Jane’s sense of joy and well-being continued into the new year, despite the hyperinflation with its accompanying chaos of spiraling prices, compulsive buying, fear, and the defamation of President Alfonsín, who was suddenly accused of being personally responsible for every ill, every act of corruption committed by members of the government, the Radical Party, and even the grocer at the corner. She joined a paddle tennis club which had added attraction of a swimming pool for its members. Having the car, she was able to visit old school-friends in different suburbs and begin to form a wider and more varied social life.
Her deep sense of guilt began to dissipate, and not even her father’s gloom over the economic nose-dive could damper
Old Mr. Bantman began to recover almost miraculously. His heart settled into a steady, even beat and his wandering mind cleared. He would even get up and take little walks out into the garden at six in the morning when Jane arrived, while it was still cool. One day he made her a proposal of marriage, which she refused tenderly. He accepted her refusal philosophically, however, which was a great relief.
“You silly girl,” Aunt Georgina chided, eyes dancing, when Jane told her. “You’d have been able to dress in mink and diamonds and wash your teeth in champagne!”
“I was my teeth with Effective, Aunt Georgina.”
“Ah, yes. What’s it like, by the way? Isn’t he splendid, though, that young friend of yours? So good looking and such lovely teeth. You must bring him here to meet me, Jane. I feel I know him so well now, from seeing him smiling down at me from nearly every billboard in Santa Laura. They’ve certainly spared no costs with their advertising campaign, have they? Who’s the girl he keeps kissing on T.V.?”
“I haven’t a clue. Some model or other,” Jane laughed. “His father, Daniel, is tickled pink, as my granny used to say. He keeps telling everyone, ‘That’s my son’. Even taxi drivers and people like that!”
The door-bell rang twice and Aunt Georgina said, “There’s Robert.”
“I’ll let him in,” Jane said.
“We were talking about Jane’s handsome friend papering Santa Laura with his marvelous smile,” Aunt Georgina boomed, accepting Robert’s kiss and waving her hand vaguely in the direction of an arm chair. “What will you have? There’s only white wine.”
“Well, in that case I think I’ll have a little white wine, if I may,” Robert smiled. “Here, I can get it, Cinderella. I’m not senile yet, whatever my manner may project!”
“I’m on my feet. Aunt Georgina, what about you?”
“Oh, yes please. Wine is a great tonic. Did you know that, Robert?”
“I agree with you entirely, my love. I’ve got some rather special news, by the way.”
“Wait, wait,” Jane begged. “Let me get the wine first.”
As soon as they each had a glass, full and ice cold, Robert said, “I’ve moved into a charming two-room furnished flat four blocks from here.”
“You’ve rented a flat! But Robert, you’ve got one. The one up-stairs! Why didn’t you tell me?” Jane cried in consternation.
“And ruin the remarkable development of brush telegraph which you two are working on? No, no. This is a very good solution. I have also asked for a transfer in the firm, to a job where I’m settled and don’t have to be living out of a suitcase three quarters of the time.”
“What are you going to do about the house?” Aunt Georgina asked.
“Albertina and a nephew, between them, are going to look after it.”
“And all your things?”
“That’s why I’m here, actually.” He looked at Jane. “May I occupy one of the spare bedrooms with my stuff, Jane? Boxes of books, some suitcases and a few other odds and ends.”
“You’re asking me?” Jane exclaimed. “Use both rooms, Robert; they’re yours, after all.”
“Wonderful, thank you. I’ll bring everything over on Saturday afternoon, if I may?”
“It’s lucky you want only one of the rooms,” Aunt Georgina remarked with a wicked twinkle in her eye. “Jane’s just had a proposal of marriage.”
Robert shot a startled glance at Jane, which did not escape his Aunt’s sharp eyes.
“So,” he said. “It wasn’t the car, after all!”
“Aunt Georgina, you are naughty!” Jane exclaimed, colouring. “What d’you mean, not the car, anyway?”
“Your sudden, and enchanting, joi-de-vivre.”
“Oh, pooh… can’t one be happy without being in love? Anyway, my suitor is dear old Mr. Bantman. He proposed to me this morning.”
“And she refused him, the silly chump,” Aunt Georgina observed. “But you’re still in time to change your mind, Jane, or do you think he’s proposed to his afternoon nurse already?”
Jane thought of Beatriz and burst out laughing at the thought. “Who knows,” she giggled, as Aunt Georgina watched Robert covertly and saw him relax and sip his wine with a relieved smile. Her old heart flipped as the fantasy which she had been engaging in with Ana grew wings, and transformed itself from possible to probable.
“Why don’t you ask Ana to clean your flat while she’s about it?” she said. “She comes to us twice a week already.”
“What has Ana got to do with Mr. Bantman?” Jane asked, and started laughing again.
“I suddenly thought of something I wanted to tell her,” Aunt Georgina replied. “When are you moving in, Robert?”
“I’ve moved. What about my inviting you out to supper, girls, and then I’ll take you to see the place?”
Jane jumped to her feet. “Wild,” she said. “I’ll go and get into something more suitable. I won’t be a second.”
Aunt Georgina deliberated whether she should let them go off alone, but her desire to see Robert’s new flat and the joy of being with the two young people whom she loved most was too much for her.
“Go and wash the glasses, dear,” she directed as she went to comb her hair and dab some Channel Nº 5 behind her ears and on her hanky. Robert dutifully picked up the glasses and took them to the kitchen.
Robert’s flat was in a modern, box-like building, but it was a back flat, so the noise of the traffic did not reach it; from the balcony one looked out onto the little gardens and terraces of the surrounding buildings.
“I shall fill the balcony with plants, taking my cue from Jane,” Robert said. “And I shall install an overhead fan in the bedroom, which should move the air and keep me cool.”
“The kitchen is big for a two-room flat,” Jane said. “One can eat in there.”
“I certainly shall,” Robert declared.
“Won’t you miss Albertina?”
“He’ll be using us instead,” Aunt Georgina proclaimed. “ ‘O.K. if I come to supper, Aunty?’ ‘How about my bringing a pizza around, Jane?’ You’ll see.”
She rumpled Robert’s hair fondly. “And very welcome too. It’s even close enough for me to come here and have a meal with you every now and again. I shall give you a house-warming gift of a cook book, my boy.”
“May it be an ABC to cooking then, please,” Robert suggested.
Nelly returned from Buzios deeply suntanned and looking rested and relaxed. Jane rushed round to see her in order to hear about Bobby and Violet.
“I don`t know what sort of magic Violet’s got,” Nelly said. “But Diego seems to be quite dotty about her. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen him in that mood. Sort of soft and one could almost say, gentle. He’s usually a bit distant and nearly always ironic. Actually, he still is ironic, but in a different way.”
“He has an English Nanny because he refuses to speak Portuguese. I didn’t see too much of him as he got an ear infection, but when he could go to the beach he seemed cheerful enough. Diego’s kids spoiled him outrageously and played with him a lot, so he had plenty of fun with them.”
“And will Violet let Bobby stay with Robert?”
“Yes. Isn’t that good news? Diego and Violet want to go skiing in Vermont, if you please, so Bobby can stay on with his nanny and it’ll all work out very well.”
“Have you spoken to Robert?”
“Yes, I ‘phoned him as soon as I arrived. He told me he’d moved.”
“He’s taken a flat about four blocks from home. I feel rather awful because there I am in that big apartment of his, which is half empty, and he’s renting another. But, anyway, he’s stowed all his things in one of the empty bedrooms, and kept only the essential until all this business with Violet gets sorted out. I think the flat belongs to a friend and he’s taken it for six months or a year with the possibility of renewing. Something like that.”
They talked on about Diego’s children, the weather, life at Buzios, the village, the simple fishermen and their families who lived there.
“So, the next excitement is your wedding!” Jane grinned.
“Oh, don’t talk about it, darling,” Nelly protested, blushing under her tan. “I feel like some silly adolescent, all fluttery inside. Would you be one of our witnesses? We have to have two.”
“I’d love to be. What fun!”
“It’ll only be a registry office affair, but we’ll have a small ‘do’ somewhere after it. Diego wants to come, so it may be a bit tense. He’s delighted, you know. Just delighted. He wants to pay for the party.”
Jane thought of Bettina preparing for her wedding to Kevin, and remembered the strange words which had flashed up inside her, ‘… but you’re not going to get married …’ No such premonitions seemed to be floating about with regard to Nelly’s marriage, and she felt that Nelly’s life was at last beginning to blossom.
“I’m going to stay with the Torres Hidalgo’s for a couple of weeks in February,” she said. “At the Estancia in Santucho. But as a guest this time! Javier will be there, and Lucio too, maybe.”
“How lovely for you, darling. But what about your patient, and Aunt Georgina?”
“Old Mr. Bantman is much better. So well in fact, he even proposed to me.”
Nelly clapped her hand over her mouth and gave a little shriek of laughter. “I can’t believe it. What did you say?”
“That I was very fond of him, but… He was very philosophical about my refusal.”
“We could have had a double wedding,” Nelly teased. “I’ll bet he would have wanted to go to the Caribbean for his honeymoon, on some cruise or other.”
“To think that there are girls of my age who really do marry very old men. I wonder if it’s because they are insecure, or want the money, or feel their husband will only have enough energy for them and not go chasing other women…”
“You’re much too skeptical, darling. They could also fall in love. As far as I’m concerned, there is no right or wrong age for falling in love. I never thought I’d ever feel as I do now, every time I’m with Leandro, or even think about him.”
Santucho snoozed peacefully under the baking mid-day sunshine. Nothing had changed very much in the six years since Jane had been there, except that the Municipality had banned traffic from the town centre, and parking on the sea front, so that it was now mercifully free of cars. Only a few energetic holiday makers wandered about the plaza or along the esplanade. Most had either gone back to their houses, or were eating lunch at the many restaurants which lined the sea front, their coloured awnings creating pools of shade on the side-walks.
Jane chose a restaurant which had placed rectangular flower pots overflowing with red geraniums and golden nasturtiums along the edge of the sidewalk, and sat down happily at one of the outside tables, facing the sea. She had opted to remain in Santucho when the family returned to the Estancia for lunch and a siesta, simply in order to be quite alone. Daniel and Soledad had changed their life style, and although mornings were spent on the beach as usual, in the afternoons, unless they went to play golf, they remained on the Estancia. A cooling breeze blew off the sea, bringing with it the fresh, stimulating scent of salt water and seaweed, and the mewing of the seagulls.
The sound of the breakers was like a lullaby; the crumbling thud and whoosh as they curled over and broke, kept repeating itself with a million tiny variations over and over again as it had done since the beginning of time. Jane watched them as they approached the shore, rose, turned translucent and then crashed forward in a tumble of foam. Ah, they were so lovely, so eternal, so indifferent to all the trials and tribulations of humanity!
A waitress brought her a menu. It seemed sad that the people who worked in these lovely places seldom had time to enjoy them. But perhaps they came from Buenos Aires especially in order, at least, to be breathing this invigorating air, even if they had to work. Or were they local people who tried to earn enough in the summer in order to survive the long, empty winter months when no tourists came?
Jane felt a comfortable sense of timelessness as she watched the waves and the seagulls, listened to the quiet clatter of the restaurant behind her, and inhaled the conflicting odours of food and sea. She relaxed happily, pleased with the deep tan she had already acquired, and the fact that she still had nine days left to enjoy herself.
Javier had fallen for a holiday maker, Lucio had not yet arrived, and Sarita had come with a little friend; since they were all accompanied, Jane did not feel obliged to fall in politely with the family’s plans. It surprised her how happy she was with her own company. She was never bored, for there always seemed to be so much to look at and to think about. Once her thoughts had been her greatest enemies, but now, slowly, she was learning to manage them, guiding them away from pointless, obsessive labyrinths, and consciously choosing what she wanted to reflect upon.
She ordered her meal and ate it dreamily. Six years ago she had already had a row with Kevin and the future weeks had held only pain and despair. How many tears had she wept during those six years? How many times had she felt the desolation which nothing could console?
“And now, today, I’m happy,” she mused. “I’m really happy! I have a good relationship with my parents, at last; a wonderful one with Aunt Georgina, and I know that my child is well. I have a home, I have a profession which I love, I have work, and I have heaps of friends. Why? Am I at last flowing with my destiny? In tune with the Infinite? Or is this just a moment of respite, and do I have hundreds more tests and sacrifices just around the corner?”
She shook herself slightly and sipped her coke. Either one tried to harmonize with Life, to set one’s sights as high as one could, to put other people and their needs first, to become ever more sensitive to what those needs might be, and also to one’s own needs, or one tramped on in search of entertainment, escape, relief, or …
Jane started out of her reverie and looked round, straight into Bobby’s starry eyes and beaming face.
“Bobby!” she cried. “Bobbykins!” She caught him to her in a joyful hug. “How wonderful! Am I dreaming, or is it really you?”
“It’s really me,” he asserted. “I just arrived with my Daddy.”
He wriggled onto her lap.
“Hello, Cinderella,” Robert said, coming up to them. “What a surprise! Bobby saw you.”
“I saw her first, din’t I, Daddy? I saw you from miles away, an’ I said, ‘There`s Jane’, an’ I came running.”
“May we join you?”
“But of course. I’m just stunned. In fact I’m full of questions which I don`t suppose can be answered.” Jane gave Bobby another hug and kissed his round cheek lovingly.
“My Nanny got a ‘pendix’” Bobby informed her importantly. “A great big pendix in her tummy and she had to go to hospital – in Sao Paulo – so we came here.”
“Well, I never,” Jane murmured, running her fingers through his bright red hair. “Poor Nanny.”
“It hurted her lots,” Bobby agreed. “But Daddy says in the hospital she’ll get better very quickly.”
The waitress appeared. Robert ordered food for himself and Bobby; she picked up Jane’s empty plate and padded away on tired feet.
“Come Bobby,” Robert said. “Let’s go and wash our hands and tidy up while our food is being prepared. We’ve just arrived from Santa Laura by car,” he added. “I’ll tell you all about it later. Unbelievable, quite unbelievable.”
He took Bobby’s hand and led him away. Jane watched them and felt herself suffused with love and joy, surprised at how much she had missed Bobby during the last few months. This was turning out to be a really stupendous holiday. Would there be room for them at the Farm? She could give them her room and move in with Sarita and Eugenia if need be. How wonderful that Robert had somehow got Bobby back to Argentina! So the Nanny had developed appendicitis. And Violet was away skiing in Vermont. Had he got permission from her, or had he sort of kidnapped him? Would he let Bobby return to Brazil? Would he want her flat now, and ask her to go and live in the small one? Might he ask her to look after Bobby for him? …
Her mind was still humming with questions and speculations when they returned, together with the waitress bringing their spaghetti and tomato sauce. Bobby ate hungrily, sitting close beside Jane and telling her, between mouthfuls, about their trip and Nanny’s ‘pendix and Buzios in a jumbled, happy monologue which, although difficult to follow, filled in quite a number of blank spaces. Robert said nothing, he just sat smiling and eating, watching Bobby’s flushed, shining face and Jane’s loving, attentive expression as she listened to him.
They all ate green peppermint ice-cream with chocolate chips, then Robert produced a couple of little cars, and Bobby slid off his chair and squatted on the floor beside them, his attention entirely focused on the cars and the make-believe world his active imagination brought to life.
“Ten days,” Robert said. “Beach, lunch, siesta, tea, a walk, supper, and bed time. Nanny always there. No private conversation, not much possibility for questions. She was to invigilate and not allow me to have any influence! And then – Boing! She gets this awful pain. We rush her to the doctor who says, ‘Peritonitis’ – phone calls, private plane, mad rush packing her things, and there, this envelope with all Bobby’s documents surfaces, and she gives it to me. As soon as we had seen her off at the airport, I packed our things and we flew to Sao Paulo and took the first plane back to B.A. We stayed at the flat yesterday and left early this morning. Is there room at the farm or shall I book a room here in a hotel?”
“Come back with me to the Farm and see what they say,” Jane said. “There’s always time to look for a room later. I could move in with Sarita and Eugenia and you could have my room, but that depends on Soledad, of course.”
“I didn’t give anyone time to react. By the time Violet had been advised, we were on the ‘plane on our way to Buenos Aires, direct flight. I feel like a real fugitive from justice. It was crazy but exhilarating. Bobby has changed completely since we arrived. He’s overjoyed to be here. D’you remember the service station you gave him? I took it for him to play with there, and back it came with us. He was a bit surprised about the flat, but it didn’t seem to worry him not to have gone ‘home’ as it were. I’d told him we’d come to Santucho, and that you were here staying with Soledad and Daniel and Sarita, so he’s been burning to arrive ever since we left.” Robert glanced down at his little son fondly, and shook his head soberly. “He was so quiet and sedate under his nanny’s eagle eye. ‘Yes, Daddy.’ ‘Look, Daddy.’ ‘May I?…’ ‘Could we?’ …It was lovely to be with him but – awful – you know – to see how he had changed, or been changed, better said.”
“I kept wondering how you were getting on,” Jane said. “How really amazing that the nanny should have got so ill like that! Almost as if …”
“Don’t say it. Please, don’t say it. I went with no ulterior motives, no occult manipulations, no macumba, no hopes beyond twenty odd days with my child at Buzios. To me this is a miracle, and I’m still reeling from it. I haven’t taken it all in yet, except that sooner or later I shall get a bill…”
“What do you mean, a bill?”
“Everything has its price, my dear. Even a miracle. At least I feel one this size must have!”
“I don’t think I agree with you there,” Jane smiled. “I wonder how Violet will react?”
“My Mummy went to Vermont to ski,” Bobby said, standing up and looking at Jane seriously.
“I know,” Jane replied. “I wonder if there’s lots of snow just now.”
“Diego said when I’m big he’s going to teach me to ski. What’s macumba, Daddy?”
“I’m not quite sure, Bobby,” Robert said carefully. “But I think it’s a special kind of dance.”
“Ah.” Bobby sank down to his knees and returned to his cars. Jane grimaced as Robert asked her, in a nonchalant tone, and with a wink, if the sea water was very cold.
After lunch they went down to the beach and helped Bobby build a huge sand-castle-cum-garage, complete with mote and bridge. Bobby was enchanted.
“Nanny never played like you do,” he said approvingly to Jane. “She only watched me. When can we go to see Sarita, Daddy?”
Robert glanced at his watch and then at Jane.
“I rather wanted to buy a new film for my camera and one or two other things,” Jane said. “The shops will open soon. Let’s go to the plaza and play on the swings; would you like that?”
“Yes.” Bobby picked up his cars and handed them to Robert. “Could you keep them for me, please, Daddy?”
They walked back across the sand and up the stone steps to the level of the street. Many more people were strolling about or sitting on the sea-front wall. The ‘Tea Shops’ were already doing a busy trade. Once in the plaza Robert and Jane sat on a handy bench while Bobby enjoyed the swings and slides. He made friends with another small boy and they ran about laughing and tumbling and getting very grubby in the process. Robert watched him with paternal pride.
“That’s how I like little boys,” he said. “Noisy and grubby and active. The Little Lord Fontleroy they were turning him into was quite dreadful, poor child.”
“I suppose one can reach a happy medium,” Jane remarked with a touch of irony.
Robert glanced at her and smiled. “Yes, well, all right, but you know what I mean.”
“Sure. Are you going to keep him?”
“I most certainly am! The envelope contained all his papers, even our marriage book, so there is nothing Violet can do. She has abandoned the home and gone to live in another country. Bobby is five now, so, legally, I can claim him.”
“What about your job?”
“I’ve asked for a transfer, even if it means earning less. If the firm refuses I shall look around for another job.”
“With the economy in this state of chaos?”
“It’ll sort itself out. This hyper-inflation we’re going through at this moment has most likely been provoked by the economic powers in order to get a Peronist goverment in. Alfonsín’s victory in 1983 was unexpected. The Monetory Fund and the Banks find it easier to ‘guide’ the Peronistas. They’re sure to win in the presidential elections now, in July.”
Jane sighed. “Poor Alfonsín; it’s not fair.”
“Perhaps he didn’t act decisively enough when he was on the crest of the wave. But he has shown us that we can have a democratically elected government and survive, and that, I think, after all the brainwashing we have received from the army, is something very important. Anyway, the Malvinas has finished off our last shreds of faith in the army as a solution to our woes, which was a very good thing.”
When the shops opened, Jane bought the few oddments she wanted and they browsed through the arcades, ending up with a few more cars for Bobby and a present for Soledad. After consuming another ice cream, they made their way to the garage where Robert had parked his car.
Soledad and Daniel were overjoyed to see Robert and Bobby; arrangements were immediately made to accommodate them. Jane cheerfully moved into Sarita’s room, and Robert and Bobby were installed in the one she had been using.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Soledad said to Jane a little anxiously. “Eugenia’s leaving the day after tomorrow, so it seems the easiest solution.”
“But Solé it’s wonderful just to BE here, and I feel, for Bobby, being with a family is much better than in a hotel. He’s been so lonely in Brazil.”
“Yes. That’s what Daniel and I felt. That’s why we invited them to stay.”
Eugenia left on the same day that Lucio arrived. He gave Jane his usual bear hug. “I was afraid I’d miss you,” he said. “How’s my favourite nurse?”
“Just fine, thank you. And how are you, Lucio? Have you got work?”
“Why, yes, madam. Clad in dark, sober clothes, a white ruff at my neck and a white wig on my head, I nod wisely when another worthy gentleman expounds on the virtues of a well-known blend of whisky. It’s rather a nice ad. actually, because then I and another chap dance a minuette with two gorgeous damsels while the worthy gentleman looks on, sipping his glass of whisky. It’ll be coming out quite soon, I think.”
“And the film?”
“Not till April or May, and that’s a maybe. With this hyperinflation everything has gone to hell.”
“What a shame! But at least you do have some work.”
“I may go to Jujuy for an ad. next month. Something to do with tourism, I understand. How’s the car?”
“Did you bring it?”
“No! I came by bus. I’m not courageous enough to come here alone, anyway.”
“I guess that’s wise. How has everything been here?”
“Lovely. So different from when I was here last.”
“No howling baby getting sick all over you and keeping you stuck at home day in, day out!”
“Poor Sarita. She was certainly a bit of a pest, I must say.”
Sheba, who had been accompanying Robert and Bobby for a walk, tore up to welcome Lucio, her whole body wagging with pleasure.
“How fat she is!” Lucio exclaimed.
“She’s pregnant,” Jane laughed. “Any day now, I would say. She’s bulged out in the last few days.”
“So you’ve been whooping it up, have you? You naughty girl!” Lucio said, squatting down to stroke Sheba with rough tenderness. Jane watched them and thought of herself. She had whooped it up with Kevin without a thought for the future, for what might happen. Nature looked after Sheba. Baby animals were soon more or less able to fend for themselves, and death was no tragedy for their mother. Sheba would have at least nine puppies if not more, and if only two survived she would be content. But human beings were in another category. Their children took years to mature, and needed so much care and attention, so much loving guidance, so much maturity and self-sacrifice on the part of their parents…
“And yet the natural, animal part of us drives us on regardless, caught up in its urgency, in its needs, in its enormous force,” she reflected and wondered how Lucio coped with his natural instincts. She thought about Violet and Diego, both of them so intensely sensual, so vital. No wonder they got on well together. At least Robert had managed to retrieve Bobby. She wondered what Violet would do. She certainly wouldn’t give in easily!
Robert and Bobby appeared, and Lucio went to greet them. Gradually the family began to gather under the wide, cloudless sky, fetching garden chairs, passing the maté gourd back and forth or sipping cold drinks. It was very peaceful and quiet. The recently cut lawn spilled round the bushes and trees, and swept out towards the hedges and fences which limited it. Javier strummed his guitar softly; everybody leaned back in their chairs and listened to him in silence. Jane watched Bobby sitting on his father’s lap; she could almost feel the relaxation and happiness which flooded his soul.
The sun sank towards the horizon, bathing the landscape in oranges and golds; the first stars twinkled high in the sky, then the mosquitos arrived and the almost mystical moment was shattered. The group disbanded, most for the house, Lucio, Javier, and Jane for the swimming pool.
Sheba’s puppies were born that night. Seven of them. She chose a large box near the kitchen door in which to have them. Jane, looking for her, found her just as the sixth and seventh were born; she watched with professional fascination as Sheba deftly tore away the foetal envelope and licked the puppies energetically, cleaning away the amniotic fluid, stimulating their movements and life forces. Four were males and three were females.
By the next morning the females had already been taken away, and the four little males were energetically suckling, kneading away at Sheba’s belly and making soft little whimpering whistling sounds, probably, Jane thought, causing Sheba to relax and let down her milk. Sheba looked very pleased with herself.
Sarita and Bobby were beside themselves with excitement, and could hardly tear themselves away from watching the puppies. Sheba kept the children at bay with soft growls when they pressed too close. At last, loth to leave, they were herded into one of the cars and driven down to the beach.
The days slipped by. One night it rained quietly and steadily; the next day it was very cold so no one went to the beach. Robert took Bobby for a ride, sitting him on the sheepskin in front of him. Jane accompanied them, riding a bouncy mare who, finding the sedate pace extremely trying, kept wanting to canter off at the least provocation. At last she gave the mare her away and they galloped across the fields and then back to the homestead along a winding road bordered by trees and bushes. Robert had already returned, and was unsaddling his horse when she cantered up, flushed and happy.
“How about a game of paddle this afternoon?” he said.
“I’m only a novice, Robert,” Jane protested. “You and Violet were always playing tennis; you must be a fantastic player.”
“I’ll teach you,” he urged.
“What about Bobby?”
“We’ll take him, and the bus station, if he wants to join us.”
Jane grinned undecidedly, but finally gave in. “O.K. But if I miss all the balls, don’t tell me you weren’t warned,” she said.
In the end Jane returned to Santa Laura with Robert and Bobby. The Torres-Hidalgos smiled to themselves and speculated on how happy they would make each other and what an ideal couple they would make. Lucio and Javier flew back to Buenos Aires; Daniel and Soledad stayed on for a few days with Sarita, Sheba and the puppies, three of whom had already found homes.
Aunt Georgina, who had gone to stay at the Hurlingham Club in Buenos Aires for a change and a rest, had arrived back the day before. She was overjoyed to find that Robert had returned with Bobby, and to hear all their adventures. Jane, however, on telephoning Mr. Bantman’s son, discovered that her patient had died five days after she had left on holiday, in his sleep.
“Well, he was eighty-six, after all,” Aunt Georgina consoled her. “And he did have a dicky heart. Can’t think of a better way to go, myself. Isn’t it just wonderful that nanny of Bobby’s getting appendicitis? And at such an appropriate moment, too! I’m surprised Violet hasn’t turned up yet, ranting and raging. I never thought Robert would have the sense to do what he did and come straight back, he’s always so bent on being decent and doing the right thing.”
“He found Bobby very repressed and far too polite,” Jane said. “I think that’s what helped him make up his mind.”
“Poor child. Well, we’ll have our hands full taking care of him, I suppose. Has Robert mentioned how he intends to look after him?”
“Not yet. He’s got to find out what they’ve decided about his job at the office.”
Jane found she was very glad to be back in her flat. Ana had watered her plants and they were all looking splendid; the flat shone with cleanliness. She transferred the plants back to their accustomed places from the kitchen table and unpacked her suitcases. Mr. Bantman`s death saddened her, he had been so well. But of course that was often a sign, patients would suddenly get very well and then they slipped away, almost from one moment to the next.
“I’d have been a widow already if I had married him,” she thought, and wondered who her next patient would be. She hoped she would be able to continue with the six-to-two timetable, because she had grown used to getting up at five and having all the afternoon free. Perhaps Robert might ask her to look after Bobby for him… she stared out of the window dreamily, thinking how nice that would be.
Remembering that Nelly would be expecting to hear from her, she decided to telephone at once.
“Darling, when did you arrive?”
“This morning. Nelly, Robert came back with Bobby. The nanny got peritonitis and had to be flown to Sao Paolo. She gave Robert the envelope she had, with all Bobby’s papers and documents, so Robert just came straight back with him. They spent the rest of their holiday at the Torres Hidalgo’s.”
“And where was Violet?”
“In Vermont, skiing with Diego.”
“She’s going to go crazy,” Nelly said softly.
“If she still cares. Robert said he found Bobby very changed, inhibited. He was always with his nanny, poor baby, and it seems she was a middle-aged tartar. Well, you met her, of course.”
“How is he now?”
“Fine, except that he has nightmares and wakes up crying, completely bewildered, Robert says. It’s often the same dream too, something about a box.”
They chatted on and then turned to the subject of Nelly’s wedding. Nelly gave her the date she and Leandro had chosen, the address, and the time.
“We’re going to give a little party in our new house after the ceremony at the registry office. It’s quite near, so it’s handy. Would you bring Aunt Georgina, darling? I think she’d enjoy it, don’t you?”
“She’ll be delighted. Of course I will.”
Jane glanced at her watch, checked the table setting, straightening a fork and rearranging one of the flowers in the table centre; looked round the sitting room to see that all was in order, then hastened to the bathroom. She scrambled out of her clothes, cooled off under a cold shower; then, slipping into a green cotton dress and white sandals, she clasped a white bead necklace around her neck.
It was extremely hot, despite the fact that she had opened all the windows so that whatever there was of a breeze could circulate. Dabbing some perfume behind her ears and on her wrists, she brushed her hair and tidied up the bathroom. Dr. and Mrs. Michaelson were coming to dinner, and she wanted everything to be as tidy and perfect as she could make it.
Her new door-bell chimed melodiously, and with happy anticipation she hurried to the front door. Violet and Diego stood in the narrow hall. For a moment she felt herself dissolve inside with shock. She was surprised that her voice sounded so normal as she managed to say, “Why, hello! Come in.”
Violet pushed past her in silence, walked into the living room, and looked around, taking in all the preparations for the dinner party.
“Hello, Jane,” Diego said, kissing her lightly on the cheek.
“We’ve come for Robert’s address,” Violet said. “Albertina told me that he has no telephone, and that all messages go through you.” Her voice was a sneer.
Jane looked from Violet to Diego and back to Violet. “I’m not sure that Robert wishes you to know his address,” she said. “He’ll be at the office on Monday.”
“And have me waste the whole weekend?” Violet demanded angrily.
Jane shrugged, “I’m sorry,” she said. “But that’s got nothing to do with me.”
The door-bell chimed again so she excused herself and went to answer it. Dr. and Mrs. Michaelson greeted her happily, presenting her with an African violet for her collection of plants, and kissing her fondly.
“Well, well, this is a surprise!” Dr. Michaelson exclaimed when he recognized Violet. “How are you, my dear, and how was Vermont? Robert told me you had gone skiing. And you must be Diego,” he added, turning to Diego and holding out his hand. “I am Dr. Michaelson, and this is my wife, Hetty.”
Diego shook hands and bowed slightly. Jane had never seen him look so ill at ease.
“Please sit down,” she said, beginning to feel the tension inside her lessen. “What can I give you to drink, Hetty? Some cold, white wine?”
“That would be lovely, dear, thank you.”
“Dr. Michaelson, beer?”
“Ah, splendid. Yes, please.”
“Violet, wine or whisky?”
“I… er… a whisky, please.”
“I’ll help you,” Diego said, following her into the kitchen as Dr. and Mrs. Michaelson settled themselves on the sofa and Violet sat down slowly in the arm chair. Diego said nothing. He opened the bottle of beer and poured it expertly into the mug Jane pushed towards him, then prepared two whiskies-and-sodas while Jane served Hetty’s white wine and a glass of beer for herself. He carried the tray of drinks back into the sitting room, and served each of those present; then he picked up his glass of whisky, pulled up a chair, sat down and crossed his legs.
Jane placed a bowl of potato chips and another of cheese chips on the table in front of the sofa and lifted her glass.
“Cheers,” she said, smiling at the Michaelsons. “And welcome.”
“When did you arrive?” Hetty asked Violet, pushing a stray wisp of white hair out of the way.
“Two hours ago,” Violet replied. “We’ve come to get Bobby.”
“That’s what I imagined,” Dr. Michaelson nodded.
“But my cook, Albertina, doesn’t have Robert’s new address. She said all messages have to go through Jane. That’s why we’re here.”
“Ah. I see.”
Silence descended, and Jane felt the tension in the room rise. It seemed quite unbelievable that of all the people she might have invited to dinner that night she had asked the Michaelsons. Dr. Michaelson had taken over complete charge of the situation, and she had nothing to worry about. There would be no violent accusations and embarrassing demands. Staring into her glass of beer, she prayed, silently, “Please, Lord, look after Bobby. May everything turn out for him according to your will.”
“So, you’ve come to get Bobby… Why?”
Violet bridled. “Because he’s my child…” She paused for a moment as her eyes met Dr. Michaelson’s intent gaze, and then added defiantly. “And his place is with me!”
“Tell me,” Dr. Michaelson sipped his beer, “How much time have you spent with Bobby, giving him your undivided attention, since you went to Brazil?”
“Plenty,” Violet snapped. Diego changed his position and contemplated the highly polished toe of his right shoe.
“Bobby is as much Robert’s child as he is yours,” Dr. Michaelson continued. “I suppose you’ll agree with me there?”
Violet hesitated, her glance wavering before Dr. Michaelson’s gaze. She shrugged.
“And he is a good and loving father.”
“He was never at home…”
“But when he was at home… Who sat up at night with Bobby when he had croup? I think he was about ten months old.”
“And who gave his two a.m. bottle regularly when he was tiny?”
“And who always read to him before he went to bed?”
“Robert, but that was only for short periods; we nearly always had a nursemaid. What does Robert expect to do, bring up the child himself? Bobby’s only five. What does Robert know of a five-year-old’s needs? I’m his mother!”
“When did you learn that Robert and Bobby had come to Argentina?”
“When we returned two days ago. We had assumed that Robert would honour his agreement and remain in Buzios. He kidnapped the child..! Bobby has everything a child could want in Brazil, Dr. Michaelson; a trained English Nanny, a beautiful room, heaps of toys, a huge garden, belonging to the apartments to play in, and he goes to one of the best kindergartens. What does Robert have to offer him? A pokey flat, Candy’s Kindergarten, some daily maid or something. There’s no comparison! And anyway, I am Bobby’s mother and a child should be with his mother. What is Robert going to do when he travels? Leave Bobby here with Jane, I suppose?”
They all noticed her deprecating tone of voice when she mentioned Jane.
“Robert came to see me with Bobby last week,” Dr. Michaelson said quietly. “ He told me he has been transferred to another section in the firm and now has a nine-to-five job. He is looking for a suitable flat and plans to have a full-time maid, and to be at home every evening, with Bobby. The child will continue at Candy’s with all the little friends he has there, and all the adults he knows and loves will be near at hand.”
“Bobby is going back to Brazil with us,” Violet snapped.
“Robert will not sign any authorization permitting you to take him out of the country. Of that I can assure you.”
Violet glanced sharply at Diego and flushed angrily. “That’s impossible; it’s not fair!” she shrilled.
“Violet, you can’t have your cake and eat it!”
“I want my child!”
“I have a suggestion, my dear. Bobby remains here, with his father, and returns to the way of life which he is used to. Since you do not wish to live with them, live in Brazil, enjoy your new relationship with Diego, and come to Santa Laura regularly to visit. Spend a whole weekend with your son, giving him your undivided attention, or a week or whatever. Your relationship with him will improve greatly…”
“I have a wonderful relationship with Bobby!” Violet cried indignantly.
“ … you can go on holidays here with him, in Argentina, and in that way both you and Robert will share him and he will grow into a well-balanced, happy young man. Boys need their fathers, as you know, as an example, and also because they often need a firm hand …”
“Is not his father.”
“Why don’t you say something?” Violet flung at Diego. “Why don’t you back me up?”
“Dr. Michaelson is quite right, Vi,” Diego said smoothely. “Robert has as much right as you do to Bobby, and he has the ‘patria potestad’.”
“Why? Oh, why?” Violet cried, bursting into tears. “I had so much trouble… to … have him. Can’t we live here in Argentina, Diego? In Buenos Aires, if Santa Laura is too provincial? Your business is international anyway, and you come to Argentina often enough…”
“Violet, my home, my business and my life are in Brazil. You’ll have to decide, that’s all.”
“I can’t DECIDE like that. How can you say that to me?”
Diego stood up. “I think it’s time we left,” he said. “We have disrupted Jane’s dinner party quite enough as it is. We will talk about this very carefully over the weekend and speak to Robert on Monday.”
“I want to speak to him now. I want to see Bobby.” Violet sobbed.
Diego glanced at Jane enquiringly. Jane shook her head and said, “I’ll tell him you came round. Where are you staying, at the house?”
“No, we’re at the Hotel Splendid.” He handed her the telephone number.
“I’ll tell him,” Jane said again.
“Come, Vi. Thank you for the drinks, Jane.”
“I shall be very happy to see you, any time,” Dr. Michaelson said, standing up.
“You’re all sods,” Violet yelled suddenly. She glared at them, her red-rimmed eyes blazing.
“Will she really go crazy?” Jane wondered, shaken, as she went to open the front door.
Diego steered Violet out gently, his arm about her shoulders. “Bye,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Go to hell,” Violet exploded bitterly. “I know what’s on your mind Little Cinderella!”, she unleashed a torrent of vituperative language; spite and hatred fairly spilling from her eyes.
“Hush, Violet,” Diego said quickly. “Come on, darling. Let’s get out of here.”
Jane shut the door and walked slowly back to the sitting room. “What does he see in her?” she asked weakly, visibly shaken.
“Imagine her wanting him to come and live in Argentina!” Hetty said.
“Forget about them,” Dr. Michaelson said calmly. “The situation was made perfectly clear, and clearly understood. Violet must learn that she cannot run everything according to the way she wants. She’s done so far too long!”
“The point is,” Jane said thoughtfully, “If she were to decide to return to Santa Laura, because of Bobby, she would almost certainly have to work, so she’d be in exactly the same situation as Robert. That is if she weren’t able to persuade him to go back to her.”
“There is little likelihood of that,” Dr. Michaelson said.
“She never paid much attention to poor little Bobby even at the best of times,” Jane protested. “How can she say he’s better off with her?”
“We all have our illusions,” Hetty reflected.
“All the same,” Jane murmured sadly. “I can understand her, poor thing.” And her eyes filled with tears.
“Let’s eat,” Dr. Michaelson said emphatically.
“I’ll help you,” Hetty said, taking her cue and jumping to her feet. “The table is looking quite lovely, Jane dear. Come along, I’ll carry the tray.”
Jane brushed away her tears and in no time they were sitting at the table, unfolding their napkins, as they made ready to eat the cold supper which she had so carefully prepared.
They talked of the holidays, the Michaelson’s children and grand children, Mr. Bantman, Aunt Georgina, Nelly`s forthcoming wedding, Dora and Eric. But eventually the subject which lay at the back of all their minds found its way back into the conversation.
“Violet is very highly strung,” Jane said. “D’you think this will sort of unbalance her?”
“It might,” Dr. Michaelson agreed. “Let’s hope her new boyfriend has a calming influence. He seems a well-balanced person, at any rate.”
“I couldn’t have picked more appropriate guests than you and Hetty, could I?” Jane smiled. “I nearly passed out when I opened the door and found them there instead of you! And then you arrived and everything sort of resolved itself. Especially because you were Violet’s doctor and Bobby’s, and Robert had just been to see you and told you everything. Absolutely incredible! One can almost say, like old Ana, that we’ve seen the hand of God. I could never have handled Violet like that, despite all my experience as a nurse. Obviously, because I’m so much younger, and I’m also too involved with Bobby emotionally. Really, I’m so glad you were here!”
“Good,” Dr. Michaelson smiled. “And so are we! Hetty dear, we must be going. Have you put all the photos away? Jane, the dinner was delicious, many thanks. Now then, will you be wanting another job?”
“Yes, if you hear of anything, would you let me know? Same time-table if possible, six a.m. to two p.m.”
“I think there is something in your line. I’ll let you know. Good night, dear, and again, many thanks for that fine supper.”
Jane accompanied them downstairs, unlocked the door to the street, waved them goodbye, and returned wearily to her flat. She kicked off her sandals and telephoned Robert.