Freyberger bowed

IT was May 9, the day after that on which Mr Davis, away up in
Cumberland, had seen what he had seen upon the road to Blencarn.

It had been a glorious day, but the beauty of the weather did not appeal
to Freyberger.

The Gyde case had hit him badly; after all his researches and
calculations, after all the energy he had spent upon it, it had slipped
away and left him.

He had proved so much, yet he had done so little.

That is perhaps the most exasperating thing about detective work. You
have your case complete; the whole thing is reasoned out, plotted and
planned; you have built round your man a complete structure, a prison
that will hold him, you only want one little brick of evidence to
complete it; you find your brick, put it in its place, and then open the
door of your structure expecting to find your man inside and to lead him
out to justice.

He is gone.

The warrant for his arrest is in your pocket; he has been shadowed for
days past by your subordinates; he lodged last night at such and such a
place and was shaved this morning by such and such a barber; he was
having luncheon an hour ago at such and such a café; your subordinate
tells you he is still there. You go to find him, and he is gone.

He has scented arrest.

Again, you may have your structure of evidence complete only for the one
little brick.

That brick is nowhere to be found. There are a dozen murderers known to
the police, a dozen assassins walking the pavements of London convicted
in the eyes of justice, yet they are immune. Their tombs are already
constructed, but are incomplete, wanting just one, or maybe two, little
bricks.

In the words of the police, “No jury would convict.”

In the case of Klein it was different. The case was complete against him
of having been a prime mover in the Gyde and Lefarge affairs. Once
safely lodged in gaol, Freyberger felt that the whole truth would be
extracted from him. What a case it would be! What a triumph for the man
who had worked in it and completed it single-handed. Whatever Klein’s
diabolical methods might be, Freyberger was certain of one thing—that
their extraordinary nature would astonish Europe.

All that had to be done now was to capture this man—and he had vanished.

It will be remembered that Freyberger had objected strongly to the
publication of Klein’s photograph.

Even still he upheld this objection, and the chief had not pressed the
matter, having much respect for the opinion of his subordinate. But as
week followed week, without sign or movement on the part of the man they
were after, the patience of the chief began to give.

On the evening of May 9 it snapped.

“We have given him now a very considerable time,” he said, during a
conversation with his subordinate. “We have given him a good long rope
to hang himself with.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the other, “and I know it has been by my advice.”

“Well, what is your advice now?”

“To give him a little more. Who knows, he may be, even at this moment,
making the noose for his own neck.”

“I will give him three days more.”

“Three days?”

“If he does not show himself in that time his portrait and description
will be published broadcast. We have waited too long.”

“I am sorry you think that, sir?”

“Oh, I am not casting any reflection on your judgement. I believe with
you that this man will efface himself, or try to efface himself, fully,
when he sees his portrait in every news-sheet, but there is the chance
that he will fail. Besides, Freyberger, I am not sure that the course we
have already taken is one absolutely moral.”

“How so, sir?”

“We have refrained from alarming this man.”

“Yes.”

“By doing so we have, well, to put it plainly, given him the incentive
to commit another murder.”

“That is what I have been waiting for, sir, and I have no qualms at all
in the matter. If this man lives, it is inevitable that he must murder.
Far better is it that he should commit one more crime and be taken, than
that he should escape now, take warning that he is watched, amend his
methods and enter on a new campaign of infamy.

“Besides, it is not at all inevitable that he should commit another
murder. An attempt is quite sufficient. His next victim may be more
fortunate than Mr Goldberg. His next victim may turn the tables upon
him. Who knows? He may fall upon a sheep and find that he has tackled a
wolf.”

The chief smiled.

“Look at his past,” he replied. “Old men, women and children were his
victims.”

“That is true, but old men sometimes go armed, and women are sometimes
heroic, and there is always the chance of a third person coming on the
scene.”

“If,” said the other, “in three days from now the man is not arrested I
will do what I have said.”

Freyberger bowed, and the interview terminated.

He left the Yard with great depression at his heart. Three days more. It
was against all probability that anything would happen during the next
three days, unless Providence, watching from above, chose to bring
matters to a conclusion.

Freyberger felt, for the first time in his life, discouraged; this
discouragement remained with him all night and the next day, which he
had to spend at the Central Criminal Court, in connexion with a bank
forgery case.

On leaving the Courts very late he repaired to his own rooms, only to
find a telegram from the chief desiring his immediate attendance at the
Yard.

A QUARTER of an hour later he was standing in the presence of his
superior.

“Good evening, Freyberger,” said the chief.

“Good evening, sir.”

“There is an express to Birmingham from Paddington at a quarter past
midnight.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want you to catch it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The train stops at Reading.”

“So I believe, sir.”

“You must get out at Reading and spend the night there. I want you early
on the spot to-morrow morning. A murder has been committed.”

“At Reading?”

“No, at Sonning.”

“The village of Sonning-on-Thames?”

“Precisely. Do you know it?”

“Slightly. I have in fact—”

“Yes?”

“Well, it is a pleasure resort, a place where young couples—”

“Precisely—where a young man might take a young woman.”

Freyberger smiled discreetly.

“Well,” continued the chief, “I am sending you down there hoping you may
meet some one more interesting than a girl.”

“And who may that be, sir?” asked Freyberger, a sudden glitter coming
into his eye.

“Klein.”

“Ah!”

“Müller, Kolbecker—call him what you will.”

“So!”

“You do not seem as jubilant as one might expect.”

“I am not jubilant, sir; I would swear not to laugh again until I have
this man by the shoulder, only the oath would be unnecessary. I am not
jubilant, but I am glad. May I have the details of this crime?”

“A man named Bronson, a farm-labourer, fifty years of age, has been
found stabbed to death in a field at Sonning.”

“Stabbed!”

“Stabbed; there was no apparent motive for the crime, and the body was
hacked as if by a maniac.”

“That is he!” said Freyberger.

“I suspect so. The only thing that makes me feel doubtful is the use of
the knife. A strangler once a strangler always.”

“He is frightened,” said Freyberger. “He must assuage his passion for
murder, and he has changed his method.”

“Do you think you will find him in the neighbourhood of Sonning?”

“I think it probable.”

“Probable?”

“Yes.”

“We have a few minutes to spare before you need start to catch your
train,” said the chief, who always liked to get at Freyberger’s line of
reasoning. “So you can just tell me why you think it probable. I would
have put it down only as possible.”

“In this way, sir. Why has this murder (if it is one of Klein’s), why
has it taken place at Sonning rather than anywhere else? Sonning is a
pleasant place enough to spend a day, it would be pleasant enough to
spend a week there, but that fact is not an inducement to a murderer. I
believe this man commits his crimes within easy reach of some den of
his. We know from the house-agent that a man, similar to him, took a
house in St Ann’s Road. We have seen that he only furnished one room,
and had no servant or help of any sort. He does not want to be spied on.

“We may suppose he left London, and for some reason or another took
probably a cottage near Sonning, just as he took a cottage on the Fells
of Cumberland.”

“Yes, we may suppose that.”

“Well—when was this murder committed—?”

“Yesterday morning.”

“Then it is probable he is still in the neighbourhood. Leaving aside the
assumption that this murder was a sudden affair, the impulse of a
moment, and that he had not made plans for leaving Sonning, there is the
fact that a murderer of this type has a tendency to cling to the
neighbourhood of his crime. Well, we will see. There is one thing I
would like to have before I start.”

“What is that?”

“The sheath of the knife I found at St Ann’s Road.”

“You shall have it.”

The chief rang, and ordered the officer who answered the summons to
bring the article in question, and Freyberger, placing it in his pocket,
departed.

HE caught the Birmingham express that leaves Paddington at 12.15, and
arrived at Reading nine minutes after one.

Here he took a bed at the Vastern Hotel, and went to sleep.

At eight o’clock the next morning he was in consultation with the Chief
of the Berkshire Constabulary.

“It is a most extraordinary case,” said that gentleman. “Of course, it
can be nothing else but the work of a lunatic. The body was found at
three o’clock yesterday in a turnip field, close to the river. The man
had no enemies, a simple, inoffensive creature, with a wife and five
children. Our surgeon says that the murder must have taken place some
time early in the morning. The throat was cut from ear to ear, most
extraordinary case—mutilated too, but you will see the body for
yourself.”

“Have you the knife?”

“Yes.”

“May I see it?”

“By all means.”

The chief constable opened a drawer and produced something wrapped up in
brown paper.

He unwrapped the paper and produced a savage-looking knife with a green
shagreen handle.

“It is a case knife,” said the chief constable. “The case will be
perhaps a clue when we come upon it.”

“I believe I have it in my pocket,” said Freyberger, and he produced the
sheath he had found in the house in St Ann’s Road.

The chief constable took the sheath and fitted the knife into it.

It fitted exactly.

“But how did you get it?” asked the chief constable in considerable
surprise. “We found the knife in the body; it was fixed by such a
ferocious blow between the ribs that the murderer could not extricate
it. How did you come upon the sheath? You came from London only last
night; did you find it here or in London?”

“I have not time to tell you, sir, the whole history of the case. I
found that sheath more than a month ago in a house in London. If that
knife could speak, its tale would, perhaps, turn your hair grey with
horror. We must act at once, or the game will escape us. We are after a
person who is more than a man, a person infinitely more in the shape of
a devil, a person who can change his form. I tell you, I would sooner
tackle a tiger than this man; yet I am going to tackle him and take him,
too. Have you a map of Sonning?”

The chief constable produced an Ordnance map.

“This,” said he, “is the field where the murder was committed.”

He placed his finger on the spot.

“Is there a pathway across the field?”

“Yes, here between these two roads.”

“There is a cottage here,” said Freyberger, pointing to a spot so marked
at the angle where the path met the road.

“Yes, Bronson’s cottage. He was murdered a hundred yards away from his
home. There is a great heap of refuse in the middle of the field, and
the body lay behind it and so was not discovered for some hours. There
are no back windows to the cottage and no back door.”

“Are there any strangers lodging at Sonning?”

“Yes, a few, but no one at all of a suspicious nature, or likely to have
anything to do with the crime.”

“I imagine,” said Freyberger, “that the murderer is still in the
neighbourhood of Sonning. Of course, I may be wrong, still I intend to
go there and make some observations. I would prefer to go alone; you are
known in the neighbourhood and I am not.”

“How shall you go?”

“I—Oh, I shall go as if I were going for pleasure, not business. I shall
hire a boat and go by river.”

“Have you any arms?”

“No; if I had a pistol, and if I were so fortunate as to find my man, I
might be unfortunate enough to shoot him. Pistols have a habit of going
off in struggles. Besides, I have a nervous horror of them.”

“I remember you arrested that man in Fashion Street, and he was a pretty
tough customer.”

“I have met others worse, but I have never had fire-arms about me. A
walking-stick is the only weapon I ever carry.”

“You have lots of pluck.”

“Lots, but I tell you, all the same, this man I am after now almost
frightens me. No matter, what is, is, and what will be, will be. Can you
tell me where I can get a butterfly net?”

“What do you want that for?”

“To catch butterflies; this warm weather has brought them out in flocks.
I want, also, a flannel coat, such as boating people wear; one does not
go butterfly-hunting in a tall hat.”

“I see; come down town and I will rig you out; but, first, shall we go
to the mortuary?”

“Yes,” replied Freyberger. “Before meeting the murderer I should like to
see the victim.”

They repaired to the mortuary, and there the detective inspected the
body of the unfortunate Bronson.

“It is a most extraordinary case,” said the chief constable. “He was a
most inoffensive creature; he had never, to any man’s knowledge, made an
enemy. He had committed no fault.”

“I beg your pardon, but I imagine he had.”

“How?”

“He had committed the fault of being alive. The man we are after is a
fault-finder when the fit seizes him. A temporary lunacy. Some periodic
lunatics have objections. I knew one who, perfectly sane on other
points, flew into a paroxysm of rage when a musk-melon was brought
within his purview. He objected to musk-melons because they were round.

“He wanted them square. God Almighty, however, preferred that they
should be round. Hence the trouble.

“Another quarrelled with grey cats when he met them, simply because they
were grey. He quarrelled with them by covering them with paraffin and
setting them on fire.

“The man who did this quarrelled with the thing that lies here because
it was alive. He has remedied the defect.”

He had indeed.

It is needful only to say that the body exhibited twenty wounds, each in
itself sufficient to have caused death.

But the master wound was in the throat. It was evidently the first
given. The rest were needless, and the result of maniacal fury on the
part of the murderer.

They left the place and went to a clothier’s, where Freyberger bought a
mulberry-coloured blazer and a straw hat with a striped ribbon.

Having purchased a butterfly net he returned to the hotel and dressed.
When his toilet was complete, he looked at himself in a glass and felt
satisfied.

He looked, in fact, like a shopboy whose taste for entomology had
devoured his taste in dress.

Smug and plump, you never would have suspected this shopboy or café
waiter out for a holiday, to be a detective destined to European fame. A
chilly-blooded calculator, a profound thinker, with an intimate
knowledge of all the most terrible abysses of crime. A man merciless and
fearless as a sword.

An hour later, at the boat-slip just above the bridge, Freyberger stood
bargaining for a boat.

It was a lovely day, soft and warm with a cloudless sky.

He was not a very good oarsman, but good enough to scull a boat safely
on a smooth river. After he had passed the bridge and East’s boat-slip,
he rested on his oars for a minute.

“If I had not questioned her imagination,” he said to himself, “that man
Hellier would not have remembered those other crimes, and I would not
have come near the bull’s-eye like this. How terribly right she was. She
divined this devil, she knew his construction, his capacity for murder
without a motive. She is an innocent woman, yet she knew this demon as
well as if she had constructed him—sub-consciously. Ah, the
sub-consciousness of women, what does it not hide? A woman who loves is
a terrible thing, more keen-scented than a hound, more dangerous than a
tiger.

“My friend, Klein, if I miss you here it will not be the fault of
Mademoiselle Lefarge. If I miss you here, I shall find you again, but if
I find you here, I will be the means of saving the lives of perhaps two
more men, perhaps three.”

He resumed his sculls.

The warm weather had brought boats out as well as butterflies and
butterfly-hunters, girls in summer dresses and men in flannels, who
little dreamt that tragedy was passing them in the form of the little
man in the mulberry-coloured coat.

At Sonning Lock he managed to get through without drowning himself or
upsetting his boat. It was the first time he had negotiated a lock, and
he was not sorry when his cockle-shell was safely moored to the
landing-stage of the White Hart Hotel.

There were several people in the gardens, men in flannels and girls in
boating costumes, seated in the arbours.

He passed them and entered the hotel by the backway.

There was no one in the hall, and he took a cane-bottomed easy chair by
the bar window, put his butterfly net in a corner and called for a stone
ginger-beer.

He intended to make a thorough examination of Sonning, and his plan
would be very much simplified by the fact that he could eliminate all
residents, all people who kept servants. What he was looking for was a
man living in a cottage alone.

“Had good sport?” asked the young lady who served him, speaking in a
perfunctory manner and twisting a hairpin straight that had somehow got
loose, whilst she gazed over Freyberger’s head at the sunlit garden as
if she were addressing some one there.

“Oh, the butterfly net?” said he, “it’s not mine. I brought it down for
a friend, he promised to meet me here, a Mr Rogers—you haven’t seen
anything of him, I suppose?”

“What was he like?” asked the lady behind the bar in a disinterested
voice.

Freyberger drew a word picture of Klein.

She shook her head and settled herself down behind the bar to resume the
perusal of a Trumper’s penny story, a compound of love, murder, arson
and religion wonderfully mixed.

Freyberger sipped his drink. He looked around him admiring the place,
for the hall of the White Hart is one of the prettiest and pleasantest
little hotel halls in the world.

“You have had a murder down here they tell me,” he said, lighting a
cigar.

“Yes,” said the girl behind the bar, “Jim Bronson. I saw him brought by,
covered with a sheet. Hacked about horrid they said he was.” She looked
up like an ogre, and then relapsed into _Tracked by a Stain_ just at the
part where the parson in the dogcart is approaching the murderer, who is
hidden behind the hedge.

“It’s not often you have those sort of occurrences here?” said
Freyberger.

“No,” replied the girl, with her eyes glued to the book.

“Very quiet neighbourhood, as a rule, I should think.”

“Yes.”

“Artists and people come here, I suppose, a good deal.”

“A good deal.”

Just at this moment a shadow darkened the doorway.

An old gentleman had entered the hall of “The White Hart.” He walked,
leaning on a stick.

He was dressed in well-worn grey tweed, and wore a felt hat,
fawn-coloured and rather broad of brim.

He came to the bar and called for an absinthe, and his voice caused
Freyberger to examine him more attentively.

There were many things about this voice, and they all conspired to mark
it out as a distinctive voice. A voice in a million.

It was the voice of an educated man, and it would be very hard to say
what there was in it repellent and chilling, but repellent and chilling
it was.

But it was the face of the newcomer that fascinated Freyberger.

“Where have I seen that face before?” he thought.

And then all at once came the reply born of the question.

“It is the face of Klein grown old.”

For a moment Freyberger was seized by a feeling of physical sickness.
The horrors and perplexities of the Gyde case had culminated in this
last horror and perplexity.

This could not be the man who, eight years ago, had sat for his portrait
to the photographer in Paris; this could not be the man whom Hellier had
followed on account of the likeness to that photograph.

This was an old, old man.

Had he aged then in the course of a few weeks? Had premature decay
fallen upon him, turning him almost at a stroke from a man of forty or
so to a man of seventy and more?

Was he himself mistaken?

No. This was indeed the face of the photograph, the face that had left
its imprint on the retina of Leloir, the same face seen through the veil
of age.

Yet if that were so, one would have to believe that this old man, who
seemed scarcely strong enough to harm a child, had a few hours ago
killed, with brutal ferocity, a fellow being.

As Freyberger sat examining the newcomer, he became aware that the
newcomer was examining him.

The young lady behind the bar had relapsed into _Tracked by a Stain_,
the shopboy with the butterfly net, the old gentleman sipping his
absinthe were of no interest to her.

Freyberger yawned. He felt that he was being observed, and he fancied
that he was being observed with approbation—the approbation with which a
butcher observes a fat sheep.

If this were so, the situation was not without its humour. The humour of
it did not, however, strike him. He was deficient in that sense.

He was on the point of making a remark upon the weather in the hope of
starting a conversation when the old man forestalled him.

You never know a man’s face properly till you talk to him, and
Freyberger, as the conversation proceeded, sat drinking in with his eyes
the details and the _tout ensemble_ of the countenance before him.

What a strange, weary, wicked and altogether mysterious face it was!

One said to oneself, “If blood circulates behind it, that blood must
surely be grey in colour.”

They conversed, and it was wonderful how the old man drew Freyberger
out, and in the course of ten minutes or so, without seeming at all
inquisitive, learned most of his private affairs and much about his
life.

Freyberger told him frankly and freely how he had come to England only a
few weeks ago from Bremen in search of a job as book-keeper, how he had
no friends in England, how he had a maiden aunt living in Cologne, and a
widowed sister living Düsseldorf, how he had wandered down to Sonning in
search of the picturesque.

The girl behind the bar here put down her book to answer a call from the
coffee-room, and they found themselves alone.

“You are fond of nature?” asked the old man, sipping the remains of his
absinthe.

“It is my passion,” replied Freyberger.

“Well, if you will allow me to be your guide, I will conduct you to a
spot the most beautiful in England, quite close here, it lies.”

“Ah!”

“Indeed, yes, the most beautiful in England.”

“I shall be happy.”

“We will walk together,” continued the other. “A cigar, please,” to the
young lady who had just returned.

He held out the box to Freyberger, who took one and thanked him.

That the stranger was Klein, despite his miraculous ageing, he felt
almost certain. But to arrest him there and then for no other reason
than lay in an unconfirmed belief was not to be thought of. To let a
murderer escape is bad, but to arrest a man who, if he is not innocent,
still, has no stains or proof of guilt is worse. It is what the Criminal
Investigation Department calls a “serious mistake,” and Freyberger did
not fancy such a tag to his reputation.

The only other course was to leave the protection of houses and people,
to go with this satanic criminal where no eye could see what happened,
to be attacked by him and to master him.

“Are you ready?” asked the old man.

“I am ready,” replied Freyberger. The girl, who was putting the
cigar-box back on its shelf, turned round.

“If your friend calls, shall I say you will come back?” she asked.

“My friend?” said Freyberger, who saw across the grey face of his awful
companion a shadow pass.

“Your friend, Mr Rogers,” said the girl. “He you brought the butterfly
net for.”

He had distinctly told the stranger that he knew nobody in England, and
that he had come down to Sonning moved by impulse and for no especial
purpose save the search after the picturesque. In his surprise at the
old man’s likeness to the man he was in search of he had quite forgotten
the butterfly net—a serious mistake, as he was about to find out.

Another man might have entered into explanations or attempted to do so.
Freyberger laughed in a brutal and cynical manner.

His whole being seemed to change in one swift moment.

He turned his back on the girl and, without vouchsafing an answer, said
to the stranger, “Come.”

It was almost as if he had said, “I arrest you.”

They passed out together into the garden. The day was clouding over, and
the last rays of sunshine fled as if from their presence as they
followed the rose-bordered path to the little gate opening upon the
road.

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