Stephen Watson, uncle of Kit and father of Ralph, was a man of middle age. It was difficult to trace any resemblance between him and his nephew. The latter had an open face, with a bright, attractive expression. Mr. Watson was dark and sallow, of spare habit, and there was a cunning look in his eyes, beneath which a Roman nose jutted out like a promontory. He looked like the incarnation of cold selfishness, and his real character did not belie his looks.
Five years before Kit Watson's father had died. He resembled Kit in appearance, and was very popular in Smyrna. His brother wound up the estate, and had since been living in luxury, but whether the property was his or his nephew's Kit was unable to tell. He had asked the question occasionally, but his uncle showed a distaste for the subject, and gave evasive replies.
What Kit had just heard made him anxious, and he resolved to attack his uncle once more. After dinner, therefore, he began:
"Uncle Stephen, Ralph tells me I am not going back to school on Monday."
"Ralph speaks correctly," Mr. Watson replied in a measured voice.
"But why am I not to go?"
"I will explain before the time comes."
"Can you not tell me now? I am anxious to know."
"You must curb your curiosity. You will know in good time."
Kit regarded his uncle in silence. He wished to know what had caused this remarkable change, but it seemed useless to ask any more questions.
The next morning he and Dan Clark, according to agreement, met in front of Stoddard's store.
"I had hard work to get away," said Dan. "Let us go right over to the circus grounds."
These were located about a third of a mile from the hotel, in a large twenty-acre pasture. The lot, as it was called, was a scene of activity. A band of canvas men were busily engaged in putting up the big tent. Several elephants were standing round, and the cages of animals had already been put in place inside the rising tent.
On a bench outside sat a curious group, comprising Achilles Henderson, the great Scotch giant, who was set down on the bills as eight feet three inches in height, and was really about seven feet and a half; Major Conrad, the dwarf, who was about the size of an average child of three years, and Madame Celestina Morella, the queen of fat women, who was credited on the bills with a weight of five hundred and eighty seven pounds. She was certainly massive, but probably fell short a hundred and fifty pounds of these elephantine proportions.
Kit and Dan paused to look at this singular trio.
"I wonder how much pay they get?" said Dan, turning to Kit.
"I saw in some paper that the fat woman gets fifty dollars a week."
"That's pretty good pay for being fat, Kit."
"Would you be willing to be as fat for that money?"
"I think not," said Dan, "though it's a good deal more than I get now."
They were standing near the bench on which the three were seated. Achilles, who looked good-natured, as most big men are, addressed the boys.
"Well, boys, are you coming to see the show?"
"Yes," answered both.
"I used to like to myself when I was a boy. I didn't expect then I should ever travel with one."
"Were you very large as a boy?" asked Dan, with curiosity.
"When I was twelve years old I was six feet high, and people generally thought then that I was eighteen. I thought perhaps I shouldn't grow any more, but I kept on. When I was sixteen I was seven feet tall, and by twenty I had reached my present height."
"Are you eight feet three inches tall, Mr. Henderson?"
"Is that what the bills say?"
"Then it must be so," he said with a smile.
"How long have you been traveling with the circus?"
"How do you like it?"
"It's a good deal easier than working on a farm, especially in Vermont, where I was born and bred."
"But they call you the Scotch giant."
"It sounds well, doesn't it? My father was born in Scotland, but my mother was a Vermont Yankee. You know Americans are more willing to pay for a foreign curiosity than for one home born. That's why my great friend here"—emphasizing the word great—"calls herself Madame Celestina Morella."
The fat lady smiled.
"People think I am French or Italian," she said, "but I never was out of the United States in my life."
"Where were you born, Madame Morella?"
"In the western part of New York State. I know what you are going to ask me. Was I always fat? No, when I was sixteen I only weighed one hundred and twenty. Then I had a fit of sickness and nearly died. After recovering, I began to gain flesh, till I became a monster, as you see."
As she said this, she laughed, and her fat sides shook with merriment. Evidently she did not let her size weigh upon her mind.
"I suppose your real name isn't Celestina Morella?" said Kit.
"My real name is Betsey Hatch. That is what they called me in my girlhood, but I should hardly know who was meant if I was called so now."
"Have you been long in the show business?"
"About seven years."
"Do you like it?"
"I didn't at first, but now I've got used to moving about. Now when the spring opens I have the regular circus fever. But I have my troubles."
"What are they?" asked Kit, seeing that the fat woman liked to talk.
"Well, I find it very difficult to secure at the hotels a bed large enough and strong enough to hold me. I suppose you won't be surprised to hear that."
"At Akron, Ohio, where the hotel was full, I was put in a cot bed, though I protested against it. As soon as I got in, the whole thing collapsed, and I was landed on the floor."
She laughed heartily at the remembrance.
"I remember that very well," said the giant, "for I slept in the room below. Half an hour after getting into bed, I heard a fearful noise in the room above, and thought at first the hotel had been struck by lightning, and a piercing shriek that echoed through the house led me to fear that my esteemed Italian friend was a victim. But my mind was soon relieved when I learned the truth."
"I suppose, major, you never broke down a bed," said the giant, turning to the dwarf.
"No," answered the major, in a shrill piping voice, "I never lie awake thinking of that."
"I believe you served in the civil war, major?"
"Yes, I was in the infantry."
It was a stale joke, but all four laughed at it.
"How much do you weigh, major?" Kit ventured to ask.
"Twenty-one pounds and a half," answered the dwarf. "I have with me some of my photographs, if you would like to buy," and the little man produced half a dozen cards from his tiny pocket.
"How much are they?"
"I'll take one," said Kit, and he produced the necessary coin.
"If you go into the tent you can see some of the performers rehearsing," suggested Achilles.
"Let us go in, Dan."
The two boys reached the portals and went into the big tent.
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