Alberto said, “Good, now we make ready.”
We went into the saloon where Joanna, Sister Maria Teresa and Hannah sat at the table talking in low voices. They stopped as we entered, Alberto, Pedro the half-breed interpreter and myself, and stood up.
I took off my yellow oilsin coat and Alberto opened the arms cupboard and produced a Thompson sub-machine-gun with a drum magazine which we’d prepared earlier with a specially lengthened sling. I slipped it over my right shoulder, muzzle down and Hannah helped me on with my coat again.
Alberto took a gun which was, I understood, his personal property – probably one of the most deadly hand-guns ever made: the Model 1932 Mauser machine-pistol, and he gave Pedro a.45 automatic to stick in his waistband under the ragged poncho he wore.
The interpreter was something of a surprise for I had expected at least some sign of hiswhite blood and found none. He looked all Huna to me in spite of his white man’s clothing.
To finish, Alberto produced a couple of Mills grenades, slipped one in his pocket and handed the other to me. “Another little extra.” He smiled lightly. “Just in case.”
There was some confused shouting outside. As we turned, the saloon door was flung open and Sergeant Lima stood there, mouth gaping.
“What is it, man?” Alberto demanded and Hannah produced the.45 automatic from his shoulder holster with a speed which could only indicate considerable practice.
The holy Sister, Colonel,” Lima croaked. “She has gone into the jungle.”
There was dead silence and Joanna Martin slumped into a chair and started to whisper a Hail Mary, probably for the first time in years.
Alberto said savagely, “Good God, man, how could such a thing be? You were supposed to be’ guarding the deck. You were in command.”
“As God is my witness, Colonel.” Lima was obviously terri-fied. “One second she was standing there, the next, she was over the rail and into the jungle before we realised what was happening.”
Which was too much, even for the kind of rigidly correct professional soldier that Alberto was. He slapped him back-handed across the face, threw him into a chair and turned to Hannah.
“Captain Hannah, you will oblige me by taking charge here. I suggest you keep the launch in midstream till our return. If this miserable specimen gives you even a hint of trouble, shoot him.” He turned to me. “And now, my friend, I think we move very fast indeed.”
Pedro was first over the rail and Alberto and I were not far behind. The launch was already moving out into the current as we reached the edge of the forest. I glanced back over my shoulder, caught a glimpse of Hannah standing in the stern under the awning, a machine-gun in his hands, Joanna Martin at his shoulder. God knows why, but I waved, some sort of final gallant gesture, I suppose, then turned and plunged into that green darkness after Alberto,
As I have said, the track had been built wide enough to ac-commodate reasonably heavy traffic and I now discovered that it had exceptionally solid foundations, logs of ironwood, em-bedded into the soft earth for its entire length. The jungle had already moved in on it to a considerable extent, but it still gave a quick, clear passage through the kind of country that would have been about as penetrable as a thorn thicket to a white man.
The branches above were so thickly intertwined that vir-tually no rain got through and precious little light either. The gloom was quite extraordinary and rather eerie.
Pedro was well ahead, running very fast and soon dis-appeared from sight. I followed hard on Alberto’s heels. After a while, we heard a cry and a few yards farther on found Pedro and Sister Maria Teresa standing together,
Alberto kept his temper remarkably under the circum-stance. He simply said, “This is foolishness of the worst kind, Sister. I must insist that you return with us at once.”
“And I, Colonel, am as equally determined to carry on..”she said.
I was aware of the forest foxes calling to each other in the jungle on either side and knew that it was already too late to go back, perhaps for all of us. The thing I was most conscious of was my contempt for her stupidity, a feeling not so much of anger, but of frustration at her and so many like her who out of their own pig-headed insistence on doing good ended up causing more harm than a dozen Avilas.