by Marie Belloc Lowndes
"Lover and friend hast thou put far from me,
and mine acquaintance into darkness."
PSALM lxxxviii. 18
Robert Bunting and Ellen his wife sat before their dully burning,
The room, especially when it be known that it was part of a house
standing in a grimy, if not exactly sordid, London thoroughfare,
was exceptionally clean and well-cared-for. A casual stranger,
more particularly one of a Superior class to their own, on suddenly
opening the door of that sitting-room; would have thought that Mr.
and Mrs. Bunting presented a very pleasant cosy picture of
comfortable married life. Bunting, who was leaning back in a deep
leather arm-chair, was clean-shaven and dapper, still in appearance
what he had been for many years of his life—a self-respecting
On his wife, now sitting up in an uncomfortable straight-backed
chair, the marks of past servitude were less apparent; but they
were there all the same—in her neat black stuff dress, and in
her scrupulously clean, plain collar and cuffs. Mrs. Bunting, as
a single woman, had been what is known as a useful maid.
But peculiarly true of average English life is the time-worn
English proverb as to appearances being deceitful. Mr. and Mrs.
Bunting were sitting in a very nice room and in their time—how
long ago it now seemed!—both husband and wife had been proud of
their carefully chosen belongings. Everything in the room was
strong and substantial, and each article of furniture had been
bought at a well-conducted auction held in a private house.
Thus the red damask curtains which now shut out the fog-laden,
drizzling atmosphere of the Marylebone Road, had cost a mere song,
and yet they might have been warranted to last another thirty years.
A great bargain also had been the excellent Axminster carpet which
covered the floor; as, again, the arm-chair in which Bunting now sat
forward, staring into the dull, small fire. In fact, that arm-chair
had been an extravagance of Mrs. Bunting. She had wanted her husband
to be comfortable after the day's work was done, and she had paid
thirty-seven shillings for the chair. Only yesterday Bunting had
tried to find a purchaser for it, but the man who had come to look at
it, guessing their cruel necessities, had only offered them twelve
shillings and sixpence for it; so for the present they were keeping
But man and woman want something more than mere material comfort,
much as that is valued by the Buntings of this world. So, on the
walls of the sitting-room, hung neatly framed if now rather faded
photographs—photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Bunting's various former
employers, and of the pretty country houses in which they had
separately lived during the long years they had spent in a not
But appearances were not only deceitful, they were more than
usually deceitful with regard to these unfortunate people. In
spite of their good furniture—that substantial outward sign of
respectability which is the last thing which wise folk who fall
into trouble try to dispose of—they were almost at the end of
their tether. Already they had learnt to go hungry, and they were
beginning to learn to go cold. Tobacco, the last thing the sober
man foregoes among his comforts, had been given up some time ago
by Bunting. And even Mrs. Bunting—prim, prudent, careful woman
as she was in her way—had realised what this must mean to him.
So well, indeed, had she understood that some days back she had
crept out and bought him a packet of Virginia.
Bunting had been touched—touched as he had not been for years by
any woman's thought and love for him. Painful tears had forced
themselves into his eyes, and husband and wife had both felt in
their odd, unemotional way, moved to the heart.
Fortunately he never guessed—how could he have guessed, with his
slow, normal, rather dull mind?—that his poor Ellen had since
more than once bitterly regretted that fourpence-ha'penny, for they
were now very near the soundless depths which divide those who dwell
on the safe tableland of security—those, that is, who are sure of
making a respectable, if not a happy, living—and the submerged
multitude who, through some lack in themselves, or owing to the
conditions under which our strange civilisation has become organised,
struggle rudderless till they die in workhouse, hospital, or prison.
Had the Buntings been in a class lower than their own, had they
belonged to the great company of human beings technically known to
so many of us as the poor, there would have been friendly neighbours
ready to help them, and the same would have been the case had they
belonged to the class of smug, well-meaning, if unimaginative, folk
whom they had spent so much of their lives in serving.
There was only one person in the world who might possibly be brought
to help them. That was an aunt of Bunting's first wife. With this
woman, the widow of a man who had been well-to-do, lived Daisy,
Bunting's only child by his first wife, and during the last long two
days he had been trying to make up his mind to write to the old lady,
and that though he suspected that she would almost certainly retort
with a cruel, sharp rebuff.
As to their few acquaintances, former fellow-servants, and so on,
they had gradually fallen out of touch with them. There was but
one friend who often came to see them in their deep trouble. This
was a young fellow named Chandler, under whose grandfather Bunting
had been footman years and years ago. Joe Chandler had never gone
into service; he was attached to the police; in fact not to put too
fine a point upon it, young Chandler was a detective.
When they had first taken the house which had brought them, so they
both thought, such bad luck, Bunting had encouraged the young chap
to come often, for his tales were well worth listening to—quite
exciting at times. But now poor Bunting didn't want to hear that
sort of stories—stories of people being cleverly "nabbed," or
stupidly allowed to escape the fate they always, from Chandler's
point of view, richly deserved.
But Joe still came very faithfully once or twice a week, so timing
his calls that neither host nor hostess need press food upon him
—nay, more, he had done that which showed him to have a good and
feeling heart. He had offered his father's old acquaintance a loan,
and Bunting, at last, had taken 30s. Very little of that money
now remained: Bunting still could jingle a few coppers in his pocket;
and Mrs. Bunting had 2s. 9d.; that and the rent they would have to
pay in five weeks, was all they had left. Everything of the light,
portable sort that would fetch money had been sold. Mrs. Bunting
had a fierce horror of the pawnshop. She had never put her feet in
such a place, and she declared she never would—she would rather
But she had said nothing when there had occurred the gradual
disappearance of various little possessions she knew that Bunting
valued, notably of the old-fashioned gold watch-chain which had been
given to him after the death of his first master, a master he had
nursed faithfully and kindly through a long and terrible illness.
There had also vanished a twisted gold tie-pin, and a large mourning
ring, both gifts of former employers.
When people are living near that deep pit which divides the secure
from the insecure—when they see themselves creeping closer and
closer to its dread edge—they are apt, however loquacious by
nature, to fall into long silences. Bunting had always been a
talker, but now he talked no more. Neither did Mrs. Bunting, but
then she had always been a silent woman, and that was perhaps one
reason why Bunting had felt drawn to her from the very first moment
he had seen her.
It had fallen out in this way. A lady had just engaged him as
butler, and he had been shown, by the man whose place he was to
take, into the dining-room. There, to use his own expression, he
had discovered Ellen Green, carefully pouring out the glass of port
wine which her then mistress always drank at 11.30 every morning.
And as he, the new butler, had seen her engaged in this task, as he
had watched her carefully stopper the decanter and put it back into
the old wine-cooler, he had said to himself, "That is the woman for
But now her stillness, her—her dumbness, had got on the
unfortunate man's nerves. He no longer felt like going into the
various little shops, close by, patronised by him in more prosperous
days, and Mrs. Bunting also went afield to make the slender purchases
which still had to be made every day or two, if they were to be
saved from actually starving to death.
Suddenly, across the stillness of the dark November evening there
came the muffled sounds of hurrying feet and of loud, shrill shouting
outside—boys crying the late afternoon editions of the evening
Bunting turned uneasily in his chair. The giving up of a daily
paper had been, after his tobacco, his bitterest deprivation. And
the paper was an older habit than the tobacco, for servants are
great readers of newspapers.
As the shouts came through the closed windows and the thick damask
curtains, Bunting felt a sudden sense of mind hunger fall upon him.
It was a shame—a damned shame—that he shouldn't know what was
happening in the world outside! Only criminals are kept from hearing
news of what is going on beyond their prison walls. And those
shouts, those hoarse, sharp cries must portend that something really
exciting had happened, something warranted to make a man forget for
the moment his own intimate, gnawing troubles.
He got up, and going towards the nearest window strained his ears to
listen. There fell on them, emerging now and again from the confused
babel of hoarse shouts, the one clear word "Murder!"
Slowly Bunting's brain pieced the loud, indistinct cries into some
sort of connected order. Yes, that was it—"Horrible Murder!
Murder at St. Pancras!" Bunting remembered vaguely another murder
which had been committed near St. Pancras—that of an old lady by
her servant-maid. It had happened a great many years ago, but was
still vividly remembered, as of special and natural interest, among
the class to which he had belonged.
The newsboys—for there were more than one of them, a rather unusual
thing in the Marylebone Road—were coming nearer and nearer; now
they had adopted another cry, but he could not quite catch what they
were crying. They were still shouting hoarsely, excitedly, but he
could only hear a word or two now and then. Suddenly "The Avenger!
The Avenger at his work again!" broke on his ear.
During the last fortnight four very curious and brutal murders had
been committed in London and within a comparatively small area.
The first had aroused no special interest—even the second had only
been awarded, in the paper Bunting was still then taking in, quite a
Then had come the third—and with that a wave of keen excitement,
for pinned to the dress of the victim—a drunken woman—had been
found a three-cornered piece of paper, on which was written, in red
ink, and in printed characters, the words,
It was then realised, not only by those whose business it is to
investigate such terrible happenings, but also by the vast world
of men and women who take an intelligent interest in such sinister
mysteries, that the same miscreant had committed all three crimes;
and before that extraordinary fact had had time to soak well into
the public mind there took place yet another murder, and again the
murderer had been to special pains to make it clear that some
obscure and terrible lust for vengeance possessed him.
Now everyone was talking of The Avenger and his crimes! Even the
man who left their ha'porth of milk at the door each morning had
spoken to Bunting about them that very day.
Bunting came back to the fire and looked down at his wife with mild
excitement. Then, seeing her pale, apathetic face, her look of
weary, mournful absorption, a wave of irritation swept through him.
He felt he could have shaken her!
Ellen had hardly taken the trouble to listen when he, Bunting, had
come back to bed that morning, and told her what the milkman had
said. In fact, she had been quite nasty about it, intimating that
she didn't like hearing about such horrid things.
It was a curious fact that though Mrs. Bunting enjoyed tales of
pathos and sentiment, and would listen with frigid amusement to
the details of a breach of promise action, she shrank from stories
of immorality or of physical violence. In the old, happy days,
when they could afford to buy a paper, aye, and more than one paper
daily, Bunting had often had to choke down his interest in some
exciting "case" or "mystery" which was affording him pleasant mental
relaxation, because any allusion to it sharply angered Ellen.
But now he was at once too dull and too miserable to care how she
Walking away from the window he took a slow, uncertain step towards
the door; when there he turned half round, and there came over his
close-shaven, round face the rather sly, pleading look with which
a child about to do something naughty glances at its parent.
But Mrs. Bunting remained quite still; her thin, narrow shoulders
just showed above the back of the chair on which she was sitting,
bolt upright, staring before her as if into vacancy.
Bunting turned round, opened the door, and quickly he went out into
the dark hall—they had given up lighting the gas there some time
ago—and opened the front door.
Walking down the small flagged path outside, he flung open the iron
gate which gave on to the damp pavement. But there he hesitated.
The coppers in his pocket seemed to have shrunk in number, and he
remembered ruefully how far Ellen could make even four pennies go.
Then a boy ran up to him with a sheaf of evening papers, and Bunting,
being sorely tempted—fell. "Give me a Sun," he said roughly, "Sun
But the boy, scarcely stopping to take breath, shook his head. "Only
penny papers left," he gasped. "What'll yer 'ave, sir?"
With an eagerness which was mingled with shame, Bunting drew a penny
out of his pocket and took a paper—it was the Evening Standard—
from the boy's hand.
Then, very slowly, he shut the gate and walked back through the raw,
cold air, up the flagged path, shivering yet full of eager, joyful
Thanks to that penny he had just spent so recklessly he would pass
a happy hour, taken, for once, out of his anxious, despondent,
miserable self. It irritated him shrewdly to know that these moments
of respite from carking care would not be shared with his poor wife,
with careworn, troubled Ellen.
A hot wave of unease, almost of remorse, swept over Bunting. Ellen
would never have spent that penny on herself—he knew that well
enough—and if it hadn't been so cold, so foggy, so—so drizzly,
he would have gone out again through the gate and stood under the
street lamp to take his pleasure. He dreaded with a nervous dread
the glance of Ellen's cold, reproving light-blue eye. That glance
would tell him that he had had no business to waste a penny on a
paper, and that well he knew it!
Suddenly the door in front of him opened, and he beard a familiar
voice saying crossly, yet anxiously, "What on earth are you doing
out there, Bunting? Come in—do! You'll catch your death of cold!
I don't want to have you ill on my hands as well as everything else!"
Mrs. Bunting rarely uttered so many words at once nowadays.
He walked in through the front door of his cheerless house. "I
went out to get a paper," he said sullenly.
After all, he was master. He had as much right to spend the money
as she had; for the matter of that the money on which they were now
both living had been lent, nay, pressed on him—not on Ellen—by
that decent young chap, Joe Chandler. And he, Bunting, had done
all he could; he had pawned everything he could pawn, while Ellen,
so he resentfully noticed, still wore her wedding ring.
He stepped past her heavily, and though she said nothing, he knew
she grudged him his coming joy. Then, full of rage with her and
contempt for himself, and giving himself the luxury of a mild, a
very mild, oath—Ellen had very early made it clear she would
have no swearing in her presence—he lit the hall gas full-flare.
"How can we hope to get lodgers if they can't even see the card?"
he shouted angrily.
And there was truth in what he said, for now that he had lit the
gas, the oblong card, though not the word "Apartments" printed on
it, could be plainly seen out-lined against the old-fashioned
fanlight above the front door.
Bunting went into the sitting-room, silently followed by his wife,
and then, sitting down in his nice arm-chair, he poked the little
banked-up fire. It was the first time Bunting had poked the fire
for many a long day, and this exertion of marital authority made
him feel better. A man has to assert himself sometimes, and he,
Bunting, had not asserted himself enough lately.
A little colour came into Mrs. Bunting's pale face. She was not
used to be flouted in this way. For Bunting, when not thoroughly
upset, was the mildest of men.
She began moving about the room, flicking off an imperceptible
touch of dust here, straightening a piece of furniture there.
But her hands trembled—they trembled with excitement, with
self-pity, with anger. A penny? It was dreadful—dreadful to
have to worry about a penny! But they had come to the point when
one has to worry about pennies. Strange that her husband didn't
Bunting looked round once or twice; he would have liked to ask Ellen
to leave off fidgeting, but he was fond of peace, and perhaps, by
now, a little bit ashamed of himself, so he refrained from remark,
and she soon gave over what irritated him of her own accord.
But Mrs. Bunting did not come and sit down as her husband would have
liked her to do. The sight of him, absorbed in his paper as he was,
irritated her, and made her long to get away from him. Opening the
door which separated the sitting-room from the bedroom behind, and
—shutting out the aggravating vision of Bunting sitting comfortably
by the now brightly burning fire, with the Evening Standard spread
out before him—she sat down in the cold darkness, and pressed her
hands against her temples.
Never, never had she felt so hopeless, so—so broken as now. Where
was the good of having been an upright, conscientious, self-respecting
woman all her life long, if it only led to this utter, degrading
poverty and wretchedness? She and Bunting were just past the age
which gentlefolk think proper in a married couple seeking to enter
service together, unless, that is, the wife happens to be a professed
cook. A cook and a butler can always get a nice situation. But Mrs.
Bunting was no cook. She could do all right the simple things any
lodger she might get would require, but that was all.
Lodgers? How foolish she had been to think of taking lodgers! For
it had been her doing. Bunting had been like butter in her hands.
Yet they had begun well, with a lodging-house in a seaside place.
There they had prospered, not as they had hoped to do, but still
pretty well; and then had come an epidemic of scarlet fever, and
that had meant ruin for them, and for dozens, nay, hundreds, of
other luckless people. Then had followed a business experiment
which had proved even more disastrous, and which had left them in
debt—in debt to an extent they could never hope to repay, to a
good-natured former employer.
After that, instead of going back to service, as they might have
done, perhaps, either together or separately, they had made up
their minds to make one last effort, and they had taken over, with
the trifle of money that remained to them, the lease of this house
in the Marylebone Road.
In former days, when they had each been leading the sheltered,
impersonal, and, above all, financially easy existence which is
the compensation life offers to those men and women who deliberately
take upon themselves the yoke of domestic service, they had both
lived in houses overlooking Regent's Park. It had seemed a wise
plan to settle in the same neighbourhood, the more so that Bunting,
who had a good appearance, had retained the kind of connection
which enables a man to get a job now and again as waiter at private
But life moves quickly, jaggedly, for people like the Buntings.
Two of his former masters had moved to another part of London, and
a caterer in Baker Street whom he had known went bankrupt.
And now? Well, just now Bunting could not have taken a job had
one been offered him, for he had pawned his dress clothes. He had
not asked his wife's permission to do this, as so good a husband
ought to have done. He had just gone out and done it. And she had
not had the heart to say anything; nay, it was with part of the
money that he had handed her silently the evening he did it that
she had bought that last packet of tobacco.
And then, as Mrs. Bunting sat there thinking these painful thoughts,
there suddenly came to the front door the sound of a loud, tremulous,
uncertain double knock.
Mr. Bunting jumped nervously to her feet. She stood for a moment
listening in the darkness, a darkness made the blacker by the line
of light under the door behind which sat Bunting reading his paper.
And then it came again, that loud, tremulous, uncertain double
knock; not a knock, so the listener told herself, that boded any
good. Would-be lodgers gave sharp, quick, bold, confident raps.
No; this must be some kind of beggar. The queerest people came at
all hours, and asked—whining or threatening—for money.
Mrs. Bunting had had some sinister experiences with men and women
—especially women—drawn from that nameless, mysterious class
made up of the human flotsam and jetsam which drifts about every
great city. But since she had taken to leaving the gas in the
passage unlit at night she had been very little troubled with that
kind of visitors, those human bats which are attracted by any kind
of light but leave alone those who live in darkness.
She opened the door of the sitting-room. It was Bunting's place
to go to the front door, but she knew far better than he did how
to deal with difficult or obtrusive callers. Still, somehow, she
would have liked him to go to-night. But Bunting sat on, absorbed
in his newspaper; all he did at the sound of the bedroom door
opening was to look up and say, "Didn't you hear a knock?"
Without answering his question she went out into the hall.
Slowly she opened the front door.
On the top of the three steps which led up to the door, there stood
the long, lanky figure of a man, clad in an Inverness cape and an
old-fashioned top hat. He waited for a few seconds blinking at her,
perhaps dazzled by the light of the gas in the passage. Mrs.
Bunting's trained perception told her at once that this man, odd as
he looked, was a gentleman, belonging by birth to the class with
whom her former employment had brought her in contact.
"Is it not a fact that you let lodgings?" he asked, and there was
something shrill, unbalanced, hesitating, in his voice.
"Yes, sir," she said uncertainly—it was a long, long time since
anyone had come after their lodgings, anyone, that is, that they
could think of taking into their respectable house.
Instinctively she stepped a little to one side, and the stranger
walked past her, and so into the hall.
And then, for the first time, Mrs. Bunting noticed that he held a
narrow bag in his left hand. It was quite a new bag, made of strong
"I am looking for some quiet rooms," he said; then he repeated the
words, "quiet rooms," in a dreamy, absent way, and as he uttered
them he looked nervously round him.
Then his sallow face brightened, for the hall had been carefully
furnished, and was very clean.
There was a neat hat-and-umbrella stand, and the stranger's weary
feet fell soft on a good, serviceable dark-red drugget, which
matched in colour the flock-paper on the walls.
A very superior lodging-house this, and evidently a superior
"You'd find my rooms quite quiet, sir," she said gently. "And just
now I have four to let. The house is empty, save for my husband
and me, sir."
Mrs. Bunting spoke in a civil, passionless voice. It seemed too
good to be true, this sudden coming of a possible lodger, and of a
lodger who spoke in the pleasant, courteous way and voice which
recalled to the poor woman her happy, far-off days of youth and
"That sounds very suitable," he said. "Four rooms? Well, perhaps
I ought only to take two rooms, but, still, I should like to see
all four before I make my choice."
How fortunate, how very fortunate it was that Bunting had lit the
gas! But for that circumstance this gentleman would have passed
She turned towards the staircase, quite forgetting in her agitation
that the front door was still open; and it was the stranger whom
she already in her mind described as "the lodger," who turned and
rather quickly walked down the passage and shut it.
"Oh, thank you, sir!" she exclaimed. "I'm sorry you should have
had the trouble."
For a moment their eyes met. "It's not safe to leave a front door
open in London," he said, rather sharply. "I hope you do not often
do that. It would be so easy for anyone to slip in."
Mrs. Bunting felt rather upset. The stranger had still spoken
courteously, but he was evidently very much put out.
"I assure you, sir, I never leave my front door open," she answered
hastily. "You needn't be at all afraid of that!"
And then, through the closed door of the sitting-room, came the
sound of Bunting coughing—it was just a little, hard cough, but
Mrs. Bunting's future lodger started violently.
"Who's that?" he said, putting out a hand and clutching her arm.
"Whatever was that?"
"Only my husband, sir. He went out to buy a paper a few minutes
ago, and the cold just caught him, I suppose."
"Your husband—?" he looked at her intently, suspiciously. "What
—what, may I ask, is your husband's occupation?"
Mrs. Bunting drew herself up. The question as to Bunting's
occupation was no one's business but theirs. Still, it wouldn't do
for her to show offence. "He goes out waiting," she said stiffly.
"He was a gentleman's servant, sir. He could, of course, valet you
should you require him to do so."
And then she turned and led the way up the steep, narrow staircase.
At the top of the first flight of stairs was what Mrs. Bunting, to
herself, called the drawing-room floor. It consisted of a
sitting-room in front, and a bedroom behind. She opened the door
of the sitting-room and quickly lit the chandelier.
This front room was pleasant enough, though perhaps a little
over-encumbered with furniture. Covering the floor was a green
carpet simulating moss; four chairs were placed round the table
which occupied the exact middle of the apartment, and in the
corner, opposite the door giving on to the landing, was a roomy,
On the dark-green walls hung a series of eight engravings, portraits
of early Victorian belles, clad in lace and tarletan ball dresses,
clipped from an old Book of Beauty. Mrs. Bunting was very fond of
these pictures; she thought they gave the drawing-room a note of
elegance and refinement.
As she hurriedly turned up the gas she was glad, glad indeed, that
she had summoned up sufficient energy, two days ago, to give the
room a thorough turn-out.
It had remained for a long time in the state in which it had been
left by its last dishonest, dirty occupants when they had been
scared into going away by Bunting's rough threats of the police.
But now it was in apple-pie order, with one paramount exception,
of which Mrs. Bunting was painfully aware. There were no white
curtains to the windows, but that omission could soon be remedied
if this gentleman really took the lodgings.
But what was this—? The stranger was looking round him rather
dubiously. "This is rather—rather too grand for me," he said at
last "I should like to see your other rooms, Mrs. er—"
"—Bunting," she said softly. "Bunting, sir."
And as she spoke the dark, heavy load of care again came down and
settled on her sad, burdened heart. Perhaps she had been mistaken,
after all—or rather, she had not been mistaken in one sense, but
perhaps this gentleman was a poor gentleman—too poor, that is, to
afford the rent of more than one room, say eight or ten shillings
a week; eight or ten shillings a week would be very little use to
her and Bunting, though better than nothing at all.
"Will you just look at the bedroom, sir?"
"No," he said, "no. I think I should like to see what you have
farther up the house, Mrs.—," and then, as if making a prodigious
mental effort, he brought out her name, "Bunting," with a kind of
The two top rooms were, of course, immediately above the
drawing-room floor. But they looked poor and mean, owing to the fact
that they were bare of any kind of ornament. Very little trouble had
been taken over their arrangement; in fact, they had been left in much
the same condition as that in which the Buntings had found them.
For the matter of that, it is difficult to make a nice, genteel
sitting-room out of an apartment of which the principal features
are a sink and a big gas stove. The gas stove, of an obsolete
pattern, was fed by a tiresome, shilling-in-the-slot arrangement.
It had been the property of the people from whom the Buntings had
taken over the lease of the house, who, knowing it to be of no
monetary value, had thrown it in among the humble fittings they
had left behind.
What furniture there was in the room was substantial and clean, as
everything belonging to Mrs. Bunting was bound to be, but it was a
bare, uncomfortable-looking place, and the landlady now felt sorry
that she had done nothing to make it appear more attractive.
To her surprise, however, her companion's dark, sensitive,
hatchet-shaped face became irradiated with satisfaction. "Capital!
Capital!" he exclaimed, for the first time putting down the bag he
held at his feet, and rubbing his long, thin hands together with a
quick, nervous movement.
"This is just what I have been looking for." He walked with long,
eager strides towards the gas stove. "First-rate—quite first-rate!
Exactly what I wanted to find! You must understand, Mrs.—er—
Bunting, that I am a man of science. I make, that is, all sorts of
experiments, and I often require the—ah, well, the presence of
He shot out a hand, which she noticed shook a little, towards the
stove. "This, too, will be useful—exceedingly useful, to me," and
he touched the edge of the stone sink with a lingering, caressing
He threw his head back and passed his hand over his high, bare
forehead; then, moving towards a chair, he sat down—wearily.
"I'm tired," he muttered in a low voice, "tired—tired! I've been
walking about all day, Mrs. Bunting, and I could find nothing to sit
down upon. They do not put benches for tired men in the London
streets. They do so on the Continent. In some ways they are far
more humane on the Continent than they are in England, Mrs. Bunting."
"Indeed, sir," she said civilly; and then, after a nervous glance,
she asked the question of which the answer would mean so much to her,
"Then you mean to take my rooms, sir?"
"This room, certainly," he said, looking round. "This room is
exactly what I have been looking for, and longing for, the last
few days;" and then hastily he added, "I mean this kind of place
is what I have always wanted to possess, Mrs. Bunting. You would
be surprised if you knew how difficult it is to get anything of
the sort. But now my weary search has ended, and that is a relief
—a very, very great relief to me!"
He stood up and looked round him with a dreamy, abstracted air. And
then, "Where's my bag?" he asked suddenly, and there came a note of
sharp, angry fear in his voice. He glared at the quiet woman
standing before him, and for a moment Mrs. Bunting felt a tremor of
fright shoot through her. It seemed a pity that Bunting was so far
away, right down the house.
But Mrs. Bunting was aware that eccentricity has always been a
perquisite, as it were the special luxury, of the well-born and of
the well-educated. Scholars, as she well knew, are never quite like
other people, and her new lodger was undoubtedly a scholar. "Surely
I had a bag when I came in?" he said in a scared, troubled voice.
"Here it is, sir," she said soothingly, and, stooping, picked it
up and handed it to him. And as she did so she noticed that the
bag was not at all heavy; it was evidently by no means full.
He took it eagerly from her. "I beg your pardon," he muttered.
"But there is something in that bag which is very precious to me
—something I procured with infinite difficulty, and which I could
never get again without running into great danger, Mrs. Bunting.
That must be the excuse for my late agitation."
"About terms, sir?" she said a little timidly, returning to the
subject which meant so much, so very much to her.
"About terms?" he echoed. And then there came a pause. "My name
is Sleuth," he said suddenly,—"S-l-e-u-t-h. Think of a hound,
Mrs. Bunting, and you'll never forget my name. I could provide you
with a reference—" (he gave her what she described to herself as
a funny, sideways look), "but I should prefer you to dispense with
that, if you don't mind. I am quite willing to pay you—well, shall
we say a month in advance?"
A spot of red shot into Mrs. Bunting's cheeks. She felt sick with
relief—nay, with a joy which was almost pain. She had not known
till that moment how hungry she was—how eager for—a good meal.
"That would be all right, sir," she murmured.
"And what are you going to charge me?" There had come a kindly,
almost a friendly note into his voice. "With attendance, mind! I
shall expect you to give me attendance, and I need hardly ask if
you can cook, Mrs. Bunting?"
"Oh, yes, sir," she said. "I am a plain cook. What would you say
to twenty-five shillings a week, sir?" She looked at him
deprecatingly, and as he did not answer she went on falteringly,
"You see, sir, it may seem a good deal, but you would have the best
of attendance and careful cooking—and my husband, sir—he would
be pleased to valet you."
"I shouldn't want anything of that sort done for me," said Mr.
Sleuth hastily. "I prefer looking after my own clothes. I am used
to waiting on myself. But, Mrs. Bunting, I have a great dislike to
She interrupted eagerly, "I could let you have the use of the two
floors for the same price—that is, until we get another lodger.
I shouldn't like you to sleep in the back room up here, sir. It's
such a poor little room. You could do as you say, sir—do your work
and your experiments up here, and then have your meals in the
"Yes," he said hesitatingly, "that sounds a good plan. And if I
offered you two pounds, or two guineas? Might I then rely on your
not taking another lodger?"
"Yes," she said quietly. "I'd be very glad only to have you to
wait on, sir."
"I suppose you have a key to the door of this room, Mrs. Bunting?
I don't like to be disturbed while I'm working."
He waited a moment, and then said again, rather urgently, "I suppose
you have a key to this door, Mrs. Bunting?"
"Oh, yes, sir, there's a key—a very nice little key. The people
who lived here before had a new kind of lock put on to the door."
She went over, and throwing the door open, showed him that a round
disk had been fitted above the old keyhole.
He nodded his head, and then, after standing silent a little, as if
absorbed in thought, "Forty-two shillings a week? Yes, that will
suit me perfectly. And I'll begin now by paying my first month's
rent in advance. Now, four times forty-two shillings is"—he
jerked his head back and stared at his new landlady; for the first
time he smiled, a queer, wry smile—"why, just eight pounds eight
shillings, Mrs. Bunting!"
He thrust his hand through into an inner pocket of his long
cape-like coat and took out a handful of sovereigns. Then he began
putting these down in a row on the bare wooden table which stood in
the centre of the room. "Here's five—six—seven—eight—nine
—ten pounds. You'd better keep the odd change, Mrs. Bunting,
for I shall want you to do some shopping for me to-morrow morning.
I met with a misfortune to-day." But the new lodger did not speak
as if his misfortune, whatever it was, weighed on his spirits.
"Indeed, sir. I'm sorry to hear that." Mrs. Bunting's heart was
going thump—thump—thump. She felt extraordinarily moved, dizzy
with relief and joy.
"Yes, a very great misfortune! I lost my luggage, the few things
I managed to bring away with me." His voice dropped suddenly. "I
shouldn't have said that," he muttered. "I was a fool to say that!"
Then, more loudly, "Someone said to me, 'You can't go into a
lodging-house without any luggage. They wouldn't take you in.' But
you have taken me in, Mrs. Bunting, and I'm grateful for—for the
kind way you have met me—" He looked at her feelingly, appealingly,
and Mrs. Bunting was touched. She was beginning to feel very kindly
towards her new lodger.
"I hope I know a gentleman when I see one," she said, with a break
in her staid voice.
"I shall have to see about getting some clothes to-morrow, Mrs. Bunting."
Again he looked at her appealingly.
"I expect you'd like to wash your hands now, sir. And would you tell
me what you'd like for supper? We haven't much in the house."
"Oh, anything'll do," he said hastily. "I don't want you to go out
for me. It's a cold, foggy, wet night, Mrs. Bunting. If you have a
little bread-and-butter and a cup of milk I shall be quite satisfied."
"I have a nice sausage," she said hesitatingly.
It was a very nice sausage, and she had bought it that same morning
for Bunting's supper; as to herself, she had been going to content
herself with a little bread and cheese. But now—wonderful, almost,
intoxicating thought—she could send Bunting out to get anything
they both liked. The ten sovereigns lay in her hand full of comfort
and good cheer.
"A sausage? No, I fear that will hardly do. I never touch flesh
meat," he said; "it is a long, long time since I tasted a sausage,
"Is it indeed, sir?" She hesitated a moment, then asked stiffly,
"And will you be requiring any beer, or wine, sir?"
A strange, wild look of lowering wrath suddenly filled Mr. Sleuth's
"Certainly not. I thought I had made that quite clear, Mrs. Bunting.
I had hoped to hear that you were an abstainer—"
"So I am, sir, lifelong. And so's Bunting been since we married."
She might have said, had she been a woman given to make such
confidences, that she had made Bunting abstain very early in their
acquaintance. That he had given in about that had been the thing
that first made her believe, that he was sincere in all the nonsense
that he talked to her, in those far-away days of his courting. Glad
she was now that he had taken the pledge as a younger man; but for
that nothing would have kept him from the drink during the bad times
they had gone through.
And then, going downstairs, she showed Mr. Sleuth the nice bedroom
which opened out of the drawing-room. It was a replica of Mrs.
Bunting's own room just underneath, excepting that everything up
here had cost just a little more, and was therefore rather better
The new lodger looked round him with such a strange expression of
content and peace stealing over his worn face. "A haven of rest,"
he muttered; and then, "'He bringeth them to their desired haven.'
Beautiful words, Mrs. Bunting."
Mrs. Bunting felt a little startled. It was the first time anyone
had quoted the Bible to her for many a long day. But it seemed to
set the seal, as it were, on Mr. Sleuth's respectability.
What a comfort it was, too, that she had to deal with only one
lodger, and that a gentleman, instead of with a married couple!
Very peculiar married couples had drifted in and out of Mr. and
Mrs. Bunting's lodgings, not only here, in London, but at the
How unlucky they had been, to be sure! Since they had come to
London not a single pair of lodgers had been even moderately
respectable and kindly. The last lot had belonged to that horrible
underworld of men and women who, having, as the phrase goes, seen
better days, now only keep their heads above water with the help of
"I'll bring you up some hot water in a minute, sir, and some clean
towels," she said, going to the door.
And then Mr. Sleuth turned quickly round. "Mrs. Bunting"—and as
he spoke he stammered a little—"I—I don't want you to interpret
the word attendance too liberally. You need not run yourself off
your feet for me. I'm accustomed to look after myself."
And, queerly, uncomfortably, she felt herself dismissed—even a
little snubbed. "All right, sir," she said. "I'll only just let
you know when I've your supper ready."
But what was a little snub compared with the intense relief and joy
of going down and telling Bunting of the great piece of good fortune
which had fallen their way?
Staid Mrs. Bunting seemed to make but one leap down the steep stairs.
In the hall, however, she pulled herself together, and tried to still
her agitation. She had always disliked and despised any show of
emotion; she called such betrayal of feeling "making a fuss."
Opening the door of their sitting-room, she stood for a moment
looking at her husband's bent back, and she realised, with a pang
of pain, how the last few weeks had aged him.
Bunting suddenly looked round, and, seeing his wife, stood up. He
put the paper he had been holding down on to the table: "Well," he
said, "well, who was it, then?"
He felt rather ashamed of himself; it was he who ought to have
answered the door and done all that parleying of which he had heard
And then in a moment his wife's hand shot out, and the ten sovereigns
fell in a little clinking heap on the table.
"Look there!" she whispered, with an excited, tearful quiver in her
voice. "Look there, Bunting!"
And Bunting did look there, but with a troubled, frowning gaze.
He was not quick-witted, but at once he jumped to the conclusion
that his wife had just had in a furniture dealer, and that this
ten pounds represented all their nice furniture upstairs. If that
were so, then it was the beginning of the end. That furniture in
the first-floor front had cost—Ellen had reminded him of the fact
bitterly only yesterday—seventeen pounds nine shillings, and
every single item had been a bargain. It was too bad that she had
only got ten pounds for it.
Yet he hadn't the heart to reproach her.
He did not speak as he looked across at her, and meeting that
troubled, rebuking glance, she guessed what it was that he thought
"We've a new lodger!" she cried. "And—and, Bunting? He's quite
the gentleman! He actually offered to pay four weeks in advance, at
two guineas a week."
Bunting moved quickly round the table, and together they stood there,
fascinated by the little heap of gold. "But there's ten sovereigns
here," he said suddenly.
"Yes, the gentleman said I'd have to buy some things for him
to-morrow. And, oh, Bunting, he's so well spoken, I really felt
that—I really felt that—" and then Mrs. Bunting, taking a step
or two sideways, sat down, and throwing her little black apron over
her face burst into gasping sobs.
Bunting patted her back timidly. "Ellen?" he said, much moved by her
agitation, "Ellen? Don't take on so, my dear—"
"I won't," she sobbed, "I—I won't! I'm a fool—I know I am!
But, oh, I didn't think we was ever going to have any luck again!"
And then she told him—or rather tried to tell him—what the
lodger was like. Mrs. Bunting was no hand at talking, but one thing
she did impress on her husband's mind, namely, that Mr. Sleuth was
eccentric, as so many clever people are eccentric—that is, in a
harmless way—and that he must be humoured.
"He says he doesn't want to be waited on much," she said at last
wiping her eyes, "but I can see he will want a good bit of looking
after, all the same, poor gentleman."
And just as the words left her mouth there came the unfamiliar sound
of a loud ring. It was that of the drawing-room bell being pulled
again and again.
Bunting looked at his wife eagerly. "I think I'd better go up, eh,
Ellen?" he said. He felt quite anxious to see their new lodger.
For the matter of that, it would be a relief to be doing something
"Yes," she answered, "you go up! Don't keep him waiting! I wonder
what it is he wants? I said I'd let him know when his supper was
A moment later Bunting came down again. There was an odd smile on
his face. "Whatever d'you think he wanted?" he whispered
mysteriously. And as she said nothing, he went on, "He's asked me
for the loan of a Bible!"
"Well, I don't see anything so out of the way in that," she said
hastily, "'specially if he don't feel well. I'll take it up to him."
And then going to a small table which stood between the two windows,
Mrs. Bunting took off it a large Bible, which had been given to her
as a wedding present by a married lady with whose mother she had
lived for several years.
"He said it would do quite well when you take up his supper," said
Bunting; and, then, "Ellen? He's a queer-looking cove—not like
any gentleman I ever had to do with."
"He is a gentleman," said Mrs. Bunting rather fiercely.
"Oh, yes, that's all right." But still he looked at her doubtfully.
"I asked him if he'd like me to just put away his clothes. But,
Ellen, he said he hadn't got any clothes!"
"No more he hasn't;" she spoke quickly, defensively. "He had the
misfortune to lose his luggage. He's one dishonest folk 'ud take
"Yes, one can see that with half an eye," Bunting agreed.
And then there was silence for a few moments, while Mrs. Bunting
put down on a little bit of paper the things she wanted her husband
to go out and buy for her. She handed him the list, together with
a sovereign. "Be as quick as you can," she said, "for I feel a bit
hungry. I'll be going down now to see about Mr. Sleuth's supper.
He only wants a glass of milk and two eggs. I'm glad I've never
fallen to bad eggs!"
"Sleuth," echoed Bunting, staring at her. "What a queer name!
How d'you spell it—S-l-u-t-h?"
"No," she shot out, "S-l-e—u—t—h."
"Oh," he said doubtfully.
"He said, 'Think of a hound and you'll never forget my name,'"
and Mrs. Bunting smiled.
When he got to the door, Bunting turned round: "We'll now be able
to pay young Chandler back some o' that thirty shillings. I am
glad." She nodded; her heart, as the saying is, too full for words.
And then each went about his and her business—Bunting out into
the drenching fog, his wife down to her cold kitchen.
The lodger's tray was soon ready; everything upon it nicely and
daintily arranged. Mrs. Bunting knew how to wait upon a gentleman.
Just as the landlady was going up the kitchen stair, she suddenly
remembered Mr. Sleuth's request for a Bible. Putting the tray down
in the hall, she went into her sitting-room and took up the Book;
but when back in the hall she hesitated a moment as to whether it
was worth while to make two journeys. But, no, she thought she
could manage; clasping the large, heavy volume under her arm, and
taking up the tray, she walked slowly up the staircase.
But a great surprise awaited her; in fact, when Mr. Sleuth's
landlady opened the door of the drawing-room she very nearly dropped
the tray. She actually did drop the Bible, and it fell with a heavy
thud to the ground.
The new lodger had turned all those nice framed engravings of the
early Victorian beauties, of which Mrs. Bunting had been so proud,
with their faces to the wall!
For a moment she was really too surprised to speak. Putting the
tray down on the table, she stooped and picked up the Book. It
troubled her that the Book should have fallen to the ground; but
really she hadn't been able to help it—it was mercy that the
tray hadn't fallen, too.
Mr. Sleuth got up. "I—I have taken the liberty to arrange the
room as I should wish it to be," he said awkwardly. "You see,
Mrs.—er—Bunting, I felt as I sat here that these women's eyes
followed me about. It was a most unpleasant sensation, and gave
me quite an eerie feeling."
The landlady was now laying a small tablecloth over half of the
table. She made no answer to her lodger's remark, for the good
reason that she did not know what to say.
Her silence seemed to distress Mr. Sleuth. After what seemed a
long pause, he spoke again.
"I prefer bare walls, Mrs. Bunting," he spoke with some agitation.
"As a matter of fact, I have been used to seeing bare walls about
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
"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
"Very true, sir." And then Mrs. Bunting, having laid out what really
looked a very appetising little meal, turned round and quietly shut
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
She went slowly, reluctantly to the door. And then her face cleared,
for it was that good young chap, Joe Chandler, who stood waiting
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
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.
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
"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
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?" 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
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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:
"The AVENGER Murders"
But, oh, how glad she was to see the words that followed:
"Up to the time of going to press there is little new to report
concerning the extraordinary series of crimes which are amazing,
and, indeed, staggering not only London, but the whole civilised
world, and which would seem to be the work of some woman-hating
teetotal fanatic. Since yesterday morning, when the last of these
dastardly murders was committed, no reliable clue to the perpetrator,
or perpetrators, has been obtained, though several arrests were made
in the course of the day. In every case, however, those arrested
were able to prove a satisfactory alibi."
And then, a little lower down:
"The excitement grows and grows. It is not too much to say that
even a stranger to London would know that something very unusual
was in the air. As for the place where the murder was committed
"Last night!" thought Mrs. Bunting, startled; and then she realised
that "last night," in this connection, meant the night before last.
She began the sentence again:
"As for the place where the murder was committed last night, all
approaches to it were still blocked up to a late hour by hundreds
of onlookers, though, of course, nothing now remains in the way of
traces of the tragedy."
Slowly and carefully Mrs. Bunting folded the paper up again in its
original creases, and then she stooped and put it back down on the
mat where she had found it. She then turned out the gas, and going
back into bed she lay down by her still sleeping husband.
"Anything the matter?" Bunting murmured, and stirred uneasily.
"Anything the matter, Ellen?"
She answered in a whisper, a whisper thrilling with a strange
gladness, "No, nothing, Bunting—nothing the matter! Go to sleep
again, my dear."
They got up an hour later, both in a happy, cheerful mood. Bunting
rejoiced at the thought of his daughter's coming, and even Daisy's
stepmother told herself that it would be pleasant having the girl
about the house to help her a bit.
About ten o'clock Bunting went out to do some shopping. He brought
back with him a nice little bit of pork for Daisy's dinner, and
three mince-pies. He even remembered to get some apples for the
Just as twelve was striking a four-wheeler drew up to the gate.
It brought Daisy—pink-cheeked, excited, laughing-eyed Daisy—a
sight to gladden any father's heart.
"Old Aunt said I was to have a cab if the weather was bad," she
cried out joyously.
There was a bit of a wrangle over the fare. King's Cross, as all
the world knows, is nothing like two miles from the Marylebone Road,
but the man clamoured for one and sixpence, and hinted darkly that
he had done the young lady a favour in bringing her at all.
While he and Bunting were having words, Daisy, leaving them to it,
walked up the flagged path to the door where her stepmother was
As they were exchanging a rather frigid kiss, indeed, 'twas a mere
peck on Mrs. Bunting's part, there fell, with startling suddenness,
loud cries on the still, cold air. Long-drawn and wailing, they
sounded strangely sad as they rose and fell across the distant roar
of traffic in the Edgware Road.
"What's that?" exclaimed Bunting wonderingly. "Why, whatever's
The cabman lowered his voice. "Them's 'a-crying out that 'orrible
affair at King's Cross. He's done for two of 'em this time! That's
what I meant when I said I might 'a got a better fare. I wouldn't
say nothink before little missy there, but folk 'ave been coming
from all over London the last five or six hours; plenty of toffs,
too—but there, there's nothing to see now!"
"What? Another woman murdered last night?"
Bunting felt tremendously thrilled. What had the five thousand
constables been about to let such a dreadful thing happen?
The cabman stared at him, surprised. "Two of 'em, I tell yer—
within a few yards of one another. He 'ave—got a nerve—But,
of course, they was drunk. He are got a down on the drink!"
"Have they caught him?" asked Bunting perfunctorily.
"Lord, no! They'll never catch 'im! It must 'ave happened hours
and hours ago—they was both stone cold. One each end of a little
passage what ain't used no more. That's why they didn't find 'em
The hoarse cries were coming nearer and nearer—two news vendors
trying to outshout each other.
"'Orrible discovery near King's Cross!" they yelled exultingly.
"The Avenger again!"
And Bunting, with his daughter's large straw hold-all in his hand,
ran forward into the roadway and recklessly gave a boy a penny for
a halfpenny paper.
He felt very much moved and excited. Somehow his acquaintance with
young Joe Chandler made these murders seem a personal affair. He
hoped that Chandler would come in soon and tell them all about it,
as he had done yesterday morning when he, Bunting, had unluckily
As he walked back into the little hall, he heard Daisy's voice—
high, voluble, excited—giving her stepmother a long account of
the scarlet fever case, and how at first Old Aunt's neighbours had
thought it was not scarlet fever at all, but just nettlerash.
But as Bunting pushed open the door of the sitting-room, there
came a note of sharp alarm in his daughter's voice, and he heard
her cry, "Why, Ellen, whatever is the matter? You do look bad!"
and his wife's muffled answer, "Open the window—do."
"'Orrible discovery near King's Cross—a clue at last!" yelled
the newspaper-boys triumphantly.
And then, helplessly, Mrs. Bunting began to laugh. She laughed,
and laughed, and laughed, rocking herself to and fro as if in an
ecstasy of mirth.
"Why, father, whatever's the matter with her?"
Daisy looked quite scared.
"She's in 'sterics—that's what it is," he said shortly.
"I'll just get the water-jug. Wait a minute!"
Bunting felt very put out. Ellen was ridiculous—that's what she
was, to be so easily upset.
The lodger's bell suddenly pealed through the quiet house. Either
that sound, or maybe the threat of the water-jug, had a magical
effect on Mrs. Bunting. She rose to her feet, still shaking all
over, but mentally composed.
"I'll go up," she said a little chokingly. "As for you, child,
just run down into the kitchen. You'll find a piece of pork
roasting in the oven. You might start paring the apples for the
As Mrs. Bunting went upstairs her legs felt as if they were made
of cotton wool. She put out a trembling hand, and clutched at the
banister for support. But soon, making a great effort over herself,
she began to feel more steady; and after waiting for a few moments
on the landing, she knocked at the door of the drawing-room.
Mr. Sleuth's voice answered her from the bedroom. "I'm not well,"
he called out querulously; "I think I've caught a chill. I should
be obliged if you would kindly bring me up a cup of tea, and put it
outside my door, Mrs. Bunting."
"Very well, sir."
Mrs. Bunting turned and went downstairs. She still felt queer and
giddy, so instead of going into the kitchen, she made the lodger his
cup of tea over her sitting-room gas-ring.
During their midday dinner the husband and wife had a little
discussion as to where Daisy should sleep. It had been settled
that a bed should be made up for her in the top back room, but
Mrs. Bunting saw reason to change this plan. "I think 'twould be
better if Daisy were to sleep with me, Bunting, and you was to
Bunting felt and looked rather surprised, but he acquiesced. Ellen
was probably right; the girl would be rather lonely up there, and,
after all, they didn't know much about the lodger, though he seemed
a respectable gentleman enough.
Daisy was a good-natured girl; she liked London, and wanted to make
herself useful to her stepmother. "I'll wash up; don't you bother to
come downstairs," she said cheerfully.
Bunting began to walk up and down the room. His wife gave him a
furtive glance; she wondered what he was thinking about.
"Didn't you get a paper?" she said at last.
"Yes, of course I did," he answered hastily. "But I've put it away.
I thought you'd rather not look at it, as you're that nervous."
Again she glanced at him quickly, furtively, but he seemed just as
usual—he evidently meant just what he said and no more.
"I thought they was shouting something in the street—I mean just
before I was took bad."
It was now Bunting's turn to stare at his wife quickly and rather
furtively. He had felt sure that her sudden attack of queerness,
of hysterics—call it what you might—had been due to the shouting
outside. She was not the only woman in London who had got the
Avenger murders on her nerves. His morning paper said quite a lot
of women were afraid to go out alone. Was it possible that the
curious way she had been taken just now had had nothing to do with
the shouts and excitement outside?
"Don't you know what it was they were calling out?" he asked slowly.
Mrs. Bunting looked across at him. She would have given a very
great deal to be able to lie, to pretend that she did not know what
those dreadful cries had portended. But when it came to the point
she found she could not do so.
"Yes," she said dully. "I heard a word here and there. There's
been another murder, hasn't there?"
"Two other murders," he said soberly.
"Two? That's worse news!" She turned so pale—a sallow
greenish-white—that Bunting thought she was again going queer.
"Ellen?" he said warningly, "Ellen, now do have a care! I can't
think what's come over you about these murders. Turn your mind
away from them, do! We needn't talk about them—not so much,
"But I wants to talk about them," cried Mrs. Bunting hysterically.
The husband and wife were standing, one each side of the table,
the man with his back to the fire, the woman with her back to the
Bunting, staring across at his wife, felt sadly perplexed and
disturbed. She really did seem ill; even her slight, spare figure
looked shrunk. For the first time, so he told himself ruefully,
Ellen was beginning to look her full age. Her slender hands—she
had kept the pretty, soft white hands of the woman who has never
done rough work—grasped the edge of the table with a convulsive
Bunting didn't at all like the look of her. "Oh, dear," he said
to himself, "I do hope Ellen isn't going to be ill! That would be
a to-do just now."
"Tell me about it," she commanded, in a low voice. "Can't you see
I'm waiting to hear? Be quick now, Bunting!"
"There isn't very much to tell," he said reluctantly. "There's
precious little in this paper, anyway. But the cabman what brought
Daisy told me—"
"What I said just now. There's two of 'em this time, and they'd
both been drinking heavily, poor creatures."
"Was it where the others was done?" she asked looking at her husband
"No," he said awkwardly. "No, it wasn't, Ellen. It was a good bit
farther West—in fact, not so very far from here. Near King's Cross
—that's how the cabman knew about it, you see. They seems to have
been done in a passage which isn't used no more." And then, as he
thought his wife's eyes were beginning to look rather funny, he added
hastily. "There, that's enough for the present! We shall soon be
hearing a lot more about it from Joe Chandler. He's pretty sure to
come in some time to-day."
"Then the five thousand constables weren't no use?" said Mrs.
She had relaxed her grip of the table, and was standing more
"No use at all," said Bunting briefly. "He is artful and no mistake
about it. But wait a minute—" he turned and took up the paper
which he had laid aside, on a chair. "Yes they says here that they
has a clue."
"A clue, Bunting?" Mrs. Bunting spoke in a soft, weak, die-away
voice, and again, stooping somewhat, she grasped the edge of the
But her husband was not noticing her now. He was holding the paper
close up to his eyes, and he read from it, in a tone of considerable
"'It is gratifying to be able to state that the police at last
believe they are in possession of a clue which will lead to the
arrest of the—'" and then Bunting dropped the paper and rushed
round the table.
His wife, with a curious sighing moan, had slipped down on to the
floor, taking with her the tablecloth as she went. She lay there
in what appeared to be a dead faint. And Bunting, scared out of
his wits, opened the door and screamed out, "Daisy! Daisy! Come
up, child. Ellen's took bad again."
And Daisy, hurrying in, showed an amount of sense and resource
which even at this anxious moment roused her fond father's
"Get a wet sponge, Dad—quick!" she cried, "a sponge,—and, if
you've got such a thing, a drop o' brandy. I'll see after her!"
And then, after he had got the little medicine flask, "I can't think
what's wrong with Ellen," said Daisy wonderingly. "She seemed quite
all right when I first came in. She was listening, interested-like,
to what I was telling her, and then, suddenly—well, you saw how
she was took, father? 'Tain't like Ellen this, is it now?"
"No," he whispered. "No, 'tain't. But you see, child, we've been
going through a pretty bad time—worse nor I should ever have let
you know of, my dear. Ellen's just feeling it now—that's what it
is. She didn't say nothing, for Ellen's a good plucked one, but
it's told on her—it's told on her!"
And then Mrs. Bunting, sitting up, slowly opened her eyes, and
instinctively put her hand up to her head to see if her hair was
She hadn't really been quite "off." It would have been better for
her if she had. She had simply had an awful feeling that she
couldn't stand up—more, that she must fall down. Bunting's words
touched a most unwonted chord in the poor woman's heart, and the
eyes which she opened were full of tears. She had not thought her
husband knew how she had suffered during those weeks of starving
But she had a morbid dislike of any betrayal of sentiment. To her
such betrayal betokened "foolishness," and so all she said was,
"There's no need to make a fuss! I only turned over a little queer.
I never was right off, Daisy."
Pettishly she pushed away the glass in which Bunting had hurriedly
poured a little brandy. "I wouldn't touch such stuff—no, not if
I was dying!" she exclaimed.
Putting out a languid hand, she pulled herself up, with the help of
the table, on to her feet. "Go down again to the kitchen, child";
but there was a sob, a kind of tremor in her voice.
"You haven't been eating properly, Ellen—that's what's the matter
with you," said Bunting suddenly. "Now I come to think of it, you
haven't eat half enough these last two days. I always did say—in
old days many a time I telled you—that a woman couldn't live on
air. But there, you never believed me!"
Daisy stood looking from one to the other, a shadow over her bright,
pretty face. "I'd no idea you'd had such a bad time, father," she
said feelingly. "Why didn't you let me know about it? I might have
got something out of Old Aunt."
"We didn't want anything of that sort," said her stepmother hastily.
"But of course—well, I expect I'm still feeling the worry now. I
don't seem able to forget it. Those days of waiting, of—of—"
she restrained herself; another moment and the word "starving" would
have left her lips.
"But everything's all right now," said Bunting eagerly, "all right,
thanks to Mr. Sleuth, that is."
"Yes," repeated his wife, in a low, strange tone of voice. "Yes,
we're all right now, and as you say, Bunting, it's all along of
She walked across to a chair and sat down on it. "I'm just a little
tottery still," she muttered.
And Daisy, looking at her, turned to her father and said in a
whisper, but not so low but that Mrs. Bunting heard her, "Don't you
think Ellen ought to see a doctor, father? He might give her
something that would pull her round."
"I won't see no doctor!" said Mrs. Bunting with sudden emphasis. "I
saw enough of doctors in my last place. Thirty-eight doctors in ten
months did my poor missis have. Just determined on having 'em she
was! Did they save her? No! She died just the same! Maybe a bit
"She was a freak, was your last mistress, Ellen," began Bunting
Ellen had insisted on staying on in that place till her poor mistress
died. They might have been married some months before they were
married but for that fact. Bunting had always resented it.
His wife smile wanly. "We won't have no words about that," she said,
and again she spoke in a softer, kindlier tone than usual. "Daisy?
If you won't go down to the kitchen again, then I must"—she turned
to her stepdaughter, and the girl flew out of the room.
"I think the child grows prettier every minute," said Bunting fondly.
"Folks are too apt to forget that beauty is but skin deep," said his
wife. She was beginning to feel better. "But still, I do agree,
Bunting, that Daisy's well enough. And she seems more willing, too."
"I say, we mustn't forget the lodger's dinner," Bunting spoke
uneasily. "It's a bit of fish to-day, isn't it? Hadn't I better
just tell Daisy to see to it, and then I can take it up to him, as
you're not feeling quite the thing, Ellen?"
"I'm quite well enough to take up Mr. Sleuth's luncheon," she said
quickly. It irritated her to hear her husband speak of the lodger's
dinner. They had dinner in the middle of the day, but Mr. Sleuth
had luncheon. However odd he might be, Mrs. Bunting never forgot
her lodger was a gentleman.
"After all, he likes me to wait on him, doesn't he? I can manage
all right. Don't you worry," she added after a long pause.
Perhaps because his luncheon was served to him a good deal later
than usual, Mr. Sleuth ate his nice piece of steamed sole upstairs
with far heartier an appetite than his landlady had eaten her nice
slice of roast pork downstairs.
"I hope you're feeling a little better, sir," Mrs. Bunting had forced
herself to say when she first took in his tray.
And he had answered plaintively, querulously, "No, I can't say I
feel well to-day, Mrs. Bunting. I am tired—very tired. And as I
lay in bed I seemed to hear so many sounds—so much crying and
shouting. I trust the Marylebone Road is not going to become a noisy
thoroughfare, Mrs. Bunting?"
"Oh, no, sir, I don't think that. We're generally reckoned very
quiet indeed, sir."
She waited a moment—try as she would, she could not allude to what
those unwonted shouts and noises had betokened. "I expect you've
got a chill, sir," she said suddenly. "If I was you, I shouldn't
go out this afternoon; I'd just stay quietly indoors. There's a lot
of rough people about—" Perhaps there was an undercurrent of
warning, of painful pleading, in her toneless voice which penetrated
in some way to the brain of the lodger, for Mr. Sleuth looked up, and
an uneasy, watchful look came into his luminous grey eyes.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Bunting. But I think I'll take your
advice. That is, I will stay quietly at home, I am never at a loss
to know what to do with myself so long as I can study the Book of
"Then you're not afraid about your eyes, sir?" said Mrs. Bunting
curiously. Somehow she was beginning to feel better. It comforted
her to be up here, talking to Mr. Sleuth, instead of thinking about
him downstairs. It seemed to banish the terror which filled her
soul—aye, and her body, too—at other times. When she was with
him Mr. Sleuth was so gentle, so reasonable, so—so grateful.
Poor kindly, solitary Mr. Sleuth! This kind of gentleman surely
wouldn't hurt a fly, let alone a human being. Eccentric—so much
must be admitted. But Mrs. Bunting had seen a good deal of eccentric
folk, eccentric women rather than eccentric men, in her long career
as useful maid.
Being at ordinary times an exceptionally sensible, well-balanced
woman, she had never, in old days, allowed her mind to dwell on
certain things she had learnt as to the aberrations of which human
nature is capable—even well-born, well-nurtured, gentle human
nature—as exemplified in some of the households where she had
served. It would, indeed, be unfortunate if she now became morbid
So it was in a sharp, cheerful voice, almost the voice in which she
had talked during the first few days of Mr. Sleuth's stay in her
house, that she exclaimed, "Well, sir, I'll be up again to clear
away in about half an hour. And if you'll forgive me for saying so,
I hope you will stay in and have a rest to-day. Nasty, muggy weather
—that's what it is! If there's any little thing you want, me or
Bunting can go out and get it."
It must have been about four o'clock when there came a ring at the
The three were sitting chatting together, for Daisy had washed up
—she really was saving her stepmother a good bit of trouble—and
the girl was now amusing her elders by a funny account of Old Aunt's
"Whoever can that be?" said Bunting, looking up. "It's too early
for Joe Chandler, surely."
"I'll go," said his wife, hurriedly jumping up from her chair.
"I'll go! We don't want no strangers in here."
And as she stepped down the short bit of passage she said to herself,
"A clue? What clue?"
But when she opened the front door a glad sigh of relief broke from
her. "Why, Joe? We never thought 'twas you! But you're very
welcome, I'm sure. Come in."
And Chandler came in, a rather sheepish look on his good-looking,
fair young face.
"I thought maybe that Mr. Bunting would like to know—" he began,
in a loud, cheerful voice, and Mrs. Bunting hurriedly checked him.
She didn't want the lodger upstairs to hear what young Chandler
might be going to say.
"Don't talk so loud," she said a little sharply. "The lodger is
not very well to-day. He's had a cold," she added hastily, "and
during the last two or three days he hasn't been able to go out."
She wondered at her temerity, her—her hypocrisy, and that moment,
those few words, marked an epoch in Ellen Bunting's life. It was
the first time she had told a bold and deliberate lie. She was
one of those women—there are many, many such—to whom there is
a whole world of difference between the suppression of the truth
and the utterance of an untruth.
But Chandler paid no heed to her remarks. "Has Miss Daisy arrived?"
he asked, in a lower voice.
She nodded. And then he went through into the room where the father
and daughter were sitting.
"Well?" said Bunting, starting up. "Well, Joe? Now you can tell
us all about that mysterious clue. I suppose it'd be too good news
to expect you to tell us they've caught him?"
"No fear of such good news as that yet awhile. If they'd caught
him," said Joe ruefully, "well, I don't suppose I should be here,
Mr. Bunting. But the Yard are circulating a description at last.
And—well, they've found his weapon!"
"No?" cried Bunting excitedly. "You don't say so! Whatever sort
of a thing is it? And are they sure 'tis his?"
"Well, 'tain't sure, but it seems to be likely."
Mrs. Bunting had slipped into the room and shut the door behind her.
But she was still standing with her back against the door, looking
at the group in front of her. None of them were thinking of her
—she thanked God for that! She could hear everything that was
said without joining in the talk and excitement.
"Listen to this!" cried Joe Chandler exultantly. "'Tain't given
out yet—not for the public, that is—but we was all given it by
eight o'clock this morning. Quick work that, eh?" He read out:
A man, of age approximately 28, slight in figure, height
approximately 5 ft. 8 in. Complexion dark. No beard or
whiskers. Wearing a black diagonal coat, hard felt hat, high
white collar, and tie. Carried a newspaper parcel. Very
Mrs. Bunting walked forward. She gave a long, fluttering sigh of
"There's the chap!" said Joe Chandler triumphantly. "And now, Miss
Daisy"—he turned to her jokingly, but there was a funny little
tremor in his frank, cheerful-sounding voice—"if you knows of any
nice, likely young fellow that answers to that description—well,
you've only got to walk in and earn your reward of five hundred
"Five hundred pounds!" cried Daisy and her father simultaneously.
"Yes. That's what the Lord Mayor offered yesterday. Some private
bloke—nothing official about it. But we of the Yard is barred
from taking that reward, worse luck. And it's too bad, for we has
all the trouble, after all."
"Just hand that bit of paper over, will you?" said Bunting. "I'd
like to con it over to myself."
Chandler threw over the bit of flimsy.
A moment later Bunting looked up and handed it back. "Well, it's
clear enough, isn't it?"
"Yes. And there's hundreds—nay, thousands—of young fellows
that might be a description of," said Chandler sarcastically. "As
a pal of mine said this morning, 'There isn't a chap will like to
carry a newspaper parcel after this.' And it won't do to have a
Daisy's voice rang out in merry, pealing laughter. She greatly
appreciated Mr. Chandler's witticism.
"Why on earth didn't the people who saw him try and catch him?"
asked Bunting suddenly.
And Mrs. Bunting broke in, in a lower voice, "Yes, Joe—that seems
odd, don't it?"
Joe Chandler coughed. "Well, it's this way," he said. "No one
person did see all that. The man who's described here is just made
up from the description of two different folk who think they saw
him. You see, the murders must have taken place—well, now, let
me see—perhaps at two o'clock this last time. Two o'clock—
that's the idea. Well, at such a time as that not many people are
about, especially on a foggy night. Yes, one woman declares she
saw a young chap walking away from the spot where 'twas done; and
another one—but that was a good bit later—says The Avenger
passed by her. It's mostly her they're following in this 'ere
description. And then the boss who has charge of that sort of
thing looked up what other people had said—I mean when the other
crimes was committed. That's how he made up this 'Wanted.'"
"Then The Avenger may be quite a different sort of man?" said
Bunting slowly, disappointedly.
"Well, of course he may be. But, no; I think that description
fits him all right," said Chandler; but he also spoke in a
"You was saying, Joe, that they found a weapon?" observed Bunting
He was glad that Ellen allowed the discussion to go on—in fact,
that she even seemed to take an intelligent interest in it. She
had come up close to them, and now looked quite her old self again.
"Yes. They believe they've found the weapon what he does his awful
deeds with," said Chandler. "At any rate, within a hundred yards
of that little dark passage where they found the bodies—one at
each end, that was—there was discovered this morning a very
peculiar kind o' knife—'keen as a razor, pointed as a dagger'—
that's the exact words the boss used when he was describing it to
a lot of us. He seemed to think a lot more of that clue than of
the other—I mean than of the description people gave of the chap
who walked quickly by with a newspaper parcel. But now there's a
pretty job in front of us. Every shop where they sell or might a'
sold, such a thing as that knife, including every eating-house in
the East End, has got to be called at!"
"Whatever for?" asked Daisy.
"Why, with an idea of finding out if anyone saw such a knife fooling
about there any time, and, if so, in whose possession it was at the
time. But, Mr. Bunting"—Chandler's voice changed; it became
businesslike, official—"they're not going to say anything about
that—not in newspapers—till to-morrow, so don't you go and
tell anybody. You see, we don't want to frighten the fellow off.
If he knew they'd got his knife—well, he might just make himself
scarce, and they don't want that! If it's discovered that any knife
of that kind was sold, say a month ago, to some customer whose ways
are known, then—then—"
"What'll happen then?" said Mrs. Bunting, coming nearer.
"Well, then, nothing'll be put about it in the papers at all," said
Chandler deliberately. "The only objec' of letting the public know
about it would be if nothink was found—I mean if the search of
the shops, and so on, was no good. Then, of course, we must try
and find out someone—some private person-like, who's watched that
knife in the criminal's possession. It's there the reward—the
five hundred pounds will come in."
"Oh, I'd give anything to see that knife!" exclaimed Daisy, clasping
her hands together.
"You cruel, bloodthirsty, girl!" cried her stepmother passionately.
They all looked round at her, surprised.
"Come, come, Ellen!" said Bunting reprovingly.
"Well, it is a horrible idea!" said his wife sullenly. "To go and
sell a fellow-being for five hundred pounds."
But Daisy was offended. "Of course I'd like to see it!" she cried
defiantly. "I never said nothing about the reward. That was Mr.
Chandler said that! I only said I'd like to see the knife."
Chandler looked at her soothingly. "Well, the day may come when
you will see it," he said slowly.
A great idea had come into his mind.
"No! What makes you think that?"
"If they catches him, and if you comes along with me to see our
Black Museum at the Yard, you'll certainly see the knife, Miss Daisy.
They keeps all them kind of things there. So if, as I say, this
weapon should lead to the conviction of The Avenger—well, then,
that knife 'ull be there, and you'll see it!"
"The Black Museum? Why, whatever do they have a museum in your
place for?" asked Daisy wonderingly. "I thought there was only the
And then even Mrs. Bunting, as well as Bunting and Chandler,
"You are a goosey girl!" said her father fondly. "Why, there's a
lot of museums in London; the town's thick with 'em. Ask Ellen
there. She and me used to go to them kind of places when we was
courting—if the weather was bad."
"But our museum's the one that would interest Miss Daisy," broke in
Chandler eagerly. "It's a regular Chamber of 'Orrors!"
"Why, Joe, you never told us about that place before," said Bunting
excitedly. "D'you really mean that there's a museum where they
keeps all sorts of things connected with crimes? Things like knives
murders have been committed with?"
"Knives?" cried Joe, pleased at having become the centre of
attention, for Daisy had also fixed her blue eyes on him, and even
Mrs. Bunting looked at him expectantly. "Much more than knives, Mr.
Bunting! Why, they've got there, in little bottles, the real poison
what people have been done away with."
"And can you go there whenever you like?" asked Daisy wonderingly.
She had not realised before what extraordinary and agreeable
privileges are attached to the position of a detective member of
the London Police Force.
"Well, I suppose I could—" Joe smiled. "Anyway I can certainly
get leave to take a friend there." He looked meaningly at Daisy,
and Daisy looked eagerly at him.
But would Ellen ever let her go out by herself with Mr. Chandler?
Ellen was so prim, so—so irritatingly proper. But what was this
father was saying? "D'you really mean that, Joe?"
"Yes, of course I do!"
"Well, then, look here! If it isn't asking too much of a favour, I
should like to go along there with you very much one day. I don't
want to wait till The Avenger's caught"—Bunting smiled broadly.
"I'd be quite content as it is with what there is in that museum
o' yours. Ellen, there,"—he looked across at his wife—"don't
agree with me about such things. Yet I don't think I'm a
bloodthirsty man! But I'm just terribly interested in all that sort
of thing—always have been. I used to positively envy the butler
in that Balham Mystery!"
Again a look passed between Daisy and the young man—it was a look
which contained and carried a great many things backwards and
forwards, such as—"Now, isn't it funny that your father should
want to go to such a place? But still, I can't help it if he does
want to go, so we must put up with his company, though it would
have been much nicer for us to go just by our two selves." And
then Daisy's look answered quite as plainly, though perhaps Joe
didn't read her glance quite as clearly as she had read his: "Yes,
it is tiresome. But father means well; and 'twill be very pleasant
going there, even if he does come too."
"Well, what d'you say to the day after to-morrow, Mr. Bunting? I'd
call for you here about—shall we say half-past two?—and just
take you and Miss Daisy down to the Yard. 'Twouldn't take very
long; we could go all the way by bus, right down to Westminster
Bridge." He looked round at his hostess: "Wouldn't you join us,
Mrs. Bunting? 'Tis truly a wonderful interesting place."
But his hostess shook her head decidedly. "'Twould turn me sick,"
she exclaimed, "to see the bottle of poison what had done away with
the life of some poor creature!
"And as for knives—!" a look of real horror, of startled fear,
crept over her pale face.
"There, there!" said Bunting hastily. "Live and let live—that's
what I always say. Ellen ain't on in this turn. She can just
stay at home and mind the cat—I beg his pardon, I mean the lodger!"
"I won't have Mr. Sleuth laughed at," said Mrs. Bunting darkly.
"But there! I'm sure it's very kind of you, Joe, to think of giving
Bunting and Daisy such a rare treat"—she spoke sarcastically, but
none of the three who heard her understood that.
The moment she passed though the great arched door which admits the
stranger to that portion of New Scotland Yard where throbs the heart
of that great organism which fights the forces of civilised crime,
Daisy Bunting felt that she had indeed become free of the Kingdom of
Romance. Even the lift in which the three of them were whirled up
to one of the upper floors of the huge building was to the girl a
new and delightful experience. Daisy had always lived a simple,
quiet life in the little country town where dwelt Old Aunt and this
was the first time a lift had come her way.
With a touch of personal pride in the vast building, Joe Chandler
marched his friends down a wide, airy corridor.
Daisy clung to her father's arm, a little bewildered, a little
oppressed by her good fortune. Her happy young voice was
stilled by the awe she felt at the wonderful place where she
found herself, and by the glimpses she caught of great rooms full
of busy, silent men engaged in unravelling—or so she supposed
—the mysteries of crime.
They were passing a half-open door when Chandler suddenly stopped
short. "Look in there," he said, in a low voice, addressing the
father rather than the daughter, "that's the Finger-Print Room.
We've records here of over two hundred thousand men's and women's
finger-tips! I expect you know, Mr. Bunting, as how, once we've got
the print of a man's five finger-tips, well, he's done for—if he
ever does anything else, that is. Once we've got that bit of him
registered he can't never escape us—no, not if he tries ever so.
But though there's nigh on a quarter of a million records in there,
yet it don't take—well, not half an hour, for them to tell
whether any particular man has ever been convicted before! Wonderful
thought, ain't it?"
"Wonderful!" said Bunting, drawing a deep breath. And then a
troubled look came over his stolid face. "Wonderful, but also a
very fearful thought for the poor wretches as has got their
finger-prints in, Joe."
Joe laughed. "Agreed!" he said. "And the cleverer ones knows that
only too well. Why, not long ago, one man who knew his record was
here safe, managed to slash about his fingers something awful, just
so as to make a blurred impression—you takes my meaning? But
there, at the end of six weeks the skin grew all right again, and
in exactly the same little creases as before!"
"Poor devil!" said Bunting under his breath, and a cloud even came
over Daisy's bright eager face.
They were now going along a narrower passage, and then again they
came to a half-open door, leading into a room far smaller than
that of the Finger-Print Identification Room.
"If you'll glance in there," said Joe briefly, "you'll see how we
finds out all about any man whose finger-tips has given him away, so
to speak. It's here we keeps an account of what he's done, his
previous convictions, and so on. His finger-tips are where I told
you, and his record in there—just connected by a number."
"Wonderful!" said Bunting, drawing in his breath. But Daisy was
longing to get on—to get to the Black Museum. All this that Joe
and her father were saying was quite unreal to her, and, for the
matter of that not worth taking the trouble to understand. However,
she had not long to wait.
A broad-shouldered, pleasant-looking young fellow, who seemed on
very friendly terms with Joe Chandler, came forward suddenly, and,
unlocking a common-place-looking door, ushered the little party of
three through into the Black Museum.
For a moment there came across Daisy a feeling of keen disappointment
and surprise. This big, light room simply reminded her of what they
called the Science Room in the public library of the town where she
lived with Old Aunt. Here, as there, the centre was taken up with
plain glass cases fixed at a height from the floor which enabled
their contents to be looked at closely.
She walked forward and peered into the case nearest the door. The
exhibits shown there were mostly small, shabby-looking little things,
the sort of things one might turn out of an old rubbish cupboard in
an untidy house—old medicine bottles, a soiled neckerchief, what
looked like a child's broken lantern, even a box of pills. . .
As for the walls, they were covered with the queerest-looking
objects; bits of old iron, odd-looking things made of wood and
leather, and so on.
It was really rather disappointing.
Then Daisy Bunting gradually became aware that standing on a shelf
just below the first of the broad, spacious windows which made the
great room look so light and shadowless, was a row of life-size
white plaster heads, each head slightly inclined to the right.
There were about a dozen of these, not more—and they had such odd,
staring, helpless, real-looking faces.
"Whatever's those?" asked Bunting in a low voice.
Daisy clung a thought closer to her father's arm. Even she guessed
that these strange, pathetic, staring faces were the death-masks of
those men and women who had fulfilled the awful law which ordains
that the murderer shall be, in his turn, done to death.
"All hanged!" said the guardian of the Black Museum briefly. "Casts
taken after death."
Bunting smiled nervously. "They don't look dead somehow. They
looks more as if they were listening," he said.
"That's the fault of Jack Ketch," said the man facetiously. "It's
his idea—that of knotting his patient's necktie under the left
ear! That's what he does to each of the gentlemen to whom he has
to act valet on just one occasion only. It makes them lean just a
bit to one side. You look here—?"
Daisy and her father came a little closer, and the speaker pointed
with his finger to a little dent imprinted on the left side of each
neck; running from this indentation was a curious little furrow,
well ridged above, showing how tightly Jack Ketch's necktie had been
drawn when its wearer was hurried through the gates of eternity.
"They looks foolish-like, rather than terrified, or—or hurt," said
He was extraordinarily moved and fascinated by those dumb, staring
But young Chandler exclaimed in a cheerful, matter-of-fact voice,
"Well, a man would look foolish at such a time as that, with all his
plans brought to naught—and knowing he's only got a second to live
—now wouldn't he?"
"Yes, I suppose he would," said Bunting slowly.
Daisy had gone a little pale. The sinister, breathless atmosphere
of the place was beginning to tell on her. She now began to
understand that the shabby little objects lying there in the glass
case close to her were each and all links in the chain of evidence
which, in almost every case, had brought some guilty man or woman
to the gallows.
"We had a yellow gentleman here the other day," observed the guardian
suddenly; "one of those Brahmins—so they calls themselves. Well,
you'd a been quite surprised to see how that heathen took on! He
declared—what was the word he used?"—he turned to Chandler.
"He said that each of these things, with the exception of the casts,
mind you—queer to say, he left them out—exuded evil, that was
the word he used! Exuded—squeezed out it means. He said that
being here made him feel very bad. And twasn't all nonsense either.
He turned quite green under his yellow skin, and we had to shove him
out quick. He didn't feel better till he'd got right to the other
end of the passage!"
"There now! Who'd ever think of that?" said Bunting. "I should say
that man 'ud got something on his conscience, wouldn't you?"
"Well, I needn't stay now," said Joe's good-natured friend. "You
show your friends round, Chandler. You knows the place nearly as
well as I do, don't you?"
He smiled at Joe's visitors, as if to say good-bye, but it seemed
that he could not tear himself away after all.
"Look here," he said to Bunting. "In this here little case are the
tools of Charles Peace. I expect you've heard of him."
"I should think I have!" cried Bunting eagerly.
"Many gents as comes here thinks this case the most interesting of
all. Peace was such a wonderful man! A great inventor they say he
would have been, had he been put in the way of it. Here's his
ladder; you see it folds up quite compactly, and makes a nice little
bundle—just like a bundle of old sticks any man might have been
seen carrying about London in those days without attracting any
attention. Why, it probably helped him to look like an honest
working man time and time again, for on being arrested he declared
most solemnly he'd always carried that ladder openly under his arm."
"The daring of that!" cried Bunting.
"Yes, and when the ladder was opened out it could reach from the
ground to the second storey of any old house. And, oh! how clever
he was! Just open one section, and you see the other sections open
automatically; so Peace could stand on the ground and force the
thing quietly up to any window he wished to reach. Then he'd go
away again, having done his job, with a mere bundle of old wood
under his arm! My word, he was artful! I wonder if you've heard
the tale of how Peace once lost a finger. Well, he guessed the
constables were instructed to look out for a man missing a finger;
so what did he do?"
"Put on a false finger," suggested Bunting.
"No, indeed! Peace made up his mind just to do without a hand
altogether. Here's his false stump: you see, it's made of wood
—wood and black felt? Well, that just held his hand nicely.
Why, we considers that one of the most ingenious contrivances in
the whole museum."
Meanwhile, Daisy had let go her hold of her father. With Chandler
in delighted attendance, she had moved away to the farther end of
the great room, and now she was bending over yet another glass case.
"Whatever are those little bottles for?" she asked wonderingly.
There were five small phials, filled with varying quantities of
"They're full of poison, Miss Daisy, that's what they are. There's
enough arsenic in that little whack o' brandy to do for you and me
—aye, and for your father as well, I should say."
"Then chemists shouldn't sell such stuff," said Daisy, smiling.
Poison was so remote from herself, that the sight of these little
bottles only brought a pleasant thrill.
"No more they don't. That was sneaked out of a flypaper, that was.
Lady said she wanted a cosmetic for her complexion, but what she was
really going for was flypapers for to do away with her husband.
She'd got a bit tired of him, I suspect."
"Perhaps he was a horrid man, and deserved to be done away with,"
said Daisy. The idea struck them both as so very comic that they
began to laugh aloud in unison.
"Did you ever hear what a certain Mrs. Pearce did?" asked Chandler,
becoming suddenly serious.
"Oh, yes," said Daisy, and she shuddered a little. "That was the
wicked, wicked woman what killed a pretty little baby and its mother.
They've got her in Madame Tussaud's. But Ellen, she won't let me go
to the Chamber of Horrors. She wouldn't let father take me there
last time I was in London. Cruel of her, I called it. But somehow
I don't feel as if I wanted to go there now, after having been here!"
"Well," said Chandler slowly, "we've a case full of relics of Mrs.
Pearce. But the pram the bodies were found in, that's at Madame
Tussaud's—at least so they claim, I can't say. Now here's something
just as curious, and not near so dreadful. See that man's jacket
"Yes," said Daisy falteringly. She was beginning to feel oppressed,
frightened. She no longer wondered that the Indian gentleman had
been taken queer.
"A burglar shot a man dead who'd disturbed him, and by mistake he
went and left that jacket behind him. Our people noticed that one
of the buttons was broken in two. Well, that don't seem much of a
clue, does it, Miss Daisy? Will you believe me when I tells you
that that other bit of button was discovered, and that it hanged
the fellow? And 'twas the more wonderful because all three buttons
Daisy stared wonderingly, down at the little broken button which
had hung a man. "And whatever's that!" she asked, pointing to a
piece of dirty-looking stuff.
"Well," said Chandler reluctantly, "that's rather a horrible thing
—that is. That's a bit o' shirt that was buried with a woman—
buried in the ground, I mean—after her husband had cut her up and
tried, to burn her. 'Twas that bit o' shirt that brought him to the
"I considers your museum's a very horrid place!" said Daisy
pettishly, turning away.
She longed to be out in the passage again, away from this brightly
lighted, cheerful-looking, sinister room.
But her father was now absorbed in the case containing various types
of infernal machines. "Beautiful little works of art some of them
are," said his guide eagerly, and Bunting could not but agree.
"Come along—do, father!" said Daisy quickly. "I've seen about
enough now. If I was to stay in here much longer it 'ud give me
the horrors. I don't want to have no nightmares to-night. It's
dreadful to think there are so many wicked people in the world.
Why, we might knock up against some murderer any minute without
knowing it, mightn't we?"
"Not you, Miss Daisy," said Chandler smilingly. "I don't suppose
you'll ever come across even a common swindler, let alone anyone
who's committed a murder—not one in a million does that. Why,
even I have never had anything to do with a proper murder case!"
But Bunting was in no hurry. He was thoroughly enjoying every
moment of the time. Just now he was studying intently the various
photographs which hung on the walls of the Black Museum; especially
was he pleased to see those connected with a famous and still
mysterious case which had taken place not long before in Scotland,
and in which the servant of the man who died had played a
considerable part—not in elucidating, but in obscuring, the mystery.
"I suppose a good many murderers get off?" he said musingly.
And Joe Chandler's friend nodded. "I should think they did!" he
exclaimed. "There's no such thing as justice here in England.
'Tis odds on the murderer every time. 'Tisn't one in ten that
come to the end he should do—to the gallows, that is."
"And what d'you think about what's going on now—I mean about
those Avenger murders?"
Bunting lowered his voice, but Daisy and Chandler were already
moving towards the door.
"I don't believe he'll ever be caught," said the other
confidentially. "In some ways 'tis a lot more of a job to catch a
madman than 'tis to run down just an ordinary criminal. And, of
course—leastways to my thinking—The Avenger is a madman—one
of the cunning, quiet sort. Have you heard about the letter?" his
voice dropped lower.
"No," said Bunting, staring eagerly at him. "What letter d'you
"Well, there's a letter—it'll be in this museum some day—which
came just before that last double event. 'Twas signed 'The Avenger,'
in just the same printed characters as on that bit of paper he always
leaves behind him. Mind you, it don't follow that it actually was The
Avenger what sent that letter here, but it looks uncommonly like it,
and I know that the Boss attaches quite a lot of importance to it."
"And where was it posted?" asked Bunting. "That might be a bit of a
clue, you know."
"Oh, no," said the other. "They always goes a very long way to
post anything—criminals do. It stands to reason they would. But
this particular one was put in the Edgware Road Post Office."
"What? Close to us?" said Bunting. "Goodness! dreadful!"
"Any of us might knock up against him any minute. I don't suppose
The Avenger's in any way peculiar-looking—in fact we know he ain't."
"Then you think that woman as says she saw him did see him?" asked
"Our description was made up from what she said," answered the other
cautiously. "But, there, you can't tell! In a case like that it's
groping—groping in the dark all the time—and it's just a lucky
accident if it comes out right in the end. Of course, it's upsetting
us all very much here. You can't wonder at that!"
"No, indeed," said Bunting quickly. "I give you my word, I've hardly
thought of anything else for the last month."
Daisy had disappeared, and when her father joined her in the passage
she was listening, with downcast eyes, to what Joe Chandler was
He was telling her about his real home, of the place where his mother
lived, at Richmond—that it was a nice little house, close to the
park. He was asking her whether she could manage to come out there
one afternoon, explaining that his mother would give them tea, and
how nice it would be.
"I don't see why Ellen shouldn't let me," the girl said rebelliously.
"But she's that old-fashioned and pernickety is Ellen—a regular
old maid! And, you see, Mr. Chandler, when I'm staying with them,
father don't like for me to do anything that Ellen don't approve of.
But she's got quite fond of you, so perhaps if you ask her—?"
She looked at him, and he nodded sagely.
"Don't you be afraid," he said confidently. "I'll get round Mrs.
Bunting. But, Miss Daisy"—he grew very red—"I'd just like to
ask you a question—no offence meant—"
"Yes?" said Daisy a little breathlessly. "There's father close to
us, Mr. Chandler. Tell me quick; what is it?"
"Well, I take it, by what you said just now, that you've never
walked out with any young fellow?"
Daisy hesitated a moment; then a very pretty dimple came into her
cheek. "No," she said sadly. "No, Mr. Chandler, that I have not."
In a burst of candour she added, "You see, I never had the chance!"
And Joe Chandler smiled, well pleased.
By what she regarded as a fortunate chance, Mrs. Bunting found
herself for close on an hour quite alone in the house during her
husband's and Daisy's jaunt with young Chandler.
Mr. Sleuth did not often go out in the daytime, but on this
particular afternoon, after he had finished his tea, when dusk was
falling, he suddenly observed that he wanted a new suit of clothes,
and his landlady eagerly acquiesced in his going out to purchase it.
As soon as he had left the house, she went quickly up to the
drawing-room floor. Now had come her opportunity of giving the two
rooms a good dusting; but Mrs. Bunting knew well, deep in her heart,
that it was not so much the dusting of Mr. Sleuth's sitting-room she
wanted to do—as to engage in a vague search for—she hardly knew
During the years she had been in service Mrs. Bunting had always
had a deep, wordless contempt for those of her fellow-servants who
read their employers' private letters, and who furtively peeped
into desks and cupboards in the hope, more vague than positive, of
discovering family skeletons.
But now, with regard to Mr. Sleuth, she was ready, aye, eager, to
do herself what she had once so scorned others for doing.
Beginning with the bedroom, she started on a methodical search. He
was a very tidy gentleman was the lodger, and his few things,
under-garments, and so on, were in apple-pie order. She had early
undertaken, much to his satisfaction, to do the very little bit of
washing he required done, with her own and Bunting's. Luckily he
wore soft shirts.
At one time Mrs. Bunting had always had a woman in to help her with
this tiresome weekly job, but lately she had grown quite clever at
it herself. The only things she had to send out were Bunting's
shirts. Everything else she managed to do herself.
From the chest of drawers she now turned her attention to the
Mr. Sleuth did not take his money with him when he went out, he
generally left it in one of the drawers below the old-fashioned
looking-glass. And now, in a perfunctory way, his landlady pulled
out the little drawer, but she did not touch what was lying there;
she only glanced at the heap of sovereigns and a few bits of silver.
The lodger had taken just enough money with him to buy the clothes
he required. He had consulted her as to how much they would cost,
making no secret of why he was going out, and the fact had vaguely
comforted Mrs. Bunting.
Now she lifted the toilet-cover, and even rolled up the carpet a
little way, but no, there was nothing there, not so much as a scrap
of paper. And at last, when more or less giving up the search, as
she came and went between the two rooms, leaving the connecting door
wide open, her mind became full of uneasy speculation and wonder as
to the lodger's past life.
Odd Mr. Sleuth must surely always have been, but odd in a sensible
sort of way, having on the whole the same moral ideals of conduct
as have other people of his class. He was queer about the drink—one
might say almost crazy on the subject—but there, as to that, he
wasn't the only one! She, Ellen Bunting, had once lived with a
lady who was just like that, who was quite crazed, that is, on the
question of drink and drunkards—She looked round the neat
drawing-room with vague dissatisfaction. There was only one place
where anything could be kept concealed—that place was the
substantial if small mahogany chiffonnier. And then an idea
suddenly came to Mrs. Bunting, one she had never thought of before.
After listening intently for a moment, lest something should suddenly
bring Mr. Sleuth home earlier than she expected, she went to the
corner where the chiffonnier stood, and, exerting the whole of her
not very great physical strength, she tipped forward the heavy piece
As she did so, she heard a queer rumbling sound,—something rolling
about on the second shelf, something which had not been there before
Mr. Sleuth's arrival. Slowly, laboriously, she tipped the chiffonnier
backwards and forwards—once, twice, thrice—satisfied, yet strangely
troubled in her mind, for she now felt sure that the bag of which the
disappearance had so surprised her was there, safely locked away by
Suddenly a very uncomfortable thought came to Mrs. Bunting's mind.
She hoped Mr. Sleuth would not notice that his bag had shifted inside
the cupboard. A moment later, with sharp dismay, Mr. Sleuth's
landlady realised that the fact that she had moved the chiffonnier
must become known to her lodger, for a thin trickle of some
dark-coloured liquid was oozing out though the bottom of the little
She stooped down and touched the stuff. It showed red, bright red,
on her finger.
Mrs. Bunting grew chalky white, then recovered herself quickly. In
fact the colour rushed into her face, and she grew hot all over.
It was only a bottle of red ink she had upset—that was all! How
could she have thought it was anything else?
It was the more silly of her—so she told herself in scornful
condemnation—because she knew that the lodger used red ink.
Certain pages of Cruden's Concordance were covered with notes written
in Mr. Sleuth's peculiar upright handwriting. In fact in some places
you couldn't see the margin, so closely covered was it with remarks
and notes of interrogation.
Mr. Sleuth had foolishly placed his bottle of red ink in the
chiffonnier—that was what her poor, foolish gentleman had done;
and it was owing to her inquisitiveness, her restless wish to know
things she would be none the better, none the happier, for knowing,
that this accident had taken place.
She mopped up with her duster the few drops of ink which had fallen
on the green carpet and then, still feeling, as she angrily told
herself, foolishly upset she went once more into the back room.
It was curious that Mr. Sleuth possessed no notepaper. She would
have expected him to have made that one of his first purchases—the
more so that paper is so very cheap, especially that rather
dirty-looking grey Silurian paper. Mrs. Bunting had once lived with
a lady who always used two kinds of notepaper, white for her friends
and equals, grey for those whom she called "common people." She,
Ellen Green, as she then was, had always resented the fact. Strange
she should remember it now, stranger in a way because that employer
of her's had not been a real lady, and Mr. Sleuth, whatever his
peculiarities, was, in every sense of the word, a real gentleman.
Somehow Mrs. Bunting felt sure that if he had bought any notepaper
it would have been white—white and probably cream-laid—not
grey and cheap.
Again she opened the drawer of the old-fashioned wardrobe and lifted
up the few pieces of underclothing Mr. Sleuth now possessed.
But there was nothing there—nothing, that is, hidden away. When
one came to think of it there seemed something strange in the notion
of leaving all one's money where anyone could take it, and in locking
up such a valueless thing as a cheap sham leather bag, to say nothing
of a bottle of ink.
Mrs. Bunting once more opened out each of the tiny drawers below the
looking-glass, each delicately fashioned of fine old mahogany. Mr.
Sleuth kept his money in the centre drawer.
The glass had only cost seven-and-sixpence, and, after the auction
a dealer had come and offered her first fifteen shillings, and then
a guinea for it. Not long ago, in Baker Street, she had seen a
looking-glass which was the very spit of this one, labeled
"Chippendale, Antique. £21 5s 0d."
There lay Mr. Sleuth's money—the sovereigns, as the landlady well
knew, would each and all gradually pass into her's and Bunting's
possession, honestly earned by them no doubt but unattainable—in
act unearnable—excepting in connection with the present owner of
those dully shining gold sovereigns.
At last she went downstairs to await Mr. Sleuth's return.
When she heard the key turn in the door, she came out into the
"I'm sorry to say I've had an accident, sir," she said a little
breathlessly. "Taking advantage of your being out I went up to
dust the drawing-room, and while I was trying to get behind the
chiffonnier it tilted. I'm afraid, sir, that a bottle of ink that
was inside may have got broken, for just a few drops oozed out,
sir. But I hope there's no harm done. I wiped it up as well as
I could, seeing that the doors of the chiffonnier are locked."
Mr. Sleuth stared at her with a wild, almost a terrified glance.
But Mrs. Bunting stood her ground. She felt far less afraid now
than she had felt before he came in. Then she had been so
frightened that she had nearly gone out of the house, on to the
pavement, for company.
"Of course I had no idea, sir, that you kept any ink in there."
She spoke as if she were on the defensive, and the lodger's brow
"I was aware you used ink, sir," Mrs. Bunting went on, "for I have
seen you marking that book of yours—I mean the book you read
together with the Bible. Would you like me to go out and get you
another bottle, sir?"
"No," said Mr. Sleuth. "No, I thank you. I will at once proceed
upstairs and see what damage has been done. When I require you I
He shuffled past her, and five minutes later the drawing-room bell
At once, from the door, Mrs. Bunting saw that the chiffonnier was
wide open, and that the shelves were empty save for the bottle of
red ink which had turned over and now lay in a red pool of its own
making on the lower shelf.
"I'm afraid it will have stained the wood, Mrs. Bunting. Perhaps I
was ill-advised to keep my ink in there."
"Oh, no, sir! That doesn't matter at all. Only a drop or two fell
out on to the carpet, and they don't show, as you see, sir, for it's
a dark corner. Shall I take the bottle away? I may as well."
Mr. Sleuth hesitated. "No," he said, after a long pause, "I think
not, Mrs. Bunting. For the very little I require it the ink
remaining in the bottle will do quite well, especially if I add a
little water, or better still, a little tea, to what already
remains in the bottle. I only require it to mark up passages which
happen to be of peculiar interest in my Concordance—a work, Mrs.
Bunting, which I should have taken great pleasure in compiling
myself had not this—ah—this gentleman called Cruden, been before."
Not only Bunting, but Daisy also, thought Ellen far pleasanter in
her manner than usual that evening. She listened to all they had
to say about their interesting visit to the Black Museum, and did
not snub either of them—no, not even when Bunting told of the
dreadful, haunting, silly-looking death-masks taken from the hanged.
But a few minutes after that, when her husband suddenly asked her
a question, Mrs. Bunting answered at random. It was clear she had
not heard the last few words he had been saying.
"A penny for your thoughts!" he said jocularly. But she shook her
Daisy slipped out of the room, and, five minutes later, came back
dressed up in a blue-and-white check silk gown.
"My!" said her father. "You do look fine, Daisy. I've never seen
you wearing that before."
"And a rare figure of fun she looks in it!" observed Mrs. Bunting
sarcastically. And then, "I suppose this dressing up means that
you're expecting someone. I should have thought both of you must
have seen enough of young Chandler for one day. I wonder when that
young chap does his work—that I do! He never seems too busy to
come and waste an hour or two here."
But that was the only nasty thing Ellen said all that evening. And
even Daisy noticed that her stepmother seemed dazed and unlike
herself. She went about her cooking and the various little things
she had to do even more silently than was her wont.
Yet under that still, almost sullen, manner, how fierce was the
storm of dread, of sombre anguish, and, yes, of sick suspense,
which shook her soul, and which so far affected her poor, ailing
body that often she felt as if she could not force herself to
accomplish her simple round of daily work.
After they had finished supper Bunting went out and bought a penny
evening paper, but as he came in he announced, with a rather rueful
smile, that he had read so much of that nasty little print this
last week or two that his eyes hurt him.
"Let me read aloud a bit to you, father," said Daisy eagerly, and he
handed her the paper.
Scarcely had Daisy opened her lips when a loud ring and a knock
echoed through the house.
It was only Joe. Somehow, even Bunting called him "Joe" now, and no
longer "Chandler," as he had mostly used to do.
Mrs. Bunting had opened the front door only a very little way.
She wasn't going to have any strangers pushing in past her.
To her sharpened, suffering senses her house had become a citadel
which must be defended; aye, even if the besiegers were a mighty
horde with right on their side. And she was always expecting that
first single spy who would herald the battalion against whom her
only weapon would be her woman's wit and cunning.
But when she saw who stood there smiling at her, the muscles of her
face relaxed, and it lost the tense, anxious, almost agonised look
it assumed the moment she turned her back on her husband and
"Why, Joe," she whispered, for she had left the door open behind
her, and Daisy had already begun to read aloud, as her father had
bidden her. "Come in, do! It's fairly cold to-night."
A glance at his face had shown her that there was no fresh news.
Joe Chandler walked in, past her, into the little hall. Cold?
Well, he didn't feel cold, for he had walked quickly to be the
sooner where he was now.
Nine days had gone by since that last terrible occurrence, the
double murder which had been committed early in the morning of
the day Daisy had arrived in London. And though the thousands of
men belonging to the Metropolitan Police—to say nothing of the
smaller, more alert body of detectives attached to the Force—
were keenly on the alert, not one but had begun to feel that
there was nothing to be alert about. Familiarity, even with
horror, breeds contempt.
But with the public it was far otherwise. Each day something
happened to revive and keep alive the mingled horror and interest
this strange, enigmatic series of crimes had evoked. Even the
more sober organs of the Press went on attacking, with gathering
severity and indignation, the Commissioner of Police; and at the
huge demonstration held in Victoria Park two days before violent
speeches had also been made against the Home Secretary.
But just now Joe Chandler wanted to forget all that. The little
house in the Marylebone Road had become to him an enchanted isle
of dreams, to which his thoughts were ever turning when he had a
moment to spare from what had grown to be a wearisome, because an
unsatisfactory, job. He secretly agreed with one of his pals who
had exclaimed, and that within twenty-four hours of the last double
crime, "Why, 'twould be easier to find a needle in a rick o' hay
And if that had been true then, how much truer it was now—after
nine long, empty days had gone by?
Quickly he divested himself of his great-coat, muffler, and low hat.
Then he put his finger on his lip, and motioned smilingly to Mrs.
Bunting to wait a moment. From where he stood in the hall the
father and daughter made a pleasant little picture of contented
domesticity. Joe Chandler's honest heart swelled at the sight.
Daisy, wearing the blue-and-white check silk dress about which her
stepmother and she had had words, sat on a low stool on the left
side of the fire, while Bunting, leaning back in his own comfortable
arm-chair, was listening, his hand to his ear, in an attitude—as
it was the first time she had caught him doing it, the fact brought
a pang to Mrs. Bunting—which showed that age was beginning to
creep over the listener.
One of Daisy's duties as companion to her great-aunt was that of
reading the newspaper aloud, and she prided herself on her
Just as Joe had put his finger on his lip Daisy had been asking,
"Shall I read this, father?" And Bunting had answered quickly,
"Aye, do, my dear."
He was absorbed in what he was hearing, and, on seeing Joe at the
door, he had only just nodded his head. The young man was becoming
so frequent a visitor as to be almost one of themselves.
Daisy read out:
"The Avenger: A—"
And then she stopped short, for the next word puzzled her greatly.
Bravely, however, she went on. "A the-o-ry."
"Go in—do!" whispered Mrs. Bunting to her visitor. "Why should
we stay out here in the cold? It's ridiculous."
"I don't want to interrupt Miss Daisy," whispered Chandler back,
"Well, you'll hear it all the better in the room. Don't think
she'll stop because of you, bless you! There's nothing shy about
The young man resented the tart, short tone. "Poor little girl!"
he said to himself tenderly. "That's what it is having a stepmother,
instead of a proper mother." But he obeyed Mrs. Bunting, and then
he was pleased he had done so, for Daisy looked up, and a bright
blush came over her pretty face.
"Joe begs you won't stop yet awhile. Go on with your reading,"
commanded Mrs. Bunting quickly. "Now, Joe, you can go and sit over
there, close to Daisy, and then you won't miss a word."
There was a sarcastic inflection in her voice, even Chandler noticed
that, but he obeyed her with alacrity, and crossing the room he went
and sat on a chair just behind Daisy. From there he could note with
reverent delight the charming way her fair hair grew upwards from
the nape of her slender neck.
"The AVENGER: A THE-O-RY"
began Daisy again, clearing her throat.
"DEAR Sir—I have a suggestion to put forward for which I think
there is a great deal to be said. It seems to me very probable
that The Avenger—to give him the name by which he apparently
wishes to be known—comprises in his own person the peculiarities
of Jekyll and Hyde, Mr. Louis Stevenson's now famous hero.
"The culprit, according to my point of view, is a quiet,
pleasant-looking gentleman who lives somewhere in the West End of
London. He has, however, a tragedy in his past life. He is the
husband of a dipsomaniac wife. She is, of course, under care, and
is never mentioned in the house where he lives, maybe with his
widowed mother and perhaps a maiden sister. They notice that he
has become gloomy and brooding of late, but he lives his usual life,
occupying himself each day with some harmless hobby. On foggy
nights, once the quiet household is plunged in sleep, he creeps out
of the house, maybe between one and two o'clock, and swiftly makes
his way straight to what has become The Avenger's murder area.
Picking out a likely victim, he approaches her with Judas-like
gentleness, and having committed his awful crime, goes quietly home
again. After a good bath and breakfast, he turns up happy, once
more the quiet individual who is an excellent son, a kind brother,
esteemed and even beloved by a large circle of friends and
acquaintances. Meantime, the police are searching about the scene
of the tragedy for what they regard as the usual type of criminal
"I give this theory, Sir, for what it is worth, but I confess that
I am amazed the police have so wholly confined their inquiries to
the part of London where these murders have been actually committed.
I am quite sure from all that has come out—and we must remember
that full information is never given to the newspapers—The Avenger
should be sought for in the West and not in the East End of London
—Believe me to remain, Sir, yours very truly—"
Again Daisy hesitated, and then with an effort she brought out the
word "Gab-o-ri-you," said she.
"What a funny name!" said Bunting wonderingly.
And then Joe broke in: "That's the name of a French chap what wrote
detective stories," he said. "Pretty good, some of them are, too!"
"Then this Gaboriyou has come over to study these Avenger murders,
I take it?" said Bunting.
"Oh, no," Joe spoke with confidence. "Whoever's written that silly
letter just signed that name for fun."
"It is a silly letter," Mrs. Bunting had broken in resentfully. "I
wonder a respectable paper prints such rubbish."
"Fancy if The Avenger did turn out to be a gentleman!" cried Daisy, in
an awe-struck voice. "There'd be a how-to-do!"
"There may be something in the notion," said her father thoughtfully.
"After all, the monster must be somewhere. This very minute he must
be somewhere a-hiding of himself."
"Of course he's somewhere," said Mrs. Bunting scornfully.
She had just heard Mr. Sleuth moving overhead. 'Twould soon be time
for the lodger's supper.
She hurried on: "But what I do say is that—that—he has nothing
to do with the West End. Why, they say it's a sailor from the Docks
—that's a good bit more likely, I take it. But there, I'm fair
sick of the whole subject! We talk of nothing else in this house.
The Avenger this—The Avenger that—"
"I expect Joe has something to tell us new to-night," said Bunting
cheerfully. "Well, Joe, is there anything new?"
"I say, father, just listen to this!" Daisy broke in excitedly.
She read out:
"BLOODHOUNDS TO BE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED"
"Bloodhounds?" repeated Mrs. Bunting, and there was terror in her
tone. "Why bloodhounds? That do seem to me a most horrible idea!"
Bunting looked across at her, mildly astonished. "Why, 'twould be
a very good idea, if 'twas possible to have bloodhounds in a town.
But, there, how can that be done in London, full of butchers' shops,
to say nothing of slaughter-yards and other places o' that sort?"
But Daisy went on, and to her stepmother's shrinking ear there
seemed a horrible thrill of delight; of gloating pleasure, in her
fresh young voice.
"Hark to this," she said:
"A man who had committed a murder in a lonely wood near Blackburn
was traced by the help of a bloodhound, and thanks to the sagacious
instincts of the animal, the miscreant was finally convicted and
"La, now! Who'd ever have thought of such a thing?" Bunting
exclaimed, in admiration. "The newspapers do have some useful
hints in sometimes, Joe."
But young Chandler shook his head. "Bloodhounds ain't no use," he
said; "no use at all! If the Yard was to listen to all the
suggestions that the last few days have brought in—well, all I
can say is our work would be cut out for us—not but what it's
cut out for us now, if it comes to that!" He sighed ruefully. He
was beginning to feel very tired; if only he could stay in this
pleasant, cosy room listening to Daisy Bunting reading on and on
for ever, instead of having to go out, as he would presently have
to do, into the cold and foggy night!
Joe Chandler was fast becoming very sick of his new job. There
was a lot of unpleasantness attached to the business, too. Why,
even in the house where he lived, and in the little cook-shop where
he habitually took his meals, the people round him had taken to
taunt him with the remissness of the police. More than that one of
his pals, a man he'd always looked up to, because the young fellow
had the gift of the gab, had actually been among those who had
spoken at the big demonstration in Victoria Park, making a violent
speech, not only against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan
Police, but also against the Home Secretary.
But Daisy, like most people who believe themselves blessed with the
possession of an accomplishment, had no mind to leave off reading
"Here's another notion!" she exclaimed. "Another letter, father!"
"PARDON TO ACCOMPLICES.
"DEAR Sir—During the last day or two several of the more
Intelligent of my acquaintances have suggested that The Avenger,
whoever he may be, must be known to a certain number of persons.
It is impossible that the perpetrator of such deeds, however
nomad he may be in his habits—"
"Now I wonder what 'nomad' can be?" Daisy interrupted herself, and
looked round at her little audience.
"I've always declared the fellow had all his senses about him,"
observed Bunting confidently.
Daisy went on, quite satisfied:
"—however nomad he may be in his habit; must have some habitat
where his ways are known to at least one person. Now the person
who knows the terrible secret is evidently withholding information
in expectation of a reward, or maybe because, being an accessory
after the fact, he or she is now afraid of the consequences. My
suggestion, Sir, is that the Home Secretary promise a free pardon.
The more so that only thus can this miscreant be brought to justice.
Unless he was caught red-handed in the act, it will be exceedingly
difficult to trace the crime committed to any individual, for
English law looks very askance at circumstantial evidence."
"There's something worth listening to in that letter," said Joe,
Now he was almost touching Daisy, and he smiled involuntarily as
she turned her gay, pretty little face the better to hear what he
"Yes, Mr. Chandler?" she said interrogatively.
"Well, d'you remember that fellow what killed an old gentleman in
a railway carriage? He took refuge with someone—a woman his
mother had known, and she kept him hidden for quite a long time.
But at last she gave him up, and she got a big reward, too!"
"I don't think I'd like to give anybody up for a reward," said
Bunting, in his slow, dogmatic way.
"Oh, yes, you would, Mr. Bunting," said Chandler confidently. "You'd
only be doing what it's the plain duty of everyone—everyone, that
is, who's a good citizen. And you'd be getting something for doing
it, which is more than most people gets as does their duty."
"A man as gives up someone for a reward is no better than a common
informer," went on Bunting obstinately. "And no man 'ud care to be
called that! It's different for you, Joe," he added hastily. "It's
your job to catch those who've done anything wrong. And a man'd be
a fool who'd take refuge—like with you. He'd be walking into the
lion's mouth—" Bunting laughed.
And then Daisy broke in coquettishly: "If I'd done anything I
wouldn't mind going for help to Mr. Chandler," she said.
And Joe, with eyes kindling, cried, "No. And if you did you needn't
be afraid I'd give you up, Miss Daisy!"
And then, to their amazement, there suddenly broke from Mrs. Bunting,
sitting with bowed head over the table, an exclamation of impatience
and anger, and, it seemed to those listening, of pain.
"Why, Ellen, don't you feel well?" asked Bunting quickly.
"Just a spasm, a sharp stitch in my side, like," answered the poor
woman heavily. "It's over now. Don't mind me."
"But I don't believe—no, that I don't—that there's anybody in
the world who knows who The Avenger is," went on Chandler quickly.
"It stands to reason that anybody'd give him up—in their own
interest, if not in anyone else's. Who'd shelter such a creature?
Why, 'twould be dangerous to have him in the house along with one!"
"Then it's your idea that he's not responsible for the wicked things
he does?" Mrs. Bunting raised her head, and looked over at Chandler
with eager, anxious eyes.
"I'd be sorry to think he wasn't responsible enough to hang!" said
Chandler deliberately. "After all the trouble he's been giving us, too!"
"Hanging'd be too good for that chap," said Bunting.
"Not if he's not responsible," said his wife sharply. "I never
heard of anything so cruel—that I never did! If the man's a
madman, he ought to be in an asylum—that's where he ought to be."
"Hark to her now!" Bunting looked at his Ellen with amusement.
"Contrary isn't the word for her! But there, I've noticed the last
few days that she seemed to be taking that monster's part. That's
what comes of being a born total abstainer."
Mrs. Bunting had got up from her chair. "What nonsense you do talk!"
she said angrily. "Not but what it's a good thing if these murders
have emptied the public-houses of women for a bit. England's drink
is England's shame—I'll never depart from that! Now, Daisy, child,
get up, do! Put down that paper. We've heard quite enough. You can
be laying the cloth while I goes down the kitchen."
"Yes, you mustn't be forgetting the lodger's supper," called out
Bunting. "Mr. Sleuth don't always ring—" he turned to Chandler.
"For one thing, he's often out about this time."
"Not often—just now and again, when he wants to buy something,"
snapped out Mrs. Bunting. "But I hadn't forgot his supper. He
never do want it before eight o'clock."
"Let me take up the lodger's supper, Ellen," Daisy's eager voice
broke in. She had got up in obedience to her stepmother, and was
now laying the cloth.
"Certainly not! I told you he only wanted me to wait on him. You
have your work cut out looking after things down here—that's where
I wants you to help me."
Chandler also got up. Somehow he didn't like to be doing nothing
while Daisy was so busy. "Yes," he said, looking across at Mrs.
Bunting, "I'd forgotten about your lodger. Going on all right, eh?"
"Never knew so quiet and well-behaved a gentleman," said Bunting.
"He turned our luck, did Mr. Sleuth."
His wife left the room, and after she had gone Daisy laughed.
"You'll hardly believe it, Mr. Chandler, but I've never seen this
wonderful lodger. Ellen keeps him to herself, that she does! If I
was father I'd be jealous!"
Both men laughed. Ellen? No, the idea was too funny.
"All I can say is, I think Daisy ought to go. One can't always do
just what one wants to do—not in this world, at any rate!"
Mrs. Bunting did not seem to be addressing anyone in particular,
though both her husband and her stepdaughter were in the room. She
was standing by the table, staring straight before her, and as she
spoke she avoided looking at either Bunting or Daisy. There was in
her voice a tone of cross decision, of thin finality, with which
they were both acquainted, and to which each listener knew the other
would have to bow.
There was silence for a moment, then Daisy broke out passionately,
"I don't see why I should go if I don't want to!" she cried.
"You'll allow I've been useful to you, Ellen? 'Tisn't even as if
you was quite well."
"I am quite well—perfectly well!" snapped out Mrs. Bunting, and
she turned her pale, drawn face, and looked angrily at her
"'Tain't often I has a chance of being with you and father." There
were tears in Daisy's voice, and Bunting glanced deprecatingly at
An invitation had come to Daisy—an invitation from her own dead
mother's sister, who was housekeeper in a big house in Belgrave
Square. "The family" had gone away for the Christmas holidays, and
Aunt Margaret—Daisy was her godchild—had begged that her niece
might come and spend two or three days with her.
But the girl had already had more than one taste of what life was
like in the great gloomy basement of 100 Belgrave Square. Aunt
Margaret was one of those old-fashioned servants for whom the modern
employer is always sighing. While "the family" were away it was
her joy—she regarded it as a privilege—to wash sixty-seven pieces
of very valuable china contained in two cabinets in the drawing-room;
she also slept in every bed by turns, to keep them all well aired.
These were the two duties with which she intended her young niece
to assist her, and Daisy's soul sickened at the prospect.
But the matter had to be settled at once. The letter had come an
hour ago, containing a stamped telegraph form, and Aunt Margaret
was not one to be trifled with.
Since breakfast the three had talked of nothing else, and from the
very first Mrs. Bunting had said that Daisy ought to go—that there
was no doubt about it, that it did not admit of discussion. But
discuss it they all did, and for once Bunting stood up to his wife.
But that, as was natural, only made his Ellen harder and more set
on her own view.
"What the child says is true," he observed. "It isn't as if you
was quite well. You've been took bad twice in the last few days
—you can't deny of it, Ellen. Why shouldn't I just take a bus
and go over and see Margaret? I'd tell her just how it is. She'd
understand, bless you!"
"I won't have you doing nothing of the sort!" cried Mrs. Bunting,
speaking almost as passionately as her stepdaughter had done.
"Haven't I a right to be ill, haven't I a right to be took bad,
aye, and to feel all right again—same as other people?"
Daisy turned round and clasped her hands. "Oh, Ellen!" she cried;
"do say that you can't spare me! I don't want to go across to that
horrid old dungeon of a place."
"Do as you like," said Mrs. Bunting sullenly. "I'm fair tired of
you both! There'll come a day, Daisy, when you'll know, like me,
that money is the main thing that matters in this world; and when
your Aunt Margaret's left her savings to somebody else just because
you wouldn't spend a few days with her this Christmas, then you'll
know what it's like to go without—you'll know what a fool you
were, and that nothing can't alter it any more!"
And then, with victory actually in her grasp, poor Daisy saw it
snatched from her.
"Ellen is right," Bunting said heavily. "Money does matter—a
terrible deal—though I never thought to hear Ellen say 'twas the
only thing that mattered. But 'twould be foolish—very, very
foolish, my girl, to offend your Aunt Margaret. It'll only be
two days after all—two days isn't a very long time."
But Daisy did not hear her father's last words. She had already
rushed from the room, and gone down to the kitchen to hide her
childish tears of disappointment—the childish tears which came
because she was beginning to be a woman, with a woman's natural
instinct for building her own human nest.
Aunt Margaret was not one to tolerate the comings of any strange
young man, and she had a peculiar dislike to the police.
"Who'd ever have thought she'd have minded as much as that!"
Bunting looked across at Ellen deprecatingly; already his heart
was misgiving him.
"It's plain enough why she's become so fond of us all of a sudden,"
said Mrs. Bunting sarcastically. And as her husband stared at her
uncomprehendingly, she added, in a tantalising tone, "as plain as
the nose on your face, my man."
"What d'you mean?" he said. "I daresay I'm a bit slow, Ellen, but
I really don't know what you'd be at?"
"Don't you remember telling me before Daisy came here that Joe
Chandler had become sweet on her last summer? I thought it only
foolishness then, but I've come round to your view—that's all."
Bunting nodded his head slowly. Yes, Joe had got into the way of
coming very often, and there had been the expedition to that gruesome
Scotland Yard museum, but somehow he, Bunting, had been so interested
in the Avenger murders that he hadn't thought of Joe in any other
connection—not this time, at any rate.
"And do you think Daisy likes him?" There was an unwonted tone of
excitement, of tenderness, in Bunting's voice.
His wife looked over at him; and a thin smile, not an unkindly
smile by any means, lit up her pale face. "I've never been one
to prophesy," she answered deliberately. "But this I don't mind
telling you, Bunting—Daisy'll have plenty o' time to get tired
of Joe Chandler before they two are dead. Mark my words!"
"Well, she might do worse," said Bunting ruminatingly. "He's as
steady as God makes them, and he's already earning thirty-two
shillings a week. But I wonder how Old Aunt'd like the notion?
I don't see her parting with Daisy before she must."
"I wouldn't let no old aunt interfere with me about such a thing
as that!" cried Mrs. Bunting. "No, not for millions of gold!"
And Bunting looked at her in silent wonder. Ellen was singing a
very different tune now to what she'd sung a few minutes ago, when
she was so keen about the girl going to Belgrave Square.
"If she still seems upset while she's having her dinner," said his
wife suddenly, "well, you just wait till I've gone out for something,
and then you just say to her, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder'
—just that, and nothing more! She'll take it from you. And I
shouldn't be surprised if it comforted her quite a lot."
"For the matter of that, there's no reason why Joe Chandler shouldn't
go over and see her there," said Bunting hesitatingly.
"Oh, yes, there is," said Mrs. Bunting, smiling shrewdly. "Plenty of
reason. Daisy'll be a very foolish girl if she allows her aunt to
know any of her secrets. I've only seen that woman once, but I know
exactly the sort Margaret is. She's just waiting for Old Aunt to
drop off and then she'll want to have Daisy herself—to wait on
her, like. She'd turn quite nasty if she thought there was a young
fellow what stood in her way."
She glanced at the dock, the pretty little eight-day clock which
had been a wedding present from a kind friend of her last mistress.
It had mysteriously disappeared during their time of trouble, and
had as mysteriously reappeared three or four days after Mr. Sleuth's
"I've time to go out with that telegram," she said briskly—somehow
she felt better, different to what she had done the last few days—
"and then it'll be done. It's no good having more words about it,
and I expect we should have plenty more words if I wait till the
child comes upstairs again."
She did not speak unkindly, and Bunting looked at her rather
wonderingly. Ellen very seldom spoke of Daisy as "the child"
—in fact, he could only remember her having done so once before,
and that was a long time ago. They had been talking over their
future life together, and she had said, very solemnly, "Bunting,
I promise I will do my duty—as much as lies in my power, that
is—by the child."
But Ellen had not had much opportunity of doing her duty by Daisy.
As not infrequently happens with the duties that we are willing to
do, that particular duty had been taken over by someone else who
had no mind to let it go.
"What shall I do if Mr. Sleuth rings?" asked Bunting, rather
nervously. It was the first time since the lodger had come to them
that Ellen had offered to go out in the morning.
She hesitated. In her anxiety to have the matter of Daisy settled,
she had forgotten Mr. Sleuth. Strange that she should have done so
—strange, and, to herself, very comfortable and pleasant.
"Oh, well, you can just go up and knock at the door and say I'll be
back in a few minutes—that I had to go out with a message. He's
quite a reasonable gentleman." She went into the back room to put
on her bonnet and thick jacket for it was very cold—getting colder
As she stood, buttoning her gloves—she wouldn't have gone out
untidy for the world—Bunting suddenly came across to her. "Give
us a kiss, old girl," he said. And his wife turned up her face.
"One 'ud think it was catching!" she said, but there was a lilt in
"So it is," Bunting briefly answered. "Didn't that old cook get
married just after us? She'd never 'a thought of it if it hadn't
been for you!"
But once she was out, walking along the damp, uneven pavement, Mr.
Sleuth revenged himself for his landlady's temporary forgetfulness.
During the last two days the lodger had been queer, odder than usual,
unlike himself, or, rather, very much as he had been some ten days
ago, just before that double murder had taken place.
The night before, while Daisy was telling all about the dreadful
place to which Joe Chandler had taken her and her father, Mrs.
Bunting had heard Mr. Sleuth moving about overhead, restlessly
walking up and down his sitting-room. And later, when she took up
his supper, she had listened a moment outside the door, while he
read aloud some of the texts his soul delighted in—terrible texts
telling of the grim joys attendant on revenge.
Mrs. Bunting was so absorbed in her thoughts, so possessed with the
curious personality of her lodger, that she did not look where she
was going, and suddenly a young woman bumped up against her.
She started violently and looked round, dazed, as the young person
muttered a word of apology;—then she again fell into deep thought.
It was a good thing Daisy was going away for a few days; it made the
problem of Mr. Sleuth and his queer ways less disturbing. She,
Ellen, was sorry she had spoken so sharp-like to the girl, but after
all it wasn't wonderful that she had been snappy. This last night
she had hardly slept at all. Instead, she had lain awake listening
—and there is nothing so tiring as to lie awake listening for a
sound that never comes.
The house had remained so still you could have heard a pin drop. Mr.
Sleuth, lying snug in his nice warm bed upstairs, had not stirred.
Had he stirred his landlady was bound to have heard him, for his bed
was, as we know, just above hers. No, during those long hours of
darkness Daisy's light, regular breathing was all that had fallen on
Mrs. Bunting's ears.
And then her mind switched off Mr. Sleuth. She made a determined
effort to expel him, to toss him, as it were, out of her thoughts.
It seemed strange that The Avenger had stayed his hand, for, as Joe
had said only last evening, it was full time that he should again
turn that awful, mysterious searchlight of his on himself. Mrs.
Bunting always visioned The Avenger as a black shadow in the centre
a bright blinding light—but the shadow had no form or definite
substance. Sometimes he looked like one thing, sometimes like
another . . .
Mrs. Bunting had now come to the corner which led up the street
where there was a Post Office. But instead of turning sharp to the
left she stopped short for a minute.
There had suddenly come over her a feeling of horrible self-rebuke
and even self-loathing. It was dreadful that she, of all women,
should have longed to hear that another murder had been committed
Yet such was the shameful fact. She had listened all through
breakfast hoping to hear the dread news being shouted outside; yes,
and more or less during the long discussion which had followed on
the receipt of Margaret's letter she had been hoping—hoping
against hope—that those dreadful triumphant shouts of the
newspaper-sellers still might come echoing down the Marylebone Road.
And yet hypocrite that she was, she had reproved Bunting when he
had expressed, not disappointment exactly—but, well, surprise,
that nothing had happened last night.
Now her mind switched off to Joe Chandler. Strange to think how
afraid she had been of that young man! She was no longer afraid of
him, or hardly at all. He was dotty—that's what was the matter
with him, dotty with love for rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed little Daisy.
Anything might now go on, right under Joe Chandler's very nose—but,
bless you, he'd never see it! Last summer, when this affair, this
nonsense of young Chandler and Daisy had begun, she had had very
little patience with it all. In fact, the memory of the way Joe
had gone on then, the tiresome way he would be always dropping in,
had been one reason (though not the most important reason of all)
why she had felt so terribly put about at the idea of the girl
coming again. But now? Well, now she had become quite tolerant,
quite kindly—at any rate as far as Joe Chandler was concerned.
She wondered why.
Still, 'twouldn't do Joe a bit of harm not to see the girl for a
couple of days. In fact 'twould be a very good thing, for then he'd
think of Daisy—think of her to the exclusion of all else. Absence
does make the heart grow fonder—at first, at any rate. Mrs.
Bunting was well aware of that. During the long course of hers
and Bunting's mild courting, they'd been separated for about three
months, and it was that three months which had made up her mind for
her. She had got so used to Bunting that she couldn't do without
him, and she had felt—oddest fact of all—acutely, miserably
jealous. But she hadn't let him know that—no fear!
Of course, Joe mustn't neglect his job—that would never do. But
what a good thing it was, after all, that he wasn't like some of
those detective chaps that are written about in stories—the sort
of chaps that know everything, see everything, guess everything
—even where there isn't anything to see, or know, or guess!
Why, to take only one little fact—Joe Chandler had never shown
the slightest curiosity about their lodger. . . .
Mrs. Bunting pulled herself together with a start, and hurried
quickly on. Bunting would begin to wonder what had happened to her.
She went into the Post Office and handed the form to the young woman
without a word. Margaret, a sensible woman, who was accustomed to
manage other people's affairs, had even written out the words: "Will
be with you to tea.—DAISY."
It was a comfort to have the thing settled once for all. If anything
horrible was going to happen in the next two or three days—it was
just as well Daisy shouldn't be at home. Not that there was any real
danger that anything would happen,—Mrs. Bunting felt sure of that.
By this time she was out in the street again, and she began mentally
counting up the number of murders The Avenger had committed. Nine,
or was it ten? Surely by now The Avenger must be avenged? Surely by
now, if—as that writer in the newspaper had suggested—he was a
quiet, blameless gentleman living in the West End, whatever vengeance
he had to wreak, must be satisfied?
She began hurrying homewards; it wouldn't do for the lodger to ring
before she had got back. Bunting would never know how to manage Mr.
Sleuth, especially if Mr. Sleuth was in one of his queer moods.
Mrs. Bunting put the key into the front door lock and passed into
the house. Then her heart stood still with fear and terror. There
came the sound of voices—of voices she thought she did not know—
in the sitting-room.
She opened the door, and then drew a long breath. It was only Joe
Chandler—Joe, Daisy, and Bunting, talking together. They stopped
rather guiltily as she came in, but not before she had heard
Chandler utter the words: "That don't mean nothing! I'll just run
out and send another saying you won't come, Miss Daisy."
And then the strangest smile came over Mrs. Bunting's face. There
had fallen on her ear the still distant, but unmistakable, shouts
which betokened that something had happened last night—something
which made it worth while for the newspaper-sellers to come crying
down the Marylebone Road.
"Well?" she said a little breathlessly. "Well, Joe? I suppose
you've brought us news? I suppose there's been another?"
He looked at her, surprised. "No, that there hasn't, Mrs. Bunting
—not as far as I know, that is. Oh, you're thinking of those
newspaper chaps? They've got to cry out something," he grinned.
"You wouldn't 'a thought folk was so bloodthirsty. They're just
shouting out that there's been an arrest; but we don't take no
stock of that. It's a Scotchman what gave himself up last night
at Dorking. He'd been drinking, and was a-pitying of himself.
Why, since this business began, there's been about twenty arrests,
but they've all come to nothing."
"Why, Ellen, you looks quite sad, quite disappointed," said Bunting
jokingly. "Come to think of it, it's high time The Avenger was at
work again." He laughed as he made his grim joke. Then turned to
young Chandler: "Well, you'll be glad when its all over, my lad."
"Glad in a way," said Chandler unwillingly. "But one 'ud have liked
to have caught him. One doesn't like to know such a creature's at
large, now, does one?"
Mrs. Bunting had taken off her bonnet and jacket. "I must just go
and see about Mr. Sleuth's breakfast," she said in a weary,
dispirited voice, and left them there.
She felt disappointed, and very, very depressed. As to the plot
which had been hatching when she came in, that had no chance of
success; Bunting would never dare let Daisy send out another
telegram contradicting the first. Besides, Daisy's stepmother
shrewdly suspected that by now the girl herself wouldn't care to
do such a thing. Daisy had plenty of sense tucked away somewhere
in her pretty little head. If it ever became her fate to live as
a married woman in London, it would be best to stay on the right
side of Aunt Margaret.
And when she came into her kitchen the stepmother's heart became
very soft, for Daisy had got everything beautifully ready. In fact,
there was nothing to do but to boil Mr. Sleuth's two eggs. Feeling
suddenly more cheerful than she had felt of late, Mrs. Bunting took
the tray upstairs.
"As it was rather late, I didn't wait for you to ring, sir," she
And the lodger looked up from the table where, as usual, he was
studying with painful, almost agonising intentness, the Book.
"Quite right, Mrs. Bunting—quite right! I have been pondering
over the command, 'Work while it is yet light.'"
"Yes, sir?" she said, and a queer, cold feeling stole over her
heart. "Yes, sir?"
"'The spirit is willing, but the flesh—the flesh is weak,'" said
Mr. Sleuth, with a heavy sigh.
"You studies too hard, and too long—that's what's ailing you, sir,"
said Mr. Sleuth's landlady suddenly.
When Mrs. Bunting went down again she found that a great deal had
been settled in her absence; among other things, that Joe Chandler
was going to escort Miss Daisy across to Belgrave Square. He
could carry Daisy's modest bag, and if they wanted to ride instead
of walk, why, they could take the bus from Baker Street Station
to Victoria—that would land them very near Belgrave Square.
But Daisy seemed quite willing to walk; she hadn't had a walk, she
declared, for a long, long time—and then she blushed rosy red,
and even her stepmother had to admit to herself that Daisy was very
nice looking, not at all the sort of girl who ought to be allowed to
go about the London streets by herself.
Daisy's father and stepmother stood side by side at the front door,
watching the girl and young Chandler walk off into the darkness.
A yellow pall of fog had suddenly descended on London, and Joe had
come a full half-hour before they expected him, explaining, rather
lamely, that it was the fog which had brought him so soon.
"If we was to have waited much longer, perhaps, 'twouldn't have been
possible to walk a yard," he explained, and they had accepted,
silently, his explanation.
"I hope it's quite safe sending her off like that?" Bunting looked
deprecatingly at his wife. She had already told him more than once
that he was too fussy about Daisy, that about his daughter he was
like an old hen with her last chicken.
"She's safer than she would be, with you or me. She couldn't have
a smarter young fellow to look after her."
"It'll be awful thick at Hyde Park Corner," said Bunting. "It's
always worse there than anywhere else. If I was Joe I'd 'a taken
her by the Underground Railway to Victoria—that 'ud been the best
way, considering the weather 'tis."
"They don't think anything of the weather, bless you!" said his
wife. "They'll walk and walk as long as there's a glimmer left for
'em to steer by. Daisy's just been pining to have a walk with that
young chap. I wonder you didn't notice how disappointed they both
were when you was so set on going along with them to that horrid
"D'you really mean that, Ellen?" Bunting looked upset. "I understood
Joe to say he liked my company."
"Oh, did you?" said Mrs. Bunting dryly. "I expect he liked it just
about as much as we liked the company of that old cook who would go
out with us when we was courting. It always was a wonder to me how
the woman could force herself upon two people who didn't want her."
"But I'm Daisy's father; and an old friend of Chandler," said Bunting
remonstratingly. "I'm quite different from that cook. She was
nothing to us, and we was nothing to her."
"She'd have liked to be something to you, I make no doubt," observed
his Ellen, shaking her head, and her husband smiled, a little
By this time they were back in their nice, cosy sitting-room, and
a feeling of not altogether unpleasant lassitude stole over Mrs.
Bunting. It was a comfort to have Daisy out of her way for a bit.
The girl, in some ways, was very wide awake and inquisitive, and
she had early betrayed what her stepmother thought to be a very
unseemly and silly curiosity concerning the lodger. "You might
just let me have one peep at him, Ellen?" she had pleaded, only
that morning. But Ellen had shaken her head. "No, that I won't!
He's a very quiet gentleman; but he knows exactly what he likes,
and he don't like anyone but me waiting on him. Why, even your
father's hardly seen him."
But that, naturally, had only increased Daisy's desire to view Mr.
There was another reason why Mrs. Bunting was glad that her
stepdaughter had gone away for two days. During her absence young
Chandler was far less likely to haunt them in the way he had taken
to doing lately, the more so that, in spite of what she had said to
her husband, Mrs. Bunting felt sure that Daisy would ask Joe
Chandler to call at Belgrave Square. 'Twouldn't be human nature
—at any rate, not girlish human nature—not to do so, even if
Joe's coming did anger Aunt Margaret.
Yes, it was pretty safe that with Daisy away they, the Buntings,
would be rid of that young chap for a bit, and that would be a
When Daisy wasn't there to occupy the whole of his attention, Mrs.
Bunting felt queerly afraid of Chandler. After all, he was a
detective—it was his job to be always nosing about, trying to
find out things. And, though she couldn't fairly say to herself
that he had done much of that sort of thing in her house, he might
start doing it any minute. And then—then—where would she, and
—and Mr. Sleuth, be?
She thought of the bottle of red ink—of the leather bag which
must be hidden somewhere—and her heart almost stopped beating.
Those were the sort of things which, in the stories Bunting was
so fond of reading, always led to the detection of famous
criminals. . . .
Mr. Sleuth's bell for tea rang that afternoon far earlier than
usual. The fog had probably misled him, and made him think it
later than it was.
When she went up, "I would like a cup of tea now, and just one
piece of bread-and-butter," the lodger said wearily. "I don't
feel like having anything else this afternoon."
"It's a horrible day," Mrs. Bunting observed, in a cheerier voice
than usual. "No wonder you don't feel hungry, sir. And then it
isn't so very long since you had your dinner, is it?"
"No," he said absently. "No, it isn't, Mrs. Bunting."
She went down, made the tea, and brought it up again. And then,
as she came into the room, she uttered an exclamation of sharp
Mr. Sleuth was dressed for going out. He was wearing his long
Inverness cloak, and his queer old high hat lay on the table,
ready for him to put on.
"You're never going out this afternoon, sir?" she asked falteringly.
"Why, the fog's awful; you can't see a yard ahead of you!"
Unknown to herself, Mrs. Bunting's voice had risen almost to a
scream. She moved back, still holding the tray, and stood between
the door and her lodger, as if she meant to bar his way—to erect
between Mr. Sleuth and the dark, foggy world outside a living
"The weather never affects me at all," he said sullenly; and he
looked at her with so wild and pleading a look in his eyes that,
slowly, reluctantly, she moved aside. As she did so she noticed
for the first time that Mr. Sleuth held something in his right
hand. It was the key of the chiffonnier cupboard. He had been
on his way there when her coming in had disturbed him.
"It's very kind of you to be so concerned about me," he stammered,
"but—but, Mrs. Bunting, you must excuse me if I say that I do
not welcome such solicitude. I prefer to be left alone. I—I
cannot stay in your house if I feel that my comings and goings are
She pulled herself together. "No one spies upon you, sir," she
said, with considerable dignity. "I've done my best to satisfy
"You have—you have!" he spoke in a distressed, apologetic tone.
"But you spoke just now as if you were trying to prevent my doing
what I wish to do—indeed, what I have to do. For years I have
been misunderstood—persecuted"—he waited a moment, then in
a hollow voice added the one word, "tortured! Do not tell me that
you are going to add yourself to the number of my tormentors, Mrs.
She stared at him helplessly. "Don't you be afraid I'll ever be
that, sir. I only spoke as I did because—well, sir, because I
thought it really wasn't safe for a gentleman to go out this
afternoon. Why, there's hardly anyone about, though we're so near
He walked across to the window and looked out. "The fog is clearing
somewhat; Mrs. Bunting," but there was no relief in his voice, rather
was there disappointment and dread.
Plucking up courage, she followed him. Yes, Mr. Sleuth was right.
The fog was lifting—rolling off in that sudden, mysterious way in
which local fogs sometimes do lift in London.
He turned sharply from the window. "Our conversation has made me
forget an important thing, Mrs. Bunting. I should be glad if you
would just leave out a glass of milk and some bread-and-butter for
me this evening. I shall not require supper when I come in, for
after my walk I shall probably go straight upstairs to carry through
a very difficult experiment."
"Very good, sir." And then Mrs. Bunting left the lodger.
But when she found herself downstairs in the fog-laden hall, for it
had drifted in as she and her husband had stood at the door seeing
Daisy off, instead of going in to Bunting she did a very odd thing
—a thing she had never thought of doing in her life before. She
pressed her hot forehead against the cool bit of looking-glass let
into the hat-and-umbrella stand. "I don't know what to do!" she
moaned to herself, and then, "I can't bear it! I can't bear it!"
But though she felt that her secret suspense and trouble was becoming
intolerable, the one way in which she could have ended her misery
never occurred to Mrs. Bunting.
In the long history of crime it has very, very seldom happened that
a woman has betrayed one who has taken refuge with her. The
timorous and cautious woman has not infrequently hunted a human
being fleeing from his pursuer from her door, but she has not
revealed the fact that he was ever there. In fact, it may almost
be said that such betrayal has never taken place unless the betrayer
has been actuated by love of gain, or by a longing for revenge. So
far, perhaps because she is subject rather than citizen, her duty
as a component part of civilised society weighs but lightly on
And then—and then, in a sort of way, Mrs. Bunting had become
attached to Mr. Sleuth. A wan smile would sometimes light up his
sad face when he saw her come in with one of his meals, and when
this happened Mrs. Bunting felt pleased—pleased and vaguely
touched. In between those—those dreadful events outside, which
filled her with such suspicion, such anguish and such suspense,
she never felt any fear, only pity, for Mr. Sleuth.
Often and often, when lying wide awake at night, she turned over
the strange problem in her mind. After all, the lodger must have
lived somewhere during his forty-odd years of life. She did not
even know if Mr. Sleuth had any brothers or sisters; friends she
knew he had none. But, however odd and eccentric he was, he had
evidently, or so she supposed, led a quiet, undistinguished kind
of life, till—till now.
What had made him alter all of a sudden—if, that is, he had
altered? That was what Mrs. Bunting was always debating fitfully
with herself; and, what was more, and very terribly, to the point,
having altered, why should he not in time go back to what he
evidently had been—that is, a blameless, quiet gentleman?
If only he would! If only he would!
As she stood in the hall, cooling her hot forehead, all these
thoughts, these hopes and fears, jostled at lightning speed through
She remembered what young Chandler had said the other day—that
there had never been, in the history of the world, so strange a
murderer as The Avenger had proved himself to be.
She and Bunting, aye, and little Daisy too, had hung, fascinated,
on Joe's words, as he had told them of other famous series of
murders which had taken place in the past, not only in England but
One woman, whom all the people round her believed to be a kind,
respectable soul, had poisoned no fewer than fifteen people in order
to get their insurance money. Then there had been the terrible tale
of an apparently respectable, contented innkeeper and his wife, who,
living at the entrance to a wood, killed all those humble travellers
who took shelter under their roof, simply for their clothes, and any
valuables they possessed. But in all those stories the murderer or
murderers always had a very strong motive, the motive being, in
almost every case, a wicked lust for gold.
At last, after having passed her handkerchief over her forehead, she
went into the room where Bunting was sitting smoking his pipe.
"The fog's lifting a bit," she said in an ill-assured voice. "I hope
that by this time Daisy and that Joe Chandler are right out of it."
But the other shook his head silently. "No such luck!" he said
briefly. "You don't know what it's like in Hyde Park, Ellen. I
expect 'twill soon be just as heavy here as 'twas half an hour ago!"
She wandered over to the window, and pulled the curtain back.
"Quite a lot of people have come out, anyway," she observed.
"There's a fine Christmas show in the Edgware Road. I was thinking
of asking if you wouldn't like to go along there with me."
"No," she said dully. "I'm quite content to stay at home."
She was listening—listening for the sounds which would betoken
that the lodger was coming downstairs.
At last she heard the cautious, stuffless tread of his rubber-soled
shoes shuffling along the hall. But Bunting only woke to the fact
when the front door shut to.
"That's never Mr. Sleuth going out?" He turned on his wife,
startled. "Why, the poor gentleman'll come to harm—that he will!
One has to be wide awake on an evening like this. I hope he hasn't
taken any of his money out with him."
"'Tisn't the first time Mr. Sleuth's been out in a fog," said Mrs.
Somehow she couldn't help uttering these over-true words. And then
she turned, eager and half frightened, to see how Bunting had taken
what she said.
But he looked quite placid, as if he had hardly heard her. "We
don't get the good old fogs we used to get—not what people used
to call 'London particulars.' I expect the lodger feels like Mrs.
Crowley—I've often told you about her, Ellen?"
Mrs. Bunting nodded.
Mrs. Crowley had been one of Bunting's ladies, one of those he had
liked best—a cheerful, jolly lady, who used often to give her
servants what she called a treat. It was seldom the kind of treat
they would have chosen for themselves, but still they appreciated
her kind thought.
"Mrs. Crowley used to say," went on Bunting, in his slow, dogmatic
way, "that she never minded how bad the weather was in London, so
long as it was London and not the country. Mr. Crowley, he liked
the country best, but Mrs. Crowley always felt dull-like there.
Fog never kept her from going out—no, that it didn't. She wasn't
a bit afraid. But—" he turned round and looked at his wife—
"I am a bit surprised at Mr. Sleuth. I should have thought him a
timid kind of gentleman—"
He waited a moment, and she felt forced to answer him.
"I wouldn't exactly call him timid," she said, in a low voice, "but
he is very quiet, certainly. That's why he dislikes going out when
there are a lot of people bustling about the streets. I don't
suppose he'll be out long."
She hoped with all her soul that Mr. Sleuth would be in very soon
—that he would be daunted by the now increasing gloom.
Somehow she did not feel she could sit still for very long. She
got up, and went over to the farthest window.
The fog had lifted, certainly. She could see the lamp-lights on
the other side of the Marylebone Road, glimmering redly; and
shadowy figures were hurrying past, mostly making their way towards
the Edgware Road, to see the Christmas shops.
At last to his wife's relief, Bunting got up too. He went over to
the cupboard where he kept his little store of books, and took one
"I think I'll read a bit," he said. "Seems a long time since I've
looked at a book. The papers was so jolly interesting for a bit,
but now there's nothing in 'em."
His wife remained silent. She knew what he meant. A good many days
had gone by since the last two Avenger murders, and the papers had
very little to say about them that they hadn't said in different
language a dozen times before.
She went into her bedroom and came back with a bit of plain sewing.
Mrs. Bunting was fond of sewing, and Bunting liked to see her so
engaged. Since Mr. Sleuth had come to be their lodger she had not
had much time for that sort of work.
It was funny how quiet the house was without either Daisy, or—or
the lodger, in it.
At last she let her needle remain idle, and the bit of cambric
slipped down on her knee, while she listened, longingly, for Mr.
Sleuth's return home.
And as the minutes sped by she fell to wondering with a painful
wonder if she would ever see her lodger again, for, from what she
knew of Mr. Sleuth, Mrs. Bunting felt sure that if he got into any
kind of—well, trouble outside, he would never betray where he
had lived during the last few weeks.
No, in such a case the lodger would disappear in as sudden a way
as he had come. And Bunting would never suspect, would never know,
until, perhaps—God, what a horrible thought—a picture published
in some newspaper might bring a certain dreadful fact to Bunting's
But if that happened—if that unthinkably awful thing came to pass,
she made up her mind, here and now, never to say anything. She also
would pretend to be amazed, shocked, unutterably horrified at the
"There he is at last, and I'm glad of it, Ellen. 'Tain't a night
you would wish a dog to be out in."
Bunting's voice was full of relief, but he did not turn round and
look at his wife as he spoke; instead, he continued to read the
evening paper he held in his hand.
He was still close to the fire, sitting back comfortably in his
nice arm-chair. He looked very well—well and ruddy. Mrs. Bunting
stared across at him with a touch of sharp envy, nay, more, of
resentment. And this was very curious, for she was, in her own dry
way, very fond of Bunting.
"You needn't feel so nervous about him; Mr. Sleuth can look out for
himself all right."
Bunting laid the paper he had been reading down on his knee. "I
can't think why he wanted to go out in such weather," he said
"Well, it's none of your business, Bunting, now, is it?"
"No, that's true enough. Still, 'twould be a very bad thing for us
if anything happened to him. This lodger's the first bit of luck
we've had for a terrible long time, Ellen."
Mrs. Bunting moved a little impatiently in her high chair. She
remained silent for a moment. What Bunting had said was too obvious
to be worth answering. Also she was listening, following in
imagination her lodger's quick, singularly quiet progress—
"stealthy" she called it to herself—through the fog-filled,
lamp-lit hall. Yes, now he was going up the staircase. What
was that Bunting was saying?
"It isn't safe for decent folk to be out in such weather—no, that
it ain't, not unless they have something to do that won't wait till
to-morrow." The speaker was looking straight into his wife's narrow,
colourless face. Bunting was an obstinate man, and liked to prove
himself right. "I've a good mind to speak to him about it, that
I have! He ought to be told that it isn't safe—not for the sort
of man he is—to be wandering about the streets at night. I read
you out the accidents in Lloyd's—shocking, they were, and all
brought about by the fog! And then, that horrid monster 'ull soon
be at his work again—"
"Monster?" repeated Mrs. Bunting absently.
She was trying to hear the lodger's footsteps overhead. She was
very curious to know whether he had gone into his nice sitting-room,
or straight upstairs, to that cold experiment-room, as he now always
But her husband went on as if he had not heard her, and she gave up
trying to listen to what was going on above.
"It wouldn't be very pleasant to run up against such a party as that
in the fog, eh, Ellen?" He spoke as if the notion had a certain
pleasant thrill in it after all.
"What stuff you do talk!" said Mrs. Bunting sharply. And then she
got up. Her husband's remarks had disturbed her. Why couldn't they
talk of something pleasant when they did have a quiet bit of time
Bunting looked down again at his paper, and she moved quietly about
the room. Very soon it would be time for supper, and to-night she
was going to cook her husband a nice piece of toasted cheese. That
fortunate man, as she was fond of telling him, with mingled contempt
and envy, had the digestion of an ostrich, and yet he was rather
fanciful, as gentlemen's servants who have lived in good places
Yes, Bunting was very lucky in the matter of his digestion. Mrs.
Bunting prided herself on having a nice mind, and she would never
have allowed an unrefined word—such a word as "stomach," for
instance, to say nothing of an even plainer term—to pass her
lips, except, of course, to a doctor in a sick-room.
Mr. Sleuth's landlady did not go down at once into her cold kitchen;
instead, with a sudden furtive movement, she opened the door leading
into her bedroom, and then, closing the door quietly, stepped back
into the darkness, and stood motionless, listening.
At first she heard nothing, but gradually there stole on her
listening ears the sound of someone moving softly about in the
room just overhead, that is, in Mr. Sleuth's bedroom. But, try as
she might, it was impossible for her to guess what the lodger was
At last she heard him open the door leading out on the little
landing. She could hear the stairs creaking. That meant, no doubt,
that Mr. Sleuth would pass the rest of the evening in the cheerless
room above. He hadn't spent any time up there for quite a long
while—in fact, not for nearly ten days. 'Twas odd he chose to-night,
when it was so foggy, to carry out an experiment.
She groped her way to a chair and sat down. She felt very tired—
strangely tired, as if she had gone through some great physical
Yes, it was true that Mr. Sleuth had brought her and Bunting luck,
and it was wrong, very wrong, of her ever to forget that.
As she sat there she also reminded herself, and not for the first
time, what the lodger's departure would mean. It would almost
certainly mean ruin; just as his staying meant all sorts of good
things, of which physical comfort was the least. If Mr. Sleuth
stayed on with them, as he showed every intention of doing, it
meant respectability, and, above all, security.
Mrs. Bunting thought of Mr. Sleuth's money. He never received a
letter, and yet he must have some kind of income—so much was
clear. She supposed he went and drew his money, in sovereigns, out
of a bank as he required it.
Her mind swung round, consciously, deliberately, away from Mr.
The Avenger? What a strange name! Again she assured herself that
there would come a time when The Avenger, whoever he was, must feel
satiated; when he would feel himself to be, so to speak, avenged.
To go back to Mr. Sleuth; it was lucky that the lodger seemed so
pleased, not only with the rooms, but with his landlord and landlady
—indeed, there was no real reason why Mr. Sleuth should ever wish
to leave such nice lodgings.
Mrs. Bunting suddenly stood up. She made a strong effort, and shook
off her awful sense of apprehension and unease. Feeling for the
handle of the door giving into the passage she turned it, and then,
with light, firm steps, she went down into the kitchen.
When they had first taken the house, the basement had been made by
her care, if not into a pleasant, then, at any rate, into a very
clean place. She had had it whitewashed, and against the still
white walls the gas stove loomed up, a great square of black iron
and bright steel. It was a large gas-stove, the kind for which one
pays four shillings a quarter rent to the gas company, and here, in
the kitchen, there was no foolish shilling-in-the-slot arrangement.
Mrs. Bunting was too shrewd a woman to have anything to do with that
kind of business. There was a proper gas-meter, and she paid for
what she consumed after she had consumed it.
Putting her candle down on the well-scrubbed wooden table, she
turned up the gas-jet, and blew out the candle.
Then, lighting one of the gas-rings, she put a frying-pan on the
stove, and once more her mind reverted, as if in spite of herself,
to Mr. Sleuth. Never had there been a more confiding or trusting
gentleman than the lodger, and yet in some ways he was so secret,
She thought of the bag—that bag which had rumbled about so
queerly in the chiffonnier. Something seemed to tell her that
tonight the lodger had taken that bag out with him.
And then she thrust away the thought of the bag almost violently
from her mind, and went back to the more agreeable thought of Mr.
Sleuth's income, and of how little trouble he gave. Of course,
the lodger was eccentric, otherwise he wouldn't be their lodger
at all—he would be living in quite a different sort of way with
some of his relations, or with a friend in his own class.
While these thoughts galloped disconnectedly through her mind,
Mrs. Bunting went on with her cooking, preparing the cheese, cutting
it up into little shreds, carefully measuring out the butter, doing
everything, as was always her way, with a certain delicate and
And then, while in the middle of toasting the bread on which was to
be poured the melted cheese, she suddenly heard sounds which startled
her, made her feel uncomfortable.
Shuffling, hesitating steps were creaking down the house.
She looked up and listened.
Surely the lodger was not going out again into the cold and foggy
night—going out, as he had done the other evening, for a second
time? But no; the sounds she heard, the sounds of now familiar
footsteps, did not continue down the passage leading to the front
Instead—Why, what was this she heard now? She began to listen
so intently that the bread she was holding at the end of the
toasting-fork grew quite black. With a start she became aware
that this was so, and she frowned, vexed with herself. That came
of not attending to one's work.
Mr. Sleuth was evidently about to do what he had never yet done.
He was coming down into the kitchen.
Nearer and nearer came the thudding sounds, treading heavily on the
kitchen stairs, and Mrs. Bunting's heart began to beat as if in
response. She put out the flame of the gas-ring, unheedful of the
fact that the cheese would stiffen and spoil in the cold air.
Then she turned and faced the door.
There came a fumbling at the handle, and a moment later the door
opened, and revealed, as she had at once known and feared it would
do, the lodger.
Mr. Sleuth looked even odder than usual. He was clad in a plaid
dressing-gown, which she had never seen him wear before, though
she knew that he had purchased it not long after his arrival. In
his hand was a lighted candle.
When he saw the kitchen all lighted up, and the woman standing in
it, the lodger looked inexplicably taken aback, almost aghast.
"Yes, sir? What can I do for you, sir? I hope you didn't ring, sir?"
Mrs. Bunting held her ground in front of the stove. Mr. Sleuth had
no business to come like this into her kitchen, and she intended to
let him know that such was her view.
"No, I—I didn't ring," he stammered awkwardly. "The truth is, I
didn't know you were here, Mrs. Bunting. Please excuse my costume.
My gas-stove has gone wrong, or, rather, that shilling-in-the-slot
arrangement has done so. So I came down to see if you had a
gas-stove. I am going to ask you to allow me to use it to-night for
an important experiment I wish to make."
Mrs. Bunting's heart was beating quickly—quickly. She felt
horribly troubled, unnaturally so. Why couldn't Mr. Sleuth's
experiment wait till the morning? She stared at him dubiously, but
there was that in his face that made her at once afraid and pitiful.
It was a wild, eager, imploring look.
"Oh, certainly, sir; but you will find it very cold down here."
"It seems most pleasantly warm," he observed, his voice full of
relief, "warm and cosy, after my cold room upstairs."
Warm and cosy? Mrs. Bunting stared at him in amazement. Nay, even
that cheerless room at the top of the house must be far warmer and
more cosy than this cold underground kitchen could possibly be.
"I'll make you a fire, sir. We never use the grate, but it's in
perfect order, for the first thing I did after I came into the house
was to have the chimney swept. It was terribly dirty. It might
have set the house on fire." Mrs. Bunting's housewifely instincts
were roused. "For the matter of that, you ought to have a fire in
your bedroom this cold night."
"By no means—I would prefer not. I certainly do not want a fire
there. I dislike an open fire, Mrs. Bunting. I thought I had told
you as much."
Mr. Sleuth frowned. He stood there, a strange-looking figure, his
candle still alight, just inside the kitchen door.
"I shan't be very long, sir. Just about a quarter of an hour. You
could come down then. I'll have everything quite tidy for you. Is
there anything I can do to help you?"
"I do not require the use of your kitchen yet—thank you all the
same, Mrs. Bunting. I shall come down later—altogether later—
after you and your husband have gone to bed. But I should be much
obliged if you would see that the gas people come to-morrow and
put my stove in order. It might be done while I am out. That the
shilling-in-the-slot machine should go wrong is very unpleasant.
It has upset me greatly."
"Perhaps Bunting could put it right for you, sir. For the matter
of that, I could ask him to go up now."
"No, no, I don't want anything of that sort done to-night. Besides,
he couldn't put it right. I am something of an expert, Mrs. Bunting,
and I have done all I could. The cause of the trouble is quite
simple. The machine is choked up with shillings; a very foolish
plan, so I always felt it to be."
Mr. Sleuth spoke pettishly, with far more heat than he was wont to
speak, but Mrs. Bunting sympathised with him in this matter. She
had always suspected that those slot machines were as dishonest as
if they were human. It was dreadful, the way they swallowed up
the shillings! She had had one once, so she knew.
And as if he were divining her thoughts, Mr. Sleuth walked forward
and stared at the stove. "Then you haven't got a slot machine?" he
said wonderingly. "I'm very glad of that, for I expect my experiment
will take some time. But, of course, I shall pay you something for
the use of the stove, Mrs. Bunting."
"Oh, no, sir, I wouldn't think of charging you anything for that.
We don't use our stove very much, you know, sir. I'm never in the
kitchen a minute longer than I can help this cold weather."
Mrs. Bunting was beginning to feel better. When she was actually
in Mr. Sleuth's presence her morbid fears would be lulled, perhaps
because his manner almost invariably was gentle and very quiet.
But still there came over her an eerie feeling, as, with him
preceding her, they made a slow progress to the ground floor.
Once there, the lodger courteously bade his landlady good-night,
and proceeded upstairs to his own apartments.
Mrs. Bunting returned to the kitchen. Again she lighted the stove;
but she felt unnerved, afraid of she knew not what. As she was
cooking the cheese, she tried to concentrate her mind on what she
was doing, and on the whole she succeeded. But another part of her
mind seemed to be working independently, asking her insistent
The place seemed to her alive with alien presences, and once she
caught herself listening—which was absurd, for, of course, she
could not hope to hear what Mr. Sleuth was doing two, if not three,
flights upstairs. She wondered in what the lodger's experiments
consisted. It was odd that she had never been able to discover what
it was he really did with that big gas-stove. All she knew was
that he used a very high degree of heat.
The Buntings went to bed early that night. But Mrs. Bunting made
up her mind to keep awake. She was set upon knowing at what hour
of the night the lodger would come down into her kitchen to carry
through his experiment, and, above all, she was anxious to know
how long he would stay there.
But she had had a long and a very anxious day, and presently she
The church clock hard by struck two, and, suddenly Mrs. Bunting
awoke. She felt put out, sharply annoyed with herself. How could
she have dropped off like that? Mr. Sleuth must have been down
and up again hours ago!
Then, gradually, she became aware that there was a faint acrid
odour in the room. Elusive, intangible, it yet seemed to encompass
her and the snoring man by her side, almost as a vapour might have
Mrs. Bunting sat up in bed and sniffed; and then, in spite of the
cold, she quietly crept out of her nice, warm bedclothes, and
crawled along to the bottom of the bed. When there, Mr. Sleuth's
landlady did a very curious thing; she leaned over the brass rail
and put her face close to the hinge of the door giving into the
hall. Yes, it was from here that this strange, horrible odor was
coming; the smell must be very strong in the passage.
As, shivering, she crept back under the bedclothes, she longed to
give her sleeping husband a good shake, and in fancy she heard
herself saying, "Bunting, get up! There's something strange and
dreadful going on downstairs which we ought to know about."
But as she lay there, by her husband's side, listening with painful
intentness for the slightest sound, she knew very well that she
would do nothing of the sort.
What if the lodger did make a certain amount of mess—a certain
amount of smell—in her nice clean kitchen? Was he not—was he
not an almost perfect lodger? If they did anything to upset him,
where could they ever hope to get another like him?
Three o'clock struck before Mrs. Bunting heard slow, heavy steps
creaking up the kitchen stairs. But Mr. Sleuth did not go straight
up to his own quarters, as she had expected him to do. Instead, he
went to the front door, and, opening it, put on the chain. Then he
came past her door, and she thought—but could not be sure—that
he sat down on the stairs.
At the end of ten minutes or so she heard him go down the passage
again. Very softly he closed the front door. By then she had
divined why the lodger had behaved in this funny fashion. He wanted
to get the strong, acrid smell of burning—was it of burning wool?
—out of the house.
But Mrs. Bunting, lying there in the darkness, listening to the
lodger creeping upstairs, felt as if she herself would never get
rid of the horrible odour.
Mrs. Bunting felt herself to be all smell.
At last the unhappy woman fell into a deep, troubled sleep; and
then she dreamed a most terrible and unnatural dream. Hoarse
voices seemed to be shouting in her ear: "The Avenger close here!
The Avenger close here!" "'Orrible murder off the Edgware Road!"
"The Avenger at his work again!"
And even in her dream Mrs. Bunting felt angered—angered and
impatient. She knew so well why she was being disturbed by this
horrid nightmare! It was because of Bunting—Bunting, who could
think and talk of nothing else than those frightful murders, in
which only morbid and vulgar-minded people took any interest.
Why, even now, in her dream, she could hear her husband speaking
to her about it:
"Ellen"—so she heard Bunting murmur in her ear—"Ellen, my dear,
I'm just going to get up to get a paper. It's after seven o'clock."
The shouting—nay, worse, the sound of tramping, hurrying feet
smote on her shrinking ears. Pushing back her hair off her forehead
with both hands, she sat up and listened.
It had been no nightmare, then, but something infinitely worse—
Why couldn't Bunting have lain quiet abed for awhile longer, and
let his poor wife go on dreaming? The most awful dream would have
been easier to bear than this awakening.
She heard her husband go to the front door, and, as he bought the
paper, exchange a few excited words with the newspaper-seller. Then
he came back. There was a pause, and she heard him lighting the
gas-ring in the sitting-room.
Bunting always made his wife a cup of tea in the morning. He had
promised to do this when they first married, and he had never yet
broken his word. It was a very little thing and a very usual thing,
no doubt, for a kind husband to do, but this morning the knowledge
that he was doing it brought tears to Mrs. Bunting's pale blue eyes.
This morning he seemed to be rather longer than usual over the job.
When, at last, he came in with the little tray, Bunting found his
wife lying with her face to the wall.
"Here's your tea, Ellen," he said, and there was a thrill of eager,
nay happy, excitement in his voice.
She turned herself round and sat up. "Well?" she asked. "Well?
Why don't you tell me about it?"
"I thought you was asleep," he stammered out. "I thought, Ellen,
you never heard nothing."
"How could I have slept through all that din? Of course I heard.
Why don't you tell me?"
"I've hardly had time to glance at the paper myself," he said slowly.
"You was reading it just now," she said severely, "for I heard the
rustling. You begun reading it before you lit the gas-ring. Don't
tell me! What was that they was shouting about the Edgware Road?"
"Well," said Bunting, "as you do know, I may as well tell you. The
Avenger's moving West—that's what he's doing. Last time 'twas
King's Cross—now 'tis the Edgware Road. I said he'd come our way,
and he has come our way!"
"You just go and get me that paper," she commanded. "I wants to
see for myself."
Bunting went into the next room; then he came back and handed her
silently the odd-looking, thin little sheet.
"Why, whatever's this?" she asked. "This ain't our paper!"
"'Course not," he answered, a trifle crossly. "It's a special early
edition of the Sun, just because of The Avenger. Here's the bit
about it"—he showed her the exact spot. But she would have found
it, even by the comparatively bad light of the gas-jet now flaring
over the dressing-table, for the news was printed in large, clear
"Once more the murder fiend who chooses to call himself The Avenger
has escaped detection. While the whole attention of the police,
and of the great army of amateur detectives who are taking an
interest in this strange series of atrocious crimes, were
concentrating their attention round the East End and King's Cross,
he moved swiftly and silently Westward. And, choosing a time when
the Edgware Road is at its busiest and most thronged, did another
human being to death with lightning-like quickness and savagery.
"Within fifty yards of the deserted warehouse yard where he had
lured his victim to destruction were passing up and down scores of
happy, busy people, intent on their Christmas shopping. Into that
cheerful throng he must have plunged within a moment of committing
his atrocious crime. And it was only owing to the merest accident
that the body was discovered as soon as it was—that is, just
"Dr. Dowtray, who was called to the spot at once, is of opinion that
the woman had been dead at least three hours, if not four. It was at
first thought—we were going to say, hoped—that this murder had
nothing to do with the series which is now puzzling and horrifying
the whole of the civilised world. But no—pinned on the edge of the
dead woman's dress was the usual now familiar triangular piece of
grey paper—the grimmest visiting card ever designed by the wit of
man! And this time The Avenger has surpassed himself as regards his
audacity and daring—so cold in its maniacal fanaticism and abhorrent
All the time that Mrs. Bunting was reading with slow, painful
intentness, her husband was looking at her, longing, yet afraid, to
burst out with a new idea which he was burning to confide even to his
Ellen's unsympathetic ears.
At last, when she had quite finished, she looked up defiantly.
"Haven't you anything better to do than to stare at me like that?"
she said irritably. "Murder or no murder, I've got to get up! Go
And Bunting went off into the next room.
After he had gone, his wife lay back and closed her eyes. She tried
to think of nothing. Nay, more—so strong, so determined was her
will that for a few moments she actually did think of nothing. She
felt terribly tired and weak, brain and body both quiescent, as does
a person who is recovering from a long, wearing illness.
Presently detached, puerile thoughts drifted across the surface of
her mind like little clouds across a summer sky. She wondered if
those horrid newspaper men were allowed to shout in Belgrave Square;
she wondered if, in that case, Margaret, who was so unlike her
brother-in-law, would get up and buy a paper. But no. Margaret
was not one to leave her nice warm bed for such a silly reason as
Was it to-morrow Daisy was coming back? Yes—to-morrow, not
to-day. Well, that was a comfort, at any rate. What amusing things
Daisy would be able to tell about her visit to Margaret! The girl
had an excellent gift of mimicry. And Margaret, with her precise,
funny ways, her perpetual talk about "the family," lent herself to
the cruel gift.
And then Mrs. Bunting's mind—her poor, weak, tired mind—wandered
off to young Chandler. A funny thing love was, when you came to
think of it—which she, Ellen Bunting, didn't often do. There was
Joe, a likely young fellow, seeing a lot of young women, and pretty
young women, too,—quite as pretty as Daisy, and ten times more
artful—and yet there! He passed them all by, had done so ever
since last summer, though you might be sure that they, artful minxes,
by no manner of means passed him by,—without giving them a thought!
As Daisy wasn't here, he would probably keep away to-day. There
was comfort in that thought, too.
And then Mrs. Bunting sat up, and memory returned in a dreadful
turgid flood. If Joe did come in, she must nerve herself to hear
all that—that talk there'd be about The Avenger between him and
Slowly she dragged herself out of bed, feeling exactly as if she
had just recovered from an illness which had left her very weak,
very, very tired in body and soul.
She stood for a moment listening—listening, and shivering, for
it was very cold. Considering how early it still was, there
seemed a lot of coming and going in the Marylebone Road. She could
hear the unaccustomed sounds through her closed door and the tightly
fastened windows of the sitting-room. There must be a regular
crowd of men and women, on foot and in cabs, hurrying to the scene
of The Avenger's last extraordinary crime.
She heard the sudden thud made by their usual morning paper falling
from the letter-box on to the floor of the hall, and a moment later
came the sound of Bunting quickly, quietly going out and getting it.
She visualised him coming back, and sitting down with a sigh of
satisfaction by the newly-lit fire.
Languidly she began dressing herself to the accompaniment of distant
tramping and of noise of passing traffic, which increased in volume
and in sound as the moments slipped by.
When Mrs. Bunting went down into her kitchen everything looked just
as she had left it, and there was no trace of the acrid smell she
had expected to find there. Instead, the cavernous, whitewashed
room was full of fog, but she noticed that, though the shutters were
bolted and barred as she had left them, the windows behind them had
been widely opened to the air. She had left them shut.
Making a "spill" out of a twist of newspaper—she had been taught
the art as a girl by one of her old mistresses—she stooped and
flung open the oven-door of her gas-stove. Yes, it was as she had
expected, a fierce heat had been generated there since she had last
used the oven, and through to the stone floor below had fallen a
mass of black, gluey soot.
Mrs. Bunting took the ham and eggs that she had bought the previous
day for her own and Bunting's breakfast upstairs, and broiled them
over the gas-ring in their sitting-room. Her husband watched her in
surprised silence. She had never done such a thing before.
"I couldn't stay down there," she said; "it was so cold and foggy.
I thought I'd make breakfast up here, just for to-day."
"Yes," he said kindly; "that's quite right, Ellen. I think you've
done quite right, my dear."
But, when it came to the point, his wife could not eat any of the
nice breakfast she had got ready; she only had another cup of tea.
"I'm afraid you're ill, Ellen?" Bunting asked solicitously.
"No," she said shortly; "I'm not ill at all. Don't be silly! The
thought of that horrible thing happening so close by has upset me,
and put me off my food. Just hark to them now!"
Through their closed windows penetrated the sound of scurrying feet
and loud, ribald laughter. What a crowd; nay, what a mob, must be
hastening busily to and from the spot where there was now nothing
to be seen!
Mrs. Bunting made her husband lock the front gate. "I don't want
any of those ghouls in here!" she exclaimed angrily. And then,
"What a lot of idle people there are in the world!" she said.
Bunting began moving about the room restlessly. He would go to the
window; stand there awhile staring out at the people hurrying past;
then, coming back to the fireplace, sit down.
But he could not stay long quiet. After a glance at his paper, up
he would rise from his chair, and go to the window again.
"I wish you'd stay still," his wife said at last. And then, a few
minutes later, "Hadn't you better put your hat and coat on and go
out?" she exclaimed.
And Bunting, with a rather shamed expression, did put on his hat
and coat and go out.
As he did so he told himself that, after all, he was but human; it
was natural that he should be thrilled and excited by the dreadful,
extraordinary thing which had just happened close by. Ellen wasn't
reasonable about such things. How queer and disagreeable she had
been that very morning—angry with him because he had gone out
to hear what all the row was about, and even more angry when he had
come back and said nothing, because he thought it would annoy her
to hear about it!
Meanwhile, Mrs. Bunting forced herself to go down again into the
kitchen, and as she went through into the low, whitewashed place,
a tremor of fear, of quick terror, came over her. She turned and
did what she had never in her life done before, and what she had
never heard of anyone else doing in a kitchen. She bolted the door.
But, having done this, finding herself at last alone, shut off from
everybody, she was still beset by a strange, uncanny dread. She
felt as if she were locked in with an invisible presence, which
mocked and jeered, reproached and threatened her, by turns.
Why had she allowed, nay encouraged, Daisy to go away for two days?
Daisy, at any rate, was company—kind, young, unsuspecting company.
With Daisy she could be her old sharp self. It was such a comfort
to be with someone to whom she not only need, but ought to, say
nothing. When with Bunting she was pursued by a sick feeling of
guilt, of shame. She was the man's wedded wife—in his stolid way
he was very kind to her, and yet she was keeping from him something
he certainly had a right to know.
Not for worlds, however, would she have told Bunting of her dreadful
suspicion—nay, of her almost certainty.
At last she went across to the door and unlocked it. Then she went
upstairs and turned out her bedroom. That made her feel a little
She longed for Bunting to return, and yet in a way she was relieved
by his absence. She would have liked to feel him near by, and yet
she welcomed anything that took her husband out of the house.
And as Mrs. Bunting swept and dusted, trying to put her whole mind
into what she was doing, she was asking herself all the time what
was going on upstairs.
What a good rest the lodger was having! But there, that was only
natural. Mr. Sleuth, as she well knew, had been up a long time last
night, or rather this morning.
Suddenly, the drawing-room bell rang. But Mr. Sleuth's landlady did
not go up, as she generally did, before getting ready the simple meal
which was the lodger's luncheon and breakfast combined. Instead, she
went downstairs again and hurriedly prepared the lodger's food.
Then, very slowly, with her heart beating queerly, she walked up, and
just outside the sitting-room—for she felt sure that Mr. Sleuth had
got up, that he was there already, waiting for her—she rested the
tray on the top of the banisters and listened. For a few moments she
heard nothing; then through the door came the high, quavering voice
with which she had become so familiar:
"'She saith to him, stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in
secret is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead are there,
and that her guests are in the depths of hell.'"
There was a long pause. Mrs. Bunting could hear the leaves of
her Bible being turned over, eagerly, busily; and then again Mr.
Sleuth broke out, this time in a softer voice:
"'She hath cast down many wounded from her; yea, many strong men
have been slain by her.'" And in a softer, lower, plaintive tone
came the words: "'I applied my heart to know, and to search, and
to seek out wisdom and the reason of things; and to know the
wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness.'"
And as she stood there listening, a feeling of keen distress, of
spiritual oppression, came over Mrs. Bunting. For the first time
in her life she visioned the infinite mystery, the sadness and
strangeness, of human life.
Poor Mr. Sleuth—poor unhappy, distraught Mr. Sleuth! An
overwhelming pity blotted out for a moment the fear, aye, and the
loathing, she had been feeling for her lodger.
She knocked at the door, and then she took up her tray.
"Come in, Mrs. Bunting." Mr. Sleuth's voice sounded feebler, more
toneless than usual.
She turned the handle of the door and walked in. The lodger was
not sitting in his usual place; he had taken the little round table
on which his candle generally rested when he read in bed, out of
his bedroom, and placed it over by the drawing-room window. On it
were placed, open, the Bible and the Concordance. But as his
landlady came in, Mr. Sleuth hastily closed the Bible, and began
staring dreamily out of the window, down at the sordid, hurrying
crowd of men and women which now swept along the Marylebone Road.
"There seem a great many people out today," he observed, without
"Yes, sir, there do."
Mrs. Bunting began busying herself with laying the cloth and
putting out the breakfast-lunch, and as she did so she was seized
with a mortal, instinctive terror of the man sitting there.
At last Mr. Sleuth got up and turned round. She forced herself to
look at him. How tired, how worn, he looked, and—how strange!
Walking towards the table on which lay his meal, he rubbed his hands
together with a nervous gesture—it was a gesture he only made when
something had pleased, nay, satisfied him. Mrs. Bunting, looking at
him, remembered that he had rubbed his hands together thus when he
had first seen the room upstairs, and realised that it contained a
large gas-stove and a convenient sink.
What Mr. Sleuth was doing now also reminded her in an odd way of a
play she had once seen—a play to which a young man had taken her
when she was a girl, unnumbered years ago, and which had thrilled
and fascinated her. "Out, out, damned spot!" that was what the tall,
fierce, beautiful lady who had played the part of a queen had said,
twisting her hands together just as the lodger was doing now.
"It's a fine day," said Mr. Sleuth, sitting down and unfolding his
napkin. "The fog has cleared. I do not know if you will agree with
me, Mrs. Bunting, but I always feel brighter when the sun is shining,
as it is now, at any rate, trying to shine." He looked at her
inquiringly, but Mrs. Bunting could not speak. She only nodded.
However, that did not affect Mr. Sleuth adversely.
He had acquired a great liking and respect for this well-balanced,
taciturn woman. She was the first woman for whom he had experienced
any such feeling for many years past.
He looked down at the still covered dish, and shook his head. "I
don't feel as if I could eat very much to-day," he said plaintively.
And then he suddenly took a half-sovereign out of his waistcoat pocket.
Already Mrs. Bunting had noticed that it was not the same waistcoat
Mr. Sleuth had been wearing the day before.
"Mrs. Bunting, may I ask you to come here?"
And after a moment of hesitation his landlady obeyed him.
"Will you please accept this little gift for the use you kindly
allowed me to make of your kitchen last night?" he said quietly.
"I tried to make as little mess as I could, Mrs. Bunting, but—
well, the truth is I was carrying out a very elaborate experiment."
Mrs. Bunting held out her hand, she hesitated, and then she took
the coin. The fingers which for a moment brushed lightly against
her palm were icy cold—cold and clammy. Mr. Sleuth was evidently
As she walked down the stairs, the winter sun, a scarlet ball
hanging in the smoky sky, glinted in on Mr. Sleuth's landlady, and
threw blood-red gleams, or so it seemed to her, on to the piece of
gold she was holding in her hand.
The day went by, as other days had gone by in that quiet household,
but, of course, there was far greater animation outside the little
house than was usually the case.
Perhaps because the sun was shining for the first time for some
days, the whole of London seemed to be making holiday in that part
of the town.
When Bunting at last came back, his wife listened silently while he
told her of the extraordinary excitement reigning everywhere. And
then, after he had been talking a long while, she suddenly shot a
strange look at him.
"I suppose you went to see the place?" she said.
And guiltily he acknowledged that he had done so.
"Well, there wasn't anything much to see—not now. But, oh, Ellen,
the daring of him! Why, Ellen, if the poor soul had had time to cry
out—which they don't believe she had—it's impossible someone
wouldn't 'a heard her. They say that if he goes on doing it like
that—in the afternoon, like—he never will be caught. He must
have just got mixed up with all the other people within ten seconds
of what he'd done!"
During the afternoon Bunting bought papers recklessly—in fact, he
must have spent the best part of six-pence. But in spite of all the
supposed and suggested clues, there was nothing—nothing at all new
to read, less, in fact than ever before.
The police, it was clear, were quite at a loss, and Mrs. Bunting
began to feel curiously better, less tired, less ill, less—less
terrified than she had felt through the morning.
And then something happened which broke with dramatic suddenness the
quietude of the day.
They had had their tea, and Bunting was reading the last of the
papers he had run out to buy, when suddenly there came a loud,
thundering, double knock at the door.
Mrs. Bunting looked up, startled. "Why, whoever can that be?" she
But as Bunting got up she added quickly, "You just sit down again.
I'll go myself. Sounds like someone after lodgings. I'll soon send
them to the right-about!"
And then she left the room, but not before there had come another
loud double knock.
Mrs. Bunting opened the front door. In a moment she saw that the
person who stood there was a stranger to her. He was a big, dark
man, with fierce, black moustaches. And somehow—she could not
have told you why—he suggested a policeman to Mrs. Bunting's mind.
This notion of hers was confirmed by the very first words he uttered.
For, "I'm here to execute a warrant!" he exclaimed in a theatrical,
With a weak cry of protest Mrs. Bunting suddenly threw out her arms
as if to bar the way; she turned deadly white—but then, in an
instant the supposed stranger's laugh rang out, with loud, jovial,
"There now, Mrs. Bunting! I never thought I'd take you in as well
as all that!"
It was Joe Chandler—Joe Chandler dressed up, as she knew he
sometimes, not very often, did dress up in the course of his work.
Mrs. Bunting began laughing—laughing helplessly, hysterically,
just as she had done on the morning of Daisy's arrival, when the
newspaper-sellers had come shouting down the Marylebone Road.
"What's all this about?" Bunting came out
Young Chandler ruefully shut the front door. "I didn't mean to
upset her like this," he said, looking foolish; "'twas just my silly
nonsense, Mr. Bunting." And together they helped her into the
But, once there, poor Mrs. Bunting went on worse than ever; she
threw her black apron over her face, and began to sob hysterically.
"I made sure she'd know who I was when I spoke," went on the young
fellow apologetically. "But, there now, I have upset her. I am
"It don't matter!" she exclaimed, throwing the apron off her face,
but the tears were still streaming from her eyes as she sobbed and
laughed by turns. "Don't matter one little bit, Joe! 'Twas stupid
of me to be so taken aback. But, there, that murder that's happened
close by, it's just upset me—upset me altogether to-day."
"Enough to upset anyone—that was," acknowledged the young man
ruefully. "I've only come in for a minute, like. I haven't no
right to come when I'm on duty like this—"
Joe Chandler was looking longingly at what remains of the meal were
still on the table.
"You can take a minute just to have a bite and a sup," said Bunting
hospitably; "and then you can tell us any news there is, Joe. We're
right in the middle of everything now, ain't we?" He spoke with
evident enjoyment, almost pride, in the gruesome fact.
Joe nodded. Already his mouth was full of bread-and-butter. He
waited a moment, and then: "Well I have got one piece of news—not
that I suppose it'll interest you very much."
They both looked at him—Mrs. Bunting suddenly calm, though her
breast still heaved from time to time.
"Our Boss has resigned!" said Joe Chandler slowly, impressively.
"No! Not the Commissioner o' Police?" exclaimed Bunting.
"Yes, he has. He just can't bear what's said about us any longer
—and I don't wonder! He done his best, and so's we all. The
public have just gone daft—in the West End, that is, to-day. As
for the papers, well, they're something cruel—that's what they
are. And the ridiculous ideas they print! You'd never believe the
things they asks us to do—and quite serious-like."
"What d'you mean?" questioned Mrs. Bunting. She really wanted to
"Well, the Courier declares that there ought to be a house-to-house
investigation—all over London. Just think of it! Everybody to
let the police go all over their house, from garret to kitchen,
just to see if The Avenger isn't concealed there. Dotty, I calls
it! Why, 'twould take us months and months just to do that one
job in a town like London."
"I'd like to see them dare come into my house!" said Mrs. Bunting
"It's all along of them blarsted papers that The Avenger went to
work a different way this time," said Chandler slowly.
Bunting had pushed a tin of sardines towards his guest, and was
eagerly listening. "How d'you mean?" he asked. "I don't take
your meaning, Joe."
"Well, you see, it's this way. The newspapers was always saying
how extraordinary it was that The Avenger chose such a peculiar
time to do his deeds—I mean, the time when no one's about the
streets. Now, doesn't it stand to reason that the fellow, reading
all that, and seeing the sense of it, said to himself, 'I'll go on
another tack this time'? Just listen to this!" He pulled a strip
of paper, part of a column cut from a newspaper, out of his pocket:
"'AN EX-LORD MAYOR OF LONDON ON THE AVENGER
"'Will the murderer be caught? Yes,' replied Sir John, 'he will
certainly be caught—probably when he commits his next crime. A
whole army of bloodhounds, metaphorical and literal, will be on his
track the moment he draws blood again. With the whole community
against him, he cannot escape, especially when it be remembered that
he chooses the quietest hour in the twenty-four to commit his crimes.
"'Londoners are now in such a state of nerves—if I may use the
expression, in such a state of funk—that every passer-by, however
innocent, is looked at with suspicion by his neighbour if his
avocation happens to take him abroad between the hours of one and
three in the morning.'
"I'd like to gag that ex-Lord Mayor!" concluded Joe Chandler
Just then the lodger's bell rang.
"Let me go up, my dear," said Bunting.
His wife still looked pale and shaken by the fright she had had.
"No, no," she said hastily. "You stop down here, and talk to Joe.
I'll look after Mr. Sleuth. He may be wanting his supper just a
bit earlier than usual to-day."
Slowly, painfully, again feeling as if her legs were made of cotton
wool, she dragged herself up to the first floor, knocked at the door,
and then went in.
"You did ring, sir?" she said, in her quiet, respectful way.
And Mr. Sleuth looked up.
She thought—but, as she reminded herself afterwards, it might have
been just her idea, and nothing else—that for the first time the
lodger looked frightened—frightened and cowed.
"I heard a noise downstairs," he said fretfully, "and I wanted to
know what it was all about. As I told you, Mrs. Bunting, when I
first took these rooms, quiet is essential to me."
"It was just a friend of ours, sir. I'm sorry you were disturbed.
Would you like the knocker taken off to-morrow? Bunting'll be
pleased to do it if you don't like to hear the sound of the knocks."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't put you to such trouble as that." Mr. Sleuth
looked quite relieved. "Just a friend of yours, was it, Mrs.
Bunting? He made a great deal of noise."
"Just a young fellow," she said apologetically. "The son of one of
Bunting's old friends. He often comes here, sir; but he never did
give such a great big double knock as that before. I'll speak to
him about it."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Bunting. I would really prefer you did nothing of
the kind. It was just a passing annoyance—nothing more!"
She waited a moment. How strange that Mr. Sleuth said nothing of
the hoarse cries which had made of the road outside a perfect Bedlam
every hour or two throughout that day. But no, Mr. Sleuth made no
allusion to what might well have disturbed any quiet gentleman at
"I thought maybe you'd like to have supper a little earlier to-night,
"Just when you like, Mrs. Bunting—just when it's convenient. I
do not wish to put you out in any way."
She felt herself dismissed, and going out quietly, closed the door.
As she did so, she heard the front door banging to. She sighed
—Joe Chandler was really a very noisy young fellow.
Mrs. Bunting slept well the night following that during which the
lodger had been engaged in making his mysterious experiments in her
kitchen. She was so tired, so utterly exhausted, that sleep came
to her the moment she laid her head upon her pillow.
Perhaps that was why she rose so early the next morning. Hardly
giving herself time to swallow the tea Bunting had made and brought
her, she got up and dressed.
She had suddenly come to the conclusion that the hall and staircase
required a thorough "doing down," and she did not even wait till
they had eaten their breakfast before beginning her labours. It
made Bunting feel quite uncomfortable. As he sat by the fire reading
his morning paper—the paper which was again of such absorbing
interest—he called out, "There's no need for so much hurry, Ellen.
Daisy'll be back to-day. Why don't you wait till she's come home to
But from the hall where she was busy dusting, sweeping, polishing,
his wife's voice came back: "Girls ain't no good at this sort of
work. Don't you worry about me. I feel as if I'd enjoy doing an
extra bit of cleaning to-day. I don't like to feel as anyone could
come in and see my place dirty."
"No fear of that!" Bunting chuckled. And then a new thought struck
him. "Ain't you afraid of waking the lodger?" he called out.
"Mr. Sleuth slept most of yesterday, and all last night," she
answered quickly. "As it is, I study him over-much; it's a long,
long time since I've done this staircase down."
All the time she was engaged in doing the hall, Mrs. Bunting left
the sitting-room door wide open.
That was a queer thing of her to do, but Bunting didn't like to get
up and shut her out, as it were. Still, try as he would, he couldn't
read with any comfort while all that noise was going on. He had
never known Ellen make such a lot of noise before. Once or twice he
looked up and frowned rather crossly.
There came a sudden silence, and he was startled to see that. Ellen
was standing in the doorway, staring at him, doing nothing.
"Come in," he said, "do! Ain't you finished yet?"
"I was only resting a minute," she said. "You don't tell me nothing.
I'd like to know if there's anything—I mean anything new—in the
paper this morning."
She spoke in a muffled voice, almost as if she were ashamed of her
unusual curiosity; and her look of fatigue, of pallor, made Bunting
suddenly uneasy. "Come in—do!" he repeated sharply. "You've
done quite enough—and before breakfast, too. 'Tain't necessary.
Come in and shut that door."
He spoke authoritatively, and his wife, for a wonder, obeyed him.
She came in, and did what she had never done before—brought the
broom with her, and put it up against the wall in the corner.
Then she sat down.
"I think I'll make breakfast up here," she said. "I—I feel cold,
Bunting." And her husband stared at her surprised, for drops of
perspiration were glistening on her forehead.
He got up. "All right. I'll go down and bring the eggs up. Don't
you worry. For the matter of that, I can cook them downstairs if
"No," she said obstinately. "I'd rather do my own work. You just
bring them up here—that'll be all right. To-morrow morning we'll
have Daisy to help see to things."
"Come over here and sit down comfortable in my chair," he suggested
kindly. "You never do take any bit of rest, Ellen. I never see'd
such a woman!"
And again she got up and meekly obeyed him, walking across the room
with languid steps.
He watched her, anxiously, uncomfortably.
She took up the newspaper he had just laid down, and Bunting took
two steps towards her.
"I'll show you the most interesting bit" he said eagerly. "It's
the piece headed, 'Our Special Investigator.' You see, they've
started a special investigator of their own, and he's got hold of
a lot of little facts the police seem to have overlooked. The man
who writes all that—I mean the Special Investigator—was a
famous 'tec in his time, and he's just come back out of his
retirement o' purpose to do this bit of work for the paper. You
read what he says—I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he ends by
getting that reward! One can see he just loves the work of
tracking people down."
"There's nothing to be proud of in such a job," said his wife
"He'll have something to be proud of if he catches The Avenger!"
cried Bunting. He was too keen about this affair to be put off
by Ellen's contradictory remarks. "You just notice that bit about
the rubber soles. Now, no one's thought o' that. I'll just tell
Chandler—he don't seem to me to be half awake, that young man
"He's quite wide awake enough without you saying things to him!
How about those eggs, Bunting? I feel quite ready for my breakfast
even if you don't—"
Mrs. Bunting now spoke in what her husband sometimes secretly
described to himself as "Ellen's snarling voice."
He turned away and left the room, feeling oddly troubled. There
was something queer about her, and he couldn't make it out. He
didn't mind it when she spoke sharply and nastily to him. He was
used to that. But now she was so up and down; so different from
what she used to be! In old days she had always been the same, but
now a man never knew where to have her.
And as he went downstairs he pondered uneasily over his wife's
changed ways and manner.
Take the question of his easy chair. A very small matter, no doubt,
but he had never known Ellen sit in that chair—no, not even once,
for a minute, since it had been purchased by her as a present for him.
They had been so happy, so happy, and so—so restful, during that
first week after Mr. Sleuth had come to them. Perhaps it was the
sudden, dramatic change from agonising anxiety to peace and security
which had been too much for Ellen—yes, that was what was the matter
with her, that and the universal excitement about these Avenger
murders, which were shaking the nerves of all London. Even Bunting,
unobservant as he was, had come to realise that his wife took a
morbid interest in these terrible happenings. And it was the more
queer of her to do so that at first she refused to discuss them, and
said openly that she was utterly uninterested in murder or crime of
He, Bunting, had always had a mild pleasure in such things. In his
time he had been a great reader of detective tales, and even now he
thought there was no pleasanter reading. It was that which had first
drawn him to Joe Chandler, and made him welcome the young chap as
cordially as he had done when they first came to London.
But though Ellen had tolerated, she had never encouraged, that sort
of talk between the two men. More than once she had exclaimed
reproachfully: "To hear you two, one would think there was no nice,
respectable, quiet people left in the world!"
But now all that was changed. She was as keen as anyone could be
to hear the latest details of an Avenger crime. True, she took her
own view of any theory suggested. But there! Ellen always had had
her own notions about everything under the sun. Ellen was a woman
who thought for herself—a clever woman, not an everyday woman by
any manner of means.
While these thoughts were going disconnectedly through his mind,
Bunting was breaking four eggs into a basin. He was going to give
Ellen a nice little surprise—to cook an omelette as a French chef
had once taught him to do, years and years ago. He didn't know how
she would take his doing such a thing after what she had said; but
never mind, she would enjoy the omelette when done. Ellen hadn't
been eating her food properly of late.
And when he went up again, his wife, to his relief, and, it must be
admitted, to his surprise, took it very well. She had not even
noticed how long he had been downstairs, for she had been reading
with intense, painful care the column that the great daily paper
they took in had allotted to the one-time famous detective.
According to this Special Investigator's own account he had
discovered all sorts of things that had escaped the eye of the
police and of the official detectives. For instance, owing, he
admitted, to a fortunate chance, he had been at the place where
the two last murders had been committed very soon after the double
crime had been discovered—in fact within half an hour, and he
had found, or so he felt sure, on the slippery, wet pavement
imprints of the murderer's right foot.
The paper reproduced the impression of a half-worn rubber sole.
At the same time, he also admitted—for the Special Investigator
was very honest, and he had a good bit of space to fill in the
enterprising paper which had engaged him to probe the awful
mystery—that there were thousands of rubber soles being worn in
London. . . .
And when she came to that statement Mrs. Bunting looked up, and
there came a wan smile over her thin, closely-shut lips. It was
quite true—that about rubber soles; there were thousands of
rubber soles being worn just now. She felt grateful to the Special
Investigator for having stated the fact so clearly.
The column ended up with the words:
"And to-day will take place the inquest on the double crime of ten
days ago. To my mind it would be well if a preliminary public
inquiry could be held at once. Say, on the very day the discovery
of a fresh murder is made. In that way alone would it be possible
to weigh and sift the evidence offered by members of the general
public. For when a week or more has elapsed, and these same people
have been examined and cross-examined in private by the police,
their impressions have had time to become blurred and hopelessly
confused. On that last occasion but one there seems no doubt
that several people, at any rate two women and one man, actually
saw the murderer hurrying from the scene of his atrocious double
crime—this being so, to-day's investigation may be of the highest
value and importance. To-morrow I hope to give an account of
the impression made on me by the inquest, and by any statements
made during its course."
Even when her husband had come in with the tray Mrs. Bunting had
gone on reading, only lifting up her eyes for a moment. At last he
said rather crossly, "Put down that paper, Ellen, this minute! The
omelette I've cooked for you will be just like leather if you don't
But once his wife had eaten her breakfast—and, to Bunting's
mortification, she left more than half the nice omelette untouched
—she took the paper up again. She turned over the big sheets,
until she found, at the foot of one of the ten columns devoted to
The Avenger and his crimes, the information she wanted, and then
uttered an exclamation under her breath.
What Mrs. Bunting had been looking for—what at last she had found
—was the time and place of the inquest which was to be held that
day. The hour named was a rather odd time—two o'clock in the
afternoon, but, from Mrs. Bunting's point of view, it was most
By two o'clock, nay, by half-past one, the lodger would have had
his lunch; by hurrying matters a little she and Bunting would have
had their dinner, and—and Daisy wasn't coming home till tea-time.
She got up out of her husband's chair. "I think you're right," she
said, in a quick, hoarse tone. "I mean about me seeing a doctor,
Bunting. I think I will go and see a doctor this very afternoon."
"Wouldn't you like me to go with you?" he asked.
"No, that I wouldn't. In fact I wouldn't go at all you was to go
"All right," he said vexedly. "Please yourself, my dear; you know
"I should think I did know best where my own health is concerned."
Even Bunting was incensed by this lack of gratitude. "'Twas I said,
long ago, you ought to go and see the doctor; 'twas you said you
wouldn't!" he exclaimed pugnaciously.
"Well, I've never said you was never right, have I? At any rate,
"Have you a pain anywhere?" He stared at her with a look of real
solicitude on his fat, phlegmatic face.
Somehow Ellen didn't look right, standing there opposite him. Her
shoulders seemed to have shrunk; even her cheeks had fallen in a
little. She had never looked so bad—not even when they had been
half starving, and dreadfully, dreadfully worked.
"Yes," she said briefly, "I've a pain in my head, at the back of
my neck. It doesn't often leave me; it gets worse when anything
upsets me, like I was upset last night by Joe Chandler."
"He was a silly ass to come and do a thing like that!" said Bunting
crossly. "I'd a good mind to tell him so, too. But I must say,
Ellen, I wonder he took you in—he didn't me!"
"Well, you had no chance he should—you knew who it was," she said
And Bunting remained silent, for Ellen was right. Joe Chandler had
already spoken when he, Bunting, came out into the hall, and saw
their cleverly disguised visitor.
"Those big black moustaches," he went on complainingly, "and that
black wig—why, 'twas too ridic'lous—that's what I call it!"
"Not to anyone who didn't know Joe," she said sharply.
"Well, I don't know. He didn't look like a real man—nohow. If
he's a wise lad, he won't let our Daisy ever see him looking like
that!" and Bunting laughed, a comfortable laugh.
He had thought a good deal about Daisy and young Chandler the last
two days, and, on the whole, he was well pleased. It was a dull,
unnatural life the girl was leading with Old Aunt. And Joe was
earning good money. They wouldn't have long to wait, these two
young people, as a beau and his girl often have to wait, as he,
Bunting, and Daisy's mother had had to do, for ever so long before
they could be married. No, there was no reason why they shouldn't
be spliced quite soon—if so the fancy took them. And Bunting
had very little doubt that so the fancy would take Joe, at any rate.
But there was plenty of time. Daisy wouldn't be eighteen till the
week after next. They might wait till she was twenty. By that
time Old Aunt might be dead, and Daisy might have come into quite
a tidy little bit of money.
"What are you smiling at?" said his wife sharply.
And he shook himself. "I—smiling? At nothing that I knows of."
Then he waited a moment. "Well, if you will know, Ellen, I was
just thinking of Daisy and that young chap Joe Chandler. He is
gone on her, ain't he?"
"Gone?" And then Mrs. Bunting laughed, a queer, odd, not unkindly
laugh. "Gone, Bunting?" she repeated. "Why, he's out o' sight
—right, out of sight!"
Then hesitatingly, and looking narrowly at her husband, she went on,
twisting a bit of her black apron with her fingers as she spoke:—
"I suppose he'll be going over this afternoon to fetch her? Or—or
d'you think he'll have to be at that inquest, Bunting?"
"Inquest? What inquest?" He looked at her puzzled.
"Why, the inquest on them bodies found in the passage near by King's
"Oh, no; he'd have no call to be at the inquest. For the matter o'
that, I know he's going over to fetch Daisy. He said so last night
—just when you went up to the lodger."
"That's just as well." Mrs. Bunting spoke with considerable
satisfaction. "Otherwise I suppose you'd ha' had to go. I wouldn't
like the house left—not with us out of it. Mr. Sleuth would be
upset if there came a ring at the door."
"Oh, I won't leave the house, don't you be afraid, Ellen—not while
"Not even if I'm out a good while, Bunting."
"No fear. Of course, you'll be a long time if it's your idea to see
that doctor at Ealing?"
He looked at her questioningly, and Mrs. Bunting nodded. Somehow
nodding didn't seem as bad as speaking a lie.
Any ordeal is far less terrifying, far easier to meet with courage,
when it is repeated, than is even a milder experience which is
Mrs. Bunting had already attended an inquest, in the character of a
witness, and it was one of the few happenings of her life which was
sharply etched against the somewhat blurred screen of her memory.
In a country house where the then Ellen Green had been staying for
a fortnight with her elderly mistress, there had occurred one of
those sudden, pitiful tragedies which occasionally destroy the
serenity, the apparent decorum, of a large, respectable household.
The under-housemaid, a pretty, happy-natured girl, had drowned
herself for love of the footman, who had given his sweetheart cause
for bitter jealousy. The girl had chosen to speak of her troubles
to the strange lady's maid rather than to her own fellow-servants,
and it was during the conversation the two women had had together
that the girl had threatened to take her own life.
As Mrs. Bunting put on her outdoor clothes, preparatory to going
out, she recalled very clearly all the details of that dreadful
affair, and of the part she herself had unwillingly played in it.
She visualised the country inn where the inquest on that poor,
unfortunate creature had been held.
The butler had escorted her from the Hall, for he also was to give
evidence, and as they came up there had been a look of cheerful
animation about the inn yard; people coming and going, many women
as well as men, village folk, among whom the dead girl's fate had
aroused a great deal of interest, and the kind of horror which those
who live on a dull countryside welcome rather than avoid.
Everyone there had been particularly nice and polite to her, to
Ellen Green; there had been a time of waiting in a room upstairs in
the old inn, and the witnesses had been accommodated, not only with
chairs, but with cake and wine.
She remembered how she had dreaded being a witness, how she had
felt as if she would like to run away from her nice, easy place,
rather than have to get up and tell the little that she knew of the
But it had not been so very dreadful after all. The coroner had
been a kindly-spoken gentleman; in fact he had complimented her on
the clear, sensible way she had given her evidence concerning the
exact words the unhappy girl had used.
One thing Ellen Green had said, in answer to a question put by
an inquisitive juryman, had raised a laugh in the crowded,
low-ceilinged room. "Ought not Miss Ellen Green," so the man had
asked, "to have told someone of the girl's threat? If she had done
so, might not the girl have been prevented from throwing herself
into the lake?" And she, the witness, had answered, with some
asperity—for by that time the coroner's kind manner had put her
at her ease—that she had not attached any importance to what the
girl had threatened to do, never believing that any young woman
could be so silly as to drown herself for love!
Vaguely Mrs. Bunting supposed that the inquest at which she was
going to be present this afternoon would be like that country
inquest of long ago.
It had been no mere perfunctory inquiry; she remembered very well
how little by little that pleasant-spoken gentleman, the coroner,
had got the whole truth out—the story, that is, of how that
horrid footman, whom she, Ellen Green, had disliked from the first
minute she had set eyes on him, had taken up with another young
woman. It had been supposed that this fact would not be elicited
by the coroner; but it had been, quietly, remorselessly; more, the
dead girl's letters had been read out—piteous, queerly expressed
letters, full of wild love and bitter, threatening jealousy. And
the jury had censured the young man most severely; she remembered
the look on his face when the people, shrinking back, had made a
passage for him to slink out of the crowded room.
Come to think of it now, it was strange she had never told Bunting
that long-ago tale. It had occurred years before she knew him, and
somehow nothing had ever happened to make her tell him about it.
She wondered whether Bunting had ever been to an inquest. She longed
to ask him. But if she asked him now, this minute, he might guess
where she was thinking of going.
And then, while still moving about her bedroom, she shook her head
—no, no, Bunting would never guess such a thing; he would never,
never suspect her of telling him a lie.
Stop—had she told a lie? She did mean to go to the doctor after
the inquest was finished—if there was time, that is. She wondered
uneasily how long such an inquiry was likely to last. In this case,
as so very little had been discovered, the proceedings would surely
be very formal—formal and therefore short.
She herself had one quite definite object—that of hearing the
evidence of those who believed they had seen the murderer leaving
the spot where his victims lay weltering in their still flowing
blood. She was filled with a painful, secret, and, yes, eager
curiosity to hear how those who were so positive about the matter
would describe the appearance of The Avenger. After all, a lot of
people must have seen him, for, as Bunting had said only the day
before to young Chandler, The Avenger was not a ghost; he was a
living man with some kind of hiding-place where he was known, and
where he spent his time between his awful crimes.
As she came back to the sitting-room, her extreme pallor struck her
"Why, Ellen," he said, "it is time you went to the doctor. You
looks just as if you was going to a funeral. I'll come along with
you as far as the station. You're going by train, ain't you? Not
by bus, eh? It's a very long way to Ealing, you know."
"There you go! Breaking your solemn promise to me the very first
minute!" But somehow she did not speak unkindly, only fretfully
And Bunting hung his head. "Why, to be sure I'd gone and clean
forgot the lodger! But will you be all right, Ellen? Why not wait
till to-morrow, and take Daisy with you?"
"I like doing my own business in my own way, and not in someone
else's way!" she snapped out; and then more gently, for Bunting
really looked concerned, and she did feel very far from well, "I'll
be all right, old man. Don't you worry about me!"
As she turned to go across to the door, she drew the black shawl
she had put over her long jacket more closely round her.
She felt ashamed, deeply ashamed, of deceiving so kind a husband.
And yet, what could she do? How could she share her dreadful burden
with poor Bunting? Why, 'twould be enough to make a man go daft.
Even she often felt as if she could stand it no longer—as if she
would give the world to tell someone—anyone—what it was that she
suspected, what deep in her heart she so feared to be the truth.
But, unknown to herself, the fresh outside air, fog-laden though it
was, soon began to do her good. She had gone out far too little the
last few days, for she had had a nervous terror of leaving the house
unprotected, as also a great unwillingness to allow Bunting to come
into contact with the lodger.
When she reached the Underground station she stopped short. There
were two ways of getting to St. Pancras—she could go by bus, or
she could go by train. She decided on the latter. But before
turning into the station her eyes strayed over the bills of the
early afternoon papers lying on the ground.
stared up at her in varying type.
Drawing her black shawl yet a little closer about her shoulders,
Mrs. Bunting looked down at the placards. She did not feel inclined
to buy a paper, as many of the people round her were doing. Her eyes
were smarting, even now, from their unaccustomed following of the
close print in the paper Bunting took in.
Slowly she turned, at last, into the Underground station.
And now a piece of extraordinary good fortune befell Mrs. Bunting.
The third-class carriage in which she took her place happened to be
empty, save for the presence of a police inspector. And once they
were well away she summoned up courage, and asked him the question
she knew she would have to ask of someone within the next few minutes.
"Can you tell me," she said, in a low voice, "where death inquests
are held"—she moistened her lips, waited a moment, and then
concluded—"in the neighbourhood of King's Cross?"
The man turned and, looked at her attentively. She did not look at
all the sort of Londoner who goes to an inquest—there are many
such—just for the fun of the thing. Approvingly, for he was a
widower, he noted her neat black coat and skirt; and the plain
Princess bonnet which framed her pale, refined face.
"I'm going to the Coroner's Court myself." he said good-naturedly.
"So you can come along of me. You see there's that big Avenger
inquest going on to-day, so I think they'll have had to make other
arrangements for—hum, hum—ordinary cases." And as she looked
at him dumbly, he went on, "There'll be a mighty crowd of people at
The Avenger inquest—a lot of ticket folk to be accommodated, to
say nothing of the public."
"That's the inquest I'm going to," faltered Mrs. Bunting. She could
scarcely get the words out. She realised with acute discomfort,
yes, and shame, how strange, how untoward, was that which she was
going to do. Fancy a respectable woman wanting to attend a murder
During the last few days all her perceptions had become sharpened
by suspense and fear. She realised now, as she looked into the
stolid face of her unknown friend, how she herself would have
regarded any woman who wanted to attend such an inquiry from a
simple, morbid feeling of curiosity. And yet—and yet that was
just what she was about to do herself.
"I've got a reason for wanting to go there," she murmured. It was
a comfort to unburden herself this little way even to a stranger.
"Ah!" he said reflectively. "A—a relative connected with one of
the two victims' husbands, I presume?"
And Mrs. Bunting bent her head.
"Going to give evidence?" he asked casually, and then he turned and
looked at Mrs. Bunting with far more attention than he had yet done.
"Oh, no!" There was a world of horror, of fear in the speaker's voice.
And the inspector felt concerned and sorry. "Hadn't seen her for
quite a long time, I suppose?"
"Never had, seen her. I'm from the country." Something impelled
Mrs. Bunting to say these words. But she hastily corrected herself,
"At least, I was."
"Will he be there?"
She looked at him dumbly; not in the least knowing to whom he was
"I mean the husband," went on the inspector hastily. "I felt sorry
for the last poor chap—I mean the husband of the last one—he
seemed so awfully miserable. You see, she'd been a good wife and a
good mother till she took to the drink."
"It always is so," breathed out Mrs. Bunting.
"Aye." He waited a moment. "D'you know anyone about the court?" he
She shook her head.
"Well, don't you worry. I'll take you in along o' me. You'd never
get in by yourself."
They got out; and oh, the comfort of being in some one's charge, of
having a determined man in uniform to look after one! And yet even
now there was to Mrs. Bunting something dream-like, unsubstantial
about the whole business.
"If he knew—if he only knew what I know!" she kept saying over
and over again to herself as she walked lightly by the big, burly
form of the police inspector.
"'Tisn't far—not three minutes," he said suddenly. "Am I walking
too quick for you, ma'am?"'
"No, not at all. I'm a quick walker."
And then suddenly they turned a corner and came on a mass of people,
a densely packed crowd of men and women, staring at a mean-looking
little door sunk into a high wall.
"Better take my arm," the inspector suggested. "Make way there!
Make way!" he cried authoritatively; and he swept her through the
serried ranks which parted at the sound of his voice, at the sight
of his uniform.
"Lucky you met me," he said, smiling. "You'd never have got
through alone. And 'tain't a nice crowd, not by any manner of
The small door opened just a little way, and they found themselves
on a narrow stone-flagged path, leading into a square yard. A few
men were out there, smoking.
Before preceding her into the building which rose at the back of
the yard, Mrs. Bunting's kind new friend took out his watch.
"There's another twenty minutes before they'll begin," he said.
"There's the mortuary"—he pointed with his thumb to a low room
built out to the right of the court. "Would you like to go in and
see them?" he whispered.
"Oh, no!" she cried, in a tone of extreme horror. And he looked
down at her with sympathy, and with increased respect. She was a
nice, respectable woman, she was. She had not come here imbued
with any morbid, horrible curiosity, but because she thought it
her duty to do so. He suspected her of being sister-in-law to
one of The Avenger's victims.
They walked through into a big room or hall, now full of men
talking in subdued yet eager, animated tones.
"I think you'd better sit down here," he said considerately, and,
leading her to one of the benches that stood out from the whitewashed
walls—"unless you'd rather be with the witnesses, that is."
But again she said, "Oh, no!" And then, with an effort, "Oughtn't
I to go into the court now, if it's likely to be so full?"
"Don't you worry," he said kindly. "I'll see you get a proper place.
I must leave you now for a minute, but I'll come back in good time
and look after you."
She raised the thick veil she had pulled down over her face while
they were going through that sinister, wolfish-looking crowd outside,
and looked about her.
Many of the gentlemen—they mostly wore tall hats and good overcoats
—standing round and about her looked vaguely familiar. She picked
out one at once. He was a famous journalist, whose shrewd, animated
face was familiar to her owing to the fact that it was widely
advertised in connection with a preparation for the hair—the
preparation which in happier, more prosperous days Bunting had had
great faith in, and used, or so he always said, with great benefit to
himself. This gentleman was the centre of an eager circle; half a
dozen men were talking to him, listening deferentially when he spoke,
and each of these men, so Mrs. Bunting realised, was a Somebody.
How strange, how amazing, to reflect that from all parts of London,
from their doubtless important avocations, one unseen, mysterious
beckoner had brought all these men here together, to this sordid
place, on this bitterly cold, dreary day. Here they were, all
thinking of, talking of, evoking one unknown, mysterious personality
—that of the shadowy and yet terribly real human being who chose
to call himself The Avenger. And somewhere, not so very far away
from them all The Avenger was keeping these clever, astute, highly
trained minds—aye, and bodies, too—at bay.
Even Mrs. Bunting, sitting here unnoticed, realised the irony of her
presence among them.
It seemed to Mrs. Bunting that she had been sitting there a long
time—it was really about a quarter of an hour—when her official
friend came back.
"Better come along now," he whispered; "it'll begin soon."
She followed him out into a passage, up a row of steep stone steps,
and so into the Coroner's Court.
The court was big, well-lighted room, in some ways not unlike a
chapel, the more so that a kind of gallery ran half-way round, a
gallery evidently set aside for the general public, for it was now
crammed to its utmost capacity.
Mrs. Bunting glanced timidly towards the serried row of faces. Had
it not been for her good fortune in meeting the man she was now
following, it was there that she would have had to try and make her
way. And she would have failed. Those people had rushed in the
moment the doors were opened, pushing, fighting their way in a way
she could never have pushed or fought.
There were just a few women among them, set, determined-looking
women, belonging to every class, but made one by their love of
sensation and their power of forcing their way in where they wanted
to be. But the women were few; the great majority of those standing
there were men—men who were also representative of every class of
The centre of the court was like an arena; it was sunk two or three
steps below the surrounding gallery. Just now it was comparatively
clear of people, save for the benches on which sat the men who were
to compose the jury. Some way from these men, huddled together in
a kind of big pew, stood seven people—three women and four men.
"D'you see the witnesses?" whispered the inspector, pointing these
out to her. He supposed her to know one of them with familiar
knowledge, but, if that were so, she made no sign.
Between the windows, facing the whole room, was a kind of little
platform, on which stood a desk and an arm-chair. Mrs. Bunting
guessed rightly that it was there the coroner would sit. And to
the left of the platform was the witness-stand, also raised
considerably above the jury.
Amazingly different, and far, far more grim and awe-inspiring than
the scene of the inquest which had taken place so long ago, on that
bright April day, in the village inn. There the coroner had sat on
the same level as the jury, and the witnesses had simply stepped
forward one by one, and taken their place before him.
Looking round her fearfully, Mrs. Bunting thought she would surely
die if ever she were exposed to the ordeal of standing in that
curious box-like stand, and she stared across at the bench where sat
the seven witnesses with a feeling of sincere pity in her heart.
But even she soon realised that her pity was wasted. Each woman
witness looked eager, excited, and animated; well pleased to be the
centre of attention and attraction to the general public. It was
plain each was enjoying her part of important, if humble, actress
in the thrilling drama which was now absorbing the attention of all
London—it might almost be said of the whole world.
Looking at these women, Mrs. Bunting wondered vaguely which was
which. Was it that rather draggle-tailed-looking young person who
had certainly, or almost certainly, seen The Avenger within ten
seconds of the double crime being committed? The woman who, aroused
by one of his victims' cry of terror, had rushed to her window and
seen the murderer's shadowy form pass swiftly by in the fog?
Yet another woman, so Mrs. Bunting now remembered, had given a most
circumstantial account of what The Avenger looked like, for he, it
was supposed, had actually brushed by her as he passed.
Those two women now before her had been interrogated and
cross-examined again and again, not only by the police, but by
representatives of every newspaper in London. It was from what they
had both said—unluckily their accounts materially differed—that
that official description of The Avenger had been worked up—that
which described him as being a good-looking, respectable young fellow
of twenty-eight, carrying a newspaper parcel.
As for the third woman, she was doubtless an acquaintance, a boon
companion of the dead.
Mrs. Bunting looked away from the witnesses, and focused her gaze
on another unfamiliar sight. Specially prominent, running indeed
through the whole length of the shut-in space, that is, from the
coroner's high dais right across to the opening in the wooden barrier,
was an ink-splashed table at which, when she had first taken her
place, there had been sitting three men busily sketching; but now
every seat at the table was occupied by tired, intelligent-looking
men, each with a notebook, or with some loose sheets of paper,
"Them's the reporters," whispered her friend. "They don't like
coming till the last minute, for they has to be the last to go.
At an ordinary inquest there are only two—maybe three—attending,
but now every paper in the kingdom has pretty well applied for a
pass to that reporters' table."
He looked consideringly down into the well of the court. "Now let
me see what I can do for you—"
Then he beckoned to the coroner's officer: "Perhaps you could put
this lady just over there, in a corner by herself? Related to a
relation of the deceased, but doesn't want to be—" He whispered
a word or two, and the other nodded sympathetically, and looked at
Mrs. Bunting with interest. "I'll put her just here," he muttered.
"There's no one coming there to-day. You see, there are only seven
witnesses—sometimes we have a lot more than that."
And he kindly put her on a now empty bench opposite to where the
seven witnesses stood and sat with their eager, set faces, ready
—aye, more than ready—to play their part.
For a moment every eye in the court was focused on Mrs. Bunting, but
soon those who had stared so hungrily, so intently, at her, realised
that she had nothing to do with the case. She was evidently there
as a spectator, and, more fortunate than most, she had a "friend at
court," and so was able to sit comfortably, instead of having to
stand in the crowd.
But she was not long left in isolation. Very soon some of the
important-looking gentlemen she had seen downstairs came into the
court, and were ushered over to her seat while two or three among
them, including the famous writer whose face was so familiar that
it almost seemed to Mrs. Bunting like that of a kindly acquaintance,
were accommodated at the reporters' table.
"Gentlemen, the Coroner."
The jury stood up, shuffling their feet, and then sat down again;
over the spectators there fell a sudden silence.
And then what immediately followed recalled to Mrs. Bunting, for the
first time, that informal little country inquest of long ago.
First came the "Oyez! Oyez!" the old Norman-French summons to all
whose business it is to attend a solemn inquiry into the death
—sudden, unexplained, terrible—of a fellow-being.
The jury—there were fourteen of them—all stood up again. They
raised their hands and solemnly chanted together the curious words
of their oath.
Then came a quick, informal exchange of sentences 'twixt the coroner
and his officer.
Yes, everything was in order. The jury had viewed the bodies—he
quickly corrected himself—the body, for, technically speaking, the
inquest just about to be held only concerned one body.
And then, amid a silence so absolute that the slightest rustle could
be heard through the court, the coroner—a clever-looking gentleman,
though not so old as Mrs. Bunting thought he ought to have been to
occupy so important a position on so important a day—gave a little
history, as it were, of the terrible and mysterious Avenger crimes.
He spoke very clearly, warming to his work as he went on.
He told them that he had been present at the inquest held on one of
The Avenger's former victims. "I only went through professional
curiosity," he threw in by way of parenthesis, "little thinking,
gentlemen, that the inquest on one of these unhappy creatures would
ever be held in my court."
On and on, he went, though he had, in truth, but little to say, and
though that little was known to every one of his listeners.
Mrs. Bunting heard one of the older gentlemen sitting near her
whisper to another: "Drawing it out all he can; that's what he's
doing. Having the time of his life, evidently!" And then the other
whispered back, so low that she could only just catch the words,
"Aye, aye. But he's a good chap—I knew his father; we were at
school together. Takes his job very seriously, you know—he does
to-day, at any rate."
She was listening intently, waiting for a word, a sentence, which
would relieve her hidden terrors, or, on the other hand, confirm
them. But the word, the sentence, was never uttered.
And yet, at the very end of his long peroration, the coroner did
throw out a hint which might mean anything—or nothing.
"I am glad to say that we hope to obtain such evidence to-day as
will in time lead to the apprehension of the miscreant who has
committed, and is still committing, these terrible crimes."
Mrs. Bunting stared uneasily up into the coroner's firm,
determined-looking face. What did he mean by that? Was there any
new evidence—evidence of which Joe Chandler, for instance, was
ignorant? And, as if in answer to the unspoken question, her heart
gave a sudden leap, for a big, burly man had taken his place in the
witness-box—a policeman who had not been sitting with the other
But soon her uneasy terror became stilled. This witness was simply
the constable who had found the first body. In quick, business-like
tones he described exactly what had happened to him on that cold,
foggy morning ten days ago. He was shown a plan, and he marked it
slowly, carefully, with a thick finger. That was the exact place
—no, he was making a mistake—that was the place where the other
body had lain. He explained apologetically that he had got rather
mixed up between the two bodies—that of Johanna Cobbett and Sophy
And then the coroner intervened authoritatively: "For the purpose
of this inquiry," he said, "we must, I think, for a moment consider
the two murders together."
After that, the witness went on far more comfortably; and as he
proceeded, in a quick monotone, the full and deadly horror of
The Avenger's acts came over Mrs. Bunting in a great seething flood
of sick fear and—and, yes, remorse.
Up to now she had given very little thought—if, indeed, any thought
—to the drink-sodden victims of The Avenger. It was he who had
filled her thoughts,—he and those who were trying to track him down.
But now? Now she felt sick and sorry she had come here to-day. She
wondered if she would ever be able to get the vision the policeman's
words had conjured up out of her mind—out of her memory.
And then there came an eager stir of excitement and of attention
throughout the whole court, for the policeman had stepped down out of
the witness-box, and one of the women witnesses was being conducted to
Mrs. Bunting looked with interest and sympathy at the woman,
remembering how she herself had trembled with fear, trembled as that
poor, bedraggled, common-looking person was trembling now. The woman
had looked so cheerful, so—so well pleased with herself till a
minute ago, but now she had become very pale, and she looked round
her as a hunted animal might have done.
But the coroner was very kind, very soothing and gentle in his
manner, just as that other coroner had been when dealing with Ellen
Green at the inquest on that poor drowned girl.
After the witness had repeated in a toneless voice the solemn words
of the oath, she began to be taken, step by step, though her story.
At once Mrs. Bunting realised that this was the woman who claimed
to have seen The Avenger from her bedroom window. Gaining confidence,
as she went on, the witness described how she had heard a long-drawn,
stifled screech, and, aroused from deep sleep, had instinctively
jumped out of bed and rushed to her window.
The coroner looked down at something lying on his desk. "Let me
see! Here is the plan. Yes—I think I understand that the house
in which you are lodging exactly faces the alley where the two crimes
And there arose a quick, futile discussion. The house did not face
the alley, but the window of the witness's bedroom faced the alley.
"A distinction without a difference," said the coroner testily.
"And now tell us as clearly and quickly as you can what you saw when
you looked out."
There fell a dead silence on the crowded court. And then the woman
broke out, speaking more volubly and firmly than she had yet done.
"I saw 'im!" she cried. "I shall never forget it—no, not till my
dying day!" And she looked round defiantly.
Mrs. Bunting suddenly remembered a chat one of the newspaper men had
had with a person who slept under this woman's room. That person
had unkindly said she felt sure that Lizzie Cole had not got up that
night—that she had made up the whole story. She, the speaker, slept
lightly, and that night had been tending a sick child. Accordingly,
she would have heard if there had been either the scream described
by Lizzie Cole, or the sound of Lizzie Cole jumping out of bed.
"We quite understand that you think you saw the"—the coroner
hesitated—"the individual who had just perpetrated these terrible
crimes. But what we want to have from you is a description of him.
In spite of the foggy atmosphere about which all are agreed, you
say you saw him distinctly, walking along for some yards below your
window. Now, please, try and tell us what he was like."
The woman began twisting and untwisting the corner of a coloured
handkerchief she held in her hand.
"Let us begin at the beginning," said the coroner patiently. "What
sort of a hat was this man wearing when you saw him hurrying from
"It was just a black 'at" said the witness at last, in a husky,
rather anxious tone.
"Yes—just a black hat. And a coat—were you able to see what
sort of a coat he was wearing?"
"'E 'adn't got no coat" she said decidedly. "No coat at all! I
remembers that very perticulerly. I thought it queer, as it was
so cold—everybody as can wears some sort o' coat this weather!"
A juryman who had been looking at a strip of newspaper, and
apparently not attending at all to what the witness was saying, here
jumped up and put out his hand.
"Yes?" the coroner turned to him.
"I just want to say that this 'ere witness—if her name is Lizzie
Cole, began by saying The Avenger was wearing a coat—a big, heavy
coat. I've got it here, in this bit of paper."
"I never said so!" cried the woman passionately. "I was made to
say all those things by the young man what came to me from the
Evening Sun. Just put in what 'e liked in 'is paper, 'e did—not
what I said at all!"
At this there was some laughter, quickly suppressed.
"In future," said the coroner severely, addressing the juryman, who
had now sat down again, "you must ask any question you wish to ask
through your foreman, and please wait till I have concluded my
examination of the witness."
But this interruption, this—this accusation, had utterly upset
the witness. She began contradicting herself hopelessly. The man
she had seen hurrying by in the semi-darkness below was tall—no,
he was short. He was thin—no, he was a stoutish young man. And
as to whether he was carrying anything, there was quite an
Most positively, most confidently, the witness declared that she had
seen a newspaper parcel under his arm; it had bulged out at the back
—so she declared. But it was proved, very gently and firmly, that
she had said nothing of the kind to the gentleman from Scotland Yard
who had taken down her first account—in fact, to him she had
declared confidently that the man had carried nothing—nothing at
all; that she had seen his arms swinging up and down.
One fact—if fact it could be called—the coroner did elicit.
Lizzie Cole suddenly volunteered the statement that as he had passed
her window he had looked up at her. This was quite a new statement.
"He looked up at you?" repeated the coroner. "You said nothing of
that in your examination."
"I said nothink because I was scared—nigh scared to death!"
"If you could really see his countenance, for we know the night was
dark and foggy, will you please tell me what he was like?"
But the coroner was speaking casually, his hand straying over his
desk; not a creature in that court now believed the woman's story.
"Dark!" she answered dramatically. "Dark, almost black! If you can
take my meaning, with a sort of nigger look."
And then there was a titter. Even the jury smiled. And sharply the
coroner bade Lizzie Cole stand down.
Far more credence was given to the evidence of the next witness.
This was an older, quieter-looking woman, decently dressed in black.
Being the wife of a night watchman whose work lay in a big warehouse
situated about a hundred yards from the alley or passage where the
crimes had taken place, she had gone out to take her husband some
food he always had at one in the morning. And a man had passed her,
breathing hard and walking very quickly. Her attention had been
drawn to him because she very seldom met anyone at that hour, and
because he had such an odd, peculiar look and manner.
Mrs. Bunting, listening attentively, realised that it was very much
from what this witness had said that the official description of The
Avenger had been composed—that description which had brought such
comfort to her, Ellen Bunting's, soul.
This witness spoke quietly, confidently, and her account of the
newspaper parcel the man was carrying was perfectly clear and
"It was a neat parcel," she said, "done up with string."
She had thought it an odd thing for a respectably dressed young man
to carry such a parcel—that was what had made her notice it. But
when pressed, she had to admit that it had been a very foggy night
—so foggy that she herself had been afraid of losing her way,
though every step was familiar.
When the third woman went into the box, and with sighs and tears
told of her acquaintance with one of the deceased, with Johanna
Cobbett, there was a stir of sympathetic attention. But she had
nothing to say throwing any light on the investigation, save that
she admitted reluctantly that "Anny" would have been such a nice,
respectable young woman if it hadn't been for the drink.
Her examination was shortened as much as possible; and so was that
of the next witness, the husband of Johanna Cobbett. He was a very
respectable-looking man, a foreman in a big business house at Croydon.
He seemed to feel his position most acutely. He hadn't seen his
wife for two years; he hadn't had news of her for six months. Before
she took to drink she had been an admirable wife, and—and yes,
Yet another painful few minutes, to anyone who had a heart, or
imagination to understand, was spent when the father of the murdered
woman was in the box. He had had later news of his unfortunate
daughter than her husband had had, but of course he could throw no
light at all on her murder or murderer.
A barman, who had served both the women with drink just before the
public-house closed for the night, was handled rather roughly. He
had stepped with a jaunty air into the box, and came out of it
looking cast down, uneasy.
And then there took place a very dramatic, because an utterly
unexpected, incident. It was one of which the evening papers made
the utmost much to Mrs. Bunting's indignation. But neither coroner
nor jury—and they, after all, were the people who mattered—
thought a great deal of it.
There had come a pause in the proceedings. All seven witnesses had
been heard, and a gentleman near Mrs. Bunting whispered, "They are
now going to call Dr. Gaunt. He's been in every big murder case for
the last thirty years. He's sure to have something interesting to
say. It was really to hear him I came."
But before Dr. Gaunt had time even to get up from the seat with
which he had been accommodated close to the coroner, there came a
stir among the general public, or, rather, among those spectators
who stood near the low wooden door which separated the official
part of the court from the gallery.
The coroner's officer, with an apologetic air, approached the
coroner, and handed him up an envelope. And again in an instant,
there fell absolute silence on the court.
Looking rather annoyed, the coroner opened the envelope. He glanced
down the sheet of notepaper it contained. Then he looked up.
"Mr.—" then he glanced down again. "Mr.—ah—Mr.—is it Cannot?"
he said doubtfully, "may come forward."
There ran a titter though the spectators, and the coroner frowned.
A neat, jaunty-looking old gentleman, in a nice fur-lined overcoat,
with a fresh, red face and white side-whiskers, was conducted from
the place where he had been standing among the general public, to
"This is somewhat out of order, Mr.—er—Cannot," said the
coroner severely. "You should have sent me this note before the
proceedings began. This gentleman," he said, addressing the jury,
"informs me that he has something of the utmost importance to
reveal in connection with our investigation."
"I have remained silent—I have locked what I knew within my own
breast"—began Mr. Cannot in a quavering voice, "because I am so
afraid of the Press! I knew if I said anything, even to the police,
that my house would be besieged by reporters and newspaper men. . . .
I have a delicate wife, Mr. Coroner. Such a state of things—the
state of things I imagine—might cause her death—indeed, I hope
she will never read a report of these proceedings. Fortunately, she
has an excellent trained nurse—"
"You will now take the oath," said the coroner sharply. He already
regretted having allowed this absurd person to have his say.
Mr. Cannot took the oath with a gravity and decorum which had been
lacking in most of those who had preceded him.
"I will address myself to the jury," he began.
"You will do nothing of the sort," broke in the coroner. "Now,
please attend to me. You assert in your letter that you know who
"The Avenger," put in Mr. Cannot promptly.
"The perpetrator of these crimes. You further declare that you met
him on the very night he committed the murder we are now
"I do so declare," said Mr. Cannot confidently. "Though in the best
of health myself,"—he beamed round the court, a now amused,
attentive court—"it is my fate to be surrounded by sick people, to
have only ailing friends. I have to trouble you with my private
affairs, Mr. Coroner, in order to explain why I happened to be out
at so undue an hour as one o'clock in the morning—"
Again a titter ran through the court. Even the jury broke into
"Yes," went on the witness solemnly, "I was with a sick friend—in
fact, I may say a dying friend, for since then he has passed away.
I will not reveal my exact dwelling-place; you, sir, have it on my
notepaper. It is not necessary to reveal it, but you will understand
me when I say that in order to come home I had to pass through a
portion of the Regent's Park; and it was there—to be exact, about
the middle of Prince's Terrace—when a very peculiar-looking
individual stopped and accosted me."
Mrs. Bunting's hand shot up to her breast. A feeling of deadly fear
took possession of her.
"I mustn't faint," she said to herself hurriedly. "I mustn't faint!
Whatever's the matter with me?" She took out her bottle of
smelling-salts, and gave it a good, long sniff.
"He was a grim, gaunt man, was this stranger, Mr. Coroner, with a
very odd-looking face. I should say an educated man—in common
parlance, a gentleman. What drew my special attention to him was
that he was talking aloud to himself—in fact, he seemed to be
repeating poetry. I give you my word, I had no thought of The
Avenger, no thought at all. To tell you the truth, I thought this
gentleman was a poor escaped lunatic, a man who'd got away from his
keeper. The Regent's Park, sir, as I need hardly tell you, is a
most quiet and soothing neighbourhood—"
And then a member of the general public gave a loud guffaw.
"I appeal to you; sir," the old gentleman suddenly cried out "to
protect me from this unseemly levity! I have not come here with
any other object than that of doing my duty as a citizen!"
"I must ask you to keep to what is strictly relevant," said the
coroner stiffly. "Time is going on, and I have another important
witness to call—a medical witness. Kindly tell me, as shortly as
possible, what made you suppose that this stranger could possibly
be—" with an effort he brought out for the first time since the
proceedings began, the words, "The Avenger?"
"I am coming to that!" said Mr. Cannot hastily. "I am coming to
that! Bear with me a little longer, Mr. Coroner. It was a foggy
night, but not as foggy as it became later. And just when we were
passing one another, I and this man, who was talking aloud to
himself—he, instead of going on, stopped and turned towards
me. That made me feel queer and uncomfortable, the more so that
there was a very wild, mad look on his face. I said to him, as
soothingly as possible, 'A very foggy night, sir.' And he said,
'Yes—yes, it is a foggy night, a night fit for the commission of
dark and salutary deeds.' A very strange phrase, sir, that—'dark
and salutary deeds.'" He looked at the coroner expectantly—
"Well? Well, Mr. Cannot? Was that all? Did you see this person
go off in the direction of—of King's Cross, for instance?"
"No." Mr. Cannot reluctantly shook his head. "No, I must honestly
say I did not. He walked along a certain way by my side, and then
he crossed the road and was lost in the fog."
"That will do," said the coroner. He spoke more kindly. "I thank
you, Mr. Cannot, for coming here and giving us what you evidently
consider important information."
Mr. Cannot bowed, a funny, little, old-fashioned bow, and again some
of those present tittered rather foolishly.
As he was stepping down from the witness-box, he turned and looked
up at the coroner, opening his lips as he did so. There was a
murmur of talking going on, but Mrs. Bunting, at any rate, heard
quite distinctly what it was that he said:
"One thing I have forgotten, sir, which may be of importance. The
man carried a bag—a rather light-coloured leather bag, in his left
hand. It was such a bag, sir, as might well contain a long-handled
Mrs. Bunting looked at the reporters' table. She remembered suddenly
that she had told Bunting about the disappearance of Mr. Sleuth's bag.
And then a feeling of intense thankfulness came over her; not a
single reporter at the long, ink-stained table had put down that last
remark of Mr. Cannot. In fact, not one of them had heard it.
Again the last witness put up his hand to command attention. And
then silence did fall on the court.
"One word more," he said in a quavering voice. "May I ask to be
accommodated with a seat for the rest of the proceedings? I see
there is some room left on the witnesses' bench." And, without
waiting for permission, he nimbly stepped across and sat down.
Mrs. Bunting looked up, startled. Her friend, the inspector, was
bending over her.
"Perhaps you'd like to come along now," he said urgently.—"I
don't suppose you want to hear the medical evidence. It's always
painful for a female to hear that. And there'll be an awful rush
when the inquest's over. I could get you away quietly now."
She rose, and, pulling her veil down over her pale face, followed
Down the stone staircase they went, and through the big, now empty,
"I'll let you out the back way," he said. "I expect you're tired,
ma'am, and will like to get home to a cup o' tea."
"I don't know how to thank you!" There were tears in her eyes.
She was trembling with excitement and emotion. "You have been good
"Oh, that's nothing," he said a little awkwardly. "I expect you
went though a pretty bad time, didn't you?"
"Will they be having that old gentleman again?" she spoke in a
whisper, and looked up at him with a pleading, agonised look.
"Good Lord, no! Crazy old fool! We're troubled with a lot of
those sort of people, you know, ma'am, and they often do have funny
names, too. You see, that sort is busy all their lives in the City,
or what not; then they retires when they gets about sixty, and
they're fit to hang themselves with dulness. Why, there's hundreds
of lunies of the sort to be met in London. You can't go about at
night and not meet 'em. Plenty of 'em!"
"Then you don't think there was anything in what he said?" she
"In what that old gent said? Goodness—no!" he laughed
good-naturedly. "But I'll tell you what I do think. If it wasn't
for the time that had gone by, I should believe that the second
witness had seen that crafty devil—" he lowered his voice. "But,
there, Dr. Gaunt declares most positively—so did two other medical
gentlemen—that the poor creatures had been dead hours when they
was found. Medical gentlemen are always very positive about their
evidence. They have to be—otherwise who'd believe 'em? If we'd
time I could tell you of a case in which—well, 'twas all because
of Dr. Gaunt that the murderer escaped. We all knew perfectly well
the man we caught did it, but he was able to prove an alibi as to
the time Dr. Gaunt said the poor soul was killed."
It was not late even now, for the inquest had begun very punctually,
but Mrs. Bunting felt that no power on earth should force her to go
to Ealing. She felt quite tired out and as if she could think of
Pacing along very slowly, as if she were an old, old woman, she
began listlessly turning her steps towards home. Somehow she felt
that it would do her more good to stay out in the air than take the
train. Also she would thus put off the moment—the moment to which
she looked forward with dread and dislike—when she would have to
invent a circumstantial story as to what she had said to the doctor,
and what the doctor had said to her.
Like most men and women of his class, Bunting took a great interest
in other people's ailments, the more interest that he was himself so
remarkably healthy. He would feel quite injured if Ellen didn't
tell him everything that had happened; everything, that is, that the
doctor had told her.
As she walked swiftly along, at every corner, or so it seemed to her,
and outside every public-house, stood eager boys selling the latest
edition of the afternoon papers to equally eager buyers. "Avenger
Inquest?" they shouted exultantly. "All the latest evidence!" At
one place, where there were a row of contents-bills pinned to the
pavement by stones, she stopped and looked down. "Opening of the
Avenger Inquest. What is he really like? Full description." On yet
another ran the ironic query: "Avenger Inquest. Do you know him?"
And as that facetious question stared up at her in huge print, Mrs.
Bunting turned sick—so sick and faint that she did what she had
never done before in her life—she pushed her way into a
public-house, and, putting two pennies down on the counter, asked
for, and received, a glass of cold water.
As she walked along the now gas-lit streets, she found her mind
dwelling persistently—not on the inquest at which she had been
present, not even on The Avenger, but on his victims.
Shudderingly, she visualised the two cold bodies lying in the
mortuary. She seemed also to see that third body, which, though
cold, must yet be warmer than the other two, for at this time
yesterday The Avenger's last victim had been alive, poor soul—
alive and, according to a companion of hers whom the papers had
already interviewed, particularly merry and bright.
Hitherto Mrs. Bunting had been spared in any real sense a vision of
The Avenger's victims. Now they haunted her, and she wondered
wearily if this fresh horror was to be added to the terrible fear
which encompassed her night and day.
As she came within sight of home, her spirit suddenly lightened.
The narrow, drab-coloured little house, flanked each side by others
exactly like it in every single particular, save that their front
yards were not so well kept, looked as if it could, aye, and would,
keep any secret closely hidden.
For a moment, at any rate, The Avenger's victims receded from her
mind. She thought of them no more. All her thoughts were
concentrated on Bunting—Bunting and Mr. Sleuth. She wondered what
had happened during her absence—whether the lodger had rung his
bell, and, if so, how he had got on with Bunting, and Bunting with
She walked up the little flagged path wearily, and yet with a
pleasant feeling of home-coming. And then she saw that Bunting must
have been watching for her behind the now closely drawn curtains,
for before she could either knock or ring he had opened the door.
"I was getting quite anxious about you," he exclaimed. "Come in,
Ellen, quick! You must be fair perished a day like now—and you
out so little as you are. Well? I hope you found the doctor all
right?" He looked at her with affectionate anxiety.
And then there came a sudden, happy thought to Mrs. Bunting. "No,"
she said slowly, "Doctor Evans wasn't in. I waited, and waited, and
waited, but he never came in at all. 'Twas my own fault," she added
quickly. Even at such a moment as this she told herself that though
she had, in a sort of way, a kind of right to lie to her husband,
she had no sight to slander the doctor who had been so kind to her
years ago. "I ought to have sent him a card yesterday night," she
said. "Of course, I was a fool to go all that way, just on chance
of finding a doctor in. It stands to reason they've got to go out
to people at all times of day."
"I hope they gave you a cup of tea?" he said.
And again she hesitated, debating a point with herself: if the
doctor had a decent sort of servant, of course, she, Ellen Bunting,
would have been offered a cup of tea, especially if she explained
she'd known him a long time.
She compromised. "I was offered some," she said, in a weak, tired
voice. "But there, Bunting, I didn't feel as if I wanted it. I'd
be very grateful for a cup now—if you'd just make it for me over
"'Course I will," he said eagerly. "You just come in and sit down,
my dear. Don't trouble to take your things off now—wait till
you've had tea."
And she obeyed him. "Where's Daisy?" she asked suddenly. "I thought
the girl would be back by the time I got home."
"She ain't coming home to-day"—there was an odd, sly, smiling look
on Bunting's face.
"Did she send a telegram?" asked Mrs. Bunting.
"No. Young Chandler's just come in and told me. He's been over
there and,—would you believe it, Ellen?—he's managed to make
friends with Margaret. Wonderful what love will do, ain't it? He
went over there just to help Daisy carry her bag back, you know,
and then Margaret told him that her lady had sent her some money
to go to the play, and she actually asked Joe to go with them this
evening—she and Daisy—to the pantomime. Did you ever hear o'
such a thing?"
"Very nice for them, I'm sure," said Mrs. Bunting absently. But
she was pleased—pleased to have her mind taken off herself. "Then
when is that girl coming home?" she asked patiently.
"Well, it appears that Chandler's got to-morrow morning off too—
this evening and to-morrow morning. He'll be on duty all night,
but he proposes to go over and bring Daisy back in time for early
dinner. Will that suit you, Ellen?"
"Yes. That'll be all right," she said. "I don't grudge the girl
her bit of pleasure. One's only young once. By the way, did the
lodger ring while I was out?"
Bunting turned round from the gas-ring, which he was watching to
see the kettle boil. "No," he said. "Come to think of it, it's
rather a funny thing, but the truth is, Ellen, I never gave Mr.
Sleuth a thought. You see, Chandler came in and was telling me all
about Margaret, laughing-like, and then something else happened
while you was out, Ellen."
"Something else happened?" she said in a startled voice. Getting
up from her chair she came towards her husband: "What happened?
"Just a message for me, asking if I could go to-night to wait at a
young lady's birthday party. In Hanover Terrace it is. A waiter
—one of them nasty Swiss fellows as works for nothing—fell out
just at the last minute and so they had to send for me."
His honest face shone with triumph. The man who had taken over his
old friend's business in Baker Street had hitherto behaved very
badly to Bunting, and that though Bunting had been on the books for
ever so long, and had always given every satisfaction. But this new
man had never employed him—no, not once.
"I hope you didn't make yourself too cheap?" said his wife jealously.
"No, that I didn't! I hum'd and haw'd a lot; and I could see the
fellow was quite worried—in fact, at the end he offered me
half-a-crown more. So I graciously consented!"
Husband and wife laughed more merrily than they had done for a long
"You won't mind being alone, here? I don't count the lodger—he's
no good—" Bunting looked at her anxiously. He was only prompted
to ask the question because lately Ellen had been so queer, so
unlike herself. Otherwise it never would have occurred to him that
she could be afraid of being alone in the house. She had often been
so in the days when he got more jobs.
She stared at him, a little suspiciously. "I be afraid?" she echoed.
"Certainly not. Why should I be? I've never been afraid before.
What d'you exactly mean by that, Bunting?"
"Oh, nothing. I only thought you might feel funny-like, all alone
on this ground floor. You was so upset yesterday when that young
fool Chandler came, dressed up, to the door."
"I shouldn't have been frightened if he'd just been an ordinary
stranger," she said shortly. "He said something silly to me—just
in keeping with his character-like, and it upset me. Besides, I
feel better now."
As she was sipping gratefully her cup of tea, there came a noise
outside, the shouts of newspaper-sellers.
"I'll just run out," said Bunting apologetically, "and see what
happened at that inquest to-day. Besides, they may have a clue
about the horrible affair last night. Chandler was full of it—
when he wasn't talking about Daisy and Margaret, that is. He's
on to-night, luckily not till twelve o'clock; plenty of time to
escort the two of 'em back after the play. Besides, he said
he'll put them into a cab and blow the expense, if the panto'
goes on too long for him to take 'em home."
"On to-night?" repeated Mrs. Bunting. "Whatever for?"
"Well, you see, The Avenger's always done 'em in couples, so to
speak. They've got an idea that he'll have a try again to-night.
However, even so, Joe's only on from midnight till five o'clock.
Then he'll go and turn in a bit before going off to fetch Daisy,
Fine thing to be young, ain't it, Ellen?"
"I can't believe that he'd go out on such a night as this!"
"What do you mean?" said Bunting, staring at her. Ellen had spoken
so oddly, as if to herself, and in so fierce and passionate a tone.
"What do I mean?" she repeated—and a great fear clutched at her
heart. What had she said? She had been thinking aloud.
"Why, by saying he won't go out. Of course, he has to go out.
Besides, he'll have been to the play as it is. 'Twould be a pretty
thing if the police didn't go out, just because it was cold!"
"I—I was thinking of The Avenger," said Mrs. Bunting. She looked
at her husband fixedly. Somehow she had felt impelled to utter
those true words.
"He don't take no heed of heat nor cold," said Bunting sombrely.
"I take it the man's dead to all human feeling—saving, of
"So that's your idea about him, is it?" She looked across at her
husband. Somehow this dangerous, this perilous conversation between
them attracted her strangely. She felt as if she must go on with it.
"D'you think he was the man that woman said she saw? That young
man what passed her with a newspaper parcel?"
"Let me see," he said slowly. "I thought that 'twas from the bedroom
window a woman saw him?"
"No, no. I mean the other woman, what was taking her husband's
breakfast to him in the warehouse. She was far the most
respectable-looking woman of the two," said Mrs. Bunting impatiently.
And then, seeing her husband's look of utter, blank astonishment,
she felt a thrill of unreasoning terror. She must have gone suddenly
mad to have said what she did! Hurriedly she got up from her chair.
"There, now," she said; "here I am gossiping all about nothing when
I ought to be seeing about the lodger's supper. It was someone in
the train talked to me about that person as thinks she saw The
Without waiting for an answer, she went into her bedroom, lit the
gas, and shut the door. A moment later she heard Bunting go out to
buy the paper they had both forgotten during their dangerous
As she slowly, languidly took off her nice, warm coat and shawl,
Mrs. Bunting found herself shivering. It was dreadfully cold, quite
unnaturally cold even for the time of year.
She looked longingly towards the fireplace. It was now concealed
by the washhand-stand, but how pleasant it would be to drag that
stand aside and light a bit of fire, especially as Bunting was going
to be out to-night. He would have to put on his dress clothes, and
she didn't like his dressing in the sitting-room. It didn't suit
her ideas that he should do so. How if she did light the fire here,
in their bedroom? It would be nice for her to have bit of fire to
cheer her up after he had gone.
Mrs. Bunting knew only too well that she would have very little
sleep the coming night. She looked over, with shuddering distaste,
at her nice, soft bed. There she would lie, on that couch of little
ease, listening—listening. . . .
She went down to the kitchen. Everything was ready for Mr. Sleuth's
supper, for she had made all her preparations before going out so
as not to have to hurry back before it suited her to do so.
Leaning the tray for a moment on the top of the banisters, she
listened. Even in that nice warm drawing-room, and with a good
fire, how cold the lodger must feel sitting studying at the table!
But unwonted sounds were coming through the door. Mr. Sleuth was
moving restlessly about the room, not sitting reading, as was his
wont at this time of the evening.
She knocked, and then waited a moment.
There came the sound of a sharp click, that of the key turning in
the lock of the chiffonnier cupboard—or so Mr. Sleuth's landlady
could have sworn.
There was a pause—she knocked again.
"Come in," said Mr. Sleuth loudly, and she opened the door and
carried in the tray.
"You are a little earlier than usual, are you not Mrs. Bunting?"
he said, with a touch of irritation in his voice.
"I don't think so, sir, but I've been out. Perhaps I lost count of
the time. I thought you'd like your breakfast early, as you had
dinner rather sooner than usual."
"Breakfast? Did you say breakfast, Mrs. Bunting?"
"I beg your pardon, sir, I'm sure! I meant supper." He looked at
her fixedly. It seemed to Mrs. Bunting that there was a terrible
questioning look in his dark, sunken eyes.
"Aren't you well?" he said slowly. "You don't look well, Mrs.
"No, sir," she said. "I'm not well. I went over to see a doctor
this afternoon, to Ealing, sir."
"I hope he did you good, Mrs. Bunting"—the lodger's voice had
become softer, kinder in quality.
"It always does me good to see the doctor," said Mrs. Bunting
And then a very odd smile lit up Mr. Sleuth's face. "Doctors are a
maligned body of men," he said. "I'm glad to hear you speak well of
them. They do their best, Mrs. Bunting. Being human they are liable
to err, but I assure you they do their best."
"That I'm sure they do, sir"—she spoke heartily, sincerely.
Doctors had always treated her most kindly, and even generously.
And then, having laid the cloth, and put the lodger's one hot dish
upon it, she went towards the door. "Wouldn't you like me to bring
up another scuttleful of coals, sir? it's bitterly cold—getting
colder every minute. A fearful night to have to go out in—" she
looked at him deprecatingly.
And then Mr. Sleuth did something which startled her very much.
Pushing his chair back, he jumped up and drew himself to his full
"What d'you mean?" he stammered. "Why did you say that, Mrs.
She stared at him, fascinated, affrighted. Again there came an
awful questioning look over his face.
"I was thinking of Bunting, sir. He's got a job to-night. He's
going to act as waiter at a young lady's birthday party. I was
thinking it's a pity he has to turn out, and in his thin clothes,
too"—she brought out her words jerkily.
Mr. Sleuth seemed somewhat reassured, and again he sat down. "Ah!"
he said. "Dear me—I'm sorry to hear that! I hope your husband
will not catch cold, Mrs. Bunting."
And then she shut the door, and went downstairs.
Without telling Bunting what she meant to do, she dragged the heavy
washhand-stand away from the chimneypiece, and lighted the fire.
Then in some triumph she called Bunting in.
"Time for you to dress," she cried out cheerfully, "and I've got a
little bit of fire for you to dress by."
As he exclaimed at her extravagance, "Well, 'twill be pleasant for
me, too; keep me company-like while you're out; and make the room
nice and warm when you come in. You'll be fair perished, even
walking that short way," she said.
And then, while her husband was dressing, Mrs. Bunting went upstairs
and cleared away Mr. Sleuth's supper.
The lodger said no word while she was so engaged—no word at all.
He was sitting away from the table, rather an unusual thing for him
to do, and staring into the fire, his hands on his knees.
Mr. Sleuth looked lonely, very, very lonely and forlorn. Somehow, a
great rush of pity, as well as of horror, came over Mrs. Bunting's
heart. He was such a—a—she searched for a word in her mind, but
could only find the word "gentle"—he was such a nice, gentle
gentleman, was Mr. Sleuth. Lately he had again taken to leaving his
money about, as he had done the first day or two, and with some
concern his landlady had seen that the store had diminished a good
deal. A very simple calculation had made her realise that almost the
whole of that missing money had come her way, or, at any rate, had
passed through her hands.
Mr. Sleuth never stinted himself as to food, or stinted them, his
landlord and his landlady, as to what he had said he would pay.
And Mrs. Bunting's conscience pricked her a little, for he hardly
ever used that room upstairs—that room for which he had paid extra
so generously. If Bunting got another job or two through that nasty
man in Baker Street,—and now that the ice had been broken between
them it was very probable that he would do so, for he was a very
well-trained, experienced waiter—then she thought she would tell
Mr. Sleuth that she no longer wanted him to pay as much as he was
She looked anxiously, deprecatingly, at his long, bent back.
"Good-night, sir," she said at last.
Mr. Sleuth turned round. His face looked sad and worn.
"I hope you'll sleep well, sir."
"Yes, I'm sure I shall sleep well. But perhaps I shall take a
little turn first. Such is my way, Mrs. Bunting; after I have been
studying all day I require a little exercise."
"Oh, I wouldn't go out to-night," she said deprecatingly. "'Tisn't
fit for anyone to be out in the bitter cold."
"And yet—and yet"—he looked at her attentively—"there will
probably be many people out in the streets to-night."
"A many more than usual, I fear, sir."
"Indeed?" said Mr. Sleuth quickly. "Is it not a strange thing,
Mrs. Bunting, that people who have all day in which to amuse
themselves should carry their revels far into the night?"
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of revellers, sir; I was thinking"—she
hesitated, then, with a gasping effort Mrs. Bunting brought out the
words, "of the police."
"The police?" He put up his right hand and stroked his chin two or
three times with a nervous gesture. "But what is man—what is man's
puny power or strength against that of God, or even of those over
whose feet God has set a guard?"
Mr. Sleuth looked at his landlady with a kind of triumph lighting up
his face, and Mrs. Bunting felt a shuddering sense of relief. Then
she had not offended her lodger? She had not made him angry by that,
that—was it a hint she had meant to convey to him?
"Very true, sir," she said respectfully. "But Providence means us
to take care o' ourselves too." And then she closed the door behind
her and went downstairs.
But Mr. Sleuth's landlady did not go on, down to the kitchen. She
came into her sitting-room, and, careless of what Bunting would think
the next morning, put the tray with the remains of the lodger's meal on
her table. Having done that, and having turned out the gas in the
passage and the sitting-room, she went into her bedroom and closed the
The fire was burning brightly and clearly. She told herself that
she did not need any other light to undress by.
What was it made the flames of the fire shoot up, shoot down, in
that queer way? But watching it for awhile, she did at last doze
off a bit.
And then—and then Mrs. Bunting woke with a sudden thumping of her
heart. Woke to see that the fire was almost out—woke to hear a
quarter to twelve chime out—woke at last to the sound she had been
listening for before she fell asleep—the sound of Mr. Sleuth,
wearing his rubber-soled shoes, creeping downstairs, along the
passage, and so out, very, very quietly by the front door.
But once she was in bed Mrs. Bunting turned restless. She tossed
this way and that, full of discomfort and unease. Perhaps it was
the unaccustomed firelight dancing on the walls, making queer shadows
all round her, which kept her so wide awake.
She lay thinking and listening—listening and thinking. It even
occurred to her to do the one thing that might have quieted her
excited brain—to get a book, one of those detective stories of
which Bunting had a slender store in the next room, and then,
lighting the gas, to sit up and read.
No, Mrs. Bunting had always been told it was very wrong to read in
bed, and she was not in a mood just now to begin doing anything that
she had been told was wrong. . . .
It was a very cold night—so cold, so windy, so snow-laden was the
atmosphere, that everyone who could do so stayed indoors.
Bunting, however, was now on his way home from what had proved a
really pleasant job. A remarkable piece of luck had come his way
this evening, all the more welcome because it was quite unexpected!
The young lady at whose birthday party he had been present in
capacity of waiter had come into a fortune that day, and she had had
the gracious, the surprising thought of presenting each of the hired
waiters with a sovereign!
This gift, which had been accompanied by a few kind words, had gone
to Bunting's heart. It had confirmed him in his Conservative
principles; only gentlefolk ever behaved in that way; quiet,
old-fashioned, respectable, gentlefolk, the sort of people of whom
those nasty Radicals know nothing and care less!
But the ex-butler was not as happy as he should have been.
Slackening his footsteps, he began to think with puzzled concern of
how queer his wife had seemed lately. Ellen had become so nervous,
so "jumpy," that he didn't know what to make of her sometimes. She
had never been really good-tempered—your capable, self-respecting
woman seldom is—but she had never been like what she was now. And
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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,"
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
But Daisy did not look as pleased as her father thought she ought
"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
and fetch Daisy. They're all on duty again."
Bunting put out his hand and clutched hold of the edge of the
mantelpiece. He had gone very red, but his wife was far too much
concerned with her own feelings and sensations to notice it.
There was a long silence between them. Then he spoke, making a
great effort to appear unconcerned.
"And where did it happen?" he asked. "Close to the other one?"
She hesitated, then: "I don't know. He didn't say. But hush!"
she added quickly. "Here's Daisy! Don't let's talk of that horror
in front of her-like. Besides, I promised Chandler I'd be mum."
And he acquiesced.
"You can be laying the cloth, child, while I go up and clear away
the lodger's breakfast." Without waiting for an answer, she hurried
Mr. Sleuth had left the greater part of the nice lemon sole untouched.
"I don't feel well to-day," he said fretfully. "And, Mrs. Bunting?
I should be much obliged if your husband would lend me that paper I
saw in his hand. I do not often care to look at the public prints,
but I should like to do so now."
She flew downstairs. "Bunting," she said a little breathlessly,
"the lodger would like you just to lend him the Sun."
Bunting handed it over to her. "I've read it through," he observed.
"You can tell him that I don't want it back again."
On her way up she glanced down at the pink sheet. Occupying a third
of the space was an irregular drawing, and under it was written, in
rather large characters:
"We are glad to be able to present our readers with an authentic
reproduction of the footprint of the half-worn rubber sole which
was almost certainly worn by The Avenger when he committed his
double murder ten days ago."
She went into the sitting-room. To her relief it was empty.
"Kindly put the paper down on the table," came Mr. Sleuth's muffled
voice from the upper landing.
She did so. "Yes, sir. And Bunting don't want the paper back
again, sir. He says he's read it." And then she hurried out of
All afternoon it went on snowing; and the three of them sat there,
listening and waiting—Bunting and his wife hardly knew for what;
Daisy for the knock which would herald Joe Chandler.
And about four there came the now familiar sound.
Mrs. Bunting hurried out into the passage, and as she opened the
front door she whispered, "We haven't said anything to Daisy yet.
Young girls can't keep secrets."
Chandler nodded comprehendingly. He now looked the low character
he had assumed to the life, for he was blue with cold, disheartened,
and tired out.
Daisy gave a little cry of shocked surprise, of amusement, of
welcome, when she saw how cleverly he was disguised.
"I never!" she exclaimed. "What a difference it do make, to be
sure! Why, you looks quite horrid, Mr. Chandler."
And, somehow, that little speech of hers amused her father so much
that he quite cheered up. Bunting had been very dull and quiet
all that afternoon.
"It won't take me ten minutes to make myself respectable again,"
said the young man rather ruefully.
His host and hostess, looking at him eagerly, furtively, both came
to the conclusion that he had been unsuccessful—that he had failed,
that is, in getting any information worth having. And though, in a
sense, they all had a pleasant tea together, there was an air of
constraint, even of discomfort, over the little party.
Bunting felt it hard that he couldn't ask the questions that were
trembling on his lips; he would have felt it hard any time during
the last month to refrain from knowing anything Joe could tell him,
but now it seemed almost intolerable to be in this queer kind of
half suspense. There was one important fact he longed to know,
and at last came his opportunity of doing so, for Joe Chandler rose
to leave, and this time it was Bunting who followed him out into
"Where did it happen?" he whispered. "Just tell me that, Joe?"
"Primrose Hill," said the other briefly. "You'll know all about it
in a minute or two, for it'll be all in the last editions of the
evening papers. That's what's been arranged."
"No arrest I suppose?"
Chandler shook his head despondently. "No," he said, "I'm inclined
to think the Yard was on a wrong tack altogether this time. But one
can only do one's best. I don't know if Mrs. Bunting told you I'd
got to question a barmaid about a man who was in her place just
before closing-time. Well, she's said all she knew, and it's as
clear as daylight to me that the eccentric old gent she talks about
was only a harmless luny. He gave her a sovereign just because she
told him she was a teetotaller!" He laughed ruefully.
Even Bunting was diverted at the notion. "Well, that's a queer
thing for a barmaid to be!" he exclaimed. "She's niece to the people
what keeps the public," explained Chandler; and then he went out of
the front door with a cheerful "So long!"
When Bunting went back into the sitting-room Daisy had disappeared.
She had gone downstairs with the tray. "Where's my girl?" he said
"She's just taken the tray downstairs."
He went out to the top of the kitchen stairs, and called out sharply,
"Daisy! Daisy, child! Are you down there?"
"Yes, father," came her eager, happy voice.
"Better come up out of that cold kitchen."
He turned and came back to his wife. "Ellen, is the lodger in? I
haven't heard him moving about. Now mind what I says, please! I
don't want Daisy to be mixed up with him."
"Mr. Sleuth don't seem very well to-day," answered Mrs. Bunting
quietly. "'Tain't likely I should let Daisy have anything to do
with him. Why, she's never even seen him. 'Tain't likely I should
allow her to begin waiting on him now."
But though she was surprised and a little irritated by the tone in
which Bunting had spoken, no glimmer of the truth illumined her mind.
So accustomed had she become to bearing alone the burden of her awful
secret, that it would have required far more than a cross word or
two, far more than the fact that Bunting looked ill and tired, for
her to have come to suspect that her secret was now shared by another,
and that other her husband.
Again and again the poor soul had agonised and trembled at the
thought of her house being invaded by the police, but that was only
because she had always credited the police with supernatural powers
of detection. That they should come to know the awful fact she kept
hidden in her breast would have seemed to her, on the whole, a
natural thing, but that Bunting should even dimly suspect it appeared
beyond the range of possibility.
And yet even Daisy noticed a change in her father. He sat cowering
over the fire—saying nothing, doing nothing.
"Why, father, ain't you well?" the girl asked more than once.
And, looking up, he would answer, "Yes, I'm well enough, my girl,
but I feels cold. It's awful cold. I never did feel anything like
the cold we've got just now."
* * *
At eight the now familiar shouts and cries began again outside.
"The Avenger again!" "Another horrible crime!" "Extra speshul
edition!"—such were the shouts, the exultant yells, hurled through
the clear, cold air. They fell, like bombs into the quiet room.
Both Bunting and his wife remained silent, but Daisy's cheeks grew
pink with excitement, and her eye sparkled.
"Hark, father! Hark, Ellen! D'you hear that?" she exclaimed
childishly, and even clapped her hands. "I do wish Mr. Chandler
had been here. He would 'a been startled!"
"Don't, Daisy!" and Bunting frowned.
Then, getting up, he stretched himself. "It's fair getting on my
mind," he said, "these horrible things happening. I'd like to get
right away from London, just as far as I could—that I would!"
"Up to John-o'-Groat's?" said Daisy, laughing. And then, "Why,
father, ain't you going out to get a paper?"
"Yes, I suppose I must."
Slowly he went out of the room, and, lingering a moment in the hall,
he put on his greatcoat and hat. Then he opened the front door,
and walked down the flagged path. Opening the iron gate, he stepped
out on the pavement, then crossed the road to where the newspaper-boys
The boy nearest to him only had the Sun—a late edition of the paper
he had already read. It annoyed Bunting to give a penny for a
ha'penny rag of which he already knew the main contents. But there
was nothing else to do.
Standing under a lamp-post, he opened out the newspaper. It was
bitingly cold; that, perhaps, was why his hand shook as he looked
down at the big headlines. For Bunting had been very unfair to the
enterprise of the editor of his favourite evening paper. This
special edition was full of new matter—new matter concerning
First, in huge type right across the page, was the brief statement
that The Avenger had now committed his ninth crime, and that he had
chosen quite a new locality, namely, the lonely stretch of rising
ground known to Londoners as Primrose Hill.
"The police," so Bunting read, "are very reserved as to the
circumstances which led to the finding of the body of The Avenger's
latest victim. But we have reason to believe that they possess
several really important clues, and that one of them is concerned
with the half-worn rubber sole of which we are the first to reproduce
an outline to-day. (See over page.)"
And Bunting, turning the sheet round about, saw the irregular outline
he had already seen in the early edition of the Sun, that purporting
to be a facsimile of the imprint left by The Avenger's rubber sole.
He stared down at the rough outline which took up so much of the
space which should have been devoted to reading matter with a queer,
sinking feeling of terrified alarm. Again and again criminals had
been tracked by the marks their boots or shoes had made at or near
the scenes of their misdoings.
Practically the only job Bunting did in his own house of a menial
kind was the cleaning of the boots and shoes. He had already
visualised early this very afternoon the little row with which he
dealt each morning—first came his wife's strong, serviceable
boots, then his own two pairs, a good deal patched and mended, and
next to his own Mr. Sleuth's strong, hardly worn, and expensive
buttoned boots. Of late a dear little coquettish high-heeled pair
of outdoor shoes with thin, paperlike soles, bought by Daisy for
her trip to London, had ended the row. The girl had worn these
thin shoes persistently, in defiance of Ellen's reproof and advice,
and he, Bunting, had only once had to clean her more sensible
country pair, and that only because the others had become wet though
the day he and she had accompanied young Chandler to Scotland Yard.
Slowly he returned across the road. Somehow the thought of going
in again, of hearing his wife's sarcastic comments, of parrying
Daisy's eager questions, had become intolerable. So he walked
slowly, trying to put off the evil moment when he would have to tell
them what was in his paper.
The lamp under which he had stood reading was not exactly opposite
the house. It was rather to the right of it. And when, having
crossed over the roadway, he walked along the pavement towards his
own gate, he heard odd, shuffling sounds coming from the inner side
of the low wall which shut off his little courtyard from the pavement.
Now, under ordinary circumstances Bunting would have rushed forward
to drive out whoever was there. He and his wife had often had
trouble, before the cold weather began, with vagrants seeking shelter
there. But to-night he stayed outside, listening intently, sick
with suspense and fear.
Was it possible that their place was being watched—already? He
thought it only too likely. Bunting, like Mrs. Bunting, credited
the police with almost supernatural powers, especially since he
had paid that visit to Scotland Yard.
But to Bunting's amazement, and, yes, relief, it was his lodger who
suddenly loomed up in the dim light.
Mr. Sleuth must have been stooping down, for his tall, lank form
had been quite concealed till he stepped forward from behind the
low wall on to the flagged path leading to the front door.
The lodger was carrying a brown paper parcel, and, as he walked
along, the new boots he was wearing creaked, and the tap-tap of
hard nail-studded heels rang out on the flat-stones of the narrow
Bunting, still standing outside the gate, suddenly knew what it was
his lodger had been doing on the other side of the low wall. Mr.
Sleuth had evidently been out to buy himself another pair of new
boots, and then he had gone inside the gate and had put them on,
placing his old footgear in the paper in which the new pair had
The ex-butler waited—waited quite a long time, not only until Mr.
Sleuth had let himself into the house, but till the lodger had had
time to get well away, upstairs.
Then he also walked up the flagged pathway, and put his latchkey in
the door. He lingered as long over the job of hanging his hat and
coat up in the hall as he dared, in fact till his wife called out
to him. Then he went in, and throwing the paper down on the table,
he said sullenly: "There it is! You can see it all for yourself—
not that there's very much to see," and groped his way to the fire.
His wife looked at him in sharp alarm. "Whatever have you done to
yourself?" she exclaimed. "You're ill—that's what it is, Bunting.
You got a chill last night!"
"I told you I'd got a chill," he muttered. "'Twasn't last night,
though; 'twas going out this morning, coming back in the bus.
Margaret keeps that housekeeper's room o' hers like a hothouse—
that's what she does. 'Twas going out from there into the biting
wind, that's what did for me. It must be awful to stand about in
such weather; 'tis a wonder to me how that young fellow, Joe Chandler,
can stand the life—being out in all weathers like he is."
Bunting spoke at random, his one anxiety being to get away from what
was in the paper, which now lay, neglected, on the table.
"Those that keep out o' doors all day never do come to no harm,"
said his wife testily. "But if you felt so bad, whatever was you
out so long for, Bunting? I thought you'd gone away somewhere!
D'you mean you only went to get the paper?"
"I just stopped for a second to look at it under the lamp," he
"That was a silly thing to do!"
"Perhaps it was," he admitted meekly.
Daisy had taken up the paper. "Well, they don't say much," she
said disappointedly. "Hardly anything at all! But perhaps Mr.
Chandler 'll be in soon again. If so, he'll tell us more about it."
"A young girl like you oughtn't to want to know anything about
murders," said her stepmother severely. "Joe won't think any the
better of you for your inquisitiveness about such things. If I
was you, Daisy, I shouldn't say nothing about it if he does come in
—which I fair tell you I hope he won't. I've seen enough of that
young chap to-day."
"He didn't come in for long—not to-day," said Daisy, her lip
"I can tell you one thing that'll surprise you, my dear"—Mrs.
Bunting looked significantly at her stepdaughter. She also wanted
to get away from that dread news—which yet was no news.
"Yes?" said Daisy, rather defiantly. "What is it, Ellen?"
"Maybe you'll be surprised to hear that Joe did come in this morning.
He knew all about that affair then, but he particular asked that
you shouldn't be told anything about it."
"Never!" cried Daisy, much mortified.
"Yes," went on her stepmother ruthlessly. "You just ask your father
over there if it isn't true."
"'Tain't a healthy thing to speak overmuch about such happenings,"
said Bunting heavily.
"If I was Joe," went on Mrs. Bunting, quickly pursuing her advantage,
"I shouldn't want to talk about such horrid things when I comes in
to have a quiet chat with friends. But the minute he comes in that
poor young chap is set upon—mostly, I admit, by your father," she
looked at her husband severely. "But you does your share, too,
Daisy! You asks him this, you asks him that—he's fair puzzled
sometimes. It don't do to be so inquisitive."
And perhaps because of this little sermon on Mrs. Bunting's part
when young Chandler did come in again that evening, very little was
said of the new Avenger murder.
Bunting made no reference to it at all, and though Daisy said a
word, it was but a word. And Joe Chandler thought he had never
spent a pleasanter evening in his life—for it was he and Daisy
who talked all the time, their elders remaining for the most part
Daisy told of all that she had done with Aunt Margaret. She
described the long, dull hours and the queer jobs her aunt set her
to do—the washing up of all the fine drawing-room china in a big
basin lined with flannel, and how terrified she (Daisy) had been
lest there should come even one teeny little chip to any of it.
Then she went on to relate some of the funny things Aunt Margaret
had told her about "the family."
There came a really comic tale, which hugely interested and delighted
Chandler. This was of how Aunt Margaret's lady had been taken in by
an impostor—an impostor who had come up, just as she was stepping
out of her carriage, and pretended to have a fit on the doorstep.
Aunt Margaret's lady, being a soft one, had insisted on the man
coming into the hall, where he had been given all kinds of
restoratives. When the man had at last gone off, it was found that
he had "wolfed" young master's best walking-stick, one with a fine
tortoise-shell top to it. Thus had Aunt Margaret proved to her lady
that the man had been shamming, and her lady had been very angry—
near had a fit herself!
"There's a lot of that about," said Chandler, laughing.
"Incorrigible rogues and vagabonds—that's what those sort of people
And then he, in his turn, told an elaborate tale of an exceptionally
clever swindler whom he himself had brought to book. He was very
proud of that job, it had formed a white stone in his career as a
detective. And even Mrs. Bunting was quite interested to hear about
Chandler was still sitting there when Mr. Sleuth's bell rang. For
awhile no one stirred; then Bunting looked questioningly at his wife.
"Did you hear that?" he said. "I think, Ellen, that was the lodger's
She got up, without alacrity, and went upstairs.
"I rang," said Mr. Sleuth weakly, "to tell you I don't require any
supper to-night, Mrs. Bunting. Only a glass of milk, with a lump
of sugar in it. That is all I require—nothing more. I feel very
very far from well"—and he had a hunted, plaintive expression on
his face. "And then I thought your husband would like his paper
back again, Mrs. Bunting."
Mrs. Bunting, looking at him fixedly, with a sad intensity of gaze
of which she was quite unconscious, answered, "Oh, no, sir!
Bunting don't require that paper now. He read it all through."
Something impelled her to add, ruthlessly, "He's got another paper
by now, sir. You may have heard them come shouting outside. Would
you like me to bring you up that other paper, sir?"
And Mr. Sleuth shook his head. "No," he said querulously. "I much
regret now having asked for the one paper I did read, for it
disturbed me, Mrs. Bunting. There was nothing of any value in it—
there never is in any public print. I gave up reading newspapers
years ago, and I much regret that I broke though my rule to-day."
As if to indicate to her that he did not wish for any more
conversation, the lodger then did what he had never done before in
his landlady's presence. He went over to the fireplace and
deliberately turned his back on her.
She went down and brought up the glass of milk and the lump of
sugar he had asked for.
Now he was in his usual place, sitting at the table, studying the
When Mrs. Bunting went back to the others they were chatting
merrily. She did not notice that the merriment was confined to the
two young people.
"Well?" said Daisy pertly. "How about the lodger, Ellen? Is he
"Yes," she said stiffly. "Of course he is!"
"He must feel pretty dull sitting up there all by himself—awful
lonely-like, I call it," said the girl.
But her, stepmother remained silent.
"Whatever does he do with himself all day?" persisted Daisy.
"Just now he's reading the Bible," Mrs. Bunting answered, shortly
"Well, I never! That's a funny thing for a gentleman to do!"
And Joe, alone of her three listeners, laughed—a long hearty peal
"There's nothing to laugh at," said Mrs. Bunting sharply. "I should
feel ashamed of being caught laughing at anything connected with the
And poor Joe became suddenly quite serious. This was the first time
that Mrs. Bunting had ever spoken really nastily to him, and he
answered very humbly, "I beg pardon. I know I oughtn't to have
laughed at anything to do with the Bible, but you see, Miss Daisy
said it so funny-like, and, by all accounts, your lodger must be a
queer card, Mrs. Bunting."
"He's no queerer than many people I could mention," she said quickly;
and with these enigmatic words she got up, and left the room.
Each hour of the days that followed held for Bunting its full meed
of aching fear and suspense.
The unhappy man was ever debating within himself what course he
should pursue, and, according to his mood and to the state of his
mind at any particular moment, he would waver between various
widely-differing lines of action.
He told himself again and again, and with fretful unease, that the
most awful thing about it all was that he wasn't sure. If only he
could have been sure, he might have made up his mind exactly what
it was he ought to do.
But when telling himself this he was deceiving himself, and he was
vaguely conscious of the fact; for, from Bunting's point of view,
almost any alternative would have been preferable to that which to
some, nay, perhaps to most, householders would have seemed the only
thing to do, namely, to go to the police. But Londoners of Bunting's
class have an uneasy fear of the law. To his mind it would be ruin
for him and for his Ellen to be mixed up publicly in such a terrible
affair. No one concerned in the business would give them and their
future a thought, but it would track them to their dying day, and,
above all, it would make it quite impossible for them ever to get
again into a good joint situation. It was that for which Bunting,
in his secret soul, now longed with all his heart.
No, some other way than going to the police must be found—and he
racked his slow brain to find it.
The worst of it was that every hour that went by made his future
course more difficult and more delicate, and increased the awful
weight on his conscience.
If only he really knew! If only he could feel quite sure! And
then he would tell himself that, after all, he had very little to
go upon; only suspicion—suspicion, and a secret, horrible
certainty that his suspicion was justified.
And so at last Bunting began to long for a solution which he knew
to be indefensible from every point of view; he began to hope, that
is, in the depths of his heart, that the lodger would again go out
one evening on his horrible business and be caught—red-handed.
But far from going out on any business, horrible or other, Mr.
Sleuth now never went out at all. He kept upstairs, and often spent
quite a considerable part of his day in bed. He still felt, so he
assured Mrs. Bunting, very far from well. He had never thrown off
the chill he had caught on that bitter night he and his landlord
had met on their several ways home.
Joe Chandler, too, had become a terrible complication to Daisy's
father. The detective spent every waking hour that he was not on
duty with the Buntings; and Bunting, who at one time had liked him
so well and so cordially, now became mortally afraid of him.
But though the young man talked of little else than The Avenger,
and though on one evening he described at immense length the
eccentric-looking gent who had given the barmaid a sovereign,
picturing Mr. Sleuth with such awful accuracy that both Bunting and
Mrs. Bunting secretly and separately turned sick when they listened
to him, he never showed the slightest interest in their lodger.
At last there came a morning when Bunting and Chandler held a strange
conversation about The Avenger. The young fellow had come in earlier
than usual, and just as he arrived Mrs. Bunting and Daisy were
starting out to do some shopping. The girl would fain have stopped
behind, but her stepmother had given her a very peculiar, disagreeable
look, daring her, so to speak, to be so forward, and Daisy had gone
on with a flushed, angry look on her pretty face.
And then, as young Chandler stepped through into the sitting-room,
it suddenly struck Bunting that the young man looked unlike himself
—indeed, to the ex-butler's apprehension there was something almost
threatening in Chandler's attitude.
"I want a word with you, Mr. Bunting," he began abruptly, falteringly.
"And I'm glad to have the chance now that Mrs. Bunting and Miss Daisy
Bunting braced himself to hear the awful words—the accusation of
having sheltered a murderer, the monster whom all the world was
seeking, under his roof. And then he remembered a phrase, a
horrible legal phrase—"Accessory after the fact." Yes, he had
been that, there wasn't any doubt about it!
"Yes?" he said. "What is it, Joe?" and then the unfortunate man
sat down in his chair. "Yes?" he said again uncertainly; for young
Chandler had now advanced to the table, he was looking at Bunting
fixedly—the other thought threateningly. "Well, out with it,
Joe! Don't keep me in suspense."
And then a slight smile broke over the young man's face. "I don't
think what I've got to say can take you by surprise, Mr. Bunting."
And Bunting wagged his head in a way that might mean anything—yes
or no, as the case might be.
The two men looked at one another for what seemed a very, very long
time to the elder of them. And then, making a great effort, Joe
Chandler brought out the words, "Well, I suppose you know what it
is I want to talk about. I'm sure Mrs. Bunting would, from a look
or two she's lately cast on me. It's your daughter—it's Miss
And then Bunting gave a kind of cry, 'twixt a sob and a laugh.
"My girl?" he cried. "Good Lord, Joe! Is that all you wants to
talk about? Why, you fair frightened me—that you did!"
And, indeed, the relief was so great that the room swam round as
he stared across it at his daughter's lover, that lover who was
also the embodiment of that now awful thing to him, the law. He
smiled, rather foolishly, at his visitor; and Chandler felt a sharp
wave of irritation, of impatience sweep over his good-natured soul.
Daisy's father was an old stupid—that's what he was.
And then Bunting grew serious. The room ceased to go round. "As
far as I'm concerned," he said, with a good deal of solemnity, even
a little dignity, "you have my blessing, Joe. You're a very likely
young chap, and I had a true respect for your father."
"Yes," said Chandler, "that's very kind of you, Mr. Bunting. But
how about her—her herself?"
Bunting stared at him. It pleased him to think that Daisy hadn't
given herself away, as Ellen was always hinting the girl was doing.
"I can't answer for Daisy," he said heavily. "You'll have to ask
her yourself—that's not a job any other man can do for you, my lad."
"I never gets a chance. I never sees her, not by our two selves,"
said Chandler, with some heat. "You don't seem to understand, Mr.
Bunting, that I never do see Miss Daisy alone," he repeated. "I
hear now that she's going away Monday, and I've only once had the
chance of a walk with her. Mrs. Bunting's very particular, not to
say pernickety in her ideas, Mr. Bunting—"
"That's a fault on the right side, that is—with a young girl,"
said Bunting thoughtfully.
And Chandler nodded. He quite agreed that as regarded other young
chaps Mrs. Bunting could not be too particular.
"She's been brought up like a lady, my Daisy has," went on Bunting,
with some pride. "That Old Aunt of hers hardly lets her out of her
"I was coming to the old aunt," said Chandler heavily. "Mrs.
Bunting she talks as if your daughter was going to stay with that
old woman the whole of her natural life—now is that right? That's
what I wants to ask you, Mr. Bunting,—is that right?"
"I'll say a word to Ellen, don't you fear," said Bunting abstractedly.
His mind had wandered off, away from Daisy and this nice young chap,
to his now constant anxious preoccupation. "You come along
to-morrow," he said, "and I'll see you gets your walk with Daisy.
It's only right you and she should have a chance of seeing one
another without old folk being by; else how's the girl to tell
whether she likes you or not! For the matter of that, you hardly
knows her, Joe—" He looked at the young man consideringly.
Chandler shook his head impatiently. "I knows her quite as well as
I wants to know her," he said. "I made up my mind the very first
time I see'd her, Mr. Bunting."
"No! Did you really?" said Bunting. "Well, come to think of it,
I did so with her mother; aye, and years after, with Ellen, too.
But I hope you'll never want no second, Chandler."
"God forbid!" said the young man under his breath. And then he
asked, rather longingly, "D'you think they'll be out long now, Mr.
And Bunting woke up to a due sense of hospitality. "Sit down, sit
down; do!" he said hastily. "I don't believe they'll be very long.
They've only got a little bit of shopping to do."
And then, in a changed, in a ringing, nervous tone, he asked, "And
how about your job, Joe? Nothing new, I take it? I suppose you're
all just waiting for the next time?"
"Aye—that's about the figure of it." Chandler's voice had also
changed; it was now sombre, menacing. "We're fair tired of it—
beginning to wonder when it'll end, that we are!"
"Do you ever try and make to yourself a picture of what the master's
like?" asked Bunting. Somehow, he felt he must ask that.
"Yes," said Joe slowly. "I've a sort of notion—a savage,
fierce-looking devil, the chap must be. It's that description that
was circulated put us wrong. I don't believe it was the man that
knocked up against that woman in the fog—no, not one bit I don't.
But I wavers, I can't quite make up my mind. Sometimes I think it's
a sailor—the foreigner they talks about, that goes away for eight
or nine days in between, to Holland maybe, or to France. Then,
again, I says to myself that it's a butcher, a man from the Central
Market. Whoever it is, it's someone used to killing, that's flat."
"Then it don't seem to you possible—?" (Bunting got up and walked
over to the window.) "You don't take any stock, I suppose, in that
idea some of the papers put out, that the man is"—then he
hesitated and brought out, with a gasp—"a gentleman?"
Chandler looked at him, surprised. "No," he said deliberately.
"I've made up my mind that's quite a wrong tack, though I knows that
some of our fellows—big pots, too—are quite sure that the fellow
what gave the girl the sovereign is the man we're looking for. You
see, Mr. Bunting, if that's the fact—well, it stands to reason the
fellow's an escaped lunatic; and if he's an escaped lunatic he's got
a keeper, and they'd be raising a hue and cry after him; now,
"You don't think," went on Bunting, lowering his voice, "that he
could be just staying somewhere, lodging like?"
"D'you mean that The Avenger may be a toff, staying in some
West-end hotel, Mr. Bunting? Well, things almost as funny as that
'ud be have come to pass." He smiled as if the notion was a funny
"Yes, something o' that sort," muttered Bunting.
"Well, if your idea's correct, Mr. Bunting—"
"I never said 'twas my idea," said Bunting, all in a hurry.
"Well, if that idea's correct then, 'twill make our task more
difficult than ever. Why, 'twould be looking for a needle in a
field of hay, Mr. Bunting! But there! I don't think it's
anything quite so unlikely as that—not myself I don't." He
hesitated. "There's some of us"—he lowered his voice—"that
hopes he'll betake himself off—The Avenger, I mean—to another
big city, to Manchester or to Edinburgh. There'd be plenty of
work for him to do there," and Chandler chuckled at his own grim
And then, to both men's secret relief, for Bunting was now
mortally afraid of this discussion concerning The Avenger and
his doings, they heard Mrs. Bunting's key in the lock.
Daisy blushed rosy-red with pleasure when she saw that young
Chandler was still there. She had feared that when they got home
he would be gone, the more so that Ellen, just as if she was doing
it on purpose, had lingered aggravatingly long over each small
"Here's Joe come to ask if he can take Daisy out for a walk,"
blurted out Bunting.
"My mother says as how she'd like you to come to tea, over at
Richmond," said Chandler awkwardly, "I just come in to see whether
we could fix it up, Miss Daisy." And Daisy looked imploringly at
"D'you mean now—this minute?" asked Mrs. Bunting tartly.
"No, o' course not"—Bunting broke in hastily. "How you do go on,
"What day did your mother mention would be convenient to her?"
asked Mrs. Bunting, looking at the young man satirically.
Chandler hesitated. His mother had not mentioned any special day
—in fact, his mother had shown a surprising lack of anxiety to
see Daisy at all. But he had talked her round.
"How about Saturday?" suggested Bunting. "That's Daisy's birthday.
'Twould be a birthday treat for her to go to Richmond, and she's
going back to Old Aunt on Monday."
"I can't go Saturday," said Chandler disconsolately. "I'm on duty
"Well, then, let it be Sunday," said Bunting firmly. And his wife
looked at him surprised; he seldom asserted himself so much in her
"What do you say, Miss Daisy?" said Chandler.
"Sunday would be very nice," said Daisy demurely. And then, as the
young man took up his hat, and as her stepmother did not stir, Daisy
ventured to go out into the hall with him for a minute.
Chandler shut the door behind them, and so was spared the hearing
of Mrs. Bunting's whispered remark: "When I was a young woman folk
didn't gallivant about on Sunday; those who was courting used to
go to church together, decent-like—"
Daisy's eighteenth birthday dawned uneventfully. Her father gave
her what he had always promised she should have on her eighteenth
birthday—a watch. It was a pretty little silver watch, which
Bunting had bought secondhand on the last day he had been happy—
it seemed a long, long time ago now.
Mrs. Bunting thought a silver watch a very extravagant present but
she was far too wretched, far too absorbed in her own thoughts, to
trouble much about it. Besides, in such matters she had generally
had the good sense not to interfere between her husband and his
In the middle of the birthday morning Bunting went out to buy
himself some more tobacco. He had never smoked so much as in the
last four days, excepting, perhaps, the week that had followed on
his leaving service. Smoking a pipe had then held all the exquisite
pleasure which we are told attaches itself to the eating of forbidden
His tobacco had now become his only relaxation; it acted on his
nerves as an opiate, soothing his fears and helping him to think.
But he had been overdoing it, and it was that which now made him
feel so "jumpy," so he assured himself, when he found himself
starting at any casual sound outside, or even when his wife spoke
to him suddenly.
Just now Ellen and Daisy were down in the kitchen, and Bunting
didn't quite like the sensation of knowing that there was only
one pair of stairs between Mr. Sleuth and himself. So he quietly
slipped out of the house without telling Ellen that he was going
In the last four days Bunting had avoided his usual haunts; above
all, he had avoided even passing the time of day to his
acquaintances and neighbours. He feared, with a great fear, that
they would talk to him of a subject which, because it filled his
mind to the exclusion of all else, might make him betray the
knowledge—no, not knowledge, rather the—the suspicion—that
dwelt within him.
But to-day the unfortunate man had a curious, instinctive longing
for human companionship—companionship, that is, other than that
of his wife and of his daughter.
This longing for a change of company finally led him into a small,
populous thoroughfare hard by the Edgware Road. There were more
people there than usual just now, for the housewives of the
neighbourhood were doing their Saturday marketing for Sunday. The
ex-butler turned into a small old-fashioned shop where he generally
bought his tobacco.
Bunting passed the time of day with the tobacconist, and the two
fell into desultory talk, but to his customer's relief and surprise
the man made no allusion to the subject of which all the
neighbourhood must still be talking.
And then, quite suddenly, while still standing by the counter, and
before he had paid for the packet of tobacco he held in his hand,
Bunting, through the open door, saw with horrified surprise that
Ellen, his wife, was standing, alone, outside a greengrocer's shop
Muttering a word of apology, he rushed out of the shop and across
"Ellen!" he gasped hoarsely, "you've never gone and left my little
girl alone in the house with the lodger?"
Mrs. Bunting's face went yellow with fear. "I thought you was
indoors," she cried. "You was indoors! Whatever made you come out
for, without first making sure I'd stay in?"
Bunting made no answer; but, as they stared at each other in
exasperated silence, each now knew that the other knew.
They turned and scurried down the crowded street. "Don't run," he
said suddenly; "we shall get there just as quickly if we walk fast.
People are noticing you, Ellen. Don't run."
He spoke breathlessly, but it was breathlessness induced by fear
and by excitement, not by the quick pace at which they were walking.
At last they reached their own gate, and Bunting pushed past in
front of his wife.
After all, Daisy was his child; Ellen couldn't know how he was
He seemed to take the path in one leap, then fumbled for a moment
with his latchkey.
Opening wide the door, "Daisy!" he called out, in a wailing voice,
"Daisy, my dear! where are you?"
"Here I am, father. What is it?"
"She's all right." Bunting turned a grey face to his wife. "She's
all right, Ellen."
He waited a moment, leaning against the wall of the passage. "It
did give me a turn," he said, and then, warningly, "Don't frighten
the girl, Ellen."
Daisy was standing before the fire in their sitting room, admiring
herself in the glass.
"Oh, father," she exclaimed, without turning round, "I've seen the
lodger! He's quite a nice gentleman, though, to be sure, he does
look a cure. He rang his bell, but I didn't like to go up; and so
he came down to ask Ellen for something. We had quite a nice
little chat—that we had. I told him it was my birthday, and he
asked me and Ellen to go to Madame Tussaud's with him this
afternoon." She laughed, a little self-consciously. "Of course,
I could see he was 'centric, and then at first he spoke so funnily.
'And who be you?' he says, threatening-like. And I says to him,
'I'm Mr. Bunting's daughter, sir.' 'Then you're a very fortunate
girl'—that's what he says, Ellen—'to 'ave such a nice
stepmother as you've got. That's why,' he says, 'you look such
a good, innocent girl.' And then he quoted a bit of the Prayer
Book. 'Keep innocency,' he says, wagging his head at me. Lor'!
It made me feel as if I was with Old Aunt again."
"I won't have you going out with the lodger—that's flat."
Bunting spoke in a muffled, angry tone. He was wiping his forehead
with one hand, while with the other he mechanically squeezed the
little packet of tobacco, for which, as he now remembered, he had
forgotten to pay.
Daisy pouted. "Oh, father, I think you might let me have a treat
on my birthday! I told him that Saturday wasn't a very good day—
at least, so I'd heard—for Madame Tussaud's. Then he said we
could go early, while the fine folk are still having their dinners."
She turned to her stepmother, then giggled happily. "He particularly
said you was to come, too. The lodger has a wonderful fancy for you,
Ellen; if I was father, I'd feel quite jealous!"
Her last words were cut across by a tap-tap on the door.
Bunting and his wife looked at each other apprehensively. Was it
possible that, in their agitation, they had left the front door
open, and that someone, some merciless myrmidon of the law, had
crept in behind them?
Both felt a curious thrill of satisfaction when they saw that it
was only Mr. Sleuth—Mr. Sleuth dressed for going out; the tall
hat he had worn when he had first come to them was in his hand, but
he was wearing a coat instead of his Inverness cape.
"I heard you come in"—he addressed Mrs. Bunting in his high,
whistling, hesitating voice—"and so I've come down to ask you if
you and Miss Bunting will come to Madame Tussaud's now. I have
never seen those famous waxworks, though I've heard of the place
all my life."
As Bunting forced himself to look fixedly at his lodger, a sudden
doubt bringing with it a sense of immeasurable relief, came to
Mr. Sleuth's landlord.
Surely it was inconceivable that this gentle, mild-mannered
gentleman could be the monster of cruelty and cunning that Bunting
had now for the terrible space of four days believed him to be!
He tried to catch his wife's eye, but Mrs. Bunting was looking away,
staring into vacancy. She still, of course, wore the bonnet and
cloak in which she had just been out to do her marketing. Daisy
was already putting on her hat and coat.
"Well?" said Mr. Sleuth. Then Mrs. Bunting turned, and it seemed
to his landlady that he was looking at her threateningly. "Well?"
"Yes, sir. We'll come in a minute," she said dully.
Madame Tussaud's had hitherto held pleasant memories for Mrs. Bunting.
In the days when she and Bunting were courting they often spent there
part of their afternoon-out.
The butler had an acquaintance, a man named Hopkins, who was one of
the waxworks staff, and this man had sometimes given him passes for
"self and lady." But this was the first time Mrs. Bunting had been
inside the place since she had come to live almost next door, as it
were, to the big building.
They walked in silence to the familiar entrance, and then, after
the ill-assorted trio had gone up the great staircase and into the
first gallery, Mr. Sleuth suddenly stopped short. The presence of
those curious, still, waxen figures which suggest so strangely death
in life, seemed to surprise and affright him.
Daisy took quick advantage of the lodger's hesitation and unease.
"Oh, Ellen," she cried, "do let us begin by going into the Chamber
of Horrors! I've never been in there. Old Aunt made father promise
he wouldn't take me the only time I've ever been here. But now that
I'm eighteen I can do just as I like; besides, Old Aunt will never
Mr. Sleuth looked down at her, and a smile passed for a moment over
his worn, gaunt face.
"Yes," he said, "let us go into the Chamber of Horrors; that's a
good idea, Miss Bunting. I've always wanted to see the Chamber of
They turned into the great room in which the Napoleonic relics were
then kept, and which led into the curious, vault-like chamber where
waxen effigies of dead criminals stand grouped in wooden docks.
Mrs. Bunting was at once disturbed and relieved to see her husband's
old acquaintance, Mr. Hopkins, in charge of the turnstile admitting
the public to the Chamber of Horrors.
"Well, you are a stranger," the man observed genially. "I do believe
that this is the very first time I've seen you in here, Mrs. Bunting,
since you was married!"
"Yes," she said, "that is so. And this is my husband's daughter,
Daisy; I expect you've heard of her, Mr. Hopkins. And this"—she
hesitated a moment—"is our lodger, Mr. Sleuth."
But Mr. Sleuth frowned and shuffled away. Daisy, leaving her
stepmother's side, joined him.
Two, as all the world knows, is company, three is none. Mrs.
Bunting put down three sixpences.
"Wait a minute," said Hopkins; "you can't go into the Chamber of
Horrors just yet. But you won't have to wait more than four or
five minutes, Mrs. Bunting. It's this way, you see; our boss is
in there, showing a party round." He lowered his voice. "It's
Sir John Burney—I suppose you know who Sir John Burney is?"
"No," she answered indifferently, "I don't know that I ever heard
She felt slightly—oh, very sightly—uneasy about Daisy. She
would have liked her stepdaughter to keep well within sight and
sound, but Mr. Sleuth was now taking the girl down to the other
end of the room.
"Well, I hope you never will know him—not in any personal sense,
Mrs. Bunting." The man chuckled. "He's the Commissioner of Police
—the new one—that's what Sir John Burney is. One of the
gentlemen he's showing round our place is the Paris Police boss—
whose job is on all fours, so to speak, with Sir John's. The
Frenchy has brought his daughter with him, and there are several
other ladies. Ladies always likes horrors, Mrs. Bunting; that's
our experience here. 'Oh, take me to the Chamber of Horrors'—
that's what they say the minute they gets into this here building!"
Mrs. Bunting looked at him thoughtfully. It occurred to Mr. Hopkins
that she was very wan and tired; she used to look better in the old
days, when she was still in service, before Bunting married her.
"Yes," she said; "that's just what my stepdaughter said just now.
'Oh, take me to the Chamber of Horrors'—that's exactly what she
did say when we got upstairs."
A group of people, all talking and laughing together; were advancing,
from within the wooden barrier, toward the turnstile.
Mrs. Bunting stared at them nervously. She wondered which of them
was the gentleman with whom Mr. Hopkins had hoped she would never be
brought into personal contact; she thought she could pick him out
among the others. He was a tall, powerful, handsome gentleman, with
a military appearance.
Just now he was smiling down into the face of a young lady.
"Monsieur Barberoux is quite right," he was saying in a loud,
cheerful voice, "our English law is too kind to the criminal,
especially to the murderer. If we conducted our trials in the
French fashion, the place we have just left would be very much
fuller than it is to-day. A man of whose guilt we are absolutely
assured is oftener than not acquitted, and then the public taunt
us with 'another undiscovered crime!'"
"D'you mean, Sir John, that murderers sometimes escape scot-free?
Take the man who has been committing all these awful murders this
last month? I suppose there's no doubt he'll be hanged—if he's
ever caught, that is!"
Her girlish voice rang out, and Mrs. Bunting could hear every word
that was said.
The whole party gathered round, listening eagerly. "Well, no."
He spoke very deliberately. "I doubt if that particular murderer
ever will be hanged."
"You mean that you'll never catch him?" the girl spoke with a touch
of airy impertinence in her clear voice.
"I think we shall end by catching him—because"—he waited a moment,
then added in a lower voice—"now don't give me away to a newspaper
fellow, Miss Rose—because now I think we do know who the murderer
in question is—"
Several of those standing near by uttered expressions of surprise and
"Then why don't you catch him?" cried the girl indignantly.
"I didn't say we knew where he was; I only said we knew who he was,
or, rather, perhaps I ought to say that I personally have a very
strong suspicion of his identity."
Sir John's French colleague looked up quickly. "De Leipsic and
Liverpool man?" he said interrogatively.
The other nodded. "Yes, I suppose you've had the case turned up?"
Then, speaking very quickly, as if he wished to dismiss the subject
from his own mind, and from that of his auditors, he went on:
"Four murders of the kind were committed eight years ago—two in
Leipsic, the others, just afterwards, in Liverpool,—and there were
certain peculiarities connected with the crimes which made it clear
they were committed by the same hand. The perpetrator was caught,
fortunately for us, red-handed, just as he was leaving the house of
his last victim, for in Liverpool the murder was committed in a
house. I myself saw the unhappy man—I say unhappy, for there is
no doubt at all that he was mad"—he hesitated, and added in a
lower tone—"suffering from an acute form of religious mania.
I myself saw him, as I say, at some length. But now comes the really
interesting point. I have just been informed that a month ago this
criminal lunatic, as we must of course regard him, made his escape
from the asylum where he was confined. He arranged the whole
thing with extraordinary cunning and intelligence, and we should
probably have caught him long ago, were it not that he managed, when
on his way out of the place, to annex a considerable sum of money
in gold, with which the wages of the asylum staff were about to be
paid. It is owing to that fact that his escape was, very wrongly,
He stopped abruptly, as if sorry he had said so much, and a moment
later the party were walking in Indian file through the turnstile,
Sir John Burney leading the way.
Mrs. Bunting looked straight before her. She felt—so she
expressed it to her husband later—as if she had been turned to
Even had she wished to do so, she had neither the time nor the power
to warn her lodger of his danger, for Daisy and her companion were
now coming down the room, bearing straight for the Commissioner of
Police. In another moment Mrs. Bunting's lodger and Sir John Burney
were face to face.
Mr. Sleuth swerved to one side; there came a terrible change over
his pale, narrow face; it became discomposed, livid with rage and
But, to Mrs. Bunting's relief—yes, to her inexpressible relief
—Sir John Burney and his friends swept on. They passed Mr. Sleuth
and the girl by his side, unaware, or so it seemed to her, that
there was anyone else in the room but themselves.
"Hurry up, Mrs. Bunting," said the turnstile-keeper; "you and your
friends will have the place all to yourselves for a bit." From an
official he had become a man, and it was the man in Mr. Hopkins that
gallantly addressed pretty Daisy Bunting: "It seems strange that a
young lady like you should want to go in and see all those 'orrible
frights," he said jestingly.
"Mrs. Bunting, may I trouble you to come over here for a moment?"
The words were hissed rather than spoken by Mr. Sleuth's lips.
His landlady took a doubtful step towards him.
"A last word with you, Mrs. Bunting." The lodger's face was still
distorted with fear and passion. "Do not think to escape the
consequences of your hideous treachery. I trusted you, Mrs. Bunting,
and you betrayed me! Put I am protected by a higher power, for
I still have much to do." Then, his voice sinking to a whisper, he
hissed out "Your end will be bitter as wormwood and sharp as a
two-edged sword. Your feet shall go down to death, and your steps
take hold on hell."
Even while Mr. Sleuth was muttering these strange, dreadful words,
he was looking round, glancing this way and that, seeking a way of
At last his eyes became fixed on a small placard placed above a
curtain. "Emergency Exit" was written there. Mrs. Bunting thought
he was going to make a dash for the place; but Mr. Sleuth did
something very different. Leaving his landlady's side, he walked
over to the turnstile, he fumbled in his pocket for a moment, and
then touched the man on the arm. "I feel ill," he said, speaking
very rapidly; "very ill indeed! It is the atmosphere of this place.
I want you to let me out by the quickest way. It would be a pity
for me to faint here—especially with ladies about."
His left hand shot out and placed what he had been fumbling for in
his pocket on the other's bare palm. "I see there's an emergency
exit over there. Would it be possible for me to get out that way?"
"Well, yes, sir; I think so."
The man hesitated; he felt a slight, a very sight, feeling of
misgiving. He looked at Daisy, flushed and smiling, happy and
unconcerned, and then at Mrs. Bunting. She was very pale; but
surely her lodger's sudden seizure was enough to make her feel
worried. Hopkins felt the half-sovereign pleasantly tickling his
palm. The Paris Prefect of Police had given him only half-a-crown
—mean, shabby foreigner!
"Yes, sir; I can let you out that way," he said at last, "and p'raps
when you're standing out in the air, on the iron balcony, you'll feel
better. But then, you know, sir, you'll have to come round to the
front if you wants to come in again, for those emergency doors only
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Sleuth hurriedly. "I quite understand! If I
feel better I'll come in by the front way, and pay another shilling
—that's only fair."
"You needn't do that if you'll just explain what happened here."
The man went and pulled the curtain aside, and put his shoulder
against the door. It burst open, and the light, for a moment,
blinded Mr. Sleuth.
He passed his hand over his eyes. "Thank you," he muttered, "thank
you. I shall get all right out there."
An iron stairway led down into a small stable yard, of which the
door opened into a side street.
Mr. Sleuth looked round once more; he really did feel very ill—
ill and dazed. How pleasant it would be to take a flying leap over
the balcony railing and find rest, eternal rest, below.
But no—he thrust the thought, the temptation, from him. Again a
convulsive look of rage came over his face. He had remembered his
landlady. How could the woman whom he had treated so generously have
betrayed him to his arch-enemy?—to the official, that is, who had
entered into a conspiracy years ago to have him confined—him, an
absolutely sane man with a great avenging work to do in the world—
in a lunatic asylum.
He stepped out into the open air, and the curtain, falling-to behind
him, blotted out the tall, thin figure from the little group of
people who had watched him disappear.
Even Daisy felt a little scared. "He did look bad, didn't he, now?"
she turned appealingly to Mr. Hopkins.
"Yes, that he did, poor gentleman—your lodger, too?" he looked
sympathetically at Mrs. Bunting.
She moistened her lips with her tongue. "Yes," she repeated dully,
In vain Mr. Hopkins invited Mrs. Bunting and her pretty stepdaughter
to step through into the Chamber of Horrors. "I think we ought to
go straight home," said Mr. Sleuth's landlady decidedly. And Daisy
meekly assented. Somehow the girl felt confused, a little scared by
the lodger's sudden disappearance. Perhaps this unwonted feeling of
hers was induced by the look of stunned surprise and, yes, pain, on
her stepmother's face.
Slowly they made their way out of the building, and when they got
home it was Daisy who described the strange way Mr. Sleuth had been
"I don't suppose he'll be long before he comes home," said Bunting
heavily, and he cast an anxious, furtive look at his wife. She
looked as if stricken in a vital part; he saw from her face that
there was something wrong—very wrong indeed.
The hours dragged on. All three felt moody and ill at ease. Daisy
knew there was no chance that young Chandler would come in to-day.
About six o'clock Mrs. Bunting went upstairs. She lit the gas in
Mr. Sleuth's sitting-room and looked about her with a fearful glance.
Somehow everything seemed to speak to her of the lodger, there lay
her Bible and his Concordance, side by side on the table, exactly
as he had left them, when he had come downstairs and suggested that
ill-starred expedition to his landlord's daughter. She took a few
steps forward, listening the while anxiously for the familiar sound
of the click in the door which would tell her that the lodger had
come back, and then she went over to the window and looked out.
What a cold night for a man to be wandering about, homeless,
friendless, and, as she suspected with a pang, with but very little
money on him!
Turning abruptly, she went into the lodger's bedroom and opened the
drawer of the looking-glass.
Yes, there lay the much-diminished heap of sovereigns. If only he
had taken his money out with him! She wondered painfully whether he
had enough on his person to secure a good night's lodging, and then
suddenly she remembered that which brought relief to her mind. The
lodger had given something to that Hopkins fellow—either a sovereign
or half a sovereign, she wasn't sure which.
The memory of Mr. Sleuth's cruel words to her, of his threat, did
not disturb her overmuch. It had been a mistake—all a mistake.
Far from betraying Mr. Sleuth, she had sheltered him—kept his awful
secret as she could not have kept it had she known, or even dimly
suspected, the horrible fact with which Sir John Burney's words had
made her acquainted; namely, that Mr. Sleuth was victim of no
temporary aberration, but that he was, and had been for years, a
madman, a homicidal maniac.
In her ears there still rang the Frenchman's half careless yet
confident question, "De Leipsic and Liverpool man?"
Following a sudden impulse, she went back into the sitting-room,
and taking a black-headed pin out of her bodice stuck it amid the
leaves of the Bible. Then she opened the Book, and looked at the
page the pin had marked:—
"My tabernacle is spoiled and all my cords are broken . . .
There is none to stretch forth my tent any more and to set up my
At last leaving the Bible open, Mrs. Bunting went downstairs, and
as she opened the door of her sitting-room Daisy came towards her
"I'll go down and start getting the lodger's supper ready for you,"
said the girl good-naturedly. "He's certain to come in when he gets
hungry. But he did look upset, didn't he, Ellen? Right down bad—
that he did!"
Mrs. Bunting made no answer; she simply stepped aside to allow Daisy
to go down.
"Mr. Sleuth won't never come back no more," she said sombrely, and
then she felt both glad and angry at the extraordinary change which
came over her husband's face. Yet, perversely, that look of relief,
of right-down joy, chiefly angered her, and tempted her to add,
"That's to say, I don't suppose he will."
And Bunting's face altered again; the old, anxious, depressed look,
the look it had worn the last few days, returned.
"What makes you think he mayn't come back?" he muttered.
"Too long to tell you now," she said. "Wait till the child's gone
And Bunting had to restrain his curiosity.
And then, when at last Daisy had gone off to the back room where
she now slept with her stepmother, Mrs. Bunting beckoned to her
husband to follow her upstairs.
Before doing so he went down the passage and put the chain on the
door. And about this they had a few sharp whispered words.
"You're never going to shut him out?" she expostulated angrily,
beneath her breath.
"I'm not going to leave Daisy down here with that man perhaps
walking in any minute."
"Mr. Sleuth won't hurt Daisy, bless you! Much more likely to hurt
me," and she gave a half sob.
Bunting stared at her. "What do you mean?" he said roughly.
"Come upstairs and tell me what you mean."
And then, in what had been the lodger's sitting-room, Mrs. Bunting
told her husband exactly what it was that had happened.
He listened in heavy silence.
"So you see," she said at last, "you see, Bunting, that 'twas me
that was right after all. The lodger was never responsible for
his actions. I never thought he was, for my part."
And Bunting stared at her ruminatingly. "Depends on what you call
responsible—" he began argumentatively.
But she would have none of that. "I heard the gentleman say myself
that he was a lunatic," she said fiercely. And then, dropping her
voice, "A religious maniac—that's what he called him."
"Well, he never seemed so to me," said Bunting stoutly. "He simply
seemed to me 'centric—that's all he did. Not a bit madder than
many I could tell you of." He was walking round the room restlessly,
but he stopped short at last. "And what d'you think we ought to do
Mrs. Bunting shook her head impatiently. "I don't think we ought
to do nothing," she said. "Why should we?"
And then again he began walking round the room in an aimless fashion
that irritated her.
"If only I could put out a bit of supper for him somewhere where he
would get it! And his money, too? I hate to feel it's in there."
"Don't you make any mistake—he'll come back for that," said Bunting,
But Mrs. Bunting shook her head. She knew better. "Now," she said,
"you go off up to bed. It's no use us sitting up any longer."
And Bunting acquiesced.
She ran down and got him a bedroom candle—there was no gas in the
little back bedroom upstairs. And then she watched him go slowly up.
Suddenly he turned and came down again. "Ellen," he said, in an
urgent whisper, "if I was you I'd take the chain off the door, and
I'd lock myself in—that's what I'm going to do. Then he can sneak
in and take his dirty money away."
Mrs. Bunting neither nodded nor shook her head. Slowly she went
downstairs, and there she carried out half of Bunting's advice.
She took, that is, the chain off the front door. But she did not
go to bed, neither did she lock herself in. She sat up all night,
waiting. At half-past seven she made herself a cup of tea, and
then she went into her bedroom.
Daisy opened her eyes.
"Why, Ellen," she said, "I suppose I was that tired, and slept so
sound, that I never heard you come to bed or get up—funny,
"Young people don't sleep as light as do old folks," Mrs. Bunting
"Did the lodger come in after all? I suppose he's upstairs now?"
Mrs. Bunting shook her head. "It looks as if 'twould be a fine
day for you down at Richmond," she observed in a kindly tone.
And Daisy smiled, a very happy, confident little smile.
That evening Mrs. Bunting forced herself to tell young Chandler
that their lodger had, so to speak, disappeared. She and Bunting
had thought carefully over what they would say, and so well did
they carry out their programme, or, what is more likely, so full
was young Chandler of the long happy day he and Daisy had spent
together, that he took their news very calmly.
"Gone away, has he?" he observed casually. "Well, I hope he paid
up all right?"
"Oh, yes, yes," said Mrs. Bunting hastily. "No trouble of that sort."
And Bunting said shamefacedly, "Aye, aye, the lodger was quite an
honest gentleman, Joe. But I feel worried, about him. He was such
a poor, gentle chap—not the sort o' man one likes to think of as
wandering about by himself."
"You always said he was 'centric," said Joe thoughtfully.
"Yes, he was that," said Bunting slowly. "Regular right-down queer.
Leetle touched, you know, under the thatch," and, as he tapped his
head significantly, both young people burst out laughing.
"Would you like a description of him circulated?" asked Joe
Mr. and Mrs. Bunting looked at one another.
"No, I don't think so. Not yet awhile at any rate. 'Twould upset
him awfully, you see."
And Joe acquiesced. "You'd be surprised at the number o' people
who disappears and are never heard of again," he said cheerfully.
And then he got up, very reluctantly.
Daisy, making no bones about it this time, followed him out into
the passage, and shut the sitting-room door behind her.
When she came back she walked over to where her father was sitting
in his easy chair, and standing behind him she put her arms round
Then she bent down her head. "Father," she said, "I've a bit of
news for you!"
"Yes, my dear?"
"Father, I'm engaged! Aren't you surprised?"
"Well, what do you think?" said Bunting fondly. Then he turned
round and, catching hold of her head, gave her a good, hearty kiss.
"What'll Old Aunt say, I wonder?" he whispered.
"Don't you worry about Old Aunt," exclaimed his wife suddenly.
"I'll manage Old Aunt! I'll go down and see her. She and I have
always got on pretty comfortable together, as you knows well, Daisy."
"Yes," said Daisy a little wonderingly. "I know you have, Ellen."
Mr. Sleuth never came back, and at last after many days and many
nights had gone by, Mrs. Bunting left off listening for the click
of the lock which she at once hoped and feared would herald her
As suddenly and as mysteriously as they had begun the "Avenger"
murders stopped, but there came a morning in the early spring when
a gardener, working in the Regent's Park, found a newspaper in which
was wrapped, together with a half-worn pair of rubber-soled shoes,
a long, peculiarly shaped knife. The fact, though of considerable
interest to the police, was not chronicled in any newspaper, but
about the same time a picturesque little paragraph went the round
of the press concerning a small boxful of sovereigns which had been
anonymously forwarded to the Governors of the Foundling Hospital.
Meanwhile Mrs. Bunting had been as good as her word about "Old Aunt,"
and that lady had received the wonderful news concerning Daisy in a
more philosophical spirit than her great-niece had expected her to
do. She only observed that it was odd to reflect that if gentlefolks
leave a house in charge of the police a burglary is pretty sure to
follow—a remark which Daisy resented much more than did her Joe.
Mr. Bunting and his Ellen are now in the service of an old
lady, by whom they are feared as well as respected, and whom they
make very comfortable.