He controlled himself and spoke quietly. “I want you to lend me your little girl for—” He broke off suddenly. “How many children have you, Clark?” he asked, gently.
“Eight,” said the old clerk. “But I haven’t one I could spare, Mr. Livingstone.”
“Only for a little while, Clark?” urged the other; “only for a little while.—Wait, and let me tell you what I want with her and why I want her, and you will—For a little while?” he pleaded.
He started and told his story and Clark sat and listened, at first with a set face, then with a wondering face, and then with a face deeply moved, as Livingstone, under his warming sympathy, opened his heart to him as a dying man might to his last confessor.
“—And now will you lend her to me, Clark, for just a little while to-night and to-morrow?” he pleaded in conclusion.
Clark rose to his feet. “I will see what I can do with her, Mr. Livingstone,” he said, gravely. “She is not very friendly to you, I am sorry to say—I don’t know why.”
Livingstone thought he knew.
“Of course, you would not want me to compel her to go with you?”
“Of course not,” said Livingstone.
The father went out by the door that opened into the passage, and the next moment Livingstone could hear him in deep conference in the adjoining room; at first with his wife, and then with the little girl herself.
The door did not fit very closely and the partition was thin, so that Livingstone could not help hearing what was said, and even when he could shut out the words he could not help knowing from the tones what was going on.
The mother was readily won over, but when the little girl was consulted she flatly refused. Her father undertook to coax her.
To Livingstone’s surprise the argument he used was not that Livingstone was rich, but that he was so poor and lonely; not well off and happy like him, with a house full of little children to love him and make him happy and give him a merry Christmas.
The point of view was new to Livingstone—at least, it was recent; but he recognized its force and listened hopefully. The child’s reply dashed his hopes.
“But, papa, I hate him so—I just hate him!” she declared, earnestly. “I’m glad he hasn’t any little children to love him. When he wouldn’t let you come home to us this evening, I just prayed so hard to God not to let him have any home and not to let him have any Christmas—not ever!”
The eager little voice had risen in the child’s earnestness and it pierced through the door and struck Livingstone like an arrow. There came back to him that sentence, “Whoso offendeth one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck—.”
Livingstone fairly shivered, but he had able defenders.