Hannah said, “Now why would they do a thing like that?” ‘They admired his courage. They imagine that by eating his heart, they take some of his bravery into themselves.”
Which just about finished Hannah off and he looked capable of anything as Alberto said, “There are two nuns missing. We know they’re not inside anywhere so we’ll split up again and work our way down through the mission in a rough line. They’re probably face-down in the grass somewhere.”
But they weren’t, or at least we couldn’t find them. When we gathered again at the jetty, Hannah said, “Maybe they went into the water like the first one we found?”
“All the others were either in their middle years or older,” Alberto said. “These two, the two who are missing, are much younger than that. Twenty or twenty-one. No more.”
“You think they’ve been taken alive?” I asked him.
“It could well be. Like many tribes, they like to freshen the blood occasionally. They frequently take in young women, keep them until the baby is born then murder them.”
“For God’s sake, let’s get out of here,” Hannah said. “I’ve had about all I can take.” He turned and hurried to the end of the jetty and boarded the canoe.
There wasn’t much more we could do anyway so we joined him and paddled back downstream. The journey was com-pletely uneventful. When we drifted in to the jetty at the edge of thecampo, Lima was waiting for us looking more nervous than ever.
“Everything all right here?” Alberto demanded.
Lima said anxiously, “I don’t know, Colonel.” He nodded towards the green curtain of jungle. “You know what it’s like. You keep imagining that someone is standing on the other side, watching you.”
Forest foxes started to bark in several different directions at once. Alberto said calmly, “I suggest we walk back to the plane quietly and get inside with the minimum of fuss. I think we’re being watched.”
“The foxes?” I said.
“Aren’t foxes – not at this time in the morning.”
The walk to the plane was an experience in itself and I ex-pected an arrow in the back at any moment. But nothing happened. We all got inside without incident and I took the controls.
I taxied to the end of thecampo. As I turned into the wind, an Indian emerged from the jungle and stood on the edge of the clearing watching us, face painted for war, magnificent in a head-dress of parrot feathers, a spear in one hand, a six-foot bow in the other.
Hannah picked up one of the machine-guns and reached for the window. Alberto caught his arm. “No, leave it Our turn will come.”
As we moved past, another figure emerged from the forest, then another and another. I don’t think I have ever felt hap-pier than when I lifted the Hayley over the trees at the edge of thecampo, stamped on the rudder and swung north.
There was no landing strip at Forte Franco for the simple rea-son that the post had been built on an island strategically situ-ated at the mouth of the Negro about a century before the Wright brothers first left the ground.
We radioed the bad news ahead the moment we were in range, just to get things moving, then put down at Landro. Alberto wasted little time in getting under way. He ordered his men to prepare the launch for a quick departure then went into Landro with Hannah to see Figueiredo. I was waiting at the jetty with Mannie when the colonel returned. Hannah was not with him.
“What happens now?” I asked.
“There should be a reply to my message from Army Head-quarters by the time I reach Forte Franco. I would imagine my instructions will be to proceed up-river at once with my command. All thirty-eight of them. ‘I’ve a dozen men down with fever at the moment.”
“But surely they’ll send you reinforcements?” Mannie said.
“Miracles sometimes happen, but not very often, my friend. Even if they did, it would be several weeks before they could arrive. This kind of thing is an old story as you must know, Senhor Mallory.” He looked out across the river to the forest. “In any case, in that kind of country, a regiment would be too little, an army not enough.”