HAWKINS sat at the table in his room, and twined and twined one old storm-beaten hand over the other. For hours he had sat like that. It was light in the room now, for it was long after seven o'clock. His bed had not been slept in. He was dressed in his shiny best suit; he wore his frayed black cravat. He had been dressed like that since midnight; since he had returned home after Claire had fled into her house, and John Bruce had strode by him on the sidewalk with set, stony face and unseeing eyes; since, on reaching his room here, he had found a note whose signature was false because it read “Paul Veniza,” when he knew that it came from Crang. Crang was taking precautions that his return should not leak out! The note only corroborated what he had heard through the door. He was to be at Paul Veniza's at eight o'clock with the traveling pawn-shop..

The note had said nothing about any marriage; but, then, he knew! He was to be the best man. And so he had dressed himself. After that he had waited. He was waiting now.

“The first,” said Hawkins, with grave confidence to the cracked mirror. “Yes, that's it—the first in line, because I am her old father, and there ain't nothing can change that.”

His own voice seemed to arouse him. He stared around the shabby room that was his home, his eyes lingering with strange wistfulness on each old battered, and long familiar object—and then suddenly, with a choking cry, his head went down, buried in his arms outflung across the table.

“Pawned!” the old man cried brokenly. “It's twenty years ago, I pawned her—twenty years ago. And it's come to this because—because I ain't never redeemed her—but, oh God, I love her—I love my little girl—and—and she ain't never going to know how much.”

His voice died away. In its place the asthmatic gas-jet spat venomous defiance at the daylight that was so contumaciously deriding its puny flame.

And after a little while, Hawkins raised his head. He looked at his watch.

“It's time to go,” said Hawkins—and cleared his throat.

Hawkins picked up his hat and brushed it carefully with his coat sleeve; his shoulders, and such of his attire as he could reach, he brushed with his hands; he readjusted his frayed black cravat before the cracked mirror.

“I'm the best man,” said Hawkins.

Oblivious to the chattering gas-jet, he descended the stairs, and went out to the shed in the rear that housed the traveling pawn-shop.

“The first in line,” said the old cab driver, as he climbed into the seat.

Five minutes later, he drew up in front of the onetime pawn-shop. He consulted his watch as he got down from his seat and entered the house. It was twenty-five minutes of eight.

He twisted his hat awkwardly in his hands, as he entered the rear room. He felt a sudden, wild rush of hope spring up within him because there was no sign of Crang. And then the hope died. He was early; and, besides, Claire had her hat on and was dressed to go out. Paul Veniza, also dressed, lay on the cot.

No one spoke.

Then Paul Veniza's frame was racked with a fit of coughing, and out of a face ashen in pallor his eyes met Hawkins' in silent agony—and then he turned his head away.

Hawkins twisted at his hat.

“I came a little early;” he said wistfully, “because I thought mabbe you might—that mabbe there might be some change—that mabbe you might not——”

He stopped. He was looking at Claire. Her face was very white too. Her smile seemed to cut at his heart like a knife.

“No, Hawkins,” she said in a low voice; “there is no change. We are going to Staten Island. You will drive Doctor Crang. There is a limousine coming for father and me, that will be more comfortable for father.”

Hawkins' eyes went to the floor.

“I—I didn't mean that kind of a change,” he said.

“I know you didn't, Hawkins. But—but I am trying to be practical.” Her voice broke a little in spite of herself. “Doctor Crang doesn't know that you overheard anything last night, or that you know anything about the arrangements, so—so I am explaining them to you now.”

Hawkins' eyes were still on the floor.

“Ain't there nothing”—his voice was thick and husky—“ain't there nothing in all the world that any of us can do to make you change your mind? Claire, ain't there nothing, nothing at all? John Bruce said there wasn't, and you love John Bruce, but——”

“Don't, Hawkins!” she cried out pitifully.

The old shoulders came slowly up, and the old head; and the old blue eyes were of a sudden strangely flints like.

“I've got to know,” said Hawkins, in a dead, stubborn way.

“There is nothing,” she answered.

Hawkins' eyes reverted to the floor. He spoke now without lifting them.

“Then—then it's—it's like saying good-by,” he said, and the broken note was back again in his voice. “It's—it's so many years that mabbe you've forgotten, but when you were a little girl, and before you grew up, and—and were too big for that, I—I used to hold you in my arms, and you used to put your little arms around my neck, and kiss me, and—and you used to say that—Hawkins would never let the bugaboos get you, and—and I wonder if—if——”

“Oh, Hawkins!” Claire's eyes were full of tears. “I remember. Dear, dear Hawkins! And I used to call you Daddy Hawkins. Do you remember?”

A tear found a furrow and trickled down the old weather-beaten face unchecked, as Hawkins raised his head.

“Claire! Claire!” His voice trembled in its yearning. “Will—will you say that again, Claire?”

“Dear Daddy Hawkins,” she whispered.

His arms stretched out to her, and she came to them smiling through her tears.

“You've been so good to me,” she whispered again. “You are so good to me—dear, dear Daddy Hawkins.”

A wondrous light was in the old cabman's face. He held the slight form to him, trying to be so tenderly careful that he should not hurt her in his strength. He kissed her, and patted her head, and his fingers lingered as they smoothed the hair back from where it made a tiny curl about her ear.

And then he felt her drawing him toward the couch—and he became conscious that Paul Veniza was holding out his hands to them both.

And Claire knelt at the side of the couch and took one of Paul Veniza's hands, and Hawkins took the other. And no one of them looked into the other's face.

The outer door opened, and Doctor Crang came in. He stood for an instant surveying the scene, a half angry, half sarcastic smile spreading over his sallow face, and then he shrugged his shoulders.

“Ah, you're here, like me, ahead of time, Hawkins, I see!” he said shortly. “You're going to drive me to Staten Island where——”

Claire rose to her feet.

“I have told Hawkins,” she said quietly.

Hawkins' hand tightened over Paul Veniza's for a moment, and then he turned away.

“I—I'll wait outside,” said Hawkins—and brushed has hand across his eyes as he went through the doorway.

Paul Veniza was racked with a sudden fit of coughing again. Doctor Crang walked quickly to the couch and looked at the other sharply. After a moment he turned to Claire.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked crisply.

“Yes; I am ready,” she answered steadily.

“Very well, then,” said Crang, “you had better go out and get into the old bus. You can go with Hawkins and me.”

“But”—Claire looked in a bewildered way at Paul Veniza—“but you said——”

“I know I did,” Crang interrupted brusquely, “but we're all here a little early and there's lots of time to countermand the other car.” He indicated Paul Veniza with a jerk of his head. “He's far from as well as he was last night. At least you'll admit that I'm a good doctor, and when I tell you he is not fit to go this morning that ought to be enough for both of you. I'll phone and tell them not to send the limousine.”

Still Claire hesitated. Paul Veniza had closed his eyes.

Crang shrugged his shoulders.

“You can do as you like, but I don't imagine”—a snarl crept into his voice—“that it will give him any joy to witness the ceremony, or you to have him. Suit yourselves; but I won't answer for the consequences.”

“I'll go,” said Claire simply—and as Paul Veniza lifted himself up suddenly in protest, she forced him gently back upon the couch again. “It's better that way,” she said, and for a moment talked to him in low, earnest tones, then kissed him, and rose, and walked out from the room.

Crang, with a grunt of approval, started toward the telephone.

“Wait!” Paul Veniza had raised himself on his elbow.

Crang turned and faced the other with darkened face.

“It is not too late even now at the last moment!” Paul Veniza's face was drawn with agony. “I know you for what you are, and in the name of God I charge you not to do this thing. It is foul and loathsome, the basest passion—and whatever crimes lay at your door, even if murder be among them, no one of them is comparable with this, for you do more than take a human life, you desecrate a soul pure as the day God gave it life, and——”

The red surged into Crang's face, and changed to mottled purple.

“Damn you!” he flung out hoarsely. “Hold your cackling tongue! This is my wedding morning—understand?” He laughed out raucously. “My wedding morning—and I'm in a hurry!”

Paul Veniza raised himself a little higher. White his face was—white as death.

“Then God have mercy on your soul!” he cried.

And Crang stared for a moment, then turned on his heel—and laughed.

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