Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“All right,” I said. “I think you’re a silly, impractical woman who doesn’t know what in the hell she’s getting mixed up in.”

“I’ve spent seven years in South America as a medical mis-sionary, Mr Mallory. Three of them in other parts of Northern Briazil. This kind of country is not entirely unfamiliar to me.”

“Which only makes it worse. Your own experience ought to tell you that by coming here at all, you’ve only made a tricky situation even more difficult for everyone who comes into con-tact with you.”

Well, it’s certainly a point of view,’ she said good-humouredly. “I’ve been told that you have a great deal of experience with Indians. That you worked with Karl Buber on the Xingu.”

“I knew him.”

“A great and good man.”

“Who stopped being a missionary when he discovered you were doing the Indians as much harm as anyone else.”

She sighed. “Yes, I would agree that the record has been far from perfect, even amongst the various religious organisations involved.”

“Far from perfect?” I was well into my stride now, my general anger and frustration at the morning’s events finding a convenient channel. “They don’t need us, Sister, any of us. The best service we could offer them would be to go away and leave them alone and they certainly don’t need your religion. They wear nothing worth speaking about, own nothing, wash themselves twice a day and help each other. Can your Christianity offer them more than that?”

“And kill each other,” she said. “You forgot to mention that.”

“All right, so they look upon all outsiders as natural enemies.God alone knows, they’re usually right.”

“They also kill the old,” she said. “The disfigured, the men-tally deficient. They kill for the sake of killing.”

I shook my head. “No, you don’t understand, do you? That’s the really terrible tiling. Death and life are one, part of exist-ence itself in their terms. Waking, sleeping – ifs all the same. How can it be bad to die, especially for a warrior? War is the purpose for which he lives.”

“I would take them love, Mr Mallory, is that such a bad tiling?”

“What was it one of your greatest Jesuits said? The sword and the iron rod are the best kind of preaching.”

“A long, long time ago. As the times change so men change with them.” She stood up and straightened her belt. “You accuse me of not really understanding and you may well have a point. Perhaps you could help me on the road to rehabilitation by showing me the sights of Landro.”

Defeated for the second time that morning, I resigned my-self to my fate and took her hand to help her over the rail.

As we walked along the jetty, she took my arm and said, “Colonel Alberto seems a very capable officer.”

“Oh, he’s that, all right.”

“What is your opinion of this meeting he has arranged to-morrow with one of the Huna chieftains? Is it likely to accom-plish much?”

“It all depends what they want to see him for,” I said. “Indians are like small children – completely irrational. They can smile with you one minute and mean it – dash out your brains the next on the merest whim.”

“So this meeting could prove to be a dangerous under-taking?”

“You could say that. He’s asked me to go with him.”

“Do you intend to?”

“I can’t think of the slightest reason why I should at the moment, can you?”

She didn’t get a chance to reply for at that moment her name was called and we looked up and found Joanna Martin approaching. She was dressed in the white chiffon dress again, wore the same straw hat and carried the parasol over one shoulder. She might have stepped straight off a page in Vogue and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more incongruous.

Sister Maria Teresa said, “Mr Mallory is taking me on a sight-seeing trip, my dear.”

“Well, that should take all of ten minutes.” Joanna Martin took her other arm, ignoring me completely.

We walked through the mean little streets with the hopeless faces peering out of the windows at us, the ragged half-starved children playing beneath the houses. An oxen had died in a side alley, obviously of some disease or other so that the flesh was not fit for human consumption. It had been left exactly where it had fallen and had swollen to twice its normal size. The smell was so terrible that it even managed to kill the stink from the cesspool a few yards farther on which had over-flowed and ran hi a steady stream down the centre of the street.

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