Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Graham was engaged. He hardly knew himself how it had come about. His affair with Marion had been, up to the very moment of his blurted - out "I want you," as light-hearted as that of any of the assorted young couples who flirted and kissed behind the closed doors of that popular house.
The crowd which frequented the Hayden home was gay, tolerant and occasionally nasty. It made ardent love semi-promiscuously, it drank rather more than it should, and its desire for a good time often brought it rather close to the danger line. It did not actually step over, but it hovered gayly on the brink.
And Toots remained high-priestess of her little cult. The men liked her. The girls imitated her. And Graham, young as he was, seeing her popularity, was vastly gratified to find himself standing high in her favor.
Marion was playing for the stake of the Spencer money. In her intimate circle every one knew it but Graham.
"How's every little millionaire?" was Tommy Hale's usual greeting.
She knew only one way to handle men, and with the stake of the Spencer money she tried every lure of her experience on Graham. It was always Marion who on cold nights sat huddled against him in the back seat of the Hayden's rather shabby car, her warm ungloved hand in his. It was Marion who taught him to mix the newest of cocktails, and who later praised his skill. It was Marion who insisted on his having a third, too, when the second had already set his ears drumming.
The effect on the boy of her steady propinquity, of her constant caressing touches, of the general letting-down of the bars of restraint, was to rouse in him impulses of which he was only vaguely conscious, and his proposal of marriage, when it finally came, was by nature of a confession. He had kissed her, not for the first time, but this time she had let him hold her, and he had rained kisses on her face.
"I want you," he had said, huskily.
And even afterward, when the thing was done, and she had said she would marry him, she had to ask him if he loved her.
"I - of course I do," he had said. And had drawn her back into his arms.
He wanted to marry her at once. It was the strongest urge of his life, and put into his pleading an almost pathetic earnestness. But she was firm enough now.
"I don't think your family will be crazy about this, you know."
"What do we care for the family? They're not marrying you, are they?"
"They will have to help to support me, won't they?"
And he had felt a trifle chilled.
It was not a part of Marion's program to enter the Spencer family unwelcomed. She had a furtive fear of Clayton Spencer, the fear of the indirect for the direct, of the designing woman for the essentially simple and open male. It was not on her cards to marry Graham and to try to live on his salary.
So for a few weeks the engagement was concealed even from Mrs. Hayden, and Graham, who had received some stock from his father on his twenty-first birthday, secretly sold a few shares and bought the engagement ring. With that Marion breather easier. It was absolute evidence.
Her methods were the methods of her kind and her time. To allure a man by every wile she knew, and having won him to keep him uncertain and uneasy, was her perfectly simple creed. So she reduced love to its cheapest terms, passion and jealousy, played on them both, and made Graham alternately happy and wretched.
Once he found Rodney Page there, lounging about with the manner of a habitue. It seemed to Graham that he was always stumbling over Rodney those days, either at home, with drawings and color sketches spread out before him, or at the Hayden house.
"What's he hanging around here for?" he demanded when Rodney, having bent over Marion's hand and kissed it, had gone away. "If he could see that bare spot on the top of his head he'd stop all that kow-towing."
"You're being rather vulgar, aren't you?" Marion had said. "He's a very old friend and a very dear one."
"Probably in love with you once, like all the rest?"
He had expected denial from her, but she had held her cigaret up in the air, and reflectively regarded its small gilt tip.
"I'm afraid he's rather unhappy. Poor Rod!"
"Look here, Toots," he burst out. "I'm playing square with you. I never go anywhere but here. I - I'm perfectly straight with you. But every time here I find some of your old guard hanging round. It makes me wild."
"They've always come here, and as long as our engagement isn't known, I can't very well stop them."
"Then let me go to father."
"He'll turn you out, you know. I know men, dear old thing, and father is going to raise a merry little hell about us. He's the sort who wants to choose his son's wife for him. He'd like to play Providence." She watched him, smiling, but with slightly narrowed eyes. "I rather think he has somebody in mind for you now."
"I don't believe it."
"Of course you don't. But he has." "Who?"
"Delight. She's exactly the sort be thinks you'll need. He still thinks you are a little boy, Graham, so he picks out a nice little girl for you. Such a nice little girl."
The amused contempt in her voice made him angry - for Delight rather than himself. He was extremely grown-up and dignified the rest of the afternoon; he stood very tall and straight, and spoke in his deepest voice.
It became rather an obsession in him to prove his manhood, and added to that was the effect of Marion's constant, insidious appeal to the surging blood of his youth. And, day after day, he was shut in his office with Anna Klein.
He thought he was madly in love with Marion. He knew that he was not at all in love with Anna Klein. But she helped to relieve the office tedium.
He was often aware, sitting at his desk, with Anna before him, notebook in hand, that while he read his letters her eyes were on him. More than once he met them, and there was something in them that healed his wounded vanity. He was a man to her. He was indeed almost a god, but that he did not know. In his present frame of mind, he would have accepted even that, however.
Then, one day he kissed her. She was standing very close, and the impulse was quick and irresistible. She made no effort to leave his arms, and he kissed her again.
"Like me a little, do you?" he had asked, smiling into her eyes.
"Oh, I do, I do!" she had replied, hoarsely.
It was almost an exact reversal of his relationship with Marion. There the huskiness was his, the triumphant smile was Marion's. And the feeling of being adored without stint or reservation warmed him.
He released her then, but their relationship had taken on a new phase. He would stand against the outer door, to prevent its sudden opening. And she would walk toward him, frightened and helpless until his arms closed about her. It was entirely a game to him. There were days, when Marion was trying, or the work of his department was nagging him, when he scarcely noticed her at all. But again the mischief in him, the idler, the newly awakened hunting male, took him to her with arms outheld and the look of triumph in his eyes that she mistook for love.
On one such occasion Joey came near to surprising a situation, so near that his sophisticated young mind guessed rather more than the truth. He went out, whistling.
He waited until Graham had joined the office force in the mill lunchroom, and invented an errand back to Graham's office. Anna was there, powdering her nose with the aid of a mirror fastened inside her purse.
Joey had adopted Clayton with a sort of fierce passion, hidden behind a pose of patronage.
"He's all right," he would say to the boys gathered at noon in the mill yard. "He's kinda short-tempered sometimes, but me, I understand him. And there ain't many of these here money kings that would sit up in a hospital the way he did with me."
The mill yard had had quite enough of that night in the hospital. It would fall on him in one of those half-playful, half-vicious attacks that are the humor of the street, and sometimes it was rather a battered Joey who returned to Clayton's handsome office, to assist him in running the mill.
But it was a very cool and slightly scornful Joey who confronted Anna that noon hour. He lost no time in preliminaries.
"What do you think you're doing, anyhow?" he demanded.
"Powdering my nose, if you insist on knowing."
They spoke the same language. Anna knew what was coming, and was on guard instantly.
"You cut it out, that's all."
"You cut out of this office. And that's all."
Joey sat down on Graham's desk and folded his arms.
"What are you going to get out of it, anyhow?" he said with a shift from bullying to argument.
"Out of what?"
"You know, all right."
She whirled on him.
"Now see here, Joey," she said. "You run out and play. I'll not have any little boys meddling in my affairs."
Joey slid off the desk and surveyed her with an impish smile. "Your affairs!" he repeated. "What the hell do I care about your affairs? I'm thinking of the boss. It's up to him if he wants to keep German spies on the place. But it's up to some of us here to keep our eyes open, so that they don't do any harm."
Sheer outrage made Anna's face pale. She had known for some time that the other girls kept away from her, and she had accepted it with the stolidity of her blood. She had no German sympathies; her sympathies in the war lay nowhere.
But - she a spy!
"You get out of here," she said furiously, "or I'll go to Mr. Spencer and complain about you. I'm no more a spy than you are. Not as much! - the way you come sneaking around listening and watching! Now you get out."
And Joey had gone, slowly to show that the going was of his own free will, and whistling. He went out and closed the door. Then he opened it and stuck his head in.
"You be good," he volunteered, "and when the little old U.S. gets to mixing up with the swine over there, I'll bring you a nice fat Hun as a present."