December brought a gift of rain and cool cloudy weather which improved Dereck’s temper considerably. A few early Christmas cards arrived and all at once the excitement of Christmas began to fill the air. The cards were put on the mantle-piece and Juli helped the children to prepare their presents and to make crèpe paper garlands as decoration for the nursery and the living room.
In order to keep Marina occupied she taught her to swim and took her riding every morning straight after breakfast while it was still cool. She suggested that Marina make a woven magazine holder for her mother with many brightly coloured wools and the little girl, cheered by the glowing design which grew ever longer, worked away diligently enjoying the enormous secrecy of the project. Juli also taught her a poem to recite on Christmas Eve and in the evening she often took the two children on long walks looking for new flowers, leaves and seeds to dry for their collection. Tishy showed a distinct flare for creating little designs combining flowers and leaves and twigs so that, with Juli’s help, she was able to make several pictures as gifts.
Due to her mortification over Tishy’s apparent backwardness Lena had led a retired and quiet life and the sudden prospect of a family party unnerved her entirely. She turned to Juli constantly for advice.
“While Marion and Arthur are here Dereck will have to sleep in our room again ….”
“Do you think I should make some new curtains for the other guest room? I have the material….”
“I can’t think why Dereck is still so edgy. Nothing is ever right!”
“Christmas day is on a Friday, I wonder when Arthur plans to arrive? I wish he’d let us know ….”
“I’ve made Tishy two new dresses, she’s got quite a different figure to Marina, have you noticed? But I don’t have time to do the finishing off Juli, do you think you could possibly….?”
“I’ve got a recipe here for a Christmas pudding, but it seems sort of silly to eat hot flaming food in this heat. Do you think ice-cream ….?”
“We must have a look at the table-linen, I haven’t used it more than two or three times. I hope it hasn’t gone all stained and yellow…..”
Juli, happy to be busy and enjoying the new relationship which had suddenly blossomed between Lena and herself, helped to stitch and bake, launder and polish silver while Josefina and Marta cleaned and polished the whole house, until even Dereck commented on how nice everything was looking. Marina and Tishy were constantly underfoot, wanting to help and it was quite a challenge discovering ways in which they could do so without being a nuisance.
The swimming pool was emptied, cleaned and refilled. Hernán whitewashed the kitchen walls and the guest house plumbing was carefully checked. It was decided to hold a barbecue party on the 26th and invite all the neighbours, which meant invitations and more plans and calculations.
Dereck ordered 14 lambs and several dozen chickens to be delivered, and told Don Elizondo to start preparing the firewood. He arranged to borrow trestle tables and benches from the cattle fair and hired the china and cutlery for the seventy or so people expected, from a firm in Sta. Rosa.
Lena, a notebook full of lists forever in her hand, anguished over salads and puddings; and soon it was Thursday and Gavin was due in Sta. Rosa in the early afternoon. Dereck left very early with a long list, hoping to get most of it done before Gavin arrived, and Lena went to the rose garden and cut three of his precious roses to put in Gavin’s bedroom.
“I think we’ve thought of more or less everything,” she sighed at lunch time. “With Gavin here Dereck won’t want us to be busy doing household things. I know him. Luckily his bad mood seems to have improved.”
Juli, cutting up the children’s steaks, wondered if he had gone back to the chapel or something. She had ridden over, despite his having forbidden her, a couple of days earlier and found that the key had gone from its nook in the porch. The garden there was as flower-filled and cared for as ever but inside the chapel she could see through the window that no flowers decorated the altar and there was a film of dust on the benches. She suspected that Don Elizondo or a farm worker came to tend the garden but that Dereck had not been back to the chapel. She found it very unreasonable that he should still be so upset about her having gone to the grave.
Curious and eager to meet Gavin in the flesh at last, and on learning that he was coming for Christmas, she had pored over the photographs of him in the old albums and tried to imagine what sort of a person he had turned into now that he was twenty-six.
The hours until Dereck arrived back with Gavin seemed to drag interminably. Everybody turned out to greet them. Lena with Toffy in her arms and the two little girls beside her, Marina jumping up and down in her excitement; Josefina and Marta, their black eyes shining with pleasure; Hernán a little withdrawn, seemingly impassive yet inwardly his heart beating with joy at seeing his childhood hero once again; Juli looking on, yet feeling almost as involved as the rest of them.
Gavin climbed out of the car and greeted them all with charming courtesy, kissing all the women and punching Hernán gently on the shoulder.
“Why, he’s quite short and slight, not a bit like Dereck,” Juli thought, as he took her hand in his, smiling, his sleepy blue eyes behind his steel rimmed spectacles belying his keen perceptivity.
“This is Juli Lane who is looking after Marina and Tishy for us,” Lena introduced them.
“”What do you think of our latest addition, Gavin? Young Toffy our Toff,” Dereck exclaimed as he handed Gavin’s suitcases to Hernán to take into the house. Tishy christened him, couldn’t pronounce Christopher so he’s Toffy now.”
“So long as it doesn’t stick to him when he goes to school,” Gavin grinned and Dereck roared with laughter.
Gavin smoothed his moustache and ran a delicate hand over his brown wavy hair in a gesture exactly like Dereck’s. He wore a white shirt with two pale blue lines running down the left front, pale blue cotton trousers and surprisingly thick soled shoes. “As if to hold him down,” Juli thought fleetingly, for Gavin gave her the impression of not belonging entirely to this world.
Marta brought the tea things and laid the table on the veranda. Josefina had made scones and dark chocolate cake, Gavin’s favourite. She was as proud of, and thrilled at, seeing him as if her were her own son, and she secretly compared him with Hernán, noting that Hernán was already half a head taller despite being so much younger. In fact Gavin had been a little taken aback to find a young man in the place of the little boy he had last seen five years ago.
Dereck compared the two boys as well, and was very proud of both of them. For the first time he consciously accepted Hernán as his son and considered fleetingly that he must provide for him so that his future should not be one of servitude all his life, after all he was half Birnham, although, thank God, it didn’t show at all. But it would be tricky. Take these people out of their circle and one ruined them. Josefina was satisfied with the arrangement and sooner or later he would be able to recommend Hernán to one of his friends so that the boy could start earning his living on a neighbouring farm. Yes, he’d have to look into that. Hernán was growing into a fine young man.
Lena served tea and the family settled down round the table. Juli calmed Marina who was so excited she had become almost impossibly noisy. Tishy observed Gavin through her glasses in silence leaning against her father’s knee. Dereck, munching a scone with gusto said to Lena, “We brought Terencio Solá back to La Escondida. I asked him about the barbecue by the way and he said they can come. He had to get back in a hurry because of one of the bulls, but Estelita wanted to remain on in Sta. Rosa with the car until this evening. Anyway, as you can imagine, that put paid to any general conversation. He talked most of the way.”
Lena laughed and said,” How was your flight, Gavin?”
“Very good, thank you. The captain seemed to be on board, the stewardesses were fairly attractive and the food was excellent, of course.”
“Which airline did you come on?”
“Air France. I say, Josefina has certainly outdone herself with this cake! I must tell her so later. Tell me Dad, how are things here? How’s the political situation?”
“Bloody awful as always. Military folk in all the key jobs earning their salaries plus a salary for whatever post they occupy. The governor here has been quite good but you know how it is. There is enormous unrest in the country, I’m not at all sure how long they’ll be able to keep the pot from boiling over.”
“There’s talk in France that you’ll having trouble over the Falkland Islands soon.”
“The Falkland Islands? Nonsense! They’ve been bickering over the Islands for the past hundred years! Where’d you get that from?”
“A friend. He told me that real trouble was brewing, that it might even come to war. That’s why Galtieri has taken over from Viola.”
“The Argentines? Fighting? Don’t be ridiculous! The Government always uses the Islands as an excuse for a lot of sabre-rattling and big-talk in order to take people’s minds off their current problems. Anyway, Viola was ill.”
“We nearly went to war with Chile didn’t we?”
“I grant you, that was touch and go. I really thought we were in for something there.”
“They have an awful lot of arms lying around unused. That’s always dangerous.”
“Yes, I know, but the military are not such fools. They’d never even consider going to war with Britain, pure madness.”
Gavin changed the subject and said mildly, “How nice the place is looking, Dad. My mother and Dad used to sleep in that room over there,” he added to Juli, pointing down the veranda towards the nursery. “And Rowena and I had two little rooms over there.”
“That’s the nursery now. I share it with Marina and Tishy.”
“Come and see, come and see,” Marina cried, and added,” Toffy cries so much at night Daddy’s sleeping in the room next to yours. Did you know? Toffy cries…” Her tone rose explicitly, implying that the baby never stopped crying.
“I’ll go and see later,” Gavin said smiling at her. He had a habit of raising his chin a fraction when he talked and almost looking down his nose at one, but the gentleness of his manner belied any impression of superciliousness.
“No, now,” Marina wheedled.
“Marina,” her father said warningly and Marina’s eyes became bleak.
“Come,” Juli said jumping up hurriedly. “Let’s go and slide down the slide. Tishy, do you want to slide down the slide?”
“Yes,” Tishy said, standing up gracefully and adding importantly to everyone at large. “I can side-down-a-side now.”
“Can you Tishy? All by yourself?”
“Yes,” Tishy nodded and followed Marina who was running down the veranda shouting, “So can I. So can I ! Come and look Gavin. Come!”
“Juli, come and have supper with us,” Lena said. “We’re eating in the living room of course.”
“Sure. Thank you Lena,” Juli smiled and hurried after Marion calling “Quiet Marina, Gavin is busy now.”
Gavin leaned back in his chair and observed his father covertly. He had been surprised to notice that he paid no attention to Juli, and that there was no tension between Juli and Lena either. He wondered a little, for Juli was too attractive not to have caused some ripples in the emotional tides of the household. He made up his mind to get to know Juli better, for he had expected a somewhat different set up at hearing of Juli’s incorporation into the family circle.
Both little girls could enjoy the slide now and they climbed and slid while Juli stood by watching them, remembering Tishy only six short weeks ago, so shy and silent. Today she had on one of her new dresses and looked altogether sturdier and less ethereal.
“Of course,” she thought. “Gavin looks like his mother, and she was quite a short woman.”
She decided that it was warm enough for an evening swim and changed into her swim suit before calling the children. Seeing her they rushed into the nursery to drag on their own little swim suits. As soon as she was ready, Marina raced down the veranda to inform Gavin and invite him to join them.
“Let’s all go,” Gavin said, but Lena declined.
“I must feed the baby,” she said and Dereck had work to do in his office so Gavin went alone to join Juli and the children by the pool.
“Chapter two,” Juli thought, as she checked her charges in their paddle pool and the puddles of water on the cement verge. Gavin bent and patted Dobbie who was lying nearby on the grass, panting softly.
“She seems to have adopted you,” he smiled, when Juli glanced over at him, and she nodded. She found she was very tense and would have preferred to be alone. Gavin unnerved her a little, he seemed to put a distance between himself and the world, the eternal observer. The months spent alone with Marina and Tishy, and all she had gone through emotionally had left her exceptionally sensitive and she felt a little like a queer looking beetle before this worldly, soft-spoken young man. She hoped too that it would not occur to him that her seemingly lonely life would make her easily susceptible to his charms.
Stretching with pleasure, Gavin took off his glasses and laid them on the table in the shelter, then he dived neatly into the water. Marina, remembering her mishap walked prudently over to Juli and said,” Can .. I mean … may I swim too, Juli?”
Gavin surfaced and cried, “This is great, fantastic! We used to swim in the old australian tank in my day, the one way over beyond the peons’ quarters. It had a cement bottom which was always a bit slimy. Here, Marina, can you swim to me?”
Marina looked at Juli, suddenly overcome with jitters.
“Yes you can,” Juli said laughing, “I’ll blow up your wings for you.” She blew up both the children’s water-wings and gave Marina hers. Her habitual self confidence returning, Marina jumped splashily into the water and swam over to Gavin squeaking excitedly to overcome her last shreds of nervousness. Gavin caught her to him and she clung to his neck as he bounced gently in the water, grinning. Juli slipped into the water in her turn, took Tishy into her arms and came over to where Gavin was playing with Marina. They could both stand so they chatted tranquilly while Marina splashed, swam, ducked and teased Gavin.
“What a child,” he exclaimed. “I can’t quite get used to the fact that she’s my half sister, that they both are in fact! They could be my daughters.”
“Marina is four and Tishy is three,” Tishy said informatively. She was still not very sure of her identity and called herself Tishy or I indiscriminately.
“There’s a year and a couple of months between them,” Juli said.
“She seems much younger,” Gavin remarked.
“She’s very myopic and until we discovered it she must have lived in a coloured mist,” Juli replied. “She catching up fast though, but she’s had to learn so much in the last couple of months, it’s unbelievable.”
“Only since September? How come they took so long to find out?”
Juli shrugged and said, “The doctors didn’t realise and Dereck and Lena didn’t think of taking her to an oculist.”
“Pretty poor paediatricians I’d say,” Gavin said
Juli thought of Lena’s total disinterest in Tishy and shook her head slightly murmuring vaguely. “I don’t know, perhaps Lena … but anyway she’s O.K. now, aren’t you Tishy-toos? Do you want to swim?”
Tishy nodded so Juli held her gently while Tishy paddled like a puppy, laughing, glorying in the lightness and freedom of her little limbs and the comforting embrace of the sun-warmed water.
“Are you happy here?” Gavin asked Juli.
“Sure,” Juli replied with a grin. “Dereck and Lena are very good to me and I love Tishy and Marina.”
“Have you always done this sort of thing? Looking after kids, I mean?”
“No. I was a secretary. But I had come to a bit of a crossroads in my life and so, when this opportunity came my way, I decided to take it. I’m saving up to be able to go to Perú during my holidays, perhaps in July. Lima, Cuzco, Machu-Pichu, Nazca … Imagine, the very idea makes me dizzy!”
“I must say this is a far cry from being a secretary,” Gavin said as they settled in the deck chairs by the pool after the children had run off to visit the kitchen and to play with Hernán. “Yes, I do see what you mean. South America is a mysterious land, for her ruins and her history have nothing to do with one another. The Inca Empire rose and fell during the middle ages in Europe, and yet all we know of them is from legends and myths. No writing, only knotted quipus which we can’t read and the fact that they worshiped the sun which seems to unite them to the west in some way. In Mexico the Aztecs had their Popol-Vu and a somewhat decipherable picture writing.”
“But the Incas seem not to have even needed writing, and yet they conquered a really vast territory if one looks at the map, and in such an incredibly short time too.” Juli observed. She lifted a sun-tanned arm and held it near to him. “Look,” she smiled. “I’d be pale like you if I were still a secretary in London with only electric light for light. Here I go riding every day. I swim twice a day. I go for long walks with the kids and all I have to do is to speak to them in English. I have my guitar, Hernán is teaching me how to play. He’s terrific. And I have the tape recorder which Dereck bought for the children, and a growing selection of tapes.
“You make it all sound like paradise,” Gavin said with mild irony. “What sort of music do you like?”
“All sorts, Beatles, ABBA, The Police. But I find I’m beginning to really enjoy classical. Beethoven, Grieg, Händel. Wagner of course.”
“Wagner? I’m afraid I don’t go for Wagner much.”
“One either does or one doesn’t. My Dad and I are crazy about Wagner. Dad went to Bayreuth in September. I was going to go with him but then I came out here. My sister Ann and Paula, Dad’s wife, can’t stand Wagner for instance.”
“And you mother?”
“She died last year, of cancer.”
“That’s O.K.” Juli looked away at the tops of the trees, brushed with gold in the early evening light, the deep blue sky beyond them trembling on the verge of dissolving into indigo in the still warm air. “That’s why I’m so free,” she added quietly. “My sister is married, my father and Paula have two children aged six and seven. No one needs me just now so I can travel and see the world.”
She expected Gavin to ask ‘No boyfriend?’ but he said instead, “I’ve been offered a job in Chile by some vintners there. But with Pinochet in power I don’t know … another military government. I know they say that the corruption there isn’t as great as it is here but all the same, military rule is not democracy. People disappear and are not heard of again. One can live and work there if one wants to I suppose, but what happens to one inside? What happens to one’s need to be free?”
“Is one ever free?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I say I’m free to travel but I have to work to collect the money so while I’m working I am not free and then, when I do go, I shall only be relatively free because I am English and fair and female so that already determines a great deal of what I shall be able to see and do, and how as well.”
“Free to think and to speak. Free to express my thoughts and feelings without fear is what I meant.”
“Mmm, I see,” Juli said and remembered Dereck’s reaction when she had told him that she had gone to the chapel. She felt that, almost unconsciously, one spent a lot of effort selecting what one said in order to live in harmony with others. She wouldn’t think of voicing her opinion on obesity to Josefina or to Hernán for instance, or her thoughts about the reasons for Tishy’s backwardness to Lena or to ask Dereck why her going to the chapel had upset him so.
“I don’t think you’re very convinced,” Gavin observed.
Juli laughed. “Not absolutely.”
“Perhaps to be free really means to be free to choose. I mean, to be able to see everything from all angles and be able to decide on that basis what one wants to, or should, do.”
“But that’s not possible. Most of one’s decisions, mine anyway, seem to be based on intuitions and feelings. That’s how I came here. It was as if something inside me, or outside of me, in another dimension, guided me willy-nilly into all the necessary situations so that I should be able to take this job.”
“But you could have said: No, South America is too far.”
“I’d just finished reading a book about the Incas and was fascinated by South America. I can’t think that that was pure chance somehow. Looking back, I mean. There are moments when I feel that what we don’t know is so huge, so unimaginably vast that we think we have everything at our fingertips and in reality it’s nothing, or perhaps only the reflection of reality in a mirror we don’t even know exists.”
“You’re becoming very philosophical. Kant says man cannot know reality.”
“And in that case man can never be entirely free.”
“I choose now to swim ten lengths in order to digest our conversation. O.K.?
“Good idea. I will too, but I’m not going to race.”
“I see you are not a competitive person.”
“No, I don’t think I am.”
They swam ten lengths and got out of the pool, wrapping themselves in their towels. The sky was suffused with the tones of gold, violet and peach bequeathed by the setting sun, and the birds were settling down for the night in the trees, noisily discussing the day’s activities.
“These are the evenings I always remember when I am in France,” Gavin said softly as they sauntered back to the house.
“You can come through the nursery if you like,” Juli said.
“I’d love to. How nice this corner of the veranda is with the sand box and all the geraniums in their pots.”
“It was very bare when I arrived, but it does look better now,” Juli agreed.
In the nursery Gavin looked round with interest.
“Same curtains and sofa. Mum and Dad’s bed was there where the kids’ beds are now, and that must be one of their night tables! The sofa was where it is now more or less and the rocking chair was over there and this table was in the sitting room and where your bedroom area is was where Mums had her dressing table with a light over the mirror. The book case was over here. What always impressed me was the acres of space they had.”
“Look,” said Juli opening the cupboard and nodding towards all the neatly labelled parcels.
“Oh, yes,” Gavin nodded, looking at them. “Aunt Marion came and helped Dad tidy up after Mum … died.”
He turned and gazed around the room with inward looking eyes, remembering … his mother laughing, his mother chasing his father with a feather duster, his mother singing to Rowena, his father kissing his mother. Winnie the Pooh, Mrs. Tittlemouse, and The Wind in the Willows … his mother reading them to Rowena and himself, sitting on the sofa in front of the fire in winter. Further memories crowded in upon him and with a slight gesture of his hand he brushed them away and turned back to Juli.
“Lena hated this room,” he said. “She got Dad to re-do our end of the house right away and they slept in the guest house in the meantime. This is the first time I’ve seen the passage joining it to the main house. Once I finished school I went straight north to Mendoza after the holidays to work, and from there I went to France. I was only here a fortnight or so after Dad married again. Mendoza is the great wine province of Argentina. Rowena decided to study in Canada to be with her best friend so Dad sent her to the same college as Sally Ann and that’s where she met Len. Strange, the twists and turns of destiny. Listen, tomorrow, may I go through all these parcels? I’d love to see all my things again.”
“Sure. That’s why I showed them to you.”
He looked sat her with a whimsical smile and said. “Hasn’t Dad made a pass at you yet?”
Juli felt the blood rush to her face at the unexpected question and realized it would be foolish to deny Dereck’s interest in her. Her features set in their protective mask as she replied evenly, “Yes. But I don’t want to talk about it.”
Gavin inclined his head in a slight gesture of recognition.
“Fair enough,” he replied smiling, and added, “Don’t worry chèrie, I won’t mention it again. I don’t know why I asked but I’m not a big bad wolf, I promise you.”
Juli gave a disinterested little shrug and held the door open for him. “You certainly don’t look like one,” she said coolly.
Her words left a sting and Gavin walked up the curved passage to his room pensively. Juli interested him, she was self assured, intelligent, attractive yet detached. He went to the window and stared out at the darkening purple sky, there was still a little light but the trees had lost their green and become black silhouettes. His mind was full of childhood memories, all hovering around his mother.
Juli sat with the children during their supper and thought about Gavin. His remarks irritated her. What concern was it of his whether Dereck had made a pass at her or not? It also irritated her to think how she had given herself away by blushing. She wondered fleetingly if father and son were on such good terms that Gavin might ask him about her. If he did, what would Dereck say? It was very possible that he would say something awful considering how angry he was with her.
She sighed and thought of Dino. Of course he was only nineteen but at least with him one could relax, put down one’s guard, be oneself and not always have to be on the watch-out in case some word or gesture should be misconstrued. Gavin would probably conclude that she had rebuffed his father and that was why Dereck was so pointedly cool towards her. Would he now feel that the way was clear for him to try and force his favours upon her? Or had his years in Europe made him aware that when an English girl said ‘no’ she meant ‘no’ and not ‘try a little harder’? She sensed that in Argentina the men considered themselves very much the ‘Machos’ or he-men who never took no for an answer.
Her thoughts turned to Peter and she wondered where he was. Would he get in touch with the family for Christmas, or would he continue his long silence? Miguel Ordep Licar. What was he doing for documents? Where might he be, so tall and fair and obviously foreign or, as they said here, ‘gringo’? She sighed and turned to the children.
“Come and wash your teeth little ones,” she said standing up.
“Portly too,” Marina said picking up the teddy bear. With Tishy’s permission Juli had lent him to Marina when Lena’s affections had veered too obviously towards Tishy and the baby, and he had been a great comfort to the little girl. Later, sitting up in their beds with the candle lit between them, the two small sisters said their prayers in a soft monotonous singsong, their hands pressed together and their eyes fixed on the flickering flame.
Gavin, unseen, watched through the window from the veranda outside and was deeply touched, remembering Rowena and himself at that age, mumbling their prayers as their mother sat on the bed beside them. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name…” He had been twelve before he had realized it was hallowed and not Harold! He bent and patted the faithful Dobbie before walking silently out onto the lawn and looking up at the stars in the sky, this Argentine sky with Orion’s belt, the Seven Marías, the Southern Cross … and Sirius over there flaming so brightly.
“I know they see them all in South Africa and New Zealand and Australia,” he thought. “But I feel they belong to South America and especially to Argentina for some silly reason.”
He stood still gazing up at the stars, permitting his childhood, at last, to gradually unfold about him and become one with him once more. Those summer holidays, after his mother’s death, had been the most harrowing he had ever experienced. Dereck had been drinking heavily and had had no wish to do more than sit in his office, consume whisky and stare out of the window. Gavin and Rowena, with little Hernán in tow, in order to give themselves something other to think about, had gone camping for days on end to get away from the house so filled with pain and memories. That was when Gavin had decided he would study wine-making, because the last memory he had of his mother had been when she had raised her glass at the dinner table during the July holidays, stared up into its fragrant translucent contents and said,” “Liquid sunshine, the beverage of the gods. To happiness. Let’s drink to happiness for I don’t think we could be a happier family!”
And then, sometime in August he supposed, she had discovered the lump in her breast. The doctor at the British Hospital had said it was small and prescribed all the usual remedies. It seemed impossible, but Josefina had herself assured him, almost from one day to the next his mother had become ill, depressed, distraught, weeping, but always in secret when the Señor was not present, until in the end, unable to control her feverish anguished mind, she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and died alone on Sunday while Dereck was at a barbeque given by a neighbour to which Josefina and Hernán had also gone to help out.
“How could Daddy not have realized. How could he not have realized,” Rowena had repeated over and over again, and Gavin had not dared to voice his secret conviction that their mother had discovered that Dereck was regularly unfaithful to her and that that was why she had committed suicide. He had known of his father’s flirts since he was fourteen, but he had kept the knowledge to himself, half despising half admiring Dereck, and, while he was cooped up in boarding school, often imagining himself involved in wild exotic adventures in which women fell headlong in love with him.
His mother’s death, however, had left him blaming his father entirely. His years in Europe had helped him to take a more rational point of view and to appreciate the difference between love and sex. No girl had won his heart yet but he could understand how a man as virile as his father might have needed several women in order to maintain an even keel.
And now? Age had probably calmed him down, but not all that much if he had made a pass at Juli. Poor kid! Bloody old bugger! What a fool to start trying to muck around with Juli and run the risk of Lena finding out and all that that would entail! He sighed. Just when he had decided to come to terms with the bitterness which lurked so irrationally within him and to try and understand his father as another human being and not merely as a parent, he had to discover that he was still an old cock, and after all the hens as usual.
“But why should he have changed?” Gavin asked himself acidly. “Either I’ve come here to accept him for what he is, or my coming here was based on the illusion that after all these years he must have changed and therefore I could bring myself to forgive and forget. Oh balls, none of this is going to be as simple as I thought.”
The night air was warm and enveloping, full of the sounds of chirring insects, croaking frogs, and the occasional squeak of a bat swooping black against the star-filled sky. He had missed all this more than he had realized. The great wide sky, the miles of spiny caldén woods, the peace.
“Tomorrow I shall go riding,” he decided. “I’ll go and visit Mum’s grave. I suppose I ought to be glad that Dad pulled out of the shock of her death as well as he has. He’d have probably drunk himself to death by now if he hadn’t married Lena. And if he made a pass at Juli, so what? It’s not my affair!”
Juli watched Gavin ride off into the woods the following morning and wondered if he was going to visit his mother’s grave. She took the children for a ride and then went into the house to see if Lena needed any help. However, now that Gavin had arrived Lena had recovered her usual calm. All was under control and she had decided to make the new curtains for the guest room where Marion and Arthur were to sleep.
Juli said tentatively, “Lena, do you think I could go into Sta. Rosa with Gavin one day and do some Christmas shopping? Dereck has been so busy lately I haven’t wanted to bother him.”
Lena smiled at her kindly and replied at once, “But of course Juli! Fix it up with Gavin and the servants can look after the babes. Have you noticed, Tishy is now talking in Spanish too? I heard her talking to Marta the other day. Isn’t it amazing? And just from one day to the next, a real miracle! Of course you can go, Juli, and I might add a little list of my own.”
Juli made a small grimace as she walked back to the nursery. Lena’s lists were always anything but little.
At lunch Gavin was quiet and thoughtful. He had spent a long time at his mother’s grave, astonished by the beauty of the little garden and the presence of the chapel. His father had given him keys to both the chapel and the garden, and the former, filled with freshly cut flowers and beautifully swept and clean, amazed him. It seemed incredible that his father should still bother with the grave and garden after all these years, or consider it right to continue filling the chapel with flowers.
“I’m crazy to go on feeling bitter, “he thought. “He obviously loved Mums a great deal.”
He observed Dereck’s behaviour towards Juli with concealed interest, for he could not quite understand it. He enjoyed watching people; their eyes and hands while they were speaking or listening, for instance, were often a dead give-away of their true emotions; the faint changes of colour in the skin surrounding their eyes, or the expression of their mouths. Behind his half closed lids and glinting spectacles Gavin watched with amused detachment the flow of emotions about and between the people he was with, and his conclusions were often correct.
That afternoon he knocked on the door of the nursery and when Juli opened it he said, “I’ve come about those parcels. Shall I take them to my room or may I open them here?”
Juli shrugged and replied amiably, “You can open them here if you like, I don’t mind and it would be fun for the kids.” She was much too curious to let him cart the parcels off to the privacy of his room, but she didn’t want him to guess that.
Soon the nursery was filled with toys and books, old clothes and sundry other articles. Gavin set up his electric train for Marina and Tishy to play with, pushing the trains along the rails themselves and not using the electricity. While they were thus engaged he began going through his old school books, laughing at their contents and once he had glanced through them, dropping them on the floor to throw away.
Juli retrieved an exercise book and opened it. “There are heaps of unused pages here,” she said. “I think I’ll cut them out so that the children can use them to draw on. I never seem to have enough rough paper.”
“Why of course,” Gavin replied and added. “Oh, look, here’s my first exercise book from first grade. Look Marina MAMA ME AMA – AMO A MAMA. Mummy loves me – I love Mummy. I was just a tiny bit older than you when I wrote that.”
“Mamá NO me ama,” Marina said darkly, looking at the book and turning the pages slowly. Gavin glanced sharply at Juli who made the faintest gesture, indicating that he should take no notice. He turned back to Marina and said, “See? Here I drew a house and here I made a boat by folding some coloured paper.”
“Look,” Marina cried jumping up excitedly. “Look what I do.”
She rushed to get her own exercise book which was full of pictures scribbled and scrawled messily over the pages.
“Don’t you teach her to write yet?” Gavin asked and Juli shook her head.
“She’s still too small. I’ve discussed it with a kindergarten teacher and she says Marina should learn to draw everything she sees before learning to write. It’s less abstract. She also does water-colours to express her feelings. Bring your painting book Marina.”
Marina brought her painting book and Gavin leafed through it noting how in the last few paintings the bright reds, blues and yellows had been painted over with brown splashes and black spots. Once she had returned to the train set, noisily driving a carriage along the rails, Gavin asked softly in French, “Quel est le problème, what’s the problem?”
“Son petit frère, her little brother,” Juli replied, raking up her school French. “Elle est très jalouse, she’s very jealous.”
“What are you saying?” Marina queried, looking up. “What did you say Juli?”
“We were talking in French,” Juli replied. “Gavin lives in France now and there they talk French just like here everyone speaks in Spanish.”
“Talk in French, Gavin.”
“Comment ça va mon poussin?”
Marina wrinkled her nose and said, “I don’t understand you.” With that she returned to the train.
Gavin kept his very first exercise book and bundled all the rest into the cardboard box in which they had been stored. He selected a couple of old favourites among the toys, and made a parcel with the rest to give out to the peons’ children on Christmas Eve.
“All boys’ toys,” he said ruefully. “Pity Rowena isn’t here to do the same with her old toys.”
“Gavin, Lena says I can go to Sta. Rosa to do some shopping on Monday, would you take me?”
“But of course Chèrie. That’s a great idea. We can take advantage of the trip to buy some dollies for the native female offspring.”
“Native!” Juli said a little irritably. “And why do you keep calling me Chèrie?”
“Because it annoys you!” Gavin twinkled.
Sta. Rosa sweltered in the dry baking heat. Juli and Gavin shopped together, enormously enjoying their escape from the estancia and spending their money happily in the air-conditioned shops, depositing their acquisitions in the back of the car before sallying forth in another direction. At one moment they came to a corner and Gavin stopped short with a joyful exclamation.
“Lozano’s! Look it’s still functioning.” His face lit up with delight. “Let’s go and buy something there, we always went when I was a little boy. I used to pretend that it was Aladin’s cave.”
“Lozano Hermanos” occupied a corner site in an old building with tall narrow windows which had wrought iron balustrades, and fancy lintels. It seemed quite dark when they entered after the bright sunshine outside, but as their eyes got used to the dimness Juli looked round in amazement. It looked as if the only thing that was not sold in the shop was food. House-hold goods, furniture, cloths, clothes … there seemed to be a hodge- podge of everything imaginable, crowed untidily into the spacious high-ceilinged shop.
“Isn’t it marvellous?” Gavin breathed. “It hasn’t changed a scrap!”
Juli grinned as he gazed about him; the wooden floor sloped slightly to the left and sagged unevenly in various places which gave a slightly, drunken air to the refrigerators, stoves, electric heaters and display stands leaning in different directions. A pile of gaily coloured plastic buckets had a hand-written card attached to them on which the words “Gran Oferta” were scrawled.
Two black-haired thick-lipped youths attended in a leisurely manner while the owner, a well built man with a shock of white hair held an agitated conversation with a friend, noisily condemning the Government, the economy, the people and the general ‘state of things’ in a loud voice. A thin, nervous woman sat behind the cash register, a gleaming metal electronic affair, which hummed and pinged as she charged each customer.
Hector Lozano, grandson of the original owner and founder, glanced at Gavin, checked in mid-sentence and stared hard. Then with a glad cry he exclaimed “Gavin Beernam, Dios mío, I can’t believe it! I almost did not recognize you! How are you? When did you arrive?” And to everyone at large. “This is Señor Dereck’s son, from Los Alamos.” With that he hurried round the counter caught Gavin in a bear hug, slapped him on the back and asked him a hundred questions while the two youths stopped attending and looked on with interest.
At Gavin’s request, Juli chose gifts for the farm workers’ daughters and was even able to buy several items that were still on Lena’s list. As they paid the bill Sr. Lozano dived down behind some unpacked boxes and re-appeared with a bottle of choice Argentine wine as a gift. Goodbyes and good wishes took a little time but at last they were able to regain the street and the heat.
“Fantastic place,” Gavin chuckled. “It’s been there ever since I can remember, dust and cobwebs all over, one feels everything must be a little cheaper and in the end of course, the old boy is as crafty as any good business man, everything costs the same as anywhere else but he keeps his customers with his fantastic public relations. Good wine this, lucky us. Lunch now, don’t you think? I still can’t get over him recognizing me!”
They ate lunch in the same restaurant where Dereck had taken Juli (could it only have been six months ago?) and sat in its cool, pleasant interior chatting over their coffee.
“I’m sorry I asked you if Dad had made a pass at you the other day, Juli,” Gavin said gravely after a silence which had lengthened. “You see I found out he was a hell of a womanizer when I was about fourteen. For some reason I convinced myself that my mother killed herself because she had found out and her world simply fell to bits, what with having cancer and all that you see. I’ve never told anyone before, in fact I don’t know why I’m mentioning it to you now really, it’s just that when I left I was so convinced I was right that I simply hated Dad and I wanted to put the greatest distance between us as I could. Now … well, I’m not so sure anymore. I guess if a woman has to have a breast removed it must be very traumatic for her. I can understand that now. Alone so much, we were both at boarding-school, Mum must have gone a bit out of her mind. I don’t know.” He sighed.
Juli looked at him solemnly, thinking of the photos in the albums, of Phyllis’s collection of books, of her flowing signature.
“What was she like?” she asked.
“Little, slim, vibrant. Always laughing. She loved parties. They were always having parties and she was the centre of any gathering. I remember she said at the last supper we all had together in the July holidays: ‘Let’s drink to happiness. I don’t think we could be a happier family.”
“What day did she die?” Juli asked quietly. “There’s no date on the gravestone.”
“You know about the grave?”
“Yes. I came across it out riding one day, just as your father arrived to change the flowers in the chapel and water the garden. Lena knows nothing of course. He showed it all to me.”
“It’s incredible, isn’t it? He must have loved her so much, despite being unfaithful to her. But of course, love and sex have really very little to do with each other.”
Juli stared down at the tablecloth, fiddling with an empty packet of sugar. “Yes,” she agreed. “I suppose so.”
“She died on the 9th of November.”
Juli’s finger’s stilled and she remained motionless, thinking, a slight chill running down her spine. That was the very night that she had wanted to take her own life … had felt she was being impelled to go to the kitchen …
“What’s the matter?” Gavin asked, noticing her stillness.
“That was the date that I … that Tishy started talking.”
“Really? Amazing how the same dates seem to crop up! Mum took an overdose of pills …” Gavin went on to describe all that he had been told about his mother’s death. “Rowena and I were told at school and came back together. The Catholic priest wouldn’t bury Mum because she’d committed suicide, so we buried her there where the grave is.” Gavin was silent for a long spell.
At last he shook his head and murmured, “God, Juli. It was awful! It was so awful to hear the earth thudding down onto her coffin, I thought I would go mad. Dad and I filled the grave with spades like two wild things, like two crazy machines. Just the three of us were there, Rowena, Dad and myself, plus Don Elizondo, Josefina, Hernán and one or two of the peóns of course. Afterwards we went back to school. I don’t know how I passed my exams. 5th year, the last. I was like a walking zombie, I think the masters took it all into account. I usually got very good marks.”
The shops opened again at four. They finished their shopping and rounded the afternoon off in an ice-cream parlour enjoying the largest ice-creams the place had to offer. As they drove home Juli said, “The Carlies are coming for Christmas, did Dereck tell you?”
“I wonder if Peter has at least written to them. Did Dereck tell you about the letter in code?”
“Sort of, I didn’t understand him too well.”
Juli described the letter, and the circumstances of its arrival. “I just happened to be at Rita’s the day it arrived, we both read it and never clicked at all. Quite gormless!”
“Well, one doesn’t usually expect to get letters in code. What’s Peter like now?
“Good-looking, longish hair, beard, hippily dressed in order to annoy Marion. While I was there they bickered all the time. She went completely to pieces when he disappeared, partly I think, because he had been with a gang who were on drugs and she was so ashamed. He took me to a party on the very first day I arrived.”
“Interesting. Here we are, I’ll open the gate. Thanks a million, I’ve had a super time, Gavin.”
Gavin turned and looked at her tenderly, “Thank you for listening,” he said. “I realize I needed someone to talk to … badly.”
Juli touched his arm with a smile and nodded, then she jumped out of the car and went to open the gate.