The stranger

“WHERE do you live?” asked Freyberger when they were on the road.

“We shall pass the place, and I will show you,” replied the other.

They turned to the left towards the village and walked for a moment in
silence.

The stranger, despite his age and apparent infirmity, walked with a
brisk step. Freyberger did not lag behind.

Then this conversation began between them, Freyberger speaking first:

“So you have had a murder here?”

“Is that so?”

“It is so, and I have come down here to arrest the murderer.”

“You are——”

“I am Gustave Freyberger.”

“Indeed!”

“When I was talking to you in the bar, I fancied that some one was
listening to me, and so I told you of my aunt—in Bremen was it? and of
my sister in Düsseldorf.”

Freyberger, as they walked, took side glances at the terrible profile of
his companion rigid as the profile of the Sphinx; at a sign or movement
indicative of guilt he was prepared to act. He was waiting for the
psychological moment.

But the stranger made neither sign nor movement, and they passed through
the little village, past the post office, past the cottage, which serves
as a police station. Then they turned a corner, and a lonely country
road lay before them.

Lonely-looking would, perhaps, be a better term, for the roads about
here are by no means destitute of travellers on a summer’s day.

“You do not live in the village, then?” said Freyberger.

“No,” replied the other, “I live a little way down this road.”

“That is convenient,” said Freyberger, “for if I am not mistaken we are
going to have a storm.”

“So it would seem.”

“We can shelter at your cottage, for you live in a cottage, at least I
fancy you told me so.”

“I live in a cottage, but I am unaware that I mentioned the fact.”

“Ah, it must have been my imagination. It plays one tricks. I am full of
imaginations and fancies to-day. For instance, in the bar a moment ago I
fancied I knew your face.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes. I fancied there was a resemblance between you and an artist named
Müller, no, no, an artist named Kolbecker. Ah! there I am again, my
memory is playing me false. Upon my word, if this goes on I shall resign
my position and my trade, which, after all, is a dirty trade, seeing
that it is the trade of catching murderers and delivering them to the
hangman. KLEIN was the name of the artist, he was a sculptor.”

The other said nothing, his face was still immobile, but a great drop of
sweat was coursing down the side of it.

The clouds were rolling in funereal masses over Reading and spreading
towards the southern sky. A few large drops of rain fell on the dust of
the road and the occasional grumbling of thunder sounded as if from a
vast distance.

The road took a turn upon itself, and there, a hundred yards or so away
in front of them, well set back from the highway and half hidden by a
hedge, lay a cottage.

Freyberger was only waiting now to discover the living place of the man
beside him before arresting him.

They were nearly level with the cottage gate, when, unperceived by
Freyberger, the old man’s left hand stole into the old man’s pocket.

Next moment Freyberger, with a gasping cry and hands outspread, fell
face forward in the dust of the road—sandbagged.

————————————————————————

CHAPTER XL

WHEN he awoke it was with a sensation of pain extending all over his
body. He was lying on the tiled floor of a small room, which was
evidently the kitchen and living room of a labourer’s cottage. A door
wide open showed the glimpse of a garden gone to ruin and overgrown with
a monstrous growth of weeds.

By the door, holding a spade in one hand, stood Klein.

Freyberger tried to move, but failed. His body was absolutely rigid.
From the nape of his neck to his heels ran a board, to which he was
splinted by turn upon turn of rope. He tried to speak—he was gagged.

Klein stood and looked at him.

After the first glance round, Freyberger saw nothing but Klein. He could
scarcely see his withered face in the shadow cast by the doorpost, but
the hand holding the spade stood out awful in its energy and brutality,
lit by the storm-light illuminating the doorway.

Then the old man, assured that his victim was awake and in full
possession of his senses, began to speak in pantomime.

He pointed to his own lips and to the barred front door as if to
indicate secrecy and the fact that the terrible things about to take
place would never be known to the world.

Freyberger was not deaf, and the old man was not speechless, yet he
never uttered a word, though he chuckled at times, making that sound
which had frozen Leloir’s heart when he had heard it issue from the lips
of Sir Anthony Gyde in the corridor at Throstle Hall.

Then the demon at the doorway began, in pantomime, to dig with his
spade, shovelling up imaginary earth from an imaginary grave; without a
word he went through the postures necessary in dragging a heavy body to
the graveside and flinging it in. Then he spat three times into the
imaginary grave, and closed it in. All this without a word.

Then turning from his victim he went into the garden and began to dig
the real grave.

Freyberger’s eyes travelled about the floor of the room; they lit upon
an object, it was a sandbag. He knew now what had happened to him.
Sandbagged on the road, dragged into this cottage, bound and gagged, he
lay now waiting for the last act in the tragedy—his own burial.

The service for the burial of the dead would not be required over his
grave, for, that Klein would bury him alive, he felt certain.

He lay listening to the patter of the rain on the leaves in the garden
and the sound of the spade.

Incessant, rhythmical, it seemed wielded by a giant.

————————————————————————

CHAPTER XLI

THAT night in London the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department
sat in his office. It required ten minutes to midnight, and he had just
laid down his pen after several hours’ hard work over official
correspondence and reports.

The Goldberg case was still exercising the public mind, and several
editors were asking the world from editorial easy chairs what the police
were paid for.

The night was warm, and through the open window came vague and fugitive
sounds from the city that never sleeps; voices, the bells of passing
hansoms and the clop, clop of the horses’ hoofs, the hum of distant
traffic.

A little draught of wind suddenly stirred the papers on the desk before
him; he turned, the door was open, and Freyberger stood before him,
pale, haggard and bearing a black bag in his hand. Behind Freyberger
stood a stranger.

“I knocked, sir,” said Freyberger.

“Ah! I was thinking. I suppose I did not hear you. Sit down—this
gentleman——?”

“This gentleman’s name is Hellier, sir,” replied Freyberger. “I have
ventured to bring him with me as he has assisted me in clearing up the
Gyde case.”

“Ah! what’s that you say?”

“The Gyde case, sir. Also he has saved my life to-day—”

“Sit down, sit down,” said the chief, indicating chairs. “This is good,
if it is as you say. I want details; but first tell me, is Sir Anthony
Gyde alive?”

“No, sir, he was murdered in the Cottage on the Fells.”

“Good God! by whom?”

“Klein.”

“Is Klein alive?”

“No, sir, he is dead. He died to-day, and his body lies in the mortuary
at Reading. Let me say at once, and with the humility of a man who has
just escaped a terrible death, that all my assumptions were absolutely
correct. Klein, _alias_ Kolbecker, _alias_ Müller, was the author of the
Lefarge tragedy, the Gyde tragedy and all the subsidiary murders,
concluding with the murder of Bronson yesterday. Look at this.”

He produced a black notebook from his pocket. The chief examined the
book; it was a volume of some hundred pages or so, every page covered
with close writing.

“This book,” said Freyberger, taking back the volume, “contains the life
history of the greatest criminal who ever lived. It is the diary of
Ludwig Spahn, _alias_ Müller, _alias_ Kolbecker, _alias_ Klein. I
mastered it in the train to-night, and from it I will sketch you the
story of which the murder of Sir Anthony Gyde is but a chapter.

“Spahn was born in Munich, sixty-five years ago.”

“Sixty-five?”

“Yes, sir. He was an old man.”

“But the man in the photograph was a man of middle age.”

“Yes, sir. He seemed of middle age, but I will explain the matter as I
go on. Spahn, at seventeen, left the business to which he was
apprenticed and went to Rome to study art, or, to speak more correctly,
to teach it, for this strange genius had ideals of his own, and very
soon he had a little following, a cult. Vicious to the core, he never
could keep money. He was always in debt. One day he murdered a banker,
was caught red-handed, sentenced to death and allowed to escape the
extreme penalty by that infernal law which allows murderers to escape
unexterminated. He was condemned to imprisonment for life and released
after twenty-five years.

“He was fifty when he left prison, full of hatred towards society and a
determination to be revenged.

“He went to Paris.

“The art which was born with him remained with him, and the love of
pleasure.

“He refused to be old, and, with the aid of the art of the chemist and
the maker-up, he appeared to the world as a man at least twenty years
younger than he was.

“He lived for years in Paris in the Latin Quarter, a notoriously vicious
character, yet forgiven for the sake of his genius. His sculptures were
marvellous, but his vice and laziness were to match, so he made little
profit of his art and did little work.

“His hatred of the rich and well-to-do amounted to a monomania, and he
was always searching around for some means by which he might avenge
himself upon them.

“To the man who hates a class, an individual of that class will serve as
a butt for his revenge.

“One day, walking along a street in Paris, he saw coming towards him
what seemed a little old man wearing a pinafore. It was a child wearing
a mask.

“The occurrence gave him food for thought. ‘If,’ said he to himself, ‘a
man who makes these paper masks for five sous a dozen, can produce an
even momentary illusion, what could not a genius do in the same
direction were he to give all his mind to the matter?’

“He played with the subject in his mind.

“‘If I wanted to make the mask of a man,’ thought he, ‘a mask that would
deceive everybody by its resemblance to the flesh, how would I proceed?

“‘I would first have to procure a cast of his face, or execute a bust of
him exactly identical with the reality. Only very slightly larger.

“‘I would then rub that face of marble with a very fine powder, and I
would apply a coating of the finest caoutchouc, over that a layer of
stiffening varnish.

“‘I would remove the whole, and paint the interior of the caoutchouc
with the flesh tints, thus giving the true appearance of life, _for the
human face is painted_ from the inside.

“‘I would then back the thing with a thicker layer of rubber and remove
the stiffening varnish from the outside.

“‘If my art did not fail me, I would now have a facsimile of my friend
or my enemy’s face. Could I wear it and masquerade as him? Only on two
conditions (1) that I could make the inside of the mask a perfect mould
of my own face (2) that he was a man, a man of my own height and a man
who wore glasses and a beard, for the joining at the eyes and at the
neck would present an insuperable difficulty were I to imitate a
clean-shaven man who did not wear glasses.’

“He brooded over the thing.

“One day he fell in with M. Lefarge, a rich jeweller, who was at times a
frequenter of the Latin Quarter, and the whole diabolical plan of the
Lefarge case was conceived in a flash.

“The plan of robbing and murdering a rich man in such a manner that the
world would fancy that the rich man was the assassin, not the victim.

“He made a bust of Lefarge, from the bust he made Lefarge’s face.
Lefarge wore a beard and glasses. The making of the exterior of the mask
was a bagatelle; the real difficulty was the interior, which had to be a
perfect adaptation to his own features, but he did it.

“Whilst this was going on, he made a most profound study of Lefarge
himself: his walk, his manner, his voice, his handwriting.

“He was, in fact, preparing to be Lefarge’s understudy for an hour or
two upon the stage of life.

“For three hours every day, during a space of four months, he wore the
mask, conversing with himself, laughing and talking before a
looking-glass, so that the thing might gain the lines and wrinkles of
life.

“One day he asked Lefarge to call upon him.

“Lefarge called. Muller murdered him, and stripped him of his clothes
and decapitated him.

“Then he dressed the body in his own clothes, put on the clothes of his
victim, put on his face, put on his hat, his manner, his walk and his
voice.

“Then, with his victim’s head in a black bag, he ran down the stairs,
got into his victim’s carriage, drove home, collected a hundred thousand
pounds’ worth of jewels, drove to the corner of the Rue d’Amsterdam and
disappeared.

“But Nemesis followed him. The murder of Lefarge had wakened up the lust
for killing that lay like a spectre in the darkness of his soul. He
killed three people to satiate this madness, as we have seen. Then he
was at peace.

“Six years passed. Then, in Vienna, he met Sir Anthony Gyde.

“He was living in Vienna under the name of Klein; living extravagantly
on the proceeds of the Lefarge business. He belonged to a very vicious
circle, amidst whom Gyde became implicated, and he was in low water
financially.

“Klein looked at Gyde, and saw that here was another chance of playing
the old comedy of masks and faces. For Gyde’s face and figure lent
themselves entirely to the trick.

“He obtained a hold over Gyde and blackmailed him to a considerable
amount, but this did not satisfy him.

“His hatred of the rich and well-to-do and respected had to be satiated.

“He made a bust of Gyde and his face, he studied him profoundly. He
could reproduce his handwriting with absolute and marvellous precision,
and his voice.

“The bust was made in London; he took rooms in Howland Street, broke up
the bust and came to Cumberland.

“Took the Cottage on the Fells and awaited the coming of Sir Anthony.

“Sir Anthony called upon him, as we have seen.

“Klein stunned him with a sandbag, stripped him and decapitated him;
dipped the head in a solution of chlorine which shrunk the skin and
preserved it, placed the head in a black leather bag, dressed himself in
his victim’s clothes, assumed his face and personality, dressed his
victim in his own clothes and departed.

“We know the rest. But one or two points may be made clearer.

“On his arrival in London the supposed Gyde went to his bedroom. There
was one weak point about the mask. Its prolonged use caused insufferable
torment to the wearer, on account of the skin irritation it caused.

“He had removed the mask for a moment when Leloir, who had left the
room, returned, and saw reflected in a looking-glass his master removing
his own face. Klein, hearing the footstep of Leloir, turned.

“The expression on Klein’s face at that moment is preserved for us in
the retinal photograph taken from the eye of the valet, who, beholding
this monstrosity, gave vent to the awful cry heard by the secretary and
fell dead.

“Klein, in his hurry and the confusion caused by this incident,
collected all the jewellery he could find. Having no immediate plan he
thought it safest to leave his victim’s head behind him, trusting it
would not be discovered for some time. He passed the night at Howland
Street, going there disguised as Gyde. Next morning, early, under the
same disguise, he withdrew the jewels at the bank and cashed the cheque
at the jewellers. It was a cheque he had found in the pocket of his
victim, and he cashed it, not so much for the money as to foul his
traces and prove to the police, by extra evidence, the existence of
Gyde.

“Then he destroyed the mask and became Klein again, taking the house in
St Ann’s Road, and moving in there with a few sticks of furniture
hastily bought.

“Mr Goldberg’s murder followed.

“Then this gentleman, Mr Hellier, saw him and followed him. And Klein
suspected that he was at last suspected.

“He determined to disguise himself. How? Simply by becoming his own age.

“He flung away all artifice, and became the old man he was. The removal
of his false teeth alone gave him twenty years of age.

“He took the cottage at Sonning, determining to lie close. But the
murder instinct was too strong for him, and he killed Bronson.”

Then Freyberger told his own story.

“I was lying in the cottage listening to this monster digging my grave,
when, suddenly, I heard him fall crash amidst the weeds. I fainted, I
believe. Mr Hellier will tell you the rest.”

“I had a reason for mixing myself up in this affair,” said Hellier;
“and, reading of the murder of Bronson I came down to Sonning to make
inquiries. I asked, had anyone come to live there lately? and I was told
by a woman that a gentleman had taken a cottage on the Henley Road.
Fortunately, she did not say an old gentleman, or I should not have gone
there.

“I went to the cottage, knocked, could get no answer, and went round the
backway.

“In the back garden, by a newly-dug grave, I found a man lying, with a
spade clutched in his hand; he was dead. I found Mr Freyberger bound in
the cottage, and I released him.”

“Klein must have dropped dead then?” said the chief.

“Yes,” replied Freyberger. “He died of heart-disease, accelerated by the
excitement of digging my grave.”

“One last question,” said the Chief, “How about those initials tattooed
on the body of Gyde?”

“They were tattooed after death,” replied Freyberger, “and as a blind.
He had the art of tattooing _post mortem_ and, strangely enough, it was
this piece of cleverness that connected the cases in my mind and gave us
our man.”

————–

As Hellier left the Yard that night, somebody, who had followed him,
touched him upon his shoulder. It was Freyberger.

“I want to tell you,” he said, “just this. If you hadn’t mixed up in the
affair and scented out those subsidiary murders I wouldn’t have caught
Klein.”

“You mean,” said Hellier, laughing, “Klein would not have caught you.”

“Yes, that is the better way of putting it, for Klein was the real hero
of this business; and if all criminals were made like Klein—”

“Why, then,” said Hellier, “society would be lost, unless all detectives
were made like Freyberger.”

————————————————————————

CHAPTER XLII

NEXT evening, at nine o’clock, Hellier called at the Langham.

Mademoiselle Lefarge, who had come to England in response to a telegram,
was waiting for him.

“Well?” she asked, as she held both of his hands in hers.

“It is done,” said Hellier. “To-morrow your father’s name will be
cleared in the sight of all men. You have suffered and waited a long,
long time, but yesterday you were avenged.”

————–

Throstle Hall, up in Cumberland, still lies empty, waiting a tenant, for
Sir Anthony’s heir, a distant cousin, has no fancy for the place.

And men walk at night on the Blencarn road in couples, if they have to
walk there at all, for fear of the ghost of Sir Anthony Gyde, which
waits, so the legend runs, at the gate of the field leading to the
Cottage on the Fells.

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