I sat down on one of the mail sacks again, mainly because my legs suddenly felt very weak and lit another Sobranie. I could hear him ploughing towards me through the long grass, and once he called my name. God knows why I didn’t answer. Some kind of shock. I suppose. I simply sat there, the cigarette slack between my lips and stared beyond the wreck of the Vega to the river, taking in every sight and sound in minute detail as if to prove I was alive.
“By God, you can fly, boy. I’ll say that for you.”
He emerged from the grass and stood looking at me, hands on hips in what I was to learn was an inimitable gesture. He was physically very big indeed and wore a leather top-coat, breeches, knee-length boots, a leather helmet, goggles pushed up high on the forehead and there was a.45 Colt automatic in a holster on his right thigh.
I put out my hand and when I spoke, the voice seemed to belong to someone else. “Mallary – Neil Mallory.”
“You already told me that – remember?” He grinned. “My name’s Hannah – Sam Hannah. Anything worth salvaging in there besides the mail?”
As I discovered later, he was forty-five years of age at that time, but he could have been older or younger if judged on appearance alone for he had one of those curiously ageless faces, tanned to almost the same colour as hisleather coat
He had the rather hard, self-possessed, competent look of a man who had been places and done things, survived against odds on occasions and yet, even from the first, there seemed a flaw in him. He made too perfect a picture standing there in his flying kit, gun on hip, like some R.F.C. pilot waiting to take off on a dawn patrol across the trenches, yet more like a man playing the part than the actuality. And the eyes were wrong – a sort of pale, washed blue that never gave anything away.
I told him about the mining machinery and he climbed in-side the Vega to look for himself. He reappeared after a while holding a canvas grip.
“This yours?” I nodded and he threw it down. “Those crates are out of the question. Too heavy for the Hayley anyway. Any-thing else you want?”
I shook my head and then remembered. “Oh yes, there’s a revolver in the map compartment”
He found it with no difficulty and pushed it across, together with a box of cartridges, a Webley.38 which I shoved away in one of the pockets of my flying jacket.
“Then if you’re ready, we’ll get out of here.” He picked up the three mail sacks with no visible effort. “The Indians in these parts are Jicaros. There were around five thousand of them till last year when some doctor acting for one of the land companies infected them with small pox instead of vaccinating them against it. The survivors have developed the unfortunate habit of skinning alive any white man they can lay hands on.”
But such tales had long lost the power to move me for they were commonplace along the Amazon at a time when most settlers or prospectors regarded the Indians as something other than human. Vermin to be ruthlessly stamped out and any means were looked upon as fair.
I stumbled along behind Hannah who kept up a running conversation, cursing freely as great clouds of grasshoppers and insects of various kinds rose in clouds as we disturbed them.
“What a bloody country. The last place God made. As far as I’m concerned, the Jicaros can have it and welcome.”
“Then why stay?” I asked him.
We had reached the Haley by then and he heaved the mail bags inside and turned, a curious glitter in his eyes. ‘”Not from choice, boy, I can tell you that”
He gave me a push up into the cabin. It wasn’t as large as the Vega. Seats for four passengers and a freight compartment behind, but everything was in apple-pie order and not just be-cause she wasn’t all that old. Ibis was a plane that enjoyed regular, loving care. Something I found faintly surprising because it didn’t seem to fit with Hannah.