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 tone.

“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 pawn-shop 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 brusquely. “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 Doctor 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' voice rose abruptly, peremptorily. He advanced again threateningly oft John Bruce. “Don't you dare to 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——”

“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 said 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 ain't going to marry that devil! You understand?” His voice was rising in a curious cracked shrillness. “She ain't! 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 ain't 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, had 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' face was full of misery, and the old blue eyes were brimming with tears.

“It—it ain't easy”—Hawkins' voice quavered—“to say—what I got to say. There ain't 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 ain't 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 ain't 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!”

John Bruce was smiling with both lips and eyes into the other's face. He felt a tremor pass through the old man's frame; he saw a momentary flash of joy and pride light up the wrinkled, weather-beaten face—and then Hawkins turned his head away.

“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 than you've any idea you are.”

“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 traveling pawn-shop now that Paul's quit the regular shop. That's what I am—just old 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 pawn-shop. 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 ain't bad, is it?” he said with interest. “I'm kind of proud of it too, 'cause I guess mabbe, when all's said and done, it was my idea. You see, when Paul's wife died, Paul went all to pieces. He ain't 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 ain't 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 around here, and there ain't any more pawn-shop.”

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 ain't got a hair in his head that ain't 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.

“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 then when Mrs. Paul died and Paul closed up the shop here he 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'd 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 anywhere 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 pawn-shop.

“After 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 all-night 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 pass word 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 ain't 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 old 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?”

Hawkins shook his head.

“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.”

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