A GAUNT and haggard figure stalked through the night; around him only shuttered windows, darkened houses, and deserted streets. The pavements rang hollow to the impact of his boot-heels. Where the way lay open he went. But always he walked, walked incessantly, without pause, hurrying—nowhere.

There was a raw, biting chill in the air, and his hands, ungloved, as they swung at his sides, were blue with cold. But sweat in great beads stood out upon his forehead. At times his lips moved and he spoke aloud. It was a hoarse sound.

“Or him!” he said. “Or him!”

On! Always on! There was no rest. It was ceaseless. The gray came into the East.

And then at last the figure halted.

There was a large window with wire grating, and a light burned within. In the window was a plate mirror, and a time-piece. It was a jeweler's window.

The man looked at the time-piece. It was five o'clock. He looked at the mirror. It reflected the face of a young man grown old. The eyes burned deep in their sockets; the lines were hard, without softness; the skin was tightly drawn across the cheek bones, and was colorless. And he stared at the face, stared for a time without recognition. And then as he smiled and the face in the mirror smiled with him in a distorted movement of the lips, he swept his hand across his eyes.

“John Bruce,” he said.

It seemed to arouse him from some mental absorption in which his physical entity had been lost. It was five o'clock, and he was John Bruce. At eleven o'clock—or was it twelve?—last night he had left Hawkins standing by the door of the traveling pawn-shop, and since then——

He stared around him. He was somewhere downtown. He did not know where. He began to walk in an uptown direction.

Something had been born in those hours. Something cataclysmic. What was it?

“Or him!” The words came again—aloud—without apparent volition.

What did that mean? It had something to do with Hawkins; with what Hawkins had said, standing there by the traveling pawn-shop. What was it Hawkins had said? Yes; he remembered: “I'd rather see her dead.”

“Or him!”

With cold judicial precision now the hours unrolled themselves before him.

“Or him!”

He was going to kill Crang.

The hours of mental strife, of torment through which he had just passed, were as the memory of some rack upon which his soul had been put to torture. They came back vividly now, those hours—every minute of them a living eternity. His soul had shrunk back aghast at first, and called it murder; but it was not murder, or, if it was, it was imperative. It was the life of a foul viper—or Claire's. It was the life of an unclean thing that mocked and desecrated all decency, that flung its sordid challenge at every law, both human and divine—or the life of a pure, clean soul made the plaything of this beast, and dragged into a mire of unutterable abomination to suffocate and strangle in its noxious surroundings and die.

And that soul was in jeopardy because at this moment he, John Bruce, had the power of movement in his limbs, the sense of sight, the ability to stretch out his hand and feel it touch that lamp-post there, and, if he would, to speak aloud and designate that object for what it was—a lamp-post. She had bought him these things with her life. Should she die—and he live?

And he remembered back through those hours since midnight, when his soul had still faltered before the taking of human life, how it had sought some other way, some alternative, any alternative. A jail sentence for Crang. There was enough, more than enough now with the evidence of Crang's double life, to convict the man for the robbery of that safe. But Claire had answered that in the long ago: “I will marry him when he comes out.” Or, then, to get Crang away again like this afternoon—no, yesterday afternoon. It was this morning, in a few hours, that they were to be married. There was no time left in which to attempt anything like that; but, even if there were, he knew now, that it but postponed the day of reckoning. Claire would wait. Crang would come back.

He was going to kill Crang.

If he didn't, Crang would kill him. He knew that, too. But his decision was not actuated, or even swayed, by any consideration of self-preservation. He had no thought of his future or his safety. That was already settled. With his decision was irrevocably coupled the forfeiting of his own life. Not his own life! It belonged to Claire. Claire had bought it. He was only giving it back that the abysmal price she had agreed to pay should not be extorted from her. Once he had accomplished his purpose, he would give himself up to the police.

He was going to kill Crang.

That was what had been born out of the travail of those hours of the night. But there were other things to do first. He walked briskly now. The decision in itself no longer occupied his thoughts. The decision was absolute; it was final. It was those “other things” that he must consider now. There was Larmon. He could not tell Larmon what he, John Bruce, was going to do, but he must warn Larmon to be on his guard against any past or present connection with John Bruce coming to light. Fortunately Larmon had come to New York and registered as Peters. He must make Larmon understand that Larmon and John Bruce had never met, even if he could not give Larmon any specific reason or explanation. Larmon would probably refuse at first, and attribute it as an attempt to break, for some ulterior reason, the bond they had signed together that night on the beach at Apia.

John Bruce smiled gravely. The bond would be broken in any case. Faustus was at the end of the play. A few months in prison, the electric chair—how apt had been his whistling of that aria in his youth!

Youth! Yes, he was old now; he had been young that night on the beach at Apia.

He took off his hat and let the sharp air sweep his head. He was not thinking clearly. All this did not express what he meant. There was Larmon's safety. He must take care of that; see to it, first of all, that Larmon could not be implicated, held by law as an accomplice through foreknowledge of what was to happen; then, almost of as great importance for Larmon's sake and future, the intimacy between them, their business relations of the past, must never be subjected to the probe of the trial that was to come.

John Bruce nodded his head sharply. Yes, that was better! But there was still something else—that bond. He knew to-night, even if prison walls and a death penalty were not about to nullify that bond far more effectively than either he or Larmon ever could, that the one thing he wanted now, while yet he was a free agent, while yet it was not arbitrarily his choice, was to cancel that agreement which was so typical of what his life up to the present time had always stood for; and in its cancellation, for what little time was left, to have it typify, instead, a finer manhood. The future, premonitive, grim in its promise, seemed to hold up before him as in a mirror where no lines were softened, where only the blunt, brutal truth was reflected, the waste and worthlessness of the past. He had no wish to evade it, or temporize with it, or seek to palliate it. He knew only a vain and bitter regret; knew only the desire now at the end, in so far as he could, to face death a changed man.

He walked on and on. He was getting into the uptown section now. How many miles he must have covered since he had left Hawkins, and since the door of the one-time pawn-shop had closed on that little bare-headed figure with the loose cloak clutched about her throat—the last sight he had had of Claire! How many miles? He did not know. It must have been many, very many. But he felt no weariness. It was strange! It was as though his vitality and energy flowed into him from some wholly extraneous source; and as though physically he were non-existent.

He wondered what Larmon would say. Larmon alone had the right to cancel the bond. That was the way it had been written. Would Larmon refuse? He hoped not, because he wanted to part with Larmon as a friend. He hoped not, though in the final analysis, in a practical way, Larmon's refusal must be so futile a thing. Would Larmon laugh at him, and, not knowing, call him a fool? He shook his head. He did not know. At least Larmon would not be surprised. The conversation of last evening——

John Bruce looked up. He was at the entrance to the Bayne-Miloy Hotel. He entered, nodded mechanically to the night clerk, stepped into the elevator, and went up to his room. There was his revolver to be got. Afterward he would go down to Larmon's room. Somehow, even in the face of that other thing which he was to do, this interview which was to come with Larmon obsessed him. It seemed to signify some vital line of demarcation between the old life and the new.

The new! He smiled grimly, without mirth, as, entering his room, he switched on the light, stepped quickly to his desk, pulled open a drawer, and took out his revolver. The new! There would be very little of the new! He laughed now in a low, raucous way, as he slipped the weapon into his pocket. The new! A few weeks, a few months of a prison cell, and then—— His laugh died away, and a half startled, half perplexed look settled on his face. For the first time he noticed that a letter, most obviously placed to attract his attention, lay on the center of the desk pad. Strange, he had not seen it instantly!

He stared at it now. It was a plain envelope, unstamped, and addressed to him. The writing was familiar too! Larmon's! He picked it up, opened it—and from the folds of the letter, as he drew it from the envelope, four torn pieces of paper fluttered to the desk. And for a long time, in a dazed way, he gazed at them. The letter dropped from his hand. Then mechanically he pieced the four scraps together. It was one of the leaves torn from Larmon's notebook that night in Apia—and here was the heavy scrawl where he, John Bruce, had signed with the quill toothpick. It was Larmon's copy of the bond.

And again for a long time he stared at it, then he picked up the letter again. He read it slowly, for somehow his brain seemed only able to absorb the words in a stunned way. Then he read it again:

Dear Bruce:—11 P. M.

Something has come into your life that was not there on a night you will remember in the Southern Seas, and I know of no other way to repay you for what you did for me to-day than to hand you this. I knew from what you said to-night, or, rather perhaps, from what you did not say, that this was in your heart. And if I were young again, and the love of a good woman had come to me, I too should try—and fail, I fear, where you will succeed—to play a man's part in life.

And so I bid you good-by, for when you read this I shall be on my way back West. What I lose another will gain. Amongst even my friends are men of honorable callings and wide interests who need a John Bruce. You will hear from one of them. Godspeed to you, for you are too good and clean a man to end your days as I shall end mine—a gambler.


Gilbert Larmon.

The love of a good woman—and young again! John Bruce's face was white. A thousand conflicting emotions seemed to surge upon him. There was something fine and big in what Larmon had done, like the Larmon whose real self he had come to glimpse for the first time last night; and something that was almost ghastly in the unconscious irony that lay behind it all. And for a little while he stood there motionless, holding the letter in his hand; then with a quick, abrupt return to action, he began to tear the letter into little shreds, and from his pocket he took his own copy of the bond and tore that up, and the four pieces of Larmon's copy he tore into still smaller fragments, and gathering all these up in his hands, he walked to the window and let them flutter out into the night.

The way was clear. There was nothing to connect Gilbert Larmon with the man who to-morrow—no, to-day—would be in the hands of the police charged with murder. Nothing to bring to light Larmon's private affairs, for nothing bearing Larmon's signature had ever been kept; it was always destroyed. Larmon was safe—for, at least, they could never make John Bruce talk.

There was a strange relief upon him, a strange uplift; not only for Larmon's sake, but for his own. The link that had bound him to the past was gone, broken, dissolved. He stood free—for the little time that was left; he stood free—to make a fresh start in the narrow confines of a prison cell. He smiled grimly. There was no irony here where it seemed all of irony. It meant everything—all. It was the only atonement he could make.

He switched off the light, left his room, and went down to the desk. Here he consulted the directory. He requested the clerk to procure a taxi for him.

It was five minutes after six by the clock over the desk.

He entered the taxi and gave the chauffeur the address. He was unconscious of emotion now. He knew only a cold, fixed, merciless purpose.

He was going to kill Crang.

The taxi stopped in front of a frame house that bore a dirty brass name-plate. He dismissed the taxi, and mounted the steps. His right hand was in the pocket of his coat. He rang the bell, and obtaining no response, rang again—and after that insistently.

The door was finally opened by an old woman, evidently aroused from bed, for she clutched tightly at a dressing gown that was flung around her shoulders.

“I want to see Doctor Crang,” said John Bruce.

She shook her head.

“The doctor isn't in,” she answered.

“I will wait for him,” said John Bruce.

Again she shook her head.

“I don't know when he will be back. He hasn't been here since yesterday morning.”

“I will wait for him,” said John Bruce monotonously.


John Bruce brushed his way past her into the hall.

“I will wait for him,” he repeated.

A door was open off the hallway. John Bruce looked in. It was obviously Crang's office. He went in and sat down by the window.

The woman stood for a long time in the doorway watching him. Finally she went away.

John Bruce's mind was coldly logical. Crang was not aware that his escape was known to any one except Claire, and he had been cunning enough to keep under cover. That was why he had not been home. But he would be home before he went out to be married. Even a man like Crang would have a few preparations to make.

John Bruce sat by the window. Occasionally the old woman came and stood in the doorway—and went away again.

There was no sign of Crang.

At fifteen minutes of eight John Bruce rose from his chair and left the house.

“He was to be at Paul Veniza's at eight,” said John Bruce to himself with cool precision.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook