Chapter 29




A BITTER PILL

James Leech was furious at the humiliation. What he, a gentleman's son, to be knocked down and triumphed over by a boy who was compelled to work! Why, it was almost a sacrilege and no punishment could be too severe for such, flagrant outrage. How should he be revenged? First of all, he would get Herbert discharged from his present employment. Surely Mr. Cameron would not continue to avail himself of the services of a common bully. To attain this, he decided to reveal the matter to his father.

"That boy actually knocked you down!" exclaimed the squire. "But why did you permit him?"

"He took me by surprise," said James.

"And what did you do? Did you knock him over?"

"I would," said James, "but I didn't care to pursue him. I thought I would wait and tell you."

"And what do you want me to do?"

"To get Mr. Cameron to turn him off. I want him to starve," said
James, bitterly.

"You express yourself too strongly, James; but, under the circumstances, I can't blame you much. The boy is evidently a ruffian."

"Yes, he is a ruffian and a brute, and I don't see what Mr. Cameron sees about him to like, I am sure."

"Probably the boy makes him think he is a model of excellence. Such boys are apt to be deceitful."

"He's deceitful enough. You'd think butter wouldn't melt in his mouth."

"I shall make such representations to Mr. Cameron as, I flatter myself, will dispose of the case of this young rascal and make him repent his brutal and unprovoked assault. I'll go over to-morrow forenoon to the hotel and speak to him on the subject," said the squire, pompously.

"Thank you, father. Put it as strong as you can."

"I will, you may be assured of that."

"If I can only get him turned off, I won't mind his hitting me," thought James. "I hope to see him in the penitentiary some day. It would do him good."

It so happened that Cameron had met Herbert in a walk he took before breakfast and had been informed of the occurrence of the evening previous.

"I don't know whether I ought to have struck James," said Herbert, in conclusion; "but when he called my mother and myself low, I couldn't help it."

"I am glad you did it," said the young collegian. "The boy is a disagreeable cub and deserves more than one lesson of that sort. Didn't he offer to hit you back?"

"No."

"So I supposed. I don't approve of fighting; but if he had shown a little courage to back his insolence, I should have despised him less. What will he do?"

"He will injure me, if he can," said Herbert.

"We will see what comes of it. Meanwhile, in this matter, you may count upon my support."

Herbert thanked his friend, not realizing how likely Cameron was to be called upon to redeem, his promise.

Shortly after breakfast, Cameron was told that Squire Leech wished to see him.

"Good-morning, Mr. Cameron," said the squire. "This is an early call."

"Not too early, sir," said the young collegian.

"The fact is, I have called on unpleasant business."

"Really, sir, I am sorry to hear it."

"It is about the Carter boy who is in your employ."

"By the Carter boy, you mean my young friend, Herbert Carter, I suppose," said Cameron, significantly.

"Of course if you choose to regard him as a friend."

"I certainly do."

"I don't think you will look upon him in that light when you hear that last evening he brutally assaulted my son James, without provocation, in the village street, taking him by surprise and knocking him over."

Cameron did not seem as much shocked as the squire anticipated. He took the revelation very coolly.

"You say he did this without provocation?"

"Yes, Mr. Cameron."

"Did James tell you this?"

"He did; and he is a boy of truth."

"But perhaps he did not look upon it as a provocation when he called
Herbert and his mother low."

"He didn't say anything about that."

"I dare say not."

"And even if he did use the word, it would not justify Carter in brutally assaulting him."

"I confess I don't agree with you there, Squire Leech. I hate brutality as much as anyone and an unprovoked assault I certainly look upon as brutal. But for a boy to resent an insult directed against his mother is quite a different matter, and if Herbert had not acted as he did, I should have been ashamed of him."

Squire Leech flushed all over his face. This certainly was plain speaking.

"You have probably been misled by Carter's statement. I don't believe my boy did anything, or said anything, that Carter had a right to complain of."

"From what I have observed of your son, I regret to differ with you."

"You are prejudiced against James."

"I was not to begin with; but what I have seen of him, certainly, has not prepossessed me in his favor. He seems disposed to be insolent to those whom he fancies beneath him in social position."

"If you refer to the Carter boy," said the squire, pompously, "I should say that James is right in regarding him as a social inferior."

"I won't argue that point, or consider how far the possession of money, which is certainly the only point in which Herbert is inferior, justifies your son in looking down upon him. I will only say that he has no right to insult his social inferiors."

The discussion had assumed such a different character from what the squire anticipated, that he found it difficult to come to the request he had in view. But he did it.

"I am certainly astonished, Mr. Cameron, to find you so prejudiced against my son. If you should find you had done him an injustice, and that the Carter boy was really the aggressor last evening, will you be willing to discharge him from your employment?"

"If I find Herbert justifies your denunciations and his assault was unprovoked, I will discharge him."

"Then you can do it at once. You have my son's word for it."

"And I have Herbert's word for the contrary."

"Between the two, I believe James."

"Does James deny that he called Herbert and his mother low?"

"I have not asked him."

"If you will do so and bring me his assurance that he said nothing of the kind, I will examine Herbert again and try to get at the truth."

"Very well; I will put the question to him."

Squire Leech did so on his return home.

"I don't know but I called him something of the kind," James admitted; "but it's true, isn't it?"

"As to that, the boy certainly acted in a very low manner. But you shouldn't have called him so."

"I couldn't help it, when I heard him boasting of Mr. Cameron's having taken supper at his house. Won't Cameron discharge him?"

"No," said the squire, shortly; "he is infatuated about; that boy."

"Suppose we cut both of them?"

"It won't do, James. Mr. Cameron's father is a wealthy manufactureró much richer than I am. We must keep on good terms with him, but we needn't notice the Carter boy. Some day he and his mother will be in my power."

"I hope so, father. I want to bring him to his knees, the proud beggar!"

It was a bitter pill for James to swallow, seeing his rival high in the favor of the young collegian.



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