THE CASE of JENNIE BRICE
By MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
Author of THE MAN IN LOWER TEN, WHEN A MAN MARRIES WHERE THERE'S A WILL, ETC.
Illustrated by M. LEONE BRACKER
We have just had another flood, bad enough, but only a foot or two of water on the first floor. Yesterday we got the mud shoveled out of the cellar and found Peter, the spaniel that Mr. Ladley left when he "went away". The flood, and the fact that it was Mr. Ladley's dog whose body was found half buried in the basement fruit closet, brought back to me the strange events of the other flood five years ago, when the water reached more than half-way to the second story, and brought with it, to some, mystery and sudden death, and to me the worst case of "shingles" I have ever seen.
My name is Pitman—in this narrative. It is not really Pitman, but that does well enough. I belong to an old Pittsburgh family. I was born on Penn Avenue, when that was the best part of town, and I lived, until I was fifteen, very close to what is now the Pittsburgh Club. It was a dwelling then; I have forgotten who lived there.
I was a girl in seventy-seven, during the railroad riots, and I recall our driving in the family carriage over to one of the Allegheny hills, and seeing the yards burning, and a great noise of shooting from across the river. It was the next year that I ran away from school to marry Mr. Pitman, and I have not known my family since. We were never reconciled, although I came back to Pittsburgh after twenty years of wandering. Mr. Pitman was dead; the old city called me, and I came. I had a hundred dollars or so, and I took a house in lower Allegheny, where, because they are partly inundated every spring, rents are cheap, and I kept boarders. My house was always orderly and clean, and although the neighborhood had a bad name, a good many theatrical people stopped with me. Five minutes across the bridge, and they were in the theater district. Allegheny at that time, I believe, was still an independent city. But since then it has allied itself with Pittsburgh; it is now the North Side.
I was glad to get back. I worked hard, but I made my rent and my living, and a little over. Now and then on summer evenings I went to one of the parks, and sitting on a bench, watched the children playing around, and looked at my sister's house, closed for the summer. It is a very large house: her butler once had his wife boarding with me—a nice little woman.
It is curious to recall that, at that time, five years ago, I had never seen my niece, Lida Harvey, and then to think that only the day before yesterday she came in her automobile as far as she dared, and then sat there, waving to me, while the police patrol brought across in a skiff a basket of provisions she had sent me.
I wonder what she would have thought had she known that the elderly woman in a calico wrapper with an old overcoat over it, and a pair of rubber boots, was her full aunt!
The flood and the sight of Lida both brought back the case of Jennie Brice. For even then, Lida and Mr. Howell were interested in each other.
This is April. The flood of 1907 was earlier, in March. It had been a long hard winter, with ice gorges in all the upper valley. Then, in early March, there came a thaw. The gorges broke up and began to come down, filling the rivers with crushing grinding ice.
There are three rivers at Pittsburgh, the Allegheny and the Monongahela uniting there at the Point to form the Ohio. And all three were covered with broken ice, logs, and all sorts of debris from the upper valleys.
A warning was sent out from the weather bureau, and I got my carpets ready to lift that morning. That was on the fourth of March, a Sunday. Mr. Ladley and his wife, Jennie Brice, had the parlor bedroom and the room behind it. Mrs. Ladley, or Miss Brice, as she preferred to be known, had a small part at a local theater that kept a permanent company. Her husband was in that business, too, but he had nothing to do. It was the wife who paid the bills, and a lot of quarreling they did about it.
I knocked at the door at ten o'clock, and Mr. Ladley opened it. He was a short man, rather stout and getting bald, and he always had a cigarette. Even yet, the parlor carpet smells of them.
"What do you want?" he asked sharply, holding the door open about an inch.
"The water's coming up very fast, Mr. Ladley," I said. "It's up to the swinging-shelf in the cellar now. I'd like to take up the carpet and move the piano."
"Come back in an hour or so," he snapped, and tried to close the door. But I had got my toe in the crack.
"I'll have to have the piano moved, Mr. Ladley," I said. "You'd better put off what you are doing."
I thought he was probably writing. He spent most of the day writing, using the wash-stand as a desk, and it kept me busy with oxalic acid taking ink-spots out of the splasher and the towels. He was writing a play, and talked a lot about the Shuberts having promised to star him in it when it was finished.
"Hell!" he said, and turning, spoke to somebody in the room.
"We can go into the back room," I heard him say, and he closed the door. When he opened it again, the room was empty. I called in Terry, the Irishman who does odd jobs for me now and then, and we both got to work at the tacks in the carpet, Terry working by the window, and I by the door into the back parlor, which the Ladleys used as a bedroom.
That was how I happened to hear what I afterward told the police.
Some one—a man, but not Mr. Ladley—was talking. Mrs. Ladley broke in: "I won't do it!" she said flatly. "Why should I help him? He doesn't help me. He loafs here all day, smoking and sleeping, and sits up all night, drinking and keeping me awake."
The voice went on again, as if in reply to this, and I heard a rattle of glasses, as if they were pouring drinks. They always had whisky, even when they were behind with their board.
"That's all very well," Mrs. Ladley said. I could always hear her, she having a theatrical sort of voice—one that carries. "But what about the prying she-devil that runs the house?"
"Hush, for God's sake!" broke in Mr. Ladley, and after that they spoke in whispers. Even with my ear against the panel, I could not catch a word.
The men came just then to move the piano, and by the time we had taken it and the furniture up-stairs, the water was over the kitchen floor, and creeping forward into the hall. I had never seen the river come up so fast. By noon the yard was full of floating ice, and at three that afternoon the police skiff was on the front street, and I was wading around in rubber boots, taking the pictures off the walls.
I was too busy to see who the Ladleys' visitor was, and he had gone when I remembered him again. The Ladleys took the second-story front, which was empty, and Mr. Reynolds, who was in the silk department in a store across the river, had the room just behind.
I put up a coal stove in a back room next the bathroom, and managed to cook the dinner there. I was washing up the dishes when Mr. Reynolds came in. As it was Sunday, he was in his slippers and had the colored supplement of a morning paper in his hand.
"What's the matter with the Ladleys?" he asked. "I can't read for their quarreling."
"Booze, probably," I said. "When you've lived in the flood district as long as I have, Mr. Reynolds, you'll know that the rising of the river is a signal for every man in the vicinity to stop work and get full. The fuller the river, the fuller the male population."
"Then this flood will likely make 'em drink themselves to death!" he said. "It's a lulu."
"It's the neighborhood's annual debauch. The women are busy keeping the babies from getting drowned in the cellars, or they'd get full, too. I hope, since it's come this far, it will come farther, so the landlord will have to paper the parlor."
That was at three o'clock. At four Mr. Ladley went down the stairs, and I heard him getting into a skiff in the lower hall. There were boats going back and forth all the time, carrying crowds of curious people, and taking the flood sufferers to the corner grocery, where they were lowering groceries in a basket on a rope from an upper window.
I had been making tea when I heard Mr. Ladley go out. I fixed a tray with a cup of it and some crackers, and took it to their door. I had never liked Mrs. Ladley, but it was chilly in the house with the gas shut off and the lower floor full of ice-water. And it is hard enough to keep boarders in the flood district.
She did not answer to my knock, so I opened the door and went in. She was at the window, looking after him, and the brown valise, that figured in the case later, was opened on the floor. Over the foot of the bed was the black and white dress, with the red collar.
When I spoke to her, she turned around quickly. She was a tall woman, about twenty-eight, with very white teeth and yellow hair, which she parted a little to one side and drew down over her ears. She had a sullen face and large well-shaped hands, with her nails long and very pointed.
"The 'she-devil' has brought you some tea," I said. "Where shall she put it?"
"'She-devil'!" she repeated, raising her eyebrows. "It's a very thoughtful she-devil. Who called you that?"
But, with the sight of the valise and the fear that they might be leaving, I thought it best not to quarrel. She had left the window, and going to her dressing-table, had picked up her nail-file.
"Never mind," I said. "I hope you are not going away. These floods don't last, and they're a benefit. Plenty of the people around here rely on 'em every year to wash out their cellars."
"No, I'm not going away," she replied lazily. "I'm taking that dress to Miss Hope at the theater. She is going to wear it in Charlie's Aunt next week. She hasn't half enough of a wardrobe to play leads in stock. Look at this thumb-nail, broken to the quick!"
If I had only looked to see which thumb it was! But I was putting the tea-tray on the wash-stand, and moving Mr. Ladley's papers to find room for it. Peter, the spaniel, begged for a lump of sugar, and I gave it to him.
"Where is Mr. Ladley?" I asked.
"Gone out to see the river."
"I hope he'll be careful. There's a drowning or two every year in these floods."
"Then I hope he won't," she said calmly. "Do you know what I was doing when you came in? I was looking after his boat, and hoping it had a hole in it."
"You won't feel that way to-morrow, Mrs. Ladley," I protested, shocked. "You're just nervous and put out. Most men have their ugly times. Many a time I wished Mr. Pitman was gone—until he went. Then I'd have given a good bit to have him back again."
She was standing in front of the dresser, fixing her hair over her ears. She turned and looked at me over her shoulder.
"Probably Mr. Pitman was a man," she said. "My husband is a fiend, a devil."
Well, a good many women have said that to me at different times. But just let me say such a thing to them, or repeat their own words to them the next day, and they would fly at me in a fury. So I said nothing, and put the cream into her tea.
I never saw her again.
There is not much sleeping done in the flood district during a spring flood. The gas was shut off, and I gave Mr. Reynolds and the Ladleys each a lamp. I sat in the back room that I had made into a temporary kitchen, with a candle, and with a bedquilt around my shoulders. The water rose fast in the lower hall, but by midnight, at the seventh step, it stopped rising and stood still. I always have a skiff during the flood season, and as the water rose, I tied it to one spindle of the staircase after another.
I made myself a cup of tea, and at one o'clock I stretched out on a sofa for a few hours' sleep. I think I had been sleeping only an hour or so, when some one touched me on the shoulder and I started up. It was Mr. Reynolds, partly dressed.
"Some one has been in the house, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "They went away just now in the boat."
"Perhaps it was Peter," I suggested. "That dog is always wandering around at night."
"Not unless Peter can row a boat," said Mr. Reynolds dryly.
I got up, being already fully dressed, and taking the candle, we went to the staircase. I noticed that it was a minute or so after two o'clock as we left the room. The boat was gone, not untied, but cut loose. The end of the rope was still fastened to the stair-rail. I sat down on the stairs and looked at Mr. Reynolds.
"It's gone!" I said. "If the house catches fire, we'll have to drown."
"It's rather curious, when you consider it." We both spoke softly, not to disturb the Ladleys. "I've been awake, and I heard no boat come in. And yet, if no one came in a boat, and came from the street, they would have had to swim in."
I felt queer and creepy. The street door was open, of course, and the lights going beyond. It gave me a strange feeling to sit there in the darkness on the stairs, with the arch of the front door like the entrance to a cavern, and see now and then a chunk of ice slide into view, turn around in the eddy, and pass on. It was bitter cold, too, and the wind was rising.
"I'll go through the house," said Mr. Reynolds. "There's likely nothing worse the matter than some drunken mill-hand on a vacation while the mills are under water. But I'd better look."
He left me, and I sat there alone in the darkness. I had a presentiment of something wrong, but I tried to think it was only discomfort and the cold. The water, driven in by the wind, swirled at my feet. And something dark floated in and lodged on the step below. I reached down and touched it. It was a dead kitten. I had never known a dead cat to bring me anything but bad luck, and here was one washed in at my very feet.
Mr. Reynolds came back soon, and reported the house quiet and in order.
"But I found Peter shut up in one of the third-floor rooms," he said. "Did you put him there?"
I had not, and said so; but as the dog went everywhere, and the door might have blown shut, we did not attach much importance to that at the time.
Well, the skiff was gone, and there was no use worrying about it until morning. I went back to the sofa to keep warm, but I left my candle lighted and my door open. I did not sleep: the dead cat was on my mind, and, as if it were not bad enough to have it washed in at my feet, about four in the morning Peter, prowling uneasily, discovered it and brought it in and put it on my couch, wet and stiff, poor little thing!
I looked at the clock. It was a quarter after four, and except for the occasional crunch of one ice-cake hitting another in the yard, everything was quiet. And then I heard the stealthy sound of oars in the lower hall.
I am not a brave woman. I lay there, hoping Mr. Reynolds would hear and open his door. But he was sleeping soundly. Peter snarled and ran out into the hall, and the next moment I heard Mr. Ladley speaking. "Down, Peter," he said. "Down. Go and lie down."
I took my candle and went out into the hall. Mr. Ladley was stooping over the boat, trying to tie it to the staircase. The rope was short, having been cut, and he was having trouble. Perhaps it was the candle-light, but he looked ghost-white and haggard.
"I borrowed your boat, Mrs. Pitman," he said, civilly enough. "Mrs. Ladley was not well, and I—I went to the drug store."
"You've been more than two hours going to the drug store," I said.
He muttered something about not finding any open at first, and went into his room. He closed and locked the door behind him, and although Peter whined and scratched, he did not let him in.
He looked so agitated that I thought I had been harsh, and that perhaps she was really ill. I knocked at the door, and asked if I could do anything. But he only called "No" curtly through the door, and asked me to take that infernal dog away.
I went back to bed and tried to sleep, for the water had dropped an inch or so on the stairs, and I knew the danger was over. Peter came, shivering, at dawn, and got on to the sofa with me. I put an end of the quilt over him, and he stopped shivering after a time and went to sleep.
The dog was company. I lay there, wide awake, thinking about Mr. Pitman's death, and how I had come, by degrees, to be keeping a cheap boarding-house in the flood district, and to having to take impudence from everybody who chose to rent a room from me, and to being called a she-devil. From that I got to thinking again about the Ladleys, and how she had said he was a fiend, and to doubting about his having gone out for medicine for her. I dozed off again at daylight, and being worn out, I slept heavily.
At seven o'clock Mr. Reynolds came to the door, dressed for the store. He was a tall man of about fifty, neat and orderly in his habits, and he always remembered that I had seen better days, and treated me as a lady.
"Never mind about breakfast for me this morning, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "I'll get a cup of coffee at the other end of the bridge. I'll take the boat and send it back with Terry."
He turned and went along the hall and down to the boat. I heard him push off from the stairs with an oar and row out into the street. Peter followed him to the stairs.
At a quarter after seven Mr. Ladley came out and called to me: "Just bring in a cup of coffee and some toast," he said. "Enough for one."
He went back and slammed his door, and I made his coffee. I steeped a cup of tea for Mrs. Ladley at the same time. He opened the door just wide enough for the tray, and took it without so much as a "thank you." He had a cigarette in his mouth as usual, and I could see a fire in the grate and smell something like scorching cloth.
"I hope Mrs. Ladley is better," I said, getting my foot in the crack of the door, so he could not quite close it. It smelled to me as if he had accidentally set fire to something with his cigarette, and I tried to see into the room.
"What about Mrs. Ladley?" he snapped.
"You said she was ill last night."
"Oh, yes! Well, she wasn't very sick. She's better."
"Shall I bring her some tea?"
"Take your foot away!" he ordered. "No. She doesn't want tea. She's not here."
"Good heavens!" he snarled. "Is her going away anything to make such a fuss about? The Lord knows I'd be glad to get out of this infernal pig-wallow myself."
"If you mean my house—" I began.
But he had pulled himself together and was more polite when he answered. "I mean the neighborhood. Your house is all that could be desired for the money. If we do not have linen sheets and double cream, we are paying muslin and milk prices."
Either my nose was growing accustomed to the odor, or it was dying away: I took my foot away from the door. "When did Mrs. Ladley leave?" I asked.
"This morning, very early. I rowed her to Federal Street."
"You couldn't have had much sleep," I said dryly. For he looked horrible. There were lines around his eyes, which were red, and his lips looked dry and cracked.
"She's not in the piece this week at the theater," he said, licking his lips and looking past me, not at me. "She'll be back by Saturday."
I did not believe him. I do not think he imagined that I did. He shut the door in my face, and it caught poor Peter by the nose. The dog ran off howling, but although Mr. Ladley had been as fond of the animal as it was in his nature to be fond of anything, he paid no attention. As I started down the hall after him, I saw what Peter had been carrying—a slipper of Mrs. Ladley's. It was soaked with water; evidently Peter had found it floating at the foot of the stairs.
Although the idea of murder had not entered my head at that time, the slipper gave me a turn. I picked it up and looked at it—a black one with a beaded toe, short in the vamp and high-heeled, the sort most actresses wear. Then I went back and knocked at the door of the front room again.
"What the devil do you want now?" he called from beyond the door.
"Here's a slipper of Mrs. Ladley's," I said. "Peter found it floating in the lower hall."
He opened the door wide, and let me in. The room was in tolerable order, much better than when Mrs. Ladley was about. He looked at the slipper, but he did not touch it. "I don't think that is hers," he said.
"I've seen her wear it a hundred times."
"Well, she'll never wear it again." And then, seeing me stare, he added: "It's ruined with the water. Throw it out. And, by the way, I'm sorry, but I set fire to one of the pillow-slips—dropped asleep, and my cigarette did the rest. Just put it on the bill."
He pointed to the bed. One of the pillows had no slip, and the ticking cover had a scorch or two on it. I went over and looked at it.
"The pillow will have to be paid for, too, Mr. Ladley," I said. "And there's a sign nailed on the door that forbids smoking in bed. If you are going to set fire to things, I shall have to charge extra."
"Really!" he jeered, looking at me with his cold fishy eyes. "Is there any sign on the door saying that boarders are charged extra for seven feet of filthy river in the bedrooms?"
I was never a match for him, and I make it a principle never to bandy words with my boarders. I took the pillow and the slipper and went out. The telephone was ringing on the stair landing. It was the theater, asking for Miss Brice.
"She has gone away," I said.
"What do you mean? Moved away?"
"Gone for a few days' vacation," I replied. "She isn't playing this week, is she?"
"Wait a moment," said the voice. There was a hum of conversation from the other end, and then another man came to the telephone.
"Can you find out where Miss Brice has gone?"
I went to Ladley's door and knocked. Mr. Ladley answered from just beyond.
"The theater is asking where Mrs. Ladley is."
"Tell them I don't know," he snarled, and shut the door. I took his message to the telephone.
Whoever it was swore and hung up the receiver.
All the morning I was uneasy—I hardly knew why. Peter felt it as I did. There was no sound from the Ladleys' room, and the house was quiet, except for the lapping water on the stairs and the police patrol going back and forth.
At eleven o'clock a boy in the neighborhood, paddling on a raft, fell into the water and was drowned. I watched the police boat go past, carrying his little cold body, and after that I was good for nothing. I went and sat with Peter on the stairs. The dog's conduct had been strange all morning. He had sat just above the water, looking at it and whimpering. Perhaps he was expecting another kitten or—
It is hard to say how ideas first enter one's mind. But the notion that Mr. Ladley had killed his wife and thrown her body into the water came to me as I sat there. All at once I seemed to see it all: the quarreling the day before, the night trip in the boat, the water-soaked slipper, his haggard face that morning—even the way the spaniel sat and stared at the flood.
Terry brought the boat back at half past eleven, towing it behind another.
"Well," I said, from the stairs, "I hope you've had a pleasant morning."
"What doing?" he asked, not looking at me.
"Rowing about the streets. You've had that boat for hours."
He tied it up without a word to me, but he spoke to the dog. "Good morning, Peter," he said. "It's nice weather—for fishes, ain't it?"
He picked out a bit of floating wood from the water, and showing it to the dog, flung it into the parlor. Peter went after it with a splash. He was pretty fat, and when he came back I heard him wheezing. But what he brought back was not the stick of wood. It was the knife I use for cutting bread. It had been on a shelf in the room where I had slept the night before, and now Peter brought it out of the flood where its wooden handle had kept it afloat. The blade was broken off short.
It is not unusual to find one's household goods floating around during flood-time. More than once I've lost a chair or two, and seen it after the water had gone down, new scrubbed and painted, in Molly Maguire's kitchen next door. And perhaps now and then a bit of luck would come to me—a dog kennel or a chicken-house, or a kitchen table, or even, as happened once, a month-old baby in a wooden cradle, that lodged against my back fence, and had come forty miles, as it turned out, with no worse mishap than a cold in its head.
But the knife was different. I had put it on the mantel over the stove I was using up-stairs the night before, and hadn't touched it since. As I sat staring at it, Terry took it from Peter and handed it to me.
"Better give me a penny, Mrs. Pitman," he said in his impudent Irish way. "I hate to give you a knife. It may cut our friendship."
I reached over to hit him a clout on the head, but I did not. The sunlight was coming in through the window at the top of the stairs, and shining on the rope that was tied to the banister. The end of the rope was covered with stains, brown, with a glint of red in them.
I got up shivering. "You can get the meat at the butcher's, Terry," I said, "and come back for me in a half-hour." Then I turned and went up-stairs, weak in the knees, to put on my hat and coat. I had made up my mind that there had been murder done.
I looked at my clock as I went down-stairs. It was just twelve-thirty. I thought of telephoning for Mr. Reynolds to meet me, but it was his lunch hour, and besides I was afraid to telephone from the house while Mr. Ladley was in it.
Peter had been whining again. When I came down the stairs he had stopped whimpering and was wagging his tail. A strange boat had put into the hallway and was coming back.
"Now, old boy!" somebody was saying from the boat. "Steady, old chap! I've got something for you."
A little man, elderly and alert, was standing up in the boat, poling it along with an oar. Peter gave vent to joyful yelps. The elderly gentleman brought his boat to a stop at the foot of the stairs, and reaching down into a tub at his feet, held up a large piece of raw liver. Peter almost went crazy, and I remembered suddenly that I had forgotten to feed the poor beast for more than a day.
"Would you like it?" asked the gentleman. Peter sat up, as he had been taught to do, and barked. The gentleman reached down again, got a wooden platter from a stack of them at his feet, and placing the liver on it, put it on the step. The whole thing was so neat and businesslike that I could only gaze.
"That's a well-trained dog, madam," said the elderly gentleman, beaming at Peter over his glasses. "You should not have neglected him."
"The flood put him out of my mind," I explained, humbly enough, for I was ashamed.
"Exactly. Do you know how many starving dogs and cats I have found this morning?" He took a note-book out of his pocket and glanced at it. "Forty-eight. Forty-eight, madam! And ninety-three cats! I have found them marooned in trees, clinging to fences, floating on barrels, and I have found them in comfortable houses where there was no excuse for their neglect. Well, I must be moving on. I have the report of a cat with a new litter in the loft of a stable near here."
He wiped his hands carefully on a fresh paper napkin, of which also a heap rested on one of the seats of the boat, and picked up an oar, smiling benevolently at Peter. Then, suddenly, he bent over and looked at the stained rope end, tied to the stair-rail.
"What's that?" he said.
"That's what I'm going to find out," I replied. I glanced up at the Ladleys' door, but it was closed.
The little man dropped his oar, and fumbling in his pockets, pulled out a small magnifying-glass. He bent over, holding to the rail, and inspected the stains with the glass. I had taken a fancy to him at once, and in spite of my excitement I had to smile a little.
"Humph!" he said, and looked up at me. "That's blood. Why did you cut the boat loose?"
"I didn't," I said. "If that is blood, I want to know how it got there. That was a new rope last night." I glanced at the Ladleys' door again, and he followed my eyes.
"I wonder," he said, raising his voice a little, "if I come into your kitchen, if you will allow me to fry a little of that liver. There's a wretched Maltese in a tree at the corner of Fourth Street that won't touch it, raw."
I saw that he wanted to talk to me, so I turned around and led the way to the temporary kitchen I had made.
"Now," he said briskly, when he had closed the door, "there's something wrong here. Perhaps if you tell me, I can help. If I can't, it will do you good to talk about it. My name's Holcombe, retired merchant. Apply to First National Bank for references."
"I'm not sure there is anything wrong," I began. "I guess I'm only nervous, and thinking little things are big ones. There's nothing to tell."
"Nonsense. I come down the street in my boat. A white-faced gentleman with a cigarette looks out from a window when I stop at the door, and ducks back when I glance up. I come in and find a pet dog, obviously overfed at ordinary times, whining with hunger on the stairs. As I prepare to feed him, a pale woman comes down, trying to put a right-hand glove on her left hand, and with her jacket wrong side out. What am I to think?"
I started and looked at my coat. He was right. And when, as I tried to take it off, he helped me, and even patted me on the shoulder—what with his kindness, and the long morning alone, worrying, and the sleepless night, I began to cry. He had a clean handkerchief in my hand before I had time to think of one.
"That's it," he said. "It will do you good, only don't make a noise about it. If it's a husband on the annual flood spree, don't worry, madam. They always come around in time to whitewash the cellars."
"It isn't a husband," I sniffled.
"Tell me about it," he said. There was something so kindly in his face, and it was so long since I had had a bit of human sympathy, that I almost broke down again.
I sat there, with a crowd of children paddling on a raft outside the window, and Molly Maguire, next door, hauling the morning's milk up in a pail fastened to a rope, her doorway being too narrow to admit the milkman's boat, and I told him the whole story.
"Humph!" he exclaimed, when I had finished. "It's curious, but—you can't prove a murder unless you can produce a body."
"When the river goes down, we'll find the body," I said, shivering. "It's in the parlor."
"Then why doesn't he try to get away?"
"He is ready to go now. He only went back when your boat came in."
Mr. Holcombe ran to the door, and flinging it open, peered into the lower hall. He was too late. His boat was gone, tub of liver, pile of wooden platters and all!
We hurried to the room the Ladleys had occupied. It was empty. From the window, as we looked out, we could see the boat, almost a square away. It had stopped where, the street being higher, a door-step rose above the flood. On the step was sitting a forlorn yellow puppy. As we stared, Mr. Ladley stopped the boat, looked back at us, bent over, placed a piece of liver on a platter, and reached it over to the dog. Then, rising in the boat, he bowed, with his hat over his heart, in our direction, sat down calmly, and rowed around the corner out of sight.
Mr. Holcombe was in a frenzy of rage. He jumped up and down, shaking his fist out the window after the retreating boat. He ran down the staircase, only to come back and look out the window again. The police boat was not in sight, but the Maguire children had worked their raft around to the street and were under the window. He leaned out and called to them.
"A quarter each, boys," he said, "if you'll take me on that raft to the nearest pavement."
"Money first," said the oldest boy, holding his cap.
But Mr. Holcombe did not wait. He swung out over the window-sill, holding by his hands, and lit fairly in the center of the raft.
"Don't touch anything in that room until I come back," he called to me, and jerking the pole from one of the boys, propelled the raft with amazing speed down the street.
The liver on the stove was burning. There was a smell of scorching through the rooms and a sort of bluish haze of smoke. I hurried back and took it off. By the time I had cleaned the pan, Mr. Holcombe was back again, in his own boat. He had found it at the end of the next street, where the flood ceased, but no sign of Ladley anywhere. He had not seen the police boat.
"Perhaps that is just as well," he said philosophically. "We can't go to the police with a wet slipper and a blood-stained rope and accuse a man of murder. We have to have a body."
"He killed her," I said obstinately. "She told me yesterday he was a fiend. He killed her and threw the body in the water."
"Very likely. But he didn't throw it here."
But in spite of that, he went over all the lower hall with his boat, feeling every foot of the floor with an oar, and finally, at the back end, he looked up at me as I stood on the stairs.
"There's something here," he said.
I went cold all over, and had to clutch the railing. But when Terry had come, and the two of them brought the thing to the surface, it was only the dining-room rug, which I had rolled up and forgotten to carry up-stairs!
At half past one Mr. Holcombe wrote a note, and sent it off with Terry, and borrowing my boots, which had been Mr. Pitman's, investigated the dining-room and kitchen from a floating plank; the doors were too narrow to admit the boat. But he found nothing more important than a rolling-pin. He was not at all depressed by his failure. He came back, drenched to the skin, about three, and asked permission to search the Ladleys' bedroom.
"I have a friend coming pretty soon, Mrs. Pitman," he said, "a young newspaper man, named Howell. He's a nice boy, and if there is anything to this, I'd like him to have it for his paper. He and I have been having some arguments about circumstantial evidence, too, and I know he'd like to work on this."
I gave him a pair of Mr. Pitman's socks, for his own were saturated, and while he was changing them the telephone rang. It was the theater again, asking for Jennie Brice.
"You are certain she is out of the city?" some one asked, the same voice as in the morning.
"Her husband says so."
"Ask him to come to the phone."
"He is not here."
"When do you expect him back?"
"I'm not sure he is coming back."
"Look here," said the voice angrily, "can't you give me any satisfaction? Or don't you care to?"
"I've told you all I know."
"You don't know where she is?"
"She didn't say she was coming back to rehearse for next week's piece?"
"Her husband said she went away for a few days' rest. He went away about noon and hasn't come back. That's all I know, except that they owe me three weeks' rent that I'd like to get hold of."
The owner of the voice hung up the receiver with a snap, and left me pondering. It seemed to me that Mr. Ladley had been very reckless. Did he expect any one to believe that Jennie Brice had gone for a vacation without notifying the theater? Especially when she was to rehearse that week? I thought it curious, to say the least. I went back and told Mr. Holcombe, who put it down in his note-book, and together we went to the Ladleys' room.
The room was in better order than usual, as I have said. The bed was made—which was out of the ordinary, for Jennie Brice never made a bed—but made the way a man makes one, with the blankets wrinkled and crooked beneath, and the white counterpane pulled smoothly over the top, showing every lump beneath. I showed Mr. Holcombe the splasher, dotted with ink as usual.
"I'll take it off and soak it in milk," I said. "It's his fountain pen; when the ink doesn't run, he shakes it, and—"
"Where's the clock?" said Mr. Holcombe, stopping in front of the mantel with his note-book in his hand.
I turned and looked. My onyx clock was gone from the mantel-shelf.
Perhaps it seems strange, but from the moment I missed that clock my rage at Mr. Ladley increased to a fury. It was all I had had left of my former gentility. When times were hard and I got behind with the rent, as happened now and then, more than once I'd been tempted to sell the clock, or to pawn it. But I had never done it. Its ticking had kept me company on many a lonely night, and its elegance had helped me to keep my pride and to retain the respect of my neighbors. For in the flood district onyx clocks are not plentiful. Mrs. Bryan, the saloon-keeper's wife, had one, and I had another. That is, I had had.
I stood staring at the mark in the dust of the mantel-shelf, which Mr. Holcombe was measuring with a pocket tape-measure.
"You are sure you didn't take it away yourself, Mrs. Pitman?" he asked.
"Sure? Why, I could hardly lift it," I said.
He was looking carefully at the oblong of dust where the clock had stood. "The key is gone, too," he said, busily making entries in his note-book. "What was the maker's name?"
"Why, I don't think I ever noticed."
He turned to me angrily. "Why didn't you notice?" he snapped. "Good God, woman, do you only use your eyes to cry with? How can you wind a clock, time after time, and not know the maker's name? It proves my contention: the average witness is totally unreliable."
"Not at all," I snapped, "I am ordinarily both accurate and observing."
"Indeed!" he said, putting his hands behind him. "Then perhaps you can tell me the color of the pencil I have been writing with."
"Certainly. Red." Most pencils are red, and I thought this was safe.
But he held his right hand out with a flourish. "I've been writing with a fountain pen," he said in deep disgust, and turned his back on me.
But the next moment he had run to the wash-stand and pulled it out from the wall. Behind it, where it had fallen, lay a towel, covered with stains, as if some one had wiped bloody hands on it. He held it up, his face working with excitement. I could only cover my eyes.
"This looks better," he said, and began making a quick search of the room, running from one piece of furniture to another, pulling out bureau drawers, drawing the bed out from the wall, and crawling along the base-board with a lighted match in his hand. He gave a shout of triumph finally, and reappeared from behind the bed with the broken end of my knife in his hand.
"Very clumsy," he said. "Very clumsy. Peter the dog could have done better."
I had been examining the wall-paper about the wash-stand. Among the ink-spots were one or two reddish ones that made me shiver. And seeing a scrap of note-paper stuck between the base-board and the wall, I dug it out with a hairpin, and threw it into the grate, to be burned later. It was by the merest chance there was no fire there. The next moment Mr. Holcombe was on his knees by the fireplace reaching for the scrap.
"Never do that, under such circumstances," he snapped, fishing among the ashes. "You might throw away valuable—Hello, Howell!"
I turned and saw a young man in the doorway, smiling, his hat in his hand. Even at that first glance, I liked Mr. Howell, and later, when every one was against him, and many curious things were developing, I stood by him through everything, and even helped him to the thing he wanted more than anything else in the, world. But that, of course, was later.
"What's the trouble, Holcombe?" he asked. "Hitting the trail again?"
"A very curious thing that I just happened on," said Mr. Holcombe. "Mrs. Pitman, this is Mr. Howell, of whom I spoke. Sit down, Howell, and let me read you something."
With the crumpled paper still unopened in his hand, Mr. Holcombe took his note-book and read aloud what he had written. I have it before me now:
"'Dog meat, two dollars, boat hire'—that's not it. Here. 'Yesterday, Sunday, March the 4th, Mrs. Pitman, landlady at 42 Union Street, heard two of her boarders quarreling, a man and his wife. Man's name, Philip Ladley. Wife's name, Jennie Ladley, known as Jennie Brice at the Liberty Stock Company, where she has been playing small parts.'"
Mr. Howell nodded. "I've heard of her," he said. "Not much of an actress, I believe."
"'The husband was also an actor, out of work, and employing his leisure time in writing a play.'"
"Everybody's doing it," said Mr. Howell idly.
"The Shuberts were to star him in this," I put in. "He said that the climax at the end of the second act—"
Mr. Holcombe shut his note-book with a snap. "After we have finished gossiping," he said, "I'll go on."
"'Employing his leisure time in writing a play—'" quoted Mr. Howell.
"Exactly. 'The husband and wife were not on good terms. They quarreled frequently. On Sunday they fought all day, and Mrs. Ladley told Mrs. Pitman she was married to a fiend. At four o'clock Sunday afternoon, Philip Ladley went out, returning about five. Mrs. Pitman carried their supper to them at six, and both ate heartily. She did not see Mrs. Ladley at the time, but heard her in the next room. They were apparently reconciled: Mrs. Pitman reports Mr. Ladley in high good humor. If the quarrel recommenced during the night, the other boarder, named Reynolds, in the next room, heard nothing. Mrs. Pitman was up and down until one o'clock, when she dozed off. She heard no unusual sound.
"'At approximately two o'clock in the morning, however, this Reynolds came to the room, and said he had heard some one in a boat in the lower hall. He and Mrs. Pitman investigated. The boat which Mrs. Pitman uses during a flood, and which she had tied to the stair-rail, was gone, having been cut loose, not untied. Everything else was quiet, except that Mrs. Ladley's dog had been shut in a third-story room.
"'At a quarter after four that morning Mrs. Pitman, thoroughly awake, heard the boat returning, and going to the stairs, met Ladley coming in. He muttered something about having gone for medicine for his wife and went to his room, shutting the dog out. This is worth attention, for the dog ordinarily slept in their room.'"
"What sort of a dog?" asked Mr. Howell. He had been listening attentively.
"A water-spaniel. 'The rest of the night, or early morning, was quiet. At a quarter after seven, Ladley asked for coffee and toast for one, and on Mrs. Pitman remarking this, said that his wife was not playing this week, and had gone for a few days' vacation, having left early in the morning.' Remember, during the night he had been out for medicine for her. Now she was able to travel, and, in fact, had started."
Mr. Howell was frowning at the floor. "If he was doing anything wrong, he was doing it very badly," he said.
"This is where I entered the case," said Mr. Holcombe, "I rowed into the lower hall this morning, to feed the dog, Peter, who was whining on the staircase. Mrs. Pitman was coming down, pale and agitated over the fact that the dog, shortly before, had found floating in the parlor down-stairs a slipper belonging to Mrs. Ladley, and, later, a knife with a broken blade. She maintains that she had the knife last night up-stairs, that it was not broken, and that it was taken from a shelf in her room while she dozed. The question is, then: Why was the knife taken? Who took it? And why? Has this man made away with his wife, or has he not?"
Mr. Howell looked at me and smiled. "Mr. Holcombe and I are old enemies," he said. "Mr. Holcombe believes that circumstantial evidence may probably hang a man; I do not." And to Mr. Holcombe: "So, having found a wet slipper and a broken knife, you are prepared for murder and sudden death!"
"I have more evidence," Mr. Holcombe said eagerly, and proceeded to tell what we had found in the room. Mr. Howell listened, smiling to himself, but at the mention of the onyx clock he got up and went to the mantel.
"By Jove!" he said, and stood looking at the mark in the dust. "Are you sure the clock was here yesterday?"
"I wound it night before last, and put the key underneath. Yesterday, before they moved up, I wound it again."
"The key is gone also. Well, what of it, Holcombe? Did he brain her with the clock? Or choke her with the key?"
Mr. Holcombe was looking at his note-book. "To summarize," he said, "we have here as clues indicating a crime, the rope, the broken knife, the slipper, the towel, and the clock. Besides, this scrap of paper may contain some information." He opened it and sat gazing at it in his palm. Then, "Is this Ladley's writing?" he asked me in a curious voice.
I glanced at the slip. Mr. Holcombe had just read from his note-book: "Rope, knife, slipper, towel, clock."
The slip I had found behind the wash-stand said "Rope, knife, shoe, towel. Horn—" The rest of the last word was torn off.
Mr. Howell was staring at the mantel. "Clock!" he repeated.
It was after four when Mr. Holcombe had finished going over the room. I offered to make both the gentlemen some tea, for Mr. Pitman had been an Englishman, and I had got into the habit of having a cup in the afternoon, with a cracker or a bit of bread. But they refused. Mr. Howell said he had promised to meet a lady, and to bring her through the flooded district in a boat. He shook hands with me, and smiled at Mr. Holcombe.
"You will have to restrain his enthusiasm, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "He is a bloodhound on the scent. If his baying gets on your nerves, just send for me." He went down the stairs and stepped into the boat. "Remember, Holcombe," he called, "every well-constituted murder has two things: a motive and a corpse. You haven't either, only a mass of piffling details—"
"If everybody waited until he saw flames, instead of relying on the testimony of the smoke," Mr. Holcombe snapped, "what would the fire loss be?"
Mr. Howell poled his boat to the front door, and sitting down, prepared to row out.
"You are warned, Mrs. Pitman," he called to me. "If he doesn't find a body to fit the clues, he's quite capable of making one to fill the demand."
"Horn—" said Mr. Holcombe, looking at the slip again. "The tail of the 'n' is torn off—evidently only part of a word. Hornet, Horning, Horner—Mrs. Pitman, will you go with me to the police station?"
I was more than anxious to go. In fact, I could not bear the idea of staying alone in the house, with heaven only knows what concealed in the depths of that muddy flood. I got on my wraps again, and Mr. Holcombe rowed me out. Peter plunged into the water to follow, and had to be sent back. He sat on the lower step and whined. Mr. Holcombe threw him another piece of liver, but he did not touch it.
We rowed to the corner of Robinson Street and Federal—it was before Federal Street was raised above the flood level—and left the boat in charge of a boy there. And we walked to the police station. On the way Mr. Holcombe questioned me closely about the events of the morning, and I recalled the incident of the burned pillow-slip. He made a note of it at once, and grew very thoughtful.
He left me, however, at the police station. "I'd rather not appear in this, Mrs. Pitman," he said apologetically, "and I think better along my own lines. Not that I have anything against the police; they've done some splendid work. But this case takes imagination, and the police department deals with facts. We have no facts yet. What we need, of course, is to have the man detained until we are sure of our case."
He lifted his hat and turned away, and I went slowly up the steps to the police station. Living, as I had, in a neighborhood where the police, like the poor, are always with us, and where the visits of the patrol wagon are one of those familiar sights that no amount of repetition enabled any of us to treat with contempt, I was uncomfortable until I remembered that my grandfather had been one of the first mayors of the city, and that, if the patrol had been at my house more than once, the entire neighborhood would testify that my boarders were usually orderly.
At the door some one touched me on the arm. It was Mr. Holcombe again.
"I have been thinking it over," he said, "and I believe you'd better not mention the piece of paper that you found behind the wash-stand. They might say the whole thing is a hoax."
"Very well," I agreed, and went in.
The police sergeant in charge knew me at once, having stopped at my house more than once in flood-time for a cup of hot coffee.
"Sit down, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "I suppose you are still making the best coffee and doughnuts in the city of Allegheny? Well, what's the trouble in your district? Want an injunction against the river for trespass?"
"The river has brought me a good bit of trouble," I said. "I'm—I'm worried, Mr. Sergeant. I think a woman from my house has been murdered, but I don't know."
"Murdered," he said, and drew up his chair. "Tell me about it."
I told him everything, while he sat back with his eyes half closed, and his fingers beating a tattoo on the arm of his chair.
When I finished he got up and went into an inner room. He came back in a moment.
"I want you to come in and tell that to the chief," he said, and led the way.
All told, I repeated my story three times that afternoon, to the sergeant, to the chief of police, and the third time to both the others and two detectives.
The second time the chief made notes of what I said.
"Know this man Ladley?" he asked the others. None of them did, but they all knew of Jennie Brice, and some of them had seen her in the theater.
"Get the theater, Tom," the chief said to one of the detectives.
Luckily, what he learned over the telephone from the theater corroborated my story. Jennie Brice was not in the cast that week, but should have reported that morning (Monday) to rehearse the next week's piece. No message had been received from her, and a substitute had been put in her place.
The chief hung up the receiver and turned to me. "You are sure about the clock, Mrs. Pitman?" he asked. "It was there when they moved up-stairs to the room?"
"You are certain you will not find it on the parlor mantel when the water goes down?"
"The mantels are uncovered now. It is not there."
"You think Ladley has gone for good?"
"He'd be a fool to try to run away, unless—Graves, you'd better get hold of the fellow, and keep him until either the woman is found or a body. The river is falling. In a couple of days we will know if she is around the premises anywhere."
Before I left, I described Jennie Brice for them carefully. Asked what she probably wore, if she had gone away as her husband said, I had no idea; she had a lot of clothes, and dressed a good bit. But I recalled that I had seen, lying on the bed, the black and white dress with the red collar, and they took that down, as well as the brown valise.
The chief rose and opened the door for me himself. "If she actually left town at the time you mention," he said, "she ought not to be hard to find. There are not many trains before seven in the morning, and most of them are locals."
"And—and if she did not, if he—do you think she is in the house—or—or—the cellar?"
"Not unless Ladley is more of a fool than I think he is," he said, smiling. "Personally, I believe she has gone away, as he says she did. But if she hasn't—He probably took the body with him when he said he was getting medicine, and dropped it in the current somewhere. But we must go slow with all this. There's no use shouting 'wolf' yet."
"He may have cut himself, shaving. It has been done."
"And the knife?"
He shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly.
"I've seen a perfectly good knife spoiled opening a bottle of pickles."
"But the slippers? And the clock?"
"My good woman, enough shoes and slippers are forgotten in the bottoms of cupboards year after year in flood-time, and are found floating around the streets, to make all the old-clothesmen in town happy. I have seen almost everything floating about, during one of these annual floods."
"I dare say you never saw an onyx clock floating around," I replied a little sharply. I had no sense of humor that day. He stopped smiling at once, and stood tugging at his mustache.
"No," he admitted. "An onyx clock sinks, that's true. That's a very nice little point, that onyx clock. He may be trying to sell it, or perhaps—" He did not finish.
I went back immediately, only stopping at the market to get meat for Mr. Reynolds' supper. It was after half past five and dusk was coming on. I got a boat and was rowed directly home. Peter was not at the foot of the steps. I paid the boatman and let him go, and turned to go up the stairs. Some one was speaking in the hall above.
I have read somewhere that no two voices are exactly alike, just as no two violins ever produce precisely the same sound. I think it is what they call the timbre that is different. I have, for instance, never heard a voice like Mr. Pitman's, although Mr. Harry Lauder's in a phonograph resembles it. And voices have always done for me what odors do for some people, revived forgotten scenes and old memories. But the memory that the voice at the head of the stairs brought back was not very old, although I had forgotten it. I seemed to hear again, all at once, the lapping of the water Sunday morning as it began to come in over the door-sill; the sound of Terry ripping up the parlor carpet, and Mrs. Ladley calling me a she-devil in the next room, in reply to this very voice.
But when I got to the top of the stairs, it was only Mr. Howell, who had brought his visitor to the flood district, and on getting her splashed with the muddy water, had taken her to my house for a towel and a cake of soap.
I lighted the lamp in the hall, and Mr. Howell introduced the girl. She was a pretty girl, slim and young, and she had taken her wetting good-naturedly.
"I know we are intruders, Mrs. Pitman," she said, holding out her hand. "Especially now, when you are in trouble."
"I have told Miss Harvey a little," Mr. Howell said, "and I promised to show her Peter, but he is not here."
I think I had known it was my sister's child from the moment I lighted the lamp. There was something of Alma in her, not Alma's hardness or haughtiness, but Alma's dark blue eyes with black lashes, and Alma's nose. Alma was always the beauty of the family. What with the day's excitement, and seeing Alma's child like this, in my house, I felt things going round and clutched at the stair-rail. Mr. Howell caught me.
"Why, Mrs. Pitman!" he said. "What's the matter?"
I got myself in hand in a moment and smiled at the girl.
"Nothing at all," I said. "Indigestion, most likely. Too much tea the last day or two, and not enough solid food. I've been too anxious to eat."
Lida—for she was that to me at once, although I had never seen her before—Lida was all sympathy and sweetness. She actually asked me to go with her to a restaurant and have a real dinner. I could imagine Alma, had she known! But I excused myself.
"I have to cook something for Mr. Reynolds," I said, "and I'm better now, anyhow, thank you. Mr. Howell, may I speak to you for a moment?"
He followed me along the back hall, which was dusk.
"I have remembered something that I had forgotten, Mr. Howell," I said. "On Sunday morning, the Ladleys had a visitor."
"They had very few visitors."
"I did not see him, but—I heard his voice." Mr. Howell did not move, but I fancied he drew his breath in quickly. "It sounded—it was not by any chance you?"
"I? A newspaper man, who goes to bed at three A.M. on Sunday morning, up and about at ten!"
"I didn't say what time it was," I said sharply.
But at that moment Lida called from the front hall.
"I think I hear Peter," she said. "He is shut in somewhere, whining."
We went forward at once. She was right. Peter was scratching at the door of Mr. Ladley's room, although I had left the door closed and Peter in the hall. I let him out, and he crawled to me on three legs, whimpering. Mr. Howell bent over him and felt the fourth.
"Poor little beast!" he said. "His leg is broken!"
He made a splint for the dog, and with Lida helping, they put him to bed in a clothes-basket in my up-stairs kitchen. It was easy to see how things lay with Mr. Howell. He was all eyes for her: he made excuses to touch her hand or her arm—little caressing touches that made her color heighten. And with it all, there was a sort of hopelessness in his manner, as if he knew how far the girl was out of his reach. Knowing Alma and her pride, I knew better than they how hopeless it was.
I was not so sure about Lida. I wondered if she was in love with the boy, or only in love with love. She was very young, as I had been. God help her, if, like me, she sacrificed everything, to discover, too late, that she was only in love with love!
Mr. Reynolds did not come home to dinner after all. The water had got into the basement at the store, he telephoned, one of the flood-gates in a sewer having leaked, and they were moving some of the departments to an upper floor. I had expected to have him in the house that evening, and now I was left alone again.
But, as it happened, I was not alone. Mr. Graves, one of the city detectives, came at half past six, and went carefully over the Ladleys' room. I showed him the towel and the slipper and the broken knife, and where we had found the knife-blade. He was very non-committal, and left in a half-hour, taking the articles with him in a newspaper.
At seven the door-bell rang. I went down as far as I could on the staircase, and I saw a boat outside the door, with the boatman and a woman in it. I called to them to bring the boat back along the hall, and I had a queer feeling that it might be Mrs. Ladley, and that I'd been making a fool of myself all day for nothing. But it was not Mrs. Ladley.
"Is this number forty-two?" asked the woman, as the boat came back.
"Does Mr. Ladley live here?"
"Yes. But he is not here now."
"Are you Mrs. Pittock?"
The boat bumped against the stairs, and the woman got out. She was as tall as Mrs. Ladley, and when I saw her in the light from the upper hall, I knew her instantly. It was Temple Hope, the leading woman from the Liberty Theater.
"I would like to talk to you, Mrs. Pitman," she said. "Where can we go?"
I led the way back to my room, and when she had followed me in, she turned and shut the door.
"Now then," she said without any preliminary, "where is Jennie Brice?"
"I don't know, Miss Hope," I answered.
We looked at each other for a minute, and each of us saw what the other suspected.
"He has killed her!" she exclaimed. "She was afraid he would do it, and—he has."
"Killed her and thrown her into the river," I said. "That's what I think, and he'll go free at that. It seems there isn't any murder when there isn't any corpse."
"Nonsense! If he has done that, the river will give her up, eventually."
"The river doesn't always give them up," I retorted. "Not in flood-time, anyhow. Or when they are found it is months later, and you can't prove anything."
She had only a little time, being due at the theater soon, but she sat down and told me the story she told afterward on the stand:
She had known Jennie Brice for years, they having been together in the chorus as long before as Nadjy.
"She was married then to a fellow on the vaudeville circuit," Miss Hope said. "He left her about that time, and she took up with Ladley. I don't think they were ever married."
"What!" I said, jumping to my feet, "and they came to a respectable house like this! There's never been a breath of scandal about this house, Miss Hope, and if this comes out I'm ruined."
"Well, perhaps they were married," she said. "Anyhow, they were always quarreling. And when he wasn't playing, it was worse. She used to come to my hotel, and cry her eyes out."
"I knew you were friends," I said. "Almost the last thing she said to me was about the black and white dress of hers you were to borrow for the piece this week."
"Black and white dress! I borrow one of Jennie Brice's dresses!" exclaimed Miss Hope. "I should think not. I have plenty of my own."
That puzzled me; for she had said it, that was sure. And then I remembered that I had not seen the dress in the room that day, and I went in to look for it. It was gone. I came back and told Miss Hope.
"A black and white dress! Did it have a red collar?" she asked.
"Then I remember it. She wore a small black hat with a red quill with that dress. You might look for the hat."
She followed me back to the room and stood in the doorway while I searched. The hat was gone, too.
"Perhaps, after all, he's telling the truth," she said thoughtfully. "Her fur coat isn't in the closet, is it?"
It was gone. It is strange that, all day, I had never thought of looking over her clothes and seeing what was missing. I hadn't known all she had, of course, but I had seen her all winter in her fur coat and admired it. It was a striped fur, brown and gray, and very unusual. But with the coat missing, and a dress and hat gone, it began to look as if I had been making a fool of myself, and stirring up a tempest in a teacup. Miss Hope was as puzzled as I was.
"Anyhow, if he didn't kill her," she said, "it isn't because he did not want to. Only last week she had hysterics in my dressing-room, and said he had threatened to poison her. It was all Mr. Bronson, the business manager, and I could do to quiet her."
She looked at her watch, and exclaimed that she was late, and would have to hurry. I saw her down to her boat. The river had been falling rapidly for the last hour or two, and I heard the boat scrape as it went over the door-sill. I did not know whether to be glad that the water was going down and I could live like a Christian again, or to be sorry, for fear of what we might find in the mud that was always left.
Peter was lying where I had put him, on a folded blanket laid in a clothes-basket. I went back to him, and sat down beside the basket.
"Peter!" I said. "Poor old Peter! Who did this to you? Who hurt you?" He looked at me and whined, as if he wanted to tell me, if only he could.
"Was it Mr. Ladley?" I asked, and the poor thing cowered close to his bed and shivered. I wondered if it had been he, and, if it had, why he had come back. Perhaps he had remembered the towel. Perhaps he would come again and spend the night there. I was like Peter: I cowered and shivered at the very thought.
At nine o'clock I heard a boat at the door. It had stuck there, and its occupant was scolding furiously at the boatman. Soon after I heard splashing, and I knew that whoever it was was wading back to the stairs through the foot and a half or so of water still in the hall. I ran back to my room and locked myself in, and then stood, armed with the stove-lid-lifter, in case it should be Ladley and he should break the door in.
The steps came up the stairs, and Peter barked furiously. It seemed to me that this was to be my end, killed like a rat in a trap and thrown out the window, to float, like my kitchen chair, into Mollie Maguire's kitchen, or to be found lying in the ooze of the yard after the river had gone down.
The steps hesitated at the top of the stairs, and turned back along the hall. Peter redoubled his noise; he never barked for Mr. Reynolds or the Ladleys. I stood still, hardly able to breathe. The door was thin, and the lock loose: one good blow, and—
The door-knob turned, and I screamed. I recall that the light turned black, and that is all I do remember, until I came to, a half-hour later, and saw Mr. Holcombe stooping over me. The door, with the lock broken, was standing open. I tried to move, and then I saw that my feet were propped up on the edge of Peter's basket.
"Better leave them up." Mr. Holcombe said. "It sends the blood back to the head. Half the damfool people in the world stick a pillow under a fainting woman's shoulders. How are you now?"
"All right," I said feebly. "I thought you were Mr. Ladley."
He helped me up, and I sat in a chair and tried to keep my lips from shaking. And then I saw that Mr. Holcombe had brought a suit case with him, and had set it inside the door.
"Ladley is safe, until he gets bail, anyhow," he said. "They picked him up as he was boarding a Pennsylvania train bound east."
"For murder?" I asked.
"As a suspicious character," he replied grimly. "That does as well as anything for a time." He sat down opposite me, and looked at me intently.
"Mrs. Pitman," he said, "did you ever hear the story of the horse that wandered out of a village and could not be found?"
I shook my head.
"Well, the best wit of the village failed to locate the horse. But one day the village idiot walked into town, leading the missing animal by the bridle. When they asked him how he had done it, he said: 'Well, I just thought what I'd do if I was a horse, and then I went and did it.'"
"I see," I said, humoring him.
"You don't see. Now, what are we trying to do?"
"We're trying to find a body. Do you intend to become a corpse?"
He leaned over and tapped on the table between us. "We are trying to prove a crime. I intend for the time to be the criminal."
He looked so curious, bent forward and glaring at me from under his bushy eyebrows, with his shoes on his knee—for he had taken them off to wade to the stairs—and his trousers rolled to his knees, that I wondered if he was entirely sane. But Mr. Holcombe, eccentric as he might be, was sane enough.
"Not really a criminal!"
"As really as lies in me. Listen, Mrs. Pitman. I want to put myself in Ladley's place for a day or two, live as he lived, do what he did, even think as he thought, if I can. I am going to sleep in his room to-night, with your permission."
I could not see any reason for objecting, although I thought it silly and useless. I led the way to the front room, Mr. Holcombe following with his shoes and suit case. I lighted a lamp, and he stood looking around him.
"I see you have been here since we left this afternoon," he said.
"Twice," I replied. "First with Mr. Graves, and later—"
The words died on my tongue. Some one had been in the room since my last visit there.
"He has been here!" I gasped. "I left the room in tolerable order. Look at it!"
"When were you here last?"
"At seven-thirty, or thereabouts."
"Where were you between seven-thirty and eight-thirty?"
"In the kitchen with Peter." I told him then about the dog, and about finding him shut in the room.
The wash-stand was pulled out. The sheets of Mr. Ladley's manuscript, usually an orderly pile, were half on the floor. The bed coverings had been jerked off and flung over the back of a chair.
Peter, imprisoned, might have moved the wash-stand and upset the manuscript—Peter had never put the bed-clothing over the chair, or broken his own leg.
"Humph!" he said, and getting out his note-book, he made an exact memorandum of what I had told him, and of the condition of the room. That done, he turned to me.
"Mrs. Pitman," he said, "I'll thank you to call me Mr. Ladley for the next day or so. I am an actor out of employment, forty-one years of age, short, stout, and bald, married to a woman I would like to be quit of, and I am writing myself a play in which the Shuberts intend to star me, or in which I intend the Shuberts to star me."
"Very well, Mr. Ladley," I said, trying to enter into the spirit of the thing, and, God knows, seeing no humor in it. "Then you'll like your soda from the ice-box?"
"Soda? For what?"
"For your whisky and soda, before you go to bed, sir."
"Oh, certainly, yes. Bring the soda. And—just a moment, Mrs. Pitman: Mr. Holcombe is a total abstainer, and has always been so. It is Ladley, not Holcombe, who takes this abominable stuff."
I said I quite understood, but that Mr. Ladley could skip a night, if he so wished. But the little gentleman would not hear to it, and when I brought the soda, poured himself a double portion. He stood looking at it, with his face screwed up, as if the very odor revolted him.
"The chances are," he said, "that Ladley—that I—having a nasty piece of work to do during the night, would—will take a larger drink than usual." He raised the glass, only to put it down. "Don't forget," he said, "to put a large knife where you left the one last night. I'm sorry the water has gone down, but I shall imagine it still at the seventh step. Good night, Mrs. Pitman."
"Good night, Mr. Ladley," I said, smiling, "and remember, you are three weeks in arrears with your board."
His eyes twinkled through his spectacles. "I shall imagine it paid," he said.
I went out, and I heard him close the door behind me. Then, through the door, I heard a great sputtering and coughing, and I knew he had got the whisky down somehow. I put the knife out, as he had asked me to, and went to bed. I was ready to drop. Not even the knowledge that an imaginary Mr. Ladley was about to commit an imaginary crime in the house that night could keep me awake.
Mr. Reynolds came in at eleven o'clock. I was roused when he banged his door. That was all I knew until morning. The sun on my face wakened me. Peter, in his basket, lifted his head as I moved, and thumped his tail against his pillow in greeting. I put on a wrapper, and called Mr. Reynolds by knocking at his door. Then I went on to the front room. The door was closed, and some one beyond was groaning. My heart stood still, and then raced on. I opened the door and looked in.
Mr. Holcombe was on the bed, fully dressed. He had a wet towel tied around his head, and his face looked swollen and puffy. He opened one eye and looked at me.
"What a night!" he groaned.
"What happened! What did you find?"
He groaned again. "Find!" he said. "Nothing, except that there was something wrong with that whisky. It poisoned me. I haven't been out of the house!"
So for that day, at least, Mr. Ladley became Mr. Holcombe again, and as such accepted ice in quantities, a mustard plaster over his stomach, and considerable nursing. By evening he was better, but although he clearly intended to stay on, he said nothing about changing his identity again, and I was glad enough. The very name of Ladley was horrible to me.
The river went down almost entirely that day, although there was still considerable water in the cellars. It takes time to get rid of that. The lower floors showed nothing suspicious. The papers were ruined, of course, the doors warped and sprung, and the floors coated with mud and debris. Terry came in the afternoon, and together we hung the dining-room rug out to dry in the sun.
As I was coming in, I looked over at the Maguire yard. Molly Maguire was there, and all her children around her, gaping. Molly was hanging out to dry a sodden fur coat, that had once been striped, brown and gray.
I went over after breakfast and claimed the coat as belonging to Mrs. Ladley. But she refused to give it up. There is a sort of unwritten law concerning the salvage of flood articles, and I had to leave the coat, as I had my kitchen chair. But it was Mrs. Ladley's, beyond a doubt.
I shuddered when I thought how it had probably got into the water. And yet it was curious, too, for if she had had it on, how did it get loose to go floating around Molly Maguire's yard? And if she had not worn it, how did it get in the water?
The newspapers were full of the Ladley case, with its curious solution and many surprises. It was considered unique in many ways. Mr. Pitman had always read all the murder trials, and used to talk about the corpus delicti and writs of habeas corpus—corpus being the legal way, I believe, of spelling corpse. But I came out of the Ladley trial—for it came to trial ultimately—with only one point of law that I was sure of: that was, that it is mighty hard to prove a man a murderer unless you can show what he killed.
And that was the weakness in the Ladley case. There was a body, but it could not be identified.
The police held Mr. Ladley for a day or two, and then, nothing appearing, they let him go. Mr. Holcombe, who was still occupying the second floor front, almost wept with rage and despair when he read the news in the papers. He was still working on the case, in his curious way, wandering along the wharves at night, and writing letters all over the country to learn about Philip Ladley's previous life, and his wife's. But he did not seem to get anywhere.
The newspapers had been full of the Jennie Brice disappearance. For disappearance it proved to be. So far as could be learned, she had not left the city that night, or since, and as she was a striking-looking woman, very blond, as I have said, with a full voice and a languid manner, she could hardly have taken refuge anywhere without being discovered. The morning after her disappearance a young woman, tall like Jennie Brice and fair, had been seen in the Union Station. But as she was accompanied by a young man, who bought her magazines and papers, and bade her an excited farewell, sending his love to various members of a family, and promising to feed the canary, this was not seriously considered. A sort of general alarm went over the country. When she was younger she had been pretty well known at the Broadway theaters in New York. One way or another, the Liberty Theater got a lot of free advertising from the case, and I believe Miss Hope's salary was raised.
The police communicated with Jennie Brice's people—she had a sister in Olean, New York, but she had not heard from her. The sister wrote—I heard later—that Jennie had been unhappy with Philip Ladley, and afraid he would kill her. And Miss Hope told the same story. But—there was no corpus, as the lawyers say, and finally the police had to free Mr. Ladley.
Beyond making an attempt to get bail, and failing, he had done nothing. Asked about his wife, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said she had left him, and would turn up all right. He was unconcerned: smoked cigarettes all day, ate and slept well, and looked better since he had had nothing to drink. And two or three days after the arrest, he sent for the manuscript of his play.
Mr. Howell came for it on the Thursday of that week.
I was on my knees scrubbing the parlor floor, when he rang the bell. I let him in, and it seemed to me that he looked tired and pale.
"Well, Mrs. Pitman," he said, smiling, "what did you find in the cellar when the water went down?"
"I'm glad to say that I didn't find what I feared, Mr. Howell."
"Not even the onyx clock?"
"Not even the clock," I replied. "And I feel as if I'd lost a friend. A clock is a lot of company."
"Do you know what I think?" he said, looking at me closely. "I think you put that clock away yourself, in the excitement, and have forgotten all about it."
"Think hard." He was very much in earnest. "You knew the water was rising and the Ladleys would have to be moved up to the second floor front, where the clock stood. You went in there and looked around to see if the room was ready, and you saw the clock. And knowing that the Ladleys quarreled now and then, and were apt to throw things—"
"Nothing but a soap-dish, and that only once."
"—you took the clock to the attic and put it, say, in an old trunk."
"I did nothing of the sort. I went in, as you say, and I put up an old splasher, because of the way he throws ink about. Then I wound the clock, put the key under it, and went out."
"And the key is gone, too!" he said thoughtfully. "I wish I could find that clock, Mrs. Pitman."
"So do I."
"Ladley went out Sunday afternoon about three, didn't he—and got back at five?"
I turned and looked at him. "Yes, Mr. Howell," I said. "Perhaps you know something about that."
"I?" He changed color. Twenty years of dunning boarders has made me pretty sharp at reading faces, and he looked as uncomfortable as if he owed me money. "I!" I knew then that I had been right about the voice. It had been his.
"You!" I retorted. "You were here Sunday morning and spent some time with the Ladleys. I am the old she-devil. I notice you didn't tell your friend, Mr. Holcombe, about having been here on Sunday."
He was quick to recover. "I'll tell you all about it, Mrs. Pitman," he said smilingly. "You see, all my life, I have wished for an onyx clock. It has been my ambition, my Great Desire. Leaving the house that Sunday morning, and hearing the ticking of the clock up-stairs, I recognized that it was an onyx clock, clambered from my boat through an upper window, and so reached it. The clock showed fight, but after stunning it with a chair—"
"Exactly!" I said. "Then the thing Mrs. Ladley said she would not do was probably to wind the clock?"
He dropped his bantering manner at once. "Mrs. Pitman," he said, "I don't know what you heard or did not hear. But I want you to give me a little time before you tell anybody that I was here that Sunday morning. And, in return, I'll find your clock."
I hesitated, but however put out he was, he didn't look like a criminal. Besides, he was a friend of my niece's, and blood is thicker even than flood-water.
"There was nothing wrong about my being here," he went on, "but—I don't want it known. Don't spoil a good story, Mrs. Pitman."
I did not quite understand that, although those who followed the trial carefully may do so. Poor Mr. Howell! I am sure he believed that it was only a good story. He got the description of my onyx clock and wrote it down, and I gave him the manuscript for Mr. Ladley. That was the last I saw of him for some time.
That Thursday proved to be an exciting day. For late in the afternoon Terry, digging the mud out of the cellar, came across my missing gray false front near the coal vault, and brought it up, grinning. And just before six, Mr. Graves, the detective, rang the bell and then let himself in. I found him in the lower hall, looking around.
"Well, Mrs. Pitman," he said, "has our friend come back yet?"
"She was no friend of mine."
"Not she. Ladley. He'll be out this evening, and he'll probably be around for his clothes."
I felt my knees waver, as they always did when he was spoken of.
"He may want to stay here," said Mr. Graves. "In fact, I think that's just what he will want."
"Not here," I protested. "The very thought of him makes me quake."
"If he comes here, better take him in. I want to know where he is."
I tried to say that I wouldn't have him, but the old habit of the ward asserted itself. From taking a bottle of beer or a slice of pie, to telling one where one might or might not live, the police were autocrats in that neighborhood. And, respectable woman that I am, my neighbors' fears of the front office have infected me.
"All right, Mr. Graves," I said.
He pushed the parlor door open and looked in, whistling. "This is the place, isn't it?"
"Yes. But it was up-stairs that he—"
"I see. Tall woman, Mrs. Ladley?"
"Tall and blond. Very airy in her manner."
He nodded and still stood looking in and whistling. "Never heard her speak of a town named Horner, did you?"
"I see." He turned and wandered out again into the hall, still whistling. At the door, however, he stopped and turned. "Look anything like this?" he asked, and held out one of his hands, with a small kodak picture on the palm.
It was a snap-shot of a children's frolic in a village street, with some onlookers in the background. Around one of the heads had been drawn a circle in pencil. I took it to the gas-jet and looked at it closely. It was a tall woman with a hat on, not unlike Jennie Brice. She was looking over the crowd, and I could see only her face, and that in shadow. I shook my head.
"I thought not," he said. "We have a lot of stage pictures of her, but what with false hair and their being retouched beyond recognition, they don't amount to much." He started out, and stopped on the door-step to light a cigar.
"Take him on if he comes," he said. "And keep your eyes open. Feed him well, and he won't kill you!"
I had plenty to think of when I was cooking Mr. Reynolds' supper: the chance that I might have Mr. Ladley again, and the woman at Horner. For it had come to me like a flash, as Mr. Graves left, that the "Horn—" on the paper slip might have been "Horner."
After all, there was nothing sensational about Mr. Ladley's return. He came at eight o'clock that night, fresh-shaved and with his hair cut, and, although he had a latch-key, he rang the door-bell. I knew his ring, and I thought it no harm to carry an old razor of Mr. Pitman's with the blade open and folded back on the handle, the way the colored people use them, in my left hand.
But I saw at once that he meant no mischief.
"Good evening," he said, and put out his hand. I jumped back, until I saw there was nothing in it and that he only meant to shake hands. I didn't do it; I might have to take him in, and make his bed, and cook his meals, but I did not have to shake hands with him.
"You, too!" he said, looking at me with what I suppose he meant to be a reproachful look. But he could no more put an expression of that sort in his eyes than a fish could. "I suppose, then, there is no use asking if I may have my old room? The front room. I won't need two."
I didn't want him, and he must have seen it. But I took him. "You may have it, as far as I'm concerned," I said. "But you'll have to let the paper-hanger in to-morrow."
"Assuredly." He came into the hall and stood looking around him, and I fancied he drew a breath of relief. "It isn't much yet," he said, "but it's better to look at than six feet of muddy water."
"Or than stone walls," I said.
He looked at me and smiled. "Or than stone walls," he repeated, bowing, and went into his room.
So I had him again, and if I gave him only the dull knives, and locked up the bread-knife the moment I had finished with it, who can blame me? I took all the precaution I could think of: had Terry put an extra bolt on every door, and hid the rat poison and the carbolic acid in the cellar.
Peter would not go near him. He hobbled around on his three legs, with the splint beating a sort of tattoo on the floor, but he stayed back in the kitchen with me, or in the yard.
It was Sunday night or early Monday morning that Jennie Brice disappeared. On Thursday evening, her husband came back. On Friday the body of a woman was washed ashore at Beaver, but turned out to be that of a stewardess who had fallen overboard from one of the Cincinnati packets. Mr. Ladley himself showed me the article in the morning paper, when I took in his breakfast.
"Public hysteria has killed a man before this," he said, when I had read it. "Suppose that woman had been mangled, or the screw of the steamer had cut her head off! How many people do you suppose would have been willing to swear that it was my—was Mrs. Ladley?"
"Even without a head, I should know Mrs. Ladley," I retorted.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Let's trust she's still alive, for my sake," he said. "But I'm glad, anyhow, that this woman had a head. You'll allow me to be glad, won't you?"
"You can be anything you want, as far as I'm concerned," I snapped, and went out.
Mr. Holcombe still retained the second-story front room. I think, although he said nothing more about it, that he was still "playing horse." He wrote a good bit at the wash-stand, and, from the loose sheets of manuscript he left, I believe actually tried to begin a play. But mostly he wandered along the water-front, or stood on one or another of the bridges, looking at the water and thinking. It is certain that he tried to keep in the part by smoking cigarettes, but he hated them, and usually ended by throwing the cigarette away and lighting an old pipe he carried.
On that Thursday evening he came home and sat down to supper with Mr. Reynolds. He ate little and seemed much excited. The talk ran on crime, as it always did when he was around, and Mr. Holcombe quoted Spencer a great deal—Herbert Spencer. Mr. Reynolds was impressed, not knowing much beyond silks and the National League.
"Spencer," Mr. Holcombe would say—"Spencer shows that every occurrence is the inevitable result of what has gone before, and carries in its train an equally inevitable series of results. Try to interrupt this chain in the smallest degree, and what follows? Chaos, my dear sir, chaos."
"We see that at the store," Mr. Reynolds would say. "Accustom a lot of women to a silk sale on Fridays and then make it toothbrushes. That's chaos, all right."
Well, Mr. Holcombe came in that night about ten o'clock, and I told him Ladley was back. He was almost wild with excitement; wanted to have the back parlor, so he could watch him through the keyhole, and was terribly upset when I told him there was no keyhole, that the door fastened with a thumb bolt. On learning that the room was to be papered the next morning, he grew calmer, however, and got the paper-hanger's address from me. He went out just after that.
Friday, as I say, was very quiet. Mr. Ladley moved to the back parlor to let the paper-hanger in the front room, smoked and fussed with his papers all day, and Mr. Holcombe stayed in his room, which was unusual. In the afternoon Molly Maguire put on the striped fur coat and went out, going slowly past the house so that I would be sure to see her. Beyond banging the window down, I gave her no satisfaction.
At four o'clock Mr. Holcombe came to my kitchen, rubbing his hands together. He had a pasteboard tube in his hand about a foot long, with an arrangement of small mirrors in it. He said it was modeled after the something or other that is used on a submarine, and that he and the paper-hanger had fixed a place for it between his floor and the ceiling of Mr. Ladley's room, so that the chandelier would hide it from below. He thought he could watch Mr. Ladley through it; and as it turned out, he could.
"I want to find his weak moment," he said excitedly. "I want to know what he does when the door is closed and he can take off his mask. And I want to know if he sleeps with a light."
"If he does," I replied, "I hope you'll let me know, Mr. Holcombe. The gas bills are a horror to me as it is. I think he kept it on all last night. I turned off all the other lights and went to the cellar. The meter was going around."
"Fine!" he said. "Every murderer fears the dark. And our friend of the parlor bedroom is a murderer, Mrs. Pitman. Whether he hangs or not, he's a murderer."
The mirror affair, which Mr. Holcombe called a periscope, was put in that day and worked amazingly well. I went with him to try it out, and I distinctly saw the paper-hanger take a cigarette from Mr. Ladley's case and put it in his pocket. Just after that, Mr. Ladley sauntered into the room and looked at the new paper. I could both see and hear him. It was rather weird.
"God, what a wall-paper!" he said.
That was Friday afternoon. All that evening, and most of Saturday and Sunday, Mr. Holcombe sat on the floor, with his eye to the reflecting mirror and his note-book beside him. I have it before me.
On the first page is the "dog meat—two dollars" entry. On the next, the description of what occurred on Sunday night, March fourth, and Monday morning, the fifth. Following that came a sketch, made with a carbon sheet, of the torn paper found behind the wash-stand:
And then came the entries for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday evening:
6:30—Eating hearty supper.
7:00—Lights cigarette and paces floor. Notice that when Mrs. P. knocks, he goes to desk and pretends to be writing.
8:00—Is examining book. Looks like a railway guide.
8:30—It is a steamship guide.
8:45—Tailor's boy brings box. Gives boy fifty cents. Query. Where does he get money, now that J.B. is gone?
9:00—Tries on new suit, brown.
9:30—Has been spending a quarter of an hour on his knees looking behind furniture and examining base-board.
10:00—He has the key to the onyx clock. Has hidden it twice, once up the chimney flue, once behind base-board.
10:15—He has just thrown key or similar small article outside window into yard.
11:00—Has gone to bed. Light burning. Shall sleep here on floor.
11:30—He can not sleep. Is up walking the floor and smoking.
2:00 A.M.—Saturday. Disturbance below. He had had nightmare and was calling "Jennie!" He got up, took a drink, and is now reading.
8:00 A.M.—Must have slept. He is shaving.
12:00 M.—Nothing this morning. He wrote for four hours, sometimes reading aloud what he had written.
2:00 P.M.—He has a visitor, a man. Can not hear all—word now and then. "Llewellyn is the very man." "Devil of a risk—" "We'll see you through." "Lost the slip—" "Didn't go to the hotel. She went to a private house." "Eliza Shaeffer."
Who went to a private house? Jennie Brice?
2:30—Can not hear. Are whispering. The visitor has given Ladley roll of bills.
4:00—Followed the visitor, a tall man with a pointed beard. He went to the Liberty Theater. Found it was Bronson, business manager there. Who is Llewellyn, and who is Eliza Shaeffer?
4:15—Had Mrs. P. bring telephone book: six Llewellyns in the book; no Eliza Shaeffer. Ladley appears more cheerful since Bronson's visit. He has bought all the evening papers and is searching for something. Has not found it.
7:00—Ate well. Have asked Mrs. P. to take my place here, while I interview the six Llewellyns.
11:00—Mrs. P. reports a quiet evening. He read and smoked. Has gone to bed. Light burning. Saw five Llewellyns. None of them knew Bronson or Ladley. Sixth—a lawyer—out at revival meeting. Went to the church and walked home with him. He knows something. Acknowledged he knew Bronson. Had met Ladley. Did not believe Mrs. Ladley dead. Regretted I had not been to the meeting. Good sermon. Asked me for a dollar for missions.
9:00 A.M.—Sunday. Ladley in bad shape. Apparently been drinking all night. Can not eat. Sent out early for papers, and has searched them all. Found entry on second page, stared at it, then flung the paper away. Have sent out for same paper.
10:00 A.M.—Paper says: "Body of woman washed ashore yesterday at Sewickley. Much mutilated by flood debris." Ladley in bed, staring at ceiling. Wonder if he sees tube? He is ghastly.
That is the last entry in the note-book for that day. Mr. Holcombe called me in great excitement shortly after ten and showed me the item. Neither of us doubted for a moment that it was Jennie Brice who had been found. He started for Sewickley that same afternoon, and he probably communicated with the police before he left. For once or twice I saw Mr. Graves, the detective, sauntering past the house.
Mr. Ladley ate no dinner. He went out at four, and I had Mr. Reynolds follow him. But they were both back in a half-hour. Mr. Reynolds reported that Mr. Ladley had bought some headache tablets and some bromide powders to make him sleep.
Mr. Holcombe came back that evening. He thought the body was that of Jennie Brice, but the head was gone. He was much depressed, and did not immediately go back to the periscope. I asked if the head had been cut off or taken off by a steamer; he was afraid the latter, as a hand was gone, too.
It was about eleven o'clock that night that the door-bell rang. It was Mr. Graves, with a small man behind him. I knew the man; he lived in a shanty-boat not far from my house—a curious affair with shelves full of dishes and tinware. In the spring he would be towed up the Monongahela a hundred miles or so and float down, tying up at different landings and selling his wares. Timothy Senft was his name. We called him Tim.
Mr. Graves motioned me to be quiet. Both of us knew that behind the parlor door Ladley was probably listening.
"Sorry to get you up, Mrs. Pitman," said Mr. Graves, "but this man says he has bought beer here to-day. That won't do, Mrs. Pitman."
"Beer! I haven't such a thing in the house. Come in and look," I snapped. And the two of them went back to the kitchen.
"Now," said Mr. Graves, when I had shut the door, "where's the dog's-meat man?"
"Bring him quietly."
I called Mr. Holcombe, and he came eagerly, note-book and all. "Ah!" he said, when he saw Tim. "So you've turned up!"
"It seems, Mr. Dog's—Mr. Holcombe," said Mr. Graves, "that you are right, partly, anyhow. Tim here did help a man with a boat that night—"
"Threw him a rope, sir," Tim broke in. "He'd got out in the current, and what with the ice, and his not knowing much about a boat, he'd have kept on to New Orleans if I hadn't caught him—or Kingdom Come."
"Exactly. And what time did you say this was?"
"Between three and four last Sunday night—or Monday morning. He said he couldn't sleep and went out in a boat, meaning to keep in close to shore. But he got drawn out in the current."
"Where did you see him first?"
"By the Ninth Street bridge."
"Did you hail him?"
"He saw my light and hailed me. I was making fast to a coal barge after one of my ropes had busted."
"You threw the line to him there?"
"No, sir. He tried to work in to shore. I ran along River Avenue to below the Sixth Street bridge. He got pretty close in there and I threw him a rope. He was about done up."
"Would you know him again?"
"Yes, sir. He gave me five dollars, and said to say nothing about it. He didn't want anybody to know he had been such a fool."
They took him quietly up stairs then and let him look through the periscope. He identified Mr. Ladley absolutely.
When Tim and Mr. Graves had gone, Mr. Holcombe and I were left alone in the kitchen. Mr. Holcombe leaned over and patted Peter as he lay in his basket.
"We've got him, old boy," he said. "The chain is just about complete. He'll never kick you again."
But Mr. Holcombe was wrong, not about kicking Peter,—although I don't believe Mr. Ladley ever did that again,—but in thinking we had him.
I washed that next morning, Monday, but all the time I was rubbing and starching and hanging out, my mind was with Jennie Brice. The sight of Molly Maguire, next door, at the window, rubbing and brushing at the fur coat, only made things worse.