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It had been a day of exciting adventure, but so far as Kit was concerned the end was not yet. He performed as usual, but as his second act was over at quarter past nine, he thought, being fatigued, that he would not wait until the close, but go at once to the circus car in which he had a berth, and go to bed.
He crossed the lot, and emerged into the street.
It was moderately dark, there being no moon, and only the light of a few stars to relieve the gloom.
Kit had not taken a dozen steps from the lot when two stout men approached him, both evidently miners.
"That's the kid that prevented my cutting the rope," he heard one say.
"Is he? I saw him with the giant."
"I mean to settle his hash for him," said the first.
Kit saw that he was in danger, and turned to run back to his friends. But it was too late! The first speaker laid a strong arm upon his shoulder, and his boyish strength was not able to overcome it.
"Don't be in such a hurry, kid," said his captor.
"Let me go," cried Kit.
"You belong to the circus, don't you?"
"What do you do?"
"I am an acrobat."
"I leap and turn somersaults, and so on."
"Yes, I know. Do you remember me?"
"I might if it were lighter."
The man lit a match and held it close to his face.
"Do you know me now?"
"Who am I?"
"You are the man who tried to cut the ropes of the tent."
"Right you are. I would have succeeded but for you."
"I suppose you would."
"Did you call that giant to pitch into me?"
"No; I didn't know he was near."
"He treated me like a brute," said the man, wrathfully. "My limbs are aching now from the fall he gave me."
Kit did not answer.
"I'd like to give him a broken head, as he gave some of my friends. Where is he?"
"I suppose he is somewhere in the lot. I'll go and call him, if you want me to."
"That's too thin! Now I've got you I won't let you off so easy."
"What do you intend to do?" asked Kit becoming alarmed.
"To give you a lesson."
Kit did not ask what kind of a lesson was meant, but he feared it included bodily injury. Then at least, if never before, he wished himself back at his uncle's house in Smyrna, uncongenial as it was otherwise.
The first speaker spoke in a low voice to the second. Kit did not hear the words, but judged what they were from what followed.
The two men placed him beside them, and he was sternly ordered to move on.
They kept the road for perhaps half a mile, then turned off into a narrow lane which appeared to ascend a hill. Finally they stopped in front of a dark cabin, of one story, which seemed to be unoccupied. The outer door was fastened by a bolt.
One of the men drew out a bolt, and threw open the door. A dark interior was revealed. One of the men lit a match, throwing a fitful light upon an empty room. At one end of the apartment was a ring, fixed in a beam, and in the corner was a stout rope.
"That will do," said the first speaker.
He took the rope, secured one end of it to the ring, and then tied Kit firmly with the balance. It was long enough to allow of his lying down.
"Now," said the first man grimly, "I reckon the kid will be safe here till to-morrow."
They prepared to leave the cabin.
"Are you going to leave me here?" asked Kit, in dismay.
"What good will it do you?"
Kit had ten dollars in his pocket, and he thought of offering it in return for his freedom, but it occurred to him fortunately that his captors would deprive him of it, as it was quite within their power to do, and not compensate him in any way. He understood by this time the character of the men into whose hands he had fallen, and he thought it prudent to remain silent.
As the first captor stood with the door open, while just on the point of leaving, he said grimly, "How do you like it, kid?"
"Not at all," answered Kit.
"If you beg my pardon for what you did, I might let you go."
Kit did not believe this, and he had no intention of humiliating himself for nothing.
"I only did my duty," he said. "I have nothing to ask pardon for."
"You may change your mind—to-morrow!"
Another ominous reference to to-morrow. Evidently he was only deferring his vengeance, and intended to wreak it on his young prisoner the next day.
It was not a comforting thought, nor was it calculated to sooth Kit, weary as he was, to sleep.
The door was closed, and Kit heard the sliding of the bolt on the outside. He was a prisoner, securely enough, and with small chance of rescue.
Now, though Kit is my hero, I do not mean to represent him as above human weakness, and I won't pretend that he didn't feel anxious and disturbed. His prospects seemed very dark. He could not hope for mercy from the brutal men who had captured him. As they could not get hold of the giant they would undoubtedly seek to make him expiate the offenses of Achilles Henderson as well as his own.
"If only Mr. Henderson knew where I was," he said to himself, "I should soon be free."
But there seemed little hope of this. He had not told any one that he intended to retire to the circus cars earlier than usual. The chances were that he would not be missed till the circus company had reached the next town on their route, ten miles away. Then there would be no clew to his whereabouts, and even if there were he might be killed before any help could come to him. So far as he had been able to observe, the miners were—a portion of them, at least—a lawless set of men, who were not likely to be influenced by considerations of pity or ordinary humanity.
Kit had been very religiously brought up during his father's life, at least, and he had not lost his faith in an overruling Providence. So in this great peril it was natural for him to pray to God for deliverance from danger. When his prayer was concluded, he felt easier, and in spite of his disagreeable surroundings he managed to fall asleep.
Meanwhile the circus performance terminated, and preparations were commenced for the journey to the next town. The canvas men swarmed around the tents and swiftly took them down and conveyed them to the freight cars, where they assisted the razorbacks to pack them in small compass.
Harry Thorne, who had his berth next to Kit, turned in rather late. He looked into Kit's bed, and to his surprise found it unoccupied.
"What can have become of the boy?" he asked himself.
He went outside, and espying Achilles Henderson, he said: "Have you seen anything of Kit Watson?"
"Isn't he in his berth?" asked Mr. Henderson, surprised.
Inquiry developed the fact that Kit had not been seen by any one since the conclusion of his act.
"I am afraid the boy has come to harm," said Achilles. "This is a rough place, and there are plenty of tough characters about, as our experience this afternoon showed."
"What shall we do? The cars will soon be starting, and we must leave him behind."
"If he doesn't show up before that time, I will stay behind and hunt him up. He is too good a boy to be left to his fate."
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