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The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

Author:George Bellairs
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Published: 2019-10-21T16:00:00+00:00


10

The Empty Room

The Scott-Harris house looked even more formidable in the daylight. The surrounding trees, mere shadows when Littlejohn had last seen them by night, were now revealed as old, neglected poplars with black trunks and knotted leafless branches. The soil under them was black and sour and covered by the decayed mould of last autumn, with menacing-looking fungus springing up among it. The gravel drive was sprouting long grass and the iron railings which enclosed it were short of paint and rusty.

The house itself, built squarely of brick, needed pointing, the woodwork looked as if the paint had been skinned off it, and the outhouses, some made of old timber, were rotting. The iron grids which once gave light to extensive cellars were choked with refuse and almost corroded away.

When Littlejohn rang the doorbell, the familiar sign on the jamb lit up dimly. Enter.

Through the dark, musty-smelling hall and past the ramshackle old bamboo hatstand; and then the glass-panelled door to the drawing-room.

‘Come in.’

Scott-Harris was in his usual chair in front of the fire with his feet on a stool. He looked feverish. His livid features appeared round the wing of the armchair. He had been drinking heavily, although it was barely past noon. He seemed relieved to see Littlejohn. He didn’t even greet him, but started issuing orders right away.

‘Glad to see you. Just in time. That scoundrel Ryder’s been out all morning and the coal scuttle’s empty. Can’t go and fill it meself. Blood pressure. Be a good fellah, and fill it. The shed’s right opposite the back door. Straight ahead, through the kitchen, and there you are.’

Littlejohn seized the bucket and made off. The kitchen behind was large, old-fashioned, and untidy. A sink full of unwashed dishes. Pots, pans, cardboard cartons, and empty food tins littered about. And over all, the stench of stale cooking and rotten fruit.

The flagged yard behind was dirty and neglected. Buckets, dustbins, ashes, and a trail of coal from a wooden shed to the back entrance of the house. Beyond, a wilderness of kitchen garden, untended, litter strewn about it, and overhung with the wrecks of old trees like those in the front garden. An old tennis lawn, too, with the grass all overgrown and decaying in a slimy mass. In the centre of the lawn, a smoke-blackened statue of a young goddess without a head.

Littlejohn wrestled with the door of the coalshed, one of the hinges of which was broken, and filled the scuttle from a heap of coal dumped on the earth floor. A rat scuttered from a pile of old wooden boxes presumably there for firewood. The whole set-up was indescribably sordid and depressing. Littlejohn wondered what the rest of the rooms in the house were like.

Scott-Harris didn’t thank him when he returned with his load.

‘Put some on the fire before it goes out altogether.’

Littlejohn raked out the ash and filled the grate.

‘The swine cleared away the breakfast dishes and I haven’t seen him since. He’s been behaving damned strangely of late.



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