—“‘Did I see anything of Santa Claus?’ Well, if I were to tell you—what I saw this night, why,—you’d never believe me. There’s a sleigh so big coming in a little while to this town, and this street, and this house, that it holds presents enough for—.
“‘When will it be here?’ Well, from the sleigh-bells that I heard I should say—. My goodness, gracious! If it isn’t almost ten o’clock, and if that sleigh should get here whilst there’s a single eye open in this house, I don’t know what Santa Claus might do!”
And, with a strength that one might have thought quite astonishing, John Clark rose somehow from under the mass of little heads, and, with his arms still around them, still talking, still cajoling, still entertaining and still caressing, he managed to bear the whole curly, chattering flock to the door where, with renewed kisses and squeezes and questions, they were all finally induced to release their hold and run squeaking and frisking off upstairs to bed.
Then, as he closed the door, Clark turned and looked at the only other occupant of the room, a lady whose pale face would have told her story even had she not remained outstretched on a lounge during the preceding scene.
If, however, Mrs. Clark’s face was pale, her eyes were brilliant, and the look that she and her husband exchanged told that even invalidism and narrow means have alleviations, so full was the glance they gave of confidence and joy.
Yet, as absolute as was their confidence, Mr. Clark did not now tell his wife the truth. He gave her in a few words the reason of his return. Mr. Livingstone was feeling unwell, he said. He had not remembered it was Christmas Eve, he added; and, turning quickly and opening the door into the front room he guilefully dived at once into the matter of the Christmas-tree which was standing there waiting to be dressed.
Whether or not Mr. Clark deceived Mrs. Clark might be a matter of question. Mr. Clark was not good at deception. Mrs. Clark was better at it; but then, to-night was a night of peace and good-will, and since her husband had returned she was willing to forgive even Livingstone.
Livingstone, at this moment, was not feeling as wealthy as the row of figures in clean-cut lines that were now beginning to be almost constantly before his eyes might have seemed to warrant. He was sitting sunk deep in his cushioned arm-chair. The tweaks in his forehead that had annoyed him earlier in the evening had changed to twinges, and the twinges had now given place to a dull, steady ache. And every thought of his wealth brought that picture of seven staring figures before his eyes, whilst, in place of the glow which they had brought at first, he now at every recollection of them had a cold thrill of apprehension lest they might appear.