It would be advisable" the court official said to the security guard, "just to keep the laddie up here for half an hour."
They both looked along the courtroom waiting area at the defendant. He was smoking rapidly. He was also head and shoulders taller than the little group of women clustered round him, like hens preening a cockerel, ducking and soothing and flattering.
The security guard rattled the bunch of keys chained to his belt.
"Trouble downstairs then?"
"Not exactly trouble," the court official said, "but there's a few of the girl's friends and family waiting. Just waiting. Like they do."
The security guard sighed.
"Wish he hadn't got bail. Wish I could just take him back inside. At least I'd know where he was then."
The court official glanced again at the defendant. Good-looking chap, in a flashy, come-and-get-it-girls way. But not reliable-looking; not reliable, at least, where his stepdaughter had been concerned.
"He won't skip."
"I'd still rather have him behind bars."
A young woman went past, a briskly walking, black-clad young woman with reddish-brown hair tied back behind her head with a black ribbon. She was carrying a square black attaché case and she had a black coat over her arm. She nodded to the court official as she passed.
"Night," she said.
The security guard watched her go. He'd been watching her all day in court, Miss Merrion Palmer, counsel for the prosecution, and admiring the Way the tail of her wig sat so precisely above the tail of her natural hair.
"Nice legs," he said.
The court official blew out a little breath and heaved at the slipping shoulders of his black gown.
"Oh," he said, "nice all right."
He glanced along the waiting area to right and left, then said, sotto voce, "Know our judge?"
"Come on" the security guard said, "I'm here half the month, aren't I? Course I know the judge."
The court official leaned closer.
"What's just gone past," he said, his eyes fixed on the glazed door at the end of the waiting area that led to the judges' corridor, "is not just an advocate, any old lady advocate. What's gone past is His Honor's babe."
* * *
Back in his room the other side of the glazed door, Judge Guy Stockdale took off his wig and hung it on its wooden stand. Both wig and stand had belonged to his father, as had the pocket watch in his waistcoat pocket which he carried every day out of a superstitious apprehension that he might make a public fool of himself if he didn't, and the silver pencil with which he made his meticulous notes up there, alone, on the Bench.
He then took off his robe—purple, claret, and black silk and hung it on the plastic hanger from a nationwide dry cleaning chain that seemed to have replaced the heavy, curved wooden one he had brought in especially for the purpose. Then he removed his black coat and put it over the back of a gray vinyl armchair and sat in the chair, leaning his head in his hands and putting the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.
"Would you like me to take off my wig?" he'd asked the girl-child witness over the courtroom's video link at ten-thirty that morning. "Would it be easier for you?"
She'd stared back at him, a clever little foxy face framed in a fake-fur coat collar.
"I don't mind," she'd said. She hadn't seemed daunted. She hadn't seemed daunted by anything, all that day, except, occasionally, by the miserable intensity of remembering what she had felt, what had happened to her. "You suit yourself."
Oddly, he had rather wanted to take his wig off. He didn't usually. Usually, he was so conscious of being an upholder of an office and a representative of justice, rather than Guy Stockdale, aged sixty-two, height six foot one, shoe size ten, no need yet—impressively—for spectacles or false teeth, that he was happy to have his wig and gown remove him from the particular to the impersonal. But today had been different. Today had been different because he had come, without particularly intending to, to a point when he had to implement a choice; he couldn't go on just looking at it and thinking about it and laying it carefully to one side to act upon some other day when the light was clear and courage was high. This knowledge had made him look at the girl on the video link not just as an abused child—there were thirteen charges against her stepfather, six of indecent assault, five of unlawful sexual intercourse, two of rape—but as something of a fellow traveler in a world where things you wanted and needed began to conflict badly with the things you already, acceptably, had.
There was a light knock and the door opened. Penny Moss, a young clerk who had come to work at Stanborough Crown Court as an intern, came in with a file. Guy took his hands away from his face and blinked at her. She took no notice of having found the Resident Judge with his head in his hands. She took no notice, ever, of anything except the immediate matter she had in hand at any given moment. She put the file down on the desk.
"It's Mr. Weaverbrook of the animal sanctuary, Judge."
Guy looked at the file. Mr. Weaverbrook ran a so-called animal sanctuary as inadequate cover for dealing in stolen farm machinery and horsetrailers. When required to come to court, he pleaded acute anxiety levels. His wife usually came instead and sat shaking in her seat, worn out with the effort of trying to divide her loyalty between Mr. Weaverbrook and the need for law-abiding conduct. Guy felt pity and admiration for Mrs. Weaverbrook.
"Do you want the case reserved to you, Judge?"
"Yes, Penny, I do."
"And Mrs. Mitchell and the order concerning her children?"
Guy shut his eyes again. Mrs. Mitchell was a nymphomaniac with sadomasochistic tendencies whose three children, by three different fathers, were being removed, with difficulty, from her nominal care.
"That, too, Penny. I'd like an earlier date for that case."
"Penny," Guy said, "I'm not delaying. I have the future of an eight-year-old to consider."
Penny opened her mouth. She was going to say, as she always said when asked to do something she didn't want to do, "Martin won't like it." Martin was the court manager.
Guy stood up.
"Good-night, Penny. And thank you."
She picked up Mr. Weaverbrook's file. He noticed that she wore, on her wedding finger, a band made of two little gold hands clasping one another. It looked vaguely Celtic.
"Night, Judge," she said.
* * *
Outside, in the early spring dark, the narrow court car-park was bathed in a weird orange glow from the street lights beyond its wall. The buildings that ringed the court were as modern and uncompromising as the court itself, mixtures of blood-red brick and concrete, with a lot of glass set into brushed metal frames. They managed to look, without exception, profoundly inhuman, with elements even of menace, such as the great steel doors that slid shut across the court entrance at night. Guy was all for the impressive in architecture, and especially in architecture pertaining in any way to the rule of law, but not for threat, not for anything that suggested pitilessness, inclemency.
His car was one of only three left. The other two belonged to the two regular district judges who, like him, were inclined to work on until six most evenings, even though the courts rose at four-thirty.
"I work," he said often, and meaning it, "with lovely people."
He opened one of the car's rear doors and put his work bag on the back seat. Then he climbed into the driving seat and turned the engine on. Then he turned it off again, and sat looking at the neat little red lights on the dashboard, bright, precise little lights who knew what their business was and how to do it.
I do not, Guy thought, want to go home. He took his hands off the steering wheel and put them on his knees. I do not want to go home and confront the fact that I have finally decided and must now implement that decision. What I hate, he told himself, closing his eyes, is the inevitable infliction of pain. Whatever I do, I'll cause that, to myself as well as to everyone else. In fact I am already, have been for years. It's just that they haven't all known.
Merrion had looked at him—when she did infrequently look at him—very directly that day. She had never appeared in court before him until today, and he had thought, and said, that she never should. But she had accepted this case, had indeed never considered doing otherwise, and when it became plain that they two would be in public together professionally and for the first time, she'd said he wasn't to make anything of it.
"It's no big deal," she said. "A three-day trial and I won't even be staying in Stanborough. You know my feelings about Stanborough."
He did. He knew her feelings about most things. It was one of the elements of her character that charmed him most, her directness, her candor, her capacity (and courage) to see and describe things as they were, and not as they might have been or as she wished they were.
"You're married," she'd said. "You've been married for over thirty years. You've got two sons and you've got grandchildren. I'm young enough to be your daughter. I'm not married. I'm mad about you. Mad. We have a big, big problem and it's going to get bigger. No question."
She'd been twenty-four when they met. That was almost seven years ago. He'd been taking an evening train up to London to have dinner with his son, Simon, one of those attempt-at-bonding dinners that Simon's mother, Laura, was so keen on.
"Do go. Oh do. How will you ever cross all these gulfs between you if you won't even try to talk?"
There was a girl in his train compartment reading a book which was convulsing her with laughter. She was helpless, crying with it, holding the book up to her face every so often so that she could shake privately behind it. He could see that it was a battered old paperback of Lawrence Durrell's Esprit de Corps. He could also see that she had wonderful hair and long legs encased in narrow blue jeans. She wasn't in the least pretty, in any conventional sense, but once he had started looking at her, he found he didn't much want to look anywhere else. So he stopped trying. He watched her steadily, smilingly, until she put the book upside down on her knees and said, still laughing, "I can't help it."
He bought her a drink at Paddington Station. She'd been to see her mother in South Wales and was on her way back to London and work. She was pupil in a set of barrister's chambers specializing in family law. She had a lot of theories—which he admired—about the need for more women at the Bar, especially in family law.
"People want it. The public does. They feel safer with us in this particular area."
He didn't tell her he was a judge. He didn't tell her anything much except his name, and roughly where he lived and why he was in London. Then he took her telephone number, put her in a taxi, and went to meet Simon. He ordered a bottle of champagne.
"What's this for?" Simon demanded. "What are we celebrating?"
Guy raised his glass. "It's purely medicinal."
Almost seven years ago. Seven years of what the newspapers would call his double life—home with Laura and the house and the garden and the dogs and the familiarity, and away, with Merrion. Sometimes away was in London, sometimes in hotels, sometimes abroad when he went to conferences, once—when they were desperate—it was a ten-minute meeting in the buffet on Reading Station.
"I'm your mistress," she said.
"No," he said, flinching a little, "no, not that. My 1ove—"
"Nope," she said, "sorry. Mistress it is. We sleep together, you pay for some things for me, I keep myself exclusively for you. That's what they do, mistresses."
Guy lifted his right hand and turned the ignition key again. He'd heard that word again today in court.
"Did your stepfather," the defending counsel asked the girl witness, "ever refer to you as his mistress?"
"No," she said. She licked her lips. "He said, `We're lovers, we are.' That's what he said. And then—" She paused.
"And then what, Carly?"
"He'd say, `You're better than your mum.'"
"Better? In what way were you better?"
"At sex," the girl said clearly.
Guy reversed his car out of its parking space and drove slowly out into the one-way system of central Stanborough. There were few people about, but the roads were busy, streams of cars with their headlights on passing beneath the orange sodium lights.
He'd glanced very briefly at the jury when the girl said that. They'd started the day, as most fresh juries did, looking reasonably alert and capable and then, as the time wore on and the alleged facts of the case were spelled out in the baldest language imaginable, they had shrunk in their seats, their gazes fixing, their minds struggling to take in precisely what they were hearing.
"He liked it in the mornings before I went to school," the girl said. "When I had my uniform on. In the living room."
"In the living room?"
"Yes. With the door open."
"With the door open? While your mother and sister slept upstairs and the foot of the staircase was immediately opposite to the living-room door, he liked to have that door open?"
"Oh yes," she said, "he liked the idea that Mum might catch us. That's why he liked it in the bathroom and the kitchen."
A picture was emerging, a picture of an apparently commonplace three-bedroom terraced house on a housing project on the edge of Stanborough in which a family lived, an apparently equally commonplace modern family of a woman and a man and the woman's two child daughters by a previous husband, where nothing was in fact what it seemed.
"He never touched Heather," the girl said. She sounded almost proud. "She's younger than me, but he never touched her."
"Why," the defending counsel demanded, "did you let him touch you?"
She looked sulky, almost angry. "He conned me."
"He said, `You want periods, don't you? If you have sex, your periods will come.' And they did. I wanted—I wanted boys to like me. He said they would, if I let him. But they don't."
The defending counsel leaned forward. He had a full, fleshy face and his manner was mildly abrasive.
"But you say he conned you."
"But if you knew you were being conned, why did you let him continue?"
There was a pause. The girl looked down. Perhaps she was twisting her hands but they were hidden below the bottom frame of the television screen.
"Carly," the barrister said, "did you hear my question?"
"I will repeat it. If you knew you were being conned, why did you let your stepfather continue?"
She whispered something.
"Carly, the court cannot hear you."
She took a breath and said tiredly but with a simultaneous small pride as if she was quoting something authoritative, "He was like a god to me."
A god. A forty-five-year-old man playing god to a besotted woman and her equally spellbound child. The terraced house, with its neat front garden and rather less neat back garden where the girls were allowed to keep pet rabbits in hutches, was, it seemed, less a family home than a cage for playing games in, improper, dangerous, degraded games, power games, cruel, harmful games. The jury had looked drained. Several of them looked as if, for all their worldly knowledge already gleaned from television and the press, they'd heard more than they'd bargained for, been faced with a raw reality they couldn't just switch off when they'd had enough. And this was only the first day.
But a god! That was what she had said, this fifteen-year-old child who had lived with her stepfather from the age of eight until a year ago, when she had finally told her mother what was happening. A god. You could, it seemed, go on about equality between the sexes until you were blue in the face, you could legislate, you could try to educate, but then along comes this child, this late-twentieth-century child, with her boldness and her unquestioned prospects, talking quite simply and unselfconsciously about a man being like a god to her.
Guy wondered, detachedly, if he had ever seemed like a god to Laura, even in that first glory of love when the love object is truly something quite extraordinary. They had met at university, he reading law, she reading French and Spanish. They had both worked diligently—she because she was conscientious, he because he was ambitious—and had emerged with similar degrees. He had gone immediately to Bar School and she had applied to join the Foreign Office, failed, and taken a translating job with a firm of small manufacturers who were developing their business in Europe. It was a dull job. Guy urged Laura not to take it.
"Try the BBC," he said. "Try the World Service. Try publishing. Try teaching."
"I can't," she said. "If one of us doesn't make some money, we can't get married."
"We can. We don't need money to get married. And if we do, I'll borrow it. I don't mind borrowing until I'm earning. But you can't do something your heart's not in."
"I can," she said. "I don't mind."
But she did. He remembered, now, how much she did. She didn't say anything because she had been brought up to endure in silence, but her attitude, her moods, even her walk indicated that she felt she was drudging, that she wasn't allowing her brain to race ahead of her, as his was doing.
"Are you resentful?" he asked, every so often.
And she'd look at him, with that clear hazel gaze that appeared to display such transparency of mind and heart.
"No," she said.
He used to take her shoulders, give her a little shake.
"Can I believe you?"
"Yes," she said.
So he did. Or, at least, he lived as if he did. He read as assiduously for the Bar as he had read for his law degree, and every so often he asked Laura to change her job. She refused. Once, he went to their bank manager and secured a loan for six months, to enable Laura to leave her job and take time to find a more congenial one. A week later, she too went to the bank manager and canceled the loan.
"I hate it. I can't do it. You know Mum and Dad were always in debt and how much I dread it."
"But we aren't like your parents. We don't have their problem with money. And I'm going to be earning. In two years' time, all being well, I'm going to be earning reasonably and I'll go on to earn well."
"I can't believe anything," Laura said, "until it happens."
That was not, he thought now, the sort of thing you said to a god. Laura's anxious practicality was not likely, ever, to find itself swept away by the presence of superhuman possibilities. Not as a young woman; certainly not now. Now! Well, how to think about that without a clutch of dread, of panic? Impossible. Laura was sixty-one. Not a particularly young or old sixty-one, but a nice-looking, well-kept, largely unassuming woman of sixty-one with the same dear hazel eyes but set, somehow, in a different context. Indeed, the way Laura's still-young eyes looked out of her much older face was a metaphor for the way things had changed place, moved round in the last seven years: since meeting Merrion, the whole landscape in which Laura lived in relation to Guy seemed different. It was like walking very, very slowly away from something you knew very well, something you could visualize minutely when you were parted from it, and as you moved away, that something shrank against its background and lost solidity, lost significance.
Guy cleared the last of Stanborough's raw, newish suburbs and turned down a minor road toward open country. The street lights petered out into darkness and the tires of the car began to click stickily through mud. Five miles now. Five miles, and then, across a curve in the road and before he got to the village, he would see the lights glowing along the façade of his house and the twisted bare black outlines of the apple trees in the little orchard in front of it.
They'd bought the house thirty years ago, when Simon was eight, and Alan was five. It had been three cottages, run-down and discouraging, sitting in a muddy welter of disused sheds and pigsties. But there was the orchard, and a modest hill behind it, and a village with a church and a pub, and there were good rail connections to London from Stanborough, ten miles away. And, in any case, Laura wanted it. She had finally given up her job when she became pregnant with Simon, and presumably because Guy was now earning, she didn't mention getting another one after he was born. She became a conscientious mother just as she had been a conscientious student. From the tiny terraced house in Battersea which they could scarcely afford, Laura took him out to Battersea Park every day, and played with him. She cut out letters and taught him to read when he was four. She fed him bread she had baked herself and rationed his hours of television—he saw enough to enable him to fit in at school, but not enough to prevent him using his own imagination.
When Alan came along, three years later, he joined in this earnest and busy enterprise.
"Is this what you like?" Guy said to Laura, intending to be supportive whatever her reply. "Is motherhood enough for you?"
"For now," she said, not looking at him. She was pulling a soft tangle of colored clothes out of the dryer. "There's nothing else we can do for now."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, with you working so hard."
He crouched down on the little kitchen floor beside her. He was still in his clark suit from court, his black shoes, his sober tie. "Laura, I have to work hard. I'm self-employed. Barristers are. You know that. The harder I work, the better I'll do."
She sat back on her heels, holding the plastic laundry basket of clothes on one hip. "Will it always be like this?"
"You working all the hours there are, most weekends, ring-binder files even in bed—"
"Not if I become a judge."
"I can't even think about it for fifteen or twenty years. But if that's what you'd like—"
She got to her feet. "It's not my choice."
"Laura, it is. It's as much your choice as it's mine."
She'd looked down at him, holding the laundry basket, biting slightly at her lower lip. "I didn't quite visualize this."
He stood, too. "What?"
"Well, when I was working and you were still a student, I didn't think we'd—well, we'd get so uneven."
"But we needn't be. You could go back to work. Alan's four, for heaven's sake."
She rumpled some of the clothes in the basket with her free hand.
"Could we move to the country?" she asked.
"Would that help?"
She gave him her clear, open look. "Yes."
Even then, even temporarily relieved by a seeming solution, he hadn't been quite convinced. If she wanted to do it, if she was sure that a change of scene and society would, as it were, round her out once more, then they would do it. But he was haunted by feeling that it was possibly the worst thing they could do, that the hours he would have to travel would be added to the hours he would have to work, that a separateness would happen, that their priorities would cease to be united.
"Are you sure?" he said over and over.
"Yes," she said, "I want to be somewhere where I can make my own life. I'm—I'm confined here. I want the boys to have a garden."
"You won't be lonely?"
She took a little breath, as if she was about to speak but she didn't say anything. He had an uneasy feeling that she'd been about to say, "I'm lonely now," and in her self-disciplined way had decided against it. Sometimes he wished she had less discipline, less reticence, that that elusiveness which had so captivated him when they first met—coming as he did from a family of loudly outspoken, opinionated people—was less opaque. Mystery was one thing, so was understatement and obliqueness and self-containment—but quiet stubbornness was quite another.
"Look," he'd said, with some energy, "I can't give up the Bar because it's all I'm trained to do and I'm good at it, but I'll do anything else you want, anything. Move house, move to the country, have another baby, anything."
She put her arms around his neck.
"I'd like to go to the country. I'd like to be somewhere where I'm visible. To myself as well as everyone else."
"But if you wanted to work again—?"
"I won't," she said.
But she had. Two years into the restoration of Hill Cottage, and she had.
Guy changed gear to negotiate the curve of the road before his drive, and saw the familiar pattern of lit house lights: sitting room and hallway, landing and main bedroom, front door and—glow only visible—back door. It was twenty years ago—twenty years!—that he had begun to see that Laura was feeling, however much she battled against it, that she had paid too high a personal price in marrying him.
And now. Now what was he about to do? He turned the car into the drive and felt the tires crunch into the stones of the gravel.
"I feel like a slut now," the girl on the video link had said that day. "I'm not a virgin anymore. I feel dirty. I feel naive and stupid."
Guy let the car coast quietly to a halt in the graveled yard outside the back door. Inside the house the dogs began barking, rapturously welcoming however long or short his absence. He turned off the engine. That's how I feel, he thought. Dirty. Naive and stupid and dirty. He opened the driver's door and climbed out, a little stiffly, onto the gravel.
Marrying the Mistress
- hardcover: 293 pages
- Publisher: Viking Adult
- ISBN-10: 0670891509
- ISBN-13: 9780670891504