The Lodger/Chapter VIII

CHAPTER VIII

Perhaps because his luncheon was served to him a good deal later than usual, Mr. Sleuth ate his nice piece of steamed sole upstairs with far heartier an appetite than his landlady had eaten her nice slice of roast pork downstairs.

"I hope you’re feeling a little better, sir," Mrs. Bunting had forced herself to say when she first took in his tray.

And he had answered plaintively, querulously, "No, I can’t say I feel well to-day, Mrs. Bunting. I am tired—very tired. And as I lay in bed I seemed to hear so many sounds—so much crying and shouting. I trust the Marylebone Road is not going to become a noisy thoroughfare, Mrs. Bunting?"

"Oh, no, sir, I don’t think that. We’re generally reckoned very quiet indeed, sir."

She waited a moment—try as she would, she could not allude to what those unwonted shouts and noises had betokened. "I expect you’ve got a chill, sir," she said suddenly. "If I was you, I shouldn’t go out this afternoon; I’d just stay quietly indoors. There’s a lot of rough people about——" Perhaps there was an undercurrent of warning, of painful pleading, in her toneless voice which penetrated in some way to the brain of the lodger, for Mr. Sleuth looked up, and an uneasy, watchful look came into his luminous grey eyes.

"I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Bunting. But I think I’ll take your advice. That is, I will stay quietly at home. I am never at a loss to know what to do with myself so long as I can study the Book of Books."

"Then you’re not afraid about your eyes, sir?" said Mrs. Bunting curiously. Somehow she was beginning to feel better. It comforted her to be up here, talking to Mr. Sleuth, instead of thinking about him downstairs. It seemed to banish the terror which filled her soul—aye, and her body, too—at other times. When she was with him Mr. Sleuth was so gentle, so reasonable, so—so grateful.

Poor kindly, solitary Mr. Sleuth! This kind of gentleman surely wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a human being. Eccentric—so much must be admitted. But Mrs. Bunting had seen a good deal of eccentric folk, eccentric women rather than eccentric men, in her long career as useful maid.

Being at ordinary times an exceptionally sensible, well-balanced woman, she had never, in old days, allowed her mind to dwell on certain things she had learnt as to the aberrations of which human nature is capable—even well-born, well-nurtured, gentle human nature—as exemplified in some of the households where she had served. It would, indeed, be unfortunate if she now became morbid or—or hysterical.

So it was in a sharp, cheerful voice, almost the voice in which she had talked during the first few days of Mr. Sleuth’s stay in her house, that she exclaimed, "Well, sir, I'll be up again to clear away in about half an hour. And if you'll forgive me for saying so, I hope you will stay in and have a rest to-day. Nasty, muggy weather—that's what it is! If there's any little thing you want, me or Bunting can go out and get it."

· · · · · · ·

It must have been about four o'clock when there came a ring at the front door.

The three were sitting chatting together, for Daisy had washed up—she really was saving her stepmother a good bit of trouble—and the girl was now amusing her elders by a funny account of Old Aunt's pernickety ways.

"Whoever can that be?" said Bunting, looking up. "It's too early for Joe Chandler, surely."

"I'll go," said his wife, hurriedly jumping up from her chair. "I'll go! We don't want no strangers in here."

And as she stepped down the short bit of passage she said to herself, "A clue? What clue?"

But when she opened the front door a glad sigh of relief broke from her. "Why, Joe? We never thought 'twas you! But you're very welcome, I'm sure. Come in."

And Chandler came in, a rather sheepish look on his good-looking, fair young face.

"I thought maybe that Mr. Bunting would like to know——" he began, in a loud, cheerful voice, and Mrs. Bunting hurriedly checked him. She didn't want the lodger upstairs to hear what young Chandler might be going to say.

"Don't talk so loud," she said a little sharply. "The lodger is not very well to-day. He's had a cold," she added hastily, "and during the last two or three days he hasn't been able to go out."

She wondered at her temerity, her—her hypocrisy, and that moment, those few words, marked an epoch in Ellen Bunting’s life. It was the first time she had told a bold and deliberate lie. She was one of those women—there are many, many such—to whom there is a whole world of difference between the suppression of the truth and the utterance of an untruth.

But Chandler paid no heed to her remarks. "Has Miss Daisy arrived?" he asked, in a lower voice.

She nodded. And then he went through into the room where the father and daughter were sitting.

"Well?" said Bunting, starting up. "Well, Joe? Now you can tell us all about that mysterious clue! I suppose it’d be too good news to expect you to tell us they’ve caught him?"

"No fear of such good news as that yet awhile. If they’d caught him," said Joe ruefully, "well, I don’t suppose I should be here, Mr. Bunting. But the Yard are circulating a description at last. And—well, they’ve found his weapon!"

"No?" cried Bunting excitedly. "You don’t say so! Whatever sort of a thing is it? And are they sure ’tis his?"

"Well, ’tain’t sure, but it seems to be likely."

Mrs. Bunting had slipped into the room and shut the door behind her. But she was still standing with her back against the door, looking at the group in front of her. None of them were thinking of her—she thanked God for that! She could hear everything that was said without joining in the talk and excitement.

"Listen to this!" cried Joe Chandler exultantly. "’Tain’t given out yet—not for the public, that is—but we was all given it by eight o’clock this morning. Quick work that, eh?" He read out:

"Wanted

A man, of age approximately 28, slight in figure, height approximately 5 ft. 8 in. Complexion dark. No beard or whiskers. Wearing a black diagonal coat, hard felt hat, high white collar, and tie. Carried a newspaper parcel. Very respectable appearance."

Mrs. Bunting walked forward. She gave a long, fluttering sigh of unutterable relief.

"There’s the chap!" said Joe Chandler triumphantly. "And now, Miss Daisy"—he turned to her jokingly, but there was a funny little tremor in his frank, cheerful-sounding voice—"if you knows of any nice, likely young fellow that answers to that description—well, you’ve only got to walk in and earn your reward of five hundred pounds."

"Five hundred pounds!" cried Daisy and her father simultaneously.

"Yes. That’s what the Lord Mayor offered yesterday. Some private bloke—nothing official about it. But we of the Yard is barred from taking that reward, worse luck. And it’s too bad, for we has all the trouble, after all."

"Just hand that bit of paper over, will you?" said Bunting. "I’d like to con it over to myself."

Chandler threw over the bit of flimsy.

A moment later Bunting looked up and handed it back. "Well, it’s clear enough, isn’t it?"

"Yes. And there’s hundreds—nay, thousands—of young fellows that might be a description of," said Chandler sarcastically. "As a pal of mine said this morning, ‘There isn’t a chap will like to carry a newspaper parcel after this.’ And it won’t do to have a respectable appearance—eh?"

Daisy’s voice rang out in merry, pealing laughter. She greatly appreciated Mr. Chandler’s witticism.

"Why on earth didn’t the people who saw him try and catch him?" asked Bunting suddenly.

And Mrs. Bunting broke in, in a lower voice, "Yes, Joe—that seems odd, don’t it?"

Joe Chandler coughed. "Well, it’s this way," he said. "No one person did see all that. The man who’s described here is just made up from the description of two different folk who think they saw him. You see, the murders must have taken place—well, now, let me see—perhaps at two o’clock this last time. Two o’clock—that’s the idea. Well, at such a time as that not many people are about, especially on a foggy night. Yes, one woman declares she saw a young chap walking away from the spot where ’twas done; and another one—but that was a good bit later—says The Avenger passed by her. It’s mostly her they’re following in this ’ere description. And then the boss who has charge of that sort of thing looked up what other people had said—I mean when the other crimes was committed. That’s how he made up this ‘Wanted.’"

"Then The Avenger may be quite a different sort of man?" said Bunting slowly, disappointedly.

"Well, of course he may be. But, no; I think that description fits him all right," said Chandler; but he also spoke in a hesitating voice.

"You was saying, Joe, that they found a weapon?" observed Bunting insinuatingly.

He was glad that Ellen allowed the discussion to go on—in fact, that she even seemed to take an intelligent interest in it. She had come up close to them, and now looked quite her old self again.

"Yes. They believe they’ve found the weapon what he does his awful deeds with," said Chandler. "At any rate, within a hundred yards of that little dark passage where they found the bodies—one at each end, that was—there was discovered this morning a very peculiar kind o’ knife—‘keen as a razor, pointed as a dagger’—that’s the exact words the boss used when he was describing it to a lot of us. He seemed to think a lot more of that clue than of the other—I mean than of the description people gave of the chap who walked quickly by with a newspaper parcel. But now there’s a pretty job in front of us. Every shop where they sell or might a’ sold, such a thing as that knife, including every eating-house in the East End, has got to be called at!"

"Whatever for?" asked Daisy.

"Why, with an idea of finding out if anyone saw such a knife fooling about there any time, and, if so, in whose possession it was at the time. But, Mr. Bunting"—Chandler’s voice changed; it became businesslike, official—"they’re not going to say anything about that—not in newspapers—till to-morrow, so don’t you go and tell anybody. You see, we don’t want to frighten the fellow off. If he knew they’d got his knife—well, he might just make himself scarce, and they don’t want that! If it’s discovered that any knife of that kind was sold, say a month ago, to some customer whose ways are known, then—then——"

"What’ll happen then?" said Mrs. Bunting, coming nearer.

"Well, then, nothing’ll be put about it in the papers at all," said Chandler deliberately. "The only objec’ of letting the public know about it would be if nothink was found—I mean if the search of the shops, and so on, was no good. Then, of course, we must try and find out someone—some private person-like, who’s watched that knife in the criminal’s possession. It’s there the reward—the five hundred pounds will come in."

"Oh, I’d give anything to see that knife!" exclaimed Daisy, clasping her hands together.

"You cruel, bloodthirsty, girl!" cried her stepmother passionately.

They all looked round at her, surprised.

"Come, come, Ellen!" said Bunting reprovingly.

"Well, it is a horrible idea!" said his wife sullenly. "To go and sell a fellow-being for five hundred pounds."

But Daisy was offended. "Of course I’d like to see it!" she cried defiantly. "I never said nothing about the reward. That was Mr. Chandler said that! I only said I’d like to see the knife."

Chandler looked at her soothingly. "Well, the day may come when you will see it," he said slowly.

A great idea had come into his mind.

"No! What makes you think that?"

"If they catches him, and if you comes along with me to see our Black Museum at the Yard, you’ll certainly see the knife, Miss Daisy. They keeps all them kind of things there. So if, as I say, this weapon should lead to the conviction of The Avenger—well, then, that knife ’ull be there, and you’ll see it!"

"The Black Museum? Why, whatever do they have a museum in your place for?" asked Daisy wonderingly. "I thought there was only the British Museum——"

And then even Mrs. Bunting, as well as Bunting and Chandler, laughed aloud.

"You are a goosey girl!" said her father fondly. "Why, there’s a lot of museums in London; the town’s thick with ’em. Ask Ellen there. She and me used to go to them kind of places when we was courting—if the weather was bad."

"But our museum’s the one that would interest Miss Daisy," broke in Chandler eagerly. "It’s a regular Chamber of ’Orrors!"

"Why, Joe, you never told us about that place before," said Bunting excitedly. "D’you really mean that there’s a museum where they keeps all sorts of things connected with crimes? Things like knives murders have been committed with?"

"Knives?" cried Joe, pleased at having become the centre of attention, for Daisy had also fixed her blue eyes on him, and even Mrs. Bunting looked at him expectantly. "Much more than knives, Mr. Bunting! Why, they’ve got there, in little bottles, the real poison what people have been done away with."

"And can you go there whenever you like?" asked Daisy wonderingly. She had not realised before what extraordinary and agreeable privileges are attached to the position of a detective member of the London Police Force.

"Well, I suppose I could——" Joe smiled. "Anyway I can certainly get leave to take a friend there." He looked meaningly at Daisy, and Daisy looked eagerly at him.

But would Ellen ever let her go out by herself with Mr. Chandler? Ellen was so prim, so—so irritatingly proper. But what was this father was saying? "D’you really mean that, Joe?"

"Yes, of course I do!"

"Well, then, look here! If it isn’t asking too much of a favour, I should like to go along there with you very much one day. I don’t want to wait till The Avenger’s caught"—Bunting smiled broadly. "I’d be quite content as it is with what there is in that museum o’ yours. Ellen, there,"—he looked across at his wife—"don’t agree with me about such things. Yet I don’t think I’m a bloodthirsty man! But I’m just terribly interested in all that sort of thing—always have been. I used to positively envy the butler in that Balham Mystery!"

Again a look passed between Daisy and the young man—it was a look which contained and carried a great many things backwards and forwards, such as—"Now, isn’t it funny that your father should want to go to such a place? But still, I can’t help it if he does want to go, so we must put up with his company, though it would have been much nicer for us to go just by our two selves." And then Daisy's look answered quite as plainly, though perhaps Joe didn't read her glance quite as clearly as she had read his: "Yes, it is tiresome. But father means well; and 'twill be very pleasant going there, even if he does come too."

"Well, what d’you say to the day after to-morrow, Mr. Bunting? I’d call for you here about—shall we say half-past two?—and just take you and Miss Daisy down to the Yard. ’Twouldn’t take very long; we could go all the way by bus, right down to Westminster Bridge." He looked round at his hostess: "Wouldn’t you join us, Mrs. Bunting? ’Tis truly a wonderful interesting place."

But his hostess shook her head decidedly. "’Twould turn me sick," she exclaimed, "to see the bottle of poison what had done away with the life of some poor creature! And as for knives——!" a look of real horror, of startled fear, crept over her pale face.

"There, there!" said Bunting hastily. "Live and let live—that’s what I always say. Ellen ain’t on in this turn. She can just stay at home and mind the cat—I beg his pardon, I mean the lodger!"

"I won’t have Mr. Sleuth laughed at," said Mrs. Bunting darkly. "But there! I’m sure it’s very kind of you, Joe, to think of giving Bunting and Daisy such a rare treat"—she spoke sarcastically, but none of the three who heard her understood that.