Authors: Susan Howatch
THE DARK SHORE
The anonymous voice from the past whispered into the receiver,
Welcome home, Mr. Towers. Does your
know how you killed
your first wife ten years ago?”
Soon after Sarah moved into her new home as the bride of charming, enigmatic Jon Towers, some instinct warned her to run for her life. Too many
were beginning to plague her.
Sarah knew only that her husband
s first wife had plunged to her death from a nearby cliff, under mysterious and questionable circumstances. Now someone was trying to kill Sarah.
Jon was alone. Outside in the night the city teemed and throbbed and roared but in the room there was only the quiet impersonal silence of the hotel room, softly-lit and thick-carpeted. He went over to the window. Six floors below him to the left a bus crawled north up Berkeley Street, a noiseless fleck of red against the dark surface of the road, while immediately below him the swarms of taxis cruised past the hotel entrance before turning south towards Piccadilly. The sense of isolation was accentuated by the stillness in the room. The polish on the furniture gleamed; the white pillowcases on the bed were spotlessly smooth; the suitcases stood martialed along the wall in faultless formation. He was alone in a vast city, a stranger returning to a forgotten land, and it seemed to him as he stood by the window and stared out at the world beyond that he had been foolish to hope that he could establish any contact with the past by coming back to the city where he had been
He spent ten minutes unpacking the basic items from his luggage and then paused to light a cigarette. Below him on the bed lay the evening paper, his own photograph still smiling up at him from the gossip column, and as he picked up the paper again in contempt he was conscious of a stab of unreality, as if the photograph was of someone else and the lines beneath described a man he did not know. They called him a Canadian, of course, and said he was a millionaire. There was a line mentioning his mother too and her connection with pre-war London society, a final sentence adding that he was to remarry shortly and that his
e was English. And then the columnist passed on to other topics, confident that he had fully exploited the snob value of this particular visitor to London.
Jon tore the newspaper to shreds and thought of his mother. She would have read it an hour, perhaps
hours ago, when the evening paper was delivered to the spacious house off Halkin Street. So she would know. He wondered if she had any desire to see him, any shred of interest in meeting him again after ten years. He had never written to her. When he had told Sarah that he and his mother no longer kept in touch with each other she
had been so shocked that he had felt embarrassed, but justification had been easy and he had thought no more about it. Sarah simply did not understand. She had grown up in a happy sheltered home, and any deviation from the pattern of life which she had always known only emphasized how vulnerable she was when separated from that narrow comfortable little backwater her parents had created for her. One of the reasons why he wanted to marry Sarah was because she was untouched and unspoiled by the world he lived and worked in every day. When they were married, he thought, he would work all day in an atmosphere of boardrooms and balance sheets, and then at last he would be home away from it all and Sarah would be waiting for him ... He could see it all so clearly. Sarah would talk of the things he loved and after dinner he would play the piano, and there would be a still cool peace as night fell. And afterwards when they were in bed he would let her know how grateful he was to her for that wonderful peace, and Sarah would love him because he was her shield from the harshest flares of life and she needed him even more than he needed her.
It would all be so different from the past.
He thought of Sophia then, the memory flashing through his brain in the split second before he shut his mind against it. He mustn’t think of Sophia. He would not, could not think of her
But he was. While he was in London he would meet Justin and as soon as he saw Justin he would think of Sophia
Nonsense. Justin was a young Englishman nineteen years old with the conventional English background of public school and perhaps a
irst job in
city. He would think of sports cars and parties and pretty girls and cricke
in summer. Justin would be as utterly remote from Sophia as Loudon was from Toronto, and on meeting him again there would be no cruel memories of
dreadful searing pain.
The telephone rang.
The jangling bell was obscene, blasting aside the still silence of the room and making Jon start. Slumping onto the bed he reached for the receiver and leaned back against the pillows.
“Call for you, Mr. Towers.”
There was a click, and then a silence except for the humming of the wire.
“Hullo?” He was tense suddenly, taut with nervousness.
Another pause. Someone far away at the other end of the wire took a small shallow breath.
“Hullo?” Jon said again. “Who’s this?” There was ice suddenly, ice on his forehead, at the nape of his neck, at the base of his spine, although
e didn’t know why he was afraid.
And then very softly the anonymous voice from the past whispered into the receiver, “Welcome home, Mr. Towers. Does your
e know how you killed your first wife ten years ago?”
Justin Towers very nearly didn’t buy an evening paper. When he left the office at half-past five his eyes were tired after hours spent poring over figures and the prospect of his return journey on the underground filled him with a violent revulsion. He hated the rush hour tubes, hated being crammed into the long sweating corridors, hated the endless stream of faceless people who jostled past him in the subterranean nightmare. He thought for a long aching moment of his childhood, of the days beneath blue skies by a swaying sea, of the yellow walls and white shutters of Clougy, and then the moment was past and he was standing irresolutely by one of the innumerable entrances to the underground at Bank while the diesel fumes choked his lungs and the traffic roared in his ears. Across the road a number nine bus crawled on its way to Ludgate Circus. Justin made up his mind quickly; as the traffic lights changed he crossed Poultry and Queen Victoria Street and boarded the bus as it wedged itself deep in a line of stationary cars.
By the time the bus reached Green Park he was so sick of the constant waiting and the frustration of the traffic jams that he got out and walked towards the tube without hesitation. He felt desp
rately tired, and in an attempt to stave off the tedium of the last stretch of the journey he stopped by the newsvendor’s stall and bought an evening paper.
He opened it on the platform, glanced at the stock exchange prices and then folded it up again as a train drew in. On finding a small
at one end of the compartment he glanced at the front page, but he was conscious of his hatred of the crowded train once more and he
thinking not of the paper in his hand but of Clougy on those bright summer afternoons long ago. The scene etched itself clearly in his mind. Flip would be lying on his back, his long tail waving gracefully and the lawn would be soft and green and smooth. From the open windows of the house would come the sound of a piano being touched softly on light keys, and on the wrought-iron white swing-seat across the lawn a woman would be lying relaxed with a bowl of cherries on the wrought-iron table nearby. If he were to venture towards her and ask for a cherry the woman would yawn a wide, rich yawn and smile a warm, luxurious smile and say indulgently in her strange English, “But you’ll get so fat, Justin!” And then she would pull him closer to her so that she could kiss him and afterwards she would let him have as many cherries as he wanted.
The hunger of those days was one of the things he remembered best. He had always been hungry, and the days had been full of Cornish cream and Cornish pasties until one evening the man, who would spend so many hours of a beautiful day indoors with a piano, said to him that it was time they both had some exercise before Justin became too fat to move. After that they had fallen into the habit of walking down to the cove together after tea. Further along the cliff path that curled away from the cove were the Flat Rocks by the water’s edge, and they would go down there together, the man helping the child over the steeper parts of the cliff. It was a stiff climb. The shore was scored with vast boulders and gigantic slabs of granite, and after the scramble to the water’s edge they would lie in the sun for a while and watch the endless motion of the sea as it sucked and spat at the rocky shelves beneath them. Sometimes the man would talk. Justin loved it when he talked. The man would paint pictures in words for him, and suddenly the world would be rich and exciting and full of bright colors. Sometimes the man wouldn’t talk at all, which was disappointing, but the excitement was still there because the man was exciting in himself and whenever Justin was with him it seemed that even a walk to the cove and the Flat Rocks could be transformed into a taut racing adventure pounding with life and danger and anticipation. The man seemed to enjoy the walks too. Even when they had people staying at Clougy there would come times when he would want to get away from them all and then Justin had been his only companion, the chosen confidant to share the hours of seclusion.
Justin, immensely proud of his position, would have followed him to the ends of the earth.
And then had come that other weekend, creeping stealthily out of a cloudless future and suddenly the world was gray and streaked with pain and bewilderment and grief...
Afterwards, all he could remember was his grandmother, looking very smart and elegant in a l
ght blue suit. “You’re going to come and live with me now, darling—won’t that be nice? So much nicer for you to live in London instead of some dreary little place at the back of beyond
hat? But didn’t your father explain it to you? No, of course you can’t go abroad with him! He wants you to grow up in England and have a proper education, and anyway he doesn’t want a nine-year-old child with him wherever he
goes. Surely you can see that
Why hasn’t he written? Well, darling, because he simply never writes a letter—gracious me, I should know that better than anyone! But he’ll send you something at Christmas and on your birthday, I expect. Unless he forgets. That’s more than likely, of course. He was always forgetting my birthday when he was away at school
And he had forgotten. That was the terrible thing. He had forgotten and Justin had never heard from him again.
The train thundered along the dark tunnel and suddenly he was in the present again with his collar damp against the back of his neck and the newspaper crumpling in his hot hands. Useless to think back. The past was over, closed, forgotten, and he had long ago schooled himself not to waste time feeling bitter. He would never see his father again and now he had no wish to. Any attachment that had ever existed between them had been severed long ago.
The train careered into Hyde Park Station, and as several passengers moved out on to the platform, Justin folded the paper down the center and started to turn each half-page mechanically. The photograph caught his eye less than five seconds later.
“John Towers, the Canadian property millionaire
The shock was like a white light exploding behind his eyes.
When he got out of the train at Knightsbridge he felt sick and ill as if he had just vomited and he had to sit down for a moment at one of the benches on the platform before fighting his way to the surface. Someone stopped to ask him if he was all right. Outside in the open air he paused for a moment among the swirling crowds on the pavement and then very slowly he threw the evening paper in a litter-bin and started the walk home to his grandmother’s house in Consett Mews.