Tour: Darjeeling Inheritance (The Colonials) by Liz Harris
Book Title: Darjeeling Inheritance
Series: The Colonials
Author: Liz Harris
Publication Date: 1st October 2021
Publisher: Heywood Press
Page Length: 365 pages
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After eleven years in school in England, Charlotte Lawrence returns to Sundar, the tea plantation owned by her family, and finds an empty house. She learns that her beloved father died a couple of days earlier and that he left her his estate. She learns also that it was his wish that she marry Andrew McAllister, the good-looking younger son from a neighbouring plantation.
Unwilling to commit to a wedding for which she doesn’t feel ready, Charlotte pleads with Dan Fitzgerald, the assistant manager of Sundar, to teach her how to run the plantation while she gets to know Andrew. Although reluctant as he knew that a woman would never be accepted as manager by the local merchants and workers, Dan agrees.
Charlotte’s chaperone on the journey from England, Ada Eastman, who during the long voyage, has become a friend, has journeyed to Darjeeling to marry Harry Banning, the owner of a neighbouring tea garden.
When Ada marries Harry, she’s determined to be a loyal and faithful wife. And to be a good friend to Charlotte. And nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of that.
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In the foothills of the Himalayas,
Darjeeling, April, 1919
The early spring sun beat down on the back of the seven-year old girl as she struggled to keep up with the man in a worn safari suit who was striding ahead of her up the steep path. Every so often, the girl slipped and fell on the red earth, picked herself up, brushed the dirt from her dress and hurried more quickly after the man.
But Charles Edwin Lawrence, lines of grief etched deep into his sun-browned face, neither turned to his daughter nor paused to wait for her. His eyes fixed in front of him, he continued resolutely up the narrow path that led between the tiered rows of tea bushes, the tender young leaves of which shone brilliant green in the light of the sun.
When he arrived at the summit, he stood in the cool breeze and stared down at the neat rows of terraces that fell away beneath his feet.
His vision blurred with unshed tears, he turned to face the mass of dark green forested slopes that rose in layers beneath the clear blue sky, and the range of mountains behind them, their gold-tipped peaks linked in a chain of gold above the snow-covered slopes, as if suspended in nothingness.
The girl reached the place where her father stood, slid her arm round his leg and put her thumb in her mouth.
He glanced down at her, bent slightly and gently pushed her thumb away from her mouth. ‘Only babies do that, Charlie. You’re not a baby any longer.’
‘I’m seven now.’
He nodded. ‘That’s right. So you’re not a baby any longer, are you? You’re a big girl, who’ll soon be off to school.’
Biting her lower lip, she stared at the ground and nodded.
She sensed him smile his approval.
Glancing up, she saw tears on his cheeks, and she frowned. ‘You’re crying. You’ve got a wet face.’
He shrugged his shoulders dismissively. ‘It’ll just be perspiration. I suggest you look at the view instead of looking at me.’ Picking her up under her arms, he swung her high up above his head, and slid her on to his shoulders. Her legs hung down in front of him on either side of his face, and he took hold of each foot.
Clutching his forehead with one hand, she ran her other hand down the side of his cheek.
‘You are crying, Papa,’ she said, her voice accusing, and she wiped her wet hand on the skirt of her dress. She pulled the topi from his head, let it fall to the ground, wrapped her arms around his chin, leaned forward, and rested her cheek against the back of his head. ‘Is Eddie ill again? I haven’t seen him today.’
She felt him tighten. He pulled one of her feet closer to the other so that he could hold them both with one hand, and she wobbled as he swiftly ran his free hand across his face. Then once more, he held a foot in each hand.
‘Yes, he’s been ill again,’ he said after a short pause.
Her forehead wrinkled with puzzlement at the strange note she heard in his voice. She inclined herself sideways in an attempt to see his face.
‘But not any longer,’ he added quietly. ‘He’s gone to join your brothers.’
She straightened up and let out a wail of misery. ‘I don’t want him to go. I want him to play with me.’ A sob rose in her throat, and she screwed up her face, ready to cry.
‘You’re not going to cry, are you, Charlie? Remember what we said about you being a big girl. Well, I need you to be big. Kick your foot against me if you’re going to be big.’
She swallowed her sob, and with his hand still tightly holding her leg, kicked his chest with her right foot.
‘Good girl,’ he said. ‘You see, it’s just you and me now. And all of this.’ Slowly he turned in a full circle, with Charlie sitting high on his shoulders. ‘Just look at it all. Sundar is Hindi for beautiful. You can see why my father called it Sundar. We love it here; it’s where wewant to be. My grandfather and father both loved Sundar, and so do we, you and me. Isn’t that so?’
‘Say it, Charlie. Say, It’s where I want to be.’
‘It’s where I want to be,’ she echoed.
‘Good girl. Look around you. I bet you’ve never noticed that tea bushes don’t grow all year round—they’re asleep from late November to early March. They won’t wake up and start growing again until the first rains of spring have fallen and the sun has warmed the air. But then they’ll grow so quickly that they’ll need to be plucked every four to five days. Did you know that?’
She shifted her position.
‘Hold tight,’ he said, ‘and I’ll get you down.’ He raised his arms, lifted her up over his head and stood her on the ground next to him.
Then he knelt down beside her and stared into her face. ‘There’s only you left now, Charlie. There won’t be any more.’ She felt a momentary fear at his serious expression, and put her thumb back into her mouth. ‘But I know that Sundar’s in your heart, just as it’s in mine, and when the time comes I’ll do my very best to make sure you have a husband who’ll be able to run the garden when I’ve gone, and who’ll continue to grow the very best tea that Darjeeling can produce. There’ll always be a Lawrence at Sundar. That’s what we both want, isn’t it?’
She could tell that he wanted her to nod, so she did.
He gave a dry laugh, and stood up. ‘You’ve no idea what I’m talking about, have you?’ he said, his voice relaxing. ‘But one day you will.’ He gave a playful tug on the long auburn hair that hung from under her topi.
She stared up at his face, and saw that his eyes were red and he still looked sad, even though his mouth was shaped into a smile.
‘It’s where I want to be,’ she repeated.
His smiled broadened, and this time his eyes smiled, too, and she felt a glow of happiness spread through her.
She was very sad that Eddie had gone to join the two older brothers she’d never met. She’d loved Eddie and had been looking forward to him being old enough to play with her, and now she was left with only the servants’ children to play with and her ayah. But she was happy that her father thought that she and he were alike. She wouldn’t have wanted to be like her mother, who always seemed angry.
‘I want to grow tea, too, Papa,’ she said.
Her father laughed. ‘Like I said, you’re a Lawrence through and through, Charlie.’ He leaned down and hugged her. Then he straightened up and stared again at the terraces that lay below them and on either side.
His gaze drifted across the verdant bushes to the house where the last of his sons lay, silent ever more, and his smile faded.
Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.
Six years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.
In addition to the ten novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines.
Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. To find out more about Liz, visit her website at: www.lizharrisauthor.com
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Liz-Harris/e/B009V1G8UA