THE CASE OF THE LAMP THAT WENT OUT
By Augusta Groner
Translated by Grace Isabel Colbron
INTRODUCTION TO JOE MULLER
Joseph Muller, Secret Service detective of the Imperial Austrian police, is one of the great experts in his profession. In personality he differs greatly from other famous detectives. He has neither the impressive authority of Sherlock Holmes, nor the keen brilliancy of Monsieur Lecoq. Muller is a small, slight, plain-looking man, of indefinite age, and of much humbleness of mien. A naturally retiring, modest disposition, and two external causes are the reasons for Muller's humbleness of manner, which is his chief characteristic. One cause is the fact that in early youth a miscarriage of justice gave him several years in prison, an experience which cast a stigma on his name and which made it impossible for him, for many years after, to obtain honest employment. But the world is richer, and safer, by Muller's early misfortune. For it was this experience which threw him back on his own peculiar talents for a livelihood, and drove him into the police force. Had he been able to enter any other profession, his genius might have been stunted to a mere pastime, instead of being, as now, utilised for the public good.
Then, the red tape and bureaucratic etiquette which attaches to every governmental department, puts the secret service men of the Imperial police on a par with the lower ranks of the subordinates. Muller's official rank is scarcely much higher than that of a policeman, although kings and councillors consult him and the Police Department realises to the full what a treasure it has in him. But official red tape, and his early misfortune... prevent the giving of any higher official standing to even such a genius. Born and bred to such conditions, Muller understands them, and his natural modesty of disposition asks for no outward honours, asks for nothing but an income sufficient for his simple needs, and for aid and opportunity to occupy himself in the way he most enjoys.
Joseph Muller's character is a strange mixture. The kindest-hearted man in the world, he is a human bloodhound when once the lure of the trail has caught him. He scarcely eats or sleeps when the chase is on, he does not seem to know human weakness nor fatigue, in spite of his frail body. Once put on a case his mind delves and delves until it finds a clue, then something awakes within him, a spirit akin to that which holds the bloodhound nose to trail, and he will accomplish the apparently impossible, he will track down his victim when the entire machinery of a great police department seems helpless to discover anything. The high chiefs and commissioners grant a condescending permission when Muller asks, "May I do this? ... or may I handle this case this way?" both parties knowing all the while that it is a farce, and that the department waits helpless until this humble little man saves its honour by solving some problem before which its intricate machinery has stood dazed and puzzled.
This call of the trail is something that is stronger than anything else in Muller's mentality, and now and then it brings him into conflict with the department,... or with his own better nature. Sometimes his unerring instinct discovers secrets in high places, secrets which the Police Department is bidden to hush up and leave untouched. Muller is then taken off the case, and left idle for a while if he persists in his opinion as to the true facts. And at other times, Muller's own warm heart gets him into trouble. He will track down his victim, driven by the power in his soul which is stronger than all volition; but when he has this victim in the net, he will sometimes discover him to be a much finer, better man than the other individual, whose wrong at this particular criminal's hand set in motion the machinery of justice. Several times that has happened to Muller, and each time his heart got the better of his professional instincts, of his practical common-sense, too, perhaps,... at least as far as his own advancement was concerned, and he warned the victim, defeating his own work. This peculiarity of Muller's character caused his undoing at last, his official undoing that is, and compelled his retirement from the force. But his advice is often sought unofficially by the Department, and to those who know, Muller's hand can be seen in the unravelling of many a famous case.
The following stories are but a few of the many interesting cases that have come within the experience of this great detective. But they give a fair portrayal of Muller's peculiar method of working, his looking on himself as merely an humble member of the Department, and the comedy of his acting under "official orders" when the Department is in reality following out his directions.
THE CASE OF THE LAMP THAT WENT OUT
CHAPTER I. THE DISCOVERY
The radiance of a clear September morning lay over Vienna. The air was so pure that the sky shone in brightest azure even where the city's buildings clustered thickest. On the outskirts of the town the rays of the awakening sun danced in crystalline ether and struck answering gleams from the dew on grass and shrub in the myriad gardens of the suburban streets.
It was still very early. The old-fashioned steeple clock on the church of the Holy Virgin in Hietzing had boomed out six slow strokes but a short time back. Anna, the pretty blonde girl who carried out the milk for the dwellers in several streets of this aristocratic residential suburb, was just coming around the corner of the main street into a quiet lane. This lane could hardly be dignified by the name of street as yet, it was so very quiet. It had been opened and named scarcely a year back and it was bordered mostly by open gardens or fenced-in building lots. There were four houses in this street, two by two opposite each other, and another, an old-fashioned manor house, lying almost hidden in its great garden. But the quiet street could not presume to ownership of this last house, for the front of it opened on a parallel street, which gave it its number. Only the garden had a gate as outlet onto our quiet lane.
Anna stopped in front of this gate and pulled the bell. She had to wait for some little time until the gardener's wife, who acted as janitress, could open the door. But Anna was not impatient, for she knew that it was quite a distance from the gardener's house in the centre of the great stretch of park to the little gate where she waited. In a few moments, however, the door was opened and a pleasant-faced woman exchanged a friendly greeting with the girl and took the cans from her.
Anna hastened onward with her usual energetic step. The four houses in that street were already served and she was now bound for the homes of customers several squares away. Then her step slowed just a bit. She was a quiet, thoughtful girl and the lovely peace of this bright morning sank into her heart and made her rejoice in its beauty. All around her the foliage was turning gently to its autumn glory of colouring and the dewdrops on the rich-hued leaves sparkled with an unusual radiance. A thrush looked down at her from a bough and began its morning song. Anna smiled up at the little bird and began herself to sing a merry tune.
But suddenly her voice died away, the colour faded from her flushed cheeks, her eyes opened wide and she stood as if riveted to the ground. With a deep breath as of unconscious terror she let the burden of the milk cans drop gently from her shoulder to the ground. In following the bird's flight her eyes had wandered to the side of the street, to the edge of one of the vacant lots, there where a shallow ditch separated it from the roadway. An elder-tree, the great size of which attested its age, hung its berry-laden branches over the ditch. And in front of this tree the bird had stopped suddenly, then fluttered off with the quick movement of the wild creature surprised by fright. What the bird had seen was the same vision that halted the song on Anna's lips and arrested her foot. It was the body of a man—a young and well-dressed man, who lay there with his face turned toward the street. And his face was the white frozen face of a corpse.
Anna stood still, looking down at him for a few moments, in wide-eyed terror: then she walked on slowly as if trying to pull herself together again. A few steps and then she turned and broke into a run. When she reached the end of the street, breathless from haste and excitement, she found herself in one of the main arteries of traffic of the suburb, but owing to the early hour this street was almost as quiet as the lane she had just left. Finally the frightened girl's eyes caught sight of the figure of a policeman coming around the next corner. She flew to meet him and recognised him as the officer of that beat.
"Why, what is the matter?" he asked. "Why are you so excited?"
"Down there-in the lane, there's a dead man," answered the girl, gasping for breath.
"A dead man?" repeated the policeman gravely, looking at the girl. "Are you sure he's dead?"
Anna nodded. "His eyes are all glassy and I saw blood on his back."
"Well, you're evidently very much frightened, and I suppose you don't want to go down there again. I'll look into the matter, if you will go to the police station and make the announcement. Will you do it?"
"All right, then, that will gain time for us. Good-bye, Miss Anna."
The man walked quickly down the street, while the girl hurried off in the opposite direction, to the nearest police station, where she told what she had seen.
The policeman reached his goal even earlier. The first glance told him that the man lying there by the wayside was indeed lifeless. And the icy stiffness of the hand which he touched showed him that life must have fled many hours back. Anna had been right about the blood also. The dead man lay on the farther side of the ditch, half down into it. His right arm was bent under his body, his left arm was stretched out, and the stiffened fingers... they were slender white fingers... had sought for something to break his fall. All they had found was a tall stem of wild aster with its purple blossoms, which they were holding fast in the death grip. On the dead man's back was a small bullet-wound and around the edges of it his light grey coat was stained with blood. His face was distorted in pain and terror. It was a nice face, or would have been, did it not show all too plainly the marks of dissipation in spite of the fact that the man could not have been much past thirty years old. He was a stranger to the policeman, although the latter had been on this beat for over three years.
When the guardian of the law had convinced himself that there was nothing more to do for the man who lay there, he rose from his stooping position and stepped back. His gaze wandered up and down the quiet lane, which was still absolutely empty of human life. He stood there quietly waiting, watching over the ghastly discovery. In about ten minutes the police commissioner and the coroner, followed by two roundsmen with a litter, joined the solitary watcher, and the latter could return to his post.
The policemen set down their litter and waited for orders, while the coroner and the commissioner bent over the corpse. There was nothing for the physician to do but to declare that the unfortunate man had been dead for many hours. The bullet which struck him in the back had killed him at once. The commissioner examined the ground immediately around the corpse, but could find nothing that pointed to a struggle. There remained only to prove whether there had been a robbery as well as a murder.
"Judging from the man's position the bullet must have come from that direction," said the commissioner, pointing towards the cottages down the lane.
"People who are killed by bullets may turn several times before they fall," said a gentle voice behind the police officer. The voice seemed to suit the thin little man who stood there meekly, his hat in his hand.
The commissioner turned quickly. "Ah, are you there already, Muller?" he said, as if greatly pleased, while the physician broke in with the remark:
"That's just what I was about to observe. This man did not die so quickly that he could not have made a voluntary or involuntary movement before life fled. The shot that killed him might have come from any direction."
The commissioner nodded thoughtfully and there was silence for a few moments. Muller—for the little thin man was none other than the celebrated Joseph Muller, one of the most brilliant detectives in the service of the Austrian police—looked down at the corpse carefully.. He took plenty of time to do it and nobody hurried him. For nobody ever hurried Muller; his well-known and almost laughable thoroughness and pedantry were too valuable in their results. It was a tradition in the police that Muller was to have all the time he wanted for everything. It paid in the end, for Muller made few mistakes. Therefore, his superior the police commissioner, and the coroner waited quietly while the little man made his inspection of the corpse.
"Thank you," said Muller finally, with a polite bow to the commissioner, before he bent to brush away the dust on his knees.
"Well?" asked Commissioner Holzer.
Muller smiled an embarrassed smile as he replied:
"Well... I haven't found out anything yet except that he is dead, and that he has been shot in the back. His pockets may tell us something more."
"Yes, we can examine them at once," said the commissioner. "I have been delaying that for I wanted you here; but I had no idea that you would come so soon. I told them to fetch you if you were awake, but doubted you would be, for I know you have had no sleep for forty-eight hours."
"Oh, I can sleep, at least with one eye, when I'm on the chase," answered the detective. "So it's really only twenty-four hours, you see." Muller had just returned from tracking down an aristocratic swindler whom he had found finally in a little French city and had brought back to a Viennese prison. He had returned well along in the past night and Holzer knew that the tired man would need his rest. Still he had sent for Muller, who lived near the police station, for the girl's report had warned him that this was a serious case. And in serious cases the police did not like to do without Muller's help.
And as usual when his work called him, Muller was as wide awake as if he had had a good night's sleep behind him. The interest of a new case robbed him of every trace of fatigue. It was he alone—at his own request—who raised the body and laid it on its back before he stepped aside to make way for the doctor.
The physician opened the dead man's vest to see whether the bullet had passed completely through the body. But it had not; there was not the slightest trace of blood upon the shirt.
"There's nothing more for me to do here, Muller," said the physician, as he bowed to the commissioner and left the place.
Muller examined the pockets of the dead man.
"It's probably a case of robbery, too," remarked the commissioner. "A man as well-dressed as this one is would be likely to have a watch."
"And a purse," added the detective. "But this man has neither—or at least he has them no longer."
In the various pockets of the dead man's clothes Muller found the following articles: a handkerchief, several tramway tickets, a penknife, a tiny mirror, and comb, and a little book, a cheap novel. He wrapped them all in the handkerchief and put them in his own pocket. The dead man's coat had fallen back from his body during the examination, and as Muller turned the stiffened limbs a little he saw the opening of another pocket high up over the right hip of the trousers. The detective passed his hand over the pocket and heard something rattle. Then he put his hand in the pocket and drew out a thin narrow envelope which he handed to the commissioner. Holzer looked at it carefully. It was made of very thin expensive paper and bore no address. But it was sealed, although not very carefully, for the gummed edges were open in spots. It must have been hastily closed and was slightly crushed as if it had been carried in a clenched hand. The commissioner cut open the envelope with his penknife. He gave an exclamation of surprise as he showed Muller the contents. In the envelope there were three hundred-gulden notes.
The commissioner looked at Muller without a word, but the detective understood and shook his head. "No," he said calmly, "it may be a case of robbery just the same. This pocket was not very easy to find, and the money in it was safer than the dead man's watch and purse would be. That is, if he had a watch and purse—and he very probably had a watch," he added more quickly.
For Muller had made a little discovery. On the lower hem of the left side of the dead man's waistcoat he saw a little lump, and feeling of it he discovered that it was a watch key which had slipped down out of the torn pocket between the lining and the material of the vest. A sure proof that the dead man had had a watch, which in all probability had been taken from him by his murderer. There was no loose change or small bills to be found in any of the pockets, so that it was more than likely that the dead man had had his money in a purse. It seemed to be a case of murder for the sake of robbery. At least Muller and the commissioner believed it to be one, from what they had discovered thus far.
The police officer gave his men orders to raise the body and to take it to the morgue. An hour later the unknown man lay in the bare room in which the only spot of brightness were the rays of the sun that crept through the high barred windows and touched his cold face and stiffened form as with a pitying caress. But no, there was one other little spot of brightness in the silent place. It was the wild aster which the dead man's hand still held tightly clasped. The little purple flowers were quite fresh yet, and the dewdrops clinging to them greeted the kiss of the sun's rays with an answering smile.
CHAPTER II. THE BROKEN WILLOW TWIG
As soon as the corpse had been taken away, the police commissioner returned to the station. But Muller remained there all alone to make a thorough examination of the entire vicinity.
It was not a very attractive spot, this particular part of the street. There must have been a nursery there at one time, for there were still several ordered rows of small trees to be seen. There were traces of flower cultivation as well, for several trailing vines and overgrown bushes showed where shrubs had been grown which do not usually grow without man's assistance. Immediately back of the old elder tree Muller found several fine examples of rare flowers, or rather he found the shrubs which his experienced eye recognised as having once borne these unusual blossoms. One or two blooms still hung to the bushes and the detective, who was a great lover of flowers, picked them and put them in his buttonhole. While he did this, his keen eyes were darting about the place taking in all the details. This vacant lot had evidently been used as an unlicensed dumping ground for some time, for all sorts of odds and ends, old boots, bits of stuff, silk and rags, broken bottles and empty tin cans, lay about between the bushes or half buried in the earth. What had once been an orderly garden was now an untidy receptacle for waste. The pedantically neat detective looked about him in disgust, then suddenly he forgot his displeasure and a gleam shot up in his eye. It was very little, the thing this man had seen, this man who saw so much more than others.
About ten paces from where he stood a high wooden fence hemmed in the lot. The fence belonged to the neighbouring property, as the lot in which he stood was not protected in any way. To the back it was closed off by a corn field where the tall stalks rustled gently in the faint morning breeze. All this could be seen by anybody and Muller had seen it all at his first glance. But now he had seen something else. Something that excited him because it might possibly have some connection with the newly discovered crime. His keen eyes, in glancing along the wooden fence at his right hand, had caught sight of a little twig which had worked its way through the fence. This twig belonged to a willow tree which grew on the other side, and which spread its grey-green foliage over the fence or through its wide openings. One of the little twigs which had crept in between the planks was broken, and it had been broken very recently, for the leaves were still fresh and the sap was oozing from the crushed stem. Muller walked over to the fence and examined the twig carefully. He soon saw how it came to be broken. The broken part was about the height of a man's knee from the ground. And just at this height there was quite a space between two of the planks of the fence, heavy planks which were laid cross-ways and nailed to thick posts. It would have been very easy for anybody to get a foothold in this open space between the planks.
It was very evidently some foot thrust in between the planks which had broken the little willow twig, and its soft rind had left a green mark on the lower plank. "I wonder if that has anything to do with the murder," thought Muller, looking over the fence into the lot on the other side.
This neighbouring plot was evidently a neglected garden. It had once worn an aristocratic air, with stone statues and artistic arrangement of flower beds and shrubs. It was still attractive even in its neglected condition. Beyond it, through the foliage of its heavy trees, glass windows caught the sunlight. Muller remembered that there was a handsome old house in this direction, a house with a mansard roof and wide-reaching wings. He did not now know to whom this handsome old house belonged, a house that must have been built in the time of Maria Theresa,... but he was sure of one thing, and that was that he would soon find out to whom it belonged. At present it was the garden which interested him, and he was anxious to see where it ended. A few moments' further inspection showed him what he wanted to know. The garden extended to the beginning of the park-like grounds which surrounded the old house with the mansard roof. A tall iron railing separated the garden from the park, but this railing did not extend down as far as the quiet lane. Where it ended there was a light, well-built wooden fence. Along the street side of the fence there was a high thick hedge. Muller walked along this hedge until he came to a little gate. Then crossing the street, he saw that the house whose windows glistened in the sunlight was a house which he knew well from its other side, its front facade.
Now he went back to the elder tree and then walked slowly away from this to the spot where he found the broken willow twig. He examined every foot of the ground, but there was nothing to be seen that was of any interest to him-not a footprint, or anything to prove that some one else had passed that way a short time before. And yet it would have been impossible to pass that way without leaving some trace, for the ground was cut up in all directions by mole hills.
Next the detective scrutinised as much of the surroundings as would come into immediate connection with the spot where the corpse had been found. There was nothing to be seen there either, and Muller was obliged to acknowledge that he had discovered nothing that would lead to an understanding of the crime, unless, indeed, the broken willow twig should prove to be a clue. He sprang back across the ditch, turned up the edges of his trousers where they had been moistened by the dew and walked slowly along the dusty street. He was no longer alone in the lane. An old man, accompanied by a large dog, came out from one of the new houses and walked towards the detective, he was very evidently going in the direction of the elder-tree, which had already been such a centre of interest that morning. When he met Muller, the old man halted, touched his cap and asked in a confidential tone: "I suppose you've been to see the place already?"
"Which place?" was Muller's reserved answer.
"Why, I mean the place where they found the man who was murdered. They found him under that elder-tree. My wife just heard of it and told me. I suppose everybody round here will know it soon."
"Was there a man murdered here?" asked Muller, as if surprised by the news.
"Yes, he was shot last night. Only I don't understand why I didn't hear the shot. I couldn't sleep a wink all night for the pain in my bones."
"You live near here, then?"
"Yes, I live in No.1. Didn't you see me coming out?"
"I didn't notice it. I came across the wet meadows and I stooped to turn up my trousers so that they wouldn't get dusty—it must have been then you came out."
"Why, then you must have been right near the place I was talking about. Do you see that elder tree there? It's the only one in the street, and the girl who brings the milk found the man under it. The police have been here already and have taken him away. They discovered him about six o'clock and now it's just seven."
"And you hadn't any suspicion that this dreadful thing was happening so near you?" asked the detective casually.
"I didn't know a thing, sir, not a thing. There couldn't have been a fight or I would have heard it. But I don't know why I didn't hear the shot."
"Why, then you must have been asleep after all, in spite of your pain," said Muller with a smile, as he walked along beside the man back to the place from which he had just come.
The old man shook his head. "No, I tell you I didn't close an eye all night. I went to bed at half-past nine and I smoked two pipes before I put out the light, and then I heard every hour strike all night long and it wasn't until nearly five o'clock, when it was almost dawn, that I dozed off a bit."
"Then it is astonishing that you didn't hear anything!"
"Sure it's astonishing! But it's still more astonishing that my dog Sultan didn't hear anything. Sultan is a famous watchdog, I'd have you know. He'll growl if anybody passes through the street after dark, and I don't see why he didn't notice what was going on over there last night. If a man's attacked, he generally calls for help; it's a queer business all right."
"Well, Sultan, why didn't you make a noise?" asked Muller, patting the dog's broad head. Sultan growled and walked on indifferently, after he had shaken off the strange hand.
"He must have slept more soundly than usual. He went off into the country with me yesterday. We had an errand to do there and on the way back we stopped in for a drink. Sultan takes a drop or two himself occasionally, and that usually makes him sleep. I had hard work to bring him home. We got here just a few minutes before half-past nine and I tell you we were both good and tired."
By this time they had come to the elder-tree and the old man's stream of talk ceased as he stood before the spot where the mysterious crime had occurred. He looked down thoughtfully at the grass, now trampled by many feet. "Who could have done it?" he murmured finally, with a sigh that expressed his pity for the victim.
"Hietzing is known to be one of the safest spots in Vienna," remarked Muller.
"Indeed it is, sir; indeed it is. As it would well have to be with the royal castles right here in the neighbourhood! Indeed it would have to be safe with the Court coming here all the time."
"Why, yes, you see more police here than anywhere else in the city."
"Yes, they're always sticking their nose in where they're not necessary," remarked the old man, not realising to whom he was speaking. "They fuss about everything you do or don't do, and yet a man can be shot down right under our very noses here and the police can't help it."
"But, my dear sir, it isn't always possible for the police to prevent a criminal carrying out his evil intention," said Muller good-naturedly.
"Well, why not? if they watch out sharp enough?"
"The police watch out sharper than most people think. But they can't catch a man until he has committed his crime, can they?"
"No, I suppose not," said the old man, with another glance at the elder-tree. He bowed to Muller and turned and walked away.
Muller followed him slowly, very much pleased with this meeting, for it had given him a new clue. There was no reason to doubt the old man's story. And if this story was true, then the crime had been committed before half-past nine of the evening previous. For the old man—he was evidently the janitor in No.1—had not heard the shot.
Muller left the scene of the crime and walked towards the four houses. Before he reached them he had to pass the garden which belonged to the house with the mansard roof. Right and left of this garden were vacant lots, as well as on the opposite side of the street. Then came to the right and left the four new houses which stood at the beginning of the quiet lane. Muller passed them, turned up a cross street and then down again, into the street running parallel, to the lane, a quiet aristocratic street on which fronted the house with the mansard roof.
A carriage stood in front of this house, two great trunks piled up on the box beside the driver. A young girl and an old man in livery were placing bags and bundles of rugs inside the carriage. Muller walked slowly toward the carriage. Just as he reached the open gate of the garden he was obliged to halt, to his own great satisfaction. For at this moment a group of people came out from the house, the owners of it evidently, prepared for a journey and surrounded by their servants.
Beside the old man and the young girl, there were two other women, one evidently the housekeeper, the other possibly the cook. The latter was weeping openly and devoutly kissing the hand of her mistress. The housekeeper discovered that a rug was missing and sent the maid back for it, while the old servant helped the lady into the carriage. The door of the carriage was wide open and Muller had a good glimpse of the pale, sweet-faced and delicate-looking young women who leaned back in her corner, shivering and evidently ill. The servants bustled about, making her comfortable, while her husband superintended the work with anxious tenderness. He was a tall, fine-looking man with deep-set grey eyes and a rich, sympathetic voice. He gave his orders to his servants with calm authority, but he also was evidently suffering from the disease of our century—nervousness, for Muller saw that the man's hands clenched feverishly and that his lips were trembling under his drooping moustache.
The maid hastened down with the rug and spread it over her mistress's knees, as the gentleman exclaimed nervously: "Do hurry with that! Do you want us to miss the train?"
The butler closed the door of the carriage, the coachman gathered up the reins and raised his whip. The housekeeper bowed low and murmured a few words in farewell and the other servants followed her example with tears in their eyes. "You'll see us again in six weeks," the lady called out and her husband added: "If all goes well." Then he motioned to the waiting driver and the carriage moved off swiftly, turning the corner in a few moments.
The little group of servants returned to the courtyard behind the high gates. Muller, whom they had not noticed, was about to resume his walk, when he halted again. The courtyard of the house led back through a flagged walk to the park-like garden that surrounded it on the sides and rear. Down this walk came a young woman. She came so quickly that one might almost call it running. She was evidently excited about something. Muller imagined what this something might be, and he remained to hear what she had to say. He was not mistaken. The woman, it was Mrs. Schmiedler, the gardener's wife, began her story at once. "Haven't you heard yet?" she said breathlessly. "No, you can't have heard it yet or you wouldn't stand there so quietly, Mrs. Bernauer."
"What's the matter?" asked the woman whom Muller took to be the housekeeper.
"They killed a man last night out here! They found his body just now in the lane back of our garden. The janitor from No.1 told me as I was going to the store, so I went right back to look at the place, and I came to tell you, as I didn't think you'd heard it yet."
Mrs. Bernauer was evidently a woman of strong constitution and of an equable mind. The other three servants broke out into an excited hubbub of talk while she remained quite indifferent and calm. "One more poor fellow who had to leave the world before he was ready," she remarked calmly, with just the natural touch of pity in her voice that would come to any warm-hearted human being upon hearing of such an occurrence. She did not seem at all excited or alarmed to think that the scene of the crime had been so near.
The other servants were very much more excited and had already rushed off, under the guidance of the gardener's wife, to look at the dreadful spot. Franz, the butler, had quite forgotten to close the front gate in his excitement, and the housekeeper turned to do it now.
"The fools, see them run," she exclaimed half aloud. "As if there was anything for them to do there."
The gate closed, Mrs. Bernauer turned and walked slowly to the house. Muller walked on also, going first to the police station to report what he had discovered. Then he went to his own rooms and slept until nearly noon. On his return to the police station he found that notices of the occurrence had already been sent out to the papers.
CHAPTER III. THE EVENING PAPER
The autopsy proved beyond a doubt that the murdered man had been dead for many hours before the discovery of his body. The bullet which had struck him in the back had pierced the trachea and death had occurred within a few minutes. The only marks for identification of the body were the initials L. W. on his underwear. The evening paper printed an exact description of the man's appearance and his clothing.
It was about ten o'clock next morning when Mrs. Klingmayer, a widow living in a quiet street at the opposite end of the city from Hietzing, returned from her morning marketing. It was only a few little bundles that she brought with her and she set about preparing her simple dinner. Her packages were wrapped in newspapers, which she carefully smoothed out and laid on the dresser.
Mrs. Klingmayer was the widow of a street-car conductor and the little pension which she received from the company, as well as the money she could earn for herself, did not permit of the indulgence in a daily newspaper. And yet the reading of the papers was the one luxury for which the simple woman longed. Her grocer, who was a friend of years, knew this and would wrap up her purchases in papers of recent date, knowing that she could then enjoy them in her few moments of leisure. To-day this leisure came unexpectedly early, for Mrs. Klingmayer had less work than usual to attend to.
Her little flat consisted of two rooms and a kitchen with a large closet opening out from it. She lived in the kitchen and rented the front rooms. Her tenants were a middle-aged man, inspector in a factory, who had the larger room; and a younger man who was bookkeeper in an importing house in the city. But this young man had not been at home for forty-eight hours, a fact, however, which did not greatly worry his landlady. The gentleman in question lived a rather dissipated life and it was not the first time that he had remained away from home over night. It is true that it was the first time that he had not been home for two successive nights. But as Mrs. Klingmayer thought, everything has to happen the first time sometime. "It's not likely to be the last time," the worthy woman thought.
At all events she was rather glad of it to-day, for she suffered from rheumatism and it was difficult for her to get about. The young man's absence saved her the work of fixing up his room that morning and allowed her to get to her reading earlier than usual. When she had put the pot of soup on the fire, she sat down by the window, adjusted her big spectacles and began to read. To her great delight she discovered that the paper she held in her hand bore the date of the previous afternoon. In spite of the good intentions of her friend the grocer, it was not always that she could get a paper of so recent date, and she began to read with doubled anticipation of pleasure.
She did not waste time on the leading articles, for she understood little about politics. The serial stories were a great delight to her, or would have been, if she had ever been able to follow them consecutively. But her principal joy were the everyday happenings of varied interest which she found in the news columns. To-day she was so absorbed in the reading of them that the soup pot began to boil over and send out rivulets down onto the stove. Ordinarily this would have shocked Mrs. Klingmayer, for the neatness of her pots and pans was the one great care of her life. But now, strange to relate, she paid no attention to the soup, nor to the smell and the smoke that arose from the stove. She had just come upon a notice in the paper which took her entire attention. She read it through three times, and each time with growing excitement. This is what she read:
MURDER IN HIETZING
This morning at six o'clock the body of a man about 30 years old was discovered in a lane in Hietzing. The man must have been dead many hours. He had been shot from behind. The dead man was tall and thin, with brown eyes, brown hair and moustache. The letters L. W. were embroidered in his underwear. There was nothing else discovered on him that could reveal his identity. His watch and purse were not in his pockets: presumably they had been taken by the murderer. A strange fact is that in one of his pockets—a hidden pocket it is true—there was the sum of 300 guldens in bills.
This was the notice which made Mrs. Klingmayer neglect the soup pot.
Finally the old woman stood up very slowly, threw a glance at the stove and opened the window mechanically. Then she lifted the pots from the fire and set them on the outer edge of the range. And then she did something that ordinarily would have shocked her economical soul—she poured water on the fire to put it out.
When she saw that there was not a spark left in the stove, she went into her own little room and prepared to go out. Her excitement caused her to forget her rheumatism entirely. One more look around her little kitchen, then she locked it up and set out for the centre of the city.
She went to the office of the importing house where her tenant, Leopold Winkler, was employed as bookkeeper. The clerk at the door noticed the woman's excitement and asked her kindly what the trouble was.
"I'd like to speak to Mr. Winkler," she said eagerly.
"Mr. Winkler hasn't come in yet," answered the young man. "Is anything the matter? You look so white! Winkler will probably show up soon, he's never very punctual. But it's after eleven o'clock now and he's never been as late as this before."
"I 'don't believe he'll ever come again," said the old woman, sinking down on a bench beside the 'door.
"Why, what do you mean?" asked the clerk. "Why shouldn't he come again?"
"Is the head of the firm here?" asked Mrs. Klingmayer, wiping her forehead with her handkerchief. The clerk nodded and hurried away to tell his employer about the woman with the white face who came to ask for a man who, as she expressed it, "would never come there again."
"I don't think she's quite right in the head," he volunteered. The head of the firm told him to bring the woman into the inner office.
"Who are you, my good woman?" he asked kindly, softened by the evident agitation of this poorly though neatly dressed woman.
"I am Mr. Winkler's landlady," she answered.
"Ah! and he wants you to tell me that he's sick? I'm afraid I can't believe all that this gentleman says. I hope he's not asking your help to lie to me. Are you sure that his illness is anything else but a case of being up late?"
"I don't think that he'll ever be sick again—I didn't come with any message from him, sir; please read this, sir." And she handed him the newspaper, showing him the notice. While the gentleman was reading she added: "Mr. Winkler didn't come home last night either."
Winkler's employer read the few lines, then laid the paper aside with a very serious face. "When did you see him last?" he asked of the woman.
"Day before yesterday in the morning. He went away about half-past eight as he usually does," she replied. And then she added a question of her own: "Was he here day before yesterday?"
The merchant nodded and pressed an electric bell. Then he rose from his seat and pulled up a chair for his visitor. "Sit down here. This thing has frightened you and you are no longer young." When the servant entered, the merchant told him to ask the head bookkeeper to come to the inner office.
When this official appeared, his employer inquired: "When did Winkler leave here day before yesterday?"
"At six o'clock, sir, as usual."
"He was here all day without interruption?"
"Yes, sir, with the exception of the usual luncheon hour."
"Did he have the handling of any money Monday?"
"Thank you, Mr. Pokorny," said the merchant, handing his employee the evening paper and pointing to the notice which had so interested him.
Pokorny read it, his face, like his employer's, growing more serious. "It looks almost as if it must be Winkler, sir," he said, in a few moments.
"We will soon find that out. I should like to go to the police station myself with this woman; she is Winkler's landlady—but I think it will be better for you to accompany her. They will ask questions about the man which you will be better able to answer than I."
Pokorny bowed and left the room. Mrs. Klingmayer rose and was about to follow, when the merchant asked her to wait a moment and inquired whether Winkler owed her anything. "I am sorry that you should have had this shock and the annoyances and trouble which will come of it, but I don't want you to be out of pocket by it."
"No, he doesn't owe me anything," replied the honest old woman, shaking her head. A few big tears rolled down over her withered cheeks, possibly the only tears that were shed for the dead man under the elder-tree. But even this sympathetic soul could find nothing to say in his praise. She could feel pity for his dreadful death, but she could not assert that the world had lost anything by his going out of it. As if saddened by the impossibility of finding a single good word to say about the dead man, she left the office with drooping head and lagging step.
Pokorny helped her into the cab that was already waiting before the door. The office force had got wind of the fact that something unusual had occurred and were all at the windows to see them drive off. The three clerks who worked in the department to which Winkler belonged gathered together to talk the matter over. They were none of them particularly hit by it, but naturally they were interested in the discovery in Hietzing, and equally naturally, they tried to find a few good words to say about the man whose life had ended so suddenly.
The youngest of them, Fritz Bormann, said some kind words and was about to wax more enthusiastic, when Degenhart, the eldest clerk, cut in with the words: "Oh, don't trouble yourself. Nobody ever liked Winkler here. 'He was not a good man—he was not even a good worker. This is the first time that he has a reasonable excuse for neglecting his duties."
"Oh, come, see here! how can you talk about the poor man that way when he's scarcely cold in death yet," said Fritz indignantly.
Degenhart laughed harshly.
"Did I ever say anything else about him while he was warm and alive? Death is no reason for changing one's opinion about a man who was good-for-nothing in life. And his death was a stroke of good luck that he scarcely deserved. He died without a moment's pain, with a merry thought in his head, perhaps, while many another better man has to linger in torture for weeks. No, Bormann, the best I can say about Winkler is that his death makes one nonentity the less on earth."
The older man turned to his desk again and the two younger clerks continued the conversation: "Degenhart appears to be a hard man," said Fritz, "but he's the best and kindest person I know, and he's dead right in what he says. It was simply a case of conventional superstition. I never did like that Winkler."
"No, you're right," said the other. "Neither did I and I don't know why, for the matter of that. He seemed just like a thousand others. I never heard of anything particularly wrong that he did."
"No, no more did I," continued Bormann, "but I never heard of anything good about him either. And don't you think that it's worse for a man to seem to repel people by his very personality, rather than by any particular bad thing that he does?"
"Yes. I don't know how to explain it, but that's just how I feel about it. I had an instinctive feeling that there was something wrong about Winkler, the sort of a creepy, crawly feeling that a snake gives you."
CHAPTER IV. SPEAK WELL OF THE DEAD
Meanwhile Pokomy and Mrs. Klingmayer had reached the police station and were going upstairs to the rooms of the commissioner on service for the day. Like all people of her class, Mrs. Klingmayer stood in great awe and terror of anything connected with the police or the law generally. She crept slowly and tremblingly up the stairs behind the head bookkeeper and was very glad when she was left alone for a few minutes while Pokorny went in to see the commissioner. But as soon as his errand was known, both the bookkeeper and his companion were led into the office of Head Commissioner Dr. von Riedau, who had charge of the Hietzing murder case.
When Dr. von Riedau heard the reason of their coming, his interest was immediately aroused, and he pulled a chair to his side for the little thin man with whom he had been talking when the two strangers were ushered in.
"Then you believe you could identify the murdered man?" asked the commissioner.
"From the general description and the initials on his linen, I believe it must be Leopold Winkler," answered Pokorny. "Mrs. Klingmayer has not seen him since Monday morning, nor has she had any message from him. He left the office Monday afternoon at 6 o'clock and that was the last time that we saw him. The only thing that makes me doubt his identity is that the paper reports that three hundred gulden were found in his pocket. Winkler never seemed to have money, and I do not understand how he should have been in possession of such a sum."
"The money was found in the dead man's pockets," said the commissioner. "And yet it may be Winkler, the man you know. Muller, will you order a cab, please?"
"I have a cab waiting for me. But it only holds two," volunteered Pokorny.
"That doesn't matter, I'll sit on the box," answered the man addressed as Muller.
"You are going with us?" asked Pokorny.
"Yes, he will accompany you," replied the commissioner. "This is detective Muller, sir. By a mere chance, he happened to be on hand to take charge of this case and he will remain in charge, although it may be wasting his talents which we need for more difficult problems. If you or any one else have anything to tell us, it must be told only to me or to Muller. And before you leave to look at the body, I would like to know whether the dead man owned a watch, or rather whether he had it with him on the day of the murder."
"Yes, sir; he did have a watch, a gold watch," answered Mrs. Klingmayer.
Riedau looked at the bookkeeper, who nodded and said: "Yes, sir; Winkler had a watch, a gold watch with a double case. It was a large watch, very thick. I happen to have noticed it by chance and also I happen to know that he had not had the watch for very long."
"Can you tell us anything more about the watch?" asked the commissioner of the landlady.
"Yes, sir; there was engraving on the outside cover, initials, and a crown on the other side."
"What were the initials?"
"I don't know that, sir; at least I'm not sure about it. There were so many twists and curves to them that I couldn't make them out. I think one of them was a W though, sir."
"The other was probably an L then."
"That might be, sir."
"The younger clerks in the office may be able to tell something more about the watch," said Pokorny, "for they were quite interested in it for a while. It was a handsome watch and they were envious of Winkler's possession of it. But he was so tactless in his boasting about it that they paid no further attention to him after the first excitement."
"You say he didn't have the watch long?"
"Since spring I think, sir."
"He brought it home on the 19th of March," interrupted Mrs. Klingmayer. "I remember the day because it was my birthday. I pretended that he had brought it home to me for a present."
"Was he in the habit of making you presents?"
"Oh, no, sir; he was very close with his money, sir.
"Well, perhaps he didn't have much money to be generous with. Now tell me about his watch chain. I suppose he had a watch chain?"
Both the bookkeeper and the landlady nodded and the latter exclaimed: "Oh, yes, sir; I could recognise it in a minute."
"It was broken once and Mr. Winkler mended it himself. I lent him my pliers and he bent the two links together with them. It didn't look very nice after that, but it was strong again. You could see the mark of the pliers easily."
"Why didn't he take the chain to the jeweler's to be fixed?" asked the commissioner.
The woman smiled. "It wouldn't have been worth the money, sir; the chain wasn't real gold."
"But the watch was real, wasn't it?"
"Oh, yes, sir; that was real gold. I pawned it once for Mr. Winkler and they gave me 24 gulden for it."
"One question more, did he have a purse? And did he have it with him on the day of the murder?"
"Yes, sir; he had a purse, and he must have taken it with him because he didn't leave it in his room."
"What sort of a purse was it?"
"A brown leather purse, sir."
"Was it a new one?"
"Oh, no, sir; it was well worn."
"How big was it? About like mine?" Riedau took out his own pocketbook.
"No, sir; it was a little smaller. It had three pockets in it. I mended it for him once, so I know it well. I didn't have any brown thread so I mended it with yellow."
Dr. von Riedau nodded to Muller. The latter had been sitting at a little side-table writing down the questions and answers. When Riedau saw this he did not send for a clerk to do the work, for Muller preferred to attend to such matters himself as much as possible. The facts gained in the examination were impressed upon his mind while he was writing them, and he did not have to wade through pages of manuscript to get at what he needed. Now he handed his superior officer the paper.
"Thank you," said Riedau, "I'll send it out to the other police stations. I will attend to this myself. You go on with these people to see whether they can identify the corpse."
Fifteen minutes later the three stood before the body in the morgue and both the bookkeeper and his companion identified the dead man positively as Leopold Winkler.
When the identification was made, a notice was sent out to all Austrian police stations and to all pawnshops with an exact description of the stolen watch and purse.
Muller led his companions back to the commissioner's office and they made their report to Dr. von Riedau. Upon being questioned further, Pokorny stated: "I had very little to do with Winkler. We met only when he had a report to make to me or to show me his books, and we never met outside the office. The clerks who worked in the same room with him, may know him better.. I know only that he was a very reserved man and very little liked."
"Then I do not need to detain you any longer, nor to trouble you further in this affair. I thank you for coming to us so promptly. It has been of great assistance."
The bookkeeper left the station, but Mrs. Klingmayer, who was now quite reassured as to the harmlessness of the police, was asked to remain and to tell what she knew of the private life of the murdered man. Her answers to the various questions put to her proved that she knew very little about her tenant. But this much was learned from her: that he was very close with his money at times, but that again at other times he seemed to have all he wanted to spend. At such times he paid all his debts, and when he stayed home for supper, he would send her out for all sorts of expensive delicacies. These extravagant days seemed to have nothing whatever to do with Winkler's business pay day, but came at odd times.
Mrs. Klingmayer remembered two separate times when he had received a postal money order. But she did not know from whom the letters came, nor even whether they were sent from the city or from some other town. Winkler received other letters now and then, but his landlady was not of the prying kind, and she had paid very little attention to them.
He seemed to have few friends or even acquaintances. She did not know of any love affair, at least of nothing "regular." He had remained away over night two or three times during the year that he had been her tenant. This was about all that Mrs. Klingmayer could say, and she returned to her home in a cab furnished her by the kind commissioner.
About two hours later, a police attendant announced that a gentleman would like to see Dr. von Riedan on business concerning the murder in Hietzing. "Friedrich Bormann" was the name on the card.
"Ask him to step in here," said the commissioner. "And please ask Mr. Muller to join us."
The good-looking young clerk entered the office bashfully and Muller slipped in behind him, seating himself inconspicuously by the door. At a sign from the commissioner the visitor began. "I am an employee of Braun & Co. I have the desk next to Leopold Winkler, during the year that he has been with us—the year and a quarter to be exact—"
"Ah, then you know him rather well?"
"Why, yes. At least we were together all day, although I never met him outside the office."
"Then you cannot tell us much about his private life?"
"No, sir, but there was something happened on Monday, and in talking it over with Mr. Braun, he suggested that I should come to you and tell you about it. It wasn't really very important, and it doesn't seem as if it could have anything to do with this murder and robbery; still it may be of some use."
"Everything that would throw light on the dead man's life could be of use," said Dr. von Riedau. "Please tell us what it is you know."
Fritz Bormann began: "Winkler came to the office as usual on Monday morning and worked steadily at his desk. But I happened to notice that he spoiled several letters and had to rewrite them, which showed me that his thoughts were not on his work, a frequent occurrence with him. However, everything went along as usual until 11 o'clock. Then Winkler became very uneasy. He looked constantly toward the door, compared his watch with the office clock, and sprang up impatiently as the special letter carrier, who usually comes about 11 with money orders, finally appeared."
"Then he was expecting money you think?"
"It must have been so. For as the letter carrier passed him, he called out: 'Haven't you anything for me?' and as the man shook his head Winkler seemed greatly disappointed and depressed. Before he left to go to lunch, he wrote a hasty letter, which he put in his pocket.
"He came in half an hour later than the rest of us. He had often been reprimanded for his lack of punctuality, but it seemed to do no good. He was almost always late. Monday was no exception, although he was later than usual that day."
"And what sort of a mood was he in when he came back?"
"He was irritable and depressed. He seemed to be awaiting a message which did not come. His excitement hindered him from working, he scarcely did anything the entire afternoon. Finally at five o'clock a messenger boy came with a letter for him. I saw that Winkler turned pale as he took the note in his hand. It seemed to be only a few words written hastily on a card, thrust into an envelope. Winkler's teeth were set as he opened the letter. The messenger had already gone away."
"Did you notice his number?" asked Dr. von Riedau.
"No, I scarcely noticed the man at all. I was looking at Winkler, whose behaviour was so peculiar. When he read the card his face brightened. He read it through once more, then he tore both card and envelope into little bits and threw the pieces out of the open window.
"Then he evidently did not want anybody to see the contents of this note," said a voice from the corner of the room.
Fritz Bormann looked around astonished and rather doubtful at the little man who had risen from his chair and now came forward. Without waiting for an answer from the clerk, the other continued: "Did Winkler have money sent him frequently?"
Bormann looked inquiringly at the commissioner, who replied with a smile: "You may answer. Answer anything that Mr. Muller has to ask of you, as he is in charge of this case."
"As far as I can remember, it happened three times," was Bormann's answer.
"How close together?"
"Why—about once in every three or four months, I think."
"That looks almost like a regular income," exclaimed Riedau. His eyes met Muller's, which were lit up in sudden fire. "Well, what are you thinking of?" asked the commissioner.
"A woman," answered Muller; and continued more as if thinking aloud than as if addressing the others: "Winkler was a good-looking man. Might he not have had a rich love somewhere? Might not the money have come from her, the money that was found in his pocket?" Muller's voice trailed off into indistinctness at the last words, and the fire died out of his eyes. Then he laughed aloud.
The commissioner smiled also, a good-natured smile, such as one would give to a child who has been over-eager. "It doesn't matter to us where the money came from. All that matters here is where the bullet came from—the bullet which prevented his enjoying this money. And it is of more interest to us to find out who robbed him of his life and his property, rather than the source from which this property came."
The commissioner's tone was friendly, but Muller's face flushed red, and his, head dropped. Riedau turned to Bormann and continued: "And because it is of no interest to us where his money came from—for it can have nothing whatever to do with his murder and the subsequent robbery—therefore what you noticed of his behaviour cannot be of any importance or bearing in the case in any way. Unless, indeed, you should find out anything more. But we appreciate the thoughtfulness of yourself and your employer and your readiness to help us."
Bormann rose to leave, but the commissioner put out a hand to stop him. "A few moments more, please; you may know of something else that will be of assistance to us. We have heard that Winkler boasted of his belongings-did he talk about his private affairs in any way?"
"No, sir, I do not think he did."
"You say that he destroyed the note at once, evidently realising that no one must see it—this note may have been a promise for the money which had not yet come. Did he, however, tell any one later that he expected a certain sum? Do you think he would have been likely to tell any one?"
"No, I do not think that he would tell any one. He never mentioned to any of us that he had received money, or even that he expected to receive it. None of us knew what outside resources he might have, or whence they came. If it had not been that the money was paid him by the carrier in the office two or three times—so, that we could see it—we would none of us have known of this income, except for the fact that he was freer in spending after the money came. He would dine at expensive restaurants, and this fact he would mention to us, whereas at other times he would go to the cheap cafe."
"Do you know anything about the people he was acquainted with outside the office?"
"No, sir. I seldom met him outside of the office. One evening it did happen that I saw him at Ronacher's. He was there with a lady—that is, a so-called 'lady '-and it must have been one of the times that he had money, for they were enjoying an expensive supper. At other times, some of the other clerks met him at various resorts, always with the same sort of woman. But not always with the same woman, for they were different in appearance."
"He was never seen anywhere with other men?"
"No, sir; at least not by any of us."
"He was not liked in the office?"
"No." Bormann's answer was sharp.
"For what reason?"
"I don't know; we just didn't like him. We had very little to do with him at first because of this, and soon we noticed that he seemed just as anxious to avoid us as we were to avoid him."
The commissioner rose and Bormann followed his example. "I am very sorry, sir, if I have taken up your time to no purpose," said the latter modestly, as he took up his hat.
"I am not so sure that what you have said may not be of great value to us," said a voice behind them. Muller stood there, looking at Riedau with a glance almost of defiance. His eyes were again lit up with the strange fire that shone in them when he was on the trail. The commissioner shrugged his shoulders, bowed to the departing visitor, and then turned without an answer to some documents on his desk. There was silence in the room for a few moments. Finally a gentle voice came from Muller's corner again: "Dr. von Riedau?"
The commissioner raised his head and looked around. "Oh, are you still there?" he asked with a drawl.
Muller knew what this drawl meant. It was the manner adopted by the amiable commissioner when he was in a mood which was not amiable. And Muller knew also the cause of the mood. It was his own last remark, the words he addressed to Bormann. Muller himself recognised the fact that this remark was out of place, that it was almost an impertinence, because it was in direct contradiction to a statement made a few moments before by his superior officer. Also he realised that his remark had been quite unnecessary, because it was a matter of indifference to the young man, who was only obeying his employer's orders in reporting what he had seen, whether his report was of value or not. Muller had simply uttered aloud the thought that came into his mind, a habit of his which years of official training had not yet succeeded in breaking. It was annoying to himself sometimes, for these half-formed thoughts were mere instinct—they were the workings of his own genius that made him catch a suspicion of the truth long before his conscious mind could reason it out or appreciate its value. But that sort of thing was not popular in official police life.
"Well," asked the commissioner, as Muller did not continue, "your tongue is not usually so slow—as you have proved just a few moments back—what were you going to say now?"
"I was about to ask your pardon for my interruption. It was unnecessary, I should not have said it."
"Well, I realise that you know better yourself," said Riedau, now quite friendly again, "and now what else have you to say? Do you really think that what the young man has just told us is of any value at all for this case?"
"It seems to me as if it might be of value to us."
"Oh, it seems to you, eh? Your imagination is working overtime again, Muller," said the commissioner with a laugh. But the laugh turned to seriousness as he realised how many times Muller's imagination had helped the clumsy official mind to its proudest triumphs. The commissioner was an intelligent man, as far as his lights went, and he was a good-hearted man. He rose from his chair and walked over to where the detective stood. "You needn't look so embarrassed, Muller," he said. "There is no cause for you to feel bad about it. And—I am quite willing to admit that my remark just now was unnecessary. You may give your imagination full rein, we can trust to your intelligence and your devotion to duty to keep it from unnecessary flights. So curbed, I know it will be of as much assistance to us this time as it always has been."
Muller's quiet face lit up, and his eyes shone in a happiness that made him appear ten years younger. That was one of the strange things about Joseph Muller. This genius in his profession was in all other ways a man of such simplicity of heart and bearing, that the slightest word of approval from one of the officials for whom he worked could make him as happy as praise from the teacher will make a schoolboy. The moments when he was in command of any difficult case, when these same superiors would wait for a word from him, when high officials would take his orders or would be obliged to acknowledge that without him they were helpless, these moments were forgotten as soon as the problem was solved and Muller became again the simple subordinate and the obscure member of the Imperial police force.
When Muller left the commissioner's room and walked through the outer office, one of the clerks looked after him and whispered to his companion: "Do you think he's found the Hietzing murderer yet?" The other answered: "I don't think so, but he looks as if he had found a clue. He'll find him sooner or later. He always does."
Muller did not hear these words, although they also would have pleased him. He walked slowly down the stairs murmuring to himself: "I think I was right just the same. We are following a false trail."
CHAPTER V. BY A THREAD
It was on Monday, the 27th of September, that Leopold Winkler was murdered and robbed, and early on Tuesday, the 28th, his body was found. That day the evening papers printed the report of the murder and the description of the dead man, and on Wednesday, the 29th, Mrs. Klingmayer read the news and went to see Winkler's employer. By noon of that day the body was identified and a description of the stolen purse and watch telegraphed to police headquarters in various cities. A few hours later, these police stations had sent out notices by messenger to all pawnshops and dealers in second-hand clothing, and now the machinery of the law sat waiting for some news of an attempt on the part of the robber-and-murderer to get rid of his plunder.
On this same Wednesday, about the twilight hour, David Goldstamm, dealer in second-hand clothing, stood before the door of his shop in a side street of the old Hungarian city of Pressburg and watched his assistant take down the clothes which were hanging outside and carry them into the store. The old man's eyes glanced carelessly up and down the street and caught sight of a man who turned the corner and came hurrying towards him. This man was a very seedy-looking individual. An old faded overcoat hung about his thin figure, and a torn and dusty hat fell over his left eye. He seemed also to be much the worse for liquor and very wobbly on his feet. And yet he seemed anxious to hurry onward in spite of the unevenness of his walk.
Then he slowed up suddenly, glanced across the street to Goldstamm's store, and crossed over.
"Have you any boots for me?" he asked, sticking out his right foot that the dealer might see whether he had anything the requisite size.
"I think there's something there," answered the old man in his usual businesslike tone, leading the way into the store.
The stranger followed. Goldstamm lit the one light in the little place and groped about in an untidy heap of shoes of all kinds and sizes until he found several pairs that he thought might fit. These he brought out and put them in front of his customer. But in spite of his bleary eyes, the man caught sight of some patches on the uppers of one pair, and pushed them away from him.
"Give me something better than that. I can pay for it. I don't have to wear patched shoes," he grunted.
Goldstamm didn't like the looks of the man, but he felt that he had better be careful and not make him angry. "Have patience, sir, I'll find you something better," he said gently, tossing the heap about again, but now keeping his face turned towards his customer.
"I want a coat also and a warm pair of trousers," said the stranger in a rough voice. He bent down to loosen the shabby boot from his right foot, and as he did so something fell out of the pocket of his coat. An unconscious motion of his own raised foot struck this small object and tossed it into the middle of the heap of shoes close by Goldstamm's hand. The old man reached out after it and caught it. It was just an ordinary brown leather pocketbook, of medium size, old and shabby, like a thousand others. But the eyes of the little old man widened as if in terror, his face turned pale and his hands trembled. For he had seen, hanging from one side of this worn brown leather pocketbook, the end of a yellow thread, the loosened end of the thread with which one side of the purse was mended. The thread told David Goldstamm who it was that had come into his shop.
He regained his control with a desperate effort of the will. It took him but a few seconds to do so, and, thanks to his partial intoxication, the customer had not noticed the shopkeeper's start of alarm. But he appeared anxious and impatient to regain possession of his purse.
"Haven't you found it yet?" he exclaimed.
Goldstamm hastened to give it back. The tramp put the purse in his pocket with a sigh of relief. Goldstamm had regained his calm and his mind was working eagerly. He put several pairs of shoes before his customer, with the remark: "You must try them on. We'll find something to suit you. And meanwhile I will bring in several pairs of trousers from those outside. I have some fine coats to show you too."
Goldstamm went out to the door, almost colliding there with his assistant who was coming in with his arm full of garments. The old man motioned to the boy, who retreated until they were both hidden from the view of the man within the store.
"Give me those blue trousers there," said Goldstamm in a loud voice. Then in a whisper he said to the boy: "Run to the police station. The man with the watch and the purse is in there."
The boy understood and set off at once at a fast pace, while the old man returned to his store with a heavy heart. He wondered whether he would be able to keep the murderer there until the police could come. And he also wondered what it might cost him, an old and feeble man, who would be as a weak reed in the hands of the strong tramp in there. But he knew it was his duty to do whatever he could to help in the arrest of one who had just taken the life of a fellow creature. The realisation of this gave the old man strength and calmness.
"A nice sort of an eye for size you have," cried the tramp as the old man came up to him. "I suppose you've brought me in a boy's suit? What do you take me for? Any girl could go to a ball in the shoes you brought me to try on here."
"Are they so much too small?" asked the dealer in an innocent tone. "Well, there's plenty more there. And perhaps you had better be trying on this suit behind the curtain here while I'm hunting up the shoes."
This suggestion seemed to please the stranger, as he was evidently in a hurry. He passed in behind the curtain and began to undress. Goldstamm's keen eyes watched him through a crack. There was not much to be seen except that the tramp seemed anxious to keep his overcoat within reach of his hand. He had carefully put the purse in one of its pockets.
"We'll get the things all together pretty soon," said the dealer. "I've found a pair of boots here, fine boots of good quality, and sure to fit."
"Stop your talk," growled the other, "and come here and help me so that I can get away."
Goldstamm came forward, and though his heart was very heavy within him, he aided this man, this man about whom so many hundreds were now thinking in terror, as calmly as he had aided his other poor but honest customers.
With hands that did not tremble, the dealer busied himself about his customer, listening all the while to sounds in the street in the hope that his tete-e-tete with the murderer would soon be over. But in spite of all his natural anxiety, the old man's sharp eyes took cognizance of various things, one of which was that the man whom he was helping to dress in his new clothes did not have the watch which was described in the police notice. This fact, however, did not make the old man's heart any lighter, for the purse mended with yellow thread was too clearly the one stolen from the murdered man found in the quiet street in Hietzing.
"What's the matter with you, you're so slow? I can get along better myself," growled the tramp, pushing the old man away from him. Goldstamm had really begun to tremble now in spite of his control, in the fear that the man would get away from him before the police came.
The tramp was already dressed in the new suit, into a pocket of which he put the old purse.
"There, now the boots and then we're finished," said the dealer with an attempt at a smile. In his heart he prayed that the pair he now held in his hand might not fit, that he might gain a few minutes more. But the shoes did fit. A little pushing and stamping and the man was ready to leave the store. He was evidently in a hurry, for he paid what was asked without any attempt to bargain. Had Goldstamm not known whom he had before him now, he would have been very much astonished at this, and might perhaps have been sorry that he had not named a higher sum. But under the circumstances he understood only too well the man's desire to get away, and would much rather have had some talk as to the payment, anything that would keep his customer a little longer in his store.
"There, now we're ready. I'll pack up your old things for you. Or perhaps we can make a deal for them. I pay the highest prices in the city," said Goldstamm, with an apparent eagerness which he hoped would deceive the customer.
But the man had already turned towards the door, and called hack over his shoulder: "You can keep the old things, I don't want them."
As he spoke he opened the door of the store and stood face to face with a policeman holding a revolver. He turned, with a curse, back into the room, but the dealer was nowhere to be seen. David Goldstamm had done his duty to the public, in spite of his fear. Now, seeing that the police had arrived, he could think of his duty to his family. This duty was plainly to save his own life, and when the tramp turned again to look for him, he had disappeared out of the back door.
"Not a move or I will shoot," cried the policeman, and now two others appeared behind him, and came into the store. But the tramp made no attempt to escape. He stood pale and trembling while they put the handcuffs on him, and let them take him away without any resistance. He was put on the evening express for Vienna, and taken to Police Headquarters in that city. He made no protest nor any attempt to escape, but he refused to utter a word on the entire journey.
CHAPTER VI. ALMOST CONVICTED
The evening was already far gone when Muller entered Riedau's office.
"You're in time, the man isn't here yet. The train is evidently late," said the commissioner. "We're working this case off quickly. We will have the murderer here in half an hour at the latest. He did not have much time to enjoy the stolen property. He was here in Vienna this morning, and was arrested in Pressburg this afternoon. Here is the telegram, read it."
Dr. von Riedau handed Muller the message. The commissioner was evidently pleased and excited. The telegram read as follows: "Man arrested here in possession of described purse containing four ten gulden notes and four guldens in silver. Arrested in store of second-hand clothes dealer Goldstamm. Will arrive this evening in Vienna under guard."
The message was signed by the Chief of the Pressburg police.
Muller laid the paper on the desk without a word. There was a watch on this desk already; it was a heavy gold watch, unusually thick, with the initials L. W. on the cover. Just as Muller laid down the telegram, a door outside was opened and the commissioner covered the watch hastily. There was a loud knock at his own door and an attendant entered to announce that the party from Pressburg had arrived He was followed by one of the Pressburg police force, who brought the official report.
"Did you have any difficulty with him?" asked the commissioner.
"Oh, no, sir; it was a very easy job. He made no resistance at all, and he seems to be quite sober now. But he hasn't said a word since we arrested him."
Then followed the detailed report of the arrest, and the delivery of the described pocketbook to the commissioner.
"Is that all?" asked Dr. von Riedau.
"Then you may go home now, we will take charge of the man."
The policeman bowed and left the room. A few moments later the tramp was brought in, guarded by two armed roundsmen. His guards remained at the door, while the prisoner himself walked forward to the middle of the room. Commissioner von Riedau sat at his desk, his clerk beside him ready to take down the evidence. Muller sat near a window with a paper on his lap, looking the least interested of anybody in the proceedings.
For a moment there was complete silence in the room, which was broken in a rather unusual manner. A deep voice, more like a growl, although it had a queer strain of comic good-nature in it, began the proceedings with the remark: "Well now, say, what do you want of me, anyway?"
The commissioner looked at the man in astonishment, then turned aside that the prisoner might not notice his smile. But he might have spared himself the trouble, for Muller, the clerk, and the two policemen at the door were all on a broad grin.
Then the commissioner pulled himself together again, and began with his usual official gravity: "It is I who ask questions here. Is it possible that you do not know this? You look to me as if you had had experience in police courts before." The commissioner gazed at the prisoner with eyes that were not altogether friendly. The tramp seemed to feel this, and his own eyes dropped, while the good-natured impertinence in his bearing disappeared. It was evidently the last remains of his intoxication. He was now quite sober.
"What is your name?" asked the commissioner.
"Where were you born?"
"I'm—I'll be forty next Christmas."
"Well, you can see I'm no Jew, can't you?"
"You will please answer my questions in a proper manner. This impertinence will not make things easier for you."
"All right, sir," said the tramp humbly. "I am a Catholic."
"You have been in prison before?" This was scarcely a question.
"No, sir," said Knoll firmly.
"What is your business?"
"I don't know what to say, sir," answered Knoll, shrugging his shoulders. "I've done a lot of things in my life. I'm a cattle drover and a lumber man, and I—"
"Did you learn any trade?"
"No, sir, I never learned anything."
"Do you mean to tell me that without having learned any trade you've gotten through life thus far honestly?"
"Oh, I've worked hard enough—I've worked good and hard sometimes."
"The last few days particularly, eh?"
"Why, no, sir, not these last days—I was drover on a transport of pigs; we brought 'em down from Hungary, 200 of 'em, to the slaughter house here."
"When was that?"
"That was—that was Monday."
"This last Monday?"
"And then you went to Hietzing?"
"Yes, sir, that's right."
"Why did you go to Hietzing?"
"Why, see here, sir, if I had gone to Ottakring, then I suppose you would have asked why did I go to Ottakring. I just went to Hietzing. A fellow has to go somewhere. You don't stay in the same spot all the time, do you?"
Again the commissioner turned his head and another smile went through the room. This Hietzing murderer had a sense of humour.
"Well, then, we'll go to Hietzing again, in our minds at least," said the commissioner, turning back to Knoll when he had controlled his merriment. "You went there on Monday, then—and the day was coming to an end. What did you do when you reached Hietzing?"
"I looked about for a place to sleep."
"Where did you look for a place to sleep?"
"Why, in Hietzing."
"That is not definite enough."
"Well, in a garden."
"You were trespassing, you mean?"
"Why, yes, sir. There wasn't anybody that seemed to want to invite me to dinner or to give me a place to sleep. I just had to look out for myself."
"You evidently know how to look out for yourself at the cost of others, a heavy cost." The commissioner's easy tone had changed to sternness. Knoll felt this, and a sharp gleam shot out from his dull little eyes, while the tone of his voice was gruff and impertinent again as he asked: "What do you mean by that?"
"You know well enough. You had better not waste any more time, but tell us at once how you came into possession of this purse."
"It's my purse," Knoll answered with calm impertinence. "I got it the way most people get it. I bought it."
"This purse?" the commissioner emphasised both words distinctly.
"This purse—yes," answered the tramp with a perfect imitation of Riedau's voice. "Why shouldn't I have bought this purse just like any other?"
"Because you stole this purse from the man whom you—murdered," was the commissioner's reply.
There was another moment of dead silence in the room. The commissioner and Muller watched intently for any change of expression in the face of the man who had just had such an accusation hurled at him. Even the clerk and the two policemen at the door were interested to see what would happen.
Knoll's calm impertinence vanished, a deadly pallor spread over his face, and he seemed frozen to stone. He attempted to speak, but was not able to control his voice. His hands were clenched and tremors shook his gaunt but strong-muscled frame.
"When did I murder anybody?" he gasped finally in a hoarse croak. "You'll have to prove it to me that I am a murderer."
"That is easily proved. Here is one of the proofs," said Riedan coldly, pointing to the purse. "The purse and the watch of the murdered man are fatal witnesses against you."
"The watch? I haven't any watch. Where should I get a watch?"
"You didn't have one until Monday, possibly; I can believe that. But you were in possession of a watch between the evening of Monday, the 27th, and the morning of Wednesday, the 29th."