THE NON TAXABLE LOVES OF MRS. OLLENBERGER
She was rich, Jarvey knew. His plan was simple: marriage, then murder. That’s how he learned where she got her money
P. B. HUGHES
MRS. Ollenberger, whose given name of Ulla does not seem to have been known until the newspapers dug it up at the time of the trial along with all sorts of other unimportant details of which this record is free, was a woman of substance. Indeed, she had begun to interest certain government offices, whose concern was implemented by the introduction into her life of one Jarvey B. Oates.
The shenanigans of which the lady was suspected had not, of course, to do with the mere possession of wealth, which is not reprobated by law, but with failure to confide the amount of the arisings therefrom to the governmental ear. By routine processes she came on the list of investigation. and Jarvey being an available agent at the moment, the implementation took place.
There may be something jolly, even rollicking, in the sound of a name like Jarvey B., but it is a deception. Jarvey was a mean little man of forty-odd. a scrawny, unloved and lonely character, who nevertheless had found a life work in which he was able to take pleasure, for he had an abiding love of money and he
was fascinated by other people’s business.
Mrs. Ollenberger—and if we take the one liberty she used to permit her boarders we can call her Mrs. O.—rented Jarvey a room in her house at Thirty-eight Eccles Street one ill-starred day. She, being a sharp-eyed acquisitive sort, not given to trusting her fellows, must have perceived at once the type of man he was. but does not seem to have suspected his real business there. And Jarvey, sizing up Mrs. O., missed a trick or two himself. For one thing, he put her down as an offender of a minor variety; for another, he guessed that she might make a fool of herself, given the right circumstances, for he noted the last graces of vanishing youth in the face and figure of his landlady.
Jarvey pursued his employer’s business in his own quiet way, establishing himself as an agreeable member of the little group of middlc-aged-to-elderly men who frequented Mrs. O.'s table and occupied her rooms. They made five, and Jarvey had not eaten half a dozen meals in this company before he found himself in possession of four voluntary, and different, accounts of Mrs.
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Jarvey contemplated her wickedness—and plotted how to share it
O., her virtues and peculiarities, her menu, her husband, who was ill and had not appeared for a week or more, Gray, the invalid boarder who kept to his room entirely, and—an interesting point upon which all seemed to agree—her wealth. No evidence of the last was visible to the naked eye.
Eccles Street has been a shabby neighborhood for years, and Number Thirtyeight was in keeping with its surroundings, both inside and out. Jarvey kept his cars and eyes open and it did not take him more than a week to turn up enough evidence to justify terminating his stay at Eccles Street. But he was quite comfortable, he was living on an expense account while out of the office, and he had a pretty shrewd idea of how long he might continue in this manner before being expected to produce the bacon. Jarvey subscribed to the very sound principle that getting expert at a job docs not require that you should kill it.
It was an inconvenience, being out of the house by eight o'clock in the morning, five days a week, slave of an imaginary time clock, but it was summer and he sat for hours in the park and sometimes went to a show. It was fun for Jarvey, too, shadowing his landlady to banks and brokers’ offices. His little ego basked in the respect accorded him by managers and chief accountants once he had shown his credentials. He revealed nothing while they told him about the middle-aged woman who had just left the teller’s wicket or the safe-deposit vault. If the same middle-aged woman happened to be Mrs. Charles Harris here, Miss Leonie Schmidt there, and somebody else in another place, that was her business—and Jarvey’s. For all his faults, and without prejudice to the distaste for him that this record cannot help but arouse, Jarvey was no gossip.
As three weeks passed, his wonder grew, and his opinion of Mrs. O. grew with it. By the end of this period he fully realized that this was large-scale tax evasion with all its implication of large-scale capital sums. He contemplated the lady’s wickedness and, himself beguiled into strange thoughts, perhaps by the balmy September weather and the sight of the squirrels in the park putting by their winter store, the idea germinated that there might be ways of getting his own hands among these dollars.
Better men than Jarvey have become ridden by an idea, and this one spiead roots and thrived. In the morning it was a seedling of thought; it was the fullblown flower of covetousness before the same day’s sun had set. And in a sort of psychological inverse ratio, as the desire to appropriate the woman’s money waxed, his pleasure in mere snooping for an employer waned. He ceased to concern himself with the origins of the plump fortune which he reckoned from his notes to verge on six figures, and devoted his time and mental equipment to the matter of stealing it.
In the end, he never had to face the pangs of decision upon a plan to effect his wicked purpose, for a plan, or at least the initial stage of one, fell ready-made into his lap, and Jarvey took to it like a duck to water. He learned that the demise of Ollenberger was imminent. At once the widow-to-be was invested with a glamour for Jarvey Oates; she walked with a music about her. a dream music, built up with soft cadences of crisp paper, finely en-
graved, certifying ownership or promising to pay, and for Jarvey the very pipes of Pan could not have played so sweet a tunc. He resolved that the lady should become his bride.
THE gods smile on whom they would destroy, and for Jarvey they practically split their sides laughing. For instance, he had a head start in case other contenders were to appear. His information about Ollenberger was exclusive. Straight from the—that is, he had it from the doctor himself. “Yes, Mr. Ollenberger’s case must reach its close within the next week or two. Very sad, very sad,” said the doctor perfunctorily. “Heart, you know.” Jarvey had been received rather coldly at first, but his identification, once established. had loosened the doctor’s tongue
marvelously. Perhaps Dr. Jamieson was anxious to get an income-tax investigator off his own premises as quickly as possible, but the suggestion may be unjust.
This was the point at which Jarvey left off attending to his employer’s business. Sure, there were still some items to clean up: the antecedents of Lizzie, the daily woman at Number Thirty-eight; Ollenberger’s trade or occupation when in health; the other doctor, who came on Mondays, whose patient must be the sick boarder Gray, of course—things like that. They would scarcely interest you or me, and would scarcely seem to bear materially on the guilt or innocence of Mrs. O. with respect to tax evasion, but they were all bits and pieces of the stuff of life to Jarvey, because they were other people's business. But Jarvey, it must be admitted, had no intention now of cleaning up the case, and no time for advancing anything but his own schemes.
He might have been defter, perhaps,
had he been more of a ladies’ man, but still his elaborated attentions toward Mrs. O. appeared to do well enough and to be taken in good part. In fact, when Mr. Ollenberger was gathered to his fathers, just within the doctor’s time estimate, Jarvey had become something of a favorite. A middle-aged bachelor who pays promptly, treats a woman with deference and is handy with compliments, does not have to be Adonis as well. Thus in the day of sorrow who should be the lady’s right hand but such a man? Indeed, when the day came, she needed support, for fate played a curious trick on that household: not only Ollenberger but Gray also, the two to whom the good lady had devoted herself without complaint, succumbed between the same sunrise and sunset.
It was early morning on that memorable day of sad comings and goings that Jarvey, 'Was wakened by a soft knock on his door.
"Mr. Oates?” It was his landlady’s voice.
Jarvey hurried into his dressing gown and slippers and opened the door. Mrs. O., already in appropriate black, stood before him.
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“Don’t waken the others, Mr. Oates. But do, please, go downstairs to the telephone and call Dr. Roberts to come to Mr. Gray. The number is on the inside cover of the directory. I dare not leave Mr. Gray for so long. I fear it is already too late for the doctor. You are so kind.
I would not call any of the others.”
“Dear Mrs. Ollenberger,” breathed Jarvey, “I am so happy to be of help.” And he was, pleased that to him it was she had turned. He was a little surprised, too. He had never called on Dr. Roberts as he had on Dr. Jamieson, or of course he would have been aware that Gray’s case was so serious. But it didn’t matter—
Dr. Roberts was businesslike and a trifle pompous. He went up at once to his patient’s room, knocked and entered. Jarvey, more from force of habit than interest, stood with his ear to the door. The doctor could be heard plainly.
“Just as I have said, Mrs. Ollenberger. There has been no suffering ... an occlusion of this nature ... a dozen nurses —or doctors, for that matter—could have done no more.”
Murmurs from Mrs. O. followed.
“There, madam. You have nothing to reproach yourself with. Be assured of that.”
Jarvey skipped away; the doctor and Mrs. O. emerged from the room and went down the stairs. Through his window Jarvey watched the doctor drive off.
AT breakfast, no mention was made of the sad event. The boarders dispersed to their various pursuits. Jarvey, lingering, offered gallantly to remain and assist, but Mrs. O. urged him to go on to his business, smiling wanly upon him. So he put up the usual show of going out, bought himself a morning paper at the corner, then sat down in the park at Germain and Wells, two blocks from the house, to assess the importance to him of the new development, which did not, indeed, seem great. True, Mrs. O. had turned to him, specifically ignoring the rest. That was good. He must press the matter with increased vigor. He must— A passing car had interrupted his meditations. Six-four-PW-eight-three-two —
black sedan—fifty-five—Click, click, went Jarvey’s professional brain and the answer popped up: Dr. Jamieson! Heading for the house? So early? Already, Jarvey was moving off to take up a position from which he might observe Number Thirtyeight Eccles Street. There, sure enough, was Dr. Jamieson’s car parked outside.
Jarvcy’s brain put two and two together. Ollenberger must be worse. Of course. The news of Gray’s death had upset him. A seizure, maybe, or whatever it is. Perhaps even—but by this time Jarvey had reached the steps. By the time he crossed the threshold, he had a speech prepared, a speech that would explain his early return in terms of solicitude for his landlady over the burden imposed by Gray’s demise, plus sentiments that, not too warm to be appropriate for a lady with a husband, were yet warm enough for her to be able to recall pleasantly when the husband should be no more. Oh, he was becoming a man of delicacy, was Jarvey Oates.
Jarvey closed the hall door quietly behind him, slipping into the living room, and waited. In a very few minutes Dr. Jamieson came down the stairs with Mrs. 0. behind him, sniffling into her handkerchief. Jarvey heard the fateful words, his heart beating a little faster than usual.
"You must not grieve unduly, Mrs. Ollenberger. Your husband had every care. The occlusion is what I had expected. My deep sympathy, ma’am.”
The door closed behind Dr. Jamieson, and the widow turned away from it, stuffing her handkerchief rather briskly into her pocket. Jarvey stepped forward.
Afterward, he realized he had been a trifle clumsy, for he startled the lady rather badly. A pallor overspread her face, and for a moment he thought she was going to faint. But she recovered herself, and larvey spoke his little piece, modified to suit the new and, to him, satisfactory circumstances. By the time he had finished his brief protestations of sympathy and concern, the handkerchief was at work again, and Jarvey had been permitted to squeeze her hand respectfully.
So poor Mrs. O. leaned heavily on the strength and gentleness of Jarvey Oates. Builden and Swain came for the remains of Mr. Gray, Cox and Whitchurch for those of Mr. Ollenberger. By the time the other boarders returned for supper, everything was as it had been. Mr. Oates informed them quietly of the heavy incidence of mortality.
The same evening he found opportunity to see the widow again under suitable circumstances. They were alone in the living room, where he had waited late, surmising that she would descend, if for nothing else than to make sure Lizzie had put the food away securely and to see that the lights were out. Jarvey addressed her in properly lugubrious tones.
"Dear Mrs. Ollenberger, you must forgive my intruding my own affairs upon you at this time, but the fact is 1 had planned to leave this house within the next few days.”
The widow was regarding him now with sharp and narrowed eyes. A man less confident than Jarvey might have been disconcerted.
"1 had, in fact,” resumed Jarvey, "arranged to go on a winter cruise, and to California afterward to live.”
"You are retiring from business, Mr. Oates?” said the widow, her eyes opening in what must have been genuine surprise. "A young man like you!”
Jarvey had reached the age when reference to youth in connection with himself pleased him vastly. Like an actor heartened by applause, he continued.
"Not exactly retiring, Mrs. Ollenberger.
I have become a principal shareholder and shall thus retain an interest. Actually I acquired the Kipp family’s holdings. At the time of the legacy, of course.”
"The—uh—legacy?” Insofar as so brief a speech can convey it, there was a new warmth in the lady’s voice.
"Oh, yes. Over a year ago now. Did I
not mention that - was my uncle?”
Jarvey spoke the name of a very rich man indeed, not long dead, and so well known that the implication of substance in connection with the legacy could scarcely be lost on Mrs. O.—so well known, in fact, that it is expedient to omit the name from this sordid record.
Jarvey saw Mrs. Ollenberger lick her lips unconsciously.
“But before 1 go, dear lady,” he went on, "I would like to be assured that you have the—er—means to carry on. Forgive me. Your late husband’s life was adequately insured?”
“Twenty-five thousand,” said the widow, a trille absently. Indeed she seemed to have fallen into a curious preoccupation with Jarvey’s revelation about his legacy. It is not improbable that the passion that glowed in Jarvey’s heart had awakened an answering spark in hers. The charm she had for him may well have been the same as he now possessed for her; they looked at one another and her eyes grew soft.
She broke the spell at last. "Dear Mr. Oates,” she said gently, “not the least of my afflictions will be your going away. I had not thought I would have to face it all—quite alone. But of course you must go. This poor house is not for a man of wealth.”
She did it well, and Jarvey was pretty good, too, as he took her hand and raised it to his lips. He was not wholly without genuine feeling as he did so, for it was her right hand, and, with twenty-five thousand dollars recently added, a hand that was good for six figures, certain now, by merely writing a signature.
"Mrs. Ollenberger,” he cried, "I will stay. You must not be alone and friendless. Until you send me away, I shall remain, your faithful servant always.” With action dramatic as his words, he released her hand and turned away, to stand with his back to her, his hands on the mantelpiece.
Without words, Mrs. O. moved close to him and touched him gently on the cheek, conveying thereby a message of affection that her heart, no doubt, was too full to speak. Then she moved softly away.
REALLY, two months was enough to wait, since there were no relatives to be critical. They did not announce an engagement, but made their preparations quietly. Jarvey wrote a report on the Ollenberger case in which he stated that no evidence had come to light warranting tax-evasion charges. This resulted in his being recalled to his desk in the downtown office, and the relegation of Mrs. O.’s file to a pigeonhole, where it might be considered safely buried for some time to come.
The marriage was agreed upon with each party satisfied of the other, Jarvey by virtue of all the investigations out of which his affection had grown, and Mrs. O., finally perhaps by the handsome passbook that reposed in Jarvey’s bureau drawer, cunningly entered to show deposits arising from the imaginary legacy. It is needless to do more than mention the little arrangements made so happily between these two as they sat in Mrs. O.’s cosy sitting room through the autumn evenings—like each willing his property to the other, and each augmenting his life insurance to a respectable sum in favor
of the other. All this is as it should be. One of the serious aspects of marriage is the protection of the beloved, and neither of these two would have thought of neglecting it.
Yes, even to lovers, even to newlyweds, death comes sometimes, and with such a thought it is necessary to face a sad truth: to wit, that at no time did Jarvey Oates plan an indefinite period of sharing the wealth with her he planned to make his wife. No attempt has been made to disguise the hard fact that it was money that rendered Mrs. O. desirable to our hero; let us not shrink from divulging that to come into sole and complete possession of that money, his future had to include himself not only as husband but as widower.
Jarvey became lord and master at Thirty-eight Eccles Street. Actually, it was a pleasant winter. Jarvey worked at his office, poking into the records of the incomes of others, and making little calculations about how big his own would be and how easy to disguise for taxation purposes when one knew the ropes. And all the time, at the back of his mind, he pondered the matter of his wife’s predeceasing him at some not-too-distant date.
At no time does it seem to have occurred to him that his present circumstances were very comfortable indeed, and that it might be well to rest easy in them. Mrs. O.—the coincidence by which she may still be called Mrs. O. has no significance; a telephone directory will show in a moment that the chances of O. becoming another O. on remarriage are considerably better than one in twentysix—treated him with respect. He had. so far as the world is aware, merely exchanged from a paying boarder, occupying a lesser bedroom, to a nonpaying one, installed in the private suite lately occupied by Ollenberger.
No, his ambition was relentless. He was a murderer already in his heart— but at this time he was actually guilty of no more than the deceits of a false report, of pretending to a wealth he did not possess, and pretending to be unaware of that which his wife did. These deceits he sought to preserve by cunning and, so far as was ever brought to light, he succeeded. But even when April came blowing into Eccles Street, Jarvey had not finalized his plans. Then, in April, the gods smiled their dangerous smiles on Jarvey again. A train of events that was to give him inspiration commenced.
IT was a convention between this money-loving couple that they should earn all they could by Mrs. O.’s exertions, and one day the lady suggested to Jarvey that, since the late Gray’s room had been empty since his death, they rent it again. This was a room admirably suited to an invalid, having a bathroom adjoining that could be rendered private, and invalids, as Mrs. O. explained, if provided with relatives willing to pay well to pass along the burden of nursing care, can be a great profit to the house. She hinted at the perquisites available in the provision of the necessary medicines, pointed out that she was experienced at making this sort of thing pay, and altogether drew such a picture that Jarvey chided her for having gone so long without one.
And how, he asked, did one find such a treasure? Mrs. O. immediately produced a newspaper in which the classified advertisements offered several of these desirable guests for disposal, some even with covert suggestions of willingness to pay handsomely. Jarvey read the list. "Male or female?” he asked.
"It doesn’t matter,” replied his wife. "Go ahead,” said Jarvey.
Mr. Sherriff came to the house in this
manner, and the earnings of the establishment were satisfactorily increased. Also, Jarvey’s moment of inspiration approached as the strength of poor Mr. Sherriff waned. This decline was only to be expected from the nature of Mr. Sherriff’s disease and was in no wise caused by neglect; nowhere in the evidence taken at the Oates trial is Mrs. O.’s skill at nursing brought under question, and in fact both doctors, Vanderploeg and Sanders, speak very highly of it.
Actually, at this time Jarvey had more or less fixed on a plan of murder. It was a stupid plan, to be honest, really unworthy of him, involving a simulated automobile accident. He felt vaguely that he should have been able to invent a method so clever that it was legal, the way people were able to do with money, sometimes. But the trick eluded him still, right through the spring into early summer, so he worked out the details of the cruder plan, and had just about decided to carry it through when, one warm evening in June, he fell ill.
It was an awkward time to do so, for Mrs. O. had her hands full with Mr. Sherriff, whose end was not far off. Nevertheless, she was able to find some medicine for him, and by morning he was resting easily. Further doses of the same medicine, administered with loving firmness. made him feel much better but induced such an extreme bodily lassitude that he kept his bed. Here he alternated between sleep and a strange, delicious mental activity in which his mind seemed to be clearer and more precise in reasoning than it had ever been before, and his imagination untrammeled to a degree he had never known.
He thought about all his money, or what would soon be his, and experienced the most intense delights of anticipation. He watched the sunlight on the linden tree outside the house: with a small effort he seemed to float among the clouds. He heard the small comforting noises of the household, the whirr of the vacuum cleaner. the clink of dishes at mealtimes, and it was sheer pleasure to think that all this activity was for his benefit and under his command. He reviewed all his problems in the new brilliance of his thoughts, and at once discarded his earthy plan for disposing of his wife, while he gravely considered several more recondite schemes that now presented themselves to his active brain—and he sipped the sweetish medicine, and was content.
Jarvey was awake, active in mind though flaccid of body, on the morning Mr. Sherriff died. He heard Dr. Vanderploeg on the stairs, his voice booming:
"I will inform his relatives, Mrs. Oates. It is a merciful release. 1 have known Mr. Sherriff for many years. Excellent care—no doubt they will send for the body during the day—”
Jarvey was not unduly distressed.
Toward nine o’clock, about the time he was expecting his breakfast, he heard footsteps that puzzled him. Was it the undertaker so soon? Then he heard a voice on the stairs: "My deepest sympathy, Mrs. Oates. Nothing else could have been done. I have seen many such cases.”
Another doctor? So Sherriff had had two doctors? Two doctors, eh. Two doctors. What for? Jarvey turned this over in his mind, and as he did so the light of inspiration flashed up and illuminated all the dark crannies of his brain. He had known all along there was a way. some nice legal arrangement, just waiting for a clever man to think of it! He, Jarvey Oates, had invented it in this instant out of the depths of his cleverness, prompted only by the idea of two doctors to one patient. He chuckled. If Sherriff
had had two doctors, then the next invalid boarder in this house would have two doctors! Oh. it was a cinch!
This next boarder would be a woman, fortyish, with a disease of which an early end could be clearly foretold, with her own doctor coming to see her. And Jarvey himself, expressing interest in her and buoying her up with false hopes, had only to suggest to her that she be seen by another doctor, which would be easy, so long as the first doctor were told nothing about it, and so long as the patient didn’t mind representing herself — and being represented to—the new doctor as Mrs. jarvey Oates, so that Jarvey’s medical insurance would pay the fee. She'd eat it up. poor soul.
Mrs. O., of course, would have to be kept out of the way. Under sedation, or whatever it’s called, in this room, maybe. He could take care of that himself. And when the boarder was dead, two doctors would come, each thinking the patient îiis. and in due course two death certificates would be filed, one of them neatly and precisely made out for Mrs. Jarvey 3. Oates, complete with a genuine and highly respected medical signature. Then, a little extra on the sedation—and the trick was turned!
Jarvey lay and gloated. He even went so far as to speculate on the possibility of an early repetition of the procedure with some other rich woman. Seven ligures, next time! Ah. But that had best be somewhere else. It could scarcely be worked twice in the same house with safety. There is a certain degree of coincidence about two deaths in the same house on the same day. It might be remarked—and yet—it was not so extraordinary—
He reached for the medicine and sipped it. He did not realize how fond he had become of that medicine in five days; so much preoccupied was he that he did not perceive that he had swallowed the whole contents of the glass.
No, it was not so extraordinary. After all, what about Ollenberger and Gray? Had they not died almost simultaneously in this very house?
This very house!
In that instant it came to Jarvey that the wonderful plot he had invented might not be entirely novel.
THROUGHOUT this relation, we have permitted ourselves a degree of omniscience with respect to Jarvey Oates, but to pursue it at this juncture would be presumptuous. Certain feelings natural to the contemplation of the more ordinary things of life, like a good dinner or a pile of money, can be ascribed without serious risk of untruth; but the emotions of a man who, in an awful instant, finds himself staring into the jaws of the death he has planned for another, are better unassessed, and only facts should be recorded.
Certain it is that Jarvey had a bitter and terrible few seconds when the sinister resemblance between Ollenberger’s situation of last fall and his own at this moment struck him like a bombshell. His screams were not loud. The quantity of opium in his system, later estimated by autopsy, must have very nearly atrophied his lungs. So that it was a quirk of fate that Lizzie should have heard these curious sounds in the brief period that it took Mrs. O. to open the door of his room, enter, and close it again.
But it was a quirk of fate for Mrs. O., not for Jarvey, whose last sight on earth must have been the implacable countenance of Mrs. O. as she advanced toward him with the pillow which she proceeded, with a practiced hand, to place firmly over his head. ★