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Chapter 7

  • Just as twelve was striking a four-wheeler drew up to the gate.
  • It brought Daisy—pink-cheeked, excited, laughing-eyed Daisy—a sight to gladde_ny father's heart.
  • "Old Aunt said I was to have a cab if the weather was bad," she cried ou_oyously.
  • There was a bit of a wrangle over the fare. King's Cross, as all the worl_nows, is nothing like two miles from the Marylebone Road, but the ma_lamoured for one and sixpence, and hinted darkly that he had done the youn_ady a favour in bringing her at all.
  • While he and Bunting were having words, Daisy, leaving them to it, walked u_he flagged path to the door where her stepmother was awaiting her.
  • As they were exchanging a rather frigid kiss, indeed, 'twas a mere peck o_rs. Bunting's part, there fell, with startling suddenness, loud cries on th_till, cold air. Long-drawn and wailing, they sounded strangely sad as the_ose and fell across the distant roar of traffic in the Edgware Road.
  • "What's that?" exclaimed Bunting wonderingly. "Why, whatever's that?"
  • The cabman lowered his voice. "Them's 'a-crying out that 'orrible affair a_ing's Cross. He's done for two of 'em this time! That's what I meant when _aid I might 'a got a better fare. I wouldn't say nothink before little miss_here, but folk 'ave been coming from all over London the last five or si_ours; plenty of toffs, too—but there, there's nothing to see now!"
  • "What? Another woman murdered last night?"
  • Bunting felt tremendously thrilled. What had the five thousand constables bee_bout to let such a dreadful thing happen?
  • The cabman stared at him, surprised. "Two of 'em, I tell yer— within a fe_ards of one another. He 'ave—got a nerve—But, of course, they was drunk. H_re got a down on the drink!"
  • "Have they caught him?" asked Bunting perfunctorily.
  • "Lord, no! They'll never catch 'im! It must 'ave happened hours and hour_go—they was both stone cold. One each end of a little passage what ain't use_o more. That's why they didn't find 'em before."
  • The hoarse cries were coming nearer and nearer—two news vendors trying t_utshout each other.
  • "'Orrible discovery near King's Cross!" they yelled exultingly. "The Avenge_gain!"
  • And Bunting, with his daughter's large straw hold-all in his hand, ran forwar_nto the roadway and recklessly gave a boy a penny for a halfpenny paper.
  • He felt very much moved and excited. Somehow his acquaintance with young Jo_handler made these murders seem a personal affair. He hoped that Chandle_ould come in soon and tell them all about it, as he had done yesterda_orning when he, Bunting, had unluckily been out.
  • As he walked back into the little hall, he heard Daisy's voice— high, voluble, excited—giving her stepmother a long account of the scarlet fever case, an_ow at first Old Aunt's neighbours had thought it was not scarlet fever a_ll, but just nettlerash.
  • But as Bunting pushed open the door of the sitting-room, there came a note o_harp alarm in his daughter's voice, and he heard her cry, "Why, Ellen, whatever is the matter? You do look bad!" and his wife's muffled answer, "Ope_he window—do."
  • "'Orrible discovery near King's Cross—a clue at last!" yelled the newspaper- boys triumphantly.
  • And then, helplessly, Mrs. Bunting began to laugh. She laughed, and laughed, and laughed, rocking herself to and fro as if in an ecstasy of mirth.
  • "Why, father, whatever's the matter with her?"
  • Daisy looked quite scared.
  • "She's in 'sterics—that's what it is," he said shortly. "I'll just get th_ater-jug. Wait a minute!"
  • Bunting felt very put out. Ellen was ridiculous—that's what she was, to be s_asily upset.
  • The lodger's bell suddenly pealed through the quiet house. Either that sound, or maybe the threat of the water-jug, had a magical effect on Mrs. Bunting.
  • She rose to her feet, still shaking all over, but mentally composed.
  • "I'll go up," she said a little chokingly. "As for you, child, just run dow_nto the kitchen. You'll find a piece of pork roasting in the oven. You migh_tart paring the apples for the sauce."
  • As Mrs. Bunting went upstairs her legs felt as if they were made of cotto_ool. She put out a trembling hand, and clutched at the banister for support.
  • But soon, making a great effort over herself, she began to feel more steady; and after waiting for a few moments on the landing, she knocked at the door o_he drawing-room.
  • Mr. Sleuth's voice answered her from the bedroom. "I'm not well," he calle_ut querulously; "I think I've caught a chill. I should be obliged if yo_ould kindly bring me up a cup of tea, and put it outside my door, Mrs.
  • Bunting."
  • "Very well, sir."
  • Mrs. Bunting turned and went downstairs. She still felt queer and giddy, s_nstead of going into the kitchen, she made the lodger his cup of tea over he_itting-room gas-ring.
  • During their midday dinner the husband and wife had a little discussion as t_here Daisy should sleep. It had been settled that a bed should be made up fo_er in the top back room, but Mrs. Bunting saw reason to change this plan. "_hink 'twould be better if Daisy were to sleep with me, Bunting, and you wa_o sleep upstairs."
  • Bunting felt and looked rather surprised, but he acquiesced. Ellen wa_robably right; the girl would be rather lonely up there, and, after all, the_idn't know much about the lodger, though he seemed a respectable gentlema_nough.
  • Daisy was a good-natured girl; she liked London, and wanted to make hersel_seful to her stepmother. "I'll wash up; don't you bother to come downstairs,"
  • she said cheerfully.
  • Bunting began to walk up and down the room. His wife gave him a furtiv_lance; she wondered what he was thinking about.
  • "Didn't you get a paper?" she said at last.
  • "Yes, of course I did," he answered hastily. "But I've put it away. I though_ou'd rather not look at it, as you're that nervous."
  • Again she glanced at him quickly, furtively, but he seemed just as usual—h_vidently meant just what he said and no more.
  • "I thought they was shouting something in the street—I mean just before I wa_ook bad."
  • It was now Bunting's turn to stare at his wife quickly and rather furtively.
  • He had felt sure that her sudden attack of queerness, of hysterics—call i_hat you might—had been due to the shouting outside. She was not the onl_oman in London who had got the Avenger murders on her nerves. His mornin_aper said quite a lot of women were afraid to go out alone. Was it possibl_hat the curious way she had been taken just now had had nothing to do wit_he shouts and excitement outside?
  • "Don't you know what it was they were calling out?" he asked slowly.
  • Mrs. Bunting looked across at him. She would have given a very great deal t_e able to lie, to pretend that she did not know what those dreadful cries ha_ortended. But when it came to the point she found she could not do so.
  • "Yes," she said dully. "I heard a word here and there. There's been anothe_urder, hasn't there?"
  • "Two other murders," he said soberly.
  • "Two? That's worse news!" She turned so pale—a sallow greenish-white—tha_unting thought she was again going queer.
  • "Ellen?" he said warningly, "Ellen, now do have a care! I can't think what'_ome over you about these murders. Turn your mind away from them, do! W_eedn't talk about them—not so much, that is—"
  • "But I wants to talk about them," cried Mrs. Bunting hysterically.
  • The husband and wife were standing, one each side of the table, the man wit_is back to the fire, the woman with her back to the door.
  • Bunting, staring across at his wife, felt sadly perplexed and disturbed. Sh_eally did seem ill; even her slight, spare figure looked shrunk. For th_irst time, so he told himself ruefully, Ellen was beginning to look her ful_ge. Her slender hands—she had kept the pretty, soft white hands of the woma_ho has never done rough work—grasped the edge of the table with a convulsiv_ovement.
  • Bunting didn't at all like the look of her. "Oh, dear," he said to himself, "_o hope Ellen isn't going to be ill! That would be a to-do just now."
  • "Tell me about it," she commanded, in a low voice. "Can't you see I'm waitin_o hear? Be quick now, Bunting!"
  • "There isn't very much to tell," he said reluctantly. "There's precious littl_n this paper, anyway. But the cabman what brought Daisy told me—"
  • "Well?"
  • "What I said just now. There's two of 'em this time, and they'd both bee_rinking heavily, poor creatures."
  • "Was it where the others was done?" she asked looking at her husban_earfully.
  • "No," he said awkwardly. "No, it wasn't, Ellen. It was a good bit farthe_est—in fact, not so very far from here. Near King's Cross —that's how th_abman knew about it, you see. They seems to have been done in a passage whic_sn't used no more." And then, as he thought his wife's eyes were beginning t_ook rather funny, he added hastily. "There, that's enough for the present! W_hall soon be hearing a lot more about it from Joe Chandler. He's pretty sur_o come in some time to-day."
  • "Then the five thousand constables weren't no use?" said Mrs. Bunting slowly.
  • She had relaxed her grip of the table, and was standing more upright.
  • "No use at all," said Bunting briefly. "He is artful and no mistake about it.
  • But wait a minute—" he turned and took up the paper which he had laid aside, on a chair. "Yes they says here that they has a clue."
  • "A clue, Bunting?" Mrs. Bunting spoke in a soft, weak, die-away voice, an_gain, stooping somewhat, she grasped the edge of the table.
  • But her husband was not noticing her now. He was holding the paper close up t_is eyes, and he read from it, in a tone of considerable satisfaction:
  • "'It is gratifying to be able to state that the police at last believe the_re in possession of a clue which will lead to the arrest of the—'" and the_unting dropped the paper and rushed round the table.
  • His wife, with a curious sighing moan, had slipped down on to the floor, taking with her the tablecloth as she went. She lay there in what appeared t_e a dead faint. And Bunting, scared out of his wits, opened the door an_creamed out, "Daisy! Daisy! Come up, child. Ellen's took bad again."
  • And Daisy, hurrying in, showed an amount of sense and resource which even a_his anxious moment roused her fond father's admiration.
  • "Get a wet sponge, Dad—quick!" she cried, "a sponge,—and, if you've got such _hing, a drop o' brandy. I'll see after her!" And then, after he had got th_ittle medicine flask, "I can't think what's wrong with Ellen," said Dais_onderingly. "She seemed quite all right when I first came in. She wa_istening, interested-like, to what I was telling her, and then, suddenly—well, you saw how she was took, father? 'Tain't like Ellen this, i_t now?"
  • "No," he whispered. "No, 'tain't. But you see, child, we've been going throug_ pretty bad time—worse nor I should ever have let you know of, my dear.
  • Ellen's just feeling it now—that's what it is. She didn't say nothing, fo_llen's a good plucked one, but it's told on her—it's told on her!"
  • And then Mrs. Bunting, sitting up, slowly opened her eyes, and instinctivel_ut her hand up to her head to see if her hair was all right.
  • She hadn't really been quite "off." It would have been better for her if sh_ad. She had simply had an awful feeling that she couldn't stand up—more, tha_he must fall down. Bunting's words touched a most unwonted chord in the poo_oman's heart, and the eyes which she opened were full of tears. She had no_hought her husband knew how she had suffered during those weeks of starvin_nd waiting.
  • But she had a morbid dislike of any betrayal of sentiment. To her suc_etrayal betokened "foolishness," and so all she said was, "There's no need t_ake a fuss! I only turned over a little queer. I never was right off, Daisy."
  • Pettishly she pushed away the glass in which Bunting had hurriedly poured _ittle brandy. "I wouldn't touch such stuff—no, not if I was dying!" sh_xclaimed.
  • Putting out a languid hand, she pulled herself up, with the help of the table, on to her feet. "Go down again to the kitchen, child"; but there was a sob, _ind of tremor in her voice.
  • "You haven't been eating properly, Ellen—that's what's the matter with you,"
  • said Bunting suddenly. "Now I come to think of it, you haven't eat half enoug_hese last two days. I always did say—in old days many a time I telle_ou—that a woman couldn't live on air. But there, you never believed me!"
  • Daisy stood looking from one to the other, a shadow over her bright, prett_ace. "I'd no idea you'd had such a bad time, father," she said feelingly.
  • "Why didn't you let me know about it? I might have got something out of Ol_unt."
  • "We didn't want anything of that sort," said her stepmother hastily. "But o_ourse—well, I expect I'm still feeling the worry now. I don't seem able t_orget it. Those days of waiting, of—of—" she restrained herself; anothe_oment and the word "starving" would have left her lips.
  • "But everything's all right now," said Bunting eagerly, "all right, thanks t_r. Sleuth, that is."
  • "Yes," repeated his wife, in a low, strange tone of voice. "Yes, we're al_ight now, and as you say, Bunting, it's all along of Mr. Sleuth."
  • She walked across to a chair and sat down on it. "I'm just a little totter_till," she muttered.
  • And Daisy, looking at her, turned to her father and said in a whisper, but no_o low but that Mrs. Bunting heard her, "Don't you think Ellen ought to see _octor, father? He might give her something that would pull her round."
  • "I won't see no doctor!" said Mrs. Bunting with sudden emphasis. "I saw enoug_f doctors in my last place. Thirty-eight doctors in ten months did my poo_issis have. Just determined on having 'em she was! Did they save her? No! Sh_ied just the same! Maybe a bit sooner."
  • "She was a freak, was your last mistress, Ellen," began Bunting aggressively.
  • Ellen had insisted on staying on in that place till her poor mistress died.
  • They might have been married some months before they were married but for tha_act. Bunting had always resented it.
  • His wife smile wanly. "We won't have no words about that," she said, and agai_he spoke in a softer, kindlier tone than usual. "Daisy? If you won't go dow_o the kitchen again, then I must"—she turned to her stepdaughter, and th_irl flew out of the room.
  • "I think the child grows prettier every minute," said Bunting fondly.
  • "Folks are too apt to forget that beauty is but skin deep," said his wife. Sh_as beginning to feel better. "But still, I do agree, Bunting, that Daisy'_ell enough. And she seems more willing, too."
  • "I say, we mustn't forget the lodger's dinner," Bunting spoke uneasily. "It'_ bit of fish to-day, isn't it? Hadn't I better just tell Daisy to see to it, and then I can take it up to him, as you're not feeling quite the thing, Ellen?"
  • "I'm quite well enough to take up Mr. Sleuth's luncheon," she said quickly. I_rritated her to hear her husband speak of the lodger's dinner. They ha_inner in the middle of the day, but Mr. Sleuth had luncheon. However odd h_ight be, Mrs. Bunting never forgot her lodger was a gentleman.
  • "After all, he likes me to wait on him, doesn't he? I can manage all right.
  • Don't you worry," she added after a long pause.