‘All through her arrest and incarceration . . . to this day, she has refused to speak about what happened that night. The refuge of those who are unable to offer a plain and honest defence. Well, if she can now offer an explanation, I am sure you will hear it, gentlemen, I am sure you will hear it. But it seems to me that a satisfactory explanation is impossible when the crime is attended with circumstances such as these.’
I grip the railing, shackles clanking like keys. I can’t hold on to what he’s saying. My eye swings around the room, catches the sword hung behind the judge, silver as a chink of moon. I read the words hammered in gold beneath. ‘A false witness shall not be unpunished, but he that speaketh lies shall perish.’ Well. We’re all going to perish, liars and truth-tellers alike, though the Old Bailey is meant to speed a liar’s progress. But that’s not what frightens me. What frightens me is dying believing that it was me who killed her.
I see you at the barristers’ table. You look up, give me a quick nod that settles on me like a horse blanket. There, laid out like china on a buffet, is the evidence against me: Benham’s cravat, his green brocade waistcoat; Madame’s lavender silk, her chemise, and her bandeau with the swan feather dyed lavender also, to match her dress. And there is Linux’s butchering knife, which, so far as I knew, was in its scabbard in the kitchen the whole time I was in Madame’s room.
But it’s the thing beside them that you’re frowning at. When I see it, worry curdles my guts. It’s curled inside an apothecary’s jar, tight as a fist. The baby. Someone joggles the table and it flattens against the glass, like a cheek. There’s a question in your raised brows, but it’s one I cannot answer. I didn’t expect to see it here. The baby. Why is it allowed here? Will they ask me to speak about it?
When I see it, my knees start to quake, and I feel all the terror of that night again. But the mind is its own place, as Milton said, it can make a Hell of Heaven and a Heaven of Hell. How does it do that? By remembering, or forgetting. The only tricks a mind can play.
A wave of memory breaks. She’s lying in bed, up on her elbows with her toes pointing into the air, in her hand an apple I’m trying in vain to coax her to eat. ‘Listen! Are you listening?’ She kicks one of her heels.
‘I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said ‒ “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies . . .'
I’m only half listening, because it is impossible, this thing that is happening, my mistress lying with me in her bed and reading me a poem! But also because it was one of those times, when it fell to me to watch what they called the balance of her mind, like a pot I had on the stove. Is she well? I’m asking myself. Is she well?