Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes.

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she didn't get better as the days went on; in fact she got worse.
Of late she had been quite hysterical, and for no reason at all!
Take that little practical joke of young Joe Chandler. Ellen knew
quite well he often had to go about in some kind of disguise, and yet
how she had gone on, quite foolish-like - not at all as one would
have expected her to do.

There was another queer thing about her which disturbed him in more
senses than one. During the last three weeks or so Ellen had taken
to talking in her sleep. "No, no, no!" she had cried out, only the
night before. "It isn't true - I won't have it said - it's a lie!"
And there had been a wail of horrible fear and revolt in her usually
quiet, mincing voice.


Whew! it was cold; and he had stupidly forgotten his gloves.

He put his hands in his pockets to keep them warm, and began walking
more quickly.

As he tramped steadily along, the ex-butler suddenly caught sight
of his lodger walking along the opposite side of the solitary street
- one of those short streets leading off the broad road which
encircles Regent's Park.

Well! This was a funny time o' night to be taking a stroll for
pleasure, like!

Glancing across, Bunting noticed that Mr. Sleuth's tall, thin figure
was rather bowed, and that his head was bent toward the ground. His
left arm was thrust into his long Inverness cape, and so was quite
hidden, but the other side of the cape bulged out, as if the lodger
were carrying a bag or parcel in the hand which hung down straight.

Mr. Sleuth was walking rather quickly, and as he walked he talked
aloud, which, as Bunting knew, is not unusual with gentlemen who live
much alone. It was clear that he had not yet become aware of the
proximity of his landlord.

Bunting told himself that Ellen was right. Their lodger was
certainly a most eccentric, peculiar person. Strange, was it not,
that that odd, luny-like gentleman should have made all the
difference to his, Bunting's, and Mrs. Bunting's happiness and
comfort in life?

Again glancing across at Mr. Sleuth, he reminded himself, not for
the first time, of this perfect lodger's one fault - his odd dislike
to meat, and to what Bunting vaguely called to himself, sensible food.

But there, you can't have everything! The more so that the lodger
was not one of those crazy vegetarians who won't eat eggs and cheese.
No, he was reasonable in this, as in everything else connected with
his dealings with the Buntings.

As we know, Bunting saw far less of the lodger than did his wife.
Indeed, he had been upstairs only three or four times since Mr.
Sleuth had been with them, and when his landlord had had occasion
to wait on him the lodger had remained silent. Indeed, their
gentleman had made it very clear that he did not like either the
husband or wife to come up to his rooms without being definitely
asked to do so.

Now, surely, would be a good opportunity for a little genial
conversation? Bunting felt pleased to see his lodger; it increased
his general comfortable sense of satisfaction.

So it was that the butler, still an active man for his years,
crossed over the road, and, stepping briskly forward, began trying
to overtake Mr. Sleuth. But the more he hurried along, the more the
other hastened, and that without ever turning round to see whose
steps he could hear echoing behind him on the now freezing pavement.

Mr. Sleuth's own footsteps were quite inaudible - an odd circumstance,
when you came to think of it - as Bunting did think of it later,
lying awake by Mrs. Bunting's side in the pitch darkness. What it
meant of course, was that the lodger had rubber soles on his shoes.
Now Bunting had never had a pair of rubber-soled shoes sent down to
him to clean. He had always supposed the lodger had only one pair of
outdoor boots.

The two men - the pursued and the pursuer - at last turned into the
Marylebone Road; they were now within a few hundred yards of home.
Plucking up courage, Bunting called out, his voice echoing freshly
on the still air:

"Mr. Sleuth, sir? Mr. Sleuth!"

The lodger stopped and turned round.

He had been walking so quickly, and he was in so poor a physical
condition, that the sweat was pouring down his face.

"Ah! So it's you, Mr. Bunting? I heard footsteps behind me, and
I hurried on. I wish I'd known that it was you; there are so many
queer characters about at night in London."

"Not on a night like this, sir. Only honest folk who have business
out of doors would be out such a night as this. It is cold, sir!"

And then into Bunting's slow and honest mind there suddenly crept
the query as to what on earth Mr. Sleuth's own business out could be
on this bitter night.

"Cold?" the lodger repeated; he was panting a little, and his words
came out sharp and quick through his thin lips. "I can't say that
I find it cold, Mr. Bunting. When the snow falls, the air always
becomes milder."

"Yes, sir; but to-night there's such a sharp east wind. Why, it
freezes the very marrow in one's bones! Still, there's nothing like
walking in cold weather to make one warm, as you seem to have found,

Bunting noticed that Mr. Sleuth kept his distance in a rather strange
way; he walked at the edge of the pavement, leaving the rest of it,
on the wall side, to his landlord.

"I lost my way," he said abruptly. "I've been over Primrose Hill to
see a friend of mine, a man with whom I studied when I was a lad,
and then, coming back, I lost my way."

Now they had come right up to the little gate which opened on the
shabby, paved court in front of the house - that gate which now was
never locked.

Mr. Sleuth, pushing suddenly forward, began walking up the flagged
path, when, with a "By your leave, sir," the ex-butler, stepping
aside, slipped in front of his lodger, in order to open the front
door for him.

As he passed by Mr. Sleuth, the back of Bunting's bare left hand
brushed lightly against the long Inverness cape the lodger was
wearing, and, to Bunting's surprise, the stretch of cloth against
which his hand lay for a moment was not only damp, damp maybe from
stray flakes of snow which had settled upon it, but wet - wet and

Bunting thrust his left hand into his pocket; it was with the other
that he placed the key in the lock of the door.

The two men passed into the hall together.

The house seemed blackly dark in comparison with the lighted-up
road outside, and as he groped forward, closely followed by the
lodger, there came over Bunting a sudden, reeling sensation of
mortal terror, an instinctive, assailing knowledge of frightful
immediate danger.

A stuffless voice - the voice of his first wife, the long-dead
girl to whom his mind so seldom reverted nowadays - uttered into
his ear the words, "Take care!"

And then the lodger spoke. His voice was harsh and grating,
though not loud.

"I'm afraid, Mr. Bunting, that you must have felt something dirty,
foul, on my coat? It's too long a story to tell you now, but I
brushed up against a dead animal, a creature to whose misery some
thoughtful soul had put an end, lying across a bench on Primrose

"No, sir, no. I didn't notice nothing. I scarcely touched you,

It seemed as if a power outside himself compelled Bunting to utter
these lying words. "And now, sir, I'll be saying good-night to you,"
he said.

Stepping back he pressed with all the strength that was in him
against the wall, and let the other pass him. There was a pause,
and then - "Good-night," returned Mr. Sleuth, in a hollow voice.
Bunting waited until the lodger had gone upstairs, and then,
lighting the gas, he sat down there, in the hall. Mr. Sleuth's
landlord felt very queer - queer and sick.

He did not draw his left hand out of his pocket till he heard Mr.
Sleuth shut the bedroom door upstairs. Then he held up his left
hand and looked at it curiously; it was flecked, streaked with
pale reddish blood.

Taking off his boots, he crept into the room where his wife lay
asleep. Stealthily he walked across to the wash-hand-stand, and
dipped a hand into the water-jug.

"Whatever are you doing? What on earth are you doing?" came a
voice from the bed, and Bunting started guiltily.

"I'm just washing my hands."

"Indeed, you're doing nothing of the sort! I never heard of such
a thing - putting your hand into the water in which I was going to
wash my face to-morrow morning!"

"I'm very sorry, Ellen," he said meekly; "I meant to throw it away.
You don't suppose I would have let you wash in dirty water, do you?"

She said no more, but, as he began undressing himself, Mrs. Bunting
lay staring at him in a way that made her husband feel even more
uncomfortable than he was already.

At last he got into bed. He wanted to break the oppressive silence
by telling Ellen about the sovereign the young lady had given him,
but that sovereign now seemed to Bunting of no more account than if
it had been a farthing he had picked up in the road outside.

Once more his wife spoke, and he gave so great a start that it shook
the bed.

"I suppose that you don't know that you've left the light burning in
the hall, wasting our good money?" she observed tartly.

He got up painfully and opened the door into the passage. It was as
she had said; the gas was flaring away, wasting their good money - or,
rather, Mr. Sleuth's good money. Since he had come to be their lodger
they had not had to touch their rent money.

Bunting turned out the light and groped his way back to the room, and
so to bed. Without speaking again to each other, both husband and
wife lay awake till dawn.

The next morning Mr. Sleuth's landlord awoke with a start; he felt
curiously heavy about the limbs, and tired about the eyes.

Drawing his watch from under his pillow, he saw that it was seven
o'clock. Without waking his wife, he got out of bed and pulled the
blind a little to one side. It was snowing heavily, and, as is the
way when it snows, even in London, everything was strangely,
curiously still. After he had dressed he went out into the passage.
As he had at once dreaded and hoped, their newspaper was already
lying on the mat. It was probably the sound of its being pushed
through the letter-box which had waked him from his unrestful

He picked the paper up and went into the sitting-room then,
shutting the door behind him carefully, he spread the newspaper
wide open on the table, and bent over it.

As Bunting at last looked up and straightened himself, an expression
of intense relief shone upon his stolid face. The item of news he
had felt certain would be printed in big type on the middle sheet
was not there.


Feeling amazingly light-hearted, almost light-headed, Bunting lit
the gas-ring to make his wife her morning cup of tea.

While he was doing it, he suddenly heard her call out:

"Bunting!" she cried weakly. "Bunting!" Quickly he hurried in
response to her call. "Yes," he said. "What is it, my dear? I
won't be a minute with your tea." And he smiled broadly, rather

She sat up and looked at him, a dazed expression on her face.

"What are you grinning at?" she asked suspiciously.

"I've had a wonderful piece of luck," he explained. "But you was
so cross last night that I simply didn't dare tell you about it."

"Well, tell me now," she said in a low voice.

"I had a sovereign given me by the young lady. You see, it was her
birthday party, Ellen, and she'd come into a nice bit of money, and
she gave each of us waiters a sovereign."

Mrs. Bunting made no comment. Instead, she lay back and closed her

"What time d'you expect Daisy?" she asked languidly. "You didn't
say what time Joe was going to fetch her, when we was talking about
it yesterday."

"Didn't I? Well, I expect they'll be in to dinner."

"I wonder, how long that old aunt of hers expects us to keep her?"
said Mrs. Bunting thoughtfully. All the cheer died out of Bunting's
round face. He became sullen and angry. It would be a pretty thing
if he couldn't have his own daughter for a bit - especially now that
they were doing so well!

"Daisy'll stay here just as long as she can," he said shortly.
"It's too bad of you, Ellen, to talk like that! She helps you all
she can; and she brisks us both up ever so much. Besides, 'twould
be cruel - cruel to take the girl away just now, just as she and
that young chap are making friends-like. One would suppose that
even you would see the justice o' that!"

But Mrs. Bunting made no answer.

Bunting went off, back into the sitting-room. The water was boiling
now, so he made the tea; and then, as he brought the little tray in,
his heart softened. Ellen did look really ill - ill and wizened.
He wondered if she had a pain about which she wasn't saying anything.
She had never been one to grouse about herself.

"The lodger and me came in together last night," he observed
genially. "He's certainly a funny kind of gentleman. It wasn't
the sort of night one would have chosen to go out for a walk, now
was it? And yet he must 'a been out a long time if what he said
was true."

"I don't wonder a quiet gentleman like Mr. Sleuth hates the
crowded streets," she said slowly. "They gets worse every day -
that they do! But go along now; I want to get up."

He went back into their sitting-room, and, having laid the fire
and put a match to it, he sat down comfortably with his newspaper.

Deep down in his heart Bunting looked back to this last night with
a feeling of shame and self-rebuke. Whatever had made such horrible
thoughts and suspicions as had possessed him suddenly come into his
head? And just because of a trifling thing like that blood. No
doubt Mr. Sleuth's nose had bled - that was what had happened;
though, come to think of it, he had mentioned brushing up against
a dead animal.

Perhaps Ellen was right after all. It didn't do for one to be
always thinking of dreadful subjects, of murders and such-like. It
made one go dotty - that's what it did.

And just as he was telling himself that, there came to the door a
loud knock, the peculiar rat-tat-tat of a telegraph boy. But before
he had time to get across the room, let alone to the front door,
Ellen had rushed through the room, clad only in a petticoat and

"I'll go," she cried breathlessly. "I'll go, Bunting; don't you

He stared at her, surprised, and followed her into the hall.

She put out a hand, and hiding herself behind the door, took the
telegram from the invisible boy. "You needn't wait," she said.
"If there's an answer we'll send it out ourselves." Then she tore
the envelope open - "Oh!" she said with a gasp of relief. "It's
only from Joe Chandler, to say he can't go over to fetch Daisy this
morning. Then you'll have to go."

She walked back into their sitting-room. "There!" she said.
"There it is, Bunting. You just read it."

"Am on duty this morning. Cannot fetch Miss Daisy as arranged. -

"I wonder why he's on duty?" said Bunting slowly, uncomfortably.
"I thought Joe's hours was as regular as clockwork - that nothing
could make any difference to them. However, there it is. I suppose
it'll do all right if I start about eleven o'clock? It may have
left off snowing by then. I don't feel like going out again just
now. I'm pretty tired this morning."

"You start about twelve," said his wife quickly.

"That'll give plenty of time."

The morning went on quietly, uneventfully. Bunting received a
letter from Old Aunt saying Daisy must come back next Monday, a
little under a week from now. Mr. Sleuth slept soundly, or, at
any rate, he made no sign of being awake; and though Mrs. Bunting
often, stopped to listen, while she was doing her room, there
came no sounds at all from overhead.

Scarcely aware that it was so, both Bunting and his wife felt more
cheerful than they had done for a long time. They had quite a
pleasant little chat when Mrs. Bunting came and sat down for a bit,
before going down to prepare Mr. Sleuth's breakfast.

"Daisy will be surprised to see you - not to say disappointed!" she
observed, and she could not help laughing a little to herself at
the thought. And when, at eleven, Bunting got up to go, she made
him stay on a little longer. "There's no such great hurry as that,"
she said good-temperedly. "It'll do quite well if you're there by
half-past twelve. I'll get dinner ready myself. Daisy needn't help
with that. I expect Margaret has worked her pretty hard."

But at last there came the moment when Bunting had to start, and
his wife went with him to the front door. It was still snowing,
less heavily, but still snowing. There were very few people coming
and going, and only just a few cabs and carts dragging cautiously
along through the slush.

Mrs. Bunting was still in the kitchen when there came a ring and a
knock at the door - a now very familiar ring and knock. "Joe thinks
Daisy's home again by now!" she said, smiling to herself.

Before the door was well open, she heard Chandler's voice. "Don't
be scared this time, Mrs. Bunting!" But though not exactly scared,
she did give a gasp of surprise. For there stood Joe, made up to
represent a public-house loafer; and he looked the part to perfection,
with his hair combed down raggedly over his forehead, his
seedy-looking, ill-fitting, dirty clothes, and greenish-black pot hat.

"I haven't a minute," he said a little breathlessly. "But I thought
I'd just run in to know if Miss Daisy was safe home again. You got
my telegram all right? I couldn't send no other kind of message."

"She's not back yet. Her father hasn't been gone long after her."
Then, struck by a look in his eyes, "Joe, what's the matter?" she
asked quickly.

There came a thrill of suspense in her voice, her face grew drawn,
while what little colour there was in it receded, leaving it very

"Well," he said. "Well, Mrs. Bunting, I've no business to say
anything about it - but I will tell you!"

He walked in and shut the door of the sitting-room carefully behind
him. "There's been another of 'em!" he whispered. "But this time
no one is to know anything about it - not for the present, I mean,"
he corrected himself hastily. "The Yard thinks we've got a clue -
and a good clue, too, this time."

"But where - and how?" faltered Mrs. Bunting.

"Well, 'twas just a bit of luck being able to keep it dark for the
present" - he still spoke in that stifled, hoarse whisper. "The
poor soul was found dead on a bench on Primrose Hill. And just by
chance 'twas one of our fellows saw the body first. He was on his
way home, over Hampstead way. He knew where he'd be able to get an
ambulance quick, and he made a very clever, secret job of it. I
'spect he'll get promotion for that!"

"What about the clue?" asked Mrs. Bunting, with dry lips. "You said
there was a clue?"

"Well, I don't rightly understand about the clue myself. All I
knows is it's got something to do with a public-house, 'The Hammer
and Tongs,' which isn't far off there. They feels sure The Avenger
was in the bar just on closing-time."

And then Mrs. Bunting sat down. She felt better now. It was natural
the police should suspect a public-house loafer. "Then that's why you
wasn't able to go and fetch Daisy, I suppose?"

He nodded. "Mum's the word, Mrs. Bunting! It'll all be in the last
editions of the evening newspapers - it can't be kep' out. There'd be
too much of a row if 'twas!"

"Are you going off to that public-house now?" she asked.

"Yes, I am. I've got a awk'ard job - to try and worm something out
of the barmaid."

"Something out of the barmaid?" repeated Mrs. Bunting nervously.
"Why, whatever for?"

He came and stood close to her. "They think 'twas a gentleman," he

"A gentleman?"

Mrs. Bunting stared at Chandler with a scared expression. "Whatever
makes them think such a silly thing as that?"

"Well, just before closing-time a very peculiar-looking gent, with a
leather bag in his hand, went into the bar and asked for a glass of
milk. And what d'you think he did? Paid for it with a sovereign!
He wouldn't take no change - just made the girl a present of it!
That's why the young woman what served him seems quite unwilling to
give him away. She won't tell now what he was like. She doesn't
know what he's wanted for, and we don't want her to know just yet.
That's one reason why nothing's being said public about it. But
there! I really must be going now. My time'll be up at three
o'clock. I thought of coming in on the way back, and asking you for
a cup o' tea, Mrs. Bunting."

"Do," she said. "Do, Joe. You'll be welcome," but there was no
welcome in her tired voice.

She let him go alone to the door, and then she went down to her
kitchen, and began cooking Mr. Sleuth's breakfast.

The lodger would be sure to ring soon; and then any minute Bunting
and Daisy might be home, and they'd want something, too. Margaret
always had breakfast even when "the family" were away, unnaturally

As she bustled about Mrs. Bunting tried to empty her mind of all
thought. But it is very difficult to do that when one is in a state
of torturing uncertainty. She had not dared to ask Chandler what
they supposed that man who had gone into the public-house was really
like. It was fortunate, indeed, that the lodger and that inquisitive
young chap had never met face to face.

At last Mr. Sleuth's bell rang - a quiet little tinkle. But when
she went up with his breakfast the lodger was not in his sitting-room.

Supposing him to be still in his bedroom, Mrs. Bunting put the cloth
on the table, and then she heard the sound of his footsteps coming
down the stairs, and her quick ears detected the slight whirring
sound which showed that the gas-stove was alight. Mr. Sleuth had
already lit the stove; that meant that he would carry out some
elaborate experiment this afternoon.

"Still snowing?" he said doubtfully. "How very, very quiet and
still London is when under snow, Mrs. Bunting. I have never known
it quite as quiet as this morning. Not a sound, outside or in. A
very pleasant change from the shouting which sometimes goes on in
the Marylebone Road."

"Yes," she said dully. "It's awful quiet to-day - too quiet to my
thinking. 'Tain't natural-like."

The outside gate swung to, making a noisy clatter in the still air.

"Is that someone coming in here?" asked Mr. Sleuth, drawing a quick,
hissing breath. "Perhaps you will oblige me by going to the window
and telling me who it is, Mrs. Bunting?"

And his landlady obeyed him.

"It's only Bunting, sir - Bunting and his daughter."

"Oh! Is that all?"

Mr. Sleuth hurried after her, and she shrank back a little. She
had never been quite so near to the lodger before, save on that
first day when she had been showing him her rooms.

Side by side they stood, looking out of the window. And, as if
aware that someone was standing there, Daisy turned her bright face
up towards the window and smiled at her stepmother, and at the
lodger, whose face she could only dimly discern.

"A very sweet-looking young girl," said Mr. Sleuth thoughtfully.
And then he quoted a little bit of poetry, and this took Mrs.
Bunting very much aback.

"Wordsworth," he murmured dreamily. "A poet too little read
nowadays, Mrs. Bunting; but one with a beautiful feeling for nature,
for youth, for innocence."

"Indeed, sir?" Mrs. Bunting stepped back a little. "Your breakfast
will be getting cold, sir, if you don't have it now."

He went back to the table, obediently, and sat down as a child
rebuked might have done.

And then his landlady left him.

"Well?" said Bunting cheerily. "Everything went off quite all right.
And Daisy's a lucky girl - that she is! Her Aunt Margaret gave her
five shillings."

But Daisy did not look as pleased as her father thought she ought
to do.

"I hope nothing's happened to Mr. Chandler," she said a little
disconsolately. "The very last words he said to me last night was
that he'd be there at ten o'clock. I got quite fidgety as the time
went on and he didn't come."

"He's been here," said Mrs. Bunting slowly.

"Been here?" cried her husband. "Then why on earth didn't he go and
fetch Daisy, if he'd time to come here?"

"He was on the way to his job," his wife answered. "You run along,
child, downstairs. Now that you are here you can make yourself

And Daisy reluctantly obeyed. She wondered what it was her
stepmother didn't want her to hear.

"I've something to tell you, Bunting."

"Yes?" He looked across uneasily. "Yes, Ellen?"

"There's been another o' those murders. But the police don't want
anyone to know about it - not yet. That's why Joe couldn't go over

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Online LibraryMarie Adelaide Belloc LowndesThe Lodger → online text (page 15 of 18)