“You, too!” he said, looking at me with what I suppose he meant to be a reproachful look. But he could no more put an expression of that sort in his eyes than a fish could. “I suppose, then, there is no use asking if I may have my old room? The front room. I won’t need two.”
I didn’t want him, and he must have seen it. But I took him. “You may have it, as far as I’m concerned,” I said. “But you’ll have to let the paper-hanger in to-morrow.”
“Assuredly.” He came into the hall and stood looking around him, and I fancied he drew a breath of relief. “It isn’t much yet,” he said, “but it’s better to look at than six feet of muddy water.”
“Or than stone walls,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled. “Or than stone walls,” he repeated, bowing, and went into his room.
So I had him again, and if I gave him only the dull knives, and locked up the bread-knife the moment I had finished with it, who can blame me? I took all the precaution I could think of: had Terry put an extra bolt on every door, and hid the rat poison and the carbolic acid in the cellar.
Peter would not go near him. He hobbled around on his three legs, with the splint beating a sort of tattoo on the floor, but he stayed back in the kitchen with me, or in the yard.
It was Sunday night or early Monday morning that Jennie Brice disappeared. On Thursday evening, her husband came back. On Friday the body of a woman was washed ashore at Beaver, but turned out to be that of a stewardess who had fallen overboard from one of the Cincinnati packets. Mr. Ladley himself showed me the article in the morning paper, when I took in his breakfast.
“Public hysteria has killed a man before this,” he said, when I had read it. “Suppose that woman had been mangled, or the screw of the steamer had cut her head off! How many people do you suppose would have been willing to swear that it was my—was Mrs. Ladley?”
“Even without a head, I should know Mrs. Ladley,” I retorted.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Let’s trust she’s still alive, for my sake,” he said. “But I’m glad, anyhow, that this woman had a head. You’ll allow me to be glad, won’t you?”
“You can be anything you want, as far as I’m concerned,” I snapped, and went out.
Mr. Holcombe still retained the second-story front room. I think, although he said nothing more about it, that he was still “playing horse.” He wrote a good bit at the wash-stand, and, from the loose sheets of manuscript he left, I believe actually tried to begin a play. But mostly he wandered along the water-front, or stood on one or another of the bridges, looking at the water and thinking. It is certain that he tried to keep in the part by smoking cigarettes, but he hated them, and usually ended by throwing the cigarette away and lighting an old pipe he carried.
On that Thursday evening he came home and sat down to supper with Mr. Reynolds. He ate little and seemed much excited. The talk ran on crime, as it always did when he was around, and Mr. Holcombe quoted Spencer a great deal—Herbert Spencer. Mr. Reynolds was impressed, not knowing much beyond silks and the National League.