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Excerpt for An Unexpected Highlander by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A HEART OF GOLD

New Zealand 1872 – the gold rush brings men of all sorts seeking their fortune. Some are desperate and dangerous, some are shaking off their pasts, and some are looking to make a better life in a new land. Fresh from Scotland, Angus McTavish arrives at the Attwater family's doorstep bringing hope and a dark past that might ruin the future of the woman who has captured his heart, Eliza Attwater.

Recently arrived from Australia, twenty-one year old Eliza Attwater, must find the will to continue building up their homestead after her father dies. While her mother and brother struggle to share her dream, they are floundering. On the cusp of making an impossible decision – stay or return to Australia – two men twist Eliza’s heart. Her neighbor, Charles Simpson, an affluent and powerful man, proposes more than just marriage, while the Highlander, Angus McTavish, holds out the promise of a future filled with hope and a love richer than any vein of gold.


An Unexpected Highlander

Jennifer Jeffries


www.BOROUGHSPUBLISHINGGROUP.com

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Boroughs Publishing Group does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites, blogs or critiques or their content.

AN UNEXPECTED HIGHLANDER

Copyright © 2018 JENNIFER JEFFRIES

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. Unless specifically noted, no part of this publication may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Boroughs Publishing Group. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or by any other means without the permission of Boroughs Publishing Group is illegal and punishable by law. Participation in the piracy of copyrighted materials violates the author’s rights.

ISBN 978-1-948029-41-4

E-book formatting by Maureen Cutajar

www.gopublished.com


Dedicated to these strong colonial women in my family tree:

Iris Jeffries (nee Attwater)

Jean Attwater (nee Urquhart)

Eveline Urquhart (nee May)

Florence Jeffries (nee Dickinson)

Celia Dickinson (nee Dorman)


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank two talented authors who gave me the incentive I needed to put this story on paper. Anne Ashby held the writing workshop that birthed this tale, and Annie Featherstone who met me for regular coffees and proved a faithful and generous friend. She critiqued my work and saw it through to completion. My story took shape with their guidance and enthusiasm, and I am truly grateful.


CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Epilogue

About the Author


An Unexpected Highlander


South of Grahamstown,

Coromandel, New Zealand

1872


Chapter One

In which one man is lost, and another is found

A tear slid down Eliza Attwater’s face. She stared numbly into the dark rectangular pit at her feet. The freshly exposed dirt sharply contrasted the pale wood of her father’s coffin. She shook, but more from the tremors coursing through her mother’s small frame beside her, than her own. Another moan reached a crescendo and when the wail ceased, her mother shuddered and clung to her tightly.

“Oh, Mother, hush now,” Eliza whispered, taking a firmer hold on Constance Attwater’s shoulders. “The reverend is about to pray…”

It made no difference. Her mother no longer cared who saw her disheveled and whimpering. Tears coursed down the furrows in her cheeks and wet the collar of her stained lawn blouse. A plain black bonnet framed her face, but even it was crushed and wilting, the lace frayed and hanging limp.

Eliza sighed and looked up at Reverend Talbot, who had been waiting for a signal from her. She nodded, and he pressed his lips together more tightly, but opened his book of prayer.

“Oh God, who has seen fit to take from us this fine man, Benedict John Attwater, we ask your mercy on his soul, and on the souls of those he left behind.”

The words rumbled on, but Eliza did not hear them. She stared down at the lid of the plain coffin, as if she could see within, to the man who lay inside. She remembered him as she had last viewed him, dressed for his funeral, all stiffly buttoned up in his best coat and trousers, the collar of his white shirt standing out against the weathered brown of his skin. His black hair had been combed back tenderly by her mother, to cover the bald patch on his scalp, and it was that, more than anything, which made him look so much less than himself. In life, Benedict Attwater had been vigorous and determined, always working and roughly dressed. Eliza knew that his grey eyes were shut, the spark of life that twinkled from them forever snuffed out, that agile mouth so often whistling or singing, now slack.

At the thought of no longer hearing his mellow voice speaking her name, tears blurred her vision and a strangled sob escaped her.

What were they to do now? Eliza’s glance flicked over her mother’s head to her brother Samuel, who stood stiffly by Constance’s other shoulder, staring at the reverend, his hands clenched together behind him.

On her other side a dark shape overshadowed her, and as it loomed closer a heavy weight came down gently on her shoulder. Eliza flinched and drew away, blinking up into the sympathetic face of Charles Simpson, their neighbor. He did not remove his hand, but squeezed lightly and, with his other hand, offered his starched handkerchief.

Eliza shook her head and leaned closer to her mother while drawing her own moist cloth from her pocket, to dab at her eyes. She did not need this complication to her feelings right now.

Charles leaned in, his beard tickling her ear:

“It will be all right, lass. I’m here for you… and your family,” he added as an afterthought.

His words sent a surge of discomfort through her. Eliza needed time alone, to recover her composure and consider the future. Up until now, Charles had certainly played little part in either.

“Thank you, Mr. Simpson,” Eliza said stiffly. “If you could give my family and me a moment alone.”

“Of course, of course.” He lifted his hat, backed away, and followed the small group of other mourners over the rough sod and into the little hall that served as a church in this locality. From within came the sounds of rising conversation and the odd burst of muffled laughter.

With some relief, Eliza breathed in more deeply, and after a few moments turned to her mother. “Come, let us sit for a while. Samuel, can you take care of the others?” She indicated the hall with a tilt of her head, and her younger brother pressed his lips more tightly but nodded and moved off.

Together, mother and daughter shuffled to an old white bench beneath a large kahikatea tree, and they sat, still clinging to each other.

Eliza shut her eyes and lifted her face to the weak noonday sun; her bonnet fell back and her sleek head with its dark blonde hair shone. How could their lives have so utterly changed in the space of a week? One moment the promise of a future, with the homestead newly built and nestled snugly on recently cleared land. Her father had planned to clear the rest of the acres in coming months, send the timber to the local mill, and then bring some livestock as soon as the pasture could support them. When they had come over from Sydney and taken the long cart road across the Hauraki Plains from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula had seemed like Paradise after the hot, arid Australian landscape.

That was two years ago.

Then Eliza, at nineteen years of age, had been as full of excitement as her father. She and her mother had enjoyed the prospect of setting up home when the homestead had been finished and taken regular trips to Thames purchasing furnishings. Her father and Samuel had exhausted themselves clearing the first ten acres of bush and kauri tree and used the timber to finish outbuildings and fences. The rest of the kauri logs had gone to the Grahamstown timber mill, where the hard wood fetched a high price.

The tragedy that had changed their fortunes had happened suddenly. It was impossible to believe that the force that was Benedict Attwater had been irrevocably snuffed out. Seven days ago, when he had not returned for a midday meal and the collie dog, Bella, had run home wildly barking, Samuel had set off looking for him. He had found his father’s body at the base of a cliff, lying face down in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall. Somehow, he must have slipped and, unable to stop his motion, had cracked his head on rocks in his descent. Such accidents were known to happen in this new settlement, and the impact devastated the families who suffered them, as it had the Attwaters.

Awaking from her miserable contemplations, Eliza looked up now to see Samuel striding toward them. He looked agitated and flushed.

“Lizzie, we’d best be getting back. There’s no point hanging around any longer here. We may as well go.”

She nodded and rose up from the bench, drawing her mother’s arm through her own. Before they had taken more than ten steps, Charles Simpson was once again at her side, solicitous and reaching to offer his arm. She reluctantly took it and they shuffled slowly toward the family cart. Charles helped both her mother and her up onto the seat and would have tied his horse to the runner at the back and joined them but was waved off by Eliza.

“Thank you, Mr. Simpson, but we will manage,” was her terse and only comment.

It was a silent, depressed trio that wound their way over the rough cart track leading from Grahamstown and Thames to Attwater’s clearing, some eight miles away. The long, straight, muddy road with its jumble of wooden buildings, many of them hotels and pubs, began to narrow, and the town buildings—hitherto called Grahamstown—gave way to the small one-level dwellings with chimneys and wide verandahs that the more permanent locals inhabited, in Thames. On the outskirts beyond the town a second township that was no more than a jumble of dirty canvas shapes was the temporary housing for many who had come to search for gold nearby. Shouts, laughter, and occasional music drifted past them as they plodded onwards and away.

A light rain began to fall, and water joined the tracks of tears down Constance Attwater’s face, plastering her soft brown hair to her head. Eliza pulled her own bonnet up as far as it would go and wrapped her cloak around both of them. Samuel hardly seemed to notice the rain as he hunched forward, clicking the reins every now and then. By mid-afternoon the two horses rounded a curve in the track and with their hooves sucking now in mud, pulled out of the dense bush, and into a clearing.

Set back against the distant wall of manuka and fern, with the lofty heads of kahikatea and kauri trees behind, was a tidy dwelling. It was long and two-storied, had clean lines and at least six windows beneath a sheltering verandah from which a small row of steps descended. The upper story ran under the eaves and three small windows were set into the roof. Two thin trails of smoke rose from the chimneys, and as they approached, the door opened and a slender figure in a grey dress slipped out and waited.

“Moana, come help me with Mother,” Eliza called.

The girl addressed pushed feet into sturdy boots and, leaving the laces dragging, ran out to the cart. Together they got Constance inside and seated in a stool by the fire. Moana Maru knelt, and reaching out her slim brown arms, she took up Constance’s hands and rubbed them gently. Not for the first time, Eliza was glad they had this gentle Māori girl to help them during the week. The few pennies they paid her to help in the kitchen and with other household chores were well worth it. In the weekends, Moana returned to the Marae, where she joined in the social life of her “whanau,” and the larger tribe of Ngāti Maru. It had taken Eliza a few months to discover how differently Moana’s people lived from the European settlers, and she envied them the way the tribe was like a large extended family with their gatherings and fellowship in the large meetinghouse. She could have done with more family around her now.

Samuel clomped in some time later and went straight to the cupboard where the liquor was kept. Reaching in, he drew out his father’s prize whiskey, kept for special occasions, and poured a generous swig into a glass. He flung himself down at the table, threw his head back, and swallowed it in one gulp. Then he poured another and viewed the three women by the fire with bloodshot eyes.

Eliza left her mother and walked past Samuel into the kitchen. Here, at least, she was on her own—and for a moment she leaned against the bench and looked out unseeing into the bush. Then she turned to the sink and saw Moana had made a start on the potatoes. She picked one up and peeled it, her thoughts on the next twenty-four hours. In the next room, she heard Moana croon a Māori song in a low voice, and the ache in her throat grew tighter.

###

A few days of numbness passed in a blur for Eliza and her family. On the fourth day after the funeral, Samuel was gone by midmorning—taking the cart into town for some provisions. He mumbled that he would return at sunset. For a while Eliza sat at her window, watching a fly caught in a spider’s web on the lintel, droplets of rain clinging to the fine strands that held it entangled. With a heavy heart she looked up at the sky, where some scattered grey clouds appeared over the tree line, moving relentlessly toward the homestead. She sighed, stood up, and reached for her linen apron. When it was fastened around her waist, she lifted her arms wearily and knotted a cotton scarf at her nape, keeping her hair from her face. There were no sounds downstairs. Eliza quietly opened her door and crept past her mother’s room, descending the stairs with soft tread, and moving through the kitchen to the back door. Despite the grief that seemed to hang over the house and its inhabitants, the animals seemed larger than life, restless and fretful, and voicing complaints at their neglect.

Eliza pulled on some boots left propped against the porch and set off toward the sheds. As if in reflection of her mood, her steps dragged and pulled in the wet soil, and it took a great effort to move around and feed the two pigs and the chickens. When she sat on a stool and milked the jersey cow, she rested her cheek on the warm flank of Bessie and felt a degree of drowsy comfort.

Light patters of raindrops bounced into the bucket, mingling with the fresh milk, as she sloshed her way back to the kitchen.

Eliza stirred up the embers in the range and put a pan of water on to boil. She then sat and stared listlessly at the hutch dresser, bright with the best crockery on show. The crisp blue-and-white designs on the platters and dishes had been her mother’s pride and joy and were only used for special occasions. It seemed impossible to imagine them ever used again. She remembered the last occasion they sat around the table, the pretty plates all waiting for the roast meat her father carved at the head of the table, her mother ready to pass it around. And there, facing her, on the surface of the dresser was the silver tea service, a wedding gift from Benedict Attwater to his wife. Eliza could see a distorted reflection of herself on the surface of the teapot, and tears blurred the image she saw.

The sound of the boiling water broke into Eliza’s reverie and she stood and carefully dropped a few eggs into the pot. By the time the rain had cleared, and a weak sun had brightened the kitchen, Eliza walked upstairs with a tray of toast and eggs for her mother. When she had settled Constance at the window table, she carried her own tea and toast into the room her father had used for an office. While she chewed she drew out her father’s accounts and began to read them page-by-page. The drawers of the ancient mahogany desk were cluttered with papers, only loosely gathered in piles pertaining to debtors, creditors, and supplies needed. The top drawer opened upon bundles of correspondence, and her heart caught at the sight of her father’s familiar cursive writing. It was slanted and hastily written, often splattered with drops of ink, or smudged with dirt or tea. On a chair beside the desk was a stack of newspapers: treasures that her father would read for days, the smaller pile from England and at least six months out of date, the larger pile from local publishers, either in Auckland or Thames. On some of these he had put a circle around a heading or an advertisement or cut a section out entirely.

Leaning back on the well-worn chair, Eliza let her hands fall to her lap. It was too much. How could they continue to work their land now, and if not, what would they do?

The most obvious solution would be to sell up and return to Sydney. Eliza could picture the dark hallway of her aunt and uncle’s house there, the prickling heat of summer held back only faintly by heavy curtains and deep porches. That was the Attwater family homestead, where her mother had married before they had moved to a small house of their own, farther out of Sydney. She knew that her father’s sister would take them back until they found their feet. Oh, but it was hard to consider giving up the dream she had shared with her father.

With another heavy sigh, Eliza leaned over the desk and began sorting the papers, separating out the invoices from the credit notes. She dipped the pen into the ink and began making notations on a fresh sheet of paper.

###

A week after the funeral, Eliza woke to a drenching rain and, looking through the window, saw that Samuel had not returned the night before. He had found some excuse to go into town every day, if only to get away from the sadness at home. She paused in the act of wiping the cloth over her wet face to stare at her reflection in the mirror above the washstand. The puffiness that had surrounded her grey-blue eyes had receded, and she fixed a quelling look upon herself and spoke to the woman looking back:


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