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me for a long time." And then, at last his landlady answered him,
in a composed, soothing voice, which somehow did him good to hear.
"I quite understand, sir. And when Bunting comes in he shall take
the pictures all down. We have plenty of space in our own rooms
for them."

"Thank you - thank you very much."

Mr. Sleuth appeared greatly relieved.

"And I have brought you up my Bible, sir. I understood you wanted
the loan of it?"

Mr. Sleuth stared at her as if dazed for a moment; and then, rousing
himself, he said, "Yes, yes, I do. There is no reading like the Book.
There is something there which suits every state of mind, aye, and of
body too - "

"Very true, sir." And then Mrs. Bunting, having laid out what really
looked a very appetising little meal, turned round and quietly shut
the door.

She went down straight into her sitting-room and waited there for
Bunting, instead of going to the kitchen to clear up. And as she
did so there came to her a comfortable recollection, an incident of
her long-past youth, in the days when she, then Ellen Green, had
maided a dear old lady.

The old lady had a favourite nephew - a bright, jolly young gentleman,
who was learning to paint animals in Paris. And one morning Mr.
Algernon - that was his rather peculiar Christian name - had had the
impudence to turn to the wall six beautiful engravings of paintings
done by the famous Mr. Landseer!

Mrs. Bunting remembered all the circumstances as if they had only
occurred yesterday, and yet she had not thought of them for years.

It was quite early; she had come down - for in those days maids
weren't thought so much of as they are now, and she slept with the
upper housemaid, and it was the upper housemaid's duty to be down
very early - and, there, in the dining-room, she had found Mr.
Algernon engaged in turning each engraving to the wall! Now, his
aunt thought all the world of those pictures, and Ellen had felt
quite concerned, for it doesn't do for a young gentleman to put
himself wrong with a kind aunt.

"Oh, sir," she had exclaimed in dismay, "whatever are you doing?"
And even now she could almost hear his merry voice, as he had
answered, "I am doing my duty, fair Helen" - he had always called
her "fair Helen" when no one was listening. "How can I draw ordinary
animals when I see these half-human monsters staring at me all the
time I am having my breakfast, my lunch, and my dinner?" That was
what Mr. Algernon had said in his own saucy way, and that was what
he repeated in a more serious, respectful manner to his aunt, when
that dear old lady had come downstairs. In fact he had declared,
quite soberly, that the beautiful animals painted by Mr. Landseer
put his eye out!

But his aunt had been very much annoyed - in fact, she had made him
turn the pictures all back again; and as long as he stayed there he
just had to put up with what he called "those half-human monsters."
Mrs. Bunting, sitting there, thinking the matter of Mr. Sleuth's
odd behaviour over, was glad to recall that funny incident of her
long-gone youth. It seemed to prove that her new lodger was not so
strange as he appeared to be. Still, when Bunting came in, she did
not tell him the queer thing which had happened. She told herself
that she would be quite able to manage the taking down of the
pictures in the drawing-room herself.

But before getting ready their own supper, Mr. Sleuth's landlady
went upstairs to clear away, and when on the staircase she heard the
sound of - was it talking, in the drawing-room? Startled, she
waited a moment on the landing outside the drawing-room door, then
she realised that it was only the lodger reading aloud to himself.
There was something very awful in the words which rose and fell on
her listening ears:

"A strange woman is a narrow gate. She also lieth in wait as for
a prey, and increaseth the transgressors among men."

She remained where she was, her hand on the handle of the door,
and again there broke on her shrinking ears that curious, high,
sing-song voice, "Her house is the way to hell, going down to
the chambers of death."

It made the listener feel quite queer. But at last she summoned up
courage, knocked, and walked in.

"I'd better clear away, sir, had I not?" she said. And Mr. Sleuth
nodded.

Then he got up and closed the Book. "I think I'll go to bed now,"
he said. "I am very, very tired. I've had a long and a very
weary day, Mrs. Bunting."

After he had disappeared into the back room, Mrs. Bunting climbed
up on a chair and unhooked the pictures which had so offended Mr.
Sleuth. Each left an unsightly mark on the wall - but that, after
all, could not be helped.

Treading softly, so that Bunting should not hear her, she carried
them down, two by two, and stood them behind her bed.



CHAPTER IV

Mrs. Bunting woke up the next morning feeling happier than she had
felt for a very, very long time.

For just one moment she could not think why she felt so different
- and then she suddenly remembered.

How comfortable it was to know that upstairs, just over her head,
lay, in the well-found bed she had bought with such satisfaction at
an auction held in a Baker Street house, a lodger who was paying two
guineas a week! Something seemed to tell her that Mr. Sleuth would
be "a permanency." In any case, it wouldn't be her fault if he
wasn't. As to his - his queerness, well, there's always something
funny in everybody. But after she had got up, and as the morning
wore itself away, Mrs. Bunting grew a little anxious, for there
came no sound at all from the new lodger's rooms. At twelve,
however, the drawing-room bell rang. Mrs. Bunting hurried upstairs.
She was painfully anxious to please and satisfy Mr. Sleuth. His
coming had only been in the nick of time to save them from terrible
disaster.

She found her lodger up, and fully dressed. He was sitting at the
round table which occupied the middle of the sitting-room, and his
landlady's large Bible lay open before him.

As Mrs. Bunting came in, he looked up, and she was troubled to see
how tired and worn he seemed.

"You did not happen," he asked, "to have a Concordance, Mrs.
Bunting?"

She shook her head; she had no idea what a Concordance could be,
but she was quite sure that she had nothing of the sort about.

And then her new lodger proceeded to tell her what it was he
desired her to buy for him. She had supposed the bag he had
brought with him to contain certain little necessaries of
civilised life - such articles, for instance, as a comb and brush,
a set of razors, a toothbrush, to say nothing of a couple of
nightshirts - but no, that was evidently not so, for Mr. Sleuth
required all these things to be bought now.

After having cooked him a nice breakfast Mrs. Bunting hurried
out to purchase the things of which he was in urgent need.

How pleasant it was to feel that there was money in her purse
again - not only someone else's money, but money she was now in
the very act of earning so agreeably.

Mrs. Bunting first made her way to a little barber's shop close by.
It was there she purchased the brush and comb and the razors. It
was a funny, rather smelly little place, and she hurried as much as
she could, the more so that the foreigner who served her insisted
on telling her some of the strange, peculiar details of this
Avenger murder which had taken place forty-eight hours before, and
in which Bunting took such a morbid interest.

The conversation upset Mrs. Bunting. She didn't want to think of
anything painful or disagreeable on such a day as this.

Then she came back and showed the lodger her various purchases. Mr.
Sleuth was pleased with everything, and thanked her most courteously.
But when she suggested doing his bedroom he frowned, and looked
quite put out.

"Please wait till this evening," he said hastily. "It is my custom
to stay at home all day. I only care to walk about the streets when
the lights are lit. You must bear with me, Mrs. Bunting, if I seem
a little, just a little, unlike the lodgers you have been accustomed
to. And I must ask you to understand that I must not be disturbed
when thinking out my problems - " He broke off short, sighed, then
added solemnly, "for mine are the great problems of life and death."

And Mrs. Bunting willingly fell in with his wishes. In spite of her
prim manner and love of order, Mr. Sleuth's landlady was a true woman
- she had, that is, an infinite patience with masculine vagaries
and oddities.


When she was downstairs again, Mr. Sleuth's landlady met with a
surprise; but it was quite a pleasant surprise. While she had
been upstairs, talking to the lodger, Bunting's young friend, Joe
Chandler, the detective, had come in, and as she walked into the
sitting-room she saw that her husband was pushing half a sovereign
across the table towards Joe.

Joe Chandler's fair, good-natured face was full of satisfaction:
not at seeing his money again, mark you, but at the news Bunting
had evidently been telling him - that news of the sudden wonderful
change in their fortunes, the coming of an ideal lodger.

"Mr. Sleuth don't want me to do his bedroom till he's gone out!"
she exclaimed. And then she sat down for a bit of a rest.

It was a comfort to know that the lodger was eating his good
breakfast, and there was no need to think of him for the present.
In a few minutes she would be going down to make her own and
Bunting's dinner, and she told Joe Chandler that he might as well
stop and have a bite with them.

Her heart warmed to the young man, for Mrs. Bunting was in a mood
which seldom surprised her - a mood to be pleased with anything
and everything. Nay, more. When Bunting began to ask Joe Chandler
about the last of those awful Avenger murders, she even listened
with a certain languid interest to all he had to say.

In the morning paper which Bunting had begun taking again that
very day three columns were devoted to the extraordinary mystery
which was now beginning to be the one topic of talk all over London,
West and East, North and South. Bunting had read out little bits
about it while they ate their breakfast, and in spite of herself
Mrs. Bunting had felt thrilled and excited.

"They do say," observed Bunting cautiously, "They do say, Joe, that
the police have a clue they won't say nothing about?" He looked
expectantly at his visitor. To Bunting the fact that Chandler was
attached to the detective section of the Metropolitan Police
invested the young man with a kind of sinister glory - especially
just now, when these awful and mysterious crimes were amazing and
terrifying the town.

"Them who says that says wrong," answered Chandler slowly, and a
look of unease, of resentment came over his fair, stolid face.
"'Twould make a good bit of difference to me if the Yard had a clue."

And then Mrs. Bunting interposed. "Why that, Joe?" she said,
smiling indulgently; the young man's keenness about his work pleased
her. And in his slow, sure way Joe Chandler was very keen, and took
his job very seriously. He put his whole heart and mind into it.

"Well, 'tis this way," he explained. "From to-day I'm on this
business myself. You see, Mrs. Bunting, the Yard's nettled - that's
what it is, and we're all on our mettle - that we are. I was right
down sorry for the poor chap who was on point duty in the street
where the last one happened - "

"No!" said Bunting incredulously. "You don't mean there was a
policeman there, within a few yards?"

That fact hadn't been recorded in his newspaper.

Chandler nodded. "That's exactly what I do mean, Mr. Bunting! The
man is near off his head, so I'm told. He did hear a yell, so he
says, but he took no notice - there are a good few yells in that
part o' London, as you can guess. People always quarrelling and
rowing at one another in such low parts."

"Have you seen the bits of grey paper on which the monster writes
his name?" inquired Bunting eagerly.

Public imagination had been much stirred by the account of those
three-cornered pieces of grey paper, pinned to the victims' skirts,
on which was roughly written in red ink and in printed characters
the words "The Avenger."

His round, fat face was full of questioning eagerness. He put his
elbows on the table, and stared across expectantly at the young man.

"Yes, I have," said Joe briefly.

"A funny kind of visiting card, eh!" Bunting laughed; the notion
struck him as downright comic.

But Mrs. Bunting coloured. "It isn't a thing to make a joke about,"
she said reprovingly.

And Chandler backed her up. "No, indeed," he said feelingly. "I'll
never forget what I've been made to see over this job. And as for
that grey bit of paper, Mr. Bunting - or, rather, those grey bits of
paper" - he corrected himself hastily - "you know they've three of
them now at the Yard - well, they gives me the horrors!"

And then he jumped up. "That reminds me that I oughtn't to be
wasting my time in pleasant company - "

"Won't you stay and have a bit of dinner?" said Mrs. Bunting
solicitously.

But the detective shook his head. "No," he said, "I had a bite
before I came out. Our job's a queer kind of job, as you know. A
lot's left to our discretion, so to speak, but it don't leave us
much time for lazing about, I can tell you."

When he reached the door he turned round, and with elaborate
carelessness he inquired, "Any chance of Miss Daisy coming to London
again soon?"

Bunting shook his head, but his face brightened. He was very, very
fond of his only child; the pity was he saw her so seldom. "No,"
he said, "I'm afraid not Joe. Old Aunt, as we calls the old lady,
keeps Daisy pretty tightly tied to her apron-string. She was quite
put about that week the child was up with us last June."

"Indeed? Well, so long!"

After his wife had let their friend out, Bunting said cheerfully,
"Joe seems to like our Daisy, eh, Ellen?"

But Mrs. Bunting shook her head scornfully. She did not exactly
dislike the girl, though she did not hold with the way Bunting's
daughter was being managed by that old aunt of hers - an idle,
good-for-nothing way, very different from the fashion in which
she herself had been trained at the Foundling, for Mrs. Bunting
as a little child had known no other home, no other family than
those provided by good Captain Coram.

"Joe Chandler's too sensible a young chap to be thinking of girls
yet awhile," she said tartly.

"No doubt you're right," Bunting agreed. "Times be changed. In my
young days chaps always had time for that. 'Twas just a notion that
came into my head, hearing him asking, anxious-like, after her."

******

About five o'clock, after the street lamps were well alight, Mr.
Sleuth went out, and that same evening there came two parcels
addressed to his landlady. These parcels contained clothes. But
it was quite clear to Mrs. Bunting's eyes that they were not new
clothes. In fact, they had evidently been bought in some good
second-hand clothes-shop. A funny thing for a real gentleman like
Mr. Sleuth to do! It proved that he had given up all hope of
getting back his lost luggage.

When the lodger had gone out he had not taken his bag with him, of
that Mrs. Bunting was positive. And yet, though she searched high
and low for it, she could not find the place where Mr. Sleuth kept
it. And at last, had it not been that she was a very clear-headed
woman, with a good memory, she would have been disposed to think
that the bag had never existed, save in her imagination.

But no, she could not tell herself that! She remembered exactly
how it had looked when Mr. Sleuth had first stood, a strange,
queer-looking figure of a man, on her doorstep.

She further remembered how he had put the bag down on the floor of
the top front room, and then, forgetting what he had done, how he
had asked her eagerly, in a tone of angry fear, where the bag was
- only to find it safely lodged at his feet!

As time went on Mrs. Bunting thought a great deal about that bag,
for, strange and amazing fact, she never saw Mr. Sleuth's bag again.
But, of course, she soon formed a theory as to its whereabouts.
The brown leather bag which had formed Mr. Sleuth's only luggage
the afternoon of his arrival was almost certainly locked up in the
lower part of the drawing-room chiffonnier. Mr. Sleuth evidently
always carried the key of the little corner cupboard about his
person; Mrs. Bunting had also had a good hunt for that key, but,
as was the case with the bag, the key disappeared, and she never
saw either the one or the other again.



CHAPTER V

How quietly, how uneventfully, how pleasantly, sped the next few
days. Already life was settling down into a groove. Waiting on
Mr. Sleuth was just what Mrs. Bunting could manage to do easily,
and without tiring herself.

It had at once become clear that the lodger preferred to be waited
on only by one person, and that person his landlady. He gave her
very little trouble. Indeed, it did her good having to wait on the
lodger; it even did her good that he was not like other gentlemen;
for the fact occupied her mind, and in a way it amused her. The
more so that whatever his oddities Mr. Sleuth had none of those
tiresome, disagreeable ways with which landladies are only too
familiar, and which seem peculiar only to those human beings who
also happen to be lodgers. To take but one point: Mr. Sleuth did
not ask to be called unduly early. Bunting and his Ellen had fallen
into the way of lying rather late in the morning, and it was a great
comfort not to have to turn out to make the lodger a cup of tea at
seven, or even half-past seven. Mr. Sleuth seldom required anything
before eleven.

But odd he certainly was.

The second evening he had been with them Mr. Sleuth had brought in
a book of which the queer name was Cruden's Concordance. That and
the Bible - Mrs. Bunting had soon discovered that there was a
relation between the two books - seemed to be the lodger's only
reading. He spent hours each day, generally after he had eaten
the breakfast which also served for luncheon, poring over the Old
Testament and over that strange kind of index to the Book.

As for the delicate and yet the all-important question of money,
Mr. Sleuth was everything - everything that the most exacting
landlady could have wished. Never had there been a more confiding
or trusting gentleman. On the very first day he had been with them
he had allowed his money - the considerable sum of one hundred and
eighty-four sovereigns - to lie about wrapped up in little pieces
of rather dirty newspaper on his dressing-table. That had quite
upset Mrs. Bunting. She had allowed herself respectfully to point
out to him that what he was doing was foolish, indeed wrong. But
as only answer he had laughed, and she had been startled when the
loud, unusual and discordant sound had issued from his thin lips.

"I know those I can trust," he had answered, stuttering rather, as
was his way when moved. "And - and I assure you, Mrs. Bunting, that
I hardly have to speak to a human being - especially to a woman"
(and he had drawn in his breath with a hissing sound) "before I
know exactly what manner of person is before me."

It hadn't taken the landlady very long to find out that her lodger
had a queer kind of fear and dislike of women. When she was doing
the staircase and landings she would often hear Mr. Sleuth reading
aloud to himself passages in the Bible that were very uncomplimentary
to her sex. But Mrs. Bunting had no very great opinion of her sister
woman, so that didn't put her out. Besides, where one's lodger is
concerned, a dislike of women is better than - well, than the other
thing.

In any case, where would have been the good of worrying about the
lodger's funny ways? Of course, Mr. Sleuth was eccentric. If he
hadn't been, as Bunting funnily styled it, "just a leetle touched
upstairs," he wouldn't be here, living this strange, solitary life
in lodgings. He would be living in quite a different sort of way
with some of his relatives, or with a friend of his own class.

There came a time when Mrs. Bunting, looking back - as even the
least imaginative of us are apt to look back to any part of our
own past lives which becomes for any reason poignantly memorable
- wondered how soon it was that she had discovered that her
lodger was given to creeping out of the house at a time when
almost all living things prefer to sleep.

She brought herself to believe - but I am inclined to doubt whether
she was right in so believing - that the first time she became aware
of this strange nocturnal habit of Mr. Sleuth's happened to be
during the night which preceded the day on which she had observed a
very curious circumstance. This very curious circumstance was the
complete disappearance of one of Mr. Sleuth's three suits of clothes.

It always passes my comprehension how people can remember, over any
length of time, not every moment of certain happenings, for that is
natural enough, but the day, the hour, the minute when these
happenings took place! Much as she thought about it afterwards,
even Mrs. Bunting never quite made up her mind whether it was during
the fifth or the sixth night of Mr. Sleuth's stay under her roof
that she became aware that he had gone out at two in the morning and
had only come in at five.

But that there did come such a night is certain - as certain as is
the fact that her discovery coincided with various occurrences
which were destined to remain retrospectively memorable.

******

It was intensely dark, intensely quiet - the darkest quietest hour
of the night, when suddenly Mrs. Bunting was awakened from a deep,
dreamless sleep by sounds at once unexpected and familiar. She
knew at once what those sounds were. They were those made by Mr.
Sleuth, first coming down the stairs, and walking on tiptoe - she
was sure it was on tiptoe - past her door, and finally softly
shutting the front door behind him.

Try as she would, Mrs. Bunting found it quite impossible to go to
sleep again. There she lay wide awake, afraid to move lest Bunting
should waken up too, till she heard Mr. Sleuth, three hours later,
creep back into the house and so up to bed.

Then, and not till then, she slept again. But in the morning she
felt very tired, so tired indeed, that she had been very glad when
Bunting good-naturedly suggested that he should go out and do their
little bit of marketing.

The worthy couple had very soon discovered that in the matter of
catering it was not altogether an easy matter to satisfy Mr. Sleuth,
and that though he always tried to appear pleased. This perfect
lodger had one serious fault from the point of view of those who
keep lodgings. Strange to say, he was a vegetarian. He would not
eat meat in any form. He sometimes, however, condescended to a
chicken, and when he did so condescend he generously intimated that
Mr. and Mrs. Bunting were welcome to a share in it.

Now to-day - this day of which the happenings were to linger in Mrs.
Bunting's mind so very long, and to remain so very vivid, it had
been arranged that Mr. Sleuth was to have some fish for his lunch,
while what he left was to be "done up" to serve for his simple supper.

Knowing that Bunting would be out for at least an hour, for he was
a gregarious soul, and liked to have a gossip in the shops he
frequented, Mrs. Bunting rose and dressed in a leisurely manner;
then she went and "did" her front sitting-room.

She felt languid and dull, as one is apt to feel after a broken
night, and it was a comfort to her to know that Mr. Sleuth was not
likely to ring before twelve.

But long before twelve a loud ring suddenly clanged through the
quiet house. She knew it for the front door bell.

Mrs. Bunting frowned. No doubt the ring betokened one of those
tiresome people who come round for old bottles and such-like
fal-lals.

She went slowly, reluctantly to the door. And then her face cleared,
for it was that good young chap, Joe Chandler, who stood waiting
outside.

He was breathing a little hard, as if he had walked over-quickly
through the moist, foggy air.

"Why, Joe?" said Mrs. Bunting wonderingly. "Come in - do! Bunting's
out, but he won't be very long now. You've been quite a stranger
these last few days."

"Well, you know why, Mrs. Bunting - "

She stared at him for a moment, wondering what he could mean. Then,
suddenly she remembered. Why, of course, Joe was on a big job just
now - the job of trying to catch The Avenger! Her husband had
alluded to the fact again and again when reading out to her little
bits from the halfpenny evening paper he was taking again.

She led the way to the sitting-room. It was a good thing Bunting


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Online LibraryMarie Adelaide Belloc LowndesThe Lodger → online text (page 3 of 18)