“Are you leading up to the announcement that you are going to kill me?” She looked him straight in the eyes, and began to shiver as if she was very cold.
“Wouldn’t that be best,” he asked, “for everybody concerned?”
“I swear to God I won’t give anything away,” she said.
He continued to smile in her face. “I could do it for you,” he said, “so delicately—so painlessly—with my hands—and your troubles would be all over.”
He took her slender white neck between the palms of his great hairy hands and caressed it. She did not shrink from his touch.
“Rose,” he said presently and with the brutal and tigerish quality gone from his voice, “you’re brave. But I know women too well. I don’t trust you. If you’d screamed then or shown fear in any way, you’d be dead now. After the 15th you shall do what you please with your life. Meanwhile, my dear, lock and key for yours.”
“You’ll come to see me sometimes?”
“After to-night, I shall be laid up for a while, growing a pair of legs. Later I’ll look in, now and then. How about a little music, before you retire to your room for the next few months? I’ll tell you a secret. I’m nervous about to-night, and frightened. A little Beethoven? to soothe our nerves? the Adagio from the Pathetique?”
He stumped beside her, holding her hand as a child holds that of its nurse; but for a different reason.
That night, securely locked in her own room next to his, she slept at last from sheer weariness. And she dreamed that he was playing to her, for her—the Adagio, and then the “Funeral March of a Hero.”
Occasionally now, for a long time, there had been coming from the next room the dink of steel against steel, a murmur of hushed voices, and a sound of several pairs of feet moving softly. With the exception of two cups of soup, Wilmot, in preparation for what he was to undergo, had had nothing to eat. What with this and the natural commotion of revolt in his whole nervous system, he was weak and faint.
The door opened, and Dr. Ferris came quietly into the room and bent over him. He was in white linen from head to foot, and wore upon his hands a pair of thin rubber gloves, glistening with the water in which they had been boiling.
Prepared to find Wilmot, he naturally recognized him, in spite of the beard which so changed the young man’s face for the worse; but of this recognition he gave no sign. The legless man, alert for any possibility of self-betrayal on Wilmot’s part, had followed him into the room. Dr. Ferris spoke very quickly:
“My man,” he said, “is it true that of your own free will, in exchange for immunity and other benefits received, you consent to the amputation of both your legs, as near the hip-joint as may be found necessary?”
Wilmot drew a long breath, focussed his mind upon bright memories of Barbara, and slowly nodded.