But what was a little snub compared with the intense relief and joy of goin_own and telling Bunting of the great piece of good fortune which had falle_heir way?
Staid Mrs. Bunting seemed to make but one leap down the steep stairs. In th_all, however, she pulled herself together, and tried to still her agitation.
She had always disliked and despised any show of emotion; she called suc_etrayal of feeling "making a fuss."
Opening the door of their sitting-room, she stood for a moment looking at he_usband's bent back, and she realised, with a pang of pain, how the last fe_eeks had aged him.
Bunting suddenly looked round, and, seeing his wife, stood up. He put th_aper he had been holding down on to the table: "Well," he said, "well, wh_as it, then?"
He felt rather ashamed of himself; it was he who ought to have answered th_oor and done all that parleying of which he had heard murmurs.
And then in a moment his wife's hand shot out, and the ten sovereigns fell i_ little clinking heap on the table.
"Look there!" she whispered, with an excited, tearful quiver in her voice.
"Look there, Bunting!"
And Bunting did look there, but with a troubled, frowning gaze.
He was not quick-witted, but at once he jumped to the conclusion that his wif_ad just had in a furniture dealer, and that this ten pounds represented al_heir nice furniture upstairs. If that were so, then it was the beginning o_he end. That furniture in the first-floor front had cost—Ellen had reminde_im of the fact bitterly only yesterday—seventeen pounds nine shillings, an_very single item had been a bargain. It was too bad that she had only got te_ounds for it.
Yet he hadn't the heart to reproach her.
He did not speak as he looked across at her, and meeting that troubled, rebuking glance, she guessed what it was that he thought had happened.
"We've a new lodger!" she cried. "And—and, Bunting? He's quite the gentleman!
He actually offered to pay four weeks in advance, at two guineas a week."
Bunting moved quickly round the table, and together they stood there, fascinated by the little heap of gold. "But there's ten sovereigns here," h_aid suddenly.
"Yes, the gentleman said I'd have to buy some things for him to-morrow. And, oh, Bunting, he's so well spoken, I really felt that—I really felt that—" an_hen Mrs. Bunting, taking a step or two sideways, sat down, and throwing he_ittle black apron over her face burst into gasping sobs.
Bunting patted her back timidly. "Ellen?" he said, much moved by he_gitation, "Ellen? Don't take on so, my dear—"
"I won't," she sobbed, "I—I won't! I'm a fool—I know I am! But, oh, I didn'_hink we was ever going to have any luck again!"
And then she told him—or rather tried to tell him—what the lodger was like.
Mrs. Bunting was no hand at talking, but one thing she did impress on he_usband's mind, namely, that Mr. Sleuth was eccentric, as so many cleve_eople are eccentric—that is, in a harmless way—and that he must be humoured.
"He says he doesn't want to be waited on much," she said at last wiping he_yes, "but I can see he will want a good bit of looking after, all the same, poor gentleman."
And just as the words left her mouth there came the unfamiliar sound of a lou_ing. It was that of the drawing-room bell being pulled again and again.
Bunting looked at his wife eagerly. "I think I'd better go up, eh, Ellen?" h_aid. He felt quite anxious to see their new lodger. For the matter of that, it would be a relief to be doing something again.
"Yes," she answered, "you go up! Don't keep him waiting! I wonder what it i_e wants? I said I'd let him know when his supper was ready."
A moment later Bunting came down again. There was an odd smile on his face.
"Whatever d'you think he wanted?" he whispered mysteriously. And as she sai_othing, he went on, "He's asked me for the loan of a Bible!"
"Well, I don't see anything so out of the way in that," she said hastily,
"'specially if he don't feel well. I'll take it up to him."
And then going to a small table which stood between the two windows, Mrs.
Bunting took off it a large Bible, which had been given to her as a weddin_resent by a married lady with whose mother she had lived for several years.
"He said it would do quite well when you take up his supper," said Bunting; and, then, "Ellen? He's a queer-looking cove—not like any gentleman I ever ha_o do with."
"He is a gentleman," said Mrs. Bunting rather fiercely.
"Oh, yes, that's all right." But still he looked at her doubtfully. "I aske_im if he'd like me to just put away his clothes. But, Ellen, he said h_adn't got any clothes!"
"No more he hasn't;" she spoke quickly, defensively. "He had the misfortune t_ose his luggage. He's one dishonest folk 'ud take advantage of."
"Yes, one can see that with half an eye," Bunting agreed.
And then there was silence for a few moments, while Mrs. Bunting put down on _ittle bit of paper the things she wanted her husband to go out and buy fo_er. She handed him the list, together with a sovereign. "Be as quick as yo_an," she said, "for I feel a bit hungry. I'll be going down now to see abou_r. Sleuth's supper. He only wants a glass of milk and two eggs. I'm glad I'v_ever fallen to bad eggs!"
"Sleuth," echoed Bunting, staring at her. "What a queer name! How d'you spel_t—S-l-u-t-h?"
"No," she shot out, "S-l-e—u—t—h."
"Oh," he said doubtfully.
"He said, 'Think of a hound and you'll never forget my name,'" and Mrs.
When he got to the door, Bunting turned round: "We'll now be able to pay youn_handler back some o' that thirty shillings. I am glad." She nodded; he_eart, as the saying is, too full for words.
And then each went about his and her business—Bunting out into the drenchin_og, his wife down to her cold kitchen.
The lodger's tray was soon ready; everything upon it nicely and daintil_rranged. Mrs. Bunting knew how to wait upon a gentleman.
Just as the landlady was going up the kitchen stair, she suddenly remembere_r. Sleuth's request for a Bible. Putting the tray down in the hall, she wen_nto her sitting-room and took up the Book; but when back in the hall sh_esitated a moment as to whether it was worth while to make two journeys. But, no, she thought she could manage; clasping the large, heavy volume under he_rm, and taking up the tray, she walked slowly up the staircase.
But a great surprise awaited her; in fact, when Mr. Sleuth's landlady opene_he door of the drawing-room she very nearly dropped the tray. She actuall_id drop the Bible, and it fell with a heavy thud to the ground.
The new lodger had turned all those nice framed engravings of the earl_ictorian beauties, of which Mrs. Bunting had been so proud, with their face_o the wall!
For a moment she was really too surprised to speak. Putting the tray down o_he table, she stooped and picked up the Book. It troubled her that the Boo_hould have fallen to the ground; but really she hadn't been able to hel_t—it was mercy that the tray hadn't fallen, too.
Mr. Sleuth got up. "I—I have taken the liberty to arrange the room as I shoul_ish it to be," he said awkwardly. "You see, Mrs.—er—Bunting, I felt as I sa_ere that these women's eyes followed me about. It was a most unpleasan_ensation, and gave me quite an eerie feeling."
The landlady was now laying a small tablecloth over half of the table. Sh_ade no answer to her lodger's remark, for the good reason that she did no_now what to say.
Her silence seemed to distress Mr. Sleuth. After what seemed a long pause, h_poke again.
"I prefer bare walls, Mrs. Bunting," he spoke with some agitation. "As _atter of fact, I have been used to seeing bare walls about me for a lon_ime." And then, at last his landlady answered him, in a composed, soothin_oice, which somehow did him good to hear. "I quite understand, sir. And whe_unting comes in he shall take the pictures all down. We have plenty of spac_n our own rooms for them."
"Thank you—thank you very much."
Mr. Sleuth appeared greatly relieved.
"And I have brought you up my Bible, sir. I understood you wanted the loan o_t?"
Mr. Sleuth stared at her as if dazed for a moment; and then, rousing himself, he said, "Yes, yes, I do. There is no reading like the Book. There i_omething there which suits every state of mind, aye, and of body too—"
"Very true, sir." And then Mrs. Bunting, having laid out what really looked _ery appetising little meal, turned round and quietly shut the door.
She went down straight into her sitting-room and waited there for Bunting, instead of going to the kitchen to clear up. And as she did so there came t_er a comfortable recollection, an incident of her long-past youth, in th_ays when she, then Ellen Green, had maided a dear old lady.
The old lady had a favourite nephew—a bright, jolly young gentleman, who wa_earning to paint animals in Paris. And one morning Mr. Algernon—that was hi_ather peculiar Christian name—had had the impudence to turn to the wall si_eautiful engravings of paintings done by the famous Mr. Landseer!
Mrs. Bunting remembered all the circumstances as if they had only occurre_esterday, and yet she had not thought of them for years.
It was quite early; she had come down—for in those days maids weren't though_o much of as they are now, and she slept with the upper housemaid, and it wa_he upper housemaid's duty to be down very early—and, there, in the dining- room, she had found Mr. Algernon engaged in turning each engraving to th_all! Now, his aunt thought all the world of those pictures, and Ellen ha_elt quite concerned, for it doesn't do for a young gentleman to put himsel_rong with a kind aunt.
"Oh, sir," she had exclaimed in dismay, "whatever are you doing?" And even no_he could almost hear his merry voice, as he had answered, "I am doing m_uty, fair Helen"—he had always called her "fair Helen" when no one wa_istening. "How can I draw ordinary animals when I see these half-huma_onsters staring at me all the time I am having my breakfast, my lunch, and m_inner?" That was what Mr. Algernon had said in his own saucy way, and tha_as what he repeated in a more serious, respectful manner to his aunt, whe_hat dear old lady had come downstairs. In fact he had declared, quit_oberly, that the beautiful animals painted by Mr. Landseer put his eye out!
But his aunt had been very much annoyed—in fact, she had made him turn th_ictures all back again; and as long as he stayed there he just had to put u_ith what he called "those half-human monsters." Mrs. Bunting, sitting there, thinking the matter of Mr. Sleuth's odd behaviour over, was glad to recal_hat funny incident of her long-gone youth. It seemed to prove that her ne_odger was not so strange as he appeared to be. Still, when Bunting came in, she did not tell him the queer thing which had happened. She told herself tha_he would be quite able to manage the taking down of the pictures in th_rawing-room herself.
But before getting ready their own supper, Mr. Sleuth's landlady went upstair_o clear away, and when on the staircase she heard the sound of—was i_alking, in the drawing-room? Startled, she waited a moment on the landin_utside the drawing-room door, then she realised that it was only the lodge_eading aloud to himself. There was something very awful in the words whic_ose and fell on her listening ears:
"A strange woman is a narrow gate. She also lieth in wait as for a prey, an_ncreaseth the transgressors among men."
She remained where she was, her hand on the handle of the door, and agai_here broke on her shrinking ears that curious, high, sing-song voice, "He_ouse is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death."
It made the listener feel quite queer. But at last she summoned up courage, knocked, and walked in.
"I'd better clear away, sir, had I not?" she said. And Mr. Sleuth nodded.
Then he got up and closed the Book. "I think I'll go to bed now," he said. "_m very, very tired. I've had a long and a very weary day, Mrs. Bunting."
After he had disappeared into the back room, Mrs. Bunting climbed up on _hair and unhooked the pictures which had so offended Mr. Sleuth. Each left a_nsightly mark on the wall—but that, after all, could not be helped.
Treading softly, so that Bunting should not hear her, she carried them down, two by two, and stood them behind her bed.