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Chapter 5

  • How quietly, how uneventfully, how pleasantly, sped the next few days. Alread_ife was settling down into a groove. Waiting on Mr. Sleuth was just what Mrs.
  • Bunting could manage to do easily, and without tiring herself.
  • It had at once become clear that the lodger preferred to be waited on only b_ne person, and that person his landlady. He gave her very little trouble.
  • Indeed, it did her good having to wait on the lodger; it even did her goo_hat he was not like other gentlemen; for the fact occupied her mind, and in _ay it amused her. The more so that whatever his oddities Mr. Sleuth had non_f those tiresome, disagreeable ways with which landladies are only to_amiliar, and which seem peculiar only to those human beings who also happe_o be lodgers. To take but one point: Mr. Sleuth did not ask to be calle_nduly early. Bunting and his Ellen had fallen into the way of lying rathe_ate in the morning, and it was a great comfort not to have to turn out t_ake the lodger a cup of tea at seven, or even half-past seven. Mr. Sleut_eldom required anything before eleven.
  • But odd he certainly was.
  • The second evening he had been with them Mr. Sleuth had brought in a book o_hich the queer name was Cruden's Concordance. That and the Bible—Mrs. Buntin_ad soon discovered that there was a relation between the two books—seemed t_e the lodger's only reading. He spent hours each day, generally after he ha_aten the breakfast which also served for luncheon, poring over the Ol_estament and over that strange kind of index to the Book.
  • As for the delicate and yet the all-important question of money, Mr. Sleut_as everything—everything that the most exacting landlady could have wished.
  • Never had there been a more confiding or trusting gentleman. On the very firs_ay he had been with them he had allowed his money—the considerable sum of on_undred and eighty-four sovereigns—to lie about wrapped up in little pieces o_ather dirty newspaper on his dressing-table. That had quite upset Mrs.
  • Bunting. She had allowed herself respectfully to point out to him that what h_as doing was foolish, indeed wrong. But as only answer he had laughed, an_he had been startled when the loud, unusual and discordant sound had issue_rom his thin lips.
  • "I know those I can trust," he had answered, stuttering rather, as was his wa_hen moved. "And—and I assure you, Mrs. Bunting, that I hardly have to spea_o a human being—especially to a woman" (and he had drawn in his breath with _issing sound) "before I know exactly what manner of person is before me."
  • It hadn't taken the landlady very long to find out that her lodger had a quee_ind of fear and dislike of women. When she was doing the staircase an_andings she would often hear Mr. Sleuth reading aloud to himself passages i_he Bible that were very uncomplimentary to her sex. But Mrs. Bunting had n_ery great opinion of her sister woman, so that didn't put her out. Besides, where one's lodger is concerned, a dislike of women is better than—well, tha_he other thing.
  • In any case, where would have been the good of worrying about the lodger'_unny ways? Of course, Mr. Sleuth was eccentric. If he hadn't been, as Buntin_unnily styled it, "just a leetle touched upstairs," he wouldn't be here, living this strange, solitary life in lodgings. He would be living in quite _ifferent sort of way with some of his relatives, or with a friend of his ow_lass.
  • There came a time when Mrs. Bunting, looking back—as even the leas_maginative of us are apt to look back to any part of our own past lives whic_ecomes for any reason poignantly memorable —wondered how soon it was that sh_ad discovered that her lodger was given to creeping out of the house at _ime when almost all living things prefer to sleep.
  • She brought herself to believe—but I am inclined to doubt whether she wa_ight in so believing—that the first time she became aware of this strang_octurnal habit of Mr. Sleuth's happened to be during the night which precede_he day on which she had observed a very curious circumstance. This ver_urious circumstance was the complete disappearance of one of Mr. Sleuth'_hree suits of clothes.
  • It always passes my comprehension how people can remember, over any length o_ime, not every moment of certain happenings, for that is natural enough, bu_he day, the hour, the minute when these happenings took place! Much as sh_hought about it afterwards, even Mrs. Bunting never quite made up her min_hether it was during the fifth or the sixth night of Mr. Sleuth's stay unde_er roof that she became aware that he had gone out at two in the morning an_ad only come in at five.
  • But that there did come such a night is certain—as certain as is the fact tha_er discovery coincided with various occurrences which were destined to remai_etrospectively memorable.
  • ******
  • It was intensely dark, intensely quiet—the darkest quietest hour of the night, when suddenly Mrs. Bunting was awakened from a deep, dreamless sleep by sound_t once unexpected and familiar. She knew at once what those sounds were. The_ere those made by Mr. Sleuth, first coming down the stairs, and walking o_iptoe—she was sure it was on tiptoe—past her door, and finally softl_hutting the front door behind him.
  • Try as she would, Mrs. Bunting found it quite impossible to go to sleep again.
  • There she lay wide awake, afraid to move lest Bunting should waken up too, till she heard Mr. Sleuth, three hours later, creep back into the house and s_p to bed.
  • Then, and not till then, she slept again. But in the morning she felt ver_ired, so tired indeed, that she had been very glad when Bunting good- naturedly suggested that he should go out and do their little bit o_arketing.
  • The worthy couple had very soon discovered that in the matter of catering i_as not altogether an easy matter to satisfy Mr. Sleuth, and that though h_lways tried to appear pleased. This perfect lodger had one serious fault fro_he point of view of those who keep lodgings. Strange to say, he was _egetarian. He would not eat meat in any form. He sometimes, however, condescended to a chicken, and when he did so condescend he generousl_ntimated that Mr. and Mrs. Bunting were welcome to a share in it.
  • Now to-day—this day of which the happenings were to linger in Mrs. Bunting'_ind so very long, and to remain so very vivid, it had been arranged that Mr.
  • Sleuth was to have some fish for his lunch, while what he left was to be "don_p" to serve for his simple supper.
  • Knowing that Bunting would be out for at least an hour, for he was _regarious soul, and liked to have a gossip in the shops he frequented, Mrs.
  • Bunting rose and dressed in a leisurely manner; then she went and "did" he_ront sitting-room.
  • She felt languid and dull, as one is apt to feel after a broken night, and i_as a comfort to her to know that Mr. Sleuth was not likely to ring befor_welve.
  • But long before twelve a loud ring suddenly clanged through the quiet house.
  • She knew it for the front door bell.
  • Mrs. Bunting frowned. No doubt the ring betokened one of those tiresome peopl_ho come round for old bottles and such-like fal-lals.
  • She went slowly, reluctantly to the door. And then her face cleared, for i_as that good young chap, Joe Chandler, who stood waiting outside.
  • He was breathing a little hard, as if he had walked over-quickly through th_oist, foggy air.
  • "Why, Joe?" said Mrs. Bunting wonderingly. "Come in—do! Bunting's out, but h_on't be very long now. You've been quite a stranger these last few days."
  • "Well, you know why, Mrs. Bunting—"
  • She stared at him for a moment, wondering what he could mean. Then, suddenl_he remembered. Why, of course, Joe was on a big job just now—the job o_rying to catch The Avenger! Her husband had alluded to the fact again an_gain when reading out to her little bits from the halfpenny evening paper h_as taking again.
  • She led the way to the sitting-room. It was a good thing Bunting had insiste_n lighting the fire before he went out, for now the room was nice an_arm—and it was just horrible outside. She had felt a chill go right throug_er as she had stood, even for that second, at the front door.
  • And she hadn't been alone to feel it, for, "I say, it is jolly to be in here, out of that awful cold!" exclaimed Chandler, sitting down heavily in Bunting'_asy chair.
  • And then Mrs. Bunting bethought herself that the young man was tired, as wel_s cold. He was pale, almost pallid under his usual healthy, tanne_omplexion—the complexion of the man who lives much out of doors.
  • "Wouldn't you like me just to make you a cup of tea?" she said solicitously.
  • "Well, to tell truth, I should be right down thankful for one, Mrs. Bunting!"
  • Then he looked round, and again he said her name, "Mrs. Bunting—?"
  • He spoke in so odd, so thick a tone that she turned quickly. "Yes, what is it, Joe?" she asked. And then, in sudden terror, "You've never come to tell m_hat anything's happened to Bunting? He's not had an accident?"
  • "Goodness, no! Whatever made you think that? But—but, Mrs. Bunting, there'_een another of them!"
  • His voice dropped almost to a whisper. He was staring at her with unhappy, i_eemed to her terror-filled, eyes.
  • "Another of them?" She looked at him, bewildered—at a loss. And then what h_eant flashed across her—"another of them" meant another of these strange, mysterious, awful murders.
  • But her relief for the moment was so great—for she really had thought for _econd that he had come to give her ill news of Bunting—that the feeling tha_he did experience on hearing this piece of news was actually pleasurable, though she would have been much shocked had that fact been brought to he_otice.
  • Almost in spite of herself, Mrs. Bunting had become keenly interested in th_mazing series of crimes which was occupying the imagination of the whole o_ondon's nether-world. Even her refined mind had busied itself for the las_wo or three days with the strange problem so frequently presented to it b_unting—for Bunting, now that they were no longer worried, took an open, unashamed, intense interest in "The Avenger" and his doings.
  • She took the kettle off the gas-ring. "It's a pity Bunting isn't here," sh_aid, drawing in her breath. "He'd a-liked so much to hear you tell all abou_t, Joe."
  • As she spoke she was pouring boiling water into a little teapot.
  • But Chandler said nothing, and she turned and glanced at him. "Why, you d_ook bad!" she exclaimed.
  • And, indeed, the young fellow did look bad—very bad indeed.
  • "I can't help it," he said, with a kind of gasp. "It was your saying tha_bout my telling you all about it that made me turn queer. You see, this tim_ was one of the first there, and it fairly turned me sick—that it did. Oh, i_as too awful, Mrs. Bunting! Don't talk of it."
  • He began gulping down the hot tea before it was well made.
  • She looked at him with sympathetic interest. "Why, Joe," she said, "I neve_ould have thought, with all the horrible sights you see, that anything coul_pset you like that."
  • "This isn't like anything there's ever been before," he said. "An_hen—then—oh, Mrs. Bunting, 'twas I that discovered the piece of paper thi_ime."
  • "Then it is true," she cried eagerly. "It is The Avenger's bit of paper!
  • Bunting always said it was. He never believed in that practical joker."
  • "I did," said Chandler reluctantly. "You see, there are some queer fellow_ven—even—" (he lowered his voice, and looked round him as if the walls ha_ars)—"even in the Force, Mrs. Bunting, and these murders have fair got on ou_erves."
  • "No, never!" she said. "D'you think that a Bobby might do a thing like that?"
  • He nodded impatiently, as if the question wasn't worth answering. Then, "I_as all along of that bit of paper and my finding it while the poor soul wa_till warm,"—he shuddered—"that brought me out West this morning. One of ou_osses lives close by, in Prince Albert Terrace, and I had to go and tell hi_ll about it. They never offered me a bit or a sup—I think they might hav_one that, don't you, Mrs. Bunting?"
  • "Yes," she said absently. "Yes, I do think so."
  • "But, there, I don't know that I ought to say that," went on Chandler. "He ha_e up in his dressing-room, and was very considerate-like to me while I wa_elling him."
  • "Have a bit of something now?" she said suddenly.
  • "Oh, no, I couldn't eat anything," he said hastily. "I don't feel as if _ould ever eat anything any more."
  • "That'll only make you ill." Mrs. Bunting spoke rather crossly, for she was _ensible woman. And to please her he took a bite out of the slice of bread- and-butter she had cut for him.
  • "I expect you're right," he said. "And I've a goodish heavy day in front o_e. Been up since four, too—"
  • "Four?" she said. "Was it then they found—" she hesitated a moment, and the_aid, "it?"
  • He nodded. "It was just a chance I was near by. If I'd been half a minut_ooner either I or the officer who found her must have knocked up agains_hat—that monster. But two or three people do think they saw him slinkin_way."
  • "What was he like?" she asked curiously.
  • "Well, that's hard to answer. You see, there was such an awful fog. Bu_here's one thing they all agree about. He was carrying a bag—"
  • "A bag?" repeated Mrs. Bunting, in a low voice. "Whatever sort of bag might i_ave been, Joe?"
  • There had come across her—just right in her middle, like—such a strang_ensation, a curious kind of tremor, or fluttering.
  • She was at a loss to account for it.
  • "Just a hand-bag," said Joe Chandler vaguely. "A woman I spoke to —cross- examining her, like—who was positive she had seen him, said, 'Just a tall, thin shadow—that's what he was, a tall, thin shadow of a man—with a bag.'"
  • "With a bag?" repeated Mrs. Bunting absently. "How very strange and peculiar—"
  • "Why, no, not strange at all. He has to carry the thing he does the deed wit_n something, Mrs. Bunting. We've always wondered how he hid it. The_enerally throws the knife or fire-arms away, you know."
  • "Do they, indeed?" Mrs. Bunting still spoke in that absent, wondering way. Sh_as thinking that she really must try and see what the lodger had done wit_is bag. It was possible—in fact, when one came to think of it, it was ver_robable—that he had just lost it, being so forgetful a gentleman, on one o_he days he had gone out, as she knew he was fond of doing, into the Regent'_ark.
  • "There'll be a description circulated in an hour or two," went on Chandler.
  • "Perhaps that'll help catch him. There isn't a London man or woman, I don'_uppose, who wouldn't give a good bit to lay that chap by the heels. Well, _uppose I must be going now."
  • "Won't you wait a bit longer for Bunting?" she said hesitatingly.
  • "No, I can't do that. But I'll come in, maybe, either this evening or to- morrow, and tell you any more that's happened. Thanks kindly for the tea. It'_ade a man of me, Mrs. Bunting."
  • "Well, you've had enough to unman you, Joe."
  • "Aye, that I have," he said heavily.
  • A few minutes later Bunting did come in, and he and his wife had quite _ittle tiff—the first tiff they had had since Mr. Sleuth became their lodger.
  • It fell out this way. When he heard who had been there, Bunting was angry tha_rs. Bunting hadn't got more details of the horrible occurrence which ha_aken place that morning, out of Chandler.
  • "You don't mean to say, Ellen, that you can't even tell me where it happened?"
  • he said indignantly. "I suppose you put Chandler off —that's what you did!
  • Why, whatever did he come here for, excepting to tell us all about it?"
  • "He came to have something to eat and drink," snapped out Mrs. Bunting.
  • "That's what the poor lad came for, if you wants to know. He could hardl_peak of it at all—he felt so bad. In fact, he didn't say a word about i_ntil he'd come right into the room and sat down. He told me quite enough!"
  • "Didn't he tell you if the piece of paper on which the murderer had writte_is name was square or three-cornered?" demanded Bunting.
  • "No; he did not. And that isn't the sort of thing I should have cared to as_im."
  • "The more fool you!" And then he stopped abruptly. The newsboys were comin_own the Marylebone Road, shouting out the awful discovery which had been mad_hat morning—that of The Avenger's fifth murder. Bunting went out to buy _aper, and his wife took the things he had brought in down to the kitchen.
  • The noise the newspaper-sellers made outside had evidently wakened Mr. Sleuth, for his landlady hadn't been in the kitchen ten minutes before his bell rang.