Here to return to
LIVINGSTONE plodded along through the snow, relieved to find that the effort made him forget himself and banished those wretched figures. He traversed the intervening streets and before he was conscious of it was standing in the hall of the brilliantly lighted club. The lights dazzled him, and he was only half sensible of the score of servants that surrounded him with vague, half-proffers of aid in removing his overcoat.
Without taking off his coat, Livingstone walked on into the large assembly-room to see who might be there. It was as empty as a church. The lights were all turned on full and the fires burned brightly in the big hearths; but there was not a soul in the room, usually so crowded at this hour. Livingstone turned and crossed the marble paved hall to another spacious suite of rooms. Not a soul was there. The rooms were swept and garnished, the silence and loneliness seeming only intensified by the brilliant light and empty magnificence.
Livingstone felt like a man in a dream from which he could not awake. He turned and made his way back to the outer door. As he did so he caught sight of a single figure at the far end of one of the big rooms. It looked like Wright, — the husband of Mrs. Wright to whom Livingstone had sent his charity-subscription a few hours before. He had on his overcoat and must have just come in. He was standing by the great fire-place rubbing his hands with satisfaction. As Livingstone turned away, he thought he heard his name called, but he dashed out into the night. He could not stand Wright just then.
He plunged back through the snow and once more let himself in at his own door. It was lonelier within than before. The hall was ghastly. The big rooms, bigger than they had ever seemed, were like a desert. It was intolerable! He would go to bed.
H e slowly climbed the stairs. The great clock on the landing stared at him as he passed and in deep tones tolled the hour — of ten. It was impossible! Livingstone knew it must have been hours since he left his office. To him it seemed months, years; — but his own watch marked the same hour.
As he entered his bedroom, two pictures hanging on the wall caught his eye. They were portraits of a gentleman and a lady. Any one would have known at a glance that they were Livingstone’s father and mother. They had hung there since Livingstone built his house, but he had not thought of them in years. Perhaps, that was why they were still there.
They were early works of one who had since become a master. Livingstone remembered the day his father had given the order to the young artist.
“Why do you do that?” some one had asked. “He perhaps has parts, but he is a young man and wholly unknown.”
“That is the very reason I do it,” had said his father. “Those who are known need no assistance. Help young men, for thereby some have helped angels unawares.”
It had come true. The unknown artist had become famous, and these early portraits were now worth — no, not those figures which suddenly gleamed before Livingstone’s eyes!
Livingstone remembered the letter that the artist had written his father, tendering him aid when he learned of his father’s reverses -he had said he owed his life to him — and his father’s reply, that he needed no aid, and it was sufficient recompense to know that one he had helped remembered a friend.
Livingstone walked up and scanned the portrait nearest him. He had not really looked at it in years. He had had no idea how fine it was. How well it portrayed him! There was the same calm forehead, noble in its breadth; the same deep, serene, blue eyes; — the artist had caught their kindly expression; — the same gentle mouth with its pleasant humor lurking at the corners; — the artist had almost put upon the canvas the mobile play of the lips; — the same finely cut chin with its well marked cleft. It was the very man.
Livingstone had had no idea how handsome a man his father was. He remembered Henry Trelane saying he wished he were an artist to paint his father, but that only Van Dyck could have made him as distinguished as he was.
He turned to the portrait of his mother. It was a beautiful face and a gracious. He remembered that every one except his father had said it was a fine portrait, but his father had said it was, “only a fine picture; no portrait of her could be fine.”
Moved by the recollection, Livingstone opened a drawer and took from a box the daguerreotype of a boy. He held it in his hand and looked first at it and then at the portraits on the wall. Yes, it was distinctly like both. He remembered it used to be said that he was like his father; but his father had always said he was like his mother. He could now see the resemblance. There were, even in the round, unformed, boyish face, the same wide open eyes; the same expression of the mouth, as though a smile were close at hand; the same smooth, placid brow. His chin was a little bolder than his father’s. Livingstone was pleased to note it.
He determined to have his portrait painted by the best painter he could find. He would not consider the cost. Why should he? He was worth — at the thought the seven gleaming figures flashed out clear between his eyes and the portrait in his hand.
Livingstone turned suddenly and faced himself in the full length mirror at his side. The light caught him exactly and he stood and looked himself full in the face. What he saw horrified him. He felt his heart sink and saw the pallor settle deeper over his face. His hair was almost white. He was wrinkled. His eyes were small and sharp and cold. His mouth was drawn and hard. His cheeks were seamed and set like flint. He was a hard, wan, ugly old man; and as he gazed, unexpectedly in the mirror before his eyes, flashed those cursed figures.
With almost a cry Livingstone turned and looked at the portraits on the wall. He half feared the sharp figures would appear branded across those faces. But no, thank God! the figures had disappeared. The two faces beamed down on him sweet and serene and comforting as heaven.
Under an impulse of relief Livingstone flung himself face downward on the bed and slipped to his knees. The position and the association it brought fetched to his lips words which he used to utter in that presence long years ago. It had been long since Livingstone had prayed. He attended church, but if he had any heart it had not been there. Now this prayer came instinctively. It was simple and childish enough: the words that he had been taught at his mother’s knee. He hardly knew he had said them; yet they soothed him and gave him comfort; and from some far-off time came the saying, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter —” and he went on repeating the words.
Another verse drifted into his mind: “And he took a child and set him in the midst of them, and said, * * * Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
The events of the evening rose up before Livingstone — the little girl in her red jacket, with her tear-stained face, darting a look of hate at him; the rosy-cheeked boys shouting with glee on the hillside, stopped in the midst of their fun, and changing suddenly to yell their cries of hate at him; the shivering beggar asking for work, — for but five cents, which he had withheld from him.
Livingstone shuddered. Had he done these things? Could it be possible? Into his memory came from somewhere afar off: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
There flashed through his mind the thought, might he not retrieve himself? Was it too late? Could he not do something for someone? — perhaps, for some little ones?
It was like a flash of light and Livingstone was conscious of a thrill of joy at the idea, but it faded out leaving him in blanker darkness than before. He did not know a single child. — He knew in a vague, impersonal way a number of children whom he had had a momentary glimpse of occasionally at the fashionable houses which he visited; but he knew them only as he would have known handsomely dressed dolls in show windows. He had never thought of them as children, but only as a part of the personal belongings of his acquaintances — much as he thought of their bric-à-brac or their poodles. They were not like the children he had once known. He had never seen them romp and play or heard them laugh or shout.
He was sunk in deep darkness.
In his gloom he glanced up. His father’s serene face was beaming down on him. A speech he had heard his father make long, long ago, came back to him: “Always be kind to children. Grown people may forget kindness, but children will remember it. They forgive, but never forget either a kindness or an injury.”
Another speech of his father’s came floating to Livingstone across the years: “If you have made an enemy of a child, make him your friend if it takes a year! A child’s enmity is never incurred except by injustice or meanness.”
Livingstone could not but think of Clark’s little girl. Might she not help him? She would know children. But would she help him?
If she were like Clark, he reasoned, she would be kind-hearted. Besides, he remembered to have heard his father say that children did not bear malice: that was a growth of older minds. It was strange for Livingstone to find himself recurring to his father for knowledge of human nature — his father whom he had always considered the most ignorant of men as to knowledge of the world.
He sprang to his feet and looked at his watch. Perhaps, it was not yet too late to see the little girl to-night if he hurried? Clark lived not very far off, in a little side street, and they would sit up late Christmas Eve.
As he turned to the mirror it was with trepidation, his last glance at it had been so dreadful; but he was relieved to find a pleasanter expression on his face. He almost saw a slight resemblance to his father.
The next moment he hurried from the room; stole down the stair; slipped on his overcoat, and hastily let himself out of the door.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.