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.
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.
"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—"
"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.