Chapter XLI
 

Anna Klein stood in her small room and covered her mouth with her hands, lest she shriek aloud. She knew quite well that the bomb in the suit-case would not suffice to blow up the whole great plant. But she knew what the result of its explosion would be.

The shells were not loaded at the Spencer plant. They were shipped away for that. But the fuses were loaded there, and in the small brick house at the end of the fuse building there were stored masses of explosive, enough to destroy a town. It was there, of course, that Herman was to place the bomb. She knew how he would o it, carefully, methodically, and with what a lumbering awkward gait he would make his escape.

Her whole mind was bent on giving the alarm. On escaping, first, and then on arousing the plant. But when the voices below continued, long after Herman had gone, she was entirely desperate. Herman had not carried out the suit-case. He had looked, indeed, much as usual as he walked out the garden path and closed the gate behind him. He had walked rather slowly, but then he always walked slowly. She seemed to see, however, a new caution in his gait, as of one who dreaded to stumble.

She dressed herself, with shaking fingers, and pinned on her hat. The voices still went on below, monotonous, endless; the rasping of Rudolph's throat, irritated by cheap cigarets, the sound of glasses on the table, once a laugh, guttural and mirthless. It was ten o'clock when she knew, by the pushing back of their chairs, that they were preparing to depart. Ten o'clock!

She was about to commence again the feverish unscrewing of the door hinges, when she heard Rudolph's step on the stairs. She had only time to get to the back of her room, beside the bed, when she heard him try the knob.

"Anna?"

She let him call her again.

"Anna!"

"What is it?"

"You in bed?"

"Yes. Go away and let me alone. I've got a right to sleep, anyhow."

"I'm going out, but I'll be back in ten minutes. You try any tricks and I'll get you. See?"

"You make me sick," she retorted.

She heard him turn and run lightly down the stairs. Only when she heard the click of the gate did she dare to begin again at the door. She got down-stairs easily, but she was still a prisoner. However, she found the high little window into the coal-shed open, and crawled through it, to stand listening. The street was quiet.

Once outside the yard she started to run. They would let her telephone from the drug-store, even without money. She had no money. But the drug-store was closed and dark, and the threat of Rudolph's return terrified her. She must get off the hill, somehow.

There were still paths down the steep hill-side, dangerous things that hugged the edge of small, rocky precipices, or sloped steeply to sudden turns. But she had played over the hill all her young life. She plunged down, slipping and falling a dozen times, and muttering, some times an oath, some times a prayer,

"Oh, God, let me be in time. Oh, God, hold him up a while until I - " then a slip. "If I fall now - "

Only when she was down in the mill district did she try to make any plan. It was almost eleven then, and her ears were tense with listening for the sound she dreaded. She faced her situation, then. She could not telephone from a private house, either to the mill or to the Spencer house, what she feared, and the pay-booths of the telephone company demanded cash in advance. She was incapable of clear thought, or she would have found some way out, undoubtedly. What she did, in the end, was to board an up-town car and throw herself on the mercy of the conductor.

"I've got to get up-town," she panted. "I'll not go in. See? I'll stand here and you take me as far as you can. Look at me! I don't look as though I'm just bumming a ride, do I?"

The conductor hesitated. He had very little faith in human nature, but Anna's eyes were both truthful and desperate. He gave the signal to go on.

"What's up?" he said. "Police after you?"

"Yes," Anna replied briefly.

There is, in certain ranks, a tacit conspiracy against the police. The conductor hated them. They rode free on his car, and sometimes kept an eye on him in the rush hours. They had a way, too, of letting him settle his own disputes with inebriated gentlemen who refused to pay their fares.

"Looks as though they'd come pretty close to grabbing you, he opened, by way of conversation. "But ten of 'em aren't a match for one smart girL They can't run. All got flat feet."

Anna nodded. She was faint and dizzy, and the car seemed to creep along. It was twenty minutes after eleven when she got out. The conductor leaned down after her, hanging to the handrail.

"Good luck to you!" he said. "And you'd better get a better face on you than that. It's enough to send you up, on suspicion!"

She hardly heard him. She began to run, and again she said over and over her little inarticulate prayer. She knew the Spencer house. More than once she had walked past it, on Sunday afternoons, for the sheer pleasure of seeing Graham's home. Well, all that was over now. Everything was over, unless -

The Spencer house was dark, save for a low light in the hall. A new terror seized her. Suppose Graham saw her. He might not believe her story. He might think it a ruse to see his father. But, as it happened, Clayton had sent the butler to bed, and himself answered the bell from the library.

He recognized her at once, and because he saw the distress on her face he brought her in at once. In the brief moment that it required to turn on the lights he had jumped to a sickening conviction that Graham was at the bottom of her visit, and her appearance in full light confirmed this.

"Come into the library," he said. "We can talk in there." He led the way and drew up a chair for her. But she did not sit down. She steadied herself by its back, instead.

"You think it's about Graham," she began. "it isn't, not directly, that is. And my coming is terrible, because it's my own father. They're going to blow up the munition plant, Mr. Spencer!"

"When?"

"To-night, I think. I came as fast as I could. I was locked in.

"Locked in?" He was studying her face.

"Yes. Don't bother about that now. I'm not crazy or hysterical. I tell you I heard them. I've been a prisoner or I'd have come sooner. To-day they brought something - dynamite or a bomb - in a suit-case - and it's gone to-night. He took it - my father."

He was already at the telephone as she spoke. He called the mill first, and got the night superintendent. Then he called a number Anna supposed was the police station, and at the same time he was ringing the garage-signal steadily for his car. By the time he had explained the situation to the police, his car was rolling under the porte-cochere beside the house. He was starting out, forgetful of the girl, when she caught him by the arm.

"You mustn't go!" she cried. "You'll be killed, too. It will all go, all of it. You can't be spared, Mr. Spencer. You can build another mill, but - "

He shook her off, gently.

"Of course I'm going," he said. "We'll get it in time. Don't you worry. You sit down here and rest, and when it's all straightened out I'll come back. I suppose you can't go home, after this?"

"No," she said, dully.

He ran out, hatless, and a moment later she heard the car rush out into the night.

Five minutes passed. Ten. Anna Klein stood, staring ahead of her. When nothing happened she moved around and sat down in the chair. She was frightfully tired. She leaned her head back and tried to think of something to calm her shaking nerves, - that this was Graham's home, that he sometimes sat in that very chair. But she found that Graham meant nothing to her. Nothing mattered, except that her warning had been in time.

So intent was she on the thing that she was listening for that smaller, near-by sounds escaped her. So she did not hear a door open up-stairs and the soft rustle of a woman's negligee as it swept from stair to stair. But as the foot-steps outside the door she stood up quickly and looked back over her shoulder.

Natalie stood framed in the doorway, staring at her.

"Well?" she said. And on receiving no answer from the frightened girl, "What are you doing here?"

The ugly suspicion in her voice left Anna speechless for a moment.

"Don't move, please," said Natalie's cold voice. "Stay just where you are." She reached behind the curtain at the doorway, and Anna heard the far-away ringing of a bell, insistent and prolonged. The girl roused herself with an effort.

"I came to see Mr. Spencer."

"That is a likely story! Who let you in?"

"Mr. Spencer."

"Mr. Spencer is not in."

"But he did. I'm telling you the truth. Indeed I am. I rang the bell, and he came to the door. I had something to tell him."

"What could you possibly have to tell my husband at this hour."

But Anna Klein did not answer. From far away there came a dull report followed almost immediately by a second one. The windows rattled, and the house seemed to rock rather gently on its foundation. Then silence.

Anna Klein picked up her empty pocket-book from the table and looked at it.

"I was too late," she said dully, and the next moment she was lying at Natalie's feet.