Livingstone stopped short in his tracks and listened. He had not heard anything so musical in years—he had not heard a young girl’s laughter in years—he had not had time to think of such things. It brought back across the snow-covered fields—across the snow-covered years—a Christmas of long ago when he had heard a young girl’s musical laughter like a silvery chime, and, standing there in the snow-covered street, for one moment Livingstone was young again—no longer a gray-haired man in the city; but a young man in the country, somewhere under great arching boughs; face to face with one who was also young;—and, looking out from a hood that surrounded it like a halo, a girlish face flashed on him: cheeks like roses, brilliant with the frosty air; roguish eyes, now dancing, now melting; a laughing mouth from which came such rippling music that there was no simile for it in all the realm of silvery sound, the enchanting music of the joy of youth.
With a cry, Livingstone sprang forward with outstretched, eager hands to catch the vision; but his arms enclosed only vacancy and he stood alone in the empty street.
A large sleigh came by and Livingstone hailed it. It was a livery vehicle and the driver having just put down at their homes a party of pleasure-seekers was on his way back to his stable. He agreed with Livingstone to take him to his destination and wait for him, and Livingstone, giving him a number, sprang in and ordered him to drive rapidly.
The sleigh stopped in front of a little house, in a narrow street filled with little houses, and Livingstone getting out mounted the small flight of steps. Inside, pandemonium seemed to have broken loose somewhere up-stairs, such running and shouting and shrieks of joyous laughter Livingstone heard. Then, as he could not find the bell, Livingstone knocked.
At the sound the noise suddenly ceased, but the next moment it burst forth again louder than before. This time the shouts came rolling down the stairs and towards the door, with a scamper of little feet and shrieks of childish delight. They were interrupted and restrained by a quiet, kindly voice which Livingstone recognized as Clark’s. The father was trying to keep the children back.
It might be Santa Claus himself, Livingstone heard him urge, and if they did not go back to bed immediately, or into the back room,—or even if they peeped, Santa Claus might jump into his sleigh and drive away and leave nobody at the door but a grocer’s boy with a parcel. This direful threat had its effect. The gleeful squeals were hushed down into subdued and half-awed murmurs and after a little a single footstep came along the passage and the front door was opened cautiously.
At sight of Livingstone, Clark started, and by the light of the lamp the caller could see his face pale a little. He asked Livingstone in with a voice that almost faltered. Leaving Livingstone in the little passage for a moment Clark entered the first room—the front room—and Livingstone could hear him sending the occupants into a rear room. He heard the communicating door close softly. Every sound was suddenly hushed. It was like the sudden hush of birds when a hawk appears. Livingstone thought of it and a pang shot through him. Then the door was opened and Clark somewhat stiffly invited Livingstone in.