SHOUT AT THE DEVIL By: WILBUR SMITH

SHOUT AT THE DEVIL [047-011-4.8]

By: WILBUR SMITH

Category: fiction military

Synopsis:

“Now the seas -were more awesome in their raging,
Each mountain of glassy grey rose high above the raft, shielding it for
a few -seconds from the Whip of the wind, its crest blowing off like
the plume of an Etruscan helmet, before it slid down, collapsing upon
itself in the tumbling roar of breaking water..”

In German East Africa on the eve of the First World War. two free
booting adventurers, one a flamboyant Irish American, the other an
impeccable young Englishman pit their wits against the gross German
Commissioner from whose territory they are making their living as
hunters and ivory poachers. But the outbreak of war gives the signal
for their private skirmish to flare into a relentless vendetta pursued
with devastating violence by land and sea. What begins as a comic
escapade gives way to chilling horror.

PART ONE

Flynn Patrick O’Flynn was an ivory poacher by profession, and modestly
he admitted that he was the best on the east coast of Africa.

Rachid El Keb was an exporter of precious stones, of women for the
harems and great houses of Arabia and India, and of illicit ivory. This
he admitted only to his trusted clients; to the rest he was a rich and
respectable owner of coastal shipping.

In an afternoon during the monsoon of 1912, drawn together by their
mutual interest in pachyderms, Flynn and Rachid sat in the back room of
El Keb’s shop in the Arab quarter of Zanzibar, and drank tea from tiny
brass thimbles.

The hot tea made Flynn O’Flynn perspire even more than usual. It was
so humid hot in the room that the flies sat in languid stupor upon the
low ceiling.

“Listen, Kebby, you lend me just one of those stinking little ships of
yours and I’ll fill her so high with tusks, she’ll damn nigh sink.”

“Ah!” replied El Keb carefully, and went on waving the palm-leaf fan
in his own face a face that resembled that of a suspicious parrot with
a straggly, goatee beard.

“Have I ever let you down yet?” Flynn demanded aggressively, and a
drop of sweat fell from the tip of his nose onto his already damp
shirt.

“Ah!” El Keb repeated.

This scheme has a flair. It has the touch of greatness to it. This
scheme…” Flynn paused to find a suitable adjective, “.. . this
scheme is Napoleonic. It is Caesarian!”

“Ah!” El Keb said again, and refilled his tea cup. Lifting it
delicately between thumb and forefinger, he sipped before speaking. “It
is necessary only that I should risk the total destruction of a
sixty-foot dhow worth…” prudently he inflated the figure.” .. two
thousand English pounds?”

“Against an almost certain recovery of twenty thousand, Flynn cut in
quickly, and El Keb smiled a little, almost dreamily.

“You’d put the profits so high? “he asked.

“That’s the lowest figure. Good God, Kebby! There hasn’t been a shot
fired in the Rufiji basin for twenty years. You know damn well it’s
the Kaiser’s private hunting reserve.

The Jumbo are so thick in there I could round them up and drive them in
like sheep.” Involuntarily Flynn’s right forefinger crooked and
twitched as though it were already curled a round a trigger.

“Madness hispered El Keb, with the gold gloat softening the shape of
his lips. “You’d sail into the Rufiji river from the sea, hoist the
Union Jack on one of the islands in the delta and fill the dhow with
German ivory. Madness.”

“The Germans have formally annexed none of those islands. I’d be in
and out again before Berlin had sent their first cable to London. With
ten of my gun-boys hunting, we’d fill the dhow in two weeks.”

“The Germans would have a gunboat there in a week.

They’ve got the Blacher lying at Dares Salaam under steam, heavy
cruiser with nine-inch guns.”

“We’d be under protection of the British flag. They couldn’t dare
touch us not on the high seas not with things the way they are now
between England and Germany.”

“Mr. O’Flynn, I was led to believe you were a citizen of the United
States of America.”

“You damn right I am.” Flynn sat up a little straighter, a little more
proudly.

“You’d need a British captain for the dhow,” El Keb mused, and stroked
his beard thoughtfully.

“Jesus, Kebby, you didn’t think I was fool enough to sail that dhow in
myself? “Flynn looked pained. “I’ll find someone else to do that, and
to sail her out again through the Imperial German navy. Me, I’m going
to walk in from my base camp in Portuguese Mozambique and go out the
same way.”

“Forgive me.” El Keb smiled again. “I underestimated you.”

He stood up quickly. The splendour of the great jewelled dagger at his
waist was somewhat spoiled by the unwashed white of his ankle-length
robe. “Mr. O’Flynn, I think I have just the man to captain your dhow
for you. But first it is necessary to alter his financial
circumstances so that he might be willing to accept employment.”

The leather purse of gold sovereigns had been the pivot on which the
gentle confusion of Sebastian Oldsmith’s life turned. It had been
presented to him by his father when Sebastian had announced to the
family his intention of sailing to Australia to make his fortune in the
wool trade. It had comforted him during the voyage from Liverpool to
the Cape of Good Hope where the captain had unceremoniously deposited
him after Sebastiah’s misalliance with the daughter of the gentleman
who was proceeding to Sydney to take up his appointment as Governor of
New South Wales.

In gradually dwindling quantity the sovereigns had remained with him
through the series of misfortunes that ended in Zanzibar, when he awoke
from heat drugged sleep in a shoddy room to find that the leather purse
and its contents were gone, and with them were gone the letters of
introduction from his father to certain prominent wool brokers of
Sydney.

It occurred to Sebastian as he sat on the edge of his bed that the
letters had little real value in Zanzibar, and with increasing
bewilderment, he reviewed the events that had blown him so far off his
intended COUrse. Slowly his forehead creased in the effort of thought.
It was the high, intelligent forehead of a philosopher crowned by a
splendid mass of shiny black curls; his eyes were dark brown, his nose
long and straight, his jaw firm, and his mouth sensitive. In his
twenty-second year, Sebastian had the face of a young Oxford don; which
proves, perhaps, how misleading looks can be. Those who knew him well
would have been surprised that Sebastian, in setting out for Australia,
had come as close to it as Zanzibar.

Abandoning the mental exercise that was already giving him a slight
headache, Sebastian stood up from the bed and, with the skirt of his
nightshirt flapping around his calves, began his third minute search of
the hotel room.

Although the purse had been under his mattress when he went to sleep
the preceding evening, this time Sebastian emptied the water jug and
peered into it hopefully. He unpacked his valise and shook out each
shirt. He crawled under the bed, lifted the coconut matting and probed
every hole in the rotten flooring before giving way to despair.

Shaved, the bed-bug bites on his person anointed with saliva, and
dressed in the grey three-piece suit which was showing signs of travel
fatigue, he brushed his derby hat and placed it carefully over his
curls, picked up his cane in one hand, and lugging his valise in the
other, he went down the stairs into the hot noisy lobby of the Hotel
Royal.

“I say,” he greeted the little Arab at the desk with the most cheerful
smile he could muster. (I say, I seem to have lost my money.”

A silence fell upon the room. The waiters carrying trays out to the
hotel veranda slowed and stopped, heads turned towards Sebastian with
the same hostile curiosity as if he had announced that he was suffering
from a mild attack of leprosy.

“Stolen, I should imagine,” Sebastian went on, grinning.

“Nasty bit of luck, really.”

The silence exploded as the bead curtains from the office were thrown
open and the Hindu proprietor erupted into the room with a loud cry of,
“Mr. Oldsmith, what about your bill?”

“Oh, the bill. Yes, well, let’s not get excited. I mean, it won’t
help, now, will it?”

And the proprietor proceeded to become very excited indeed. His cries
of anguish and indignation carried to the veranda where a dozen persons
were already beginning the daily fight against heat and thirst. They
crowded into the lobby to watch with interest.

Ten days you owe. Nearly one hundred rupees.”

“Yes, it’s jolly unfortunate, I know.” Sebastian was grinning
desperately, when a new voice added itself to the uproar.

“Now just hold on a shake.” Together Sebastian and the Hindu turned to
the big red-faced, middle-aged man with the pleasantly mixed American
and Irish accent. “Did I hear you called Mr. Oldsmith?”

“That is correct, sir. Sebastian knew instinctively that here was an
ally.

“An unusual name. You wouldn’t be related to Mister Francis Oldsmith,
wool merchant of Liverpool, England?”

Flynn O’Flynn enquired politely. He had perused Sebastian’s letters of
introduction passed on to him by Rachid El Keb.

“Good Lord!” Sebastian cried with joy. “Do you know my Pater?”

“Do I know Francis Oldsmith?” Flynn laughed easily, and then checked
himself His acquaintance was limited to the letterheads. “Well, I
don’t exactly know him person to person, you understand, but I think I
can say I know of him.

Used to be in the wool business myself once. “Flynn turned genially to
the hotel proprietor and breathed on him a mixture of gin fumes and
good-fellowship. “One hundred rupees was the sum you mentioned.”

“That’s the sum, Mr. O’Flynn.” The proprietor was easily soothed.

“Mr. Oldsmith and I will be having a drink on the veranda. You can
bring the receipt to us there.” Flynn placed two sovereigns on the
counter; sovereigns that had so recently reposed beneath Sebastian’s
mattress.

With his boots propped on the low veranda wall, Sebastian regarded the
harbour over the rim of his glass. Sebastian was not a drinking man
but in view of Flynn O’Flynn’s guardianship he could not be churlish
and refuse hospitality.

The number of craft in the bay suddenly multiplied miraculously before
his eyes. Where a moment before one stubby little dhow had been
tacking in through the entrance, there were now three identical boats
sailing in formation. Sebastian closed one eye and by focusing
determinedly, he reduced the three back to one. Mildly elated with his
success, he turned his attention to his new friend and business partner
who had pressed such large quantities of gin upon him.

“Mr. O’Flynn,” he said with deliberation, slurring the words
slightly.

“Forget that mister, Bassie, call me Flynn. just plain Flynn, the same
as in gin.”

“Flynn,” said Sebastian. “There isn’t anything well, there isn’t
anything funny about this?”

“How do you mean funny, boy?”

“I mean” and Sebastian blushed slightly. “There isn’t anything
illegal, is there?”

“Bassie.” Flynn shook his head sorrowfully. “What do you take me for,
Bassie? You think I’m a crook or something, boy?”

oh, no, of course not, Flynn,” and Sebastian blushed a shade deeper. “I
just thought well, all these elephants we’re going to shoot. They must
belong to somebody. Aren’t they German elephants?”

“Bassie, I want to show you something.” Flynn set down his glass and
groping in the inside pocket of his wilted tropical suit, he produced
an envelope. “Read that, boy!”

The address at the head of the sheet of cheap notepaper was “The
Kaiserh of Berlin. Dated June 10, 191”-, and the body of the letter
read:

Dear Mr. Flynn O’Flynn, I am worried about all those elephants down in
the Rufiji basin eating up all the grass and smashing up all the trees
and things, so if you’ve got time, would you go down there and shoot
some of them as they’re eating up all the grass and smashing up all the
trees and things.

Yours sincerely, Kaiser Willem 111.

Emperor of Germany.

A vague uneasiness formed through the clouds of gin in Sebastian’s
skull. “Why did he write to you?”

“Because he knows I’m the best goddamned elephant hunter in the
world.”

“You’d expect him to use better English, wouldn’t you?”

Sebastian murmured.

“What’s wrong with his English?” Flynn demanded truculently. He had
spent some time in composing the letter.

“Well, I mean that bit about eating up all the grass he said that
twice.”

“Well, you got to remember he’s a German. They don’t write English too
good.”

“Of course! I hadn’t thought of that.” Sebastian looked relieved and
lifted his glass. “Well, good hunting!”

“I’ll drink to that,” and Flynn emptied his glass.

Sebastian stood with both hands gripping the wooden rail of the dhow
and stared out across a dozen miles of water at the loom of the African
mainland. The monsoon wind had ruffled the sea to a dark indigo and it
flipped spray from the white-caps into Sebastian’s face.

Overlaying the clean salt of the ocean was the taint of the mangrove
swamps, an evil smell as though an animal had led in its own cage.
Sebastian sniffed it with distaste as he searched the low, green line
of the coast for the entrance to the maze of the Rufiji delta.

Frowning, he tried to reconstruct the Admiralty chart in his mind. The
Rufiji river came to the sea through a dozen channels spread over forty
miles, and in doing so, carved fifty, maybe a hundred, islands out of
the mainland.

Tidal water washed fifteen miles upstream, past the mangroves to where
the vast grass swampland began. It was there in the swampland that the
elephant herds had taken shelter from the guns and arrows of the ivory
hunters, protected by Imperial decree and by a formidable terrain.

The murderous-looking ruffian who captained the dhow uttered a string
of sing-song orders, and Sebastian turned to watch the complicated
manoeuvre of tacking the ungainly craft. Half-naked seamen dropped out
of the rigging like over-ripe brown fruit and swarmed around the
sixty-foot teak boom. Bare feet padding on the filthy deck, they ran
the boom back and forward again. The dhow creaked like an old man with
arthritis, came round wearily on to the wind, and butted its nose in
towards the land. The new motion, combined with the swamp smell and
the smell of freshly-stirred bilges, moved something deep within
Sebastian. His grip upon the rail increased, and new sweat popped out
like little blisters on his brow. He leaned forward, and, to shouts of
encouragement from the crew, made another sacrifice to the sea gods. He
was still draped worshipfully across the rail as the dhow wallowed and
slid in the turbulent waters of the entrance, and then passed into the
calm of the southernmost channel of the Rufiji basin.

Four days later, Sebastian sat cross-legged with the dhow captain on a
thick Bokhara carpet spread upon the deck, and they explained to each
other in sign language that neither of them had the vaguest idea where
they were. The dhow was anchored in a narrow water-way hemmed in by
the twisted and deformed trunks of the mangroves. The sensation of
being lost was not new to Sebastian and he accepted it with
resignation” but the dhow captain, who could run from Aden to Calcutta
and back to Zanzibar with the certainty of a man visiting his own
outhouse, was not so stoical. He lifted his eyes to the heavens and
called upon Allah to intercede with the djinn who guarded this stinking
labyrinth, who made the waters flow in strange, unnatural ways, who
changed the shape of each island, and thrust mud banks in their path.
Driven on by his own eloquence, he leapt to the rail and screamed
defiance into the brooding mangroves until flocks of this rose and
milled in the heat mists above the dhow. Then he flung himself down on
the carpet and fixed Sebastian with a stare of sullen malevolence.

“It’s not really my fault, you know.” Sebastian wriggled with
embarrassment under the stare. Then once again he produced his
Admiralty chart, spread it on the deck, and placed his finger on the
island which Flynn O’Flynn had ringed in blue pencil as the rendezvous.
“I mean, it is rather your cup of tea, finding the place. After all,
you are the navigator, aren’t you?”

The captain spat fiercely on his deck, and Sebastian flushed.

“Now that sort of thing isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Let’s try and behave like gentlemen.”

This time the captain hawked it up from deep down in his throat and
spat a lump of yellow phlegm into the blue pencil circle on Sebastian’s
map, then he rose to his feet and stalked away to where his crew
squatted in a group under the poop.

In the short dusk, while the mosquitoes whined in a thin mist about
Sebastian’s head, he listened to the Arabic muttering and saw the
glances that were directed at him down the length of the dhow. So when
the night closed over the ship like a bank of black steam, he took up a
defensive position on the foredeck and waited for them to come. As a
weapon he had his cane of solid ebony. He laid it across his lap and
sat against the rail until the darkness was complete, then, silently,
he changed his position and crouched beside one of the water barrels
that was lashed to the base of the mast.

They were a long time coming. Half the night had wasted away before he
heard the stealthy scuff of bare feet on the planking. The absolute
blackness of the night was filled with the din of the swamp; the boom
and tonk of frogs, the muted buzz of insects and the occasional snort
and splash of a hippo, so that Sebastian had difficulty in deciding how
many they had sent against him. Crouching by the water barrel he
strained his eyes unavailingly into the utter blackness and tuned his
hearing to filter out the swamp noises and catch only those soft little
sounds that death made as it came down the deck towards him.

Although Sebastian had never scaled any academic heights, he had boxed
light heavyweight for Rugby, and fast-bowled for Sussex the previous
cricket season when he had led the county bowling averages. So,
although he was afraid now, Sebastian had a sublime confidence in his
own physical prowess and it was not the kind of fear that filled his
belly with oily warmth, nor turned his ego to jelly, but rather, it
keyed him to a point where every muscle in his body quivered on the
edge of exploding. Crouching in the night he groped for the cane that
he had laid on the deck beside him. His hands fell on the bulky
sackful of green coconuts that made up part of the dhow’s deck cargo.
They were carried to supplement, with their milk, the meagre supply of
fresh water on board. Quickly Sebastian tore open the fastenings of
the sack and hefted one of the hard round fruits.

“Not quite as handy as a cricket ball, but-” murmured Sebastian and
came to his feet. Using the short run up he delivered the fast ball
with which he had shattered the Yorkshire first innings the previous
year. It had the same effect on the Arab first innings. The coconut
whirred and cracked against the skull of one of the approaching
assassins and the rest retired in confusion.

“Now send the men,” roared Sebastian and bowled a short lifter that
hastened the retreat.

He selected another coconut and was about to deliver that also when
there was a flash and a report from aft, and something howled over
Sebastian’s head. Hastily he ducked behind the sack of coconuts.

“My God, they’ve got a gun up there!” Sebastian remembered then the
ancient muzzle-loading Jezail he had seen the captain polishing
lovingly on their first day out from Zanzibar, and he felt his anger
rising in earnest.

He jumped to his feet and hurled his next coconut with fury.

“Fight fair, you dirty swine! “he yelled.

There was a delay while the dhow captain went through the complicated
process of loading his piece. Then a cannon report, a burst of flame,
and another pot leg howled over Sebastian’s head.

Through the dark hours before dawn the lively exchange of jeers and
curses, of coconuts and pot legs continued.

Sebastian more than held his own for he scored four howls of pain and a
yelp, while the dhow captain succeeded only in shooting away a great
deal of his own standing rigging.

But as the light of the new day increased, so Sebastian’s advantage
waned. The Arab captain’s shooting improved to such an extent that
Sebastian spent most of his time crouching behind the sack of coconuts.
Sebastian was nearly exhausted. His right arm and shoulder ached
unmercifully, and he could hear the first stealthy advance of the Arab
crew as they crept down towards his hide. In daylight they could
surround him and use their numbers to drag him down.

While he rested for the final effort, Sebastian looked out at the
morning. It was a red dawn, angry and beautiful through the swamp
mists so the water glowed with a pink sheen and the mangroves stood
very dark around the ship.

Something splashed farther up the channel, a water bird perhaps.
Sebastian looked for it without interest, and heard it splash again and
then again. He stirred and sat up a little straighter. The sound was
too regular for that of a bird or a fish.

Then around the bend in the channel, from behind the wall of mangroves,
driven on by urgent paddles, shot a dug-out canoe. Standing in the bow
with a double-barrelled elephant gun under his arm and a clay pipe
sticking out of his red face, was Flynn O’Flynn.

“What the hell’s going on here?” he roared. “Are you fighting a
goddamned war? I’ve been waiting a week for you lotV

“Look out, Flynn!” Sebastian yelled a warning. “That swine has got a
gun!”

The Arab captain had jumped to his feet and was looking around
uncertainly. Long ago he had regretted his impulse to rid himself of
the Englishman and escape from this evil swamp, and now his misgivings
were truly justified. Having committed himself, however, there was
only one course open to him. He lifted the Jezail to his shoulder and
aimed at O’Flynn in the canoe. The discharge blew a long grey spurt of
powder from the Muzzle, and the pot leg lifted a burst of spray from
the surface of the water beyond the canoe. The echoes of the shot were
drowned by the bellow of O’Flynn’s rifle. He fired without moving the
pipe from his mouth and the narrow dug-out rocked dangerously with the
recoil.

The heavy bullet picked up the Arab captain’s scrawny body, his robe
fluttered like a piece of old paper and his turban flew from his head
and unwound in mid-air as he was flung clear of the rail to drop with a
tall splash alongside.

He floated face down, trapped air ballooning his robe about him and
then he drifted away slowly on the sluggish Current.

His crew, stunned and silent, stood by the rail and watched him
depart.

Dismissing the neat execution as though it had never happened, O’Flynn,
glared up at Sebastian and roared, “You’re a week late. I haven’t been
able to do a goddamned thing until you got here. Now let’s get the
flag up and start doing some workV

The formal annexation of Flynn O’Flynn’s island took place in the
relative cool of the following morning. It had taken some hours for
Flynn to convince Sebastian of the necessity of occupying the island
for the British crown, and he succeeded only by casting Sebastian in
the role of empire builder. He made some flattering comparisons
between Clive of India and Sebastian Oldsmith, of Liverpool.

The next problem was the choice of a name. This stirred up a little
Anglo-American enmity, with Flynn O’Flynn campaigning aggressively for
“New Boston’. Sebastian was horrified, his patriotic ardour burned
brightly.

“Now hold on a jiffy, old chap,” he protested.

“What’s wrong with it? You just tell me what’s wrong with id’

“Well, first of all this is going to be one of His Britannic Majesty’s
possessions, you know.”

“New Boston,” O’Flynn repeated. “That sounds good.

That sounds real good.”

Sebastian shuddered. “I think it would be well, not quite suitable. I
mean, Boston was the place where they had that tea thing, you know.”

The argument raged more savagely as Flynn lowered the level in the gin
bottle, until finally Sebastian stood up from the carpet on the floor
of the dhow cabin, his eyes blazing with patriotic outrage. “If you
would care to step outside, sir,” he enunciated with care as he stood
over the older man, “we can settle this matter.” The dignity of the
challenge was spoiled by the low roof of the cabin which made it
necessary for Sebastian to stoop.

, I’d eat you without spitting out the bones.”

“That, sir, is your opinion. But I must warn you I was highly thought
of in the light heavyweight division.”

“Oh, goddamn it.” Flynn shook his head wearily and capitulated. “What
difference does it make what we call the mother-loving place. Sit
down, for God’s sake. Here! Let’s drink to whatever you want to call
it.”

Sebastian sat on the carpet and accepted the mug that Flynn handed him.
“We shall call it-” he paused dramatically, “we shall call it New
Liverpool,” and he lifted the mug.

“You know, said Flynn, “for a limey, you aren’t a bad guy,” and the
rest of the night was devoted to celebrating the birth of the new
colony.

In the dawn the empire builders were paddled ashore in the dug-out by
two of Flynn’s gun-bearers.

The canoe ran aground on the narrow muddy beach of New Liverpool, and
the sudden halt threw both of them off-balance. They collapsed gently
together on to the floor of the dug-out, and had to be assisted ashore
by the paddlers.

Sebastian was formally dressed for the occasion but had buttoned his
waistcoat awry and he kept tugging at it as he peered about him.

Now at high tide, New Liverpool was about a thousand yards long and
half as broad. At the highest point it rose not more than ten feet
above the level of the Rufiji river.

Fifteen miles from the mouth the water was only slightly tainted with
salt and the mangrove trees had thinned out and given way to tall
matted elephant grass and slender bottle palms.

Flynn’s gun-bearers and porters had cleared a small opening above the
beach, and had erected a dozen grass huts around one of the palm trees.
It was a dead palm, its crown leaves long gone, and Flynn pointed an
unsteady finger at it.

“Flag pole,” he said indistinctly, took Sebastian’s elbow and led him
towards it.

Tugging at his waistcoat with one hand and clutching the bundled Union
Jack that Flynn had provided in the other, Sebastian felt a surge of
emotion within him as he looked up at the slender column of the palm
tree.

“Leave me,” he mumbled and shook off Flynn’s guiding hand. “We got to
do this right. Solemn occasion very solemn.”

“Have a drink.” Flynn offered him the gin bottle, and when Sebastian
waved it away, he lifted it to his own lips.

“Shouldn’t drink on parade.” Sebastian frowned at him.

“Bad form.”

Flynn coughed at the vicious sting of the liquor and smote himself on
the chest with his free hand.

“Should draw the men up in a hollow square,” Sebastian went on. “Ready
to salute the flag.”

“Jesus, man, get on with it,” grumbled Flynn.

“Got to do it right.”

“Oh, hell,” Flynn shrugged with resignation, then issued a string of
orders in Swahili.

Puzzled and amused, Flynn’s fifteen retainers gathered in a ragged
circle about the flag pole. They were a curious band, gathered from
half a dozen tribes, dressed in an assortment of cast-off Western
clothing, half of them armed with ancient double-barrelled elephant
rifles from which Flynn had carefully filed the serial numbers so they
could never be traced back to him.

“Fine body of men,” Sebastian beamed at them in alcoholic goodwill,
unconsciously using the words of a Brigadier who had inspected
Sebastian’s cadet parade at Rugby.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Flynn suggested.

“My friends,” Sebastian obliged, “we are gathered here today.. .” It
was a longish speech but Flynn weathered it by nipping away quietly at
the gin bottle, and at last Sebastian ended with his voice ringing and
tears of great emotion prickling his eyelids, In the sight of God and
man, I hereby declare this island part of the glorious Empire of His
Majesty, George V, King of England, Emperor of India, Protector of the
Faith.. .” His voice wavered as he tried to remember the correct
form, and he ended lamely, and all that sort of thing.”

A silence fell on the assembly and Sebastian fidgeted with
embarrassment. “What do I do now?” he enquired of Flynn O’Flynn in a
stage whisper.

“Get that goddamned flag up.”

“Ah, the flag!” Sebastian exclaimed with relief, and then uncertainly,
“How?”

Flynn considered this at length. “I guess you have to climb up the
palm tree.”

With shrill cries of encouragement from the gun-bearers, and with Flynn
shoving and cursing from below, the Governor of New Liverpool managed
to scale the flag pole to a height of about fifteen feet. There he
secured the flag and descended again so swiftly he tore the buttons off
the front of his waistcoat, and twisted his ankle. He was borne away
to one of the grass huts singing, “God save our Gracious King” in a
voice broken with gin, pain and patriotism.

For the rest of their stay on the island, the Union Jack flew at half
mast above the encampment.

Carried initially by two Wakamba fishermen, it took fully ten days for
the word of the annexation to reach the outpost of the German Empire
one hundred miles away at Mahenge. – Mahenge was in the bush country
above the coastal lowlands. It consisted, in its entirety, of four
trading posts owned by Indian shopkeepers and the German boma.

The German boma was a large stone building, thatched, set about with
wide verandas over which purple bougainvillea climbed in profusion.
Behind it stood the barracks and parade ground of the African Askari,
and before it a lonely flag pole from which streamed the black, red and
yellow of the empire. A speck in the vastness of the African bush,
seat of government for an area the size of France. An area that spread
south to the Rovurna river and the border of Portuguese Mozambique,
east to the Indian Ocean, and west to the uplands of Sao Hill and
Mbeya.

From this stronghold the German Commissioner

(Southern Province) wielded the limitless powers of a medieval robber
baron. One of the Kaiser’s arms, or, more realistically, one of his
little fingers, he was answerable only to Governor Schee in Dares
Salaam. But Dares Salaam was many torturous miles away, and Governor
Schee was a busy man not to be troubled with trivialities. just as
long as the Herr Commissioner Herman Fleischer collected the taxes, he
was free to collect them in his own sweet way;

though very few of the indigenous inhabitants of the southern province
would have described Herman Fleischer’s ways as sweet.

At the time that the messenger, carrying the news of the British
annexation of New Liverpool, trotted up over the last skyline and saw
through the acacia Thorn trees ahead of him the tiny clustered
buildings of Mahenge, Herr Fleischer was finishing his midday meal.

A man of large appetite, his luncheon consisted of

20 approximately two pounds of Eisbein, as much pickled cabbage, and a
dozen potatoes, all swimming in thick gravy.

Having aroused his taste-buds, he then went on to the sausage. The
sausage came by weekly fast-runner from Dodoma in the north, and was
manufactured by a man of emus, a Westphalian immigrant who made
sausages with the taste of the Black Forest in them. The sausage, and
the Hansa beer cooling in its earthenware jug, aroused in Herr
Fleischer a delicious nostalgia. He ate not quietly but steadily, and
these quantities of food confined within the thick grey corduroy of his
tunic and breeches, built up a pressure that squeezed the perspiration
from his face and neck, forcing him to pause and mop up at regular
intervals.

When he sighed at last and sagged back in his chair, the leather thongs
squeaked a little under him. A bubble of trapped gas found its way up
through the sausage and passed in genteel emption between his lips.
Tasting it, he sighed again in happiness and squinted out from the deep
shade of the veranda into the flat shimmering glare of the sunlight.

Then he saw the messenger coming. The man reached the steps of the
veranda and squatted down in the sun with his loin-cloth drawn up
modestly between his legs. His body was washed shiny black with sweat
but his legs were powdered with fine dust to the knees, and his chest
swelled and subsided as he drank the thin hot air. His eyes were
downcast, he could not look directly at the Bwana Mkuba until his
presence was formally acknowledged.

Herman Fleischer-watched him broodingly, his mood evaporating for he
had been looking forward to his afternoon siesta and the messenger had
spoiled that. He looked away at the low cloud above the hills in the
south and sipped his beer. Then he selected a cheroot from the box
before him and lit it. The cheroot burned slowly and evenly, restoring
a little of his good humour. He smoked it short before flicking the
stub over the veranda wall.

“Speak,” he grunted, and the messenger lifted his eyes, and gasped with
wonder and awe at the beauty and dignity of the Commissioner’s person.
Although this was ritual admiration, it never failed to stir a faint
pleasure in Herr Fleischer.

“I see you, Bwana Mkuba Great Lord,” and Fleischer inclined his head
slightly. “I bring you greetings from Kalani, headman of Batja, on the
Rufiji. You are his father, and he crawls on his belly before you.
Your hair of yellow, and the great fatness of your body, blind him with
beauty.”

Herr Fleischer stirred restlessly in his chair. References to his
corpulence, however well-intentioned, always annoyed him. “Speak,” he
repeated.

“Kalani says thus: “Ten suns ago, a ship came into the delta of the
Rufiji, and stopped by the Island of the Dogs, Inja. On the island,
the men of this ship have built houses, and above the houses, they have
placed on a dead palm tree the cloth of the Insingeese which is of blue
and white and red, having many crosses within crosses.”

Herr Fleischer struggled upright in his chair and stared at the
messenger. The pink of his complexion slowly became cross-veined with
red and purple.

“Kalani says also: “Since their coming the voices of their guns have
never ceased to speak along the Rufiji river, and there has been a
great killing of elephants so that in the noonday the sky is dark with
the birds that come for the meat.”

Herr Fleischer was thrashing around in his chair, speech was locked in
his throat and his face had swollen so it threatened to burst like an
over-ripe fruit.

“Kalani says further: “Two white men are on the island.

One is a man who is very thin and young and is therefore of no account.
The other white man Kalani has seen only at a great distance but by the
redness of this man’s face, and by his bulk, he knows in his heart it
is Fini.

At the name Herr Fleischer became articulate, if not coherent he
bellowed like a bull in rut. The messenger winced, such a bellow from
the Bwana Mkuba usually preceded a multiple hanging.

“Sergeant!” The next bellow had form, and Herr Fleischer was on his
feet, struggling to clinch the buckle of his belt.

“Rasch!” he roared again. O’Flynn was in German territory again;
O’Flynn was stealing German ivory once more and compounding the insult
by flying the Union Jack over the Kaiser’s domain.

“Sergeant, where the thunder of God are you?” With incredible speed
for a fat man Herr Fleischer raced down the long length of the veranda.
For three years now, ever since his arrival in Mahenge, the name of
Flynn O’Flynn had been enough to ruin his appetite, and produce in him
a condition very close to epilepsy.

Around the corner of the veranda appeared the sergeant of the Askari,
and Herr Fleischer braked just in time to avert collision.

“A storm patrol,” bellowed the Commissioner, blowing a cloud of spittle
in his agitation. “Twenty men. Full field packs, and one hundred
pounds of ammunition. We leave in an hour.”

The sergeant saluted and doubled away across the parade ground. A
minute later a bugle began singing with desperate urgency.

Slowly, through the black mists of rage, reason returned to Herman
Fleischel. He stood with shoulders hunched, breathing heavily through
his mouth, and mentally digested the full import of Kalani’s message.

This was not just another of O’Flynn’s will-o’-the-wisp forays across
the Rovuma from Mozambique. This time he had sailed brazenly into the
Rufiji delta, with a full-scale expedition, and hoisted the British
flag. A queasy sensation, not attributable to the pickled pork,
settled on Herr Fleischer’s stomach. He knew the makings of an
international incident when he saw one.

This, perhaps, was the goad that would launch the fatherland on the
road to its true destiny. He gulped with excitement. They had flapped
that hated flag in the Kaiser’s face just once too often. This was
history being made, and Herman Fleischer stood in the centre of it.

Trembling a little, he hurried into his office, and began drafting the
report to Governor Schee that might plunge the world into a holocaust
from which the German people would rise as the rulers of creation.

An hour later, he rode out of the boma on a white donkey with his
slouch uniform hat set well forward on his head to shield his eyes from
the glare. Behind him his black Askari marched with their rifles at
the slope. Smart in their pillbox kepis with the back flaps hanging to
the shoulder, khaki uniforms freshly pressed, and put teed legs rising
and falling in unison, they made as gallant a show as any commander
could wish.

A day and a half march would bring them to the confluence of the
Kilombero and Rufiji rivers where the Commissioner’s steam launch was
moored.

As the buildings of Mahenge vanished behind him, Herr Fleischer relaxed
and let his ample backside conform to the shape of the saddle.

have you got it straight?” Flynn asked without conviction. The past
eight days of hunting together had given him no confidence in
Sebastian’s ability to carry out a simple set of instructions without
introducing some remarkable variation of his own. “You go down the
river to the island, and you load the ivory onto the dhow. Then you
come back here with all the canoes to pick up the next batch.” Flynn
paused to allow his words to absorb into the spongy tissue of
Sebastian’s head before he went on. “And for Chrissake don’t forget
the gin.”

Right you are, old chap.” With eight days” growth of black beard, and
the skin peeling from the tip of his sunburned nose, Sebastian was
beginning to fit the role of ivory poacher. The wide-brimmed terai hat
that Flynn had loaned him came down to his ears, and the razor edges of
the elephant grass had shredded his trouser legs and stripped the
polish from his boots. His wrists and the soft skin behind his ears
were puffy and speckled with spots of angry red where the mosquitoes
had drunk deep, but he had lost a little weight in the heat and the
ceaseless walking, so now he was lean and hard-looking.

They stood together under a monkey-bean tree on the bank of the Rufiji,
while at the water’s edge the bearers were loading the last tusks into
the canoes. There was ale-greenish smell hanging over them in the
steamy purp heat, a smell which Sebastian hardly noticed now for the
last eight days had seen a great killing of elephant and the stink of
green ivory was as familiar to him as the smell of the sea to a
mariner.

“By the time you get back tomorrow morning the boys will have brought
in the last of the ivory. We’ll have a full dhow-load and you can set
off for Zanzibar.”

“What about you? Are you staying on here?”

“Not bloody likely. I’ll light out for my base camp in Mozambique.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier for you to come along on the dhow? It’s nearly
two hundred miles to walk. “Sebastian was solicitous; in these last
days he had conceived a burning admiration for Flynn.

“Well, you see, it’s like this…” Flynn hesitated. This was no time
to trouble Sebastian with talk of German gunboats waiting off the mouth
of the Rufiji. “I have to get back to my camp, because…” Suddenly
inspiration came to Flynn O’Flynn. “Because my poor little daughter is
there all alone.”

“You’ve got a daughter?” Sebastian was taken by surprise.

“You damn right I have.” Flynn experienced a sudden rush of paternal
affection and duty. “And the poor little thing is there all alone.”

“Well, when will I see you again? “The thought of parting from Flynn,
of being left to try and find his own way to Australia saddened
Sebastian.

“Well,” Flynn was tactful. “I hadn’t really given that much thought.”
This was a lie. Flynn had thought about it ceaselessly for the last
eight days. He was eagerly anticipating waving farewell to Sebastian
Oldsmith for all time.

“Couldn’t we.. .” Sebastian blushed a little under his sun-reddened
cheeks. “Couldn’t we sort of team up together?

I could work for you, sort of as an apprentice?”

The idea made Flynn wince. He almost panicked at the thought of
Sebastian permanently trailing along behind him and discharging his
rifle at random intervals. “Well now, Bassie boy,” he clasped a thick
arm around Sebastian’s shoulders, “first you sail that old dhow back to
Zanzibar and old Kebby El Keb will pay you out your share. Then you
write to me, hey? How about that? You write me, and we’ll work
something out.”

Sebastian grinned happily. “I’d like that, Flynn. I’d truly like
that.”

“All right, then, off you go. And don’t forget the gin.”

With Sebastian standing in the bows of the lead canoe, the
double-barrelled rifle clutched in his hands, and the terai hat pulled
down firmly over his ears, the little flotilla of heavily laden canoes
pulled out from the bank and caught the current. Paddles dipped and
gleamed in the evening sunlight as they arrowed away towards the first
bend downstream.

Still standing unsteadily in the frail craft, Sebastian looked back and
waved his rifle at Flynn on the bank.

“For Chrissake, be careful with that goddamn piece,”

Flynn bellowed too late. The rifle fired, and the recoil toppled
Sebastian sprawling onto the pile of ivory behind him. The canoe
rocked dangerously while the paddlers struggled to keep it from
capsizing, and then disappeared around the bend.

Twelve hours later, the canoes reappeared around the same bend, and
headed towards the lone monkey-bean tree on the bank. The canoes rode
lightly, empty of ivory, and the paddlers were singing one of the old
river chants.

Freshly shaved, wearing a clean shirt and his other pair of boots, a
case of Flynn’s liquor between his knees, Sebastian peered eagerly
ahead for his first glimpse of the big American.

A fine blue tendril of camp-fire smoke smeared out across the river,
but there were no figures waving a welcome from the bank. Suddenly
Sebastian frowned as he realized that the silhouette of the monkey-bean
tree had altered. He wrinkled his eyes, peering ahead uncertainly.

Behind him rang the first cry of alarm from his boatmen.

“Allemand!”And the canoe swerved under him.

He glanced back and saw the other canoes wheel away in tight circles
aime downstream, the boatmen jabbering in terror as they leaned forward
to thrust against the paddles.

His own canoe was in swift pursuit of the others as they darted beyond
the bend.

“Hey!” Sebastian shouted at the sweat-shiny backs of his paddlers.
“What do you think you’re doing?”

They gave him no answer but the muscles beneath their black skins
bunched and rippled in their frantic efforts to drive the canoe
faster.

“Stop that immediately!” Sebastian yelled at them. “Take me back,
dash it all. Take me to the camp.”

In desperation Sebastian lifted the rifle and aimed at the nearest man.
“I’m not joking,” he yelled again. The native glanced over his
shoulder into the gaping twin muzzles and his face, already twisted
with fear, now convulsed into a mask of terror. They had all developed
a healthy reverence for the way Sebastian handled that rifle.

The man stopped paddling, and one by one the others followed his
example. Sitting frozen under the hypnotic eyes of Sebastian’s
rifle.

“Back!” said Sebastian and gestured eloquently upstream.

Reluctantly the man nearest him dipped his paddle and the canoe turned
broadside across the current. “Back!” Sebastian repeated and the men
dipped again.

Slowly, warily, the single canoe crept upstream towards the monkey-bean
tree and the grotesque new fruit that hung from its branches.

The hull slid in onto the firm mud and Sebastian stepped ashore.

“Oud” he ordered the boatmen and gestured again. He wanted them well
away from the canoe for he knew that, otherwise, the moment his back
was turned they would set off downstream again with renewed enthusiasm.
“Oud” and he herded them up the steep bank into Flynn O’Flynn’s camp.

The two bearers who had died of gunshot wounds lay beside the
smouldering fire. But the four men in the monkey bean tree had been
less fortunate. The ropes had cut deeply into the flesh of their necks
and their faces were swollen, mouths wide in the last breath that had
never been taken. On the lolling tongues the flies crawled like
metallic green bees.

“Cut them down!” Sebastian roused himself from the nausea that was
bubbling queasily up from his stomach. The boatmen stood paralysed and
Sebastian felt anger now mixed with his revulsion. Roughly he shoved
one of the men towards the tree. “Cut them down,” he repeated, and
thrust the handle of his hunting knife into the man’s hand.

Sebastian turned away as the native shinned up into the fork of the
tree with the knife blade clamped between his teeth. Behind him he
heard the heavy meaty thuds as the dead men dropped from the tree.
Again his stomach heaved, and he concentrated on his search of the
trampled grass around the camp.

“Flynn!” he called softly. “Flynn. I say Flynn! Where are you?”
There were the prints of hobnailed boots in the soft earth, and at one
place he stooped and picked up the shiny brass cylinder of an empty
cartridge case. Stamped into the metal of the base around the
detonator cap were the words Mauser Fabriken.

“Flynn!” more urgently now as the horror of it came home to him.
“Flynn!” and he heard the grass rustle near him. He swung towards it,
half raising the rifle.

“Master!” and Sebastian felt disappointment swoop in his chest.

“Mohammed. Is that you, Mohammed?” and he recognized the wizened
little figure with the eternal fez perched on the woolly head as it
emerged. Flynn’s chief gun-boy, the only one with a little English.

“Mohammed,” with relief, and then quickly, Fini? Where is Fini?”

“They shot him, master. The Askari came in the early morning before
the sun. Fini was washing. They shot him and he fell into the
water.”

“Where? Show me where.”

Below the camp, a few yards from where the canoe was drawn up, they
found the pathetic little bundle of Flynn’s clothing. Beside it was a
half-consumed cake of cheap soap and a metal hand-mirror. There were
the deep imprints of naked feet in the mud, and Mohammed stooped and
broke off one of the green reeds at the water’s edge. Wordlessly he
handed it to Sebastian. A drop of blood had dried black on the leaf,
and it crumbled as Sebastian touched it with his thumb-nail.

“We must find him. He might still be alive. Call the others. We’ll
search the banks downstream.”

In an agony of loss, Sebastian picked up Flynn’s soiled shirt and
crumpled it in his fist.

Flynn shucked off his pants and the filthy bush-shirt.

Shivering briefly in the chill of dawn, he hugged himself and massaged
his upper arms while he peered into the shallow water, searching the
bottom for the telltale chicken-wire pattern that would mean a
crocodile was buried in the mud waiting for him.

His body was porcelain-white where clothing had protected it from the
sun, but his arms were chocolate-brown, and a deep vee of the same
brown dipped down from his throat onto his chest. Above it the
battered red face was creased and puffy with sleep, and his long,
greying hair was tangled and matted. He belched thunderously, and
grimaced at the taste of old gin and pipe tobacco, then, satisfied that
no reptile lay in ambush, he stepped into the water and lowered his
massive hams to sit waist-deep. Snorting, he scooped water with his
cupped hands over his head, then lumbered out onto the bank again.
Sixty seconds is a long time to stay in a river like the Rufiji, for
the crocodiles come quickly to the sound of splashing.

Naked, dripping, hair plastered down across his face, Flynn began to
soap himself, working up a thick lather at his crotch and tenderly
massaging his abundant genitalia, he washed away the sloth of sleep and
his appetite stirred.

He called up at the camp, “Mohammed, beloved of Allah and son of his
prophet, shake your black arse out of the sack and get the coffee
brewing.” Then as an afterthought, he added, “And put a little gin in
it.”

Soapsuds filled Flynn’s armpits, and coated the melancholy sag of his
belly when Mohammed came down the bank to him. Mohammed was balancing
a large enamel mug from which curled little wisps of aromatic steam,
and Flynn grinned at him, and spoke in Swahili. “Thou art kind and
merciful; this charity will be writ against your name in the Book of
Paradise.”

He reached for the mug but before his fingers touched it, there was a
fusillade of gun-fire above them and a bullet hit Flynn high up in the
thigh. It spun him sideways so he sprawled half in mud and half in
water.

Lying stunned with the shock, he heard the rush of Askari into the
camp, heard their shouted triumph as they clubbed with the gun-butt
those who had survived the first volley. Flynn wriggled into a sitting
position.

Mohammed was coming to him anxiously.

“Run,” granted Flynn. “Run, damn you.”

“Lord..

“Get out of here.” Savagely Flynn lashed out at him, and Mohammed
recoiled. “The rope, you fool. They’ll give you the rope and wrap you
in a pigskin.”

A second longer Mohammed hesitated, then he ducked and scampered into
the reeds.

“Find Fini,” roared a bull voice in German. “Find the white man.”

Flynn realized then that it was a stray bullet that had hit him perhaps
even a ricochet. His leg was numb from the hip down, but he dragged
himself into the water. He could not run, so he must swim.

“Where is he? Find him!” raged the voice, and suddenly the grass on
the bank burst open and Flynn looked up.

For the first time they confronted each other. These two who had
played murderous hide-and-seek for three long years across ten thousand
square miles of bush.

“Ja!” Fleischer’s jubilant bellow as he swung and sighted the pistol
at the man in the water below him. “This time!”

aiming carefully, steadying the Luger with both hands.

The brittle snapping sound of the shot, and the slap of the bullet into
the water a foot from Flynn’s head were followed by Fleischer’s snarl
of disappointment.

Filling his lungs, Flynn ducked below the surface. Frogkicking with
his good leg, trailing the wounded one, he turned with the current and
swam. He swam until his trapped breath threatened to explode his
chest, and coloured lights flashed and twinkled behind his clenched
eyelids. Then he clawed to the surface. On the bank Fleischer was
waiting for him with a dozen of his Askari.

“There he is!” as Flynn blew like a whale thirty yards downstream.
Gun-fire crackled and the water whipped and leaped and creamed around
Flynn’s head.

“Shoot straightr!” Howling in frustration and blazing wildly with the
Luger, Fleischer watched the head disappear and Flynn’s fat white
buttocks break the surface for an instant as he dived. Sobbing with
anger and exertion, Fleischer turned his fury on the Askari around him.
“Pigs!

Stupid black pig dogs!” And he swung the empty pistol against the
nearest head, knocking the man to his knees.

Intent on avoiding the flailing pistol, none of them were ready when
Flynn surfaced for the second time. A desultory volley kicked
fountains no closer than ten feet to Flynn’s bobbing head, and he dived
again.

“Come on! Chase him!” Herding his Askari ahead of him, Fleischer
trotted along the bank in pursuit. Twenty yards of good going, then
they came to the first swamp hole and waded through it to be confronted
by a solid barrier of elephant grass. They plunged into it and were
swallowed so they no longer had sight of the river.

“Schnell! Schnell! He’ll get away,” gasped Fleischer and the thick
stems wrapped his ankles so that he fell headlong in the mud. Two of
his Askari dragged him up and they staggered on until the thicket of
tall grass ended, and they stood on the elbow of the river bend with a
clear view a thousand yards downstream.

Disturbed by the gun-fire, the birds were up, milling in confused
flight above the reed-beds. Their alarm cries blended into a harsh
chorus that spoiled the peace of the brooding dawn. They were the only
living things in sight.

From bank to far bank, the curved expanse of water was broken only by a
few floating islands of papyrus grass; rafts of matted vegetation cut
loose by the current and floating unhurriedly down towards the sea.

Panting, Herman Fleischer shook off the supporting hands of his two
Askari and searched desperately for a glimpse of Flynn’s bobbing head.
“Where did he go?” His fingers trembled as he fitted a new clip of
ammunition into the Luger. “Where did he go?”he demanded again, but
none of his Askari drew attention to himself by venturing a reply.

“He must be on this side! “The Rufiji was half a mile wide here, Flynn
could not have crossed it in the few minutes since they had last seen
him. “Search the bank!” Fleischer ordered. “Find him!”

With relief the sergeant of his Askari turned on his men, quickly
splitting them into two parties and sending them up and downstream to
scour the water’s edge.

Slowly Fleischer returned the pistol to its holster and fastened the
flap, then he took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped at his
face and neck.

“Come on!” he snapped at his sergeant, and set off back towards the
camp.

When he reached it, his men had already set out the folding table and
chair. New life had been stilled into Flynn’s camp-fire, and the
Askari cook was preparing breakfast.

Sitting at the table with the front of his tunic open, % spooning up
oatmeal porridge and wild honey, Fleischer was soothed into a better
humour by the food, and by the thorough manner in which the execution
of the four captives was conducted.

When the last of them had stopped twitching and kicking and hung
quietly with his comrades in the monkey bean tree, Herman wiped up the
bacon grease in his plate with a hunk of black bread and popped it into
his mouth.

The cook removed the plate and replaced it with a mug of steaming
coffee at the exact moment when the two parties of searchers straggled
into the clearing to report that a few drops of blood at the water’s
edge was the only sign they had found of Flynn O’Flynn.

“Ja,” Herman nodded, “the crocodiles have eaten him.”

He sipped appreciatively at his coffee mug before he gave his next
orders. “Sergeant, take this up to the launch.” He pointed at the
stack of ivory on the edge of the clearing.

“Then we will go down to the Island of the Dogs and find this other
white man with his English flag.” -here was only the entry wound, a
dark red hole from which watery blood still oozed slowly. Flynn could
have thrust his thumb into it but instead he groped gently around the
back of his leg and located the lump in his flesh where the spent slug
had come to rest just below the skin.

“God damn it, God damn it to hell,” he whispered in pain, and in anger,
at the unlikely chance which had deflected the ricochet downwards to
where he had stood below the bank, deflecting it with just sufficient
velocity to lodge the bullet in his thigh instead of delivering a clean
in-a nd out wound.

Slowly he straightened his leg, testing it for broken bone.

At the movement, the matt of drifting papyrus on which he lay rocked
slightly.

“Might have touched the bone, but it’s still in one piece,”

he grunted with relief, and felt the first giddy swing of weakness in
his head. In his ears was the faint rushing sound of a waterfall heard
far off. “Lost a bit of the old juice,” and from the wound a fresh
trickle of bright blood broke and mingled with the waterdrops to snake
down his leg and drip into the dry matted papyrus. “Got to stop that,”
he whispered.

He was naked, his body still wet from the river. No belt or cloth to
use as a tourniquet but he must staunch the bleeding. His fingers
clumsy with the weakness of the wound, he tore a bunch of the long
sword blade leaves from the reeds around him and began twisting them
into a rope.

Binding it around his leg above the wound, he pulled it tight and
knotted it. The dribble of blood slowed and almost stopped before
Flynn sank back and closed his eyes.

Beneath him the island swung and undulated with the eddy of the current
and the wavelets pushed up by the rising morning wind. It was a
soothing motion, and he was tired terribly, achingly, tired. He
slept.

The pain and the cessation of motion woke him at last.

The pain was a dull persistent throb, a pulse that beat through his leg
and groin and his lower belly. Groggily he pulled himself on to his
elbows and looked down on his own body. The leg was swollen,
bluish-looking from the constriction of the grass rope. He stared at
it dully, without comprehension, for a full minute before memory
flooded back.

“Gangrene!” he spoke aloud, and tore at the knot. The rope fell away
and he gasped at the agony of new blood flowing into the leg, clenching
his fists and grinding his teeth against it. The pain slowed and
settled into a steady beat, and he breathed again, wheezy as a man with
asthma.

The change of his circumstances came through to the conscious level of
his mind and he peered around shortsightedly. The river had carried
him down into the mangrove swamps again, down into the maze of little
islands and water-ways of the delta. His raft of papyrus had been
washed in and stranded against a mud bank by the falling tide. The mud
stank of rotting vegetation and sulphur. Near him a gathering of big
green river crabs were clicking and bubbling over the body of a dead
fish, their little eye-stalks raised in perpetual surprise. At Flynn’s
movement they sidled away towards the water with their red4ipped claws
raised defensively.

Water! Instantly Flynn was aware of the gummy saliva that glued his
tongue to the roof of his mouth. Reddened by the harsh sunlight,
heated by the first fever of his wound, his body was a furnace that
craved moisture.

Flynn moved and instantly cried out in pain. His leg had stiffened
while he slept. It was now a heavy anchor, shackling him helplessly to
the papyrus raft. He tried again, easing himself backwards on his
hands and his buttocks, dragging the leg after him. Each breath was a
sob in his dry throat, each movement a white-hot lance into his
thigh.

But he must drink, he had to drink. Inch by inch, he worked his way to
the edge of the raft and slid from it on to the mud bank.

The water had receded with the tide, and he was still fifty paces from
the edge. With the motion of a man swimming on his back, he moved
across the slimy evil, smelling mud, and his leg slithered after him.
It was beginning to bleed again, not copiously but a bright wine drop
at a time.

He reached the water at last, and rolled onto his side with the bad leg
uppermost in an attempt to keep the wound out of the mud. On one elbow
he buried his face in the water, drinking greedily. The water was
warm, tainted with sea salt, and musky with rotted mangroves so it
tasted like animal urine. But he gulped it noisily with his mouth and
his nostrils and his eyes below the surface. At last he must breathe,
and he lifted his head, panting for breath, Coughing so the water shot
up his throat, out through his nose and dimmed his vision with tears.
Gradually his breathing steadied and his eyes cleared. Before he bowed
his head to drink again, he glanced out across the channel and saw it
coming.

It was on the surface, still a hundred yards away but swimming fast,
driving towards him with the great tail churning the water. A big one
at least fifteen feet of it showing like the rOLIgh bark of a pine log,
leaving a wide wake across the SUrface as it came.

And Flynn screamed, just once, but shrill and high and achingly clear.
Forgetting the wound in his panic, he tried to get to his feet, pushing
himself up with his hands but the leg pinned him. He screamed again,
in pain and in fear.

Belly down, he wriggled in frantic haste from the shallow water back
onto the mud bank, dragging himself across the glutinous slime, clawing
and threshing towards the papyrus raft where it lay stranded among the
mangrove roots fifty yards away. Expecting each moment to hear the
slithering rush of the huge reptile across the mud behind him, he
reached the first of the mangroves and rolled on his side, looking
back, coated with black mud, his face working in his terror and the
sound of it spilling in an incoherent babble through his lips.

The crocodile was at the edge of the mud bank, still in the river. Only
its head showed above the surface and the little piggy bright eyes
watched him un winkingly each set on its knot of horny scale.

Desperately Flynn looked about him. The mud bank was a tiny island
with this grove of a dozen mangroves set in the centre of it. The
trunks of the mangroves were twice as thick as a man’s chest, but
without branches for the first ten feet of their height; smooth bark
slimy with mud and encrusted with little colonies of fresh-water
mussels.

Unwounded Flynn would not have been able to climb any of them with his
leg those branches above him were doubly inaccessible.

Wildly now he searched for a weapon anything, no matter how puny to
defend himself. But there was nothing. Not a branch of driftwood, not
a rock only the ck’black sheet of mud around him.

He looked back at the crocodile. It had not moved. His first feeble
hope that it might not come out onto the mud bank withered almost
before it was born. It would come.

Cowardly, loathsome creature it was but in time it would Father its
courage. It had smelled his blood; it knew him to be wounded,
helpless. It would come.

Painfully Flynn leaned his back against the roots of mangrove, and his
terror settled down to a steady, pulsing fear as steady as the pain in
his leg. During the frantic flight across-the bank, stiff mud had
plugged the bullet hole and stopped the bleeding. But it does not
matter now, Flynn thought, nothing matters. Only the creature out
there, waiting while its appetite overcomes its timidity, swamps its
reluctance to leave its natural element. It might take five minutes,
or half a day but, inevitably, it will come.

There was a tiny ripple around its snout, the first sign of its
movement, and the long scaly head inched in towards the edge. Flynn
stiffened.

The back showed, its scales like the patterned teeth of a file, and
beyond it, the tail with the coxcomb double crest.

Cautiously, on its short bowed legs, it waddled through the shallows.
Wet and shiny, as broad across the back as a percher on stallion, more
than a ton of cold, armoured flesh, it emerged from the water. Sinking
elbow-deep into the soft mud, so its belly left a slide mark behind it.
Grinning savagely, but with the jagged, irregular teeth lying yellow
and long on its lips, and the small eyes watching him.

It came so slowly that Flynn lay passively against the tree, mesmerized
by the deliberate waddling approach.

When it was half-way across the bank, it stopped crouching, grinning
and he smelled it. The heavy odour of stale fish and musk on the warm
air.

“Get away!” Flynn yelled at it, and it stood unmoving, unblinking.
“Get away!” He snatched up a handful of mud and hurled it. It
crouched a little lower on its stubby legs and the fat crested tail
stiffened, arching slightly.

Sobbing now, Flynn threw another handful of mud. The long grinning
jaws opened an inch, then shut again. He heard the click as its teeth
met, and it charged. Incredibly fast through the Mud, grinning still,
it slithered towards him.

This time Flynn’s voice was a lunatic babble of horror and he writhed
helplessly against the mangrove roots.

The deep booming note of the gun seemed not part of reality, but the
crocodile reared up on its tail, drowning the echoes of the shot with
its own hissing bellow, and above the next boom of the gun, Flynn heard
the bullet strike the scaly body with a thump.

Mud sprayed as the reptile rolled in convulsions, and then, lifting
itself high on its legs, it lumbered in ungainly flight towards the
water. Again and again the heavy rifle fired, but the crocodile never
faltered in its rush, and the surface of the water exploded like blown
glass as it launched itself from the bank and was gone in the spreading
ripples.

Standing in the bows of the canoe with the smoking rifle in his hands,
while the paddlers drove in towards the bank, Sebastian Oldsmith
shouted anxiously, “Flynn, Flynn did it get you? Are you all right?”

Flynn’s reply was a croak. “Bassie. Oh, Bassie boy, for the first
time in my life I’m real pleased to see you,” and he sagged only half
conscious against the mangrove roots.

The sun burned down on the dhow where it lay at anchor off the Island
of the Dogs, yet a steady breeze came down the narrow waterway between
the mangroves and plucked at the furled sail on the boom.

With a rope sling under his armpits, they lifted Flynn from the canoe
and swung him, legs dangling, over the bulwark. Sebastian was ready to
receive him and lower him gently to the deck.

“Get that goddamn sail up, and let’s get the hell out of the river,”
gasped Flynn.

“I must tend to your leg.”

“That can wait. We’ve got to get out into the open sea.

The Germans have got a steam launch. They’ll be looking for us. We
can expect them to drop in on us at any minute.”

“They can’t touch us we’re under the protection of the flag, Sebastian
protested.

“Listen, you stupid, bloody limey,” Flynn’s voice was a squawk of pain
and impatience. “That murderin Hun will give us a rope dance with or
without the flag. Don’t argue, get that sail up!”

At al They laid him on a blanket in the shadow of the high poop before
Sebastian hurried forward to release the Arab crew from the hold. They
came up shiny with sweat and blinking in the dazzle of the sun. It
took perhaps fifteen seconds for Mohammed to explain to them the
urgency of the situation, and this invoked a few seconds of paralysed
horror before they scattered to their stations. Four of them were
hauling ineffectively at the anchor rope, but the great lump of coral
was buried in the gluey mud of the bottom.

Sebastian pushed them aside impatiently and with one knife stroke,
severed the rope.

The crew, with the enthusiastic assistance of Flynn’s bearers and
gun-boys, ran up the faded and patched old sail.

The wind caught it and bellied it. The deck canted slightly and two
Arabs ran back to the tiller. From under the bows came the faint
giggle of water, and from the stern spread a wide oily wake. With a
cluster of the Arabs and bearers calling directions in the bows to the
steersman at the rudder, the ancient dhow pointed downstream and ambled
towards the sea.

When Sebastian went back to Flynn, he found old Mohammed squatting
anxiously beside him and watching, as Flynn drank from the square
bottle. Already a quarter of its contents had disappeared.

Flynn lowered the gin bottle, and breathed heavily through his mouth.
“Tastes like honey,” he gasped.

“Let’s look at that leg.” Sebastian stooped over Flynn’s naked,
mud-besmeared body. “My God, what a mess!

Mohammed, get a basin of water and try and find some clean cloth.”

With the coming of evening, the breeze gathered strength, kicking up a
chop on the widening

“water-ways of the delta. All afternoon the little dhow had butted
against the run of the tide, but now began the ebb and it helped push
her down towards the sea.

“With any luck we’ll reach the mouth before sunset.”

Sebastian was sitting beside Flynn’s blanket-wrapped form under the
poop. Flynn grunted. He was weak with pain, and groggy with gin. “If
we don’t, we’ll have to moor somewhere for the night. Can’t risk the
channel in the dark.” He received no reply from Flynn and himself fell
silent.

Except for the gurgle of the bow-wave and the singsong chant of the
pilot, a lazy silence blanketed the dhow. Most of the crew and the
bearers were strewn in sleep about the deck, although two of them
worked quietly over the open galley as they prepared the evening
meal.

The heavy miasma of the swamps blended poorly with the stench of the
bilges and the cargo of green ivory in the holds. It seemed to act as
a drug, increasing Sebastian’s fatigue. His head sagged forward on his
chest and his hands slipped from the rifle in his lap. He slept.

The magpie chatter of the crew, and Mohammed’s urgent hands on his
shoulder, shook him awake. He came to his feet and gazed blearily
around him. “What is it? What is the trouble, Mohammed?”

For answer, Mohammed shouted the crew into silence, and turned back to
Sebastian. “Listen, master.”

Sebastian shook the remnants of sleep from his head, then cocked it
slightly. “I can’t hear…” He stopped, an expression of uncertainty
on his face.

Very faintly in the still of the evening he heard it, a faint huffing
rhythm, as though a train passed in the distance.

“Yes,” he said, still uncertain. “What is it?”

“The toot-toot boat, she comes.”

Sebastian stared at him without comprehension.

“The Allemand. The Germans.” Mohammed’s hands fluttered with
agitation. “They follow us. They chase. They catch. They…” He
clutched his own throat with both hands and rolled his eyes. His
tongue protruded from the corner of his mouth.

Flynn’s entire retinue was gathered in a mob around Sebastian, and at
Mohammed’s graphic little charade, they burst once more into a
Lightened chorus. Every eye was on Sebastian, waiting for his lead,
and he felt confused, uncertain. Instinctively he turned to Flynn.
Flynn lay on his back, his mouth open, snoring. Quickly Sebastian
knelt beside him. “Flynn! Flynn!” Flynn opened his eyes but they
were focused beyond Sebastian’s face. “The Germans are coming.”

“The Campbells are coming. Hurrah! Hurrah!” muttered Flynn and
closed his eyes again. His usually red face was flushed hot-scarlet
with fever.

“What must I do? “pleaded Sebastian.

“Drink it” advised Flynn. “Never hesitate. Drink it!” his eyes still
closed, his voice slurred.

“Please, Flynn. Please tell me.”

“Tell you?” muttered Flynn in delirium. “Sure! Have you heard the
one about the camel and the missionary?”

Sebastian jumped to his feet and looked wildly about him. The sun was
low, perhaps another two hours to nightfall If only we can hold them
off until then. “Mohammed.

Get the gun-boys up into the stern,” he snapped, and Mohammed,
recognizing the new crispness in his voice, turned on the mob about him
to relay the order.

The ten gun boys scattered to gather their weapons and then crowded up
on to the poop. Sebastian followed them, gazing anxiously back along
the channel. He could see two thousand yards to the bend behind them
and the channel was empty, but he was sure the sound of the steam
engine was louder.

“Spread them along the rail,” he ordered Mohammed. He was thinking
hard now; always a difficult task for Sebastian.

Stubborn as a mule, his mind began to sulk as soon as he flogged it. He
wrinkled his high scholar’s forehead and his next thought emerged
slowly. “A barricade,” he said. The thin planking of the bulwark
would offer little protection against the high-powered Mousers.
“Mohammed, get the others to carry up everything they can find, and
pile it here to shield the steersman and the gun-boys. Bring
everything water barrels, the sacks of coconuts, those old fishing
nets

While they hurried to obey the order, Sebastian stood in frowning
concentration, prodding the mass within his skull and finding it as
responsive as a lump of freshly kneaded dough. He tried to estimate
the relative speeds of the dhow and a modern steam launch. Perhaps
they were moving at half the speed of their pursuers. With a sliding
sensation, he decided that even in this wind, sail could not hope to
out run a propeller-driven craft.

The word propeller, and the chance that at that moment he was forced to
move aside to allow four of the men to drag an untidy bundle of old
fishing-nets past, eased the next idea to the surface of his mind.

Humbled by the brilliance of his idea, he clung to it desperately, lest
it somehow sink once more below the surface to be lost. “Mohammed…”
he stammered in his excitement. “Mohammed, those nets…” He looked
back again along the wide channel, and saw it still empty. He looked
ahead and saw the next bend coming towards them;

already the helmsman was chanting the orders preparatory to tacking the
dhow. “Those nets. I want to lay them across the channel.”

Mohammed stared at him aghast, his wizened face crinkling deeper in
disbelief

“Cut off the corks. Leave every fourth one.” Sebastian grabbed his
shoulders and shook him in agitation. “I want the net to sag. I don’t
want them to spot it too soon.”

They were almost up to the bend now, and Sebastian pointed ahead “We’ll
lay it just around the corner.”

“Why, master?” pleaded Mohammed. “We must run. They are close
now.”

“The propeller,” Sebastian shouted in his face. He made a churning
motion with his hands. “I want to snag the propeller.”

A moment longer Mohammed stared at him, then he began to grin, exposing
his bald gums.

While they worked in frantic haste the muffled engine beat from
upstream grew steadily louder, more insistent.

The dhow wallowed and balked at the efforts of the helmsman to work her
across the channel. Her head kept falling away before the wind,
threatening to snarl the net in her own rudder, but slowly the line of
bobbing corks spread from the mangroves on one side towards the far
bank, while in grim concentration Sebastian and a group led by Mohammed
paid the net out over the stern. Every few minutes they lifted their
faces to glance at the bend upstream, expecting to see the German
launch appear and hear the crackle of Mauser fire.

Gradually the dhow edged in towards the north bank, sowing the row of
corks behind her, and abruptly Sebastian realized that the net was too
short too short by fifty yards.

There would be a gap in their defence. If the launch cut the bend
fine, hugging the bank as it came, then they were lost.

Already the note of its engine was so close that he could hear the
metallic whine of the drive shaft.

Now also there was a new problem. How to anchor the loose end of the
net? To let it float free would allow the current to wash it away, and
open the gap still further.

“Mohammed. Fetch one of the tusks. The biggest one you can find.
Quickly. Go quickly.”

Mohammed scampered away and returned immediately, the two bearers with
him staggering under the weight of the long curved shaft of ivory.

His hands clumsy with haste, Sebastian lashed the end rope of the net
to the tusk. Then grunting with the effort, he and Mohammed hoisted it
to the side rail, and pushed it overboard. As it splashed, Sebastian
shouted at the helmsman, “Go!” and pointed downstream. Thankfully the
Arab wrenched the tiller across. The dhow spun on her heel and pointed
once more towards the sea.

Silently, anxiously, Sebastian and his gun-boys lined the stern and
gazed back at the bend of the channel. In the fists of each of them
were clutched the short-barrelled elephant rifles, and their faces were
set intently.

The chug of the steam engine rose louder and still louder.

“Shout as soon as it shows,” Sebastian ordered. “Shoot as fast as you
can. Keep them looking at us, so they don’t see the net.”

And the launch came around the bend; flying a ribbon of grey smoke from
its single stack and the bold red, yellow and black flag of the Empire
at its bows. A neat little craft, forty-footer, low in the waist,
small deck house aft, gleaming white in the sunlight, and the white
mustache of the bow wave curled about her bows.

“Shoot!” bellowed Sebastian as he saw the Askari clustered on the
foredeck. “Shoot!” and his voice was lost in the concerted blast of
the heavy-calibre rifles around him. One of the Askari was flung
backwards against the deck house, his arms spread wide as he hung there
a moment in the attitude of crucifixion before subsiding gently on to
the deck. His comrades scattered and dropped into cover behind the
steel bulwark. A single figure was left alone on the deck;

a massive figure in the light grey uniform of the German colonial
service, with his wide-brimmed slouch hat, and gold gleaming at the
shoulders of his tunic.

Sebastian took him in the notch of his rear sight, held the bead on his
chest, and jerked the trigger. The rifle jumped joyously against his
shoulder, and he saw a fountain of spray leap from the surface of the
river a hundred yards beyond the launch. Sebastian fired again,
closing his eyes in anticipation of the savage recoil of the rifle.
When he opened them, the German officer was still on his feet, shooting
back at Sebastian with a pistol in his outstretched right hand. He was
making better practice than Sebastian.

The fluting hum of his fire whipped about Sebastian’s head, or smacked
into the planking of the dhow.

Hastily Sebastian ducked behind the water barrel and clawed a pair of
cartridges from his belt. Sharper, higher than the dull booming of the
elephant rifles, climbed the brittle crackle of the Mauser fire as the
Askari joined in.

Cautiously Sebastian lifted his eyes above the water barrel. The
launch was cutting the bend fine, and with a sudden swoop of dismay, he
knew it was going to clear the fishnet by twenty feet. He dropped his
rifle on to the deck and jumped to his feet-A Mauser bullet missed his
ear by so little that it nearly burst his eardrum. Instinctively he
ducked, then checked the movement and instead ran to the helmsman. “Get
out of the way!” he yelled in his excitement and his fear. Roughly he
shoved the man aside and, grasping the tiller, pushed it across.
Perilously close to the jibe, the dhow veered across the channel,
opening the angle between it and the launch. Looking back Sebastian
saw the fat German officer turn and shout an order towards the
wheelhouse.

Almost immediately the bows of the launch swung, following the dhow’s
manoeuvre, and Sebastian felt triumph flare in his chest. Now directly
in the path of the launch lay the line of tiny black dots that marked
the net.

His deep-drawn breath trapped in his lungs, Sebastian watched the
launch sweep over the net. His grip on the tiller tightened until his
knuckles threatened to push out through the skin, and then he expelled
his breath in a howl of joy and relief.

For the line of corks was suddenly plucked below the surface, leaving
the small disturbance of ripples where each had stood. For ten seconds
the launch sped on, then abruptly the even sound of her passage
altered, a harsh clattering intruded, and her bows swung suddenly as
she slowed.

The gap between the two craft widened. Sebastian saw the German
officer drag a frightened Askari from the wheelhouse and club him
unmercifully about the head, but the squeals of Teutonic fury were
muted by the swiftly increasing distance, and then drowned by the
tumultuous clamour of his own crew, as they pranced and danced about
the deck.

The Arab helmsman hopped up on to the water barrel and hoisted the
skirts of his dirty grey robe to expose his naked posterior at the
launch in calculated mockery.

Long after the dhow had sailed sedately first out of rifle range, and
then out of sight, Herman Fleischer gave himself over completely to the
epilepsy of frustrated anger. He raved about the tiny deck, lashing
out with ham-sized fists while his Askari skittled around him trying to
keep out of range. Repeatedly he returned to the unconscious form of
his helmsman to kick him as he lay. At last his anger burned itself
down to the level where it allowed him to trundle aft and hang over the
stern rail peering down at the sodden bundle of netting which was
wrapped around the propeller.

“Sergeant!” His voice was hoarse with strain. “Get two men with
knives over the side to cut that away!”

And a stillness fell upon them all. Every man tried to shrink himself
down into insignificance, so that the choice might not fall on him. Two
volunteers were selected, divested of their uniforms and hustled to the
stern, despite their terrified entreaties.

“Tell them to hurry,” grunted Herman, and went to his folding chair.
His personal boy placed the evening meal with its attendant pitcher of
beer on the table before him and Herman fell to.

Once from the stern there was a squeak and a splash, following by a
furious burst of rifle fire. Herman frowned and looked up from his
plate.

“A crocodile has taken one of the men, his sergeant reported in
agitation.

“Well, put another one over,” said Herman and returned with unabated
relish to his meal. This last batch of sausage was particularly
tasty.

The netting had wound so tightly about the blades and shaft of the
propeller, that it was an hour after midnight when the last of it was
hacked away by lantern light.

The drive shaft had twisted slightly and run one of its bearings, so
even at quarter speed there was a fearsome clattering and threshing
sound from the stern as the Icicle limped slowly down the channel
towards the sea.

In the grey and pallid pink of dawn they, crept past the last island of
mangroves and the launch lifted her head Lo the sluggish thrust of the
Indian Ocean. It was a windless morning of flat calm, and Herman
peered without hope into the misty half light that obscured the ocean’s
far horizon.

He had come this far only on the slight chance that the dhow might have
gone aground on a mud bank during her night run down the river.

“Stop!” he shouted at his battered helmsman. Immediately the agonized
clatter of the propeller ceased, and the launch rose and fell uneasily
on the long oily swells.

So they had got clear away then. He could not risk his damaged launch
on the open sea. He must go back, and leave the dhow and its ivory and
its many candidates for the rope, to head unmolested for that pest-hole
of rogues and pirates on Zanzibar Island.

Moodily he looked out across the sea and mourned that cargo of ivory.
There had been perhaps a million Reichsmarks of it aboard, of which his
unofficial handling fee would have been considerable.

Also he mourned the departure of the Englishman. He had never hanged
one before.

He sighed and tried to comfort himself with the thought of that damned
American, now well digested in the maw of a crocodile, but truly it
would have been more satisfying to see him kick and spin on the rope.

He sighed again. Ah, well! At least he would no longer have the
perpetual worry of Flynn O’Flynn’s presence on his border, nor would he
have to suffer the nagging of Governor Schee and his endless demands
for O’Flynn’s head.

Now it was breakfast time. He was about to turn away when something
out there in the lightening dawn caught his attention.

A long low shape, its outline becoming crisper as he watched. There
were cries from his Askari as they saw it also, huge in the dawn. The
stark square turrets with their slim gun-barrels, the tall triple
stacks and the neat geometrical patterns of its rigging.

“The Blitcher!” roared Herman in savage elation. The Blucher, by GoD!
He recognized the cruiser, for he had seen her not six months before,
lying in Dares Salaam harbour.

“Sergeant, bring the signal pistol!” He was capering with excitement.
In reply to Herman’s hasty message, Governor Schee must have sent the
Blitcher racing southwards to blockade the Rufiji mouth. “Start the
engine. Schnell! Run out to her,” he shouted at the helmsman as he
slid one of the fat Verey cartridges into the gaping breech of the
Pistol, snapped it closed and pointed the muzzle to the sky.

Beside the tall bulk of the cruiser the launch was as tiny as a
floating leaf, and Herman looked up with apprehension at the frail rope
ladder he was expected to climb. His Askari assisted him across the
narrow strip of water between the two vessels and he hung for a
desperate minute until his feet found the rungs and he began his
ponderous ascent.

Sweating profusely he was helped on to the deck by two seamen and faced
an honour guard of a dozen or more.

Heading them was a young lieutenant in crisp, smart tropical whites.

Herman shrugged off the helping hands, drew himself to attention with a
click of heels. “Commissioner Fleischer.”

His voice shaky with exertion.

“Lieutenant Kyller. “The officer clicked and saluted.

“I must see your captain immediately. A matter of extreme urgency.”

Capitan zur See Count Otto von Kleine inclined his head gravely as he
greeted Herman. He was a tall, thin man, who wore a neat, pointed
blond beard with just a few threads of grey to give it dignity. “The
English have landed a full-scale expeditionary force in the Rufiji
delta, supported by capital ships? This is correct?” he asked
immediately.

“The report was exaggerated.” Herman regretted bitterly the impetuous
wording of his message to the Governor; he hadd been fired with
patriotic ardour at the time. “In fact, it was only … ah,” he
hesitated, “one vessel

“Of what strength? What is her armament?” demanded von Kleine.

“Well, it was an unarmed vessel.”

And von Kleine frowned. “Of what type?”

Herman flushed with embarrassment. “An Arab dhow.

Of about twenty-two metres.”

“But this is impossible. Ridiculous. The Kaiser has delivered an
ultimatum to the British Consul in Berlin. He has issued mobilization
orders to five divisions.” The captain spun on his heel and began to
pace restlessly about his bridge, clapping his hands together in
agitation. “What was the purpose of this British invasion? Where is
this … this dhow? What explanation must I send to Berlin?”

“I have since learned that the expedition was led by a notorious ivory
poacher named O’Flynn. He was shot resisting arrest by my Askari, but
his accessory, an unknown Englishman, escaped down the river last night
in the dhow.”

“Where will they be headed?” The captain stopped pacing and glared at
Herman.

“Zanzibar.”

“This is stupidity, utter stupidity. We will be a laughing stock! A
battle cruiser to catch a pair of common criminals!”

“But, Captain, you must pursue them.”

“To what purpose?”

“If they escape to tell their story, the dignity of the Emperor will be
lowered throughout the length of Africa.

Think if the British Press were to hear of this! Also, these men are
dangerous criminals.”

“But I cannot board a foreign ship on the high seas.

Especially if she flies the Union Jack. It would be an act of war an
act of piracy.”

“But, Captain, if she were to sink with all hands, sink without a
trace?”

And Captain von Kleine nodded thoughtfully. Then abruptly he snapped
his fingers and turned to his pilot. “Plot me a course for Zanzibar
Island.”

They lay becalmed below a sky of brazen cobalt, and every hour of the
calm allowed the Mozambique current to push the little dhow another
three miles off its course. Aimlessly she swung her head to meet each
of the long swells, and then let it fall away into the troughs.

For the twentieth time since dawn, Sebastian climbed up on to the
poop-deck and surveyed the endless waters, searching for a ruffle on
the glassy Surface that would herald the wind. But there was never any
sign of it. He looked towards the west, but the blue line of the coast
had long since sunk below the horizon.

“I’m an old dog, bellowed Flynn from the lower deck. “Hear me laugh,”
and he imitated faithfully the yammering cry of an hyena. All day
Flynn had regaled the labored company with snatches of song and animal
imitations. Yet his delirium was inter spaced with periods of
lucidity. “I reckon this time old Fleischer got me good, Bassie.
There’s a sack of poison forming round that bullet. I can feel it
there. A fat, hot sack of it. Reckon we’ve got to dig for it pretty
soon. Reckon if we can’t make it back to Zanzibar pretty soon, we’re
going to have to dig for it.” Then his mind escaped once more into the
hot land of delirium.

My little girl, I’ll bring you a pretty ribbon. There, don’t cry. A
pretty ribbon for a pretty girl.” His voice syrupy, then suddenly
harsh. “You cheeky little bitch. You’re just like that goddamned
mother of yours. Don’t know why I don’t chase you out,” this last
followed immediately by the hyena imitation again.

Now Sebastian turned away from the poop rail and looked down on Flynn.
Beside him the faithful Mohammed was dipping strips of cloth in a
bucket of sea water, wringing them out and then laying them on Flynn’s
flushed forehead in a futile attempt to reduce the fever.

Sebastian sighed. His responsibilities lay heavily. The command of
the expedition had devolved squarely upon him. And yet, there was a
sneaky sensation of pleasure, of pride in his execution of that command
to the present. He went back and replayed in his mind the episode of
the fishnet, remembering the quick decision that had altered the
launch’s course and lured it into the trap. He smiled at the memory,
and the smile was not his usual self-effacing grin, but something
harder. When he turned away to pace the narrow deck there was more
spring in his step, and he set his shoulders square.

Again he stopped by the rail and looked towards the west. There was a
cloud on the horizon, a tiny dark figure of it. And he watched it with
hope that it might herald the start of the afternoon sea breeze. Yet
it seemed unnatural.

As he watched, it moved. He could swear it moved. Now his whole
attention was fastened upon it. Realization began to flicker in him,
building up until it was certainty.

A ship. By God, a ship!

He ran to the poop ladder, and slid down into the waist, across it to
the mast.

The crew and the bearers watched him with awakening interest. Some of
them got to their feet.

Sebastian jumped on to the boom, balancing there a moment before he
started to shin up the mast. Using the mainsail hoops like the rungs
of a ladder, he reached the masthead and clung there, peering eagerly
into the west.

There she was no doubt about it. He could see the tips of the triple
stacks, each with its feather of dark smoke, and he began to cheer.

Below him the rail was lined with his men, all peering out in the
direction they took from him. Sebastian slid down the mast, the
friction burning his hands in his haste.

His feet hit the deck and he ran to Flynn. “A ship. A big ship coming
up fast.” Flynn rolled his head and looked at him vaguely. “Listen to
me, Flynn. There’ll be a doctor aboard. We’ll get you to a port in no
time.”

“That’s good, Bassie.” Flynn’s brain clicked back into focus. “You’ve
done real good.”

She came up over the horizon with astonishing rapidity, and her
silhouette changed as she altered course towards them. But not before
Sebastian had seen the gun turrets.

“A warship!” he shouted. To his mind this proved her British, only
one nation ruled the waves. “They’ve seen us!” He waved his hands
above his head.

Bows on, each second growing in size, grey and big, she bore down upon
the little dhow.

Gradually the cheering of the crew faltered and subsided into an uneasy
silence. Magnified by the still, hot air, huge on the velvety gloss of
the ocean, lifting a bow wave of pear ling white, the warship came on.
No check in her speed, the ensign at her masthead streaming away from
them so they could not see the colours.

“What are they going to do?” Sebastian asked aloud, and was answered
by Flynn’s voice. Sebastian glanced around.

Balancing on his good leg with one arm draped around Mohammed’s neck,
Flynn was hopping across the deck towards him.

“I’ll tell you what they’re going to do! They’re going to hit us
smack-bang up the arse!” Flynn roared. “That’s the Blitcher! That’s
a German ship”

“They can’t do that!” Sebastian protested.

“You’d like to bet? She’s coming straight from the Rufiji delta and my
guess is she’s had a chat with Fleischer. He’s probably aboard her.”
Flynn swayed against Mohammed, gasping with the pain of his leg before
he went on. “They’re going to ram us, and then machine-gun anyone
still floating.”

“We’ve got to make a life raft.”

“No time, Bassie. Look at her come!”

Less than five miles away, but swiftly narrowing the distance, the
Blitcher’s tall bows knifed towards them. Wildly Sebastian looked
around the crowded deck, and he saw the pile of cork floats they had
cut from the fish nets.

Drawing his knife, he ran to one of the sacks of coconuts and cut the
twine that closed the mouth. He slipped the knife back into its
sheath, stooped, and Up-ended the sack, spilling coconuts on to the
deck. Then with the empty sack in his hand he ran to the pile of
floats and dropped on his knees. In frantic haste he shovelled them
into the sack, half filling it before he looked up again. The Blucher
was two miles away, a tall tower of murderous grey steel.

With alength of rope Sebastian tied the sack closed and dragged it to
where Flynn stood supported by Mohammed.

“What are you doing?” Flynn demanded.

“Fixing you up! Lift your arms!” Flynn obeyed and Sebastian tied the
free end of the rope around his chest at the level of his armpits. He
paused to unlace and kick off his boots before speaking again.
“Mohammed, you stay with him. Hang on to the sack and don’t let go.”
He left them, trotting on bare feet to find his rifle propped against
the poop. Buckling on his cartridge belt, he hurried back to the
rail.

Sebastian Oldsmith was about to engage a nine-inch battle cruiser with
a double-barrelled Gibbs.500.

She was close now, hanging over them like a high cliff of steel. Even
Sebastian could not miss a battle cruiser at two hundred yards, and the
heavy bullets clanged against the armoured hull, ringing loudly above
the hissing rush of the bow wave.

While he reloaded, Sebastian looked up at the line of heads in the bows
of the Blitcher; grinning faces below the white caps with their little
swallow-tailed black ribbons.

“You bloody swine,” he shouted at them. Hatred stronger than he had
ever dreamed possible choked his voice. “You filthy, bloody swine.” He
lifted the rifle and fired without effect, and the Blitcher hit the
dhow.

It struck with a crash and the crackling roar of rending timber. It
crushed her side and cut through in the screaming of dying men and the
squeal of planking against steel.

It trod the dhow under, breaking her back, forcing her far below the
surface. At the initial shock, Sebastian was hurled overboard, the
rifle thrown from his hands. He struck the armoured plate of the
cruiser a glancing blow and then dropped into the sea beside her. The
thrust of the bow wave tumbled him aside, else he would have been
dragged along the hull and his body shredded against the steel plate.

He surfaced just in time to suck a lungful of air before the turbulence
of the great screws caught him and plucked him under again, driving him
deep so the pressure stabbed like red-hot needles in his eardrums. He
felt himself swirled end over end, buffeted, shaken vigorously as the
water tore at his body.

Colour flashed and zigzagged behind his closed eyelids.

There was a suffocating pain in his chest and his lungs pumped,
urgently craving air, but he sealed his lips ” and kicked out with his
legs, clawing at the water with his hands.

The churning wake of the cruiser released its grip upon him, and he was
shot to the surface with such force that he broke clear to the waist
before dropping back to drink air greedily. He unbuckled the heavy
cartridge belt and let it sink before he looked about him.

The surface of the sea was scattered with floating debris, and a few
bobbing human heads. Near him a section of torn planking rose in a
burst of trapped air bubbles. Sebastian struck Out for it and clung
there, his legs hanging in the clear green water.

“Flynn,” he gasped. “Flynn, where are you?”

A quarter of a mile away, the Blucher was circling slowly, long and
menacing and shark-like, and he stared at it in hatred and in fear.

“Master!” Mohammed’s voice behind him.

Sebastian turned quickly and saw the black face and the red face beside
the floating sack of corks a hundred yards away. “Flynn!”

“Good-bye, Bassie,” Flynn called. “The old Hun is coming back to
finish us off. Look! They’ve got machine guns set up on the bridge.
See you on the other side, boy:

Quickly Sebastian looked back at the cruiser and saw the clusters of
white uniforms on the angle of her bridge. Ja, there are still some of
them alive.” Through borrowed binoculars, Fleischer scanned the
littered area of the wreck.

“You will use the Maxims, of course, Captain? It will be quicker than
picking them off with rifles.”

Captain von Kleine did not answer. He stood tall on his bridge,
slightly round-shouldered, staring out at the wreckage with his hands
clasped behind him. “There is something sad in the death of a ship,”
he murmured. “Even such a dirty little one as this.” Suddenly he
straightened his shoulders and turned to Fleischer. “Your launch is
waiting for you at the mouth of the Rufiji. I will take you there,
Commissioner.”

“But first the business of the survivors.”

Von Kleine’s expression hardened. “Commissioner, I sank that dhow in
what I believed to be my duty. But now I am not sure that my judgement
was not clouded by anger. I will not trespass further on my conscience
by machine-gunning swimming civilians.”

“You will then pick them up. I must arrest them and give them
trial.”

“am not a policeman,” he paused and his expression softened a little.
“That one who fired the rifle at us. I think he must be a brave man.
He is a criminal, perhaps, but I am not so old in the ways of the world
that I do not love courage merely for its own sake. I would not like
to know I have saved this man for the noose. Let the sea be the judge
and the executioner.” He turned to his lieutenant. Kyller, prepare to
drop one of the life rafts.” The lieutenant stared at him in disbelief
“You heard me?”

“Yes, my Captain.”

“Then do it.” Ignoring Fleischer’s squawks of protest, von Kleine
crossed to the pilot. “Alter course to pass the survivors at a
distance- of fifty metres.”

“Here she comes.” Flynn grinned tightly, without humour, and watched
the cruiser swing ponderously towards them.

The cries of the swimmers around him, pleading mercy, were plaintive as
the voices of sea birds tiny on the immensity of the ocean.

“Flynn. Look at the bridge!” Sebastian’s voice floated across to him.
“See him there. The grey uniform.”

Tears from the sting of sea salt in his wound, and the distortion of
fever had blurred Flynn’s vision, yet he could make out the spot of
grey among the speckling of white uniforms on the bridge of the
cruiser.

“Who is it?”

“You were right. It’s Fleischer,” Sebastian shouted back, and Flynn
began to curse.

“Hey, you filthy, fat Blucher,” he bellowed, trying to drag himself up
onto the floating sack of corks. “Hey, you whore’s chamber pot.” His
voice carried above the murmur of the cruiser’s engines running at
dead-slow. “Come on, you blood-smeared little pig The tall hull of the
cruiser was close now, so close he could see the bulky figure in grey
turn to the tall white, uniformed officer beside him, gesticulating in
what was clearly entreaty.

The officer turned away, and moved to the rail of the bridge. He
leaned out and waved to a group of seamen on the deck below him.

“That’s right. Tell them to shoot. Let’s get it over with.

Tell them.. .”

A large square object was lifted over the rail by the gang below the
bridge. It dropped and fell with a splash alongside.

Flynn’s voice dried up, and he watched in disbelief as the white-clad
officer lifted his right arm in a gesture that might have been a
salute. The beat of the cruiser’s engines mounted as it increased
speed, and she swung away towards the west.

Flynn O’Flynn began to laugh, the cackling hysteria of relief and
delirium. He rolled off the sack of corks and his head dropped
forward, so the warm green water smothered his laughter. Mohammed took
a handful of the grey hair and lifted his face to prevent him
drowning.

Sebastian reached the raft, and grasped the rope that hung in loops
around its sides. He paused to regain his breath before hauling
himself up to lie gasping, the blood-warm sea-water streaming from his
sodden clothing, and watched the shape of the battle cruiser recede
into the west.

“Master! Help me!”

The voice roused him and he sat up. Mohammed was struggling, dragging
Flynn and the sack through the water.

Among the floating wreckage a dozen others of the crew and the bearers
were flapping their way towards the raft; the weaker swimmers were
already failing, their cries becoming more pitiful, and their splashing
more frenzied.

There were oars roped to the slatted deck of the raft.

Quickly Sebastian cut one loose with his hunting knife and began rowing
towards the pair. His progress was slow, for the raft was an ungainly
bitch that balked and swung away from the thrust of the oar.

An Arab crewman reached the raft and scrambled aboard, then another,
and another. Each of them freed an oar and helped with the rowing.
They passed the body of one of the bearers floating just below the
surface, both its legs cut off above the knees and the bones sticking
out of the ragged meat of the stumps. This was not the only one there
was other human flotsam among the scattered wreckage, and the
pinky-brown stains that drifted away on the current attracted the
sharks.

The Arab beside Sebastian saw the first one and called out, pointing
with the oar.

It came hunting, its fin waggling from side to side as it tacked up
against the current, so that they could sense its cold, unthinking
excitement.

Below the surface, distorted and dark, showed the tapering length of
its body. Not a big one. Perhaps nine feet in length and four hundred
pounds in weight, but big enough to chop aleg with one bite. No longer
guided by the drift of blood-taste, picking up the vibrations of the
swimmers, it straightened and came in on its first run.

“Shark!” Sebastian yelled at Flynn and Mohammed where they floundered
ten yards away. And both of them panicked;

no longer making for the raft, they tried to clamber on to the sack of
corks. Terror has no logic. Their only concern was to lift their
dangling legs from the water, but the sack was too small, too unstable
and their panic attracted the shark’s attention. It veered towards
them, showing the full height of its curved triangular fin, each sweep
of its tail breaking the surface as it drove in.

“This way,” shouted Sebastian. “Come to the raft!” He was hacking at
the water with the oar, while beside him the Arabs worked in equal
dedication. “This way, Flynn. For God’s sake, this way.”

His voice penetrated their panic, and once more they struck out for the
raft. But the shark was closing fast, long and dappled by sunlight
through the surface ripple.

The sac was still tied to Flynn and its resistance to the water slowed
them as it dragged behind. The shark swerved and made its first pass;
it seemed to hump up out of the water, and its mouth opened. The upper
jaw bulged out, the lower jaw gaped, and the multiple rows of teeth
came erect like the quills of a porcupine, and it hit the sack.

Locking its jaws into the coarse jute material, worrying it, still
humped out of the water, shaking its blunt head clumsily, scattering a
spray of water drops that flew like shattered glass in the sun.

“Grab here!” commanded Sebastian, leaning out to offer the blade of
the oar to the pair in the water. They clutched at it with the
strength of fear, and Sebastian drew them in.

But the sack and the shark were still attached to Flynn, its threshing
threatening to break Flynn’s hold on the lifeline around the raft.

Dropping to his knees, Sebastian fumbled the knife from its sheath and
sawed at the rope. It parted. The shark, still worrying the sack,
worked away from the raft and Sebastian helped the Arabs to drag first
Flynn, and then Mohammed, over the side.

They were not finished yet. There were still half a dozen men in the
water.

Realizing its error at last, the shark relinquished its hold on the
sack. It backed away. For a moment it hung motionless, puzzled, then
it circled out towards the nearest sound of splashing. One of the
gun-boys, clawing at the water in exhausted dog-paddle. The shark hit
him in the side, and pulled him under. Moments later he reappeared,
his mouth an open pink cave as he screamed, the water about him clouded
dark red-brown by his own blood. Again he was pulled under as the
shark hit his legs, but again he floated. This time face down,
wriggling feebly, and the shark circled him, dashing in to chop off a
mouthful of his flesh, backing away to gulp it down before coming in
again.

There was suddenly more sharks and so many that Sebastian could not
count them, as they circled and dived in ecstatic greed, until the sea
around the raft trembled and swirled in agitation.

Sebastian and his Arabs managed to drag two more of the crew into the
raft and they had a third half out of the water when a six-foot
white-pointer shot up from the depths, and fastened on his thigh with
such violence that it almost jerked all of them overboard. But they
steadied themselves and held on to the man’s arms, frozen in this
gruesome tug-of-war, while the shark worried the leg, so dog-like in
its determination that Sebastian expected it to growl.

Little Mohammed staggered to his feet, snatched up an oar and swung it
against the pointed snout with all his strength. They had dragged the
shark’s head from the water, and the oar fell on it with a series of
rubbery thumps, but the shark held on. Fresh, bright blood squirted
and trickled from the leg in its jaws, running down the shark’s
glistening snake-like head into the open slits of its gill covers.

“Hold him!” gasped Sebastian, and drew his knife. The raft rocking
crazily under him, he leaned over the man’s outstretched body and drove
the knife blade into the shark’s expressionless little eye. It popped
in a burst of clear fluid, and the shark stiffened and trembled.
Sebastian withdrew the blade and stabbed into the other eye. With a
convulsive gulp the shark opened its jaws and slid back into the sea to
meander blindly away.

There were no more swimmers. The little group on the raft huddled
together and watched the shark pack milling hungrily, seeming to sniff
at the tainted water as they gathered the last morsels of meat.

The shark victim hosed the deck with his severed femoral artery and
died before any of them could rouse themselves to apply a tourniquet.

“Push him oVer,” grunted Flynn.

“No,” Sebastian shook his head.

“Chrissake, we’re crowded enough as it is. Chuck the poor bastard
over.”

“Later on, not now.” Sebastian could not stand to watch the sharks
squabble over the corpse.

“Mohammed, get a couple of your lads on the oars. I want to pick up as
many of those coconuts as we can.”

By the time darkness stopped them, they had retrieved fifty-two of the
floating coconuts, sufficient to keep the seven of them thirst-free for
a week.

It was cold that night. They crowded together for warmth and watched
the underwater pyrotechnics, as the shark pack circled the raft in
phosphorescent splendour.

“You’ve got to cut for it,” Flynn whispered, and he shivered with cold
in the burning heat of the midday sun.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Sebastian protested, yet he could see
that Flynn was dying.

“You’ve got to do it!” Flynn’s eyes had sunk into plum-coloured
cavities and the smell of his breath was that of something long dead.

Staring at the leg, Sebastian had difficulty controlling his nausea. It
was swollen fat and purple. The bullet hole was covered with a crusty
black scab, but Sebastian caught a whiff of the putrefaction under it
and this time his nausea came up acid sweet into the back of his
throat. He swallowed it.

“You’ve got to do it, Bassie boy.”

Sebastian nodded, and tentatively laid his hand on the leg. Immediately
he jerked his fingers away, surprised by the heat of the skin.

“You’ve got to do it,” urged Flynn. “Feel for the slug. It’s not
deep. Just under the skin.”

He felt the slug, It moved under his fingers, the size of a green acorn
in the taut hot flesh.

“It’s going to hurt like Billy-o.” Sebastian’s voice was hoarse.

The rowers were resting on their oars, watching with frank curiosity,
while the raft eddied and swung in the drift of the Mozambique current.
Above them the sail that Sebastian had rigged from salvaged planking
and canvas flapped wearily, throwing a shadow across the leg.

“Mohammed, you and one other to hold the master’s shoulders. Two
others to keep his legs still.”

Flynn lay quiescent, pinioned beneath them on the slats of the deck.

Sebastian knelt over him, gathering his resolve. The knife he had
sharpened against the metal edge of the raft, and then scrubbed clean
with coconut fibre and seawater.

He had sluiced the leg also, and washed his hands until the skin
tingled. Beside him on the deck stood half a coconut shell containing
perhaps an ounce of evaporated salt scraped from the deck and the sail,
ready to pack into the open wound. “Ready?”he whispered.

“Ready,” grunted Flynn, and Sebastian located the lump of the bullet
and drew the edge of the blade across it timidly.

Flynn gasped, but human skin was tougher than Sebastian allowed. It
did not part.

“Goddamn you!” Flynn was sweating already. “Don’t play with it. Cut,
man, cud’

This time Sebastian slashed, and the flesh split open under the blade.
He dropped the knife and drew back in horror as the infection bubbled
up through the lips of the knife wound. It looked like yellow custard
mixed with prune juice and the smell of it filled his nostrils and his
throat.

“Go for the slug. Go for it with your fingers.” Flynn writhed beneath
the men who held him. “Hurry. Hurry. I can’t take much more.”

Steeling himself, closing his throat against the vomit that threatened
to vent at any moment, Sebastian slipped his little finger into the
slit. Hooking with it for the bullet, finding it, easing it up
although tissue clung to it reluctantly, until it popped from the wound
and dropped on to the deck.

A fresh gush of warm poison followed it out, flowing over Sebastian’s
hand, and he crawled to the edge of the raft, choking and gagging.

“Wished we had some red cloth.” Flynn sat against the rickety mast. He
was still very weak but four days ago the fever had broken with the
release of the poison.

“What would you do with it?” Sebastian asked.

“Catch me one of those dolphins. Man, I’m so god damned hungry I’d eat
it raw.”

A four-day diet of coconut pulp and milk had left all their bellies
grumbling.

“Why red?”

“They go for red. Make a lure.”

“You haven’t any hooks or line.”

“Tie it to a bit of twine from the sack and tease them up to the
surface then harpoon one with your knife tied to an oar.”

Sebastian was silent, peering thoughtfully over the side at the deep
flashes of gold where the shoal of dolphin played under the raft. “It’s
got to be red, hey?” he asked, and Flynn looked at him sharply;

“Yeah. It’s got to be red.”

“Well…” Sebastian hesitated, and then flushed with embarrassment
under his tropical sunburn.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Still blushing, Sebastian stood up and loosened his belt then, shyly as
a bride on her wedding night, he drew down his pants.

“MY God,” breathed Flynn in shock, as he held up his hand to shield his
eyes.

“Haul Haul”was the chorus of admiration from the crew.

“Got them at Harrods,” said Sebastian with becoming modesty.

Red, Flynn had asked for but Sebastian’s underpants were the brightest,
most beautiful red; the most vivid sunset and roses red, he could have
imagined. They hung in oriental splendour to Sebastian’s knees.

“Pure silk,” said Sebastian, fingering the cloth. “Ten shillings a
pair.”

“Whoa now! Come on, little fishy. Come on there, Flynn whispered as
he lay on his belly, head and shoulders over the edge of the raft. On
its thread of twine, the scrap of red danced deep in the green water. A
long, slithering flash of gold shot towards it, and Flynn jerked the
twine away at the last instant. The dolphin swirled and darted back.
Again Flynn jerked the twine. Chameleon lines and dots of excitement
showed against the gold of the dolphin’s body.

“That’s it, fishy. Chase it.” The other fish of the shoal joined the
hunt, forming a sparkling planetary system of movement around the lure.
“Get ready!”

“I’m ready.” Sebastian stood over him, poised like a javelin thrower.
In the excitement he had forgotten to don his pants and his shirt-tails
flapped around his thighs in a most undignified manner. But his legs
were long and finely muscled, the legs of an athlete. “Get back!” he
snapped at the crew who were crowded around him so that the raft was
listing dangerously. “Get back give me room,” and he hefted the oar
with the long hunting knife lashed to the tip.

“Here they come.” Flynn’s voice trembled with excitement as he worked
the scrap of red cloth upwards, and the shoal followed it. “Now!” he
shouted as a single fish broke the surface four feet of flashing gold,
and Sebastian lunged.

The steady hand and eye that had once clean-bowled the great Frank
Woolley directed the oar. Sebastian hit the dolphin an inch behind the
eye, and the blade slipped through to lacerate the gills.

For a few seconds the oar came alive in his hands as the dolphin
twitched and fought on the blade, but there were no barbs to hold in
the flesh, and the fish slipped from the knife.

“God damn it to hell! “bellowed Flynn.

“Dash it all! “echoed Sebastian.

But ten feet down the dolphin was mortally wounded; it jigged and
whipped like a golden kite in a high wind while the rest of the shoal
scattered.

Sebastian dropped the oar and began stripping his shirt.

“What are you doing? “demanded Flynn.

“Going after it.”

“You’re mad. Sharks!”

“I’m so hungry, I’ll eat a shark also,” and he dived over the side.
Thirty seconds later he surfaced, blowing like a grampus but grinning
triumphantly, with the dead dolphin clasped lovingly to his bosom.

They ate strips of raw fish seasoned with evaporated salt, squatting
around the mutilated carcass of the dolphin.

“Well, I’ve paid a guinea for worse meals than this said Sebastian, and
belched softly. “Oh, I beg your pardon.”

“Granted,” Flynn grunted with his mouth full of fish; and then eyeing
Sebastian’s nudity with a world-weary eye, “Stop boasting and put your
pants on before you trip over. Flynn O’Flynn was slowly, very slowly,
revising his estimate of Sebastian Oldsmith.

The rowers had long since lost any enthusiasm they might have had for
the task. They kept at it only in response to offers of bodily
violence by Flynn and the example set by Sebastian, who worked
tirelessly.

The thin layer of fat that had sheathed Sebastian’s muscles was long
since consumed, and his sun-baked body was a Michelangelo sculpture as
he leaned and dug and pulled the oar.

Six days they had dragged the raft across the southward push of the
current. Six days of sun-blazing calm, with the sea flattening, until
now in the late afternoon, it looked like an endless sheet of smooth
green velvet.

“No,” said Mohammed. “That means, The two porcupines

: .

make love under the blanket.”

“Oh!” Sebastian repeated the phrase without interrupting the rhythm of
his rowing. Sebastian was a dogged pupil of Swahili, making Lip in
determination what he lacked in brilliance. Mohammed was proud of him,
and opposed any attempt by the other members of the crew to usurp his
position as chief tutor. “That’s all right about the porcupines
shagging them selves to a standstill,” grunted Flynn. “But what does
this mean … and he spoke in Swahili.

“It means, Big winds will blow across the sea,” interpreted Sebastian,
and glowed with achievement.

“And I’m not joking either.” Flynn stood up, crouching to favour his
bad leg, and shaded his eyes to peer into the east. “You see that line
of cloud?”

Laying aside the oar, Sebastian stood beside him and flexed the aching
muscles of his back and shoulders.

Immediately all activity ceased among the other rowers.

“Keep going, me beauties!” growled Flynn, and reluctantly they obeyed.
Flynn turned back to Sebastian. “You see it?”

“Yes.” It was drawn like a kohl line across the eyelid of a Hindu
woman, smeared black along the horizon.

“Well, Bassie there’s the wind you’ve been griping about.

But, my friend, I think it’s a little more than you bargained for.”

In the darkness they heard it coming from far away, a muted sibilance
in the night. One by one, the fat stars were blotted out in the east
as dark cloud spread out to fill half the midnight sky.

A single gust hit the raft and flogged the makeshift sail with a clap
like a shotgun, and the sleepers woke and sat up.

“Hang on to those fancy underpants, “muttered Flynn, “or you’ll get
them blown right up your backside.”

Another gust, another lull, but already there was the boisterous
slapping of small waves against the sides of the raft.

“I’d better get that sail down.”

“You had, and all,” agreed Flynn, “and while you’re at it, use the rope
to fix lifelines for us.” In haste, spurred on by the rising hiss of
the wind, they lashed themselves to the slats of the deck.

The main force of the wind spun the raft like a top, splattering them
with spray; the spray was icy cold in the rush of the wind. The wind
was steady now and the warm raft moved uneasily like the jerky motion
of an animal restless at the prick of spurs.

“At least it will push us towards the land , Sebastian shouted across
at Flynn.

“Bassie boy, you think of the cutest things,” and the first wave came
aboard, smothering Flynn’s voice, breaking over their prostrate bodies,
and then streaming out through the slatted deck. The raft wallowed in
dismay, then gathered itself to meet the next rush of the sea.

Under the steady it” of the wind, the sea came up more swiftly than
Sebastian believed was possible. Within minutes the waves were
breaking over the raft with such weight as to squeeze the breath from
their lungs, submerging them completely, driving the raft under before
its buoyancy reasserted itself and lifted it, canting crazily, and they
could gasp for air in the smother of spray.

Waiting for the lulls, Sebastian inched his way across the deck until
he reached Flynn. “How are you bearing up?” he bellowed.

“Great, just great,” and another wave drove them under.

“Your leg?” spluttered Sebastian as they came up.

“For Chrissake, stop yapping, “and they went under again.

It was completely dark, no star, no sliver of moon, but each line of
breaking water glowed in dull, phosphorescent malevolence as it dashed
down upon them, warning them to suck air and cling with cramped fingers
hooked into the slats.

For all eternity Sebastian lived in darkness, battered by the wind and
the wild, flying water. The aching chill of his body dulled out into
numbness. Slowly his mind emptied of conscious thought, so when a
bigger wave scoured them, he heard the tearing sound of deck slats
pulling loose, and the lost wail as one of the Arabs was washed away
into the night sea but the sound had no meaning to him.

Twice he vomited sea water that he had swallowed, but it had no taste
in his mouth, and he let it run heedlessly down his chin and warm on to
his chest, to be washed away by the next torrential wave.

His eyes burned without pain from the harsh rake of wind flung spray,
and he blinked them owlishly at each advancing wave. It seemed, in
time, that he could see more clearly, and he turned his head slowly.
Beside him, Flynn’s face was aleprous blotch in the darkness. This
puzzled him, and he lay and thought about it but no solution came,
until he looked beyond the next wave, and saw the faint promise of a
new day show pale through the black massed cloud banks

He tried to speak, but no sound came for his throat was swollen closed
with the salt, and his tongue was tingling numb. Again, he tried.
“Dawn coming,” he croaked, but beside him Flynn lay like a corpse
frozen in rigor mortis.

Slowly the light grew over that mad, grey sea but the scudding black
cloud-banks tried desperately to oppose its coming.

Now the seas were more awesome in their raging insanity. Each mountain
of glassy grey rose high above the raft, shielding it for a few seconds
from the whip of the wind, its crest blowing off like the plume of an
Etruscan helmet, before it slid down, collapsing upon itself in the
tumbling roar of breaking water.

Each time, the men on the raft shrank flat on the deck, and waited in
bovine acceptance to be smothered again beneath the white deluge.

Once, the raft rode high and clear in a freak flat of the storm, and
Sebastian looked about him. The canvas and rope, the coconuts and the
other pathetic accumulation of their possessions were all gone. The
sea had ripped away many of the deck slats so that the metal floats of
the raft were exposed; it had torn the very clothing from them so they
were clad in sodden tatters. Of the seven men who had ridden the raft
the previous day, only he and Flynn, Mohammed and one more, were left
the other three were gone, gobbled up by the hungry sea.

Then the storm struck again, so that the raft reeled and reared to the
point of capsizing.

Sebastian sensed it first in the altered action of the waves;

they were steeper, marching closer together. Then, through the clamour
of the storm, a new sound, like that of a cannon fired at irregular
intervals with varying charges of gunpowder. He realized suddenly that
he had been hearing this sound for some time, but only now had it
penetrated the stupor of his fatigue.

He lifted his head, and every nerve of his being shrieked in protest at
the effort. He looked about, but the sea stood up around him like a
series of grey walls that limited his vision to a circle of fifty
yards. Yet that discordant boom, boom, boom, was louder now and more
insistent.

In the short, choppy waves, a side-break caught the raft and tossed it
high lifting him so he could see the land;

so close that the palm trees showed sharply, bending their stems to the
wind and threshing their long fronds in panic. He saw the beach,
grey-white in the gloom and, beyond it, far beyond it, rose the watery
blue of the high ground.

These things had small comfort for him when he saw the reef. It bared
its black teeth at bin), snarling through the white water that burst
like cannon-fire upon it before cascading on into the comparative quiet
of the lagoon. The raft was riding down towards it.

“Flynn,” he croaked. “Flynn, listen to me!” but the older man did not
move, His eyes were fixed open and only the movement of his chest, as
he breathed, proved him still alive. “Flynn.” Sebastian released one
of his clawed hands from its grip on the wooden slotting. “Flynn!” he
said, and struck him across the cheek.

“Flynn!” The head turned towards Sebastian, the eyes blinked, the
mouth opened, but no voice spoke.

Another wave broke over the raft. This time the cold, malicious rush
of it stirred Sebastian, roused a little of his failing strength. He
shook the water from his head. “Land,”

he whispered. “Land,” and Flynn stared at him dully.

Two lines of surf away, the reef showed its ragged back again. Clinging
with only one hand to the slotting, Sebastian fumbled the knife from
its sheath and hacked clumsily at the life-line that bound him to the
deck. It parted. He reached over and cut Flynn’s line, sawing
frantically at the wet hemp. That done, he slid back on his belly
until he reached Mohammed and freed him also. The little African
stared at him with bloodshot eyes from his wrinkled monkey face.

Swim,” whispered Sebastian. “Must swim,” and re-sheathing the knife,
he tried to crawl over Mohammed to reach the Arab but the next wave
caught the raft, rearing up under it as it felt the push of the land,
rearing so steeply that this time the raft was overturned and they were
thrown from it into the seething turmoil of the reef.

Sebastian hit the water flat, and was hardly under before he had
surfaced again. Beside him, close enough to touch, Flynn emerged. In
the strength born of the fear of death, Flynn caught at Sebastian,
locking both arms around his chest. The same wave that had capsized
them had poured over the. reef and covered it completely, so that
where the coral fangs had been was now only a frothy area of disturbed
water. In it bobbed the debris of the raft, shattered into pieces
against the reef. The mutilated corpse of the Arab was still roped to
a piece of the wreckage. Flynn and Sebastian were locked like lovers
in each other’s arms and the next wave, following close upon the first,
lifted them, and shot them forward over the submerged reef.

In one great swoop that left their guts behind them, they were carried
over the coral which could have minced them into jelly, and tumbled
into the quiet lagoon. With them went little Mohammed, and what
remained of the raft.

The lagoon was covered by a thick scum of wind spume, creamy as the
head of a good beer. So when the three of them staggered waist-deep
towards the beach, supporting each other with arms around shoulders,
they were coated with white froth. It made them look like a party of
drunken snowmen returning home after a long night out.

Mohammed squatted with a pile of madafu, the shiny green coconuts,
beside him. The beach was littered with them, for the storm had
stripped the trees. He worked in feverish haste with Sebastian’s
hunting knife, his face frosted with dried salt, mumbling to himself
through cracked and swollen lips, shaving down through the white,
fibrous material of the shell until he exposed the hollow centre filled
with its white custard and effervescent milk. At this point the madafu
was snatched from his hands by either Flynn or Sebastian. His despair
growing deeper, he watched for a second the two white men drinking with
heads thrown back, throats pulsing as they swallowed, spilled milk
trickling from the corners of their mouths, eyes closed tight in their
intense pleasure; then he picked up another nut and got to work on it.
He opened a dozen before he was able to satiate the other two, and he
held the next nut to his own mouth and whimpered with eagerness.

Then they slept. Bellies filled with the sweet, rich milk, they sagged
backwards on the sand and slept the rest of that day and that night,
and when they woke, the wind had dropped, although the sea still burst
like an artillery bombardment on the reef.

“Now,” said Flynn, “where, in the name of the devil and all his angels,
are we?” Neither Sebastian nor Mohammed answered him. “We were six
days on the raft. We could have drifted hundreds of miles south before
the storm pushed us in.” He frowned as he considered the problem.

“We might even have reached Portuguese Mozambique. We Could be as far
as the Zambezi river.”

Flynn focused his attention on Mohammed. “Go!” he said. “Search for
a river, or a mountain that you know.

Better still, find a village where we can get food and bearers.”

“I’ll go also,” Sebastian volunteered.

“You wouldn’t know the difference between the Zambezi and the
Mississippi,” Flynn grunted impatiently. “You’d be lost after the
first hundred yards.”

Mohammed was gone for two days and a half, but Sebastian and Flynn ate
well in his absence.

Under a sun shelter of palm fronds they feasted three times a day on
crab and sand-clams, and big green rock lobster which Sebastian fished
from the lagoon, baking them in their. shells over the fire that Flynn
coaxed from two dry sticks.

On the first night the entertainment was provided by Flynn. For some
years now, Flynn’s intake of gin had averaged a daily two bottles. The
abrupt cessation of supply resulted in a delayed but classic visitation
of delirium tremew. He spent half the night hobbling up and down the
beach brandishing a branch of driftwood and hurling obscenities at the
phantoms that had come to plague him.

There was one purple cobra in particular which pursued him doggedly,
and it was only after Flynn had beaten it noisily to death behind a
palm tree, that he allowed Sebastian to lead him back to the shelter
and seat him beside the campfire. Then he got the shakes. He shook
like a man on a jack-hammer. His teeth rattled together with such
violence that Sebastian was sure they must shatter.

Gradually, however, the shakes subsided and by the following noon he
was able to eat three large rock-lobsters and then collapse into a
death-like sleep.

He woke in the late evening, looking as well as Sebastian had ever seen
him, to greet the returning Mohammed and the dozen tall Angoni
tribesmen who accompanied him.

They returned Flynn’s greeting with respect. From Beira to Dares
Salaam, the name Fini” was held in universal awe by the indigenous
peoples. Legend credited him with powers far above the natural order.
His exploits, his skill with the rifle, his volcanic temper and his
seeming immunity from death and retribution, had formed the foundation
of a belief that Flynn had carefully fostered. They said in whispers
around the night fires when the women and the children of listening
that Tim” was in truth a reincarnation of the Monomatapa. They said
further that in the intervening period between his death as the Great
King and his latest birth as “Fini, he had been first a monstrous
crocodile, and then Mowana Lisa, the most notorious man-eating lion in
the history of East Africa, a predator responsible for at least three
hundred human killings. The day, twenty-five years previously, that
Flynn had stepped ashore at Port Amelia was the exact day that Mowana
Lisa had been shot dead by the Portuguese Chef D’Post at Sofala. All
men knew these things and only an idiot would take chances with “Fini.
hence the respect with which they greeted him now.

Flynn recognized one of the men. “LUti,” he roared, “You scab on an
hyena’s backsideV

Luti smiled broadly, and bobbed his head in pleasure at being singled
out by Flynn.

“Mohammed,” Flynn turned to his man. “Where did you find him? Are we
near his village?”

“We are a day’s march away.”

“In which direction?”

“North.”

Then we are in Portuguese territory!” exalted Flynn. “We must have
drifted down past the Rovuma river.”

The Rovuma river was the frontier between Portuguese Mozambique and
German East Africa. Once in Portuguese territory, Flynn was immune
from the wrath of the Germans.

All their efforts at extraditing him from the Portuguese had proved
unsuccessful, for Flynn had a working agreement with the Chef D’Post,
Mozambique, and through him with the Governor in Lourenqo Marques. In
a manner of speaking, these two officials were sleeping partners in
Flynn’s business, and were entitled to a quarterly financial statement
of Flynn’s activities, and an agreed percentage of the profits.

“You can relax, Bassie boy. Old Fleischer can’t touch us now. And in
three or four days we’ll be home.”

The first leg of the journey took them to Luti’s village.

Lolling in their maschilles, hammock-like litters slung beneath a long
pole and carried by four of Luti’s men at a synchronized jog trot,
Flynn and Sebastian were borne smoothly out of the coastal lowland into
the hills and bush country.

The litter-bearers sang as they ran, and their deep melodious voices,
coupled with the swinging motion of the maschille, lulled Sebastian
into a mood of deep contentment. Occasionally he dozed. Where the
path was wide enough to allow the maschilles to travel side by side, he
lay and chatted with Flynn, at other times he watched the changing
country and the animal life along the way. It was better than London
Zoo.

Each time Sebastian saw something new, he called across for Flynn to
identify it.

In every glade and clearing were herds of the golden brown impala;
delicate little creatures that watched them in wide-eyed curiosity as
they passed.

Troops of guinea-fowl, like a dark cloud shadow on the earth, scratched
and chittered on the banks of every stream.

Heavy, yellow eland, with their stubby horns and swinging dewlaps,
trotting in Indian file, formed a regal frieze along the edge of the
bush.

Sable and toon antelope; purple-brown waterbuck, with a perfect circle
of white branded on their rumps; buffalo, big and black and ugly;
giraffe, dainty little klipspringer, standing like chamois on the
tumbled granite boulders of a kopje. The whole land seethed and
skittered with life.

There were trees so strange in shape and size and foliage that
Sebastian could hardly credit them as existing. Swollen baobabs, fifty
feet in circumference, standing awkwardly as prehistoric monsters, fat
pods filled with cream of tartar hanging from their deformed branches.
“There were forests of rns asa trees, leaves not green as leaves should
be, but rose and chocolate and red. Fever trees sixty feet high, with
bright yellow trunks, shedding their bark like the brittle parchment of
a snake’s skin. Groves of mopani, whose massed foliage glittered a
shiny, metallic green in the sun;

and in the jungle growth along the river banks, the lianas climbed up
like long, grey worms and hung in loops and festoons among the wild fig
and the buffalo-bean vines and the tree ferns.

“Why haven’t we seen any sign of elephant?” Sebastian asked.

“Me and my boys worked this territory over about six months ago,” Flynn
explained. “I guess they just moved on a little probably up north
across the Rovuma.”

In the late afternoon they descended a stony path into a valley, and
for the first time Sebastian saw the permanent habitations of man. In
irregular shaped plots, the bottom land of the valley was cultivated,
and the rich black soil threw up lush green stands of millet, while on
the banks of the little stream stood Luti’s village; shaggy grass huts,
shaped like beehives, each with a circular mud-walled granary standing
on stilts beside it. The huts were arranged in a rough circle around
an open space where the earth was packed hard by the passage of bare
feet.

The entire Population turned out to welcome Flynn.

three hundred souls, from hobbling old white heads with grinning
toothless gums, down to infants held on mothers’

naked hips, who did not interrupt their feeding but clung like fat
black limpets with hands and mouth to the breast.

Through the crowd that ululated and clapped hands in welcome, Flynn and
Sebastian were carried to the chief’s hut and there they descended from
the maschilles.

Flynn and the old chief greeted each other affectionately;

Flynn because of favours received and because of future favours yet to
be asked for, and the chief because of Flynn’s reputation and the fact
that wherever Flynn travelled, he usually left behind him large
quantities of good, red meat.

“You come to hunt elephant?” the chief asked, looking hopefully for
Flynn’s rifle.

“No.” Flynn shook his head. “I return from a journey to a far
place.”

“From where?”

In answer, Flynn ” looked significantly at the sky and repeated, “From
a far place.”

There was an awed murmur from the crowd and the chief nodded sagely. It
was clear to all of them that Fini must have been to visit and commune
with his aher ego, Monomatapa.

“Will you stay long at our village?” again hopefully.

“I will stay tonight only. I leave again in the dawn.”

“I

“Ah!” Disappointment. “We had hoped to welcome you with a dance.
Since we heard of your coming, we have prepared.”

“No,” Flynn repeated. He knew a dance could last three or four days.

“There is a great brewing of palm wine which is only now ready for
drinking,” the chief tried again, and this time his argument hit Flynn
like a charging rhinoceros. Flynn had been many days without liquor.

“my friend,” said Flynn, and he could feel the saliva spurting out from
under his tongue in anticipation. “I cannot stay to dance with you but
I will drink a small gourd of palm wine to show my love for you and
your village.” Then turning to Sebastian he warned, “I wouldn’t touch
this stuff, Bassie, if I were you it’s real poison.”

“Right,” agreed Sebastian. “I’m going down to the river to wash.”

“You do that,” and Flynn lifted the first gourd of palm wine lovingly
to his lips.

Sebastian’s progress to the river resembled a Roman triumph. The
entire village lined the bank to watch his necessarily limited
ablutions with avid interest, and a buzz of awe went up when he
disrobed to his underpants.

“Bwana Manali,” they chorused. “Lord of the Red Cloth,”

and the name stuck.

As a farewell gift the headman presented Flynn with four gourds of palm
wine, and begged him to return soon bringing his rifle with him.

They marched hard all that day and when they camped at nightfall, Flynn
was semi-paralysed with palm wine, while Sebastian shivered and his
teeth chattered uncontrollably.

From the swamps of the Rufiji delta, Sebastian had brought with him a
souvenir of his visit his first full go of malaria.

They reached Lalapanzi the following day, a few hours before the crisis
of Sebastian’s fever. Lalapanzi was Flynn’s base camp and the name
meant “Lie Down’, or more accurately, “The Place of Rest’.

It was in the hills on a tiny tributary of the great Rovuma river, a
hundred miles from the Indian Ocean, but only ten miles from German
territory across the river. Flynn believed in living close to his
principal place of business.

Had Sebastian been in full possession of his senses, and not wandering
in the hot shadow land of malaria, he would have been surprised by the
camp at Lalapanzi. It was not what anybody who knew Flynn O’Flynn
would have expected.

Behind a palisade of split bamboo to protect the lawns and gardens from
the attentions of the duiker and steenbok and kudu, it glowed like a
green jewel in the sombre brown of the hills. Much hard work and
patience must have gone into damming the stream, and digging the
irrigation furrows, which suckled the lawns and flower-beds and the
vegetable garden. Three indigenous fig trees dwarfed the buildings,
crimson frangipani burst like fireworks against the green kikuyu grass,
beds of bright barber ton daisies ringed the gentle terraces that fell
away to the stream, and a bougainvillaea creeper smothered the main
building in a profusion of dark green and purple.

Behind the long bungalow, with its wide, open veranda, stood half a
dozen circular rondavels, all neatly capped with golden thatch and
gleaming painfully white, with burned limestone paint, in the
sunlight.

The whole had about it an air of feminine order and neatness. Only a
woman, and a determined one at that, could have devoted so much time
and pain to building up such a speck of prettiness in the midst of
brown rock and harsh thorn veld.

She stood on the veranda in the shade like a valkyrie, tall and
sun-browned and angry. The full length dress of faded blue was crisp
with new ironing, and the neat mends in the fabric invisible except at
close range. Gathered close about her waist, her skirt ballooned out
over her woman’s hips and fell to her ankles, slyly concealing the long
straight legs beneath. Folded across her stomach, her arms were an
amber brown frame for the proud double bulge of her bosom, and the
thick braid of black hair that hung to her waist twitched like the tail
of an angry lioness. A face too young for the marks of hardship and
loneliness that were chiselled into it was harder now by the expression
of distaste it wore as she watched Flynn and Sebastian arriving.

They lolled in their maschilles, unshaven, dressed in filthy rags, hair
matted with sweat and dust; Flynn full of palm wine, and Sebastian full
of fever although it was impossible to distinguish the symptoms of
their separate disorders.

“May I ask where you’ve been these last two months, Flynn Patrick
O’Flynn?” Although she tried to speak like a man, yet her voice had a
lift and a ring to it.

“You may not ask, daughter!” Flynn shouted back defiantly.

“You’re drunk again!”

“And if I am?” roared Flynn. “You’re as bad as that mother of yours
(may her soul rest in peace), always going on and on. Never a civil
word of welcome for your old Daddy, who’s been away trying to earn an
honest crust.”

The girl’s eyes switched to the maschille that carried Sebastian, and
narrowed in mounting outrage. “Sweet merciful heavens, and what’s this
you’ve brought home with you now?”

Sebastian grinned inanely, and tried valiantly to sit up as Flynn
introduced him. “That is Sebastian Oldsmith. My very dear friend,
Sebastian Oldsmith.”

“He’s also drunk!”

“Listen, Rosa. You show some respect.” Flynn struggled to climb from
his maschille.

“He’s drunk,” Rosa repeated grimly. “Drunk as a pig. You can take him
straight back and leave him where you found him. He’s not coming in
this house.” She turned away, pausing only a moment at the front door
to add, “That goes for you also, Flynn O’Flynn. I’ll be waiting with
the shotgun.

You just put one foot on the veranda before you’re sober and I’ll blow
it clean off.”

“Rosa wait he isn’t drunk, please,” wailed Flynn, but the fly-screen
door had slammed closed behind her.

Flynn teetered uncertainly at the foot of the veranda stairs; for a
moment it looked as though he might be foolhardy enough to put his
daughter’s threat to the test, but he was not that drunk.

“Women,” he mourned. “The good Lord protect us,” and he led his little
caravan around the back of the bungalow to the farthest of the rondavel
huts. This room was sparsely furnished in anticipation of Flynn’s
regular periods of exile from the main building.

Rosa O’Flynn closed the front door behind her and leaned back against
it wearily. Slowly her chin sagged down to her chest, and she closed
her eyes to imprison the itchy tears beneath the lids, but one of them
squeezed through and quivered like a fat, glistening grape on her
lashes, before falling to splash on the stone floor.

“Oh, Daddy, Daddy,” she whispered. It was an expression of those
months of aching loneliness. The long, slow slide of days when she had
searched desperately for work to fill her hands and her mind. The
nights when, locked alone in her room with a loaded shotgun beside the
bed, she had lain and listened to the sounds of the African bush beyond
the window, afraid then of everything, even the four devoted African
servants sleeping soundly with their families in their little compound
behind the bungalow.

Waiting, waiting for Flynn to return. Lifting her head in the noonday
and standing listening, hoping to hear the singing of his bearers as
they came down the valley. And each hour the fear and the resentment
building up within her. Fear that he might not come, and resentment
that he left her for so long.

Now he had come. He had come drunk and filthy, with some oafish
ruffian as a companion, and all her loneliness and fear had vented
itself in that shrewish outburst. She straightened and pushed herself
away from the door. Listlessly she walked through the shady cool rooms
of the bungalow, spread with a rich profusion of animal skins and rough
native-made furniture, until she reached her own room and sank down on
the bed.

Beneath her unhappiness was a restlessness, a formless, undirected
longing for something she did not understand. It was a new thing; only
in these last few years had she become aware of it. Before that she
had gloried in the companionship of her father, never having
experienced and, therefore, never missing the society of others. She
had taken it as the natural order of things that much of her time must
be spent completely alone with only the wife of old Mohammed to replace
her natural mother the young Portuguese girl who had died in the
struggle to give life to Rosa.

She knew the land as a slum child knows the city. It was her land and
she loved it.

Now all of it was changing, she was uncertain, without bearings in this
sea of new emotion. Lonely, irritable and afraid.

A timid knocking on the back door of the bungalow roused her, and she
felt aleap of hope within her. Her anger at Flynn had long ago abated
now he had made the first overture she would welcome him to the
bungalow without sacrifice of pride.

Quickly she bathed her face in the china wash-basin beside her bed, and
patted her hair into order before the mirror, before going through to
answer the knock.

Old Mohammed stood outside, shuffling his feet and grinning
ingratiatingly. He stood in almost as great an awe of Rosa’s temper as
that of Flynn himself. It was with relief, therefore, that he saw her
smile.

“Mohammed, you old rascal,” and he bobbed his head with pleasure.

“You are well, Little Long Hair?”

(I am well, Mohammed and I can see you are also.”

“The Lord Fini asks that you send blankets and quinine.”

Why? “Rosa frowned quickly. “Is the fever on him?”

“Not on him, but on Manali, his friend.”

“Is he bad?”

“He is very bad.”

The rich hostility that her first glimpse of Sebastian had invoked in
Rosa, wavered a little. She felt the woman in her irresistibly drawn
towards anything wounded or sick, even such an uncouth and filthy
specimen as she had seen Sebastian to be.

“I will come,” she decided aloud, while silently qualifying her
surrender by deciding that under no circumstances would she let him in
the house. Sick or healthy, he would stay out there in the rondavel.

Armed with a pitcher of boiled drinking water, and a bottle of quinine
tablets, closely attended by Mohammed carrying an armful of cheap trade
blankets, she crossed to the rondavel and entered.

She entered it at an unpropitious moment. For Flynn had spent the last
ten minutes exhuming the bottle he had so carefully buried some months
before beneath the earthen floor of the rondavel. Being a man of
foresight, he had caches of gin scattered in unlikely places around the
camp, and now, in delicious anticipation, he was carefully wiping damp
earth from the neck of the bottle with the tail of his shirt. So
engrossed with this labour he was not aware of Rosa’s presence until
the bottle was snatched from his hands, and thrown through the open
side window to pop and tinkle as it burst.

“Now what did you do that for?” Flynn was hurt as deeply as a mother
deprived of her infant.

For the good of your soul.” Icily Rosa turned from him to “the inert
figure on the bed, and her nose wrinkled as she caught the whiff of
unwashed body and fever. “Where did you find this one?” she asked
without expecting an answer.

Five grams of quinine washed down Sebastian’s throat with scalding tea,
heated stones were packed around his body, and half a dozen blankets
swaddled him to begin the sweat.

The malarial parasite has a thiry-six-hour life cycle, and now at the
crisis, Rosa was attempting to raise his body temperature sufficiently
to interrupt the cycle and break the fever. Heat radiated from the
bed, filling the single room of the rondavel as though it were a
kitchen. Only Sebastian’s head showed from the pile of blankets, and
his face was flushed a dusky brick colour. Although sweat spurted from
every pore of his skin and ran back in heavy drops to soak his hair and
his pillow, yet his teeth rattled together and he shivered so that the
camp bed shook.

Rosa sat beside his bed and watched him. Occasionally she leaned
forward with a cloth in her hand and wiped the perspiration from his
eyes and upper lip. Her expression had softened and become almost
broody. One of Sebastian’s curls had plastered itself wetly across his
forehead, and, with her fingertips, Rosa combed it back. She repeated
the gesture, and then did it again, stroking her fingers through his
damp hair, instinctively gentling and soothing him.

He opened his eyes, and Rosa snatched her hand away guiltily. His eyes
were misty grey, unfocused as a newborn puppy’s, and Rosa felt
something squirm in her stomach.

“Please don’t stop.” His voice was slurred with the fever, but even so
Rosa was surprised at the timbre and inflection.

It was the first time she had heard him speak and it was not the voice
of a ruffian. Hesitating a moment, she glanced at the door of the hut
to make sure they were alone before she reached forward to touch his
face.

“You are kind good and kind.”

“Sshh!”she admonished him.

“Thank you.”

“Sshh! Close your eyes.”

His eyes flickered down and he sighed, a gusty, broken sound.

The crisis came like a big wind and shook him as though he were a tree
in its path. His body temperature rocketed, and he tossed and writhed
in the camp-bed, trying to throw off the weight of blankets upon him,
so that Rosa called for Mohammed’s wife to help her restrain him. His
perspiration soaked through the thin mattress and dripped to form a
puddle on the earth floor beneath the bed, and he cried out in the
fantasy of his fever.

Then, miraculously, the crisis was past, and he slumped into
relaxation. He lay still and exhausted so that only the shallow
flutter of his breathing showed there was life in him. Rosa could feel
his skin cooling under her hand, and she saw the yellowish tinge with
which the fever had coloured it.

“The first time it is always bad.” Mohammed’s wife released her grip
on the blanket-wrapped legs.

“Yes, said Rosa. “Now bring the basin. We must wash him and change
his blankets, Nanny.”

She had worked many times with men who were sick or badly hurt; the
servants and the bearers and the gun-boys, and, of course, with her
father. But now, as Nanny peeled back the blankets and Rosa swabbed
Sebastian’s uncoiiscions body with the moist cloth, she felt an
inexplicable tension within her a sense of dread mingled with tight
excitement. She could feel new blood warming her cheeks, and she
leaned forward, so that Nanny could not see her face as she worked.

The skin of his chest and upper arms was creamy-smooth as polished
alabaster, where the sun had not stained it.

Beneath her fingers it had an elastic hardness, a rubbery sensuality
and warmth that disturbed her. When she realized suddenly that she was
no longer wiping with the flannel but using it to caress the shape of
hard muscle beneath the pale skin, she checked herself and made her
actions brusque and businesslike.

They dried his upper body, and Nanny reached to jerk the blankets down
below Sebastian’s waist.

“Wait!” It came out of Rosa as a cry, and Nanny paused with her hand
on the bedclothes and her head held at an angle, quizzical, birdlike.
Her wizened old features crinkled in sly amusement.

“Wait,” Rosa repeated in confusion. “First help me get the night-shirt
on him,” and she snatched up one of Flynn’s freshly ironed but
threadbare old night-shirts from the chair beside the bed.

“It cannot bite you, Little Long Hair,” the old woman teased her
gently. “It has no teeth.”

“You just stop that kind of talk,” snapped Rosa with unnecessary
violence. “Help me sit him up.”

Between them they lifted Sebastian and slipped the nightshirt down over
his head, before lowering him to the pillow again.

“And now?” Nanny asked innocently. For answer, Rosa handed her the
flannel, and turned to stare fixedly out of the rondavel window. Behind
her she heard the rustle of blankets and then Nanny’s voice.

“Haul Haul” The age-old expression of deep admiration, followed by a
cackle of delighted laughter, as Nanny saw the back of Rosa’s neck
turning bright pink with embarrassment.

Nanny had smuggled Flynn’s cut-throat razor out of the bungalow, and
was supervising critically as Rosa stroked it gingerly over Sebastian’s
soapy cheeks. There was no sound medical reason why a malaria patient
should be shaved immediately after emerging from the crisis, but Rosa
had advanced the theory that it would make him feel more comfortable
and Nanny had agreed enthusiastically. Both of them were enjoying
themselves with all the sober delight of two small girls playing with a
doll.

Despite Nanny’s cautionary clucks and sharp hisses of indrawn breath,
Rosa succeeded in removing the hair that covered Sebastian’s face like
the black pelt of an otter without inflicting any serious wounds. There
was a nick on the chin and another below the left nostril, but neither
of these bled more than a drop or two.

Rosa rinsed the razor and then narrowed her eyes thoughtfully as she
surveyed her handiwork, and that thing squirmed in her stomach again.
“I think,” she muttered, we should move him into the main bungalow. It
will be more comfortable.”

“I will call the servants to carry him, “said Nanny.

Flynn O’Flynn was a busy man during the period of Sebastian’s
convalescence. His band of followers had been seriously depleted
during the recent exchange with German Fleischer. So to replace his
losses, he press-ganged all the maschille-bearers who had carried them
home from Luti’s village. These he put through a preliminary course of
training and at the end of four days selected a dozen of the most
promising, to become gun boys The remainder he despatched homeward
despite their protests; they would dearly have loved to stay for the
glamour and reward that they were certain would be heaped upon their
more fortunate fellows.

Thereafter the chosen few were entered upon the second part of their
training. Securely locked in one of the rondavels behind the bungalow,
Flynn kept the tools of his trade. It was an impressive arsenal.

Rack upon rack of cheap Martini Henry .450 rifles, a score of
Lee-Metfords that had survived the Anglo Boer war, alesser number of
German Mausers salvaged from his encounters with Askari across the
Rovuma, and a very few of the expensive hand-made doubles by Gibbs and
Messrs Greener of London. Not a single weapon had a serial number on
it. Above these, neatly stacked on the wooden shelves, were bulk
packages of cartridges, wrapped and soldered in lead foil enough of
them to fight a small battle.

The room reeked with the slick, mineral smell of gun oil.

Flynn issued his recruits with Mousers, and set about instructing them
in the art of handling a rifle. Again he weeded out those who showed
no aptitude and he was left finally with eight men who could hit an
elephant at fifty paces. This group passed into the third and last
period of training.

Many years previously, Mohammed had been recruited into the German
Askari. He had even won a medal during the Salito rebellion of 1904,
and from there had risen to the rank of sergeant and overseer of the
officers” mess.

During a visit by the army auditor to Mbeya, where Mohammed was at that
time stationed, there had been discovered a stock discrepancy of some
twenty dozen bottles of schnapps, and a hole in the mess funds
amounting to a little over a thousand Reichsmarks. This was a hanging
matter, and Mohammed had resigned without ceremony from the Imperial
Army and reached the Portuguese border by a series of forced marches.
In Portuguese territory he had met Flynn, and solicited and received
employment from him. However, he was still an authority on German army
drill procedure and retained a command of the language.

The recruits were handed over to him, for it was part of Flynn’s plans
that they be able to masquerade as a squad of German Askari. For days
thereafter the camp at Lalapanzi reverberated to Mohammed’s Teutonic
cries, as he goose stepped about the lawns at the head of his band of
nearly naked troopers, with his fez set squarely on the grey wool of
his head.

This left Flynn free to make further preparations.

Seated on the stoep of the bungalow, he pored sweatily over his
correspondence for many days. First there was a letter to:

His Excellency, The Governor, German Administration of East Africa, Da
re Salaam

Sir, I enclose my account for damages, as follows, herewith:

1 Dhow (Market value) 1,500 pounds Rifles 200 pounds. Various stores
and provisions et cetera (too numerous to list) 100 pounds.

Injury, suffering and hardships

(estimated) 200 pounds. TOTAL 2,000 pounds.

This claim arises from the snaking of the above-said dhow off the mouth
of the RLIfiji, 10th July, 1912, which was in Fact of piracy by your
gUnboat, the Blucher.

I would appreciate payment in gold, on or before 25th September, 1912,
and I will take the necessary steps to collect same personally.

Yours sincerely, Flynn Patrick O’Flynn, Esq

(Citizen of The United States of America).

After much heavy thought, Flynn had decided not to include a claim for
the ivory as he was not too certain of its legality. Best not to
mention it.

He had considered signing himself “United States Ambassador to Africa’,
but had discarded the idea on the grounds that Governor Schee knew
damned well that he was no such thing. However, there was no harm in
reminding him of Flynn’s nationality it might make the old rogue
hesitate before hanging Flynn out of hand if ever he got his hooks into
him.

Satisfied that the only response to his demands would be a significant
increase in Governor Schee’s blood pressure, Flynn proceeded with his
preparations to make good his threat of collecting the debt
personally.

Flynn used this word lightly he had long ago selected a representative
debt collector in the form of Sebastian Oldsmith. It now remained to
have him suitably outfitted for the occasion, and, armed with a
tape-measure from Rosa’s work basket Flynn visited Sebastian’s sick
bed.

These days, visiting Sebastian was much like trying to arrange an
interview with the Pope. Sebastian was securely under the maternal
protection of Rosa O’Flynn.

Flynn knocked discreetly on the door of the guest bedroom, paused for a
count of five, and entered.

“What do you want?” Rosa greeted him affectionately.

She was sitting on the foot of Sebastian’s bed.

“Hello, hello,” said Flynn, and then again lamely, “Hello.”

“I suppose you’re looking for a drinking companion,”

accused Rosa.

“Good Lord, no!” Flynn was genuinely horrified by the accusation. What
with Rosa’s depredations his stock of gin was running perilously low,
and he had no intention of sharing it with anyone. “I just called in
to see how he was doing.” Flynn transferred his attention to
Sebastian. “How you feeling, old Bassie boy?”

“Much better, thank you.” In fact, Sebastian was looking very chirpy
indeed. Freshly shaved, dressed in one of Flynn’s best night-shirts,
he lay like a Roman emperor on clean sheets. On the low table beside
his bed stood a vase of frangipani blooms, and there were other floral
tributes standing about the room all of them cut and carefully arranged
by Rosa O’Flynn.

He was steadily putting on weight again as Rosa and Nanny stuffed food
into him and colour was starting to drive the yellowish fever stains
from his skin. Flynn felt a prickle of irritation at the way Sebastian
was being pampered like a stud stallion, while Flynn himself was barely
tolerated in his own home.

The metaphor which had come naturally into Flynn’s mind now sparked a
further train of thought, and a sharper prickle of irritation. Stud
stallion! Flynn looked at Rosa with attention, and noticed that the
dress she wore was the white one with gauzy sleeves, that had belonged
to her mother a garment that Rosa usually kept securely locked away, a
garment she had worn perhaps twice before in her life.

Furthermore, her feet, which were usually bare about the house, were
now neatly clad in store-bOLight patent leather, and, by Jesus, she was
wearing a sprig of bougainvillaea tucked into the shiny black slick of
her hair. The tip of her long braid, which was usually tied carelessly
with a thong of leather, flaunted a silk ribbon.

Now, Flynn O’Flynn was not a sentimental man but suddenly he recognized
in his daughter a strange new glow, and a demure air that had never
been there before, and within himself he became aware of an unusual
sensation, so unfamiliar that he did not recognize it as paternal
jealousy.

He did, however, recognize that the sooner he sent Sebastian on his
way, the safer it would be.

“Well, that’s fine, Bassie,” he boomed genially. “That’s just fine.
Now, I’m sending bearers down to Beira to pick up supplies, and I just
thought they might as well get some clothes for you while they were
there.”

“Well, thank you very much, Flynn.” Sebastian was touched by the
kindness of his friend.

“Might as well do it properly.” Flynn produced his tape measure with a
flourish. “We’ll send your measurements down to old Parbhoo and he can
tailor-make some stuff for you.

I say, that is jolly decent of you.”

And completely out of character, thought Rosa O’Flynn as she watched
her father carefully noting the length of Sebastian’s legs and arms,
and the girth of his neck, chest and waist.

“The boots and the hat will be a problem,” Flynn mused aloud when he
had finished. “But I’ll find something.”

“And what do you mean by that, Flynn O’Flynn?” Rosa demanded
suspiciously.

“Nothing, just nothing at all.” Hurriedly Flynn gathered his notes and
his tape, and fled from further interrogation.

Some time later, Mohammed and the bearers returned from the shopping
expedition to Beira, and he and Flynn immediately closeted themselves
in secret conclave in the arsenal.

“Did you get it? “demanded Flynn eagerly.

“Five boxes of gin I left in the cave behind the waterfall at the top
of the valley,” whispered Mohammed, and Flynn sighed with relief. “But
one bottle I brought with me.”

Mohammed produced it from under his tunic. Flynn took it from him and
drew the cork with his teeth, before spilling a little into the enamel
mug that was standing ready.

“And the other purchases?”

“It was difficult especially the hat.”

“But did you get it?” Flynn demanded.

“It was a direct intervention of Allah.” Mohammed refused to be
hurried. “In the harbour was a German ship, stopped at Beira on its
way north to Dares Salaam. On the boat were three German officers. I
saw them walking upon the deck.” Mohammed paused and cleared his
throat portentously. “That night a man who is my friend rowed me out
to the ship, and I visited the cabin of one of the soldiers.”

“Where is it?” Flynn could not hold his patience.

Mohammed stood up, went to the door of the rondavel and called to one
of the bearers. He returned and set a bundle on the table in front of
Flynn. Grinning proudly, he waited while Flynn unwrapped the bundle.

“Good God Almighty,” breathed Flynn.

“Is it not beautiful?”

“Call Manali. Tell him to come here immediately.”

Ten minutes later Sebastian, whom Rosa had at last reluctantly placed
on the list of walking wounded, entered the rondavel, to be greeted
effusively by Flynn. “Sit down, Bassie boy. I’ve got a present for
you.”

Reluctantly, Sebastian obeyed, eyeing the covered object on the table.
Flynn stood over it and whisked away the cloth. Then, with the same
ceremony as the Archbishop of Canterbury placing the crown, he lifted
the helmet above Sebastian’s head and lowered it reverently.

On the summit a golden eagle cocked its wings on the point of flight
and opened its beak in a silent squawk of ineriace, the black enamel of
the helmet shone with a polished gloss, and the golden chain drooped
heavily under Sebastian’s chin.

It was indeed a thing of beauty. A thing of such presence that it
completely overwhelmed Sebastian, enveloping his head to the bridge of
his nose so that his eyes were just visible below the jUtting brim.

“A few sizes too large,” Flynn conceded. BUt we can stuff some cloth
into the crown to keep it up.” He backed away a few paces and cocked
his head on one side as he examined the effect. “Bassie boy, you’ll
slay them.”

“What’s this for?” Sebastian asked in concern from under the steel
helmet.

“You’ll see. Just hold on a shake.” Flynn turned to Mohammed who was
cooing with admiration in the doorway. “The clothes?” he asked, and
Mohammed beckoned imperiously to the bearers to bring in the boxes they
had carried all the way from Beira.

Parbhoo, the Indian tailor, had obviously laboured with dedication and
enthusiasm. The task set him by Flynn had touched the soul of the
creative artist in him.

Ten minutes later, Sebastian stood self-consciously in the centre of
the rondavel while Flynn and Mohammed circled him slowly, exclaiming
with delight and self congratulation

Below the massive helmet, which was now propped high with a wad of
cloth between steel and scalp, Sebastian was dressed in the sky-blue
tunic and riding breeches. The cuffs of the jacket were ringed with
yellow silk a stripe of the same material ran down the outside of the
breeches and the high collar was covered with embroidered metal
thread.

Complete with spurs, the tall black boots pinched his toes so painfully
that Sebastian stood pigeon-toed and blushed with bewilderment. “I
say, Flynn,” he pleaded, what’s all this about?”

“Bassie boy.” Flynn laid a hand fondly on his shoulder.

“You’re going to go in there and collect hut tax for.. .” he almost
said me, but altered it quickly to .. us.”

“What is hut tax?”

“Hut tax is the annual sum of five shillings, paid by the headmen to
the German Governor for each hut in his village.” Flynn led Sebastian
to the chair and seated him as gently as though he were pregnant. He
lifted a hand to still Sebastian’s further enquiries and protests.
“Yes, I know you don’t understand. But I’ll explain it to you
carefully. just keep your mouth shut and listen.” He sat down
opposite Sebastian and leaned forward earnestly. “Now The Germans owe
us for the dhow and that, like we agreed right?”

Sebastian nodded, and the helmet slid forward over his eyes. He pushed
it back.

“Well, you are going to go across the river with the gun and bearers
dressed as Askari. You are going to visit each of the villages before
the real tax-collector gets there and pick up, the money that they owe
us. Do you follow me so far?”

“Are you coming with me?”

“Now, how can I do that? Me with my leg not properly healed yet?”
Flynn protested impatiently. “Besides that, every headman on the other
side knows who I am. Not one of them has ever laid eyes on you before.
You just tell them you’re a new officer straight out from Germany. One
look at that uniform, and they’ll pay up sharpish.”

“What happens if the real tax-inspector has already been there?”

“They don’t start collecting until September usually and then they
start in the north and work down this way.

You’ll have plenty of time.”

Frowning below the rim of the helmet, Sebastian brought forward a
series of objections each one progressively weaker than its
predecessor, and, one by one, Flynn annihilated them. Finally there
was a long silence while Sebastian’s brain ground to a standstill.

Well? “Flynn asked. “Are you going to do it?”

And the question was answered from an unexpected quarter in feminine,
but not dulcet tones. “He is certainly not going to do it!”

Guiltily as small boys caught smoking in the school latrines, Flynn and
Sebastian wheeled to face the door which had carelessly been left
ajar.

Rosa’s suspicions had been aroused by all the surreptitious activity
around the rondavel, and when she had seen Sebastian join in, she had
not the slightest qualms about listening outside the window. Her
active intervention was not on ethical grounds. Rosa O’Flynn had
acquired a rather elastic definition of honesty from her father. Like
him, she believed that German property belonged to anybody who could
get their hands on it. The fact that Sebastian was involved in a
scheme based on dubious moral foundations in no way lowered her opinion
of him rather, in a sneaking sort of way, it heightened her estimate of
him as a potential breadwinner. To date, this was the only area in
which she had held misgivings about Sebastian Oldsmith.

From experience she knew that those of her father’s business
enterprises in which Flynn was not eager to participate personally
always involved a great deal of risk.

The thought of Sebastian Oldsmith dressed in a sky-blue uniform,
marching across the Rovuma and never coming back, roused in her the
same instincts as those of a lioness shortly to be deprived of her
cubs.

“He is certainly not going to do it,” she repeated, and then to
Sebastian. “Do you hear me? I forbid it. I forbid it absolutely.”

This was the wrong approach.

Sebastian had, in turn, acquired from his father very Victorian views
on the rights and privileges of women. Mr. Oldsmith, the senior, was
a courteous domestic tyrant, a man whose infallibility had never been
challenged by his wife. A man who regarded sex deviates, Bolsheviks,
trade union organizers, and suffragettes, in that descending order of
repugnance.

Sebastian’s mother, a meek little lady with a perpetually harassed
expression, would no more have contemplated absolutely forbidding Mr.
Oldsmith a Course of action, than she would have contemplated denying
the existence of God.

Her belief in the divine rights of man had extended to her sons. From
a very tender age Sebastian had grown accustomed to worshipful
obedience, not only from his mother but also from his large flock of
sisters.

Rosa’s present attitude and manner of speech came as a shock. It took
him but a few seconds to recover and then he rose to his feet and
adjusted the helmet. “I beg your pardon? “he asked coldly.

“You heard me,” snapped Rosa. “I’m not going to allow this.”

Sebastian nodded thoughtfully, and then hastily grabbed at the helmet
as it threatened to spoil his dignity by blind, folding him again.
Ignoring Rosa he turned to Flynn. “I will leave as soon as possible
tomorrow?”

“It will take a couple more days to get organized,” Flynn demurred.

“Very well then.” Sebastian stalked from the room, and the sunlight
lit his uniform with dazzling splendour.

With a triumphant guffaw, Flynn reached for the enamel mug at his
elbow. “You made a mess of that one,” he gloated, and then his
expression changed to unease.

Standing in the doorway, Rosa O’Flynn’s shoulders had sagged, the angry
line of her lips drooped.

“Oh, come on now!”gruffed Flynn.

“He won’t come back. You know what you are doing to him. You’re
sending him in there to die.”

“Don’t talk silly. He’s a big boy, he can look after himself.”

“Oh, I hate you. Both of you I hate you both!” and she was gone,
running across the yard to the bungalow.

In a red dawn Flynn and Sebastian stood together on the stoep of the
bungalow, talking together quietly.

“Now listen, Bassie. I reckon the best thing you can do is send back
the collection from each village, as you make it. No sense in carrying
all that money round with you.” Tactfully Flynn refrained from
pointing out that by following this procedure, in the event of
Sebastian running into trouble half-way through the expedition, the
profits to that time would be safeguarded.

Sebastian was not really listening he was more preoccupied with the
whereabouts of Rosa O’Flynn. He had seen very little of her in the
last few days.

“Now you listen to old Mohammed. He knows which are the biggest
villages. Let him do the talking those headmen are the biggest bunch
of rogues you’ll ever meet. They’ll all plead poverty and famine, so
you’ve got to be tough. Do you hear me? Tough, Bassie, tough!!”

“Tough,” agreed Sebastian absentmindedly, glancing surreptitiously into
the windows of the bungalow for a glimpse of Rosa.

“Now another thing,” Flynn went on. “Remember to keep moving fast.
March until nightfall. Make your cooking fire, eat, and then march
again in the dark before you camp.

Never sleep at Your first camp, that’s asking for trouble.

Then get away again before first light in the morning.”

There were many other instructions, and Sebastian listened to them
without attention. “Remember the sound of gunfire carries for miles.
Don’t use your rifle except in emergency, and if you do fire a shot,
then don’t hang about afterwards. Now the route I’ve planned for you
will never take you more than twenty miles beyond the Rovuma. At the
first sign of trouble, you run for the river. If any of your men get
hurt, leave them. Don’t play hero, leave them and run like hell for
the river.”

“Very well,” muttered Sebastian unhappily. The prospect of leaving
Lalapanzi was becoming less attractive each minute. Where on earth was
she?

“Now remember, don’t let those headmen talk you out of anything. You
might even have to…” Here Flynn paused to find the least offensive
phraseology, you might even have to hang one or two of them.”

“Good God, Flynn. You’re not serious.” Sebastian’s full attention
jerked back to Flynn.

“Ha! Ha!” Flynn laughed away the suggestion. “I was joking, of
course. But…” he went on wistfully, the Germans do it, and it gets
results, you know.”

“Well, I’d better be on my way.” Sebastian changed the subject
ostentatiously and picked up his helmet. He placed it upon his head
and descended the steps to where his Askari, with rifles at the slope,
were drawn up on the lawn.

All of them, including Mohammed, were dressed in authentic uniform,
complete with puttees and the little pillbox kepis. Sebastian had
prudently refrained from asking Flynn how he had obtained these
uniforms. The answer was evident in the neatly patched circular
punctures in most of the tunics, and the faint brownish stain around
each mend.

In single file, the blazing eagle on Sebastian’s headpiece leading like
a beacon, they marched past the massive solitary figure of Flynn
O’Flynn on the veranda. Mohammed called for a salute and the response
was enthusiastic, but ragged. Sebastian tripped on his spurs and with
an effort, regained his equilibrium and plodded on gamely.

Shading his eyes against the glare, Flynn watched the gallant little
column wind away down the valley towards the Rovuma river. Flynn’s
voice was without conviction as he spoke aloud, “I hope to God he
doesn’t mess this one up.”

out of sight of the bungalow, Sebastian halted the column. Sitting
beside the footpath, he sighed with relief as he removed the weight of
the metal helmet from his head and replaced it with a sombrero of
plaited grass, then he eased the spurred boots from his already aching
feet, and slipped on a pair of rawhide sandals.

He handed the discarded equipment to his personal bearer, stood up, and
in his best Swahili ordered the march to continue.

Three miles down the valley the footpath crossed the stream above a
tiny waterfall. It was a place of shade where great trees reached out
towards each other across the narrow watercourse. Clear water trickled
and gurgled between a tumble of lichen-covered boulders, before jumping
like white lace in the sunlight down the slippery black slope of the
falls.

Sebastian paused on the bank and allowed his men to proceed. He
watched them hop from boulder to boulder, the bearers balancing their
loads without effort, and then scramble up the far bank and disappear
into the dense river bush. He listened to their voices becoming
fainter with distance, and suddenly he was sad and alone.

Instinctively he turned and looked back up the valley towards
Latapanzi, and the sense of loss was a great emptiness inside him. The
urge to return burned up so strongly, that he took a step back along
the path before he could check himself.

He stood irresolute. The voices of his men were very faint now, muted
by the dense vegetation, overlaid by the drowsy droning of insects, the
wind murmur in the top branches of the trees, and the purl of falling
water.

Then the soft rustle beside him, and he turned to it quickly. She
stood near him and the sunlight through the leaves threw a golden
dapple on her, giving a sense of unreality, a fairy quality, to her
presence.

“I wanted to give you something to take with you, a farewell present
for you to remember,” she said softly. “But there was nothing I could
think of,” and she came forward, reached up to him with her arms and
her mouth, and she kissed him.

Sebastian Oldsmith crossed the Rovuma river in a mood of dreamy
goodwill towards all men.

Mohammed was worried about him. He suspected that Sebastian had
suffered a malarial relapse and he watched him carefully for evidence
of further symptoms.

Mohammed at the head of the column of Askari and bearers had reached
the crossing place on the Rovuma, before he realized that Sebastian was
missing. In wild concern he had taken two armed Askari with him and
hurried back along the path through the thorn scrub and broken rock
expecting at any moment to find a pride of lions growling over
Sebastian’s dismembered corpse. They had almost reached the waterfall
when they met Sebastian ambling benignly along the path towards them,
an expression of ethereal contentment lighting his classic features.
His magnificent uniform was not a little rumpled;

there were fresh grass stains on the knees and elbows, and dead leaves
and bits of dried grass clung to the expensive material. From this
Mohammed deduced that Sebastian had either fallen, or in sickness had
lain down to rest.

“Manali,” Mohamed cried in concern. “Are you well?”

“Never better never in all my life,” Sebastian assured him.

“You have been lying down, “Mohammed accused.

“Son of a gun,” Sebastian borrowed from the vocabulary of Flynn
O’Flynn. “Son of a gun, you can say that again and then repeat id” and
he clapped Mohammed between the shoulder blades with such
well-intentioned violence that it almost floored him. Since then,
Sebastian had not spoken again, but every few minutes he would smile
and shake his head in wonder. Mohammed was truly worried.

They crossed the Rovurna in hired canoes and camped that night on the
far bank. Twice during the night Mohammed awoke, slipped out of his
blanket, and crept across to Sebastian to check his condition. Each
time Sebastian was sleeping easily and the silver moonlight showed just
a suggestion of a smile on his lips.

In the middle of the next morning, Mohammed halted the column in thick
cover and came back from the head to confer with Sebastian. “The
village of M’tapa lies just beyond,” he pointed ahead. “You can see
the smoke from the fires.”

There was a greyish smear of it above the trees, and faintly a dog
began yapping.

“Good. Let’s go.” Sebastian had donned his eagle helmet and was
struggling into his boots.

“First I will send the Askari to surround the village.”

Why? “Sebastian looked up in surprise.

“Otherwise there will be nobody there when we arrive.”

During his service with the German Imperial Army, Mohammed had been on
tax expeditions before.

“Well if you think it necessary,” Sebastian agreed dubiously.

Half an hour later Sebastian swaggered in burlesque of a German officer
into the village of M’tapa, and was dismayed by the reception he
received. The lamentations of two hundred human beings made a hideous
chorus for his entry.

Some of them were on their knees and all of them were wringing their
hands, smiting their breasts or showing other signs of deep distress.
At the far end of the village M’tapa, the headman, waited under guard
by Mohammed and two of his Askari.

M’tapa was an old man, with a cap of pure white wool, and an emaciated
body covered with a parchment of dry skin. One eye was glazed over
with tropical ophthalmia, and he was clearly very agitated. “I crawl
on my belly before you, Splendid and Merciful Lord,” he greeted
Sebastian, and prostrated himself in the dust.

“I say, that isn’t necessary, you know,” murmured Sebastian.

“My poor village welcomes you,” whimpered M’tapa.

Bitterly he recriminated. himself for thus being taken unawares. He
had not expected the tax expedition for another two months, and had
taken no pains with the disposal of his wealth. Buried under the
earthen floor of his hut was nearly a thousand silver Portuguese
escudos and half again as many golden Deutschmarks. The traffic of his
villagers in dried fish, netted in the RoVUma river, was highly
organized and lucrative.

Now he dragged himself pitifully to his old knees and signalled two of
his wives to bring forward stools and gourds of palm wine.

“It has been a year of great pestilence, disease and famine,” M’tapa
began his prepared speech, when Sebastian was seated and refreshed. The
rest of it took fifteen minutes to deliver, and Sebastian’s Swahili was
now strong enough for him to follow the argument. He was deeply
touched.

Under the spell of palm wine and his new rosy outlook on life, he felt
his heart going out to the old man.

While M’tapa spoke, the other villagers had dispersed quietly and
barricaded themselves in their huts. It was best not to draw attention
to oneself when candidates for the rope were being selected. Now a
mournful silence hung over the village, broken only by the mewling of
an infant and the squabbling of a pair of mangy mongrels, contesting
the ownership of a piece of offal.

“Manali,” impatiently Mohammed interrupted the old man’s catalogue of
misfortune. “Let me search his hut.”

Wait,” Sebastian stopped him. He had been looking about, and beneath
the single baobab tree in the centre of the village he had noticed a
dozen or so crude litters. Now he stood up and walked across to
them.

When he saw what they contained, his throat contracted with horror. In
each litter lay a human skeleton, the bones still covered with a thin
layer of living flesh and skin. Naked men and women mixed
indiscriminately, but their bodies so wasted that it was almost
impossible to tell their sex. The pelvic girdles were gaunt basins of
bone, elbows and knees great deformed knobs distorting the stick-like
limbs, each rib standing out in clear definition, the faces were skulls
whose lips had shrunk to expose the teeth in a perpetual sardonic grin,
But the real horror was contained in the sunken eye cavities; the lids
were fixed wide open and the eyeballs glared like red marbles. There
was no pupil nor iris, just those polished orbs the colour of blood.

Sebastian stepped back hurriedly, feeling his belly heave and the taste
of it in his throat. Not trusting himself to speak, he beckoned for
M’tapa to come to him, and pointed at the bodies in the litters.

M’tapa glanced at them without interest. They were so much part of the
ordinary scene that for many days he had not consciously been aware of
their existence. The village was situated on the edge of a tsetse fly
belt, and since his childhood there had always been the sleeping
sickness cases lying under the baobab tree, deep in the coma which
precedes death. He could not understand Sebastian’s concern.

“When … Sebastian’s voice faltered, and he swallowed before going on.
“When did these people last eat? “he asked.

“Not for a long time.” M’tapa was puz led by the question.

Everybody knew that once the sleeping time came they never ate again.

Sebastian had heard of people dying of starvation. It happened in
places like India, but here he was confronted with the actual fact. A
revulsion of feeling swept over him.

109 This was irrefutable proof that all M’tapa had told him was true.
This was famine as he had not believed really could exist and he had
been trying to extort money from these people!

Sebastian walked slowly back to his stool and sank down upon it. He
removed the heavy helmet from his head, held it in his lap and sat
staring miserably at his own feet. He was helpless with guilt and
compassion.

Flynn O’Flynn had reluctantly provided Sebastian with one hundred
escudos as travelling expenses to meet any emergency that might arise
before he could make his first collection. Some of this had been
expended on the hire of canoes to cross the Rovuma, but there was still
eighty escudos left.

From his hip-pocket, Sebastian produced the tobacco pouch containing
the money and counted out half of it.

tapa,” his voice was subdued. “Take this money. Buy food for them.”

“Manali,” screeched Mohammed in protest. “Manali. Do not do it.”

“Shut up!” Sebastian snapped at him, and prodded the handful of coins
towards M’tapa. “Take it!”

M’tapa stared at him as though he offered a live scorpion.

It was as unnatural as though a man-eating lion had walked up and
rubbed itself against his leg.

“Take it,” Sebastian insisted impatiently, and in disbelief, M’tapa
extended his cupped hands.

“Mohammed,” Sebastian stood up and replaced his helmet, “we’ll move on
immediately to the next village.”

Long after Sebastian’s column had disappeared into the bush again, old
M’tapa squatted alone, clutching the coins, too stunned to move. At
last he roused himself and shouted for one of his sons.

“Go quickly to the village of Saali, who is my brother.

Tell him that a madman comes to him. A German lord who comes to
collect the hut tax and stays to offer gifts.

Tell him – .” here his voice broke as though he could not believe what
he was about to say,” .. . tell him that this lord should be shown the
ones who sleep, and that the madness will then come upon him, and he
will give you forty escudos of the Portuguese. And, furthermore, there
will be no hangings.”

saali, my uncle, will not believe these things.”

“No,” M’tapa admitted. “It is true that he will not believe.

But tell him anyway.”

Saali received the message from his elder brother, and it induced in
him a state of terror bordering on

1)paralysis- M’tapa, he knew, had a vicious sense of humour and there
was between them that matter of the woman Gita, a luscious little
fourteen-year-old who had deserted the village of M’tapa within two
days of taking up her duties as M’tapa’s junior wife, on the grounds
that he was impotent and smelled like an hyena. She was now a notable
addition to Saali’s household. Saali was convinced that the true
interpretation of his brother’s, message was that the new German
commissioner was a rampaging lion who would not be content with merely
hanging a few of the old men but who might extend his attentions to
Saali himself. Even should he escape the noose, he would be left
destitute; his carefully accumulated hoard of silver, his six fine
tusks of ivory, his goat herd, his dozen bags of white salt, the bar of
copper, his two European-made axes, the bolts of trade cloth all of his
treasures gone! It required an heroic effort to rouse himself from the
stupor of despair and make his few futile preparations for flight.

Mohammed’s Askari caught him as he was heading for the bush at a trot,
and when they led him back to meet Sebastian Oldsmith, the tears that
coursed freely down his cheeks and dripped on to his chest were
genuine.

Sebastian was very susceptible to tears. Despite the protests of
Mohammed, Sebastian pressed upon Saali twenty silver escudos. It took
Saali about twenty minutes to recover from the shock, at the end of
which time he, in turn, shocked Sebastian profoundly by offering him on
a temporary basis the unrestricted services of the girl, Gita. This
young lady was witness to the offer made by her husband, and was
obviously wholeheartedly in favour of it.

Sebastian set off again hurriedly, with his retinue straggling along
behind him in a state of deep depression.

Mohammed now had a bad case of the mutters.

Drums tap-tap-tapped, runners scurried along the network of footpaths
that crossed and crisscrossed the bush; from hilltop to hilltop men
called one to the other in the high pitched wail that carries for
miles. The news spread. Village after village buzzed with incredulous
excitement, and then the inhabitants flocked out to meet the mad German
commissioner.

By this time Sebastian was thoroughly enjoying himself.

He was carried away with the pleasure of giving, delighted with these
simple lovable people who welcomed him sincerely and pressed humble
little gifts upon him. Here a scrawny fowl, there a dozen
half-incubated eggs, a basin of sweet potatoes, a gourd of palm wine.

But Santa Claus’s bag, or, more accurately, his tobacco pouch, was soon
empty and Sebastian was at a loss for some way to help alleviate the
misery and poverty he saw in each village. He considered issuing
indulgences from future tax … the bearer is hereby excused from the
payment of hut tax for five years … but realized that this was a
lethal gift. He shuddered at what Herman Fleischer might do to anybody
he caught in possession of one of these.

Finally he struck on the solution. These people were starving. He
would give them food. He would give them meat.

In fact, this was one of the most desirable commodities Sebastian could
have offered. Despite the abundance of wild life, the great herds of
game that spread across the plains and hills, these people were starved
for protein. The primitive hunting methods they employed were so
ineffectual, that the killing of a single animal was an event that
happened infrequently, and then almost by accident. When the carcass
was shared out among two or. three hundred hungry mouths, there was
only a few ounces of meat for each. Men and women would risk their
lives in attempting to drive a pride of lions from their kill, for just
a few mouthfuls of this precious stuff.

Sebastian’s Askari joined in the sport with delight. Even old Mohammed
perked up a little. Unfortunately, their marksmanship was about the
same standard as Sebastian’s own, and a day’s hunting usually resulted
in the expenditure of thirty or forty rounds of Mauser ammunition, and
a bag of sometimes as little as one half-grown zebra. But there were
good days also, like the memorable occasion when a herd of buffalo
virtually committed suicide by running down on the line of Askari. In
the resulting chaos one of Sebastian’s men was shot dead by his
comrades, but eight full-grown buffalo ri)llowed him to the happy
hunting grounds.

So Sebastian’s tax tour proceeded triumphantly, leaving behind a trail
of empty cartridge cases, racks of meat drying in the sun, full
bellies, and smiling faces.

Three months after crossing the Rovuma river, Sebastian found himself
back at the village of his good friend, M’tapa. He had bypassed
Saali’s in order to avoid the offended Gita.

Sitting alone in the night within the hut that M’tapa placed at his
disposal, Sebastian was having his first misgivings. On the morrow, he
would begin the return to Lolapanzi, where Flynn O’Flynn was waiting
for him. Sebastian was acutely aware that from Flynn’s point of view
the expedition had not been a success and Flynn would have a great deal
to say on the subject. Once more Sebastian puzzled on the fates which
took his best intentions, and manipulated them in such a manner that
they became completely unrecognizable from the original.

Then his thoughts kicked off at a tangent. Soon, the day after
tomorrow, if all went well, he would be back with Rosa. The deep
yearning that had been his constant companion these last three months
throbbed through Sebastian’s whole body. Staring into the wood-fire on
the hearth of the hut, it seemed as though the embers formed a picture
of her face, and in his memory he heard her voice again.

“Come back, Sebastian. Come back soon.”

And he whispered the words aloud, watching her face in the fire.
Gloating on each detail of it. He saw her smile, and her nose wrinkled
a little, the dark eyes slanted upwards at the corners.

“Come back, Sebastian.”

The need of her was a physical pain so intense that he could hardly
breathe, and his imagination reconstructed every detail of their
parting beside the waterfall. Each subtle change and inflection of her
voice, the very sound of her breathing, and the bitter salt taste of
her tears upon his lips.

He felt again the touch of her hands, her mouth and through the
wood-smoke that filled the hut, his nostrils flared at the warm woman
smell of her body.

“I’m coming, Rosa. I’m coming back, he whispered, and stood up
restlessly from beside the fire. At that moment his attention was
jerked back to the present by a soft scratching at the door of the
hut.

“Lord. Lord. “He recognized old M’tapa’s hoarse croaking.

“What is it?”

“We seek your protection.”

“What is the trouble?” Sebastian crossed to the door and lifted the
cross-bar. “What is it?”

In the Moonlight M’tapa stood with a skin blanket draped -around his
frail shoulders. Behind him a dozen of the villagers huddled in
trepidation.

“The elephant are in our gardens. They will destroy them before
morning. There will be nothing, not a single stalk of millet left
standing.” He swung away and stood with his head cocked. “Listen, you
may hear them now.”

It was an eerie sound in the night, the high-pitched elephant squeal,
and Sebastian’s skin crawled. He could feel the hair on his forearms
become erect.

“There are two of them.” M’tapa’s voice was a scratchy whisper. “Two
old bulls. We know them well. They came last season and laid waste
our corn. They killed one of my sons who tried to drive them off.” In
entreaty, the old man clawed hold of Sebastian’s arm and tugged at it.
“Avenge my son, lord. Avenge my son for me, and save our millet that
the children will not go hungry again this year.”

Sebastian responded to the appeal in the same manner that St. George
would have done.

In haste he buttoned his tunic and went to fetch his rifle.

On his return he found his entire command armed to the teeth, and as
eager for the hunt as a pack of foxhounds.

Mohammed waited at their head.

“Lord Manali, we are ready.”

“Now, steady on, old chap.” Sebastian had no intention of sharing the
glory. “This is my show. Too many cooks, what?”

M’tapa stood by, wringing his hands with impatience, listening
alternately first to the distant sounds of the garden raiders feeding
contentedly in his lands, and then to the undignified wrangling between
Sebastian and his Askari, until at last he could bear it no longer.
“Lord, already half the millet is eaten. In an hour it will all be
gone.”

“You’re right,” Sebastian agreed, and turned angrily on his men. “Shut
up, all of you. Shut up!”

They were unaccustomed to this tone of command from Sebastian, and it
surprised them into silence.

“Only Mohamed shall accompany me. The rest of you go to your huts and
stay there.”

It was a working compromise, Sebastian now had Mohamed as ally.
Mohammed turned on his comrades and scattered them before falling in
beside Sebastian.

“Let us go.”

At the head of the main gardens, high on its stilts of poles, stood a
rickety platform. This was the watch-tower from which, night and day,
a guard was kept over the ripening millet. It was now deserted, the
two young guards had left hurriedly at the first sight of the garden
raiders. Kudu or waterbuck were one thing, a pair of bad-tempered old
elephant bulls were another matter entirely.

Sebastian and Mohammed reached the watch-tower and paused beneath it.
Quite clearly now they could hear the rustling and ripping sound of the
millet stalks being torn up and trampled.

“Wait here, whispered Sebastian, slinging his rifle over his shoulder,
as he turned to the ladder beside him. He climbed slowly and silently
to the platform, and from it, looked out over the gardens.

The moon was so brilliant as to throw sharply defined shadows below the
tower and the trees. Its light was a soft silver that distorted
distance and size, reducing all things to a cold, homogeneous grey.

Beyond the clearing the forest rose like frozen smoke clouds, while the
field of standing millet moved in the small night wind, rippling like
the surface of a lake.

Humped big and darker grey, standing high above the millet, two great
islands in the soft sea of vegetation, the old bulls grazed slowly.
Although the nearest elephant was two hundred paces from the tower, the
moon was so bright that Sebastian could see clearly as he reached
forward with his trunk, coiled it about a clump of the leafy stalks and
plucked them easily. Then swaying gently, rocking his massive bulk
lazily from side to side, he beat the millet against his lifted foreleg
to shake the clinging earth from the roots before lifting it and
stuffing it into his mouth. The tattered banners of his ears flapped
gently, an untidy tangle of millet leaves hanging from his lips between
the long curved shafts of ivory, he moved on, feeding and trampling so
that behind him he left a wide path of devastation.

On the open plat-form of the tower, Sebastian felt his stomach
contracting, convulsing itself into a hard ball, and his hands on the
rifle were unsteady; his breathing whistled softly in his own ears as
the elephant thrill came upon him.

Watching those two- huge beasts, he found himself held motionless with
an almost mystic sense of awe; a realization of his own insignificance,
his presumption in going out against them, armed with this puny weapon
of steel and wood. But beneath his reluctance was the tingle of tight
nerves that strange blend of fear and eagerness the age-old lust of the
hunter. He roused himself and climbed down to where Mohammed waited.

Through the standing corn that reached above their heads, stepping with
care between the rows so that they disturb not a single leaf, they
moved in towards the centre of the garden. Ears and eyes tuned to
their finest limit, breathing controlled so that it did not match the
wild pump of his heart, Sebastian homed in on the crackle and rustle
made by the nearest bull.

Even though the millet screened him, he could feel the weak wash of the
wind move his hair softly, and the first whiff of elephant smell hit
him like an open-handed blow in the face. He stooped so suddenly that
Mohammed almost bumped into him from behind. They stood crouching,
peering ahead into the moving wall of vegetation. Sebastian felt
Mohammed lean forward beside him, and heard his whisper breathed softer
than the sound of the wind. “Very close now.”

Sebastian nodded, and then swallowed jerkily. He could hear clearly
the soft slithering scrape of leaves brushing against the rough hide of
the old bull. It was feeding down towards them. They were standing
directly in the path of its leisurely approach, at any moment now at
any moment!

Standing with the rifle lifted protectively, sweat starting to prickle
his forehead and upper lip in the cool of the night, his eyes watering
with the intensity of his gaze, Sebastian was suddenly aware of massive
movement ahead of him. A solid shape through the bank of dancing
leaves, and he looked up. High above him it loomed, black and big so
that the night sky was blotted out by the spread of its ears, so near
that he stood beneath the forward thrust of its tusks, and he could see
the trunk uncoil like a fat grey python and grope forward blindly
towards him; and ANN beneath it the mouth gaped a little, spilling
leaves at the corners.

He lifted the rifle, pointing it upwards without aiming, almost
touching the elephant’s hanging lower lip with the muzzle, and he
fired. The shot was a blunt burst of sound in the night.

The bullet angled up through the pink palate of the animal’s mouth, up
through the spongy bone of the skull;

mushrooming and exploding, it tore into the fist-sized cell that
contained the brain, and burst it into a grey jelly.

Had it passed four inches to either side; had it been deflected by one
of the larger bones, Sebastian would have died before he had time to
work the bolt of the Mauser, for he stood directly below the
outstretched tusks and trunk.

But the old bull reeled backwards from the shot, his trunk falling
flabbily against his chest, his forelegs spreading, and his head
unbalanced by long tusks sagged forwards, knees collapsed suddenly
under him, and he fell so heavily that they heard the thump in the
village half a mile away.

“Son of a gun!” gasped Sebastian, staring in disbelief at the dead
mountain of flesh. “I did it. Son of a gun, I did it!”

Jubilation, a delirious release from fear and tension, mounted giddily
within him. He lifted an arm to hit Mohammed across the back, but he
froze in that attitude.

Like the shriek of steam escaping from a burst boiler, the other bull
squealed in the moonlight nearby. And they heard the crackling rush of
his run in the corn.

“He’s coming!” Sebastian looked frantically about him for the sound
had no direction.

“No,” squawked Mohammed. “He turns against the wind.

First he seeks for the smell of us, and then he will come.”

He grabbed Sebastian’s arm and clung to him, while they listened to the
elephant circling to get down-wind of them.

“Perhaps he will run,” whispered Sebastian.

“Not this one. He is old and evil-tempered, and he has killed men
before. Now he will hunt us.” Mohammed pulled at Sebastian’s arm. “We
must get out into the open. In this stuff we will have no chance, he
will be on tOp Of us before we see him.”

They started to run. There is no more piquant sauce for fear than
flying feet. Once he starts to run, even a brave man becomes a coward.
Within twenty paces, both of them were in headlong flight towards the
village. They ran without regard for stealth, fighting their way
through the tangle of leaves and stalks, panting wildly. The noise of
their flight blanketed the sounds made by the elephant, so they lost
all idea of his whereabouts. This sharpened the spurs of terror that
drove them, for at any moment he might loom over them.

At last they stumbled out into the open, and paused, panting, sweating
heavily, heads swinging from side to side as they tried to place the
second bull.

“There!” shouted Mohammed. “He comes,” and they heard the shrill
pig-squealing, the noisy rush of his charge through the millet.

“Run!” yelled Sebastian, still in the grip of panic, and they ran.

Around a freshly lit bonfire at the edge of the village, waited the
rejected Askari and a hundred of Wtopo’s men.

They waited in anxiety for they had heard the shot and the fall of the
first bull but since then, the squealing and shouting and crashing had
left them in some doubt as to what was happening in the gardens.

This doubt was quickly dispelled as Mohammed, closely followed by
Sebastian, came down the path towards them, giving a fair imitation of
two dogs whose backsides had been dipped in turpentine. A hundred
yards behind them the bank of standing millet burst open, and the
second bull came out in full charge.

Immense in the firelight, hump-back, shambling in the deceptive speed
of his run, streaming his huge ears, each squeal of rage enough to
burst the eardrums he bore down on the village.

“Get out! Run!” Sebastian’s shouted warning was as wheezy as it was
unnecessary. The waiting crowd was no longer waiting, it scattered
like a shoal of sardines at the approach of a barracuda.

I Men threw aside their blankets and ran naked; they fell over each
other and ran headlong into trees. Two of them ran straight through
the middle of the bonfire and emerged on the other side trailing sparks
with live coals sticking to their feet. In a wailing hubbub they swept
back through the village, and from each hut women with infants bundled
under their arms, or slung over their backs, scurried out to join the
terrified torrent of humanity.

Still making good time, Sebastian and Mohammed were passing the weaker
runners among the villagers, while from behind, the elephant was
gaining rapidly on all of them.

With the force and velocity of a great boulder rolling down a steep
hillside, the bull reached the first hut of the village and ran into
it. The flimsy structure of grass and light poles exploded, bursting
asunder without diminishing the fury of the animal’s charge. A second
hut disintegrated, then a third, before the elephant caught the first
human straggler.

She was an old woman, tottering on thin legs, the empty pouches of her
breasts flopping against her wrinkled belly, a long monotonous wail of
fear keening from the toothless pit of her mouth as she ran.

The bull uncoiled his trunk from his chest, lifted it high above the
woman and struck her across the shoulder.

The force of the blow crumpled her, bones snapped in her chest like old
dry sticks, and she died before she hit the ground.

The next was a girl. Groggy with sleep, yet her naked body was
silver-smooth and graceful in the moonlight, as she emerged from a hut
into the path of the bull’s charge.

Lightly the thick trunk enfolded her, and then with an effortless flick
threw her forty feet into the air.

She screamed, and the sound of the scream knifed through Sebastian’s
panic. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see the girl thrown
high in the night sky. Her limbs were spread-eagled and she spun in
the air like a cartwheel before she dropped back to earth falling
heavily so that the scream was cut off abruptly. Sebastian stopped
running.

Deliberately the elephant knelt over the girl’s feebly squirming body,
and driving down with his tusks, impaled her through the chest. She
hung from the shaft of ivory, squashed and, broken, no longer
recognizable as human, until the elephant shook his head irritably and
threw her off.

It needed a sight as horrible as this to rally Sebastian’s shattered
nerves to summon the reserves of his manhood from the far places that
fear had scattered them. The rifle was still in his hands, but he was
shaking with fear and exertion; sweat had drenched his tunic and
plastered his curly hair on to his forehead, and his breath sawed
hoarsely in his throat. He stood irresolute, fighting the driving urge
to run again.

The bull came on, and now his one tusk was painted glistening black
with the girl’s blood, and gouts of the same stuff were splattered
across his bulging forehead and the bridge of his trunk. It was this
that changed Sebastian’s fear first to disgust, and then to anger.

He lifted the rifle and it weaved unsteadily in his hands.

He sighted along the barrel and suddenly his vision snapped into sharp
focus and his nerves stilled their clamour. He was a man again.

Coldly he Moved the blob of the foresight on to the bull’s head,
holding it on the deep lateral crease at the root of the trunk, and he
squeezed the trigger. The butt jumped solidly into his shoulder, the
report stung his eardrums, but he saw the bullet strike exactly where
he had aimed it a spurt of dust from the crust of dried mud that caked
the animal’s head and the skin around it, twitched, the eyelids
quivered shut for an instant, then blinked open again.

Without lowering the rifle Sebastian jerked the bolt open, and the
empty case ejected crisply, pinging away into the dust. He levered
another cartridge into the breach and held his aim into the massive
head. Again he fired and the elephant staggered drunkenly. The ears
which had been cocked half back, now fanned open and the head swung
vaguely in his direction.

He fired again, and the bull winced as the bullet lanced into the bone
and gristle of his head, then he turned and came for Sebastian but
there was a slackness, a lack of determination in his charge. Aiming
now for the chest, handling the rifle with cold method, Sebastian fired
again and again, leaning forward against the recoil of the rifle,
sighting every shot with care, knowing that each of them was raking the
chest Cavity, tearing through lung and heart and liver.

And the bull broke his run into a shuffling, uncertain walk, losing
direction, turning away from Sebastian to stand broadside, the barrel
of his chest heaving against the agony of his torn vitals.

Sebastian lowered the rifle and with steady fingers pressed fresh
cartridges down into the empty magazine. The bull groaned softly and
from the tip of his trunk, blood hosed up from the haemorrhaging
lungs.

Without pity, cold in his anger, Sebastian lifted the reloaded rifle,
and aimed for the dark cavity that nestled in the centre of the huge
ear. The bullet struck with the sharp thwack of an axe swung against a
tree trunk, and the elephant sagged and fell forward to the brain shot.
His weight drove his tusks into the earth, burying them to the lip.

Flour tons of meat delivered fresh to the very centre of the village
was good value. The price paid was not exorbitant, M’tapa decided.
Three huts could be rebuilt in two days, and only four acres of millet
had been destroyed. Furthermore, of the women who had died, one was
very old and the other, although she was almost eighteen years old, had
never conceived. There was good reason, therefore, to believe she was
barren and not a great loss to the community.

Warmed by the early sun, M’tapa was a satisfied man.

With Sebastian beside him, he sat on his carved wooden stool and
grinned widely as he watched the fun.

Two dozen of his men, armed with short-handled, long bladed spears, and
divested of all clothing, were to act as Bluchers. They were gathered
beside the mountainous carcass arguing good-naturedly as they waited
for Mohammed and his four assistants to remove the tusks.

Around them, in a wider circle, waited the rest of the Villagers, and
while they waited, they sang. A drum hammered out the rhythm for them,
and the clap of hands and the stamp of feet confirmed it. The
masculine bass was a foundation from which the clear, sweet soprano of
the women soared, and sank, and soared again.

Beneath Mohammed’s patiently chipping axe, first the one tusk and then
the other were freed from the bone that held them, and, with two Askari
staggering under the weight, they were carried to where Sebastian sat,
and laid with ceremony at his feet.

It occurred to Sebastian that four big tusks carried home to Lalapanzi
might in some measure mollify Flynn O’Flynn.

They would at least cover the costs of the expedition. The thought
cheered him up considerably, and he turned to M’tapa. “Old one, you
may take the meat.”

“Lord.” In gratitude, M’tapa clapped his hands at the level of his
chest, and then turned to squawk an order at the waiting Bluchers.

A roar of excitement and meat hunger went up from the crowd as one of
them scrambled up on to the carcass, and drove his spear through the
thick grey hide behind the last rib. Then walking backwards, he drew
it down towards the haunch and the razor steel sliced deep. Two others
made the lateral incisions, opening a square flap a trapdoor into the
belly cavity from which the fat coils of the viscera bulged, pink and
blue and glossy wet in the early morning sunlight. In mounting
eagerness, four others dragged from the square hole the contents of the
belly, and then, while Sebastian stared in disbelief, they wriggled
into the opening and disappeared. He could hear their muffled shouts
reverberating within the carcass as they competed for the prize of the
liver. Within minutes one of them reappeared, clutching against his
chest a slippery lump of tattered, purple liver. Like a maggot, he
came squirming out of the wound, painted over-all with a thick coating
of dark red blood. It had matted in the woolly cap of his hair, and
turned his face into a gruesome mask from which only his teeth and his
eyes gleamed white. Carrying the mutilated liver, laughing in triumph,
he ran through the crowd to where Sebastian sat.. The offering
embarrassed Sebastian. More than that, it made his gorge rise, and he
felt his stomach heave as it was thrust almost into his lap.

“Eat,” M’tapa encouraged him. “It will make you strong.

It will sharpen the spear of your manhood. Ten, twenty women will not
tire you.”

It was M’tapa’s opinion that Sebastian needed this type of tonic. He
had heard from his brother Saali, and from the chiefs along the river,
about Sebastian’s lack of initiative.

“Like this.” M’tapa cut a hunk of the liver and popped it into his
mouth. He chewed heartily, and the juice wet his lips as he grinned in
appreciation. “Very good.” He thrust a piece into Sebastian’s face.
“Eat.”

“No.” Sebastian’s gorge pressed heavily on the back of his throat, and
he stood up hurriedly. M’tapa shrugged, and ate it himself. Then he
shouted to the Bluchers to continue their work.

In a miraculously short space of time the huge carcass disintegrated
under the blades of the spears and machetes.

It was a labour in which the entire village joined. With a dozen
strokes of the knife, a Blucher would free a large hunk of flesh and
throw it down to one of the women. She, in turn, would hack it into
smaller pieces and pass these on to the children. Squealing with
excitement, they would run with them to the hastily erected drying
racks, deposit them and come scampering back for more.

Sebastian had recovered from his initial revulsion and now he laughed
to see how every mouth was busy, chewing as they worked and yet at the
same time managing to emit a surprising volume of noise.

Among the milling feet the dogs snarled and yipped, and gulped the
scraps. Without interrupting their feeding, they dodged the casual
kicks and blows that were aimed at them.

Into the midst of this cosy, domestic scene entered Commissioner Herman
Fleischer with ten armed Askari.

erman Fleischer was tired and there were blisters on his feet from the
series of forced marches that had brought him to M’tapa’s village.

A month before he had left his headquarters at Mahengeto begin the
annual tax tour of his area. As was his custom, he had started in the
northern province, and it had been an unusually successful expedition.
The wooden chest with the rampant black eagle painted on its lid had
grown heavier with each day’s journey. Herman had amused himself by
calculating how many more years service in Africa would be necessary
before he could resign and return home to Plaven and settle down on the
estate he planned to buy.

Three more years as fruitful as this, he decided, would be sufficient.
It was a bitter shame that he had not been able to capture O’Flynn’s
dhow on the Rufiji thirteen months previously that would have advanced
his date of departure by a full twelve months. Thinking about it
stirred his residual anger at that episode, and he placated it by
doubling the hut tax on the next village he visited. This raised such
a howl of protest from the village headman that Herman nodded at his
sergeant Of Askari, who began ostentatiously to unpack the rope from
his saddlebag.

“O fat and beautiful bull elephant,” the headman changed his mind
hastily. “If you will wait but a little while, I will bring the money
to you. There is a new hut, without lice or fleas, in which you may
rest Your lovely body, and I will send a young girl to you with beer
for Your thirst.”

“Good,” agreed Herman. “While I rest, my Askari will stay with you.”
He nodded at the sergeant to bind the chief, then waddled away to the
hut.

The headman sent two of his sons to dig beneath a certain tree in the
forest, and they returned an hour later with mournful faces, carrying a
heavy skin bag.

Contentedly Herman Fleischer signed an official receipt for ninety per
cent of the contents of the bag Fleischer allowed himself a ten per
cent handling fee and the headman, who could not read a word of German,
accepted it with relief.

“I will stay tonight in your village,” Herman announced.

“Send the same girl to cook my food.”

The runner from the South arrived in the night, and disturbed Herman
Fleischer at a most inopportune moment.

The news he carried was even more disturbing. From his description of
the new German commissioner who was doing Herman’s job for him in the
southern province, and shooting up the countryside in the process,
Herman immediately recognized the young Englishman whom he had last
seen on the deck of a dhow in the Rufiji delta.

Leaving the bulk of his retinue, including the bearers of the tax
chest, to follow him at their best speed, Herman mounted at midnight on
his white donkey and, taking ten Askari with him, he rode southwards on
a storm patrol.

Five nights later, in those still dark hours that precede the dawn,
Herman was camped near the Rovuma river when he was awakened by his
sergeant.

“What is it?” Grumpy with fatigue, Herman sat up and lifted the side
of his mosquito net.

“We heard the sound of gunfire. A single shot.”

“Where?” He was instantly awake, and reaching for his boots.

“From the South, towards the village of M’tapa on the Rovuma.”

Fully dressed now, Herman waited anxiously, straining his ears against
the small sounds of the African night. “Are you sure … he began as
he turned to his sergeant, but he did not finish. Faintly, but
unmistakable in the darkness, they heard the pop, pop, pop of a distant
rifle a pause and then another shot.

“Break camp,” bellowed Herman. “Rasch! You black heathen. Rasch!”

The sun was well up by the time they reached M’tapa’s village. They
came upon it suddenly through the gardens of tall millet that screened
their approach. Herman Fleischer paused to throw out his Askari in a
line of skirmishers before closing in on the cluster of huts, but when
he reached the fringe, he stopped once more in surprise at the
extraordinary spectacle which was being enacted in the open square of
the village.

The dense knot of half-naked black people that swarmed over the remains
of the elephant was perfectly oblivious of Herman’s presence until at
last he filled his lungs, and then emptied them again in a roar that
carried over the hubbub of shouts and laughter. Instantly a vast
silence fell upon the gathering, every head turned towards Herman and
from each head eyes bulged in horrific disbelief

“Bwana intarnbu,” a small voice broke the silence at last.

“Lord of the rope. “They knew him well.

“What?” Herman began, and then gasped in outrage as he noticed in the
crowd a black man he had never seen before, dressed in the full uniform
of German Askari. “You!”

he shouted, pointing an accusing finger, but the man whirled and ducked
away behind the screen of blood smeared black bodies. “Stop him!”
Herman fumbled with the flap of his holster. Movement caught his eye
and he turned to see another pseudo-Askari running away between the
huts. “There’s another one! Stop him! Sergeant, Sergeant, get your
men here!”

The initial shock that had held them frozen was now past, and the crowd
broke and scattered. Once again, Herman Fleischer gasped in outrage as
he saw, for the first time, a figure sitting on a carved native stool
on the far side of the square. A figure in an outlandish uniform of
bright but travel-stained blue, fragged with gold, his legs clad in
high jackboots, and on his head the dress helmet of an illustrious
Prussian regiment.

“Englishman!” Despite the disguise, Herman recognized him. He had
finally succeeded in unbuttoning the flap of his holster, and now he
withdrew his Luger. “Englishman!”

He repeated the insult and lifted the pistol.

With the quickness of mind for which he was noted, Sebastian sat
bewildered by this unforeseen turn of events, but when Herman showed
him the working end of the Luger, he realized that it was time to take
his leave, and he attempted to leap nimbly to his feet. However, the
spurs on his boots became entangled once more and he went backwards
over the stool. The bullet hissed harmlessly through the empty space
where he would have been standing.

“God damn!” Herman fired again, and the bullet kicked a burst of
splinters out of the heavy wooden stool behind which Sebastian was
lying. This second failure aroused in Herman Fleischer the blinding
rage which spoiled his aim for the next two shots he fired, as
Sebastian went on hands and knees around the corner of the nearest
hut.

Behind the hut, Sebastian jumped to his feet and set off at a run. His
main concern was to get out of the village and into the bush. In his
ears echoed Flynn O’Flynn’s advice.

“Make for the river. Go straight for the river.”

And he was so occupied with it that, when he charged around the side of
the next hut, he could not check himself in time to avoid collision
with one of Herman Fleischer’s Askari, who was coming in the opposite
direction. Both of them went down together in an untidy heap, and the
steel helmet fell forward over Sebastian’s eyes. As he struggled into
a sitting position, he removed the helmet and found the man’s woolly
black head in front of him. It was ideally positioned and Sebastian
was holding the heavy helmet above it. With the strength of both his
arms, he brought the helmet down again, and it clanged loudly against
the Askari’s skull. With a grunt the Askari sagged backwards and lay
quietly in the dust. Sebastian placed the helmet over his sleeping
face, picked up the man’s rifle from beside him and got to his feet
once more.

He stood crouching in the shelter of the hut while he tried to make
sense of the chaos around him. Through the pandemonium set up by the
panic-stricken villagers, who were milling about with all the purpose
of a flock of sheep attacked by wolves, Sebastian could hear the
bellowed commands of Herman Fleischer, and the answering shouts of the
German Askari. Rifle-fire cracked and whined, to be answered by
renewed outbursts of screaming.

Sebastian’s first impulse was to hide in one of the huts but he
realized this would be futile. At the best it would only delay his
capture.

No, he must get out of the village. But the thought of covering the
hundred yards of open ground to the shelter of the nearest trees, while
a dozen Askari shot at him, was most unattractive.

At this moment Sebastian became aware of an unpleasant warmth in his
feet, and he looked down to find that he was standing in the live ashes
of a cooking fire. The leather of his jackboots was already beginning
to char and smoke. He stepped back hurriedly, and the smell of burning
leather acted as a laxative for the constipation of his brain.

From the hut beside him he snatched a handful of thatch and stooped to
thrust it into the fire. The dry grass burst into flame, and Sebastian
held the torch to the wall of the hut. Instantly fire bloomed and shot
upwards. With the torch in his hand, Sebastian ducked across the
narrow opening to the next hut and set fire to that also.

“Son of a gun!” exulted Sebastian as great oily billows of smoke
obscured the sun and limited his field of vision to ten paces.

Slowly he moved forward in the rolling cloud of smoke, setting fire to
each hut he passed, and delighted in the frustrated bellows of Germanic
rage he heard behind him.

Occasionally ghostly figures scampered past him in the acrid
half-darkness but none of them paid him the slightest attention, and
each time Sebastian relaxed the pressure of his forefinger on the
trigger of the Mauser, and moved on.

He reached the last hut and paused there to gather himself for the
final sprint across open ground to the edge of the millet garden.
Through the eddying bank of smoke, the mass of dark green vegetation
from which he had fled in terror not many hours before, now seemed as
welcoming as the arms of his mother.

Movement near him in the smoke, and he swung the Mauser to cover it; he
saw the square outline of a kepi and the sparkle of metal buttons, and
his finger tightened on the trigger.

“Manalli!”

“Mohammed! Good God, I nearly killed you.” Sebastian threw up the
rifle barrel as he recognized him.

“Quickly! They are close behind me.” Mohammed snatched at his arm and
dragged him forward. The jackboots pinched his toes and thumped like
the hooves of a galloping buffalo as Sebastian ran. From the huts
behind them a voice shouted urgently and, immediately afterwards, came
the vicious crack of a Mauser and the shrill whinny of the ricochet.

Sebastian had ale ad of ten paces on Mohammed as he plunged into the
bank of leaves and millet stalks.

What should we do now, Manali?” Mohammed asked, and the expression on
the faces of the two other men echoed the question with pathetic trust.
A benevolent chance had reunited Sebastian with the remnants of his
command. During the flight through the millet gardens, with random
rifle-fire clipping the leaves about their heads, Sebastian had
literally fallen over these two. At the time they were engaged in
pressing their bellies and their faces hard against the earth, and it
had taken a number of lusty kicks with the jackboot to get them up and
moving.

Since then Sebastian, mindful of Flynn’s advice, had cautiously and
circuitously led them down to the landing place on the bank of the
Rovuma. He arrived to find that Fleischer’s Askari, by using the
direct route and without the necessity of concealing themselves, had
arrived before him.

From the cover of the reed-banks Sebastian watched dejectedly, as they
used an axe to knock the bottoms out of the dug-out canoes that were
drawn up on the little white beach.

“Can we swim across?” he asked Mohammed in a whisper, and Mohammed’s
face crumpled with horror, as he considered the suggestion. Both of
them peered out through the reeds across a quarter of a mile of deep
water that flowed so fast, its surface war-dimpled with tiny
whirlpools.

“No,”said Mohammed with finality.

“Too far? “asked Sebastian hopelessly.

“Too far, Too fast. Too deep. Too many crocodiles,”

agreed Mohammed, and in an unspoken but mutual desire to get away from
the river and the Askari, they crawled out of the reed-bank and crept
away inland.

In the late afternoon they were lying up in a bushy gully about two
miles from the river and an equal distance from M’tapa’s village.

“What should we do now, Manali?” Mohammed repeated his question, and
Sebastian cleared his throat before answering.

“Well…” he said and paused while his wide brow wrinkled in the agony
of creative thought. Then it came to him with all the splendour of a
sunrise. “We’ll just jolly well have to find some other way of getting
across the river.” He said it with the air of a man well pleased with
his own perspicacity. “What do you suggest, Mohammed?”

A little surprised to find the ball returned so neatly into his own
court, Mohammed remained silent.

“A raft?” hazarded Sebastian. The lack of tools, material and
opportunity to build one was so obvious, that Mohammed did not deign to
reply. He shook his head.

“No,” agreed Sebastian. “Perhaps you are right.” Again the classic
beauty of his features was marred by a scowl of concentration. At last
he demanded, “There are other villages along the river?”

“Yes,” Mohammed conceded. “But the Askari will visit each of them and
destroy the canoes. Also they will tell the headmen who we are, and
threaten them with the rope.”

“But they cannot cover the whole river. It has a frontier of five or
six hundred miles. We’ll just keep walking until we find a canoe. It
may take us a long time but we’ll find one eventually.”

“If the Askari don’t catch us first.”

“They’ll expect us to stay close to the border. We’ll make a detour
well inland, and march for five or six days before we come back to the
river again. We’ll rest now and move tonight.”

Heading on a diagonal line of march away from the Rovuma and deeper
into German territory, moving north-west along a well defined footpath,
the four of them kept walking all that night. As the slow hours passed
so the pace flagged and twice Sebastian noticed one or other of his men
wander off the path at an angle until suddenly they started and looked
about in surprise, before hurrying back to join the others. It puzzled
him and he meant to ask them what they were doing, but he was tired and
the effort of speech was too great. An hour later he found the reason
for their behaviour.

Plodding along, with the movement of his legs becoming completely
automatic, Sebastian was slowly overcome by a state of gentle
well-being. He surrendered to it and let the warm, dark mists of
oblivion wash over his mind.

The sting of a thorn branch across his cheek jerked him back to
consciousness and he looked about in bewilderment.

Ten yards away on his flank, Mohammed and the two gun boys walked along
the path in single file, their faces turned towards him with
expressions of mild interest in the moonlight. It took some moments
for Sebastian to realize that he had fallen asleep on his feet. Feeling
a complete ass, he trotted back to take his place at the head of the
line.

When the fat silver moon sank below the trees, they kept going by the
faint glow of reflected light, but slowly that waned until the footpath
hardly showed at their feet.

Sebastian decided that dawn could be only an hour away and it was time
to halt. He stopped and was about to speak when Mohammed’s clutching
hand on his shoulder prevented him.

“Manali!” There was a to tie in Mohammed’s whisper that cautioned him,
and Sebastian felt his nerves jerk taut.

“What is it?” he breathed, protectively unslinging the Mauser.

“Look. There ahead of us.”

Screwing up his eyes Sebastian searched the blackness ahead, and it was
a long time before the faint ruddiness in the solid blanket of darkness
registered itself upon the exhausted retinas of his eyes. “Yes!” he
whispered. “What is it?”

“A fire,” breathed Mohammed. “There is someone camped across the path
in front of us.”

“Askari?”asked Sebastian.

“Perhaps.”

Peering at the ruby puddle of dying coals, Sebastian felt the hair on
the back of his neck stir and come erect with alarm. He was fully
awake now. “We must go around them.”

“No. They will see our spoor in the dust of the path and they will
follow us,” Mohammed demurred.

“What then?”

“First let me see how many there are.”

Without waiting for Sebastian’s permission, Mohammed slipped away and
disappeared into the night like aleopard.

Five anxious minutes Sebastian waited. Once he thought he heard a
scuffling sound but he was not certain.

Mohammed’s shape materialized again beside him. “Ten of them,” he
reported. “Two Askari and eight bearers. One of the Askari sat guard
by the fire. He saw me, so I killed him.”

“Good God!” Sebastian’s voice rose higher. “You did what?”

“I killed him. But do not speak so loud.”

“How?”

“With my knife.”

“Lest he kill me first.”

“And the other?”

“Him also.”

“You killed both of them?” Sebastian was appalled.

“Yes, and took their rifles. Now it is safe to go on. But the bearers
have with them many cases. It comes to me that this party follows
after Bwana Intambu, the German commissioner, and that they carry with
them all his goods.”

“But you shouldn’t have killed them,” protested Sebastian. “You could
have just tied them up or something.”

“Manali, you argue like a woman,” Mohammed snapped impatiently, and
then went on with his original line of thought. “Among the cases is
one that by its size I think is the box for the tax money. The one
Askari slept with his back against it as though to give it special
care.”

“The tax money?”

“Yes.

“Well, son of a gun!” Sebastian’s scruples dissolved and in the
darkness his expression was suddenly transformed into that of a small
boy on Christmas morning.

They woke the German bearers by standing over them and prodding them
with the rifle barrels. Then they hustled them out of their blankets
and herded them into a small group, bewildered and shivering miserably
in the chill of dawn. Wood was heaped on the fire; it burned up
brightly, and by its light Sebastian examined the booty.

The one Askari had bled profusely from the throat on to the small
wooden chest. Mohammed took him by the heels and dragged him out of
the way, then used his blanket to wipe the chest clean.

“Manali,” he said with reverence. “See the big lock. See the bird of
the Kaiser painted on the lid .. .” He stooped over the chest and took
a grip on the handles, but most of all, feel the weight of it.”

Amongst the other equipment around the fire, Mohammed found a thick
coil of one-inch manila rope. A commodity which was essential
equipment on any of Herman Fleischer’s safaris. With it, Mohammed
roped the bearers together, at waist level, allowing enough line
between each of them to make concerted movement possible but preventing
individual flight.

“Why are you doing that?” Sebastian asked with interest, through a
mouthful of blood sausage and black bread. Most of the other boxes
were filled with food, and Sebastian was breakfasting well and
heartily.

“So they cannot escape.”

“We’re not taking them with us are we?”

“Who else will carry all this? “Mohammed asked patiently.

Five days later Sebastian was seated in the bows of a long dug-out
canoe, with the charred soles of his boots set firmly on the chest that
lay in the bilges. He was eating with relish a thick sandwich of polo
ny and picked onions, wearing a change of clean underwear and socks
that were a few sizes too large, and there was clutched in his left
hand an open bottle of Hansa beer all these with the courtesy of
Commissioner Fleischer.

The paddlers were singing with unforced gaiety, for the hiring fee that
Sebastian had paid them would buy each of them a new wife at least.

Hugging the bank of the Rovurna on the Portuguese side, driven on by
willing paddles and the eager current, in twelve hours they covered the
distance that it had taken Sebastian and his heavily-laden bearers five
days on foot.

The canoe deposited Sebastian’s party at the landing opposite M’tapa’s
village, only ten miles from Lalapanzi.

They walked that distance without resting and arrived after
nightfall.

The windows of the bungalow were darkened, and the whole camp slept.
After cautioning them to silence, Sebastian drew his depleted band up
on the front lawn with the tax chest set prominently in front of them.
He was proud of his success and wanted to achieve the appropriate mood
for his home-coming. Having set the stage, he went up on to the stoep,
of the bungalow and tip, toed towards the front door with the intention
of awakening the household by hammering upon it dramatically.

However, there was a chair on the stoep, and Sebastian tripped over it.
He fell heavily. The chair clattered and the rifle slipped from his
shoulder and rang on the stone flags.

Before Sebastian could recover his feet, the door was flung open and
through it appeared Flynn O’Flynn in his night-shirt and armed with a
double-barrelled shotgun.

“Caught you, you bastard! “he roared and lifted the shotgun.

Sebastian heard the click of the safety-catch and scrambled to his
knees. “Don’t shoot! Flynn, it’s me.”

The shotgun wavered a little. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“It’s me Sebastian.”

“Bassie?” Flynn lowered the shotgun uncertainly. “It can’t be. Stand
up, let’s have a look at yOU.”

Sebastian obeyed with alacrity.

“Good God,” Flynn swore in amazement, “It is you. Good God! We heard
that Fleischer caught you at M’tapa’s village a week ago. We heard
he’d nob bled you for keeps!” He came forward with his right hand
extended in welcome. “You made it, did you? Well done, Bassie boy.”

Before Sebastian could accept Flynn’s hand, Rosa came through the
doorway, brushed past Flynn, and almost knocked Sebastian down again.
With her arms locked around his chest and her cheek pressed to his
unshaven cheek, she kept repeating, “You’re safe! Oh Sebastian, you’re
safe.”

Acutely aware of the fact that Rosa wore nothing under the thin
night-gown, and that everywhere he put his hands they came in contact
with thinly-veiled warm flesh, Sebastian grinned sheepishly at Flynn
over her shoulder.

“Excuse me, he said.

His first two kisses were off target for she was moving around a lot.
One caught her on the eye, the next on her eyebrow, but the third was
right between the lips.

When it last they were forced to separate or suffocate,

Rosa gasped, “I thought YOu were dead.”

“All right, missie,” growled Flynn. “You can go and put some clothes
on now.”

Breakfast at Lalapanzi that morning was a festive affair.

Flynn took advantage of his daughter’s weakened condition and brought a
bottle of gin to the table. Her protests were half-hearted, and later
with her own hands she poured a little into Sebastian’s tea to brace
it.

They ate on the stoep in golden sunshine that filtered through the
bougainvillaea creeper. A flock of glossy starlings hopped and
chirruped on the lawns, and an oriel sang from the wild fig-trees. All
nature conspired to make Sebastian’s victory feast a success, while
Rosa and Nanny did their best from the kitchen drawing upon the remains
of Herman Fleischer’s supplies that Sebastian had brought home with
him.

Flynn O’Flynn’s eyes were bloodshot and underhung with plum-coloured
pouches, for he had been up all night counting the contents of the
German tax chest and working out his accounts by the light of a
hurricane lamp. Nevertheless, he was in a merry mood made merrier by
the cups of fortified tea on which he was breakfasting. He joined
warmly in the chorus of praise and felicitation to Sebastian Old, smith
that was being sung by Rosa O’Flynn.

“You turned up one for the book, so help me, Bassie,” he chortled at
the end of the meal. “I’d just love to hear how Fleischer is going to
explain this one to Governor Schee.

Oh, I’d love to be there when he tells him about the tax money son of a
gun, it’ll nigh kill them both.”

“While you’re on the subject of money,” Rosa smiled at Flynn, “have you
worked out how much Sebastian’s share comes to, Daddy?” Rosa only used
Flynn’s paternal title when she was extremely well-disposed towards
him.

“That I have,” admitted Flynn, and the sudden shiftiness of his eyes
aroused Rosa’s suspicions. Her lips pursed a little.

“And how much is it? “she asked in the syrupy tone which Flynn
recognized as the equivalent of the blood roar of a wounded lioness.

“Sure now, and who wants to be spoiling a lovely day with the talking
of business?” Under pressure, Flynn exaggerated the brogue in his
voice in the hope that Rosa would find it beguiling. A forlorn hope.

“How much? “demanded Rosa, and he told her.

There was a sickly silence. Sebastian paled under his sunburn and
opened his mouth to protest. On the strength of his half share, he had
the previous night made to Rosa O’Flynn a serious proposal, which she
had accepted.

“Leave this to me, Sebastian,” she whispered and laid a restraining
hand on- his knee as she turned back to her father. “You’ll let us
have a look at the accounts, won’t you?”

Still syrupy sweet.

“Sure and I will. They’re all straight and square.”

The document that Flynn O’Flynn produced under the main heading, “Joint
Venture Between F. O’Flynn, Esq and S. Oldsmith, Esq and Others. German
East Africa. Period May 15, 1913, to August 21, 1913,” showed that he
belonged to an unorthodox school of accountancy.

The contents of the tax chest had been converted to English sterling at
the rates laid down by Pear’s Almanac for lyp, 1893. Flynn set great
store by this particular publication.

From the gross proceeds of 4,652 pounds Flynn had deducted his own
fifty per cent share and the ten per cent of the other partners the
Portuguese Chef D’Post and the Governor of Mozambique. From the
balance he had then deducted the losses incurred on the Rufiji
expedition (for which separate account addressed to German East African
Administration). From there he had gone on to charge the expenses of
the second expedition, not forgetting such items as:

To L. Parbhoo (Tailor) 15.10 pounds. To One German Dress HelmetE 5.10
pounds To Five Uniforms (Askari)

2.10 pounds each 12.10 pounds. To Five Mauser Rifles 10 pounds each 50
pounds. -.

To Six Hundred and Twenty-Five Rounds 7men Ammunition E22.10 To Advance
re travelling expenses, One Hundred Escudos made to S. Oldsmith, Esq.
f, 1. 5.

Finally, Sebastian’s half share of the net losses amounted to a little
under twenty pounds.

“Don’t worry,” Flynn assured him magnanimously. “I don’t expect you to
pay it now we’ll just deduct it from your share of the profits of the
next expedition.”

“But, Flynn, I thought you said well, I mean, you told me I had a half
share.”

“And so you have, Bassie, and so you have.”

“You said we were equal partners.”

“You must have misunderstood me, boy. I said a half share and that
means after expenses. It’s just a great pity there was such a large
accumulated loss to bring forward.”

While they discussed this, Rosa was busy with a stub of a pencil on the
reverse side of the account.

A few minutes later she thrust the result across the breakfast table at
Flynn. She said, “And that’s the way I work it out.”

Rosa O’Flynn was a student of the “One-for-you-one-for, me” school, and
her reckonings were much simpler than those of her father.

With a cry of anguish, Flynn O’Flynn lodged objection.

“You don’t understand business.”

“But I recognize crookery when I see it,” Rosa flashed back.

“You’d call your old father a crook?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve a damn good mind to take the kiboko to you. You’re not too big
and Uppity that I can’t warm your tail up good.”

“You just try id’ said Rosa, and Flynn back pedalled

“Anyway, what would Bassie do with all that money? It’s no good for a
youngster. It would spoil him.”

“He’d marry me with it. That’s what he’d do with it.”

Flynn made a noise as though there were a fish-bone stuck in his
throat, his face mottled over with emotion and he swung ominously in
Sebastian’s direction. “So!”he rasped.

“I thought so!”

“Now steady on, old chap,” Sebastian tried to soothe him.

“You come into my home and act like the king of bloody England. You
try to fraudulently embezzle my money but that’s not enough! Oh no!
That’s not a bloody “enough.

You’ve also got to start tampering with my daughter just to round
things off.”

“Don’t be coarse,” said Rosa.

“That’s rich don’t be coarse, she says, and just what exactly have you
two been up to behind my back?”

Sebastian stood up from the breakfast table with dignity.

“I will not have you speak so of a lady in my presence, sir.

Especially of the lady who has done me the great honour of consenting
to become my Wife.” He begun unbuttoning his jacket. “Will you step
into the garden with me, and give me satisfaction?”

“Come along, then.” As Flynn lumbered out of his chair he made as if
to pass Sebastian, but at that moment Sebastian’s arms were behind him,
still bound by the sleeves of his jacket as he attempted to shrug it
off. Flynn sidestepped swiftly, paused a moment as he took his aim,
and then drove his left fist into Sebastian’s stomach.

“Oaf!” said Sebastian, and leaned forward involuntarily to meet
Flynn’s other fist as it came up from the level of his knees. It took
Sebastian between the eyes, and he changed direction abruptly and ran
backwards across the veranda.

The low Wooden railing caught him behind the knees and he toppled
slowly into the flower-beds below the stoep.

“You’ve killed him, , wailed Rosa, and picked up the heavy china
tea-pot.

“I hope so,” said Flynn, and ducked as the pot flew towards his head,
passed over it and burst against the wall of the stoep, spraying tea
and steam.

There was an ominous stirring among the flowers.

presently Sebastian’s head emerged with blue hydrangea petals festively
strewn in his hair and the skin around both eyes fast swelling and
chameleoning to a creditable match with the petals. “I say, Flynn.
That wasn’t fair,” he announced.

“He wasn’t looking,” Rosa accused. “You hit him before he was
ready.”

“Well, he’s looking now,” roared Flynn and went down the veranda stairs
like a charging hippopotamus. From the hydrangeas, Sebastian rose to
meet him and took up the classic stance of the ring fighter. “Marquis
of Queensberry rules? he cautioned as Flynn closed in.

Flynn signified his rejection of the Marquis’s code by kicking
Sebastian on the shin. Sebastian yelped and hopped one-legged out of
the flower-bed, while Flynn pursued him with a further series of lusty
kicks. Placing his boot twice in succession into Sebastian’s
posterior, the third kick, however, missed and the force behind it was
sufficient to throw Flynn on to his back. He sprawled on the lawn, and
the pause while he scrambled to his knees gave Sebastian respite to
ready himself for the next round.

Both his eyes had puffed and he was experiencing discomfort from his
rear end; nevertheless, he stood once again with his left arm extended
and the right crossed over his chest. Glancing beyond Flynn, Sebastian
saw his fiancee descending from the veranda. She was armed with a
bread knife

“Rosa!” Sebastian was alarmed. It was clear that Rosa would not stop
at patricide to protect her love. “Rosa! What are you doing with that
knife?”

“I’m going to stick him with it!”

“You’ll do no such thing,” said Sebastian, but Flynn did not have the
same faith in his daughter’s restraint. Very hurriedly, he moved into
a defensive position behind Sebastian. It took a a full minute for
Sebastian to persuade Rosa that her assistance was not necessary and
that he was capable of handling the situation on his own. Reluctantly,
Rosa retreated to the veranda.

“Thanks, Bassie,” said Flynn, and kicked him in his already bruised
behind. It was extremely painful.

Very few people had ever seen Sebastian Oldsmith lose his temper. The
last time it had happened was eight years previously; the two
sixth-formers who had invoked it by forcing Sebastian’s head into a
toilet bowl and flushing the cistern, were both hospitalized for a
short period.

This time there were more witnesses. Attracted by the cries and crash
of breaking crockery, Flynn’s entire following, including Mohammed and
his Askari, had arrived from the compound and were assembled at the top
of the lawn.

They watched in breathless wonder.

From the grandstand of the veranda, Rosa, her eyes sparkling with the
strange feminine ferocity that arises in even the mildest women when
their man fights for them, exhorted Sebastian to even greater
violence.

Like all great storms, it did not last long, and when it was over the
silence was appalling. Flynn lay stretched full length on the lawn.
His eyes closed, his breathing snored softly in his throat, bursting
from his nose in a froth of red bubbles.

Mohammed and five of his men carried him towards the bungalow. He lay
massive on their shoulders with the bulge of his belly rising and
falling softly, and an expression of unuSUal peace on his bloody
face.

Standing alone on the lawn, Sebastian’s features were contorted with
savagery and his whole body shook as though he was in high fever. Then,
watching them carry the huge, inert body, suddenly Sebastian’s mood was
past. His expression changed first to concern, and then to gentle
dismay. “I say…” his voice was husky and he took a pace after them.
“You shouldn’t have kicked me.” His hands opened helplessly, and he
lifted them in a gesture of appeal.

“You shouldn’t have done it.”

Rosa came down from the veranda and walked slowly towards him. She
stopped and looked up at him, half in awe, half in glowing pride. “You
were magnificent,” she whispered. “Like a lion.” She reached up with
both arms around his neck, and before she kissed him she spoke again.

“I love you, “she said.

Sebastian had very little luggage to take with him. He was wearing
everything he possessed. Rosa on the other hand had boxes of it,
enough to give full employment to the dozen bearers that were assembled
on the lawn in front of the bungalow.

“Well,” murmured Sebastian, “I suppose we should start moving.”

“Yes,” whispered Rosa, and looked at the gardens of Lalapanzi. Although
she had suggested this departure, now that the time had come she was
uncertain. This place had been her home since childhood. Here she had
spun a cocoon that had shielded and protected her, and now that the
time had come to emerge from it, she was afraid. She took Sebastian’s
arm, drawing strength from him.

“Don’t you want to say good-bye to your father?” Sebastian looked down
at her with the tender protectiveness that was such a new and
delightful sensation for him.

Rosa hesitated a moment, and then realized that it would take very
little to weaken her resolve. Her dutiful affection for Flynn, which
at the moment was submerged beneath the tide of anger and resentment,
could easily re-emerge should Flynn employ a little of his celebrated
blarney. “No,”

she said.

“I suppose it’s best! Sebastian agreed. He glanced guiltily towards
the bungalow where Flynn was, presumably, still lying in state attended
by the faithful Mohammed. “But do yOU think he’ll be all right? I
mean, I did hit him rather hard, you know.”

“He’ll be all right,” Rosa said without conviction, and tugged at his
sleeve. Together they moved to take their places at the head of the
little column of bearers.

Kneeling on the floor of the bedroom, below the window sill, peering
with one swollen eye through a slit in the curtain, Flynn saw this
decisive move. “My God,” he whispered in concern. “The young idiots
are really leaving.”

Rosa O’Flynn was his last link with that frail little Portuguese girl.
The one person in his life that Flynn had truly loved. Now that he was
about to lose her also, Flynn was suddenly aware of his feeling for his
daughter. The prospect of never seeing her again filled him with
dismay.

As for Sebastian Oldsmith, here no sentiment clouded his reasoning.
Sebastian was a valuable business asset.

Through him, Flynn could put into operation a number of schemes that he
had shelved as involving disproportionate personal risk. In these last
few years Flynn had become singly aware of the depreciation that time
and large inc rea quantities of raw spirit had wrought in his eyes and
legs and nerves. Sebastian Oldsmith had eyes like a fish eagle, legs
like a prize fighter, and no nerves at all that Flynn could discern.
Flynn needed him.

Flynn opened his mouth and groaned. It was the throaty death rattle of
an old bull buffalo. Peering through the curtain, Flynn grinned as he
saw the young couple freeze, and stand tense and still in the sunlight.
Their faces were turned towards the bungalow, and in spite of himself,
Flynn had to admit they made a handsome pair; Sebastian tall above her
with the body of a gladiator and the face of a poet; Rosa small beside
him but with the full bosom and wide hips of womanhood. The slippery
black cascade of her hair glowed in the sun, and her dark eyes were big
with concern.

Flynn groaned again but softly this time. A breathless, husky sound,
the last breath of a dying man, and instantly Rosa and Sebastian were
running towards the bungalow.

Her skirts gathered up above her knees, long legs flying, Rosaled
Sebastian up onto the veranda.

Flynn had just sufficient time to return to his bed and compose his
limbs and his face into the attitude of one fast sinking towards the
abyss.

“Daddy!” Rosaleaned over him, and Flynn opened his eyes uncertainly.
For a moment he did not seem to recognize her, then he whispered, “My
little girl,” so faintly she hardly caught the words.

“Oh, Daddy, what is it?” She knelt beside him.

“My heart.” His hand crawled up like a hairy spider across his belly
and clutched weakly at his hairy chest. “Like a knife. A hot
knife.”

There was a terrible silence in the room, and then Flynn spoke again.
“I wanted to… give you my … my blessing. I wish happiness for
you… wherever you go. “The effort of speech was too mUch, and for a
while he lay gasping. “Think of your old Daddy sometimes. Say a
prayer for him.”

A fat, tiny tear broke from the corner of Rosa’s eye and slid down her
cheek.

“Bassie, my boy.” Slowly Flynn’s eyes sought him, found him, and
focused with difficulty. “Don’t blame yourself for this. I was an old
man anyway I’ve had my life.” He panted a little and then went on
painfully. “Look after her. Look after my little Rosa. You are my
son now. I’ve never had a son.”

“I didn’t know … I had no idea that your heart … Flynn, I’m
dreadfully sorry. Forgive me.”

Flynn smiled, a brave little smile that just touched his lips. He
lifted his hand weakly and held it out towards Sebastian. While
Sebastian clasped his hand, Flynn considered offering him the money
that had been the cause of the dispute as a dying man’s gift but he
manfully restrained himself from such extravagance. Instead he
whispered, “I would like to have seen my grandson, but no matter. Good,
bye, my boy.”

“You’ll see him, Flynn. I promise you that. We’ll stay, won’t we,
Rosa? We’ll stay with him.”

“Yes, we’ll stay, said Rosa. “We won’t leave you, Daddy.”

“My children.” Flynn sank back and closed his eyes.

Thank God, he hadn’t offered the money. A peaceful little smile
hovered around his mouth. “You’ve made an old man very happy.”

Flynn made a strong come-back from the edge of death, so strong, in
fact, that it aroused Rosa’s suspicions. However, she let it pass for
she was happy to have avoided the necessity of leaving Lalapanzi. In
addition, there was another matter which was taking up a lot of her
attention.

Since she had said good-bye to Sebastian at the start of his tax tour,
Rosa had been aware of the cessation of certain womanly functions of
her body. She consulted Nanny who, in turn, consulted the local
nungane who, in his turn, opened the belly of a chicken, and consulted
its entrails.

His findings were conclusive, and Nanny reported back to Rosa, without
disclosing the source of her information, for Little Long Hair had an
almost blasphemous lack of faith in the occult.

Delighted, Rosa took Sebastian for a walk down the valley, and when
they reached the waterfall where it had all begun, she stood on
tip-toe, put both arms around his neck and whispered in his ear. She
had to repeat herself for her voice was muffled with breathless
laughter.

“You’re joking,” gasped Sebastian, and then blushed bright crimson.

“I’m not, you know.”

“Good grief,” said Sebastian; and then, groping for some, thing more
expressive, “Son of a gunV

“Aren’t you pleased?” Rosa pouted playfully. “I did it for you.

“But we aren’t even married.”

“That can be arranged.”

“And quickly, too,” agreed Sebastian. He grabbed her wrist. “Come
on!”

“Sebastian, remember my condition.”

“Good grief, I’m sorry.”

He took her back to Lalapanzi, handing her over the rough ground with
as much care as though she was a case of sweating gelignite.

“What’s the big hurry?” asked Flynn jovially at dinner that evening.
“I’ve got a little job for Bassie first. I want him to slip across the
river ..

“No, you don’t,” said Rosa. “We are going to see the priest at
Beira.”

“It Would only take Bassie a couple of weeks. Then we could talk about
it when he gets back.”

“We are going to Beira tomorrow!”

“What’s the rush?” Flynn asked again.

“Well, the truth is, Flynn, old boy.. Wriggling in his chair,
colouring up vividly, Sebastian relapsed into silence.

“The truth is I’m going to have a baby,” Rosa finished for him.

“You’re what?” Flynn stared at her in horror.

“You said that you wanted to see your grandchild,” Rosa pointed out.

“But I didn’t mean you to start work on it right away,”

roared Flynn, and he rounded on Sebastian. “You dirty young bugger!”

“Father, your heard” Rosa restrained him. “Anyway, don’t pick on
Sebastian, I did my share as well.”

“You shameless … You brazen little – .”

Rosa reached behind the seat cushion where Flynn had hidden the gin
bottle. “Have a little of this it will help calm you.”

They left for Beira the following morning. Rosa was carried in a
maschille with Sebastian trotting beside it in anxious attendance,
ready to help ease the litter over the fords and rough places, and to
curse any of the bearers who stumbled.

When they left Lalapanzi, Flynn O’Flynn brought up the rear of the
column, lying in his maschille with a square faced bottle for company,
scowling and muttering darkly about fornication and sin.”

But both Rosa and Sebastian ignored him, and when they camped that
night the two of them sat across the camp-fire from him, and whispered
and laughed secretly together. They pitched their voices at such a
tantalizing level that even by straining his ears, Flynn could not
overhear their conversation. It infuriated him to such an extent that
finally he made a loud remark about beating the hell out of the person
who had repaid his hospitality by violating his daughter.”

Rosa said that she would give anything to see him try it again. In her
opinion it would be better than a visit to the circus. And Flynn
gathered his dignity and his gin bottle and stalked away to where
Mohammed had laid out his bedding under ale an-to of thorn bushes.

During the dark hours before dawn they were visited by an old lion. He
came with a rush from the darkness beyond the fire-light, grunting like
an angry boar, the great black bush of his mane erect, snaking with
incredible speed towards the huddle of blanket-wrapped figures about
the fire.

Flynn was the only one not asleep. He had waited all night, watching
Sebastian’s reclining figure; just waiting for him to move across to
the temporary thorn-bush shelter that gave Rosa privacy. Lying beside
Flynn was his shotgun, dOUble-loaded with big loopers, lion shot, and
he had every intention of using it.

When the lion charged into the camp, Flynn sat up quickly and fired
both barrels of the shotgun at point-blank range into the lion’s heead
and chest, killing it instantly. But the momentum of its rush bowled
it forward, sent it sliding full into Sebastian, and both of them
rolled into the camp-fire.

Sebastian awoke to lion noises, and gun-fire, and the violent collision
of a big body into his, and red-hot coals sticking to various parts of
his anatomy. With a single bound, and a wild cry, he threw off his
blanket, came to his feet, and went into such a lively song and dance
routine, yodelling and high-kicking, and striking out at his imaginary
assailants that Flynn was reduced to a jelly of helpless laughter.

The laughter, and the praise and thanks showered on him by Sebastian,
Rosa, and the bearers, cleared the air.

“You saved my life, “said Sebastian soulfully.

“Oh Daddy, you’re wonderful,” said Rosa. “Thank you.

Thank you,” and she hugged him.

The mantle of the hero felt snug and comfortable on Flynn’s shoulders.
He became almost human and the improvement continued as each day’s
march brought them closer to the little Portuguese port of Beira, for
Flynn greatly enjoyed his rare visits to civilization.

The last night they camped a mile from the outskirts of the town, and
after a private conference with Flynn, old Mohammed went ahead armed
with a small purse of escudos to make the arrangements for Flynn’s
formal entry on the morrow.

Flynn was up with the dawn, and while he shaved with care, and dressed
in clean moleskin jacket and trousers, one of the bearers polished his
boots with hippo fat, and two others scaled the tall bottle palm tree
near the camp and cut fronds from its head.

All things being ready, Flynn ascended his maschille and lay back
elegantly on the leopard-skin rugs. On each side of Flynn a bearer
took his position, armed with a palm-frond, and began to fan him
gently. Behind Flynn, in single file, followed other servants bearing
tusks of ivory and the still green lion skin. Behind this, with
instructions from Flynn not to draw undue Attention to themselves,
followed Sebastian and Rosa and the baggage bearers.

With a languid gesture such as might have been used by Nero to signal
the start of a Roman circus, Flynn gave the order to move.

Along the rough road through the thick coastal bush, they came at last
to Beira and entered the main street in procession.

“Good Lord,” Sebastian expressed his surprise when he saw the reception
that awaited them, “where did they all come from?”

Both sides of the street were lined with cheering crowds, mainly
natives, but with here and there a Portuguese or an Indian trader come
out of his shop to find the cause of the disturbance.

“Fini!” chanted the crowd, clapping their hands in unison.

“Bwana Mkuba! Great Lord! Slayer of elephant. Killer of lions!”

“I didn’t realize that Flynn was so well regarded.” Sebastian was
impressed.

“Most of them have never heard of him,” Rosa disillusioned him. “He
sent Mohammed in last night to gather a claque of about a hundred or
so. Pays them one escudo each to come and cheer, they make so much
noise that the entire population turns out to see what is going on.
They fall for it every time.”

“What on earth does he go to so much trouble for?”

“Because he enjoys it. just look at himV

Lying in his maschille, graciously acknowledging the applause, Flynn
was very obviously loving every minute of it.

The head of the procession reached the only hotel in Beira and halted.
Madame da Souza, the portly, well moustached widow who was the
proprietress of the hotel, rushed down to welcome Flynn with a smacking
kiss and usher him ceremoniously through the shabby portals. Flynn was
the kind of customer she had always dreamed about.

When Rosa and Sebastian at last fought their way through the crowd into
the hotel, Flynn was already seated at the bar counter and half way
through a tall glass of Laurentia beer. The man sitting on the stool
beside his was the Governor of Mozambique’s aide-de-camp, who had come
to deliver His Excellency’s invitation for Flynn O’Flynn to dine at
Government House that evening. His Excellency Jose De Clare Don
Felezardo da Silva Marques had received from Governor Schee, in Dares
Salaam, an agitated report, in the form of an official protest and an
extradition demand. It was settlement day in the partnership of “Flynn
O’Flynn and Others’. of the success of the partnership’s operations
during the last few months and His Excellency was delighted to see
Flynn.

In fact, so pleased was His Excellency with the progress of the
partnership’s affairs, that he exercised his authority and waive the
formalities required by law to precede a to marriage under Portuguese
jurisdiction. This saved a week, and the afternoon after their arrival
in Beira, Rosa and Sebastian stood befo ” the altar in the stucco and
thatch cathedral, while Sebastian tried with little success to remember
enough of his schoolroom Latin to understand just what he was getting
himself into.

The wedding veil, which had belonged to Rosa’s mother, was yellowed by
many years of storage under tropical conditions, but it served well
enough to keep off the flies which were always bad during the hot
season in Beira.

Towards the end of the long ceremony, Flynn was so overcome by the
heat, the gin he had taken at lunch, and an unusually fine flood of
Irish feeling, that he began snuffling loudly. While he mopped at his
eyes and nose with a grubby handkerchief, the Governor’s aide-de-camp
patted his shoulder soothingly and murmured encouragement.

The priest declared them husband and wife, and the congregation
launched into a faltering rendition of the Te Deum. His voice
quivering with emotion and alcohol, Flynn kept repeating, “My little
girl, my poor little girl.” Rosa lifted her veil and turned to
Sebastian who immediately forgot his misgivings as to the form of the
ceremony, and enfolded her enthusiastically in his arms.

Still maintaining his chorus of “My little girl,” Flynn was led away by
the aide-de-camp to the hotel where the proprietress had prepared the
wedding feast. In deference to Flynn O’Flynn’s mood this started on a
sombre note but as the champagne, which Madame da Souza had specially
bottled the previous evening, started to do its work, so the tempo
changed. Among his other actions, Flynn gave Sebastian a wedding
present of ten pounds and poured a full glass of beer over the
aide-de-camp’s head.

When, later that evening, Rosa and Sebastian slipped away to the bridal
suite above the bar, Flynn was giving lusty tongue in the chorus of
“They are jolly good fellows’, Madame da Souza was seated on his lap,
and overflowing it in all directions. Every time Flynn pinched her
posterior, great gusts of laughter made her shake like a stranded
jellyfish.

Later the pleasure of Rosa and Sebastian’s wedding-bed was disturbed by
the fact that, in the bar-room directly below them, Flynn O’Flynn was
shooting the bottles off the shelves with a double-barrelled elephant
rifle. Every direct hit was greeted by thunderous applause from the
other guests. Madame da Souza, still palpitating with laughter, sat in
a corner of the bar-room dutifully making such entries in her notebook
as, “One bottle of Grandio London Dry Gin

14.50 escudos; one bottle Grandio French Cognac Five Star

14.50 escudos; one bottle Grandio Scotch whisky 30.00 escudos; I magnum
Grandio French Champagne 75.90 escudos.”

“Grandio” was the brand-name of the house, and signified that the
liquor each bottle contained had been brewed and bottled on the
premises under the personal supervision of Madame da Souza.

Once the newly-wed couple realized that the uproar from the room below
was sufficient to mask the protests of their rickety brass bedstead,
they no longer grudged Flynn his amusements.

For everyone involved it was a night of great pleasure, a night to be
looked back upon with nostalgia and wistful smiles.

Even at Flynn’s prodigious rate of expenditure, his share of the
profits from Sebastian’s tax expedition lasted another two weeks.

During this period Rosa and Sebastian spent a little of their time
wandering hand in hand through the streets and bazaars of Beira, or
sitting, still hand in hand, on the beach and watching the sea. Their
happiness radiated from them so strongly that it affected anyone who
came within fifty feet of them. A worried stranger hurrying towards
them along the narrow little street with his face creased in a frown
would come under the spell; his pace would slacken, his step losing its
urgency, the frown would smooth away to be replaced by an indulgent
grin as he passed them. But mostly they remained closeted in the
bridal suite above the bar entering it in the early afternoon and not
reappearing until nearly noon the following day.

Neither Rosa nor Sebastian had imagined such happiness could exist.

At the expiry of the two weeks Flynn was waiting for them in the
bar-room as they came down to lunch. He hurried out to join them as
they passed the door. “Greetings!

Greetings!” He threw an arm around each of their shoulders.

“And how are you this morning?” He listened without attention as
Sebastian replied at length on how well he felt, how well Rosa was, and
how well both of them had slept.

“Sure! Sure!” Flynn interrupted his rhapsodizing. “Listen, Bassie,
my boy, you remember that 10 pounds I gave you?”

“Yes. “Sebastian was immediately wary.

“Let me have it back, will you?”

“I’ve spent it, Flynn.”

“You’ve what? “bellowed Flynn.

“I’ve spent it.”

“Good God Almighty! All of it? You’ve squandered ten pounds in as
many days?” Flynn was horrified by his son-inlaw’s extravagance and
Sebastian, who had honestly believed the money was his to do with as he
wished, was very apologetic.

They left for Lalapanzi that afternoon. Madame da Souza had accepted
Flynn’s note of hand for the balance outstanding on her bill.

At the head of the column Flynn, broke to the wide, and nursing a
burning hangover, was in evil temper. The line of bearers behind him,
bedraggled and bilious from two weeks spent in the flesh-pots, were in
similar straits. At the rear of the doleful little caravan, Rosa and
Sebastian chirruped and cooed together an island of sunshine in the sea
of gloom.

The months passed quickly at Lalapanzi during the monsoon of 1913.
Gradually, as its girth increased, Rosa’s belly became the centre of
Lalapanzi. The pivot upon which the whole community turned. The
debates in the servants’

quarters, led by Nanny, the accepted authority, dealt almost
exclusively with the contents thereof. All of them were hot for a
man-child, although secretly Nanny cherished a treacherous hope that it
might be another Little Long Hair.

Even Flynn, during the long months of enforced inactivity while the
driving monsoon rains turned the land into a quagmire and the rivers
into seething brown torrents, felt his grand-paternal instincts
stirred. Unlike Nanny, he had no doubts as to the unborn child’s sex,
and he decided to name it Patrick Flynn O’Flynn Oldsmith.

He conveyed his decision to Sebastian while the two of them were
hunting for the pot in the kopjes above the homestead.

By dint of diligent application and practice, Sebastian’s marksmanship
had improved beyond all reasonable expectation. He had just
demonstrated it. They were jurnpshooting in thick cat-bush among the
broken rock and twisted ravines of the kopjes. Constant rain had
softened the ground and enabled them to move silently down-wind along
one of the ravines. Flynn was fifty yards out on Sebastian’s right,
moving heavily but deceptively fast through the sodden grass and
undergrowth.

The kudu were lying in dense cover below the lip of the ravine. Two
young bulls, bluish-gold in colour, striped with thin chalk lines
across the body, pendulent dewlaps heavily fringed with yellow hair,
two and a half twists in each of the corkscrew horns big as polo ponies
but heavier. They broke left across the ravine when Flynn jumped them
from their hide, and the intervening bush denied him a shot.

“Breaking your way, Bassie,” Flynn shouted and Sebastian took two swift
paces around the bush in front of him, shook the clinging raindrops
from his lashes, and slipped the safety-catch. He heard the tap of big
horn against a branch, and the first bull came out of the ravine at
full run across his front. Yet it seemed to float, unreal, intangible,
through the blue-grey rain mist. It blended ghostlike into the
background of dark rain-soaked vegetation, and the clumps of bush and
the tree trunks between them made it an almost impossible shot. In the
instant that the bull flashed across a gap between two clumps of
buffalo thorn, Sebastian’s bullet broke its neck a hand’s width in
front of the shoulder.

At the sound of the shot, the second bull swerved in dead run, gathered
its forelegs beneath its chest and went up in a high, driving leap over
the thorn bush that stood in its path. Sebastian traversed his rifle
smoothly without taking the butt from his shoulder, his right hand
flicked the bolt open and closed, and he fired as a continuation of the
movement.

The heavy bullet caught the kudu in mid-air and threw it sideways.
Kicking and thrashing, it struck the ground and rolled down the bank of
the ravine.

Whooping like a Red Indian, Mohammed galloped past Sebastian,
brandishing a long knife, racing to reach the second bull and cut its
throat, “before it died so that the dictates of the Koran might be
observed.

Flynn ambled across to Sebastian. “Nice shooting, Bassie All boy.
Salted and dried and pickled, there’s meat there for a month.”

And Sebastian grinned in modest recognition of the compliment. Together
they walked across to watch Mohammed and his gang begin paunching and
quartering the big animals.

With the skill of a master tactician, Flynn chose this moment to inform
Sebastian of the name he had selected for his grandson. He was not
prepared for the fierce opposition he encountered from Sebastian. It
seemed that Sebastian had expected to name the child Francis Sebastian
Oldsmith. Flynn laughed easily, and then in his most reasonable and
persuasive brogue he started pointing out to Sebastian just how cruel
it would be to saddle the child with a name like that.

It was a lance in the pride of the Oldsmiths, and Sebastian rose to the
defence. By the time they returned to Lalapanzi, the discussion needed
about six hot words to reach the stage of single combat.

Rosa heard them coming. Flynn’s bellow carried across the lawns. “I’ll
not have my grandson called a pew ling milksop name like that!”

“Francis is the name of kings and warriors and gentlemen!” cried
Sebastian.

“My aching buttocks, it is!”

Rosa came out on to the wide veranda and stood there with her arms
folded over the beautiful bulge that housed the cause of the
controversy.

They saw her and started an undignified race across the lawns, each
trying to reach her first to enlist her support for their respective
causes.

She listened to the pleadings, a small and secret smile upon her lips,
and then said with finality, “Her name will be Maria Rosa Oldsmith.”

Some time later Flynn and Sebastian were together on the veranda Ten
days before the last rains of the season had come roaring in from the
Indian Ocean and broken upon the unyielding shield of the continent.
Now the land was drying out; the rivers regaining their sanity and
returning, chastened, to the confines of their banks. New grass lifted
from the red earth to welcome the return of the sun. For this brief
period the whole land was alive and green; even the gnarled and crabbed
thorn trees wore a pale fuzz of tender leaves. Behind each pair of
guinea-fowl that clinked and scratched on the bottom lawns of
Lalapanzi, there paraded a file of dappled chicks. Early that morning
a herd of eland had moved along the skyline across the Varney, and
beside each cow had trotted a calf Everywhere was new life, or the
expectation of new life.

“Now, stop worrying!” said Flynn, as his impatient pacing brought him
level with Sebastian’s chair.

“I’m not worrying,” Sebastian said mildly. “Everything will be all
right.”

“How do you know that? “challenged Flynn.

“Well..

“You know the child could be stillborn, or something.”

Flynn shook his finger in Sebastian’s face. “It could have six fingers
on each hand how about that? I heard about one that was born with –
.”

While Flynn related a long list of horrors, Sebastian’s expression of
proud and eager anticipation crumbled slowly.

He rose from his chair and fell into step beside Flynn. “Have you got
any gin left?” he asked hoarsely, glancing at the shuttered windows of
Rosa’s bedroom. Flynn produced the bottle from the inside pocket of
his jacket.

An hour later, Sebastian was hunched forward in his chair, clutching a
half-full tumbler of gin with both hands.

He stared into it miserably. “I don’t know what I’d do if it was born
with…” He could not go on. He shuddered and lifted the tumbler to
his lips. At that instant a long, petulant wail issued from the closed
bedroom. Sebastian leapt as though he had been bayoneted from behind,
and spilled the gin down his shirt. His next leap was in the direction
of the bedroom, a direction Flynn had also chosen. They collided
heavily and then set off together at a gallop along the veranda. They
reached the locked door and hammered upon it for admission. But Nanny,
who had evicted them in the first instance, still adamantly refused to
lift the locking bar or to give them any information as to the progress
of the birthing. Her decision was endorsed by Rosa.

“Don’t you dare let them in until everything is ready,”

she whispered huskily, and roused herself from the stupor of
exhaustion, to help Nanny with washing and wrapping the infant.

When at last everything was ready, she lay propped on the pillows with
her child held against her chest, and nodded to Nanny. “Open the door,
she said.

The delay had confirmed Flynn’s worst suspicions. The door flew open,
and he and Sebastian fell into the room, wild with anxiety.

“Oh, thank God, Rosa. You’re still alive!” Sebastian reached the bed
and fell on his knees beside it.

“You check his feet,” instructed Flynn. “I’ll do his hands and head,”
and before Rosa could prevent him, he had lifted the infant out of her
arms.

“His fingers are all right. Two arms, one head,” Flynn muttered above
Rosa’s protests and the infant’s muffled squawls of indignation.

“This end is fine. just fine!” Sebastian spoke in rising relief and
delight. “He’s beautiful, Flynn!” And he lifted the shawl that
swaddled the child’s body. His expression cracked and his voice
choked. “Oh, my God!”

“What’s wrong?” Flynn asked sharply.

“You were right, Flynn. he’s deformed.”

“What? Where?”

“There!” Sebastian pointed. “He hasn’t got a whatchim-ca all-it,” and
they both stared in horror.

simultaneously It was many long seconds before they realized that the
tiny cleft was no deformity but very much as nature had intended it.

“It’s a girl!” said Flynn in dismay.

“A girl!” echoed Sebastian, and quickly pulled down the shawl to
preserve his daughter’s modesty.

“It’s a girl, Rosa smiled, wan and happy.

“It’s a girl,” cackled Nanny in triumph.

Maria Rosa Oldsmith had arrived without fuss and with the minimum of
inconvenience to her mother, so that Rosa was on her feet again within
twenty-four hours. All her other activities were conducted with the
same consideration and dispatch. She cried once every four hours; a
single angry howl which was cut off the instant the breast was thrust
into her mouth. Her bowel movements were equally regular and of the
correct volume and consistency, and the rest of her days and nights
were devoted almost entirely to sleeping.

She was beautiful; without the parboiled, purple look of most
new-barns; without the squashed-in pug features or the vague, squinty
eyes.

From the curly cap of silk hair to the tips of her pink toes, she was
perfection.

It took Flynn two days to recover from the disappointment of having
been cheated out of a grandson. He sulked in the arsenal or sat
solitary at the end of the veranda. On the second evening Rosa pitched
her voice just high enough to carry the length of the veranda.

“Don’t you think Maria looks just like Daddy the same mouth and nose?
Look at her eyes.”

Sebastian opened his mouth to deny the resemblance emphatically but
closed it again, as Rosa kicked him painfully on the ankle.

“She is the image of him. There’s no doubting who her grandfather
is.”

“Well, I suppose … If you look closely,” Sebastian agreed
unhappily.

At the end of the veranda, Flynn sat with his head cocked in an
attitude of attention. Half an hour later Flynn had sidled up to the
cradle and was studying the contents thoughtfully. By the following
evening he had moved his chair alongside and was leading the discussion
with such remarks as, “There is quite a strong family resemblance.

Look at those eyes no doubt who her Granddaddy is!”

He interspersed his observations with warnings and instructions, “Don’t
get so close, Bassie. You’re breathing germs all over her.”

“Rosa, this child needs another blanket.

When did she have her last feed?”

It was not long before he started bringing pressure to bear on
Sebastian.

“You’ve got responsibilities now. Have you thought about that?”

“How do you mean, Flynn?”

“Just answer me this. What have you got in this world?”

“Rosa and Maria,” Sebastian answered promptly.

“Fine. That’s just great! And how are you going to feed them and
clothe them and … and look after them?”

Sebastian expressed himself well satisfied with the existing
arrangements.

“I bet you are! It isn’t costing you a thing. But I reckon it’s about
time you got up off your bum and did something.”

“Like what?”

“Like going and shooting some ivory.”

Three days later, armed and equipped for a ”

poaching expedition, Sebastian led a column of gun-boys and bearers
down the valley towards the Rovuma river.

Fourteen hours later, in the dusk of evening, he led them back.

“What in the name of all that’s holy, are you doing back here?” Flynn
demanded.

“I had this premonition.” Sebastian was sheepish.

“What premonition?”

“That I should come back, “muttered Sebastian.

He left again two days later. This time he actually crossed the Rovuma
before the premonition overpowered him once more, and he came back to
Rosa and Maria.

“Well,” Flynn sighed with resignation. “I reckon I’ll just have to go
along with you and make sure you do it.” He shook his head. “You’ve
been a big disappointment to me, Bassie.” The biggest disappointment
being the fact that he had hoped to have his granddaughter to himself
for a few weeks.

“Mohammed” he bellowed. “Get my gear packed.”

Flynn sent his scouts across the river and when they reported back that
the far bank was clear of German patrols, Flynn made the crossing.

This expedition was a far cry from Sebastian’s amiable and aimless
wandering in German territory. Flynn was a professional. They crossed
in the night. They crossed in strictest silence and landed two miles
downstream from M’tapa’s village. There was no lingering on the beach,
but an urgent night march that began immediately and went on in grim
silence until an hour before dawn; a march that took them fifteen miles
inland from the river, and ended in a grove of elephant thorn,
carefully chosen for the kopjes and ravines around it that afforded
multiple avenues of escape in each direction.

Sebastian was impressed by the elaborate precautions that Flynn took
before going into camp; the jinking and counter-marching, the careful
sweeping of their spoor with brushes of dry grass, and the placing of
sentries on the kopje above the camp.

During the ten days they waited there, not a single branch was broken
from a tree, not a single axe-stroke swung to leave a tell-tale white
blaze on the dark bush. The.

tiny night fire fed with dry trash and dead wood was carefully
screened, and before dawn was smothered with sand so that not a wisp of
smoke was left to mark them in the day.

Voices were never raised above conversational tones, and even the
clatter of a bucket brought such a swift and ferocious reprimand from
Flynn, that on all of them was a nervous awareness, an expectancy of
danger, a tuning of the minds and bodies to action.

On the eighth night the scouts that Flynn had thrown out began drifting
back to the camp. They came in with all the stealth and secrecy of
night animals and huddled over the fire to tell what they had seen.

Last night three old bulls drank at the water-hole of the sick hyena.
They carried teeth so, and so, and so..

showing the arm to measure the length of ivory, “. – – apart from them,
ten cows left their feet in the mud, six of them with young calves.
Yesterday, at the place where the hill of Inhosana breaks and turns its
arms, I saw where another herd had crossed, moving towards the dawn;
five young bulls, twenty-three cows and ..

The reports were jumbled, unintelligible to Sebastian who did not carry
a map of the land in his head. But Flynn, sittin beside the fire
listening, fitted the fragments together and built them into an exact
picture of how the game was moving. He saw that the big bulls were
still separated from the breeding herds that they lingered on the high
ground while the cows had started moving back towards the swamps from
which the floods had driven them, anxious to take their young away from
the dangers that the savannah forests would offer once the dry season
set in.

He noted the estimates of thickness and length of tusk.

Immature ivory was hardly worth carrying home, good only for carving
into billiard balls and piano keys. The market was glutted with it.

But on the other hand, a prime tusk, over one hundred pounds in weight,
seven foot long and twice the thickness of a fat woman’s thigh, would
fetch fifty shillings a pound avoirdupois.

An animal carrying such a tusk in each side of his face was worth four
or five hundred pounds in good, gold sovereigns.

One by one Flynn discarded the possible areas in which he would hunt.
This year there were no elephant in the M’bahora hills. There was good
reason for this; thirty piles of great sun-bleached bones lay scattered
along the ridge, marking the path that Flynn’s rifles had followed two
years before. The memory of gun-fire was too fresh and the herds
shunned that place.

There were no elephant on the Tabora escarpment. A

blight had struck the groves of mapundu trees, and withered the fruit
before it could ripen. Dearly the elephant loved mapundu berries and
they had gone elsewhere to find them.

They had gone up to the Sonia Heights, to Kilombera, and to the Salito
hills.

Salito was an easy day’s march from the German boma at Mahenge. Flynn
struck it from his mental list.

As each of the scouts finished his report, Flynn asked the question
which would influence his final decision.

“What of Plough the Earth?”

And they said, “We saw nothing. We heard nothing.”

The last scout came in two days after the others. He looked sheepish
and more than a little guilty.

“Where the hell have you been?” Flynn demanded, and the gun-boy had
his excuse ready.

“Knowing that the great Lord Fini would ask of certain matters, I
turned aside in my journey to the village of Yetu, who is my uncle. My
uncle is a fundi. No wild thing walks, no lion kills, no elephant
breaks a branch from a tree but my uncle knows of it. Thus I went to
ask him of these things

“Thy uncle is a famous fundi, he is also a famous breeder of
daughters,” Flynn remarked drily. “He breeds daughters the way the
moon breeds stars.”

“Indeed, my uncle Yetu is a man of fame.” Hurriedly the scout went on
to turn Flynn aside from this line of discussion. “My uncle sends his
greetings to the Lord Fini and bids me speak thus: “This season there
are many fine elephants on the Sonia Heights. They walk by twos and
threes. With my own eyes I have seen twelve which show ivory as long
as the shaft of a throwing spear, and I have seen signs of as many
more.” My uncle bids me speak further: “There is one among them of
which the Lord Fini knows for he has asked of him many times. This one
is a bull among great bulls. One who moves in such majesty that men
have named him Plough the Earth.”

“You do not bring a story from the honey-bird to cool my anger against
you?” Flynn demanded harshly. “Did you dream

“of Plough the Earth while you were ploughing the bellies of your
uncle’s many daughters?” His eagerness was soured by scepticism. Too
many times he had followed wild stories in his pursuit of the great
bull. He leaned forward across the fire to watch the gun-bearer’s eyes
as he replied, “It is true, lord.” Flynn watched him carefully but
found no hint of guile in his face. Flynn grunted, rocked back on his
hams, and lowered his gaze to the small flames of the camp-fire.

For his first ten years in Africa, Flynn had heard the legend of the
elephant whose tusks were of such length that their points touched the
ground and left a double furrow along his spoor. He had smiled at this
story as he had at the story of the rhinoceros who fifty years before
had killed an Arab slaver, and now wore around his horn a massive gold
bangle studded with precious stones. They said the bangle had lodged
there as he gored the Arab. There were a thousand other romantic tales
come out of Africa; from Solomon’s treasure to the legend of the
elephants” graveyard, and Flynn believed none of them.

Then he saw a myth come alive. One evening, camped near the Zambezi in
Portuguese territory, he had taken a bird-gun and walked along the bank
hoping for a brace of sand-grouse. Two miles from the camp he had seen
a flight of birds coming in to the water, flying fast as racing
pigeons, whistling in on backswept wings, and he had ducked into a
thick bank of reeds and watched them come.

As they banked steeply overhead, dropping towards the sand-banks of the
river, Flynn jumped to his feet and fired left and right, folding the
lead bird and the second, so they crumpled in mid-air and tumbled,
leaving a pale flurry of feathers to mark their fall.

But Flynn never saw the birds hit the ground. For, while the double
blast of the shotgun still echoed along the river, the reed-bed below
where he stood swayed and crashed and burst open, then an elephant came
Out into the open.

It was a bull elephant that stood fourteen feet high at the shoulder.
An elephant so old that his ears were shredded to half their original
size. The hide that covered his body hung in folds and deep wrinkles,
baggy at the knees and the throat. The tuft of his tail long ago worn
bald. The rheumy tears of Lyreat aLye staining his seared and dusty
cheeks.

He came out of the reed-bed in a shambling, humpbacked run, and his
head was tilted at an awkward, unnatural angle.

Flynn could hardly credit his vision when he saw the reason why the old
bull cocked his head back in that fashion. From each side of the head
extended two identical shafts of ivory, perfectly matched, straight as
the columns of a Greek temple, with not an inch of taper from lip to
bluntly rounded tip. They were stained to the colour of tobacco juice,
fourteen long feet of ivory that would have touched the ground, if the
elephant had carried his head relaxed.

As Flynn stood frozen in disbelief, the bull passed him by a mere fifty
yards and lumbered on into the forest.

It took Flynn thirty minutes to get back to camp and exchange the
bird-gun for the double-barrelled Gibbs, snatch up a water bottle,
shout for his gun-boys, and return to the river.

He put Mohammed to the spoor. At first there were only the round pad
marks in the dusty earth, smooth pad marks the size of a dustbin lid;
the graining on the old bull’s hooves had long been worn away. Then
after five miles of flight there were other marks to follow. On each
side of the spoor a double line scuffed through dead leaves and grass
and soft earth where the tips of the tusks touched, and Flynn learned
why the old bull was called Plough the Earth.

They lost the spoor on the third day in the rain, but a dozen times in
the years since then, Flynn had followed and lost those double furrows,
and once, through his binoculars, he had seen the old bull again,
standing dozing beneath a grove of morula trees at a distance of three
miles, his eroded old head propped up by the mythical tusks. When
Flynn reached the spot on which he had seen the bull, it was
deserted.

In all his life Flynn had never wanted anything with such obsessive
passion as he wanted those tusks.

Now he sat silently staring into the camp-fire, remembering all these
things, and the lust within him was tighter and more compelling than he
had ever felt for a woman.

At last he looked up at the scout and said huskily, “Tomorrow, with the
first light, we will go to the village of Yetu, at Sonia.”

A fly settled on Herman Fleischer’s cheek and rubbed its front feet
together in delight, as it savoured the prospect of drinking from the
droplet of sweat that quivered precariously at the level of his ear
lobe.

The Askari standing behind Herman’s chair flicked the zebra tail switch
with such skill, that not one of the long black hairs touched the
Commissioner’s face, and the fly darted away to take its place in the
circuit that orbited around Herman’s head.

Herman hardly noticed the interruption. He was sunk down in the chair,
glowering at the two old men who squatted on the dusty parade ground
below the veranda.

The silence was a blanket that lay on them all in the stupefying heat.
The two headmen waited patiently. They had spoken, and now they waited
for the Bwana Mkuba to reply.

“How many have been killed?” Herman asked at last, and the senior of
the two headmen answered.

“Lord, as many as the fingers of both your hands. But these are the
ones of which we are certain, there may be others.”

Herman’s concern was not for the dead, but their numbers would be a
measure of the seriousness of the situation. Ritual murder was the
first stage on the road to rebellion. It started with a dozen men
meeting in the moonlight, dressed in cloaks of leopard skin, with
designs of white clay painted on their faces. With the crude iron
claws strapped to their hands, they would ceremoniously mutilate a
young girl, and then devour certain parts of her body.

4, This was harmless entertainment in Herman’s view, but when it
happened more frequently, it generated in the district a mood of abject
terror. This was the climate of revolt. Then the leopard priests
would walk through the villages in the night, walk openly in procession
with the torches burning, and the men who lay shivering within the
barricaded huts would listen to the chanted instructions from the
macabre little procession and they would obey.

It had happened ten years earlier at Salito. The priests had ordered
them to resist the tax expedition that year.

They had slaughtered the visiting Commissioner and twenty of his
Askari, and they cut the bodies into small pieces with which they
festooned the thorn trees.

Three months later a battalion of German infantry had disembarked at
Dares Salaam and marched to Salito. They burned the villages and they
shot everything men, women, children, chickens, dogs and goats. The
final casualty list could only be estimated, but the officer commanding
the battalion boasted that they had killed two thousand human beings.
He was probably exaggerating. Nevertheless, the Salito hills were
still devoid of human life and habitation to this day. The whole
episode was irritating and costly and Herman Fleischer wanted no
repetition of it during his term of office.

On the principle that prevention was better than cure, he decided to go
down and conduct a few ritual sacrifices of his own. He humped himself
forward in his chair, and spoke to his sergeant of Askari.

“Twenty men. We will leave for the village of Yetu, at Sonia, tomorrow
before dawn. Do not forget the ropes.”

In the Sonia Heights, in the heat of the day, an elephant stood-under
the wide branches of a wild fig-tree. He was asleep on his feet but
his head was propped up by two long columns of stained ivory. He slept
as an old man sleeps, fitfully, never sinking very deep below the level
of consciousness. Occasionally the tattered grey ears flapped, and
each time a fine haze of flies rose around his head. They hung in the
hot air and then settled again.

The rims of the elephant’s ears were raw where the flies had eaten down
through the thick skin. The flies were everywhere. The humid green
shade beneath the wild fig was murmurous with the sound of their
wings.

Across the divide of the Sonia Heights, four miles from the spot where
the old bull slept, three men were moving up one of the bush-choked
gulleys towards the ridge.

Mohammed was leading. He moved fast, half-crouched to peer at the
ground, glancing up occasionally to anticipate the run of the spoor he
was following. He stopped at a place where a grove of mapundu trees
had carpeted the ground beneath them with a stinking, jellified mass of
rotten berries.

He looked back at the two white men and indicated the marks in the
earth, and the pyramid of bright yellow dung that lay upon it. “He
stopped here for the first time in the heat, but it was not to his
liking, and he has gone on.”

Flynn was sweating. It ran down his flushed jowls and dripped on to
his already sodden shirt. “Yes,” he nodded and a small cloud-burst of
sweat scattered from his head at the movement. “He will have crossed
the ridge.”

“What makes you so certain?” Sebastian spoke in the same sepulchral
whisper as the others.

“The cool evening breeze will come from the east he will cross to the
other side of the ridge to wait for it.” Flynn spoke with irritation
and wiped his face on the short sleeve of his shirt. “Now, you just
remember, Bassie. This is my elephant, you understand that? You try
for it and, so help me God, I’ll shoot you dead.”

Flynn nodded to Mohammed and they moved on up the slope, following the
spoor that meandered between outcrops of grey granite and scrub.

The crest of the ridge was well defined, sharp as the spine of a
starving ox. They paused below it, squatting to rest in the coarse
brown grass. Flynn opened the binocular case that hung on his chest,
lifted out the instrument and began to polish the lens with a scrap of
cloth.

“Stay he reP Flynn ordered the other two, then on his belly he wriggled
up towards the skyline. Using the cover of a tree stump, he lifted his
head cautiously and peered over.

Below him the Sonia Heights fell away at a gentle slope, fifteen
hundred feet and ten miles to the plain below. The slope was broken
and crenellated, riven into a thousand gulleys and ravines, covered
over-all with a mantle of coarse brown scrub and dotted with clumps of
bigger trees.

Flynn settled himself comfortably on his elbows and lifted the
binoculars to his eyes. Systematically he began to examine each of the
groves below him.

“Yes!” he whispered aloud, wriggling a little on his belly, staring at
the picture puzzle beneath the spread branches of the tree, a mile
away. In the shade there were shapes that made no sense, a mass too
diffuse to be the trunk of the tree.

He lowered the glasses and wiped away the sweat that clung in his
eyebrows. He closed his eyes to rest them from the glare, then he
opened them again and lifted the glasses.

For two long minutes he stared before suddenly the puzzle made sense.
The bull was standing half away from him, merging with the trunk of the
wild fig, the head and half the body obscured by the lower branches of
the tree and what he had taken to be the stem of alesser tree was, in
fact, a tusk of ivory.

A spasm of excitement closed on his chest.

“Yes!”he said. “Yes!”

Flynn planned his stalk with care, taking every’ precaution against the
intervention of fate that twenty years of elephant hunting had taught
him.

He had gone back to where Sebastian and Mohammed waited.

“He’s there, “he told them.

“Can I come with you Sebastian pleaded.

“In a barrel you can,” snarled Flynn as he sat and pulled off his heavy
boots to replace them with the light sandals that Mohammed produced
from the pack. “You stay here until you hear my shot. You so much as
stick your nose over the ridge before that and, so help me God, I’ll
shoot it off.”

While Mohammed knelt in front of Flynn and strapped the leather pads to
his knees to protect them as he crawled over rock and Thorn, Flynn
fortified himself from the gin bottle. As he re corked it, he glowered
at Sebastian again.

“That’s a promise! “he said.

At the top of the ridge Flynn paused again with only his eyes lifted
over the skyline, while he plotted his stalk, fixing in his memory a
procession of landmarks an ant-hill, an outcrop of white quartz, a tree
festooned with weaver birds’

nests so that as he reached each of these he would know his exact
position in relation to that of the elephant.

Then with the rifle cradled across the crook of his elbows he slid on
his belly to begin the stalk.

Now, an hour after he had left the ridge, he saw before him through the
grass a slab of granite like a headstone in an ancient cemetery. It
stood square and weathered brown and it was the end of the stalk.

He had marked it from the ridge as the point from which he would fire.
It stood fifty yards from the wild fig-tree, at a right angle from the
old bull’s position. It would give him cover as he rose to his knees
to make the shot.

Anxious now, suddenly overcome with a premonition of disaster sensing
that somehow the cup would he dashed from his lips, the maid plucked
from under him before the moment of fulfilment, Flynn started forward.
Slithering towards the granite headstone, his face set hard in nervous
anticipation, he reached the rock.

He rolled carefully on to his side and, holding the heavy rifle against
his chest, he slipped the catch across and eased the rifle open, so
that the click of the mechanism was muted. From the belt around his
waist he selected two fat cartridges and examined the brass casings for
tarnish or denting; with relief he saw the fingers that held them were
steadier. He slipped the cartridges into the blank eyes of the
breeches, and they slid home against the seatings with a soft metallic
plong. And now his breathing was faintly ragged at the end of each
inhalation. He closed the rifle, and with his thumb pushed the
safety-catch forward into the “fire’

position.

His shoulder against the rough, sun-heated granite, he drew up his legs
against his belly and rolled gently on to his knees. With his head
bowed low and the rifle in his lap, he knelt behind the rock, and for
the first time in an hour he lifted his head. He brought it up with
inching deliberation.

Slowly the crystalline texture of the granite passed before his eyes,
then suddenly he looked across fifty yards of open ground at his
elephant.

It stood broadside to him but the head was hidden by the leaves and
branches of the wild fig. The brain shot was impossible from here. His
eyes moved down on to the shoulder and he saw the outline of the bone
beneath the thick grey skin. He picked out the point of the elbow and
his eyes moved back into the barrel of the chest. He could visualize
the heart pulsing softly there beneath the ribs, pink and soft and
vital, throbbing like a giant sea anemone.

He lifted the rifle, and laid it across the rock in front of him. He
looked along the barrels, and saw the blade of dry grass that was wound
around the bead of the foresight, obscuring it. He lowered the rifle
and with his thumb-nail he picked away the shred of grass. Again he
lifted and sighted.

The black blob of the foresight lay snugly in the deep, wide vee of the
backsight; he moved the gain, riding the bead down across the old
bull’s shoulder then back on to the chest. It lay there ready to kill,
and he took up the slack in the trigger, gently, lovingly, with his
forefinger.

The shout was faint, a tiny sound in the drowsy immensity of the hot
African air. It came from the high ground above him.

Flynn!” and again, “Flynn!”

In an explosive burst of movement under the wild fig tree the old bull
swung his body with unbelievable speed, his great tusks riding high. He
went away from Flynn at an awkward shambling run, his flight covered by
the trunk of the fig-tree.

For stunned seconds, Flynn crouched behind the boulder, and with each
second the chances of a shot dwindled. Flynn jumped to his feet and
ran out to one side of the fig-tree, opening his field of fire for a
snap shot at the bull as he fled, a try for the spine where it curved
down between the massive haunches to the tuft less tail.

Spiked agony stabbed up through the ball of his lightly shod foot, as
he trod squarely on a three-inch buffalo thorn.

Red-tipped, wickedly barbed, it buried its full length in his flesh,
and he stumbled to his knees crying a protest at the pain.

Two hundred yards away, the old bull disappeared into one of the wooded
ravines, and was gone.

“Flynn! Flynn!”

Sobbing in pain and frustration, his injured foot twisted up into his
lap, Flynn sat in the grass and waited for Sebastian Oldsmith to come
down to him.

“I’ll let him get real close,” Flynn told himself. Sebastian was
approaching with the long awkward strides of a man running downhill. He
had lost his hat and the black tangled curls danced on his head at each
stride. He was still shouting.

“I’ll give it to him in the belly,” Flynn decided. “Both barrels!” and
he groped for the rifle that lay beside him.

Sebastian saw him and swerved in his run.

Flynn hefted the rifle. “I warned him. I said I’d do it,” and his
right hand settled around the pistol grip of the rifle, his forefinger
instinctively hooking forward for the trigger.

“Flynn! Germans! A whole army of them. just over the hill. Coming
this way.”

“Christ!” said Flynn, immediately abandoning his homicidal
intentions.

Lifting himself in the stirrups, Herman Fleischer reached behind to
massage himself. His buttocks were of a plump, almost feminine,
quantity and quality. After five hours in the saddle Herman longed to
rest them. He had just crossed the ridge of the Sonia Heights on his
donkey, and it was cool here beneath the outspread branches of the wild
fig-tree. He flirted with the temptation, decided to indulge himself,
and turned to give the order to the troop of twenty Askari who stood
behind him. All of them were watching him avidly, anticipating the
order that would allow them to throw themselves down and relax.

“Lazy dogs!” thought Herman as he scowled at them. He turned away
from them, settled his aching posterior gently on to the saddle and
growled. “Akwende! Let us go!” His heels thumped against the flanks
of his donkey and it started forward at a trot.

From a crotch in the trunk of the fig-tree ten feet above Herman’s
head, Flynn O’Flynn viewed his departure over the double barrels of his
rifle. He watched the patrol wind away down the slope and drop from
sight over a fold in the ground before he put up the gun.

Thew! That was close.” Sebastian’s voice came from the leafy mass
above Flynn.

“If he’d touched one foot to the ground, I’d have blown his bloody head
off,” said Flynn. He sounded as though he regretted missing the
opportunity. “All right, Bassie, get me down out of this frigging
tree.”

Fully dressed, except for his boots, Flynn sat against the base of the
fig-tree and proffered his right foot to Sebastian.

I had him right there in my sights.”

Who?” asked Sebastian.

“The elephant, you idiot. For the first time I had him cold. And then
… Yeow! What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get the thorn out, Flynn.”

“Feels like you’re trying to knock it in with a hammer.”

“I can’t get a grip on it.”

“Use your teeth. That’s the only way,” Flynn instructed, and Sebastian
paled a little at the thought. He considered Flynn’s foot. It was a
large foot; corns on the toes, flakes of loose skin and other darker
matter between them. Sebastian could smell it at a range of three
feet. “Couldn’t you reach it with your own teeth, Flynn?”he hedged.

“You think I’m a goddamned contortionist?”

“Mohammed?” Sebastian’s eyes lit up with relief as he turned on the
little gun-bearer. In answer to. the question Mohammed drew back his
lips in a death’s head grin, exposing his smooth, pink toothless gums.
“Yes,” agreed

180 Sebastian. “I see what you mean.” He returned his gaze to the
foot, and studied it with sickened fascination His adam’s apple bobbed
as he swallowed.

“Get on with it,” said Flynn, and Sebastian stooped.

There was a howl from Flynn, and Sebastian straightened up with the wet
Thorn gripped in his teeth. He spat it out explosively, and Mohammed
handed him the gin bottle.

Sebastian took a big swallow and as he brought the bottle to his lips
again, Flynn laid a restraining hand on his forearm. “Now don’t overdo
it, Bassie boy,” he remonstrated mildly, retrieved the bottle and
placed it to his own mouth.

It seemed to refuel Flynn’s anger, for when he removed the bottle his
voice had fire in it. “That goddamn sneaking, sausage-eating slug. He
spoiled the only chance I’ve ever had at that elephant.” He paused to
breathe heavily. “I’d like to do something really nasty to him, like
… like..

he searched for some atrocity to commit upon Herman Fleischer, and
suddenly he found one. “My God!” he said, and his scowl changed to a
lovely smile. “That’s it!”

“What?” Sebastian was alarmed. He was certain that he would be
selected as the vehicle of Flynn’s revenge. “What?”

he repeated.

“We will go .. .” said Flynn, to Mahenge!”

“Good Lord, that’s the German headquarters!”

“Yes,” said Flynn. “With no Commissioner and no Askari to guard it!
They’ve just passed us, heading in the opposite direction.”

“They hit Mahenge two hours before dawn, in that time of utter darkness
when mankind’s vitality is at its lowest ebb. The defence put up by
the corporal and five Askari whom Fleischer had left to guard his
headquarters was hardly heroic. In fact, they were only half awakened
by the lusty and indiscriminate use of Flynn’s boot, and by the time
they were fully conscious, they found themselves securely locked behind
the bars of the jail-house.

There was only one casualty. It was, of course, Sebastian Oldsmith,
who, in the excitement, ran into a half-open door. It was fortunate,
as Flynn pointed out, that he struck the door with his head, otherwise
he might have done himself injury. But as it was, he had recovered
sufficiently by sunrise to watch the orgy of looting and vandalism in
which Flynn and his gun-bearers indulged themselves.

They began in the office of the Commissioner. Built into the thick
adobe wall of the room was an enormous iron safe.

“We will open that first,” decreed Flynn as he eyed it greedily. “See
if you can find some tools.”

Sebastian remembered the blacksmith shop at the end of the parade
ground. He returned from there laden with sledge-hammers and
crow-bars.

Two hours later they were sweating and swearing in an atmosphere heavy
with plaster dust. They had torn the safe from the wall, and it lay in
the centre of the floor. Three of Flynn’s gun-boys were beating on it
with sledge-hammers in a steadily diminishing display of enthusiasm,
while Sebastian worked with a crow-bar at the hinge joints. He had
succeeded in inflicting a few bright scratches upon the metal. Flynn
was seated on the Commissioner’s desk, steadily working himself into a
fury of frustration; for the last hour his contribution to the assault
on the safe had been limited to consuming half a bottle of schnapps
that he had found in a drawer of the desk.

“It’s no use, Flynn.” Sebastian’s curls were slick with perspiration,
and he licked at the blisters on the palms of his hands. “We will just
have to forget about it.”

“Stand back!” roared Flynn. “I’ll shoot the goddamned thing open.” He
rose from the desk wild-eyed, his double-barrelled Gibbs clutched in
his hands.

“Wait!” shouted Sebastian and he and the gun-bearers scattered for
cover.

The detonations of the heavy rifle were thunderous in the confined
space of the office; gun-smoke mingled with the plaster dust, and the
bullets ricocheted off the metal of the safe, leaving long smears of
lead upon it, before whining away to embed themselves in the floor,
wall and furniture.

This act of violence seemed to placate Flynn. He lost interest in the
safe. “Let’s go and find something to eat,” he said mildly, and they
trooped through to the kitchens.

Once Flynn had shot away the lock, Herman Fleischer’s larder proved to
be an Aladdin’s cave of delight. The roof was hung with hams and
polonies and sausages, there were barrels of pickled meats, stacks of
fat round cheeses, cases of Hansa beer, cases of cognac, pyramids of
canned truffles, asparagus tips, shrimps, mushrooms, olives in oil, and
other rarities.

They stared at this profusion in awe, and then moved forward together.
Each man to his own particular tastes, they fell upon Herman
Fleischer’s treasure house. The gun boys rolled out a cask of pickled
pork, Sebastian started with his hunting knife on the cans, while Flynn
devoted himself to the case of Steinhager in the corner.

It took two hours of dedicated eating and drinking for them to reach
saturation point.

“We’d better get ready to move on now,” Sebastian belched softly, and
Flynn nodded owlish agreement, the movement spilling a little
Steinhager down his bush jacket.

He wiped at it with his hand and then licked his fingers.

“Yep! Best we are gone before Fleischer gets home.” He looked at
Mohammed. “Make up loads of food for each of the bearers. What you
can’t carry away we’ll dump in the latrine buckets.” He stood up
carefully. “I’ll just have a look round, and make sure we haven’t
missed anything important,” and he went out through the door with
unsteady dignity.

In Fleischer’s office he stood for a minute regarding the invulnerable
safe balefully. It was certainly much too heavy to carry away, and
abandoning the notion with regret, he looked around for some outlet for
his frustration.

There was a portrait of the Kaiser on the entrance wall, a colour print
showing the Emperor in full dress, mounted on a magnificent cavalry
charger. Flynn picked up an indelible pencil from the desk and walked
across to the picture. With a dozen strokes of the pencil he
drastically altered the relationship between horse and rider. Then,
beginning to chuckle, he printed on the whitewashed wall below the
picture, “The Kaiser loves horses.”

This struck him as being such a pearl of wit, that he had summon
Sebastian and show it to him. “That’s what you call being subtle,
Bassie, boy. All good jokes are subtle.”

It seemed to Sebastian that Flynn’s graffiti were as subtle as the
charge of an enraged rhinoceros but he laughed dutifully. This
encouraged Flynn to a further essay in humour. He had two of the gun
bearers carry in a bucket from the latrines, and under his supervision,
they propped it above the half-open door of Herman Fleischer’s
bedroom.

An hour later, heavily laden with booty, the raiding party left Mahenge
and began the first of a series of forced marches aimed at the Rovurna
river.

In a state of mental confusion induced by a superfluity of adrenalin in
the bloodstream, Herman Fleischer wandered through his ransacked boma.
As he discovered each new outrage he regarded it with slitted eyes and
laboured breathing. But first it was necessary to effect a jailbreak
in reverse in order to free his own captive Askari.

When they emerged through the hole in the prison wall, Herman curtly
ordered his sergeant to administer twenty strokes of the kiboko to each
of them, as a token rebuke for their inefficiency. He stood by and
drew a little comfort from the solid slap of the kiboko on bare flesh
and the shrieks of the recipient.

However, the calming effect of the floggings evaporated when Herman
entered the kitchen area of his establishment, and found that his
larder of painstakingly accumulated foodstuffs was now empty. This
nearly broke his spirit His jowls quivered with self-pity, and from
under his tongue saliva oozed in melancholic nostalgia. It would take
a month to replace the sausages alone, heaven knew how long to replace
the cheeses imported from the fatherland.

From the larder he went through to his office and found Flynn’s
subtleties. Herman’s sense of humour was not equal to the occasion.

“Pig-swine, English-bastard,” he muttered dejectedly, and a dark wave
of despair and fatigue washed over him as he realized the futility of
setting out in pursuit of the raiders.

With two days start he could never hope to catch them before they
reached the Rovurna. If only Governor Schee, who was so forthcoming
with criticism, would allow him to cross the river one night with his
Askari and visit the community at Lalapanzi. There would be no one
left the following morning to make complaint to the Portuguese
Government about breach of sovereignty.

Herman sighed. He was tired and depressed. He would go to his bed now
and rest a while before supervising the tidying up of his headquarters.
He left the office and plodded heavily along the stoep to his private
quarters, and pushed open the door of his bedroom.

His bedroom temporarily uninhabitable, Herman reposed that night on the
open stoep. But his sleep was disturbed by a dream in which he pursued
Flynn O’Flynn across an endless plain without ever narrowing the gap
between them, while above him circled two huge birds one with the
austere face of Governor Schee, and the other with the face of the
young English bandit at regular intervals these two voided their bowels
on him. After the previous afternoon’s experience the olfactory
hallucinations which formed part of the dream were horribly
realistic.

He was tactfully awakened by one of his household servants, and
struggled up in bed with an ache behind his eyes and a foul taste in
his mouth.

“What is it?” he growled.

“There is a bearer from Dodoma who brings a book with the red mark of
the Bwana MkUba upon it.”

Herman groaned. An envelope with Governor Schee’s seal affixed to it
usually meant trouble. Surely he could not so speedily have learned
about Flynn O’Flynn’s latest escapade.

“Bring coffee!”

“Lord, there is no coffee. It was all stolen,” and Herman L groaned
again.

“Very well. Bring the messenger.” He would have to endure the ordeal
of Governor Schee’s rebukes without the fortifying therapy of a cup of
coffee. He broke the seal and began to read:

4th August, 1914.

The Residency, da res Salaam.

To The Commissioner (Southern Province)

At: Mahenge.

Sir, It is my duty to inform you that a state of war now exists between
the Empire and the Governments of England, France, Russia, and
Portugal.

You are hereby appointed temporary Military Commander of the Southern
Province of German East Africa, with orders to take whatever steps you
deem necessary for the protection of our borders, and the confusion of
the enemy.

In due course a military force, now being assembled at Dares Salaam,
will be despatched to your area. But I fear that there will be a delay
before this can he achieved.

In the meantime, you must operate with the force presently at your
disposal.

There was more, much more, but Herman Fleischer read the detailed
instructions with perfunctory attention. His headache was forgotten,
the taste in his mouth unnoticed in the fierce surge of warrior
passions that arose within him.

His chubby features” puckered with smiles, he looked up from the letter
and spoke aloud. “Ja, O’Flynn, now I will pay you for the bucket.”

He turned back to the first page of the letter, and his mouth formed
the words as he read whatever steps you deem necessary for the
protection of our borders, and the confusion of the enemy.”

At last. At last he had the order for which he had pleaded so many
times. He shouted for his sergeant.

perhaps they will come home tonight. “Rosa Oldsmith looked up from the
child’s smock, she was embroidering.

“Tonight, or tomorrow, or the next day,” Nanny replied philosophically.
“There is no profit in guessing at the coming or going of men. They
all have worms in their heads,” and she began again to rock the cradle,
squatting beside it on the leopard-skin rugs like an animated mummy.
The child snuffled a little in its sleep.

“I’m sure it will be tonight. I can feel it something good is going to
happen.” Rosa laid aside her sewing and crossed to the door that led
out on to the stoep. In the last few minutes the sun had gone down
below the trees, and the land was ghostly quiet in the brief African
dusk.

Rosa went out on to the stoep, and hugging her arms across her chest at
the chill of evening, she stared out down the darkening length of the
valley. She stood there, waiting restlessly, and as the day passed
swiftly into darkness, so her mood changed from anticipation to a
formless foreboding.

Quietly, but with an edge to her voice, she called back into the room,
“Light the lamps please, Nanny.”

Behind her she heard the sounds of metal on glass, then the flare of a
sulphur match, and a feeble yellow square of light was thrown out on to
the veranda to fall around her feet.

The first puff of the night wind was cold on her bare arms. She felt
the prickle of goose-flesh and she shivered unexpectedly.

“Come inside, Little Long Hair,” Nanny ordered. “The night is for
mosquitoes and leopards and other things.”

But Rosa lingered, straining her eyes into the darkness until she could
no longer see the shape of the fig-trees at the bottom of the lawn.
Then abruptly she turned away and went into the bungalow. She closed
the door and slid the bolt across.

Later she woke. There was no moon outside and the room was dark.
Beside her bed she could hear the soft, piglet sounds that little Maria
made in her sleep.

Again the disquieting mood of the early evening returned to her and she
lay still in her bed, waiting and listening in the utter blackness, and
the darkness bore down upon her so that she felt herself shrinking,
receding, becoming remote from reality, small and lonely in the
night.

In fear then she lifted the mosquito netting and groped for the cradle.
The baby whimpered as she lifted her and brought her into the bed
beside her, but Rosa’s arms quietened her and soon she slept against
the breast, and the warmth of the tiny body stilled Rosa’s own
agitation.

The shouting woke her, and she opened her eyes with a surge of joy, for
the shouts would be Sebastian’s bearers.

Before she was fully awake she had thrown aside the bedclothes,
struggled out from under the mosquito netting, and was standing in her
night-dress with the baby clasped to her chest.

It was then that she realized that the room was no longer in darkness.
From the -window into the yard it was lit by a red-gold glow that
flared, and flickered, and faded.

The last tarnish of sleep was cleaned from her brain, so she could hear
that the shouts from outside were not those of welcome, and on a lower
key, there were other sounds a whispering, rustling, and popping, that
she could not identify.

She crossed to the window, moving slowly, with dread for what she might
find, but before she reached it a scream froze her. It came from the
kitchen yard, a scream that quivered on the air long after it had
ended, a scream of terror and of pain.

“Merciful God!” she whispered, and forced herself to peer out.

The servants” quarters and the outhouses were on fire.

From the thatch of each the flames stood up in writhing yellow columns,
lighting the darkness.

There were men in the yard, many men, and all of them wore the khaki
uniform of German Askari. Each of them carried a rifle, and the
bayonet blades glittered in the glare of the flames.

“They have crossed the river No, oh please God, no!”

and Rosa hugged the baby to her, crouching down below the window
sill.

The scream rang out again, but weaker now, and she saw a knot of four
Askari crowded around something that squirmed in the dust of the yard.
She heard their laughter, the excited laughter of men who kill for fun,
as they stabbed down on the squirming thing with their bayonets.

At that moment another of the servants broke from the burning
outbuildings and ran for the darkness beyond the circle of the flames.
Shouting again, the Askari left the dying man and chased the other.
They turned him like a pack of trained greyhounds coursing a gazelle,
laughing and shouting in their excitation, and drove him back into the
daylight glare of the flames.

Bewildered, surrounded, the servant stopped and looked wildly about
him, his face convulsed with terror. Then the Askari swarmed over him,
clubbing and hacking with their rifles.

“Oh, oh God, no.” Rosa’s whisper sobbed in her throat, but she could
not drag her eyes away.

Suddenly in the uproar she heard a new voice, a bull bellow of
authority. She could not understand the words for they were shouted in
German but from around the angle of the bungalow appeared a white man,
a massive figure in the blue corduroy uniform of the German Colonial
Service, with a slouch hat pulled low down on his head, and a pistol
brandished in one hand. From the description that Sebastian had given
her, she recognized the German Commissioner.

“Stop them!” Rosa did not speak aloud, the appeal was in her mind
only. “Please, stop them burning and killing.”

The white Man was railing at his Askari, his face turned towards where
Rosa crouched and she saw it was round and pink like that of an
overweight baby. In the fire-light it glistened with a fine sheen of
sweat.

“Stop them. Please stop them,” Rosa pleaded silently, but under the
Commissioner’s direction three of the Askari ran to where, in the
excitement of the chase, they had dropped their torches of dry grass.
While they lit them from the flaming outbuildings, the other Askari
left the corpses of the two servants and spread out in a circle around
the bungalow, facing inwards, with their rifles held at high port.

Most of the bayonets were dulled with blood.

“I want Fini and the Singese not bearers and gun-boys – I want the
white men! Burn them oud shouted Fleischer, but Rosa recognized only
her father’s name. She wanted to cry out that he was not here, that it
was only her and the child.

The three Askari were running in towards the bungalow now, sparks and
fire smeared back from the torches they carried. In turn each man
checked his run, poised himself like a javelin thrower, then hurled his
torch in a high, smoking arc towards the bungalow. Rosa heard them
thump, thump, on to the thatched roof above her.

“I must get my baby away, before the fire catches,” and she hurried
across the room” out to the wall until to the passage. It was she
found the dark here and she groped along entrance to the main room. At
the front door she fumbled with the bolts, and opened it a crack.
Peering through to p, she saw the dark forms the fire-lit lawns beyond
the stoe of Askari waiting there also, and she drew back.

The side windows of the kitchen,” she told herself.

“They’re closest to the bush. “That’s the best chance,” and she
stumbled back into the passage.

Above her now there was a sound like high wind and water, a rushing
sound blending with the crackle of burning thatch, and the first taint
of smoke stung her nostrils.

“If only I can reach the bush,” she whispered desperately, and the
child in her arms began to cry.

“Hush, my darling, hush now,” but her voice was scratchy with fear.
Maria seemed to sense it; her petulant whimperings changed to lusty
high-pitched yells and she struggled in Rosa’s grasp.

From the side windows of the kitchen Rosa saw the familiar waiting
figures of the Askari hovering at the edge of the fire-light. She felt
despair catch her stomach in a cold grip and squeeze the resolve from
her. Suddenly her legs were weak under her and her whole body was
shaking.

From within the bungalow behind her there came a thunderous roar as
part of the burning roof collapsed. A

blast of scalding air blew through the kitchen and the tall column of
sparks and flames thrown up by the collapse lit the surroundings even
more vividly. It showed another figure beyond the line of Askari,
scampering in from the edge of the bush like a little black monkey, and
Rosa heard Nanny’s voice.

“Little Long Hair! Little Long Hair.” A plaintive, ancient wail.

Nanny had escaped into the bush during the first minutes
of the attack. She had lain there watching until the roof of e
could no longer contain the bungalow fell in then she if. Insensible
of her own danger, caring for nothing herself except her precious
charges, she was coming back The Askari saw her also. Their rigid,
well-spaced line d as all of thin ran to head her off. Suddenly the
crumple ground between Rosa and the edge of the bush was clear.

Now there was a chance just the smallest chance that she could get the
child away. She flung the window open and dropped through it to the
earth.

One moment she hesitated and glanced towards the confusion of running
men away on her right hand. In that moment she saw one of the Askari
catch up with the old woman and lunge forward with his bayonet. Nanny
reeled from the force of the blow in her back. Involuntarily her arms
were flung wide open, and for a fleeting second Rosa saw the point of
the bayonet appear miraculously from the centre of her chest, as it
impaled her.

Then Rosa was running towards the wall of bush and scrub fifty yards
ahead of her, while Maria howled in her arms. The sound attracted the
attention of the Askari. One of them shouted a warning, and then the
whole pack was after her in full tongue.

Rosa’s senses were overwrought by her terror, so finely tuned that it
seemed the passage of time was lagging.

Weighed down by the child, each pace she took dragged on for ever, as
though she waded through waistdeep water.

The long nightdress around her legs hampered her, and there was rough
stone and thorn beneath her bare feet. The wall of bush ahead of her
seemed to come no closer, and she ran with the cold hand of fear
squeezing her chest and cramping her breathing.

Then into her line of vision from the side came a man, an Askari, a big
man bounding towards her with the long loping gallop of a bull baboon,
cutting across her line of flight,

his open mouth an obscene pink pit in the shiny black of his face.

Rosa screamed and swung away from him. Now she was running parallel to
the edge of the bush and behind her she heard the slap of feet upon the
earth, closing fast, and the babbling chorus of the pursuit.

A hand snatched at her shoulder, and she twisted away from it,

feeling the stuff of her nightgown tear beneath the clutching
fingers.

Blind with terror she stumbled a dozen paces back towards the burning
homestead. She felt the vast waves of heat from it in her face and
through her thin clothing and then a rifle butt struck her in the small
of the back, and a bright burst of agony paralysed her legs. She
dropped to her knees, still holding Maria.

They ringed her in, a palisade of human bodies and gloating,

blood-crazed faces.

The big one who had felled her with the rifle butt stooped over her and
before she recognized his intention, he had snatched Maria from her
arms and stepped back again.

He stood laughing, holding the child by her ankles, letting her swing
head downwards, so her tiny face was suffused with blood, scarlet in
the light of the flames.

“No, please, no! “Rosa crawled painfully towards the Man.

“Give her back to me. My baby. Please give her back,” and she lifted
her arms towards him.

The Askari dangled the child tantalizingly in front of her,

retreating slowly as she crawled towards him. The others were
laughing, hoarse sensual laughter, crowding around her, faces contorted
with enjoyment, and polished ebony black with the sweat of
excitement,

as they jostled each other for a better view of the sport.

Then with a wild yell, the Askari swung Maria high, whirled her twice
above his head as he pivoted to face the bungalow, and threw Maria up
towards the burning roof. The tiny body flew with the looseness of a
rag doll through the air, her night-dress fluttered as she dropped and
struck the roof, rolled awkwardly down the slope of it with her
clothing blooming into instant flame, until she reached a weak spot in
the burning thatch. It sucked Maria in like a fiery mouth and blew a
belch of sparks as it swallowed her.

that instant Rosa heard the voice of her child for the last time. It
was a sound she was never to forget.

For a moment the men about her were hushed, and then as though wind
blew through trees, they moved a little with a sound that was half
sigh, half moan.

Still kneeling, facing the burning building which was now a pyre,

Rosa slumped forward and lifted her hands to cover her face as though
in prayer.

The Askari who had thrown the child snatched up his rifle from where it
lay at his feet and stood over her. He lifted it above his head the
way a harpooner holds his steel with the point of the bayonet aimed at
the base of Rosa’s neck where her hair had fallen open to expose the
pale skin.

In the moment that the Askari paused to take his aim, Herman

Fleischer shot him in the back of the head with the Luger.

“Mad dog!” the Commissioner shouted at the Askari’s corpse. “I

told you to take them alive.” Then, breathing like an asthma case from
the exertion of his run to intervene, he turned to Rosa.

Frulein, my apologies,” he doffed the slouch hat with ponderous
courtesy, and spoke in German that Rosa did not understand. “We do not
make war on women and babies.” She did not look up at him. She was
crying quietly into her cupped hands.

Early in the year for a bush fire,” Flynn muttered. He sat with an
enamel mug cupped in his hands and blew steam from the hot coffee. His
blanket had slid down to his waist.

Across the camp-fire from him Sebastian was also sitting in a muddle of
bedding, and cooling his own pre-dawm mug of coffee. At

Flynn’s words he looked up from his labour, and out into the dark
south.

False dawn had paled the sky just enough to define the hills below it
as an undulating mass that seemed much closer than it was. That way
lay Lalapanzi, , Maria. and Rosa and Without real interest Sebastian
saw the radiated glow at one point along the spine of the ridge; a fan
of pink light no larger than a thUmb-nail.

“Not a very big one, “he said.

“No,” agreed Flynn. “Hope she doesn’t spread though and he gulped
noisily at his mug.

As Sebastian watched it idly, the glow diminished, shrinking into
insignificance at the coming of the sun, and above it the stars paled
out also.

“We’d best get moving. It’s a long day’s march and we’ve wasted enough
time on this trip already.” “You’re a regular bloody fire-eater when
it comes to getting your home comforts.” Flynn feigned disinterest,
yet secretly the thought of returning to his granddaughter had strong
appeal. He hurried the coffee a little and scalded his tongue.

Sebastian was right- They had wasted a lot of time on the return trip
from the Mahenge raid.

,44 First, there was a detour to avoid a party of German Askari that
one of the native headmen had warned them was at M’tapa’s village. They
had trekked upstream for three days before finding a safe crossing, and
a village willing to hire canoes.

Then there was the brush with the hippo which had cost them almost a
week. As was usual practice, the four hired canoes, loaded to within a
few inches of freeboard with Flynn, Sebastian, their retinue and loot,
had slipped across the Rovuma and were hugging the Portuguese bank as
they headed downstream towards the landing opposite M’tapa’s village
when the hippo had disputed their passage.

She was an old cow hippo who a few hours earlier had given birth to her
calf in a tiny island of reeds, separated from the south bank by twenty
feet of lily-padded water.

When the four canoes entered this channel in line astern with the
paddlers chanting happily, she took it as a direct threat to her
offspring and she threw a tantrum.

Two tons of hippo in a tantrum has the destructive force of a localized
hurricane. Surfacing violently from under the leading canoe,

she had thrown Sebastian, two gun-boys, four paddlers, and all their
equipment, ten feet in the air.

The canoe, rotted with beetle, had snapped in half and sunk
immediately.

The mother hippo had then treated the three following canoes with the
same consideration, and within the space of a few minutes, the canal
was clogged with floating debris, and struggling, panic-stricken men.
Fortunately they were ashore. None of them, however, was very far
behind him, no more than ten feet from the bank. Sebastian was first
and they all took off like the start of a cross-country race over the
veld, when the hippo emerged from the river and signified that, not
satisfied with wrecking the flotilla, she intended chopping a few of
them in half with her guillotine jaws.

A hundred yards later she abandoned the pursuit, and trotted back to
the water, wiggling her little ears and snorting in triumph. Half a
mile farther on the survivors had stopped running.

They camped there that night without food, bedding or weapons, and the
following morning, after a heated council Of war, Sebastian was elected
to return to the river and ascertain whether the hippo was still in
control of the channel. He came back at high speed to report that she
was.

Three more days they waited for the hippo and her calf to move away-
During this time they suffered the miseries of cold nights and hungry
days, but the greatest misery was inflicted on Flynn O’Flynn whose case
of gin was under eight feet of water and by the third morning he was
threatening delyrium tremens again. just before

Sebastian set off for his morning reconnaissance of the channel, Flynn
informed him agitatedly that there were three blue scorpions sitting on
his head. After the initial alarm, Sebastian went through the motions
of removing the imaginary scorpions and stamping them to death, and

Flynn was satisfied.

Sebastian returned from the river with the news that the % hippo and
her calf had evacuated the island, and it was now possible to begin
salvage operations.

Protesting mildly and talking about crocodiles, Sebastian was stripped
naked and coaxed into the water. On his first dive, he retrieved the
precious case of gin.

“Bless you, MY boy,” Flynn murmured fervently as he eased the cork out
of a bottle.

By the following morning Sebastian had recovered nearly all their
equipment and booty, without being eaten by crocodiles, and they set
off for Lalapanzi on foot.

Now they were in their last camp before Lalapanzi, and Sebastian felt
his impatience rising. He wanted to get home to Rosa and baby

Maria. He should be home by evening.

“Come on, Flynn. Let’s go.” He flicked the coffee grounds from his
mug, threw aside his blanket, and shouted to Mohammed and the bearers
who were huddled around the other fire.

“Safari! Let us march.” Nine hours later, with the daylight dying
around him, he breasted the last rise and paused at the top.

All that day eagerness had lengthened his stride, and he had left

Flynn and the column of heavily laden bearers far behind.

Now he stood alone, and stared without comprehension at the
smoke-blackened ruins of Lalapanzi from which a few thin tendrils of
smoke still drifted.

“Rosa!” Her name was a harsh bellow of fear, and he ran wildly.

“Rosa!” he shouted as he crossed the scorched and trampled lawns.

“Rosa! Rosa! Rosa!” the echo from the kopje above the homestead
shouted back.

“Rosa!” He saw something amongst the bushes at the edge of the lawn,
and he ran to it. Old Nanny lying dead with the blood dried black on
the floral stuff of her nightgown.

“Rosa!” He ran back towards the bungalow. The ash swirled in a warm
mist around his legs as he crossed the stoep.

“Rosa!” His voice rang hollowly through the roofless shell of the
house, as he stumbled over the fallen beams that littered the main
room. The reek of burned cloth and hair and wood almost choked him, so
that his voice was husky as he called again.

“Rosa!” He found her in the burnt-out kitchen block and he thought she
was dead. She was slumped against the cracked and blackened wall.

Her night-gown was torn and scorched, and the snarled skeins of hair,

that hid her face, were powdered with white wood ash.

“My darling. Oh, my darling.” He knelt beside her, and timidly
touched her shoulder. Her flesh was warm and alive beneath his
fingers, and he felt relief leap up into his throat, blocking it so he
could not speak again. Instead, he brushed the tangle of hair from her
face and looked at it.

Beneath the charcoal smears of dirt her skin was pale as grey marble.
Her eyes, tight closed, were heavily underscored with blue,

and rimmed with crusty red.

He touched her lips with the tips of his fingers, and she opened her
eyes, But they looked beyond him; unseeing, dead eyes. They frightened
him. He did not want to look into them, and he drew her head towards
his shoulder.

There was no resistance in her. She lay against him quietly, and he
pressed his face into her hair. Her hair was impregnated with the
smell of smoke.

“Are you hurt?” he asked her in a whisper, not wanting to hear the
answer. But she made no answer, lying inert in his arms.

“Tell me, Rosa. Speak to me. Where is Maria?” At the mention of the
child’s name, she reacted for the first time. She began to tremble.

“Where is she?” more urgency in his voice now.

She rolled her head against his shoulder and looked across the floor of
the room. He followed the direction of her gaze.

Near the far wall an area of the floor had been swept clear of debris
and ash. Rosa had done it with her bare hands while the ash was still
hot. Her fingers were blistered and burned raw in places, and her arms
were black to the elbows. Lying in the centre of this cleared space
was a small, charred thing.

“Maria?” Sebastian whispered, and Rosa shuddered against him.

“Oh, God,” he said, and lifted Rosa. Carrying her against his chest,
he staggered from the ruins of the bungalow out into the cool, sweet
evening air, but in his nostrils lingered the smell of smoke and burned
flesh. He wanted to escape from it. He ran blindly along the path and
Rosa lay unresisting in his arms. The following day Flynn buried their
dead on the kopje above

Lalapanzi. He placed a thick slab of granite over the small grave that
stood apart from the others, and when it was done he sent a bearer to
the camp to fetch Rosa and Sebastian.

When they came, they found him standing alone by Maria’s grave under
the man da trees. His face was puffy and purply red. The thinning
grey hair hung limply over his ears and forehead, like the wet feathers
of an old rooster. His body looked as though it was melting.

It sagged at the shoulders and the belly. Sweat had soaked through his
clothing across the shoulders, and at the armpits and crotch.

He was sick with drink and sorrow.

Sebastian stood beside Rosa, and the three of them took their silent
farewell of the child.

“There is nothing else to do now,” Sebastian spoke huskily.

“Yes,” said Flynn. He stooped slowly and took a handful of the new
earth from the grave. “Yes, there is. “He crumbled the earth between
his fingers. “We still have to find the man who did this and kill
him.” Beside Sebastian, Rosa straightened up. She turned to

Sebastian, lifted her chin, and spoke for the first time since he had
come home.

“Kill him! “she repeated softly.

PART TWO

With his hands clasped behind his back, and his chin thrust forward
aggressively, Rear-Admiral Sir Percy Howe sucked in his lower lip and
nibbled it reflectively. What was our last substantiated sighting on
Blitcher?”he asked at last.

“A month ago, sir. Two days before the outbreak of war.

Sighting reported by S.S. Tygerberg. Latitude 027N. Longitude
5″-16″E. Headed south-west; estimated speed, eighteen knots.”

“And a hell of a lot of good that does us,” Sir Percy interrupted his
flag-captain and glared at the vast Admiralty plot of the Indian Ocean.
“She could be back in Bremerhaven by now.”

“She could be, sir,” the flag-captain nodded, and Sir Percy glanced at
him and permitted himself a wintry smile.

“But you don’t believe that, do you, Henry?”

“No, sir, I don’t.

During the last thirty days, eight merchantmen have disappeared
between

Aden and Lourenco Marques. Nearly a quarter of a million tons of
shipping.

That’s the Blitcher’s work.”

“Yes, it’s the Blitcher, all right,”

agreed the Admiral, and reached across the-plot to pick up the black
counter labelled “Blitcher’, that lay on the wide green expanse of
the

Indian Ocean.

A respectful silence held the personnel of the plotting room South

Atlantic and Indian Oceans while they waited for the great man to reach
his decision. It was a long time coming. He stood bouncing the

“counter in the palm of his right hand, his grey eyebrows erect like
the spines of a hedgehog’s back, as his forehead creased in thought.

A

full minute they waited.

“Refresh my memory of her class and commission.” Like most successful
men Sir Percy would not hurry a decision when there was time to think,
and the duty lieutenant who had anticipated his request,

stepped forward with the German Imperial Navy list open at the correct
page.

“Blitcher. Commissioned August 16, 1905. “B” Class heavy cruiser.
Main armament, eight nine-inch guns. Secondary armament, six six-inch
guns.”” The lieutenant finished his reading and waited quietly.

“Who is her captain?” Sir Percy asked, and the lieutenant consulted an
addendum to the list.

“Otto von Kleine (Count). Previously commanded the light cruiser

Sturm Vogel.””

“Yes,” said Sir Percy. “I’ve heard of him,” and he replaced the
counter on the plot, keeping his hand on it. “A dangerous man to have
here, south Of Suez,” and he Pushed the counter up towards the Red Sea
and the entrance to the canal, where the tiny red shipping lanes
amalgamated or here,” and he pushed it down into a thick artery,
towards the Cape of Good Hope, around which were curved the same red
threads that joined London to Australia and India. Sir Percy lifted
his hand from the black counter and left it sitting menacingly upon the
shipping lanes.

“What force have we deployed against him so far?” and in answer the
flag-captain picked up a wooden pointer and touched in turn the red
counters that were scattered about the Indian Ocean.

“Pegasus and Renounce in the north. Eagle and Plunger sweeping the
southern waters, sir.”

“What further force can we spare, Henry?”

“Well, sir, Orion and Bloodhound are at Simonstown,” and 4, he touched
the nose of the African continent with the pointer.

“Orion that’s Manderson, isn’t it?” “Yes, sir.”

“And who has Bloodhound?”

“Little, sir.”

“Good,” Sir Percy nodded with satisfaction. “A six-inch cruiser and a
destroyer should be able to deal with Bkicher,” and he smiled again.
“Especially with a hellion like Charles Little handling the Bloodhound.
I played golf with him last summer he damn nigh drove the sixteenth
green at St. Andrews!”

The flag-captain glanced at the Admiral and, on the strength of the
destroyer captain’s reputation, decided to permit himself an inanity.

“The young ladies of Cape Town will mourn his departure, sir.”

“We must hope that KapitAn zur See Otto von Kleine will mourn his
arrival, “chuckled Sir Percy.

“Daddy likes you very much.”

“Your father is a man of exquisite good taste,” Commander the
Honourable Charles Little conceded gallantly, and rolled his head to
smile at the young lady who lay beside him on a rug, in the dappled
shade beneath the pine trees.

“Can’t you ever be serious?”

“Helen, my sweet, at times I can be deadly serious.”

“Oh, You!” and his companion blushed prettily as she remembered
certain of Charles’s recent actions, which would make her father
hastily revise his judgement.

“I value your father’s good opinion, but my chief concern is that you
endorse it.” The girl sat up slowly and while she stared at him her
hands were busy, brushing the pine needles from the glorious tangle of
her hair, readjusting the fastenings of her blouse, spreading the
skirts of her riding-habit to cover sweet legs clad in dark, tall
polished leather boots.

She stared at Charles Little and ached with the strength of her want.
It was not a sensual need she felt, but an overpowering obsession to
have this man as her very own. To own him in the same way as she
already owned diamonds, and furs, and silk, and horses, and peacocks,
and other beautiful things.

His body sprawled out on the rug with all the unconscious grace of a
reclining leopard. A secret little smile tugged at the corners of his
lips and his eyelids drooped to mask the sparkle of his eyes. His
recent exertions had dampened the hair that flopped forward onto his
forehead.

There was something satanical about him, an air of wickedness, and

Helen decided it was the slant of the eyebrows and the way his ears lay
flat against his temples, but were pointed like those of a satyr, yet
they were pink and smooth as those of an infant.

“think you have devil’s ears, she said, and then she blushed again, and
scrambled to her feet avoiding Charles’s arm that reached out for her.
“Enough of that!” she giggled and ran to the thoroughbred hunter that
was tied near them in the forest. “Come on, “she called as she
mounted.

Charles stood up lazily and stretched. He tucked the tail of his shirt
into his breeches, folded the rug on which they had lain, and went to
his own horse.

At the edge of the pine forest, they checked their mounts and sat
looking down over the Constantia valley.

“Isn’t it beaUtiful? she said.

“It is indeed, “he agreed.

“I meant the view.”

“And so she did Twice in the six days he had known her, she had led him
up this mountain and Subjected him to the temptation. Below them lay
six thousand acres of the richest land in all of Africa.

“When my brother Hubert was killed there was no one left to carry it
on. just my sister and I and we are only girls. Poor Daddy isn’t so
well any more he finds it such a strain.” Charles let his eyes move
lazily from the great squat buttress of Table Mountain on their left,
across the lush basin of vineyards below them, and then on to where the
glittering-wedge of False Bay drove into the mountains.

“Doesn’t the “homestead look lovely from here?” Helen drew his
attention to the massive Dutch-gabled residence, with its attendant
outbuildings grouped in servility behind it.

“I am truly impressed by the magnificence of the stud fee,”

Charles murmured, purposefully slurring the last two words, and the
girl glanced at him in surprise, beginning to bridle.

“I beg your pardon?”

“It is truly magnificent scenery,” he amended. Her persistent efforts
at ensnaring him were beginning to bore Charles.

He had teased and avoided more artful huntresses.

“Charles,” she whispered. “How would you like to live here. I

mean, forever?” And Charles was shocked. This little provincial had
no understanding whatsoever of the rules governing the game of
flirtation.

He was so shocked that he threw back his head and laughed

When Charles laughed it sent shivers of delight through every woman
within a hundred yards. It was a merry sound with underlying tones of
sensuality. His teeth were very white against the sea-tan of his face,
and the muscles of his chest and upper arms tensed into bold relief
beneath the silk shirt he wore.

Helen was the only witness of this particular perform and she was
helpless as a sparrow in a hurricane.

once, Eagerly she leaned across the space between their horses and
touched his arm. “You would like it, Charles. Wouldn’t you? She did
not know that Charles Little had a private income of twenty thousand
pounds a year, that when his father died he would inherit the title
Viscount Sutherton and the estates that went with it.

She did not know that one of those estates would swallow her father’s
own three times over; nor did she know that Charles had passed by
willing young ladies with twice her looks, ten times her fortune, and a
hundred times her breeding.

“You would, Charles. I know you would!” So young, so vulnerable,

that he stopped the flippant reply before it reached his lips.

“Helen,” he took her hand. “I am a sea creature. We move with the
wind and the waves,” and he lifted her hand to his lips.

A while she sat, feeling the warm pressure of his lips upon her flesh,
and the burn of tears behind her eyes. Then she snatched her hand
away, and wheeled her horse. She lifted the leather riding-crop and
slashed the glossy black shoulder between her knees. Startled, the
stallion jumped forward into a dead run back along the road towards
the

Constantia valley.

Charles shook his head and grimaced with regret. He had not meant to
hurt her. It had been an escapade, something to fill the waiting days
while Bloodhound went through the final stages of her refit. But
Charles had learned to harden himself to the ending of his adventures
to the tears and tragedy.

“Shame on you, you heartless cad, he said aloud, and touching his mount
with his heels ambled in pursuit of the galloping stallion.

He caught up with the stallion in the stable yards. A groom was
walking it, and there were darker sweat patches on its coat, and the
barrel of its chest still heaved with laboured breathing.

Helen was nowhere in sight, but her father stood at the stable gates, –
a big man, with a square-cut black beard picked out with grey.

“Enjoy your ride?”

“Thank you, Mr. Uys.” Charles was noncommittal,

and the older man glanced significantly at the blown stallion before
going on.

“There’s one of your sailors been waiting for you for an hour.”

“Where is he?” Charles’s manner altered abruptly, became instantly
businesslike.

“Here, Mr.” From the deep shade of the stable doorway, a young seaman
stepped out into the bright sunlight.

“What is it, man?” Impatiently Charles acknowledged his salute.

“Captain Manderson’s compliments, sir, and you’re to report aboard

HMS. Orion with all possible speed. There’s a motor car waiting to
take you to the base, sir.”

“An untimely summons, Commander.” Uys gave his “opinion lounging
against the worked stone gateway.

we will see no more of you for a long time.” But Charles was not
listening. His body seemed to quiver with suppressed excitement, the
way a good gun dog reacts to the scent of the bird. “Sailing
orders,”

he whispered, at last. At last!” There was a heavy south-east swell
battering Cape Point, so the sea spray reached the beam of the
lighthouse on the cliffs above. A flight of mal gas came in so high
towards the land that they caught the last of the sun, and glowed pink
above the dark water.

Bloodhound cleared Cape Hangklip and took the press of the South

Atlantic on her shoulder, staggered from it with a welter of white
water running waist-deep past her foredeck gun-turrets. Then in
retaliation she hurled herself at the next swell, and Charles Little on
her bridge exulted at the vital movement of the deck beneath his
feet.

“Bring her round to oh five, oh

“Oh-five, oh sir, “repeated his navigating lieutenant.

“Revolution s for seventeen knots, pilot.” Almost immediately the beat
of the engines changed, and her action through the water became more
abandoned.

Charles crossed to the angle of the flimsy little bridge and looked
back into the dark, mountain-lined maw of False Bay. Two miles astern
the shape of HMS. Orion melted into the dying light.

“Come along, old girl. Do try and keep up,” murmured Charles

Little with the scorn that a destroyer man feels for any vessel that
cannot cruise at twenty knots. Then he looked beyond Orion at the
land. Below the massif of Table Mountain, near the head of the

Constantia valley a single pin prick of light showed.

“There’ll be fog tonight, sir,” the pilot spoke at Charles’s elbow, and
Charles turned without regret to peer over the bows into the gathering
night.

“Yes, a good night for pirates. “The fog condensed on the grey metal
of the bridge, so the foot plates were slippery underfoot. It soaked
into the overcoats of the men huddled against the rail, and it de wed
in minute pearls on the eyebrows and the beard of Kapitan zur See

Otto von Kleine. It gave him an air of derring-do, the reckless look
of a scholarly pirate.

Every few seconds Lieutenant Kyller glanced anxiously at his captain,
wondering when the order to turn would come. He hated this business of
creeping inshore in the fog, with a flood tide pushing them towards a
hostile coast.

“Stop all engines,” said von Kleine, and Kyller repeated the order to
the helm with alacrity. The muted throbbing died beneath their feet,
and afterwards the fog-blanketed air was heavy with a sepulchral
hush.

Ask masthead what he makes of the land.” Von Kleine spoke without
turning his head, and after a pause Kyller reported back.

“Masthead is in the fog. No visibility.” He paused.

Toredeck reports fifty fathoms shoaling rapidly.” And von Kleine
nodded. The sounding tended to confirm his estimate that they were
sitting five miles off the breakwater of Durban harbour. When the
morning wind swept the fog aside he hoped to see the low coastal hills
of Natal ahead of him, terraced with gardens and whitewashed buildings
but most of all he hoped to see at least six British merchantmen
anchored off the beach waiting their turn to enter the congested
harbOUr, plump and sleepy under the protection of the shore
batteries;

unaware just how feeble was the protection afforded by half a dozen
obsolete ten-pounders manned by old men and boys of the militia.

German naval intelligence had submitted a very detailed report of the
de fences and conditions prevailing in Durban.

After careful perusal of this report, von Kleine had decided that he
could trade certain betrayal of his exact position to the English for
such a rich prize. There was little actual risk involved. One pass
across the entrance of the harbour at high speed, a single broadside
for each of the anchored merchantmen, and he could be over the horizon
again before the shore gunners had loaded their weapons.

The risk, of course, was in showing Blitcher to the entire population
of Durban city and thereby supplying the Royal Navy with its first
accurate sighting since the declaration of war. Within minutes of his
first broadside, the British squadrons, which were hunting him,

would be racing in from all directions to block each of his escape
routes. He hoped to counter this by swinging away towards the south,

down into that watery wilderness of wind and ice below J latitude
40′,

to the rendezvous with Esther, his supply ship.

Then on to Australia or South America, as the opportunity arose.

He turned to glance at the chronometer above the ship’s compass.

Sunrise in three minutes, then they could expect the morning wind.

“Masthead reports the fog dispersing, sir,” Von Kleine aroused himself,
and looked out into the fog banks. They were moving now,

twisting upon themselves in agitation at the warmth of the sun. “All
engines slow ahead together,” he said.

Masthead,” warbled one of the voice-pipes in the battery in front of
Kyller. “Land bearing green four-oh. Range, ten thousand metres.

A big headland.” That would be the bluff above Durban, that massive
whale-backed mountain that sheltered the harbour. But in the fog von

Kleine had misjudged his approach; he was twice as far from the shore
as he had intended.

“All engines full ahead together. New course. Oh-oh-six.” He waited
for the order to be relayed to the helm before strolling across to the
voice-pipes. “Guns. Captain.”

“Guns,” the voice from far away acknowledged.

“I will be opening fire with high explosives in about ten minutes.

The target will he massed merchant shipping on an approximate mark of
three hundred degrees. Range, five thousand metres, You may fire as
soon as you bear.”

“Mark three hundred degrees. Range, five thousand metres. Sir,”
repeated the pipe, and von Kleine snapped the voice-tube cover shut and
returned to his original position, facing forward with his hands
clasped loosely behind his back.

Below him the gun-turrets revolved ponderously and the long barrels
lifted slightly, pointing out into the mist with impassive menace.

A burst of dazzling sunshine struck the bridge so fiercely that

Kyller lifted his hand to shield his eyes, but it was gone instantly as
the Blucher dashed into another clammy cold bank of fog. Then as
though they had passed through a curtain on to a brilliantly lit
stage,

they came out into a gay summer’s morning.

Behind them the fog rolled away in a sodden grey wall from horizon to
horizon. Ahead rose the green hills of Africa, rimmed with white beach
and surf and speckled with thousands of whiter flecks that were the
buildings of Durban town. The scaffolding of the cranes along the
harbour wall looked like derelict sets of gallows.

Humped on the smooth green mirror of water between them and the shore,
lay four ungainly shapes looking like a troop of basking hippo.

The British merchantmen.

“Four only,” muttered von Kleine in chagrin. “I had hoped for more.”
The forty-foot barrels of the nine-inch guns moved restlessly,

seeming to sniff for their prey, and the Blucher raced on, lifting a
hissing white wave at her bows, vibrating and shuddering to the thrust
of her engines as they built up to full speed.

“Masthead” the voice-tube beside Kyller squawked urgently.

Bridge,” said Kyller but the reply was lost in the deafening detonation
of the first broadside, the long thunderous roll of heavy gun-fire. He
jumped involuntarily, taken unawares, and then quickly lifted the
binoculars from his chest to train them on the British merchantmen.

All attention, every eye on the bridge was concentrated ahead,

waiting for the fall of shot upon the doomed vessels.

In the comparative silence that followed the bellow of the broadside, a
shriek from the masthead voice-pipe carried clearly.

“Warships! Enemy warships dead astern!” “Starboard ten.” Von Kleine
raised his voice a little louder than was his wont, and still under
full power, Blitcher swerved away from the land, leaning out from the
turn, with her wake curved like an ostrich plume on the surface of the
sea behind her, and ran for the shelter of the fog banks, leaving the
rich prize of cargo shipping unscathed.

On her bridge von Kleine and his officers were staring aft, the
merchantmen forgotten as they searched for this new threat.

“Two warships.” The masthead look-our was elaborating his sighting
report. “A destroyer and a cruiser. Bearing ninety degrees. Range,

five-oh, seven-oh. Destroyer leading.” In the spherical field of
von

Kleine’s binoculars the neat little triangle of the leading destroyer’s
superstructure popped up above the horizon. The cruiser was not yet in
sight from the bridge.

“If they’d been an hour later,” lamented Kyller, “we’d have finished
the business and ..

“What does masthead see of the cruiser?” von Kleine interrupted him
impatiently. He had no time to mourn this chance of fate his only
concern was to evaluate the force that was pursuing him, and then make
the decision whether to run, or to turn back and engage them
immediately.

“Cruiser is a medium, six or nine-inch. Either “O” class, or an

“R”. She’s four miles behind her escort. Both ships still out of
range.” The destroyer was of no consequence; he could run down on her
and blast her into a burning wreck, before her feeble little 4.7-inch
guns were able to drop a shell within a mile of Blitcher, but the
cruiser was another matter entirely. To tackle her, Blitcher would be
engaging with her own class; victory would only be won after a severe
mauling, and she was six thousand miles from the nearest friendly port
where she could effect major repairs.

There was a further consideration. These two British ships might be
the vanguard of a battle squadron. If he turned now and challenged
action, engaged the cruiser in a single ship action, he might suddenly
find himself pitted against imponderable odds. There could very well
be another cruiser, or two, or three even a battleship, below the
southern horizon.

His duty and his orders dictated instant flight, avoiding action,

and so prolonging Blitcher’s fighting life.

“Enemy are streaming their colours, sir,” Kyller reported.

Von Kleine lifted his binoculars again. At the destroyer’s masthead
flew the tiny spots of white and red. This time he must leave the
challenge to combat unanswered. “Very well,” he said, and turned away
to his stool in the corner of the bridge. He slumped into it and
hunched his shoulders in thought. There were many interesting problems
to occupy him, not least of them was how long he could run at full
speed towards the north while his boilers devoured coal ravenously, and
each minute widened the gap between Blitcher and Esther.

He swivelled his stool and looked back over his stern.

The destroyer was visible to the unaided eye now, and von Kleine
frowned at it in irritation. She would yap at his heels like a
terrier, clinging to him and shouting his Course and speed across the
ether to the hungry British squadrons, that must even now be closing
with him from every direction.

For days now he Could expect to see her sitting in his wake.

Come on! Come on!” Charles Little slapped his hand impatiently
against the padded arm of his stool as he watched Orion.

For a night and a day he had watched her gaining on Blitcher but so
infinitesimally slowly that it required his range finder to confirm the
gain every thirty minutes.

Orion’s bows were unnaturally high, and the waves she lifted with the
passage of her hull through the water were the white wings of a seagull
in the tropical sunlight; for Manderson, her captain, had

Pumped out her forward freshwater tanks and fired away half the shell
and explosive Propellant from her forward magazines. Every man whose
presence in the front half of the ship was not essential to her
operation had been ordered aft to stand on the open deck as human
ballast all this in an effort to lift Orion’s bows and to coax another
inch of speed from the cruiser.

Now she faced the most dangerous hour of her life, for she was creeping
within extreme range of Blucher’s terrible nine-inch armament,

and, taking into account the discrepancy in their speeds, it would be
another hour before she could bring her own six-inch guns to bear.

During that time she would be under fire from Blucher’s after turrets
and would have no answer to them.

It was heart-breaking for Charles to watch the chase, for

Bloodhound had not once been asked to extend herself.

Below there was a reserve of speed that would allow her to close with
Blucher in fifty minutes of steaming always -A provided she was not
smashed into a fiery shambles long before.

Thus the three vessels fled towards the ever-receding northern horizon.
The two long shapes of the cruisers flying arrow straight,

solid columns of reeking smoke pouring from the triple funnels to
besmear the gay, glittering surface of the sea with a long double bank
of black that dispersed only slowly on the easterly breeze; while, like
a wwater beetle, the diminutive Bloodhound circled out to the side of
Blitcher from where, when the time came, she could spot the fall of

Orion’s shells more accurately and signal the corrections to her. But
always Bloodhound tactfully kept outside the fifteen-mile radius which
marked the length of Blucher’s talons.

“We can expect Blucher to open fire at any moment now, sir the
navigating lieutenant commented as he straightened up from the
sextant,

over which he had been measuring the angle subtended by the two
cruisers.

Charles nodded in agreement. “Yes. Von Kleine must try for a few
lucky hits, even at that range.”

“This isn’t going to be very pretty to watch.”

“We’ll just have to sit tight, keep our fingers crossed, and hope old
Orion can,-” He stopped abruptly, and then “Hello! Blucher’s up to
something!” He Jumped Up from his stool.

The silhouette of the German cruiser had altered drastically in the
last few seconds. The gap between her funnels widened and now

Charles could see the humped menace of her forward turrets.

“By God, she’s altering course! The bloody bastard is bringing all his
turrets to bear!” Lieutenant Kyller studied his captain’s face.

In sleep there was an air of serenity about the man. It reminded

Kyller of a painting he had seen in the cathedral at Mirriberg, a
portrait of Saint Luke by Holbein. The same fine bone structure, the
golden-blond beard and mustache that framed the mobile and sensitive
lips. He pushed the idea aside and leaned forward. Gently he touched
von Kleine’s shoulder.

“Captain. My Captain,” and von Kleine opened his eyes.

They were smoky blue with sleep but his voice was crisp.

“What is it, Kyller?”

“The gunnery officer reports the enemy will be within range in fifteen
minutes.” Von Kleine swivelled his stool and looked quickly about his
ship. Above him the smoke poured from every funnel, and from the mouth
of each stack a volcano of sparks and shimmering heat blew steadily.
The paint had blistered and peeled from the metal of the funnels and
they glowed red hot, even in the sunlight.

Blitcher was straining herself far beyond the limits her makers had
set. God alone knew what injury this constant running at full speed
was doing her, and von Kleine winced as he felt her tremble in protest
beneath him.

He turned his eyes astern. The British cruiser was hull up on the
horizon now. The difference in their speeds must be a small fraction
of a knot, but Blucher’s superiority in fire power was enormous.

For a moment he allowed himself to ponder the arrogance of a nation
that constantly, almost by choice, matched their men and ships against
unnatural odds.

Always they sent terriers to fight against wolfhounds. Then he smiled,
you had to be English or mad, to understand the English.

He glanced out to starboard. The British destroyer had worked out on
to his flank. It could do little harm from there.

“Very well, Kyller.. He stood as he spoke.

“Bridge Engine Room,” the voice-tube squealed.

“Engine Room Bridge. “Kyller turned to it.

“Our port main bearing is running red hot. I must shut down our port
engine!” The words struck von Kleine like a bucket of iced water
thrown down his back. He leaped to the voice tube

“This is the Captain. I must have full power for another hour!”

“I can’t do it, siR. Another fifteen minutes and the main drive shaft
will seize up. God knows what damage it will do.” For five seconds
von

Kleine hunched silently over the voice-tube. His mind raced. On one
engine Blucher would lose ten knots on her speed. The enemy would be
able to manoeuvre about him freely possibly hold off until nightfall
and then … He must attack immediately; turn on them and press his
attack home with all his armament.

“Give me full power for as long as you can,” he snapped, and then
turning to the gunnery officer’s tube, “This is the Captain. I am
turning four points to starboard, and will keep the enemy directly on
our starboard beam for the next fifteen minutes. After that I will be
forced to reduce speed.

Open fire when you bear.” Von Kleine snapped the cover closed and
turned to his yeoman of signals. “Hoist the battle ensign!” He spoke
softly, without heat, but there were lights in his eyes like those in a
blue sapphire.

here she goes!” whispered Charles Little without lowering his glasses.
Upon the black turrets of the- gun-fire gleamed and sparkled without
sound. Quickly he traversed his glasses across the surface of the sea
until he found Orion. She was plunging in eagerly,

narrowing the gap very rapidly between herself and Blucher.

In another seven minutes she would be able to return the German’s
fire.

Suddenly, a quarter of a mile ahead of her, there rose from the sea a
series of tall columns, stately as the columns of a Greek temple,

slender and beautiful, shining like white marble in the sun. Then
slowly they dropped back.

“Short,”grunted the navigating lieutenant.

“Her guns are still cold,” Charles commented. “Please God let old

Orion get within range.” Again shells fell short, and short again, but
each time they were closer to the low bulk of Orion, and the next
broadside dropped all around her, partially screening her with spray,
and Orion started to zigzag.

“Another three minutes,” the navigating lieutenant spoke with tension
making his voice husky.

At regular intervals of fifteen seconds the German salvos fell around
Orion once within fifty feet of her bows so that as she tore into the
standing columns of spray, they blew back over her and mingled with the
black smoke of her funnels.

“Come on, old girl! Go in and get her. Go on! Go on.

Charles was gripping the rail in front of him and cheering like a
maniac, all the dignity of his rank and his thirty-five years gone in
the tense excitement of the battle. It had infected all of them on the
bridge of the destroyer, and they capered and shouted with him.

There she blows! “howled the lieutenant.

She’s opened fire!”

“Go it, Orion, go it!” On Orion’s forward turrets gun-fire sparkled,
then again and again. The harsh roll of the broadsides carried to them
against the light wind.

“Short,”groaned Charles. “She’s still out of range.” Its short
again!”

“Still short.” Each time the call of shot was signalled by the chief
yeoman at the Aldis lamp, and briefly acknowledged from Orion’s
bridge-works.

“Oh my God,” moaned Charles.

“She’s hit! “echoed his lieutenant.

A flat yellow glare, like sheet lightning on a summer’s day, lit

Orion’s afterdeck, and almost immediately a ball of yellowish grey
smoke enveloped her. Through it Charles saw her after-funnel sag
drunkenly and hang back at an unnatural angle.

“She’s holding on!” Orion emerged from the shell smoke and dragged it
after her like a funeral cloak, but her speed seemed unabated, and the
regular salvos burned briefly and brightly on her forward turrets.

“Now she’s hitting,” exulted the lieutenant, and Charles turned quickly
to see shell-fire burst on Blucher, and his wide grin split his face.

“Kill her! Kill her!” he roared, knowing that though Blitcher was
better armed yet she was as vulnerable as Orion.

Her plating was egg-shell thin and the six-inch shells that crashed
through it would be doing her terrible damage.

Now the two cruisers were pounding each other. The range was closing
so rapidly that soon they must hit with every broadside. This was a
contest from which only one ship, or neither of them, would emerge.

Charles was trying to estimate the damage that had been inflicted uupon
Blitcher during the last few minutes. She was on fire forward.

Sulphur-yellow flames poured from her, her upper works were riven into
a grotesque sculpture of destruction, a pall of smoke enveloped her, so
her profile was an shadowy and vague, yet every fifteen seconds her
turrets lit with those deadly little flashes.

Charles turned to assess the relative damage that Orion had suffered.
He found and held her with his binoculars and at that moment

Orion ceased to exist.

Her boilers, pierced by high explosive shell, burst and tore her in
half. A cloud of white steam spurted five hundred feet into the air,
completely blanketing her. The steam hung for thirty seconds,

then sagged wearily, and rolled aside. Orion was gone. A wide circle
of oil slick and floating debris marked her grave. The speed of her
charge had run her clean under.

On the bridge of Bloodhound, the cheering strangled into deathly
silence. The silence was not spoiled but rather accentuated by the
mournful note of the wind in her rigging and the muted throb of her
engines.

For eight long hours Charles Little had ridden his anger and his
hatred, using the curb to hold it on the right side of madness,

resisting the consuming and suicidal urge to hurl his ship at the

German cruiser and die “as Orion had died.

Immediately after the sinking of Orion, the Blucher had reduced speed
sharply and turned due south. With her fires still raging, she had
limped along like a gun-shot lion. The battle ensigns at her masthead
were tattered by shrapnel and blackened by smoke.

As soon as she had passed, Bloodhound altered course and cruised slowly
over the area of water that was still rainbowed by floating oil and
speckled with wreckage. There were no survivors from Orion; all of
them had died with her.

Bloodhound turned and trailed after the crippled German cruiser and the
hatred that emanated from the destroyer was of such strength that it
should have reached out across the sea as a physical force and
destroyed Blucher.

But as Charles Little stood at the rail of his bridge, he saw the smoke
and flame upon Blucher’s decks reduce perceptibly every minute as her
damage control teams fought it to a standstill. The last wisp of smoke
from her shrivelled.

“Fire’s out,” said the pilot, and Charles made no answer.

He had hoped that the flames would eat their way into one of

Blitcher’s magazines and blow her into the same oblivion into which she
had sent Orion.

“But she isn’t making more than six knots. Orion must have hit her in
the engine room.” Hopefully the navigating lieutenant went on,

“My bet is that she’s got major damage below. At this speed we can
expect Pegasus and Renounce to catch up with us by midday tomorrow.

The Germans will stand no chance!”

“Yes,” agreed Charles softly.

Summoned by Bloodhound’s frantic radio transmissions, Pegasus and

Renounce, the two heavy cruisers of the northern squadron, were racing
down the East African coast, cutting through the five hundred miles of
water that separated them.

Kyller. Ask the chief how he’s making out.” Von Kleine was fretting
beneath the calm set of his features. Night was Closing, and in the
darkness, even the frail little English destroyer was a danger to
him.

There was danger all around, danger must each minute be approaching
from every quarter of the sea. He must have power on his port side
engine before nightfall; it was a matter of survival; he must have
speed to carry him south through the hunting packs of the British south
to where Esther waited to give him succour, to replace the shells he
had fired away, to replenish his coal bunkers which were now
dangerously depleted. Then once more Blucher would be a force to
reckon with. But first he must have speed.

“Captain.” Kyller was beside him again. “Commander Lochtkamper
reports they have cleared the oil line to the is main bearing. They
have stripped the bearing and there is no damage to the shaft. He is
fitting new half shells. The work is well advanced, sir.” The words
conjured up for von Kleine a picture of half-naked men, smeared to the
elbows with black grease, sweating in the confined heat of the drive
shaft tunnel as they worked. “How much longer?” he asked.

“He promised full power on both engines within two hours, sir.”

Von Kleine sighed with relief, and glanced over his stern at the

British destroyer that was shadowing him. He began to smile.

“I hope, my friend, that you are a brave man. I hope that when you see
me increase speed, you will not be able to control your disappointment.
I hope tonight you will try with your torpedoes, so that I can crush
you, for your eyes always on me are a dangerous embarrassment.” He
spoke so softly that his lips barely moved, then he turned back to
Kyller. “I want all the battle lights checked and reported.”

“Aye, aye, sir” Von Kleine crossed to the voice-tubes.

“Gunnery officer,” he said. “I want “X” turret guns loaded with star
shell and trained to maximum elevation…” He went on listing his
preparations for night action and then he ended, “.. . stand all Your
gun crews down. Let them eat and rest. From dusk action stations
onwards they will be held in the first degree of readiness.”

“commander, sir!” The urgent call startled Commander Charles

Little, and he spilled his mug of cocoa. This was the first period of
rest he had allowed himself all day, and now it was interrupted within
ten minutes. “What is it?” He flung open the door of the chart
room,

and ran out on to the bridge.

“Blucher is increasing speed rapidly.”

“It was too cruel a blow, and the exclamation of protest was wrung from
Charles. He darted to the voice pipe

“Gunnery officer. Report your target.” A moment’s delay, and then the
reply. “Bearing mark, green oh-oh. Range, one-five-oh-five-oh.

Speed, seventeen knots.” It was true. Blucher was under full power
again, with all her guns still operable. Orion had died in vain.

Charles wiped his mouth with the open palm of his hand, and felt the
brittle stubble of his new beard rasp under his fingers. Beneath the
tan, his face was sickly pale with strain and fatigue. There were
smears of dark blue beneath his eyes, and in their corners were tiny
lumps of yellow mucus. His eyes were bloodshot, and the wisp of hair
that escaped from under the brim of his cap was matted on to his
forehead by the salt spray, as he peered into the gathering dusk.

The fighting madness which had threatened all that day to overwhelm
him, rose slowly from the depth of his belly and his loins.

He no longer struggled to suppress it.

“Turn two points to starboard, pilot. All engines full ahead
together.” The engine telegraph clanged, and Bloodhound pivoted like a
polo pony. It would take her thirty minutes to work up to full
speed,

and by that time it would be dark.

“Sound action stations.” Charles wanted to attack in the hour of
darkness before the moon came up. Through the ship the alarm bells
thrilled, and without taking his eyes from the dark dot on the
darkening horizon, Charles listened to the reports coming into the
bridge, until the one for which he waited, “Torpedo party closed up,

sir!” Now he turned and went to the voice-tube. “Tarps,” he said,

“I

hope to give you a chance at Blucher with both port and starboard
tubes. I am going to take you in as close as possible.” The men
grouped around Charles on the bridge listened to him say “as close as
possible, and knew that he had Pronounced sentence of death upon
them.

Henry Sargent, the navigating lieutenant, was afraid.

Stealthily he groped in the pocket of his overcoat until he found the
little silver crucifix that Lynette had given him.

It was warm from his own body heat. He held it tightly.

He remembered it hanging between her breasts on its silver chain,

and the way she had lifted both hands to The chain had the back of her
neck as she unclasped it.

caught in the shiny cascade of hair as she had tried to free it,

kneeling on the bed facing him. He had leaned forward to help her, and
she had clung to him, pressing the warm smooth bulge of her pregnant
stomach against him.

“God protect you, my darling husband,” she had whispered. “Please

God bring you back safely to us.” And now he was afraid for her and
the daughter he had never seen

“Hold your course, damn you!” he snapped at Herbert Cryer, the
helmsman.

“Aye, aye, sir,” Herbert Cryer replied with just a trace of injured
innocence in his tone. No man could hold Bloodhound true when she
hurled herself from swell to swell with such abandoned violence,

she must yaw and throw her head that fraction before the helm could
correct her. The reprimand was unjustified, Littered in fear and
tension.

“Give it a flipping break, mate,” Herbert retorted silently.

“You’re not the only one who is going to catch it. Tighten up the old
arse hole like a bloody officer and a ruddy gentleman.” In these
wordless exchanges of repartee with his officers, Herbert Cryer was
never bested. They were wonderful release for resentments and pent-up
emotion, and now because he was also afraid, he became silently
lyrical.

“Climb-aboard-Romeo’s one-way express to flipping glory.”

Commander Little’s reputation with the ladies had resulted in him being
irreverently but affectionately baptized by his crew. “Come along with
us. We’re off to shout at the devil, while Charlie kisses his
daughter.” Herbert glanced sideways at his commander and grinned.

Fear made the grin wolfish, and Charles Little saw it and
misinterpreted it. He read it as a tri ark of the same berserk fury
that possessed him. The two of them grinned at each other for an
instant in complete misunderstanding, before Herbert refocused his
attention on Bloodhound’s next wild crabbing lunge.

Charles was afraid as well. He was afraid of finding a weakness in
himself but this was the fear that had walked at his right hand all his
life, close beside him, whispering to him. You must do it you must do
it quicker, or bigger than they do, or they’ll laugh at you.

You mustn’t fail not in one thing, not for one moment, you mustn’t
fail. You mustn’t fail! “This fear was the eternal companion and
partner in every venture on which he embarked.

It had stood beside the thirteen-year-old Charles in a duck blind,

while he fired a twelve-gauge shotgun, and wept slow fat tears of agony
every time the recoil smashed. into his bruised bicep and shoulder.

It had stooped over him as he lay in the mud hugging a broken collar
bone. “Get up!” it hissed at him. “Get up!” It had forced him to
his feet and led him back to the unbroken colt to mount again, and
again, and again.

So conditioned was he to respond to its voice that when it crouched
beside him now, twisted and misshapen on the foot plates of the bridge,
its presence almost tangible, and croaked so Charles alone could hear
it, “Prove it!” Prove it!”

there was only one course open to Charles Little; a peregrine stooping
at a golden eagle, he took his ship in against, the Blitcher.

his turn to starboard was a feint.” Otto von Kleine spoke with
certainty, staring out to where the dusk had obliterated the frail
silhouette of the English destroyer. “Even now he is turning again to
cross our stern.

He will attack on our port side.”

“Captain, it could be the double bluff,” Kyller answered dubiously.

“No.” Von Kleine shook his golden beard. “He must try to outline us
against the last of the light from the sunset.

He will attack from the east. “A moment longer he frowned in thought,
as he anticipated his opponent’s moves across the chessboard of the
ocean. Kyller, plot me his course, assuming a speed of twenty-five
knots, a turn fOUr points to port three minutes after our last
sighting, a run of fifteen miles across our stern, and then a turn of
four points to starboard. If we hold our present course and speed,

where will he be in relation to us, in ninety minutes” time? Working
quickly, Kyller completed the problem. Von Kleine had been mentally
checking every step of the calculation. “Yes,” he agreed with Kyller’s
solution, and already he had formulated the orders for change Of Course
and speed to place Bloodhound in ambush.

Under full power, Bbloodhound threw a bow -wave ten feet high, and a
wake that boiled out for a quarter of a mile behind her, a long,

faintly phosphorescent smear in the darkness.

Aboard Blitcher a hundred pairs of eyes were straining out in to the
night, watching for that phosphorescence.

Behind the battle lights on her upper works men waited, in the
dimly-lit turrets men waited, on the open bridge, at the masthead, deep
in her belly, the crew of Blitcher waited.

Von Kleine had reduced speed to lessen his own wake, and turned away
from the land at an angle of forty-five degrees. He wanted to catch
the Englishman on his starboard beam, out of torpedo range.

He stood peering out across the dark sea, with the fur lined collar of
his overcoat drawn up to his ears. The night was cool. The sea was a
black immensity, vast as the sky that was lined in glowing ivory by the
whorls and smears of the star patterns.

A dozen men saw it at the same instant; pale, ethereal, seeming to
float upon the darkness of the sea like a plume of iridescent mist the
wake of the Englishman.

“Star shell!” Von Kleine snapped the order to the waiting guns.

He was alarmed by the English destroyer’s proximity.

He had hoped to spot-her at greater range.

High above the ocean, the star shells burst white, so intensely bright
as to sear the retina of the eye that looked directly at them. Beneath
them the surface of the sea was polished ebony,

sculptured and scooped with the pattern of the swells. The two ships
were starkly and crisply lit, steaming on converging courses, already
so close to each other that the mile-long, solid white beams of their
battle lights jumped out to join, fumbling together like the hands of
hesitant lovers.

In almost the same second both ships opened fire, but the banging of
Bloodhound’s little 4.7-inch guns was lost in the bellow of the
cruiser’s broadside.

Blitcher was firing over open sights with her guns depressed until the
long barrels were horizontal to the surface of the sea. Her first
salvo was aimed a fraction high, and the huge shells howled over

Bloodhound’s open bridge.

The wind of their passage, the fierce draught of disrupted air they
threw out, caught Charles Little and sent him reeling against the
compass pinnacle. He felt the ribs below his armpit crack.

The command he shouted at the helm was hoarse with pain.

“Turn four points to port! Steer for the enemy!” and Bloodhound spun
like a ballet dancer, and charged straight at Blitcher.

The cruiser’s next broadside was high again but now her secondary
armament had joined in, and a four-pound shell from one of the
quick-firing pom-poms burst on the director tower above Bloodhound’s
bridge. It swept the exposed area with a buzzing hailstorm of
shrapnel, It killed the navigating lieutenant instantly, cutting away
the top of his head as though it were the shell of a soft boiled egg.

He fell on the deck and splattered the foot plates with the warm
custard of his brains.

A piece of the red-hot shell casing, the size of a thumbnail,

entered the point of Herbert Cryer’s right elbow and shattered the bone
to splinters. He gasped at the shock and sprawled against the wheel.

“Hold her. Hold her true!” The order from Commander Little was
blurred as the speech of a spastic. Herbert Cryer pulled himself up
and with his left hand spun the wheel to meet Bloodhound’s wild
swing,

but with his right arm hanging useless, his steering was clumsy and
awkward.

“Steady her, man. Hold her steady!” Again that thick slurring voice,
and Cryer was aware of Charles Little beside him, his hands on the
helm, helping to hold Bloodhound’s frantic head.

“Aye, aye, sir.” Cryer glanced at his commander and gasped again.

This time in horror. Razor-sharp steel had sliced off Charles Little’s
ear, then gone on to cut his cheek away, and expose the bone of his jaw
and the white teeth that lined it. A flap of tattered flesh hung down
on to his chest, and from a dozen severed blood vessels dark blood
dripped and spurted and dribbled.

The two of them crouched wounded over the wheel, with the dead men at
their feet, and aimed Bloodhound at the long low bulk of the German
cruiser.

Now in the daylight glare of the star shells, the sea around them was
thrashed and whipped into seething life by the cacophony of

Blitcher’s guns. Tall towers of white water rose briefly and
majestically about them, then dropped back to leave the surface
troubled and restless with foam.

And Bloodhound drove on until suddenly it seemed she had run into a
cliff of solid granite. Beneath their feet, she jarred and bucked
violently. A nine-inch shell had taken her full in the bows.

“Port full rudder.” Charles Little’s voice was sloshy sounding,

wet with the blood that filled his mouth, and together they spun the
wheel to full left lock.

But Bloodhound was dying. The shell had split her bows wide open,

torn her plating and fanned it open like the petals of a macabre
orchid. The black night sea rushed through her. Already her bows were
sinking, slumping wearily, lifting her stern so the rudder no longer
had full purchase. But even in death she was trying desperately to
obey.

Slowly she swung, inchingly, achingly, she swung.

Charles Little left the helm and tottered towards the starboard rail.
His legs were numb and heavy under him, and the weakness of his lost
blood drummed in his ears. He reached the rail and clung there,
peering down on the torpedo tubes that stood on the deck below him.

The tubes looked like a rack of fat cigars, and with weary jubilation
Charles saw that there were men still tending them, crouching behind
the sheet of armour plate, waiting for Bloodhound to turn and bring
Blucher on to her starboard Irish beam.

“Turn, old girl. Come on! That’s it! Turn!” Charles croaked through
the blood.

Another shell struck Bloodhound, and she heaved in mortal agony.
Perhaps this movement, combined with a chance push of the sea swell,
was enough to swing her those last few degrees.

There, full in the track of the torpedo tubes, lit by her scant own
star shells and the gun-fire from her turrets, a thousand yards across
the black water, lay the German cruiser. Charles heard the whoosh,
whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, of the tubes as they fired. He saw the long
sharklike shapes of the torpedoes leap out from the deck and strike the
water, saw the four white wakes arrowing away in formation, and behind
him he heard the torpedo officer’s triumphant shout, distorted by the
voice-pipe.

“All four fired, and running true!” Charles never saw his torpedoes
strike, for one of Blitcher’s nine-inch shells hit the bridgework three
feet below him. For one brief unholy instant, he stood in the centre
of a furnace as hot as the flames of the sun.

von Kleine watched the English destroyer explode. Towering orange
flames erupted from her, and a solid ball of black smoke spun upon
itself, blooming on the dark ocean like a flower from the gardens of
hell. The surface of the sea around her was dimpled by the fall of
thrown debris and the cruiser’s shells for all of Blucher’s guns were
still blazing.

“Cease fire,” he said, without taking his eyes from the awesome pageant
of destruction that he had created.

Another salvo of star shell burst above, and von Kleine lifted his hand
to his eyes and pressed his thumb and forefinger into the closed lids,
shielding them from the stabbing brilliance of the light. It was
finished, and he was tired.

tired, drained of nervous and physical energy, He was overwhelmed by
the backwash of fatigue that followed these last two days and nights of
ceaseless strain. And he was sad sad for the brave men he had killed,
and the terrible destruction he had wrought.

Still holding his eyes, he opened his mouth to give the order that
would send Blucher once more thrashing southward, but before the words
reached his lips, a wild shout from the look-out interrupted him.

“Torpedoes! Close on the starboard beam!” Long seconds von Kleine
hesitated. He had let his brain relax, let the numbness wash over it.
The battle was over, and he had dropped back from the high pinnacle of
alertness on which he had balanced these last desperate hours. It
needed a conscious physical effort to call up his reserves, and during
those seconds, the torpedoes fired by Bloodhound in her death throes
were knifing in to revenge her.

At last von Kleine snappe out of his o- inertia t at bound his mind. He
leaped to the starboard rail of the bridge, and saw in the light of the
star shells the pale phosphorescent trails of the four torpedoes.
Against the dark water they looked like the tails of meteors on a night
sky.

“Full port rudder. All engines full astern together!” he shouted, his
voice pitched high with consternation.

He felt his ship swerve beneath him, thrown violently over as the great
propellers clawed at the sea to hold her from crossing the path of the
torpedoes.

Hopelessly he stood and reviled himself. I should have, anticipated
this. I should have known the destroyer had fired.

Helplessly he stood and watched the four white lines drawn swiftly
across the surface towards him.

In the last moments he felt a fierce upward surge of hope.

Three of the English torpedoes would miss. That was certain. They
would cross Blitcher’s bows as she side-stepped.

And the fourth torpedo it was just possible would miss also.

His fingers upon the bridge rail clenched, until it felt as though they
must press into the metal. His breath jammed in his throat and choked
him.

Ponderously Blucher swung her bows away. If he had given the order for
the turn only five seconds earlier … The torpedo struck Blucher five
feet below the surface, on the very tip of her curved keel.

The explosion shot a mountain of white water one hundred and fifty feet
into the air. It slammed Blucher back onto her haunches with Such
violence that Otto von Kleine and his officers were thrown heavily to
the steel deck.

Von Kleine scrabbled to his knees and looked forward.

A fine veil of spray, like pearl dust in the light of the star shells,
hung over Blucher. As he watched, it subsided slowllY.

All that night they struggled to keep Blucher afloat.

They sealed off her bows with the five-inch steel doors in the
watertight bulkhead, and behind those doors they locked thirty German
seamen whose battle stations were in the bows. At intervals during the
frenzied activity of the night, von Kleine had visions of those men
floating facedown in the flooded compartments.

While the pumps clanged throughout the ship to free her of the hundreds
of tons of sea-water that washed through her, von Kleine left the
bridge and, with his engineer commander and damage control officer,
they listed the injuries that Blucher had received.

In the dawn they assembled grimly in the chartroom behind the bridge,
and assessed their plight.

“What power can you give me, Lochtkamper?”von Kleine demanded of his
engineer.

“I can give you as much as you ask.” A reddish-purple bruise covered
half the engineer’s face where he had been thrown against a steam
cock-valve when the torpedo struck.

“But anything over five knots will carry away the watertight bulkheads
forward. They will take the full brunt of the sea, Von Kleine
swivelled his stool, and looked at the damage control officer. “What
repairs can you effect at sea?”

“None, sir. We have braced and propped the watertight bulkhead. We
have patched and jammed the holes made by the British cruiser’s guns.
But I can do nothing about the underwater damage without a dry dock or
calm water where I can put divers over the side. We must enter a
port.” Von Kleine leaned back on his stool and closed his eyes to
think.

The only friendly port within six thousand miles was Dares Salaam, the
capital of German East Africa, but he knew the British were blockading
it. He discarded it from his list of possible refuges.

An island? Zanzibar? The Seychelles? Mauritius?

All hostile territories with no anchorage safe from bombardment by a
British squadron.

A river mouth? The Zambezi? No, that was in Portuguese territory,
navigable for only the first few miles of its length.

Suddenly he opened his eyes. There was one ideal haven situated in
German territory, navigable even by a ship of Blitcher’s tonnage for
twenty miles. It was guarded from overland approach by formidable
terrain, yet he could call upon the German Commissioner for stores and
labour and protection.

“Kyller,” he said. “Plot me a course for the Kikunya mouth of the
Rufiji delta.” Five days later the Blitcher crawled painfully as a
crippled centipede into the northernmost channel of the Rufiji delta.

She was blackened with battle smoke, her rigging hung in tatters, and
at a thousand places shell splinters had pierced her upper works Her
bows were swollen and distorted, and the sea washed through her forward
compartments and then boiled and spilled out of the ghastly rents in
her plating.

As she passed between the forests of mangroves that lined the channel,
they seemed to enfold her like welcoming arms.

Overside she lowered two picket boats and these darted ahead of her
like busy little water beetles as they sounded the channel, and
searched for a secure anchorage. Gradually Blitcher wriggled and
twisted her way deeper and deeper into the wilderness of the delta. At
a place where the flood waters of the Rufiji had cut a deep bay between
two islands, and formed a natural jetty on both sides, the Blitcher
came to rest.

herman Fleischer wiped his face and neck with a hand towel and then
looked at the sodden material. God, how he hated the Rufiji basin. As
soon as he entered its humid and malodorous heat, a thousand tiny taps
opened under his skin and out gushed the juices of his body.

The prospect of an extended stay aroused in him a dark : resentment for
all things, but especially to this young snob who stood beside him on
the foredeck of the steam launch.

Herman darted a glance at him now. Cool he looked, as though he were
sauntering down Unter den Linden in June.

The shimmering white of his tropical uniform was unwrinkled and dry,
not like the thick corduroy that bunched damply at Herman’s armpits and
crotch. Mother of a dog, it would start the rash again; he could feel
it beginning to itch and he scratched at it moodily, then checked his
hand as he saw the lieutenant smile.

“How far are we from Blitcher?” and then as an afterthought he used
the lieutenant’s surname without rank, “How far, Kyller?” It was as
well to keep reminding the man that as the equivalent of a full
colonel, he far outranked him.

Around the next bend, Commissioner.” Kyller’s voice carried the lazy
inflection that made Fleischer think of champagne and opera houses, of
skiing parties, and boar hunts. “I hope that Captain von Kleine has
made adequate preparation to defend her against enemy attack?”

“She is safe.” For the first time there was a brittle undertone to
Kyller’s reply, and Fleischer pounced on it. He sensed an advantage.
For the last two days, ever since Kyller had met him at the confluence
of the Ruhaha river, Herman had been needling him to find a weakness.

“Tell me, Kyller,” he dropped his voice to an intimate, confidential
level. “This is in strict confidence, of course, but do you really
feel that Captain von Kleine is able to handle this situation? I mean,
do you feel that someone else might have been able to reach a more
satisfactory result?” Ah! Yes! That was it! Look at him flush, look
at the anger stain those cool brown cheeks. For the first time the
advantage was with Herman Fleischer. – “Commissioner Fleischer,”
Kyller spoke softly but Herman exulted to hear his tone. “Captain von
Kleine is the most skilful, efficient, and courageous officer under
which I have had the honour to serve. he is, furthermore, a
gentleman.”

“So?” Herman grunted. “Then why is this paragon hiding in the Rufiji
basin with his buttocks shot full of holes?” Then he threw back his
head and guffawed in triumph.

“At another time, sir, and in different circumstances, I would ask you
to withdraw those words.” Kyller turned from him and walked to the
forward rail. He stood there staring ahead, while the launch chugged
around another bend in the river, opening the same dreary vista of dark
water and mangrove forest. Kyller spoke without turning his head.

“There is the Blitcher,” he said.

There was nothing but the sweep of water and the massed fuzzy heads of
the mangroves below a hump of higher ground upon the bank. The
laughter faded from Herman’s chubby face as he searched, then a small
scowl replaced it as he realized that the lieutenant was baiting him.
There was certainly no battle cruiser anchored in the water-way.

lieutenant .. .” he began angrily, then checked himself. The high
ground was divided by a narrow channel, not more than a hundred yards
wide, fenced in by the mangrove forest, but the channel was blocked by
a shapeless and ungainly mound of vegetation. He stared at it
uncomprehendingly until suddenly beneath the netting that was festooned
with branches of mangroves, he saw the blurred outline of turrets and
superstructure.

The camouflage had been laid with fascinating ingenuity.

From a distance of three hundred yards the Blitcher was invisible.

The bubbles came up slowly through the dark water as though it had the
same viscosity as warm honey.

They burst on the surface in a boiling white rash.

Captain von Kleine leaned across the foredeck rail of the Blitcher and
peered at the disturbance below him, with the absorption of a man
attempting to read his own future in the murky mirror of the Rufiji
waters. For almost two hours he had waited like this, drawing quietly
on a succession of little black cheroots, occasionally easing his body
into a more comfortable position.

Although his body was at rest, his brain was busy, endlessly reviewing
his preparations and his plans. His preparations were complete, he had
mentally listed them and found no omissions.

A party of six seamen had been despatched fifteen miles downstream by
picket boat to the entrance of the delta.

They were encamped on a hummock of high ground above the channel to
watch the sea for the British blockade squadron.

As Blitcher crept up the channel she had sown the last of her globular
multi-horned mines behind her. No British ship could follow her.

Remote as the chances of overland attack seemed, yet von Kleine had set
up a system of defence around the Blitcher. Half his seamen were
ashore now, spread in a network to guard each of the possible
approaches. Fields of fire had been cut through the mangroves for his
Maxim guns. Crude fortifications of log and earth had been built and
manned, communication lines set up, and he was ready.

After long discussions with his medical officer, von Kleine had issued
orders to protect the health of his men. Orders, for the purification
of water, the disposal of sanitation and waste, for the issue of five
grains of quinine daily to each man, and fifty other safeguards to
health and morale.

He had ordered an inventory made of stocks of food and supplies, and he
was satisfied that with care he could subsist for a further four
months. Thereafter he would be reduced to fishing and hunting, and
foraging.

He had despatched Kyller upstream to make contact with the German
Commissioner, and solicit his full cooperation.

Four days have(] been spent in hiding the Blitcher under her
camouflage, in setting up a complete workshop on the foredeck under sun
awnings, so that the engineers could work in comparative comfort.

Now at last they had begun a full underwater appraisal of Blitcher’s
wounds.

Behind him he heard the petty officer pass an order to the team at the
winch. “Bring him up slowly the donkey engine spluttered into life,
and the winch clattered and whined shrilly. Von Kleine stirred against
the rail and focused his full attention on the water below him.

The heavy line and air pipe reeled in smoothly, then suddenly the
surface bulged and the body of the diver was lifted dangling on the
line. Black in shiny wet rubber, the three brass-bound cyclopean eyes
of his helmet glaring, grotesque as a sea monster, he was swung inboard
and lowered to the deck.

Two seamen hurried forward and unscrewed the bolts at the neck, lifted
off the heavy helmet, and exposed the head of the engineering
commander, Lochtkamper. The heavy face, flat and lined as that of a
mastiff, was made heavier than usual by the thoughtful frown it now
wore. He looked across at his captain and shook his head slightly.

“Come to my cabin when you are ready, Commander,” said von Kleine, and
walked away.

“A small glass of cognac?” von Kleine suggested. I’d like that, sir.”
Commander Lochtkamper looked out of place in the elegance of the
cabin.

The hands that accepted the glass were big, knuckles scarred and
enlarged by constant violent contact with metal, the skin etched deeply
with oil and engine filth. When he sank into the chair at his
captain’s invitation, his legs seemed to have too many knees.

“WelP asked von Kleine, and Lochtkamper launched into his report. He
spoke for ten minutes and von Kleine followed him slowly through the
maze of technicalities where strange and irrelevant obscenities grew
along the way. In moments of deep concentration such as these,
Lochtkamper fell back on the gutter idiom of his native Hamburg, and
von Kleine was unable to suppress a smile when he learned that the
copulatory torpedo had committed a perversion on one of the main
frames, springing the plating whose morals were definitely suspect.
The damage sounded like that suffered in a brothel during a Saturday
night brawl.

“Can You repair it? “von Kleine asked at last.

It will mean cutting away all the obscenely damaged plating, lifting it
to the deck, re cutting it, welding and shaping it. But we will still
be short of at least eight hundred obscene square feet of plate,
sir.”

“A commodity not readily obtainable in the delta of the Rufiji river,”
von Kleine mused.

“No, sir.”

“How long will it take You if I can get the plating for You? “Two
months, perhaps. “When can you start?”

“Now, sir.”

“Do it then,” said von Kleine, and Lochtkamper drained his glass,
smacked his lips, and stood up. “Very good cognac.” , sir,” he
complimented his captain, and shambled out of the cabin.

Glaring upward at the massive warship, Herman Fleischer surveyed the
battle damage with the uncomprehending curiosity of a landsman. He saw
the gaping ulcers where Orion’s shells had struck, the black blight
where the flames had raged through her, the irregular rash with which
the splinters had pierced and peppered her upper works and then he
dropped his eyes to the bows.

Work cradles were suspended a few feet above the water, and upon them
clutters of seamen were illuminated by the crackling blue glare of the
welding torches.

“God in heaven, what a beating!” He spoke with sadistic relish.

Kyller ignored the remark. He was directing the native helmsman of the
launch to the landing ladder that had been rigged down the side of
Blitcher. Not even the presence of this sweaty peasant, Fleischer,
could spoil his pleasure in this moment of homecoming. To Ernst
Kyller, the Blitcher was home in the deep sense of the word; it
contained all that he valued in life, including the man for whom he
bore a devotion surpassing the natural duty of a son to his father.

He was savouring the anticipation of von Kleine’s smile and words of
commendation for another task well done.

“Ah, Kyller!” Von Kleine rose from behind his desk and moved around it
to greet his lieutenant.

“Back so soon? Did you find Fleischer?”

“He is waiting outside, sir.”

“Good, good. Bring him in.” Herman Fleischer paused in the
companion-way and blinked suspiciously around the cabin. His mind was
automatically converting the furnishings into Reichsmarks, the rugs
were silk Teheran in blue and gold and red, the chairs were in dark
buttoned leather, all the heavy furniture, including the panelling, was
polished mahogany. The light fittings were worked in brass, the
glasses in the liquor cabinet were sparkling diamond crystal flanked by
a platoon of bottles that wore the uniforms of the great houses of
Champagne and Alsace and the Rhine. There was a portrait in oils
opposite the desk of two women, both beautiful golden women, clearly
mother and daughter. The portholes were curtained with forest-green
velvet, corded and tasselled in gold.

Herman decided that the Count must be a rich man. He had a proper
respect for wealth, and it showed in the way he stepped forward, drew
himself up, brought his heels together sharply, and then creased his
bulging belly in a bow.

“Captain. I came as soon as I received your message.” am grateful,
Commissioner.” Von Kleine returned the salutation. “You will take
refreshment?”

“A glass of beer, and…” Herman hesitated, he was certain that
somewhere aboard Blucher there must be a treasure trove of rare foods,
a bite to eat. I have not eaten since noon.” It was now the middle of
the afternoon. Von Kleine saw nothing unusual in a two-hour period of
abstinence, yet he passed the word for his steward while he opened a
bottle of beer for his guest.

“I must congratulate you on your victory over the two English warships,
Captain. Magnificent, truly magnificent!” Lying back in one of the
leather chairs Fleischer was engaged in mopping his face and neck, and
Kyller grinned cynically as he listened to this new tune.

“A victory that was dearly bought,” murmured von Kleine, bringing the
glass to Fleischer’s chair. “And now I need your help.”

“Of course! You need only ask.” Von Kleine went to his desk, sat down
and drew towards him a sheaf of notes. From their chamois leather
case, he produced a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles and placed them on
his nose.

“Commissioner…” he started, but at that moment he completely lost
Fleischer’s attention. For with a discreet knock the Captain’s steward
returned with a large, heavily laden carving-plate. He placed it on
the table beside Fleischer’s chair.

“Sweet Mother of God!” whispered Herman, his eyes glittering, and a
fresh sweat of excitement breaking out on his upper lip.

“Smoked salmon!” Neither von Kleine nor Kyller had ever been
privileged to watch Herman eat before. They did so now in awed
silence. This was a specialist working with skill and dedication.
After a while von Kleine made another effort to attract Herman’s
attention by coughing and rustling his sheaf of notes, but the
Commissioner’s snuff lings and small moans of sensual pleasure
continued. Von Kleine glanced at his lieutenant and lifted a golden
eyebrow, Kyller half smiled in embarrassment. It was like watching a
man in orgasm, so intimate that von Kleine was obliged to light a
cheroot and concentrate his attention on the portrait of his wife and
daughter across the cabin.

A gusty sigh signalled Herman’s climax, and von Kleine looked at him
again. He sagged back in the chair, a vague and dreamy smile playing
over the ruddy curves of his face.

The plate was empty, and with the sweet sorrow of a man remembering a
lost love, Herman dabbed a forefinger on to the last shred of pink
flesh and lifted it to his mouth.

“That was the best salmon I have ever tasted.”

“I am pleased that you found it so.” Von Kleine’s voice crackled a
little. He felt slightly nauseated by the exhibition.

“I wonder if I might trouble you for another glass of beer, Captain.”
Von Kleine nodded at Kyller, and the lieutenant went to refill
Fleischer’s glass.

“Commissioner. I need at least eight hundred square feet of “/,-inch
steel plate delivered to me here. I want it within six weeks,” von
Kleine said, and Herman Fleischer laughed.

He laughed the way a man laughs at a children’s tale of fairies and
witches, then suddenly he noticed von Kleine’s eyes … and he stopped
abruptly.

Tying in Dares So laam harbour under British blockade is the steamer
Rheinlander.” Von Kleine went on speaking softly and clearly. “You
will proceed there as fast as you can.

I will send one of my engineers with you. He will beach the
Rheinlander and dismantle her hull. You will then arrange to convey
the plating to me here.”

“Dares Salaam is one hundred kilometres away.” Herman was aghast.

“According to the Admiralty chart it is seventy-five kilometeres,” von
Kleine corrected him.

“The plating will weigh many tons! “he cried.

“In German East Africa there are many hundreds of thousands of indi
genes I doubt not that you will be able to persuade them to serve as
porters.”

“The route is impossible … and what is more, there is a band of enemy
guerrillas operating in the area north of here. Guerrillas led by
those same bandits that you allowed to escape from the dhow, off the
mouth of this river.” In agitation Fleischer had risen from his chair
and now he pointed a fat accusing forefinger at von Kleine. “You
allowed them to escape. Now they are ravaging the whole province.

If I try to bring a heavily laden, slow moving caravan of porters down
from Dares Salaam, word will reach them before I have marched five
kilometres. It’s madness I won’t do it!”

“It seems then, that you have a choice.” Von Kleine smiled with his
mouth only. “The English marauders, or a firing party on the afterdeck
of this ship.” “What do you mean? “howled Fleischer.

“I mean that my request is no longer a request, it is now an order. If
you defy it, I will immediately convene a court martial.” Von Kleine
drew his gold watch and checked the time.

“We should be able to dispose of the formalities and shoot you before
dark. What do you think, Kyller?”

“It will be cutting things fine, sir. But I think we could manage it.”
When the Governor of Mozambique had offered Flynn a captaincy in the
army of Portugal, there had been an ugly scene. Flynn felt strongly
that he deserved at least the rank of colonel. He had suggested
terminating their business relationship. The Governor had countered
with an offer of major and signalled to his aide de-camp to refill
Flynn’s glass. Flynn had accepted both offers, but the one under
protest. That was seven months ago, a few short weeks after the
massacre at Lalapanzi.

Since then Flynn’s army, a mixed bag of a hundred native troops,
officered by himself, Sebastian and Rosa Oldsmith, had been operating
almost continually in German territory.

There had been a raid on the Songea railway siding where Flynn had
burned five hundred tons of sugar, and nearly a thousand of millet that
was in the warehouses awaiting shipment to Dares Salaam, supplies badly
needed by Governor Schee and Colonel Lettow von Vorbeck who were
assembling an army in the coastal area.

There had been another brilliant success when they had ambushed and
wiped out a band of thirty Askari at a river crossing. Flynn released
the three hundred native recruits that the Askari were escorting, and
advised them to get the hell back to their villages and forsake any
ambitions of military glory using the corpses of the Askari that
littered the banks of the ford as tangible argument.

Apart from cutting every telegraph line, and blowing up the railway
tracks they came across, three other raids had met with mixed results.
Twice they had captured supply columns of bearers carrying in
provisions to the massing German forces. Each time they had been
forced to run as German reinforcements came up to drive them off. The
third effort had been an abject failure, the ignominy of it being
compounded by the fact that they had almost had the person of
Commissioner Fleischer in their grasp.

Carried on the swift feet of the runners who were part of Flynn’s
intelligence system came the news that Herman Fleischer and a party of
Askari had left Mahenge boma and marched to the confluence of the
Ruhaha and Rufiji rivers.

There they had gone aboard the steam launch and disappeared into the
fastness of the Rufiji delta on a mysterious errand.

What goes up must come down,” Flynn pointed out to Sebastian. “And
what goes down the Rufiji must come up again. We will go to the Ruhaha
and wait for Herr Fleischer to return.” For once there was no argument
from either Sebastian or Rosa. Between the three of them it was
understood without discussion that Flynn’s army existed chiefly to act
as the vehicle of retribution. They had made a vow over the grave of
the child, and now they fought not so much from a sense of duty or
patriotism, but from a burning desire for revenge.

They wanted the life of Herman Fleischer in part payment for that of
Maria Oldsmith.

They set out for the Ruhaha river. As happened so often these days,
Rosa marched at the head of the column. There was only the long braid
of dark hair hanging down her back to show she was a woman, for she was
dressed in bush jacket and long khaki cotton trousers that concealed
the feminine fullness of her hips. She stepped out long-legged, and
from her shoulder the loaded Mauser hung on its strap and bumped
lightly against her flank at each pace.

The change in her was so startling as to leave Sebastian bewildered.
The new hard line of her mouth, her eyes that gave off the dark hot
glow of a fanatic, the voice that had lost the underlying ripple of
lighter. She spoke seldom, but when she did, both Flynn and Sebastian
were forced to hear her with respect. Sometimes listening to that flat
deadly tone Sebastian could feel a prickle of horror under his skin.

They reached the landing-place and the jetty on the Ruhaha river and
waited for the launch to return. It came three days later, heralding
its approach by the soft chugging of its engine. When it came round
the river bend, pushing briskly against the current, headed for the
wooden jetty, they were lying in wait for it.

“There he is!” Sebastian’s voice was thick with emotion as he
recognized the plump grey-clad figure in the bows.

“The swine, oh, the bloody swine!” and he jerked the bolt of his rifle
open then snapped it shut.

“Wait!” Rosa’s hand closed on his wrist before he could lift the butt
to his shoulder.

“I can get him from he reP protested Sebastian.

“No. I want him to see us. I want to tell him first. I want him to
know why he must die.” The launch swung in broadside to the current,
losing its way, until it came in gently to nudge the jetty. Two of the
Askari jumped ashore, laying back on the lines to hold her while the
Commissioner disembarked.

Fleischer stood on the jetty for a minute, looking back down the river.
This action should have warned Flynn, but he did not see its
significance. Then the Commissioner shrugged slightly and trudged up
the jetty towards the boat, house.

“Tell your men to drop their weapons into the river,” said Flynn in his
best German as he stood up from the patch of reeds beside the jetty.

Herman Fleischer froze in mid-stride, but his belly quivered and his
head turned slowly towards Flynn. His blue eyes seemed to spread until
they filled his face, and he made a clucking noise in his throat.

“Tell them quickly, or I will shoot you through the stomach,” said
Flynn, and Fleischer found his voice. He relayed Flynn’s order to the
Askari, and there were a series of splashes around the launch as it was
obeyed.

Movement in the corner of his eye made Fleischer swing his head, and he
was face to face with Rosa Oldsmith.

Beyond her in a half circle stood Sebastian and a dozen armed Africans,
but some instinct warned Fleischer that the woman was the danger. There
was a merciless quality about her, some undefinable air of deadly
purpose. It was to her he addressed his question.

“What do you want?” His voice was husky with apprehension.

“What did he say?” Rosa asked her father.

“He wants to know what you want.”

“Ask him if he remembers me.” As he heard the question, Fleischer
remembered her in her nightdress, kneeling in the fire-light, and with
the memory came real fear.

“It was a mistake,” he whispered. “The child! I did not order it.”

“Tell him…” said Rosa, “tell him that I am going to kill him.” And
her hands moved deliberately on the Mauser, slipping the safety-catch
across, but her eyes never left his face.

“It was a mistake,” Herman repeated and he stepped backwards, lifting
his hands to ward off the bullet that he knew must come.

At that moment Sebastian shouted behind Rosa, just one word.

“Look!” Around the bend of the Ruhaha river, only two hundred yards
from where they stood, another launch swept into view. It came
silently, swiftly and at its stubby masthead flew the ensign of the
German navy. There were men in crisp white uniforms clustered around
the Maxim machine gun in its bows.

Flynn’s party stared at it in complete disbelief. Its presence was as
unbelievable as that of the Loch Ness monster in the Serpentine or a
man-eating lion in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and in the long seconds that
they stood paralysed the launch closed in quickly on the jetty.

Herman Fleischer broke the spell. He opened his mouth and from the
barrel of his chest issued a bellow that rang clearly across the
water.

Kyller, they are Englishmen!” Then he moved, with three light steps he
danced sideways, incredibly quickly he moved his gross body from under
the threatening muzzle of Rosa’s rifle and dived from the jetty into
the dark green swirl of water below the boards.

The splash of his dive was immediately followed by the tack, tack, tack
of the launch’s machine gun and the air was filled with the swishing
crack of a hundred whips. The launch drove straight in towards them
with the Maxim blazing on its bow. Around Flynn, and Rosa and
Sebastian the earth erupted in a rapid series of dust fountains, a
ricochet howled dementedly, one of the gun-boys spun on his heels in a
brief dervish dance and then sprawled down the bank, with his rifle
clattering on the wooden boards of the jetty, and the frozen party on
the bank exploded into violent movement. Flynn and his black troopers
ducked and dodged away up the bank, but Rosa ran forward. She reached
the edge of the jetty unscathed through the hailstorm of Maxim fire,
there she checked and aimed the Mauser at the wallowing body of Herman
Fleischer in the water below her.

“You killed my baby!” Rosa shrieked, and Fleischer looked up at her
and knew he was about to die. A Maxim bullet Struck the metal of the
rifle, tearing it from Rosa’s hands, and she staggered off balance, her
arms windmilling as she tottered on the edge of the jetty.

Sebastian reached her as she fell. He caught her and swung her up on
to his shoulder, whirled with her and bounded away up the bank, running
with all the reserves of his strength unlocked by the key of his
terror.

With ten of the gun-boys Sebastian took the rear guard; for that day
and the next they skirmished back along the Hill line of the retreat,
briefly holding each natural defensive point until the Germans brought
up the Maxim gun. Then they dropped back, retreating slowly while
Flynn and Rosa made a straight run of it. In the second night
Sebastian broke contact with the pursuers and fled north towards the
rendezvous at the stream below the ruins of Lalapanzi.

Forty-eight hours later he reached it. In the moonlight he staggered
into the camp, and Rosa threw off her blankets and came running to him
with a low joyous cry of greeting.

She knelt before him, unlaced and gently drew off each of his boots.
While Sebastian gulped the mug of coffee and hot gin that Flynn brewed
for him, Rosa bathed and tended the blisters that had burst on his
feet. Then she dried her hands, stood and picked up her blankets.

“Come,” she said, and together they walked away along the bank of the
stream. Behind a curtain of hanging creepers, on a nest of dry grass
and blankets, while the jewelled night sky glowed above them, they gave
each other the comfort of their bodies for the first time since the
death of the child. Afterwards they slept entwined until the low sun
woke them. Then they rose and went down the bank together naked into
the stream. The water was cold when she splashed him, and she giggled
like a little girl and ran through the shallows across the sandbank
with the water bursting in a sparkling spray around her legs, drops of
it glittering like sequins on her skin, her waist was the neck of a
Venetian vase flaring down into full double rounds on her lower body.

He chased and caught her and they fell together and knelt facing each
other, spluttering and laughing, and with each gust of laughter her
bosom jumped and bounced.

Sebastian leaned forward with the laughter drying in his throat and
cupped them in his hands.

Instantly her own laughter ceased, she looked at him a moment, then
suddenly her face hardened and she struck his hands away.

“No!” she hissed at him, and jumping to her feet she waded to where
her clothing lay on the bank. Swiftly she covered her femininity, and
as she strapped the heavy bandolier of ammunition around her body the
last soft memory of their loving was gone from her face.

It was that stinking Rufiji water, Herman Fleischer decided, and moved
painfully in his maschille as another cramp took him.

The hot hand of dysentery that closed on his stomach added to his mood
of dark resentment. His present discomfort was directly linked to the
arrival of Blitcher in his territory, the indignities he had
experienced at the hands of her captain, the danger he had run into in
his brush with the English bandits at the start of this expedition, and
since then the constant gruelling work and ever-present fear of another
attack, the nagging of the engineer whom von Kleine had placed over him
he hated everything to do with that cursed warship, he hated every man
aboard her.

The jogging motion of the maschille bearers stirred the contents of his
belly, making it gurgle and squeak. he would have to stop again, and
he looked ahead for a suitable place in which to find privacy.

Ahead of him the caravan of porters was toiling along the shallow
bottom of a valley between two sparsely wooded ridges of shale and
broken rock.

The column was spread out in an untidy straggle half a mile long, for
it comprised just under a thousand men.

In the van a hundred of them, stripped to loin-cloths were wielding
their long pari gas on and shiny with sweat, the scrub. The blades
glinting as they rose and fell, the thudding of the blows muted in the
lazy heat of afternoon.

Working under the supervision of Gunther Raube, the young engineering
officer from Blitcher, they were cutting out the narrow track, widening
it for the passage of the bulky objects that followed.

Dwarfing the men that swarmed around them, these four objects rolled
slowly along, rocking and swaying over patches of uneven ground.

Now and then halting as they came up against a tree stump or an outcrop
of rock, before the animal exertions of two hundred black men could get
them rolling again.

Three weeks previously they had beached the freighter Rheinlander in
Dares Salaam harbour and dismantled eight slabs of her plating. Then
from the metal frames of her hull, Raube had shaped eight enormous
wheel rims, fourteen feet in diameter; into each of these he had welded
a sheet of -inch plating ten foot square. Using the freighter’s
bollards as axles, he had linked these eight discs in four pairs. Thus
each of these contraptions looked like the wheel and axle assembly of a
gigantic Roman chariot.

Herman Fleischer had made a swift recruitment tour, and secured nine
hundred able-bodied Volunteers from the town of Dares Salaam and its
outlying villages. These nine hundred were now engaged in trundling
the four sets of wheels southward towards the RLIfiji delta. While
they worked, Herman’s Askari stood by with loaded Mousers to discourage
any of the volunteers from Succumbing to an attack of homesickness; a
malady which was fast reaching epidemic proportions, aggravated as it
was by shoulders rubbed raw by contact with harsh sun-heated metal, and
by palms whose outer layers of skin had been smeared away on the rough
hemp ropes. They had been two weeks at their labours and they were
still thirty torturous miles from the river.

Herman Fleischer squirmed again in his maschille as the amoebic
dysentery gnawed at his guts.

“Mother of a pig!” he moaned, and then shouted at the bearers,
“Quickly, take me to those trees.” He pointed to a clump of wild ebony
that smothered one of the side draws of the valley.

With alacrity, the maschille bearers swung off the path and trotted up
the draw. Within the screen of wild ebony they paused while the
Commissioner alighted from the hammock and hurried into the deepest
recess of the bush to be alone. Then they drew themselves down with a
communal sigh and gave themselves up to a session of African
callisthenics.

When the Commissioner came out of retreat he was hungry. It was cool
and restful in the shade, an ideal place to take his midafternoon
snack. Raube would have to fend for himself for an hour or so. Herman
nodded to his personal servant to set up the camp table and open the
food box. His mouth was fulll of sausage when the first rifle shot
clapped dully in the dusty dry air.

“Where is he?” He must be here. The scouts said he was here. Can you
see him?” Rosa Oldsmith spoke through lips that were chapped dry by
sun and wind, white flakes of skin had -come loose from the raw red
patches of sunburn on her nose, and her eyes were bloodshot from the
dust and the glare.

She lay on her stomach behind a bank of shale and coarse grass with the
Mauser probing out in front of her.

“Can you see him?” she demanded again impatiently, turning her head
towards her father.

Flynn grunted noncommittally, holding the binoculars to his eyes,
panning them slowly down the length of the valley then back again to
the head of the strange caravan.

There is a white man there, he said.

“Is it Fleischer, is it?

“No,” doubtfully Flynn gave the negative. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Look for him. He must be there somewhere.”

“I wonder what the hell those things are.” Flynn concentrated on the
four huge sets of wheels. The lens of the binoculars magnified the
heat distortion through the still air, making them change shape and
size so that one second they were insignificant and the next they were
monstrous.

“Look for Fleischer. Damn those things, look for Fleischer!” Rosa
snapped at him.

“He’s not with them.”

“He must be. He must be there.” Rosa rolled on her side and reached
out to snatch the binoculars from Flynn’s hands. Eagerly she scanned
the long column that moved slowly towards them up the valley.

“He must be there. Please God, he must be there,” she whispered her
hatred through cracked dry lips.

“We will have to attack soon. They are nearly in position now.” “We
must find Fleischer.” Desperately Rosa searched, her knuckles showing
white through sun-brown skin as she clutched the binoculars.

“We can’t let it go much longer. Sebastian is in position, he will be
expecting my signal.”

“Wait! You must wait.”

“No. We can’t let them get closer.” Flynn half lifted his body, and
called softly.

“Mohammed! Are you ready?”

“We are ready.” The reply came from farther down the slope where the
line of riflemen lay.

“Remember my words, oh, thou chosen -of Allah. Kill the Askari first
and the others will run.”

“Your words ring in my ears with the brightness and the beauty of
golden bells,” Mohammed replied.

“Up yours!” said Flynn and unbuttoned the pocket flap of his tunic. He
fumbled out the hand-mirror and held it slanted to catch the sun,
deflecting a bright splinter of light towards the far slope of the
valley. From the jumble of rock and bush there was an immediate
answering flash as Sebastian acknowledged the signal.

“Ah!” Flynn breathed theatrical relief, “I was afraid our Bassie might
have fallen asleep over there.” And he picked up the Mauser from the
rock in front of him.

“Wait,” pleaded Rosa. “Please wait.”

“We can’t. You know we can’t if Fleischer is down there then we’ll get
him. If he isn’t, then waiting any longer isn’t going to help us.”

“You don’t care,” she accused. “You have forgotten about Maria
already.”

“No,” said Flynn. “No, I haven’t forgotten,” and he cuddled the Mauser
into his shoulder.

There was an Askari he had been watching. A big man who moved ahead of
the column. Even at this range Flynn sensed that this man was
dangerous. He moved with aleopard’s slouching awareness, head cocked
and alert.

Flynn picked him up in the notch of the rear sight and rode the pip
down his body, aiming low to compensate for the downhill shot, taking
him in the belly. He gathered the slack in the trigger, squeezing it
up gently. The Mauser cracked viciously and the recoil jumped back
into his shoulder.

Incredulously Flynn saw the bullet throw a jump of dust from the slope
below the Askari. A clean miss at four hundred yards from a carefully
aimed shot By Christ, he was getting old.

Frantically he worked the bolt of the rifle, but already the Askari had
ducked for cover, unslinging his rifle as he disappeared into, a bank
of grey thorn bush, and Flynn’s next shot ripped ineffectively into the
coarse dry vegetation.

“Damn it to hell!” howled Flynn, and his voice was small in the storm
of gun-fire that blew around him. From both slopes all his riflemen
were shooting down into the solid pack of humanity that clogged the
valley floor.

For startled seconds the mass of native bearers stood quiescent under
the lash of the Mousers, each man frozen in the attitude in which the
attack had caught him; bent to the giant wheels, leaning forward
against the ropes, pari ga raised to strike at a branch, or merely
standing watching while others worked. Every head lifted to stare up
at the slopes from which Flynn’s hidden rifles menaced them, then with
a sound like a rising wind a single voice climbed in a wail of terror,
to be lost almost instantly in the babble from a thousand throats.

Without regard for Flynn’s orders to single out only the armed Askari,
his men were firing blindly into the mass of men around the wheels,
bullets striking with a meaty thump, thump, thump, or whining from rock
to inflict the ghastly secondary wounds of a ricochet.

Then the bearers broke. Flowing back like flood water along the
valley, carrying the Askari whose khaki uniforms bobbed with them like
driftwood in the torrent.

Beside Flynn in the don ga Rosa was firing also. Her hands on the
rifle incongruously feminine, fingers long and sensitive working the
bolt as though it were the shuttle of a loom, weaving death, her eyes
slitted behind the gunsight, her lips barely moving as they formed the
name which had become her battle hymn.

“Maria! Maria!” With each shot she said it softly.

As he fumbled a fresh clip of cartridges from his bandolier, Flynn
glanced sideways at her. Even in this moment of hot excitement Flynn
felt the prickle of disquiet as he saw his daughter’s face. There was
a madness in her eyes, the madness of grief too long sustained, the
madness of hatred too carefully nourished.

His rifle was loaded and he switched his attention back to the valley.
The scene had changed. From the rush of fear-crazed bearers, the
German, whom Flynn had earlier watched through the binoculars, was
rallying a defence.

With him was the big Askari, the one that Flynn had missed with his
first shot. These two stood to hold the guards who were being carried
away on the rush of panic, stricken bearers, stopping them, turning
them back, pushing and shoving them into defensive cover around the
four huge wheels. Now they were returning the fire of Flynn’s men.

“Mohammed! Get that man! The white man get him!” roared Flynn, and
fired twice, missing with each shot. But his bullets passed so close
that the German dodged back behind the metal shield of the nearest
wheel.

“That’s done it,” lamented Flynn, as his hopes of quick success faded.
“They’re getting settled in (down there. We are going to have to prise
them loose.” The prospect was unattractive. Flynn had found from
experience that while every man in his motley band was a hero when
firing from ambush, and a master in the art of strategic retreat, yet
their weak Suit was frontal assault, or any other manoeuvre that
involved exposure to the enemy.

Of the hundred under his command, there were a dozen whom he could rely
on to obey an order to attack. Flynn was understandably reluctant to
issue such an order, for there are few situations more humiliating than
bellowing, “Charge!” then having everybody look at you with a “Who,
me? You must be joking! “expression

Now he steeled himself to do it, aware that with every second the
battle madness of his men was cooling and being replaced by sanity and
caution. He filled his lungs and opened his mouth, but Rosa saved
him.

She rolled and lifted her knees, coming on to her feet with one fluid
motion whose continuation was a catlike leap that carried her over the
shale bank and into the open.

Boyish, big-hipped, but graceful the rifle across her hip, firing. Long
hair streaming, long legs flying, she went down the slope.

“RosaV roared Flynn in consternation, and jumped up to chase her in an
ungainly lumbering run like the charge of an old bull buffalo.

“Fini!” shouted Mohammed, and scampered after his master.

“My goodness!” Sebastian gasped where he lay on the opposite side of
the valley. “It’s Rosa!” and in a completely reflex response he found
himself on his feet and bounding down the rocky slope.

“Akwende!” yelled the man beside him, carried away in his excitement,
and before any of them had time to think, fifty of them were up and
following. After the first half-dozen paces they were committed, for
once they had started to run down the steep incline they could not stop
without falling flat on their faces, they could only accelerate.

Down both slopes of the valley, scrambling, sliding on loose stone,
pell-mell through thorn bush, screaming, shouting, they poured down on
the cluster of Askari around the wheels.

From opposite sides, Rosa and Sebastian were first to reach the
perimeter of the German position. Their momentum carried them
unscathed through the first line of the defenders, and then with the
empty rifle in her hands Rosa ran chest to chest against the big Askari
who rose from behind a boulder to meet her. She shrieked as he caught
her, and the sound exploded within Sebastian’s brain in a red burst of
fury.

Twenty yards away Rosa struggled with the man, but she was helpless as
a baby in his arms. He lifted her, changing his grip on her body,
snatching her up above his head, steadying himself to hurl her down on
to the pointed rock behind which he had hidden. There was such animal
power in the bunched muscles of his arms, in the thick sweat-slimy
neck, in the muscular straddled legs, that Sebastian knew that when he
dashed Rosa against the rock he would kill her. Her spine, her ribs
must shatter with the force of it; the soft vital organs within her
trunk must bruise or burst.

Sebastian went for him. Brushing from his path two lesser men of the
bewildered defenders, clubbing the Mauser in his hands because he could
not fire for fear of hitting Rosa, silently saving his breath for
physical effort, he crossed the distance that separated them and
reached them in the moment that the Askari began the first downward
movement of his arms.

“Aah!” A gusty grunt was forced up Sebastian’s throat by the force
with which he swung the rifle, he used it like an axe, swinging it low
with the full weight of his body behind it. The blade of the butt hit
the Askari across the small of his back, and within his body cavity the
kidneys popped like over-ripe satsuma plums. He was dying as he
toppled backwards. As he hit the ground Rosa fell on top of him, his
body cushioning her fall.

Sebastian dropped the rifle and stooped to gather her in his arms,
crouching over her protectively.

Around them Flynn led his men boiling over the defenders, swamping
them, knocking the rifles from their hands and dragging them to their
feet, laughing in awe of their own courageous assault, chattering in
excitement and relief. Sebastian was on the point of straightening up
and lifting Rosa to her feet, he glanced around quickly to assure
himself that all danger was past and his breathing jammed in his
throat.

Ten paces away, kneeling in the shadow of one of the huge steel wheels
was the white officer. He was a young man, swarthy for a German, but
with pale green eyes. The tropical white of his uniform was patchy
with damp sweat stains, and smeared with dust; his cap was pushed back,
the gold braid on its peak sparkling with incongruous gaiety, for
beneath it the face was taut and angry, the mouth pulled tight by the
clenched jaws.

There was a Luger pistol clutched in his right hand. He lifted it and
aimed.

“No!” croaked Sebastian, clumsily trying to shield Rosa with his own
body, but he knew the German was going to fire.

U5dchenl” cried Sebastian in his schoolboy German.

“Nein shut zen ths em M5dchen!” and he saw the change in the young
officer’s expression, the pale green glitter of his eyes softening as
he responded automatically to the appeal to his chivalry. Yet still
the Luger was levelled, and over it Sebastian and the officer stared at
each other. All this in seconds, but the delay was enough. While the
officer still hesitated, suddenly it was too late, for Flynn stood over
him and pressed the muzzle of his rifle into the back of the German’s
neck.

“Drop it, me beauty. Else I’ll shoot your tonsils clean out through
your Adam’s apple.”

Strewn along the floor of the valley were the loads dropped by the
native bearers, in their anxiety to leave for far places and fairer
climes. Many of the packs had burst open and all had been trampled in
the rush, so the contents littered the ground and discarded clothing
flapped in the lower branches of the thorn trees.

Flynn’s men were looting, a pastime in which they demonstrated a marked
aptitude and industry. Busy as jackals around a lion’s kill they
gleaned the spoils and bickered over them.

The German officer sat quietly against the metal wheel.

In front of him stood Rosa; she had in her hand the Luger pistol. The
two of them watched each other steadily and expressionlessly. To one
side Flynn squatted and pored over the contents of the German’s
pockets. Beside him Sebastian was ready to give his assistance.

“He’s a naval officer,” said Sebastian, looking at the German with
interest. “He’s got an anchor on his cap bridge.”

“Do me a favour, Bassie,” pleaded Flynn.

“Of Course.” Sebastian was ever anxious to please.

“Shut up!” said Flynn, without looking up from the contents of the
officer’s wallet which he had piled on the ground in front of him. In
his dealings with Flynn, Sebastian had built up a thick layer of scar
tissue around his sensitivity.

He went on without a change of tone or expression.

“I wonder what on earth a naval officer is doing in the middle of the
bush, pushing these funny contraptions around. “Sebastian examined the
wheel with interest, before addressing himself to the German. “Bitte,
was it clos?” He pointed at the wheel. The young officer did not even
glance at him. He was watching Rosa with almost hypnotic
concentration.

Sebastian repeated his question and when he found that he was again
ignored he shrugged slightly, and leaned across to lift a sheet of
paper from the small pile in front of Flynn.

“Leave it,” Flynn slapped his hand away. “I’m reading.”

“Can I look at this, then?” He touched a photograph.

“Don’t lose it,” cautioned Flynn, and Sebastian held it in his lap and
examined it. It showed three young men in white overalls and naval
peaked caps. They were smiling broadly into the camera with their arms
linked together.

In the background loomed the superstructure of a warship, the
gun-turrets showed clearly. One of the men in the photograph was their
prisoner who now sat against the wheel.

Sebastian reversed the square of heavy cardboard and read the
inscription on the back of it.

“Bremerhaven. 6 Aug. 1911 Both Flynn and Sebastian were absorbed in
their studies, and Rosa and the German were alone. Completely alone,
isolated by an intimate relationship.

Gunther Raube was fascinated. Staring into the girl’s face, he had
never known this sensation of mingled dread and elation which she
invoked within him. Though her expression was flat and neutral, he
could sense in her a hunger and a promise. He knew that they were
bound together by something he did not understand, between them there
was something very important to happen. It excited him, he felt it
crawling like a living thing in his loins, ghost-walking along his
spine, and his breathing was cramped and painful. Yet there was fear
with it, fear that was as cloying as warm olive oil in his belly.

“What is it?” he whispered huskily as a lover. “I do not understand.
Tell me.” And he sensed that she could not understand his language,
but his tone made something move in her eyes.

They darkened like cloud shadow on a green sea, and he saw she was
beautiful. With a pang he thought how close he had been to firing the
Luger she now held in her hand.

I might have killed her, and he wanted to reach out and touch her.
Slowly he leaned forward, and Rosa shot him in the centre of his
chest.

The impact of the bullet threw him back against the metal frame of the
wheel. He lay there looking at her.

Deliberately, each shot spaced, she emptied the magazine of the pistol.
The Luger jumped and steadied and jumped again in her hand. Each blurt
of gun-fire shockingly loud, and the wounds appeared like magic on the
white front of his shirt, beginning to weep blood as he slumped
sideways, and he lay with his eyes still fastened on her face as he
died.

The pistol clicked empty and she let it drop from her hand.

Sir Percy held the square of cardboard at arm’s length to read the
inscription on the back of it.

“Bremerhaven. 6 Aug. 1911″” he said. Across the desk from him his
flag-captain sat uncomfortably on the edge of the hard-backed chair.
His right hand reached for his pocket, checked, then withdrew
guiltily.

“For God’s sake, Henry. Smoke that damned thing if you must, grunted
Sir Percy.

“Thank You, sir.” Gratefully Captain Henry Green completed the reach
for his pocket, brought out a gnarled briar and began stuffing it with
tobacco.

Laying aside the photograph, Sir Percy took up the bedraggled sheet of
paper and studied the crude hand-drawn circles upon it, reading the
descriptions that were linked by arrows to the circles. This sample of
primitive art had been laboriously drawn by Flynn Patrick O’Flynn as an
addendum to his report.

“You say this lot came in the diplomatic bag from the Embassy in
Lourenco Marques?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“Who is this fellow Sir Percy checked the name, “Flynn Patrick
O’Flynn?”

“It seems that he is a major in the Portuguese army, sir.) “With a name
like that?”

“You find these Irishmen everywhere, sir.” The captain smiled. “The
commands a group of scouts who raid across the border into German
territory. They have built up something of a reputation for
derring-do.” Sir Percy grunted again, dropped the paper, clasped his
hands behind his head and stared across the room at the portrait of
Lord Nelson.

“All right, Henry. Let’s hear what YOU make of it.” The captain held
a flaring match to the bowl of his pipe and sucked noisily, waved the
match to extinguish it, and spoke through wreaths of smoke.

“The photograph first. It shows three German engineering officers on
the foredeck of a cruiser. The one in the centre was the man killed by
the scouts.” He puffed again.

“Intelligence reports that the cruiser is a “B” class. Nineinch guns
in raked turrets.”

“”B” class?” asked Sir Percy. “They only launched two vessels of that
class.”

“Battenberg and Blikher, sir.” “Blucher!”said Sir Percy softly.

“Blucher!” agreed Henry Green. “Presumed destroyed in a surface
action with His Majesty’s ships Bloodhound and Orion off the east coast
of Africa between 16 and 20 September.”

“Go on.”

“Well, this officer could have been a survivor from Blitcher who was
lucky enough to come ashore in German East Africa and is now serving
with von Vorbeck’s army.) “Still dressed in full naval uniform,
trundling strange round objects about the continent?” asked Sir Percy
sceptic ally

“An unusual duty, I agree, sir.”

“Now what do you make of these things? “With one finger Sir Percy
prodded Flynn’s diagram in front of him.

“Wheels,” said Green.

“For what?”

“Transporting material.”

“What material?”

“Steel plate.”

“Now who would want steel plate on the east coast of Africa?”mused Sir
Percy.

“Perhaps the captain of a damaged battle cruiser.”

“Let’s go down into the plotting room.” Sir Percy heaved his bulk out
of the chair, and headed for the door.

His shoulders hunched, massive jaw jutting, Admiral Howe brooded over
the plot of the Indian Ocean.

“Where was this column intercepted?” he asked.

“Here, sir.” Green touched the vast map with the pointer.

“About fifteen miles south-east of Kibiti. It was moving southwards
towards .. .” He did not finish the statement but let the tip of the
marker slide down on to the complexity of islands that clustered about
the mouth of the long black snake that was the Rufrii river.

“Admiralty plot for East Africa, please.” Sir Percy turned to the
lieutenant in charge of the plot, and the lieutenant selected Volume 11
of the blue-jacketed books that lined the shelf on the far wall.

“What are the sailing directions for the Rufiji mouth?” demanded the
Admiral, and the lieutenant began to read.

“Ras Pombwe to Kikunya mouth, including into Rufiji and Rufrii delta
(Latitude 8″ 17S, Longitude 39″ 20″E). For fifty miles the coast is a
maze of low, swampy, mangrove-covered islands, intersected by creeks
comprising the delta of into Rufiji. During the rainy season the whole
area of the delta is frequently inundated.

The coast of the delta is broken by ten large mouths, eight of which
are connected at all times with into Rufiji.” Sir Percy interrupted
peevishly, “What is all this into business?”

“Arabic word for “river”, sir.”

“Well, why don’t they say so? Carry on.”

“With the exception of Simba Uranga mouth and Kikunya mouth, all other
entrances are heavily shoaled and navigable only by craft drawing one
metre or less.”

“Concentrate on those two then,” grunted Sir Percy, and the lieutenant
turned the page.

“Simba Uranga mouth. Used by coasting vessels engaged in the timber
trade. There is no defined bar and, in 1911, the channel was reported
by the German Admiralty as having a low river level mean of ten
fathoms.

“The channel is bifurcated by a wedge-shaped island, Rufiji-ya-wake,
and both arms afford secure anchorage to vessels of large burden.
However, holding ground is bad and securing to trees on the bank is
more satisfactory. Floating islands of grass and weed are common.”

“All right!” Sir Percy halted the recitation, and every person in the
plotting room looked expectantly at him. Sir Percy was glowering at
the plot, breathing heavily through his nose. “Where is Blikher’s
plaque?” he demanded harshly.

The lieutenant went to the locker behind him, and came back with the
black wooden disc he had removed from the plot two months previously.
Sir Percy took it from him, and rubbed it slowly between thumb and
forefinger. There was complete silence in the room.

Slowly Sir Percy leaned forward across the map and placed the disc with
a click upon the glass top. They all stared at it. It sat sinister as
a black cancer where the green land met the blue ocean.

“Communications!” grunted Sir Percy and the yeoman of signals stepped
forward with his pad ready.

“Despatch to Commodore Commanding Indian Ocean.

Captain Joyce. HMS. Renounce. Maximum Priority. Message reads:
Intelligence reports indicate high probability. “You know something,
Captain Joyce, this is bloody good gin.” Flynn O’Flynn pointed the
base of the glass at the ceiling, and in his eagerness to engulf the
liquid, he did the same for the slice of lemon that the steward had
placed in his glass. He gurgled like an air-locked geyser, his face
changed swiftly to a deeper shade of red, then he expelled the lemon
and with it a fine spray of gin and Indian tonic in a burst of
explosive coughing.

“Are you all right?” Anxiously Captain Joyce leapt across the cabin
and began pounding Flynn between the shoulderblades. He had visions of
his key tool in the coming operation being asphyxiated before they had
started.

“Pips!” gasped Flynn. “Goddamned lemon pips.”

“Steward!” Captain Joyce called over his shoulder without interrupting
the tattoo he was playing on Flynn’s back.

Bring the major a glass of water. Hurry!”

“Water?” wheezed -Flynn in horror and the shock was sufficient to
diminish the strength of his paroxysm.

The steward, who from experience could recognize a drinking man when he
saw one, rose nobly to the occasion.

He hurried across the cabin with a glass in his hand. A mouthful of
the raw spirit effected a near miraculous cure, Flynn lay back in his
chair, his face still bright purple but his breathing easing, and Joyce
withdrew to the far side of the cabin to inhale with relief the moist
warm tropical air that oozed sluggishly through the open porthole.
After a close range whiff of Flynn’s body smell, it was as sweet as a
bunch of tulips.

Flynn had been in the field for six weeks, and during that time it had
not occurred to him to -change his clothing. He smelled like a
Roquefort cheese.

There was a pause while everybody recovered their breath, then Joyce
picked up where he had left off.

“I -was saying, Major, how good it was of you to return so promptly to
meet me here.”

“I came the moment I received your message. The runner was waiting for
us in Wtopo’s village. I left my command camped south of the Rovuma,
and Pushed through in forced marches. A hundred and fifty miles in
three days! Not bad going, hey?”

“Damn good show!” agreed Joyce, and looked across at the other two men
in the cabin for confirmation. With the Portuguese Governor’s
aide-de-camp was a young army lieutenant. Neither of them could
understand a word of English. The aide-de-camp was wearing a politely
noncommittal expression, and the lieutenant had loosened the top button
of his tunic and was lolling on the cabin’s day couch with a little
black cigarette drooping from his lips. Yet he contrived to look as
gracefully insolent as a matador.

“The English captain asks that you recommend me to the Governor for the
Star of St. Peter.” Flynn translated Captain Joyce’s speech to the
aide-de-camp. Flynn wanted a medal.

He had been hounding the Governor for one these last six months.

“Will you please tell the English captain that I would be delighted to
convey his written citation to the Governor.” The aide-de-camp smiled
blandly. Through their business association he knew better than to
take Flynn’s translation literally. Flynn scowled at him, and Joyce
sensed the strain in the cabin. He went on quickly.

“I asked you to meet me here to discuss a matter of very great
importance.” He paused. “Two months ago your scouts attacked a German
supply column near the village of Kibiti.”

“That’s right.” Flynn sat up in his chair. “A hell of a fight.

We fought like madmen. Hand-to-hand stuff.”

“Quite,” Joyce agreed quickly. “Quite so. With this column was a
German naval officer..

“didn’t do it,” interjected Flynn with alarm. “It wasn’t me. He was
trying to escape. You can’t pin -that one on me.” Joyce looked
startled.

“I beg your pardon.”

“He was shot trying to escape and you try and prove different,” Flynn
challenged him hotly.

“Yes, I know. I have a copy of your report. A pity. A great pity. We
would dearly have liked to interrogate the man.”

“You calling me a liar?”

“Good Lord, Major O’Flynn. Nothing is further from my mind.” Joyce
was finding that conversation with Flynn O’Flynn was similar to feeling
your way blindfolded through a hawthorn bush. “Your glass is empty,
may I offer you a drink?” Flynn’s mouth was open to emit further
truculent denials, but the offer of hospitality took him unawares and
he subsided.

“Thank you. It’s damn good gin, haven’t tasted anything like it in
years. I don’t suppose you could spare a case or two?” Again Joyce
was startled.

“I’m sure the wardroom secretary will be able to arrange something for
you.”

“Bloody good stuff,” said Flynn, and sipped at his recharged glass.
Joyce decided on a different approach.

“Major O’Flynn, have you heard of a German warship, a cruiser, named
BBlitcher?”

“Have I?” hell!” bellowed Flynn with such vehemence that Joyce was
left in no doubt that he had struck another jarring note. “The bastard
sank me!” These words conjured up in the eye of Captain Joyce’s mind a
brief but macabre picture of a Flynn floating on his back, while a
battle cruiser fired on him with nine-inch guns.

“Sank you?” asked Joyce.

“Rammed me! There I was sailing along in this dhow peaceful as
anything when up she comes and bang, right up the arse.”

“I see,” murmured Joyce. “Was it intentional?”

“You bloody tooting it was.” “Why.

“Well…”started Flynn, and then changed his mind. “It’s a long
story.”

“Where did this happen?”

“About fifty miles off the mouth of the Rufiji river.”

liabilities

“The Rufiji?”Joyce leaned forward eagerly. “Do you know it? Do You
know the RUfiji delta?”

“Do I know the Rufiji delta?” chucked Flynn. “I know it like you know
the way to YOUr own Thunder Box. I used to do a lot of business there
before the war.”

“Excellent! Wonderful!” Joyce could not restrain himself from pursing
his lips and whistling the first two bars of “Tipperary’. From him
this was expression of unadulterated joy.

“Yeah? What’s so wonderful about that?” Flynn was immediately
suspicious.

“Major O’Flynn. On the basis of your report, Naval Intelligence
considers it highly probable that the Blucher is anchored somewhere in
the Rufiji delta.”

“Who are you kidding? The Blitcher was sunk months ago everybody knows
that.”

“Presumed sunk. She, and the two British warships that pursued her,
disappeared off the face of the earth or more correctly the ocean.
Certain pieces of floating wreckage were recovered that indicated that
a battle had been fought by the three ships. It was thought that all
three had gone down.” Joyce paused and smoothed the grey wings of hair
along his temples. “But now it seems certain that Blucher was badly
damaged during the engagement, and that she was holed up in the
delta.”

“Those wheels! Steel plating for repairs!” “Precisely, Major,
precisely. But.. .” Joyce smiled at Flynn, thanks to you, they did
not get the plating through.”

“Yes, they did. “Flynn growled a denial.

“They did?” demanded Joyce harshly.

“Yeah. We left them lying in the veld. My spies told me that after we
had gone the Germans sent another party of bearers up and took them
away.”

“Why didn’t you prevent it? “”What the hell for? They’ve got no
value,” Flynn retorted.

“The enemy’s insistence must have demonstrated their value.” “Yeah.
The enemy were so insistent they sent up a couple of Maxim guns with
the second party. In my book the more Maxims there are guarding
something, the less value it is.”

“Well, why didn’t you destroy them while you had the chance?” Listen,
friend, how do you reckon to destroy twenty tons of steel? swallow it
perhaps?”

“Do you realize just what a threat this ship will be once it is
seaworthy?” Joyce hesitated. “I tell you now in strict confidence
that there will be an invasion of German East Africa in the very near
future. Can you imagine the havoc if Blitcher were to slip out of the
Rufiji and get among the troop convoys?”

“Yeah all of us have got troubles.”

“Major.” The captain’s voice was hoarse with the effort of checking
his temper. “Major. I want you to do a reconnaissance and locate the
Blucher for us.” Is that so?” boomed Flynn. “You want me to go
galloping round in the delta when there’s a Maxim behind every mangrove
tree. It might take a year to search that delta, you’ve got no idea
what it’s like in there.” “That won’t be necessary.” Joyce swivelled
his chair, he nodded at the Portuguese lieutenant. “This officer is an
aviator.”

“What’s that mean?”

“He is a flyer.”

“Yeah? Is that so good? I did a bit of sleeping around when I was
young still get it up now and then.” Joyce coughed.

“He flies an aircraft. A flying-machine.”

“Oh!” said Flynn. He was impressed. “Jeer! Is that so?” He looked
at the Portuguese lieutenant with respect.

“With the co-operation of the Portuguese army I intend conductin an
aerial reconnaissance of the Rufiji delta.

“You mean flying over it in a flying-machine?”

“Precisely.” “That’s a bloody good idea.” Flynn was enthusiastic.
“When can you be ready?”

“What for?”

“For the reconnaissance.”

“Now just hold on a shake, friend!” Flynn was aghast.

“You not getting me into one of those flying things.” Two hours later
they were still arguing on the bridge of HMS. Renounce, as Joyce
conned her back towards the land to deposit Flynn and the two
Portuguese on the beach from which his launch had picked them up that
morning.

The British cruiser steamed over a sea that was oil-slick calm and
purple blue, and the land lay as a dark irregular line on the
horizon.

“It is essential that someone who knows the delta flies with the pilot.
He has just arrived from Portugal, besides which he will be fully
occupied in piloting the machine. He must have an observer. “Joyce
was trying again.

Flynn had lost all interest in the discussion, he was now occupied with
weightier matters.

“Captain,” he started, and Joyce recognized the new tone of his voice
and turned to him hopefully.

“Captain, that other business. What about it?”

“I’m sorry I don’t follow you.”

“That gin you promised me, what about it?” Captain Arthur Joyce R.N.
was a man of gentle. when.

His face was smooth and unlined, his mouth full but grave, his eyes
thoughtful, the streaks of silver grey at his temples gave him dignity.
There was only one pointer to his true temperament, his eyebrows grew
in one solid continuous line across his face; they were as thick and
furry across the bridge of his nose as they were above his eyes.
Despite his appearance he was a man of dark and violent temper.

Ten years on his own bridge, wielding the limitless power and authority
of a Royal Naval Captain had not mellowed him, but had taught him how
to use the curb on his temper.

Since early that morning when he had first shaken Flynn O’Flynn’s large
hairy. paw, Arthur Joyce had been exercising every bit of restraint he
possessed now he had exhausted it all.

Flynn found himself standing speechless beneath the full blaze of
Captain Joyce’s anger. In a staccato, low-pitched speech, Arthur Joyce
told him his opinion of Flynn’s courage, character, reliability,
drinking habits and sense of personal hygiene.

Flynn was shocked and deeply hurt.

“Listen.. he said.

“YOU listen,” said Joyce. “Nothing will give me more pleasure than to
see you leave this ship. And when you do so you can rest content in
the knowledge that a full report of your conduct will go to my
superiors with copies to the Governor of Mozambique, and the Portuguese
War Office.”

“Hold on!” cried Flynn. Not only was he going to leave the cruiser
without the gin, but he could imagine that the wording of Joyce’s
report would ensure that he never got that medal. They might even
withdraw his commission. In this moment of terrible stress the
solution came to him.

“There is one man. Only one man who knows the delta better than I do.
He’s young, plenty of guts and he’s got eyes like a hawk.” Joyce
glared at him, breathing hard as he fought to check the headlong run of
his rage.

“Who?”he demanded.

“My own son,” intoned Flynn, it sounded better than sonin-law.

“Will he do it?”

“He’ll do it. I’ll see to that,” Flynn assured him.

“It’s as safe as a horse and cart,” boomed Flynn, he liked the simile,
and repeated it.

“How safe is a horse and cart when it’s up in the clouds?” asked
Sebastian, without lowering his eyes from the sky.

“I’m disappointed in you, Bassie. Most young fellows would jump at
this chance.” Flynn was literally in excellent spirits. Joyce had
come through with three cases of best Beefeater gin. He sat on one of
the gasoline drums that lay beneath the shade of the palm trees above
the beach, around him in various attitudes of relaxation lay twenty of
his scouts, for it was a drowsy, warm and windless morning.

A bright sun burned down from a clear sky, and the white sand was
dazzling against the dark green of the sea. The low surf sighed softly
against the beach, and half a mile out, a cloud of seabirds were
milling and diving on a shoal of bait fish Their cries blending with
the sound of the sea.

Even though they were a hundred miles north of the Rovuma mouth, deep
in German territory, a holiday atmosphere prevailed. Heightened by
anticipation of the imminent arrival of the flying-machine they were
enjoying themselves all of them except Sebastian and Rosa. They were
holding each other’s hands and looking into the southern sky.

“You must find it for us.” Rosa’s voice was low, but not low enough to
cover her intensity. For the last ten days, since Flynn had returned
from his meeting with Joyce on board the Renounce, she had spoken of
little else but the German warship. It had become another cup to catch
the hatred that overflowed from her.

“I’ll try, “said Sebastian.

“You must, “she said. “You must.”

“Should be able to get a good view from up there. Like standing on a
mountain only with no mountain under you, said Sebastian and he felt
his skin crawl at the thought.

“Listen!” said Rosa.

“What?”

“Ssh!” And he heard it, an insect drone that swelled and sank and
swelled again. They heard it under the trees also, and some of them
came out into the sun and stood peering towards the south.

Suddenly in the sky there was a flash of reflected sunlight off metal
or glass, and a shout went up from the watchers.

It came in towards them, low on wobbly wings, the clatter of its engine
rising to a crescendo, its shadow racing ahead of it along the white
beach. The group of native scouts exploded in panic-stricken retreat,
Sebastian dropped on his face in the sand, only Rosa stood unmoving as
it roared a few feet over her head, and then rose and banked away in a
curve out over the sea.

Sebastian stood up and sheepishly brushed sand from his bush-jacket, as
the aircraft levelled in and sank down on to the hard-packed sand near
the water’s edge. The beat of its engine faded to a spluttering
burble, and it waddled slowly towards them, the backwash of the
propeller sending a misty plume of sand scudding out behind. The wings
looked as though they were about to fall off.

“All right,” bellowed Flynn at his men who were standing well back in
the palm grove. “Get these drums down there.” The pilot switched off
the motor, and the silence was stunning. He climbed stiffly out of the
cockpit on to the lower wing, (Limpy and awkward in his thick leather
jacket, helmet and goggles. He jumped down on to the beach and
shrugged out of the jacket, pulled off the helmet and was revealed as
the SUave young Portuguese lieutenant.

“Da Silva,” he said offering his right hand as Sebastian ran forward to
greet him. “Hernandez da Silva.” While Flynn and Sebastian supervised
the refuelling of the aircraft, Rosa sat with the pilot under the
palms, while he breakfasted on garlic polo ny and a bottle of white
wine that he had brought with him. suitably exotic food for a dashing
knight of the air.

Although his mouth was busy, the pilot’s eyes were free and he used
them on Rosa. Even at a distance of fifty yards Sebastian became aware
with mounting disquiet that Rosa was Suddenly a woman again. Where
before there had been a lifted chin and the straight-forward masculine
gaze; now there were downcast eyes broken with quick bright glances and
secret smiles, now there were soft rose colours that glowed and faded
beneath the sun-browned skin of her cheeks and neck. She touched her
hair with a finger, pushing a strand back behind her ear. She tugged
at the front of her bush-jacket to straighten it, then drew her long
khaki-clad legs up sideways beneath her as she sat in the sand. The
pilot’s eyes followed the movement. He wiped the neck of the wine
bottle on his sleeve, and then with a flourish offered it to Rosa.

Rosa murmured her thanks and accepted the bottle to sip at it
delicately. With the freckles across her cheeks and the skin peeling
from her nose she looked as fresh and as innocent as a little girl,
Sebastian thought.

The Portuguese lieutenant on the other hand looked neither fresh nor
innocent. He was handsome, if you liked the slimy continental type
with that slightly jaded torn cat look. Sebastian decided that there
was something obscenely erotic about that little black mustache, that
lay upon his upper lip and accentiated the cherry-pink lips beneath.

Watching him take the bottle back from Rosa and lift it towards her in
salutation before drinking, Sebastian was overcome with two strong
desires. One was to take the wine bottle and thrust it down the
lieutenant’s throat, the other was to get him into the flying-machine
and away from Rosa just as quickly as was possible.

“Paci. Paci,” he growled at Mohammed’s gang who were slopping gasoline
into the funnel on the upper wing. “Get a move on, for cat’s sake!”

“Get your clobber into this thing, Bassie, and stop giving orders you
know it just confuses everybody.”

“I don’t know where to put it you’d better tell that greaser to come
and show me. I can’t speak his language.”

“Put it in the front cockpit the observer’s cockpit.”

“Tell that damned Portuguese to come here.” Sebastian dug in
stubbornly. “Tell him to leave Rosa alone and come here.” Rosa
followed the pilot to the aircraft and the expression of awed respect
on her face, as she listened to him throwing out orders in Portuguese,
infuriated Sebastian. The ritual of starting the aircraft completed,
it stood clattering and quivering on the beach, and the pilot waved
imperiously at Sebastian from the cockpit to come aboard.

Instead he went to Rosa and took her possessively in his arms.

“Do you love me?”he asked.

“What?”she shouted above the bellow of the engine.

“Do you love me?”he roared.

“Of course I do, you fool,” she shouted back and smiled up into his
face before going up on tip-toe to kiss him while the slipstream of the
propeller howled around them. Her embrace had passion in it that had
not been there these many months, and Sebastian wondered sickly how
much of it had been engendered by an outside agency.

“You can do that when you get back.” Flynn prised him loose from
Rosa’s grip, and boosted him up into the cockpit.

The machine jerked forward and Sebastian clutched desperately to retain
his balance, then glanced back. Rosa was waving and smiling, he was
not certain if the smile was directed at him or at the helmeted head in
the cockpit behind him, but his jealousy was swamped by the primeval
instinct of survival.

Clutching with both hands at the sides of the cockpit, and his toes
curling in their boots as though to grip the floorboards of the
cockpit, Sebastian stared ahead.

The beach disappeared beneath the fuselage in a solid white blur; the
palm trees whipped past on one side, the sea on the other; the wind
tore at his face and tears streamed back along his cheeks, the machine
bumped and bucked and jounced, and then leaped upwards under him,
dropped back to bounce once more and then was airborne. The earth fell
away gently beneath them as they soared, and Sebastian’s spirits soared
with them. His misgivings melted away.

Sebastian remembered at last to pull the goggles down over his eyes to
protect them from the stinging wind, and godlike he looked down through
them at a world that was small and tranquil.

When at last he looked back over his shoulder at the pilot, this
strange and wonderful shared experience of immortality had lifted him
above the petty passions of mere men, and they smiled at each other.

The pilot pointed out over the right wing tip, and Sebastian followed
the direction of his arm.

Far, far out on the crenellated blue blanket of-the sea, tiny beneath
vast flUffy piles of thunderhead cloud, he saw the grey shape of the
British cruiser Renounce with the pate white feather of its wake
fanning on the surface of the ocean behind it.

He nodded and smiled at his companion. Again the pilot pointed, this
time ahead.

Still misty in the blue haze of distance, haphazard as the unfitted
pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the islands of the Rufiji delta were spilled
and scattered between ocean and mainland.

In the rackety little cockpit, Sebastian squatted over his pack and
took from it binoculars, pencil and map-case.

It was hot. Moist itchy hot. Even in the shade beneath the festooned
camouflage-nets the decks of Blitcher were smothered with hot sticky
waves of swamp air. The sweat that oozed and trickled down the
glistening bodies of the half-naked men who slaved on her foredeck gave
them no relief, for the air was too humid to evaporate the moisture.
They moved like sleep-walkers, with slow mechanical determination,
manhandling the thick sheet of steel plate into its slings beneath the
high arm of the crane.

Even the flow of obscenity from the lips of Lochtkamper, the
engineering commander, had dried up like a spring in drought season.
He worked with his men, like them stripped to the waist, and the
tattoos on his upper arms and across his chest heaved and bulged as
they rode on an undulating sea of Muscles.

“Rest,” he grunted; and they straightened up from their labour, mouths
gaping as they sucked in the stale air, massaging aching backs,
glowering at the sheet of steel with true hatred.

“Captain.” Lochtkamper became aware of von Kleine for the first time.
He stood against the forward gun-turret, tall in full whites, the blond
beard half concealing the cross of black enamel and silver that hung at
his throat. Lochtkamper crossed to him.

“It goes well?” von Kleine asked, and the engineer shook his head.

, “Not as well as I had hoped.” He wiped one huge hand across his
forehead, leaving a smudge of grease and rust scale on his own face.
“Slow,” he said. “Too slow.”

“You have encountered difficulties?” “Everywhere,” growled the
engineer, and he looked around at the heat mist and the mangroves, at
the sluggish black waters and the mud banks.

“Nothing works here the welding equipment, the winch engines, even the
men everything sickens in this obscene heat.”

“How much longer?”

“I

do not know, Captain. I truly do not know.” Von Kleine would not
press him. If any man could get Blitcher seaworthy, it would be this
man, When Lochtkamper slept at all, it was here on the foredeck, curled
like a dog on a mattress thrown on the planking. He slept a few
exhausted hours amid the whine and groan of the winches, the blue
hissing glare of the welding torches and the drum splitting hammering
of the riveters, then he was up again bullying, leading, coaxing and
threatening.

“Another three weeks,” Lochtkamper estimated reluctantly. “A month at
the most if all goes as it does now.” They were both silent, standing
together, two men from different worlds drawn together by a common
goal, united by respect for each other’s ability.

A mile up the channel, movement caught their attention. It was one of
the launches returning to the cruiser, yet it looked like a hayrick
under its bulky cargo. It came slowly against the sluggish current,
sitting so low in the water that only a few inches of freeboard showed,
while its load was a great shaggy hump on which sat a dozen black
men.

Von Kleine and Lochtkamper watched it approaching.

“I still do not know about that obscene wood, Captain.” Lochtkamper
shook his big untidy head again. “It is so soft, so much ash, it could
clog the furnace.”

“There is nothing else we can do,” von Kleine reminded him.

When Blucher entered the Rufiji, her coal-bunkers were almost empty.
There was enough fuel for perhaps four thousand miles of steaming.
Hardly enough to carry her in a straight run down into latitude 45″
south, where her mother ship, Esther, waited to refuel her, and fill
her magazines with shell.

There was not the faintest chance of obtaining coal.

Instead von, Kleine had set Commissioner Fleischer and his thousand
native porters to cutting cordwood from the forests, that grew at the
apex of the delta. It was a duty that Commissioner Fleischer had
opposed with every argument and excuse he could muster. He felt that
in delivering safely to Captain von Kleine the steel plating from Dares
Salaam, he had discharged any obligation that he might have towards the
Blitcher. His eloquence availed him not at all, Lochtkamper had
fashioned two hundred primitive axe heads from the steel plate, and von
Kleine had sent Lieutenant Kyller up-river with Fleischer to help him
keep his enthusiasm for wood-cutting burning brightly.

For three weeks now, the Blitcher’s launches had been plying steadily
back and forth. Up to the present they had delivered some five hundred
tons of timber. The problem was finding storage for this unwieldy
cargo once the coal bUnkers were filled.

“We will have to begin deck loading the cordwood soon,” von Kleine
muttered, and Lochtkamper opened his mouth to reply when the alarm
bells began to clamour an emergency, and the loud-hailer boomed.

“Captain to the bridge. Captain to the bridge.” Von Kleine turned and
ran.

On the companion ladder he collided with one of his lieutenants. They
caught at each other for balance and the lieutenant shouted into von
Kleine’s face.

“Captain, an aircraft! Flying low. Coming this way.

Portuguese markings.”

“Damn it to hell!” Von Kleine pushed past him, and bounded up the
ladder. He burst on to the bridge, panting.

“Where is it?”he shouted.

The officer of the watch dropped his binoculars and turned to von
Kleine with relief “There it is, sir!” He pointed through a hole in
the tangled screen of camouflage that hung like a veranda roof over the
bridge.

Von Kleine snatched the binoculars from him and, as he trained them on
the distant winged shape in the mist haze above the mangroves, he
issued his orders.

“Warn the men ashore. Everybody under cover,” he barked. “All guns
trained to maximum elevation. Pom-poms loaded with shrapnel.
Machine-gun crews closed up but no firing until my orders.” He held
the aircraft in the round field of the field glasses.

“Portuguese, all right,” he grunted; the green and red insignia showed
clearly against the brown body of the aircraft.

“She’s searching. The aircraft was sweeping back and forth, banking
over and turning back at the end of each leg of her search pattern,
like a farmer ploughing a field. Von Kleine could make out the head
and shoulders of a man crouched forward in the squat round nose of the
aircraft. Now we’ll find out how effective is our camouflage.” So the
enemy have guessed at last. They must have reported the convoy of
steel plate or perhaps the chopping of the cordwood has alerted them,
he thought, watching the aircraft tacking slowly towards him. We could
not hope to go undetected for ever but I did not expect them to send an
aircraft, Then suddenly the thought struck him so hard that he gasped
with the danger of it. He whirled and ran to the forward rail of the
bridge and peered out through the camouflage net.

Still half a mile distant, trundling slowly down the centre of the
channel with the wide rippling V of her wake spread on the current
behind her, clumsy as a pregnant hippo with her load of cordwood, the
launch was aimed straight at Blitcher. From the air she would be as
conspicuous as a fat tick on a white sheet.

“The launch .. .” shouted von Kleine, hail her. Order her to run for
the bank get her under cover!

But he knew it was useless. By the time she was within hail, it would
be too late. He thought of ordering his forward turrets to fire on the
launch and sink her but He discarded the idea immediately, the fall of
shell would immediately draw the enemy’s attention.

Impatiently he stood gripping the rail of the bridge, and mouthing his
anger and his frustration at the approaching launch.

Sebastian hung over the edge Of the cockpit. The wind buffeted him,
flapping his jacket wildly about his body, whipping his hair into a
black tangle. With his usual dexterity Sebastian had managed to drop
the binoculars overboard. They were the property of Flynn Patrick
O’Flynn, and Sebastian knew that he would be expected to pay for them.
This spoiled Sebastian’s enjoyment of the flight to some extent, he
already owed Flynn a little over three hundred pounds. Rosa would have
something to say also. However, the loss of the binoculars was no
handicap, the aircraft was flying too low and was so unstable that the
unaided eye was much more effective.

From a height of five hundred feet the mangrove forest looked like a
fluffy overstuffed mattress, a sickly fever green in colour, with the
channels and the water-ways between them dark gun-metal veins that
flashed the sunlight back like a heliograph. The clouds of white
egrets that rose in alarm as the aircraft approached looked like drifts
of torn paper scraps. A fish eagle hung suspended in silent flight
ahead of them, the wide span of its wings flared at the tips like the
fingers of a hand. It dipped away, sliding past the aircraft’s wing
tip so close that Sebastian saw the fierce yellow eyes in its white
hooded head.

Sebastian laughed with delight, and then grabbed at the side of the
cockpit to steady himself, as the machine rocked violently under him.
This was the pilot’s method of attracting Sebastian’s attention, and
Sebastian wished he would think up some other way of doing it.

He looked back angrily shouting in the howl of wind and engine.

“Watch it! YOU Stupid dago.” Da Silva was gesticulating wildly, his
pink mouth working under the black mustache, his eyes wild behind the
panes of his goggles, his right hand stabbing urgently out over the
starboard wing.

Sebastian saw it immediately on the wide water-way, the launch was so
glaringly conspicuous that he wondered why he had not seen it before,
then he recalled that his attention had been concentrated on the
terrain directly beneath the aircraft and he exCUsed himself. Yet
there was little to justify da Silva’s excitement, he thought. This
was no battle cruiser, it was a tiny vessel of perhaps twenty-five
feet. Quickly he ran his eyes down the channel, following it to the
open sea in the blue distance.

It was empty.

He glanced back at the pilot and shook his head. But da Silva’s
excitement had, if anything, increased. He was making another frenzied
hand-signal that Sebastian could not understand. To save- argument
Sebastian nodded in agreement, and instantly the machine dropped away
under him so that Sebastian’s belly was left behind and he clutched
desperately at the side of the cockpit once more.

In a shallow turning dive, da Silva took the machine

Down and then levelled out with the landing-wheels almost brushing the
tops of the mangroves. They rushed towards the channel, and as the
last mangroves whipped away under them da Silva eased the nose down
still farther and they dropped to within a few feet of the surface of
the water. It was a display of fine flying that was completely wasted
on Sebastian. He was cursing da Silva quietly, his eyes starting from
their sockets.

A mile ahead of them across the open water bobbed the overladen launch.
It was only a few feet below their own level, and they raced towards it
with the wash of the propeller blowing a squall of ripples across the
surface behind them.

“My God!” The blasphemy was wrung from Sebastian in his distress.
He’s going to fly right into it!” It was an opinion that seemed to be
shared by the crew of the launch. As the machine roared in on them,
they began to abandon ship. Sebastian saw two men leap from the high
piled load of timber and hit the water with small white splashes.

At the last second da Silva lifted the plane and they hopped over the
launch. For a fleeting instant Sebastian stared at a range of fifteen
feet into the face of the German naval officer who crouched down over
the tiller bar at the stern of the launch. They were then past and
climbing sharply, banking and turning back.

Sebastian saw the launch had rounded to, and that her crew were
clambering aboard and splashing around her, but da Silva had throttled
back and the engine was burbling, . Once more the aircraft dropped
towards the river under half power. He levelled out fifty feet above
the water, and flew sedately, keeping away from the launch and well
towards the northern side of the channel.

“What are you doing?” Sebastian mouthed the question at da Silva. In
reply the pilot made a sweeping gesture with his right hand at the
thick bank of mangroves alongside.

Puzzled, Sebastian stared into the mangroves. What was the fool doing,
surely he didn’t think that … There was a hump of high ground on the
bank, a hump that rose perhaps one hundred and fifty feet above the
level of the river. They came up to it.

Like a hunter following a wounded buffalo, moving carelessly through
thin scattered bush which could not possibly give cover to such a large
animal, and then suddenly coming face to face with it so close, that he
sees the minute detail of crenellation on the massive bosses of the
horns, sees the blood dripping from moist black nostrils, and the dull
furnace glare of the piggy little eyes in the same fashion Sebastian
found the Blitcher.

She was so close he Could see the pattern of rivets on her plating, the
joints in the planking of her foredeck, the individual strands of the
canopy of camouflage netting spread over her. He saw the men on her
bridge, and the gun-crews behind the pom-poms and the Maxim machine
guns on the balconies of her upper works From her squatting turrets
her big guns gaped at him with hungry mouths, revolving to follow the
flight of the machine.

She was monstrous, grey and sinister among the mangroves, crouching in
her lair, and Sebastian cried aloud in surprise and alarm, a sound
without shape or coherence, and at the same moment the engine of the
aeroplane bellowed in full power, as da Silva thrust the throttle wide
and hauled the joystick back into his crotch.

As the aircraft rocketed upwards, the deck of the Blitcher erupted in a
thunderous volcano of flame. Flame flew in great bell-shaped
ejaculations from the muzzles of her Machine guns. Flame spat
viciously from the multi-barrelled pom-poms and the machine guns on her
upper works

Around the little aircraft the air boiled and hissed, disrupted,
churned into violent turbulence by the passage of the big shells.

Something struck the plane, and she was whirled upwards like a burning
leaf from a garden bonfire. Wing over wing she rolled, her engine
surging wildly, her rigging groaning and creaking at the strain.

Sebastian was flung forward, the bridge of his nose cracked against the
edge of the cockpit and instantly twin Jets of blood spurted from his
nostrils to douse the front of his jacket.

The machine stood on her tail, propeller clawing ineffectively at the
air, engine wailing in over rev. Then she dropped away on one wing and
one side swooped sickeningly downwards.

Da Silva fought her, feeling the sloppiness of the stall in her
controls come alive again as she regained air-speed. The fluffy tops
of the mangroves rushed up to meet him, and desperately he tried to
ease her off. She was trying to respond, the fabric wrinkling along
her wings as they flexed to the enormous pressure. He felt her lurch
again as she touched the top branches, heard above the howl of the
engine the faint crackling brush of the vegetation against her belly.
Then suddenly, miraculously, she was clear; flying straight and level,
climbing slowly up and away from the hungry swamp.

She was sluggish and heavy, and there was something loose under her. It
banged and thumped and slapped in the slipstream, jarring the whole
fuselage. Da Silva could not dare to manoeuvre her. He held her on
the course she had chosen, easing her nose slightly upwards, slowly
gaining precious altitude.

At a thousand feet he brought her round in a wide gentle turn to the
south, and banging and thumping, one wing heavy, she staggered
drunkenly through the sky towards her rendezvous with Flynn O’Flynn.

Flynn stood up with slow dignity from where he had been leaning against
the hole of the palm tree.

“Where are you going?” Rosa opened her eyes and looked up at him.

“To do something you can’t do for me.”

“That’s the third time in an hour!” Rosa was suspicious.

“That’s why they call it the East African quickstep,” said Flynn, and
moved off ponderously into the undergrowth.

He reached the lantana bush, and looked around carefully.

He couldn’t trust Rosa not to follow him. Satisfied, he dropped to his
knees and dug with his hands in the loose sand.

With the air of an old-time pirate unearthing a chest of doubloon he
lifted the bottle from its grave, and withdrew the cork. The neck of
the bottle was in his mouth, when he heard the muted beat of the
returning aircraft. The bottle stayed there a while longer, Flynn’s
Adam’s apple pulsing up and down his throat as he swallowed, but his
eyes swivelled upwards and creased in concentration.

With a sigh of intense pleasure he re corked and laid the bottle once
more to rest, kicked sand over it, and set course for the beach.

“Can you see them?” he shouted the question at Rosa as he came down
through the palms. She was standing out in the open. Her head was
thrown back so that the long braid of her hair hung down to her waist
behind. She did not answer him, but the set of her expression was hard
and strained with anxiety. The men standing about her were silent
also, held by an expectant dread.

Flynn looked up and saw it coming in like a wounded bird, the engine
stuttering and surging irregularly, streaming a long bluish streak of
oily smoke from the exhaust manifold, the wings rocking crazily, and a
loose tangle of wreckage hanging and swinging under the belly where one
Of the landing wheels had been shot away.

It sagged wearily towards the beach, the broken beat of the engine
failing so they could hear the whisper of the wind in her rigging.

The single landing-wheel touched down on the hard sand and for fifty
yards she ran true, then with a jerk she toppled sideways. The port
wing hit into the sand, slewing her towards the edge of the sea,

her tail came up and over.

There was a crackling, ripping, tearing sound; and in a dust storm of
flying spend she cartwheeled, stern over stern.

The propeller tore into the beach, disintegrating in a blur of flying
splinters, and from the forward cockpit a human body was flung clear,
spinning in the air so that the outflung limbs were the spokes of a
wheel. It fell with a splash in the shallow water at the edge of the
beach, while the aircraft careened onwards, tearing herself to pieces.
A lower wing broke off, the guy wires snapping with a sound like a
volley of musketry. The body of the machine slowed as it hit the
water, skidding to a standstill on its back, with the surf washing
around it. Da Silva hung motionless in the back cockpit, suspended
upside down by his safety-straps, his arms dangling.

The next few seconds of silence were appalling.

“Help the pilot! I’ll get Sebastian.” Rosa broke it at last.

Mohammed and two other Askari ran with her towards where Sebastian was
lying awash, a piece of flotsam at the water’s edge.

“Come on!” Flynn shouted at the men near him, and lumbered through the
soft fluffy sand towards the wreck.

They never reached it.

There was a concussion, a vast disturbance in the air that sucked at
their eardrums, as the gasoline ignited in explosive combustion. The
machine and the surface of the sea about it were instantly transformed
into a roaring, raging sheet of flame.

They backed away from the heat. The flames were dark red laced with
satanic black smoke, and they ate the canvas skin from the body of the
aircraft, exposing the wooden framework beneath.

In the heart of the flames da Silva still hung in his cockpit, a
blackened monkey-like shape as his clothing burned. Then the fire ate
through the straps of his harness and he dropped heavily into the
shallow water, hissing and sizzling as the flames were quenched.

The fire was still Smouldering by the time Sebastian regained
consciousness, and was able to lift himself on one elbow. Muzzily he
stared down the beach at the smoking wreckage. The shadows of the
palms lay like the stripes of a tiger on the sand that the low evening
sun had softened to a drill gold.

“Da Silva?” Sebastian’s voice was thick and slurred. His nose was
broken and squashed across his face. Although Rosa had wiped most of
the blood away, there were still little black crusts of it in his
nostrils and at the corners of his mouth. Both his eyes were slits in
the swollen plum coloured bruises that bulged from the sockets.

“No!” Flynn shook his head. “He didn’t make it.”

“Dead?” whispered Sebastian.

“We buried him back in the bush.”

“What happened?” asked Rosa. “What on earth happened out there?” She
sat close beside him, protective as a mother over her child. Slowly
Sebastian turned his head to look at her.

“We found the Blitcher,”he said.

Captain Arthur Joyce, R.N was a happy man. He stooped over his cabin
desk, his hands placed open and flat on either side of the spread
Admiralty chart. He glowed with satisfaction as he looked down at the
hand-drawn circle in crude blue pencil as though it were the signature
of the President of the Bank of England on a cheque for a million
sterling.

“Good!” he said. “Oh, very good,” and he pursed his lips as though he
were about to whistle “Tipperary’. Instead he made a sucking sound,
and smiled across at Sebastian.

Behind his flattened nose and blue-ringed eyes, Sebastian smiled back
at him.

“A damn good show, Oldsmith!” Joyce’s expression changed, the little
lights of recognition sparkled suddenly in his eyes. “Oldsmith?” he
repeated. “I say, didn’t you open the bowling for Sussex in the 1911
cricket season?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“Good Lord! Joyce beamed at him. “I’ll never forget Your opening over
to Yorkshire in the first match of the season.

You dismissed Graham and Penridge for two runs two for two, hey?”

“Two for two, it was. “Sebastian liked this man.

“Fiery stuff! And then you made fifty-five runs?”

“Sixty-five,” Sebastian corrected him. “A record ninth wicket
partnership with Clifford Dumont of one hundred and eighty-sixV “Yes!
Yes! I remember it well. Fiery stuff! You were damned unlucky not to
play for England.” oh, I don’t know about that,” said Sebastian in
modest agreement.

“Yes, you were.” Joyce pursed his lips again. “Damned unlucky.”
Flynn O’Flynn had not understood a word of this. He was thrashing
around in his chair like an old buffalo in a trap, bored to the point
of pain. Rosa Oldsmith had understood no more than he had, but she was
fascinated. It was clear that Captain Joyce knew of some outstanding
accomplishment of Sebastian’s, and if a man like Joyce knew of it it ”
meant Sebastian was famous. She felt pride swell in her chest and she
smiled on Sebastian also.

“didn’t know, Sebastian. Why didn’t you tell me?” She glowed warmly
at him.

“Some other time,” Joyce interrupted quickly. “Now we must get on with
this other business.” And he returned his attention to the chart on
the desk.

“Now I want you to cast your mind back. Shut your eyes and try to see
it again. Every detail you can remember, every little detail it might
be important. Did you see any signs of damage?” Obediently Sebastian
closed his eyes, and was surprised at how vividly the acid of fear had
engraved the picture of Blitcher on his mind.

“Yes,” he said. “There were holes in her. Hundreds of holes, little
black ones. And at the front end the bows there were trapezes hanging
down on ropes, near the water.

You know the kind- that they use when they paint a high building Joyce
nodded at his secretary to record every word of it.

The single fan suspended over the table in the wardroom hummed quietly,
the blades stirred the air that was moist and warm as the bedding of a
malarial patient.

Except for the soft clink of cutlery on china, the only other sound was
that of Commissioner Fleischer drinking his soup. It was thick, green
pea soup, scalding hot, so that Fleischer found it necessary to blow
heavily on each spoonful before ingesting it with a noise, not of the
same volume, but with the delicate tonal quality, of a flushing water
closet. During the pause while he crumbled a slice of black bread into
his Soup, Fleischer looked -across the board at Lieutenant Kyller.

“So you did not find the enemy flying-machine, then?”

“No.” Kyller went on fiddling with his wine glass without looking up.
For forty-eight hours he and his patrols had searched the swamps and
channels and mangrove forests for the wreckage of the aircraft. He was
exhausted and covered with insect bites.

” Fleischer nodded solemnly. “It fell only a short way, but it did not
hit the trees. I was sure of that. I have seen sand-grouse do the
same thing sometimes when you shoot them with a shotgun. Pow! They
come tumbling down like this…” He fluttered his hand in the air,
letting it fall awards his soup, then suddenly they do this. “The hand
took flight again in the direction of Commander (Engineering)
Lochtkamper’s rugged Neanderthal face. They all watched it.

“The little bird flies away home. It was bad shooting from so close,”
said Fleischer, and ended the demonstration by picking up his soup
spoon, and the moist warm silence once more gripped the wardroom.

Commander Lochtkamper stoked his mouth as though it were one of his
furnaces. The knuckles of both his hands were knocked raw by contact
with steel plate and wire rope.

Even when Fleischer’s hand had flown into his face, he had not been
distracted from his thoughts. His mind was wholly occupied with steel
and machinery, weights and points of balance. He wanted to achieve
twenty degrees of starboard list on Blucher, so that a greater area of
her bottom would be exposed to his welders. This meant displacing one
thousand tons of dead weight. It seemed an impossibility unless we
flood the port magazines, he thought, and take the guns from their
turrets and move them. Then we could rig camels under her … “it was
not bad shooting,” said the gunnery lieutenant.

“She was flying too close, the rate of track was.. .” He broke off,
wiped the side of his long pointed nose with his forefinger, and
regarded balefully the sweat that came away on it. This fat peasant
would not understand, he would not waste energy in explaining the
technicalities. He contented himself with repeating, “It was not bad
shooting.”

“I think we must accept that the enemy machine has returned safely to
her base,” said Lieutenant Kyller. “Therefore we can expect the enemy
to mount some form of offensive action against us in the very near
future.” Kyller enjoyed a position of privilege in the wardroom. No
other of the junior officers would have dared to express his opinions
so freely. Yet none of them would have made as much sense as Kyller.
When he spoke his senior officers listened, if not respectfully, at
least attentively. Kyller had passed out sword of honour cadet from
Bremerhaven Naval Academy in 1910. His father was a Baron, a personal
friend of the Kaiser’s, and an Admiral of the Imperial Fleet. Kyller
was wardroom favourite, not only because of his dark good looks and
courteous manner but also because of his appetite for hard work, his
meticulous attention to detail, and his ready mind. He was a good
officer to have aboard a credit to the ship.

“What can the enemy do?” Fleischer asked with scorn.

He did not share the general opinion of Ernst Kyller. “We are safe
here ” what can he do?” Falkland “A superficial study of naval history
will reveal, Sir, that the English can be expected to do what you least
expect them to do. And that they will do it, quickly, efficiently and
with iron purpose.” Kyller scratched the lumpy red insect bites behind
his left ear.

Hah!” said Fleischer, and sprayed a little pea soup with the violence
of his disgust. “The English are fools and cowards at the worst, they
will skulk off the mouth of the river. They would not dare come in
here after uS.” I have no doubt that time will prove You correct,
Sir.” This was Kyller’s phrase of violent disagreement with a senior
officer, and from experience Captain von Kleine and his commanders
recognized it. They smiled a little.

“This soup is bitter,” said Fleischer, satisfied that he had carried
the argument. “The cook has used sea-water in it.” The accusation was
So outrageous, that even von Kleine looked up from his plate.

“Please do not let our humble hospitality delay you, Herr Commissioner.
You must be anxious to return up-river to your wood-cutting duties.”
And Fleischer subsided quickly, hunching over his food.

Von Kleine transferred his gaze to Kyller.

Kyller, you will not be returning with the Herr Commissioner. I am
sending Ensign Proust with him this trip.

You will be in command of the first line of defence that I plan to
place at the mouth of the delta, in readiness for the English attack.
You will attend the conference in my cabin after this meal, please.”
“Thank you, Sir.” His voice was husky with gratitude for the honour
his captain was conferring upon him. Von Kleine looked from him to his
gunnery lieutenant.

“You also, please, Guns. I want to relieve you of- your beloved upper
deck pom-poms.”

“You mean to take them off their mountings, sir?” the gunnery
lieutenant asked, looking at von Kleine dolefully over his long doleful
nose.

“I regret the necessity,” von Kleine told- him sympathetically.

Well, Henry. We were right. BBlitcher is there.”

“Unfortunately, Sir.” Two heavy cruisers tied up indefinitely on
blockade service.” Admiral Sir Percy thrust out his lower lip
lugubriously as he regarded the plaques of Renounce and Pegasus on the
Indian Ocean plot. “There is work for them elsewhere.”

“There is, at that,” agreed Henry Green.

“That request of Joyce’s for two motor torpedo-boats “Yes, Sir?” “We
must suppose he intends mounting a torpedo attack into the delta.” “It
looks like it, Sir.”

“It might work worth a try anyway. What can we scratch together for
him?”

“There is a full squadron at Bombay, and another at Aden, Sir.” For
five seconds, Sir Percy Howe reviewed the meagre forces with which he
was expected to guard two oceans.

With this new submarine menace, he could not detach a single ship from
the approaches to the Suez Canal it would have to be Bombay. “Send him
an M. T. B. from the” Bombay squadron.”

“He asked for two, sir.”

“Joyce knows full well that I only let him have half of anything he
requests. He always doubles up.”

“What about this recommendation for a decoration, sir?”

“The fellow who spotted the Blitcher?”

“Yes, sir.”

“A bit tricky Portuguese irregular and all that sort of thing “He’s a
British subject, sir.”

“Then he shouldn’t be with the dagos,” said Sir Percy.

“Leave it over until the operation is completed. We’ll think about it
after we’ve sunk the Blucher.” The sunset was blood and roses, nude
pink and tarnished gold as the British blockade squadron stood in
towards the land.

Renounce led with the commodore’s peri ant flying at her masthead. In
the smooth wide road of her wake, Pegasus slid d over the water. Their
silhouettes were crisp and black against the garish colours of the
sunset. There was something prim and old-maidish about the lines of a
heavy cruiser none of the solid majesty of a battleship, nor the jaunty
devil-may-care rake of a destroyer.

Close in under Pegasus’s beam, screened by her hull from the land, like
a cygnet swimming beside the swan, rode the motor torpedo-boat.

Even in this light surface chop she was taking in water.

Each wave puffed up over her bows and then streamed back greenish and
cream along her decks. The spray rattled against the thin canvas that
screened the open bridge.

Flynn O’Flynn crouched behind the screen and cursed the vaunting
ambition that had led him to volunteer as pilot for this expedition.
He glanced across at Sebastian who stood in the open wing of the
bridge, behind the batteries of Lewis guns. Sebastian was grinning as
the warm spray flew back into his face and trickled down his cheeks.

Joyce had recommended Sebastian for a Distinguished Service Order.

This was almost more than Flynn could bear.

He wanted one also. He had decided to go along now for that reason
alone. Therefore Sebastian was directly to blame for Flynn’s present
discomfort, and Flynn felt a small warmth of satisfaction as he looked
at the flattened, almost negroid contours of Sebastian’s new nose. The
young bastard deserved it, and he found himself wishing further
punishment on his son-in-law.

“Distinguished Service Order and all. he grunted. “A half-trained
chimpanzee could have done what he did. Yet who was it who found the
wheels in the first place? No, Flynn Patrick, there just ain’t no
justice in this world, but we’ll show the sons of bitches this time ..
.” His thoughts were interrupted by the small bustle of activity on
the bridge around him. An Aldis lamp was winking from the high dark
bulk of Renounce ahead of them.

The lieutenant commanding the torpedo-boat spelled the message aloud.

“Flag to YN2. D P departure point. Good luck.” He was a dumpy
amorphous figure in his duffle coat with the collar turned up. “Thanks
a lot, old chap and one up your pipe also. No, Signaller, don’t make
that.” He went on quickly, “YN 2 to Flag. Acknowledged!” Then
turning to the engine voice-pipe. “Both engines stop,” he said.

The beat of her engines faded away, and she wallowed in the trough of
the next wave. Renounce and Pegasus sailed on sedately, leaving the
tiny vessel rolling crazily in the turbulence of their wakes. A lonely
speck five miles off the mouth of the Rufiji delta, too far off for the
shore-watchers to see her in the fading evening light.

Lieutenant Ernst Kyller watched through his binoculars as the two
British cruisers turned in succession away from the land and coalesced
with the darkness that fell so swiftly over the ocean and the land.
They were gone.

“Every day it is the same.” Kyller let the binoculars fall against his
chest and pulled his watch from the pocket of his tunic. “Fifteen
minutes before sunset, and again fifteen minutes before sun-up they
sail past to show us that they are still waiting.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed the seaman who was squeezed into the crow’s-nest
beside Kyller.

“I will go down now. Moon comes up at 11-44 tonight keep awake.”
“Yes, sir.” Kyller swung his legs over the side and groped with his
feet for the rungs of the rope ladder. Then he climbed down the palm
tree to the beach fifty feet below. By the time he reached it the
light had gone, and the beach was a vague white blur down to the green
lights of phosphorus in the surf.

The sand crunched like sugar under his boots as he set off to where the
launch was moored. As he walked, his mind was wholly absorbed with the
details of his defence system.

There were only two of the many mouths of the Rufiji, up which the
English could attack. They were separated by a low wedge shaped island
of sand and mud and mangrove.

It was on the seaward side of this island that Kyller had sited the
four-pounder pom-poms taken from their mountings on Blucher’s upper
deck.

He had sunk a raft of logs into the soft mud to give them a firm
foundation on which to stand, and he had cut out the mangroves so they
commanded an arc of fire across both channels. His searchlights he
sited with equal care so they could sweep left or right without
blinding his gunners.

From Commander Lochtkamper he had solicited alength of four-inch steel
hawser. This was rather like an un rehabilitated insolvent raising an
unsecured loan from a money-lender, for Commander Locktkamper was not
easily parted from his stores. Far up river Ensign Proust had diverted
some of his axe-men to felling fifty giant African mahogany trees. They
had floated the trunks down on the tide; logs the size of the columns
of a Greek these and the cable Kyller had fashioned stretched across
both channels, an obstacle that it would rip the belly out of even a a
heavy cruiser coming down on it at speed.

Not satisfied with this, for Kyller had highly developed the Teutonic
capacity for taking infinite pains, he lifted the fat globular mines
with their sinister horns that Blitcher had sown haphazardly behind her
on her journey up-river. These he rearranged into near geometrical
ranks behind his log boom, a labour that left his men almost prostrated
with nervous exhaustion. This work had taken ten days to complete, and
immediately Kyller had begun building observation posts. He placed
them on every hump of high ground that commanded a view of the ocean,
he built them in the tops of the palm trees, and on the smaller islands
that stood out at sea. He arranged a system of signals with his
observers flags and heliographs for the day, sky-rockets for the
night.

During the hours of darkness, two whale boats rowed steadily back and
forth along the log boom, manned by seamen who slapped steadily and
sulkily at the light cloud of mosquitoes that hal oed their heads, and
made occasional brief but vitriolic statements about Lieutenant
Kyller’s ancestry, present worth and future prospects.

At 2200 hours on the moonless night of 16 June 1915, the British motor
torpedo-boat YN2 crept with both engines running dead slow into the
centre of Lieutenant Kyller’s elaborate reception arrangements.

After the clean cool air on the open sea, the smell was like entering
the monkey-house of London Zoo.

The land masked the breeze, and the frolic of the Surface chop died
away. As the torpedo-boat groped its way into the delta, the miasma of
the swamps spread out to meet her.

“my God, that smell.” Sebastian twitched his flattened nose. “It
brings back pleasant memories.”

“Lovely, isn’t it? “agreed Flynn.

“We must be almost into the channel.” Sebastian peered into the night,
sensing rather than seeing the loom of the mangroves ahead and on
either hand.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing on this barge, grunted Flynn.
“This is raving bloody madness. We’ve got more chance of catching a
clap than finding our way up to where Blitcher is anchored.” “Faith!
Major O’Flynn, and shame on ye!” The commander of the torpedo boat
exclaimed in his best musichl brogue. “We put our trust in you and the
Lord.” His tone changed and he spoke crisply to the helmsman beside
him. “Lay her off a point to starboard.”

The long nose of the boat, with the torpedo tubes lying like a rack of
gigantic champagne bottles on her foredeck, swung fractionally.

The commander cocked his head to listen to the whispered soundings
relayed from the leadsman in the bows.

“Twelve fathoms,” he repeated thoughtfully. “So far so good Then he
turned back to Flynn.

“Now, Major, I heard you shooting the blarney to Captain Joyce about
how well you know this river, I think your exact words were, “Like you
know the way to your own Thunder Box.” You don’t seem so certain about
it any longer. Why is that?”

“It’s dark, “said Flynn sulkily.

“My, so it is. But that shouldn’t fluster an old river pilot like
you.”

“Well, it sure as hell does.”

“If we get into the channel and lay up until the moon rises, would that
help?”

“It wouldn’t do any harm.” That exchange seemed to exhaust the subject
and for a further fifteen minutes the tense silence on the bridge was
spoiled only by the commander’s quiet orders to the helm, as he kept
his ship within the ten fathom line of the channel.

Then Sebastian made a contribution.

“I say, there’s something dead ahead of us.” A patch of deeper
darkness in the night; a low blurred shape that showed against the
faint sheen of the star reflections on the surface. A reef perhaps?
No, there was a splash alongside it as an oar dipped and pulled.

“Guard boat!” said the commander, and stooped to the voice-pipe.
“Both engines ” ahead together.” The deck canted sharply under their
feet as the bows lifted, the whisper of the engines rose to a dull
bellow and the torpedo-boat plunged forward like a bull at the cape.

“Hold on! I’m going to ram it.” The commander’s voice was pitched at
conversational level, and a hubbub of shouts broke out ahead, oars
splashed Frantically as the guard boat tried to pull out of their line
of charge.

“Steer for them,” said the commander pleasantly, and the helmsman put
her over a little.

Flash and crack, flash and crack, someone in the guard boat fired a
rifle just as the torpedo-boat struck her. It was a glancing blow,
taken on her shoulder, that spun the little whale boat aside, shearing
off the protruding oars with a crackling popping sound.

She scraped down the gunwale of the torpedo-boat, and then was left
astern bobbing and rocking wildly as the larger vessel surged ahead.

Then abruptly it was no longer dark. From all around them sparkling
trails of fire shot into the sky and burst in balls of blue, that lit
it all with an eerie flickering glow.

“Sky rockets, be Jesus. Guy Fawkes, Guy,” said the commander.

They could see the banks of mangrove massed on either hand, and ahead
of them the double mouths of the two channels.

“Steer for the southern channel.” This time the commander lifted his
voice a little, and the ship plunged onward, throwing out white wings
of water from under her bows, bucking and jarring as she leapt over the
low swells pushed up by the out-flowing tide, so the men on the bridge
hung on to the hand rail to steady themselves.

Then all of them gasped together in the pain of seared eyeballs as a
solid shaft of dazzling white light struck them.

It leapt out from the dark wedge of land that divided the two channels,
and almost immediately two other searchlights on the outer banks of the
channels joined in the hunt. Their beams fastened on the ship like the
tentacles of a squid on the carcass of a flying fish.

“Get those lights!” This time the commander shouted the order at the
gunners behind the Lewis guns at the corners of the bridge. The tracer
that hosed out in a gentle arc towards the base of the searchlight
beams was anaemic and pinkly pale, in contrast to the brilliance they
were trying to quench.

The torpedo-boat roared on into the channel.

Then there was another sound. A regular thump, thump, thump like the
working of a distant water pump. Lieutenant Kyller had opened up with
his quick-firing pam-pam.

The four-pound tracer emanated from the dark blob of the island.
Seeming to float slowly towards the torpedo boat but gaining speed as
it approached, until it flashed past with the whirr of a rocketing
pheasant.

“Jesus” said Flynn as though he meant it. He sat down hurriedly on the
deck and began to unlace his boots.

Still held in the cold white grip of the searchlights, the torpedo-boat
roared on with four-pounder shell streaking around her, and bursting in
flurries of spray on the surface near her. The long dotted tendrils of
tracer from her own Lewis guns still arched out in delicate lines
towards the shore, and suddenly they had effect.

The beam of one of the searchlights snapped off as a bullet shattered
the glass, for a few seconds the filaments continued to glow dull red
as they burned themselves out.

In the relief from the blinding glare, Sebastian Could see ahead, and
he saw a sea serpent. It lay across the channel, undulating in the
swells, bellied from bank to bank by the push of the tide, showing its
back at the top of the swells and then ducking into the troughs; long
and sinuous and menacing, Lieutenant Kyller’s log boom waited to
welcome them.

“Good God, what’s that?”

“Full port rudder!” the commander bellowed. “Both engines full astern
together.” And before the ship could answer her helm or the drag of
her propellers, she ran into a log four feet thick and a hundred feet
long. A log as unyielding as a reef of solid granite that stopped her
dead in the water and crunched in her bows.

The men in the well of her bridge were thrown into a heap of tangled
bodies on the deck. A heap from which the bull figure of Flynn Patrick
O’Flynn was the first to emerge, On stockinged feet he made for the
side of the ship.

“Flynn, where are you going?” Sebastian shouted after him.

“Home,”said Flynn.

“Wait for me. “Sebastian scrambled to his knees.

The engines roaring in reverse pulled the torpedo-boat back off the
log-boom, her plywood hull crackling and speaking, but she was mortally
wounded. She was sinking with a rapidity that amazed Sebastian.
Already her cockpit was flooding.

“Abandon ship, “shouted the commander.

“You damned tooting,” said Flynn O’Flynn and leaped in an untidy tangle
of arms and legs into the water.

Like a playful seal the torpedo-boat rolled over on its side, and
Sebastian jumped. Drawing his breath while he was in the air, steeling
himself against the cold of the water.

he was surprised at how warm it was.

from the bridge of HMS. Renounce, the survivors looked like a cluster
of bedraggled water rats. In the dawn they floundered and splashed
around the edge of the balloon of stained and filthy water where the
Rufiji had washed them out, like the effluent from the sewer outlet of
a city. Renounce found them before the sharks did, for there was no
blood. There was one broken leg, a fractured collar bone and a few
cracked ribs but miraculously there was no blood. So from a crew of
fourteen, Renounce recovered every man including the two pilots.

They came aboard with their hair matted, their faces streaked, and
their eyes swollen and inflamed with engine oil. With a man on either
hand to guide them, leaving a trail of malodorous Rufiji water across
the deck, they shuffled down to the sick bay, a sodden and sorrow-full
looking assembly of humanity.

“Well,” said Flynn O’Flynn, “if we don’t get a medal for that, then I’m
going back to my old job and the hell with them.”

“That,” said Captain Arthur Joyce, sitting hunched behind his desk,
“was not a roaring success.” He showed no inclination to whistle
“Tipperary’.

“It wasn’t even a good try, sir,” agreed the torpedo-boat commander.
“The Boche had everything ready to throw at our heads.”

“log boom!”-” Joyce shook his head, “good Lord, they went out with the
Napoleonic War!” He said it in a tone that implied that he was a
victim of unfair play.

“It was extraordinarily effective, sir.” Yes, it must have been.”
Joyce sighed. “Well, at the very least we have established that an
attack up the channel is not practical.”

“During the few minutes before the tide swept us away from the boom I
looked beyond it, and I saw what I took to be a mine. I think it
certain that the Boche have laid a minefield beyond the boom, sit.”

“Thank you, Commander, “Joyce nodded. “I will see to it that their
Lordships receive a full account of your conduct.

I consider it excellent.” Then he went on, “I would value your opinion
of Major O’Flynn and his son do you think they are reliable men?”

“Well the commander hesitated, he did not want to be unfair, they can
both swim and the young one seems to have good’ eyesight Apart from
that I am not really in a position to give a judgement.”

“No, I don’t suppose you are. Still I wish I knew more about them. For
the next phase in this operation I am going to rely quite heavily on
them.” He stood up. “I think I will talk to them now.”

“You mean you actually want someone to go on board Blitcher!” Flynn
was appalled.

“I have explained to you, Major, how important it is for me to know
exactly what state she is in. I must be able to estimate when she is
likely to break out of the delta. I must know how much time I have.”
Madness, whispered Flynn. “Stark raving bloody madness.” He stared at
Joyce in disbelief.

“You have told me how well organized is your intelligence system
ashore, of the reliable men who work for you. Indeed it is through you
that we know that the Germans are cutting c(rdwood and taking it
aboard. We know that they have recruited an army of native labourers
and are using them not only for wood-cutting, but also for heavy work
aboard the Blucher.”

“So?” Into that single word Flynn put a wealth of caution.

“One of your men could infiltrate the labour gangs and get aboard
Blucher.” And Flynn perked up immediately; he had anticipated that
Joyce would suggest that Flynn Patrick O’Flynn should personally
conduct a survey of Blitcher’s damage.

“It might be done.” There was alengthy pause while Flynn considered
every aspect of the business. “Of course, Captain, my men aren’t
fighting patriots like you and I. They work for money. They are…”
Flynn searched for the word. “They are…”

“Mercenaries?”

“Yes,” said Flynn. “That’s exactly what they are.”

“Hmm,” said Joyce. “You mean they would want payment?” “They’d want a
big dollop of lolly and you can’t blame them, can you?”

“The person you send would have to be a first-class man.”

“He would be,” Flynn assured him.

“On behalf of His Majesty’s Government, I could undertake to purchase a
complete and competent report on the disposition of the German cruiser
Blitcher, for the sum of he thought about it a moment, one thousand
pounds.”

“Gold?”

“Gold,” agreed Joyce.

“That would cover it nicely.” Flynn nodded, then allowed his eyes to
move across the cabin to where Sebastian and Rosa sat side by side on
the day couch. They were holding hands, and showing more interest in
each other than in the bargainings of Flynn and Captain Joyce.

It was a good thing, Flynn decided, that the Wakamba tribe from which
Commissioner Fleischer had recruited the majority of his labour force,
affected clean-shaven pates. It would be impossible for a person of
European descent to dress his straight hair to resemble the woollen cap
of an African.

It was also a good thing about the M’senga tree. From the bark of the
M’senga tree the fishermen of Central Africa decocted a liquid in which
they soaked their nets. It toughened the fibres of the netting and it
also stained the skin. Once Flynn had dipped his finger into a basin
of the stuff, and despite constant scrubbing, it was fifteen days
before the black stain faded.

It was finally a good thing about Sebastian’s nose. Its new contours
were decidedly negroid.

A thousand pounds!” said Flynn O’Flynn as though it were a
benediction, and he scooped another mugful of the black liquid and
poured it over Sebastian Oldsmith’s clean-shaven scalp. “Think of it,
Bassie, me lad, a thousand pounds! Your half share of that is five
hundred.

Why! You’ll be in a position to pay me back every penny you owe me.
You’ll be out of debt at last.” They were camped on the Abati river,
one of the tributaries of the Rufiji. Six miles downstream was
Commissioner Fleischer’s wood-cutting camp.

“It’s money for jam,” opined Flynn. He was sitting comfortably in a
riempie chair beside the galvanized iron tub, in which Sebastian
Oldsmith squatted with his knees drawn up under his chin. Sebastian
had the dejected look of a spaniel taking a bath in flea shampoo. The
liquid in which he sat was the colour and viscosity of strong Turkish
coffee and already his face and body were a dark purply chocolate
colour.

Sebastian isn’t interested in the money,” said Rosa Oldsmith. She
knelt beside the tub and, tenderly as a mother bathing her infant, she
was ladling the M’senga juice over Sebastian’s shoulders and back.

“I know, I know!” Flynn agreed quickly. “We are all doing our duty.
We all remember little Maria may the Lord bless and keep her tiny soul.
But the money won’t hurt us either.” Sebastian closed his eyes as
another mugful cascaded over his head.

Rub it into the creases round your eyes and under your chin,” said
Flynn, and Sebastian obeyed. “Now, let’s go over it again, Bassie, so
you don’t get it all balled up. One of Mohammed’s cousins is boss-boy
of the gang loading the timber into the launches. They are camped on
the bank of the Rufiji. Mohammed will slip you in tonight, and
tomorrow his cousin will get you on to one of the launches going down
with a load for Blitcher. All you’ve got to do is keep your eyes open.
Joyce just wants to know what work they are doing to repair her;
whether or not they’ve got the boilers fired; things like that. You
understand?” Sebastian nodded glumly.

“You’ll come back up-river tomorrow evening, slip out of camp soon as
it’s dark and meet us here. Simple as a pimple, right?” “Right,”
murmured Sebastian.

“Right then. Out you get and dry off.” As the dry wind from the
uplands blew over his naked body, the purply tint of the dye faded into
a matt chocolate.

Rosa had modestly moved away into the grove of Manila trees behind the
camp. Every few minutes Flynn came across to Sebastian and touched his
skin.

“Coming along nicely,” he said, and, “Nearly done,” and, “Jeer, you
look better than real.” Then finally in Swahili, “Right, Mohammed,
mark his face.” Mohammed squatted in front of Sebastian with a tiny
gourd of cosmetics; a mixture of animal fat and ash and ochre. With
his fingers he daubed Sebastian’s cheeks and nose and forehead with the
tribal patterns. His head held on one side in artistic concentration,
making soft clucking sounds of concentration as he worked, until at
last Mohammed was satisfied.

“He is ready.”

“Get the clothes,” said Flynn. This was an exaggeration.

Sebastian’s attire could hardly be called clothing.

A string of bark around his neck from which was suspended a plugged
duiker horn filled with snuff, a cloak of animal skin that smelled of
wood-smoke and man-sweat, draped over his shoulders.

“It stinks!” said Sebastian cringing from contact with the garment.
“And it’s probably got lice.”

“The real thing,” agreed Flynn jovially.

“All right, Mohammed. Show him how to fit the istopo the hat.”

“I don’t have to wear that also,” Sebastian protested, staring in
horror as Mohammed came towards him, grinning.

“Of course you’ve got to wear it.” Impatiently Flynn brushed aside his
protest.

The hat was a hollow six-inch length cut from the neck of a calabash
gourd. An anthropologist would have called it a penis-sheath.

It had two purposes: firstly to protect the wearer from the scratches
of thorns and the bites of insect pests, and secondly as a boost to his
masculinity.

Once in position it looked impressive, enhancing Sebastian’s already
considerable muscular development.

Rosa said nothing when she returned. She took one long startled look
at the hat and then quickly averted her gaze, but her cheeks and neck
flared bright scarlet.

“For God’s sake, Bassie. Act like you proud of it. Stand up straight
and take your hands away. Flynn coached his son-in-law.

Mohammed knelt to slip the rawhide sandals on to Sebastian’s feet,

and then han-] him the small blanket roll tied with a bark string.

Sebastian slung it over one shoulder, then picked up the long-handled
throwing-spear.

Automatically he grounded the butt and leaned his weight on the shaft;
lifting his left leg and placing the sole of his foot against the calf
of his right leg, he stood in the stork posture of rest.

In every detail he was a Wakamba tribesman.

“You’ll do,” said Flynn.

In the dawn, little wisps of river mist swirled around

Commissioner Fleischer’s legs as he came down the bank and on to the
improvised jetty of logs.

He ran his eyes over the two launches, checking the ropes that held
down the cargoes of timber. The launches sat low in the water,

their exhausts puttering and blowing pale blue smoke that drifted away
across the slick surface of the river.

“Are you ready?” he called to his sergeant of Askari.

“The men are eating, Bwana Mkuba.”

“Tell them to hurry,” growled

Fleischer. It was a futile order and he stepped to the edge of the
jetty, unbuttoning his trousers. He urinated noisily into the river,

and the circle of men who squatted around the three-legged pot on the
jetty watched him with interest, but without interrupting their
breakfast.

With leather cloaks folded around their shoulders against the chill air
off the water, they reached in turn into the pot and took a handful of
the thick white maize porridge, moulding it into a mouth-size ball and
then with the thumb forming a cup in the ball,

dipping the ball into the smaller enamel dish and filling the
depression with the creamy yellow gravy it contained, a tantalizing
mixture of stewed catfish and tree caterpillars.

It was the first time that Sebastian had tasted this delicacy. He sat
with the others and imitated their eating routine, forcing himself to
place a lump of the spiced maize meal in his mouth. His gorge rose and
gagged him, it tasted like fish oil and new-mown grass, not really
offensive it was just the thought of those fat yellow caterpillars.

But had he been eating ham sandwiches, his appetite would not have been
hearty.

His stomach was cramped with apprehension. He was a spy. A word from
one of his companions, and Commissioner Fleischer would shout for the
hanging ropes. Sebastian remembered the men he had seen in the
monkey-bean tree on the bank of this same river, he remembered the
flies clustered on their swollen, lolling tongues. It was not a mental
picture conducive to enjoyment of breakfast.

Now, pretending to eat, he watched Commissioner Fleischer instead.

It was the first time he had done so at leisure. The bulky figure in
grey corduroy uniform, the pink boiled face with pale golden
eyelashes,

the full petulant lips, the big freckled hands, all these revolted
him.

He felt his uneasiness swamped by a revival of the emotions that had
possessed him as he stood beside the newly filled grave of his daughter
on the heights above Lalapanzi.

“Black pig-animals,” shouted Herman Fleischer in Swahili, as he
rebuttoned his clothing. “That is enough! You do nothing but eat and
sleep. It is time now for work.” He waddled across the logs of the
jetty, into the little circle of porters. His first kick sent the
three-legged pot clattering, his second kick caught Sebastian in the
back and threw him forward on to his knees.

“Rasch!” He aimed another kick at one of them, but it was dodged,

and the porters scattered to the launches.

Sebastian scrambled up. He had been kicked only once before in his
life, and Flynn O’Flynn had learned not to do it again. For

Sebastian there was nothing so humiliating as the contact of another
man’s foot against his person, also it had hurt.

Herman Fleischer had turned away to chivvy the others, so he did not
see the hatred nor the way that Sebastian snarled at him, crouching
like aleopard. Another second and he would have been on him. He might
have killed Fleischer before the Askari shot him down but he never made
the attempt.

A hand on his arm. Mohammed’s cousin beside him, his” voice very
low.

“Come! Let it pass. They will kill us also.” And when Fleischer
turned back the two of them had gone to the launch.

On the run down-river, Sebastian huddled with the others. Like them,
drawing his cloak over his head to keep off the sun, but unlike them,
he did not sleep. Through half-hooded eyes he was still watching

Herman Fleischer, and his thoughts were hate-Ugly.

Even with the current, the run in the deep-laden launches took almost
four hours, and it was noon before they chugged around the last bend in
the channel and turned in towards the mangrove forests.

Sebastian saw Herman Fleischer swallow the last bite of sausage and
carefully repack the remainder into his haversack. He stood up and
spoke to the man at the rudder, and both of them peered ahead.

“We have arrived,” said Mohammed’s cousin, and removed his cloak from
over his head. The little huddle of porters stirred into wakefulness
and Sebastian stood up with them. all This time he knew what to look
for, and he saw the muzzy silhouette of the Blucher skulking under her
camouflage. From low down on the water she looked mountainous, and
Sebastian’s spine tingled as he remembered when last he had seen her
from this angle, driving down to ram them with those axe-sharp blows.
But now she floated awry, listing heavily.

“The boat leans over to one side.”

“Yes,” agreed Mohammed’s cousin. “The Allemand wanted it so. There
has been a great carrying of goods within her, they have moved
everything to make the boat lean over.”

“Why?” The man shrugged and pointed with his chin. “They have lifted
her belly from the water, see how they work with fire on the holes in
her skin.” Tiny as beetles, men swarmed on the exposed hull,

and even in the bright glare of midday, the welding torches flared and
sparkled with blue-white flame. The new plating was conspicious in its
coat of dull brown zinc oxide paint, against the battleship-grey of the
original hull.

As the launch approached, Sebastian studied the work carefully.

He could see that it was nearing completion, the welders were running
closed the last seams in the new plating. Already there were painters
covering the oxide red with the matt grey final coat.

The pock marks of the shell splinters in her upper-works following had
been closed, and here again men hung on the flimsy trapezes of rope and
planks, their arms lifting and falling as they plied the paint
brushes.

An air of bustle and intent activity gripped the Blitcher.

Everywhere men moved about fifty different tasks, while the uniforms of
the officers were restless white spots roving about her decks.

“They have closed all the holes in her belly?” Sebastian asked.

“All of them,” Mohammed’s cousin confirmed. “See how she spits out the
water that was in her womb.” And he pointed again with his chin. From
a dozen outlet vents, Blitcher’s pumps were expelling solid streams of
brown water as she emptied the flooded compartments.

“There is smoke from her chimneys,” Sebastian exclaimed, as he noticed
for the first time the faint shimmer of heat at the mouths of her
stacks.

“Yes. They have built fire in the iron boxes deep inside her. My
brother Walaka. works there now. He is helping to tend the fires. At
first the fires were small, but each day they feed them higher.”

Sebastian nodded thoughtfully, he knew it took time to heat cold
furnaces without cracking the linings of fireclay.

The launch nosed in and bumped against the cliff-high side of the
cruiser.

“Come, said Mohammed’s cousin. “We will climb up and work with the
gangs carrying the wood down into her. You will see more up there.” A
new wave of dread flooded over Sebastian. He didn’t want to go up
there among the enemy. But already his guide was scrambling up the
catwalk that hung down Blucher’s flank.

Sebastian adjusted his penis-sheath, hitched up his cloak, took a deep
breath and followed him.

orrietirries it goes like that. In the beginning everything is an
obscene shambles; nothing but snags and accidents and delays. Then
suddenly everything drops into place and the job is finished.” Standing
under the awning on the foredeck, Commander (Engineering) Lochtkamper
was a satisfied man, as he looked around the ship.

“Two weeks ago it looked as though we would still be messing around
when the war was over but now!”

“You have done well,” von

Kleine understated the facts.

“Again you have justified my confidence. But now I have another task
to add to your burdens.”

“What is it, Captain?” Lochtkamper kept his voice noncommittal, but
there was a wariness in his eyes.

“I want to alter the ship’s profile change it to resemble that of a
British heavy cruiser.”

“How?”

“A dummy stack abaft the radio office. Canvas on a wooden frame. Then
mask “a turret, and block in the dip of our waist. If we run into the
British blockade squadron in the night, it may give us the few extra
minutes that will make the difference between success or failure.” Von
Kleine spoke again as he turned away, “Come, I will show you what I
mean.” Lochtkamper fell in beside him and they started aft, an
incongruous pair; the engineer swaddled in soiled overalls, long arms
dangling, shambling along beside his captain like a trained ape. Von
Kleine tall over him, his tropical whites crisp and sterile, hands
clasped behind his back and golden beard bowed forward on to his chest,
leaning slightly against the steeply canted angle of the deck.

He spoke carefully. “When can I sail, Commander? I must know
precisely. Is the work so far advanced that you can say with
certainty?” Lochtkamper was silent, considering his reply as they
picked their way side by side through the milling jostle of seamen and
native porters.

“I will have full pressure on my boilers by tomorrow night,

another day after that to complete the work on the hull, two more days
to adjust the trim of the ship and to make the alterations to the
superstructure,” he mused aloud.

Then he looked up. Von Kleine was watching him. “Four days, “he said.
“I will be ready in four days.”

“Four days. You are certain of that?”

“Yes.”

“Four days,” repeated von Kleine, and he stopped in midstride to think.
This morning he had received a message from

Governor Schee in Dares Salaam, a message relayed from the Admiralty in
Berlin. Naval Intelligence reported that three days ago a convoy of
twelve troop ships, carrying Indian and South African infantry, had
left Durban harbour.

Their destination was not known, but it was an educated guess that the
British were about to open a new theatre of war. The campaign in

German West Africa had been brought to a swift and decisive conclusion
by the South Africans. Botha and Smuts had launched a double-pronged
offensive, driving in along the railroads to the German capital of

Windhoek. The capitulation of the German West African army had
released the South African forces for work elsewhere. It was almost
certain that those troopships were trundling up the east coast at this
very moment, intent on a landing at one of the little harbours that
dotted the coast of East Africa. Tonga perhaps, or Kilwa Kvinje
possibly even Dares Salaam itself.

He must have his ship seaworthy and battle-ready to break out through
the blockade squadron, and destroy that convoy.

“The big job will be readjusting the ship’s trim. There is much to be
done. Stores to be manhandled, shell from the magazines, the guns
remounted .. .” Lochtkamper interrupted his thoughts. “We will need
labour.”

“I will order Fleischer to bring all his forced labour down to assist
with the work,” von Kleine muttered. “But we must sail in four days.
The moon will be right on the night of the thirtieth, we must break out
then.” The saintly face was ruffled by the force of his concentration,
he paced slowly, the golden beard slink on his chest as he formulated
his plans, speaking aloud. Kyller has buoyed the channel. He must
start clearing the minefield at the entrance. We can cut the boom at
the last moment and the current will sweep it aside.”

They had reached the waist of the cruiser. Von Kleine was so deep in
his thoughts that it took Lochtkamper’s restraining hand on his arm, to
return him to reality.

“Careful, sir.” With a start von Kleine looked up. They had walked
into a knot, of African porters. Wild tribesmen, naked beneath their
filthy leather cloaks, faces daubed with yellow ochre. They were
man-handling the faggots of cordwood that were coming aboard from the
launch that lay alongside Blitcher. One of the heavy bundles was
suspended from the boom of the derrick, it was swaying twenty feet
above the deck and von Kleine had been about to walk under it.

Lochtkamper’s warning stopped him.

While he waited for them to clear away the faggot, von Kleine idly
watched the native gang of workers.

One of the porters caught his attention. He was taller than his
companions, his body sleeker, lacking the bunched and knotty Muscle.

His legs also were sturdier and finely moulded. The man lifted his
head from his labours, and von Kleine looked into his face. The
features were delicate; the lips not as full as, the forehead broader
and deeper than, the typical African.

But it was the eyes that jerked von Kleine’s attention back from the
troop convoy. They were brown, dark brown and shifty. Von Kleine had
learned to recognize guilt in the faces of his subordinates, it showed
in the eyes. This man was guilty. It was only an instant that von
Kleine saw it, then the porter dropped his gaze and stooped to take a
grip on the bundle of timber. The man worried him, left him feeling
vaguely uneasy, he wanted to speak with him question him. He started
towards him.

“Captain! Captain!” Commissioner Fleischer had come puffing up the
catwalk from the launch, plump and sweaty; he was pawing von

Kleine’s arm.

“I must speak with you, Captain.”

“Ah, Commissioner,” von Kleine greeted him coolly, trying to avoid the
damp Paw. “One moment, please.

“I wish to.

“It is a matter of the utmost importance. Ensign Proust – .”

“In a moment, Commissioner.” Von Kleine pulled away, but Fleischer was
determined. He stepped in front of von Kleine, blocking his path.

“Ensign Proust, the cowardly little prig…” and von Kleine found
himself embroiled in a long report about Ensign Proust’s lack of
respect for the dignity of the Commissioner. He had been
insubordinate, he had argued with Herr Fleischer, and further he had
told Herr Fleischer that he considered him “fat’.

“I will speak to Proust,” said von Kleine. It was a trivial matter and
he wanted no part of it. Then Commander Lochtkamper was beside them.
Would the Captain speak to the Herr Commissioner about labour for the
handling of ballast? They fell into a long discussion and while they
talked, the gang of porters lugged the bundle of timber aft and were
absorbed by the bustling hordes of workmen.

Sebastian was sweating with fright; trembling, giddy with fright.

Clearly he had sensed the German officer’s suspicions. Those cold blue
eyes had burned like dry ice. Now he stooped under his load, trying to
shrink himself into insignificance, trying to overcome the grey clammy
sense of dread that threatened to crush him.

“He saw you, wheezed Mohammed’s cousin, shuffling along beside

Sebastian.

“Yes.” Sebastian bent lower. “Is he still watching?” The old man
glanced back over his shoulder.

“No. He speaks with Mafuta, the fat one.”

“Good.” Sebastian felt a lift of relief. “We must get back on the
launch.”

“The loading is almost finished, but we must first speak with my
brother. He waits for us.” They turned the corner of the aft
gun-turrets. On the deck was a mountain of cordwood. Stacked neatly
and lashed down with rope. Black men swarmed over it, between them
spreading a huge green tarpaulin over the wood pile.

They reached the wood pile and added the faggots they carried to the
stack. Then, in the custom of Africa, they paused to rest and talk. A
man clambered down from the wood pile to join them, a sprightly old
gentleman with woolly grey hair, impeccably turned out in cloak and
penis sheath Mohammed’s cousin greeted him with courteous affection,
and they took snuff together.

“This man is my brother, “he told Sebastian. “His name is Walaka.

When he was a young man he killed a lion with a spear. It was a big
lion with a black mane.” To Sebastian this information seemed to be
slightly irrelevant, his fear of discovery was making him nervously
impatient. There were Germans all around them, big blond Germans
bellowing orders as they chivvied on the labour gangs, Germans looking
down on them from the tall superstructure above them, Germans elbowing
them aside as they passed. Sebastian found it difficult to
concentrate.

His two accomplices were involved in a family discussion.

It seemed that Walaka’s youngest daughter had given birth to a fine
son, but that during his absence aleopard had raided Walaka’s village
and killed three of his goats. The new grandson did not seem to
compensate Walaka for the loss of his goats. He was distressed.

“Leopards are the excrement of dead lepers,” he said, and would have
enlarged on the subject but Sebastian interrupted him.

“Tell me of the things you have seen on this canoe. Say swiftly,

there is little time. I must go before the Allemand comes for all of
us with the ropes.” Mention of the ropes brought the meeting to
order,

and Walaka launched into his report.

There were fires burning in the iron boxes in the belly of the canoe.
Fires of such heat that they pained the eye when the door of the box
was opened, fires with a breath like that of a hundred bush fires,
fires that consumed … “Yes, Yes.” Sebastian cut short the lyrical
description.

“What else?” There had been a great carrying of goods, moving of them
to one side of the canoe to make it lean in the water.

They had carried boxes and bales, unbolted machinery and guns.

See how they had been moved. They had taken from the rooms under her
roof a great quantity of the huge bullets, also the white bags of
powder for the guns and placed them in other rooms on the far side.

“What else?” There was more, much more to tell. Walaka enthused about
meat which came out of little tins, of lanterns that burned without
wick, flame or oil, of great wheels that spun, and boxes of steel that
screamed and hummed, of clean fresh water that gushed from the months
of long rubber snakes, sometimes cold and at other times hot as though
it had been boiled over a fire. There were marvels so numerous that it
confused a man.

“These things I know. Is there nothing else that you have seen?”

Indeed there was. The Allemand had shot three native porters, lining
them up and covering their eyes with strips of white cloth. The men
had jumped and wriggled and fallcii in a most comical fashion, and
after-wards the GerJulius had washed the blood from the deck with water
from the long snakes. Since then none of the other porters had helped
themselves to blankets and buckets and other small movables the price
was exorbitant.

Walaka’s description of the execution had a chilling effect on

Sebastian. He had done what he had come to do and now his urge to
leave Blitcher became overpowering. It was helped on by a German petty
officer who joined the group uninvited.

“You lazy black baboons,” he bellowed. “This is not a bloody

Sunday-school outing move, you swine, move!” And his boots flew. Led
by Mohammed’s cousin they left Walaka without farewell and scampered
back along the deck. Just before they reached the entry port,

Sebastian checked. The two German officers stood where he had left
them, but now they were looking up at the high smoke stacks. The tall
officer with the golden beard was describing sweeping motions with his
outstretched hand, talking while the stocky one listened intently.

Mohammed’s cousin scurried past them and disappeared over the side into
the launch, leaving Sebastian hesitant and reluctant to run the
gauntlet of those pale blue eyes.

“Manali, come quickly. The boat swims, you will be left!”

Mohammed’s cousin called from down below, his voice faint but urgent
above the chug of the launch’s engine.

Sebastian started forward again, his stomach a cold lump under his
ribs. A dozen paces and he had reached the entry port.

The German officer turned and saw him. He challenged with raised
voice, and came towards Sebastian, one arm outstretched as though to
hold him.

Sebastian whirled and dived down the catwalk. Below him the launch was
casting off her lines, water churning back from her propeller.

Sebastian reached the grating at the bottom of the catwalk. There was
a gap of ten feet between him and the launch. He jumped, hung for a
moment in the air, then hit the gunwale of the launch. His clutching
fingers found a grip while his legs dangled in the warm water.

Mohammed’s Cousin caught his shoulder and dragged him aboard.

They tumbled together in a heap on the deck ofthelaunch.

“Bloody kaffir,” said Herman Fleischer and stooped to cuff them both
heavily around the ears. Then he went back to his seat in the stern,
and Sebastian smiled at him with something close to affection.

After those deadly blue eyes, Herman Fleischer seemed as dangerous as a
teddy-bear.

Then he looked back at Blitcher. The German officer stood at the top
of the catwalk, watching them as they drew away, and set a course
upstream. Then he turned away from the rail and disappeared.

Sebastian sat on the day couch in the master cabin of HMS.

Renounce, he sagged against the arm-rest and fought off the grey waves
of exhaustion that washed over his mind.

He had not slept in thirty hours. After his escape from Blucher there
had been the long launch journey up-river during which he had remained
awake and jittery with the after-effects of tension.

After disembarking he had sneaked out of Fleischer’s camp,

avoiding the Askari guards, and trotted through the moonlight to meet

Flynn and Rosa.

A hurried meal, and then all three of them had mounted on bicycles
supplied with the compliments of the Royal Navy, and ridden all night
along a rough elephant path to where they had left a canoe hidden among
the reeds on the bank of one of the Rufiji tributaries.

In the dawn they had paddled out of one of the unguarded channels of
the delta and made their rendezvous with the little whaler from

HMS. Renounce.

Two long days of activity without rest, and Sebastian was groggy. Rosa
sat beside him on the couch. She leaned across and touched his arm,
her eyes dark with concern.

Neither of them was taking any part in the conference in which the
other persons in the crowded cabin were deeply involved.

Joyce sat as chairman, and beside him an older heavier man with bushy
grey eyebrows and a truculent jaw, hair brushed in streaks across his
pate in an ineffectual attempt to conceal his baldness. This was

Armstrong, Captain of HMS. Pegasus, the other cruiser of the blockade
squadron.

“Well, it looks as though Blitcher has made good her damage, then.

If she has fired her boilers, we can expect her to break out any day
now von Kleine would not burn up good fuel to keep his stokers warm.”

He said it with relish, a fighting man anticipating a good hard
fight.

“There’s a message I’d like to give her from Bloodhound and Orion an
old account to settle.” But Joyce also had a message, one that had its
original the desk of Admiral Sir Percy Howe, Commander-in-Chief,
South

Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In part this message read: “The safety of
your squadron considered secondary to containing Blitcher. Risk
involved in delaying until Blucher leaves the delta before engaging her
is too high. Absolutely imperative that she be either destroyed or
blocked at her present anchorage. Consequences of Blitcher running
blockade and attacking the troop convoy conveying landing forces to
invasion of Tonga will be catastrophic. Efforts being made to send you
two tramp steamers to act as block ships, but failing their arrival,

and failing also effective offensive action against B14cher before 30

July 1915, you are hereby ordered to scuttle Renounce and Pegasus in
the channel of the Rufiji to block Blitcher’s exit.” It was a command
that left Captain Arthur Joyce sick with dread. To scuttle his
splendid ships a thought as repulsive and loathsome as that of incest,
of patricide, of human sacrifice. Today was 26 July, he had four days
in which to find an alternative before the order became effective,
“She’ll come out at night, of course, bound to!” Armstrong’s voice was
thick with battle lust. “This time she’ll not have an old girl and a
baby like Orion and

Bloodhound to deal with.” His tone changed slightly. “We’ll have to
look lively. New moon in three days so Blitcher will have dark
nights.

There could be a change in the weather…” Armstrong was looking a
little worried now, we’ll have to tighten up.”

“Read this,” said

Joyce, and passed the flimsy to Armstrong. He read it.

“My God!” he gasped. “Scuttle. Oh, my God!”

“There are two channels that Blitcher could use.” Joyce spoke softly.
“We would have to block both of them Renounce and Pegasus!”

“Jesus God!” swore

Armstrong in horror. “There must be another way.

“I think there is” said Joyce, and looked across at Sebastian.

“Mr. Oldsmith,” he spoke gently, “would it be possible for you to get
on board the German cruiser once again?” There were tiny lumps of
yellow mucus in the corner of Sebastian’s bloodshot eyes, but the stain
that darkened his skin concealed the rings of fatigue under them.

“I’d rather not, old chap.” He ran his hand thoughtfully over his
shaven scalp and the stubble of new hair rasped under his fingers. “It
was one of the most unpleasant hours of my life.”

“Quite,” said Captain

Joyce. “Quite so! I wouldn’t have asked you, had I not considered it
to be of prime importance.” Joyce paused and pursed his lips to
whistle softly the first bar of Chopin’s “Funeral March’, then he
sighed and shook his head. “If I were to tell you that you alone have
it in your power to save both the cruisers of this squadron from
destruction and to protect the lives of fifteen thousand British
soldiers and seamen. how would you answer then?” Glumly, Sebastian
sagged back against the couch and closed his eyes.

“Can I have a few hours sleep first?” It was exactly the size of a box
of twenty-four Monte Crista Havana Cigars, for that had been its
contents before Renounce’s chief engine room artificer and the gunnery
lieutenant had set to work on it.

It lay on the centre of Captain Joyce’s desk, while the artificer
explained its purpose to the respectful audience that stood around
him.

“It’s very simple,” started the artificer in an accent that was as
bracing as the fragrance of heather and highland whisky.

“It would have to be. ” commented Flynn O’Flynn, … for Bassie to
understand it.”

“All you do is lift the lid.” The artificer suited action to the
words, and even Flynn craned forward to examine the contents of the
cigar box. Packed neatly into it were six yellow sticks of gelignite,
looking like candles wrapped in grease-proof paper. There was also the
flat dry cell battery from a bull’s eye lantern, and a travelling-clock
in a pigskin case. All of these were connected by loops and twists of
fine copper wire. Engraved into the metal of the clock base were the
words: “To my dear husband Arthur,

With love, Iris.

Christmas 1914.” Captain Arthur Joyce stilled a sentimental pang of
regret with the thought that Iris would understand.

“Then.. .” said the artificer, clearly enjoying the hold he had on
his audience, “.. . you wind the knob on the clock.” He touched it
with his forefinger, “.. . close the lid,” he closed it, “.. . wait
twelve hours, and BoomV The enthusiasm with which the Scotsman
simulated an explosion blew a fine spray of spittle across the desk,

and Flynn withdrew hurriedly out of range.

“Wait twelve hours?” asked Flynn, dabbing at the droplets on his
cheeks. “Why so long?”

“I ordered a twelve-hour delay on the fusing of the charge.” Joyce
answered the question. “If Mr. Oldsmith is to gain access to the
Blitcher’s magazines, he will have to infiltrate the native labour
gangs engaged in transferring the explosives. Once he is a member of
the gang he might find difficulty in extricating himself and getting
away from the ship after he has placed the charge. I am sure that Mr.
Oldsmith would be reluctant to make this attempt unless we could ensure
that there is time for him to escape from Blucher, when his efforts …
ah,” he sought the correct phraseology, ah … come to fruition.” Joyce
was pleased with this speech, and- he turned to

Sebastian for endorsement. “Am I correct in my, assumption, Mr.

Oldsmith?” Not to be outdone in verbosity, Sebastian pondered his
reply for a second. Five hours of deathlike sleep curled in Rosa’s
arms had refreshed his body and sharpened his wit to the edge of a
Toledo steel blade.

“Indubitably,”he replied, and beamed in triumph.

They sat together in the time when the sun was dying and bleeding on
the clouds. They sat together on a kaross of monkey skin in a thicket
of wild ebony, at the head of one of the draws that wrinkled down into
the valley of the Rufiji. “They sat in silence. Rosa bent forward
over her needlework, as she stitched a concealed pocket into the filthy
cloak of leather that lay across her lap. The pocket would hold the
cigar box. Sebastian watched her, and his eyes upon her were a caress.
She pulled the last stitch tight, knotted it, then leaned forward to
bite the thread.

“There!” she said. “It’s finished.” And looked up into his eyes.

“Thank you,” said Sebastian. They sat together quietly and Rosa
reached out to touch his shoulder. The muscle under the black stained
skin was rubber hard, and warm.

“Come.”

she said and drew his head down to her so that their cheeks touched,
and they held each other while the last light faded.

The African dusk thickened the shadows in the wild ebony, and down the
draw a jackal yipped plaintively.

“Are you ready?” Flynn stood near them, a dark bulky figure, with

Mohammed beside him.

“Yes. “Sebastian looked up at him.

“Kiss me, “whispered Rosa, and come back safely.” Gently

Sebastian broke from her embrace. He stood tall above her, and draped
the cloak over his naked body. The cigar box hung heavily between his
shoulder blades.

“Wait for me,”he said, and walked away.

Flynn Patrick O’Flynn moved restlessly under his single blanket and
belched. Heartburn moved acid sour in his throat, and he was cold.

The earth under him had long since lost the warmth it had sucked from
yesterday’s sun. A small slice of the old moon gave a little silver
light to the night.

Unsleeping he lay and listened to the soft sound of Rosa sleeping near
him. The sound irritated him, he lacked only an excuse to waken her
and make her talk to him. Instead he reached into the haversack that
served as his pillow and his fingers closed round the cold smooth glass
of the bottle.

A night-bird hooted softly down the draw, and Flynn released the bottle
and sat up quickly. He placed two fingers between his lips and
repeated the night-bird’s cry.

Minutes later Mohammed drifted like a small black ghost into camp and
came to squat beside Flynn’s bed.

“see you, Fini.”

“You I see also, Mohammed. It went well?”

“It went well.”

“Manali has entered the camp of the Allemand?”

“He sleeps now beside the man who is my cousin, and in the dawn they
will go down the RLIfiji, to the big boat of the Allemand once
again.”

“Good!”

grunted Flynn. “You have done well.” Mohammed coughed softly to
signify that there was more to tell.

“What is it? “Flynn demanded.

“When I had seen Manali safely into the care of my cousin, I came back
along the valley and…” he hesitated, “.. . perhaps it is not
fitting to speak of such matters at a time when our Lord Manali goes
unarmed and alone into the camp of the Allemand.”

“Speak,” said Flynn.

“As I walked without sound, I came to a place where this valley falls
down to the little river called Abati. You know the place?”

“Yes, about a mile down the draw from here.”

“That is the place.” Mohammed nodded. “It was here that I saw
something move in the night. It was as though a mountain walked.” A
silver of ice was thrust down Flynn’s spine, and his breathing snagged
painfully in his throat.

“Yes?” he breathed.

“It was a mountain armed with teeth of ivory that grew from its face to
touch the ground as it walked.”

“Plough the Earth.” Flynn whispered the name, and his hand fell on to
the rifle that lay loaded beside his bed.

“It was that one.” Mohammed nodded again. “He feeds quietly,

moving towards the Rufiji. But the voice of a rifle would carry down
to the ears of the Allemand.”

“I won’t fire,” whispered Flynn. “I just want to have a look at him. I
just want to see him again.” And the hand on the rifle shook like that
of a man in high fever.

the sun pushed up and sat fat and fiery as molten gold, on the hills of
the Rufiji basin. Its warmth lifted streamers of mist from the swamps
and reed beds that bounded the Abati river, and they smoked like the
ashes of a dying fire.

Under the fever trees the air was still cool with the memory of the
night, but the sun sent long yellow shafts of light probing through the
branches to disperse and warm it.

Three old eland bulls came up from the river, bigger than domestic
cattle, light bluey-brown in colour with faint chalk stripes across the
barrel of their bodies, they walked in single file, heavy dewlaps
swinging, thick stubby horns held erect, and the tuft of darker hair on
their foreheads standing out clearly. They reached the grove of fever
trees and the lead bull stopped, suddenly alert. For long seconds they
stood absolutely still, staring into the open palisade of fever-tree
trunks where the light was still vague beneath the canopy of interlaced
leaves and branches.

The lead bull blew softly through his nostrils, and swung off the game
path that led into the grove. Stepping lightly for such large animals,
the three eland skirted the grove and moved away to blend into the dry
Thorn scrub higher up the slope.

“He is in there,” whispered Mohammed. “The eland saw him, and turned
aside.”

“Yes,” agreed Flynn. “It is such a place as he would choose to lie up
for the day.” He sat in the crotch of a M’bongo tree,

wedged securely ten feet above the ground, and peered across three
hundred yards of open grassland at the dense stand of fever trees. The
hands that held the binoculars to his eyes were unsteady with gin and
excitement, and he was sweating, a droplet broke from his hair-line and
slid down his cheek, tickling like an insect. He brushed it away.

“A wise man would leave him, and walk away even as the eland did.”

Mohammed gave his opinion. He leaned against the base of the tree,

holding Flynn’s rifle across his chest. Flynn did not reply. He
peered through the binoculars, swinging them slowly in an arc as he
searched.

“He must he deep among the trees, I cannot see him from here.” And he
loosened his leg grip from the crotch and clambered down to where

Mohammed waited. He took his rifle and checked the load.

“Leave him, Fini,” Mohammed urged softly. “There is no profit in it.
We cannot carry the teeth away.”

“Stay here,” said Flynn.

Fini, the Allemand will hear you. They are close very close.”

“I will not shoot, “said Flynn. “I must see him again that is all.
I

will not shoot.” Mohammed took the gin bottle from the haversack and
handed it to him. Flynn drank.

“Stay here,”, he repeated, his voice husky from the burn of the raw
spirit.

“Be careful, Fini. He is an old one of evil temper be careful.”
Mohammed watched Flynn start out across the clearing. He walked with
the slow deliberation of a man who goes in good time to a meeting that
has long been prearranged. He reached the grove of fever trees and
walked on into them without checking.

Plough the Earth was sleeping on his feet. His little eyes closed
tightly in their wrinkled Pouches. Tears had oozed in a long dark
stain down his cheeks, and a fine haze of midges hovered about them.

Tattered as battle-riven banners on a windless day, his ears lay back
against his shoulders. His tusks were crutches that propped up the
gnarled old head, and his trunk hung down between them, grey and stack
and heavy.

Flynn saw him, and picked his way towards him between the trunks of the
fever trees. The setting had an unreal quality, for the light effect
of the low sun through the branches was golden beams reflected in
shimmering misty green from the leaves of the fever trees. The grove
was resonant with the whine of cicada beetles.

Flynn circled out until he was head on to the sleeping elephant,

and then he moved in again. Twenty paces from him Flynn stopped. He
stood with his feet set apart, the rifle held ready across one hip, and
his head thrown back as he looked up at the unbelievable bulk of the
old bull.

Up to this moment Flynn still believed that he would not shoot.

He had come only to look at him once more, but it was as futile as an
alcoholic who promised himself just one taste. He felt the madness
begin at the base of his spine, hot and hard it poured into his body,

filling him as though he were a container. The level rose to his
throat and he tried to check it there, but the rifle was coming up. He
felt the butt in his shoulder. Then he heard with surprise a voice, a
voice that rang clearly through the grove and instantly stilled the
whine of the cicadas. It was his own voice, crying out in defiance of
his conscious resolve.

“Come on, then,” he shouted. And the old elephant burst from massive
quiescence into full charge. It came down on him like a dynamited
cliff of black rock. He saw it over the open rear sight of his rifle,
saw it beyond the minute pip of the foresight that rode unwaveringly in
the centre of the old bull’s bulging brow between the eyes, where the
crease of skin at the base of its trunk was a deep lateral line.

The shot was thunderous, shattering into a thousand echoes against the
holes of the fever trees. The elephant died in the fullness of his
run. Legs buckled, and he came toppling forward, carried by his own
momentum, a loose avalanche of flesh and bone and long ivory.

Flynn turned aside like a matador from the run of the bull, three quick
dancing steps and then one of the tusks hit him. It took him across
the hip with a force that hurled him twenty feet, the rifle spinning
from his hands so that as he fell and rolled in the soft bed of loose
trash and leaf Mould, his lower body twisted away from his trunk at an
impossible angle. His brittle old bones had broken like china; the
ball of the femur snapping off in its socket, his pelvis fracturing
clear through.

Lying face down, Flynn was mildly surprised that there was no pain. He
could feel the jagged edges of bone rasping together deep in his flesh
at his slightest movement, but there was no pain.

Slowly, pulling himself forward on his elbows so that his legs
slithered uselessly after him, he crawled towards the carcass of the
old bull.

He reached it, and with one hand stroked the yellowed shaft of ivory
that had crippled him.

“Now,” he whispered, fondling the smoothly polished tusk the way a man
might touch his firstborn son. “Now, at last you are mine.” And then
the pain started, and he closed his eyes and cowered down, huddled
beneath the hillock of dead and cooling flesh that had been Plough
the

Earth. The pain buzzed in his ears like cicada beetles, but through it
he heard Mohammed’s voice.

Fini. It was not wise.” He opened his eyes and saw Mohammed’s monkey
face puckered with concern.

“Call Rosa,” he croaked. “Call Little Long Hair. Tell her to come.”
Then he closed his eyes again, and rode the pain. The tempo of the.
pain changed constantly first it was drums, torn-toms that throbbed and
beat within him. Then it was the sea, long undulating swells of agony.
Then again it was night, cold black night that chilled him so he
shivered and moaned and the night gave way to the sun. A great fiery
ball of pain that burned and shot out lances of blinding light that
burst against his clenched eyelids. Then the drums began again.

Time was of no significance. He rode the pain for a minute and a
million years, then through the beat of the drums of agony he heard
movement near him. The shuffle of feet through the dead leaves, the
murmur of voices that were not part of his consuming anguish.

“Rosa,” Flynn whispered, “you have come!” He rolled his head and
forced his eyelids open.

Herman Fleischer stood over him. He was grinning. His face flushed as
a rose petal, fresh sweat clinging in his pale eyebrows,

breathing quickly and heavily with exertion as though he had been
running, but he was grinning.

“So!” he wheezed. “So!” The shock of his presence was muted for

Flynn by the haze of pain in which he lay. There were smears of dust
dulling the gloss of Fleischer’s jackboots, and dark patches of sweat
had soaked through the thick grey corduroy tunic at the armpits. He
held a Luger pistol in his right hand and with his left hand he pushed
the slouch hat to the back of his head.

“Herr Flynn!” he said and chuckled. It was the fat infectious chuckle
of a healthy baby.

Mildly Flynn wondered how Fleischer had found him so quickly in the
broken terrain and thick bush. The shot would have alerted him,

but what had led him directly to the grove of fever trees?

Then he heard a rustling fluting rush in the air above him, and he
looked upwards. Through the lacework of branches he saw the vultures
spiralling against the aching blue of the sky. They turned and dipped
on spread black wings, cocking their heads sideways in flight to look
down with bright beady eyes on the elephant carcass.

“Ja! The birds. We followed the birds.”

“Jackals always follow the birds, whispered Flynn, and Fleischer
laughed. He threw back his head and laughed with genuine delight.

“Good. Oh, ja. That is good.” And he kicked Flynn. He swung the
jackboot lazily into) Flynn’s body, and Flynn shrieked. The laughter
dried instantly in Fleischer’s throat, and he bent quickly to examine

Flynn.

He noticed for the first time how his lower body was grotesquely
twisted and distorted. And he dropped to his knees beside him. Gently
he touched Flynn’s forehead, and deep concern flashed across his chubby
features at the clammy cold feeling of the skin.

“Sergeant!” There was a desperate edge to his voice now.

“This man is badly injured. He will not last long. Be quick!

Get the rope! We must hang him before he loses consciousness.”

Rosa awoke in the dawn and found that she was alone. Beside Flynn’s
personal pack, his discarded blanket had been carelessly flung aside.

His rifle was gone.

She was not alarmed, not at first. She guessed that he had gone into
the bush on one of his regular excursions to be alone while he drank
his breakfast. But an hour later when he had not returned she grew
anxious. She sat with her rifle across her lap, and every bird noise
or animal scuffle in the ebony thicket jarred her nerves.

Another hour and she was fretting. Every few minutes she stood up and
walked to the edge of the clearing to listen. Then she went back to
sit and worry.

Where on earth was Flynn? Why had Mohammed not returned? What had
happened to Sebastian? Was he safe, or had he been discovered?

Had Flynn gone to assist him?

Should she wait here, or follow them down the draw?

Her eyes haunted, her mouth hard set with doubts, she sat and twisted
the braid of her hair around one finger in a nervously restless
gesture.

Then Mohammed came. Suddenly he appeared out of the thicket beside
her, and Rosa jumped up with a low cry of relief. The cry died in her
throat as she saw his face.

Mohamed said. “He is hurt. The great elephant has broken his bones
and he lies in pain. He asks for you.” Rosa stared at him,

appalled, not understanding.

An elephant?”

“He followed Plough the Earth, the great elephant,

and killed him. But in dying the elephant struck him, breaking him.”

“The fool. Oh, the fool!” Rosa whispered. “Now of all times. With

Sebastian in danger, he must…” And then she caught herself and broke
off her futile lament. “Where is he, Mohammed? Take me to him.”

Mohammed led along one of the game paths, Rosa ran behind him. There
was no time for caution, no thought of it as they hurried to find

Flynn. They came to the stream of the Abati, and swung off the path,

staying on the near bank. They plunged through a field of arrow
grass,

skirted around a tiny swamp and ran on into a stand of buffalo thorn.

As they emerged on the far side Mohammed stopped abruptly and looked at
the sky.

The vultures turned in a high wheel against the blue, like debris in a
lazy whirlwind. The spot above which they circled lay half a mile
ahead.

“Daddy!” Rosa choked on the word. In an instant all the hardness
accumulated since that night at Lalapanzi disappeared from her face.

“Daddy!” she said again, and then she ran in earnest.

Brushing past Mohammed, throwing her rifle aside so it clattered on the
earth, she darted out of the buffalo thorn and into the open.

“Wait, Little Long Hair. Be careful.” Mohammed started after her.

In his agitation he stepped carelessly, full on to a fallen twig from
the buffalo thorn. There was a worn spot on the sole of his sandal,

and three inches of cruet red tipped thorn drove up through it and
buried in his foot.

For a dozen paces he struggled on after Rosa, hopping on one leg,

flapping his arms to maintain his balance and calling, but not too
loudly.

“Wait! Be careful, Little Long Hair.” But she took not the least
heed, and went away from him, leaving him at last to sink down and tend
to his wounded foot.

She crossed the open ground before the fever-tree grove with the slack,
blundering steps of exhaustion. Running silently, saving her breath
for the effort of reaching her father. She ran into the grove,

and a drop of perspiration fell into her eye, blurring her vision so
she staggered against one of the trunks. She recovered her balance and
ran on into the midst of them.

She recognized Herman Fleischer instantly. She had run almost against
his chest, and his huge body towered over her. She screamed with shock
and twisted away from the beanlike arms outspread to clutch her.

Two of the native Askari who were working over the crude litter on
which lay Flynn O’Flynn, jumped up. As she ran they closed on her from
either side, the way a pair of trained greyhounds will course a hare.

They caught her between them, and dragged her struggling and screaming
to where Herman Fleischer waited.

“Ah, so!” Fleischer nodded pleasantly in greeting. “You have come in
time for the fun.” Then he turned to his sergeant. “Have them tie the
woman.” Rosa’s screams penetrated the light mists of insensibility
that screened Flynn’s brain. He stirred on the litter, muttering
incoherently, rolling his head from side to side, then he opened his
eyes and focused them with difficulty. He saw her struggling between
the Askari and he snapped back into full consciousness.

“Leave her!” he roared. “Call those bloody animals off her.

Leave her, you murderous bloody German bastard.”

“Good!” said Herman

Fleischer. “You are awake now.” Then he lifted his voice above
Flynn’s bellows. “Hurry, Sergeant, tie the woman and get the rope up.”
While they secured Rosa, one of the Askari shinned up the smooth yellow
trunk of a fever tree. With his bayonet he hacked the twigs from the
thick horizontal branch above their heads. The sergeant threw the end
of the rope up to him, and at the second attempt the Askari caught it
and passed it over the branch. Then he dropped back to earth.

There was a hangman’s knot fixed in the rope, ready for use.

“Set the knot, said Fleischer, and the sergeant went to where

Flynn lay. With poles cut from a small tree they had rigged a
combination litter and splints. The poles had been laid down Flynn’s
flanks from ankle to armpit, with bark strips they had bound them
firmly so that Flynn’s body was held rigidly as that of an Egyptian
mummy, only his head and neck were free.

The sergeant stooped over him, and Flynn fell silent, watching him
venomously. As his hands came down with the noose to loop it over

Flynn’s head, Flynn moved suddenly. He darted his head for-ward like a
striking adder and fastened his teeth in the man’s wrist. With a howl
the sergeant tried to pull away, but Flynn held on, his head jerking
and wrenching as the man struggled.

“Fool” grunted Fleischer, and strode over to the litter.

He lifted his foot and placed it on Flynn’s lower body. As he brought
his weight down on it Flynn stiffened and gasped with pain,

releasing the Askari’s wrist.

“Do it this way.” Fleischer lunged forward and took a handful of

Flynn’s hair, roughly he yanked Flynn’s head forward. “Now, the
rope,

quickly.” The Askari dropped the noose over Flynn’s head and drew the
slip-knot tight until it lay snugly under Flynn’s ear.

“Good.” Fleischer stepped back. “Four men on the rope,” he ordered.
“Gently. Do not jerk the rope. Walk away with it slowly. I

don’t want to break his neck.” Rosa’s hysteria had stilled into cold
horror as she watched the preparations for the execution, and now she
found her voice again.

“Please,” she whispered. “He’s my father. Please don’t.

Oh, no, please don’t.”

Hush, girl,”

“You’d not shame me now by ” pleading with this fat bag of pus.”

roared Flynn.

He swivelled his head, his eyes rolled towards the four Askari who
stood ready with the rope end.

“Pull! You black sons of bitches. Pull! And damn you. I’ll beat you
to hell, and speak to the devil so he’ll have you castrated and smeared
with pig’s fat.”

“You heard what Fini told you,” smiled Fleischer at his Askari. “Pull!”
And they walked backwards in single file,

shuffling through the dead leaves, leaning against the rope.

The litter lifted slowly at one end, came upright and then left the
ground.

Rosa turned away and clenched her eyelids tight closed, but her hands
were bound so she could not stop her ears, she could not keep out the
sounds that Flynn Patrick O’Flynn made as he died.

When at last there was silence, Rosa was shivering. Bar spasms that
shuddere&through her whole body.

“All right,” said Herman Fleischer. “That’s it. Bring the woman.

We can get back to camp in time for lunch if we hurry.” When they were
gone, the litter and its contents still hung in the fever tree.

Swinging a little and turning slowly on the end of the rope. Near it
lay the carcass of the elephant, and a vulture planed down slowly and
made a flapping ungainly landing in the top branches of the fever
tree.

It sat hunched and suspicious, then suddenly squawked and launched
again into noisy flight, for it had seen the man coming.

The little old man limped slowly into the grove. He stopped beside the
dead elephant and looked up at the man who had been his master and his
friend.

“Go in peace, Fini.” said Mohammed.

The alleyway was a narrow low-roofed corridor, the bulkheads were
painted a pate grey that glistened in the harsh light of the electric
globes set in small wire cages at regular intervals along the roof.

At the end of the corridor, a guard stood outside the heavy watertight
door in the bulkhead that led through into the handling room of the
forward magazine. The guard wore only a thin white singlet and white
flannel trousers, but his waist was belted in a blanc oed webbing from
which hung a sheathed bayonet, and there was a Mauser rifle slung from
his shoulder.

From his position he could look into the handling room, and he could
keep the full length of the alleyway under surveillance.

A double file of Wakarnba tribesmen filled the alleyway, living chains
along one of which passed the cordite charges; along the other the
nine-inch shells.

The Africans worked with the stoical indifference of draught animals,
turning to grip the ly cylindro-conical ug shells, hugging a hundred
and twenty pounds” weight of steel and explosive to their chests while
they moved it on to the next man in the chain.

The cordite charges, each wrapped in thick paper, were not so weighty
and moved more swiftly along their line.

Each man bobbed and swung as he handled his load, so it seemed that the
two ranks were sets in a complicated dance pattern.

From this mass of moving humanity rose clouds of warm body odour,

that filled the alleyway and defeated the efforts of the
air-conditioning fans.

Sebastian felt sweat trickling down his chest and back under the
leather cloak, he felt also the tug of weight within the folds of the
cloak each time he swung to receive a fresh cordite charge from his
neighbour.

He stood just outside the door of the handling room, and each time he
passed a charge through, he looked into the interior of the magazine
where another gang was at work, ac king the charges into the shelves
that lined the bulkheads, and easing the nine-inch shells into their
steel racks.

Here there was another armed guard.

The work had been in progress since early that morning, with a
half-hour’s break at noon, so the German guards had relaxed their
vigilance. They were restless in anticipation of relief. The one in
the magazine was a fat middle-aged man who at intervals during the day
had broken the monotony by releasing sudden ear-splitting posterior
discharges of gas.

With each salvo he had clapped the nearest African porter on the back
and shouted happily.

“Have a bite at that one!” or, “Cheer up it doesn’t smell.” But at
last he also was deflated. He slouched across the handling room,

and leaned against the angle of the door to address his colleague in
the alleyway.

“It’s hot as hell, and smells like a zoo. These savages stink.”

“You’ve been doing your share.”

“I’ll be glad when it’s finished.”

“It’s cooler in the magazine with the fans running you are all right.”
Jesus, I’d like to sit down for a few minutes.”

“Better not,

Lieutenant Kyller is on the prowl.” This exchange was taking place
within a few feet of Sebastian. He followed the German conversation
with more ease now that he had been able” to exercise his rusty
vocabulary, but he kept his head down in a renewed burst of energy. He
was worried. In a short while the day’s shift would end and the

African porters would be herded on deck and into the launches to be
transported to their camp on one of the islands. None of the native
labour force were allowed to spend the night aboard Blucher.

He had waited since noon for an opportunity to enter the magazine and
place the time charge. But he had been frustrated by the activities of
the two German guards. It must be nearly seven o’clock in the evening
now. It would have to be soon, very soon. He glanced once more into
the magazine, and he caught the eye of Walaka,

Mohammed’s cousin. Walaka stood by the cordite shelves, supervising
the packing, and now he shrugged at Sebastian in eloquent
helplessness.

Suddenly there was a thud of a heavy object being dropped to the deck,
and a commotion of shouts in the alleyway behind Sebastian. He glanced
round quickly. One of the bearers had fainted in the heat and fallen
with a shell in his arms, the shell had rolled and knocked down another
man. Now there was a milling confusion clogging the alleyway.

The two guards moved forward, forcing their way into the press of black
bodies, shouting hoarsely and clubbing with the rifle butts. It was
the opportunity for which Sebastian had waited.

He stepped over the threshold of the magazine, and went to Walaka
beside the cordite shelves.

“Send one of your men to take my place,” he whispered, and reaching up
into the folds of his cloak he brought out the cigar box.

With his back towards the door of the magazine, using the cloak as a
screen to hide his movements, he slipped the catch of the box and
opened the lid.

His hands trembled with haste and nervous agitation as he fumbled with
the winder of the travelling-clock. It clicked, and he saw the second
hand begin its endless circuit of the dial. Even over the shouts and
scuffling in the alleyway, the muted ticking of its mechanism seemed
offensively loud to Sebastian. Hastily he shut the lid and glanced
guiltily over his shoulder at the doorway. Walaka stood there, and his
face was sickly grey with the tension of imminent discovery, but he
nodded to Sebastian, a signal t that the guards were still occupied
without.

Reaching up to the nearest shelf, Sebastian wedged the cigar box
between two of the paper-wrapped cylinders of cordite. Then he packed
others over it, covering it AN completely.

He stood back and found with surprise that he was panting, his
breathing whistling in his throat. He could feel the little drops of
sweat prickling on his shaven head. In the white electric light they
shone like glass beads on his velvety, black-stained skin.

“is it done?”Walaka croaked beside him.

“It is done,” Sebastian croaked back at him, and suddenly he was
overcome with a driving compulsion to be out of this steel room, out of
this box-packed room with the ingredients of violent death and
destruction; out of the stifling press of bodies that had surrounded
him all day. A dreadful thought seized his imagination, suppose the
artificer had erred in his assembly of the time charge, suppose that
even now the battery was heating the wires of the detonator and
bringing them to explosion point. He felt panic as he looked wildly at
the tons of cordite and shell around him.

He w anted to run, to fight his way out and up into the open air.

He made the first move, and then froze.

The commotion in the alleyway had subsided miraculously, and now only
one voice was raised. It came from just outside the doorway,

using the curt inflection of authority.

Sebastian had heard that voice repeatedly during that long day,

and he had come to dread it. It heralded danger.

“Get them back to work immediately,” snapped Lieutenant Kyller as he
stepped over the threshold into the magazine. He drew a gold watch
from the pocket of his tunic and read the time. “It is five minutes
after seven.

There is still almost half an hour before you knock off.” He tucked
the watch away, and swept the magazine with a gaze that missed no
detail. He was a tall young man, immaculate in his tropical whites.

Behind him the two guards were hurriedly straightening their
dishevelled uniforms and trying to look efficient and intelligent.

“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.

For a moment Kyller’s eyes rested on Sebastian. It was probably
because Sebastian was the finest physical specimen among the bearers,

he stood taller than the rest of them as tall as Kyller himself. But

Sebastian felt his interest was deeper. He felt that Kyller was
searching beneath the stain on his skin, that he was naked of disguise
beneath those eyes. He felt that Kyller would remember him, had marked
him down in his memory.

“That shelf.” Kyller turned away from Sebastian and crossed the
magazine. He went directly to the shelf on which Sebastian had placed
his time charge, and he patted the cordite cylinders that Sebastian had
handled. They were slightly awry. “Have it repacked immediately,”

said Kyller.

“Right away, sir,” said the fat guard.

Again Kyller’s eyes rested on Sebastian. It seemed that he was about
to speak, then he changed his mind. He stooped through the doorway and
disappeared.

Sebastian stood stony still, appalled by the order that Kyller had
given. The fat guard grimaced sulkily.

“Christ, that one is a busy bastard.” And he glared at the shelf.”

He crossed to the cordite shelf “There’s nothing wrong it and fiddled
ineffectually. After a moment he asked the guard at the door, “Has

Kyller gone yet?”

“Yes. He’s gone down the companionway into the sick,

bay.

“Good” grunted the fat one. “I’m damned if I’m going to waste half an
hour repacking this whole batch.” He hunched his shoulders, and
screwed up his face with effort. There was a bagpipe squeal, and the
guard relaxed and grinned.

“That one was for Lieutenant Kyller God bless him!” darkness was
falling, and with it the temperature dropped a few degrees into the
high eighties and created an illusion that the faint evening breeze was
chilly. Sebastian hugged his cloak around his body, and shuffled along
in the slow column of native labourers that dribbled over the side of
the German battle cruiser into the waiting launches.

He was exhausted both in body and in mind from the strain of the day’s
labour in the magazine, so that he went down the catwalk and took his
place in the whaler, moving in a state of stupor. When the boat shoved
off and puttered up the channel towards the labour camp on the nearest
island, Sebastian looked back at Blucher with the same dumb stare as
the men who squatted beside him on the floorboards of the whaler.
Mechanically he registered the fact that Commissioner

Fleischer’s steam launch was tied up alongside the cruiser.

“Perhaps the fat swine will be aboard when the whole lot blows to
hell,” he thought wearily. “I can at least hope for that.” He had no
way of knowing who else Herman Fleischer had taken aboard the cruiser
with him. Sebastian had been below decks toiling in the handling room
of the magazine when the launch arrived from up-river, and Rosa

Oldsmith had been ushered up the catwalk by the Commissioner in
person.

“Come along. We will take you to see the gallant captain of this fine
ship.” Fleischer puffed jovially as he mounted the steps behind her.
“I am sure there are many interesting things that you can tell him.”
Bedraggled and exhausted with grief, pale with the horror of her
father’s death, and with cold hatred for the man who had engineered it,
Rosa stumbled as she stepped from the catwalk on to the deck. Her
hands were still bound in front of her so she could not check herself

She fell forward, letting herself fall uncaring, and with mild surprise
felt hands hold and steady her.

She looked up at the man who had caught her, and in her confusion of
mind she thought it was Sebastian. He was tall and dark and his hands
were strong. Then she saw the peaked uniform cap with- its golden
insignia, and she jerked away from him in revulsion.

“Ah! Lieutenant Kyller.” Commissioner Fleischer spoke behind her.

“I have brought you a visitor a lovely lady.”

“Who is she?” Kyller was appraising Rosa. Rosa could not understand a
word that was spoken.

She stood in quiet acceptance, her whole body drooping.

“This…” answered” Fleischer proudly, is the most dangerous young
lady in the whole of Africa. She is one of the leaders of the gang
of

English bandits that raided the column bringing down the steel plate
from Dares Salaam.

It was she who shot and killed your engineer. I captured her and her
father this morning. Her father was the notorious O’Flynn.”

“Where is he?” Kyller snapped.

“I hanged him.”

“You hanged him? “demanded Kyller. “Without trial?”

“No trial was necessary.”

“Without interrogating him?”

“I

brought in the woman for interrogation.” Kyller was angry now, his
voice crackled with it.

will leave it to Captain von Kleine to judge the wisdom of your
actions,” and he turned to Rosa; his eyes dropped to her hands, and,

with an exclamation of concern, he took her by the wrist.

“Commissioner Fleischer, how long has this woman been bound?”

Fleischer shrugged. “I could take no chances on her escaping.”

“Look at this!” Kyller indicated Rosa’s hands. They were Swollen, the
fingers puffy and blue, sticking out stiffly, dead looking and
useless.

“I could take no chances.” Fleischer bridled at the implied
criticism.

“Give me your knife,” Kyller snapped at the petty officer in the barge
of the gangway, and the man produced a large clasp knife. He opened it
and handed it to the lieutenant.

Carefully Kyller ran the blade between Rosa’s wrists and sawed at the
rope. As her bonds dropped away Rosa cried out in pain, fresh blood
flowing into her hands.

“You will be lucky if you have not done her permanent damage,”

Kyller muttered furiously as he massaged Rosa’s bloated hands.

“She is a criminal. A dangerous criminal,” growled Fleischer.

“She is a woman, and therefore deserving of your consideration.

Not of this barbarous treatment.”

“She will hang.”

“Her crimes she will answer for, in due course but until she has stood
trial she will be treated as a woman.” Rosa did not understand the
harsh German argument that raged around her. She stood quietly and her
eyes were fastened on the knife in Lieutenant Kyller’s hand.

The hilt brushed her fingers as he worked to restore the circulation of
her blood. The blade was long and silver bright, she had seen how keen
was its edge by the way in which it had cut through the rope. As she
stared at it, it seemed to her fevered fancy that there were two names
engraved in the steel of the blade. The names of the two persons she
had loved. The names of her father and her child.

With an effort she tore her gaze from the knife and looked at the man
she hated. Fleischer had come close up to her, as though to take her
away from Lieutenant Kyller’s attention. His face was flushed with
anger and the fold of flesh under his chin wobbled flabbily as he
argued.

Rosa flexed her fingers. They were still numb and stiff, but she could
feel the strength flowing back into them. She let her gaze drop down
to Fleischer’s belly.

It jutted out round. and full, soft-looking under the grey corduroy
tunic, and again her fevered imagination formed a picture of the blade
going into that belly. Slipping in silently, smoothly,

burying itself to the hilt and then drawing upwards to open the flesh
like a pouch. The picture was so vivid that Rosa shuddered with the
intense sensual pleasure of it.

Kyller was completely occupied with Fleischer. He felt the girl’s
fingers slide into the cupped palm of his right hand, but before he
could pull away she had scooped the knife deftly from his grip. He
lunged at her, but she pirouetted lightly away from him. Her knife
hand dropped and then darted forward, driven by the full weight of her
body at the bulging belly of Herman Fleischer.

Rosa thought that because he was fat he would be slow.

She expected him to be stunned by the unexpected attack, to stand and
take the knife in his vitals.

Herman Fleischer was fully alert before she even started her thrust. He
was fast as a striking mamba, and strong beyond credibility. He did
not make the mistake of intercepting the knife with his bare hands.
Instead he struck her right shoulder with a clenched fist the size of a
carpenter’s mallet. The force of the blow knocked her sideways,
deflecting the blade from its target. Her arm from the shoulder
downwards was paralysed, and the knife flew from her hand and slithered
away across the deck.

Ja!”roared Fleischer triumphantly. Ja! So! Now you see how I

was right to tie the bitch. She is Vicious, dangerous.” And he lifted
the huge fist again to smash it into Rosa’s face as she crouched,

hugging her hurt shoulder and sobbing with pain and disappointment.

“No!” Kyller stepped between them. “Leave her.”

“She must be tied up like an animal she is dangerous,” bellowed
Fleischer, but

Kyller put a protective arm around Rosa’s bowed shoulders.

“Petty Officer,” he said. “Take this woman to the sickbay. Have

Surgeon Commander Buchholz see to her. Guard her carefully, but be
gentle with her. Do you hear me?” And they took her away below.

“I must see Captain von Kleine,” Fleischer demanded. “I must make a
full report to him.”

“Come,”said Kyller, “I will take you to him.”

Sebastian lay on his side beside the smoky little fire with his cloak
draped over him. Outside he heard the -night sounds of the swamp, the
faint splash of a fish or a crocodile in the channel, the clink and
boom of the tree frogs, the singing of insects, and the lap and sigh of
wavelets on the mud bank below the hut.

The hut was one of twenty crude open sided shelters that housed the
native labour force. The earth floor was thickly strewn with sleeping
bodies. The sound of their breathing was a restless murmur,

broken by the cough and stir of dreamers.

Despite his fatigue, Sebastian was not sleeping, he could not relax
from the state of tension in which he had been held all that day.

He thought of the little travelling-clock ticking away in its nest of
high explosive, measuring out the minutes and the hours, and then his
mind side-stepped and went to Rosa. The muscles of his arms tightened
with longing. Tomorrow, he thought, tomorrow I will see her and we
will go away from this stinking river. Up into the sweet air of the
highlands. Again his mind jumped. Seven O’clock, seven o’clock
tomorrow morning and it will be over. He remembered Lieutenant

Kyller’s voice as he stood in the doorway of the magazine with the gold
watch in his hand. The time is five minutes past seven…” he had
said. So that Sebastian knew to within a few minutes when the time
fuse would explode.

He must stop the porters going aboard Blitcher in the morning. He had
impressed on old Walaka that they must refuse to turn out for the next
day’s shift. They must … “Manali! Manali!” his name was whispered
close by in the gloom,

and Sebastian lifted himself on one elbow. In the flickering light
from the fire there was a shadowy figure, crawling on hands and knees
across the earthen floor, and searching the faces of the sleeping
men.

“Manali, where are you?”

“Who is it?” Sebastian answered softly,

and the man jumped up and scurried to where he lay.

“It is I, Mohammed.”

“Mohammed?” Sebastian was startled. “Why are you here?

You should be with Fini at the camp on the Abati.” Fini is dead.”

Mohammed’s whisper was low with sorrow, so low that Sebastian thought
he had misunderstood.

“What? What did you say?” Fini is dead. The Allemand came with the
ropes. They hung him in the fever trees beside the Abati, and when he
was dead they left him for the birds.”

“What talk is this Sebastian demanded.

“it is true,” mourned Mohammed. “I saw it, and when the

Allemand had gone, I cut the rope and brought him down.

I wrapped him in my own blanket and buried him in an ant-bear hole.”

“Dead? Flynn dead? It isn’t true!”

“It is true, Manah.” In the red glow of the camp-fire Mohammed’s face
was old and raddled and gaunt. He licked his lips. “There is more,
Manali. There is more to tell.” But Sebastian was not listening. He
was trying to force his mind to accept the reality of Flynn’s death,
but it balked.

It would not accept the picture of Flynn swinging at the rope’s end,
Flynn with the rope burns at his throat and his face swollen and em
purpled Flynn wrapped in a dirty blanket and crammed into an ant-bear
hole. Flynn dead?

No! Flynn was too big, too vital they could not kill Flynn.

Vanali, hear me.” Sebastian shook his head, bemused, denying it.

It could not be true.

“Manali, the Allemand, they have taken Little Long Hair. They have
bound her with ropes and taken her.” Sebastian winced, and jerked away
as though he had been struck open-handed across the face.

“No!” He tried to close his mind against the words.

“They caught her this morning early as she went to Fini.

They took her down-river in the small boat, and she is now on the great
ship of the Allemand.” Blitcher? Rosa is aboard the Blitcher?”

“Yes. She is there.”

“No. Oh, God, no!” In five hours Blitcher would blow up. In five
hours Rosa Would die. Sebastian swung his head and looked out into the
night, he looked through the open side of the hut, down the channel to
where Blitcher lay at her moorings half a mile away. There was a dim
glow of light across the water from the hooded lanterns on Blitcher’s
main deck. But her form was indistinguishable against the dark mass of
the mangroves. Between her and the island,

the channel was a smooth expanse of velvety blackness on which the
reflections of the stars were scattered sequins of light.

“I must go to her,” said Sebastian. “I cannot let her die there
alone.” His voice gathered strength and resolve. “I cannot let her
die. I’ll tell the Germans where to find the charge I’ll tell them .
” Then he faltered. “I can’t. No, I can’t. I’d be a traitor then,
but, but..

He threw aside his cloak.

“Mohammed, how did you come here? Did you bring the canoe? Where is
it?” Mohammed shook-his head. “No. I swam. My cousin brought me
close to the island in the canoe, but he has gone away. We could not
leave the canoe here, lest the Askari find it. They would have seen
the canoe.”

“There isn’t a boat on the island nothing,” muttered

Sebastian. The Germans were careful to guard against desertion. Each
night the labour force was marooned on the island and the Askari
patrolled the mud banks.

“Mohammed, hear me now.” Sebastian reached across and laid his hand on
the old man’s shoulder. “You are my friend. I thank you that you have
come to tell me these things.”

“You are going to Little Long

Hair?”

“Yes.”

“Go in peace, Manali.”

“Take my place here, Mohammed.

When the guards count tomorrow morning, you will stand for me.”

Sebastian tightened his grip on the bony shoulder. “Stay in peace,

Mohammed.” His blackened body blending into the darkness, Sebastian
crouched beneath the spread branches of a clump of pampa scrub, and
the

Askari guard almost brushed against him as he passed. The Askari
slouched along with his rifle slung so that the barrel stood up behind
his shoulder. The constant patrolling had beaten a path around the
circumference of the island, the guard followed it mechanically. Half
asleep on his feet, completely unaware of Sebastian’s presence. He
stumbled in the darkness and swore sleepily, and moved on.

Sebastian crossed the path on his hands and knees, then stretched out
on his belly into a reptilian slither as he reached the mud bank.

Had he tried to walk across it, the glutinous mud would have sucked so
loudly around his feet that every guard within a hundred yards would
have heard him.

The mud coated his chest and belly and legs with its coldly loathsome,
clinging oiliness, and the reek of it filled his nostrils so he gagged.
Then he was into the water. The water was blood warm, he felt the tug
of the current and the bottom dropped away beneath him.

He swam on his side, careful that neither legs nor arms should break
the surface. His head alone showed, like the head of a swimming
otter,

and he felt the mud washing off his body.

He swam across the current, guided by the distant glimmer of Blucher’s
deck lights. He swam slowly, husbanding his strength, for he knew he
would need all of it later.

His mind was filled with layers of awareness. The lowest layer was a
lurking undirected terror of the dark water in which he swam, his
dangling legs were vulnerable to the scaly predators which infested
the

Rufiji river. The current Must be carrying his scent down to them.

Soon they would come hunting up to find him. But he kept up the easy
stroke of arms and legs. It was a chance, one chance of the many He
was taking and he tried to ignore it and grapple with the practical
problems of his attempt. When he reached Blitcher, how was he to get
aboard her? Her sides were fifty feet high, and the catwalks were the
only means of access. These were both heavily guarded. It was a
problem without solution, and yet he harried it.

Over this was a thick layer of hopeless sorrow. Sorrow for Flynn.

But the uppermost layer was thickest, strongest. Rosa, Rosa and

Rosa.

He found with surprise that he was saying it aloud.

“Rosa!” with each forward thrust of his body through the water.

“Rosa!” each time he drew breath.

“Rosa!” as his legs kicked out and Pushed him towards the

Blitcher.

He did not know what he would do if he reached her.

Perhaps there was some-half-fort ned idea of escaping with her, of
fighting his way out of Blucher with his woman.

Getting her away before that moment when the ship would vanish in a
holocaust of flame. He did not know, but he swam on quietly.

Then he was under Blitcher’s side. The towering mass of steel blotted
out the starry night sky, and he stopped swimming and hung in the warm
water looking up at her.

There were small sounds. The hum of machinery within her, the faint
clang’ of metal struck against metal, the low guttural murmur of voices
at her gangway, the thump of a rifle butt against the wooden deck, the
soft wash of water around the hull -and then a closer,

clearer sound, a regular creak and tap, creak and tap.

He swam in towards the hull, searching for the source of this new
sound. It came from near the bows, creak and tap.

The creak of rope, and the tap of wood against the steel hull. He saw
it then, just above his head. He almost cried out with joy.

The cradles! The platforms still suspended above the water on which
the welders and the painters had worked.

He reached up and gripped the wooden edge and drew himself on to the
platform. He rested a few seconds and then began to climb the rope.
Hand over hand, gripping the rope between the insides of his bare feet,
he went up.

His head came level with the deck and he hung there, searching
carefully. Fifty yards away he saw two seamen at the gangway. Neither
was looking his way.

At intervals the hooded lanterns threw puddles of yellow light upon the
deck, but there were concealing shadows beyond them. It was dark
around the base of the forward gun-turrets, and there were piles of
material, abandoned welding equipment, heaps of rope and canvas in the
shadows which would hide him when he had crossed the deck.

Once more he checked the two guards at the gangway, their backs were
turned to him.

Sebastian filled his lungs and steeled himself to act. Then with one
fluid movement he drew himself up and rolled over the side. He landed
lightly on his feet and darted across the exposed deck into the
shadows. He ducked down behind a pile of canvas and rope netting, and
struggled to control his breathing. He could feel his legs trembling
violently under him, so he sat down on the planking and huddled against
the protecting pile of canvas. River water trickled from his shaven
pate over his forehead and into his eyes.

He wiped it away.

Now what?” He was aboard Blitcher, but what should he do next?

Where would they hold Rosa? Was there some sort of guard-room for
prisoners? Would they put her in one of the officer’s cabins? The
sick-bay?

He knew roughly where the sick-bay was located. While he was working
in the magazine he had heard the one German guard say, “He has gone
down the companion-way to the sick-bay.” It must be somewhere just
below the forward magazine oh, God! If they had her there she would be
almost at the centre of the explosion.

He came up on his knees, and peered over the pile of canvas. It was
lighter now. Through the screen of netting, he could see the night sky
had paled a little in the east. Dawn was not far off. The night had
passed so swiftly, morning was on its way and there were but a few
scant hours before the hands of the travelling-clock completed their
journey, and made the electrical connection that would seal the
Blitcher’s fate, and the fate of all those aboard her.

He must move. He rose slowly and then froze. The guards at the
gangway had come to attention. They stood stiffly with their rifles at
the slope, and into the light stepped a tall, white-clad figure.

There was no mistaking him. It was the officer that Sebastian had last
seen in the forward magazine. Kyller, they had called him,

Lieutenant Kyller.

Kyller acknowledged the salutes of the two guards, and he spoke with
them a while. Their voices were low and indistinct. Kyller saluted
again, and then left them. He came down the deck towards the bows; he
walked briskly, and his face below the peak of his cap was in
darkness.

Sebastian crouched down again, only his eyes lifted above the piled
canvas. He watched the officer and he was afraid.

Kyller stopped in mid-stride. He half stooped to look at the deck at
his feet, and then in the same movement, straightened with his right
hand dropping to the bolstered pistol on his belt.

“Guard!” he bellowed. “Here! At the double!” On the holy stoned
white planking, the wet footprints that Sebastian had left behind him
glittered in the lantern light. Kyller stared in the direction that
they led, coming directly towards Sebastian’s hiding-place.

The boots of the two guards pounded heavily along the deck. They had
unslung their rifles as they ran to join Kyller.

“Someone has come aboard here. Spread out and search .. .”

Kyller shouted at them, as he closed in on Sebastian.

Sebastian panicked. he jumped up and ran, trying to reach the corner
of the gun-turret.

“There he is!” Kyller’s voice. “Stop! Stop or I’ll fire.”

Sebastian ran. His legs driving powerfully, his elbows pumping, head
down, bare feet slapping on the planking, he raced through shadow.

“Stop!” Kyller was balanced on the balls of his feet, legs braced,

right shoulder thrust forward and right arm outflung in the classic
stance of the pistol marksman. The arm dropped slowly and then kicked
up violently, as the shot spouted from the Luger in a bell of yellow
flame. The bullet sponged against the plating of the turret and then
glanced off in whining ricochet.

Sebastian felt the wind of the bullet pass his head and he jinked his
run. The corner of the turret was very close, and he dodged towards
it.

Then Kyller’s next shot blurted loudly in the night, and simultaneously
something struck Sebastian a heavy blow under his left shoulder blade.
It threw him forward off balance and he reeled against the turret, his
hands scrabbled at the smooth steel without finding purchase. His body
flattened against the side of the turret, so that the blood from the
exit hole that the bullet had torn in his breast sprayed on to the pale
grey, painted turret.

His legs buckled and he slid down, slowly, still trying to find
purchase with the hooked claws of his fingers, so that as his knees
touched the deck he was in the attitude of devout prayer. Forehead
pressed against the turret, kneeling, arms spread high and wide.

Then the arms sank down, and he slid sideways, collapsed onto the deck
and rolled on to his back.

Kyller came and stood over him. The pistol hanging slackly in the hand
at his side.

“Oh, my God,” there was genuine regret in Kyller’s voice.

“It’s only one of the porters. Why did the fool run! I wouldn’t have
fired if he had stood.” Sebastian wanted to ask him where Rosa was. He
wanted to explain that Rosa was his wife, that he loved her,

and that he had come to find her.

He concentrated his vision on Kyller’s face as it hung over him,

and he SUmmoned his school-boy German, marshalling the sentences in his
mind.

But as he opened his mouth the blood welled up in his throat and choked
him. He coughed, racking, and the blood bubbled through his lips in a
pink froth.

“Lung shot!” said Kyller, and then to the guards as they came up,

“Get a stretcher. Hurry. We must take him down to the sick-bay.”
There were twelve bunks in Blitcher’s sick-bay, six down each side of
the narrow cabin. In eight of “them lay German seamen; five malaria
cases and three men injured in the work of repairing her bows.

Rosa Oldsmith was in the bunk farthest from the door.

She lay behind a movable screen, and a guard sat outside the screen. He
wore a pistol at his belt and was wholly absorbed in a year-old variety
magazine, the cover of which depicted a buxom blonde woman in a black
corset and high boots, with a horse whip in one hand.

The cabin was brightly lit and smelled of, antiseptic One of the
malarial cases was in delirium, and he laughed and shouted. The
medical orderly moved along the rows of bunks carrying a metal tray
from which he administered the morning dosages of quinine. The time
was 5 a.m.

Rosa had slept only intermittently during the night. She lay on top of
the blankets and she wore a striped to welling dressing-gown over the
blue flannel nightgown. The gown was many sizes too large and she had
rolled back the cuffs of the sleeves. Her hair was loose on the
pillows, and damp at the temples with sweat. Her face was pale and
drawn, with bluish smudges of fatigue under her eyes, and her shoulder
ached dully where Fleischer had struck her.

She was awake now. She lay staring up at the low roof of the cabin,
playing over in her mind fragments from the happenings of the last
twenty-four hours.

She recalled the interrogation with Captain von Kleine.

He had sat opposite her in his luxuriously furnished cabin, and his
manner had been kindly, his voice gentle, pronouncing the English words
with blurring of the consonants and a hardening of the vowel sounds.
His English was good.

“When did you last eat? “he asked her.

“I am not hungry,” she replied, making no attempt to conceal her
hatred. Hating them all this handsome, gentleman, the tall lieutenant
who stood beside him, and Herman Fleischer who sat across the cabin
from her, with his knees spread apart to accommodate the full hang of
his belly.

I will send for food.” Von Kleine ignored her protest and rang for his
steward. When the food came, she could not deny the demands of her
body and she ate, trying to show no enjoyment. The sausage and pickles
were delicious, for she had not eaten since the previous noon.

Courteously von Kleine turned his attention to a discussion with

Lieutenant Kyller until she had finished, but when the steward removed
the empty tray he came back to her.

“Herr Fleischer tells me you are the daughter of Major O’Flynn,

the commander of the Portuguese irregulars operating in German
territory?”

“I was until he was hanged, murdered! He was injured and helpless.
They tied him to a stretcher .. .” Rosa flared at him,

tears starting in her eyes.

“Yes,” von Kleine stopped her, “I know. I am not pleased.

That is now a matter between myself and Commissioner Fleischer. I

can only say that I am sorry. I offer you my condolence.” He paused
and glanced at Herman Fleischer.

Rosa could see by the angry blue of his eyes that he meant what he
said.

“But now there are some questions I must ask you ..

Rosa had planned er replies, for she knew what he would ask. She
replied frankly and truthfully to anything that did not jeopardize

Sebastian’s attempt to place the time fuse aboard Blucher.

What were she and Flynn doing when they were captured?

Keeping the Blucher under surveillance. Waiting to signal her
departure to the blockading cruisers.

How did the British know that Blucher was in the Rufiji?

The steel plate, of course. Then confirmation by aerial
reconnaissance.

Were they contemplating offensive action against Blitcher?

No, they would wait until she sailed.

What was the strength of the blockade squadron?” Two cruisers that she
had seen, she did not know if there were other warships waiting over
the horizon.

Von Kleine phrased his questions carefully, and listened attentively to
her replies. For an hour the interrogation continued,

until Rosa was yawning openly, tied her voice was slurred with
exhaustion. Von Kleine realized that there was nothing to be learned
from her. What she had told him he already knew or had guessed.

“Thank you,” he finished. “I am keeping you aboard my ship.

There will be danger here, for soon I will be going out to meet the

British warships. But I believe that it will be better for you than
if

I handed you over to the German administration ashore.” He hesitated a
moment and glanced at Commissioner Fleischer. “In every nation there
are evil men, fools and barbarians. Do not judge us all by one man.”

With distaste at her own treachery, Rosa found that she auld not hate
this man. A weary smile tugged her mouth and she answered him.

“You are kind.”

“Lieutenant Kyller will see you to the hospital.

I am sorry I can offer you no better quarters, but this is a crowded
vessel.” When she had gone, von Kleine lit a cheroot and while he
tasted its comforting fragrance, he allowed his eyes to rest on the
portrait of the two golden women across the cabin. Then he sat up in
his chair and his voice had lost its gentleness as he spoke to the man
who lolled on the couch.

“Herr Fleischer, I find it difficult to express fully my extreme
displeasure at your handling of this affair..

After a night of fitful sleep, Rosa lay on her hospital bunk behind the
screen and she thought of her husband. If things had gone well
Sebastian must by now have placed the time charge and escaped from

Blitcher. Perhaps he was already on his way to the rendezvous on the

Abati river. If this were so, then she would not see him again. It
was her one regret.

She imagined him in his ludicrous disguise, and she smiled a little.
Dear lovable Sebastian. Would he ever know what had happened to her?
Would he know that she had died with those whom she hated?

She hoped that he would never kno, that he would never torture himself
with the knowledge that he had placed the instrument of her death with
his own hands.

I wish I could see him just once more to tell him that my death is
unimportant beside the death of Herman Fleischer, beside the
destruction of this German warship. I wish only that when the time
comes, I could see it. I wish there were some way I could know the
exact time of the explosion so I could tell Herman Fleischer a minute
before, when it is too late for him to escape, and watch him. Perhaps
he would blubber, perhaps he would scream with fear. I would like
that. I would like that very much.

The strength of her hatred was such that she could no longer lie still.
She sat up and tied the belt of her gown around her waist. She was
filled with a restless itchy exhilaration. It would be today she felt
sure sometime today she would slake this burning thirst for vengeance
that had tormented her for so long.

She threw her legs over the side of the bunk and pulled open the
screen. The guard dropped his magazine and started up from his
chair,

his hand dropping to the pistol at his hip.

“I will not harm you…” Rosa smiled at him, not yetV She pointed to
the door which led into the tiny shower cabinet and toilet. The guard
relaxed and nodded acquiescence. He followed her as she crossed the
cabin.

Rosa walked slowly between the bunks, looking at the sick men that lay
in them.

“All of you,” she thought happily. “All of you!” O

She slid the tongue of the lock across, and was alone in the bathroom.
She undressed, and leaned across the washbasin to the small mirror set
above it. She could see the reflection of her head and shoulders.
There was a purple and red bruise spreading down from her neck and
staining the white swell of her right breast. She touched it tenderly
A with her fingertips.

“Herman Fleischer,” she said the name gloatingly, “it will be today I
promise you that. Today you will die.” And then suddenly she was
crying.

“I only wish yOU could burn as my baby burned I wish you could choke
and swing on the rope as my father did.” And the tears fell fat and
slow, sliding down her cheeks to drop into the basin. She started to
sob, dry conVUlsive gasps of grief and hatred. She turned blindly to
the shower cabinet, and turned both taps full on so that the rush of
the water Would cover the sound of her weeping. She did not want them
to hear it.

Later, when she had bathed her face and body and combed her hair and
dressed again, she unlocked the door and stepped through it. She
stopped abruptly and through puffy reddened eyes tried to make sense of
what was happening in the sick-bay.

It was crowded. The surgeon was there, two orderlies, four German
seamen, and the young lieutenant. All of them hovered about the
stretcher that was being manoeuvred between the bunks. There was a man
on the stretcher, she could see his form under the single grey blanket
that covered him, but Lieutenant Kyller’s back obscured her view of the
man’s face. There was blood on the blanket,

and a brown smear of blood on the sleeve of Kyller’s white tunic.

She moved along the bulkhead of the cabin and craned her head to see
around Kyller, but at that moment one of the orderlies leaned across to
swab the mouth of the man on the stretcher with a white cloth. The
cloth obscured the wounded man’s face. Bright frothy blood soaked
through the material, and the sight of it nauseated Rosa. She averted
her gaze and slipped away towards her own bunk at the end of the cabin.
She reached the screen, and behind her somebody groaned.

It was a low delirious groan, but the sound of it stopped Rosa
instantly. She felt as though something within her chest was swelling
to stifle her.

Slowly, fearfully, she turned back.

They were lifting the man from the stretcher to lay him on an empty
bunk. The head lolled sideways, and beneath its stain of bark juice,
Rosa saw that dear, well loved face.

“Sebastian!” she cried and she ran to him, pushing past Kyller,

throwing herself on to the blanket-draped body, trying to get her arms
around him to hug him.

“Sebastian! What have they done to you!” Sebastian! Sebastian!”

Rosaleaned across him and held her mouth to his ear.

“Sebastian!” She called his name quietly but urgently, then brushed
his forehead with her lips. The skin was cold and damp.

He lay on his back with the bed clothes turned back to his waist.

His chest was swathed in bandages, and his breathing sawed and
gurgled.

“Sebastian. It’s Rosa. It’s Rosa. Wake up, Sebastian.

Wake up, it’s Rosa.”

“Rosa?” At last her name had reached him. He whispered it painfully,
wetly, and fresh blood stained his lips.

Rosa had been on the edge of despair. Two hours she had been sitting
beside him. Since the surgeon had finished dressing the wound,

she had sat with him touching him, calling to him. This was the first
sign of recognition he had given her.

“Yes! Yes! It’s Rosa. Wake up, Sebastian.” Her voice lifted with
relief.

“Rosa?” His eyelashes trembled.

“Wake up.” She pinched his cold cheek and he winced.

His eyelids fluttered open.

“Rosa?” on a shallow, sawing breath.

“Here, Sebastian. I’m here.” His eyes rolled in their sockets,

searching, trying desperately to focus.

“Here,” she said, leaning over him and taking his face between her
hands. She looked into his eyes.

“Here, my darling, here.”

“Rosa!” His lips convulsed into a dreadful parody of a smile.

“Sebastian, did you set the bomb?” His breathing changed,

hoarser, and his mouth twitched with the effort.

“Tell them he whispered.

“Tell them what?”

“Seven. Must stop it.”

“Seven o’clock?”

“Don’t want you-”

“Will it explode at seven o’clock?”

“You-” It was too much and he coughed.

“Seven o’clock? Is that it, Sebastian?”

“You will He squeezed his eyes closed, putting all his strength into
the effort of speaking.

“Please. Don’t die. Stop it.”

“Did you set it for seven o’clock?” In her impatience she tugged his
head towards her. “Tell me, for God’s sake, tell me!” Seven o’clock.
Tell them tell them.” Still holding him, she looked at the clock set
high up on the bulkhead of the sick-bay.

On the white dial, the ornate black hands stood at fifteen minutes
before the hour.

“Don’t die, please don’t die, “mumbled Sebastian.

She hardly heard the pain-muted pleading. A fierce surge of triumph
lifted her she knew the hour. The exact minute. Now she could send
for Herman Fleischer, and have him with her.

Gently she laid Sebastian’s head back on the pillow. On the table
below the clock she had seen a pad and pencil among the bottles and
jars, and trays of instruments. She went to it, and while the guard
watched her suspiciously she scribbled a note.

“Captain, My husband is conscious. He has a message of vital
importance for Commissioner Fleischer. He will speak to no one but

Commissioner Fleischer. The message could save your ship.

Rosa Oldsmith.” She folded the sheet of paper and pushed it into the
guard’s hand.

“For the Captain. Captain.”

“Kapitan,” repeated the guard.

“Ja!” And he went to the door of the sick-bay. She saw him speak with
the second guard outside the door, and then pass him the note.

Rosa sank down on the edge of Sebastian’s bunk. She ran her hand
tenderly over his shaven head. The new hair was stiff and bristly
under her fingers.

“Wait for me. I’m coming with you, my darling. Wait for me But he had
lapsed back into unconsciousness. Crooning softly, she gentled him.
Smiling to herself, happily, she waited for the minute hand of the
clock to creep up to the zenith of the dial.

Captain Arthur Joyce had personally supervised the placing of the
scuttling charges. Perhaps, long ago, another man had felt the way he
did hearing the command spoken from the burning bush,

and knowing he must obey.

The charges were small, but laid in twenty places against the bare
plating, they would rip Renounce’s belly out of her cleanly. The
watertight bulkhead had been opened to let the water rush through
her.

The magazines had all of them been flooded to minimize the danger of
explosion. The furnaces had been damped down, and he had blown the
pressure on his boilers retaining a head of steam, just sufficient to
take Renounce in on her last run into the channel of the Rufiji.

The cruiser had been stripped of her crew. Twenty men left aboard her
to handle the ship. The rest of them transshipped aboard Pegasus.

Joyce was going to attempt to force the log boom, take Renounce through
the minefield, and sink her higher up, where the double mouth of the
channel merged into a single thoroughfare.

If he succeeded he would effectively have blocked Blitcher, and
sacrificed a single ship.

If he failed, if Renounce sank in the minefield before she reached the
confluence of the two channels, then Armstrong would have to take

Pegasus in and scuttle her also.

On his bridge Joyce sat hunched in his canvas deck chair, looking out
at the land; the green line of Africa which the morning sun lit in
harsh golden brilliance.

Renounce was running parallel to the coast, five miles off shore.

Behind her Pegasus trailed like a mourner at a funeral.

“06:45 hours, sit.” The officer of the watch saluted.

“Very well.” Joyce roused himself. Until this moment he had hoped.
Now the time had come and Renounce must die.

“Yeoman of Signals,” he spoke quietly, “make this signal with

Pegasus number “Plan A Effective” This was the code that Renounce was
to stand in for the channel. “Stand by to pick up survivors.”

“Pegasus acknowledges, sir.” Joyce was glad that Armstrong had not
sent some inane message such as “Good luck’. A curt acknowledgement,
that was as it should be.

“All right, Pilot,”he said, take us in, please.” It was a beautiful
morning and a flat sea. The captain of the escort destroyer wished it
were not, he would have forfeited a year’s seniority for a week of fog
and rain.

As his ship tore down the line of transports to administer a rebuke to
the steamer at the end of the column for not keeping proper station, he
looked out at the western horizon. Visibility was perfect,

a German masthead would be able to pick out this convoy of fat sluggish
transports at

“, a distance of thirty miles.

Twelve ships, fifteen thousand men and Blitcher could be out. At any
moment she could come hurtling up over the horizon, with those long
nine-inch guns blazing. The thought gave him the creeps. He jumped up
from his stool, and crossed to the port rail of his bridge to glower at
the convoy.

Close alongside wallowed one of the transports. They were playing
cricket on her afterdeck. As he watched, a sun-bronzed giant of a

South African clad only in short khaki pants swung the bat and clearly
he heard the crack as it struck the ball. The ball soared up and
dropped into the sea with a tiny splash.

“Oh, good shot, sir!” applauded the lieutenant who stood beside the
captain.

“This is not the members” enclosure at Lords, Mr. Parkinson,”

snarled the destroyer captain. “If you have nothing to occupy you, I

can find duties for you.” The lieutenant retired hurt, and the captain
glanced along the line of troopships.

“Oh, no!” he groaned. Number Three was making smoke again. Ever
since leaving Durban harbOUr Number Three had been giving periodic
impersonations of Mount VesuViUS. It Would be a give-away to the
lookout at Blucher’s masthead.

He reached for his megaphone, ready to hurl the most scathing reprimand
he Could muster at Number Three as he passed her.

“This is worse than being a teacher in a kindergarten.

They’ll break me yet.” And he lifted the megaphone to his lips as

Number Three came abreast.

The infantry-men that lined the troopship’s rail cheered his eloquence
to the echo.

“The fools. Let them cheer Blitcher when she comes,” growled the
captain and crowd the bridge to gaze apprehensively into the west
where

Africa lay just below the horizon.

“Strength to Renounce and Pegasus.” He made the wish fervently “God
grant they hold Bliacher. If she gets through..

“It’s no use, Bwana. They won’t move,” the sergeant of Askari reported
to Ensign Proust.

“What is the trouble? “demanded Proust.

“They say there is a bad magic on the ship. They will not go to her
today.” Proust looked over the mass of black humanity. They squatted
sullenly among the huts and palm trees, rank upon rank Of them, huddled
in their cloaks, faces closed and secretive.

Drawn up on the mud bank of the island were the two motor launches,
ready to ferry the bearers downstream to the day’s labour aboard
Blitcher. The German seamen tending the launches were watching with
interest this charade of dumb rebellion, and Ensign Proust was very
conscious of their attention.

Proust was at the age where he had an iron-clad faith in his own
sagacity, the dignity of a patriarch, and pimples.

He was, in other words, nineteen years of age.

It was clear to him that these native tribesmen had embarked on their
present course of action for no other reason than to embarrass

Ensign Proust. It was a direct and personal attack on his standing and
authority.

He lifted his right hand to his mouth and began to feed thoughtfully on
his fingernails. His rather prominent Adam’s apple moved in sympathy
with the working of his jaws. Suddenly he realized what he was doing.
It was a habit he was trying to cure, and he jerked his hand away and
linked it with its mate behind his back, in a faithful imitation of
Captain Otto von Kleine, a man whom he held in high admiration. It had
hurt him deeply when Lieutenant Kyller had greeted his request for
permission to grow a beard like Captain von

Kleine’s with ribald laughter.

Now he sank his bare chin on to his chest and began to pace solemnly up
and down the small clearing above the mud bank. The sergeant of Askari
waited respectfully with his men drawn up behind him for Ensign Proust
to reach a decision.

He could send one of the launches back to Blitcher, to fetch

Commissioner Fleischer. After all, this was really the Herr

Commissioner’s shoW. (Proust had taken to using odd Swahili words like
an old Africa hand). Yet he realized that to call for Fleischer would
be an admission that he was unable to handle the situation.

Commissioner Fleischer would jeer at him, Commissioner Fleischer had
shown an increasing tendency to jeer at Ensign Proust.

“No,” he thought, flushing so that the red spots on his skin were less
noticeable, “I will not send for that fat peasant.” He stopped pacing
and addressed himself to the sergeant of Askari.

“Tell them .. .” he started, and his voice squeaked alarmingly.

He adjusted the timbre to a deep throaty rumble, “Tell them I take a
very serious view of this matter.” The sergeant saluted, did a showy
about-face with much feet stamping, and passed on Ensign Proust’s
message in loud Swahili. From the dark ranks of bearers there was no
reaction whatsoever, not so much as a raised eyebrow. The crews of the
launches were more responsive. One of them laughed.

Ensign Proust’s Adam’s apple bobbed, and his ears chameleoned to the
colour of a good burgundy.

“Tell them that it is mutiny!” The last word squeaked again, and the
sergeant hesitated while he groped for the Swahili equivalent.

Finally he settled for: “Bwana Heron is very angry.” Proust had been
nicknamed for his pointed nose and long thin legs. The tribesmen bore
up valiantly under this intelligence.

“Tell them i will take drastic steps.” Now, thought the sergeant,

he is making” sense. He allowed himself literary licence in his
translation.

i “Bwana Heron says that there are trees on this island for all of you
and he has sufficient rope.” A sigh blew through them, soft and
restless as a small wind in a field of wheat. Heads turned slowly
until they were all looking at Walaka.

Reluctantly Walaka stood up to reply. He realized that it was
foolhardy to draw attention to himself when there was talk of ropes in
the air, but the damage had already been done. The hundreds of eyes
upon him had singled him out to the Allemand. Bwana Intambu always
hanged the man that everyone looked at.

Walaka began to speak. His voice had the soothing quality of a rusty
gate squeaking in the wind. It went on and on, as Walaka attempted a
one-man filibust.

“What is he talking about? “demanded Ensign Proust.

“He is talking about leopards,” the sergeant told him.

“What is he saying about them?”

“He says, among other things,

that they are the excrement of dead lepers,”

Proust looked stunned, he had expected Walaka’s speech to have at least
some bearing on the business in hand. He rallied gamely.

“Tell him that he is a wise old man, and that I look to him to lead the
others to their duties.” And the sergeant gazed upon Walaka sternly.

“Bwana Heron says that you, Walaka, are the son of a diseased porcupine
and that you feed on offal with the vultures.

He says further that you he has chosen to lead the others in the dance
of the rope.” Walaka stopped talking. He sighed in resignation and
-started down towards the waiting launch. Five hundred men stood up
and followed him.

The two vessels chugged sedately down to Blitcher’s moorings.

Standing in the bows of the leading launch with his hands on his
hips,

Ensign Proust had the proud bearing of a Viking returning from a
successful raid.

“I understand these people,” he would tell Lieutenant Kyller.

“You must pick out their leader and appeal to his sense of duty.” He
took his watch from his breast pocket.

“Fifteen minutes to seven” he Murmured. “I’ll have them aboard on the
hour.” He turned and smiled fondly at Walaka who squatted miserably
beside the wheelhouse.

“Good man, that! I’ll bring his conduct to Lieutenant Kyller’s
attention.” Lieutenant Ernst Kyller shrugged out of his tunic and sat
down on his bunk. He held the tunic in his lap and fingered the
sleeve. The smear of blood had dried, and as he rubbed the material
between thumb and forefinger, the blood crumbled and flaked.

“He should not have run. I had to shoot.” He stood up and hung the
tunic in the little cupboard at the head of his bunk. Then he took his
watch from the pocket and sat down again to wind it.

“Fifteen minutes to seven.” He noted the time mechanically, and laid
the gold hunter on the flap table beside the bunk. Then he lay back
and arranged the pillows under his head, he crossed his still-booted
feet and regarded them dispassionately.

“He came aboard to try and rescue his wife. It was the natural thing
to do. But that disguise the shaven head, and stained skin that must
have been carefully thought out. It must have taken time to arrange.”
Kyller closed his eyes. He was tired. It had been a long and eventful
watch. Yet there was something nagging him, a feeling that there was
an important detail that he had overlooked, a detail of vital no, of
deadly importance.

Within two minutes of the girl’s recognition of the wounded man,

Kyller and the Surgeon commander had established that he was not a
native, but a white man disguised as one.

Kyller’s English was sketchy, but he had understood the girl’s cries of
love and concern and accusation.

“You’ve killed him also. You’ve killed them all. My baby, my father
and now my husband. You murderers, you filthy murdering swines!”
Kyller grimaced and pressed his knuckles into his aching eyes.

Yes, he had understood her.

When he had reported to Captain von Kleine, the captain had placed
little importance on the incident.

“Is the man conscious?”

“No, sir.”

“What does the surgeon say his chances are?”

“He will die. Probably before midday.”

“You did the right thing, Kyller.” Von Kleine touched his shoulder in
a show of understanding. “Do not reproach yourself It was your
duty.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You are off watch now. Go to your cabin and rest that is an order. I
want you fresh and alert by nightfall.”

“Is it tonight then, sir?”

“Yes. Tonight we sail. The minefield has been cleared and

I have given the order for the boom to be destroyed.

The new moon sets at 11:47. We will sail at midnight.” But Kyller
could not rest. The girl’s face, pale, smeared with her tears, haunted
him. The strangled breathing of the dying man echoed in his ears, and
that nagging doubt scratched against his nerves.

There was something he must remember. He flogged his tired brain,

and it balked.

Why was the man disguised? If he came as soon as he had heard that his
wife was a prisoner he would not have had time to effect the
disguise.

Where had the man been when Fleischer had captured his wife? He had
not been there to protect her. Where had he been? It must have been
somewhere near at hand.

Kyller rolled on to his stomach and pressed his face into the pillow.
He must rest. He must sleep now for tonight they would go out to break
through the blockading English warships.

A single ship against a squadron. Their chances of slipping through
unchallenged were small. There would be a night action. His
imagination was heightened by fatigue, and behind his closed eyelids he
saw the English cruisers, lit by the flashes of their own broadsides as
they closed with Blitcher. The enemy intent on vengeance. The enemy
in overwhelming strength. The enemy strong and freshly provisioned,

their coal-bunkers glutted, their magazines crammed with shell, their
crews uncontaminated by the fever miasma of the Rufiji.

Against them a single ship with her battle damage hastily patched,

half her men sick with malaria, burning green cordwood in her
furnaces,

her fire-power hampered by the desperate shortage of shell.

He remembered the tiers of empty shell racks, the depleted cordite
shelves in the forward magazine.

The magazine? That was it! The magazine! It was something about the
magazine that he must remember.

That was the thing that had been nagging him. The magazine!

“Oh, my GodV he shouted in horror. In one abrupt movement he had leapt
from his prone position on the bunk to stand in the centre of the
cabin.

The skin on his bare upper arms prickled with gooseflesh.

That was where he had seen the Englishman before. He had been with the
labour party in the forward magazine.

He would have been there for one reason only sabotage.

Kyller burst from his cabin, and raced, half dressed, along the
corridor.

“I must get hold of Commander Lochtkamper. We’ll need a dozen men
strong men stokers. There are tons of explosive to move, we’ll have to
handle it all to find whatever the Englishman placed there.

Please, God, give us time. Give us time!” Captain Otto von Kleine bit
the tip from the end of his cheroot, and removed a flake of black
tobacco from the tip of his tongue with thumb and fore finger. His
steward held a match for him and von Kleine lit the cheroot. At the
wardroom table, the chairs of Lochtkamper, Kyller, Proust and one other
were empty.

“Thank you, Schmidt,” he said through the smoke. He pushed his chair
back and stretched out his legs, crossing his ankles and laying his
shoulders against the padded backrest. The breakfast had not been of
gourmet standard; bread without butter, fish taken from the river and
strong with the taste of the mud, washed down with black unsweetened
coffee. Nevertheless, Herr Fleischer seemed to be enjoying it. He was
beginning his third plateful.

Von Kleine found his appreciative snuffling distracting.

This would be the last period of relaxation that von Kleine could
anticipate in the next many days. He wanted to savour it along with
his cheroot, but the wardroom was not the place to do so. Apart from
the gusto with which the Herr Commissioner was demolishing his
breakfast, and the smell of fish there was a mood among his officers
that was almost tangible. This was the last day and it was heavy with
the prospect of what the night might bring. They were all of them edgy
and tense. They ate in silence, keeping their attention on their
plates, and it was obvious that most of them had slept badly. Von

Kleine decided to finish his cheroot alone in his cabin. He stood
up.

“Excuse me please, gentlemen.” A polite murmur, and von Kleine turned
to leave.

“Yes, Schmidt. What is it?” His steward was standing deferentially in
his path.

“For you, sir.” Von Kleine clamped the cheroot between his teeth and
took the note in both hands, screwing up his eyes against the blue
spiral of tobacco smoke. He frowned.

This woman, and the man she claimed was her husband, worried him.

They were a drain on the attention which he should be devoting entirely
to the problem of getting Blitcher ready for tonight. Now this message
what could she mean “He could save your ship’? He felt a prickle of
apprehension.

He swung around.

“Herr Commissioner, a moment of your time, please.” Fleischer looked
up from his food with a smear of grease on his chin.

Ja?”

“Come with me.”

“I will just finish.

“Immediately, please.” And to avert argument von Kleine stooped out of
the wardroom, leaving Herman Fleischer in terrible indecision,

but he was a man for the occasion, he took the remaining piece of fish
on his plate and put it in his mouth. It was a tight fit, but he still
found space for the half cup of coffee as well. Then he scooped up a
slice of bread and wiped his plate hurriedly. With the bread in his
hand he lumbered after von Kleine.

He was still masticating as he entered the sickbay behind von

Kleine. He stopped in surprise.

The woman sat on one of the bunks. She had a cloth in her hand and
with it she wiped the mouth of a black man who lay there. There was
blood on the cloth. She looked up at Fleischer. Her expression was
soft with compassion and sorrow, but it changed the moment she saw

Fleischer.

She stood up quickly.

“Oh, thank God, you’ve come,” she cried with joy as though she were
greeting a dear friend. Then incongruously she looked up at the
clock.

Keeping warily away from her, Fleischer worked his way around to the
opposite side of the bunk by which she stood.

He leaned over and studied the face of the dying man.

There was something very familiar about it. He chewed stolidly as he
puzzled over it. It was the association with the woman that triggered
his memory.

He made a choking sound, and bits of half chewed bread flew from his
MOuth.

“Captain!” he shouted. “This is one of them one of the English
bandits.”

“kno,” said von Kleine.

“Why wasn’t I told? This man must be exeCuted immediately.

Even now it might be too late. justice will be cheated.”

“Please, Herr

Commissioner. The woman has an important message for you.”

“This is monstrous. I should have been told…”

“Be still,” snapped von Kleine.

Then to Rosa, “You sent for me? What is it you have to tell us?”

With one hand Rosa was stroking Sebastian’s head, but she was looking
up at the clock.

“You must tell Herr Fleischer that the time is one minute before
seven.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Tell him exactly as I say it.”

“Is this a joke?”

“Tell him, quickly. There is very little time.”

“She says the time is one minute to seven,” von Klein(rattled out the
translation.

Then in English, “I have told him.”

“Tell him that at seven o’clock he will die.”

“What is the meaning of that?”

“Tell him first. Tell him!”

insisted Rosa.

“She says that you will die at seven o’clock.” And Fleischer
interrupted his impatient gobbling over the prone form of Sebastian.

He stared at the woman for a moment, then he giggled uncertainly.

“Tell her I feel very well,” he said, and laughed again, “better than
this one here.” He prodded Sebastian. “Ja, much better.” And his
laughter came full and strong, booming in the confined space of the
sick-bay.

“Tell him my husband has placed a bomb in this ship, and it will
explode at seven o’clock.”

“Where?”demanded von Kleine.

“Tell him first.”

“If this is true you are in danger also where is it?”

“Tell Fleischer what I said.”

“There is a bomb in the ship.”

And Fleischer stopped laughing.

“She is lying, “he spluttered. “English Lies.”

“Where is the bomb? “von Kleine had grasped Rosa’s arm.

“It is too late, Rosa smiled complacently. “Look at the clock.”

“Where is it?” Von Kleine shook her wildly in his agitation.

“In the magazine. The forward magazine.”

“In the Magazine! Sweet merciful Jesus!” von Kleine swore in German,
and turned for the door.

“The magazine?” shouted Fleischer and started after him.

“It is impossible it can’t be.” But he was running, wildly,

desperately, and behind him he heard Rosa Oldsmith’s triumphant
laughter.

“You are dead. Like my baby dead, like my father. It is too late to
run, much too late!” Von Kleine went up the companion-way steps three
at a time. He came out into the alleyway that led to the magazine, and
stopped abruptly.

The alleyway was almost blocked by a mountain of cordite charges thrown
haphazard from the magazine by a knot of frantically busy’ stokers

“What are you doing? “he shouted.

“Lieutenant Kyller is looking for a bomb.”

“Has he found it?” von

Kleine demanded as he brushed past them.

“Not yet, sir.” Von Kleine paused again in the entrance to the
magazine. It was a shambles. Led by Kyller, men were tearing at the
stacks of cordite, sweeping them from the shelves, ransacking the
magazine.

Von Kleine jumped forward to help.

“Why didn’t you send for me?” he asked as he reached up to the racks
above his head.

“No time, sir, “grunted Kyller beside him.

“How did you know about the bomb?”

“It’s a guess I could be wrong, Sir.”

“You’re right! The woman told us. It’s set for seven o’clock.”

“Help us, God! Help us!” pleaded Kyller, and hurled himself at the
next shelf.

“It could be anywhere anywhere!” Captain von Kleine worked like a
stevedore, knee-deep in spilled cylinders of cordite.

“We should clear the ship. Get the men off.” Kyller attacked the next
rack.

“No time. We’ve got to find it.” Then in the uproar there was a small
sound, a muffled tinny buzz. The alarm bell of a travelling-clock.

“There!” shouted Kyller. “That’s id” And he dived across the magazine
at the same moment as von Kleine did. They collided and fell,

but Kyller was up instantly, dragging himself on to his feet with hands
clawing at the orderly rack of cordite cylinders.

The buzz of the alarm clock seemed to roar in his ears.

He reached out and his hands fell on the smoothly paper-wrapped parcels
of death, and at that instant the two copper terminals within the
leather case of the clock which had been creeping infinitesimally
slowly towards each other for the past twelve hours, made contact.

Electricity stored in the dry cell battery flowed through the circuit,
reached the hair-thin filament in the detonator cap, and heated it
white-hot. The detonator fired, transferring its energy into the
sticks of gelignite that were packed into the cigar box. The wave of
explosion leapt from molecule to molecule with the speed of light so
that the entire contents of Blitcher’s magazine were consumed in one
hundredth part of a second. With it were consumed Lieutenant Kyller
and Captain von Kleine and the men about them.

In the centre of that fiery holocaust they burned to vapour.

The blast swept through Blucher. Downwards through two decks with a
force that blew the belly out of her as easily as popping a. paper bag,
down through ten fathoms of water to strike the bottom of the river and
the shock wave bounced up to raise fifteen-foot “waves along the
surface.

It blew sideways through Blitcher’s watertight bulkheads, crumpling and
tearing them like silver paper.

It caught Rosa Oldsmith as she lay across Sebastian’s chest,

hugging him. She did not even hear it come.

It caught Herman Fleischer just as he reached the deck, and shredded
him to nothingness.

It swept through the engine room and burst the great boilers,

releasing millions of cubic feet of scalding steam to race through the
ship.

It blew upwards through the deck, lifting the forward gun-turret off
its seating, tossing the hundreds of tons of steel high in a cloud of
steam and smoke and debris.

It killed every single human being aboard. It did more than merely
kill them, it reduced them to gas and minute particles of flesh or
bone. Then still unsatisfied, its fiery unabated, it blew outwards
from Blitcher’s shattered hulk, a mighty wind that tore the branches
from the mangrove forest and stripped it of leaves.

It lifted a column of smoke and flame writhing and twisting into the
bright morning sky above the Rufiji delta, and the waves swept out
across the river as though from the eye of a hurricane.

They overwhelmed the two launches that were approaching Blitcher,

pouring over them and capsizing them, swirling them over and over and
spilling their human cargo into the frightened frothing water.

And the shock waves rolled on across the delta to burst thunderously
against the far hills, or to dissipate out on the vastness of the
Indian Ocean.

They passed over the British cruiser Renounce as she entered the
channel between the mangroves. They rolled overhead like giant
cannon-balls across the roof of the sky.

Captain Arthur Joyce leapt to the rail of his bridge, and he saw the
column of agonized smoke rise from the swamps ahead of him. A

grotesque living thing, unbelievable in its size, black and silver and
shot through with flame.

“They’ve done it!” shouted Arthur Joyce. “By Jove, they’ve done it!”
He was shaking; his whole body juddering, his face white as ice,

and his eyes which he could not drag from that spinning column of
destruction that rose into the sky, filled slowly with tears. He let
them overflow his eyelids and run unashamedly down his cheeks.

Two old men walked into a grove of fever trees that stood on the south
bank of the Abati river. They stopped beside a pile of gargantuan
bones from which the scavengers had picked the flesh,

leaving them scattered and white.

“The tusks are gone, “said Walaka.

“Yes,” agreed Mohammed, “the Askari came back and stole them.”

Together they walked on through the fever trees and then they stopped
again. There was a low mound of earth at the edge of the grove.

Already it had settled and new grass was growing upon it.

“He was a man, “said Walaka.

“Leave me, my cousin. I will stay here a while.”

“Stay in peace,

then,” said Walaka, and settled the string of his blanket roll more
comfortably over his shoulder before he walked on.

Mohammed squatted down beside the grave. He sat there unmoving all
that day. Then in the evening Mohammed stood up and walked away
towards the south.

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