The legless man was very much at home in his own house. He had inhabited it for many years, and its arrangements were the expression of a creature immensely able and ingenious, but maimed both in body and soul.
The whole building, four stories tall, had once been a manufactory, but Blizzard had subdivided its original lofts into pens, dens, passageways, and rooms according to an elaborate plan of his own. And it was evident to the most casual glance that expediency alone, untrammelled by any consideration of purse, had been followed. Those walls, floors, and ceilings, for instance, through which no sound of human origin, unaided by mechanical device, could penetrate, must have cost a mint of money. Nor could any man who depended for a living upon occasional pennies dropped into a tin cup have got together so extensive a collection of books upon scientific subjects, many of them handsomely bound and printed in foreign countries. Works upon explosives, tunnelling, electricity, and music were especially abundant, not only in English, but in German. And there were books upon the organization of armies, and upon the chemistry of precious stones. A cursory examination of his books would have found the master of the house to be interested also in obstetrics, in poisons, and in anesthesia; but of romance, humanity, or poetry his library had but a single example, the “Monte Cristo” of the elder Dumas.
Had all the doors and windows of the house been thrown open, and all its inhabitants expelled, so that you could have free ingress with a companion or two, and time and the mood to explore the whole of its ramifications and arrangements, you must have concluded that the designer of so much that was hideously obvious and so much that was mysteriously obscure was a most extraordinary example of viciousness, ability, purpose, and musicianship. You must have been staggered at passing from a room containing a grand piano and a bust of Beethoven to find yourself in a little operating-theatre such as any eminent surgeon might wish to be at work in, to find beyond this a small but excellently appointed gymnasium; above this, to be reached only by climbing a knotted rope, a long room, lighted from above, containing drawing-tables, many cases of drawing-instruments, and a host of workman-like designs and specifications. Thence you might pass, still wondering, into an apartment of soft divans, thick rags, and open fireplace, a smell of incense, double windows and double doors.
Or you might descend by stairs or polished poles to the cellar under the hat factory, and find yourself, prying into the most obscure corner and lighting matches for guidance, confronted by the door of a mightily strong safety vault, the knobs of the combination lock bright and easily turned. And you might say: “Well, it’s either the house of a man whose scheme of life is utterly beyond my comprehension, or of a madman.”