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Chapter 3

  • 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."
  • "No, never!"
  • 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.
  • Bunting smiled.
  • 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.