Joanna Martin went very still, her coffee cup raised halfway to her mouth. She turned and looked at me fixedlysa slight frown on her face.
Sister Maria Teresa said, “A long walk, Mr Mallory.”
Hannah was good and angry, glared at me, eyes wild, then at Joanna Martin. He didn’t like what he was going to say but he got it out, I’ll say that for him. “You can count me in too, Colonel.”
“Don’t be stupid,” I cut in. “Who in the hell would be left to fly the women out in the Hayley if anything went wrong?”
There was no arguing with that and he knew it. He turned away angrily and Sister Maria Teresa said, “It has been my experience in the past, Colonel, that Indians do not look upon any group containing a woman as a threat to them. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Mallory?”
Alberta glanced quickly at me, aware instantly, as I was myself, of what was in her mind. I said, “Yes, that’s true up to a point. They certainly don’t take women to war themselves, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
“A risk I am prepared to take,” she said simply.
There was a short silence. Alberto shook his head. “An im-possibility, Sister. You must see that.”
There are times when the naivete of the truly good can be wholly infuriating. She said, with that disarming smile of hers, “I am as much for peace as you, Colonel, but I also have a special interest here, remember. The fate of Sister Anne Josepha and her friend.”
“I would have thought the church had martyrs in plenty, Sister,” he replied.
Joanna Martin stood up. “That sounds to me like another way of saying you don’t really expect to come back. Am I right?”
“God wills.”Joanna Martin turned to me, white faced. “You must be mad. What are you trying to prove?”
“You want to know if your sister’s alive, don’t you?” I asked.
She went into the saloon, banging the door behind her. Sister Maria Teresa said patiently, “Am I to take it that you refuse to allow me to accompany you, Colonel?”
“Under no circumstances, Sister.” He saluted her gravely. “A thousand regrets, but I am in command here and must do as I see fit.”
“In spite of my authorisation?”
“Sister, the Pope himself could not make me take you with us today.”
I think it was only then that she really and truly appreciated the danger of the entire undertaking. She sighed heavily. “I did not understand before. I think I do now. You are brave men, both of you.”
“I do my duty only, Sister,” he said, “but I thank you.”
She turned to me. “Duty in your mase also, Mr Mallory?”
“You know what they say, Sister.” I shrugged. “I go because it’s there.”
But there were darker reasons than that – I knew it and so did she for it showed in her eyes. I thought she might say some-tiling – a personal word, perhaps. Instead she turned and followed Joanna into the saloon.
Hannah threw his cigarette over the rail in a violent gesture. “You’re dead men walking. A dozen arrows apiece waiting for each of you up there.”
“Perhaps.” Alberto turned to me. “The stipulation is that we go unarmed. What do you think?”
“As good a way of committing suicide as any?”
“You don’t trust them?”
“Can you trust the wind?” I shook my head. “As I’ve said before, whatever they do will be entirely as the mood takes them. If they decide to kill us instead of talking, it won’t be out of any conscious malice, but simply because it suddenly strikes them as a better idea than the last one they had.”
“I see. Tell me, what was Karl Buber’s attitude regarding guns?”
“He was never without one prominently displayed, if that’s what you mean. Forest Indians fear guns more than anything else I can think of. It doesn’t mean they won’t attack you if you’re armed, but they’ll think twice. They still think it’s some sort of big magic.”
“And yet they demand that we go unarmed.” He sighed. “An unhealthy sign, I’m afraid.”