Authors: Susan Howatch
Tags: #Fiction, #General
was born in Surrey. After taking a degree in law, she emigrated to America where she married, had a daughter and embarked on a career as a writer. When she eventually left the States, she lived in the Republic of Ireland for four years before returning to England. She spent time in Salisbury – the inspiration for her Starbridge sequence of novels – and now lives in the City of London.
THE DARK SHORE
THE WAITING SANDS
CALL IN THE NIGHT
THE SHROUDED WALLS
THE DEVIL ON LAMMAS NIGHT
THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE
SINS OF THE FATHERS
The Starbridge Novels
The St Benet’s Novels
THE WONDER WORKER
A QUESTION OF INTEGRITY
THE HIGH FLYER
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Susan Howatch, 1977
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
I was in
London when I first heard of Dinah Slade. She was broke and looking for a millionaire while I was rich and looking for a mistress. From the start we were deeply compatible.
My presence in London was accidental since I should have been at least halfway across the Atlantic with my observations on the Genoa Conference, but when it had become obvious in Genoa that on the subject of the American War Debt Lloyd George had nothing to say which could conceivably have interested those pedestrian politicians in Washington, I had decided to redeem my visit to Europe by pausing for a vacation in England. I then proceeded to ruin this excellent idea by making a fatal error. Out of a misguided sense of duty to my New York partners I called at our offices in Milk Street and to my horror discovered in rather less than ten minutes that I had walked into a disaster of the first magnitude. This dénouement could scarcely have been more tedious for it meant I had to abandon my plans to motor leisurely through rural England, but after suppressing my exasperation I settled down to business with the speed for which I am justly renowned. By the day’s end I had extracted our resident partner’s resignation; by the end of the week I had a house in Curzon Street, a new Rolls-Royce, an admirable English secretary to assist with my burgeoning correspondence, and a clear idea of how I should put the firm’s affairs in order while I waited for a replacement to arrive from New York.
Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Mellon was cabling me for private information on the Genoa Conference, and by hiring yet another secretary to assist Miss Phelps and working until two in the morning for three successive nights I managed to summarize the issues of German reparations, the status of Soviet Russia, the domestic troubles of Lloyd George and the intractability of the French. Hard work deserves a reward. When my report had been consigned to the Embassy for express delivery to Washington, my first instinct was to seek the most elegant woman in London and call for oysters and champagne.
It was then that I heard of Dinah Slade.
Just as it had been chance which had delayed me in London so now it was chance that I ever heard her name. I had two efficient aides-de-camp who protected me from the continual onslaught of beggars and Bolsheviks, and I might never have known of Dinah’s efforts to see me if I had not decided to ignore breakfast that morning in order to leave early for the office. Having completed my report I was anxious to attend to the firm’s
affairs, and as I went to the library where my aides were inspecting the mail I was already planning how I could sidestep a commitment to lend five million dollars to prop up a moribund steel plant in South Wales.
The library door was open. As I crossed the hall I heard Peterson exclaim: ‘It’s that girl again!’ and saw him pluck a letter from an unwrapped parcel. Peterson always opened my parcels. Having hired him when he had been discharged from the army as the result of a leg wound suffered in Ypres in 1918, I had found his simple loyalty both frightening and reassuring, but he was without doubt the best bodyguard I had ever had. He was now in charge of all my household security arrangements, but he considered himself personally responsible for my safety and never left the tedious escort duties to a subordinate.
‘What girl?’ I inquired of him as I strolled into the library and picked up the latest issue of
The Magazine of Wall Street
to reach European shores.
‘There’s no need for you to concern yourself with this, sir,’ said my other chief aide, whipping the letter away from Peterson. ‘I’ll take care of it.’
As usual O’Reilly’s bossiness made me long to contradict him.
‘Take care of what?’ I demanded, recklessly involving myself in the problem, and glanced a second time at the parcel. Amidst the wrapping paper was a rectangle of carved ivory, and as I lifted this exquisite cover I saw that someone who knew my tastes had sent me a small but unmistakably genuine book of hours.
Medieval manuscripts seldom fail to elicit an enthusiastic response from me. My mouth waters, my pulses race and my mind, seizing the chance to escape from the twentieth century, dives back into the remote past. As I picked up that book of hours I forgot the embittered powers at Genoa, the ravaged countries of Europe, the financial chaos, the half-starved despairing masses whose lives had been irrevocably dislocated by war. The bloody dawn of the twentieth century fell away from me, and I was gazing at the high noon of European civilization when Jean, Duc de Berri, had preferred the arts of intellectual accomplishment to the traditional arts of war.
My fingers caressed the leaves. The illumination was too florid for my taste, but the miniatures were exquisite; the details of dress and the skill in evoking perspective suggested that the artist had been working at the beginning of the Renaissance. I glanced at the Latin text. It referred to an apocryphal incident in the life of the mother of the Virgin, a most unusual detail. St Anne rarely has more than a minor role in a book of hours.
My curiosity overwhelmed me. Returning abruptly to the twentieth century I demanded to know the name of my benefactor.
‘Oh, the book’s not a gift, sir,’ said Peterson. ‘She says it’s a loan.’
‘And who,’ I said, mentally allocating a suitable sum for the purchase, ‘is she?’
‘A girl called Dinah Slade, Mr Van Zale,’ said O’Reilly. ‘Should you wish for further information, I have a file—’
O’Reilly always had a file. He had a genius for accumulating information on anyone who could possibly interest me, and a tiresome habit of showing
off his talent in order to prove how indispensable he was. Unable to resist the urge to deflate him I interrupted: ‘Not now. I want to go to Milk Street. Peterson, order the car to the door, will you? You can tell me about Miss Slade on the way to the City, O’Reilly,’ I added to mollify him as Peterson left the room. After all, he was first-class at his job, and it was hardly his fault he had been born without a sense of humour.
We went outside. It was a clear May day, cool but brilliant with sunshine, and I paused to watch a horse-drawn cart rattle down Curzon Street on its way to deliver ale to public houses. Further down the street by Shepherd Market a tramp carrying a board emblazoned with the words HELP THE UNEMPLOYED was marching up and down like a man in a padded cell, and suddenly I could smell the odour of the twentieth century even before the fumes of the Rolls-Royce reached my nose.
I sank back with distaste upon the leather upholstery. ‘Miss Slade,’ I reminded O’Reilly as I took some papers from the attaché case.
O’Reilly snapped into action. Looking at his carefully combed dark hair and thin, tense, intelligent face, I sensed the fanatical desire to serve which had led him to a Jesuit seminary before he had entered my employment, and once more I admired his total commitment to his work. It was really most unreasonable of me not to feel as much affection for him as I usually felt for my protégés – unreasonable, but not unsurprising. O’Reilly knew too much about me. For a moment I remembered his voice saying: ‘I have some bad news for you about Mr Da Costa …’ and then I swung my mind back towards Miss Dinah Slade’s book of hours.
‘Miss Slade,’ O’Reilly was saying busily, ‘is a twenty-one-year-old English girl of good social standing—’
‘What the devil does that mean?’
‘I don’t understand the English class-system too well, sir, but I’m told she’s what they call “landed gentry”. Upper class but no title.’ O’Reilly cleared his throat. ‘She was educated at a girls’ boarding school in Gloucestershire and at Cambridge University—’
‘Was she indeed!’
‘—before having to quit last year after her father’s death. The father died in debt and there’s a wrangle going on over the estate. She’s after money, sir, of course,’ said O’Reilly, bored. ‘There’s a political angle since she’s a known socialist sympathizer, but she’s not affiliated with any group, Bolshevist or otherwise, so neither Peterson nor I see her as a threat to your safety. I’ve been sending her letters to Miss Phelps for the Charities Refused file.’
‘How many letters has she written?’
‘This morning’s would be the fourth.’
‘I want to see them. When we reach the office call Miss Phelps and have her send them over,’ I said, flicking through the papers in my hands and eyeing the declining figures of the British steel industry for the black months of 1921. Then with a discipline born of long practice I forgot Miss Slade and once again began to consider how Great Britain could most profitably reorganize her capital investment.
of Da Costa, Van Zale & Co. in Milk Street off Cheapside is a stone’s throw from the Bank of England and the financial district of Lombard and Threadneedle Streets. We are a new firm in London, less than thirty years old, and unlike New York, where a brash newcomer can blaze his trail into the heart of Wall Street, a newcomer in London must know his place and accept a modest location in the merchant banking community. Yet I liked our office at Six Milk Street. The house itself was part seventeenth century and must have been erected soon after the Great Fire, but the Victorians with their passion for remodelling had left a Dickensian atmosphere behind them. The interior was heavy with nineteenth-century respectability. Here I felt not like a king in his counting-house but like a well-brought-up spider in the most civilized of elderly webs. We employed twenty people who included the usual book-keepers, statisticians, clerks, typists and office boys, and until the 1921 slump had made a respectable profit each year.