“If we could only keep the post office, mother, we should be all right,” said Herbert Carr, as he and his mother sat together in the little sitting room of the plain cottage which the two had occupied ever since he was a boy of five.
“Yes, Herbert, but I am afraid there won’t be much chance of it.”
“Who would want to take it from you, mother?”
“Men are selfish, Herbert, and there is no office, however small, that is not sought after.”
“What was the income last year?” inquired Herbert.
Mrs. Carr referred to a blank book lying on the table in which the post-office accounts were kept, and answered:
“Three hundred and ninety-eight dollars and fifty cents.”
“I shouldn’t think that would be much of an inducement to an able-bodied man, who could work at any business.”
“Your father was glad to have it.”
“Yes, mother, but he had lost an arm in the war, and could not engage in any business that required both hands.”
“That is true, Herbert, but I am afraid there will be more than one who will be willing to relieve me of the duties. Old Mrs. Allen called at the office to-day, and told me she understood that there was a movement on foot to have Ebenezer Graham appointed.”
“Squire Walsingham’s nephew?”
“Yes; it is understood that the squire will throw his influence into the scale, and that will probably decide the matter.”
“Then it’s very mean of Squire Walsingham,” said Herbert, indignantly. “He knows that you depend on the office for a living.”
“Most men are selfish, my dear Herbert.”
“But he was an old schoolfellow of father’s, and it was as his substitute that father went to the war where he was wounded.”
“True, Herbert, but I am afraid that consideration won’t weigh much with John Walsingham.”
“I have a great mind to go and see him, mother. Have you any objections?”
“I have no objections, but I am afraid it will do no good.”
“Mr. Graham ought to be ashamed, with the profits of his store, to want the post office also. His store alone pays him handsomely.”
“Mr. Graham is fond of money. He means to be a rich man.”
“That is true enough. He is about the meanest man in town.”
A few words are needed in explanation, though the conversation explains itself pretty well.
Herbert’s father, returning from the war with the loss of an arm, was fortunate enough to receive the appointment of postmaster, and thus earn a small, but, with strict economy, adequate income, until a fever terminated his earthly career at middle age. Mr. Graham was a rival applicant for the office, but Mr. Carr’s services in the war were thought to give him superior claims, and he secured it. During the month that had elapsed since his death, Mrs. Carr had carried on the post office under a temporary appointment. She was a woman of good business capacity, and already familiar with the duties of the office, having assisted her husband, especially during his sickness, when nearly the whole work devolved upon her. Most of the village people were in favor of having her retained, but the local influence of Squire Walsingham and his nephew was so great that a petition in favor of the latter secured numerous signatures, and was already on file at the department in Washington, and backed by the congressman of the district, who was a political friend of the squire. Mrs. Carr was not aware that the movement for her displacement had gone so far.
It was already nine o’clock when Herbert’s conversation with his mother ended, and he resolved to defer his call upon Squire Walsingham till the next morning.
About nine o’clock in the forenoon our young hero rang the bell of the village magnate, and with but little delay was ushered into his presence.
Squire Walsingham was a tall, portly man of fifty, sleek and evidently on excellent terms with himself. Indeed, he was but five years older than his nephew, Ebenezer Graham, and looked the younger of the two, despite the relationship. If he had been a United States Senator he could not have been more dignified in his deportment, or esteemed himself of greater consequence. He was a selfish man, but he was free from the mean traits that characterized his nephew.
“You are the Carr boy,” said the squire, pompously, looking over his spectacles at Herbert, as he entered the door.
“My name is Herbert Carr,” said Herbert, shortly. “You have known me all my life.”
“Certainly,” said the squire, a little ruffled at the failure of his grand manner to impose upon his young visitor. “Did I not call you the Carr boy?”
Herbert did not fancy being called the Carr boy, but he was there to ask a favor, and he thought it prudent not to show his dissatisfaction. He resolved to come to the point at once.
“I have called, Squire Walsingham,” he commenced, “to ask if you will use your influence to have my mother retained in charge of the post office.”
“Ahem!” said the squire, somewhat embarrassed. “I am not in charge of the post-office department.”
“No, sir, I am aware of that; but the postmaster general will be influenced by the recommendations of people in the village.”
“Very true!” said the squire, complacently. “Very true, and very proper. I do not pretend to say that my recommendation would not weigh with the authorities at Washington. Indeed, the member from our district is a personal friend of mine.”
“You know how we are situated,” continued Herbert, who thought it best to state his case as briefly as possible. “Father was unable to save anything, and we have no money ahead. If mother can keep the post office, we shall get along nicely, but if she loses it, we shall have a hard time.”
“I am surprised that in your father’s long tenure of office he did not save something,” said the squire, in a tone which indicated not only surprise but reproof.
“There was not much chance to save on a salary of four hundred dollars a year,” said Herbert, soberly, “after supporting a family of three.”
“Ahem!” said the squire, sagely; “where there’s a will there’s a way. Improvidence is the great fault of the lower classes.”
“We don’t belong to the lower classes,” said Herbert, flushing with indignation.
Squire Walmsgham was secretly ambitious of representing his district some day in Congress, and he felt that he had made a mistake. It won’t do for an aspirant to office to speak of the lower classes, and the squire hastened to repair his error.
“That was not the term I intended to imply,” he condescended to explain. “I meant to say that improvidence is the prevailing fault of those whose income is small.”
“We haven’t had much chance to be improvident!” said Herbert “We have had to spend all our income, but we are not in debt — that is, we have no debts that we are unable to pay.”
“That is well,” said Squire Walsingham, “but, my young constituent — I mean my young friend — I apprehend that you do not take a right view of public office. It is not designed to support a privileged class in luxury.”
“Luxury, on four hundred a year!” replied Herbert.
“I am speaking in general terms,” said the squire, hastily. “I mean to say that I cannot recommend a person to office simply because he or she needs the income.”
“No, sir, I know that; but my mother understands the duties of the office, and no complaint has been made that she does not make a good postmaster.”
“Possibly,” said the squire, non-commitally; “but I am opposed upon principle to conferring offices upon women. Men are more efficient, and better qualified to discharge responsible duties.”
“Then, sir,” said Herbert, his heart sinking, “I am to understand that you do not favor the appointment of my mother?”
“I should be glad to hear that your mother was doing well,” said the squire, “but I cannot conscientiously favor the appointment of a woman to be postmaster of Wayneboro.”
“That means that he prefers the appointment should go to his nephew,” thought Herbert.
“If my mother were not competent to discharge the duties,” he said, his face showing his disappointment in spite of himself, “I would not ask your influence, notwithstanding you were a schoolmate of father’s, and he lost his arm while acting as your substitute.”
“I have already said that I wish your mother well,” said the squire, coloring, “and in any other way I am ready to help her and you. Indeed, I may be able to secure you a situation.”
“Mr. Graham needs a boy in his store, and I think he will take you on my recommendation.”