Chapter XXXV




Left alone in her untidy room after Graham's abrupt departure, Anna Klein was dazed. She stood where he left her, staring ahead. What had happened meant only one thing to her, that Graham no longer cared about her, and, if that was true, she did not care to live.

It never occurred to her that he had done rather a fine thing, or that he had protected her against herself. She felt no particular shame, save the shame of rejection. In her small world of the hill, if a man gave a girl valuable gifts or money there was generally a quid pro quo. If the girl was unwilling, she did not accept such gifts. If the man wanted nothing, he did not make them. And men who made love to girls either wanted to marry them or desired some other relationship with them.

She listened to his retreating footsteps, and then began, automatically to unbutton her thin white blouse. But with the sound of the engine of his car below she ran to the window. She leaned out, elbows on the sill, and watched him go, without a look up at her window.

So that was the end of that!

Then, all at once, she was fiercely angry. He had got her into this scrape, and now he had left her. He had pretended to love her, and all the time he had meant to do just this, to let her offer herself so he might reject her. He had been playing with her. She had lost her home because of him, had been beaten almost insensible, had been ill for weeks, and now he had driven away, without even looking back.

She jerked her blouse off, still standing by the window, and when the sleeve caught on her watch, she jerked that off, too. She stood for a moment with it in her hand, her face twisted with shame and anger. Then recklessly and furiously she flung it through the open window.

In the stillness of the street far below she heard it strike and rebound.

"That for him!" she muttered.

Almost immediately she wanted it again. He had given it to her. It was all she had left now, and in a curious way it had, through long wearing, come to mean Graham to her. She leaned out of the window. She thought she saw it gleaming in the gutter, and already, attracted by the crash, a man was crossing the street to where it lay.

"You let that alone," she called down desperately. The figure was already stooping over it. Entirely reckless now, she ran, bare-armed and bare-bosomed, down the stairs and out into the street. She had thought to see its finder escaping, but he was still standing where he had picked it up.

"It's mine," she began. "I dropped it out of the window. I - "

"You threw it out of the window. I saw you."

It was Rudolph.

"You - " He snarled, and stood with menacing eyes fixed on her bare neck.

"Rudolph!"

"Get into the house," he said roughly. "You're half-naked."

"Give me my watch."

"I'll give it to you, all right. What's left of it. When we get in."

He followed her into the hail, but when she turned there and held out her hand, he only snarled again.

"We'll talk up-stairs."

"I can't take you up. The landlady don't allow it."

"She don't, eh? You had that Spencer skunk up there."

His face frightened her, and she lied vehemently.

"That's not so, and you know it, Rudolph Klein. He came inside, just like this, and we stood and talked. Then he went away. He wasn't inside ten minutes." Her voice rose hysterically, but Rudolph caught her by the arm, and pushing her ahead of him, forced her up the stairs.

"We're going to have this out," he muttered, viciously.

Half way up she stopped.

"You're hurting my arm." "You be glad I'm not breaking it for you."

He climbed in a mounting fury. He almost threw her into her room, and closing the door, he turned the key in it. His face reminded her of her father's the night he had beaten her, and her instinct of self-preservation made her put the little table between them.

"You lay a hand on me," she panted, "and I'll yell out the window. The police would be glad enough to have something on you, Rudolph Klein, and you know it."

"They arrest women like you, too."

"Don't you dare say that." And as he took a step or two toward her she retreated to the window. "You stay there, or I'll jump out of the window."

She looked desperate enough to do it, and Rudolph hesitated.

"He was up here. I saw him at the window. I've been trailing you all evening. Keep off that window-sill, you little fool! I'm not going to kill you. But I'm going to get him, all right, and don't you forget it."

His milder tone and the threat frightened her more than ever. He would get Graham; he was like that. Get him in some cruel, helpless way; that was the German blood in him. She began to play for time, with instinctive cunning.

"Listen, Rudolph," she said. "I'll tell you all about it. He did come up, but he left right away. We quarreled. He threw me over, Rudolph. That's what he did."

Her own words reminded her of her humiliation, and tears came into her eyes.

"He threw me over! Honest he did. That's why I threw his watch out of the window. That's straight, Rudolph. That's straight goods. I'm not lying now."

"God!" said Rudolph. "The dirty pup. Then - then you're through with him, eh?"

"I'm through, all right."

Her tone carried conviction. Rudolph's face relaxed, and seeing that, she remembered her half-dressed condition.

"Throw me that waist," she said.

"Come around and get it."

"Aw, Rudolph, throw it. Please!"

"Getting modest, all at once," he jeered. But he picked it up and advanced to the table with it. As she held out her hand for it he caught her and drew her forward toward him, across the table.

"You little devil!" he said, and kissed her.

She submitted, because she must, but she shivered. If she was to save Graham she must play the game. And so far she was winning. She was feminine enough to know that already the thing he thought she had done was to be forgiven her. More than that, she saw a half-reluctant admiration in Rudolph's eyes, as though she had gained value, if she had lost virtue, by the fact that young Spencer had fancied her. And Rudolph's morals were the morals of many of his kind. He admired chastity in a girl, but he did not expect it.

But she was watchful for the next move he might make. That it was not what she expected did not make it the less terrifying.

"You get your hat and coat on."

"I'll not do anything of the kind."

"D'you think I'm going to leave you here, where he can come back whenever he wants to? You think again!"

"Where are you going to take me?"

"I'm going to take you home."

When pleading made no impression on him, and when he refused to move without her, she threw her small wardrobe into the suitcase, and put her hat and coat on. She was past thinking, quite hopeless. She would go back, and her father would kill her, which would be the best thing anyhow; she didn't care to live.

Rudolph had relapsed into moody silence. Down the stairs, and on the street he preceded her, contemptuously letting her trail behind. He carried her suitcase, however, and once, being insecurely fastened, it opened and bits of untidy apparel littered the pavement. He dropped the suitcase and stood by while she filled it again. The softness of that moment, when, lured by her bare arms he had kissed her, was gone.

The night car jolted and swayed. After a time he dozed, and Anna, watching him, made an attempt at flight. He caught her on the rear platform, however, with a clutch that sickened her. The conductor eyed them with the scant curiosity of two o'clock in the morning, when all the waking world is awry.

At last they were climbing the hill to the cottage, while behind and below them the Spencer furnaces sent out their orange and violet flames, and the roar of the blast sounded like the coming of a mighty wind.

The cottage was dark. Rudolph put down the suitcase, and called Herman softly through his hands. Above they could hear him moving, and his angry voice came through the open window.

"What you want?"

"Come down. It's Rudolph."

But when he turned Anna was lying in a dead faint on the garden path, a crumpled little heap of blissful forgetfulness. When Herman came down, it was to find Rudolph standing over her, the suitcase still in his hand, and an ugly scowl on his face.

"Well, I got her," he said. "She's scared, that's all." He prodded her with his foot, but she did not move, and Herman bent down with his candle.

He straightened.

"Bring her in," he said, and led the way into the house. When Rudolph staggered in, with Anna in his arms, he found Herman waiting and fingering the leather strap.



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