Number 36 proved to be such a villa, and Inspector Dunbar contemplated it from a distance, thoughtfully. As he stood by the door of the public house, gazing across the street, a tired looking woman, lean and anxious-eyed, a poor, dried up bean-pod of a woman, appeared from the door of number 36, carrying a basket. She walked along in the direction of the neighboring highroad, and Dunbar casually followed her.
For some ten minutes he studied her activities, noting that she went from shop to shop until her basket was laden with provisions of all sorts. When she entered a wine-and-spirit merchant’s, the detective entered close behind her, for the place was also a post-office. Whilst he purchased a penny stamp and fumbled in his pocket for an imaginary letter, he observed, with interest, that the woman had purchased, and was loading into the hospitable basket, a bottle of whisky, a bottle of rum, and a bottle of gin.
He left the shop ahead of her, sure, now, of his ground, always provided that the woman proved to be Mrs. Brian. Dunbar walked along Forth Street slowly enough to enable the woman to overtake him. At the door of number 36, he glanced up at the number, questioningly, and turned in the gate as she was about to enter.
He raised his hat.
“Have I the pleasure of addressing Mrs. Brian?”
Momentarily, a hard look came into the tired eyes, but Dunbar’s gentleness of manner and voice, together with the kindly expression upon his face, turned the scales favorably.
“I am Mrs. Brian,” she said; “yes. Did you want to see me?”
“On a matter of some importance. May I come in?”
She nodded and led the way into the house; the door was not closed.
In a living-room whereon was written a pathetic history—a history of decline from easy circumstance and respectability to poverty and utter disregard of appearances—she confronted him, setting down her basket on a table from which the remains of a fish breakfast were not yet removed.
“Is your husband in?” inquired Dunbar with a subtle change of manner.
“He’s lying down.”
The hard look was creeping again into the woman’s eyes.
“Will you please awake him, and tell him that I have called in regard to his license?”
He thrust a card into her hand:—
C. I. D.
New Scotland yard. S. W.
THE MAN IN BLACK
Mrs. Brian started back, with a wild look, a trapped look, in her eyes.
“What’s he done?” she inquired. “What’s he done? Tom’s not done anything!”
“Be good enough to waken him,” persisted the inspector. “I wish to speak to him.”
Mrs. Brian walked slowly from the room and could be heard entering one further along the passage. An angry snarling, suggesting that of a wild animal disturbed in its lair, proclaimed the arousing of Taximan Thomas Brian. A thick voice inquired, brutally, why the sanguinary hell he (Mr. Brian) had had his bloodstained slumbers disturbed in this gory manner and who was the vermilion blighter responsible.