The Case of Jennie Brice
Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 3
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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,
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"When was that?"
"Sunday morning, the day before she disappeared. They were arguing
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."
[Illustration: She sat up in bed suddenly.]
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
She sat there, in the cozy corner the schoo-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
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
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
"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
"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
"Is that all she said?"
"No. She said she'd been wishing her husband would drown; that he was
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Then this knife is yours?"
"Tell again where you left it the night before it was found floating
"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
"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
"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
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
I have lost the clipping of that day's trial, but I remember her
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"You are positive it was Jennie Brice?"
"Yes. I watched her get out of the boat, while her husband steadied
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"You are a doctor of medicine, Doctor Littlefield?" asked the district
"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."
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