Amazing what a difference that made. I was aware of the rain, warm and heavy, the blood on the dying man’s mouth. No colour had ever seemed richer. The green of the trees, the heavy scent of wood-smoke from somewhere near at hand.
Was there much to regret? Not really. I had done what I wanted to do against all advice and every odds possible and it had been worth it. I could have been a junior partner in my father’s law firm now and safe at home, but I had chosen to go to the margin of things. Well, so be it….
The Huna’s final breath eased out in a dying fall, Sister Maria Teresa finished her prayers, stood up and turned her shining face towards us.
“I am ready now, gentlemen.”
I was no longer angry. There was no point. I simply took her arm and pushed her after Alberto who had turned and started towards the beginning of the track, Pedro limping beside him.
As we approached the forest I half expected a hail of arrows, but nothing came. Pedro said, “They will wait for us on the track, Colonel. Play with us for a while. It is their way.”
Alberto paused and turned to me. “You agree with him?”
I nodded. “They like their fun. It’s a game to them, remem-ber. They’ll probably try to frighten us to death for most of the way and actually strike when we think we are safe, close to the river.”
“I see. So the main thing to remember is to walk for most of the wayand run like hell over the last section?”
He turned to Sister Maria Teresa. “You heard, Sister?”
“We are in God’s hands.” she said with that saintly smile of hers.
“And God helps those who help themselves,” Alberto told her.
A group of Indians had filtered out of the forest perhaps fifty yards to the right. He took his Mills bomb from his pockets pulled the pin and threw it towards them. They were hope-lessly out of range, but the explosion had a more than salutary effect. They vanished into the forest and all voices were stilled.
“By God, I may have stumbled on something,” he said. “Let them sample yours also, my friend.”
I tossed it into the middle of the clearing, there was a satis-factorily loud explosion, birds lifted angrily out of the trees, but not one single human voice was to be heard.
“You like to pray, Sister?” Alberto said, taking her by the arm. “Well, pray that silence lasts us to the jetty.”
It was, of course, too much to expect. The Huna were cer-tainly cowed by the two explosions, it was the only explanation for their lack of activity, but not for long. We made it to the halfway mark and beyond in silence and then the forest foxes started to call to each other.
There was more than that, of course. The rattle of spear shafts drummed against war clubs, shrill, bird-like cries in the distance, bodies crashing through the undergrowth.
But I could hear the rushing of the river, smell the dank rottenness of it and there was hope hi that.
The sounds in the undergrowth on either side were closer now and parallel. We had a couple of hundred yards to go, no more, and there was the feeling that perhaps they were mov-ing hi for the kill.
Alberto said, “I’ll take the left, you take the right, Mallory. When I give the word let them have a couple of bursts then we all run.”
Even then, I didn’t think we stood much of a chance, but there wasn’t really much else we could do. I didn’t hear what he shouted because he seemed to be firing that machine-pistol of his in the same instant. I swung, crouching, the Thompson gun bucking in my hands as I sprayed the foliage on my side.
We certainly hit something to judge by the cries, but I didn’t stop to find out and ran like hell after Pedro and Sister Maria Teresa. For a man with an arrowhead embedded in his thigh he was doing remarkably well although I presume the pros-pect of what would happen to him if he fell into their hands alive was having a salutary effect.