Suddenly a little figure pushed against him as Kitty slipped before him, and putting her mouth to the crack of the door, called, “Oh! Mr. Brown, please let me in. It’s me, Kitty Clark, Mr. Clark’s little girl.”
Instantly the light within was turned up. A step came towards the door, the bolts were drawn back and half the door was opened.
Livingstone was prepared to see the shopkeeper confounded when he should discover who his caller was. On the contrary, the man was in nowise embarrassed by his appearance. Indeed, he paid no attention whatever to Livingstone. It was to Kitty that he addressed himself, ignoring Livingstone’s presence utterly.
“Why, Kitty, what are you doing out at this time of night? Aren’t you afraid Santa Claus will come while you are away, and not bring you anything? You know what they say he does if he don’t find everybody asleep in bed?”
Kitty nodded, and leaning forward on her toes, dropped her voice to a mysterious whisper:
“I know who Santa Claus is.” The whisper ended with a little chuckle of delight at her astuteness. “I found it out last Christmas.”
“Kitty, you didn’t! You must have been mistaken?” said the shopkeeper with a grin on his kindly countenance. “Who is he?”
“Mr.—Brown, and Mr. and Mrs.—Clark,” said Kitty slowly and impressively, as though she were adding up figures and the result would speak for itself. She took in the shop with a wave of her little hand and a sweep of her eyes.
“I’m playing Santa Claus myself, to-night,” she said, tossing her hooded head, her eyes kindling at the thought. The next look around was one of business.
“This is Mr. Livingstone, papa’s employer.” She indicated that gentleman.
Mr. Brown held out his plump and not wholly immaculate hand.
“How d’ye do, sir? I think I’ve heard of you?”
He turned back to Kitty.
“Who for?” he asked.
“For him,” Kitty nodded. “He’s got a whole lot of little children—not his own children—other people’s children—that he’s going to give Christmas presents to, and I’ve come to help him. What have you got left, Mr. Santa Claus?”
She stood on tiptoe and peered over the shelves.
“Well, not a great deal, Miss Wide-awake,” said the shopkeeper dropping into her manner and mood. “You see there’s lots of children around this year as don’t keep wide-awake all night, and Santa Claus has had to look after ’em quite considerable. I can’t tell you how many sleighs full of things he’s taken away from this here very shop. He didn’t leave nothing but them things you see and the very expensive things in the cases. He said they were too high-priced for him.”
He actually gave Livingstone a wink, and Livingstone actually felt flattered by it.
The reply recalled Kitty to her business. She turned to Mr. Livingstone.
“How much money have you got to spend?” she asked.