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.
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.