Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes.

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had insisted on lighting the fire before he went out, for now the
room was nice and warm - and it was just horrible outside. She had
felt a chill go right through her as she had stood, even for that
second, at the front door.

And she hadn't been alone to feel it, for, "I say, it is jolly to
be in here, out of that awful cold!" exclaimed Chandler, sitting
down heavily in Bunting's easy chair.

And then Mrs. Bunting bethought herself that the young man was tired,
as well as cold. He was pale, almost pallid under his usual healthy,
tanned complexion - the complexion of the man who lives much out of

"Wouldn't you like me just to make you a cup of tea?" she said

"Well, to tell truth, I should be right down thankful for one, Mrs.
Bunting!" Then he looked round, and again he said her name, "Mrs.
Bunting - ?"

He spoke in so odd, so thick a tone that she turned quickly. "Yes,
what is it, Joe?" she asked. And then, in sudden terror, "You've
never come to tell me that anything's happened to Bunting? He's
not had an accident?"

"Goodness, no! Whatever made you think that? But - but, Mrs.
Bunting, there's been another of them!"

His voice dropped almost to a whisper. He was staring at her with
unhappy, it seemed to her terror-filled, eyes.

"Another of them?" She looked at him, bewildered - at a loss.
And then what he meant flashed across her - "another of them"
meant another of these strange, mysterious, awful murders.

But her relief for the moment was so great - for she really had
thought for a second that he had come to give her ill news of
Bunting - that the feeling that she did experience on hearing
this piece of news was actually pleasurable, though she would
have been much shocked had that fact been brought to her notice.

Almost in spite of herself, Mrs. Bunting had become keenly interested
in the amazing series of crimes which was occupying the imagination
of the whole of London's nether-world. Even her refined mind had
busied itself for the last two or three days with the strange problem
so frequently presented to it by Bunting - for Bunting, now that they
were no longer worried, took an open, unashamed, intense interest in
"The Avenger" and his doings.

She took the kettle off the gas-ring. "It's a pity Bunting isn't
here," she said, drawing in her breath. "He'd a-liked so much to
hear you tell all about it, Joe."

As she spoke she was pouring boiling water into a little teapot.

But Chandler said nothing, and she turned and glanced at him. "Why,
you do look bad!" she exclaimed.

And, indeed, the young fellow did look bad - very bad indeed.

"I can't help it," he said, with a kind of gasp. "It was your
saying that about my telling you all about it that made me turn
queer. You see, this time I was one of the first there, and it
fairly turned me sick - that it did. Oh, it was too awful, Mrs.
Bunting! Don't talk of it."

He began gulping down the hot tea before it was well made.

She looked at him with sympathetic interest. "Why, Joe," she said,
"I never would have thought, with all the horrible sights you see,
that anything could upset you like that."

"This isn't like anything there's ever been before," he said. "And
then - then - oh, Mrs. Bunting, 'twas I that discovered the piece of
paper this time."

"Then it is true," she cried eagerly. "It is The Avenger's bit of
paper! Bunting always said it was. He never believed in that
practical joker."

"I did," said Chandler reluctantly. "You see, there are some queer
fellows even - even - " (he lowered his voice, and looked round him
as if the walls had ears) - "even in the Force, Mrs. Bunting, and
these murders have fair got on our nerves."

"No, never!" she said. "D'you think that a Bobby might do a thing
like that?"

He nodded impatiently, as if the question wasn't worth answering.
Then, "It was all along of that bit of paper and my finding it while
the poor soul was still warm," - he shuddered - "that brought me out
West this morning. One of our bosses lives close by, in Prince
Albert Terrace, and I had to go and tell him all about it. They
never offered me a bit or a sup - I think they might have done that,
don't you, Mrs. Bunting?"

"Yes," she said absently. "Yes, I do think so."

"But, there, I don't know that I ought to say that," went on Chandler.
"He had me up in his dressing-room, and was very considerate-like to
me while I was telling him."

"Have a bit of something now?" she said suddenly.

"Oh, no, I couldn't eat anything," he said hastily. "I don't feel
as if I could ever eat anything any more."

"That'll only make you ill." Mrs. Bunting spoke rather crossly,
for she was a sensible woman. And to please her he took a bite
out of the slice of bread-and-butter she had cut for him.

"I expect you're right," he said. "And I've a goodish heavy day
in front of me. Been up since four, too - "

"Four?" she said. "Was it then they found - " she hesitated a
moment, and then said, "it?"

He nodded. "It was just a chance I was near by. If I'd been half
a minute sooner either I or the officer who found her must have
knocked up against that - that monster. But two or three people
do think they saw him slinking away."

"What was he like?" she asked curiously.

"Well, that's hard to answer. You see, there was such an awful
fog. But there's one thing they all agree about. He was carrying
a bag - "

"A bag?" repeated Mrs. Bunting, in a low voice. "Whatever sort of
bag might it have been, Joe?"

There had come across her - just right in her middle, like - such a
strange sensation, a curious kind of tremor, or fluttering.

She was at a loss to account for it.

"Just a hand-bag," said Joe Chandler vaguely. "A woman I spoke to
- cross-examining her, like - who was positive she had seen him,
said, 'Just a tall, thin shadow - that's what he was, a tall, thin
shadow of a man - with a bag.'"

"With a bag?" repeated Mrs. Bunting absently. "How very strange
and peculiar - "

"Why, no, not strange at all. He has to carry the thing he does
the deed with in something, Mrs. Bunting. We've always wondered how
he hid it. They generally throws the knife or fire-arms away, you

"Do they, indeed?" Mrs. Bunting still spoke in that absent, wondering
way. She was thinking that she really must try and see what the
lodger had done with his bag. It was possible - in fact, when one
came to think of it, it was very probable - that he had just lost
it, being so forgetful a gentleman, on one of the days he had gone
out, as she knew he was fond of doing, into the Regent's Park.

"There'll be a description circulated in an hour or two," went on
Chandler. "Perhaps that'll help catch him. There isn't a London
man or woman, I don't suppose, who wouldn't give a good bit to lay
that chap by the heels. Well, I suppose I must be going now."

"Won't you wait a bit longer for Bunting?" she said hesitatingly.

"No, I can't do that. But I'll come in, maybe, either this evening
or to-morrow, and tell you any more that's happened. Thanks kindly
for the tea. It's made a man of me, Mrs. Bunting."

"Well, you've had enough to unman you, Joe."

"Aye, that I have," he said heavily.

A few minutes later Bunting did come in, and he and his wife had
quite a little tiff - the first tiff they had had since Mr. Sleuth
became their lodger.

It fell out this way. When he heard who had been there, Bunting
was angry that Mrs. Bunting hadn't got more details of the horrible
occurrence which had taken place that morning, out of Chandler.

"You don't mean to say, Ellen, that you can't even tell me where it
happened?" he said indignantly. "I suppose you put Chandler off
- that's what you did! Why, whatever did he come here for,
excepting to tell us all about it?"

"He came to have something to eat and drink," snapped out Mrs.
Bunting. "That's what the poor lad came for, if you wants to know.
He could hardly speak of it at all - he felt so bad. In fact, he
didn't say a word about it until he'd come right into the room and
sat down. He told me quite enough!"

"Didn't he tell you if the piece of paper on which the murderer had
written his name was square or three-cornered?" demanded Bunting.

"No; he did not. And that isn't the sort of thing I should have
cared to ask him."

"The more fool you!" And then he stopped abruptly. The newsboys
were coming down the Marylebone Road, shouting out the awful
discovery which had been made that morning - that of The Avenger's
fifth murder. Bunting went out to buy a paper, and his wife took
the things he had brought in down to the kitchen.

The noise the newspaper-sellers made outside had evidently wakened
Mr. Sleuth, for his landlady hadn't been in the kitchen ten minutes
before his bell rang.


Mr. Sleuth's bell rang again.

Mr. Sleuth's breakfast was quite ready, but for the first time since
he had been her lodger Mrs. Bunting did not answer the summons at
once. But when there came the second imperative tinkle - for
electric bells had not been fitted into that old-fashioned house -
she made up her mind to go upstairs.

As she emerged into the hall from the kitchen stairway, Bunting,
sitting comfortably in their parlour, heard his wife stepping heavily
under the load of the well-laden tray.

"Wait a minute!" he called out. "I'll help you, Ellen," and he came
out and took the tray from her.

She said nothing, and together they proceeded up to the drawing-room
floor landing.

There she stopped him. "Here," she whispered quickly, "you give me
that, Bunting. The lodger won't like your going in to him." And
then, as he obeyed her, and was about to turn downstairs again, she
added in a rather acid tone, "You might open the door for me, at
any rate! How can I manage to do it with this here heavy tray on
my hands?"

She spoke in a queer, jerky way, and Bunting felt surprised - rather
put out. Ellen wasn't exactly what you'd call a lively, jolly woman,
but when things were going well - as now - she was generally equable
enough. He supposed she was still resentful of the way he had
spoken to her about young Chandler and the new Avenger murder.

However, he was always for peace, so he opened the drawing-room door,
and as soon as he had started going downstairs Mrs. Bunting walked
into the room.

And then at once there came over her the queerest feeling of relief,
of lightness of heart.

As usual, the lodger was sitting at his old place, reading the Bible.

Somehow - she could not have told you why, she would not willingly
have told herself - she had expected to see Mr. Sleuth looking
different. But no, he appeared to be exactly the same - in fact,
as he glanced up at her a pleasanter smile than usual lighted up
his thin, pallid face.

"Well, Mrs. Bunting," he said genially, "I overslept myself this
morning, but I feel all the better for the rest."

"I'm glad of that, sir," she answered, in a low voice. "One of the
ladies I once lived with used to say, 'Rest is an old-fashioned
remedy, but it's the best remedy of all.'"

Mr. Sleuth himself removed the Bible and Cruden's Concordance off
the table out of her way, and then he stood watching his landlady
laying the cloth.

Suddenly he spoke again. He was not often so talkative in the
morning. "I think, Mrs. Bunting, that there was someone with you
outside the door just now?"

"Yes, sir. Bunting helped me up with the tray."

"I'm afraid I give you a good deal of trouble," he said hesitatingly.

But she answered quickly, "Oh, no, sir! Not at all, sir! I was
only saying yesterday that we've never had a lodger that gave us as
little trouble as you do, sir."

"I'm glad of that. I am aware that my habits are somewhat peculiar."

He looked at her fixedly, as if expecting her to give some sort of
denial to this observation. But Mrs. Bunting was an honest and
truthful woman. It never occurred to her to question his statement.
Mr. Sleuth's habits were somewhat peculiar. Take that going out at
night, or rather in the early morning, for instance? So she remained

After she had laid the lodger's breakfast on the table she prepared
to leave the room. "I suppose I'm not to do your room till you goes
out, sir?"

And Mr. Sleuth looked up sharply. "No, no!" he said. "I never
want my room done when I am engaged in studying the Scriptures, Mrs.
Bunting. But I am not going out to-day. I shall be carrying out a
somewhat elaborate experiment - upstairs. If I go out at all" he
waited a moment, and again he looked at her fixedly " - I shall wait
till night-time to do so." And then, coming back to the matter in
hand, he added hastily, "Perhaps you could do my room when I go
upstairs, about five o'clock - if that time is convenient to you,
that is?"

"Oh, yes, sir! That'll do nicely!"

Mrs. Bunting went downstairs, and as she did so she took herself
wordlessly, ruthlessly to task, but she did not face - even in her
inmost heart - the strange tenors and tremors which had so shaken
her. She only repeated to herself again and again, "I've got upset
- that's what I've done," and then she spoke aloud, "I must get
myself a dose at the chemist's next time I'm out. That's what I
must do."

And just as she murmured the word "do," there came a loud double
knock on the front door.

It was only the postman's knock, but the postman was an unfamiliar
visitor in that house, and Mrs. Bunting started violently. She was
nervous, that's what was the matter with her, - so she told herself
angrily. No doubt this was a letter for Mr. Sleuth; the lodger must
have relations and acquaintances somewhere in the world. All
gentlefolk have. But when she picked the small envelope off the
hall floor, she saw it was a letter from Daisy, her husband's daughter.

"Bunting!" she called out sharply. "Here's a letter for you."

She opened the door of their sitting-room and looked in. Yes, there
was her husband, sitting back comfortably in his easy chair, reading
a paper. And as she saw his broad, rather rounded back, Mrs. Bunting
felt a sudden thrill of sharp irritation. There he was, doing
nothing - in fact, doing worse than nothing - wasting his time
reading all about those horrid crimes.

She sighed - a long, unconscious sigh. Bunting was getting into
idle ways, bad ways for a man of his years. But how could she
prevent it? He had been such an active, conscientious sort of man
when they had first made acquaintance. . .

She also could remember, even more clearly than Bunting did himself,
that first meeting of theirs in the dining-room of No. 90 Cumberland
Terrace. As she had stood there, pouring out her mistress's glass of
port wine, she had not been too much absorbed in her task to have a
good out-of-her-eye look at the spruce, nice, respectable-looking
fellow who was standing over by the window. How superior he had
appeared even then to the man she already hoped he would succeed as

To-day, perhaps because she was not feeling quite herself, the past
rose before her very vividly, and a lump came into her throat.

Putting the letter addressed to her husband on the table, she closed
the door softly, and went down into the kitchen; there were various
little things to put away and clean up, as well as their dinner to
cook. And all the time she was down there she fixed her mind
obstinately, determinedly on Bunting and on the problem of Bunting.
She wondered what she'd better do to get him into good ways again.

Thanks to Mr. Sleuth, their outlook was now moderately bright. A
week ago everything had seemed utterly hopeless. It seemed as if
nothing could save them from disaster. But everything was now

Perhaps it would be well for her to go and see the new proprietor
of that registry office, in Baker Street, which had lately changed
hands. It would be a good thing for Bunting to get even an
occasional job - for the matter of that he could now take up a
fairly regular thing in the way of waiting. Mrs. Bunting knew that
it isn't easy to get a man out of idle ways once he has acquired
those ways.

When, at last, she went upstairs again she felt a little ashamed of
what she had been thinking, for Bunting had laid the cloth, and laid
it very nicely, too, and brought up the two chairs to the table.

"Ellen?" he cried eagerly, "here's news! Daisy's coming to-morrow!
There's scarlet fever in their house. Old Aunt thinks she'd better
come away for a few days. So, you see, she'll be here for her
birthday. Eighteen, that's what she be on the nineteenth! It do
make me feel old - that it do!"

Mrs. Bunting put down the tray. "I can't have the girl here just
now," she said shortly. "I've just as much to do as I can manage.
The lodger gives me more trouble than you seem to think for."

"Rubbish!" he said sharply. "I'll help you with the lodger. It's
your own fault you haven't had help with him before. Of course,
Daisy must come here. Whatever other place could the girl go to?"

Bunting felt pugnacious - so cheerful as to be almost light-hearted.
But as he looked across at his wife his feeling of satisfaction
vanished. Ellen's face was pinched and drawn to-day; she looked ill
- ill and horribly tired. It was very aggravating of her to go and
behave like this - just when they were beginning to get on nicely

"For the matter of that," he said suddenly, "Daisy'll be able to help
you with the work, Ellen, and she'll brisk us both up a bit."

Mrs. Bunting made no answer. She sat down heavily at the table.
And then she said languidly, "You might as well show me the girl's

He handed it across to her, and she read it slowly to herself.

"DEAR FATHER (it ran) - I hope this finds you as well at it leaves
me. Mrs. Puddle's youngest has got scarlet fever, and Aunt thinks
I had better come away at once, just to stay with you for a few
days. Please tell Ellen I won't give her no trouble. I'll start
at ten if I don't hear nothing. - Your loving daughter,

"Yes, I suppose Daisy will have to come here," Mrs. Bunting slowly.
"It'll do her good to have a bit of work to do for once in her life."

And with that ungraciously worded permission Bunting had to content


Quietly the rest of that eventful day sped by. When dusk fell Mr.
Sleuth's landlady heard him go upstairs to the top floor. She
remembered that this was the signal for her to go and do his room.

He was a tidy man, was the lodger; he did not throw his things
about as so many gentlemen do, leaving them all over the place.
No, he kept everything scrupulously tidy. His clothes, and the
various articles Mrs. Bunting had bought for him during the first
two days he had been there, were carefully arranged in the chest
of drawers. He had lately purchased a pair of boots. Those he
had arrived in were peculiar-looking footgear, buff leather shoes
with rubber soles, and he had told his landlady on that very first
day that he never wished them to go down to be cleaned.

A funny idea - a funny habit that, of going out for a walk after
midnight in weather so cold and foggy that all other folk were
glad to be at home, snug in bed. But then Mr. Sleuth himself
admitted that he was a funny sort of gentleman.

After she had done his bedroom the landlady went into the
sitting-room and gave it a good dusting. This room was not kept
quite as nice as she would have liked it to be. Mrs. Bunting
longed to give the drawing-room something of a good turn out; but
Mr. Sleuth disliked her to be moving about in it when he himself
was in his bedroom; and when up he sat there almost all the time.
Delighted as he had seemed to be with the top room, he only used
it when making his mysterious experiments, and never during the

And now, this afternoon, she looked at the rosewood chiffonnier with
longing eyes - she even gave that pretty little piece of furniture
a slight shake. If only the doors would fly open, as the locked
doors of old cupboards sometimes do, even after they have been
securely fastened, how pleased she would be, how much more
comfortable somehow she would feel!

But the chiffonnier refused to give up its secret.


About eight o'clock on that same evening Joe Chandler came in, just
for a few minutes' chat. He had recovered from his agitation of the
morning, but he was full of eager excitement, and Mrs. Bunting
listened in silence, intensely interested in spite of herself, while
he and Bunting talked.

"Yes," he said, "I'm as right as a trivet now! I've had a good rest
- laid down all this afternoon. You see, the Yard thinks there's
going to be something on to-night. He's always done them in pairs."

"So he has," exclaimed Bunting wonderingly. "So he has! Now, I
never thought o' that. Then you think, Joe, that the monster'll be
on the job again to-night?"

Chandler nodded. "Yes. And I think there's a very good chance of
his being caught too - "

"I suppose there'll be a lot on the watch to-night, eh?"

"I should think there will be! How many of our men d'you think
there'll be on night duty to-night, Mr. Bunting?"

Bunting shook his head. "I don't know," he said helplessly.

"I mean extra," suggested Chandler, in an encouraging voice.

"A thousand?" ventured Bunting.

"Five thousand, Mr. Bunting."

"Never!" exclaimed Bunting, amazed.

And even Mrs. Bunting echoed "Never!" incredulously.

"Yes, that there will. You see, the Boss has got his monkey up!"
Chandler drew a folded-up newspaper out of his coat pocket. "Just
listen to this:

"'The police have reluctantly to admit that they have no clue to
the perpetrators of these horrible crimes, and we cannot feel any
surprise at the information that a popular attack has been organised
on the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. There is even
talk of an indignation mass meeting.'

"What d'you think of that? That's not a pleasant thing for a
gentleman as is doing his best to read, eh?"

"Well, it does seem queer that the police can't catch him, now
doesn't it?" said Bunting argumentatively.

"I don't think it's queer at all," said young Chandler crossly.
"Now you just listen again! Here's a bit of the truth for once -
in a newspaper." And slowly he read out:

"'The detection of crime in London now resembles a game of blind
man's buff, in which the detective has his hands tied and his eyes
bandaged. Thus is he turned loose to hunt the murderer through
the slums of a great city.'"

"Whatever does that mean?" said Bunting. "Your hands aren't tied,
and your eyes aren't bandaged, Joe?"

"It's metaphorical-like that it's intended, Mr. Bunting. We haven't
got the same facilities - no, not a quarter of them - that the
French 'tecs have."

And then, for the first time, Mrs. Bunting spoke: "What was that
word, Joe - 'perpetrators'? I mean that first bit you read out."

"Yes," he said, turning to her eagerly.

"Then do they think there's more than one of them?" she said, and
a look of relief came over her thin face.

"There's some of our chaps thinks it's a gang," said Chandler.
"They say it can't be the work of one man."

"What do you think, Joe?"

"Well, Mrs. Bunting, I don't know what to think. I'm fair puzzled."

He got up. "Don't you come to the door. I'll shut it all right.
So long! See you to-morrow, perhaps." As he had done the other
evening, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting's visitor stopped at the door. "Any
news of Miss Daisy?" he asked casually.

"Yes; she's coming to-morrow," said her father. "They've got scarlet
fever at her place. So Old Aunt thinks she'd better clear out."

The husband and wife went to bed early that night, but Mrs. Bunting
found she could not sleep. She lay wide awake, hearing the hours,
the half-hours, the quarters chime out from the belfry of the old
church close by.

And then, just as she was dozing off - it must have been about one
o'clock - she heard the sound she had half unconsciously been
expecting to hear, that of the lodger's stealthy footsteps coming
down the stairs just outside her room.

He crept along the passage and let himself out very, very quietly.

But though she tried to keep awake, Mrs. Bunting did not hear him
come in again, for she soon fell into a heavy sleep.

Oddly enough, she was the first to wake the next morning; odder
still, it was she, not Bunting, who jumped out of bed, and going
out into the passage, picked up the newspaper which had just been
pushed through the letter-box.

But having picked it up, Mrs. Bunting did not go back at once into
her bedroom. Instead she lit the gas in the passage, and leaning
up against the wall to steady herself, for she was trembling with
cold and fatigue, she opened the paper.

Yes, there was the heading she sought:

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Online LibraryMarie Adelaide Belloc LowndesThe Lodger → online text (page 4 of 18)