The room was a small front parlor.
The furniture was old and worn, but it was not mean. A few old pieces gave the room, small as it was, almost an air of distinction. Several old prints hung on the walls, a couple of portraits in pink crayon, such as St. Mimin used to paint, and a few photographs in frames, most of them of children,—but among them one of Livingstone himself.
All this Livingstone took in as he entered. The room was in a state of confusion, and a lounge on one side, with its pillows still bearing the imprint of an occupant, showed that the house held an invalid. In one corner a Christmas-tree, half dressed, explained the litter. It was not a very large tree; certainly it was not very richly dressed. The things that hung on it were very simple. Many of them evidently were of home-manufacture—knots of ribbon, little garments, second-hand books, even home-made toys.
A small pile of similar articles lay on the floor, where they had been placed ready for service and had been left by the tree-dressers on their hasty departure.
Clark’s eye followed instinctively that of the visitor.
“My wife has been dressing a tree for the children,” he said simply.
He faced Livingstone and offered him a chair. He stiffened as he did so. He was evidently prepared for the worst.
Livingstone sat down. It was an awkward moment. Livingstone broke the ice.
“Mr. Clark, I have come to ask you a favor—a great favor—”
Clark’s eyes opened wide and his lips even parted slightly in his astonishment.
“—I want you to lend me your little girl—the little girl I saw in the office this afternoon.”
Clark’s expression was so puzzled that Livingstone thought he had not understood him.
“‘The Princess with the Golden Locks,’” he explained.
“Mr. Livingstone!—I—I don’t understand.” He looked dazed.
Livingstone broke out suddenly: “Clark, I have been a brute, a cursed brute!”
“Oh! Mr. Liv—!”
With a gesture of sharp dissent Livingstone cut him short.
“It is no use to deny it, Clark,—I have—I have!—I have been a brute for years and I have just awakened to the fact!” He spoke in bitter, impatient accusation. “I have been a brute for years and I have just realized it.”
The face of the other had softened.
“Oh, no, Mr. Livingstone, not that. You have always been just—and—just;” he protested kindly. “You have always—”
—“Been a brute,” insisted Livingstone, “a blind, cursed, selfish, thoughtless—”
“You are not well, Mr. Livingstone,” urged Clark, looking greatly disturbed. “Your servant, James, said you were not well this evening when I called. I wanted to go in to see you, but he would not permit me. He said that you had given positive orders that you would not see—”
“I was not well,” assented Livingstone. “I was suffering from blindness. But I am better, Clark, better. I can see now—a little.”