AS Crang disappeared through the doorway, John Bruce stepped noiselessly forward across the earthen floor. With the door half open and swung inward, it left a generous aperture at the hinges through which he could see down the length of the cave-like den outside.

He was strangely calm. Yes, there was Larmon down there—and Crang was walking toward him. And Crang had left the door open here. Well, why not?—with those three apaches at that table yonder! Yes, why not?—except that Crang had also left open the way to one last move, left him, John Bruce, one last card to play!

Strange, the cold, unnatural calmness that possessed him! His mind seemed instantaneously to have conceived and created a project that almost subconsciously he was now in the act of putting into effect. He reached out, and extracting the key from the outside of the door, inserted it on the inside of the lock. He smiled grimly. So far, it was quite safe! The door was swung so far inward that the inner edge of it, and therefore his act, certainly could not be seen by any one out there.

A last card! His lips tightened. Well, perhaps! But it was more than that. His unnatural composure had something deeper than that behind it—a passionate fury smoldering on the verge of flame. Larmon was out there—trapped! He could not put Larmon in greater jeopardy now, no matter what he, John Bruce, did personally, because Larmon dead would not be worth anything to them. But for himself—to stand and take it all like a sheep at the hands of a damned, cringing——

He shook his head in quick, curious self-rebuke. Not yet! He needed that cold composure a little longer since it was to be a showdown now. That was what Crang had said—a showdown. And Crang was right! It meant the end—one way or the other. But with luck, if Crang was as yellow as he believed the man to be, the idea of the bluff that had leaped into his mind would work successfully; and if it didn't work—well, then, there was the end—and at least it would not be a scatheless one for Crang!

The mind works swiftly. Had Crang had time only to walk down half the length of that room out there toward Larmon? Yes, he saw Crang halt now, and heard Crang call out sharply to the three men at the table:

“See if he's got a gun!”

John Bruce, through the crack, saw Larmon whirl around suddenly, as though aware for the first time that he was in danger; saw two of the men grasp Larmon roughly, while the third searched through his clothes.

And then Crang laughed out raucously:

“This way, Mr. Peters—please! You three can stay where you are—I'll call you if I need you!”

For still another instant John Bruce watched through the crack. Larmon, though his face was set and stern, advanced calmly to where Crang stood. Crang, with a prod of his revolver, pushed him onward. They were coming now—Larmon first, and Crang immediately behind the other. Without a sound, John Bruce slipped around to the other side of the door; and, back just far enough so that he would not be seen the instant the threshold was reached, crouched down close against the wall.

A second passed.

“Go on in there!” he heard Crang order.

Larmon's form crossed the threshold; and then Crang's—and John Bruce hurled himself forward, striking, even while his hands flew upward to lock like a vise around Crang's throat, a lightning blow at Crang's wrist that sent the revolver to the soft earthen floor without a sound—and a low, strangling, gurgling noise was alone the result of Crang's effort at a shout of alarm.

“Shut the door—quietly! And lock it, Larmon!” John Bruce flung out.

It was an impotent thing. It struck at the air blindly, its fists going like disjointed flails. Strong! He had not just risen from a sick bed this time! John Bruce and the soul within him seemed to chuckle In unison together at this wriggling thing that he held up by the neck with its feet off the ground. But he saw Larmon, though for the fraction of a second held spellbound in amazement, spring and lock the door.

“If you make a sound that reaches out there”—John Bruce was whispering now with panting, labored breath, as he swung Crang over to the corner and forced him down upon the mattress—“it will take too long to break that door in to be of any use to you! Understand?”


It was Larmon standing over them. John Bruce scarcely turned his head. His hands were still on Crang's throat, though the man lay cowed and passive now.

“His inside coat pocket!” John Bruce jerked out. “It will save a lot of explanation.”

Larmon leaned over and thrust his hand into Crang's pocket. He produced several envelopes and the slip of paper cut from John Bruce's letter.

“Read the slip!” said John Bruce grimly. “He showed it to me a minute ago when he came in to tell me you were here. It was written in our invisible ink at the bottom of the letter he brought you.” He laughed shortly. “When you've read it, I'll introduce you.”

Larmon read the slip hurriedly.

“Good God!” he cried out.

“This is Crang,” said John Bruce evenly.

“But”—Larmon's face was tense and strained—“how———”

“How did he discover there was anything there to begin with, and then hit on the salt solution?” John Bruce interrupted. “I don't know. We'll find out.” He relaxed his hold a little on Crang's throat, and taking the slip of paper from Larmon, thrust it into his own pocket. “Go on, Crang! Tell us!”

Crang's eyes roved from John Bruce to Larmon and back to John Bruce again. His face was ashen. He shook his head.

“You'll talk!” said John Bruce with ominous quiet.

“And the less urging”—his grip began to tighten again—“the better for you.”

“Wait!” Crang choked. “Yes—I—I'll tell you. I showed the letter to Claire. She—she cried on it. A tear splash—black letter began to appear. I took the letter home, and—trace of salt in tears—and——”

Crang's voice died away in a strangling cry. Claire! John Bruce had barely caught any other word but that. Claire! The face beneath him began to grow livid. Claire! So the devil had brought Claire into this, too. Too! Yes, there was something else. Something else! He remembered now. There was a reckoning to come that was beyond all other reckonings, wasn't there? He would know now what hold this thing, that was beast, not man, had upon her. He would know now—or it would end now!

“Claire! D'ye hear?” John Bruce whispered hoarsely. “You know what I mean! What trick of hell did you play to make her promise to marry you? Answer me!”

The thing on the mattress moaned.

“Bruce! For God's sake, Bruce, what are you doing?” Larmon cried out sharply.

John Bruce raised his head and snarled at Larmon. Neither Larmon, nor any other man, would rob him of this now!

“You stand aside, Larmon!” he rasped out. “This is between me and Crang. Keep out of the way!”

He shook at Crang again. He laughed. The man's head bobbed limply.

“Answer me!” He loosened his grip suddenly. Queer, he had forgotten that—Crang couldn't speak, of course, if he wouldn't let him!

The man gasped, and gasped again, for his breath.

“I give you one second.” John Bruce's lips did not move as he spoke.

Twice Crang tried to speak.

“Quick!” John Bruce planted his knees on the other's chest.

“Yes—yes, yes, yes!” Crang gurgled out. “It's you—the night you—you were stabbed. You were—were nearly gone. I—I gave her the—the choice—to marry me, or—or I'd let you—go out.”

John Bruce felt his shoulders surge forward, felt his muscles grow taut as steel, and he shook at something flabby that made no resistance, and his knees rocked upon something soft where they were bedded. him—Claire had faced that inhuman choice, born in this monster's brain—to save his life! Madness seized upon him. The room, everything before him whirled around in great, red, pulsing circles. A fury that shook at the roots of his soul took possession of him. He knew nothing, saw nothing, was moved by nothing save an overwhelming lust for vengeance that seemed to give him superhuman strength, that enabled him to crush between his two bare hands this nauseous thing that——-

He heard a voice. It seemed to come from some infinite distance:

“You are killing the man! In the name of God, John Bruce, come away!”

It was Larmon's voice. He looked up. He was vaguely conscious that it was Larmon who was pulling at his shoulders, wrenching madly at his hands, but he could not see Larmon—only a blurred red figure that danced insanely up and down. Killing the man! Of course! What an inane thing to say! Then he felt his hands suddenly torn away from a hold they had had upon something, and he felt himself pulled to his feet. And then for a little he stood swaying unsteadily, and he shuddered, then he groped his way over to the chair by the table and dropped into it.

He stared in front of him. Something on the floor near the door glittered and reflected the light from the single, dim incandescent. He lurched up from the chair, and going toward the object, snatched it up. It was Crang's revolver—but Larmon was upon him in an instant.

“Not that way, either!” said Larmon hoarsely.

John Bruce brushed his hand across his eyes.

“No, not that way, either,” he repeated like a child.

He went back to the chair and sat down. He was aware that Larmon was kneeling beside the mattress, but he paid no attention to the other.

“The man's unconscious,” Larmon said.

John Bruce did not turn his head.

The minutes passed.

John Bruce's brain began to clear; but the unbalanced fury that had possessed him was giving place now only to one more implacable in its considered phase. He looked around him. Crang, evidently recovered, was sitting up on the mattress. The letters Larmon had taken from Crang's pocket lay on the table. John Bruce picked them up idly. From one of them a steamer ticket fell out. He stared at this for a moment. A passage for John Bruce to South America! Then low, an ugly sound, his laugh echoed around the place.

South America! It recalled him to his actual surroundings—that on the other side of the door were Crang's apaches. There was still time to catch the steamer, wasn't there—for South America? “If the bluff worked”—he remembered his thoughts, the plan that had actuated him when he had crouched there at the door, waiting for Crang to enter. Strange! It wouldn't be a bluff any more! All that was gone. What he would do now, and carry it through to its end, was what he had intended to bluff Crang into believing he would do. And Crang, too, would understand now how little of bluff there was—or, misunderstanding, pay for it with his life.

He thrust the ticket suddenly into his pocket, stepped from his chair, the revolver in his hand, and confronted Crang. The man shrank back, trembling, his face gray with fear.

“Stand up!” John Bruce commanded.

Crang, groveling against the wall, got upon his feet.

It was a full minute before John Bruce spoke again, and then the words came choking hot from his lips.

“You damned cur!” he cried. “That's what you did, was it? The price Claire paid was for my life. Well, it's hers, then; it's no longer mine. Can you understand that, and understand that I am going to pay it back, if necessary, to rid her of you? We are going to walk out of here. You will lead the way. We are going down to that steamer, and you are going on John Bruce's ticket where you proposed to send me—to South America. Either that—or you are going on a longer journey. I shall carry this revolver in the pocket of my coat, and walk beside you. It is your affair how we pass those men out there. If you make any attempt at trickery in getting out of here, or later in the street attempt to escape, I will fire instantly. It does not matter in the slightest degree what happens to me at the hands of your men, or at the hands of a thousand people in the most crowded street. You will have gone out first. The only consideration that exists is that Claire shall be free of you.”

“Tck!” It was the quill toothpick flexing against one of Larmon's teeth.

John Bruce turned.

“I did not understand,” said Larmon in a low, grim way. “If I had, I am not sure I should have stopped you from throttling him when I did.”

John Bruce nodded curtly. He spoke again to Crang.

“I am not asking you whether you agree to this or not,” he said with level emphasis. “You have your choice at any moment to do as you like—you know the consequences.” He slipped his hand with his revolver into the right-hand side pocket of his coat, and took his place at Crang's left side. “Now, go ahead and open that door, and lead the way out! Mr. Larmon, you follow close behind me.”

“Yes,” Crang stammered, “yes—for God's sake—I—I'll do it—I—-”

“Open that door!” said John Bruce monotonously. “I didn't ask you to talk about it!”

Crang opened the door. The little procession stepped out into the long, low cellar, and started down toward the lower end. The three men, from playing dice at the table near the door, rose uncertainly to their feet. John Bruce's revolver in his pocket pressed suggestively against Crang's side.

“It's all right, boys,” Crang called out. “Open the door. I've got Birdie outside.”

They passed the table, passed through the doorway, and the door closed behind them. In the semi-darkness here, as they headed for the exit to the lane, Larmon touched John Bruce's elbow.

“He brought me down here in a taxi,” Larmon whispered. “I suppose now it was one of his men who drove it.”

“Birdie, he just told those rats,” said John Bruce tersely. “Do you hear, Crang? If he's still out there, send him away!”

They emerged into the lane. A taxi-cab stood opposite the exit; Birdie lounged in the driver's seat.

John Bruce's revolver bored into Crang's side.

“Beat it!” said Crang surlily to the man. “I won't want you any more.”

“You won't—what?” Birdie leaned out from his seat. He stared for a moment in bewilderment, and then started to climb out of the taxi.

The pressure of John Bruce's revolver increased steadily.

“Damn it, you fool!” Crang screamed out wildly. “Beat it! Do you hear? Beat it!”

Birdie's face darkened.

“Oh—sure!” he muttered, with a disgruntled oath. He shot the gears into place with a vicious snap. “Sure—anything you say!” The taxi roared down the lane, and disappeared around the corner in a volley of exhausts.

“Go on!” John Bruce ordered.

At the corner of the lane John Bruce turned to Larmon.

“You are safe, and out of it now,” he said. “I am going to ask you to step into the first store we pass and get me some good light rope, but after that I think you had better leave us. If anything happened between here and the steamer, or on the steamer, you would be implicated.”

“Tck!” It was the quill toothpick again. “I'll get the rope with pleasure,” Larmon said calmly; “but I never lay down a good hand. I am going to the steamer.”

John Bruce shrugged his shoulders. Larmon somehow seemed an abstract consideration at the moment—but Larmon had had his chance.

“What time does the steamer sail, Crang?” John Bruce bit off his words, as he looked at his watch.

“Four o'clock,” Crang mumbled.

“Walk faster!”

They stopped for a moment in front of a store. Larmon entered, and came out again almost immediately with a package under his arm.

A block farther on John Bruce hailed a passing taxi.

Fifteen minutes later, pushing through the throng on the dock, John Bruce produced the ticket, they mounted the gangway, and a steward led them to a stateroom on one of the lower decks.

John Bruce closed the door and locked it. His revolver was in his hand now.

“There isn't much time left,” he said coldly. “About ten minutes.”

At the end of five, Crang, bound hand and foot, and gagged, lay lashed into his bunk.

A bugle sounded the “All Ashore!”

John Bruce tossed the ticket on the couch.

“There's your ticket!” he said sternly. “I wouldn't advise you to come back—nor worry any further about exposing Mr. Larmon, unless you want to force a showdown that will place some very interesting details connected with the life of Doctor Crang in the hands of the police!”

The bugle rang out again.

John Bruce, without a further glance in Crang's direction, opened the cabin window slightly, then unlocking the door, he motioned Larmon to pass out. He locked the door on the outside, stepped to the deck, tossed the key through the window to the floor of Crang's cabin, and drew the window shut again. A minute more, and with Larmon beside him, he was standing on the dock.

Neither John Bruce nor Larmon spoke.

And presently the tugs caught hold of the big liner and warped her out of her berth.

“John Bruce” had sailed for South America.

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