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' 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' 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 that 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 is 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 him.

“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. “Yes—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, “I asked Claire to marry me, and she told me she was going to marry Doctor 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' 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' 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. Crang 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 Doctor Crang? Could that in any way prevent this marriage?”

It 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 her 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' fingers fumbled, now with the buttons on 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 parts at any plan, no matter what, that offers even the slightest chance 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 one night. You know that. But you do not know that it was done by Doctor 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 laughing up his sleeve at you.”

Hawkins' jaw had dropped as he stared at John Bruce.

“Crang did it! You—you say Crang committed that robbery?” stammered Paul Veniza. “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 any excitement.”

Hawkins suddenly leaned forward; his wrinkled face was earnest.

“That is not true!” he said bluntly. “It might have been 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 called out sharply in reproof.

“But he knows now it's gone,” said the old cabman a little helplessly. He blundered on: “Paul felt he was responsible 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 his own pocket, and——”

John Bruce took a step forward, and laid his hand on Paul Veniza's shoulder. He stood silently, looking at the other.

“It is nothing!” said Paul Veniza, abashed.

“Perhaps not!” said John Bruce. “But”—he turned abruptly away, his lips tight—“it just made me think for a minute. In the life I've led men like you are rare.”

“We were speaking of Doctor Crang,” said Paul Veniza a little awkwardly. “If you know that Doctor Crang is the thief, then that is the way out of our trouble. Instead of marrying Claire, he will be sent to prison.”

John Bruce shook his head.

“You said yourself I was unconscious at the time. You certainly must have found me that way, and Crang would make you testify that for days I had been raving in delirium. I do not think you could convict him on my testimony.”

“But even so,” said Paul Veniza, “there is Claire. If she knew that Crang was a criminal, she——”

“She does know,” said John Bruce tersely.

“Claire knows!” ejaculated Paul Veniza in surprise. “You—you told her, then?”

“No,” John Bruce answered. “I said to her: 'Suppose I were to tell you that the man is a criminal?' She answered: 'He is a criminal.' I said then: 'Suppose he were sent to jail—to serve a sentence?' She answered: 'I would marry him when he came out.'”

“My God!” mumbled the old cabman miserably.

“I tell you this,” said John Bruce through set teeth, and speaking directly to Paul Veniza, “because it seems to me to be the final proof that mere argument with Claire is 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.” He 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' 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, ill-fitting clothes. “I—not like 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 unashamed down his cheeks.

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 looked 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 infinite 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!”

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