I felt my knees waver, as they always did when he was spoken of.
“He may want to stay here,” said Mr. Graves. “In fact, I think that’s just what he will want.”
“Not here,” I protested. “The very thought of him makes me quake.”
“If he comes here, better take him in. I want to know where he is.”
I tried to say that I wouldn’t have him, but the old habit of the ward asserted itself. From taking a bottle of beer or a slice of pie, to telling one where one might or might not live, the police were autocrats in that neighborhood. And, respectable woman that I am, my neighbors’ fears of the front office have infected me.
“All right, Mr. Graves,” I said.
He pushed the parlor door open and looked in, whistling. “This is the place, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But it was up-stairs that he—”
“I see. Tall woman, Mrs. Ladley?”
“Tall and blond. Very airy in her manner.”
He nodded and still stood looking in and whistling. “Never heard her speak of a town named Horner, did you?”
“I see.” He turned and wandered out again into the hall, still whistling. At the door, however, he stopped and turned. “Look anything like this?” he asked, and held out one of his hands, with a small kodak picture on the palm.
It was a snap-shot of a children’s frolic in a village street, with some onlookers in the background. Around one of the heads had been drawn a circle in pencil. I took it to the gas-jet and looked at it closely. It was a tall woman with a hat on, not unlike Jennie Brice. She was looking over the crowd, and I could see only her face, and that in shadow. I shook my head.
“I thought not,” he said. “We have a lot of stage pictures of her, but what with false hair and their being retouched beyond recognition, they don’t amount to much.” He started out, and stopped on the door-step to light a cigar.
“Take him on if he comes,” he said. “And keep your eyes open. Feed him well, and he won’t kill you!”
I had plenty to think of when I was cooking Mr. Reynolds’ supper: the chance that I might have Mr. Ladley again, and the woman at Horner. For it had come to me like a flash, as Mr. Graves left, that the “Horn—” on the paper slip might have been “Horner.”
After all, there was nothing sensational about Mr. Ladley’s return. He came at eight o’clock that night, fresh-shaved and with his hair cut, and, although he had a latch-key, he rang the door-bell. I knew his ring, and I thought it no harm to carry an old razor of Mr. Pitman’s with the blade open and folded back on the handle, the way the colored people use them, in my left hand.
But I saw at once that he meant no mischief.
“Good evening,” he said, and put out his hand. I jumped back, until I saw there was nothing in it and that he only meant to shake hands. I didn’t do it; I might have to take him in, and make his bed, and cook his meals, but I did not have to shake hands with him.