The High Valley
Anne Mather

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CHAPTER II (#ulink_781c696e-c63c-5256-a18f-bdf3e6a9f7ca)

THE airport at Galeao was cool and air-conditioned after the heat outside the building, and Morgana sat with Ruth in the airport bar, sipping iced lager and waiting for her flight to be called, with pleasurable regret that her holiday was over. These two weeks in Rio had been quite delightful, and she was sorry she had to leave. Yet for all that, in some ways she would be glad to get away. Rio, Brazil, South America; these things were synonymous in her mind with other, more disturbing memories, and she longed to get back among familiar things and familiar people. Of course, she was flying to Los Angeles first, to join her father, but soon afterwards they would be en route for London and home.

Her faint dissatisfaction with her holiday and with herself had stemmed from that eventful night at the Monteraverdian Embassy, and she had found it difficult preventing her thoughts from turning continually to the Salvador brothers. It was ridiculous, of course, and yet she had wondered whether Ricardo might try to get in touch with her. He knew she was staying with the Dennisons, and there were such things as telephones, but no one had called, and she had been unable to dispel the disappointment this had aroused in her. Not, she told herself firmly, that she would have accepted any invitation which might have been offered, but just to satisfy herself that Ricardo had not been using her as Luis had said he was.

Now, Ruth regarded her regretfully, and said: “I shall miss you, Morgana. These two weeks have been marvellous for me. Having someone to go about with, someone to share things with.”

Morgana smiled. “They've been wonderful for me, too, Ruth,” she replied, warmly. “You must persuade your parents to allow you to come to England and stay with us. Not that I can promise you a very exciting life at Friars Warren, but at least we could go to concerts and the theatre, and there are several young men, suitably unattached, I could introduce you to.”

Ruth chuckled. “Now when would a young man notice me with you around?” she enquired, with resigned amusement.

Morgana frowned. “Don't be silly, Ruth, I'm serious. I should hazard a guess that you'd be quite a sensation in our small town with all that russet-coloured hair, and that marvellous tan!”

Ruth sighed. “We'll see.” She traced the pattern in the wood of the bar counter. “I would like to take you up on that some time, though. I'd like to see your father again.”

Morgana raised her eyebrows. “Indeed? I shall begin to think it's my father you're most interested in shortly!” she laughed.

Ruth shrugged. “Well, he is unattached, isn't he”

Morgana stared at her incredulously. “Are you serious?”

“Of course.” Ruth smiled. “No, don't worry, Morgana, I'm sure your father isn't interested in me.”

Morgana shook her head. “I never suspected,” she exclaimed.

“What? What was there to suspect? I guess it was just that he was there, and I was young enough to become enamoured of him. Don't alarm yourself. He did not give me any encouragement. He just regarded me, as he regarded you, I suppose.”

Morgana cupped her chin in her hand. “Thank you for confiding in me. Don't you think though it was just a schoolgirl crush? After all, we're twenty-two now, and you haven't seen him for three years.”

“I know.” Ruth bent her head. “Maybe you're right. In retrospect, though, those times I spent at Friars Warren seem the most happy times of my childhood.”

Morgana frowned. “I don't believe it. Why, your parents used to take you everywhere in the long summer vac. I remember you going to Switzerland and Italy, even to the States.”

“Yes, but that's not the same, is it? I mean, they didn't talk to me, not like your father talked to you. Somehow Mummy and Daddy have always seemed remote from childish contact. We went everywhere, as you say, but just as in Rio they attend these continual social functions when we were abroad they attended others. You see – wherever they go, they have friends, and they give parties …” She sighed. “I suppose now I'm supposed to appreciate it, too, and to a certain extent I do, but just now and then I wish we had an ordinary life, like you and your father.”

Morgana regarded her sympathetically. “Well, as soon as I get home we'll get something arranged,” she promised, gently. “I can't promise you my father's company though. Since he joined the university he's been kept pretty busy.”

“He must be clever,” said Ruth, with interest. “I mean – Daddy's work is so – so boring.”

Morgana smiled. “Economics are not exactly exciting,” she commented dryly.

Ruth squeezed her arm. “Oh, any minute now they're going to call your flight. Couldn't you ring your father and tell him you've been delayed, or something, and stay another couple of days?”

Morgana shook her head regretfully. “No, I've got to go. But I'll write, just as soon as I get home.”

Ruth nodded. “See you do.” She looked round the bar speculatively. “I wonder if all these people are waiting for your flight?”

Morgana looked about her. “Maybe,” she was saying casually, when her palms suddenly moistened, and the colour drained from her cheeks. A man was standing across from them with his back to them. His height and the set of his shoulders were remarkably like those of the Salvador brothers, but then he turned and Morgana saw that he was a stranger.

Ruth had noticed Morgana's sudden tension, and glanced round quickly. “Who is it? What's wrong, Morgana?” she exclaimed.

Morgana let out a deep breath, unaware until that moment that she had been holding it. “Why – nothing,” she denied, awkwardly.

Ruth frowned and looked round again. “It was that man, wasn't it? That dark man. You thought it was Ricardo Salvador.”

Morgana lifted her shoulders indifferently, the colour returning to her cheeks. Sipping her lager, she said: “So what if I did?”

“Well, he had some effect on you, didn't he? What did he say to you that should cause you such a degree of tension? You never did say much about that affair.”

“There was nothing to say,” replied Morgana, wishing she had not caused this topic to be raised.

“No?” Ruth looked sceptical. “And you turn pale at the suggestion of sight of him? Honestly, Morgana, what do you take me for?”

Morgana bent her head. Ruth had been honest with her about Morgana's father. She deserved honesty in return. “It – it wasn't Ricardo Salvador I was concerned about,” she said, slowly. “It was Luis.”

“Luis!” Ruth stared at her in astonishment. “But you don't know Luis, do you?”

Morgana sighed. “Only slightly. I danced with him, too.”

“I see. So that's why you were so long.” Ruth nodded. “And – and was he – well – fresh with you?”

Morgana could have laughed, but there was no mirth in this situation. “Oh, no,” she said. “No, not at all.”

Ruth was intrigued. “Then I simply don't understand,” she said, frowning.

Morgana looked at her through her long lashes. “Well, nor do I, actually,” she confessed wryly.

As Ruth would have said more, the tannoy system came into operation and Morgana's flight was called. Morgana finished her drink and slid off her stool. But when Ruth would have accompanied her, she shook her head. “No, please,” she said. “Don't come with me. I hate goodbyes. Let's just say cheerio here, and I'll see you in London – soon.”

Ruth compressed her lips. “If that's what you want, Morgana,” she agreed. “Until – until London then!”

“That's right. Goodbye, Ruth.” Morgana squeezed her hand gently, and then turned and walked blindly through the tables to the exit.

The aircraft was barely half full when it took off from Galeao. It was a smaller plane than the one which had brought Morgana from New York after she had left her father to fly on to California and she was lucky enough to have a window seat. Looking down on the sweep of shore line that bordered the thickly populated environs of Rio de Janeiro, she felt a pang of regret at leaving so much beauty behind. There was poverty, too, of course, but the rugged coves that could be found only a few miles’ drive out from the city centre with their white beaches and foaming surf more than compensated for the ugliness of the favellas. And yet the remarkable thing was that despite deplorable housing conditions and lack of amenities the people maintained a wholly vital spirit that no amount of misery could destroy. The massive statue of Christ passed away below them and the plane turned inland to cross the jagged peaks of the sierras. Faint patches of cloud dispersed slowly below them as the shadows lengthened and Morgana could distinguish the arid slopes,’ sun-burned above the lush foliage below. It was a panorama of grey and brown and blue, the valleys shadowed by the high slopes of the ranges that towered one above the other. It seemed impossible that the sun should ever penetrate those tropical forests that bordered swiftly running rivers and she felt a quiver of excitement pass through her.

The sun went down in a blaze of glory, and darkness hid the majesty of the primitive land below their fragile craft. Morgana gave her attention to the magazines she had bought at the airport, and tried to relax. Across the aisle she saw the man from the airport bar, the dark-skinned man who had reminded her so vividly of the Salvadors. He looked her way and she encountered his gaze and looked swiftly away again, not wanting to appear inquisitive, and thereafter she concentrated on her books.

Dinner was served soon after, and she ate sparingly, enjoying the coffee that followed the meal. She was in the process of closing her eyes to try and sleep for a while when several things happened all at once which afterwards became inextricably tangled in her confused mind.

She remembered there was a cry from the rear of the plane. Some old man had had a heart seizure, or at least that was what everybody thought. The two stewardesses hastened back to attend to him and while Morgana, like everyone else, was curiously looking back in an attempt to see what was going on the dark-skinned man from across the aisle got to his feet and his companion went forward and entered the pilot's compartment. Morgana knew at once that something was wrong. For one thing, passengers simply did not enter the pilot's sanctum during the night, and she looked up to find the man beside her was holding a small, but very lethal-looking, revolver. She stifled the cry that rose in her throat as the man began to speak, first in Portuguese, and then in English. As the passengers turned to listen, and saw the weapon in his hands there were horrified gasps and one of the women screamed.

The man waited until there was a constrained silence and then went on: “Please do not panic! There is no need for anyone to get hurt.”

Morgana quelled her own fear and looking up at him said: “What do you intend to do? Have you taken over the plane?”

The man gave her a brief stare. “Indeed, senhorita, my comrade is now in command. I am assured the pilot will do as he is told or my companion will fire his gun, puncturing the body of the plane and possibly sending us all plunging down in a death spiral to the jagged slopes below!”

There were murmurs of protest from the passengers and Morgana thought with dismay how easy it was for a man with a gun to commandeer an aircraft. It was such a vulnerable means of transport relying so much on the infallibility of its pilot and the instruments he controlled.
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