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Luke turned, on hearing his name called, and was rather surprised to see Randolph hastening toward him.
"How are you, Randolph?" he said politely.
"Where are you going?" asked Randolph, not heeding the inquiry.
"To the schoolhouse, to sweep out."
"How long have you been janitor?" asked Randolph, abruptly.
"About a year," Luke answered, in surprise.
"That's a good while."
Luke was puzzled. Why should Randolph feel such an interest, all at once, in his humble office?
"I suppose you know that my father is now on the school committee?"
"Yes; I heard so."
"He thinks of appointing Tim Flanagan janitor in your place."
Luke's face showed his surprise and concern. The loss of his modest income would, as he knew, be severely felt by his mother and himself. The worst of it was, there seemed no chance in Groveton of making it up in any other way.
"Did your father tell you this?" he asked, after a pause.
"Yes; he just told me," answered Randolph, complacently.
"Why does he think of removing me? Are there any complaints of the way I perform my duties?"
"Really, my good fellow," said Randolph, languidly, "I can't enlighten you on that point. You've held the office a good while, you know."
"You are very kind to tell me—this bad news," said Luke, pointedly.
"Oh, don't mention it. Good morning. Were you fatigued after your violent exercise at Florence Grant's party?"
"No. Were you?"
"I didn't take any," said Randolph, haughtily. "I danced—I didn't jump round."
"Thank you for the compliment. Is there anything more you wish to say to me?"
"Then good morning."
When Luke was left alone he felt serious. How was he going to make up the dollar a week of which he was to be deprived? The more he considered the matter the further he was from thinking anything. He was not quite sure whether the news was reliable, or merely invented by Randolph to tease and annoy him. Upon this point, however, he was soon made certain. The next day, as he was attending to his duties in the schoolhouse, Tim Flanagan entered.
"Here's a note for you, Luke," he said.
Luke opened the note and found it brief but significant. It ran thus:
"LUKE LARKIN: I have appointed the bearer, Timothy Flanagan, janitor in your place. You will give him the key of the schoolhouse, and he will at once assume your duties.
"Well, Tim," said Luke, calmly, "it appears that you are going to take my place."
"Yes, Luke, but I don't care much about it. My mother went to the squire and got me the job. The pay's a dollar a week, isn't it?"
"That isn't enough."
"It isn't very much, but there are not many ways of earning money here in Groveton."
"What do you have to do?"
"Make the fire every morning and sweep out twice a week.
Then there's dusting, splitting up kindlings, and so on."
"I don't think I'll like it. I ain't good at makin' fires."
"Squire Duncan writes you are to begin at once."
"Shure, I'm afraid I won't succeed."
"I'll tell you what, Tim. I'll help you along till you've got used to the duties. After a while they'll get easy for you."
"Will you now? You're a good feller, Luke. I thought you would be mad at losin' the job."
"I am not mad, but I am sorry. I needed the money, but no doubt you do, also. I have no grudge against you."
Luke had just started in his work. He explained to Tim how to do it, and remained with him till it was done.
"I'll come again to-morrow, Tim," he said. "I will get you well started, for I want to make it easy for you."
Tim was by no means a model boy, but he was warm-hearted, and he was touched by Luke's generous treatment.
"I say, Luke," he exclaimed, "I don't want to take your job. Say the word, and I'll tell mother and the squire I don't want it."
"No, Tim, it's your duty to help your mother. Take it and do your best."
On his way home Luke chanced to meet the squire, walking in his usual dignified manner toward the bank, of which he was president.
"Squire Duncan," he said, walking up to him in a manly way, "I would like to speak a word to you."
"Say on, young man."
"Tim Flanagan handed me a note from you this morning ordering me to turn over my duties as janitor to him."
"I have done so, but I wish to ask you if I have been removed on account of any complaints that my work was not well done?"
"I have heard no complaints," answered the squire. "I appointed
Timothy in your place because I approved of rotation in office.
It won't do any good for you to make a fuss about it."
"I don't intend to make a fuss, Squire Duncan," said Luke, proudly. "I merely wished to know if there were any charges against me."
"There are none."
"Then I am satisfied. Good morning, sir."
"Stay, young man. Is Timothy at the schoolhouse?"
"Yes, sir. I gave him some instruction about the work, and promised to go over to-morrow to help him."
Squire Duncan was rather relieved to find that Luke did not propose to make any fuss. His motive, as has already been stated, was a political one. He wished to ingratiate himself with Irish voters and obtain an election as representative; not that he cared so much for this office, except as a stepping-stone to something higher.
Luke turned his steps homeward. He dreaded communicating the news to his mother, for he knew that it would depress her, as it had him. However, it must be known sooner or later, and he must not shrink from telling her.
"Mother," he said, as he entered the room where she was sewing, "I have lost my job as janitor."
"I expected you would, Luke," said his mother, soberly.
"Who told you?" asked Luke, in surprise.
"Melinda Sprague was here yesterday and told me Tim Flanagan was to have it."
"Miss Sprague seems to know everything that is going on."
"Yes, she usually hears everything. Have you lost the place already?"
"Tim brought me a note this morning from Squire Duncan informing me that I was removed and he was put in my place."
"It is going to be a serious loss to us, Luke," said Mrs. Larkin, gravely.
"Yes, mother, but I am sure something will turn up in its place."
Luke spoke confidently, but it was a confidence he by no means felt.
"It is a sad thing to be so poor as we are," said Mrs. Larkin, with a sigh.
"It is very inconvenient, mother, but we ought to be glad that we have perfect health. I am young and strong, and I am sure I can find some other way of earning a dollar a week."
"At any rate, we will hope so, Luke."
Luke went to bed early that night. The next morning, as they were sitting at breakfast, Melinda Sprague rushed into the house and sank into a chair, out of breath.
"Have you heard the news?"
"No. What is it?"
"The bank has been robbed! A box of United States bonds has been taken, amounting to thirty or forty thousand dollars!"
Luke and his mother listened in amazement.
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