A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Inspector Rosie Baur put her head round the door of the interview room.

I’ve got it,” she said, holding a sheet of paper in her hand and waved it at Bob, “you two come along, and Mr Baker, you can come too in case we need a conducted tour. And if we don’t it might help you if we take you closer to your home.”

There’s a lot of information that needs investigating, ma’am,” put in Constable Strauss, “about the people who’ve lived in that old cottage since the war!”

I heard some of it,” she replied, indicating the observation station just outside the interview room, “and you’re quite right, Constable, it’ll take quite a lot of looking into. But it’s two children who, from all accounts, or at least from Mr Baker’s story, are Mr Baker’s own offspring, that are worrying me at the moment. Which is why he’s got to come with us.”

The sky was beginning to show signs of evening drawing on as she drove down the unmade lane with her three passengers, and more once arrived at Witch Cottage. The fire engine and its crew had gone but the mess of half-burned rubbish still had the odd spiral of smoke rising from it. There was no sign of Doctor Greaves either. He’d obviously done his poking around in the ashes and had taken away whatever he thought was of interest in sterile pathology plastic bags. Everything, in fact, looked lifeless unless there was life in the swirls of dying smoke.

It ain’t right,” grunted Ted Baker, “everything quiet like this.”

Isn’t it always fairly quiet?” asked Rosie.

There’s usually our Alice or our Ernie or both doin’ summat,” muttered Ted, “Our Ernie’s fair fond of kickin’ a ball about and Alice does stuff, girl stuff, like collectin’ flowers an’ such. An’ she’s a fair kicker at football too. Better’n a lot of lads, I reckon.”

And what about Miss Denton? What does she do?” asked Bob.

Which one?” asked Ted.

Which Miss Denton? Why, the dead one, of course!” replied Bob, “we know that the living one likes to write stuff, so what does the dead one do?”

She likes to go the stream on the Bottoms,” muttered Ted, “to bathe in its waters, ‘cause she says as it’s the waters as makes her beautiful. I don’t know what makes Miss Beverley beautiful ‘cause she don’t like the waters. She don’t rightly like any waters an’ only drinks milk!”

You mean, she doesn’t wash?” asked Constable Strauss.

Oh, she ain’t filthy or anything like that! But she don’t like too much water, not our pretty Miss Beverley Denton.”

Come on, then, let’s knock her door, and if there’s no reply we’ll see if the uniform boys can open it for us with their big red key,” said Rosie grimly. As she spoke a police car pulled up behind her, squeezing into the tiny parking area in front of the cottage.

She led the way to the door, and stepped aside for Constable Strauss to knock. He lifted one fist and rattled the door as hard as he could.

She won’t answer,” murmured Ted Baker, who was standing between the two constables, Short and Strauss. They were tasked at making sure he didn’t make a run for freedom in any furore that might possibly ensue.

At a signal from Rosie two sturdy uniformed officers carrying a heavy enforcer, ready to batter the door down, pushed their way forwards.

No need for the big red key yet,” muttered Bob, and he pushed on the door, which swung open at the lightest touch. “It wasn’t actually shut,” he confessed, “I could tell it might be open when I knocked it.”

The supporting uniformed officers swarmed into the cottage, dividing up as they went and shouting their presence in voices that Rosie thought would easily waken the dead if death was one of the secrets trapped in the ancient stones of the tumbledown cottage. After a few minutes it was concluded that the place was devoid of life. Even a goldfish in a bowl was floating upside down in its glass coffin on a rickety sideboard.

Come on, I’ll do down stairs and you go up,” she said to Bob, and she pulled some blue sterile gloves on and went into the first room off the small entrance hall with its deceased goldfish.

It was obviously the room in which the Denton women spent a great deal of their time. There was a small television, by the look of it one of the few monochrome sets still in existence, an ancient piano, a truly uncomfortable looking three piece suite, one of the chairs of which had a shiny coil spring jutting up through the worn seat cushion. The floor was covered in worn linoleum which had lost its pattern where the feet of decades had walked. In one corner was an office table with a truly ancient typewriter perched on it, and an untidy pile of paper next to it. Rosie picked up a sheet and glanced curiously at what had been typed on it.

Interesting, family history,” she muttered to herself, collecting the papers together into a neat pile.

The fireplace had ashes in it, and to Rosie’s less than expert eye they looked like the ashes of wood as if the main or only fuel for heating in the cottage was wood, and to her that made sense, what with the cottage being surrounded by ancient woodland with its inevitable debris of dead wood.

Trapped in the past,” breathed Rosie to herself, and she went to see what else there was, still on the look out for the two children who had remained mute to her questioning only that morning. Being a mother of twins she couldn’t help worrying about them even though she now knew they were cousins.

The kitchen was next. Again, it seemed to have been trapped in the past with no sign of anything remotely modern: no washing machine or means of drying clothes except for a wooden frame against one wall on which drying clothes might well be arranged. There was an old galvanised tub in which washing was probably laboriously done next to an ancient mangle with its huge wooden rollers and cast iron crank handle.

Against the window, dusty and in need of a clean itself, was the sink, an old stone affair that must have been past its useful age before the twentieth century dawned, and next to it what looked like a more recent though still ancient improvement: a dripping cold tap. Rosie shook her head. Life must have been very hard for the Denton women if this was all they had.

Confirming this opinion, the cooking arrangement was an education to her in itself. An enclosed wood-burning stove with a side oven and attached hot plate, and that was about it.

It’s like being in a museum,” she whispered to herself.

Upstairs, ma’am!” called Bob Short’s voice cut through her thoughts, almost excitedly.

She shook her head and made for the stairs, noting that they, too, must have been in place since the year dot.

There were three doors leading off a bare landing, and Bob was in the room off one of them. It was small, but crammed to overflowing with stuff.

It’s like a charity shop, ma’am,” he said, “and a well stocked one at that! Look here: a whole pile of those school uniforms that the two kids were wearing this morning, all look as near as damn it brand new and in a whole range of sizes!

They must have got these years before those two were born,” breathed Rosie, “what is this place? Downstairs it’s a museum and up here … what is it?”

Bedrooms and a storehouse,” muttered Bob, “and as for the bedrooms, Ma’am, there’s two of them with double beds in them. It looks as if the Denton sisters shared one of them and the kids shared the other.”

A boy and a girl,” whispered Rosie, “having to sleep together? My twins would never agree to that!”

They probably know no other way,” suggested Bob.

No!” shrieked an unexpected voice from the doorway. “You filthy creatures with but one thought on your dirty minds, what are you doing in my home? Who said you could come in here? Who said you could poke amongst our private things? Why are you here?”

It was Beverley Denton, and she was clearly very angry indeed.

© Peter Rogerson 01.04.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on April 1, 2020
Last Updated on April 1, 2020
Tags: cottage, museum, old fashioned, bedrooms


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..