Wilmot winced, since he noted a tone of command in Blizzard’s voice, and it jarred on him, and he said good-by to Barbara and watched her disappear into the studio-building with a feeling of strong resentment against the man who had to all intents and purposes dismissed her from the scene.
“Well?” he said curtly.
But Blizzard, enjoying the childish satisfaction of having separated the pair, was no longer in the mood to take offence. “I wish to make a proposition to you,” he said, “but at some length. Will you come to my place at three o’clock this afternoon? It is easier for you to get about than for me.”
“I am very busy,” said Wilmot; “I am getting ready to go West.”
“So I have gathered. Have you anything definite in view?”
“Not very,” said Wilmot. “Nor any money to put it through with. About the loan you were so kind as to make me, I can only say that I am going to turn over a new leaf, and to work very hard at something or other. If I have any luck you shall be paid.”
The legless man dismissed the matter of the loan with a backward toss of his head. “If you’ve nothing definite in view,” said he, “please come at three o’clock, I have interests in the West—legitimate interests, and influence. Perhaps I can put you in a way to clear up your debts.”
“Well, by George,” said Wilmot, his good nature returning, “if that’s the idea, I’ll turn up at three sharp. Sure thing.”
Blizzard had upon his desk a specimen of the straw hats which the young ladies of his establishment were kept so busy plaiting. At exactly three o’clock he thrust it to one side, and at exactly the same moment the bell of his street door clanged, and Wilmot Allen came in out of the sunlight.
“On time,” said Blizzard, “thank you. Are you a judge of hats? Try that one.”
Obediently Wilmot removed his own heavy yellowish straw, and substituted the soft and pliant article indicated. It fitted him to perfection, and the legless man smiled.
“It’s yours,” he said; “fold it up, and put it in your pocket.”
“It’ll break it.”
“Here. Let me show you.” And Blizzard folded the hat as if it had been a linen handkerchief. “Very handy thing,” he said, “and only to be obtained as a gift. Sit down,” Wilmot thrust the hat into his inside pocket and sat down on the beggar’s left, facing the light. The faint hum of girls talking at their work came from the back of the establishment. A whirling fan buzzed and bumped. The weather had turned very hot.
“Young man,” the beggar began abruptly, “if I had your legs I’d engage in something more active and adventurous than the manufacture of straw hats. Have you ever had the wish to be a soldier of fortune? To go about the world redressing wrong, fighting upon the side of the oppressed?”
“Of course,” said Wilmot simply.