The Lodger

7 of 29
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

CHAPTER V

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

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

But odd he certainly was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, you know why, Mrs. Bunting — ”

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

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

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

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

“Wouldn’t you like me just to make you a cup of tea?” she said
solicitously.

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

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

“Goodness, no! Whatever made you think that? But — but, Mrs.
Bunting, there’s been another of them!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

da block

Automatic Ad Middle Of Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, never!” she said. “D’you think that a Bobby might do a thing
like that?”

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

“Yes,” she said absently. “Yes, I do think so.”

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

“Have a bit of something now?” she said suddenly.

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

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

“I expect you’re right,” he said. “And I’ve a goodish heavy day
in front of me. Been up since four, too — ”

“Four?” she said. “Was it then they found — ” she hesitated a
moment, and then said, “it?”

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

“What was he like?” she asked curiously.

“Well, that’s hard to answer. You see, there was such an awful
fog. But there’s one thing they all agree about. He was carrying
a bag — ”

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

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

She was at a loss to account for it.

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

“With a bag?” repeated Mrs. Bunting absently. “How very strange
and peculiar — ”

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

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

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

“Won’t you wait a bit longer for Bunting?” she said hesitatingly.

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

“Well, you’ve had enough to unman you, Joe.”

“Aye, that I have,” he said heavily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 of 29
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

da block

Automatic Ad End Of Content

Subscribe
A customizable subscription slide-in box to promote your newsletter
[mc4wp_form id="128"]