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LIVINGSTONE walked up town. It would, he felt, do his head good. He needed exercise. He had been working rather too hard of late. However, he was worth — yes, all that! — Out in the snow the sum was before him in cold facsimile.
He had not gone far before he wished he had ridden. The street was thronged with people: some streaming along; others stopping in front of the big shop-windows, blocking the way and forcing such as were in a hurry to get off the sidewalk. The shop-windows were all brilliantly dressed and lighted. Every conception of fertile brains was there to arrest the attention and delight the imagination. And the interest of the throngs outside and in testified the shopkeepers’ success.
Here Santa Claus, the last survivor of the old benefactors, who has outlasted whole hierarchies of outworn myths and, yet firm in the devotion of the heart of childhood, snaps his fingers alike at arid science and blighting stupidity, was driving his reindeer, his teeming sleigh filled with wonders from every region: dolls that walked and talked and sang, fit for princesses; sleds fine enough for princes; drums and trumpets and swords for young heroes; horses that looked as though they were alive and would spring next moment from their rockers; bats and balls that almost started of themselves from their places; little uniforms, and frocks; skates; tennis-racquets; baby caps and rattles; tiny engines and coaches; railway trains; animals that ran about; steamships; books; pictures — everything to delight the soul of childhood and gratify the affection of age.
There Kris Kringle, Santa Claus’s other self, with snowy beard, and fur coat hoary with the frost of Arctic travel from the land of unfailing snow and unfailing toys, stood beside his tree glittering with crystal and shining with the fruits of every industry and every clime.
These were but a part of the dazzling display that was ever repeated over and over and filled the windows for squares and squares. Science and Art appeared to have combined to pay tribute to childhood. The very street seemed to have blossomed with Christmas.
But Livingstone saw nothing of it. He was filled with anger that his way should be blocked. The crowds were gay and cheery. Strangers in sheer good-will clapped each other on the shoulder and exchanged views, confidences and good wishes. The truck-drivers, usually so surly, drew out of each others’ way and shouted words of cheer after their smiling fellows.
The soul of Christmas was abroad on the air. Livingstone did not even recall what day it was. All he saw was a crowd of fools that impeded his progress. He tried the middle of the street; but the carriages and delivery-wagons were so thick, that he turned off, growling, and took a less frequented thoroughfare, a back street of mean houses and small shops where a poorer class of people dwelt and dealt.
Here, however, he was perhaps even more incommoded than he had been before. This street was, if anything, more crowded than the other and with a more noisy and hilarious throng. Here, instead of fine shops, there were small ones; but their windows were every bit as attractive to the crowds on the street as those Livingstone had left. People of a much poorer class surged in and out of the doors; small gamins, some in ragged overcoats, more in none, gabbled with and shouldered each other boisterously at the windows and pressed their red noses to the frosty panes, to see through the blurred patches made by their warm breath the wondrous marvels within. The little pastry-shops and corner-groceries vied with the toy-shops and confectionaries, and were packed with a population that hummed like bees, the busy murmur broken every now and then by jests and calls and laughter, as the customers squeezed in empty-handed, or slipped out with carefully-wrapped parcels hugged close to their cheery bosoms or carried in their arms with careful pride.
Livingstone finally was compelled to get off the sidewalk again and take to the street. Here, at least, there were no fine carriages to block his way.
As he began to approach a hill, he was aware of yells of warning ahead of him, and, with shouts of merriment, a swarm of sleds began to shoot by him, some with dark objects lying flat on their little stomachs, kicking their heels high in the air; others with small single or double or triple headed monsters seated upright and all screaming at the top of their merry voices. All were unmindful of the falling snow and nipping air, their blood hot with the ineffable fire of youth that flames in the warm heart of childhood, glows in that of youth, and cools only with the cooling brain and chilling pulse.
Before Livingstone could press back into the almost solid mass on the sidewalk he had come near being run down a score of times. He felt that it was an outrage. He fairly flamed with indignation. He, a large taxpayer, a generous contributor to asylums and police funds, a supporter of hospitals, — that he should be almost killed!
He looked around for a policeman. “Whoop! Look out! Get out the way!” Swish! Swish! Swish! they shot by. Livingstone had to dodge for his life. Of course, no policeman was in sight!
Livingstone pushed his way on to the top of the ascent, and a square further on he found an officer inspecting silently a group of noisy urchins squabbling over the division of two sticks of painted candy. His back was towards the hill from which were coming the shouts of the sliding miscreants.
Livingstone accosted him:
“That sliding, back there, must be stopped. It is a nuisance,” he asserted. — It was dangerous, he declared; he himself had almost been struck by one or more of those sleds and if it had run him down it might have killed him.
The officer, after a long look at him, turned silently and walked slowly in the direction of the hill. He moved so deliberately and with such evident reluctance that Livingstone’s blood boiled. He hurried after him.
“Here,” he said, as he overtook him, “I am going to see that you stop that sliding and enforce the law, or I shall report you for failure to perform your duty. I see your number — 268.”
“All right, sir. You can do as you please about that,” said the officer, rather surlily, but politely.
Livingstone walked close after him to the hilltop. The officer spoke a few words in a quiet tone to the boys who were at the summit, and instantly every sled stopped. Not so the tongues. Babel broke loose. Some went off in silence; others crowded about the officer, expostulating, cajoling, grumbling. It was “the first snow;” they “always slid on that hill;” “it did not hurt anybody;” “nobody cared,” etc.
“This gentleman has complained, and you must stop,” said the officer.
They all turned on Livingstone with sudden hate.
“Arr-oh-h!” they snarled in concert. “We aint a-hurtin’ him! What’s he got to do wid us anyhow!”
One more apt archer than the rest, shouted, “He ain’t no gentleman — a gentleman don’t never interfere wid poor little boys what ain’t a-done him no harm!”
But they stopped, and the more timid or impatient stole off to find new and less inconveniently guarded inclines.
Livingstone passed on. He did not know that the moment he left and the officer turned his back, the whole hillside swarmed again into life and fun and joy. He did not know this; but he bore off with him a new thorn which even his feeling of civic virtue could not keep from rankling. His head ached, and he grew crosser and crosser with every step.
He had never seen so many beggars. It was insufferable. For this evening, at least, every one was giving — except Livingstone. Want was stretching out its withered hand even to Poverty and found it filled. But Livingstone took no hart in it. The chilly and threadbare street-venders of shoe-strings, pencils and cheap flowers, who to-night were offering in their place tin toys, mistletoe and holly-boughs, he pushed roughly out of his way; he snapped angrily at beggars who had the temerity to accost him.
“Confound them! They ought to be run in by the police!”
A red-faced, collarless man fell into the same gait with him, and in a cajoling tone began to mutter something of his distress.
“Be off. Go to the Associated Charities,” snarled Livingstone, conscious of the biting sarcasm of his speech.
“Go where, sir?”
“Go to the devil!” The man stopped in his tracks.
A ragged, meagre boy slid in through the crowd just ahead of Livingstone, to a woman who was toiling along with a large bundle. Holding out a pinched hand, he offered to carry the parcel for her. The woman hesitated. — “For five cents,” he pleaded.
She was about to yield, for the bundle was heavy. But the boy was just in front of Livingstone and in his eagerness brushed against him. Livingstone gave him a shove which sent him spinning away across the sidewalk; the stream of passers-by swept in between them, and the boy lost his job and the woman his service.
The man of success passed on.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.