According to the radio the situation at Landro was no better, so more for something to do than anything else, I borrowed the Crossley tender, drove into town and had a meal at a fish res-taurant on the waterfront.
At the bar afterwards and halfway through my second large brandy, I became aware of a stranger staring out at me from the mirror opposite.
Small forIds size as my grandmother used to say, long arms, large hands, but a hard, tough, competent-looking young man or was that only what I wanted to believe? The leather flying jacket gaped satisfactorily revealing the.45 automatic in the chest holster, the mark of the true adventurer, but the weary young face had to be seen to be believed.
Was this all I had to show for two long years? Was this what I’d left home for? I looked down through the rain at a sternwheeler making ready to leave for the coast. It came to me then that I could leave now. Leave it all. Book passage using Han-nah’s famous credit system. Once in Belem I would be all right I had a passport again. I could always work my passage to Europe from there. Something would turn up.
I rejected the thought as instantly as I had considered it. There was something here that had to be worked through to the end and I was a part of it. To go now would be to leave the story unfinished like a novel with the end pages missing and the memory of him would haunt me for the rest of my life. I had to lay Hannah’s ghost personally, there could be no other way.
The rain still fell in a heavy grey curtain as I drove back to the airstrip and so continued for the rest of the afternoon. Most serious of all, by four o’clock the surface had turned into a thick, glutinous mud that would get worse before it got better. Much more of ibis and it would be like trying to take off in a ploughed field.
Another half-hour and it was obvious that if I did not go then I would not get away at all, had probably left it too late already. I told the mechanics it was now or never and got ready to leave.
I started the engine while still inside the hangar and gave it plenty of time to warm up, an essential factor under the cir-cumstances. When I taxied out into the open, the force of the rain had to be felt to be believed. At the very best it was going to be an uncomfortable run.
The strip was five hundred yards long. Usually two hundred was ample for the Bristol’s take-off but not today. My tail skidded from side to side, the thick mud sucked at the wheels, showering up in great fountains.
At two hundred yards, I hadn’t even managed to raise the tail, at two-fifty I was convinced I was wasting my time, had better quit while still ahead and take her back to the hangar. And then, at three hundred and for no logical reason that I could see, the tail came up. I brought the stick back gently and we lifted into the grey curtain.
It took me two hours but I made it. Two hours of hell, for the rain and the dense mist it produced from the warm earth covered the jungle and river alike in a grey blanket, producing some of the worst flying conditions I have ever known.
To stay with the river with anything like certainty, I had to fly at fifty feet for most of the way, a memorable experience for at that altitude, if that is what it can be termed, there was no room for even the slightest error in judgement and the radio had packed in, the rain, as it turned out, which didn’t help in the final stages, for conditions at Landro were no better than they had been at Manaus.
But by then I’d had it. I was soaked to the skin, bitterly cold and suffering badly from cramp in both legs. As I came abreast of the airstrip, Mamie ran out from the hangar. Everything looked as clear as it was ever going to be so I simply banked in over the trees and dropped her down.