In the small community of Sehlingen was a villa.
To the utter amazement of all those
visitors who had strayed there, this villa was the eyesore of the farming
village. The mighty building had been abandoned for many years and was decaying
in the shadow of the market square. Like a compost heap, the building was
rotting inside and out and was shunned by all its inhabitants.
It had stood empty for over fifty years. The people of Sehlingen did not
talk about it, it was like a thorn stuck in their village. It could not be
removed. It was like a deadly disease or a leper, it was shunned and ignored. But
it was part of the village and therefore part of the community. The grounds of
the mansion were closed off, letting nature do its work there in silence.
Over the course of time, the hedges around it had developed into an
untamed monster. Ivy grew over partly withered leaves, spiders and insects
inhabited the many brittle holes in the low entrance wall. The wall crumbled
everywhere, the left statue of the column was missing from the entrance gate,
while the right one lay broken on the ground. A thick branch of the oak tree
that stood next to the entrance had smashed a granite swan into its component
parts. The storm that was responsible had scattered the tiles of the roof in
the front garden.
Anyone standing in front of the entrance and inspecting the mansion
could not help but notice that the windows were almost broken everywhere.
Shards lay inside and outside. The entrance door was smashed, torn curtains
blowing in the wind and the draught turned them into ghosts. Squeaking doors
and creaking wooden boards foreshadowed disaster for whoever heard them in the
The splendour that this property once enjoyed when it was built within
two years was long forgotten. The eleven or twelve rooms were dirty, the damp
upholstery and furniture were mouldy, the interior furnishings lay scattered
from the entrance to the attic. The filthy, rape-yellow exterior was already
blended into a cinnamon-coloured, disgusting tone.
Today, the mansion is no longer entered by anyone. Fearing to be cursed
or even killed by a supernatural power, the old people used it to scare the
The storm could not have done it all on its own. The people of Sehlingen
are guilty of one thing. They were not responsible for building it, but they
were responsible for its decay and wanton destruction.
After all these years of decay, only recently did a young man named
Léonard appeared who intended to call the villa his own.
Léonard slowly got closer to his goal.
He had been working towards this for a long time. As part of the
renovation to put everything in order, he managed to reap the fruits of his
labour, at least on this day. The last cobwebs were removed as he stowed a sack
of yellowed leaves, punctured blankets, and broken roof tiles in a corner. The
broom, all grey and damp from the leaking roof had served its purpose and was
to be disposed of as well. He knelt for a while beside the old, reddish-brown
cherry wood cupboard. He read the partly torn and mouldy notice that someone had
stuck on the still intact door. Apart from the numerous dead spiders, it was
the only interesting thing in the attic.
It didn't really look any cleaner. But at least it now looked as if
someone lived here. Léonard inspected the holes in the ceiling and felt the
support wood. He had no desire to have the roof repaired and considered not
abandoning the attic altogether.
His tidying up had no particular reason. Maybe he just wanted to take
his mind off things a bit. In any case, his arrival in the village was not the
best. Everyone immediately looked at him when he drove his car into the front
garden of the mansion and suffered a flat tyre.
He had only been there for a day, but the people of Sehlingen already
knew that Léonard was a young man looking for a quick buck. They immediately
avoided him, not without letting him in on it by standing in front of the
property and letting their curiosity play with them. Who would want to enter
this disgraceful place?
The rain had eased in the morning. The sun cleared the clouds and the
Léonard strolled downstairs after closing the chamber door. The past
that lurked within these walls was still alive. Arriving in the foyer, he was
startled at the sight of the rubble and the missing furniture. He thought he
was seeing boyish pranks when he visited the rest of the rooms, but after a while
he gradually realised that all the residents had taken part in destroying the
mansion internally. The façade smelled of charred paper, romantic landscape
paintings became cruel acts of war and the destroyed cupboards and tables were
victims of an insatiable beast. The buffet lacked plates and cutlery, the divan
in the reception room lacked loins.
It gave him an ounce of motivation after the inspection. He had started
with the attic, as there was the least to do there.
He just didn't expect to have to clean up so much. Léonard knew about
the resentment of the locals and the resentment towards the mansion. He
couldn't resist going to the market that morning to buy some fruits. By then he
had already noticed the washerwomen on the wall, staring at him suspiciously.
Some gossiped in a loud tone that he could overhear.
Léonard liked this attention and couldn't help smiling as he lit a
cigarette and wished the group of gossips a good day.
The village pub was always well filled. The cheerful music of the
accordion, the shouting of card players and the clinking of glass amidst the
ceiling fogged with cigarette smoke was the everyday situation in this dimly
When Léonard entered the pub that evening, it was silent for a brief
moment. Motionless, the musician stared at him while one of the card players
tried to make one of his cards disappear under the table. Léonard grinned and
greeted every single table he passed before coming to the counters. At first he stared at the painting of a hunter hanging
behind the liquors before whistling confidently to call the host to him.
The music of the accordion began anew as the innkeeper glared at
Léonard, talking to a man who, with his bowler hat and suit, didn't really fit
into this pub.
Léonard whistled a second time when the man in the bowler hat came up to
him and introduced himself as Mayor Krautmann. The young man was surprised but
very pleased that no one less than the head of the village came to him.
"I suppose you don't take orders."
With a wave of his hand, he called the innkeeper over.
"Two wheat," the mayor demanded in his gruff voice.
"And a match." Léonard grinned and tried to hand the innkeeper
a cigarette, which he refused to accept.
"Come with me," the mayor ordered when they had their glasses
and a pack of matches.
Léonard followed him into a gloomy corner opposite the card players. For
a moment, Léonard remained silent. He watched the scene while the mayor looked
at him, hoping he would say a word.
"You moved into the villa," he said after the silent seconds.
Léonard raised his glass and wanted to toast. Krautmann didn't seem to
want to understand his humour.
Krautmann squeezed his eyes tightly shut and eyed Léonard's clothes
while he lit a cigarette. He finished it with relish before continuing. The
mayor had not yet taken a sip of his beer but was waiting to hear more than
this word in reply.
"It's my villa. I inherited it."
Léonard clearly recognised how the mayor shuddered at these words and
the bowler hat almost fell off his head. The moustache vibrated even seconds
after Léonard's revelation. Krautmann tried to grab his glass, succeeding only
after several attempts.
"I don't suppose you know what this mark of shame is all
about," he tried to explain calmly. "If you have indeed inherited
this monstrosity, it means you are related to this de Waarfay guy."
"It's nice to know he's still remembered. That de Waarfay guy was
my grandfather," Léonard smiled, "That's why I love these small
villages. Everyone knows everyone."
With a mock manner, he tossed a cigarette to the mayor. He took it and
put it in his pocket with his tissue.
"I don't suppose you know that your grandfather is wanted."
"He's dead," returned Léonard curtly, "Shall I give you
the address of the cemetery?"
Krautmann slammed his fist on the table. Before he could shout anything,
"Now that this matter has been cleared up, why don't I ask about
the people responsible for putting the villa in this mess?"
Léonard blew smoke in the mayor's face. Krautmann turned all red. Even
his moustache and bowler hat seemed to turn red. For a moment he stood in front
of the table, about to throw his beer glass at Léonard when cheering rang out
from the table of card players. The cheater seemed to have won and shouted into
the room that he was paying for all the drinks. Léonard kept his eyes on the
mayor and counted to ten with him in his mind to get down a bit.
With a fake smile, he tried to turn the situation in his favour.
"When you leave the village, I am willing to speak to the priest to
have your sins forgiven."
Léonard laughed out loud.
"Doesn't he already have enough to do with the sinners in this
village?" he asked, coughing. "I just want to play a little detective
and do some investigating of my own."
He stood beside the mayor and tossed him some coins.
"I thank you for the invitation. Help yourself to some liquor
before you go to sleep. And don't worry, I won't accuse anyone of emptying the
safe in my library."
Léonard strolled through the pub and went to the card players, where he
introduced himself with an elegant bow and placed the cheater´s card on the
"You seem to have lost something earlier."
Léonard laughed and made his way out of the pub before he could witness
the coming minutes.
"Have a good evening, gentlemen," he said with a wave.
To the next part: Chapter I.2.