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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

Before Bertie quite knew what was happening


"Now,

look 'ere, there's a house I know close by where you and me can be alone, and we can talk it over. You're just the sort of young feller I've been looking for. Now come along with me and I'll make your fortune for you,--you see if I don't."

Before Bertie quite knew what was happening, the stout man had slipped his arm through his, and was hurrying him through the fair, away from it, and down some narrow streets which were not of the most aristocratic appearance. All the time he kept pouring out such a stream of words that the lad was given no chance to remonstrate, even if he had had presence of mind enough to do it with. But, metaphorically, the Original Badger--to use an expression in vulgar phrase--had knocked him silly.

What exactly happened Bertie never could remember. The Original Badger led him to a very doubtful looking public-house, and, before he knew it, the lad was through the door. They did not go into the public bar, but into a little room beyond. They had scarcely entered when they were joined by three or four more shabby individuals, whom the Original Badger greeted as his friends. If Bertie had looked behind he would have perceived these gentry following close upon his heels all the time.

"This young gentleman's going to stand something to drink. Now, 'Enery William, gin cold."

The order was given by the Original Badger to

a shrivelled-up individual without a coat who seemed to act as pot-boy. When this person disappeared, and Bertie was left alone with the Original Badger and his friends, he by no means liked the situation. A more unpleasant looking set of vagabonds could with difficulty be found; and he felt that if these were the sort of gentry who had to do with circuses a circus was not the place for him.

The pot-boy re-appeared with a bottle of water, and a tray of glasses containing gin.

"Two shillings," said the pot-boy.

"All right; the gentleman pays."

"Pay in advance," said the pot-boy.

"Two shillings, captain!"

The Original Badger gave Bertie another of his hearty slaps upon the back. Bertie felt they were too hearty by half. However, he produced a florin, with which the pot-boy disappeared, leaving the glasses on the table.

"I'm going," he said, directly that functionary was gone.

"What, before you've drunk your liquor? You'll never do for a circus, you won't." Bertie felt he wouldn't. "Why, I've got all that business to talk over with you. I'm going to engage this young feller in my circus to do the clowning and the riding for five and twenty pound a week."

The Original Badger cast what was suspiciously like a wink in the direction of his friends. One of these friends handed the glasses round. He lingered a moment with the glass he gave to Bertie before he filled it half-way up with water, then he held it towards the boy. He was a tall, sallow-looking ruffian, with ragged whiskers; the sort of man one would very unwillingly encounter on a lonely road at night.


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