About the Book
About the Author
Title Page

A Pair of Yellow Lilies
Mother’s Help
Long Live the Queen
Dying Happy
The Copper Peacock
The Fish-Sitter
An Unwanted Woman


About the Book

The Copper Peacock: a hideous bookmark given to Bernard, a writer, by his attractive cleaning lady, Judy. She had brought order to a hitherto chaotic life, but now the bookmark destroys all this, shattering his razor-sharp sensibilities. If only she had given herself, then she might have lived . . .

In this and eight other landmark short stories, including the Wexford tale ‘An Unwanted Woman’, Ruth Rendell once again proves she is the mistress of the genre.

About the Author

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.


Ruth Rendell


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Epub ISBN 9781409007838
Version 1.0
Published by Arrow Books 1992
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
© Kingsmarkham Enterprises Ltd 1991
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 Great Britain in 1991 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 9780099928300
A Pair of Yellow Lilies
A famous designer, young still, who first became well-known when she made a princess’s wedding dress, was coming to speak to the women’s group of which Bridget Thomas was secretary. She would be the second speaker in the autumn programme which was devoted to success and how women had achieved it. Repeated requests on Bridget’s part for a biography from Annie Carter so that she could provide her members with interesting background information had met with no response. Bridget had even begun to wonder if she would remember to come and give her talk in three weeks’ time. Meanwhile, obliged to do her own research, she had gone into the public library to look Annie Carter up in Who’s Who.
Bridget had a precarious job in a small and not very prosperous bookshop. In her mid-thirties, with a rather pretty face that often looked worried and worn, she thought that she might learn something from this current series of talks. Secrets of success might be imparted, blueprints for achievement, even short cuts to prosperity. She never had enough money, never knew security, could not have dreamed of aspiring to an Annie Carter ready-to-wear even when such a garment had been twice marked down in a sale. Clothes, anyway, were hardly a priority, coming a long way down the list of essentials which was headed by rent, fares, food, in that order.
In the library she was not noticeable. She was not, in any case and anywhere, the kind of woman on whom second glances were bestowed. On this Wednesday evening, when the shop closed at its normal time and the library later than usual, she could be seen by those few who cared to look, wearing a long black skirt with a dusty appearance, a T-shirt of a slightly different shade of black – it had been washed fifty times at least – and a waistcoat in dark striped cotton. Her shoes were black velvet Chinese slippers with instep straps and there was a hole she did not know about in her turquoise blue tights, low down on the left calf. Bridget’s hair was wispy, long and fair, worn in loops. She was carrying an enormous black leather bag, capacious and heavy, and full of unnecessary things. Herself the first to admit this, she often said she meant to make changes in the matter of this bag but she never got around to it.
This evening the bag contained: a number of crumpled tissues, some pink, some white, a spray bottle of ‘Wild Musk’ cologne, three ballpoint pens, a pair of nail scissors, a pair of nail clippers, a London tube pass, a British Telecom phone card, an address book, a mascara wand in a shade called ‘After-midnight blue’, a cheque book, a notebook, a postcard from a friend on holiday in Brittany, a calculator, a paperback of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, which Bridget had always meant to read but was not getting on very fast with, a container of nasal spray, a bunch of keys, a book of matches, a silver ring with a green stone, probably onyx, a pheasant’s feather picked up while staying for the weekend in someone’s cottage in Somerset, three-quarters of a bar of milk chocolate, a pair of sunglasses and her wallet which contained the single credit card she possessed, her bank cheque card, her library card, her never-needed driving licence and seventy pounds, give or take a little, in five-and ten-pound notes. There was also about four pounds in change.
On the previous evening Bridget had been to see her aunt. This was the reason for her carrying so much money. Bridget’s aunt Monica was an old woman who had never married and whom her brother, Bridget’s father, referred to with brazen insensitivity as ‘a maiden lady’. Bridget thought this outrageous and remonstrated with her father but was unable to bring him to see anything offensive in this expression. Though Monica had never had a husband, she had been successful in other areas of life, and might indeed almost have qualified to join Bridget’s list of female achievers fit to speak to her women’s group. Inherited money wisely invested brought her in a substantial income, and this, added to the pension derived from having been quite high up the ladder in the Civil Service, made her nearly rich.
Bridget did not like taking Monica Thomas’s money. Or she told herself she didn’t, actually meaning that she liked the money very much but felt humiliated as a young healthy woman who ought to have been able to keep herself adequately, taking money from an old one who had done so and still did. Monica, not invariably during these visits but often enough, would ask her how she was managing.
‘Making ends meet, are you?’ was the form this enquiry usually took.
Bridget felt a little tide of excitement rising in her at these words because she knew they signified a coming munificence. She simultaneously felt ashamed at being excited by such a thing. This was the way, she believed, other women might feel at the prospect of love-making or discovering themselves pregnant or getting promotion. She felt excited because her old aunt, her maiden aunt tucked away in a gloomy flat in Fulham, was about to give her fifty pounds.
Characteristically, Monica prepared the ground. ‘You may as well have it now instead of waiting till I’m gone.’
And Bridget would smile and look away, or if she felt brave tell her aunt not to talk about dying. Once she had gone so far as to say, ‘I don’t come her for the sake of what you give me, you know,’ but as she put this into words she knew she did. And Monica, replying tartly, ‘And I don’t see my little gifts as paying you for your visits,’ must have known that she did and they did, and that the two of them were involved in a commercial transaction, calculated enough, but imbued with guilt and shame.
Bridget always felt that at her age, thirty-six, and her aunt’s, seventy-two, it should be she who gave alms and her aunt who received them. That was the usual way of things. Here the order was reversed, and with a hand that she had to restrain forcibly from trembling with greed and need and excitement, she had reached out on the previous evening for the notes that were presented as a sequel to another of Monica’s favourite remarks, that she would like to see Bridget better-dressed. With only a vague grasp of changes in the cost of living, Monica nevertheless knew that for any major changes in her niece’s wardrobe to take place, a larger than usual sum would be required. Another twenty-five had been added to the customary fifty.
Five pounds or so had been spent during the course of the day. Bridget had plenty to do with the rest, which did not include buying the simple dark coat and skirt and pink twinset Monica had suggested. There was the gas bill, for instance, and the chance at last of settling the credit card account, on which interest was being paid at 21 per cent. Not that Bridget had no wistful thoughts of beautiful things she would like to possess and most likely never would. A chair in a shop window in Bond Street, for instance, a chair which stood alone in slender, almost arrogant, elegance, with its high-stepping legs and sweetly curved back; she imagined it gracing her room as a bringer of daily-renewed happiness and pride. Only today a woman had come into the shop to order the new Salman Rushdie and she had been wearing a dress that was unmistakably Annie Carter. Bridget had gazed at that dress as at some unattainable glory, at its bizarreries of zips round the sleeves and triangles excised from armpits, uneven hemline and slashed back, for if the truth were told it was the fantastic she admired in such matters and would not have been seen dead in a pink twinset.
She had gazed and longed, just as now, fetching Who’s Who back to her seat at the table, she had stared, in passing, at the back of a glorious jacket. Afterwards she could not have said if it was a man or woman wearing it, a person in jeans was all she could have guessed at. The person in jeans was pressed fairly close up against the science fiction shelves so that the back of the jacket, its most beautiful and striking area, was displayed to the best advantage. The jacket was made of blue denim with a design appliquéd on it. Bridget knew the work was appliqué because she had learned something of this technique herself at a handicrafts class, all part of the horizon-widening, life-enhancing programme with which she combated loneliness. Patches of satin and silk and brocade had been used on the jacket, and beads and sequins and gold thread as well. The design was of a flock of brilliant butterflies, purple and turquoise and vermilion and royal blue and fuchsia pink, tumbling and fluttering from the open mouths of a pair of yellow lilies. Bridget had gazed at this fantastic picture in silks and jewels and then looked quickly away, resolving to look no more, she desired so much to possess it herself.
Annie Carter’s Who’s Who entry mentioned a book she had written on fashion in the early Eighties. Bridget thought it would be sensible to acquaint herself with it. It would provide her with something to talk about when she and the committee entertained the designer to supper after her talk. Leaving Who’s Who open on the table and her bag wedged between the table legs and the leg of her chair, Bridget went off to consult the library’s computer as to whether this book was in stock.
Afterwards she recalled, though dimly, some of the people she had seen as she crossed the floor of the library to where the computer was. An old man in gravy-brown clothes reading a newspaper, two old women in fawn raincoats and pudding basin hats, a child that ran about in defiance of its mother’s threats and pleas. The mother was a woman about Bridget’s own age, grossly fat, with fuzzy dark hair and swollen legs. There had been other people less memorable. The computer told her the book was in stock but out on loan. Bridget went back to her table and sat down. She read the sparse Who’s Who entry once more, noting that Annie Carter’s interests were bob-sleighing and collecting netsuke, which seemed to make her rather a daunting person, and then she reached down for her bag and the notebook it contained.
The bag was gone.
The feeling Bridget experienced is one everyone has when they lose something important or think they have lost it, the shock of loss. It was a physical sensation as of something falling through her – turning over in her chest first and then tumbling down inside her body and out through the soles of her feet. She immediately told herself she couldn’t have lost the bag, she couldn’t have done, it couldn’t have been stolen – who would have stolen it among that company? – she must have taken it with her to the computer. Bridget went back to the computer, she ran back, and the bag wasn’t there. She told the two assistant librarians and then the librarian herself and they all looked round the library for the bag. It seemed to Bridget that by this time everyone else who had been in the library had swiftly disappeared, everyone that is but the old man reading the newspaper.
The librarian was extremely kind. They were about to close and she said she would go to the police with Bridget, it was on her way. Bridget continued to feel the shock of loss, sickening overturnings in her body and sensations of panic and disbelief. Her head seemed too lightly poised on her neck, almost as if it floated. ‘It can’t have happened,’ she kept saying to the librarian. ‘I just don’t believe it could have happened in those few seconds I was away.’
‘I’m afraid it did,’ said the librarian who was too kind to say anything about Bridget’s unwisdom in leaving the bag unattended even for a few seconds. ‘It’s nothing to do with me, but was there much money in it?’
‘Quite a lot. Yes, quite a lot.’ Bridget added humbly, ‘Well, a lot for me.’
The police could offer very little hope of recovering the money. The bag, they said, and some of its contents might turn up. Meanwhile Bridget had no means of getting into her room, no immediate means even of phoning the credit card company to notify them of the theft. The librarian, whose name was Elizabeth Derwent, saw to all that. She took Bridget to her own home and led her to the telephone and then took her to a locksmith. It was the beginning of what was to be an enduring friendship. Bridget might have lost so many of the most precious of her worldly goods, but as she said afterwards to her aunt Monica, at least she got Elizabeth’s friendship out of it.
‘It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good,’ said Monica, pressing fifty pounds in ten-pound notes into Bridget’s hand.
But all this was in the future. That first evening Bridget had to come to terms with the loss of seventy pounds, her driving licence, her credit card, her chequebook, the Lives of the Artists (she would never read it now), her address book and the silver ring with the stone which was probably onyx. She mourned, alone there in her room. She fretted miserably, shock and disbelief having been succeeded by the inescapable certainty that someone had deliberately stolen her bag. Several cups of strong hot tea comforted her a little. Bridget had more in common with her aunt than she would have liked to think possible, being very much a latter-day maiden lady in every respect but maidenhood.
At the end of the week a parcel came. It contained her wallet (empty but for the library card), the silver ring, her address book, her notebook, the nail scissors and the nail clippers, the mascara wand in the shade called ‘After-midnight blue’ and most of the things she had lost but for the money and the credit card and the chequebook, the driving licence, the paperback Vasari, and the bag itself. A letter accompanied the things. It said: Dear Miss Thomas, This name and address were in the notebook. I hope they are yours and that this will reach you. I found your things inside a plastic bag on top of a litter bin in Kensington Church Street. It was the wallet which made me think they were not things someone had meant to throw away. I am afraid this is absolutely all there was, though I have the feeling there was money in the wallet and perhaps other valuable things. Yours sincerely, Patrick Baker.
His address and a phone number headed the sheet of paper. Bridget, who was not usually impulsive, was so immediately brimming with amazed happiness and restored faith in human nature, that she lifted the phone at once and dialled the number. He answered. It was a pleasant voice, educated, rather slow and deliberate in its enunciation of words, a young man’s voice. She poured out her gratitude. How kind he was! What trouble he had been to! Not only to retrieve her things but to take them home, to parcel them up, pay the postage, stand in a queue no doubt at the Post Office! What could she do for him? How could she show the gratitude she felt?
Come and have a drink with him, he said. Well, of course she would, of course. She promised to have a drink with him and a place was arranged and a time, though she was already getting cold feet. She consulted Elizabeth.
‘Having a drink in a pub in Kensington High Street couldn’t do any harm,’ said Elizabeth, smiling.
‘It’s not really something I do.’ It wasn’t something she had done for years, at any rate. In fact it was two years since Bridget had even been out with a man, since her sad affair with the married accountant which had dragged on year after year, had finally come to an end. Drinking in pubs had not been a feature of the relationship. Sometimes they had made swift furtive love in the small office where clients’ VAT files were kept. ‘I suppose,’ she said, ‘it might make a pleasant change.’
The aspect of Patrick Baker which would have made him particularly attractive to most women, if it did not repel Bridget, at least put her off. He was too good-looking for her. He was, in fact, radiantly beautiful, like an angel or a young Swedish tennis player. This, of course, did not specially matter that first time. But his looks registered with her as she walked across the little garden at the back of the pub and he rose from the table at which he was sitting. His looks frightened her and made her shy. It would not have been true, though, to say that she could not keep her eyes off him. Looking at him was altogether too much for her, it was almost an embarrassment, and she tried to keep her eyes turned away.
Nor would she have known what to say to him. Fortunately, he was eager to recount in detail his discovery of her property in the litter bin in Kensington Church Street. Bridget was good at listening and she listened. He told her also how he had once lost a briefcase in a tube train and a friend of his had had his wallet stolen on a train going from New York to Philadelphia. Emboldened by these homely and not at all sophisticated anecdotes, Bridget told him about the time her aunt Monica had burglars and lost an emerald necklace which fortunately was insured. This prompted him to ask more about her aunt and Bridget found herself being quite amusing, recounting Monica’s financial adventures. She didn’t see why she shouldn’t tell him the origins of the stolen money and he seemed interested when she said it came from Monica who was in the habit of bestowing like sums on her.
‘You see, she says I’m to have it one day – she means when she’s dead, poor dear – so why not now?’
‘Why not indeed?’
‘It was just my luck to have my wallet stolen the day after she’d given me all that money.’
He asked her to have dinner with him. Bridget said all right but it mustn’t be anywhere expensive or grand. She asked Elizabeth what she should wear. They were in a clothes mood, for it was the evening of the Annie Carter talk to the women’s group which Elizabeth had been persuaded to join.
‘He doesn’t dress at all formally himself,’ Bridget said. ‘Rather the reverse.’ He and she had been out for another drink in the meantime. ‘He was wearing this kind of safari suit with a purple shirt. But, oh Elizabeth, he is amazing to look at. Rather too much so, if you know what I mean.’
Elizabeth didn’t. She said that surely one couldn’t be too good-looking? Bridget said she knew she was being silly but it embarrassed her a bit – well, being seen with him, if Elizabeth knew what she meant. It made her feel awkward.
‘I’ll lend you my black lace if you like,’ Elizabeth said. ‘It would suit you and it’s suitable for absolutely everything.’
Bridget wouldn’t borrow the black lace. She refused to sail in under anyone else’s colours. She wouldn’t borrow aunt Monica’s emerald necklace either, the one she had bought to replace the necklace the burglars took. Her black skirt and the velvet top from the second-hand shop in Hammersmith would be quite good enough. If she couldn’t have an Annie Carter she would rather not compromise. Monica, who naturally had never been told anything about the married accountant or his distant predecessor, the married primary school teacher, spoke as if Patrick Baker were the first man Bridget had ever been alone with, and spoke too as if marriage were a far from remote possibility. Bridget listened to all this while thinking how awful it would be if she were to fall in love with Patrick Baker and become addicted to his beauty and suffer when separated from him.
Even as she thought in this way, so prudently and with irony, she could see his face before her, its hawk-like lineaments and its softnesses, the wonderful mouth and the large wide-set eyes, the hair that was fair and thick and the skin that was smooth and brown. She saw too his muscular figure, slender and graceful yet strong, his long hands and his tapering fingers, and she felt something long-suppressed, a prickle of desire that plucked very lightly at the inside of her and made her gasp a little.
The restaurant where they had their dinner was not grand or expensive, and this was just as well since at the end of the meal Patrick found that he had left his chequebook at home and Bridget was obliged to pay for their dinner out of the money Monica had given her to buy an evening dress. He was very grateful. He kissed her on the pavement outside the restaurant, or if not quite outside it, under the archway that was the entrance to the mews. They went back to his place in a taxi.
Patrick had quite a nice flat at the top of a house in Bayswater, not exactly overlooking the park but nearly. It was interesting what was happening to Bridget. Most of the time she was able to stand outside herself and view these deliberate acts of hers with detachment. She would have the pleasure of him, he was so beautiful, she would have it and that would be that. Such men were not for her, not at any rate for more than once or twice. But if she could once in a lifetime have one of them for once or twice, why not? Why not?
The life too, the lifestyle, was not for her. On the whole she was better off at home with a pot of strong hot tea and her embroidery or the latest paperback on changing attitudes to women in western society. Nor had she any intention of sharing aunt Monica’s money when the time came. She had recently had to be stern with herself about a tendency, venal and degrading, to dream of that distant prospect when she would live in a World’s End studio with a gallery, fit setting for the arrogant Bond Street chair, and dress in a bold eccentric manner, in flowing skirts and antique pelisses and fine old lace.