The Penalty eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 232 pages of information about The Penalty.

“Do you?” he said, his hard eyes softening and seeking hers.

She nodded slowly.  “Such a lot.  And there’s no way of paying, or making things up to you, is there?”

“Only one,” he said.

There was quite a long silence; his eyes, flames in them, held hers, which were troubled and childlike, and imbued the two words that he had spoken with an unmistakable intelligence.

“Don’t let me go utterly,” he said, “and slip back into the pit.  You have finished the bust.  If you wished you could finish the man:  put him back among the good angels....  If your father died owing money, you couldn’t rest until you had paid his debts....  I could be anything you wished.  And I could give you anything that you wanted in this world.  There is nothing I couldn’t put over—­with you at my side, wishing the good deed done, the great deed—­or—­”

He began to tremble with the passion that was in his voice, slipped from his chair, and began to move slowly toward her with outstretched arms, upon his stumps of legs.

It was no mirth or any sense of the ridiculous that moved Barbara, but fear, disgust, and horror.  She backed away from him, laughing hysterically.  But he, whose self-consciousness in her sight bordered upon mania, mistook the cause of her laughter, so that a kind of hell-born fury shook him, and he rushed at her, his mouth giving out horrible and inarticulate sounds.  And in those lightning moments she could move neither hand nor foot; nor could she cry for help.  And yet she realized, as in some nightmare, that if once those horrible hairy hands closed upon her she was lost utterly.  And in that same clear flash of reason she realized that for whatever might befall she had herself alone to blame.  She had touched pitch, and played with fire—­and all that men might some day call her great.

[Illustration:  In that instant the legless man overreached himself and fell heavily]

The speed for which the fury of the legless man called was more than the stumps of his legs could furnish.  He was like a man, thigh-deep in water, who attempts to run at top speed.  Yet his hands were within inches of her dress, when daring and nerve at last thrilled through Barbara, and returned her muscles into the keeping of her mind.  She darted backward and to one side.  In that instant the legless man overreached himself and fell heavily.  Here seemed an inestimable advantage for Barbara, and yet the great body, shaken with curses and already rising to its stumps, was between her and the door.

XXXIII

For once the legless man had been deserted by the power of cool reasoning.  And his fury was of a kind that could not wait for satisfaction.  He was more like a mad dog than a man.  And this, although it added to the horror of Barbara’s situation, proved her salvation.

Occupying a point from which he could head off her escape by either of the studio doors, he abandoned this, and attempted to match the stumps of his legs against her swift young feet.  And must have overcome the disparity, but that in the lightning instinct of self-preservation she overturned a table between them, and during the moments thus gained dashed into her dressing-room and locked the door behind her.

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The Penalty from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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