A young English wife becomes the mistress of a tea plantation in Ceylon and is quickly confronted with upheavals—racial, social, and domestic—in Jefferies’ U.S. debut.
Gwen, daughter of a landed Gloucestershire family, marries widower Laurence Hooper, descended from Ceylon’s original English settlers. Upon setting up housekeeping on the vast Hooper tea plantation, Gwen is puzzled by Laurence’s intermittent coldness toward her. Unable to get any information out of the family servants, not even longtime retainer and ayah Naveena, Gwen suspects that Laurence may be succumbing to the blandishments, financial and otherwise, of New York sophisticate Christina, a Wall Street trader. Another thorn is Verity, Laurence’s clingy sister, who refuses to get married while insisting that Laurence pay her an allowance. In a secluded grotto, Gwen discovers the grave of Laurence’s young son, Thomas, his child by his first wife, Caroline, and Laurence is circumspect about how Thomas died—as he is about the nature of Caroline’s final illness. At a planters’ soiree, Gwen spies Laurence dancing with Christina and feigns indifference by getting sloshed. Unable to recall what happened after being carried upstairs and put to bed by Savi Ravasinghe, a charming Sinhalese society portraitist, Gwen assumes the worse. Laurence and she having ironed out their conjugal wrinkles, she becomes pregnant, and, while Laurence is away, she gives birth to twins—a white boy and a girl clearly of mixed race. Naveena names the girl Liyoni and finds a family to raise her. Tormented by the loss of her daughter, secrets kept from and by Laurence, and revulsion for Savi, Gwen watches the painter flirt with every woman in sight and eventually become the toast of New York. Muddle the above with the Wall Street crash, mysterious thefts, and a couple of native uprisings, and we soon realize that this plot has painted itself into a corner from which only the unlikeliest of coincidences can extract it.
A melodrama of the waning British Empire.