Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
There had been once, in Herman Klein the making of a good American. He had come to America, not at the call of freedom, but of peace and plenty. Nevertheless, he had possibilities.
Taken in time he might have become a good American. But nothing was done to stimulate in him a sentiment for his adopted land. He would, indeed, have been, for all his citizenship papers, a man without a country but for one thing.
The Fatherland had never let go. When he went to the Turnverein, it was to hear the old tongue, to sing the old songs. Visiting Germans from overseas were constantly lecturing, holding before him the vision of great Germany. He saw moving-pictures of Germany; he went to meetings which commenced with "Die Wacht am Rhine." One Christmas he received a handsome copy of a photograph of the Kaiser through the mail. He never knew who sent it, but he had it framed in a gilt frame, and it hung over the fireplace in the sitting-room.
He had been adopted by America, but he had not adopted America, save his own tiny bit of it. He took what the new country gave him with no faintest sense that he owed anything in return beyond his small yearly taxes. He was neither friendly nor inimical.
His creed through the years had been simple: to owe no man money, even for a day; to spend less than he earned; to own his own home; to rise early, work hard, and to live at peace with his neighbors. He had learned English and had sent Anna to the public school. He spoke English with her, always. And on Sunday he put on his best clothes, and sat in the German Lutheran church, dozing occasionally, but always rigidly erect.
With his first savings he had bought a home, a tiny two-roomed frame cottage on a bill above the Spencer mill, with a bit of waste land that he turned into a thrifty garden. Anna was born there, and her mother had died there ten years later. But long enough before that he had added four rooms, and bought an adjoining lot. At that time the hill had been green; the way to the little white house had been along and up a winding path, where in the spring the early wild flowers came out on sunny banks, and the first buds of the neighborhood were on Klein's own lilac-bushes.
He had had a magnificent sense of independence those days, and of freedom.
He voted religiously, and now and then in the evenings he had been the moderate member of a mild socialist group. Theoretically, he believed that no man should amass a fortune by the labor of others. Actually he felt himself well paid, a respected member of society, and a property owner.
In the early morning, winter and summer, he emerged into the small side porch of his cottage and there threw over himself a pail of cold water from the well outside. Then he rubbed down, dressed in the open air behind the old awning hung there, took a dozen deep breaths and a cup of coffee, and was off for work. The addition of a bathroom, with running hot water, had made no change in his daily habits.
He was very strict with Anna, and with the women who, one after another, kept house for him.
"I'll have no men lounging around," was his first instruction on engaging them. And to Anna his solicitude took the form almost of espionage. The only young man he tolerated about the place was a distant relative. Rudolph Klein.
On Sunday evenings Rudolph came in to supper. But even Rudolph found it hard to get a word with the girl alone.
"What's eating him, anyhow," he demanded of Anna one Sunday evening, when by the accident of a neighbor calling old Herman to the gate, he had the chance of a word.
"He knows a lot about you fellows," Anna had said. "And the more he knows the less he trusts you. I don't wonder."
"He hasn't anything on me."
But Anna had come to the limit of her patience with her father at last.
"What's the matter with you?" she demanded angrily one night, when Herman had sat with his pipe in his mouth, and had refused her permission to go to the moving-pictures with another girl. "Do you think I'm going on forever like this, without a chance to play? I'm sick of it. That's all."
"You vill not run around with the girls on this hill." He had conquered all but the English "w." He still pronounced it like a "v."
"What's the matter with the girls on this hill?" And when he smoked on in imperturbable silence, she had flamed into a fury.
"This is free America," she reminded him. "It's not Germany. And I've stood about all I can. I work all day, and I need a little fun. I'm going."
And she had gone, rather shaky as to the knees, but with her head held high, leaving him on the little veranda with his dead pipe in his moueh and his German-American newspaper held before his face. She had returned, still terrified, to find the house dark and the doors locked, and rather than confess to any one, she had spent the night in a chair out of doors.
At dawn she had heard him at the side of the house, drawing water for his bath. He had gone through his morning program as usual, by the sounds, and had started off for work without an inquiry about her. Only when she heard the gate click had she hammered at the front door and been admitted by the untidy servant.
"Fine way to treat me!" she had stormed, and for a part of that day she was convinced that she would never go back home again. But fear of her father was the strongest emotion she knew, and she went back that night, as usual. It not being Herman's way to bother with greetings, she had passed him on the porch without a word, and that night, winding a clock before closing the house, he spoke to her for the first time.
"There is a performance at the Turnverein Hall to-morrow night. Rudolph vill take you."
"I don't like Rudolph."
"Rudolph viii take you," he had repeated, stolidly. And she had gone.
He had no conception of any failure in himself as a parent. He had the German idea of women. They had a distinct place in the world, but that place was not a high one. Their function was to bring children into the world. They were breeding animals, and as such to be carefully watched and not particularly trusted. They had no place in the affairs of men, outside the home.
Not that he put it that way. In his way he probably loved the girl. But never once did he think of her as an intelligent and reasoning creature. He took her salary, gave her a small allowance for car-fare, and banked the rest of it in his own name. It would all be hers some day, so what difference did it make?
But the direst want would not have made him touch a penny of it.
He disliked animals. But in a curious shame-faced fashion he liked flowers. Such portions of his garden as were useless for vegetables he had planted out in flowers. But he never cut them and brought them into the house, and he watched jealously that no one else should do so. He kept poisoned meat around for such dogs in the neighborhood as wandered in, and Anna had found him once callously watching the death agonies of one of them.
Such, at the time the Spencer mill began work on its new shell contract, was Herman Klein, sturdily honest, just according to his ideas of justice, callous rather than cruel, but the citizen of a world bounded by his memories of Germany, his life at the mill, and his home.
But, for all that, he was not a man the German organization in America put much faith in. Rudolph, feeling his way, had had one or two conversations with him early in the war that had made him report adversely.
"Let them stop all this fighting," Herman had said. "What matter now who commenced it? Let them all stop. It is the only way."
"Sure, let them stop!" said Rudolph, easily. "Let them stop trying to destroy Germany."
"That is nonsense," Herman affirmed, sturdily. "Do you think I know nothing? I, who was in the Prussian Guard for five years. Think you I know nothing of the plan?"
The report of the German atrocities, however, found him frankly incredulous, and one noon hour, in the mill, having read the Belgian King's statement that the German army in Belgium had protected its advance with women and children, Rudolph found him tearing the papers to shreds furiously.
"Such lies!" he cried. "It is not possible that they should be believed."
The sinking of the Lusitania, however, left him thoughtful and depressed. In vain Rudolph argued with him.
"They were warned," he said. "If they chose to take the chance, is it Germany's fault? If you tell me not to put my hand on a certain piece in a machine and I do it anyhow, is it your fault if I lose a hand?"
Old Herman eyed him shrewdly.
"And if Anna had been on the ship, you think the same, eh?'
Rudolph had colored.
For some time now Rudolph had been in love with Anna. He had not had much encouragement. She went out with him, since he was her only means of escape, but she treated him rather cavalierly, criticized his clothes and speech, laughed openly at his occasional lapses into sentiment, and was, once in a long time, so kind that she set his heart leaping.
Until the return of Graham Spencer, all had gone fairly well. But with his installment in the mill, Rudolph's relations with Anna had changed. She had grown prettier - Rudolph was not observant enough to mark what made the change, but he knew that he was madder about her than ever. And she had assumed toward him an attitude of almost scornful indifference. The effect on his undisciplined young mind was bad. He had no suspicion of Graham. He only knew his own desperate unhappiness. In the meetings held twice weekly in a hall on Third Street he was reckless, advocating violence constantly. The conservative element watched him uneasily; the others kept an eye on him, for future use.
The closing week of the old year found the situation strained in the Klein house. Herman had had plenty of opportunities for situations, but all of them had to do directly or indirectly with the making of munitions for the Allies. Old firms in other lines were not taking on new men. It was the munition works that were increasing their personnel. And by that time the determination not to assist Germany's enemies had become a fixed one.
The day after Christmas, in pursuit of this idea, he commanded Anna to leave the mill. But she had defied him, for the second time in her, life, her face pale to the lips.
"Not on your life," she had said. "You may want to starve. I don't."
"There is plenty of other work."
"Don't you kid yourself. And, anyhow, I'm not looking for it. I don't mind working so you can sit here and nurse a grouch, but I certainly don't intend to start hunting another job."
She had eyed him morosely. "If you ask me," she continued, "you're out of your mind. What's Germany to you? You forgot it as fast as you could, until this war came along. You and Rudolph! You're long distance patriots, you are."
"I will not help my country's enemies," he had said doggedly.
"Your country s enemies. My word! Isn't this your country? What's the old Kaiser to you?"
He had ordered her out of the house, then, but she had laughed at him. She could always better him in an argument.
"Suppose I do go?" she had inquired. "What are you going to live on? I'm not crazy in the head, if you are."
She rather thought he would strike her. He had done it before, with the idea of enforcing discipline. If he did, she would leave him. Let him shift for himself. He had taken her money for years, and he could live on that. But he had only Clared at her.
"We would have done better to remain in Germany," he said. "America has no respect for parents. It has no discipline. It is a country without law."
She felt a weakening in him, and followed up her advantage.
"And another thing, while we're at it," she flung at him. "Don't you go on trying to shove Rudolph down my throat. I'm off Rudolph for keeps."
She flung out her arm, and old Herman saw the gleam of something gold on her wrist. He caught her hand in his iron grip and shoved up her sleeve. There was a tiny gold wrist-watch there, on a flexible chain. His amazement and rage gave her a moment to think, although she was terrified.
"Where did you get that?"
"The mill gave them to the stenographers for Christmas."
"Why did you not tell me?"
"We're not talking much these days, are we?"
He let her go then, and that night, in the little room behind Gustav Shroeder's saloon, he put the question to Rudolph. Because he was excited and frightened he made slow work of his inquiry, and Rudolph had a moment to think.
"Sure," he replied. "All the girls in the executive offices got them."
But when the meeting was over, Rudolph did not go back to his boarding-house. He walked the streets and thought.
He had saved Anna from her father. But he was of no mind to save her from himself. She would have to account to him. for that watch.
Anna herself lay awake until late. She saw already the difficulties before her. Herman was suspicious. He might inquire. There were other girls from the mill offices on the hill. And he might speak to Rudolph.
The next evening she found Rudolph waiting for her outside the mill gate. Together they started up what had been, when Herman bought the cottage, a green hill with a winding path. But the smoke and ore from the mill had long ago turned it to bareness, had killed the trees and shrubbery, and filled the little hollows where once the first arbutus had hidden with cinders and ore dust. The path had become a crooked street, lined with wooden houses, and paved with worn and broken bricks.
Where once Herman Klein had carried his pail and whistled bits of Shubert as he climbed along, a long line of blackened men made their evening way. Untidy children sat on the curb, dogs lay in the center of the road, and women in all stages of dishabille hung over the high railings of their porches and watched for their men.
Under protest of giving her a lift up the hill, Rudolph slipped his hand through Anna's left arm.
Immediately she knew that the movement was a pretext. She could not free herself.
"Be good, now," he cautioned her. "I've got you. I want to see that watch."
"You let me alone."
"I'm going to see that watch."
With his free hand he felt under her sleeve and drew down the bracelet.
"So the mill gave it to you, eh? That's a lie, and you know it."
"I'll tell you, Rudolph," she temporized. "Only don't tell father. All the girls have watches, and I wanted one. So I bought it."
"That's a lie, too."
"On the installment plan," she insisted. "A dollar a week, that's straight. I've paid five on it already."
He was almost convinced, not quite. He unfastened it awkwardly and took it off her wrist. It was a plain little octagonal watch, and on the back was a monogram. The monogram made him suspicious again.
"It's only gold filled, Rudolph."
"Pretty classy monogram for a cheap watch." He held it close; on the dial was the jeweler's name, a famous one. He said nothing more, put it back on Anna's arm and released her. At the next corner he left her, with a civil enough good-bye, but with rage in his heart.