The Lodger

CHAPTER IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!” said Bunting incredulously. “You don’t mean there was a
policeman there, within a few yards?”

That fact hadn’t been recorded in his newspaper.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I have,” said Joe briefly.

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

But Mrs. Bunting coloured. “It isn’t a thing to make a joke about,”
she said reprovingly.

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

And then he jumped up. “That reminds me that I oughtn’t to be
wasting my time in pleasant company — ”

“Won’t you stay and have a bit of dinner?” said Mrs. Bunting
solicitously.

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

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

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

“Indeed? Well, so long!”

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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