Read The Eden Inheritance Online

Authors: Janet Tanner

The Eden Inheritance

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Contents
Janet Tanner
The Eden Inheritance

Janet Tanner is a prolific and well-loved author and has twice been shortlisted for RNA awards. Many of her novels are multi-generational sagas, and some – in particular the Hillsbridge Quartet – are based on her own working class background in a Somerset mining community. More recently, she has been writing historical and well-received Gothic novels for Severn House – a reviewer for
Booklist
, a trade publication in the United States, calls her “ a master of the Gothic genre”.

Besides publication in the UK and US, Janet's books have also been translated into dozens of languages and published all over the world. Before turning to novels she was a prolific writer of short stories and serials, with hundreds of stories appearing in various magazines and publications worldwide.

Janet Tanner lives in Radstock, Somerset.

My grateful thanks to Elizabeth Buchan, who shared with me her knowledge of the Resistance; and to Kay Crooke, who helped me with research into the Charente region – and tasted some cognac at the same time!

But most especially to Gerry Gowan, whose experiences whilst flying as a professional pilot in the Caribbean gave me the original idea, and who not only helped me think of the book's title, answered my constant flow of questions without a word of complaint, and read the finished manuscript for me, but also risked life and limb to teach me to fly!

Windward Islands, 1956

‘L
ILLI
! L
ILLI
–
COME
here a moment! I want to speak to you.' The little girl, who had been trying to sneak unnoticed into the villa, paused like a gazelle in flight, long dark hair inherited from her South American mother flying in the stiff afternoon breeze blowing in off the Caribbean, black-brown eyes huge and round in her small olive-skinned face. The breeze was scented now by frangipani and pineapple, bougainvillaea and nutmeg, all the exotic perfumes of the island mixed together into one intoxicating cocktail, but Lilli scarcely noticed. It was, to her, simply the way things were, a small part of her world. She had known nothing else and though in years to come those perfumes would always evoke for her, more powerfully than any photograph ever could, a bittersweet nostalgic memory of the island where she had been born and raised, for the moment she simply took them for granted.

Besides, Lilli had more important things on her mind. Mainly, how she would explain herself to her father; why she had been playing with Josie again when he had strictly forbidden it. Josie was her friend, at eight just a year older than Lilli herself. When they were little, Josie's mother, Martha, had been a maid at the villa and she had brought Josie with her so that the two little girls could amuse one another while she worked. But that had been in the days before Lilli's own mother had gone away.

Lilli's small face clouded as the memories came rushing in: Mama, with her long dark hair, so very like Lilli's own, her jangling bracelets and her scarlet-tipped nails; Mama with her irrepressible gaiety and the aura of glamour which gave her a quality of elusive desirability as if she were a film star or a royal princess, not an ordinary mortal at all. Lilli had adored her just as she had adored Jorge, her father's business partner, who had often been on the island in those days and with whom, in memory, her mother was inextricably linked; and she knew without question that her father had adored her too. When Mama had said it was permissible for her to play with Josie, it had been.

‘Lilli needs company of her own age,' she had said, and Daddy had smiled and concurred.

But now things were different. One terrible night Lilli's safe little world had turned upside down in a scarlet-tainted maelstrom of horror and grief which she tried never to think about but which returned in nightmares to haunt her.

Mama was dead, Patsy, Lilli's nurse, had told her, and even though she had glimpsed Mama that night lying on the floor, she could scarcely take in the finality of it. Lilli had once seen the corpse of a turtle on the beach and its horrible sprawled stillness and the foul smell that emanated from it had frightened and disgusted her. Mama couldn't be like the turtle, surely? But Patsy would say little by way of explanation and Daddy said nothing at all. He had shut himself away for weeks, only to emerge gaunter, greyer and more morose.

Jorge had disappeared from her life too – he was looking after their business enterprises elsewhere, Daddy had said, but he seemed as reluctant to talk about Jorge as he was to talk about Mama.

From that day on, it seemed to Lilli, Daddy had changed. There was a remoteness about him now that made him quite unapproachable and a sternness which, although it was not new, was now not tempered by Mama's softness and sense of fun.

‘It's not right for you to play with the locals now, Lilli,' he had informed her one day. ‘You are too big for that sort of nonsense.'

‘But Daddy …'

‘Josie is the daughter of one of the maids. I don't want you having any more to do with her.'

‘Then who will I play with?'

‘You have your dolls, you have your books, you have everything you need to keep you entertained. Far more than Josie or any of the other locals have.'

But not so much fun, Lilli had thought, though even she had not dared to say it.

‘Soon you will be at school in Caracas. Then you will meet other girls like yourself. You will make plenty of friends then – suitable ones.'

But Lilli was not quite the obedient child her father thought her. Within her sunny nature was a streak of rebelliousness and a liking for getting her own way. Whenever she could escape without being noticed, and sometimes, it has to be said, with Patsy's connivance, she would run away across the beautifully manicured lawns which surrounded the villa to the far side of the island where Josie lived in the shanty town of tin huts and corrugated-iron shacks which housed the black servants – the maids, the cooks and the labourers. There she whiled away the long hot days of summer playing all the games that a child could not play alone. When the rains came and the river flowed down its narrow bed they would chase one another from stepping stone to stepping stone; when it was hot and dry they hid in the thick croton hedges, spying on those who passed by and giggling at their own daring. They built their own little tree house with some old curtains Lilli had begged from the housekeeper, they scavenged for bits of broken pottery to serve as plates, and then pretended to entertain Lilli's favourite doll, Rosita, with her china face and go-to-sleep eyes, and Josie's home-made rag doll, Maisie. They searched for eggs which the scraggly hens laid in the hedges around the dusty compound when they got broody, they drank milk, warm from the goats, and ate fresh pineapple and mango and bananas. Sometimes Lilli was missing from the villa for hours but Daddy did not seem to notice. He was always engrossed in his business concerns and occupied with the strangers who came and went. Lilli did not know what Daddy's business was and she did not ask. She simply accepted that he was very rich and very busy: the trappings of wealth she took as much for granted as she did the delights of the island, the busyness simply meant she was free to do as she liked.

Usually Lilli could creep back into the villa without Daddy ever knowing she had been gone at all. Today was the exception. As Lilli skirted the big salon she heard him calling to her in the cultured yet guttural accents of the German homeland he had not seen for more than a decade, and she stopped guiltily, knowing that now he had seen her there was no escape.

The salon, which ran the full depth of the villa, was totally open along the side which fronted the lawns. At this point room became veranda, floor became patio, though a trellis over which bougainvillaea twined and rioted formed a roof of sorts to provide shelter from the sun. Lilli walked in between the slatted wooden panels which could, if so desired, be closed to divide the inside of the villa from the outside, a long-legged child in vermilion shorts and a vermilion-and-white spotted suntop, bare feet thrust into chunky-soled flipflops.

‘Where have you been, Lilli? Patsy has been looking everywhere for you.'

Lilli bit her lip, though she suspected Patsy had only
pretended
to look for her – a really thorough search and she would have known very well where Lilli could be found.

‘I'm sorry, Daddy …' She paused, expecting him to question her further and wondering how she could avoid telling him the whole truth. But instead he only sighed, a strange dry explosion that was halfway to being a laugh, except that Daddy never really laughed.

‘Oh Lilli, Lilli, what shall I do with you?'

But he did not sound angry, merely regretful.

Lilli scuffed the toe of her flipflop into the rim of one of the marble tiles which covered the floor.

‘I don't know, Daddy.'

‘No, neither do I. Still, never mind that now. Come over here.'

He held out his hand to her, a tall man in a royal-blue shirt and cream slacks, his bearing aristocratic and erect in spite of the slight limp which was apparent when he walked. Otto Brandt was fiftysix years old but it would have been difficult to put an age to him. His hair was prematurely snow white, his skin tanned to a rich brown by the Caribbean sun, his eyes the startling clear blue of the true Aryan. If one noticed only that well-toned body Otto could have passed for a man twenty years younger; look into the eyes and the wealth of experience and life lived made him much older.

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