Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Anna Klein had gone home, at three o'clock that terrible morning, a trembling, white-faced girl. She had done her best, and she had failed. Unlike Graham, she had no feeling of personal responsibility, but she felt she could never again face her father, with the thing that she knew between them. There were other reasons, too. Herman would be arrested, and she would be called to testify. She had known. She had warned Mr. Spencer. The gang, Rudolph's gang, would get her for that.
She knew where they were now. They would be at Gus's, in the back room, drinking to the success of their scheme, and Gus, who was a German too, would be with them, offering a round of drinks on the house now and then as his share of the night's rejoicing. Gus, who was already arranging to help draft-dodgers by sending them over the Mexican border.
She would have to go back, to get in and out again if she could, before Herman came back. She had no clothes, except what she stood up in, and those in her haste that night were, only her print house-dress with a long coat. She would have to find a new position, and she would have to have her clothing to get about in. She dragged along, singularly unmolested. Once or twice a man eyed her, but her white face and vacant eyes were unattractive, almost sodden.
She was barely able to climb the hill, and as she neared the house her trepidation increased. What if Herman had come back? If he suspected her he would kill her. He must have been half mad to have done the thing, anyhow. He would surely be half mad now. And because she was young and strong, and life was still a mystery to be solved, she did not want to die. Strangely enough, face to face with danger there was still, in the back of her head, an exultant thrill in her very determination to live. She would start over again, and she would work hard and make good.
"You bet I'll make good," she resolved. "Just give me a chance and I'll work my fool head off."
Which was by way of being a prayer.
It was the darkest hour before the dawn when she reached the cottage. It was black and very still, and outside the gate she stooped and slipped off her shoes. The window into the shed by which she had escaped was still open, and she crouched outside, listening. When the stillness remained unbroken she climbed in, tense for a movement or a blow.
Once inside, however, she drew a long breath. The doors were still locked, and the keys gone. So Herman had not returned. But as she stood there, hurried stealthy footsteps came along the street and turned in at the gate. In a panic she flew up the stairs and into her room, where the door still hung crazily on its hinges. She stood there, listening, her heart pounding in her ears, and below she distinctly heard a key in the kitchen door. She did the only thing she could think of. She lifted the door into place, and stood against it, bracing it with her body.
Whoever it was was in the kitchen now, moving however more swiftly than Herman. She heard matches striking. Then:
She knew that it was Rudolph, and she braced herself mentally. Rudolph was keener than Herman. If he found her door in that condition, and she herself dressed?! Working silently and still holding the door in place, she flung off her coat. She even unpinned her hair and unfastened her dress.
When his signal remained unanswered a second time he called her by name, and she heard him coming up.
"Anna!" he repeated.
He was startled to hear her voice so close to the door. In the dark she heard him fumbling for the knob. He happened on the padlock instead, and he laughed a little. By that she knew that he was not quite sober.
"Locked you in, has he?"
"What do you want?"
"Has Herman come home yet?"
"He doesn't get home until seven."
"Hasn't he been back at all, to-night?"
"How do I know? I've been asleep!"
"Some sleep!" he said, and suddenly lurched against the door. In spite of her it yielded, and although she braced herself with all her strength, his weight against it caused it to give way. It was a suspicious, crafty Rudolph who picked himself up and made a clutch at her in the dark.
"You little liar," he said thickly. And struck a match. She cowered away from him.
"I was going to run away, Rudolph," she cried. "He hasn't any business locking me in, I won't stand for it."
"You've been out."
"Out - after him!"
"Honest to God, Rudolph, no. I hate him. I don't ever want to see him again."
He put a hand out into the darkness, and finding her, tried to draw her to him. She struggled, and he released her. All at once she knew that he was weak with fright. The bravado had died out of him. The face she had touched was covered with a clammy sweat.
"I wish to God Herman would come."
"What d' you want with him?"
"Have you got any whisky?"
"You've had enough of that stuff."
Some one was walking along the street outside. She felt that he was listening, crouched ready to run; but the steps went on.
"Look here, Anna," he said, when he had pulled himself together again. "I'm going to get out of this. I'm going away."
"All right. You can go for all of me."
"D'you mean to say you've been asleep all night? You didn't hear anything?"
"You'll know soon enough." Then he told her, hurriedly, that he was going away. He'd come back to get her to promise to follow him. He wasn't going to stay here and -
"And be drafted," he finished, rather lamely.
"Gus has a friend in a town on the Mexican border," he said. "He's got maps of the country to Mexico City, and the Germans there fix you up all right. I'll get rich down there and some day I'll send for you? What's that?"
He darted to the window, faintly outlined by a distant street-lamp. Three men were standing quietly outside the gate, and a fourth was already in the garden, silently moving toward the house. She felt Rudolph brush by her, and the trembling hand he laid on her arm.
"Now lie!" he whispered fiercely. "You haven't seen me. I haven't been here to-night."
Then he was gone. She ran to the window. The other three men were coming in, moving watchfully and slowly, and Rudolph was at Katie's window, cursing. If she was a prisoner, so was Rudolph. He realized that instantly, and she heard him breaking out the sash with a chair. At the sound the three figures broke into a run, and she heard the sash give way. Almost instantly there was firing. The first shot was close, and she knew it was Rudolph firing from the window. Some wild design of braining him from behind with a chair flashed into her desperate mind, but when she had felt her way into Katie's room he had gone. The garden below was quiet, but there was yelling and the crackling of underbrush from the hill-side. Then a scattering of shots again, and silence. The yard was empty.
The hill paid but moderate attention to shots. They were usually merely pyrotechnic, and indicated rejoicing rather than death. But here and there she heard a window raised, and then lowered again. The hill had gone back to bed. Anna went into her room and dressed. For the first time it had occurred to her that she might be held by the police, and the thought was unbearable. It was when she was making her escape that she found a prostrate figure in the yard, and knew that one of Rudolph's shots had gone home. She could not go away and leave that, not unless - A terrible hatred of Herman and Rudolph and all their kind suddenly swept over her. She would not run away. She would stay and tell all the terrible truth. It was her big moment, and she rose to it. She would see it through. What was her own safety to letting this band of murderers escape? And all that in the few seconds it took to reach the fallen figure. It was only when she was very close that she saw it was moving.
"Tell Dunbar he went to the left," a voice was saying. "The left! They'll lose him yet."
"Hello," said Joey's voice. He considered that he was speaking very loud, but it was hardly more than a whisper. "That wasn't your father, was it? The old boy couldn't jump and run like that."
"Are you hurt?"
He coughed a little, a gurgling cough that rather startled himself. But he was determined to be a man.
"No. I just lay down here for a nap. Who was it that jumped?"
"My cousin Rudolph. Do you think I can help you into the house?"
"I'll walk there myself in a minute. Unless your cousin Rudolph - " His head dropped back on her arm. "I feel sort of all in." His voice trailed off.
"Lemme alone," he muttered. "I'm the first casualty in the American army! I - " He made a desperate effort to speak in a man's voice, but the higher boyish notes of sixteen conquered. "They certainly gave us hell to-night. But we're going to build again; me and - Clayton Spen - "
All at once he was very still. Anna spoke to him and, that failing, gave him a frantic little shake. But Joey had gone to another partnership beyond the stars.