RUTH a novel by Pat Mosel
As I careered down the hill it was starting to get dark. I could see the lights on in the house but I didn’t go straight there. Instead I circled and danced on the rough grass in my flimsy sandals. It was a mad dance of triumph, a peculiar reaction to the shock. Max was dead. No more to criticise me, betray me, verbally abuse me, strip me of my self esteem. For those moments, I was crazed through lack of sleep, through the tension of talking Jack out of suicide. For those moments, I felt that I had held power in my hands at last. Now, I held the gun as if it were a familiar appendage. It was my agent and it was my reminder of what I had done. He had scorned me, lied to me and belittled me. Now, that was done. And I had ended it. I shivered, flinging myself down on the heather. I gazed at the globe of the moon then looked down and saw that my legs were covered in mud. The cattle were silent shapes at the edge of my vision. The smears of brown mud oozing on my skin served to remind me of my culpability. What had I done? I had wanted to leave Max, not kill him. I had not planned to leave Auld Oak Hall for a prison cell. I had intended to free myself, not to be locked up for God knew how many years. Lying there in the heather, I was suddenly very afraid. How was I going to face my guests? But it was too late for appearances. And Nicky? He would never forgive me. Wherever he was, I needed my son to comfort me although I feared it would never happen. He would revile me. Everyone would turn against me. Even Adeline. I thought of fleeing, getting into my car and driving. Somewhere. But I would be brought to justice in the end. No. I had to face my accusers. But I lingered on the hillside for what must have been a couple of hours, wallowing in my guilt, reluctant to go inside. I saw the men, led by George with a torch, Max carried by the other two. I watched them descend; I saw them in a detached way, shadows carrying a burden.
Perhaps Max was not dead? Perhaps Jack had been wrong? He could have been wounded by the single shot. It was beginning to rain. I got up to go back to the house. As I neared the dining-room door and the lights, I was aware that I must look like a wild woman–hair tangled, dress muddied and wet. Brindle came around the side of the house to greet me. She launched herself at me and licked my face as I bent down to her. I almost cried at this show of love but I was beyond tears. It was almost unbearable to be loved in that way.
With heavy heart, I opened the dining-room door and went in. I dropped the pistol carelessly onto a small table by the door. Some of my guests were standing, with drawn faces, on the other side of the dining table as if to put a barricade between themselves and Max’s body. I knew immediately that Max was truly dead. He had been laid on the chaise longue by the window and Henri was kneeling beside him, talking to him, stroking his hair, crying in a wretched kind of way. Brindle went straight to Max and sat down beside him, whimpering. continue » »
“Will someone get this dog out of here,” hissed Henri and she looked up and saw me. She heaved herself onto her feet and lunged at me. Bernard and Jack pulled her off me and she went back to Max’s side. Bernard took Brindle into the kitchen and shut her in. I looked at Max’s body dispassionately. He was gone. Nothing could change that. He didn’t seem peaceful. His face held an expression of shock. They hadn’t closed his eyelids. Nothing had prepared him for the attack from behind. Nobody could have told me that I was to be a killer. It had been our last altercation.
“Ruth, the police are on their way,” said Bernard.
Things happened very quickly after that. I was conscious of Bernard putting a blanket around my shoulders and handing me a cup of tea to drink in the kitchen, with Brindle. By these tokens, I knew that he, at least, hadn’t condemned me outright. Some time later, two policemen arrived; Detective Superintendent Clive Drummond from Edinburgh and Detective Inspector Donald Main from Hawick. They came in through the kitchen. It felt like the concourse of a railway station. The house became public, just as my relationship with Max became public. I was very still and answered their questions to the best of my ability under the circumstances. I did not want to see Max’s body any more. I shied away from the sight of his cold, pale corpse. However, Superintendent Drummond didn’t want Max’s body taken away before he had examined some of the evidence.
“He wasn’t killed in the dining-room,” I explained. “It happened at the top of the hill. I did it. I shot him.”
“And what were you doing out there at night with a gun?” asked the Superintendent.
“We were trying to stop Jack. He was threatening suicide.”
“So, there were three of you at the top of the hill. Any others?”
“Not as far as I know. The others were searching the lower slopes and I think they had come in by then.”
“How well do you know this Jack?”
“I would say very well. He’s a first cousin.”
“He was in a fragile state of mind?”
“Yes. Still is. At the time he was desperate. Things haven’t been going too well for him.” I did not want to get involved in telling him about Jack’s homesickness and depression.
“Would you consider him a reliable person?”
I hesitated. “Usually. Yes. I don’t know.”
“Let me tell you. I’ve had a word with your cousin and he tells me that he shot your husband, Mrs Heriot-Ross, which doesn’t match up with your story, does it?”
“Jack is just trying to protect me. I killed Max.”
“If, as you say, you killed your husband, where is the murder weapon?”