The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

The Lodger: Chapter 04

Mrs. Bunting navigates the peculiarities of her new lodger, Mr. Sleuth, who requests unusual items and keeps mysterious habits.

Mrs. Bunting woke up the next morning feeling happier than she had felt for a very, very long time.

For just one moment she could not think why she felt so different—and then she suddenly remembered.

How comfortable it was to know that upstairs, just over her head, lay, in the well-found bed she had bought with such satisfaction at an auction held in a Baker Street house, a lodger who was paying two guineas a week! Something seemed to tell her that Mr. Sleuth would be “a permanency.” In any case, it wouldn’t be her fault if he wasn’t. As to his—his queerness, well, there’s always something funny in everybody. But after she had got up, and as the morning wore itself away, Mrs. Bunting grew a little anxious, for there came no sound at all from the new lodger’s rooms. At twelve, however, the drawing-room bell rang. Mrs. Bunting hurried upstairs. She was painfully anxious to please and satisfy Mr. Sleuth. His coming had only been in the nick of time to save them from terrible disaster.

She found her lodger up, and fully dressed. He was sitting at the round table which occupied the middle of the sitting-room, and his landlady’s large Bible lay open before him.

As Mrs. Bunting came in, he looked up, and she was troubled to see how tired and worn he seemed.

“You did not happen,” he asked, “to have a Concordance, Mrs. Bunting?”

She shook her head; she had no idea what a Concordance could be, but she was quite sure that she had nothing of the sort about.

And then her new lodger proceeded to tell her what it was he desired her to buy for him. She had supposed the bag he had brought with him to contain certain little necessaries of civilised life—such articles, for instance, as a comb and brush, a set of razors, a toothbrush, to say nothing of a couple of nightshirts—but no, that was evidently not so, for Mr. Sleuth required all these things to be bought now.

After having cooked him a nice breakfast Mrs. Bunting hurried out to purchase the things of which he was in urgent need.

How pleasant it was to feel that there was money in her purse again—not only someone else’s money, but money she was now in the very act of earning so agreeably.

Mrs. Bunting first made her way to a little barber’s shop close by. It was there she purchased the brush and comb and the razors. It was a funny, rather smelly little place, and she hurried as much as she could, the more so that the foreigner who served her insisted on telling her some of the strange, peculiar details of this Avenger murder which had taken place forty-eight hours before, and in which Bunting took such a morbid interest.

The conversation upset Mrs. Bunting. She didn’t want to think of anything painful or disagreeable on such a day as this.

Then she came back and showed the lodger her various purchases. Mr. Sleuth was pleased with everything, and thanked her most courteously. But when she suggested doing his bedroom he frowned, and looked quite put out.

“Please wait till this evening,” he said hastily. “It is my custom to stay at home all day. I only care to walk about the streets when the lights are lit. You must bear with me, Mrs. Bunting, if I seem a little, just a little, unlike the lodgers you have been accustomed to. And I must ask you to understand that I must not be disturbed when thinking out my problems—” He broke off short, sighed, then added solemnly, “for mine are the great problems of life and death.”

And Mrs. Bunting willingly fell in with his wishes. In spite of her prim manner and love of order, Mr. Sleuth’s landlady was a true woman—she had, that is, an infinite patience with masculine vagaries and oddities.

When she was downstairs again, Mr. Sleuth’s landlady met with a surprise; but it was quite a pleasant surprise. While she had been upstairs, talking to the lodger, Bunting’s young friend, Joe Chandler, the detective, had come in, and as she walked into the sitting-room she saw that her husband was pushing half a sovereign across the table towards Joe.

Joe Chandler’s fair, good-natured face was full of satisfaction: not at seeing his money again, mark you, but at the news Bunting had evidently been telling him—that news of the sudden wonderful change in their fortunes, the coming of an ideal lodger.

“Mr. Sleuth don’t want me to do his bedroom till he’s gone out!” she exclaimed. And then she sat down for a bit of a rest.

It was a comfort to know that the lodger was eating his good breakfast, and there was no need to think of him for the present. In a few minutes she would be going down to make her own and Bunting’s dinner, and she told Joe Chandler that he might as well stop and have a bite with them.

Her heart warmed to the young man, for Mrs. Bunting was in a mood which seldom surprised her—a mood to be pleased with anything and everything. Nay, more. When Bunting began to ask Joe Chandler about the last of those awful Avenger murders, she even listened with a certain languid interest to all he had to say.

In the morning paper which Bunting had begun taking again that very day three columns were devoted to the extraordinary mystery which was now beginning to be the one topic of talk all over London, West and East, North and South. Bunting had read out little bits about it while they ate their breakfast, and in spite of herself Mrs. Bunting had felt thrilled and excited.

“They do say,” observed Bunting cautiously, “They do say, Joe, that the police have a clue they won’t say nothing about?” He looked expectantly at his visitor. To Bunting the fact that Chandler was attached to the detective section of the Metropolitan Police invested the young man with a kind of sinister glory—especially just now, when these awful and mysterious crimes were amazing and terrifying the town.

“Them who says that says wrong,” answered Chandler slowly, and a look of unease, of resentment came over his fair, stolid face. “’Twould make a good bit of difference to me if the Yard had a clue.”

And then Mrs. Bunting interposed. “Why that, Joe?” she said, smiling indulgently; the young man’s keenness about his work pleased her. And in his slow, sure way Joe Chandler was very keen, and took his job very seriously. He put his whole heart and mind into it.

“Well, ’tis this way,” he explained. “From to-day I’m on this business myself. You see, Mrs. Bunting, the Yard’s nettled—that’s what it is, and we’re all on our mettle—that we are. I was right down sorry for the poor chap who was on point duty in the street where the last one happened—”

“No!” said Bunting incredulously. “You don’t mean there was a policeman there, within a few yards?”

That fact hadn’t been recorded in his newspaper.

Chandler nodded. “That’s exactly what I do mean, Mr. Bunting! The man is near off his head, so I’m told. He did hear a yell, so he says, but he took no notice—there are a good few yells in that part o’ London, as you can guess. People always quarrelling and rowing at one another in such low parts.”

“Have you seen the bits of grey paper on which the monster writes his name?” inquired Bunting eagerly.

Public imagination had been much stirred by the account of those three-cornered pieces of grey paper, pinned to the victims’ skirts, on which was roughly written in red ink and in printed characters the words “The Avenger.”

His round, fat face was full of questioning eagerness. He put his elbows on the table, and stared across expectantly at the young man.

“Yes, I have,” said Joe briefly.

“A funny kind of visiting card, eh!” Bunting laughed; the notion struck him as downright comic.

But Mrs. Bunting coloured. “It isn’t a thing to make a joke about,” she said reprovingly.

And Chandler backed her up. “No, indeed,” he said feelingly. “I’ll never forget what I’ve been made to see over this job. And as for that grey bit of paper, Mr. Bunting—or, rather, those grey bits of paper”—he corrected himself hastily—“you know they’ve three of them now at the Yard—well, they gives me the horrors!”

And then he jumped up. “That reminds me that I oughtn’t to be wasting my time in pleasant company—”

“Won’t you stay and have a bit of dinner?” said Mrs. Bunting solicitously.

But the detective shook his head. “No,” he said, “I had a bite before I came out. Our job’s a queer kind of job, as you know. A lot’s left to our discretion, so to speak, but it don’t leave us much time for lazing about, I can tell you.”

When he reached the door he turned round, and with elaborate carelessness he inquired, “Any chance of Miss Daisy coming to London again soon?”

Bunting shook his head, but his face brightened. He was very, very fond of his only child; the pity was he saw her so seldom. “No,” he said, “I’m afraid not Joe. Old Aunt, as we calls the old lady, keeps Daisy pretty tightly tied to her apron-string. She was quite put about that week the child was up with us last June.”

“Indeed? Well, so long!”

After his wife had let their friend out, Bunting said cheerfully, “Joe seems to like our Daisy, eh, Ellen?”

But Mrs. Bunting shook her head scornfully. She did not exactly dislike the girl, though she did not hold with the way Bunting’s daughter was being managed by that old aunt of hers—an idle, good-for-nothing way, very different from the fashion in which she herself had been trained at the Foundling, for Mrs. Bunting as a little child had known no other home, no other family than those provided by good Captain Coram.

“Joe Chandler’s too sensible a young chap to be thinking of girls yet awhile,” she said tartly.

“No doubt you’re right,” Bunting agreed. “Times be changed. In my young days chaps always had time for that. ’Twas just a notion that came into my head, hearing him asking, anxious-like, after her.”

About five o’clock, after the street lamps were well alight, Mr. Sleuth went out, and that same evening there came two parcels addressed to his landlady. These parcels contained clothes. But it was quite clear to Mrs. Bunting’s eyes that they were not new clothes. In fact, they had evidently been bought in some good second-hand clothes-shop. A funny thing for a real gentleman like Mr. Sleuth to do! It proved that he had given up all hope of getting back his lost luggage.

When the lodger had gone out he had not taken his bag with him, of that Mrs. Bunting was positive. And yet, though she searched high and low for it, she could not find the place where Mr. Sleuth kept it. And at last, had it not been that she was a very clear-headed woman, with a good memory, she would have been disposed to think that the bag had never existed, save in her imagination.

But no, she could not tell herself that! She remembered exactly how it had looked when Mr. Sleuth had first stood, a strange, queer-looking figure of a man, on her doorstep.

She further remembered how he had put the bag down on the floor of the top front room, and then, forgetting what he had done, how he had asked her eagerly, in a tone of angry fear, where the bag was—only to find it safely lodged at his feet!

As time went on Mrs. Bunting thought a great deal about that bag, for, strange and amazing fact, she never saw Mr. Sleuth’s bag again. But, of course, she soon formed a theory as to its whereabouts. The brown leather bag which had formed Mr. Sleuth’s only luggage the afternoon of his arrival was almost certainly locked up in the lower part of the drawing-room chiffonnier. Mr. Sleuth evidently always carried the key of the little corner cupboard about his person; Mrs. Bunting had also had a good hunt for that key, but, as was the case with the bag, the key disappeared, and she never saw either the one or the other again.

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The Lodger: Chapter 05

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Amidst the quiet routine of their lives, a chilling revelation from a troubled police officer brings the looming presence of London's infamous Avenger closer to home.