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- The Rose in the Ring - 40/73 -


"We _do_ understand each other," she said, a note of decision in her voice. "You are ready to prostitute me for the sake of worming money out of that horrid beast. I loathe him. You know it, and yet you force me to meet him. I am going to end it all. Either he leaves this show, or I do. I will not endure this unspoken but manifest insult a day longer. Do you understand me?"

"I'd like to know how you're going to help it," he said, glaring at her with half-restored belligerence. "You can't get out without losin' what you've got in the business, and he _won't_ get out."

"Are you going to permit him to continue paying his odious attentions to me--to your wife?" she cried.

"I don't care what he does," roared Braddock. "That's his business. You don't have to give in to him, do you? If he thinks you've got a price, that's his lookout, not mine."

"Not yours?" she gasped. "Oh, Tom! Tom! What manner of man have you come to be?"

"Well, I'm just tellin' you, that's all."

"You--you surely are not in your right mind."

"You bet I am! Now, you listen to me. You are going to stick right with this show--you and Christine. And you're going to do what I tell you to do. You got to treat Bob Grand half-way decent. He's liable to leave us in the lurch any time. How'd you suppose we'd get on without his help right now? Just as soon as we get on our feet I'll put an end to his funny business. I'll show him what's what. He'll get out of the show business a heap sight wiser man than he is now. But we need him now. We got to stand together, you and me. No flunking, see. We--"

"Stop!" She stood before him like an outraged priestess. This time he did not shrink, but glared back at her balefully. "This is the end! We have come to the parting of the ways. I will never call you husband again. If you even speak to me, Thomas Braddock, I shall ask any one of a dozen men here to beat you as you deserve. Oh, they will be only too happy to do it! Now, hear me: I am going to take Christine away from you--forever. Don't curse me yet! Wait! I am not through. This very night I shall offer my share in this show to Colonel Grand. He may have it at his own price. If he will not buy, then I shall go forth and look for another purchaser. I--"

"You're my wife. You can't sell without my consent," he exclaimed.

"Then I will ask the court to give me the right. Now, go! I--"

"You can't take Christine. She's as much mine as she is--"

"I will hear no more. I have given you the last chance to be a man. This ends it!"

She turned and walked away from him. He knew that it was all over between them.

Considerably shaken, he went over and sat down on a trunk near the wall. Suddenly he sprang to his feet with a curious half-laugh, half- sob. He glared at the flap through which she had disappeared. A cunning, malevolent expression came into his pop-eyes.

"Sell out, will you?" he muttered. "I'll block that game. I'll sell out to him myself. That's what he wants."

He lifted the sidewall and passed out into the open air, directing his footsteps toward the ticket-wagon. Colonel Grand was leaving it as he came up.

"Hello, Brad," he said quite genially. "If I was a bit rough awhile ago, I apolo--"

"Say, I want to talk privately with you, right away. I've got a proposition to make. It's final, too,--and it's friendly, so don't look as if you're going to pull a gun on me. Come on to the hotel. Oh, I'm not as drunk as you think!"

"Mrs. Braddock expects me to escort her to the hotel--"

"No, she don't," rasped the other. "She's all right. Leave her alone. Are you coming?"

Colonel Grand was struck by the man's behavior. He shrewdly saw that something vital was in the air.

"All right," he said. "I'll go with you."

They were soon closeted in the room back of the hotel bar, a bottle between them on the table. The door was locked. Their conversation lasted an hour. When Colonel Grand arose to depart he stood a little behind and to the left of Braddock's chair, a soft, sardonic smile on his lips. He held a sheet of paper in his hand. Pen and ink on the table, alongside the more sinister bottle, told of an act of penmanship.

"We'll have the night clerk and some one else witness the signatures," he said quietly.

"All right," said Braddock hoarsely. He was staring at his fingers, which he twiddled in a nerveless, irresolute manner.

"The inside conditions are between you and me personally. You'll have to live up to them, Braddock."

"Oh, I'm a man of my word, don't fret."

"You are to get out at the end of the week. That's plain, is it?"

"If the cash is passed over. Don't forget that. Say, Bob, I swear, you're treating me dirt mean. I ought to have five times more than you are payin' me, and you know it. Five thousand dollars! Why, it's givin' the show away, that's what it is. I've built up this here show--"

"It is your own proposition. I didn't suggest buying you out. You came to me to sell. If you don't want to let it go at the price we've agreed on I'll tear up this bill of sale."

"I've got to take it, so what's the use kicking? I'm going to get out of the business. My wife's against me. Everybody is. Damn them all!"

Colonel Grand knew quite well that Mrs. Braddock, as the man's wife, could interpose legal objections to the transfer, but he was not really buying Tom's interest in the show; he was deliberately paying him to desert his wife and child. That was the sum and substance of it. Braddock was not so drugged with liquor that he could not appreciate that side of the transaction quite as fully as the other.

Down in his besotted soul there lurked the hope that some day, in the long run, through the wife whom he was selling so basely, he might succeed in obtaining the upper hand of Bob Grand, and crush him as he was being crushed!

"It will be a week before the currency can get here from Baltimore. I refuse to draw on my banker in the regular way. This money, being evil, must come from an evil source. My dealers will send it from the 'place.' Now, again, you understand that I can put you in the penitentiary if you go back on your word. You _did_ take the boy's money out of the dressing-tent. My man saw you."

"I don't see why you hired a canvasman to watch me," growled the other, pouring another drink. "Mighty cheap work, Bob Grand."

"I always go on the principle that it isn't safe to have business dealings with a man until you know all that is to be found out about him. In your case I had to choose my own way of finding out."

"I'll knock off a couple of hundred if you'll tell me the name of that sneaking--"

"You need the two hundred more than I do, Brad," said Grand with infinite sarcasm--and finality.

"Well, I'm a Jonah in the show business. I guess it's the best thing I can do to get out of it. You'll do the right thing by Mary and--and--" he swallowed hard, casting a half glance at the other out of his bleary eyes--"and the young 'un. They'll get what's coming to them, Bob?"


"I wouldn't sell out like this if--if Mary had acted decent by me," he said, trying to justify his action. He was congratulating himself that he had sold her out before she had the chance to sell him out. He closed his eyes to the real transaction involved in the deal. It gave him some secret satisfaction, however, to contemplate the futility of Colonel Grand's designs upon Mary Braddock.

"Of course," said Bob Grand.

"I am going to California," said Tom Braddock, for the third time during the interview.

"I've asked you not to mention that fact to me, Braddock. You are supposed to stay with the show as manager and overseer."

"Humph!" grunted the other. "You want to be as much shocked as the rest of 'em when I skip by the light of the moon, eh?"

"We'll sign the paper," was the only response of the purchaser.

Ten minutes later, after two men had witnessed their signatures, the document reposed in Bob Grand's pocketbook.

The next morning Mary Braddock appeared before the master of Van Slye's Circus and offered her interest for sale. He calmly announced that he could not afford to put any more money into the concern.

"I must sell out," she said. "All the money I have in the world is in this show."

"It could not be better invested," he said. She shrank from the look in his eyes.

"But I need it for Christine's education," she began.

"I will see to it that Christine is given the best of everything, Mary. Leave it to me. She shall be sent abroad next year, if you think

The Rose in the Ring - 40/73

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