The oldest boy told him something terrible had happened in Pickton, a farmer had been murdered! — This barely registered. He headed up to the bedrooms and found Lotte busy talking down her father, who was trying to power through his illness and head over to investigate the crime scene. The perpetrator was still unidentified — they’d found the victim that morning outside his front door — there was a prime suspect: the dead man was the handyman for a widow who’d previously employed another man… who’d left her employment on bad terms.
When Werther heard this, he started violently. “Seriously?!” he yelled. “I’ve got to get over there, I can’t wait a minute.” He rushed off to Pickton, so many memories flashing through his mind, without a moment’s doubt that the guy who’d committed the crime was the same guy he’d spoken to so many times, who’d come to mean so much to him.
When he had to pass by the lindens to get to the stretcher where they’d laid the body, the sight of that spot he’d always loved so much made him furious. Those tractor treads, which the local kids had played on so many times, were spattered with blood. Love and trust, the best sides of humanity, had turned into violence and murder. The tall trees stood naked, the beautiful hedges that spread over the low cemetery wall were leafless, and the tombstones stared out through holes in the snow that covered them.
As he got near the stretcher, which the whole village was gathered around, a huge yell went up. You could see a police car off in the distance, and someone shouted that they had the killer with them. Werther didn’t have to wonder for long: he looked in the window as the car passed slowly by, and yes — it was the guy who’d loved that widow so much, whom he’d bumped into a little while ago with that quiet grimness, with that secret despair.
“What have you done, you idiot?!” Werther shouted, banging on the window. The prisoner looked at him quietly, stayed silent, and finally called out tonelessly, “No one gets her, she gets no one.” The car drove off towards the police station, and Werther rushed away.
This horrible, powerful shock shook up everything inside him. For a second, he was dragged out of his moroseness, his checked-out indifference; his fundamental sympathy won out, and an incredible desire to rescue this man took hold of him. He could tell how unhappy the man was; even as a criminal, he seemed so innocent to him. He related so deeply to the man’s situation that he was sure he could convince other people too. He was already planning to testify in his defense, already rehearsing a passionate speech — he hurried back to the D.A.’s house, and on the way he couldn’t keep himself from already half-mumbling everything he wanted to lay out for the D.A.
When he got to the house, he found Albert there; this put him off for a moment, but he pulled himself back together and ardently presented his position to the D.A. The D.A., however, shook his head a couple times, and although Werther laid out, as fervently, passionately, and truthfully as he could, everything one man can say to exculpate a fellow man — even so, as you might imagine, the D.A. wasn’t moved by it. Quite the opposite: he didn’t let Werther finish, contradicted him energetically, and scolded him for trying to protect a killer. He explained how, at that rate, every law would be suspended and the security of the state would collapse, and also added that he couldn’t interfere in this case without assuming enormous responsibility: it all had to happen by the rules through the established system.
Werther still didn’t give up, he just asked the D.A. to look the other way if “someone” happened to help the man escape. The D.A. convinced him to drop that idea, too. Albert, who finally stepped into the discussion, took the old man’s side as well. Werther got shouted down, and he headed out in a terrible state after the D.A. finally said, “There’s no saving him!”
It’s clear how hard that phrase hit him from a line I found in his notebook that was definitely written on the same day:
“There’s no saving you, fuckup! I can see now… there’s no saving us.”