I folded the map and shoved it inside my flying jacket. “From the sound of it, I’d say the Hunas have a point.”
He laughed grimly. “You won’t find many to sympathise with that statement around Landro, Mallory. They’re a bunch of Stone Age savages. Vermin. If you’d seen some of the things they’ve done…”
He walked across to the Hayley, opened the cabin door and climbed inside. When he got out again, he was carrying a shot-gun.
“Have you got that revolver of yours handy?” I nodded and he tossed the shotgun to me and a box of cartridges. “Better take this as well, just in case. Best close-quarters weapon I know; 10-gauge,?-shot automatic. The loads are double-0 steel buckshot. I’d use it on myself before I let those bastards get their hands on me.”
I held it in my hands for a moment, then put it into the rear cockpit. “Are you flying with me?”
He shook his head. “I’ve got things to do. I’ll follow in half an hour and still beat you there. I’ll give a shout on the radio when I pass.”
There was a kind of boasting hi what he said without need, for the Bristol couldn’t hope to compete with the Hayley when it came to speed, but I let it pass.
Instead I said, “Just one thing. As I remember, you need a chain of three men pulling the propeller to start the engine.”
“Not with me around.”
It was a simple statement of fact made without pride for his strength as I was soon to see, was remarkable. I stepped up on to the port wing and eased myself into that basket seat with its leather cushions and pushed my feet into the toestraps at either end of the rudder bar.
I made my cockpit checks, gave Hannah a signal and wound the starting magneto while he pulled the propeller over a com-pression stroke. The engine, a Rolls-Royce Falcon, exploded into life instantly.
The din was terrific, a feature of the engine at low speeds. Hannah moved out of the way andI taxied away from the hangars towards the leeward boundary of the field and turned into the wind.
I pulled down my goggles, checked the sky to make sure I wasn’t threatened by anything else coming in to land and opened the throttle. Up came the tail as I pushed the stick forward just a touch, gathering speed. As she yawed to star-board in a slight cross-wind, I applied a little rudder correc-tion. A hundred and fifty yards, a slight backward pressure on the stick and she was airborne.
At two hundred feet, I eased back the throttle to her climb-ing speed which was all of sixty-five miles an hour, banked steeply at five hundred feet and swooped back across the air-field.
I could see Hannah quite plainly, hands shading his eyes from the sun as he gazed up at me. What happened then was entirely spontaneous: produced by the sheer exhilaration of being at the controls of that magnificent plane as much as by any desire to impress him.
The great German ace, Max Immelmann, came up with a brilliant ploy that gave him two shots at an enemy in a dog-fight for the price of one and without losing height. The famous Immelmann Turn, biblical knowledge for any fighter pilot.
I tried it now, diving in on Hannah, pulled up in a half-loop, rolled out on top and came back over his head at fifty feet.
He didn’t move a muscle, simply stood there, shaking a fist at me. I waved back, took the Bristol low over the trees and turned up-river.
You don’t need to keep your hands on a Bristol’s controls at cruising speed. If you want an easy time of it, all you have to do is adjust the tailplane incidence control and sit back, but that wasn’t for me. I was enjoying being in control, being at one with the machine if you like. Someone once said the Bristol was like a thoroughbred hunter with a delicate mouth and a stout heart and that afternoon over the Negro, I knew exactly what he meant.
On either side, the jungle, gigantic walls of bamboo and liana which even the sun couldn’t get through. Below, the river, clouds of scarlet ibis scattering at my approach.