Sitting at Rita’s kitchen table the following afternoon, sipping piping hot coffee-and-milk from a large brown mug, Juli felt the tensions within her begin to relax a little. Rita had gone to attend to a neighbour and Juli took advantage of the pause to gather herself together for she had no wish for Rita to guess her feelings for Dereck. It would be better in fact if she thought that Juli had fallen for Peter, for that would satisfy her intuitive anxiety which Juli had seen flash up in Rita’s eyes when she had arrived half an hour earlier.
“Does it show already,” she thought wearily, reflecting on the sleepless night she had spent tossing in her bed wrestling with her tangled emotions and desires. She had fallen into a fitful sleep at about five in the morning and woken at a quarter to seven, shocked into disorientated consciousness by the sharp ringing of her alarm clock. She had decided to have breakfast with Pamela so that the child, at least while she, Juli, was staying at the Carlies, would have some sort of human comfort and support, other than María, until her own natural self-reliance asserted itself once more. Arthur was completely absorbed by his concern for Marion and Peter. Tony and Dino were too young and María was almost overwhelmed by the task of running a household in which, normally, she had merely been a cog, taking orders and doing her work conscientiously but with few responsibilities
At breakfast Juli had tried to be firmly awake and alert, checking that Pamela had all her things – she had forgotten her gym shoes – and that she ate a proper breakfast and was ready when the school bus arrived. Dino had appeared abruptly, eaten his breakfast standing, studying for a test as he did so, and had rushed off with a vague wave of his hand. In the quietness following their departure Juli had gone to her room and sat on her bed gazing out of the window at the sky, watching it grow gradually lighter.
By eight fifteen she had to be ready to accompany Dereck and in the intervening forty five minutes she had to find a way to order her thoughts and steady her pounding heart. She had found it almost impossible to think coherently. It was as if two selves were battling within her. One guided by her emotions and desires, the other for the moment almost completely routed, trying, through her mind, to establish a tiny bridgehead in the name of ethics. But her thoughts were scattered, incoherent and weak. They could follow no logical sequence for more than a few moments, before the wild power of her emotions disrupted them and all attempts at cool logic fell in ruins. The whole business had left her almost paralyzed and she proceeded more by inertia than by her own will.
She did however, manage to do all the transactions necessary to become a member of the British Hospital health scheme, to buy one or two of the things on her list and to get herself back to the Carlies without getting lost. It had been torture to sit beside Dereck in the car and try to take in all his instructions about how to get from the Hospital back to Martinez. But she had wisely written everything down in her note book, and that had turned out to be just as well, for no sooner had Dereck driven off than she found that she had forgotten every single word and only the warm vibrant tone of his voice rang in her ears and in her heart.
Rita bounced back into the kitchen, her black curls glistening, her brilliant dark eyes shining with delight at having Juli with her and at having such an interesting subject for conversation.
“Sorry about that, the neighbour was complaining that napoleon always pees on his stupid old Crabapple tree every time we take him for a walk. What does he expect? It’s the first tree in sight, and he’s so strong I’m like a kite behind him. Anyway … we were talking about Peter, and you say the police don’t have him and they think he may be with some man who may be a supplier. It’s all very vague isn’t it? Quique is really worried. The police came here and we had to go to the police station but we couldn’t tell them anything new.”
“There’s nothing else really to say,” Juli said, her thoughts on Dereck and wondering where he was.
“But how are the family taking it?”
“Oh … the family … Arthur’s O.K., upset of course but calm and objective, but Marion has gone completely to pieces. It’s incredible. The result is that María is more or less running the household as best she can; Pamela is like a lost soul wandering around and wondering what’s happened; Tony couldn’t care less apparently and Dino … well … Dino is kind of special. He’s objective but he’s not indifferent.”
“He rang us up on Sunday.”
“That’s what I mean. I think he rang up all Peter’s friends and I know he tidied up Peter’s room and put everything back in its place after the police left. He’s very quiet but he’s sensitive and very loyal.”
“And you Juli? How are you? How different you look now to when you arrived from Europe. Suntanned, much stronger somehow, you seemed sort of fragile when I first met you.”
“Really? Yep, I’m fine. I love the Pampa and Marina and Tishy …”
“Tell me, why do you mention Tishy so seldom in your letters? What’s wrong with her?”
Juli startled, stared into Rita’s discerning dark eyes and decided suddenly to tell her about Tishy. It would be a relief to share the burden of the little girl’s problems with someone like Rita who could, if necessary, consult her headmistress on how to help the child.
“She’s frightfully backward, Rita, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an emotional problem and not some undetected neurological one. She doesn’t talk at all, walks badly and hardly reacts to anything much, eats with her fingers and always goes about with her head hanging and sucking her thumb.”
Rita drew in her breath in a stifled gasp. “And they never told you anything?” she exclaimed.
“No they thought I wouldn’t accept the job if I knew, and they were right there. Anyway, it’s a huge secret. If people come Tishy is kept out of sight and is never taken anywhere public … because she’s so sensitive according to Lena. The thing is, as an outsider, I see that Lena rejects Tishy absolutely. She wanted a boy and from the word go, Tishy was totally and utterly unwanted and unloved by her mother. She is a very sensitive little thing so you can imagine the result. I don’t know what Lena will do if the new baby is also a girl, she’s absolutely set on having a son.”
“Poor little Tishy,” Rita said compassionately. “How awful for her.”
“I know,” Juli agreed. “Apparently they have taken her to heaps of doctors and specialists, who all say she’s quite normal physically, just a slow starter but I’m pretty sure they haven’t taken her to a child psychologist, she would be able to tell them good and quickly why Tishy is as she is, poor mite. But Lena doesn’t care …”
“And the father’”
“Well, he’s a man,” Juli rushed to Dereck’s defence. “Lena said she had taken Tishy to all the specialists in Neuquén and Dereck believes her and tries to treat Tishy as normal. He’s very sweet with her. I can tell you he’s delighted with the difference in her since I arrived, although I must say I don’t see much myself, except that she walks better and lets me take her riding on horseback in front of me.”
Talking about Dereck made Juli feel a little breathless, for her heart began to hammer, so, fearing that Rita might notice she said rapidly, “He brought me to B.A. as a sort of little present and here we arrived in the middle of all this mess with Peter.”
“And how are your Spanish lessons and your guitar lessons going?” Rita went on eagerly. Juli laughed and spent half an hour describing her struggles with the Spanish language, together with learning to play the guitar with someone who could only speak Spanish and the many difficulties and laughs they had.
The afternoon slipped by quietly, carrying within its warmth the presence of Spring and the promise of the future heat of summer. They talked long about Tishy and took Napoleón for a walk, restraining him between them from leaving his visiting card on the neighbour’s Crabapple tree and on their return the lady who lived across the street from Rita’s house came to her front door and waved to them. She held a letter in her hand.
“Isn’t your husband called Enrique Soria?” she asked Rita when they approached. “This letter came this afternoon. It’s to our address but it has your name. Whoever sent it made a mistake with the last number and put a four instead of a five. As it has no sender’s address …”
Rita took the envelope and read the typed script curiously. “Señor Enrique Soria y Señora. Yes, that’s us. Thank you very much.” She gave the lady her usual brilliant smile and turning to Juli said, “We never get letters unless they are bills or from you. I wonder who this is from.”
Back in the kitchen, Juli put the kettle on for tea while Rita tore open the envelope and drew out the letter. She read it in silence and then said,” I can’t make any sense of this letter. I don’t even know who it’s from.”
“What’s it say?” Juli asked.
“Dear Rita and Quique,” Rita read aloud in Spanish, translating it into English as she went along. “How are you both? I don’t know if you remember me, it is quite a long time since we met. I just wanted to tell you that I am very well, that I have decided to give up studying and that I am planning to travel a lot this year. The other day I met a man called Miguel Ordep Licar, who is a friend of Julieta Caminos. We got talking about you and he said that, if I wrote to you, to ask you to tell her that he has learned to fly. I hope you are all well, a hug, María Isabel.”
“It sounds quite clear,” Juli said.
“Yes, but I don’t know anyone called María Isabel, or Julieta Caminos. And I’m sure Quique doesn’t know anyone of that name either.”
“It’s probably some distant relation he’s never bothered to mention,” Juli said comfortingly. “Or perhaps she’s a friend of your sister.”
“Oh, that may be, you’re right, here she says you are all which could mean my family. But all the same … María Isabel, and then this Julieta person …” Rita examined the envelope, “…And no address, nothing. Oh well I’ll ask Susana about it if Quique doesn’t know who it is.”
“What’s the man’s name again?” Juli asked.
“Miguel Ordep Licar, queer name. He must be from the Middle East or some place like that.” Rita stuffed the letter back into the envelope and dropped it on the table.
“Funny sort of letter,” Juli said vaguely, bringing the kettle and two mugs to the table. Her thoughts had returned to Dereck and she suddenly wanted to return to the Carlies as soon as possible. “I’ll go back right after we’ve had tea,” she thought glancing at her watch. “He might be back by now.”
“You must tell me all about your family now,” she said, lifting out her tea-bag and raising the steaming mug to her lips. “I must work this mess out,” she thought. “I can’t just float along being ‘in love’. I can’t pretend I’m not. I wonder what he feels for me? But I shouldn’t even think of asking myself that! What about Lena and the new baby? What about Marina and Tishy? Lena might die having the baby, then … I’m crazy, why should she die? She’s perfectly healthy! Anyway, Dereck probably has a mistress here in Buenos Aires. If Lena has a son she won’t even look at Dereck any more … That’s what you want to happen not what will happen …”
“Are you listening to me?” Rita demanded suddenly.
Juli’s eyes had been looking straight into Rita’s, but she had no idea at all of the content of her words. Blushing she said, “Of course I have, I just wandered off now, thinking of Peter. The thing is I feel I should go back to the Carlies soon. It’s so lovely to be here sitting having tea and chatting, but poor little Pamela needs a bit of human attention and comfort, no one even thinks of her, and she’s back home from school now.”
The door bell rang and Rita jumped up to answer it. From the kitchen Juli heard Dereck’s voice and felt herself become breathless once more. Shaking, she forced herself to her feet and carried the mugs to the sink already piled high with dirty dishes. Rita bounced back into the kitchen and said, “Dereck and Pamela have come to fetch you, Juli. What a shame, can you come again tomorrow?”
“I’d love to. I’ll give you a ring tomorrow at mid-day. O.K?”
“Fine. It’s been wonderful seeing you again.”
With the flurry of goodbye’s and kisses Juli managed to get herself out to the car and into it without giving herself away, but she felt they must have noticed her false gaiety and party smile pasted lopsidedly onto her features. It was once she was in the car that she realized that Pamela’s eyes were blood-shot and swollen from weeping and her face ashen pale.
“Pamela, what’s the matter?” she asked, full of concern.
“Daddy had to take Mummy to the Hospital,” Pamela croaked and burst into tears again.
“You’re joking! What happened?”
“Apparently she had a sort of seizure at about four, so María phoned Arthur and he came and bundled her up and took her off to the British Hospital right away,” Dereck explained, driving quickly.
“Mummy’s going to die and it’s all Peter’s fault,” Pamela wailed.
“Of course she’s not going to die Pamela,” Dereck snapped. “Don’t talk nonsense child. Your father took her to the Hospital where she will receive the proper attention that she needs, that’s all.”
Once back at the house Juli marched Pamela into the kitchen and made her a large hot cocoa and plastered two slabs of bread with butter and dulce de leche. “Now drink and eat,” she said firmly, “If you cry on an empty stomach you’ll make a hole in it.”
Pamela gave her a horrified glance and ate what Juli had prepared for her in silence. María, her features drawn and anxious, said, “Señorita Juli, what shall I make for dinner?”
“What do you have in the frigid-air?” Juli asked hastily, thinking, “María will be the next one to collapse if we’re not careful. Maybe if I give her something to do it might help.”
They decided on noodles and white sauce and heaps of grated cheese browned in the oven, chopped boiled carrots mixed with a tin of peas and stewed fruit. Then she said, “Why don’t you take advantage and clean the Señora’s room and change her sheets and all that, María? The Señor may bring her back with him tonight after treatment and it would be nice for her, don’t you think?”
María’s face lighted up with pleasure at the thought of doing some quick thorough cleaning and she hastened off. Relieved, Juli said, “Come on Pam, homework”
“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow, I want to go and see Mummy.”
“You’ll be able to do that too. I’ll take you to see Mummy if she has to stay in the Hospital. I went there this morning so I know how to get there.” “This morning or ten years ago?” she thought.
“Do you think that Mummy will really get alright?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Juli, are you going to stay here with us, until Mummy gets better?”
“I can’t abandon Marina and Tishy, Pam.”
Dereck, who had been on the ‘phone since they had arrived back poked his head into the kitchen and said, “Juli, can you come a moment?”
Juli, controlling a rush of excitement suffusing her heart, joined him quickly in the sitting room. “What is it?” she asked.
Nothing about Peter unfortunately,” Dereck replied. “But I wanted to tell you that I shan’t be able to return on Saturday as planned, I’ve been so busy helping Arthur with all this business of Peter that I have only got one of my own things done, and now with Marion … I think if I get away by Tuesday I’ll be lucky. Actually what I wanted to say was, this morning I met Terencio Solá and he’s flying to the Pampa tomorrow afternoon with a friend. He has a Piper Aztec, marvellous little ‘plane, and he said he would be happy to take you. Door to door more or less. I’ll drive you to the airport in Don Torcuato.”
“But where will he land?” Juli asked.
“In the big paddock near the workers’ quarters.”
“But that field is full of cows.”
“No problem, he’ll buzz the Estancia and Don Elizondo will go out and get the cows off the runway.”
Juli stood still, looking at him speculatively. “What about Pamela?” she asked at last. “If there’s room on the ‘plane perhaps Señor Solá could take her too. We can’t leave her here alone with María.”
“Good heavens,” Dereck exploded. “I can’t possibly ask Solá to take two of you. Anyway the child has to go to school.”
Something in Juli stiffened, “Dereck,” she said firmly. “Pamela is in a terrific state of nerves over Marion having to go to Hospital, look at the way she was crying. What with Peter and Marion she’s in no fit state to learn anything at school even if she does go. After all, there’s heaps of room on the Estancia.”
“That’s all very well … but Lena … I can’t have a twelve year old …”
“I’ll look after her Dereck. Lena won’t have a thing to worry about.”
Derec, struggling between his aversion for letting anyone know of Tishy’s problems and his genuine concern for Pamela, said angrily, “We can’t take decisions like this without consulting Arthur.”
Intuitively, Juli said, “I can always tell Pamela that Tishy doesn’t talk because we’ve just discovered that maybe she can’t see too well, and that when you come back you’re going to take her to an oculist. It will sound quite feasible to a child her age.”
“What’s that got to go with it?” Dereck shouted, his face red with suppressed indignation. Lowering his voice with difficulty he said, “I’m sorry Juli, it’s just not …”
“Dereck,” Juli interrupted him. “If Pamela stays here she may have a nervous breakdown too. What does it cost to ask Sr. Solá if he has room? If he hasn’t then we can go by bus tomorrow or the train to Victorica or whatever.”
“She probably won’t want to go,” Dereck snapped irritably, his generous nature at war with his desire to shield Tishy and Lena from the gossiping tongues of his family and friends in Buenos Aires.
“I’ll ask her,” Juli turned and hurried off to the kitchen before Dereck could say any more. “Pam,” she said. “Would you like to come to the Pampa with me until Mummy gets better? I have to leave tomorrow?
“Oh, Juli, Yes.” Pamela’s tear swollen eyes lit up at Juli’s suggestion, “But what will they say at school?”
“I’ll ask Daddy to fix that with the head mistress tomorrow morning. You can go in the morning anyway so as to miss less. When do you have Spanish?”
“In the afternoon. I have a geography test tomorrow, but I haven’t studied anything for it.”
Back in the sitting room Juli walked over to the ‘phone as she announced, “Pamela wants to come so I’ll try and locate Arthur at the hospital to get his permission.”
“Juli Lane,” Dereck roared. “I do not want to….”
Juli turned and looked at him unflinchingly. He was not her employer any more, her feelings for him had in some obscure way changed her into his woman. She spoke to him as an equal and without any qualms, quite undismayed by his temper.
“It’s the right thing to do, Dereck,” she said quietly, and her words sank into her heart and settled there.
“To hell with that, I …”
Juli, who had been dialing the Hospital number, miraculously obtained the connection and asked to speak to Mr. Carlie who had just interned his wife Marion. Dereck, furious with Juli’s quiet determination yet secretly admiring her for it, marched about the sitting room with long angry strides. In no time Juli heard Arthur’s voice and said quickly. “Arthur, this is Juli, how’s Marion?”
“Ah, Juli dear, she’s asleep now, they have given her a very strong sedative and we have decided she’s to stay here for a few days. I shall remain here for a little while and then I’ll go home. How is Pamela?”
“That’s actually what I’m phoning you about. I am going back to the Pampa alone tomorrow and I would like to take Pamela back with me. She was very upset over Marion having been taken ill so suddenly this afternoon, and what with one thing and another, I feel it would be a weight off your mind at this moment.”
“Yes, perhaps, but what about school?”
“Maybe you could explain things to the headmistress tomorrow morning.”
“Well, we’ll see … we’ll talk about it when I get back.”
“The thing is…. Dereck ….”
“Is Dereck there?”
“Let me speak to him.”
Juli handed Dereck the receiver and stood a little apart, staring at the carpet, her arms crossed tightly over her middle. Dereck, having capitulated, replied vibrantly to Arthur’s hesitant questions.
“…but of course old boy, no trouble at all. Julio’s right, the situation here is pretty difficult. I’m sure it’ll do Pammy a world of good. Right Arthur I’ll phone Solá, and if he can’t we’ll decide how we’ll send the girls when you get back this evening.”
Pamela, her tears forgotten, ran upstairs to start packing and preparing for her unexpected little holiday. Juli sat down wearily on the arm of the sofa and longed to sit on Dereck’s lap and be cuddled. She remembered once, when she was six or seven and had twisted her ankle rather badly, her father had taken her on his lap and held her close. It seemed very unfair that such wonderful moments could only be lived when you were little. Pamela was on the borderline, soon she would feel uneasy being hugged and kissed by Dereck or throwing herself into his arms as she did now, and the great loneliness would begin.
“Does it last always, all one’s life, even if one’s married, this horrible loneliness?” she wondered.
“Drink? You look as if you could do with one,” Dereck laughed, relieved now that the decision had been taken. Juli looked at him appraisingly and then said, “Yes, please. May I have a weak whisky and soda?”
He poured it out and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she murmured and thought, “I’ve known I am in love with him for twenty five hours. Today has been the longest century of my life!”
“Chin chin,” Dereck said holding up his glass. “Here’s to a happy outcome to all this mess. Now I’ll have to let Lena know somehow, I suppose.”
“Is there any news?” Juli asked.
“They’re trying to find out who this fellow whom Peter was with is. They’re still working on it.”
“How? How are they working on it?”
“Investigations. They have their methods I suppose.”
“I don’t know Juli. It’s not my business … I haven’t any idea.”
Juli looked at him, her eyes shadowed and troubled. Drugs, hard drugs were a dreadful scourge, but, did that validate torture? One man, one supplier, could ruin the lives of hundreds of young people before he was caught, but did that make it right to torture a group of addicts, caught in the act, young people who had already suffered the indignity of losing their … well … their will to choose?
“Well, don’t look at me like that, child.” Dereck snapped “It’s none of my business.”
Juli shook herself slightly and managed a faint smile.
“I know,” she said. “I wasn’t accusing you.”
“Or was I?” she thought. “Was I thinking how easy it is to say ‘It’s none of my business,’ and walk on, looking the other way?”
She felt a tiny wave of disloyalty and sipped her drink to make the feeling go away. The whisky filled her mouth with its special flavour and she felt its warmth flood through her as it slipped into her veins and made her nerves tingle.
“A legal drug,” she thought, remembering Dino’s father.
The following morning, after she had seen Pamela off to school and advised the school-bus driver about her planned vacation, Juli went back to the kitchen to work out a menu plan for María. They had just finished when Arthur came down for breakfast, impeccably dressed, and only the slight circles under his eyes giving away the stress through which he was living.
“Juli dear,” he said gently, when he saw her with María. “Come and have breakfast with me, would you?”
He always breakfasted at eight-thirty a.m., immersed in his newspapers. Juli followed him into the dining room and María, who had not had her eyes on the clock, rushed about preparing his boiled egg, toast and tea.
“Sorry about the delay,” Juli apologised. “I was fixing up menus with María so she can carry on, on her own. I noticed she was getting a bit flustered last night.”
“You really are an extraordinary young person Juli,” Arthur said smiling, his intelligent eyes appraising her with new respect. “You have been such an enormous help in the little time that you have been here, with all this shemozzle. I can’t thank you enough.”
Juli flushed and fiddled with the hem of the breakfast cloth. “One has to help where one can,” she said with a little grin.
“What do you think would be best for Pamela? To stay on at Dereck’s with you all and forget about school, or come back after a week as we arranged last night? I can’t make up my mind.” Arthur asked her.
“What does not going back entail?”
“Mmm, having to repeat this year’s studies again next year, I suppose, for the Spanish anyway. That would mean she would be with a group of kids younger than herself.”
“Dino mentioned something about doing exams ‘libre’ … free.”
“Yes, that’s true I believe. I’m not at all up in these things, it has always been Marion’s department. Poor little Marion … well, what do you think?”
“Maybe in a week’s time things will be different. Marion will probably be back home again and often when one gets away from the middle of a problem one gets to see it more objectively and can handle it better. Perhaps it might be best to stick to the plans we made last night, after all Pamela can always go and stay with one of her school friends for a couple of nights now and again when she comes back. I’m sure her best friend would be delighted to have her to stay.”
Arthur sat still and looked out of the window at his greening garden. He thought of Peter with pain, admitting his neglect, his own responsibility for Peter’s actions, facing the fact that his easygoing attitude, which he had rather prided himself on, had in reality been simply due to an inner laziness, a total rejection to make an effort, to become involved. He had been perfectly aware that Marion’s endless goading was not right, but he had let it run, had said nothing to her for the sake of peace, had made no clear stand so that Peter could have felt that at least his father understood and was on his side. Arthur had understood but he had been too lazy, too lazy to be of use to his eldest son. And now he was toying with the temptation of handing over his daughter with all her problems for others to cope with.
He turned back and looked at Juli, noting her serious anxious expression, her untidy fair hair, her paleness under her suntan and the shadows under her eyes, and thought,
“She’s only a child herself, the same age as Peter and yet in two days she has sorted out most of my household problems for me. She has let herself become involved, cost what it may, and she has lifted a burden off my shoulders. I must learn from her. I can’t just push off the problem of Pamela into the easiest solution for me, I must accept and confront all my problems, which of course include the children’s … and Dino’s. Oh, my God, my God.”
Aloud he said briskly and decisively, “I think you’re absolutely right, Juli. Pamela must finish her school year normally and if she gets lonely here she can go and stay with her little friends on invite them here or something. Good, that’s settled then.”
As he opened his table napkin with a tremendous show of firmness and tackled his boiled egg with apparent gusto, he thought “And if Marion objects I shall just have to be firm with her, cost what it may.”
Watching him Juli thought, “Poor Arthur, how difficult for him to have to take over Marion’s role and start to really see and know his children.”
“You’ll have to phone the headmistress and explain,” she said.
“I’m planning to do that right after breakfast.”
“I told the school bus driver not to come until you let him know, his ‘phone number is in the address book, under Bus, I checked already.”
“Juli, whenever, whenever you get tired of looking after little children and riding horseback and playing the guitar and you want to be a secretary again, please let me know without fail!” Arthur’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he regarded her with ever mounting fondness. “What else on the agenda, Miss?”
Juli blushed scarlet, but went on bravely. “I think you’ll have to order more fuel for the central heating, and work out a way of giving María more shopping money or take out credits at the local grocers and green grocers, or something because she’s not at all used to handling money of ordering food or planning or anything. Marion used to do all that. Oh, and Dino said something this morning about having to pay the conservatory, but not wanting to worry you …”
“Fuel … shopping money … school fees … Headmistress … anything else?” Arthur had taken out a note book and a gold capped pen.
“Well, the gardener is coming on Monday María told me …”
“The gardener? God yes. He comes every two weeks I believe…”
“And the woman who does the heavy cleaning comes this afternoon …”
“Clorinda … yes of course she does. Gardener, Clorinda, anything else?”
“Er … Just a thought. Tony is twenty one, he could share some of the burden you have to shoulder. Twenty-one-year-olds can be very selfish, but if managed rightly pretty responsible, too.” Juli grinned cheerfully.
Arthur looked across at her and smiled, Juli was struck by the sweetness of his smile and the new humility which seemed to have welled up within him.
“Wish me luck, Juli. How little I’ve realized what a lot Marion coped with so efficiently all these years. I’ll give you some money in case María or Pamela need anything and for Clorinda and so on. Thank you my dear, you have been an absolute rock of Gibraltar. What are your plans for this morning?”
“I’m going up to the main street in Martinez to do some little shopping I still have left to do. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Anything more? No, no dear. I just wanted to be sure that … well, … you know … I expect you’ll be glad to get back to your beloved Mariposa and the wide Pampa skies.”
“Who told you may mare’s name?”
“Pamela, I think, does it matter?”
“No, of course not. I was just surprised. She’s a lovely creature, so gentle and she’s got a wonderfully smooth canter.”
“How nice … well, breakfast being over and the activities of the day becoming ever more pressing, I suppose I had better go and tackle Pam’s headmistress right away. I gather you’re going to fetch Pam in a taxi or with Dereck, is that right?”
“Good, here’s the money I mentioned and some for the taxi and thank you very much for everything my dear. Look after yourself now, won’t you?
As they stood up Juli said, “Love to Marion, Arthur. I’m sure the doctors will set her right in no time.”
“Marion’s image is cracked, Juli. How long does it take to heal an image?”
Juli nodded and looked away, unwilling to let Arthur see the pessimism in her eyes.
“Sad,” Arthur murmured, almost to himself. He touched Juli’s arm lightly and said, “If you do find a spare minute, Juli, I’d like to lean on you for just a little longer and ask you to work out how the home economics should be organized. I know María has been with us for several years and is as trustworthy and loyal as can be, but that doesn’t turn her into a competent housekeeper overnight and I have no idea how to handle the situation. I really, as a person, hardly know her.”
“O.K. What shall I do? Leave my ideas written out on a paper somewhere?”
“Yes. In my room. Paper … er …”
“I’ll find some, don’t worry.”
Arthur took Juli into his arms and kissed her cheek tenderly. “Thank you again Juli,” he said softly. “You’ll get a special crown in heaven for all you’ve done for us.”
Juli laughed. “If you say things like that it’ll be too small for my swollen head,” she said, and thought sadly of Dereck and how she longed to be embraced by him.