by Marie Belloc Lowndes
"THERE he is at last, and I'm
glad of it, Ellen. 'Tain't a night you would wish a dog to
be out in."
Mr. Bunting's voice was full of unmistakable
relief. He was close to the fire, sitting back in a deep
leather armchair--a clean-shaven, dapper man, still in
outward appearance what he had been so long, and now no
longer was--a self-respecting butler.
"You needn't feel so nervous about him;
Mr. Sleuth can look out for himself, all right." Mrs.
Bunting spoke in a dry, rather tart tone. She was less
emotional, better balanced, than was her husband. On her the
marks of past servitude were less apparent, but they were
there all the same--especially in her neat black stuff
dress and scrupulously clean, plain collar and cuffs. Mrs.
Bunting, as a single woman, had been for long years what is
known as a useful maid.
"I can't think why he wants to go out in
such weather. He did it in last week's fog, too,"
Bunting went on complainingly.
"Well, it's none of your
business--now, is it?"
"No; that's true enough. Still, 'twould
be a very bad thing for us if anything happened to him. This
lodger's the first bit of luck we've had for a very long
Mrs. Bunting made no answer to this remark.
It was too obviously true to be worth answering. Also she
was listening--following in imagination her lodger's
quick, singularly quiet--"stealthy," she called it
to herself--progress through the dark, fog-filled hall
and up the staircase.
"It isn't safe for decent folk to be out
in such weather--not unless they have something to do that
won't wait till tomorrow." Bunting had at last turned
round. He was now looking straight into his wife's narrow,
colourless face; he was an obstinate man, and liked to prove himself
right. "I read you out the accidents in
Lloyd's yesterday--shocking, they were,
and all brought about by the fog! And then, that 'orrid
monster at his work again--"
"Monster?" repeated Mrs. Bunting
absently. She was trying to hear the lodger's footsteps
overhead; but her husband went on as if there had been no
"It wouldn't be very pleasant to run up
against such a party as that in the fog, eh?"
"What stuff you do talk!" she said
sharply; and then she got up suddenly. Her husband's remark
had disturbed her. She hated to think of such things as the
terrible series of murders that were just then horrifying
and exciting the nether world of London. Though she enjoyed
pathos and sentiment--Mrs. Bunting would listen with
mild amusement to the details of a breach-of-promise
action--she shrank from stories of either immorality or
Mrs. Bunting got up from the straight-backed
chair on which she had been sitting. It would soon be time
She moved about the sitting room, flecking
off an imperceptible touch of dust here, straightening a
piece of furniture there.
Bunting looked around once or twice. He would
have liked to ask Ellen to leave off fidgeting, but he was
mild and fond of peace, so he refrained. However, she soon
gave over what irritated him of her own accord.
But even then Mrs. Bunting did not at once go
down to the cold kitchen, where everything was in readiness
for her simple cooking. Instead, she opened the door leading
into the bedroom behind, and there, closing the door
quietly, stepped back into the darkness and stood
At first she heard nothing, but gradually
there came the sound of someone moving about in the room
just overhead; try as she might, however, it was impossible
for her to guess what her lodger was doing. At last she
heard him open the door leading out on the landing. That
meant that he would spend the rest of the evening in the
rather cheerless room above the drawing-room floor--oddly
enough, he liked sitting there best, though the only warmth
obtainable was from a gas stove fed by a
It was indeed true that Mr. Sleuth had
brought the Buntings luck, for at the time he had taken
their rooms it had been touch and go with them.
After having each separately led the
sheltered, impersonal, and, above all, the financially easy
existence that is the compensation life offers to those men
and women who deliberately take upon themselves the yoke of
domestic service, these two, butler and useful maid, had
suddenly, in middle age, determined to join their fortunes
Bunting was a widower; he had one pretty
daughter, a girl of seventeen, who now lived, as had been
the case ever since the death of her mother, with a
prosperous aunt. His second wife had been reared in the
Foundling Hospital, but she had gradually worked her way up
into the higher ranks of the servant class and as useful
maid she had saved quite a tidy sum of money.
Unluckily, misfortune had dogged Mr. and Mrs.
Bunting from the very first. The seaside place where they
had begun by taking a lodging house became the scene of an
epidemic. Then had followed a business experiment which had
proved disastrous. But before going back into service,
either together or separately, they had made up their minds
to make one last effort, and, with the little money that
remained to them, they had taken over the lease of a small
house in the Marylebone Road.
Bunting, whose appearance was very good, had
retained a connection with old employers and their friends,
so he occasionally got a good job as waiter. During this
last month his jobs had perceptibly increased in number and
in profit; Mrs. Bunting was not superstitious, but it seemed
that in this matter, as in everything else, Mr. Sleuth,
their new lodger, had brought them luck.
As she stood there, still listening intently
in the darkness
of the bedroom, she told herself, not for the
first time, what Mr. Sleuth's departure would mean to her
and Bunting. It would almost certainly mean ruin.
Luckily, the lodger seemed entirely pleased
both with the rooms and with his landlady. There was really
no reason why he should ever leave such nice lodgings. Mrs.
Bunting shook off her vague sense of apprehension and
unease. She turned round, took a step forward, and, feeling
for the handle of the door giving into the passage, she
opened it, and went down with light, firm steps into the
She lit the gas and put a frying pan on the
stove, and then once more her mind reverted, as if in spite
of herself, to her lodger, and there came back to Mrs.
Bunting, very vividly, the memory of all that had happened
the day Mr. Sleuth had taken her rooms.
The date of this excellent lodger's coming
had been the twenty-ninth of December, and the time late
afternoon. She and Bunting had been sitting, gloomily
enough, over their small banked-up fire. They had dined in
the middle of the day--he on a couple of sausages, she on a
little cold ham. They were utterly out of heart, each trying
to pluck up courage to tell the other that it was no use
trying anymore. The two had also had a little tiff on that
dreary afternoon. A newspaper seller had come yelling down
the Marylebone Road, shouting out, "'Orrible murder in
Whitechapel!" and just because Bunting had an old uncle
living in the East End he had gone and bought a paper, and
at a time, too, when every penny, nay, every halfpenny, had
its full value! Mrs. Bunting remembered the circumstances
because that murder in Whitechapel had been the first of
these terrible crimes--there had been four
since--which she would never allow Bunting to discuss
in her presence, and yet which had of late begun to interest
curiously, uncomfortably, even her refined mind.
But, to return to the lodger. It was then, on
that dreary afternoon, that suddenly there had come to the
front door a tremulous, uncertain double knock.
Bunting ought to have got up, but he had gone
on reading the paper and so Mrs. Bunting, with the woman's
greater courage, had gone out into the passage, turned up
the gas, and opened the door to see who it could be. She
remembered, as if it were yesterday instead of nigh on a
month ago, Mr. Sleuth's peculiar appearance. Tall, dark,
lanky, an old-fashioned top hat concealing his high bald
forehead, he had stood there, an odd figure of a man,
blinking at her.
"I believe--is it not a fact that you
let lodgings?" he had asked in a hesitating, whistling
voice, a voice that she had known in a moment to be that of
an educated man--of a gentleman. As he had stepped into the
hall, she had noticed that in his right hand he held a
narrow bag--a quite new bag of strong brown leather.
Everything had been settled in less than a
quarter of an hour. Mr. Sleuth had at once "taken"
to the drawing-room floor, and then, as Mrs. Bunting eagerly
lit the gas in the front room above, he had looked around
him and said, rubbing his hands with a nervous movement,
"Capital--capital! This is just what I've been
The sink had specially pleased him--the sink
and the gas stove. "This is quite first-rate!" he
had exclaimed, "for I make all sorts of experiments. I
am, you must understand, Mrs.--er--Bunting, a man of
science." Then he had sat down--suddenly.
"I'm very tired," he had said in a low tone,
"very tired indeed! I have been walking about all
From the very first the lodger's manner had
been odd, sometimes distant and abrupt, and then, for no
reason at all that she could see, confidential and
plaintively confiding. But Mrs. Bunting was aware that
eccentricity has always been a perquisite, as it were the
special luxury, of the well born and well educated. Scholars
and such-like are never quite like other people.
And then, this particular gentleman had
proved himself so eminently satisfactory as to the one thing
that really matters to those who let lodgings. "My name
is Sleuth," he said, "S-l-e-u-t-h. Think of a
hound, Mrs. Bunting, and you'll never forget my name. I
could give you references," he had added, giving her,
as she now remembered, a funny sidewise look, "but I
prefer to dispense with them. How much did you say?
Twenty-three shillings a week, with attendance? Yes, that
will suit me perfectly; and I'll begin by paying my first
month's rent in advance. Now, four times twenty-three
shillings is"--he looked at Mrs. Bunting, and for the
first time he smiled, a queer, wry
He had taken a handful of sovereigns out of
his pocket and put them down on the table. "Look
here," he had said, "there's five pounds; and you
can keep the change, for I shall want you to do a little
shopping for me tomorrow."
After he had been in the house about an hour,
the bell had rung, and the new lodger had asked Mrs. Bunting
if she could oblige him with the loan of a Bible. She
brought up to him her best Bible, the one that had been
given to her as a wedding present by a lady with whose
mother she had lived for several years. This Bible and one
other book, of which the odd name was Cruden's Concordance,
formed Mr. Sleuth's only reading: he spent hours each day
poring over the Old Testament and over the volume which Mrs.
Bunting had at last decided to be a queer kind of index to
However, to return to the lodger's first
arrival. He had had no luggage with him, barring the small
brown bag, but very soon parcels had begun to arrive
addressed to Mr. Sleuth, and it was then that Mrs. Bunting
first became curious. These parcels were full of clothes;
but it was quite clear to the landlady's feminine eye that
none of these clothes had been made for Mr. Sleuth. They
were, in fact, secondhand clothes, bought at good secondhand
places, each marked, when marked at all, with a different
name. And the really extraordinary thing was that
occasionally a complete suit disappeared--became, as it
were, obliterated from the lodger's wardrobe.
As for the bag he had brought with him, Mrs.
Bunting had never caught sight of it again. And this also
was certainly very strange.
Mrs. Bunting thought a great deal about that
bag. She often wondered what had been in it; not a
nightshirt and comb and brush, as she had at first supposed,
for Mr. Sleuth had asked her to go out and buy him a brush
and comb and toothbrush the morning after his arrival. That
fact was specially impressed on her memory, for at the
little shop, a barber's, where she had purchased the brush
and comb, the foreigner who had served her had insisted on
telling her some of the horrible details of the murder that
had taken place the day before in Whitechapel, and it had
upset her very much.
As to where the bag was now, it was probably
locked up in the lower part of a chiffonnier in the front
sitting room. Mr. Sleuth evidently always carried the key of
the little cupboard on his person, for Mrs. Bunting, though
she looked well for it, had never been able to find it.
And yet, never was there a more confiding or
trusting gentleman. The first four days that he had been
with them he had allowed his money--the considerable sum of
one hundred and eighty-four pounds in gold--to lie about
wrapped up in pieces of paper on his dressing table. This
was a very foolish, indeed a wrong thing to do, as she had
allowed herself respectfully to point out to him; but as
only answer he had laughed, a loud, discordant shout of
Mr. Sleuth had many other odd ways; but Mrs.
Bunting, a true woman in spite of her prim manner and love
of order, had an infinite patience with masculine vagaries.
On the first morning of Mr. Sleuth's stay in
the Buntings' house, while Mrs. Bunting was out buying
things for him, the new lodger had turned most of the
pictures and photographs hanging in his sitting room with
their faces to the wall! But this queer action on Mr.
Sleuth's part had not surprised Mrs. Bunting as much as it
might have done; it recalled an incident of her long-past
youth--something that had happened a matter of twenty
years ago, at a time when Mrs. Bunting, then the still
youthful Ellen Cottrell, had been maid to an old lady. The
old lady had a favourite nephew, a bright, jolly young
gentleman who had been learning to paint animals in Paris;
and it was he who had had the impudence, early one summer
morning, to turn to the wall six beautiful engravings of
paintings done by the famous Mr. Landseer! The old lady
thought the world of those pictures, but her nephew, as only
excuse for the extraordinary thing he had done, had observed
that "they put his eye out."
Mr. Sleuth's excuse had been much the same;
for, when Mrs. Bunting had come into his sitting room and
found all her pictures, or at any rate all those of her
pictures that happened to be portraits of ladies, with their
faces to the wall, he had offered as only explanation,
"Those women's eyes follow me about."
Mrs. Bunting had gradually become aware that
Mr. Sleuth had a fear and dislike of women. When she was
"doing" the staircase and landing, she often heard
him reading bits of the Bible aloud to himself, and in the
majority of instances the texts he chose contained
uncomplimentary reference to her own sex. Only today she had
stopped and listened while he uttered threateningly the
awful words, "A strange woman is a narrow pit. She also
lieth in wait as for a prey, and increaseth the
transgressors among men." There had been a pause, and
then had come, in a high singsong, "Her house is the
way to hell, going down to the chambers of death." It
had made Mrs. Bunting feel quite queer.
The lodger's daily habits were also peculiar.
He stayed in bed all the morning, and sometimes part of the
afternoon, and he never went out before the streetlamps were
alight. Then, there was his dislike of an open fire; he
generally sat in the top front room, and while there he
always used the large gas stove, not only for his
experiments, which he carried on at night, but also in the
daytime, for warmth.
But there! Where was the use of worrying
about the lodger's funny ways? Of course, Mr. Sleuth was
eccentric; if he hadn't been "just a leetle 'touched'
upstairs"--as Bunting had once described it--he
wouldn't be their lodger now; he would be living in a quite
different sort of way with some of his relations, or with a
friend of his own class. Mrs. Bunting, while these thoughts
galloped disconnectedly through her brain, went on with her
cooking, doing everything with a certain delicate and
While in the middle of making the toast on
which was to be poured some melted cheese, she suddenly
heard a noise, or rather a series of noises. Shuffling,
hesitating steps were creaking down the house above. She
looked up and listened. Surely Mr. Sleuth was not going out
again into the cold, foggy night? But no; for the sounds did
not continue down the passage leading to the front door.
The heavy steps were coming slowly down the
kitchen stairs. Nearer and nearer came the thudding sounds,
and Mrs. Bunting's heart began to beat as if in response.
She put out the gas stove, unheedful of the fact that the
cheese would stiffen and spoil in the cold air; and then she
turned and faced the door. There was a fumbling at the
handle, and a moment later the door opened and revealed, as
she had known it would, her lodger.
Mr. Sleuth was clad in a plaid dressing gown,
and in his hand was a candle. When he saw the lit-up
kitchen, and the woman standing in it, he looked
inexplicably taken aback, almost aghast.
"Yes, sir? What can I do for you, sir? I
hope you didn't ring, sir?" Mrs. Bunting did not come
forward to meet her lodger; instead, she held her ground in
front of the stove. Mr. Sleuth had no business to come down
like this into her kitchen.
"No, I--I didn't ring," he
stammered; "I didn't know you were down here, Mrs.
Bunting. Please excuse my costume. The truth is, my gas
stove has gone wrong, or, rather, that shilling-in-the-slot
arrangement has done so. I came down to see if you had a gas
stove. I am going to ask leave to use it tonight for an
experiment I want to make."
Mrs. Bunting felt troubled--oddly,
unnaturally troubled. Why couldn't the lodger's experiment
wait till tomorrow? "Oh, certainly, sir; but you will
find it very cold down here." She looked round her
"It seems most pleasantly warm," he
observed, "warm and cosy after my cold room
"Won't you let me make you a fire?"
Mrs. Bunting's housewifely instincts were roused. "Do
let me make you a fire in your bedroom, sir; I'm sure you
ought to have one there these cold nights."
"By no means--I mean, I would prefer
not. I do not like an open fire, Mrs. Bunting." He
frowned, and still stood, a strange-looking figure, just
inside the kitchen door.
"Do you want to use this stove now, sir?
Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"No, not now--thank you all the same,
Mrs. Bunting. I shall come down later, altogether
later--probably after you and your husband have gone to
bed. But I should be much obliged if you would see that the
gas people come tomorrow and put my stove in order."
"Perhaps Bunting could put it right for
you, sir. I'll ask him to go up."
"No, no--I don't want anything of that
sort done tonight. Besides, he couldn't put it right. The
cause of the trouble is quite simple. The machine is choked
up with shillings: a foolish plan, so I have always felt it
Mr. Sleuth spoke very pettishly, with far
more heat than he was wont to speak; but Mrs. Bunting
sympathized with him. She had always suspected those
slot-machines to be as dishonest as if they were human. It
was dreadful, the way they swallowed up the shillings!
As if he were divining her thoughts, Mr.
Sleuth, walking forward, stared up at the kitchen
slot-machine. "Is it nearly full?" he asked
abruptly. "I expect my experiment will take some time,
"Oh, no, sir; there's plenty of room for
shillings there still. We don't use our stove as much as you
do yours, sir. I'm never in the kitchen a minute longer than
I can help this cold weather."
And then, with him preceding her, Mrs.
Bunting and her lodger made a slow progress to the ground
floor. There Mr. Sleuth courteously bade his landlady good
night, and proceeded upstairs to his own apartments.
Mrs. Bunting again went down into her
kitchen, again she lit the stove, and again she cooked the
toasted cheese. But she felt unnerved, afraid of she knew
not what. The place seemed to her alive with alien
presences, and once she caught herself listening, which was
absurd, for of course she could not hope to hear what her
lodger was doing two, if not three, flights upstairs. She
had never been able to discover what Mr. Sleuth's
experiments really were; all she knew was that they required
a very high degree of heat.
The Buntings went to bed early that night.
But Mrs. Bunting intended to stay awake. She wanted to know
at what hour of the night her lodger would come down into
the kitchen, and, above all, she was anxious as to how long
he would stay there. But she had had a long day, and
presently she fell asleep.
The church clock hard by struck two in the
morning, and suddenly Mrs. Bunting awoke. She felt sharply
annoyed with herself. How could she have dropped off like
that? Mr. Sleuth must have been down and up again hours ago.
Then, gradually, she became aware of a faint
acrid odour; elusive, almost intangible, it yet seemed to
encompass her and the snoring man by her side almost as a
vapour might have done.
Mrs. Bunting sat up in bed and sniffed; and
then, in spite of the cold, she quietly crept out of the
nice, warm bedclothes and crawled along to the bottom of the
bed. There Mr. Sleuth's landlady did a very curious thing;
she leaned over the brass rail and put her face close to the
hinge of the door. Yes, it was from there that this strange,
horrible odour was coming; the smell must be very strong in
the passage. Mrs. Bunting thought she knew now what became
of those suits of clothes of Mr. Sleuth's that disappeared.
As she crept back, shivering, under the
bedclothes, she longed to give her sleeping husband a good
shake, and in fancy she heard herself saying: "Bunting,
get up! There is something strange going on downstairs that
we ought to know about."
But Mr. Sleuth's landlady, as she lay by her
husband's side, listening with painful intentness, knew very
well that she would do nothing of the sort. The lodger had a
right to destroy his clothes by burning if the fancy took
him. What if he did make a certain amount of mess, a certain
amount of smell, in her nice kitchen? Was he not--was he not
such a good lodger! If they did anything to upset him, where
could they ever hope to get another like him?
Three o'clock struck before Mrs. Bunting
heard slow, heavy steps creaking up her kitchen stairs. But
Mr. Sleuth did not go straight up to his own quarters, as
she expected him to do. Instead, he went to the front door,
and, opening it, put it on the chain. At the end of ten
minutes or so he closed the front door, and by that time
Mrs. Bunting had divined why the lodger had behaved in this
strange fashion--it must have been to get the strong acrid
smell of burning wool out of the passage. But Mrs. Bunting
felt as if she herself would never get rid of the horrible
odour. She felt herself to be all smell.
At last the unhappy woman fell into a deep,
troubled sleep; and then she dreamed a most terrible and
unnatural dream; hoarse voices seemed to be shouting in her
ear, "'Orrible murder off the Edgeware Road!" Then
three words, indistinctly uttered, followed by "--at
his work again! Awful details!"
Even in her dream Mrs. Bunting felt angered
and impatient; she knew so well why she was being disturbed
by this horrid nightmare. It was because of
Bunting--Bunting, who insisted on talking to her of
those frightful murders, in which only morbid, vulgar-minded
people took any interest. Why, even now, in her dream, she
could hear her husband speaking to her about it.
"Ellen"--so she heard Bunting say
in her ear--"Ellen, my dear, I am just going to get up
to get a paper. It's after seven o'clock."
Mrs. Bunting sat up in bed. The shouting,
nay, worse, the sound of tramping, hurrying feet smote on
her ears. It had been no nightmare, then, but something
infinitely worse--reality. Why couldn't Bunting have
lain quietly in bed awhile longer, and let his poor wife go
on dreaming? The most awful dream would have been easier to
bear than this awakening.
She heard her husband go to the front door,
and, as he bought the paper, exchange a few excited words
with the newspaper boy. Then he came back and began silently
moving about the room.
"Well!" she cried. "Why don't
you tell me about it?"
"I thought you'd rather not hear."
"Of course I like to know what happens
close to our own front door!" she snapped out.
And then he read out a piece of the
newspaper--only a few lines, after all--telling in
brief, unemotional language that the body of a woman,
apparently done to death in a peculiarly atrocious fashion
some hours before, had been found in a passage leading to a
disused warehouse off the Marylebone Road.
"It serves that sort of hussy
right!" was Mrs. Bunting's only comment.
When Mrs. Bunting went down into the kitchen,
everything there looked just as she had left it, and there
was no trace of the acrid smell she had expected to find
there. Instead, the cavernous whitewashed room was full of
fog, and she noticed that, though the shutters were bolted
and barred as she had left them, the windows behind them had
been widely opened to the air. She, of course, had left them
She stooped and flung open the oven door of
her gas-stove. Yes, it was as she had expected; a fierce
heat had been generated there since she had last used the
oven, and a mass of black, gluey soot had fallen through to
the stone floor below.
Mrs. Bunting took the ham and eggs that she
had bought the previous day for her own and Bunting's
breakfast, and broiled them over the gas ring in their
sitting room. Her husband watched her in surprised silence.
She had never done such a thing before.
"I couldn't stay down there," she
said, "it was so cold and foggy. I thought I'd make
breakfast up here, just for today."
"Yes," he said kindly; "that's
quite right, Ellen. I think you've done quite right, my
But, when it came to the point, his wife
could not eat any of the nice breakfast she had got ready;
she only had another cup of tea.
"Are you ill?" Bunting asked
"No," she said shortly; "of
course I'm not ill. Don't be silly! The thought of that
horrible thing happening so close by has upset me. Just hark
to them, now!"
Through their closed windows penetrated the
sound of scurrying feet and loud, ribald laughter. A crowd,
nay, a mob, hastened to and from the scene of the murder.
Mrs. Bunting made her husband lock the front
gate. "I don't want any of those ghouls in here!"
she exclaimed angrily. And then, "What a lot of idle
people there must be in the world," she said.
The coming and going went on all day. Mrs.
Bunting stayed indoors; Bunting went out. After all, the
ex-butler was human--it was natural that he should feel
thrilled and excited. All their neighbours were the same.
His wife wasn't reasonable about such things. She quarrelled
with him when he didn't tell her anything, and yet he was
sure she would have been angry with him if he had said very
much about it.
The lodger's bell rang about two o'clock, and
Mrs. Bunting prepared the simple luncheon that was also his
breakfast. As she rested the tray a minute on the
drawing-room floor landing, she heard Mr. Sleuth's high,
quavering voice reading aloud the words:
"She saith to him, Stolen waters are
sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he knoweth
not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the
depths of hell."
The landlady turned the handle of the door
and walked in with the tray. Mr. Sleuth was sitting close by
the window, and Mrs. Bunting's Bible lay open before him. As
she came in he hastily closed the Bible and looked down at
the crowd walking along the Marylebone Road.
"There seem a great many people out
today," he observed, without looking round.
"Yes, sir, there do." Mrs. Bunting
said nothing more, and offered no other explanation; and the
lodger, as he at last turned to his landlady, smiled
pleasantly. He had acquired a great liking and respect for
this well-behaved, taciturn woman; she was the first person
for whom he had felt any such feeling for many years past.
He took a half sovereign out of his waistcoat
pocket; Mrs. Bunting noticed that it was not the same
waistcoat Mr. Sleuth had been wearing the day before.
"Will you please accept this half sovereign for the use
of your kitchen last night?" he said. "I made as
little mess as I could, but I was carrying on a rather
She held out her hand, hesitated, and then
took the coin.
As she walked down the stairs, the winter
sun, a yellow ball hanging in the smoky sky, glinted in on
Mrs. Bunting, and lent bloodred gleams, or so it seemed to
her, to the piece of gold she was holding in her hand.
It was a very cold night--so cold, so windy,
so snow-laden the atmosphere, that everyone who could do so
stayed indoors. Bunting, however, was on his way home from
what had proved a very pleasant job; he had been acting as
waiter at a young lady's birthday party, and a remarkable
piece of luck had come his way. The young lady had come into
a fortune that day, and she had had the gracious, the
surprising thought of presenting each of the hired waiters
with a sovereign.
This birthday treat had put him in mind of
another birthday. His daughter Daisy would be eighteen the
following Saturday. Why shouldn't he send her a postal order
for half a sovereign, so that she might come up and spend
her birthday in London?
Having Daisy for three or four days would
cheer up Ellen. Mr. Bunting, slackening his footsteps, began
to think with puzzled concern of how queer his wife had
seemed lately. She had become so nervous, so
"jumpy," that he didn't know what to make of her
sometimes. She had never been a really good-tempered
woman--your capable, self-respecting woman seldom is--but
she had never been like what she was now. Of late she
sometimes got quite hysterical; he had let fall a sharp word
to her the other day, and she had sat down on a chair,
thrown her black apron over her face, and burst out sobbing
During the last ten days Ellen had taken to
talking in her sleep. "No, no, no!" she had cried
out, only the night before. "It isn't true! I won't
have it said! It's a lie!" And there had been a wail of
horrible fear and revolt in her unusually quiet, mincing
voice. Yes, it would certainly be a good thing for her to
have Daisy's company for a bit. Whew! It was cold; and
Bunting had stupidly forgotten his gloves. He put his hands
in his pockets to keep them warm.
Suddenly he became aware that Mr. Sleuth, the
lodger who seemed to have "turned their luck," as
it were, was walking along on the opposite side of the
Mr. Sleuth's tall, thin figure was rather
bowed, his head bent toward the ground. His right arm was
thrust into his long Inverness cape; the other occasionally
sawed the air, doubtless in order to help him keep warm. He
was walking rather quickly. It was clear that he had not yet
become aware of the proximity of his landlord.
Bunting felt pleased to see his lodger; it
increased his feeling of general satisfaction. Strange, was
it not, that that odd, peculiar-looking figure should have
made all the difference to his (Bunting's) and Mrs.
Bunting's happiness and comfort in life?
Naturally, Bunting saw far less of the lodger
than did Mrs. Bunting. Their gentleman had made it very
clear that he did not like either the husband or wife to
come up to his rooms without being definitely asked to do
so, and Bunting had been up there only once since Mr.
Sleuth's arrival five weeks before. This seemed to be a good
opportunity for a little genial conversation.
Bunting, still an active man for his years,
crossed the road, and, stepping briskly forward, tried to
overtake Mr. Sleuth; but the more he hurried, the more the
other hastened, and that without even turning to see whose
steps he heard echoing behind him on the now freezing
Mr. Sleuth's own footsteps were quite
inaudible--an odd circumstance, when you came to think
of it, as Bunting did think of it later, lying awake by
Ellen's side in the pitch-darkness. What it meant was, of
course, that the lodger had rubber soles on his shoes.
The two men, the pursued and the pursuer, at
last turned into the Marylebone Road. They were now within a
hundred yards of home; and so, plucking up courage, Bunting
called out, his voice echoing freshly on the still air:
"Mr. Sleuth, sir! Mr. Sleuth!"
The lodger stopped and turned round. He had
been walking so quickly, and he was in so poor a physical
condition, that the sweat was pouring down his face.
"Ah! So it's you, Mr. Bunting? I heard
footsteps behind me, and I hurried on. I wish I'd known that
it was only you; there are so many queer characters about at
night in London."
"Not on a night like this, sir. Only
honest folk who have business out of doors would be out such
a night as this. It is cold, sir!" And then
into Bunting's slow and honest mind there suddenly crept the
query as to what Mr. Sleuth's own business out could be on
this cold, bitter night.
"Cold?" the lodger repeated.
"I can't say that I find it cold, Mr. Bunting. When the
snow falls the air always becomes milder."
"Yes, sir; but tonight there's such a
sharp east wind. Why, it freezes the very marrow in one's
Bunting noticed that Mr. Sleuth kept his
distance in a rather strange way: he walked at the edge of
the pavement, leaving the rest of it, on the wall side, to
"I lost my way," he said abruptly.
"I've been over Primrose Hill to see a friend of mine,
and then, coming back, I lost my way."
Bunting could well believe that, for when he
had first noticed Mr. Sleuth he was coming from the east,
and not, as he should have done if walking home from
Primrose Hill, from the north.
They had now reached the little gate that
gave onto the shabby, paved court in front of the house. Mr.
Sleuth was walking up the flagged path, when, with a
"By your leave, sir," the ex-butler, stepping
aside, slipped in front of his lodger, in order to open the
front door for him.
As he passed by Mr. Sleuth, the back of
Bunting's bare left hand brushed lightly against the long
Inverness cape the other man was wearing, and, to his
surprise, the stretch of cloth against which his hand lay
for a moment was not only damp, damp from the flakes of snow
that had settled upon it, but wet--wet and gluey. Bunting
thrust his left hand into his pocket; it was with the other
that he placed the key in the lock of the door.
The two men passed into the hall together.
The house seemed blackly dark in comparison with the
lighted-up road outside; and then, quite suddenly, there
came over Bunting a feeling of mortal terror, an instinctive
knowledge that some terrible and immediate danger was near
him. A voice--the voice of his first wife, the long-dead
girl to whom his mind so seldom reverted
nowadays--uttered in his ear the words, "Take
"I'm afraid, Mr. Bunting, that you must
have felt something dirty, foul, on my coat? It's too long a
story to tell you now, but I brushed up against a dead
animal--a dead rabbit lying across a bench on Primrose
Mr. Sleuth spoke in a very quiet voice,
almost in a whisper.
"No, sir; no, I didn't notice nothing. I
scarcely touched you, sir." It seemed as if a power
outside himself compelled Bunting to utter these lying
words. "And now, sir, I'll be saying good night to
you," he added.
He waited until the lodger had gone upstairs,
and then he turned into his own sitting room. There he sat
down, for he felt very queer. He did not draw his left hand
out of his pocket till he heard the other man moving about
in the room above. Then he lit the gas and held up his left
hand; he put it close to his face. It was flecked, streaked
He took off his boots, and then, very
quietly, he went into the room where his wife lay asleep.
Stealthily he walked across to the toilet table, and dipped
his hand into the water jug.
The next morning Mr. Sleuth's landlord awoke with a
start; he felt curiously heavy about the limbs and tired
about the eyes.
Drawing his watch from under his pillow, he
saw that it was nearly nine o'clock. He and Ellen had
overslept. Without waking her, he got out of bed and pulled
up the blind. It was snowing heavily, and, as is the way
when it snows, even in London, it was strangely, curiously
After he had dressed he went out into the
passage. A newspaper and a letter were lying on the mat.
Fancy having slept through the postman's knock! He picked
them both up and went into the sitting room; then he
carefully shut the door behind him, and, tossing the letter
aside, spread the newspaper wide open on the table and bent
As Bunting at last looked up and straightened
himself, a look of inexpressible relief shone upon his
stolid face. The item of news he had felt certain would be
there, printed in big type on the middle sheet, was not
He folded the paper and laid it on a chair,
and then eagerly took up his letter.
Dear Father [it ran]: I hope this finds you
as well as it leaves me. Mrs. Puddle's youngest child has
got scarlet fever, and aunt thinks I had better come away at
once, just to stay with you for a few days. Please tell
Ellen I won't give her no trouble.
Your loving daughter,
Bunting felt amazingly lighthearted; and, as
he walked into the next room, he smiled broadly.
"Ellen," he cried out, "here's
news! Daisy's coming today. There's scarlet fever in their
house, and Martha thinks she had better come away for a few
days. She'll be here for her birthday!"
Mrs. Bunting listened in silence; she did not
even open her eyes. "I can't have the girl here just
now," she said shortly; "I've got just as much as
I can manage to do."
But Bunting felt pugnacious, and so cheerful
as to be almost light-headed. Deep down in his heart he
looked back to last night with a feeling of shame and
self-rebuke. Whatever had made such horrible thoughts and
suspicions come into his head?
"Of course Daisy will come here,"
he said shortly. "If it comes to that, she'll be able
to help you with the work, and she'll brisk us both up a
Rather to his surprise, Mrs. Bunting said
nothing in answer to this, and he changed the subject
abruptly. "The lodger and me came in together last
night," he observed. "He's certainly a funny kind
of gentleman. It wasn't the sort of night one would choose
to go for a walk over Primrose Hill, and yet that was what
he had been doing--so he said."
It stopped snowing about ten o'clock, and the
morning wore itself away.
Just as twelve was striking, a four-wheeler
drew up to the gate. It was Daisy--pink-cheeked,
excited, laughing-eyed Daisy, a sight to gladden any
father's heart. "Aunt said I was to have a cab if the
weather was bad," she said.
There was a bit of a wrangle over the fare.
King's Cross, as all the world knows, is nothing like two
miles from the Marylebone Road, but the man clamoured for
one-and-sixpence, and hinted darkly that he had done the
young lady a favour in bringing her at all.
While he and Bunting were having words,
Daisy, leaving them to it, walked up the path to the door
where her stepmother was awaiting her.
Suddenly there fell loud shouts on the still
air. They sounded strangely eerie, breaking sharply across
the muffled, snowy air.
"What's that?" said Bunting, with a
look of startled fear. "Why, whatever's that?"
The cabman lowered his voice: "Them are
crying out that 'orrible affair at King's Cross. He's done
for two of 'em this time! That's what I meant when I said I
might have got a better fare; I wouldn't say anything before
Missy there, but folk 'ave been coming from all over
London--like a fire; plenty of toffs, too. But
there--there's nothing to see now!"
"What! Another woman murdered last
night?" Bunting felt and looked convulsed with horror.
The cabman stared at him, surprised.
"Two of 'em, I tell yer--within a few yards of one
another. He 'ave got a nerve--"
"Have they caught him?" asked
"Lord, no! They'll never catch 'im! It
must 'ave happened hours and hours ago--they was both
stone-cold. One each end of an archway. That's why they
didn't see 'em before."
The hoarse cries were coming nearer and
nearer--two news vendors trying to outshout each other.
"'Orrible discovery near King's
Cross!" they yelled exultantly. And as Bunting, with
his daughter's bag in his hand, hurried up the path and
passed through his front door, the words pursued him like a
Angrily he shut out the hoarse, insistent
cries. No, he had no wish to buy a paper. That kind of crime
wasn't fit reading for a young girl, such a girl as was his
Daisy, brought up as carefully as if she had been a young
lady by her strict Methody aunt.
As he stood in his little hall, trying to
feel "all right" again, he could hear Daisy's
voice--high, voluble, excited--giving her stepmother a
long account of the scarlet-fever case to which she owed her
presence in London. But, as Bunting pushed open the door of
the sitting room, there came a note of sharp alarm in his
daughter's voice, and he heard her say: "Why, Ellen!
Whatever is the matter? You do look bad!" and his
wife's muffled answer: "Open the window--do."
Rushing across the room, Bunting pushed up
the sash. The newspaper sellers were now just outside the
house. "Horrible discovery near King's Cross--a clue to
the murderer!" they yelled. 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 the water
jug. Wait a minute."
Bunting felt very put out, and yet glad, too,
for this queer seizure of Ellen's almost made him forget the
sick terror with which he had been possessed a moment
before. That he and his wife should be obsessed by the same
fear, the same terror, never crossed his simple,
The lodger's bell rang. That, or the threat
of the water jug, had a magical effect on Mrs. Bunting. She
rose to her feet, still trembling, but composed.
As Mrs. Bunting went upstairs she felt her
legs trembling under her, and put out a shaking hand to
clutch at the banister for support. She waited a few minutes
on the landing, and then knocked at the door of her lodger's
But Mr. Sleuth's voice answered her from the
bedroom. "I'm not well," he called out
querulously; "I think I caught a chill going out to see
a friend last night. I'd be obliged if you'll bring me up a
cup of tea and put it outside my door, Mrs. Bunting."
"Very well, sir."
Mrs. Bunting went downstairs and made her
lodger a cup of tea over the gas ring, Bunting watching her
the while in heavy silence.
During their midday dinner the husband and
wife had a little discussion as to where Daisy should sleep.
It had already been settled that a bed should be made up for
her in the sitting room, but Bunting saw reason to change
this plan. As the two women were clearing away the dishes,
he looked up and said shortly: "I think 'twould be
better if Daisy were to sleep with you, Ellen, and I were to
sleep in the sitting room."
Ellen acquiesced quietly.
Daisy was a good-natured girl; she liked
London, and wanted to make herself useful to her stepmother.
"I'll wash up; don't you bother to come
downstairs," she said.
Bunting began to walk up and down the room.
His wife gave him a furtive glance; she wondered what he was
"Didn't you get a paper?" she said
"There's the paper," he said
crossly, "the paper we always do take in, the
Telegraph." His look challenged her to a
"I thought they was shouting something
in the street--I mean just before I was took bad."
But he made no answer; instead, he went to
the top of the staircase and called out sharply:
"Daisy! Daisy, child, are you there?"
"Yes, father," she answered from
"Better come upstairs out of that cold
He came back into the sitting room again.
"Ellen, is the lodger in? I haven't
heard him moving about. I don't want Daisy to be mixed up
with him." "Mr. Sleuth is not well today,"
his wife answered; "he is remaining in bed a bit. Daisy
needn't have anything to do with him. She'll have her work
cut out looking after things down here That's where I want
her to help me."
"Agreed," he said.
When it grew dark, Bunting went out and
bought an evening paper. He read it out of doors in the
biting cold, standing beneath a streetlamp. He wanted to see
what was the clue to the murderer
The clue proved to be a very slender
one--merely the imprint in the snowy slush of a half-worn
rubber sole; and it was, of course, by no means certain that
the sole belonged to the boot or shoe of the murderer of the
two doomed women who had met so swift and awful a death in
the arch near King's Cross station. The paper's special
investigator pointed out that there were thousands of such
soles being worn in London. Bunting found comfort in that
obvious fact. He felt grateful to the special investigator
for having stated it so clearly.
As he approached his house, he heard curious
sounds coming from the inner side of the low wall that shut
off the courtyard from the pavement. Under ordinary
circumstances Bunting would have gone at once to drive
whoever was there out into the roadway. Now he stayed
outside, sick with suspense and anxiety. Was it possible
that their place was being watched--already?
But it was only Mr. Sleuth. To Bunting's
astonishment, the lodger suddenly stepped forward from
behind the wall onto the flagged path. He was carrying a
brown-paper parcel, and, as he walked along, the new boots
he was wearing creaked and the tap-tap of wooden heels rang
out on the stones.
Bunting, still hidden outside the gate,
suddenly understood what his lodger had been doing the other
side of the wall. Mr. Sleuth had been out to buy himself a
pair of boots, and had gone inside the gate to put them on,
placing his old footgear in the paper in which the new boots
had been wrapped.
Bunting waited until Mr. Sleuth had let
himself into the house; then he also walked up the flagged
pathway, and put his latchkey in the door.
In the next three days each of Bunting's
waking hours held its meed of aching fear and suspense. From
his point of view, almost any alternative would be
preferable to that which to most people would have seemed
the only one open to him. He told himself that it would be
ruin for him and for his Ellen to be mixed up publicly in
such a terrible affair. It would track them to their dying
Bunting was also always debating within
himself as to whether he should tell Ellen of his frightful
suspicion. He could not believe that what had become so
plain to himself could long be concealed from all the world,
and yet he did not credit his wife with the same
intelligence. He did not even notice that, although she
waited on Mr. Sleuth as assiduously as ever, Mrs. Bunting
never mentioned the lodger.
Mr. Sleuth, meanwhile, kept upstairs; he had
given up going out altogether. He still felt, so he assured
his landlady, far from well.
Daisy was another complication, the more so
that the girl, whom her father longed to send away and whom
he would hardly let out of his sight, showed herself
inconveniently inquisitive concerning the lodger.
"Whatever does he do with himself all
day?" she asked her stepmother.
"Well, just now he's reading the
Bible," Mrs. Bunting had answered, very shortly and
"Well, I never! That's a funny thing for
a gentleman to do!" Such had been Daisy's pert remark,
and her stepmother had snubbed her well for it.
Daisy's eighteenth birthday dawned
uneventfully. Her father gave her what he had always
promised she should have on her eighteenth birthday--a
watch. It was a pretty little silver watch, which Bunting
had bought secondhand on the last day he had been happy; it
seemed a long time ago now.
Mrs. Bunting thought a silver watch a very
extravagant present, but she had always had the good sense
not to interfere between her husband and his child. Besides,
her mind was now full of other things. She was beginning to
fear that Bunting suspected something, and she was filled
with watchful anxiety and unease. What if he were to do
anything silly--mix them up with the police, for instance?
It certainly would be ruination to them both. But
there--one never knew, with men! Her husband, however,
kept his own counsel absolutely.
Daisy's birthday was on Saturday. In the
middle of the morning Ellen and Daisy went down into the
kitchen. Bunting didn't like the feeling that there was only
one flight of stairs between Mr. Sleuth and himself, so he
quietly slipped out of the house and went to buy himself an
ounce of tobacco.
In the last four days Bunting had avoided his
usual haunts. But today the unfortunate man had a curious
longing for human companionship--companionship, that
is, other than that of Ellen and Daisy. This feeling led him
into a small, populous thoroughfare hard by the Edgeware
Road. There were more people there than usual, for the
housewives of the neighbourhood were doing their marketing
Bunting passed the time of day with the
tobacconist, and the two fell into desultory talk. To the
ex-butler's surprise, the man said nothing at all to him on
the subject of which all the neighbourhood must still be
And then, quite suddenly, while still
standing by the counter, and before he had paid for the
packet of tobacco he held in his hand, Bunting, through the
open door, saw, with horrified surprise, that his wife was
standing outside a greengrocer's shop just opposite.
Muttering a word of apology, he rushed out of the shop and
across the road.
"Ellen!" he gasped hoarsely.
"You've never gone and left my little girl alone in the
Mrs. Bunting's face went chalky white.
"I thought you were indoors," she said. "You
were indoors. Whatever made you come out for,
without first making sure I was there?"
Bunting made no answer; but, as they stared
at each other in exasperated silence, each knew that the
They turned and scurried down the street.
"Don't run," he said suddenly;
"we shall get there just as quickly if we walk fast.
People are noticing you, Ellen. Don't run."
He spoke breathlessly, but it was
breathlessness induced by fear and excitement, not by the
quick pace at which they were walking.
At last they reached their own gate. Bunting
pushed past in front of his wife. After all, Daisy was his
child--Ellen couldn't know how he was feeling. He made the
path almost in one leap, and fumbled for a moment with his
latchkey. The door opened.
"Daisy!" he called out in a wailing
voice. "Daisy, my dear, where are you?"
"Here I am, father; what is it?"
"She's all right!" Bunting turned
his grey face to his wife. "She's all right,
Ellen!" Then he waited a moment, leaning against the
wall of the passage. "It did give me a turn," he
said; and then, warningly, "Don't frighten the girl,
Daisy was standing before the fire in the
sitting room, admiring herself in the glass. "Oh,
father," she said, without turning round, "I've
seen the lodger! He's quite a nice gentleman--though,
to be sure, he does look a cure! He came down to ask Ellen
for something, and we had quite a nice little chat. I told
him it was my birthday, and he asked me to go to Madame
Tussaud's with him this afternoon." She laughed a
little self-consciously. "Of course I could see he was
'centric, and then at first he spoke so funnily. 'And who be
you?' he says, threatening-like. And I says to him, 'I'm Mr.
Bunting's daughter, sir.' 'Then you're a very fortunate
girl'--that's what he said, Ellen--'to 'ave such a nice
stepmother as you've got. That's why,' he says, 'you look
such a good, innocent girl.' And then he quoted a bit of the
prayer book at me. 'Keep innocency,' he says, wagging his
head at me. Lor'! It made me feel as if I was with aunt
"I won't have you going out with the
lodger--that's flat." He was wiping his forehead
with one hand, while with the other he mechanically squeezed
the little packet of tobacco, for which, as he now
remembered, he had forgotten to pay.
Daisy pouted. "Oh, father, I think you
might let me have a treat on my birthday! I told him
Saturday wasn't a very good day--at least, so I'd heard--for
Madame Tussaud's. Then he said we could go early, while the
fine folk are still having their dinners. He wants you to
come, too." She turned to her stepmother, then giggled
happily. "The lodger has a wonderful fancy for you,
Ellen; if I was father I'd feel quite jealous!"
Her last words were cut across by a loud
knock on the door. Bunting and his wife looked at each other
Both felt a curious thrill of relief when
they saw that it was only Mr. Sleuth--Mr. Sleuth dressed to
go out: the tall hat he had worn when he first came to them
was in his hand and he was wearing a heavy overcoat.
"I saw you had come in"--he
addressed Mrs. Bunting in his high, whistling, hesitating
voice--"and so I've come down to ask if you and Miss
Bunting will come to Madame Tussaud's now. I have never seen
these famous waxworks, though I've heard of the place all my
As Bunting forced himself to look fixedly at
his lodger, a sudden doubt, bringing with it a sense of
immeasurable relief, came to him. Surely it was
inconceivable that this gentle, mild-mannered gentleman
could be the monster of cruelty and cunning that Bunting had
but a moment ago believed him to be!
"You're very kind, sir, I'm sure."
He tried to catch his wife's eye, but Mrs. Bunting was
looking away, staring into vacancy. She still, of course,
wore the bonnet and cloak in which she had just been out to
do her marketing. Daisy was already putting on her hat and
Madame Tussaud's had hitherto held pleasant
memories for Mrs. Bunting. In the days when she and Bunting
were courting they often spent part of their "afternoon
out" there. The butler had an acquaintance, a man named
Hopkins, who was one of the waxworks' staff, and this man
had sometimes given him passes for "self and
lady." But this was the first time Mrs. Bunting had
been inside the place since she had come to live almost next
door, as it were, to the big building.
The ill-sorted trio walked up the great
staircase and into the first gallery; and there Mr. Sleuth
suddenly stopped short. The presence of those curious, still
figures, suggesting death in life, seemed to surprise and
Daisy took quick advantage of the lodger's
hesitation and unease.
"Oh, Ellen," she cried, "do
let us begin by going into the Chamber of Horrors! I've
never been in there. Aunt made father promise he wouldn't
take me, the only time I've ever been here. But now that I'm
eighteen I can do just as I like; besides, aunt will never
Mr. Sleuth looked down at her.
"Yes," he said, "let us go
into the Chamber of Horrors; that's a good idea, Miss
They turned into the great room in which the
Napoleonic relics are kept, and which leads into the
curious, vaultlike chamber where waxen effigies of dead
criminals stand grouped in wooden docks. Mrs. Bunting was at
once disturbed and relieved to see her husband's old
acquaintance, Mr. Hopkins, in charge of the turnstile
admitting the public to the Chamber of Horrors.
"Well, you are a
stranger," the man observed genially. "I do
believe this is the very first time I've seen you in here,
Mrs. Bunting, since you married!"
"Yes," she said; "that is so.
And this is my husband's daughter, Daisy; I expect you've
heard of her, Mr. Hopkins. And this"--she hesitated a
moment--"is our lodger, Mr. Sleuth."
But Mr. Sleuth frowned and shuffled away.
Daisy, leaving her stepmother's side, joined him.
Mrs. Bunting put down three sixpences.
"Wait a minute," said Hopkins;
"you can't go into the Chamber of Horrors just yet. But
you won't have to wait more than four or five minutes, Mrs.
Bunting. It's this way, you see; our boss is in there,
showing a party round." He lowered his voice.
"It's Sir John Burney--I suppose you know who Sir John
"No," she answered indifferently;
"I don't know that I ever heard of him." She felt
slightly--oh, very slightly--uneasy about Daisy. She
would like her stepdaughter to keep well within sight and
sound. Mr. Sleuth was taking the girl to the other end of
"Well, I hope you never will
know him--not in any personal sense, Mrs. Bunting." The
man chuckled. "He's the Head Commissioner of
Police--that's what Sir John Burney is. One of the
gentlemen he's showing round our place is the Paris Prefect
of Police, whose job is on all fours, so to speak, with Sir
John's. The Frenchy has brought his daughter with him, and
there are several other ladies. Ladies always like 'orrors,
Mrs. Bunting; that's our experience here. 'Oh, take me to
the Chamber of 'Orrors!'--that's what they say the
minute they gets into the building."
A group of people, all talking and laughing
together, were advancing from within toward the turnstile.
Mrs. Bunting stared at them nervously. She
wondered which of them was the gentleman with whom Mr.
Hopkins had hoped she would never be brought into personal
contact. She quickly picked him out. He was a tall,
powerful, nice-looking gentleman with a commanding manner.
Just now he was smiling down into the face of a young lady.
"Monsieur Barberoux is quite right," he was
saying; "the English law is too kind to the criminal,
especially to the murderer. If we conducted our trials in
the French fashion, the place we have just left would be
very much fuller than it is today! A man of whose guilt we
are absolutely assured is oftener than not acquitted, and
then the public taunt us with 'another undiscovered
"D'you mean, Sir John, that murderers
sometimes escape scot-free? Take the man who has been
committing all those awful murders this last month. Of
course, I don't know much about it, for father won't let me
read about it, but I can't help being interested!" Her
girlish voice rang out, and Mrs. Bunting heard every word
The party gathered round, listening eagerly
to hear what the Head Commissioner would say next.
"Yes." He spoke very deliberately.
"I think we may say--now, don't give me away to a
newspaper fellow, Miss Rose--that we do know perfectly well
who the murderer in question is--"
Several of those standing nearby uttered
expressions of surprise and incredulity.
"Then why don't you catch him?"
cried the girl indignantly.
"I didn't say we know where he
is; I only said we know who he is; or, rather,
perhaps I ought to say that we have a very strong suspicion
of his identity."
Sir John's French colleague looked up
quickly. "The Hamburg and Liverpool man?" he said
The other nodded. "Yes; I suppose you've
had the case turned up?"
Then, speaking very quickly, as if he wished
to dismiss the subject from his own mind and from that of
his auditors, he went on:
"Two murders of the kind were committed
eight years ago--one in Hamburg, the other just afterward in
Liverpool, and there were certain peculiarities connected
with the crimes which made it clear they were committed by
the same hand. The perpetrator was caught, fortunately for
us red-handed, just as he was leaving the house of his
victim, for in Liverpool the murder was committed in a
house. I myself saw the unhappy man--I say unhappy, for
there is no doubt at all that he was mad"--he
hesitated, and added in a lower tone--"suffering
from an acute form of religious mania. I myself saw him, at
some length. But now comes the really interesting point.
Just a month ago this criminal lunatic, as we must regard
him, made his escape from the asylum where he was confined.
He arranged the whole thing with extraordinary cunning and
intelligence, and we should probably have caught him long
ago were it not that he managed, when on his way out of the
place, to annex a considerable sum of money in gold with
which the wages of the staff were about to be paid."
The Frenchman again spoke. "Why have you
not circulated a description?" he asked.
"We did that at once"--Sir John
Burney smiled a little grimly--"but only among our own
people. We dare not circulate the man's description among
the general public. You see, we may be mistaken, after
"That is not very probable!" The
Frenchman smiled a satirical little smile.
A moment later the party were walking in
Indian file through the turnstile, Sir John Burney leading
Mrs. Bunting looked straight before her. Even
had she wished to do so, she had neither time nor power to
warn her lodger of his danger.
Daisy and her companion were now coming down
the room, bearing straight for the Head Commissioner of
Police. In another moment Mr. Sleuth and Sir John Burney
would be face to face.
Suddenly Mr. Sleuth swerved to one side. A
terrible change came over his pale, narrow face; it became
discomposed, livid with rage and terror.
But, to Mrs. Bunting's relief--yes, to her
inexpressible relief--Sir John Burney and his friends swept
on. They passed by Mr. Sleuth unconcernedly, unaware, or so
it seemed to her, that there was anyone else in the room but
"Hurry up, Mrs. Bunting," said the
turnstile keeper; "you and your friends will have the
place all to yourselves." From an official he had
become a man, and it was the man in Mr. Hopkins that
gallantly addressed pretty Daisy Bunting. "It seems
strange that a young lady like you should want to go in and
see all those 'orrible frights." he said jestingly.
"Mrs. Bunting, may I trouble you to come
over here for a moment?" The words were hissed rather
than spoken by Mr. Sleuth's lips.
His landlady took a doubtful step forward.
"A last word with you, Mrs.
Bunting." The lodger's face was still distorted with
fear and passion. "Do you think to escape the
consequences of your hideous treachery? I trusted you, Mrs.
Bunting, and you betrayed me! But I am protected by a higher
power, for I still have work to do. Your end will be bitter
as wormwood and sharp as a two-edged sword. Your feet shall
go down to death, and your steps take hold on hell."
Even while Mr. Sleuth was uttering these strange, dreadful
words, he was looking around, his eyes glancing this way and
that, seeking a way of escape.
At last his eyes became fixed on a small
placard placed about a curtain. "Emergency Exit"
was written there. Leaving his landlady's side, he walked
over to the turnstile. He fumbled in his pocket for a
moment, and then touched the man on the arm. "I feel
ill," he said, speaking very rapidly; "very ill
indeed! It's the atmosphere of this place. I want you to let
me out by the quickest way. It would be a pity for me to
faint here--especially with ladies about." His
left hand shot out and placed what he had been fumbling for
in his pocket on the other's bare palm. "I see there's
an emergency exit over there. Would it be possible for me to
get out that way?"
"Well, yes, sir; I think so." The
man hesitated; he felt a slight, a very slight, feeling of
misgiving. He looked at Daisy, flushed and smiling, happy
and unconcerned, and then at Mrs. Bunting. She was very
pale; but surely her lodger's sudden seizure was enough to
make her feel worried. Hopkins felt the half sovereign
pleasantly tickling his palm. The Prefect of Police had
given him only half a crown--mean, shabby foreigner!
"Yes, I can let you out that way,"
he said at last, "and perhaps when you're standing out
in the air on the iron balcony you'll feel better. But then,
you know, sir, you'll have to come round to the front if you
want to come in again, for those emergency doors only open
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Sleuth
hurriedly; "I quite understand! If I feel better I'll
come in by the front way, and pay another
shilling--that's only fair."
"You needn't do that if you'll just
explain what happened here."
The man went and pulled the curtain aside,
and put his shoulder against the door. It burst open, and
the light for a moment blinded Mr. Sleuth. He passed his
hand over his eyes.
"Thank you," he said; "thank
you. I shall get all right here."
Five days later Bunting identified the body
of a man found drowned in the Regent's Canal as that of his
late lodger; and, the morning following, a gardener working
in the Regent's Park found a newspaper in which were
wrapped, together with a half-worn pair of rubber-soled
shoes, two surgical knives. This fact was not chronicled in
any newspaper; but a very pretty and picturesque paragraph
went the round of the press, about the same time, concerning
a small box filled with sovereigns which had been forwarded
anonymously to the Governor of the Foundling Hospital.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are now in the service
of an old lady, by whom they are feared as well as
respected, and whom they make very comfortable.