The Lodger/Chapter XI

CHAPTER XI

It was only Joe. Somehow, even Bunting called him "Joe" now, and no longer "Chandler," as he had mostly used to do.

Mrs. Bunting had opened the front door only a very little way. She wasn’t going to have any strangers pushing in past her.

To her sharpened, suffering senses her house had become a citadel which must be defended; aye, even if the besiegers were a mighty horde with right on their side. And she was always expecting that first single spy who would herald the battalion against whom her only weapon would be her woman’s wit and cunning.

But when she saw who stood there smiling at her, the muscles of her face relaxed, and it lost the tense, anxious, almost agonised look it assumed the moment she turned her back on her husband and stepdaughter.

"Why, Joe," she whispered, for she had left the door open behind her, and Daisy had already begun to read aloud, as her father had bidden her. "Come in, do! It’s fairly cold to-night."

A glance at his face had shown her that there was no fresh news.

Joe Chandler walked in, past her, into the little hall. Cold? Well, he didn’t feel cold, for he had walked quickly to be the sooner where he was now.

Nine days had gone by since that last terrible occurrence, the double murder which had been committed early in the morning of the day Daisy had arrived in London. And though the thousands of men belonging to the Metropolitan Police—to say nothing of the smaller, more alert body of detectives attached to the Force—were keenly on the alert, not one but had begun to feel that there was nothing to be alert about. Familiarity, even with horror, breeds contempt.

But with the public it was far otherwise. Each day something happened to revive and keep alive the mingled horror and interest this strange, enigmatic series of crimes had evoked. Even the more sober organs of the Press went on attacking, with gathering severity and indignation, the Commissioner of Police; and at the huge demonstration held in Victoria Park two days before violent speeches had also been made against the Home Secretary.

But just now Joe Chandler wanted to forget all that. The little house in the Marylebone Road had become to him an enchanted isle of dreams, to which his thoughts were ever turning when he had a moment to spare from what had grown to be a wearisome, because an unsatisfactory, job. He secretly agreed with one of his pals who had exclaimed, and that within twenty-four hours of the last double crime, "Why, ’twould be easier to find a needle in a rick o’ hay than this——bloke!"

And if that had been true then, how much truer it was now—after nine long, empty days had gone by?

Quickly he divested himself of his great-coat, muffler, and low hat. Then he put his finger on his lip, and motioned smilingly to Mrs. Bunting to wait a moment.

From where he stood in the hall the father and daughter made a pleasant little picture of contented domesticity. Joe Chandler's honest heart swelled at the sight.

Daisy, wearing the blue-and-white check silk dress about which her stepmother and she had had words, sat on a low stool on the left side of the fire, while Bunting, leaning back in his own comfortable arm-chair, was listening, his hand to his ear, in an attitude—as it was the first time she had caught him doing it, the fact brought a pang to Mrs. Bunting—which showed that age was beginning to creep over the listener.

One of Daisy’s duties as companion to her great-aunt was that of reading the newspaper aloud, and she prided herself on her accomplishment.

Just as Joe had put his finger on his lip Daisy had been asking, "Shall I read this, father?" And Bunting had answered quickly, "Aye, do, my dear."

He was absorbed in what he was hearing, and, on seeing Joe at the door, he had only just nodded his head. The young man was becoming so frequent a visitor as to be almost one of themselves.

Daisy read out:

"The Avenger: A——"

And then she stopped short, for the next word puzzled her greatly. Bravely, however, she went on. "A the-o-ry."

"Go in—do!" whispered Mrs. Bunting to her visitor. "Why should we stay out here in the cold? It’s ridic'lous."

"I don’t want to interrupt Miss Daisy," whispered Chandler back, rather hoarsely.

"Well, you’ll hear it all the better in the room. Don’t think she’ll stop because of you, bless you! There’s nothing shy about our Daisy!"

The young man resented the tart, short tone. "Poor little girl!" he said to himself tenderly. "That’s what it is having a stepmother, instead of a proper mother." But he obeyed Mrs. Bunting, and then he was pleased he had done so, for Daisy looked up, and a bright blush came over her pretty face.

"Joe begs you won’t stop yet awhile. Go on with your reading," commanded Mrs. Bunting quickly. "Now, Joe, you can go and sit over there, close to Daisy, and then you won’t miss a word."

There was a sarcastic inflection in her voice, even Chandler noticed that, but he obeyed her with alacrity, and crossing the room he went and sat on a chair just behind Daisy. From there he could note with reverent delight the charming way her fair hair grew upwards from the nape of her slender neck.

"The Avenger: A The-o-ry"

began Daisy again, clearing her throat.

"Dear Sir—I have a suggestion to put forward for which I think there is a great deal to be said. It seems to me very probable that The Avenger—to give him the name by which he apparently wishes to be known—comprises in his own person the peculiarities of Jekyll and Hyde, Mr. Louis Stevenson’s now famous hero.

"The culprit, according to my point of view, is a quiet, pleasant-looking gentleman who lives somewhere in the West End of London. He has, however, a tragedy in his past life. He is the husband of a dipsomaniac wife. She is, of course, under care, and is never mentioned in the house where he lives, maybe with his widowed mother and perhaps a maiden sister. They notice that he has become gloomy and brooding of late, but he lives his usual life, occupying himself each day with some harmless hobby. On foggy nights, once the quiet household is plunged in sleep, he creeps out of the house, maybe between one and two o'clock, and swiftly makes his way straight to what has become The Avenger's murder area. Picking out a likely victim, he approaches her with Judas-like gentleness, and having committed his awful crime, goes quietly home again. After a good bath and breakfast, he turns up happy, once more the quiet individual who is an excellent son, a kind brother, esteemed and even beloved by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. Meantime, the police are searching about the scene of the tragedy for what they regard as the usual type of criminal lunatic.

"I give this theory, Sir, for what it is worth, but I confess that I am amazed the police have so wholly confined their inquiries to the part of London where these murders have been actually committed. I am quite sure from all that has come out—and we must remember that full information is never given to the newspapers—The Avenger should be sought for in the West, and not in the East End of London.—Believe me to remain, Sir, yours very truly——"

Again Daisy hesitated, and then with an effort she brought out the word "Gab-o-ri-you," said she.

"What a funny name!" said Bunting wonderingly.

And then Joe broke in: "That’s the name of a French chap what wrote detective stories," he said. "Pretty good, some of them are, too!"

"Then this Gaboriyou has come over to study these Avenger murders, I take it?" said Bunting.

"Oh, no," Joe spoke with confidence. "Whoever’s written that silly letter just signed that name for fun."

"It is a silly letter," Mrs. Bunting had broken in resentfully. "I wonder a respectable paper prints such rubbish."

"Fancy if The Avenger did turn out to be a gentleman!" cried Daisy, in an awe-struck voice. "There’d be a how-to-do!"

"There may be something in the notion," said her father thoughtfully. "After all, the monster must be somewhere. This very minute he must be somewhere a-hiding of himself."

"Of course he’s somewhere," said Mrs. Bunting scornfully.

She had just heard Mr. Sleuth moving overhead. ’Twould soon be time for the lodger’s supper.

She hurried on: "But what I do say is that—that—he has nothing to do with the West End. Why, they say it’s a sailor from the Docks—that’s a good bit more likely, I take it. But there, I’m fair sick of the whole subject! We talk of nothing else in this house. The Avenger this—The Avenger that——"

"I expect Joe has something to tell us new to-night," said Bunting cheerfully. "Well, Joe, is there anything new?"

"I say, father, just listen to this!" Daisy broke in excitedly. She read out:

"Bloodhounds to be Seriously Considered"

"Bloodhounds?" repeated Mrs. Bunting, and there was terror in her tone. "Why bloodhounds? That do seem to me a most horrible idea!"

Bunting looked across at her, mildly astonished. "Why, ’twould be a very good idea, if ’twas possible to have bloodhounds in a town. But, there, how can that be done in London, full of butchers’ shops, to say nothing of slaughter-yards and other places o’ that sort?"

But Daisy went on, and to her stepmother’s shrinking ear there seemed a horrible thrill of delight, of gloating pleasure, in her fresh young voice.

"Hark to this," she said:

"A man who had committed a murder in a lonely wood near Blackburn was traced by the help of a bloodhound, and thanks to the sagacious instincts of the animal, the miscreant was finally convicted and hanged."

"La, now! Who’d ever have thought of such a thing?" Bunting exclaimed, in admiration. "The newspapers do have some useful hints in sometimes, Joe."

But young Chandler shook his head. "Bloodhounds ain’t no use," he said; "no use at all! If the Yard was to listen to all the suggestions that the last few days have brought in—well, all I can say is our work would be cut out for us—not but what it’s cut out for us now, if it comes to that!" He sighed ruefully. He was beginning to feel very tired; if only he could stay in this pleasant, cosy room listening to Daisy Bunting reading on and on for ever, instead of having to go out, as he would presently have to do, into the cold and foggy night!

Joe Chandler was fast becoming very sick of his new job. There was a lot of unpleasantness attached to the business, too. Why, even in the house where he lived, and in the little cook-shop where he habitually took his meals, the people round him had taken to taunt him with the remissness of the police. More than that. One of his pals, a man he’d always looked up to, because the young fellow had the gift of the gab, had actually been among those who had spoken at the big demonstration in Victoria Park, making a violent speech, not only against the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, but also against the Home Secretary.

But Daisy, like most people who believe themselves blessed with the possession of an accomplishment, had no mind to leave off reading just yet.

"Here’s another notion!" she exclaimed. "Another letter, father!"

"Pardon to Accomplices.

"Dear Sir—During the last day or two several of the more intelligent of my acquaintances have suggested that The Avenger, whoever he may be, must be known to a certain number of persons. It is impossible that the perpetrator of such deeds, however nomad he may be in his habits——"

"Now I wonder what ‘nomad’ can be?" Daisy interrupted herself, and looked round at her little audience.

"I’ve always declared the fellow had all his senses about him," observed Bunting confidently.

Daisy went on, quite satisfied:

"——however nomad he may be in his habits, must have some habitat where his ways are known to at least one person. Now the person who knows the terrible secret is evidently withholding information in expectation of a reward, or maybe because, being an accessory after the fact, he or she is now afraid of the consequences. My suggestion, Sir, is that the Home Secretary promise a free pardon. The more so that only thus can this miscreant be brought to justice. Unless he was caught red-handed in the act, it will be exceedingly difficult to trace the crime committed to any individual, for English law looks very askance at circumstantial evidence."

"There’s something worth listening to in that letter," said Joe, leaning forward.

Now he was almost touching Daisy, and he smiled involuntarily as she turned her gay, pretty little face the better to hear what he was saying.

"Yes, Mr. Chandler?" she said interrogatively.

"Well, d’you remember that fellow what killed an old gentleman in a railway carriage? He took refuge with someone—a woman his mother had known, and she kept him hidden for quite a long time. But at last she gave him up, and she got a big reward, too!"

"I don’t think I’d like to give anybody up for a reward," said Bunting, in his slow, dogmatic way.

"Oh, yes, you would, Mr. Bunting," said Chandler confidently. "You’d only be doing what it’s the plain duty of everyone—everyone, that is, who’s a good citizen. And you’d be getting something for doing it, which is more than most people gets as does their duty."

"A man as gives up someone for a reward is no better than a common informer," went on Bunting obstinately. "And no man ’ud care to be called that! It’s different for you, Joe," he added hastily. "It’s your job to catch those who’ve done anything wrong. And a man’d be a fool who’d take refuge-like with you. He’d be walking into the lion’s mouth——" Bunting laughed.

And then Daisy broke in coquettishly: "If I’d done anything I wouldn’t mind going for help to Mr. Chandler," she said.

And Joe, with eyes kindling, cried, "No. And if you did you needn’t be afraid I’d give you up, Miss Daisy!"

And then, to their amazement, there suddenly broke from Mrs. Bunting, sitting with bowed head over the table, an exclamation of impatience and anger, and, it seemed to those listening, of pain.

"Why, Ellen, don’t you feel well?" asked Bunting quickly.

"Just a spasm, a sharp stitch in my side, like," answered the poor woman heavily. "It’s over now. Don’t mind me."

"But I don’t believe—no, that I don’t—that there’s anybody in the world who knows who The Avenger is," went on Chandler quickly. "It stands to reason that anybody’d give him up—in their own interest, if not in anyone else’s. Who’d shelter such a creature? Why, ’twould be dangerous to have him in the house along with one!"

"Then it’s your idea that he’s not responsible for the wicked things he does?" Mrs. Bunting raised her head, and looked over at Chandler with eager, anxious eyes.

"I’d be sorry to think he wasn’t responsible enough to hang!" said Chandler deliberately. "After all the trouble he’s been giving us, too!"

"Hanging’d be too good for that chap," said Bunting.

"Not if he’s not responsible," said his wife sharply. "I never heard of anything so cruel—that I never did! If the man’s a madman, he ought to be in an asylum—that’s where he ought to be."

"Hark to her now!" Bunting looked at his Ellen with amusement. "Contrary isn’t the word for her! But there, I’ve noticed the last few days that she seemed to be taking that monster’s part. That’s what comes of being a born total abstainer."

Mrs. Bunting had got up from her chair. "What nonsense you do talk!" she said angrily. "Not but what it’s a good thing if these murders have emptied the public-houses of women for a bit. England’s drink is England’s shame—I’ll never depart from that! Now, Daisy, child, get up, do! Put down that paper. We’ve heard quite enough. You can be laying the cloth while I goes down the kitchen."

"Yes, you mustn’t be forgetting the lodger’s supper," called out Bunting. "Mr. Sleuth don’t always ring——" he turned to Chandler. "For one thing, he’s often out about this time."

"Not often—just now and again, when he wants to buy something," snapped out Mrs. Bunting. "But I hadn’t forgot his supper. He never do want it before eight o’clock."

"Let me take up the lodger’s supper, Ellen," Daisy’s eager voice broke in. She had got up in obedience to her stepmother, and was now laying the cloth.

"Certainly not! I told you he only wanted me to wait on him. You have your work cut out looking after things down here—that’s where I wants you to help me."

Chandler also got up. Somehow he didn’t like to be doing nothing while Daisy was so busy. "Yes," he said, looking across at Mrs. Bunting, "I’d forgotten about your lodger. Going on all right, eh?"

"Never knew so quiet and well-behaved a gentleman," said Bunting. "He turned our luck, did Mr. Sleuth."

His wife left the room, and after she had gone Daisy laughed. "You’ll hardly believe it, Mr. Chandler, but I’ve never seen this wonderful lodger. Ellen keeps him to herself, that she does! If I was father I’d be jealous!"

Both men laughed. Ellen? No, the idea was too funny.