The Assize of the Dying


102 pages
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From master of suspense Ellis Peters come two chilling tales of justice, deception, and revenge

The jury foreman trembles as he delivers the verdict. After a grueling trial, the erudite and elegant Louis Stevenson has been found guilty of murder—and sentenced to death. A ripple of excitement goes through the courtroom, and Stevenson rises to make a final statement. He’s innocent, he insists, and for condemning him, he swears cosmic vengeance on four men: the prosecutor, the foreman, the judge, and the true killer of Zoë Trevor. On their heads, he places the Assize of the Dying, a medieval curse that ensures they’ll be dead within a month.
In “The Assize of the Dying” and “Aunt Helen,” Ellis Peters is at her best—and murder and elegance go hand in hand.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 mars 2016
Nombre de visites sur la page 3
EAN13 9781480417793
Langue English

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The Assize of the Dying
Ellis Peters
Into the well of intense silence Mr Justice Manton let fall, in his beautiful, dispassionate voice: ‘Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty of murder?’ The foreman of the jury, a highly strung little middle-aged architect, stood gripping the front of the box as though he were being asked to pronounce upon his own life and death, so desperately oppressed by the weight of history upon his inoffensive neck that his balding, fawn-coloured head trembled like a heavy flower upon an inadequate stem. In a dry croak he said: ‘Guilty, my lord!’ and it was upon his forehead, not the prisoner’s, that an instant sweat broke out before the sound of the words had ceased. Charlie’s hand clenched for a moment upon Margaret’s in a convulsion of pure excitement. She heard a sound like an enormous sigh that emanated from every corner of the crowded court, and realised that she had been holding her breath in the unbearable tension of waiting for that verdict, and that hundreds of other people must have been doing the same. There was more in the suddenly released sound than awe and pity: a horrid suggestion, to her ear, of sensuous enjoyment. After all, they were not responsible for the prisoner’s plight; there was no reason why they should not get a legitimate thrill out of it. Even Charlie, already tucking his notes and pencil away one-handed in preparation for a quick departure to the nearest phone, could not quite keep the hiss of satisfied appetite out of his deep sigh. Then, as if he sensed her disapproval, he flashed a soft, placating glance along his shoulder at her, and made a deprecating grimace before he turned his eyes again upon the solitary grey figure standing in the dock. Mr Justice Manton said, with the same immovable courtesy: ‘Louis Bretherton Stevenson, you have been found guilty of the wilful murder of Zoë Trevor, at Hampstead, on the third of September last. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed upon you?’ The prisoner raised his shaggy grey head, and levelled the hollow brilliance of his ageing eyes upon the Judge’s face. In this situation Margaret found him an incredible figure. He did not belong here at all; he belonged in the reading-room of the British Museum, or the chair of archæology at some obscure university, or to some byway of lost literature in which he could explore and write for ever without causing a ripple upon the oblivious surface of his century. He was tall, thin and slightly stooped, with all the marks of the scholar about him, and throughout the four days of the trial she had watched the public nature of his ordeal invade him gradually like a corrosive poison, dislocating his armour of habit joint by joint, and one by one upsetting every equilibrium he had perfected in his fifty-five years of highly personal living. Even if they had not found him guilty at the end of it, she thought bitterly, there would have been no way in the world of restoring him to his old condition. In a way, they’d already killed him: it only remained to regularise the position. ‘Yes, my lord,’ said Louis Stevenson, ‘I have.’ His voice was quiet but clear, much as it must have sounded in the days when he had lectured at his provincial university, and periodically scandalised the faculty, as the prosecution had not failed to bring out, by the irregularities of his private life. There was nothing scandalous left in him now; he looked dusty and disorganised, shrunken into a smaller compass because of the necessity of preserving himself from the touch of a curiosity which nevertheless pursued him inch by inch even into his own body. Mr Justice Manton waited, with his granite calm and patience unshaken. One elderly professional greyness confronted another. They might have been the two halves of a schizophrenic personality examining each other, on one side with uninhibited detestation, on the other with a cold tolerance at least as terrible. Margaret thought, with a sense of inevitability: ‘Uncle John disliked him from the first moment he set eyes on him – I could see it. I suppose order always feels like that about disorder. But then, oughtn’t he to have found some way of getting rid of the case? Or has he been pushing himself to the limit of fairness the other way, for fear of injustice?’ For the Judge was incorruptibility in one man, and had been in the game so long that he was on guard against every motion of his own mind, and