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 animation.

It was very strange. It wasn't life—not life as he had ever known it. Perhaps it was death. He did not understand.

He tried to think. He was conscious that his mind for some long indeterminate period had been occupied with the repetition of queer, vague, broken snatches of things, fantastic things born of illusions, brain fancies, cobwebby, intangible, which had no meaning, and were without beginning or end. There was a white beach, very white, and a full round moon, and the moon winked knowingly while he whittled with a huge jack-knife at a quill toothpick. And then there was a great chasm of blackness which separated the beach from some other place that seemed to have nothing to identify it except this black chasm which was the passageway to it; and here a man's face, a face that was sinister in its expression, and both repulsive and unhealthy in its color, was constantly bending over him, and the man's head was always in the same posture—cocked a little to one side, as though listening intently and straining to hear something. And then, in the same place, but less frequently, there was another face—and this seemed to bring with it always a shaft of warm, bright sunlight that dispelled the abominable gloom, and before which the first face vanished—a beautiful, the wondrously beautiful, face of a girl, one that he had seen somewhere before, that was haunting in its familiarity and for which it seemed he had always known a great yearning, but which plagued him miserably because there seemed to be some unseen barrier between them, and because he could not recognize her, and she could not speak and tell him who she was.

John Bruce opened his eyes again. Dimly, faintly, his mind seemed to be grasping coherent realities. He began to remember fragments of the past, but it was very hard to piece those fragments together into a concrete whole. That white beach—yes, he remembered that. And the quill toothpick. Only the huge jack-knife was absurd! It was at Apia with Larmon. But he was in a room somewhere now, and lying on a cot of some sort. And it was night. How had he come here?

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 pawn-shop, 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 pockmarked and forbidding countenance. He was panting from his 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? Ain't he ever comin' 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!”

The 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. Ain't I right, Pete?”

The third man was lounging against the wall, his back still turned to John Bruce.

“Sure,” he said; “but I guess you can leave it to Doc. A guy that's been pawin' the air for two days ain't likely to butt in much all of a sudden.”

The man with the hypodermic, in the act of replacing the syringe in his 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 banknotes 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 rose 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 upstairs, 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 at 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 drowsiness and apathy creeping upon him. He tried to rouse himself. He ought to do something. 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, white-haired 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 pawn-shop, 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....

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