Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Herman Klein, watch between forefinger and thumb, climbed heavily to Anna's room. She heard him pause outside the door, and her heart almost stopped beating. She had been asleep, and rousing at his step, she had felt under the pillow for her watch to see the time. It was not there.
She remembered then; she had left it below, on the table. And he was standing outside her door. She heard him scratching a match, striking it against the panel of her door. For so long as it would take the match to burn out, she heard him there, breathing heavily. Then the knob turned.
She leaped out of the bed in a panic of fear. The hall, like the room, was dark, and she felt his ponderous body in the doorway, rather than saw it.
"You will put on something and come down-stairs," he said harshly.
"I will not." She tried to keep her voice steady. "I've got to work, if you haven't. I've got to have my sleep." Her tone rose, hysterically. "If you think you can stay out half the night, and guzzle beer, and then come here to get me up, you can think again."
"You are already up," he said, in a voice slowed and thickened by rage. "You will come down-stairs."
He turned away and descended the creaking stairs again. She listened for the next move, but he made none. She knew then that he was waiting at the foot of the stairs.
She was half-maddened with terror by that time, and she ran to the window. But it was high. Even if she could have dropped out, and before she could put on enough clothing to escape in, he would be back again, his rage the greater for the delay. She slipped into a kimono, and her knees giving way under her she went down the stairs. Herman was waiting. He moved under the lamp, and she saw that he held the watch, dangling.
"Now!" he said. "Where you got this? Tell me."
"I've told you how I got it."
"That was a lie."
So - Rudolph had told him!
"I like that!" she blustered, trying to gain time. "I guess it's time they gave me something - I've worked hard enough. They gave them to all the girls."
"That is a lie also."
"I like that. Telling me I'm lying. You ask Mr. Graham Spencer. He'll tell you."
"If that is true, why do you shake so?"
"You scare me, father." She burst into frightened tears. "I don't know what's got into you. I do my best. I give you all I make. I've kept this house going, and" - she gained a little courage - "I've had darned little thanks for it."
"You think I believe the mill gave five thousand dollars in watches last Christmas? To-morrow I go, with this to Mr. Clayton Spencer, not to that degenerate son of his, and I ask him. Then I shall know."
He turned, as if about to leave her, but the alternative he offered her was too terrible.
"Father!" she said. "I'll tell you the truth. I bought it myself."
"With what money?"
"I had a raise. I didn't tell you. I had a raise of five dollars a week. I'm paying for it myself. Honest to heaven, that's right, father."
"So - you have had a raise, and you have not told me?"
"I give all the rest to you. What do I get out of all my hard work? Just a place to live. No clothes. No fun. No anything. All the other girls have a good time now and then, but I'm just like a prisoner. You take all I earn, and I get - the devil."
Her voice rose to a terrified squeal. Behind her she heard the slovenly servant creaking down the stairs. As Herman moved toward her she screamed.
"Katie!" she called. "Quick. Help!"
But Herman had caught her by the shoulder and was dragging her toward a corner, where there hung a leather strap.
Katie, peering round the door of the enclosed staircase, saw him raise the strap, and Anna's white face upraised piteously.
"For God's sake, father."
The strap descended. Even after Katie had rushed up the stairs and locked herself in the room, she could hear, above Anna's cries, the thud of the strap, relentless, terrible, lusty with cruelty.
Herman went to church the next morning. Lying in her bed, too sore and bruised to move, Anna heard him carefully polishing his boots on the side porch, heard him throw away the water after he had shaved, heard at last the slam of the gate as he started, upright in his Sunday clothes, for church.
Only when he had reached the end of the street, and Katie could see him picking his way down the blackened hill, did she venture up with a cup of coffee. Anna had to unlock her door to admit her, to remove a further barricade of chairs. When Katie saw her she almost dropped the cup.
"You poor little rat," she said compassionately. "Gee! He was crazy. I never saw such a face. Gee!"
Anna said nothing. She dropped on the side of the bed and took the coffee, drinking gingerly through a lip swollen and cut.
"I'm going to leave," Katie went on. "It'll be my time next. If he tries any tricks on me I'll have the law on him. He's a beast; that's what he is."
"Katie," Anna said, "if I leave can you get my clothes to me? I'll carry all I can."
"He'd take the strap to me."
"Well, if you're leaving anyhow, you can put some of my things in your trunk."
"Good and right you are to get out," Katie agreed. "Sure I'll do it. Where do you think you'll go?"
"I thought last night I'd jump in the river. I've changed my mind, though. I'll pay him back, and not the way he expects."
"Give it to him good," assented Katie. "I'd have liked to slip some of that Paris green of his in his coffee this morning. And now he's off for church, the old hypocrite!"
To Katie's curious inquiries as to the cause of the beating Anna was now too committal.
"I held out some money on him," was all she said.
Katie regarded her with a mixture of awe and admiration.
"You've got your nerve," she said. "I wonder he didn't kill you. What's yours is his and what's his is his own!"
But Anna could not leave that morning. She lay in her bed, cold compresses on her swollen face and shoulders, a bruised and broken thing, planning hideous reprisals. Herman made no inquiry for her. He went stolidly about the day's work, carried in firewood and coal from the shed, inspected the garden with a view to early planting, and ate hugely of the mid-day dinner.
In the afternoon Rudolph came.
"Where's Anna?" he asked briskly.
"She is in her room. She is not well."
If Rudolph suspected anything, it was only that Anna was sulking. But later on he had reason to believe that there trouble. Out of a clear sky Herman said:
"She has had a raise." Anna was "she" to him.
"Since when?" Rudolph asked with interest.
"I know nothing. She has not given it to me. She has been buying herself a watch."
"So!" Rudolph's tone was wary.
"She will buy herself no more watches," said Herman, with an air of finality.
Rudolph hesitated. The organization wanted Herman; he had had great influence with the millworkers. Through him many things would be possible. The Spencers trusted him, too. At any time Rudolph knew they would be glad to reinstate him, and once inside the plant, there was no limit to the mischief he could do. But Herman was too valuable to risk. Suppose he was told now about Graham Spencer and Anna, and beat the girl and was jailed for it? Besides, ugly as Rudolph's suspicions were, they were as yet only suspicions. He decided to wait until he could bring Herman proof of Graham Spencer's relations with Anna. When that time came he knew Herman. He would be clay for the potter. He, Rudolph, intended to be the potter.
Katie had an afternoon off that Sunday. When she came back that night, Herman, weary from the late hours of Saturday, was already snoring in his bed. Anna met Katie at her door and drew her in.
"I've found a nice room, Katie whispered. "Here's the address written down. The street cars go past it. Three dollars a week. Are you ready?"
Anna was ready, even to her hat. Over it she placed a dark veil, for she was badly disfigured. Then, with Katie crying quietly, she left the house. In the flare from the Spencer furnaces Katie watched until the girl reappeared on the twisting street below which still followed the old path - that path where Herman, years ago, had climbed through the first spring wild flowers to the cottage on the hill.
Graham was uncomfortable the next morning on his way to the mill. Anna's face had haunted him. But out of all his confusion one thing stood out with distinctness. If he was to be allowed to marry Marion, he must have no other entanglement. He would go to her clean and clear.
So he went to the office, armed toward Anna with a hardness he was far from feeling.
"Poor little kid!" he reflected on the way down. "Rotten luck, all round."
He did not for a moment believe that it would be a lasting grief. He knew that sort of girl, he reflected, out of his vast experience of twenty-two. They were sentimental, but they loved and forgot easily. He hoped she would forget him; but even with that, there was a vague resentment that she should do so.
"She'll marry some mill-hand," he reflected, "and wear a boudoir cap, and have a lot of children who need their noses wiped."
But he was uncomfortable.
Anna was not in her office. Her coat and hat were not there. He was surprised, somewhat relieved. It was out of his hands, then; she had gone somewhere else to work. Well, she was a good stenographer. Somebody was having a piece of luck.
Clayton, finding him short-handed, sent Joey over to help him pack up his office belongings, the fittings of his desk, his personal papers, the Japanese prints and rugs Natalie had sent after her single visit to the boy's new working quarters. And, when Graham came back from luncheon, Joey had a message for him.
"Telephone call for you, Mr. Spencer."
"What was it?"
"Lady called up, from a pay phone. She left her number and said she'd wait." Joey lowered his voice confidentially. "Sounded like Miss Klein," he volunteered.
He was extremely resentful when Graham sent him away on an errand. And Graham himself frowned as he called the number on the pad. It was like a girl, this breaking off clean and then telephoning, instead of letting the thing go, once and for all. But his face changed as he heard Anna's brief story over the wire.
"Of course I'll come," he said. "I'm pretty busy, but I can steal a half-hour. Don't you worry. We'll fix it up some way."
He was more concerned than deeply anxious when he rang off. It was unfortunate, that was all. And the father was a German swine, and ought to be beaten himself. To think that his Christmas gift had brought her to such a pass! A leather strap! God!
He was vaguely uneasy, however. He had a sense of a situation being forced on him. He knew, too, that Clayton was waiting for him at the new plant. But Anna's trouble, absurd as its cause seemed to him, was his responsibility.
It ceased to be absurd, however, when he saw her discolored features. It would be some time before she could even look for another situation. Her face was a swollen mask, and since such attraction as she had had for him had been due to a sort of evanescent prettiness of youth, he felt a repulsion that he tried his best to conceal.
"You poor little thing!" he said. "He's a brute. I'd like - " He clenched his fists. "Well, I got you into it. I'm certainly going to see you through."
She bad lowered her veil quickly, and he felt easier. The telephone booth was in the corner of a quiet hotel, and they were alone. He patted her shoulder.
"I'll see you through," he repeated. "Don't you worry about anything. Just lie low."
"See me through? How?"
"I can give you money; that's the least I can do. Until you are able to work again." And as she drew away, "We'll call it a loan, if that makes you feel better. You haven't anything, have you?"
"He has everything I've earned.. I've never had a penny except carfare."
"Poor little girl!" he said again.
She was still weak, he saw, and he led her into the deserted cafe. He took a highball himself, not because he wanted it, but because she refused to drink, at first. He had never before had a drink in the morning, and he felt a warm and reckless glow to his very finger-tips. Bending toward her, while the waiter's back was turned, he kissed her marred and swollen cheek.
"To think I have brought you all this trouble!"
"You mustn't blame yourself."
"I do. But I'll make it up to you, Anna. Yon don't hate me for it, do you?"
"Hate you! You know better than that."
"I'll come round to take you out now and then, in the evenings. I don't want you to sit alone in that forsaken boarding-house and mope." He drew out a bill-fold, and extracted some notes. "Don't be silly," he protested, as she drew back. "It's the only way I can get back my self-respect. You owe it to me to let me do it."
She was not hard to persuade. Anything was better than going back to the cottage on the hill, and to that heavy brooding figure, and the strap on the wall. But the taking of the money marked a new epoch in the girl's infatuation. It bought her. She did not know it, nor did he. But hitherto she had been her own, earning her own livelihood. What she gave of love, of small caresses and intimacies, had been free gifts.
From that time she was his creature. In her creed, which was the creed of the girls on the hill, one did not receive without giving. She would pay him back, but all that she had to give was herself.
"You'll come to see me, too. Won't you?"
The tingling was very noticeable now. He felt warm, and young, and very, very strong.
"Of course I'll come to see you," he said, recklessly. "You take a little time off - you've worked hard - and we'll play round together."
She bent down, unexpectedly, and put her bruised cheek against his hand, as it lay on the table.
"I love you dreadfully," she whispered.