What had the forest and the river seen
They had read so many plausible solutions—all equally implausible—that their thoughts and speculations had become more firmly focused on her last walk, and what the forest and the river might have witnessed.
Day after day they had experienced the wish that arises when something of this sort happens: What could the forest and the river have told?
Erling had felt it strongly one day as he again stood where it must have happened. Something was struggling to give voice: Now, now.
Nothing came, nothing assumed articulation. He looked at the trees as he slowly walked back to Venhaug. The trees could not utter the words they wished, they could not manage to say it. What had the birds in the winter forest seen, what had the squirrel seen, the wild mink?
He sat staring at Jan's hands; they had always in some inexplicable way seemed a little helpless. His work-paws reminded one both of an ape's and of a child's hands; yet these sturdy paws were the hands of a strong and sensitive man.
It had always been as if the weather over Venhaug followed Jan [p. 331] wherever he was. Erling thought, illogically and bereft of common sense, one could in the atmosphere around Jan sense that generations of the Venhaug family for centuries had here looked at the forest and the Numedal River and the skies above them.
"He feels the same as I, Felicia, and will never be rid of it. He sees the Werewolf at the river when you were pushed under the ice and the current carried you away, he sees him turn and twist your body, under the river's ice-floor, but perhaps you will land at Erlingvik and wait for us there."
Three weeks had passed. Jan and Erling were sitting at the low table in front of the fire. Jan was rather preoccupied and read the paper Erling had handed him; he thought this would cut short Jan's floor-pacing today by at least a few hundred yards.
Jan had turned gray but his features no longer seemed so tense. He will survive, thought Erling.
It was the first time Erling had observed the truth that tragedy can make people gray-haired, even if not in the reputed single night. He couldn't take his eyes off Jan's gray hair, not even now, as Jan with a tired gesture put the paper aside, apparently wanting to say something.
Newspapers can't afford to consider the family, except through whining sentimentality, to the honor of entirely different people. At Venhaug all this had gone by unnoticed. They had all the information first-hand and were not in need of detailed descriptions. Possibilities not apparent to them were of no value—and the tragedy was greater than the wish to see it solved. But sometimes they read a piece based on factual knowledge:
"Many consider the mystery in this case has deepened with the murder of Torvald Ørje," the paper reported, "but isn't this on the contrary a ray of light? This paper has from the beginning maintained that the cause of the tragedy at Venhaug must be sought somewhere during the war years 1940-45. Since the turn matters now have taken we are more than ever persuaded that such is the case. On the other hand it appears the police will learn no more from the three persons with a possible key to the double mystery.
"It is clear as daylight Felicia Venhaug was not murdered by anyone living at Venhaug or visiting there. Nor by some tramp. They are always easy to apprehend, especially in this cold weather. Nothing indicates robbery as the motive, nor sexual attack. As far as is known a jealousy-murder is also out of the question."
Jealousy-murder out also? both Erling and Jan had thought as they read the article. They were not so sure.[p. 332]
"This last possibility has for special reasons been thoroughly investigated, but the person or persons who might come under suspicion (from the point of view of the man in the street) were cleared immediately."
The man in the street, eh? thought Erling and Jan.
"It is difficult to imagine any other motive than revenge. We wish to point out that no shadow falls on the memory of the dead one because those who perhaps know the answer remain silent. They were close to Felicia Venhaug, and perhaps there is something from the war years they don't wish to touch upon. Perhaps, mentally speaking as it were, they have receded to the illegality of the war years. It should, however, be pointed out that no one has the right to withhold information that might lead to a solution of no less than two murders now in peacetime. But if certain people keep silent, and if there is no proof that they know more than they have already divulged, then the investigation must start where the train of events once had its beginning. This would mean an investigation into the wartime activities of the late Felicia Ormsund, Jan Venhaug, and the gardener at Venhaug, as well as Erling Vik—more precisely, their activities from the time the two brothers Ormsund lost their lives until Felicia Ormsund escaped to Sweden. Some incidents in those days might lead us to the two murders now in 1958.
"When Felicia Venhaug was killed and thrown into the Numedal River—there has never been any doubt this was what happened—all leads came to an end. The great snowfall took care of this. Excluding the children, the last person to see her was the gardener at Venhaug, Tor Anderssen, and he entered the house only a few minutes later. The alibis of the three men are impeccable. This is true also of Julie Vik, who knew she was named in Felicia Venhaug's will. All people on the place confirm each other's statements. It has been ascertained where each one was at the critical moment, at least within a few minutes, and no one even approached the road Felicia Venhaug took. A police officer went on skis in a circle around the estate before the snow had obliterated possible tracks. There was no sign of tracks in the forest.
"It has been impossible to ascertain how many might be involved in the murder, but the authorities lean to the opinion only one person was the murderer. Even with two involved, it has been estimated, the dastardly crime would have taken at least half an hour; in that case one or more of the estate people would have been away for at least an hour, if they had been involved.
"There has been a search for motive among the people on the estate, but all assumptions come to naught, since none of them could have [p. 333] perpetrated the deed. We are offered a sort of collective alibi, covering everybody. Too good an alibi, it has been said. At least three people on the estate have long ago proved themselves capable of obtaining alibis when needed. There is something in this—yet, in the long run their false alibis during the war did not hold, and they had to flee headlong to Sweden. We must exclude the childish notion that fourteen persons, among them children, would have engaged in a conspiracy against the mistress of the estate, especially since she was well liked by all. When one hears insinuations that the police officer who was first notified is a friend of the three men and might have delayed investigations, as he had been involved with Jan Venhaug during the war, in liquidations, and wished to protect old war-comrades—then too much nonsense enters in, and must be stopped. A respected, capable police officer heading fourteen other false witnesses is more than we can accept.
"In view of the said police officer's knowledge from the war years, he was indeed more qualified than anyone to get to the truth. His first task was to ascertain where each person had been at the critical hour, at the same time keeping his eyes open for other suspects. We know he interrogated Jan Venhaug, Erling Vik, and Tor Anderssen, as to their connections during the war, as well as who Felicia Venhaug's friends and enemies had been in those days. He was seeking a revenge-motive behind a seemingly senseless murder. In this connection he learned of Erling Vik's recent encounter with Torvald Ørje, the notorious 'Chief of Police' in Os during the war. It is possible the authorities acted a little too quickly in arresting Ørje. The traitors got water for their mill when his alibi also proved to be watertight. Again cries were raised about 'those poor, persecuted ones who long ago have paid for their sins.' It is no news that the police after every crime first look up known criminals. Now there can be little doubt that Torvald Ørje was involved in some way, if we are not throwing all common sense overboard, and it might have been to his advantage if we, here in this country, had something called 'protective custody' where he could have been kept.
"Torvald Ørje was found murdered in a one-room apartment at Maridalsvei, and this intensified the mystery, according to the reports. To us it would rather seem a clue to the solution of the murder at Venhaug. But then came the fatal misinterpretation of Erling Vik's activities, and with it probably some clues were lost.
"Before the tragedy Erling Vik had stated that he thought Ørje capable of anything, except murder. Tor Anderssen did not state his opinions. Like Jan Venhaug he must have had his suspicions. That Ørje [p. 334] was capable of being accessory to almost any crime, no one seems to doubt.
"Did Ørje know who killed Mrs. Venhaug? Was he himself behind the murder? Was he a victim of his old and new crimes because someone must have realized he was not to be trusted, and would squeal when the authorities finally got him?
"The suspicion of Erling Vik was pure bad luck for the further investigation, according to the police. When Ørje was found murdered during the night, the news broke first over the radio, in the morning, and it was played up greatly in the afternoon papers. The possible connection with the Venhaug murder was not minimized. This caused one woman to report to the police that she had seen Erling Vik the previous evening at Skøyen, far from the Ørje apartment yet close enough to raise suspicions. The lady in question insisted he acted mysteriously, as if trying to avoid being seen. When this came out, others also came forth who had seen him in the vicinity. All of us might have business in different places, but when it comes to Erling Vik, the old saw has a special meaning: 'No one knows where the hare runs.' Indeed, his specialty is to turn up in places least expected. And now there is a new episode to his saga—the wonderful roundabout journey to get from Oslo to Lier unseen. Arriving home, he was arrested because a final witness had appeared who insisted on having seen him outside Ørje's apartment house the night of Ørje's murder.
"It does not take much acumen to figure out how all this came to pass, according to the police. Due to the possible connection, the murder of Torvald Ørje caused a great sensation. In such cases the police are always swamped with information, and witnesses eager to identify the murderer.
"After the arrest the various witnesses were again interrogated, especially the lady from Skøyen, who insisted she knew Erling Vik personally and must therefore be considered rather reliable. She insisted it was he. The police admitted she was speaking in good faith but was probably mistaken. The other witnesses offered pure fabrications.
"Consequently when Erling Vik arrived at the Oslo police station from Lier, he was immediately informed that he was free, and the police offered to drive him home again, if he wished. The fact is, it had become quite irrelevant and a purely private matter wherever Erling Vik was the night he was seen so many places, because it was twenty-four hours after the murder had taken place—at least. So the post-mortem showed. And [p. 335] for that time Erling Vik had an incontestable alibi; he had been at Venhaug.
"Thus today he is above suspicion in the murder of Torvald Ørje. However, it is not clear that he is thus out of the Ørje affair and altogether blameless if other avenues of investigation were dropped by the police, owing to the 'fertile imagination of certain individuals.' Possibly the police themselves could have used more fertile imaginations on that occasion. It is true only one of the witnesses still dares insist she saw Erling Vik in Oslo the evening after Ørje's murder. But doesn't the police department also consist of human beings who perhaps felt a little cheated, and as a consequence treated the witnesses a little roughly on the second go-round? Roughly, in the sense that perhaps during the renewed interrogation they might have said: 'Listen now, Torvald Ørje wasn't killed the evening you assume you saw Erling Vik in the city, and Vik himself says he wasn't here, and moreover, we have no charge against him.' Isn't it probable that witnesses under such circumstances are liable to become less sure of themselves, indeed, downright embarrassed, and disappointed, because there was no case, regardless of whether they had seen Mr. Vik or not? What stand would they have taken if their assumption had been correct as to the night when Ørje was killed? And what stand would the police then have taken with the witnesses? Instead of poking fun at them, wouldn't they have tried to gain more information?
"Now the police seemed to see the case this way: If he had been at Skøyen that evening, if he had been at Maridalsvei, and if he had been in all the other places, so what? Was that anybody's business? And if he didn't want to be seen by the lady at Skøyen, so what? Perhaps he didn't like the lady, and so what? Or perhaps he wanted to visit someone at Skøyen, so what? After twelve o'clock? Well, so what? Things do happen in the best of families after twelve o'clock, without being of the least interest to the police. And when he now says he was at home and all is nonsense, so what? If it weren't the right of an individual to lie, how would we all manage?
"These obvious observations no one would have made if it actually had been the murder-night when he was seen, and in court the district attorney would have considered these useless statements by the witnesses as extremely important, even perhaps strong enough to convict the suspect.
"But—all this information has now come to the knowledge of the police; then why not pursue that line? All this about Erling Vik's right to [p. 336] move about as he pleases and where he pleases is of course correct. But it is also true that he is a close friend of the Venhaug family and was a guest with them when the mistress of the house was killed. It is as true as before that the police through him became aware of Torvald Ørje. It is also true that one of the witnesses maintains that she saw him outside the apartment on Maridalsvei. And another witness who knows him well insists he was in Oslo.
"The police have failed to investigate why Erling Vik—if he was in Oslo—failed for the first time in many years to use the opportunity to call on old friends. A suspicion remains that his visit had something to do with what happened at Venhaug, and with Ørje. Did Erling Vik wish to get some admission from this man? It was announced that the door was unlocked when the body was found. It might also have been unlocked when some other person came there and tried it. Now it is said Erling Vik had no reasonable cause to deny his presence in Oslo, if he actually was there. How does one know that? If he came to that apartment in Maridalsvei and saw Ørje dead on the floor, he had good reasons to get away and keep out of the sight of all who knew him. He did not know that Torvald Ørje had been dead for a whole twenty-four hours, and that he without fear could go to the police. He was no friend of Torvald Ørje, he must count on being arrested. Erling Vik may have had heavily weighing reasons not to report to the police.
"And what might Erling Vik possibly have wanted from Torvald Ørje? Did he perhaps come for a purpose which the murderer had feared someone would appear for? Did Erling Vik come twenty-four hours too late to force Torvald Ørje to divulge the murderer of Mrs. Venhaug? Doesn't it seem unavoidably obvious that Torvald Ørje and Felicia Venhaug suffered death from the same hand?
"Erling Vik knew whom he had to face—a man who once had started a conspiracy to take his life, and whom he not long ago had chased from his house. This man knew that Erling Vik had close ties at Venhaug, and had a daughter living there. It is not unlikely that Torvald Ørje knew people who hated Erling Vik and the Venhaug people as much as he, and could tell them how all that Venhaug group could be stricken through one single individual. Sad to say, it is possible Erling Vik himself might have given Ørje that thought; he had demanded that the stolen paintings be sent to Venhaug."
How many were conceivable? Quite a few, but it is not the rule in Norway that hate leads to murder. Strangely enough, most were women, and Erling's thoughts touched upon the one closest in a geographical [p. 337] sense and therefore first to raise his suspicion—Vigdis in Kongsberg, Jan's friend of his youth. As so often before, he soon had a full dozen names but shook his head. It didn't quite check with any one of them. There was no lack of hate, but they were too stupid. The silent, clueless planning aimed higher than any one of them could conceive. "I believe you are checkmate, Monsieur Poirot," he thought, and smiled gloomily.
Among the stacks of letters that flooded headquarters was also an anonymous letter about his collision at the Bristol with Gulnare, now Mrs. Kortsen, but the letter-writer had been unable to identify the lady. Nor did the waiter recall the incident. Jan wasn't asked, and Erling only shrugged his shoulders: "Pure nonsense. Some woman I didn't know; I believe she had been drinking." Nor had the police expected anything.
He could not get away from the fact that there was something to what the paper had said—"not unlikely Torvald Ørje knew people who hated Erling Vik and the Venhaug people as much as—"
There could be many of those. Only yesterday he had heard a rumor that Mrs. Kortsen presided over a sort of traitor salon, and that Torvald Ørje had moved among that crowd.
But something was missing. Erling had seized on the fact that Felicia herself had mentioned the one who might take her life—but not the name of the woman she hated.
It need not be someone Erling knew by name. Of these he recalled only four. The first was Sissel Haraldstad. She was a widow when Felicia met her, now sixty-two years of age, and had not remarried. She lived a quiet life in an apartment on Arbien Street, where she gave music lessons, mostly to have some occupation. She was in good circumstances, had a grown daughter and a few grandchildren. Felicia's aversion had long ago turned into self-reproach, but he wasn't quite sure. That Sissel Haraldstad now, so much later, would have done away with Felicia did not seem plausible. Erling had never seen her, all his information had come from Felicia who never could forget her.
Number two was Cecilie Skog. During the past years she had changed her name many times, but recently she had taken back the name of her first husband and called herself Mrs. Skog. Probably without his permission. Cecilie was a few years older than himself, sixty-one he thought, although she looked older; she had not been one to preserve herself. Her last husband she had shot with a rifle in 1946, at Lysaker, and had escaped by saying she shot in self-defense. And the neighbors had testified they had heard a terrible brawl from the house before the shot was fired. People who knew her could not help but smile when they [p. 338] heard Cecilie Skog had needed a rifle to defend herself, but Cecilie had displayed a black eye, and there had been no witnesses in the room. The Cecilie Erling had known unfortunately developed a great taste for cognac, but had been sober the day she had seen him at Skøyen, which she reported to the police the following day. They couldn't endure the sight of each other, and were uncomfortable when moving in the same circles. Felicia herself had not seen her since about 1939. It had not surprised Erling that Cecilie could shoot her husband in a fury fired with the right amount of cognac, but he could not picture her as a calculating murderess.
Then there was Viktoria Hagen. She hated Felicia to such an extent that she never could control herself when her name was mentioned.
The fourth was Margrete, Julie's mother, who had got the child with Erling that Felicia herself had wanted, and who never stopped reminding them of her existence through vague hints of blackmail now and then.
Erling arrived at the conclusion it could be none of them. But who was she, then, the woman Felicia never had called by name?
"Listen, Jan," said Erling, "I think I have a possible theory about what happened when Torvald Ørje was killed. I imagine when that little Goebbels was in the news recently, the wounds might have been reopened in some one of our boys from those days; one who like you and me had forgotten about Ørje, forgotten that he was one of the many who never had to pay the piper as we had then expected. This boy of ours, he had forgotten, and was forgotten himself, but like Torvald Ørje he wanted to remind us of his existence. I can picture him so clearly among the many now totally obscure—a man of average looks, an average Norwegian who didn't react too strongly to foreign boot-tramps in the streets at night, an average guy who sluggishly and at long last gets good and mad. He has heard they are picking on the king, both in the papers and in their broken Norwegian. Actually, he had never thought much about the king, but had in his slow manner attended to his own business. Now he gets it into his head that our king—what in heck have those people to do with him? He is our king, and this is Norway. What in hell are they doing in our country?
"And as surely and as slowly as always, he gradually approaches the heart of the matter. Perhaps his father was arrested or killed for one reason or another, and he grows ever more restless. But one day there is peace again, and he goes back to planting cabbage which he likes best of all. The years pass by, but one day something awakens him again; he [p. 339] reads in the papers that the little Goebbels from Os is active again. That man? Is he free? And our average guy, this serious and slow man, goes one day to this apartment house at Maridalsvei. Someone opens the door when he rings, as people do nowadays when they no longer expect Gestapo-calls, and a man of average appearance recognizes the one who opens, and bangs in his skull with a two-inch pipe about a foot long."
Jan's eyes had taken on something of their old, wondering naïveté. He said, "I didn't read in the paper that he had left any such tool lying around."
"Neither would I have."
Jan looked vacantly at him for a moment before he rose and resumed pacing the floor. Presently he asked, "Do you think the police will dig any more into your—your possible visit to Oslo, now that the paper tells them what to do?"
"My dear Jan—of course they thought so right along; to put it mildly, they assumed I had been in Oslo when so many had seen me."
He looked about, tired. "There has been so much, Jan, and you know my thoughts are on something else. But I told them I would give them some information if they would treat it with discretion when they found it was useless. They agreed after some stalling. I told them it was correct that the lady had seen me at Skøyen, but all the rest was nonsense. Of course they had to ask if I hadn't been to Maridalsvei as well, but I said no, I don't know anyone there. I didn't wish to say more than necessary, and my visit to Oslo they would have discovered sooner or later—and perhaps read more into it if I hadn't told them myself. Then they asked me to look through some reports; it was only gossip and nonsense, and they felt the same, but they had to keep everything for the record. Then there was that woman who had seen me at Skøyen. For some reason they wanted to assure her she was right; I said I didn't care as long as she didn't shoot me. They thought this was quite funny, but one of them suddenly thought of something and said, very seriously, 'Is it correct that you two are deep enemies?' I admitted nothing worth recording."
He rose and started walking the floor also, the two of them making the figure 8 in their wandering. "It must be annoying to the police," continued Erling, "that they are made out to be more stupid every day through the newspapers. It must be something peculiar with those police-reporters, perhaps reading too many detective stories. Some sort of wish fulfillment to be a Sherlock Holmes and not waste their time on incompetent policemen. The papers offer advice and clues to the police, and tell them what they should do, which has been done already long ago, unless it's pure nonsense."[p. 340]
Jan said, tonelessly, "I hated so to stir things up any more. After this here with us, and Torvald Ørje—after I got you off—"
He waited a moment and continued, "I had to strike, or know that someone did. Once Ørje had—well—perished—then I wanted nothing further. One day it'll all come out. Let it take its time. I believe such a person himself might feel there is something unfulfilled in the whole matter until the secret comes out. He might confide, make a slip of the tongue. Save something that shouldn't be saved. Drink too much one day. Confide to a diary and leave it on a table. The wish to confess is there all the time. I agree with the journalist—it is something from the war years."
He stood still for a moment, looking at the pictures of Harald and Bjørn. "It is so strange to look back at it now. They tell us to forget, now that they have paid for their crimes. Who has paid? Thousands of Norwegians at Sachsenhausen did pay. The others? A few were beheaded, and the small sinners paid fines or served short prison sentences. Otherwise, as far as I know, not a single one has paid, not even according to law. All of them were let off. Yet, we must listen to this untrue, sentimental talk, that they have expiated their crimes. People who have not expiated their crimes, and never will, are now screaming in the newspapers and elsewhere, but the ones who came back from Sachsenhausen, their health broken—"
Jan stopped. He looked through the window at Julie, who was spreading grain for the hens which she had let out on the only bare spot in front of the chicken house. "We'll have more eggs again tomorrow now that the hens are let out," he said. "Fresh air, exercise, lust for life, an occasional green blade—Julie has good chicken sense." He looked at Erling. "I mean of course that she understands chickens."
Yes, Erling had understood what he meant.
"Felicia had it too," Jan added, as if apprehensive lest he elevate someone at the expense of Felicia.
There is something good about farmers, thought Erling, when they are top quality.
Jan turned and looked at Erling. "What about you, now—are you going to move to Venhaug?" he asked.
They looked at each other for perhaps half a minute. Then Erling replied, with an attempt to use his natural voice, "Do you think I should sell my house in Lier then?"
Jan spoke up quickly. "Oh, no! I've thought about that. If you otherwise think as I, that is. It's a remarkable house, solid as a fortress, and you like it. I don't see why we couldn't move it here. I think you [p. 341] would feel more at home in it—but you stay at Old Venhaug if you wish."
"It would cost a lot of money to tear down my house, move it, and raise it here again."
"That I have figured out. You can sell it to me for what it costs to move it and put it where you want it. And keep the right to live in it."
"You want to make a pensioner out of me?"
There was no sting in his voice, only bitter self-irony.
No more was said about it. Jan turned and looked again at Julie and the chickens.
Erling also turned and resumed his walk. He thought of Felicia and the birds.
Jan approached Erling. Julie was no longer there to look at. "It is like having something in the head that must be operated on," he said. "I've been thinking and thinking this over until my head wants to burst."
"You mean the letter Felicia said she was curious about?" asked Erling. "I know they pressed you hard to make you think of something. What was it? You never told me."
"There was no letter she could have been interested in—indeed, there was no letter for her at all. Nor during the following days. No more letters ever came for her."
"I bring it up because I forgot to tell you the Oslo police also asked that question. They asked me in detail and several times if it was like her to say something without any particular meaning—as people often do—make a statement in the air. I said I thought not. I said that when Felicia Venhaug said she expected a letter and was curious about it, then it was so, and she would have explained later. Both in Kongsberg and in Oslo they considered this quite important—that she was curious about a letter even though she didn't like to disturb the postmaster on a Sunday."
Jan said, in a strangely dry and formal tone of voice, "Of course they must think the same as we—that some message had come from someone who wanted her to take that road and hoped she would be alone. Or knew she would be alone."
After some moments Jan added, "She had secrets only when she wished to surprise us and bring us joy."
They walked around each other in their figure 8, and Erling did not reply, for a person must have time to calm his voice.
"Yes," said Jan, "she was very happy when she left. There was no secret she would have kept from us with that letter—that damned letter—"
They continued to walk round each other in that ingenious figure 8.[p. 342]
"It would have been a secret only until she returned," said Jan, and seemed quite calm now. "She would never have hinted if it didn't concern us. On the contrary—she wanted to raise our expectations about something."
They walked a long time, studiously keeping their paces. Jan seemed to have forgotten what he had in mind.
"What else, Jan?"
"Well, I'm thinking of some sort of personal description; the one who fooled her must have been terribly jealous and sly. So jealous of Felicia that she personified black evil. A person with no life worth while of her own who therefore must take it from someone else. And stupid this person must have been, for only stupidity uses slyness."
Yes, Erling was familiar with stupidity turning sly. He could picture to himself Evil in person approaching through the trees. He felt a chill at his hair-roots at the thought of what Felicia had seen.
Jan continued. "When I realized this fully I recalled Torvald Ørje. He was sly. But I felt that the one who killed her was not just a cheap personification of Slyness. I can't sleep nights. I see this impersonal Sly as something emerging from the forest, following her along the road, while the snowfall grew heavier and we sat here in comfort and knew nothing. I remember I was thinking I could hear her steps crackle against the ice—"
Jan grew silent again. His voice had been normal, as if he only were talking about the weather. He stopped and faced Erling. "Just look at what the principle of evil has wrought at Venhaug! If you have observed the children you must have noticed. There is something that can't bear for people to be happy. Something that in the name of morality crushes happiness. For this is the deed of an intense moralist."
It must have been planned, thought Erling. There could be no doubt about that.
He recalled how the detective at the police station had shown him the cork which a dog had found, and said with a grimace. "This is all we have!" and tossed the meaningless object back into the drawer. "If it had been you who were lost," said the detective, "then we could have followed that clue—that someone had treated you to home-brew." Or a rag with something else in it? Erling had wondered. "We found the bottle also, and the cork fits, and it was indeed home-brew. Yes, we thought of a rag with something also. We have gone through everything in the minutest detail—even your meaningless journey through Oslo. We have nothing of value, only that last sentence she uttered, about a [p. 343] letter. Surely, this must be the most anonymous letter in the history of criminology."
Jan resumed: "It was done by someone who envied her her goodness. A creature who hated the very name of goodness the way a churl hates. Someone crushed her to get peace, but will never have it now. It was done by sly and wounded jealousy itself. A creature intent on carrying out God's judgment. And here is my conclusion, what I know must have happened: This sly, subhuman being knew a trap could be set for Felicia through her expectation of some joy she could bring back, probably for the children."
"Who was it, Jan?"
"I don't know who it was. And I'm not sure it's something that can be traced back to the war years—even though that's probable. It needn't be only so. Deep down it is something much older; it was done by someone fighting for a principle—sly stupidity's hatred for everything it doesn't understand, which therefore must be rooted out. I don't know whom the Werewolf used for his tool, but something tells me it was a woman who lay in wait for Felicia."
Erling had sat down. He agreed with Jan. He didn't wish to say why, couldn't say why. He felt confused and unsure. It was this way: yesterday morning as he sat on the edge of the bed, getting into his clothes after another bout with nightmares, his eyes happened to fall on a crumpled piece of paper on the floor between the table and the bed. He had noticed it a few times before; now he picked it up. It was folded several times and crumpled before being thrown away. He smoothed it out and read its contents.
Then he sat and looked vacantly before him. He knew at once how the paper had got there; the last time Felicia had been to Old Venhaug, she had felt for something on the bedside table and had happened to sweep off her open handbag. He recalled her annoyed exclamation as she leaned out of the bed and gathered in the contents of the bag from the floor; she had overlooked the small piece of paper; as was usual, they did not have on the electric light, only a small candle which left the floor under the table in deep shadow.
On the paper was written in Felicia's sure and clear script: If I could kill her with black magic I wouldn't hesitate.
He had read it several times before he burned the paper. He realized only too well what he might start; he might as well put a match to a gasoline tank. That he should be the one to bring this dark message from Felicia—so to speak, from his own bed.
Things will always turn up to make one work against the police, he [p. 344] thought. People who have not encountered tragedy can hardly understand it in advance; they take for granted we must give the police all the information we can. Such must seldom be the case.
Jan stopped in front of him and asked, "That woman you saw in the train dining car and couldn't locate later—you said she might have left the train at Kongsberg?"
It surprised Erling that he had entirely forgotten that experience, but that was the way it was, he told himself; many experiences that make great impressions can get completely lost in forgetfulness, especially if they lack obvious meaning or cannot be fitted into a pattern. Only slowly did it dawn on him—oh, yes, the back of a woman, a woman who literally looked at him through her back, while he sat in the dining car and read the Book of Esther.
But Erling was worn out, and he knew how tired Jan was. He thought of Julie and the children who had lost their Felicia; the older daughter was in the hospital with hysterical spasms. And he thought of what he himself had almost done to Torvald Ørje, done in his thoughts, lived through in every detail with many variations, a deed he ruthlessly would have perpetrated—if someone else had not already been there. Someone else who perhaps also had brought a two-inch pipe of suitable length, but who scarcely had a pig-snare with him as well, to make sure. Indeed strange. When Torvald Ørje in 1942 had sent people to murder Erling, the Gestapo also had been on the way. Two had been on the way also when Ørje's turn came.
Jan was standing in front of him waiting for an answer.
"Yes, I remember now," said Erling. "Well, you know I get those feelings for no reason at all. It was probably as Felicia said—I might have drunk more than I should while in Oslo."
Again he pictured to himself that sinister something he had visualized—not at all a man of ordinary appearance, as the saying goes. Who could it have been? He felt himself in the midst of a sinister something, and he had caused it. With both hands he would have taken the pipe, arched his back like a butcher ready to hit an ox in the head. The victim would have felt something was wrong, would have turned half about; he would have hit Torvald Ørje on the top of that dog-head, and heard a crunching sound—and the agony he had heard then, in a call from far away, the ringing call of the gladiators: We who are about to die, greet you, Caesar!
That too had happened differently. He had, in the stranger's shape, or inside him, waited for Torvald Ørje in the street, and they had walked up the steps together. "I never can use a belt for my trousers the way you [p. 345] do," Erling said. Torvald Ørje replied that a belt was more convenient, and rather handy if one wanted to hang oneself. Erling had taken his eyes off the belt. Well, he had replied, nothing like being prepared. They had walked along the upper hall to the door. Ørje unlocked it. "I'll go in first and turn on the lights," he said. Erling pulled the snare from his pocket and unrolled it, as the Messenger from Venhaug followed Torvald Ørje inside—
In that moment realization came over him; he bent forward in his chair, panting: the Messenger from Venhaug—the gardener, who had taken the car to "drive a bit"—five hours! Old habits are difficult to change: Tor Anderssen Haukas from Venhaug had been to Oslo and murdered Torvald Ørje.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Jan.
"I had a terrible cramp in my stomach."
"Better go to a doctor; one must be careful in such matters," said the matter-of-fact Jan.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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