The Archaeologist’s Mistress

An affair with a married man leads to a guilty conscience

Jane Fairweather

As she drove she kept thinking about the very strange beginning of it all. Gerald had been directing the excavations of a fine Roman villa near her parents’ house and she had been a very willing volunteer. She and Gerald had flirted more than a little already, but that was nothing unusual for her with men.

That morning she had been bending right over gazing intently at something at the bottom of a trench she was working on, which later turned out to be a fine Roman brooch. He had crept up on her and given her a very sharp slap that had made her jump up and clutch the seat of her slacks and very nearly fall into the trench.

She was tolerant of the male sex, and would normally have laughed about it, but for some reason had flown into a rage and slapped his face as hard as she could and stormed off. He had rushed after her apologising and she had come out of her rage remarkably quickly and the whole thing had been smoothed over; partly at least because he said he could not resist the prettiest bottom of any girl he had ever met, which had been an odd compliment, but she had liked it.

It had been a long pleasant drive on a mild sunny summer’s day. Irene George had left the cottage that she shared with two fellow teachers on the edge of the Cotswolds and headed west in her red Singer roadster through the hills of Gloucestershire and then along the A.38 till she turned off towards Barnstaple and then across minor roads in the direction of her rendezvous on the Cornish Devon border by the wonderfully mythical sea, where in her imagination Tristan and Iseult were still in the trammels of love, much as she was.

She felt a distinct sense of crossing a Rubicon in her life. An occasional night in a hotel with a lover was one thing. Gerald was not the first man she had done that with, married or unmarried in her twenty-six years, and certainly she was no virgin. But Gerald was different; she was quite sure of that.

He must be very different, she decided, for her to take the risk of spending the whole of half term in a hotel with him, especially when he was married with children and nearly fifteen years older.

He was, of course, a distinguished archaeologist and she was a pretty reasonable historian with a good degree from Leeds and a real interest in the early Middle Ages, even if somehow she had ended up teaching at a crummy little boys prep school, which was only unusual for the number of women on its staff. But she was very happy to be at a school for boys; she liked teaching them and genuinely got on with them.

But the truth was, the man was gorgeous and whether she liked it or not she was head over heels in love.

This was partly at least because he had been so totally blatant. He had asked her to be his mistress so formally; and, despite the obvious temporary nature of being a mistress, he had talked about it as if it was for life.

He had asked her quite brazenly in her parents’ sitting room, despite the fact her father was a vicar, in the brief interval while her mother went out to refresh the teapot and her father was in the loo. The proper side of her had said ‘no’ of course, though she had so wanted to say ‘yes’.

After that time in her parents’ sitting room she had stayed away from the excavations, feeling it was the proper thing to do and he, to his credit, had not pestered her. However then, on the last day of her holiday, she had wandered over to the excavations, consciously at least meaning only to say ‘goodbye’.

They had started to chat more than she intended, at least consciously. He had asked her to come for a walk up the hill. Why had she gone with him? It would have been so easy to say no and it was obvious he had it in mind to be difficult in the way of a man who has a crush on a girl.

At all events she had gone with her heart pounding and it had been almost a relief when he asked her again to be his mistress. She had totally surprised her sensible self by saying: “Yes,” without the slightest hesitation; and then there had been a passionate scene on the top of the hill that would have shocked the entire neighbourhood if they had known how easily she had lain down, and how willingly she had lowered her knickers, let alone the animal wildness that had followed.

It was a near miracle she was not pregnant and she would have to be a lot more careful this time. She checked again mentally that she had got her Dutch cap and the French letters, which was more normally what the man brought, but she wanted to be doubly sure.

Since when there had been numerous passionate phone calls and letters; and now this time together, which would no doubt make or break their relationship. She hoped it was going to work, but she was by no means sure.

And how long, if it did work, before they had to tell his wife, let alone her very Christian father and mother; but grandfather would be alright of course, she could always rely on grandfather. He was at least as pagan as she was and she often shared secrets with him that she told no one else, not even her best friend at the school, Maria Charlton. He even knew what she was up to this half term. Her parents were under the impression that she was catching up with her writing.

*         *          *

Irene got to the small village of Renbottle at ten to four, which pleased her, for she had aimed at four o’clock and she felt it was a tribute to her map reading. The hotel was a little beyond the village, a small establishment that was little more than a guest house, though there was something about the look of it that made Irene wonder if the place had pretensions above its station.

She pulled into the small car park at the side, took off her goggles, got her suitcase out of the small boot and her handbag and another bag out of the passenger seat and staggered into the hotel, wondering if her slacks and blouse would be approved of in this obviously old-fashioned country area.

Sure enough she caught an intake of breath from the receptionist as she strode into the Hotel Lobby. She coolly explained that she was Mr Albright’s assistant.

This within limits was true; Gerald was genuinely intending to use some of their walks to investigate the possibilities of an area whose archaeology was not well known. However, her part in it was not entirely clear, unless it was to provide inspiration for the great man.

Perhaps if she let him spank her, it would get him going with the archaeology, she cynically thought. The famous slap certainly suggested he had tendencies in that direction.

“You are in sixteen and he is in seventeen.” Said the receptionist. “There is a connecting door with the key on your side, which I would imagine you will want to keep locked, at least at night.”

“Of course!” Irene said as if butter would not melt in her mouth.

She filled in the register in her own name, reflecting that she had already told her love that she would not descend to calling herself Mrs Smith; she had done that before and it always made her feel unclean. Hence the separate rooms.

“We expect our guests to change for dinner.” The receptionist continued. “And we only allow our female guests to enter the dining room if they are wearing evening dress.”

“Of course!” Said Irene.

She restrained herself from asking why a good frock was not adequate and why not some form of trousers? She always felt more comfortable in slacks. A woman could look very good in them! But no doubt their day would come.

“The boy will carry your bags up for you, Madam.”

“Thank you!” She replied, thinking she was quite capable of carrying her bags and it would have saved the boy the effort and herself the tip. But that was not how it was done.

*         *          *

She was restlessly pacing up and down her room, staring out at the grey green sea beyond the windows through the glare of the evening light. It was nearly six o’clock and Gerald should have been here a good hour ago; presumably there was something wrong with his train, or perhaps he had decided not to come. This last possibility was beginning to worry her. She did not think he would let her down if he could possibly avoid it, though you never knew with men, even Gerald; but what if his wife had stopped him coming, issued an ultimatum, or there was something wrong with his children, or the train had crashed, or…?

She stared out of the window again at the top of the cliff, which was not that far away. Surely that was the outline of the walls of a large building, very faintly visible in the evening light? Gerald would no doubt tell her it was just the outline of some recent farm building that had been demolished. She put it out of her head.

Then just for a flash it seemed that through the wild evening light she was seeing ancient galleys with numerous oars out on the grey green sea.

It was an intriguing fancy, which made her smile at the tricks her eyes were playing. If they existed, which she very much doubted, these ancient vessels must be still bringing home some Queen or King to the building whose outline she had glimpsed. Oh well, it was a pretty imagination. In reality her brain must be remembering Tristan and Iseult and King Mark.

There had been that book of Celtic stories in her grandfather’s library which she had devoured when she was a child. It was there she had first met that intriguing human triangle from goodness knows when.

Her grandfather, with his pagan overtones, had been delighted about her interest in that book, whereas her very Christian father had been more than a touch uneasy. This was typical of the clash between the two cultures of her childhood, which was still going on. When would she resolve these opposing desires to behave as well as a well brought up young woman was supposed to and to have sex and passion in unending amounts regardless of the Christian code?

What was it grandfather had said when she left college?

“I am settling £500 a year on you for life. Don’t argue. I’ve seen the signs, you will play Iseult sooner or later, my girl, and Iseult would be a darn sight safer in the modern world with a small income of her own, especially if you start taking your scribbling seriously.”

Her father, of course, had been furious and demanded she refuse the money and earn her own living.

Being on the whole a good girl, she flattered herself, she had done both; taken the income and got the teaching job. Between the two she was, if not wealthy compared with several people she had been at college with, at any rate comfortable. Not least she could insist she paid for her own room during the next strange week. Being Gerald’s mistress need not mean that she had to be a kept mistress; of that she was quite determined.

*         *          *

It was half past six and still no Gerald! Presumably, he was standing her up. Either that or his wife had forbidden him to go. Perhaps his father was ill; he was elderly, she knew. Most likely it was another woman and Gerald was just a philanderer after all. But more likely he was held up in some way, but how could you be held up on a direct train from Paddington, with only one long change to the branch line at Barnstaple? Unless there had been a serious crash, which god forbid!

But anyway Dinner was at eight and she would need at least an hour to wash and change. Her mother, she reflected, would have needed at least two hours.

Anyhow she decided as she ran a lukewarm bath, which would have to be annoyingly brief, if Gerald was a boy at her school she would have whacked him for unpunctuality and enjoyed doing it.

Administering a well deserved caning always had a certain pleasure in it; and while she liked to think she did it less often than the majority of her colleagues at the Ivor School, where the cane was used very freely, yet still she had carried out at least half a dozen such punishments in the four years since she went there. There was one particular incident with four little boys who looked as if butter would not melt in their mouths and had been intent on wrecking her lessons. They had got very short shrift and now she got on quite well with them.

The boys, she knew, were always a bit wary of her ability with a cane. She had once overheard part of a very odd discussion between a new boy at the school and a rather older one. “Mr Smith couldn’t knock the top off a rice pudding,” apparently. So much for the towering six foot Maths teacher!

“And Miss Charlton (Irene’s best friend at the school) doesn’t really like to hurt you, even though she is always doing it, which is why she gets ragged.”

“But Miss George (herself!) doesn’t do it unless she is really mad, but then you really know about it, so don’t you cross Miss George.”

She ought, she reflected, to repeat that conversation to Maria Charlton one of these days; Maria’s classes were frequently disturbed, despite or quite probably because of, her frequent resort to the ultimate weapon. However, Maria never liked being criticised and in all probability she would furiously resent it.

She got out of the bath, dried herself, put on clean underclothes and then more than a little reluctantly struggled first into her girdle, which she had left off all day and then into the very tight evening gown. This had been bought for her years before by her widowed grandfather, who liked her to accompany him to important events (some of them very important indeed) but she never wore it any more than she had to, even though it was as stylish as money could buy.

However, she was no longer a slim young maiden so it would have to be replaced, she thought very wryly. Would grandpa pick up the bill? He might, though the days she went somewhere with him every week were long gone.

She glanced at the clock by her bed side and realized dinner was in ten minutes. Where the hell was Gerald? He had better have a good excuse.

*         *          *

A glass of rather acid white wine and half a bowl of just about adequate Soup of the Day later she was returning to Iseult and Mark and Tristan. It was a story she had always liked and she would like to write something about it, but she had always regarded herself as a children’s writer and surely it was too adult a story for children.

Anyway her only contact in the world of books was her agent Phillip (who grandfather had found). He specialised in literature for young people and her previous book had been a historical novel that was aimed at the eleven to thirteen year old boys she usually taught and knew something about. It would be a big step to write an adult novel. And how would you do it? Bring it up to date or set it in some fantasy time?

“Miss George, Mr Albright is on the phone for you. He says it is urgent. You can take it in my office if you like.”

The woman, who she had assumed to be a receptionist and was apparently the manageress, was jabbering into her ear. She almost said she would ring back later, but then decided she really did want to know what was going on, so stood up abruptly, knocking over the remains of her wine in the process and followed the manageress to the phone.

“Hello Gerald, is that you? Are you alright?” She found herself asking with more worry in her voice than she would have admitted to five minutes before.

“More or less!” Came a shaken voice. “The express hit the buffers hard at Barnstaple and a bag came off the overhead rack in my compartment and hit my head. I’ve only got a big bruise, but I went a bit odd and they’ve insisted on my going to the hospital and being checked out. Sorry, this is the first chance I’ve had to phone you.”

“Poor lamb!” She said, going from something close to fury to the gentleness that was a not inconsiderable part of her character.

A few minutes later she had a clearer picture. Gerald was being kept in overnight just to be sure, but there seemed no particular reason why she should not drive over and get him in the morning, provided nothing happened overnight.

To her embarrassment he did not want his wife to know. “She’d only want to come and look after me; and damn it I’ve been looking forward to this week with you.” He said.

“I wouldn’t want to get in the way.” She replied, somewhat embarrassed and wondering for a second if she should hand her room over to the wife; sex on a scale worth mentioning now seemed unlikely and what was the point of all the embarrassment of being with a married man, if there was no sex?

“If you say anything as silly as that again I will spank you when I get you to myself.” He said laughing.

“Oh will you?” She retorted. “I bet you would not have the courage.”

“I would not count on it.”

She found herself rather liking him for that.

*         *          *

Back in her room she felt very agitated. The sudden worry of Gerald’s accident and the indifferent soup, the very poor fish and the third rate wine had combined to put her in a mood approaching desperation, that even the excellent bread and butter pudding had not alleviated, even though bread and butter pudding had been her favourite since she was a small child.

She took the evening gown and girdle off with indecent haste and tossed them and her shoes on the floor; she had never liked feeling confined. Then she wandered distractedly round the room in her underclothes wondering about Mark and Tristan and Iseult.

The dusk sky looked wild outside and a storm seemed likely. She wondered whether to draw the curtains and put the light on, which she had avoided because of her state of undress, but decided she would let the storm sweep over her.

Perhaps the same mood that had taken those wild young people of the royal court who had set out drunk in Henry the First’s White Ship, despite the warnings of their seamen. They had perished on a sharp rock between Normandy and England. A moment of youthful wildness that cost Henry the First his heir and led to the civil war between Matilda and Stephen. Not that she had anything to lose on that scale.

She recklessly pulled the sash window up, thinking it very unlikely she could be seen and crouched kneeling on the sofa, waiting. A short while after, sure enough the wind was shrieking and the clouds were racing and the wild sea beyond the cliffs seemed to be leaping up to the sky. Then the thunder came with great roars and more lightning than she had ever seen.

She crouched on the sofa drinking it in and willing some ancient hero to come and take her in her near nakedness, but of course none came and she was reduced to the embarrassment of self-gratification.

Eventually the storm faded and she realized she was exhausted, threw off her remaining clothes and collapsed into the large double bed, not bothering with pyjamas or with closing the window or the curtains. Two double beds and two rooms and only her to use them, she thought hysterically, and went into a very deep sleep.

*         *          *

“You, who are my lady in waiting, have been making eyes at my lord!”

The older woman was dressed in a plain silk gown with a wimple and wore a gold circlet on her head and some fine gold bracelets inlaid with rubies on her wrists. She was standing by something very like a throne.

“Of course not, your majesty. In any case, I have my own betrothed.”

The second speaker was no more than nineteen or twenty, perhaps younger and she had that light to her face that young women who are deeply in love often have, but she also looked extremely frightened.

“Don’t lie to me; I have had you followed. I know in fact that you do more than make eyes at my lord and it would not surprise me at all if you were with child by him. I am the queen of this land and he is not the king. I could have your head for this. And that is not least because I know he plots every day to take my place. What was meant as a good alliance with his father’s kingdom has turned into a nightmare for me. Have you anything to say before I turn you over to the gaolers and then the executioners? The normal punishment for this sort of thing is burning alive, you know. I am giving you this chance to see me alone and confess, so I should take it if I were you.”

“Please your majesty, I am innocent!”

“Plainly, you are not!”

“Please I am innocent!”

“Your lover is being arrested even as we talk and all his fellow conspirators. His head will roll in due course anyway; he can do nothing to help you. If you do not wish to taste death by fire, confess!”

The girl suddenly prostrated herself on the richly patterned carpet in front of the throne (if it was a throne) and confessed to being in love with the Prince, her Queen’s husband, and begged forgiveness.

“Will you say this at your lover’s trial?”

“If I must your majesty, but please have mercy on him as well as me. Our only crime was to be in love. Please I beg you! And please not the fire!”

“Oh you will be spared that; it would be beneath me not to spare you that. But there is something rather personal between us that I mean to settle now while the doors are still closed. Come here girl!”

The Queen was now sitting on the throne with its fine panels of gold and copper and silver, heavily decorated with jewels of all sorts. The girl very nervously mounted the steps holding her skirts up as she did it.

“Over my knee, girl.”

The girl, with evident unease, lay down over the Queen’s knee. Her mistress eased up the victims skirts, slowly, with a certain pleasure. Then she produced a leather strap, which must have been waiting on the throne, and began to slowly and deliberately thrash her rival, who gradually went from making no noise at all for quite a long time, to pleading, to finally screaming and kicking and weeping.

The Queen pushed her errant lady in waiting off her lap and the girl lay for some while on the floor clutching her red behind and weeping.

“Get to your feet, girl.”

The girl rose uncertainly.

“Open the doors! Guards! Take her away. She will be spared the fire for her adultery, but she shall still die by the axe. I might have spared her that if she’d made less fuss.”

*         *          *

“What a strange frightening dream!” Said Gerald next day as they cuddled together on the same sofa she had crouched on during the storm.

“Yes it was!” She said with some feeling. “And do you know the oddest bit?”

“I have no idea.” Said Gerald laughing.

“I woke up with a really sore bum. I must have been spanking myself really hard in my sleep.”

“I’ve always wondered if you liked things like that. And yet you got so cross that time I patted you at the excavations.”

“Well just because you see a woman bending over in slacks it is no reason to slap her, especially when you have no relationship with her whatever. And it was a hard slap, not just a pat. You’ve claimed it was just a pat before, my love; and it was most certainly not a pat.”

“Neither was the slap you gave me back.” He retorted. “It left my jaw feeling decidedly out of joint. Anyway, it was the moment I suddenly realized there was something very powerful between us. It is not a comfortable thing is it, this thing between us?”

“But it is very powerful,” she said thoughtfully. “And yet I don’t want to hurt your children and I don’t want to hurt your wife. And I am not at all sure I want to be a wife.”

“Judging by the dream, you are just a little frightened of Mary. She is a very kind ordinary woman, you know, and I honestly think she would not mind too much if she thought I had a mistress. She might even like it. If the truth be known, she got bored with the sex a long time ago.”

“Trust a man to make good excuses for his adultery!” She laughed. “Anyway, there are the outlines of some strange walls out on the cliff that you can only see in the dusk light. And that King of Cornwall, Mark, who had all the trouble with Tristan and Iseult, ought to have had his palace somewhere round here. Do you want to look at them later on?”

“So you think you’ve found the pig sties of Tintagel,” he laughed. “Though I must admit you had marvellous eyes when you were working at that villa and you saw things most people would have missed. It was the first thing that made me look at you, well apart from your backside, which was a temptation from the beginning I must admit.”

“Leaving my backside aside, there is something there.”

“But I wonder what? There are no palaces from the Dark Ages, my love, much as we would like there to be, just refurbished hill forts. Still, we will have a look at your walls later. It would be nice if you were right. Your walls are probably something to do with the old miners or farm buildings. Still it would be wonderful if you were right.”

“Oh, it would be wonderful if ignorant me was actually right, would it, you flatterer?” She said, giving his backside a playful slap.

After which they started to kiss with increasing wildness.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2016

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