The sky was in a friendly mood. The road ahead was deserted and the fields around them were lined with the colourfulness of flowers. Poppies and violets mingled with the white and yellow blossoms. The lonely road in front of Josef and Martha was peppered with potholes and ditches on the sides. Water collected there. All kinds of insects buzzed around the damp biomes.
"You saw him too, didn't you?" Josef asked his niece after some time of silence.
"The young man."
"Of course, or do you think I'm talking about Krautmann?"
"Why?" she inquired.
"You better stay away from that man. Did he speak to you?"
"No," she whispered.
"He's a de Waarfay," her uncle murmured.
The wind drove them forward, the horse did its work leisurely. Clouds disappeared, Speckern appeared in the foreground in the distance. They could already hear some automobiles.
"A Waarfay..." she repeated, "What's he doing here? I don't think anyone can stand the family."
"Let me tell you something, Martha. When someone with a black past comes back to the scene of the crime, it has to do with the fact that the deed is not yet done. Stay away from him! If he speaks to you, call loudly for me or someone else. The whole village doesn't like the idea of seeing one of this clan in Sehlingen again," Josef explained.
"Maybe he is here to take some belongings from the villa? " Martha suggested.
"Nonsense!" he replied. "Then why was he at the town hall? He wanted to register and from what I heard from Patrick, he wanted to know more about the policeman's family."
"You should know, you're always hanging around with Friedrich´s granddaughter."
"You are forgetting that she has not lived here for years. Besides, I don't think he's coming to Sehlingen to commit murder. Maybe he wants to apologise to the descendants? “
Josef shook his head.
"Don't trust people like that. Not at all. I can tell you; you can't trust people whose past you don't know and whose name you can't find in the civil register. And only that name! De Waarfay! That never sounds aristocratic. It's obvious that this fellow is an impostor."
"That may be. So far, he hasn't done anything," said his niece, "He hasn't bothered anyone yet-"
Just at that moment, Léonard's car sped past them, upsetting the horse. He had come towards them like a flash of lightning. He hadn't even noticed them.
"He's already bothering the whole village with his presence! Believe me, this... this stray is not to be trusted! Don't go near him and if he touches you, call the police immediately!" he yelled.
"You are a bit too suspicious..."
"If you don't do it, I will. People like that were abandoned in my childhood before they grew up. Or they were sold on the market! Tramps and good-for-nothings..."
Martha tried to bring her uncle up to another subject, which was not too easy given the fact that the name de Waarfay was haunting their minds. Everything, no matter what subject was brought up, ended with the words that Josef had just mentioned.
He was so fixated on it that he almost rode past his friend's inn before his niece set him on the right path.
The chairs were quickly delivered, there was a bit of chatter about Martha, the world and de Waarfay. Then, at last, there was lunch. Martha liked the owner, he was a similar drunkard to her uncle, but she could say nothing against him or the always delicious cold roast. When there was brandy for dessert, she fled from the inn.
Speckern, a small town, had about five thousand inhabitants. Situated on the 100-Mile river, it had its own library.
The Simon Schreck Library was located in a small alley between two main streets, had generous opening hours and possessed a total of over 180,000 novels, atlases, and music books.
Martha liked coming here. She liked the smell she got as soon as she got past steps.
It was a single, huge room on the third floor, with shelves that went almost to the ceiling and all the books Martha could imagine. It was a bright place, the light bulbs hanging tastelessly from the ceiling seemed in contrast to the oak frames. Just beyond the reception, there was a cosy courtyard with some climbing hydrangeas.
The owner sat at the reception desk. Mrs Ingeborg Wildt was a thin, small figure with light blond, wavy hair, and small stern eyes. She usually wore her pearl necklace and her sky-blue dress. She always carried a pocket watch.
Martha had great respect for her. Not only was she a native of Sehlingen and had managed to escape from the clutches of the community, but she was also the strongest woman she had ever met. Mrs Wildt had been a nurse and had travelled to many military hospitals during the war. What she had seen in her life shaped her, which was the reason for establishing a public library.
Martha was to start her apprenticeship. She had already received confirmation from Mrs Wildt. She had only received an acceptance from the Imperial Labour Office last week. Martha was incredibly excited when she received the letter from the office and was allowed to hold the confirmation of employment in her hands. It was not easy for her to write a letter and get a birth certificate. Since she was not a wartime resource, she was able to pursue her wish.
While she narrow-mindedly forgot the world around her, she began to read the individual spines of books, someone on the other side of the room began to play the piano. The wonderful melody of a well-known composer could only reach her when the staff member, Hildegard joined her.
"Hello, Martha. How are you?"
Martha looked at the high pile of books Hildegard was dragging.
"Good. I'll take some off you. How are you?"
"As you can see, work is progressing," she smiled, "Recently, many new issues of the Society of Geography have been published.“
Martha did not talk about it but now noticed that a woman was sitting at the piano. She had never seen anyone play there before and wondered if someone came by to play more often.
"I've never seen her before."
She looked across the courtyard at the figure that called this enchanting melody into being. Martha could not make out much.
"The holidays will soon be over, won't they?"
"That's right. Then my apprenticeship begins," the girl said excitedly.
"You're really looking forward to it."
"Of course! “
"Many are moving away from the area, hoping to find work beyond the occupied zone," Hildegard explained in a whisper, trying to catch a thick tome. It landed on the floor.
"The Nordic Palatinates from Siebenfeder." read Martha as she picked up the book, "Hasn´t this Siebenfeder written a novel?"
It rang a bell when she read the name, but she couldn't tell if she had already read one or not.
"The Palace of Arias was published almost two and a half years ago. But it is not a novel. Rather, it is a collection of anecdotes. There was a lot of fuss about it because a short time later his sister died," Hildegard explained thoughtfully.
The employee nodded.
"They said it was murder. The police couldn't find any evidence for a culprit and suddenly this Siebenfeder was under suspicion. Since her parents were dead, he had to take care of her and divide the money he had earned between them."
"I remember about this a bit."
"He fled before he was taken to prison," she continued, "Siebenfeder has gone into hiding. At least until now."
"So, he's still out?" asked Martha excitedly.
"He's still wanted," she replied, "Don't worry, he won't come to our place."
"Do you have The Palace of Arias?"
"As far as I know, the edition was destroyed. The Northern Palatine League currently owns the sales rights. It´s very hard to find a copy."
"Because of the murder?"
"I don't know anything for sure. There was something about his father, too. This one was a general in the duke's army. After his death, there was discussion about a possible murder, but it was quickly contained so as not to drag the army into the mud. Moreover, now, with the new government and the Imperial Territory Leader... The war has changed many things in our beautiful country..."
Neither of them could make sense of it.
"You can read this book. I cannot promise you that we will ever get The Palace of Arias."
"Thank you very much."
With a weight of over two pounds in her luggage, Martha set off to one of the free tables to leaf through the tome. It was obvious that she would lose track of time. Once she fell into the pages, she had to be woken up either by her uncle or by Mrs Wildt.
The Nordic Palatinates lay open and ready for reading pleasure after she had made sure who was sitting at the piano.
She did not know the woman.
Léonard's urge for cigarettes had chased him out of the village and brought him back within half an hour. Fortunately, he could call a car his own.
With new strength in his lungs, he went straight back to the cemetery on his return. The gravedigger, a mason and gardener at the same time, was his only interlocutor. The gaunt, hunchbacked man had so many wrinkles on his face that Léonard was surprised they had not yet obscured his view. He watched him dig a new grave while he was still thinking about whether to speak to him or not.
Away from him, he sat on a bench and watched the ravens. There was only the name von Preuß. He pulled out a leather, purple notebook from his inside pocket and read through his notes. He didn't have many clues.
"Not exactly helpful..." he muttered bored after reading.
He marched to the gravedigger.
His look revealed that he was as much an outcast from Sehlingen as Léonard. His momentary mistrust vanished after he took two from the box and tucked one behind his right ear with a toothless smile.
"The fellow from the villa." he grinned, "What's someone like that got to do with me, eh?"
"I thought I could be of help to you."
The gravedigger wanted to laugh, but it was more of a cawing sound that he made.
"My boy, if you've been doing my job since you were little, you don't need any more help. I've buried people here before you were born. I know this cemetery like my home, I can tell by the smell of the earth when there are only bones left," he slowly bellowed.
Léonard looked around.
"I suppose you live just over the wall in that house there."
The old man croaked again and nodded.
"You are one to me. The lad from the villa and the old gravedigger."
Léonard smiled and handed him his lighter.
"You weren't here when the murder took place?"
"Har har har. I was a young boy then. I don't remember it," he returned. He inspected him from top to bottom.
"Too bad." said Léonard, "I thought I might be able to find out more from you."
"You've come to the wrong address; my father buried the poor souls. The priest himself asked for the suicide to be buried outside the walls. I would have done the same if they asked me. " he shared, casting a sombre glance at a birch tree on the field.
"You wouldn't happen to know where his child lives?"
The gravedigger stared at him in confusion.
"Who do you mean? Friedrich or Wilhelm?"
"Friedrich," Léonard returned.
The old man turned to the houses and waved his cigarette.
"The forester lives in the Field Lane."
He turned back to Léonard and pointed to an unadorned courtyard behind his house on the slope of a hill.
"Back there. The cranky old man doesn't open the door for anyone. So, you can forget about a visit. Haven't seen him in years either, maybe he's long dead," he said laughing, "You didn't get that from me, alright? I don't want any more work, lad."
“Don´t worry, I won´t kill anyone, old man.”