Here to return to
LIVINGSTONE had not had such a drive in years. The little form snuggled against him closer and closer and the warm half sentences of childish prattle, as the little girl’s imagination wove its fancies, came to him from amid the furs and made him feel as though he had left the earth and were driving in a new world. It was like a dream. Had youth come back? Was it possible?
The sleigh stopped in front of a great long building.
“ You have to ring at the side door at night,” said the driver. He appeared to know a good deal about the hospital.
Livingstone sprang out and rang the bell and then stepped back.
“When they open the door, you are to do all the talking,” he said to Kitty as he lifted her down.
“Who shall I say rang?” she asked.
“Santa Claus’s partner.”
“But you —?”
“No. You are not to mention my name. Remember!”
Before the child could reply the door opened a little way and a porter looked out.
“Who’s there?” he called to the sleigh, rather overlooking the little figure in the snow.
“Santa Claus’s partner,” said Kitty.
“ What do you want?” He peered out at the sleigh. He was evidently sleepy and a little puzzled. “We don’t take in anything at this hour except patients.” He looked as if he were about to shut the door when a woman’s voice was heard within speaking to him and the next moment the door was opened wide and he gave way as a matronly figure came forward and stood in the archway.
“Who is it?” she asked in a very pleasant voice, looking down at the little figure in the snow before her.
“Santa Claus’s partner,” said Kitty, gazing up at her.
“What do you want, dear?” The voice was even pleasanter.
“To leave some presents for the children.”
“All the good children — all the sick children, I mean — all the children,” said Kitty. The matron turned and spoke to the porter, showing to Livingstone, as she did so, a glimpse of a finely cut profile and a comely figure silhouetted against the light within. The bolts were drawn from the gate of the driveway and the doors rolled back.
“Come in,” said the matron, and the little figure enveloped in the shaggy cape and hood walked in under the big arch followed by the sleigh, whilst Livingstone withdrew a short distance into the shadow.
It was some time before the doors opened again and Kitty reappeared, but Livingstone did not mind it. It was cold too, but neither did he mind that. He was warm. As he walked up and down in the empty street before the long building his heart was warmed with a glow which had not been there for many and many a long year. He was not alone. Once more the memory of other Christmases passed through his mind in long processional, but now not stamped with irretrievable opportunity, to mock him with vain regret for lost happiness; only tinged with a sadness for lost friends who came trooping about him; yet lightened by his resolve to begin from now on and strive as best he might to retrieve his wasted life, and whilst he bore his punishment do what he could to make atonement for his past.
Just then across the town the clocks began to sound the midnight hour, and as they ceased, from somewhere far-away church bells mellowed by the distance began to chime the old Christmas hymn: —
shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.”
Livingstone stood still to listen, in a half-dream.
Suddenly before him in the snow stood a little figure muffled in a shaggy cape with hood half thrown back. The childish face was uplifted in the moonlight. With lips half parted she too was listening, and for a moment Livingstone could hardly take in that she was real. She seemed —!
Could she be —?
“The angel of the Lord came down,” — chimed the mellow bells.
The chiming died out.
“Christ is born,” said the child. “You heard the bells?”
“Yes,” said Livingstone humbly.
“It’s all done,” she said; “and I prayed so hard that not one of them stirred, and now when they wake they’ll think it was real Santa Claus. They say he always comes at twelve and I counted the clocks. — I wonder if he went home?” She was speaking now to herself; but Livingstone answered.
“I’m sure of it,” he said.
“The angel of the Lord came down,” still chimed in his ears.
Suddenly a little warm hand was slipped into his confidingly.
“I think we’d better go home now.” The voice was full of deep content.
Livingstone’s hand closed on hers and as he said “Yes,” he was conscious of a pang at the thought of giving her up.
He lifted her to put her in the sleigh. As he did so the little arms were put about his neck and warm little lips kissed him. Livingstone pressed her to his breast convulsively and climbed into the sleigh without putting her down.
Neither spoke and when the sleigh stopped in front of Mr. Clark’s door the child was still in Livingstone’s arms, her head resting on his shoulder, the golden curls falling over his sleeve. Even when he transferred her to her father’s arms she did not wake. She only sighed with sweet content and as Livingstone bent over and kissed her softly, muttered a few words about “Santa Claus’s partner.”
A half-hour later, Livingstone, after another interview with Mr. Brown who was awaiting him patiently, drove back again to Mr. Clark’s door with another sleighful of packages which were all duly transferred to the small room where stood the little Christmas-tree.
The handshake Livingstone gave John Clark as he came down the steps of the little house was the warmest he had given any man in twenty years. It was so warm that it seemed to send the blood tingling through Livingstone’s heart and warm it anew.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.