FRANK L. PACKARD
A Doctor of Many Degrees
DEAD! The girl was on her knees beside John Bruce. Dead -he did not move! It was
the man who had pawned his watchfob hardly half an hour before! What did it mean? What did those angry shouts, that scurrying of many feet out there in the lane mean? Hurriedly (her face was deadly white as the face upturned to her from the floor) she tore open the once immaculate shirt-front, that was now limp and wet and ugly with a great crimson stain, and laid bare the wound.
The sounds from without were receding, the scurrying footsteps were keeping on along the lane. A quiver ran through the form on the floor. Dead! No, he was not dead—not—not yet.
A little cry escaped from her tightly closed lips, and for an instant she covered her eyes with her hands. The wound was terrible—it frightened her. It frightened her the more because, intuitively, she knew that it was beyond any inexperienced aid that she could give. But she must act, and act quickly.
She turned and ran into the adjoining room to the telephone, but even as she reached out to lift the receiver from the hook she hesitated. Dr. Crang! A little shudder of aversion swept over her —and then resolutely, pleading with Central to hurry, she asked for the con-
nection. It was not a matter of choice, or aversion, or any other consideration in the world save a question of minutes. The life of that man in there on the floor hung by a thread. Dr. Crang was nearby enough to respond almost instantly, and there was no one else she knew of who she could hope would reach the man in time. And—she
stared frantically at the instrument now— was even he unavailable? Why didn’t he answer? Why—
A voice reached her.
She recognized it.
“Dr. Crang, this is Claire Veniza,” she said, and it did not seem as though she could speak fast enough. “Come at once—oh, at once— please! There’s a man here frightfully wounded. There isn’t a second to lose, so—”
“My dear Claire,” interrupted the voice suavely, “instead of losing one you can save several by telling me what kind of a wound it is, and where the man is wounded,”
“It’s a knife wound, a stab, I think,” she answered; “and it’s in his side. He is unconscious, and—”
The receiver on the other end had been placed on its hook.
She turned from the telephone, and swiftly, hurrying, but in cool selfcontrol, now, she obtained some cloths and a basin of warm water, and returned to John Bruce’s side. She could not do much, she realized that — only make what effort she could to staunch the appalling flow of blood from the wound; that and place a cushion under the man’s head, for she could not lift him to the couch.
The minutes passed; and then, thinking she heard a footstep at the
front door, she glanced in that direction, half in relief, and yet, too, in curious apprehension. She listened. No, there was no one there yet. She had been mistaken.
Suddenly she caught her breath in a little gasp, as though startled. Dr. Crang was clever; but faith in Dr. Crang professionally was one thing, and faith in him in other respects was quite another. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? It wasn’t too late yet, was it?
She began to search hastily through John Bruce’s pockets. Dr. Crang would almost certainly suggest removing the man from the sitting-room down here and getting him up-stairs to a bedroom, and then he would undress
to a bedroom, and then he would undress his patient, and—and it was perhaps as well to anticipate Dr. Crang. This man here should have quite a sum of money on his person. She had given it to him herself, and—yes, here it
The crisp new fifty-dollar bills, the stamped and numbered ticket that identified the watch-fob he had pawned, were in her hand. She ran across the room, opened a little safe in the corner, placed the money and ticket inside, locked the safe again, and returned to John Bruce’s side once
And suddenly her eyes filled. There was no tremor, no movement in the man’s form now; she could not even feel his heart beat. Yes, she wanted Dr. Crang now, passionately, wildly. John Bruce—that was the man’s name. She knew that much. But she had left him miles away—and he was here now—and she did not understand. How had he got here, why had he come here, climbing in through that window to fall at her feet like one dead?
The front door opened without premonitory ring of bell, and closed again. A footstep came quickly forward through the outer room:—and paused on the threshold.
Claire Veniza rose to her feet and her eyes went swiftly, sharply, to the figure standing there—a man of perhaps thirty years of age, of powerful build, and yet whose frame seemed now woefully loose, disjointed and without virility. Her eyes traveled to the man’s clothing that was dirty, spotted, and in dire need of sponging,
to the necktie that hung awry, to the face that, but for its unhealthy, pasty-yellow complexion, would have been almost strikingly handsome, to the jetblack eyes that somehow at the moment seemed to lack fire and life. And with a little despairing shrug of her shoulders, Claire Veniza turned away her head, and
shoulders, Claire Veniza turned away her head, and pointed to the form of John Bruce on the floor.
“I—I am afraid it is very serious, Dr. Crang,” she faltered.
That’s all right, Claire,” he said complacently. “That’s all right, my dear. You can leave it with confidence to Sidney Angus Crang, M.D.”
She drew a little away as he stepped forward, her face hardening into tight little lines. Hidden, her hands clasped anxiously together. It—it was what she had feared. Dr. Sidney Angus Crang, gold medalist from one of the greatest American universities, brilliant far beyond his fellows, with additional degrees from London, from Vienna, from Heaven alone knew where else, was just about entering upon, or emerging from, a grovelling debauch with that Thing to which he had pawned his manhood, his intellect and his soul, that Thing of gray places, of horror, of forgetfulness, of bliss, of torture—cocaine.
Half way from the threshold to where John Bruce lay, Dr. Crang halted abruptly.
“Hello!” he exclaimed, and glanced with suddenly darkening face from Claire Veniza to the form of John Bruce, and back to Claire Veniza again.
“Oh, will you hurry!” she implored. “Can’t you see that the wound—”
“I am more interested in the man than in the wound,” said Dr. Crang, and there was a hint of menace in his voice. “Quite a gentleman of parts! I had expected—let me see what I had expected—well, say, one of the common knifesticking breed that curses this neighborhood.”
Claire Veniza stamped her foot.
“Oh, hurry!” she burst out wildly. “Don’t stand there talking while the man is dying! Do something!”
Dr. Crang advanced to John Bruce’s side, set down the little handbag he was carrying, and began to examine the wound.
“Yes, quite a gentleman of parts!” he repeated. His lips had thinned. “How did he get here?”
“I do not know,” she answered. “He came in through that window there, and fell on the floor.”
“How peculiar!” observed Dr. Crang. “A gentleman down here in this locality, who is, yes, I will state it as a professional fact, in a very critical state, climbs in through Miss Claire Veniza’s window, and—”
The telephone in the other room rang. Claire Veniza ran to it. Dr. Crang’s fingers nestled on John Bruce’s
fingers on pulse; he made no other movement save to cock his head in a listening attitude in the girl’s direction;,he made no effort either to examine further or to dress the wound.
Claire Veniza’s voice came distinctly.
“—Yes—No, I do not think he will return to-night” —she was hesitating-—“he— he met with an — an acci-
Dr. Crang had sprung from the other room and had snatched the receiver from the girl’s hand. A wave of insensate fury swept his face now. He pushed her roughly from the instrument, and clapped his hand over the transmitter.
“That’s one lie you’ve told me!” he said hoarsely. “I’ll attend to the rest of this now.” He withdrew his hand from the transmitter. “Yes, hello!” His voice was cool, even suave. "What is it? M. Henri de Lavergne speaking—yes—Mister — who? — Mister John Bruce—yes.” He listened for a moment, his lips twiteh-
ing, his eyes narrowed on Claire Veniza who had retreated a few steps away. “No, not to-night,” he said, speaking again into the transmitter. “Yes, a slight accident —Yes—Good-by.”
DR.SYDNEY ANGUS CRANG hung up the receiver, and with a placid smile at variance with the glitter that suddenly brought life into his dulled eyes advanced toward the girl. She stepped backward quickly into the other room, retreating as far as the motionless form that lay upon the floor. Dr. Crang followed her.
And then Claire Veniza, her face grown stony, her small hands clenched, found her voice again.
“Aren’t you going to help him?
Aren’t you going to do something?
Is he to die there before your eyes?” she cried.
Dr. Crang shrugged his shoulders.
“What can I do?” he inquired with velvet softness. “I am helpless. How can I bring the dead back to life?”
“Dead!” All color had fled her face; she bent and looked searchingly at John Bruce.
“Oh, no; not yet,” said Dr. Crang easily. “But very nearly so.”
“And you will do nothing!” She was facing him again. “Then— then I will try to get some one else.”
She stepped forward abruptly.
Dr. Crang barred her way.
“I don’t think you will, Claire, my dear!” His voice was monotonous; the placid smile was vanishing.
“You see, having spoken to that .dear little doll of a man, M. Henri de Lavergne, I’m very much interested in hearing your side of the
“Story!” the girl echoed wildly.
“Story while that man’s life is lost!
Are you mad—or a murderer—or
“Another lover,” said Dr. Crang, and threw back his head and laughed.
She shrank away; her hands tight against her bosom. She glanced around her. If she could only reach the telephone, and lock the connecting door! No! She did not dare leave him alone with the wounded man.
“What—what are you going to do?” she whispered.
“Nothing—till I hear the story,” he answered.
“If—if he dies”—her voice rang steadily again—“I’ll have you charged with murder.”
“What nonsense!” said Dr. Crang imperturbably. “Did I stab the gentleman?” He took from his
pocket a little case, produced a hypodermic syringe, and pushed back his sleeve. “A doctor is not a magician. If he finds a patient beyond reach of aid what can he be expected to do? My dear Claire, where are your brains, to-night—you who are so amazingly clever?”
“You are mad—insane with drug!” she cried out pite-
He shook his head, and coolly inserted the needle of the hypodermic in his arm.
“Not yet,” he said. “I am only implacable. Shall we get on with the story? M. de Lavergne says he sent a gentleman by the name of John Bruce out in your father’s car a little while ago for the purpose of obtaining a loan in order that the said John Bruce might return to the gambling joint and continue to play. But Mr. Bruce did not return, and the doll for some reason being anxious telephones here to make inquiries. Of course”—there was a savage laugh in his voice—“it is only a suspicion, but could this gentleman on the floor here by any chance be Mr. John Bruce?”
“Yes,” she said faintly. “He is John Bruce.”
“Thanks!” said Dr. Crang sarcastically. He very cheerfully replaced his hypodermic in his pocket. “Now another little matter. I happen to know that your father is spending the evening up-town, so I wonder who was in the car with Mr. John Bruce.”
She stared at him with flashing eyes.
“I was!” she answered passionately. “I don’t know what you are driving at! I never did it before, but my
father was away, and M. de Lavergne was terribly insistent. He said it was for a very special guest. I—I didn’t, of course, tell M. de Lavergne that father couldn’t go. I only said that I was afraid it would not be convenient to make any loan to-night. But he wouldn’t listen to a refusal, and so I went—but M. de Lavergne had no idea that it was any one but my father in the car.”
DR. CRANG’S lips parted wickedly.
“Naturally!” he snarled. “I quite understand that you took good care of that! Who drove you?”
“Drunk as usual, I suppose! Brain too fuddled to ask questions!”
“That’s not true!” she cried out sharply. “Hawkins hasn’t touched a drop for a year.”
“All right!” snapped Dr. Crang. “Have it that way,
THE STORY SO FAR:— Hawkins, New York cab driver, inveterate drunkard, permits Paul Veniza, pawn-broker, to adopt his motherless baby girl, Claire. Twenty years later, Urlin P. Neyret, proprietor of gambling houses, meets in Honolulu John Bruce, of good family, but down and out temporarily, and offers him a big income to act as confidential inspector of his gambling houses, and also to do his bidding in anything. Bruce returns to a life of luxury, meets Claire in a travelling pawnshop, is injured in a fight, and takes refuge in the girl’s room, falling unconscious.
then! Being in his dotage he makes a good blind, even sober. And so you went for a little ride with Mr. John Bruce to-night?”
Claire Veniza was wringing her hands, as she glanced in an agony of apprehension at the wounded man on the floor.
“Yes,” she said; “but —but won’t you— ”
“And where did you first meet Mr. John Bruce, and how long ago?” he jerked out.
Claire Veniza’s great brown eyes widened.
“Why, I never saw him in my life until to-night,” she exclaimed. “And he wasn't in the car ten minutes. Hawkins drove back to the corner just as he always does with father, and Mr. Bruce got out. Then Hawkins drove me home and went up-town to get father. I —I wish they were here now!”
Dr. Crang was gritting his teeth together. A slight, unnatural color was tinging his cheeks. He moved slightly closer to the girl.
“I’m glad to hear you never saw Mr. Bruce before,” he said cunningly. “You must have traveled fast then — metaphorically speaking. Love at first sight, eh? A cooing exchange of confidences—or was it all on one side? You told him who you were, and where you lived,
“I did nothing of the kind!” Claire Veniza interrupted angrily. “I did not tell him anything!”
“Just strictly business then, of course!” Doctor Crang moved a step still nearer to the girl. “In that case he must have pawned something, and as Lavergne sends nothing but high-priced articles to your father, we shall probably find quite a sum of money in Mr. Bruce’s pockets. Eh—Claire?”
She bit her lips. She still did not quite understand—only that she bitterly regretted now, somehow, that she had removed the money from John Bruce’s person; only that the drug-crazed brain of the man in front of her was digging, had dug, a trap into which she was falling. What answer was she to make?
With a sudden cry she shrank back—but too late to save herself. A face alight with passion was close to her now: hands that clamped like a steel vise, and that hurt, were upon her shoulder and throat.
“You lie!” Dr. Crang shouted hoarsely. “You’ve lied from the minute I came into this room. John Bruce—hell! I know now why you have always refused to have anything to do with me.
That’s why!” He loosened one hand and pointed to the figure on the floor. How long has this been going on? How long have you heen meeting him? To-night is nothing, though you worked it well. Hawkins to take you for a little joy ride with your lover while father’s away. Damned clever! You left him on that corner—and he’s heré wounded! How did he get wounded? You never saw him before! You never heard of him! You told him nothing about yourself! He didn t know where you lived—he could only find the private entrance. Just knows enough about you to climb in through your back window like a skewered dog! But, of course, your story is true, because in bis pockets will be the money you gave him for what he pawned! Shall we look and see how much it was?”
She tore herself free, and caught at her throat, gasping for breath. ,
“You—you beast!” she choked. "No; you needn look! I took it. from him, and put it in the safe over there before you came-to keep it away from you.
Dr. Crang swept a hand across his eyes and through fits hair with a savage jerky movement, and then he laughei immoderately. ,
“What a little liar you are! Well, then, two can pla> at the same game. I lied to you about your lover there, said there was nothing could save him. b es, yes, Claire, my dear, I lied.” He knelt suddenly, and, suddenly intent and professional, studied John Bruce’s face, and felt again for the pulse beat at John Bruce’s wrist. “Pretty near the limit,” he stated coolly. “Internal bleeding." He threw
back his shoulders in a strangely egotistical way. “Not many men could do anything; but I, Sidney Angus Crang, could! Ha, ha! ! In ten minutes he could be on the road to recoverybut ten minutes, otherwise, is exactly the length of time he has to live."
AN INSTANT Claire Veniza stared at him. Her mind reeled with chaos, with terror and dismay.
“Then do something!” she implored wildly. “If you can save him, do it! You must! You shall!”
“Why should I?” he demanded. His teeth were clamped hard together. “Why should I save your lover? No—damn him!”
She drew away from him, and, suddenly, on her knees, buried her face in her hands, and burst into sobs.
"This—this is terrible—terrible!” she cried out. “Has that frightful stuff transformed you into an absolute fiend? Are you no longer even human?”
Flushed, a curious look of hunger in his eyes, he gazed at
“I'm devilishly human in some respects!” His voice rose out of control. “I want you! I have wanted you from the day I saw you.”
She shivered. Her hands felt suddenly icy as she pressed them against her face.
“Thank God, then,” she breathed, “for this, at. least— that you will never get me!”
“Won’t I?” His voice rose higher, trembling with passion. "Won’t I? By God, I will! The one thing in life I will have some way or another! You understand! I will! And do you think I would let him stand in the way? You drive me mad, Claire, with those wonderful eyes of yours, that hair, those lips, that throat—”
"Stop!” She was on her feet, and in an instant had reached him, and with her hands upon his shoulders was shaking him fiercely with all her strength. “I hated you, despised you, loathed you before, but with that man dying here, you murderer, I—”
Her voice trailed off, strangled, choked. He had caught her in his arms, his lips were upon hers. She struggled like a tigress. And as they lurched about the room he laughed in mad abandon. She wrenched herself free at last, and slipped and fell upon the floor.
“Do you believe me now?” he panted. “I will have you! Neither this man, nor any other will live to get you. His life is a snap of my fingers—so is any other life. It’s y°u I want, and you I wdll have. And I’ll tame you! Then I’ll show you what love is.”
She was moaning now a little to herself. She crept to John Bruce and stared into his face. Dying! They were letting this man die. She tried to readjust the cloths upon the wound. She heard Dr. Crang laugh at her again. It seemed as though her soul were sinking into some great bottomless abyss that was black with horror. She did not know this John Bruce. She had told Dr. Crang so. It was useless to repeat it, useless to argue with a drug-steeped brain. There was only one thing that was absolute and final, and that was that a man’s life was ebbing away, and a fiend,an inhuman fiend who could save him,but whom pleading would not touch, stood callously by, not wholly indifferent, rather gloating over what took the form of triumph in his diseased mind. And then suddenly she seemed so tired and weary. And she tried to pray to God. And tears came, and on her knees she turned and flung out her arms imploringly to the unkempt figure that stood over her, and who smiled as no other man she had ever seen had smiled before.
“For the pity of God, for anything you have ever known in your life that was pure and sacred,” she said brokenly, “save this man.”
TTE LOOKED at her for a moment, still with that sardonic smile upon his lips, and then, swift in its transition, his expression changed and cunning was in his eyes.
“What would you give?” he purred.
“Give?” She did not look up. She felt a sudden surge of relief. It debased the man the more, for it was evidently money now; but her father would supply that. She had only to ask for it. “What do you want?” she asked eagerly.
“Yourself,” said Dr. Crang.
She looked up now, quickly, startled; reading the lurking triumph in his eyes, and with a sudden cry of fear turned away her head.
“Mymyself!” Her lips scarcely moved.
“Yes, my dear! Yourself—Claire!” Dr. Crang shrugged his shoulders. “Edinburgh, London, Vienna, Paris, degrees from everywhere—ha, ha! -am I a high-priced man? Well, then, why don’t you dismiss me? You called me in! That is my price—or shall we call it fee? Promise to marry me, Claire, and I’ll save that
Her face had lost all vestige of color. She stood and looked at. him. but it did not seem as though she any longer had control over her limbs. She did not seem able to move them. They were numbed; her brain was mercifully numbed —there was only a sense of impending horror, without that horror taking concrete form. A voice came
to her as though from some great distance. “Don’t take too long to make up your mind. There isn’t much time. It’s about touch and go with him now.”
The words, the tone, the voice roused her. Realization, understanding swept upon her. A faintness came. She closed her eyes, swayed unsteadily, but recovered herself. Something made her look at the upturned face on the floor. She did not know this man. He was nothing to her. Why was he pleading with her to pawn herself for him? What right had he to ask for worse than death from her that he might live? Her soul turned sick within her. If she refused this man would die. Death! It was a very little thing compared with days and months and years linked, fettered, bound to a drug fiend, a coward, a foul thing, a potential murderer, a man only in the sense of physical form, who had abused every other God-given attribute until it had rotted away! Her hands pressed to her temples fiercely, in torment. Was this man to live or die? In her hands was balanced a human life. It seemed as though she must scream'out in her anguish of soul; and then it seemed as though she must fling herself upon the drug-crazed being who had forced this torture upon her, fling herself upon him to batter and pommel with her fists at his face that smiled in hideous contentment at her. What was she to do? The choice was hers. To let this man here die, or to accept a living death for herself—no, worse than that—something that was abominable, revolting, that profaned— She drew her breath in sharply. She was staring at the man on the floor. His eyelids fluttered and opened. Gray eyes were fixed upon her, eyes that did not seem to see for there was a vacant stare in them—and then suddenly recognition crept into them and they lighted up, full of a strange, glad wonder. He made an effort to speak, an effort, more feeble still, to reach out his hand to her—and then the eyes had closed and he was unconscious again.
She turned slowly and faced Dr. Crang. ¡
“You do not know what you are doing.” She formed the words with a great effort.
“Oh, yes, I do!” he answered with mocking deliberation. “I know that if I can’t get you one way, I can another—and the way doesn’t matter.”
“God forgive you, then,” she said in a dead voice, “for I never can or will! I—I agree.”
He took a step toward her.
“You’ll marry me?” His face was fired with passion.
This Map is Unique
/N the March 15 issue there will appear a map absolutely unique. It is the child of George H. Ham’s brain, and shows where every passenger and freight train on the mafn line of the C.P.R. was at a certain hour on a stated day — to be exact, 6 p.m., November 1, 1920. Nothing in the map line like this has ever before been attempted, and to complete it took more than a week’s work on the part of several engineers and draughtsmen. This map, as reproduced, is nineteen inches wide, and every railroad employee in Canada will want to cut it out and tack it up in his station, car, caboose or room.
She retreated a step.
“Yes,” she said.
He reached out for her with savage eagerness.
“Claire!” he cried. “Claire!”
SHE pushed him back with both hands.
“Not yet!” she said, and tried to steady her voice. “There is another side to the bargain. The price is this man’s life. If he lives I will marry you, and in that case, as you well know, I can say nothing of what you have
done to-night; but if he dies, I am not only free, but I will do my utmost to make you criminally responsible for
“Ah!” Dr. Crang stared at her. His hands, still reaching out to touch her, trembled; his face was hectic; his eyes were alight again with feverish hunger—and then suddenly the man seemed transformed into another being. He was on his knees beside John Bruce, and had opened his handbag in an instant, and in another he had forced something from a vial between John Bruce’s lips; then an instrument was in his hands. The man of a moment before was gone; one Sidney Angus Crang, of many degrees, professional, deft, immersed in his work, had taken the other’s place. “More water! An extra basin!” he ordered
Claire Veniza obeyed him in a mechanical way. Her brain was numbed, exhausted, possessed of a great weariness. She watched him for a little while. He flung another order at her.
“Make that couch up into a bed,” he directed. “He can’t be moved even upstairs to-night.”
Again she obeyed him; finally she helped him to lift John Bruce to the couch.
She sat down in a chair and waited—she did not know what for. Dr. Crang had drawn another chair to the couch and sat there watching his patient. John Bruce, as far as she could tell, showed no sign of life.
Then Dr. Crang’s voice seemed to float out of nothing-
“He will live, Claire, my dear! By God, I’d like to have done that piece of work in a clinic! Some of ’em would sit up! D’ye hear, Claire, he’ll live!”
She was conscious that he was studying her; she did not look at him, nor did she answer.
An eternity seemed to pass. She heard a motor stop outside in front of the house. That would be her father and Hawkins.
The front door opened and closed, footsteps entered the room—and suddenly seemed to quicken and hurry forward. She rose from her chair.
“What’s this? What’s the matter? What happened?” A tall white-haired man cried out.
It was Dr. Crang who answered.
“Oh—this, Mr. Veniza?” He waved his hand indifferently toward the couch. “Nothing of any importance.” He shrugged his shoulders in cool imperturbability, and smiled into the grave, serious face of Paul Veniza. “The really important thing is that Claire has promised to be my wife.”
For an instant no one moved or spoke—only Dr. Crang still smiled. And then the silence was broken by a curious half laugh, half curse that was full of menace.
“You lie!” Hawkins, the round, red-faced chauffeur, had stepped from behind Paul Veniza, and now faced Dr. Crang. “You lie! You damned coke-eater! I’d kill you first!”
“Drunk—again!” drawled Dr. Crang contemptuously. “And what have you to do with it?”
“Steady, Hawkins!” counselled Paul Veniza quietly. He turned to Claire Veniza. “Claire,” he asked, "is —is this true?”
She nodded—and suddenly, blindly, started toward the door.
“It is true,” she said.
“Claire!” Paul Veniza stepped after her. "Claire,
“Not to-night, father,” she said in a low voice. “Please let me go.”
He stood aside, allowing her to pass, his face grave and anxious—and then he turned to Dr. Crang.
“She is naturally very upset over what has happened here,” said Dr. Crang easily—and suddenly reaching out grasped Hawkins’ arm, and pulled the old man forward to the couch. “Here, you!” he jerked out. “You’ve got so much to say for yourself—take a look at this fellow!”
The old chauffeur bent over the couch.
“My God!” he cried out in a startled way. “It’s the man we—I—drove to-night!”
“Quite so!” observed Dr. Crang. He smiled at Paul Veniza again. “Apart from the fact that the fellow came in through that window with a knife stab in his side that’s pretty nearly done for him, Hawkins knows as much about it as either Claire or I do. He’s in bad shape. Extremely serious. I will stay with him to-night. He cannot be moved.” He nodded suggestively toward the door. “Hawkins can tell you as much as I can. It’s got to be quiet in here. As for Claire”—he seemed suddenly to be greatly disturbed and occupied with the condition of the wounded man on the couch—“that will have to wait until morning. This man’s condition is critical. I can’t put you out of your own room, but—” Again he nodded toward the door.
For a moment Paul Veniza hesitated—but Dr. Crang’s back was already turned, and he was bending bver the wounded man, apparently oblivious to every other consideration. He motioned to Hawkins, and the two left the room.
Continued on page 32
Continued from page 20
Dr. Crang looked around over his shoulder as the door closed. A malicious grin spread over his face. He rubbed his hands together. Then he sat down in his chair again, and began to prepare a solution for his hypodermic syringe.
“Yes, yes,” said Dr. Crang softly, addressing the unconscious form of John Bruce, “you’ll live, all right, my friend, I’ll see to that, though the odds are still against you. You’re too—ha, ha!—valuable to die! You played in luck when you drew Sidney Angus Crang, M.D., as your attending physician!”
And then Dr. Sidney Angus Crang made a little grimace as he punctured the flesh of his arm with the needle of the hypodermic syringe and injected into himself another dose of cocaine.
“Yes,” saie! Dr. Sidney Angus Crang very softly, his eyes lighting, “too valuable, much too valuable—to die!”
CHAPTER V Hawkins
IN THE outer room, the door closed behind them, Paul Veniza and Hawkins stared into each other’s eyes. Hawkihs’s face had lost its ruddy, weather-beaten color, and there was a strained, perplexed anxiety in his expression.
“D’ye hear what she said?” he mumbled. “D’ye hear what he said? Going to be married! My little girl, my innocent little girl, and—and that dope-feeding devil! I —I don’t understand, Paul. What’s it mean?”
Paul Veniza laid his hand on the other’s shoulder, as much to seek, it seemed, as to offer sympathy. He shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he said blankly. Hawkins’s watery blue eyes under their shaggy brows traveled miserably in the direction of the staircase.
“I—I aint got the right,” he choked. “You go up and talk to her, Paul.”
Paul Veniza ran his fingers in a troubled way through his white hair; then, nodding his head, he turned abruptly and began to mount the stairs.
Hawkins watched until the other had disappeared from sight, watched until he heard a door open and close softly above; then he swung sharply around, and with his old, drooping shoulders suddenly squared, strode toward the door that shut him off from Dr. Crang and the man he had recognized as his passenger in the traveling pawnshop earlier that night. But at the door itself he hesitated, and after a moment drew back, and the shoulders dropped again, and he fell to twisting his hands together in nervous indecision as he retreated to the center of the room.
And he stood there again, where Paul Veniza had left him, and stared with the hurt of a dumb animal in his eyes at the top of the staircase.
“It’s all my fault,” the old man whispered, and fell to twisting his hands together once more. “But—but I thought she’d be safe with me.”
For a long time hè seemed to ponder his own words, and gradually they seemed to bring an added burden upon him, and heavily now he drew his hand across his
_ “Why aint I dead?” he whispered. “I aint never been no good to her. Twenty years, it is—twenty years. Just old Hawkins—shabby old Hawkins—that she loves ’cause she’s sorry for him.”
Hawkins’s eyes roved about the room.
. “I remember the night I brought her here.” He was still whispering to himself. “In there, it was, I took her.” He jerked his hand toward the inner room. “This here room was the pawnshop then. God, all those years ago—and—and I aint never brought her back again, and she aint known no father but Paul, and—” His voice trailed off and died away.
He sank his chin in his hands.
Occasionally he heard the murmur of voices from above, occasionally the sound of movement through the closed door that separated him from Dr. Crang; but he did not move or speak again until Paul Veniza came down the stairs and stood before him. Hawkins searched the other’s face.
“It—it aint true, is it, what she said?” he questioned almost fiercely. “She didn’t really mean it, did she, Paul?”
Paul Veniza turned his head away.
“Yes, she meant it,” he answered in a low voice. “I don’t understand. She wouldn’t give me any explanation.” Hawkins clenched his fists suddenly.
“But didn’t you tell her what kind of a man Crang is? Good God, Paul, didn’t you tell her what he is?”
“She knows it without my telling her,” Paul Veniza said in a dull tone. “But I told her again; I told her it was impossible, incredible. Her only answer was that it was inevitable.”
“But she doesn’t love him! She can’t love him!” Hawkins burst out. “There’s never been anything between them before.” “No, she doesn’t love him. Of course, she doesn’t!” Paul Veniza said, as though speaking to himself. He looked at Hawkins suddenly under knitted brows. “And she says she never saw that other man in her life before until he stepped into the car. She says she only went out to-night be-
cause they were so urgent about it up at the house, and that she felt everything would be perfectly safe with you driving the car. I can’t make anything out of it!” Hawkins drew the sleeve of his coat across his brow. It was cool in the room, but little beads of moisture were standing out on his forehead.
“I aint brought her nothing but harm all my life,” he said brokenly. “I—” “Don’t take it that way, old friend!” Pau! Veniza’s hands sought the other’s shoulders. “I don’t see how you are to blame for this. Claire said that other man treated her with all courtesy, and left the cab after you had gone around the block; and she doesn’t know how he afterwards came here wounded any more than we do —and anyway, it can’t have anything to do with her marrying Dr. Crang.”
“What’s she doing now?” demanded Hawkins abruptly. “She’s up there crying her heart out, aint she?”
pAUL VENIZA did not answer.
A Hawkins straightened up. A sudden dignity came to the shabby old figure.
“What hold has that devil got on my little girl?” he cried out sharply. “I’ll make him pay for it, so help me God! My little girl, my little—”
“Sh!” Paul Veniza caught hurriedly at Hawkins’s arm. “Be careful, old friend!” he warned. “Not so loud! She might hear you.”
Hawkins cast a timorous, startled glance in the direction of the stairs. He seemed to shrink again into a stature as shabby as h is clothing. His lips twitched ; (íe twisted his hands together.
“Yes,” he mumbled; “yes, she—she might hear me.” He stared around the room; and then, as though blindly, his hands groping out in front of him, he started for the street door. “I’m going home,” said Hawkins. “I’m going home to think this out.”
Paul Veniza’s voice choked a little.
“Your hat, old friend,” he said picking up the old man’s hat from the table and following the other to the door.
“Yes, my hat,” said Hawkins—and pulling it far down over his eyes, crossed' the sidewalk, and climbed into the driver’s seat of the old, closed car that stood at the
CHAPTER VI The Alibi
JOHN BRUCE opened his eyes dreamily, unseeingly; and then his eyelids fluttered and closed again. There was an exquisite sense of languor upon him, of cool, comfortable repose; a curious absence of all material things. It seemed as though he were in some suspended state of animait was very strange. It wasn’t life—not life as he had ever known it. Perhaps it was death. He did not understand.
He moved a little, and suddenly felt a twinge of pain in his side. His hand groped under the covering, and his fingers came into contact with bandages that were wrapped tightly around his body.
And then in a flash memory returned. He remembered the fight in Ratti’s wine shop, the knife stab, and how he had dragged himself along the lane and climbed in through her window. His eyes now in a startled way were searching his surroundings. Perhaps this was the room! He could not be quite sure, but there seemed to be something familiar about it. The light was very low, like a gas-jet turned down, and he could not make out where it came from, nor could he see any window through which he might have climbed in.
He frowned in a troubled way. It was true that, as he had climbed in that night, he had not been in a condition to take much note of the room, but yet it did seem to be the same place. The frown vanished. What did it matter? He knew now beyond any question whose face it was that had come to him so often in that shaft of sunlight. Yes, it did matter! He must have been unconscious, perhaps for only a few hours, perhaps for days, but. if this was the same place, then she was here, not as a figment of the brain, not as one created out of his own longing, but here in her actual person, a living, breathing reality. It was the girl of the traveling pawnshop, and—
JOHN BRUCE found himself listening with sudden intentness. Was he drifting back into unconsciousness again, into that realm of unreal things, where the mind, fevered and broken, wove out of its sick
imagination queer, meaningless fancies? It was strange that unreal things should seem so real! Wasn’t that an animal of some sort scratching at the wall of the house outside?
He lifted his head slightly from the pillow—and held it there. A voice from within the room reached him in an angry, rasping whisper:
“Damn you, Birdie, why don’t you pull the house down and have done with it? You clumsy hog! Do you want the police on us? Can’t you climb three feet without waking up the whole of New York?”
John Bruce’s lips drew together until they formed a tight, straight line. This was strange! Very strange! It wasn’t a vagary of his brain this time. His brain was as clear now as it had ever been in his life. The voice came from beyond the head of his cot. He had seen no one in the room, but that was natural enough since from the position in which he was lying his line of vision was decidedly restricted; what seemed incomprehensible though, taken in conjunction with the words he had just heard, was that his own presence there appeared to be completely ignored.
He twisted his head around cautiously, and found that the head of the cot was surrounded by a screen. He nodded to himself a little grimly. That accounted for it! There was a scraping sound now, and heavy, labored breathing.
John Bruce silently and stealthily stretched out his arm. He could just reach the screen. It was made of some soft, silken material, and his fingers found no difficulty in drawing this back a little from the edge of that portion of the upright framework which was directly in front of him.
He scarcely breathed now. Perhaps he was in so weak a state that his mind faltered if crowded, for there was so much to see that he could not seem to grasp it all as a single picture. He gazed fascinated. The details came slowly—one by one. It was the room where he had crawled in through the window and had fallen senseless to the floor - whenever that had been! That was the window there. And, curiously enough, another man was crawling in through it now! And there was whispering. And two other men were already standing in the room, but he could not see their faces because their backs were turned to him. Then one of the two swung around in the direction of the window, bringing his face into view. John Bruce closed his eyes for a moment. Yes, it must be that! His mind was off wandering once more, painting and picturing for itself its fanciful unrealities, bringing back again the character it had created, the man with the sinister face whose pallor was unhealthy and repulsive.
And then he opened his eyes and looked again, and the face was still there—and it was real. And now the man spoke:
“Come on, get busy, Birdie! If you take as long to crack the box as you have taken to climb in through a low window, maybe we’ll be invited to breakfast with the family. You act just like a swell cracksman—not! But here’s the combination—so try and play up to the part!”
The man addressed was heavy of build, with a pock-marked and forbidding countenance. He was panting from bis exertions, as, inside the room now, he leaned against the sill.
“That’s all right, Doc!” he grunted. “That’s all right! But how about his nibs over there behind the screen? Aint he ever cornin’ out of his nap?”
The man addressed as “Doc” rolled up the sleeve of his left arm, and produced a hypodermic syringe from his pocket.
“There’s the safe over there, Birdie,” he drawled, as he pricked his arm with the needle, and pushed home the plunger. “Get busy!”
'T'JIE big man shuffled his feet.
“I know you know your business, Doc,” he said uneasily; “but I guess me an’ Pete here'd feel more comfortable if you’d have put that shot of coke into the guy I’m speakin’ about instead of into yourself. Aint I right, Pete?”
The third man was lounging against the wall, his back still turned to John Bruce.
“Sure,” he said; “but I guess we can leave it to Doc. A guy that’s been pawin’ the air for two days aint likely to butt in much all of a sudden.”
The man with the hypodermic, in the act of replacing the syringe inhis pocket, drew it out again.
“Coming from you, Birdie,” he murmured caustically, “that’s a surprisingly
bright idea. I’ve been here for the last three hours listening to his interesting addresses from the rostrum of delirium, and I should say he was quite safe. Still, to oblige you, Birdie, and make you feel more comfortable, we’ll act on your suggestion.”
John Bruce’s teeth gritted together. How weak he was! His arm ached from even the slight strain of extending it beyond his head to the screen.
And then he smiled grimly. But it wasn’t a case of strength now, was it? He was obviously quite helpless in that respect. This man they called Doc believed him to be still unconscious, and-—he drew his arm silently back, tucked it again under the sheet and blanket that covered him, and closed his eyes—and even if he could resist, which he couldn’t, a hypodermic injection of morphine, or cocaine, or whatever it was that the supreme crook of the trio indulged in, could not instantly take effect. There ought to be time enough to watch at least—
John Bruce lay perfectly still. He heard a footstep come quickly around the screen ; he sensed the presence of some one bending over him; then the coverings were pulled down and his arm was bared. He steeled himself against the instinctive impulse to wince at the sharp prick of the needle which he knew was coming—and felt instead a cold and curiously merciless rage sweep over him as the act was performed. Then the footstep retreated—and John Bruce quietly twisted his head around on the pillow, reached out his arm, and his fingers drew the silk panel of the screen slightly away from the edge of the framework again.
HE COULD see the safe they had referred to now. It was over at the far side of the room against the wall, and the three men were standing in front of it. Presently it was opened. The man called Doc knelt down in front of it and began to examine its contents. He swung around to his companions after a moment with a large pile of bank notes in his hands. From this pile he counted out and handed a small portion to each of the other two men —and coolly stuffed the bulk of the money into his own pockets.
The scene went blurry then for a moment before John Bruce’s eyes, and he lifted his free hand and brushed it across his forehead. He was so beastly weak anyhow, and the infernal dope was getting in its .work too fast! He fought with all his mental strength against the impulse to relax and close his eyes. What was it they were doing now? It looked like some foolish masquerade. The two companions of the man with the sinister, pasty face were tying handkerchiefs over their faces and drawing revolvers from their pockets; and then the big man began to close the door of the safe.
The Doc’s voice came sharply,
“Look out you don’t lock it, you fool!” Once more John Bruce brushed his hand across his eyes. His brain must be playing him tricks again. A din infernal arose suddenly in the room. While the big man lounged nonchalantly against the safe, the other two were scuffling all over the floor and throwing chairs about. And then from somewhere up-stairs, on the floor there too, John Bruce thought he caught the sound of hurried movements.
Then for an instant the scuffling in the room ceased, and the pasty-faced man’s voice came in a peremptory whisper:
“The minute any one shows at the door you swing that safe open as though you’d been working on it all the time, Birdie, and pretend to shove everything in sight into your pockets. And you, Joe, you’ve got me cornered and covered here—see? And you hold the doorway with your gun too; and then both of you back away and make your getaway through the window.”
The scuffling began again. John Bruce watched the scene, a sense of drowiness and apathy creeping upon him. He tried to rouse himself. He ought to do scmething. That vicious-faced little crook who had haunted him with unwelcome visitations, and who at this precise moment had the bulk of the money from the safe in his own pockets, was in the act of planting a somewhat crude, but probably none the less effective, alibi, and—
John Bruce heard a door flung open, and then a sudden, startled cry, first in a woman’s and then in a man’s voice. But he could not see any door from the position in which he lay. He turned over with a great effort, facing the other way, and reached out with his fingers for the panel of the
screen that overlapped the head of the cot. And then John Bruce lay motionless, the blood pounding fiercely at his temples.
HE WAS conscious that a tall, whitehaired man in scanty attire was there, because the doorway framed two figures; but he saw only a beautiful face, pitifully white, only the slim form of a girl whose great brown eyes were very wide with fear, and who held her dressing gown tightly clutched around her throat. It was the girl of the traveling pawnshop, it was the girl of his dreams in the shaft of sunlight, it was the girl he had followed here—only —only the picture seemed to be fading away. It was very strange! It was most curious! She always seemed to leave that way. This was Larmon now instead, wasn’t it? Larmon—and a jack-knife— and a quill toothpick—and—
The Girl of the Traveling Pawnshop
JOHN BRUCE abstractedly twirled the
tassel of the old and faded dressing gown which he wore, the temporary possession of which he owed to Paul Veniza, his host From the chair in which he sat his eyes ventured stolen glances at the nape of a dainty neck, and at a great coiled mass of silken brown hair that shone like burnished copper in the afternoon sunlight, as Claire Veniza, her back turned toward him, busied herself about the room. He could walk now across the floor—and a great deal further, he was sure, if they would only let him. He had not pressed that point; it might be taking an unfair advantage of an already over-generous hospitality, but he was not at all anxious to speed his departure from—well, from where he was at that precise moment.
And now as he looked at Claire Veniza, his thoughts went back to the night he had stepped, at old Hawkins’s invitation, into the traveling pawnshop. That was not so very long ago—two weeks of grave illness, and then the past week of convalescence— but it seemed to span a great and almost limitless stretch of time, and to mark a new and entirely different era in his life; an era that perplexed and troubled and intrigued him with conditions and surroundings and disturbing elements that he did not comprehend—but at the same time made the blood in his veins to course with wild abandon, and the future to hold out glad and beckoning hands.
He loved, with'a great, overwhelming, masterful love, the girl who stood there just across the room all unconscious of the worship that he knew was in his eyes, and which he neither tried nor wished to curb. Of his own love he was sure. He had loved her from the moment he had first seen her, and in his heart he knew he held fate kind to have given him the wound that in its turn had brought the week of convalescence just past. And yet—and yet— here dismay came, and his brain seemed to stumble. Sometimes he dared to hope; sometimes he was plunged into the depths of misery and despair. Little things,_ a touch of the hand as she had nursed him that had seemed like some God-given tender caress, a glance when she had thought he had not seen and which he had allowed his heart to interpret to its advantage with perhaps no other justification than its own yearning and desire, had buoyed him up; and then, at times, a strange, almost bitter aloofness, it seemed, in her attitude toward him—and this had checked, had always checked, the words that were ever on his
A faint flush dyed his cheeks, But even so, and for all his boasted love, did he not in his own soul wrong her sometimes. The questions would come. What was the meaning of the strange environment in which she lived? Why should she have driven to a gambling hell late'at night, and quite as though it were the usual thing, to transact business alone in that car with God! His hands clenched fiercely. He remembered that night, and how the same thought had come then, mocking him, jeering him, making sport of him. He was a cad, a pitiful, vile-minded cad! Thank God he was at least, still man enough to be ashamed of his own thoughts, even if they came in spite of him!
Perhaps it was the strange, unusual characters that surrounded her, that came and went in this curious place here, that fostered such thoughts; perhaps ho was not strong enough yet to grapple with all these confusing things. He smiled a little grimly.
The robbery of the safe, for instance—and that reptile whom he now knew to be his own attending physician, Dr. Crang! He had said nothing about his knowledge of the robbery—yet. As nearly as he could judge it had occurred two or three days prior to the time when his actual convalescence liad set in, and as a material witness to the crime he was not at all sure that in law his testimony would be of much value. They must certainly have found him in an unconscious state immediately afterward—and Dr. Crang would as indubitably attack his testimony as being nothing more than the hallucination of a sick brain.
THE luck of the devil had been with Crang. Why had he, John Bruce, gone drifting off into unconsciousness just at the psychological moment when, if the plan had been carried out as arranged and the other two had made their fake escape Crang would have been left in the room with Claire and Paul Veniza—with the money in his pockets! He would have had Dr. Crang cold then! It was quite different now. He was not quite sure what he meant to do, except that he fully proposed to have a reckoning with Dr. Crang. But that reckoning, something, he could not quite define what, had prompted him to postpone until he had become physically a little stronger!
And then there was another curious thing about it all, which too had influenced him in keeping silent. Hawkins, Paul Veniza, Claire and Dr. Crang had each, severally and collectively, been here in this room many times since the robbery, and not once in his presence had the affair even been mentioned! And—oh, what did it matter! He shrugged his shoulders as though to rid himself of some depressing physical weight. What did anything matter on this wonderful sunlit afternoon—save Claire there in her white, cool dress, that seemed somehow to typify her own glorious youth and freshness?
How dainty and sweet and alluring she looked! His eyes were no longer contented with stolen glances; they held now masterfully, defiant of any self-restraint, upon the slim figure that was all grace from the trim little ankles to the poise of the shapely head. He felt the blood quicken his pulse. Stronger than he had ever known it before, straining to burst all barriers, demanding expression as a right that would not be denied, his love rose dominant within him, and—
The tassel he had been twirling dropped from his hand. She had turned suddenly —and across the room her eyes met his, calm, deep and unperturbed at first, but wide the next instant with a startled shyness, and the color sweeping upward from her throat crimsoned her face, and in confusion she turned away her head.
John Bruce was on his feet. He stumbled a little as he took a step forward. His heart was pounding, flinging a red tide into the pallor of his cheeks that illness had claimed as one of its tolls.
“I—I did not mean to tell you like • that,” he said huskily. “But I have wanted to tell you for so long. It seems as though I have always wanted to tell you. Claire—I love you.”
She did not answer.
He was beside her now—only her head was lowered and averted and he could not look into her face. Her fingers were plucking tremulously at a fold of her dress. He caught her hand between both his own.
“Claire—Claire, I love you!” he whispered.
She disengaged her hand gently; and, still refusing to let him see her face, shook her head slowly.
“I—I—” Her voice was very low. “Oh, don’t you know?”
“I know I love you,” he answered passionately. “I know that nothing else but that matters.”
A GAIN she shook her head.
“I thought perhaps he would have tdd you. I—I am going to marry Dr.
John Bruce stepped back involuntarily; and for a moment incredulity and helpless amazement held sway in his expression— then his lips tightened in a hurt, half angry way.
“Is that fair to me, Claire—to give me an answer like that?” he said in a low tone. “I know it isn’t true, of course; it couldn’t be—but—but it isn’t much of a joke either, is it?”
“It is true,” she said monotonously.
He leaned suddenly forward, and taking her face between his hands made her lift her head and look at him. The brown eyes were swimming with tears. The red swept her face in a great wave, and receding left it deathly pale—and in a frenzy of confusion she wrenched herself free from him and retreated a step.
“My God!” said John Bruce hoarsely. “You—and Dr. Crang! I don’t understand! It is monstrous! You can’t love that—” He checked himself, biting at his lips. “You can’t love Dr. Crang. It is impossible! You dare not stand there and tell me that you do. Answer me, Claire answer me!”
She seemed to have regained her selfcontrol—or perhaps it was the one defence she knew. The little figure was drawn up, her head held back.
“You have no right to ask me that,” she said steadily.
“Right!” John Bruce echoed almost fiercely. His soul itself seemed suddenly to .be in a passionate turmoil; it seemed to juggle two figures before his consciousness, contrasting one with the other in most hideous fashion—this woman here whom he loved, who struggled to hold herself bravely, who stood for all that was pure, for all that he reverenced in a woman; and that sallow, evil-faced degenerate, a drug fiend so lost to the shame of his vice that he pricked himself with his miserable needle quite as unconcernedly in public as one would smoke a cigarette—and worse— a crook—a thief! Was it a coward’s act to tell this girl what the man was whom she proposed to marry? Was it contemptible to pull a rival such as that down from the pedestal which in some fiendish way he must have erected for himself? Surely she did not know the man for what he actually was! She could not know! “Right!” he cried out. “Yes, I have the right—both for your sake and for my own. I have the right my love gives me. Do you know how I came here that first night?”
“Yes,” she said with an effort. “You told me. You were in a fight in/Ratti’s place, and were wounded.”
HE LAUGHED out harshly.
“And I told you the truth—as far as it went,” he said. “But do you know how I came to be in this locality after leaving you in that motor car? I followed you. I loved you from the moment I saw you that night. It seems as though I have always loved you—as I always shall love you. That is what gives me the right to speak. And I mean to speak. If it were an honorable man to whom you were to be married it would be quite another matter; but you cannot know what you are doing, you do not know this man as he really is, or what he—”
“Please! Please stop!” she cried out brokenly. “Nothing you could say would tell me anything I do not already know.” “I am not so sure!” said John Bruce grimly. “Suppose I told you he was a criminal?”
“He is a criminal.” Her voice was without inflection.
“Suppose then he were sent to jail—to serve a sentence?”
“I would marry him when he came out,” she said. “Oh, please do not say any more! I know far more about him than you do; but—but that has nothing to do with it.”
For an instant, motionless, John Bruce stared at Claire; then his hands swept out and caught her wrists in a tight grip and held her prisoner.
“Claire!” His voice choked. “What does this mean? You do not love him; you say you know he is even a criminal— and yet you are going to marry him! What hold has he got on you? What is it? What damnable trap has he got you in? I am going to know, Claire! I will know! And whatever it is, whatever the cause of it, I’ll crush it, strangle it, sweep it out of your dear life at any cost! Tell me, Claire!”
Her face had gone white; she struggled a little to release herself.
“You—you do not know what you are saying. You—” Her voice broke in a half sob.
“Claire, look at me!” He was pleading now with his soul in his eyes and voice. “Claire, I—”
“Oh, please let me go!” she cried out frantically. “You cannot say anything that will make any difference. I—it only makes it harder.” The tears were brimming in her eyes again. “Oh, please let me go—there’s—there’s some one coming.” To be Continued