“The Pledge” by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (From Across the Pond)


“The Pledge” by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (click on the cover for more information)

“We sent out all our available men. That night already and on the following day, we called garages to ask whether traces of blood had been observed in a car, and later we called the laundries. Then we checked all the alibis of everyone who had had a brush with certain paragraphs in the civil code. Near Mägendorf our people scoured the woods with dogs and even with a mine detector, hoping to find tracks and especially the murder weapon. They systematically searched every square meter, climbed into the gorge, searched the brook, collected everything they found there, combed through the woods all the way up to Fehren.

“I, too, took part in the search in Mägendorf, which wasn’t

my usual way. Matthäi, too, seemed on edge. It was a perfectly pleasant spring day, the air was light, no föhn, but our mood was dark. Henzi interrogated the farmers and factory workers in The Stag, and we set out to visit the school. We took a shortcut and walked straight through a meadow with fruit trees. Some of them were already in full bloom. We could hear the sound of children singing in the schoolhouse: ‘Then take my hands and lead me.’ The school yard was empty. I knocked on the door of the room where the hymn was being sung, and we stepped in. “The singers were girls and boys, six to eight years old. The three lowest grades. The teacher who was conducting dropped her hands and looked at us suspiciously. The children stopped singing.

“‘Fräulein Krumm?’ “‘Yes?’

“‘Gritli Moser’s teacher?’

“‘What do you want?’

“Fräulein Krumm was about forty, thin, with large sor- rowful eyes.

“I introduced myself and addressed the children. “‘Good morning, children!’

“They looked at me with curiosity.

“‘Good morning!’

“‘That’s a pretty song you were singing.’

“‘We’re practicing a hymn for Gritli’s funeral,’ the teacher explained.

“In the sandbox stood a model of Robinson Crusoe’s island. Children’s drawings hung on the walls.

“‘What sort of child was Gritli?’ I asked hesitantly.

“‘We all loved her,’ the teacher said. “‘What about her intelligence?’

“‘She was an extremely imaginative child.’ “Again I hesitated.

“‘I should ask the children a few questions.’

“‘Go ahead.’

“I stepped in front of the class. Most of the girls still wore braids and brightly colored aprons.

“‘I’m sure you have heard what happened to Gritli Moser,’ I said. ‘I’m the chief of police, which is like a captain in the army. It’s my job to find the man who killed Gritli. I want to talk to you now as if you were grown-ups, not children. The man we are looking for is sick. All the men who do such things are sick. And because they are sick, they try to lure children to a hiding place where they can hurt them, a forest or a cellar, any kind of hidden place, and it happens very often. In our canton, we have more than two hundred cases a year. And sometimes it happens that such a man hurts a child so badly that it has to die, like Gritli. That’s why we have to lock these men up. They’re too dangerous to be allowed to walk around freely. Now, you may ask why we don’t lock them up before something bad hap- pens to a child like Gritli? Because there is no way to recognize these sick people. Their sickness is inside, not outside.’

“The children listened breathlessly.

“‘You must help me,’ I continued. ‘We must find the man who killed Gritli Moser, otherwise he will kill another little girl.’

“I was now standing in the midst of the children.

“‘Did Gritli tell any of you that a stranger talked to her?’ “The children were silent.

“‘Did you notice anything unusual about Gritli recently?’

“The children knew nothing.

“‘Did Gritli own anything new recently that she didn’t use to have?’

“The children didn’t answer. “‘Who was Gritli’s best friend?’ “‘Me,’ a girl whispered.

“She was a tiny little thing with brown hair and brown

eyes. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked. “‘Ursula Fehlmann.’

“‘So you were Gritli’s friend, Ursula.’

“‘We sat together.’

“The girl spoke so softly I had to bend down to hear her. “‘And you didn’t notice anything either?’


“‘Gritli didn’t meet anyone?’ “‘Someone, yes,’ the girl replied. “‘Whom did she meet?’

“‘Not a person,’ the girl said.

“That answer startled me.

“‘What do you mean by that, Ursula?’ “‘She met a giant,’ the girl said softly. “‘A giant?’

“‘Yes,’ the girl said.

“‘You mean she met a big man?’

“‘No, my father is a big man, but he’s not a giant.’ “‘How big was he?’ I asked.

“‘Like a mountain,’ the girl replied, ‘and black all over.’ “‘And did this—giant—give Gritli a present?’ I asked. “‘Yes,’ said the girl.

“‘What was it?’ “‘Little hedgehogs.’

“‘Hedgehogs? What do you mean by that, Ursula?’ I asked,

completely nonplussed.

“‘The whole giant was full of little hedgehogs,’ the girl said. “‘But that’s nonsense, Ursula,’ I objected. ‘A giant doesn’t

have hedgehogs!’

“‘He was a hedgehog giant.’

“The girl insisted on her story. I went back to the teacher’s desk.

“‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘Gritli does seem to have had a lot of imagination, Fräulein Krumm.’

“‘She was a poetic child,’ the teacher replied, turning her

sad eyes away from me. ‘I should go back to practicing the hymn now. For the burial tomorrow. They’re not singing well enough yet.’

“She gave the pitch.

“‘Then take my hands and lead me,’ the children sang out again.”

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