I didn’t really think they would turn the stern-wheeler around and come down-river looking for me, but some son of search would obviously be mounted as soon as possible. It would be when they discovered a canoe had been taken from the village that the fun would start
It seemed essential that I got as much distance under me as possible. Whatever happened afterwards would have to be left to chance. Once into the Negro I would find plenty of riverside villages where people lived a primitive day-to-day life which didn’t even recognise the existence’of such trappings of civilisa-tion as the police and the government. If I was lucky I’d find help and a little luck was something for which I was long over-due.
A couple of miles and I was obviously close to the confluence of the Negro. I was aware of the currents pulling, the surface turning over on itself. A mistake here and I was finished for I had no hope of keeping afloat for long in such conditions in my chained state.
I turned the canoe towards the left-hand side for I was at least fifty yards from the shore and it certainly looked as if I would be safer there. It seemed to be working and then, when I was a few yards from the mangrove trees, I seemed to slide down into a sudden turbulence.
It was like being seized in a giant hand, the canoe rocked from side to side, almost putting me over, I lost the paddle as I grabbed frantically at the sides to keep my balance and then we spun round twice and turned over.
My feet touched the bottom instantly, but the current was too strong for me to be able to stand. However, the canoe, bot-tom up, barged into me a moment later and I was able to fling my arms across the keel.
Things slowed down a little after that and we finally drifted into quiet water amongst the mangrove trees farmer along and grounded against a mudbank.
I righted the canoe and took stock of the situation. The mouth of the river was about a quarter of a mile away and I didn’t fancy my chances in the canoe, with or without a paddle. It seemed obvious that the best, indeed the only thing to do, was to attempt to cut through/the mangroves on a diagonal course which would bring me out into the Negro down-river from the Seco.
I managed to get back into the canoe and pushed off, pulling myself along by the great roots of the trees until I came to a clump of bamboo where I managed to break myself off a length. From then on it wasn’t too bad. Henley, the Thames on a Sun-day afternoon in summer. All I needed was a gramophone and a pretty girl. For a moment, I seemed to see Joanna Martin leaning back and laughing at me from under her parsol. But it was entirely the wrong kind of laughter. Some measure of the condition I was in by then, I suppose. I took a deep breath to brace myself up to what lay ahead and started to pole my way out of there.
It took me four hours. Four hours of agony, tortured by mosquitoes and flies of every description, the iron bracelets rub-bing my wrists raw so that each push on the pole became an effort of will.
The trouble was that every so often I ran into areas where the mangroves seemed to come closer together, branches crowd-ing in overhead so that I couldn’t see the sun which meant that I lost direction. And then there was the bamboo – gigantic walls of it that I could not possibly hope to penetrate. Each time, I had to probe for another way round or even retrace my route and try again from another direction.
When I finally saw daylight, so to speak, it was certainly more by accident than design. There was suddenly considerably fewer mangrove trees around although I suppose it must have been a gradual process. And then I heard the river.
I came out of the trees and edged into the Negro cautiously. It rolled along quietly enough and I had it to myself as far as I could see although as it was several hundred yards wide at that point, islands of various sizes scattered down the centre, it was impossible to be certain.