Blizzard merely grunted. “Tell her I’ve come.”
But it was not necessary for Bubbles to give the message at the door of the inner room, since at that moment Barbara entered, her round arms bare to the elbow and her street dress completely hidden by a sort of blue gingham overall. Bubbles, whose presence was not required during working hours, at once withdrew to his bedroom.
Here he changed his tunic of brass buttons for a plain gray jacket, snatched his cap from its hook, gained the street by a back stair, and set off at the tireless street-boy trot that eats up the blocks. Half an hour later he returned, his face no longer wearing a look of anxiety, changed back into his many-buttoned jacket of dependence, and sitting upon his bed, his back against the pillows, proceeded with astonishing deftness and precision to figure with the stump of a pencil, upon the leaves of a small dog-eared note-book. Then, appearing to have achieved a satisfactory solution of whatever problem he had had occasion to attack, he began to go through a series of restless fidgetings, which ended with a sigh of relief and a guilty look, and producing from a hiding-place a cigarette, he smoked it out of the window, so that his room might not carry forward the faintest trace of its telltale odor.
When Barbara at length told the legless man that he might rest, he appeared to think that she had invited him to converse. He leaned back as far as he could in the deal chair. His expression was no longer that which had struck Barbara so hard in the imagination, but one of easy and alert affability. He looked at her when he spoke, or when she spoke, but casually and without offence. Whatever feelings surged in him were for the moment carefully controlled and put aside. In his manner was neither obtrusiveness nor servility, only a kind of well-schooled ease and directness. In short, he behaved and spoke like a gentleman.
“You’re the first person I ever sat for,” he said, “who hasn’t asked me how I lost my legs.”
Barbara, regarding the rough blocking of his head which she had made, smiled amiably. That first impression of him, still vivid and lucid in her mind, appeared already, almost of its own accord, to have registered itself in the lump of clay. And she could not but feel that she had laid the groundwork of a masterpiece. If the beggar wished to converse, she would converse—anything to keep him in the mood for returning to pose as often as she should have need of him. And so, though entirely absorbed by the face which she had found, and at the moment almost uncharitably indifferent to the legs which he had lost, she raised her eyes to him, still smiling, and said:
“It wasn’t from want of interest, I assure you. I’m sorry you lost them, and I should like to know how it happened.”
“Bravely spoken,” said the beggar.