“When we landed, you said we’d be safe on that side of the river,” I reminded him. “That they never crossed over.”
He nodded, his face dark and serious. “A cause for concern, I assure you, if it means they are moving out of their usual ter-ritory.” The engine of the launch broke into life and he smiled briskly. “I must be on the move. Senhor Hannah stayed at the hotel, by the way. I’m afraid he has taken all this very hard.”
He stepped over the rail, one of the soldiers cast off and the launch moved into midstream. We stood watching it go. Alberto waved, then went into the cabin.
I said, “What about Hannah? Do you think there’s any point in going for him? If he runs into Avila in the mood he’s in…”
“Avila and his bunch moved out just before noon.” Mannie shook his head. ‘Best leave him for now. We can put him to bed later.’
He turned and walked away. A solitary ibis hovered above the trees on the other side of the river before descending like a splash of blood against the grey sky. An omen, perhaps of worse things to come?
I shivered involuntarily and went after Maiffiie.
The Scarlet Flower
In the days which followed the news from up-river wasn’t good. Several rubber tappers were killed and a party of diamond prospectors, five in all, died to the last man in an ambush not ten miles above the mission.
Alberto and his men, operating out of Santa Helena, didn’t seem to be accomplishing much, which wasn’t really surprising. If they kept to the tracks the Huna ambushed them and if they tried to hack a way through the jungle, their progress was about one mile a day to nowhere.
In a week, he’d lost seven men. Two dead, three wounded and two injured, one by what was supposed to be an accidental cut on the leg with amachete which sounded more as if it had been self-inflicted to me. I saw the man involved when Hannah, who was flying him out to Manaus, dropped in at Landro to refuel and I can only say that considering his undoubted pain, he seemed remarkably cheerful.
Hannah was making a daily trip to Santa Helena under the circumstances which left me with the Landro-Manaus mail run in the Bristol. The general attitude in Manaus was interesting. Events up-river might have been taking place on another planet as far as they were concerned, and even in Landro no one seemed particularly excited.
Two things changed that. The first was the arrival of Avila and his bunch – or what was left of them – one evening just be-fore dark. They all seemed to have sustained minor wounds of one sort or another and had lost two men in an ambush on a tributary of the Mortes on the side of the river where the Huna weren’t supposed to be.
Even then, people didn’t get too worked up. After all, Indians had been killing the odd white up-country for years. It was only when the boat drifted in with the two dead on board that the harsh reality was really brought home.
It was a nasty business. Mannie found them early on Sunday morning when he was taking a walk before breakfast and sent one of the labourers for me. By the time I got there people were already hurrying along to the jetty in twos and threes.
The canoe had grounded on the sandbank above the jetty, pushed by the current. The occupants, as was discovered later from their papers, were rubber tappers and were feathered with more arrows than I would have believed possible.
They had been dead for at least three days and were in the condition you would have expected considering the climate, flies buzzing around in clouds and the usual smell. There was one rather nasty extra. The man in the stern had fallen back-wards, one arm trailing in the water and thepiranha had taken the flesh from his bones up to the elbow.
No one was particularly cheerful after that and they clus-tered in small groups, talking in low voices until Figueiredo arrived and took charge of things. He stood there leaning on his stick, face sombre, the sweat soaking through shirt and linen jacket and watched as half a dozen labourers with handkerchiefs around their faces got the bodies out