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"Oscar tells me that you wish to see me, sir," said Joe, as he entered the presence of his pompous employer.
Major Norton wheeled round in his armchair and looked at Joe over his spectacles. He looked at Joe's clothes, too, and it did strike him forcibly that they were very shabby. However, there was Oscar's stained suit; which was entirely whole and of excellent cloth. As to the stains, what right had a boy like Joe to be particular?
"Ahem!" said the major, clearing his throat. "Oscar tells me that you are not satisfied with the clothes I have I given you."
"He has told you the truth, Major Norton," replied Joe bluntly. "If you will look for yourself, I think you will see why I am dissatisfied."
"Joseph," said the major, in a tone of disapproval, "you are too free spoken. I understand you have been complaining to Doctor Raymond's daughter of the way I dress you."
"Did Oscar tell you the way that happened?" inquired Joe.
"I apprehend he did not."
"When I was walking home with Miss Annie Raymond, Oscar came up and insulted me, calling me a ragamuffin. I told him that, if I was a ragamuffin, it was not my fault."
Major Norton looked disturbed.
"Oscar was inconsiderate," he said. "It seems to me that your clothes are suitable to your station in life. It is not well for a boy in your circumstances to be 'clothed in purple and fine linen,' as the Scriptures express it. However, perhaps it is time for you to have another suit."
Joe listened in astonishment. Was it possible that Major Norton was going to open his heart and give him what he had long secretly desired?
Our hero's delusion was soon dissipated.
Major Norton rose from his seat, and took from a chair near-by a stained suit, which had not yet attracted Joe's attention.
"Here is a suit of Oscar's," he said, "which is quite whole and almost new. Oscar only wore it a month. It cost me thirty-four dollars!" said the major impressively.
He held it up, and Joe recognized it at once.
"Isn't it the suit Oscar got stained?" he asked abruptly.
"Ahem! Yes; it is a little stained, but that doesn't injure the texture of the cloth."
As he held it up the entire suit seemed to have been sprinkled with acid, which had changed the color in large, patches in different parts. The wearer would be pretty sure to excite an unpleasant degree of attention.
Joe did not appear to be overwhelmed with the magnificence of the gift.
"If it is so good, why don't Oscar wear it?" he asked.
Major Norton regarded Joe with displeasure.
"It cannot matter to you how Oscar chooses to dress," he said. "I apprehend that you and he are not on a level."
"He is your son, and I am your hired boy," said Joe. "I admit that. But I don't see how you can ask me to wear a suit like that."
"I apprehend that you are unsuitably proud, Joseph."
"I hope not, sir; but I don't want to attract everybody's notice as I walk the streets. If I had stained the suit myself, I should have felt bound to wear it, but it was Oscar's carelessness that destroyed its appearance, and I don't think I ought to suffer for that. Besides, it is much too small for me. Let me show you."
Joe pulled off his coat and put on the stained one. The sleeves were from two to three inches too short, and it was so far from meeting in front, on account of his being much broader than Oscar, that his shoulders seemed drawn back to meet each other behind.
"It doesn't exactly fit," said the major; "but it can be let out easily. I will send it to Miss Pearce—the village tailoress—to fix it over for you."
"Thank you, Major Norton," said Joe, in a decided tone, "but I hope you won't go to that expense, for I shall not be willing to wear it under any circumstances."
"I cannot believe my ears," said Major Norton, with dignified displeasure. "How old are you, Joseph?"
"It is not fitting that you, a boy of fifteen, should dictate to your employer."
"I don't wish to, Major Norton, but I am not willing to wear that suit."
"You are too proud. Your pride needs taking down."
"Major Norton," said Joe firmly, "I should like to tell you how I feel. You are my employer, and I am your hired boy. I try to do my duty by you."
"You are a good boy to work, Joseph. I don't complain of that."
"You agreed to give me board and clothing for my services."
"So I have."
"Yes, sir; but you have dressed me in such a way that I attract attention in the street for my shabbiness. I don't think I am very proud, but I have been mortified! more than once when I saw people looking at my patched clothes and shoes out at the toes. I think if I work faithfully I ought to be dressed decently."
"Joseph," said Major Norton uneasily, "you look at the thing too one-sided. You don't expect me to dress you like Oscar?"
"No, sir; I don't. If you would spend half as much for my clothes as you do for Oscar's I would be contented."
"It seems to me you are very inconsistent. Here is a suit of clothes that cost me thirty-four dollars, which I offer you, and you decline."
"You know why well enough, sir," said Joe, "You did not tell me you intended to dress me in Oscar's castoff clothes, too small, and stained at that. I would rather wear the patched suit I have on till it drops to pieces than wear this suit."
"You can go, Joseph," said Major Norton, in a tone of annoyance. "I did not expect to find you so unreasonable. If you do not choose to take what I offer you, you will have to go without."
"Very well, sir."
Joe left the room, his face flushed and his heart full of indignation at the slight which had been attempted on him.
"It is Oscar's doings, I have no doubt," he said to himself. "It is like his meanness. He meant to mortify me."
If there had been any doubt in Joe's mind, it would soon have been cleared up. Oscar had been lying in wait for his appearance, and managed to meet him as he went out into the yard.
"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.
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