Daniel, p.1Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
Also by Henning Mankell
PART I - THE DESERT
PART II - THE ANTELOPE
PART III - SON OF THE WIND
Also by Henning Mankell
THE DOGS OF RIGA
THE WHITE LIONESS
THE MAN WHO SMILED
THE FIFTH WOMAN
ONE STEP BEHIND
THE RETURN OF THE DANCING MASTER
BEFORE THE FROST
CHRONICLER OF THE WINDS
THE EYE OF THE LEOPARD
THE MAN FROM BEIJING
I DIE, BUT MY MEMORY LIVES ON
In memory of Jan Bergman
SKÅNE, SOUTHERN SWEDEN, 1878
The crows were fighting. They dived towards the mud, flung themselves up again, and their cries cut through the wind. It had been raining a long time, this August of 1878. The restlessness of the crows was a portent of a long, hard winter. But one of the tenant farmers working below Kågeholm Castle, just north-west of Tomelilla, was bewildered by them. There was something strange about their agitation. And he had seen flocks of crows his whole life. Late in the afternoon he walked alongside a ditch that was filled with water. The crows kept squabbling, but when he approached too closely they fell silent and flapped off. And he, who had come to investigate what was bothering them, discovered at once what it was. A girl lay dead, half buried under the brushwood.
He realised at once that the girl had been murdered. Someone had stabbed her and slit her throat. But when he bent close over her face he noticed something odd, something that frightened him more than her slit throat. Whoever killed her had suffocated her with mud, which he had stuffed down her throat and into her nostrils. He had pressed so hard that he had broken her nose. The girl must have suffered an agonising death.
He ran back the same way he had come. Because it was obviously a murder, Chief Constable Landkvist in Tomelilla called for help from the investigative police in Malmö.
The dead girl’s name was Sanna Sörensdotter and she was regarded by all, including the parish pastor David Hallén, as mentally retarded. She had been missing from her home in Kverrestad for three days before her body was discovered.
According to the doctor who examined the corpse, Dr Madsen of Simrishamn, she had apparently been sexually molested. But since her body was in a state of decomposition and the crows had done considerable damage to it, he had to admit that the truth might well be something else.
Many rumours flourished as to who had murdered her. One of the simplest claimed that a Polish sailor had been seen in the area just before Sanna disappeared from her home. Although a bulletin was put out all over Sweden, and even in Denmark, the man was never found.
The murderer remained at large.
Only he knew what he had done.
He had walked a long way in the intense heat. Several times in the last twenty-four hours he had been struck by vertigo and thought that he was about to die. It had filled him with fear, or perhaps it was actually rage, and he had struggled on in a fury. The desert was endless. He didn’t want to die here, not yet, and he had urged on Amos, fat Neka and the other black men he had hired in Cape Town who were driving his three oxen and the wagon in which his entire life was packed and tied with ropes. Somewhere ahead of them, deep inside the blinding heat, there was a trading post, and if he reached it everything would be all right again. He would not die. He would continue to search for his insects, to look for a damned fly that no one had ever seen before, which he would name after himself, Musca bengleriensis. He couldn’t give up now. He had invested everything in this hunt for an unknown fly. So he struggled onward, and the sand and the sun sliced through his mind like knives.
Two years earlier he had been sitting in his student room on Prästgatan in Lund and listening to the sound of horses’ hooves clattering on the cobblestones outside, as he studied an incomplete German map of the Kalahari Desert. He traced his finger along the coastline of German South-West Africa, north to the border of Angola, south to the land of the Boers, and then inland, towards the centre of southern Africa, which had no name. He was twenty-seven years old then, in 1874, and he had already given up all hope of completing his university studies and passing his exams. When he first came to Lund from the Cathedral School in Växjö he had thought of becoming a physician, but he fainted and fell like a heavy tree on his first visit to the Anatomy Theatre. The lecturer, Professor Enander, had clearly explained before the doors were opened that they were going to dissect a homeless, unmarried woman who had drunk herself to death at a brothel in Copenhagen and been transported back to Sweden in a pine box. She was a Mamsell Andersson from Kivik, who had fallen into the sinful life and delivered an illegitimate child at the age of fifteen. She had sought happiness in Copenhagen, where there was nothing to be found but misfortune. He could still hear the almost salacious contempt dripping from Professor Enander’s introductory words.
‘We shall be cutting up a cadaver that was already a cadaver even in life. A whore’s cadaver from Österlen.’
Then they had entered the Anatomy Theatre en masse, seven medical students, all men, all equally pale, and Professor Enander had begun to slice open her abdomen. That’s when he fainted. He struck his head on one of the hard steel edges of the dissection table; he still had the scar, just above his right eye.
After that he had abandoned all thought of a medical career. He considered joining the army but could envision nothing but a meaningless ritual of marching and screaming young men. He had dabbled in philosophy, and thought about becoming a pastor when he sat drinking with his friends, but there was no God, and finally he wound up among the insects.
He could still recall that morning in early summer. He woke with a start, as if something had bitten him, and when he threw open the window the stench from the street below made him sick. As if aware of sudden danger he quickly threw on his clothes, grabbed his walking stick, and strode out of town to the south, towards Staffanstorp. Somewhere along the road he grew weary and stepped into the bushes to rest and perhaps masturbate in the shade of a tree. And as he lay there a gaudy-coloured butterfly settled on his hand. It was a brimstone butterfly, but it was something else as well. The play of colours kept shifting on its wings as they slowly opened and closed. The rays of sunshine falling through the foliage transformed the yellow to red, to blue, and back to yellow. The butterfly sat on his hand for a long time, as if it had an important message for him, and then, as it suddenly took flight and vanish
The world was full of insects which didn’t have names and had not been catalogued. Insects that were waiting for him. Waiting to be sorted, described and classified. He had returned to Lund, sought admission to the Botany Department, and although he was already a senior student the professor was kind and accepted him. During the summer he visited his home in Småland, where his father lived as a man of independent means on the family estate outside Hovmantorp. His mother had died when he was fifteen; his two sisters were older, and since they were both married and lived abroad, in Berlin and Verona, only his father was there, with the old housekeeper. The house was decaying, just as his father was slowly rotting away. He had contracted syphilis in his youth when he was in Paris, and now he sat imprisoned inside an arbour in the summer, alone in his chair. The arbour was pruned so that one had to crawl inside through a hole quite close to the ground. In the autumn his father locked himself in his bedchamber and stayed there through the whole six months of winter, motionless, staring at the ceiling and grinding his teeth until the warmth of spring returned.
Bengler’s grandfather had been fortunate in his business speculations during the Napoleonic Wars, and there was still some capital left, although it was much diminished. The estate was mortgaged to the rooftops, and every time he visited his childhood home he realised that this was all the inheritance he could expect. Nothing but the monthly allowances that made it possible for him to survive in Lund.
His father was a shadow and had never been anything else. And yet Bengler visited him in in Hovmantorp that summer to obtain his blessing. He had a vague hope that his father would be able to give him a little financial support for the expedition he was planning.
In addition, and this was the most important thing, he knew that it was time to say goodbye. His father would soon be gone.
From Växjö he got a lift from a travelling salesman who was going to Lessebo. The wagon was uncomfortable, the road was bad, and there was a strong smell of mould from the salesman’s coat. He was indeed wearing a fur coat even though it was early June - not full summer heat yet, but already warm.
‘Hovmantorp,’ he said after an hour had passed. ‘A fine-sounding name. But there’s nothing there.’
Then they introduced themselves. That never would have happened when they met the night before, as he went round the inns in the little town looking for a ride.
The travelling salesman pondered for several kilometres before he replied.
‘That doesn’t sound Swedish,’ he said. ‘But what is Swedish anyway, other than endless roads through equally endless forests? My name isn’t Swedish either. It’s Puttmansson, Natanael Puttmansson, and belongs to the chosen yet exiled people. I sell brushes and household remedies for barrenness and gout.’
‘There’s some Walloon in my lineage,’ replied Hans Bengler. ‘A bit of French. There’s a Huguenot in the family too, and a Finn. And a French cavalry captain who served under Napoleon and took a shot through the forehead at Austerlitz. But my name is genuine.’
They rattled on further. A lake glittered among the trees. He’s certainly not talkative, Bengler thought. Big forests either make people silent or make them talk incessantly. I’m thankful that this salesman who smells like mould is a man who keeps his mouth shut.
Then the horse died.
It stopped in its tracks, tried to rear up as though it had suddenly encountered an invisible enemy, and then collapsed. The salesman didn’t seem surprised.
‘Swindled,’ he said simply. ‘Someone sells me a horse under false pretences, and the only thing I’ve never learned to judge is horses.’
They parted ways without much ado. Bengler took his knapsack and walked the last ten kilometres to Hovmantorp. Since he was a man devoted to insects, he stopped now and then to study various creeping things, preparing himself to see his father. Just before he reached Hovmantorp it started to rain. He crept into a barn and masturbated for a while as he thought about Matilda, who was his whore and worked in a brothel just north of the cathedral. It was several hours before the rainstorm passed. He sat looking at the dark sky while his member dried off, thinking that the clouds looked like a caravan, and he wondered how it would be to live in a desert where rain almost never fell.
Why had he decided on the desert, anyway?
He didn’t know. When he was studying the maps his first thought was of South America. But the mountain ranges frightened him, since he didn’t like being up high. He had never even dared climb the tower of the cathedral to look out over the fields. It made him dizzy just thinking of it. The choice came down to the great steppes in the realm of the Mongolians, the deserts of Arabia or the white spot in south-west Africa. His final decision had something to do with German. He spoke German since he had hiked the country with a friend several years earlier. They had made it all the way down to the Tyrol. Then his travelling companion suddenly contracted a fever and died after violent attacks of vomiting, and Bengler hurriedly returned home. But he had learned German.
As he sat there in the barn with his member in his hand, he thought that he was actually an apprentice, sent out into the world by the dead master Linnaeus. But he also worried that he was not at all suited to the task. He had a low tolerance for pain, he wasn’t particularly strong and he was scared of loud noises. Yet one thing could be counted as an asset for him, and that was his stubbornness. And behind his stubbornness lay vanity. Somewhere he would be able to discover a butterfly, or maybe a fly, that was not listed in the catalogues of entomology, and then he could name it after himself.
He went home. His father was sitting in the arbour soaking wet when he crept through the hedge. His father’s jaws were grinding, he was crumbling away. He was bald, his skin hung loose and he did not recognise his son. It was a living death sitting there in the arbour, his jaws grinding like millstones with no grain, his whole skeleton creaking, his heart heaving like bellows, and Bengler felt that this pilgrimage to his childhood home was like stepping into a nightmare. But he still sat there for a while and chatted with his deranged father. Then he went up to the house, where the housekeeper was pleased to see him, but no more than that. She made up a bed for him in his old room and gave him something to eat. While she was clattering around in the kitchen he walked round the house and picked up any silver he found. He was taking his inheritance in advance, realising that he would be arriving in the African desert as a quite indigent entomologist.
During the night he lay awake. The housekeeper usually brought in his father at sundown and put him to bed on a sofa downstairs. Sometime in the night he went down there and sat in the shadows looking at his father. He was asleep, but his jaws kept on grinding. Something suddenly made Bengler upset, a sorrow that surprised him, and he went over and stroked his father’s bald head In that instant, with that touch, he said his farewell. He felt as if he were standing and watching a coffin being lowered into the earth.
Afterwards he lay awake and waited for daybreak. There was no substance to this waiting, no impatience, no dreams, as though his insides were a flat, cold slab of stone.
He left before the housekeeper awoke.
Three days later he returned to Lund. During his first week back he travelled across the Sound and sold the silver in Copenhagen. Just as he had suspected, he didn’t get much money for what he had to offer. The only thing that brought a good price was a snuffbox which had belonged to the ancestor who had his brains blown out at Austerlitz.
By the following year he had learned everything he now knew about insects. The professor had been friendly, and when he asked why a perpetual student had suddenly been gripped by a fascination for the tiniest creatures, Bengler replied that he actually didn’t know. He had studied colour plates and examined the insects preserved in alcohol, floating weightless in the glass jars that stood on mute shelves in the halls of the Biological Institute. He had learned to distinguish and identify, had plucked off
He had told no one but Matilda about his plans. She came to him every Thursday between four and six in the afternoon. Besides having sex, always in the missionary position, she also washed his shirts, and afterwards they would drink port and talk. Matilda was nineteen years old and had left her home in Landskrona when her father tried to rape and then set fire to her. For a brief period she had been a maid before she threw away the apron and the subservience and headed for the brothel. She was flat-chested but very nice, and he made no other demands on eroticism but that it should be nice, not troublesome or ecstatic. He told her about the journey on which he would be embarking the next year, early in the spring, when he understood it was not yet too warm in southern Africa. She listened, uninterested beyond the fact that now she would have to look for another steady customer.
Once he had suggested that she come with him.
‘I refuse to travel by sea,’ she replied vehemently. ‘You can die there, sink to the bottom and never come up.’
And nothing more was said about it.
Winter that year was very mild in Skåne. In early May he moved out of the apartment on Prästgatan. He told his few friends that he was going to take a short trip through Europe and would be back soon.
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