Here to return to
LIVINGSTONE drove home through silent streets, but they were not silent for him. In his ears a chime was still ringing and it bore him far across the snow-filled streets and the snow-filled years to a land of warmth and light. The glow was still about his heart and the tingle which the pressure of Kitty Clark’s arms about his neck, and John Clark’s clasp of his hand had started still kept it warm.
At his door Livingstone dismissed his driver and as he cheerily wished him a merry Christmas the man’s cheery reply showed that Livingstone had already found the secret of good cheer.
“The same to you, your honor; the same to you, sir,” said the driver heartily, as he buttoned up his pocket with a pat of satisfaction. “We’ve had a good time to-night, sir, haven’t we? And I wish you many more like it, sir. And when Christmas comes along next time I hope you’ll remember me, for I’ll remember you; I’ve had a little child in that ‘ere same horspital. God took her to Himself twelve years ago. They’re good to ‘em there, rich and poor all alike; — and ‘t isn’t every night I can drive ‘Santa Claus’s partner.’”
Livingstone stood and watched the sleigh till it drove out of sight. Even after it had disappeared around a corner, he still listened to the bells. It seemed to him he had a friend in it.
Livingstone let himself in noiselessly at his door, but the softness with which he turned the key this time was to keep from disturbing his servants, not to keep them from seeing him.
He stopped stock still on the threshold. The whole house seemed transformed. The hall was a bower of holly and mistletoe, and the library, as Livingstone entered it, with its bright fire roaring in the hearth and its festoons and wreaths, seemed once more a charming home: a bower where cheer might yet make its abode.
As quietly, however, as Livingstone had entered, his butler had heard him.
As Livingstone turned to take in all the beauty of the room, James was standing before him. His face showed some concern, and his voice, as he spoke, had a little tremor in it.
“When we found you had gone out, sir, we were afraid you might be sick, and the cook has got something hot for you?”
Livingstone glanced about to find a phrase with which to thank him for the trouble they had taken; but the butler spared him the pains.
“We thought we would try to make the house look a little cheery, sir. Hope you don’t mind, sir?”
“Mind!” said Livingstone, “I am delighted; and I thank you very much. Mind? I should think not!”
The tone of his voice and the light in his eye showed that there was a change in him and it acted like a tonic on the butler. The light came into his eyes too. He drew a breath of deep relief as though a mountain of care had rolled off him, and he came a step nearer his master, who had flung himself into a chair and picked up a cigar.
The next minute Livingstone plunged into the subject on his mind. It was a plan which made the butler’s eyes first open wide and then sparkle with pleasure.
The difficulty with Livingstone, however, was that the next day was a holiday and he did not know whether what he wanted could be got.
The butler came to his rescue. It was no difficulty to James. Such an emergency only quickened his powers. He knew places where whatever was wanted could be got, holiday or no holiday, and, “If Mr. Livingstone would only allow him — ?”
“Allow you!” said Livingstone, “ I give you carte blanche, only have everything ready by five o’clock. — Ask the cook to send up whatever she has; I’m hungry, and we’ll talk it over whilst I’m taking supper.”
“Yes, sir; yes, sir; yes, sir;” and James withdrew with a step as light as air. ‘“Extraordinary servant!” thought Livingstone. “Wonder I never took it in before!” Ten minutes later Livingstone was seated at the table with an appetite like a schoolboy’s. It was the happiest meal Livingstone had eaten in many a long day; for, all alone as he was, he was not alone. Thought-of-others sat at the board and a cheery companion it is. “‘Tell the laundress to be sure and bring her children around to-morrow, and be sure you make them have a good time,” he said to James, as he rose from the table. James bowed.
“And ascertain where policeman, No. 268, is to be found to-morrow. I want to send a contribution to make a good slide for some boys on his beat.”
James bowed again, his eyes somewhat wider than before.
As Livingstone mounted the stair, though he was sensible of fatigue it was the fatigue of the body, so delicious to those who have known that of the mind. And he felt pity as well as loathing for the poor, worn creature who had climbed the same stair a few hours before.
As he entered his room the warmth and home feeling had come back there also. The portraits of his father and mother first caught his eye. Some one had put a wreath around each and they seemed to beam on him with a pleased and tender smile. They opened afresh the flood-gates of memory for him, but the memories were sweet and tender.
He glanced at a mirror almost with trembling. The last time he had looked at himself he had seen only that old, haggard face with the ghostly figures branded across the brow. Thank God! they were gone now, and he could even see in his face some faint resemblance to the portraits on the wall.
He went to bed and slept as he had not slept for months, perhaps for years — not dreamlessly, but the dreams were pleasant. — Now and then lines of vague figures appeared to him, but a little girl with a smiling face came and played bo-peep with him over them, and presently sprang up and threw her arms about his neck and made him take her in a sleigh to a wonderful shop where they could get marvellous presents; among them Youth, and Friendship, and Happiness. The door was just being shut as they arrived, but when he called his father’s name it was opened wide — and his father and mother greeted him — and led him smiling into places where he had played as a child. — And Catherine Trelane in a shaggy coat and hood pulled the presents from a forest of Christmas-trees and gave them to Santa Claus’s partner to give to others. And suddenly his father, with his old tender smile, picked the little girl up in his arms and she changed into a wonderful child that shone so that it dazzled Livingstone and — he waked to find the bright sun shining in through the window and falling on his face.
He sprang from bed with a cry almost of joy so bright was the day; and as he looked out of the window on the sparkling snow outside it seemed a new world.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.