Under Another Sky 26

Chapter 26

The Carlies stared at Juli in electrified silence following her announcement and then Pamela cried, “I knew Gavin was in love with you! Didn’t I tell you? How lovely Juli, will you be married here? Can I be your bridesmaid?? You are going to marry him aren’t you?”

“Slow down Pamela, please,” Juli laughed. “I’ve just finished reading his letter. I’ve got to think about it.”

Arthur’s face was wreathed in smiles, Tony whistled, Marion leaned over and patted her hand. “How very nice, Juli dear,” she said. “I’m sure Gavin would make you very happy … how old is he now … I think he was born in fifty six which makes him …”

“He’ twenty six and I was twenty four the other day,” Juli clarified.

“When?” Marion and Pamela chorused for they both liked birthdays.

“On the 11th of March.”

“This calls for champagne,” Tony exclaimed. “OK Dad?”

Arthur nodded and Tony went to fetch a bottle from the drinks fridge in the garage.

“But I haven’t decided anything yet,” Juli insisted, her heart fluttering.

“Your mind may have reserves but your eyes give your heart away at once,” Arthur teased her teasingly.

“You’ll be a relation of ours,” Pamela enthused, she had been working it out. “A first cousin-in-law!”

Juli looked at her and for the first time she thought, “Dereck will be my father-in-law; Hernán my brother-in-law; Marina and Tishy my little sisters. Toffy. Lena. Dereck … I’ve been to bed with my father-in-law. My future father-in-law.”

“So I would,” she said automatically, but a shadow had fallen over her heart. Somehow she had forgotten that when you married someone you also married into their family. Certainly that was so in Argentina. Neither Ann nor her father would present any problems for Gavin, but somehow she, Juli, had become very involved with the Birnhams and the Carlies. Tony produced the champagne and Arthur opened it with a flourish. Pamela set out the glasses and they all drank to Juli’s health and happiness. With an effort she brushed away her sudden misgivings and joined in the general chat and laughter. Tony and Arthur began talking in pidgin French amid much hilarity and Juli began to feel feverish. She tried to eat a slice of apple pie but it seemed to stick in her throat so she sipped her champagne and said, “Gavin mentions the possibility of coming to live here.”

“Where will you get married Juli?” Pamela urged. “Here, here! We can’t all go to France and we’re your family now.”

The telephone began to ring and Pamela rushed to answer it. “France,” she shrilled excitedly. “Long distance from France. Juliiiii …!

Juli jumped up and ran to the living room. Pamela handed her the receiver and stood beside her hopping up and down until Marion called her. Juli waited, anxiously listening to a series of clicks, snatches of distant conversations and hollow silences until at last she heard Gavin’s voice, clear but far away.

“Juli … ma chèrie. Have you had my letter?”

“Yes. I’ve … I’ve just read it. It arrived on Saturday but I spent the weekend out of town.”

“Will you say yes?”

“Oh Gavin, it’s all so unexpected. I … I …”

“I love you Juli. Please … do say yes.”

“I want to. I really want to. But I’m sort of full of misgivings.”

“You do? Juli, my heart. That’s all that matters, that you want to, I hardly dared to hope. I love you Juli, I’ll write to you tonight and tell you how much. How are you? How are things in B.A.? The Carlies? The British seem to have landed in earnest.”

They spoke for a few minutes longer and then cut off lingeringly. Juli drifted back into the kitchen. It would be a week before she got his letter, she must write at once about the marihuana.

“Well?” Pamela asked eagerly.

“Don’t badger, Pam,” Marion admonished. “How is Gavin Juli?”

“Fine, just fine thank you.”

“Will he send you an engagement ring from France, Juli?” Pamela pursued.

Juli blushed. “I don’t know Pam. We didn’t talk about it.”

“If he tells you to buy it here can I go with you to choose it?”

“Of course. But I’m not sure yet … well, we’ll see. It’s all so sudden.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Marion beamed. “We found Gavin has turned into such a nice young man, didn’t we Arthur? I’m sure you’ll be very happy with him.”

“Will you really come and live here?” Peter asked suddenly.

“I’d like to. Europe doesn’t interest me much and the French are rather bristly people. I do so love it here too.”

“What will Lena and Dereck say?”

“They’ll be delighted,” Marion pronounced firmly.

Juli was not so sure but thinking of them she remembered. “Isobel wondered if you had made up your minds about her invitation?” she said.

The idea was discussed to and fro.

“I can’t,” Arthur said. “Not this coming weekend. I have some VIPs arriving from Holland and we’ll have to entertain them Marion.”

“You have your golf lesson Peter.”

“Can I go?” Pamela asked, knowing the answer would be no. Finally it was decided which Saturday was the best for everyone.

“Right, I’ll call and tell her,” Juli said.
………………………………

The following day it rained. The streets turned into rivers as sheets of rain, blown by the squalls, shimmied over the city causing traffic jams and the usual problems. The electricity on the railway line was cut so Arthur drove Juli to work.

“How are you this morning?” he asked with a twinkle n his eye and Juli replied.

“Still full of sunshine. It’s very nice and warm.”

“”I’ll say, I can feel I’m getting quite sunburnt on the right side of my face! We’ll have to buy some sun tan lotion for Constanza.”

They both laughed.

Constanza was reading the newspapers when they arrived. “Good morning,” she said. “What rain, no?”

“Fantastic,” Juli agreed. “It seldom rains so heavily in England. And the thunder! Some of the claps make you feel that some building must surely have been split in two! I wonder if it’s rained in the Pampa.”

Arthur, with a smile, left Juli to break her great news in her own time and passed into his office leaving the girls to chat. They talked of the war, the British landing; the conflicting reports from both the governments; the fear of nuclear contamination in the South Atlantic if any of the British submarines were sunk; the problem of whales being mistaken for ships; the fear for all the young argentine conscripts now that the icy weather was settling in over the Islands.

At last Juli mentioned Gavin. Constanza was thrilled. “Imagine,” she sighed. “Living in France! I’ve always dreamed of that you lucky thing.”

“Really? I’m not keen at all.”

Juli had written a long letter to Gavin the night before. She posted it that evening after work and started another after supper. She realized that she should perhaps inform her father and Ann but felt that that could wait. There were also Dereck and Lena and Rowena. But she needed time, time to hold this new situation warm near her heart. Getting married was a big step and not to be taken lightly. The Carlie family were all so exuberant it was a little disconcerting. All, that was, except Peter. He hadn’t said anything she realized with a slight shock. But of course he was always so bound up in himself and Gavin was just a name for him.

The following day she went to have supper with Rita to talk over her news. Rita was delighted for her but sad at the thought that she might end up staying in France.

“It’s such miles away,” she mourned.

“But you do agree, don’t you, that I should give it a try first? I feel it would be a bit selfish of me to insist he come here without even trying first,” Juli said anxiously.

“Yes, but in the end demanding anything always seems to be a bit selfish I’ve found. If you insist now, he’ll do it willingly because he loves you so much. But if you wait a year he’ll be much harder to move and … well… men are like that, after three months the honey-moon is over.”

Juli stared at her friend sombrely. “It seems so cold-bloodied to insist right now, although I do see your point. But I’d like it to be fair.”

“I’ve found one must always be very clear, in oneself, about everything. You don’t know anyone in France and you don’t know French, you don’t even like the French very much! Gavin went to school here, has his family, masses of connections, speaks the language, and wine is a tremendous business in this country. You adore it here, so what’s your problem? Did you see in the papers that several British residents became Argentine subjects this week and even a boy from the Malvinas?”

“Yes. I’m almost tempted. But if I marry an Argentine subject I shall be one anyway, and if our children are born here …”

“Juli, I think I’m pregnant. You’re the very first to know, apart from Quique of course. I’m so thrilled. We want you to be the godmother.”

“Rita! How super! It will be my first godchild. Imagine, a little baby in this house … Oh! But I’m going to be in France.”

“That’s why you must insist at once that you want to live here and only here.” They giggled like two naughty ten-year-olds planning mischief.

The fighting in the Islands escalated. Costa Méndez, the Foreign Minister, insinuated while he was in the U.S.A that closer ties with Russia were a practical possibility, while rumours flew that the United States was supplying Britain with Side-winder air to air missiles and ammunition. Constanza was full of bitterness.

“Our great allies! They sign fancy treaties and then casually ignore them when they don’t suit their purposes. Anglo Saxons decide to keep the south free of nuclear arms and then send nuclear submarines at the first breath of danger. Always the big dogs call the tune. If only we could beat them. Sink all their beastly ships or something.”

“The war is costing Britain four times more than expected,” Juli said thoughfully.

Constanza shrugged. “They’ve got the money. This war is going to cripple Argentina. We are going to be utterly bankrupt when it’s over. I think this government must have already mortgaged our harvests for the next twenty years to be able to buy all those French planes and bombs.”

“Everything sorts itself out somehow,” Juli comforted her. “Look at Kiev, in Russia. It’s celebrating its 1,500th birthday and Argentina is only 150 years old, she’s very young still.”

Constanza looked at Juli ironically and said, “It’s easy for you, you’re on the winning side.”

Juli bit her lip angrily and then replied quietly but with an effort, “Let’s talk about your trip, shall we? Do you have an itinerary worked out yet?

Their conversation, when work permitted, touched on Mexico city, Teotihuacán, Tenochtitlán, Xochimilco, Puebla, Yucatán, Palenque, Taxco, Chichen Itzá, wonderfully exotic names which filled one with the desire to know more and also with a little fear. The Aztecs had been a rather frightful people with their thousands upon thousands of human sacrifices, and those habits had been going on even while Christianity had been spreading through Europe.

Marion changed the living room furniture round to its winter position with the sofa and armchairs grouped round the fireplace, and lit the fire. Peter went almost every day to Hurlingham on his own, for golf lessons and began to look stronger. Pamela dreamed of Simon and Tony, taught as a wire, followed the news with burning intensity, exulting over every Argentine victory and disbelieving all the British communiqués. Arthur listened to the BBC and read the British newspapers (which arrived by airmail, via Uruguay, and found their way into the clubs and offices.) and talked to his friends. He was very grave but he did not try to contradict Tony. It pained him to see the boy’s nationalism. It pained him even more to think that Argentina was really only a pawn in a game of chess played by powers it had no way of understanding or even judging. A ruined, bankrupt country was as much at the mercy of its enemies as one with obsolete guns and eighteen-year-old conscripts for soldiers. He was proud of the Argentine pilots, they were well trained and very courageous, but it was unlikely that they would have any real effect on the final outcome.

As Juli left the house to go and meet Isobel on the Saturday morning she saw the headlines of the Herald. “POPE MEETS QUEEN – CALLS FOR PEACE.”

“What can he do?” she thought bitterly. “Call for peace … Don’t fight any more you naughty Anglo Saxons. Make peace now. Stop all this nonsense.” “Wot’s ‘e saying? Can’t ‘ear, summat to do wi’ vegetables, peas Oi think. Ah”

Isobel had brought the Herald with her and Juli read it in the car. “They seem to have captured Darwin and Goose Green,” she said.

“Yes, I saw that.”

“It says reporters with the British forces said the resistance put up by the Argentine troops was ‘fierce’.” She flipped through the rest of the newspaper thinking of Dino. “How strange that everything goes on as usual; football, tennis, golf, cricket. Brazil beat the Irish at soccer 7 to 0. Oh look, here’s a ‘photo of the Kelper, Derek Rozee, who has been accepted as an Argentine citizen … Social calendar, rummage sales, weddings. It seems almost sacrilegious somehow. No one really cares if thousands of young people are being killed or dying of cold or whatever in the South Atlantic.”

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, isn’t it? How’s Gavin?”

“He phoned me yesterday in the office. He’s going to send me a ring, with a friend.”

“Special.”

“He wants me to go straight to France once Constanza is back. And then when we’re together we can decide whether to get married in England or here, and when and all that. I’d like to be married here, but that would mean waiting until December.”

“So? Why not wait?”

“But what will I do in the mean time? My family is in England. If they want, it would be easier for Dereck and Lena to go there for the wedding than for Dad and Ann to come here. They don’t have that sort of money.”

“I thought you wanted to live in Argentina.”

“I do, but I feel it’s only fair to give France a try at least.”

“So French will be another language on your list then?”

“I learned a bit at school.”

“Do you love him Juli? Or are you in love with Love?”

“Isobel!”

“Sorry. It just occurred to me. Take no notice.”

Juli had expected to enjoy the weekend, but Isobel’s question disturbed her and caused a barrier to grow between them. So much so that she returned to the Carlies with relief. The house was beautifully warm and welcoming. Now that Juli was almost part of the family, Marion had no doubts about her living with them, and their utter confidence in the rightness of her decision silenced the tiny voice of anxiety which Isobel’s question had awoken in her heart.

Monday was Constanza’s last day.

“You see, they’ve hit the Invincible!” She cried as she burst into the office where Juli, who had arrived early, was sorting the mail. “The Argentine ‘planes approached it practically skimming over the waves to avoid being detected by radar. Our pilots are really superb. And they refuelled in mid air, twice!”

Juli nodded. “I know. Tony woke us all up this morning with the news. But the British have denied that it happened.”

“Of course. They would.”

“Constanza, you are going to have a miserable holiday with your father if you go on like this.”

“I can’t help it Juli, I would be so happy if we won this crazy war, and my mother doesn’t make things any easier. Perhaps in Mexico I won’t get so het up. She even wanted to go down with the mothers who went to Patagonia this weekend to spend time with their conscript sons there, and she doesn’t even have a son. I tell you, my home is a nut house.”

The telephone rang and Juli answered. Her face paled.

“What’s the matter?” Constanza asked.

“Dino, he’s in hospital, the military hospital. Someone ‘phoned for him. He needs a person to look after him. Sala V cama 6, that’s ward five bed six I suppose. He must be wounded.”

“We’d better ‘phone Marion. Arthur won’t be in until midday today.”

Marion was out. María only knew that she would not be back until the afternoon. Tony had left early, Pamela was at school and Peter had just left for Hurlingham.

“You’d better go,” Constanza decided.

“Will they let me in?”

“Och, take my identity card. I’ll only be using my passport all June. But don’t worry, they won’t even look at it.”

“I’ll end up in prison more likely, but thanks all the same.” July put the document into her handbag. “How do I get there?”

Constanza found the address and wrote it down on a piece of paper. “Take a taxi, have you any money?”

“No.”

“I’ll give you some from petty cash.”

Juli signed a receipt and put the money inside Constanza’s document. Her heart was thudding with nerves and anxiety. “ ‘Bye.”

“ ‘Bye. Give him my love. I’ll send a telegram to his parents.”

“Constanza, you’re not going to be here tomorrow! I almost forgot. Have a super trip. Enjoy every moment.”

They hugged one another fiercely.

“When will you leave in July?”

“Not right away! I shall want to hear every detail of your trip first!”

Once in the street she bought make-up and darkened her skin and eyebrows, then she tied her hair back tightly in a ponytail. She and Constanza did not look a bit alike, she hoped that the people at the hospital would let her in. In the end no one asked her for a document and she found herself standing by Dino without even a bunch of flowers in her hands. He was lying asleep in the narrow hospital cot looking desperately thin and haggard. A bottle of serum hanging from a stand stood by his bed and a thin plastic tube snaked down from it and was strapped to his arm with tapes. The nurse told her she had to keep a check on the drip and left. The ward was full of boys. They looked almost like children, but for their thinness and the expression of their eyes. The ward was very quiet, for most of them were asleep.

Dino opened his eyes and for a moment he didn’t recognize her. Her raised his free arm as she bent over him and hugged her weakly. “ Juli! I never thought I’d see you again,” he whispered.

“Dino. Darling Dino. What happened?”

“I’ve lost my left foot, I think. I can’t remember much. It hurts like hell so I may not have.”

“Was it terrible? On the Islands?”

“Worse. I had a very good officer, but some of them … Oh Juli, it’s so good to see you. Will you marry me?”

“Marry you?”

“You’ve been my girl all through these months. I drew you from memory and carried your picture in my pocket over my heart. I told everyone you were my girlfriend. I’m twenty now. Will you?”

“I’ve … I’ve just got engaged to Gavin. Dereck’s son.”

“From France?”

“Yes.”

“Ah.” Dino closed his eyes. After a while he opened them and looked at her with a crooked smile. “I was only joking. Don’t take me seriously.”

Nurses came and went. They gave him pills and injected antibiotics into his drip. The food cart came round, pushed by a male assistant. He left a plate of stew and some prunes. Dino ate a little and shook his head. “You eat it,” he murmured.

The plates were taken away. The doctors appeared. Juli went to the hall and waited. When she saw them leave the ward she went back and sat on the chair beside Dino’s bed.

“I have lost my foot,” he said. “I just saw.”

“They’ll give you a false one.”

“Why does it hurt me, if it’s not there?”

“I don’t know Dino.”

“It was blown to bits by a bomb. I thought ‘this is it’, but I woke up in a hospital in Comodoro Rivadavia … sort of … I was very doped. And now I’m here.” After a while he asked, “Mum? Dad?”

“We’ve sent a telegram. They’ll be here soon.”

Dino’s eyes closed and he fell asleep. Juli sat beside him, stroking his hair back, tears in her eyes. Had he been joking? Or had that been the hope that had carried him through? Would her refusal affect him? Delay his recovery? Should she have said…? But no, he was only nineteen, no, twenty already. He could never have thought of it seriously.

When he awoke they talked about the Carlies; Peter; her job with Arthur; the Birnhams; Tarawera and Isobel. He seemed stronger.

“What’s the news?”

“The British are about to attack Puerto Argentino.”

“I was there. I pretended I couldn’t speak English at all and I never spoke to any of the people there. I felt so ashamed … and then the bombardments! The noise! The bomb that got me just sent me flying …”

“Don’t think about the war. For you it’s over. For the others I expect it’ll be over pretty soon.”

“Our guns didn’t work properly and the ammunition supply was a mess … we were always so cold. There was food at first but then … No one seemed to have any plan. We were all there milling around, sent off to dig trenches … here … no, there … Brought back, sent off somewhere else, forgotten. We even had to listen to the news on the radio – shortwave – from here, to know what was happening.”

“Don’t Dino. Just relax. Think about Wagner’s music.”

“D’you remember the concert?”

“Of course.”

“What’ll I do with no foot?”

“Play your flutes and become world famous.”

“A Pied Piper, limping like the boy who was saved.”

“You were saved. There must be a reason.”

“True.” Dino raised his hands a little. “My hands seem to be OK.”

“I’m longing to hear you play again.”

“Does Gavin like Wagner?”

“I don’t know.”

At four Marion and Arthur appeared. Marion stayed to look after Dino’s needs and Arthur took Juli home to rest for she had insisted she wanted to return at ten to look after him during the night. The Millers arrived at six the following morning. Juli, thankfully, handed over her duties to Viviana, kissed Dino goodbye and good luck and went out into the early morning darkness.

Her first day alone in the office went smoothly despite her tiredness, but she was glad that she had had three weeks to brush up her secretarial work. Gavin phoned her at five.

“I got your letter yesterday and I’ve posted off a pages long reply,” he said. “Of course I’ll do what you ask me. No question to that. You must know that you are far more important to me than ‘pot’. Chèrie, how’s your first day going?”

“Fine,” Juli told him about Dino.

“I’ve just written to tell Dad,” Gavin said a little later.

Juli’s heart flipped. “I wonder what he’ll say.”

“He’ll be pleased. Have you told your father yet?”

“No, I was sort of waiting. I’ll write tomorrow. I’m too tired today.”

“I must write to Rowena too, she’ll be so happy for me. François left yesterday, by the way, so he’ll be phoning you tomorrow or Thursday at the office.”

“François? Oh! You mean …”

“He’s taking you your engagement ring.”

“Oh Gavin, I’m in such a flutter.”

“Chèrie, there’s a flight on the 3rd of July. It’s a Saturday. Can you come on that?”

“On the 3rd? OK … I’ll … I’ll ask Arthur about a travel agency, one he uses.”

“Do that. Darling, I can’t wait. Write to me, every day if you can even though I do ‘phone. I yearn for your letters.”

“I’ll try.” The other telephone rang. “I must cut off now.”

They said goodbye lovingly. When she arrived home that evening she found Peter alone.

“Where’s everybody?” she asked, almost falling onto the sofa.

“Mum and Dad have gone to see Dino with Pam and Tony is out.”

“I’m absolutely whacked.”

“Would you like a drink?”

“No. A coffee. A coffee and milk.”

Peter got up and went to the kitchen, he returned with a steaming mug of coffee and milk and some biscuits. “Real coffee, not the instant stuff. How’s Dino?”

“Better. I ‘phoned the hospital and spoke to his father.”

“Are you going out to Mrs. Roget’s farm this weekend?”

“Yes I think so.”

“What’s happened? You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”

“It’s just that I’m deadbeat. I have to ‘phone her. Why?”

“I’d like to go with you.”

“For the weekend you mean?”

“Is there room?”

“Sure. There’s a bedroom with four empty beds.”

“Would I be of any use there?”

“There are a million things to do. But what about your golf?”

“It bores me stiff. You were right.”

“So soon?”

“It’s just a way of passing the time and time passes and passes and I’m not doing anything.”

“But after ten days of golf you’re looking heaps stronger.”

“Ten days of being free of my mother you mean. It has helped me a lot in that sense. But I was thinking, if Mrs. Roget needs a hand since her administrator’s wife is ill, perhaps I could be of some use. I could go and live there and really work. I’d like that and not having a ‘past’ wouldn’t matter.”

Juli was immediately enthusiastic. “It’s a great idea. Juan needs guidance … but … what will your mother say?”

“I have to see my psychologist tomorrow, I shall ask her to give the order.”

“You’ll be alone all week, apart from Juan and his family, but they all live in another house.”

“That wouldn’t worry me. I want to work Juli, I want to do something really useful. But most of all I want to get away from here, I’ve even started feeling frail and ill as soon as I walk into the house. It can’t be. I’m fine on the golf course.”

“I’ll ‘phone Isobel now and ask her, if you like?”

“Please.”

Juli telephoned Isobel and the latter was overjoyed with the idea.

“I’ll talk to my psychologist tomorrow and then to Dad. Thanks Juli.”

“You’re welcome. D’you know, I think I’ll go to bed right now. This coffee and milk was all I needed.”

“Do that. I’ll tell María and the family.” Peter stood up as Juli did and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Sleep tight.”

She smiled sleepily at him and dragged herself upstairs. Her last thought before falling asleep was “Maybe François will ‘phone tomorrow.”

The war wavered to and Fro. The British were consolidating their positions on the Islands and were advancing on Puerto Argentino/Port Stanley. The Argentines clung to their hopes which grew fainter as the news worsened. Buenos Aires buzzed with stories about the Gurkhas and their methods of combat. “They use their sabres, they just cut their enemies’ throats so no one is left alive …” A woeful feeling of defeat began to invade people’s hearts, and thoughts about ‘after the war’ and the problems ahead began to press in upon their minds.

François ‘phoned Juli and invited her out to lunch. He was a suave young man with languid brown eyes, a small moustache and ugly hands. They talked in English and he took her to a very good French restaurant, complete with red check tablecloths, Camenbert cheese and delicious sauces. There he handed her Gavin’s little parcel. She took it nervously.

“Are you not going to open it?”

“No.”

“Mais, mon Dieux, pourquois pas?”

“I’ll open it when I am alone. Thank you very much for bringing it.”

“I’ll never understand you English people!”

She opened the packet in the office later with trembling fingers. A beautiful diamond surrounded by other tiny ones nestled in the wine coloured velvet deep in the little box. She drew the ring out breathlessly, holding it up to the light to see how it flashed blue fire. It fitted perfectly. Heart hammering, she went to the bathroom to see what it looked like in the mirror. She was still admiring it, sitting at her desk lost in a world of dreams when Arthur arrived. Scarlet with embarrassment she had the sensation that her hand had grown to the size of the room and that the diamonds winked and glittered, shrieking out all about her daydreaming.

“Hello,” Arthur said, noticing her embarrassment and wondering. Then he saw the little velvet-lined case on Juli’s desk and looked at her left hand. “Well … so it’s arrived! Let me see.”

Juli held out her hand. She felt as if some secret world had fallen to pieces. She had meant to put the ring away and wear it only when she was alone in her room, but …

“How lovely it is … so original. Happy?”

Juli nodded but even as she did so her lower lip wobbled and he eyes filled with tears.

“Juli!” Arthur held out his arms and drew her to him. She clung to the lapels of his coat, sobbing, unable to control herself. “Don’t cry, dear.”

“I feel so bad with Dino there with his foot blown off and all those boys fighting How can I be happy? But I am.”

“Come now. You’re all wrought up. This business of Dino and the war and your inevitable conflict being English, it’s enough to upset anybody.”

“I don’t want to wear it.”

“But why not?”

“I feel I don’t have the right.”

“Nonsense dear. Gavin didn’t send it for you to put in a safe. He wants you to wear it, to share your happiness. Here, take my handkerchief and mop yourself up. How about a cup of coffee, eh?”

As Juli accepted his large clean handkerchief, her eye caught sight of the office clock. It was three minutes to three and, appalled, she remembered that a client was coming at three. Scrubbing her tear-wet face she rushed to the bathroom, dabbing powder on her shining nose and combing her hair at the same time. She was busy at the typewriter, coffee prepared, apparently quite her usual self once more when the client arrived fifteen minutes late. During those fifteen minutes Arthur had been pretending to read reports, while his mind had wandered back to the days when he had been courting Marion, and he tried to forget what it had felt like to have Juli in his arms.

That evening it was clear that Marion was in a towering rage.

“Peter has told her about the weekend,” Juli thought.

“What’s all this about Peter going out to the camp with you this weekend?” Marion demanded as soon as she saw her.

“He asked me if I thought Isobel would like more help.”

“And you said yes I suppose.”

“I asked him what you thought of the idea.”

“It’s harebrained.”

“He wants to work.”

“He’s not capable of working yet.”

“What does his psychologist say?”

“Apparently she’s agreeable. I’m going to ring her up, such nonsense. I’m simply furious,” Marion snapped, as Juli stood looking at her helplessly. “Has anyone spoken to Mrs. Roget?

“Yes, I did. She said she’d be delighted to have him, and she knows he has amnesia.”

“You ‘phoned her?”

“Yes. Peter wanted to know if she could use him before speaking to the psychologist.”

“Really Juli, this upsets me tremendously. I thought you … Arthur simply doesn’t see my point of view at all. And now you … Well, I refuse to let Peter go and that’s that, whatever that stupid woman says.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should have made him see at once that he is just not up to working on a farm. Alone too. Miles away from even a telephone I expect.”

Peter walked into the room as Arthur and Tony arrived together. “Please understand me Mother,” Peter said, his expression strained and anxious.

“I understand you very well. I’m not against you working. But miles away in the camp is another thing.”

“What’s up?” Tony asked.

Marion acrimoniously explained the reason for her wrath.

“For goodness sake Mum, Peter’s not ill.”

“I think …” Arthur began. Marion rounded on him.

“I suppose you’re going to say it’s quite all right! You never back me up these days where Peter is concerned, do you? You’re always against everything I say or think. It’s always the same. As far as you are concerned whatever Peter decides to do is all right with you!”

“If Peter feels well enough to stay on on Sunday, then he may. If not, he will come home. At least that is the arrangement he’s made with the psychologist I understand.”

“So! You ‘phoned your father before speaking to me!” Marion’s eyes blazed. Peter nodded mutely. “Just because you think you’ll get your way like that. That proves that you know that it’s unwise and that I would be against the idea. You just want to go ahead and throw away all the good we’ve gained …”

“But my psychologist …”

“I’m going to ‘phone that woman. She is quite mad. And who is going to cook for you may I ask? And clean, and wash your clothes? It’s June, does the house have central heating or even a telephone? No! If you feel faint or ill, who is going to attend to you? And what do you know about working in the camp anyway?”

“He’s been playing golf for the last ten days, and looking all the better for it, why should he feel ill suddenly in the camp?” Tony asked.

“You keep out of this Tony. Just shut up and go upstairs. I know very well what I am saying, and that is that. You may not go Peter. Not even for the weekend. Is that clear? I shall ring up Mrs. Roget myself.”

Peter seemed to shrivel before their eyes, to shrink and dry up like a dying leaf.

“Marion,” Arthur snapped. “I find this whole conversation and your attitude quite unacceptable. Please come upstairs and we’ll talk it over privately. I refuse to argue with you in front of the children.” He turned towards the stairs in the hall.

“No!” Marion retorted. “I have made up my mind and there is nothing to discuss.”

Arthur turned slowly and looked down at his wife with an expression which made even Juli quail.

“Go upstairs, please,” he said curtly to the three young people and they obeyed him silently, foregathering in Tony’s room.

“Stand up to her. Just go. Why do you give in?” he said hotly as Peter sank down on the bed and propped his head in his hands.

“I can’t.”

“You always used to.”

“She … I can’t Tony, I can’t. Oh, hell. Leave it for God’s sake. I won’t go and that’s it. I’ll go and tell Dad.”

“Peter, don’t be a wet rag,” Tony exploded. “Stand up for yourself. She’ll kill you off like this, spiritually anyway.”

In the silence which followed Tony’s urging, Juli said, “Peter feels your mother wants him to die.”

“But Peter … fight her!”

“What for? I’m only half a person, I don’t remember anything. What use am I? It would be easier to die and have done with it. I was probably meant to die and the branch didn’t hit me hard enough.”

“Don’t talk balls! My God, you’re perfectly healthy. Why don’t you leave now? Just go.”

“Where? I don’t even have any money.”

“I’ll take you to Quique’s house, or Ana’s. I can lend you money.”

“And bust up the family?” Peter raised a haggard face. “Leave me alone, Tony, please. “Maybe when I get my memory back but not now, please.”

Tony jammed his fists into his pockets. Juli said, “Lie down Peter, I’ll get you a tranquilizer.”

“Tranquilizers, tranquilizers, that’s all they give him. No wonder he can’t fight!” Tony shouted.

“I’ll get one for you too,” Juli retorted curtly, and left the room. No one had noticed her ring and she felt strangely let down.

Peter took his tranquilizer with docile obedience. Tony, his whole body trembling, finally agreed and swallowed it with a furious gulp. Juli went to her room and stared into her mirror with sorrowful eyes. Rows at home. Rows between Dereck and Lena. Rows here. Would she and Gavin be one day yelling at each other or at their children in just such a manner? Was there no way to live in peace and brotherly love?

María was sent up to call them all to dinner. Marion was sullen and silent. Arthur was calm but very stern. He said quietly, “Juli, please ‘phone Mrs. Roget and ask her if her kind invitation for an asado could take place this coming Saturday. Now.”

As usual Isobel was perfectly amenable. “But I’m leaving very early on Saturday, Juli. Will you be coming with me or with the Carlies?”

“No, with you Isobel.”

“I’ll pick you up at seven thirty then. Will that be all right?

“Yes, fine. Thank you.”

Dinner was a very quiet meal. No one spoke and even the sound of swallowing seemed noisy. After a while Arthur said, “Have you seen Juli’s engagement ring, Marion? I think it’s rather lovely.”

There was a sudden flutter round the table. Everyone looked at Juli. She blushed and held out her left hand. The little diversion eased the tension. Juli took off her ring and it passed from hand to hand for closer inspection.

“Beautiful,” Marion agreed. “What good taste, and it looks so nice on your hand too.”

She had put on her ‘party manners’, but even so it was better than the strained silence which had prevailed until that moment.
………………………………………….

3 thoughts on “Under Another Sky 26

    • I am about to upload chapter 27 in a little while, have been without phone or internet for 5 days. Am thrilled to connect with someone new who is enjoying my novel. I want to have it published book form, so hopefully positive feedback will impress publishers!! Thank you, Shirley

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