am not afraid," said Kit confidently. "I will appear!"
In the evening the tent was full. Very few knew of the change in the programme. Mr. Barlow had consented to the substitution with some reluctance, for he feared that Kit might be undertaking something beyond his power to perform. Even the Vincenti brothers, Kit's associates, were surprised when the manager came forward and said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mlle. Lefroy is indisposed, and will be unable to perform her act this evening. Unwilling to disappoint the public, we have substituted one of our youngest and most daring performers, who will appear in her place."
When Kit came out, his young face glowing with excitement, and made his bow, the crowd of spectators greeted him with enthusiastic applause. His fellow actors joined in the ovation. They feared he had overrated his ability, but were ready to applaud his pluck.
Now was the time, if any, for Kit to grow nervous, and show stage fright. But he felt none. The sight of the eager faces around him only stimulated him. He caught the rope which hung down from the trapeze, and quickly climbing up poised himself on his elevated perch.
He did not allow himself to look down, but strove to shut out the sight of the hundreds of upturned faces, and proceeded to perform his act as coolly as if he were in a gymnasium, only six feet from the ground instead of thirty.
It is not to be supposed that Kit, who was a comparative novice, could equal Mlle. Louise Lefroy, who had been cultivating her specialty for ten years. He went through several feats, however, hanging from the trapeze with his head down, then quickly recovering himself and swinging by his hands. The public was disposed to be pleased, and, when the act was finished, gave him a round of applause.
Later in the evening a small man, with a very dark complexion, and keen, black eyes, approached him as he was standing near the lion's cage.
"Is this Luigi Vincenti?" he asked.
This was Kit's circus name. He passed for a brother, of Alonzo and Antonio Vincenti.
"Yes, sir," answered Kit.
"I saw your trapeze act this evening," he went on. "It was very good."
"Thank you, sir. You know, perhaps, that I am not a trapeze performer. I only appeared in place of Mlle. Lefroy, who is indisposed."
"So I understand; but you do very well for a boy. My name is Signor Oponto. I am at the head of a large circus in Havana. My visit to the United States is partly to secure additional talent. How long are you engaged to Mr. Barlow?"
"For no definite time. I suppose I shall remain till the end of the season."
"You have no engagements beyond?"
"No, sir; this is my first season with any circus."
"Then I will make you an offer. I don't want to take you from Mr. Barlow, but when the season is over I shall be ready to arrange for your appearance in Havana under my personal management."
Though Kit was modest he was human. He did feel flattered to find himself rated so high. It even occurred to him that he might like to be considered a star in circus circles, to be the admiration of circus audiences, and to be regarded with wondering awe by boys of his own age throughout the country. But Kit was also a sensible boy. After all, this preeminence was only of a physical character. A great acrobat or trapeze artist has no recognized place in society, and his ambition is of a low character. While these reflections were presenting themselves to his mind, Signor Oponto stood by in silence, waiting for his answer. He thought that Kit's hesitation was due to pecuniary considerations.
"What salary does Mr. Barlow pay you?" he asked, in a businesslike tone.
"Twenty-five dollars a week."
"I will give you fifty, and engage you for a year."
He regarded Kit intently to see how this proposal struck him.
"You are very liberal, Signor Oponto," Kit began, but the manager interrupted him.
"I will also pay your board," he added; "and of course defray your expenses to Havana. Is that satisfactory?"
"It would be very much so but for one thing."
"What is that?"
"I doubt whether I shall remain in the business after this season."
"Why not? Don't you like it?"
"Yes, very well; but I prefer to follow some profession of a literary character. I am nearly prepared for college, and I may decide to continue my studies."
"But even your college students devote most of their time to base ball and rowing, I hear."
"Not quite so bad as that," answered Kit, with a smile.
"You don't refuse definitely, I hope."
"No; it may be that I may feel obliged to remain in the business. In that case I will give you the preference."
"That is all I can expect. Here is my card. Whenever you are ready, write to me, and your communication will receive instant attention."
"Thank you, sir."
The next day Mlle. Lefroy resumed her work, the danger of meeting her husband having passed. She expressed her gratitude to Kit for serving as her substitute, and wished to make him a present of ten dollars, but he refused to accept it.
"I was glad of the chance to see what I could do on the trapeze," he said. "I never expect to follow it up, but I have already received an offer of an engagement in that line."
"So I heard. And you don't care to accept it?"
"No; I do not mean to be a circus performer permanently."
"You are right. It leads to nothing, and before middle life you are liable to find yourself unfitted for it."
CLOSE OF THE CIRCUS.
Days and weeks flew swiftly by. September gave place to October, and the circus season neared its close. Already the performers were casting about for employment during the long, dull winter that must elapse before the next season.
"What are your plans, Kit?" asked Antonio Vincenti, who in private called his young associate by his real name.
"I don't know yet, Antonio. I may go to school."
"Have you saved money enough to keep you through the winter?"
"Yes; I have four hundred dollars in the wagon."
This is the expression made use of to indicate "in the hands of the treasurer."
"You've done better than my brother or I. We must work during the winter."
"Have you any chance yet?"
"Yes; we can go to work in a dime museum in Philadelphia for a month, and afterwards we will go to Chicago, where we were last winter. I could get a chance for you, too."
"Thank you, but I don't care to work in that way at present. If I went anywhere I would go to Havana, where I am offered a profitable engagement."
"Has Mr. Barlow said anything to you about next season?"
"Yes; but I shall make no engagement in advance. Something may happen which will keep me at home."
"Oh, you'll be coming round in the spring. You'll have the circus fever like all the rest of us."
Kit smiled and shook his head.
"I haven't been in the business long enough to get so much attached to it as you are," he said. "But at any rate, I shall come round to see my old friends."
The last circus performance was given in Albany, and the winter quarters were to be at a town twenty miles distant. Kit went through his acts with his usual success, and when he took off his circus costume, it was with a feeling that it might be the last time he would wear it.
The breaking up was not to take place till the next day, and he was preparing to spend the night in some Albany hotel.
He had taken off his tights, as has been said, and put on his street dress, when a tall man, with a frank, good humored expression, stepped up to him.
"Are you Christopher Watson?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Kit, in surprise, for he had no recollection of having met the stranger before.
"Of course you don't know me, but I was a school-fellow and intimate friend of your father."
"Then," said Kit, cordially, "I must take you by the hand. All my father's friends are my friends."
The face of the stranger lighted up.
"That's the way to talk," he said. "I see you are like your father. Shake hands again."
"But how did you know I was with Barlow's circus?" asked Kit, puzzled.
"Your uncle told me."
"Have you seen him lately?" asked Kit, quickly.
"No; I saw him about three months ago at Smyrna."
"What did he tell you about me?"
"He said you were a wayward lad, and preferred traveling with a circus to following an honest business."
"I am afraid you have got a wrong idea of me, then."
"Bless you, I knew your uncle before you were born. He is not at all like your father. One was as open as the day, the other was cunning, selfish, and foxy."
"I see you understand my Uncle Stephen as well as I do."
"I ought to."
"Were you surprised to hear that I was traveling with a circus?"
"Well, I was; but your uncle told me one thing that surprised me more. He said that your father left nothing."
"That surprised me, too; but I have got some light on the subject and I feel in need of a friend and adviser."
"Then if you'll take Henry Miller for want of a better, I don't believe you'll regret it."
"I shall be glad to accept your kind offer, Mr. Miller. Now that you mention your name, I remember it very well. My father often spoke of you."
"Did he so?" said the stranger, evidently much gratified. "I am glad to hear it. Of all my school companions, your father was the one I liked best. And now, before we go any further, I want to tell you two things. First, I should have hunted you up sooner, but business called me to California, where I have considerable property. Next, having learned that you were left destitute, I decided to do something for the son of my old friend. So I took a hundred shares of stock in a new mine, which had just been put on the market when I reached 'Frisco, and I said to myself: 'That is for Kit Watson.' Well, it was a lucky investment. The shares cost me five dollars apiece, and just before I left California I sold them for fifty dollars apiece. What do you say to that?"
"Is it possible mining shares rise in value so fast?" asked Kit in amazement.
"Well, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. Often it's the other way, and I don't advise you or anybody else that knows nothing about it to speculate in mining shares. It is a risky thing, and you are more apt to lose than to win. However, this turned out O. K., and you are worth five thousand dollars to-day, my boy."
"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Miller," said Kit. "I can't seem to realize it."
"You needn't thank me at all. I did it for your father's sake, but now that I know you I am glad to do it for your own. When we get to New York I advise you to salt it down in government bonds, or in some other good reliable stock."
"I shall be glad to follow your advice, Mr. Miller."
"Then I'll invest all but five hundred dollars, for you may want to use that. What sort of a season have you had?"
"I've saved up four hundred dollars," said Kit proudly.
"You don't say so! You must have got pretty good pay."
"Twenty-five dollars a week."
"Your uncle said you probably got two or three dollars a week."
"He probably thought so. He has no idea I have been so well paid. I chose to keep it from him."
"You said you wanted to ask my advice about something."
"Why not come round to the Delavan and take a room? I am staying there, and I will tell the clerk to pick you out a room next to mine."
"I will do so. I intended to stay at some hotel to night. This is the last night of the circus. To-morrow we close up, and separate. I shall draw my money and bid good-by to my circus friends."
"I am glad of that. We will keep together. I have neither chick nor child, Kit, and if you'll accept me as your guardian I'll do the best I can for you. But perhaps you prefer to go back to your uncle."
Kit shook his head.
"I should never do that," he said, "especially after what I have learned during my trip."
"Let it keep till to-morrow, for we are both tired. Now get ready and we'll go to the Delavan."
Kit was assigned a nice room next to Mr. Miller, where he passed a comfortable night.
The next day he revealed to his new friend the discoveries he had made in his uncle's old home in Pennsylvania—his uncle's poverty up to the time of his brother's death, and the evident falseness of his claim to have lent him large sums of money, in payment of which he had coolly appropriated his entire estate.
His late friend listened to this story in amazement.
"I knew Stephen Watson to be unprincipled," he said, "but I didn't think him as bad as that. He has swindled you shamefully."
"Just my idea, Mr. Miller."
"While he has carefully feathered his own nest. This wrong must be righted."
"It was my intention to find some good lawyer, and ask his advice."
"We'll do it, Kit. But, first of all, I'll go with you to this town in Pennsylvania, and obtain the necessary testimony sworn to before a justice. Then we'll find a good lawyer, and move on the enemy's works."
"I will be guided by your advice entirely, Mr. Miller."
"It will be a satisfaction to me to get even with your uncle. To swindle his own nephew in this barefaced manner! We'll bring him up with a short turn, Kit!"
The next day Kit and his new friend left Albany.
KIT COMES HOME.
One morning James Schuyler Kit's old acquaintance at Smyrna, received a letter from Kit, in which he said: "Our circus season is ended, but I am detained a few days by important business. I will tell you about it when we meet. If you see my uncle tell him that I expect to reach Smyrna somewhere about the twenty-fifth of October."
"I wonder what Kit's important business can be," thought James. "I hope it is something of advantage to him."
James happened to meet Stephen Watson an hour later.
"Mr. Watson," he said, "I had a letter from Kit this morning."
"He says that his circus season is over."
"And he is out of employment," said Watson, his lip curling.
"I suppose so; he expects to reach Smyrna somewhere about the twenty-fifth of the month."
Stephen Watson smiled, but said nothing.
"No doubt he will find it very convenient to stay at home through the winter," he reflected. "Well, he must think I am a fool to take back a boy who has defied my authority."
It was Saturday, and Ralph was home from boarding-school.
"Ralph," said his father, "I bring you good news."
"What is it, pa?"
"Your cousin will be home from the circus towards the last of next week."
"Who told you? Did he write you?"
"He wrote to James Schuyler, who told me."
"I suppose he expects you will give him a home through the winter."
"You may rest easy, Ralph. He won't have his own way with me, I can assure you."
"What shall you do, pa?"
"I shall see Bickford about taking him back. I have occasion to go over there on Monday to have the horse shod, and I can speak to him about it."
"That will bring down his pride," he said. "I suppose he will beg off."
"He will find me firm as a rock. What I decide upon I generally carry through."
"Good for you, pa! I was afraid you would weaken."
"You don't know me, my son. I have been patient and bided my time. Your cousin presumed to set up his will against mine. He has got along thus far because he has made a living by traveling with a circus. Now the circus season is at an end, and he is glad enough to come back to me."
On Monday Stephen Watson rode over to Oakford, and made it in his way to call on Aaron Bickford.
"Have you got a boy, Mr. Bickford?" he asked.
"I had one, but he left me last Saturday. He didn't suit me."
This was the blacksmith's interpretation of it. The truth was the boy became disgusted with the treatment he received and the fare provided at his employer's table, and left him without ceremony.
"How would you like to take back my nephew?"
"Has he come back?" asked the blacksmith, pricking up his ears.
"Not yet; but I expect him back toward the end of next week."
"Has he left the circus?"
"The circus has left him. That is, it has closed for the season. He has sent word to a boy in Smyrna that he will be back in a few days."
"He gave me a great deal of trouble, Mr. Watson."
"Just so, and I thought you might like to get even with him," said Stephen Watson, looking significantly at the blacksmith.
"It would do me good to give him a flogging," said Aaron Bickford.
"I shan't interfere," replied Watson. "The boy has acted badly and he deserves punishment."
"Yes, I'll take him back," said the blacksmith. "I guess he'll stay this time," he added grimly.
"I think he will have to. There won't be any circus to give him employment."
"He is a good strong boy, and he can make a good blacksmith, if he has a mind to."
"You must make him have a mind to," said Stephen Watson.
When the horse was shod he got into the carriage and drove away.
After this interview Mr. Bickford seemed in unusually good spirits, so much so that his wife inquired: "Have you had any good luck, Aaron?"
"What makes you ask?"
"Because you look unusually chipper. I was hopin' somebody had died and left you a fortune."
"Well, not exactly, wife; but I've heard something that makes me feel good."
"Stephen Watson, of Smyrna, was over here this morning."
"He says that boy Kit is coming home in a few days."
"What if he is?"
"He's goin' to bring him over here, and apprentice him to me again."
"I should think once would be enough, considerin' how he treated you."
"He ain't goin' to serve me so again, you may bet on that. I'm goin' to have my way this time."
"Ain't you afraid he'll run away again?"
"Not much. The circus has shut up, and he'll have to stay with me, or starve. His uncle tells me I can punish him when I think he deserves it."
"I hope you won't be disappointed, Mr. Bickford, but that boy's rather hard to handle."
"I know it, but I'm the one that can handle him."
"You thought so before, the evening we went to the show."
"I know so this time."
Several days passed. On Thursday afternoon Kit arrived in Smyrna, accompanied by his generous California friend Henry Miller. They put up at the hotel, and after dinner Kit walked over to the house occupied by his uncle.
Mr. Watson saw him from the window, and hastening to the door opened it himself.
"Good afternoon, Uncle Stephen," said Kit.
"So you're back!" said his uncle curtly.
"Yes; did you expect me?"
"James Schuyler told me you were coming."
"Yes, I wrote him that he might inform you."
"That was a good thought of yours. I have made arrangements for you."
"I shall take you over to Oakford on Saturday, and place you with Aaron Bickford to learn the blacksmith's trade. This time I'd advise you not to run away."
Kit didn't exhibit any dismay when his uncle informed him of the plan he had arranged for him.
"I will talk this over with you, Uncle Stephen," he said. "With your permission I will go into the house."
"You can stay here till Saturday. Then you will go with me to Oakford."
Kit followed his uncle into the house. "I have something important to say to you, Uncle Stephen," he went on. "Sit down, and I will tell you what I have discovered within the last few months."
Stephen Watson anxiously awaited Kit's communication.
"Can he have found out?" he asked himself. "But no! it is impossible."
"I will give you five minutes to tell me your astonishing discovery," he said, with an attempt at his usual sneer.
"I may need a longer time, but I will be as quick as I can. Among the places where our circus exhibited was Glendale, Pennsylvania. Remembering that you once lived there, I made inquiries about you in the village. I saw the house where you lived for many years. Judge of my surprise when I learned that you were always in extreme poverty. Then I recalled your story of having lent my father ten thousand dollars, in payment of which you took the bulk of his property. I mentioned it, and found that it was pronounced preposterous. I discovered that on the other hand, you were frequently the recipient of money gifts from my poor father. In return for this you have attempted to rob his son. The note which you presented against the estate was undoubtedly a forgery. But even had it been genuine, the property of which you took possession must have amounted to at least twenty thousand dollars."
Stephen Watson had not interrupted Kit by a word. He was panic stricken, and absolutely did not know what to say. He finally succeeded in answering hoarsely: "This is an outrageous falsehood, Christopher Watson. It is an ingenious scheme to rob me of what rightfully belongs to me. You must be a fool to think I am going to be frightened by a boy's wild fiction. Leave my house! I would have allowed you to stay till Saturday, but this is too much. If you come here again, I will horsewhip you!"
But even when he was making this threat his face was pallid, and his glance uneasy.
At this moment the bell rang.
Kit himself answered the call, and returned with his friend, Henry Miller.
"Why, it is Mr. Miller!" said Stephen Watson, who had not forgotten that Miller was very wealthy. "When did you return from California?"
"Kit, have you told your uncle?" asked Henry Miller, ignoring this greeting.
"Yes, and he orders me to leave the house."
"Hark you, Stephen Watson!" said Henry Miller sternly. "You are in a bad box. For over a week Kit and I have been looking up matters, and we are prepared to prove that you have outrageously defrauded him out of his father's estate. We have enlisted a first class lawyer in the case, and now we come to you to know whether you will surrender or fight."
"Mr. Miller, this is very strange. Are you in the plot too?"
"Don't talk of any plots, Stephen Watson. Your fraud is so transparent that I wonder you dare to hope it would succeed. You probably presumed upon Kit's being a boy of an unsuspicious nature. But he has found a friend, who was his father's friend before him, and who is determined that he shall be righted."
"I defy you!" exclaimed Stephen Watson recklessly, for he saw that submission would be ruin, and leave him penniless.
"Wait a minute! I'll give you another chance. Do you know what we are prepared to prove? Well, I will tell you. We can prove that you are not only a swindler but a forger, and our success will consign you to a prison cell. You deserve it, no doubt, but you shall have a chance."
"What terms do you offer?" asked Stephen Watson, overwhelmed by the conviction that what Miller said was true.
"Surrender unconditionally, restore to Kit his own property, and——"
"But it will leave me penniless!" groaned Stephen Watson.
"Just as I supposed. In Kit's behalf, I will promise that you shall not starve. You once kept a small grocery store, and understand the trade. We will set you up in that business wherever you choose, and will give you besides a small income, say three hundred dollars a year, so that you may be able to live modestly."
"But Ralph, my poor boy, what will become of him?"
"I will pay the expenses of his education," said Kit, "and when he leaves school, I will make him an allowance so that he can enter a store and qualify himself to earn his own living. He won't be able to live as he has lived, but he shall not suffer."
"It is more than either of you deserve," said Henry Miller. "I was not in favor of treating you so generously, but Kit, whom you have defrauded, insisted upon it. You ought to thank him on your knees."
Stephen Watson did not speak. He looked the picture of misery.
"Do you agree to this?" asked Mr. Miller.
"I must!" replied Watson, sullenly.
It made a great sensation in Smyrna when Kit took his proper place as the true master of his dead father's estate. Stephen Watson left town suddenly, and Ralph followed him. No sorrow was felt for his reverse of fortune, for he had made no friends in the town. He and Ralph settled down in a small Western city, and started a grocery store. From time to time Kit receives abject letters, pleading for more money, and sometimes he sends it, but always against the advice of Henry Miller, who says rightly that Stephen Watson already fares better than he deserves.
Ralph is turning out badly. His pride received a severe shock when his cousin was raised above him, and he has formed bad habits which in time will wreck him physically, unless he turns over a new leaf.
It is hardly necessary to say that Kit decided not to learn the blacksmith's trade. His old employer, Aaron Bickford, has tried hard to get into his good graces and secure his trade, but Kit employs another man for whom he has a greater respect.
Kit has made more than one visit to the worthy Mayor Grant from whom he received so much kindness when a young acrobat, and a marked partiality for Evelyn, the mayor's pretty daughter, may some day lead to a nearer connection between the families.
Good, like bad fortune, seldom comes singly, and besides recovering his own property, Kit finds himself the favorite and presumed heir of Henry Miller, the wealthy Californian, who has taken up his home with our hero. Last summer they took a trip to California, and Kit was charmed with the wonderful Yosemite Valley and the Geysers. He has decided to become a lawyer, though he will be in a position to live without employment of any kind.
A few months after his return, Kit read in the paper of the killing of Dick Hayden, the miner, in a drunken brawl at Coalville.
He at once took steps to seek out the daughter, Janet, who had rendered him such signal service when he was captured by the ruffians, and brought her to Smyrna, where he provided a happy home for her in a family of his acquaintance.
Nor has Kit forgotten his circus friends. Last year when Barlow's circus returned from its wanderings he invited those whom he knew best, the giant, his two brother acrobats, and Mlle. Lefroy, to pass a week as his guests. For the sake of old times and experiences he is always ready to help poor professionals, and has been a friend in need to many. He knows that with all their weaknesses, they are generous to a fault, and ready to divide their last dollar with a needy comrade. There are some who think Kit shows a strange taste in keeping up acquaintance with his old associates, but like his friend, Charlie Davis, who has also retired from the circus, he will always have a kindly feeling for those with whom he traveled when a YOUNG ACROBAT.