Oscar would have liked to despise Annie Raymond, but it was out of his power. She was undoubtedly the belle of the school, and he would have been proud to receive as much notice from her as she freely accorded to Joe. But the young lady had a mind and a will of her own, and she had seen too much to dislike in Oscar to regard him with favor, even if he were the son of a rich man, while she had the good sense and discrimination to see that Joe, despite his ragged garb, possessed sterling good qualities.
When Oscar got home he sought his father.
“Father,” said he, “I heard Joe complaining to Annie Raymond that you didn’t dress him decently.”
Major Norton looked annoyed.
“What does the boy mean?” he said. “What does he expect?”
“He should be dressed as well as I am,” said Oscar maliciously.
“Quite out of the question,” said the major hastily. “Your clothes cost a mint of money.”
“Of course, you want me to look well, father. I am your son, and he is only your hired boy.”
“I don’t want folks to talk,” said the major, who was sensitive to public opinion. “Don’t you think his clothes are good enough?”
“Of course they are; but I’ll tell you what, father,” said Oscar, with a sudden idea, “you know that suit of mine that I got stained with acid?”
“Yes, Oscar,” said the major gravely. “I ought to remember it. It cost me thirty-four dollars, and you spoiled it by your carelessness.”
“Suppose you give that to Joe?” suggested Oscar.
“He’s a good deal larger than you. It wouldn’t fit him; and, besides, it’s stained.”
“What right has a hired boy to object to a stain? No matter if it is too small, he has no right to be particular.”
“You are right, Oscar,” said the major, who was glad to be saved the expense of a new suit for Joe. Even he had been unpleasantly conscious that Joe’s appearance had become discreditable to him. “You may bring it down, Oscar,” he said.
“I dare say Joe won’t like the idea of wearing it, but a boy in his position has no right to be proud.”
“Of course not,” returned the major, his ruling passion gratified by the prospect of saving the price of a suit. “When Joseph comes home—at any rate, after he is through with his chores—you may tell him to come in to me.”
“All right, sir.”
Before Oscar remembered this message, the scene narrated at the commencement of the chapter occurred. On his way to complain to his father, he recollected the message, and, retracing his steps, said to Joe:
“My father wants to see you right off.”
This was a summons which Joe felt it his duty to obey. He accordingly bent his steps to the room where Major Norton usually sat.
THE STAINED SUIT
“Oscar tells me that you wish to see me, sir,” said Joe, as he entered the presence of his pompous employer.