I banked steeply and plunged in very fast, going in low over the trees. A final burst of power to level out and I was down. I taxied to the far end of thecampo, turned the Hayley into the wind ready for a quick take-off and cut the engine.
I sat there for a couple of minutes waiting for something to happen. Nothing did, so I primed the two Mills bombs, shoved a clip into the Thompson, slipped the haversack over my shoul-der, got out and started towards the river.
Except for the path which had been flattened by constant use as a landing strip, the grass over the rest of thecampo was three or four feet high. Somewhere on the right, birds lifted in alarm. Enough to warn me in normal circumstances, but then it all happened so fast.
There were suddenly voices high and shrill, a strange crack-ling noise. When I turned, flames were sweeping across thecampo from the edge of the jungle, the long, dry grass flaring like touch paper. Beyond, through the smoke, I caught sight of feathered head-dresses, but no arrows came my way. Pre-sumably they thought me a moth to their flame.
It was certainly the end of the Hayley for as I turned to run, the flames were already flaring around the underbelly. I was halfway to the river when her tanks blew up, burning fuel and fuselage spraying out in a mushroom of flames. That really finished things off and within a few moments the entirecampo was a kind of lake of fire.
But at least it put an impassable barrier between myself and the Huna, one flaw in their plan or so it seemed. I scrambled into the canoe at the jetty, pushed off and found half a dozen canoes packed with Huna coming down-river to meet me.
Even with the Thompson, there were too many to take on alone and in any case, I couldn’t paddle and fire at the same time. There seemed to be only one thing to do which was to push like hell for the other side and that’s exactly what I did.
A point in my favour was the numerous shoals and sand-banks in that part of the river. I got to the far side of a par-ticularly large one, ibis rising in a great red cloud, putting what seemed like something of a barrier between us.
They were nothing if not resourceful. Two canoes simply grounded on the sandbank and their occupants jumped out and ran towards me, ankle-deep in water, the other turned and paddled back upstream to cut me off.
The men on the sandbank were too close for comfort by now so I dropped my paddle in the bottom of the canoe for a moment, pulled the pin on one of the Mills bombs and tossed it towards them.
It fell woefully short, but as on a previous occasion, the ex-plosion had exactly the effect I was looking for. They came to a dead stop, shouting angrily so I gave them n amber two which turned them round and sent them running back the other way.
Even at that stage in the game I didn’t want to kill any of them, but as I picked up my paddle again I saw that the others were rounding the tip of the sandbank a hundred yards north of me, effectively blocking the channel. Which only left the jungle on my left and I moved towards it as quickly as I could.
Undergrowth and branches spilled out over the bank in a kind of canopy. Inside die light was dim and I was completely hidden as far as anyone on the river was concerned. I paddled upstream for a little way, looking for a suitable landing place and came to a shelving bank of sand where a creek emptied into the river.
I turned the canoe in towards it, aware of the Huna voices drawing nearer, aware in the same moment of another canoe lying high on the mudbank inside the mouth of the creek, as if left there by floodwater, tilted to one side so that I could see it was not empty.
I splashed through the water towards it and knelt down, groping amongst the broken bones, the tattered scraps of what had once been nuns’ habits. They were both there, but I could only find one identity chain.Sister Anne Josepha. L.S.O.P. It was enough. One mystery was solved at least. I dropped the disc and chain into my pocket and started up the creek as the canoes moved in behind me.