Mary Roberts Rinehart.

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Produced by Audrey Longhurst and Project Gutenberg Distributed
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THE CASE _of_ JENNIE BRICE

_By_
MARY ROBERTS RINEHART


_Author of_
THE MAN IN LOWER TEN, WHEN A MAN MARRIES
WHERE THERE'S A WILL, ETC.


_Illustrated by_
M. LEONE BRACKER



1913




CHAPTER I

We have just had another flood, bad enough, but only a foot or two of
water on the first floor. Yesterday we got the mud shoveled out of the
cellar and found Peter, the spaniel that Mr. Ladley left when he "went
away". The flood, and the fact that it was Mr. Ladley's dog whose body
was found half buried in the basement fruit closet, brought back to me
the strange events of the other flood five years ago, when the water
reached more than half-way to the second story, and brought with
it, to some, mystery and sudden death, and to me the worst case of
"shingles" I have ever seen.

My name is Pitman - in this narrative. It is not really Pitman, but
that does well enough. I belong to an old Pittsburgh family. I was
born on Penn Avenue, when that was the best part of town, and I lived,
until I was fifteen, very close to what is now the Pittsburgh Club. It
was a dwelling then; I have forgotten who lived there.

I was a girl in seventy-seven, during the railroad riots, and I recall
our driving in the family carriage over to one of the Allegheny hills,
and seeing the yards burning, and a great noise of shooting from
across the river. It was the next year that I ran away from school to
marry Mr. Pitman, and I have not known my family since. We were never
reconciled, although I came back to Pittsburgh after twenty years of
wandering. Mr. Pitman was dead; the old city called me, and I came. I
had a hundred dollars or so, and I took a house in lower Allegheny,
where, because they are partly inundated every spring, rents are
cheap, and I kept boarders. My house was always orderly and clean,
and although the neighborhood had a bad name, a good many theatrical
people stopped with me. Five minutes across the bridge, and they were
in the theater district. Allegheny at that time, I believe, was
still an independent city. But since then it has allied itself with
Pittsburgh; it is now the North Side.

I was glad to get back. I worked hard, but I made my rent and my
living, and a little over. Now and then on summer evenings I went to
one of the parks, and sitting on a bench, watched the children playing
around, and looked at my sister's house, closed for the summer. It is
a very large house: her butler once had his wife boarding with me - a
nice little woman.

It is curious to recall that, at that time, five years ago, I had
never seen my niece, Lida Harvey, and then to think that only the day
before yesterday she came in her automobile as far as she dared, and
then sat there, waving to me, while the police patrol brought across
in a skiff a basket of provisions she had sent me.

I wonder what she would have thought had she known that the elderly
woman in a calico wrapper with an old overcoat over it, and a pair of
rubber boots, was her full aunt!

The flood and the sight of Lida both brought back the case of Jennie
Brice. For even then, Lida and Mr. Howell were interested in each
other.

This is April. The flood of 1907 was earlier, in March. It had been a
long hard winter, with ice gorges in all the upper valley. Then, in
early March, there came a thaw. The gorges broke up and began to come
down, filling the rivers with crushing grinding ice.

There are three rivers at Pittsburgh, the Allegheny and the
Monongahela uniting there at the Point to form the Ohio. And all three
were covered with broken ice, logs, and all sorts of debris from the
upper valleys.

A warning was sent out from the weather bureau, and I got my carpets
ready to lift that morning. That was on the fourth of March, a Sunday.
Mr. Ladley and his wife, Jennie Brice, had the parlor bedroom and the
room behind it. Mrs. Ladley, or Miss Brice, as she preferred to be
known, had a small part at a local theater that kept a permanent
company. Her husband was in that business, too, but he had nothing to
do. It was the wife who paid the bills, and a lot of quarreling they
did about it.

I knocked at the door at ten o'clock, and Mr. Ladley opened it. He
was a short man, rather stout and getting bald, and he always had a
cigarette. Even yet, the parlor carpet smells of them.

"What do you want?" he asked sharply, holding the door open about an
inch.

"The water's coming up very fast, Mr. Ladley," I said. "It's up to the
swinging-shelf in the cellar now. I'd like to take up the carpet and
move the piano."

"Come back in an hour or so," he snapped, and tried to close the door.
But I had got my toe in the crack.

"I'll have to have the piano moved, Mr. Ladley," I said. "You'd better
put off what you are doing."

I thought he was probably writing. He spent most of the day writing,
using the wash-stand as a desk, and it kept me busy with oxalic acid
taking ink-spots out of the splasher and the towels. He was writing a
play, and talked a lot about the Shuberts having promised to star him
in it when it was finished.

"Hell!" he said, and turning, spoke to somebody in the room.

"We can go into the back room," I heard him say, and he closed the
door. When he opened it again, the room was empty. I called in Terry,
the Irishman who does odd jobs for me now and then, and we both got to
work at the tacks in the carpet, Terry working by the window, and I by
the door into the back parlor, which the Ladleys used as a bedroom.

That was how I happened to hear what I afterward told the police.

Some one - a man, but not Mr. Ladley - was talking. Mrs. Ladley broke
in: "I won't do it!" she said flatly. "Why should I help him? He
doesn't help me. He loafs here all day, smoking and sleeping, and sits
up all night, drinking and keeping me awake."

The voice went on again, as if in reply to this, and I heard a rattle
of glasses, as if they were pouring drinks. They always had whisky,
even when they were behind with their board.

"That's all very well," Mrs. Ladley said. I could always hear her, she
having a theatrical sort of voice - one that carries. "But what about
the prying she-devil that runs the house?"

"Hush, for God's sake!" broke in Mr. Ladley, and after that they spoke
in whispers. Even with my ear against the panel, I could not catch a
word.

The men came just then to move the piano, and by the time we had taken
it and the furniture up-stairs, the water was over the kitchen floor,
and creeping forward into the hall. I had never seen the river come up
so fast. By noon the yard was full of floating ice, and at three that
afternoon the police skiff was on the front street, and I was wading
around in rubber boots, taking the pictures off the walls.

I was too busy to see who the Ladleys' visitor was, and he had gone
when I remembered him again. The Ladleys took the second-story front,
which was empty, and Mr. Reynolds, who was in the silk department in a
store across the river, had the room just behind.

I put up a coal stove in a back room next the bathroom, and managed to
cook the dinner there. I was washing up the dishes when Mr. Reynolds
came in. As it was Sunday, he was in his slippers and had the colored
supplement of a morning paper in his hand.

"What's the matter with the Ladleys?" he asked. "I can't read for
their quarreling."

"Booze, probably," I said. "When you've lived in the flood district as
long as I have, Mr. Reynolds, you'll know that the rising of the river
is a signal for every man in the vicinity to stop work and get full.
The fuller the river, the fuller the male population."

"Then this flood will likely make 'em drink themselves to death!" he
said. "It's a lulu."

"It's the neighborhood's annual debauch. The women are busy keeping
the babies from getting drowned in the cellars, or they'd get full,
too. I hope, since it's come this far, it will come farther, so the
landlord will have to paper the parlor."

That was at three o'clock. At four Mr. Ladley went down the stairs,
and I heard him getting into a skiff in the lower hall. There were
boats going back and forth all the time, carrying crowds of curious
people, and taking the flood sufferers to the corner grocery, where
they were lowering groceries in a basket on a rope from an upper
window.

I had been making tea when I heard Mr. Ladley go out. I fixed a tray
with a cup of it and some crackers, and took it to their door. I had
never liked Mrs. Ladley, but it was chilly in the house with the gas
shut off and the lower floor full of ice-water. And it is hard enough
to keep boarders in the flood district.

She did not answer to my knock, so I opened the door and went in.
She was at the window, looking after him, and the brown valise, that
figured in the case later, was opened on the floor. Over the foot of
the bed was the black and white dress, with the red collar.

When I spoke to her, she turned around quickly. She was a tall woman,
about twenty-eight, with very white teeth and yellow hair, which she
parted a little to one side and drew down over her ears. She had a
sullen face and large well-shaped hands, with her nails long and very
pointed.

"The 'she-devil' has brought you some tea," I said. "Where shall she
put it?"

"'She-devil'!" she repeated, raising her eyebrows. "It's a very
thoughtful she-devil. Who called you that?"

But, with the sight of the valise and the fear that they might be
leaving, I thought it best not to quarrel. She had left the window,
and going to her dressing-table, had picked up her nail-file.

"Never mind," I said. "I hope you are not going away. These floods
don't last, and they're a benefit. Plenty of the people around here
rely on 'em every year to wash out their cellars."

"No, I'm not going away," she replied lazily. "I'm taking that dress
to Miss Hope at the theater. She is going to wear it in _Charlie's
Aunt_ next week. She hasn't half enough of a wardrobe to play leads in
stock. Look at this thumb-nail, broken to the quick!"

If I had only looked to see which thumb it was! But I was putting the
tea-tray on the wash-stand, and moving Mr. Ladley's papers to find
room for it. Peter, the spaniel, begged for a lump of sugar, and I
gave it to him.

"Where is Mr. Ladley?" I asked.

"Gone out to see the river."

"I hope he'll be careful. There's a drowning or two every year in
these floods."

"Then I hope he won't," she said calmly. "Do you know what I was doing
when you came in? I was looking after his boat, and hoping it had a
hole in it."

"You won't feel that way to-morrow, Mrs. Ladley," I protested,
shocked. "You're just nervous and put out. Most men have their ugly
times. Many a time I wished Mr. Pitman was gone - until he went. Then
I'd have given a good bit to have him back again."

She was standing in front of the dresser, fixing her hair over her
ears. She turned and looked at me over her shoulder.

"Probably Mr. Pitman was a man," she said. "My husband is a fiend, a
devil."

Well, a good many women have said that to me at different times. But
just let me say such a thing to _them_, or repeat their own words
to them the next day, and they would fly at me in a fury. So I said
nothing, and put the cream into her tea.

I never saw her again.




CHAPTER II

There is not much sleeping done in the flood district during a spring
flood. The gas was shut off, and I gave Mr. Reynolds and the Ladleys
each a lamp. I sat in the back room that I had made into a temporary
kitchen, with a candle, and with a bedquilt around my shoulders. The
water rose fast in the lower hall, but by midnight, at the seventh
step, it stopped rising and stood still. I always have a skiff during
the flood season, and as the water rose, I tied it to one spindle of
the staircase after another.

I made myself a cup of tea, and at one o'clock I stretched out on a
sofa for a few hours' sleep. I think I had been sleeping only an hour
or so, when some one touched me on the shoulder and I started up. It
was Mr. Reynolds, partly dressed.

"Some one has been in the house, Mrs. Pitman," he said. "They went
away just now in the boat."

"Perhaps it was Peter," I suggested. "That dog is always wandering
around at night."

"Not unless Peter can row a boat," said Mr. Reynolds dryly.

I got up, being already fully dressed, and taking the candle, we went
to the staircase. I noticed that it was a minute or so after two
o'clock as we left the room. The boat was gone, not untied, but cut
loose. The end of the rope was still fastened to the stair-rail. I sat
down on the stairs and looked at Mr. Reynolds.

"It's gone!" I said. "If the house catches fire, we'll have to drown."

"It's rather curious, when you consider it." We both spoke softly, not
to disturb the Ladleys. "I've been awake, and I heard no boat come
in. And yet, if no one came in a boat, and came from the street, they
would have had to swim in."

I felt queer and creepy. The street door was open, of course, and the
lights going beyond. It gave me a strange feeling to sit there in
the darkness on the stairs, with the arch of the front door like the
entrance to a cavern, and see now and then a chunk of ice slide into
view, turn around in the eddy, and pass on. It was bitter cold, too,
and the wind was rising.

"I'll go through the house," said Mr. Reynolds. "There's likely
nothing worse the matter than some drunken mill-hand on a vacation
while the mills are under water. But I'd better look."

He left me, and I sat there alone in the darkness. I had a
presentiment of something wrong, but I tried to think it was only
discomfort and the cold. The water, driven in by the wind, swirled at
my feet. And something dark floated in and lodged on the step below. I
reached down and touched it. It was a dead kitten. I had never known a
dead cat to bring me anything but bad luck, and here was one washed in
at my very feet.

Mr. Reynolds came back soon, and reported the house quiet and in
order.

"But I found Peter shut up in one of the third-floor rooms," he said.
"Did you put him there?"

I had not, and said so; but as the dog went everywhere, and the door
might have blown shut, we did not attach much importance to that at
the time.

Well, the skiff was gone, and there was no use worrying about it until
morning. I went back to the sofa to keep warm, but I left my candle
lighted and my door open. I did not sleep: the dead cat was on my
mind, and, as if it were not bad enough to have it washed in at my
feet, about four in the morning Peter, prowling uneasily, discovered
it and brought it in and put it on my couch, wet and stiff, poor
little thing!

I looked at the clock. It was a quarter after four, and except for
the occasional crunch of one ice-cake hitting another in the yard,
everything was quiet. And then I heard the stealthy sound of oars in
the lower hall.

I am not a brave woman. I lay there, hoping Mr. Reynolds would hear
and open his door. But he was sleeping soundly. Peter snarled and ran
out into the hall, and the next moment I heard Mr. Ladley speaking.
"Down, Peter," he said. "Down. Go and lie down."

I took my candle and went out into the hall. Mr. Ladley was stooping
over the boat, trying to tie it to the staircase. The rope was short,
having been cut, and he was having trouble. Perhaps it was the
candle-light, but he looked ghost-white and haggard.

"I borrowed your boat, Mrs. Pitman," he said, civilly enough. "Mrs.
Ladley was not well, and I - I went to the drug store."

"You've been more than two hours going to the drug store," I said.

He muttered something about not finding any open at first, and went
into his room. He closed and locked the door behind him, and although
Peter whined and scratched, he did not let him in.

He looked so agitated that I thought I had been harsh, and that
perhaps she was really ill. I knocked at the door, and asked if I
could do anything. But he only called "No" curtly through the door,
and asked me to take that infernal dog away.

I went back to bed and tried to sleep, for the water had dropped an
inch or so on the stairs, and I knew the danger was over. Peter came,
shivering, at dawn, and got on to the sofa with me. I put an end of
the quilt over him, and he stopped shivering after a time and went to
sleep.

The dog was company. I lay there, wide awake, thinking about Mr.
Pitman's death, and how I had come, by degrees, to be keeping a cheap
boarding-house in the flood district, and to having to take impudence
from everybody who chose to rent a room from me, and to being called
a she-devil. From that I got to thinking again about the Ladleys, and
how she had said he was a fiend, and to doubting about his having gone
out for medicine for her. I dozed off again at daylight, and being
worn out, I slept heavily.

At seven o'clock Mr. Reynolds came to the door, dressed for the store.
He was a tall man of about fifty, neat and orderly in his habits, and
he always remembered that I had seen better days, and treated me as a
lady.

"Never mind about breakfast for me this morning, Mrs. Pitman," he
said. "I'll get a cup of coffee at the other end of the bridge. I'll
take the boat and send it back with Terry."

He turned and went along the hall and down to the boat. I heard him
push off from the stairs with an oar and row out into the street.
Peter followed him to the stairs.

At a quarter after seven Mr. Ladley came out and called to me: "Just
bring in a cup of coffee and some toast," he said. "Enough for one."

He went back and slammed his door, and I made his coffee. I steeped a
cup of tea for Mrs. Ladley at the same time. He opened the door just
wide enough for the tray, and took it without so much as a "thank
you." He had a cigarette in his mouth as usual, and I could see a fire
in the grate and smell something like scorching cloth.

"I hope Mrs. Ladley is better," I said, getting my foot in the crack
of the door, so he could not quite close it. It smelled to me as if he
had accidentally set fire to something with his cigarette, and I tried
to see into the room.

"What about Mrs. Ladley?" he snapped.

"You said she was ill last night."

"Oh, yes! Well, she wasn't very sick. She's better."

"Shall I bring her some tea?"

"Take your foot away!" he ordered. "No. She doesn't want tea. She's
not here."

"Not here!"

"Good heavens!" he snarled. "Is her going away anything to make such
a fuss about? The Lord knows I'd be glad to get out of this infernal
pig-wallow myself."

"If you mean my house - " I began.

But he had pulled himself together and was more polite when he
answered. "I mean the neighborhood. Your house is all that could be
desired for the money. If we do not have linen sheets and double
cream, we are paying muslin and milk prices."

Either my nose was growing accustomed to the odor, or it was dying
away: I took my foot away from the door. "When did Mrs. Ladley leave?"
I asked.

"This morning, very early. I rowed her to Federal Street."

"You couldn't have had much sleep," I said dryly. For he looked
horrible. There were lines around his eyes, which were red, and his
lips looked dry and cracked.

"She's not in the piece this week at the theater," he said, licking
his lips and looking past me, not at me. "She'll be back by Saturday."

I did not believe him. I do not think he imagined that I did. He shut
the door in my face, and it caught poor Peter by the nose. The dog ran
off howling, but although Mr. Ladley had been as fond of the animal as
it was in his nature to be fond of anything, he paid no attention.
As I started down the hall after him, I saw what Peter had been
carrying - a slipper of Mrs. Ladley's. It was soaked with water;
evidently Peter had found it floating at the foot of the stairs.

Although the idea of murder had not entered my head at that time, the
slipper gave me a turn. I picked it up and looked at it - a black one
with a beaded toe, short in the vamp and high-heeled, the sort most
actresses wear. Then I went back and knocked at the door of the front
room again.

"What the devil do you want now?" he called from beyond the door.

"Here's a slipper of Mrs. Ladley's," I said. "Peter found it floating
in the lower hall."

He opened the door wide, and let me in. The room was in tolerable
order, much better than when Mrs. Ladley was about. He looked at the
slipper, but he did not touch it. "I don't think that is hers," he
said.

"I've seen her wear it a hundred times."

"Well, she'll never wear it again." And then, seeing me stare, he
added: "It's ruined with the water. Throw it out. And, by the way, I'm
sorry, but I set fire to one of the pillow-slips - dropped asleep, and
my cigarette did the rest. Just put it on the bill."

He pointed to the bed. One of the pillows had no slip, and the ticking
cover had a scorch or two on it. I went over and looked at it.

"The pillow will have to be paid for, too, Mr. Ladley," I said. "And
there's a sign nailed on the door that forbids smoking in bed. If you
are going to set fire to things, I shall have to charge extra."

"Really!" he jeered, looking at me with his cold fishy eyes. "Is there
any sign on the door saying that boarders are charged extra for seven
feet of filthy river in the bedrooms?"

I was never a match for him, and I make it a principle never to bandy
words with my boarders. I took the pillow and the slipper and went
out. The telephone was ringing on the stair landing. It was the
theater, asking for Miss Brice.

"She has gone away," I said.

"What do you mean? Moved away?"

"Gone for a few days' vacation," I replied. "She isn't playing this
week, is she?"

"Wait a moment," said the voice. There was a hum of conversation from
the other end, and then another man came to the telephone.

"Can you find out where Miss Brice has gone?"

"I'll see."

I went to Ladley's door and knocked. Mr. Ladley answered from just
beyond.

"The theater is asking where Mrs. Ladley is."

"Tell them I don't know," he snarled, and shut the door. I took his
message to the telephone.

Whoever it was swore and hung up the receiver.

All the morning I was uneasy - I hardly knew why. Peter felt it as I
did. There was no sound from the Ladleys' room, and the house was
quiet, except for the lapping water on the stairs and the police
patrol going back and forth.

At eleven o'clock a boy in the neighborhood, paddling on a raft, fell
into the water and was drowned. I watched the police boat go past,
carrying his little cold body, and after that I was good for nothing.
I went and sat with Peter on the stairs. The dog's conduct had been
strange all morning. He had sat just above the water, looking at it
and whimpering. Perhaps he was expecting another kitten or -

It is hard to say how ideas first enter one's mind. But the notion
that Mr. Ladley had killed his wife and thrown her body into the water
came to me as I sat there. All at once I seemed to see it all:
the quarreling the day before, the night trip in the boat, the
water-soaked slipper, his haggard face that morning - even the way the
spaniel sat and stared at the flood.

Terry brought the boat back at half past eleven, towing it behind
another.

"Well," I said, from the stairs, "I hope you've had a pleasant
morning."

"What doing?" he asked, not looking at me.

"Rowing about the streets. You've had that boat for hours."

He tied it up without a word to me, but he spoke to the dog. "Good
morning, Peter," he said. "It's nice weather - for fishes, ain't it?"

He picked out a bit of floating wood from the water, and showing it to
the dog, flung it into the parlor. Peter went after it with a splash.
He was pretty fat, and when he came back I heard him wheezing. But
what he brought back was not the stick of wood. It was the knife I
use for cutting bread. It had been on a shelf in the room where I had
slept the night before, and now Peter brought it out of the flood
where its wooden handle had kept it afloat. The blade was broken off
short.

It is not unusual to find one's household goods floating around during
flood-time. More than once I've lost a chair or two, and seen it after
the water had gone down, new scrubbed and painted, in Molly Maguire's
kitchen next door. And perhaps now and then a bit of luck would come
to me - a dog kennel or a chicken-house, or a kitchen table, or even,


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