What the people of Sehlingen despised the most was connected to an event that had happened about fifty years ago. Regardless of the time, the inhabitants were so affected by this misfortune that over time it became part of the tales of the small village.
A double murder occurred only a short time after de Waarfay had built the villa and moved in. The wife of the village policeman and he were both found dead within a few hours. The wife was found floating in the 100-Mile River after being strangled, and the husband was found hanged in a barn. What made it not look like suicide was a single note found in the barn, which contained the name of the mansion owner.
This was enough to give the residents permission to capture de Waarfay. But he was already long gone and no one from the village ever found any clue about his whereabouts or his family. The only thing left for them to do was to demolish the villa and leave the eyesore in the village as a memorial to deter strangers.
With the appearance of Léonard fifty years later, who introduced himself as the heir to the villa, the people of Sehlingen were awakened from their slumber without knowing what was really going to happen. None of them suspected that Léonard had proof that his ancestor was innocent.
Léonard had slept badly.
If anything, it had been a few hours spent on a broken chair. The bedroom was a battlefield, there was no trace of the bed. Léonard had grinned on his first pass through, imagining how the priest had burned the mattress on the pyre to appease any spirits.
Léonard had been given the gift of the sun. The clouds with the rain during the night had disappeared, the dew dried on the blades of grass and occasionally a stray drop of water fell from the treetop onto the already dry ground.
There was a strange smell in the mansion, Léonard could not explain it. It was a mixture of baked bread from one of the neighbouring houses and the stench of an old house. With each breath he felt something in his lungs as if he were sticking his nose into an old, mouldy woollen blanket. Birds sang from outside and the first gathered in the market square to come to mass. The shattered windows helped him better understand the murmur outside.
Half a century ago, the bathroom would have offered the greatest luxury money could buy. The sheet-iron bathtub was dented and had a few cracks at the bottom, the tap was missing its valves, the toilet was broken, the ceramics lay scattered among rubble. A small flood had soaked the floor around it and deformed as soon as Léonard set foot on it. The cupboards were smashed and hacked; a towel covered in dust lay on the floor next to an old book. The mirror in front of the sink was cracked, Léonard looked at himself eight or nine times.
That morning, it was a bowl of ice-cold water that he had to use.
With renewed energy from the few fruits of the market, nothing could stop him from coming to the church.
Crossing the cobblestones to the church, Léonard lit a cigarette, which he had to destroy with a guilty conscience at the gates of the monumental building. He seemed to be the last one. He didn't really care.
The church of Sehlingen was ostentatious and grotesque, two towers rose nearly one hundred feet into the sky, the dark stones turned it into a cruel octopus and the interior had an eerie, ultramarine hue. The pillars held the roof steady, the windows kept the light out. There was room in the house for eight hundred visitors. The pews were plain and bare, too narrow for some Sehlingers. The candles for lighting were too expensive, the money presumably to pay for the many window mosaics which show the creation story in a drastic depiction. The huge chandelier in the middle had not been cleaned since its arrival in the church. It sometimes rained dust during a draught.
The altar was magnificent, large, and monumental, the neighbouring parishes envied the ornaments, the relics and many images made with care. On top of the tabernacle, the swan rose spreading its wings to welcome and protect the faithful - the symbol of the Goddess and Life.
"That's money well spent," he murmured as he entered.
The opening of the doors could not be ignored, the crowd inside turned their gaze away from the altar as the doors were leisurely silenced. He settled down on a bench while the old man at the altar was about to pronounce the blessing. For a few seconds, every pair of eyes in the cold building was on him. Léonard would not have been satisfied with less attention.
"We will only know the truth of life when we stand at the gates of the Eternal Realm," the young priest tried to reassure the crowd.
"Let's continue with our mass today," the hairless man next to the other now spoke.
Despite the abundance of different ages and genders, Léonard could not believe that three cold, uncomfortable wooden benches stood empty in front of him until the first occupied seats arrived.
The mass continued as usual, the old man speaking of the creation of the world and the sins given to men when they entered the Maiden´s Well. He linked it to everyday situations in the lives of some villagers. He read from the Book of the Goddess, afterwards the choir hushed after the priest cleared his throat several times. When he hid the book in the altar at the end, he had to clear his throat again because no one from the choir started singing.
Apart from the interruption when Léonard came in, it was a normal hour in the church. He watched the Sehlingers. Some couldn't help but notice that their backs were being stared at and glanced at the stranger.
There were whispers as the first ones went through the gates and passed Léonard. First the youngest, led by their siblings, then the parents and finally the elders, who did not hide their dislike at all. They almost wanted to spit in his face. The mayor with his four sons and three daughters, the youngest just six weeks old, glared at him as if giving him a new warning.
In front of the building, the residents bustled around and talked to each other, talked about the priest and lunch, about the beginning of summer and the sale at the Kerner department store in Lödingen. When Léonard was one of the last to leave the holy house, the murmuring began again. He did not care. He would have preferred to go straight to the mansion. He didn´t want to give them a reason to chase him away, so he now moved through the village.
The smaller the distance between him and the river became, the narrower and more tangled the paths to the shore became. The streets grew into alleys. The emerald-green trees became tasteless walls. The loose paving stones became churned earth and muddy puddles.
Upon reaching the river, he could no longer hear anything from the Sehlingers. At the mouth of the Rys, a tiny stream which shot out of the forest, Léonard could think and smoke his well-deserved cigarette. In his mind, the walls ran through a great palace.
The sky was not crying, the clouds were elsewhere, greeting the blessed ground with their tears. In the far distance lay the young man's destination.
The rusty chain of the supposed railing could not stop anyone from falling into the cold water. The river was deep. The current was clearly visible to the naked eye. Alone, one drowned. Like one of the sons of the Schäfer family, who had plunged in when he was four years old.
Léonard set off.
Along the houses whose dead windows stared at the river, past trees whose leaves were greener than the meadows, past the past, he emerged near the cemetery. His companions were the sparrows that flew around him, a kite from a high altitude distrusted him.
The Sehlingen cemetery was empty, situated some distance from the houses, and seemed to be the only place without a captured citizen. The mock cypresses had been newly planted, hiding the white-painted trellis. Larger patches of rust appeared. The bawling gate was old-fashioned and difficult to open.
Very few graves were cared for, few had flowers as mementos, most were disregarded. Some stone slabs were broken on other letters and numbers were missing. Léonard strolled lovelessly through the deserted alleys. He felt inwardly how the storm was reaching its beginning. He began to read the inscriptions. On some of them he just about deciphered them, so he found the bed of the Schäfer´s child.
He came to a modest grave of black granite, it was kept simple, similar to the one behind and next to it. A few letters shone. The slab had recently been cleaned. A bouquet of primroses lived at its feet. A stone swan watched over the underground contents.
Léonard thought. His thoughts were buzzing around the mayor and the emerging problems. He knew that his grandfather had built the mansion and the park without permission. He was not allowed to call this land his property. If the mayor found out about it, and Léonard was sure that the priest would talk to him about it today at the latest, it would mean trouble for him.
Léonard was in a hurry, he wanted to start running right away. He wanted to be out of breath, to waste his energy on a pipe dream that had brought him to Sehlingen. Hypnotised by the gravestone, he paid no attention to the fact that the sparrows had now disappeared. He puzzled over a plan to set everything in motion.
"How long do you think?" he asked the stone swan.
His eyes seemed to be watching Léonard.
He was no longer alone at the cemetery.
Four rows behind him stood a young woman. He saw her reflection on the smooth surface of the rock. When he turned around, it was too late. The bawling, white-coated grating had once again separated the dead from the living.
He waited in silence. Wandering between the graves, he smoked. He looked for the grave from where the girl had spied on him. He found it a few minutes later. The letters had been chiselled into it with such fury that the stone almost broke in two. A childish bouquet of colourful wildflowers had been thrown down lovelessly.
"Johanna von Preuß," he scanned the name, "The policeman's wife."
He looked at the gate one more time to make sure he was alone.
"Possibly a descendant?"
He was not allowed to limit himself to small things. He was not allowed to follow every lead, because he could never come to an end. While he was picking up the daisies, a plan came to his mind. Was he sure he had a trail? Would it lead him to his destination?