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- Struggling Upward - 6/41 -
"Yes, I know; but they are too small."
"You have been growing fast in the last year, Luke," said his mother, looking a little disturbed. "I suppose you are not sorry for that?"
"No," answered Luke, with a smile, "but I wish my coat and trousers had grown, too."
"I wish, my dear boy, I could afford to buy you a new suit."
"Oh, never mind, mother," said Luke, recovering his cheerfulness. "They will do for a little while yet. Florence didn't invite me for my clothes."
"No; she is a sensible girl. She values you for other reasons."
"I hope so, mother. Still, when I consider how handsomely Randolph will be dressed, I can't help thinking that there is considerable difference in our luck."
"Would you be willing to exchange with him, Luke?"
"There is one thing I wouldn't like to exchange."
"And what is that?"
"I wouldn't exchange my mother for his," said Luke, kissing the widow affectionately. "His mother is a cold, proud, disagreeable woman, while I have the best mother in the world."
"Don't talk foolishly, Luke," said Mrs. Larkin; but her face brightened, and there was a warm feeling in her heart, for it was very pleasant to her to hear Luke speak of her in this way.
"I won't think any more about it, mother," said Luke. "I've got a new necktie, at any rate, and I will make that do."
Just then there was a knock at the door, and Linton entered.
"I thought I would come round and go to the party with you, Luke," he said.
Linton was handsomely dressed, though he had not bought a suit expressly, like Randolph. He didn't appear to notice Luke's scant suit. Even if he had, he would have been too much of a gentleman to refer to it.
"I think we shall have a good time," he said. "We always do at Mrs. Grant's. Florence is a nice girl, and they know how to make it pleasant. I suppose we shall have dancing."
"I don't know how to dance," said Luke, regretfully. "I should like to have taken lessons last winter when Professor Bent had a class, but I couldn't afford it."
"You have seen dancing?"
"It doesn't take much knowledge to dance a quadrille, particularly if you get on a side set. Come, we have an hour before it is time to go. Suppose I give you a lesson?"
"Do you think I could learn enough in that time to venture?"
"Yes, I do. If you make an occasional mistake it won't matter. So, if your mother will give us the use of the sitting-room, I will commence instructions."
Luke had looked at some dancers in the dining-room at the hotel, and was not wholly a novice, therefore. Linton was an excellent dancer, and was clear in his directions. It may also be said that Luke was a ready learner. So it happened at the end of the hour that the pupil had been initiated not only in the ordinary changes of the quadrille, but also in one contra dance, the Virginia Reel, which was a great favorite among the young people of Groveton.
"Now, I think you'll do, Luke," said Linton, when the lesson was concluded. "You are very quick to learn."
"You think I won't be awkward, Linton?"
"No, if you keep cool and don't get flustered."
"I am generally pretty cool. But I shall be rather surprised to see myself on the floor," laughed Luke.
"No doubt others will be, but you'll have a great deal more fun."
"So I shall. I don't like leaning against the wall while others are having a good time."
"If you could dance as well as you can skate you would have no trouble, Luke."
"No; that is where Randolph has the advantage of me."
"He is a very great dancer, though he can't come up to you in skating. However, dancing isn't everything. Dance as well as he may, he doesn't stand as high in the good graces of Florence Grant as he would like to do."
"I always noticed that he seemed partial to Florence."
"Yes, but it isn't returned. How about yourself, Luke?"
Luke, being a modest boy, blushed.
"I certainly think Florence a very nice girl," he said.
"I was sure of that," said Linton, smiling.
"But I don't want to stand in your way, Linton," continued Luke, with a smile.
"No danger, Luke. Florence is a year older than I am. Now, you are nearly two years older than she, and are better matched. So you needn't consider me in the matter."
Of course, this was all a joke. It was true, however, that of all the girls in Groveton, Luke was more attracted by Florence Grant than by any other, and they had always been excellent friends. It was well known that Randolph also was partial to the young lady, but he certainly had never received much encouragement.
Finally the boys got out, and were very soon at the door of Mrs. Grant's handsome cottage. It was large upon the ground, with a broad veranda, in the Southern style. In fact, Mrs. Grant was Southern by birth, and, erecting the house herself, had it built after the fashion of her Southern birthplace.
Most of the young visitors had arrived when Luke and Linton put in an appearance. They had been detained longer than they were aware by the dancing-lesson.
Randolph and Sam Noble were sitting side by side at one end of the room, facing the entrance.
"Look," said Randolph, with a satirical smile, to his companion, "there comes the young janitor in his dress suit. Just look at his coat-sleeves and the legs of his trousers. They are at least two inches too short. Any other boy would be ashamed to come to a party in such ridiculous clothes."
Sam looked and tittered. Luke's face flushed, for, though he did not hear the words, he guessed their tenor. But he was made to forget them when Florence came forward and greeted Linton and himself with unaffected cordiality.
FLORENCE GRANT'S PARTY
Luke's uncomfortable consciousness of his deficiencies in dress soon passed off. He noticed the sneer on Randolph's face and heard Sam's laugh, but he cared very little for the opinion of either of them. No other in the company appeared to observe his poor dress, and he was cordially greeted by them all, with the two exceptions already named.
"The janitor ought to know better than to intrude into the society of his superiors," said Randolph to Sam.
"He seems to enjoy himself," said Sam.
This was half an hour after the party had commenced, when all were engaged in one of the plays popular at a country party.
"I am going to have a party myself in a short time," continued Randolph, "but I shall be more select than Florence in my invitations. I shall not invite any working boys."
"Right you are, Randolph," said the subservient Sam. "I hope you won't forget me."
"Oh, no; I shall invite you. Of course, you don't move exactly in my circle, but, at any rate, you dress decently."
If Sam Noble had had proper pride he would have resented the insolent assumption of superiority in this speech, but he was content to play second fiddle to Randolph Duncan. His family, like himself, were ambitious to be on good terms with the leading families in the village, and did not mind an occasional snub.
"Shall you invite Tom Harper?" he asked.
He felt a little jealous of Tom, who had vied with him in flattering attentions to Randolph.
"No, I don't think so. Tom isn't here, is he?"
"He received an invitation, but ever since his accident he has been troubled with severe headaches, and I suppose that keeps him away."
"He isn't up to my standard," said Randolph, consequentially. "He comes of a low family."
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