HAWKINS very cautiously got out of bed, and consulted his watch. It was five minutes after nine. He stole to the door and listened. There was no sound from below. Mrs. Hedges, who had been his jailor all day, had now, he was fairly certain, finally retired for the night.

The old blue eyes blinked in perplexity and he scratched at the fringe of hair behind his ear in a perturbed way, as he began, still cautiously, to dress. It had been a very dreary day, during which he had suffered not a little physical discomfort. Mrs. Hedges had been assiduous in her attentions; more than that, even—motherly.

“God bless her!” said Hawkins to one of his boots, as he laced it up. “Only she wouldn't let me out.”

He stopped lacing the boot suddenly, and sat staring in front of him. Mrs. Hedges had been more than even motherly; she had been—been—yes, that was it—been puzzling. If she had said Paul Veniza wanted to see him, why had she insisted that Paul Veniza didn't want to see him? Hawkins' gaze at the blank wall in front of him became a little more bewildered. He tried to reconstruct certain fragments of conversation that had taken place between Mrs. Hedges and himself.

“Now, you just lie still,” Mrs. Hedges had insisted during the afternoon, when he had wanted to get up. “Claire told me——”

He remembered the sinking of his heart as he had interrupted her.

“Claire,” he had said anxiously, “Claire ain't—she don't know about this, does she?”

“Certainly not!” Mrs. Hedges had assured him.

“But you said she told you something”—Hawkins continued to reconstruct the conversation—“so she must have been here.”

“Law!” Mrs. Hedges had returned. “I nearly put my foot in it, didn't I—I—I mean starting you in to worry. Certainly she don't know anything about it. She just came over to say her father wanted to see you, and I says to her you ain't feeling very well, and she says it's all right.”

Hawkins resumed his dressing. His mind continued to mull over the afternoon. Later on he had made another attempt to get up. He was feeling quite well enough to go over and find out what Paul Veniza wanted. And then Mrs. Hedges, as though she had quite forgotten what she had said before, said that Paul Veniza didn't want to see him, or else he'd send word.

Hawkins scratched behind his ear again. His head wasn't quite clear. Maybe he had not got it all quite straight. Suddenly he smiled. Of course! There wasn't anything to be bewildered about. Mrs. Hedges was just simply determined that he would not go out—and he was equally determined that he would. Paul Veniza or not, he had been long enough in bed!

“Yes,” said Hawkins; “God bless her, that's it!”

Hawkins completed his toilet, and picking up his old felt hat, reconnoitered the hallway. Thereafter he descended the stairs with amazing stealth.

“God bless her!” said Hawkins softly again, as he gained the front door without raising any alarm and stepped outside—and then Hawkins halted as though his feet had been suddenly rooted to the spot.

At the curb in front of the house was an old closed motor car. Hawkins stared at it. Then he rubbed his eyes. Then he stared at it again. He stared for a long time. No; there was no doubt about it—it was the traveling pawn-shop.

Hawkins' mind harked back to the preceding evening. He had met two men in the saloon around the corner, whom he had seen there once or twice before. He had had several drinks with them, and then at some one's suggestion, he could not recollect whose, there had followed the purchase of a few bottles, and an adjournment to his room for a convivial evening. After that his mind was quite blank. He could not even remember having taken out the car.

“I—I must have been bad,” said Hawkins to himself, with a rueful countenance.

He descended the steps, and approached the car with the intention of running it into the shed that served as garage behind the house. But again he halted.

“No,” said Hawkins, with a furtive glance over his shoulder at the front door; “if I started it up, Mrs. Hedges would hear me. I guess I'll wait till I come back.”

Hawkins went on down the street and turned the corner. He had grown a little dejected.

“I'm just an old bum,” said Hawkins, “who ain't ever going to swear off any more 'cause it don't do any good.”

He spoke aloud to himself again, as he approached the door of Paul Veniza's house.

“But I am her daddy,” whispered the old man fiercely; “and she is my little girl. It don't change nothing her not knowing, except—except she ain't hiding her face in shame, and”—Hawkins' voice broke a little—“and that I ain't never had her in these arms like I'd ought to have.” A gleam of anger came suddenly into the watery blue eyes under the shaggy brows. “But he ain't going to have her in his! That devil from the pit of hell ain't going to kill the soul of my little girl—somehow he ain't—that's all I got to live for—old Hawkins—ha, ha!—somehow old Haw-kins 'll——”

Hawkins' soliloquy ended abruptly. He was startled to find himself in the act of opening the front door of the one-time pawn-shop. He even hesitated, holding the door ajar—and then suddenly he pushed the door wider open and stepped softly inside, as the sound of a voice, angry and threatening in its tones, though strangely low and muffled, reached him. He knew that voice. It was Doctor Crang's.

It was dark here in the room that had once been the office of the pawn-shop, and upon which the front door opened directly; but from under the door leading into the rear room there showed a thread of light, and it was from there that Hawkins now placed the voice.

He stood irresolute. He stared around him. Upstairs it was dark. Paul Veniza, because he had not been well, had probably gone to bed early—unless it was Paul in there with Crang. No! He caught the sound of Claire's voice now, and it seemed to come to him brokenly, in a strangely tired, dreary way. And then Crang's voice again, and an ugly laugh.

The wrinkled skin of Hawkins' old weather-beaten hands grew taut and white across the knuckles as his fists clenched. He tiptoed toward the door. He could hear distinctly now. It was Crang speaking:

“... I'm not a fool! I did not speak about it to make you lie again. I don't care where you met him, or how long you had been lovers before he crawled in here. That's nothing to do with it. It's enough that I know you were lovers before that night. But you belong to me now. Understand? I spoke of it because the sooner you realize that you are the one who is the cause of the trouble between Bruce and me, the better—for him! I wasn't crowding you before, but I'm through fooling with it now for keeps. I let you go too long as it is. To-day, for just a little while, he won out—yes, by God, if you want the truth, he nearly killed me. He got me tied in a cabin of a ship that sailed this afternoon for South America; but the engines broke down in the harbor, and, damn him, I'm back! You know what for. I've told you. There's one way to save him. I've told you what that is, too. I'm waiting for your answer.”

“Why should it be me?” Claire's voice was dull and colorless. “Why cannot you leave me alone—I, who hate and loathe you? Do you look for happiness with me? There will be none.”

“Why should it be you?” Crang's voice was suddenly hoarse with passion. “Because you have set my brain on fire, because you have filled me with a madness that would mock God Himself if He stood between us. Do you understand—Claire? Claire! Do you understand? Because I want you, because I'm going to have you, because I'm going to own you—yes, own you, one way or another—by marriage, or——”

A low cry came from Claire. It tore at Hawkins' heart in its bitter shame and anguish. His face blanched.

“Well, you asked for it, and you got it!” Crang snarled. “Now, I'm waiting for your answer.”

There was a long pause, then Claire spoke with an obvious effort to steady her voice:

“Have I got to buy him twice?”

“You haven't bought him once yet,” Crang answered swiftly. “I performed my part of the bargain. I haven't been paid.”

And Hawkins, standing there, listening, heard nothing for a long time; and then he distinguished Claire's voice, but it was so low that he could not catch the words. But he heard Crang's reply because it was loud with what seemed like passionate savagery and triumph:

“You're wise, my dear! At eight o'clock to-morrow morning, then. And since Mr. John Bruce's skin is involved in this, you quite understand that he is not to be communicated with in any way?”

“I understand.” Hawkins this time caught the almost inaudible reply.

“All right!” Crang said. “There's a padre I know, who's down on Staten Island now. We'll go down there and be married without any fuss. I'll be here at eight o'clock. Your father isn't fit to ride in that rattle-trap old bus of yours. I'll have a comfortable limousine for him, and you can go with him. Hawkins can drive me, and”—he was laughing softly—“and be my best man. I'll see that he knows about it in time to——”

Like a blind man, Hawkins was groping his way toward the front door. Married! They were to be married to-morrow morning!

He found himself on the street. He hurried. Impulse drove him along. He did not reason. His mind was a tortured thing. And yet he laughed as he scurried around the corner, laughed in an unhinged way, and raised both hands above his head and pounded at the air with his doubled fists. They were to be married to-morrow morning, and he—he was to be best man. And as he laughed, his once ruddy, weather-beaten face was white as a winding-sheet, and in the whiteness there was stamped a look that it was good on no man's face to see.

And then suddenly two great tears rolled down his cheeks, opening the flood gates of his soul.

“My little girl!” he sobbed. “Daddy's little girl!”

And reason and a strange calmness came.

“John Bruce,” he said. “He loves her too.”

And in front of Mrs. Hedges' rooming-house he climbed into the driver's seat of the old traveling pawn-shop.

It didn't matter now how much noise he made.

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