Here to return to
IF Livingstone had been in a huff when he left his office, by the time he reached his home he was in a rage.
As he let himself in with his latch-key his expression for a moment softened. The scene before him was one which might well have mellowed a man just out of the snowy street. A spacious and handsome house, both richly and artistically furnished, lay before him. Rich furniture, costly rugs, fine pictures and rare books, gave evidence not only of his wealth but of his taste. He was not a mere business machine, a mere money-maker. He knew men who were. He despised them. He was a man of taste and culture, a gentleman of refinement. He spent his money like a gentleman, to surround himself with objects of art and to give himself and his friends pleasure. Connoisseurs came to look at his fine collection and to revel in his rare editions. Dealers had told him his collection was worth double what it had cost him. He had frowned at the suggestion; but it was satisfactory to know it.
As Livingstone entered his library and found a bright fire burning; his favorite armchair drawn up to his especial table; his favorite books lying within easy reach, he felt a momentary glow.
He stretched himself out before the fire in his deep lounging-chair with a feeling of relief. The next moment, however, he was sensible of his fatigue, and was conscious that he had quite a headache. What a fool he had been to walk up through the snow! And those people had worried him!
His head throbbed. He bad been working too hard of late. He would go and see his doctor next day and talk it over with him. He could now take his advice and stop working for a while; he was worth — Confound those figures! Why could not he think of them without their popping in before his eyes that way!
There was a footfall on the heavily carpeted floor behind him, so soft that it could scarcely be said to have made a sound, but Livingstone caught it. He spoke without turning his head. “James!”
“Yes, sir. Have you dined, sir?”
“Dined? No, of course not! Where was I to dine?”
“I thought perhaps you had dined at the club. I will have dinner directly, sir,” said the butler quietly.
“Dine at the club! Why should I dine at the club? Haven’t I my own house to dine in?” demanded Livingstone.
“Yes, sir. We had dinner ready, only — as you were so late we thought perhaps you were dining at the club. You had not said anything about dining out.”
Livingstone glanced at the clock. It was half-past eight. He had had no idea it was so late. He had forgotten how late it was when he left his office, and the walk through the snow had been slow. He was hopelessly in the wrong.
Just then there was a scurry in the hall outside and the squeak of childish voices. James coughed and turned quickly towards the door.
Livingstone wanted an outlet.
“What is that?” he asked, sharply.
James cleared his throat nervously. The squeak came again — this time almost a squeal.
“Whose children are those?” demanded Livingstone.
“Ahem! I thinks they’s the laundress’s, sir. They just came around this evening —” Livingstone cut him short.
“Well! I —!” He was never nearer an outbreak, but he controlled himself.
“Go down and send them and her off immediately; and you —” He paused, closed his lips firmly, and changed his speech. “I wish some dinner,” he said coldly.
James had reached the door when he turned.
“Shall you be dining at home to-morrow, sir?” he asked, quietly.
“Yes, of course,” said Livingstone, shortly. “And I don’t want to see any one to-night, no matter who comes. I am tired.” He had forgotten Clark.
The butler withdrew noiselessly, and Livingstone sank back in his chair. But before the butler was out of hearing Livingstone recalled him.
“ I don’t want any dinner.”
“Can have it for you directly, sir,” said James, persuasively.
“I say I don’t want any.”
James came a little closer and gave his master a quick glance.
“Are you feeling bad, sir?” he asked.
“No. I only want to be let alone. I shall go out presently to the club.”
This time James withdrew entirely.
What happened when James passed through the door which separated his domain from his master’s was not precisely what Livingstone had commanded. What the tall butler did was to gather up in his arms two very plump little tots who at sight of him came running to him with squeals of joy, flinging themselves on him, and choking him with their chubby arms, to the imminent imperiling of his immaculate linen.
Taking them both up together, James bore them off quietly to some remote region where he filled their little mouths full of delightful candy which kept their little jaws working tremendously and their blue eyes opening and shutting in unison, whilst he told them of the dreadful unnamed things that would befall them if they ventured again through that door. He impressed on them the calamity it would be to lose the privilege of holding the evergreens whilst they were being put up in the hall, and the danger of Santa Claus passing by that night without filling their stockings.
The picture he drew of two little stockings hanging limp and empty at the fireplace while Santa Claus went by with bulging sleigh was harrowing.
At mention of it, the tots both looked down at their stockings and were so overcome that they almost stopped working their jaws, so that when they began again they were harder to work than ever. To this James added the terror of their failing to see next day the great plum-pudding suddenly burst into flame in his hands. At this, he threw up both hands and opened them so wide that the little ones had to look first at one of his hands and then at the other to make sure that he was not actually holding the dancing flames now.
When they had promised faithfully and with deep awe, crossing their little hearts with smudgy fingers, the butler entrusted them to some one to see to the due performance of their good intention, and he himself sought the cook, who, next to himself, was Livingstone’s oldest servant. She was at the moment, with plump arms akimbo on her stout waist, laying down the law of marriage to a group of merry servants as they sorted Christmas wreaths.
“Wait till you’ve known a man twenty years before you marry him, and then you’ll never marry him,” she said. The point of her advice being that she was past forty and had never married.
The butler beckoned her out and confided to her his anxiety.
“He is not well,” he said gloomily. “I have not see him this a-way in ten years. He is not well.”
The cook’s cheery countenance changed. “But you say he have had no dinner.” Her excessive grammar was a reassurance. She turned alertly towards her range.
‘“But he won’t have dinner.”
“What!” The stiffness went out of her form in visible detachments. “Then he air sick!” She made one attempt to help matters. “‘Can’t I make him something nice? Very nice? — And light?” She brightened at the hope.
“No, nothink. He will not hear to it.”
“Then you must have the doctor.” She spoke decisively.
To this the butler made no reply, at least in words. He stood wrapt in deep abstraction, his face filled with perplexity and gloom, and as the cook watched him anxiously her face too took on gradually the same expression.
“I has not see him like this before, not in ten year — not in twelve year. Not since he got that letter from that young lady what —.” He stopped and looked at the cook. — “He was hactually hirascible!”
“He must be got to bed, poor dear!” said the cook, sympathetically. “And you must get the doctor, and I’ll make some good rich broth to have it handy. And just when we were a-goin’ to dress the house and have it so beautiful! “
She turned away, her round face full of woe.
“Ah! Well! —” The butler tried to find some sentence that might be comforting; but before he could secure one that suited, the door bell rang, and he went to answer it.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.