Part 3 out of 5
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-checked, 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, singularity 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 be 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 bad 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