by Marie Belloc Lowndes
"Lover and friend hast thou put far from me,
and mine acquaintance
PSALM lxxxviii. 18
Robert Bunting and Ellen his wife sat before their dully burning,
The room, especially when it be known that it was part of a house
standing in a grimy, if not exactly sordid, London thoroughfare,
clean and well-cared-for. A casual
more particularly one of a Superior class to their own, on suddenly
opening the door of that sitting-room; would have thought that Mr.
and Mrs. Bunting presented a very pleasant cosy picture of
comfortable married life. Bunting, who was leaning back in a deep
leather arm-chair, was clean-shaven and dapper, still in appearance
what he had been for many years of his life--a self-respecting
On his wife, now sitting up in an uncomfortable
chair, the marks of past servitude
were less apparent; but they
were there all the same--in her neat black stuff dress, and in
her scrupulously clean, plain collar
and cuffs. Mrs. Bunting, as
a single woman, had been what is known as a useful maid.
true of average English life is the time-worn
as to appearances being deceitful. Mr. and Mrs.
Bunting were sitting in a very nice room and in their time--how
long ago it now seemed!--both husband and wife had been proud of
their carefully chosen belongings. Everything in the room was
strong and substantial, and each article of furniture had been
bought at a well-conducted auction
held in a private house.
Thus the red damask
curtains which now shut out the fog-laden,
of the Marylebone Road, had cost a mere song,
and yet they might have been warranted to last another thirty years.
A great bargain
also had been the excellent Axminster carpet
covered the floor; as, again, the arm-chair in which Bunting now sat
forward, staring into the dull, small fire. In fact, that arm-chair
had been an extravagance
of Mrs. Bunting. She had wanted her husband
to be comfortable after the day's work was done, and she had paid
thirty-seven shillings for the chair. Only yesterday
tried to find a purchaser
for it, but the man who had come to look at
it, guessing their cruel necessities, had only offered them twelve
shillings and sixpence
for it; so for the present they were keeping
But man and woman want something more than mere material comfort,
much as that is valued by the Buntings of this world. So, on the
walls of the sitting-room, hung neatly framed if now rather faded
photographs--photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Bunting's various former
employers, and of the pretty country houses in which they had
separately lived during the long years they had spent in a not
But appearances were not only deceitful, they were more than
with regard to these unfortunate
spite of their good furniture--that substantialoutward
respectability which is the last thing which wise folk who fall
into trouble try to dispose
of--they were almost at the end of
their tether. Already they had learnt
to go hungry, and they were
beginning to learn to go cold. Tobacco, the last thing the sober
man foregoes among his comforts, had been given up some time ago
by Bunting. And even Mrs. Bunting--prim, prudent, careful woman
as she was in her way--had realised what this must mean to him.
So well, indeed, had she understood that some days back she had
crept out and bought him a packet
Bunting had been touched--touched as he had not been for years by
any woman's thought and love for him. Painful tears had forced
themselves into his eyes, and husband and wife had both felt in
their odd, unemotional way, moved to the heart.
Fortunately he never guessed--how could he have guessed, with his
slow, normal, rather dull mind?--that his poor Ellen had since
more than once bitterly
regretted that fourpence-ha'penny, for they
were now very near the soundless depths which divide those who dwell
on the safe tableland of security--those, that is, who are sure of
making a respectable, if not a happy, living--and the submerged
multitude who, through some lack in themselves, or owing to the
conditions under which our strange civilisation has become organised,
struggle rudderless till they die in workhouse, hospital, or prison.
Had the Buntings been in a class lower than their own, had they
belonged to the great company of human beings technically known to
so many of us as the poor, there would have been friendly neighbours
ready to help them, and the same would have been the case had they
belonged to the class of smug, well-meaning, if unimaginative, folk
whom they had spent so much of their lives in serving.
There was only one person in the world who might possibly be brought
to help them. That was an aunt of Bunting's first wife. With this
woman, the widow of a man who had been well-to-do, lived Daisy,
Bunting's only child by his first wife, and during the last long two
days he had been trying
to make up his mind to write to the old lady,
and that though he suspected that she would almost certainly retort
with a cruel, sharp rebuff.
As to their few acquaintances, former fellow-servants, and so on,
they had gradually fallen out of touch with them. There was but
one friend who often came to see them in their deep trouble. This
was a young fellow named Chandler, under whose grandfather
had been footman
years and years ago. Joe Chandler had never gone
into service; he was attached to the police; in fact not to put too
fine a point upon it, young Chandler was a detective.
When they had first taken the house which had brought them, so they
both thought, such bad luck, Bunting had encouraged the young chap
to come often, for his tales were well worth listening to--quite
exciting at times. But now poor Bunting didn't want to hear that
sort of stories--stories of people being cleverly "nabbed," or
stupidly allowed to escape the fate they always, from Chandler's
point of view, richly
But Joe still came very faithfully
once or twice a week, so timing
his calls that neither host nor hostess
need press food upon him
--nay, more, he had done that which showed him to have a good and
feeling heart. He had offered his father's old acquaintance
and Bunting, at last, had taken 30s. Very little of that money
now remained: Bunting still could jingle
a few coppers in his pocket;
and Mrs. Bunting had 2s. 9d.; that and the rent they would have to
pay in five weeks, was all they had left. Everything of the light,
portable sort that would fetch money had been sold. Mrs. Bunting
had a fiercehorror
of the pawnshop. She had never put her feet in
such a place, and she declared she never would--she would rather
But she had said nothing when there had occurred the gradual
disappearance of various little possessions she knew that Bunting
of the old-fashioned
gold watch-chain which had been
given to him after the death of his first master, a master he had
and kindly through a long and terrible illness.
There had also vanished a twisted gold tie-pin, and a large mourning
ring, both gifts of former employers.
When people are living near that deep pit which divides the secure
from the insecure--when they see themselves creeping closer and
closer to its dread edge--they are apt, however loquacious by
nature, to fall into long silences. Bunting had always been a
talker, but now he talked no more. Neither did Mrs. Bunting, but
then she had always been a silent woman, and that was perhaps one
reason why Bunting had felt drawn to her from the very first moment
he had seen her.
It had fallen out in this way. A lady had just engaged him as
butler, and he had been shown, by the man whose place he was to
take, into the dining-room. There, to use his own expression, he
had discovered Ellen Green, carefully pouring out the glass of port
wine which her then mistress
always drank at 11.30 every morning.
And as he, the new butler, had seen her engaged in this task, as he
had watched her carefully stopper the decanter and put it back into
the old wine-cooler, he had said to himself, "That is the woman for
But now her stillness, her--her dumbness, had got on the
unfortunate man's nerves. He no longer felt like going into the
various little shops, close by, patronised by him in more prosperous
days, and Mrs. Bunting also went afield to make the slender
which still had to be made every day or two, if they were to be
saved from actually
starving to death.
Suddenly, across the stillness
of the dark November evening there
came the muffled sounds of hurrying feet and of loud, shrill
outside--boys crying the late afternoon editions of the evening
Bunting turned uneasily
in his chair. The giving up of a daily
paper had been, after his tobacco, his bitterest deprivation. And
the paper was an older habit than the tobacco, for servants are
great readers of newspapers.
As the shouts came through the closed windows and the thick damask
curtains, Bunting felt a sudden sense of mind hunger
fall upon him.
It was a shame--a damned
shame--that he shouldn't know what was
happening in the world outside! Only criminals are kept from hearing
news of what is going on beyond their prison walls. And those
shouts, those hoarse, sharp cries must portend that something really
exciting had happened, something warranted to make a man forget for
the moment his own intimate, gnawing troubles.
He got up, and going towards the nearest window strained his ears to
listen. There fell on them, emerging now and again from the confused
babel of hoarse
shouts, the one clear word "Murder!"
Slowly Bunting's brain pieced the loud, indistinct cries into some
sort of connected order. Yes, that was it--"Horrible Murder!
Murder at St. Pancras!" Bunting remembered vaguely
which had been committed near St. Pancras--that of an old lady by
her servant-maid. It had happened a great many years ago, but was
remembered, as of special and natural interest, among
the class to which he had belonged.
The newsboys--for there were more than one of them, a rather unusual
thing in the Marylebone Road--were coming nearer and nearer; now
they had adopted another cry, but he could not quite catch what they
were crying. They were still shouting hoarsely, excitedly, but he
could only hear a word or two now and then. Suddenly "The Avenger!
The Avenger at his work again!" broke on his ear.
During the last fortnight
four very curious and brutal
been committed in London and within a comparatively
The first had aroused no special interest--even the second had only
been awarded, in the paper Bunting was still then taking
in, quite a
Then had come the third--and with that a wave of keen excitement,
for pinned to the dress of the victim--a drunken
found a three-cornered piece of paper, on which was written, in red
ink, and in printed characters, the words,
It was then realised, not only by those whose business it is to
investigate such terrible happenings, but also by the vast world
of men and women who take an intelligent
interest in such sinister
mysteries, that the same miscreant had committed all three crimes;
and before that extraordinary
fact had had time to soak well into
the public mind there took place yet another murder, and again the
murderer had been to special pains to make it clear that some
obscure and terrible lust for vengeance
was talking of The Avenger and his crimes! Even the
man who left their ha'porth of milk at the door each morning had
spoken to Bunting about them that very day.
Bunting came back to the fire and looked down at his wife with mild
excitement. Then, seeing
her pale, apathetic face, her look of
absorption, a wave of irritation
swept through him.
He felt he could have shaken
Ellen had hardly taken the trouble to listen when he, Bunting, had
come back to bed that morning, and told her what the milkman had
said. In fact, she had been quite nasty about it, intimating that
she didn't like hearing
about such horrid
It was a curious fact that though Mrs. Bunting enjoyed tales of
pathos and sentiment, and would listen with frigid amusement
the details of a breach
of promise action, she shrank
of immorality or of physical
violence. In the old, happy days,
when they could afford to buy a paper, aye, and more than one paper
daily, Bunting had often had to choke down his interest in some
exciting "case" or "mystery" which was affording him pleasant mental
relaxation, because any allusion
to it sharply
But now he was at once too dull and too miserable
to care how she
Walking away from the window he took a slow, uncertain
the door; when there he turned half round, and there came over his
close-shaven, round face the rather sly, pleading look with which
a child about to do something naughty
glances at its parent.
But Mrs. Bunting remained quite still; her thin, narrow shoulders
just showed above the back of the chair on which she was sitting,
bolt upright, staring before her as if into vacancy.
Bunting turned round, opened the door, and quickly he went out into
the dark hall--they had given up lighting
the gas there some time
ago--and opened the front door.
Walking down the small flagged path outside, he flung open the iron
gate which gave on to the damp pavement. But there he hesitated.
The coppers in his pocket seemed to have shrunk in number, and he
remembered ruefully how far Ellen could make even four pennies go.
Then a boy ran up to him with a sheaf of evening papers, and Bunting,
tempted--fell. "Give me a Sun," he said roughly, "Sun
But the boy, scarcely stopping to take breath, shook his head. "Only
penny papers left," he gasped. "What'll yer 'ave, sir?"
With an eagerness
which was mingled with shame, Bunting drew a penny
out of his pocket and took a paper--it was the Evening Standard--
from the boy's hand.
Then, very slowly, he shut the gate and walked back through the raw,
cold air, up the flagged path, shivering yet full of eager, joyful
Thanks to that penny he had just spent so recklessly he would pass
a happy hour, taken, for once, out of his anxious, despondent,
miserable self. It irritated him shrewdly to know that these moments
from carking care would not be shared with his poor wife,
with careworn, troubled Ellen.
A hot wave of unease, almost of remorse, swept over Bunting. Ellen
would never have spent that penny on herself--he knew that well
enough--and if it hadn't been so cold, so foggy, so--so drizzly,