James had reached the door when he turned.
“Shall you be dining at home to-morrow, sir?” he asked, quietly.
“Yes, of course,” said Livingstone, shortly. “And I don’t want to see any one to-night, no matter who comes. I am tired.” He had forgotten Clark.
The butler withdrew noiselessly, and Livingstone sank back in his chair. But before the butler was out of hearing Livingstone recalled him.
“I don’t want any dinner.”
“Can have it for you directly, sir,” said James, persuasively.
“I say I don’t want any.”
James came a little closer and gave his master a quick glance.
“Are you feeling bad, sir?” he asked.
“No, I only want to be let alone. I shall go out presently to the club.”
This time James withdrew entirely.
What happened when James passed through the door which separated his domain from his master’s was not precisely what Livingstone had commanded. What the tall butler did was to gather up in his arms two very plump little tots who at sight of him came running to him with squeals of joy, flinging themselves on him, and choking him with their chubby arms, to the imminent imperiling of his immaculate linen.
Taking them both up together, James bore them off quietly to some remote region where he filled their little mouths full of delightful candy which kept their little jaws working tremendously and their blue eyes opening and shutting in unison, whilst he told them of the dreadful unnamed things that would befall them if they ventured again through that door. He impressed on them the calamity it would be to lose the privilege of holding the evergreens whilst they were being put up in the hall, and the danger of Santa Claus passing by that night without filling their stockings.
The picture he drew of two little stockings hanging limp and empty at the fireplace while Santa Claus went by with bulging sleigh was harrowing.
At mention of it, the tots both looked down at their stockings and were so overcome that they almost stopped working their jaws, so that when they began again they were harder to work than ever. To this James added the terror of their failing to see next day the great plum-pudding suddenly burst into flame in his hands. At this, he threw up both hands and opened them so wide that the little ones had to look first at one of his hands and then at the other to make sure that he was not actually holding the dancing flames now.
When they had promised faithfully and with deep awe, crossing their little hearts with smudgy fingers, the butler entrusted them to some one to see to the due performance of their good intention, and he himself sought the cook, who, next to himself, was Livingstone’s oldest servant. She was at the moment, with plump arms akimbo on her stout waist, laying down the law of marriage to a group of merry servants as they sorted Christmas wreaths.