Here to return to
ALL the morning Livingstone “rushed” as he had never “rushed” in the wildest excitement of “the street.” He had to find a banker and a lawyer and a policeman. But he found them all. He had to get presents to Sipkins and Hartly and the other clerks; but he managed to do it.
His servants, too, had caught the contagion, and more than once big wagons driven by smiling, cheery-faced men drove up to the door and unloaded their contents. And when the evening fell and a great sleigh with six seats and four horses, and every seat packed full, drove up and emptied its shouting occupants out at Livingstone’s door everything was ready.
It was Livingstone himself who met the guests at the door, and the driver, in his shaggy coat, must have been an old friend from the smiling way in which he nodded and waved his fur-gloved hands to him, as he helped Mrs. Clark out tenderly and took Kitty into his arms. When Kitty was informed that this was Santa Claus’s Partner’s party, and that she was to be the hostess, she was at first a little shy, partly, perhaps, on account of the strangeness of being in such a big, fine house, and partly on account of the solemn presence of James, until the latter had relieved her in ways of which that austere person seemed to have the secret where children were concerned. Finally she was induced to take the children over the house, and the laughter which soon came floating back from distant rooms showed that the ice was broken.
Only two rooms, the library and the dining-room, were closed, and they were not closed very long.
Just as it grew dark Kitty was told to marshal her eager forces and James with sparkling eyes rolled back the folding doors. The children had never seen anything before in all their lives like that which greeted their eyes. The library was a bower of evergreen and radiance. In the centre was a great tree of crystal and stars which reflected the light of a myriad twinkling candles. It had undoubtedly come from fairy-land, if the place was not fairy-land itself, on the border of which they stood amazed.
Kitty was asked by Mr. Livingstone to lead the other children in, and as she approached the tree she found facing her a large envelope addressed to Santa Claus’s Partner, Miss Kitty Clark. This she was told to open and in it was a letter from Santa Claus himself.
It stated that the night before, as the writer was engaged in looking after presents for some poor children, he saw a little girl in a shop engaged in the same work, and when he reached a certain hospital he found that she had been there, too, before him, and now as he had to go to another part of the world to keep ahead of the sun, he hoped that she would still act for him and look after his business here.
The letter was signed,
Your partner, Santa Claus.
The postscript suggested that a few of the articles he had left on the tree for her were marked with names, but that others were unmarked, so that her friends might choose what they preferred, and he had left his pack at the foot of the tree as a grab-bag.
This letter broke the spell and next moment every one was shouting and rollicking as though they lived there.
In all the throng there was no one so delighted as Mr. Clark. Livingstone had had no idea how clever he was. He was the soul of the entertainment. It was he who discovered first the packages for each little one; he who, without appearing to do so, guided them in their march around the tree, so that all might find just the presents that suited them. He seemed to Livingstone’s quickened eye to divine just what each child liked and wished. He appeared to know all that Livingstone desired to know.
At length, he alone of all the guests had received no present. The others had their little arms packed so full that Livingstone had to step forward to the tree to help a small tot bear away his toppling load.
The next moment Kitty discovered a large envelope lying at the foot of the tree. It was addressed,
Father of Santa Claus’s Partner.
It was strange that Kitty should have overlooked it before.
With a spring she seized it and handed it to her father with a little shout of joy, for she had not been able to keep from showing disappointment that he had received nothing.
Clark smiled at her pleasure, for he knew that the kisses which she had given him from time to time had been to make amends to him, and not, as others thought, from joy over her own presents.
Clark knew well the hand-writing, and even as he opened the envelope he glanced around to catch Livingstone’s eye and thank him. Livingstone, however, had suddenly disappeared; so Clark read the letter.
It was very brief. It said that Livingstone had never known until the night before how much he owed him; that he was not sure even now that he knew the full extent of his indebtedness, but at least he had come to recognize that he owed much of his business success to Mr. Clark’s wisdom and fidelity; and he asked as a personal favor to him that Clark would accept the enclosed as a token of his gratitude, and would consider favorably his proposal.
Opening an enclosed envelope, Clark found two papers. One was a full release of the mortgage on Clark’s house (Livingstone had spent the morning in securing it), the other was a Memorandum of “Articles of Partnership” between Berryman Livingstone and John Clark, beginning from that very day, — indeed, from the day before, — all ready, signed by Livingstone and wanting only Mr. Clark’s signature to make it complete.
Mr. Clark, with his face quite white and looking almost awed, turned and walked into the next room where he found Livingstone standing alone. The old clerk was still holding the papers clutched in his hand and was walking as if in a dream.
“Mr. Livingstone,” he began, can never — I am overwhelmed! — Your letter — your gifts —” But Livingstone interrupted him. His face was not white but red.
“Nonsense!” he said, as he turned and put his hand on the other’s shoulder. “Clark, I am not giving you anything. I am paying. — I mean, I owe you everything, and what I don’t owe you, I owe Kitty. Last night you lent me —” He stopped, caught himself, and began again.
“It was more than even you knew, Clark,” he said, looking the other kindly in the eyes, “and I’ll owe you a debt of gratitude all my life. All I ask is, that you will forget the past and help me in the future and sometimes lend me Kitty. I never knew until now how good it was to have a partner.”
Just then he became conscious that someone else was near him. Kitty, with wide-open, happy eyes, was standing beside them looking up inquiringly in their faces. The child seemed to know that something important had happened, for she put up her arms, and pulling her father down to her kissed him, and then turning quickly she caught Livingstone and, drawing him down, kissed him too.
“I love you,” she said, in a whisper. Livingstone caught her in his arms.
“Let’s go and have a game of blind-man’s buff. I am beginning to feel young again,” he said, and linking his arm in Clark’s, he dragged him back to the others, where, in a few minutes they were all of one age, and a very riot of fun seemed to have broken loose.
Matters had just reached this delightful point, and Livingstone was down on his hands and knees trying with futile dexterity to avoid the clutch of a pair of little arms that apparently were pursuing him with infallible instinct into an inextricable trap, when he became conscious of a presence he had not observed before. Some one not there before was standing in the doorway.
Livingstone sprang to his feet and faced Mrs. Wright.
He felt very red and foolish as he caught her eyes and found them smiling at him. The idea of being discovered in so ridiculous a situation and posture by the most fashionable and elegant woman of his acquaintance! But Mrs. Wright waved to him to go on with his game and the next moment the little arms had clutched him, and, tearing off her bandage, Kitty, with dancing eyes, declared him “caught.”
“Well, this is my final triumph over Will,” exclaimed Mrs. Wright, advancing into the room, as Livingstone, drawing the little girl along with him, approached her. And she began to tell Livingstone how they had particularly wanted him to dine with them that day as an old friend of his had promised to come to them, but they had supposed, of course, that he had been overrun with invitations for the day and, as they had not seen him of late, thought that he had probably gone out of town, until her husband saw him at the club the night before where he had gone to find some poor lone bachelor who might have no other invitation.
“You know Will has always been very fond of you,” she said; “and he says you have been working too hard of late and have not been looking well. When I didn’t get my usual contributions from you this Christmas I didn’t know what to make of it, but I think that on my round this morning I have found out the reason?”
Livingstone knew the reason, but he did not tell her. The knowing smile that lit her face, however, mystified him and he flushed a little under her searching eyes.
“Will was sure he saw you in the club last night,” she persisted, “and he tried to catch you, but you ran off; and now I have come for you and will take no refusal.”
Livingstone expressed his regret that he could not come. A wave of his hand towards the curly heads and beaming faces clustered before them and towards the long table gleaming in the dining-room beyond explained his reason. “I am having a Christmas dinner myself,” he said.
“Then you will come in after they go?” insisted Mrs. Wright, and as Livingstone knew they were going early he assented.
‘“Who are your friends?” she asked. “What a pleasant-looking man, and what lovely children! That little girl, — I thought it was Cupid when she had the bandage on her eyes and now I am sure of it.”
“Let me present them to you,” said Livingstone, and he presented Mr. Clark as his partner and Kitty as Santa Claus’s partner.
“I did not know you had a partner?” she asked.
“It is my Christmas gift from Santa Claus,” he said. “One of them; I have many.”Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.