Read A Judgement in Stone Online
Authors: Ruth Rendell
“Ruth Rendell is … a phenomenon.”
The New York Times Book Review
“No one can take you so totally into the recesses of the human mind as does Ruth Rendell.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Rendell’s clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional.”
The New Yorker
“If there were a craft guild for writers, I’d apprentice myself to Ruth Rendell.”
“Ruth Rendell is a master of the form.”
The Washington Post Book World
“No one writes with more devastating accuracy about the world we live and commit sin in today.… She is one of our most important novelists.”
“Ruth Rendell is one of the best crime novelists working today.”
Los Angeles Daily News
“The best mystery writer anywhere in the English-speaking world.”
The Boston Globe
“Ruth Rendell is, unequivocally, the most brilliant mystery novelist of our time. Her stories are a lesson in a human nature as capable of the most exotic love as it is of the cruelest murder. She does not avert her gaze and magnificently triumphs in a style that is uniquely hers and mesmerizing.”
“Undoubtedly one of the best writers of English mysteries and chiller-killer plots.”
Los Angeles Times
A Judgement in Stone
Ruth Rendell is the author of
A Sight for Sore Eyes, Road Rage, The Keys to the Street, Bloodlines, Simisola
The Crocodile Bird
. Her most recent novel is
. She is the winner of the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award. She is also the recipient of three Edgars from the Mystery Writers of America and four Gold Daggers from England’s Crime Writers Association. In 1997 she was named a life peer in the House of Lords. She lives in England.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
FIRST VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, JANUARY
1977 by Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Hutchinson, London, in 1977, and in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1978.
Vintage is a registered trademark, and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rendell, Ruth, 1930-
A judgement in stone / Ruth Rendell.
p. cm. — (Vintage crime/Black Lizard)
I. Title. II. Series.
For Gerald Austin, with love
Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.
There was no real motive and no premeditation. No money was gained and no security. As a result of her crime, Eunice Parchman’s disability was made known not to a mere family or a handful of villagers but to the whole country. She accomplished by it nothing but disaster for herself, and all along, somewhere in her strange mind, she knew she would accomplish nothing. And yet, although her companion and partner was mad, Eunice was not. She had the awful practical sanity of the atavistic ape disguised as twentieth-century woman.
Literacy is one of the cornerstones of civilisation. To be illiterate is to be deformed. And the derision that was once directed at the physical freak may, perhaps more justly, descend upon the illiterate. If he or she can live a cautious life among the uneducated, all may be well, for in the country of the purblind the eyeless is not rejected. It was unfortunate for Eunice Parchman, and for them, that the people who employed her and in whose home she lived for ten months were peculiarly literate. Had they been a family of philistines, they might be alive today and Eunice free in her mysterious dark freedom of sensation and instinct and blank absence of the printed word.
They belonged to the upper middle class and they lived a conventional upper-middle-class life in a country house. George Coverdale had a philosophy degree, but since the age of thirty
he had been managing director of his late father’s company, Tin Box Coverdale, at Stantwich in Suffolk. With his wife and his three children, Peter, Paula, and Melinda, he had occupied a large 1930-ish house on the outskirts of Stantwich until his wife died of cancer when Melinda was twelve.
Two years later, at the wedding of Paula to Brian Caswall, George met Jacqueline Mont. She also had been married before, had divorced her husband for desertion, was then thirty-seven, and had been left with one son. George and Jacqueline fell in love more or less at first sight and were married three months later. George bought a manor house ten miles from Stantwich and went to live there with his bride, with Melinda, and with Giles Mont, Peter Coverdale having at that time been married for three years.
When Eunice Parchman was engaged as their housekeeper George was fifty-seven and Jacqueline forty-two. They took an active part in the social life of the neighborhood, and in an unobtrusive way had slipped into playing the parts of the squire and his lady. Their marriage was idyllic and Jacqueline was popular with her stepchildren, Peter, a lecturer in political economy at a northern university, Paula, now herself a mother and living in London, and Melinda who, at twenty, was reading English at the University of Norfolk at Galwich. Her own son, Giles, aged seventeen, was still at school.
Four members of this family—George, Jacqueline, and Melinda Coverdale and Giles Mont—died in the space of fifteen minutes on February 14, St. Valentine’s Day. Eunice Parchman and the prosaically named Joan Smith shot them down on a Sunday evening while they were watching opera on television. Two weeks later Eunice was arrested for the crime—because she could not read.
But there was more to it than that.
The gardens of Lowfield Hall are overgrown now and weeds push their way up through the gravel of the drive. One of the drawing-room windows, broken by a village boy, has been boarded up, and wisteria, killed by summer drought, hangs above the front door like an old dried net. Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
It has become a bleak house, fit nesting place for the birds that Dickens named Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach.
Before Eunice came, before Eunice left and left desolation behind her, Lowfield Hall was not like this. It was as well kept as its distant neighbours, as comfortable, as warm, as elegant, and, seemingly, as much a sanctuary as they. Its inhabitants were safe and happy, and destined surely to lead long secure lives.
But on an April day they invited Eunice in.
A little blustery wind was blowing the daffodils in the orchard, waves on a golden sea. The clouds parted and closed again, so that at one moment it was winter in the garden and at the next an uneasy summer. And in those sombre intervals it might have been snow, not the blossom of the blackthorn, that whitened the hedge.
Winter stopped at the windows. The sun brought in flashes of summer to match the pleasant warmth, and it was warm enough
for Jacqueline Coverdale to sit down to breakfast in a short-sleeved dress.
She was holding a letter in her hand, in her left hand on which she wore her platinum wedding ring and the diamond cluster George had given her on their engagement.
“I’m not looking forward to this at all,” she said.
“More coffee, please, darling,” said George. He loved watching her do things for him, as long as she didn’t have to do too much. He loved just looking at her, so pretty, his Jacqueline, fair, slender, a Lizzie Siddal matured. Six years of marriage, and he hadn’t got used to the wonder of it, the miracle that he had found her. “Sorry,” he said. “You’re not looking forward to it? Well, we didn’t get any other replies. Women aren’t exactly queueing up to work for us.”
She shook her head, a quick pretty gesture. Her hair was very blonde, short and sleek. “We could try again. I know you’ll say I’m silly, George, but I had a sort of absurd hope that we’d get—well, someone like ourselves. At any rate, a reasonably educated person who was willing to take on domestic service for the sake of a nice home.”
“A lady, as they used to say.”