Daisy's eighteenth birthday dawned uneventfully. Her father gave her what h_ad always promised she should have on her eighteenth birthday—a watch. It wa_ pretty little silver watch, which Bunting had bought secondhand on the las_ay he had been happy— it seemed a long, long time ago now.
Mrs. Bunting thought a silver watch a very extravagant present but she was fa_oo wretched, far too absorbed in her own thoughts, to trouble much about it.
Besides, in such matters she had generally had the good sense not to interfer_etween her husband and his child.
In the middle of the birthday morning Bunting went out to buy himself som_ore tobacco. He had never smoked so much as in the last four days, excepting,
perhaps, the week that had followed on his leaving service. Smoking a pipe ha_hen held all the exquisite pleasure which we are told attaches itself to th_ating of forbidden fruit.
His tobacco had now become his only relaxation; it acted on his nerves as a_piate, soothing his fears and helping him to think. But he had been overdoin_t, and it was that which now made him feel so "jumpy," so he assured himself,
when he found himself starting at any casual sound outside, or even when hi_ife spoke to him suddenly.
Just now Ellen and Daisy were down in the kitchen, and Bunting didn't quit_ike the sensation of knowing that there was only one pair of stairs betwee_r. Sleuth and himself. So he quietly slipped out of the house without tellin_llen that he was going out.
In the last four days Bunting had avoided his usual haunts; above all, he ha_voided even passing the time of day to his acquaintances and neighbours. H_eared, with a great fear, that they would talk to him of a subject which,
because it filled his mind to the exclusion of all else, might make him betra_he knowledge—no, not knowledge, rather the—the suspicion—that dwelt withi_im.
But to-day the unfortunate man had a curious, instinctive longing for huma_ompanionship—companionship, that is, other than that of his wife and of hi_aughter.
This longing for a change of company finally led him into a small, populou_horoughfare hard by the Edgware Road. There were more people there than usua_ust now, for the housewives of the neighbourhood were doing their Saturda_arketing for Sunday. The ex-butler turned into a small old-fashioned sho_here he generally bought his tobacco.
Bunting passed the time of day with the tobacconist, and the two fell int_esultory talk, but to his customer's relief and surprise the man made n_llusion to the subject of which all the neighbourhood must still be talking.
And then, quite suddenly, while still standing by the counter, and before h_ad paid for the packet of tobacco he held in his hand, Bunting, through th_pen door, saw with horrified surprise that Ellen, his wife, was standing,
alone, outside a greengrocer's shop just opposite.
Muttering a word of apology, he rushed out of the shop and across the road.
"Ellen!" he gasped hoarsely, "you've never gone and left my little girl alon_n the house with the lodger?"
Mrs. Bunting's face went yellow with fear. "I thought you was indoors," sh_ried. "You was indoors! Whatever made you come out for, without first makin_ure I'd stay in?"
Bunting made no answer; but, as they stared at each other in exasperate_ilence, each now knew that the other knew.
They turned and scurried down the crowded street. "Don't run," he sai_uddenly; "we shall get there just as quickly if we walk fast. People ar_oticing you, Ellen. Don't run."
He spoke breathlessly, but it was breathlessness induced by fear and b_xcitement, not by the quick pace at which they were walking.
At last they reached their own gate, and Bunting pushed past in front of hi_ife.
After all, Daisy was his child; Ellen couldn't know how he was feeling.
He seemed to take the path in one leap, then fumbled for a moment with hi_atchkey.
Opening wide the door, "Daisy!" he called out, in a wailing voice, "Daisy, m_ear! where are you?"
"Here I am, father. What is it?"
"She's all right." Bunting turned a grey face to his wife. "She's all right,
He waited a moment, leaning against the wall of the passage. "It did give me _urn," he said, and then, warningly, "Don't frighten the girl, Ellen."
Daisy was standing before the fire in their sitting room, admiring herself i_he glass.
"Oh, father," she exclaimed, without turning round, "I've seen the lodger!
He's quite a nice gentleman, though, to be sure, he does look a cure. He ran_is bell, but I didn't like to go up; and so he came down to ask Ellen fo_omething. We had quite a nice little chat—that we had. I told him it was m_irthday, and he asked me and Ellen to go to Madame Tussaud's with him thi_fternoon." She laughed, a little self-consciously. "Of course, I could see h_as 'centric, and then at first he spoke so funnily. 'And who be you?' h_ays, threatening-like. And I says to him, 'I'm Mr. Bunting's daughter, sir.'
'Then you're a very fortunate girl'—that's what he says, Ellen—'to 'ave such _ice stepmother as you've got. That's why,' he says, 'you look such a good,
innocent girl.' And then he quoted a bit of the Prayer Book. 'Keep innocency,'
he says, wagging his head at me. Lor'! It made me feel as if I was with Ol_unt again."
"I won't have you going out with the lodger—that's flat."
Bunting spoke in a muffled, angry tone. He was wiping his forehead with on_and, while with the other he mechanically squeezed the little packet o_obacco, for which, as he now remembered, he had forgotten to pay.
Daisy pouted. "Oh, father, I think you might let me have a treat on m_irthday! I told him that Saturday wasn't a very good day— at least, so I'_eard—for Madame Tussaud's. Then he said we could go early, while the fin_olk are still having their dinners." She turned to her stepmother, the_iggled happily. "He particularly said you was to come, too. The lodger has _onderful fancy for you, Ellen; if I was father, I'd feel quite jealous!"
Her last words were cut across by a tap-tap on the door.
Bunting and his wife looked at each other apprehensively. Was it possibl_hat, in their agitation, they had left the front door open, and that someone,
some merciless myrmidon of the law, had crept in behind them?
Both felt a curious thrill of satisfaction when they saw that it was only Mr.
Sleuth—Mr. Sleuth dressed for going out; the tall hat he had worn when he ha_irst come to them was in his hand, but he was wearing a coat instead of hi_nverness cape.
"I heard you come in"—he addressed Mrs. Bunting in his high, whistling,
hesitating voice—"and so I've come down to ask you if you and Miss Buntin_ill come to Madame Tussaud's now. I have never seen those famous waxworks,
though I've heard of the place all my life."
As Bunting forced himself to look fixedly at his lodger, a sudden doub_ringing with it a sense of immeasurable relief, came to Mr. Sleuth'_andlord.
Surely it was inconceivable that this gentle, mild-mannered gentleman could b_he monster of cruelty and cunning that Bunting had now for the terrible spac_f four days believed him to be!
He tried to catch his wife's eye, but Mrs. Bunting was looking away, starin_nto vacancy. She still, of course, wore the bonnet and cloak in which she ha_ust been out to do her marketing. Daisy was already putting on her hat an_oat.
"Well?" said Mr. Sleuth. Then Mrs. Bunting turned, and it seemed to hi_andlady that he was looking at her threateningly. "Well?"
"Yes, sir. We'll come in a minute," she said dully.