FRANK L. PACKARD
JOHN BRUCE’S hands dropped to his sides. The door, already half open, was pushed wide, and Hawkins, the old chauffeur, stood on the threshold. And as John Bruce looked in that direction, he was suddenly and strangely conscious that somehow for the moment the old man dominated his attention even to the exclusion of Claire. There was something of curious self-effacement, of humbleness in the bent, stoopshouldered figure there, who twisted a shapeless hat awkwardly in his hands; but also something of trouble and deep anxiety in the faded blue eyes as they fixed on the girl, and yet without meeting her eyes in return, held upon her as she wuilked slowly now toward the door.
“Dear old Hawkins,” she said softly, and laid her hand for an instant on the other’s arm as she passed him, “you and Mr. Bruce will be able to entertain each other, won t you? I—I’m going upstairs for a little while.”
And the old man made no answer; but, turning on the threshold, he watched her, his attitude, it seemed to John Bruce, one of almost pathetic wistfulness, as Claire disappeared from view.
CHAPTER VIII Allies
CLAIRE’S footsteps, ascending the stairs, died away.
John Bruce returned to his chair. His eyes were still on the old chauffeur.
Hawkins was no longer twisting his shapeless hat nervously in his fingers; instead, he held it now in one clenched hand, while with the other he closed the door behind him as he stepped forward across the threshold, and with squared shoulders advanced toward John Bruce. And then, quite as suddenly again, as though alarmed at his own temerity, the old man paused, and the question on his lips, aggressively enough framed, became irresolute in
“What—what’s the matter with Claire?” he stammered. “What’s this mean?”
It was a moment before John Bruce answered, while he eyed the other from head to foot. Hawkins was not the least interesting by any means of the queer characters that came and went and centered around this one-time pawnshop of Paul Veniza; but Hawkins, of them all, was the one he was least able, from what he had seen of the man, to fathom. And yet, somehow, he liked Hawkins.
“That’s exactly what I want to know,” he said a little briskly. “And”—he eyed Hawkins once'more with cool appraisal—“I think you are the man best able to supply the information.”
Hawkins began to fumble with his hat again.
“I—I—why do you say that?” he faltered, a sudden note of what seemed almost trepidation in his voice.
John Bruce shrugged his shoulders.
“Possibly it is just a hunch,” he said calmly. “But you were the one who was driving that old bus on a certain night—you remember? And you seem to hang around here about as you please. Therefore you must stand in on a fairly intimate basis with the family circle. I’d like to know what hold a rotten crook like Dr. Crang has got on Claire Veniza that she should be willing to marry him, when she doesn’t love him. I’d" like to know why a girl like Claire Veniza drives alone at night to a gambling hell to—”
“That’s enough!” Hawkins’s voice rose abruptly, peremtorily. He advanced again threateningly on John Bruce. “Don’t you dare say one word against my—against— against her. I’ll choke the life out of you, if you do! Who are you, anyway? You are asking a lot of questions. How did you get here in the first place? You answer that! I’ve always meant to ask you. You answer that—and leave Claire out of it!”
John Bruce whistled softly.
“I can’t very well do that,” he said quietly, “because it was Claire who brought me here.”
“Claire brought you!” The old blue eyes grew very hard and very steady. “That’s a lie! She never saw you after you got out at the corner that night until you came in through the window here. She didn’t tell you where she lived. She didn’t invite you here. She’s not that kind, and, sick though you may be, I’ll not keep my hands off you, if—”
’ I 'HE STORY SO FAR:—Hawkins, New York cab driver, inveterate drunkard, permits Paul Veniza, pawnbroker, 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 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. Dr. Crang, cocaine addict, as price for saving Bruce’s life, extracts a promise of marriage from Claire. Bruce, recovering slowly, witnesses robbery by Crang and accomplices of Veniza’s safe. Bruce declares his love to Claire.
“Steady, Hawkins—steady!” said John Bruce, his voice as quiet as before. “We seem to possess a common bond. You seem to be pretty fond of Claire. Well, so am I. That ought to make us allies.” He held out his hand suddenly to the old man. “I had just asked Claire to marry me when you came to the door.”
HAWKINS stared from the outstretched hand into John Bruce’s eyes, and back again at the outstretched hand. Bewilderment, hesitation, a curious excitement was in his face.
“You asked Claire to marry you?” He swallowed hard. “You—you want to marry Claire? I—why?”
“Why?” John Bruce echoed helplessly. “Good Lord, Hawkins, you are a queer one! Barring beasts like Crang, why does a man ordinarily ask a woman to marry him? Because he loves her. Well, I love Claire. I loved her from the moment I saw her. I followed her, or, rather, that old bus of yours, here that night. And that is how, after that fight at Ratti’s when I got out the back door and into the lane, I crawled over here for sanctuary. I said1 Claire brought me here. You understand now, don’t you? That’s how she brought me here—because I loved her that night. But it is because of Crang”—his voice grew hard— “that I am telling you this. I love her now—and a great deal too much, whether she could ever care for me or not, to see her in the clutches of a crook, and her life wrecked by a degenerate cur. And somehow”—his hand was still extended—“I thought you seemed to think enough of her to feel the same way about this marriage—for I imagine you must know about it. Well, Hawkins, where do you stand? There’s something rotten here. Are you for Claire, or the dope-eater?”
“Oh, my God!” Hawkins whispered huskily. And then almost blindly he snatched at John Bruce’s hand and wrung it hard. “I—I believe you’re straight,” he choked. “I know you are. I can see it in your eyes. I wouldn’t ask anything more in the world for her than a man’s honest love. And she aint going to marry that devil! You understand?” His voice was rising in a curious cracked shrillness. “She aint! Not while old Hawkins is alive!” John Bruce drew his brows together in a puzzled way.
“I pass you up, Hawkins,” he said slowly. “I can’t make you out. But if you mean what you say, and if you trust me—”
“I’m going to trust you!” There was eagerness, excitement, a tremble in the old man’s voice. “I’ve got to trust you after what you’ve said. I aint slept for nights on account of this. It looks like God sent you. You wait! Wait just a second, and I’ll show you how much I trust you.”
John Bruce straightened up in his chair. Was the old man simply erratic, or perhaps a little irresponsible—or what? Hawkins had pattered across the floor, and cautiously opened the door, and was now peering with equal caution into the outer room. Apparently satisfied at last, he closed the door noiselessly, and started back across the room. And then John Bruce knew suddenly an indefinable remorse at having somehow misjudged the shabby old chauffeur, whose figure seemed to totter now a little as it advanced toward him. Hawkins’s face was full of misery, and the old blue eyes were brimming with tears.
“It—it aint easy,”—Hawkins’s voice quavered—“to say what I got to say. There aint no one on earth but Paul Veniza knows it; but you’ve got a right to know after what you’ve said. And I’ve got to tell you for Claire’s sake too, because it seems to me there aint nobody going to help me save her the way you are. She—she’s my little girl. I— I’m Claire’s father.”
John Bruce stared numbly at the other. He could find no words; he could only stare.
“Yes, look at me!” burst out the old man finally, and into his voice there came an infinite bitterness. “Look at my clothes! I’m just what I look like! I aint no good—and that’s what has kept my little girl and me apart from the day she was born. Yes, look at me! I don’t blame you!” John Bruce was on his feet. His hand reached out and rested on the old man’s shoulder.
“That isn’t the way to trust me, Hawkins,” he said gently. “What do your clothes matter? What do your looks matter? What does anything in the world matter alongside of so wonderful a thing as that which you have just told me? Straighten those shoulders, Hawkins; throw back that head of yours. Her father! Why, you’re the richest man in New York, and you’ve reason to be the proudest!”
“God bless you,” said Hawkins brokenly; “but you don’t know. She’s all I’ve got; she’s the only kith and kin I’ve got in all the world, and oh, my God, how these old arms have ached just to take her and hold her tight, and—and —” He lifted his head suddenly, met John Bruce’s eyes, and a flush dyed his cheeks. “She’s my little girl ; but I lie when I say I love her. It’s drink I love. That’s my shame, John Bruce—you’ve got it all now. I pawned my soul, and I pawned my little girl for drink.” “Hawkins,” said John Bruce huskily, “I think you’re a bigger man that you’ve any idea you are.”
frame; lips felt and atremor he Bruce eyes into saw passthrough was the a momentary smiling other's the with face. old man’s flash both He of joy and pride light up the wrinkled, weather-beaten face—and then Hawkins turned his head away.
“D’ye mean that?” Hawkins spoke eagerly—only to shake his head miserably the next instant. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I as good as killed her mother with drink. She died when Claire was born. I brought Claire here, and Paul Veniza and his wife took her in. And Paul Veniza was right about it. He made me promise she, wasn’t to know I was her father until—until she would have
a man and not a drunken sot to look after her. That’s twenty years ago. I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried, but it’s beaten me ever since. Paul’s wife died when Claire was sixteen, and Claire’s run the house for Paul—and—and I’m Hawkins—just Hawkins—the old cab driver that’s dropping in the harness. Just Hawkins that shuffers the travelling pawnshop now that Paul’s quit the regular shop. That’s what I am—justold Hawkins, who’s always swearing to God he’s going to leave the booze alone.”
John Bruce did not speak for a moment. He returned to his chair and sat down. Somehow he wanted to think; somehow he felt that he had not quite grasped the full
significance of what he had just heard. He looked at Hawkins. Hawkins had sunk into a chair by the table, and his face was buried in his hands.
And then John Bruce smiled.
“Look here, Hawkins,” he said briskly, “let’s talk about something else for a minute. Tell me about Paul Veniza and this traveling pawnshop. It’s a bit out of the ordinary to say the least.”
Hawkins raised his head, and his thoughts for the moment diverted into other channels his face brightened, and he scratched at the scanty fringe of hair behind his ear.
“It isn’t bad, is it?” he said with interest. “I’m kind of proud of it too, ’cause I guess mebbe, when all’s said and done, it was my idea. You see, when Paul’s wife died, Paul went all to pieces. He aint well now, for that matter —nowhere near as well as he looks. I’m kind of scared about Paul. He keeps getting sick turns once every so often. But when the wife died he was just clean broken up. She’d been his right hand from the start in his business here, and—I dunno—it just seemed to affect him that way. He didn’t want to go on any more without her. And as far as money was concerned he didn’t have to. Paul aint rich, but he’s mighty comfortably off. Anyway, he took the three balls down from over the door, and he took the signs off the windows, and in comes the carpenters to change things and there aint any more pawnshop.”
Hawkins for the first time smiled broadly.
“But it didn’t work out,” said Hawkins. “Paul’s got a bigger business and a more profitable one to-day than he ever had before in his life. You see, he had been at it a good many years, and he had what you might call a private connection—swells up on the Avenue, mostly ladies, but gents too, who needed money sometimes without having it printed in the papers, and they wouldn’t let Paul alone. Paul aint got a hair in his head that aint honest and fair and square and above-board—and they were the ones that knew it better than anybody else. See?”
“Yes,” said|John Bruce. “Go on, Hawkins,” he prompted quietly.
“Well,” said Hawkins, “I used to drive an old hansom cab in those days, and I used to drive Paul out on those private calls to the swell houses. And when Mrs. Paul died and Paul closed up the shop here lie kind of drew himself into his shell all round, and mostly he wouldn’t go out any more, though the swells kept telephoning and telephoning him. He’d only go to just a few people that he done business with since almost the beginning. He said he didn’t want to go around ringing people’s doorbells, and being ushered into boudoirs or anything else, and he was settling down 'to shun everybody and everything. It wasn’t good for Paul. And then a sort of crazy notion struck me, and I chewed it over and over in my mind, and finally I put it up to Paul. In the mood he was in, it just caught his fancy; and so I bought a second-hand closed car, and fitted it up like you saw, and learned to drive it— and that’s how there came to be the traveling pawnshop.
“ A FTER that, there wasn’t anything to it. It caught everybody else’s fancy as well as Paul’s, and it began to get him out of himself. The old bus, as you called it, was running all the time. Lots of the swells who really didn’t want to pawn anything took a ride and did a bit of business just for the sake of the experience, and the regular customers just went nutty over it, they were that pleased.
“And then some one_who stood in with that swell gambling joint where we picked you up must have tipped the manager off about it, and he saw where he could do a good stroke of business—make it a kind of advertisement, you know, besides doing away with any lending by the house itself, and he put up a proposition to Paul where Paul was to get all the business at regular rates, and a bit of a salary besides on account of the allnight hours he’d have to
keep sometimes. Paul said he’d do it, and turned the salary over to me; and they doped out that password about a trip to Persia to make it sound mysterious and help out the advertising end, and—well, I guess that’s all.”
John Bruce was twirling the tassel of his dressing gown again abstractedly; but now he stopped as Hawkins rose abruptly and came toward him.
“No—it aint all,” said Hawkins, a curious note almost of challenge in his voice. “You said something about Claire going to that gambling joint. It was the first time she had ever been there. That night Paul was out when they telephoned. You must be one of their big customers, ’cause they wouldn’t listen to anything but a trip to Persia right on the spot. They were so set on it that Claire said it would be all right. She sent for me. At first I wasn’t for it at all, but she said it seemed to be of such importance, and that there wasn’t anything else to do. Claire knows a bit of jewelry or a stone as well as Paul does, and I knew Claire could take care of herself; and besides, although she didn’t know it, it—it was her own father driving the car there with her.”
“Thank you, Hawkins,” said John Bruce simply; and after a moment: “It doesn’t make the love I said I had for her show up very creditably to me, does it—that I should have had any questions?"
“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said earnestly. “It would have been a wonder if you hadn’t. Anyway, you had a right to know, and it was only fair to Claire.”
CHAPTER IX The Conspirators
JOHN BRUCE fumbled in the pocket of his dressing *■* gown and produced a cigarette; but he was a long time in lighting it.
“Hawkins,” he demanded abruptly, “is Paul Veniza in the house now?”
“He’s upstairs, I think,” Hawkins answered. "Do you want him?”
“Yes—in a moment,” said John Bruce slowly. “I’ve been thinking a good deal while you were talking. I can only see things one way; and that is that the time has come when you should take your place as Claire’s father.”
The old man drew back, startled.
“Tell Claire?” he whispered. Then he shook his head miserably. “No, no! I — I haven’t earned the right. I—I can’t break my word to Paul.”
“I do not ask you to break your word to Paul. I want you to earn the right—now.”
Hawkins was still shaking his head.
“Earn it now—after all these years? How can I?”
“By promising that you won’t drink any more,” said John Bruce quietly.
Hawkins’s eyes went to the floor.
“Promise!” he said in a shamed way. “I’ve been promising that for twenty years. Paul wouldn’t believe me. I wouldn’t believe myself. I went and got drunker than I’ve been in all my life the night that dog said he was going to marry Claire, and Claire said it was true, and wouldn’t listen to anything Paul could say to her against it.”
“I would believe you,” said John Bruce gravely.
For an instant Hawkins’s face glowed, while tears came into the old blue eyes—and then he turned hurriedly and walked to the window, his back to John Bruce.
“It’s no use,” he said, with a catch in his voice. “You don’t know me. Nobody knows me would take my word for that—least of all Paul.”
“I know this,” said John Bruce steadily, “that you have never been really put to the test. The test is here now. You’d stop, and stop forever, wouldn’t you, if it meant Claire’s happiness, her future, her salvation from the horror and degradation and misery and utter hopelessness that a life with a man who was lost to every sense of decency must bring her? I would believe you if you promised under those conditions. It seems to me to be the only chance there is left to save her. It is true she believes Paul is her father and accepts him as such, and neither his influence nor his arguments will move her from her determination to marry Crang; but I think there is a chance if she is told your story, if she is brought to her own father through this very thing. I think if you are in each other’s arms at last after all these years from just that cause it might succeed where everything else failed. But this much is sure. It has a chance of success, and you owe Claire that chance. Will you take it, Hawkins? Will you promise?”
There was no answer from the window, only the shaking of the old man’s shoulders.
“Hawkins,” said John Bruce softly, “wouldn’t it be very wonderful if you saved her, and saved yourself; and wonderful, too, to know the joy of your own daughter’s love?”
THE old man turned suddenly from the window, his arms stretched out before him as though in intense yearning; and there was something almost of nobility in the gray head held high on the bent shoulders, something of greatness in the old wrinkled face that seemed to exalt the worn and shabby clothes hanging so formlessly about
“My little girl,” he said brokenly.
“Your promise, Hawkins,” said John Bruce in a low voice. “Will you promise?”
“Yes,” breathed the. old man fiercely. “l’es—so help me, God! But”—he faltered suddenly—“but Paul—” “Ask Paul to come down here,” said John Bruce. “I have something to say to both of you—more than I have already said to you. I will answer for Paul.”
The old cab driver obeyed mechanically. He crossed the room and went out. John Bruce heard him mounting the stairs. Presently he returned, followed by the tall, straight white-haired figure of Paul Veniza.
Hawkins closed the door behind them.
Paul Veniza turned sharply at the sound, and glanced gravely from one to the other. His eyebrows went up as he looked at John Bruce. John Bruce’s face was set. “What is the matter?” inquired Paul Veniza anxiously. “I want you to listen first to a little story," said John Bruce seriously—and in a few words he told Paul Veniza, as he had told Hawkins, of his love for Claire, and the events of the night that had brought him there a wounded man. “And this afternoon,” John Bruce ended, 'T asked Claire to màrry me. and she told me she was going to marry Dr. Crang.”
Paul Veniza had listened with growing anxiety, casting troubled and uncertain glances the while at Hawkins. “Yes,” he said in a low voice.
John Bruce spoke abruptly:
“Hawkins has promised he will never drink again.”
Paul Veniza, with a sudden start, stared at Hawkins, and then a sort of kindly tolerance dawned in his face.
"My poor friend!” said Paul Veniza as though he were comforting a wayward child, and went over and laid his hand affectionately on Hawkins’s arm.
“I have told Hawkins,” went on John Bruce, “that I love Claire, that I asked her to marry me; and Hawkins in turn has told me he is Claire's father, and how he brought her to you and Mrs. Veniza when she was a baby, and of the pledge he made you then. It is because I love Claire too that I feel I can speak now. You once told Hawkins how he could redeem his daughter. He wants to redeem her now. He has promised never to drink again.”
Paul Veniza’s face had whitened a little. Half in a startled, half in a troubled way, he looked once more at John Bruce and then at Hawkins.
“My poor friend!” he said again.
John Bruce’s hand on the arm of his chair clenched suddenly.
“You may perhaps feel that he should not have told me of his relationship to Claire; but it was this damnable situation with Crang that forced the issue.”
Paul Veniza left Hawkins’s side and began to pace the room in an agitated way.
“No!” he said heavily. “I do not blame Hawkins. We— we neither of us know what to do. It is a terrible, an
awful thing. He is like some loathsome creature to her, and yet in some way that I cannot discover he has’got her into his power. I have tried everything, used every argument I can with her, pleaded with her—and it has been useless.” He raised his arms suddenly above his head, partly it seemed in supplication, partly in menace. “Oh, God!” he cried out. “I, too, love her, for she has really been my daughter through all these years. But I do not quite understand.” He turned to Hawkins. “Even if you kept your promise now, my friend, what connection has that with Dr. Crang? Could that in any way prevent this marriage?”
T WAS John Bruce who answered.
“It is the last ditch,” he said evenly; “the one way you have not tried—to tell her her own and her father’s story. I do not say it will succeed. But it is the great crisis in hér life. It is the one thing in the world that ought to sway her, win her. Her father! After twenty years—her father!”
Paul Veniza’s hands, trembling, ruffled through his white hair. Hawkins’s fingers fumbled, now with the buttons of his vest, now with the brim of his hat which he had picked up aimlessly from the table; and his eyes, lifting from the floor, glanced timorously, almost furtively, at Paul Veniza, and sought the floor again.
John Bruce got up from his chair and stepped toward them.
“I want to tell you something,’ he said sharply, “that ought to put an end to any hesitation on your part at anf plan, no matter what, that offers even the slightest chane» of stopping this marriage. Listen! Devil though you both believe this Crang to be, you do not either of you even know the man for what he is. While I was lying there”— he flung out his hand impulsively toward the couch— “the safe here in this room was opened and robbed on» night. You know that. But you do not know that Î1 was done by Dr. Crang and his confederates. You know what happened. But you do not know that while the ‘burglars’ pretended to hold Crang at bay with a revolver and then made their‘escape, ’Crang, with most of the proceeds of that robbery in his own pockets, was laugh ing up his sleeve at you.”
Hawkins’s jaw had dropped, as he stared at John Bruce
“Crang did it! You—you say Crang committed that robbery?” stammered Paul. “But you were unconscious! Still you—you seem to know that the safe was robbed!”
“Apparently I do!” John Bruce laughed shortly. “Crang too thought I was unconscious, but to make sure he jabbed me with his needle. It took effect just at the right time—for Crang—just as you and Claire appeared in the doorway. And”—his brows knitted together—“it seems a little strange that none of you have ever mentioned it in my presence; that not a word has ever been said to me about it.”
Paul Veniza coughed nervously. *
“You were sick,” he said; “too sick, we thought, for an> excitement.”
Hawkins suddenly leaned forward; his wrinkled face wa» earnest.
“That is not true!” he said bluntly. “It might have beer, at first, but it wasn’t after you got better. It was mostly your money that was stolen. Claire put it there the night you came here, and—”
“Hawkins!” Paul Veniza cried out sharply in reproo
“But he knows now it’s gone,” said the old cabman * little helplessly. He blundered on: “Paul felt he was re sponsible for your money, and he was afraid you might not want to take it if you knew he had to make it up out of hb own pocket, and—”
John Bruce took a step forward, and laid his hand oi Paul Veniza’s shoulder. He stood silently, looking at tb» other.
“It is nothing!” said Paul Veniza abashed.
“Perhaps not!” said John Bruce. “But”—he turnee abruptly away, his lips tight—“it just made me think for » minute. In the life I’ve led men like you are rare.”
“We were speaking of Dr. Crang,” said Paul Veniza ■> little awkwardly. “If you know that Dr, Crang is th» thief, then that is the way out of our trouble, Instead & marrying Claire, he will be sent to prison.”
JOHN BRUCE shook his head.
“You said yourself I was unconscious at the tim« You certainly must have found me that way, and Crang would make you testify that for days I had been raving it delirium. I do not think you could convict him on my testimony.”
“But even so,” said Paul Veniza, “there is Claire. 1; she knew that Crang was a criminal, she—”
“She does know,” said John Bruce tersely.
“Claire knows!” ejaculated Paul Veniza in surpris» “You—you told her, then?”
“No,” John Bruce answered. “I said to her: ‘Suppos» I were to tell you that the man is a criminal?’ She answer ed: ‘He is a criminal.’ I said then: ‘Suppose he were sent to jail—to serve a sentence?’ She answered: T would marry him when he came out’.”
“My God!” mumbled the old cabman miserably.
“I tell you this,” said John Bruce though set teeth, and speaking directly to Paul Veniza, “because it seems to m» to be the final proof that mere argument with Claire if useless, and that something more is necessary. I do not ask you to release Hawkins from his pledge, I ask you to believe his promise this time because back of it he knows it may save Claire from what would mean worse than death to her. I believe him; I will vouch for him. Do you agree Paul Veniza?”
For an instant the white-haired pawnbroker seemed lost in thought; then he nodded his head gravely.
“In the last few days,” he said slowly, “I have felt that it was no longer my province to masquerade as her father I know that my influence is powerless. As you have said it is the crisis, a very terrible crisis, in her life.” H» turned toward Hawkins, and held out his hand. “My old friend”—his voice broke—“I pray Heaven to aid you— to aid us all.”
Hawkins’s blue eyes filled suddenly with tears.
“You believe me, too, Paul, this time!” he said in a choking voice. “Listen, Paul! I promise! So help me God—I promise!”
A lump had somehow risen in John Bruce’s throat. He turned away, and for a moment there was silence in the room. And then he heard Paul Veniza speak :
“She is dear to us all. Let us call her—unless, my old friend, you would rather be alone.”
“No, no!” Hawkins cried hurriedly. “I—I want you both; but—but not now, don’t call her now.”. He swept his hands over his shabby, ili-fitting clothes. “I—n.ot ‘ike this. I—”
“Yes,” said Paul Veniza gently, “I understand — and you are right. This evening then—at eight o’clock. You will come back here, my old friend, at eight o’clock. And do you remember, it was in this very room, twenty years ago, that—” He did not complete his sentence; the hot tears were streaming down his cheeks unashamed.
John Bruce was staring out of the window, the panes of which seemed curiously blurred.
"Come,” he heard Paul Veniza say.
And then, as the two men reached the door, John Bruce iooked around. Hawkins had turned on the threshold. Something seemed to have transfigured the old cab driver’s face. It was illumined. There seemed something of nfinite pathos in the head held high, in the drooped shoulders resolutely squared.
“My little girl!” said Hawkins tenderly. “To-night at eight o’clock—my little girl!”
At Five Minutes to Eight
BEFORE the rickety washstancl and in front of the cracked glass that served as a mirror and was suspended 'rom a nail driven into the wall, Hawkins was shaving himself. Perhaps the light from the wheezing gas-jet was over-bad that evening or perhaps it was only in playful and facetious mood with the mirror acting the rôle of coconspirator; Hawkins’s chin smarted and was raw, little ipecks of red showed here and there through the repeated coats of lather which he kept scraping off with his razor. But Hawkins appeared willing to sacrifice even the skin itself to obtain the standard of smoothness which he had evidently set before himself as his goal. And so over and over again he applied the lather, and hoed it off, and tested the result by rubbing thumb and forefinger critically over his face. He made no grimace, nor did he show any irritation at the none-too-keen blade that played havoc with more than the lather, nor did he wince at what must at times have been anything but a painless operation.
Hawkins’s round, weather beaten face and old watery blue eyes smiled into the mirror.
On the washstand beside him lay a large, ungainly silver watch, its case worn smooth with years of service. It had a hunting case, and it was open. Hawkins glanced at it. It was twenty minutes to eight.
“I got to hurry,” said Hawkins happily. “Just twenty minutes—after twenty years.”
Hawkins laid aside the razor, and washed and scrubbed at his face until it shone; then he went to his trunk and opened it..
From underneath the tray he lifted out an old black suit. Perhaps again it. was the gas-jet in either baleful or facetious mood, for as he put on the suit the cloth in spots seemed to possess, here a rusty and there a greenish tinge, and elsewhere to be woefully shiny. Also, but of th’is the gas-jet could not have been held guilty, the coat and trousers, and indeed the waistcoat, were undeniably wrinkled.
And now there seemed to be something peculiarly congruous as between the feeble gas-jet, the cracked mirror, the wobbly washstand, the threadbare strip of carpet that lay beside the iron bed, and the old bent-shouldered figure with wrinkled face in wrinkled finery that stood there knotting with anxious, awkward fingers a large, frayed, black cravat about his neck; there seemed to be something strikingly in keeping between the man and his surround;n~s, a sort of common intimacy,
as it were, with the twilight of an existence that, indeed, had never known the full sunlight of high noon.
It was ten minutes to eight.
HAWKINS put the silver watch in his pocket, extinguished the spluttering gas-jet, that hissed at him as though in protest at the scant ceremony with which it was treated, and went down the stairs. He stepped briskly out on the street.
“Claire!” said Hawkins radiantly. “My little Claire! I’m her daddy, and she’s going to know it. I’m going to get her to call me that—daddy!”
Hawkins walked on halfway along the block, erect, with a quick, firm step, his head high, smiling into every face he met—and turning to smile again, conscious that people as they passed had turned to look back at him. And then very gradually Hawkins’s pace slackened and into his face and eyes there came a dawning anxiety, and the smile was
“I’m kind of forgetting,” said Hawkins presently to himself, “that it aint just that I’m getting my little girl. I—I’m kind of forgetting her trouble. There—there’s
The old man’s face was furrowed now deep with storm and care; he walked still more slowly. He began to mutter to himself. At the corner of the street he raised an old gnarled fist and shook it, clenched, above his head, unconscious and oblivious now that people still turned and looked at him.
And then a little way ahead of him along the street that he must go to reach the one-time pawnshop of Paul Veniza, his eyes caught the patch of light that filtered out to the sidewalk from under the swinging doors of the familiar saloon, and from the windows in a more brilliant flood. Hawkins drew in a long breath.
“No, no!” he whispered fiercely. “I will never go in there again—so help me, God! If I did—and—and she knew it was her daddy, it would just break her heart like —like Crang’ll break it.”
He went on, but his footsteps seemed to drag the more now as he approached the saloon; His hand as he raised it
trembled; and as he brushed it across his brow it came away wet with sweat.
The saloon was just a yard away from him now. There was a strange, feverish glitter in his blue eyes. His face was chalky white.
“So help me, God!” Hawkins mumbled hoarsely.
It was five minutes of eight.
Hawkins had halted in front of the swinging door.
PAUL VENIZA, pacing restlessly about the room glanced surreptitiously at his watch, and then glanced anxiously at John Bruce.
John Bruce in turn stole a look at Claire. His lips tightened a little. Since she had been told nothing, she was quite unconscious, of course, that it mattered at all because it was already long after eight o’clock; that Hawkins in particular, or any one else in general, was expected to join the little evening circle here in what he John Bruce, had by now almost come to call his room. His forehead gathered in a frown. What was it that was keeping Hawkins?
Claire’s face was full in the light, and as she sat there at the table, busy with some sewing, it seemed to John Bruce that, due perhaps to the prospect of what he now knew, he detected a weariness in her eyes and in sharp lines around her mouth, that he had not noticed before. It was Crang, of course; but perhaps he too—what he had said to her that afternoon—his love—had not made it any easier for her.
Paul Veniza continued his restless pacing about the
"Father, do sit down!” said Claire suddenly. “What makes you so nervous to-night? Is anything the matter?” “The matter? No! No, no; of course not!” said Paul Veniza hurriedly.
“But I’m sure there is,” said Claire, with a positive little nod of her head. “With both of you, for that matter. Mr. Bruce has done nothing but fidget with the tassel of that dressing gown for the last half hour.”
John Bruce let the tassel fall as though it had suddenly burned his fingers. • “I? Not at all!” he denied stoutly.
“Oh, dear!’’ sighed Claire, with mock plaintiveness. “What bores you two men are, then! I wish I could send out—what do you call it?—a thought wave, and inspire some one and most of all Hawkins, to come over here this evening. He, at least, is never deadly dull.”
Neither of the two men spoke.
“You don’t know Hawkins, do you, Mr. Bruce?” Claire went on. She was smiling now as she looked at John Bruce. “I mean really know him, of course. He’s a dear, quaint, lovable soul, and I’m so fond
“I’m sure he is,” said John Bruce heartily. “Even from the little I’ve seen of him I’d trust him with—well, you know”— John Bruce coughed as his words stumbled—“I mean I'd take his word for any-
“Of course, you would!” asserted Claire. “You couldn’t think of doing anything else—nobody could. He’s just as honest as—as—well, as father there, and I don’t know any one more honest.” She smiled at Paul Veniza, and then her face grew very earnest. “I’m going to tell you something about Hawkins, and something that even you never knew, father. Ever since I was
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Continued from page 27
old enough to remember any one, I remember Hawkins. And when I got old enough to understand at all, though I could never get him to talk about it, I knew his life wasn’t a very happy one, and perhaps I loved him all the more for that reason. Hawkins used to drink a great deal. Everybody knew it. I—I never felt I had the right to speak to him about it, though it made me feel terribly, until—until mother
CLAIRE had dropped her sewing in her lap, and now she picked it up again and fumbled with it nervously.
“I spoke to him then,” she said in a low voice. “I told him how much you needed him, father; and how glad and happy it would make me. And—and I remember so well his words: ‘I promise, Claire. I promise, so help me, God, that I will never drink another drop’.” Claire looked up, her face aglow. “And I know, no matter what anybody says, that from that day to this, he never has.”
Paul Veniza, motionless now in the cen ter of the room, was staring at her in a sort of numbed fascination.
John Bruce was staring at the door. He had heard, he thought, a step in the outer room.
The door opened.
Hawkins stood there. He plucked at his frayed, black cravat, which was awry. He lurched against the jamb, and in groping unsteadily for support his hat fell from his other hand and rolled across the floor. Hawkins reeled into the room.
“Good—hie—good even’,” said Hawkins thickly.
Claire alone moved. She rose to her feet, but as though her weight were too heavy for her limbs. Her lips quivered;
“Oh, Hawkins!” she cried out pitifully —and burst into tears, and ran from the
It seemed to John Bruce that for a moment the room swirled around before his eyes; and then over him swept an uncontrollable desire to get his hands upon this maudlin, lurching creature. Rage, disgust, a bitter resentment, a mad hunger for reprisal possessed him; Claire’s future, her faith which she had but a moment gone so proudly vaunted were all shattered, swept to the winds, by this seedy, dissolute wreck. Her father! No, her shame! Thank God she did not know!
“You drunken beast!” he gritted in merciless fury, and stepped suddenly for-
But halfway across the room he halted as though turned to stone. Hawkins wasn’t lurching any more. Hawkins had turned and closed the door; and Hawkins now, with his face white and drawn, a look in his old blue eyes that mingled agony and an utter hopelessness, sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
It was Paul Veniza who moved now. He
went and stood behind the old cabman. Hawkins looked up.
“ Y ou are sober. What does this mean?” Paul Veniza asked heavily.
Hawkins shook his head.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said in a broken voice. “And—and I’ve settled it once for all now. I got to thinking as I came along to-night, and I found out that it wasn’t any good for me to swear I wasn’t going to touch anything any more. I’m afraid of myself. I—I came near going into the saloon. It—it taught me something, that did; because the only way I could get by was to promise myself I’d go back there after I’d been here.”
HAWKINS paused. A flush dyed hi* cheeks. He turned around and looked at Paul Veniza again, and then at Bruce.
“You don’t understand—neither of you understand. Once I promised Claire that I’d stop and—and until just now she believed me. And I’ve hurt her. But I aint broken her heart. It was only old Haw kins, just Hawkins, who promised her then ; it would have been her father who promised her to-night, and—and it aint any good, I’d have broken that promise, I know it now—and she aint ever going to share that shame.”
Hawkins brushed his hands across hi*
“Ánd then,” he went on, a sudden fierceness in his voice, “suppose she’d had that on top of Crang, ’cause it aint sure that knowing who I am would have saved her from him! Oh, my God, she’d better be dead! I rather see her dead. You’re wrong, John Bruce! I-t wasn’t that way. You meant right, and God bless you; but it wasn’t the way. I saw it all so clearly after—after I’d got past that saloon; and —and then it was all right for me to promise myself that I’d go back. It wouldn’t hurt her none then.”
John Bruce cleared his throat.
“I don’t quite understand what you mean by that, Hawkins,” he said a little huskily.
“I dressed up all for this,” said ¡Hawkins, with a wan smile; “but something’* snapped here—inside here.” His hand felt a little aimlessly over his heart. “I know now that I aint ever going to be worthy: and I know now that she aint ever to know that I—that I—I’m her old daddy And so I—I’ve fixed it just now like you saw so there aint no going back on it. - But I aint throwing my little girl down. ' It aint Claire that’s got to be made change her mind—it’s Crang." He raised a clenched fist. “And Crang’s going to change it! I can swear to that and know I’ll keep it, so—so help me, God! And when she’s rid of him, she aint going tt have no shame and sorrow from me.’ “Yes,” said John Bruce mechanically “I’m going now,” said Hawkins.
To be Continued