About the Author
Also by Ruth Rendell
Title Page
Author’s Note
The Fever Tree
The Dreadful Day of Judgement
A Glowing Future
An Outside Interest
A Case of Coincidence
May and June
A Needle for the Devil
Front Seat
Paintbox Place
The Wrong Category
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Epub ISBN: 9781407070650
Version 1.0
Published by Arrow Books 1983
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Copyright © Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd 1982
Ruth Rendell has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 1982 by Hutchinson
Arrow Books
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Arrow Books is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 9780099321300
Ruth Rendell was an exceptional crime writer, and will be remembered as a legend in her own lifetime. Her ground-breaking debut novel, From Doon With Death, was first published in 1964 and introduced readers to her enduring and popular detective, Inspector Reginald Wexford.
With worldwide sales of approximately 20 million copies, Rendell was a regular Sunday Times bestseller. Her sixty bestselling novels include police procedurals, some of which have been successfully adapted for TV, stand-alone psychological mysteries, and a third strand of crime novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.
Rendell won numerous awards, including the Sunday Times Literary Award in 1990. In 2013 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE, and in 1997 became a Life Peer.
Ruth Rendell died in May 2015.
Also by Ruth Rendell
The Best Man to Die
A Demon in My View
From Doon with Death
The Face of Trespass
The Fallen Curtain
The Fever Tree
A Guilty Thing Surprised
A Judgement in Stone
The Killing Doll
Lake of Darkness
Live Flesh
Make Death Love Me
Master of the Moor
Means of Evil
Murder Being Once Done
The New Girlfriend
New Lease of Death
No More Dying Then
One Across, Two Down
Put on by Cunning
The Secret House of Death
Shake Hands Forever
A Sleeping Life
The Speaker of Mandarin
Some Lie and Some Die
To Fear a Painted Devil
The Tree of Hands
An Unkindness of Ravens
Vanity Dies Hard
Wolf to the Slaughter


Ruth Rendell


For Catherine, Pam and Brett Jones
Author’s Note
The following stories have already appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine:
The Fever Tree; A Glowing Future (published under the title ‘A Present for Patricia’); An Outside Interest (published under the title ‘The Man Who Frightened Women’); A Case of Coincidence; Thornapple (published under the title ‘The Boy Who Collected Poison’); May and June (published under the title ‘The Strong and the Weak’); A Needle for the Devil; Front Seat (published under the title ‘Truth Will Out’); Paintbox Place (published under the title ‘The Paintbox Houses’); The Wrong Category (published under the title ‘On the Path’)
The Fever Tree
Where malaria is, there grows the fever tree.
It has the feathery fern-like leaves, fresh green and tender, that are common to so many trees in tropical regions. Its shape is graceful with an air of youth, as if every fever tree is still waiting to grow up. But the most distinctive thing about it is the colour of its bark which is the yellow of an unripe lemon. The fever trees stand out from among the rest because of their slender yellow trunks.
Ford knew what the tree was called and he could recognize it but he didn’t know what its botanical name was. Nor had he ever heard why it was called the fever tree, whether the tribesmen used its leaves or bark or fruit as a specific against malaria or if it simply took its name from its warning presence wherever the malaria-carrying mosquito was. The sight of it in Ntsukunyane seemed to promote a fever in his blood.
An African in khaki shorts and shirt lifted up the bar for them so that their car could pass through the opening in the fence. Inside it looked no different from outside, the same bush, still, silent, unstirred by wind, stretching away on either side. Ford, driving the two miles along the tarmac road to the reception hut, thought of how it would be if he turned his head and saw Marguerite in the passenger seat beside him. It was an illusion he dared not have but was allowed to keep for only a minute. Tricia shattered it. She began to belabour him with schoolgirl questions, uttered in a bright and desperate voice.
Another African, in a fancier, more decorated, uniform, took their booking voucher and checked it against a ledger. You had to pay weeks in advance for the privilege of staying here. Ford had booked the day after he had said goodbye to Marguerite and returned, for ever, to Tricia.
‘My wife wants to know the area of Ntsukunyane,’ he said.
‘Four million acres.’
Ford gave the appropriate whistle. ‘Do we have a chance of seeing a leopard?’
The man shrugged, smiled, ‘Who knows? You may be lucky. You’re here a whole week so you should see lion, elephant, hippo, cheetah maybe. But the leopard is nocturnal and you must be back in camp by six p.m.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I advise you to get on now, sir, if you’re to make Thaba before they close the gates.’
Ford got back into the car. It was nearly four. The sun of Africa, a living presence, a personal god, burned through a net of haze. There was no wind. Tricia, in a pale yellow sundress with frills, had hung her arm outside the open window and the fair downy skin was glowing red. He told her what the man had said and he told her about the notice pinned inside the hut: It is strictly forbidden to bring firearms into the game reserve, to feed the animals, to exceed the speed limit, to litter.
‘And most of all you mustn’t get out of the car,’ said Ford.
‘What, not ever?’ said Tricia, making her pale blue eyes round and naive and marble-like.
‘That’s what it says.’
She pulled a face. ‘Silly old rules!’
‘They have to have them,’ he said.
In here as in the outside world. It is strictly forbidden to fall in love, to leave your wife, to try to begin anew. He glanced at Tricia to see if the same thoughts were passing through her mind. Her face wore its arch expression, winsome.
‘A prize,’ she said, ‘for the first one to see an animal.’
‘All right.’ He had agreed to this reconciliation, to bring her on this holiday, this second honeymoon, and now he must try. He must work at it. It wasn’t just going to happen as love had sprung between him and Marguerite, unsought and untried for. ‘Who’s going to award it?’ he said.
‘You are if it’s me and I am if it’s you. And if it’s me I’d like a presey from the camp shop. A very nice pricey presey.’
Ford was the winner. He saw a single zebra come out from among the thorn trees on the right-hand side, then a small herd. ‘Do I get a present from the shop?’
He could sense rather than see her shake her head with calculated coyness. ‘A kiss,’ she said and pressed warm dry lips against his cheek.
It made him shiver a little. He slowed down for the zebra to cross the road. The thorn bushes had spines on them two inches long. By the roadside grew a species of wild zinnia with tiny flowers, coral red, and these made red drifts among the coarse pale grass. In the bush were red ant hills with tall peaks like towers on a castle in a fairy story. It was thirty miles to Thaba. He drove on just within the speed limit, ignoring Tricia as far as he could whenever she asked him to slow down. They weren’t going to see one of the big predators, anyway not this afternoon, he was certain of that, only impala and zebra and maybe a giraffe. On business trips in the past he’d taken time off to go to Serengeti and Kruger and he knew. He got the binoculars out for Tricia and adjusted them and hooked them round her neck, for he hadn’t forgotten the binoculars and cameras she had dropped and smashed in the past through failing to do that, and her tears afterwards. The car wasn’t air-conditioned and the heat lay heavy and still between them. Ahead of them, as they drove westwards, the sun was sinking in a dull yellow glare. The sweat flowed out of Ford’s armpits and between his shoulder blades, soaking his already wet shirt and laying a cold sticky film on his skin.
A stone pyramid with arrows on it, set in the middle of a junction of roads, pointed the way to Thaba, to the main camp at Waka-suthu and to Hippo Bridge over the Suthu River. On top of it sat a baboon with her grey fluffy infant on her knees. Tricia yearned for it, stretching out her arms. She had never had a child. The baboon began picking fleas out of its baby’s scalp. Tricia gave a little nervous scream, half-disgusted, half-joyful. Ford drove down the road to Thaba and in through the entrance to the camp ten minutes before they closed the gates for the night.
The dark comes down fast in Africa. Dusk is of short duration; no sooner have you noticed it than it has gone and night has fallen. In the few moments of dusk, pale things glimmer brightly and birds make a soft murmuring. In the camp at Thaba were a restaurant and a shop, round huts with thatched roofs and wooden chalets with porches. Ford and Tricia had been assigned a chalet on the northern perimeter and from their porch, beyond the high, wire fence, you could see the Suthu River flowing smoothly and silently between banks of tall reeds. Dusk had just come as they walked up the wooden steps, Ford carrying their cases. It was then that he saw the fever trees, two of them, their ferny leaves bleached to grey by the twilight but their trunks a sharper, stronger yellow than in the day.
‘Just as well we took our anti-malaria pills,’ said Ford as he pushed open the door. When the light was switched on he could see two mosquitoes on the opposite wall. ‘Anopheles is the malaria carrier but unfortunately they don’t announce whether they’re anopheles or not.’
Twin beds, a table, lamps, an air conditioner, a fridge, a door, standing open, to lavatory and shower. Tricia dropped her make-up case, without which she went nowhere, on to the bed by the window. The light wasn’t very bright. None of the lights in the camp were because the electricity came from a generator. They were a small colony of humans in a world that belonged to the animals, a reversal of the usual order of things. From the window you could see other chalets, other dim lights, other parked cars. Tricia talked to the two mosquitoes.
‘Is your name Anna Phyllis? No. Darling, you’re quite safe. She says she’s Mary Jane and her husband’s John Henry.’
Ford managed to smile. He had accepted and grown used to Tricia’s facetiousness until he had encountered Marguerite’s wit. He shoved his case, without unpacking it, into the cupboard and went to have a shower. Tricia stood on the porch, listening to the cicadas, thousands of them. It had gone pitch dark while she was hanging up her dresses and the sky was punctured all over with bright stars.
She had got Ford back from that woman and now she had to keep him. She had lost some weight, bought a lot of new clothes and had had highlights put in her hair. Men had always made her feel frightened, starting with her father when she was a child. It was then, when a child, that she had purposely began playing the child with its winning little ways. She had noticed that her father was kinder and more forbearing towards little girls than towards her mother. Ford had married a little girl, clinging and winsome, and had liked it well enough till he had met a grown woman. Tricia knew all that, but now she knew no better how to keep him than she did then; the old methods were as weary and stale to her as she guessed they might be to him. Standing there on the porch, she half-wished she were alone and didn’t have to have a husband, didn’t, for the sake of convention and of pride, for support and society, have to hold tight on to him. She listened wistfully for a lion to roar out there in the bush beyond the fence, but there was no sound except the cicadas.
Ford came out in a towelling robe. ‘What did you do with the mosquito stuff? The spray?’
Frightened at once, she said, ‘I don’t know.’
‘What do you mean, you don’t know? You must know. I gave you the aerosol at the hotel and said to put it in that make-up case of yours.’
She opened the case, though she knew the mosquito stuff wasn’t there. Of course it wasn’t. She could see it on the bathroom shelf in the hotel, left behind because it was too bulky. She bit her lip, looked sideways at Ford. ‘We can get some more at the shop.’
‘Tricia, the shop closes at seven and it’s now ten past.’
‘We can get some in the morning.’
‘Mosquitoes happen to be most active at night.’ He rummaged among the bottles and jars in the case. ‘Look at all this useless rubbish. “Skin cleanser”, “pearlized foundation”, “moisturizer” – like some young model girl. I suppose it didn’t occur to you to bring the anti-mosquito spray and leave the “pearlized foundation” behind.’
Her lip trembled. She could feel herself, almost involuntarily, rounding her eyes, forming her mouth into the shape for lisping. ‘We did ‘member to take our pills.’
‘That won’t stop the damn’ things biting.’ He went back into the shower and slammed the door.
Marguerite wouldn’t have forgotten to bring that aerosol. Tricia knew he was thinking of Marguerite again, that his head was full of her, that she had entered his thoughts powerfully and insistently on the long drive to Thaba. She began to cry. The water went on running out of her eyes and wouldn’t stop, so she changed her dress while she cried and the tears came through the powder she put on her face.
They had dinner in the restaurant. Tricia, in pink flowered crepe, was the only dressed-up woman there, and while once she would have fancied the other diners looked at her in admiration now she thought it must be with derision. She ate her small piece of overcooked hake and her large piece of overcooked, breadcrumbed veal, and watched the red weals from mosquito bites coming up on Ford’s arms.
There were no lights on in the camp but those which shone from the windows of the main building and from the chalets. Gradually the lights went out and it became very dark. In spite of his mosquito bites, Ford fell asleep at once but the noise of the air-conditioning kept Tricia awake. At eleven she switched it off and opened the window. Then she did sleep but she awoke again at four, lay awake for half an hour, got up and put her clothes on and went out.
It was still dark but the darkness was lifting as if the thickest veil of it had been withdrawn. A heavy dew lay on the grass. As she passed under the merula tree, laden with small green apricot-shaped fruits, a flock of bats flew out from its branches and circled her head. If Ford had been with her she would have screamed and clung to him but because she was alone she kept silent. The camp and the bush beyond the fence were full of sound. The sounds brought to Tricia’s mind the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, imps and demons and dreadful homunculi which, if they had uttered, might have made noises like these, gruntings and soft whistles and chirps and little thin squeals.
She walked about, waiting for the dawn, expecting it to come with drama. But it was only a grey pallor in the sky, a paleness between parting black clouds, and the feeling of let-down frightened her as if it were a symbol or an omen of something more significant in her life than the coming of morning.
Ford woke up, unable at first to open his eyes for the swelling from mosquito bites. There were mosquitoes like threads of thistledown on the walls, all over the walls. He got up and staggered, half-blind, out of the bedroom and let the water from the shower run on his eyes. Tricia came and stared at his face, giggling nervously and biting her lip.
The camp gates opened at five-thirty and the cars began their exodus. Tricia had never passed a driving test and Ford couldn’t see, so they went to the restaurant for breakfast instead. When the shop opened Ford bought two kinds of mosquito repellant and, impatiently, because he could no longer bear her apologies and her pleading eyes, a necklace of ivory beads for Tricia and a skirt with giraffes printed on it. At nine o’clock, when the swelling round Ford’s eyes had subsided a little, they set off in the car, taking the road for Hippo Bridge.
The day was humid and thickly hot. Ford had counted the number of mosquito bites he had and the total was twenty-four. It was hard to believe that two little tablets of quinine would be proof against twenty-four bites, some of which must certainly have been inflicted by anopheles. Hadn’t he seen the two fever trees when they arrived last night? Now he drove the car slowly and doggedly, hardly speaking, his swollen eyes concealed behind sunglasses. By the Suthu River and then by a water hole he stopped and they watched. But they saw nothing come to the water’s edge unless you counted the log which at last disappeared, thus proving itself to have been a crocodile. It was too late in the morning to see much apart from the marabou storks which stood one-legged, still and hunched, in a clearing or on the gaunt branch of a tree. Through binoculars Ford stared at the bush which stretched in unbroken, apparently untenanted, sameness to the blue ridge of mountains on the far horizon.
There could be no real fever from the mosquito bites. If malaria were to come it wouldn’t be yet. But Ford, sitting in the car beside Tricia, nevertheless felt something like a delirium of fever. It came perhaps from the gross irritation of the whole surface of his body, from the tender burning of his skin and from his inability to move without setting up fresh torment. It affected his mind too, so that each time he looked at Tricia a kind of panic rose in him. Why had he done it? Why had he gone back to her? Was he mad? His eyes and his head throbbed as if his temperature was raised. Tricia’s pink jeans were too tight for her and the frills on her white voile blouse ridiculous. With the aid of the binoculars she had found a family of small grey monkeys in the branches of a peepul tree and she was cooing at them out of the window. Presently she opened the car door, held it just open and turned to look at him the way a child looks at her father when he has forbidden something she nevertheless longs and means to do.
They hadn’t had sight of a big cat or an elephant, they hadn’t even seen a jackal. Ford lifted his shoulders.
‘O.K. But if a ranger comes along and catches you we’ll be in dead trouble.’
She got out of the car, leaving the door open. The grass which began at the roadside and covered the bush as far as the eye could see was long and coarse. It came up above Tricia’s knees. A lioness or a cheetah lying in it would have been entirely concealed. Ford picked up the binoculars and looked the other way to avoid watching Tricia who had once again forgotten to put the camera strap round her neck. She was making overtures to the monkeys who shrank away from her, embracing each other and burying heads in shoulders, like menaced refugees in a sentimental painting. He moved the glasses slowly. About a hundred yards from where a small herd of buck grazed uneasily, he saw the two cat faces close together, the bodies nestled together, the spotted backs. Cheetah. It came into his mind how he had heard that they were the fastest animals on earth.
He ought to call to Tricia and get her back at once into the car. He didn’t call. Through the glasses he watched the big cats that reclined there so gracefully, satiated, at rest, yet with open eyes. Marguerite would have liked them, she loved cats, she had a Burmese, as lithe and slim and poised as one of these wild creatures. Tricia got back into the car, exclaiming how sweet the monkeys were. He started the car and drove off without saying anything to her about the cheetahs.
Later, at about five in the afternoon, she wanted to get out of the car again and he didn’t stop her. She walked up and down the road, talking to mongooses. In something over an hour it would be dark. Ford imagined starting up the car and driving back to the camp without her. Leopards were nocturnal hunters, waiting till dark. The swelling around his eyes had almost subsided now but his neck and arms and hands ached from the stiffness of the bites. The mongooses fled into the grass as Tricia approached, whispering to them, hands outstretched. A car with four men in it was coming along from the Hippo Bridge direction. It slowed down and the driver put his head out. His face was brick-red, thick-featured, his hair corrugated blond, and his voice had the squashed vowels accent of the white man born in Africa.
‘The lady shouldn’t be out on the road like that.’
‘I know,’ said Ford. ‘I’ve told her.’
‘Excuse me, d’you know you’re doing a very dangerous thing, leaving your car?’ The voice had a hectoring boom. Tricia blushed. She bridled, smiled, bit her lip, though she was in fact very afraid of this man who was looking at her as if he despised her, as if she disgusted him. When he got back to camp, would he betray her?
‘Promise you won’t tell on me?’ she faltered, her head on one side.
He gave an exclamation of anger and withdrew his head. The car moved forward. Tricia gave a skip and a jump into the passenger seat beside Ford. They had under an hour in which to get back to Thaba. Ford drove back, following the car with the four men in it.
At dinner they sat at adjoining tables. Tricia wondered how many people they had told about her, for she fancied that some of the diners looked at her with curiosity or antagonism. The man with fair curly hair they called Eric boasted loudly of what he and his companions had seen that day, a whole pride of lions, two rhinoceros, hyena and the rare sable antelope.
‘You can’t expect to see much down that Hippo Bridge road, you know,’ he said to Ford. ‘All the game’s up at Sotingwe. You take the Sotingwe road first thing tomorrow and I’ll guarantee you lions.’
He didn’t address Tricia, he didn’t even look at her. Ten years before, men in restaurants had turned their heads to look at her and though she had feared them, she had basked, trembling, in their gaze. Walking across the grass, back to their chalet, she held on to Ford’s arm.
‘For God’s sake, mind my mosquito bites,’ said Ford.
He lay awake a long while in the single bed a foot away from Tricia’s, thinking about the leopard out there beyond the fence that hunted at night. The leopard would move along the branch of a tree and drop upon its prey. Lionesses hunted in the early morning and brought the kill to their mate and the cubs. Ford had seen all that sort of thing on television. How cheetahs hunted he didn’t know except that they were very swift. An angry elephant would lean on a car and crush it or smash a windscreen with a blow from its foot. It was too dark for him to see Tricia but he knew she was awake, lying still, sometimes holding her breath. He heard her breath released in an exhalation, a sigh, that was audible above the rattle of the air-conditioner.
Years ago he had tried to teach her to drive. They said a husband should never try to teach his wife, he would have no patience with her and make no allowances. Tricia’s progress had never been maintained, she had always been liable to do silly reckless things and then he had shouted at her. She took a driving test and failed and she said this was because the examiner had bullied her. Tricia seemed to think no one should ever raise his voice to her, and at one glance from her all men should fall slaves at her feet.
He would have liked her to be able to take a turn at driving. There was no doubt you missed a lot when you had to concentrate on the road. But it was no use suggesting it. Theirs was one of the first cars in the line to leave the gates at five-thirty, to slip out beyond the fence into the grey dawn, the still bush. At the stone pyramid, on which a family of baboons sat clustered, Ford took the road for Sotingwe.
A couple of miles up they came upon the lions. Eric and his friends were already there, leaning out of the car windows with cameras. The lions, two full-grown lionesses, two lioness cubs and a lion cub with his mane beginning to sprout, were lying on the roadway. Ford stopped and parked the car on the opposite side to Eric.
‘Didn’t I say you’d be lucky up here?’ Eric called to Tricia, ‘Not got any ideas about getting out and investigating, I hope.’
Tricia didn’t answer him or look at him. She looked at the lions. The sun was coming up, radiating the sky with a pinkish-orange glow and a little breeze fluttered all the pale green, fern-like leaves. The larger of the adult lionesses, bored rather than alarmed by Eric’s elaborate photographic equipment, got up slowly and strolled into the bush, in among the long dry grass and the red zinnias. The cubs followed her, the other lioness followed her. Through his binoculars Ford watched them stalk with proud, lifted heads, walking, even the little ones, in a graceful, measured, controlled way. There were no impala anywhere, no giraffe, no wildebeest. The world here belonged to the lions.
All the game was gathered at Sotingwe, near the water hole. An elephant with ears like punkahs was powdering himself with red earth blown out through his trunk. Tricia got out of the car to photograph the elephant and Ford didn’t try to stop her. He scratched his mosquito bites which had passed the burning and entered the itchy stage. Once more Tricia had neglected to pass the camera strap round her neck. She made her way down to the water’s edge and stood at a safe distance – was it a safe distance? Was any distance safe in here? – looking at a crocodile. Ford thought, without really explaining to himself or even fully understanding what he meant, that it was the wrong time of day, it was too early. They went back to Thaba for breakfast.
At breakfast and again at lunch Eric was very full of what he had seen. He had taken the dirt road that ran down from Sotingwe to Suthu Bridge and there, up in a tree near the water, had been a leopard. Malcolm had spotted it first, stretched out asleep on a branch, a long way off but quite easy to see through field glasses.
‘Massive great fella with your authentic square-type spots,’ said Eric, smoking a cigar.
Tricia, of course, wanted to go to Suthu Bridge, so Ford took the dirt road after they had had their siesta. Malcolm described exactly where he had seen the leopard which might, for all he knew, still be sleeping on its branch.
‘About half a mile up from the bridge. You look over on your left and there’s a sort of clearing with one of those trees with yellow trunks in it. This chap was on a branch on the right side of the clearing.’
The dirt road was a track of crimson earth between green verges. Ford found the clearing with the single fever tree but the leopard had gone. He drove slowly down to the bridge that spanned the sluggish green river. When he switched off the engine it was silent and utterly still, the air hot and close, nothing moving but the mosquitoes that danced in their haphazard yet regular measure above the surface of the water.
Tricia was getting out of the car as a matter of course now. This time she didn’t even trouble to give him the coy glance that asked permission. She was wearing a red and white striped sundress with straps that were too narrow and a skirt that was too tight. She ran down to the water’s edge, took off a sandal and dipped in a daring foot. She laughed and twirled her feet, dabbling the dry round stones with water drops. Ford thought how he had loved this sort of thing when he had first met her, and now he was going to have to bear it for the rest of his life. He broke into a sweat as if his temperature had suddenly risen.
She was prancing about on the stones and in the water, holding up her skirt. There were no animals to be seen. All afternoon they had seen nothing but impala, and the sun was moving down now, beginning to colour the hazy, pastel sky. Tricia, on the opposite bank, broke another Ntsukunyane rule and picked daisies, tucking one behind each ear. With a flower between her teeth like a Spanish dancer, she swayed her hips and smiled.
Ford turned the ignition key and started the car. It would be dark in just over an hour and long before that they would have closed the gates at Thaba. He moved the car forward, reversed, making what Tricia, no doubt, would call a three-point turn. Facing towards Thaba now, he put the selector into drive, his foot on the accelerator, he took a deep breath as the sweat trickled between his shoulder blades. The heat made mirages on the road and out of them a car was coming. Ford stopped and switched off the engine. It wasn’t Eric’s car but one belonging to a couple of young Americans on holiday. The boy raised his hand in a salute at Ford.
Ford called out to Tricia, ‘Come on or we’ll be late.’ She got into the car, dropping her flowers on to the roadway. Ford had been going to leave her there, that was how much he wanted to be rid of her. Her body began to shake and she clasped her hands tightly together so that he shouldn’t see. He had been going to drive away and leave her there to the darkness and the lions, the leopard that hunted by night. He had been driving away, only the Americans’ car had come along.
She was silent, thinking about it. The Americans turned back soon after they did and followed them up the dirt road. Impala stood around the solitary fever tree, listening perhaps to inaudible sounds or scenting invisible danger. The sky was smoky yellow with sunset. Tricia thought about what Ford must have intended to do, drive back to camp just before they closed the gates, watch the darkness come down, knowing she was out there, say not a word of her absence to anyone – and who would miss her? Eric? Malcolm? Ford wouldn’t have gone to the restaurant and in the morning when they opened the gates he would have driven away. No need even to check out at Ntsukunyane where you paid weeks in advance.
The perfect murder. Who would search for her, not knowing there was need for search? And if her bones were found? One set of bones, human, impala, waterbuck, looks very much like another after the jackals have been at them and the vultures. And when he reached home he would have said he had left her for Marguerite . . .
He was nicer to her that evening, gentler. Because he was afraid she had guessed or might guess the truth of what had happened at Sotingwe?
‘We said we’d have champagne one night. How about now? No time like the present.’
‘If you like,’ Tricia said. She felt sick all the time, she had no appetite.
Ford toasted them in champagne. ‘To us!’
He ordered the whole gamut of the menu, soup, fish, Wiener schnitzel, crème brûlée. She picked at her food, thinking how he had meant to kill her. She would never be safe now, for having failed once he would try again. Not the same method perhaps but some other. How was she to know he hadn’t already tried? Maybe, for instance, he had substituted aspirin for those quinine tablets, or when they were back in the hotel in Mombasa he might try to drown her. She would never be safe unless she left him.
Which was what he wanted, which would be the next best thing to her death. Lying awake in the night, she thought of what that would mean, going back to live with her mother while he went to Marguerite. He wasn’t asleep either. She could hear the sound of his irregular wakeful breathing. She heard the bed creak as he moved in it restlessly, the air conditioning grinding, the whine of a mosquito. Now, if she hadn’t already been killed she might be wandering out there in the bush, in terror in the dark, afraid to take a step but afraid to remain still, fearful of every sound yet not knowing which sound most to fear. There was no moon. She had taken note of that before she came to bed and had seen in her diary that tomorrow the moon would be new. The sky had been overcast at nightfall and now it was pitch dark. The leopard could see, perhaps by the light of the stars or with an inner instinctive eye more sure than simple vision and would drop silently from its branch to sink its teeth into the lifted throat.
The mosquito that had whined bit Ford in several places on his face and neck and on his left foot. He had forgotten to use the repellant the night before. Early in the morning, at dawn, he got up and dressed and went for a walk round the camp. There was no one about but one of the African staff, hosing down a guest’s car. Squeaks and shufflings came from the bush beyond the fence.