Under Another Sky 18

Chapter 18

Sitting in the welcome shadow of the sunshade watching Marina and Tishy creating an ‘Estancia’ out of sand with White shells for sheep and Brown ones for cattle, Juli found with surprise that she had grown tired of the sun and the sand, the pine trees and the indolent rhythm of their holiday life, and was looking forward to their departure in two days time. Peter, always in the back ground of her thoughts, was in the British Hospital under observation and still suffering from amnesia. Arthur had said that the doctors were hoping to let him go home soon, but he still had to undergo some special tests.

Lena kept repeating, “How incredible that you should have met like that, in the ice-cream shop, and that you recognized him, Juli, despite his dyed hair and no beard!”

Juli meditated on the whole unlikely incident, wondering if it was possible to believe in coincidence. The orchestrating of so many factors in order that at that precise moment in that precise place she and Peter should have met, seemed to her altogether too perfect to be shrugged off as a mere coincidence.

Dimly, she sensed behind it all, strange unseen forces which made and unmade, brought together and separated, human beings and their little lives. In her heart she felt there was precious little coincidence in her life, and, for that matter, in anybody’s. Her biggest question was a giant “why”. What was it all about? Was she a pawn? Were they all pawns in Destiny’s game of chess? Did human beings, as they so fondly imagined, have free will? Was it true that they could think and do as they pleased? In retrospect, many of her actions seemed to have been committed under the influence or impulse, of an unconscious force which had moved her gently in one direction or another. So, if that was true for her, then it must be true for everyone!

“And that force,” she thought. “Could easily be just one which can manifest itself in a million different ways. Like a living being, where all the different cells work together to form a whole, guided and held together by … well, the Life force I suppose …”

“Hello Juli, you’re looking very solemn. We brought you an ice cream. Tishy! Marina! Come over here you two and get your ice creams!”

Dereck had recovered his exuberance and for some reason had become very fatherly towards Juli since the storm. He spent his time with the family and they enjoyed the beach and the quiet waters of the ‘mansa’ in the mornings driving out for picnics in the afternoon along the coast or into the hinterland over dusty roads while he mused about farming in Uruguay. He was tender and teasing and playful. Juli looked on, intrigued. No one, as usual, mentioned either Gavin or Rowena, but Juli felt they were also at the back of his mind. And Hernán? Did it ever occur to him that Hernán was as much his son as his legitimate children? Probably not.

“Hey, thanks a lot,” she grinned, taking her ice-cream cone from Dereck’s outstretched hand as Marina and Tishy ran up to receive theirs. Lena sank down beside her in the shade.

“We went to the ice-cream parlour where you met Peter,” she said. “They’re good aren’t they? It is sad that we shall be leaving the day after tomorrow, I do so love it here, don’t you?

“Actually I’m beginning to miss my guitar and Mariposa,” Juli replied with a smile. “In fact I shall be quite glad to get back to Los Alamos.”

“We must come again next year,” Lena decided. “Toffy will be fifteen months old and the sea air always does them so much good. It’s much nicer here than Neuquén. Pass me my cigarettes would you?”

Juli handed her her cigarettes and her lighter and Lena, with one hand, expertly extracted one from the packet and lit it, inhaling deeply. Juli wondered about the nicotine in her milk for the thousandth time and looked away, at the island, the sailing boats and the broad blue sky beyond the sunshade. Why could not, or would not Lena, who considered herself such a dedicated and loving mother, connect her smoking with the possible ill effects of the nicotine in Toffy’s only form of nourishment?

“Will we be staying with the Carlies on our way back?” she asked for something to say.

“No. Dereck will leave tomorrow with the car and nearly all our things, and meet us the next morning at Aeroparque. We’ll drive straight on to the Estancia. Since Peter might be home already, it’ll be too much for Marion to have us all again.”

The Pampa welcomed them home dressed in the golds and silvers and shimmering greens of late summer, her roads dry and dusty and her cerulean sky high and wide with just a few white clouds idling across its vast expanse.

It was evening when they reached the Estancia. The dogs greeted them with joyful barks and wildly wagging tails. Marta and Josefina were waiting on the porch, their brown faces wreathed in smiles. Hernán, followed by Don Elizondo, came hurrying up to help unpack the car. Even though it had been only a little over two weeks, it had seemed a long time to them, and they were all happy to see the family back, tanned and rested from their holiday.

Juli watching Marina and Tishy out of the corner of her eye as she helped Lena with the baby, felt that they had changed a lot through their contact with the outside world, with the city, the sea and the storm. It would certainly take them months to assimilate all their experiences.

The house was cool and dim, smelling of floor wax and furniture polish. Juli humped the several bundles and parcels she was carrying onto the table in the nursery and walked over to the window to look out across the lawn to the caldén woods in the distance, now only a smudged shadow in the fading light.

“Home,” she thought with a rush of pleasure. “How lovely!” It was a long time since she had felt that sense of belonging.

Marina and Tishy bounced into the room noisily, in front of Marta who was carrying their supper tray, and followed by a broadly smiling Hernán with the rest of the luggage for the nursery. Marina, breathless with importance, was describing the sea, the waves and the beaches, the flight across in the big aeroplane, Peter and Buenos Aires all in a long excited jumble of impressions and information. Marta and Hernán listened with loving attention, quite unable to understand anything at all of what Marina was trying to tell them, but willing to listen all night if that was what she wanted.

While they were eating their supper Dereck appeared at the nursery door with several letters in his hand. “Your mail,” he said. “I see there’s a letter from Gavin for you. I recognize his writing. I haven’t heard from him since he left.”

“Haven’t you?” Juli said, widening her eyes to look surprised, and holding out her hand expectantly.

“What’s up between you two?”

“Nothing at all. Why should there be?”

Dereck glared at her for a long moment, then he grunted and handed her her mail.

“Look Daddy, look at the shells,” Tishy piped. She had already decorated the table with part of her collection of shells.

“Very nice darling. Lovely. Daddy and Mummy will be back in a little while to kiss you both good night.”

Dereck left and Juli began to look through the little bunch of envelopes eagerly: Rita, Gavin, her father, Ann and Dino.

“I wish we were still in Punta,” Marina said. “With the sea and all the trees.”

“I like it here,” Tishy said.

“And you, Juli?” Marina asked.

“I like it here too.”

“Is it your home now?”

“Yes, this is my home now.”

“And in England, don’t you have a home?”

“No, this is my only home now really. Here with you and Tishy.”

Juli thought of nannies with no homes of their own who had stayed on with certain families looking after generations of children. That was not what she had in mind for her future, of course, but what in fact had Destiny in store for her? A wave of loneliness washed through her as she imagined a cork bobbing along the middle of a stream, caught by this eddy or that twig, held for a while and then released into the current once again. What in the end made one’s life valid, transformed it into ‘something’?

One’s own home and family? One’s own nest? That must be why the institution of marriage and raising families continued as a number one factor in the life of human beings, for it was really, for most women and the vast majority of men, the only thing which had any real meaning. For better or for worse, at least it was a lasting achievement, or rather, one’s personal contribution to the whole human family.

“I’ve finished. Can I get sown?”

“May I.”

“May I?”

“Yes, and you may both play until I have finished reading my letters and then bath and bed. O.K.?”

The two little girls hopped off their chairs and ran to the toy box in order to greet their old toys and play with the dolls’ house. Having slept a great deal of the trip home in the back of the car they were not in the least bit weary. Juli went over to the sofa, lit the bridge lamp, slotted a cassette into the tape recorder and opened Gavin’s letter.

Ma chère Sunshine girl, she read. Thank you for your letter. I am well, thank you. Back on top, in control, everything in its place … more or less. There are things which will never be quite the same again of course. However …
Well, I went to Brazil and it didn’t take me long to discover the existence of this photographer fellow who I am sure must be the one I was after, but he had gone to Perú and his assistant from Argentina called Alfredo Castro had parted company with him and returned, apparently, to Buenos Aires. That was all I could reach in that direction. As to Chile, it’s a lovely land and interesting, but I’ve had my fill of dictatorships and Pinochet looks set for another ten years at least, so I have decided to stay in France
I haven’t been able to write to my father since I left, for obvious reasons, which is somewhat childish I admit, but I find there is no place inside me where I can fit him comfortably. I keep grinding my teeth and feeling he should be hanged, drawn and quartered, yet here I live in France where ‘la petite amie’ is quite the accepted thing and it doesn’t worry me at all, obviously because it does not touch me personally. I’m afraid it will take a long time for me to be able to be objective about all this. One should of course have the whole story before judging, which is impossible.
I have not decided yet whether to write and tell Rowena as I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that Hernán is my half brother and all that that implies. One cannot profess to be even a not-very-practising Christian and ardent humanist with a coherent set of ideals and then, because it is inconvenient, simply ignore the fact that one has a half brother whose hair is jet black , whose eyes slant up a little at the corners, and whose skin is very brown, yet in whose veins runs blood which gives him as much right as I have to call my father ‘Dad’ and to expect exactly the same concern and care as I do. Whether he knows it or not is not the point. I do. What do I do with that knowledge? If Hernán does not know then to tell him would mean throwing him into a situation which would probably cause him great suffering, and I am sure he does not know for it was always said when we were small that his father had died before he was born in an accident and that was why poor Josefina was alone. What I don’t know is if that story was invented by Josefina in order to be with us. In any case I am sure it is Josefina and Dad’s secret. She has a secure job, and Hernán is close to both his parents. Unconsciously Dad is his father figure and when he’s twenty-one Dad will probably set him up in such a way that he will be able to get on in the world. But he has only had primary education. Would he like to go on studying? Is his mind capable of secondary and even tertiary studies? Why shouldn’t it be? I feel so deeply that he should be given a chance, but how to go about it? Unless I send the money for it in some way.
What you could do for me is to find out if Hernán would like to go on studying or what he’d really like to do. I suppose his fifteen year old mind is as full of dreams as mine was at that age. I think and think about him and the whole situation. It is quite perfect as it is now and all I can do is bugger up the whole set up by judging, by letting my feelings (To hurt my father as he hurt my mother) get the better of me. If I do that I would not be doing either Hernán or
Toffy, or the little girls any good at all. But to shut up and say nothing also seems to me to be a betrayal of my mother and all I felt for her.
Juli, because of you I have managed to come this far alone, which believe me, is a very long way. Thank you. I shall be writing again. I suppose you had better tell Lena and my father that I send salutations and a big hug for my godson and half brother. (What prejudices one little word … illegitimate … can call up!) What I feel for Toffy is something bordering on reverence, he is such a fascinating little fellow and brings with him the breath of heaven. I really love him and I feel that that love is quite pure, untainted, lovely in fact. Strange that I have come to know two half-brothers on my trip to Argentina. Perhaps through them I shall discover myself……

Juli contemplated Gavin’s letter thoughtfully, considering the situation at Los Alamos. It was true, at this moment everything ran smoothly, each person was in his or her place and there was harmony and peace of mind. Any gratuitous meddling could only cause suffering when the obvious answer was Time. In time everything might sort itself out perfectly well.

“But why has Destiny made this situation known to me?” she wondered. “For Gavin to ‘get to know himself’, or for Hernán to go to secondary school? Hernán has always been very correct and polite and he’s taught me piles as far as playing the guitar is concerned, but I’ve no idea at all who lives behind those black eyes of his.”

Shaking her head she turned to the children and said. “Bed time kiddies, bath and into your pyjamas and then we’ll go and say good night to mummy and Daddy.”

Dereck and Lena were sitting on the veranda enjoying the cool night air with Toffy in his pram beside them.

“Well, what does Gavin have to say for himself?” Dereck asked a little gruffly, once he had kissed the two little girls.

“He’s not going to accept the job in Chile. He went to Brazil and found out who the man was who Peter worked for and that he had gone to Perú and that his Argentine assistant, Alfredo Castro, had returned to Buenos Aires.”

“Really?” Lena exclaimed. “He’s better than Sherlock Holmes!”

“And?” Dereck looked at Juli enquiringly.

Juli gave a carefully edited resumé of the rest of Gavin’s letter and added, “He sent his love and a special hug for Toffy.”

“I still don’t understand why he hasn’t dropped me … us … a line,” Dereck grumbled.

“But Dereck, he never did write very often dear,” Lena said consolingly.

Juli glanced quickly at Dereck for she knew that Gavin wrote regularly in the normal course of events. She received a formidable glare from Dereck as he rose and stretched, saying as he did so, “True, true. Oof, I’m tired after that long drive. I think I’m going to turn in as well, Lena.”

“Come on tiddlers,” Juli said quickly. “We’re all tired tonight.”

“I’m not,” Marina said.

“Hah,” Juli laughed. “You wait until you’re lying down. You’ll be fast asleep in a minute!” She bade Lena and Dereck good night and returned to the nursery.

“We really were lucky with Winnie’s choice. Juli is so good with the children,” Lena declared with a satisfied yawn.

Once Marina and Tishy were asleep Juli opened the rest of her mail. Her father’s letter and Ann’s were all about the cold weather in England, the ice on the roads, skiing holidays in Austria, snow, rain and Susan and Bernard’s latest escapades. Her father wanted to know her opinion of Leopoldo Galtieri, the new President of Argentina. ‘…from the photos he makes quite fine looking figure, what is the reaction of the people to his having taken over the reins?”

Juli studied the arrangement of dried grasses in the fireplace and wondered. She felt the Argentines were getting tired of their military rulers with their airy promises and disastrous management of the economy. While the family had been in Punta del Este, Ford Motors had decided to suspend five thousand workers. Juli wondered how they and their families were coping with the spiralling cost of living, no work and no dole. Although she didn’t understand politics it seemed wrong that the army should go on ruling year after year, changing Presidents and doing and undoing at will, spending enormous sums buying arms when there seemed to be in reality no money with which to do so, which meant of course buying on credit. One day they would have to pay their debts. What would happen to Argentina then?

She sighed and opened Dino’s letter thoughtfully. It was very short and simply told her that he was ‘doing a lot of stupid physical jerks’. That the officers were O.K. and that they couldn’t practise shooting because there were no bullets to practise with.

“Where does one start?” she thought. “With bullets or bread?” She didn’t envy Galtieri his job. In Britain the armed forces had all the latest inventions not only in the way of arms, but also for the comfort and protection of their men: tents, uniforms, food, electronic gadgets and fairly good pay. The men in the forces had chosen their career and were not just a bunch of eighteen and nineteen-year-olds doing a year of military service because they were forced to do so. In Britain the idea that there should be no bullets for firing practise in the army was as unthinkable as dawn without sunrise.

She opened Rita’s letter and read it through slowly and happily. She had written to Rita from Punta del Este, before meeting Peter, but the post being what it was, Rita had sent her reply to Los Alamos. Her news was all about their holiday at the family Estancia, and their exploits together with numerous cousins, aunts and uncles. There had been picnics, horseback racing, visits to other estancias, bar-b-ques, and learning to play ‘pato’ – a game played on horseback with a ball with several handles which made it possible to catch in mid air or to pick off the ground at full gallop. It seemed a very un-restful sort of holiday with so many people and so much going on, but perhaps they were all used to that sort of big family life and would have found sitting on the beach or walking along gently winding red earth roads under the high canopy of dark green pine trees with only two little girls for company almost terrifying in its solitude.

Rita finished her letter mentioning the fact that on March the tenth all the planets were due to coincide in the same quadrant and that the astrologers in her family were prognosticating all sorts of dire results from such an unusual grouping of planets. She tried not to pay any attention but sometimes one couldn’t help wondering…. if the moon could cause problems why not the planets?

Juli thought of the clear, brilliantly starlit night skies over Los Alamos and gave a wry smile. Such a wonderful opportunity to learn about the stars and their courses and she did nothing about it. She was sure that if either Lena or Dereck were interested in them she’d have learned heaps about astronomy or even astrology already!

She got up and went out onto the lawn to gaze up at the stars and pick out a couple which she recognized. Dobbie rose and followed her, pressing her cold wet nose into the palm of Juli’s hand with a couple of gentle jerks and a friendly swishing of her tail. Juli stoked her absently wondering which were, and which were not, planets and how the signs of the zodiac fitted in. Would all the planets being in one quadrant really have any effect on the world she wondered. With a sigh she turned and made her way back to the nursery. Only a week to go, so it wouldn’t be long before she found out.

Wearily she got into bed and dragged the sheet over herself. “Thank goodness Gavin seems to be O.K.” she thought sleepily and snapped off the bedside light.

The following day at lunch Dereck shook his head worriedly. “Bloody country’s going to the dogs,” he grunted, running is fingers through his hair. “Dollar’s going to hell. Ford has suspended its workers for the rest of the month. There are still people being kidnapped and bumped off. Look at this business of Ana Martinez last month.”

“The children,” Lena said warningly.

“I know,” Dereck snapped.

The Ford suspensions are what worry me,” Lena said, watching the smoke rising from the tip of her cigarette. “There’ll be trouble if they’re not careful. When the Argentine can’t buy is daily ‘bife’, his steak, he gets angry.”

“So long as they don’t invent some “incident” with Paraguay or Brazil over some border irregularity, simply to take the people’s minds off their problems,” Dereck said.

“And the Falklands?” Juli asked.

“What about them?” Dereck said, surprised.

“Would they, well … attack them do you think?”

“Attack them? Good God , NO!”

“But Gavin …”

“All hoo ha. Every time the government has economic troubles it starts yelling about the Malvinas or the three Islands in the south which are in litigation with Chile. It’s all political.”

A wild barking of dogs heralded the arrival of a car and Dereck went out to return a few minutes later with their neighbours, the Clarences and their son Jacky.

“We’ve decided to bring Jacky’s birthday party forward a little so that he can celebrate it here on the Estancia,” Mrs. Clarence explained. “So we came over to invite you all and to find out if Juli and your house boy, Hernán, could entertain us and the children with their guitars?”

“But of course,” Lena smiled. “That’ll be alright with Hernan, won’t it Dereck? When is the party?”

The day and the hour were settled and Mrs Clarence added, “Jacky is going to St. George’s College you know, as a boarder, so that’s why we’ve decided to do this. His first term. You’re really looking forward to it, aren’t you darling?”

Jacky nodded smugly and Juli wondered if he would be so keen in August after the winter holidays.

The Clarence’s home was a pleasant L-shaped house with a corrugated iron roof and a wide shady veranda, a pretty garden with spacious lawns and plenty of trees added to its attraction. The Ewances and Ethel Williams had already arrived and Juli recognized the rest of the guests as they had also been invited to Dereck and Lena’s party after Christmas day.

Bill Ewance , George Clarence and a group of men began to discuss the worrying state of the currency and the disastrous economic situation in the country.

“There’s an enormous amount of unrest in the country,” George declared. “It’s like sitting on the top of a pressure cooker with a faulty valve.”

“Bloody military …”

“To my mind …”

“The State workers are on the March too …”

“The dollar is what worries me. They say it’s going to go to thirteen thousand.”

“What do you think about the Falklands?”

“This Thomas Enders fellow seems very active …”

“The Argentines want sovereignty …”

“Thatcher will never agree …”

“The Islanders are dead against it …”

“To my mind …”

“They say there’s oil offshore …”

“In those seas? Better not even try!”

“The fishing industry is not exploited at all you know. One would think …”

“There are only one thousand eight hundred Islanders in all remember, and most of them are employed by the Falkland Island company …”

“Did you read Rouco’s articles?”

“No, we don’t get the Prensa.”

George Clarence was informed that the ‘asado’, bar-b-que, was ready and everyone gathered about the long table and took their places. The fourteen adults were all English families, the children sat beside their parents and were restrained from behaving too boisterously. Juli found it all rather formal and was glad when the meal was over. She gathered together all the children and, with Hernán’s help, organized games and entertainments until teatime.

Sitting on the grass during a lull, Juli said to Hernán,” I wonder if Jacky will be very happy at his new boarding school in Buenos Aires. I think he will miss the Pampa so much.”

“It is the same school that Gavin went to and he liked it a lot,” Hernán said, and after a pause he added. “I used so much to desire to go there too, to be with him. They had many sports there. Swimming and football, rugby and tennis. Many sports.”

Juli looked at him sharply, suddenly realizing the depths of the gulf between Gavin and Hernán. Gavin had gone to St. George’s and, if he had wanted to, he could have gone to University in England. Rowena had been sent to study in Canada. Hernán, with barely primary school behind him, and that at a level far below that of St. George’s, accepted his fate unquestioningly, little knowing that in fact he had had as much right as Gavin to go to St. George’s.

“What do you want to be when you are a man?” she asked

“I would like to be an estanciero like the Señor Dereck. Maybe one day I shall get to be a ‘capataz’ like Don Elizondo.”

“Would you like to do secondary school studies?”

“Oh, yes! So very much. To an agricultural school where one can learn farming at the same time. That would be wonderful, but it is too expensive for my mother. I wanted to go to Santa Rosa and work and study at night, but my mother was afraid. She says I am too young to live alone and we have no relations in Santa Rosa. Also it would cost much money.”

“Well,” Juli remarked comfortingly. “If you really want to study, tell the Señor Dereck about it. Once he knows that is what you want most, then perhaps he will be able to help you.”

“Why should he? He is not my father and he has helped us very much already.”

“Because grown-ups should always help young people if they want to study. It is a way of helping the country. Anyway, another way of helping you could be through a scholarship from the “Club de Leones” or the “Rotary Club” or something.”

Hernán glanced at her sideways, his black eyes glistening, a ray of hope sparkling in their depths.

“You think if I ask the Señor Dereck …?”

“Yes, I do. But don’t say anything to your mother, she will tell you not to,” Juli grinned. “And don’t tell the Señor Dereck I suggested it either, eh?”

Hernán grinned gleefully back, understanding her perfectly.

As soon as tea was over Lena decided it was time to go home. Juli helped her gather their belongings and they all piled into the car after wishing everyone goodbye. Jacky, clad in his ‘superman’ outfit, the present Dereck had chosen to give him, rushed up to bid them goodbye and to thank them again.

“Remember it’s only like Superman,” Juli laughed. “It won’t make you really fly or anything like that you know.”

A slight shadow flitted across Jacky’s face and she was glad she had warned him. “And if I hadn’t?” she thought in the car. “Might he have tried to fly from the top of the roof or something? I wonder why it occurred to me to say that, though. Funny.”

“Are you all sure you haven’t forgotten anything?” Dereck asked as he started the car. A quick check disclosed various missing items which were retrieved hastily and they left. Marina, who had managed to kiss Jacky goodbye at least three times, snuggled against Juli in the back seat and said with a deep sigh of joy, “ I’m going to marry Jacky when I grow up.”

“Are you no less?” Dereck laughed, overhearing. “What does Jacky say?”

“Marina Clarence,” Lena mused aloud.

“Marina Birnham de Clarence,” Marina retorted and they all laughed, Juli quickly translating so that Hernán too should be in the joke.

“I’m going to marry Juli,” Tishy said suddenly in Spanish, quite loudly for her, and for a moment or two no one said anything . She was sitting on Juli’s lap.

“You can’t marry a lady, Tishy,” Lena said.

“Then I’ll marry Hernán,” Tishy decided. Juli and Dereck remained silent as Lena laughed gaily and said to Hernán, “Be careful now Hernán, Tishy is very single-minded once she decides on something.”

He grinned cheerfully and touched Tishy’s soft blond hair with his brown fingers, which were so like Dereck’s. Lena’s easy laugh made Juli realize that the idea of Tishy marrying Hernán was so utterly impossible that she could even joke about it.

“And if Tishy were to fall for him, that would be a mega problem,” Juli mused thinking of Tishy at nineteen and Hernán at thirty-one. “Poor Hernán, Lena’s attitude makes him into a sort of non-person in a way.”

1 thought on “Under Another Sky 18

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