The lightning struck from Venhaug
Jan asked, "You haven't by any chance let slip anything about that drive Tor Anderssen took the evening before you left?"
"The possible connection did not occur to me until so late," said Erling, "that it seemed quite unimportant to mention it. Once I thought of it, I have hesitated even to speak to you about it."
"I think it must be so. It somehow fits the man. I'm not so sure he was out for revenge—I don't know of course, I don't even know that he did it. It could be that his dark mind thought up some other valid reason to go out and kill. Perhaps he thought we were at war again; you strike, I strike. He was sorry when peace came to the country. By the way, did that journalist hit the nail on the head when he speculated about a second visitor at Torvald Ørje's apartment the evening after the murder?"
"Right on the button. As if he had been there himself."[p. 364]
"What did it look like? I mean, was there anything to give one a definite clue?"
"No. It was really a strange situation. And equally strange that for a few seconds I wondered if it had been done by a man or a woman. I couldn't come to any conclusion, haven't now either. There is a lot of talk about male and female methods, you know, but I don't take much store in them. Some time ago I was with a cartoonist and his wife. They showed me a drawing done by a woman. I happened to make some remark about female lines. I shouldn't have. They pulled out a stack of drawings and wanted me to tell which ones were drawn by women and which ones by men. I dared not even try to guess. Once a book of mine came out under a female pseudonym. The reviewers swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, and discovered the influence of other women writers.
"When it comes to murder, one can find examples that fit any preconceived idea as to the behavior of fragile womanhood. But this is pure romanticism. I have never in my life met a woman who was fragile. If you read various foreign papers you constantly see reports of female criminals, and every time it's pointed out as a rarity, even though practically an identical report was in the paper the day before. It's an axiom that 'fragile' women use poison, and men a sledge hammer; we wish to believe it is so, and it must be so, but equally often the case is just the reverse; but without changing our conviction concerning the mild woman who gently kills us with strychnine, while the brutal man uses an ax, plowshare, or empty bottle. You know the saying about a drunken woman being such a sight, and there is something to it, but if there is a difference in the behavior between the sexes in such a situation, then I believe the man takes the prize. It is madonna-worship that is rampant again; a woman must not shout or drink, this she must let the man do alone; she must be a blue flower in the field to be eaten by the first bull-calf passing by. It's also an axiom that if a woman falls she falls much lower than the man. Can you tell me how she could manage that? The answer is simply that you feel insulted when she stinks of sewer to a degree you can't sleep with her. But she too might have a sense of smell and object to men who carry on and smell like old drunkards. Those who insist a woman's degradation is so much worse than a man's will always as a last and deciding argument ask you what you would say if you saw your mother or sister like that. If such an argument means anything at all, it must be that the mother or the sister has nerves of steel wire and wouldn't at all object to seeing her male counterpart in a corresponding state of degradation. Where then is the mild fragility and the woman to be protected?[p. 365]
"The method used with Torvald Ørje at Maridalsvei, in my opinion, points as much to a woman as to a man, even though the papers might profit more by making it out a woman. It was not a pill in a cup of tea, which either might have figured out. It was a crushed head which also either one could have perpetrated. It ought to be obvious that it is a situation a murderer is able to create which decides how the murder is accomplished. When it comes to hitting hard, well, not even this is a male specialty; not even when a doctor states that the blow has been delivered with a force indicating a man; doctors seem to forget there are small men and big women."
"Did you look for anything? Did you investigate anything?"
"No, all I could do was to disappear and not touch anything at all. And I don't suppose you think I had been drinking? You must have read in the papers what I did. I couldn't have described it more in detail myself."
"Was everything you observed mentioned in the papers?"
"In some ways not. When I read that only one blow had been delivered, with some blunt instrument, I felt as if walking against a red light. I began to suspect some trap but couldn't figure out what. Because it did not agree with what I had seen. Then came the post mortem report, which repeated the same thing. You know, if someone had shown me that head at an interrogation and asked how it came to look like that, I would have said it must have been crushed by a pile-driver. I must say it pleases me you have a new gardener."
Jan turned away, as he said, "Tor Anderssen has strengthened his alibi, even though he needn't. After this, no one would suspect him of Felicia's murder."
"It has bothered me since I began to think of Tor Anderssen," said Erling. "I'm unable to understand how the police have missed getting on his track. When they made so much noise about my journey to Oslo, one might think they would have inquired who else was away from Venhaug."
"I guess you weren't aware of it, but if it is Tor Anderssen, he knew what he was doing: everyone here went to some party in Kongsberg, except Julie, Aunt Gustava, and you and me. I don't think he would trust us exactly either, but he must have known the servants inadvertently could have said something. So he waited until that evening. Don't you see?—actually he could feel pretty safe if he avoided being seen in Oslo. No one here was suspected of anything, and no one would be, because the police, the papers, all were immediately led on the wrong track with their theory of a murderer's having been killed by a fellow [p. 366] criminal. You happened to be mixed up in it because you had been seen in Oslo. The police didn't think you fitted into the picture. Nor anyone else here at Venhaug. Why would they ever suspect revenge?"
"But Julie and Aunt Gustava?" asked Erling. He felt confused; had Jan wanted to protect him?
"I had to tell Julie not to mention anything about Tor Anderssen taking the car that evening. It was of no consequence, I told her, but the police would start poking in it and something else might turn up. I don't know how much she swallowed of that explanation. I'll explain the rest to her some other time."
"She must have seen through you. Was she frightened?"
"I can't say. She thought for a moment, and her reply was a little unusual. She told me when she first came to Venhaug, after she had been here only a couple of months, she stopped talking about anything here."
Erling had nothing to say.
"As far as Aunt Gustava is concerned, she had definitely drawn her conclusions. She won't say a word; she'll carry it to her grave."
"If there is room enough," said Erling, dubiously.
Jan let the joke pass and said, "Aunt Gustava is a most remarkable phenomenon. I have known her always. She is among my earliest memories. She is like my parents—they also could not tolerate anything being blown up into a sensation. Only people with empty lives pursue such. Aunt Gustava is curious, but she never carries tales. It might look bad for almost anyone around here if she did. Her policy has been to hoard what she hears. In a way, she has earned her bread by her silence. But in this case something else enters in; I guess you know she has Julie to thank that she wasn't sent to the old people's home, but instead has her own cottage here where she can enjoy her cider and eat all she can cram in. I might almost go so far as to say: a secret is best preserved when given to Aunt Gustava's keeping. I believe she is thinking Tor Anderssen has met his obligations, in a sense. She doesn't doubt that he killed Torvald Ørje. But you may be sure she'll keep it to herself. I sometimes picture Aunt Gustava sitting alone in her cottage, stretching one of her ears and talking into it like a funnel, confiding in herself."
There was something Erling wished to ask, but felt it was difficult. At last he let it out, "Tell me, Jan, what do you think of this other business with Tor Anderssen?"
Jan strode across the floor and came to a stop in front of the liquor cabinet. He took out two glasses, put them on the table, and filled them with cognac. When they had emptied them and Jan had poured another [p. 367] one for Erling, he fetched a cigar and lit it. Erling stuck to his cigarettes.
Jan said, "What do I think? I prefer to discount his pathological collection mania; only a sort of weakness in a lost man. A collecting nature, as you call it. I've read about fetishism and such and recall some from my adolescent days. Something that has remained with him. Julie wants us to forget it.
"But if it was the matter of Felicia's murder you have in mind, then I want to tell you that in spite of all attempts to find something else, I have not for one moment had any doubts, and do not have any now. I cannot put my finger on any individual, but I know the riff-raff who are behind this misery that has struck us."
"Now it has become Julie with the Birds," he interrupted himself, and sat for a long moment watching the smoke from the cigar in his hand.
"They have no doubt," he continued calmly, "that we know who sent the Werewolf after Felicia. A little while ago you were stirred up about male or female methods, but the more I think through this, I can't get away from the belief that a woman was mixed up in it. She wanted to strike everyone here, but Felicia above all, for she knew that that would hit us the worst. I know quite a few who might wish us evil, but only one or two I could suspect of this. But it could also be some avenger we don't know."
He pondered a while. "A man would first think of killing the one he considers the male head of the business he has in mind. But we don't know what business is involved, or which one among us could be considered the head. I believe it was a woman.
"In any case, we do know the group or groups that have fostered the Werewolf that struck here. And it was intended that we should understand. As much as I have been able to, I have tried to learn if Felicia had been enticed to bring along money; in that case it must have been cash she had lying around, but I never knew her to have big sums. Julie says the same. She had written no check. Thus it was not robbery, not even camouflaged robbery. It looks to me like a token act, a sort of calling card.
"Therefore they could never doubt that if someone struck back, the strike would come from Venhaug. They would have thought so under any circumstances, so I'm glad they're right. And how do I like it that it happened to be Tor Anderssen? Fine! It seems fitting that the Werewolf in person came from Venhaug."
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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