Under Another Sky 20

Chapter 20

During the night clouds, heavy with rain, crept up from the south and covered the sky. The following day dawned grey and drizzly with intermittent showers, Dereck was jubilant. He left with Hernán after breakfast. Josefina dissolved into floods of tears and took to her bed. Lena developed a headache so Juli collected Toffy and brought him to the nursery in his pram, much to his sisters’ delight. Marta, who disliked cooking disappeared into the washhouse and busied herself with laundry. Paco, Don Elizondo’s nephew, sat in the kitchen disconsolately and wondered what he should be doing. The rainwater dripped off the edge of the corrugated iron roof and splashed into little puddles at the edge of the verandas outside while hundreds of frogs sang a noisy cantata to the wet weather.

Staring out over the filmy landscape, the golds and ochres dulled to the softest silvers and greys by the clouds and the rain, Juli remembered the winter days when the mist had made it all almost invisible. It reminded her of English weather and English skies. It was Spring time in Europe now, the apple and peach trees would soon be in bloom converting the Devon landscape into a pink and white lullaby. She thought of London in the winter, mantled in snow, her grey solid exterior transformed by the trelliswork of white which lay on palings, branches and window sills, the noise of the traffic hushed; of English voices on the radio and T.V; of cockney voices on the streets where the cars and the red double-decker buses drove on the left-hand side . All London was grey and drear in March. The parks dripped raindrops from the branches of their tall leafless trees, the sidewalks glimmered grey and black, reflecting the sky and the buildings. It was cold, but somewhere, somehow, one was aware that spring was on its way, that within a month or so, its magic wand would be bringing everything to life once more.

How different it was in Argentina. The seasons were difficult to distinguish clearly, what with the warm sunny days in winter; the speed with which Spring burst into life and turned into summer, quite disregarding the three months which the calendar had allotted to her; the heat at Christmas in summer followed, perhaps, by a wave of intense cold brought by a storm from the south. Now it would be autumn and Juli sensed that this was Argentina’s most beautiful season. A time when the memory of summer, in fact, clung tenaciously on; the warm days gradually becoming cooler, the leaves of only some of the trees turning into brown and russet and which fell during the storms and the cold south winds; the grasses growing green once more after the heat had almost drained them of all their colour. But what Juli loved was the sky. It was so huge, so blue, drawing one up into its dome, off and away to the very portals of heaven.

With an effort she turned back to Marina and Tishy who were busy at the colouring task she had given them. There would be no horseback riding today so she decided to take the girls to the kitchen and make pancakes to help Josefina out. This decision was enormously popular with the girls.

At lunch Lena appeared, having recovered from her headache, looking rested and cheerful. “Well, and what have you been up to?” She asked as she picked up Toffy.

“We made pancakes,” Marina informed her breathlessly. “I made four, all by myself I made them, and Tishy made two and we’re going to have them for pudding and Juli made lots and put dulce de leche in them.”

“Josifina?” Lena queried looking at Juli.

“She’s up, I prepared noodles and she’s made the sauce,” Juli nodded.

When Dereck returned in the afternoon, Juli could not resist going to ask him how he had left Hernán.

“He’s fine, everything in order,” Dereck replied reassuringly.

“No .. but … really?” Juli insisted.

Dereck looked up from the papers he was reading and met Juli’s eyes with a slightly thoughtful grimace. “He was very nervous, but we found Solá’s nephew, also a new boy but younger, and they seemed to hit it off. It was what he wanted, he’s an intelligent kid, he’ll find his feet. I told him to play the guitar a lot, to entertain, and that should make him popular.”

Juli nodded. “Good idea,” she agreed..

Dereck gave a slight bow and said with a twinkle which reminded her of Gavin, “I’m glad you agree madam.”

“We made pancakes for lunch, I saved two for you sir,” Juli grinned and left him to his papers. He stared down at them absently, recalling their night together reminding him so much of Phyllis, and the feelings she stirred up in him.

Three days later the news hit the headlines that the contingent of Argentine workmen on South Georgia had raised the Argentine flag and that the Falkland Islanders had broken into the LADE (Lineas Aereas del Estado) offices in Port Stanley, had hung up the British flag and had written slogans with toothpaste on the windows and furniture. All around the world the South Atlantic sprang abruptly into the forefront of the news.

Dereck and Lena, who had heard it on the twelve o’clock news on the radio were aghast. Juli sat at the lunch table listening to them with mounting dismay. For once, Lena forgot the presence of Marina and Tishy

“But can you imagine? South Georgia is miles away, nothing to do with the Malvinas!”

“How far would that be?” Juli asked, trying to construct a map in her imagination.

“More than two thousand kilometres away,” Dereck replied.

“And the Falklands?”

“Oh, some seven hundred.”

“Do you think…?”

“No, no. It must have been some stupid sort of joke.”

“But with all the tension that’s mounting…”

“What if they use it as an excuse?”

“And the Falklanders reacting like that! Incredible.”

“Do you think Galtieri …?”

“Who knows what he’ll … No. Nothing will come of this, you’ll see.”

“I feel incredibly alarmed, I don’t know why,” Juli said.

Dereck looked at her gravely and then shook his head. “Nothing will happen,” he repeated. “”Don’t worry. It must have been those silly workmen thinking they were being funny, that’s all. That the Falkland Islands are Argentine is an idea they receive from the moment they’re born more or less.”

“But why South Georgia?”

“That’s what I mean. They were just fooling around.”

“If only they had been able to reach some agreement during all those weeks of negotiations,” Lena mourned.

“Don’t worry dear. Enders is still trying hard to sort the whole problem out. This is just a setback, that’s all. Pass the salad please Juli.”

Juli thought of Dino and felt a chill run down her spine. No bullets and sixty Generals, what kind of farce was the Argentine army anyway? With an effort she paid attention to the talk about the floods caused by the Pilcomayo River in the north, the baptism of Walesa’s daughter and the news that the Argentine government was considering creating a deposit of nuclear waste in the southern Province of Chubut.

“That’s where the foreign firm wants to commercialize the penguin colony, isn’t it? “ Juli asked.

“Yes, and I can’t think what all the fuss is about,” Lena said. “One thing is nuclear waste, but penguins … there must be literally millions near Península Valdéz. Surely killing the small quantity this firm has in mind won’t make any difference at all.”

“My dear Lena, you know perfectly well that in that forgotten corner of Argentina no one is going to control the number of birds killed. There’ll be no penguins left within three years if the provincial government signs the permit.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Lena sighed.

“Patagonia, in the south, is so sparsely populated, except for the few towns like Trelew, that to keep an adequate control on anything like that would be quite out of the question,” Dereck added.

“Trelew, what an odd name,” Juli remarked.

“Welsh. A group of Welshmen settled there during the last century and farmed the surrounding countryside. They talked Welsh and they still do. Welsh and Spanish, and those that speak English do so with exactly the same little sing-song which the Welsh in Wales have. Península Valdéz is an interesting place to visit because there is a bay there where the whales go to have their calves. One can hire a boat and one is rowed out in amongst them all during the season. We must do that one day Lena, they say it’s fascinating.”

From that day on, listening to the news on the radio became the focal point around which the activities and emotions of the day swirled and eddied.

The Endurance was on its way to South Georgia.

The Americans, questioned on their position should an armed conflict erupt between Argentina and Great Britain, gave an ambiguous reply and added that the Monroe Doctrine had been signed several years after 1833.

Argentine officials pontificated, declaring that should the British try to force the argentine workmen to leave South Georgia on a British ship it would be an affront to the national honour.

Dereck and Lena listened to the B.B.C. on shortwave and heard of huge headlines in the British newspapers, long articles on the subject and the extraordinarily tense situation in London.

The Argentine ship Bahía Paraíso left for South Georgia or was already there, the matter was not quite clear.

The aircraft-carrier, 25 de Mayo also got under way from Puerto Belgrano.

On the 30th of March a mass demonstration organized by the General Confederation of Labour took place in Plaza de Mayo in front of the Government House in Buenos Aires to protest against the Government’s economic policies, rising unemployment and the military ‘règime’.

The demonstration turned into a violent battle between the police and the demonstrators. Over two thousand people were arrested and many were very roughly handled.

“You see,” Dereck exclaimed. “It’s what I’ve been saying all along. The social situation has become un-manageable, the government is at its wits’ end. The dollar has gone to hell. It was 9.900.- pesos to the dollar at the beginning of the month and now it must be very near 15.000.- pesos. That’s the reason for all this nonsense over the Falkland Islands. It’s obvious. How else are they going to distract the people’s attention?”

“So long as the British understand that,” Lena murmured.

But the British news claimed that a nuclear submarine was reportedly ‘on route’ for the South Atlantic, and maybe two, while the Argentines had their aircraft-carrier and two corvettes in or near the region.

On Friday, April the 2nd, the news that the Argentines had invaded the Falkland Islands exploded across the world and the thousands of Argentines of British descent in Argentina stared into a future in which everything was suddenly and subtly different. It was as if their ancestors had overnight become the bitterest of enemies, and they had somehow to choose where their true affections (and interests) lay.

To Juli’s astonishment Lena was discreetly jubilant. Even Dereck, although repeating that the Argentines were mad, seemed proud of the achievement.

“With winter coming on, the British will have trouble trying to get the Islands back,” Lena commented. “Now at least we have shown our claims weren’t all hot air.”

“Mrs.Thatcher won’t be very pleased with these developments, though,” Dereck said. “The British will react very strongly towards this invasion simply from pride if nothing else, even if it is only a symbolic act. Argentina is considered a very second-class sort of country, remember.”

Lena shrugged. “Well, we’re not,” she replied.

Juli felt mentally torn and miserable, for she could only think of the unnecessary suffering and bloodshed which an armed conflict would inevitably bring.

“What do you want to do, Juli?” Lena asked anxiously.

“Stay here,” Juli replied emphatically.

“Oh good! I suddenly thought you might want to go back to England.”

“No, not at all. I’m very happy here. I don’t want to leave.”

Later, riding quietly between the caldén trees, bathed by the warm autumn sunshine, she felt the tears rising for she knew that for all her love for this splendid country she would not want to take out Argentine citizenship, which meant she was an alien. An Enemy. Would Rita still want to be her friend, she wondered. Her anxiety for Dino mounted. What would he do? What could he do? How crazy! To be at war with Britain! But perhaps … now … some agreement might be reached. Hope flickered eagerly in her heart. There had been little or no bloodshed up to now apparently. It was entirely possible that after this ‘fait accompli’ the Argentines would … but was Arthur right? Had all this been carefully orchestrated? Did Britain and the U.S.A. secretly want a war with Argentina in the south Atlantic in order to turn the Falklands into a fortress? If so there would be little or no reason to expect some sort of arrangement between the two countries.

After a while the beauty of her surroundings drew her attention away from the anxious thoughts and she enjoyed the woodland colours, the pleasant warmth, and the vasT serenity filled with birdsong, subtle perfumes and the trills and whispers of countless insects.

A few days later, as if there had been a transference of thoughts, Juli received an express letter from Rita reassuring her of her unfading friendship and begging to know when she was coming to Buenos Aires. ‘This is a war between governments, not individuals,’ she wrote. ‘Napoleón sends you lots of love and licks!’

Comforted, Juli thought about the British task force with thousands of soldiers which was already steaming towards the South Atlantic. It would take about two weeks to arrive. In two weeks, with even a little good will, a just settlement could be reached. There was still hope that it would not all escalate into a real full-scale war.

Dereck began to talk about the U.S.A. and Russia also intervening despite Alexander Haig’s active efforts as mediator between Britain and Argentina. Thomas Enders had faded into the past.

“It’s obvious the States will support Britain. What else can they do?” Dereck asserted, when Lena remonstrated. “You’ll see. When it comes to the crunch they won’t remain uninvolved!”

“What’s a war?” Marina asked, when the news of the Canberra’s departure became official and even the servants were talking of nothing else. July stared thoughtfully at the little girl before saying sadly, “Sometimes grownups get very angry and fight.”

“Like the peons, the farm workers, when they get drunk?” Marina asked.

Juli tried to hide her surprise by saying, as casually as she could, “Uh huh, like that. But a war means fighting between lots and lots of men, soldiers, at the same time.”

That night at prayer time, Tishy pressed her pink-tipped hands together and murmured, “Please angels, keep all the sojurs safe and warm.”

Juli realized that Tishy, although apparently wrapped up in her own little world of dolls and teddy bears, had already picked up the fact that the soldiers were in danger and that it was very cold in the Falklands, from the general conversation between her parents and in the kitchen.

In order to take their minds off such matters Juli said, “Tomorrow we’ll go for a picnic under ‘our’ tree, shall we? And we’ll make a collection of different grasses.”

All thoughts of war and soldiers banished by such happy expectations, the children soon fell asleep, but Juli decided to play her guitar and sing every evening to help them sleep, in order that the anxious thoughts and somewhat agitated emotional atmosphere in the house be swept away during those important moments before sleep claimed their thoughts and feelings.

The days slipped past. Haig came and went with no settlement reached despite a slight optimism in the news. President Galtieri visited the Malvinas Islands, and towns in the south of Argentina. Malvinas – Falklands, even the names put one automatically into one camp or the other. The task force reached the South Georgias and the first battles began. The British landed in Grytviken, took control of the town and hoisted the Union Jack once more. Ten thousand workers gathered in Plaza de Mayo, called out by the Peronistas and the General Confederation of Labour, to demonstrate against the British invasion.

“The Argentines are quite witless!” Dereck groaned. “Less than a month ago it was against the government and its economic policy. Now it’s the British invasion. As if they’d do anything like this in England, carting thousands of workers into the middle of London in special buses just to make a demonstration. God! What a country this is.”

Hopes for a peaceful settlement were fading fast. It seemed almost inevitable that the British would attempt a landing on the Falklands. Winter was already tightening its icy grip. There was no time to lose. On the 1st of May the British bombed Port Stanley, re-named Puerto Argentina by the Argentines, and the latter counter-attacked, damaging a British frigate and inflicting some damage on two more. An Argentine Dagger fighter was downed. The war had started, despite Fernando Belaunde Terry, the Peruvian President, claiming a cease-fire agreement was about to be signed by the two nations.

On the 2nd of May came the news that the British had torpedoed the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano well outside the 200 mile zone, with 1.042 men aboard, mostly young conscripts. The cruiser sank and it was not known if there were any survivors. Twenty-four hours later the Argentines retaliated by sinking the destroyer H.M.S. Sheffield with an Exocet guided missile.

Suddenly the ugly reality of war, with it hundreds of deaths, exploding bombs, tragedy and fear hit the argentine population out of its childish exuberance at having invaded the Islands at long last. Over four hundred youths lost their lives in the icy southern waves from the General Belgrano alone.

The world condemned Britain. Many Englishmen felt ashamed that such a thing should have taken place. Mrs. Thatcher remained grimly resolute behind her decisions. The Argentines, although proving more difficult to oust that expected, had to go. No possible agreement would even be contemplated before they left the Islands.

Dereck went into Santa Rosa one morning, and returned looking drawn and very grave. Juli, playing with the children in the nursery, heard the car arrive and wondered if he would drop in as he usually did to kiss the children and give her her mail if there was any. But he did not come.

The following day he left once more very early, returning just in time for lunch. The meal was strained and silent. Lena smoked nervously between courses. Dereck looked grim and even a little haggard. The children, after a few attempts to draw their parents into conversation also fell silent. For Juli, it was one of the saddest meals she had ever eaten. She longed to ask what had happened. If some member of the family … Peter … Dino…? But the words stuck in her throat. After lunch Dereck told Marta to take the children to the nursery and asked Juli to remain at the table.

“Lena … Dereck … what … what’s happened?” she asked anxiously.

“Dereck cleared his throat and said carefully, “Juli, I’m afraid you will have to leave us. My friends in Santa Rosa tell me there are rumours about us. That we are spying for the British. That you’re a … well, it’s a whole lot of bloody nonsense, but under the circumstances …”

“One never knows how some people will react,” Lena interposed. “There’s always the danger they may act, well, childishly.”

“Set fire to the estancia, poison the animals, have us all put in prison…” Dereck explained.

Juli looked from one to the other, her mouth suddenly dry and a fierce pain in the pit of her stomach. “Yes,” she managed to say, running her tongue over her lips. “I understand.” She sipped some water but it didn’t seem to help.

“So,” Dereck said, drawing in his breath painfully. “If you could get yourself all packed up I’ll drive you into Santa Rosa once you’re ready. I’ve booked you on the 10 p.m. bus for Buenos Aires. You must tell me how you want to be paid. I’m…we’re very sorry about this … we …”

Juli stared at him disbelievingly. “Now?” she whispered. “Now? I have to pack now, go now?”

She looked at Lena. Lena had become very pale and avoided looking at her. “We must think of the children,” she said. “We’re all in danger. We talked it all over for hours last night. Even the servants could be … influenced.”

‘NO’ Juli wanted to scream. ‘No, you’re crazy, I refuse to do this!’ She dropped her gaze and sat quite still hardly able to think. She had to go now. No time to prepare the children, no time for a last ride on Mariposa. At 10 p.m. she had to be on a bus leaving the Pampa for ever. She shook her head, trying to take it in. The silence stretched out between the three of them painfully. At last she said,” “What about the children?”

Lena replied hesitantly, “We talked that over, too and we came to the conclusion in the end to tell them that your sister is ill and that she needs you to be with her until she is better, to help her mother, something like that. It seemed the most reasonable explanation for them. Something they can understand and accept. One can’t explain danger and war and things like that to four-year-olds.”

Juli looked at her and beyond her. “Tishy will know it’s a lie,” she thought. “She’ll know instinctively.”

She shook her head again and rubbed her face with both her hands. “It’s such a rush,” she murmured. “If you had talked to me we might have …”

“We felt there is no time to lose,” Lena said. “This stupid war is taking such an ugly turn, one can’t be too careful. After all, Dereck and I talk English all the time, you come from England. Dereck’s mother was English and his father’s parents. My background is Danish, but, for the ordinary people here, I am not Argentine, and therefore suspect too. It’s to allay any suspicions as soon as possible.”

Juli nodded. Her heart felt like a stone, she wondered if her arms and legs would respond if she tried to stand up. She remained sitting staring miserably at her hands. Dereck cleared his throat.

“Well,” he said. “Perhaps the children should be with you Lena so that Juli can pack…”

“No,” Juli interrupted emphatically. “Let them help me. Helping me will act as a cushion. Just leave me alone for a few minutes while I get sort of used to the idea.” She took a deep breath and smiled shakily. “I understand, I really do. It’s just such a shock. But please, please let me … let me do it all as I feel it would be best for Tishy and Marina so that they don’t get too much of a shock. I think I can do it. I just want to think a little first.”

“But you are going to say that about Susan?”

“Yes. O.K., I will.”

Dereck, feeling thoroughly awkward, rose, patted her shoulder, and left the room. Lena waved her hands helplessly and sat beside Juli looking at her.

“We shall all miss you so much,” she said at last.

Juli nodded, with a wan smile she looked up and said, “I’ll miss you all too. I’m O.K. I just want to be alone for a bit. Then I’ll go and pack.”

Lena sighed, picked up her cigarettes and lighter and went to see to Toffy. The big room became quiet and very still.

3 thoughts on “Under Another Sky 20

  1. You are right it is “a rough chapter” — but you put me right in the picture & I’m looking forward to the next chapter. Well done !!

  2. Wow, I guess this outcome was bound to surface but I did not expect it so soon or in this manner, it’s good! You can sense the turmoil and how this is affecting everyone and in different ways. As an aside, and on the other side of the coin, I was living in England when the war broke out and I had to be very careful what I said and how I acted. My saving grace was that I am fair-skinned and speak English fluently, otherwise I most likely would have had to leave, as did a couple of friends of mine.
    I look forward to Chapter 21!
    Pam B

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