Woman in the Dark


  “Now, look here, Luise,” Robson began again, quite reasonably. “You’ve got hours before train time—time enough to get some rest and a nap and to—”

  She said simply: “I have gone.”

  Robson grimaced impatiently, half humorously, and turned his palms out in a gesture of helplessness. “But what are you going to do?” he asked in a tone that matched the gesture. “You’re not going to expect Brazil to put you up till train time and then drive you to the station?”

  She looked at Brazil with level eyes and asked calmly: “Is it too much?”

  Brazil shook his head carelessly. “Uh-uh.”

  Robson and Conroy turned together to look at Brazil. There was considerable interest in their eyes, but no visible hostility. He bore the inspection placidly.

  Luise Fischer said coolly, with an air of finality: “So.”

  Conroy looked questioningly at Robson, who sighed wearily and asked: “Your mind’s made up on this, Luise?”

  “Yes.”

  Robson shrugged again, said: “You always know what you want.” Face and voice were grave. He started to turn away toward the door, then stopped to ask: “Have you got enough money?” One of his hands went into the inner breast pocket of his dinner jacket.

  “I want nothing,” she told him.

  “Right. If you want anything later, let me know. Come on, Dick.”

  He went to the door, opened it, twisted his head around to direct a brisk “Thanks, good night” at Brazil, and went out.

  Conroy touched Luise Fischer’s forearm lightly with three fingers, said “Good luck” to her, bowed to Evelyn and Brazil, and followed Robson out.

  The dog raised his head to watch the two men go out. The girl Evelyn stared at the door with despairing eyes and worked her hands together. Luise Fischer told Brazil: “You will be wise to lock your door.”

  He stared at her for a long moment, brooding, and while no actual change seemed to take place in his expression, all his facial muscles stiffened. “No,” he said finally, “I won’t lock it.”

  The woman’s eyebrows went up a little, but she said nothing. The girl spoke, addressing Brazil for the first time since Luise Fischer’s arrival. Her voice was peculiarly emphatic. “They were drunk.”

  “They’ve been drinking,” he conceded. He looked thoughtfully at her, apparently only then noticing her perturbation. “You look like a drink would do you some good.”

  She became confused. Her eyes evaded his. “Do—do you want one?”

  “I think so.” He looked inquiringly at Luise Fischer, who nodded and said: “Thank you.”

  The girl went out of the room. The woman leaned forward a little to look intently up at Brazil. Her voice was calm enough, but the deliberate slowness with which she spoke made her words impressive: “Do not make the mistake of thinking Mr. Robson is not dangerous.”

  He seemed to weigh this speech almost sleepily; then, regarding her with a slight curiosity, he said: “I’ve made an enemy?”

  Her nod was sure.

  He accepted that with a faint grin, offering her his cigarettes again, asking: “Have you?”

  She stared through him as if studying some distant thing and replied slowly: “Yes, but I have lost a worse friend.”

  Evelyn came in, carrying a tray that held glasses, mineral water, and a bottle of whiskey. Her dark eyes, glancing from man to woman, were inquisitive, somewhat furtive. She went to the table and began to mix drinks.

  Brazil finished lighting his cigarette and asked: “Leaving him for good?”

  For the moment during which she stared haughtily at him it seemed that the woman did not intend to answer his question; but suddenly her face was distorted by an expression of utter hatred and she spit out a venomous “Ja!”

  He set his glass on the mantelpiece and went to the door. He went through the motions of looking out into the night; yet he opened the door a bare couple of inches and shut it immediately, and his manner was so far from nervous that he seemed preoccupied with something else.

  He turned to the mantelpiece, picked up his glass, and drank. Then, his eyes focused contemplatively on the lowered glass, he was about to speak when a telephone bell rang behind a door facing the fireplace. He opened the door, and as soon as he had passed out of sight his hoarse, unemotional voice could be heard. “Hello?… Yes… Yes, Nora… Just a moment.” He re-entered the room, saying to the girl: “Nora wants to talk to you.” He shut the bedroom door behind her.

  Luise said: “You cannot have lived here long if you did not know Kane Robson before tonight.”

  “A month or so; but, of course, he was in Europe till he came back last week”—he paused—“with you.” He picked up his glass. “Matter of fact, he is my landlord.”

  “Then you—” She broke off as the bedroom door opened. Evelyn stood in the doorway, hands to breast, and cried: “Father’s coming—somebody phoned him I was here.” She hurried across the room to pick up hat and coat from a chair.

  Brazil said: “Wait. You’ll meet him on the road if you go now. You’ll have to wait till he gets here, then duck out back and beat him home while he’s jawing at me. I’ll stick your car down at the foot of the back road.” He drained his glass and started for the bedroom door.

  “But you won’t”—her lip quivered—“won’t fight with him? Promise me you won’t.”

  “I won’t.” He went into the bedroom, returned almost immediately with a soft brown hat on his head and one of his arms in a raincoat. “It’ll only take me five minutes.” He went out the front door.

  Luise Fischer said: “Your father does not approve?”

  The girl shook her head miserably. Then suddenly she turned to the woman, holding her hands out in an appealing gesture, lips—almost colorless—moving jerkily as her words tumbled out: “You’ll be here. Don’t let them fight. They mustn’t.”

  The woman took the girl’s hands and put them together between her own, saying: “I will do what I can, I promise you.”

  “He mustn’t get in trouble again,” the girl moaned. “He mustn’t!”

  The door opened and Brazil came in.

  “That’s done,” he said cheerfully, and took off his raincoat, dropped it on a chair, and put his damp hat on it. “I left it at the end of the fence.” He picked up the woman’s empty glass and his own and went to the table. “Better slide out to the kitchen in case he pops in suddenly.” He began to pour whiskey into the glasses.

  The girl wet her lips with her tongue, said, “Yes, I guess so,” indistinctly, smiled timidly, pleadingly, at Luise Fischer, hesitated, and touched his sleeve with her fingers. “You—you’ll behave?”

  “Sure.” He did not stop preparing his drinks.

  “I’ll call you up tomorrow.” She smiled at Luise Fischer and moved reluctantly toward the door.

  Brazil gave the woman her glass, pulled a chair around to face her more directly, and sat down.

  “Your little friend,” the woman said, “she loves you very much.”

  He seemed doubtful. “Oh, she’s just a kid,” he said.

  “But her father,” she suggested, “he is not nice—eh?”

  “He’s cracked,” he replied carelessly, then became thoughtful. “Suppose Robson phoned him?”

  “Would he know?”

  He smiled a little. “In a place like this everybody knows all about everybody.”

  “Then about me,” she began, “you—”

  She was interrupted by a pounding on the door that shook it on its hinges and filled the room with thunder. The dog came in, stiff-legged on its feet.

  Brazil gave the woman a brief grim smile and called: “All right. Come in.”

  The door was violently opened by a medium-sized man in a glistening black rubber coat that hung to his ankles. Dark eyes set too close together burned under the down-turned brim of his gray hat. A pale bony nose jutted out above ragged, short-cut, grizzled mustache and beard. One fist gripped a heavy applewood walking stick.

>   “Where is my daughter?” this man demanded. His voice was deep, powerful, resounding.

  Brazil’s face was a phlegmatic mask. “Hello, Grant,” he said.

  The man in the doorway took another step forward. “Where is my daughter?”

  The dog growled and showed its teeth. Luise Fischer said: “Franz!” The dog looked at her and moved its tail sidewise an inch or two and back.

  Brazil said: “Evelyn’s not here.”

  Grant glared at him. “Where is she?”

  Brazil was placid. “I don’t know.”

  “That’s a lie!” Grant’s eyes darted their burning gaze around the room. The knuckles of his hand holding the stick were white. “Evelyn!” he called.

  Luise Fischer, smiling as if entertained by the bearded man’s rage, said: “It is so, Mr. Grant. There is nobody else here.”

  He glanced briefly at her, with loathing in his mad eyes. “Bah! The strumpet’s word confirms the convict’s!” He strode to the bedroom door and disappeared inside.

  Brazil grinned. “See? He’s cracked. He always talks like that—like a guy in a bum book.”

  She smiled at him and said: “Be patient.”

  “I’m being,” he said dryly.

  Grant came out of the bedroom and stamped across to the rear door, opened it, and disappeared through it.

  Brazil emptied his glass and put it on the floor beside his chair. “There’ll be more fireworks when he comes back.”

  When the bearded man returned to the room, he stalked in silence to the front door, pulled it open, and, holding the latch with one hand, banging the ferrule of his walking stick on the floor with the other, roared at Brazil: “For the last time, I’m telling you not to have anything to do with my daughter! I shan’t tell you again.” He went out, slamming the door.

  Brazil exhaled heavily and shook his head. “Cracked,” he sighed. “Absolutely cracked.”

  Luise Fischer said: “He called me a strumpet. Do people here—”

  He was not listening to her. He had left his chair and was picking up his hat and coat. “I want to slip down and see if she got away all right. If she gets home first she’ll be O.K. Nora—that’s her stepmother—will take care of her. But if she doesn’t—I won’t be long.” He went out the back way.

  Luise Fischer kicked off her remaining slipper and stood up, experimenting with her weight on her injured leg. Three tentative steps proved her leg stiff but serviceable. She saw then that her hands and arms were still dirty from the road and, exploring, presently found a bathroom opening off the bedroom. She hummed a tune to herself while she washed and, in the bedroom again, while she combed her hair and brushed her clothes—but broke off impatiently when she failed to find powder or lipstick. She was studying her reflection in a tall looking-glass when she heard the outer door opening.

  Her face brightened. “I am here,” she called, and went into the other room.

  Robson and Conroy were standing inside the door.

  “So you are, my dear,” Robson said, smiling at her start of surprise. He was paler than before and his eyes were glassier, but he seemed otherwise unchanged. Conroy, however, was somewhat disheveled; his face was flushed and he was obviously rather drunk.

  The woman had recovered composure. “What do you want?” she demanded bluntly.

  Robson looked around. “Where’s Brazil?”

  “What do you want?” she repeated.

  He looked past her at the open bedroom door, grinned, and crossed to it. When he turned from the empty room she sneered at him. Conroy had gone to the fireplace, where the Great Dane was lying, and was standing with his back to the fire, watching them.

  Robson said: “Well, it’s like this, Luise: you’re going back home with me.”

  She said: “No.”

  He wagged his head up and down, grinning.

  “I haven’t got my money’s worth out of you yet.” He took a step toward her.

  She retreated to the table, caught up the whiskey bottle by its neck. “Do not touch me!” Her voice, like her face, was cold with fury.

  The dog rose, growling.

  Robson’s dark eyes jerked sidewise to focus on the dog, then on Conroy—and one eyelid twitched—then on the woman again.

  Conroy—with neither tenseness nor furtiveness to alarm woman or dog—put his right hand into his overcoat pocket, brought out a black pistol, put its muzzle close behind one of the dog’s ears, and shot the dog through the head. The dog tried to leap, fell on its side; its legs stirred feebly. Conroy, smiling foolishly, returned the pistol to his pocket.

  Luise Fischer spun around at the sound of the shot. Screaming at Conroy, she raised the bottle to hurl it. But Robson caught her wrist with one hand, wrenched the bottle away with the other. He was grinning, saying, “No, no, my sweet,” in a bantering voice.

  He put the bottle on the table again, but kept his grip on her wrist.

  The dog’s legs stopped moving.

  Robson said: “All right. Now, are you ready to go?”

  She made no attempt to free her wrist. She drew herself up straight and said very seriously: “My friend, you do not know me yet if you think I am going with you.”

  Robson chuckled. “You don’t know me if you think you’re not,” he told her.

  The front door opened and Brazil came in. His sallow face was phlegmatic, though there was a shade of annoyance in his eyes. He shut the door carefully behind him, then addressed his guests. His voice was that of one who complains without anger. “What the hell is this?” he asked. “Visitors’ day? Am I supposed to be running a roadhouse?”

  Robson said: “We are going now. Fraulein Fischer’s going with us.”

  Brazil was looking at the dead dog, annoyance deepening in his copperish eyes. “That’s all right if she wants to,” he said indifferently.

  The woman said: “I am not going.”

  Brazil was still looking at the dog. “That’s all right too,” he muttered, and with more interest: “But who did this?” He walked over to the dog and prodded its head with his foot. “Blood all over the floor,” he grumbled.

  Then, without raising his head, without the slightest shifting of balance or stiffening of his body, he drove his right fist up into Conroy’s handsome, drunken face.

  Conroy fell away from the fist rigidly, with upbent knees, turning a little as he fell. His head and one shoulder struck the stone fireplace, and he tumbled forward, rolling completely over, face upward, on the floor.

  Brazil whirled to face Robson.

  Robson had dropped the woman’s wrist and was trying to get a pistol out of his overcoat pocket. But she had flung herself on his arm, hugging it to her body, hanging with her full weight on it, and he could not free it, though he tore her hair with his other hand.

  Brazil went around behind Robson, struck his chin up with a fist so he could slide his forearm under it across the taller man’s throat. When he had tightened the forearm there and had his other hand wrapped around Robson’s wrist, he said: “All right. I’ve got him.”

  Luise Fischer released the man’s arm and fell back on her haunches. Except for the triumph in it, her face was as businesslike as Brazil’s.

  Brazil pulled Robson’s arm up sharply behind his back. The pistol came up with it, and when the pistol was horizontal Robson pulled the trigger. The bullet went between his back and Brazil’s chest, to splinter the corner of a bookcase in the far end of the room.

  Brazil said: “Try that again, baby, and I’ll break your arms. Drop it!”

  Robson hesitated, let the pistol clatter down on the floor. Luise Fischer scrambled forward on hands and knees to pick it up. She sat on a corner of the table, holding the pistol in her hand.

  Brazil pushed Robson away from him and crossed the room to kneel beside the man on the floor, feeling his pulse, running hands over his body, and rising with Conroy’s pistol, which he thrust into a hip pocket.

  Conroy moved one leg, his eyelids fluttered sleepily, and he
groaned.

  Brazil jerked a thumb at him and addressed Robson curtly: “Take him and get out.”

  Robson went over to Conroy, stooped to lift his head and shoulders a little, shook him, and said irritably: “Come on, Dick, wake up. We’re going.”

  Conroy mumbled, “I’m a’ ri’,” and tried to lie down again.

  “Get up, get up,” Robson snarled, and slapped his cheeks.

  Conroy shook his head and mumbled: “Do’ wan’a.”

  Robson slapped the blond face again. “Come on, get up, you louse.”

  Conroy groaned and mumbled something unintelligible.

  Brazil said impatiently: “Get him out anyway. The rain’ll bring him around.”

  Robson started to speak, changed his mind, picked up his hat from the floor, put it on, and bent over the blond man again. He pulled him up into something approaching a sitting position, drew one limp arm over his shoulder, got a hand around Conroy’s back and under his armpit, and rose, slowly lifting the other on unsteady legs beside him.

  Brazil held the front door open. Half dragging, half carrying Conroy, Robson went out.

  Brazil shut the door, leaned his back against it, and shook his head in mock resignation.

  Luise Fischer put Robson’s pistol down on the table and stood up. “I am sorry,” she said gravely. “I did not mean to bring to you all this—”

  He interrupted her carelessly: “That’s all right.” There was some bitterness in his grin, though his tone remained careless. “I go on like this all the time. God! I need a drink.”

  She turned swiftly to the table and began to fill glasses.

  He looked her up and down reflectively, sipped, and asked: “You walked out just like that?”

  She looked down at her clothes and nodded yes.

  He seemed amused. “What are you going to do?”

  “When I go to the city? I shall sell these things”—she moved her hands to indicate her rings—“and then—I do not know.”

  “You mean you haven’t any money at all?” he demanded.

  “That is it,” she replied coolly.

  “Not even enough for your ticket?”

  She shook her head no, raised her eyebrows a little, and her calmness was almost insolence. “Surely that is a small amount you can afford to lend me.”

 
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