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Ruth Rendell

The Tree of Hands

Hutchinson 1984
Jacket design Trevor Scobie

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Once, when Benet was about fourteen, they had been in a train together, alone in the carriage, and Mopsa had tried to stab her with a carving knife. Threatened her with it, rather. Benet had been wondering why her mother had brought such a large handbag with her, a red one that didn't go with the clothes she was wearing. Mopsa had shouted and laughed and said wild things and then she had put the knife back in her bag. But Benet had been very frightened by then. She lost her head and pulled the emergency handle that Mopsa called the 'communication cord'. The train stopped and there had been trouble for everyone involved and her father had been angry and grimly sad. She had more or less forgotten it. The memory of it came back quite vividly while she was waiting for Mopsa at Heathrow. Though she had seen Mopsa many times since then, had lived under the same roof with her and seen how she could change, it was the scarved, shawled, streamered figure with its fleece of shaggy hair that she watched for as she waited behind the barrier among the tour guides with their placards, the anxious Indians, the businessmen's wives. James wanted to come out of the pushchair, he couldn't see down there and he wasn't feeling well. Benet picked him up and set him on her hip with her arm round him.

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