One thing I needed now above anything else. Rest, even sleep if possible. Some place where I could lie up for a while in safety for I could not continue in my present state.
It seemed to me then that one of those islands out there would be as good a place as any and I pushed out towards the centre of the river using the pole like a double-bladed paddle. It was slow work and I missed my first objective. By then there was hardly any strength left in me at all and each movement of my arms was physical agony.
It was the current which helped me at last, pushing me into ground on a strip of the purest whitest sand imaginable. No south sea island could have offered more. I fell out of the canoe and lay beside it in the shadows for a while, only moving in the end because I would obviously drown if I stayed there, so I got up off my knees and hauled that bloody boat clear of the water… then fell on my face again.
I don’t know how long I lay there. It may have been an hour or just a few minutes. There seemed to be some sort of shouting going on near by, all part of the dream, or so it seemed. Perhaps I was still back in the Seco after jumping from the stern-wheeler? I opened my eyes and a child screamed.
There was all the terror in the whole world in that one cry. Enough to bring even me back to life. I got to my feet uncer-tainly and it started again and didn’t stop.
There was a high spit of sand to my right, I scrambled to the top and found two children, a boy and a girl, huddled together in the shadows on the other side, an alligator nosing in towards them.
They could not retreat any farther for there was deep water behind them and the little girl, who was hardly more than a baby, was screaming helplessly. The boy advanced on the beast, howling at the top of his voice, which considering he looked about eight years of age was probably one of the bravest things I’ve seen in my life.
I started down the slope, forgetting my chains and fell head-long, rolling over twice and landing in about a foot of water which just about finished me off. I’m not really sure what hap-pened then. Someone was yelling at the top of his voice, me, I suppose. The alligator shied away from the children and darted at me, jaws gaping.
I grabbed up the chain between my wrists and brought it down like a flail across that ugly snout again and again, shout-ing at the children in Portuguese, telling them to get out of it I was aware of them scurrying by as I battered away and then the alligator slewed round and that great tail knocked my feet from under me.
I kicked at it frantically and then there was a shot and a ragged hole appeared in its snout. The sound it made was un-believable and it pushed off into deep water leaving a cloud of blood behind.
I lay on my back in the water for a while, then rolled over and got to my knees. A man was standing on the shore, small, muscular, brown-skinned. He might have passed for an Indian except for his hair which was cut European style. He wore a denim shirt and cotton loincloth and the children hung to his legs sobbing bitterly.
The rifle which was pointing in my direction was an old British Army Lee-Enfield. I didn’t know what he was going to do with it, didn’t even care. I held out my manacled wrists and started to laugh. I remember that and also that I was still laughing when I passed out.
It was raining when I returned to life and the sky was the colour of brass, stars already out in the far distances. I was lying be-side a flickering fire, there was the roof of a hut silhouetted against the sky beyond and yet I seemed to be moving and there was the gurgle of water beneath me.