There was no argument there. I climbed up into the cock-pit and made ready to go. He emptied the Thompson gun at the dark line now halfway across the channel, then dropped it to the sand and ran round to the front of the machine.
“Ready,” he yelled.
I nodded and wound the starting magneto. He heaved on the propeller. The engine roared into life. Hannah jumped to one side.
I leaned out of the cockpit. “The wing,” I cried. “Get on the wing.”
He waved, ducked under the lower port wing and flung him-self across it, grasping the leading edge with his gloved hands. There was a chance, just a chance that it might work.
I thrust the throttle open and started down the sandbank as the first of the Huna came up out of the water. Fifty or sixty yards and I had the tail up, but that was going to be all for the drag from his body was too much to take. I knew it and so did he – he was too good a pilot not to.
One moment he was there, the next he had gone, releasing his grip on the leading edge, sliding back to the sand. The Bristol seemed to leap forward, I pulled the stick back and we lifted off.
I had time for one quick glance over my shoulder. He had got to his feet, was standing, feet apart facing them, firing his automatic coolly.
And then the dark wave rolled over him like the tide cover-ing the shore.
“Thecomandante will not keep you waiting long, senhor. Please to be seated. A cigarette, perhaps?”
The sergeant was very obviously putting himself out con-siderably on my behalf so I met him halfway and accepted the cigarette.
So, once again I found myself outside thecomandante’s office in Manaus and for one wild and uncertain moment, I wondered if it was then or now and whether anything had really happened.
A fly buzzed in the quiet, there were voices. The door opened and thecomandante ushered Sister Maria Teresa out. She was conventionally attired again in a habit of tropical white, ob-tained as I understoodit, from some local nuns of another Order.
Her smile faded slightly at the sight of me. Thecomandante shook hands formally. “Entirely at your service, as always, Sister.”
She murmured something and went out. He turned to me beaming, the hand outstretched again. “My dear Senhor Mallory, so sorry to have kept you waiting.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “My boat doesn’t leave for an hour.”
He gave me a seat, offered me a cigar which I refused, then sat down himself behind the desk. “I have your passport and travel permit ready for you. All is in order. I also have two letters, both a long time in arriving, I fear.” He pushed every-thing across to me in a little pile. “I was not aware that you held a commission in your Royal Air Force.”
“Just in the Reserve,” I said. “There’s a difference.”
“Not for much longer, my friend, if the newspapers have it right.”
I put the passport and travel permit in my breast pocket and examined the letters, both of which had been originally posted to my old address in Lima. One was from my father and mother, I knew by the writing. The other was from the Air Ministry and referred to me as Pilot Officer N. G. Malory. They could wait, both of them.
Thecomandante said, “So, you go home to England at last and Senhor Sterne also. I understand his visa has come through”
There was a slight pause and he was obviously somewhat embarrassed as if not quite knowing what to say next. So he did the obvious thing, jumped up and came round the desk.
“Well, I must not detain you.”
We moved to the door, he opened it and held out his hand. As I took it, his smile faded. It was as if he had decided it was necessary to make some comment and perhaps, for him, it was.
He said, ‘In spite of everything, I am proud to have been his friend. He was a brave man. We must remember him as he was at the end, not by what went before.’