Three Lettersñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF
First published by HarperCollins 2012
Copyright © Josephine Cox 2012
Josephine Cox asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Source ISBN: 9780007419999
Ebook Edition © February 2012 ISBN: 9780007419975 Version: 2017-05-22
‘Readers will find it impossible to tear themselves away.’
News of the World
‘Another hit for Josephine Cox.’
‘The latest emotionally charged story from this mega-selling author won’t disappoint her army of fans.’
‘Cox’s talent as a storyteller never lets you escape the spell.’
‘A born storyteller.’
To my darling Ken, as always.
Table of Contents
Part One: Blackburn – March 1958 – Lies
Part Two: Loving Arms
Part Three: A Hard Road
Part Four: Chance Encounter
Part Five: Suspicions
Part Six: Your Sins will Find You Out
Q&A with Josephine Cox
About the Author
Also by the Author
About the Publisher
It never ceases to amaze and touch me deeply, when I read your wonderful and very honest letters.
I hope you can confide in me whenever you feel lonely or sad and, as ever, I will always reply as soon as I can.
For those of you going through a very difficult time, I hope things will be alright and I do understand and listen. For now, my thoughts are with you.
All my love,
Below is part of the letter that Casey receives from his father.
My love will always be with you, son, and if it’s possible, I will be ever by your side, watching and guiding you. When you’re worried and sad of heart, you might hear the softest rush of sound about you. It will be me, come to encourage and help you.
Be brave, my son. Follow your heart, and know always that I love you.
‘RIGHT, LADS, TIME to finish up.’ The foreman’s voice echoed through the factory. ‘We’ve all got better things to do than hang round ’ere, so come on, chop chop.’
Grateful to be at the end of another week, the men heard Bill Townsend’s instructions and the machines were quickly switched off.
Tormented by his thoughts, Tom Denton had not heard the instructions and he continued to grade the metal parts, as they travelled along the conveyor belt.
‘Wake up, lad!’ the foreman shouted. ‘It’s time to go … unless yer want to spend the weekend ’ere?’
Tom acknowledged the order with a nod of the head. He switched off the machine, quickly stacked the graded tools into a packing case, then collected his bag.
Hurrying down the gangway, he fell in with the other men; their voices creating an eerie echo as they chattered amongst themselves. Marching towards the door, their heavy boots made a comforting rhythmic sound against the concrete floor.
‘I can’t wait to get home,’ said one, ‘I’ve a meaty hot-pot waiting for me.’
One of the men chuckled. ‘A meaty hot-pot, eh? What’s that, your wife or your dinner?’ His cheeky comment created a roar of laughter amongst his workmates.
Waiting with the men’s wage packets, Bill Townsend focused his attention on Tom; a quiet young man in his early thirties. From starting work as an apprentice at the age of fourteen, he had proved himself to be a hard worker, thoroughly reliable and greatly respected by his colleagues. He was also popular, with his kindly nature, and easy smile, even though for the sake of his son, he was made to tolerate a shameful situation at home. A situation which, unbeknown to Tom, was common gossip in the local community.
He had two great loves in his life. One was his music. The other was young Casey, the son he doted on.
He was more than willing to pass the time of day during the short break, especially with his mate, Len, who was the mechanic that kept the machines in top working order, though today, Len was off work having three of his teeth out.
Bill wondered about Tom, having noticed how quiet he had been of late. His smile was not so quick, and his shoulders were hunched, as though carrying the weight of the world.
Having heard the latest gossip in the neighbourhood, Bill had a good idea what was playing on Tom’s mind, but it was not for him to interfere and, more importantly, Tom would not thank him for it. As far as he was concerned, any friction between a man and his wife was for them to deal with. Others could mind their own business.
Just then, sensing that he was being watched, Tom looked up to see Bill staring at him. Feeling uncomfortable at having been caught out, Bill gave him a quick smile, and hurriedly returned to his paperwork. ‘No doubt that woman has been giving him grief again!’ Like everyone else, Bill was aware of the gossip.
Tom guessed what was going through Bill’s mind, as it must be going through the mind of every man jack on that factory floor. He had long suspected they were aware of his unhappy marital situation. In fact, he was sure the whole of Blackburn must know about his wife’s sordid affairs by now.
Whenever he tackled her about seeing other men, she always denied it, but occasionally the evidence betrayed her. A trusted neighbour might tell him; or he might catch a glimpse of her in the street on the arm of some stranger, and once he came home to find a man’s wallet lying on the floor of their bedroom.
Like a good and practised liar, she always had answers. After a while, for the sake of peace, Tom pretended to believe her lies, but he had so much bitterness and regret in him, so much pain. There was a time when he had adored her, but his love for Ruth had diminished in the face of her betrayals. For the sake of appearances, and the wellbeing of their son, he had stayed in the belief that it was better for young Casey to be part of a slightly damaged family than not be part of a family at all.
He made himself believe that he must be partly to blame, that somehow he had failed not only Ruth, but himself. In the end, seeing no way out of his impossible dilemma, and unable to right the situation, he left her to her own devices and devoted his life and energy to Casey.
If it hadn’t been for his son, Tom would have left his cheating wife long ago, but Casey was the light of his life and at times, his only joy.
Now, though, ironically, his careful reasoning was undermined, because Fate had intervened, driving him in a different and unexpected direction.
As he queued for his wages with the other men, Tom silently dwelt on his life and the way things had turned out. Ruth had been the wrong woman for him, and because of her, he had never taken the chances when they came along. And there had been one or two, the most memorable being a certain occasion when his musical talent might have carried him into the big time. Now that was a dream long gone. His chances of becoming a serious musician were lost for ever. He would never know the joy of playing to audiences far and wide because, like a fool, he had listened to Ruth, and now it was all too late.
Pushing the bad thoughts from his mind, Tom thought of Casey, and a gentle, loving smile washed over his face. That cheeky, darling boy had appeared to inherit his daddy’s passion for music, and a quenchless curiosity for knowledge. He wanted to know everything: about music, about life and the way of things in the world.
From the minute he could speak, Casey questioned everything, wanting to know where the sun came from in the morning and where it went at night. He spent hours watching the birds in the back yard, and when they sang he mimicked them and sang back.
In his odd little way, Casey had danced before he could walk, and whenever Tom brought out his guitar to play, Casey would sit on his knee to watch and listen, his face wreathed in amazement while the music filled his soul. Then his mammy would complain about the noise and the music was stopped.
Thinking about that now, Tom realised there were things he was powerless to change, and he was filled with a great sense of sorrow. Now, although it was too late for Tom himself, it was not too late for Casey.
‘You all right, Tom?’ Ernie Sutton, a workmate, sidled up to him. ‘What’s up with yer?’
Tom was instantly on his guard. ‘Nothing. Why?’
Ernie gave a shrug. ‘I were just wondering. I mean … you’ve been quieter than usual, that’s all.’ Like the others, he had noticed how Tom had barely spoken a word today. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved,’ he ventured gently. ‘I’m older than you, son, and I’ve seen a bit of life. I might be able to advise you … if you’ve a problem, that is?’
‘I’m not saying I don’t have problems,’ Tom admitted wryly, ‘… because I do … like any other man, I expect. The thing is, Ernie, we all have to deal with them in our own way. Isn’t that right?’
‘Aye. That’s right enough, I dare say.’ Ernie thought it best to leave him be. ‘Sorry if I overstepped the mark, son. I just wanted to let you know … I’m here if you need a friend.’
‘You’re always a good friend, Ernie, but I’m all right. Really.’
Stepping aside, Ernie felt unsettled. Over the years he had come to know Tom well, and he sensed that there was something playing on the younger fella’s mind. Something more than usual, even more than money. None of the men was well off, but Tom was a grafter who provided well for the boy. He even sustained a shameless hussy who flaunted herself at any man who would give her the time of day.
Thinking of Ruth Denton made Ernie grateful for his own wife of twenty years, a fine woman, content with her man. It would never enter her head to go throwing herself about like some cheap tart.
Tom was anxious to collect his wages and get home now. He needed to talk with Ruth, and this time she must listen to what he had to say. Twice before he tried to discuss his concerns, but she was never interested. The last time he had broached the subject, she had just walked away. Tonight, though, because of the latest development, he was determined to say his piece.
He had borne the burden of his secret for too long. Time was running out and the truth must be faced.
‘What about you, Tom?’
Tom was startled. ‘Sorry, Bill, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?’
‘I were just saying, it’s Friday, and I, for one, am off to the pub for a quick pint.’ Bill Townsend was a mountain of a man, with an unhealthy liking for the booze. He was a good foreman and a straight-talking, likeable fellow, but when he got the booze inside him, he could be argumentative, itching to flatten anyone who got in his way. ‘Come on, lads! Half an hour at the most,’ he persisted. ‘You’ll not get the chance of a crafty pint, once the wife gets her hands on your wage packet!’
Dishing out the little brown envelopes containing their week’s wages, he continued to coax them. ‘Look, you can’t send me in there on my own. There’s no fun in that, is there, eh?’
‘It’s all right for you, Bill.’ John Howard was older, sincere and loyal to his workmates, while good-naturedly grumbling about his wife of many years. ‘You don’t have a wife who would throw a sulk all weekend just because you had a drink with your mates. You don’t know what she’s like.’
‘That’s very true.’ With no woman of his own and no responsibilities, big Bill had a twinkle in his eye, and a bigger twinkle in his pants. With his wages tucked safely away, he was looking forward to an hour or so in the pub, where he hoped to enjoy an eyeful of the barmaid’s large and attractive assets and, if he was lucky enough, maybe even a romp in the back room afterwards, and not for the first time either.
‘At least you’ve a woman of your own!’ he told John. ‘There are times when I’d kill for a feisty, jealous woman waiting for me at home. It’s a lonely old life on your own.’ He shifted his sorry gaze from one man to another. ‘Come on, lads, just half an hour of your company, that’s all I’m asking.’
John was adamant. ‘Not me, Bill. Sorry, but I’m off home to put my feet up, and hopefully pick out a winner or two from the racing page.’
Bill shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’ He turned back to Tom, still hoping there might be a possibility that he could help with whatever was troubling him. ‘Won’t you change your mind, Tom? Join me for a pint or two and a chat, eh?’
Tom was adamant. ‘I’m sorry. I really can’t … not tonight.’
‘Why’s that then?’ Bill gently quizzed him. ‘What’s so desperate you can’t come out with me and the lads for half an hour?’
Tom took a moment to consider his answer. The last thing he needed was a grilling. ‘It’s not that I’m “desperate” to get home,’ he said. ‘It’s … my boy, Casey.’ He hated lying. ‘I promised I’d take him to the pictures tonight.’
‘Oh, I see.’ The older man was not fooled, but he went along with Tom’s explanation. ‘Well, that’s reason enough for me, lad! You must keep your promise to the boy.’
Seeing the questioning look in the older man’s eyes, Tom knew his lie was found out, and he felt ashamed. ‘Another time maybe?’
‘Yeah. Another time.’ Bill Townsend felt a rush of sympathy. He suspected that Tom’s cheating wife had been at her old game again. She made no secret of her liking for other men. And, as if that wasn’t enough humiliation for Tom, she had a habit of belittling him in public when, rather than argue in the street, Tom would simply walk away.
‘Right then!’ Bill quickly shifted his attention to the other men. ‘So, there’s none of you up for it, eh? Fair enough, I’ll go on my own, and sit in the corner like some poor lost soul.’
‘Oh, go on then, you’ve talked me into it.’ Will Drayton was a bit of a Jack-the-lad. A family man, at heart, he still believed he had a right to be single whenever it suited him. ‘Count me in, boss.’
‘Me too!’ That was Arnie Sutton. Married with four children, he often rolled home, drunk and violent. Thankfully, his long-suffering wife was a match for him. An hour in the pub would cost him a week of nagging and deprivation in the bedroom. But did he care? Not one jot; because the making-up was well worth the aggravation.
‘Count me in!’ Jacob Tully was a quiet, unmarried young man, burdened with a dictatorial mother. She thought nothing of thrashing him with the poker, the scars of which he carried on his back. Usually he would not have accepted Townsend’s invitation, but tonight he felt the need to fortify himself before walking into the usual war zone at home.
Jacob had long promised himself that one of these fine days he would pack his bag, and walk out of his mother’s house for good. Deep down, though, he knew he could never abandon her. For good or bad, Mabel was his mother. Maybe her quick temper was his fault; maybe he wasn’t earning enough, or looking after her well. Maybe she was lonely and frightened, needing to vent her frustrations on the only person left in her life since her husband died two years ago. If he left, how would she manage? She had little money, and whenever anyone mentioned her going to work, she panicked, claiming she was too ill, that no one realised how hard it was for her to get through each day.
Jacob was the breadwinner, solely responsible for the bills and upkeep of their home. Each day his mother seemed to lean on him more, and slowly but surely, he had allowed it to happen.
Even now, when he found himself the butt of her vicious temper and spiteful ways, he could not find the heart to desert her. But if he ever did summon up the courage to leave her, where would he go?
As a schoolboy, he had been discouraged from making friends, and later when he’d started dating, his mother always managed to get rid of any girl he brought home.
Now, without real friends or interests, Jacob felt life was passing him by. He deeply regretted that, but life under his mother’s rule was impossible to change. He had no idea how he might regain his freedom.
He gave a deep, inward sigh. As Bill Townsend had implied just now, being all alone in the world was a frightening prospect. Sometimes, you were better off with the devil you knew.
Bill Townsend had been pleasantly surprised at Jacob’s offer to join him. ‘You’re sure, are you, lad? I mean … as a rule, you’re allus in a rush to get home.’
Jacob’s uncomfortable existence was a secret from his workmates.
‘There’s no need for me to rush home. Not tonight anyway,’ Jacob answered warily. ‘Mum won’t be home till late,’ he lied. ‘She’s visiting some old friends in Darwen, and I’m to get my own dinner. To tell you the truth, I’m not much good at peeling spuds and all that, so I might as well enjoy a pint or two in the pub with all of you.’ Taking matters into his own hands was a rare and exciting thing. It made him feel proud, like a man should.
Of course his mother would make him pay for this, but just for tonight he didn’t care. He knew he would feel the weight of the poker across his back when he rolled home, all the merrier for a few pints, but his back was broad enough to take it, and his spirit all the stronger for having defied her.
‘Right then!’ Bill’s gruff voice rattled across the factory floor. ‘Anybody else? And don’t tell me you haven’t got a thirst on, because I know better! Surely, the missus won’t begrudge you one pint.’
He was greeted with a flurry of excuses.
‘Huh! You don’t know my missus.’
‘I’ve promised to take mine down to the Lion’s Head. There’s a darts match on tonight.’
‘An’ I’m looking forward to my woman’s fish pie and chips … best you’ve ever tasted.’
Bill decided they were all cowards of one sort or another. ‘Go on then, clear off,’ he taunted jokingly. ‘Miserable buggers, the lot of you!’
The men collected their wage packets and left one by one, some for home, some to make their way down to the pub.
The last person to collect his wages was Tom Denton.
‘What’s bothering you, Tom lad?’ Bill had promised himself that he wouldn’t ask again, but he didn’t like seeing Tom so troubled. ‘You’ve not been yourself of late, and today you’ve been miles away in your thoughts. Is there anything I can do?’
Tom forced a smile. ‘Like I said, I promised the boy. And … well, I’ve got things to do, you know how it is.’
That was no lie. And they were important things, too long neglected.
For what seemed an age, the older man studied Tom. He was saddened to see how Tom’s ready smile never quite reached his eyes, and how he occasionally glanced towards the door like a man trapped. ‘I’m concerned about you,’ Bill admitted.
‘You’ve no need to be.’
‘Mebbe, mebbe not, but I want you to know … if you’ve got worries gnawing at you, I’d like to help if I can.’
Tom gave a weary little grin. ‘Show me a man who hasn’t got worries gnawing at him, but I’m fine. Thanks for your concern.’
‘Just remember then, lad, I’m here if you need to talk. You can trust me. I hope you know I’m not a man to blab about other folks’ business.’
‘I know. But like I say, I’m fine.’
In truth, Tom was desperate to confide in someone – his foreman, his own father – but it would not change the situation. Because they could not help him, however much they might want to.
Thanking Bill once again for his concern, he bade him good night.
When Bill heard the outer door bang shut, he went across to the window and looked out into the rainy street. ‘Why, in God’s name, do you put up with her, Tom, lad?’ he muttered. ‘She’s a bad lot. You’d be better off without her … you and Casey both.’ He gave a slow shake of his head. ‘If you ask me, it’s high time you took your boy, and cleared off out of it!’
He continued to watch as Tom pulled down his flat cap, turned up his coat collar and hurried away.
Bill’s mind was still on Tom, as he carried out a tour of the factory, checking that everything was safe and secure. It’s a pity he ever met that damned woman, he thought angrily. She’s like a bitch on heat, and I for one would never put up with it … not for love nor money.’ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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