The Lodger/Chapter XII

CHAPTER XII

"All I can say is, I think Daisy ought to go. One can’t always do just what one wants to do—not in this world, at any rate!"

Mrs. Bunting did not seem to be addressing anyone in particular, though both her husband and her stepdaughter were in the room. She was standing by the table, staring straight before her, and as she spoke she avoided looking at either Bunting or Daisy. There was in her voice a tone of cross decision, of thin finality, with which they were both acquainted, and to which each listener knew the other would have to bow.

There was silence for a moment, then Daisy broke out passionately, "I don’t see why I should go if I don’t want to!" she cried. "You’ll allow I’ve been useful to you, Ellen? ’Tisn’t even as if you was quite well——"

"I am quite well—perfectly well!" snapped out Mrs. Bunting, and she turned her pale, drawn face, and looked angrily at her stepdaughter.

"’Tain’t often I has a chance of being with you and father." There were tears in Daisy’s voice, and Bunting glanced deprecatingly at his wife.

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 clock, 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 arrival.

"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 every minute.

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 her voice.

"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 of 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 last night!

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-cheeked, 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 said.

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.