FOR a long time John Bruce stared at the closed door; first a little helplessly because the bottom seemed quite to have dropped out of things, and then with set face as the old cabman's words came back to him: “Crang—not Claire.” And at this, a sort of merciless joy crept into his eyes, and he nodded his head in savage satisfaction. Yes, Hawkins had been right in that respect, and—well, it would be easier to deal with Crang!

And then suddenly John Bruce's face softened. Hawkins! He remembered the fury with which the old man had inspired him as the other had reeled into the room, and Clare, hurt and miserable, had risen from her chair. But he remembered Hawkins in a different way now. It was Hawkins, not Claire, who had been hurt. The shabby old figure standing there had paid a price, and as he believed for Claire's sake, that had put beyond his reach forever what must have meant, what did mean, all that he cherished most in life.

John Bruce smiled a little wistfully. Somehow he envied Hawkins, so pitifully unstable and so weak—his strength!

He shook his head in a puzzled way. His thoughts led him on. What a strange, almost incomprehensible, little world it was into which fate, if one wished to call it fate, had flung him! It was an alien world to him. His own life of the past rose up in contrast with it—> not of his own volition, but because the comparison seemed to insist on thrusting itself upon him.

He had never before met men like Hawkins and Paul Veniza. He had met drunkards and pawnbrokers. Very many of them! He had lived his life, or, rather, impoverished it with a spendthrift hand, among just such classes—but he was conscious that it would never have been the poorer for an intimacy with either Hawkins or Paul Veniza.

John Bruce raised his head abruptly. The front door had opened. A moment later a footstep sounded in the outer room, and then upon the stairs. That would be Paul Veniza returning of course, though he hadn't been gone very long; or was it that he, John Bruce, had been sitting here staring at that closed door for a far longer period than he had imagined?

He shrugged his shoulders, dismissing the interruption from his mind, and again the wistful smile flickered on his lips.

So that was why nothing had been said in his hearing about the robbery! Queer people—with their traveling pawn-shop, which was bizarre; and their standards of honesty, and their unaffected hospitality which verged on the bizarre too, because their genuineness and simplicity were so unostentatious—and so rare. And somehow, suddenly, as he sat there with his chin cupped now in his hands, he was not proud of this contrast—himself on the one hand, a drunkard and a pawnbroker on the other!

And then John Bruce raised his head again, sharply this time, almost in a startled way. Was that a cry—in a woman's voice? It was muffled by the closed door, and it was perhaps therefore his imagination; but it——

He was on his feet. It had come again. No door could have shut it out from his ears. It was from Claire upstairs, and the cry seemed most curiously to mingle terror and a passionate anger. He ran across the room and threw the door open. It was strange! It would be Paul Veniza in a new rôle, if the gentle, white-haired old pawnbroker could inspire terror in any one!

A rasping, jeering oath—in a man's voice this time—reached him. John Bruce, a sudden fury whipping his blood into lire, found himself stumbling up the stairs. It wasn't Veniza! His mind seemed to convert that phrase into a sing-song refrain: “It wasn't Veniza! It wasn't Veniza!”

Claire's voice came to him distinctly now, and there was the same terror in it, the same passionate anger that he had distinguished in her cry:

“Keep away from me! I loathe you! It is men like you that prompt a woman to murder! But—but instead, I have prayed God with all my soul to let me die before——” Her voice ended in a sharp cry, a scuffle of feet.

It was Crang in there! John Bruce, now almost at the top of the stairs, was unconscious that he was panting heavily from his exertions, unconscious of everything save a new refrain that had taken possession of his mind: “It was Crang in there! It was Crang in there!”

It was the door just at the right of the landing.

Crang's voice came from there; and the voice was high, like the squeal of an enraged animal:

“You're mine! I've got a right to those red lips, you vixen, and I'm going to have them! A man's got the right to take the girl he's going to marry in his arms! Do you think I'm going to be held off forever? You're mine, and——”

The words were lost again in a cry from Claire, and in the sound of a struggle—a falling chair, the scuffle once more of feet.

John Bruce flung himself across the hall and against the door, It yielded without resistance, and the impetus of his own rush carried him, staggering, far into the room. Two forms were circling there under the gas light as though in the throes of some mad dance—only the face of the woman was deathly white, and her small clenched fists beat frantically at the face of the man whose arms were around her. John Bruce sprang forward. He laughed aloud, unnaturally. His brain, his mind, was whirling; but something soft was grasped in his two encircling hands, and that was why he laughed—because his soul laughed. His fingers pressed tighter. It was Crang's throat that was soft under his fingers.

Suddenly the room swirled around him. A giddiness seemed to seize upon him—and that soft thing in his grip slipped from his fingers and escaped him. He brushed his hand across his eyes. It would pass, of course. It was strange that he should go giddy like that, and that his limbs should be trembling as though with the ague! Again he brushed his hand across his eyes. It would pass off. He could see better now. Claire had somehow fallen to the floor; but she was rising to her knees now, using the side of the bed for support, and——

Her voice rang wildly through the room.

“Look out! Oh, look out!” she cried.

To John Bruce it seemed as though something leaped at him out of space—and struck. The blow, aimed at his side, which was still bandaged, went home. It brought an agony that racked and tore and twisted at every nerve in his body. It wrung a moan from his lips, it brought the sweat beads bursting out upon his forehead—but it cleared his brain.

Yes, it was Doctor Crang—but disreputable in appearance as he had never before seen the man. Crang's clothes were filthy and unkempt, as though the man had fallen somewhere in the mire and was either unconscious or callous of the fact; his hair draggled in a matted way over his forehead, and though his face worked with passion, and the passion brought a curious hectic rose-color to supplant the customary lifeless gray of his cheeks, the eyes were most strangely glazed and fixed.

And again John Bruce laughed—and with a vicious guard swept aside a second blow aimed at his side, and his left fist, from a full arm swing, crashed to the point of Doctor Crang's jaw. But the next instant they had closed, their arms locked around each other's waists, their chins dug hard into each other's shoulders. And they rocked there, and swayed, and lurched, a curious impotence in their ferocity—and toppled to the floor.

John Bruce's grip tightened as Doctor Crang fought madly now to tear himself free—and they rolled over and over in the direction of the door. Hot and cold waves swept over John Bruce. He was weak, pitifully weak, barely a convalescent. But he was content to call it an equal fight. He asked for no other odds than Crang himself had offered. The man for once had over-steeped himself with dope, and was near the point of collapse. He had read that in the other's eyes, as surely as though he had been told. And so John Bruce, between his gasping breaths, still laughed, and rolled over and over—always toward the door.

From somewhere Claire's voice reached John Bruce, imploringly, in terror. Of course! That was why he was trying to get to the door, to get out of her room—through respect for her—to get somewhere where he could finish this fight between one man who could scarcely stand upon his feet through weakness, and another whose drug-shattered body was approaching that state of coma which he, John Bruce, had been made to suffer on the night the robbery had been committed. And by the same needle! He remembered that! Weak in body, his mind was very clear. And so he rolled over and over, always toward the door, because Crang was heedless of the direction they were taking, and he, John Bruce, was probably not strong enough in any other way to force the other out of the room where they could finish this.

They rolled to the threshold—and out into the hall. John Bruce loosened his hold suddenly, staggered to his feet, and leaned heavily for an instant against the jamb of the door. But it was only for an instant. Crang was the quicker upon his feet. Like a beast there was slaver on the other's lips, his hands clawed the air, his face was contorted hideously like the face of one demented, one from whom reason had flown, and with whom maniacal passion alone remained—and from the banister railing opposite the door Crang launched himself forward upon John Bruce again.

“She's mine!” he screamed. “I've been watching you two! I'll teach you! She's mine—mine! I'll finish you for this!”

John Bruce side-stepped the rush, and Crang pitched with his head against the door jamb, but recovering, whirled again, and rushed again. The man began to curse steadily now in a low, abominable monotone. It seemed to John Bruce that he ought to use his fist as a cork and thrust it into the other's mouth to bottle up the vile flow of epithets that included Claire, and coupled his name with Claire's. Claire might hear! The man was raving, insane with jealousy. John Bruce struck. His fist found its mark on Crang's lips, and found it again; but somehow his arm seemed to possess but little strength, and to sag back at the elbow from each impact. He writhed suddenly as Crang reached him with another blow on his side.

And then they had grappled and locked together again, and were swaying like drunken men, now to this side, and now to that, of the narrow hall.

It could not last. John Bruce felt his knees giving way beneath him. He had under-estimated Crang's resistance to the over-dose of drug. Crang was the stronger—and seemed to be growing stronger every instant. Or was it his own increasing weakness?

Crang's fist with a short-arm jab smashed at John Bruce's wounded side once more. The man struck nowhere else—always, with the cunning born of hell, at the wounded side. John Bruce dug his teeth into his lips. A wave of nausea swept over him. He felt his senses leaving him, and he clung now to the other, close, tight-pressed, as the only means of protecting his side.

He forced himself then desperately to a last effort. There was one chance left, just one. In the livid face, in the hot, panting breath with which the other mouthed his hideous profanity, there was murder. Over his shoulder, barely a foot away, John Bruce glimpsed the staircase. He let his weight sag with seeming helplessness upon Crang. It brought Crang around in a half circle. Crang's back was to the stairs now. John Bruce let his hands slip slowly from their hold upon the other, as though the last of his strength was ebbing away. He accepted a vicious blow on his wounded side as the price that he must pay, a blow that brought his chin crumpling down upon his breast—and then with every ounce of remaining strength he hurled himself at Crang, and Crang's foot stumbled out into space over the topmost stair, and with a scream of infuriated surprise the man pitched backward.

John Bruce grasped with both hands at the banister for support. Something went rolling, rolling, rolling down the stairs with queer, dull thumps like a sack of meal. His hands slipped from the banister, and he sat limply down on the topmost step and laughed. He laughed because that curious looking bundle at the bottom there began a series of fruitless efforts to roll back up the stairs again.

And then the front door opened. He could see it from where he sat, and Paul Veniza—that was Paul Veniza, wasn't it?—stepped into the room below, and cried out, and ran toward the bundle at the foot of the stairs.

John Bruce felt some one suddenly hold him back from pitching down the stairs himself, but nevertheless he kept on falling and falling into some great pit that grew darker and darker the farther he went down, and this in spite of some one who tried to hold him back, and—and who had a face that looked like Claire's, only it was as—as white as driven snow. And as he descended into the blackness some one screamed at him: “I'll finish you for this!” And screamed it again—only the voice kept growing fainter. And—and then he could neither see nor hear any more.

When John Bruce opened his eyes again he was lying on his cot. A little way from him, their backs turned, Claire and Paul Veniza were whispering earnestly together. He watched them for a moment, and gradually as his senses became normally acute again he caught Claire's words:

“He is not safe here for a moment. Father, we must get him away. I am afraid. There is not a threat Doctor Crang made to-night but that he is quite capable of carrying out.”

“But he is safe for to-night,” Paul Veniza answered soothingly. “I got Crang home to bed, and as I told you, he is too badly bruised and knocked about to move around any before morning at least.”

“And yet I am afraid,” Claire insisted anxiously. “Fortunately Mr. Bruce's wound hasn't opened, and he could be moved. Oh, if Hawkins only hadn't——”

She stopped, and twisted her hands together nervously.

Paul Veniza coughed, averted his head suddenly and in turning met John Bruce's eyes—and stared in a startled way.

“Claire!” John Bruce called softly.

“Oh!” she cried, and ran toward him. “You——”

“Yes,” smiled John Bruce. “And I have been listening. Why isn't it safe for me to stay here any longer? On account of Crang's wild threats?”

“Yes,” she said in a low voice.

John Bruce laughed.

“But you don't believe them, do you?” he asked. “At least, I mean, you don't take them literally.” Claire's lips were trembling.

“There is no other way to take them.” She was making an effort to steady her voice. “It is not a question of believing them. I know only too well that he will carry them out if he can. You are not safe here, or even in New York now—but less safe here in this house than anywhere else.”

John Bruce came up on his elbow.

“Then, Claire, isn't this the end?” he demanded passionately. “You know him for what he is. You do not love him, for I distinctly heard you tell him that you loathed him, as I went up the stairs. Claire, I am not asking for myself now—only for you. Tell me, tell Paul Veniza here, to whom it will mean so much, that you have now no further thought of marriage with that”—John Bruce's voice choked—“with Crang.” She shook her head.

“I cannot tell you that,” she said dully, “for I am going to marry Doctor Crang.”

John Bruce's face hardened. He looked at Paul Veniza. The old pawnbroker had his eyes on the floor, and was ruffling his white hair helplessly with his fingers.

“Why?” John Bruce asked.

“Because I promised,” Claire said slowly.

“But a promise like that!” John Bruce burst out. “A promise that you will regret all your life is——”

“No!” Her face was half averted; her head was lowered to hide the tears that suddenly welled into her eyes. “No; it is a promise that I—that I am glad now I made.”

Glad!” John Bruce sat upright. She had turned her head away from the cot. He could not see her face. “Glad!” he repeated incredulously.

“Yes.” Her voice was scarcely audible.

For a moment John Bruce stared at her; then a bitter smile tightened his lips, and he lay back on the cot, and turned on his side away from both Claire and Paul Veniza.

When John Bruce looked around again, only Paul Veniza was in the room.

“I don't understand,” said Paul Veniza—he was still ruffling his hair, still with his eyes on the floor.

“I do,” said John Bruce grimly. “Claire is right. It isn't safe for me to stay here, and I'll go to-night. If only Hawkins hadn't——” He laughed a little harshly. “But I'll go to-night, just the same. A taxi will do quite as well.”

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