Yes, he was undoubtedly sorry for Livingstone, a poor lonely man in that great house; and he determined that he would not say much about his being ill. Women did not always exactly understand some men, and when he left home, Mrs. Clark had expressed some very strong views as to Livingstone which had pained Clark. She had even spoken of him as selfish and miserly. He would just say now that Livingstone on his arrival had sent him straight back home.
No, Mr. Clark never thought of himself, and this made him richer than Mr. Livingstone.
When Mr. Clark reached home his expectation was more than realized. From the way in which he noiselessly opened the front door and then stole along the little passage to the back room, from which the sound of many voices was coming as though it were a mimic Babel, you might have thought he was a thief.
And when he opened the door softly and, with dancing eyes, poked his head into the room, you might have thought he was Santa Claus himself. There was one second of dead silence as a half-dozen pair of eyes stretched wide and a half-dozen mouths opened with a gasp, and then, with a shout which would have put to the blush a tribe of wild Indians, a half-dozen young bodies flung themselves upon him with screams and shrieks of delight. John Clark’s neck must have been of iron to withstand such hugs and tugs as it was given.
The next instant he was drawn bodily into the room and pushed down forcibly into a chair, whilst the whole half-dozen piled upon him with demands to be told how he had managed to get off and come back. No one but Clark could have understood them or answered them, but somehow, as his arms seemed able to gather in the whole lot of struggling, squeezing, wriggling, shoving little bodies, so his ears seemed to catch all the questions and his mind to answer each in turn and all together.
“’How did I come?’—Ran every step of the way.—’Why did I come back?’—Well! that’s a question for a man with eight children who will sit up and keep Santa Claus out of the house unless their father comes home and puts them to bed and holds their eyelids down to keep them from peeping and scaring Santa Claus away!
—“’What did Mr. Livingstone say?’—Well, what do you suppose a man would say Christmas Eve to another man who has eight wide-awake children who will sit up in front of the biggest fire-place in the house until midnight Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus can’t come down the only chimney big enough to hold his presents? He would say, ’John Clark, I have no children of my own, but you have eight, and if you don’t go home this minute and see that those children are in bed and fast asleep and snoring,—yes, snoring, mind,—by ten o’clock, I’ll never, and Santa Claus will never—!’