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Grafton, where Barlow's circus was billed to appear on Saturday, was only six miles farther on. Oakford was about half way, so that in accompanying the blacksmith to his home, Kit had accomplished about half the necessary journey. Now that he had undeceived the blacksmith as to his intention of staying he felt at ease in his mind. It was his plan to remain over night in the house and pursue his journey early the next day.
"Are these all the clo'es you brought with you?" asked Bickford, surveying Kit's neat and rather expensive suit with disapproval.
"Yes. Am I not well enough dressed for a blacksmith?" asked Kit, with a smile.
"You're a plaguy sight too well dressed," returned Bickford. "You want a good rough suit, for the forge is a dirty place."
"I thought I told you I did not intend to work for you, Mr. Bickford."
"That's what you said, but I don't take no stock in it. Your uncle has bound you out to me, and that settles it."
"If he has bound me out, where are the papers, Mr. Bickford?" asked Kit, keenly.
This question was a poser. The blacksmith supposed that Kit might be ignorant that papers were required, but he found himself mistaken.
"There ain't no papers, but that don't make no difference," he said. "He says you're to work for me, and I'm goin' to hold you to it."
Kit did not reply, for he saw no advantage in discussion.
"You'll get a dollar a week and your board, and you can't do better. I reckon dinner is about ready now."
Kit felt ready for the dinner, for the morning's ride had sharpened his appetite. So when, five minutes later, he was summoned to the table, he willingly accepted the invitation.
"This is my new 'prentice, Mrs. Bickford," said the blacksmith, by way of introduction, to a spare, red headed woman, who was bustling about the kitchen, where the table was spread.
Mrs. Bickford eyed Kit critically.
"He's one of the kid glove kind, by his looks," she said. "You don't expect to get much work out of him, do you?"
"I reckon I will, or know the reason why," responded Bickford, significantly.
"Set right down and I'll dish up the victuals," said Mrs. Bickford. "We don't stand on no ceremony here. What's your name, young man?"
"People call me Kit."
"Sounds like a young cat. It's rediculous to give a boy such a name. First thing you know I'll be calling you Kitty."
"I hope I don't look like a cat," said Kit laughing.
"You ain't got no fur on your cheeks yet," said the blacksmith, laughing heartily at his own witticism. "What have you got for dinner, mother?"
"It's a sort of picked-up dinner," answered Mrs. Bickford. "There's some pork and beans warmed up, some slapjacks from breakfast, and some fried sassidges."
"Why, that's a dinner for a king," said the blacksmith, rubbing his hands.
He took his seat, and put on a plate for Kit specimens of the delicacies mentioned above. In spite of his appetite Kit partook sparingly, supplementing his meal with bread, which, being from the baker's shop, was of good quality. He congratulated himself that he was not to board permanently at Mr. Bickford's table.
When dinner was over, the blacksmith in a genial mood said to Kit: "You needn't begin to work till to-morrow. You can tramp round the village if you want to."
Kit was glad of the delay, as early the next morning he expected to bid farewell to Oakford, and thus would avoid a conflict.
He had been in Oakford before, and knew his way about. He went out of the yard and walked about in a leisurely way. It was early in June, and the country was at its best. The birds were singing, the fields were green with verdure, and Kit's spirits rose. He felt that it would be delightful to travel about the country, as he would do if he joined Barlow's Circus.
He overtook a boy somewhat larger than himself, a stout, strong country boy, attired in a rough, coarse working suit. He was about to pass him, when the country boy called out, "Hallo, you!"
"Were you speaking to me?" asked Kit, turning and looking back.
"Yes. Didn't I see you riding into town with Aaron Bickford?"
"Are you going to work for him?"
"That is what he expects," answered Kit diplomatically. He hesitated about confiding his plans to a stranger.
"Then I pity you."
"I used to work for him."
"Yes, I stood it as long as I could."
"Then you didn't like it?"
"I guess not."
"What was the trouble?"
"Everything. He's a stingy old hunks, to begin with. I went to work for a dollar a week and board. If the board had been decent, it would have been something, but I'd as soon board at the poorhouse."
"I have taken dinner there," said Kit, smiling.
"Did you like it?"
"I have dined better. In fact I have seldom dined worse."
"What did the old woman give you?"
Kit enumerated the articles composing the bill of fare.
"That's better than usual," said the new acquaintance.
"I suppose the dollar a week is all right," said Kit.
"Good enough if you can get it. It's about as easy to get blood out of a stone, as money out of old Bickford. Generally I had to wait ten days after the time before I could get the money."
"How is the work?"
"Hard, and plenty of it. It's work early and work late, and if there isn't work at the forge, you've got to help the old woman, by drawing water and doing chores. You don't live in Oakford, do you?"
"No; I came from Smyrna."
"I thought not. Bickford can't get a boy to work for him here. What made you come? Couldn't you get a place at home?"
"I didn't try."
"Well, you haven't done much in coming here."
"I begin to think so," Kit responded, with a smile.
"Hasn't the circus been in your town?"
"I wanted to go, but I guess I'll manage to see it in Grafton. It shows there to-morrow."
"Are you going?" asked Kit with interest.
"Yes; I shall walk. I'll start early and spend the day there."
"We may meet there."
"You don't expect to go, do you? Bickford won't let you off."
"I don't think Mr. Bickford will have much to say about it," he said.
"Are you going to hook jack?" asked his new acquaintance.
"I didn't mean to tell you, but I will. I have made up my mind not to work for Mr. Bickford at all."
"Then why did you come here?"
"Because my uncle saw fit to arrange with him."
"What are you going to do, then?"
"I am offered work with the circus."
"You are!" exclaimed the country boy, opening wide his eyes in astonishment. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to be an acrobat."
Kit explained as well as he could.
"What are they going to pay you?"
"Ten dollars a week and my expenses," answered Kit, proudly.
"Jehu!" ejaculated the other boy. "Why, that's good wages for a man. Do you think they'd hire me, too?"
"If you think you can do what they require, you can ask them."
"Why can't I do it as well as you?"
"Because I have been practicing for a long time at a gymnasium. What is your name?"
"Then, Bill, don't say a word to any one about my plans. Suppose we go to Grafton together?"
Before the boys parted they made an agreement to meet at five o'clock the next morning, to set out on their walk to Grafton.
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