It seemed to Juli that it would be impossible, ever, to sort out her emotions and quiet her heart, organize her thoughts and, in some way, find the will to pack. Sitting alone at the table after Lena had left her, she gripped her hands together and tried to breathe deeply and evenly.
“I must get hold of myself, I must make a plan. Any stupid plan will do,” she told herself, as the thoughts: … Tishy – Mariposa – Dobbie – classes – Hernán – Peter – Dad … flashed to and fro like frightened goldfish in a chaotic kaleidoscope of images.
“First? What will I do first? Tell the children… but what? Susan …? It’s a lie! But I said I would! Why must I lie? I’ll say that Susan is ill and then I’ll play it by ear. We’ll all pack, the three of us. Portly? No! Portly comes with me. What can I give them? Oh! there’s no time! If only I had more time!
“We can go and say goodbye to Mariposa. We could have a festive tea … no .. better a picnic on the lawn. They love that. I must tell Paco about the children’s garden, to water it at least. Oh, I mustn’t forget to see what I have in the washhouse, will my things be dry? My guitar, and all my cassettes … I’ll have to ask Lena to lend me an extra hold-all. Where will I go? To a hotel? Could I phone Marion? Or Rita? …”
With stiff awkward movements, Juli rose slowly and made her way to the nursery as her thoughts and emotions whirled round in her head and heart. As if affected by them the children were quarrelling noisily over a doll. Marina, in a fit of temper, gave Tishy a push just as Juli stepped into the open doorway. Tishy fell backwards against the chest-of-drawers, banged her head and burst into tears. Marta, horrified, gave Marina a rough shake and rushed to Tishy’s aid while Marina opened her mouth wide and howled.
For a long moment Juli looked at the scene as if it were a film, something totally unconnected with herself. It was as if her heart and feelings had become completely paralyzed. With an enormous effort, she walked into the room and took charge, thanking Marta, nodding with a stiff smile while the latter explained what had happened, and dismissing her courteously. After she had left Juli led the children to the sofa and said, “I want to tell you a story. O.K.?”
Both tear-streaked little faces turned towards her like roses covered with dew drops as they all settled themselves on the sofa. She took a deep breath and began.
“Once upon a time there was a little princess who was very happy and very beautiful. She lived in a Palace with her father the King and her Mummy the Queen and her big sister and little brother. One day her big sister decided to go on a long long voyage all the way to the Other-End-of-the-World. For the journey the King gave her a beautiful candle which, however often she lit it, never grew shorter, and away she went as happy as could be.
Some time later the little princess woke up one morning, and lo and behold, she had lost her laugh. Everybody in the palace grew very worried because all her happiness faded away and she grew sadder and sadder and thinner and thinner. The King called all his funniest clowns to come to the palace and make his little princess laugh but she couldn’t even smile. So then he called all his Wise Men to come and help. They told him that the little princess needed some Joy-of-Living from the The-Other End-of-the-World as soon as possible for her to get better.
The King then remembered that her sister was there so he wrote a very hurried letter asking her to find some Joy-of-Living for the little princess and to bring it home as quickly as possible. Her sister was very worried, she went to see the King and Queen of The-Other-End-of-the-World. They were very kind when they heard her story and the King said, “I have two beautiful daughters who have ever so much Joy-of-Living, but they cannot give it to you, they can only exchange it.” Then the princess’s sister said, “I have a candle which never grows shorter which my father gave me.”
The King of the Other-End-of-the-World said that that would do splendidly and called his two daughters. He asked them to bring him some of their Joy-of-Living. They brought it to him in a lovely little box with many jewels in the lid and he gave it to the little princesses sister who gave him her candle in return. The king also lent her a fairy horse called Butterfly …”
“Like Mariposa,” Marina breathed.
“… so she was able to return home in no time at all! She went running to the King and Queen and gave them the little box. They gave it to the sad little princess and when she opened it …”
“She began to laugh,” Tishy whispered.
“That’s right, she found she could laugh right away. Wasn’t that wonderful?”
“Again, again,” Marina cried. “Tell it again.”
“Well,” Juli said with a deep sigh. “Alright, but you must help me pack my things while I’m telling it, and correct me if I make a mistake. O.K?”
She fetched her suitcases and began to pack her clothes as she repeated the story. The children helped importantly, folding her T-shirts and pushing her shoes into nylon bags, correcting her when she forgot or made a mistake.
“Why are you packing?” Marina asked.
“Because I am going to see the little princess, and the prince and the King and Queen.”
“That’s right again!”
“Are you going to take her some Joy-of-Living?”
“That’s what I have to do, and I know two little princesses who have heaps and heaps of it, so I am going to ask them for some.”
“Who do you think?”
“Me and Tishy?”
“And the candle?”
“I have no candle so I am going to leave someone I love very much. I am going to leave Portly as he will never grow older like the candle which never grew shorter. Now let’s go and see Mariposa as I have to say goodbye to her and on the way we’ll ask Josefina to prepare a picnic tea for us to eat on the lawn. O.K.?”
Both little girls scampered off towards the kitchen nearly colliding with Lena just outside the nursery. “What did you tell them?” she asked, surprised. “They seem so cheerful.”
“I made up a fairy story. I didn’t want to tell them a lie, Tishy might realize. Lena could you lend me a hold all? That pile of things just doesn’t fit anywhere. I’d like to have tea on the lawn, will that be O.K.? We’re all full of the story which was a happy one.”
Lena nodded, looking relieved. “I’ll fetch a holdall for you,” she said. “We’ve lots, you can keep it.”
“Thank you,” Juli said with a lopsided smile and walked on to the kitchen. Marta and Josefina looked at her questioningly. Josefina had dark circles under her eyes for she missed Hernán desperately and felt as if the reason for her existence had been wrenched away from her.
“I have to leave,” she said, once the children had set off to visit Mariposa. “My father wishes me to return to England. It is very hard for me, I don’t want to go at all – I love you all so much. But these are difficult times. I shall be taking the bus to Buenos Aires tonight.”
She left the kitchen quickly before they could react, unable to bear the surprise and pain in their eyes. Mariposa as usual, greeted her with a cheerful whinny and stretched out her velvety lips for the tidbits Juli always brought her. Juli picked Tishy up so that she could stroke the mare’s soft nose, and then she picked up Marina as well despite the fact that Marina didn’t need to be picked up any more.
“One day, Mariposa, perhaps you will be able to turn into a butterfly and come and visit me for a little while. Will you do that my lovely Mariposa?” Juli said softly, stroking the mare’s ears.
“Yes,” cried Marina. “Into a big butterfly, which neighs!”
Juli found she could laugh, and she bent and kissed Marina before taking the little girls’ hands and walking back to the house along the path past the garage where she had told Dereck that she had been to visit Phyllis’s grave. She remembered her reason for going and his rage, and bit her lip.
The picnic on the lawn was cheerful and somewhat noisy for Juli let Marina caper and sing and bounce as much as she liked, while Tishy laughed and Juli stroked Dobbie for comfort. Only the old dog seemed forlorn, sensing that her beloved Juli would soon be gone. Juli could eat nothing. The pain in her heart was becoming more and more unbearable and she wondered how long she would be able to keep up her cheerful façade.
“Will you come back soon?” Tishy asked.
“As soon as I can.”
“How will you take the Joy-of-Living?” Marina asked.
“We’ll have to ask Mummy for a beautiful little box.”
“Can I go and ask her now?”
“Yes, you may.”
“I’m going too,” Tishy cried, and they ran off in search of Lena. Juli collected the picnic things and took them back to the kitchen. Paco was having his maté tea so she was able to remind him to water the children’s newly planted seeds in their little flower bed. Back in the nursery she continued to pack, pushing the overflow of her belongings into the holdall that Lena had left for her. She stared round the room with a deeply mourning heart.
She had left the paper flowers Pamela had made for her in their bowl on the table. Portly sat on the sofa. Everything looked the same but there was a subtle difference. A vacuum. An empty space filled with pain; Phyllis’s pain and now hers. In a way her departure was almost as abrupt as Phyllis’s had been. Juli knew she would never return as a governess to Los Alamos. As a visitor perhaps, but this period of her life at Los Alamos had come to an end, of that she was certain.
Marina appeared and said, “Mummy says to come.”
July followed her through to large cool living room, keeping a tight lid on the memories which bubbled just below the surface of her mind. Lena and Dereck were having their tea in their private sitting room and Tishy was sitting on Dereck’s lap.
“Thank you very much for the holdall,” Juli said as she entered.
“Oh, that’s quite alright,” Lena smiled. “They told us the story and we’ve chosen the box you wanted.” She held up a small, highly polished box inlaid with mother-of-pearl and different coloured woods. “Will this do?”
“It’s perfect,” Juli said taking it into her hands and admiring it closely. She opened it and picking up a paper napkin she lined it carefully as the children watched with burning interest.
“Now,” she said, holding it out to Marina. “You must put some Joy-of-Living into it.” Marina, squeezing her fingertips together, tapped them against the bottom of the box with a little giggle. Tishy, when Juli held the box out to her, cupped her hands together and then opened them a little as if she had sand or a pile of precious jewels in them, and let it pour into the box.
“Thank you very much,” Juli said looking very serious, and closed the box firmly.
“And Portly is going to stay here with us because Juli doesn’t have a candle which never grows shorter,” Marina said, touching the box reverently with her finger.
Have a cup of tea,” Lena said and Juli accepted, sipping it slowly and feeling its heat warm the block of ice which seemed to have settled in her chest. At last she looked at her watch and said a little huskily, “I know it’s early, but could we go soon Dereck?”
“Of course my dear. You’re all set are you?” He lifted Tishy to the ground. “I’ll go and get the car.”
At once the house was filled with the bustle of Juli’s departure. Paco was sent to collect Juli’s luggage as she went to bid Josefina and Marta goodbye. She hugged them and said a little tremulously, “I shall come back one day. We shall see each other again. Give my love to Hernán, Josefina. It is a wonderful thing that he could go to secondary school. One day you will be so proud of him, when he is the Mayordomo, the head man, of a big estancia. Now it is a great sacrifice for you, but he will thank you and love you always for letting him go.”
Josefina mopped her tear-filled eyes and nodded. “Si Niña Juli, I know. But it is very hard for me. He is all I have.”
“I know but a bird in a cage will fly away as soon as it can escape,” Julio consoled her. “A bird which is free never does.”
Juli fetched her coat and hand-bag from the nursery, whispered goodbye to Portly, and made her way to the front porch. Lena hugged her quickly and murmured “Good bye Juli, I’m really sorry … thank you for everything … for understanding.”
Juli nodded wordlessly, kissed Toffy, Marina and Tishy and, on seeing Tishy’s eyes widening in dawning dismay, said, “The box Tishy. I left it on the table! Could you fetch it for me?”
Tishy ran into the house and returned with the box held high. “Now we can all laugh,” Juli cried as gaily as she could manage. “Good bye, good bye, ‘till soon.” She checked her things, stuffed the box into her hand-bag, got into the car and slammed the door shut.
“ ‘Bye,” she waved, “Adios, hasta pronto, till soon. Good bye.”
As Lena, the children and the servants waved, Dereck let in the clutch and the car moved slowly down the drive, bumped over the cattle guard and put on speed along the track leading to the main road. Every now and again Dereck had to slow down and honk the horn in order to get the cows lying on the road to hoist themselves onto their feet and amble away. When they arrived at the white gate with Los Alamos painted on it in black Juli remembered the first time she had opened it on the day of her arrival.
“Good bye Los Alamos,” she whispered as she closed the gate behind the car. “God bless you and keep you safe.”
Neither she nor Dereck had any heart to make conversation and they drove in silence as the evening drew in. Dereck glanced at Juli after a while and saw her tears spilling silently down her cheeks. His tender heart filled with sorrow, he pulled the car over to the side of the road and ran an arm round her shoulders as he dug a clean handkerchief out of his pocket.
“Don’t cry, dear heart,” he murmured as he drew her to him. “Or you you’ll start me off.” He handed her the hanky and kissed the top of her head tenderly. Juli wiped away her tears, blew her nose and rested against him for a little while, then she nodded and moved away holding the hanky out to him. “Keep it,” he said gruffly.
“I’m O.K.,” she said. “It was just … you know.”
They drove on in silence.
As it was early when they reached Santa Rosa they went to the restaurant where they had eaten on their first trip from Buenos Aires. Juli managed to eat a few noodles while they spoke of practical matters, money; documents; travellers’ cheques; what to do when she arrived.
“I’m going to call Arthur and Marion,” Dereck decided. “You’ll be arriving so early it’s the wisest thing. Wait here Juli while I pop along and give them a ring.”
He returned looking crestfallen. “Not at home, María told me they had all gone out, sorry about that.” He sat looking at her feeling anxious and worried. “The sooner you get out of this country the better Juli,” he said at last. “Once you’re in Uruguay you can go to the British Embassy there and decide what you want to do. You could look for a job there if you want to stay in South America, or go to Machu Pichu and Cuzco, which you wanted to do.”
“Yes,” Juli said uncertainly.
“It wouldn’t be very pleasant for you should you be interned, not that I believe for a moment that it will come to that…but, you know.”
After a pause Dereck drew in his breath and said,” Tell me Juli, what is the matter with Gavin?”
Juli looked at him in silence with a sombre expression. At last she said, “Gavin told me you were often unfaithful to Phyllis and that he knew about it since he was about fourteen. He kind of half hated you and half admired you because of it. After Phyllis committed suicide he wondered if she had found out and … well …”
Dereck’s expression darkened. Juli held his eyes steadily with hers until he looked away. The silence between them lengthened. Dereck fiddled irritably with the car keys, staring down at the floor, trying to find something to say, to refute Juli’s words and unable to do so. After a while she said, “We’d better go.”
He nodded, called the waiter, paid and they left and got into the car. At the bus terminal she said, “Just leave me here, Dereck. If I’m supposed to be a spy the sooner everyone sees you go the better. It’s so good that Tishy is normal now. In a sense my true mission is over, isn’t it? At least I feel I am going with something achieved.”
“I can’t thank you enough where Tishy is concerned,” Dereck said sincerely. “This damn war,” he added gruffly, shaking his head. “Please Juli, do as I suggest. Go to Montevideo in Uruguay. And let us know what you’ve decided to do, whatever happens, dear.”
“O.K. I will.” Juli felt her throat closing, the lump in it growing bigger every second.
They got out of the car, Dereck helped her with her luggage and she went and sat on a bench inside the terminal to wait for the arrival of her bus. “Good bye,” he said bleakly. She looked up at him and raised her hand in a tiny salute, biting her lip. He nodded, turned and walked away suddenly overcome with anguish and guilt. Had it really been so necessary to rush her out of their lives like that? He sat in the car thinking about Juli and what she had said about Gavin. For the first time in his life he saw himself for a moment through the eyes of another, of an adolescent boy who had loved his mother deeply. With a shuddering sigh he started the car and drove away.
The bus arrived half an hour late. It was already almost full. Juli watched her luggage being stowed away in the baggage compartment, handed her ticket to the driver, climbed aboard and found her seat next to a woman. Blindly she sat down, closed her eyes and leaned her head against the back of her seat. “I mustn’t think. I mustn’t cry. One day this will only be a horrible memory,” she told herself miserably.
“Hello,” an unfamiliar voice murmured in English, cutting through her thoughts. “Didn’t I see you once with Marion Carlie at the church in Martinez just before the rummage sale last year?”
Juli opened her eyes and turned her head. She found herself staring into the eyes of the ‘lady-with-the-dog’ whom she had seen several times when she first arrived in Buenos Aires. “Yes,” she said with an effort. “Last June.”
“Oh, yes of course. June, that was it. My name is Isobel Roget, like Roget’s Thesaurus by the way. I have a very good memory for faces, I remembered yours right away.”
The last thing Juli wanted was to start a social conversation, but she felt that at least it would keep her mind off her aching heart and fluttering thoughts. “Don’t you have a sausage dog,” she said for something to say.
“Why yes, Wendy. I always take Wendy everywhere with me when I can in B.A. She’s enjoys it so much.”
The driver joined his companion. The door of the bus closed, the vehicle backed slowly and moved away from the bus terminal and out onto the street. “I’m leaving Santa Rosa for ever,” Juli thought.
“I suppose we should talk in Spanish,” Isobel said awkwardly. “What with this dreadful war … one doesn’t want to upset the Argentines. But it’s so difficult really.”
“I’ve been supervising exams for the Alliance Française in different towns in the interior,” Isobel continued in Spanish. “And the only subject of conversation everywhere was the war. War! It’s just quite unbelievable. Have you been staying in Santa Rosa?”
“I’m Juli Lane,” Juli said making a gigantic effort to be polite. “I’ve been looking after Marion Carlie’s brother’s two little girls at their Estancia, Los Alamos. Dereck and Lena Birnham’s children. Because of the war and the fact that I’m English there were rumours that I was a spy. The Birnhams felt some fanatic might set fire to their house or do something drastic so they asked me to leave … at lunch time today.”
Tears filled her eyes and streamed down her cheeks. She looked away trying to control the sobs which were filling her chest. Isobel gave a shocked gasp and grasped her hand.
“I am so sorry,” she said. “And here I’ve been prattling away. Please forgive me.”
Juli nodded and closed her eyes leaning back and gritting her teeth, trying to breathe evenly and deeply. It seemed incredible that Fate should have chosen this lady, of all the women in Argentina, to be the one sitting next to her on the bus.
Isobel did not speak again but settled back in her seat. The lights had all been put out and a film had begun to flicker on the TV screen situated near the ceiling. The bus drove through the ink black darkness speeding past occasional huge trucks with trailers lumbering along through the night. Images of Tishy and Marina hovered in Juli’s mind, mixed with her conversation with Dereck, his tender embrace in the car and memories of all the things she had done and experienced at Los Alamos. She could not sleep.
They arrived at the bus terminal at Retiro in Buenos Aires a little after six in the morning. Isobel looked questioningly at Juli and said,” What are your plans now, then?”
Juli shrugged wearily. “I don’t know,” she sighed. “Go to a hotel I suppose.”
“Would you like to come back to my apartment with me instead?” Isobel said impulsively. “I have a little flat not very far from the Carlies, I would really be very happy to put you up until you, shall we say, sort yourself out.”
Juli looked at her unbelievingly. Complete strangers never behaved thus. One had to be formerly introduced, have had some sort of relationship which might make such an invitation possible. “I don’t ….,” she stammered. “Do you really mean it?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t. Come on, we’ll take a taxi from here.”
“It’s miles,” Juli protested, remembering her occasional trips by train into the centre of Buenos Aires from where the Carlies lived. Isobel waved down a taxi, their luggage was loaded aboard and in a few minutes they were on their way to the suburbs
Isobel’s flat was on the 12th floor and looked out over the river Plate. It gave a mildly cluttered impression which in no way detracted from being comfortable and welcoming.
A selection of semi precious stones and segments of geodes was displayed in a glass fronted cabinet. Despite her exhaustion and overwhelming depression, Juli could not help walking over to it for a closer inspection.
“Are these stones from Perú?” she asked, gazing at the twinkling crystals of topaz and amethysts in their natural state.
“No they are mostly from Brazil. Some are from Ecuador, others from this country, they’re nice aren’t they?” Isobel replied as she led the way to the bedrooms. “Coffee?”
“Oh, yes, that would be great,” Juli accepted, following her.
The spare bedroom served as an office as well. Isobel dug a towel and a rug out of a wall cupboard, dropped them on the divan and said, “I’m going to make the coffee, make yourself at home dear. Have a shower if you like. You must be feeling pretty groggy.”
All Juli’s luggage seemed to take up a lot of room. She sat down on a chair and looked at it with a heavy heart. Just over twelve hours ago she had had a home, a job, and an aim in life. Now she was in a stranger’s flat with no home or job or place to go, all her belongings in those suitcases and hold-alls. A cork once more, bobbing along in the current of her destiny, wondering forlornly what the next event in her life would be.
“Coffee’s ready,” Isobel said, poking her head round the door.
“Won’t you need to work here?” Juli asked anxiously.
“No problem,” Isobel assured her. “My bedroom is next door, and the two bathrooms are in front here. Come and have your coffee, I’m sure it will make you feel better.”
Juli rose wearily and followed her to the kitchen which was small and neat with a table against the wall in front of the sink and a chair at each end. Isobel had prepared fruit and bread and butter as well as coffee. “Real coffee,” she said. “Longing for this. Instant coffee is quick and useful but really nothing beats real coffee.” They sipped the steaming coffee in their mugs as the rich fragrance filled the room.
“Are you a teacher?” Juli asked.
“Have been for years, however, lately I have been going around the countryside taking exams. It’s well paid and interesting and leaves me time to do other things. I have an acreage about an hour’s drive from here where I have cows and fruit trees and a few vegetables. A very nice old German runs it all for me and in return grows his lavender there on part of the land. It all works out very well. If you decide to stay in Buenos Aires you must come and spend the week end. It’s really nice there.”
“How come you teach French when you speak such good English?” Juli asked.
“The result of a French father and an English mother who met and married in Argentina.!” Isobel laughed. “I went to an English boarding school, St Hilda’s, but I Ioved French and carried on at the Alliance Française once I finished. And I’m still there as you can see.”
“I can’t thank you enough for taking me under your wing like this,” Juli said with a lopsided smile.
“I’m so glad you were willing to come,” Isobel replied.
While they breakfasted they spoke of the Carlies.
“I have never really been introduced to Marion,” Isobel observed. “I know her name, and that she’s a very active member of the church. Who I am friendly with is Doris Martin. It was she who told me that Marion had not been very well lately.”
“But she’s quite recovered now,” Juli said. “It was a problem of nerves.”
“Her son is missing, isn’t he?”
“Not really. He just didn’t write and tell them that he was in Brazil, so Marion became convinced that the army had got hold of him for some reason or other.”
“And he’s written now, has he?”
“No, he’s back at home now.”
“Oh, good. Marion must be so relieved.”
“I think I’ll ring them later if I may, they don’t know I’m here. We rang last night but they were all out. May I lie down for a while? I feel so tired I could flop.”
“But of course, my dear. I’m a bit of a chatterbox, as you see. Off you go and try and get some sleep. I’m going to fetch Wendy.”
“It seems incredible that I should have sat next to you on the bus and that you recognized me,” Juli said. “You know, I’ve seen you three times before last night. At the church; at Ezeiza with Wendy when I arrived; and once as I was looking out of a taxi window in Martinez. It seems so odd. I’m beginning to feel more and more that coincidences just don’t exist. There seems to be some sort of hidden reason behind everything that happens.”
“I believe that too, you know. That is why I feel that this war, stupid and unnecessary though it seems, is, in fact, necessary.”
“Arthur Carlie’s godson, Dino Miller, is down south somewhere. He’s the most terrific musician. He plays the flute wonderfully, and has such delicate sensitive hands, and there he is with pistols and bazookas and machine guns and all that…”
Isobel stood up firmly. “One must just carry on doing the best one can,” she said quietly. “And thinking positive thoughts,” she added. “The subject of war can be very depressing.”
Juli helped Isobel clear the table, after which she went to her bedroom, closed the door and lay down on the divan plumping up the cushion under her head.
“I’ll call Arthur later,” she thought and fell asleep.