“Where are your new clothes?” he asked mockingly.
“I have none,” answered Joe.
“Didn’t my father give you a suit of mine?”
“He offered me the suit which you stained so badly with acid.”
“Well, it’s pretty good,” said Oscar patronizingly. “I only wore it about a month.”
“Why don’t you wear it longer?”
“Because it isn’t fit for me to wear,” returned Oscar.
“Nor for me,” said Joe.
“You don’t mean to say you’ve declined?” exclaimed Oscar, in surprise.
“That is exactly what I have done.”
“You ought to know why.”
“It is better than the one you have on.”
“It is too small for me. Besides, it would attract general attention.”
“Seems to me somebody is getting proud,” sneered Oscar. “Perhaps you think Annie Raymond wouldn’t walk with you in that suit?”
“I think it would make ho difference to her,” said Joe. “She was willing to walk with me in this ragged suit.”
“I don’t admire her taste.”
“She didn’t walk with my clothes; she walked with me.”
“A hired boy!”
“Yes, I am a hired boy; but I don’t get very good pay.”
“You feel above your business, that’s what’s the matter with you.”
“I hope some time to get higher than my business,” said Joe. “I mean to rise in the world, if I can.”
Oscar shrugged his shoulders.
“Perhaps you would like to be a wealthy merchant, or a member of Congress,” he said.
“I certainly should.”
Oscar burst into a sneering laugh, and left Joe alone.
Joe’s work was done, and, being left free to do as he liked, he strolled over to the village store.
THE RETURNED CALIFORNIAN
The village store, in the evening, was a sort of village club-house, where not only the loungers, but a better class, who desired to pass the evening socially, were wont to congregate. About the center of the open space was a large box-stove, which in winter was kept full of wood, ofttimes getting red-hot, and around this sat the villagers. Some on wooden chairs, some on a wooden settee, with a broken back, which was ranged on one side.
Joe frequently came here in the evening to pass a social hour and kill time. At the house of Major Norton he had no company. Oscar felt above him, and did not deign to hold any intercourse with his father’s drudge, while the housekeeper—Major Norton being a widower—was busy about her own special work, and would have wondered at Joe if he had sought her company. I make this explanation because I do not wish it to be understood that Joe was a common village lounger, or loafer.
When Joe entered the store he found the usual company present, but with one addition.
This was Seth Larkin, who had just returned from California, whither he had gone eighteen months before, and was, of course, an object of great attention, and plied with numerous questions by his old acquaintances in regard to the land of promise in the far West, of which all had heard so much.