Here to return to
A NOISE in the outer office recalled Livingstone from his reverie. He aroused himself, almost with a start, and glanced at the gilt clock just above the stock-indicator. He had been so absorbed that he had quite forgotten that he had told the clerks to wait for him. He had had no idea that he had been at work so long. He reflected, however, that he had been writing charity-cheques: the clerks ought to appreciate the fact.
He touched a button, and the next second there was a gentle tap on the door, and Clark appeared. He was just the person to give just such a tap: a refined-looking, middle-aged, middle-sized man, with a face rather pale and a little worn; a high, calm forehead, above which the grizzled hair was almost gone; mild, blue eyes which beamed through black-rimmed glasses; a pleasant mouth which a drooping, colorless moustache only partly concealed, and a well-formed but slightly retreating chin. His figure was inclined to be stout, and his shoulders were slightly bent. He walked softly, and as he spoke his voice was gentle and pleasing. There was no assertion in it, but it was perfectly self-respecting. The eyes and voice redeemed the face from being commonplace.
“Oh! — Mr. Clark, I did not know I should have been so long about my work. I was so engaged getting my book straight for you, and writing — a few cheques for my annual contributions to hospitals, etc, — that the time slipped by —”
The tone was unusually conciliatory for Livingstone; but he still retained it in addressing Clark. It was partly a remnant of his old time relation to Mr. Clark when he, yet a young man, first knew him, and partly a recognition of Clark’s position as a man of good birth who had been unfortunate, and had a large family to support.
“Oh! that’s all right, Mr. Livingstone,” said the clerk, pleasantly.
He gathered up the letters on the desk and was unconsciously pressing them into exact order.
“Shall I have these mailed or sent by a messenger?”
“Mail them, of course,” said Livingstone. ,”And Clark, I want you to —”
“I thought possibly that, as to-morrow is —” began the clerk in explanation, but stopped as Livingstone continued speaking without noticing the interruption.
— “I have been going over my matters,” pursued Livingstone, “and they are in excellent shape — better this year than ever before —”
The clerk’s face brightened.
“That’s very good,” said he, heartily. “I knew they were.”
— “Yes, very good, indeed,” said Livingstone condescendingly, pausing to dwell for a second on the sight of the line of pallid figures which suddenly flashed before his eyes. “And I have got everything straight for you this year; and I want you to come up to my house this evening and go over the books with me quietly, so that I can show you —”
“This evening?” The clerk’s countenance fell and the words were as near an exclamation as he ever indulged in.
“Yes —, this evening. I shall be at home this evening and to-morrow evening — Why not this evening?” demanded Livingstone almost sharply.
“Why, only — that it’s — . However, —” The speaker broke off “I’ll be there, sir. About eight-thirty, I suppose?”
“Yes,” said Livingstone, curtly.
He was miffed, offended, aggrieved. He had intended to do a kind thing by this man, and he had met with a rebuff.
“I expect to pay you,” he said, coldly.
The next second he knew he had made an error. A shocked expression came involuntarily over the other’s face.
“Oh! it was not that! — It was —” He paused, reflected half a second. “I’ll be there,” he added, and, turning quickly, withdrew, leaving Livingstone feeling very blank and then somewhat angry. He was angry with himself for making such a blunder, and then angrier with the clerk for leading him into it.
“That is the way with such people!” he reflected. “What is the use of being considerate and generous? No one appreciates it!”
The more he thought of it, the warmer he became. “Had he not taken Clark up ten fifteen years ago, when he had not a cent in the world, and now he was getting fifteen hundred dollars a year — yes, sixteen hundred, and almost owned his house; and he had made every cent for him!”
At length, Livingstone’s sense of injury became so strong, he could stand it no longer. He determined to have a talk with Clark.
He opened the door and walked into the outer office. One of the younger clerks was just buttoning up his overcoat. Livingstone detected a scowl on his face. The sight did not improve Livingstone’s temper. He would have liked to discharge the boy on the spot. How often had he ever called on them to wait? He knew men who required their clerks to wait always until they themselves left the office, no matter what the hour was. He himself would not do this; he regarded it as selfish. But now when it had happened by accident, this was the return he received!
He contented himself with asking somewhat sharply where Mr. Clark was.
“Believe he’s gone to the telephone,” said the clerk, sulkily. He picked up his hat and said good-night hurriedly. He was evidently glad to get off.
Livingstone returned to his own room; but left the door ajar so that he could see Clark when he returned. When, however, a few moments afterwards Clark appeared Livingstone had cooled down. Why should he expect gratitude? He did not pay Clark for gratitude, but for work, and this the clerk did faithfully. It was an ungrateful world, anyhow.
At that moment there was a light knock at the outer door, and, on Clark’s bidding, some one entered.
Livingstone, from where he sat, could see the door reflected in a mirror that hung in his office.
The visitor was a little girl. She was clad in a red jacket, and on her head was a red cap, from under which her hair pushed in a profusion of ringlets. Her cheeks were like apples, and her whole face was glowing from the frosty air. It was just her head that Livingstone saw first, as she poked it in and peeped around. Then, as Mr. Clark sat with his back to the door and she saw that no one else was present, the visitor inserted her whole body and, closing the door softly, with her eyes dancing and her little mouth puckered up in a mischievous way, she came on tiptoe across the floor, stealing towards Clark until she was within a few feet of him, when with a sudden little rush she threw her arms about his head and clapped her hands quickly over his eyes:
“Guess who it is?” she cried.
Livingstone could hear them through the open door.
“Blue Beard,” hazarded Mr. Clark. “No — o!”
“No — o — o!”
“Mary, Queen of Scots? — I know it’s a queen.”
“No. Now you are not guessing — It isn’t any queen, at all.”
“Yes, I am — Oh! I know — Santa Claus.”
“No; but somebody ‘at knows about him.”
“Mr. L — m — m —”
Livingstone was not sure that he caught the name.
“No!!” in a very emphatic voice and with a sudden stiffening and a vehement shake of the head.
Livingstone knew now whose name it was.
“Now, if you guess right this time, you’ll get a reward.”
“Why, — Santa Claus will bring you a whole lot of nice —”
“I don’t believe that; — he will be too busy with some other folks I know, who —”
“No, he won’t — I know he’s going to bring you — Oh!” She suddenly took one hand from Clark’s eyes and clapped it over her mouth — but next second replaced it. — “And besides, I’ll give you a whole lot of kisses.”
“Oh! yes, I know — the Princess with the Golden Locks, Santa Claus’s Partner — the sweetest little kitten in the world, and her name is — Kitty Clark.”
“Umhm — m!” And on a sudden, the arms were transferred from about the forehead to the neck and the little girl, with her sunny head canted to one side, was making good her promise of reward. Livingstone could hear the kisses.
The next second they moved out of the line of reflection in Livingstone’s mirror. But he could still catch fragments of what they said. Clark spoke too low to be heard; but now and then, Livingstone could catch the little girl’s words. Indeed, he could not help hearing her.
“Oh! papa!” she exclaimed in a tone of disappointment, replying to something her father had told her.
“But papa you must come — You promised!” Again her father talked to her low and soothingly.
“But papa — I’m so disappointed — I’ve saved all my money just to have you go with me. And mamma — I’ll go and ask him to let you come.”
Her father evidently did not approve of this, and the next moment he led the child to the door, still talking to her soothingly, and Livingstone heard him kiss her and tell her to wait for him below.
Livingstone let himself out of his side-door. He did not want to meet Clark just then. He was not in a comfortable frame of mind. He had a little headache.
As he turned into the street, he passed the little girl he had seen up-stairs. She was wiping her little, smeared face with her handkerchief, and had evidently been crying. Livingstone, as he passed, caught her eye, and she gave him such a look of hate that it stung him to the quick.
little serpent!” thought he. “Here he was supporting her family, and she
looking as if she could tear him to pieces! It showed how ungrateful this sort
of people were.”