Under Another Sky: 1

CHAPTER 1

‘Your attention, please. In a few minutes we will be landing at the international Airport of Ezeiza. The time in Argentina is now 10.30 a.m. and the temperature is 8º centigrade…’

The disembodied voice finished its ritual message and all across the cabin in the huge Boeing 707 travellers snapped their seats into an upright position and fastened their seat belts. An air of expectancy filled the atmosphere. The airhostesses walked slowly up and down the aisles collecting odd glasses, newspapers and earphones and checking that the seats were upright and belts fastened. The plane sank a little lower over the estuary of the River Plate and everyone felt the pressure in their ears and swallowed automatically.

Juli Lane stared out of the small window on her right at the enormous expanse of the Rio de la Plata below, whose wrinkled coffee-and-milk coloured surface glinted in the morning sun. She could still hardly believe she was about to land in Argentina, that land which only a few weeks ago had been a shadowy triangular-shaped country in South America on the bottom left-hand side of the map of the world.

The memory of her sister’s anxious face rose before her mind’s eye.

“You’re mad Juli.  What on earth do you want to go to Argentina for?”

“It’s my first stop to getting to know the world.”

“But Argentina of all places!”

“I’ve been offered a job there.”

“As a governess! You’re a fully qualified secretary!”

“And I spend seven hours a day cooped up in a stuffy office, banging a typewriter.  In Argentina I shall be living on a farm on the Pampas.  Sun, space, clean air, horse-back riding every day, a newly installed swimming pool for the summer and only two little girls to look after for a pretty good salary.”

“But South America is so far away Juli, and the things one hears about it…”

“All terribly exaggerated according to Mrs. Horn, who suggested the job to me.  She says it’s a wonderful place to live.”

“Why isn’t she there then?”

“Oh! You’re always the same! So negative.  It’s just as well I’ve fixed everything already or you’d bust yourself trying to talk me out of it.”

“I’m your sister aren’t I?  If anything happens to you out there you’ll be on your own.  We won’t be able to fly out and rescue you or anything like that”

“I know.”

“And Dad won’t”

“I know.  Anyway, until three weeks ago it had never occurred to me to be anything but a secretary working in London.  I was offered this job in Argentina and suddenly the whole world changed.  It became accessible.  Once I’m in Argentina I’m only a stone’s throw away from Peru, the Inca ruins, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico.  I plan to visit all those places.”

“I just don’t know what to say.  Mum would have been so upset.”

“Don’t bring her into it Ann, please!  You know quite well, it’s all fixed.  I’ve got my passport and my visa.  My passage is paid and the contract signed.  I’ll come back speaking Spanish and so tanned I’ll be the envy of you all!”

“Who are you going to work for, anyway?”

“A Mr. And Mrs. Dereck Birnham.  I told you.  They own a farm and they need someone to look after their two little girls and talk to them in English.”

Juli’s thoughts snapped back to the present.  The ‘plane was flying over Buenos Aires.  The city’s vast urban sprawl, spread out along the grey banks of the river Plate, stretched as far as the eye could see to the flat smoky horizon.  The city centre with its skyscrapers and impressive government buildings stood out clearly almost beneath them.”

A sudden feeling of terror flashed up inside her as her future rushed to meet her out of the blazing blue winter sky.  The point of no return had been passed long ago.  She was alone in a foreign land, or would be in next to no time, where hundreds of young people had disappeared during the dirty war against the terrorists.  No one knew her, not even her future employers. She could drop out of sight in this vast land and no one would even realize it!

Motionless she continued to stare out of the window while her fingers drummed an unconscious tattoo on the metal top of the ashtray in the arm rest. “Why didn’t they employ someone from here?” she asked herself. “Why didn’t I ask Mrs. Horn about that?”

But she had chosen not to ask Mrs. Horn.  She had simply banished the question, not consciously to be sure, but it had posed a threat to her plans and so she had allowed it to slip into a corner of her mind, or perhaps she had pushed it there.  Now, when it was too late, it broke loose, filling her heart with anxiety and her mind with a string of related questions to which she had no answer.

A fly, attracted by the light streaming through the window, changed course and crashed against the glass where it buzzed furiously, repeatedly trying to find a way out into the  blue world beyond.  Juli watched it dispassionately and wondered if it was an English fly.  The idea of an English fly trying to make itself understood by all the Argentine flies amused her and cheered her a little.

“I’m like the fly,” she thought.  “We’re both going to have our troubles when we land, unless, of course, it goes back to England.”

Large spaces of open land began to appear between the built up areas and a few minutes later the familiar outlines of an international airport with its network of runways, air terminal buildings and access roads came into view as the airliner dropped lower and lower over parklands green with woods and fields.  Juli gritted her teeth, she hated landings.  She felt the jolt as the wheels slotted into place and then, a few seconds later the pilot brought his beloved bird gently down onto the long ribbon of tarmac.  The engines roared as he throttled them back, gradually slowing down the speed of the ‘plane until it was going just fast enough to taxi into the off-loading area.

The sudden silence when he cut the motors was quite startling.  The passengers rose and began to collect their belongings and queue up by the exit.  The air hostesses and stewards, crisp in their neat uniforms, stood in a little row and smiled their professional glassy-eyed goodbyes to the departing travellers as they began to file slowly off the ‘plane and along the portable passage which connected it to the airport buildings.

Immigration formalities over, Juli went to collect her luggage.  She had invested in two red revelation suitcases and after a while they joggled into view on the propeller belt.  She retrieved them, loaded them onto a trolley and found her way to a fairly short queue at the customs benches.

Once through customs Juli pushed her trolley through the glass doors and found herself facing a multitude of people straining against a stout guard rail.  Not one eye regarded her as heads bobbed up and down, struggling to catch a glimpse of their returning relatives.  A very young policeman tried vainly to keep the exit free for the passengers as they filed out.  Those who had preceded Juli were greeted with shrieks of delight by their welcoming families who had forced their way through the crowd and flung their arms ecstatically about them amid much kissing and hugging.  A little overwhelmed by such uninhibited expressions of joy, even the men kissed each other, Juli threaded her way slowly forward wondering what she should do if no one came to collect her.  The fear lying just below the surface of her mind flickered continuously and threatened to engulf her at any moment.  So many people here to meet someone else, but no one, not a single soul in all this melee knew who she was or cared less.

Mrs. Horn had assured her that she would be met.  “You must go and stand by the information desk, there is only one, and they will be waiting for you there,” she had said.  Juli stared around dazedly and then saw the sign and headed for the desk.  A uniformed girl with cropped black hair sat within its circle staring into space.  Feeling that she might not understand English, Juli decided just to stand quietly for a while and regain her composure.  She ran her fingers through her hair and brushed back her fringe, staring about the great hall with its glass-walled little shops and, beyond the plate-glass doors, at the car-park and sunshine.

“I’ve arrived,” she thought.  “I’m in Argentina.”

After a moment or two she glanced anxiously at her watch, the ‘plane had arrived twenty minutes early so she tried not to worry that no one came to claim her. “I’ll just look at the people, see how they’re dressed, what they look like,” she thought.

Her impression was that of a lively heterogeneous crowd well dressed and on the whole most fashion-conscious.  A woman with a miniature sausage dog in her arms passed, staring up at the indicator board and Juli watched her with a flash of interest for they had had a sausage dog when she was small.  Bondi it had been called, but he had been black and brown and this little dog was all brown, golden brown.

“Juli Lane?”

The sound of an English voice cutting through the babble of Spanish was like a silver life-belt.  Juli swung round, relief flooding her and making her grey eyes glow.  A tall, square-shouldered young man of about twenty-three with long fairish hair and a curly beard a few shades darker, held out a bony sun-tanned hand.  All she could see of his face were his nose which was short and his dark brown eyes whose expression was kind and held a twinkle. He was dressed in very shabby jeans and a dark blue anorak.

“How do you do?” he smiled as his hand enclosed hers.  “My name is Peter Carlie.  My uncle, Dereck Birnham, asked me to come and meet you.  He planned to come himself but he’s been delayed a bit.  Here, let me take your bags.”

Without more ado he picked up her suitcases and led the way out to the car-park which was crammed with cars.  Few were familiar to Juli for they were all either American, Italian or French models.  A cold wind whipped about her, running its icy fingers over her face.  She glanced at the great dome of cloudless sky and felt thoroughly insignificant despite the comforting largeness of the airport buildings all about her.  Beyond them no hills or mountains drew the horizon closer and the intense blue of the sky seemed to draw her out of herself into realms she had never sensed in Europe where the clouds nearly always intervened to give one a sense of ceiling.

Peter stopped by a metal-grey Ford Taunus, dug the keys out of his pocket and opened the car door.  A few minutes later they were threading their way out of the airport and driving between the woods and fields which Juli had seen from above less than an hour earlier.

“How was your trip?”

“Fine, thank you.  Very smooth.  Is this a private park?”

“No. Public.  Crowds come here on the weekends in summer for picnics and to get away from the heat of the city.  There are swimming pools and sports grounds and things, hidden  behind all the trees.”

“Of course, it’s winter. One can hardly believe it … everything is so green.  And the sky!  It’s incredible … absolutely cloudless!”

“Winter in Buenos Aires can be quite nice, it’s not always as cold as this. Summer is hell.  Very hot and very damp, you know?  So you’re going to look after Marina and Tishy are you?  There’s another on the way, did you know?”

“Really?  No, I didn’t, as a matter of fact.”

“Have you ever been to South America?”

“No, never.  I went to Spain for a fortnight last year, and I’ve been to other countries in Europe:  France, Switzerland, Greece, but not to South America.”

“What made you take the job?  It’s a long way from England.”

“Yes… I suppose it is really,” Juli deliberately made her voice casual.  “I don’t know, it seemed a good way to start getting to know the world.”

“Weren’t you frightened?”  Peter’s voice held a hint of mockery.  “What with all the excellent propaganda we get over there, streets running with blood and so forth.”

“Mrs.Horn, she was the … go-between, said it was all very exaggerated for political reasons.  She showed me photographs and told me about her experiences here and I believed her,” Juli said simply.

“Most people in England hardly know Argentina exists.  It’s just a shadowy country somewhere in South America where people play foot-ball.”

“Oh! yes, Ardiles.  I‘ve watched him playing on TV.”

“And Vilas, our tennis champion?”

“Yes, I watched him too.”

The tree-filled park ended and was replaced by some enormous mono-bocks which sprouted out from the flat green land in a series of square concrete excretions many stories high.  A fringe of leafless trees and parked cars surrounded them.

“Lower middle class,” Peter said, waving his hand in their direction.

Juli glanced at them politely but she was more interested in Peter.  “How come you speak such good English?” she asked him.

“I was sent to an English boarding school. There are several in Argentina.  They bring staff out from England on contract, and they employ local British folk as well.”

“How funny, I can’t seem to imagine a boarding school here.  An English one I mean.”

“Oh, very traditional.  Masses of sports, rugby in winter, cricket and swimming in summer, order marks. The lot.  In primary school Spanish lessons are obligatory so the school day is pretty long when one adds three hours of English, lunch, games and home work.  In secondary school Spanish is often optional but most students in the English schools, or rather the bi-lingual schools, (there are Italian, French and German schools in Argentina too,) do both courses.”

Juli looked at him in amazement.  “You mean they study the full programmes in English and Spanish for O and A levels simultaneously?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Wow.”

Some time later Peter manoeuvred the car off the wide highway onto a narrower one where the traffic was divided into two lanes by a wide grassy strip planted with trees and bushes.  Various different species of evergreen trees also grew in the wide grassy areas which bordered the highway.  The effect was very attractive.

“This highway is called the General Paz.  It circles the city of Buenos Aires,” Peter said.  “On that side is the city,” nodding to the right.  “This side is the Province of Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires, which is divided up into different localities with their own municipalities.  We live in Martinez which is near the river to the west of the city proper.”

“What an enormously wide river it is, isn’t it?”

“I think it’s about sixty kilometres wide at the level of Buenos Aires. Uruguay is just a smudge on the horizon if one looks across the river from the top of a tall building on a clear day.”

“I can imagine.  Even from the ‘plane it looked endlessly wide for a river.”

The General Paz continued its green and tree-lined way between the increasingly built-up areas on either side.  Juli noted the many tall blocks of apartment buildings which rose from the overall sea of flat roofed or chalet-style houses; the forests of TV antennae, the trees which lined the streets and the countless brightly coloured small buses, their company names inscribed in flowing gothic script along their flanks, plying their busy courses amid the traffic which was considerable.  Finally Peter left the General Paz and took an avenue bordered by tall apartment buildings and large chalets.  Enormous trees on either side of the avenue added their graceful shapes to the overall impression of a garden city.

“This is called Avenida del Libertador General San Martín, or Libertador for short,” Peter remarked ironically.  “San Martin is our Great Hero.  He delivered us up out of our enemies, the Spaniards.  He delivered Chile up too.  Not far now.”

Once or twice as they drove along the avenue Juli caught a glimpse of the River Plate on their right between the buildings and realized that they were driving parallel to the coast.  Many of the buildings had bill-boards attached to their roofs, the familiar worldwide names of soft drinks, cigarettes or cars blazoned across them, and it depressed her to see that even here, in Buenos Aires, so far south and away from the rest of the world in general, these names forced an unwanted link in their garish obtrusive manner.

At one point they passed what was obviously a school which was disgorging crowds of  small children dressed in white pinafores under their coats or anoraks, and lugging heavy school bags.  A small posse of mothers was standing waiting on the pavement but most of the children seemed to be drifting off like little white butterflies with no adult supervision.

“That’s a municipal school,” Peter said.  “Education is free here.  All the children who go to Municipal primary schools wear white pinafores, boys and girls.  The kids who go to private schools wear uniforms, of course.”

“Uniforms?”

“Oh, yes. Tunics or skirts for the girls and grey slacks and blazers for the boys.”

“Tunics!”

“Yeah, or skirts and blouses.  This is a very conservative country.”

At last Peter turned off the Avenue into a quiet tree-lined street where lovely chalets, nestling behind high hedges peeped at each other through the branches of the many trees which grew in their gardens.

“Here we are,” Peter smiled, turning the car into a driveway, and Juli gazed in amazement at the white chalet with a wide front porch which she could see beyond the tall, black, wrought-iron gates.  Such a lovely two story house set in an immaculate garden simply did not seem to go with her image of Peter at all.

“Is … this your home?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes.. why?”

“And you live here?”

“ Uh huh.  With my father and mother, brother and sister and a distant cousin.  It’s hell but unavoidable.”

“Young people don’t usually live with their parents at our age in England.”

“Yeah, I know.  It´s different here though.  Most people live at home until they get married or leave BA.  It’s too damned expensive otherwise apart from being more or less the custom, as it were.”

At that moment a neatly dressed little maid with straight, shining black hair and slightly oriental features appeared.  As Peter jumped out of the car and hoisted Juli’s suitcases onto the sidewalk, she unlocked the gate, smiling in a friendly manner.

“Buenos días Señorita,” she said demurely in a warm honey-coloured voice, locking the gate behind them.

As she entered the house Juli stared about her with unfeigned interest.  Everything was on an ample scale, subdued, expensive and luxurious.  The spacious hall opened onto a large sitting room and beyond that, through another arch, she could see the dining room.  A fitted carpet swept through the three rooms in a tide of fawn. In the sitting room a sofa and several arm chairs covered with what could only be Liberty chintz, formed an area in front of the fireplace where a bright fire crackled despite the central heating.  A highly polished regency table stood beyond.  A collection of silver ashtrays and snuff boxes displayed on it glinted in the midday sun streaming through a nearby window.  Tallboys, bookcases, a desk, occasional chairs and tables; everything was in impeccable taste and looking a little as if one were about to walk straight into the photograph of a magazine on interior decoration.

A tall lady of commanding appearance came into the hall and held out her hands in a gracious movement of welcome.  “You must be Juli,” she said warmly.  “How nice to meet you,  I’m so glad Peter found you safely.  Take her suitcases up Peter… the blue room … can I offer you a drink or would you rather go straight to your room?”

Juli could see the likeness between Peter and his mother despite his camouflage.  The same dark eyes regarded her and the same shaped hands held hers.  “May I go straight to my room please,” she replied.

“Of course, I’ll accompany you.  It’s upstairs on the right.”

Up the carpeted stairs and along the carpeted passage Juli followed her hostess, aware of discreetly papered walls, white painted woodwork, attractive pictures and the many house plants near the windows and hanging in macramé nets.  The blue room, when they got there, was small and delightful.  The sprigged chintz bed-cover and matching curtains, light cane furniture and white walls were set off by a deep blue fitted carpet.

“This is the bathroom if you would like a shower,” smiled Mrs. Carlie, indicating the bathroom door.  “I hope you’ll be warm enough.” She touched the radiator lightly and nodded.  “Yes, it’s nice and hot. If there is anything you need please let me know.  I’m sorry about my brother, he had meant to be here to meet you but some last minute business held him up.  However, he’ll be here in a day or two and you will travel back with him.  As soon as you’re ready please come down and we’ll have a drink.  Lunch is at one o’clock.”

Peter had already deposited the suitcases and departed.  Mrs.Carlie left, closing the door gently behind her and Juli sank slowly down onto the bed feeling suddenly very alone and strange.

——————————————-

Lunch was served promptly at one.  Juli, who had had a quick shower and changed into slacks and a white pullover, could hardly believe her ears when María the maid appeared at the sitting room door and announced that it was ready.  She had even changed into a dark blue uniform with a small white apron which fairly crackled with starch.

They finished their drinks, Juli had chosen sherry to be on the safe side, Mrs. Carlie had had a whisky and soda and Peter had served himself a coke, and moved into the dining room.  Three places had been set at the highly polished mahogany table. Place mats, silver cutlery and glinting cut-glass tumblers were laid in the best party manner and Juli wondered for a moment if it had been done in her honour.  However, after a while, she decided that it was a normal way of life at the Carlies, and even if one were quite alone, María would set the table in just the same way for one.  She marvelled that such customs still existed and with a hidden smile she thought of the fish fingers and pork pies eaten standing in the small cluttered flat she had shared with four other girls in London.

With polite competence, María held a large silver platter on which a carefully sliced, perfectly cooked roast rested, surrounded by new potatoes and brussels sprouts, for Juli to help herself, then she moved on to Mrs. Carlie and Peter.

“Tell me,” said Mrs. Carlie.  “How did you come to hear that my brother was looking for someone to look after the babies?”  She spoke with studied graciousness and Juli wondered what she was really like underneath.

“Well,” she said aloud, “It was through one of my flatmates actually.  Her mother had met Mrs Horn at a party somewhere I think.  Anyway I went to see Mrs. Horn and well … here I am.”

“And … do you have a big family? Excuse my asking but Dereck simply phoned and said you would be arriving and asked if we could go and meet you and put you up until he arrived.”

Juli smiled politely. “Of course.  Well, my mother died of cancer a year ago, my parents were divorced and my father married again and has a new family.”

“Like Dereck,” Peter murmured.

“My sister, Ann, got married just a few months before my mother died and so I have been a bit on the loose end lately.  I’m a qualified secretary and I had quite a good job, but living in a stuffy office with only electric light all day seemed a poor deal when I heard about this job.  I felt life on a farm was just what I wanted.”

“Have you ever lived on a farm?”

“No, never.  I visited one once in Scotland, but only for a day.  It was a never forgotten experience though.”

Peter gave a snort of laughter.  “My uncle lives on a farm in the Pampa,” he said.  “Over 500 miles from here, miles in fact from anywhere and social life is just about nil.”

“Peter!” Mrs. Carlie remonstrated sternly, but Peter shrugged.

“May as well know the truth now and start getting used to the idea,” he said.  “The nearest village is over three leagues away … that’s about 9 miles … and in between there are only trees, fields, and cattle.”

“It’s a lovely  place,” Mrs. Carlie said with a shade too much emphasis.

“When you get there,” Peter agreed.

“You’re making it sound frightful. Really Peter, you’re always the same. So tiresome.  Poor Juli won’t know what to think.  I’m quite sure you’ll like it tremendously my dear, despite the fact that it is quite different from a farm in Scotland.”

“Since I’m supposed to look after your brother’s two little girls I don’t suppose I’ll have much time to be lonely,” Juli remarked.  “Any way Mrs. Horn made a point of telling me how isolated the farm was and so on, and she showed me photographs and slides and a film her husband had taken on one of their trips there.  Obviously it’s difficult to imagine the immensity … I felt that looking at the sky when I arrived … but one thing Mrs. Horn made a point of finding out was if I would mind being so cut off, as it were.”

“I’m so glad,” Mrs. Carlie looked at her kindly and then, almost as an afterthought asked, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Really?  So is Peter.”

“What date is your birthday?” Peter asked.

“March 11th.”

“Pisces. I’m Capricorn.”

“Do you … take astrology seriously?” Juli asked.

“Not at all. But most people here like to know what sign one was born under.  That’s why I know them all now, I’ve been asked so many times.  What’s for pudding mother?”

“Pancakes with dulce de leche.   I thought we’d introduce Juli to our national vice right away.”

“Good idea.  Could you ring then?” he glanced at his watch. “I told Sandy I’d be there by two thirty.”

“Mrs. Carlie rang a small silver bell and María appeared promptly, cleared the table and brought in the hot pancakes rolled up with caramel jam oozing from their golden throats.

Peter and Mrs. Carlie watched Juli as she tasted her first mouthful.

“Do you like it?” Peter asked.

Juli found it almost sickeningly sweet but she decided to try and pretend she liked it. “It’s very sweet isn’t it?” she replied carefully.  “Dulce de Leche, caramel jam. Is it made from milk?”

“Milk and sugar boiled until it’s thick and brown.  Thousands of kilos of it are eaten in Argentina.  My family would live on nothing else if they were given half a chance,”                                                                                                                                                                                                                 said Mrs. Carlie with a chuckle.  “Don’t eat any more if it’s too sweet though.  I’ll tell María to bring you some fruit if you like.”

“No, no,” said Juli, taking another mouthful valiantly.  “I’ve got a pretty sweet tooth myself.  It’s just that the idea of milk jam is a bit sort of … weird.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll become an addict in no time,” Peter grinned as his mother served him a second helping.”  He gulped it down and stood up.  “There’s a party tonight at the house of a friend of mine, would you like to go, or will you be too tired?”

“”But everyone will be talking Spanish at Guillermo’s, Peter,” exclaimed Mrs. Carlie.  “Poor Juli won’t understand a word!”

“So what?  Most of them can talk a bit of English.  It’ll give Juli another aspect of life in Argentina.  After all, one can’t say this is very representative!” He indicated the house with a wave of his expressive hands.

“If you find it too comfortable for your likings my dear, all you have to do is leave,” Mrs. Carlie said dryly.

“Would you like to go?” Peter repeated, ignoring his mother.

“Yes, I’d love to.”

“Right.  I’ll come and pick you up at about ten then, OK?

“I take it you’re not back for dinner,” Mrs. Carlie remarked with polite sarcasm.

“No, mother.  I was just going to tell you,” Peter rejoined in a tone of patient weariness calculated to touch his mother on a raw nerve, and Juli felt a sudden flash of hostility between them.  “I shall be eating at Sandy’s”

“Very well.”

“’Bye then … see you later Juli.”

“How should I dress?”

“Oh!  You’re just fine as you are. ‘Bye.”

Peter left with a jaunty step, his scruffy appearance a blatant flag of independence in the face of the quietly elegant surroundings of his home and his mother’s distinction.  Mrs. Carlie’s Braemer twin-set matched her green woollen skirt exactly and the double row of pearls at her throat gave just the necessary touch of white.  Her greying hair was beautifully coiffured.  Juli wondered what the other three youngsters were like.  Mrs. Carlie sighed and rose.

“We’ll have coffee in the drawing room,” she said.

“María brought in a tray with coffee pot and cups and laid it on the coffee table near the sofa.

“Sugar?”

“Yes, two please.  One’s not used to this sort of service in England,” Juli smiled

“It’s becoming pretty rare here too,” replied Mrs. Carlie.  “María has been with us for several years now and she’s marvellous.  Of course we also have a ‘daily’ and I do a lot of the cooking myself.  But it’s a big house and we’re five in the family.  We also do quite a bit of entertaining, but I must say we’re very lucky to have her.”

Juli sipped her coffee thoughtfully and then, making her tone non-committal, she said.  “Could you tell me a little about your brother?  Mrs. Horn told me a lot of course, but … you know.”

“Well, let me see.  Dereck is two years younger than I am.  He has a daughter, Rowena, who is married and lives in Toronto, and a son of about 26, Gavin, who’s working in France at the moment.  Lena is Dereck’s second wife.  She is expecting her third child in December, did you know?”

“Peter told me.”

“You’ll find Dereck very different from me, he’s what we describe as a typical camp man.  Campo means farmlands, open spaces, so when we talk of farms we all usually say ‘the camp’ and leave it at that.  There will obviously be lots of things which will be strange for you, after London, distances for one thing.  You shared a flat did you?”

“Yes, with four other girls.”

“Really?  Never a dull moment then!”

Juli laughed.  “One gets used to it.”

“Yes, that’s one of the things about being human, isn’t it?  I sometimes wonder if we aren’t too adaptable.”

“Do you have any recent photos of Marina and Tishy?”

“Do you know, now that you mention it, no I don’t.  The thing is we have very little contact with Dereck’s new family.  Lena is of course much younger than Dereck and apart from that she comes from Neuquen, down south, so they always go there for their holidays.  I saw Marina when she was a baby.  We went to the estancia … er … farm, for a day one holiday on our way south.  Peter and Tony spent a holiday with them about three years ago just after Tishy was born, but none of us have been there since then, and Lena never comes to Buenos Aires.”

Mrs. Carlie rose and, opening the desk, searched through some papers until she had unearthed a coloured snapshot of her two little nieces taken when Tishy was a baby of eight months or so.  She handed it to Juli and said, “Didn’t Mrs. Horn have any photos to show you?”

“No, she had nothing recent either, that’s why I asked.”

Juli studied the two pale baby faces, haloed with soft flaxen hair, their blue eyes large and round, as they stared seriously up at her out of the glossy photo.

“Well,” said Mrs. Carlie briskly.  “I suggest that you go to your room and have a little rest now.  I have to go to the church at three to help prepare for the rummage sale tomorrow.  But María will serve you your tea…”

“May I come and help?” Juli asked quickly.  Somehow she didn’t fancy remaining shut up in this large house, whose beautiful decor made her feel slightly uneasy in case she should inadvertently leave an ashtray or a book out of place.

“Of course, if you’d like to,” Mrs. Carlie replied with surprise.

“Argentina fascinates me,” Juli said. “I had prepared myself for utterly strange surroundings, not understanding a word of the language … all sorts of discomforts  … and here I am, talking English in a beautiful house in a lovely suburb which could be a part of Paris.  I feel the flight here was circular and that I am, sort of, back in England, but not today’s England, an England of sixty years ago.”

Mrs. Carlie laughed. “I’m afraid that this afternoon’s little outing is only going to strengthen that impression.  But tonight’s party of Peter’s will certainly give you another angle.”

“Do all the English people in Buenos Aires live … in this way?”

“Good heavens, no!  There are some hundred thousand British people in Argentina and any number who are of British descent but have become completely Argentine.  Every home is different but the general traits … remain.  Weekends are usually spent at different clubs where one can play golf or tennis, or row or watch polo. Then there’s rugby or hockey in the winter and cricket in the summer.  And of course, we do a lot of charity work.

The British Community has an old people’s home and a hospital which we support and there is also an organization which looks after ex-servicemen and women who served in the two world wars.  We get no help from the British Government so we have to work very hard to collect all the funds needed.”

“I can imagine.” Juli murmured.

“Then of course there are all the churches with their needs. The Anglican and the Scotch are where the most English is spoken as it were, and also at the American Community Church.  Other churches are the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Evangelists, Baptists, Mormons, Adventists, Jews … the official religion here is Roman Catholic of course, but there is absolute freedom of worship.”

“And you all are…?”

“Anglican.”

“I suppose I am too.  I never go to church, but I remember being confirmed … years ago.”

Mrs. Carlie’s eye’s took on a distant expression and she stared at the glowing coals in the fireplace for a moment or two.   “Yes,” she said.  “Dereck and I were confirmed together, and that was a very long time ago.  I remember I wore a lovely white dress with a broderie anglaise bodice and long sleeves.  I loved that dress.  Dereck was bought a new blue suit for the occasion.  Funny how one remembers these things suddenly, isn’t it?”

She smiled, her eyes still shining with the memory of her white confirmation dress.  Looking at her Juli thought:  “How strange to only remember one’s dress on an occasion like that, but what do I remember?”

With an effort she drew up the memory of her confirmation ten years earlier from wherever it had been hidden inside her until that moment.  She remembered vaguely the little group of girls and boys, her mother’s small pretty face and the pressure of the Bishop’s hand on her head as he pronounced the solemn words of the confirmation service.  What had she felt?  Most of all, a profound sense of reverence, an almost overwhelming feeling of awe at the deep seriousness of the moment, and later, at the party held in the church hall, a feeling of anti-climax because, after all, everything was just the same, nothing seemed to have changed at all.

“Well,” said Mrs. Carlie again, breaking into Juli’s thoughts.  “Let’s go and have a little rest.  I’ll call you just before three, shall I?

Juli nodded.  Rising she followed her hostess upstairs and betook herself to her bedroom where, curled up under the eiderdown she fell instantly into a deep and dreamless sleep.

—————————–

The church was ten minutes away.  Sitting in the car beside Mrs. Carlie Juli looked at the chalets on either side of the street and was struck by the fact that each was completely different from its neighbours. When she mentioned this to Mrs. Carlie, the latter nodded and said,   “This was something which struck me very strongly in England the first time I went.  So many streets where all the houses are identical and only the colours of the front doors vary.”

“Were you born in Argentina?”  Juli asked, surprised.

“Yes.  I went to school in England for four years but I never wanted to make my home there.  My father was also born here”

“Was he?” exclaimed Juli.  “But that makes Peter, Tony and Pamela third generation!”

“Yes, of course,” smiled Mrs. Carlie.  “It’s rather shocking that we’ve all remained so English, isn’t it?  But what with the schools, the churches, the clubs and the British Hospital one doesn’t necessarily meet many Argentines, at least my generation didn’t.”

“What was it like during the dirty war, as it was called?”

“That was very unpleasant.  So many people were kidnapped.  Several friends of my husband … many had to have body-guards, and one always lived a little fearfully, but thank heavens, that’s all over.  As I was saying, my generation did not integrate with the Argentines at all, hardly.  The men found jobs in British firms as soon as they left school, not very many of them went to University here, unless they wanted to be doctors or lawyers.  The present generation is far more integrated though, most of the young people go to University and nearly all marry Argentines.”

“It’s funny,” Juli thought. “One minute she’s Argentine and the next, absolutely British.  How strange to live in two worlds like that, and somehow not belong to either.”

“Here we are,” said Mrs. Carlie, drawing the car up beside the kerb.

The church was the typical square solid structure of a village church.  The church hall to the right had a small apartment built over it where the caretaker lived.  There was a small garden in which a huge fir-tree brooded over the buildings with a proprietary air.   Mrs. Carlie led the way into the hall where several ladies were already hard at work, carrying in large cardboard boxes full of donations gathered during the preceding months, shaking out table cloths and spreading them over trestle tables set up especially for the occasion all round the room.

“Hello Marion dear,” smiled a tiny white-haired lady, hurrying up to them.  She was impeccably dressed in navy blue wool and her spectacles hung from a gold chain around her neck.

“Hello Doris, are we late?  I’ve brought a volunteer worker, Juli Lane.”  Mrs. Carlie drew Juli forward to introduce her.

“Oh, how splendid!  How do you do Juli dear?”  Doris Martin extended a mouse-sized hand, her hazel coloured eyes sparkling.  “Now then, could you help with the pricing?  Joanie is in charge,” she said glancing round.  “I think we’ll have everything ready in no time.”

She flitted off and Mrs. Carlie and Juli crossed the room to where Joanie Trale was ensconced at one of the trestle tables debating prices with two other ladies who jotted them down once it was decided, and stuck them onto the different articles.  She was an enormously fat woman whose cropped grey hair made her head look small above her bulk.  Her sharp blue eyes, half lost in the folds of fat, darted from side to side like two little birds, diving and swooping and never missing a detail.

“Hello,” she said.

Mrs. Carlie introduced Juli, at which she nodded perfunctorily and said “Pleased to meet you.”

Arming themselves with pens, pins, scissors and paper, they settled down to pricing while the other ladies carted off the articles and laid them out on their respective tables.  During a break Joanie glanced across at Juli and asked:

“Are you living in Martinez?”

Juli smiled and shook her head. “I’m from England.  I arrived this morning.”

Joanie’s eyes sharpened perceptibly as she glanced at Mrs. Carlie and back at Juli, but all she said was:  “How nice of you to come and help us, thank you very much.”

The appearance of the caretaker with a tray loaded with thick white china cups and saucers and an enormous brown teapot brought a welcome pause an hour later as everyone converged round a table that had been left free.  Contributions of delicious looking sandwiches and cakes were produced, chairs drawn up, and very soon everyone was settled round the table sipping hot tea and congratulating themselves on how quickly everything had got done.  They were a heterogeneous group, all either middle-aged or elderly.  They were friendly and cheerful and their conversation soon slipped into the well worn pattern of maids, cost of living, children and grand children.

Juli surveyed the high ceilinged room with its dark beams and white washed walls, the tables all neatly laid out with clothes of all sizes, as well as a selection of articles which even included a washing machine which could almost have been considered an antique, a china tea set which was practically complete and a large tray of jewellery lovingly polished and displayed on a piece of brown velvet.

She felt curiously happy here with all these strangers, surrounded by such a gentle village activity as this, the preparations for a rummage sale, while the sun streamed through the narrow windows, and the strong hot tea warmed her through and through.  Once again the sensation of having suddenly moved back years in time enveloped her and the recollection of her mother describing her grandmother bustling about her rose-covered cottage arose in her mind.  A fragrant cake, still warm from the oven, lying on the kitchen table and she, Juli’s mother, aged six, contemplating it with eager anticipation as her mother prepared her a mug of sweet milky tea.  Juli remembered feeling sad that she had not had a similar childhood memory to tuck away behind her heart to keep it warm.

Rose-covered cottages evoked images of such bygone times as to be practically medieval but she felt in some way that she was now in the middle of those times and she looked forward to meeting Dereck and Lena Birnham, their two little girls and to finally get to know the farm, or estancia as everyone called farms in Argentina.

Joanie Trale sat down heavily beside her and murmured:  “So you have just arrived from England, how interesting.  How was the weather when you left?

“Horrid actually, it had been raining for at least a week and it was quite cold.”

“Have you been to Buenos Aires before?”

“No, this is my first trip to South America.”

“Really?  Do you have relations living here?”  Joanie spoke softly, confidentially.

“No actually, I haven’t.  I’ve come to work for Mrs. Carlie’s brother, Dereck Birnham, to help look after his two little girls on the farm … er … estancia.  Mrs. Birnham is expecting her third child you see.”

“Oh, so you’re a trained nanny, are you?”

“No, they didn’t want a trained nanny or anything like that.”

“Really?  I expect your parents were very surprised at your decision to come to Argentina.  Where do they live in England?  My husband and I go on home leave regularly every two years.”

Juli moved uncomfortably, disliking the sensation of sitting before a Spanish inquisitor on whose decision the direction of her future life would take.  In order to avoid any more of Joanie’s expert questions, yet not seem rude, she said:  “My father and mother were divorced and he married again and has a new family.  My mother died last year soon after my only sister got married.  I don’t have any brothers.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry about your mother,” Joanie said perfunctorily.  “This is Dereck Birnham’s second family too you know.  His first wife committed suicide.”

“Did she?” Juli said, intrigued despite herself.

“She had cancer, poor thing, one can understand.”  Joanie lowered her voice to an even more confidential tone and added: “I feel you should know my dear, Dereck Birnham is a very attractive man who suffers from the conviction that he must conquer every woman who catches his fancy. I have been a friend of the family for years so I know what I am talking about.  I just tell you because you are very young and attractive and to be forewarned is to be forearmed, as they say.”

Juli glared at her angrily, her sense of ethics outraged by this gossipy woman’s remarks.  Joanie noted this at once and said quickly:

“I only mentioned it for your good my dear.  I am sure you must have a boy friend in England and that Dereck will not trouble you at all.  It just occurred to me, that’s all.  You  are young and when one is alone in a strange country without any family or anything ….”

“I understand,” Juli said stiffly, just as Mrs. Carlie came up and said:

“We’ll have to go, Juli.”

“Can I help wash up?”  Juli asked, but Joanie flapped a plumb hand as she rose from her chair.

“Don’t worry about that, the caretaker will do that when we have all left,” she said.

Mrs. Martin, a sheaf of papers and a couple of rather worn-looking exercise books in her hand, scurried about the room checking that everything was in order.  “That’s about it, then,” she puffed.  “Have you all made quite sure which section you are in charge of?  We’ll fix this table now. Lorna, you won’t forget the plastic bags for tomorrow, will you? I’ve arranged about the change.  We open the doors at ten thirty, so please, all of you, be here by ten…”

“We must dash Doris,” Mrs. Carlie interrupted.  “I’ll be here by ten tomorrow morning.”

“Isn’t Juli coming too?”

Mrs. Martin was loath to lose such a quick and efficient worker without a tussle, but Mrs. Carlie was very firm.  “No, no,” she said clearly. “Not tomorrow. ‘Bye ‘bye everybody.”

The others waved and called out their goodbyes in chorus.  Several said: “Thank you very much, Juli.”

Warmed by their good will, Juli followed Mrs. Carlie out to the car. As they walked out of the church grounds the woman whom Juli had seen in the airport walked in.  She carried a parcel under her arm and her tiny sausage dog trotted perkily in front of her, straining at its leash.

“Good afternoon,” she smiled.  “Do you know if Mrs. Martin is still here?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Carlie nodded.  “Please go right in.  Was it very dull?” she asked Juli as they got into the car.

Laughing, Juli shook her head. “Not at all,” she replied.  “I enjoyed it all very much.  Who was that lady who just came in?”

“I’ve no idea, why?”

“I saw her this morning at the airport.”

“Did you?  What a coincidence!”

Juli did not speak on the way home.  She was too absorbed by all her new experiences to feel in a conversational mood, and Joanie’s information … however unpleasant … needed digesting.

————————————–

The house, when they arrived, seemed to have undergone a complete metamorphosis.  A bulging school bag, a blazer, a sports bag and a pair of plimsolls had been flung haphazardly onto a chair in the hall.  Beat music from upstairs throbbed through the house competing with the television clacking away in the sitting room. A tall, fat man with neat dark hair was pouring himself a drink, he turned as they entered and called out heartily, “Hello there.”

A plump child of about thirteen with a huge sandwich in her hand and stockinged feet bounced off the sofa and ran into the hall to give her mother a kiss.

“This is Pamela, Juli.  Juli is the person who has come to look after Marina and Tishy, Pam.  This is my husband, Arthur, and this is Dino.”

Welcomed and kissed warmly on the cheeks by Mr. Carlie and Pamela, Juli felt a little dazed.  Dino was a tall, thin, plain boy, with dark brown eyes behind round metal-rimmed spectacles.  He watched the small welcoming ritual expressionlessly.  When Mrs. Carlie mentioned his name he came forward and shook Juli’s hand and then stepped away.

“Dino,” Mrs.  Carlie said.  “Go up and tell Tony to turn down the record player, one can’t hear oneself think!”

“So you arrived all in one piece I see,” Mr. Carlie exclaimed with a friendly chuckle, regarding Juli with interested curiosity, as Dino turned and went quietly upstairs.  “Have a drink, my dear.  What have you two been up to then?”

“We’ve been at the church, helping to prepare for the rummage sale,” said Mrs. Carlie, setting the hall in order.  “Pamela, put your shoes on please.”

“Oh, my goodness, you must both be parched,” exclaimed her husband.  “What’ll you have Juli?”

Juli decided on a sherry as it sounded more lady-like, although she would have preferred a beer.  “What a fool I am,” she thought as, with a polite smile, she accepted the sherry which Mr. Carlie held out to her. Mrs. Carlie accepted a glass of whisky and soda from her husband’s plump manicured hand and sank down on the sofa, leaning across and switching off the television as she did so.

“Mummy!” wailed Pamela.

“You can’t watch this TV when we’re all here, Pam, you know that,” Mrs. Carlie said firmly.  “Go and watch the other one.”

Pamela’s face grew sullen and she said rudely, “One can’t ever do anything in this house!”

“Oh! You poor little baby,” her father laughed, drawing the child to him with an extravagant hug.  “Could you go and get the potato chips for me?  There’s a pet.”

At that moment the thudding of footsteps on the stairs heralded Tony’s appearance. Juli had not made any particular picture of him in her mind, but she was astonished when she saw him.  Slim, elegant, dark haired and dark eyed like his father, his excessive good looks took her breath away.

“How do you do, Juli?” he said with easy self assurance, kissing her lightly on the cheek.  “Did you have a good trip?”

“Yes, thank you, very.”

“And what are your first impressions on Argentina?”

“Well … it’s nothing like what I was expecting.”

“I suppose you thought we all lived in adobe huts and rubbed woad on our faces!”

“Not quite, but almost,” she laughed.

“How did you ever get to hear about our lost and lonely land, much less Uncle’s need for someone to look after Marina and Tishy?”

“It’s not so lost and lonely now, since you won the World Cup,” Juli grinned.

“And you always wanted to come to South America so here you are!”  Tony finished for her, his dark eyes twinkling, and before she could answer he had glided away to help himself to a coke.  Pamela brought in the potato chips, together with some humus and served everybody in turn.  The fire crackled as Mr. Carlie threw on another log and the silence that followed lapped about them in warm companionable waves.

Juli thought of Peter and felt that his presence would have spoilt that quiet moment.  It made her sad.  Why, she wondered, are some people always a little abrasive and others, with no apparent effort, able to live their lives in complete harmony with those around them?  After a little while she excused herself and went upstairs.  Pamela jumped up and followed her.

“Do you want to see my room?” she asked.

“Alright,” Juli agreed, although all she really wanted was to be alone.

Pamela led her into her bedroom.  For a moment Juli was quite taken aback by the quantity of knick-knacks spread out over every available flat surface in the room, including the floor.  Pamela appeared to be a collector on a grand scale.  Little china animals, shells, dolls, stones glued together into funny animal shapes and painted, vases filled with beautifully made paper flowers, painted boxes of all sizes, candle-sticks, candles, painted pine cones…

“Goodness,” she gasped.  “What a lot of things!”

The walls were covered with pictures, dolls, shelves and an odd assortment of saucers.  The wall-paper and matching curtains and bed-spread were white with sprays of pink flowers.  The deep rose coloured carpet also hosted books, shoes and more dolls. It was the busiest room Juli had ever been in, she turned and looked at Pamela’s bland little face with astonishment, wondering how she could stand living in it.

“Who cleans you room?” she asked.

“I’m supposed to clean my collections,” the child replied offhandedly.  “But Maria makes the bed and cleans the floor.  Look, I make these funny stone animals, do you like them?  I sell them in a shop.  They’re always asking me for more, but it’s difficult to find the right stones.  I have to go to the port.  Peter takes me sometimes, Tony never takes me.  I make the paper flowers too, do you like them?”

Juli picked one up and studied it closely, amazed at its delicate beauty.  “They’re lovely,” she exclaimed.  “Do you sell them too?”

“Uh-huh.  But they take a long time to make so I just make them on order.  Mummy’s friends buy them.”

“They’re really lovely, how clever you are,” Juli said.  “Whenever do you find time to do all these things?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Pamela said vaguely.  Juli regarded her with interest, thinking how easily one could be misled by appearances, for Pamela certainly didn’t give the impression of being such a gifted and creative little person.

Mrs. Carlie appeared at the door carrying Pamela’s blazer, shoes and school-bag.  “Hello,” she said when she saw Juli.  “Has Pam been showing you her collections?”

“I’ve been admiring the flowers she makes and the funny little stone animals,” Juli smiled.

“Yes, they’re very well made, aren’t they?”  Mrs. Carlie acknowledged but she was clearly not very interested.  “Have you got any homework, Pamela?”

Juli replaced the paper flower in the ceramic vase from which she had taken it, aware that her absence would not be noticed, now that the everyday matters of homework and school had crowded back, clamouring for attention.  She stepped lightly out into the passage and almost collided with Tony.

“Sorry,” she exclaimed, steadying herself against the door jamb.

“That’s OK.  By the way, would you like some music in your room?  I have a tape recorder that I‘m not using and I can lend you some cassettes.”

“Hey, thanks, that would be super.”

“Come into my room then and I’ll get them for you.”

Tony shared a room with Dino.  Juli wasn’t quite sure what she had expected but it was certainly not the incredibly tidy and austere room into which she stepped.  It seemed big, for the boys used bunk beds in order to have more space.  A large built-in cupboard occupied most on one wall and  another had the most complete recording apparatus she had ever seen, all neatly tucked onto shelves especially built to house it.  An electric organ stood beside it.  A Spanish guitar hung from a hook in the wall.  There were bookshelves, a desk under the window and another in the middle of the room, only one picture, a Miró blown up to poster size, enlivened the remaining wall space.  The colours in the room were predominantly fawn, olive green and orange.

“How tidy!”  Juli said with surprise.  “Who plays the organ?”

“Dino, he’s studying music at the conservatory so he’s learning to play the flute and the guitar as well.  I compose songs and he arranges the music, then we tape the results.  It’s great.  He’s been living with us, during term time of course, since he was fourteen.  His parents live in the interior.”

As he talked Tony was busy digging out a little tape recorder from his cupboard and a big box in which a large number of cassettes were all neatly packed.

“Pop or classical?”

“Er, pop I think.”

“Choose then, there are more in the drawer here.”

“May I listen to one of your tapes?”

“Sure.  This is the latest one.  We did it after we got the mixer and it’s much better than the first.”

Dino came into the room and Juli felt embarrassed at once.  There was something about his dark penetrating gaze behind the round crystal lenses of his spectacles which made her feel uneasy.

“Hi,” he murmured.

“Hi,” she replied.  To see the two boys together in the rather sombre room heightened the good looks of the one and the plainness of the other.  Tony was shorter although he was two years older, and everything about him was neat and spotlessly clean.  Dino, on the other hand suffered from acne and his lank brown hair was the type that only looked clean on the days it was washed.

Juli gathered up the cassettes she had chosen and the tape recorder.  “I’m going to listen to the latest tape you and Tony recorded,” she said brightly, for something to say.

“Yeah, so I see,” Dino nodded towards the cassette at the top of the little pile, then he went to the cupboard, took out an anorak and asked Tony as he dragged it on, “Do you need anything?  I’ve got to buy a couple of things at the librería.”

“Bookstore Dino, one mustn’t mix the languages, it’s so common!!”  Tony winked, imitating his mother’s voice.  “No thanks, old one, nothing this time!”

Dino punched him lightly on the shoulder, nodded to Juli and left.  Juli felt like making some sort of remark about him, but decided not to.  Instead she looked at the books crammed into the bookshelf.  Herman Hesse, Karatzakis, the complete works of Shakespeare, a translation of Goethe’s Faust in Spanish, Teilhard de Chardin and a number of books by authors she had never heard of, met her eyes.

“Are these your books?” she asked.

“Ooff no, they are all Dino’s.  I like detective stories.  One gets enough heavy stuff to digest when one is studying to be a lawyer.”

“Is that what you’re studying?”

“Yup.  Four more years to go and I will have got my degree … I hope.”

“Well …” Juli glanced at her watch.  “Thank you very much for all this.  What time is supper?”

“Nine p.m.”

“Oh, right. I’ve got lots of time to listen to some of these.  See you.”

Once in her bedroom she plugged in the recorder and slotted the cassette of Tony’s songs into place. The sound of a flute, played with exquisite softness, filled the room.  The melody was simple and haunting.  Then there was a pause, followed by Tony’s voice speaking a few words in Spanish after which he began to sing, accompanied by the same melody played on the organ.  The first song was in English, a love song but simple and difficult to label.  As she continued listening Juli realised that Dino’s arrangements were remarkable and she knew at once that his was a truly musical soul; sensitive, creative, and possessing the potential to go a long way.

She curled up on her bed to listen to the other music she had borrowed while her thoughts flowed back over the day reviewing all her activities, the people she had met, and the surprising individualities of the Carlie family.  She wondered what Dereck and Lena were like, what a farm in Argentina was like, if she would be lonely, if she would enjoy her work and like the children.  Jumping up she grabbed her hairbrush and brushed her hair vigorously, then she unpacked a few clothes, and hung them up in the wardrobe, listening as she did so to Tony and Dino’s tape once again.

“Tonight I’ll try and find out what makes Peter tick,” she thought.  “I wonder what his room is like!”

As it was after half past eight by that time she decided to go downstairs.  Only Mr. Carlie was in the sitting room when she walked in.  He stood up at once and smilingly indicated that she should sit on the sofa in front of the blazing fire.

“Well, well,” he said. “And how do you feel, so far from home?”

The word ‘home’ caught Juli off balance and, for a moment, a shadow touched her heart.  It was a familiar feeling and one she had resolutely tried to dismiss since her mother’s death, but here, surrounded by the beautiful home and the warm vitality of the Carlie family the fact that she had no home was not so easy to ignore. After a moment she replied lightly, “Very far, really.”

But she did not look at him.  She continued watching the flames dancing about the large log in the fireplace.  Her attitude was not lost on Mr. Carlie, who knew that she had lost her mother a year ago.  He said gently. “It’s always a bit traumatic to cut loose and come to a foreign country.  Do you know any Spanish at all?”

“A little.  I took some lessons before going to Spain last year and then when I knew I was definitely coming out here I studied quite intensively, but not really long enough.  I couldn’t understand anything of what the people were saying on the ‘plane or in the airport!”

He laughed.  “That’ll come.  Have another sherry.”

“No thank you.”

Her host got up and helped himself to another scotch and soda.  When he returned he brought the crystal bowl with the potato chips, and placed it on the low glass-topped table in front of the sofa.

“Was your father born here too?” Juli asked, helping herself.

“No. But my mother and her father were.  My grandfather set up an importing business at the turn of the century and I am running it now.  Of course we had to adapt ourselves.  The import business was practically at a standstill until 1975 when Martinez de Hoz became the Minister of Economy here. But it’s still difficult with the continual rise in the cost of living, the mini-devaluations and all that sort of thing.  However, one manages.”

“I suppose there are quite a lot of businesses founded by Englishmen here,” Juli remarked.  “I mean with such a big group of British people in Argentina and  … well … for several generations too.”

“Every sort, my dear.  Every sort.  Banks, bars, restaurants, shops, schools, insurance companies, farms and factories, import and export firms.  Yes, yes, there is a great deal of British capital invested in Argentina.  Can you type?”

“Yes.  I’m a qualified secretary.”

“Bilingual secretaries here with a good command of English earn extremely good salaries…”

Juli glanced up at Arthur Carlie with a twinkle in her eye.  “Are you saying that because you feel I’m not a suitable candidate to look after your nieces?” she asked.

“Good heavens, no!” he replied in an embarrassed manner, running a hand over his neat dark hair. “I was just … you know … rambling on.”

“I’ll keep it in mind, anyway,” Juli said as Mrs. Carlie came in rubbing her hands together.

“Oooh it’s chilly tonight,” she said.  “I really think it’s going to freeze.”

She stood by the fireplace and held out her hands to the blaze.  Glancing at Juli she said,

“How are you Juli, not too tired?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Juli replied.

“I’ll go and see how dinner’s getting on,” she said and hurried off to the kitchen as Dino came in with his purchases and gave Mr. Carlie a packet of cigarettes before going upstairs, two steps at a time.  His face was pink from the sudden warmth of the house after the cold outside.

“Ah, thank you Dino,” Mr. Carlie called after him and Juli turned back to contemplating the fire, her thoughts on Dino.  How strange, she had hardly heard him utter a word yet his silence seemed to speak volumes.

……………………………….

Chapter 2…

 

11 thoughts on “Under Another Sky: 1

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