Bending the evidence
My wife and I had saved up enough to buy a small cottage in the country. When I mentioned this project in the clubhouse one of the members told me of a house that would soon come on the market because of the recent death of the owner. If we hurried we would have a good chance.
Two days later we were motoring through wild country on our way to the village of Grimwit. We paused at a bend in the road where the broad fjord came into view. Rough uncultivated fields sloped down to the water's edge, with a straggling row of decrepit houses lining the beach. A desolate sight to all but city dwellers obsessed with the romantic ideal of rustic solitude.
We crossed by ferry to the village and found the caretaker, Mrs. Grimstock. She took a heavy bunch of keys and led us over the road to the house.
Mrs. G. turned out to be a talkative character. She prattled all the time. At first I took no notice of her but concentrated on the important matter of inspecting the building and taking careful note of all the shortcomings that would make our holidays an enjoyable round of perpetual repairs.
We started in the living room, with its view over the water to the grey summit of Grim's Pike, briefly revealed between rain squalls.
Then we moved to the bathroom. It had clearly been modernised by an amateur hand. The uncomfortably short tub sat in a timbered recess, with the shower head poking out from the side. The planking was already warped from the water acting on the unvarnished planks.
"Mr. Nathan didn't finish that job before he left for Canada" said Mrs G., noticing my critical eye on the water stains.
This gave her the opportunity to launch into a long, rambling account of the macabre circumstances of the owner's death. This event had evidently been one of the high points in her life. She had discovered his body lying on the bathroom floor, with the shower still spraying. The doctor attributed death to a heart attack.
"Lucky for the young 'un that he had not had time to change his will." said Mrs. G. cryptically.
After expressing our sympathy with Mrs. G. over the terrible shock she must have enjoyed, we moved into the next room, which had been the old man's bedroom. It looked old and tired, with faded and stained wallpaper. There was just a bed, a chair and a cupboard in the wall, with the door hanging open.
"The wiring doesn't look too healthy!", wispered my wife, pointing to the tattered ends of an electric cable that dangled inside the cupboard.
"Yes, and right behind the shower too!" I replied. "This cupboard is built into the bathroom. That pipe goes to the shower head." I pointed to a plastic pipe fastened to the inside of the cupboard. "It looks new. I expect it is part of the son's bathroom renovation".
"Master Nathan cut those wires." Mrs. G had the enviable ability to listen carefully while prattling away on auto-pilot. "They went to the clock." She pointed to a pale mark on the wall above the bed. "He said that the old man wanted the clock to stop ticking the same time as he did, so Nathan took it down as soon as he arrived back from Canada."
"How long after the death was that?" I asked carelessly, as I peered with rising interest at the back of the bathroom wall, exposed within the cupboard.
"About two days after the old man passed away." answered our guide.
"Remarkable loyalty to the old man's sentimental wish!" I muttered under my breath to my wife. "Or perhaps a thank offering that he had not changed his will!"
"How long before the old man's death did Nathan leave for Canada?" I asked.
"Not long, maybe two months."
"Just after he nearly finished the bathroom repairs?"
"He seems to have done a good job." I lied. "Evidently a versatile fellow."
"A bit too versatile he was" said Mrs G opaquely. "He read forestry at university but preferred to work, or rather play, in the city. He got into trouble there, so his father sent him to study the trees in Canada."
"He doesn't seem to have borne a grudge against the old man."
"Strange that he didn't!" said Mrs. G, warming to her work. "His father threatened to disinherit him because he wanted to marry a girl he didn't approve of. Nathan brought her up here once and I think I'm on the father's side of the argument. Really tarty piece she is."
"Maybe the threat didn't carry too much financial weight" I said, looking around at the evidence of the owner's humble life style.
"Oh! You didn't know Mr. Grimthrop" snorted Mrs. G, "He was rich enough. He owned thousands of acres around Grim's Pike. The Grouse shooting brought in a few pennies, or rather Mark and Yen. But he was so mean he put in a short bath for visitors and himself only took a shower once a week".
on to the next part...
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