The Tea Planter’s Wife – Dinah Jefferies
Published by Penguin – 3 September 2015
I’m delighted to have been invited to take part in this blog tour – I’ve recently read this book and I loved it; it will definitely be in my list of top books of the year, you can read my review here.
I have an extract of the first chapter which I hope you enjoy. Penguin have also allowed me to give away 3 copies (restricted to UK/Ireland entrants only). The giveaway is at the end of this post.
Twelve Years Later, Ceylon 1925
With her straw sun hat in one hand, Gwen leant against the salty railings and glanced down again. She’d been watching the shifting colour of the sea for an hour, tracing the shreds of paper, the curls of orange peel and the leaves drifting by. Now that the water had changed from deepest turquoise to dingy grey, she knew it couldn’t be long. She leant a little further over the rail to watch a piece of silver fabric float out of sight.
When the ship’s horn sounded – loud, prolonged and very close – she jumped, lifting her hand from the rail in surprise. The little satin purse, a farewell present from her mother, with its delicate beaded drawstring, slid over her hand. She gasped and reached out, but saw it was too late as the purse dropped into the ocean, swirled in the dirty water and then sank. And with it her money, and Laurence’s letter with his instructions folded neatly inside.
She looked about her and felt another stirring of the unease she hadn’t been able to shake off since leaving England. You can’t get much further from Gloucestershire than Ceylon, her father had said. As his voice echoed in her head, she was startled when she heard another voice, distinctly male but with an unusually honeyed tone.
‘New to the East?’
Accustomed to the fact that her violet eyes and pale complexion always attracted attention, she turned to look, and was forced to squint into bright sunlight.
‘I . . . Yes. I’m joining my husband. We’re only recently married.’ She took a breath, just stopping herself from blurting out the whole story.
A broad- shouldered man of medium height, with a strong nose and glittering caramel eyes, gazed back at her. His black brows, curling hair and dark polished skin stopped her in her tracks. She stared, feeling a little unnerved, until he smiled in an open sort of way.
‘You’re lucky. By May the sea would normally be a great deal wilder. A tea planter, I’m guessing,’ he said. ‘Your husband.’
‘How did you know?’
He spread his hands. ‘There is a type.’
She glanced down at her beige-coloured dress: drop-waisted, but with a high collar and long sleeves. She didn’t want to be a ‘type’, but realized that if it wasn’t for the chiffon scarf knotted at her neck, she might appear drab.
‘I saw what happened. I’m sorry about your purse.’
‘It was stupid of me,’ she said, and hoped she wasn’t blushing.
Had she been a little more like her cousin, Fran, she might have engaged him in conversation, but instead, imagining the short exchange to be over, she turned back to watch as the ship slipped closer to Colombo.
Above the shimmering city, a cobalt sky stretched into distant purple hills, trees gave shade and the air was filled with the cries of gulls as they swooped over the small boats massing on the water. The thrill of doing something so different bubbled through her. She had missed Laurence and, for a moment, allowed herself to dream of him. Dreaming was effortless, but the reality was so exciting it set butterflies alight in her stomach. She took a deep breath of what she’d expected would be salty air, and marvelled at the scent of something stronger than salt.
‘What is that?’ she said as she turned to look at the man, who, she rightly sensed, had not shifted from the spot.
He paused and sniffed deeply. ‘Cinnamon and probably sandalwood.’
‘There’s something sweet.’
‘Jasmine flowers. There are many flowers in Ceylon.’
‘How lovely,’ she said. But even then, she knew it was more than that. Beneath the seductive scent there was an undercurrent of something sour.
‘Bad drains too, I’m afraid.’
She nodded. Perhaps that was it.
‘I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Savi Ravasinghe.’
‘Oh.’ She paused. ‘You’re . . . I mean, I haven’t seen you at dinner.’
He pulled a face. ‘Not a first-class passenger is what you mean,I think. I’m Sinhalese.’
She hadn’t noticed until now that the man stood on the other side of the rope that separated the classes. ‘Well, it’s very nice to meet you,’ she said, pulling off one of her white gloves. ‘I’m Gwendolyn Hooper.’
‘Then you must be Laurence Hooper’s new wife.’
She fingered the large Ceylon sapphire of her ring and nodded in surprise.
‘You know my husband?’
He inclined his head. ‘I have met your husband, yes, but now I’m afraid I must take my leave.’
She held out her hand, pleased to have met him.
‘I hope you’ll be very happy in Ceylon, Mrs Hooper.’
When he ignored her hand, she let it fall. He pressed his palms together in front of his chest, fingers pointing upwards, and bowed very slightly.
‘May your dreams be fulfilled . . .’ With closed eyes, he paused for a moment, then walked off.
Gwen felt a little disconcerted by his words, and the odd departing gesture, but with more pressing matters on her mind, she shrugged. She really must try to remember Laurence’s lost instructions.
Luckily, first class disembarked first, and that meant her. She thought of the man again and couldn’t help but feel fascinated. She’d never met anyone so exotic and it would have been much more fun if he’d stayed to keep her company – though, of course, he could not.
Nothing had prepared her for the shock of Ceylon’s scorching heat, nor its clashing colours, nor the contrast between the bright white light and the depth of the shade. Noise bombarded her: bells, horns, people and buzzing insects surrounding her, swirling and eddying, until she felt as if she were being tipped about, like one of the pieces of flotsam she’d been watching earlier. When the background noise was eclipsed by loud trumpeting, she spun round to stare at the timber wharf, mesmerized by the sight of an elephant raising its trunk in the air and bellowing.
When watching an elephant had become quite normal, she braved the Port Authority building, made arrangements for her trunk, then sat on a wooden bench in the hot steamy air with nothing but her hat to shade her, and with which, from time to time, she swatted the clusters of flies that crawled along her hairline. Laurence had promised to be at the dockside but, so far, there was no sign of him. She tried to recall what he’d said to do in the event of an emergency, and spotted Mr Ravasinghe again, making his way out of the second-class hatch in the side of the ship. By avoiding looking at the man, she hoped to hide her flush of embarrassment at her predicament, and turned the other way to watch the haphazard loading of tea chests on to a barge at the other end of the docks.
The smell of drains had long since overpowered the spicy fragrance of cinnamon, and now mingled with other rank odours: grease, bullock dung, rotting fish. And as the dockside filled with more disgruntled passengers being besieged by traders and hawkers peddling gemstones and silk, she felt sick with nerves. What would she do if Laurence didn’t come? He had promised. She was only nineteen, and he knew she’d never been further from Owl Tree Manor than a trip or two to London with Fran. Feeling very alone, her spirits sank. It was too bad her cousin hadn’t been able to travel out with her, but straight after the wedding Fran had been called away by her solicitor, and though Gwen would have entrusted Laurence with her life, all things considered, she couldn’t help feeling a bit upset.
Dinah Jefferies’ unforgettable new novel, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a haunting, tender portrait of a woman forced to choose between her duty as a wife and her instinct as a mother…
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamer in Ceylon full of optimism, eager to join her new husband. But the man who greets her at the tea plantation is not the same one she fell in love with in London.
Distant and brooding, Laurence spends long days wrapped up in his work, leaving his young bride to explore the plantation alone. It’s a place filled with clues to the past – locked doors, a yellowed wedding dress in a dusty trunk, an overgrown grave hidden in the grounds, far too small for an adult…
Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but she has little time to celebrate. In the delivery room the new mother is faced with a terrible choice, one she knows no one in her upper class set will understand – least of all Laurence. Forced to bury a secret at the heart of her marriage, Gwen is more isolated than ever. When the time comes, how will her husband ever understand what she has done?
The Tea Planter’s Wife is a story of guilt, betrayal and untold secrets vividly and entrancingly set in colonial era Ceylon.
Question: What is your favourite tea?
To enter, just leave your reply below (please ensure that I have a way of contacting you if you are a winner – by leaving a twitter name/blog name etc). The giveaway will end at 6pm on Thursday 17 September 2015. Sorry but the publisher has restricted entrants to UK/Ireland. I will pick 3 winners at random when the giveaway ends.
The details of the 3 winners will be provided to Penguin and they will despatch the books direct.