Here to return to
THEY returned to Kitty. She was busy figuring on a little piece of paper, moistening her little stub of a pencil, every other second, with her tongue. Her little red mouth showed streaks of black. She was evidently in some trouble.
Livingstone drew near.
“How are you coming on?” he asked.
She looked up with a face full of perplexity. “Oh! I’ve spent nearly the whole dollar and I haven’t but nine presents yet. We must get something cheaper. — But they were so pretty!” she lamented, her eyes glancing longingly towards the articles she had selected.
“Let’s see. Maybe, you have made a mistake,” said Livingstone. He took the bit of paper and she handed him the pencil.
“I’m not very good at making figures,” she observed.
“I’m not either,” said Livingstone, glancing at the paper.
“I’ll tell you what let’s do,” he said. “Let’s get Mr. Brown to open all his cases and boxes, and let’s look at everything and just see what we would select if we could have our choice?”
The little girl’s eyes opened wide.
“You mean, let’s make pretense that we are real sure-enough Santa Claus and just pick out everything we want to give everybody, and pretend that we could get it and give it to them?”
Livingstone nodded. “Yes.”
That was just what he ought to have meant, he knew.
The inquiry in Kitty’s big eyes became light. She sprang to her feet and with a little squeak of delight marched to the middle of the shop and taking her stand began to sweep the shelves with her dancing eyes.
Livingstone gave a nod to the shopkeeper and he drew back the curtains that protected the cases where the finer and more expensive goods were kept and began to open the boxes.
Kitty approached on tiptoe and watched him with breathless silence as though she were in a dream which a word might break.
Then when she had seen everything she turned back to Livingstone.
“Well!” she said slowly.
“Well, what do you say?” He too was beginning to feel a spell.
“Well, if I were a real, sure-’nough Santa Claus, I’d just get everything in those cases.” The spread of her little arms took it all in.
“And what would you do with it?” asked Livingstone in the same low tone, fearful of breaking the reverie in which she stood wrapped.
He had never before in all his life been taken into partnership by a little girl, and deep down beneath his breast-pocket was a kindling glow which was warming him through and through.
“I ‘d carry that doll — to Jean, and that — to Sue, and that — to Mollie, and that — to Dee, and those skates to Johnny, and — that sled to Tom, and — that woolly lamb to little Billy, ‘cause he loves squshy things. — And then — I’d take all the rest in my sleigh and I’d go to the hospital where the poor little children haven’t got any good papas and mammas like me to give them anything, and where Santa Claus can’t ever go, and I’d put something by the side of every bed — of every one, and, maybe, they’d think at first it was only a dream; but when they waked up wide they’d find Santa Claus had been there, sure enough!”
In her energy she was gesticulating with earnest hands that seemed to take each present and bear it to its destination, and she concluded with a little nod to Livingstone that seemed to recognize him as in sympathy with her, and to say, “Wouldn’t we if we only could?”
It seemed to Livingstone as though a casing of ice in which he had been enclosed had suddenly broken and he were bathed in warmth.
The millstone round his neck had suddenly dropped and he shot upward into the light. The child was leading him into a new and vernal world. He wanted to take her in his arms and press her to his heart. The difference between the glance she now gave him and that she had shot at him at the door of his office that evening came to him and decided him. It was worth it all.
“‘Yes. Is there anything else you wish?” he asked, hoping that there might be, for she had not mentioned herself.
“Yes, but it’s not anything Santa Claus can give,” she said calmly;” I have asked God for —”
“What?” asked Livingstone.
“Something to make mamma well: to help papa pay for the house. He says it’s that ‘at keeps her ill, and she says if she were well he could pay for it: and I just pray to God for it every day.”
Livingstone caught his breath quickly as if from a sudden pain. The long years of Clark’s faithful service flashed before him. He shivered at the thought of his own meanness. He was afraid those great eyes might see into his heart. He almost shrivelled at the thought.
“Well, let’s take a sleigh-ride and see if any other shops are open. Then we can return.” He spoke a few words aside to Mr. Brown. The shopkeeper’s eyes opened wide.
“But you say you haven’t money enough with you, and I don’t know you?” Livingstone smiled.
“Why, man, I am worth —” He stopped short as a faint trace of seven figures appeared vaguely before his eyes. “I’ll am worth enough to buy all this square and not feel it,” he said, quickly correcting himself.
“That may be all so, but I don’t know you,” persisted the shopkeeper. “Do you know anybody in this part of the town?”
“Well, I know Mr. Clark. He would vouch for me, but —.”
The shopkeeper turned to the child.
“Kitty, you know this gentleman, you say?”
“Yes. Oh, he’s all right,” said Kitty decisively. “He’s my papa’s employer and he gave him fifty dollars last Christmas, “cause my papa told me so.”
This munificent gift did not appear to impress Mr. Brown very much, any more than it did Livingstone, who felt himself flush.
“Business is business, you know?” said the shopkeeper, — an aphorism on which Livingstone had often acted, but had never had cited against him.
The shopkeeper was evidently considering. Livingstone was half angry and half embarrassed. He felt as he had not done in twenty years. The shopkeeper was weighing him in his scales as he might have done a pound of merchandise, and Livingstone could not tell what he would decide. There was Kitty, however, her eyes still filled with light. He could not disappoint her. She, too, felt that he was being weighed and suddenly came to his rescue.
“He’s an awful kind man,” she said earnestly. “He hasn’t got any little children of his own, and he’s going to give things to little poor children. He always does that, I guess,” she added.
“Well, no, I don’t,” said Livingstone, looking at the shopkeeper frankly; “but I wish I had, and I’ll pay you.”
“All right. She knows you and that will do,” said Mr. Brown.
Kitty, with the light of an explorer in her eyes, was making new discoveries on the shelves, and the two men walked to the back of the shop where the shopkeeper wrote a list of names. Then Livingstone and Kitty got into the sleigh and drove for a half-hour or so.
On their return Mr. Brown was ready.
His shop looked as though it had been struck by a whirlwind. The floor and counters were covered with boxes and bundles, and he and Livingstone packed the big sleigh as full as it would hold, leaving only one seat deep in the furs amid the heaped up parcels. Then suddenly from somewhere Mr. Brown produced a great, shaggy cape with a hood, and Livingstone threw it around Kitty and getting in lifted her into the little nest between the furs.
Kitty’s eyes were dancing and her breath was coming quickly with excitement. It was a supreme moment.
“Where are we going, Mr. Livingstone?” she whispered. She was afraid to speak aloud lest she might break the spell and awake.
“Just where you like.”
“To the Children’s Hospital,” she panted.
“To the Children’s Hospital, driver,” repeated Livingstone.
Kitty gave another gasp.
“We’ll play you’re Santa Claus,” she said, in a voice of low delight.
“No. Play you are Santa Claus’s partner,” said Livingstone.
“You are not to say anything about me.”Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.