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Mr. Bickford was in excellent spirits. He had enjoyed the evening, and although he had been compelled to disburse a dollar for two circus tickets, a sum which to him seemed large, he was disposed to acknowledge that he had received his money's worth. Besides, and this seemed to him the greatest triumph of all, he had recovered his runaway apprentice, or thought he had. He inwardly resolved that Kit should smart for his past insubordination, though he had not yet decided in what way he would get even with him. The unexpected submissiveness shown by Kit elated him, and confirmed him in the idea he had long entertained that he could manage boys a good deal better than the average of men.
"Talk about hard cases," he said one day to his wife. "I'd like to see the boy that can get the start of Aaron Bickford. He'll have to get up unusually airly in the mornin'."
Mr. Bickford felt a little like crowing over his captive, and turned his head partly round to survey the boy on the back seat. Fortunately for William the darkness was so great that there was small chance of his detecting the imposture.
"I reckon you didn't expect to be ridin' back to Oakford along of me this evenin'," he observed.
"No, sir," muttered William in a voice scarcely audible.
"Ho, ho, you feel kind of grouty, eh?" said the blacksmith. "Well, I ain't much surprised. You thought you could have your own way with Aaron Bickford, but you're beginnin' to see your mistake, I reckon?"
"Yes, sir," replied the supposed Kit, in a meek voice.
"Ho, ho! That's the way boys ginerally come out when they try to buck agin' their elders. Not but you might have succeeded with some men, but you didn't know the man you had to deal with this time."
There was a sort of gurgle, for William was trying hard not to laugh, as he was picturing to himself the rage and mortification of Mr. Bickford when he discovered the deceit that had been practiced upon him. But the blacksmith misunderstood the sound, and thought Kit was sobbing.
"You needn't take on!" he said, magnanimously. "It ain't so bad as it might be. You'll be a good deal better off learnin' a good trade than trampin' round the country with the circus. I hope this'll be a lesson to you. You'd better not try to run away ag'in, for it won't be no use. You won't always have that long-legged giant to help you. If I'd done right, I should have had him took up for 'sault and battery. He needn't think because he's eight feet high, more or less, that he can defy the laws of the land. I reckon he got a little skeered of what he done, or he wouldn't have acted so different this evening."
William did not reply to this. He was rather in hopes Mr. Bickford would stop addressing him, for he did not like to run the risk of answering, as it might open the eyes of the blacksmith to the fact that he had the wrong boy in the wagon.
The distance to Oakford steadily diminished, though Mr. Bickford's horse was a slow one. At length it had dwindled to half a mile.
"Now I don't care if he does find out who I am," thought William. "It ain't but a little way home now, and I shouldn't mind walking." Still his own house was rather beyond Mr. Bickford's, and it was just as well to ride the whole way, if he could escape detection so long.
"Where did you learn them circus performances, Christopher?" suddenly asked the blacksmith, turning once more in his seat.
By this time they were within a few rods of the blacksmith's yard, and William became bold, now that he had nothing to lose by it.
"My name isn't Christopher," he answered in his usual tone.
"Your name isn't Christopher? That's what your uncle told me."
"I think you are mistaken," said William quietly.
"What's got into the boy? Is he goin' to deny his own name? What is your name, then?"
"My name is William Morris," was the distinct response.
"What!" exclaimed the blacksmith in amazement.
"I think you ought to know me, Mr. Bickford. I worked for you some time, you know."
"Take off your hat, and let me look at your face!" said Aaron Bickford, sternly.
William laughed as he complied with the request. It was now rather lighter, and the blacksmith, peering into his face, saw that it was indeed true—that the boy on the back seat was not Kit Watson at all, but his ex-apprentice, William Morris.
"It's Bill Morris, by the living jingo!" he exclaimed. "What do you say to that, Sarah?"
"You're a master hand at managing boys, Aaron," said his wife sarcastically.
"How came you in the wagon, Bill Morris?" demanded Bickford, not caring to answer his wife.
"The giant put me in," answered William.
"Where is that boy, Christopher Watson?"
"I expect he is travelin' with the show, Mr. Bickford."
"Who put you up to this mean trick?" demanded the blacksmith, wrathfully.
"I've got an account to settle with you, William Morris. I s'pose you think you've done something pretty smart."
"I think he has, Aaron," said Mrs. Bickford, who seemed to take a malicious pleasure in opening her husband's wounds afresh.
"Mrs. Bickford, it isn't very creditable in you to triumph over your husband, just after he's been spendin' fifty cents for your amusement."
"Goodness knows, Mr. Bickford, you don't often take me to shows. I guess what you spend that way won't ruin you."
While the married pair were indulging in their little recriminations, William had managed to slip out of the wagon in the rear, and he was now a rod away.
"Good night, Mr. Bickford!" he shouted. "I'm much obliged to you for bringing me home. It's saved me a long walk."
The blacksmith's reply was one that I do not care to record. He was thoroughly angry and disgusted. If it hadn't been so late he would have got out and tried to inflict punishment on William with his whip, but the boy was too far away by this time to make this possible.
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