At noon when the Maguire youngsters came home from school, I bribed Tommy, the youngest, into the kitchen, with the promise of a doughnut.
"I see your mother has a new fur coat," I said, with the plate of doughnuts just beyond his reach.
"She didn't buy it?"
"She didn't buy it. Say, Mrs. Pitman, gimme that doughnut."
"Oh, so the coat washed in!"
"No'm. Pap found it, down by the Point, on a cake of ice. He thought it was a dog, and rowed out for it."
Well, I hadn't wanted the coat, as far as that goes; I'd managed well enough without furs for twenty years or more. But it was a satisfaction to know that it had not floated into Mrs. Maguire's kitchen and spread itself at her feet, as one may say. However, that was not the question, after all. The real issue was that if it was Jennie Brice's coat, and was found across the river on a cake of ice, then one of two things was certain: either Jennie Brice's body wrapped in the coat had been thrown into the water, out in the current, or she herself, hoping to incriminate her husband, had flung her coat into the river.
I told Mr. Holcombe, and he interviewed Joe Maguire that afternoon. The upshot of it was that Tommy had been correctly informed. Joe had witnesses who had lined up to see him rescue a dog, and had beheld his return in triumph with a wet and soggy fur coat. At three o'clock Mrs. Maguire, instructed by Mr. Graves, brought the coat to me for identification, turning it about for my inspection, but refusing to take her hands off it.
"If her husband says to me that he wants it back, well and good," she said, "but I don't give it up to nobody but him. Some folks I know of would be glad enough to have it."
I was certain it was Jennie Brice's coat, but the maker's name had been ripped out. With Molly holding one arm and I the other, we took it to Mr. Ladley's door and knocked. He opened it, grumbling.
"I have asked you not to interrupt me," he said, with his pen in his hand. His eyes fell on the coat. "What's that?" he asked, changing color.
"I think it's Mrs. Ladley's fur coat," I said.
He stood there looking at it and thinking. Then: "It can't be hers," he said. "She wore hers when she went away."
"Perhaps she dropped it in the water."
He looked at me and smiled. "And why would she do that?" he asked mockingly. "Was it out of fashion?"
"That's Mrs. Ladley's coat," I persisted, but Molly Maguire jerked it from me and started away. He stood there looking at me and smiling in his nasty way.
"This excitement is telling on you, Mrs. Pitman," he said coolly. "You're too emotional for detective work." Then he went in and shut the door.
When I went down-stairs, Molly Maguire was waiting in the kitchen, and had the audacity to ask me if I thought the coat needed a new lining!
It was on Monday evening that the strangest event in years happened to me. I went to my sister's house! And the fact that I was admitted at a side entrance made it even stranger. It happened in this way:
Supper was over, and I was cleaning up, when an automobile came to the door. It was Alma's car. The chauffeur gave me a note:
"DEAR MRS PITMAN—I am not at all well, and very anxious. Will you come to see me at once? My mother is out to dinner, and I am alone. The car will bring you. Cordially, "LIDA HARVEY."
I put on my best dress at once and got into the limousine. Half the neighborhood was out watching. I leaned back in the upholstered seat, fairly quivering with excitement. This was Alma's car; that was Alma's card-case; the little clock had her monogram on it. Even the flowers in the flower holder, yellow tulips, reminded me of Alma—a trifle showy, but good to look at! And I was going to her house!
I was not taken to the main entrance, but to a side door. The queer dream-like feeling was still there. In this back hall, relegated from the more conspicuous part of the house, there were even pieces of furniture from the old home, and my father's picture, in an oval gilt frame, hung over my head. I had not seen a picture of him for twenty years. I went over and touched it gently.
"Father, father!" I said.
Under it was the tall hall chair that I had climbed over as a child, and had stood on many times, to see myself in the mirror above. The chair was newly finished and looked the better for its age. I glanced in the old glass. The chair had stood time better than I. I was a middle-aged woman, lined with poverty and care, shabby, prematurely gray, a little hard. I had thought my father an old man when that picture was taken, and now I was even older. "Father!" I whispered again, and fell to crying in the dimly lighted hall.
Lida sent for me at once. I had only time to dry my eyes and straighten my hat. Had I met Alma on the stairs, I would have passed her without a word. She would not have known me. But I saw no one.
Lida was in bed. She was lying there with a rose-shaded lamp beside her, and a great bowl of spring flowers on a little stand at her elbow. She sat up when I went in, and had a maid place a chair for me beside the bed. She looked very childish, with her hair in a braid on the pillow, and her slim young arms and throat bare.
"I'm so glad you came!" she said, and would not be satisfied until the light was just right for my eyes, and my coat unfastened and thrown open.
"I'm not really ill," she informed me. "I'm—I'm just tired and nervous, and—and unhappy, Mrs. Pitman."
"I am sorry," I said. I wanted to lean over and pat her hand, to draw the covers around her and mother her a little,—I had had no one to mother for so long,—but I could not. She would have thought it queer and presumptuous—or no, not that. She was too sweet to have thought that.
"Mrs. Pitman," she said suddenly, "who was this Jennie Brice?"
"She was an actress. She and her husband lived at my house."
"Was she—was she beautiful?"
"Well," I said slowly, "I never thought of that. She was handsome, in a large way."
"Was she young?"
"Yes. Twenty-eight or so."
"That isn't very young," she said, looking relieved. "But I don't think men like very young women. Do you?"
"I know one who does," I said, smiling. But she sat up in bed suddenly and looked at me with her clear childish eyes.
"I don't want him to like me!" she flashed. "I—I want him to hate me."
"Tut, tut! You want nothing of the sort."
"Mrs. Pitman," she said, "I sent for you because I'm nearly crazy. Mr. Howell was a friend of that woman. He has acted like a maniac since she disappeared. He doesn't come to see me, he has given up his work on the paper, and I saw him to-day on the street—he looks like a ghost."
That put me to thinking.
"He might have been a friend," I admitted. "Although, as far as I know, he was never at the house but once, and then he saw both of them."
"When was that?"
"Sunday morning, the day before she disappeared. They were arguing something."
She was looking at me attentively. "You know more than you are telling me, Mrs. Pitman," she said. "You—do you think Jennie Brice is dead, and that Mr. Howell knows—who did it?"
"I think she is dead, and I think possibly Mr. Howell suspects who did it. He does not know, or he would have told the police."
"You do not think he was—was in love with Jennie Brice, do you?"
"I'm certain of that," I said. "He is very much in love with a foolish girl, who ought to have more faith in him than she has."
She colored a little, and smiled at that, but the next moment she was sitting forward, tense and questioning again.
"If that is true, Mrs. Pitman," she said, "who was the veiled woman he met that Monday morning at daylight, and took across the bridge to Pittsburgh? I believe it was Jennie Brice. If it was not, who was it?"
"I don't believe he took any woman across the bridge at that hour. Who says he did?"
"Uncle Jim saw him. He had been playing cards all night at one of the clubs, and was walking home. He says he met Mr. Howell face to face, and spoke to him. The woman was tall and veiled. Uncle Jim sent for him, a day or two later, and he refused to explain. Then they forbade him the house. Mama objected to him, anyhow, and he only came on sufferance. He is a college man of good family, but without any money at all save what he earns.. And now—"
I had had some young newspaper men with me, and I knew what they got. They were nice boys, but they made fifteen dollars a week. I'm afraid I smiled a little as I looked around the room, with its gray grass-cloth walls, its toilet-table spread with ivory and gold, and the maid in attendance in her black dress and white apron, collar and cuffs. Even the little nightgown Lida was wearing would have taken a week's salary or more. She saw my smile.
"It was to be his chance," she said. "If he made good, he was to have something better. My Uncle Jim owns the paper, and he promised me to help him. But—"
So Jim was running a newspaper! That was a curious career for Jim to choose. Jim, who was twice expelled from school, and who could never write a letter without a dictionary beside him! I had a pang when I heard his name again, after all the years. For I had written to Jim from Oklahoma, after Mr. Pitman died, asking for money to bury him, and had never even had a reply.
"And you haven't seen him since?"
"Once. I—didn't hear from him, and I called him up. We—we met in the park. He said everything was all right, but he couldn't tell me just then. The next day he resigned from the paper and went away. Mrs. Pitman, it's driving me crazy! For they have found a body, and they think it is hers. If it is, and he was with her—"
"Don't be a foolish girl," I protested. "If he was with Jennie Brice, she is still living, and if he was not with Jennie Brice—"
"If it was not Jennie Brice, then I have a right to know who it was," she declared. "He was not like himself when I met him. He said such queer things: he talked about an onyx clock, and said he had been made a fool of, and that no matter what came out, I was always to remember that he had done what he did for the best, and that—that he cared for me more than for anything in this world or the next."
"That wasn't so foolish!" I couldn't help it; I leaned over and drew her nightgown up over her bare white shoulder. "You won't help anything or anybody by taking cold, my dear," I said. "Call your maid and have her put a dressing-gown around you."
I left soon after. There was little I could do. But I comforted her as best I could, and said good night. My heart was heavy as I went down the stairs. For, twist things as I might, it was clear that in some way the Howell boy was mixed up in the Brice case. Poor little troubled Lida! Poor distracted boy!
I had a curious experience down-stairs. I had reached the foot of the staircase and was turning to go back and along the hall to the side entrance, when I came face to face with Isaac, the old colored man who had driven the family carriage when I was a child, and whom I had seen, at intervals since I came back, pottering around Alma's house. The old man was bent and feeble; he came slowly down the hall, with a bunch of keys in his hand. I had seen him do the same thing many times.
He stopped when he saw me, and I shrank back from the light, but he had seen me. "Miss Bess!" he said. "Foh Gawd's sake, Miss Bess!"
"You are making a mistake, my friend," I said, quivering. "I am not 'Miss Bess'!"
He came close to me and stared into my face. And from that he looked at my cloth gloves, at my coat, and he shook his white head. "I sure thought you was Miss Bess," he said, and made no further effort to detain me. He led the way back to the door where the machine waited, his head shaking with the palsy of age, muttering as he went. He opened the door with his best manner, and stood aside.
"Good night, ma'am," he quavered.
I had tears in my eyes. I tried to keep them back. "Good night," I said. "Good night, Ikkie."
It had slipped out, my baby name for old Isaac!
"Miss Bess!" he cried. "Oh, praise Gawd, it's Miss Bess again!"
He caught my arm and pulled me back into the hall, and there he held me, crying over me, muttering praises for my return, begging me to come back, recalling little tender things out of the past that almost killed me to hear again.
But I had made my bed and must lie in it. I forced him to swear silence about my visit; I made him promise not to reveal my identity to Lida; and I told him—Heaven forgive me!—that I was well and prosperous and happy.
Dear old Isaac! I would not let him come to see me, but the next day there came a basket, with six bottles of wine, and an old daguerreotype of my mother, that had been his treasure. Nor was that basket the last.
The coroner held an inquest over the headless body the next day, Tuesday. Mr. Graves telephoned me in the morning, and I went to the morgue with him.
I do not like the morgue, although some of my neighbors pay it weekly visits. It is by way of excursion, like nickelodeons or watching the circus put up its tents. I have heard them threaten the children that if they misbehaved they would not be taken to the morgue that week!
I failed to identify the body. How could I? It had been a tall woman, probably five feet eight, and I thought the nails looked like those of Jennie Brice. The thumb-nail of one was broken short off. I told Mr. Graves about her speaking of a broken nail, but he shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.
There was a curious scar over the heart, and he was making a sketch of it. It reached from the center of the chest for about six inches across the left breast, a narrow thin line that one could hardly see. It was shaped like this:
I felt sure that Jennie Brice had had no such scar, and Mr. Graves thought as I did. Temple Hope, called to the inquest, said she had never heard of one, and Mr. Ladley himself, at the inquest, swore that his wife had had nothing of the sort. I was watching him, and I did not think he was lying. And yet—the hand was very like Jennie Brice's. It was all bewildering.
Mr. Ladley's testimoney at the inquest was disappointing. He was cool and collected: said he had no reason to believe that his wife was dead, and less reason to think she had been drowned; she had left him in a rage, and if she found out that by hiding she was putting him in an unpleasant position, she would probably hide indefinitely.
To the disappointment of everybody, the identity of the woman remained a mystery. No one with such a scar was missing. A small woman of my own age, a Mrs. Murray, whose daughter, a stenographer, had disappeared, attended the inquest. But her daughter had had no such scar, and had worn her nails short, because of using the typewriter. Alice Murray was the missing girl's name. Her mother sat beside me, and cried most of the time.
One thing was brought out at the inquest: the body had been thrown into the river after death. There was no water in the lungs. The verdict was "death by the hands of some person or persons unknown."
Mr. Holcombe was not satisfied. In some way or other he had got permission to attend the autopsy, and had brought away a tracing of the scar. All the way home in the street-car he stared at the drawing, holding first one eye shut and then the other. But, like the coroner, he got nowhere. He folded the paper and put it in his note-book.
"None the less, Mrs. Pitman," he said, "that is the body of Jennie Brice; her husband killed her, probably by strangling her; he took the body out in the boat and dropped it into the swollen river above the Ninth Street bridge."
"Why do you think he strangled her?"
"There was no mark on the body, and no poison was found."
"Then if he strangled her, where did the blood come from?"
"I didn't limit myself to strangulation," he said irritably. "He may have cut her throat."
"Or brained her with my onyx clock," I added with a sigh. For I missed the clock more and more.
He went down in his pockets and brought up a key. "I'd forgotten this," he said. "It shows you were right—that the clock was there when the Ladleys took the room. I found this in the yard this morning."
It was when I got home from the inquest that I found old Isaac's basket waiting. I am not a crying woman, but I could hardly see my mother's picture for tears.—Well, after all, that is not the Brice story. I am not writing the sordid tragedy of my life.
That was on Tuesday. Jennie Brice had been missing nine days. In all that time, although she was cast for the piece at the theater that week, no one there had heard from her. Her relatives had had no word. She had gone away, if she had gone, on a cold March night, in a striped black and white dress with a red collar, and a red and black hat, without her fur coat, which she had worn all winter. She had gone very early in the morning, or during the night. How had she gone? Mr. Ladley said he had rowed her to Federal Street at half after six and had brought the boat back. After they had quarreled violently all night, and when she was leaving him, wouldn't he have allowed her to take herself away? Besides, the police had found no trace of her on an early train. And then at daylight, between five and six, my own brother had seen a woman with Mr. Howell, a woman who might have been Jennie Brice. But if it was, why did not Mr. Howell say so?
Mr. Ladley claimed she was hiding, in revenge. But Jennie Brice was not that sort of woman; there was something big about her, something that is found often in large women—a lack of spite. She was not petty or malicious. Her faults, like her virtues, were for all to see.
In spite of the failure to identify the body, Mr. Ladley was arrested that night, Tuesday, and this time it was for murder. I know now that the police were taking long chances. They had no strong motive for the crime. As Mr. Holcombe said, they had provocation, but not motive, which is different. They had opportunity, and they had a lot of straggling links of clues, which in the total made a fair chain of circumstantial evidence. But that was all.
That is the way the case stood on Tuesday night, March the thirteenth.
Mr. Ladley was taken away at nine o'clock. He was perfectly cool, asked me to help him pack a suit case, and whistled while it was being done. He requested to be allowed to walk to the jail, and went quietly, with a detective on one side and I think a sheriff's officer on the other.
Just before he left, he asked for a word or two with me, and when he paid his bill up to date, and gave me an extra dollar for taking care of Peter, I was almost overcome. He took the manuscript of his play with him, and I remember his asking if he could have any typing done in the jail. I had never seen a man arrested for murder before, but I think he was probably the coolest suspect the officers had ever seen. They hardly knew what to make of it.
Mr. Reynolds and I had a cup of tea after all the excitement, and were sitting at the dining-room table drinking it, when the bell rang. It was Mr. Howell! He half staggered into the hall when I opened the door, and was for going into the parlor bedroom without a word.
"Mr. Ladley's gone, if you want him," I said. I thought his face cleared.
"Gone!" he said. "Where?"
He did not reply at once. He stood there, tapping the palm of one hand with the forefinger of the other. He was dirty and unshaven. His clothes looked as if he had been sleeping in them.
"So they've got him!" he muttered finally, and turning, was about to go out the front door without another word, but I caught his arm.
"You're sick, Mr. Howell," I said. "You'd better not go out just yet."
"Oh, I'm all right." He took his handkerchief out and wiped his face. I saw that his hands were shaking.
"Come back and have a cup of tea, and a slice of home-made bread."
He hesitated and looked at his watch. "I'll do it, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "I suppose I'd better throw a little fuel into this engine of mine. It's been going hard for several days."
He ate like a wolf. I cut half a loaf into slices for him, and he drank the rest of the tea. Mr. Reynolds creaked up to bed and left him still eating, and me still cutting and spreading. Now that I had a chance to see him, I was shocked. The rims of his eyes were red, his collar was black, and his hair hung over his forehead. But when he finally sat back and looked at me, his color was better.
"So they've canned him!" he said.
"Time enough, too," said I.
He leaned forward and put both his elbows on the table. "Mrs. Pitman," he said earnestly, "I don't like him any more than you do. But he never killed that woman."
"Somebody killed her."
"How do you know? How do you know she is dead?"
Well, I didn't, of course—I only felt it.
"The police haven't even proved a crime. They can't hold a man for a supposititious murder."
"Perhaps they can't but they're doing it," I retorted. "If the woman's alive, she won't let him hang."
"I'm not so sure of that," he said heavily, and got up. He looked in the little mirror over the sideboard, and brushed back his hair. "I look bad enough," he said, "but I feel worse. Well, you've saved my life, Mrs. Pitman. Thank you."
"How is my—how is Miss Harvey?" I asked, as we started out. He turned and smiled at me in his boyish way.
"The best ever!" he said. "I haven't seen her for days, and it seems like centuries. She—she is the only girl in the world for me, Mrs. Pitman, although I—" He stopped and drew a long breath. "She is beautiful, isn't she?"
"Very beautiful," I answered. "Her mother was always—"
"Her mother!" He looked at me curiously.
"I knew her mother years ago," I said, putting the best face on my mistake that I could.
"Then I'll remember you to her, if she ever allows me to see her again. Just now I'm persona non grata."
"If you'll do the kindly thing, Mr. Howell," I said, "you'll forget me to her."
He looked into my eyes and then thrust out his hand.
"All right," he said. "I'll not ask any questions. I guess there are some curious stories hidden in these old houses."
Peter hobbled to the front door with him. He had not gone so far as the parlor once while Mr. Ladley was in the house.
* * * * *
They had had a sale of spring flowers at the store that day, and Mr. Reynolds had brought me a pot of white tulips. That night I hung my mother's picture over the mantel in the dining-room, and put the tulips beneath it. It gave me a feeling of comfort; I had never seen my mother's grave, or put flowers on it.
I have said before that I do not know anything about the law. I believe that the Ladley case was unusual, in several ways. Mr. Ladley had once been well known in New York among the people who frequent the theaters, and Jennie Brice was even better known. A good many lawyers, I believe, said that the police had not a leg to stand on, and I know the case was watched with much interest by the legal profession. People wrote letters to the newspapers, protesting against Mr. Ladley being held. And I believe that the district attorney, in taking him before the grand jury, hardly hoped to make a case.
But he did, to his own surprise, I fancy, and the trial was set for May. But in the meantime, many curious things happened.
In the first place, the week following Mr. Ladley's arrest my house was filled up with eight or ten members of a company from the Gaiety Theater, very cheerful and jolly, and well behaved. Three men, I think, and the rest girls. One of the men was named Bellows, John Bellows, and it turned out that he had known Jennie Brice very well.
From the moment he learned that, Mr. Holcombe hardly left him. He walked to the theater with him and waited to walk home again. He took him out to restaurants and for long street-car rides in the mornings, and on the last night of their stay, Saturday, they got gloriously drunk together—Mr. Holcombe, no doubt, in his character of Ladley—and came reeling in at three in the morning, singing. Mr. Holcombe was very sick the next day, but by Monday he was all right, and he called me into the room.
"We've got him, Mrs. Pitman," he said, looking mottled but cheerful. "As sure as God made little fishes, we've got him." That was all he would say, however. It seemed he was going to New York, and might be gone for a month. "I've no family," he said, "and enough money to keep me. If I find my relaxation in hunting down criminals, it's a harmless and cheap amusement, and—it's my own business."
He went away that night, and I must admit I missed him. I rented the parlor bedroom the next day to a school-teacher, and I found the periscope affair very handy. I could see just how much gas she used; and although the notice on each door forbids cooking and washing in rooms, I found she was doing both: making coffee and boiling an egg in the morning, and rubbing out stockings and handkerchiefs in her wash-bowl. I'd much rather have men as boarders than women. The women are always lighting alcohol lamps on the bureau, and wanting the bed turned into a cozy corner so they can see their gentlemen friends in their rooms.
Well, with Mr. Holcombe gone, and Mr. Reynolds busy all day and half the night getting out the summer silks and preparing for remnant day, and with Mr. Ladley in jail and Lida out of the city—for I saw in the papers that she was not well, and her mother had taken her to Bermuda—I had a good bit of time on my hands. And so I got in the habit of thinking things over, and trying to draw conclusions, as I had seen Mr. Holcombe do. I would sit down and write things out as they had happened, and study them over, and especially I worried over how we could have found a slip of paper in Mr. Ladley's room with a list, almost exact, of the things we had discovered there. I used to read it over, "rope, knife, shoe, towel, Horn—" and get more and more bewildered. "Horn"—might have been a town, or it might not have been. There was such a town, according to Mr. Graves, but apparently he had made nothing of it. Was it a town that was meant?
The dictionary gave only a few words beginning with "horn"—hornet, hornblende, hornpipe, and horny—none of which was of any assistance. And then one morning I happened to see in the personal column of one of the newspapers that a woman named Eliza Shaeffer, of Horner, had day-old Buff Orpington and Plymouth Rock chicks for sale, and it started me to puzzling again. Perhaps it had been Horner, and possibly this very Eliza Shaeffer—
I suppose my lack of experience was in my favor, for, after all, Eliza Shaeffer is a common enough name, and the "Horn" might have stood for "hornswoggle," for all I knew. The story of the man who thought of what he would do if he were a horse, came back to me, and for an hour or so I tried to think I was Jennie Brice, trying to get away and hide from my rascal of a husband. But I made no headway. I would never have gone to Horner, or to any small town, if I had wanted to hide. I think I should have gone around the corner and taken a room in my own neighborhood, or have lost myself in some large city.
It was that same day that, since I did not go to Horner, Horner came to me. The bell rang about three o'clock, and I answered it myself. For, with times hard and only two or three roomers all winter, I had not had a servant, except Terry to do odd jobs, for some months.
There stood a fresh-faced young girl, with a covered basket in her hand.
"Are you Mrs. Pitman?" she asked.
"I don't need anything to-day," I said, trying to shut the door. And at that minute something in the basket cheeped. Young women selling poultry are not common in our neighborhood. "What have you there?" I asked more agreeably.
"Chicks, day-old chicks, but I'm not trying to sell you any. I—may I come in?"
It was dawning on me then that perhaps this was Eliza Shaeffer. I led her back to the dining-room, with Peter sniffing at the basket.
"My name is Shaeffer," she said. "I've seen your name in the papers, and I believe I know something about Jennie Brice."
Eliza Shaeffer's story was curious. She said that she was postmistress at Horner, and lived with her mother on a farm a mile out of the town, driving in and out each day in a buggy.
On Monday afternoon, March the fifth, a woman had alighted at the station from a train, and had taken luncheon at the hotel. She told the clerk she was on the road, selling corsets, and was much disappointed to find no store of any size in the town. The woman, who had registered as Mrs. Jane Bellows, said she was tired and would like to rest for a day or two on a farm. She was told to see Eliza Shaeffer at the post-office, and, as a result, drove out with her to the farm after the last mail came in that evening.
Asked to describe her—she was over medium height, light-haired, quick in her movements, and wore a black and white striped dress with a red collar, and a hat to match. She carried a small brown valise that Miss Shaeffer presumed contained her samples.
Mrs. Shaeffer had made her welcome, although they did not usually take boarders until June. She had not eaten much supper, and that night she had asked for pen and ink, and had written a letter. The letter was not mailed until Wednesday. All of Tuesday Mrs. Bellows had spent in her room, and Mrs. Shaeffer had driven to the village in the afternoon with word that she had been crying all day, and bought some headache medicine for her.
On Wednesday morning, however, she had appeared at breakfast, eaten heartily, and had asked Miss Shaeffer to take her letter to the post-office. It was addressed to Mr. Ellis Howell, in care of a Pittsburgh newspaper!
That night when Miss Eliza went home, about half past eight, the woman was gone. She had paid for her room and had been driven as far as Thornville, where all trace of her had been lost. On account of the disappearance of Jennie Brice being published shortly after that, she and her mother had driven to Thornville, but the station agent there was surly as well as stupid. They had learned nothing about the woman.
Since that time, three men had made inquiries about the woman in question. One had a pointed Vandyke beard; the second, from the description, I fancied must have been Mr. Graves. The third without doubt was Mr. Howell. Eliza Shaeffer said that this last man had seemed half frantic. I brought her a photograph of Jennie Brice as "Topsy" and another one as "Juliet". She said there was a resemblance, but that it ended there. But of course, as Mr. Graves had said, by the time an actress gets her photograph retouched to suit her, it doesn't particularly resemble her. And unless I had known Jennie Brice myself, I should hardly have recognized the pictures.
Well, in spite of all that, there seemed no doubt that Jennie Brice had been living three days after her disappearance, and that would clear Mr. Ladley. But what had Mr. Howell to do with it all? Why had he not told the police of the letter from Horner? Or about the woman on the bridge? Why had Mr. Bronson, who was likely the man with the pointed beard, said nothing about having traced Jennie Brice to Horner?
I did as I thought Mr. Holcombe would have wished me to do. I wrote down on a clean sheet of note-paper all that Eliza Shaeffer said: the description of the black and white dress, the woman's height, and the rest, and then I took her to the court-house, chicks and all, and she told her story there to one of the assistant district attorneys.
The young man was interested, but not convinced. He had her story taken down, and she signed it. He was smiling as he bowed us out. I turned in the doorway.
"This will free Mr. Ladley, I suppose?" I asked.
"Not just yet," he said pleasantly. "This makes just eleven places where Jennie Brice spent the first three days after her death."
"But I can positively identify the dress."
"My good woman, that dress has been described, to the last stilted arch and Colonial volute, in every newspaper in the United States!"
That evening the newspapers announced that during a conference at the jail between Mr. Ladley and James Bronson, business manager at the Liberty Theater, Mr. Ladley had attacked Mr. Bronson with a chair, and almost brained him.
Eliza Shaeffer went back to Horner, after delivering her chicks somewhere in the city. Things went on as before. The trial was set for May. The district attorney's office had all the things we had found in the house that Monday afternoon—the stained towel, the broken knife and its blade, the slipper that had been floating in the parlor, and the rope that had fastened my boat to the staircase. Somewhere—wherever they keep such things—was the headless body of a woman with a hand missing, and with a curious scar across the left breast. The slip of paper, however, which I had found behind the base-board, was still in Mr. Holcombe's possession, nor had he mentioned it to the police.
Mr. Holcombe had not come back. He wrote me twice asking me to hold his room, once from New York and once from Chicago. To the second letter he added a postscript:
"Have not found what I wanted, but am getting warm. If any news, address me at Des Moines, Iowa, General Delivery. H."
It was nearly the end of April when I saw Lida again. I had seen by the newspapers that she and her mother were coming home. I wondered if she had heard from Mr. Howell, for I had not, and I wondered, too, if she would send for me again.
But she came herself, on foot, late one afternoon, and the school-teacher being out, I took her into the parlor bedroom. She looked thinner than before, and rather white. My heart ached for her.
"I have been away," she explained. "I thought you might wonder why you did not hear from me. But, you see, my mother—" she stopped and flushed. "I would have written you from Bermuda, but—my mother watched my correspondence, so I could not."
No. I knew she could not. Alma had once found a letter of mine to Mr. Pitman. Very little escaped Alma.
"I wondered if you have heard anything?" she asked.
"I have heard nothing. Mr. Howell was here once, just after I saw you. I do not believe he is in the city.
"Perhaps not, although—Mrs. Pitman, I believe he is in the city, hiding!"
"I don't know. But last night I thought I saw him below my window. I opened the window, so if it were he, he could make some sign. But he moved on without a word. Later, whoever it was came back. I put out my light and watched. Some one stood there, in the shadow, until after two this morning. Part of the time he was looking up."
"Don't you think, had it been he, he would have spoken when he saw you?"
She shook her head. "He is in trouble," she said. "He has not heard from me, and he—thinks I don't care any more. Just look at me, Mrs. Pitman! Do I look as if I don't care?"
She looked half killed, poor lamb.
"He may be out of town, searching for a better position," I tried to comfort her. "He wants to have something to offer more than himself."
"I only want him," she said, looking at me frankly. "I don't know why I tell you all this, but you are so kind, and I must talk to some one."
She sat there, in the cozy corner the school-teacher had made with a portiere and some cushions, and I saw she was about ready to break down and cry. I went over to her and took her hand, for she was my own niece, although she didn't suspect it, and I had never had a child of my own.
But after all, I could not help her much. I could only assure her that he would come back and explain everything, and that he was all right, and that the last time I had seen him he had spoken of her, and had said she was "the best ever." My heart fairly yearned over the girl, and I think she felt it. For she kissed me, shyly, when she was leaving.
With the newspaper files before me, it is not hard to give the details of that sensational trial. It commenced on Monday, the seventh of May, but it was late Wednesday when the jury was finally selected. I was at the court-house early on Thursday, and so was Mr. Reynolds.
The district attorney made a short speech. "We propose, gentlemen, to prove that the prisoner, Philip Ladley, murdered his wife," he said in part. "We will show first that a crime was committed; then we will show a motive for this crime, and, finally, we expect to show that the body washed ashore at Sewickley is the body of the murdered woman, and thus establish beyond doubt the prisoner's guilt."
Mr. Ladley listened with attention. He wore the brown suit, and looked well and cheerful. He was much more like a spectator than a prisoner, and he was not so nervous as I was.
Of that first day I do not recall much. I was called early in the day. The district attorney questioned me.
"Elizabeth Marie Pitman."
"I keep a boarding-house at 42 Union Street."
"You know the prisoner?"
"Yes. He was a boarder in my house."
"For how long?"
"From December first. He and his wife came at that time."
"Was his wife the actress, Jennie Brice?"
"Were they living together at your house the night of March fourth?"
"In what part of the house?"
"They rented the double parlors down-stairs, but on account of the flood I moved them up-stairs to the second floor front."
"That was on Sunday? You moved them on Sunday?"
"At what time did you retire that night?"
"Not at all. The water was very high. I lay down, dressed, at one o'clock, and dropped into a doze."
"How long did you sleep?"
"An hour or so. Mr. Reynolds, a boarder, roused me to say he had heard some one rowing a boat in the lower hall."
"Do you keep a boat around during flood times?"
"What did you do when Mr. Reynolds roused you?"
"I went to the top of the stairs. My boat was gone."
"Was the boat secured?"
"Yes, sir. Anyhow, there was no current in the hall."
"What did you do then?"
"I waited a time and went back to my room."
"What examination of the house did you make—if any?"
"Mr. Reynolds looked around."
"What did he find?"
"He found Peter, the Ladleys' dog, shut in a room on the third floor."
"Was there anything unusual about that?"
"I had never known it to happen before."
"State what happened later."
"I did not go to sleep again. At a quarter after four, I heard the boat come back. I took a candle and went to the stairs. It was Mr. Ladley. He said he had been out getting medicine for his wife."
"Did you see him tie up the boat?"
"Did you observe any stains on the rope?"
"I did not notice any."
"What was the prisoner's manner at that time?"
"I thought he was surly."
"Now, Mrs. Pitman, tell us about the following morning."
"I saw Mr. Ladley at a quarter before seven. He said to bring breakfast for one. His wife had gone away. I asked if she was not ill, and he said no; that she had gone away early; that he had rowed her to Federal Street, and that she would be back Saturday. It was shortly after that that the dog Peter brought in one of Mrs. Ladley's slippers, water-soaked."
"You recognized the slipper?"
"Positively. I had seen it often."
"What did you do with it?"
"I took it to Mr. Ladley."
"What did he say?"
"He said at first that it was not hers. Then he said if it was, she would never wear it again—and then added—because it was ruined."
"Did he offer any statement as to where his wife was?"
"No, sir. Not at that time. Before, he had said she had gone away for a few days."
"Tell the jury about the broken knife."
"The dog found it floating in the parlor, with the blade broken."
"You had not left it down-stairs?"
"No, sir. I had used it up-stairs, the night before, and left it on a mantel of the room I was using as a temporary kitchen."
"Was the door of this room locked?"
"No. It was standing open."
"Were you not asleep in this room?"
"You heard no one come in?"
"No one—until Mr. Reynolds roused me."
"Where did you find the blade?"
"Behind the bed in Mr. Ladley's room."
"What else did you find in the room?"
"A blood-stained towel behind the wash-stand. Also, my onyx clock was missing."
"Where was the clock when the Ladleys were moved up into this room?"
"On the mantel. I wound it just before they came up-stairs."
"When you saw Mrs. Ladley on Sunday, did she say she was going away?"
"Did you see any preparation for a journey?"
"The black and white dress was laid out on the bed, and a small bag. She said she was taking the dress to the theater to lend to Miss Hope."
"Is that all she said?"
"No. She said she'd been wishing her husband would drown; that he was a fiend."
I could see that my testimony had made an impression.
The slipper, the rope, the towel, and the knife and blade were produced in court, and I identified them all. They made a noticeable impression on the jury. Then Mr. Llewellyn, the lawyer for the defense, cross-examined me.
"Is it not true, Mrs. Pitman," he said, "that many articles, particularly shoes and slippers, are found floating around during a flood?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"Now, you say the dog found this slipper floating in the hall and brought it to you. Are you sure this slipper belonged to Jennie Brice?"
"She wore it. I presume it belonged to her."
"Ahem. Now, Mrs. Pitman, after the Ladleys had been moved to the upper floor, did you search their bedroom and the connecting room down-stairs?"
"Ah. Then, how do you know that this slipper was not left on the floor or in a closet?"
"It is possible, but not likely. Anyhow, it was not the slipper alone. It was the other things and the slipper. It was—"
"Exactly. Now, Mrs. Pitman, this knife. Can you identify it positively?"
"But isn't it true that this is a very common sort of knife? One that nearly every housewife has in her possession?"
"Yes, sir. But that knife handle has three notches in it. I put the notches there myself."
"Before this presumed crime?"
"For what purpose?"
"My neighbors were constantly borrowing things. It was a means of identification."
"Then this knife is yours?"
"Tell again where you left it the night before it was found floating down-stairs."
"On a shelf over the stove."
"Could the dog have reached it there?"
"Not without standing on a hot stove."
"Is it not possible that Mr. Ladley, unable to untie the boat, borrowed your knife to cut the boat's painter?"
"No painter was cut that I heard about The paper-hanger—"
"No, no. The boat's painter—the rope."
"Oh! Well, he might have. He never said."
"Now then, this towel, Mrs. Pitman. Did not the prisoner, on the following day, tell you that he had cut his wrist in freeing the boat, and ask you for some court-plaster?"
"He did not," I said firmly.
"You have not seen a scar on his wrist?"
"No." I glanced at Mr. Ladley: he was smiling, as if amused. It made me angry. "And what's more," I flashed, "if he has a cut on his wrist, he put it there himself, to account for the towel."
I was sorry the next moment that I had said it, but it was too late. The counsel for the defense moved to exclude the answer and I received a caution that I deserved. Then:
"You saw Mr. Ladley when he brought your boat back?"
"What time was that?"
"A quarter after four Monday morning."
"Did he come in quietly, like a man trying to avoid attention?"
"Not particularly. It would have been of no use. The dog was barking."
"What did he say?"
"That he had been out for medicine. That his wife was sick."
"Do you know a pharmacist named Alexander—Jonathan Alexander?"
"There is such a one, but I don't know him."
I was excused, and Mr. Reynolds was called. He had heard no quarreling that Sunday night; had even heard Mrs. Ladley laughing. This was about nine o'clock. Yes, they had fought in the afternoon. He had not overheard any words, but their voices were quarrelsome, and once he heard a chair or some article of furniture overthrown. Was awakened about two by footsteps on the stairs, followed by the sound of oars in the lower hall. He told his story plainly and simply. Under cross-examination admitted that he was fond of detective stories and had tried to write one himself; that he had said at the store that he would like to see that "conceited ass" swing, referring to the prisoner; that he had sent flowers to Jennie Brice at the theater, and had made a few advances to her, without success.
My head was going round. I don't know yet how the police learned it all, but by the time poor Mr. Reynolds left the stand, half the people there believed that he had been in love with Jennie Brice, that she had spurned his advances, and that there was more to the story than any of them had suspected.
Miss Hope's story held without any alteration under the cross-examination. She was perfectly at ease, looked handsome and well dressed, and could not be shaken. She told how Jennie Brice had been in fear of her life, and had asked her, only the week before she disappeared, to allow her to go home with her—Miss Hope. She told of the attack of hysteria in her dressing-room, and that the missing woman had said that her husband would kill her some day. There was much wrangling over her testimony, and I believe at least a part of it was not allowed to go to the jury. But I am not a lawyer, and I repeat what I recall.
"Did she say that he had attacked her?"
"Yes, more than once. She was a large woman, fairly muscular, and had always held her own."
"Did she say that these attacks came when he had been drinking?"
"I believe he was worse then."
"Did she give any reason for her husband's attitude to her?"
"She said he wanted to marry another woman."
There was a small sensation at this. If proved, it established a motive.
"Did she know who the other woman was?"
"I believe not. She was away most of the day, and he put in his time as he liked."
"Did Miss Brice ever mention the nature of the threats he made against her?"
"No, I think not."
"Have you examined the body washed ashore at Sewickley?"
"Yes—" in a low voice.
"Is it the body of Jennie Brice?"
"I can not say."
"Does the remaining hand look like the hand of Jennie Brice?"
"Very much. The nails are filed to points, as she wore hers."
"Did you ever know of Jennie Brice having a scar on her breast?"
"No, but that would be easily concealed."
"Just what do you mean?"
"Many actresses conceal defects. She could have worn flesh-colored plaster and covered it with powder. Also, such a scar would not necessarily be seen."
"Most of Jennie Brice's decollete gowns were cut to a point. This would conceal such a scar."
Miss Hope was excused, and Jennie Brice's sister from Olean was called. She was a smaller woman than Jennie Brice had been, very lady-like in her manner. She said she was married and living in Olean; she had not seen her sister for several years, but had heard from her often. The witness had discouraged the marriage to the prisoner.
"She had had bad luck before."
"She had been married before?"
"Yes, to a man named John Bellows. They were in vaudeville together, on the Keith Circuit. They were known as The Pair of Bellows."
I sat up at this for John Bellows had boarded at my house.
"Mr. Bellows is dead?"
"I think not. She divorced him."
"Did you know of any scar on your sister's body?"
"I never heard of one."
"Have you seen the body found at Sewickley?"
"Can you identify it?"
A flurry was caused during the afternoon by Timothy Senft. He testified to what I already knew—that between three and four on Monday morning, during the height of the flood, he had seen from his shanty-boat a small skiff caught in the current near the Ninth Street bridge. He had shouted encouragingly to the man in the boat, running out a way on the ice to make him hear. He had told him to row with the current, and to try to steer in toward shore. He had followed close to the river bank in his own boat. Below Sixth Street the other boat was within rope-throwing distance. He had pulled it in, and had towed it well back out of the current. The man in the boat was the prisoner. Asked if the prisoner gave any explanation—yes, he said he couldn't sleep, and had thought to tire himself rowing. Had been caught in the current before he knew it. Saw nothing suspicious in or about the boat. As they passed the police patrol boat, prisoner had called to ask if there was much distress, and expressed regret when told there was.
Tim was excused. He had made a profound impression. I would not have given a dollar for Mr. Ladley's chance with the jury, at that time.
The prosecution produced many witnesses during the next two days: Shanty-boat Tim's story withstood the most vigorous cross-examination. After him, Mr. Bronson from the theater corroborated Miss Hope's story of Jennie Brice's attack of hysteria in the dressing-room, and told of taking her home that night.
He was a poor witness, nervous and halting. He weighed each word before he said it, and he made a general unfavorable impression. I thought he was holding something back. In view of what Mr. Pitman would have called the denouement, his attitude is easily explained. But I was puzzled then.
So far, the prosecution had touched but lightly on the possible motive for a crime—the woman. But on the third day, to my surprise, a Mrs. Agnes Murray was called. It was the Mrs. Murray I had seen at the morgue.
I have lost the clipping of that day's trial, but I remember her testimony perfectly.
She was a widow, living above a small millinery shop on Federal Street, Allegheny. She had one daughter, Alice, who did stenography and typing as a means of livelihood. She had no office, and worked at home. Many of the small stores in the neighborhood employed her to send out their bills. There was a card at the street entrance beside the shop, and now and then strangers brought her work.
Early in December the prisoner had brought her the manuscript of a play to type, and from that time on he came frequently, sometimes every day, bringing a few sheets of manuscript at a time. Sometimes he came without any manuscript, and would sit and talk while he smoked a cigarette. They had thought him unmarried.
On Wednesday, February twenty-eighth, Alice Murray had disappeared. She had taken some of her clothing—not all, and had left a note. The witness read the note aloud in a trembling voice:
"DEAR MOTHER: When you get this I shall be married to Mr. Ladley. Don't worry. Will write again from N.Y. Lovingly,
From that time until a week before, she had not heard from her daughter. Then she had a card, mailed from Madison Square Station, New York City. The card merely said:
"Am well and working. ALICE."
The defense was visibly shaken. They had not expected this, and I thought even Mr. Ladley, whose calm had continued unbroken, paled.
So far, all had gone well for the prosecution. They had proved a crime, as nearly as circumstantial evidence could prove a crime, and they had established a motive. But in the identification of the body, so far they had failed. The prosecution "rested," as they say, although they didn't rest much, on the afternoon of the third day.
The defense called, first of all, Eliza Shaeffer. She told of a woman answering the general description of Jennie Brice having spent two days at the Shaeffer farm at Horner. Being shown photographs of Jennie Brice, she said she thought it was the same woman, but was not certain. She told further of the woman leaving unexpectedly on Wednesday of that week from Thornville. On cross-examination, being shown the small photograph which Mr. Graves had shown me, she identified the woman in the group as being the woman in question. As the face was in shadow, knew it more by the dress and hat: she described the black and white dress and the hat with red trimming.
The defense then called me. I had to admit that the dress and hat as described were almost certainly the ones I had seen on the bed in Jennie Brice's room the day before she disappeared. I could not say definitely whether the woman in the photograph was Jennie Brice or not; under a magnifying-glass thought it might be.
Defense called Jonathan Alexander, a druggist who testified that on the night in question he had been roused at half past three by the prisoner, who had said his wife was ill, and had purchased a bottle of a proprietary remedy from him. His identification was absolute.
The defense called Jennie Brice's sister, and endeavored to prove that Jennie Brice had had no such scar. It was shown that she was on intimate terms with her family and would hardly have concealed an operation of any gravity from them.
The defense scored that day. They had shown that the prisoner had told the truth when he said he had gone to a pharmacy for medicine that night for his wife; and they had shown that a woman, answering the description of Jennie Brice, spent two days in a town called Horner, and had gone from there on Wednesday after the crime. And they had shown that this woman was attired as Jennie Brice had been.
That was the way things stood on the afternoon of the fourth day, when court adjourned.
Mr. Reynolds was at home when I got there. He had been very much subdued since the developments of that first day of the trial, sat mostly in his own room, and had twice brought me a bunch of jonquils as a peace-offering. He had the kettle boiling when I got home.
"You have had a number of visitors," he said. "Our young friend Howell has been here, and Mr. Holcombe has arrived and has a man in his room."
Mr. Holcombe came down a moment after, with his face beaming.
"I think we've got him, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "The jury won't even go out of the box."
But further than that he would not explain. He said he had a witness locked in his room, and he'd be glad of supper for him, as they'd both come a long ways. And he went out and bought some oysters and a bottle or two of beer. But as far as I know, he kept him locked up all that night in the second-story front room. I don't think the man knew he was a prisoner. I went in to turn down the bed, and he was sitting by the window, reading the evening paper's account of the trial—an elderly gentleman, rather professional-looking.
Mr. Holcombe slept on the upper landing of the hall that night, rolled in a blanket—not that I think his witness even thought of escaping, but the little man was taking no chances.
At eight o'clock that night the bell rang. It was Mr. Howell. I admitted him myself, and he followed me back to the dining-room. I had not seen him for several weeks, and the change in him startled me. He was dressed carefully, but his eyes were sunken in his head, and he looked as if he had not slept for days.
Mr. Reynolds had gone up-stairs, not finding me socially inclined.
"You haven't been sick, Mr. Howell, have you?" I asked.
"Oh, no, I'm well enough, I've been traveling about. Those infernal sleeping-cars—"
His voice trailed off, and I saw him looking at my mother's picture, with the jonquils beneath.
"That's curious!" he said, going closer. "It—it looks almost like Lida Harvey."
"My mother," I said simply.
"Have you seen her lately?"
"My mother?" I asked, startled.
"I saw her a few days ago."
"Yes. She came here, Mr. Howell, two weeks ago. She looks badly—as if she is worrying."
"Not—about me?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, about you. What possessed you to go away as you did? When my—bro—when her uncle accused you of something, you ran away, instead of facing things like a man."
"I was trying to find the one person who could clear me, Mrs. Pitman." He sat back, with his eyes closed; he looked ill enough to be in bed.
"And you succeeded?"
I thought perhaps he had not been eating and I offered him food, as I had once before. But he refused it, with the ghost of his boyish smile.
"I'm hungry, but it's not food I want. I want to see her," he said.
I sat down across from him and tried to mend a table-cloth, but I could not sew. I kept seeing those two young things, each sick for a sight of the other, and, from wishing they could have a minute together, I got to planning it for them.
"Perhaps," I said finally, "if you want it very much—"
"And if you will sit quiet, and stop tapping your fingers together until you drive me crazy, I might contrive it for you. For five minutes," I said. "Not a second longer."
He came right over and put his arms around me.
"Who are you, anyhow?" he said. "You who turn to the world the frozen mask of a Union Street boarding-house landlady, who are a gentlewoman by every instinct and training, and a girl at heart? Who are you?"
"I'll tell you what I am," I said. "I'm a romantic old fool, and you'd better let me do this quickly, before I change my mind."
He freed me at that, but he followed to the telephone, and stood by while I got Lida. He was in a perfect frenzy of anxiety, turning red and white by turns, and in the middle of the conversation taking the receiver bodily from me and holding it to his own ear.
She said she thought she could get away; she spoke guardedly, as if Alma were near, but I gathered that she would come as soon as she could, and, from the way her voice broke, I knew she was as excited as the boy beside me.
She came, heavily coated and veiled, at a quarter after ten that night, and I took her back to the dining-room, where he was waiting. He did not make a move toward her, but stood there with his very lips white, looking at her. And, at first, she did not make a move either, but stood and gazed at him, thin and white, a wreck of himself. Then:
"Ell!" she cried, and ran around the table to him, as he held out his arms.
The school-teacher was out. I went into the parlor bedroom and sat in the cozy corner in the dark. I had done a wrong thing, and I was glad of it. And sitting there in the darkness, I went over my own life again. After all, it had been my own life; I had lived it; no one else had shaped it for me. And if it was cheerless and colorless now, it had had its big moments. Life is measured by big moments.
If I let the two children in the dining-room have fifteen big moments, instead of five, who can blame me?
The next day was the sensational one of the trial. We went through every phase of conviction: Jennie Brice was living. Jennie Brice was dead. The body found at Sewickley could not be Jennie Brice's. The body found at Sewickley was Jennie Brice's. And so it went on.
The defense did an unexpected thing in putting Mr. Ladley on the stand. That day, for the first time, he showed the wear and tear of the ordeal. He had no flower in his button-hole, and the rims of his eyes were red. But he was quite cool. His stage training had taught him not only to endure the eyes of the crowd, but to find in its gaze a sort of stimulant. He made a good witness, I must admit.
He replied to the usual questions easily. After five minutes or so Mr. Llewellyn got down to work.
"Mr. Ladley, you have said that your wife was ill the night of March fourth?"
"What was the nature of her illness?"
"She had a functional heart trouble, not serious."
"Will you tell us fully the events of that night?"
"I had been asleep when my wife wakened me. She asked for a medicine she used in these attacks. I got up and found the bottle, but it was empty. As she was nervous and frightened, I agreed to try to get some at a drug store. I went down-stairs, took Mrs. Pitman's boat, and went to several stores before I could awaken a pharmacist."
"You cut the boat loose?"
"Yes. It was tied in a woman's knot, or series of knots. I could not untie it, and I was in a hurry."
"How did you cut it?"
"With my pocket-knife."
"You did not use Mrs. Pitman's bread-knife?"
"I did not."
"And in cutting it, you cut your wrist, did you?"
"Yes. The knife slipped. I have the scar still."
"What did you do then?"
"I went back to the room, and stanched the blood with a towel."
"From whom did you get the medicine?"
"From Alexander's Pharmacy."
"At what time?"
"I am not certain. About three o'clock, probably."
"You went directly back home?"
Mr. Ladley hesitated. "No," he said finally. "My wife had had these attacks, but they were not serious. I was curious to see how the river-front looked and rowed out too far. I was caught in the current and nearly carried away."
"You came home after that?"
"Yes, at once. Mrs. Ladley was better and had dropped asleep. She wakened as I came in. She was disagreeable about the length of time I had been gone, and would not let me explain. We—quarreled, and she said she was going to leave me. I said that as she had threatened this before and had never done it, I would see that she really started. At daylight I rowed her to Federal Street."
"What had she with her?"
"A small brown valise."
"How was she dressed?"
"In a black and white dress and hat, with a long black coat."
"What was the last you saw of her?"
"She was going across the Sixth Street bridge."
"No. She went with a young man we knew."
There was a stir in the court room at this.
"Who was the young man?"
"A Mr. Howell, a reporter on a newspaper here."
"Have you seen Mr. Howell since your arrest?"
"No, sir. He has been out of the city."
I was so excited by this time that I could hardly hear. I missed some of the cross-examination. The district attorney pulled Mr. Ladley's testimony to pieces.
"You cut the boat's painter with your pocket-knife?"
"Then how do you account for Mrs. Pitman's broken knife, with the blade in your room?"
"I have no theory about it. She may have broken it herself. She had used it the day before to lift tacks out of a carpet."
That was true; I had.
"That early Monday morning was cold, was it not?"
"Why did your wife leave without her fur coat?"
"I did not know she had until we had left the house. Then I did not ask her. She would not speak to me."
"I see. But is it not true that, upon a wet fur coat being shown you as your wife's, you said it could not be hers, as she had taken hers with her?"
"I do not recall such a statement."
"You recall a coat being shown you?"
"Yes. Mrs. Pitman brought a coat to my door, but I was working on a play I am writing, and I do not remember what I said. The coat was ruined. I did not want it. I probably said the first thing I thought of to get rid of the woman."
I got up at that. I'd held my peace about the bread-knife, but this was too much. However, the moment I started to speak, somebody pushed me back into my chair and told me to be quiet.
"Now, you say you were in such a hurry to get this medicine for your wife that you cut the rope, thus cutting your wrist."
"Yes. I have the scar still."
"You could not wait to untie the boat, and yet you went along the river-front to see how high the water was?"
"Her alarm had excited me. But when I got out, and remembered that the doctors had told us she would never die in an attack, I grew more composed."
"You got the medicine first, you say?"
"Mr. Alexander has testified that you got the medicine at three-thirty. It has been shown that you left the house at two, and got back about four. Does not this show that with all your alarm you went to the river-front first?"
"I was gone from two to four," he replied calmly. "Mr. Alexander must be wrong about the time I wakened him. I got the medicine first."
"When your wife left you at the bridge, did she say where she was going?"
"You claim that this woman at Horner was your wife?"
"I think it likely."
"Was there an onyx clock in the second-story room when you moved into it?"
"I do not recall the clock."
"Your wife did not take an onyx clock away with her?"
Mr. Ladley smiled. "No."
The defense called Mr. Howell next. He looked rested, and the happier for having seen Lida, but he was still pale and showed the strain of some hidden anxiety. What that anxiety was, the next two days were to tell us all.
"Mr. Howell," Mr. Llewellyn asked, "you know the prisoner?"
"State when you met him."
"On Sunday morning, March the fourth. I went to see him."
"Will you tell us the nature of that visit?"
"My paper had heard he was writing a play for himself. I was to get an interview, with photographs, if possible."
"You saw his wife at that time?"
"When did you see her again?"
"The following morning, at six o'clock, or a little later. I walked across the Sixth Street bridge with her, and put her on a train for Horner, Pennsylvania."
"You are positive it was Jennie Brice?"
"Yes. I watched her get out of the boat, while her husband steadied it."
"If you knew this, why did you not come forward sooner?"
"I have been out of the city."
"But you knew the prisoner had been arrested, and that this testimony of yours would be invaluable to him."
"Yes. But I thought it necessary to produce Jennie Brice herself. My unsupported word—"
"You have been searching for Jennie Brice?"
"Yes. Since March the eighth."
"How was she dressed when you saw her last?"
"She wore a red and black hat and a black coat. She carried a small brown valise."
The cross-examination did not shake his testimony. But it brought out some curious things. Mr. Howell refused to say how he happened to be at the end of the Sixth Street bridge at that hour, or why he had thought it necessary, on meeting a woman he claimed to have known only twenty-four hours, to go with her to the railway station and put her on a train.
The jury was visibly impressed and much shaken. For Mr. Howell carried conviction in every word he said; he looked the district attorney in the eye, and once when our glances crossed he even smiled at me faintly. But I saw why he had tried to find Jennie Brice, and had dreaded testifying. Not a woman in that court room, and hardly a man, but believed when he left the stand, that he was, or had been, Jennie Brice's lover, and as such was assisting her to leave her husband.
"Then you believe," the district attorney said at the end,—"you believe, Mr. Howell, that Jennie Brice is living?"
"Jennie Brice was living on Monday morning, March the fifth," he said firmly.
"Miss Shaeffer has testified that on Wednesday this woman, who you claim was Jennie Brice, sent a letter to you from Horner. Is that the case?"
"The letter was signed 'Jennie Brice'?"
"It was signed 'J.B.'"
"Will you show the court that letter?"
"I destroyed it."
"It was a personal letter?"
"It merely said she had arrived safely, and not to let any one know where she was."
"And yet you destroyed it?"
"A postscript said to do so."
"I do not know. An extra precaution probably."
"You were under the impression that she was going to stay there?"
"She was to have remained for a week."
"And you have been searching for this woman for two months?"
He quailed, but his voice was steady. "Yes," he admitted.
He was telling the truth, even if it was not all the truth. I believe, had it gone to the jury then, Mr. Ladley would have been acquitted. But, late that afternoon, things took a new turn. Counsel for the prosecution stated to the court that he had a new and important witness, and got permission to introduce this further evidence. The witness was a Doctor Littlefield, and proved to be my one-night tenant of the second-story front. Holcombe's prisoner of the night before took the stand. The doctor was less impressive in full daylight; he was a trifle shiny, a bit bulbous as to nose and indifferent as to finger-nails. But his testimony was given with due professional weight.
"You are a doctor of medicine, Doctor Littlefield?" asked the district attorney.
"In active practise?"
"I have a Cure for Inebriates in Des Moines, Iowa. I was formerly in general practise in New York City."
"You knew Jennie Ladley?"
"I had seen her at different theaters. And she consulted me professionally at one time in New York."
"You operated on her, I believe?"
"Yes. She came to me to have a name removed. It had been tattooed over her heart."
"You removed it?"
"Not at once. I tried fading the marks with goat's milk, but she was impatient. On the third visit to my office she demanded that the name be cut out."
"You did it?"
"Yes. She refused a general anesthetic and I used cocaine. The name was John—I believe a former husband. She intended to marry again."
A titter ran over the court room. People strained to the utmost are always glad of an excuse to smile. The laughter of a wrought-up crowd always seems to me half hysterical.
"Have you seen photographs of the scar on the body found at Sewickley? Or the body itself?"
"No, I have not."
"Will you describe the operation?"
"I made a transverse incision for the body of the name, and two vertical ones—one longer for the J, the other shorter, for the stem of the h. There was a dot after the name. I made a half-inch incision for it."
"Will you sketch the cicatrix as you recall it?"
The doctor made a careful drawing on a pad that was passed to him. The drawing was much like this.
Line for line, dot for dot, it was the scar on the body found at Sewickley.
"You are sure the woman was Jennie Brice?"
"She sent me tickets for the theater shortly after. And I had an announcement of her marriage to the prisoner, some weeks later."
"Were there any witnesses to the operation?"
"My assistant; I can produce him at any time."
That was not all of the trial, but it was the decisive moment. Shortly after, the jury withdrew, and for twenty-four hours not a word was heard from them.
After twenty-four hours' deliberation, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. It was a first-degree verdict. Mr. Howell's unsupported word had lost out against a scar.
Contrary to my expectation, Mr. Holcombe was not jubilant over the verdict. He came into the dining-room that night and stood by the window, looking out into the yard.
"It isn't logical," he said. "In view of Howell's testimony, it's ridiculous! Heaven help us under this jury system, anyhow! Look at the facts! Howell knows the woman: he sees her on Monday morning, and puts her on a train out of town. The boy is telling the truth. He has nothing to gain by coming forward, and everything to lose. Very well: she was alive on Monday. We know where she was on Tuesday and Wednesday. Anyhow, during those days her gem of a husband was in jail. He was freed Thursday night, and from that time until his rearrest on the following Tuesday, I had him under observation every moment. He left the jail Thursday night, and on Saturday the body floated in at Sewickley. If it was done by Ladley, it must have been done on Friday, and on Friday he was in view through the periscope all day!"
Mr. Reynolds came in and joined us. "There's only one way out that I see," he said mildly. "Two women have been fool enough to have a name tattooed over their hearts. No woman ever thought enough of me to have my name put on her."
"I hope not," I retorted. Mr. Reynold's first name is Zachariah.
But, as Mr. Holcombe said, all that had been proved was that Jennie Brice was dead, probably murdered. He could not understand the defense letting the case go to the jury without their putting more stress on Mr. Howell's story. But we were to understand that soon, and many other things. Mr. Holcombe told me that evening of learning from John Bellows of the tattooed name on Jennie Brice and of how, after an almost endless search, he had found the man who had cut the name away.
At eight o'clock the door-bell rang. Mr. Reynolds had gone to lodge, he being an Elk and several other things, and much given to regalia in boxes, and having his picture in the newspapers in different outlandish costumes. Mr. Pitman used to say that man, being denied his natural love for barbaric adornment in his every-day clothing, took to the different fraternities as an excuse for decking himself out. But this has nothing to do with the door-bell.
It was old Isaac. He had a basket in his hand, and he stepped into the hall and placed it on the floor.
"Evening, Miss Bess," he said. "Can you see a bit of company to-night?"
"I can always see you," I replied. But he had not meant himself. He stepped to the door, and opening it, beckoned to some one across the street. It was Lida!
She came in, her color a little heightened, and old Isaac stood back, beaming at us both; I believe it was one of the crowning moments of the old man's life—thus to see his Miss Bess and Alma's child together.
"Is—is he here yet?" she asked me nervously.
"I did not know he was coming." There was no need to ask which "he." There was only one for Lida.
"He telephoned me, and asked me to come here. Oh, Mrs. Pitman, I'm so afraid for him!" She had quite forgotten Isaac. I turned to the school-teacher's room and opened the door. "The woman who belongs here is out at a lecture," I said. "Come in here, Ikkie, and I'll find the evening paper for you.
"'Ikkie'!" said Lida, and stood staring at me. I think I went white.
"The lady heah and I is old friends," Isaac said, with his splendid manner. "Her mothah, Miss Lida, her mothah—"
But even old Isaac choked up at that, and I closed the door on him.
"How queer!" Lida said, looking at me. "So Isaac knew your mother? Have you lived always in Allegheny, Mrs. Pitman?"
"I was born in Pittsburgh," I evaded. "I went away for a long time, but I always longed for the hurry and activity of the old home town. So here I am again."
Fortunately, like all the young, her own affairs engrossed her. She was flushed with the prospect of meeting her lover, tremulous over what the evening might bring. The middle-aged woman who had come back to the hurry of the old town, and who, pushed back into an eddy of the flood district, could only watch the activity and the life from behind a "Rooms to Let" sign, did not concern her much. Nor should she have.
Mr. Howell came soon after. He asked for her, and going back to the dining-room, kissed her quietly. He had an air of resolve, a sort of grim determination, that was a relief from the half-frantic look he had worn before. He asked to have Mr. Holcombe brought down, and so behold us all, four of us, sitting around the table—Mr. Holcombe with his note-book, I with my mending, and the boy with one of Lida's hands frankly under his on the red table-cloth.
"I want to tell all of you the whole story," he began. "To-morrow I shall go to the district attorney and confess, but—I want you all to have it first. I can't sleep again until I get it off my chest. Mrs. Pitman has suffered through me, and Mr. Holcombe here has spent money and time—"
Lida did not speak, but she drew her chair closer, and put her other hand over his.
"I want to get it straight, if I can. Let me see. It was on Sunday, the fourth, that the river came up, wasn't it? Yes. Well, on the Thursday before that I met you, Mr. Holcombe, in a restaurant in Pittsburgh. Do you remember?"
Mr. Holcombe nodded.
"We were talking of crime, and I said no man should be hanged on purely circumstantial evidence. You affirmed that a well-linked chain of circumstantial evidence could properly hang a man. We had a long argument, in which I was worsted. There was a third man at the table—Bronson, the business manager of the Liberty Theater."
"Who sided with you," put in Mr. Holcombe, "and whose views I refused to entertain because, as publicity man for a theater, he dealt in fiction rather than in fact."
"Precisely. You may recall, Mr. Holcombe, that you offered to hang any man we would name, given a proper chain of circumstantial evidence against him?"
"After you left, Bronson spoke to me. He said business at the theater was bad, and complained of the way the papers used, or would not use, his stuff. He said the Liberty Theater had not had a proper deal, and that he was tempted to go over and bang one of the company on the head, and so get a little free advertising.
"I said he ought to be able to fake a good story; but he maintained that a newspaper could smell a faked story a mile away, and that, anyhow, all the good stunts had been pulled off. I agreed with him. I remember saying that nothing but a railroad wreck or a murder hit the public very hard these days, and that I didn't feel like wrecking the Pennsylvania Limited.
"He leaned over the table and looked at me. 'Well, how about a murder, then?' he said. 'You get the story for your paper, and I get some advertising for the theater. We need it, that's sure.'
"I laughed it off, and we separated. But at two o'clock Bronson called me up again. I met him in his office at the theater, and he told me that Jennie Brice, who was out of the cast that week, had asked for a week's vacation. She had heard of a farm at a town called Horner, and she wanted to go there to rest.
"'Now the idea is this,' he said. 'She's living with her husband, and he has threatened her life more than once. It would be easy enough to frame up something to look as if he'd made away with her. We'd get a week of excitement, more advertising than we'd ordinarily get in a year; you get a corking news story, and find Jennie Brice at the end, getting the credit for that. Jennie gets a hundred dollars and a rest, and Ladley, her husband, gets, say, two hundred.'
"Mr. Bronson offered to put up the money, and I agreed. The flood came just then, and was considerable help. It made a good setting. I went to my city editor, and got an assignment to interview Ladley about this play of his. Then Bronson and I went together to see the Ladleys on Sunday morning, and as they needed money, they agreed. But Ladley insisted on fifty dollars a week extra if he had to go to jail. We promised it, but we did not intend to let things go so far as that.
"In the Ladleys' room that Sunday morning, we worked it all out. The hardest thing was to get Jennie Brice's consent; but she agreed, finally. We arranged a list of clues, to be left around, and Ladley was to go out in the night and to be heard coming back. I told him to quarrel with his wife that afternoon,—although I don't believe they needed to be asked to do it,—and I suggested also the shoe or slipper, to be found floating around."
"Just a moment," said Mr. Holcombe, busy with his note-book. "Did you suggest the onyx clock?"
"No. No clock was mentioned. The—the clock has puzzled me."
"Yes. I said no murder was complete without blood, but he kicked on that—said he didn't mind the rest, but he'd be hanged if he was going to slash himself. But, as it happened, he cut his wrist while cutting the boat loose, and so we had the towel."
"Pillow-slip?" asked Mr. Holcombe.
"Well, no. There was nothing said about a pillow-slip. Didn't he say he burned it accidentally?"
"So he claimed." Mr. Holcombe made another entry in his book.
"Then I said every murder had a weapon. He was to have a pistol at first, but none of us owned one. Mrs. Ladley undertook to get a knife from Mrs. Pitman's kitchen, and to leave it around, not in full view, but where it could be found."
"A broken knife?"
"No. Just a knife."
"He was to throw the knife into the water?"
"That was not arranged. I only gave him a general outline. He was to add any interesting details that might occur to him. The idea, of course, was to give the police plenty to work on, and just when they thought they had it all, and when the theater had had a lot of booming, and I had got a good story, to produce Jennie Brice, safe and well. We were not to appear in it at all. It would have worked perfectly, but we forgot to count on one thing—Jennie Brice hated her husband."
"Not really hated him!" cried Lida.
"Hated him. She is letting him hang. She could save him by coming forward now, and she won't do it. She is hiding so he will go to the gallows."
There was a pause at that. It seemed too incredible, too inhuman.
"Then, early that Monday morning, you smuggled Jennie Brice out of the city?"
"Yes. That was the only thing we bungled. We fixed the hour a little too late, and I was seen by Miss Harvey's uncle, walking across the bridge with a woman."
"Why did you meet her openly, and take her to the train?"
Mr. Howell bent forward and smiled across at the little man. "One of your own axioms, sir," he said. "Do the natural thing; upset the customary order of events as little as possible. Jennie Brice went to the train, because that was where she wanted to go. But as Ladley was to protest that his wife had left town, and as the police would be searching for a solitary woman, I went with her. We went in a leisurely manner. I bought her a magazine and a morning paper, asked the conductor to fix her window, and, in general, acted the devoted husband seeing his wife off on a trip. I even"—he smiled—"I even promised to feed the canary."
Lida took her hands away. "Did you kiss her good-by?" she demanded.
"Not even a chaste salute," he said. His spirits were rising. It was, as often happens, as if the mere confession removed the guilt. I have seen little boys who have broken a window show the same relief after telling about it.
"For a day or two Bronson and I sat back, enjoying the stir-up. Things turned out as we had expected. Business boomed at the theater. I got a good story, and some few kind words from my city editor. Then—the explosion came. I got a letter from Jennie Brice saying she was going away, and that we need not try to find her. I went to Horner, but I had lost track of her completely. Even then, we did not believe things so bad as they turned out to be. We thought she was giving us a bad time, but that she would show up.
"Ladley was in a blue funk for a time. Bronson and I went to him. We told him how the thing had slipped up. We didn't want to go to the police and confess if we could help it. Finally, he agreed to stick it out until she was found, at a hundred dollars a week. It took all we could beg, borrow and steal. But now—we have to come out with the story anyhow."
Mr. Holcombe sat up and closed his note-book with a snap. "I'm not so sure of that," he said impressively. "I wonder if you realize, young man, that, having provided a perfect defense for this man Ladley, you provided him with every possible inducement to make away with his wife? Secure in your coming forward at the last minute and confessing the hoax to save him, was there anything he might not have dared with impunity?"
"But I tell you I took Jennie Brice out of town on Monday morning."
"Did you?" asked Mr. Holcombe sternly.
But at that, the school-teacher, having come home and found old Isaac sound asleep in her cozy corner, set up such a screaming for the police that our meeting broke up. Nor would Mr. Holcombe explain any further.
Mr. Holcombe was up very early the next morning. I heard him moving around at five o'clock, and at six he banged at my door and demanded to know at what time the neighborhood rose: he had been up for an hour and there were no signs of life. He was more cheerful after he had had a cup of coffee, commented on Lida's beauty, and said that Howell was a lucky chap.
"That is what worries me, Mr. Holcombe," I said. "I am helping the affair along and—what if it turns out badly?"
He looked at me over his glasses. "It isn't likely to turn out badly," he said. "I have never married, Mrs. Pitman, and I have missed a great deal out of life."
"Perhaps you're better off: if you had married and lost your wife—" I was thinking of Mr. Pitman.
"Not at all," he said with emphasis. "It's better to have married and lost than never to have married at all. Every man needs a good woman, and it doesn't matter how old he is. The older he is, the more he needs her. I am nearly sixty."
I was rather startled, and I almost dropped the fried potatoes. But the next moment he had got out his note-book and was going over the items again. "Pillow-slip," he said, "knife broken, onyx clock—wouldn't think so much of the clock if he hadn't been so damnably anxious to hide the key, the discrepancy in time as revealed by the trial—yes, it is as clear as a bell. Mrs. Pitman, does that Maguire woman next door sleep all day?"
"She's up now," I said, looking out the window.
He was in the hall in a moment, only to come to the door later, hat in hand. "Is she the only other woman on the street who keeps boarders?"
"She's the only woman who doesn't," I snapped. "She'll keep anything that doesn't belong to her—except boarders."
He lighted his corn-cob pipe and stood puffing at it and watching me. He made me uneasy: I thought he was going to continue the subject of every man needing a wife, and I'm afraid I had already decided to take him if he offered, and to put the school-teacher out and have a real parlor again, but to keep Mr. Reynolds, he being tidy and no bother.
But when he spoke, he was back to the crime again: "Did you ever work a typewriter?" he asked.
What with the surprise, I was a little sharp. "I don't play any instrument except an egg-beater," I replied shortly, and went on clearing the table.
"I wonder—do you remember about the village idiot and the horse? But of course you do, Mrs. Pitman; you are a woman of imagination. Don't you think you could be Alice Murray for a few moments? Now think—you are a stenographer with theatrical ambitions: you meet an actor and you fall in love with him, and he with you."
"That's hard to imagine, that last."
"Not so hard," he said gently. "Now the actor is going to put you on the stage, perhaps in this new play, and some day he is going to marry you."
"Is that what he promised the girl?"
"According to some letters her mother found, yes. The actor is married, but he tells you he will divorce the wife; you are to wait for him, and in the meantime he wants you near him; away from the office, where other men are apt to come in with letters to be typed, and to chaff you. You are a pretty girl."
"It isn't necessary to overwork my imagination," I said, with a little bitterness. I had been a pretty girl, but work and worry—
"Now you are going to New York very soon, and in the meantime you have cut yourself off from all your people. You have no one but this man. What would you do? Where would you go?"
"How old was the girl?"
"I think," I said slowly, "that if I were nineteen, and in love with a man, and hiding, I would hide as near him as possible. I'd be likely to get a window that could see his going out and coming in, a place so near that he could come often to see me."
"Bravo!" he exclaimed. "Of course, with your present wisdom and experience, you would do nothing so foolish. But this girl was in her teens; she was not very far away, for he probably saw her that Sunday afternoon, when he was out for two hours. And as the going was slow that day, and he had much to tell and explain, I figure she was not far off. Probably in this very neighborhood."
During the remainder of that morning I saw Mr. Holcombe, at intervals, going from house to house along Union Street, making short excursions into side thoroughfares, coming back again and taking up his door-bell ringing with unflagging energy. I watched him off and on for two hours. At the end of that time he came back flushed and excited.
"I found the house," he said, wiping his glasses. "She was there, all right, not so close as we had thought, but as close as she could get."
"And can you trace her?" I asked.
His face changed and saddened. "Poor child!" he said. "She is dead, Mrs. Pitman!"
"Not she—at Sewickley!"
"No," he said patiently. "That was Jennie Brice."
"Mr. Howell is a young ass," he said with irritation. "He did not take Jennie Brice out of the city that morning. He took Alice Murray in Jennie Brice's clothing, and veiled."
Well, that is five years ago. Five times since then the Allegheny River, from being a mild and inoffensive stream, carrying a few boats and a great deal of sewage, has become, a raging destroyer, and has filled our hearts with fear and our cellars with mud. Five times since then Molly Maguire has appropriated all that the flood carried from my premises to hers, and five times have I lifted my carpets and moved Mr. Holcombe, who occupies the parlor bedroom, to a second-floor room.
A few days ago, as I said at the beginning, we found Peter's body floating in the cellar, and as soon as the yard was dry, I buried him. He had grown fat and lazy, but I shall miss him.