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- The Rose in the Ring - 60/73 -
"Then why doesn't he kill you? He has you in his power. He is not here to attack you. That must be plain, even to you. Mr. Braddock has come to see his wife before leaving the city."
He caught the cunning gleam in Tom Braddock's eyes. His heart gave a great bound of relief. The man was not so mad as to court certain death by attacking his enemy under the present conditions. Christine's father was perfectly cool; he was absolute master of himself. Nothing could be farther from the mind of Thomas Braddock than the desire to be shot by Robert Grand. It was his one purpose in life to kill, not to be killed. He realized that he was powerless. Grand could shoot him down like a dog--an inglorious end to the one spark of ambition left in him. The workings of Braddock's mind were as plain to Jenison as if the man were expounding them by word of mouth.
"Before leaving the country," David substituted. The ghost of a sneer flickered about Braddock's lips. He spoke for the first time, hoarsely, but with wonderful calmness.
"I came to see Mary," he said. "You'd better go, Grand. I don't want anything to do with you. It won't be healthy for either of us if we see too much of each other."
"Stand out from behind my daughter, you coward," shouted Grand.
"Don't shoot, father!" screamed the girl, terror-stricken.
"Go ahead!" said Braddock grimly.
The driver of the cab was looking wildly about in quest of a policeman. Two women had stopped on the opposite side of the street, and were staring at the group in front of the Portman mansion.
"Shall I call a cop?" called out the cabby, addressing himself to the one person who seemed to belong on the premises--Mrs. Braddock.
"No! No! Take them away!" she cried. "That's all I ask of you!"
"Wait!" said Colonel Grand, master of himself once more. "We may just as well understand each other. I had an object in coming here. It concerns this man. He--"
David broke in peremptorily. It was time to bring the distressing scene to an end, if it were possible to do so without inviting the actual catastrophe. He realized that he would have to act quickly in order to anticipate the curious crowd and to be ahead of the police.
"Colonel Grand, you have put yourself in an unpleasant, uncalled-for position," he said. "I am of half a mind to hold you here until the police arrive. Cabby, I call upon you to witness, with all the rest of us, that Colonel Grand has drawn a revolver with the design to kill an unarmed, unoffending man. You have seen everything. Mr. Braddock saved his life only by--"
"Unarmed!" shouted Colonel Grand. "Why, he is armed to the teeth. He's after me. He's going to kill me on sight, I swear--"
"What is to prevent him from doing so now, Colonel?" demanded David. "You are in a position where you cannot shoot. He could drill you full of holes if that were his intention. Mr. Braddock, are you armed?"
"No," said Braddock. "Do you suppose, if I had a gun, I would be standing behind this girl?"
"Do you hear that, cabby? Do you, Colonel? Now, I want to say just this to you, sir; I am going to the nearest police station and swear out a warrant for your arrest. I can't hold you myself, but I can do the next best thing. I can land you in jail for attempted murder."
Colonel Grand stared at him with uncomprehending eyes, a sickly smile on his lips.
"You know better than--" he began.
David cut him short with an exclamation. Then he walked out to the curb, opened the cab door and coolly motioned for Colonel Grand to step down and enter.
Mary Braddock waited no longer. She sped down the steps, passing the slow-moving, stupefied Colonel, and ruthlessly shoved Roberta Grand to one side, taking her stand in front of her husband, facing his foe.
"It isn't necessary for my husband to shield himself behind your flesh and blood, Colonel Grand," she said, her head erect. "Now, if you care to shoot, you have both of us at your mercy."
"I came to propose a peaceful--" began the Colonel, baffled.
"Step lively, Colonel Grand!" commanded Jenison. "Permit me, Miss Grand."
"Don't touch me," hissed Roberta, disdaining his assistance. The look she bestowed upon her father, as she passed him, was not a pleasant one. He had promised her a different reception at the Portman home, secretly depending on his power to force Mrs. Braddock to welcome an armistice, no matter how distasteful it may have been to her. He had not anticipated the outcome. Miss Grand accompanied him, meanly it is true, in the hope that she might gloat over the Braddocks in their humiliation.
She entered the cab, frightened and dismayed. Her father, still grasping his pistol, followed her. He cast a defeated, almost appealing glance at the uncompromising face of the young man who held open the door.
"You can't obtain a warrant for me," he said nervously. "I have the law on my side. I can prove that this man threatened--"
"Drive on, cabby," said David relentlessly. "I've taken your number. You will be called on as a witness. Don't argue! I mean it!"
Muttering excitedly, the driver, without the customary "where to?" started off down the street. Colonel Grand leaned forward to send a menacing scowl toward the group on the sidewalk. He smiled sardonically when he saw that Mary Braddock still kept her place in front of her husband, evidently afraid that he would fire from the window of the departing cab. Then he called out his instructions to the driver and settled back in the seat.
The gritting of Tom Braddock's teeth did not escape the tortured ears of his wife. She looked up quickly. He was glaring after the cab, a look of appalling ferocity in his face.
"Come into the house, Tom," she said quickly.
He turned on her with a snarl.
"I won't keep you long," he grated. "I've got other business on hand." It occurred to him to tender David his meed of praise. "That was pretty sharp in you, David, staving him off like that. I owe you something for doing that."
"I knew you were unarmed. You would have had no chance."
They were going up the steps, Braddock between the others. Brooks, the footman, was holding the door open. He had been a politely interested witness to the startling encounter.
Braddock seemed to be studying each successive slab of stone as he ascended. The muscles of his jaw were working. He seemed to have formed a habit of jamming his hands far down into his coat pockets.
"That was the only chance _he'll_ ever have," was his sententious remark. No other word was uttered until they were inside the house, Mrs. Braddock's gasp of relief could not have been called a sigh.
"Thank God!" she breathed, sinking upon the hall seat and clasping her clenched hands to her breast.
Braddock shot a quick glance up the broad stairway. The surroundings were strange to him,--he had never been inside the home of his father- in-law before,--but he knew that Christine was somewhere overhead.
"How's Christine, Mary?" he asked roughly.
"She is wretchedly unhappy, Tom."
"Umph!" was the way he received it, but a close observer might have seen the flutter of his eyelids and the sharp, convulsive movement in the coat pockets. "I don't want her to see me," he said.
"She wants to see you--"
He faced her angrily. "No! I've got to take care of my nerves. I can't take any chances on having 'em upset. See here, David," he said, lowering his voice and speaking with deadly emphasis, "that talk of yours about swearing out a warrant for Grand don't go, do you understand? I don't want him to be arrested. I don't want him locked up. I want him to be _free_. He'd be too safe behind the bars?"
The sound of a door opening above came to them at this juncture, followed by the swift rush of feet and the rustle of skirts. Braddock looked up and instinctively drew back into an obscured recess at his left.
Christine's face appeared over the railing above. She leaned far forward and called out in the high, tense tones of extreme nervousness:
"Father! Is it you? Are you there?"
There was no response.
David, standing on the lower step, permitted his gaze to swerve from the sweet, eager face of the girl above to that of the man in the corner.
The effect on Braddock was astounding. Signs of a great convulsion revealed themselves in his face. His lips were parted and drawn as if in pain; his eyes were half closed, screening the emotion that groped behind the lids. It was the face, the figure of a man mightily shaken by an unexpected emotion. Slowly his eyes were opened. An expression of utter despair and longing had come into them. Mrs. Braddock was staring at her husband as if she could not believe her senses.
Words came hoarsely, unbidden from the man's lips, spoken as if from the bottom of his soul after years of subjection and restraint, so nearly whispered that they came to David's ears as if from afar off.
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