“I, too, have reason to think that he means no harm,” said West, “and if that is true, I am wasting my time.”
There was a look of bitterness in his eyes that was not lost upon Barbara. And she was troubled.
“Of course,” she said, “if you like to waste your time—”
He looked her straight in the eyes. “I do,” he said, “I love to. No man’s life would ever be complete if he didn’t waste the best part of it—throw it away on something or other—on an ambition—on an ideal—on a woman.”
Barbara returned his glance. “Just what, Mr. West,” she said, “is the idea?”
And here, Mr. Harry West might have found the sudden courage to speak out what was in his heart, had he not remembered that to all intents and purposes he had no father, and consequently in the eyes of the great world to which Barbara belonged could not be considered to have any existence.
“Oh,” he said, “I was just talking through my hat.”
Barbara, who, you may say, had been unconsciously putting out tentacles of affection toward Harry West, at once withdrew them, and said coolly: “So I supposed.”
“May I look at the bust?”
She removed the damp cloths from her work, and Harry found himself looking into the legless man’s face. The features at once attracted and repelled him, and these sensations mingled with them feelings of wonder. Some subconscious knowledge told the young man authoritatively that he was looking on a master work. Barbara noticed this, and her heart warmed, and her pride was gratified.
“I’m going to hurt your feelings,” she said.
“Mine? Don’t. Please don’t.”
“If you,” she said, “devoted the next twenty years of your life to wickedness and vengeful thoughts you would get to look like my friend, Mr. Blizzard.”
Now that same thought had occurred, and not for the first time, to Harry West, but he did not care to admit it. So he laughed gently, and said:
“In that case I shall devote the next twenty years of my life to philanthropy and—loving thoughts.”
He turned toward her, all smiling. And she avoided his eyes without appearing to do so.
The next morning Blizzard was fifteen minutes late to his appointment with Barbara. He had sat up all night with O’Hagan, talking energetically, and for once in his life he felt tired. To this feeling was added the fear—almost ridiculous under the circumstances—that Barbara would scold him for being late. Unscrupulous brute that he was, his infatuation for her was humanizing him. And in the whole world he dreaded nothing so much, at this time, as a look of displeasure in a girl’s face.
He had left off the threadbare clothes in which he usually went begging, and had attired himself in clean linen and immaculate gray broadcloth. His face was exquisitely shaved; his nails trimmed and clean. And there hung about him a faint odor of violets. In short, the male of the species had begun to change his plumage, as is customary in the spring of the year.