After an hour, I gave up, lit my lamp and plunged down the steps into the rain. The force was really tremendous. It was like being in a small enclosed world, completely alone and for some reason, I felt exhilarated.
Light streamed through the closed shutters when I went up the steps to the veranda of the house and a gramophone was playing. I stood there for a moment listening to the murmur of voices, the laughter, then knocked on the door.
Hannah opened it. He was in his shirtsleeves and held a glass of Scotch in one hand. I didn’t give him a chance to say any-thing.
I said, “Sister Maria Teresa’s spending the night in Landro with a woman who’s just had a baby. She wanted Joanna to know.”
He said, “Okay, I’ll tell her.”
As I turned away Joanna appeared behind him, obviously to see what was going on. It was enough. I said, “Oh, by the way, I’ll be flying up to Santa Helena with you in the morn-ing. The mail run will have to wait.”
His face altered, became instantly wary. “Who says so?”
“Colonel Alberto. Wants me to take a little walk with him tomorrow to meet some Huna. I’ll be seeing you.”
I went down into the rain. I think she called my name, though I could not be sure, but when I glanced back over my shoulder, Hannah had moved out on to the veranda and was looking after me.
Some kind of small triumph, I suppose, but one that I sus-pected I would have to pay dearly for.
I did not sleep particularly well and the fact that it was three a.m. before Hannah appeared didn’t help. I slept only fitfully after that and finally got up at six and went outside.
It was warm and oppressive, unusually so considering the hour and the heavy grey clouds promised rain of the sort that would last for most of the day. Not my kind of morning at all and the prospect of what was to follow had little to commend it.
I wandered along the front of die open hangar and paused beside the Bristol which stood there with its usual air of expectancy as if waiting for something to happen. It carne to me suddenly that other men must have stood beside her like this, coughing over the first cigarette of the day as they waited to go out on a dawn patrol, sizing up the weather, waiting to see what the day would bring. It gave me a curious feeling of kinship which didn’t really make any sense.
I turned and found Hannah watching me. That first time we’d met after I’d crash-landed in the Vega, I’d been struck by the ageless quality in his face, but not now. Perhaps it was the morning or more probably, the drink from the previous night, but he looked about a hundred years old. As if he had ex-perienced everything there ever was and no longer had much faith in what was to come.
The tension between us was almost tangible. He said harshly, “Do you intend to go through with this crazy business?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
He exploded angrily. “God damn it, there’s no knowing how the Huna might react. If they turn sour, you won’t have a prayer.”
“I can’t say I ever had much faith in it anyway.” I started to move past him.
He grabbed my arm and spun me round. “What in the hell are you trying to prove, Mallory?”
I see now, on reflection, that he saw the whole thing as some sort of personal challenge. If I went, then he would have to go or appear less than me and not only to Joanna Martin, for as I have said, he was a man to whom appearances were every-thing.
He was angry because I had put him in an impossible posi-tion which should have pleased me. Instead I felt as sombre as that grey morning itself.
“Let’s just say Fm tired of life and leave it at that” And for a moment, he believed me enough to slacken his grip so that I was able to pull free. As I walked back along the edge of the hangar, the first heavy drops of rain pattered against the roof.