The Crocodile Bird

The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell

Book: The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ruth Rendell
not.
    “Why?” said Liza.
    “Because I said no,” said Mother. “Mr. Tobias invited us but I said no, not this time.”
    “Why?”
    “I think it best, Liza.”
    On the Saturday evening she saw all the people coming back from a walk. She was at Mother’s window and she saw them all very clearly, passing the gatehouse garden. One of the ladies had stopped to admire Mother’s big stone tub that was full of geraniums and fuchsias and abutilon in full bloom.
    The men were just men, nothing special, though one of them had bare skin instead of hair on top of his head, and the ladies were nice-looking but not one of them as pretty as Mother. Perhaps Mr. Tobias thought so too, for he turned his head as they passed and gave the gatehouse a long look. Liza didn’t think he was looking at the flowers. But still, there was something special about the ladies, they looked different from anyone Liza had ever seen before, smoother somehow and cleaner, their hair cut as trimly and evenly as Mr. Frost cut the edge of the lawn where the flower border began. All three wore jeans like the milkman and Hugh, but one had a jacket like Mother’s best shoes, the suede ones with the trees in them that Liza liked to stroke, and a silk scarf with a rope and shield pattern, one a wondrous sweater with flowers knitted into the pattern and her face painted like Diana Hayden’s and the third a shirt like a man’s but long and made of bright green silk.
    Half an hour later one of their cars came down the drive from Shrove House—well, from the stable block, really, where cars were kept—with Mr. Tobias’s Range Rover ahead of it to show the way, and in the morning Mother told her they had all gone out to dinner in a hotel somewhere. By Monday they had gone away and she and Mother went up to Shrove to change the beds and clear up the mess. Or Mother did. Liza talked to Mr. Tobias and he showed her his holiday pictures. He took her into the library and said she must have any book from it she wanted to read. They took the dogs down to the river and waved to the train and when they got back Mother had finished.
    “I’m not at all happy about you doing this, Eve,” Mr. Tobias said and he didn’t look happy.
    “Perhaps I will try to get someone,” Mother said.
    Liza thought she seemed quite weary and no wonder, the house had been an awful mess, Mother had said nothing when they first arrived, but Liza had stared wide-eyed at the sticky glasses, the cups and plates standing about everywhere, the powdery gray stuff mixed up with burned paper tubes in the little glass trays, and the big brown stain on the drawing room carpet.
    “I should have cleared up myself,” said Mr. Tobias, which, for some reason, made Mother laugh. “Come out with me tonight? We’ll go somewhere for dinner.”
    “I can’t do that, Jonathan. I have Eliza, remember?”
    “Bring her too.”
    Mother just laughed again, but in a way that somehow made it clear they weren’t going out for dinner and that it was an absurd suggestion.
    “Then you can cook my dinner. At the gatehouse. It’s a poky little place and I’m going to have it done up for you from top to bottom, but if we haven’t a choice, the gatehouse it must be. Needs must when the devil drives. You’re a bit of a devil, you know, Eve, and you know how to drive a man, but you shall cook my dinner. If you’re not too tired, that is?”
    “I’m not too tired,” said Mother.
    Liza didn’t expect to be allowed to stay up with them. It was a nice surprise when Mother said she could, though she must go to bed straight after. Mr. Tobias came at seven with a bottle of something that looked like fizzy lemonade but had its top wired on and a bottle of something the color of Mother’s homemade raspberry vinegar. The top came out of the lemonade bottle with a loud pop and a lot of foam. They had a salad and a roast chicken and strawberries, and when Liza had eaten up the last strawberry she had to go to bed. Oddly

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